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Last Updated    May 1 2018
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            In Your Own Shadow

Getting Breakfast And Getting Moving

Station     In the morning, Rol was the first out of his bunk, and was cooking as the Knights and Aiden woke.  Zimzod came over, sniffing at what Rol was cooking and asked what he had going?  There was a conversation, punctuated by repeated mentions of bacon, while the others gathered and watched.  While they ate, Zimzod punched up the news on the vid.  They ate, and talked about the flight down-well and talked about getting tickets on a shuttle or using the ship's cutter.  When someone tripped over wanting to use a name for it, Mikah reminded them the cutter didn't actually have a name.  That discussion gained momentum before Zimzod decided they should have a vote of the crew who were awake on the subject.

He then suggested they call the cutter "Suppository".  Brian said, since they were headed down to the surface, they should call it the "Meteorite".  Mikah snickered and quipped "Mass Driver".  Rol got into the act, suggesting "the Brick" as Zimzod proposed, "Skeet Suppository" and started trying to sell his idea to the others.  When Zimzod suggested his newest idea, making it sound more official, Aiden said if he wanted it to sound official they should call the cutter the "Drill Instructor's Boot."  Matter of factly, Rol asked, "Can we just call it the "Probe?" and got laughs from everyone at the table.

When Rol said that, both Brian and Aiden jumped on board, and even Zimzod admitted it worked better than his ideas.  The decision was made.  Done cooking, eating and cleaning, Rol did a short set of calisthenics before cleaning and dressing.  While he did that, the other Knights also dressed up and prepared to leave for the planet and the festival.  After they were ready, everyone filed in and took a seat in the back while Mikah powered the cutter's systems up and set up a basic flight plan.  Despite her lack of flight hours since the Risek system, she wasn't worried because all flights landing on Rhylanor prime did so under port control.  She only had to aim at the right part of the planet and relax.

After breakfast, Aiden went to the ship's bridge to do some nav training.  But since the ship's environmental systems had been shut down, the scent left behind from the evening before hadn't dissipated.  As a wave of lemon-vanilla freshness washed over Aiden, he first wondered "What the hell?" until the scent triggered a memory.  He recalled the scent from the night before, when Emkir and Aali had returned to the berth lounge.  He remembered they'd moved with an "extra bounce" in their steps, smiles on their faces and a 'pleased but drained' attitude.  But, they'd also had an air of lemon-vanilla scent about them.

Putting the evidence together, Aiden's face set into a mix of disgust and anger.  Turning to the ship's stores, Aiden decided to give the bridge a complete and proper scrub-down as he had no clue how half assed a job the pair did after doing whatever they did in that space.  That meant he spent several hours working at re-cleaning, and didn't finish until nearly lunch time.  After stowing the cleaning gear, Aiden went to the berth galley for chow.

The Festival Turns Into A Carnival
     Mikah had plotted a basic flight plan to bring them over the region of Rhylanor they wanted to land in, to attend the festival celebration she'd selected.  In space, and after a short chat with orbital control and Rhylanor near space command, Mikah was given clearance to descend to a point where their systems would be taken under port control.  She was also given a beacon frequency to "follow in", which allowed her to do the flight under auto-pilot.  While making their descent, the port warned them of the Cr 50 berthing fee and asked if they needed refueling or other services?  When the port offered to contact providers, Mikah said they'd need transport to the specific town festival she'd selected.

During the flight, Rol got a call on his personal comms.  When he checked the caller Ident, it read: "Office of the Seneschal of the Duke of Rhylanor"!  Rol wondered if he might need to take the call privately in case he had to discuss something sensitive?  Just in case, he went to the aft section of the passenger compartment before answering.  The caller was from one of the various ministries in the Seneschalate, and explained that there were a number of legal documents they needed to go over with Rol at his convenience.  When Rol asked the nature of the documents, he was told they related to the rights granted to him by the Duke.  These included the 'Right to Bear Arms' within the Duchy, An annual Cr 6,000 stipend and an appointment as a "Knight Protector of the Empire" for the coreward-trailing quadrant of the Spinward Marches.

When Rol asked for a quick set of details, the minister explained that Rol was required to report in periodically on conditions as he found them within the quadrant.  This was the area of space included in the Regina, Aramis, Lanth and Rhylanor subsectors.  Part of this position meant Rol would be expected to spend some part of each year in the quadrant, investigating conditions.  Also, due to his work, he could demand a residence in any system, or a high passage starship ticket where he could prove a 'proper cause', based on his work.  Taking a moment to consider this, Rol confirmed he'd be reporting to the Office of the Seneschal of Rhylanor.  Thinking about his schedule, Rol suggested he might be able to deal with this at 3pm on the 206th day.  Done setting an appointment, they broke the call.

Soon they were brought in by the control to a downport's general field, a top-side facility marked by beacons, lights, various towers and many small cylindrical knob-like structures.  After settling onto a crawler pad, the Probe was brought toward a one of the berth buildings.  These were cylindrical buildings, marked by bay entrances all around.  Their ship was moved into an entrance and settled into one of the wedge-shaped bays inside the building.  They unlocked and left the Probe after a two-hour descent to find a port worker waiting in the berth.  That worker was waiting to take their landing payment and guide them down to the hub, where they could meet their pre-ordered ground transport.  Zimzod paid the Cr 50 for the berthing fee, and from there, it was a Cr 20 ride to the nearest festival celebration via grav car.

The space inside the structure where they landed was surprisingly open, a space of massive halls within the massive techno-sprawl that enclosed the whole planet's surface.  Because the entire surface of the world was covered by oceans or enclosed techno-sprawl, the planet's land surfaces were covered by many to hundreds of layers of urban "bloks", open concourses, strolling malls, transport and movement causeways, etc...  Some of these spaces were close and tight arteries for movement while others were surprisingly open and even vast, with light brought in from massive skylights.  In many places where these cavernous open spaces existed, the huge skylights had, over the centuries, become art statements on their own, with translucent painted murals and more.

They arrived at the festival just after eleven in the morning and Mikah paid the cab, but said that Brian would get lunch and Rol would get dinner and drinks.  The celebration was obviously very patriotic and pro-military.  This part of the festival was spread over several urban bloks, and featured the standard games, food carts, etc, along with Imperial Navy and other representation.  Scanning the crowd, they saw many locals, including some obviously well-off members of society.  Off to one side, by the sound system and stage, they saw a roped off area for the 'dignitaries' and started wandering in to take in the sights.  Getting close, the Knights greeted the locals and checked out the tables of low end tech goods and local items for sale.  Eventually they went over to the dignitaries, who noticed the uniforms and side arms the Knights were wearing and welcomed the visitors.

When introductions were made, Mikah introduced herself, Zimzod, Brian and then Rol.  Hearing Imperial Knights had come to their part of the celebration, the locals were very pleased.  That was, until they heard Rol's name.  Then, everything seemed to pause for the briefest of seconds.  After that, Mikah and the others were almost brushed aside as the local leader called out in a welcoming tone, "Sir Rol!  It's so wonderful to meet you!  Thank you for coming to visit with us!" and Rol saw his quiet day slip into the drain pipes, along with any chance of relaxing.  And as they were greeting Rol, one of the dignitaries rushed up to the stage to announce the celebrity in their midst as the three Knights could only stand to the side and try to not fall over laughing.  And suddenly the fair was all about Sir Rol, the War Hero, as local media covering "the same old, tired fair that happens this time every year" got a scoop that guaranteed headlines, and more reporters on the way ASAP!

The fairgrounds drained as people rushed to see Rol, and the merchants could only silently curse their bad luck while Sir Brian yelled to Rol, "Remember to show them your good side!"  Stuck in a trap, Rol tried to manage the situation with dignity, and even managed to stutter through a speech they demanded.  That done, to the Knight's continued entertainment, they asked Rol to sign autographs as the media worked to document everything.  Seeing no way to avoid it, as they'd already set out a table, Rol agreed to sign autographs, even as he saw people pulling out their comms to call their friends in.  While this happened, Mikah and crew spent their time pointing and laughing, and contacting the ship to share the laughs.

Rol considered signing with such tag lines as "I have you in my sights" or "To my intended target".  The line formed as Zimzod looked for a large woman.  He then offered to pay her, hoping to get her to ask Rol to sign her breasts!  Despite his uniform and obvious rank, the woman was insulted, misunderstanding this to be an attempt at hiring her as a prostitute, and called the police over.  Then, there was a small chat with the ever-present police, as the issue was investigated.  Soon, they agreed it had been a communications issue, and there would be no charges so long as 'Sir Knight' did not bother the nice lady any more.

Watching The Rol Kaihvos Comedy Hour
     On the station, Ms. Vik woke and did her morning routine.  Out of her room at around 10:30am, she found the leftovers and took a share to heat and eat.  She had no idea if anyone was still home, so she put what she didn't eat in the cooler and decided to go out and do the tourist thing.  Calling a port cab, Inger went out to explore some of the advertised cultural centers on this part of the station.  With no one else awake, or still in the area, Inger got dressed and went out to look for crafts displays and exhibits.

Around 11:30, Zach woke and realized he'd slept longer than he planned.  He did his exercises and grabbed some lunch.  While he was eating, the alarm went off in Aali and Emkir's room.  After they'd stretched and thrown on ship's suits, they emerged to see Zach munching on chow.  Seeing them, Zach asked, "Rough night kids?" and Emkir confidently beamed back, "Good night!" with a wink.  Zach just pointed and said, "There are leftovers in the fridge."  Having grabbed food and seats, they were just starting to eat when the ship's comms started to buzz.  Emkir answered, "Hotel California.  Can you be helped?" only to find it was Dame Mikah.  Mikah interrupted his greeting, saying "Check this out" with a laugh as Emkir noticed an attachment connected to the call.

He bounced the attachment to a display, and all in the galley saw a picture of Major Sir Rol Kaihvos, in uniform, sitting at a table with a long line, unenthusiastically signing autographs.  It just happened that, as they were watching, a man walked up and asked Rol to electronically sign "his" chapter in the book, "Crossing the Line"!  While the crew couldn't see what was happening, the expression on Rol's face quickly made it clear.  Rol considered his options as the rest of his crew tried not to fall over laughing.  Eventually he signed it, "Needs Revision" as the cameras closed in.  At the same time, Zach noticed the media hovering and filming in the shot and rushed to turn on a news channel.  While he was doing this, Emkir called Mikah directly, and text messaged her the words "Ka Ching!"  While she didn't understand the message, she laughed anyway.

They all watched while Rol managed to keep an impassive face as he signed the dedicated electronic tablet.  Emkir set the ship's displays to record as a number of people on line pulled out electronic media to call others.  It was obvious that some were likely calling their friends to bring copies of the book to be signed.  Much to the great annoyance of the merchants, the fair had collapsed around Rol's table, and even a few of them had gotten on line with merchandise to sign.  This continued, but had to end soon enough because Rol and the Knights had other things to do.  They enjoyed the show on the ship while Zach got the idea to work through the media pictures of Rol's Knighting ceremony to create "autograph pictures".  He planned to have Rol sign them to sell.

Still having an open comms to Mikah, Emkir asked if they needed the folks back at the ship to create an issue so they could, "respond because they were called away?"  Mikah said they could handle the situation themselves.  Returning to the displays, as Zach worked at recovering images, no one noticed as Aiden returned to the galley and took in the activities.  He couldn't immediately see what was on the screens, but the others were all laughing so hard that it couldn't be too bad.  Walking up behind Emkir and Aali, Aiden checked the largest of the active screens to see a picture of Rol sitting at a table, with a line of people extending from the other side of it, apparently signing data pads and other items, clothing, etc.

Admitting to himself this was amusing, Aiden didn't know why the others were laughing as hard as they were?  He assumed that 'the joke' must have happened just before he walked into the galley.  His mind ever set on his objectives, Aiden carefully reached down with both hands and took Aali's right and Emkir's left ear firmly between fingers as he squeezed and they started reacting to the pain.  Emkir started spouting "Ow!  Ow!  Ow!"  Zach was apparently working on editing a picture of Rol, and had no idea, or interest in finding out, what that was about?  With their full attention, Aiden announced, "The Bridge, Is Off Limits!" in his most gruff voice.  When Emkir asked, "off limits for what?" Aali reached up and took Aiden's wrist firmly, trying to apply painful pressure.  Sadly, Aiden was made of tougher stuff than that, and her move had no effect but to put her in a pose more familiar to the game twister.

Aiden, who wanted to release their ears and thwack Emkir, found himself held in place, though not painfully.  So he angrily explained, "I have had to spend 'all morning' scrubbing the bridge."  Figuring out what Aiden was going on about, Emkir roughly said, "No you didn't!  You could have left it like it was."  Aali added in, "We left it clean!"  They made their defenses as Aiden released the ears and stepped back from the couple.  He then went to get himself some chow.  Emkir brushed off the pilot's attitude, chuckling sadly that Aiden's mind just couldn't grasp life.  The Admiral then turned back to the entertainment on the news feed.

Zach went back to saving pictures while also watching the news.  The coverage had expanded to interviews with some of those who'd gotten autographs signed, including that copy of "Crossing the Line".  Of course, they could see that was only the first signed copy, as a number of people joined the line with dedicated readers.  There were now a number of screens displaying various facets of the event.  Not a surprise, some of the color commentary had turned on him.  They suggested Major Sir Rol had actually subverted the festival and was showing disrespect to Captain Diirrsou!  Sitting at the table, Rol got more and more concerned, as the event had obviously turned into a fiasco.  Politely signing what was offered up to him, Rol could see a line of people who arrived with copies of "Crossing the Line" to be signed, and was wondering how quickly he could find a way to end this?

Finally, Rol said that he had other commitments he had to meet, and even feigned disappointment as he only had fifteen minutes left to sign autographs.  While there were groans at the announcement, there was not the possible riot that might have happened if he'd simply stood up and ended things.  With time burning off, Rol did end up signing two more copies of the book before things ended and the crowd tried to groan him back into place.  Rol responded to that by pointing out that the festival, and the day, belonged to Captain Diirrsou and he should be honored.  When some in the crowd didn't take that, and some started getting a bit noisier, Rol asked Mikah how far away the other event was and Mikah said, "It's ten minutes out."

Rol got more firm about his departure while some of the people made angry demands that he should, at least, finish signing autographs for all those waiting in line, instead of abandoning them.  They were becoming a small mob of people upset they'd been harmed by Rol not honoring the implicit promise of the line, and wasting their time!  All but a hard core backed off when the police moved in and broke up the mob which had begun to advance.  On the ship, the news coverage came with color commentary.  When the line of people with copies of "Crossing the Line" began receiving autographs, most reporters were surprised at the "amazing level of restraint" Sir Rol was exhibiting under the circumstances.  This lasted until Rol stood up at last, and a number of the commenters suggested they'd finally found Sir Rol's breaking point.

With that, the coverage either flattened out or turned on Rol a bit, and one even speculated that perhaps Rol had lost his temper and hoped events didn't escalate.  The comments came as odd counterpoint to the commenter's obvious look of restrained glee.  At that point, Emkir made sure one of the screens was broadcasting the TAS feed of the event, in order to see how they might be coloring their coverage?  As Emkir watched, the TAS anchor reported that they were not sure what was happening, but it appeared the impromptu autograph session had gone wrong.  Either way, they took a "wait for an update from the authorities" position rather than guessing to fill the air time.  They did fix on the details as their camera and mic's could identify them.  Off to the side, Emkir could here as one outlet announced, "If you're just joining us, we are covering events at an impromptu autograph session that seems to be going off the rails.  It appears to this reporter that the crowd are getting mad at Major Sir Rol Kaihvos for wanting to go about his business."

Emkir was impressed with the flat line of facts presented in what should have been a teaser to keep newer members of the audience.  Other outlets were happily covering the "Rol Kaihvos causes a riot" angle.  The police had moved in and a team offered to escort the Knights out as others secured the area.  On top of getting them out of the direct area of the crowd, the senior officer offered them a ride to get them to their next appointment and be sure things could be smoothed out there.  He didn't mention that, according to Rhylanor law, if they refused to leave they could have been charged with intentionally exacerbating the situation, and held responsible if any injuries or damage occurred.  Lucky for them all, the Knights were glad to accept the offer, with the same lines of divergent color commentary.  There was also some speculation why Sir Rol and the Knights were being taken away by the police?  Mikah got in up front and the men squeezed into the back.

Commentary shifted from TAS discussing how 'It appeared the police were moving the four Knights'.  Some outlets suggested 'Sir's Brian, Zimzod and Rol were all being taken into custody' for unknown law breaking!  Aiden turned to the others saying, "Tell me you're recording this?" and both Emkir and Aali pointed to the active recording icons on the control panel.  On the screen, the vehicle moved off as Mikah explained where the think tank was located.  The officer driving guided them out of the area.  When the coverage started to wind down, Emkir and Aali decided to watch for another half hour before getting on with their days.  Having Aiden there, Zach asked the Scout to bring out the cutlass and watch he wanted to sell.

Aiden went off to get his loot as Zach moved into the entrance where Wall-e was still working, to find there was a note on the datapads he'd brought to Brian, explaining that they'd been checked and were clean.  Satisfied, he made sure there were no markings on the recorders from the testing, and only managed to note a slight hint of a lemon scent.  Aiden came back and Zach spent some time taking as detailed a set of pictures as he could before thanking Aiden and calling Ms. Vik about her things.  While Aiden's watch was hard to get good detail on, the cutlass and scabbard were very easy to document.  After the photo session, Aiden stowed his loot again and went to do some nav training.  He did that until after 4pm and knocked off to relax, watching vids before dinner.  When he did come down to the lounge, Aiden searched the vast libraries available on demand for military flicks to watch.

In the police vehicle, the officer driving them took the Knights where they needed to be very politely, and in a friendly manner.  During the ride, Rol regretted having come along and wondered if he could get out of the next event?  That was until he realized he'd need to hire a seat on a commercial shuttle to get back to the Starport in orbit.  Imagining how bad a situation that could turn into, he decided it was best to just stick things out, as they, at least, had police support.  Eventually they arrived at the meeting space, where Dame Ashlee Aaniika was hosting her gathering for the think tank's public report.

Zach's Plans To Go Underground
     Having a nice lunch at a mixed Vilani/Solomani restaurant, Ms. Vik had enjoyed a number of museum exhibits based on handicrafts and cottage arts throughout the system, subsector and sector.  Outside of the items, made of natural materials, Inger was fascinated by the items made, even by children, from techno-bits.  She found a very new slant on her view of handicrafts as she saw the inventive uses for modern non-craft related materials.  So far, she'd spent Cr 110, including her lunch, when a call from Zach came in.  At first, she considered not answering it, watching people from a café table in the concourse corridor on a shopping level.  Especially since this place, like a number of other store fronts nearby, had vid screens displaying events in the system.  That meant she'd gotten to see a number of events she was not looking forward to hearing explained later.  But then, she remembered Zach said he wanted to take pictures of the things she wanted him to sell for her.

Because of that, Inger answered, asking, "Are we leaving port this time?" in a tired but hopeful voice.  With a very happy tone, Zach said, "No!!  You saw that line Rol had in front of him?  He can't leave any time soon."  After that, Zach quickly changed the subject to taking pictures of her items so he could sell them.  He also brought up his opinion that the gemstones could likely be sold on the regular market, since they planned to disassemble the dress completely.  Inger said she thought, from what she learned from Countess Ursara, the dress might sell for more if sold intact.  So that was why she'd changed her mind and didn't really want it disassembled.

She did say she preferred it be sold in the underground, where it could be sold off untraceably.  Now understanding her reasons, Zach agreed and she told him she had tried it on before going to sleep the night before.  She said the dress did not fit perfectly but she could reasonably wear it.  Zach was pleased with that news, and said he felt the dress would look better on someone than on a hanger.  With that, she agreed to pose for a photo session emphasizing that her face and even hair must not be shown.  Zach agreed and they decided to take the pictures when she returned to the berth.  After they broke contact, Inger just nodded to herself as she considered the still unexplained news coverage.

Cutting the line with Ms. Vik, Zach considered his past contacts and started to reach out to them, one by one via comms.  As he reached the first contact, Tarulli Itium, Zach put on the thick sell.  He didn't push the sale, but he did lay on a number of encouragements.  He said he called Tarulli because the items he had were right up his alley, "I have something I know you are gonna want but you're gonna have to make it disappear."  Tarulli agreed that he was very interested in what Zach suggested he was handling and suggested Zach meet him soon, with the goods so he can see them.  When he asked how soon Zach could meet him, Zach hedged that he couldn't meet before that night.  In the back of his brain, Zach knew he could deal with this guy, but that he was not nearly trustworthy.

Zach did say the items had a history that he couldn't talk about.  That told Tarulli he'd be accepting "some" risk but not how much.  And Zach knew he was still on the hook, in their eyes, for trying to screw them if things went south.  When Zach made it plain he'd have good pictures of the stuff, Tarulli said that he wanted to see the real thing, not pictures.  Zach started hedging and Tarulli pushed that Zach said he was 'certain' he'd want what the merchant had.  So, he didn't want to waste time.  Zach suggested they deal with the pictures first, and if he was actually interested, they could meet over the real merchandise.  Tarulli wasn't very happy with that, but he accepted.  He then fished a bit, asking if someone was boosting them for Zach?  This suggested that having them stolen that night might be the reason he was only seeing pictures first.

Zach also said there were other interests involved, and it would be a few days before he could present the actual merchandise.  In the end Tarulli agreed to meet and Zach asked if he was on-station?  Tarulli answered, "I can be", nonchalantly.  Zach suggested an out of the way bar and Tarulli said he had just the place.  Zach joked, "It doesn't serve Aslan food does it?"  Tarulli said it would be a store front or pawn shop.  They agreed to meet around 10pm and Tarulli said he'd send Zach the address.  Setting his notes down on that guy once the call was done, Zach tried his next contact,  And he got the same level of interest after he handled this approach largely the same way, despite the issues he'd seen with Tarulli.  Both in meeting and seeing the actual goods rather than pictures.  Zach realized he might be over-selling, with claims he was "certain" that his contact would want the goods.

In any event, this guy was someone Zach felt was a bit more trustworthy, and set up to meet him around 11pm.  Figuring he'd gotten two appointments set up and would be out quite late already, Zach decided to let the word spread on its own, as it would for the night.  Zach then called Ms. Vik again, to tell her he'd set up meetings for ten that night and she said that wouldn't be an issue as she'd be back for dinner.  Done with the calls, Zach checked his emails to see he had a number of contacts after Erum and Baron Matthew's parties.  Most of the contacts were speculative, looking to see what he had going and maybe have drinks.  But he did reach out to some of them, trying to stir up some activity in hopes of getting an offer rather than a request.  After several hours of that, Zach kicked back and relaxed until dinner.

Aali's Afternoon Walkabout
     After watching the news, Aali decided to go port side and window shop or perhaps visit a museum.  Leaving the berth, she walked a bit, looking for shops that stocked generic living supplies for ships and arcologies.  In an area of the "ships services" class concourses, Aali found all sorts of nick nacks for filtering enclosed spaces.  While Aali found items for scenting the full output of an environmental system, she was looking for something more localized.  Aali hunted and eventually found a "stick to the bulkhead" type air freshener with a nice lemon scent.  She could buy them in boxes of three each for Cr5.  When activated, the instructions said they would last for three to five months.

Aali bought two boxes for Cr 10.  The first box was lemon scented and the second was a pungent vanilla.  As she shopped around, Aali found prices on Dimethyl sulfoxide in the event she wanted to buy some.  She wasn't sure if she had a sub-dural prank use for it, or just wanted to make sure people enjoyed the taste of garlic.  In one shop, a man approached her and asked, "Excuse me Miss. Piirirshu, can I talk to you?"  Since the man obviously knew her correct public name, she felt she might need to find out who he was?  Aali nodded, saying she didn't recognize him but he could have a moment of her time.  The guy began by saying, "Not to be insulting at all, but what is wrong with the people on your ship?"  The question was more confused than accusatory.  Fighting off the urge to laugh out loud, Aali answered, "No comment."  She also looked him up and down, deciding he didn't appear to be out of place in that part of the station.

Seeing her reaction, he said, "You don't remember me, do you?  When she admitted she didn't, he said he was one of the engineers the port sent over that first day on the ship.  When she pointed out that she wasn't crew for the ship yet, he admitted his mistake, having watched coverage of the ship for some days.  But he said being new aboard, she might have some valid opinions on them, having come from outside.  She accepted that, while saying there would be no reason to recognize him.  He pointed out there had been lots of news coverage of the events.  He had thought she had likely watched the news because she had been considering hiring on.  Aali agreed she was watching the news, but she didn't explain her interest.

When she agreed, he asked why she'd taken the job, admitting they all saw the posting and laughed because no one would take it.  Aali said that an old friend of hers was serving aboard, and he nodded but said he still wouldn't have taken the job himself.  Since there was very little for them to talk about other than the ship and crew, the conversation died fairly quickly after that and they went their separate ways.  After that, Aali wandered, enjoying being outside the berth and engineering section in the relative open.  Having left the berth at roughly 2:30pm, she set her chrono alarm for after four and wandered.  Eventually, Aali found a really interestingly decorated store front named the "Star Dragon".

Checking it out, Aali found it was a tattoo shop.  While not interested in a tattoo, she did enjoy the decor before moving on.  Aali wandered past all manner of places from bars to lay overs to stores to residential blocks serving regular breathers as well as alternate atmosphere breathers.  The traffic was on foot and electric vehicles as she passed various docking arms, etc.  While Aali didn't see museums, she did pass a number of religious facilities and chapels.  There was everything from The Interstellar Catholic Church to the Churches of the various Star worshipping religions from mainstream to whack job "fringe" beliefs.

Emkir's Second Media Meeting
     Back at the berth, a car came for Emkir around 3pm, and brought him into the Jump Media News offices.  There, he met the lawyer, who was waiting as he had been the day before.  Sitting down, the representatives seemed to almost follow the script written the previous day by TAS.  They were willing to up their offer, like TAS, but they were also not willing to set a number until Rol signed at least a provisional agreement that he would drop some of his limits and accept some of their positions.  Emkir said he could take the offer to his client and see what decisions they could make.

After that meeting was done, and as they were leaving, the lawyer asked Emkir if they had an idea how many media firms they wished to contact?  Emkir knew this was a very soft foray into plotting a road map forward, and would include them paying the up-front fees.  He admitted that he doubted they'd do more than one more company and explained the preference they had developed.  Emkir mentioned the morning's events and asked if the lawyer saw the news coverage?  When he said he'd been too busy, Emkir elaborated on how fairly TAS covered the events.  He also said there might be a delay before they contacted the third outlet, and explained his feelings on the time being spent, as well as the money.

He also discussed the need to cover the positions of the various organizations with Rol and see if he'd budge enough to make an interview even possible?  The lawyer took all that in as he let Emkir speak.  Emkir finished, and the lawyer said "That's fine" and suggested they should expect to be billed for the two interviews already done.  Emkir agreed to that, saying he'd pay those costs personally and reminded the lawyer he'd expect representation if they actually got to signing.  The lawyer reminded the Admiral that was part of what they were paying for already.  Emkir got back to the berth about half past four and found that Aali was not in the berth.  With nothing else immediately needed, he spent time working on Brian and Zach's glyphs.

Positives And Negatives At The Think Tank
     Arriving at the Council on the Advancement of Social Reform and Reinvestment Think Tank Progress report and discussions, the Knights found they'd missed the reports.  Those attending had split into discussion groups.  The bad news was that any discussion group they joined would likely expect them to be aware of what they missed in the morning sessions.  While the digests were released the night before, none of the Knights had taken the time to download and read them, so none were up to date on the matters.  For Mikah, Brian and Zimzod, this meant they needed to slip in and make positive impressions on informed attendees with no details on what the discussions involved.  On the other hand, Rol was hoping to get hold of anything that would both not be out of place and not hinge on his identity.  Of course, this was despite the fact he was wearing a dress uniform with his name plate on his chest.

Seeing the main auditorium had small groups of people presenting secondary papers, Mikah stepped over to the programming signs to scan through them and find a discussion that might interest her.  Brian joined her briefly, but really didn't care about any of the social reform topics listed.  He looked for engineering-related discussions and found they had everything from civil to environmental engineering.  But nothing specializing on starship tech.  Given that, he figured he'd drift the event, trying to "schmooze".  Looking around for opportunities, he spotted a hall of tables, each representing their own cause or "firm for hire" with tables of literature and promotional giveaway items.  Immediately, Sir Brian's mind clicked on the toys and he thought "Cool!" while he moved in.  When Brian started chatting with the inhabitants of each table, in an attempt to pick up the low-end techno-toys, he let whatever they said drift in one ear and out the other.  Moving from display to display, Brian managed to unintentionally learn about many of the initiatives.

Mikah checked the listings for medicine-related topics and was not surprised to find a host of them.  Given her credentials, she was certain she could pick up the threads of any conversation by listening, and contribute if there was an opportunity.  Checking, she noticed a conference discussing the social ills caused by untreated illnesses and outbreaks.  She chose to sit in on that as she could speak intelligently on the subject.  Especially after her experiences both in the Emerald and Risek systems.

Zimzod also checked the boards and the discussion Mikah seemed to have selected.  And while he had some medical training, this was well above his level.  He decided to see if he could follow Brian's example and checked out a few of the displays closer to the event listings.  But eventually he returned to the board, checking out listings on the military effects on social issues like development, from colonization to security to government formation and stability.  Many of these discussions spoke to his childhood on an isolated world out in the black.  Recalling the lack of security and constant threat, or submission, to anyone with a gunship drove Zimzod to check out one of these.

Rol checked out the listing of conferences with an eye to where he could just lay low as the other Knights got about their business.  He eventually picked a forum on law enforcement and social reform at a fairly high level.  Happily, no more was made of his entrance except the notice of his military uniform.  Taking the chance, he sat and learned that much of the discussion was on 'rehabilitation and correction' over 'law enforcement and incarceration'.  In other words, bleeding hearts.  Of course, since they were ignoring him to listen to the speakers, Rol relaxed and enjoyed listening as a member of the nameless audience.

Settling into the session he'd entered, Zimzod found most speakers seemed to want to blame the military and not address it as part of the systems they were speaking on.  Eventually, Zimzod needed to speak on the opposing data he'd lived instead of listening to the uneducated opinions of the academics around him.  Of course, there was "an instant of reaction" to his dress uniform, and many avoided looking at his weapon.  Rising to speak on the topic he'd stepped into, he was asked his name and was even invited to the stage to speak his piece.  As Zimzod spoke, the audience were respectful, but the reception was still rocky.  Zimzod's experiences were met with admissions that individual cases existed where the results were different, but they'd done their research and knew the facts.  Zimzod's lack of broad data and large-scale applications, outside actual wars, didn't change any opinions.  Indeed, there were even those who believed that if the Imperium had not armed its borders, there would not have been so many incidents of violence.

Deciding to lean a bit harder on his facts, Zimzod was at least getting a good level of discussion and interest.  He soon saw his view point of events, from a military perspective, conflicted with his audience, who argued from charitable positions.  He also realized his audience held certain pure intentions that they'd not been forced to confront as soldiers are.  While they had been out in the real universe, they saw it through the eyes of rescuers, who could always blame those less pure of motive for the failings they saw.  In the end, while he made points, they were not convincing to the audience he was speaking to.  Despite that, the conversation was one of respect and those gathered agreed that they saw some valid points out of the whole.  But they disagreed with how the whole was defined.

Listening in the conference she'd selected, Mikah found that the discussion revolved around the difficulties in solving social issues when even commonly cured diseases became wide spread, and effected the population and economy.  Mikah listened and realized this discussion group wasn't the best of situations for her, as a 'blank face in an auditorium', making no connections or impressions on anyone.  Lucky for her, an opportunity presented itself as a speaker started elaborating on the textbook examples of pandemics, and made it plain she'd never been on the front lines of one.  After raising her hand in response, and while beginning comments counter to the speaker, Mikah was stopped and asked to identify herself.  Of course, there was a moment of silence as Mikah gave her name and that rippled through the assembly.

Responding to her announcement, Mikah was actually recognized from media reports and was invited on-stage to make her comments and speak of her experiences.  Mikah saw, as she spoke, that she was about to wander just a bit outside the guidelines the Imperial Navy had asked her to be aware of regarding Risek.  But she felt the realism of such situations needed to be driven home for an audience that, likely, would never have the misfortune to grasp the reality in person.  Key to her desire to press home the reality were her feelings about the complete collapse of medical authority and management in Podesta, due to the outbreak and "plague".  And she was happy to both have the complete attention of those assembled and see more than a few note takers.

The questions asked were all very serious, in an honest attempt to gain a better understanding of first-hand experience.  And once she was done speaking, she was invited back stage, where a number of the organizers were grateful to have her attend their discussion.  They gushed at her attending and asked about why she didn't preregister for the discussion?  And Mikah was asked if she was coming to the banquet after the conference?  Before she could answer, another voice asked about the possibility of Mikah speaking on Risek in an after-banquet gathering?  When Mikah said she was willing, they were very pleased and voices chimed in that they'd get things setup and would get her into the banquet.  So, for the rest of the afternoon Mikah had an entourage and activities to attend for the rest of the day.

As part of this, Mikah dealt with a constant flow of questions about her and her activities, as they worked to get to know more about her.  During this, Mikah represented herself with her best bedside manner, and handled the crowd as she explained the politics around her Knighthood and certification.  When they asked about her adventures, she explained the crew's activities, troubleshooting, as they traveled system to system.  Moving from place to place helping people out impressed a number of her listeners and led to more questions.  Like where Mikah and her ship were headed after Rhylanor?  Mikah explained their planned flight-path to Mora and those listening found that odd, as these were all well off the beaten track.  Those worlds were beaten down by the passage of time and civilization.  She got an obvious boost in their regard as they thought she may have selected that path to be of as much help as possible.  But she lost that boost when Mikah said they chose the route just to get to the Mora system faster.

Of course, she gained back some ground when they asked what would happen if they were asked for help along the way, making the trip longer because they stopped to help?  This was because Mikah simply shrugged and said, "Then the trip takes longer." suggesting time really wasn't a factor at all.  Especially when she admitted that was what was likely to happen anyway, so she was ready for it.  It was this, as well as when they learned that the crew did this for no payment, that really convinced much of the crowd they'd met someone special.

Over the space of the event, Brian met many people who were passionate about their positions while he could care less.  Sadly, he didn't really make a mark on any of those he met and didn't make himself stand out, other than the size of the goodies bag he was building up.  He was overjoyed when he found a number of free carry bags to manage the rest of the toys.  By five in the evening, the other groups were letting out and Brian was working hard to manage the various tote bags filled with collected toys.  In the discussion rooms, various conversations were breaking out about who was going to the banquet and who were going out to various local eateries?  When Zimzod heard about the banquet, he asked for details and learned it was sold out, and he couldn't get in anyway.  He asked about other eateries and got a number of recommendations before he realized he needed to find the others.

When the discussion he was in ended, Rol got ready to leave when another attendee walked up and offered his hand Solomani style.  As he did so, the man looked at Rol's uniform tag and, with barely a noticeable pause, said "You're Sir Rol Kaihvos, aren't you?"  Looking into the man's face, Rol said he was and shook the offered hand.  The man was surprised Rol would have selected that discussion, and asked what drew Rol to it?  Rol gave a simple answer that, since he'd been elevated and created a Knight Defender, he felt he needed to learn more about the quadrant he now represented.  Despite the open greeting, Rol could see criticism in the man's eyes as he appeared to accept the Knight's answer.  He then asked what Rol's plans were for after the conference?  Rol started considering his answer before his comms started to buzz.  Excusing himself, Rol said he had to sync up with the others in his party and bowed out of the conversation politely.

Brian had been going back to where they entered the conference as the display people started breaking up things around 4:30pm.  Reflecting on his afternoon as he lugged the stuffed tote bags, Brian felt the need to cleanse his mind of conversations, both with display representatives and those he had to politely chat with when visiting some tables at the same time.  Now that things were winding down, he wanted to get back to the berth on the port to start checking into his haul, and do some research on his stocks.  Seeing that the others would likely be in discussion groups until 5, Brian asked some of the center staff where they had a computer center for public use?  There, Brian called up the symbol for the company and found the expected host of information on the company's financial performance.

This was broken down into local financial performance and their performance on the Interstellar grid.  Sadly, there was a flood of data on the Dankunlig Trading line LLC.  So much that Brian was nearly overwhelmed by everything.  Everything except the last month's news on the company.  Of course, the more recent news was the more local, with nothing interstellar newer than two weeks.  The data largely covered the signs of continuing improvement in both trade and economic factors since the end of the war.  The best news was that the company appeared to have finally reactivated the trade vessels they shuttered in the later stages of the war.  So, from costing funds while hiding in the spinward Deneb sector to renewed trading activities, this was a good sign.  Despite the good news, removing the ships from mothballs had cost the company money, and they had taken a capital hit.  But even the loans reportedly taken out did not dim views of the company's prospects.  It was just 5pm when Brian finished plowing through the last month's news as his comms began to buzz.

Reaching out to the others, Zimzod first called Rol, to see where he was at and what he was doing?  Rol used the call as an excuse to break away from what might have become an uncomfortable situation.  When he found it was Zimzod, suggesting they all meet by the information desk and go out to eat, Rol agreed and they cut comms.  Done with Rol, Zimzod called Brian, who had just finished reading the recent news on his stocks.  When Brian answered, Zimzod said "We're going out to get something to eat and I wonder if you can meet us by the information desk?"  Brian agreed to meet Zimzod after he did a few things, then dug into his goodies bags to grab a datapad.  He considered getting a hand computer as he recorded a number of details from the screen before clearing it and got moving.

While Brian did that, Zimzod called Mikah and announced the place was getting lame and they should get out and get something to eat.  When he told her they were all meeting by the information desk, Mikah said she couldn't because she was going to the banquet!  This surprised Zimzod, who was told there was no way to buy into that, and Zimzod assumed she decided to crash the dinner.  When he asked about her plan, Mikah said she was invited!  He just said, "Well, OK.  Have a good time with that."  And with that, he cut the comms and headed for the information desk himself.

Dinner Back Aboard
     On the starport, Ms. Vik and Aali were separately shopping as Zach worked at his emails and contacts, Aiden watched a war vid and Emkir worked on the Risek glyphs.  Lucky for him, there was a significant amount of library data available in the Rhylanor system, as the mystery was local.  Unlucky for him, this was a long dead language from a race which had left behind no cultural references at all.  Almost as confusing to Emkir was how the glyphs came to be on the walls of an eight hundred year-old station built by the Octagon Society?  But, despite the odds, something pulled at Emkir, and he followed.  His afternoon was a mix of searching for sites with information, explanations and histories of those who were researching, or had researched, the glyphs and the station itself.  As he worked, he even got messages from some as they'd set triggers on their papers, to let them know when a reader spent more than a given amount of time reading the site.

This was not sinister as much as it was a way to find those engaged in the same research to share more information.  In at least one case, Emkir answered and introduced himself, and was asked why the Imperial Navy was interested in the Risek glyphs?  Emkir pointed out that he was retired from the IISS.  And his research wasn't official, but a personal interest.  Something he was doing for some friends.  This sparked even more interest, as the contact asked who Emkir's friends were and what their interest was?  When Emkir asked why he was so interested, the doctor who owned the site explained that, since they were new, they might have unpublished information.

Emkir offered to send the man a copy of his data and the doctor welcomed that gladly, so he packaged the data into an email and sent it off.  After that, Emkir went back to work while he figured his new pen pal was busy reading through his data.  Almost fifteen minutes later, Emkir received a very brief email saying that the pictures he had appeared to be from restricted sections of the station, and asking what specialized access his "friends" had?  Emkir just repeated that he was doing the work for a friend, and was not at liberty to speculate to how the data was collected.

Curious about Emkir and his "friends", and disappointed at the sudden restrictions, the man asked if Emkir would like to get together to discuss the data face to face?  Emkir considered the offer and said he was unsure of the next day's schedule, and the doctor said his schedule was open.  They agreed to meet at some point the next day and the man asked Emkir which organization he was with?  Emkir again played the mystery card, saying he was not at liberty to answer.  But he did assure the doctor that he was very interested in meeting and sharing information.  Eventually, they agreed Emkir would see when he was available and they would then decide when and where to meet?

Folks went about their work at the berth while Aali window shopped until her alarm went off to warn her to head back to the berth with the boxes of air fresheners.  She got back at the same time Ms. Vik was also returning, via one of the many electric portcabs for Cr 20.  When the cab got very close to the berth, Inger saw Aali walking back and had the cabbie pull over to pick the engineer up, so the two shared the last several hundred meters.  When they arrived, the ladies hopped out and moved into the berth.

When they arrived, Zach and Emkir were working at computer terminals while Aiden was watching what appeared to be a combat vid.  As the others asked the ladies about their shopping, they wondered what was up with the Knights?  As far as anyone knew, they were down on Rhylanor prime so they wondered who'd cook?  Zach volunteered because it had been awhile since he cooked for the crew.  Setting things up, Zach and Ms. Vik discussed taking pictures of her gemstones after dinner.  Then, Inger went for her berth to pull out the loot while Emkir tried to call Rol.  He wanted to talk about the interviews and offers, but couldn't get a connection, so he left a message and got ready for dinner.

That happened while Aali went back to the room and Emkir called out, "Hey Honey!  What's in the bag?" and Aali said "Tell you later." shooting him a look that suggested a prank.  Emkir decided to write up his notes and save the work for later as things looked to be about to get more fun.  He saved his data and locked the terminal so that he could revisit it easily later and found Aali had returned before he finished.

Ms. Vik returned with her items as Zach was serving some of the food he had cooked.  Aiden grabbed a plate and Emkir and Aali were chatting quietly about her day.  They all relaxed as they prepared to enjoy a Knight-free night.  Zach saw Ms. Vik had the dress on a hanger and knew having her pose in the dress would suggest it could be sold intact.  Having said that would lead to bad things before, he didn't try to persuade her to put it on because she'd said she thought keeping it intact would be better.  And he had said he wanted pictures of it being worn.  She settled the stuff on the table as Zach served up a grilled ham and cheese dinner.  Zach also grabbed chow, figuring he'd shoot some pictures afterwards.

While they started eating, Zach asked Emkir how the work on the glyphs were coming, having seen him working on them during the afternoon.  Being honest, Emkir's guesses weren't good, but he said he found another researcher to work with.  Emkir said that he might meet the guy to share notes and see what they could come up with?  Emkir finished up his explanation and asked about the purification plant deal.  Zach explained their options at the moment on that.  Everyone agreed it was a good thing as Zach said they'd get what they need.

As well as that conversation, Ms. Vik asked questions about how Aali and Emkir were getting on with the existing furniture in their combined stateroom?  Inger had an eye to learning her options with her own furniture.  The couple explained they'd pushed together the standard fold-down and self-supported twin beds that were in the stateroom to make one bed that was somewhat smaller than a queen-size bed.  The spacers, Aiden included, said there were a lot of configurations possible with standard fittings, and even more if you wanted to spend your cash.  Emkir and Aali admitted they probably should do better.  After chow, while Zach and Ms. Vik photographed the items she wanted to sell, Aali and Emkir went back to their room as Emkir asked about the bag again.  Keeping things quite until they were in the room, Aali showed Emkir the air fresheners.  When Emkir realized what he was looking at they both shared a laugh before sharing....other emotions.

Adventure At The Restaurant
     At the quickly ending conference, Rol and Brian meet Zimzod at the information desk and noticed Dame Mikah was conspicuously missing.  When the others wondered where she was, Zimzod ignored the curious looks and checked out the listings of restaurants the information booth had.  Finally, when Brian asked, "Shouldn't we wait for Mikah?" Zimzod said "Mikah ain't comin'." as if he'd planned it that way all along.  Surprised by the answer, Brian asked, "Did you kill her and stuff her in an alley or something?" in a confused voice.  In a hurt voice, Zimzod said, "No!  I actually like Mikah."  When Brian said she shot him, Zimzod answered in a more assertive voice, "She had a good reason."

Rol picked that up responding, "So...  What you're saying is that..  We're not good enough for her?" in a flat voice.  Zimzod batted that joke away saying Mikah got asked to another engagement.  Accepting that, they settled down to choosing a place to eat and Zimzod suggested they should choose someplace nice given they were all dressed up.  After they agreed, the men asked one of the workers at the booth.  Well trained, the people manning the booth were unphased at the array of uniforms and weapons at a largely peaceful conference and suggested a higher end restaurant serving a broad range of races, tastes and cultures.

The men arrived at the restaurant to find it was fairly full, though they were not surprised given how close the place was to the conference site.  And, as the trio walked in with two of them in dress uniforms, one of them armed, and with the third man in a suit, a number of people looked them up and down.  As the restaurant's greeter was coming over, Rol spotted the guy who'd recognized him at the conference.  He also saw the man recognized him too.  At that moment, Rol saw as the man turned to his companions and started speaking quickly.  Turning to the others, Rol suggested they go someplace else and Brian verbally swatted that suggestion away confidently.  Zimzod added, "This'll be fun." with an evil smile.

Bowing to popular demand, Rol and the others started to follow the greeter when Rol saw the man stand and call out, "Major Kaihvos!  We have a couple of seats over here.  Why don't you sit with us?"  As the man's words cut across the conversations, the entire restaurant fell silent and all eyes turned on the Knights.  While Rol did note two open seats at the man's table, he again said that perhaps they should eat somewhere else.  But Zimzod was having none of that as he insisted they follow the now nervous greeter to their table.  Brian appeared oblivious to any issues as he followed the young lady to a table.

As Rol flashed a smile and nod of recognition to the man before obviously not accepting as he moved away, he ignored the now muted atmosphere of the place.  Looking back at the others as he arrived at their table, Brian noticed the amount of attention they'd gained, flashed a media smile and gave a set of waves to the diners.  Deciding on his own tactics, Zimzod scanned the tables he was passing for attractive women and made comments like, "Hi!  How you doin'?" to a few he saw were looking at him.  He did his best to greet all the ladies he could as he passed.  He was doing his best to be inviting and not intimidating as he also chose one or two to concentrate on.  Once the three of them were at the table, the hostess asked, "Will this be OK?" and was very relieved when Zimzod asked if they had something on the outskirts of the dining area and not in the middle of things?  Saying "I think so", she led the men off again as Brian and Zimzod continued their antics.

Brian even stopped to shake hands from time to time, but did keep note of the man who shouted to Rol.  That man appeared to be watching the proceedings with a very satisfied look on his face.  That, and there only having been two seats open when he invited them over, heavily suggested intent in Brian's opinion.  As he checked, Brian noticed that all those sitting in that party appeared very pleased with how things were unfolding.  As they looked around, Brian and Zimzod realized they could easily tell who was excited or disgusted that Rol was there.  Rol concentrated on getting to the table while the other two figured this could go really well or really bad.  Seeing this, Brian caught the hostess and said that they could use a nice quite table as he slipped her a Cr 5 note.  She just smiled, saying she had just the table for them.  Zimzod watched this, and liked that the girl was holding things together pretty well and wasn't bad looking either.

Thinking about that, Zimzod did his best to shift into "friendly mode" and suggested she could relax a bit.  And she actually did seem to relax.  At the table, they saw they were in a corner and Zimzod was very happy to have a wall to put his back to.  Looking at the seats, Brian decided to take the seat which put his back to the crowd, as conversation slowly started increasing in volume.  Helping get things settled in, the hostess said she'd get a server over to them quickly but also asked if she could take their drink orders at that point?  Zimzod decided to order a beer called "Blue Moon", originally believed to have been exported from Terra.  At the same time, Brian ordered an alcoholic drink while Rol ordered something non-alcoholic.

Soon after she left, their server came over with a relaxed attitude that showed she was used to assisting high profile customers.  As they looked her up and down, she told them about the specials and asked what brought them to the restaurant?  Ever friendly, Brian reached into his swag bags and grabbed one of the many brand name printed datapads, worth as much as five whole credits, and said, "Here, have a souvenir."  For her part, the waitress did a perfect job of accepting the pad without showing she was not interested at all.  Brian went for a farm-raised seafood special while Rol and Zimzod ordered steaks.  The waitress ran down a list of options with the steaks and Zimzod got real specific on how he wanted his "instant smashed potatoes".  When someone asked how they were doing the check, Brian said he'd pay and Zimzod said, "Hey!  You're all right!"

When Rol said that Brian must have had a stroke of luck, Brian said they hadn't had a chance to celebrate Rol's Knighthood.  Doing so, he took his glass, raising it, and said "Welcome to the club."  They chatted briefly, until a couple came walking up to the table.  Seeing them, Rol considered the odds that knocking them out and dumping them elsewhere would be the right answer.  Sadly, he knew it was not.  The couple arrived with an air of having every right to intrude as they reached the three Knights and introduced themselves.  The three stood to greet the couple as they arrived.

It turned out they were both Knights, and they obviously knew who Rol was but were wondering who the others were?  Zimzod and Brian introduced themselves and the couple were pleased to meet the other Knights.  They congratulated Rol on his elevation and the man said he was in business services.  He gave Rol his information and offered that, if he could help, Rol should call him.  Checking the data, Rol saw they were locally based.  As he read that, they asked what brought him to their part of Rhylanor?  Rol said he'd been attending the conference.  Pleased, they said they were involved in the event and wondered what part of the event most attracted him?  Without missing a beat, Brian blurted out, "The free stuff!" as he held up his bags.  The wife actually caught herself about to laugh, and they watched as she visibly controlled herself.

Rol admitted he'd been trying to get a grasp of the entire conference, to see what aspects he could really learn from.  Zimzod said that he was interested in the discussions on military effects on societies.  As the Dame said she'd attended some of the military-based discussions, her husband asked Rol which seminars he attended?  Her husband rattled off the list of events he attended and asked Rol if he had any thoughts on those seminars?  When Rol said it was interesting material but not really his field, they invited him to call if he was interested in more information?  After a few more comments, the couple went back to their table.  But as they were leaving, a voice raised up over the general buzz and loudly said, "Murderer".  Out of the black, they couldn't tell if it was just a projected word in part of a statement or an one word accusation.  Of course, the place went silent in the wake of the comment, while the retreating couple walked and ignored the outburst.

As it appeared the whole place was waiting for the other shoe to drop, a well-dressed older gentleman stood and raised a glass in his hand.  As the Knights began reviewing the various scenarios running through their minds, the man called out, "Ladies and Gentlemen, I think it incumbent upon us, in recognition of our Duke's actions and considerations, that we congratulate Sir Rol on his recent elevation.  As the man spoke, he swept the entire place with his eyes and the gaze dominated as everyone else fell silent.  When the man finished, he drank to his toast and every person the Knights could see followed suit.

Finishing his glass, the man set it down on the table before stepping over to their table.  The Knights stood to receive this newcomer, who nodded at Rol saying "Greetings Sir Knight."  He then turned to the others for introductions as Rol bowed to the man and the others shook hands.  He was Count Krenowl, and he was the nobleman who held this region of Rhylanor in fief from Duke Leonard.  He was hosting Dame Aaniika's conference.  He welcomed them to his lands on Rhylanor.  Each of the Knights thanked him and Rol thanked him for the toast as well.  After introductions, the Count asked if they minded him joining them for a bit?  The Knights were glad to accept, and Brian quickly moved his tote bags with an apology to the Count.  Brian than waved for their waitress as he asked the Count if they could buy him a drink? The Count waved that off, but thanked Brian for the offer.  They sat and the waitress arrived with another person bringing four glasses to refresh all the drinks at the table.  When these arrived, Zimzod returned the Count's toast.

With the civilities taken care of, Count Krenowl apologized to Rol for the attitudes of certain conference attendees.  Rol nodded and said, "It's a free planet, for now."  The Count raised an eyebrow and asked about the comment "...for now." inquiring if Rol had either news or plans?  Rol apologized for the joke.  Nodding and personally congratulating Rol on his Knighthood, the Count asked what plans he had?  Rol admitted he was still adjusting to being a Knight, saying it was an unexpected event.  He explained that they had business to resolve, and work to be done on their ship.  As a result, he felt they'd be in the system for some weeks, learning about Rhylanor and its people.  When he heard this, Count Krenowl asked if their ship was on an orbital facility or down on the planet?  When Rol said the ship was in orbit, the Count nodded, saying the best yards are orbital unless you really needed to land and rip the ship open.

As he said this, Brian muttered, "Funny you should say that." and the Count stopped and asked Brian how serious the work was?  Brian explained that they were trying to install a new fuel purification plant without overrunning their resources.  Count Krenowl asked if it was a shipyard they needed or what resources they were looking for?  Brian outlined the deal they had currently, without going too far into details.  But he did cover the numbers quickly, and pointed out the gap.  The Count realized that the issue was financial and Brian asked, "Isn't it always Your Excellency?" with a wink.  The Count asked about their ship and Brian said it's a 250 ton Stingray class yacht.  The Count asked when they were hoping to have this done and Brian said they hoped to get it done within the month.  That said, Count Krenowl nodded and said he could speak to a few people and see what he could find out for them.

As the Knights thanked him for his offer, the Count rose with his drink, lifting it one more time and saying he hoped they enjoyed their dinner.  Before he left, Brian asked if there was anything else the Count wanted to speak to them about, given that their ship issues pretty much took over the conversation.  The Count said that he knew of Rol from the news.  And then with a bit of a grin he said he also knew a bit about Sir Brian from the news too.  But, he explained, he just wanted to meet them personally and get a better understanding of them.  Soon after he left, the food arrived and much of the conversation in the place started returning.  Though never to the levels it was.  The meal then proceeded fairly well until they saw a team of dark suited people arrive at the greeter's post.

After a brief conversation with the greeter, the team were led off the open floor into an office.  As the Knights ate, watched and considered their options, ten minutes passed.  After that, the team emerged again from the office and made their way to a table of diners where they literally plucked a diner from his seat and began taking him into custody!  As the diner protested, the Knights recognized his voice.  Those he was eating with joined the protest and the Knights realized this must have been the man who yelled out "Murderer" earlier.  And while they watched, Rol was satisfied to see his "associate" among the diners.  Their protests were shut down while they were bound and led out of the restaurant.  Brian simply sank a bit lower in his seat as they were reminded this was a Dictatorship, no matter the local governmental profile.  Rol simply muttered to the others, "Free for now..."  Brian just commented, "Zimzod was right, this restaurant was a good idea" as conversation once more started to pick up after a complete silence.

Dinner With Dame Ashlee
     At the banquet, Mikah found she'd been seated at a table filled with luminaries including the woman behind the conference, Dame Ashlee.  This suited Mikah fine as she was sure the Knight, from a family of old money and aristocracy, was on her list of people to meet and impress.  And she saw the food was all top notch!  The beef was "zero gravity raised" from the Glisten system, and they had Chardonnay from Zila wineries!  Seeing this, she made sure to get a glass or two of that, and found it very tasty.  When the first drinks were served, an unspoken judgment seemed to occur, based on the grade of refreshments chosen.  Mikah noted she seemed to have made the grade, as introductions were started.  Beyond herself and Dame Ashlee, there were some Court Counts and Countesses, several Barons and Baronesses as well as some other Knights.  When it came time for Mikah to introduce herself, that task was taken up by a Lady Tiryrini Avocra, who got her into the banquet to start.

Lady Tiryrini gave a glowing introduction, leaning heavily on the known information that Doctor Kirlim was one of those on site during the response to the Risek outbreak, and the one who found the cure.  This centered all the attention on Mikah as she became the star attraction throughout the dinner.  As they asked her questions, or for information on the incident, Mikah very carefully observed the limits the military asked her to.  Despite this, she described the fairly horrific conditions and situations.  She also spoke out against the collapse of medical authority and how that increased the death toll.  As Mikah warmed to that subject, she found that others at the table had encountered the same thing.  While Mikah talked, they pointed out that, when the larger authority structures and society break down, there was little to hold things together, and the doctors can't cover it.  They did give her credit for going in where there was no authority and finding a cure.  When Mikah continued to push training in crisis leadership, Dame Ashlee herself spoke up, suggesting this may be due to Dame Mikah's military point of view.

When Mikah asked her to explain, Ashlee said the military were usually the organization that came in and established order where there was none.  She pointed out that, for civilians, this view was much different and asked what other experiences Mikah had had?  Responding to Dame Ashlee, Mikah mentioned Emerald, and some of the people at the table went white.  Mikah asked, and found that they were not there, but had read extensively on the situation.  She discussed what she saw at the end of the war, but "soft shoed" it to not really lay things on during dinner.  During one light moment, one of the Dukes said that since Mikah was on both Emerald and Risek, "Remind me never to travel with you!"  Mikah came right back with, "We're always looking for a few good men", and Dame Ashlee used that joke to ask about Rol being in her crew?

Caught by surprise, Mikah joked that he made a very good grilled cheese, with a satisfied nod which stopped everyone in their tracks.  Into the silence, Mikah explained, "He's our cook on the ship."  Dame Ashlee nodded into the silence, having to work to get back into her train of thought, and asked Mikah about the juxtaposition with what Rol's accused of?  Matter of factly, Mikah stated he had never shown any capacity for that kind of action in her experience, but admitted he had shown quirkiness.  When the Knight pushed, asking if Mikah had not ever felt the need to question him, Mikah said, "Not for that."  That begged the question what Mikah had questioned him about and Mikah said that, while they had been involved in some police style raids, Rol just seemed, "weird".

As if he'd just gotten "it", one of the Barons commented, "When you say troubleshooting, you mean it to be on the extreme end then?" and Mikah simply answered, "Well.  Whatever comes up." with a shrug of the shoulders.  She continued saying, "We've done humanitarian stuff, we've done military stuff."  A Duke asked what the crew charged for their work and Mikah said they didn't.  With this, Dame Ashlee leaned forward asking, "Would you be interested in helping out with a situation?"  Mikah said that was what they were supposed to be doing, with an uncomfortable feeling.  The Dame turned to nod at a Baron who gave Mikah a data card and asked her to talk with them after the banquet.  Just as quickly as Mikah agreed to the request, Dame Ashlee turned to the others at the table, asking what seminars they attended and what they liked about them?

Lady Tiryrini leaned over and quietly said, "Don't worry dear.  We can do the seminar on Risek some other time."  Mikah checked out the Baron's card and found his name was "Asilova Devonnews" and he was involved in sophont's rights and the rescue of those ill-treated by their governments.  When she hit the data studs, she got a play of a number of informational blurbs on their activities.  Eventually the meal came and people ate and socialized.  As those at the table slowly faded off to other pursuits, Dame Ashlee slowly moved, seat by seat, closer to Mikah.  Soon it was just her, Mikah, Baron Devonnews, Lady Tiryrini and another female Knight Mikah didn't recall the details on.

An Offer With Strings
     After reorganizing seats, more complete introductions were made and it turned out the other female Knight was Dame Darwofk, and she worked for Baron Devonnews, though no one said in what capacity?  Mikah noted the two were not sitting together, so they did not appear to be a couple.  With introductions done, Baron Devonnews admitted he had a problem he needed help with.  While they admitted the trip would be out of Mikah's way to Mora, they also said it would be of very great help if Mikah and her crew could assist.  As Mikah quietly waited, the Baron asked how much she knew about the Pavabid system?  Mikah recalled seeing stories in the news about their planned choir tour, and the protests over their perceived religious enslavement of the system's population.  Beyond that, she knew about the floating palace they had, which had been built in the Glisten system.  But she couldn't admit to anything more.  The Baron explained that his group sent a team to the system, on the request of Duchess Muktheswana of Glisten.  They were to recover certain people from that system.

Unfortunately, that team had stopped communicating in the last two months, and the organization was looking for troubleshooters to track down the team and determine what was going on, or what happened to them?  The Baron stressed that troubleshooters would only have to bring back word from their people, or on their fate.  Mikah nodded, and said she'd have to talk about the job offer with her crew.  She admitted Sir's Zimzod and Brian had experience on rescue operations, but the rest of the crew didn't.  Mikah also said their ship needed to have a new fuel purification plant installed and was finishing a general overhaul at the moment.  Checking her data pad, Dame Darwofk asked how far the work on their ship had gotten and Mikah said the plant installation hadn't started and the overhaul was just finishing.  Nodding, the Baron asked how long they expected the work to take and Mikah hedged on that.  The deal wasn't quite done, and she didn't know the timing.  She did say they expected to be in port for another three weeks.

Baron Devonnews asked if they had the plant to install already, and Mikah said she did but some details were still being negotiated.  Guessing well, the Baron suggested they could help Mikah and her crew if they agreed to help his organization.  He explained that, if they already had the plant, the Baron could provide a "ride" on a Jump-6 cargo hauler that would both get them to the Collace system, a jump one from Pavabid, while the cargo bay they'd be carried in would double as a shipyard in which to complete the installation.  Mikah was very interested, since it would save them a great deal on not having to hire a shipyard.  The Baron pointed out that they could make use of the available engineers from the cargo vessel, so they'd not have to pay engineers either.

To get more data for the crew, Mikah asked about returning to Rhylanor after the job was done?  Dame Darwofk asked where they were going after Rhylanor?  When Mikah said they were headed to the Mora system, the Knight smiled and said she could assure them a Jump-6 ship would carry them to the Mora system in their cargo hold.  This impressed Mikah, though she realized she could have guessed this as the J-6 freighter would be at Collace for some time, and be available for a trip outbound.  When Mikah asked about where the J-6 freighter would come from, she was told they could cut a deal with one of the MegaCorp cargo haulers to make cargo space and support available to them.  She was told they'd cut a deal on Dame Mikah's behalf.  As they talked, they covered the details and Mikah made it clear they needed a few weeks more in Rhylanor, though she didn't mention the Tellona Diamond auction.  They agreed, as they needed to set things up on their end too.

Baron Devonnews said this was obviously not an emergency, as they'd be travelling for two months in any case.  Mikah asked about the timing, because she wanted to meet Duke Norris on Mora.  So they discussed likely routes on Dame Darwofk's datapad, which turned out to be a very high tech hand computer.  As she worked, Mikah got to see a number of assumptions implicit in the itinerary that was forming up.  What she first learned was that the "cargo bay" their ship would be in would be a dismountable fixture made to attach to freighters of a monstrous size.  These classes of ship rarely got close in to a system, and relied on tankers to refuel and small fleets of smaller vessels to bring the cargo bays in-system.  Such vessels were capable of delivering a wide variety of supplies to many worlds and moons in a single system from one arrival point.

As Mikah watched Dame Darwofk's data wizardry, it appeared she could tap into a number of highly secure shipping itineraries which any pirate or raider would give several worlds to get at.  Soon, the Knight patched together a pathway that had a first cargo ship double jump, from Rhylanor to the Skull system(Lanth Subsector).  Then to the Shirene System(Lunion Subsector) after a 'quick refuel'.  In order not to push that ship's jump engines, the container with their ship would then be transferred to a second ship, already fueled, which would jump to the Smoug System(Lunion Subsector) and quick refuel for a jump to the independent Pagaton System in District 268.  From Pagaton, Dame Darwofk appeared to depend on a third cargo vessel to pick them up and carry them to the Collace system, where they'd be released to make the final jump into the Pavabid system on their own.

Mikah had memories of a similar trip, inside a cargo vessel as a crew member of Grift's IMS Singing Star.  That trip was on the way to the Hruntling system, to rescue Duke Norris' diplomats.  As the Knight worked, the return trip started at Pavabid, where the Hotel California would "land" in the cargo bay of an available freighter, for a jump to the Egypt system(Glisten Subsector) and then refuel for a jump to the Ffudn System(Glisten Subsector).  There, a second freighter would take them to the Pedase System(Mora Subsector), and then the Fornice System, County Seat of Admiral Sir Frederick Santanocheev.  Reading over the Knight's shoulder, Mikah saw a note she had never seen before...  Count Sir Frederick Santanocheev was Duchess Delphine's Nephew!  Knowing this had to be well known, Mikah had to wonder why she was only just learning this?

From Fornice, Dame Darwofk's plan was for the Hotel California to jump to the Mora system on its own, after being released from the cargo vessel fully fueled and prepared.  That meant the entire trip to Pavabid would take six weeks and the return five.  That would put them in the Mora system three months after departing Rhylanor, if their business on Pavabid took only a week.  With the crew not leaving until after the Diamond auction, this meant they'd be in the Mora system in almost four months' time.  That also meant they could miss Duke Norris by a week or two, unless he stayed longer than intended.  But since Mikah mostly wanted to talk to him about the fuel purification plant, that meeting wasn't as critical as it once was.

Not willing to speak for the crew, Mikah tried to wrap things up on the offered job, feeling she had a good handle on the situation.  She also thought about the many nobles she'd please if they even agreed to attempt the mission.  This included another of the more powerful figures from Mikah's childhood.  Mikah remembered the 'then' young Lady Avaraja Astaarte Muktheswana, elevated to Duchess of Glisten after her father's passing.  Now, she would have a chance to serve that Duchess, who she had to admit inspired her as a girl.  And given that Duchess was arguably as powerful, in the rimward Spinward Marches, as Norris had been before the war, helping her could not be a bad thing.  Settling into their drinks, Mikah thanked Lady Tiryrini for inviting her to the banquet, and those at the table thanked her for coming.

Dame Ashlee thanked Mikah for joining them, as she found it much more informative and interesting to meet her than to hear snippets about her and the crew via the media.  Mikah cringed a bit, considering the blitz on Rol and Brian's interview, and simply said, "We're not as bad as they say we are."  Seeming playful, Dame Ashlee asked, "Even Sir Rol?" and Mikah assured her, "Even Sir Rol, as far as I know."  Of course, inside, she really didn't feel Rol had shown any level of the danger they'd heard of, and Mikah wouldn't believe it true if it was not a matter of record.

Mikah did joke that she did have one 'annoyance' on the crew that she could happily leave on Pavabid, as she considered the moans groans and prognostications of doom she'd get from Aiden when she pitched the idea.  Dame Ashlee leaned a bit forward as she asked, "Do tell?" and Mikah explained that their biggest nay-sayer was the ship's chief pilot.  But Mikah said they had other pilots, and could get rid of him if he got that bad.  Dame Ashlee took this as word play rather than what might have been a cold-blooded streak.  Not wanting to follow that trail, lest it lead to less savory discoveries, Dame Ashlee said that sounded like an internal matter for the crew.  Mikah just agreed with her on that.

After that, they relaxed with polite chatter until they had to tend to other responsibilities, and the little conference broke up.  Before Lady Tiryrini left, Mikah asked when they could do the presentation on the Risek affair?  Lady Tiryrini admitted she hoped they could have done it while the attendees to the conference were still available.  She said that might not be possible, now that people were heading back to their home regions and systems.  She also pointed out that, given what Mikah had said during dinner, it sounded much like data on the heels of what the Imperial Navy had released, so the information was largely out there if not from a firsthand perspective.

Lady Tiryrini also said it appeared Mikah had something much more important to do now, with a smile.  The smile showed both a bit of friendship and some satisfaction, because she'd gotten a social 'step up' by bringing Dame Mikah to dinner.  Given that many in the aristocracy were often engaged in self-promotion, this manipulation might not have reached the level of the Hiver's, but it certainly seemed to have worked out well for everyone.  At that point, Mikah saw it was getting close to 8pm, and she needed to contact the other Knights and decide what they were doing next?

Heading Back Into Orbit
     By half past Seven, the other knights were finishing up their meals and Brian absolutely wanted dessert.  The others agreed when the server told them their desserts would be comp'd by the management, due to the "unpleasantness".  She said their drinks would also be covered.  They were finishing their desserts, nearing 8pm, when Zimzod's comms started to buzz.  He answered to find it was Dame Mikah.  They both said they had excellent dinners and a lot of fun, at which Mikah joked, "Are you guys still alive?  All of you?"  Zimzod said it was nothing like that, and boosted his voice as he said, "Sir Rol had a great time!"  Looking forward to hearing the latest comic events to be dumped on the former Marine, Mikah said, "Can't wait to hear about that!"  Mikah asked if they were ready to head back to the port?  Zimzod said they were ready to wrap things up, and could meet her back at the Probe for the flight.

After finishing the conversation, Brian threw Cr 20 on the table, as a tip, and they went over to thank the manager and staff, and pay their bill.  Brian saw the bill go from nearly Cr190, with the drinks and meals, to Cr 150 without them.  He was very satisfied with a very good dinner and show, as well as new friends.  As they were leaving, a diner stood, raising his glass and called out, "All Hail the Imperium!"  Everyone else stood to raise a glass they had, they grabbed or were handed, including the Knights, to repeat the toast.  As they drank, the Knights realized they were handed water.  Zimzod turned to the others and said, "See?  I told you I liked this place!" and Rol joked, "Don't get used to it."

On the way back to the Probe, Zimzod paid the Cr 20 cab fare for the men, and Mikah for herself.  By coincidence, they arrived at the same relative time and made their way to the berth the Probe was housed in.  Mikah was surprised they were all in one piece and showed no signs of a fight.  She did tell the others about the banquet, and especially about the chardonnay.  They compared notes, as they walked, on their experiences.  Zimzod talked about the "misguided panty waists" at the conference and then about the great time they had at dinner, even though Rol didn't want to stay.  Mikah said Rol should listen to Zimzod more.  Zimzod told Mikah about Count Krenowl, and the events that led to him coming to their table.

Mikah enjoyed Rol's embarrassment and was privately very happy things didn't turn bad.  Zimzod topped off his comments by bragging about the comp'd desserts and drinks.  As his comments were winding down, Mikah pointed to Brian's tote bags and asked, "What are these bags?"  Brian happily proclaimed, "Free Stuff!  Want some?"  As he spoke, Brian reached into one of the bags and pulled out a box, handing it to Mikah.  Despite her reluctance, Mikah took the offered item and checked it over saying, "OK" in an uncertain voice.  As she looked, Mikah found it was an electronic advertising "stack", the equivalent of a very glitzy and flashy 'Flash drive'.

Splitting a second of her attention to the flashing vid on the card's mini-screen, Mikah saw some sort of advertisement for some algae that cleaned pollution from water.  Saying, "Hmmm, Yum!", Mikah continued, "You can have that back." as if talking to a child.  At the same time, she slipped the card back into one of Brian's totes.  Mikah then started describing her evening which included dinner, completely-free, with Dame Ashlee.  Mikah pointed out she was the head of the think tank and charity.  Mikah described the taste and texture of the zero-g beef and the chardonnay.  Zimzod was hurt when he learned Mikah didn't ask for a bottle of the stuff, but she said they were not giving out doggie flasks.  Zimzod went on a bit on how Mikah should have tried, and finished up with, "...Just sayin'." and a shrug.  Mikah let him vent and dismissed the rant with an off handed "maybe next time."

Letting the pause stretch, she told them she got an offer for an interesting new job and Brian broke in, joking, "Hooking?"  Mikah shot him a glare, reminding him she was armed and Brian said, "So?  So am I," with an air of 'get a sense of humor' in his voice.  Rol said he thought they already had a job lined up with the Duke?  Ignoring Rol, and looking at Zimzod and Brian, Mikah said, "Remember the old days when we used to go on jobs to rescue people?"  Zimzod said he did, though they only went on three such jobs, and one was forced.  Mikah said this was another one of those, making it sound old hat for Rol's benefit.  She then clarified, "We don't actually have to rescue them.  We just have to find out what happened to them?"  Zimzod asked, "Ok.  What's the profit margin on this?"  Mikah explained, "Well, they'll provide the shipyard and engineers to put the purification plant in for free.  And, when we're done they'll take us straight to Mora."

When Zimzod asked, Mikah said they wouldn't have to pay for fuel from Rhylanor to Mora.  After going over the plan in general, Zimzod said he was in, because he was getting tired of all the hob-nobbing and goober smoochin'.  When Brian asked where they had to go, Mikah said it was in District 268.  Brian asked, "What?  That's halfway across the sector!"  He didn't add in that it was also the wrong direction.  Concerned that they needed to confirm their titles, Zimzod asked if it helped with that and Mikah told them it would get them "big kudos".  She said a lot of important people were involved in the organization.  Both Zimzod and Brian remembered the deal they had with Duke Bondal a'Plena when they got back to the Vilis subsector from the Sword Worlds.

Mikah said it was actually for a charity thing, and Zimzod said, "Ok. So, you hob-nobbed and goober smooched."  Mikah happily answered, "I did!"  Brian mentioned that, when they were hob-nobbing with Count Krenowl, he suggested he might be able to help them.  He said they should let him know what they had.  It became apparent they needed to sit down, go over the many contacts they were starting to make and see if they could play 'connect the dots' to get some of the things they really needed, or resolve some of the many issues facing them?  Zimzod suggested they might be able to get help from Count Krenowl on the purification plant, or on the cargo of mechanical parts.  Rol asked for a timeframe on this offered job, and Mikah said they were not in a rush because they figured their people may already be dead.

She repeated that they just wanted to know what happened.  Zimzod grunted and said the people usually didn't want to talk about what happened to dead people.  He was ok with getting data, as long as they didn't want the corpses back.  He finished up saying, "They have to be pretty stinky by now."  As the Knights settled on their decisions, Zimzod agreed because he hadn't shot anyone in a long time.  When Rol scowled, Zimzod said, "I'm just sayin'."  Mikah added in that the last person she shot was Zimzod, and everyone except Rol laughed.  They talked as they got to the Probe, got launch clearance and flew out to the orbital port to dock with the Hotel California.  So they'd made firm decisions on how they each felt about the job and Mikah had a better handle on how to introduce the offer to the others.

Next: A Tide Rising To Disaster