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Last Updated    October 12 2017
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A Tide Rising To
      Disaster

Zach's Plans As The Others Gather
     In the berth, Zach took pictures of Ms. Vik's valuables from the Quasar Viper and started cleaning the shots up. Once he'd done that, Zach copied them to the two datapads Brian had checked. Zach worked to put a full set of pictures on each of the two devices, making sure they were prepared for his appointments at 10 and 11pm. As he worked, Aiden relaxed with some light reading. After stowing her gear, Ms. Vik checked the port vid library for interesting movies or shows. She scanned the new releases for Rhylanor-based romances. Around 8pm, Zach got a call from his first customer saying they would meet at a pawn shop. When Zach agreed, Tarulli gave Zach the address. Checking on the computer, Zach saw the shop wasn't very far from the berth, but he would still need a taxi. As they talked, he reminded himself this man could only be trusted within limits. And he could definitely be dangerous. Station

Zach worked with the guy because, as far as he knew, the man didn't burn contacts unless he had to. Still, he was not completely worth trusting. Eventually Zach had the pictures just as he wanted them. Done with that, Zach checked the distances to the appointments he had. He saw the two were far enough apart that he couldn't come back to the berth between them. So he looked for a place renting storage lockers, to store one of the datapads in during the first appointment. Once he had his addresses in order, Zach considered calling the IRIS taxi driver, and decided he didn't feel IRIS needed to know what he was doing. So Zach called for a port taxi and discussed his itinerary with Aiden. That way, someone had a detailed listing of his activities in case something went wrong. Once the port-cab arrived, he was on his way.

As Zach had worked, and the others were enjoying the evening free, the knights called the ship saying they were in-bound and should be back as soon as they could. As Mikah was calling from the cutter's comms, Zimzod, Brian and Rol checked their personal comms. Rol found he'd recently received a message and, as he listened to it, found it was the message Emkir left before dinner. Realizing there had been some time since the message was left, Rol called Emkir and got a message box as Emkir was "not currently able to abandon Aali" to answer. Rol left a simple message that they were returning to the port and he'd see Emkir then.

Zach's First Meeting
     Zach had put on a nice enough suit and made sure it would "fit in" with his knife scabbarded, from his belt. He had the driver stop and wait at a shop where he stored the second datapad before he had himself delivered to the pawn shop and paid the fare. Having arrived a bit early, Zach went inside and browsed until a staffer came to him asking, "You Woods?" Zach said he was, and was led into the back offices of the shop. The passage was a bit labyrinthine, and sometimes clogged with items not yet stored or placed in the shop for display. Eventually, they reached a receiving or storage room, with a number of crated items and such. Waiting there was Zach's first "customer", with a few of his guys. Checking for exits and items of note, Zach saw the human-sized door he entered behind him. There was a "cargo door" further ahead of him in the back of the space. That suggested this was a receiving dock. The look on Tarulli Itium's face was not a happy one, as he'd come out to see pictures of the goods against his preferences. As Zach stepped into his sales pitch, they spent a good fifteen minutes going over the items. During this process, one of the guys Zach had thought was muscle was called on to consult on the images. He and Tarulli spent some time whispering back and forth. Being a professional, Zach allowed them their privacy.

Finally, Tarulli asked Zach where he came into the items, and Zach started to say, "I know some people who have these items and..." Tarulli interrupted him, showing he was not in a mood for the usual games. He asked where Zach came into "this", pointing to one picture of the gown. Speaking deliberately, Zach said, "Someone that I know, has it, and wants to sell it." Pushing back, Tarulli asked where 'they' came into the gown, and Zach plead ignorance. Zach could tell from his expression that this wasn't the answer Tarulli wanted, but the man nodded. Coming to a decision, Tarulli told Zach the other stuff was "chump change" but the dress was special, and he might know a guy. Tarulli asked what kind of deal this would be, wondering if he was the only buyer, or if Zach had called others to set up an auction? Zach reminded Tarulli that he really wanted the dress to disappear. Tarulli again stopped him, asking how many people Zach had approached? He wanted to know if he'd have to compete for the items? Tarulli was even less pleased when Zach told him he'd made other contacts.

Before he made any offers, he summed up, "So, you were certain I wanted this. But you called someone else too? Did you call them before me or after me?" Zach said he might have called Tarulli first or second and couldn't remember. This was a mistake, because Zach when called him, he'd said he "knew" Tarulli would be interested enough to come look at pictures immediately. Tarulli knew Zach Wood was hiding information, and doing a very bad job of it. And Zach had no idea how much danger he was in at the moment. When Tarulli pushed back saying, "So you weren't really certain I would want this?" Zach said "I was certain, but I have to keep my options open in case I'm wrong."

Tarulli really wanted to just shoot the merchant at that point. Changing tracks before he did something he'd regret, Tarulli asked Zach if the seller had a price set? Zach said KCr 70 for the dress. As he heard that, Tarulli made an expression Zach couldn't read at all. Tarulli then asked about the two or three days Zach claimed it would take to get the actual items in hand? Wanting to know what the difficulty with getting them was? Zach said that he was playing things the way his client wanted him to. Tarulli asked to clarify if Zach had the items in hand, or didn't have them? Zach admitted he had them, but there were restrictions. Nodding, Tarulli asked when Zach was meeting the other buyer and Zach said the next meeting was later that night.

Tarulli said, "And you want 70?" Zach confirmed that was what his client wanted to get from the dress. After a pause, Tarulli said, "Call me after you talk to the other contact." When Zach pushed, asking, "How much are you going to offer?" and Tarulli stood firm, telling him to call him after the other meeting. Zach nodded, but still wasn't ready to give up as he asked, "What about the other stuff?" Tarulli considered the pictures again, knowing Zach also wanted Cr 70,000 for all of that together. Shrugging, he said, "Without seeing them in hand, I'd offer 40." meaning KCr 40. Zach was disappointed and said so. Then he said he'd talk to his other contacts and get back to Tarulli on how things played out. Tarulli nodded as he accepted that. He also nodded to his people, who visibly relaxed showing they had really been ready for the deal to go bad.

As the meeting ended, Zach hoped to mend some fences, letting Tarulli keep the KCr 1 datapad as an unstated point of his affluence and ability to throw money around. And with the end of the meeting, Zach left the shop as he called another taxi. As he waited for the pickup, Zach spotted one of Tarulli's boys watching him. Soon enough, the cab came and Zach directed the driver back to where he had to pick up the second datapad before his next appointment. Zach did his best to check if he was being followed, but was in the back of the cab and didn't have the view screens or other portals to easily track any traffic behind him. Eventually this ride cost him Cr 20. On arrival at Rurore Arcea's office, Zach went in the front office and identified himself. He was led into Arcea's back office where the man seemed to be hosting a card game.

Zach's Second Meeting
     As Zach entered, one of the muscle stopped him and held him up until they verified Zach was allowed to enter. As he scanned the players, Zach realized a handful of them were actually some of Arcea's competitors. Or former competitors, if business had changed that much. Zach could certainly tell things had changed in the past year, but couldn't tell if that meant things were better, worse or just more friendly now. As he accessed those at the table, there were some wheeler dealers and one leg breaker. In fact, Zach realized the man was a professional breaker and mercenary enforcer. Or, at least, he had been. Zach really had some issues mentally modeling the new company these guys may have glued together as he stepped forward. Once Zach spoke his piece and handed Arcea the datapad, the boss checked out the pictures and handed the device around. As this was happening, Zach tried to make small talk, and see how things had been going for Arcea over the last year. Arcea admitted business was ok, and talked about the very generic effects of the return of trade after the war.

This was interrupted as one of the men Zach didn't know said to Arcea, "You know we can't even think of selling this on the open market, don't you?" Missing the point and the tones, Zach said, "Obviously. That's why I came to you." After Zach finished, Arcea turned to the man and asked, "You know this?" and the man said, "Yeah. I know this. And I don't know if you want to know this." Turning back to Zach, Arcea said, "So before we get into this, because he's my art expert, what do you know about this?" With sinking hopes, Zach tried to play ignorance, answering that he knew very little. That the dress was acquired by an acquaintance of his and, "She would like some cash and she knows this is worth quite a bit of money and..." At this point Arcea interrupted him asking how he knew this person?

Seeing no other option, Zach admitted she was part of his crew. This told Arcea Zach was certainly not being completely honest on the details. And while that was nothing new to them, in high stakes it could mean everything. Especially when Arcea didn't yet know how high the stakes were? But the tone and words his art expert used told more than Zach had figured out yet. Indeed, Zach appeared to be ignoring the growing warning signs, locked in the security of his own impression of how events were proceeding. Making sure Zach had every opportunity to understand where he stood before they went any further, Arcea said his "art expert" used to be a museum curator. When the war started, Arcea needed his skills, as certain cargos started appearing and were being traded. And the curator found Arcea paid better than any museum. So he was an expert in a lot of missing and lost art.

To this point, Arcea had been speaking slowly and deliberately, to give Zach time to step up and add to what he had to say. When that didn't happen, Arcea turned to the expert and said, "Harold, tell me what this is?" Harold grimaced, as if he'd really hoped he wouldn't be asked to explain what he knew. But he explained, "There are three of this gown that are known to exist. All were made roughly four hundred years ago, for very powerful families in the region. In fact, they either married into the previous Ducal family or the current one, so they're all related to the Duchy of Rhylanor." Zach felt comfortable. He knew the Quasar Viper came from Capital and not Rhylanor, so he thought the expert was on the wrong track. Zach even interrupted, asking "I thought the dress came all the way from Terra?" hoping to increase the misdirection.

Harold said, "No." and proceeded, "The dress was made from gemstones collected all over this region and brought to Rhylanor. And the gowns were made in a studio here on Rhylanor." As Zach nodded, Harold continued, "Two of the gowns are in the collections of museums here are Rhylanor." Then, he turned to Zach asking, "Do you know the fate of the third gown, since you've got pictures of it?" Realizing he'd been trapped by his own actions, Zach simply answered, "Yes. And that's all I'm going to say about that." With that, Harold turned to Arcea and flatly said, "Either he tells you the fate of the third gown, or you can't touch this." As a silence filled the space, Zach now guessed that this Harold knew enough that there was a leak. And he couldn't leave until it was capped somehow.

Trying to move the issue sideways, and ignoring what Harold had told Arcea, Zach said this was the reason he said the dress had to be broken up on the comms. He pointed out that he did say the items had a history on the comms. Arcea looked back and forth between Harold and Zach, then angrily asked one of them to tell him why he couldn't touch the gown? Zach simply answered, "I can't tell you." as if Arcea cared what Zach felt he could or couldn't do anymore. Arcea then turned to Harold saying, "Fine! He says he can't tell me. You tell me." After a look at Zach, Harold let out a long sigh. He then explained that the Alkhalikoi family once held the Duchy of Rhylanor. They were the same family that raised the former Duchess of Rhylanor Arbellatra Khatami Alkhalikoi, Hero of the Second Frontier War, the Imperial Civil war and who ended the reign of the Barracks Emperors.

A Lady Annaboulique was a junior member of the Alkhalikoi family, and had joined the Imperial Navy with a distinguished career. During her life in the Duchy, that gown was made for her. It was taken with her when she was assigned to a Rhylanori Honor guard of vessels to the Imperial Core. There, when word of the Third Frontier War reached the Throne, she was assigned to the crew of the INS Quasar Viper for its ill-fated mission back to the Spinward Marches. As soon as the ship's name was spoken, most of the room went silent and most could guess why this gown was so hot? Arcea also knew that Zach both knew this and had intended to sell it to him without a warning. Zach had said it had a history, but had not said that it was a "shoot first, and question survivors before killing them" item! So he was hanging Arcea out to dry because of his service to someone else. Turning to Zach, he asked, "And you knew this?" in an accusatory tone. When Zach said he did, Arcea accused, "And you brought this to me, and you weren't going to tell me the full story??"

Again, Zach tried to move sideways, saying this was why he told Arcea the items had a history, and needed to be broken down. Of course, this ignored the fact he'd withheld critical data and intended to drop this bomb on a business partner without the courtesy of a warning to its real nature. Arcea had been here before, and pushed Zach's excuses aside with a sigh saying, "No. You knew this and were not willing to tell me the full story. Put my neck on the chopping block and walk away." The last part he said without emotion, seeming to get control of himself and as he brought things back to business. After a pause, Arcea said Zach had another problem, perhaps bigger than he thought. When Zach asked, Arcea asked him who he'd told about the deal? Zach said he told one other person who, he admitted, had copies of the pictures. Arcea pointed out they were gonna investigate the items, if they didn't already know what they were.

Zach remembered having stood back while Tarulli discussed the pictures with another guy, who might have been his 'art expert'. So he realized it was very a real possibility Tarulli knew what the gown was. As this sunk in, Arcea continued explaining that any forensics unit would be able to track the datapad from where it was sold to whoever sold it, or gave it, to Zach. They'd be able to deconstruct the pictures and fix exactly when the pictures were taken, and even be able to tag any computers the datapad was connected to. As he said this, Zach worried that Sir Brian may have connected the devices to computers in the berth during or after checking, to see if they were clean? And Arcea wasn't done, as he pointed out that the pictures alone were a flashpoint, even if the gown disappeared.

So if the other guy didn't get the gown and other stuff, or get it for a cheap enough price, they could expose the pictures anyway. Just for revenge. Given that, Arcea said it didn't matter if he'd made an offer, or even bought the stuff, because someone was going to be a looser and could act. He then fixed Zach with a stare and asked who else Zach was dealing with? With no other options, Zach told him about Tarulli. This was not good news, and Arcea told Zach so. He said he knew Tarulli and figured the man would spill the beans if he didn't get everything for at least 50% off. And he might anyway, if he could get enough money doing so. Arcea admitted the odds on Tarulli spilling the beans after getting the goods was very low. But if he didn't get the goods, Arcea said, the authorities would not only find out, but would get Zach's name too.

Arcea continued running down the list of the other items and how easily they could be tracked as Zach considered the gown. This included Aiden's cutlass. Soon, Zach realized he couldn't even play dumb with this guy. He'd used up all his credit already and was lucky he still has his head on. Putting the facts flat on the table, Arcea said Zach had two options. He could either trust Tarulli and cut a deal with Arcea, or he could get some guns together to kill Tarulli and then cut a deal with Arcea. The look in Arcea's eyes promised no mercy for the foolish position Zach had put them all in. When he saw Zach was not happy with those offers, he invited Zach to go to the authorities and see how he liked it in a prison somewhere? If he survived long enough to see a cell? It was clear to Zach, he'd burnt this bridge at least.

He also saw he had to roll up Tarulli from the top down, in case the word had been spread in his organization? Thinking hard, Zach realized he had no idea where Tarulli was or who he'd told about the goods? So he had to get Tarulli to tell him where he was and let his guard down if he was even going to get a shot. Zach decided to call Tarulli, tell him the second meet was a bust and that he wanted to deal. That way, Tarulli would open the doors and welcome him in. Of course, the down side was that he couldn't armor up. There was no time to go to the ship for his gear. And, if he did, arriving armed and in armor would set off alarms because it was more than he had on him earlier. That was nothing but a knife in a scabbard. This meant the crew had to bring him anything he thought he could sneak past Tarulli's guys.

Raising The Alarm
     As the knights returned to the port and docked with the ship, they found Ms. Vik watching some syrupy romance thing and Aiden reading. They couldn't see Zach anywhere, nor could they see Aali or Emkir. As he came into the berth lounge, Rol sarcastically said, "Wow! What a great day. I just can't wait to relax." Zimzod rubbed it in, enthusiastically saying "that was fun, wasn't it?" with a huge smile on his face. There was not much chatter as they dressed down and settled in. Soon after the knights returned, as the evening burned down, Aiden hit the rack. Ms. Vik went to sleep after her movie ended, and Rol went to bed about a half hour after they returned, taking some time to relax as he cleaned his gear. Brian checked in on Wall-e and planned to rack out about midnight. Mikah looked to see if everyone was home and, not seeing some crew, decided the job offer could wait.

So Mikah checked her calendar and saw they were all, except Emkir, Aali and Brian, supposed to head to Rhylanor University to be questioned about the encounters with the nomads the next day. Zimzod also hit the rack pretty soon after they returned, as Mikah organized a bit more. She hit bed around 11ish. In Arcea's office, Zach tried to comm Dame Mikah around 11:30pm, and her comms went to voice mail. He then tried Zimzod and got another voice mail. Getting worried, Zach tried Rol's comms as well as Aiden and then Ms. Vik, but fared no better. When his situation finally started to sink in, he called the berth. Brian answered saying, "This better be good at this hour." without knowing who the caller was.

Zach said, "It's not good. It's really really not good." Ignoring the merchant's attitude, Brian said, "Oh Hi Zach! What's up?" in a surprised and somewhat cheery voice. Zach said he'd made a bit of a mistake and Brian clarified, "Like 'we're all gonna' die' mistake or just you?" Zach said "No. We're all gonna' die, monstrously huge." and Brian agreed, "That's pretty big." Zach told Brian, "Get everyone now, because have very little time." Brian asked how much Zach'd had to drink and Zach said, "Not a drop, which is the scary part." Brian started getting that Zach was not kidding as Zach confirmed, "This is like heart attack level." At that, Brian agreed to get everyone and, putting Zach on hold, said to the air, "We can't even get through one damn day without something happening!" before heading to bang on Mikah's door.

Having drifted into deep sleep, Mikah woke with a start to the insistent banging and angrily demanded, "What?" As Brian started to speak, Mikah followed that up with, "This better be good!" Caught with one sentence in his throat, Brian answered, "That's what I said" before explaining the situation. Mikah realized she needed to throw something on and head out to a common room to pick up the comms. As she did so, she considered the many ways to kill a fool of a merchant. While Mikah was dressing, Brian waited but decided not to wake anyone else until he knew what was happening? Mikah came out in pajamas and fuzzy slippers, to Brian's surprise, and grabbed a comms demanding "What?"

Zach tried to exude the confidence of a man that could provide a solution as he said, "Hi Dame Mikah, we have a problem." Smacking him back verbally, Mikah snarled, "What's your problem?" stressing the pronoun. As Zach explained the situation to her, Mikah realized his actions made it everyone's problem. Taking a few seconds for self-pity before facing reality again, Mikah verbally ripped into Zach and Ms. Vik for not letting her take apart the gown. Zach pointed out that a number of the other items could be traced too. So it wasn't just the gown, missing the fact Mikah no longer cared at that point. Once she was listening again, Zach explained about the pictures, Tarulli and Arcea. He told her that they needed to hit Tarulli to get back the datapad, and that they needed to move "Now". As she listened, Mikah turned to Brian and said, "Wake up Zimzod."

Calling The Cavalry For Help
     Telling Zach to stay where he was, Mikah told him she was going to take care of things, and hung up before calling Duke Norris' offices for Captain Diievard. Her call surprised the tech answering at the Duke's offices on the overnight shift. Mikah said this was an emergency and, as the face on the screen tried to adjust to 'confused', Mikah realized it was an android answering system. When it said Captain Diievard was off duty and tried to redirect her, Mikah held firm and was asked for a brief description of the problem? Mikah said, "It has to do with classified information Captain Diievard was aware of. The AI considered that and asked her to hold. After a two to three minute gap, the Captain's voice answered behind a privacy graphic.

As she was waiting, Brian asked her about IRIS and Mikah said she was already on the comms. As he persisted, Mikah snarled, "Call them. You have their number too. I'm not the only one." As Diievard answered, Mikah explained that their idiot broker had spilled the beans on the Quasar Viper. The privacy graphic suddenly dropped to reveal a very unkempt Captain Diievard angrily demanding, "What?!" Mikah simply said, "It's not my fault. It's all Zach's fault." Before Diievard could come up with what he felt was an appropriate answer, Mikah told the Captain what she knew about the situation. The look on his face suggested Captain Diievard's antacids were failing him as he asked what they were doing about the situation?

Mikah said she called him first, while she was having Sir Brian call IRIS, to see if they could respond? But she said again that they needed to move on this as fast as possible. The look on his face turned pained as he reminded Mikah Duke Norris had no military forces in-system. His tone told Mikah the Captain couldn't help her. He offered that, if she let him know what she was planning to do, he could run interference for her. As Mikah wondered how she knew that would be the answer, Diievard said that, no matter how this worked out, there would be consequences. Concerned about the current situation, Mikah ignored the fact that, at best, Diievard would lose his career because at worst he'd have to command a ship in a civil war her crew started. As Mikah talked with the Captain, Brian grabbed both the IRIS cabbie's number and the IRIS emergency number they were given back on Regina. As Brian was deciding, Mikah broke contact with Diievard and said she'd call the emergency number while Brian called the cabbie.

Brian did as told, and the agent eventually answered the comms. The driver was a bit groggy, but asked who was calling and how he could help? Brian introduced himself and his ship, apologized for waking the man and said they were in a bit of trouble. When the cabbie asked him to "define trouble", Brian explained the situation quickly and asked if they had a quick and easy way to dispose of the underworld boss? The cabbie was dumbstruck. Having not known about the Viper himself, as Brian forgot from their conversations in his cab, he said it was above his pay grade and he'd get back to them. Mikah's call was picked up on the second ring with, "What can I do for you?" No introduction, no preamble. After Mikah said, "We have a situation that must be taken care of immediately!" She was asked to identify herself. Once she did, she was asked to give a description of the situation, which was really getting frustrating enough to make Mikah look forward to shooting Zach.

As she started talking about the actions of their "intrepid merchant", she was more and more picturing him in her gun sights. There was a pause after she finished, before the person on the other end said, "Well. That's certainly very interesting." When Mikah was asked to hold a couple of seconds, she acerbically said "Make it a quick couple of seconds." Mikah's comms screen went blank and came back with a different person a minute later. The man on the screen said they just had a call from a field agent on this issue and asked, in an annoyed tone, how many people the crew were calling? Mikah said they called the emergency number and their IRIS contact on Rhylanor as well as a Captain Diievard from Duke Norris' office. The man nodded and said that explained why Duke Norris' office was calling them too.

When he asked for details, to determine the scope of the leak, Mikah gave a description of the pictures and the activities that led to them being released. When it was confirmed Zach was the person who released the pictures, they asked to speak to him. Mikah gave them his comms data and, after a brief pause, Mikah found herself in a conference call with the Agent and Zach. The merchant had been sitting in Arcea's office, with the crook and his people watching his every move. As Zach answered, the Agent greeted him and asked Zach to explain step by step, and name by name, how his evening led to this disaster? As he dealt with the call, Zach was unaware of the sudden bug-eyed expressions from those close enough to hear the caller say, "...this is IRIS calling..."

When Zach started out, "Persons on the ship..." he was interrupted by the man demanding, "Names Mr. Wood." in a tone that left no one confused how the agent felt at the moment. He finished the statement, "We're not playing here", making it clear all their lives were already forfeit if need be. Zach started, explaining more clearly until he said he went to "a contact that I knew of..." Zach was interrupted again, for the name, by an agent who now was wondering how they could have trusted someone who still hadn't gotten the situation through his head? Zach said it was Tarulli Itium, and said they met an hour before, at a pawn shop for which he gave the address.

When the agent asked if that was the sum total of the leak, Zach said it wasn't. He was prompted by the agent, again, saying "Fine. Give us the Full Details." in a voice that was showing frustration at having had to repeat himself a fourth time. For her part, Mikah hoped IRIS didn't kill Zach themselves before she had a chance. As Zach turned to bring Arcea into the screen the criminal almost grabbed for a gun to shoot him as the agent realized Zach was still with one of the liabilities. The agent put his face in his hands in despair for having to deal with idiots. After a few questions and answers, the Agent explained the situation bluntly to Zach.

Resources And Realities
     IRIS had agents in many fields, and undertaking many pursuits. As a result, their agents were scattered over a wide space and not easy to pull together. So while they might be able to take out one or two people, this situation required an entire organization be balled up and taken down. Since IRIS and Duke Norris' office were unable to mass enough agents quickly, the crew were going to have to clean up the mess they created. IRIS said they and Duke Norris' office could help cover for the crew, or misdirect EMS responses to their actions. Zach turned to the fuming Arcea, hoping for help, but the best the man could do was start a gang war that would get out of hand quickly and may even trap them. Zach scanned Arcea's face to see how honest he was being and decided he was trying to make the best of a very bad situation, and hopefully get some credit. Outside of that, Arcea had to consider his own people and their safety.

When Zach asked Arcea if he could provide weapons, the man looked at him as if he'd grown three heads. Arcea explained how impossible the laws and circumstances made it to get and keep illegal weapons. Zach had to consider Arcea might also be lying in order to reduce the amount of evidence Zach himself was helping the authorities record, now that he'd turned in a man he came to for help! In fact, Arcea was doing very well indeed, as he'd only just found out that the IRIS organization was actually real! While Mikah and Brian listened, they had put together many things too, including the fact that Zach had exposed IRIS. At the least, they realized, even if Zach hadn't figured it out, that Arcea wouldn't survive the night either.

Since Brian was still listening, Mikah told him to wake everyone up. As Mikah listened in, Brian went to Ms. Vik's door first, figuring she'd need the most time to prepare herself. Eventually she answered, with a blurry "whu-what?" As she opened the door, Brian explained the situation. Ms. Vik nodded, dumbfounded, and went back into her room to quickly dress as Brian moved on to Zimzod's door and started knocking. When the Knight answered, asking what was going on, Brian asked, "Do you wanna kill somebody Zimzod? Huh?" in an inviting voice. A stupid act, considering Zimzod was asleep, and that Brian was waking him up and seemed to be both playing games and right in front of him, easy to grab. Zimzod menacingly said that, after dealing with the panty waists all day, he was ready to kill a whole lot of someone, with his gaze making it clear who he'd start with.

Brian avoided Zimzod's suggestion as he explained what had happened with Zach. Once Zimzod was up to speed, he and Brian alternated on crew doors, knocking and waking people up. As this happened, the IRIS agent told Zach and Mikah they'd spark every asset they had in the area to help, and spark other assets out of the region to jack in and see if they could electronically track all the targets or run interference. They wanted Zach to call Tarulli and say he was gonna sell the goods to him so they could pin Tarulli in a specific place. Once dressed and out of her room, Ms. Vik asked Mikah, "Can't we just..." and Mikah made it clear she was on the phone, dealing with the situation at the moment.

As the crew assembled, Aali was the most surprised. Not by being woken out of sleep and roused for an operation, as she'd done that many times during the war. But, from the get go, she was hearing operational decisions and identifications such as "IRIS" and using Duke Norris' forces to assist in law breaking in Rhylanor orbit! She was a political junkie but this was pushing things! IRIS was also scrambling a vehicle that could hopefully move the crew to and from the target zone, but there were no guarantees given the legal forces of Rhylanor. They also said Mikah and the knights were going to have to answer for this before Leonard once everything was done. If they survived.

IRIS also said they could kill communications in the area with white noise, but this would also cut them off from each other. So the plan had to be set and ready before they went in or they'd need to learn hand signals very very fast! As IRIS set these things in motion, they told Mikah and Zach to recontact them when they had a plan in place. Zach was to call once he'd set up a sale with Tarulli. After the line was cut, Mikah looked around at the wobblies and groggies as Zach called her back. Inger tried to speak to Mikah but she held up her hand as her comms started to ring. Once Mikah confirmed it was Zach, she put him on speaker and said, "Everyone's here. Why don't you tell them what's happened?" Zach made a short story out of the explanation and said that he was setting up a meet with Tarulli. The crew had to hit Tarulli and his people there and take them out.

Excuses And Alternate Answers
     As they demanded how he could screw up like this, Zach answered, "Everyone knew I what I was doing!" as if that was a defense for what happened. He truly missed that they put their trust in him to take the goods and present them in a controlled and intelligent manner. They trusted him to prevent exactly this from happening. So it was not what he was doing, but how he did it, without thinking it through, testing his assumptions and being both cautious and safe, that led them into the situation. And the others saw that even a brick through the brain wouldn't show him what he'd done, though more than a few were willing to try. Because the details were a bit on the light side, Aali found herself asking for explanations. At the same time, Zimzod asked why they couldn't just sell the stuff to the first buyer and leave him holding the bag?

As Zach continued making excuses for not having been the one to call IRIS, Zimzod pointed out that he was not talking about that. He was asking about dumping the goods on someone else and letting them hang. Finishing up with, "You really aren't that smart. Are you?" Despite the situation, some of the others laughed before things got serious again. Zach said they couldn't let the guy take the fall because the pictures would still get out. Then, the Universe would know they came from the Quasar Viper. As soon as he said that, Aali felt as if an air gun had hit her in the chest and knocked the breath from her. As she was grasping at straws of sanity, Mikah told Zimzod this would provide evidence the Viper was not found by Norris, or later destroyed as he and his expedition reported.

As the others considered Mikah's words, Ms. Vik asked if it was too late to dump the goods, or give them to IRIS? Mikah said it was no longer about the goods. It was about the items from the ship coming to light when they were supposed to be lost. Inger tried to suggest inventing a complex story where Duke Norris recovered the items but didn't tell anyone, and not returning valuable artifacts from a war grave to deserving families. She then suggested the authorities would buy the suggestion that Norris wanted to sneak them to Rhylanor to be added to a museum as a surprise. But her story didn't cover his not contacting any museum officials, members of the Government of Rhylanor or the families involved.

Despite the obvious gaps, the first fault pointed out was that they were trying to sell the items. Ms. Vik said that was just the word on an underground crime boss against them and asked who the public would believe? But Inger was reminded the datapad with the pictures could be traced from the media corp that owned it to Emkir, and then found in the hands of the crime boss making the claims. There were also nameless cab drivers out there who'd driven Zach around and could testify to his having the datapads, and taking them to addresses. One of which was also associated with Tarulli Itium. And a shop attendant who could confirm Zach paid to store one datapad in his shop around the times claimed. As Inger tried to hold on to the "his word against theirs" theory, Rol suggested they claim Norris gave them the goods as reward, for service, and they were selling items of value to raise cash.

Mikah and Ms. Vik agreed that idea wouldn't fly at all. Inger grabbed the conversation again, saying this guy was just a guy with some pictures. She was sure Dukes Norris and Leonard had to squash stuff all the time. She again suggested they could claim ignorance about how the pictures were obtained and how he got the datapad. But she said they could present the artifacts in public and show there was no secret about them. Sadly, her idea still didn't explain Norris' people not contacting any museum officials, members of the Government of Rhylanor or the families involved. When it was asked if they could just claim the pictures had been on the datapad before they got it, Brian said that could be disproven. He also reminded them the datapad could be traced from the people who gave it to Emkir on a given date. He added that the file creation data could be faked, but it would support that the picture was taken by the device soon after it was given to Emkir. And was put aboard the Hotel California.

Inger was also reminded, again , that investigators could also add to the time line of events by tracing Zach's cab rides, and storage and pick up of the one datapad in a shop. As well, any security video for that shop would show Zach holding a datapad matching the one Tarulli had. So "your word against mine" fell apart pretty quickly. Mikah took over there, saying that they were known to work for Duke Norris. And there were many people working for Duchess Delphine who wanted to rip Norris down. This was evidence that Norris lied about discovering the Quasar Viper, so any explanation was going to have to be reasonable enough to prevent a serious reaction against Duke Norris.

Ms. Vik suggested they claim they were transporting the artifacts, and took pictures of them which were stolen. Aiden suggested they pretend they were acting as troubleshooters for Duke Norris, setting up a sting against Tarulli as Ms. Vik said the simplest answer was usually the easiest and most acceptable one. She said they could try to find a reasonable explanation for why they had the artifacts so they could make the "stolen pictures" excuse work. This ignored evidence, because "if" they were working for the Duke, there would be records of their actions. Especially if, as Ms. Vik suggested, Duke Norris wanted to make some public gesture. But no such records existed, and while they could be falsified, this would require bringing into the conspiracy large sections of both the staffs of Duke Norris and Duke Leonard. And where they could count on Norris' people, they could not necessarily count on Leonard's.

Ultimately, IRIS wanted everyone with Tarulli killed, and Tarulli captured so they could question him and find out who he told? At the same time, they were counting on the web of surveillance they were putting down to keep anyone who might have been told about the goods from telling anyone else, or organizing a defensive force. IRIS were also creating a diversion, to get the media out of the bay while Norris had a ship in orbit that was going to invent an emergency aboard, in order to create further distraction. Once they knew who to take out, they would kill off those who knew too much and claim they were acting on existing underworld activity warrants while the knights explained to Duke Leonard how their crew let the cat out of the bag?

Inger asked if it was unreasonable to expect that they could have sold the items and made money without triggering this kind of situation? Rol, not being a merchant, suggested it was not likely to end well. This ignored that there were many ways of going about the sale better, such as cutting up the gemstones on the awards and breaking down the gown to its metals and stones. Making the most identifiable items unidentifiable would have allowed any potential buyers to assume that the entire lot were just generic stones and metal or jewelry of a given style which, while set with real stones, were reproductions. But Zach was too busy to answer the question at the moment and no one was really trusting anything he said, so those possible points were missed. Rol pointed out that what they were trying to do was outside their expertise and that was why they failed. Though he didn't comment on Zach's expertise

Beginning To Plan
     When it was asked what kind of vehicle IRIS was sending and what gear they could bring, Zach said they were sending a tinted window bus. So they could bring and wear anything they could carry that wouldn't weigh them down. As the others started to look at their own personal equipment and realized they had to come up with a plan of attack to tell to IRIS, Zach said he had to call Tarulli and set up the meeting, so he cut the comms. When he answered Zach's call, Tarulli asked how the second meeting went, with a bit of a negative tone. Zach said the meeting didn't go well at all, so he wanted to cut a deal. When Tarulli asked how much Zach wanted, the merchant said Tarulli had offered him KCr 40 for the other stuff, and his client wanted KCr 70 for the gown. So he offered to meet Tarulli at KCr 55 for the other items. Tarulli asked, "And what about for the dress? KCr 40?" Zach protested that the offer was low, knowing he couldn't just give the stuff away or Tarulli would know something was wrong.

Tarulli challenged him to give a price and Zach asked KCr 55 for each, for a total of KCr 110. Tarulli countered with KCr 100. Wondering how hard he could even push against how hard he had to appear, Zach tried to push KCr 105 and Tarulli agreed. And as he did, Tarulli's demeanor changed, and he appeared more relaxed and open again. With that, Zach asked for an hour to get the goods so they could meet. Tarulli easily agreed, and even offered to meet Zach at his choice of location. Surprised, Zach considered where to meet? He knew they couldn't do it at the berth, with their relationship with the port shaky and having the reporters still hanging around. He considered calling the guy he'd spoken to about renting warehouse space but realized that would take much more than an hour's time. "Besides", he thought to himself, "there would go that deposit!" as if that was what was important at the moment.

As Zach started hedging, Tarulli decided to offer up a warehouse he had as the meeting point, because he knew there were too many reporters at their berth too. The faster the deal appeared to be moving, the happier Tarulli was. Zach agreed and got the address, and again hedged as he said he should be able to make a meeting in an hour, and be sure his contact could be there too. This surprised Tarulli, and he asked to be sure, that Zach planned to bring the owner of the goods to the warehouse? When Zach said he planned to bring their agent, Tarulli said he could deal with that because this suggested to him that there was even less planning in this so less chance of a double cross. It also added a greater chance of mistakes... When Zach offered to do the meet with the owner off site if they were willing to wait, Tarulli considered how much easier it would be but didn't like the delay. He was also concerned that the authorities might notice something happening in the open. So he told Zach it was ok to bring the contact with him.

With that, the call ended as they agreed they'd see each other in an hour. Zach then called the others to work out the plan and resolve the last details. As they were considering their situation back at the berth, Zimzod wondered if the dye packs might be useful in the circumstances. But as he tried to plan to use them, he saw they wouldn't be of any value. At the same time, Aali was finally getting answers from Brian as Mikah's comms went off. As Mikah answered, Zach explained the situation and volunteered Zimzod to put on his executive armor and join Zach in going into the warehouse. Zimzod had no issues with that, so there was no fight on that score. As Brian blew Aali's mind with the full details on the situation, Zach Mikah and Zimzod were discussing the details and getting ready to form a plan. Zach thought Zimzod could armor up and get a box to put his weapons and Zach's gear into. In the meantime, he wanted to call IRIS, to send their taxi driver to pick up Zimzod and get Zach.

As Zach signed off to do that, Ms. Vik made one more stab at resolving this without a fight. She suggested they work with Duke Norris' office to claim that Duke Norris' office sent them pictures of the artifacts. Then their berth computer was hacked, allowing underworld figures to get the pictures and use them to try to attack Norris. But this failed on many levels, most of which had already been discussed.
          First, they'd still have to involve too many outside people, who might leak the truth.

          Second, they'd have to make the pictures, which they'd still have to fight to recover, match up
               electronically with any pictures they planted in the computers at Duke Norris' office

          Third, not only would they have to fake a computer hack of their berth's computer that would
               stand up to forensics but they'd have to fake a hack of the starport's systems as the
               berth's computers were part of the over-all starport system. So they'd have to bring
               in and embroil the port management and computer network management(yet even more
               people).

Aiden suggested they just claim they were cataloging artifacts for an exhibit to be opened up in Rhylanor, as a surprise gift to the system's people. This got some support until Aali put the final nail in the coffins about to be filled. Having recovered enough to act, she told the crew that she'd seen a lot of coverage of the story of the Quasar Viper. She explained to those who did not know, or forgot, that when Duke Norris returned in 1108, he returned with 'only' the warrant and nothing else. She recounted coverage of multiple people from the Duke's 'expedition' who stated that was all they could risk recovering from the wreck, which was subsequently destroyed. Aali pointed out that this was why no one had been able to mount an expedition to find the Viper and prove the Duke lied.

But since the ship was supposedly completely destroyed with all the artifacts aboard except the warrant, the simple existence of these pictures was the problem. It was only made worse by the actual presence of the artifacts. So they couldn't claim Norris was sending them to work on artifacts he claimed he and his people never recovered. Especially with Duchess Delphine and her agents frothing at the mouth to tear Duke Norris down. Rol stepped in saying, "The bottom line is that IRIS will want to silence this. Anything we do will have to guarantee silence due to this mistake." Brian asked what happened if Tarulli'd told other people and Zimzod said that was why they wanted him alive. They could then question him about any communications so IRIS could respond to that. IRIS was not worried about taking out a small handful of people with the time to do so.

And IRIS could shut down all communications from any strays once they were identified. Glumly, Brian complained that this was going to drain all the money they'd worked to create. When he was asked what he meant, Brian said they were gonna have to pay large sums to keep the other guy Zach met quiet too. But he was told by several others that guy was not getting paid. He was gonna get shot. There was a brief discussion of this as differing opinions clashed, but it was eventually agreed that whatever IRIS said, they'd kill as many people as they needed to silence this. They also agreed that, despite having offered a good deal to break up the artifacts so they'd not be recognized, he likely knew he was looking at very bad odds of surviving the night unless IRIS had a use for him. And he knew that if he survived, he'd be a "kept man" for the rest of his life.

That sparked a second conversation as Aiden speculated this could be a win for the crook. When asked what he was smoking, Aiden said they could maintain him, in order to benefit from his contacts and the activities he could get them into. This was quickly turned back as there was no guarantee the bulk of his business was even something IRIS would tolerate. Despite being a very secret organization, there were a lot of things even they couldn't tolerate unless they could offer a explanation to top fixtures in the government when something they'd allowed to happen was discovered. As well, the more people they brought in, the less safe their secrets were, and Arcea was certainly not one to trust with even the fact of their existence.

As they talked about the actual plan, Zach suggested he could walk right down their throats, with Zimzod to draw in their attention, and 'clear the path' for the assault team. He didn't say how he'd draw in any outer guards or surveillance he encountered. Not being a military man, he may not have thought about it or realized it would be an issue. Zach continued his plan, saying that once they made a hole big enough, and took down most of the place, IRIS could come in and clean up. But as he made his plans, he forgot that IRIS said they would not be able to come in and back the crew up. So the crew had to flatten everyone there and then call in IRIS for any "arrests" and questioning. Zimzod and Rol felt they'd better work on this suggestion before letting things get worse.


Devising And Selling The Plan

     As they talked after Zach cut the comms, he was not aware what decisions were being made at the berth. They couldn't prepare and keep an open link with Zach. Add to that, Zach's "Host" would also hear anything they said while on an open comms. And if Zach took the comms off speaker, the crime boss would know something was up. So Zach sat alone and out of the loop, hoping he could keep his situation from boiling over. If that happened, he was the only one in the room who wasn't armed or controlling a weapon in the room. As he sat and waited, Zach saw Arcea had no problems keeping him out of the loop. Arcea urgently, but softly, spoke with his various minions while Zach was further educated in just how powerless he was. Sitting, hoping the gangster didn't have his muscle just snuff him out, Zach knew he couldn't act until the situation changed. And he knew he was powerless to change that for the better or the worse.

In the berth, as they discussed what they could about the situation, Ms. Vik was certain IRIS would kill them all if the criminals didn't. So she didn't get involved in discussing the plan because it likely wouldn't matter. That was beside her skills being almost completely useless in the situation. For his part, Zimzod was annoyed he didn't have flash bangs and said so. Aiden said he had a box of anti-personnel grenades as Brian suggested sending Wall-e in first. Using Wall-e was shot down as were all of Zach's plans. But everyone was happy about Aiden's grenades, and Brian comically said he still had a bag of marbles which could save them.

His comment was accepted with an underwhelming wave of ignorance. Into the silence, Mikah realized there was one idea they hadn't considered yet, and asked "What if we destroyed all the artifacts?" As the crew tried to understand her comments, she said they could claim the pictures were created with a graphics design program if they completely destroyed all the artifacts. Mikah was asked the difference between Ms. Vik's earlier ideas? Those all tried to explain the continued existence of the artifacts. This one simply required a traceless destruction of the incriminating artifacts. because they could then claim the pictures were a fake.

More questions came up about how to deal with the items Countess Ursara was given, and if they could destroy the items? Eventually, Zimzod told Mikah to call IRIS and see if the plan would fly with them and she did. When the agent answered the comms, he asked if they had their plan prepared and Mikah said she'd had a different plan and explained her idea. The Agent asked Mikah if the crew had a method of destroying the artifacts and she admitted she counted on IRIS or Duke Norris' office to handle that. As she said so, Brian said that they had nothing aboard that would be 100% able to eradicate the artifacts. He did say their best idea would be to take the Probe out and toss the stuff into space. Brian also suggested he could take the items to the salvage yard, but quickly realized there would be a lot of moving during which they could be intercepted. As this was happening, the Agent talked with his people and eventually said they were interested. When Mikah asked again if they had facilities to handle the disposal, the Agent admitted it was a reaction they had not considered.

The Agent said they could explore this further but he also put the current situation in perspective. Already, one of Duke Norris' ships in-system was signaling "in distress", and a transport was on the way to the Hotel California with a 'media distraction' planned to get the press out of the bay. So significant assets had already been burned, no matter what they chose to do. Where the agent admitted they could ignore the first guy, Tarulli, he pointed out Arcea not only knew about the artifacts but also knew about IRIS. So they'd need the crew's help in bringing in that boss. Considering how to get the crew out of the cross-hairs, Mikah first suggested they call Tarulli and claim Arcea changed his mind. They could ask him to come to Arcea's office for an auction? But as she was presenting the idea, she realized Tarulli would only look at this as an attempt to set him up. Reworking her idea with the Agent on the comms, she said they could try to get both parties to come to an independent location where IRIS could move in on them.

The agent admitted he had no idea how the two crime bosses would react to the idea, and allowed that Mikah could try her suggestion. But, he reminded her, they might react badly. The first crook felt he was holding all the cards and might feel that was being snatched from him in a power play. The second crook already knew he'd been exposed to IRIS and might see it as a set-up, or a chance to convert to an agent. Seeing the odds of making things worse were too high, Mikah agreed to handle the take down of Arcea, but had no idea how to do that. Then Zimzod stepped in, trying to build on what they knew. Since they could ignore Tarulli, Zimzod asked if they knew how many people Arcea had in his office? They realized no one asked Zach about that. Then, Rol stepped in saying that might not matter. When he had everyone's attention, he said they only needed to go in as representatives of IRIS and, playing on Arcea's fears, Arcea might just roll over. Aiden joined in as they talked about how to convince Arcea he had an out. So he wouldn't decide to go down in a blaze of glory.

When Rol asked if they wanted to pretend to be IRIS, or say they are trying to recruit him 'for' IRIS, Aiden said they should ask IRIS first. As this was happening Mikah was on the comms with the Agent, so they asked and he said the drivers of the vehicle coming to their berth and the taxi were available to lead such an effort. He said, if they felt they could sweet talk Arcea onto the bus, he was good with the plan. When Aiden asked the agent if they should make the pitch or not, the Agent said one of the drivers should, as they were actual IRIS agents. From there, they fine-tuned their plan to arrive as if they were there to pick up Zach for his meeting with Tarulli. During that, the agents would say they needed Arcea and his people to come in and be debriefed. When Aiden speculated that Arcea might ask for some guarantee of safety, everyone in the team, and the agent, looked at the former Scout as if he'd missed several points.

Rol said Arcea probably didn't believe he'd survive, no matter what was said. Mikah muttered, "He's either gonna die now or die later." Rol also commented on the psychology of what Arcea knew or didn't know about the myth of IRIS. Ms. Vik reminded Aiden that Arcea didn't even know they existed when he woke up that morning. Rol said they should offer Arcea a way to survive, as shooting them would simply seal his fate. Again, the agent said his agents should be the ones to make that pitch, but also said they'd need muscle to back them up. When the crew discussed 'being convincing', it was made clear the bad guys could not see their faces if they were to pretend to be IRIS troops. So only those with Battledress or combat armor would be able to handle that.

Since Zimzod's rig was dead, that left Rol, Mikah and a very suddenly 'deer in the headlights' Aali! True to her values, Aali stepped up and the plan started to take final form. As spoke, and Zimzod sulked a bit over his battledress, Mikah told him he needed to just be, 'nice', to Duke a'Plena of Vilis. The agent overheard this but chose to compartmentalize the comments in his memory as 'potentially toxic if decrypted'. Especially when Zimzod said he was fairly certain he was not the Duke's type and Mikah laughed, saying, "You never know." In the end, it was decided they would bring all the artifacts they had for IRIS to destroy or bless. They will then go to Arcea's office, where the two IRIS agents would lead the three combat armored crew members into the office. While the three ship's crew played "Silent but Deadly", the IRIS agents would try to talk Arcea into coming along peacefully.

The rest of the crew would also gear up and be ready, with the vehicle, just in case things went south and the folks in the office needed help. Rol loaded up his combat kit, less the backpack and vacc suit, while Aali did a detail check of her weapons and ammo. Aiden added three grenades to his gear, just in case. As he did, Aiden was upset at having not gotten more of a variety. Especially smoke and flash-bangs in this case. Mikah put her executive armor on under her combat armor and Zimzod wore his under his armored cloth duster. Aali armored up in her combat armor with her gauss rifle, snub pistol and laser sword, trying to appear more hopeful than she felt. As the others geared up, Emkir asked if perhaps someone should stay and guard the ship? He was pointedly told "No!" by Dame Mikah, making it clear he was expected to be on the line with the rest.

The crew realized they were running out of time as the IRIS van pulled into the recently vacated bay. They had no idea where the press went, though they were sure they'd hear about that later. But, for now, they had to update the IRIS agent inside on the plan. The good news was that the driver also arrived with the floor plan of Arcea's office. Inger made her appearance in her green 'armored' pant suit as Brian finally realized he needed to speak his piece. Making his stand, Brian said he didn't want to go and didn't have armor. Like Emkir, he was told "tough", and reminded his vacc suit was equal to ballistic armor.

As they were bringing the first driver up to date, the taxi driver arrived and was also brought into the plan. Both agents were a bit uncertain, until they were told they'd be backed up by the combat armored members of the crew. Then they were even more concerned, but accepted their orders like professionals. One of the agents made sure someone would have an open comms to the folks in the vehicle and Zimzod confirmed he'd be listening. Once the plan was fairly set and they started moving to the vehicle, Mikah called Zach.

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Next: Dealing With Zach's Sins