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Last Updated    October 12 2017
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Storm Clouds And
       Sunshine


Another Morning In Paradise

Station     In the berth, the crew were reviving from the artifact trip the day before, but not looking forward to their meeting with the Duke.  Aiden woke first, as he was very uncomfortable in almost any sleeping position.  In the lounge, he worked to find any answer to sitting without pain when Brian entered the space.  The next up, Brian considered cooking when he found Aiden alone.  The former Scout seemed to be searching for replacement armor and darkly muttering something about Emkir.  Not wanting to get involved, Brian decided to make a huge batch of scrambled eggs.  As they watched the early news, it seemed the media had lost interest in what was now described as a turf war between underworld figures.  Rumors of the crew's involvement had fallen off.

With the after-glow of the artifact visit fading, they had to set their gear in order, which started as Zimzod asked Rol if the chest half of his executive armor could be salvaged at all?  Rol said it was trashed, and was never meant to survive combat.  Aiden asked Mikah if, as Captain, she could help guarantee Emkir would pay for the armor he'd destroyed?  Mikah said that, under the circumstances, she'd talk with Emkir and make sure he paid for the armor.  When Aiden pushed that he should be paid back for the grenades, Mikah got annoyed.  She said they were bought and used for combat.  When it looked as if Aiden would argue the point, Mikah asked him if he was gonna start paying for his individual meals?  When Aiden said the grenades were gonna have to be replaced, she angrily snapped, "That's fine.  Then the ship will replace them and they won't be yours."  There was a slight pause before Mikah continued, "And if you think I'm going to pay you for anything else you consider personal property, you're out of your fuckin' mind."

Aiden just grunted and said, "Whatever" before returning his attention to his breakfast.  Into the silence, Zimzod asked if Rol had come up with any ideas about fixing the battledress?  Rol said he'd checked and they needed to replace the computer systems, which were legally controlled items.  They'd cost MCr 1.5, and needed "permission to privately own", which Zimzod didn't have.  So he'd have to wait until the diamond sold.  Changing direction, Zimzod talked about getting decent combat armor.  As they talked about getting a used set, he was told he could research the auction and military sales sites, checking for a used set cheap.  Rol again brought up the idea of a computerized in-ship "laser TAG" combat practice system.

This would be better than the Cr 60 toy laser tag system Aiden bought, which relied on external battery cells and receptors worn by the players.  It also didn't include computerized-moderation and difficulty levels.  Rol said he'd researched a mil-spec one, for KCr 30, which could be installed to run off the ship's computer.  It would let them use the entire ship as a combat grid.  Mikah said she'd consider the idea as they all thought back to their performances the night before in the maze.  Aiden suggested they all schedule time to practice, once everyone had healed up, with a glower at the door of Emkir's quarters.

During the conversation, Brian had a lot to think about.  He first checked his auctions for the spare 'droid parts.  But He was really hung up on the problems Zach was suffering from a simple shot to the thigh.  And the shot wasn't even supposed to be fatal, it was just a torture tactic!  Despite having seen Zach after the attack, it bothered Brian a lot.  So he was seriously thinking about taking precautions, and the best precaution he could think of was cloning.  That meant he had to deal with the cost, so Brian planned to look into insurance to cover that.  About that time, Emkir and Aali emerged from their stateroom, all smiles and lemony fresh.  No one missed that Aali was wearing a ship's suit while Emkir was dressed up.  Not formal wear, but better than casual dress.

Before anyone could ask, Emkir announced that Admiral Uuela was coming to visit.  Caught by surprise, Mikah sharply asked when Emkir had learned about that?  Emkir said he found out when they woke up.  He figured he'd call out to some of his contacts and see how bad things were, now that they were back from the artifact.  As he and Aali sat to eat, he said, he first called a friend in the Seneschalate who said the Duke cut off their official activities.  Since he couldn't talk further, Emkir called Admiral Uuela, who was transitioning between commands with no official standing, so he wouldn't be limited.  The Admiral said he'd be right over the berth.  As this sunk in, Emkir said he made sure the Admiral was not coming over in an armored car.

Brian began checking the auctions and was pleased to see they were all in the Cr 1,000 to Cr 1,500 range!  Scanning the auctions and checking out the sellers took about an hour.  As he did that, Mikah finished talking to Zimzod and sparked up a vid to relax.  Zimzod went back to his room to tear down and clean his weapons and gear while Rol researched costs on materials to repair their various armor.  Having finished her breakfast, Aali took the chance to clean up and leave for the ship's cargo bay to check on Wall-e while Emkir waited for Uuela.

As she ate, Ms. Vik called the port to see how things were working out as she considered the coming meeting with Duke Leonard.  Opening the connection, Inger also thought about the significant amount of loot she'd lost, and wondered how to make that up?  Especially, with the growing cloud of smoke from apparently burned bridges in this system.  Her sinking feeling expanded to a yawning chasm as she reached a friend and asked about any contracting opportunities the port had?  He was embarrassed to tell her the Duke had put them in official limbo, barring any official work between the crew and, anyone, until he said so.  This hit Inger like a bomb, as her ability to use her skills and grow her funds, despite what the ship and its crew did, seemed trashed.  She'd been hit in the money maker, right when she had lost a huge pile of loot!  Unofficially, the man asked what the hell the crew were involved in?

As Inger sorted through and tried to settle the thoughts in her mind, Inger told the man she was not at liberty to say and promised to explain when the Duke said they could.  All the while, Inger was working hard to keep a mask on her face, and not show the exploding emotions within her skull.  Finishing the conversation and closing the connection, Inger decided she needed to leave the ship for a while.  Not interacting with anyone else, Ms. Vik hit her room to change into casual clothes before heading out to walk the docks for a while.  She wandered for some time, letting the head of steam burn off as she considered her options.  They appeared to be under Duke Leonard's thumb.  No less than twice in the hours she wandered, she was approached by law enforcement asking to verify papers.  This was nothing out of the ordinary and Inger cooperated as requested.

Brian Begins Serious Research

     As the crew in the berth relaxed and wait for the next step in their fate, they got a call from the Duke's office.  The Seneschal was changing the timing of the meeting with Duke Leonard to the next day at 9am sharp station time in the Duke's Station-side offices.  As Zach had not yet returned from the hospital, they talked about explaining his role without appearing to be finger pointing.

Eventually, Brian finished checking his auctions and figured he was likely to get nearly Cr 30,000 once everything sold. That done, he dug into Zach's research on cloning.  The trader had been fairly comprehensive in his research, and there was a lot of data to go through.  Brian was easily able to understand the "how", and spent some time reading up on who did what steps, and how much each step was likely to cost.

Aali came back into the lounge to tell Brian Wall-e was really taking disassembly to heart, and doing a job on the wrecked grav vehicle.  She confirmed that Brian wanted the vehicle disassembled, except the services and entertainment console.  When Brian asked her if there was a lot worth selling, she considered the wreck.  The only damage to the vehicle was on the front, so Wall-e was mostly disassembling working systems, not removing damaged parts.  When Brian wondered if the wreck was worth re-building into anything they could use, Mikah overheard and said they'd need a gravChair for Zach.  Brian asked Aali if there was anything she thought he needed to check on?  Since Brian didn't seem concerned about Wall-e disassembling both working and damaged systems, she said no.  When he told her he'd check on Wall-e later, Aali said she was going to power up the engineering maintenance systems to run some standard housekeeping routines.  Brian OK'd that and said he'd be in to help in a bit.  As he went back to work, Admiral Uuela arrived.

Brian read Zach's list of network links to facilities that provided cloning, insurance for cloning and the medical side of installing a "neural stent" to connect to a computer system.  He also toyed with some of the data on using that "neural stent", for everything from digital training to using a neural interface to connect to the ship's computer and other data systems.  When Brian considered this, he could already hear Dame Mikah's objections.  The one issue Brian kept returning to, again and again, was that he didn't have nearly the money for the least expensive of these things.  And this was not something to 'cheap out on'.  Zach had notes on how the insurance policies worked, in the event a covered person was killed.  From notification to the 18-week clone gestation period to re-loading the most recent available brain scan.  Some policies even included an on-ship gestation chamber, for starship crew aboard vessels with qualified medical staff.

The more he read, the more Brian realized he could get the insurance and then look to have a stent implanted.  Brian did recognize that the onus of payment was on him, and he'd have to be responsible for making sure the payments were made.  But when he checked that, he saw he could pay well in advance.  Coming to a decision, Brian began with the better providers Zach found, and started to widen that research.  After a few hours, he decided on a company and began the process of formally buying the insurance.  As Brian worked with the automated system, he decided to pay a year in advance.  That gave him a year to make the next advanced payment, while not having to worry about the coverage lapsing.  Once he was fairly well into the deal, Brian was told he would be covered at the start of the next coverage period.

When he asked the system to define that, he was told it would take some days to effectuate the coverage, so he'd be covered at the beginning of September, on the 242nd day of the year.  After that, Brian was told he had a two-week period to get a neural stent implanted.  If the stent was not implanted and documented by the 226th, then his policy would be canceled and his premium returned.  While that annoyed Brian, he figured he'd find some way to pay for it.  So Brian paid the Cr 5,400 for one year's coverage, from the coming September of 1112 to the end of September 1113.  Re-checking the recommended stent implant facilities, Brian saw the implant procedure and the first brain scan usually took about four hours.  He also saw the insurance provider recommendations, suggesting any ship's crew speak to their ship's medical staff, and that having the ship's medical staff participate may lower costs.  Brian liked that, and it was another reason to speak to Mikah in addition to needing a loan.  But with the auctions coming in, Brian wasn't very worried.

Admiral Uuela's Visit

     As they were waiting for word from the Duke's office, a buzz came from the berth entrance and Emkir answered to find the Admiral was there.  Emkir went to greet him, ignoring the picture-taking press.  He greeted his friend and they walked back to the berth, speaking softly so the media couldn't overhear.  As the others killed the vid, expecting something in the lounge, Emkir led Uuela away from that room and into one of the berth's unused conference rooms and closed the door!  Not happy with that, Mikah went right over to step in.  As she started opening the door, Emkir first caught it, to block it.  Seeing it was Mikah, he then helped open the door as he said, "Mikah, what can we do for you?" in a friendly and welcoming voice.  In a happy and anticipatory voice of her own, Mikah said, "I'd, like to hear what the Admiral has to say." with a smile on her face.  Fixing Emkir with a glare, she continued, "The real one."

Uuela glanced first at Mikah, then Emkir and said, "OK.  As I was saying, you are not isolated, under arrest or anything like that, but you've put the Duke in less than the best situation right now.  The truth of the matter is that they managed to jump on all the news agencies and cover up everything."  As the Admiral continued, he said he was very surprised, and wasn't sure how they managed to do that, even with Leonard's authority.  Mikah bet herself that IRIS had something to do with it but, knowing the organization valued its secrecy, said nothing.  Emkir stepped in and said his friend contacted his friends on Duke Leonard's direct staff and did some digging.  What he found was that, at the very least, the events in question had caused a shake up in the underworld.  That, he said, would help the government learn a great deal more about the power structure.  From Naval Intelligence's point of view, this was not a bad thing at all.

The problem was that this didn't appear to have happened in a politically convenient way, though Naval Intel couldn't determine why?  Or how the crew were involved for that matter?  So this fell on the Duke's plate to deal with, because it involved the newly minted Sir Rol, as well as three Imperial Knights.  As Admiral Uuela ran down how he saw this play out with what limited information he had, Emkir tweaked the dialog as much as he could without spilling any secrets.  At the same time, Mikah and the crew had seen enough of the news to know it had been completely cleansed.  Uuela finished up saying he was not sure how much the Duke was going to have to hang on the crew, how much weight he could take and how much he was going to have to find a way to eat?

When Mikah said they were not responsible for any killings, Uuela said, "Yes, but you were; A, participating in it, and so; B, responsible for it."  When Mikah asked how he knew they were involved, if there had been so little intelligence to be found?  Uuela smiled and said Emkir called asking about the news.  And that was the only news item that fit, saying it didn't take a jump space scientist.  He then started to advise them, from having watched Nobility squirm out of issues before, that they should find a story that tied their actions to either Imperial or Rhylanori needs that over rode the rule of law.  As he was speaking, Mikah cut him off, saying if that were the case, they had nothing to worry about because Duke Leonard already knew the entire story.  Uuela did well to marshal his face as he received that news like any other surprise he had to take in the course of duties.  Accepting that, the Admiral just relaxed and said, "Well, then your not in trouble." as he held his hands wide and welcoming, and let the issue evaporate.

Soon enough, Mikah could see that everything of consequence was covered and let the friends chat.  As Emkir and Uuela talked, Uuela told Emkir he and Rol were off the hook for marching with his unit.  Since Uuela had cycled out of his former command, he didn't need to impress anyone.  And soon after that, Admiral Uuela had to get going and they said their goodbyes.  Mikah happily thanked him and Uuela said, "You're much better connected than I am, and you're apparently not in trouble."  As Emkir cringed, Mikah smiled and said, "Yes, we are much better connected." while Uuela accepted the bluster without answer.  Emkir could only assume his friend was as used to self-important Nobility as he was.  Emkir then thought, 'Well, maybe not as much as I am'.  In the pause, Uuela reminded Emkir that he was in the process of cycling out to a new command and wouldn't be able to be of any more real help.  As Emkir thanked him for his efforts, Uuela asked if they had any more questions?  When they didn't, they all shook hands and Emkir led the Admiral out of the berth.

Brian's Plan For Immortality

     When Brian got done with his auctions, the insurance and all, he was not quite ready to discuss the subject with Mikah.  He knew he had the cash coming to cover what he wanted, but wanted to move "now" rather than wait for something else to happen.  Securing the terminal he was working at, the engineer went to the cargo bay to check on the work Aali reported earlier.  In the bay, Brian saw Aali wasn't kidding!  Wall-e was disassembling...everything!  The 'droid was not just removing systems from the wreck.  It was disassembling those systems down to their nuts and screws!  In fact, there were lines of screws and bolts laid out by matching size!  Brian realized he'd have to find the manuals for this vehicle, and many of the component systems, and feed those into Wall-e to get the 'droid to reassemble the systems it had disassembled before he could sell many of them.  And he didn't yet know how much Wall-e had disassembled or what systems were involved.

At least the 'droid had freed up two of the grav modules and not disassembled them.  A survey of what he saw showed Brian that there was nothing that could be used as a spare for the ship's systems, though a number of items could be saved as spares for their air raft.  Once he decided what to do next, Brian decided to ask Mikah to join him.  When he called her, she asked why he needed her in the ship, because she wasn't interested in taking the walk.  When he said he wanted to show her something, Mikah asked in a guarded tone if it was bad?  Brian assured her it was very good and Mikah agreed just before Brian said, "...Plus, I need to talk to you in private."  And with that, Mikah's hopes dropped.  Not looking forward to whatever Brian had up his sleeve, Mikah made the short trip to the bay.  Once there, Brian first showed her what Wall-e had done.

To her, it was a huge sea of incomprehensible spare parts spread all over the cargo bay floor, except for the still assembled bulk of the grav car and the entertainment / services console she wanted.  Expecting this would all be cleaned up by the time they needed the space, Mikah simply said, "Good Robot" and was mechanically thanked by the 'droid.  Brian said they also had some spare parts for the air raft, and likely a fair bit of parts to sell, though he admitted he'd have to re-assemble a number of them.  But Brian guessed he'd be able to sell a lot of them, following that up with, "Which brings me to my next point.."  As Mikah thought to herself, 'Here we come', Brian continued, "In light of recent events, I've decided to go ahead and purchase cloning insurance because...  Well, to be quite honest with you, you need my brain..."

When he came out with that one, Mikah had to fight to keep her face impassive.  Brian continued, "..and I know that sounds arrogant.  If I..." Mikah interrupted, saying "We could just use your brain.  Yeah" with an evil smile.  Ignoring that, Brian went on, "If something happens to me.  Yes, Aali's capable, but I really think that you would lose a lot of ship's data and everything else.  So I've decided to go ahead and bite the bullet and get cloning insurance.  Now I have to get a neural stent implanted within two weeks or they cancel my policy, and it's gonna cost me anywhere between ten and fifteen thousand credits.  I can come up with half."  Mikah asked, "Of the ten, or of the fifteen?" with a laugh and Brian answered "Either."  As Brian corrected himself, saying the fifteen thousand to play the high end, Mikah said, "This is not the sort of thing you want to cheap out on." with a more evil smile.

Brian assured her he could come up with Cr 7,500 now, and said his ultimate goal was to eventually be able to communicate with the ship's computer through a wireless neural link.  As Mikah considered the havoc Brian could wreak with that level of systems access, she simply and slowly said, "Nnno" stretching out the "n" for emphasis.  Surprised at her answer, Brian asked, "No?  Why?", honestly confused.  Mikah fixed him with a look that said he already knew the answer and said, "Brian..."  He interrupted her objections, assuring her he wouldn't use the access to pull pranks or do anything bad.  When he promised, Mikah said, "That's what you said last time!  Before." and Brian asked, "Before?" to be told, "The last time, before you did something.  You promised you wouldn't."  Brian could simply say, "Well, this is not some attempt to take over or to cause mischief." as he scrambled for an answer.  Surprised Mikah didn't see the benefits, he got out, "It's a legitimate...  Things would be done more efficiently, and possibly better, if I could directly talk to the ship.  And it could tell me what's wrong, and I could just do things quicker and easier by just thinking them."

When Mikah didn't respond to his point, Brian swore to her he was being direct and honest about the idea.  She nodded, disbelieving.  Eventually Mikah said, "Ok.  But this is with the understanding that if you do pull something, I'm pulling the plug."  And she made sure he understood it would be the neural stent she'd be pulling from his flesh, not just the local connection.  To hopefully sweeten the pot, Brian offered that he could also potentially connect to other computer systems and possibly more efficiently break security locks or recover files and data.  He said again that he had the Cr 7,500 and could pay her back in a few days too.  When she asked if he got any discount bringing his own doctor, Brian said he could.  Mikah said she'd like to assist in the stent implant, not going into her significant qualifications for the procedure.  When she seemed on board with the idea, Brian relaxed and said he'd have the funds from the auctions he was running in a week or so.

Eventually, Mikah agreed to help, but reminded Brian they couldn't really do anything until resolving the situation with the Duke.  Brian agreed with that and said he had two weeks.  He just didn't want to wait until the last minute.  Once he had the funding agreed to, Brian decided to call and set up an appointment for the next week, to make sure it was being taken care of.  When he called, they offered Brian an appointment on the 210th day, three days from then, at 10am Saturday morning.  The interview and scheduling process took about an hour's time.  When they asked, Brian told them his ship's doctor wanted to participate in the procedure.  They asked to speak to Mikah, and spent time checking her credentials and confirming what role she expected to hold in the procedure.  There was a barely perceptible escalation in the friendliness of the technician as they identified Mikah.

During the steps to identify the patient and ship, some eye brows raised as they realized they were talking to the crew of the Hotel California.  Though familiar with the procedure, Mikah didn't want to be the primary doctor.  The medical center agreed when she asked to be the assisting surgeon and, once the surgery was set up, told her she'd be paid Cr 3,000 for her work.  Also, as they were obviously fairly up-scale clients, they offered to install a gestation berth in their ship for KCr 750.  This would allow a newly created clone to gestate in their own berth rather than one rented from a facility.  They stressed this wasn't a clone factory.  It was only a storage unit, which could be installed like a low berth, for a gestating clone.  It would allow the growth of a blank, even in the case a clone was not needed.  While Brian thought it was a really neat idea, he didn't think they needed it, and Mikah was certain they didn't.  They were also both well aware that they'd lost a ship before and could well loose this one.  So they thanked the tech but said no.  Once done, Brian thanked Mikah very much for her help.

Rol's Research During The Armor Talks

     In his research, Rol planned to over-buy supplies by half again, to make sure his armor repair supplies were well stocked after this dust up.  Especially since this was a minor engagement at best.  Another graphic example for the civilians of just how deadly combat was.  While the costs were Cr 50, he planned to buy Cr 100 of supplies, which were mostly armor composite for his and Mikah's armor.  There were some more complex things that needed to be handled as Mikah had sealed Combat armor, but it was just more supplies.  When he checked with the Knight, she said she'd cover those charges, taking a moment to call out, "See Aiden?  See how it works?"  This confused Rol, and Mikah reminded him about Aiden's request to have his grenades paid for.  Rol just shrugged that off as it wasn't his mistake in the cross-hairs this time.  Aiden asked if that meant Mikah was replacing his cloth armor and she said that was Emkir's thing and she'd talk to him.  Looking up from where he was, Emkir complained that it wasn't his fault.  He complained the gun went off by accident.  Fixing him with a look of 'really?', Mikah said, "Uh, Emkir... Seriously..."

Standing up straighter, Emkir insisted that the gun went off by accident and said, "It's not my fault he doesn't know how to duck."  With her hands on her hips now, Mikah snapped, "His back was to you."  Emkir said, "It's still not my fault.  The gun went off by accident."  Getting angry now, Mikah told Emkir that if anyone else came to her with something that was 'not their fault', she was gonna make it 'His' fault.  Forever.  With that, Emkir sighed and said "OK."  As he began to say he'd replace the armor, Mikah pointed out that he only needed to replace that one piece of the armor, not the whole suit.  Hearing them discussing buying new armor loudly, Zimzod came out of his room and asked for Mikah's help pricing combat armor, to replace his battledress for the time being.  Having heard the last few comments before, he added, with an evil grin, that the battledress was broken and it wasn't his fault.

Mikah chuckled at his comment as she told him she'd float him a loan for a suit of sealed combat armor.  She reminded him he'd be floating in money once his diamond sold.  Mikah also recommended he buy it new rather than risk the issues with used gear.  She joked, "You never know what the last person to die in it died of."  As Zimzod considered that, she reminded Zimzod she knew he was good for the cash and knew where he lived.  She also joked there would only be a moderate interest rate.  When Zimzod remembered the large flood of cash expected, he suggested he might just wait until the diamond auction was done.  Mikah reminded them all they were staying only for the auction.  And once that was done, they might want to leave pretty quickly.  Given that, Zimzod accepted the loan and she suggested he also replace the chest pieces from the executive armor too.

Not needed for the armor discussion at the moment, Rol went back to his research, and looked into TAS member support for clone insurance.  He found that TAS-Rhylanor had four levels of cloning support named 'Bronze', 'Silver', 'Gold' and 'Platinum'.  Reading further, Rol saw he was eligible for the 'Silver' level, so long as he used their recommended providers.  This meant they could get him insured for Cr 200 a month, and have the neural stent implanted for Cr 10,000.  Sadly, he did not have the cash on hand for that.  Checking the prices on the Combat and executive armor, Zimzod found it would cost Cr 30,500 total.  With that price, he called over to Instel Arms and began the order process.

While he had the agent on the line, Zimzod asked about hand grenades and was told they had a full variety of them in stock.  Eventually, Zimzod ordered a case each of additional flash-bangs, HE-Frag's and Anti-Tank charges(10 per case) for Cr 700 more.  As Zimzod was jabbering with the Instel Arms tech, he mentioned the damaged battledress and, after some questions, they offered him KCr 600 for it!  Given his doubts about having the cash to buy another battledress suit, Zimzod held off, but asked if they might have the parts he needed to repair his suit?  The tech said he was sure they did, but the knight would have to submit a detailed list of parts for a cost estimate.  Zimzod looked forward to seeing how close to repaired he could get the suit once the diamond sold.

Zach's Return

     Around 3:30pm, Zach called the ship as he was being prepared to be loaded into a medical transport to be returned.  When Mikah answered, she ribbed him a bit as he said he was returning "home".  When Zach said they'd need a gravChair or something, Mikah, who'd already considered that, joked about having the 'droid Wall-e carry him around.  Eventually, they settled down and she told Zach they'd see what he needed once he was back at the berth.  Once the comms were cut, Mikah went back to watching a vid show and relaxed.  By 4pm, the transport arrived and Zach was off-loaded on this hugely bulky Tech Level-B gravChair.  He'd been warned the hospital needed the device back asap.  As they looked Zach up and down, he was in his blood-stained and bullet-holed clothes.  The hospital, having lost too many loans, didn't loan clothes to spacer crew anymore.

As they delivered Zach, Mikah took charge of receiving his drugs, supplies and medical treatment datapad.  Mikah checked the brick delivered with Zach, to see it was an automated system deploying drugs and some other items on a programmed schedule.  She was familiar with the system, which maintained its contents until they were dispensed or the unit ran out of power.  It also had a number of rechargeable battery bays, so the unit could be powered until the end of its programmed life.  Once used, it was to be returned to the medical facility that issued it, or another such facility in the event it had to travel with a patient.  Mikah was satisfied there was nothing more she needed to provide for Zach's treatment.

As this happened, Zimzod snuck in to see if there was any chance of pranking Zach, and he and Mikah pretended to whisper plots until Zach said that it was his leg that was injured, not his ears.  As the crew came out to greet him, they talked about what they could do to accommodate Zach and return the hospital's chair.  Brian said he could try to build something, but he could see the modules from the grav wreck were too big for that.  Mikah said they'd come up with something, and it was soon decided that Zach could research it so long as he didn't overdo it.

Dinner And More Decisions

     Ms. Vik spent the entire day wandering the docks, being stopped from time to time by law enforcement to check her credentials.  She mixed with the traffic of obvious spacers, port techs, 'droids, ship service types, deliveries and dock workers.  Every so often she saw an alien or cluster of aliens who were obviously from the same vessel.  She steered clear of the K'Kree when she saw them at all.  Eventually she returned to the ship as it neared dinner time.  Once back at the berth, Inger found Zach had returned.  As she said hello, Ms. Vik noticed that his feet were different colors.  Not letting this faze her, she greeted Zach and welcomed him back.  Then she hit her quarters and cleaned up before chow, having seen Rol starting to cook.

After dinner was served, Ms. Vik ate quietly when the food was served, and then went looking for a violent military movie in which everyone died painfully.  She planned to imagine certain faces from her crew on the bodies.  Truth be told, Ms. Vik wasn't sure what she'd do next but, given the state of things and the possible effects on her business reputation, she was actually wondering what she could do to get out of this chicken-shit unit?  But that had to wait until Duke Leonard had spoken.  And then there was the unknown collateral damage to consider, once it was known.  During dinner, it had been decided Zach would research getting a gravChair, or other device, so they could return the one he was in to the hospital.  That and watching vids, or recovering, were pretty much the only things he could do.  And once he took it up, Zach did that for the rest of the evening before heading to sleep early.

After he cleaned up, Rol placed his resupply order before hitting his quarters to do a light work-out.  He pushed himself as far as he could stand the pain, and explored how far he could go fighting the stiffness.  Once done eating, Mikah joined Ms. Vik in the lounge to watch the war vid.  Admittedly, there was not any conversation between them as Ms. Vik sulked.  Not knowing what was happening in Inger's mind, Mikah was a bit surprised.  The vid reminded her a bit of the attack on Arcea's office.  But she shrugged and settled in.  Eventually, as she was watching, Aiden came to Mikah and she snapped, "What?"  Starting on something he'd obviously been considering until then, Aiden told Mikah he'd gotten a High Passage ticket from TAS and sold it for Cr 9,000.  When she sarcastically said, "Good for you!"  Aiden said he was wondering if she could loan him some cash like she'd done with Zimzod?

He quickly pointed out he was hoping to buy sealed combat armor, and would only borrow the cash until he could pay her back.  Before she could ask, he said he could get a High Passage ticket from TAS each month, and could sell it off for money to pay her back.  He also pointed out it was the seventh of the month that day, so he could call over to TAS after ordering the armor.  Mikah rhetorically asked if he needed combat armor but, even without a sharp reply from Aiden, the answer was obvious.  Of course, Aiden said they all needed battledress with Emkir around, and Emkir simply called from what he was doing, "Whatever!"  Even Ms. Vik said that if Mikah realistically wanted her crew to go into combat, they had to be armed and armored.

Mikah ignored the byplay, hoping the children would get over it soon, and asked how much of the cost Aiden could pay?  Aiden, who'd checked his funds, said he could pay Cr 15,000 of the cost himself.  Mikah considered that, and then, with a sigh, agreed to loan him the cash for the armor.  As she said this, Mikah also said she didn't really see him as front line material, given his performance.  Zimzod chimed in that Aiden was not really someone he'd mind seeing get killed, with a laugh.  When Zach said Aiden was much more front line than he was, Mikah agreed saying that Emkir was the one who needed the training.

Ms. Vik suggested they could simply leave Emkir on the ship from now on, no matter how desperate the situation.  Eventually, Mikah transferred Cr 15,000 to Aiden for his armor.  Once that was decided, Aiden turned to Emkir and offered an olive branch, telling the Admiral that, since he was getting the combat armor, Emkir only had to buy him a case of grenades rather than replacing the cloth armor.  Given that a case of HEAP grenades was Cr 300, Emkir agreed.  When he overheard this, Rol mentioned wanting to get grenades himself, to add to the powder keg and Zimzod happily chimed in, "Sure!  Why not?"  Expecting a "pile on", Mikah asked Rol if he wanted to sell his current combat armor and buy sealed combat armor?  Surprising her, and the rest of those listening, Rol said he couldn't afford that yet and chose to live within his means.

When Mikah offered, "I'm helping everybody else out..." he noted the exasperated tone and said that a buy like that was a big price tag.  He continued that his current suit was working pretty good and he saw no reason to dump it until it was trashed.  After she confirmed he had a vacc suit to use with it, Mikah was happy to let him be.  At that, Aali asked Rol how much she owed him for fixing her gauss rifle?  Rol considered it and charged her Cr 10, which she paid with a bump from her Ident.

Parts IS Parts...But Of What Parts?

     After dinner, Brian considered contacting his broker but found they were officially cut off from the brokerage by the Duke's orders.  When he mentioned this, Mikah said they just spent Cr 15,000 on his implant and he bought insurance, so they couldn't be completely cut off.  She did say it was bizarre that they couldn't talk to brokers.  Brian considered putting parts for the grav vehicle into auctions and remembered he had to reassemble them, so he went to the cargo bay to start working on that.  Once in the cargo bay, Brian surveyed the many fields of sorted parts and realized he was going to have to spend some time identifying "what" Wall-e disassembled before he could start sorting the parts to start rebuilding items.

As a first step, Brian modified Wall-e's orders to remove but not disassemble components from the vehicle.  The 'droid was in the middle of disassembling what appeared to be a power transducer subsystem for a power transmission, and set the half-disassembled component aside, apparently starting a new sort field.  As Brian considered using Wall-e to reassemble the components, he realized the scale of the task ahead of him.  He first had to research the vehicle to find out which components were present.  Then he had to figure out which ones the 'droid disassembled.  Last, he had to get documentation on those and search through Wall-e's sort fields to find all the parts.  Only when he'd gotten all the right parts for the right components could he hope to start reassembling them.  Especially since there were whole rows of #10 bolts removed from many components, taken from their parent device and placed in a row for #10 bolts having no relation or indication where they came from.  With a shrug, Brian began his research.

Fade To Sleep

     As Zach was completing his work for the evening, Mikah asked him if he was told he needed any special gear for sleeping in his condition.  Zach said he didn't.  Just mobility gear, for getting around the ship until he was healed enough to walk.  Rol said he didn't need to move, as they could just put plastic on the floor in his quarters.  Zimzod laughed while Zach, ignoring the comments, said he'd found a glut of used mobility gear on various sites on the port web.  Many were discards from geriatrics who'd passed on.  The best he found was a beat up, but still acceptable, gravChair for Cr 3,000.  Not having a lot of cash, and not knowing how expensive his recovery would become, Zach did the only thing he could think of.  He asked Mikah for a loan, which didn't surprise her at all.

She agreed, considering that they could always use it as ship's supplies if one was needed again.  As Zach was paying, they discussed the delivery options and decided to pay Cr 200 for delivery too.  When Mikah plugged in her Ident and made payment, a pop up told them the gravChair would be delivered the next day.  Eventually, everyone hit the sack, but they all set their alarms early enough that they could be awake and dressed in time to get to the Duke's station-side offices.  Zach was filled in on the event so he knew what was going on and prepare to the best of his ability.  In his quarters, Aiden checked the deck controls and found there were limited grav-controls available.  So he grabbed some webbing and rigged a net in which he could sleep once he reduced the gravity.  That way, he spent the night comfortably floating above his bed.


Separating The Wheat From The Chaff

     In the morning, the crew dressed based on the clothing they each had.  Rol went for formal, in civilian garb, where Ms. Vik dressed in her best business suit.  Zach, needing help to dress, was also 'slipped' into his best suit.  The good news was, to all, that none of his healing wounds were bleeding.  The others all had either a good suit or wore their best civilian clothing if they didn't have one.  Around 8am, as they were dressing, they were warned that a transport was on the way to pick them up for their appointment.  Mikah asked if they were aware the crew had a gravChair-bound member, to be sure.  They said they were aware as they had been keeping tabs.  The dispatcher said they should be ready for their pick up by 8:40am.

When the transport arrived, there were even two attendants who helped Zach and his chair aboard and secured him safely.  Once all were aboard and the vehicle got moving the crew settled in to await their fate.  Those watching out the forward port first noticed that there was surprisingly little traffic on this concourse and they were able to move very fast.  Those paying more attention soon realized the path had been cleared for them.  By station security.  Only the driver was comforted by that.  The ride went directly to the Seneschal's offices, where Seneschalate assistants and support workers helped the crew off the craft and got Zach settled in his chair.  Once they were out of the vehicle, the crew were brought to a conference room where they waited for ten minutes.

Finally, the Duke arrived, accompanied by his seneschal and Lord William.  Everyone except Zach stood and Rol gave the men a Vilani bow in greeting.  Zach bobbed his chair to acknowledge their arrival.  As his party entered, Duke Leonard scanned all of them one at a time before sitting.  After everyone was seated, Duke Leonard said Lord William had provided him all the needed reports.  So he only needed to understand from them how this got so out of hand?  His face was a mask of stone as he spoke.  After a pause, Zach jumped in saying, "We made a mistake."  Belatedly following that up with "Obviously."  In an annoyed tone, Sir Brian asked "Who's we?"  Without missing a beat, the Duke repeated Brian's question asking, "Who is we?" and fixing Zach with a meaningful glare.  Taking a breath, Zach answered, "Well, Myself..  Because I was trying to, make some items disappear, that we probably shouldn't have tried to make disappear, to make some money."

As Zach lapsed into silence, the Duke said, "OK.  So you were trying to make stuff disappear.  And you tried, in the process, to make money.  Zach answered "Yes" in the pause left open.  The Duke then said, "The way I understand it, the 'making stuff disappear' was not a problem.  The 'trying to make money' was a problem.  So who was the one trying to make the money?"  As Zach tried to answer generally, Leonard's Seneschal nodded his head and said "No" as Mikah told Zach he couldn't protect anyone there.  With that, Zach commenced to throwing names out as he tossed the owners of the loot under a starship.

Identifying Ms. Vik first, Zach listed the owners as he admitted he was trying to broker a sale.  He added that he'd gone to two buyers, one of whom wasn't trustworthy.  Zach also admitted to going to the least trustworthy contact first, claiming it was before he realized the man was untrustworthy.  With that, Lord William leaned forward and asked, "So, these other people gave you the items and you were the broker?"  Zach agreed that was correct.  Taking a breath, William asked, "And, you knowingly went to somebody who wasn't exactly trustworthy?"  Trying to make excuses, Zach answered, "Yeah.  I tried to back out of it, but at that point it was too late."  Not giving him breathing room, William asked, "And you considered the value of the information related to this, but you still went to someone untrustworthy?"  As Zach paused, Rol said to the merchant, "He knows everything already, so..." and Zach gave up excuses.  "Like I said, I fucked up."  With that, William sat back as he nodded and said, "Yes, you did."

Then Lord William stood and walked around the table to look Zach up and down in his hoverChair, before looking up.  Duke Leonard said, "OK.  We're mostly done here, I think?" as he looked to Lord William.  William accepted Leonard's words as the Duke continued, "Most of you, I don't need to speak to anymore.  Mr. Wood?  You, we need to talk to some more."  As Zach answered, "Yes Sir", the Duke dismissed the rest of the team to his offices and the care of his staff.  The crew rose, and Rol again gave a Vilani bow, as they left, to be escorted to the Duke's office library.  During the entire encounter, Leonard's Seneschal had been continuously typing data into a console.

Getting To The Root Of Zach's Failure

     Not long after the rest left, a gentleman wearing a grey suit, who Zach didn't recognize, entered the room.  As he sat with the Duke and his brother, the three of them reclined back in their chairs and looked Zach over again.  Then the Seneschal and Lord William verbally interrogated Zach in an extremely accusatory manner.  As they lashed him with words and accusations, they took Zach through every step of his activities repeatedly.  And Zach was unsure if it was due to his injuries, drug treatments or something else, but he was feeling the weight of the action.  The questioning pushed him through and beyond exhaustion.

The questioning went on for two hours, after which Zach was surprised when the man in grey sat up and said to Duke Leonard, "Your Grace, I believe I have the full of it."  With that, the Seneschal and Lord William stopped their questioning and turned to the man, appearing to lend him more of an air of authority.  The man in grey calmly continued, "What we have here is incompetence.  What we have here is someone who was given the trust of your other trusted operators, and did not take appropriate care in planning and preparation and investigation before he went to.." At that point, the man seemed to consider his words before continuing, "..carry out the business of these operators.  As a result of not planning, preparing and investigating the potential customers he was going to take the items to, as well as some failures in process, the secret got out."

As he finished, the Seneschal held up the tablet he was working with and the man in grey pressed his thumb to the screen, leaving a print before he signed the application.  With that, the Duke and Lord thanked the man as he stood and left.  The Seneschal continued some further work.  Once that was done, Duke Leonard turned to Zach and said, "In light of the accusation, do you have anything to say for yourself?"  Zach simply admitted, in a low voice, that he made a mistake and didn't realize he was making that mistake until it was too late.  He continued that if he could have gone back in time and changed it he certainly would have.

As he said that he couldn't change, but could learn from the event, the Duke interrupted him asking how well he felt he'd learned from the events in a firmly accusatory voice.  This forced Zach to pause before he said he thought he had learned extremely well.  Lord William asked if he would ever remember the name Quasar Viper, ever again.  Zach answered, "Name of who?"  Looking at him frankly, Duke Leonard said, "Well, you've certainly been punished for your stupidity.  So I think, at this point, we're going to leave it at this.  Unless there is another indiscretion."  Despite the rhetorical nature of the statement, Zach answered, "Well, there definitely won't be Your Grace."  Pausing as he was rising, Duke Leonard seriously looked at Zach and said, "Good.  Because you certainly realize you can't be allowed further errors.  And allowing you the chance for another is an extreme risk."  Once he was standing, and before he left, the Duke seemed to come to a decision and said, "I think we're going to take one additional step." and Zach internally cringed.

Continuing, the Duke said, "Earlier this week, Major Rol Kaihvos became my man.  I made him a Knight, and there were reasons for that.  While I am not going to improve your station, I am going to take your personal oath of fealty.  You are going to be my man, and I am going to own you."  As he spoke, his voice got harder and carried a threatening tone.  He continued, "And that means not just in this circumstance, but in every circumstance"; stressing the word "every".  "This will be on your Ident, and this will be a shadow walking behind you.  If you make mistakes, they will be reported to me and mine.  If you disgrace my House, I will know.  And I will come, and we will finish this matter.  Permanently."  The Duke let that statement sink in before asking Zach if he was prepared to give his oath?  With no options, Zach said he was.  There was a pause before the Duke said he'd forego having Zach get on his knees.  With that, Zach took the Duke's offered hands and gave a heart-felt fealty in an appropriate oath to Duke Leonard.  The Duke then gave his oath to Zach and declared Zach a man of the Household Kirgashii, hammering it home that if he fucked up in any way, or there were any complaints about him, they would get back to Rhylanor.

Leonard assured Zach his arm was long, and reached many places to snuff out many flames.  Looking Zach in the eyes, Duke Leonard said, "Don't be one of those flames."  Zach simply said, "Yes Sir."  After that, the Duke left, attended by his Seneschal.  As they went, Lord William said, "Come with me and I'll take you to the rest of your crew."  The words were not cold, but they were also not friendly.  The rest of the crew had been led to a digital library where they were allowed to spend their time looking up various subjects.  They dove in, in hopes there would be access to more restricted data there.  Additionally, the Duke's Librarians were present to assist them.  While no one found anything surprising or restricted, all who searched found more information, more completely collected, than they could have on their own.  And, as they worked, each was treated as the Duke's guests and according to their station.  So the Knights found themselves very well treated.

Waiting In The Library

     Once they were excused, the crew were led out to another space.  This turned out to be Duke Leonard's personal library.  The space was not overly large, but had many computer terminals and storage devices.  The staff were just a few people, but they managed many display stations.  As the crew arrived, it was obvious any documents which had been out for work had been stowed.  In addition, the annex rooms, where hard copies were stored, were closed off too.  The crew were told they could use the display terminals to do any research they liked while they waited.  They were also told the staff would be at their disposal to help them while they waited.  Zimzod started looking into the legends and mysteries of the four-sector quadrant, figuring the Duke would have access to more data than was made public.  He found the librarian who helped him was also guiding him.  Zimzod felt he was led to those items which were 'permitted knowledge', given the many secrets he might have found on his own.

Mikah went right to the many volumes of data on Duchess Delphine.  Faced with the vast amount of data, Mikah looked into unauthorized works about her, information on her activity in political games, etc.  Very quickly, a Librarian stepped up and offered her help.  Mikah explained that they were headed to the Mora system, and wanted to get an idea what Duchess Delphine was like and what experiences lay before them?  As the librarian paused in thought, Mikah noticed the hint of a flashing light like an LED, just under the right collar, suggesting some sort of implanted cyberware.  Soon the man told Dame Mikah he had a few recommendations.  The first were the collected histories of Duchess Delphine's courts, which he could provide in electronic media, and send to their ship berth's computer.  Next were collected blog and news content, organized to a table of contents, volumes of abstracts and the related connected works.  These could also be sent as e-content to their berth as well as organized on a datapad.

The librarian asked if that would be acceptable and Mikah happily said it was.  He told her that organizing and sending that data would take fifteen minutes, and asked if there was anything else he could do for her?  Mikah cautiously asked if they have any data on Delphine's more personal side?  Likes and dislikes rather than just official data from courts.  Once more the pause and flashing LED, then he suggested a collection of related biographies and even one unauthorized biography of Delphine herself.  Between the many descriptions, caricatures and hatchet jobs in the blogs as well as the commentary found in biographies, there should be a good pattern.  And while Mikah was gathering a truly huge amount of data in a very short period of time, she realized it may take several lifetimes to pour through it to find any meaningful data or patterns.  While they were capturing and sending her data, Mikah joined Zimzod as what he was getting sounded interesting.

At the same time, Ms. Vik really wanted to make full use of this opportunity.  Searching through the sources and subjects, Inger eventually went for the latest port authority trade journals, reading to kill time until they found out what the disposition of Zach's body would be.  Rol checked into periodicals covering the military, hoping to catch up on military news.  When offered them by a librarian, he got a datapad filled with mercenary-based periodicals too.  Sir Brian looked for the manuals covering the grav vehicle and found the librarian helping him could retrieve and send it in under five minutes.  After that, he asked about news and catalog listings of cyberware programs he'd be able to use once he had his stent implanted?  After that he read from the collected selections of cyberware.  Realizing this was more of a shopping catalog activity, Brian joined Mikah and Zimzod looking over the Knight's haul.

Emkir grabbed a wide selection of linguistics writings and cryptographic work, as well as works on a broad range of gambling games and methods.  Aali took the opportunity to collect a massive number of biographies and vidiographies on as many political names as she could.  While none of these were hard to get, they were being offered free and easily gathered from a single source.  Once those were being downloaded, she started researching and downloading Noble genealogies.  Aiden managed to happily cross reference the Instel-Arms e-book catalog with the contents of the very well stocked library.  He then downloaded not only the manuals covering mechanical hand guns, but works on the making of and maintaining of them too.  Eventually all the crew had more data than they could process in their remaining lifetimes.  But these could all be used for subject or other vector research search work, as they were all computer based.

As much of this was being recovered and processed by the librarians, Emkir also asked if they had a wine list or cigars, and was soon sitting in a comfortable cushioned chair reading, sipping wine and smoking a really awful cigar.  It was hard for the others to ignore and, as they checked him out, they saw he was reading recent news updates from the Roup system, where he was raised.  Like many of those worlds engaged by the Zhodani, Roup had suffered during the war and was still recovering.  Unlike the other worlds in the region, the drive on Regina and other key worlds meant the Zhodani didn't have the resources to attack the system, and just spent forces to raid and strike at the IISS base there.

While elderly, Emkir's parents were still in the news.  Most recently leading drives for toys and food for the suffering war victims.  Always controversial, Emkir's father was quoted as saying war orphans couldn't be blamed for their current poverty as opposed to the indigent poor.  Zimzod checked on his own homeworld, and he found news from the Pimane system that was three months old!  This was disappointing, as Pimane was so close to Mora.  It turned out the Pimane system had been "occupied" by a flight of corsairs striking traffic in the asteroid belts of the Gandr system two parsecs spinward.

Eventually increased anti-Piracy patrols caught one of the vessels by surprise and questioning of the ship's navigator led the Navy back to Pimane.  There, they engaged and destroyed the pirates.  As the system attempted to return to normal home rule, the Imperial Navy increased patrols from the 73rd Fleet.  Unfortunately, there were no real details on the locals, as the system wasn't considered significant.  While Zimzod worked with one of the librarians to research news on local inhabitants, there wasn't much available beyond a suggestion he X-Mail any family he hoped to get news from.  The librarian did promise to continue searching even after Zach returned with the Duke, and the crew left.  As Zimzod read, he had also asked for a drink and took two cigars, lighting one up as he relaxed.

Rol also jumped on the home-news bandwagon as well as Mikah.  News from the Keng system relieved Rol, as the war appeared to pass the system by.  While they suffered massive economic crashes and the issues that brought on, there were no attacks.  Desperate for something to stave off complete collapse, the government began enforced work programs at subsistence-pay to grow out what traffic support structures and systems they could.  The system was desperately working to reach out to traffic, advertising their system to captains of jump-4 ships as an alternate route to the worlds of the Aramis subsector.  Of course, they also hoped for a renewal of trade traffic into Vargr space, which was also complicated by the increase of corsair bands.  So while the light of hope shined on the suffering of a still crippled economy, they also worried about possible vargr raids.  The best recent news were possible contracts with Oberlindes Lines out of Regina, hoping to establish a route not currently controlled by Tukera or Imperialines.

When Mikah checked on the Hammermium system, She found things were improving there.  The government, the Hammermium Corp. had been reaching out to existing and new customers as the end of the war saw a huge jump in the need for ores and minerals.  Thanks to the increased demands, the economy was growing and the population, all employees of the Hammermium Corp's mining, processing and shipping arms, were experiencing more wealth.  With this new found economic strength had come increased demands for leisure goods and the time and rights to enjoy life more.  As a result, local disharmony was beginning to spring up.  The government was reaching out to the Count of Katarulu for advisors and assistance.  Mikah found this interesting, as Ursara was the Countess of Katarulu.

When Ms. Vik gave in and checked on Natoko, she found both the Imperial and homeworld views.  While the Sector and Subsector Senates approved Senator Lord Sir Kudila's investigation of Natoko interdictions, it was decided the Imperial Navy was too over-extended to support it.  But funds had been raised, and a mercenary force organized, though there was still money to be had for those who could provide armed services to the mission.  This ironically cooled some surface conflicts in the Porozlo system as mercenaries shifted to what were seen as tickets with lower odds of actual combat.  The force was believed to even now be proceeding to assume control of a portion of Natokan space from which to operate.

On the Natokan side, protests lodged in Imperial courts, and nearly every news outlet, had been joined with nationalistic events on the planet and attempts to sign support treaties with many local systems.  The attempt at treaties had been met with cool detachment from many of the local systems, many of whom had lost merchant vessels to accused Natokan adventurism.  Despite their claims of innocence, Senator Lord Sir Kudila said his evidence was fairly conclusive.  He expected not only to find illegally maintained ships, but to have to take action against them.  The Natokan government and military announced themselves very insulted, and took extreme insult in "His Lordship's lies".

What did catch Ms. Vik's eyes in the coverage of the growing crisis were pictures of a Natokan General, introduced to the crew by the Stepozhevaci as "Mr. Mattin".  He'd been introduced as a contractor, training them to hack the computer security of the Quasar Viper.  Inger felt that, if only they could come forward with their information, they could really have an effect on the decisions of the courts.  But that would make the Quasar Viper public, which could never happen.  She eventually shrugged, as it was not her problem, and read on.  Inger did mention it to the others, as it could come back to bite them.

When Ms. Vik did mention it, Brian thought about the hand computer he'd gotten from Mikah.  She'd grabbed it when it fell from Councilor Helmik's pocket, as she treated him aboard the crippled IMS Enlightened Measure.  He'd told the other Knight it had the computer hacking software the Stepozhevaci thought was lost with the bombing of their freighter.  What he didn't tell them was that it also had immense amounts of information on Stepozhevaci black operations, National accounts funding all sorts of operations and activities and had the last remaining material evidence of the INS Quasar Viper.

Zach And Lord William Arrive

     As the crew followed their varying interests, and shared the drink and cigars, Zach floated into the library, accompanied by Lord William.  As he saw this, Brian wondered if he could possibly make a remote control for the hoverChair to have some fun at Zach's expense?  The "questioning" had taken two hours, and all those who looked at Zach saw he was wrung out, and his skin had a hint of a grey pallor.  William said, "You are free to return to your own plans, and the Duke has a transport waiting to take you back to the berth."  Looking at what was left of Zach, Zimzod asked what happened?  Zach said he'd been taken as Duke Leonard's Man.  Zimzod couldn't help but bust out laughing as did some of the others.  They knew Zach now had serious strings attached, and Zimzod congratulated him on becoming the "Duke's Bitch".  After Zach told them about the position, William explained the legal and other ramifications of the appointment, finishing up with the comment, "Don't let him stain your entire ship."

Mikah said they'd make sure Zach was a stain before he stained the ship.  William turned to Rol saying that, as the Duke's Knight, he should make sure any news of Zach's actions that should get to the Duke did.  He also said Rol should also expect to act to protect the Duke if he felt it necessary.  Rol nodded his understanding that the Duke's sword hung over both himself and Zach.  Following Lord William's comments, Mikah confirmed that all restrictions were lifted and Brian could talk to his broker, Ms. Vik to the port.  Zimzod just looked at Zach and said he was not gonna heckle the man more, as he'd been hammered all day.

When William asked if they had any questions, Zimzod asked for a bottle of the wine they had been drinking with a laugh.  Lord William asked, "In lieu of payment", and Zimzod missed the question, asking how much a bottle cost?  William admitted he'd have to find out the cost of the bottle as he wasn't sure what wine they'd been served.  Zimzod decided it wasn't worth it.  As he said not to bother, he admitted he'd enjoyed the wine and cigars and thanked the Lord.  When William asked, "So, not in lieu of payment", Mikah asked "Payment of what?" and Zimzod realized he'd missed something.  When attention turned back to Lord William because of the question, he admitted there was one more piece of business to deal with.

After a heart-beat of silence, Mikah asked, again, what they were being paid for, and was told that the crime boss, Arcea was, wanted, for several crimes.  Given his death, the courts had found it appropriate to find him guilty of a number of offences based on the evidence provided.  Since he'd been found guilty, the action of the courts allowed that those who "brought him to justice" were due a reward.  Surprise took precedence as Ms. Vik asked, "You mean, we not only get off on this but we get paid?" in a tone of complete surprise.  Zimzod said, "We Rock!" and Rol simply said, "This time" in a cautious voice.  William then told them they would each receive Cr 10,000, except Zach who, he made it clear, was being punished.

Rol said this tied them very publicly to taking Arcea down.  When no one picked up his point, he said he was fairly sure they had no chance of making use of any underworld contacts again.  Mikah said they were done with the underworld anyway.  Rol agreed, but pointed out that the Duke may have done this to make sure that door was closed.  What the former Marine was missing was that "the underworld" was not a single monolithic organization.  In addition, Arcea had enemies.  It was generally understood that even the Government of Rhylanor did megacredits of business with the underworld.  So this action may have even made the crew much more valuable to those in the underworld who hated Arcea.  Of course, they now made many new enemies out of Arcea's former friends and allies.

And the word was likely spreading that the crew not only killed him but went in themselves, to personally do the job.  So this built their reputation too.  Even with their new enemies.  Mikah still said they were done with the underworld while Ms. Vik volunteered to help if they were forced to work with the underworld again.  As things finished up, William tried to deflate their egos a bit, explaining that, while Zach was being punished for his screw up, they all could have been a lot smarter in how they let him get them where they now were.  They did the job when it came to cleaning up after, which was what Duke Norris said he liked about them.  But they all had a role in starting this.  Mikah confirmed Zach's only job, from then on, was to navigate.  In the meantime, Brian was still privately considering what to do with the Stepozhevaci hand computer.

Honesty More Than Wealth

     Brian "wanted" to hand it over to Senator Lord Sir Kudila, for use against Natoko.  This was both because it supported the Imperium and let him get a measure of revenge on both the governments of Natoko and Stepozhevac.  But the Quasar Viper issue was the only one he knew of that was illegal, and he couldn't let that be revealed at all.  When Brian thought of raiding the bank accounts and finding a way to turn it in, he realized investigators could follow that very quickly.  In the end, Brian asked William for a private meeting and Lord William asked what it was about?

When Brian said, "Not here", William asked, "OK.  When would you like to have this meeting?"  The others were completely mystified by Brian's sudden request as Brian said he'd like it to be as soon as William was available.  William asked if Brian would like to have the meeting there and now, or some other time and place.  Brian apologetically asked Lord William to come to the berth and discuss it, as he felt it was a very delicate situation.  With an expression suggesting William wasn't at all pleased about a new and possibly significant issue, William agreed to go with them to the berth and meet with Brian there.  He also said he was interested in why Brian didn't bring up whatever this was earlier, when everything appeared to be settled?

That, Brian addressed directly, reminding Lord William of the many things the crew had been involved in, and that William himself had not revealed his own position until two nights before.  William accepted that, as they only learned of his job when the shit was hitting the fan.  They also had to consider what they could and could not act on while waiting for Duke Leonard to make his decisions.  So William gave Brian a pass if he was now coming clean on something new.  In the back of the crowd, Aali wondered what the hell?  Not wanting to speak up, she wondered what new hole Sir Brian was opening under them, just after everything had been settled and they were not going to jail.

Trying to calm Aali, Emkir asked if they could take a bottle of the wine with them to the ship?  His voice was confident, hoping he would assure her they were in control of the situation.  This stopped William, who looked at Emkir and then Zimzod before just nodding and saying he'd have a case of the stuff delivered!  Emkir was very pleased as he thanked His Lordship and they started heading to the transport.  Thanks to Lord William's response, Aali was not only less concerned but more confused, and was certain that it seemed much better to be with the nobility than reading about them.  The trip back to the berth was uneventful and relaxed.

Once there, William asked Brian where he wanted to have this conversation?  Brian grabbed Mikah and Zimzod and told them to take William to the ship's cargo bay and wait for him there.  And to make sure no one else was present.  He then went into his quarters to get the computer.  As they walked and waited, William asked the other two if they had any idea what was going on and they admitted they didn't.  He asked if there was anything they could think of, but they said they couldn't think of anything either.  He then invited them to discuss anything else they might want to?  Zimzod asked about getting parts for his battledress and Mikah asked about the Duke's position on confirming their titles?

Commenting on the confirmation decision, William admitted that their stock rose and fell with the Duke more rapidly than trading on the most volatile of Rhylanor's financial exchanges.  As she asked if they were rising or falling at the moment, William answered Zimzod, saying that Duke Vilis never should have let Zimzod keep the armor when it was revealed he had it.  So he admitted that this was far above his pay grade and he was not only going to take a pass on the battledress, but ignore the fact that Zimzod still had the remains of the suit.  This was very ominous, as it suggested Imperial authorities could act at any moment to remove the armor and supporting equipment.  When Zimzod thanked him, William said "Don't thank me." with a distancing tone.

Turning back to Mikah, Lord William again didn't comment on their 'stock' and admitted that there were some holes in the reports on the attack on Arcea's office.  He said that at least one of the agents suggested Dame Mikah was poised to shoot Zach Wood, and had the chance.  He was curious why she didn't?  His tone of voice suggested he would not have blamed her.  Mikah said he was part of her crew, and while he was dumb he was not evil.  William nodded and said that they were still running down the loose bits of Arcea's organization, to prevent them doing more damage.  At that point, he estimated that, unless they were moles for other crime bosses, no one was listening to them much at the moment.

After a pause, he addressed the question of their stock in Leonard's eyes again.  William said that Duke Norris was right that the crew got things done.  And they were obviously patriotic in their actions.  He did make it clear their work didn't appear to be pretty, but they did get the job done.  Making it clear he was guessing, he told Mikah he didn't think the Duke had found a reason to oppose them.  But hadn't found a reason to support them either.  So, William said, his best guess on Duke Leonard was that the Duke would ask for more time to research and decide.  There was a pause as that sunk in.  They realized that meant Duke Leonard could decide to change his entire schedule, and either travel to, or spend time in the Mora System with them!

The Stepozhevaci Computer

     Mikah knew that Knights should never have that effect on higher nobility, and considered what the results of that would be?  Eventually Brian arrived with something in his hands.  When he got to them, he turned and closed the cargo bay door, securing it before explaining himself.  No longer in the best of moods, Mikah asked what the hell he was doing as Brian revealed the hand computer.  As he did, both Zimzod and Mikah realized what it was, and Mikah realized she'd forgotten all about it.  As they reacted, Brian crossed to the clearly confused Lord William and handed him the computer saying, "This is the personal computer of Councilor Helmik of Stepozhevac, in the Porozlo system.  He is a sitting Council member of the Stepozhevaci government, and it contains all the data he had on everything they were involved in.  As William stood impassive and waiting for more, Brian explained that the computer was the last remaining piece of the Quasar Viper affair which had not been dealt with.

Correcting himself, he said, "I mean the ship we don't remember."  William's eyebrows went up as he nodded slowly and took the computer.  He looked down on the screen of the device as he switched it on and asked why it was only being given to him now?  The voice was steady and low.  Brian decided to just be honest, saying he'd completely forgotten it.  Brian made it clear the device had been kept secure but had been forgotten about.  As William started checking the unit, he said it had obviously been hacked.  Brian answered guiltily, "Yeah, Umm, About that.  We didn't know what it was and, I take full responsibility for that."  Mikah chimed in saying, "Yeah, because he did the hacking."  Brian protested that hacking was an ugly term for it.

Again, cautious and reserved, Lord William asked what use they'd made of the computer and its data?  Again, Brian was not happy to have to confess, but said, "Well..."  And then, after a few forced chuckles, he admitted to having used the hacking program to break the Quasar Viper's computer security!  William nodded saying, "That's, very interesting." as his tone made it clear he wasn't happy to learn about an automated hack of Imperial Naval vessel computer security.  Lord William continued, "I'm going to have to send a copy of that program to my friends in Naval Intelligence.  They'll be very interested in learning of this program's, capabilities."

Brian tried to change the direction of the conversation, saying that the computer was presumed destroyed by the Stepozhevaci, and contained a great wealth of information including access data for a number of national bank accounts outside the Porozlo system.  He admitted he didn't know what had become of the accounts and other items, but expected no changes were made as they thought the computer destroyed.  With that, Zimzod wondered if a bit of the funds might not be able to make their way into the crew's hands?  This, despite the fact that Lord William had assessed the administration's position on them as neither positive nor negative.  As they talked, the light from Lord William's eyes could have lit the whole solar systems while he explored the computer's directories quickly.

William was obviously pleased at what had been put into his hands.  When Brian asked if this was something of use to Lord William and the Duke, William confirmed that no one had used the unit except for the security hacking program?  Brian confirmed that and, as he sputtered to be believed, Lord William had him hold on while keying something into the unit.  They stood there for three to four minutes before Lord William was ready to talk again.  Looking up at the Knights again, he said they'd see what came out of the issue but thanked them very much for the device.  As he finished his comments, Mikah's comms beeped, indicating she'd gotten a message.  Not at all thrilled about the timing, Mikah's thoughts were, 'Really?  Now??'

Excusing herself in an embarrassed voice, Mikah checked the text to see it was a notification from their bank in-system, that their ship's funds had been accessed!  Now more concerned, Mikah said she had to investigate the message as she opened the message to see it was a notification of deposit!  Reading further, Mikah saw an amount had been deposited into their ship's funds in the amount of MCr 3!  As this reality hit her, there were a number of thoughts, from the fuel purification plant to Zimzod's battledress to the ship's operating funds.  That last was a sobering thought.  The fact was the purification plant was a fairly inexpensive system.  Ships "should" operate with enough money to resolve significant damage, in case of emergencies.  So they "should have" as much as MCr 30 to MCr 50 in their ship's funds, to carry out proper repairs.

So they were "Not" rich.  She also considered paying off the ship's debt to Zimzod from their launch in Regina system.  Brian was still assuring William that the computer hadn't been used outside of the security program.  When William accepted that, he asked, "So, are we done here?" with no comment about the money.  The men, who could only guess he was testing his access to the device, agreed they were done, glad to be out from under another rock.  Mikah kept control on her emotions as she agreed.  With that, and after opening the cargo bay, Lord William quickly left the berth as if he had a new mission in life.  The Knights had to wonder just what they'd handed to him?

After he left, Mikah made the other two Knights aware of the 3 Million credits, making it clear no one else in the crew was to be told.  While the three Knights were dealing with Lord William, the wine was arriving in the berth and Emkir decided he needed another glass.  Aali was celebrating the Cr 10,000 windfall she'd had for nothing.  So the couple were very quickly through half of their first bottle after the initial toasts.  They, and the rest of the crew, were just happy not to be going to jail, or worse.  Zach changed into more casual clothes and then checked his accounts, to see if there were any updates or information on the delivery of his newly bought used gravChair.

Ms. Vik called the port offices and was bounced right to station central.  With the activity involving them, port officials had been watching things like the transports between the Duke's offices and so forth.  Interest in the reputation of the ship's crew had also been growing apace.  When Inger was connected to one of her friends, he was ready to ask many questions, and she just said she'd be right over if they sent a car.

Aiden was just concerned, as he watched Emkir and Aali drink, to make sure no one reached for a weapon before diving into his now vastly increased data stockpile of weapons manuals.  Near him, Zach killed his terminal and sparked up a vid to watch while he waited for his delivery.  Concerned with events surrounding Zach, Rol went into the ship proper, to go through the box of surveillance gear and find a bug with a locator beacon on it.  He found such a device after about 40 min searching.

Ms. Vik Visits And Does Lunch

     While the Knights and Lord William were still in the cargo bay, the port car came for Ms. Vik, suggesting it had been waiting close by "in case".  She was taken right to central offices as she looked at her chrono to see it agreed with her stomach.  It was lunch time.  When Ms. Vik arrived, all those who could be were waiting.  They'd been watching those events they could see unfold and desperately trying to draw conclusions from them.  The only thing they could add to what Inger knew was that the Duke was whistling a happy tune and in good spirits when he boarded his shuttle and returned to Rhylanor's surface.  Ms. Vik stopped them saying, "Tell you what.  You take me to lunch and you tell me what you know and I'll tell you what I can.  The "what I can" alone was a hook that allowed her to reel in the port administrators like fish.  So they swept her along as they went to lunch.

As they rode, they filled Inger in on the report from the port worker.  No surprise to Ms. Vik, there was a dedicated shuttle bay for the Duke's craft, and his pilot burned up to it that morning.  But when he left the station, according to one of the bay workers, the Duke was a very happy man, actually whistling happily as he boarded the shuttle to go down-well.  So the question was, did the crew make him happy?  Inger admitted she was surprised, and couldn't think of anything they did which would make him happy.  The issue they'd dealt with was resolved, which may have satisfied him, but pleased?  What she said confirmed that whatever the Duke rushed up-well for, it was related to the crew of the Hotel California.  That begged questions back to what happened?  Inger said she couldn't get into much, but confirmed that they did avert a crisis.

When they pressed for details, Ms. Vik said she wished she could dish, but couldn't.  As they theorized, hoping to draw a reaction, they agreed that whatever pleased the Duke had to be related to their activities.  One of the more enterprising of the admins said, "So you averted a crisis and made the Duke Happy.  I'm guessing you got paid so, lunch is on you?"  He got a good laugh while getting shot down.  When Ms. Vik pushed hard to get at what they'd heard, she learned perhaps the most important thing of all.  One of the Seniors said there were almost always rumors and information on the docks.  This time there was nothing.  They admitted not even hearing about a crisis, much less one that was resolved.  One of the Ops admins said a number of small craft undocked very early that morning.  And some of the reasons were obviously trumped up, but the port had little to say on permission, so long as the fees were paid.

When Ms. Vik asked a bit more about what time this happened, some of the admins pinned it to the time around a fire which happened on the station, asking if she'd heard the news on that?  When Ms. Vik played uninformed, and asked, they said it looked like a mob hit.  Given the relationship, the port tracked the entire traffic run to tape for law enforcement to work with.  They also said they felt, based on the activity level, that some crime boss got taken down.  As they tracked the departures, the Imperial Navy appeared to stop some of the fleeing ships.  Pick as she might, that was all they knew.  Returning to ground covered, hoping it was safe, Ms. Vik asked if they contained the fire OK?  She figured they'd already decided it was nothing special so she listened as they said it was taken care of.  And a number of agencies were investigating the underworld connections.

There was a brief pause before one of the Seniors suddenly asked, "Did you guys have anything to do with that?" as if he'd just suddenly thought of it.  Try as she might, when Inger said "No", they all saw the goofy grin and Inger knew she'd never make her living as a gambler.  And just as suddenly, everyone at the table knew the crew of the Hotel California were there, and whatever happened wasn't just an underworld dispute.  The event suddenly became a lot more interesting and Inger knew they'd look into it a lot deeper.  Trying to move the subject, Inger asked about any other events that happened on the port?  When that did nothing for her, she pushed for consulting work she might help the port with?  Being the size of a large city, and suffering the same ills, there had to be something she could pick up cash doing.

They asked her what kind of work she was looking to pick up, as they always had a need for troubleshooters.  So Inger considered whether she wanted to work under a "Stipend deal" for the port or work piecemeal ship by ship for captains?  Getting specific, Ms. Vik asked if they had any specific ships in mind who were having issues getting out of port due to paperwork, where she could help by investigating?  The question was not even completely off her lips when one of the Ops guys spoke up in a contemplative tone.

He said they have this one ship in mind, with a 'Health and Immigration' issue.  Ms. Vik knew this was not just for immigration, but to certify a cargo was safe to transit the port.  When he said it had been a problem for almost two weeks, she asked for details and was told the ship's name was the IMS Skipping Stone.  And again, Ms. Vik was stuck trying to freeze her face and hide her reaction as she remembered the ship and her captain from the Risek system.  As the ops tech spoke, he said it arrived in-system, ironically, about the same time they did.  He also said they were holding the ship in port for advanced decontamination.

One of the others at the table picked things up there, describing how upset the ship's master was as she was held in port by the Navy in Risek.  So her schedule had been beaten to crap and she was paying out port fees to boot.  Their tone showed they were sympathetic, but believed they'd done as good by the captain as they could.  When she said she could do some good, and would visit the ship, their relief was visible.  Then Ms. Vik asked for other ships and they promised a stack of flimsies, to be delivered to her, about other "problem ships".

They did have the file bounced to her comms, and Ms. Vik read that as soon as the Stone arrived in-system, she was slapped with a "hazardous" designation, just because she came from Risek at the end of that system's "Active Plague" status.  but Inger was curious why it persisted, because the plague had been cured.  Now that she had some work lined up, Ms. Vik moved the conversation to getting together, off-shift, and seeing shows.

Eventually, they paid the bill and went back to Offices, where they printed out a stack of flimsies on ship's with issues:
     The IMS Star Chaser, Listed as held due to a "Flight safety Infraction"
     The IMS Dragon's Horde , Listed as held due to a Customs issue.
     The IMS Star Daughter, Listed as held due to a Customs issue.
     The IMS Driftwood, Listed as held due to a dispute over ownership of her cargo
     The IMS Morningstar's Treasure, Listed as held due to local non-payment of local debts incurred
     The IMS Eadgar Lanzo, Listed as held due to a "health and safety" issue
     The IMS Shaanes Kebe, Listed as held due to a "Passenger Restriction" issue
     and three vessels held under what is described as "random paperwork" issues (The IMS Rira Niru,
         Last Credit and Dragged Keel)

The Skipping Stone, Part Two

     Once Inger got the flimsies, she asked for a port car to the Skipping Stone, and they told her the ship was berthed on a docking arm on the far side of the station.  While they could get her there for free, they couldn't get her back to the California's berth afterwards.  The ride took nearly an hour and a half, during which Ms. Vik studied the paperwork provided on the Stone's problem, and there really wasn't much provided.  The issue seemed local to that section's docking and inspection teams, and should also be on the paperwork provided to the Captain of the ship.  But the missing paperwork in the port copies was still pretty odd, and she was interested in seeing what was wrong?

Once at the berth, Ms. Vik buzzed the comms and a less than courteous crew member responded asking, "Yeah?  Who is it?"  Ms. Vik announced she was there to see the captain about the port issue.  The crewman said he'd get the captain, but it was clear they didn't expect much and Ms. Vik was surprised the crew had not resigned the ship and moved on.  When the captain came on the comms, her expression was one of absolute anger and non-compliance.  As she looked into her comms and Ms. Vik was about to speak, Captain Arduini suddenly barked out, "Do you have a twin?" in a confused tone.

Catching a small chuckle, Ms. Vik nodded and said, "No, that was me.  We arrived in Rhylanor about the same time."  While Captain Arduini's face changed, it was still a look of aggravation as she asked, "And are you just as fucked as we are?"  Avoiding the questions the truth would bring around, Inger said, "We're a different kind of screwed." with that same goofy smile she gave her station friends.  She continued, "We don't have your problem, but I was wondering if you'd like some assistance?"  Knowing the magic Ms. Vik worked in the Risek system, Captain Arduini's face brightened up with some hope.  Still not certain, despite history, Captain Arduini asked Inger if she knew what was going on?  Inger said she'd been told, and read the file that they were being held under a Decontam-quarantine.

Acerbically, the Captain said, "Yeah.  We showed up here from Risek and they decided we were carrying the plague.  And they were gonna hold us here for a month for decontamination!"  She knew what that would entail from the port side of things.  And knew that many of the data points for explaining the decision, and what steps had already been taken, were missing from the file she'd been given.  Ms. Vik already knew something was wrong, and now had a target to investigate.  This was especially true because she knew the port was aware the plague was cured.  So there was no justification under that claim to hold the ship for more than a day.

With that, Ms. Vik asked permission to come aboard and examine the papers?  The locks popped quickly, and the captain had her First grab the data pads as she went to greet Inger herself.  Arduini lead her into their crew lounge.  Signs were everywhere that the crew had given up hope, with being tied up at yet a second port.  They had a good tea served as the captain and Ms. Vik sat.  Very quickly, a hastily organized collection of port datapads were produced for Inger to examine.

As she read through the orders, Inger saw the departments and recorded the names of all those involved from the port side.  All these people were lower than the levels at which she would know them.  None of the names were familiar to her.  While the papers were proper for detainment of a ship, the proper paperwork should have been filed with the central offices.  Because she'd seen what central offices had, she knew something was missing, or was intentionally not provided.  Inger told Captain Arduini that she was fairly certain she could get to the bottom of this but she needed a terminal to call central offices.

In her mind, Ms. Vik wanted to set a pricing schedule with the captain before she went any further.  Considering her experience, she knew the port may well have found a reason to hold the Stone, and just not properly told the captain.  So she knew she couldn't make promises and needed to find the missing paperwork before she could estimate the time needed to fix the issue.  Inger also didn't want to take too much more from this Captain, as she'd already charged her quite a fee in Risek.  So she said she was going to begin checking on the issue because they'd hired her in the past.  In the meantime, she asked that the captain spread the word she was available as payment.  Captain Arduini was only too happy to agree.

Once situated with a private terminal, Ms. Vik connected to central offices and they worked with the documents she had.  She then asked for the items that were missing?  When Inger held out that she thought she could solve the issue, the tech was very helpful.  One bit of interesting news was that the Senior she was talking to "had heard of this", but it "hadn't risen to her level".  The issue was at the Ops level, below the Seniors, but was rising, and had not yet gotten on Central office's to do list.  That explained why her friends hadn't already seen the irregularities.  As she worked, Ms. Vik's friend appeared to be more and more surprised at what she was finding.

It took between five and ten minutes searching before the woman asked Ms. Vik, "Do you know what the 57234 says?"  Inger recalled that was a standard form for a 'determination of infection'.  Ms. Vik said that form wasn't in the packet of data given her, nor did it seem to have been given to the ship.  The woman checked and said she found it easy enough, but it was placed in the system as a secondary, so it wouldn't come up in a disposition search.  Both women knew that was very wrong.

In any case, she sent Ms. Vik a copy of the form.  As Inger read the form, she found they claimed they'd found 'over-fermented alcohol'!  There was a pause as Ms. Vik was thinking, "Ummm, What?!?" and her friend was cycling through her own reaction, having actually said that out loud.  Both women knew this was not a contagion situation, nor did it make any sense.  As Ms. Vik wondered aloud how they could be held for having vinegar aboard, her friend searched through the various resolution filings to see the same technician had been repeatedly submitting forms claiming they were "investigating" the contagion.  She could find nothing more from the technician.  Or from anyone else.

With their new and more comprehensive view of the situation, it became clear to both of them that the technician handling the issue should be called to central offices to answer some very pointed questions.  And a new investigation of this supposed contagion should be launched.  With a new technical team.  Inger's friend said that, from what she could see, the ship 'should have been' cleared for travel and Ms. Vik asked when she could tell the captain they could expect some turn around?  Reviewing the duty rosters, the woman estimated that she could have the technician in question in her office in an hour's time, since he just went off-shift.  And since she had security forces at her disposal.

She planned to have security teams relay her request that he report, with their assistance.  And a new inspection team would be on the Stone's deck in under half an hour.  Inger thanked the woman and said she could tell the new team she'd be present aboard the Stone if they had any questions.  From the look on the woman's face, she'd figured out, just as Inger had, that this technician may have been looking for a 'personal payday' from the Stone's captain so the ship could clear docks.

Inger thanked her friend and they exchanged a few closing pleasantries before breaking the connection.  Then Ms. Vik returned to Captain Arduini to explain her findings.  It was not going to be fun saying the tech team claimed to have found a potential infection, and repeatedly claimed they were investigating.  After she did, Inger asked if the captain or crew had seen this team re-investigating?  Captain Arduini said she hadn't and the only contact had been electronic updates.  She did snap that while there had been no help, the port hadn't been slow in collecting their damn docking fees.  With that, Ms. Vik explained that she'd gotten them to send a new inspection team and would be staying aboard to address any of the team's questions.

This pleased Captain Arduini very much, and she hoped this would work out the issues.  With that, she invited Inger to the galley to share grape juice.  Ms. Vik was honored, as fresh fruit juice of any kind was an expensive thing for a ship to carry.  Agricultural worlds were sometimes very rare, even in densely settled space.  As they sat and drank, the Captain again told her how thankful she was Ms. Vik got her out of the Risek system.  She was also pleased Ms. Vik came to her rescue again, here in Rhylanor.  Then, she asked what happened to Ms. Vik and her ship after the Stone left Risek?

Inger explained that she was on the Hotel California, travelling with some Knights...  As soon as she said Hotel California, Captain Arduini's face did some gymnastics as she flashed through various expressions.  When Inger stopped to ask, "What?", Arduini explained that she and her crew had had little to do but watch the news.  She was surprised Ms. Vik was there helping her, and wondered if Inger would like a job on her ship?  Laughing, Ms. Vik waved that off saying the Hotel California was in port for a month or so while the Knights had business there.  She was just picking up consulting work.

Arduini said, "Don't take this as an insult.  But everywhere I go that you're coming to, I have problems.  So I'd like to know your itinerary so I can not go that way."  Again, with a friendly smile on her face, Inger told the Captain the California hadn't decided where she was headed next.  She said that, as a yacht, the Knights decided where the ship was headed.  Arduini nodded, saying "That's the way it is with nobility."  Looking for intel, Inger asked Arduini if she'd heard of any ships that the station might not have turned her on to, which might need help?

Arduini admitted they'd been pretty locked up on ship over the whole contamination issue, and had not spoken to many other crews, as they were not real interested in catching anything.  But she recommended Ms. Vik go to the Spacer Union Hall and check there.  She'd find crew there jumping ships that were having issues.  Those would be ships in deep trouble, as their crews had lost confidence and were abandoning their captains, friends and, in some cases, homes.  Ms. Vik reinforced her request that Captain Arduini spread the word where she could.  Arduini agreed, and asked how the cargo she handed off worked out?  Inger said the proceeds were going for a new fuel purification system for her ship.  Arduini said that sounded a bit pricey but those units could be pricey.

When Ms. Vik asked where they were headed, Arduini said the Stone was headed Rimward and Spinward, to the Equus and Icetina systems.  Then further rimward, from the Lanth Subsector to the Lunion subsector and spinward toward the Iderati system in the Five Sisters subsector.  As Arduini finished her description, the call came from elsewhere in the ship that more port people had shown up.  Not in on what was happening, the crew sounded more put out at the bother than anything else, but the captain acted quickly with Ms. Vik at her side.  When they opened the locks and greeted the team, the techs were all stiff, formal and correct.  Inger could see they'd been made aware a high-ranking port official would be watching.  As Inger looked them over, one of the team seemed much more nervous than his fellows, and seemed concerned about something.

She looked closer to see his eyebrows were nettled and he seemed to be very carefully studying the deck plating.  Stepping up to the man, Ms. Vik asked if there was a problem, or something they should know?  The tech instantly stood bolt upright and repeatedly said there was no problem.  Nothing wrong, no problem at all.  Inger didn't think she'd ever seen the man, and she took his name for the odd behavior.  It wasn't the tech that signed off on the papers, as he was off-shift and was likely being escorted to central offices by security at that moment.

After that, she said they should not let her keep them and they suggested the scan should take no more than half an hour.  While the team worked, Ms. Vik followed them through and mentally evaluated the process from memory.  After they were done, they could find no infection, contamination or remaining trace of anything that would suggest why the ship had been flagged.  When the report was given to the captain, Ms. Vik asked the team leader if the ship was free to go?  He comfortably answered that he just needed to file their report and results and, once that was processed, in two to three hours, the ship should be free of all restrictions.  Ms. Vik thanked the team leader and took his name for a "thank you" letter.

As she checked his name, she also saw his sector badge was different than the others.  This generally indicated what "slice" of the station a tech worked in.  When she checked a bit closer, she realized he must have been "swapped in" from another sector of the dock services division.  The other techs were all from the local section.  When the tech realized she was checking his badge, he explained that central offices requested someone from his section be sent, to head up the team for this inspection.  With that, the man jacked his datapad into a berth terminal and transmitted the team's final report and they signed out of the berth.  Once they were gone, Ms. Vik turned to Captain Arduini as she realized she was not going to get much word of mouth advertising in this port.

She said to the Captain that it appeared they'd be leaving soon.  As a result, Inger asked her to head down to the Spacer hall and put in a good word for her, give her a payment of cr 100 and call everything even.  Captain Arduini was pleased with the deal, and paid Ms. Vik Cr 200 as she started rousting the crew and spreading the word that they'd soon be cleared to leave port.  As Ms. Vik waited to accompany the captain to the Spacer Union Hall, Arduini was delegating tasks to her senior officers that she would normally handle, and advising them she had to handle a task personally at the Spacer Hall.

The crew certainly registered on Inger as they sprung from dead in space to pre-departure operations in nearly an instant.  Even before the orders were given, Ms. Vik could hear the comms spark up as the crew started advising dockside and port offices of their plans.  In the meantime, the two ladies prepared to head to the Spacer hall.  The captain was delayed with a call from station offices.  They advised that an initial read may suggest the ship was held in port mistakenly and they may be due a refund of docking fees.

Payments, Parts And Relaxation

     After Lord William left, Zimzod went back into the lounge.  As they headed back, Mikah commented about the battledress to him, now that they had the cash.  He said he didn't feel spending that much cash now was realistic.  Mikah said they could certainly find a way to get the parts for under the MCr 1.5 that new parts would cost.  She also pointed out that having him in the battledress was a definite asset for the ship.  So she felt that using some of the money for that was reasonable.  They finished that conversation with Zimzod having to research where to get the parts for less.

As they walked, Brian said Zach could check the ship's funds.  Mikah agreed that was a problem because they wanted to keep the payment secret.  Mikah said she'd take care of that.  Eventually, they got to the lounge and found the case of wine and the others.  Zimzod grabbed a bottle and glass as he noted that Emkir and Aali were already "very" happy.  He was just happy they were still dressed.  Zimzod sat at a terminal, lit up the half cigar he had started smoking in the library and started hunting for replacement parts for his battledress.

Mikah had a glass of wine and checked on Zach's condition.  She spent half an hour checking him over with her hand scanner, finding his condition pretty much as the hospital staff described.  When Zach asked about beginning to work with very light weights, she shot him down on any muscle work using any of his limbs.  She explained that very important blood vessels were still knitting, and to raise the blood pressure alone, even while working with his arms, would put pressure on the still-knitting fused connections of those arteries and veins in the leg.  She considered putting him to sleep with a sedative and he said he was waiting for his ordered chair to arrive.

As a result, Mikah decided to keep him awake until then at least.  After that, Mikah opened up the management screen for the ship's funds and started making changes.  First, she locked Zach out of that system so he couldn't see the funds or transactions.  Second, she did the math and transferred Cr 35,326 to Zimzod, to pay off his loans made in Regina.  This left the ship in debt to Mikah alone, which was exactly how she liked it.  Mikah figured she'd tell Zimzod later, and let him decide if he could pay her back the Cr 30,000 for his combat armor right away?  Brian poured a glass of wine and then started pouring over the documents from the library for the grav vehicle.  As he started looking into the packet of documents, he found the librarians did their job well.

The packet not only had all the owner's and maintenance documents, but had the manufacturer's documentation.  Included in the packet were a subdirectory containing documentation on all the subsystems.  From there, it was a question about which of those many subsystems Wall-e had disassembled?  That was the easy part.  From the berth computer system, Brian was able to remotely connect to Wall-e's systems.  He had already modified Wall-e's orders to remove sub-systems whole where it could, and he sent an order to scan the entire vehicle and check the system and component list to see what had been removed.

After the few minutes it took Wall-e to identify the subsystems removed or partly disassembled.  Brian sent a command to have Wall-e scan the subsystems removed whole, identify them and move them to a separate list of devices.  Brian finally had Wall-e separate identified subsystems that were partly disassembled and partly still in the grav vehicle from those completely disassembled.  He now had four lists.  Components still in the vehicle intact, Components still in the vehicle but party disassembled, Components removed but entirely intact and those components completely disassembled.

Now came the difficult part.  Wall-e had internal programs for assembling and disassembling engineering components.  But not components that did not relate to it's programmed capabilities.  So Brian could either buy very expensive software, giving Wall-e more freedom of action, as well as possibly being forced to buy a brain with increased power, or he could start having Wall-e guide him to the needed parts as he read from a list and then manually re-assemble the components himself.  That, or he could just throw out those parts Wall-e disassembled and spend his time doing something else more profitable.

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Next: A Rest Before Choosing Salt Mines