Thursday 208-1112: Afternoon The Spacer Union Hall Victory Lap      After passing orders to her crew, Captain Arduini went to the Spacer Union Hall with Ms. Vik after stopping to hit a small dockside shop to grab some bottles.  They shared drinks during the cab ride, and Arduini wouldn't let Ms. Vik to pay for the ride.  At the hall, Captain Arduini wasn't shy giving credit when those who knew of her ship's situation asked what changed and how?  Soon, Ms. Vik was under siege as Captain Arduini raised an almost empty bottle in salute.  Arduini finished off her drink, dumped the bottle in a recycle bin before leaving Ms. Vik with her new clients.
The splash Ms. Vik made meant she spent the next few hours "holding office" in the Hall after setting rules of order.  Not ironically, while she worked Inger met officers from the vessels IMS Dragon's Horde and IMS Morningstar's Treasure, who were on the list from the port.  Interviewing the Gunnery Chief of the Horde, Ms. Vik learned the ship was 'on dock hold' for carrying contraband.  The Chief said it was found buried in a cargo they'd taken as 'carried freight' in the Equus System(Lanth).  The load wasn't detected there before departure, and inspectors in Rhylanor found it, so they were now held as records were back-checked with authorities in Equus.
They'd already been in port nine days, and the earliest answer expected from the far port wouldn't be for three more.  The ship was a 'line Ship', and was already off their schedule.  They'd sent x-mail to their company in the Aramis System(Aramis), but any response from that was easily months away.  Ms. Vik listened to the tale and promised she'd look into the case as much as she could.  When asked if she could do the magic she'd reputedly done for the Skipping Stone, she admitted that case had special circumstances.  She did say she'd do her best to investigate and get back to the Horde's Captain.
Talking to the Morningstar's Treasure's Second Officer, Inger found their issue was more complex.  The woman said they'd accepted a cargo for transport.  But as they billed the shipper for payment, he tried to bill them for a "speculative purchase" of the cargo!  When the ship's legal officer, a qualified paralegal, investigated, the shipper claimed the ship's captain had bought the cargo for speculative trade.  Their captain protested this to the port but the shipper presented a vid showing the deal being closed!  The ship's captain claimed the vid was faked and presented the "Captain's copy" of the original deal.  That showed an agreement to 'transport as freight'.  The port was currently investigating.  Inger said she could check with the investigators and dig into it for them, but the only real help she might present was protecting the ship from port fees created by an extended stay in dock.
The Officer said she'd be happy if anything was done to help, even if it wasn't a resolution.  She understood when Ms. Vik reminded her, she could 'try' to help, but couldn't make promises.  Like many of the others, the people Inger spoke with were impressed that she didn't instantly set prices just to talk.  When they asked about cost, Ms. Vik kept things open.  She hoped to "bundle" many issues into a single session with station offices, with one big score paying for everything, so the rest would be profit.  So she told everyone they'd talk costs when she knew how difficult each situation was.  And having just gotten on the case, she had too few facts just yet.  That drove her stock up even more as she worked towards dinner time and finally took a taxi back to the berth.
An Evening Of Pleasure      Emkir and Aali enjoyed the wine, but slowed down enough that they didn't get potted.  Eventually, after the crew had a working lunch, Emkir told Aali they should find a casino!  He also suggested to Aali that she "bring her wardrobe" so they could find a hotel room after.  He said this last with a lecherous grin on his face and obvious lust in his eyes.  Talking about where to go, they decided it had to be a casino local to the docks, which hosted starship crews, passengers of cruise liners or those on lay over.  That would keep them closer to the ship.  Getting Aali on board, Emkir called a local hotel to book the best room and all its "amenities".  He pulled out all the stops.
Calling a cab, they got to the hotel and never got to shopping, gambling or food beyond room service.  Still, they laughed at being the cause of a very embarrassed bell hop, thnaks to the food delivery.  At a point during the festivities, Aali got serious, and asked Emkir about cloning insurance.  In case something happened with a crew as crazy as theirs was.  Emkir admitted he'd never considered it, but said Aali should go for it if she was interested.  Aali pushed him to think about it and Emkir agreed to do that for her sake.  Despite setting it aside for the moment, though, Emkir could tell Aali wasn't going to let this go soon.
Zach's Contacts and Planning      Just before dinner, Zach's chair arrived at the berth.  It was beat up and well used, but was actually fully charged and functional.  One of those delivering it said it was charged, "...because grandma died recently, so the charge didn't fade."  After the delivery and testing, Zach called the hospital to pick up their chair.  They thanked him for being prompt and said the pick up would happen in the next few hours.  Zach finished with the delivery while Rol cooked dinner.  Zach ate and then settled at a terminal to catch up on his emails and other business.  Most notable, Zach had a stream of emails from Erum Dalunica, on his work towards making a deal for the machine parts Zach had told him about.
Spending time following that thread of emails, Zach saw Erum seemed to be concerned he hadn't heard from Zach in some time.  Zach sent an email saying he'd been in an accident and was recovering, which was much easier, not to mention safer, than the truth.  Checking, Zach saw no updates on his credentials and called the number given him by the Duke's investigators, to see if there was any progress?  When he connected, he learned his file had been forwarded to another office, which was high enough up that they couldn't answer questions about it.  Confused, Zach tried to ask questions which were deflected before he just asked who to call?  He was told they could only direct him up the chain of command.
With that done, Zach called the Kirgashii household contact, asking for the expected protocols of the household and its members, to appear proactive.  When he got hold of one of the business operatives, she verified who he was and told him they were sending a packet out to him covering this data.  She said she'd send him an e-Copy in ten minutes or so.  After thanking her, Zach moved to his emails, seeing many were from merchants he'd been introduced to.  Many wondered what he was working on, and what announcements he could make?  More, they were looking for ways to get involved in deals he may need help on, so they could earn a slice.
As he read, Zach also called Guurkhar Kumkuge, representative of the Safir Shipping Corp.  Zach asked how things were going regarding the firm's blue chip infestation issue?  As expected, that issue wasn't clearing up soon because the infestation wasn't the problem.  It was the firm's safety reputation that had been badly damaged, and that only cleared up over time, at best.  Kumkuge knew Zach should have known that and figured he was asking for another reason.  While the man didn't ask Zach his purpose, he hoped the wheels turned to his favor and that of his company.  After that call, Zach did his best to go through his contact lists, touching base or emailing all the people he could.  At a point in the evening, a vehicle buzzed at the berth entrance.  When Zach answered, he found it was sent by the hospital to get their chair.  He "supervised" as the driver and an aide loaded the loaner and left the berth.
Despite everything else he was involved in at the moment, Zach considered contracting for navigator work after finishing with the chair.  He knew he couldn't hang his own shingle out, with his credentials suspended.  And doing so would compete with the port's own navigation tape service.  Zach considered that and wondered if he could work for the port, creating nav-tapes?  When he called to see if there were openings, Zach found they had 'Cr 100 a day' positions where he could work from home.  Zach saw it would be a full day's work for any day of work he'd get paid for.  Instead, he decided to clean up the mess created by being out of it before taking that on.  The port tech said he could always call the port back to see if they had a position available each day.
In the berth lounge, Zimzod worked on his research near where Aiden had been reading about hand guns since they'd returned to the berth.  When the pilot looked up from the datapad he was reading, something on Zimzod's screen caught Aiden's eye.  Walking closer and leaning over, Aiden asked what it was as he realized Zimzod was viewing an exploded-view of the parts of a battledress armor suit.  Aiden asked, "Wha'cha doin'?" in a 'want to include me' manner and Zimzod smiled and said, "I'll tell ya later" in the same tone, with a large smile.  Despite the tone used, the meaning was obviously, "Bugger off."  Aiden just shrugged and went back to his manual.
Aiden went back to reading until Rol served dinner.  After he ate, Aiden also considered making some cash picking up piece work as pilot for a delivery company in-system.  He researched the in-system delivery firms and submitted his resume to selected companies.  Aiden did make it clear he was looking for day or 'short term' work while his ship was under a few weeks repairs.  Despite the limited opportunities, Aiden refused to widen his search to pick up work for the port or orbital transfer companies.  Outside of that, he spent time watching vids and relaxing.
Rol's Evening In      After Rol found the bug he needed, and closed up everything on the ship, Rol took it to his quarters to set it up for use.  He set the device for the most secure encryption his comms could handle.  Done setting it up, Rol went looking for Zach.  But as he started to look, Rol reconsidered his 'single device approach'.  After cooking dinner for the crew and cleaning up, he went back to the ship after checking to confirm Zach was working at a terminal in the berth lounge.  Grabbing a second listening device, Rol went to his quarters to set the new device up as he had the first.  Done with that, Rol went out to chat with Zach in the lounge.  Greeting Zach, Rol handed him one of the bugs saying, "That's so I can find you if you need help" in a friendly and confidant tone.
Zach accepted it saying "OK" as Rol continued, "I'd like you to keep this on you, and if you leave the ship at any time, turn it on."  Again, Zach agreed and asked, "So it's a tracking device?"  Rol told him "It's a tracking device and I'd like you to turn it on when you leave the ship."  Rol continued, telling Zach he hoped it would let him help Zach before the crew had to go in 'guns blazing'.  As he discussed this with Zach, Rol moved so that Zach had to either adjust his chair position or loose view of Rol's hands.  Banking on Zach not moving to watch him, Rol was able to stick the second device to the greebles mounted on the surface of the chair.  Doing that, Rol stressed that if Zach felt he was in a situation that was getting over his head, he should let them know.
When Zach nodded, Rol said he wanted to talk to Zach about his situation with the Duke and the crew.  Zach admitted he was 'very' well aware what that was.  Rol told Zach he didn't ever want to have to take such extreme measures, like in Arcea's office, again and Zach agreed.  Rol tacked on extra security, telling Zach if he didn't help by carrying and activating the bug, Rol might have to assume he was trying to get out of his agreement with the Duke.  Zach put it bluntly, saying "There is no getting out of the agreement with the Duke.  It's fool's errand to try."  Satisfied with Zach's attitude, Rol said that was all he had on his mind.  Zach asked if there was anything he could help with, obviously not talking about physical help.
Rol asked how Zach was coming along with his projects and Zach gave him a general answer about catching up on his emails.  And, trying to catch up to what was going on now he was out of the hospital.  Zach said he had to try to follow up with the Duke's office on his credentials the next morning.  Saying that, Zach avoided trying to guess how much ground had been lost due to his little misadventure.  About to step away, Rol remembered and asked about the media interview Zach was supposedly setting up?  He'd not heard anything from Zach since the Admiral reduced the media siege to a committed handful of watchers.  Zach said he'd been out of things for a few days and was just catching up, but did say he saw an email on the subject from TAS to him and Emkir.
When he opened the email, Zach found the modified agreement contained within.  Zach bounced the offer to Rol and began to skim the commentary after sending it.  He saw the key changes supported TAS' need to get as much as they could, for viewers to understand the events leading to the claims.  On putting the Imperium or military in a bad light, they said they had to cover the charges, which would bring up questions.  On classified items, they said they did need to dig in, which could cast the Imperium in a less than stellar light, but they wouldn't ask Rol to divulge classified data.  They also said they could do their best to give a complete question list in advance, but pointed out some answers would draw new questions that couldn't be guessed beforehand.
TAS also said they needed at least an hour's airable data and commentary or it wasn't worth the payment or effort.  There was a sliding scale of lesser payments to be made if they didn't get enough to pursue the project.  Needing to follow new information and needing to get enough airable data played against Rol's right to "just declare the interview over" and leave, so they wanted that restriction removed.  Also, while TAS could air the interview entirely, they couldn't guarantee it would always be so.  They needed the right of re-sale and couldn't force a buyer to agree to that restriction either.
Adding to that, when future comments referred to the data on air, they'd have to show supporting clips, not the entire interview.  So, "always broadcasting the interview whole" was unrealistic.  They would promise there would be enough accurate data to respond with if anyone attempted to 'slice and dice' the whole.  TAS would also up the payment to KCr 35 if Rol agreed to this modified contract.  And, the Duke's Own Huscarles would stand security.  After Zach sent a copy of the agreement, Rol went to his quarters to read it and relax for the rest of the evening.  Rather than jumping into the agreement, Rol read some of the magazine files he'd gotten from Duke Leonard's library.  For a laugh, he skimmed through the classifieds until it was time to turn in.
Calling The Broker      In the ship's cargo bay, Brian surveyed the organized madness that were the disassembled systems from the gravCar.  He had no clue if grav vehicle sub-systems were going for a credit or a hundred credits.  What he 'did' know was that organizing the parts and rebuilding systems would burn more time than it was worth.  So, he decided to organize the disassembled components into a bin until he decided to reassemble them, sell them as-is or use them for spare bits.  After then he'd start moving on those systems Wall-e was now pulling intact.  Still, before working on any of that, it was dinner time.
After dinner, Brian returned to the ship, and moved the ship's air/raft to the bay to install the entertainment/Services console from the wrecked grav-car.  He figured he'd work on that, and disassembling the gravWreck, with Wall-e until his surgery in two days’ time.  After some time working, Brian took a break and called his broker to ask about his stock holdings.  When he called Kiirkaarbe & Ingagku Traders, he was connected to Mr. Rannalur, who was excited the Knight had called.  Pleased at the initial update, Brian asked him about legal ways to "push" the stock and company.  To make it more attractive and raise its share price.  The broker assured Brian, he'd do what he could, but cautioned that was not a good way to earn money off stocks.
Rannalur suggested selling the shares to buy a rising stock, but Brian was leery.  He didn't know much about stocks and would be relying 100% on the broker.  He knew many won or lost daily on good or bad broker advice that didn't tell until it was too late.  Brian finished the call, unsure if the broker would do as agreed?  Or if his 'customer request' would be ignored or followed based on the desires of the brokerage, his broker's superiors or market forces that day?  Accepting there was nothing more he could do about that, Brian dove back into his planned work.
Mikah's Evening At The Museum           Before dinner, Mikah considered changing the ship's station accounts, removing Zach completely and adding Zimzod.  While she thought about that, Mikah checked out the food Rol was cooking.  In the lounge, she decided it was time to relax a bit and get out.  After scanning through a menu of museums on-station, Mikah decided to visit the dead animal zoo, to see what their collection was like?  She called for a ride as she finished eating, and changed to casual dress with a casual weapon on her hip.  The ride to the museum cost Cr 10, and she spent the evening wandering a collection amassed from both the Spinward Marches and Deneb sectors.  There were displays from "static bone and modeled figures" to holographic and more techno-wonder based displays of beasties.
On a broad basis, there were archeological displays and discussions from Imperial and non-Imperial space, reaching back over a massive amount of digs, research and scientific recovery.  Moving into galleries, Mikah enjoyed specific displays presenting research into colonial efforts that were not only Imperial, but Zhodani, Aslan, Vargr, Sword Worlds, etc.  Mikah even saw warning signs on the entries to some displays, such as a number of skeletal and 'partial rebuild' displays of exhumed Aslan individuals recovered from before the 'Rule of Man - Aslan' contact.  Mikah couldn't help considering, as she looked over the fully articulated skeletons of a male and female, how large the Aslan were.  And, how nasty their dew claws looked without all that skin and fur to make them look 'soft and fuzzy'.  Of course, she had seen this material before, just never so "up close", or positioned so menacingly.
In addition to displays on the major races, Mikah saw many bizarre monsters and beings from all over the region.  From the non-threatening Chirpers, to the eight foot tall, six appendaged Sea Bears of the Thengo system, in the Zhodani controlled part of the Cronor Subsector.  As she looked over the truly vicious Sea Bears, Mikah read that this was one of the few truly open tourism opportunities for Imperial citizens into the Zhodani Consulate.  Adventure vacations to surf and-or hunt the seas of the Thengo system mainworld were very popular.  And one of the few vacations for which any insurance was not available if you planned to go near the water.
Eventually, Mikah decided there was more to this museum than there was of her evening to spend there.  So she made her way to the ever-present gift shop.  That space was well stocked with static and 'you build it' models, plus high quality display pieces from many of the exhibits.  The styles ran from "skeleton to flesh" to "invisible being", presented in physical or holographic versions.  They ran the gamut from 'what you see is it' to electro-morphic shifting appearances and data displays.  They were also fully stocked with vid-documentaries in holographic or e-books form, expensive volumes with comprehensive displays of the exhibits and more, as they added the research behind the displays.  Vids included natural habitat documentaries, if the creatures were still alive, and top notch simulations of extinct species, based on the best data available.
And the most expensive also offered memberships, where owners could connect to a research or museum outlet to update a book as new data was discovered.  An item that caught Mikah's eyes was a vid entitled "Bear Week is Exciting", imported from the Thengo system.  The cover, and advertisements proclaimed it covered surfing, hunting and all the astounding and unexpected things that could happen despite the best planning!"  For only Cr 100, it was advertised as a steal!  Mikah finally settled for a table top display pedestal with controls to present any of the exhibits in the museum, from skeletons out to fully-fleshed models.  That cost her Cr 50.  She also picked up one of the more expensive encyclopedic books, containing a high volume of data that was "on sale" for only Cr 200.  After her shopping, she called a ride to get back to the ship late in the evening.
Zimzod's Small Side Trip      Zimzod planned to spend the evening searching for less expensive sources for battledress parts.  More than once, as the hour's passed, he got an electronic communication, effectively asking 'Who are you, and why are you looking for battledress components?'  Each time he got one of these, the knight asked, "Who are you?"  Reactions to that question were not generally favorable.  They ranged from no answer to insulting replies such as, 'Look fuck-wad!  Do you want the parts or no?'  Or they identified themselves as members of the Rhylanori Law Enforcement community, and explained the items Zimzod was looking for were controlled technology, and dealing in them could lead to significant charges.  Where he encountered Law enforcement agents, he just identified himself as an Imperial Knight and said he was "curious" about battledress, hoping that he wouldn't have a squad of investigative troops show up on their doorsteps.
Some of the agents were obviously stiff necked about it, and took the time to sternly explain to Zimzod the legal ramifications of his actions.  Knowing he could be arrested for even having asked, Zimzod was polite to the officers, even at their worst.  The last thing he needed was for them to arrest him on a valid charge, given their standing with Duke Leonard at the moment.  When he got responses asking if he wanted the parts or not, Zimzod generally asked if they had prices?  This got nearly as many different responses as he had contacts.  Eventually, one contact just sent Zimzod back an address.  When he checked it out, the address was a location, roughly a quarter turn around the station, in an area of docks much like where the Hotel California was berthed.
Figuring the lead could be good or bad, Zimzod called for a taxi and put on executive armor under his clothes.  He also considered what weapons he could conceal, in case things got bad.  He knew that showing off too much hardware might trigger reactions, from both any local law encountered and from those he might be dealing with.  He also thought about concealing a weapon.  But, he realized that would violate the law despite his right to carry.  After thinking about it, Zimzod rolled the dice and went unarmed, hoping his luck and executive armor held up.  The ride to the location, a fair distance around the station, cost Cr 40.  When he got there, Zimzod told the cab to wait for an extra Cr 20, because the docks were not well kept in that area.
Some light tubes were fading or out, passages were not as clean as he expected them to be and there were obvious 'wanderers' moving about.  While there was a law enforcement presence, it was not nearly as great as in the more robust sections of the port.  When Zimzod entered the address, he found a small reception area with a table of e-pads showing varying magazine titles, and a group of people sitting on cheap furniture, apparently waiting.  Both the furniture and the people showed a great deal of age and abuse.  None of those in the waiting area seemed to have even a credit to rub their fingers on, nor did they seem to show any spirit or animation when he arrived.  One or two did look up.  On the far end of the rectangular room was a window with an android receptionist in it.
The 'droid's scarred and beaten surface activated as Zimzod let the door close behind him and stepped forward.  As he got close to the 'droid, he saw it appeared to have been jury rigged into place, and only half completed, as it played out the message "Can I help.  New arrival?"  The voice was a straight electronic construct, with no attempt to moderate it to match the tones of any race.  But it was still easily understandable, so Zimzod said "Warehouse Items".
The 'droid asked him to specify, as Zimzod looked at the people around him before cryptically saying, "parts".  He hoped this android was more intelligent than he'd seen so far.  Again, it repeated, "Specify".  So Zimzod figured, 'What the hell', and said, "Battledress".  After a pause, it responded that Zimzod should be seated.  With no chair 'at the window', Zimzod figured he was gonna have to wait, and joined the others in the room.  Zimzod grabbed a seat as one of the men in the room leaned forward and asked Zimzod, "Wot wuz yer unit?"  The man's voice was slurred by injury, age or lack of intelligence.  Zimzod shrugged and amiably asked, "What year?" following that up with a laugh and also asked, "What branch of the military?"
The man was obviously confused with the second question, and accused Zimzod of being a wise ass.  Zimzod just relaxed his body as he sat back and said, "Nope", leaving the ball firmly in the other man's court.  Zimzod could only guess the other guy knew something about reading a body.  He also relaxed, and changed his approach, asking "Well, what was yer last unit?"  As he did so, the man firmed his stance in his seat, but didn't stand, dividing the room between them but clearly not moving on Zimzod.  Seeing the man had some experience himself, Zimzod said his last unit was the 3187th.  The man said, "I don know that unit.  Wha'd ya do?"  Zimzod considered just how far he wanted to play twenty questions, and what might be at the end of the game, win or lose?
Not giving out too much, Zimzod said the unit was a brigade tasked with counter-insurgent operations.  As he said that, more than one of those in the room leaned away from Zimzod, but the man with the mouth simply eyed him.  After a pause he asked Zimzod, "Counter Insurgent huh?  You shoot a lot of citizens, did ya?"  Zimzod's answer was a flat "No" with no emotion as he waited for anything to snap.  His read of the room was that the loud mouth might do something but the rest of the room would flee if a fight broke out.  When the malcontent asked, "Are you sure?" Zimzod conversationally answered, "Not as far as I know."  There was another pause and the guy asked, "So yer lookin' for batteldress, eh?" and Zimzod decided to push back, asking the man, "What? Are you writing a book?"
Without missing a beat, the man said, "Yeah.  Kinda."  Trying to figure this guy's angle, Zimzod threw back, "Alright...  Well...  Who are you and why you asking all this?"  Leaning forward just a bit, the man said, "Let's just say I work here" as Zimzod sensed he may have passed the opening round of some kind of test.  This forced him to reset his mental preparations and he asked the man what his last question was?  When he was reminded he'd been asked if he was looking for battledress parts, Zimzod said he was.  The man asked, "How much battledress parts?" obviously fishing to see how deep Zimzod's pockets were?
Zimzod said he needed the control systems and computers for a suit, and the man admitted those were very difficult parts to get.  He also asked what happened to the last ones?  When Zimzod gave him the least information possible, saying they got fried, the man said, "Well, Let me tell you how our warehouse works.  Everything's got a price.  So, depending on what you need, if you got money, you can pay the price."  Thinking there should be a gleam in the man's eyes as he spoke, Zimzod couldn't help but notice his improved vocabulary and diction.  The man continued, "If you don't have money, or as much money, maybe you can do us a favor."  He finished that last with a smirk on his face that left Zimzod doubting the nature of that "favor".  Zimzod figured, "what the hell", and asked how much the parts would cost?  The man just shrugged and asked for his parts list.
When Zimzod handed him the datapad with the parts list, the man plugged it into a terminal that was part of the reception 'droid.  While the system processed, the man warned Zimzod the parts he wanted were not gonna to be cheap.  While waiting, the man again asked what happened to the original parts?  Zimzod was more interested in the fact he still hadn't asked Zimzod his name.  Zimzod said he had a bad encounter with a composite cutter and the man nodded, saying, "That must have sucked."  Zimzod agreed as he privately hoped he was gaining some ground on a connection with these people.  He hoped that might help him lower the price a bit.  When the man said that he was lucky to get the carapace open before he suffocated, Zimzod realized the guy knew how battledress failures worked.
When Zimzod asked what unit the man had been in, he said he wasn't.  Zimzod asked about his battledress knowledge and was told, "My Boss taught me a few things."  Zimzod considered that being suffocated in your armor was rarely one of those casual things you learned in an illicit chop shop.  As Zimzod chewed on that, the guy asked what kind of favors he might be willing to do for the parts, if he didn't have enough money?  Pausing to put a big smile on his face, Zimzod said, "Umm, nothing illegal."  To his credit, the man didn't react, other than a friendly nod.  Into that silence, the android signaled it had done it's checking and placed a report on the datapad.  The man checked it before handing it to Zimzod, who saw the parts had been itemized alphabetically and a total cost placed below each individual price.
A little disappointed, Zimzod saw the total was around MCr 2!  He realized this wasn't where he'd hoped to start negotiating.  Not willing to jump into what looked like a pretty murky cesspool, Zimzod asked for contact data, to reach them when he was ready to buy?  The spokesperson just told him to bring the cash when he had it.  Turning almost businessman, the guy rattled off the standard disclaimers, including that the MCr 2 covered all regulatory issues.  When Zimzod said he had an offer KCr 500 less, the man said that, if he did them a favor, they could knock MCr 1 off the price and be KCr 500 less than that offer.  As Zimzod considered just how to respond without starting a fight, and the man thought he might have an opening.
Hoping to draw Zimzod in, he suggested the price cut could be even deeper, depending on the favor.  When Zimzod asked, "Legal or illegal?" the man said that it depended on which systems they're talking about.  He pointed out that some system governments were not so stringent as Rhylanor.  He then continued, "and nothing's illegal if you don't get caught." with a wink.  Keeping his face a mask as he nodded, Zimzod simply said he'd take his chances with the other offer.  The man nodded and went to sit back down where he'd been as Zimzod left.  Back in the cab for the ride back to the ship, Zimzod paid the Cr 40 back at the berth.  The hour was late so he just racked out.
Zach worked his emails while the evening passed, and caught up on news until racking out fairly early, with Mikah's medical approval.  Aiden finished his evening watching vids to relax.  Mikah returned from the museum to find only Zimzod, Aali and Emkir were out of the berth.  Eventually, Ms. Vik returned in better spirits, but having several datapads of work to do.  So, she retired to her quarters to do research before turning in.  She hoped to gather as much data as she could before hitting up her friends in port offices.  Brian worked late, and planned to spend the next day working with Wall-e before his surgery on Saturday.  Rol had turned in, and when Zimzod returned the only one's not in the berth were the happy couple as Aali and Emkir did their level best in their hotel room to throw the rotation of the station off.    Friday 209-1112: Gathering At The Berth
Brian went over his work plan for the grav-wreck as Rol cooked breakfast after a careful workout.  Aiden had gotten a few nibbles on his resume, but saw sticking with the corporate route wasn't working out.  Due to a still-remaining glut of post-war pilots, the corporations were not looking for temporary workers.  After breakfast he went back to researching the big companies, to find any low stress jobs.  Done eating and cleaning, Rol read the copy of the TAS agreement Zach sent him.  Opening the document, Rol realized this would be an all-day job.
Mikah emerged from her quarters having had a very enjoyable night.  Done eating, she checked to find she'd gotten an email from Dame Ashlee.  The short message asked if she'd had the time to speak to her crew about the job offer?  Realizing that had slipped between the cracks, Mikah turned to the others before they dispersed.  She announced that everyone should stay close, and once Aali and Emkir returned, they had to have a crew meeting.  Near her, at a terminal, Ms. Vik nodded and said, "Ok" as she wondered what was next, and how bizarrely it would end?  Inger set the thought aside to return to her research, but wondered if they were gonna get the Duke to pay them for another major crime?
Mikah relaxed to watch the news until the couple returned.  In the news, the latest on the saga of the death and rebirth of Ardella Mestler was just one of many stories grinding on with nothing new.  Mikah watched to learn about legal issues surrounding cloning.  Zach also listened in as the story played out.  Eventually, while she watched, and after a conversation with Zimzod about his battledress, her comms went off.  Mikah answered, finding it was Brian, telling her that Emkir and Aali had returned to the berth.
Finishing eating, Zimzod had sat with Mikah to tell her about his parts search so far.  While disappointing, they agreed he'd only just started looking.  Zimzod said the systems were "controlled items", which could be a problem.  So the odds were, they'd have to get authorization to even buy the stuff.  Mikah wasn't surprised, but asked him about InstellArms, to be sure she'd remembered that correctly.  Zimzod said he'd checked them, and also started to tell her about the shady warehouse he'd gone to.  Hearing that, Mikah shut him down on any hint of black market dealings.  Even before he'd gotten to the offer of "discounts for favors".  Mikah made the decision they'd buy the parts from InstellArms, since it would be expensive no matter what.
Zimzod agreed that buying from InstellArms would solve a lot of issues, but still seemed unsure.  He still felt he might find a better deal.  But Mikah was firm, and blew off the MCr 1.5 costs because they had the cash.  Sitting nearby, Zach was so deeply involved in his own issues that he missed the entire conversation.  Zimzod agreed to buy from InstellArms and said he should be able to pay the cost back after the diamond sold.  Mikah said the battledress was a considerable asset, so he shouldn't worry about paying the cost back.  Zimzod was pleased because he'd be able to buy even more nasty stuff to make some lives difficult.  Mikah smiled and said, "Lord William hooked us up pretty good."
While they talked, Mikah logged into the ship's station accounts and changed the permissions, removing Zach completely and adding Zimzod.  Still blissfully unaware, Zach sat working his own issues.  But to make sure Zach didn't start ordering supplies and suddenly find out, she told the merchant his access had been removed.  Buried under his own issues, Zach just shrugged and said, "More paperwork for you."  Digging the knife in, Mikah joked, "Or Zimzod" and Zach said "Whatever".  He was just contacting the Duke's office to find out what was happening with his credentials?  Zach hoped he was making progress, but knew there was no measuring stick for this.
Discussing The Pavabid Job      In the hotel, Emkir and Aali were disappointed to see their fun hadn't set the building off center.  But they needed to get to the berth and to work.  Their ordered breakfast arrived just after they cleaned up and dressed, and then got a cab back to the ship.  In the end, as they arrived, the total cost to Emkir was Cr 2,000, but Aali was well satisfied with the ways he'd made up for his antics the day before.  The only non-pleasure item they dealt with was when Aali asked Emkir's thoughts on cloning?  On the way back, Emkir also brought up selling the datapads.  Getting close to the berth, Aali said they should check in on the datapads with Brian when they got back.
When the couple returned to the berth, they found Brian working on the ship's air/raft, in the berth.  He was finishing installing the services console they'd recovered from the grav-wreck.  Emkir suggested that, since it seemed Brian didn't have the time to deal with them, he and Aali sell off the media electronics.  After a bit of a conversation, Brian agreed, and told Emkir where he'd left them, though both Aali and Emkir remembered that well.  When Emkir said Aali would help him unless Brian wanted her help, she looked at the mess.  Seeing the parts being mined from the wreck, the secondary work on the air/raft and more, Aali told Brian, "I don't want any part of this."
Brian agreed that Aali could help Emkir, and the Admiral asked if he'd checked the devices?  Brian said he didn't, and joked that a big magnet should do the job, though these were mostly crystalline-based and would take more effort.  Emkir said he and Aali could check them, and then list them in a step by step process, despite knowing that could take days itself.  Brian said he could come get Aali if he needed her, and the couple told him they'd keep the work in the storage room with the door closed.  Brian shuddered as he considered what else they might be doing behind that closed door.  Before they left, Brian did remember to tell them Mikah wanted to have a meeting of the crew when they got back.  As he said this, Brian pulled his comms and called Mikah to tell her the happy couple were back aboard.  Mikah then called the crew to meet in the lounge and everyone gathered.  All settled, Mikah said they'd had a job offer that would take them to District 268.
Various people at the table recalled their own experiences as she made her announcement.  Zach had been close to that area of space, but not for some time.  While in the Imperial Navy, Zimzod was crew on a troop transport that entered District 268 in an anti-piracy operation in the Inchin System.  The fleet his ship was part of was based out of the Wonstar system(Five Sisters Subsector).  Aiden recalled his service in Imperial (Mertactor and Mille Falcs) and the client state (Tarsus and Collace) systems in the region, aboard the ISS Kirdiimle.  Sadly, their experiences were from long enough ago that they were mostly pleasant dreams or distant nightmares.
When Mikah said the job was in the Pavabid system, some crew remembered the story about death threats against the system's choir, which was being sent on a tour of the Rhylanor Subsector!  This was due to the system's apparent religious dictatorship, and how it was claimed they kept their population under a state of virtual slavery.  Of those who'd been in that area of space, only Aiden could remember jokes about having to be aware of Pavabidian slavers when they were in the Collace system.  Those crew who didn't recall the news were not completely clueless, as they all knew District 268 was independent space, not incorporated into the Imperium.  They also knew a number of the systems in the area were not exactly Imperial-friendly.  During the war, the Trexalon system was largely believed to have engaged in commerce raiding and privateering in an attempt to dominate any of the Imperial Client states in the region.
Zach recalled his associate, Erum, was planning to lead a speculative trade mission into the region on a frontier cruiser converted to a trading vessel.  Those who knew the system wondered why a religiously-closed system needed outside help and Mikah said they'd be going in for the organization 'Ilimu Irsaer Kikua', which fought for "sophont's rights" and "rescuing those ill-treated by their governments"(Read: Amnesty International).  Mikah told how she had met Dame Ashlee and was introduced to Baron Asilova Devonnews, Lady Tiryrini, and Dame Darwofk.  The others settled in while Mikah said the organization wanted to know what happened to a team sent into that system, who they assumed were dead.  Mikah stressed that they just wanted to know the team's fate and didn't expect the crew to try to recover them, or their remains.
The crew reacted and Zach asked for details on the system?  Mikah explained about the religious situation and the incredibly closed nature of the system.  Taking that with a dose of "gee, I'm glad I'll be staying with the ship", Zach asked how they were supposed to get into the system?  Mikah admitted their patrons could only get the ship to the Collace system, one jump away.  From there, it would be up to the team to craft a plan.  When Aiden joked that it might be time to revive the cult of Emkir, he was soundly growled into silence.  Rol asked how they were getting to Collace, given it was a fair distance in a different direction from where they were planning to travel.  Mikah explained the plan to place the Hotel California into the cargo hold of a megaFreighter and carry them both to the Collace system.  Then back to the Mora system afterwards.
She also said they offered to have that ship's crew handle the installation of the fuel purification plant they were buying!  This got Brian's attention as he knew Talan Salagon wanted to make his profit renting them repair space after cutting them a very good discount on the plant itself.  When several asked how long it would take, Mikah explained how Dame Darwofk apparently logged into highly secure merchant flight schedules with ease.  And not just one company, but an apparent composite of the largest mega-corporations!  This was data that supposedly didn't exist, and for which any pirate would give a monstrous reward.  To add to the astounding level of access, Mikah described as the knight apparently altered flight schedules from her personal computer!  The deal they offered was to move the ship to Collace in six weeks, and then from Collace to one jump out of Mora in another six weeks.
Rol said they seemed to have a huge amount of access and influence for a "non-profit organization".  Aiden only tersely grumbled they wouldn't be walking into a snake pit but a Hydra's nest.  Zimzod pointed out that the job would not only save them a lot of cash, installing the purification unit, but also give them more pull with more nobility.  That was always a good thing, especially important given their situation with Duke Leonard.  Zimzod asked if they were getting paid and Mikah said they were not.  That disappointed him.  She agreed it saved them a lot of cash and issues along their planned route.  Emkir asked when they wanted the team to be ready and Mikah said Dame Ashlee asked when the crew wanted to leave Rhylanor?  She wasn't in a hurry.  Mikah reminded them that they thought the team were dead already, so there was no rush.
Zimzod said he had to wait for the diamond to be auctioned, and Brian and Aiden mentioned their various auctions.  Zimzod also recalled the school he wanted to return to for more gunnery training.  They all agreed they needed some more time in-system.  This ended as Aiden again asked how they expected the team to get onto the planet?  Mikah said that a large Imperial freight carrier jumping into Pavabid's orbit would create a large amount of questions where a small trader wouldn't.  This would give the crew chances to decide how to land, including possibly sneaking in.  When that was said, Zach asked if anyone had experience making covert landings on planets?  All eyes turn to Rol, thanks to having read all about him in Sir Jeremy's book.  Taking a minute to consider the mission, Rol looked at Mikah and asked "What do you think?  Can we do it?"
Mikah said that this was why she brought it to everyone.  So they could decide if they were up to it or not.  Emkir asked Mikah if she felt it was "doable" in her opinion?  In the silence that fell, Zimzod, Brian and Mikah all remembered the operation they'd pulled off in the Hrunting system.  They'd out-thrusted to their jump point in the Margesi System, where they'd been deployed by Duke Vilis' Naval unit.  They then used the speed they'd built up before jumping to "drift" towards Hrunting-Prime in a low power state.  They only powered up and decelerated when the math said they were in the planet's shadow and the base on-world couldn't see them.  Close enough for reentry, they plotted a deep dive approach on the opposite side of the planet.  Then, they burned hard at low altitude to land in the region of the base.  Of course, Grift had been at the controls, and they had more confidence in their team at the time.
A further annoyance was that Pavabid had a much larger population and likely had more detection grids covering more of the world.  So that wouldn't be possible in this case.  They "could" try to land a covert team on the air/raft in vacc suits and pressurized armor.  Then the ship would land while those on the raft endured an eight to nine hour descent on their own.  Of course, they'd have to do a few orbits to find where the best chance of not being detected was?  And the landing team would need to bring a portable power plant and land near a source of water, to recharge the raft on the ground for the ascent and any on-world movement.  They would also have to move from point to point until they arrived where the missing team had been, which they needed to learn that from Dame Ashlee.
Zimzod suggested that they could pretend to be Selected, if they could get video of the "Selected" and how they dressed.  But the crew agreed little was known of the planet or its society on-world.  When Zach moved his hover-chair to a terminal to check on Pavabid, he found very little on the public network, and they agreed this might be intentional.  When Zimzod suggested they try it as that was all they knew, it was pointed out that only knowing unconfirmed information didn't mean you should use it.  When Zimzod asked, "OK, do they have orbital satellites?" the answer was again, unknown.  It was known they dealt with Imperial corporations as they had with the flying palace, but to what extent wasn't known.
Even the travel path of the grav-city that was the Floating Palace was not discussed, and the only way they knew about it was the media coverage of the order, construction and delivery from the Glisten system.  It was only from that news that the outside universe knew the rulers lived in the palace and taught the population they were "Selected of the God".  During the discussion, Mikah murmured that they had experience bringing down floating cities.  Brian and Zimzod shared a smile as the others frowned and the attitude around the table darkened.
Rol stated the glaringly obvious, that they would need to do a lot more research if they planned to do this job.  Mikah said she could call Dame Ashlee, but she expected them all to dig in and start researching Pavabid.  When Zach commented on the 'two whole pages' his quick search found, she snapped at him that he only did one basic search.  She pointedly said that they all needed to spend some real time digging into the system to learn what they could, so they could decide if they'd take the job?
Zach said his data showed Pavabid's religion was an offshoot of the Church of Stellar Divinity, that viewed it as a "Pavabidian Heresy".  The mainstream church taught the divinity of stars as living Gods.  But, in a breach with the Church of Stellar Divinity's belief that "all stars" were Gods, the Pavabidians believed only "Their Star" was a God.  The other stars were evil beings intent on destroying their God.  This didn't please the others, since religious fanatics were rarely easy to deal with.  When they set the world details aside and considered the job, they realized they had other issues.  They not only had to get to where the team were, but then start asking questions from a population that might not know the team had existed.  Or worse, on guard against those "looking for the heretics" after being told to watch out by The Select.
So even asking questions could be dangerous itself.  Brian suggested they ask for access to the Duke's library to better research the system, but he said that will be reported to the Duke as well.  Brian suggested inviting Lord William into the issue.  He was concerned about how Dame Ashlee and Lord William were aligned politically.  The others said he could try.  Brian decided he'd send an email to the Lord's office instead of trying to call the man.  Zach went back to a terminal to start digging deeper.  Rol also took a terminal, but he started researching insertion equipment for making stealth landings.  He started with InstellArms, as a baseline for prices, since they had everything including Zhodani warbots, which were highly illegal in the Imperium.  Even just to own.
After sending the email, Brian returned to work on the wreck, since an answer wasn't likely coming soon.  Brian walked as he wondered how he'd smooth the feathers over with Salagon?  Emkir and Aali decided to let the others do the research because they had to get the PDA's and datapads processed.  Emkir also wanted to decide with Aali on a set of hand computers to buy before they left the system?  The meeting broke up and Zimzod called InstellArms, to cut a deal to get the battledress parts.  When the tech answered, he was asked to transmit his parts list.  Zimzod plugged the datapad into the terminal port and sent the data and the tech paused to upload and check the parts.  He then asked Zimzod if he was part of an Imperial Military procurement unit?
When Zimzod said he was not, the tech asked for Zimzod's Mercenary unit name and documentation?  When Zimzod said he wasn't with a combat unit of any type, the tech asked why Zimzod wanted the battledress parts?  Zimzod referenced the earlier offer he had from them to buy his battledress.  When the tech called up the offer number, he read the details and proceeded under the understanding Zimzod had permission to have the existing suit.  The documents would be processed as the deal was made, and sent to the proper regulators afterwards.  After that was done, the tech advised Zimzod they'd contact him within 24 hours with a price list for the parts.
Starting To Dig For Data      Aiden said Zach might want to analyze what the trade traffic in and out of Pavabid was like?  As Zach considered that, Aiden said that the hierarchy of almost every religion was corrupt.  Even if it was an over-indulgence in banned luxuries, they knew 'The Select' violated their restrictions with interstellar goods.  Aiden suggested they might find what those who were corrupt wanted, and pretend to be delivering that.  This devolved into jokes when Mikah suggested they could become whore mongers because they had "Sally", the blow up doll.  Zach said they'd need little boys if the Select were Catholic.  Emkir joked about just going in with black market brides.
Rol pointed out that hunting the corrupt could be dangerous, as they'd only know if someone was really pious when the met them.  Zach, Rol and Aiden returned to the need for specific research, again.  Behind this discussion, Mikah joked about jumping into the system, shooting down the palace and taking over.  Despite this, she knew such an action would only promote other high level clerics living or travelling outside the city to sudden "Selected" status, possibly promote Selected who are traveling and turn the system's military assets against them.  And that was if they could get a ship through the system's possible defenses to get a shot at the palace in the first place?  Rol joked that they could get an assault cruiser complete with drop pods, stealth gear, four support meson cannons for two companies of merc's and all he needed was a little money.
When Zach hazarded a guess in the billions, Rol corrected him into the hundreds of millions and Mikah acerbically said, "Well, start working the streets and tell me how much you get."  Zach jabbed that they'd just have to up the price on his interview with TAS, and Mikah laughed.  Emkir added in, "There goes your say in what questions you'll answer or not..."  This brought up a more serious discussion about the members of "The Select", and Brian suggested that with Zimzod in battledress, this could be easier.  Ms. Vik pointed out that they knew nothing about how the Select appeared on-world or off yet.  For all they knew, the Select might appear in togas or wearing clothes that glow so they seemed to be heavenly beings.  That, stacked on Rol's cautions about guessing on their corruptions, had Zach admitting they had almost zero information.
Ms. Vik said she'd see what she could get from the port and traders she had connections with.  Inger added that she volunteered to be security on the ship during the mission and Aiden murmured, "Not the only one."  With that, Mikah pointedly reminded the scout that, since he was the one with phosphorus rounds, and had new combat armor, he was tagged for front line duty.  When he started to protest that he just wanted to keep from getting shot in the back, he was met with black looks from most of the crew.  Aiden got the feeling he had been playing that card too often and too heavy.  In the end, there was no arguing that he had armor as good as Dame Mikah's own, and better weapons than most.  So he got no more time to play coward.
Getting serious again, Aiden considered how to get the data to plot a covert insertion flight path into the Pavabid system?  Given the lackluster return on a quick search, which Zach kept moaning about, Aiden thought about making a visit to the Scout Base.  He had to go there to pick up the Cr 100 for his Silver Asteroid anyway.  So, he thought he might as well pay visits to the base's astrography, astral mapping and covert survey groups for any information he could get his hands on.  As he thought more about this, he realized he might want Emkir with him as 'flim-flam' was part of his tool kit.
Remembering Aali had a Silver Asteroid too, Aiden suggested the field trip to her in hopes that would get Emkir to tag along too.  Emkir immediately jumped on the band wagon, and Aali pointed out that the Traveller's Aid Society also collected data on systems to keep members informed and safe.  They reflected on this as they also suggested it to Rol.  Since Aali, Rol and Aiden were TAS members, they could each individually explore that route, along with picking up a High Passage ticket from TAS.
Mired in a monstrously huge InstellArms catalog, Rol was looking at lots of grunt-work to whittle down the list to what would benefit the crew?  He decided to take a break before finishing, and head over to TAS.  He said that the trip would pay for itself with the High Passage.  Once it was decided the scouts would eventually head to the Scout base and TAS, to see what they could get, they had to decide who was doing what and when?  Rol suggested, since he wasn't a scout, the others should go to the scout base and see what they could collect, together or separately.  Meanwhile, he'd go to TAS.  Then the scouts could decide how they wanted to hit TAS on their way back to the berth.  So they weren't all bunching up at once.  After deciding who would go where, they talked about when they should leave?
Aiden wasn't very eager to leave because he didn't want to interrupt the work the others were doing.  Rol said he could leave any time, because he was just looking for information on the system from TAS as a member.  Since he was a member, they had to help him out and he just had to not show his hand or intentions.  The other three considered leaving after lunch, but Emkir pointed out that, in his experience, it helped cut through red tape if you arrived just before lunch.
When Aiden looked askance at him, the Admiral pointed out that techs who were hungry and ready to leave for a lunch break were rarely in a mood to delay things further.  Especially if it looked like there was paperwork involved.  So you had to arrive in just the right window, where the techs might not want to dig too deeply into a request if they thought it would take too long.  You also didn't want to arrive late enough that they'd just tell you to come back later, when they had the time to investigate any requests properly.  So the three Scouts decided the best approach was to try to hit one or more offices in that window.  Before he could leave, Rol checked InstellArms' catalog "wish list" application and spent the rest of the morning before lunch coming up with and entering ideas for what might be helpful:        - Orbital Recon MicroSatellites        - Personal Orbital Drop Capsules: (Stealth and Non-Stealth)        - Personal Ultralight Insertion Vehicles (Hang Gliders)        - Individual Extraction Jet / Grav Packs        - Bus-Sized Grav Armored Vehicle        - Yacht Sized Stealth Netting / Tarp        - Air/Raft Sized Stealth Netting / Tarp        - Wide Area EMP / Disruption Device or Bomb        - Personal Recon Drones        - Personal Chameleon Camo Systems        - More bug / Micro-Surveillance gear (Audio and Video) When the automated agent asked him to log in, it started spinning through its processes, letting Rol know he could log out at any time and log in later for the results.
Half A Goal Is Better Than Nothing      The Scouts each ended up paying Cr 10 for the ride to the scout base, and accidentally got there nearly perfectly, at 11:20am.  After their Scout belt buckles got them onto the base, they had to decide who was doing what?  Their chief interests were Astrography and Covert Survey.  They decided Emkir, their red tape cutter, should see if he could smooth over what the others were trying to do.  Aiden said he wouldn't need help with the paymaster, since he had every right to be there.  So he went off saying he'd catch up to them later.  Emkir and Aali decided to work as a team, and went to the Astrography offices trying to get the most up to date maps of the Pavabid system they could.  At the office, they saw the techs were not happy to have a "last minute before lunch" arrival.  And, from two officers to boot!  One asked what they could do for the two as at least half those in the office stood around chatting.  They were obviously in "lunch mode" already.
Despite this, the couple suffered a few push backs as the request was irregular, and they were both retired.  Soon, Emkir got an opening when one of the techs recognized them from news coverage.  He was able to play this opening with a vague reference, suggesting they were working for Duke Leonard.  While Emkir didn't make any claims, he'd gotten the techs thinking in that direction, and then it came down to how sensitive the data was?  In the end, the most recent data they had was an IISS/GLIPS projective scan of the system completed on 50-1112.  So the projection was only absolutely accurate for sixty days, even if it could be extended with the proper software.  The techs decided it couldn't hurt anything and cut a data chip.  Having gotten what Zach needed to better plot the jump, the couple thanked the techs and left the office.
At the pay office, Aiden just had to have his belt buckle scanned and his accounts updated.  Finishing there, he promptly forgot about getting there "just before lunch" and considered looking for an enlisted men's club, to hang out in and listen for rumors?  This was despite his mission being somewhere else.  After some thought about what to do first, Aiden went for the Survey office, to see what he could get?  But when he arrived, the leaving techs were just locking up, and ready to go for lunch.  While they were resistant, Aiden said he just needed a second of their time.  Doing his best to be friendly and make a connection, Aiden tried to be chummy with the techs.  Unfortunately, he was too late and they were not really receptive to delaying their break, even when Aiden suggested there was a lunch in it for them.  Unfortunately, that "extra turn of the screwdriver" managed to raise eyebrows, making them wonder why Aiden was trying so hard?  When they asked him what he needed, and Aiden described what he was after, the techs looked him up and down.
He was obviously retired, and it appeared he didn't have any of the needed paperwork.  Seeing more was going on than they wanted to deal with, it was already lunch time and they told Aiden to come back later.  Then, they would properly handle his request.  After failing to get the data he was after, Aiden waited until the techs left and then called Emkir.  When the Admiral answered, Aiden said he'd struck out and learned Emkir and Aali had gotten the data they wanted from Astrography.  After congratulations, they talked lunch for themselves.  Aali was up for anywhere that served familiar food while Aiden brought up chains such as Brubakers and joked about AstroBurgers.  Emkir suggested a Yuidya place, referring to restaurants which served "Soup Meals".  These were thick soups, full of noodles and other in-cooked food stuffs, like udon.
The others agreed, and they went looking for such a place on-base.  A yuidya place was easy to find, since it was cheap and easy to make, flavorful "bowl and spoon" food.  As they ate, they talked about what the data they'd gotten told them?  Aiden was sure that, after updating the data, Zach could dial in the maths needed to nav-plot a jump into Pavabid.  But that was all that they were likely to find in the data.  At the table, there was a public terminal on which they could do a "quick read" without downloading any data to that computer.  The first thing they checked was the date of the scan.  They were pleased when it turned out to be from earlier in that year!  Their had worried, because it wasn't an Imperial system and Scouts didn't have permission to scan, the data would be from even before the war.  Another interesting thing they found, from the legend, was that the system was listed as an "Imperial Client State"!  That went against to all publicly available data on the system, which listed Pavabid as "Not Aligned".  That made the upcoming Choir tour a much more interesting, event.  Aali's political senses were certainly tingling!
When they turned to Aiden's visit to the Survey office, he said he was told he had to come back later so they could handle the issue.  He didn't tell them he'd gone to the pay office first, and got to Survey too late in the window Emkir had described earlier.  Emkir wasn't concerned, since Aiden wasn't told "No".  Emkir told Aiden it was ironically likely that the only reason he'd gotten the astrography was because of the media coverage, and being recognized.  That, and his opinion on Aali's looks.  So, Aiden's "not No" was not a shutdown.  It just meant that they wanted to do the work correctly.  Agreeing, they talked about how they wanted to return to the office?
When Emkir asked if Aiden wanted him to go back with him, to use his rank as added clout, Aiden suggested they get someone "higher up", meaning they should get one of the Knights.  Emkir reminded Aiden Scouts don't give a blue chip about rank.  He pointed out that if Aiden really wanted someone with rank, he was a retired Scout Admiral.  Eventually, Emkir convinced Aiden they should go back as a group after lunch, and see if they could move things along.  Discussing tactics, they tried to work out how best to arrive?  They could go in together or break the group up, to create a level of distraction.  In the end, they decided Aali should go in first, followed by the two men.
This way, the Alpha techs might rush to help the pretty girl and leave the lesser techs to deal with Aiden and Emkir.  That decided, Aali needed a reason why she'd gone there?  And something to ask for?  They decided she'd say she was a detached Scout, hired to make a run through the Gerome System.  Since it was interdicted, she'd claim she was hoping to jump through a less patrolled part of the system, to frontier refuel and make her delivery.  That way, there would be some schmoozing.  What she wanted was against regs, but done often enough.  So they hoped to keep some of the staff distracted.
Despite their plans, the office was well managed, and Aali's presence didn't give them enough cover to get by.  When Aiden and Emkir arrived, a lone tech was helping her and the others were fully set and ready to help new arrivals.  Some recognized Aiden from earlier, and they not only moved in to help but were ready to call in a supervisor too.  In the end, Aali took an 'early refusal' and left while Emkir was still trying to cut the red tape.  But soon they left too, having been told they needed authorization from someone "not retired", and who could grant them the data.  Having gotten half of what they came for, the three decided to move on.
At first, Emkir and Aali considered heading back to the berth while Aiden went to TAS.  But as they moved, they periodically had to slow down to allow Aiden to maintain a comfortable pace with his injuries.  Aali decided she should go with him at the least.  She added that she could pick up a high passage to sell too.  As they discussed it, it was decided all three would go to TAS together.  Aali would claim she was looking to do a travel survey of Theocratic governments, now that she was out of the military.  And Aiden considered saying he was planning a speculative trade run to District 268.  So he was hoping to gather information about systems with little data on the public net.  With their plans set, they called for a cab after Aali visited the pay office for her Silver Asteroid.
Rol's Visit To TAS      Rol eventually worked with the InstellArms search agent until just before lunch, and cooked for those in the berth.  After cooking, he went to TAS to pick up his high passage, and see what data he could get on the Pavabid system?  Once he got a representative, Rol moved right into getting his passage and then asked about information on specific worlds?  In answer, Rol was told they had a Traveller's database he could access, or they could provide him with a concierge, to help him find the information he needed on any system he might be travelling to.  Rol asked for a concierge and they sent a call for one as they asked if there was anything else they could do for him before he sat with the representative?  There wasn't, and Rol sat comfortably until the concierge was ready.
Seated with the concierge, Rol quickly said he was looking to travel to a system outside the Imperium, and looking for info on the place.  Comfortable with the request, the concierge was even intrigued when Rol said it was Pavabid.  He decided Rol must be an 'adventure tourist'.  When the concierge asked for details, Rol suggested he'd be passing through the system and wanted to be aware of any trading opportunities as he passed in that direction?  The concierge nodded and said that Pavabid's only port was a down-port.  However, he explained, the port was isolated, on the end of a twenty mile peninsula.  The region around the port was maintained as unsettled and open space for over one hundred kilometers in radius.  This kept the population from regular encounters with anything other than trails in the sky.  It was rumored The Select told the populace the region was one of warfare between their God and enemies of the faith.
The concierge then gave Rol a presentation on the Church of Stellar Divinity in general and the 'Pavabidian Heresy', as it was called by the mainstream Stellar Divinity Churches.  He explained off worlders were not generally allowed beyond the port.  And even in the port, the concierge explained, only the Ultra-Faithful, managed by a force of Priests, were allowed to work there.  They were then specially trained to transport goods in and out of the port.  This gave Rol a slight glimpse into the organization of the religion 'on the ground'.  He saw a hierarchical organization, much the same as many others including the military.
Getting to the meat of it, the concierge explained that there was a thriving market for unmarked tech goods for general sales.  Industrial items they couldn't produce but used, like enriched radioactives for import.  For export, the cargo was foodstuffs.  Foodstuffs of all kinds, which were of special value to the worlds in the region, as they are not part of a polity that helped them manage trade needs and costs.  A meal on every non-agricultural world in the region was likely to cost at least twice what it would in the same world in the Imperium.
The concierge then said the biggest danger in the port would be from non-aligned traders.  Especially those traders from systems like Trexalon, who were certainly not shy in creating hazards.  There were also sometimes Aslan traders in that region.  The concierge described how easily it would be to end up embroiled in an 'Honor Conflict' with an Aslan, where those were fought either augmented or unaugmented.  While the concierge didn't comment on how well Rol might fair against a foe with full combat equipment, he left no question about his thoughts if Rol went against an Aslan, and his Dew Claw, unarmored.
Rol asked how the locals reacted to such things, and was told they usually 'tried' to eject any combatants before a fight.  But they'd settle for ejecting the survivor, even without medical treatment.  The concierge also said that an Aslan interrupting an Honor duel could lead to a blood feud.  So stopping any fight could lead to a larger one, possibly on a larger scale.  Especially when the Aslan's clan mustered it's warships to avenge the stain on their honor.  Bypassing the hazards for the moment, Rol asked how he could get permission to access the port?  The concierge said Rol's ship could simply arrive in-system and announce they had trade goods for the port, as it was not a closed port.
There were also a number of methods for doing so in advance.  First, he suggested sending an x-mail, or even checking to see if there was a trade delegation there in Rhylanor?  This was possible, since Pavabid was beginning a choir tour.  The man then said Rol could wait until he got closer to the system, and look for trade delegations in systems like Glisten, where they were known to be present.  The concierge said there was a known delegation in the Trexalon system, if Rol wanted to risk being an Imperial Knight in a hostile system?  He also was willing to bet there were delegations in the Collace, Taurus and Mertactor systems.  That satisfied Rol, and he thanked the concierge.  Rol then asked if there was anything TAS might be able to tell him which might have been learned from other members?
The concierge reminded Rol that their dealings with members were as confidential as this consult was with him.  Attempting to deflect his statement, Rol suggested he was speaking of navigational concerns.  The man accepted the lie and easily said he would direct Rol to the IISS for that data.  But, as he was getting up, Rol remembered to ask what the closest TAS facility to that system was.  He was told it was in the Mertactor system.  He also said there was word a facility might be under construction in the Collace system, but for now the closest was Mertactor.  Rol finished up with the man and the cab round trip and the information cost him Cr 40 overall.
The Life Of A Consultant      Ms. Vik ended up spending the time before lunch organizing the data she had on some thirty ships with issues she felt she could look into.  First, she organized a data folder for each, before spending the morning writing down what notes she had from the evening before.  There were several calls over the morning from ship's masters who'd been told by their officers about contacting her in the spacer's hall.  Inger did her best to organize before digging.  After Mikah's crew meeting, Inger also did her best to look into what she'd been told.  To see if any of those vessels came from, in or near District 268?  After she finished organizing, Ms. Vik saw at least half the vessels she'd spoken with had issues that could well be beyond her scope.  Those were active law suits vs private firms, support or repair organizations or even against the port.
Added to this were ships who's systems had such complete failures that they couldn't afford repairs.  They hoped Ms. Vik could get someone to give them the cash!  Others had issues with the black market, which Inger didn't want to touch with a ten foot EVA pole.  She simply directed those to the port legal authorities and wished them luck.  From the port's list, Inger had contacted The Star Chaser, Dragon's Horde, Star Daughter, Morningstar's Treasure, Shaanes Kebe, and Rira Niru.  To those, she added six other ships, including two Vilani, one Aslan and a Solomani.  She added the Solomani to her list because they were being held under "suspicions of assisting in espionage", not because she thought she could help.
The ship, "The Sol's Cursed Bastards" were accused of 'possibly' being under a 'sometime' contract to the Solomani Security Directorate.  So, they could have been running operatives or data for that intelligence organization.  While Ms. Vik didn't want to get tied up in the issue, she was curious to learn what she could?  Eventually, as Rol cooked lunch, she set her work aside to resume afterwards.  Finishing up after the knight left, Inger reached out to the port to try a light touch, asking about some of the ships she'd had contact with.  According to the port, the Star Chaser's crew had retrofitted the craft from a cargo hauler to a mini-cruise liner in the Equus System(Lanth) and never properly refitted for escape pods and survival gear.  So their passengers were rebooked on other craft and the ship was being held on intentional negligence charges.  This was very different than the story she'd gotten from the ship's purser, and she doubted she could help them.
With the Dragon's Horde, the opinion of the investigator was that every crew carrying contraband claimed it was put there by someone else.  that they were innocent and knew nothing.  There was no way to prove that, other than back-checking the details of earlier contraband checks and the ship's records.  So, that was what was being done, and the cost would either be forgiven or added to the fines at prosecution.  When Inger asked, the check of the ship and Captain's records in this port showed they were marginal at best, which was why the ship was being held.  When she pushed for some accommodation or easement, the tech pointed out the port had expenses too, and couldn't assume the ship would be cleared.  Inger floated the idea that the ship's jump systems could be deactivated by the port and, with a port security team aboard, could do in-system hauling.  The pay for such runs could cover the mounting expenses for dock fees and would be refunded If the case against them was not ultimately made.  Added to that, getting them out of port on cargo runs would free up the berth and cut costs for the port.
In the case of the Morningstar's Treasure, the only thing Ms. Vik and her friends could come up with was to join the case, in the name of the ship, and add the ship's fees to the amount claimed.  But, it was pointed out that the ship would still have to pay the fees and be compensated by the legal award if they won their case.  When they discussed the Star Daughter, Ms. Vik had to ask about the charges.  The ship's medic, looking to jump the ship and hire out with a new vessel, said the ship's modifications were declared illegal.  But the paperwork from the port said it was a "Customs issue"?  When she asked, it turned out that the merchanter had installed fusion guns in her turrets without Imperial Naval certification!  Her friends were not even sure how the ship made it as far as Rhylanor, since it had come there from The Sword Worlds!  That was why the medic was having issues getting a job.  It was assumed he was of Sword World extraction too.
Though Inger didn't say so, she hadn't gotten that impression from the man when they talked.  But the Sword Worlds were just coreward of District 268, and the man's situation might be of sudden interest to the Hotel California.  Of course, she didn't say anything about that either.  When Inger asked about the Shaanes Kebe, she was told a customer had chartered the entire vessel for its party.  As far as the details of that were concerned, it seemed the deal had been cut in a bar.  While it was legal, when the time for lift came, it was determined the, passenger spaces were not up to the requirements of Virushi passengers.  As Virushi most resembled an intelligent version of a Terran Rhinoceros, last minute retrofits were not a credible answer.  The ship's master gave a full refund, and tried to move on to new business but the Virushi client sued for damages under negligent dealings laws.  The ship was now counter-suing for damages and losses due to fees with the port was caught in the middle.
Ms. Vik asked about the deal, considering that almost all of the Rhylanor system was under some kind of security video.  Her friends agreed they could look for that, to see if one or both parties were inebriated at the time of the deal?  That would impact the law suits.  Ms. Vik asked if it was possible to get those tapes and make a judgment in the port's position?  If the ship wasn't at fault, then the port could certainly sue the Virushi for damages and refund the ship its fees.  If the Captain was under the influence, they could cut a deal with the ship to get the Captain to back down and settle for a percentage off.  That would free the dock space and clear the courts of one more meaningless lawsuit.  They told Inger they could have a tape in a day or two, and see where that went.
The issue Rira Niru was mired in was the most difficult item to track, since station central didn't yet have correct data on the paperwork involved.  The issue was too new, and hadn't been flagged as significant yet.  When they did track it to its source, the tech Ms. Vik was working with said it looked like an issue of translation.  The non-Imperial ship was from the Pax Rulin subsector of the Trojan Deep sector, rimward of the Spinward Marches.  They were a small speculative trade mission and were insisting on using their customs documentation.  It had only just started showing on the port's screens, as the ship was now complaining about paying additional fees while they argued the issue.  As a result, the port would be very appreciative if Inger could step in and settle the issue for them.  Ms. Vik dryly said, "Thanks" and told them she'd consider it.  But it was near dinner time at that point, and Inger had lots to consider before moving forward.  She thanked her friend, who joked she might have to register as a consultant with the port soon, and relaxed before dinner.
The Scouts Visit TAS      At the TAS facility, Aiden, Aali and Emkir arrived, and all watching noted the group of arriving scouts as unusual.  While the staff didn't show any undo notice, those visiting did.  Nodding to the other two, Aiden went to the service desk to ask for a high passage ticket.  Aali and Emkir followed him and got her a passage too.  At their window, Aali mentioned her interest in exploring the "theocracies of the Spinward Marches" and the worker did an excellent job of hiding any reaction at all.  He did recommend she sit with a concierge to discuss her interests.  Emkir asked about the cost and the man smoothly ignored the gaff, saying it was free.  They were situated and, when the Concierge arrived, she introduced herself and set out a few items on a display table.  She then activated the table so everyone could see the readout data on it.
Next, she used a touch-device to transfer a file to the table and open it.  It seemed to be a large list of systems and connected data balloons.  With that, she asked Aali how she wanted to approach the theocracies in the region?  Did she want them broken down by those closest to Rhylanor?  By those most recently in the news?  By strongest to weakest, and that based on military or economic strength?  Those that were most open to tourism or most evangelical?  The only easy trigger Aali had was the one she pulled.  She asked for those most recently in the news, because she knew the system's planned choir tour had been in the news.
The Concierge tagged Pavabid and opened a file before giving a ten to twenty minute description of the Church of Stellar Divinity and differences between that and Pavabid's version of the religion.  During this, some commentary was made about Pavabid's views on mainstream CoSD congregations and the Darrien’s, who had infamously invented the Star Trigger device.  After that, she gave a small amount of commentary about "beyond the wall", gleaned from groups that had been permitted outside the starport enclosures for specific purposes.  Past that, there was a very basic understanding of how Pavabid ticked internally.  The first understanding was that the world was ruled from their Churches.  In every town, the churches 'tiered up' to a superior church in the region.  The clergy assigned to that church were equivalent to regional Mayors, Governors, etc.
From there, the Regional churches reported to a higher tier of churches, which reported to the central church and the Floating Palace.  Evidence suggested the system had once been 'selection and promotion'.  But it seemed to have morphed into a Caste system without social promotion.  For the local citizen of Pavabid, the technology of the world was commonly in a stage of automobiles, air travel and early computers.  Just at the edge of integrated circuits.  However, little of the advanced technology was available for ownership by an individual.  So, trucks and cars transported groups but only 10% of the population, at most, owned one.  The rest were owned and provided by the Churches.  Air flight was an expensive luxury, while most citizens took trains or steamers.  Finally, the Concierge went into the difficulties of visiting Pavabid, because 'you just don't get past the starport'.
The Concierge said there had even been problems repatriating survivors of crashes, where ships had crashed on Pavabid.  When Aali asked about that, the answer was that the locals reacted violently.  Any survivors found were stoned to death before authorities arrived.  Of course, she didn't dwell on that, as Aali had said her interest was in the aspect of a religious government.  When Aali asked about the food situation, she was told they were a bread-basket for the region.  Aali asked if that was because they were mineral-poor and the Concierge said it was because they were tech-poor.  She explained they had minerals, but had not invested in the technology to exploit them.  And didn't have the industry to need them.  They had known offers from off-world corporations to help exploit the riches, but all had been refused.  With that, Aali said she had the information she needed to consider her travel plans and thanked the Concierge.  Done there, the team gathered and grabbed a taxi back to the berth.
_________________________________________________________________________ Next: Deals, Data And An Operation