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     Operation


Getting More Information

     As the meeting about the Pavabid job broke up, Mikah called Dame Ashlee to ask for more details on the system and the team they'd be searching for? The call was answered by Dame Ashlee's assistant, who asked how he could help? When Mikah introduced herself, there was a pause as the aide checked his data and transferred the call to Dame Ashlee. The knight was instantly hopeful the crew had decided on the job offer. When Mikah said they still needed some answers before making a commitment, Dame Ashlee was not surprised. First, Mikah asked where on Pavabid the team had been landed? Ashlee said she could send a file explaining the geography and where the team were operating. When Mikah also asked how they got onto the world, Ashlee said the file would give some details on that information too. She also said she could explain more of what was not in the file after Mikah got the data and looked at it.

When Mikah received the file, she saw it had a complete surface map of the world, which relieved her. This was one of the things they couldn't yet find in their data searches. As Mikah opened it, she saw the general geography of the main world and the location of it's cities. Instead of continents, the world's land masses were large islands scattered across the arctic, equatorial and temperate zones. Across the six island masses, Mikah noticed some very "interesting" facts about the settled regions. The first thing that caught her eyes was that the cities "Amity" and "Peace" were located in the northern arctic region! Similarly, the cities "Reflection" and "Requiescence" were in the southern arctic zone while "Reflection" was the only city that wasn't coastal. This was odd for a society said to be operating at the tech level they were and she'd bet conditions in those places was harsh.

As she listened to Ashlee, she was told the only downport was located near the city of "Alleviation". But it was on an extended peninsula that Mikah could tell must have been man made. Once Mikah examined the map, Dame Ashlee said that the organization she worked with had hired "a team" who had made a water landing on-world. They then used a carried submersible to move the team from the ship to beaches outside the city of "Diversion". It had been learned, by her people, that Diversion was an entertainment resort, used a as "reward" for hard work and faith. This city was chosen because most people there would be from somewhere else, and fitting in to do research would be easier.

During the three months the team had been scheduled to be in the city, they were to collect information to help future teams fit in to other cities or locations around the world. This would provide both an ability to enter Pavabidian society without appearing out of place, and to build travel covers for activities on-world. When Mikah asked, Dame Ashlee said they were building the foundations for a possible 'underground railroad', to provide escape to those who wanted or needed it. But the team suddenly stopped communicating after nearly two months. When Mikah asked how the team communicated their findings, Ashlee told her the team had a concealed communication device that linked to a commo beacon just off shore and underwater. This would receive and retransmit their data to any vessel sending a trigger code.

Then, the group simply hired captains of ships scheduled to pass through the Pavabid system, to send the signal during their passage and hand off the data packets when they arrived at the next star system on their trade route. When Mikah asked if Ashlee's people could provide the reports the team had sent, the knight was, at first, only willing to give out the frequency of the beacon, but none of the existing reports. She did tell Mikah there was no indication of foul play or detection before the reports suddenly stopped being made. But Mikah pushed back, saying her team could benefit from what was reported about how to fit in and where they were working to gather their data.

Eventually, Dame Ashlee agreed to give them a digest of the missing team's findings on fitting in locally, but still wanted to hold back on data for the other cities as she didn't see it as relevant. When Mikah said she'd like that too, Ashlee asked if Mikah's people had any intelligence that the missing team had been moved somewhere else on the world? Mikah pushed back that her people might find Ashlee's team had moved to investigate another location. If that was the case, they would possibly need to follow them to get the answers Dame Ashlee wanted. Accepting that, Ashlee agreed to give Mikah digests on how to fit in at the other cities, though she said she really didn't think her people would have left Diversity without pryor notification.

Satisfied with that, Mikah asked if there were any data from any satellites orbiting Pavabid? Dame Ashlee said that no one had any data on the satellites around the world. She did describe the number of known devices as "a handful". She added that she had people trying to get information from the companies which sold the satellites to the world, but they had nothing back on that yet. When Mikah asked if they'd been able to get any information from Imperial Intelligence agencies, Dame Ashlee pointed out Pavabid was an independent system. Imperial intelligence were not willing to speak to any operations there. Mikah kept quiet on the IISS data, which said Pavabid may have changed their status to that of an Imperial Client State.

Mikah decided to try another direction, asking about Pavabid's imports and exports? Ashlee started with the obvious, saying that Pavabid's main export to that entire region were foodstuffs. They were well known for being a "bread basket", selling food goods, natural materials such as lumber, etc, to systems across the political spectrum. Ashlee made short comments on the role the system played in the strife between the Trexalon system and both its independent neighbors, local Imperial Client states and The Imperium. Mikah realized that any change in Pavabid's status could lead to a minor war in District 268, as the control of food supply was a key survival issue.

When Mikah asked about their imports, Dame Ashlee said the key imports were items like unbranded tech and consumer goods. These were specifically imported to handle work beyond the world's ability to automate or handle with human-power. She also said they never imported such tech in numbers that would make the goods available to the general public. So such devices generally became "the one in the town". As far as their research determined, such items were owned and lent out or controlled by the local church. As she warmed to the subject, Ashlee ticked off a number of megacorporations which had contracts to deliver numbers of devices on given schedules. The one key requirement was that all these items had to be "unbranded", giving no hint of their off-world origins or countering the church claim it was a "gift from God".

Beyond that, the one thing Pavabid "Must" have from the outside universe were radioactives for their power grid. The grid was made up of nuclear fission plants, which were also built from equipment provisioned from off-world. And they required a steady supply of refined radioactive fuel for the plants. When Mikah asked about special orders and items obviously for 'The Select', Ashlee admitted they sometimes saw one off's for a particular tech item that didn't fit in with past orders. But she was quick to point out that there was no way of knowing who was getting the item or what use it would be put to. All items were ordered by the Church, and Ashlee pointed out they had a number of contacts with the corporations and regular delivery ships that served Pavabid's needs.

Ashlee also said it would be foolhardy to assume that everything that came into the system was visible, and best to assume there was a significant amount of trade which was not visible. Mikah was disappointed there wasn't an obvious stream of trade goods just for The Select. Switching from that to how Dame Ashlee's organization got their team on world, Mikah learned that the organization hired a "group", though Ashlee explained she didn't have the details on that. That group transported the team to the Pavabid system on a ship fitted with a submersible craft as a ship's boat. Once in system, that crew managed to slip between the system defenses to make a "dive landing", plunging the vessel into the world's ocean. Once underwater, they maneuvered until off the shore of Diversion, and sent the team ashore using the sub.

As they discussed the difficulties, Dame Ashlee was fully aware the most difficult issues of all might just be finding word about what happened to the team. As Diversion was a resort, those who may have been in the adjacent rooms to the team's had most likely left and been replaced with new sets of tourists. Switching from the bad news to something they could hopefully do something about, Mikah asked about the world's defenses. Dame Ashlee said their research showed Pavabid out-sourced their space-defense to a corporation. That firm provided a mercenary organization, off a contract in the war torn Singer System. The unit maintained two squadrons of combat vessels assigned to the operation. If each was a regular squadron with six craft to a squadron, that was 12 combat ships and any potential sub-craft they carried. Up to six vessels, more or less, if the formations were irregular. There was no data on how many of the ships might be active in-system at any given time, or how they would be deployed?

As Mikah summed things up in her mind, Dame Ashlee asked if there was anything else Mikah and her people would like to know? But Mikah was considering that they'd have to slip passed two squadrons to get into the system. With one gas giant in-system, that would split the defenses up, but make it difficult to refuel if they chose not to land at the port. Then they'd need crash dive into the world's oceans and make their way to a place to debark and get to the beaches without a submarine. Finally, they'd need to track down a team who had stopped reporting months before they arrived, in a resort town where anyone who didn't work there had left within weeks of the team's disappearance. And everyone was a potential hostile as soon as anyone found out they were off-worlders.

Keeping her face straight, Mikah told Ashlee those were all the questions she had at the time. After finishing her call with Dame Ashlee, Mikah checked the time and saw there was still nearly an hour to lunch. Considering her options, Mikah wondered about the odds of getting to do some research in Duke Leonard's library? Remembering that was the Duke's family's personal library, she figured the University of Rhylanor would be a better option. So she called Doctor Thrauld. When he received her call, the Doctor was happy to hear from her, and agreed to set her up with a research room.

When he was curious what she'd be researching, she said she'd be looking into another world she might be contracted to work on. When Thrauld asked if the research was medical, she admitted the work would be outside her field. But she said she'd share any medical data she came across. Doctor Thrauld was happy to hear that, though he admitted he was up to his shoulders in work related to their Nomad data. Still, he was happy to take a minute to set things up, and gave her the address of the University facility she should go to.

Heading Out To Do Research
     Having just finished his conversation with Instel-Arms, Zimzod was concerned they'd said they'd start work with the regulators on the controlled items he wanted. But that ball was already rolling and there was nothing he could do but see what hole it rolled into in the end. Once he got done with the tech, and cleared his call with Instel-Arms, Zimzod checked to see what Mikah was doing? But she was on the comms with someone. So he accessed one of the data files he got from the Duke's library. After a bit of reading, Zimzod saw Mikah had gotten off the comms with the first person and called someone else before he'd noticed. He simply shrugged and went back to reading until it was nearly lunch time and she finished up her call.

When Mikah got off the line, she appeared very pleased. When he asked her what was up, she told him she was going to the University of Rhylanor's library to research Pavabid. He asked if he could tag along and, when Mikah said "OK", they started planning to leave. When they noticed Rol was about to cook lunch, they waited for the food first. Hearing about the trip, Zach also decided to come along and Mikah OK'd that, though they made jokes about not needing a port car because they could ride on his gravChair.

After lunch was done, and a port taxi called, they left off. At the University, Mikah found Doctor Thrauld had set them up well. The private research room was equipped with work terminals having research links to the entire public library as well as world-net and external research databases. There were restricted data systems that were not openly connected, but for which access could be requested. Of course, this would require authorizations and other steps.

Once situated, Zach plugged in a data chip and transferred what he had learned so far onto a work station. Zimzod suggested to Mikah that they decide what they should each research, to make sure they covered more ground looking for different data streams. Zach said he'd been researching Pavabid's trade links, and planned to continue that unless they wanted him to work on something else? Mikah said she was going to use what Dame Ashlee sent her on the culture of the world and how to fit in. She suggested Zimzod research details on their military and planetary security. Zimzod was pleased, as he was considering that already. Once that was settled, Mikah said they should order dinner to be delivered when the time came, and work into the evening on finding any data.

Rol's E-Shopping Search
          Later in the afternoon, Rol returned to the berth from TAS and grabbed a terminal to check the results of his crawl of the Instel-Arms Catalog. While he was just considering ideas for equipment in general, he did come up with interesting results. Some items, such as ship-deployable micro-satellites, were easy to find with a large number of capabilities at a similarly large number of price points. Micro-Sats varied by function, range, abilities and security/defense. Stealth nets for everything from small starships to air rafts were generically available, and varied in effectiveness and power dependencies.

Rol also knew what to look for in additional bug and micro-surveillance gear, to add to their collection. Personal concealment systems were another issue, as most of the armor they had were not built with such systems. It was cheaper to buy new than retro-fit. This meant subsystems of devices the users had to carry, deploy and be mindful of as they moved. Mini-recon drones were also easy to find, in a wide range of capabilities and costs. While increases in tech did not always mean increases in price, each added capability did. The same could be said of the jet or grav packs he'd originally looked at for extraction.

As he checked into Mini-recon drones he found:
       For a few credits. A remotely controlled prop-driven flying device with a camera that the ground
          operator controlled completely, with a camera attached and broadcasting what was in front of it.

       For a few tens of credits, the same as above with the camera on a rotating dome, giving directional
          video surveillance which could be handled by a second operator. Flight controls include
          rudimentary auto-anti-crash warnings and an easy snag recovery system rather than forcing the
          operator to land it.

       Adding to the price, One could get a unit described as above, but with flight assist computer
          intelligence and ground scanning radar, to allow the operator to manage the video, which now
          supported HD capture, multiple cameras and multiple modes(Infrared, VisLight, etc...)

       Looking more towards the top of the line, they could get a grav-capable stealth-enabled
          surveillance android programmable to find and monitor user-defined targets or items of interest.
          Capable of defensive combat operations and limited offensive strikes as a standard, but also
          capable of remotely commanded assault strikes provided this was directly controlled by a remote
          operator/gunner ( per Imperial Law )

As he looked into extraction gear, Rol saw a number of references to the same grav belts and personal systems which could be used for grav-assisted re-entry. While not the sort of systems preferred for an Orbital drop, they could be used for that, as well as point to point movement and other maneuvers. That was so long as the user wasn't in a scanned region or was using scan-avoidance gear too. The main disadvantage was the eight or more hours a grav-belt descent took, just like using an air/raft. This was usually bypassed during an assault by using very noticable drop pods. Other issues with the belts were the lack of armor while needing to imitate a meteor, to confuse sensors. But they did allow for someone re-entering with a drop capsule to maneuver and control their operations without trying to unfold some sort of light glide craft.

As for orbital drop pods or capsules, they were expensive, but available for a variety of deployment systems. Some were built to be launched from a parent ship, as an in-built ship's boat or escape pod system. Others were shells, meant to be launched from missile launchers. Still others could be deployed from a vessel's cargo bay and there were even those able to be mounted to the outside of an air lock before deployment. Some were "point and shoot on deployment" systems while others had a moderate levels of flight controls. Again, tech was not the main consideration with cost, capabilities were. Rol sighed as he considered how nice it was to have the Imperial Marines foot those costs.

Rol's two biggest mis-thoughts were looking for any kind of "Bus-Sized" gravArmored vehicle and localized electronics and sensors or a bomb, to create diversions. The first was a euphemism for an armored personnel carrier or worse, an armored fighting vehicle. Regardless of how it was meant. The second was a recipe for terror in a civilian system such as Rhylanor. Having the search come out of a civilian vessel was enough to make sure any regulators on the web now had them on their "top ten" watch. As Rol read the report the crawl returned, he realized using the Probe, and perhaps buying grav belts, was a much more reasonable answer to the first. Especially as the grav belts would answer other issues too. As for disruption devices, Rol looked into those systems which could be placed around a landing site and detonated if circumstances were desperate enough to need it. Eventually Rol saved the data to go over in his quarters.

Working At The University
     By the end of the evening, those researching Pavabid at the University library were wrapping up their findings for the day. Zimzod found very little investigating the mercenary vessels operating in the Pavabid system. With all the traffic regarding mercenaries operating in the various systems in District 268, there was a lot to dig into. Eventually, Zimzod thought a unit called "The Wart Hogs" might be the contracted mercenary unit. Unfortunately, the company contracting the Wart Hogs didn't do business in The Imperium. Zimzod couldn't even find contact data for the company that he thought contracted them. He could go through any of the many independent agencies assisting in the hiring of mercenary forces, but that would be insecure and could lead to a tip off. Especially if his questions led to an unfortunate educated guess on the agent's part.

The sum of his research on them was that the "Wart Hog Company" was the contracting agent for a warship group which may be providing close orbital security for Pavabid. He hadn't yet found any information on additional combat assets the Wart Hog Company had, or any history of that company. Or even the particular warship group. One possible history of the organization suggested it originated in the Pax Rulin Subsector of the Trojan Reaches sector, where the Imperial Border gave way to many smaller interstellar states. When he shifted his research, Zimzod also couldn't find mention of other mercenary units that might have worked for Pavabid in the past.

There were no records of a "changing of the guard", when the Wart Hog's may have taken over for another unit. He could tell the government of Pavabid liked their privacy. And activity in the Singer system, as well as skirmishes between Imperial Client states and warships from Trexalon, made that very easy. Zimzod also accepted that they may have also had garrisons provided by other local systems, like Collace or Trexalon, who would also not be talking. Having spent half his time working a directly military angle, Zimzod decided to spend the rest of his time, from just before dinner on, checking headlines for possible news coverage of military activity.

But the hours passed as he burned through headline after headline about slavery accusations, complaints about the closed nature of their system and their minds, etc. He stopped whenever a headline suggested it might lead a story relating to military information or even rumors. But he discovered that almost 90% of the news was from the Imperial side of the border. Closed worlds outside the Imperium, with heavy restrictions on anyone meeting a native, tended to be like that. Zimzod did learn a great deal of names relating to the planned security of those persons leaving Pavabid and traveling to places like the Imperium. He also learned that Tukera had won the huge contract to transport the choir and dignitaries of Pavabid on their planned tour. There was a lot of chatter anticipating what Tukera's "Security Subsidiary" Vermene were capable of? Most famous for their attacks on Oberlindes starships in a trade war which took on the guise of a range war, some of the comments were almost gleeful in their anticipation of blood.

having uploaded his data to the workspace, Zach dug into the more significant resources of the library. Working through the hours, the merchant detected an odd thread of trade activity. Along with everything else, there was a constant thread of luxury foods being imported. His first hint was the notation of a decent sized shipment of Glisten Brungarian meat, a variety of beef raised in herds of zero-g dairy animals. These were believed bred from some long gone species of Terrain-stock cow, and sold at Cr 5,000 a steak. Zach used that as a guide, and soon found a thread of continued expensive imports such as Zila Chardonnay, Cr 10,000 a bottle! When he showed off this find, Mikah didn't comment on her thoughts, but certainly had the framework of a plan in mind.

It involved slipping into the Floating Palace and, ultimately, relaxing among the dead and bleeding bodies while sipping the truly wonderful taste of their Chardonnay. Soon, Zach was able to describe a steady stream of small amounts of extremely luxurious food shipments. In addition to the food, Zach found a separate thread of high valued tech artifacts being imported. This thread was less regular, and so wide in item classes that "artifact" was the only way to describe them. The most frustrating thing about this was that Zach could feel he was just on the edge of a discovery, but always hit the same brick wall. None of the items were ordered on a personal account and none had any specific name attached. They were all ordered to be delivered to and by the Church running the system.

Zach had no doubt these were being ordered by and for The Select, but there was no way to track any shipment past Pavabid's port. The data on all trade showed the government of Pavabid, a single, monolithic authority, managed all trade. It was this trade authority that created all orders and let all contracts for trade. By the end of the evening, Zach could testify to a "consistently inconsistent" flow of high end objects and foodstuffs. And these were imported at levels that would not support any public distribution. Some even falling to individual package rates. Outside of that were the regular stream of relatively low-end, unbranded tech goods and industrial products and supplies. These were not on numbers large enough to put one in every house, but they were certainly in every large town and city. A can opener at the local store for each four blocks, less than that number of telephones. actual counter-top, hand-set telephones.

Mikah also quickly moved her data files into a workspace on a terminal. She then started pouring through the data from Dame Ashlee to see what she had? The whole file broke down into specific folders containing data from each city and its region. There were another set of folders that held data from towns that were on each of the large island land masses but not near any city at all. In each folder, city data was broken down by city sections, which also included suburbs and key nearby townships that fringed on that section. The more general folders broke each island mass down by compass quarters and then by subsections of those quarters.

The details were unsatisfyingly sparse to Mikah's eyes. Each covered city section or rural region had a "spec sheet", condensing all the known data gleaned from interaction with people from that region. But there were many regions where the spec sheet was blank because the team appeared to have not encountered anyone from there. Where there was a contact from a region, those were condensed into two reports. One was a condensed report of the data learned from a contact in a region and the other was the spec sheet. That sheet gave as complete as possible a general set of appearance and behavior expectations for a person in that location. And when it came to the leadership, that was the least of all. The only information the team seemed to have recovered were images from ceremonies. Sadly, Mikah knew these images couldn't be relied on for "every day" data.

Once Mikah started realizing the significant lack of data, she grabbed some of the more complete files and used the data in them to try to piggy back into any caches of data that might be found in the University's files. She even got a few nuggets of data from Zach, over the evening, as he found shipments of clothing representing a specific fashion. Those were mostly rural and rugged. One thing Mikah saw was that there was an interesting amount of drift from city to city. So a resident of one city placed in the center of any other city would actually stand out! One set of nuggets Mikah found was that those cities in the arctic regions were either resource-recovery or "re-education" based.

As she read deeper, she found the cities of "Peace" and "Reflection" were punishment oriented, placed where the sun didn't shine as much to signify the withdrawal of God's love. The city of "Resort" was the original reward vacation spot, when the population lived on one land mass. "Diversion" became the key resort due to seasonal and water current factors. It was believed that the distance from the world's downport also played a role as those on vacation had a great deal more time to consider the activities visible to the sky in the region the Select said was "stricken by warfare".

While it was felt the city of "Amusement" was also a reward city, it was uncertain in academic circles if the city was there to cater to those who lived and worked in the worst cities on the world? This might be a lure incentive for those working toward re-education goals, who achieved a "citizenship" breakthrough or a combination of both. The one city that was more of a mystery than any other was "Tranquility", which sat in the arctic circle but, due to a northern mountain range, was very comfortably temperate year round. But there was no data beyond what could be determined from space regarding that city.

One thing the demographers could say with certainty was that, at the tech level of the society of Pavabid, their work force was immense. The scale of food exports couldn't be created at that low a tech level without a massive level of manpower. This supported the view of natives working the land from the day they learned to walk to the end of their lifes. Where Mikah had data from the team, descriptions of local dress were combined from the clothing those people brought with them to wear, to data gleaned from conversations and even inferred assumptions based on what those people bought to bring home from their vacations.

There were patterns that seemed to be global. The more rural styles were more rugged and designed for work in the fields or on the farm. The styles in the cities, while not as rugged and utilitarian as those in rural areas, had more style but still conformed to religiously approved fashions. Non-conformity appeared to be clamped down on fairly directly. Of course, there was a good file on what the team felt was appropriate to wear in "Diversion" while carrying out research. Another note indicated that those rewarded with vacation seemed to consider the clothing bought there as more sturdy, resistant and reliable than their local goods. This pointed to a quiet use of off-world goods to promote a belief in their God. The Select were very good at marketing!

Investigating The Contract
     As Rol got into his quarters, he remembered he needed to go over the TAS contract. He first wrote up an email discussing the data he got from the TAS concierge regarding Pavabid. After he finished that, he sparked up the TAS contract to go through it detail by detail. Before he got started, Rol decided to check on his other cunning plan and sparked up the connection to the two bugs he'd planted on Zach. But once the connection was open, he found he was getting nothing on the feeds. While Zach may not have turned on the first bug, that shouldn't be the case with the second, so Rol assumed they were out of range. So he set that aside and worked on the contract.

Rol spent some time looking through the interview contract, checking on the issues TAS had with his restrictions as well as the items that TAS added. He checked each clause added, and noted where clauses he had wanted had been removed or altered. From his experience, Rol wished he could just forward this to his unit's public information officer. Eventually, Rol completed his review of the contract and sent a broadcast message to the berth to see if anyone responded? In the ship's open cargo bay, Brian heard the call and asked, "What do you want?" It sounded, to Rol, like he was busy at something. Rol asked Brian if he knew if Emkir was in the berth, and Brian said he didn't. He suggested Rol comm the Admiral in a tone that suggested this should have been obvious. Thanking Brian, Rol killed the call and comm'd Emkir directly.

Arriving At A Decision
     Emkir, Aali and Aiden were returning from the TAS office when Emkir got the comm from Rol. They talked about their options, and Emkir was honest that this seemed to be the best deal they could cut. When Rol agreed, They discussed how Rol wanted to proceed to finalize the deal with TAS? Rol asked Emkir to let his contacts in TAS know of the decision. The Admiral signed into his email account and sent Mr. Morvello a notice that Rol hd agreed to the changes in the contract TAS had requested. Emkir also copied the law firm on the decision. As they continued to ride back to the berth, Emkir got a response from TAS saying they would like Major Kaihvos, Emkir, their lawyers and anyone else in the Major's team in their offices at 10am the following day, to officially sign the deal. As before, TAS would send transport and Emkir specified each of the people who would be transported and where to pick them up. On his end, and once off the line, Rol sent a courtesy message to the Duke's Seneschal that the interview had been set up, with a brief description of the interview and its objectives.

Soon after the communications were done, the taxi dropped Emkir, Aali and Aiden off at the berth. After arriving, they found Brian working on the grav wreck in the ship's cargo bay. Inside, they found Ms. Vik working on researching emergency escape and survival systems in a detail they might have found disturbing if they'd asked questions. So they didn't. While they couldn't see him, they knew Rol was in his quarters from the comms. There was no sign of Mikah, Zimzod or Zach. For her part, Ms. Vik was organizing her next days' schedule. She felt she could visit the Star Chaser once she finished her refresher on survival gear. Having apparently been lied to by the ship's purser when they met, she planned a tour of the vessel to confirm the port's data before meeting with the ship's captain and purser. There, she could state her view of the case and lodge a complaint against the purser for the lies. She then planned to advise them to adhere to all of the port's instructions to prevent more fines and damages. Then she planned to leave their deck and not return.

On their return, Aali gave Emkir a meaningful look saying, "So, about the cloning insurance..." As the comment trailed off, Emkir said, "You really want to do that do you? Do you want to live forever?" Despite Emkir's obvious reservations, Aali began investigating and found there were a number of options available. The insurance providers even had "couples plans", not requiring the couple be married or in a formal relationship. Aali got the best offer from TAS, like Rol, at Cr 200 a month for the insurance and no more than a Cr 10,000 cost for implanting the neural stent, if one of their recommended medical facilities was used. Also, like Sir Brian, Aali was told that the insured needed to have the implants completed in a two-week period or the policies will be voided and all payments refunded.

Eventually, Aali saw it would cost her Cr 400 per month to insure both herself and Emkir, and no more than Cr 20,000 for the surgerys. When Aali asked about reducing the costs by bringing her own medical professional, she was told that would be per the policy of whichever facility she had the procedure done in. Eventually Aali decided to proceed and called Emkir to the comms to participate. Despite being willing to humor Aali, it soon became apparent Emkir really wasn't interested in the insurance and Aali decided to proceed on her own. Once it came down to the money, Aali paid Cr 2,400 for a year in advance. After the paperwork was done, they reminded Aali of the need to get the implant and urged her to talk to her ship's medical personnel. Not finding Mikah in the berth after the conversation, Aali called the knight, who was researching and munching on a sauce coated flat bread and meat dinner.

Pleased the call was from someone she was not considering shooting "ever", Mikah greeted Aali happily, but couldn't hide a 'You too' reaction when the engineer said she bought cloning insurance. Mikah told Aali she was participating in Sir Brian's procedure the next day and asked if Aali wanted to observe? Once that was done, they talked medical facilities and, as soon as Mikah found the same hospital Brian chose, recommended it to Aali. Aali said she was hoping to split any fees Mikah might get, to help her conserve her money and Mikah said, "Maybe". Aali kept it professional while privately wondering at a wealthy ship's commander who shook down her crew for spare change. They left the conversation with an agreement to disagree at the least, as Aali began researching other facilities.

Aali did find a facility on the TAS list that would only charge Cr 7,000 for the implant procedure. Checking out the facility, she found it was on Rhylanor prime, down-well. Looking into why their costs were so low, Aali found it was a smaller facility which couldn't charge for its name. They also had a larger "close proximity" population pool to draw patients from. So they had reduced expenses, considering the expenses of inhabiting space station compartment. As this was all about saving money, Aali looked into the costs of taking a shuttle down-well and found the round-trip would cost her a couple hundred credits. With all the data in hand, Aali decided to mull things over for a bit.

Sighs On The Bridge
     When they returned to the berth, Aiden watched as Aali dragged Emkir off, continuing their conversation about cloning insurance. When he looked around, Aiden saw Sir Brian working in the open cargo bay of the ship. Heading into the berth lounge, he saw Ms. Vik buried in a ton of work with data pads and several terminals active. Having got there before he did, Aali was at another terminal though, for the moment, Emkir was elsewhere. Considering the time on his hands, Aiden decided to go to the ships bridge for some nav-training. But when he opened the access, the still lingering scent of lemon-vanilla that washed over him was the least of his concerns. After the multitudes had left the berth earlier, Sir Brian had seen his chance, and Aiden hadn't noticed the "missing presence" around the berth on his return from TAS.

So as he opened the bridge iris valve, there was Sally the inflatable doll, "sitting" on the flight control panels, "not exactly" wearing a come hither negligee with a sign reading "Aiden! Come to me Baby!" hung from her neck. Nodding to himself even before he could start planning an appropriate reaction, Aiden started to move the doll off the controls. As he delicately took hold and lifted her, Aiden found she was held in place by a dollop of some kind of gel that was likely sourced from the same shop Sally was. So, before anything else, Aiden cleaned up the command deck before he planned to then get rid of the doll. But as he opened the portal off the bridge into the lounge, he saw Brian sitting there, waiting in the semi-dark. As Brian saw Aiden, he hit a switch and the compartment was suddenly filled with the beat from a common sound playback used in porn vids.

As Aiden was taken by surprise, Brian called out, "what'cha doin' with your date Aiden?" with a huge grin on his face. Caught speechless, Aiden was grasping for the proper response when Wall-e rolled up and asked "Do you require space aids?" in its mechanical voice. As these events unfolded, Aiden was certain the engineer was filming the event. Finally, Aiden straightened up and solemnly lifted the doll as he stepped up to Brian to place it in his arms. As he did so, Aiden says, "I'm sorry. I don't cut in on someone's girl." Brian avoided the move and the doll ended up on the bench next to him as he complained "Oh Aiden, you're no fun! At least show her a good time." But Aiden simply turned his back and left Brian there with the doll. Once back in the berth, Aiden scrubbed his hands three times before pulling out some reading material to relax with, to avoid the still lingering scent on the bridge until it vented.

Dinner And More Decisions
     Nearing dinner time, Rol surprised Brian by emerging from his quarters to cook chow. He could only count four of the crew in the lounge, but knew Brian was in the cargo bay, so he cooked appropriately. As he started cooking, Rol chatted with Emkir about how they did in their run to the scout base and TAS. Emkir was happy to report they got the updated system information on the Pavabid system. As they discussed that, Emkir said the updated data showed Pavabid as an Imperial Client State, which surprised all those listening. As Rol was serving dinner, Brian wandered in sniffing the air and asking "What's for dinner?" Not missing a beat, Rol said, "Stuff" and Brian continued "Cool! Give me some!"

Scooping up a plateful, Rol slid it onto the counter saying, "Here, have some." completing the exchange in true greasy utensil style. When Brian tried the stuff on the plate, Brian discovered it tasted great! As he ate, the others also gathered around for their share. As they ate, Rol and Emkir talked about the contract signing with TAS the next day. Emkir suggested calling Zach, to let him know what was planned. When Zach answered Emkir's call, the Admiral filled him in on the good news and confirmed Zach wanted to attend. After his call with Zach, Emkir discussed the data they got from the Scout base more.

After dinner, the three at the University continued their research until about 8pm before returning to the berth. In the berth, Aiden decided to look in the chat and on-line forums, to see if he could find chatter about anyone who had piloted in the Pavabid system. He planned to do that until 9pm before settling in for some pleasure reading and bed.

After completing the work with the insurance company and researching medical facilities, Aali shared dinner before thinking about her earlier conversation with Mikah. She'd planned to talk face-to-face with her about the implant procedure, but changed her mind and comm'd Mikah. Aali floated ideas like paying Mikah directly and getting the refund from the hospital rather than allowing the hospital to pay her. Mikah asked if Aali has checked into the legality of that? The engineer had to admit she hadn't, but made sure Mikah was not against the idea before doing any research. With that much information, Aali called the hospital and asked about the idea.

Being that they were not inviting Mikah to participate, the questions seemed to multiply. Was Mikah licensed here on Rhylanor? Was she associated with and did she have surgical privileges at that hospital? As the questions mounted and the answers were likely negative, Aali had to accept that her idea was not the usual path taken by those who were not independently wealthy. When Aali made it clear this would be in an assisting capacity, which was common, they pointed out that bringing the assisting physician in as a private doctor was unusual for them, even for starship crew. When they asked why Aali was so bent on the idea, she said she was exploring all options.

Making the assumption this was all related to the cost, because almost any elective procedure was often affected by that, the tech said that bringing in her own doctor would only lower the cost by Cr 1,000. But after spending the Cr 6,000, they pointed out that Aali would have to negotiate with her "private doctor" on her own and pay out of pocket for that service too. Aali thanked the tech for the data and considered as she cut the call. She began to realize that paying Cr 10,000 to the local facility and letting Mikah take her cut was just simpler and would end up costing her about the same.

Having made her decision, Aali called Mikah to update her. Mikah asked again if Aali wanted to come the next day to observe Brian's procedure and Aali said she would. After speaking to Mikah, Aali called the hospital to set up her procedure. As they worked through the data and authorizations, they got to the questions about the ship's medical staff and Aali explained that Dame Mikah would be assisting with her procedure as Mikah would with Sir Brian's the next day. The hospital confirmed they didn't need Mikah on the line for that, they just needed her to confirm she'd be participating before the procedure. They then scheduled the procedure for four days' time, Tuesday the 213th, and said they would send a confirmation to both Aali and Mikah.

After Aali gave up trying to convince him, Emkir logged into a terminal and sparked up the Risek glyphs to work on the translation work until dinner. After eating, he returned to the effort and spent the evening working to find a key to use for any translations. In addition to his own work, Emkir also reached out to his friend on the network for any advice or help. The two men spent several hours working and sharing efforts.

Other Evening's Information And Actions
     After eating dinner and cleaning up, Rol went back to his quarters and began a search through the e-zines for any information on Pavabid. The search took some time and came up empty. Then he set up a search for information on District 268 and began reading the items as they came up. This meant he spent the evening reading up on articles covering the many conflicts that had raged through the area of late. One item that caught his eyes was information on three Zhodani frigates which had made their way into the region of space before the Fifth Frontier War. Presumed to have traveled from Zhodani systems in the Foreven Sector, just spinward of the Marches, it was assumed they cut through a corner of the Beyond and Trojan Reaches sectors to come coreward into local space.

It was also widely believed the vessels directly supported the Trexalon system in their activities during the war. The most interesting thing about the half squadron was that no one knew what happened to the ships after the war? After an evening tracking the thread, the last mention Rol could find was related to commerce raiding on the edge of the Collage system. It was presumed, in printed reports, that the ships jumped back to Trexalon space using a round about route, but it was reported one of the ships was heavily damaged.

As she worked, Mikah got a text message scheduling Aali's procedure for the 213th. Mikah was slightly disappointed to see that she'd only get Cr 1,500 as the hospital was charging Aali less due to her TAS connections. Eventually, the three at the library packed things in and returned to the berth around 8pm. As they arrived, they could see Brian working on the grav-wreck in the open cargo bay. When Brian saw them, he told Mikah he planned to knock off early and get a good night's sleep to get up early the next day. They discussed the next morning and decided to leave for the hospital at 5am.

Mikah joked that she'd just be going out for drinks with the others that night, with an evil look on her face. Brian just chuckled and said, "Funny". Zimzod was disappointed to hear Mikah was joking about going drinking and said that he'd go to see that operation. When Mikah said he could if he wanted, Zimzod said, "No. After a hard night of drinking" making it clear he was hoping for some comedy. After that, Mikah went into the lounge to check what entertainment vids were available, settling for a good situation comedy. Zimzod also went into the lounge to see what he could find on legends and lore on the Rhylanor net.

Zach hit his quarters to rack out after checking through his emails and answering any items that were pressing. He spent 45 minutes at it and found most were from merchants dropping hints and seeking opportunities he couldn't provide. While there was nothing really pressing, he had received the protocols and expectations email promised him by the Duke's household. This also covered behavior and deportment, and Zach decided to spend another half hour reading a few chapters. He was thankful, as he read, for his photographic memory and only needing to visually read it once.

As before dinner, Ms. Vik spent her time after dinner working on data for the ships she was planning to work with. But once done with the meal, she organized her data and called her friends in port offices. Before making the call, seeing most of the crew assembled, Inger announced she planned to spend much of the next day working on the docks with the crews of several ships she hoped to help out. Mikah simply cocked an eyebrow asking, "You're going to be working the docks?" with an implication obviously not the same as Inger's. With a straight face and direct manner, Ms. Vik looked into Mikah's eyes and said "Yes." After a pause for emphasis, she continued, "And I'm going to come home wealthy." with a wry smile. With that, the crew settled into their evening's pursuits and eventually faded off to bed.


Cutting Into Brian's Brain

     At 5am, the clocks started going off in Brian's quarters, Mikah's and those shared by Aali and Emkir. Emkir was particularly taken by surprise at the early hour on the clock. Of course, as Aali prepared and dressed, he did his best to settle back into sleep. The Mikah and Emkir eventually grabbed a snack from the galley as Brian couldn't eat before the operation. Brian paid the Cr 20 taxi fare. Once at the facility, Aali was asked to sit and wait while Brian and Mikah were both subjected to their respective documentation. Once that stage was done, Sir Brian was led to a prep room, redressed and was prepared for the procedure while Dame Mikah was introduced to the medical team and they stepped through preparation for the procedure. Eventually, Aali was led to a location where they had her dress in a sterile "coverall" over her regular cloths. She was then brought to an observation gallery where she could see a prep team setting things up.

Brian was eventually anesthetized and brought into the theater. There were a team of two medical 'droids, a human nurse and anesthesiologist. Once the doctors arrived with yet another 'droid, they were all prepared for the procedure, was planned to take roughly three hours. Ultimately, it was fairly straight forward as an incision was made behind the lobe of the right ear, such that any scar would be better hidden by the curve of the skin fold. Once the incision was made, and the dermal material folded to expose the skull, the room was re-sterilized as a precaution before a hole was cut into the bone. Then, an appliance was inserted into the hole which extended micro-tools that first extend and adhered to the cerebral meninges.

Next, tools were extended through the meninges. This was all visible, at vast magnifications, on screens in the operating theater. Once that set of steps were completed, snap-in microchips and service components were passed in through windows in the appliance which did it's best to further steralize even the pair pasing through it. Then the surgeons sought out the correct point on the cerebellum and made micro-incisions to expose the proper synaptic tissue to integrate the electronics with those nerve bundles that communicated with the cerebral cortex. Once that region of the brain was exposed, tests with nano-bursts of energy were done to locate the most favorable dendritic connections for use. This also began the "training" of the connection, as the beginings of a reflex were introduced to the nervous system.

Once the testing was completed, and the correct tissue connections were prepared, the surgeons began construction of the connection with the appliance they installed in the skull. Throughout this process, the signal they began testing with was continued and monitored by one of the medical 'droids, to continue training the connection. Even as it was passed from the instruments performing the operation to the microchips being implanted. During this process, the second med-'droid was testing and fine tuning the appliance and the electronic components being installed. The third med-'droid present was more of an accountant, keeping track of all tools and materials used as a protection against mistakes.

Finally, Dame Mikah was asked to close as the senior surgeon checked on the testing while they continued building the connection. As feedback was observed by the med-'droid and lead doctor, Mikah worked with the assistance of the human nurse under the observation of the third 'droid. The second 'droid was firmly in communication and control of the newly installed appliances and chips as it tested all performance parameters. The nurse assisting didn't comment on Mikah's unusual stitch as the microsurgeon inscribed her initials behind Brian's ear. When the other doctor checked on the work, he did comment on her technique.

Soon enough, the procedure was completed and all data were satisfactory. Brian was moved to the recovery room and Mikah was told he'd be held for observation until 10pm that night. Mikah was able to return to the recovery room. At first, she participated in following through on settling Brian in before heading to the showers. Aali was free to move about the public areas of the hospital while she waited for Mikah, and lunchtime arrived. From her perspective, while the process was bloodier than any of her experiences outside combat, she didn't find any of it disturbing or even unsettling. Most disturbing to both women was the evidence that Brian had a brain!

General Morning Activities
     In the berth, Emkir got back to sleep until 8am, when his alarm went off as well as Rol's and Zach's. The three began preparing to be picked up by TAS, to sign the contracts for Rol's interview. Not involved in that, Aiden's alarm also went off at eight, but he had other plans for his day. Zimzod also had plans for his day and woke at eight so he could book another ship's gunnery class at the virtual training school. When Zimzod called the school at nine, he obviously couldn't book a full sesion, as the days' classes had begun, so he booked a half day's classes for Cr 300. After setting that up, Zimzod grabbed some of Rol's breakfast before doing some exercises. He got done with this by ten, and did some gear maintenance before having to leave for the class. Once there, he engaged in the classes until the end of the day schedule and returned to the berth for dinner.

Aiden also grabbed breakfast before diving back into his research on the Pavabid system. He planned to do this until lunchtime and started by checking into what chatter he'd inspired on some pilot-frequented forums. Having started asking about Pavabid and District 268 the night before, Aiden looked for any new commentary there. He then started fresh digging. Ms. Vik got up at eight too. She organized herself as she ate breakfast, and called the port stations, to make them aware of her plans for the morning. When she discussed visiting the Star Chaser first, Inger was asked if she felt there might be trouble? As Ms. Vik considered that, the tech she was talking to offered to have a member of station security to pick her up at the berth and "escort her" during that visit. Inger gladly accepted and finished organizing and eating so that she was ready when the security vehicle arrived.

A Morning On The Docks
     There was a slightly larger contingent of press to greet the morning activity, given the departure of two of the Knights in a sudden early morning change of "the usual". But Inger blew that off and the security operative was well aware of the goings on surrounding the Hotel California. The ride was fairly relaxing and Ms. Vik took the chance to relax herself for what was likely to be a contentious beginning to her day. As they arrived and Ms. Vik identified herself, the captain of the ship was quick to arrive at the open bay. He was surprised to see her escorted by port security as were the rest of the ship's crew.

But they still seemed to have hope as Ms. Vik's reputation has grown, based on dock side rumor. This was not dampened as Ms. Vik asked for a tour of the vessel. The captain was glad to help out, and hopeful as he guided the pair through his ship. But it soon became clear Ms. Vik had done her research and what work they had done had been done hastily. The more she saw, the more direct Ms' Vik's demeanor became, and it was obvious what advice she would give when they finished the tour. With the shadow of the security man covering their footsteps, the captain and crew took her comments with what grace they could. Especially Ms. Vik's dressing down of the purser to the captain. As they left, the security man offered Inger a ride to her next stop, just to be sure.

The next stop would be the Dragon's Horde, where their marginal legal records were their worst enemy. While the port would not release the hold on the ship, she had gotten them to agree to ease the ship's circumstances. The captain would be offered work on behalf of the port in order to pay off the additional bills the vessel was building while they waited for word from the Equus system. Inger was sure she could ask for between Cr 1,000 and Cr 2,000 for the work, and planned to ask for Cr 1,500 to start, before letting the captain haggle. This should raise her stock when the story got onto the dock.

The security man dropped her at the Horde's berth and went on to his post. As with the Star Chaser, her arrival sparked a fair bit of excitement from the crew as the captain was called. Once introductions were done, Inger managed to get the captain and the ship's first officer in the captain's office to discuss the situation and the offer from the station. Inger started by explaining her process, and suggesting she would bill the ship the Cr 1,500. Once the officers had the situation explained, and a few questions answered, they decided to accept the offer as the best thing that could be done at the time. It was obvious the captain was not happy with the deal but had few options and dwindling cash reserves. Once that was decided, the captain plead lack of funds and offered Ms. Vik Cr 500 for her work. Inger moved to Cr 1,300 first and took it with good grace when the captain pointed out she had not done more than help them pay some of the bills they should not be getting hit with. Eventually, they settled on Cr 1,100, and Inger helped them contact the correct port representatives.

She then left as they worked out the details with the port. Not yet ready to head to her next stop, Ms. Vik went to a dockside refreshment's stand for a small drink while she made a few calls. First, she called the Morningstar's Treasure, to speak to her captain about her findings. Once introductions were taken care of, Inger said she had data that could help the ship but would not resolve the issue. The captain said he thought that would be the case, but asked how much he owed Ms. Vik for the research and work done? Pleased, as she thought this was a job she wouldn't get paid for, Inger told the captain she felt Cr 500 was fair for her work on his ship's behalf. The captain agreed and they took care of the finances, with Inger getting a text from a local bank before she explained the options to the captain. She added to the options a list of the administration members who helped her and felt inclined to the ship's side of the case, having seen the tapes. The captain was very pleased with that added item, which Ms. Vik only mentioned after he willingly paid her.

He even invited her to stop by the ship for a drink if she had the time during her stay in port. Inger thanked the captain and they broke the connection, allowing her to call the Star Daughter, which was another vessel she felt she wouldn't pay any money. But this ship was recently in from the Sword Worlds Subsector so, despite their troubles, Inger hoped they might have information valuable to the mission her crew were considering. She hoped to find some way of forming a connection with them as she called the vessel and asked to be able to meet with the captain and his lead legal officer.

Largely based on her reputation, the captain agreed, and asked her to join the ship's officers for lunch, as it was just after 11am. Inger managed to get a taxi to the Daughter by quarter to twelve and she found the crew friendly and deferential. Once they settled in and the meal was served, Inger found she much preferred Sword Worlds cuisine to Aslan food. As they talked, Inger couldn't help but notice the small size of the crew. She soon learned that a number of Imperial-native crew had already left the ship. As they discussed the ship's issues, the captain presented papers stating they had the ship modified outside the Imperium. This, along with the ship's Joyeuse (Sword Worlds) registry, meant the Imperium had no rightful claim to oppose their fittings, no matter how they felt about them.

Inger could see, right off, that the Sword Worlder's attitude was a good heavy chunk of their problems. They steadfastly demanded their interstellar rights to mount war munitions class weapons on a merchant ship within the borders of a nation their government recently lost a war to. The sore feelings were the least of the problems, in a region where some sore losers had taken to piracy and some were rumored to even be still fighting the war. Despite this, Inger used her name, which was very much a Sword Worlds cultural name, as her foot in the door. She worked with the crew, and learned their side of the issue from them. It was some time into the meal that Ms. Vik learned something key to the dispute. As a foreign flagged vessel, they "should have" filed the correct paperwork with Imperial authorities, to enter Imperial space armed with fusion weapons.

So they did violate customs laws. And they admitted they did this, as they felt the Imperium had no rights to oppose their rights as a free trading vessel. But this was a minor charge at best, and from what Ms. Vik could see, it had been exacerbated by the lack of any willing legal representation on behalf of the ship's crew. Despite liking her friends in port stations, she was not pleased to see how this situation had been allowed to worsen. Hoping she could, at least, get the issue back into a balanced legal footing, Ms. Vik decided to try playing the one card she hoped she could.

Ms. Vik first called Countess Ursara's seneschal, and asked his permission to use his name. She then spent some time explaining the situation as she saw it. During this, the captain and crew watched uneasily as titles were mentioned in passing and with little explanation. But once off the comms, Ms. Vik explained that her crew recently "did a favor" for a Countess in-system, and had gained the ability to drop her name when calling the lawyers the Countess had on retainer in-system.

Still a bit uncomfortable relying on the servants of significantly important Imperial Nobility in local space, they tried to relax as Inger called Brigg, Tander and hault-Vineschenz to discuss the case. Dropping the name of Ursara's seneschal got her exactly the access she hoped for, and adding her name and credentials to the pot got a partner on the line and willing to learn the details of this unusual case. Soon the ship’s captain was drawn into the conversation and things turned to the cost of a retainer, and the belief the lawyers had that they could get this resolved in under a week's time for a fairly minor fine.

The captain and his remaining crew were over-joyed, and even as the captain and lawyers continued to talk money, the crew were breaking out a few bottles. Soon Inger had to pause as she got a text from the lawyers, who were now firing on multiple cylinders. It was clear they appreciated the referral from someone clearly very well connected to the SPA, and offered their thanks in a Cr 1,000 finder's fee. Inger worked hard to hide any reaction to the news as she joined the crew in a drink or two.

Once the call was done, and the captain was now waiting for his newly hired legal team to arrive, he was very thankful to Inger for her help. He offered her a gracefully accepted Cr 1,000 of his own ship's funds. A young female engineer also offered her a very nice, apparently hand-made necklace which she claimed was made in the Trexalon system. Trexalon was hostile to the Imperium, which made the jewelry very rare. This excited Inger as it was very much the direction she wanted the conversation to go. As they started talking about the ship's travels in District 268, and some of its travels during the war, it was clear they had adopted Inger as a long lost Sword Worlder, despite her very Imperial credentials.

Soon there were tales of hauling cargos during the war years. Then there were brags from the ships older flight officer about dodging massive Imperial warships to dive into atmospheres. This allowed them to disappear from sensors before the ships or orbital platforms could swat them from the sky. When Inger suggested her crew could use some lessons in that for an up-coming job, the crew huddled in closer and pressed for information. Not giving much, Inger said they may need to help "friends with issues" on Pavabid. This got a wrinkled nose reaction from the crew, who didn't seem to have a favorable view of the world or its religious culture. By the time the lawyers arrived, Inger was an honorary crew member, and leaving near 1:30 pm, she was invited to come back, and even to bring her ship's pilot for some pointers. They even said she could bring the ship's captain despite her Knighthood.

Signing the Interview Contract
     At 9:30, the TAS car arrived to pick up Zach, Emkir and Rol, who were dressed up pretty. Emkir noticed this car was a noted improvement over the one sent for him before, and they all noticed the vehicle had a staff! The "staff" were a driver and aide, who helped get Zach aboard and settled. This was obviously picked up by the media still in the bay, though the driver knew his business and was able to lose any tails they'd grown. They were told the staff reporters for other outlets would see the car enter TAS facilities and match its registration numbers soon enough. Rol was warned he should expect some news to break in-system about his mysterious visit to the TAS offices sometime in the coming afternoon. Once at TAS offices, Emkir was pleased to see the same lawyer present and waiting to help handle the details. Then they were escorted into Mr. Morvello's office, complete with assorted corporate drones working at their portable computers.

Once they were all settled, the group proceeded through a very dry and straight forward reading of each paragraph and clause in the contract. The only difference between this and earlier meetings was that no more changes were allowed, and Rol was required to imprint each clause and major point with his thumb print. This documented that he had been informed of, and approved of, that section. Once this process was done, the last open item was to schedule the interviews. TAS hoped to agree that the Duke's Huscarles would transport Rol from the berth to TAS studios at 1pm the following Saturday(the 217th). As already agreed, the Huscarles would handle the complete security detail soup to nuts. Rol would be allowed to bring one designated associate to be with him throughout the process of the interviews, to handle his needs. There would also be studio assistants made available to them, so the designated associate would handle those assistants for Rol.

Once they reached the meat of the process, Mr. Morvello suggested Rol should be prepared to spend the hours between 1 and 5pm. This would be in interviews and other processes on and off camera as they worked to produce an hour of recorded interviews. Rol was told that some of that process would even be off-set. Once they were into the nitty gritty, they touched on subjects such as if Major Kaihvos wanted on-camera makeup. Rol asked to be able to put that off until the day of the interview, just in case. Rol, Zach and Emkir also pushed for Rol’s “One” associate to be two, allowing Zach to also come along with Emkir. As the process came to a close, it was nearing lunchtime. In the final details, Rol was told he'd get payment once the interviews were done and TAS could confirm they had enough to produce an hour-long product.

As the meeting started breaking up, the lawyer let Emkir and Rol know they no longer need him and he was leaving. He told them that the final 10% bill for the firm's services, Cr 3,500, would be remitted within two days’ time. Once that was delivered, Rol would have a week to make the final payment. Rol recalled that, after payment, he had to pay other costs including the money already laid out by Emkir, and promised slices of the profit to Zach and Emkir for their work. As he considered this, Mr. Morvello said he wanted to take them all out to lunch. Rol said that was a great idea because he didn't have to cook. When that caught Mr. Morvello short, Emkir said, "You know he's our ship's cook?" Morvello just laughed, saying he'd heard something about that as he waved it off.

Other Afternoons Completed
     Once Mikah had cleaned up and changed into her street cloths, she found Aali waiting for her and said she was hungry. It was lunchtime, and Aali offered Mikah lunch on her. Mikah was impressed, as she considered the expense of any place she could find. But when Aali asked what Mikah would like, Mikah said she was up for anything so long as it was food. She added that it had to include caffeine too, so they ended up in a tables and booths-style general restaurant.

Back at the berth, Aiden was alone as Ms. Vik went off to deal with ship's crews. The scout decided to head to Instel-Arms, and hit a dockside place for chow on the way. Once at Instel-Arms, he checked out the hand weapons in their used and pawn cases. He saw the section was more of a museum than a sales display. Each of the weapons on display had an electronic readout next to it. Some had very basic blurbs and others were quite detailed. As time moved on, and he examined each of the mechanical slug throwers, he nodded off each of the Instel-Arms employees who came to offer help or a comment. As he drooled over weapon after weapon, Aiden noticed one ACR, priced at Cr 5,000. The ACR appeared to be a patchwork, with individual parts which appeared made from different materials at separate times or by separate craftsmen.

It certainly had the "feel" of being a hand-made weapon. While he wondered if it was combat capable, Aiden felt it was a very pretty weapon despite the price. As he read the datapad next to the weapon, it said it was once owned by Lord Ilse Stöver, former ruler of a small nation on Porozlo which no longer existed. The nation of Ludyk had been settled from a system in the Gushemege sector, which had been settled by largely central European stock from old Terra. In notes on the datapad, the nation ceased to exist when Lord Stöver decided to remove Imperial influence from his lands.

His mistake was not only to send military forces to secure the property of off-world corporations in his country, but to also send forces to occupy the Imperial Embassy there. This triggered an Imperial intervention. The weapon was eventually one of the few possessions Instel-Arms was able to recover from the late Dictator's family as they fled the system. Despite the obvious interest Aiden had, he considered his current debt to Dame Mikah and passed up the opportunity. He did spend the rest of the afternoon at Instel-Arms wandering from section to section until heading back to the berth for dinner with the crew.

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Next: Everything Between The Docks And The Deli