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A Brief Respite Goes
         Bizarre


Aiden's Increasingly Eerie Day

     The day before, Aiden had looked into visiting the Scout base to collect on his Silver Asteroid and found the base was several hours' flight away. So he'd decided it just wasn't worth it to spend the time for only Cr 100. When he'd discussed the same thing with Aali, she agreed. So Aiden had nothing planned or required as he watched the news, other than waiting for a call from the Arch Duke's office. Making his morning so surreal were the social news reports on him, which focused on his service in the Fifth Frontier War. He was completely surprised to see the attention he was getting for his role in the battle of Caladbolg, as crew of the ISS Tracking Star. Many dramatic discussions were aired about the battle and how Imperial Scout forces managed to hold out for 74 days against the bulk of the Sword World's Sacnoth fleet.

How Scout Radetsky had made the choice to run for the Caladbolg asteroid belts when the commanding Admiral declared the system a loss and ordered all ships to scatter and flee for any safe port. Aiden's personal bravery was played large as descriptions were aired of the Tracking Star's 'flight to freedom'. How she'd come under fire from a squadron of fast ships and their fighters, with the crew fighting off boarding soldiers. With Aiden being wounded in the process. And how a wounded Scout Radetsky managed to get his ship to the jump point and escape the system. Further coverage discussed the difficulty of jumping from system to system in a damaged ship, to get clear of the combat zone. There was also much made of the work to find fuel and make the six jumps to reach the Egypt Naval base in the Glisten subsector. Some file footage was added to some of the reports in which a younger Scout Radetsky and his crew received their Silver Asteroids from Admiral Akirman hault-Galir, commander of the Imperial 100th Fleet and the Marquis of Mertactor.

Aiden couldn't explain the growing feeling in the pit of his stomach, but felt an additional lurch when Rol snickered, "Enjoy the limelight!" in an overly encouraging voice. As he wondered just how ridiculous the circus was going to get, Aiden thought about the empty schedule until the wedding three days away. Aware the Arch Duke's office could call at any minute, Aiden decided to check out the hand guns made in-system. While the main world was largely a vacation paradise, there were both heavy mining and manufacturing done on the other worlds, asteroids and space stations in-system. So even some lower-tech style weapons were made in the system, which gained a "sales cache" with the stamp "Made in the Mora System" when shipped out to other worlds. And those "lower tech" mechanical weapons with a Mora came at a premium. Admittedly, that didn't approach the shipping costs of weapons brought in-system from significant distances. This was the same lesson Zimzod learned when he shopped for cigars.

Switching directions, Aiden decided to write, home figuring he should say something before the news got there. Grabbing one of the better vids from the news coverage and tacking it to the e-message, Aiden wrote his letter and contacted the IISS message center. In the end, it would have cost him Cr 100 to send the message 'if' his homeworld were on the xBoat routes. But Craw was a "buffer world" on the border of independent space in the Trojan Reaches sector, and a parsec from an IISS station. So it cost Cr 120 to assure the message would be carried in subsidized mail aboard a contracted carrier. Aiden nodded sadly as he realized that even with the Cr 100 for his Silver Asteroid, he'd be in the hole Cr 20!

Of course, once it was time to pay, Aiden identified himself as a former Scout, hoping to save a CrImp or two, and was asked to jack his belt buckle into the system. After he provided the data, the Scout he was dealing with realized just exactly who she was speaking to and things changed, because she'd seen the news too. With the greatest of discipline, the woman kept it together and asked if Aiden could hold the line? Resigned to the boulder rolling down at him, Aiden agreed and was shocked to find himself connected to the base commander! As Aiden snapped to some form of surprised attention, the captain gushed at how pleased he was to be talking to Aiden, and wondered how they could help the former Scout? When Aiden tried to respond, and even used the man's rank to be polite, the captain pushed rank aside making the conversation entirely informal.

Aiden decided to go with old business, telling the man about his xMessage. The Captain surprised him, saying the service could cover the cost for him! As Aiden wondered if he could push things and get them to handle his Silver Asteroid, he mentioned he was considering visiting the base to pick up the Cr 100 and asked what he could do for the captain? Of course, when the officer said, "Funny you should mention that", Aiden's stomach made a sudden dive for the planet's core. As Aiden listened, the base commander commented on how recruitment was still down, due to the war. He said it would help morale if Aiden could make a 'good will' visit to the base. When the commander asked about his schedule, Aiden told the man he had to attend a wedding in three days' time, and was at the call of the Arch Duke while in-system. When Aiden mentioned the Arch Duke, the commander went 'fishing', to see if Aiden knew the Arch Duke Norris really had more notice than claimed about the recent announcement? Aiden said he was just the knight's pilot and they had been bound for Mora to confirm their titles. He made no comments on any knowledge of the Arch Duke's plans or schedule.

Accepting that, the commander proposed he could, once confirmation was gotten from the Arch Duke's office, send a ship to transport Aiden to the base. There, Aiden could spend a day on the base meeting and greeting Scouts and visiting the departments. The officer also admitted he hoped to spend some personal time talking with Aiden about his experiences in the battle of Caladbolg. Aiden considered what he knew of their immediate future, knowing he technically had the next two days off. After that was Emkir and Aali's wedding and then they had to return to Rhylanor. When he explained the times and possible needs of the Arch Duke, Aiden also asked if there was room for another Scout? He told the commander about Eikusdi Piirirshu when asked for details and the man said any of the crew could join him. The captain mused about the knights coming and Aiden misunderstood the man's intent and decided to sweeten the pot.

To do so, he mentioned Aali was the bride, in the wedding they were talking about on the news, which interrupted the officer. When he asked for clarification, Aiden said the wedding in the news was to be between Emkir and Aali. The captain was surprised, having heard the rumors surrounding the Lady Mikah, and thanked Aiden for a scoop that beat the news! As Aiden realized he'd just given data that was not public, the officer misunderstood, and was pleased Aiden was confiding in him. As the man commented on how this changed his understanding of the news, Aiden asked him to keep things quiet, at least until the wedding was publicly announced. Hoping to reinforce the officer's discretion, he revealed that Arch Duke Norris was choosing the venue for, and officiating at, the wedding. Despite the massive amount of inside data, the captain agreed to keep things quiet while also suggesting Aiden call the Arch Duke's office to confirm when he'd be able to visit the base? Then they could set up the planned morning pick up, a big lunch and a day-long "tour and visit" schedule.

Once Aiden was off the comms, he went to find Aali. She was leaving for the base hospital as he asked her to hold on a moment. Aiden told her the base had asked him to visit, and were sending a ride. So he wondered if she wanted to go along, to collect for her Silver Asteroid too? She said she'd like that and asked about Emkir? Aiden remembered the man had said, "any member of the crew" and told her that should be fine. So Aali said it was fine by her and the next one to see Emkir should ask him. With that, Aali left and Aiden contacted the Arch Duke's office. As he spoke to them, they said the best time for the visit would be Friday, 259th of the year. They also suggested they might have "a need for him later that day or the next". Aiden misses the import of 'possibly being needed' as he concentrated on locking down the date.

Aali Gets Her Head Examined

     As the crew sat in the ship watching the news, they speculated about what Arch Duke Norris would get by officiating at Emkir and Aali's wedding? Aali understood the political play going on and considered Norris' description of his motives. Ms. Vik understood there certainly was a reason but she didn't know if it would really pay off, and really didn't care so long as it didn't cause trouble. Mikah wasn't worried about the move, nor was Zimzod. Of course, Zimzod only halfway cared, because it had been mentioned. Zach could explain it all, but could also see those who were missing points didn't really care either. So it wasn't a feather he could claim in his cap.

As she got moving, Aali checked her comms and found a message from the base hospital per the request of TAS. It said they'd be pleased to serve her in performing her brain scan, and sending the data to her insurance company's office in the Mora System. They estimated the process would take all of half an hour at the most. As well, they said a J-6 fast boat was scheduled to depart for Rhylanor Naval command later that week, so they could have a crystal on the ship to be delivered to her insurance underwriters in the Rhylanor system. Pleased, Aali called the hospital to set up an appointment. When she called, they said they could get her taken care of before lunch. So, sparing a thought for the state of the ship, Aali set the appointment for as soon as possible and they said they'd send a car since she was on base. Aali had confidence in the naval engineers, and they had left a check list two nights before while the crew were dining with the Arch Duke. And she still wanted to check their work to be sure, as the activities of the day before had left her no chance to do so. So Aali figured she'd do that after the scan.

After eating and relaxing to watch the news until Mikah prepared to leave, Emkir decided to check and see if there was a summons from the Arch Duke's office, because waiting to be called had become tiresome. When he didn't see any requests, he called the office to see if there was anything they could prepare for? Surprisingly, he was told to stay close as they might need the crew later that day. After thanking the tech and ending the call, Emkir went to see if Aali had left for her scan yet? He found her after Aiden had, and told her what he'd learned. When she asked if he was interested in joining them to visit the Scout base, he said he would join Aiden's "entourage". Emkir also caught Mikah as she left, and told her about the warning from the Arch Duke that they may be needed later that day or the next.

As Aali left for the base hospital, Emkir decided to sit and watch the news with an eye towards learning faces and names. In addition to the Arch Duke and Grand Duchess, they showed a number of shots of Lady Seldrian Aledon, Norris' 'True Daughter', and Dame Elane Shankarr Muudashir, C.E.G, Delphine's Grand Niece. Emkir noted the indicator C.E.G, meaning "Companion of the Emperor's Guard", an Order of Knighthood created by Emperor Cleon I for those who'd served in the Guard. The Order was broadened by Empress Nicholle to include any Imperial Citizen. As other pictures were shown, Emkir tried to familiarize himself with those both in and out of the system. One key person Emkir was familiar with was Duchess Avaraja Astaarte Muktheswana, of the Glisten subsector. In addition to those he'd met, Duchess Avaraja was perhaps the fourth most powerful person in the Spinward Marches sector. Emkir watched until Aali returned.

At the base hospital, Aali was impressed with the level of technology and the many devices and general preparedness of the facility. Once they explained the procedure, they were all business for the thirty minutes needed to jack her in and do the scan. After that was done, they gave Aali a copy on crystal for her own keeping, in a properly marked container. Responders in any advanced-tech facility would understand it's importance and act correctly. Aali was reminded that, in the event of her death, the crystal would be recovered and sent to a cloning facility where it would be compared with any files they had in their system. That facility would then begin cloning her from the most recent scan and bill her insurance company, unless the most recent file was a 'desist' because the policy went unpaid.

They told her copies of her scan would be sent to her insurance company in the Mora system and, aboard the scheduled fast boat, to the Rhylanor system. Aali was surprised, as the 'fast boat' was a jump-six courier system naval commands used to augment the usual data transfers by xBoat. This meant the file would be in Rhylanor well before she and the crew returned there. It would also make sure there were no mistakes in certifying she'd gotten the scan done to confirm her insurance policy, even though the scan would arrive after the two-week limit. Once done with that, Aali returned to the ship to find Emkir had spent the hour studying faces and names in the news.

Rol's Relaxing Morning

     After cleaning up from breakfast, Rol considered this more-friendly port and threw on casual clothes to explore. After checking the opportunities, Rol decided to visit the Officer's club and see what he could learn there? As he spent the least time getting ready, and didn't hang around to watch the news, he was the first off the ship. Stepping into the guarded parkbay, Rol noticed as the guards snapped to attention. Used to this reaction to a Starburst awardee, he first ignored the posture. But as he interacted with them, handing his Ident over and receiving security warnings, he noticed their attitudes were different than the crew the day before. Soon, he realized the new security squadron on duty was a pro-Norris unit.

While this comforted him a bit, it also warned Rol the naval compliment was just as fractured in their allegiance as the rest of the Sector. He took this as a warning as he walked to the O-Club. Once there, Rol's anonymity lasted a short while before the cat was out of the bag. When his name got out, Rol watched as the trifecta of being retired Navy, a "War Hero" and being politically connected combined into a value. As he talked with the others, he noted a special twist. Being part of a crew that were playing roles in both the courts of the Grand Duchess and the Arch Duke, no one could be sure who the crew were connected to? So there were many willing to take the dare and possibly gain a valuable associate.

As a standard, for those who'd won the Starburst For Extreme Heroism, Rol's first drink was 'on the house'. As he shared stories and tales with the others, Rol planned to stay at the club for three hours but was offered lunch as the time came, paid for by a group of the officers clustered around him. While they asked many questions of Rol, they were not the kind of questions the former Marine was worried about. Questions about Sir Jeremy's book were mostly of the, "what Rol and his connections planned to do to the Knight once he was located?" brand. Even those people least sure Rol was on "their political side" were certain Sir Jeremy had lied. This allowed Rol to relax and enjoy the exchange despite a brief call from Zach about a museum.

One of the officers, Lt. Commander Lirsuge a Giirshuk, was a senior officer aboard the 100,000 INS Xeagjual Ko( Antiama class Fleet Carrier ) attached to a BatRon in the 73rd Fleet(assigned to the Mora Subsector). Rol was surprised that Giirshuk held a Third Officer level rank aboard as just a Lt. Commander. But as they talked, he learned Giirshuk had held a number of significant posts with a number of decorations. Most significant of these battles was when Imperial forces massed in the Rhylanor system to meet the on-coming Zhodani 40th fleet. The Xeagjual Ko, her boats and fighters took part both in intercepting the 40th in the Rhylanor system as well as the follow on destruction of the 40th in the Porozlo system. Ironically, this was a battle Rol's predecessor with the crew, Kyle van Ryddoth, had served in. As Rol decided he'd like to hear that story, he realized he could be in the O-Club until dinner at least.

Mikah's Morning On The Rocks

     Mikah watched the news coverage of herself and her crew along with Emkir and a gigging Ms. Vik. The media had figured out Admiral Meshrumiikiim and Captain Piirirshu were romantically linked, but still hadn't realized 'they' were the bride and groom. Reports continued to suggest potential marriage links between Mikah and Rol or Zimzod. As she watched, Mikah knew they'd been told, by the women in the clothing shop, that Aali was the bride. So she had to wonder who missed the information or why they were intentionally mis-reporting it? In the end, she got tired of watching the news and decided to head to the "Grand Geologic Museum of the Spinward Marches", which she'd checked out on the net two days before. As she was about to leave Emkir also caught her and told her about the warning from the Arch Duke that they may be needed later that day or the next.

After paying Cr 15 for a hovercab and Cr 10 to get in, Mikah spent the rest of the day enjoying a very large collection of the Domain's minerals. What looked like an average sized facility turned out to have many sub-levels as well as some above the entry level. So she actually entered a level of a museum built above and below. Dressed casually, her only worn mark of distinction was the ring from Zimzod, made of Lanthanum with the Tellona diamond chip. And, for the first time in a while, Mikah was able to blend in and wander freely as she enjoyed the displays. Soon, after she decided how to view the galleries, she had made progress through a number of them and towards lunch. Finally, she was hungry enough that she went to the museum's cafeteria to eat. As Mikah got through the cafeteria line and ended up at the cashier, she handed over her Ident with the sinking feeling that came with realizing she was about to be recognized again.

Blissfully, the cashier was much too busy to do anything but complete the transaction and move Mikah along. Pleased, she found a seat and began to eat, not far from a group receiving some sort of lecture from a hired guide of some sort. Mikah vaguely listened in from a distance. The instructor was working to connect his audience to history by making the point history happened every day. After a pause, Mikah was caught up short as the man said, "In fact, history is happening to you today." Looking at the man, now surrounded by a confused group, Mikah saw his hand extended in her direction. Few in his group were looking in her direction and none noticed her as they looked past to see what 'event' he was referring to. The guide continued into a discussion on the appointment of the Arch Duke and early appointments to the Domain court before pointing out Lady Mikah and speaking to the Knight. He said, "My Lady, I would like to welcome you to the Mora system." as the crowd turned excitedly pulling out devices to snap pictures and began asking for autographs.

Zimzod's Evil Plans Meet Ninnoma's

     Despite his late night, Zimzod got his 8am wakeup call and was barely in something publicly acceptable when the cleaning crew knocked. Opening the door, there were two room service attendants and a 'droid! As he let them in, it was clear they knew their business and didn't bat an eye that he might be watching them work. Of course, that lasted seconds as Zimzod decided to head across the beach for some chow. When he returned, the room was as sterile as it was when he arrived, despite his gear and clothes. The Knight promptly ruined that by shaving, showering and anything else he could think of before dressing to impress. When Ninnoma arrived at 10am for their date, she was both pleased and fully prepared to spend the day on the beach tanning. So the pair went out to relax in the sun, enjoying nature and conversation until it got close to lunch time.

As things got close to lunch, Zimzod asked Ninnoma if she'd like to accompany him to the underwater restaurant the resort was known for? This attraction was a four-story dome with one "serving deck" for guests to dine in. During both day and night, there were light enhancers allowing the diners to see all the local sea life as if in ambient day light, 24/7. The very upscale restaurant was served by an electric rail car service. Small parties boarded the largely transparent cars at a shore station, and rode the half-hour trip down under the water. As they left the shore, riders traveled through a transparent transit-tube, enjoying the scenery and sea life. Finally, parties arrived at the car station in the restaurant where they were welcomed and shown to a serving station to be taken to a table.

As the morning passed, Zimzod got the impression Ninnoma was checking him out to potentially court. While they talked, Zimzod got a better understanding of her motivations. Having been "raised to The Nobility" all her life, and to rule after her parents, her life had been very stable and controlled. As she talked, it became clear she saw her life as boring and Zimzod represented excitement. In addition, her father the Duke, was wealthy and Ninnoma's looks were more than he could ask for! Planned to impress her, Zimzod wanted to be sure she had packed the clothing she'd need. When he asked, Ninnoma said she had afternoon and evening cloths so Zimzod brought her back to his room and even stood outside to let her change.

Zimzod changed after Ninnoma had, and they headed off to the restaurant. Once at the transit station, they learned Zimzod's resort gave preferential boarding to their guests. So they were moved to a 'short line' to be boarded and sent on their way to the restaurant proper. When Zimzod was asked for his Ident and a reservation, they realized who Zimzod was and made a fuss over him. Saying they wouldn't have him waiting in line, Zimzod and Ninnoma were shown to a waiting car. On the ride, the couple enjoyed the clearly visible sea life and the flora on the descending ocean floor for twenty minutes as the self-driven transparent maglev car moved them to the far end. Once out of the car and into the dome, they were met by the restaurant manager, maître d' and wait staff, who'd apparently been called about their arrival, before being shown to the best table in the house.

The couple were handed menus and Zimzod noticed the hors d'oeuvres started at Cr 50. Waiters made a show of handling even the basic acts, like opening their napkins and placing them in each diner's lap. Having planned on being the gentleman and holding Ninnoma's chair for her, Zimzod found himself cut off as the wait staff held both their chairs. Not used to this amount of celebrity, and certainly not some waiter's hands reaching around his crotch with a napkin, Zimzod couldn't help but notice this was 'every day' for Ninnoma. It was a disturbing indication of the differences between their two universes. Despite being a fine-looking woman, a brief encounter with her cultural outlook was beginning to show Zimzod how "upper class" her expectations were, while he barely had the self-control not to cold cock the waiter.

As they settled in, Zimzod noticed the light strain of music playing complimented the sounds, picked up by the hydrophones, of the local sea life. He settled back to enjoy the views he'd come to see, even if he regretted not having a low powered laser to "pick his lunch" from the sea life. But it became clear he came for the show while she wanted his attention, and to get to better know each other. He was annoyed that she could just ignore the view around them as 'old hat'. Having realized Ninnoma was much too high maintenance for him, Zimzod spent more time pointing out sea life and asking questions of the well-educated waiters than he did answering her. He also almost never asked her anything about herself while asking about her interest in the sea life. When the meal came to it's end, her questions were more about getting out of the restaurant and back to the beach, and her interest in him had certainly cooled too.

Visiting Museums And Mysteries

     After going through his emails and leaving a number of comms messages, Zach decided to check out what there was to enjoy on the capital island. Having overheard some of the data TAS gave some of his crew mates, Zach began looking for something fun to do. In addition, he'd been to Mora and had seen the museums and what data on artifacts were visible in-system. As he looked through his options, and considered that he didn't want to spend too much, Zach figured he'd check the fringe museums, where even the least substantiated rumors would be given some space and exposure. After an hour, Zach had checked for any evidence of added information in the major museums. When it didn't appear there had been any updates on the forums, he checked into a more 'open' museum. The "Spinward Marches Museum of Mysteries and Research Center" was close enough and inexpensive at Cr 10. Thinking Rol might be interested, he comm'd the Knight, but was just told to, "leave it standing". After Zach's dry, "Yeah, thanks." he hung up and called transport to head for lunch before the museum.

In a hovercab on the way to the museum, Zach heard the news break on the cab's vid screen. The bulletin, from the Sword Worlds border, had reached the Mora system that the ruler of the Gungnir system, a self-styled "King" named Arthur, had been assassinated! The original report, said to be six weeks old, explained that "a woman with a hand gun" shot King Arthur to death. Following the assassination, the King's followers blamed Imperial agents and there had been a steady rise in anger and rhetoric. A month ago, according to the newest reports, a "Baron von Kreden" had apparently led a fleet described as 'ramshackle' to fight their way past Imperial occupation ships intending to "make the Imperium pay!" Since then, it was reported the fleet had been sighted in the Saurus and Tavonni systems, both in the Imperial Vilis subsector.

He considered where the news was from, based on his familiarity with the area of space, and realized the Mora system was eight to ten weeks away at jump-4. They were not any closer to the Tavonni system, which was the most recent sighting a month ago. Zach figured they were far enough away that the Imperial Navy would find von Kreden before they got close, so he wasn't concerned. Once close to the museum, Zach paid the Cr 15 taxi fare and spent Cr 25 on lunch before buying a Cr 10 entry to the museum. Inside, Zach toured the galleries looking for anything new. There were galleries devoted to known facts, like the lost Quasar Viper and its supposed discovery by then Duke Norris. In the most Delphine-friendly of systems, this covered all the accusations and counter accusations, but supported the legitimacy in the end.

There were galleries devoted to the missing ships of the great rift as well as the "Abyss" running through the Spinward Marches(J4 to J5 running through the Lanth subsector). There were literary galleries for mysteries like 'Dawson's Christian', and the 'Cold Sleep' legend. Surprising Zach, there were recent claims of Christian sightings in the Loneseda system, just six parsecs away! That claim was four months old, and Naval forces responded to the signal GQ. But the Admiralty brushed off any suggestion a ghost ship had been involved after investigating the debris at the battle site. Still, the investigation of the incident continues. When pressed, the Naval spokesperson stated their theory suggested a pirate ship had turned on it's allies for a larger share in the haul, only to be badly enough damaged to be forced to withdraw itself.

The most recent major mystery to be added to the galleries was devoted to the loss of Sir Yaricht Fruenelle's yacht, in the 1104 Spinward Point-to-Point race. The data had a brief introduction covering the 16 other vessels which either finished the race(9) or dropped out(6) before concentrating on the jump-4 Frua Cesica and the mystery of the TNS Navarino. Sir Fruenelle was declared missing in early 1105, after trying a trans-Abyss transit from the Ivendo system transiting the abyss to the D'Ganzio system. The displays discussed the course from world to world, collecting 'secure' data chips from check points to prove their transit of those systems. The display also covered the search, by as many as three thousand vessels, once the ship was officially designated as "Lost". Of course, this was the most important part of the event for most, as it covered claims by search and rescue crews that they had sighted the Solomani heavy cruiser Navarino emerging from misjump! But it vanished before further contact could be made. While the Awful Annie (a late entrant from Spinward Development Corp.) won the race, she and the other competitors were almost forgotten as the stories grew.

Other stories of interest included news releases about the first "known victim" to survive direct exposure to hyperspace! This news, more than a year old from the Terra system, covered the details of Naval Commander Ansel Churner, who now suffered from "Hyperspace sickness'. An engineering officer heading to retirement in the Prometheus system, he was reported held in strict quarantine until specialists could determine the specific effects the exposure would have. Doctors on the case were quoted saying preliminary tests indicated Commander Churner was in good condition, but not mobile. "Three members of the engineering department on the Tyrol, a Rome, Inc. luxury liner, were killed. Circumstances of their deaths have not been released at this time." Admiralty spokesmen in the Mora system have refused to comment on the dispatch.

Another old but favorite display was the tale of the "Loreans Ecliptic", vanished en route from Lanth system to the D'Ganzio system in 1085. The private vessel was lost without explanation a year after the end of the Fourth Frontier War. The privately owned converted liner was lost with all hands and the owner aboard, so even barratry was not likely. The Admiralty allowed a brief use of military assets in the search and recovery as costs after the war were restrictive. Like the Frua Cesica and spotting of the ghost ship Navarino, this loss was in the region of the D'Ganzio system. That combination alone made for many conspiracy theories.

Zach searched for any Ancient artifacts, but quickly found what a facility with this one's standing could provide. All the displays were video or holographic at best, as the Imperium really wasn't interested in making any of this public, beyond the Rhylanor artifact. Despite the political winds, there were some displays of data and images on artifacts, but nothing Zach hadn't seen before. In fact, a few "missing" displays suggested a crackdown since he'd visited last. Lucky for him, memories of those removed items were safe in his brain until Alzheimer's or bullets removed them. Still, he did have a good time in the museum and stayed until it was time to head back to the ship for dinner. As he rode, Zach enjoyed a Cr 150 holographic projector "encyclopedia of known and theorized artifacts in the universe" he'd picked up in the gift shop before leaving.

Lunch And A Surprise

     As Ms. Vik watched the news, she could only wonder how large the 'bomb' would get before it blew? The crew had not done anything to cause trouble in this system 'yet', so the balloon was being filled more and more, and the pressure for something to go wrong was building. Most disquieting about her worries were the case of giggles it gave her as they all "sat waiting" for something to go wrong. As the others moved on with their days, Inger called the port director, asking if he was free for lunch? When she got through, Ms. Vik was surprised to see the Executive Director was Aslan!! Given the Aslan cultural divides, this told Inger the very non-technical male Aslan would have a large organization of female Aslan around him, to care for those things a male would never personally deal with.

As he received her call, the Executive Director was very pleased. Seeing her both as a former Executive Director and as a Hero of the Imperium, she would be a valuable associate. As they talked, the Director invited Inger to lunch at the port and she accepted. Sitting next to her before heading out on her own plans, Mikah snickered, "Bring your own antelope." Once she was done with that call, Inger grabbed Rol before he left. She asked if they could set up signals to help each other if they were in a public event and needed rescue? Rol considered her issues the night before, with the young Marquis, and agreed they could help each other. That decided, Inger cleaned up, prepared her gear and dressed in a suit before stepping out of the ship to meet the car sent for her.

At the port, Inger was led to an in-office conference space which had been laid out for a banquet-style lunch with food fit for Aslan as well as various Human cultures. As she saw this lay out, large enough for thirty people, Ms. Vik realized this was not going to be a "small casual lunch". When she asked, Inger found out Director Aoeiyiy Uhkiyea had invited his top assistants to meet her, in honor of her ship and crew as well as Inger herself. She did confirm they were only expecting her and not the full crew. When Director Uhkiyea arrived, Ms. Vik bowed in greeting and was welcomed in return. As they ate and chatted, there were some unoccupied seats as those with work responsibilities arrived late. There were also those who had to 'leave the party' early to deal with work too.

Many of the passing uninvited craned their necks to scope out the lunch and see what they hoped would soon be leftovers they could 'vulture' later. There were a lot of questions, and some answers as well as discussions of events Inger felt she could talk about. As they talked, Director Uhkiyea offered her a guided tour of the Mora port offices. While they were similar to all other SPA offices in departments and design, each port had its differences and personality. And he thought it wouldn't hurt to give his people a chance to meet someone who rose to importance growing up in the SPA. As Ms. Vik accepted the tour offer, he apologized that he had work and couldn't tag along, and even had to return to work soon. Of course, recalling her working days, Ms. Vik understood, and soon she got a call herself from Emkir.

Aiden's Morning Goes Surreal

     Once he felt he had his ducks in a row, Aiden called the IISS base commander back to tell him the Arch Duke's office had suggested they do the tour on Friday, 259th. When the captain said this would be fine, Aiden asked about making use of the base's shooting range during the visit? The captain thought this was a great idea, and pointed out Aiden could likely make use of the ranges on any base including the Naval base they were berthed in. As they talked, Aiden also told the captain Aali and Emkir would be coming along so far, and mentioned Aali's Silver Asteroid. The captain repeated that any of his crew were welcome but this was about Aiden. In fact, to his complete surprise, the captain suggested that, if Aali was "only" coming for her Silver Asteroid, he could arrange to have her account credited without her visiting! This was something completely new in Aiden's experience. As Aiden stuttered his thanks through his surprise, he told the captain he thought she wanted to come regardless, but he'd tell her about the courtesy.

As he again thanked the Captain for the action, the man went further to tell Aiden he'd have Aiden's own Silver Asteroid payment credited to his in-system accounts as well! Again, Aiden was so surprised he could only repeat his thanks for the assistance as his head spun with the 'hero treatment'. After that, they discussed some basic details and Aiden was told he'd be updated the next day on when and where the boat would pick up his party. He also promised to update the commander if others in his crew decided to join in, then the call was done. Once off the comms with the captain, Aiden logged into the Mora-net and started hunting for those forums frequented by Scouts. As he searched, he found a large number of subject lines regarding the Domain and the Arch-Duchy. Conversations covered what this would mean for relations with the Sword World governments and the Arch Duke's policies of reconnection and resuming trade with them. Others speculated on the change of position and the effect of that promotion on the Vargr outlook to him and those who served Regina.

From there, the discussions on the appointment devolved while other threads covered speculation on Aiden and the crew, on the ceremonies surrounding the establishment of the Domain and other topics. This continued from "universe shaking issues" all the way down to notices saying, "My ship's got a contract and I need a crew, do you wanna make some cash?" Much of this was 'every day' communications on the forums. As Aiden searched through the many forums, it took him all the way through to lunch to get a handle on the forums. As he considered what to eat, Aali returned and she and Emkir decided to step off the ship to grab chow. Aiden decided to stay aboard to eat, and started to prepare a meal. As he worked, the ship's comms buzzed and Aiden answered, "Sable Addix, can I help you?", the voice on the other end identified himself as a member of the Arch-Duke's office and asked to speak to Scout Radetsky!

Aiden surprised the caller by saying "Speaking" and the man got out a pleased "Wonderful!" as he recovered and continued. "Squire Radetsky, we've been informed that the Arch Duke needs you to take part in a meeting that is being organized with the Grand Duchess Delphine's office. They are asking that you present yourself at 2:30 this afternoon, at the Grand Duchess' court." Aiden's initial internal thought was, "Oh Shit!", especially as the representative sounded very cheery. What makes the higher ups cheery was rarely good for the lower echelons in Aiden's experience. When Aiden asked about suggested attire, he was told formal civilian was the best way to go. When Aiden asked about getting to the court, he was told the Arch Duke's office would send a car and Aiden had to contemplate how nicely this box had been tied with a bow and all.

Aiden asked who else was being asked to present themselves and it was confirmed they just wanted him, leading to another internal "Oh Shit!". He was told he could bring an entourage of one, which person would not officially enter court with him. Once the call ended, and Aiden realized he had to present himself in just under three hours, he wondered what he could and could not say in court while he got Mikah on the comms. He told her about the summons and she, fighting off the urge to break out laughing, first only said, "Well, have fun. Don't get arrested." Joking back, Aiden said he'd try not to implicate her in treason which she said she'd appreciate. After a pause, Mikah asked if they said why he was summoned? Aiden explained the call from the Arch Duke's office. He told her they said he had to appear and could bring an entourage of one. Hearing this, Mikah asked if Emkir was there and Aiden said he and Aali had left the ship for lunch. She said he should have the Admiral be his 'plus one' or go alone if he must. After that call, Aiden called Emkir.

When the Admiral answered, Aiden filled him in and he said he and Aali would be back to the ship in time. Done on the comms, Aiden started getting ready for court. Rather than grabbing food right away, he grabbed his formal wear and put together the best presentation outfit he had. Aiden then went over it with a critical eye, to make sure he could clean it up if needed, before quickly throwing together a meal. As he did this, Aiden heard the news from the Gungnir system as the news played in the background. That added 'yet more joy' to his brand of paranoid outlook. Aiden was just finishing his meal as Aali and Emkir returned from their lunch. Emkir prepared a formal suit, but made sure to wear his executive armor beneath. Once dressed, he wore a belt holster with his 9mm. Aiden chose to go unarmed, making Emkir his unofficial bodyguard too. When Aiden commented on the recent history of shooting, Emkir just smiled and said, "I'll be right behind you" with a big smile. As the two men dressed and prepared to leave, Aali decided to check up on the work done by the base engineers. She concentrated on automated tests of major systems as she didn't know how much time the visit to court would take and she couldn't go with them.

Aali's Return To The Ship And Lunch With Emkir

     When Aali got back to the ship and found Emkir, she asked if the media had figured out the marriage yet? Emkir admitted they hadn't. He told her he'd seen coverage romantically linking Squire Vik with the Marquis who'd chased her the night before. That gave them both a laugh despite the likely reception it would get when Inger heard it. During their broadening segment on the crew, it was laughingly reported they'd been accused of being the 'lead team' sent for the 'Imperial takeover' of the Inthe system'. Mora news personalities made fun of the paranoia in the Inthe system, and made it clear the rumor had been resolved on Inthe. Concerned the romance news 'might' be important, Emkir sparked his comms to call Ms. Vik. At the luncheon, Ms. Vik answered her comms to have Emkir tell her the news had romantically linked her with the Marquis. As Inger responded, Emkir said he thought she should be told, in case the Marquis showed up to surprise her. Inger thanked the Admiral in a flat toned voice that showed she treasured those possibilities. After that call, Emkir asked Aali what she wanted to do for lunch? They decided to hit a place on the base to eat.

Emkir and Aali had settled in a casual dining restaurant on the base and were looking over their menus as Emkir's comms began to buzz. He answered to find it was Aiden, who didn't sound happy. In a good mood himself, Emkir asked, "Did you burn down the ship? What's the matter?" When Aiden explained the summons to Emkir, the Admiral assumed Aiden wanted backup. When Aiden said he did, Emkir agreed and said they'd be back in time. Once he was off the comms, Aali asked what was up and Emkir explained Aiden's request. Emkir said he'd go with Aiden, to help out, change diapers and make nice in general, hoping Aiden would eventually forgive him for shooting the scout in the ass. Aali said it couldn't be much of a grudge if he was calling Emkir for backup. Emkir admitted he felt a bit of a debt. So they spent Cr 40 and enjoyed their lunch before returning to the ship so Emkir could prepare and dress up. As they sat and ate, they were treated to the news broadcasts about events in Gungnir on an in-restaurant vid screen set to a local news channel.

As most of the news was more of the same, the two didn't pay much attention until the broadcast was broken into with breaking news! They listened to the news bulletin about "Baron von Kreden's" 'ramshackle' fleet and the actions in the Sword Worlds. The report continued that the Admiralty were tight lipped on the subject. It was suggested their likely target was the Imperial base in the Lanth system, just jump 2 away. Lanth was a subsector capital and the site of a siege where Imperial forces held and blunted the Sword Worlds invading" fleets, so that seemed most likely. Once announced, the talking heads started breaking it down. The Imperial Navy had already flagged the entire region of space around the Sword Worlds Confederation as well as the partitioned Border Worlds as an Amber Zone. Naval offices were notifying the Merchant community of the hazards even while moving forward fleet elements to hunt down the Baron's fleet.

Any merchants encountering the fleet were advised to flee as best they could, and report any contact to Imperial communications networks as soon as able. As they listened, Emkir criticized the Sword Worlders as "armed and crazy". Aali sadly nodded her head and quipped, "Easily bored, heavily armed and off their medications." As they finished their meal, the couple listened to the talking heads and hired consultants who tagged the news as 'dated and from a distant location'. Emkir and Aali recalled the attack on the Hotel California had happened only three weeks back. But as the server asked if they wanted dessert, they said no, got the check and made a quick return to the ship.

Mikah Get To Be A Normal Person

     As Mikah's lunch went down the drain, things got worse when her comms began to buzz. Getting the crowd back off, saying she needed to take care of business, she answered the comms to find it was Aiden calling about his summons to Court! But once off the comms, Mikah found she couldn't get rid of the tourists, who begged her to join their group. While joining them would mean putting up with their antics, it would also mean she'd get in on half a day following a guide paid for by them, and free to her. So Mikah decided "what the hell" and joined in. While they did fuss, they also soon became used to her. There were those who tried to become friends, and those who tried to stay close, to add to their own self-value, but it was not as bad as it could have been. And the guide often catered to Mikah, asking if she had questions before responding to the others.

In addition, the group now regarded her as "theirs", so Mikah was 'protected' from the rest of the riff raff by this inherited insulation. The worst she really ran into, other than one or two intrusively friendly' tourists, was the guide's habit of asking her if she had anything to add to his observations at any exhibit that was somehow related to the Fifth Frontier War. As if she'd been at every noted site of the war. Still, Mikah was diplomatic in her answers. Of course, when they came to the display discussing Tellona Diamonds, Mikah actually commented on her surprise that it was a holographic display. When Mikah realized she'd made a bit of a show about her disappointment, she flashed the ring Zimzod gave her. As the tour guide realized the significance of the stone, he managed to talk Mikah into doing a "stand-up and talk" about the diamonds and show off her ring.

That lasted ten minutes, and Mikah managed to finish up by announcing that her good friend and crewmate Sir Zimzod was selling a full-sized diamond in the Rhylanor system. She didn't mention the sale was over at that point as it didn't matter to her reputation building. By dinner-time, Mikah ended up signing something for everyone in the group. They also eventually took a group picture, which they were able to bump to her Ident without her having to give them her comms information or access. As a thank you, the group chipped in to buy her a Cr 75 Holographic "Collection book" including all the current displays. The guide inscribed the book in thanks for her elevating the experience of his tour group. By the end of the tour, it was dinner time and Mikah was ready to return to the ship. But before she did, there was the obligatory trip through the gift shop, packed with rare and valuable stones of every kind. And what they didn't have on display could be retrieved from "the mines", as some past manager had 'cleverly' named the stock room.

And while there were stones Mikah would have liked to own, she would not have killed for any of them. Ironically, she also saw an ad for Hunde & Edestein, LLC, whose flyer she'd received shortly after her arrival in the Rhylanor system. She especially liked the section of their flyer on "Love" and "Hate" stones, made from the compressed carbon of your loved ones, or enemy's, cremated remains. The service even advertised a "retrieval team". Mikah eventually didn't buy anything more as she left to find a moderately priced restaurant. The 'sit down' restaurant was an average place for the work-a-day Morans, so once she identified herself, there was only a small display of additional courtesy as they were used to nobility. That was not to say Mikah was not treated to her station, but she was treated like any other of the many 'Ladies of the Court' in the Sector Capital, including a free dessert from the restaurant.

The Border News Reaches Port Offices

     After Ms. Vik got done with the call from Emkir, she began exchanging thanks with the Director when a junior comms tech rushed into the room. As the man made the necessary excuses, he handed the Director a datapad and waited. As the Aslan read the data, Ms. Vik's best guess was that he scowled. Looking up, he said the party would have to wait, and asked Ms. Vik to come with him as he investigated "what this is all about?" As he ordered everyone back to their stations, the Director led Inger into the central offices comms section and growled, "Show Me!" Despite the mystery, Inger had to be impressed with his command of Galanglic, for a being with the mouth of a lion and all. In the port's central offices, the techs acted on their Director's orders as a large screen lit up with an obvious repeat of a news broadcast. As the report played out, they all learned of the news from the Gungnir system and Ms. Vik saw techs at various stations, spreading the warning to "all ships and stations". Others were working to push a new feed to the outer rings of satellites which would track and greet arriving traffic.

Both Ms. Vik and the Director knew about reports from the Imperial Navy, like those that were likely arriving in his email at the moment. Those in vessel and spacer support and relations were already dealing with panicked captains, concerned the insurance costs for operating their ships had already been raised. While the Mora system was not in the declared Amber Zone, there would still be a great deal of work from that quarter as clauses in every starship insurance policy bumped up the cost of even entering space so designated. Those not dealing with traders or handling direct response activities were being briefed on their expected roles as part of crisis response teams. Almost comedically, once the situation was known and the teams were responding, they stepped down from 'crisis mode' and many returned to the buffet with Inger. That eventually led to the promised tour of the port, though Inger did manage to clear it with the Director so she could work as an independent, helping deal with ships and crews that had issues if needed.

Before she left, Ms. Vik had her Ident updated, as a supernumerary with permission to offer merchant support. By just after 2pm, the tour was over and Inger was leaving as those who'd shown her around got back to their jobs. Before leaving, Ms. Vik asked for a list of ships in distress that might need her help. The junior admins said they'd check into a list for her as they didn't want her running into active work in-progress with port officials. Inger had to recognize that Mora was not as out of control as the Risek port had been, and in many ways more controlled than Rhylanor. So there might be fewer major issues than at the previous ports. As they said they could send her what data they had, they detailed a port car to her and she had the driver take her back to the ship. When Ms. Vik arrived there, she found there was an official looking vehicle in the berth. As she looked closer, she could see the driver was wearing the colors of Grand Duchess Delphine!

Aiden And Inger Change Places

     As Ms. Vik considered Delphine's car and driver in the berth, she knocked on the driver's window and asked if she could help? The driver said he was just waiting for Squire Radetsky in a friendly and professional tone. Trying to understand the sudden twist reality handed her, Inger unintentionally interrupted the driver to say, "OK", largely to help keep control of her expression. Undisturbed by the comment, the driver finished, "...and his entourage." Once more, Ms. Vik could only get out, "Ok...." Recovering her mental footing, Inger said she'd check and see if he was ready? Inside the ship, Emkir and Aiden were cleaning up and getting dressed when the call came from the base gate that the car arrived.

As Emkir dressed, he considered the gold, opal and ruby cufflinks from the Quasar Viper. He'd known he'd have to present the Arch Duke 'something' in thanks for officiating at the wedding and felt these would be a proper and unique gift. So he planned to look for an appropriate gift box later that day. Both men were almost ready when they heard Ms. Vik's voice on the all ship saying, "I don't know where you guys are but your ride's here." She couldn't help giggle as she finished on the comms. As Aiden and Emkir headed for the air lock, Inger asked, "Where are you going? In case you don't come back." Aiden told her quickly in a glum voice that the Arch Duke's office told him he was being summoned into the Grand Duchess' office. When Inger asked, "Why you?”, Aiden admitted he had no idea.

At the ship, Aali reviewed the work of the base engineers once the men were off to court. With the news playing in the background, she forsook the engineering computer to do manual checks. This was both because she preferred to be through, and because she was just burning time. The only computer work she did was to check Wall-e's report. There were some edits, where it rescheduled those tasks the human engineers had handled to be repeated the next time they came due on a rotating schedule. Having an idea how court business could play, Aali knew the men could be back after dinner if the news was somehow incredibly good, and she'd learn quickly from the news feed if bad news was going to keep them past dinner.

Zimzod's Plan B

     By the end of lunch, things had cooled quite a bit between Ninnoma and Zimzod. Her shift was likely due to the attention he'd paid to the sea life instead of her. Zimzod had changed his mind as he realized her view of the universe was very different than his. At her suggestion, they wrapped up the meal to go back to the beach and boarded a car back to the shore. As they rode, and Zimzod continued watching the outside, Ninnoma got a call, and after a brief conversation, told Zimzod plans had changed and she had to get back to her work. Once ashore, they rode a taxi to the villa so she could grab the things she'd left and even called a car while on the way. So that car arrived as Zimzod let her in to pick up her things and she got moving. When the Knight suggested they have another date in a place he was more accustomed to, she said, "Sure! I'll call you." in a tone that assured him he shouldn't wait by the comms. Of course, because she was too high maintenance for Zimzod's tastes, he did his best to hide the smile as the bullet he dodged stepped into her taxi and left.

All said and done, the lunch cost Zimzod Cr 500, including the taxies. So he was left him to slip into his loudest and most colorful Hawaiian shirt and go to one of the many bars on the property. As he walked, Zimzod idly considered figuring out where the Hawaii system was someday, and visit to get louder shirts. He spent some time with those looking, not looking or so drunk they had no idea what they were doing. The bar band played relaxing music while he watched barely covered women swim in a bar-side pool, nursed his drinks and eyed them. He also got his share of attention, being the new slab of meat on the local market. He'd gained value because he'd been seen with Ninnoma, and her looks spoke to his ability to attract women. This made attracting Zimzod a bit more of a sport as some women even knew who he was. The first serious "nibble" he got was a nice-looking lady who asked where his date was?

When Zimzod said they were just friends, the lady asked if they were from the same system? When he said he wasn't, she used that opening to ask about him and his past? And as Zimzod told stories, she smiled, laughed and "ooh'd" at all the appropriate points and even leaned closer in appreciation as she gave him close ups of her curves. Zimzod got some questions in as well, and saw she was just 'on vacation' and looking for adventure. As he got more questions in, Zimzod learned she actually worked for the company that ran the resort. The company let employees earn cut rate vacations to their high value resorts. This made sure resorts always looked popular with a tourist population while the employees got rewards but were warned against overdoing things, or misbehaving. The Knight didn't have to wonder as any hospitality worker wouldn't get another job if they embarrassed their employer. This also improved Zimzod's outlook, telling him she was not looking for ownership papers. And as one thing led to another, they ended the afternoon in Zimzod's villa enjoying those activities Ninnoma had less interest in.

Aiden's Day In Court

     As they got into the car sent for them, Aiden asked Emkir how to handle himself in the Duchess' court? Emkir said there'd be a protocol officer to guide him through that once they arrived and checked in. That officer would explain everything from "stoop to nuts". When Aiden looked confused at the phrase, Emkir explained the stoop would be where Aiden sat begging, and the nuts would be where they kicked him. As Aiden fretted against the unknown, Emkir comforted him by pointing out they hadn't been in-system long enough to misbehave. This didn't help Aiden as they rode in a very well-appointed vehicle whose interior decor encouraged them not to make the fabrics dirty as they must be very hard to clean. The message was that Delphine was very much in control. But it also suggested she didn't expect blood. In the car, at least.

The car "lifted", turning out to be a personal air raft, so the trip was only five minutes long and they landed in a reserved air services field for the Duchesses' people. As Emkir said, when they settled, a protocol officer was waiting to greet them. he greeted Aiden as "Squire" and Emkir as Admiral. Since the man's job was protocol, Emkir didn't miss the act, even if he wasn't sure of the reason? As he pondered that, Aiden was told he was already on the docket and he and his entourage could proceed into the central Court to find seats. Once his name was called, he would enter court to be greeted by the Grand Duchess and respond if invited to do so. Like Mikah and Zimzod, he was told not to speak unless invited to and had the process of a court appearance explained the same way it was explained to the Knights.

As he stood by Aiden, Emkir noted their unhappy glances at his side arm, but said nothing. This said they didn't like it but accepted that he had the right to wear it. Already verbally separated from "the talent", as Aiden was catered to, they obviously decided to ignore what they didn't want to turn into an issue. As the two men sat and watched, the court business was actually very positive, even including a Lady's elevation to the Court of Mora for service to the system and its population. Finally, Aiden's name was called and he entered the court bowing to the Grand Duchess. Once he was before her, Delphine greeted him. Having been invited by the greeting, Aiden replied, "It's a pleasure to be here Your Grace."

Continuing, Delphine said, "We have, since your arrival in-system, become quite aware of the many contributions you and your crew have made to the Imperium. Regarding you in particular, we have become aware of your service aboard the ISS Tracking Star." This added stunning context to Aiden's view of the summons to court. The Tracking Star was the S-class scout vessel he'd served on during the battle of Caladbolg! And it had been much in the recent news. The Duchess continued, "We are also aware that the Squadron and Wing that you were a member of was designated by Emperor Strephon for special recognition. Sadly, that award has not yet been personally delivered to all those veterans who were due the award. So it is our great pleasure that we can invite you into court to award you the Unit Citation for the Medal for Conspicuous Gallantry."

As the universe suddenly started to make more sense to Aiden, he was able to relax a bit as the Duchess continued, "We are well pleased with your presence, the Imperium is blessed with your service. With your arrival in the system, we have also had the chance to look over your record, and that of the crew you serve with. We feel quite pleased with the service you continue to provide to the Imperium, safe guarding its people and serving its government. And therefore, we think you deserve further recognition, both for your service and your gallantry. This is reinforced by you continued service with grace and courage in civilian life, beyond the end of your military commitment. Therefore, We, Delphine, Grand Duchess of the Spinward Marches, have decided to create you a Knight of the Imperium."

And just as he was feeling he might survive this experience, Aiden legs went rigid and shock took over. The reaction was further strengthened when the Duchess said that, were it in her power, she would have awarded him the Starburst for Extreme Heroism!! As the Duchess spoke, her Herald held up various items. First, the "Document of Award" granting him the right to add the unit citation to the MCG ribbon he'd won on his own. This 'college diploma' like award document was framed as a gift, even though Aiden was not specifically named in the document, just the unit he was a member of. As the Patent of Nobility was displayed, Delphine stated she'd spoken to the Arch Duke and reached out to the offices of Duke Leonard in-system, and secured their support so Arch Duke Norris has allowed confirmation under his authority. This was political position-posturing at its best, following on the heels of Mikah and Zimzod's confirmations.

In addition to the military decoration, Aiden was also made aware of his rights as a newly created Knight. Like the others, Grand Duchess Delphine granted him an Imperial stipend of Cr 10,000. As a gift, Delphine granted Aiden the rank "Scout Commander", which gave him influence in noble courts. Finally, at his leisure before they left the system, Aiden could visit the Duchess' personal arms maker to have a custom-made weapon of his choice created! That last gift nearly floored both Aiden and Emkir, who almost lost it despite being seated. Despite the thrill of the gift, there was also a chill as to how well it appeared the Duchess knew Aiden. As if to prove the point, the Duchess made a final comment that, based on the late-night activities of his crew, he might want to update his wardrobe to match his new station! Aiden could only guess that was a jab at his original intent to rent a tux for Aali and Emkir's wedding! And while it was said with a sparkle in her eyes, it showed the bared teeth of a very well-oiled research and support staff.

When Delphine finally nodded to him saying, "Congratulations Sir Aiden Radetsky." Aiden responded, "As always, it is an honor to serve, Your Grace." And with that, the Herald took over, announcing the awards and largess granted by the Emperor and the Grand Duchess. As he carefully bowed and backed out of the court, Aiden was intercepted by the same protocol officer who'd met him at the landing pad. The man handed Aiden a datapad as well as the framed documents. The datapad contained all the information on the weapon-smith and the gift weapon. And with that, Aiden escaped court to rejoin a very stunned Emkir. As he rose, Emkir admitted he was jealous about the weapon gift, and asked if Aiden was going to go for something short barred with a big bore? But the talk was done on the move as they were escorted back to the landing pad. There, Aiden was given the gift of use of Her Grace's car with a driver until he returned to his ship that day.

As Emkir joked about taking a road trip, or heading to the officer's club, Aiden finally said he could use a drink. When Emkir cheered about getting drunk, Aiden was emphatic that he just wanted one drink, despite the Admiral pointing out they had a designated driver. As he agreed to a limited drink run, Emkir asked if Aiden was buying? They both laughed as Aiden agreed to the officer's club, asking if Emkir meant the Navy or Scout Officer's Club? Emkir again pushed for a road trip, having the driver take them to the Scout base to get Aiden's "Carbuncle". But Aiden shot that down, reminding Emkir the Arch Duke had already "blessed" his visit two days from then. So they agreed to hit the Naval officer's club for their "drink". On the way, Aiden and Emkir did stop at a jewelry shop, where Emkir spent Cr 10 on a box for the cufflinks he planned to give to the Arch Duke.

Entering the bar, they had to prove their credentials as they weren't in uniform. When the transaction played across the bar's network, the bar tender saw it and rang the bell for a celebrity, announcing the new Knight's first drink was on the house. As it was announced, there were cheers all around. When Aiden was asked what his pleasure was, he ordered a "low powered" drink and planned to shift to soft drinks afterwards. Of course, in a politically polarized system such as Mora, many of the officers present discretely picked up hand comps to learn more before stepping on the wrong toes. The better connected they were, the more confused they became, learning Aiden was not only Knighted by the Grand Duchess but was a member of the Arch Duke's personal entourage, as was the Admiral at his side! Ironically, as they entered, they found Rol had been 'holding a court' of his own with a core group of officers, trading stories of their service. When the bell rang and the congratulations were announced, Rol looked for the new Knight.

He could plainly see Aiden had entered, looking like some sort of antelope caught in headlights, while Emkir appeared to be trying to guide him to the bar for drinks. But no one else had apparently entered the bar, so Rol was confused. As some of those around Rol proved themselves 'there for the connections' by moving for a more significant political association, Rol's confusion slowly turned to astonished surprise as he realized the Knight was Aiden! As he got up to join Emkir and Aiden, and get to the bottom of things, Rol explained to Commander Giirshuk that the two were his crew mates. That confused Giirshuk. Rol didn't have time to explain how it was possible his crew mate could be made a Knight without him being present at the award ceremony or being aware of it. As Emkir and Aiden were getting their first round of drinks, Rol approached asking what was up? Emkir told him they were celebrating the newest 'Imperial' Knight, stressing the word Imperial.

When Rol asked if it was Emkir, he was told it wasn't and admitted to having been a bit worried beforehand. As Emkir pointed to Aiden, the pilot stuttered out a basic list of the earlier events. Rol offered his congratulations as his own stock rose in the eyes of those officers in the bar, as a friend of the new Knight. In the next hour, some active service officers who were also knights joined in the conversation as Rol's plans changed and he participated as 'one of the celebrities'. While all were congratulatory to both Aiden and Rol, those who won their knighthoods in the Fifth Frontier War were more appreciative than those holding hereditary titles.

While there was talk of the varying actions for which some of them were knighted, no one wanted to compete with the Battle of Caladbolg. Ironically agreeing with the Grand Duchess, some were surprised that Aiden hadn't been knighted sooner, given the magnitude of his actions. Eventually, Emkir's bill came to Cr 20, Rol's to Cr 25 and, while his choice of soft drinks got him some looks, the bar didn't bill Aiden for any drinks. Aiden did tip the bar jar Cr 15. After Aiden and Emkir were there an hour, the three went back to the ship as it got close to dinner time.

Gathering For Dinner And Planning

     After Emkir and Aiden left, and while Aali worked in engineering, Ms. Vik stayed with the ship, to keep an eye out in case they needed some kind of support or even rescue. She changed from the suit into casual cloths and watched the news. As she waited for the breaking news or a distress call, Inger reviewed her best understanding of her survivability in combat and decided an armor upgrade might be in order? she logged into the system network and checked her options. She saw both sealed and unsealed combat armor, with all sorts of add on's like camouflage surfacing, etc. She even saw a few sites dealing in Battledress, though she realized she'd need to seek permission from one of the various senior patrons they'd been doing work for in order to even start raising the money to buy a suit. And that didn't even begin to cover the training needed to operate in battledress.

Because it was "in her wheelhouse", Ms. Vik also checked into security innovations for business suits. She found the cloth-armor suit she had was pretty much the best civilian combat protection. Thought there were a number of different fashions in "techno-Suits". These 'head to toe' technical garments had built-in goodies and systems allowing the modern executive to interface completely with the technical universe around them. Once she realized a suit wouldn't be the way to go, Ms. Vik spent some time looking into third-party combat armor augmentation. She found they could be kludgey, and there were even reviews saying some were hazardous. But some were well reviewed and even not very expensive. Once Inger decided she wanted sealed, self-sealing combat armor the top result in her search was the local Instel-Arms outlet. After researching until folks started returning to the ship for dinner, Inger compared pricing and augments.

She saw she wasn't well enough trained in combat armor, so she decided she'd see if she could set things up the next day to shop with either Rol or Zimzod? Eventually, as it got close to dinner time, Emkir, Aiden and Rol returned to the ship. When they arrived, Aali secured her work as the Emkir filled her and Ms. Vik in on Aiden being knighted. They tuned in on those news outlets with a more political bent, rather than the general mayhem Aali and Inger had been listening to. As expected, they started hearing discussions of Aiden's elevation. The most entertaining thing about watching the broadcasts were that the so-called experts had no data to use in making sense of the event. So they had to either take the Duchess at her words or better read into the tea leaves available to them. The leading line of logic suggested this was the beginning of increased tensions between the Arch Duke and Grand Duchess as he ordered her to reward one of 'his minions' or be punished. When Ms. Vik asked why Delphine knighted him, Aiden first joked about being shot by Emkir.

Then he explained Caladbolg, showing off the plaque given him for the Unit MCG, and briefly explained the battle. When Inger asked, "Who knew?" Aiden said they'd just gotten back themselves and were not aware if anyone else had been told. When she heard that, Inger said it would be very interesting when the other knights were told. Aiden expected sarcasm and derision. As Emkir called the Arch Duke's office for any updates, Rol started cooking. They were relaxing as Zach arrived to the tail end of a report the Grand Duchess had "created a Knight of the Imperium today." As he tried to listen for further information, Zach realized he'd missed the report. Seeing the others in the crew lounge, he asked who Delphine Knighted? As Ms. Vik giggled, Emkir pointed and Aiden simply raised his hand in silence. What followed was a comedic exchange as Zach slowly realized they were serious. The merchant began sputtering congratulations as he dealt with the shock.

Once more, Aiden was obliged to explain why he was knighted as Zach asked obvious questions. Elsewhere, as she ate in a restaurant, Mikah was hearing rumors of something significant happening at court but just dismissed it. As the crew finished dinner at the ship, and Zimzod enjoyed his "date", Mikah finished eating and returned to the ship. After dinner, Rol cleaned up before hitting his stateroom for some calisthenics. Ms. Vik returned to researching armor to buy. "Sir" Aiden decided to ask Ms. Vik about fashions and clothes. As Zach overheard, he joined in as Ms. Vik suggested they could do a shopping expedition the next day. At dinner, Emkir had told Aali about giving the Arch Duke the cufflinks. Not only did he want to give the Arch Duke a gift worthy of his station, but it further "fail safed" items taken from the Quasar Viper. But once dinner was over, the couple headed for their stateroom for some fun behind closed doors.

Once done, Mikah hired a car for Cr 10, to return to the ship. As she arrived, she found Aiden, Zach and Ms. Vik discussing something in the crew lounge and didn't see signs of Rol, Emkir, Aali or Zimzod. After she and Ms. Vik exchanged greetings, Mikah said she had been looking forward to inheriting Aiden's gear in a disappointed voice and asked what happened with Duchess Delphine? She sounded very put out as she suggested she expected the Grand Duchess to have had Aiden killed. In the same stuttering and halting manner he had with the others, Aiden explained he had been knighted, while holding out his Ident as proof. In a voice dripping with approval that his status dwarfed Rol's, Mikah sarcastically asked at the same time why anyone thought he deserved the honor?

Emkir stepped in, announcing Aiden was an actual war hero and Zach said, "another war hero". When Mikah asked if he'd receive his final blow, referring to the last blow a knight received unanswered, Aiden stepped back and said she hadn't hit him but slapped him verbally, commenting on his wardrobe. As they discussed his clothing, Mikah agreed with the others that Aiden should get three to four formal suits. The idea to return to the place that made their tuxedoes the night before came up. As they were agreeing on this, the ship's comms buzzed. When Mikah answered, it was a message from the IISS announcing there was a message for the crew of the Hotel California. The written message was the first update from Rhylanor following them. From two days after they'd left the system, this message confirmed Sir Brian Montgomery had been killed in the attack. The message said the death was being made public and a day of mourning would be held there. As they read, they realized this would now be in the hands of the local media too, yet another item to add to the circus. This reminded them of the possessions Sir Brian left, which they still had to deal with.

Dealing With Brian's Leftovers

     Sir Brian's estate included an account at Cr 10,597 along with a number of weapons. Mikah called dibbs on his laser carbine with power pack. That left his .45 with some ammo and a laser sword with power pack. In addition, they had his combat armor, which Rol assured them could not be used whole by any of the crew but could be used as spare parts. A special "gem" in his possessions was Brian's collection of 20 extremely old antique volumes, mostly readable, but with some in languages long forgotten. There was also the "Dawson's Christian" vid-chip from the mid-900's, which IRIS had let Brian keep from the Quasar Viper treasures and the Purple Heart and Combat Service Ribbon from the Imperial Navy. Ironically, given Aiden's woes, some of his clothes were left including a Cr 4,000 Tuxedo. Zach piped up that he'd be interested in the books and chip.

One other asset they had to deal with were the stock holdings in the Dankunlig Trading Line. Back in Rhylanor, they had risen in value to Cr 43,000. While Brian had worked with a broker in Rhylanor, they could connect with a broker in the Mora system to deal with them. Making the first official action, Mikah transferred Cr 10,000 of the funds left into her account to cover what Brian owed her. She dumped the rest into ship's funds. As they reviewed his belongings, the ship's comms rang again.

When Mikah answered, she saw a comms tech in Duchess Delphine's colors who asked her to hold for the Grand Duchess! When Delphine came on the screen, it was with a solemn face as she greeted Lady Mikah and offered her condolences on the loss of Sir Brian. Pulling together all of her diplomatic skills, Mikah thanked Delphine, saying it meant a lot from someone in her esteemed position. As she played for sympathy, saying how much they all missed Brian, Aiden was the only one who couldn't keep a straight face. After that, the Duchess pledged anything she or her staff could do to help with the loss and ended the call as the crew asked who gave "her" their number?

Preparing For the Next Day's Work

     On the heels of that call, Arch Duke Norris called Mikah's personal comms. This was a call she wanted even though it was about Brian. Norris admitted his office had learned the news two days before, which they knew from his comments at the dinner. And he was aware they'd been told unofficially before they left Rhylanor. When Norris offered the help of his staff if they needed it, Mikah asked if it would be proper to have a small memorial in Mora or should they wait until returning to Rhylanor? Norris said that would be appropriate and told her the crew would be needed for two events the next day. He also said there would be a meeting in between, which they'd accompany him to because they'd be traveling with him. After that meeting, Norris said they could call a press conference to make a small statement and hold a brief ceremony. As Mikah confirmed with the Arch Duke that he'd need the entire crew, Zach heard and pointedly told Aiden they were going out for a new suit, "Now!"

Aiden finally sat back laughing and said they could get all four at the scanner place. Once the call was over, Mikah agreed it was time to take Aiden shopping as she called Zimzod. And her timing was spot on as Zimzod rolled off the body of the girl who's name he'd not bothered to learn. As they breathed heavily and started to recover yet again, they heard his comms go off and he answered without a comment to his girl toy. When Zimzod answered, Mikah opened with "Hey Sweetie" in a saccharine-sweet voice full of humor, guessing she'd interrupted him at something. He happily answered back, "How you doin' there sunshine?" After the greetings, Mikah told him he'd have to be back at the ship the next day because the Arch Duke needed them. When Zimzod asked, Mikah told him it was official business. Once Zimzod said he'd be there by 8am, Mikah told him they had another Imperial Knight on the crew! When Zimzod asked who, she said "You'll never guess". Zimzod just said "You're right." When she taunted him to guess, he suggested Ms. Vik?

As Mikah spoke to Zimzod, Ms. Vik decided she needed a new black suit. When Zach asked her if she was gonna get a little black dress, she brushed the comment off as Rol asked if black was specifically for mourning in her culture? Inger pointed out there wasn't actually a limit on wearing black at funerals or otherwise, as Aiden started to suggest the crew could use this new event to help wreck the press. When the others half-interestedly asked him what he was talking about, he said that, with his elevation, with the wedding, the Arch Duke's events and now the funeral, they could give the press a hangover for the next weeks.

On the comms, Mikah told Zimzod Aiden had been knighted. Zimzod tried to figure out if there was some kind of joke going on he couldn't see and asked Mikah for the punch line? She assured him not only that it was no joke, but told him Duchess Delphine was the one who knighted him. She then told Zimzod Delphine hadn't given Aiden the 'last buffet', letting Zimzod realize for himself that he'd get to do it. Mikah then told Zimzod the news about Brian was public, and there'd be a memorial the next day. when Zimzod asked if he could bring a date, Mikah said she was sure the date would be OK for anything pubic, but she wouldn't be invited to all the private stuff they'd be doing. Once Mikah made it clear they'd be with the Arch Duke the entire time, as part of his team, Zimzod realized he couldn't invite the girl along.

So as the call ended, he asked her if she as hungry? When she said she was, Zimzod started to call the underwater restaurant to make reservations as she asked about the call she'd half heard? Especially the 'bring a date' part. When he brushed it off as business, she was disappointed and a bit ashamed as she asked if she had to leave? But when Zimzod said she didn't have to leave "today", she brightened up and said, "Let's go to dinner" as Zimzod got through to the resort reservations hot-line for the underwater restaurant. Knowing it was likely to coast another Cr 500, Zimzod hoped this girl would actually appreciate the place. He certainly hoped she'd get her body's worth as much as he'd already gotten.

As the crew began preparing to shop for Aiden's new clothes, Ms. Vik announced she needed help shopping for combat armor and Zach suggested Sir Rol. When Ms. Vik asked for help, Rol, who'd rejoined the group after his workout, agreed to go shopping with her before the wedding, three days from then. After that, Mikah went back to Aali and Emkir's stateroom to bang on the door and let them know the crew was going shopping. Aali hit the comms stud on the door panel and Mikah said they'd be with the Arch Duke all the next day. "So", she continued, "we're heading out to shop for clothes for Aiden and black outfits for the memorial since" Brian's death was confirmed. Considering the event, Aali and Emkir decided to get dressed join them. Once the lovers got dressed, the crew headed out to buy Aiden new clothes, and for Ms. Vik to get a black suit.

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Next: Dressing Up And Being Flunkies