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Last Updated    October 12 2017
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The Ride To Marital
     Bliss


Zach's New Mission

     Aboard the Sable Addix, most of the crew were relaxing as Ms. Vik asked about the upcoming wedding? She was surprised to be told the Arch Duke had planned much of it and no one really knew any details. Not even Emkir or Aali. This brought up roles, and Aali formally asked Ms. Vik to be the Maid of Honor? Inger accepted, and joined Rol as Best man. Mikah was asked to give away the bride as captain of the ship? As they talked, they knew Emkir had invited Admiral Fhazkoe, and that a vehicle would be sent to pick them up at 9am the morning of the wedding. But that was it.

As the others relaxed, Aiden, Emkir and Aali planned for the trip to the IISS base the next day. They agreed it was a milk run, and that they should just relax and enjoy the trip as much as possible. Beyond that, there was no way to control what was going to happen so they could only hold on and ride along.

After he got back to the ship, Zach started going over his emails and contacts. Time passed as he checked names against the news and other data sources, to see what kind of businesses and associates they were connected to? About 10pm, Zach's comms buzzed and he answered to find it was coming in from the Seneschal's office. When Zach asked how he could help the caller, he was told they wanted to talk to him at the wedding. Saying "Ok", with a tone that invited the caller to say more, the officer said they had invited a number of people to the wedding in Zach's name!

Uncertain how he felt about that, Zach listened as they said they wanted to wire him once he arrived for the wedding. As Zach realized they'd invited a bunch of smugglers and black marketers to the wedding, he asked if it wouldn't have been better to have a party after the wedding, where he could do what they planned? The officer admitted that what Zach suggested would be better, but there was a time issue.

The crew were really only in system until after the wedding. So they had to get this done during the wedding, as people gathered. During the wedding would be bad, and he would have other things he needed to do during the reception. So it was what it was and they needed him to comply. Now that they had that settled, Zach was told the people invited would see this as a sign of his cooperation in their plans. So he was to meet with them as they arrived, and casually pick encourage them to discuss details of the crimes they had suggested during the expo. Once they were on holographic recording, Zach's data could stand as his testimony and they could take down those Zach had fingered.

When Zach became uncomfortable with the idea they'd arrest those targeted as while people were still arriving, the officer promised they'd do it discretely. Somehow, Zach wasn't convinced and, when he protested, they assured him it would be done carefully. After he accepted that, Zach was told about the schedule to wire him up. He was told he'd be brought in to be set up once at the wedding. After that was done, Zach tried to do some information fishing about those traders he felt were worth helping. He was told they were working on the data, nothing more. So after the call ended, Zach got to consider his new secret mission.

After the call, Zach considered Captain Shegilo, of Open Skies, and how it seemed he'd given up the fight. Zach wanted to reach out to the man and, at least, try to make a connection. When Zach finally got his comms link off the merchant feed and called, the man took the call, but was not friendly. He only took it to find out what it was that Zach wanted? When Zach invited him to lunch, Shegilo said he wasn't interested. When Zach pushed, Shegilo admitted that it was clear Zach had done well for himself, but had not done any good at all for anyone else. The comment was said in a tone that made it clear there was more left unsaid.

Still, Zach pushed and Shegilo finally asked what reason he had to listen to Zach? Being direct, Zach said he just wanted to talk, and it was a free lunch. He wanted a chance to at least tell his side of the story. To explain what he was allowed to discuss, as he stressed the word "allowed". Zach made it clear there were still layers and he was not in control. He also played on his history with the company, having spent years with the firm and having made friends there. Despite his misgivings, Shegilo agreed to meet Zach but made a point of confirming that Zach was paying. Zach pulled a list of decent to better-than-average places and gave Shegilo an address to meet the next day for lunch.

The Joy Of A Woman

     At her room in the resort, Zimzod was relaxing with his lady friend, Shisema and asked her about coming to the wedding? She was surprised, and a bit concerned. If the Nobility reacted badly to her being there, she'd not only be out a job but have trouble finding any work in the system. She risked being blackballed and forced to leave Mora entirely! At first, Zimzod didn't take it seriously but eventually called Mikah, to ask her if it would be appropriate for him to bring her as a date? Mikah was relaxing when he called, and she ribbed Zimzod over their being engaged. Zimzod shot back that he wouldn't tell if she didn't and they moved past the gag. Mikah got the girl's information and told Zimzod she'd call the Arch Duke's office, check and get back to him.

Once connected and bounced to an actual deputy in the Seneschalate, Mikah asked her question and got the last reaction she was prepared for. The usually smooth response, even if it was to buy time, was replaced with a blank stare of surprise, making it obvious this was the last question anyone expected from the crew. Eventually getting back in gear, the deputy told her to hold on while he escalated the question to someone who would be able to answer it. And as time passed, Mikah considered the significance of his use of the word "escalate"?

Eventually, a Seneschalate officer came on the line and told Mikah the question was "interesting". He then said he was going to investigate the question and get back to her. In the background, Ms. Vik, who'd overheard enough to get a jist of what was going on, said it appeared to be a good thing they asked. With that, the call ended and Mikah returned to relaxing. About twenty minutes later, Mikah's comms buzzed and she answered to find herself talking to the Arch Duke. Surprised, Mikah greeted His Grace and she said she hoped the call wasn't about Zimzod's date?

Her heart fell as he said that's exactly why he was calling. Despite her fears, Norris continued to explain that his local staff had not considered his aims in officiating at the wedding. As he reminded Mikah about his intent to appeal to the common citizen, he said that excluding a guest simply because she was working-class would cut against everything he was trying to achieve. So he told Mikah she could say he personally welcomed Ms. Nagaak to attend, so long as she followed all the rules and restrictions set in place for any event in which the Arch Duke took part. After thanking the Arch Duke, they ended the call and she called Zimzod, who had returned to his favorite activities with Shisema.

As Mikah told Zimzod Shisema was able to come, Shisema started considering her needs for a gown and hair appointment. Mikah also reminded Zimzod they had to be at the ship by 9am, so the Arch Duke's transport could pick them up. Once done on the phone, Zimzod told Shisema they needed to go out and get her a gown. As it took him less time to dress, Zimzod was able to call the resort concierge and ask about a shop while Shisema was still cleaning up and getting dressed. Zimzod wasn't surprised to learn they had such a shop on-property but was surprised when asked if he wanted staff to come to them, at a slight surcharge, or if they wanted to go to the shop? Zimzod said they'd go to the shop and got directions.

Once at the shop, the staff asked how they could help and Zimzod asked for pricing on a "nice formal gown" for his girlfriend? Of course, the staff needed more details before they could simply spec out a generic gown and Zimzod simply said, "it's for a high-end wedding." Having opened that door, the staff now knew they had to ask more questions. They needed to sort out the many possible factions and pitfalls depending on who the "high-end" bride and groom were? Or were related to? When Zimzod kept his description to a "moderately up-scale wedding", the staff confirmed Shisema wasn't the bride. Once that was done, Zimzod found himself sidelined as the staff worked with Shisema on the gown. Knowing her future was governed by preventing even the smallest faux pas, Shisema was much more up front about who's wedding she was attending, and the Nobility known or likely to be attending.

After an hour or more of scanning Shisema and consulting on fashions and fabrics, the staff came up with presentations for a gown Zimzod had to admit was stunning. But he was more concerned with "how much?" When Zimzod was asked if he agreed the proposed gown was stunning, he approached the question of cost by asking "how stunning?" They did the math, adding in the accessories, shoes and other items before forecasting a cost of KCr 12 to KCr 13. Zimzod decided to negotiate, asking if they could go KCr 10 on the package? Wary of the offer, they asked for Zimzod's Ident. But once it was put in the system, the salesperson handling the transaction froze and the manager looked over his shoulder.

Only now realizing who Zimzod was, the manager agreed to Zimzod's price. And in that minute, Zimzod realized that the second they left the shop, the manager was very likely to call the media to cash in on their piece of the spotlight. While he did realize this, Zimzod had only two thoughts which were both happy. First, some reporters would there while he'd be somewhere else. Second, the coverage of him and his Commoner girlfriend would further the Arch Duke's plans to show the average citizen that the nobility are the same as they were.

For her part, Shisema was ecstatic. The gown Zimzod had bought her was worth nearly a year's income! And as the shop workers and Shisema worked out the details with his Ident, Zimzod was already thinking to the next step. Eventually, he discussed with Shisema visiting a salon for her hair and they decided to do that the next evening, after dinner. After that, she took Zimzod back to her room and thanked him for the rest of the night in a way that highlighted real emotion over short-term fun.


The 'Sir Aiden Inspirational Tour', Part One

     The Scouts woke early and prepared for their day out. Aiden wore in his Dress uniform and packed his LAG for transport because he'd expected sometime on the base's firing range. He also brought his snub pistol. In their stateroom, Aali and Emkir dressed in class-A uniforms. Aali decided to bring her snub pistol with standard rounds. Emkir brought his 9mm revolver. The three of them brought their vacc suit carriers, because being in a space ball was no way to deal with an emergency. While Aali and Aiden brought their own, Emkir brought one of the spares from the ship as "his" suit was still at Frank's Armory, and his spare suit was part of the trade in deal.

Eventually, as they prepared, a warning came from the base gate that their ride had arrived. As they stepped from the ship to the bay, the grav car settled down and the scout driver stepped out. As an admin officer also stepped out to welcome Sir Aiden, the three realized this was a high class staff car. Once aboard, they were each given a data pad and followed along as the admin man presented them an explanation of the layout and operations of the base as well as their itinerary.

He explained there'd be a welcoming ceremony and the top officers would be presented for inspection. Once done there, they'd start visiting each section so Sir Aiden could chat with the scouts and inspire them. That would end at 11:30am, when they'd gather in the officer's mess before lunch. There would be drinks then and then those assembled would have lunch there while the captain and Sir Aiden had a private lunch in his personal mess.

After lunch, the captain set up Aiden's requested time on the shooting range. Following that, they'd do more visiting with base sections until before dinner. After dinner, the captain had scheduled some more time to chat with Sir Aiden before the ship would bring them back to the Naval base on Mora. Once that was done, and for the rest of the trip, the admin officer was available for any questions they had. The only question was if there were possibly any scouts serving on the base they would have worked with? And, as the admin man worked with them on ships and names, the only hit he got was not what they expected.

As he used the names of ship's they'd been on as a search vector, the man found that the ISS Aspirant Endeavor was assigned to the base! That Modified Sulieman II was a ship Aali had served on in 1102, when she was part of a mission to the Derchon System. When they checked, the crew assigned to the ship were not anyone she knew. Still, memories of the mission made the ship's presence interesting to her. So Aali asked if it were possible to visit the vessel, for old time's sake and was told she could. Eventually, they sat back to relax as the flight continued.

When they arrived, the ship was berthed in a bay and the external doors closed for pressurization. As the service crews moved in to hook up the vessel, a formation of base officers moved in and stood at attention. When the vessel had completed arrival checks, the hatch was opened and Aiden was allowed to be the first person off the ship as the receiving line formed up and Imperial martial music played from wall speakers. The first person Aiden met was the Captain, who introduced his gathered senior officers after returning Aiden's salute.

After introductions, Aiden was asked if he wanted to inspect the assembled officers? Surprised to only see about 28 officers for almost 3,000 Scouts, Aiden reminded himself some would be attending to work or otherwise busy. He accepted the offer and did his best to look like he knew what he was doing without laughing. The officers divided into six 'divisions aboard' of roughly 500 Scouts each. Each of those had a commanding officer, some junior officers and the five Company Commanders.

Making it harder not to laugh, Emkir and Aali were the only ones not in a dress uniforms. Aiden and his former crew mates would have been rolling on the deck first at the formality, then the class-A's. Eventually the inspection was done and, after some inspiring words from Sir Aiden, they went to start visiting departments. While he was on "how to inspire", the words available were limited and the three soon tired of his speeches. Aiden tried to be extra inspiring to those pilots he met and also used his study of navigation to show those in Stellar Cartography it was never too late to learn. Eventually, by 11:30, they were headed to the pre-luncheon.

Doing Franks, Lunch And Wedding Gift Shopping

     As the Scouts left, Rol had woken and was cooking breakfast. Before he left, Emkir confirmed with Rol that he had the items to deliver to Frank's Armory. Eventually Ms. Vik came out of her stateroom and they discussed the fitting as well as the parts to be installed in her new armor suit. After breakfast, Inger covered a Cr 20 taxi to the store. This time, they didn't close the store but kept a buffer between Rol and Inger and anyone else. They also allowed the couple to transact any real business in the back office in private.

The first thing they did was to fit Inger into her suit while Rol helped. More uncomfortable to Rol, this meant they left to him all the situations where he had to put his hands on her body. And despite the comments on her body and looks, the men were completely professional regarding getting her into her armor. After Rol turned over Emkir's damaged and spare vacc suits, and as they worked, one of the mysteries of the night before was solved. It turned out the store planned to actually frame Emkir's damaged vacc suit for display. They say if they intended to do this for sale or not.

When asked, they only said they could advertise this was "The vacc suit Admiral Emkir Meshrumiikiim wore and was injured in while on a classified mission for Norris, then Duke of Regina before he was created the Arch Duke of Deneb." Overhearing the conversation, Inger was amazed at the disconnect between 'how the crew was seen by the public' and 'how they saw each other'. Still, the fitting went as expected and all the parts had also had arrived. The store still needed to have those items delivered to the ship as they were illegal to carry, and they had to decide what to do for lunch?

Before lunch, Inger did consider buying gifts for Aali and Emkir at Franks, and asked the staff. The guys hedged, saying they didn't really know the Admiral and Captain well enough to know their needs, but offered many combat-related items. Ultimately, the shop was not the sort of place people registered for wedding gifts, and anything special order would take some time to arrive. Even gift cards would be an issue, as the couple wouldn't have time to shop with them before leaving the system. Eventually, Ms. Vik decided they could always come back to Frank's as they left.

As they were getting ready to leave, Inger asked Rol what he got as wedding gifts, and he told her about the ball and chain pin. When she pointed out that was one gift for two people, he agreed and they decided to shop for gifts. While they talked, the staff were setting up to leave for lunch and asked the pair if they wanted to come along? When Rol answered Inger's question saying they had time, the two decided to go along and watched in amusement as the staff again forced everyone out and closed up. While they were a good deal more polite this time, Inger had to admit, they didn't seem to worry about pissing off customers or losing sales.

Following along, Rol and Inger ended up with the folks from Frank's in a place serving stylish but fairly quick to prepare sea food dishes made from locally-fished species. The meat they ate had a spicy fish-texture, and while they ate Rol and Inger learned about the staff members. They were all veterans of the Imperial military and had been out well before the Fifth Frontier war began. As the men traded stories, and it turned out none of them had actually fought in a 'war'. It had all been boardings, interventions and other stuff for them. Yet another reason they paid so much respect to Rol. Inger played fly on the wall and listened.

Finally, the guys from Frank's paid for the meal and said they'd have the purchases delivered to the base gate. After lunch, Rol and Inger went gift shopping, looking for a mid-range jewelry store. This was not before Rol suggested that, because of Aali's implant, they could buy her a lot of happy memories. Inger just said the idea was messed up. They did talk about what they'd heard of so-called cyber-hallucinogenics, and that left a bad taste in their mouths. But the discussion of electronics suggested an idea to Rol. He told Inger he was interested in getting Aali a holographic projector that showed a rotating globe of Mora, but also let the owner load other holo-pictures, to be displayed.

As they talked about electronics, Inger said that Emkir might like a good tech set of sun glasses. As they talked about that, they realized they'd both heard of glasses which provided IR, LI and some energy band spectrums as well as being sunglasses. Eventually, they ended up in an electronics shop where Inger found a set for Cr 500. Rol also found his holographic projector for Cr 100. After that, it was back on track for a jewelry shop, where Inger found a nice Cr 500 necklace of water-polished quartz and colorful Mora-native coral. They then took a taxi back to the ship, with Rol paying.

Mikah And Zach's Morning

     Mikah slept in, having nothing planned, and ate leftovers, seeing that most of the crew had left already. Once done eating, she turned on the news and called a salon to get her hair done for the wedding. Mikah quickly made an appointment and had to call a base taxi to hit the on-base salon. As she relaxed while her hair set, Mikah had been reading a journal when she noticed the ambient light had seemed to dim. Looking out to the front of the shop, Mikah saw the windows were being crowded by media, set up with cameras and reporting gear. Exasperated with the media, she simply made sure the holster with her gauss pistol was visible to them as there was not more she could do.

This took up her morning as she had slept in, and the final bill was Cr 250. Once done there, Mikah went back to the ship to do more relaxing after lunch. As she relaxed, a message came in from the IISS Xboat system saying they'd received another X-message from Rhylanor. When Mikah logged in, she saw two messages. One for Zach looked like a bank transfer and required a log in, so she tried some basic passwords that failed. The second message was from Countess Ursara as she listed some of the potential buyers for the diamond auction. When she checked, she saw the list of expected attendees was more than 300 long, and the nobility were well represented.

Zach also slept in a bit, though he got up early enough to dress, eat and check his emails. In his email, Zach had a message from the Seneschal confirming the intent to have him wear a wire at the wedding. They also included some talking points and suggestions for Zach to use when dealing with certain of the invitees. Zach sent a confirmation back to them after reading the message, and once more fished for any chance to assist in the legitimate trade issues despite his knowing that was very far off.

Zach's Lunch Meeting

     Eventually, Zach called a cab and met Captain Shegilo. As Zach greeted the man, he offered his hand which Shegilo ignored. Once they were seated, they had a decent meal and Captain Shegilo accepted that Zach had gained a patron in the Duke of Rhylanor. When Zach tried to make any progress, he found the grudge came down to the reports and claims he'd filed over the loss of the Raining Coins. Despite statements he was working for the Duke, the claims and timing just didn't work out. He didn't have to mention that Open Skies had no data that Zach had even met the Duke at that time, and his working for the Duke made no sense.

And no matter what Zach tried, there was no way to convince Shegilo there were not many hidden lies in the explanations. As far as he was concerned, Zach simply couldn't be trusted and was lying to those he'd worked with and their company. An especially sore point was the fact Zach said he'd taken the shuttle from the Raining Coins in the K'Kirka System. Then he claimed the 100 dTon Dawnstar Horizon had carried the shuttle and any cargo he evacuated from the Raining Coins to where it was destroyed in the Rech system!

In the end, there were too many lies for Zach to overcome. Despite being innocent, he couldn't prove his innocence without violating more secure issues. Even when he reiterated what the reports said of cargo containers left aboard the wreck of the Raining Coins. In the end, Zach did what he felt he had to and offered his help if the company ever felt the need to reach out to him. And Captain Shegilo said they would in a tone that said, "Don't call us, we'll hate you."

So as he left the restaurant, Zach had spent Cr 70 on the meal and another Cr 25 on taxis. On the Sable Addix, Lady Mikah was relaxing and enjoying having the vessel all to herself. This lasted until Zach had returned. Once back at the ship, Zach found Mikah reading the messages from Rhylanor. As he arrived, she told him about his message and he logged in to see the ship he was waiting on had finally arrived and he'd been paid. Mikah joked about paying his debts and he pointed out he owed her nothing, unlike Zimzod and Aiden. She persisted, saying dinner would be on him that evening. Zach accepted that as he knew not to push too far.

In the end, there were too many lies for Zach to overcome. Despite being innocent, he couldn't prove his innocence without violating more secure issues. Even when he reiterated what the reports said of cargo containers left aboard the wreck of the Raining Coins. In the end, Zach did what he felt he had to and offered his help if the company ever felt the need to reach out to him. And Captain Shegilo said they would in a tone that said, "Don't call us, we'll hate you."

So as he left the restaurant, Zach had spent Cr 70 on the meal and another Cr 25 on taxis. On the Sable Addix, Lady Mikah was relaxing and enjoying having the vessel all to herself. This lasted until Zach had returned. Once back at the ship, Zach found Mikah reading the messages from Rhylanor. As he arrived, she told him about his message and he logged in to see the ship he was waiting on had finally arrived and he'd been paid. Mikah joked about paying his debts and he pointed out he owed her nothing, unlike Zimzod and Aiden. She persisted, saying dinner would be on him that evening. Zach accepted that as he knew not to push too far.

As they talked, Zach brought up a wedding gift for the couple and Mikah admitted she had no idea what to get Emkir. She'd already gotten Aali her wedding dress. Zach suggested a whip and gag ball, and Mikah said that'd be good to buy Aali, getting a laugh from Zach. After that, Zach decided to go gift shopping and Mikah, inspired, jumped on the shopping-net. She searched for a book on 'proper shooting and aim' and settled on one for Cr 25, that came with a spring-operated dart gun, firing suction cup darts and coming with a rechargeable laser aiming aide.

Stuck on his own, Zach went out to buy both a gag gift and a real one. The gag was a set of spiked collars and a whip, for which he spent Cr 100. The real gifts were Cr 400 of premium alcohol. For Aali, he got imported liquor from Regina, which was oddly "suddenly on display" all over the capital city, along with other items from the Regina system. For Emkir, Zach simply bought some 200 yr old aged Scotch Whiskey. After Zach went shopping, Rol and Inger returned with their buys. Rol complimented Mikah on her hair as they settled in and the Knight told them Zach owed them dinner when he got back. When Inger asked why, Mikah said Zach got his money from Rhylanor without saying she'd forced him into it. Inger decided to stow her purchases and relax until dinner time. Rol decided to stow his items and do some gear maintenance. But before anyone could get too seriously into anything, there was a buzz on the comms.

When they answered, it was the base gate saying their purchases from Frank's Armory were being delivered. Once he told them to pass the delivery crew on to the berth, Rol found the ladies and asked them if it was ok to have the crew help deliver their goods inside the ship? The ladies were ok with this, especially as Inger was getting her combat armor and needed it unpacked and moved to her stateroom.

Soon enough, that was done and the items belonging to those not on the ship were left in the crew lounge until they got home. Mikah stowed her new submachine gun and ammo after a brief inspection. Eventually, Zach returned to the ship and stowed his purchases before checking his emails. As they worked or relaxed, it was soon dinner time and Mikah reminded Zach he was taking the crew out, even if Zimzod and the Scouts weren't there. While they let Zach choose the restaurant, they all chimed in on interests, tastes and options. Once the place was selected, they all hopped in a taxi for chow and ended up spending Cr 200 for the evening.

Zimzod's orbital Cruise

     At the resort, Zimzod woke in a way he wasn't used to as he realized Shisema was thanking him even more. Eventually, the fires of passion burned down and Zimzod asked Shisema what she'd like to do? Smiling shyly, she admitted there had always been one tour she'd helped people book and always wanted to try herself. When Zimzod asked about it, she said it was an orbital tour. Zimzod asked for details and she pulled up the vid on a five-hour cruise. He noticed she'd even pulled prices using her employee discount.

As Zimzod looked over the offer, the Cr 350 each price included a shuttle to the cruise vessel and access to all public spaces, including lunch if they left "very soon". After Zimzod decided they should do the cruise, they quickly cleaned up, hopped a taxi and drove off to the spaceport. As they went from boarding the shuttle to the ride "up-well" and docking with the cruising resort, Shisema enjoyed every step of the trip to orbit. Needing to recapture his own energy, Zimzod could relax and afford to be romantic. So he enjoyed the ride with her and got to experience things in a much different and more relaxing way than he'd ever really done before.

Once aboard the orbiting cruse ship, Shisema was able to use Zimzod's rank as well as her own employee-access to the system to upgrade their trip at every possible turn. And just like anyone living close to a tourist attraction but rarely paying attention to it, Zimzod experienced the orbital cruise differently than he had experienced being in orbit before. This was not a military operation or an exercise getting from one point to the other, and Shisema's reactions helped him relax and really enjoy the cruise.

As they wandered through the shipboard casino, the various excursion sales, different entertainment venues and shops beyond count, Zimzod got a sinister thought and took Shisema looking for a photographer. When he let her in on the joke, Shisema realized he was planning to give Emkir and Aali a 'signed picture of himself' as a wedding gift. Soon enough, they found a photographer and Emkir posed with Shisema first. Then he had a picture taken of himself posing with a wink and smile while pointing to the camera with his right hand and flashing a thumbs up sign with his left.

Once the pictures were taken, Zimzod spent Cr 120 on two framed copies of the two of them and one framed copy of him posing after he signed it to Aali and Emkir. As this was happening, Shisema talked about the idea with Zimzod and convinced the Knight he should give the couple a serious gift too. When Zimzod still resisted, she said she knew the right place to shop dirtside and what to get, so he said he'd let her lead on and decide once he saw what she planned. But for the rest of the cruise, he shared in her wonder as they continued the trip.

One of Shisema's favorite activities was watching the world turn below her as the smart glass provided information on sites and items visible from space. The "smart glass" also provided telescopic zooms to allow zooming in on those attractions not visible from space. While he also enjoyed it, Zimzod failed to learn anything as he sat back and enjoyed relaxing.

Finally, as the sights repeated, there was an announcement they would soon have a ship-wide trivia contest. And despite the way the cruise director pumped the competition, Zimzod wasn't really up for it. But he asked Shisema if she was? Her answer was an emphatic "No" before she coyly smiled and said she knew where they could rent small rooms aboard. As Zimzod smiled back, she coyly said she wanted to know if he'd recovered his stamina with an alluring look in her eyes. And for the rest of the cruise, they rented a room for Cr 100 and enjoyed each other until they had to dress and dash for the shuttle.

The 'Sir Aiden Inspirational Tour', Part Two

     On the Mora Scout base, Sir Aiden's tour had made it to the pre-lunch gathering in the officer's mess. When they arrived there, drinks had already begun being served and every officer who could appeared to be in attendance. Many also brought guests, be they spouses or other associates. After meeting and greeting a number of the officers, Aiden was asked to make some comments before the actual lunch. Then the Captain announced that he'd set time aside to speak privately with Sir Aiden and left everyone else to dine in the officer's mess.

In the captain's private mess, the officer was full of questions about the battle of Caladbolg and Aiden's experiences? Aiden came to realize that, despite his rank, the man had never really been close to combat and obviously dreamed of glory at one time. He thought, ironically, that the Captain would be better off with a day spent with Rol than himself.

Not wanting to stand out to start, Aiden felt his record was much less impressive than the universe seemed to think at the moment. Also ironically, a real benefit of being part of the Knight's crew was the team's attitudes towards each other. Despite his feelings, when the officer dug in with questions, Aiden did his best to cover everything while also sharing the glory with the rest of the crew he'd lived with. But his ability to do that was limited, given the limited participation of his wounded crewmates.

Left behind in the officer's mess, Emkir and Aali mingled with the other officers of the base and their guests as they had lunch. Conversation was dominated by introductions and the basic exchanges of responsibilities, posts and past stations. At some points, there were shared war-stories and experiences. In the end, there were far too many people there for anything but general connections. Emkir did get impressions from the others on how nice it was to be close to Mora rather than on the ragged edge.

When Aali mentioned the Aspirant Endeavor, a few of the officers were familiar with the craft. She learned it was docked and, while actively assigned to the base, was only used for basic missions. When Aali found someone more familiar with the ship, he said it was an "odd bird to fly". At one point, they tried to do a computer purge and software update and found they could only reload half the memory, even though all the modules checked out in all tests. This sometimes prevented larger volume programs from loading when needed. So the ship was more of a hanger queen.

Soon Aiden and the Captain returned to Emkir and Aali so they could continue their day. The next hour was spent on the base's shooting range as the Captain made good on his promise. The three scouts were allowed to draw ammunition from the base armory as they took practice using a wide range of targets from Zhodani to Vargr to Aslan to animal hunting targets. Aiden enjoyed the liberal supplies of both ball and HEAP rounds for his LAG. The others played with ball ammo, taking the chance to just freely fire off rounds. Aali did accept an offer to try firing tracers. Once they secured their weapons, the Sir Aiden inspiration tour moved on.

Eventually, it was nearing dinner time as they completed the tour and the Captain asked if Aiden wanted to visit the Aspirant Endeavor with Aali and Emkir? When Aiden had no problem doing something where the focus wasn't on him, they all headed down to the berths and checked up on the extended scout. At 200 years old, the vessel was nearing middle age but looked roughly used. From what they'd been told, the ship has some glitchy systems and was only used for short missions, like personnel moves and cargo transfers.

Odd Memories Still Retained

     Once aboard, Aali revisited the ship's spaces and her former stateroom as Aiden asked about the ship's service history? As Aiden was being answered by the currently assigned pilot, Aali checked the ship's accounts to see if there was a general account to pull the ship's overall history and was surprised to see her old account still available! Especially as she recalled deleting that account when she was transferred! And once she logged in, Aali saw there were more than just her account files as she muttered to herself, "Why would there still be an account there?"

As she checked the files in the system, Aali noticed that there were a large number of files that seemed to have been from the Derchon mission. Under the cover of downloading the ship's service history, Aali downloaded the Derchon logs and then tried to delete them. She was first satisfied to see the files deleted and further pleased when a secondary check showed them gone and the space opened up for use. From what Aiden had been told, the ship had been part of a fleet passing through Mora system and was down-checked for fleet operations and ended up at the base. The base commander at that time took it as a working spare vessel and learned of its quirks afterwards.

Once they were done with their visit and about to leave, the Captain announced he had a surprise for Aali. Having been told of the relationship with the ship when they were shuttling to the base, the Captain had an engineering team swap the ship's original control yoke for a new one and he gave Aali the old yoke as a gift. Aali was very pleased with the gift, saying "That gets mounted on the wall!"

After stopping at the ship, the group made their way back to the officer's mess where the base Captain spoke, thanking Sir Aiden and his people for visiting them. Once the words of thanks were done, they sat for dinner and then drinks before the trip back to Mora. On the flight back, they discussed the wedding and Aali was concerned about having not gotten Arch Duke Norris a gift as Emkir had. Emkir pointed out the cufflinks were special and they could give them to him together.

Gathering Before The Next Storm

     Once the shuttle from the cruise was berthed, Zimzod found himself led by Shisema to a store off-property with a smile saying it would not be tourist-priced. When they arrived, Zimzod was surprised to see she'd brought him to a place selling household goods. Once in the store, she led Zimzod to the "bedroom" section and pointed saying, "Buy them a set of these sheets." The sheets were high-quality zero-friction bed sheets for Cr 100. Surprised, and a bit impressed at the "outside the box" thinking, Zimzod bought them, but told her he was going to give them the picture too. Eventually, Zimzod slit the packing for the sheets and slipped the framed picture of himself into the sheets before having them wrapped.

Once they started planning their evening, Zimzod got a taxi and, on the ride, called Mikah to ask about bringing Shisema to the ship for the night? That way the morning would be easier and she could meet them all and not be a complete stranger. When he connected, Mikah made jokes about him and his toy balancing out Emkir and Aali. They took the taxi to dinner and then back to the resort to get all their gear and clothing packed up. Then, they went to a salon to get Shisema's hair done for the wedding.

The trip to the salon, on-property, was quick and as Shisema settled in for her hair to be done, Zimzod had a steam shave and haircut. Done there, Zimzod and Shisema headed to the ship to meet everyone and get some sleep the night before the wedding. This made that sex-less night the most expensive one Zimzod had ever paid for. While Shisema had her gown, Zimzod planned to attend the wedding in his Marine Dress uniform. Having planned introduce her to everyone, they arrived at the ship to find everyone seemed to have left!

With the vessel to themselves. Zimzod showed Shisema around and he started settling her in. Eventually, as they settled their gear and set things up for the next morning, Zach's party returned and quickly heard voices as they entered the ship. As Inger commented that one sounded like Zimzod and the other was 'some chick', Mikah loudly told the others to make noise. That made sure Zimzod knew they were back and hopefully prevented them accidentally seeing something they'd all regret.

As Zimzod and Shisema were finishing setting up for the next morning, they suddenly heard Lady Mikah loudly say "Everyone make noise" and possibly smacking a wall. At the same time, Ms. Vik loudly and in a wooden tone said "Gee. Here we are. Back from dinner." Hearing them, Zimzod called out "Hi Hoo!" As Mikah asked "Who's high?", Zimzod led Shisema out and introduced her to the four. When he started with some titles, Mikah, said "Hi, I'm Mikah. I'm his fiancée." which stopped Shisema cold as the others laughed.

As Shisema caught herself stuttering and got out a confused "Excuse me?", Zimzod said "I thought we were gonna keep that under wraps?" Mikah apologized and agreed as Shisema was stuck looking between both of them and the others almost fell over laughing. Zimzod quickly explained the joke and assured Shisema she'd not stepped into a disaster being with him. He then introduced Mikah as the Captain of their ship. Once the rest of the introductions are done, Shisema found herself slowly fitting in with all these people she only knew from news broadcasts as they settled down to hanging out. For extra fun, Rol turned on the news to catch upon events and make sure Shisema knew how much deeper the rabbit hole was going to get the next day.

As they talked, and the news droned on, there was no new information on the rogue Sword World fleet, though there were many reports of preparations from all over the sector. Even the newly founded Federation of Arden had filed a request with the Imperium, asking if they could perhaps acquire older combat vessels to help build up a defensive naval force? This obviously came from the Federation's Ambassador, as there would not have been enough time for the news to reach the Arden system and a request to have been decided on and sent to Mora from there.

    Mora (AA99AC7-F A Hi In Cx 112 M4 V)                                     Date: 258-1112
    Spokesman for the Admiralty, Lord Sir Aagus hault-Uumaak has announced requests
    from the newly formed Federation of Arden for assistance in military aid, in light of
    the activities of the Sword World fleet led by Baron von Kreden. The Imperial Navy
    has released word of the Federation's request, through their Ambassador on Mora,
    for combat vessels to establish a defensive naval force. The Admiralty, have stated
    they have taken this suit under advisement, and will discuss this with Grand Duchess
    Delphine and her ministers.

    The Arden system had been established as an Imperial system in 290 TI, and even
    declared a County Seat in 470, before being declared independent in 986 under the
    terms of the Armistice ending the Third Frontier War. Declared independent, the
    former County of Arden became "The Federation of Arden", and was located in now
    independent space between Imperial and Zhodani borders in the Vilis subsector.

    Over the time, between then and modern times, the "Federation" unraveled leaving
    the systems in that region of space independent. While their causes were not
    always common, the worlds suffered in both the Fourth and Fifth Frontier wars,
    leading experts to presume this most recent re-establishment of the Federation
    to be based on mutual defense in the event of another major Zhodani military
    adventure. Her Grace, the Grand Duchess has approved of the move as this further
    encourages the Zhodani to look towards their own worlds rather than fighting
    even more enemies.

    On 004-1110, Pro-Zhodani government of the Arden system was overthrown, but
    the former Federation had ceased to exist decades before. Arden soon looked to
    expand once more, and In 1006, they colonized the Zircon and Utoland systems.
    While both systems remain friendly with their homeworld, the resurgent "Federation
    of Arden" consists of only the Arden system.

    The Arden system maintains friendly trade relations with it's former colonies in the
    Utoland and Zenopit systems as well as the worlds of its former County (Vilis,
    Asgard, Arkadia and Garda-Vilis).  

As they discussed the move, Emkir said it sounded like it would be in the Imperium's interests to help create this buffer state. The crew discussed the issue and, as they guessed the Imperium would help Arden, Shisema was a fly on the wall for a conversation so unlike anything she'd ever experienced in her life. Reports from the Admiralty suggested they would open diplomatic talks but made it clear these would not depend on the Sword World fleet, as they expected to have it hunted down and destroyed soon enough.

Also on the subject of Imperial security in the Spinward Marches, reports covered rumors from Zhodani space on the continuing reaction to their loss in the war. Some information even suggested a wave of fear the Imperium would ignore the signed peace and move to strike Zhodani systems, due to their loss of ships. While the Lords of the Admiralty admitted the Zhodani fleets had been hit hard, it was pointed out the in-system defenses had barely even been tested. The only two actual strikes against Zhodani home systems were the famously executed raid against the Ninjar system and the failed Riverland Campaign.

In the Ninjar strikes, a great deal of damage was dealt but many Imperial lives were heroically lost. Official statements from the Quar system supported the continued work to resolve issues left over from the war in that system. The Riverland campaign, led by Lt. Col. Steven Bond's Rangers forced Zhodani reactions which were credited with easing the relief of Zhodani-occupied worlds in the Jewell subsector. While the campaign damaged many facilities and engaged defensive elements of the Zhodani fleet, the only real result of the campaign was to draw off forces the Zhodani would have preferred to use elsewhere.

The news from the Rhylanor system was more mixed. While system authorities were certain they were not the target, there was growing paranoia over the attacks that killed Sir Brian. Many groups were demanding more information on the, as yet, not fully revealed events of the attack. And the media were pressing for more evidence the Imperial Navy were able to track down the vessels involved. Media reports had even suggested various megacorporations had moved in armed ships of their own to protect company archologies and that some mercenary vessels might have been hired. The discussions about Sir Brian played with many of Shisema's perceptions as a good part of those reports talked about the people she was now sitting with and the man she was sleeping with.

    Natoko (C8879AB-9 Hi 204 F4 V)                                                  Date: 258-1112
    Spokesman for the Senator Sir Kudila have stated the investigation has entered
    a new stage now that the Spinward Marches Senate have approved increased
    sanctions until the Natokens comply with Senator Kurdila's investigators. Despite
    protests from the government of the Natoko system, significant evidence has been
    collected, as presented by Senator Kudila, to indicate that world may be engaged
    in the construction of a shadow fleet of warships in violation of the Imperial Edict
    of 1081.

    Ironically, the Sector Senate vote on this issues was believed to have been influenced
    by the phantom attack on the Rhylanor system when that news arrived in the Mora
    system. This was enhanced by data, suggested to be from an unidentified leak, that
    the Natoko system possibly had agents working with the governments of other
    systems. When asked, the Spokesman, Lord Khasgardarshi Ikamikir, declined to
    suggest what other systems might be involved in the investigation. Despite this,
    speculation is rife with even various underworld elements in the Rhylanor system
    suggested by some.  

    Mora (AA99AC7-F A Hi In Cx 112 M4 V)                                    Date: 258-1112
    Lord Admiral Sir Kishidaar Lashdak, recently arrived from the Deneb Sector
    High Command has inquired about the continuing mission of the Deneb Core
    Fleet in the Spinward Marches? The Lord Admiral requested permission for he
    and his staff to meet with the Spinward Marches High Command regarding a
    timeline for return of those formations.

    Just this evening, the Office of the Arch Duke has released a statement from the
    Arch Duke, saying, "As Arch Duke of the Domain, I am sure military assets will
    be balanced out when and where appropriate." the rest of the comments neither
    addressed the release of the Deneb core fleet or those remaining elements of the
    Imperial Guard, which arrived from Capital in mid-1109 to support the war effort
    and have been slowly drawing back as the crisis in the sector has settled.

    Rumors from unidentified sources continue to suggest the Imperial Command in
    the Rhylanor system prefer to see the Imperial Guard depart first. This is due to
    the belief the Guard unit officers have begun "scouting" for those personnel and
    assets they feel would be suited to be "offered the honor" of serving with, or
    supporting Imperial Guard units. Such persons would be offered position in the
    Capital system, along with the trappings of such a position. As a member of an
    Imperial Guard unit, one would receive an automatic Knighthood, so local
    commands had little to offer in order to retain valued members of local units.  

As the crew joked about the true meaning behind His Grace's words, Shisema had yet another chance to wonder just what she'd slipped and fallen into? She listened as Emkir suggested the Arch Duke's words equated to, "you'll get the fleets back when you do, so stiff upper lip and wait until I say so." And given his rank as an Admiral, this suggested to her that he was likely correct. As the report continued, The Arch Duke also made it known he was working with all diplomatic and mercantile contacts to improve and reestablish trade in the region. His statement included that he had even sent a request to Capitol, to possibly invest in another merchant and military subsidy like the one Duke Leonard of Rhylanor had established after the Fourth Frontier War. As this report played out, there were file clips of the expo and Zach was pleased to see his work alongside the Arch Duke hitting the news.

Library Data: The March Class Merchant Ship Program:
     The "March class" merchants operate under a subsidy agreement, held by
           the blind trust on Regina. The trust provided ships to service the worlds
           of the Aramis Trace in return for payment from the worlds of the Trace
           - or more accurately the Duke of Rhylanor (the Marquisate of Aramis is
           part of the Duchy of Rhylanor). It was a way for the Duke to promote
           interstellar trade in the area. The trust provided ships and crews
           and took the subsidy payments from the Duchy to make payments
           on the ships. The crews operate their ship pretty much as they see
           fit, but don't own them.

     The subsidy holder does, and they must remit 50% of gross revenues
           (monthly at any Class D+ starport), and they agree to service the
           Trace for 70% of the year. The trust earns a profit partially from
           the gross revenues and partially from the rather guaranteed income
           from the Duchy - a fairly low-risk investment instrument aside from
           the insurance costs.

     The most famous of these vessels, the IMS March Harrier, was involved
           in the discovery of the covert Zhodani base in the Fulacin system
           (Rhylanor) in 1107, just before the beginning of the
           Fifth Frontier War. Since then, the Marquisate of Fulacin remains
           vacated.

    Iderati (A887798-C N Ag Ri Cp 201 M2 V)                               Date: 205-1112
    Baron Sir Ushakshur Pikhedes, Spokesperson for the Naval High Command of the
    Imperial Five Sisters command, has issued an official statement on the widening
    legal issues surrounding the cloning and Estate of the singer Ardella Mestler. As
    issues surrounding this legal question seem to be expanding, they are touching on
    questions of Imperial law. As the issue seemed to be taking on a force of its own,
    and as legal questions were mounting in Imperial Courts, it was felt it was now
    time for the government to get involved and see the issue properly resolved to the
    satisfaction of Imperial law and those the law was meant to protect. Especially as
    this case now threatened to set precedents regarding the rights of clones.

    At the same time, governments of many systems across the Spinward Marches
    have begun getting involved. A number of Five Sisters systems have begun to
    establish laws to ban Ms. Mestler and her band performing in their systems while
    others have invited the band to perform. In addition, the band seems to have a
    significant following of those who are encouraging so called "pirate concerts",
    which would bring them directly into conflict with the law

    It is for this reason, Baron Sir Ushakshur Pikhedes stated, that the Admiralty are
    getting involved. As expected, there have been protests to this move from many
    sides, not the least of which from those protesting for home rule and a removal
    of Imperial Naval authority over the system governments of the Five Sisters
    Subsector. Baron Pikhedes had no statements on these protests. He also had no
    immediate statement on the law suits over Ms. Mestler's estate, simply saying that
    the work done to resolve the issue under Imperial Law would protect those who
    had a legitimate right from being cheated. The tone of his comments suggested
    that an example might be made of anyone trying to play those loopholes in the
    law to their own advantage. Especially if the claimed clone turned out not to
    actually be a clone.  

Once they arrived back on Mora, Aiden, Emkir and Aali checked the time and what they wanted to do, but eventually returned to the ship. Once there, they found the rest of the crew hanging out in the crew lounge. Among them, Zimzod seemed to have found a female friend who seemed to have had her hair styled, as had Lady Mikah. As they joined in, Aali commented, to no one in particular, "Hmm, cleaned up right nice." with a laugh. As they settle in, and Shisema recognized Sir Aiden from the recent news and Emkir asked if Zimzod was gonna introduce them?

Zimzod introduced them all to Shisema Nagaak and explained a bit of their background with each. Once introductions were done, Aali told everyone about visiting the Aspirant Endeavor and showed off the gift control yoke. However, she kept the datafiles to herself. Eventually everyone had to settle in for the night and Rol made a point of preparing his outfit for the next day. Aiden set his alarm for 6:15am, as he'd set an appointment with the Duchess' gunsmith at 7 to 7:30, well before the wedding. Emkir and Aali spent the night making one more bold attempt to knock the ship over from their bed. This was tempered by Aali's refusal to walk to the altar bow-legged.


The Dream Of A Weapon

     Aiden woke at 6:15, cleaned and dressed as much as he could before heading into the galley. There, he grabbed a foil pack meal and went out to meet the taxi he'd called while dressing. He got "mostly dressed" for the wedding, and planned to finish when he returned to the ship for transport to the event. The air raft ride cost him Cr 30, and he arrived well in time for the 7am meeting. As they started, the designer asked what Aiden wanted and the Knight said, "a weapon that's evil". "A weapon with one safe end and one deadly, where anyone facing the wrong end knew they had got a big problem. Nothing with spikes, prongs and bits covering it, but stunning in the simplicity of its lines, accentuated with only micro "art deco" details."

"But very obviously a weapon for making people dead. Captivating, in a stunningly stark simplicity, with almost no decor but its contour lines, crafted in an almost 'Frank Lloyd Wright' tradition. A shape of strength, lines and small and simple art deco insignias. A machine of metallic art who's only reason to exist was to kill." As to the practical design, Aiden wanted a snub pistol that was able to manage two types of ammo in the same magazine. This was possible by modifying the grip for a magazine with two ammunition files side by side. This limited the weapon to custom magazines, but gave Aiden what he wanted. Aiden also asked about a laser sight designator and range finder, which the smith said could be done easily along with adding a battery chip in the magazine making it rechargeable.

When Aiden asked about a mounted and removable light, the smith told him to get a combat HUD for his armor with a suite of light intensifiers and infrareds. The double-barreled design emerging was not only molded to Aiden's hands but, recalling the theft of Zach's pistol, was DNA encoded to a built-in taser, able to incapacitate the strong and knock out the weak. By 8am, the smith had what he needed, and he estimated he could deliver the weapon in one to two weeks’ time. This was an issue, as Aiden wouldn't be in the system that long. Aiden realized the weapon needed to be shipped, at "package cost", to him at Rhylanor, or to Lord William to forward. Aiden figured the x-packet would have a significant cost. The transit would be five jumps for the courier, which had to follow less direct standard route.

When the smith guessed the shipment would fit a "quarter meter" size cargo pod, and multiplied the Cr 125 basic cargo rate by eight jumps(charged at a rate of 2.5 parsecs), the cost was guessed at Cr 1,000. Aiden considered his resources and told the smith he'd set things up and have the shipper contact him. That done, Aiden called for a cab and went back to the ship, calling the Scout base on the way to connect with the captain. It was very early in the Captain's day but he was pleased to receive an unexpected call from the Knight. When he asked how he could help, Aiden explained that the Grand Duchess had given him a gift, but he wouldn't be in-system when it was ready.

He said that, when it was ready, it had to be shipped to him in the Rhylanor system, or to a Lord William Kirgashii to forward. If the Captain was impressed at the use of the last name "Kirgashii", he hid it well. However, he said he'd be happy to help, and said shipping it to Sir Aiden would be his pleasure. Aiden thanked him, and the Captain told him to call if there was anything they could help him with? After the call was done, Aiden called the smith back and told him of the arraignments. The smith was pleased, as he didn't enjoy owing the Duchess on a task and looked forward to completing it.

      Weapon Stats:
           Aiden's Custom Snub Pistol: Skill: +3, Dex mod: +1[A], Custom: +1,
                Aim Correction: +1
           5 "dual ammunition" Clips(10 rounds per file capable of loading
                standard Snub Pistol ammunition)

Getting To The Wedding

     Everyone else woke early enough to get prepared, including Zach who woke even earlier because it took him longer to prepare. Aiden returned well before the transport arrived and finished dressing in one of his purpose-bought suits. He chose to attend with a belt scabbarded sword. Zimzod dressed in his dress uniform and was armed with his cutlass. Zach was also in a suit and armed with a snub pistol loaded with tranq rounds. Mikah was in a gown and had her gauss pistol in a belt holster. Aali brought her snub pistol in the folds of her gown and Emkir belt-holstered his pistol. Inger wore a dress-suit with her 9mm revolver hidden in a thigh holster while Rol wore his dress uniform and had his holstered snub pistol.

This only slightly unnerved Shisema, who took everything with a professional detachment Zimzod would have written her employers to praise her for, except the circumstances. As they boarded the vehicle, the happy couple were given datapads with a white circle on a black screen each. When they pressed their thumbs to the circles, the screens resolved and a video opened in which they were addressed by the Arch Duke himself. As the video started, Norris congratulated them on the occasion of their nuptials.

He continued that he was sending those greetings from the place where they would be married as the video widened out. As Emkir watched, he could see a formal setting of some sort, in some sort of floral setting or garden. It was someplace familiar to him but just not familiar enough that he recognized it. Aali had the advantage of having watched that setting on a vid screen before, and had even seen Emkir and Aiden in the setting. She quickly recognized it as the formal gardens of Grand Duchess Delphine's' Court!

As Aali told the others what she knew, a chill cold washed through the crew and they all wondered what possible fresh new hells might open up on them if things went wrong? But Emkir and Aali didn't have time for that as the vid went on and Norris continued speaking. As they caught the thread of his comments, he asked them to accept a "token of his esteem" in the form of a KCr 100 wedding present. As everyone reacted to the gift, Mikah sharply looked over at Zimzod and demanded, "Still don't want to get married?" This nearly killed all the crew as everyone but Shisema rolled in laughter.

Zimzod just shrugged the comment off and said he figured the gift was a one-time PR stunt. For her part, Shisema sat back watching and apparently accepted that this was some on-going inside joke she would never get comfortable with. Zach chimed in, "Make it a double" and someone joked that they doubted Aiden would accept him. As Zach tried to respond and the others laughed, Aiden made it clear he had some standards. That just made everyone laugh harder. As things settled down, Aiden tried to set another tone, saying that having the wedding in Duchess Delphine's court could be a win for her too, and Inger agreed. As Shisema listened in fascination, she was once more treated to a conversation the likes of which no one of her station could ever expect to hear.

Soon enough, they arrived at the gardens and disembarked to find the grounds exquisitely decorated and dressed for the occasion. Because they arrived very early, the grounds were only populated by those working on the site, preparing it for the event and the early media. Because this was the Bridal party, they were received quickly by a group of protocol agents and 'droids, and escorted into some of the Court anterooms. Once inside, they were brought before the Grand Duchess, who formally had Aali led off to a Bridal suite and Emkir to a Groom's Suite. During the process, Zach wondered when the intel people would grab him to wire him up for his own performance?

But no one appeared to be any more interested in him than in any of the other crew. Once Aali entered the suite, she found Lady Seldrian and Dame Elane there with several other Ladies of the Court, to be her "Ladies in Waiting" until it was time for the ceremony. As they settled in and started taking care of the details for Aali, Emkir stepped into his rooms. Once inside, like Aali, there were a number of noblemen to attend him. But he was very surprised to find a person he knew personally, Lord William Kirgashii! He'd last seen Lord William when they'd been evacuated from their berth on the Rhylanor port the night Sir Brian had been killed!

As he greeted Duke Leonard's brother, he noticed William was wearing Kirgashii colors, even though everyone else was wearing the colors of either Norris or Delphine. William said he'd just arrived from Rhylanor himself. Taken aback, Emkir could only say they were honored to have him present at their wedding. Producing a thin rectangular item from a sleeve, Lord William said it was their wedding gift from his brother. And as Emkir took the box and considered opening it then and there, he missed the fact that their engagement had only happened four days before.

There was no way news of the wedding could have gotten to the Rhylanor system yet. Much less could Duke Leonard have authorized a gift and dispatched his brother to award it. When Emkir asked if he "should" open it then, William said it was up to him and Emkir decided to wait until Aali was there to see it too. After Lord William finished with the gift, he moved on and the other gentlemen moved in to assist Emkir. In the Court, the others were told they had free reign of the area, except those parts marked or locked. They were told the Groom and Bride were being assisted by Ladies and Lords of the Court.

As they found themselves at loose ends, Aiden asked if they were interested in creating an "arc of swords" for the couple to process through? Mikah disparagingly asked if he had enough swords for everyone as Rol suggested Aiden should have said something earlier. As Zimzod considered the question, he was escorting Shisema. She was working back and forth from having actually met the Grand Duchess to wanting to explore Her Grace's gardens and court as much as possible. This was likely to be her only chance ever to be in the place. While she showed great skill in handling her emotions, Zimzod could already tell how excited she was behind her facade. More interested in taking care of his lady friend, Zimzod simply shook his head from side to side in disapproval at Aiden as he and Shisema turned their backs on him and walked away.

Zach simply fixed Aiden with a look, rolled his eyes and guided his chair off to explore a bit as he waited for the men in dark suits to come for him. After her comment, Mikah began exploring the gardens until she was given further instructions while Inger and Rol wandered off to observe and explore. As he glided around a corner, Zach was caught by surprise as Lord William stepped into his view saying, "Hello Mr. Wood. We have some business to take care of."

The Wedding And All Its Entertainments

     Not aware Lord William was within parsecs of the system, Zach had to recover as he greeted the Lord and said he didn't know William was planning to be at the wedding. This was the second time someone in the crew showed their lack of time-sense, as no one in the Rhylanor system could yet be aware of the wedding. Even so, William just smiled and said, "Not exactly here for that. Come with me." Zach just nodded and said, "Yes your Lordship." As events proceeded, Zach became aware William "somehow" had credentials for the Arch Duke's local intelligence unit and had been "in town" long enough to be fully briefed on Zach's situation.

As he considered that, Lord William led him into a side room and introduced him to several other men. These men seemed to be natives of the Mora system and despite this, it appeared Lord William knew them very well. This was an oddity Zach choose to let drift past him as he went with the flow. As they started instructing him, Zach said he was just a simple trader and Lord William took the turn to remind him. It wasn't so far a trip from Trader with a "D" to Traitor with a "T". The comment was not made in a friendly tone. Lord William did congratulate Zach on his discoveries and actions, saying they would fall on the positive side of his ledger. Zach hoped this would be a significant step forward but, from William's comments, it didn't seem that likely. The men with William started discussing what they wanted, and gave him a list of six or seven people they wanted Zach to meet up with and draw out.

As the topics of discussion were those ideas they'd already talked to him about, all Zach had to do was quite naturally draw them along the line of their own subjects. They admitted he would have to draw them from their "cover stories" to more of the truth of the matter, but he'd be able to say he'd gotten the Arch Duke working on their requests. And he could perhaps suggest a bit of a bribe based on the 'value of the real cargoes' to get things moving. But he was a merchant and knew how to do that better than they. So, beyond that, they left him with a list of subjects to bring out in conversation. Eventually, they finished up with him and Zach was sent back to the slowly gathering party.

As the guests started appearing, Aiden didn't know any at all beyond those he'd seen on the news. Not sure how he fit into everything, Aiden only knew he was sitting "up front" and chose to mingle. As he did, Aiden was congratulated by more than a few of the invited nobility because he was "news of the week". As this happened, Zimzod led Shisema through the gardens and chatted about the arriving nobility with her in order to keep her nerves steady.

Once done with Lord William and the boys, Zach chose to mingle and make contacts. Lady Mikah also mingled, and was cruising the crowd until Lord William stepped out in front of her! She got out a surprised "Lord William!" before catching herself and saying, "So good to see you." Despite her catch, her tone was more, "What the fuck are you doing here?" William just shrugged and said, "Nice to see you Lady Mikah." as he handed her a datapad.

Tapping a finger to the screen, Mikah saw a vid of an Naval Engineer. The Lieutenant Commander raised his hand and announced this was a virtual tour of their repaired ship. As she found an alcove and watched for twenty minutes, the prim and proper(very Navy) officer went through a tour of what looked almost exactly like the interior of the Hotel California. The tour covered some parts of each section, including certification the ship had a fully operational fuel purification plant. When the tour ended, a screen said to connect the datapad to a ship's computer for a full walk-though holographic tour of the ship. For a laugh, Mikah asked Lord William if this was the ship's boat for their dreadnaught? Lord William said they could always play one of the many planetary lotteries to buy a dreadnought…that was cheap, and barely functional, and unarmed.

Ms. Vik wandered as the garden filled, lucky to be less known than others in her crew. Still, some did recognize her. For others, her SPA credentials were enough to both impress some and explain why she was invited by either of Their Grace's offices. When Inger asked some who commented why that was, she was told it was like a "coming out" party. Events like these were to assure those who might cooperate or cross purposes on projects involving worlds had a chance to meet each other before crossing words, or other...implements. This went far to explain why the growing crowd were there. In another learning curve event, when Ms. Vik asked what someone had gotten the bride and groom, she was told that those invited to meet and greet generally were not expected to give gifts.

Rol also mingled, trying to be friendly and keep his presence within that proper for a wedding. But most guests knew who he was and some thought that his "friendly act" was just a sign he'd had too much caff. Others were very glad to meet him, either for actual admiration or because he was both famous and well-connected. Famous friends were often important to those who were important but not well known. As he made momentary connections, some of those he met were fairly high-ranking people. More so than Inger, Rol was finding himself sought out by the wealthy, important or politically active non-Nobility in attendance.

Aiden dealt with his fame early and often as he tried to wander the growing party. While some were genuinely friendly, others were aware of his "newly earned" title rather than older established ones, even with basic knighthoods. Comedically, Aiden could most easily brush off the attitudes of those who'd inherited knighthoods rather than actually doing anything to earn or enhance their titles. As he was wandering, Aiden spotted Lady Mikah chatting with someone who looked familiar, and was not in the prevailing colors of the day. Looking closer, he was surprised to see it was Lord William, and recognized the colors he was wearing as those of the Duchy of Rhylanor!

While he found Lord William's presence fascinating, he was also glad he wasn't involved in whatever politics were going on, and he turned to continue mingling. As the party grew, Aiden was soon nearly overwhelmed by well-wishers as more arrivals wanted to meet the new Knight or take the steps toward a new political connection. While this happened, Zach, who was 'driftin' in his chair', noted the arrival of a pair of Vargr. The female was in an outfit of greys the color-blind merchant recognized as bright red, yellow and green delineated with piping and striping in bright purple, along with gold appointments! And she was on the arm of a male who was frighteningly more garishly dressed, even if all that color was apparently some kind of military uniform!

Not blinded himself, Zach realized this must have been Admiral Fhazkoe and his 'plus one'. Despite her experience with the Vargr, Inger's reaction was to wonder if the circus were in town as she looked around to gage the reactions of the others attending. It was shortly after this that Zach noticed the arrival of one of those special guests he'd been warned of. Making his way over in a way he hoped seemed more casual than it was, the trader soon found it easier to "be visible" than make his way to his targets.

As he drifted at a high and visible level, Zach's hoverChair made it easy to identify him. And as these special guests only knew him, and believed they had Zach to thank for their invitations, they came to give thanks and discuss the progress of their various cases. As with drawing them in, Zach found it was easy to respond to their questions with questions of his own which drew out more details. And being more comfortable that Zach was on their side, especially when he suggested bribes, they were quite a bit more talkative about their ventures, if only to correct suggestions on the deal values and his percentage. Nervous about the "take downs", Zach had to admit he saw nothing out of the ordinary. But once done with their arrivals, he never saw any of those he met with again.

Soon, things started getting into gear as waiters and 'droids appeared with drinks and finger foods before the seating itself was organized. This wound its way through until the protocol people and 'droids started getting people settled and ready for the actual ceremony. Rol, Mikah and Inger were led to where they needed to be, and the women found themselves in good company with a significant number of Noblewomen as they got their first view of the "fully decorated" Aali. From there, the time burned until everything was set. The processional party was set with Mikah walking Aali down the aisle, quietly working on her to flee Emkir and the wedding all the way to the altar. Ms. Vik worked hard to keep a straight face as the maid of honor, directly behind them and well within hearing range.

Soon, Rol prepared the rings as the best man while Aali stepped next to Emkir and Arch Duke Norris stepped up to speak. Once the ceremony began, it was traditional and solemn. The Arch Duke appeared both serious and pleased to be officiating, and truly appeared to be "one of the family" with the bride and groom. Thankfully for all involved, the ceremony was not long and it was soon announced the assembled crowd could congratulate the happy couple in the gardens. Those had been, in a tribute to paid staff and technology, completely transformed into an 'open spaces' banquet hall during the actual ceremony.

As Emkir, Aali and Mikah joined the Arch Duke and Grand Duchess on the reception line, Emkir mused over the many non-landed nobility present and designated the lot as the "Landless Nobility White Trash Party". But he kept that from his lips as he remained gracious and kept his eyes on the growing stack on the gifts table. One odd thing Emkir noticed was that a set of three people, properly dressed for the event, made regular appearances near the gift table. They appeared to show up after a handful of people, individually, stepped up to place gifts on the table. At that point, there would be whispered conversations and that person would be led off by the three. While Emkir could not watch to see where they went, the people "led off" never seemed to return to the party. And no one saw the three leading people off either, once the reception proper began. Another person no one saw for the rest of the day was Lord William.

As the reception line was winding down, Emkir and Aali got a chance to talk with the Arch Duke and offered him their gift. He was pleased when he saw the cuff links, and thanked the couple as he closed the box and put it in his pocket. He sobered up a bit as Emkir quietly said they came from the Quasar Viper, and pulled the box from his pocket again to examine the cufflinks more closely. More seriously, he thanked Emkir for the information and said he'd research them more completely. Given his serious turn, Emkir did his best to assure the Arch Duke the cufflinks were vetted by IRIS, but this didn't seem to satisfy his concern.

As the wedding and party took place, Shisema had a wonderful time. She used her comms to take many pictures once she saw others doing the same. As the day passed, she spoke with Zimzod and, less often, with those who addressed her. In all cases where nobility approached Zimzod, she stepped back to not intrude, given the high level of discussions she'd already overheard. She reflected on the fact that Zimzod's crew were travelling on a proper warship, which was something else that had her head a bit in orbit. It was very rare, in her experience, that an Imperial citizen who was not a serving naval member got to be aboard a ship in operational mode. Especially one being used as a personal yacht! In addition, Shisema kept notes her employer might find interesting about who got what contracts for the wedding.

Once everyone was seated, the couple had on Aali's side Duchess Delphine, Lady Mikah, Ms. Vik, Lady Seldrian and Dame Elane. To Emkir's side were the Arch Duke and Sir Rol. The table was balanced out by dividing the crew and Miss. Nagaak to fit, which put Shisema on the High Table and further in her own personal orbit. Once everyone was seated, the party proceeded as many wedding celebrations before it, though in a more stately and respectable manner. No "chicken dance" analogs or line dances. Late in the evening, the celebration ended and the guests faded off. As Zach was preparing to leave, he was brought into a room where they removed the intelligence wiring. While he fished for any information on the success of the operation, he was told they were techs and that was not their department.

The happy couple collected up their gifts and everyone got onto the transport back to the ship. During the ride back, the crew started handing over their gifts starting with Rol, who joked as he gave Emkir the ball and chain. Then he gave Aali the holoprojector. Ms. Vik gave Emkir his tech glasses and Aali the necklace. Mikah said Aali looked wonderful in her gown and then gave Emkir the 'Shooting for Dummies' book with the suction cup darts and laser sights. As everyone else laughed, Emkir quickly unpacked the gun, loaded it and aimed it at Aiden with a laugh.

Zach handed the couple a packet with two spiked collars and a whip. Once the laughing died down, he handed them each a wrapped bottles. One of Imported Regina liquor and the other of 200 year old aged whiskey. Zimzod then handed over his one packet, making it clear it was for both of them. The laughter at the zero-friction sheets covered the comment Shisema whispered to Zimzod that he'd now see the bruises when they slipped out of bed. And it was with that comment that Zimzod truly understood the intelligence behind selecting that gift to give. He also mysteriously pointed out to Aali and Emkir that there was something special slipped "inside the sheets", for later.

Finally, Aiden gave Aali 'Emkir's life' in a promise not to take revenge for the recent shooting. He then turned to Emkir and said he had "this" for the Admiral because he knew who wore the pants in their marriage. Emkir unwrapped the packet to find a blender. And not just any blender but an apparently very cheap model with damage that may have even been glued back together just before the wedding! With that, the transport was arriving at the ship and the party moved onto the ship.

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Next: The Bumpy Road Back To Rhylanor