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Marching Toward The
       Coming Thunder

    Saturday, 295-1112: 10am( The Duke had just left them
             with his Seneschal )

The Boot After The Boom

     As the crew sat in stunned silence, Mikah recovered, and asked Leonard's Seneschal if they were in a "black out" or if they'd be able to communicate with people and do business from this naval station they were being sent to? The Seneschal said they'd be able to communicate and do business freely, but would not be able to leave the station. He also suggested they'd have a lot of work ahead of them moving all their gear back onto the Hotel California, and setting the ship up for operations. When Zimzod asked if they were still being detained, the Seneschal said they were, until such time as the ceremony, at which their status would be revisited. Station

As the crew considered that, the Seneschal consulted his datapad and said, "In addition to the ceremony, there is another event you are required to attend. On the day after this ceremony the Duke mentioned, where you will be rewarded for your actions, you will all make yourselves available at noon time for a funeral. You will take part in the funeral, with full military honors for the four crew of the cruiser INS Khurmumshuuna Khangu, who were killed when the ship was hit by missiles aimed at the Sable Addix. As they heard this, the crew realized those had been some of the fifteen flights of missiles they'd been targeted by after engaging and killing the GNS Lilmett kin Vyste. Zimzod, and those who were on the bridge, remembered seeing the on-coming missile flights cut off as the cruiser moved in to protect the Addix while they fled the battle.

Turing to address Zach, the Seneschal said "Squire Wood. You will be the speaker for your crew at the funeral. In your address, you will explain your role in initiating the combat actions that led to these deaths." When Mikah pointed out that Zimzod started the shooting, the Seneschal pointed out that Zach had been the person at the bridge fire-control station, so he was the "Fire Control Officer" and was responsible. It was explained Zach would accept full responsibility for this, and reflect the proper respect and regret for the losses to the surviving ship's crew and families. The Seneschal made it clear this order and expectation came directly from the Duke. Under her breath, Aali said "We'll see how that works out", dubious of Zach's abilities, given the limited actions she'd seen him undertake.

With that, the Seneschal opened the room up for questions and Aali asked if Lord William was in-system? Surprised at the question, the Seneschal said he was not aware if His Lordship was in system or not. She was wondering if IRIS should be made aware of the sensor trace they had seen in their jump from the Mora to Brodie systems? While they had been ordered not to discuss the issue with anyone outside the offices of Admiral Saigacrem in the Gerome system, he was likely not aware of IRIS. So Aali wasn't certain if they should report the event to IRIS at all? As the Seneschal asked if there were any more questions, Emkir asked if there was a bar he could stop at on the way to the ship, before leaving for the naval base? When he was told there was not, he asked if there was a bar on the base? The Seneschal simply stared at Emkir for a few heart beats before dismissing them all.

As the Seneschal rose from the conference table, Mikah took Emkir to task for his question, saying, "Of course there's a bar on the station! It's a naval station!" Rol began speculating on the size of the station, to guess at the number of alcohol stills that might also be aboard? As they left the room, they were escorted by military guard, to a vehicle which returned them to the base's flight field. There, they re-boarded the INS Kanas Mimusi for the three-hour ride to Naval station 78. Once at the station, the crew were welcomed aboard with all the pomp and circumstances due those being punished by the Duke, which meant they were handed from one set of MP's to another.

Stepping Between Messes

     From the docking bay, they were taken to a concourse on which was the bay where the rebuilt Hotel California was berthed. As they explored the berth, they found it was much like those they had been in on civilian stations, with staterooms, galley, offices and other facilities. It only lacked the public/private divider which allowed a crew to secure half the bay from visitors. There were six 1-ton cargo containers in the bay, and they were told the station would keep one MP at the exit to enforce their detention. They could go where they wanted on the station and were issued credentials, but they had to confirm all destinations with the MP so they could be tracked.

As the crew looked at the cargo containers, they thought they certainly had not had that much gear until they remembered the parts Sir Brian stripped out of the wrecked gravVehicle. Not to mention the many thousands of datapads from Emkir's media fiasco. When Rol said he knew what they'd be doing for the next hour, his vast understatement became a target for comments from the rest of the crew. As they moved up to the containers, they knew they had two day's time before they had to be ready and wearing clean and appropriately formal cloths, for the ceremony. As they considered how to handle the work, Zimzod suggested their gear could have been palletized before being placed in the cargo containers. But they'd only been told they'd "have help" moving their gear from the Sable Addix. And then they'd gone drinking without supervising the work. So they only hoped the unsupervised work had been done neatly and respectfully.

Doubting this, Zach unceremoniously stepped up to open a container as the others speculated on how everything was stored? Rol intended to recover and store his weapons and armor first. Then he planned to organize his clothes and then electronics, before the rest of his possessions. Aali and Emkir planned to grab their ceremonial clothing first, then bedding and basics. After that, their weapons and armor before tool kits and other gear. Ms. Vik also planned to grab her ceremonial and business clothing and jump suits before bedding. Then her weapons, armor, tool kits and other gear.

Mikah planned to organize her clothing and find her Dress uniform first. Once she determined the condition of the uniform, she'd organize her weapons and armor, then med-bay materials, before the rest of her gear. Zach cared first for his clothing and then his weapons and armor. Zimzod would go for his clothing, then weapons and armor. He wanted to find his uniforms, inspect them and then the rest of he gear. Aiden would grab his ceremonial cloths first, then weapons and armor before grabbing the rest of his gear.

As they looked at the container Zach opened, they realized the drunk partiers on the naval station they'd been held at had gone through the Sable Addix in a party atmosphere. They apparently grabbed everything from each stateroom and compartment in the gazelle and simply dumpped what they brought in one of the six pods without a method of organization. So they realized items might have been forgotten or even stolen, as souvenirs in fits of hero worship or outright theft. When she didn't see the 'droid, Aali activated her pocket control for Wall-e and received a response from inside the Hotel California. That suggested they'd put him in the ship's engineering system. As Mikah began to explore, she was pleased to find that they had at least put refrigerated blocks in the container for medical supplies which needed it. So there were not spoiled supplies.

The First Step In Cleaning Up

     The first thing they did was to wade into the piles of gear and identify what belonged to each of the crew, creating individual piles of what each owned. Then, they each began the process of checking each item for condition and damage before storing the items according to their intended priorities. As they began to work, the first issue anyone noticed was an intense smell of alcohol as all the containers were opened. Wading into a container to investigate, they realized the possibly-drunken revelers who'd loaded it were none to careful. A number of Aali and Emkir's liquor bottles had shattered and soaked much of what was around them! As the team worked to empty the container and parse out what was in it, they found that the gear primarily belonged to Emkir and Aali. But there were also possessions and clothing belonging to Zach and Aiden in the mess. As they dug in, Mikah and the crew worried that one or more of Brian's books might be in the mess and soaked!

As Zimzod searched for his weapons and military gear first, he realized he couldn't find his Marine Dress Uniform! Looking more specifically for the uniform, Zimzod found it was not in any of the containers. Once he started recovering all his gear, Zimzod found his gauss rifle was also missing! At the same time, Aiden couldn't find the sword he had customized for his grip, arm and style, nor could Zach find his newest gauss pistol. Of no combat value, but of greater personal value and worth, Ms. Vik found the roll up she stored her jewelry in was missing! As she dug and searched, it was not present. Nor were any of the items stored in it, some of which were items of significant value.

Aali eventually found she was missing a pair of LI/IR goggle, but was not concerned with that as her combat armor had been packed. And Emkir found his photography bag had disappeared. It contained a Canolta XA-1 Camera and 11 Film Cartridges along with accessories. Despite the emotions they were all feeling at the moment, those of the crew used to higher technology took a moment to pause and laugh at having a camera that "used film" in this day and age! As they laughed, Emkir was not really concerned, because he'd not used the camera in the past three years and was certain the film had gone sour anyway. While Mikah was eventually relieved to find almost all of the med-bay stuff had been packed, she did find the bottle of vargr drugs had been stolen! She also found the datapad on which she received the download of data on Duchess Delphine from Duke Leonard's library had been stepped on or otherwise crushed. While the data crystals in the pad could be moved, Mikah was not concerned as she hoped to never deal with the Grand Duchess again.

As the Rol hunted and collected, he found that the dog-tags he had kept with his personal gear were missing. He was also missing a case containing one week's MRE rations. The case of bottled water he had was ripped open and those working on moving the gear had helped themselves. So that water was all gone and they'd only left empty bottles behind. Having heard about Mikah's datapad, Zimzod searched the containers with his gear, and parsed through the datapads collected by Emkir, for his datapad from the Quasar Viper. Emkir's datapads had all been dumped into a container. Eventually, Zimzod had to wait as Aali sparked up Wall-e to investigate the thousands of pads. She said Wall-e could scan each of the pads, grabbing upto six at a time, and identify the model of each. So the android could more quickly organize the pads by model, age and condition. Since the pad would be the oldest and likely the only one of its model class, this would be the fastest way to find the device.

In the end, as Wall-e sorted, Zimzod's datapad, with Book "Tales of the Marches"(pub 650 TI-Mora, Value Cr300 ) was found destroyed. It was a loss to Zimzod, although they relaxed because they had it. When they thought it was stolen, they realized it could be traced to the Quasar Viper. It was an old datapad, but had been bought at a shop before being brought aboard that ship. It could just as easily have been left somewhere and bought, sold or traded over the ages until Zimzod got it. But once the damaged pad was found, the Knight realized he only needed to have the crystal moved to another of the thousands of datapads they had and he'd have the book back. Along with his gauss pistol, Zach had lost one magazine containing a full clip of ammo. But he still had 12 magazines and 180 rounds left to add to the 150 rounds in 30 clips, and gun case for his lost Darrian Gauss Pistol.

After most of the day, they had managed to pull most of their gear into piles and separate the piles out by types of possessions to begin stowing things aboard the new ship. Wall-e would work until just after lunch the next day at its task, and Zimzod would not have his answer on the datapad until then. But there was a dark cloud brewing among the crew and, well after lunch, Zimzod finally gathered the data on missing items and tried to call the commander of the base they'd been held on. When he was asked what he needed, and Zimzod explained what had happened, he was routed to the JAG office to submit a report on stolen items, as that was proper procedure. Zimzod was not happy with just doing this, and pushed to speak to the station commander, figuring the man respected them and he'd get more action that way.

But he was not allowed to connect to the officer or his staff as that was not the way procedure worked. So Zimzod filed the complaint and was promised there would be an investigation. Inger also considered using her influence, but realized that this was a naval base, and she had limited influence. Wall-e's eventual report on the sorted datapads were that roughly a quarter of the data pads were destroyed by careless shipping. Wall-e had also been tasked with separating out the parts Brian had salvaged from the grav car, which never got sold. As they sorted and worked, the crew also took time to relax or do other things, as they knew they wouldn't likely finish before dinner.

They also needed to finish up by that evening, to be ready for the ceremony the day after. Aiden spent time reading and relaxing from time to time. In addition to filing his report, Zimzod found a formal civilian suit in his gear to have laundered as Aali and the others talked about cleaning and doing laundry. Once he was done on the comms with the JAG office, and emotions had settled, Zimzod decided to also look into his emails, to find out what happened with the Tellona Diamond auction? As he logged into his emails, Zimzod found one marked "Important" with the subject "Diamond Auction Wrap up", which was sent from Countess Ursara's official merchant address.

Dealing With The Diamond And The Countess

     Opening that email, Zimzod read that the full final sale price of the diamond was Cr 7,766,753!! Before he read on, Zimzod realized he was a millionaire! Not that this wasn't expected, but expecting it was a very different thing than having it actually happen! As he read on, Zimzod saw that just over MCr 1.5 were taken out as taxes and the Countess's 15% fee came to just over MCr 1 as well. In addition, she'd taken the 3% "extra" Zimzod had offered her in her sitting room back on Jae Tellona. So he finally realized a profit of Cr 5,122,950. After reading through everything twice, to be sure he'd gotten all the details, Zimzod logged into the account he'd created when they were last on Rhylanor and confirmed the balance.

Zimzod also took some time to clear up his emails, wiping away a huge number of spam advertisements offers to "help him manage" his fortune. Once the vultures were cleared away, he called the crew together to discuss sharing the cash. As he reminded them of the events and decisions, and that he'd told Zach he was "not getting paid" because he fell asleep, Zimzod explained how he wanted to share out the money. He started with Aali, and apologized to her because she was not there and would be sitting through this and not getting a share. But he said he didn't feel it fair to those who were involved to add her in after the fact. And, she was married to Emkir so she'd share his pay.

In the end, everyone except Aali, Zimzod and Zach got a share of Cr 512,295, which raised a huge cheer from most of the crew. Zimzod, as he'd planned, took a double share and Zach got docked 25% and received Cr 384,221. In addition to the share he'd planned to give to the ship, Zimzod lumped in the share that would have gone to Sir Brian and also added what he'd docked Zach for. When this made it clear the ship could pay back the debt it owed to Lady Mikah, of Cr 164,426, she said to let the debt remain as she was not charging interest. While they all knew she wasn't hurting for money, they also knew she felt it gave her some additional say over the command of the ship. But with ownership broken into equal shares, that was not the case and a few of the crew felt they'd need to revisit that eventually. But they all agreed it was very good to have actual ship's funds in case of an emergency.

As everyone took the time to work with Zimzod and log into their own accounts, the payments were transferred and both Zimzod and Aiden settled their loans with Mikah. In the end, everyone's accounts were looking far more healthy than they had been, with the following balances:
       Ship's Funds: Cr 1,435,960
               Zimzod: 1,031,747       Emkir and Aali: 741,883       Mikah: 731,243
               Ms. Vik: 598,450          Aiden: 538,422                      Rol: 525,294
               and Zach: 430,811

So after all was said and done, and the ship paid Aali her two month's back pay, Zimzod was still a millionaire and almost the entire crew held more than half a million credits in their account. After that, they formally voted and decided Aali should get Sir Brian's share ownership of the Hotel California. When Mikah suggested that Aali, who was now a share holder in the ship, shouldn't be drawing a monthly salary as crew, she suggested that had to be revisited.

Once done with the money, Zimzod saw he also had an email from Count Krenowl, who congratulated Zimzod on the sale, and invited him to get in touch when he returned to the system. Once done with that email, Zimzod scanned his remaining mail and saw one from Countess Ursara, dated two days before. Opening that, he read that the Countess wanted to detail her finalized plans as she was preparing to leave in a week's time. While she said she was planning to do things like hand off the simulated Tellona Diamond, this meant she was still in-system! As he realized this, Zimzod decided to call the Gypsy Girl and the Countess. When she took the line, Ursara very graciously welcomed Zimzod back in system and asked if Lady Mikah was with him? Misunderstanding, and thinking Ursara meant "on the line too", Zimzod said Mikah wasn't. Confused, Ursara asked why Mikah had stayed back in the Mora system, and Zimzod said she came back to Rhylanor but wasn't on the comms or in the room.

As they talked, Ursara said there had been some news on events in the Mora system and she congratulated Zimzod on the confirmation of his title. She'd also heard of the engagement of Captain Aalikiir Khiiriisom Khaanmii Eikusdi Piirirshu and Admiral Emkir Meshrumiikiim. When she asked how things went in Mora, Zimzod told her things went smoothly and ended well. After they'd glossed over events on Mora, Ursara confirmed Zimzod had read her message wrapping up the auction? Zimzod said he did, and was very happy with the outcome. She said she was very pleased too, and admitted that while things could have gone better on Jae Tellona, it all ended well for everyone involved. Ursara asked if Zimzod could contact Mikah and remind her about the simulated Tellona Diamond she had? The Countess wanted to know if Mikah still wanted it at the price of Cr 2,000 they talked about? Asking Ursara to hold on, Zimzod yelled through the Iris valve into the next compartment, asking Mikah if she still wanted the fake stone?

As Ursara heard Zimzod call out, she said "Oh! Lady Mikah is there." and asked if she could join the call? Once on the call, Mikah thanked the Countess when Ursara congratulated her on her elevation. Mikah admitted the elevation was very much of a surprise. As they talked about the appointment, Ursara took Mikah to task, saying it was obvious she knew the Arch Duke much better than she had claimed. Mikah back pedaled on that, saying that wasn't really the case. Mikah congratulated Ursara on working out a well-executed auction and Ursara returned the compliment to both the Knights on becoming war heroes. Mikah asserted that was not at all intentional. Ursara commented again on how exciting she thought life aboard their ship was, but also made a point of saying she was glad she had her own ship. Mikah jokingly asked if Ursara needed help on her ship, and they all laughed. When Mikah got a chance, she asked who had been the highest bidder on the Tellona diamond and Ursara said it was a Duke from the Deneb sector.

When Ursara asked Mikah where they were docked, Mikah admitted they were currently under arrest, on a naval base. This got a confused reaction from Ursara, who asked for an explanation. When Zimzod said, "We're actually being detained. We're not under arrest", Ursara again asked for an explanation. Zimzod explained that there was an ceremony coming up and the Navy wanted the crew to be sure to be there. Mikah joked that they considered the crew a flight risk. Grabbing onto the ceremony, Ursara said, "I understand the Admiral and Engineer got engaged, are they..." Mikah cut her off, off handily saying, "Oh, yeah. They're married. The Arch-Duke performed the ceremony. Duchess Delphine was there." There, Ursara cut Mikah off saying: "Oh, you got to play with the dragon lady?" which experience Mikah admitted was 'interesting'. Mikah admitted that they were on her turf so they did try to behave, and as a surprised Ursara was about to ask if they 'could' behave, Zimzod cut in saying, "And now Aiden is her bitch." As everything stopped for a second and Ursara simply asked, "What??" Zimzod told her it was one of the crew's inside jokes.

When the Countess still asked for an explanation, Mikah explained that Aiden had been created a Knight by the Grand Duchess. Ursara reacted with pleasure as she suggested they have a party. Mikah and Zimzod agreed to that, but said they weren't sure when that could happen and it was Ursara's turn to make jokes. She asked, "The ceremony... Is someone else getting married and the Duke's not sure if you'll make it to the church?" Mikah said it was nothing like that and told Ursara the crew were being "rewarded" by the Duke and he hadn't given them any details. When she heard that, Ursara asked, "So the Duke is in charge of the ceremony?" and asked if he explained how they were to be rewarded as Mikah made it sound so appetizing. Mikah admitted, they were not told, and were sure the Duke didn't really wanted to reward them either?

Mikah said she'd invite the Countess but attendance might not be safe, and Ursara said she was sure she'd be there. At that, Zimzod joked, "We put a dent in his star cruiser and he's a bit upset", forgetting the crew deaths aboard that ship. Ignoring the cavalier attitude Zimzod had to friendly deaths, Ursara said she'd heard about their military exploits, which were all over the news throughout Rhylanor. When Zimzod laughed and said the Duke was upset that they scratched the paint, Ursara took it as a euphemism for receiving damage to their own ship during the fight. When she said she thought that sort of thing happened in combat, Zimzod said it was another inside joke. Ursara accepted that and got back to asking Mikah when they could get together and complete the deal on the simulated diamond?

Mikah considered the ceremony, the funeral the day after and the lack of information they'd been given and told Ursara she wasn't sure. Zimzod jumped in, and asked if Ursara could visit them on the naval station? The Countess considered that and said she could visit them. As Mikah and Zimzod explained what base they were on and where they were on the base, the others heard their side of the conversation and made jokes. But the reasons for the call were handled and the three went through the pleasantries before Ursara said she'd consider "dropping by" when Gypsy Girl was heading out for jump. Eventually, they finished the call and returned to work in the berth.

After her conversation with Ursara, Mikah turned on the news as she returned to work. As the crew watched or listened, they could see for themselves what Zach also learned in his call with Erum. The media were in the midst of a data frenzy where they were not only presenting the facts coming out of the battle, but also the side conversations. One sidebar concerned questions about how the fleet, which had been predicted to be a threat to the Lanth system, had snuck through to the Rhylanor system? Even now, media reports said the Duke had called the ambassadors from the Sacnoth system to answer for their promised support and to explain what they might know about how the fleet passed through the strengthening Imperial lines?

Other sidebars discussed the Sable Addix, her crew and the history of the knights, including news and rumors from the Mora system. These were bracketed with stories on merchant ship reactions as well as the reactions from the many in-system arcologys, stations and facilities. While this was a thrilling victory, it was one which added many concerns and mysteries to those from the attack that took Sir Brian's life! Reports also continued from the clean up and recovery. These fell in with the other stories of the day. ( See the full news stories Below )

As Mikah continued to worked on recovering and storing her gear, she also began cataloging and stowing the med-bay's gear too. Once she was fairly sure she'd recovered all the materials for the med-bay, Mikah did a double check before telling the crew the "vargr juice" from the Inthe system had gone missing too! Zimzod joked that it, at least, should be easy to find. All they had to do was look for a group of sudden coma patients. As the rest of the crew laughed, they made a point of adding that to the list when they had the chance. She took some comfort that she had the 'recipe' for the stuff, but she really hated to break the news to Inger.X

Taking A Break To Do Business

     On top of his work, Zach contacted the trading network he'd been involved with. Especially Erum Dalunica, who was his main trading partner during his previous weeks in-system. As he scanned his emails, Zach saw the contract he had tried to put together between Apa-aeawes and the Count had fallen through. When Zach called Erum, the trader welcomed Zach back to Rhylanor and congratulated him on being alive. Zach thanked him and said it had been very questionable, and Erum made it clear the news had covered that angle in complete detail. As Zach would see when Mikah later turned on the news, Erum went on in a bit of detail about what was being said. One of the things Zach learned from Erum was that the news had managed to get enough sensor feeds from the battle, and hired enough computer graphics people, that many outlets were presenting 3D simulations of the battle as it had actually happened. As a result, the whole "Lady Mikah and her crew saved the day" rumor was dying in the face of actual sensor-fed facts.

Of course, this was easily replaced by the truth, which was more bizarre. What the simulations showed was that, despite the military nature of the Sable Addix, the crew and riggings were decidedly civilian as they arrived on the battle's edge. And then, they directly engaged a military target two and a half times the size of their own vessel and easily three times as heavily armed instead of fleeing! No mention was made that target had been manned by a much better-trained crew with better gunners. And despite this, they managed to destroy the target without taking any damage to their own vessel. Of course, the media were happy to ignore the missile flights that chased them out of the battle and caused other deaths and damage to friendly vessels. And while the media's spin on the facts made it hard to give Erum any of the details he asked about, it still made the trader's enthusiastic support easy to get.

As he talked with Erum, Zach also worked his way through some more emails and found that his credentials had been completely cleared. He was able to work as a trader once more. Despite that, Zach discovered a disturbing number of emails without return addresses or identification which all threatened his life. Not lacking for enemies, Zach didn't have to wonder much who was likely behind this? If it were the Stepozhevac, they wouldn't know him and would be harassing the entire crew. This was him, and this was specific. That went for any number of other minor players, too. If it were Open Skies, they wouldn't threaten someone who had powerful patrons. So Zach's money was on the underworld, and perhaps people who were related to either Arcea or Tarulli Itium. And while that worried Zach, he was past concerns about that when he was with his crew because, they'd not likely try something like a frontal assault.

Another group of emails were from the Kirgashii Household, regarding his return to the system and a number of other issues. Some were contact data and locations in the Rhylanor system where he could seek resources from the Household. And some were specific commentary on Zach's actions. The best information on the Duke's reactions may have come from these emails. While the media and public were eating up the hero angle, those in the "official know" were aware the ship could and should have moved away without engaging. And Zach was the self-admitted man at the weapons console on the ship's bridge. While Zach could give many answers, he was realizing none of those would satisfy those watching him with disapproval. Once done with his emails, Zach returned to his work while also taking breaks to start working on the speech he was told he'd have to make at the funeral.

A Word Between Admirals

     As Aali and Emkir worked to investigate their losses and clear their gear, they realized that most of the bottles which had been shattered were fairly inexpensive brands and vintages. While Emkir still mourned the loss, the pile of laundry items grew. Lucky for Aali, she had not had the chance to integrate any jewelry into her admittedly small personal cache, so all their valuables were still in luggage, and had not been apparent. So it wasn't snatched. This included the gold fob she'd bought at Frank's, which had the genealogy on it. Considering the loss of booze and the goggles, Aali felt she got off light. She planned to work harder while making multiple trips to the berth's laundry systems. As she considered the work ahead, Aali also looked at the work she needed to get done on the ship's engineering.

As they got things under control, Emkir told Aali he had to make a call. He then stepped out, leaving Aali to work on things while he called Admiral Saigacrem. When the Admiral answered his comms, Saigacrem welcomed Emkir back to the system and they had a nice chat about the battle with von Kreden's forces and the Sable Addix's close call. As the two finished talking about the battle, and a few comments were made about close scrapes he'd had on Porozlo, Emkir got serious and told Saigacrem they had something for him. Noting Emkir's change of attitude, Saigacrem asked if he could get it electronically or if he had to come get it in person? Emkir replied, "It's classified under Imperial Secrets Acts and Compartmentalized per Captain Marotecua, commanding the Battleship INS Shiakox Edanxuha." Emkir also explained the orders on this issue required them to report this "only" to his office, stressing the word as he spoke.

After a brief pause, Emkir continued saying he had the datapads and packets with him personally. And since he couldn't visit Admiral Saigacrem, the Admiral might want to visit them. This surprised Saigacrem, who asked why Emkir couldn't visit him and Emkir explained his crew were being detained, per the Duke's orders. After another pause, Admiral Saigacrem said he'd be out to the station on the packet but he also promised Emkir he'd look into things with the Duke's orders too. With that, they chatted a bit before they broke the line. Emkir then made courtesy calls to other officers he knew, but wasn't surprised they were all a bit busy. There were some short conversations, but many of these people held combat-related roles and had a lot to slog through cleaning up after the battle. Once done on the comms, Emkir returned to cleaning up with Aali. As he did, Emkir made it plain he would have buried each shattered bottle properly if he could have. The rest of the crew were surprised he didn't try to wring the booze from the clothing to drink what he could.

More Cleaning Up In The Berth

     Ms. Vik took some time to check her emails and call the port as she worked. Her friends in central offices asked her when she thought she could visit? When Inger said, "That was an interesting question", she got blinking, surprised looks from her friends. When she said the crew were being detained on a naval base, it seemed to confirm rumors they'd heard. Inger was surprised, as rumors the port heard generally were also those leaked to the media. When she asked how the port heard the rumors, she was told they were not sure how the director learned of it. After that call, Inger checked her messages and found some dated messages from Rhylanor and some that had arrived as X-messages from Risek and other systems, asking about her possible help. But the date tags on all these were old enough to be stale, and those in other systems were well behind her in the wake of time. Inger did send emails to those ships which had reached out to her in Rhylanor, saying she'd been tied up on official business at the time and was sorry she wouldn't be available to help.

As Rol started, he first found all of his weapons and detail stripped, checked and cleaned them. Once that was done, he pulled out his dress uniform and searched out a cleaning service for it. Since this was a military facility, it was easy to find one close by who, thanks to the lack of "easy off-base" competition, could charge "enlisted-man-friendly prices". So he called to have all his laundry picked up and processed for Cr 20. When they learned who Rol was, there was a promise to do a very good job on his uniform and all his suits along with a "brass and ribbons" service for free. After that, Rol checked his emails and found the regular traffic of hello's and spam. There were some general emails from the Order of the March Protectors, which were more or less chatter and regular local security status updates. Rol wanted to research the stuff marked "Order only" more completely when he had the time, as he realized they'd take some hours going over. Lucky for him they stated, in the message, that they did not require immediate attention.

Of course, the one item he did open and read was an invitation to come out and congratulate one of the newest Brother Knights, Sir Rol Kaihvos, on his actions and participation in the recent naval battle against "von Kreden's cretins", as the ramshackle fleet was now being referred to in private. This was ironic to Rol, who's entire participation was armoring up and readying his weapons in the event there was an attempt to board the Sable Addix, then sitting strapped in and doing nothing in the ship's lounge as the battle happened around him. If he were asked, and had to be completely honest, his role in the battle was relegated to 'battle-ready passenger'! A follow up letter made it clear they still wanted to have a party for Rol once they learned the Sable Addix had not actually "lead" the decisive counter attack, and he should be honored and welcomed back to the system.

As he moved on to the other emails, Rol found a large number of warnings from TAS about a rogue fleet moving from the Sword worlds and travel advisories that included urgent advisories for those in the Rhylanor system as the battle began and unfolded. Sadly, for Rol and the crew, they were all too well aware of the facts after the event, and couldn't help becoming mixed up in it. So Rol collected all those messages and dumped them. Rol then tried to reach out to Admiral Uuela and learned the Admiral was no longer in-system. Rol recalled the Admiral had gotten orders and was taking a new post so he figured that could have happened.

The Admiral's Banquet

     After the first day's work, the crew had been able to organize most of their dumped possessions and separate out those items they prioritized. Wall-e reported a damage rate near 20% to the datapads and a smaller but noticeable damage rate on the circuit boards and fragile parts from the disassembled grav-Vehicle. As the crew stepped back and gathered to consider dinner, word came that Admiral Saigacrem's flagship had arrived and had gotten permission to take the crew "into his custody". This was paired with the neew they were to be brought aboard for a small banquet. Leading his people in person, and as the crew began to move, Saigacrem leaned over to Emkir saying "Don't get too excited. This was just a good cover for me to use to collect the data." As the Admiral arrived, Rol remembered Saigacrem from the poker game Emkir had invited him to their first day on Rhylanor before he was knighted.

Admiral Saigacrem had passed himself off as, "one of the many staff Admirals of the Rhylanor Colonial fleet" and Rol had never gotten his actual duties or assignment. He also remembered this Admiral had been "very interested" when Emkir said the crew were selling data on the Jae Tellona nomads. Once the crew were escorted onto the flagship, a 70,000 cruiser, they found there was a banquet, but were all informed this was a working dinner. Those in attendance were his lead investigative officers and heads of departments, as Emkir had not been very descriptive over the comms. So the warning was appropriate. There were no extra ship's officers or spare crew. The dinner would be locked down, and the questioning intense for those involved. So Inger, Rol and those not involved got to relax and chow down while the others answered and explained between bites.

After they started asking questions, and the data pads and packets were handed over, a segment of the officers split off to copy and distribute the data to the others while the section heads and lead investigators dug in. As they started getting an idea what they were there to look at, some of the officers realized it was not their area of investigation and recused themselves. By an hour into dinner, the group had paired down to the crew and those who investigated this type of anomaly. They found the captain of the battleship they first revealed this to had his people do an excellent job documenting their claims and data. While the crew were repeatedly questioned completely, a good amount of effort was spent digging into the documentation too.

When Zach tried to fish for information from them, their very chilly response was that they were there to ask the questions. While the crew were not under investigation for a crime, it was made clear "you do not ask covert incident investigators, covert incident investigators ask you." They didn't go to mentioning the obvious, which was that 'they then decide if you've seen to much and you disappear.' It was made very clear that this was a one-way street. The crew also saw that they were comfortable with the usual MO of wringing witnesses dry of all information and then tossing them aside as they went about their work.

Despite this, there was an "officer's table" at which Emkir was invited to dine with Aali. And as she was introduced and the wedding discussed, it became clear the Admiral and Emkir were good and former co-workers. It appeared that Emkir's office, as he worked to try to bring the warring nations on Porozlo together, relied on Admiral Saigacrem's people to provide secrets for Emkir to use to arm-twist leaders into signing agreements. So Emkir had been on the "receiving side" of the secrets Admiral Saigacrem's people provided, just not in this case. Still, they were friends and obviously respected each other. And any wife of Emkir's was a friend of the Admiral.

As they chatted about past work, and Mikah overheard them talking about Porozlo, she asked how the Stepozhevaci situation was evolving? This knocked something loose as the Admiral remembered, the Stepozhevaci had been trying to lodge charges against the crew. Several Imperial offices had been "running interference" to prevent this happening. When Mikah sat up and almost demanded to know what case they had, the Admiral said the Stepozhevaci were claiming material damages and breach of contract. This surprised a number of the crew who knew just what can of worms revealing the contract might open up, but knew they'd be hurt more than the Stepozhevaci if word of the Quasar Viper got out.

And, as the Admiral explained the potential for charges and even a lean against the Hotel California, they realized that the Viper affair was nowhere near as buried as they'd hoped. Thinking about the hand-comp they turned over to Lord William and the access IRIS now had to their finances at the least, Mikah asked if the nation was suffering financially, and was told they were not. The Admiral warned them the Stepozhevaci might be working to reach out to underworld contacts in the Rhylanor system, to help in their revenge too. As he spoke, the crew recalled this system had a very healthy underworld which they'd cause some damage to as well.

As they discussed this very dangerous topic, Mikah considered a number of things and scoured her memory of the various enemies they'd made in the Porozlo and Rhylanor systems. As she did, something finally locked in place that she'd been wondering about since earlier that day. As they had gone through the cargo containers and separated out their gear, Mikah had found in her things a data crystal. She vaguely recalled it was her's, but was not at all able to remember what it was until that conversation. As they talked, the memories snapped back in place and she remembered this was the back-up copy Brian had made of the Stepozhevaci hand computer's contents before they'd even considered turning it over to IRIS.

The "Full" backup of the system, including all the banking information and other data. And while Mikah wondered how that could be put to use to benefit the crew, she also knew that IRIS might be watching, and waiting for the Stepozhevaci to do that one thing that could lead to a full out Imperial intervention. So they might be able to get away with some things, but might also either tip the Stepozhevaci off that they were compromised, or do something that forced IRIS to act against the crew. Care would have to be taken if they did anything. As the conversation probed the things they might be able to do in retaliation to the Stepozhevaci, Mikah didn't want to mention this suddenly-remembered asset to the Admiral or his people but did wonder how they could show the crew still had teeth. As others of the crew got involved in the conversation, not knowing about the data crystal, it was obvious that starting a fight with the Stepozhevaci could get messy.

Emkir jokingly said they could find allies some how, raise a huge military force and simply raze the country, saying that might earn you even more rewards. There were some jokes about any Imperial response as well as punishment from the crew before Aali, who'd heard all about the Stepozhevaci affair, finally ended the conversation. She recommended they let sleeping Stepozhevaci lie. The rest of the crew agreed, as did the Admiral and many of his people. Then, discussion turned to another mystery. Addressing the Admiral, Mikah asked if he had any idea what the Duke was planning to do to them in two days? With a smile and a glint in his eyes, the Admiral just said, "No. Not at all", which convinced all in the compartment that he knew exactly what was being planned.

Realizing that was a dead-end road, Mikah changed directions asking if, in his past dealings with him, Emkir had ever started a cult before? Admiral Saigacrem had to admit that was a new high for Emkir. As he said this, Emkir raised a toast, "To new highs!" and drank with those who joined in. In the pause, Rol asked if the Admiral's people had any information on a job the crew had considered the last time they were in the Rhylanor system? When Admiral Saigacrem asked what job that was, Rol said they'd been approached to see if they could find out what had happened to a team sent into the Pavabid system ( District 268 ) and report back with anything they learned on the team's fate?

Admiral Saigacrem had to admit he hadn't heard anything about this. Knowing a great deal about the Pavabid system, the Admiral was curious about any details Rol could give them about the job offer. Rol answered but tried to keep the information he gave limited. Rol even worked to suggest they had been contacted by an intermediary to not give Dame Ashlee's name. As Rol worked to keep himself out of trouble, the Admiral seemed to be OK with letting him off the hook. But it was obvious everyone knew there was data not being shared. Soon enough, the Admiral commented on the newly-commenced tour the Pavabid Choir had begun, having left their system for a first set of performances in the Mertactor system ( District 268 ). Admiral Saigacrem suggested the event should be interesting to watch as protesters and perhaps even pro-Trexalonian forces mixed with Imperials trying to improve the relationship with any independent systems in District 268.

An Evening Relaxing In The Berth

     Eventually, the sensor anomaly research was done and the "banquet" ended. The crew were escorted off Admiral Saigacrem's flagship and handed back to the base's MPs. Then, they were escorted back to their bay, where they had the choice of continuing to work at sorting things or relaxing for the evening. Either way, they guessed that, if they worked hard at it the next morning, everything would be squared away by lunch time. All the laundry had been picked up by the service Rol found and told others about, and would be delivered back by noon the next day too. So everyone ponied up Cr 10 for that service. Everyone had also set up what gear they needed to charge to be fully ready by the next day.

Zach did research on those killed aboard the cruiser, as well as the names and roles of the other ships that helped in their escape as he started fleshing out the framework he had in mind for his speach. Zach intended to open with a recognition of the dead and mention each person by name and rank. He would ask to mourn the loss, as happened in combat, to the families as well as the crews that helped them escape harm. Then he'd turn to thanking the crusier's Captain and the other ships that came to their aid. He planned to use that as a verbal springboard to congratulate all the Imperial forces involved in being able to turn the conflict into the victory it became. Zach planned to touch on the losses at strategic points, to make more poignant the efforts on all Imperial sides as they made safe the citizens of the Rhylanor system and the Imperium.

As he discussed this with the others, it was pointed out that the Seneschal said Zach had to specifically address not only their role in the battle, but his role and how that led to the deaths. It was suggested that Zach find some way to make an apology in there too. When Zach floated the idea that he would apologize for opening fire on targets before they'd been ordered to clear the combat zone, he was told that was more of an excuse and reminded he had to take ownership and not make excuses. Aiden miraculously managed to hold his tongue and not remind the merchant that they "had" been told to get out before Zimzod, and then Zach, had opened fire. Perhaps the pilot hoped Zach would manage to shove his foot so deep down his throat that he would choke himself to death.

As the reviews from the others came back heavily mixed, Zach decided to spend the rest of the evening working on editing his speech and read it to the others the next day when they gathered for lunch. Zimzod told Zach not to worry saying, "With my flowery public-type skills, we'll have you at the gallows by noon!" and got laughs all around. As Mikah disassembled a pistol, she happily volunteered to be a character witness. Zimzod laid out all his weapons to detail strip, clean and reassemble, and had sent out his Class A's to be cleaned. He also made a specific effort to prepare his cutlass for the ceremony. As he worked, Zimzod invited Mikah to sit and watch the news with a bottle of booze or three. When Mikah asked if Aali and Emkir had any booze to lend, Aali said it wouldn't likely be a loan as Zimzod commented on the cash he'd just shared with everyone.

Adding to the sentiment, when Emkir heard any discussion of drinking, he was up for that too. So Aali figured it was as good a time as any to have another crew party in the berth after a hard day's work. When they invited him, Zach chose to work on the draft of his speech instead. As They watched the news, Mikah brought up the fact that they'd have to come up with a new way to make money now that one Duke or another was not paying their bills. So they discussed that a bit too. Ss they watched the news, especially the stories about public unrest in Rhylanor due to the recent mysterious attacks and the ability of enemy forces to reach so secure a system, made some of them nervous. They suddenly began to wonder what use Duke Leonard would put their team to, so he could harness their recently gained Hero status.

As they watched, they had to wonder if part of the "reward ceremony" would be an announcement that Lady Mikah and her crew were being sent out to find and engage "the bad guys" and save the system? And what would happen to the crew, not to mention their hero status, if they failed to "save the system"? Another thought had the crew wandering back and forth making inspirational speeches and visits across the Rhylanor system to raise morale. Several of the crew envisioned being told they had to remain in port, making these morale boosting visits 'for the good of the Imperium'. And also being told this was their duty, so they weren't getting paid while they also had to keep paying fees to the port for their ship and paying their bills and not earning an income. The mysterys wrapped in the on-coming "Rewards ceremony" were looking worse and worse every minute. Once done watching the news or working at their tasks, the crew went to sleep.

The Day's News

    Risek (A325579-A N Green NI 501 M5 V M3 D)                                                 Date: 281-1112
    Relief continues in the Risek System as things stabilize in all parts of the system. The
    nation of Podesta has been receiving significant support as it begins its recovery. Talks
    have opened with the Ministry of Colonization to potentially invite settlers from trailing
    sectors who might have the skills and inclination to put down roots as they aid in the
    recovery.   

    Porozlo (A867A74-A Green Hi A01 M1 V M9 D)                                                 Date: 286-1112
    Reports from the Porozlo system covered the hot war breaking out on that world as the
    armed forces of three nations clashed over the rights to resources made accessible by
    new technology. Concern Imperial assets might be at risk were raised as New Jindabyn,
    a Free trade nation, signed contracts for advanced technology to mine the co-claimed
    resources.

    Neighboring Sertao Forros, a Private Ownership nation, maintains a significant military
    using some off-world connections with corporations. Reports suggested they planned
    to force New Jindabyn to surrender mining operations, and claim to the region, or
    destroy their ability to mine, putting Imperial lives at risk. The nation of Ko Qiquiang,
    a very conservative Private Ownership nation, had also claimed the region since the
    initial settlement wars on Porozlo, and had lost badly in those wars.

    Seen as a very minor player in affairs, Ko Qiquiang planned a surprise assault with air
    and remote strike(missiles) assets against both Sertao Forros and New Jindabyne ground
    forces before hitting them with ground units. Experts believe they expected to shatter
    enemy ground units and force them back to integrate with their reserves and prevent
    further loss of territory. This could have allowed Ko Qiquiang demand a peace and
    adjustment of the borders.

    Unfortunately for Ko Qiquiang, the Sertao Forros and New Jindabyne militaries were set
    to escalate their war using air units as Ko Qiquiang prepared their "master stroke".
    Many of the air strikes were deflected or made less effective as the surprise attack was
    countered. Ko Qiquiang's failed surprise pitted Ko Qiquiang formations against fresh,
    well-supplied enemy formations just as their ground units faced opposing formations
    undamaged from the air. Still, no one nation could concentrate on a single foe without
    being beaten badly by the other, so the trade-off of resources from front to front promised
    a prolonged military exchange.  

As they listened to the news from Porozlo, the crew were disappointed to hear the Stepozhevaci were not involved in the exchange.

    Rhylanor (A434934-F 2 Green Hi Cap 910 M2 V6)                                              Date: 295-1112
    Trade numbers, rising steadily since the end of the war, have been shaky over the past month
    with many local instabilities impacting trade lanes. The Duke's office admitted this latest
    episode will have an impact, but were quick to point out that von Kreden's forces would no
    longer be a threat to any Imperial citizen  

    Regina (A788899-C A Ca 703 Im F7V M6V M8D)                                              Date: 264-1112
    The Payan Network on Regina are still working to engineer a mass-migration of citizens
    back to the Paya system. The network has faced setbacks as the hired transports appear
    to have suffered various issues. Various agencies of the Regina government have also
    stepped in trying to prevent a crisis, and the Imperial Navy has let it be known no ships
    will be granted naval permission to transport those who would destabilize an entire solar
    system.  

    Iderati (A887798-C Ag Green 201 Im M9V)                                                         Date: 225-1112
    As several systems in the Marches have passed laws preventing the Clone of Ardella Mestler
    and her band from performing, legal battles are being fought in as wide a range of systems.
    As well as those battles, and the fights between the clone and her family over her estate,
    plans have been announced she will soon begin a concert tour spanning the entire Spinward
    Marches!  

    Skull (C2237C7-9 2 Green Po NA 601 M1 V M0 VI)                                           Date: 273-1112
    From the Natoko Interdiction Investigation, based at the Skull Imperial Naval based in that
    system ( Lanth ), Senator Kudila thanked Duke Leonard for authorizing the use of Imperial
    assets to enforce the investigation of a rumored shadow fleet. As of the Duke's most recent
    action, he has changed position and called for the raising of forces from the 212th Colonial
    fleet including the 1601st BatRon, 2188th CruRon and 2679th CruRon.

    These forces were being called up under the command of Fleet Admiral Khimuru Uuela, the
    former commander of the 212th Imperial fleet, which was preparing to cycle stations under
    new command.

    While permitted the use of the Colonial fleet, Admiral Uuela was denied use of the Porozlo
    BatRon and CruRon, due to increased conflict in that system.  

    Heya (B687745-5 Ag Ri   734 K6 III M8 D)                                                    Date: 232-1112
    The Admiralty in the Heya system have announced they have completed their investigation
    of the INS Adimar, and found all proper procedures were followed in the engagement with
    the Pirate flagship Ollong Dhugharr.

    The report confirms the Admiralty were very pleased the ship was disabled, allowing the
    capture of the Utsak crew, including the Captain, Norrghaek Uthkhorin. In answer to press
    questions about the six-hour long battle with the ship as it tried to flee the system., why she
    was not intercepted before executing the raid and requests for compensation from damaged
    merchant vessels, the Lord Admiral Pengritance would be covered in the report, to be
    presented to the Imperial Navy. He continued that all interested Insurance and legal parties
    should await that action and any decisions on compensation.  

    Rhylanor (A434934-F 2 Green Hi Cap 910 M2 V6)                                              Date: 294-1112
    The on-going lawsuits over the failed robotic upgrades remain in lengthy consideration
    of the provided details from technical and automation expert testimony. Despite this, the
    courts remain positive that the case has remained more or less on the predicted schedule.
    Sources in media and in government outside the Ministry of Justice are unimpressed.  

    Rhylanor (A434934-F 2 Green Hi Cap 910 M2 V6)                                              Date: 295-1112
    News continues to spread, along with reaction, to the elevation of Norris, the Duke
    of Regina to the position of Arch Duke of the Deneb Domain. As the wave of
    notifications is spreading through the sector, many system governments are echoing
    more limited versions of the celebrations which, by all reports, have not yet faded
    completely in the Mora system.

    While the business of the Spinward Marches is well cared for and being taken care of,
    there remain celebrations in sectors of the Capital city on Mora. Still some back page
    columnists are waiting for the "other shoe to drop" while not releasing what that is
    expected to be?  

    Rhylanor (A434934-F 2 Green Hi Cap 910 M2 V6)                                              Date: 294-1112
    With the return to the Rhylanor system of Lady Dame Dr. Mikah Kirlim and her crew,
    attention has returned to efforts to track down Sir Jeremy Lewis. This as concerns
    over new reactions to his book "Crossing The Line" with the return of Sir Rol Kaihvos
    to the system. Word has been released from the Office of his Grace reminding the
    system's populace that the laws of The Imperium will be respected or acted on. His
    Grace's Seneschal also reminded the media of the continuing investigation prompted
    by the actions of some outlets several months before.

    Additional news on the crew of the Hotel California has arrived from the Mora system
    including video of the wedding of Admiral Emkir Meshrumiikiim and Captain Eikusdi
    Piirirshu , Officiated by Arch-Duke Norris himself. This news promises to re-write the
    entire social page! Adding to this, news of the elevation of former IISS pilot Sir Aiden
    Radetsky to Knighthood, by the Grand Duchess Delphine, for his actions during the Fifth
    Frontier War came as a welcome surprise as we all cheer the valiant actions of military
    veterans.  

    Frenzie (A200436-A N Ni Va 110 Im M2 III M3 D)                                             Date: 240-1112
    Events in the Thanber system (Querion) are reported to be spreading, as protests try to
    push that system's government to sue for Imperial membership. The system, formerly
    a member of the Third Imperium was released by the Imperium as part of the armistice
    signed at the end of the Second Frontier War.

    While Imperial Authorities have no official comment publicly, it was obvious returning
    that system to Imperial membership would once more officially extend Imperial borders
    to the heavily armed and defended Quar system (Querion). Quar, and its naval base have
    been a key asset during all the frontier wars fought in the Marches. Supporting the Client
    State status of Quar was seen as a key thorn in Zhodani strategies for the region.

    Maintaining support for that system and the Imperial Naval base have cost the Imperium
    a great deal of political capital, not to mention cold hard cash. But victory in the recent
    Fifth Frontier War is seen as significant payback on that investment.

    As the situation continues to develop, along with evolving diplomatic Imperial and
    Zhodani reactions, news has broken of new protests in the Dekalb system (Querion).
    Events since the war have led to sweeping protests demanding government reforms as
    Imperial strength seems to be returning to the region. With greater contact from traders
    and other pro-Imperial cultures, the system population are remembering Imperial support.

    Despite the returning Imperial influence, not all the protests were entirely peaceful, and
    some political figures seen to be resisting the movement have been reported to have met
    with accidents, mostly involving boating mishaps. Curiously, while some deaths were
    suspicious, few seemed to be investigated. The popular sentiment appeared to be, "So
    the butchers died? Good riddance. I hope the grabbers got 'em."  

    Frenzie (A200436-A N Ni Va 110 Im M2 III M3 D)                                             Date: 232-1112
    Reconstruction and recovery continue in the Entrope system (Querion). As the Darrian
    Confederation supports this effort, with diplomatic assistance from the Imperium, it is
    widely expected a suit will be brought before the joint Imperial - Zhodani Courts in the
    Esalin system, for payment due to the damage caused by the retreating Sword Worlds.
    There has been no response from the Sword Worlds as this information was received
    at government offices and the Sword Worlds Embassy in the Rhylanor system.  

    Rhylanor (A434934-F 2 Green Hi Cap 910 M2 V6)                                              Date: 290-1112
    The Spinward Marches Military Command in Rhylanor system has, within the last week,
    upheld official Interdiction of the 567-908 system, re-named "Denuli" by the IISS. This
    follows on continuing investigation of the reported new race discovered there.

    Following this, the Imperial Navy announced they will detain anyone found in possession of
    the former trade item known as "Denuli Gemstones". The Admiralty has not provided a
    rational for this, but simply advises anyone in possession of "Denuli Gemstones" to turn
    them in under a general amnesty which will continue until 180-1113.  

    Regina (A788899-C A Ca 703 Im F7V M6V M8D)                                              Date: 259-1112
    Oberlindes Lines announced impressive initial numbers for their new J-3 Passenger route
    from Regina to Arden after initial runs in service. At the Privately owned Corporation's
    Third Quarter meeting, Baron Marc Oberlindes continues celebrating the newest victories
    of Oberlindes, who's flagship trading Cruiser, IMS Emissary, supports Oberlindes' trading
    interests in the Gvurrdon sector.   

    Nonym (C233898-A G Na Po   623 G0 V)                                                        Date: 225-1112
    News reached Rhylanor of further unrest in the Nonym system as the Confederation had
    only been granted a lease to build a temporary base. Additionally, that lease had lapsed
    and not been renewed by the Nonym system government. As a result, protesters are
    demanding the removal of the base and all Darrian military forces from the system.

    There has been, as yet, no report on a reaction from either the Darrian Government, in
    the Mire system, or Imperial Admiralty in the sector. The Darrian ambassador has also
    not commented on the reports.  

    Glisten ( A000986-F A Hi Na In As Cp 821 Im K9 V)                                           Date: 239-1112
    Reports of growing unrest are increasing in the Mertactor system ( District 268 ), which
    is preparing to receive the first ever "off-world visit" from the "Voice of the One Star"
    choir, representing the Pavabid system's "branch" of the Church of Stellar Divinity.
    Protesters are gathering from a number of organizations representing opposition to the
    "Pavabid Heresy" and it's stain on more mainstream Stellar Divinity practices as well as
    those protesting the perceived slavery state the Church government is believed running.

    From these two of the major issues, a list of other opposition issues grew which was
    lengthy. Imperial authorities who supported this first-ever crack in the Xeno-exclusionary
    practices of the Pavabid government were ramping up protections and defenses as the
    system was "Imperium-Friendly" and the Imperium wanted to increase the strength of
    pro-Imperial systems and support in that independent region of space.  

As the crew listened to this story, they recalled the updated star charts, not yet released, whcih Emkir and Aali got from the Mora Scout base which suggested this system would be, or had already covertly been made an Imperial Client State.

    Rhylanor (A434934-F 2 Green Hi Cap 910 M2 V6)                                              Date: 293-1112
    Starshield Books celebrates sales of "Twilight's Peak," by Livern Wen, at their Rhylanor
    offices. This work of non-fiction re-explores the Twilight's Peak legend in light of the
    MagnetoDynamics - Zhodani treason in the Fulacin system (Rhylanor) and the actions
    of the IMS March Harrier. The release of this reinvestigation has been well received by
    experts at the University of Rhylanor and other major universities throughout the
    Marches since the beginning of sales earlier this year.  

    Lanth (A879533-B A Ni Cp 710 Im F5 IV M9 D )                                              Date: 265-1112
    Enli Iddukagan published his sensationalistic work, "Lost Treasure Ships of the Abyss
    Rift", in Lanth system.  

:
Getting Through The Morning

     When Rol woke and began exploring the ship's galley, he realized that, while all the crew's gear had been moved from the Sable Addix, none of the food stores were moved. So the ship's galley and storage were empty. He also knew his personal stock of MRE's had been stolen, so there was no food aboard at all! Annoyed, Rol decided to check with the galley in the berth and see if there was any food available there before perhaps having to go out and buy food at the local chow hall or commissary. But as Rol left the ship, he saw someone had a catering cart filled with breakfast foods delivered to the berth. When Rol asked the MP's, they said it was compliments of the station commander. As each of the crew woke, finished their morning routines and emerged into the bay, they served themselves from the cart and joined the others already awake to discuss the coming day.

They all knew they had at least half a day's sorting and organizing left to finish up, but could choose to do other things if they wanted to spread the work out over the whole day. Wall-e was still sorting and organizing parts from the deconstructed gravCar and organizing the datapads, and wouldn't finish that task until just after lunch. Once Aiden ate, he decided to take it slow. He'd do some work outs and relax a bit, watching a few vids and enjoying what might be his last day of freedom before the ceremony the next day. Stuck on the station, he certainly didn't think there would be anything to worry about doing. So there was no reason to kill himself getting done by lunch time. As Aiden started working, he got a ping on his comms.

Checking with a cringe to see what the message was, Aiden found it was a notification that, the next time he was on Rhylanor-Prime, he could pick up a parcel delivered in-system for him by the IISS. Very pleased, Aiden realized his custom snub pistol had arrived! Now he just needed to figure out how he'd pick it up? As Zach ate, he figured he'd work on the draft of his speech for the funeral and then finish his sorting and organizing. So he'd also be working in the bay until dinner time and did some work looking over his emails. The only changes in his emails were that the nameless threats were more specific now that the unknown senders learned he'd returned to system. Not that anyone could have missed news of their return.

As opposed to Aiden and Zach, Zimzod had checked his weapons the day and night before, and even positioned the charging station for his battledress. So he was ready to get the rest of the work over, and done by lunchtime, he had nothing else to do. Mikah agreed with him on that and also worked to finish up by lunch time as did Ms. Vik. Rol also worked hard to complete his work, but did take the time to call Instel-Arms and see if they could replace his dog tags, along with the specialty chain. They said they certainly could do that, for Cr 50, and offered to hold it until he could visit any of their locations in-system/ Or they could deliver it by courier for Cr 200. Rol chose to pick it up when he could and they gave him a transaction number to present.

Aali had the dual jobs of starting to check up on the ship's systems and confirm she could heat up the power plant and get systems started. Especially with Wall-e also helping sort the gear and cargo. She also mentioned to the rest of the crew that they might have to start considering either hiring more engineers or buying a few more androids for the ship's engineering section. When the others asked about her request, she pointed out they would no longer have Dukes ordering military bases to help them with the work and freeing her up. Either way, Aali planned to complete her day's work by dinner time. Emkir decided to lend what help he could to Aali and finish up with her at the same time.

As they worked together, and near mid-morning, Emkir got a call from Admiral Saigacrem. When Emkir answered, the Admiral greeted him and said he was calling because he'd learned something. After a conspiratorial "Really?" Emkir listened as the Admiral explained. All he could learn from the Duke's people was that multiple Patents of Nobility had been processed by the Office of the Duke's Seneschal! When Emkir shared that with the rest of the crew, they shivered as it suggested more beatings and stiffer punishments were being handed down than they'd feared. Emkir also called the IISS X-Mail station to send his good friend Admiral Uuela congratulations on his new command.

As it got to lunch time, another food cart arrived as well as the laundry delivery. Everyone grabbed their clothing to stow before relaxing to grab chow. As they were eating, Zach ran the draft of his speech by them. While Zach didn't make any outright excuses, he did add that he hoped their actions also saved lives while still mourning those whose lives their actions cost. Zach got advice from the crew and spent part of the afternoon as he was working considering the changes he might make.

After lunch, Rol decided to visit the PX and then hit the officer's club. As he was leaving the berth, he asked if anyone else wanted to join him? Emkir wanted to go, and asked if Aali'd mind finishing up for them both? But Aali had to deal with the ship's systems too, and said, "I'm here so you're here." Emkir shared that with Rol. But Inger and Mikah joined him as they went off the to PX. Once there, Rol browsed and picked up some coveralls for Cr 10 each. Mikah discussed the food situation with Rol and they ordered the ship four days worth of basic military meals for the crew. Not MRE's, but not more than average "healthy fare". This cost them Cr 320 from ship's funds and they added a drink mix for Cr 30. Mikah also ordered caff and a decent version of a locally-available drink mix approximating coffee. She saw they had a pound of "the good stuff" for Cr 500 each and ordered two pounds, as well as Cr 100 of generic caff.

As they moved through the station, and as they shopped, the trio were regularly greeted by military members who recognized them for one reason or another. Mostly, it was the media coverage of their return but Rol was also recognized, and even asked to sign autographs because, he had earned the Starburst for Extreme Heroism. So moving through the station, while not unpleasant, was at times slow going. Eventually, they made it to the Officer's club, where Rol was welcomed as a Retired Major and offered a free drink as a recipient of the Starburst for Extreme Heroism. Mikah still had, on her Ident, the designation as "Commander", granted her in the Rech system, though mention that she had officially commanded the Quasar Viper had been removed from the record.

And as they discussed who would sign in Ms. Vik as a guest, she was simply invited in by those present as the others there clustered around the new arrivals. When they ordered their drinks, Rol was not the only person who got free service as they were congratulated on surviving the battle and killing a destroyer to boot. There was no question among the officers that this group would likely be good to have as contacts and everyone wanted to be a friend. So the drinks were all free and they all wanted to trade stories as the ladies and Rol relaxed after shopping. So they decided to hang out and make friends until something else important came up, if not dinner.

More Relaxation Through Lunch And Dinner

     In the ship's berth, the work to store things was finally completed. After lunch, when Wall-e had reported it was done with its assignment, Aali checked the details of the readout it transmitted to her comms. As the numbers had indicated, they had lost about one quarter of the pads, but some really expensive units survived. Even some they'd missed noticing when they had done the manual sort the first time! She told Emkir, who said "let's sell this crap off before we have to sort it again!" which got a cheer from everyone who heard him say it. Aali then ordered Wall-e to start checking the ship's systems and confirming they were ready to light up. Once it assumed the bulk of that work, allowing Aali to work on sorting and storing her gear with Emkir, the afternoon passed until Aali got the green light

She then had Emkir continue finishing the last of their gear organization as she worked to light up the power plant and bring the ship's energy feed systems and computers fully on-line. This took an hour's time with Wall-e handling assignments and assisting with systems monitoring. Finally, after that hour, Aali was pleased with the process and left it safely running on automatics, under Wall-e's monitoring. So she joined Emkir in finishing up their sorting work by dinner time. After that, Aali made one final check on the ship's systems before locking up the engineering and asking Emkir what they wanted to do for chow? Emkir shrugged and asked "O Club?" She agreed, so they started walking.

Not far off, Zach had finished his work for the day and was recovering some of his strength when he overheard their conversation. Figuring the Officer's club would be good chow, and ignoring the fact that he was not an officer and had not been invited to join them, Zach began following them. As the couple walked and speculated on what was coming next, they realized they were being followed and turned on the tail to see Zach. When they asked what he was doing, he said he was going to the officer's club too. There was a brief awkward gap as they all realized how much Zach had assumed. After the brief pause, Aali invited Zach to join them as Emkir considered telling the twit to buzz off, as Zach almost never joined in on anything he invited the crew to do unless it was to grab a bit of Emkir's pay, like Rol's interview.

Not far behind them, Zimzod and Aiden considered their options and Aiden said, "Come on, I'm a Scout Commander now, I can sign you into the O Club." So they headed off trailing Aali, Emkir and Zach. Soon enough, the two groups arrived to find Rol, Mikah and Ms. Vik still there and about to tuck into dinners bought for them by the assembled officers. Inger was also politely ignoring being hit on by a few of the well-groomed and heeled officers who had joined the pack in which they were sitting. As the five arrived, the whole group were enjoying chow and trading war stories. Ms. Vik asked questions from time to time, to understand the military lingo used. As the five ordered their chow, spending about Cr 35 each, and joined the party, they found the ringleader was a fairly well polished officer

Earlier, as they talked, Rol saw he was wearing a class ring from the Imperial Naval Academy of the Spinward Marches! This was the most prestigious military academy in the sector and it marked the man as politically-connected, if not also wealthy. And the officer offered no pretenses, as he'd been impressed by their actions in the recent battle. Especially because the assembled officers had gained insights as they spent a bit of the afternoon watching the news simulations of the battle and asking what the three what they were doing and thinking at the moment? So, despite Rol's fears he'd be laughed out of the place when he told them what he was doing, he could not hide it.

When Rol described gearing up and waiting to be committed as the ship's only internal defensive force, he was surprised at the respect he got. Many officers knew what facing boarders was like, and to prepare to be the only person to face the boarding party at the entrance was no small matter. The trio had so impressed Baron Mukemidek Hamun Gigilu, that he'd invited them to visit his family's estates when they had the chance. When asked, he said those were on Rhylanor-Prime, built into the outer edge of an agro-hydroponic section of the surface arcology.

By the time Emkir, Aali and the others had arrived, they were all chatting like old crew mates, and they invited the rest to join in. Eventually, dinner was done and the crowd that had been there for hours started to fade. As the rest of the crew were planning to head back to the ship's berth, Zimzod decided he was going to head to an enlisted man's club for some fun. When he asked Zach if he wanted to go with him, Zach figured it might be a prank and he had a speech to present the next day. He wanted to get it done right and not wake up hung over. So Zimzod headed out by himself as the rest of the crew headed back to the berth.

Rumor Of A Job In A Bar

     Once Zimzod arrived, he found his identity had preceded him as he was invited to join with the other entitled spacers there. Assuming they were all rich and self-important, Zimzod did his best not to anger them as he said he wanted to just cruise the place and get a feel for it. As he hoped that played well, and no one was offended, Zimzod scoped the place out, looking for babes. Cruising the club, it was a nice enough place for spacers to empty their wallets out but he wasn't connecting because of the vast differences in their statuses. As he wandered the club, Zimzod got a comms from Mikah, who found out they needed to present themselves on Rhylanor at 9am the next morning. That meant they needed to leave very early the next morning. Zimzod said it wouldn't be an issue as he planned to sleep on the shuttle over and went back to tail hunting. After working the club for a while, Zimzod realized there was too much of a gap between his titles and the average naval enlistee, so he went looking for the crowd of titles that had greeted him earlier.

Joining up with them again, Zimzod was still trying to hook up, but found he was too much of a political wild card at the moment, with his uncertain status. At the same time, as they hung out together, Zimzod learned these people were not stuck up, rich or annoying. They were just like him, only they'd been born into a title and little or no money. The more he realized this, the better he fit in and eventually one of the others, also a Knight, asked Zimzod what he and his crew did that wound up with them being in the battle? Zimzod said they were sort of helping out the Duke, without going into details. He said they traveled a lot and were just coming back to Rhylanor and ended up arriving in the middle of the fight. When the Knight told Zimzod his father was a Baron, Zimzod first wondered if he should be impressed, but learned that was just the family title. The oldest member of the main blood line was the Baron and the others were knighted at 18 if they didn't cause trouble. In this case, the Baron was his father, and worked in fleet planning. He'd told his son they were preparing "path clearing" operations, which sounded like it fit in with what Zimzod did.

When Zimzod asked what me meant, the man said that a fleet was being assembled to spend the next year driving down the trade lanes from the Rhylanor system to the Wonderay system at the riftward trailing corner of the Five Sisters Subsector near the border with District 268 and the Trojan Reaches Sector. When Zimzod asked how his ship might come in, the Knight said they often hired experienced crews to jump into a system before the fleet, to arrive on the outer edge of the arrival zone. Then the fleet would jump for the inner edge of the zone. And if there were pirates chasing the bait ship, they would move right to the place where the fleet would arrive. So the crew only had to survive as they led the pirates right into the navy's guns.

When Zimzod said he'd rather be part of the fleet than the bait, the Knight told him there was a second push planned, from the Mora system down the trading main to the Mertactor system in District 268. And possibly further into that subsector, as far as the Collace system, or even across to the Five Sisters Subsector. That fleet was being strengthened with military ships but would mainly be built of hired civilian vessels. So the military ships would likely be Q ships, hidden in what looked like a a civilian convoy. if Zimzod was interested, the man could ask his father for details on how to join the convoy? Zimzod was interested, and said he'd mention the job to the crew as he thanked the Knight. But as there were no women to be played with, Zimzod finally left, late in the night and knowing he'd have to get up early the next morning.

Preparing For The Next Morning

     After Zimzod left the officer's club, the Baron bounced the crew his contact data as they were finishing up their drinks. When they finally planned to leave, Mikah was concerned they had not been told when they needed to be at the ceremony the next day, or how they would be getting there? So she stepped to the side and called the Seneschalate. They said the crew had to present themselves at the Seneschal's office by 9am for transport to the ceremony. When she told the crew, they realized they'd need to get up at 4am or so as the flight to Rhylanor-prime would take 3 hours. So they all went back to the bay where Mikah checked her email. There, she saw the email from the Seneschalate, which explained the schedule and said they needed to be in civilian dress. Mikah first called around, to tell the crew where they needed to be. Then she called the base for a shuttle to Rhylanor.

Once back in the bay, Rol watched vids and relaxed. He took some time, after Mikah updated them, to make sure he had a suit ready and then returned to relaxing before hitting the rack early. Emkir returned to his translation work, as he thought he was getting close to something. But did not know just what. Aali relaxed as she dug into the Derchon files before the couple made an early night of it to have some fun in their stateroom. Zach planned to work through his emails and also rack out early. He found he had an email from Erum Dalunica, who'd heard about the ceremony and only just heard Zach and the crew would be involved. Zach replied, telling Erum they had no idea what the Duke had planned, but they were to take part, by his command. The rest of the emails were more of the usual from the vulture squad, who remained as friendly a set of connections as they could, but were really only looking for a share of the profits.

When she returned to the bay, Ms. Vik called the port and was invited to meet them. She said she was not sure when she could, and they discussed what she did know of the crew's situation. That was that they were still being detained, had to take part in a ceremony the next day in which they'd be "rewarded" for their role in the battle against von Kreden's forces. Then, had to take part in a funeral the day after. When her tone suggested the quality of the reward they'd get was questionable at best, they helped her speculate about it. But she soon had to give up and get some sleep. Aiden returned with the rest of the crew, and simply read from one of Brian's books until it was time to get to sleep early. The last person to bed was Zimzod, who finally returned to the berth intending to sleep during the flight and then talk about the job when he could during the next day.

class="dateline">    Monday, 297-1112:
Getting To The Ceremony

     The next morning, alarms woke everyone except Zimzod around 4am, so they could get ready to attend the ceremony. Rol made sure to wake up a bit early, to get food rolling. When he got out into the berth, he saw the MP, but couldn't see any sign of food. Figuring the station wasn't aware of their schedule, Rol prepared to head out and order food in, but was stopped by the MP who asked his intentions? When Rol said that the crew were leaving early, and needed food, he was told the food would be there as scheduled at 9am. Rol said the crew were ordered to be at a ceremony by Duke Leonard, and needed to leave at 5:30am, to get to Rhylanor Prime on time. Hearing this, the MP called his Sergeant, who confirmed the crew were leaving early, saying they would be leaving in their ship! Knowing Mikah had called the base and set up a shuttle ride, Rol corrected that and asked what the base was doing about chow?

After more back and forth, the trooper told Rol the food would arrive in thirty minutes. Satisfied this improvised explosive stupidity had been disarmed before it blew, Rol returned to the ship to finish getting ready. He let the others know the day's plan had already met the enemy and begun its own retreat. Zimzod had set his clock for 5am, and dressed in his civilian suit as quickly as he could. He quickly grabbed a plate of food from the cart as the others were cleaning up, having dressed and eaten at a more sedate pace as they drank cheap caff and tried to wake up. Mikah loaded a stack of stims, just in case, but kept that to herself. Once moved them to a flight bay in a cart, they boarded an in-system shuttle and were greeted by a crew who were honored by their passengers and 'much too awake for the hour'. Then, as some strapped in and slept, the shuttle lifted from the bay for the three hour flight. If Zimzod had intended to use that time to talk about the job, his consciousness failed him as he dropped off.

As they flew, Aali read her data on the Noble families from the Duke library. Most of the others snored around her, including Emkir. Mikah had a medical journal. Two and a half hours into the flight, the flight crew gave everyone the half hour head's-up as the pilot was confirming their approach, re-entry and landing data with the down-well base. Unusual for that kind of transit, one of the crew distributed bulbs of hot caff. And once they'd all woken up, made their final personal preparations and the shuttle landed and taxied, they arrived on Rhylanor and disembarked. After collecting their personal gear and moving off the tarmac, they were led to an android taxi waiting for them. It had a chasing-light display around the perimeter of the roof reading, "Crew of the Hotel California".

As she saw that, Mikah was not the only member of the crew to think that they needed to kill those lights if they were riding that thing off the base. They didn't want to advertise that the whole crew was in one easy-to-target package, ready for a rocket or stream of heavy weapons fire! Happily, the lights were only there to lead them to the vehicle and turned off when they boarded. So they piled in, sealed up and dozed as they rode to the location programmed into the automated transport. It took under twenty minutes to reach the amphitheater, thanks to a preprogrammed route through areas of the local structures the authorities kept clear. Some parts of the route were even restricted to only officially mandated traffic like their cab. Once they pulled up, they were met by a protocol agent who handed each a thumbprint-activated datapad with their assignments for seats and itinerary.

As they moved into the facility, which had automated guides that sensed their datapads and instructed them on where to walk, those who read through the program found that their "awards" were the third to last thing on the schedule. The segment was also mysteriously undocumented other than the listing "Hotel California Crew Awards". To add to the "fun", when they found their seats, they were sitting next to the crew of the INS Khurmumshuuna Khangu. This was the Destroyer which had first ordered them to flee the battle, and who's commanding Lieutenant Commander was driven to near screaming fits as they opened fire and appeared to disregard his orders. As they traded introductions, the Commander greeted the crew of mental misfits who had made it their job to destroy his career and eventually asked who it was that decided to open fire?

Hearing that, Aiden wordlessly pointed at Sir Zimzod, who assumed his best 'Buddy Zimzod' pose and happily said "Damn Straight!" with a smile on his face. Shaking his head in disbelief, the Commander congratulated them on getting out of the combat zone alive, though he did grimly mention that others did not. The officer's opinion was certainly clear, despite his not verbalizing it. As they looked over the amphitheater, they realized their seats were not really very far from where "the action" would be. They were close to the dais on which were the seating for the Admiralty and the Duke of Rhylanor. It was not comforting for them to know they were literally steps from where the Duke and his guard would be attending. The level on which they were seated was raised above the floor of the amphitheater and their section jutted out over the ground level seating below them, so that only that section directly below it could not see the dais.

While they learned the "action" would mostly be on the amphitheater floor, from those who'd attended ceremonies in the Rhylanor system before, they were sure their roles would be played out on the dais above the crowd, before the Duke himself. Eventually, the opening ceremony began with a parade of units where each ship involved was represented. As the crews began to process, each with a standard representing their unit insignia, Mikah indignantly demanded to know why they were not down in the arena to represent their ship? The comment was ignored, and she eventually saw a standard bearer toting a banner with the nose art of the Sable Addix. Other ships were represented this way, if their crew's were on duty and could not attend, or if the ship's crew had all died in the battle. There was more than one of these representing a smaller ship or gunboat crew.

Once all the Imperial ships and units that acted in the battle were represented on the floor of the amphitheater, Duke Leonard stepped out and addressed them and the crowd assembled to observe the ceremony. He greeted the media, the crowd, those watching across the system and the honored military members on duty or assembled before him as he solemnly opened the ceremony. After several speeches, the event proceeded as unit-awards were granted. The first, and most general, award were the Combat Service Ribbons, since every unit and person who had served during the incident was qualified.

The histories of the Imperial Navy, Marine Corps and other military services were extolled, as well as the cost of such service. Nearing the end of that phase, the CSR's were officially bestowed as the commanding Admiral used that award to transition to awarding the ship-level awards earned in the battle. First, were medals for "Meritorious Conduct Under Fire", to be awarded to the crews of entire ships or units, for the performance of the unit as a whole. In this case, as a ship or unit's name and designation were called, their commander came forward with a pair of senior officers, to receive the award on behalf of the unit. They also received a guidon ribbon to hang from their battle standard as well as other heraldic insignia to use in various displays.

Next to be awarded were the ship or unit level awards of the Medal for Conspicuous Gallantry. And as these units were called, like the MCUF awards before them, the crew of the Hotel California first got to see anyone from the cruiser INS Khurmumshuuna Khangu. that cruiser had taken missile fire aimed at them, and they'd be mixing that crew next day, during the funeral for their dead. The delegation that came forth to accept that award were the ship's commanding officer, two of his officers and a delegation of family members of the dead. It was one more poignant moment among many. As they watched, they noticed that each time a ship suffering losses was named, the delegation was met by Duke Leonard and the awards were given by him personally.

Then came individual awards, starting with Purple Hearts and MCUF's. As with the CSR's earlier, there were, sadly, far too many Purple Hearts being awarded to call each awardee, or their family, forward individually. So they were called by unit affiliation, which still took some time. As each ship or unit name was called, all those able to attend, or the surviving family of a wounded or dead service member, were helped forward. Once all those being honored were gathered at the front of the amphitheater, their service was personally recognized by Duke Leonard himself. As an Admiral spoke, a number of his junior Admirals stood below with the Duke, handing decorations to lines of people as they filed past security officers and were identified. It was certainly emotional for those who made their way through the line they were on to find themselves face to face with the Duke himself as he awarded them the decoration with a hand shake or shoulder pat, or handed the boxed medal and ribbon to a family member with a hug.

The individual MCUF's were easier as there were many fewer of these medals for valor, though time was still needed when family members were guided forward to represent the grievously wounded, still hospitalized or the dead. Next were the Individual MCG's, which were even easier as the level of valor to earn the award was significantly higher. Each of these persons, or their representatives were called forward individually. And each awardee or representative was greeted and given their award by Duke Leonard himself.

Lowering The Boom

     Finally, there was a pause of some minutes as the crowd was allowed to reorder and return to their seats. At the end of this, the crew knew they were next as the Duke resumed his place in the upper dais, above the crowd and close to where they were sitting. As they steeled themselves, the Duke nodded to his Seneschal who then nodded to the attending Herald as a member of the Duke's personal guard stepped forward carrying a bared steel sword! As this happened, the Herald called out, "Lord Leonard Stephanos Kirgashii, Duke of Rhylanor, commands Squire Admiral Emkir Meshrumiikiim to enter into his presence." And with that, Emkir rose from his seat with the attention of the entire amphitheater on him as well as all the cameras. Emkir was led into the Duke's presence and told "not" to kneel as he bowed his head in deference.

Once Emkir was in place and the amphitheater came to almost a complete silence, the Duke looked Emkir in the eyes and said in a booming voice, "Squire Admiral Emkir Meshrumiikiim. You stand accused of disregarding direct orders in a combat zone, of creating confusion on the battlefield, of initiating combat when ordered to withdraw and of placing your life and the lives of those who served with you in peril. Do you confess yourself guilty of these charges and feel you deserve to be punished?" While he thought he'd prepared himself for anything, the Duke's words caught him completely by surprise. Emkir found himself completely struck dumb and riveted in place for a heartbeat before he realized he had to act and could only do so in one way. So Emkir straightened up and firmly replied, "As your Grace sees fit." With that, the Duke accepted his answer and commanded that he move to stand to the Duke's right. Emkir moved to where he was directed by the Guards surrounding the Duke, which was to His Grace's right and slightly behind Duke Leonard's position.

Once he was in place, the Herald again spoke, calling Captain Aalikiir Khiiriisom Khaanmii Eikusdi Piirirshu before the Duke. As with Emkir, the Duke asked Aali if she too was guilty of the crimes he'd laid on Emkir. And when she also admitted her guilt, she was told to stand next to the Admiral. After Aali, Squire Inger Martinusdtr Vik was called before the Duke and also accused of the same crimes, and asked if she felt she was guilty and should be punished? Summoning all her strength, Inger answered, "As a member of the crew, I am" as she resigned herself to her fate. She was also told to stand next to the Admiral and Captain as they called Squire Zachariah Wood into the Duke's presence. When Zach came before the Duke, he was ordered to kneel, and took some time, with his injuries, to arrive in the proper position.

Once Zach was kneeling before Duke Leonard, the Duke looked down on him and said, "Squire Wood, you are my man and a member of my household, are you not?" Zach answered, "Yes, your Grace" with his head bowed. Once answered, the Duke continued, "And as my man, the weight of this misbehavior falls most heavily, as you behaved so decisively. Did you not?" Again, Zach only answered, "Yes, your Grace." Finally, Duke Leonard asked Zach if he was also guilty of the charges laid before the others and he agreed he was, and that he should be punished. After that, he was told to rise and stand with the three others.

After Emkir, Aali, Inger and Zach were called forward and in their ordered positions, Sir Rol, Sir Aiden and Sir Zimzod were called up followed by Lady Mikah. And each was also charged with the same crimes. And as each was asked if they were guilty and felt they should be punished, they said they were and were told to stand to the Duke's left. Finally when the Duke was flanked on the right by the Squires, and on the left by the Knights and the Lady, he addressed the crowd.

"People of Rhylanor and the Spinward Marches. Before you stand a crew of Imperial servants and nobility who are charged with helping to secure and improve your lives. They are charged with entering into danger and challenging those who would threaten your way of life. They stand accused of disregarding direct orders in a combat zone. This, they confess to doing when their view of their situation dictated they do what others could not see. They stand accused of creating confusion on the battlefield, which is called the fog of war and which, in this case, affected the plans of the foe more than those they had joined and supported in battle.

They stand accused of initiating combat when ordered to withdraw, and not just initiating combat but selecting to draw into combat a foe much larger and better armed than their own vessel, one of my own personal warships. By placing their lives, and the lives of those they served with in peril, they struck a blow to protect you, your way of life, and the Imperium! People of the Rhylanor system, of the Spinward Marches, and of the Imperium. These persons stand accused and admit to their guilt in the light of these charges! And these persons stand ready to be punished in the only way such crimes can be answered. They can only be punished with the assumption of additional responsibility and challenge!"

And with that, the amphitheater roared with applauds. After the cheers fell to silence again, the Duke called before him again Admiral Emkir Meshrumiikiim. This time, he had Emkir kneel before him and drew from his man the sword of state. Then Duke Leonard said, "Admiral Emkir Meshrumiikiim. For your actions in the face of death and warfare, your courage and selflessness in the face of the enemy, I create you a Knight of the Imperium and charge you to the Order of the Knight Defenders of the Marches. In addition to this position, and to assist you in your duties, I grant you the Right of Consultation and the Right of Appearance.

Once the Duke delivered to Emkir that final blow he would ever receive unanswered, he ordered the newly created Knight to rise. After the Duke ordered Emkir to return to where he was standing, he was handed a datapad indicating his new credentials and rights. After he was back in place, Aali was called forward. In a ceremony almost exactly the same as Emkir's she was Knighted as were Ms. Vik and Zach after her. There was some humor as Zach had to struggle to remain standing and was steadied by a staffer. Aali and Inger were also created to the Order of the Knight Defenders of the Marches, and awarded the Right of Lawful Dissent. But Zach was simply made an Imperial Knight with no order and was not granted additional rights.

After the new Knights were created and awarded rights, Duke Leonard called before him Sir Aiden Radetsky and had the Knight kneel as he repeated much of the same pronouncement of guilt he had with the others. However, since Aiden was already a Knight, he Augmented Aiden's Patent of Nobility, creating him to the Order of the Knight Defenders of the Marches, and awarding him the Right of Lawful Dissent. After he augmented Aiden, Sir Zimzod and Sir Rol were called before the Duke and their ranks also augmented. This created Sir Rol an Imperial Knight as well as retaining his local Knighthood. Both were created members of the Knight Defenders of the Marches, and both were granted the Right of Appearance. Finally, Lady Mikah Kirlim was called before the Duke and she was ordered to kneel. Her Knighthood was also augmented as were those of the others. But in addition to being created a member of the Order of the Knight Defenders of the Marches, Mikah was awarded the Right of Escort, giving her the right to a body guard. And that Body guard was decreed to contain the brother and sister Knights of her crew!

Once he had completed the task of Knighting, or Augmenting the Knighthoods of the entire crew, Duke Leonard turned to the crowd and presented the new Knights and reminded the watching system, live or on vid, that this could well be their fate. He continued, pointing out that these were not special or extraordinary people who he honored in this ceremony. Including the ship crews and military members in his comments, Leonard reminded all those watching that all of these people were born to the Imperium with no particular greatness. He said that despite differences in social status or financial wealth, these people were no different from those watching except, perhaps, that they stepped forward and took actions to support and protect. As the crew listened, the Duke turned their "Rewards" into a public service announcement.

And then came the last two items on the agenda as the Knights remained standing amidst the Duke's Guard. Duke Leonard's words moved from awards to recognizing the people of the Rhylanor system. He used the moment of media to try to raise the community response of his people. He reminded those listening that they could also join the ranks of the honored and skillfully managed not to let his comments turn into an Imperial recruitment video as he sold public service. And after his comments, and the final comments of members of the Admiralty, came the closing ceremonies and the departure parade of the formations assembled on the amphitheater floor. After the last formations and standards marched out of view, the event was over. As the crew gathered in the fading shock of the moment, an old and grizzled man in a uniform stalked up to them, sporting an obvious pair of mechanical replacement legs as well as a replaced left arm. The sash he wore, and uniform decorations, identified him as a Knight Commander. As they turned to him, Baron Sir Akamke Ubum Iikimkhirsa Trekera introduced himself.

Like Lambs To The Party

     As they listened, the large and imposing veteran told them he was the Knight commander of the Order to which they'd been inducted. As he welcomed the new members, he told the crew there would be a party welcoming them soon. He also said that, if they were still in-system in nine days, there would be a celebration of Dame Inger's birthday. The inclusion not only surprised Ms. Vik, but reminded the rest of the crew that everyone seemed to be much better informed of their many personal details than they were of the universe around them. And most of them knew that was a dangerous state of affairs. Sir Iikimkhirsa held them in his presence only briefly as he handed them datacards which would give them information about the Order's presence in the Rhylanor system and resources now available to them. Then he let them enjoy the forming party as he headed off.

Released into the crowed, the crew faced well-wishers right off the bat. But the crowd was large and varied as they moved outside the initial band of congratulations. Sir Rol faced both supporters and detractors as the issues created by Sir Jeremy's book had not nearly been forgotten. As some chose to make their opinions known, even at such an important ceremony, many were politely led off by security forces, including some holding significant ranks. Still, the occasion was more congratulatory than not as he circulated and received greetings. Aali and Emkir did their best to circulate and enjoy the party. Despite the funeral the next day, they chose to cut loose and party into the night. Zimzod tried to let everyone know about the possible job, but realized the moment had passed. Giving up, he went back to tail hunting, hoping his significant role in the ceremony, as well as the recent news, raised his chances.

As she prepared to see what connections she could make, Mikah saw Countess Ursara moving through the crowd to greet her with a trailing entourage. As the women hugged and greeted each other, Ursara was all congratulations and grace as they talked about the ceremony. Still, there was a bit of business, as Ursara had bought the simulated crystal and Mikah resolved the payment. As Mikah bumped the Cr 2,000 from her Ident, Ursara admitted she could see no reason to have a model of the uncut stone, but was glad Mikah was happy. Mikah once more repeated that it was a "Guy thing" and they could now resolve the question of how large the original stone was compared to other historically sold Tellona Diamonds. As they talked, Mikah checked to make sure they could open the stone and slide the chip into it. While the women discussed the coming days Mikah said she couldn't yet confirm when she could visit Ursara aboard Gypsy Girl. Mikah said they had a funeral for the dead of the INS Khurmumshuuna Khangu the next day.

In the somber pause, both ladies were surprised as Mikah was greeted by a new arrival. Turning as she was addressed, Mikah saw Dame Ashlee standing nearby. And once Mikah greeted the Knight, she was surprised as Ashlee and Ursara exchanged hugs! This reminded Mikah that Ursara had a very wide ranging network indeed. Especially given the access that Dame Ashlee had displayed in pitching the job offer to the Pavabid system. As Ashlee congratulated Mikah for surviving the battle, she also commented that the Knight and her crew certainly knew how to pick those jobs that rewarded well. Mikah wasn't sure if this was a dig at them not accepting her job offer or not, but thanked the Knight graciously. Still, everyone had business to care for and contacts to make and soon Mikah was circulating through the crowd accepting congratulations and making what connections she could.

In a moment of quiet, Mikah even reached out to the Seneschal's office, to check on details for the funeral the next day, having it confirmed for noon. As for dress, it was recommended the crew consider dressing in civilian cloths, but Mikah knew this would depend on if they could get back and forth to the ship and their clothing? While Mikah was greeting Countess Ursara, Zach found himself very quickly grabbed by officers of Duke Leonard's Seneschal. The men led Zach out off the area around the dais and out of the open air amphitheater into the tunnels behind the seating. They arrived in a bare and utilitarian meeting room. Looking around as the lights came up to see if one of the walls had been pock marked by firing squad fire, Zach was reminded the eyes of the Duke and his household were on him.

Despite this, the Duke also recognized that Zach would be facing many new challenges and tasks. As a result, Zach was told the Duke was providing him with an exoskeleton, to help in succeeding in his work. The device was a composite system that Zach could snap into, and would augment his strength and mobility. That would also reduce the effects of effort on Zach. So, while it wouldn't improve his endurance, it would make tasks less taxing to complete. It was powered by a charging station that tied directly to any standard power plant feed, much like Zimzod's battledress. Once that meeting was over, Zack was allowed to rejoin the party with a datacard explaining the delivery details.

As Aiden entered the crowd, he was dealing with newly arrived details of his Knighting in the Mora system, which blended well with the more recent news. As he received many greetings and congratulations, Aiden was able to find a number of other Knights wearing the same uniform Sir Iikimkhirsa had worn. This was the uniform of their order, and he realized he'd be ordering at least one for himself soon enough. As they talked, Aiden discovered a number of them were also graduates of the Interstellar Scouts, and they started sharing experiences and impressions. Aiden soon learned a bit more about the nearby residence the Order maintained, which was open to and provided services for the Knights of the Order in the city.

As Inger made her way though the crowd of well wishers and congratulations, she was reached by a crew of SPA executives from the Rhylanor port. A number of these people also held titles, though the group was more professionally exclusive than ordered by rank. As she shared greetings, they were all very excited about her elevation and again asked about a party? With a sigh and the realization their detention had not yet been revisited, Inger had to tell them she was not yet sure when she could make any plans, as she had to check with Seneschalate. This statement both surprised and impressed the executives. It suggested she was so personally needed by the government that she couldn't make a move without them having to worry about her not being available to them. But Inger pushed out of the silence as she reminded them that did not mean she could not celebrate a bit there and then.

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Next: Two Parties, Shopping And A Funeral