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Last Updated    October 12 2017
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Hunting Credits And Big Surprises

Rhylanor Prime      While Emkir and Aali had started to work with the people arriving from the Rhylanor Museum, Inger had been on the comms with her contacts at the port.  Compared to her previous work with port central, things had calmed down significantly.  Things were well down from the crisis point Inger had used to such profit.  Because of that, the former port director decided to try a different direction.  Changing into a business suit, Inger called for a cab and paid Cr 15 to go to the spacer's hall.

There, Dame Inger surveyed the main open space of the hall before checking the boards to see what ships were in port?  Tracing the lists of unfamiliar craft names, a surprisingly familiar name caught her attention.  Inger saw the freighter Cursed Bastards of Sol was listed as hiring!  The last time she'd visited their deck, Inger had been warned off by an Imperial intelligence agency, and thought she'd made zero progress.  She'd even gone to her friends in the port to demand why they'd pointed her in the direction of that ship?

Despite the lack of cooperation from the crew, and the warnings from Imperial Intelligence, Inger had still not been completely willing to give in.  So, she'd penned an email detailing her thoughts to Brigg, Tander and hault-Vineschenz, before the attack on the Selat Atrara platform.  Suspected of intelligence operations, she said she felt the crew of the Cursed Bastards were due some representation.  But, as long as the spooks from intelligence kept the ship pinned to a deck in the port, the more likely it would be an increasing issue for the port itself.  So, while she was "warned off", she could certainly put on the trail a law firm who had a reason to take up the case.

And now, Inger found the once surly and unresponsive captain and his purser hiring in the spacer's hall!

Greeting the men, Inger reminded them of her name as she sat with them.  Then, she settled in to learn the story of their change of fortunes?  Of course, they recognized and knew who she was.  And it was made clear they knew who'd pointed the lawyers in their direction too.  Sensing a chance to make a killing in a lawsuit, the lawyers dove in, only to be smacked back by members of the Rhylanor government.  Rather than take that and back off, one of the firm's partners, Count Ginri hault-Vineschenz, had escalated the case and used his political connections to get into the conversation, at least.

Once the Count was involved, it was decided that, if the Cursed Bastard's captain would give up his long-haul cargo, the crew could be allowed to operate in-system.  That was the same suggestion Inger had offered for the Dragon's Horde.  Now, the system directory showed the ship was also working to pay some bills in-system, in the outer system at the time.  While the spooks were against it, Duke Leonard entered the issue for reasons not explained.  He suggested that having the Cursed Bastards operating "in-system only" could have its benefits.  While the spooks had apparently not been all for it, the Duke, for reasons the captain couldn't guess, signed off on the idea.

Since then, the crew had managed to ship enough to start earning a profit, after they gave up their long-haul cargo.  And, as they started to find a home in the Rhylanor system, they'd even been able to bid on an old and roughly-used in-system freight hauler at a good price.  With that, they worked their own local cargo hauling company and even been granted the right to make limited interstellar deliveries.  They were allowed to deliver with-in two parsecs so long as there were members of the Duke's guard aboard for the ride!  All Inger could do was sit in amazement and bask in the thanks they heaped on her, because she had started the ball rolling.

The Captain was also certain Dame Inger's connections were behind some measure of the support they'd gotten from Duke Leonard.  When Inger asked about their second ship, she learned it was sold at salvage, after being recovered by the government of Rhylanor.  It had drifted free from 'a salvage platform which had been attacked and largely destroyed'.  With the former owners killed, the ship was sold very cheaply.  Inger kept her thoughts to herself as she remembered the fate of the Selat Atrara salvage platform, and Sir Brian.  Still, Inger could enjoy word of their success as she sipped at the drinks they bought her.

Yet Another Ironic Twist Of Fate

     When the tale of wonder wound down, the Captain asked Inger how life had been for her?  The former port executive glossed over what hadn't been published outright in the news.  And again, the talk turned to her contacts as the Captain said they could be a benefit.  That brought Inger up short.  In the pause, the Solomani captain jumped right in, asking Inger if she wanted a job?  Sputtering a bit in surprise, Inger asked who the job would be with?  The man said they'd set up their own LLC and in-system shipping firm.  When she managed to pull her thoughts together, Inger asked what she would be doing?

The job they pitched to Dame Inger was to be a corporate fixer.  She would be posted in Rhylanor, which would again end her tourism.  Inger would handle any issues the apparently foundling trade line came on.  Any issues with the port on shipping and trade would be her job to help fix.  Another thing Inger recognized was that she'd have to find a way to leave the Hotel California.  That would also have repercussions for those who saw her as part of the crew of the California, as an asset.  Losing that might cost her contacts and good will, which would affect the Solomani's proposal.  Inger had to also recognize they could actually be a crew of very well trained spies who would like to co-opt her.

Still, not sure what answer she could give, Inger kept asking for the information she'd be expected to want if she really wanted the job.  When she asked what her salary would be, the captain admitted the company was more of a startup.  He said they'd be looking at living expenses and a share of company earnings at the start.  They made it clear that, as a fixer, Inger could also work on other projects until and unless issues requiring her skills came up.  Inger said she'd think about it, then asked if there were issues at the moment which they needed a fixer for?

The Captain said there weren't any issues outside the continuing espionage investigation.  But, as she listened to the man talk, Inger realized he was actually looking forward to the end of the investigation.  Surprisingly, he no longer planned to leave the Rhylanor system.  It seemed the crew were now comfortable working with the citizens of the Rhylanor system!  That was quite a turnaround from the surly and angry crew she'd first met.  With the job offer on the table, the captain even asked Inger if she knew any investors who were interested in backing a start up in-system shipping line?

When Inger said she might, and considered mentioning it to the crew, she asked what their assets and situation were?  The Captain went over their buying the IMV Durgarna Kishgi, a 20,000 dTon Dragger-class bulk freighter.  Admittedly, it was very old and it's jump systems had all been deactivated and converted to an in-system hauler.  Still, a brand-new ship of the class was worth hundreds of millions of credits.  And none of this was free, so the newly founded company had to take a MCr 20 loan to buy the ship.  And another MCr 100 loan to get the vessel space-worthy again.  Inger asked if she could see or tour the vessel, and was told it was actually on a run, already earning money.  They did say it was scheduled to return in a few days.  Inger asked if she could see the ship then, and was told she would be welcomed.

Talking more about the money they hoped to raise, Inger asked about their plan?  The man said they planned to leverage forty percent of the company's value in shares, to raise funds.  With those, they hoped to pay enough debt to own the Durgarna Kishgi outright, letting them increase their margin of profit.  When Inger asked for a copy of their business plan, the captain was only too glad to bump her a copy right away.  He had it ready, because they'd been offering potential employees shares in the company's profit already.  So they'd had to set up a full package covering everything.  Inger was looking over the data package, the purser checked his comms and interrupted, saying, "We forgot something."

Showing the captain his screen, the Captain agreed with the purser that they'd forgotten a bit of business.  Then, he said that they weren't apparently the only friends Dame Inger had in the port.  Apparently, they had been deemed the only trustworthy crew by the crew of the SMV Star Daughter before they left system.  Inger remembered that crew as had adopted her when she was able to help them clear up their legal issues with the port.  After the purser bounced her the message from the Daughter's captain, she found she was invited to the headquarters of that trading firm in the Joyeuse system.  One of the remaining Sword Worlds systems.

Joyeuse Region

Yet Another Ironic Twist Of Fate

     Inger thought about that, along with what she knew of the recent history of that region.  The Sword Worlds had been a group of confederated systems, acting together since before the Imperial settlement of the Spinward Marches.  Ever since 589 TI, the Confederation had allied with the Zhodani or remained neutral in the frontier wars, which had ripped apart the sector.  Now, after the events of the Fifth Frontier War, all those systems were occupied.  And half the worlds had been forcibly partitioned by the Imperial Navy, to form the "Border Worlds Confederation".  Still, Inger had to wonder how wise it might be to visit in a ship full of Imperial Knights who'd recently shot down a warship from the nearby Gram system.

On the other hand, Inger considered the path the crew wanted to travel, on top of doing the jobs they'd agreed to do.  From Rhylanor, they had to travel largely spinward to the D'Ganzio system.  There, the crew had talked about how to "get around" Sword Worlds space, travelling further spinward and rimward to the Gothe system.  One option had them cutting along the border shared by the new Border Worlds and Imperium.  That would have them moving directly rimward until they could cut around the rimward Border Worlds and Sword worlds border.  The other had them travelling through the Vilis subsector spinward, into independent space and then into the Darrian Confederation.  From there, they could travel almost entirely rimward through Darrian space until reaching Gothe in the Fife Sisters subsector.  Either way, they would be travelling the sides of the triangle rather than the straightest line.

This offer, if they took it up, would let them to travel more diagonally spinward, through some Border Worlds ports before making the jump to the occupied Joyeuse system.  There, they could make the longest jump their engines were able to for the Cunnonic system in the Darrian Confederation.  While one of the most isolated Darrian systems, they would be back in allied space.  After saying she'd consider the offer, Inger spent more of her time talking with spacers from other ships, to gauge how things were going in the port over all?  What she found was that, despite the attack of the ramshackle fleet, things in Rhylanor space were settling down.  They were even improving as the system became a main supplier for materials for the continuing recovery of the Risek system.  Inger spent the next hour as things closed on lunch in meetings, or chatting with other crews.

Thanks to her reputation, Inger found herself approached often, and sometimes a bit more zealously than appropriate.  But Inger saw nothing significant in the complaints and was forced to admit the port had things well in hand.  The issues brought to her were not really anything she could do a lot about.  Still, Inger did find a few issues she might be able to raise from Cr 500 to Cr 1,000 with, by calling Port Central and helping to escalate them.  Inger traded information with each of the crews she thought she could help and said she'd call them if she could advance any of their issues.  After working the hall, Inger called the Port Director to do lunch.  When she got through, the Director said he had a number of other engagements.  So he thanked her for the invite but declined.

Large Fish In Small Pools

     At the Rhylanor Museum, the morning's surprise had worn down to the on-going fear of making a wrong step while chatting with each of Their Graces.  Lucky for Aali, this was Emkir's arena and he was well suited to it.  Speaking with the expertise of a committed amateur, Emkir was able to surmount his nerves and function as smoothly there as at any other gathering.  Emkir also benefitted from his work on the as-yet undeciphered book.  His background interests and recent work let him offer new insights which the curators valued, not to mention Lord William.  The conversation lasted as the teams of conservators worked, and their Graces stepped in and out of the discussions.

Despite the dominant conversations, Aali was able to participate on her own.  Especially when Duchess Delphine came to ask her how the crew enjoyed their time in the Mora system?  Largely spent shopping or dealing with either the Arch Duke or herself, Aali shared with Delphine some of the more appropriate highlights.  She also said they were looking forward to going back to Mora, after they finished a recent contract and delivered Sir Zachariah's body to his family.  That turned the conversation somber as Duchess Delphine again told Inger the crew could reach out to her staff in-system for anything they needed.  Soon, Aali thanked her and Delphine returned to examining the books.

The real thrill, for Aali, was when Duchess Muktheswara came over to discuss Aali's experiences during the Fifth Frontier War.  During this chat, Aali admitted she didn't much know about wartime events in the rimward part of the sector because of her own actions in more coreward regions.  She did say the Hotel California's pilot, Sir Aiden, would be more aware of those, having spent the opening period of the war fleeing to Imperial lines in the Glisten subsector.  As surprised as Aali was to find the Duchess knew quite a bit about her past, Aali was even more surprised when Duchess Muktheswara seemed to know a great deal about Sir Aiden too!  Finally, the time came around to lunch and the couple were invited to share it with Their Graces and the senior curators and conservators.

Having to leave the actual work room to eat, the diners were treated to quite a spread.  The reaction of the museum workers showed this was well above their normal fare as everyone was seated.  Emkir and Aali sat to Lord William's right as the Lead Curator of the Rhylanor Museum sat to Duchess Muktheswara's left.  The table then bent into three quarters of a circle so everyone could, at the least, face each other.  Arch Duke Norris sat in the center, flanked by Delphine and Leonard.  After nearly an hour dining and talking about the books, Emkir and Aali were finally told why the Museum had essentially demanded the right to examine the library?

Brian's library was very large, compaired to most collections from such sources, so it was unusual.  And, due to the age and rarity of some of the books included, the Museum and the Duke had been concerned about fraud.  This was despite Lord William's comments following his examination of the library before Sir Brian's death.  The many tests the conservators were putting the collection through would certify, or not, the authenticity of the books in the collection without doubt.  When Emkir asked, he was told that the crew would be able to have, and advertise, this data when they began the sale of the books.  But this was only part of the conversations, which eventually ended with the lunch, and the curators had to return to work.

After the academics returned to the clean room environment, Lord William asked Emkir and Aali to chat with him.  Settling in, William asked a few questions about the planned auction of the books?  When he learned the crew hadn't settled on an auction house, William offered to look into those people the University of Rhylanor used.  When Aali and Emkir seemed very happy with the offer, William told them the University usually used faculty members for such events.  While not professionals, they were very good at what they did, and cost less than the professional houses.  Happy with the offer, the couple were still not sure how this would affect the legal end of any sales they made?

Emkir asked if there were a book in the library which William was personally interested in and His Lordship admitted he was well off, but not that well off.  After the laughs, he reminded them he'd have access to the scans the University of Rhylanor would be creating.  This disappointed Emkir, suggesting the University would be out of the bidding.  Lord William reminded him there'd be enough bidders without driving the University to its donors for expensive museum pieces.  With a wink, William suggested the books would more properly belong in museums.  Saying this last, William spread and raised his hands, driving the focus of the conversation to the building they were in.

Both Emkir and Aali caught William's meaning as his comms went off and he had to re-join Their Graces.  When they returned to the clean room, Delphine and Muktheswara were talking with the curators while Norris and Leonard had turned to talk with Lord William.  The afternoon continued and Grand Duchess Delphine asked the couple what they hoped to see in profits for the collection?  While Emkir's answers were more in the estimates of large numbers, Aali said that, without backers, the Hotel California had to build up the funds needed to support the ship if anything went wrong.  Overhearing that, Duchess Muktheswara asked how much they'd have to net from the sales to consider selling off the Hotel California for a larger vessel?  Playing it close to the vest, both Emkir and Aali said it would depend on the class of vessel they could buy.

That conversation wound down and both Aali and Emkir did their best to seem uninterested in the discussion Norris, Leonard and William were having.  They also did their best not to get caught while trying their best to catch whatever snippets they could.  An effort which, based on Lord William's expressions from time to time, they were pretty bad at.  Rather than create bad feelings, the two backed off and spent time working with the conservators, learning what they could of the tests being run.  Finally, after just more than an hour later, Lord William called the couple over to Norris and Leonard.

When Aali and Emkir joined Their Graces and Lord William, they were told it was time to tell the public what was going on.  It was admitted the building media frenzy over Duchess Muktheswara's arrival would likely explode when it was announced the Arch Duke and Grand Duchess had also arrived.  To manage this, the announcement would be released as part of the announcement of a reception to be hosted for the arrivals by Duke Leonard.  As courtiers of the Domain Court, and since Lady Mikah was a Lady of the Court, the crew would be expected to be present at the reception.  They were told that was scheduled to start at 6pm that night.  After they were told that, Duke Leonard said their Graces had to move on and would see the members of the crew at the reception.

Their combined Graces and Lord William then left the facility after thanking those working and saying their farewells.  On their own, Emkir asked where he could go to call the rest of his crew and pass on instructions from His Grace?  Emkir was directed to an enclosed room.  Sparking up his comms there, Emkir realized he wasn't even sure where Inger and Munarshu were?  He knew the others were at the hospital, but wasn't sure if he could call them there?  So, Emkir called the ship.  When the comms started to buzz, Inger picked up and Emkir explained what he'd been told.  Inger agreed to tell the rest of the crew, so Emkir signed off and returned to Aali and the curators.

Professional Courtesy

     After Inger considered all those who'd wanted to buy lunch for her and have her work on their ship's immediate issue that afternoon, Inger spent Cr 15 of her own on lunch at the spacer's hall.  This helped keep her from being tied to a timeline, no matter what the issue.  Still, the table she chose to sit at was popular because of her presence, and filled up quickly with those hoping to get her interest.  Inger politely chatted with and listened to the spacers until a man with what appeared to be two body guards arrived.  Inger really didn't grant him much attention until he cleared his throat to interrupt the third officer of some ship as that man tried to get Inger's help for his crew.

The Officer wasn't easily cowed, and only growled at the new arrival who then leaned to the side so one of his body guards could lean in.  This wasn't a big deal until the body guard reached, allowing his jacket to fall open so everyone could see he was grabbing the grip of a holstered auto-pistol!  At that, the officer quickly grabbed up his meal and possessions and left the table while the new-comer held the attention of all the others at the table.  Inger considered the obviously unarmed but well-dressed gentleman who now sat in the place the officer left at the table.  He sat while the others to either side pushed left and right to make sure the man had plenty of space istead of ending up dealing with his bodyguard.

Dressed in a fairly spiff business suit, the man greeted Dame Inger as he bumped her his business data.  Inger greeted the man as she checked the data provided.  His info showed he was from Ling Standard Products!  Specifically, shipping and handling and management cargo in the Rhylanor region.
       Ling-Standard Products: Originally a mining firm (and still very active in that area)
             LSP currently engages in a wide spectrum of activities including (but by no
             means limited to) manufacture of electronic equipment of all sorts, ground
             and air vehicles, starships and starship armaments systems, drive systems,
             power systems, computer systems and software, small arms, and a variety of
             other items.  Concerned to a small degree with banking,
             insurance, and other activities, LSP maintains mining and manufacturing
             facilities throughout the Imperium and beyond.

       Stock ownership: Imperial family- 8%, Hortalez et Cie- 26%, GSbAG- 23%, Noble
             families- 8%, Murdoch Holdings, LIC- 8%, Other- 27%

Inger was surprised at the turn of events, while thinking about the connections she'd made with corporate representatives in the past.  As with all the Mega-Corporations, LSP had weight, and liked to throw it around.  They had been helpful to her work on some occasions and more often arrogant and demanding in expectation of local support for their desires.  Even using the threat of arma at times.  Still, they'd been less annoying than some other Mega-Corp's, like Tukera Lines.  Looking more specifically as his data, Inger had to stifle a laugh when it seemed he was one of LSP's local troubleshooters.  So he did, for them exclusively, what she had been doing free-lance.

When they first started talking, Magach Zusir said he was interested in getting to know Dame Inger, because she was the 'new kid on the block'.  Inger had first thought they might be upset that she was cutting into their business.  Zusir said that he and his co-workers worked for LSP exclusively, so that wasn't an issue.  Having heard of her work, he was just curious to check her out and see what he could learn?  Zusir did say it was nice when the ship on the other side of the deal was also represented by a troubleshooter too.  Especially with the attitudes and lack of civility some officers and crews could present.

Inger had to nod at that, with her past experiences.  Zusir seemed to want a base line from Inger, in case he ended up negotiating with her.  Among the things he asked were if she were putting out a permanent shingle in the system?  If not, how long she meant to stay, and at what levels she wanted to play?  He suggested that LSP wasn't above directing an unrepresented non-LSP captain to a troubleshooter they could work with at need.  Inger prepared to launch into explaining her history to the man, but she found that had been done by LSP research.  And the media.  Refreshingly, when the questions started, they were not at all interested in those gaps in the crew's known history the media so loved.  Zusir was friendly, but all business, or how Dame Inger might help his?

Outside of her plans, and those activities supporting the port and the ship's, Inger had been considering working with, Zusir seemed very interested in Inger's knowledge of Arch Duke Norris?  Some of the questions were easy, and Inger had no problem answering them.  Some, Inger outright didn't want to answer, and found it easy to deflect.  Almost comedically, there was a point where the media and Zusir connected when the LSP man tried to diplomatically ask how much advanced knowledge she had, or knew of the Arch Duke having, about the announcement of his elevation to the domain?  Inger was able to stomp on that fairly easily.

Largely, Inger found it easy to play dumb since the man wasn't on the other side of an issue she was working.  He just seemed to want to learn, and didn't push.  She did tell him her plans were not much longer out than two weeks, since her ship planned to lift around that time.  Nodding, Zusir made sure she knew he could be helpful on occasion, and she thanked him for the offer.  Then, they talked about those other corporations she'd had contact with when she started troubleshooting?  Zusir seemed specifically interested in any contacts she might have had with Oberlindes Lines?  Inger knew Oberlindes and Tukera had locked horns since before the war, and Norris was a patron of Oberlindes.

Inger also remembered Oberlindes had just announced a jump-3 passenger and cargo route to the newly announced Federation of Arden.  This was the latest coup for a corporation which had somehow managed to get the Imperial Navy to sell an Azanti High Lightning class 60,000 ton Frontier Cruiser as salvage, with all its weapons systems still installed and operational!  When that "paperwork mistake" was discovered, it was decided to let Oberlindes keep the ship in service as long as it operated exclusively outside Imperial space.  The IMV Emissary now operated in the Vargr space of the Gvurrdon sector, just coreward of the Spinward Marches.

When Inger turned some questions, asking why Zusir was interested, he suggested it was possible the Arch Duke was grooming people to handle some of the jobs he used to handle, as Duke of Regina.  And, since Dame Inger was part of the Court of the Domain, she was in that line.  So, it seemed he was fishing to see if Dame Inger was rising in the Domain government, or might be able to point him to who might be rising to those positions?  Inger made it clear that information didn't flow in her circles.  After that point, things settled to shop talk, questions and conversation about the Rhylanor system as they compared notes.  When he finally stood up, Mr. Zusir slid a palm-sized datapad across the table to her and thanked her for her time.

Not sure what data might be on the pad, Inger pocketed it and planned to spark it up when she was in a less public space.  Despite the discouraging presence of the body guards, Inger was still the intersection of many pairs of eyes, and was certain to see the void quickly filled when the LSP man left.  Not really interested in bracing for that tide, Inger stood as he did, and called for a cab as she prepared to go back to the ship.  A short wait and Cr 15 later, she was back at the berth at the same time Mikah was taking part in the second stent operation at the hospital.  Of more immediate concern to Inger was the combat-armored figure she saw sitting in the ship's open cargo bay, with some kind of long arm ready.

Seeing the seated figure before she reached the plexiglas berth entrance, Inger didn't recognize the combat armor.  The suit wasn't new enough to belong to one of the crew who'd newly bought armor.  When she arrived, Munarshu observed her at a distance and beamed the challenge: "Halt!  Who goes there?"  Cautiously, Inger replied, "It's Inger.  What's going on?" as if she were talking to a child who might be holding something precious she didn't want him to drop.  When Munarshu got her answer, he knew who it was and, dismissively accepted her return to the ship.  He told her the folks from the Museum of Rhylanor didn't seem to have much security when they picked up the books.

Munarshu said he'd assumed the security role, for their berth at least.  Especially since something was happening on the port with security shutting down large sections of the port, and traffic from the planet increasing strangely.  Inger nodded while considering that Aiden's psychologic issues might just be catching.  When Inger asked if there were any explanations, Munarshu said "of course not!" but commented on how closely the activity seemed to mirror the transport times of the books.  So, he said he was much more comfortable in armor.  Inger only nodded and said "Carry on", while passing him by and entering the ship.

Aboard, Inger went to her stateroom and changed from her suit into a shipsuit and comfortable shoes.  Then, she stepped into the galley to find herself alone, and grabbed a drink before she sat and sparked up the LSP datapad.  Checking out the content, Inger saw it was an LSP courtesy card, allowing her to get, for free, any meal anywhere on-station for her and her party.  While thoughts of "We're gonna eat good tonight" ran through her mind, Inger couldn't help but be disappointed.  She actually hoped the data was some attempt to lure her into a plot or subterfuge.  Not something so mundane.  Still, business was a civil discourse and Inger was a business woman, so she sparked up the comms and sent Mr. Zusir her thanks for his gift.

Not surprisingly, Inger almost immediately got back a robo-response that Mr. Zusir was in a business meeting and couldn't get back to her at the moment.  That he wasn't sitting, waiting to pounce on her response was a good sign he was honest in his conversation.  Someone trying to hook her into supporting their project would have quickly answered her message.  After that, Inger opened up the Cursed Bastards business plan and documentation.  She saw they were calling their company "New Stars", and had already set up an LLC.  Inger smiled when she saw Brigg, Tander and hault-Vineschenz had apparently been hired to create the documents.  It seemed this was a proper marriage of skills.

The plan seemed well documented and fairly complete.  The forecasts were positive and the data suggested that, unless the economy tanked, the new firm would make money like the captain had claimed.  The varying charts comparing estimates of value based on differing fund-raising performance points suggested any funds risked investing with them would be well secured.  Inger spent the time between then and 2:30pm reading the projections and prospectus and relaxing.  Near then, while Inger relaxed, the comms buzzed and she answered it to find Emkir calling.  What was unsettling to Inger was the face-splitting smile of intense self-satisfaction on his face.  When Inger wondered what could have gone so badly wrong, Emkir said, "We're eatin' good tonight!"  Schooling her face, Inger had to wonder how in the stars Emkir could have found out about the LSP voucher??

Willing to play along with Emkir until she cracked that case, Inger asked, "Where we eating?"  Emkir relaxed as his smile almost got larger.  Then he said, "Well, it seems Duke Leonard is holding a reception for Arch Duke Norris."  Inger could only hope she managed to stomp on Emkir's hopes for a reaction but still had to pause and pull her thoughts together.  She then asked, "Oh.  Is he?  Oh!  Are we?" in her best 'delighted' voice.  Emkir laughed and said, "Yes.  And we're invited!  Who else is at the ship?"  Inger shrugged, as it seemed Emkir 'really' wanted to get the word out.  She said, "Just Gladys...  And in combat armor...  Guarding the ship..."  Emkir asked, "Still??" in surprise as he remembered the engineer gearing up when they thought there was no security for the books.

Inger said Munarshu was just guarding the ship and Emkir gave another relaxed smile and said, "That will not be necessary."  When Inger asked, "As in him guarding the ship?" Emkir answered, "As in him having to guard anything." stressing the last word.  Then Emkir asked Inger if Munarshu had told her what happened?  Inger said Munarshu had told her there was a commotion when the vehicle left. and it kind of died down afterwards.  Emkir explained to Inger, as she recalled being in charge of such operations on her ports, that whole concourses were shut down and sealed off from traffic to secure the transport.  So, Emkir was completely comfortable the port would be able to react to any threat immediately.

Inger knew that well, but only said that was part and parcel for these sorts of security details.  Emkir only relaxed and said, "That's what happens when you have the four most powerful people in the sector in one system."  And his resurgent smile wasn't the only thing that caught Inger by surprise as she caught the word 'four' and asked who the fourth person was?  If possible, Emkir's smile got bigger as he plainly enjoyed playing out the information.  Stretching the point to almost breaking, Emkir told Inger, "The Grand Duchess is here too." Leaning back, Inger said, "You two have had a busy day."  Emkir relaxed as he said, "No.  Not really.  Yes, we talked to them a bit, and yes, they greeted us.  But we were really just sitting here watching them all do their work, which I can't show you because I can't send video from the actual room."

This told Inger that Emkir actually had to leave the room to make the call he had.  Setting that behind her, Inger asked, "So what are our obligations for this evening?"  Emkir admitted he hadn't called Mikah, because he didn't want to cause her to cut something off Zimzod that she'd treasure.  But, Emkir told Inger to get the word out to the others that they had to be in formal dress and prepared at the Duke's palace on-station at 6:30.  That concerned Inger, who asked if Mikah would be done with the surgeries and recoveries by then?  Emkir said he thought so, as the other surgeries had ended quickly.

Moving on, Inger asked, "Is there anything you can tell me about the business at hand?  Or should we all just be pleasantly surprised?  Honestly, Emkir answered, "All I can say is that Duke Leonard is having a reception to officially announce their collective Graces are in-system.  So, it will probably turn into a media circus.  You know how that is."  Neither of them commented on the 'written bids' fiasco, even if it had ended well.  The best he could guess was that they'd be there as retainers.  Off the comms, Inger left a voice message for Mikah, who was to be in surgery for the next hours.  But she was sure Mikah would tell the others there.  So, she considered her wardrobe and the fact that all of Their Graces would be her audience.  Then, she decided she had to go shopping.

Updating Wardrobes

     Lucky for Inger, she had experience in the Rhylanor system from her visits when she was Executive Director of the Porozlo port.  She even had some favorite shops, which she called to explain her needs as she said she was on her way.  On the comms, they said they could scan her an outfit, as usual.  They also offered her the option of coming in, to work with an actual tailor and have an outfit hand-made.  While they admitted, and she knew, the tailor would be significantly more expensive, they honestly told Inger the scan design process would take up to three hours where a tailor could actually work faster, with a team supporting the craft person.  When she agreed to the tailor and was off the comms, Inger started considering what she wanted?

Leaving the ship, Inger was considering something 'ivory', with green highlights and accent beadwork.  The gown she wanted would be formal, and perhaps have a shell jacket.  When they considered the color against her skin, though, it was decided ivory was too light, and Inger might blend into it.  Inger accepted a darker "burnt ivory", to create contrast.  When it came to accessories, in addition to matching shoes and other basics, Inger considered what weapons might go with the outfit?  While she was sure that Their Graces would be guarded to the hilt, she also knew she'd wear this gown more than once.  So she thought about methods of concealment.  Thinking about what she'd seen, Inger remembered Mikah's black gown.  That worked with a bustle or an upper-thigh holster under the top of the skirt.

The bell of the skirt had a slit the wearer could reach into.  Within that was a modesty panel she could reach past to grab and deploy her weapon.  Inger thought this would work perfectly with her 9mm.  Inger was thinking on this when she came to Munarshu, sitting at his self-appointed post.  She updated him on what was happening and said she was going clothing shopping.  After a brief pause, Munarshu asked how formal the event would be?  When told it would be a "glamor event", Munarshu asked if he could join Dame Inger shopping?  Inger said yes, and decided to wait on calling the cab until Munarshu got out of the armor and cleaned up.  Soon enough, Munarshu was down in the berth with Inger as they waited for the cab.

At the shop, Inger was surrounded by the team assembled for her, and Munarshu was welcomed in a way he'd only ever seen at InstellArms, since he'd join the crew of the Hotel California.  While Inger started getting into the details of her planned gown, and the cost quickly moved to Cr 20,000, Munarshu realized he didn't have that kind of cash.  He asked if this sort of thing happened often and Inger said it didn't, but decided Munarshu really didn't know much about the crew.  Munarshu admitted he only knew what he'd heard about in the news.  During this conversation, the shop staff began to ask Munarshu about what he wanted?

Knowing men's clothes tended to cost less than women's, Munarshu decided to see how conservative he could bring the prices while trying to match Dame Inger's gown?  Of course, provisions for bearing a weapon were not an issue, since he didn't anticipate having to sport one without being in armor and granted the right, for whatever moment required it.  So, he started off with the same burnt ivory and green in mind.  Considering his lighter skin, they recommended a burnt umber rather than any of the ivories.  While the tailors worked on a balancing contrast instead of matching the outfits, they asked if Dame Inger and Mr.  Sidigur were going to be an intentional couple at the event?

While Munarshu had no issues with the idea, Inger shot it down since it would suggest more to the media than wise to do.  He was asked about provisions for a weapon and Munarshu said, "I prefer not to wear one at this time."  When they asked about provisions for the future, Munarshu had to admit there would be worlds where he might go armed, and should be prepared.  When he said he might in the future, they asked what type of weapons he'd like to conceal?  Thinking, Munarshu said he'd most likely want to conceal a snub pistol under his shoulder.  After that, and a number of other minor questions, Munarshu's suit, in a Vilani style, came out to Cr 7,500.

When the deals were cut, the clothiers asked if Dame Inger wanted to borrow some specialized jewelry for her event?  Inger said she'd be interested and they offered her a number of collections, some of which were centuries old.  Inger asked for the details and was told this gained them attention, and would drive business to their door if Inger were willing.  So she could borrow the jewelry for free, and they could either have a security team waiting to receive them after the end of Dame Inger's evening or even have someone accompany her as a body guard?  They were even willing to let her return them the next day.

Considering her options, Inger was mostly concerned with how expensive the sets were, and how much she'd be on the hook for if something went wrong?  The shop staff made it clear they had a range, with items valued in the hundreds of thousands and even the millions of credits.  Each covered by significant insurance.  When Inger asked how 'returning them immediately after the event' would work, they said they'd give her a coded comms link she could call when she was returning to the shop.  After her call, their over-night security would prepare so she could just arrive and hand back the bling.

Deciding she was comfortable with that, Inger asked those she was working with to recommend jewelry.  Given their lead, the shop manager said they had a piece that dated from just before the Imperial Civil War.  When the Aella family, ancestors of the Arch Duke, ruled the Duchy of Rhylanor.  Hearing that, Inger's mind flashed back to the hate stone collection she and the rest of the crew had seen in the Mora system.  Evidence of a rift between that family and the Stephanos family, related to the current Duke, Leonard.  Despite that set of stones, the shop manager said the pieces they were offering Dame Inger would not insult Duke Leonard, and would highlight Dame Inger's position in the Court of the Domain of Deneb.

Continuing the "sell", the manager said this would allow his Grace to show his allegiance with the Domain, simply by virtue of her presence.  Especially since the crew of the Hotel California and Duke Leonard were the only members of the Domain Court anywhere near Rhylanor.  Inger kept her knowledge of the Arch Duke and Grand Duchess to herself, and asked about the value?  She also considered who she might offend wearing jewelry with that kind of history?  In the end, told the jewels were worth several hundred Million credits, Inger realized the jewels were 'on the market'.  So, the Arch Duke would have no reason to be insulted but might be surprised.

While that was happened, Munarshu was also offered jewelry to borrow.  So, the set Dame Inger would select would suggest they enforce a statement of their allegiance to the Arch Duke, while not outshining the other nobility present.  So, Munarshu was offered an antique "state set".  Accessories which were said to have been worn by Marquis Caranda Aledon, on a state visit to the Rhylanor system after he'd been created the First Duke of Regina.  Those up on their Imperial history would know then-Marquis Caranda had helped then-Admiral Arbellatra Alkhalikoi secure key worlds in the Spinward Marches before she drove on the Imperial core worlds to end the Imperial Civil War.

When Munarshu was asked if he was interested in wearing the set, the engineer enthusiastically accepted.  After going over the same questions and answers Inger had, and carrying the jewelry out in a case for the same security and personal reasons.  Then, the newly suited and gowned couple wore their new outfits out while the shop staff wrapped up the shipboard dress-downs they'd arrived in.  They also created separate secure-carry packets for the jewelry.  The staff then called a cab, at the shop's cost, to get Inger and Munarshu back to the ship as dinner time neared.

Spreading The News

     Nearing half past four, Terin's surgery was coming to a close and Mikah was asked to close on this last patient.  Taking a bit of extra time, Mikah made sure to cut and stitch a bit so a star-shaped scar would form.  Despite her handiwork, the scar was still small, and behind the ear near the hair line.  So even a bit of additional hair growth would cover it from view to those not brushing the ear lobe and hair back to look for it.  In the meantime, Rol and Aiden watched from the gallery while Zimzod was now awake and still in post-surgical observation.

When everything was done, Mikah scrubbed out and then checked on Zimzod before recovering her comms and checking it.  So it was to Rol and Aiden that she first announced they had a shindig to go to that night.  When Rol asked, "Really?  Who for?"  Mikah actually looked for cameras and other people before reading the rest of the message.  "Duke Leonard was holding a reception to welcome to Rhylanor the Arch Duke Norris, Grand Duchess Delphine and Duchess Muktheswara."  Hearing that, Rol stammered out, "What is it with us?"  Mikah shrugged and answered, "I don't know."

Knowing she had to stay with her patients, Mikah told Rol and Aiden to get back to the ship and get dressed up.  She also told them she wanted them to come back to the hospital with gear for herself, Zimzod and Terin.  She said they should get Zimzod's best suit and shoes along with his gauss pistol.  And she asked for Terin's best suit and accessories.  When Rol asked, Mikah confirmed she was authorizing the pair to go through the gear of Sir's Zimzod and Terin.  When they were on their way, Mikah called Inger and asked her to bring Mikah's black ball gown, footwear and accessories to her.  She also said to bring her gauss pistol, Deneb earrings and her two bracelets.

Done giving her orders, Mikah returned to recovery to check on Terin and Zimzod, and update them on the situation.  With Terin still out cold, Mikah explained the situation to Zimzod and asked what else he wanted, so she could act on it then and there?  Zimzod said, "Drugs" in a soft but firm voice, ignoring the headache and hoping for the cool kind of drugs.  Mikah batted that aside saying she'd get something for his head but pushed for what else he wanted to wear?  Not being anything for fashion, Zimzod said no but made sure he'd be OK to eat and not embarrass himself from after-effects of the drugs they'd used to knock him out.  Because he said he planned to eat!

Pointing to Terin, Zimzod asked, "Are you gonna get someone to give him a wet willy and wake him up?"  Mikah said she'd wake him in an unconcerned voice, and Zimzod asked if it was gonna be funny?  He was disappointed when Mikah said it wouldn't be funny, and that Zimzod couldn't do it the way he wanted.  After that, while Zimzod relaxed, Mikah hunted down the attending and told him they had to accelerate Terin's recovery from the anesthetic.  When the Doctor said that wasn't recommended, Mikah pointed out that she would be handling his continuing care and signed the forms, as Terin's Captain and primary physician.

When it was firmly clear Terin would be woken up, and that both patients were leaving for a reception, the subject turned to protecting against infections.  The attending doctor recommended treating the wound with bio-accelerators and growth enhancers before covering the wounds with protective layers, spray-on skin and a bio-plas spray-on coating.  After that, an anesthesiologist was called over to consult as they started to safely clear the drugs from Sir Terin's system.  Another team got working on the protective coatings for both patient’s wounds.

Having gotten their marching orders, Rol waited while Aiden used the restroom and then they called a cab.  During the Cr 15 ride, Rol recommended they stop to buy outfits which were "really nice".  He asked Aiden if the pilot had appropriate clothes and Aiden said he'd gotten a number of suits after his elevation to Knighthood on Mora.  He also silently thanked Mikah for insisting he buy more than just the one mandatory suit.  With that comment, Rol considered the suits he already had and realized he could wear the same outfit he wore to the funeral.  Aiden planned to wear one of the suits he'd worn to receptions after his Knighting.

When Rol still wasn't sure, Aiden pointed at the time, since they only really had an hour and a half to get done.  They had to reach the ship, get changed, grab Zimzod and Terin's gear and get back to the hospital in time enough that they could change too.  And, when they neared the concourse on which the ship was berthed, the taxi was brought to a stop because the whole concourse was cordoned off by station security!

Leaving The Museum

     The rest of the afternoon became anti-climactic for Aali when Emkir was again drawn into the academic discussions about the books.  Still, some of the early answers had come in, and everything so far indicated the books were all 100% authentic.  Both Emkir and Aali were asked, as a couple and individually, where the books came from?  They both silently thanked Lord William for the tip as they mourned the loss of Sir Brian, and any chance of answering that question.  Still, Lord William had vouched for the legal ownership of the books by Sir Brian, and, pending any claim by his family, the crew were the legitimate agents to decide the future of the library.

When asked about Sir Brian's family, the couple had to admit they hadn't heard anything from them, or received any message from the Wypoc system, Brian's homeworld.  Then again, they admitted they hadn't heard from any of their families, and Sir Brian was 39 years old.  So, his parents would be in their 60's at the least.  And the Wypoc system had been hit by Zhodani attacks during the war.  So, there was no guarantee they were still alive.  Emkir did say they were going to the Lanth Subsector next.  When Aali pointed out they'd be on the rimward edge of the subsector and Wypoc was on the coreward side, Emkir said, "Hey!  Maybe we can visit the parents then, because that's real close to Regina."

Aali admitted she thought that would be nice, but considered how much further back delivering Zach's remains would be pushed if they did?  Aali did plan to bring up the subject of Sir Brian's parents with Mikah.  And now she had Emkir's attention, Aali decided it was time to decide what they were wearing to this reception?  Since they'd have to get back to the ship with the books, secure them, get changed and then get to the reception.  Spending some time going over their wardrobes, Aali realized she had either her slinky little black dress and stilettos, her green ceremonial gown or Vilani pants suit.

Not really liking her options, Aali regretted that she had no time to shop, and decided on the green gown.  She also decided to shop some more afterwards, lest even more surprise parties get sprung on them.  Going formal, Emkir chose his armored Vilani suit.  And where Aali would carry her snub pistol in her purse, Emkir would wear his 9mm in a holster on his hip in a manner reminiscent of the style of military uniforms.  That decided, the couple gathered with the senior museum workers until the tests were finished and the books re-packaged for transport.

When everything was packed up, the trip back to the ship was much like the trip out.  Each concourse they entered seemed to have been locked off and secured by station security, in a manner that provided a rolling bubble of protection for the vehicle and its cargo.  By fout thirty, they were back at the berth and supervising the off-loading and storage of the books with a certification in hand, from the Museum, of the authenticity of the books.  The couple planned to share that bit of news with the crew when they had time, since storing the books, getting changed and getting to the reception would be exciting enough.  Emkir was surprised to not see Munarshu guarding the ship when they returned.

Getting To The Show On Time

     Arriving at the concourse the ship was berthed on at 4:45 pm, the taxi carrying Aiden and Rol came to a surprise stop, and they found the path ahead blocked by station security.  Surprisingly, the security forces were armed and even lightly armored!  Watching out a view port, Rol said "oh?  Oh, what happened?"  Though more to himself than to Aiden, the pilot watched as the Marine left the cab and approached one of the officers, and his possible doom.  When Rol asked, he was told the area was secured by order of the Executive Director and only specialized vehicles and authorized personnel were to be permitted beyond that point.  The officer did ask Rol what his reason was for wanting to travel into that concourse?

Expecting to direct this man to a detour, the security officer wasn't prepared when Rol said, "I need to get into this concourse because I'm ship's crew of the Hotel California.  When Rol said that, the man asked for his Ident.  After Rol handed that over, and the officer checked it, he came to attention, thanked Rol for his service and advised Rol that he would pass the cab through and radio ahead that Sir Rol was arriving, since the California's berth was the space being secured.  When Rol asked, with some concern, "What happened?", the officer said he didn't know but believed it was related to some kind of a delivery from "the museum".  Saying, "I see", Rol told the officer he was used to security check points and thanked the man for doing his job.

Saying "Yes Sir.  Thank you, sir" as he backed away, Rol heard the man radio "Two coming through in a taxi" as he also signaled for the blockade to let the cab through.  When Rol got back into the vehicle cabin, he told the driver to proceed and began to tell Aiden what was happening.  But the driver asked for confirmation, and even a security code as Rol assured him.  So, he nervously moved forward.  While the security cordon let the cab through, the drivers detained to the sides stared daggers as some guessed they were, in-part, responsible for the closure that was interrupting their business.

Encouraging the driver as they started down the concourse, Rol said, "It's ok.  Drive casual."  Still, they moved on and were waved through security choke points where ever there were junctions with other concourses.  It was also obvious port security were providing transport and support services to the other active berths in the affected concourse, while not allowing those crews to leave their berths without leaving the station proper.  When they got to the berth, another more significant security cordon appeared to almost fortify the entrance.  Despite the security presence, the cab was passed through and the driver and passengers could see a group of workers unloading carry cases from a vehicle, and supervised by a person standing with Emkir and Aali.

When Rol and Aiden got out of the cab, Rol asked the driver to wait there while seeing the crew moving the carry cases into the ship.  The cabbie asked how long Rol wanted him to wait and the retired Marine said it would likely be half an hour.  Rol told the driver they would have to return to the hospital then, and would not likely be able to get another cab into the berth.  The driver laughed and agreed as he set the meter to continue running.  Shrugging and saying, "It's your money", the cabbie did his best to not gather attention while Rol and Aiden walked over to Emkir and Aali.  Emkir greeted them and Rol said they had to get changed and collect a number of things for Zimzod, Terin and Mikah.

Taking a second to understand things, Rol asked, "What's going on here?"  Emkir said they were just returning the books from the Museum.  When Rol asked if there were any new acquisitions, or if any of the books were not returned, Emkir smiled broadly as he said, "No.  They just wanted to check them and certify they're authentic!"  His tone spoke to the value of such a certification.  Saying "Nice" with a smile of his own, Rol asked, "So, who's your friend here?" while pointing to the man who seemed in charge.  Emkir introduced them to the Chief Conservator for the Rhylanor Museum.  Despite the introductions, the man was too busy managing the end of the transport for social niceties.

When Emkir said they'd be done in a few minutes and get to changing themselves, Rol and Aiden moved into the ship.  They decided to do their scavenger hunt first, recovering what they'd been told to grab from Zimzod and Terin's quarters before getting dressed themselves.  Collecting the gear took about 10 minutes, during which time they'd comm'd the hospital and confirmed things with Zimzod and the now conscious Terin.  After the men had left for the ship, Zimzod had been given more pain meds and Terin had been awakened.  Terin woke to some pain in his head and, more alarmingly, a crowd of doctors standing around his bed, including Mikah.

When he looked up at the obviously concerned gathering, Terin managed to ask what was going on?  Matter of factly, Mikah said, "We're going to a party.  You're coming." as if that explained everything.  From where he lay, he heard Zimzod say, "Give him a mirror, show him the poodle!" in a happily taunting voice.  Terin asked, "A poodle?" in a confused voice and Mikah sniffed, "It's not a poodle, it's a star."  Terin repeated, "A star?" before deciding he'd figure that out later.  When Terin next asked for pain meds, Mikah said those were coming and began to explain that Rol and Aiden were heading back to the ship to get his gear, so he could dress up.  When Terin asked, "Why are we going to a party right after surgery?" Mikah said, "I'll tell you later."  Still not completely awake, Terin agreed and said he'd just lay there until his clothing arrived.

When things were wrapped up with the books at the ship, Emkir and Aali changed into their dress clothes.  Both also wore their executive armor beneath.  Aiden holstered his snub pistol to his hip over one of his fancier suits from the Mora system.  Rol wore his Vilani robes, with both his cutlass and gauss pistol.  When Inger arrived at the ship with Munarshu, she recovered Mikah's gown, accessories and Mikah's gauss pistol.  Inger then finished "dressing up" with the jewelry, as did Munarshu.  Inger also put her holster on her thigh and put her 9mm in place.  She then joined Rol and Aiden and the others in the taxi back to the hospital.

Terin was given more drugs, and lay there trying to figure out what this party was all about?  Clearly, no one had known about it when they left for the hospital, so it had to have been a sudden thing.  But, this sort of sudden event was usually catastrophic and never...a party?  And why did he have to be there almost immediately after he'd undergone surgery?  When Terin's condition was confirmed, he, Mikah and Zimzod were moved to a suite of private rooms.  Soon, Aiden and Rol arrived with Aali, Emkir, Inger and Munarshu along for the ride.  They all looked amazing and had with them the various outfits and accessories they'd been charged with bringing.

Aiden had been stuck with the cab fare for the ride back to the hospital, which comedically included the charge the cab built up for waiting.  While the gear was distributed, Terin realized no one had brought him a weapon to wear.  He said, "I guess you guys didn't bring my snub pistol?"  Rol pointed out he'd still been out cold when they left and Terin made sure they were alone before he demanded, "Can someone tell me what's going on?"  Rol cryptically said, "We're going to meet someone important."  Terin said, "Ok" in a tone that requested more details.  Playing with the information a bit more, Rol added, "For dinner" and Terin again said "OK?"  When no one else was stepping in, Rol said, "We are apparently going to meet the Arch Duke and the Duke..."

When Terin interrupted, asking "Which Duke?" Rol said they were going to a reception being presented by Duke Leonard for the arrival of Arch Duke Norris and Grand Duchess Delphine.  He guessed Duchess Muktheswara would be there as well.  The impact of that was significant.  Terin looked over his best suit and wondered what the announced reason for their arrival was?  Activating the vid screen for the news, Rol simply said, "There was no news because no one knows yet." in a matter of fact tone.  That stopped Terin in his tracks as the room was filled with a report, now ironic to them, on the continuing lack of information regarding the visit to Rhylanor of Duchess Muktheswara from Glisten.  It was clear, they were unaware of the arrival in-system of the Arch Duke and Grand Duchess.

Recovering, Terin asked, "Does this happen often to you guys?" and Rol said, "No, not often.  Occasionally."  Terin considered that as he mused, "May you live in interesting times..."  Terin said he'd roll with it, though he wished he'd had time to get a better suit.  Zimzod told him not to worry about it, since he could always pretend to be a waiter.  After that laugh, the crew slipped into his and hers rooms to change and get themselves set before leaving for the Duke's palace.  When they did, they left behind a trail of confused hospital workers, patients and others.  The crew got to the palace on time, if barely, to find the space around it filled with security and media.

In the last hour, it had been announced that Duke Leonard would be hosting a significant event at the palace, and the media had rushed in.  They speculated why the Duke chose his facilities on-station, instead of downwell, on Rhylanor Prime?  Rumors were rampant without any released information, and the best guesses any of the media could make were based on who had been invited and how they were dressed?  When each vehicle arrived into a secured zone, the new arrivals were subjected to a media gauntlet before a security check.  And the first fact that presented itself was that word had been passed to all the arrivals since they were all dressed up.

This suggested much more advanced preparation for this 'impromptu' event, those arriving had to have prepared some time before.  Despite that, the media were picking up on signs of rushed preparations among those who never attended events at less than their peak appearance.  When the crew made their way through the filming media, a reporter called to Mikah asking, "Lady Kirlim!  Are you officially representing the Arch Duke at this event?" and Mikah answered, "Of course.  I'm a Lady of his Court".  That only suggested she represented the presence of members of the Court.  Since she'd answered a question, security let the reporter and her people to move forward to ask, "Are you his official representative, in-system, for this event?" while trying to pin her down on actually "speaking for" the Arch Duke.

When Mikah said she wasn't, they asked, "Are you saying there is someone more important in-system who's representing the Arch Duke?"  Mikah simply shrugged and said, "I'm sure his Seneschal in-system would be designated to speak for the Arch Duke."  The reporter responded, "Well, we have not seen the Baron yet, but thank you very much Your Ladyship."  The next questions were about her gown and special notice was given to her ear rings.  Mikah said were just created for her.  When the reporter asked where, Mikah was glad to give the shop's name and location, knowing that was how the game was played.

As expected, when Inger and Munarshu came in focus, the combined jewelry they wore made a statement above and beyond their outfits.  This was doubled down by Munarshu's lack of public identity.  Like Aiden before, the media were reacting to someone of obvious importance who they couldn't identify at all, since this was very unusual.  When the questions started flying, Inger introduced Munarshu as a new member of the ship's crew, in as polite a way as possible.  Fixating on the jewelry, Inger and Munarshu were asked if there had been some advanced communication?  And if the event was specifically related to the Domain or the Arch Duke?

Inger dismissed that idea, saying she was only showing her allegiance.  She then dropped the name of the shop at which her gown had been made, and where she'd been allowed to showcase their jewelry.  Munarshu chimed in that they had also made his suit.  When the press asked more questions about the jewelry, Inger said, "If Arch Duke Norris were here, wouldn't he get a kick out of it?"  At that, they asked Inger if she had any news on the Arch Duke's current location?  Inger said, "No idea."  When the rest of the crew passed through the media horde, Munarshu bore up better than Terin against the unusual circumstances.  In fact, Terin did his best to fake that he was feeling a bit ill and just wanted to get inside and sit down.

Concerned with his medical state, Mikah ran interference, though Terin did say he was also a new member of the crew, commenting on his rank and position.  Terin was able to appear comfortable enough, saying he felt there was enough security present when a reporter asked why he wasn't armed?  Past the media gauntlet and the final line of security, the crew were directed to a table where they thumb-printed in and were told where they would be sitting during the event.  They also saw that a significant amount of data about their achievements were also presented on the pad.  So, this was a social register of sorts too.

After they all thumbed in, they saw the whole crew would be sitting at 'Table Number 2', just off the high table and in a position of honor.  Also, they would be sitting with Lord William and his wife...and Dame Ligirsi Khilurka.  Most of the crew remembered Dame Khilurka as a gold digger who'd considered courting Sir Zimzod until she had the chance to get to know him a bit better.  Munarshu's only startled question was, "How did you guys rate?"  But when he saw the faces of the crew as they started to react, he waved it off saying, "Never mind.  Never mind."  Munarshu silently reminded himself he had to get used to this sort of thing and Sir Terin started touching links to learn about the others at the table.  First, he learned Lord William was the brother of Duke Leonard, and Terin had to wonder how they rated indeed!

His Lordship was also a professor of literature at the University of Rhylanor.  Lord William was sitting with his wife, next to a second woman who Terin learned was a rather young lady.  She was recently created a Knight when her parents died and the title was passed down to her.  She seemed to have also inherited a company involved in moving foodstuffs in and out of the Rhylanor system.  So, she had risen to a position of some importance.  As he read, Munarshu joined in, and both got a better idea of the position they were being put in, and the eyes that would be on them.

Soup, Salad And An Announcement

     Past the reception room, they entered the main room itself and were subjected to the reception line.  Starting with some high-level officers and other representatives of the Rhylanor system, the line ended with their collective Graces.  Along with the Arch Duke was his true-daughter, Lady Seldrian Aledon.  With the Grand Duchess was her niece, Dame Elane Shankarr Muudashir.  While most of the crew recognized these ladies, Munarshu and Terin didn't.  They could only infer their importance by their presence and position.  Duke Leonard stood with his wife and also stood close to Duchess Muktheswara, who appeared to have brought no family with her.

In their turn, each of the crew greeted their various Graces as properly, and in some cases humbly, as they could.  When Sir Terin was greeted by Duke Leonard, His Grace said, "Welcome to the adventure." and Terin thanked him for the greeting.  Except for that, Terin and Munarshu were greeted less personally than the others.  It also seemed there were some sentiments passed between Their Graces and each of the others of the crew.  For Munarshu, this further cemented the position of the crew somewhere in the halls of power in the Sector.  Leonard, Norris and Delphine each shared personal and friendly words with the crew, where Duchess Muktheswara's greetings were friendly if not personal.

Despite the lack of personal greetings, the Duchess did eye each of the crew up and down as they were presented.  When Inger arrived before Muktheswara, Her Grace commented, "Not surprisingly, you clean up rather well."  Inger simply thanked Her Grace, and wondered just how much Duchess Muktheswara had been watching her to start with?  She wondered where the Duchess' impressions come from?  Of course, when Inger was presented to the Arch Duke, Norris said, "Is it me, or do I recognize the jewelry?"  Smiling somewhat sheepishly, Inger admitted, "You might, Your Grace."  But Inger had to wonder, as this set of pieces didn't belong to his family but the family of his ancestors.  And, there had to be many important pieces of jewelry throughout the centuries since the Imperial Civil War.  Why would he remember this one set?

When Munarshu was presented, the Arch Duke said that he and Dame Inger were a matched set, and asked if they were a couple?  Stepping in, Inger said, "No!  Your Grace." and formally introduced Munarshu Sidigur to Arch Duke Norris.  Once introduced, Arch Duke Norris took some time to ask Munarshu about himself and what brought him to the job aboard the Hotel California?  Munarshu very clearly said he'd signed up for work.  Nodding at the answer, Norris glanced down the line of nobility and said, "I'm sure we can find a way to provide you with a lot of that."  Munarshu agreed, and said he had the feeling he was going to have more than enough of that, and just hoped to survive it.  After that, Norris asked Munarshu about his military service and what he'd done during the war?

After Munarshu gave a brief description of his activities in the Scout service, Norris noted the bunching reception line and said, "That sounds very interesting and I'm sure we'll have time to discuss it in the coming days."  Inger and Munarshu moved on after the obvious dismissal and Munarshu had to wonder at the meaning of the Arch Duke's final words?  Seated, the crew found Dame Khilurka chatting with Lord William and his wife.  Emkir joked, "Hey Zimzod, isn't that your girlfriend?  That's gonna be difficult to explain."

Despite their last "date" not having gone very well, it appeared Dame Khilurka was pleased to see Sir Zimzod, and had even saved a seat for him.  When Mikah was all for Zimzod sitting with the Knight, though they were not close enough for Dame Khilurka to hear, Zimzod said, "Um, no.  We been bumping uglies and I think it's time we let everyone else know."  Zimzod did offer Mikah the seat next to the Knight.  Mikah said she really didn't care who sat next to her.  Being honest, Mikah said she'd prefer to sit next to Lord William or his wife.  But William was already sitting between his wife and Dame Khilurka.  When Zimzod made it clear he was uncomfortable sitting next to the Knight, Mikah agreed.  When they stepped up to the table, Mikah and Zimzod stepped up and announced their relationship to the Knight, and everyone else.

After that floor show, Lord William welcomed them all to the table and invited them to sit as Dame Khilurka sucked on her stewing a bit.  When they sat, Mikah checked on Zimzod and Terin, explaining they'd had outpatient surgery that day and might not be entirely recovered.  Lord William said he'd been aware of the surgeries, and wondered if someone might not have been able to show up?  When he said that, he glanced at Sir Terin.  Mikah said the surgery was simple, and barely invasive at all.  William replied that, knowing their crew, it was possible the surgeries were not invasive at all because she was just cutting into a collection of air sacks.  That comment got laughs from those in the crew who didn't take themselves too seriously, including Mikah.

While Terin and Munarshu considered how good friends the others were with the Duke's brother, Lord William said, "This is the official notification, for the populace, that Their Graces are in the system.  Start to finish, select views of the room will be broadcast through the system.  So, be on your best behavior", and everyone at the table agreed in one form or another.  Even more surprising to Terin and Munarshu, after sitting down, Mikah said to Lord William, "I'm sure we'll find out soon enough, but why is everyone here?"  For a moment, as things hung, Munarshu and Terin both had reason to wonder just who this brother of the Duke was?  But then, William smiled at his wife and the others at the table and said, "You know, I'm as in the dark as you are.  I'm just here because of my blood relationship."

Catching glances at herself and then at Munarshu, Terin and Dame Khilurka, Mikah watched as William played the dumb professor.  Switching topics, Mikah asked if Lord William had gotten a look at the books?  William eagerly leaned forward saying, "You know, I've seen them before and it's really exciting!  And, as you know, I'm part of the literature department at the University.  So, I'm really looking forward to the one book it appears Sir Emkir has already agreed to sell to the University." The man's enthusiastic answer was so committed that even Mikah almost believed it.  Emkir simply smiled and said, "I'm glad you're excited, Your Lordship.  Very pleased indeed.  If there's anything else I can do to help out, please let me know?"  With that, Emkir leaned back as others around the table stifled laughs.

Aali said, "Down boy" while the appetizers started being placed and the evening began.  The opening course was a seafood salad from the Mora system.  Tucking in, they ate and chatted until the entree was served.  Then, Duke Leonard stood up to get the room's attention.  Since most of the buzz right from the get go had been due to the surprise presence of Their Graces Norris and Delphine, the room came to an almost sudden and expectant silence.  Duke Leonard thanked everyone for being able to answer the call on such short notice.  Leonard continued, "As you know, none of us were aware His Grace the Arch Duke and Her Grace the Grand Duchess had left the Mora system.  In fact, there were still stories in the cycle arriving in the Rhylanor system which made it seem they were still in the Mora system today.  However, it is my honor to welcome them to Rhylanor and to announce that all the resources of my duchy are at their disposal.  For whatever they need, as it remains for Duchess Muktheswara.  And now, I invite His Grace to speak."

With that, Duke Leonard sat down and Arch Duke Norris took the podium, greeting everyone assembled.  He then reviewed that, as everyone knew, he'd been created the Arch Duke of the Deneb Domain.  Continuing, Norris said, "As a result, it will be necessary for me to start doing the work and getting things running for the Emperor and the people.  As a result, I've been reviewing my plans with Her Grace, the Grand Duchess.  And I've been determining what steps need to be taken?  I decided that I had to come here to announce that I need to take a grand tour of my domain."  The reaction to that statement was an immediate current of murmuring which died out as Norris continued.

"So, I've called all my senior officers together.  And over the next few months, we'll have meetings here on Rhylanor to determine how that is going to work, and how to set it up?  Obviously, there's a great deal of work to be done here in the Spinward Marches, as we continue to recover from the Fifth Frontier War.  And, as we move forward and grow the society of the Spinward Marches and The Imperium.  I need to leave that in intelligent and trained hands, and with trusted officers.  These plans will be made even as we are organizing my fleet.  So you can look forward to seeing a great deal of me here in the Rhylanor system while that work is done."

After The Shoes Drop

     With that, the Arch Duke's comments were done and he thanked those who attended him again, and allowed them to return to their dinners.  Conversations erupted at every table.  Outside, as could be told on personal electronic devices, the media had grabbed what little was given and were running with it.  Dissecting what was said and speculating on top of that, for what was not.  Into the background of conversations at other tables and the silence at their own, Terin said, "These are really good seats." and turned to his meal.  While they ate, the Arch Duke and Grand Duchess started separately moving clockwise and anti-clockwise around the room.  It would soon be apparent they were both stopping at each table to chat.

Because of where they'd been seated, the Arch Duke came to their table first.  Looking around, Norris said, "OK, I know most of you.  I don't feel you will need any further explanation of my plans.  Are there any questions?"  In the sudden gap, every member of the crew looked at Lady Mikah.  She paused before asking, "What are our duties while you're here?"  After a pause of his own, Arch Duke Norris said, "That remains to be determined, if anything.  But, you personally are a Lady of my Court."  And then he looked at the others of the crew and said, "You are all officers of my Domain, and you will all receive what requests are important for the growth of the Domain."

While the others considered that, Rol said, "So, a Grand Tour, Your Grace?" and Norris confirmed the planned grand tour of the domain.  Rol belabored the obvious, saying, "That's quite a project." and Norris answered, "Yes, but it is necessary and while it will be quite an undertaking, I will be away for quite some time."  When Rol wished the Arch Duke well, Inger was almost staring at him.  This was the most Rol had said to anyone in public in her experience.  Norris thanked Rol for his well wishes and said he was confident he was leaving the Sector in good hands.  He also reminded Rol, and the others, that his authority over the Spinward Marches descended down to the Duchies and systems through the Sector Grand Duchess Delphine, who had been in her position for some time.

Norris assured those at the table he'd worked enough with her to be certain she was able to move his agenda forward.  When that line of conversation faded, Norris moved on.  Those at the table quietly considered their thoughts from the possibility of orders from Norris' office to considerations of the casual relationship this crew seemed to have with an Arch Duke of the Imperium.  Towards the end of the meal, as she completed her circuit of the room, the Grand Duchess arrived at their table for her part in the soothing of nerves and answering of questions.

Realizing Their Graces had been up, talking and travelling from table to table while they ate, Inger offered Her Grace some food on a small plate.  Terin offered her Grace his seat while she visited their table.  Her ultimate goal in sight, Delphine thanked Sir Terin for his offer but turned him down as she nibbled from the food offered by Inger.  Delphine did greet everyone at the table, but shared special greetings with Aali, Emkir and Aiden, commenting on the pilot's very nice suit.  Terin and Munarshu watched as this woman who had been the most powerful in local space until Norris' elevation, and who was a blood relative of The Emperor himself, was chatting with members of the crew because they were friends.  All Munarshu could think was, "This is not the time for the reaction he knew was coming."

After the personal comments were over, Delphine shifted to business, asking if anyone at the table had any questions?  When Mikah asked, "Will you be accompanying him?" Delphine said, "I will not be.  I remain the governmental head for the sector, as always, and I will make sure that the Emperor's policies continue.  And, to the extent that we are able to, that the Arch Duke's policies are enforced."  To some at the table, the fact that Duchess Delphine said the last part with a straight face was a surprise.  Some also wondered to what extent Duchess Delphine would find herself able to carry out Norris' policies in his absence?  When Terin asked, "So how will we deal with the Sword Worlds?" Delphine asked, "In what specific regard, Sir Knight?"

When Terin mentioned the ramshackle fleet, Delphine waved that away saying, "There's no accounting for rogues.  We don't so much view that as having been a hostile force that was backed by any particular Sword Worlds planetary government.  We view it more as if it were some large, organized group of corsairs, like the Vargr might mount up.  Those situations, as I'm sure you well know, can rise up over the space of a week and will wash over a region of space until they are shot from the sky or taken to task.  We don't think that should be a real problem, and we don't see any continuing issues out of the Sword Worlds at the moment."

After her words, Terin asked, "So do you think that it would be safe for Imperial citizens to travel through Sword Worlds space?"  Delphine smiled and said, "Sir Knight, I'm sure you recall that all the Sword World systems are currently occupied by Imperial military forces.  So, should anyone have any trouble with any intentional tourism they are undertaking, I'm sure there would be aid at hand.  Especially for Imperial Nobility."  At that, Emkir raised a glass saying, "I'll drink to that." while Aali simply put her face into her hand.

Looking around and seeing there were apparently no more questions, Delphine addressed Munarshu saying, "I understand, from the Arch Duke, that you joined this crew looking for work?"  Munarshu sheepishly answered, "Yes.  Though I'm starting to think I may not survive the first month after we leave this port."  Delphine gave him that smile a grandmother gives a slow child and said, "I really doubt that will be a problem, but I'm certain we can find enough work for you."  The comment almost universally earned Munarshu highly acidic looks from the rest of his crew.  When Munarshu said it was not the finding of work, but surviving that work, Duchess Delphine just laughed at the comment while she turned and walked to her table to sit down at last.

When she left, Terin asked Munarshu, "Why are you so grim?  This is an adventure!"  Mikah found herself agreeing with the Knight for morale's sake.  Zimzod said Munarshu had been listening to Captain Paranoid too much, pointing at Aiden.  This chat took place while dessert was being handed out.  Zimzod took a moment to check out Lord William's face as he took in the conversation at the table.  Dame Khilurka had long since found other company to talk with rather than stay and "not try" to reconnect with Zimzod.  Looking over at the dessert table, they were told the buffet-style settings included dessert dishes from every sophont culture in the Spinward Marches except the K'kree.

After dessert, the evening ended and everyone was released back to their ships or homes.  While the crew, and the other attendees, made their way through the now near-rabid media, many questions were shouted out to anyone who might stop and try to give answer.  Some of the reporters were in the midst of trying to verbally construct a timeline how long this had been in the works?  building on the known actions of Duchess Muktheswara in travelling to Rhylanor.  These efforts were made more intense by the fact that Their Graces appeared to not be leaving the building with the rest, to either leave or address the media.

In the flood-like procession, Mikah and Inger were surprised to spot a pair of people they recognized from the Mora system.  These were two of those "men in non-descript suits" the Arch Duke had met with when they accompanied Arch Duke Norris to meetings in the Mora system.  They seemed to have been standing off to the side of things in the main room, and would not have been noticed except that they started moving with the crowd.  Most striking, they were dressed in the same sort of non-descript grey suits they had worn on Mora.  Soon, the crew were at the taxi call station and discussing destinations.  While most of the crew wanted to go back to the ship, Inger and Munarshu had to stop and drop off their bling.  So, it was decided they would take two vehicles.

Munarshu signaled for a cab while Inger called the special comms code she'd been given, and was assured security would be ready for them when they arrived.  She was told she and Munarshu should pack the jewelry in the same security packets they'd left with from the shop.  At the same time, Terin signaled for a cab for the rest of the crew and Mikah made it clear she wanted her patients home and resting as soon as she could get them there.  Thankfully, Security was prepared for the end of the event at the palace, and had a queue of transports ready and waiting for those who would need them.

Inger and Munarshu's ride was swift and without incident as they made their way to the shop to return the jewelry.  The driver assured them that, if they only had to drop off the packets as described, there should be no additional waiting fee.  But, once they turned the corner onto the section of concourse where the shop was located, the driver jammed on the brakes when the vehicle was caught in the glare of a blinding set of spot lights.  Very swiftly, as Inger actually reached for her weapon, armored figures swarmed the vehicle and weapons are put to the windows and the driver was ordered to unbutton his window!

Faced with superior force and firepower, and with no other options, the driver complied.  As soon as they could, the leader of the figures outside politely but firmly requested the Idents of the passenger.  After Munarshu provided his Ident and it was checked, the figures all stepped back and apologized for the scare.  They then passed the cab forward to where an armored vehicle waited in front of the shop, along with a squad of battledressed and armed troops.  When the cab came to another stop, the commanding member of the troops stepped up and provided identification that proved he worked for the shop, and was ready to receive the jewelry.  Inger and Munarshu both handed over their secured packets.  Both were then checked with the jewelry cataloged before they received receipts and were sent on their way.

On top of the receipt, Inger received a note from the shop's manager.  It read: "We saw what you said to the media when you were arriving at the reception and were very pleased.  Please accept this on our behalf."  Checking the hand-sized data pad more completely, Inger found that she and Munarshu had both been given a Cr 1,000 shopping credit at that shop!  When he read the note, Munarshu's comment was, "Hmm, good for shoes."  That meant the ride back to the ship was a very pleasant and relaxing one for the two.  Especially since, when they arrived and prepared to pay for the ride, they were told that their fare had been paid by the clothiers!

The others arrived earlier, and Mikah stuck Aiden with the tab though he protested that the next one would not be on him.  Still, Aiden paid the Cr 60 while the others unloaded to get into the ship.  Stepping out, Sir Terin said, "Not for nothing Aiden, but for that dickhead move you pulled on Gladys, you deserved to pay the bill and more."  In response, Aiden simply stuck out his tongue and gave Sir Terin a raspberry.  When Terin replied, "No, I don't want to check out your weapon", Aiden sourly said, "it might be better to grab it than be on the other end of it."

Settling In Before Bed

     By nine thirty, Aiden was in his stateroom changing out of his fancy cloths before getting to bed early.  He wanted to be well rested for his stent surgery.  Having missed Aiden's swift departure from the lounge, Terin aired his concerns that Aiden's weapon represented a clear danger to the rest of the crew.  He complained that, if they got into a gunfight and Aiden went down, and someone else's weapon were to jam, they might reach for "any" loose weapon.  And, if it turned out to be Aiden's, the snub pistol could take out another member of the crew.  Rol snorted at the comment and Zimzod said, "Dude, don't let your weapon jam."  Acerbically, Mikah said, "If you really need it, chop off Aiden's hand and use it to fire the weapon!" in a tone which made her opinion of Terin's concern very clear.

Rol asked, "You do carry a backup, right?" without pointing out the number of weapons every member of the crew had.  Despite the unspoken part of his comment, the point was clear to everyone.  Terin claimed they might not be fully armed and prepared, like when Sir Zachariah was killed.  Hearing that, Rol said, "That wasn't a problem though."  Confused, Terin tried to continue the argument and Rol calmly pointed out that the lack of a weapon wasn't an issue in that situation.  He said there had been one there.  When Rol asked if Terin was thinking of grabbing Aiden's weapon for any other reason, Terin said he wasn't.  Zimzod said he'd grab it.  When everyone looked at him, Zimzod said he'd grab it by the barrel and shove it in someone's face, which got laughs.

After that, Rol asked Terin, "Seriously?  Are you really worried about not having a weapon in combat?"  Terin answered, "Not particularly.  I see it could potentially turn into a dangerous situation in the chaos of a firefight."  Rol agreed that firefights were inherently dangerous, but asked if Terin was seriously worried about not having a weapon in combat?  Rol said they could do something about that if it was a concern.  Zimzod said Terin should stop whining.  Terin just shrugged and said, "I just thought it might be a concern.  But if you guys don't think it is, then don't worry about it."  Mikah stepped close to Terin, checked his bandages and said, "It's the drugs."  She then turned to Terin and flatly said, "Go to bed."

After that, Rol went to his cabin, stripped out of his glad rags and grabbed a shower.  Before she and Emkir hit their cabin, Aali said she had to call the Admiral the next day and pay the KCr 500 for the first lot of androids.  She also had to follow up on the second lot.  Aali then expected to get to work fixing the units and get one fully operational as soon as she could.  After Aali was done speaking, Emkir told Mikah he needed her OK to finalize the deal with the University of Rhylanor, and get the prices to start getting the books scanned.  Mikah OK'd the offer and Emkir also asked for authorization to start reaching out to auction houses, to set up the actual sale of the books.  Mikah just shrugged and said, "Sure, go ahead."

With her permission, Emkir said he'd start on that tomorrow and he and Aali went to their stateroom, but didn't set an alarm.  Mikah told Aiden and Rol to get some sleep since they'd be up early, and tucked Zimzod in with a couple of sleep tabs.  She then set her alarm and hit her bunk as soon as she could.  Since Zimzod was recovering, Mikah slept in her own bed.  As the others evaporated, Terin made himself a cup of tea before hitting the rack and taking the sleepers Mikah gave him.  When Munarshu and Inger returned, Terin was by himself sipping tea in the lounge.  Munarshu asked what Terin was doing up and the navigator said he was having tea, then asked if they wanted some?

Munarshu said he did and Inger said, "In a minute.  I need to get changed out of my gown."  Munarshu also changed while Terin was preparing more tea.  After they were sitting, Inger asked, "So what did you guys think of tonight?"  Terin said, "Interesting." and Munarshu said, "Ummm, awestruck."  With a smile, Terin added, "I knew the crew was pretty well connected before I signed on.  I just didn't know how well connected until tonight."  Inger assured, "This kind of thing doesn't happen very often."  Munarshu challenged, "Very often?" as he thought that this sort of thing didn't happen to normal people at all.

When Inger asked if they were OK with that, Munarshu said he was, and just wondered when he could pop his question?  When Inger asked what question that was, Munarshu answered, "I want to see about restoring the Five Sisters subsector to home rule and ending governace by the Navy."  Terin just said that was above his pay grade.  When Munarshu told Terin everything was above his pay grade, Terin poked back, "Not yours" and Munarshu said, "At least I'm not the ship's slave."  Inger let the wordplay fade before she addressed Munarshu's comment saying, "That's a question that will have to be approached very carefully."  When Munarshu agreed, Inger continued, "And, considering that our elevation is recent, it might be wise to hold off a bit until we've established ourselves a bit more.

Terin suggested Munarshu might want to do some research on the issue.  But Munarshu interrupted him saying, "Well, considering I grew up there, under that situation."  Terin agreed, "You grew up there, under that situation.  But you see it from your perspective, as someone under the umbrella.  Now, you have to look and do some research on how it looks to the guy holding the umbrella, so to speak."  Inger added, "The other thing to keep in mind is that we are servants of His Grace.  And that comes first and foremost, before anything else.  Including our political views."

When Munarshu agreed, Inger said "That can't be compromised."  Munarshu said, "Just because I disagree with the policy doesn't mean I won't follow my orders."  Terin simply made another bid to suggest Munarshu do more research before he acted.  After saying her piece, Inger quietly sipped her tea and considered the conversation.  When she finished, Inger cleaned her mug and said good night before hitting the rack.  Finishing his tea, Terin checked his emails to see if there was anything important before getting sleep?  Munarshu was in his stateroom and settling in before Terin was done.

A Morning's Blood And News

     As was his habit, Munarshu's alarm woke him at 5am and he went through his daily routine.  Finishing, he sat in the lounge waiting for Rol to cook breakfast like he said he would the night before.  This, despite being scheduled to have his stent implant surgery.  Rol, Mikah and Aiden got up early and ate after Rol cooked.  While they were leaving for the hospital, Inger emerged from her stateroom and wished them luck.  Almost as an afterthought, Inger asked Mikah when she thought she might be back, and Mikah estimated five thirty to six that evening.  Inger said she might need to speak to Mikah later, but had to make a call first.  When Mikah agreed, Inger said she'd speak to Mikah later and Mikah told Inger to make sure Zimzod and Terin rest.

When the taxi arrived, Mikah paid the fare to the hospital.  After they arrived, Mikah went to scrub in and Rol was taken to be prepared for the operation.  Aiden was taken to the galley to observe.  While Mikah scrubbed in, the lead surgeon asked Mikah if she had planned any "non-prescribed procedures" for the session?  That referenced what she'd done with a patient the afternoon before?  When Mikah innocently said she didn't, and asked what they meant, there were some explanations of the hospital's ethical treatment restrictions.  The lead surgeon also said they had assigned the closing to a specific member of the team, because everyone wanted to get done on time.

So Mikah had to look forward to being excused near the end of Rol's surgery, to relax and prepare for Aiden's surgery.  When the surgery got started at the hospital, Inger turned on the news to see what developments had been released over night?  As expected, the news was all about the Arch Duke's reception, the newly announced presence of the Arch Duke and Grand Duchess and the Arch Duke's announced plans.  A whirlwind of images and video clips was presented.  Some concentrating on this or that attendee slipping and spilling or dropping food on themselves.  But there were small clips or shots including members of the crew.

To Inger's relief, none of the crew had embarrassed themselves and none of them was important enough for the media to be digging into.  Of very minor concern, Inger did see her own comments given air time since she'd been asked if she knew the where the Arch Duke was when she was arriving?  She was pleased that this was being used as proof of the depth of the conspiracy, when even members of the Arch Duke's own court were caught blinded by the secrecy of his movements.  While they watched, Munarshu suggested Inger find a fashion report if she wanted to see the worst comments about the crew.

Theories discussed in hard coverage were questions like who would be in charge while the Arch Duke traveled?  After having been elevated over Duchess Delphine, was the Arch Duke leaving things completely in her control as he left on grand tour?  Had Delphine and her people expected this?  And where they simply cooperating with Norris until he left?  Would Delphine consolidate her power base while Norris was out of the sector, to come return and find himself cut off at the border?  Or, was this era of cooperation real?  Either way, it was very much expected there would be more appointments to the Court of the Domain.  And, there would be assignments and duties handed down to assure the Arch Duke's power was felt in his absence.

One very interesting bit of coverage talked about the transport links their various Graces had used in order to arrive in-system.  Apparently, the orders for Duchess Muktheswara had been issued from the Mora system around the 241st day of the year.  The jump-6 ship dispatched had sealed orders both for the Duchess and for the Naval base at Hexos(Mora) to provide a second jump-6 messenger and have it carry the message forward immediately.

That messenger then jumped to the Marastan system(Glisten), where its orders send a third jump-6 vessel to the Glisten system to deliver the Duchess her orders.  At the same time, ships jumped from the Mora system to the red-zoned Gerome(Rhylanor) and Gorram(Lunion) systems, and the Strouden(Lunion) system.  At the same time, the ship which had carried the Duchess' orders to the Marastan system held there.  These ships were in place so the Duchess spent less than a few hours in each system, shuttling between ships before each jump.

The result was that a message which should have taken six weeks or more, and a trip that should have taken eight weeks at best took only three and five weeks to complete.  So, Duchess Muktheswara arrived on the 297th day in the Rhylanor system, even as news items much older were first arriving in the system.  For their part, the Arch-Duke and Grand Duchess had taken just two weeks, via a pre-placed jump-6 ship, to arrive in Rhylanor from Mora after they started their trip.  So, news four weeks old was just arriving from Mora at the same time.  This was explained at a level which targeted the bulk of the Imperial population, who rarely if ever travelled aboard an interstellar ship.

While listening to the news, Inger scrounged from the significant leftovers from Rol's cooked breakfast.  Knowing he'd gotten up early, Rol had made his usual amount of food and stored the extra for those who didn't have to get up so early.  Done with breakfast, Inger investigated contacting the parent company of the SMV Star Daughter and their headquarters in the Joyeuse system.  Inger quickly found that the only real method of contacting the company was to send an x-message, so she logged into the system to figure out the cost.  X-messages cost only one credit per jump of 2.5 parsecs, so Inger found the cost for a short text message to the Joyeuse system would be Cr 15.

Inger wrote to the captain of the SMV Star Daughter that she had just received their message on the 304th day and was honored to be invited to visit their system and firm.  If her travels permitted, she would certainly like to visit, and wondered if she could bring the crew of her ship?  Given that their current plans were in flux, she said she would be in further contact when they knew if they'd be able to travel to Joyeuse?  Inger ended the message saying she was looking forward to their reply, and included a short write up of each current member of the Hotel California's crew after the message.

Done with the x-message, Inger started working on the notes she collected the day before in the spacer hall.  While there were no likely significant pay-days in any of the contacts she made, Inger had seen the chance to spend a day working on all the issues and possibly make a few hundred or even thousand credits, after she met with the port and ship crews, to help as she could.  So she planned to spend the rest of the day researching what that might be?  While Inger worked on her message, Munarshu changed channels until he found a channel broadcasting fashion news.

In his stateroom, Terin was fast asleep at the same time, until he was disturbed by a buzzing.  Coming out of his sleep in fits, Terin's only thought was, "What the fuck is that buzzing?"  Soon enough, Terin realized it was his stateroom comms.  Dragging himself over to hit the audio-only, Terin said, "Good morning, how can I help you?"  Expecting someone from the ship's crew, he found himself talking to the funeral director he'd hired for Sir Zachariah.  The man very quickly greeted Sir Terin and ticked down a list of details that had been taken care of, and contacts completed, which included the needed data from the Arch-Duke and Duke's offices.  The reason for the call was that these details might need to be changed, since learning the Arch-Duke would be attending personally!

All Terin could say was that they didn't know the Arch-Duke had planned to attend either.  He did say, "Well, now that you do know that, I hope you made special preparations to make sure everything looks wonderful." in that tone the wealthy used to make it clear that was why they hired someone.  The caller asked, in a worried tone, "Is there anything else we need to be worried about?"  Because the news of the Arch-Duke's elevation said that Prince Lucan Alkhalikoi Alkhalikoi would be travelling to carry out the actual ceremony, Terin simply turned the screws to get even with the man for calling so early.  He told the man, "Not that we have any information on this, but let's hope Prince Lucan's fleet doesn't arrive for the funeral."

There was a real moment of pause and panic before the man squeaked, "Is that a possibility??"  Terin said it would take thirty weeks at jump six.  So, the odds were low.  He did say it was a possibility the Prince might be close and he wasn't really sure.  All the director could say was "Ummm, OK.  Thank you for your help Sir Knight."  Terin ended the call by telling the man to make sure that everything looked as perfect and respectfully spectacular as possible, because their name was on the work.  The man finished up by asking Terin to keep them apprised of anything new they might learn as Terin broke the connection and actually muttered, "That's what you get for calling so early in the morning."

Realizing he wasn't getting back to sleep, Terin did an abbreviated version of his morning routine and prepared for his day.  Stepping out into the lounge, he saw Inger was working on something on a terminal connected to the port and Munarshu was watching some fashion-based content.  Munarshu was gratified when he and Inger got an entire mini-segment based on the history and value of their jewelry.  As expected, part of the segment covered the shop and both he and Inger learned that shop didn't actually own the jewelry either.  They were part of a cooperative where they could very quickly borrow sets of jewelry from other associated firms.

This network also spread information about sudden trends.  So, when Inger and Munarshu came in looking for clothes, the shop staff already knew something was up.  Doing some quick research on Dame Inger, they came up with her connections to the Arch-Duke and already knew what pieces to have fast-couriered to their location, to offer to the couple.  For Munarshu and Inger, this was a glimpse into the covert world of underground espionage and data-mining that was commerce.  And neither missed the value that would provide for real espionage too.

The social reporting went hand in hand with fashion commentary.  And because the crew had been seated at "Table 2", with Duke Leonard's brother and sister-in-law, that also raised their profiles beyond the jewelry.  Terin arrived in the lounge and realized that some enterprising news agency had managed to get hold of both Munarshu and Terin's service records!  He joined Inger and Munarshu as the social reporters were giving a report on the new crew aboard the Hotel California.  While the details of their employment were not public, the press had done quite a job of digging.  There were speculations to the value each man brought to the crew in the event of another shooting?

Of course, their skills also fed speculation about what this crew might be doing next?  This added to rumors they might be troubleshooters for the Emperor himself.  That comment hit home with Terin, who had just less than suggested to a funeral home flunky that it was possible Prince Lucan could arrive before the funeral the next day.  Despite the drugs he took, Terin's head suddenly started to hurt that little bit more.  Saying good morning to the others, largely to turn his mind to other thoughts, Terin asked if there was food for breakfast?  He was directed to Rol's leftovers.

Terin sat down with his meal and started checking out another close by vid-screen, to watch the regular news.  Seeing that, Munarshu said he could switch to the main-line news now he'd seen the coverage of their crew.  So, Terin settled in to watch the news and he looked for any particularly good shots of him with several of the high nobility.  Seeing some clips, Terin started collecting them as snippets and stills, to send something home to his parents.  Eventually, Terin selected specific stills to send.  Munarshu decided to send a text to his folks saying, "Watch the news."  Terin found he could get two pictures and started researching the cost to find it would be Cr 50 per 2.5 parsec jump.  In the end, it calculated out to Cr 800.

Finally, after considering the cost and his resources, Terin decided to save the message and images for some later time if he came into more money.  While he did that, Munarshu started writing the text of his message, saying "This is my life up until now."  He also suggested his family watch the news for information on him when they got the message.  Especially the reception Duke Leonard held to welcome Arch-Duke Norris and Grand Duchess Delphine, since he was there.  The cost to get the message to his home was Cr 18.  Inger worked and listened to the news in the background, and wondered if any of the news of her adventures had made it back home?

Researching Options

     Considering that, Inger remembered that Duke Leonard had discussed the crew participating in operations in the Natoko system while planning an investigation of possible illegal ghost fleets there.  Thinking about it, Inger wondered what they could do to help the mission?  So, decided to talk to Mikah about the Duke's interest.  Especially since he seemed to feel she'd be valuable because she was raised there.  He suggested that even showing how well a native of Natoko could do might be valuable as a public relations tool.  Of course, there were no illusions that the crew could visit without an armed detachment as bodyguards.

In their stateroom, Emkir and Aali had woken, done their morning routines and come into the lounge for breakfast.  Done eating, and while the others were working on their projects, Aali reached out to Admiral Kiamman about the androids.  As expected, the paperwork was done on the engineering 'droids and they only had to pay for the lot and pick it up.  So Aali could start working on the 'droids.  On the housekeeping androids, their original opening bid was Cr 100,000.  Despite that, the Navy bean counters were certain the lot would sell for Cr 200,000, so the crew would have to meet that number to buy the lot.

Aali admitted that she'd have to talk to her captain about the KCr 200, but said she could make the payment on the first lot right away, and set up to pick it up.  When the Admiral said she'd wait for them to call, Aali logged into the couple's finances and paid the KCr 500 from the datapad money.  After she got the confirmation and saved it to her personal files, Aali logged out of the system and asked who wanted to come with her to help her pick up the lot of androids?  Munarshu volunteered and so did Terin, since he was doing nothing on the ship at the moment.  When Munarshu asked Terin if he was sure he wanted to go, Terin said he was OK outside of a minor headache.

Asking what the captains orders were for the patients, Inger said Mikah told her to make sure they didn't do anything too stressful and shoot them if needed.  After the chuckles, Inger admitted she really didn't care since Terin said he didn't think he'd be doing anything too stressful.  Still, Terin planned to bring his snub pistol.  When they went in to change and prepare, Zimzod came out of his stateroom to eat breakfast and complained he needed a beer.  When Terin came and handed Zimzod a bottle of pain pills, Zimzod said "These'll work too." and took a couple of pills.  Terin asked if he wanted a cup of tea and Zimzod said he did.  Terin made a cup before he and the others left to get the androids.

While the others finished changing, Aali, Munarshu and Terin realized they'd had to take the ship's cutter to get the android lot.  Terin said he could fly the cutter and contacted port control for the rules and restrictions as well as any recommended flight plans?  The others relaxed and Munarshu saw Zimzod watching coverage of the reception.  Munarshu enthusiastically told him, "You gotta check out the fashion news!"  Shooting the engineer a look as he leaned away, Zimzod said, "Dude!  You're not only not going on night op's with me, but any time we draw weapons, you're going out in front of the point man from now on.  'Cause that's just gay!"

Ignoring Zimzod's words, Munarshu excitedly said, "They had a six to seven-minute segment on what we were wearing for jewelry alone!"  While Munarshu tried to convince Zimzod this was history, Terin talked with the port, who said such transits were normal.  They offered him a number of pre-programmed routes Terin would be able to set the cutter's nav-beacon to in order to fly almost on auto-pilot.  When that was done, the three boarded the cutter and Terin powered up, set the nav-beacons and they left the berth.

While Terin flew them, Aali called the naval depot and said they were on the way.  When the three left to get the androids, Zimzod sparked up a comms and started reaching out to those contacts he'd made in the Order.  He asked if any of them knew anyone in InstellArms administration or management?  While he collected names and suggestions, Zimzod took breaks from time to time to watch the news, but never once checked out any of the fashion reports.

Emkir called the University to finalize the deal he'd made and get the final pricing on having the books scanned, since hiring them was part of the deal.  Talking with the head of the University's reproduction department and some of their senior experts, Emkir was able to share the data from the Rhylanor Museum the day before.  Since the agreement to use them was set, the discussion was pretty straight forward and the pricing was going to end up around KCr 100.  That would lop a chunk off the KCr 500 the University had agreed to pay for the copy of "Order of Battle of the Battle of Nulisud".  When that was done, Emkir worked a bit more on his translation work until lunch.

Taking Care Of The Mid-Day Business

     At the hospital, Aiden had seen this show before and knew what was planned.  Since he had to be there until it was his turn on the table, Aiden decided to fill the time writing a letter home, to update his father.  By the time Rol's surgery ended and it was lunch time, he had written a five-page letter and done the research to see it would cost Cr 190 to get to his home world.  This letter updated the one he'd sent with pictures from the Mora system.

After he was done with that, Aiden saved it and bounced it to his ship account.  Then, he joined Mikah for lunch.  For Mikah, the operation had gone completely as expected.  She was sent back to scrub out as the others finished up, and was soon clean and meeting Aiden for lunch.  Going to order food at the hospital cafeteria, the team finished with Rol and rolled him into recovery.  Mikah and Aiden relaxed until she had to go back to scrub in, and Aiden had to return to be prepared for his operation.

When Aali, Terin and Munarshu arrived at the naval depot, they saw the warehouse workers were ready and had the lot out on the loading dock, ready to be picked up.  After the paperwork was done, the loading was fairly swift.  A warehouse lifter 'droid loaded the pallet onto the cutter and they sealed up and prepared to return to the ship.  Loading up the cargo, Terin re-set the nav beacons but asked if Aali had picked up her most recent Silver Asteroid payment?  Realizing it was the first day of a new month, Aali and Terin both knew they could pick up their Cr 100.  Aali realized she could also get another High Passage from TAS to sell off.  Talking about extra stops on-base, Terin said he'd have to call base control to see where they wanted those picking up payments to land their craft?  Especially since they were in a base in a space station.

Considering what to do, Munarshu said he had various on-base privileges because he had retired from the service.  That said, they decided Munarshu should call to see where they wanted them to park, or were restricted to?  With that decided, Munarshu got on the comms and spoke to base control.  They directed him where he should park the cutter.  After they'd landed, they found Rhylanor was so active a base that they had regular shuttles to specific points like the pay-master's office, the PX and the Commissary.  Aali and Terin both got paid for their Silver Asteroids.  After that, they got back to the cutter and ship.  There, they helped Aali remove the androids from the pallet and set them each in the ship's cargo bay.

Where Everyone Was At The End Of The Session

     Zimzod: Near lunch, he was digging for info on anyone in InstellArms management
     Inger: Near lunch, she looked for ways to make money helping the crews she'd met.
     Emkir: Near lunch, he worked on his translation work until lunch.
     Aali, Munarshu and Terin: Past noon they'd have off loaded the engineering 'droids.
          They planned to work on the 'droids.
     Mikah and Aiden: Early afternoon she took part in implanting Aiden's stent.
     Rol: Early afternoon in recovery after his surgery.

Next: Research, Pranks And Passings