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Hitting The Books For Breakfast

Rhylanor Prime In the ship's lounge, Zimzod worked to learn more about the corporate structure of InstellArms in the D'Ganzio system.  Doing that, Zimzod learned that, while the main depot for InstellArms, there were three InstellArms depots in the sector.  D'Ganzio was just the main, and largest, depot.  There were also trans-shipping locations in systems, like Rhylanor.  Those broke out large amounts of cargo tonnage and routed it correctly for shipping to the large depots.  D'Ganzio not only was the 'senior' depot, but also managed InstellArms' primary shipping link from the core of the Imperium to other interstellar nations and independent systems spinward of the Imperial border.

Several business units were clustered there, including groups serving Imperial and non-Imperial sales and acquisitions.  That meant the System's chief administrative officer ran sub-divisions for operations serving Darrian, Sword Worlds and even Zhodani customers as well as specialized divisions for independent systems and customers.  The system was also a conduit bringing Imperial technology to the Foreven sector, just spinward of the Marches, and the Gvurrdon sector, just coreward.  So, the divisions of InstellArms in-system were responsible for a range of equipment ranging from Imperial-Legal to Imperial-forbidden.  In his research, Zimzod found many tables of organization identifying various executives in-charge of these divisions.

Included in the sales and acquisitions were also the defensive "business units" which were actually the system's defenses.  With as much military hardware, ranging from the smallest handgun to some of the most powerful warships, in their sales stock, all InstellArms depots had to be very heavily defended.  So well defended that when Sword Worlds fleets had struck in the region, they studiously concentrated on the Lanth system and did not strike into D'Ganzio.  Within the structure, along with the senior CEO and executives of each Sale or Acquisition unit, Zimzod saw a Senior Admiral, Senior "Surface Actions" Command officer and Senior Special Operations officer.  Each of these positions were held by former Imperial Admirals and Generals.

Zimzod kept at his research until it was time for lunch, and Inger also worked on her leads.  At the spacer's hall, Inger had collected data on seventeen vessels who'd been locked in issues with the port.  Unfortunately for Inger, all of these issues seemed to be infractions the crew Were guilty of.  Most only wanted Inger's help to reduce the penalties instead of avoiding them all together.  Over time, the larger and more convoluted issues she'd made cash from had been either resolved or gotten under management.  So they weren't opportunities for Inger to step in.  The result was that Inger's only chance to scrape a few thousand credits out of what she'd collected was to dig in, research everything and hope to get a hundred or more credits from some of the crews.

At the same time, Emkir had taken a break from work to get back into his notes translating the one book he'd worked hardest on.  While he worked, his comms buzzed and Emkir answered to find Lord William was calling him!  After he asked how he could be of service, Lord William asked how Emkir had enjoyed dinner the night before in a friendly tone.  Emkir said, "It was a most wonderful occasion.  Thank you.  I was happy to be a part of it."  William said, as promised, he'd looked into the business end of how the University handles its auctions?  William reminded Emkir they largely used the facilities and faculties of the University for such auctions, but Emkir had been concerned about everything from security to handling the finances, etc...

Lord William explained that the University's legal and finance departments could be brought in to handle those, cobbling together the equivalent services of a big auction house.  Listening, Emkir couldn't help but feel that this was a lot of work to re-invent the wheel and might have some concerning gaps.  Especially when they would have to sit down and establish contracts with the different divisions of the University to get the work done.  This would be in hopes of getting a bigger chunk of the bids despite possibly having less of the high-end bidders a big auction house could bring in.  After finishing his conversation with Lord William, Emkir decided he had to talk to the crew about the issue and any other issues surrounding selling the books.

While he lined up the issues, Emkir was happy Duke Leonard had ordered the Museum of Rhylanor to test and certify the books as authentic.  This answered any question on the crew's lack of provenance, or even a sales receipt proving Sir Brian's ownership of them.  The next issue was the current right of ownership.  When Emkir looked into it, he realized Sir Brian's parents or heirs surviving of his family under Imperial law, might still be alive!  Having been raised in the Lanth system, Brian may well have heirs who had a right to the books.  That blocked the crew selling any of them.  Especially where Emkir had already made a verbal agreement to sell one of the books to the University of Rhylanor.

Emkir began his research and realized an x-message to Brian's parents at the last address Emkir could find would take one month just to arrive.  If they were still there?  The good news was that the Lanth system was technologically advanced enough that a message properly addressed could be delivered to them anywhere in that system.  But, if they'd moved out of the system, there were no promises.  Of course, once under way to the D'Ganzio system, the Lanth system was only one jump away, and could be visited on the way to Zach's homeworld.

Seeing this would force them to put the books into a vault for safe keeping until they confirmed their right to sell, Emkir started looking into how to do that?  He considered the University's ability to store the books safely, as well as the abilities of other organizations.  He also decided he'd have to check how well any storage organization could shift from storing the books to selling them?  And building out what they needed from the University's resources might be a strain, so they might have to work with an auction house.  Emkir decided to just ball up his research and discuss it with the whole crew.  From there, Emkir knew he needed data on the auction houses, to give the crew too.  So he started researching those firms on Rhylanor until lunch time came.  When Zimzod got up and started opening up the galley to make himself a foil pack, Inger followed his lead.  While they did this, Emkir comm'd Aali to see what she was doing for lunch?

Plotting Out The Afternoon

     At the Scout base, Aali, Munarshu and Terin were just done getting paid for their tin hemorrhoids and getting ready to go back to the ship, to work on the androids.  Getting back to the landed cutter, Aali got Emkir's call.  He said he was planning to make lunch for everyone, and wondered if she wanted to have lunch with him?  And how far they were out?  When Aali guessed they were about 30 to 40 minutes out, Emkir decided to continue his research on auction houses until they returned.  Taking a break from his research on InstellArms as he ate, Zimzod wondered if he could make use of his connections more directly?

Since he had the right of appearance, Zimzod called the Duke's Seneschalate and requested an appearance in Duke Leonard's court.  It was first pointed out that Sir Zimzod had been granted the "Right of Appearance" in the Arch Duke's court, not Duke Leonard's.  However, it was a courtisy that His Grace could certainly see Sir Zimzod, and he would be granted an audience at 10am on the 308th day.  Putting him on the docket, Zimzod was asked the nature of the personal request and he said he was seeking permission to own an FGMP-15.  Confused, the officer asked Zimzod what current issue this was in regard to and Zimzod stretched a point suggesting it was related to system security.

Without other comment, Zimzod was told the data would be forwarded to the Seneschalate and Zimzod would either appear in Court or be notified of a summary judgment.  After that, Zimzod went back to his research for the rest of the afternoon.  Inger also returned to her research.  They worked, and Emkir eventually got a comms from Aali that they were about to arrive at the berth.  When Emkir asked if they needed help with the androids, Aali said they did.  So Emkir let the others know help was needed.  As they arrived, Terin guided the Probe into the berth close to the ship's open cargo bay.

After Terin set the cutter down and opened the cargo port, the six crew assessed the job ahead.  While they could kill the gravity on the cutter and the ship's cargo bay, they couldn't kill the gravity in the berth.  That meant they were realizing they'd have to gather around each android and lift it, as a group, to move each unit.  Surprised, Terin asked if the Hotel California had cargo grav-lifters?  He was told they'd talked about getting some but never done that.  Shaking his head in disbelief, Terin stepped away, while the others started unstrapping the androids from the pallet, and to search the berth.  Soon, Terin found a wheeled, hand-cranked mobile lift and called the others to let them know what he'd located.  After pushing the gurney over, it took them forty minutes to move the androids into the cargo bay.  There, Aali was able to move each 'droid to suit, turning off sections of the grav-plating as needed.

With the 'droids in place, Aali again pulled out the report she and Munarshu had run at the depot, before they'd been allowed to buy them.  From that, Aali decided that the most viable unit was Unit 2, which still had its power, brain and program interfaces working if power could be restored.  Especially since those components were in the central cavities of the 'droid and the most work to get to and replace.  Getting in the way of those, its fuel storage and grav-unit were trashed or missing.  Also on the report, the worst off of the units was unit three.  She decided to first strip that unit of the fuel cells and batteries and a working heavy arm to replace dead systems on unit 2.  While she planned the work on the 'droid, Munarshu ran a cable from an outlet, to get the 'droid up and running to support its own reconstruction.

With that underway, Inger and Zimzod returned to their research as Emkir went to the galley to cook for himself, Terin, Aali and Munarshu.  Before returning to his terminal, Terin considered the need to schedule a class on his stent use and, asked Aali if she could teach him what she learned in hers.  Aali only told him she was still trying to figure out and apply what she'd learned, and couldn't teach it.  So, he went to the lounge and checked his messages, to see if the Darrians had responded with the "finder's fee" for the cybernetic parts?  He saw they hadn't, so he looked into finding a stent class to schedule.  Finding the most affordable class he could, Terin paid the Cr 200 and scheduled it for the 311th day of the year.

At the hospital, Rol's operation had gone as had Zimzod's the day before.  Because she had a second surgery to scrub in on, one of the doctors on the team closed Rol's incisions and made sure the healing flap of skin would cover the stent port properly.  While that happened, Mikah scrubbed out and joined Aiden for what lunch he was allowed to eat prior to his surgery.  After they finished and the hospital was ready, Aiden was led off to be prepared and Mikah checked on Rol in the recovery room before scrubbing in. Aiden's operation began while Rol slowly came out of his drugs and was led through post-operative checkups.  During that, he was served a small meal.  Rol's care continued, as did Aiden's operation, through the afternoon.

An Afternoon's Plotting

     When Aiden's operation ended, they let him recover like Terin should have, if not rushed by the reception the night before.  So Mikah had dinner with Rol while Aiden lay sleeping off the last of the drugs.  They would stay at the hospital until well after six in the evening, then return when both men were released.  Rol had been told he was already able to be released, signed the documents and paid the fees.  Offered a ride, to return to the ship first, Rol waited to ride back with the others.

After cooking lunch, Emkir first set up two separate search routines.  The first located and mined details on the auction houses in-system.  The second would gather information on what organizations might have a copy of Sir Brian's will?  Emkir hoped the second search would give him a list where to look for a copy of the will?  It might also mine data on how to apply to get a copy of anything they might find?  When those were ready, Emkir set them to run for the rest of the afternoon while he started checking on, and calling, firms to get price quotes to buy and have an x-mail safe installed?

Aiden's surgery finished up while the afternoon faded.  In the recovery room, and a bit under the influence of the drugs, Aiden started singing some odd type of drinking songs.  Rol had recovered through the afternoon, using the time before he signed himself out to check up on the news.  The first announcements Rol watched were news the Domain government was renting a large block of station-side offices along with planet-side office space.  That was followed by the announcement, by the Imperial Navy, that all major commanders were being called to the Rhylanor system for meetings related to the Sector and Domain needs, as well as the Arch Duke's announced Grand Tour.

Another story said was announced the Admiralty had ordered a muster of the Deneb Sector fleet, currently on assignment in the Spinward Marches since to the Fifth Frontier War.  The next announced the office of the Arch Duke had also sent messages to all the landed Sector nobility above the rank of Baronet to plan to visit the Arch Duke on Rhylanor in the next six months!  This was the most likely to cause a stir since it might not reach some parts of the Five Sisters subsector for nearly two months at Jump 6.  And, while commenters assumed some nobility would be given leeway, the real crunch would come when word reached those hired to manage a fiefdom for nobility who regularly lived outside the sector, or even the domain.  What was most noticed about this requirement was that the Arch Duke had ordered a jump-6 courier to Capital.  That system was nearly 30 weeks away if one could create a hard-pressed jump-6 chain of couriors where each ship would beam its message to the next with orders to jump immediately on the carried orders.

Such levels of communications were usually limited to critical war news or disaster.  There was speculation could be an intentional move on the part of the Arch Duke to divest absentee nobility of their holdings.  This would both let the Arch Duke reward those the he wanted to elevate, and to improve system representation by nobles actually living in or near their fiefdoms.  This would be a hope to improve the actual understanding of the needs of a system or cluster by the person representing that system or cluster.  And, it was a shot across the bow of all nobility what the Arch Duke expected of his juniors.  Of course, there were also minor suggestions the Arch Duke planned to remove supporters of Delphine.

Commentary also covered speculation of the eventual elevation of the Arch Duke's True Daughter to the rank of Duchess of Regina.  She would be the "in-residence" noblewoman while her father dealt with the rulership of the Domain.  While the call to all landed nobility caused the most comment, the first announcement was also made of beginning the formation of the Domain Guard, being the Arch Duke's personal guard.  The announcement was important because it said the 4518th Lift Infantry Regiment, the Duke's Own Huscarles, were not to be the core of any Domain unit.  That was the most direct evidence yet that Arch Duke Norris intended to elevate a new Duke or Duchess to Regina.  Minor commentary discussed the fun the station would have designating jurisdictions.

When things on the ship wound down towards dinner, Emkir checked his running research.  He saw that, while they "could" re-invent the wheel trying to cobble together the various University of Rhylanor departments, all the auction houses did everything on the list automatically.  While some of those had rather steep pricing in percentages and separate services charges, not all of them were that bad.  On the research into possibly finding Brian's will, Emkir received a list of offices that might have the filed wills of military members in and out of the system, and methods of contact and document request.

His personal research worked out differently.  The first step led him to one scout office.  When he'd called that office and identified himself and his ship, Emkir was told they had to pay a Cr 3,000 license fee before they could set up the installation of the safe.  When that was done, installation of a five ton x-mail safe could be scheduled at a cost of Cr 50,000.  Emkir took the data down and said he had to discuss it with his captain and crew.

In the cargo bay, Munarshu had connected unit 2 to a power source and it began disassembling damaged or non-functional sections of itself.  Because one of those was its grav-unit, and because of Aali's orders until they knew how stable the unit's systems were, the unit was unable to move significantly.  After connecting the unit to power, Munarshu started testing the other units, to see if they had any working control functions at all?  He was disappointed to find they didn't.  At the same time, Aali started disassembling the parts from unit 3.  After that start, they spent the entire afternoon working to prepare unit 2 for replacement parts while pulling the few usable parts from unit 3.  When they had the fuel storage removed from unit 3, Munarshu started removing the heavy work arm while Aali worked to install the fuel storage on unit 2.  Throughout, the 'droid continued its own self-disassembly.

While working on his research, Zimzod got a comms call.  Answering, he was greeted by the tattooed man, who asked him if they had set a date to leave the system?  He also wondered if they had a date when they could receive the cargo he planned to ship?  Zimzod said they hadn't yet finished their business in-system and could only say they were leaving in less than two weeks.  But, not within the week.  On the cargo, he said they were having work done on the cargo bay and didn't want the cargo on their deck while the work was performed.  When the man asked what kind of work they were having done, Zimzod said they were having an x-mail safe installed.

The man then asked if they had a plan yet, for how to get the cargo into the D'Ganzio system without customs inspection.  Zimzod told him, "We haven't discussed it yet, unless you have any brilliant plans?"  That got an acerbic, "That's why we hired you" back, with a look that made it clear Zimzod's answer wasn't the one he expected.  Shrugging, Zimzod said, "Well, I guess we'll just have to figure that out.  We'll get back to you on that."  With that, the man nodded and said, "I look forward to hearing from you." and cut the comms signal.  Off the comms, Zimzod turned to the others in the compartment to ask if any of them had any ideas on bypassing customs?

Hearing the question, both Terin and Emkir looked at Inger, who obviously had the most experience dealing with people trying to get things past customs.  Reacting to becoming the sudden center of attention, Inger said her experiences were based on those people who'd been caught.  She could hardly be expected to know about any methods that worked, because they had worked.  Those smugglers weren't caught, and the smart ones didn't tend to brag about it.  Especially, how they did it.

Into that silence, Terin asked how large the cargo was, and Zimzod admitted he didn't know.  He did say he and Mikah were told it would fit into their cargo bay, even after the x-mail safe was installed.  Hearing that, they talked about the deal, and rehashed the many things they didn't know about it.  When Terin asked to be reminded how Zimzod met this patron, Zimzod said he'd met Baron Sir Kelslundt while fishing for connections in the Order meeting rooms, to get an FGMP-15.  The Baron then introduced him and Mikah to the man and his girlfriend.  Terin reflected on the name of the Baron because he'd heard of the man but didn't know him.

Again, there was a pause, and Terin wondered if he perhaps knew anyone who might have a talent at forgery?  While Terin recalled more than one person mentioning, in passing, that they'd managed to fake their way through an issue, he couldn't say he knew anyone who could fake customs papers.  Still, he said he might have a starting point to begin digging from.  Of course, these were people who might have been passing through the system, so there was no guarantee they were still on Rhylanor.  Still, Terin told the others he might have some contacts he could follow up with.

The others nodded and Inger said that one of those tactics she'd had warnings about but rarely saw captures of was a method of using a "fake wrapper".  When the others expressions showed they had no idea what she was talking about, Inger said the warning was for smugglers who would seal an already sealed cargo container inside a second cargo container.  Doing that, they could fly into a system with a cargo pod obviously shipped to be delivered in another system.  That meant it would only get a cursory external-only scan.  In-system, they would open the outer container and deliver the goods before re-sealing the outer container.  Then, while leaving the system, the seals would be checked and seen to have not been tampered with and the customs would pass them out-system without inspection.

A pitfall for them was that the smuggler almost always had access to a cargo-sealing system, or someone who could fake the customs data.  They would also need access to the codes a customs technician used, to program the replacement seal correctly.  Smugglers could easily have the gear on their ships, since many ships carried the systems to manage cargo traded in low tech ports.  If not, they often had someone in-system who had the gear, and could get to them before a customs search.  And the trade data was often sold on the black market, and was as often correct as it was bogus.  Of course, if you tried to slip past customs with a bogus code, you went to jail.

Inger admitted, the only times she'd seen someone busted for trying that method was when the smuggler had used bad customs codes.  So, a healthy part of the deal would be getting the right codes from someone in customs or the port.  After discussing "getting" a sealing machine to start with, Zimzod asked if they could just cut the bottom of the container?  That assumed customs wouldn't lift the container up to inspect the bottom of it.  Inger said that customs inspectors in the systems they'll be passing through could be expected to have hand scanners which would identify and panels that had been cut open and welded shut.  In fact, she'd worked on one of those crews for a year, during her work in the SPA.

Discussing exactly what would be needed to beat a customs inspection, Inger said they could just buy the ship a cargo sealing system.  When asked how common they were, she shrugged and repeated that a lot of ships had them.  Especially if they often traded in low tech systems.  Almost at the same time, Zimzod and Terin asked how much one of those would cost and they agreed they'd have to look into it.  Then, they talked about something more important at the moment.  Specifically, who would cook dinner?  When Terin volunteered, to cook, he was emphatically reminded he wasn't allowed to cook anymore, after the last time.  Finally, Zimzod said he was cooking foil packs for everyone

After being rebuffed, and while Zimzod cooked up the foil packs, Terin checked up on cargo sealing systems on the port-web.  What he found was that there were several grades of sealing systems, starting from as cheap as Cr 100,000.  Looking over the search hits, Terin saw the one the crew would most likely need, featured in an auction of spare hardware and systems being sold by the port itself.  The current bid on the system was Cr 40,000 and the system sported a built-in customs terminal, so crews could enter customs-specific data and create a fully documented seal.  Of course, having one of those visibly aboard would mean customs teams would look at their seals all that much harder.

When Terin asked Inger about the auction code the port had in the description, Inger said the unit had been seized from a ship.  Telling the navigator to keep the auction on his screen, Inger sparked up her comms and called her friends in the port to ask about the auction.  On with one of her friends in operations, Inger learned the system had been pulled from a ship seized for smuggling.  No great surprise.  The ship was scheduled to be sold off at a later date, but the port was keeping some systems from being sold with the vessel, to make it that much harder to put the pieces of the smuggling operation back together.  Inger was asked why she was interested, and told her friend her ship had just started accepting cargo for transport, and needed the gear to handle that.

She was told the crew could likely get a less-expensive used devices without the customs interface built in.  But Inger said they might be trading in ports that didn't have the tech or infrastructure to properly seal cargos.  She also that with her aboard the ship, they could certainly properly use the system.  Agreeing with that, the man asked Inger if her ship wanted to put a bid in on the device?  She said she'd have to check with her executive officer, since the ship's captain was busy off-ship.  The call was cut and Inger asked, "Sir Zimzod, do we want to put a bid on it?  Or, do you want me to talk to the port director after the funeral?"

When Zimzod asked what she could get talking to the Executive Director, Inger said it was a good bet they had more of them, if they had one sealing system on auction.  She could not only see those, but compare the features on the ones not being sold yet.  She also said she might be able to cut a deal with the port on one not yet listed too.  Zimzod listened and agreed the idea sounded good.  So, he told Inger to go with it.  After that, Inger called the Executive Director, and asked the man what he was doing for dinner?  The talked briefly, while the other three heard Inger suggest they could do each other a favor.  Inger then finished the call, and said that the Director was sending her a car, so she'd be having dinner elsewhere.

Relaxing Into Evening

     Inger changed and finalized her plans while Zimzod finished the foil packs and joked about the others getting to fight over the extras.  Emkir decided to call Mikah, figuring it would be OK since the surgeries should be over already.  When Mikah answered, Emkir updated her on the cost for the x-mail license fee and the cost to install the safe.  After the easy bits, Emkir asked Mikah if Brian had a will?  When Mikah said she didn't know, and asked why Emkir was asking, he explained the possible issue with inheritance.  Emkir said they should try to contact his parents and Mikah authorized him to send a text-only x-mail to them in the Lanth system.

After that, Emkir asked how long they'd be staying in system, to help him set things up with the auction house.  Most auction houses could handle the whole deal after he set things up and delivered the books, even after they left the system.  When Mikah asked why, Emkir told her the x-message could take quite a bit of time.  While she waited for her ride, Inger listened to Emkir's side of the conversation and stepped up with a suggestion.  Emkir put the conversation on speaker and Inger suggested they could put the libraries in the hands of an auction house on hold.  Then, they could travel to the Lanth system in search of Sir Brian's parents or family.

Inger said auction houses specialized in this sort of waiting game.  The books would be secure in the Rhylanor system, which would be one of the best places in local space to auction them off.  After they arrived in the Lanth system, they could try to track down Brian's family.  If they could find them and close a deal for permission to sell the books, they'd only have to send an x-message to the auction house, to let the auctions go forward.  If the family refused permission to sell, they could hand the heirs the auction house's contact data and let them pay for both the shipping of the books and the storage fees.  A sort of 'poison pill' against refusal.  Mikah especially liked the poison pill idea.

After that was decided, Emkir finished up with Mikah and decided his next mission would be to find the right auction house to set up a contract with.  While he finished the call, Aali and Munarshu arrived, having left the one android to continue disassembling itself.  They saw Zimzod had cooked for himself, Emkir, Terin and Inger.  Since Inger was leaving to have dinner elsewhere, Zimzod said one of them would get fed and the other was screwed.  While Aali was all for even odds to decide who got to eat, Munarshu decided to be the gentleman and let Aali eat with Emkir.

The others sat down to eat when Munarshu decided to go out for real food.  After a short wander along the concourse, he found a restaurant geared to those passengers taking a bit of a break from ship-board fare, and had dinner for Cr 40.  After Munarshu left, the port car arrived for Inger and she left for her dinner with the Executive Director.  At the hospital, Aiden woke and was given a meal supplement, because they didn't want to load him down with a full meal.  By seven thirty, Aiden was ready to be released and Mikah paid for the cab ride.  They got back to the berth by eight.

After dinner, Zimzod relaxed and continued his recovery while sipping wine and watching vids.  Terin joined Zimzod and also relaxed and recovered.  Emkir and Aali finished eating and Aali called the shop they had visited to have her lanthanum and Tellona diamond ring sized.  They asked if the shop was still open for the day?  After being told they were open, Aali told Emkir she wanted to pick up her ring.  When Emkir said he'd go with her, they stepped into their stateroom to change and went out.  Emkir wore a set of executive armor under a ship's suit and holstered his 9mm on his hip.  Aali dressed similarly, though she carried her semi-automatic snub pistol.  She did make sure, after the admonitions of the port, her weapon were loaded with ball ammo only.

While he ate, Munarshu considered the Cr 1,000 voucher burning a hole in his pocket, and decided to go back to the shop to get a really good pair of boots.  After a Cr 5 bus ride, Munarshu arrived at the shop to be greeted well and welcomed in when he was recognized.  When asked how they could help him, Munarshu described a pair of boots that not only did well over rough and natural terrains but was also proof against many issues.  That included a wide variety of protection against environmental factors, as well as being proof against electrical threats.  Since they could fabricate the boots on-site, they took very complete measures of his footprint and pressure, and built a sole to completely support his walking feet.

Outside of the usual options, when Munarshu asked about camouflage, they offered an option with a battery stored in the heel and a chameleon surface.  So, the footwear would fit into surrounding terrain or settings.  Munarshu said he wanted that feature and they did the math.  It came out that the boots would price out at Cr 300.  Along with a 10-year warrantee for an additional Cr 100, that cost Cr 400 of the Cr 1,000 voucher he had.  The shop made it clear that they would replace warrantied failures and ship anywhere in the sector.  Done at the shop, Munarshu called to InstellArms and said he was heading in that direction, then went out to catch a portBus.

When Munarshu arrived at InstellArms, he found his concierge waiting with cart at the ready.  Despite expecting it this time, the engineer still experienced a thrill at the level of service.  Greeting him, the concierge asked about his interests on this visit?  When Munarshu said he was looking into explosives and hand grenades, they were off into the shop.  In the proper section, Munarshu was treated to a host of explosive devices and systems ranging from tech level 3 ,such as would have been used by the first Terrains to use black powder, to the most modern items.  Some were even semi-intelligent AI-driven systems, and many of the most impressive or effective couldn't be displayed directly.  They were displayed on pre-programmed vid-screens.

When Munarshu said he was thinking about simple explosives, the concierge asked if he wanted hand grenades, placed explosives with detonators or something else?  What Munarshu really wanted was a grenade that could serve multiple roles, either just concussive or concussive and anti-personnel.  Eventually, he settled on some TL A concussion grenades that could be fit into a covering filled with bearing-like pellets, serving as anti-personnel shot.  Those cost Cr 15 for the grenade and Cr 10 for the jackets.  Munarshu bought 25 grenades and 10 jackets.  So the cost for the grenades was Cr 475, plus Cr 50 to have them shipped to the Hotel California.

That was set and Munarshu asked about thirty-round magazines for his brand of ACR?  They checked his weapon model data against their database.  Not surprisingly, they were not only available but in stock.  Munarshu ordered five at Cr 10 each, adding Cr 50 to his bill.  They next asked Munarshu what else he might be interested in and the engineer said that was all he needed.  With that wrapped up, Munarshu went to wander the concourses.  He timed the wander so he could get back to the ship in order to hit the rack at nine, as he normally did.

Rising Questions About The Funeral

     Mikah got back to the ship to see Zimzod relaxing with wine, and watching vids and she joined him.  Together, they planned to relax for the rest of the evening.  When he arrived, Rol recommended the crew at the ship watch the news because of the reports he'd been watching.  Hearing that, Mikah asked if Zimzod and Terin were really invested in what they'd been watching?  No one really cared, so they shifted the vid screen to an in-system news broadcast.  And they seemed to have hit a local news segment when they tuned in.  One of the first segments they saw covered the reaction by station security to all the new dignitaries and events happening on-station.

During that coverage, the reports went live as an on-the-scene reporter managed to be where the port's Executive Director was arriving.  And, as he moved up to the arriving vehicle, they watched while the Director left the vehicle followed by a red-head they all recognized.  Sparking up, Mikah said, in a joking, excited mock-forgetful tone, "Isn't that Inger...what's her face?  She's with the Hotel California, isn't she?"  Mikah made fun of the reaction she expected while the others watched.  The reporter first tried to ask the Director a number of questions while the executive waved him off.  While the couple moved off, the reporter wrapped up his failure to learn anything, including the identity of the red-head the director had been with?

Back at the studio, they'd pumped the vid through facial recognition software and the anchors let the system know the director's date was none other than former SPA Executive Director Inger Martinusdtr Vik, currently crew on the Hotel California.  The banter then shifted and the other anchor asked, "Wouldn't that be Lady Kirlim's ship?"  He was answered, "Yes, it is!"  This automatically led to speculation on the roles to be played, in local Domain activities, by Dame Inger, Lady Kirlim and the rest of the California crew.  Of course, while watching, the crew knew none of the speculation was based on anything but the flimsiest of actual facts.

It was automatically assumed Dame Inger had been deputized by the Arch Duke to handle business between the Domain government and the port.  While report ran on, the comms on the ship started to buzz and Terin volunteered to answer the line.  When he did, the caller identified himself as a member of one of the many free-lance news agencies in-system, and asked to speak to Lady Kirlim?  Terin answered, "Sorry, she's not available at the moment.  Please call back tomorrow."  When Terin hung up on the first caller, the comms started to go again.  Looking at the comms, Terin realized it was another media call.  Seeing they were going to deal with this for a while, Terin sat down and spent the next ten minutes building a filter for calls against identified media outlets.

While Terin worked, there was a steady stream of calls coming in that he ignored.  At the same time, Rol watched the call waiting.  Some time in, a call came with an ID from the office of the Seneschal of the Deneb Domain.  So either they were working very fast in setting things up or someone had worked up a spoof they knew would work.  Rol knew they couldn't risk ignoring the Arch Duke's Seneschal so he picked up.  When the screen came up, Rol recognized Baron Sir Kamashkhi.  Rol greeted the Baron and the Seneschal asked for Lady Kirlim?  Rol just handed over the comms.

Greeting Mikah, the Baron said he hoped the surgeries went well and Mikah said they appeared to have.  After a pause he jokingly asked if that was a good thing or if condolences were involved?  When Mikah said that depended on how one looked at things, she got an understanding nod from the Baron.  Getting down to business, the Baron said His Grace wanted him to speak with her regarding the funeral the next day.  Saying, "Yes, the funeral", Mikah told the Baron where the funeral would be held and what time it would start.  Unfortunately, she also realized that was the sum of what she knew at the time, since she'd told Sir Terin to make the arrangements.  When Mikah suggested that Duke Leonard and the Arch Duke might not be the only ranking nobility at the funeral, the Baron confirmed that all of their Graces would be attending.

Mikah said they had planned a Darrian ceremony and the Baron asked if they'd contacted the Darrian Embassy in-system, to see if they wanted to send a representative?  Realizing she wasn't aware of that, Mikah said she'd check and called Sir Terin over.  When she asked if Terin had called the Embassy, he said he hadn't.  Conferencing him into the call, Terin worked to roll with events while being introduced to the Arch Duke's Seneschal.  Admitting to the Baron that he hadn't considered the interests of the Darrian Embassy, Terin said he'd call them once off that call.  Accepting that, the Baron asked Terin if he could get a run-down of the plan for the ceremony?

Like Mikah, Terin knew he didn't know much about the plan since he'd left it in the hands of the funeral home and not asked for a great many details.  Terin said they'd set up a viewing before the actual ceremony, and then admitted they hadn't received the timing plans for their various Graces, including the Arch Duke.  So, he said the exact timing wasn't yet fully set.  The Baron just nodded patiently and waited for Terin to get to the schedule.  Not actually having the data, Terin admitted that he had a funeral director planning the ceremony and asked the Baron if he'd like to have the director conferenced into the call?

Nodding with the patience of a person who'd obviously dealt with many people of varying levels of incompetence, the Baron relaxed as Terin put him on hold and called the funeral director.  When the director saw it was Terin calling, he greeted the Knight happily saying, "Ah, Sir Terin.  So good to see you.  We have everything in hand."  Nodding, Terin said "I have the Arch Duke's Seneschal on the line and he wants to run over the numbers and time frames with you now."  The man went white and wide eyed, like a beast caught in a spotlight, and Terin asked if he was prepared or needed someone to help him?  Taking a deep breath, the director said, "Yes.  Sure!  I'm fully prepared to discuss the event."

Comfortably saying, "Good!" Terin hit the key to integrate the calls and the director said, "Your Excellency!  It's so good to meet you, if only by vid-phone."  After that, the man explained again that they had everything in hand and somewhat nervously asked what role the Arch Duke would like to have in the funeral?  To everyone's relief, Baron said the Arch Duke only planned to attend the ceremony and not participate.  Nor were any of their other combined Graces, beyond Duke Leonard.  When that was said, the blood very clearly returned to the funeral director's face and he went over the schedules for the gathering of mourners, the viewing, the opening of the ceremony and the speakers, followed by the close of the funeral.

Discussing the event, Mikah was surprised to learn she was scheduled to speak after Duke Leonard, as the ship's captain.  To say the least, Mikah wasn't happy, but Terin assured her it was required.  After the ceremony, the body would be packed and shipped to the funeral home to be cremated.  Done discussing the schedule, Terin asked the Baron if he felt anything should be added or changed, and the Baron said he was satisfied.  He did remind Terin to call the embassy, and said that if the Ambassador did attend, he should be seated next to the Arch Duke, as the de facto Head of State for the Darrians at the funeral.  Agreeing, Terin assured the Baron he would be calling the embassy right after the current call.

Calling The Darrians - Part 2

     When that call ended, Terin called the Embassy and introduced himself using some of the small amount of formal Darrian language he knew.  Following that, and continuing in galanglic, Terin explained that he was calling to ask if the Ambassador would be attending the funeral for Sir Zachariah Wood?  When the receptionist did not immediately answer in any way, Terin explained Sir Zachariah was half-Darrian, and wondered who he would speak to on the subject?  After being briefly put on hold, Terin's call was transferred to another person in the Embassy who was obviously pulling data up on a terminal even as he greeted the Knight.

Confirming Zach had been racially half-Darrian from the data on his screen, the man confirmed with Terin that Zach had been an Imperial citizen.  Terin added that he never knew Sir Zachariah, and was only calling given the attendance of the Arch Duke and other nobility.  The embassy worker was obviously pulling up data on his own terminal and investigating the invitation, funeral and the man while Terin spoke.  Finally, the official told Terin he did understand why the crew were extending the invitation and thanked them for it.  But he explained this was not something the Darrian Ambassador needed to attend.

Extending the condolences of the Darrian people to the crew for their loss, the man said the Darrian Embassy would not involve itself in the ceremony further.  Terin said, "We'll let the Arch Duke and Grand Duchess know of your decisions and thank you for your thoughts on this matter."  That dealt with, Terin said he'd spoken to the Embassy once before, and let the representative know who he'd spoken to regarding the cybernetic parts.  When he asked about that, the man placed him on pause and did some research.  After that brief wait, Terin was transferred to the man he'd cut the deal with initially.

Transferred, Dakihe Lolza greeted Terin with a friendly tone, saying he was surprised to hear from Sir Terin so soon, but asked how he could help?  When Terin asked about the "finder's fee", Mr. Lolza said he'd not received any official numbers yet but would be in contact with Sir Terin and the Hotel California as soon as he did.  After that, he confirmed that once the amount was decided, it would be very quickly transferred to the ship's accounts and a team sent to the vessel to retrieve the parts.  When Terin didn't raise any issues, Mr. Lolza said, "We thank you very much for returning to us a part of our heritage."  The tone used, while friendly, reinforced the fact that there was not even a thought of turning back at this point.

A Surprise At The Jeweler's

     Arriving at the jewelry store, Emkir and Aali saw a number of workers and an apparent customer in the place.  The customer was leaning forward, apparently whispering something to the clerk he was dealing with while the others leaned against the wall watching the shop.  When the couple stepped into the shop, they watched Emkir and Aali too.  Emkir selected a clerk, behind a center section of the counters, to ask about Aali's ring.  When he said, "We'd like to ask about the ring being sized for my lady?", the clerk nodded and said "OK, stand by".  Then the man quickly opened a door to the back stock area and disappeared!  While Emkir figured the clerk remembered them, the odd behavior bothered Aali a bit.

Standing there, the waiting and issues bothered Aali a bit more, and she looked around.  Turning to see behind them, Aali saw the shop's security gate was coming down to prevent anyone from entering or exiting the shop!  With that, she let her hand to drift to the grip of her holstered pistol.  While Aali noticed those odd things, Emkir, quietly waited for the clerk to return.  Suddenly, a man started rising from behind one of the counters with a shotgun in hand!  Unable to piece the situation together quickly, Emkir complained, "This is totally out of order!  We're good customers!"

Hearing Emkir's outburst, Aali turned her head and saw the man out of the corner of her eye.  Still, in her peripheral vision, she didn't see him clearly and hadn't recognized the shotgun.  Continuing her turn, Aali began to draw her weapon as she rotated before they all heard a round chambered into some kind of weapon!  At that, Emkir yelled, "Down!" and grabbed at Aali's belt.  Hearing the command, Aali dove, with Emkir's hand looped into her belt firmly while he also dropped.  The shotgun went off as they hit the deck, and they saw one of the clerks lurch towards the gunman before they were on the ground.  Now cut off from view of what was happening by the display cases, they could only hear the sounds of a scuffle behind the cases.

From the ground, Aali, who dove just a bit after Emkir, realized she'd caught the edge of the shotgun blast and was bleeding a bit.  Checking her wounds quickly, Aali saw she wasn't seriously hurt and the adrenaline was certainly covering the pain nicely.  With her left hand still on the grip of her snub pistol, Aali caught the rise of another gunman from behind the counters that were to her left when she and Emkir walked in.  He rose to look for a target while the clerk and customer who'd been his prisoners dove to the sides.  Aali quickly drew to a snap shot and beat him to the shot.  Aali hit the man in his right arm and knocked him back against the cases behind him.  Hit the cases, and then slamming the wall, the man went down with a cry and was out of her line of sight.  There was no way to know how bad off he was?

Examining the blood splatter he left, and hearing a continued scuffle at the back of the shop, Aali heard a yell from what was now behind them!  Behind the displays to what had been their right as they entered, another gunman had been hidden.  With Aali's attention drawn to her left by the man she'd shot, this put the third man directly behind her.  He yelled, "Everybody fuckin' freeze!" as Emkir, with his weapon drawn, saw he was out of position for the new man.  The couple froze as the man continued, saying, "That's right.  Just let go of the weapons and let them drop." in a savage voice.  His tone made it clear he was certain he was in control of the situation.

Figuring surrender wasn't an option since the shooting had started, Emkir counted heartbeats and watched the man.  The Admiral's one advantage was that he only had to watch one person at the moment, where shotgun boy had to figure out what both he and Aali might do?  So, when the man's eyes shifted, Emkir rolled the dice and made his play, bringing his pistol to bear and squeezed off a round.  Having thought he was in control, the gunman missed a beat when he'd expected the couple to drop their weapons.  So his shotgun went off just after he'd been hit and the gunman's aim was thrown off by a flinch.  Still, the man remained standing and was obviously not seriously hurt.

Coming late to that party as she heard the fire and knew she hadn't been hit, Aali rolled onto her back and extended her left arm to aim over Emkir's prone body as she then snapped off a shot.  That round took the man square in the chest, and put him down behind the displays.  Of course, body armor being the wonderful thing it was, they had no way to know if he'd just had the breath knocked out of his lungs or his lungs blown out of his chest?  Regardless, satisfaction was short-lived as a shotgun blast sounded from where the first man had gone down after being jumped by a store clerk.

Taking risks, Emkir began crawling towards the case that concealed the struggle between the clerk and the gunman while Aali held the center ground and tried to cover the three fire alleys at once.  So, as Emkir was caught roughly halfway to the counter, Aali spotted the gunman at the back of the shop rising again and showing no sign what happened to the clerk he'd been fighting?  Not giving the guy a chance to level his shotgun, Aali swung her arm and fired as she grabbed her left hand with her right to try and steady the shot.

In the moment of the shot, the man dropped.  But it only caught up to her afterward that he'd only been grazed by the shot.  Was he diving to maneuver behind cover?  Was he in shock?  There were too many variables for Aali to guess.  With the target behind cover, Aali considered and discarded the idea of peppering that section of cabinets with rounds, because she wasn't sure if there were innocents back there too?  Keeping cover on the area where the man dropped, Aali glanced at Emkir, who had started moving again to the counters along the shop's left wall.  There, he bunched himself for a spring and popped up to extend his pistol over the counter and down.  Doing that, Emkir could see a gunman on the floor behind the counters, writhing in pain from his wound.  Emkir could see the man had dropped his weapon while in pain.

Sadly, Emkir also saw the body of a clerk who'd obviously been shot with a shotgun at close range.  Figuring this guy wasn't getting up any time soon, Emkir said to Aali, "I'm going to the right."  Aali agreed and covered the back of the shop in case the other known gunman popped up again.  While Emkir rushed in a half-crouch to the right, Aali propped herself and then did a short sprint to the back displays with her weapon ready.  Emkir hit the right-side display counter and looked over, and saw a half-bound female clerk struggling on the shop floor.

Next to the struggling woman was the body of the gunman who'd been tying her when Emkir and Aali had arrived.  The bleeding wounds and glossy unfocused eyes showed he was obviously dead.  He lay next to the woman and the shotgun, which had fallen from his lifeless hands.  Aali was less fortunate, following her aim to see behind the display cases and finding herself face to muzzle with a raised sawed off shotgun!  Her awareness widened from that fatal bore and Aali could see a man holding the weapon one-handed with a clerk as a human-shield, held with the other hand in a one-armed choke hold.  Having Aali dead to rights, the man snarled, "Hands in the air motha fuckah's!"

Figuring she was dead anyway, Aali shifted her aim at the same time she squeezed the trigger and relaxed her legs to let herself drop to the floor.  It was the one move the gunman was apparently sure she'd never try, and he died for his over-confidence.  His weapon was pulled off aim as a blast exploded from the shotgun muzzle and her round exploded the gunman's head.  The now headless body dropped, releasing the clerk who screamed and fought to flee, and Aali could only hear a profound ringing accenting a sudden and complete silence.

It took long seconds for the shock to fade and for Aali to come to grips with the fact that being deaf was a small price to pay for not having died.  Hearing the blasts erupt, Emkir spun and shouted, "Aali!" as his wife stood there still aiming at the empty air between her and the splattered mass which had re-painted the shop wall.  Aali started to slowly move, and lowered her weapon as Emkir realized she wasn't hurt or threatened.  So, he decided to leap the counter and free the bound clerk.

After those seconds behind the counter, as he freed and helped the clerk up, Emkir saw Aali was still in the same place and nearly in the same position she'd been in after the shooting.  Moving to Aali, Emkir asked, "Are you ok?  Can you hear me?"  When he said that, Emkir looked at the clerk and she showed she could hear him.  So he asked her, "Are you ok?"  When she stuttered, "Yes", he asked her to call station security and she agreed to do that in a voice just short of shock herself.  Emkir then moved back to Aali, who hadn't moved appreciably.  Getting close, he grabbed Aali from behind only to have his wife swing her weapon around, ready to fire on the new attacker!  Thankfully, she quickly recognized Emkir and pulled her aim up.

Emkir asked again, "Are you ok?" and Aali said, "I see you talking but I can't hear anything."  Pointing at her right ear with the hand not holding her snub pistol.  Aali said, "Shotgun blast next to head.  Can't hear a word you said."  Speaking with exaggerated movements, Emkir repeated "OK" three times as he struggled to think what to do or try next?  But that was taken out of his hands when an official sounding voice from outside said, "We are going to raise the security gate.  Everyone drop your weapons or you will be fired on."  Aali watched as Emkir reacted to something she couldn't sense, straightening up and setting his weapon down on the floor.

After The Gunfight Was Over

     Quickly, as the gate started to raise, Emkir grabbed Aali's weapon from her hand and set it down while station security forced their way into the shop.  Still less than a full minute after the couple arrived, they were being followed by station security in full combat load out as the couple sat on the floor with empty hands raised.  Officers swarmed in, and Emkir, Aali and the one unbound clerk were secured as other officers searched behind the counters, calling out alerts like "Body Here!" and "Clear!"  When the front of the shop was secured, another clerk and an unharmed customer were also secured.  At the same time, teams assaulted the back spaces of the shop and drove even more teams through the door even as medics were called in for those up front.

Following a set of flash-bangs tossed into the door, several teams rushed the back spaces of the shop.  Emkir started trying to call anyone's attention to Aali's wounds and was politely told to hold on while they began scanning him.  When the scanner chirped, the officer called out, "Got an Ident here!" and several officers moved forward to place Emkir under threat while one of them recovered his Ident.  When that was checked, the apparent senior officer announced, "Admiral Sir Emkir Meshrumiikiim, crew on the Hotel California.  Imperial Knight"  Turning to Emkir, the officer said, "OK.  Sir Knight, please forgive us for being blunt and securing you as we're clearing this up."

While this happened, another team had gone through Aali's Ident, even as medics had moved up to investigate and treat her wounds.  When their identities were established, Emkir and Aali were escorted out of the shop onto the concourse with repeated apologies for the treatment.  The whole time, Emkir asked for treatment for Aali and was assured that was being taken care of.  The other surviving customers were also escorted out of the shop along with the clerks.  Everyone was still contained so they could be asked to explain what they had experienced?  When they also tried to explain their desires to Aali, she pointed out that she was not able to hear anything.

The team guided Aali with hand signals, and the cluster of survivors found the concourse swarmed with official vehicles including a number of medical transports.  Each survivor was swarmed by med-techs who started treatment for any wounds and against the on-set of shock.  Still, Emkir could hear while the officers inside began to identify bodies as bad guys or victims.  While that happened, Emkir was satisfied to hear at least one of the gunmen survived to receive punishment.  Another voice was soon heard in the tone of a sharp report when a trooper called, "Back rooms secure, Sir!"

Despite his protests, Emkir was sat down and checked out by the medics separate from Aali, who was being more directly treated.  When the medical work and investigations settled down, a team of officers did bring out an unwounded gunman who they'd apparently trapped and captured in the shop's offices.  This was in addition to the secured and wounded gunman they'd been treating in custody.  The on-site questioning started, and Emkir was able to overhear that this had been no more than an attempted robbery.  He realized, as he listened, that he and Aali had just walked in at the wrong moment, interrupting the robbery early in its progress.  Two men had the front shop under arms and a third was to tie people up.  The fourth grabbed the manager and moved to the back offices, to close the shop's security gate and open the safe.

Things settled down more and security officers and medical personnel checked up on or treated the survivors, and even worked hard to keep the wounded gunman alive.  Officers also called the Hotel California, interrupting Mikah's post-surgical relaxation.  Sipping wine and sitting with Zimzod as they watched vids, Mikah answered the comms to be greeted by a security NCO urgently asking for the ship's captain.  When Mikah said she was the captain, the sergeant told her some of her crew had been involved in an attempted robbery and shoot out!  Mikah could only think, "Seriously!?  Really!?" and Zimzod, who'd overheard, asked, "Who'd they rob and who'd they shoot?"

Ignoring Mikah's outburst of disgust, the officer continued, "I'm sorry My Lady, we are going to transport them to the hospital and we had to notify you."  When Mikah asked, she was disappointed to learn the destination was a different hospital than the one she'd spent all day in, or any they had visited.  When she had the data, and been told who had been involved, Mikah said she'd be right there.  Zimzod also got up to get ready to go and Terin asked "What happened?"  Mikah said "Aali and Emkir got themselves shot during a robbery." and Terin asked, "Did you ask how bad?"  Mikah shrugged saying, "They're still alive."

Zimzod repeated, "So who were they robbing", and got a laugh from Aiden.  When Rol asked, "Do you need an escort?", Mikah said, "Sure.  You gonna bring a gun this time?" referring to the dinner walk ambush in which Zach had died.  Zimzod laughed with Mikah, who couldn't hold it back, as Rol joked, "I don't know.  I just had my head examined..."  To the side, Terin asked, "Do you want me to go?" in a not very enthusiastic tone.  Zimzod said, "Just the two of us." as Mikah confirmed they'd go alone.  They wanted the others to call the rest of the crew and tell them to get back to the ship...just in case.  The two prepared to leave, and Rol hit the comms to call Inger.  Terin called Munarshu.

Knowing station security wouldn't appreciate them showing up in combat armor, Zimzod put on his executive armor under a shipsuit and threw on his poly-weave duster.  Mikah slipped out of her shipsuit only long enough to slip into some executive armor before getting dressed again.  Leaving from their staterooms, Mikah saw Zimzod's coat and was reminded of Rol's mad dash against the Vargr in the Inthe system.  Reminding Zimzod of that incident, she asked, "You're not gonna do any of that crazy stuff, are you?"  Zimzod laughed at the memory and said he wasn't.  She'd holstered her gauss pistol and Zimzod had his snub with him as she said they'd be taking the air-raft.

Getting The Word Out

     After being told to by Mikah, Rol called Inger while Aiden tried to reach Munarshu.  When she answered her comms, Inger said, "Don't tell me.  Let me guess.  Something went wrong." in a flat tone.  When Rol answered, "You've got a very good instinct for these things", she said, "You forget who I'm out with."  She said that with a tone of disappointment.  When Inger guessed it had to do with Rol, the retired Marine said it wasn't and Inger asked who it was?

Rol said it was Aali and Emkir, saying, "They went shopping."  Inger just shook her head and said, "I guess they were due."  Continuing, Inger said, "I knew Emkir would be a bad influence on her." in a disapproving voice.  Rol decided to get into the jokes while admitting he didn't have the full data on the incident, and didn't know how many times Emkir's weapon had discharged accidentally?  He promised to let Inger know as soon as he had any details if she was interested.  Inger again reminded the man who she was out with and said, "It was a good evening so far.  Let's see if it gets better?"

When Rol said she could look at the bright side of things, Inger asked, "There's a bright side?"  Rol said they were in the hospital, so they weren't in the morgue, and finished up asking, "How bad could it be?"  Inger was duly unimpressed with Rol's opinion and he again promised to update her if she liked, and said, "Enjoy your dinner."  Inger gave him an elongated "Thanks." and they broke the contact.

Terin called Munarshu and got the engineer while he was wandering concourses on the station.  When he answered, Terin said, "Munarshu, you may want to head back to the ship."  The engineer asked, "What?  We're leaving?" and Terin said, "No, Aali and Emkir were just shot and they're in the hospital right now."  When Munarshu asked if they were all right, Terin admitted he didn't know.  Munarshu let slip a few emotional words and Terin said, "So we need to preserve the secondary engineer on the ship.  So get back here."

Munarshu didn't answer immediately, and Terin asked if he was in the middle of something?  When Munarshu emphatically said, "I was having fun, dammit", Terin sarcastically said, "Well, give her another Cr 20 and tell her to hurry the process along."  Ignoring the comment, Munarshu said he was on the way and Terin thanked him, saying they wanted to keep everyone safe, since they didn't know what happened yet?  When Munarshu asked what Terin did know, the navigator said it was something about a robbery.

Surprised, Munarshu asked, "What?  They were rolling a place?" and Terin admitted he didn't think they were the ones doing the robbing.  But, he also said, "With this crew, anything is possible."  Accepting that, Munarshu said he was on his way, broke the contact and started musing to himself that he needed a weapons carry permit for defense.  And a score card to figure out the crew.  Giving up on the presumed safety of public transportation, Munarshu decided to spend for safety, and called for a taxi.  He even offered a Cr 25 bonus if they got their fast.

After the call, it took less than five minutes before a driver pulled up and asked if he was Munarshu?  Munarshu said he was and the driver snapped, "Get in" and opened the cab's door to check if there was anyone in the back seat?  Reacting to the urgency and that he'd been told the passenger was going to the Hotel California, the driver hit the acceleration as Munarshu found himself falling the last bit into his seat.  Munarshu decided the driver was certainly working to earn the Cr 25 bonus and a tip.

On the way, the driver asked, "You people get around, don't cha?"  Munarshu only answered, "No comment."  Munarshu settled in while the driver played his hands over the taxi's controls putting the destination into the vehicle's computer.  When that was done, the man spun his seat around to face the engineer and handed him a digital card, saying, "Give this to your captain and tell her I said 'hi'."  Of course, that completely shocked Munarshu and he stuttered out, "No problem.  When I see her.  I hear they're out and about."

Now, it was the driver's turn to be surprised and he asked, "They're off the ship too?" in a concerned tone.  Catching himself, and becoming more professional, the driver asked, "Can you confirm they are off ship too?"  Munarshu suddenly had to wonder what business it was of a taxi driver?  He also had to admit to himself that the man seemed genuinely concerned.  Shrugging mentally, Munarshu reviewed what he'd been told and admitted he couldn't confirm what he'd said.  After that, the driver turned back to his console and grabbed a comms, all but ignoring Munarshu.

The engineer listened while the man said, "Yeah.  Yeah, it's me.  Can you confirm the locations of Lady Kirlim and any other members of the crew outstanding?"  After a pause, and some information apparently received, the driver thanked the person on the other end and disconnected.  Turning back to Munarshu, he said, "I've confirmed that Lady Kirlim and Sir Zimzod are on their way to the hospital where Sir Emkir and Dame Eikusdi are being treated."  Surprised even more, Munarshu accepted the information and thanked the driver even as he wondered at the situation.

Continuing, the driver said, "I've also confirmed that Dame Inger is out with the station's executive director, so she's secure."  Accepting the situation, Munarshu admitted he'd known she'd planned the outing and doubted she'd be returning to the ship.  Saying that, Munarshu checked out the card the driver had given him.  It was a standard issue, programmable electronic business card advertising a wide number of services he claimed to provide with the driver's comms data.  After scanning over the card, Munarshu asked, "So, is there anything else you do?"

The cabbie shrugged and asked, "What do you have in mind?"  Changing his mind, Munarshu asked, "I take it you know this crew?"  The driver admitted, "I've encountered them before.  You can say that."  Nodding, Munarshu said, "OK, so you know my dilemma." and the driver simply said, "Yes."  Munarshu lamented that he was the only one aboard without right to carry, and that he'd likely be the one to die next.  The driver suggested that, at least, the torture of waiting would be short.

When Munarshu asked if he knew a way to get a quick carry permit, the driver gamely said, "Sure.  Tomorrow...  Well, not tomorrow because you're busy tomorrow.  The day after tomorrow, go to the station admin offices to fill out an application and apply."  The matter of fact delivery cut off at the knees Munarshu's reaction to being told to follow the rules when he was obviously looking for a... less legal answer.  Munarshu looked at him and the driver seemed to think of something.  He then said, "Hold on."  Turning to his console, he rooted through the items there.

Turning back to Munarshu, he said, "You may want to start, when you get back to your ship, by slipping this into your computer console.  This will get you to the right place to download the form."  Munarshu put the data card into a pocket, thanked the driver and smiled at the gift.  While riding to the ship, Munarshu noticed increasing amounts of security until getting to the entrance to the concourse where the ship was berthed.  That was completely closed off by security.  But, as they arrived, the driver hit a few controls and went 'anti-grav' to float over the armed presence without being challenged by anyone in security!

By the time this display had occurred, Munarshu was impressed to have found a cabbie and intelligence operative all rolled into one.  Considering the assistance he'd been given on the paperwork for a carry permit, Munarshu had to repeat to himself again, "Outstanding!"  Soon, they were in the berth and he was stepping out while paying the cabbie for the ride.  The price was Cr 15, and Munarshu paid that, the promised Cr 25 bonus and an additional Cr 20 more.  The cabbie thanked him very much and drove off as Munarshu went into the ship.  Entering, Munarshu was updated that what the cabbie had told him was true.  There was no more news on what happened to Emkir and Aali.  Realizing the media wasn't going to have much detail for some time, Munarshu did his evening routine and waited for the others to return.

Leaving Another Emergency Room

     Mikah powered up the vehicle and called the port asking for directions to the hospital.  She told them she'd be piloting the ship's air-raft.  Port services gave her frequencies for directional beacons she could set the raft's nav systems to, letting the vehicle automatically pilot them to the location.  From there, it would be a ten to fifteen-minute flight to the hospital.  Of course, as they traveled, they passed security forces moving in the direction of their berth.  Dodging where she had to, Mikah moved through the traffic and followed the beacons.

There, they were taken to a ward in which Aali was being treated.  Updated on Aali's treatment, Mikah was also told Emkir had been given a clean bill of health.  While Emkir hadn't been wounded, he'd been treated for shock.  Aali's wounds were minor puncture wounds, with some of them "through and through".  The treatment prescribed was to inject growth hormones with sedatives, anti-bacterials and a local anesthetic beneath a spray-on skin growth covering under hygienic bandaging.

Mikah and Aali were told her ears would heal, but there was both shock and concussion damage to some of the internal aural structures.  During transport, they'd used hand scanners to confirm no fragments remained within Aali's body.  After they'd arrived at the hospital, the medical teams took over with more powerful versions of the scanners used on the scene.  They took blood and re-ran many tests while they started working to treat her.

Left alone for a brief period with a finger-pad, Emkir had written, "Are you ok sweetheart?"  Aali answered, "Other than not being able to hear, I'm fine."  Emkir next wrote, "Good shooting in there."  Aali nodded as Emkir wrote, "That last one was kind of scary", referring to the man who'd literally had a shotgun to her head.  Aali agreed, "Oh, Hell yeah." after which Emkir nodded and said, "Every freaking store."  Soon enough, with Mikah and Zimzod arrvied, the couple were signed out and Aali given some pain killers and an ointment to promote cellular regrowth.

Organizing for the trip back to the ship, Emkir handed back the datapad he'd been using to talk to Aali because he had one back at the ship.  He also continued making jokes suggesting his head hurt and he needed opiates.  This was similar to the wheedling lies addicts used to get drugs from medics.  Mikah and Zimzod had both been exposed to that and soon, Zimzod stomped on Emkir's foot.  When he did, he said that Emkir now had something else to take his attention away from his headache.  Aali had to try to piece things together while she watching the conversation progress to the accompaniment of ringing in her ears.

Aali was alarmed when, after Emkir apparently said something to Mikah, Zimzod moved up and very viciously stomped down on Emkir's right foot!  Then, as Zimzod stepped back laughing, Emkir suddenly appeared to start howling and hopping around on his left foot, holding his now-stomped right foot.  Mikah waved Aali towards the exit while Emkir complained he now hurt more, and needed more drugs.  In a growling tone, Mikah promised him she had something back at the ship which would put him right out.

Soon, they were in the air-raft and heading back to the berth.  Along the way, Emkir explained to Mikah and Zimzod what had happened at the shop, saying they were not only not at fault, but heroes.  While Zimzod and Mikah had their doubts, they soon got to the berth entrance and found it secured by a small army!  Approaching, Mikah swiveled her seat back on Emkir and said, "You did this!" in an accusing voice.  She then turned back and flashed the security cordon their ID's before guiding the air-raft past the cordon.  Emkir answered, "I shot three bogeys and this is the thanks I get!  And my foot hurts too now."

When they got back to the ship, Terin had the news going full blast while he, Rol and Munarshu watched the shooting take over the bulk of the headline news cycle.  Aiden missed the news, having gone to bed early after his surgery.  The story of the small-time robbery attempt was explained fairly accurately, and took on a larger significance when it was reported some crew of the Hotel California were involved.  Aali and Emkir were even portrayed as members of the Arch Duke's personal staff!  When Munarshu arrived and heard this for the first time, he asked if there'd been a call yet?  He was told by Rol, "Not yet."

When Mikah docked the air-raft and everyone moved into the lounge, Terin asked, "OK, what happened?"  Emkir took great pains to help Aali along.  After settling Aali down, Emkir gave Mikah and Zimzod a second run through while explaining what happened to the others in the lounge.  He especially highlighted a point in the shootout when Aali had shot a man despite him having a gun to her head!  Terin responded, "That's pretty ballsy." while Rol disbelievingly asked, "You did what??"

Emkir ignored Rol and continued explaining the situation.  Mikah grabbed a shotglass from the autoserv and stepped into the med-bay.  While the Admiral regaled the crew, describing various points of the shootout, Mikah filled the glass with the "vargr juice" she'd shown Terin how to make.  Deciding her need to "test the batch" coincided with Emkir's need to sleep off the excitement, Mikah served him the glass, saying it was for his aching foot and head.

Taking the "prescription", Emkir tossed back the contents of the glass in one shot and wasn't even able to hand back the glass before he dropped to the floor!  Mikah looked down at Emkir's form and said, "We really should have waited for Ms. Vik to get back to see that."  Those who remembered Inger's Date in the Inthe system laughed.  When Terin asked after the contents of the glass, Mikah held it up in offer to Aali.  She got the gist and said, "No thanks!"

When Terin was told this was the stuff he'd watched Mikah mix up, he asked if there was some sort of antidote, in case Emkir actually slept through the funeral the next day?  Mikah told him the affects would wear off before then, though she really had little data to base that on.  Still, she didn't plan to tell him that.  Finally, the piper had to be paid and they assembled to carry Emkir's limp body to the couple's stateroom and settle him into bed.

After Emkir and Aali were settled in to sleep and recover, the others returned to the lounge and news.  The shooting was now a top news story since involvement of 'the Arch Duke's personal staff' was reported.  That misrepresentation disgusted Mikah.  There were also now video clips being played from the incident, and even cheers when Aali's rush into a 'nose to shotgun' move was shown.  Frozen and miraculous, the heroic outcome was described by a reporter.

Soon, the crew found 'beginning to end' coverage with video clips, that showed exactly how things unfolded.  From the first entry of the crooks to the arrival of Emkir and Aali, just before the shop's security gate was lowered.  Everyone was disappointed there was no sound since it prevented them hearing what was being said?  More video segments with reporter commentary took the watching audience through the shootout.  At the end, as part of a wrap up summary, there was an obviously hastily assembled but caring memorial to the one shop clerk who had been killed.

The most impressive, and to Rol horrifying, moment in the video was that nose to gun act and Rol couldn't figure out how Aali hadn't been shot?  Soon, as they watched, Munarshu dropped off to sleep.  The rest of the crew relaxed until a port vehicle eventually returned Inger to the ship.  When she arrived, having learned everything during her evening out, her reaction was, "You know....every fucking planet."  Her frustration showed in her voice and her failure to come up with anything original to cover what was a sadly regular crew activity.

Terin said, "I take it you saw the news?" and Mikah held up the glass, asking if Inger wanted to take a shot?  Giving Mikah an appraising look, she asked, "What's in it?"  Mikah said, "Clear stuff." and Inger was still more than a bit skeptical.  Mikah said, "You've had it before." and Inger responded, "Oh, Really?"  Deciding the direction of the conversation had to change, Inger took a breath and said, "Well, the good news is, I've talked to the Executive Director and they do have saleable equipment to off load.  So I've set up a deal, and for Cr 25,000 we can buy a cargo sealing machine and a set of two grav-Cargo lifters."

Everyone in the lounge cheered that news, since it would at least make it possible for them to try to smuggle the hired cargo into the D'Ganzio system.  Not seeing the forest for the trees, Munarshu said, "Oh sure, now that we've already moved the 'droids in."  Terin said, "We'll need them again" and others agreed with Terin.  Zimzod pointed out they'd be hauling cargo and had needed lifters before, so they'd need them again.  That conversation wound down and people faded to their own interests.  Mikah reminded them all of the funeral the next day before they went to sleep.

Since some had gone to sleep before the news from Inger, Terin said, "Lady Mikah?" and she turned to see what he needed?  Terin continued, "In the morning, I'd like to have a little discussion with the crew about Knight stuff.  Order stuff."  Not sure what that meant, Mikah said, "OK, then you don't need Munarshu, right?"  Terin said he'd still like to have the engineer be part of the discussion and she said "OK" again, not sure what the navigator was on about?  After that, while others had set their alarms, Mikah set an all-ship alarm to wake everyone for the funeral.


A Morning Concert Before The Funeral

     At 5am, as was his habit, Munarshu's alarm went off and he went through his morning routine.  Having searched out his gear the night before, Munarshu dressed in a IISS 'Class A' uniform, despite it's being inappropriate for a civilian to do so.  Not authorized to carry a weapon, Munarshu decided not to try to smuggle one with him.  Despite his dressing taking longer than usual, Munarshu was still out into the darkened lounge well before anyone else.  Grabbing a cup of caff, Munarshu sparked up the news and relaxed to watch until the others joined him.

The robbery and shoot-out were still part of the news cycle, but had faded because it was just a small time robbery gone bad after all.  Regarless of the celebrities involved.  The days' big story was turning out to be Sir Zachariah's funeral, with coverage from the highlights of Zach's life to commentary on the nobility expected to be attending.  While Zach's recent activities included his actions against the ragtag fleet, some time was spent on the mysteries surrounding his activities.

One report segment focused on the unknown events from the evening of Saturday 203-1112 to the morning of Tuesday, 206.  Somehow, that night, Sir Zachariah had gone from a healthy and active individual to a man seriously injured and needing a grav-Chair to move around at all.  There was a short period in those days where he was presumably in-hospital, but there was never any explanation of what happened to the Knight?

This sparked rumors the crew of the Hotel California were involved in a small but nasty battle involving the warehouse of an underworld crime boss in the same period.  The segment was also tied to the ambush in which Sir Zachariah had been killed, by thugs believed to be chasing a bounty offered by another underworld boss.  Speculation rose from this, asking just what the crew's relationship to the underworld in the Rhylanor system was?  And also raised questions and rumors of just who the crew were working for?

The reports speculated that Zach and the crew planned an assassination of Arcea, and possibly Tarulli.  Reports said Tarulli was still alive and at large.  Reasons behind these attempts ranged from the personal to the possibility the crew were on a direct mission for the Emperor himself!  Video included Zach's speech at the funeral for the dead of the INS Khurmumshuuna Khangu.  While watching, Munarshu learned more of the history and rumors surrounding his crew than he'd had time to pay attention to while serving his last berth.

Munarshu watched until an all-ship alarm jarred him, at 6:30 am, playing from all speakers!  In his surprise, Munarshu reached for his hip, where a holster would have been during his years of wartime service.  But, as his surroundings came back to him, Munarshu secured what he'd been doing and moved quickly through the bridge, to the ship's locker.  There, he grabbed his gauss rifle and slammed a magazine into the receiver and visually checked the weapon.

Armed, Munarshu grabbed a carry bag of magazines and went back into the bridge.  Firing up a console there, Munarshu began checking all the ship's entries and portals.  The only unsecured portal was the ship's cargo bay, which was open to the berth.  Through that, entry could be made to the ship's engineering section and the rest of the ship.  Knowing anyone who'd found a way into the berth could now be aboard the ship, Munarshu decided he had to fire up some sensors and considered which ones to activate?

Searching through the internal sensors menus, Munarshu found the internal cameras he'd been told the crew had installed and sparked up the main spaces, and those cameras in engineering.  He began to scan the screens and the only movement Munarshu could see were the 'droids, as Wall-e and the one engineering 'droid continued their assigned tasks.  When he could find no reason for the alarm, Munarshu began digging into the alarm to see what triggered it?

It took the engineer a few key strokes and selections to get into the alarm log and search for what he wanted.  When he found the data, Munarshu saw the alarm had been manually set to go off at the time it did!  Checking the ID on the action, Munarshu saw was set by Lady Mikah the night before.  She made the setting from the console in her stateroom.  Realizing she must have set up a wake-up alarm for the entire ship, Munarshu secured his weapon and returned to the console, activating a ship-wide comms.

The others on board were waking up with Emkir waking, nudging Aali and pointing to the clock.  Munarshu searched through the ship's library before making his selection.  He then hit as stud and activated a high-volume playback of Vilani opera over the ship's internal speakers!  The piece he selected was the most abusive piece, in his opinion, that Munarshu could find.  When the "music" blasted into Terin's stateroom, his head snapped around and he looked for a source and volume controls.  Terin realized it was coming from the ship's comms and he couldn't turn the sound down, so he threw on a ship's suit and abandoned his morning routine to go to the bridge.

Rol was also in the beginning of his routine and he grabbed his snub pistol heading out to see what was happening?  Zimzod abandoned his morning preparations to step to the door of Mikah's stateroom across the passage and ask if she had a taser?  When he arrived, Mikah was loading tranq rounds into her snub pistol with a look on her face which said she considered the music a hostile act.  The two then joined forces and moved out.

In her stateroom, Inger paused at the sudden onset of the music and considered it before deciding someone had taste.  She then continued her morning routine while enjoying the music.  In his stateroom, Aiden's head ached a bit and the so-called music wasn't helping.  To make matters worse, the selection sounded suspiciously like that concert Inger had taken him and Munarshu to days before.  An act for which he had yet to forgive the former port official.  Ignoring the music, figuring he'd figure out what was behind it later, Aiden headed to the med-bay for drugs for his headache.

In their stateroom, Aali felt some odd vibrations and saw Emkir suddenly react to it, dropping to the floor and covering his ears.  Emkir cried out that the music was too loud and Aali rushed down to his side, to see what was causing his actions?  All she could tell was that Emkir was shouting something, but she couldn't make out what?  That he was hearing something she couldn't was obvious.  And she was relieved it wasn't a stroke as she investigated.

Terin stepped out of his stateroom, and could see Aiden holding his head.  Terin made a direct line to the bridge as Rol came from the starboard.  He was joined by Zimzod and Mikah, and each saw Mikah and Rol were carrying snub pistols.  Greeting Rol, he shouted, "Did you do this?"  Mikah shouted back that she didn't.  Those in motion made their way towards the bridge, or the med-bay in Aiden's case, and the music suddenly ended.  Terin was in the lead, and was already opening the access valve to the bridge.

After The Music Was Over

     Seeing the crew reacting to the music, some of them armed, Munarshu killed the music, much to Inger's disappointment and everyone else's relief.  Terin saw Munarshu standing at the consoles and put two and two together while he advanced on the engineer growling, "Get off my fucking bridge!"  When the others arrived at the portal, they saw Terin had physically grabbed Munarshu, who was wearing an active duty IISS uniform.  Terin was pushing the engineer out of the bridge.

Seeing this, Mikah demanded, "Was this you?" and Munarshu proudly said, "Yeah."  When Mikah demanded, "Why?", Munarshu complained, "The alarm went off."  Mikah responded, "Yeah!  I set it last night." in an angry tone.  Munarshu defended, "I thought we were being boarded!" and Mikah told him, "You're an idiot!"  Munarshu snapped back, "I may be an idiot but at least I was awake to repel the borders."  Rol simply nodded as he cleared his weapon and returned to his stateroom muttering, "I thought Brian was dead."

Standing at the access to the bridge, Terin firmly said, "Remember, your workspace is back there", pointing aft to the engineering section.  "Stay off my bridge."  Munarshu responded by indicating the entire ship with his hands as he said, "Wait.  See this?  This is all my work space", stressing the word 'all'.  Disregarding Munarshu's statement with an "Uh huh", Terin returned to his stateroom to continue preparing for the funeral.

The others did the same while Aiden asked Mikah for some analgesics.  Zimzod asked if they could still hit Munarshu with a tranq round, to punish him?  But the round's effects would certainly take too long to wear off and they needed the whole crew to turn out for the funeral.  Zimzod just shrugged and figured he'd shoot Munarshu some other time.  Smiling, and now having something fun to think about, Zimzod returned to his preparations.  Mikah gave Aiden drugs and they did too.

Terin decided to dress in his best suit and bring his snub pistol, in a shoulder holster.  Rol wore his Vilani robes with gauss pistol in a hip-holster.  Zimzod put on the uniform of their Order, wearing his cutlass and gauss pistol with it.  Mikah wore her grey Solomani business suit over executive armor, and holstered her gauss pistol.  Aali wore executive armor under her Order uniform and was armed with her gauss pistol.  Emkir wore his ballistic fabric Vilani suit over his executive armor, and holstered his 9mm.

Aiden wore his solemn black ballistic-resistant suit over his executive armor and holstered his snub pistol.  Inger dressed in her black skirt suit and holstered one of her mag-fed 9mm pistols.  While the crew were finishing preparations, the ship's comms began to alert.  Already dressed and ready, Munarshu answered the comms to find it was the funeral home calling to check up on the crew's planned arrival time?

Munarshu admitted the crew were still getting ready and he was unaware when they had planned on leaving the ship?  The caller said things were in place and waiting on the crew, so they asked to be advised when the crew were on their way?  Munarshu said he'd make sure that happened and the call ended.  Munarshu then called Terin to let him know about the call, and Terin wondered who the hell was calling him at that hour?  Picking up, he saw Munarshu was calling and stepped over to his stateroom door to ask, "What?!"

Munarshu said, "The mortuary called." and when Terin asked, "Yes?" Munarshu continued, "They'd like to know when we're planning to arrive?"  When Terin told him to ask Lady Mikah, Munarshu said he'd asked Terin first since he was in charge of the funeral planning.  Terin pointed out that Mikah was the one in charge and closed his stateroom door to finish getting ready.

Hitting his comms, Munarshu called Mikah, and she asked what he wanted?  Munarshu said, "The mortuary called and wanted to know when we're planning to leave, since they're waiting on us."  Considering for a second, Mikah said, "We will be leaving at eight thirty."  Munarshu said he'd let them know.  Before they broke the line, Mikah told Munarshu to call the crew a cab and that reminded him of the cabbie and card from the day before.

Mentioning that he had a card for her, "from a particular cabbie", Munarshu read his name when she asked.  Hearing the name, Mikah remembered the agent and said, "Really?  Call him.  Call him and tell him we need a ride."  Accepting that as they ended the call, Munarshu checked the number and called the cabbie.  But, when the comms was answered, Munarshu heard a different voice from the one he expected.

Confused, Munarshu asked, "Who is this?" and the person who answered introduced himself.  When Munarshu said whom he thought he was calling, he was told he had called that number, but the cabbie he expected was off-shift.  When the man prompted Munarshu, the engineer said they needed transport for nine, and was told, "Tell Lady Mikah we'll be there as soon as possible."  Accepting that, Munarshu said "OK" and they cut the call as Munarshu announced transport was on the way.

Folks finished up getting ready and Terin asked about breakfast while Rol moved to the galley to cook.  About that time, the cab arrived and signaled it was outside and waiting.  Mikah got on the comms and asked the driver to come in and have breakfast with them since they had time.  The driver agreed, though he said he'd have to leave the meter running.  Terin pointed out that he had wanted to talk to the crew and Mikah told him, "He's OK."  When Terin asked, "Are you sure?" Mikah said she was and Terin accepted that.  But overhearing, the driver said he'd wait outside.

So, as the crew gathered for Terin, Mikah asked, "What's up?"  Terin said, "The little incident that happened..." and Mikah asked, "Yeah?  Which one?"  Terin continued, "With Sir Aiden basically electrocuting Gladys in the middle of a department store..."  Again, he was interrupted when Zimzod asked, "So what's your point?".  As if suddenly remembering, Mikah turned to Emkir and said, "Emkir, Since we have that video clip of Gladys getting tased, I want you to set that up as the screen saver for all the ship's terminals."

Hearing that, Terin said, "I really think that would be a bad idea..." and was cut off by several of the crew asking why?  Terin continued, "First of all, what Aiden did was criminal.  If Gladys here really wanted to press charges, one of your crew members would be getting thrown in jail for an investigation.  And not only that...  I mean, I can understand a hazing prank or that kind of thing, but doing it right in the middle of a major fucking department store?  Where he's doing the flounder and pissing all over himself?"  Pointing at Aiden, Terin continued, in an angered voice, "And he's there laughing over top of him?"  But already, some of the crew were holding back giggles, and barely at that.

The control ended when Zimzod literally squeaked out, "That was the best part" and started laughing out right.  Terin found himself having to shout down the release of laughter as he said, "Yeah, it's the best part until Grand Duchess Delphine sees the fucking video of this."  Against the multiple excuses that came up from some of the crew, Terin pushed on saying, "Do you people have any type of...of concept of what the implications this could lead to for the ship and this crew?"  He finished on an incredulous note.

In the silence Terin finally got, he said, "I mean, I should go to the Order right now and make a report of this, being I've been in this Order several years now.  And this kind of behavior out in public is completely unacceptable.  This Order that you've just been in for what, a week now?  It's extremely prestigious.  And they would really frown upon shit like this happening."  Finally responding, Mikah asked, "Well what do you want us to do?" in a challenging tone.

Terin admitted, "I don't know.  I think you, as captain, need to think of some of the implications.  Hopefully, this will be kept secret by InstellArms.  'Cause they said they don't want this to get out either.  But all it takes is one person with a little camera on their comms to take a vid of this and the next thing you know..."  Mikah interrupted him, demanding, "Has it come out yet?" and Terin said, "Not yet" in a tone suggesting that was certainly not 'final'.  Mikah challenged, don't you think that, if anyone had anything, it would have come out already?"

Terin pointed out, "It's only been three days" and Mikah replied, "And with all the stuff that goes on with us, you don't think someone would have jumped on that and said 'Hey, look what I have'?"  Terin calmly said, "Maybe they're still negotiating the price.  I don't know."  Exasperated, Mikah said, "I don't believe this.  Emkir, do you have anything to do with this?"  The Admiral sparked up in a confused tone saying, "Who me?  Not that I know of."  Terin asked, "Why would he have anything to do with this?  All I'm saying is, if some bloody schlep has something, they are gonna want a lot of money for it."

Terin tried to continue, "What I 'm trying to say is..." but Mikah cut him off, asking emphatically, "What do you think we can do about it?" enunciating each word.  Terin answered slowly at first, "Well, first thing, if the Arch Duke or the Grand Duchess invite you over to have a discussion about what you did about this incident as it broke out, saying 'We watched the video of it a dozen times, laughed our asses off and told Aiden not to do it again'...  Do you think the Grand Duchess will find that appropriate?"

Terin continued, "I'm just saying, this shit could get all of us in a lot of trouble."  When Mikah demanded, "Are you involved?" Terin stated abjectly, "No!  I'm trying to hope it doesn't get out, because now that I'm involved with you, that would look bad for me too."  Shrugging, Mikah said, "if you want to buy back your servitude, you can pay us back if you want.  Then you can get off the ship."

Terin answered her, "I didn't plan on getting off the ship.  I'm trying to help the ship."  But Mikah said, "Well, if you're gonna be like this every time something goes..."  Terin then interrupted her, saying "I understand pulling a prank on somebody, I totally get it.  I'm just saying, doing it in the middle of a major department store isn't the place to do it."  Glaring at Terin, Mikah said, "I can't control what he did.  OK?  If you have a problem with what he did, you tell him, and hash it out with him." stressing the words 'he' and 'him'.

Terin pointed out, "You're the captain." and Mikah agreed, "Yeah, I'm the captain of the ship.  But where he did it, is totally 100% his fault."  Terin agreed with that as Mikah continued, "It has no bearing on me, he's not upset.." pointing to Munarshu.  Terin said, "He's really upset." as Munarshu said, "I am upset but..."  Mikah interrupted again, pointing to Munarshu and then Aiden as she said, "He'll get even with him, just like everybody on this crew gets even."

Terin took control back, saying, "I'm just saying, you are the captain, and you're in charge of disciplining the crew."  Mikah angrily snapped, "OK" while Terin started to say, "If anything happens..." and Mikah interrupted him saying to Aiden, "Consider yourself disciplined.  You're grounded.  Except for funerals, you're not allowed off the ship."  Zimzod added, "And going someplace to get shot at, let's not forget about that."  Standing up straighter, Mikah eyed them all, coming back to Munarshu as she said, "The next person who pulls a prank, Munarshu...  Who pulls a prank on the entire ship, is also grounded.  Ok?  So you guys go to the funeral and that's it.  Neither one of you are allowed off the ship."

When Munarshu asked, "Wait a minute.  You get grounded for electrocuting someone in public and I get grounded for bringing everyone culture, on the ship?" Aiden pointed out, "I pissed you off.  You pissed her off." as he pointed at Mikah.  Munarshu agreed with Aiden that the pilot had gotten him.  Aiden added, "Not to mention, I made her laugh."  Rol followed that up, saying "You do stuff like that off the ship, it's the captain's job to decide what the penalty would be.  You do it on the ship, we could space you." as he finished up with a smile."  Aiden admitted, "Mom and Dad are not interested in justice.  They're interested in quiet."

Picking the topic back up, Terin said, "I'm just more concerned about...  I'm not saying anyone will find out about this, but if they do, you gotta show some type of response.  You know what I'm saying?"  Mikah demanded, "Why do I have to show anything?  Why can't I just tell them I already took care of it."  Terin pushed back, "Because you're the captain."  Mikah asked, "Are you gonna tell them 'No they didn't'?" and when Terin said he wasn't going to say anything, Mikah said, "Well then shut up!"

After Terin said, "OK", Rol said, "I've got one thing to ask, though, about this whole thing.  Is the standing order about no pranks on the ship still in effect?"  He finished and Mikah snapped, "Yes." in a venomous tone.  Rol then said, "OK, there we are", Zimzod said, "There it is.  No pranks on the ship."  Aiden pointed out, "And I've just been grounded on the ship." and Munarshu answered, "So have I."

But Terin pointed out to Aiden, "You better pray that Grand Duchess Delphine doesn't find out about this, because...  You know what kind of a sense of humor she has.  And watching someone she just Knighted a month ago in a very public ceremony on the Sector Capital, would just love seeing her man electrocuting a commoner in the middle of a store."  Sarcastically, Terin continued, "I'm sure she would laugh and laugh and laugh about that all the way to her jeweler."  The reference to hate stones, while unstated, was clear.

After a pause, Terin more calmly said, "I'm just saying we have to be more careful about how we represent ourselves.  Especially now that everyone here is a Knight."  Nodding but angry, Mikah said, "OK Mr. Paladin, you will set the example."  When Terin protested, saying he never claimed to be a paladin, Mikah re-stated, "You set the example." and Terin said, "OK.  You will never see me electrocuting a fellow crew member in public."  But Mikah pushed, "You will never do anything that will endanger or transgress any kind of things against the Order, or anyone on this ship."  Terin simply answered back, "Well, I try very hard not to."

At that, Zimzod asked to have a few words and calmly asked, "Now Terin, you've been on the ship for what, four days now?"  When Terin agreed, Zimzod said, "So far, you're sitting through a funeral, a firefight, a dinner with High Nobility and a bunch of other stuff.  You gotta understand that with this crew..."  At that, Terin interrupted, saying, "I know you guys are shakers and movers.  Everyone in the whole system understands that."  Zimzod took up what he was saying again, "You gotta understand that this crew has a certain responsibility to where there is a certain level of danger.  And some people have a peculiar way of blowing off steam and amusing themselves."

Terin said, "Yes!  I understand that.  Just don't do it out in public.  That's all I'm saying."  Mikah agreed to that saying, "OK.  You guys get that?"  And while the others were agreeing, Zimzod pointed a finger at Aiden and said, "No more public electrocutions for you, Mister!" in a comedically self-important voice.  Feeling they were now on track again, Terin said, "Like I said, if he had done it in the middle of the bridge, it would be bad but it wouldn't have the potential to explode like it does now.  Aiden put some major turds in the stream, and hopefully they're gonna go downstream and no one's gonna notice them..."

Mikah assured, "They are gonna go down the stream and no one's gonna notice them.  Because if they were noticed, it would have gotten out already." in a voice of pure conviction.  Stepping in, Emkir asked, "Do you still want that screensaver ma'am?" and Mikah said, "Yes.  And make sure it's in his cabin too." pointing at Terin.  Terin shrugged and said it was only a configuration setting and could be removed quickly.  Zimzod pointed out that if they watched it in enough detail, like he had, and really studied it as art, they would appreciate it.

When that was wrapped up, Emkir took advantage of everyone being present to recap.  He reminded them they'd gotten the OK to install the safe and hire an auction house.  He then said they wanted to try to reach out to Brian's family in the Lanth system, with a visit there after the current job was done.  That brought up a point and Rol asked if the crew should not be encouraged to draw up wills, in the event something does happen?  When Terin asked if Sir Brian's will from his prior service might not be in force, they admitted it might.  He then asked what service Sir Brian had been in and was told Brian was a merchanter, which could mean any corporation or even crew on a free trader.

Emkir asked if Terin wanted to help on the search for wills and Terin asked if anyone knew who Sir Brian worked for last?  Mikah said he could start looking for data from the Emerald system, around the end of the Fifth Frontier War since that was where she and Zimzod met him.  Terin decided to check into that back at the ship after the funeral.  Inger confirmed Emkir said Brian's last survivors were in the Lanth system, and they talked about methods to find Brian's will.  Emkir reminded them the cab was waiting.

With that conversation done, and Rol announced breakfast was ready, Mikah again invited the cabbie in to eat.  Emkir planned to set up the screen savers for Mikah after the funeral.  While eating, Munarshu asked Emkir, as the ship's computer officer, for help getting the dead brains out of the androids and the Admiral said he'd help.  When they'd all eaten and the chatter was done, the crew boarded the grav-Vehicle for the ride to the funeral site.

Zach's Funeral

     Arriving at the venue, the funeral was everything the crew expected.  On top of the expected nobility, it seemed every member of the Open Skies corporation turned out for the event.  All in Line jackets displaying the corporate logo and displaying a dazzling display of smiles.  Despite the possible repercussions, the group remained smiling throughout the entire ceremony.  In addition, at the salient and most poignant moments in the ceremony, the Open Skies section were the only group applauding and, at times, even cheering.

The crew quietly enjoyed the display, even as some of the armed and armored retinue of the Arch Duke moved to 'oversee' the section.  Especially because the Open Skies Captains didn't let that dampen their mood, showing the power merchant spacers had over stationers and the planet-bound, who needed trade to flow.  Their actions provided an emotional outlet for the crew of the Hotel California, who had to play for the cameras and crowd.

Still, there were key moments, such as Duke Leonard's comments.  His Grace opened with praise for those successes Sir Zachariah achieved on behalf of the Imperium and its people.  The Duke praised his quiet service as a merchant, working to keep the many worlds of the Imperium supplied and healthy.  He then slowly stepped up to Zach's one public battle honor, painting all of Zach's awards and actions large, hiding the fact many of his "awards" were actually punishments.  And after that opening lifted the crowd's opinion of Zach, despite a few jeers from Open Skies, Duke Leonard turned his comments into a public service performance.

Leonard's narration again returned to Sir Zachariah's humble roots, and worked their way up his path to nobility.  The Duke laid it on, promoting his message to the populous and Sir Terin quietly jabbed Munarshu, telling him to listen up for his opportunity.  This got a quick sharp rebuke from Lady Mikah, who pointed out that he was not only inappropriately hazing a crew mate, but doing so in public at a very high level event!  Hardly the behavior of a paladin.  Terin simply said, "I didn't do anything!  I just whispered some good advice."  Mikah snarked, "I guess someone else is grounded now."

Finally, Duke Leonard wrapped his comments, saying, Sir Zachariah's life was a sign to all commoners that they too can rise, from both usual and unusual circumstances, to the nobility.  "Sadly, Sir Zachariah's light burned only briefly before becoming a guiding light in the firmament."  And, when His Grace was done, it was Lady Mikah's turn to make her speech.  Marshaling her wits and thoughts, Mikah told the crowd a stirring, heart-rending story of Zach.  She punctuated her comments with the highlights of Zach's few achievements while she was his Captain.  And, but for those achievements, those listening had no way to know the other words Mikah spoke were about others she actually respected or cared about.

So, even Mikah's appearance of true emotion played real as she made her way past her personal mine field of the day.  Despite the impact she was having with the crowd in general, when she looked over at Open Skies, they were all still smiling happily and humming some tune or other.  Eventually, the final ceremonies played out and an empty coffin was fired into the star as the funeral came to an end.  Everyone was released to their regularly scheduled lives then, and Rol said, "That was touching.  Let's go eat."  Emkir agreed with him.

When Emkir asked if they wanted to go back to the ship or hit a restaurant, Sir Terin said, "Lady Mikah, that was fantastic speech.  Fantastic." and Mikah responded, "Thank you.  You're still grounded."  Terin said, "But you didn't even hear me say anything.  I whispered it to him." pointing to Munarshu.  Mikah answered, "But he laughed.  During a solemn moment." and she turned away to lead them out to find a ride.  While she did that, her comms buzzed and Mikah found she was getting a call from her favorite taxi driver, saying he was waiting.

They were almost to the location of the taxi when a group of the senior most in-system captains of Open Skies stepped up, bowed respectfully to Lady Mikah.  The senior Captain asked how they enjoyed the chocolates?  Mikah frankly admitted, "Well, the rest of the crew had some but I didn't trust them."  Nodding, the man said, "Well, that is unfortunate because that was a heart-felt gesture.  While we had problems with Zachariah Wood, we don't have or want problems with you and your crew.  And, if we can be of service, please let us know."  Mikah accepted that, saying they'd see what the future held?  The Captains thanked Mikah, bowed again and left.

Emkir asked if there were boxes of chocolate left?  When they did the math, they realized there were some unopened boxes left along with the uneaten chocolates in the possession of crew members.  Working that out, Emkir said they should have a big meal and celebrate with the last boxes of the chocolates for dessert.  Darkly, Mikah said she still didn't trust them.  And more than one oc the crew said they could all end up dead or sick if there was something wrong with one of the boxes.

In the cab, they talked about what restaurant they wanted to hit and Emkir alternatively asked what the cabbie recommended?  He also asked if there was a place called "Steak and Ale" nearby?  Rol made a badly worded joke about Astroburgers.  Zimzod asked about an Irish pub and Mikah suggested having an Irish wake for Zach since he was Solomani.  Munarshu looked around confused and asked, "What is Irish?"  Mikah just turned to him saying, "You'll find out." while they told the cabbie to take them someplace 'properly Irish'.  Mikah quietly planned to get plastered.

With Zimzod also planning to drink a fair bit, Rol decided to be the designated driver.  Aiden planned on not drinking because of his recent surgery.  After they got to the place, and Emkir saw the lay of things, he decided he wouldn't let his commanders drink alone.  So he joined them in getting plastered.  Terin and Munarshu planned to keep things light, along with Aali.  Despite their invitation, the cabbie couldn't stay with them, saying he had work to do.

The drinking began and Munarshu was pleased with the décor and attitude of the place, wondering where this planet 'Ireland' was, and when it had been settled?  Looking about, Munarshu took in the culture with the others and Mikah began the serious work of getting plastered.  Soon, she was lamenting her inability to shoot various members of the crew when she very frequently developed the urge to do so.  This was reinforced by Zimzod, who promised these were not just figures of speech.

Things really went into left field when Mikah complained about not being able to shoot her crew and Emkir grabbed a plate.  Throwing it against the ceiling, he urged, "Well shoot this!"  Mikah watched the plate hit the ceiling and shatter to fall on the floor and Emkir grabbed another plate, throwing it for her to shoot while others in the place started paying attention to the crew at their tables.  As another plate was grabbed, Aali and Terin reacted to stop Emkir while Zimzod realized Mikah 'just might' be that plastered, and made sure her weapon stayed secured and she was occupied by another drink.

When the crisis was passed, the crew all decided it was time to go home.  Back at the ship, with Zimzod taking custody of Mikah's weapon, it was just mid-afternoon when they poured Mikah and Emkir into their beds.  After that, Zimzod decided to "help Mikah work off the alcohol" and slipped into bed to 'take advantage of her drunken state'.  With the drunks settled, Rol started cooking a late lunch for the rest.  Terin went down to check the boxes of chocolates left.  He found there were three unopened and grabbed them all.  Returning to the ship, Terin made his way in to drop one in his stateroom before returning to the lounge with the last two.

Terin then shared the remaining chocolates around as they ate.  After chow, Terin started looking into Sir Brian's past history, to see where they might find a will?  What he found, after digging for some hours, was largely from his obituary and the articles published around his death.  Sir Brian had been in the Imperial Navy for one term before being discharged.  After that, he'd created a career for himself aboard a number of free traders, which would be a nightmare to try and track down.

Finally, he'd served aboard the Far Trader IMS Urlaegidl, which the owner had sold to the Fledgling Dankunlig Trading Line.  It was aboard that ship that he came to the Emerald system at the end of the war.  Carrying relief supplies, the Navy commandeered the vessel and stranded almost all of the crew, keeping the ship's Captain and First Officer only.  So, Sir Brian was available and desperate to get off that rock when the mission aboard the IMS Spinward Star had been offered.  Investigating that, Terin found Dankunlig Trading was based in the Regina system.  Realizing how small the line was, Terin decided to ignore them as an avenue to investigate.

After cooking and cleaning up, Rol relaxed and devoted some time to recovering from his wounds.  Beginning to relax, Rol looked into making financial investments in the Rhylanori economy.  Searching, Rol found many links to those who would take his money.  When he mentioned his thoughts, Inger said, "Funny think you should mention that."  The others listened when Inger described the 'investment opportunity' offered by the Officers of the Cursed Bastards of Sol.  Inger made it clear they were still under investigation for espionage.

But she explained, should those charges be proved to be false, they'd been allowed to launch an in-system hauling company and had good legal representation.  They had also had the chance to buy the IMV Durgarna Kishgi, a 20,000 dTon Dragger-class bulk freighter.  So, their assets were significantly more valuable than the KCr 120 debt the company held.  That ship, she said, would be coming into port the next day and she was going to be offered a tour with an eye to getting investors.

Inger also said the fund raiser was aimed at operating 100% debt free as they grew their operation.  Considering the information, Rol asked Inger what her impression was of the crew?  Inger admitted she'd only met them on a few limited occasions and the early meetings had not gone well at all.  Beyond the looming possibility of the crew being convicted of espionage for the Solomani, they seemed to her to be very honest in their intent.  When Rol said he'd consider it, she bounced him their prospectus.

After pouring Emkir into bed, Aali changed into a shipsuit and had lunch with the others.  While eating, Aali got on a computer to test the jewelry shop, and see if they had re-opened after the events of the night before since she still had to pick up her ring.  When the chat window was answered, Aali introduced herself, using text, to one of the shop's managers and made it clear she couldn't hear.  The manager made it clear the shop would not be open until the investigation was completed and the space cleaned up.

Knowing her role in events, he confirmed she had been looking to pick up her ring.  With that, the manager told Aali he'd have the ring brought over by a courier as soon as possible, and she thanked him.  The manager sent, in emphatic type, "No, thank you.  Thank you for saving our people!"  After that, Aali considered her damaged ballistic shipsuit and executive armor.  The damage to both were so minimal that the executive armor could still be used and the shipsuit could be repaired.  Eventually, she went down to the cargo bay to work on the androids.

Aiden sparked up a terminal to order a 100-round box of snub pistol ball ammo and delivery for Cr 200.  Munarshu figured it was time to get himself a carry permit, even if it was just for the Rhylanor station.  Taking out the card the cabbie gave him, Munarshu slipped it into a reader slot and was instantly taken to a site which had on it all the official forms anyone could want to fill out for any reason at all, on-station.  After a brief search, Munarshu found the form he needed and realized he only needed to fill it out, then submit it electronically with the funds required to start the application process.  After twenty minutes doing that, Munarshu submitted the form with a Cr 100 fee and joined Aali to work on the androids.

While Aali and Munarshu worked, the jeweler's courier arrived with the ring.  In addition, he had sent an emerald and gold broach as a gift, in the shape of a starship.  The broach was a gift from the shop in thanks to Emkir and Aali for saving the staff of the shop.  Along with the piece, there was a note thanking the couple for their actions and saying she and Emkir could buy anything they wanted in the shop for 50% off for the duration of their stay in-system.

Sending her thanks back to the shop, Aali also asked for the managers to copy the video from the shop's security cameras and send it to the ship.  Used to the odd requests of nobility, the courier said he could carry the message and didn't doubt they would be able to send her the video.  That done, Aali went back to work until dinner time.

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Next: Potential Profits And Virtual Death