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Assets and Investments

Rhylanor Prime      After having returned to the ship from the bar, most of the crew were relaxing while watching news coverage of Zach's funeral.  They listened to the talking heads rehashing the story and getting much of it wrong.  With the others in the lounge, Emkir was sleeping off his drunk in the stateroom he shared with Aali while Zimzod had climbed into bed with Mikah to 'help her work off' the booze.  Aali had returned to the lounge as a "drunk and sleeping Emkir" was a "limp Emkir"...  That meant no 'working it off' for them.  Still, she did increase the oxygen content in the stateroom to help burn off the alcohol in his blood.

By the time Aali returned, Rol had been making the others a late lunch and they had eaten as they relaxed.  As she relaxed, Aali went over the just delivered voucher from the jewelry shop providing her and Emkir a 50% discount on anything bought from the shop.  This was in deep thanks for them having likely saved the lives of most of the staff present during the attempted robbery the night before.  The voucher was given to her as well as a brooch.  And she was not charged for re-sizing the lanthanum ring Zimzod gave her with the Tellona diamond chip on it.

But at the moment, the topic of conversation had been the Cursed Bastards of Sol and their investment opportunity.  Aiden had been on the Instel-Arms computer site, ordering ball ammo for his snub pistol.  Munarshu was filling out the forms to get a permit to carry weapons on-station.  Looking over the scopes of permits he could apply for, Munarshu figured he'd apply for a permit that was temporary, but allowed him to carry everywhere in-system.

Terin was working on searching out positions in Sir Brian's past where he may have created a will.  Still, he was part of the conversation as Inger discussed the Cursed Bastards opportunity.  The summary of the investment was that the crew were in debt to the tune of MCr 121 and now owned their own Far Trader plus a 20,000 dTon Dragger-class freighter.  They hoped to sell 40% of their business in order to buy out their debt and operate loan-free.

Per their schedule, the freighter was to return to port that day and she was offered the chance to tour it.  Rol said he wanted to join her for that tour as Inger looked around the compartment to see who else wanted to come along?  Aiden also decided to come along for the trip, if only to see what a 20,000-ton freighter looked like inside?  Once that was decided, Aiden headed into his stateroom to get the laser-tag gear he'd bought and ask if anyone wanted to do zero-g training?

During the conversation, and while Aiden was retrieving his gear, Munarshu had been finishing his carry permit application.  Terin continued his data search.  Aali had been recovering from her injuries the night before.  She used datapads to talk with Inger and the others.  When she was asked if she wanted to be involved in the investment opportunity, Aali joined for the tour of the freighter.  Deciding that, Aali went back into engineering in order to check on the work Wall-e and the other 'droid had made on the disassembly.

In the cargo bay, Aali found the one 'droid had disassembled itself as far as it could without losing functionality.  Wall-e had both worked on disassembly of the other 'droid's and moved some of the dead 'droids into the other android's reach so it could continue working.  As a result, the one 'droid Aali could get operational was ready to be shut down for final disassembly before having replacement components installed.  There was also a large stock of the parts needed which had been set aside.  There was also a small stock of parts that would be spare set aside as well.  Not wanting to push herself too hard, Aali started reading up on the processes she'd need to undertake to get the 'droid fully operational.  She also decided she'd need to name it rather than calling it "the 'droid".

After he said he'd join Inger, Rol decided to spark up a terminal and check his accounts, to see just how much he had to invest?  It would suck to want to get involved with the offer and not have the cash to do so.  Aside from just over half a million credits which Rol had on account, the retired Marine was more concerned with expenses.  He knew he could quite easily go on a spending spree and end up beggared again.  On top of his cash assets, Rol also had two sources of annual income between his stipend as a Knight and his Marine Corp. retirement pay.  He also had three High Passage vouchers and, checking the calendar, could request another one from TAS.  Those were worth up to Cr 10,000 each.  So Rol was not hurting.

That determined, Rol began going back over his spending since joining the crew to get an overview of his expenses.  What he found was that, since boarding the California, he had only spent a significant amount when he bought his cloning insurance.  The most money he had laid out other than that had been when he donated to ship's funds after his interview with TAS.  Shifting attention, Rol started setting auctions for two of his High Passage vouchers before calling TAS to get the new one.  After that, Rol read the prospectus Inger had given him from the Cursed Bastards.

As he was working on this, and Munarshu on his forms, Aiden returned with his laser tag gear and asked everyone in the compartment who wanted to try some zero-g combat practice?  Inger, Munarshu, Terin and Rol looked up at the idea and Terin asked where he was planning on doing that?  When Aiden suggested the cargo bay, Terin pointed out that Aali had the androids and parts laid out down there.  As that was shot down, Inger turned on a vid to watch.  Aiden set his gear aside and considered the idea as he called TAS to get his monthly High Passage.  Once they electronically sent the voucher, Aiden began setting up auctions for both the new one and the one he had already.

Finished with that, which was a fairly easy task, Aiden started looking into space they could rent for zero-g practice.  He found was there were many schools and facilities offering every kind of training or need.  He was limited only by how much time and money he wanted to spend and how much control he wanted?  He could have gone, on his own, to join in with others in laser tag style gaming arenas.  He could also have gotten involved in combat simulation leagues, where combatants actually competed for prizes with matches broadcast to enthusiasts.

At first, Aiden looked into per hour charges, but soon found that the facilities that offered less than "Full day" or "half day" spaces and classes tended to offer services by "session".  So one got involved in one session, and when it ended the customer needed to buy another session or move on.  Of course, a large number of facilities offered customizable services for those with money to spend.  Indeed, they offered everything from week-long boot camps to fully immersive months-long training on a wholly owned asteroid after a brief trip by starship.

Eventually getting into some negotiations with a few places, Aiden gathered some good data on many kinds of facilities from schools to firing ranges, but decided to just document what he'd learned before securing from that and doing some reading.  He figured he'd keep doing that until dinner.  In the meantime, Munarshu was working the forms which appeared to literally put his life under a microscope.  Once the form was submitted, Munarshu read that the first step would be research in the government archives there in the Rhylanor system.  This was because a data request from even the next system over took at least three weeks and came with the cost of moving this data in memory rather than other messages.

As he read through the procedures, Munarshu found he was assured the basic investigation would take no longer than one standard month.  It was also dependent on data coming from further out as the investigative request moved on through other systems.  What disgusted Munarshu most about this was that he'd already provided nearly 25 screens of personal data and questions answered before he learned this.  So, the government of Rhylanor already had a great deal of data on him which could not now be refused or called back.  Given that, Munarshu decided he might as well continue anyway.  He was sure stopping there would trigger a sharper investigation of him for a different reason.

Fading Hours And Moving Forward

     Eventually, the afternoon wore to evening and Rol began to cook dinner.  As others worked or relaxed, Zimzod had helped Mikah "work off" a large amount of the alcohol in her system.  So while almost exhausted from an afternoon of sex, both were quite hungry when it came to dinner time.  As chow was served, only Emkir didn't show up, still playing dead in his bunk.  Zimzod and Mikah both ate to satisfy their hunger before planning to sleep off the afternoon rather than 'eating for energy'.  Terin made tea, though he noticed his supplies were starting to run low.

After dinner, Aali decided to check on Emkir to make sure he was still breathing before experimenting with her comm-dots, trying to route sound through her stent to hear that way until her ears cleared up.  As she did this, Mikah and Zimzod went to bed.  To sleep, this time.  Before dinner, Terin had learned Sir Brian had been in the Imperial Navy for one term when he was younger.  But the Navy and Brian quickly found they didn't match up, and Brian was discharged after only one term.

Still, this gave Terin someplace to look if he could manage the labyrinth of Naval offices, archives and other locations to find a will?  Admittedly, such a will might well have been superseded by a later document.  But it was a starting point.  Knowing the path to any will Brian had left behind would be a long one, Terin got to work on the search, calling up the first of many Imperial Naval offices.  And as Terin waded into the bureaucratic sea, Munarshu paid his Cr 100, and submitted his application before heading below to work with Aali.

After Aiden finished dinner, he fired up the entertainment system and sparked up a game to play.  As Aiden blasted away targets, Inger joined in.  This didn't bother Aiden, whose experience showed over her "flashier" style as he repeatedly blew her avatar away.  While they played, Rol pulled out the chocolates he'd stashed to "experiment with" and cooked up a few test snacks.  In the meantime, Aali and Munarshu were ready to start some re-assembly on the one android and had a huge number of failed components to start testing.  As Aali finally went to bed she planned an evil payback for Emkir, setting their stateroom alarm for the next morning.


Planning To Die - Lite

     At 5am, while Munarshu was waking to his normal alarm and beginning his morning routine, a wave of discordant sound broke forth in Aali and Emkir's stateroom.  Aali was suddenly wakened as Emkir, shocked awake, started thrashing and ended up partly landing on her.  Still, Aali was pleased to realize she could 'just barely' hear the sound, and more pleased it wasn't disturbing to her.  Eventually they also moved into their morning routines.

Once Aali and Emkir made their way into the lounge, Emkir signaled Aali as they both noticed movement.  Forgetting she would not likely be able to hear a response, Aali called out, "Is that you Munarshu?"  Used to getting up very well before the others, Munarshu also heard movement, and rested his hand on the grip of his holstered snub pistol as he waited in the dark.  Munarshu answered and Emkir confirmed for Aali it was her junior engineer.  When Munarshu asked what had them up at that hour, Emkir acerbically explained that Aali set a high-volume music piece to wake him.

Munarshu hit the lights as Emkir considered setting up communications with Aali until her hearing had completely recovered.  As he started setting applications on their datapads to receive their voices and print them on-screen, Aali explained her work with the comm-dots.  As she talked, Aali explained that she'd not succeeded but her gear showed her she was successfully shunting sound files across the network correctly.  What she was not doing was finding the link with the shunt that allowed her brain to interpret the data at all, much less as sound.

They talked while Munarshu brewed up some morning caff for himself and joined the couple where they sat.  As he joined them, Emkir explained the need to communicate with Munarshu because Aali still had not recovered her hearing.  Munarshu simply pointed at his data-glasses and said, "If you had a set of these, you could just set it up to record your voice and send it to the datapads."  As they looked at Munarshu's glasses, Emkir remembered he'd been given a set similar to them as a wedding gift but never unboxed them.

Emkir turned to Aali, and slowly spoke to her along with signs to see if she wanted to try his data-glasses?  When she said she did, Emkir went back to the stateroom to locate the container and set up the glasses.  As Emkir did that, Munarshu told Aali that she'd have to have each person in the crew speak into the glasses as she set them up, so the glasses could voice-identify each speaker.  While Emkir searched for his glasses, Munarshu made more caff for the others.  Eventually, Emkir returned and they started working to set up the glasses.

As they sat and talked, and worked on the glasses, Rol eventually emerged from his stateroom into the lounge to find it lit and people talking.  Walking over and looking at Emkir and then Aali, Rol asked, "What are you doing up?"  Once he typed his question into a datapad, Aali explained that she set up the alarm to wake them early and yank Emkir's chain with a smile on her face.  Having his answer, Rol said OK and set off to make breakfast.

Aali worked and Emkir used a datapad to ask her how he could help and she said there was nothing on her plate that was pressing or significant.  She only needed to continue working on the androids and manage the ship's systems.  After that, Emkir topped off everyone's caff.  In Mikah's stateroom, Zimzod woke comfortably to find Mikah still out cold beside him.  He quietly rose, threw on his shipsuit and went out to the lounge to see who else was up?

As Zimzod found Emkir, Aali, Munarshu and Rol in the lounge, Rol said, "Dig in.  I made enough for everybody."  Zimzod replied, "Alright!  Outstanding!" as he stepped up to serve himself.  Sitting with the others, Zimzod happily said, "How you doin' crew?"  Reading it on her glasses, Aali answered, "Crude, Rude and Tattooed" with a smile as Rol said, "I think we're doing pretty good.  Where's your other half?"  Zimzod answered, "She's still sleeping it off."  When Emkir asked if he'd take her some coffee, Zimzod said he'd do that in a bit.  But as he said that, Zimzod considered his dwindling supply of the grinds and thought about restocking.

Getting up to make himself a cup of coffee, Zimzod saw Aali's glasses as she started making some sort of adjustment to them.  What she was doing was identifying Zimzod's voice for the glasses.  Done with breakfast, Emkir moved to call and follow up on installing the x-mail safe.  Calling over to the x-mail certification office, Emkir was asked to pay for the license fee and did so from ship's funds.  After the technician confirmed the payment, the license was transmitted in an IISS-programmed wrapper which automatically updated the ship's data and transponder.

Emkir tracked the process and saw a file delivered which contained helpful and explanatory information on the process.  Reading through it, Emkir found he already had enough information from the firm he'd first called, and who priced out installation.  So setting that file aside for any help later, Emkir called to have the safe installed.  When they answered and Emkir said his ship had the certification, they asked when the Admiral wanted the safe installed?  Emkir said, "As soon as you can do the job, thank you very much."

Checking his firm's calendar, the man said, "We can be there in a couple of days."  With a grimace, Emkir said the ship would be leaving system in less than two weeks so they offered an appointment on the 308th.  Emkir said the 308th would be good and they set the appointment for 10am that day.  They also warned Emkir the crew should be prepared to have the power systems in the cargo bay shutdown for some periods during the installation and Emkir told Aali as she was sitting next to him.  At the time, Emkir also asked Aali if there was anything she needed to do with the housekeeping androids?

Aali said she wanted to talk to the crew and captain about the 'droids as they only had KCr 85 left from the sale of the datapads and they also needed funds to buy parts to repair the androids she was working on.  After they agreed to wait until Mikah woke up and talk to her, Emkir thanked the guy on the line, saying the ship's chief engineer had OK'd the work.  He then broke the call with the technician.

After he was done eating, and while he cleaned, Rol turned on the newscast.  While he started watching, Aiden came out of from his stateroom after his morning routine.  Aiden grabbed breakfast while Emkir confirmed Aali didn't need him for anything at the moment and Emkir said he'd continue looking into a possible will for Sir Brian.  Seeing Aali, Emkir and Munarshu apparently clustered and chatting, Aiden brought his plate over and asked, "What's up?"  Emkir looked up and said, "Aali hasn't gotten her hearing back yet after getting her ear drums stretched."  Being a smart alec, Aiden simply asked, "Wrong hole again?"

As he got a glare from Emkir, Aiden said, "Close proximity to a gun blast will do that." in a 'things we all know' tone.  Emkir then told him Aali was using the glasses to communicate and said Aiden was welcomed to join them.  When Aiden asked, "OK, what's the topic?" Emkir said, "Oh, just general.  How we're gonna spend our day to good effect."  Aali said, "Sorting out whose doing what at which end, and to whom."  As Aiden said he only needed to hear from TAS about his stent class, Emkir brightened up.  He said, "Since we're all waiting on stuff, do we all want to play laser tag?"

Aiden reminded them he had some laser tag gear, but they couldn't use the cargo bay because of the androids and parts.  He continued to tell them about the research he'd done to find facilities which sold "sessions" or could be rented out for a day or half-day.  At that, Emkir said he remembered seeing a place they could rent the night he, Aali and Inger went out to see the Rocky Horror Picture Show.  When he said that, Rol said, "I suppose we could all make a day out of it."  Emkir said, "That might be kind of fun." and Rol nodded, saying "Yeah, we'd get to shoot each other without shooting each other."

Once they'd decided it would be good to do, Emkir suggested waiting until the rest of the crew were awake so that they could get everyone involved.  After that was agreed on, Emkir decided to stand by and help Aali as she experimented with the settings and configuration of the glasses, and even tried to interface them with her stent.  Shortly after that was decided, Terin emerged into the lounge having finished his morning routine.  Greeting the others, Terin made his way forward to see what was for breakfast?

Moving from Chow to Combat

     As he spoke with the others, and Terin served himself chow, Rol sparked up a terminal and ordered a copy of "Lost Treasure Ships of the Abyss Rift", by Enli Iddukagan.  Published in the Lanth system, Rol paid Cr 15 and downloaded a copy directly to the computer.  He could then bounce it to a datapad for portability.  While Rol did that, Munarshu stepped over to a terminal and went looking for the full documentation on the engineering androids they had bought and were working on in the cargo bay.

When Terin asked about the glasses Aali was working on, Emkir said it was a work around as Aali still couldn't hear.  Once he was settled, Terin decided to chat with Emkir on his work on Sir Brian's will.  When Emkir asked how the work was going, Terin said he had run into some serious bureaucratic issues.  He wondered if the Admiral could help, given both his rank and title?  Emkir said he'd gladly take the work on, taking the data from Aiden and checking over his progress.

Checking Aiden's notes, Emkir noted that Aiden foolishly used the public user interface on the network rather than reaching out directly to someone in the office.  Emkir planned to start making calls after he was done with breakfast.  Aali saw the glasses had a built in 'audio translator to print' which could also automatically translate those languages loaded into its chip library.  Soon, Aali was done with breakfast and greeting people, so she could log whose voices were whose?  The only crew she couldn't record were Mikah and Inger, who were still asleep.

Eventually, Inger came out for breakfast and was sitting eating as Aali came to her to record her voice.  As she stepped up, Aali said to Inger, "Say a couple of sentences to my glasses so they can learn to understand you."  Mikah emerged from her stateroom to overhear the last part of that.  Not sure she was completely sober, and knowing there was nothing 'captainy' for her to do that day, Mikah considered going back to bed.  But then she recognized the glasses as the set given to Emkir as a wedding present.  She also remembered having seen such behavior from others before.  So Mikah waved it off and went for food.

While Mikah mumbled to herself, "I think this is something I'm going to ignore." the glasses caught the comment and presented it as text for Aali.  The engineer realized this could be a wonderful method of eavesdropping without paying any direct attention to the mark!  Especially in cultures that didn't have a level of technology which would make the tactic obvious or easy to figure out.  Then she wondered just what Munarshu had been "overhearing", as he'd been wearing his the whole time he'd been in public aboard the ship.  But Aali also tagged the voice as Lady Mikah's.

Terin, having handed off the search for a will to Emkir, hit his emails looking for interesting commentary.  A healthy amount of the news lead each half hour was on the shooting.  Another healthy chunk of the news concerned the aftermath of the announcement of the Arch-Duke's planned Grand Tour.  This included side commentary on how their Graces "snuck" in-system as well as spinning out conspiracy theories, etc...  As this continued, there was a sudden break in to announce news arriving from the Iderati system (Five Sisters Subsector).

Breaking news announced that a decision was made, in that system, regarding the Ardolla Meisler case.  Viewers were reminded this was a case surrounding the inheritance and legal rights of a purportedly cloned singer.  The judgment announced confirmed that the singer was an actual and legal clone and a summary order attached to the judgment ordered all rights and ownerships turned over to the cloned singer.  Along with this judgment came a secondary lawsuit and investigation into the speed with which Ms. Meisler was cloned.

Given that the normal cloning process required eighteen weeks, Ms. Meisler appeared to have been cloned sooner as the first tours with her clone appear to have been announced before the 17th week to start playing in the 18th week.  Given the requirements for transportation, practice, set up and rehearsal, this all appeared to have happened much faster than it could have.  And suggested the singer's representatives may have had a "spare" on hand.  A spare was the term used for a pre-gestated clone body kept in suspended animation until the person paying for the service needed a clone.  The practice was expressly illegal with stiff penalties for those firms violating the law.

So, while the singer appeared to be in the clear, unless it could be proved she ordered it, someone in her label was suspected of involvement and the cloning firm was under charges.  Another source of conversation about this breaking news were the initiatives launched by local nobility, including Duke Leonard, to order support and investigations of attempts to violate the rights of clones locally.  Arch Duke Norris even went so far as to send instructions and support to Iderati, which was now meaningless given the actions of authorities in the Five Sisters subsector.

As they watched the news and relaxed, folks started considering what to do with the rare day off.  Emkir brought up the laser tag discussion and suggested the crew go out and play.  Sitting watching the news, Aiden shook his head as he lamented, "Shoots me in the butt and steals my ideas." with a mournful tone.  Stepping up on that, Terin suggested the crew consider signing up for a week-long training class, ignoring the various stent classes several of them had scheduled, not to mention Zimzod's appointment in the Duke's court.

Emkir was the first to shoot at the idea, saying, "I think not", in a dismissive tone.  Zimzod hopped on the bandwagon saying, "I've already been trained in zero-g combat, so why would I take that class?  What's it gonna do for me?"  As the subject threatened to devolve into an argument, Mikah suggested they split the crew into teams and rent a space to spend the day battling.  When Emkir and some of the others reacted positively to that, Mikah acerbically said her team would include Zimzod, Rol and Aiden.  It was obvious she planned to "teach someone" a lesson during the play.  Emkir quickly announced, "We get Munarshu!" and Aali followed that up with, "Yeah, we know he has a grudge!"

From where she was sitting, Inger added, "Plus, he has the shiniest weapons so he'll stand out as a better target."  Munarshu answered her joke saying, "It's not 'shiny', it's buffed."  Emkir suggested simply spray painting the weapons flat black.  As that conversation faded behind Zimzod's, "So let's get out there and kick some ass."  Rol said he had a question.  He then reminded the others that they'd bought hardware to have their weapons integrated into their HUD's in the Mora system, and most hadn't come to him to get the work done."

Being reminded, Aali said she still had the small boxes of electronics and cabling ready for installation.  And after Aali said that, Rol told the entire crew that, for the next few days, he'd be open for work.  Aali confirmed Rol would integrate her gauss rifle and her reconfigurable snub revolver pistol.  Mikah said she wanted her new laser pistol integrated and had a kit for it.  Zimzod said he wanted the gauss pistol he'd "inherited" from Zach integrated.  Munarshu joined in with the "new" new shotgun.

When Rol followed that up asking for any requests for armor work, Mikah and Aali both asked about maintenance.  Aali asked about fixing the hole in her armored shipsuit and Rol said he could do that.  Then, Rol looked about for anyone else as Mikah said she'd discuss her stuff with him later, and they all agreed they were up for a zero-g battle day.  When Mikah asked who had the data on a place to do it, Terin asked, "Who's idea was this?"  Inger said, "Aiden", and pointed to the pilot.

As they turned to Aiden, he told them about the places he'd checked out and they discussed what they wanted to do in more detail.  Eventually, the crew decided they wanted to rent a space for four hours, as even Rol said that was the limit for entertainment exercises.  Once that was settled, they called a facility Aiden had looked up and said they wanted to rent out a small combat simulation room for four hours for "Team on Team zero-g competition".

Teams were first assigned by Mikah, who wanted those without combat experience to see just how deadly combat was.  Especially as some of them regularly suggested "getting out the guns" as an easy solution to issues.  After they made reservations at a place, the crew called for a taxi van and headed off.  The Cr 50 ride was a quick one and soon the crew were entering through an alternative entrance.  As celebrities, the extras had been planned out during the call to reserve the room.  So, there were no surprises and they let the driver know as they piled into the cab.  Emkir paid for the ride.

The Simulation

     Once in the facility, the team booked the room for Cr 3,000, which they all agreed to split evenly.  The battleground was a sixty-foot tall space with square measures length by width.  The space was divided into three twenty-foot tall open spaces, one above and one below a central region occupied by a holographic maze whose reality was enforced by force fields.  The roofless, floorless maze was configured with twenty-foot tall walls, so those rising above or below could see into it.  But there wasn't height enough to see into the entire maze.  Mikah chose Zimzod, as the team's ground commander, to lead the combat experienced team leading Rol, Aiden and herself.  Given his odd relationship with his weapons, Mikah had Munarshu lead the other team, handing him Inger, Aali, Emkir and Terin.

Zimzod's team was randomly assigned an entrance along the top of the maze, as one looked at a vid-projection on a wall mounted display.  Munarshu's team randomly entered along the upper left side of the maze.  Outside the simulation, the encounter was broadcast along with all the other competitions going on.  Seeing how close the teams would enter the randomly created maze, those watching saw this could get exciting fast.  While only a small number of tech's knew who the combatants were so far, anyone watching could easily trace a number of routes to face to face engagement, so there'd be combat very soon.

Aiden, who Zimzod ordered into the maze first, found the door opened into a left to right passage.  To either direction, the passage ended twenty feet down, where the passages turned ninety degree corners further into the maze.  Unable to see around the corners, Aiden moved to the left one, to take a position at the corner and check around it.  As he did this, Mikah dropped below the level of the maze, moving diagonally to the right of the door Aiden had entered.

On the other team, Aali entered first to see a passage continuing forward from her door forty feet to a dead end.  Immediately to her left, a door opened to another passage that moved forward alongside the one she could see.  Stepping into the door, Aali could see this passage had a branch to the left ten feet up and ended in a turn to the left another twenty feet further.  As she entered the maze, Munarshu followed her and Terin rose above the level of the maze to see what he could get of an over-view?

As Aali moved up to the far corner, Munarshu moved to the first intersection she'd bypassed.  Aali saw her corner turned to the left where the passage continued in that direction for 30 feet.  Munarshu saw his intersection moved into a short passage that dead-ended ten feet later.  Well behind him, Emkir led Inger into the door and into the dead end Aali and Munarshu had first seen.  There, they held up and Inger assumed they were holding the space in case Aali and Munarshu were pushed back.  Over them, Terin had moved closer to the maze, while above it, so he could see out over the confusing course.  What he saw were a set of folding corridors that came from his right and ended up dead-ending and creating the walls to Emkir and Inger's right.

Having moved to a visible corner from the entrance, Aiden saw the corridor turn right then left after ten feet and followed that.  At the second turn, Aiden saw a passage continuing before him fifty feet.  He also saw a door twenty feet up and to the right.  Aiden moved to that opening and took a barricade position there to scope out what was beyond.  Mikah Moved up behind where Aiden had been from below, passed the door he went through.  She continued to where that passage turned left ninety degrees and held there.  She could see from her vantage point below the walls, that the passage Aiden ignored ultimately turned through some cut-backs before becoming a dead end.

Having seen both Mikah and Aiden turn left from the door, Zimzod entered the maze and turned right.  He had gone to the opposite end of the initial passage and around the corner to find it was an almost immediate dead end.  So, he turned back to follow the others, who were well out of his view by then.  At the same time, Rol decided to drift up and scan over the maze.  Leading with his weapon for a quick right to left scan through his scope, Rol had the luck Terin didn't.

Terin was visually exploring the maze to his right as Rol's head and weapon hinted up above the wall to his left.  That meant Terin had no hope of even trying to evade as Rol locked him up and fired.  Visible to Emkir and Inger as he hove above and behind them in their dead-end, the pair were the first to see the "active" lights on Sir Terin's Combat armor go black as his joints locked up and he began to spin in place in simulated death.  That was how the word got out their team no longer had an extra man.  Ever the professional, Rol continued his scan and was able to clear the high ground as he announced first blood.

Aiden got the word while he was in barricade position at a door.  Ahead of him, a passage led directly away from him with two passages branching off, to his immediate right one after another.  The passage continued to almost fifty feet away, where the passage made a ninety-degree right turn.  Aiden moved to the dividing wall between the first two passages and cleared his view down both.  Mikah, below a corner wall section beyond where Aiden had been at the maze level, inverted so the maze above her now seemed below.  This gave her the perspective of scanning through what she now saw as the top of the maze, down through the walls at the height she had.  She then began an intensive scan of the areas she could see for targets.

Zimzod turned around from the dead end and followed the trail Aiden had broken to the left of their entrance gate.  His intent was to move up until he could see either Mikah or Aiden.  Mikah, who'd transitioned below the level of the maze had at least one wall between her and Zimzod.  That meant Zimzod was a door behind Aiden with a wall between Zimzod and the pilot at the moment.  On their side of the maze, Inger didn't have a very inspiring opinion of things as she watched Terin's body slowly rotating in space slightly above the wall behind her.  Emkir had already "moved on" shifting up to the door Aali and Munarshu had gone through.

Emkir examined the passage as Munarshu pulled his way along the wall to the end corridor just as Aali disappeared around the curve to the left at the end further down.  Since Emkir thought they were on point, he decided to pull himself up to peek above the wall.  He was extra cautious, because he knew an enemy had been up there and taken Terin out.  He planned to "just barely" pop up.  Since two were better than one in her opinion, and letting Emkir go a hint sooner than she did to give her a better chance to survive, Inger rose to peek too.  She had her rifle as ready as she could have it.

As Aali negotiated the turn she was facing, she found the passage split either directly to the left or forward around a ten-foot wall to continue ahead.  Choosing the second option, she saw that passage turned to the right some 25 feet ahead.  But the move cut her off from Munarshu's view and she was alone on point.  As these moves played out, Emkir rose just above the height of the wall to see a muzzle flash!  Inger saw the simulated effect of something very very close to her head being ripped away from the wall near her and ducked down!  Having seen some movement, Emkir took a snapshot and then moved to adjust his aim.

Coming around the curve to the right, Aali found the turn actually brought her around another obstructing wall to a passage that moved to her effective left from the corridor she'd started in.  As she began the move, she saw the 30-foot passage ended in a ninety degree turn to the right.  Behind her, and out of sight, Munarshu had jinked around the turn to the left still trying to catch up to his boss.  As he moved, Munarshu decided it was time to check the situation below the maze too, and pushed himself to an angle that would take him entirely below the level of the walls.

After being shot at, Emkir and Inger dropped back down below the wall and Emkir decided to check and see if things were safer below the walls.  As he moved, using the hand holds, to peek as he had when he rose up, Inger pulled down and put herself into a corner in the dead-end.  With her weapon ready, she was doing the one thing she felt remotely qualified for under the circumstances.  Preparing to try and shoot any members of the other team that came over, under or around any of the walls she was using as cover.

From his position, Rol called out to the rest of the team on the positions of two "enemy" as he shifted his aim point and the two heads dropped below the level of the wall.  As this report came across the wire, Aiden moved from his position between the two passages into the right-most one.  He then moved through a zig-zag to the left, to clear the corner the passage came to next.  As he did this, Mikah did her best to mentally calculate where Rol's identified targets might be and kicked off a nearby wall to drift that way while under the maze.

As Mikah moved away, Zimzod saw her kick off the wall and disappear under the maze and realized he had to play catch up.  Rol held the high ground so Zimzod pushed up to "hop" over the wall he thought was between him and Aiden.  As Zimzod did that, Rol figured it wasn't smart to stay where he was after possibly being spotted by the others.  So he kicked off into a drift which would bring him directly across the top of the maze.  As he drifted, he readied his weapon and scanned down over his sights through the movement.

As Aali got to the end of the passage she was in, Munarshu had finally made the lower edge of the wall and reached around with his gauss pistol to see what was below the maze on his HUD via his sights.  As he sighted, Munarshu saw a moving figure in combat armor!  While he couldn't identify exactly who the aggressor was, he knew they were from the opposing team.  Having a golden opportunity, Munarshu did his best to steady his weapon and squeezed the trigger.  At the same time, Mikah had been drifting along the line of her push and scanning the bottom of the maze.

Seeing the muzzle flash from Munarshu's weapon, Mikah answered with her laser carbine.  Munarshu's shot went wide as the burst of energy from Mikah's carbine struck Munarshu's weapon, creating enough heat transference to wound his hand and force him to loose his weapon.  Munarshu's reflexive response sent his gauss pistol flying.  Calling back to Aali and the others that they had a shooter below the level of the maze, Munarshu reached to unsling his gauss rifle as he withdrew from the wall edge and tried to move towards Aali.  As this happened, Emkir had also peeked around the wall's bottom to see a drifting figure shoot a pistol from someone's hand!

Emkir pushed down and brought his weapon up with a clean line of fire as Inger wondered if he was clear and establishing his own "sniper position".  So she asked, "What do you see?"  As Emkir answered, "I saw a muzzle flash", Inger readied her weapon and moved down toward the edge of the wall to be ready to support Emkir.  At the same time, Mikah fired a burst from her maneuvering jets to charge Munarshu's position, having disarmed him.

A Sudden Ending

     Aiden finished moving through the zig-zag to brace and clear at the door until he found himself weapon to weapon with Aali!  As he "hopped the wall", Zimzod gained enough altitude to look directly down on the two, though his line of fire at Aali would pass right through Aiden.  At the same time, Zimzod's vantage point didn't give him the angle to see that if either Aiden, Aali or both had looked down, they'd have seen Mikah rocketing just under their position as she rushed Munarshu!  But as she coasted, she saw Emkir dropping into her line of sight and adjusted the ready aim of her carbine.

Emkir snapped off a shot with his rifle.  Mikah had a better chance to respond because her weapon was already prepared for her assault.  She only had to adjust the line of her fire.  As Emkir's round nearly creased one of Mikah's armor panels, the Admiral was sent into a wild spin because he'd fired without bracing or any zero-g combat skill.  Mikah's shot added a stream of needles into that Human-pinwheel, as her fire ripped into Emkir.  As Inger watched, peeking below the wall, Emkir's armor went black and his limbs locked up as he was marked "killed in action".  Taking a risk that Mikah had to adjust after shooting Emkir, Inger pushed herself down into the open space trying to bring her rifle up to take a shot.

Above, and not far offset, Aali and Aiden were both caught in a moment of complete surprise as they faced each other across gauss rifles.  At an encounter range that was actually not complimentary for using long arms, the pair each tried to react and fire first.  Aiden put four needles into a wall while bringing his weapon to bear and Aali's fire also went wide.  Zimzod barely got to watch that as he dropped into the descent part of his "hop" and a wall came between him and them.  Coming down, Zimzod breached, pushing to rise and prepare to help Aiden once he was clear again.

As the word contact rang out repeatedly over the comms of both teams, Munarshu switched his fire selector to 'full auto' so he'd pump out ten rounds per trigger pull.  He then pushed down again, hoping to engage the aggressor who'd shot the pistol from his hand.  At the same time, Rol had been moving in a slow drift across the maze from above and was given a perfect "slot" view of the corridor in which Munarshu maneuvered!  As this happened, Mikah hit the thrust again to literally rush Inger, who was fumbling with her weapon and a hand-hold on the wall.

In their faceoff, Aiden and Aali both set their selectors to full auto and tried to take the other out.  Having each jostled side to side in a bid to put the other's aim off, Aiden's fire missed while Aali hit!  And while Aiden was marked "significantly wounded", he was not dead nor was he out of the fight.  Below the maze, Munarshu dropped with his weapon aimed to where he thought Mikah might have been.  But due to her two accelerations, she was not in his aim as he dropped, while he was still in Rol's aim from above!  In an almost 'déjà vu all over again' moment, Inger popped off a round with her rifle that sent her spinning as Mikah caught her with the edge of her blast.

As Mikah took Inger down, Rol sighted in on Munarshu and stroked the trigger of his gauss rifle.  the stream of fire hitting Munarshu seriously wounded the engineer as parts of his armor went red and locked up.  Munarshu was made aware he was seriously wounded.  Mikah's fire also didn't kill Inger, but she was marked wounded and was spinning wildly without the skill to regain control.  With Terin and Emkir out, Aali was the only member of the team unwounded and also the only one who'd delivered a combat wound.

Despite his wounds, Munarshu tried desperately to spin and fire on his attacker as Rol poured down more needles at the engineer.  Predictably, Munarshu's fire was entirely ineffective as Rol finished him off.  Mikah finished drifting up to the combat spinning and ineffective form of Inger and delivered the coup de grâce.  Mikah then used her thrusters to grab hold of Inger and stop her spinning to keep the former administrator from getting sick inside her armor.  With that was done, the ladies hung in the maze and watched Emkir and Terin spin in space for a bit.

Above Aali and Aiden, Zimzod had his gauss rifle ready and had drifted to the side in order to get a clean line of fire.  Unfortunately, the move had brought his aim point off target and Zimzod's fire went wide of the pair.  Just after his fire, Aali's simulated needles ripped into Aiden again as the pilot's fire went wide.  As Aiden's armor went black, Aali scored the only kill for her team even as she admitted to herself it was pyrrhic.  She would certainly not escape alive if this were a real shooting situation.  Ironically, it was at this point that the simulation's battle computer notified Aali she was now in command of her team.

Figuring she'd 'drive it all the way in', Aali did her best to turn her aim point and open fire on Zimzod.  At the same time Rol was able to turn and see as Zimzod fired an aimed shot at Aali's turning form and the two exchanged wounds, one with the other.  Where Aali was significantly wounded, Zimzod got off light.  Below, Mikah looked out over the bottom of the maze, she could see Munarshu's form slowly spinning some distance away where he'd been shot down by Rol.  With a giggle, Mikah then encouraged Inger to try some target practice and opened fire on Munarshu.  Inger simply stood by and kept her thoughts to herself.

As Zimzod and Rol closed in on Aali, she realized it was time to throw in the towel and admit she was DED dead.  With Munarshu howling "To the last!" over the comms, Aali surrendered to his will and tried to open fire as Zimzod and Rol poured fire down on her.  The nearly minute and a half engagement ended with Aali listed as out cold and bleeding out.  The holographic and force field enforced maze disappeared and gravity slowly returned to the simulation room allowing everyone to recover and drift down to the floor.

The Aftermath And Analysis

     Once the breakdown was done and the team moved into a connected relaxation room to recover, they saw that the entire encounter from set up to the last shot had only taken just under three minutes total.  With less than two minutes of that being actively inside the maze.  As the team went over the battle, Munarshu tried to put a positive spin on things.  He tried to celebrate that his team had gotten a kill against the better trained unit, and with a civilian along.  But that was shot down as his team's failures were analyzed.

A key failure was that almost half Munarshu's team had stopped right at the entrance to the battlefield and become almost completely non-functional after losing Sir Terin to a chance of luck.  Combat computers predicted the battle would have played very differently if Terin had not been taken out by Rol.  But the end judgment was that Munarshu's team was simply too timid and unprepared for combat.  Despite the shock and reaction, there were some laughs.  Especially when Mikah announced to Aali, "Next time, you're on our team and Aiden's off."

Relaxing after the fight, the crew saw it had been a total of twenty minutes from when they first arrived.  In that time, the fans of the fighting had heard there was a fight preparing and a few gathered around the monitors as the brief combat bled to end.  As the conflict prepared to reach its climax, more had come to see the end.  Even though quite a few were laughing, a number of folks were looking at the serious gear, asking, "Who are these guys?"  To the side, one viewer said, "Those guys suck and those guys don't so I figure it's tourists versus military."

But as the battle ended and more data was made public, the watchers suddenly began to realize who they watched!  As the word spread, and the replays were repeated, a number of calls were made.  So the media were just starting to make offers for the vids as the crew passed from review to showers, returning to the waiting room during the battlefield reset.  In fact, there were even small media crews there, waiting for the newly showered knights and Munarshu.  And while some of them were ready to go right back in, like Terin who'd spent the entire time drifting in a spin, Inger was certainly not ready to go back in yet...despite the media.

The crew realized they had few options as Emkir, Terin and some of the others mixed in to take their lumps and suffer the jokes.  Mikah started looked to stake out a space "not to be bothered in" when her comms went off.  Not surprisingly, it was a media outlet.  But as she answered, Mikah found it was a sports network!  Despite the oddity, Mikah killed the call before they could say a word.  Still, hers was just the first, and soon there were calls to all the team's comms including Munarshu's.  And those few who answered the call found they were being offered the chance to earn pay as guest commenters for an up-coming weekend series of matches!  The offer, to all the crew, were to appear as celebrity commenters in a special weekend of combat, starting in seven days.

When someone asked about pay, they were offered Cr 1,000 each per match they commented in.  And as Mikah acerbically questioned those who took the calls, she was told the one thing that surprised even her.  The networks were promising that if any of the crew accepted their offers, there would only be questions about the competitions...and nothing else.  They would even put it in the contracts!  When this even got Mikah interested, Terin asked questions like, "If more than one of us appears for a specific match, how does that change the pay scale?" and was told it didn't.

Eventually, the only person not interested in commenting on combat matches was Inger, who didn't need even more reminders that she was completely a civilian.  As the conversations turned to joking about what they could do as commenters, and how they could team up on the network to make the deal as expensive as possible, they even discussed the "grounding" of three of the crew.  But soon it was clear all except Inger were ready to accept the offers.  An agreement was made to have the crew come to their HQ later that day to sign the contracts.

Having found that signing the room rental agreement at the arena allowed the vender to freely sell vids of them fighting, they were annoyed.  As a result, Mikah decided to have Emkir call Brigg, Tander and hault-Vineschenz and set up representation to review the contracts with the networks before anything was signed.  After a quick description of the situation, Emkir was told this set of engagements was more traditional, but they were willing to admit they owed the crew.  Thanks to Inger, who had funneled some very interesting and important work through their company, they had done well and even raised the profile of their firm!  So they were willing to base the deal on the same they'd offered Rol.  Of course, less money because this deal would be worth less, but they'd be asked to pay Cr 500 per person, plus ten percent of the net.

But since Emkir was certain each crew member could make over Cr 10,000, paying Cr 1,500 was a small price to pay and Emkir agreed.  So, the firm agreed to have a lawyer meet them to sign their contract before meeting with the network.  With that, the meeting was set for 3pm that afternoon and their lawyer would smooth everything over with the network.  Once that deal was made, Emkir started championing the idea of ungrounding Aiden, Terin and Munarshu.  Mikah said she'd consider it and made it clear that if anyone felt that strongly about the idea, she could be bribed.  Inger simply said she'd stay with the ship.

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Next: Once More In the Grinder