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Last Updated     May 16 2021
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Good Deeds And
        Punishments


Punishment Where Credit Was Due
Regina     Morning alarms woke the crew, and they trickled out of their bedrooms.  They soon heard by either Jocelynn, Mikah or Aali that Jocelynn's battledress had been moved from the ship.  They still had to finish separating out the sections of video needed to re-assemble the armor.  Even worse, they also had to search both backwards and forward for each component.  Figure out how it was removed and from what?  They could then reconnect the components.  It would be slow going despite not having the time to spend.

The day was also Zimzod's sixth in the grav chair, and he was looking forward to being able to walk on his own two feet again.  Eating breakfast, Mikah wondered how soon her comms would start to buzz, because they knew they couldn't ignore the "official ceremonies" for transfer of power between Norris and Seldrian.  The truth was, she and all of the knights "should have" made plans to be there for the days ceremonies.  When Mikah asked who planned to go to the day's court session and ceremonies, Emkir said, "I would think we all should go."

Defensively, Jocelynn answered, "Not me.  Unless I'm called there."  She was on edge because she felt she was a very small fish surrounded by very large and dangerous sharks.  Hearing that, Terin asked, "Do we need to be there?"  Zimzod, who's most favorite place in the universe to be was 'NOT' in court, fixed him with a look and said, "Well, If you're called into the presence and you're not there, and they have to send someone to get you..."  Instead of finishing the thought, he just nodded and glared menacingly at Terin.  At the same time, Fesic just grunted, "Yeah."

After a brief pause, Fesic said he'd lay out an outfit "just in case" because it was better to be prepared.  Almost as Fesic finished speaking, Aiden announced he'd be dressing and going to court.  When Emkir said he'd go to court too, Aali gnawed on the worry that they needed her to be working on Jocelynn's battledress too.  Emkir simply looked his wife in the eyes and said, "Suck up to Royalty.  Start now."  Nodding, Aali accepted that and agreed she should go to court too.  That turned out to be the trickle that burst the dam as the rest of the crew agreed they should dress and go to court too.

While everyone dressed, the butler provided the crew with a schedule that said the VIP's were currently involved in military reviews.  The official delivery of the decree granting Norris' ascension would begin at 9:30 that morning.  Since they'd all woken at 7am, they had time to dress without rushing before they had to go.  When they left, the butler gave them a list of 'park and muster' locations where they could park the gravCar and then be moved to the event site.

Directed to a landing spot and checked in by staff, Mikah was then told, "Follow that android.  It will lead you to seats prepared for you and your crew."  Waiting until her face was not visible to others, Mikah rolled her eyes and muttered, "Nice.  Thanks for the invitations."  Others muttered it was a good thing they'd decided to come to court after all.  No one considered it might just be a test.  They were led to a long, flat grav-scooter that had space for them all.  On that, the crew were brought to a point from which they had to walk.

Getting to the "box" set up for them, the crew could see the seats had an excellent view of the podium to be used.  More disturbingly, Mikah noticed the aisle leading to their seats also led not much further down until it allowed people to walk out onto the presentation platform!  Pointing down the path, Mikah said "ut-oh" and others followed where she indicated before agreeing with her.  Emkir then said, "Something's gonna happen" in a less than happy tone of voice.  Mikah simply nodded and said, "That's bad news." while her tone made it clear she was not really surprised.

Until 9:30, the large screens in position for the crowd were showing the various military formations that marched past the podium's far side, where the Prince, Arch Duke, Duchess and other dignitaries watched and acknowledged them.  With little time left before the clock reached 9:30, the final unit marched down the tarmac and Mr. Dilgaadin rose to speak.  with the Prince and others waving to the crowd, the Seneschal said, "It is once again my honor to turn the ceremony over to His Highness, Prince Lucan Alkhalikoi."  Dilgaadin then stepped around and back to his seat as the Prince rose.

Again greeting the crowd, the Prince opened with remarks about the importance of the trained and finely honed weapons that were the troops of the Imperial military.  His remarks quickly mentioned the constant work to update both training and technology to provide the best armed forces, with the best equipment possible, to defend the citizens of the Imperium.  His words then shifted to a brief but stirring over-view of the settlement of the Spinward Marches and the frontier wars.  Prince Lucan's summation finished with a very stirring over-view of the Fifth Frontier war and the first victory of Imperial forces over the Zhodani.

The Prince then gave a brief set of comments assuring the audience the eyes of Imperial policy makers were now more "fully turned on the Marches" and relations with the Zhodani than ever before.  Lucan then pointed to new military contracts in the Regina system and improvements like the starport upgrades in the Marches that would speed up communications and reactions.  Still, this brought him to comment on those who had been watching and alert even before the most recent war.  And that led him to his comments on Norris' actions.  Prince Lucan told them all that there was more than had yet been made public on this.

Prince Lucan then spoke of records showing "then" Duke Norris had reached out to local and senior commands within the Spinward Marches months before the war broke out.  When he did not get the responses he hoped for, he then escalated his efforts.  He sent his data to fleet command in the Deneb sector as well as forwarding it to Capital and the Emperor himself.  It was because of that warning that the Admiralty in Deneb had begun quietly mustering a percentage of the core sector fleet and hardening the Deneb border with the Gvurrdon sector.  As he said this, there were uncomfortable rumbles through the crowd as most knew former Grand Admiral Santanocheev still defended his actions before being relieved and these comments certainly countered that position.

Prince Lucan explained that these actions not only prepared the Deneb command to respond and more swiftly support the Spinward Marches, but got word to the Emperor sooner.  Prince Lucan did admit word from Norris still had not reached the capital until months after the initial assaults had begun.  That still allowed orders to be returned to commands in the Deneb and Spinward Marches sector faster, possibly even a full year before they might have if warnings had only been sent when the invasion started.  Finishing his comments, Prince Lucan said, "...and so our Emperor has been moved to do this."

As Lucan gestured to a herald, that officer began reading the proclamation of ascension and declaration of the creation of Norris Aella Aledon, fourteenth Duke of Regina as Arch Duke Norris Aella Aledon.  First Arch Duke of the Domain of Deneb.  While the document was read, it was also projected onto the screens so all could read along, confirming the order.  They could also see how much of a treasure the document had been turned into as it had been created.  It would certainly end up preserved in stasis in a museum somewhere fairly soon.  Once the reading was done, Norris was called forward and knelt as the symbols of his office were placed on his shoulders and handed to him.

After receiving the applauds of the crowd, The Arch Duke sat as his family line was extolled. This led to a recitation of the previous Marquises and Dukes of Regina, leading down to Lady Seldrian Aledon Aledon.  When that point was reached, Lady Seldrian was then called before the Prince.  When she had risen, the Prince greeted her before working through his comments and into the historic elevation of Lady Seldrian as the first Duchess of Regina.  Following that ceremony, the Arch Duke and Duchess were called on to lead all the great officers of state to step forward and swear their fealty to the Imperium and the Emperor as represented by the person of Prince Lucan.

After a somewhat lengthy succession of personal oaths of fealty, the Prince turned things somber as he began discussing recent events in the Regina system.  His comments led Jocelynn to suggest they sneak out the back of the court and run for it.  Emkir simply and firmly ordered, "Jocelynn.  Sit Down!" while others in the crew laughed.  Prince Lucan briefly commented on the naval contracts and expansion of Regina's military ship building capacity he'd announced days before.  Prince Lucan then announced a review and realignment of units designated as "Imperial" or "Colonial" within the Unified Army of Regina.

This action would promote naval and marine units formerly considered "Colonial" with new training and equipment and promote them to the Imperial military roster.  The Prince then said he'd sent word to Mora and the Imperial Sector command ordering that two new Imperial Marine Battalions be created.  In addition, that construction begin for housing and facilities for those battalions expanding the forces in the Regina system.  Still, the Prince reminded the crowd that there were other responses that he was called on to give to the events of the last month.

With that, the Prince began personally summoning into court a number of military officers and government officials to recognize for their actions during the terror attacks.  These obviously had been decided in-system as there was no way the Emperor could be aware of recent events already.  He certainly would be once X-boat messages reached the capital nearly a month from the first alerts.  Still, that did not slow the Prince's hand as he called forward and rewarded multiple people with titles and awards.  These were as often enhanced by titles and awards from the Arch Duke and Duchess.

It was well into that list of awardees that they heard the Prince summon into court, Lady Mikah Kirlim, Sir Zimzod Egosion, Sir Terin Yundis Geryen, Sir Aidan Radetsky, Dame Eikusdi Piirirshu-Meshrumiikiim and Sir Emkir Meshrumiikiim.  Not hearing his name, Fesic fake-wiped his forehead as he said, "Looks like we dodged that one!" with a small smile.  As the rest of the crew filed down the passage and up towards the podium, Fesic pulled out some video gear to record what happened next.

With the six crew in place, the Prince announced they would each be created a "Knight of Caranda's Sword", a planetary Order of Chivalry selected from those who served to defend Regina. The Order had been named for Marquis Caranda, who was elevated as Regina's first Duke, by Duchess Arbellatra as Regent after the Second Frontier War and the end of the Imperial Civil War.  Each of the knights was given an electronic document confirming their elevations before they were each asked to move to other locations on the dais.  They moved about as Fesic continued to film and the Prince turned back to the crowd.  Prince Lucan then told the crowd more completely than had been in the news of the actions Mikah and her crew had been part of in reacting to the terror threat Regina had faced.

Prince Lucan's comments finally led the crowd to the reminder that those "reactions" had all been triggered by discovery of the plans, and even of an assassin!  Fesic's heart sank as he heard Prince Lucan's words and he lowered his camera while he and Jocelynn steeled themselves for what was to come.  While the events had been mentioned in the news, and even the names, so much had happened that the coverage had been more of a "quick hit".  Now, Prince Lucan reminded them all of the actions of "a small group of people" before he called two of those into court.  Sir Fesic Anfertirkåsmokt and Ms. Jocelynn Guerrek, late of the Imperial Marine Corps.

Calling Jocelynn forward got an even larger murmur from the crowd because they still remembered the lone survivor of the Regina Storm's crew and compliment.  At first, surprise created fear and Jocelynn asked for help from Fesic, who'd done this before.  Fesic only joked, "It gets easier after the first execution."  While Jocelynn and Fesic took their places before him, the Prince went into some detail on how they had fallen into the plot against Regina and the Duchess.  How they had investigated it and raised the alarm, forcing the assassin to attack them without proper preparation.  The Prince then explained how the assassin, hired by the terror network, tried to kill them and was eventually knocked down by Ms. Guerrek and finally critically wounded by Sir Fesic.

All through the description, it was obvious the Prince was not mentioning a member of the group, but the crowd already knew what this part of the ceremony was building to and accepted it while applauding Fesic and Jocelynn for their actions.  Finally, the Prince announced the creation of Fesic and Jocelynn as Knights of Caranda's Sword.  After that elevation, the Prince called Arch Duke Norris forward.  He then created Fesic and Jocelynn Esquires of the Domain of Deneb.  The Arch Duke also bestowed on Jocelynn the "Right to Bear Arms" and she had to stamp on her emotions to prevent herself from whooping out loud.

Finally, asking Fesic and Jocelynn to take positions with their crew as the Prince continued to speak, Lucan said they had one last person to honor.  With a downcast look, the Prince admitted that last person could not yet be rewarded in person, as he had died in service to the Duchess and was currently being cloned.  Still, Prince Lucan announced that Sir Rol Kaihvos would be granted a list of honors to be announced in the current ceremony.  He then announced Rol would be created a "Knight Commander" of Caranda's Sword.

Duchess Seldrian was then asked to step forward and speak.  She announced the creation of a new Order of Chivalry serving the Duchy of Regina.  This would be the "Order of the Unfallen", and would recognize those who had fallen in the service of the Duchy, only to be restored to life via medical science or cloning.  With the creation of this new Order, Sir Rol was created the Primary of the Order in absentia.  Duchess Seldrian also announced that, on his return to Regina after cloning, Sir Rol would be given "The sword of a Knight Commander" and 'a gift of his choosing' from Her Grace.

Because Rol's awards were the most significant to be granted in the ceremony, that was the end of that section of the event.  After the final awards were announced, the crew were allowed to proceed down the line of assembled subsector Dukes and Duchesses to receive their congratulations.  And, every so often as they did, one of their Graces would ask about the progress of the battledress reassembly.  Reminding the crew the sword of Damocles still hung over their heads.  Despite that, the crew had been inducted into a new chivalric Order and it was expected they would be greeted by that Order after the ceremonies.

Despite Mikah's hopes they could connect with the Order after work on the battledress was done, the crew faced the expectation they would join in to meet members, hear stories of the Order's history and perhaps even a few cautionary tales where past members had "gone wrong."  In the end, that meant the crew accepted that they had to join the party.  While she accepted her fate, Jocelynn's fears only grew when she wondered what would happen if her armor was not assembled when they were called forward?

A Change Of Directions
     While Jocelynn worried about the end of that particular road, others considered different paths.  Terin suggested calling the War House or Instell-Arms and was reminded the suit was "unofficial".  They didn't want to risk it "disappearing" if the called someone.  It wasn't like they could go to law enforcement if someone stole their stolen battledress.  And Mikah remembered the crystal fiasco on Inthe and was firm she didn't want "civilians" involved.  Nodding at that, Aiden next asked Mikah if they should ask the members of the Order if they had armorers?

The idea was a new one and there was a short discussion before Mikah shrugged and said, "Go for it."  Terin also liked the idea because he was sure they'd need help if they all wanted to avoid getting in trouble.  After they agreed that asking someone in the Order was better than hiring out, they check for any of the Knights who seemed to have authority in the Order.  When they found one of the Knight Commanders, Mikah stepped up to say her crew had an issue they needed solved.

The Knight Commander, a man named Vorryt, listened as Mikah explained they had to get a suit of battledress assembled by the next day.  She also said Rol had been their crew's armorer, but since he was unavailable, they had no one to rely on.  Vorryt considered the request without even bothering to ask "why" the suit was disassembled or had to be put back together and told Mikah to hold on one.  He then tapped a message into his wrist-computer and spent a moment or two reading and responding to messages.  He then said they had four members of the Order who were either armorers or "battledress system experts" that had said they were available and wanted to know what the problem was?

Vorryt then suggested they move the party somewhere where work could be done and Mikah thought they meant leaving the party to quietly deal with the battledress.  So, she told them the crew were housed in a suite on the Ducal Estates and the battledress parts were there.  Terin was the first to realize Vorryt wasn't just talking about "leaving the party" and when he said they seemed to want to "move the party", Mikah snapped at him that "the party" wouldn't fit into the suite.  Half-busy with his wrist-comp, Vorryt waved that off and said, "You folks gather with the armorers and go now, we'll get permission and set up tents outside your suite so we can move the party."

Questions of permissions and security were dealt with because all those coming were either Knights of the Order, charged with the protection of Regina and the Duchess, or honored guests who were members of the Order of the Knight Defenders of the Marches.  Even those catering or providing tents and supplies turned out to be Order members, thanks to a wide variety of elevated citizens following the Fifth Frontier War.  While Emkir called back to the suite to give their staff some warning, Jocelynn was entirely overwhelmed at a situation she could never have considered possible.

Half an hour later, the crew and four armorers were looking over the load of parts to which the armor had been disassembled and making their assessments.  One of the men nodded with a beaming smile of approval as he said, "Yeah.  You fucked this up good!"  When Jocelynn mentioned the videos, several of the men waved those away.  The idea they had was based on one of the men telling most of the crew what parts should be moved into what groups.  The other three would have "a helper" each, sending that person to check a group of parts for the part or 'group of parts' as they assembled the delivered items into the rebuilt suit.

Instead of building out each section of the suit and connecting them together, the techs started on rebuilding the central components which they then cooperatively assembled into the central core of the suit's chest and abdominal units.  From there, they would slowly build out the arms, legs and head by first attaching the exoskeleton internal to the armor and building out systems from there.  As they worked, members of the order came in with plates and mugs to make sure no one missed out and the suite was filled with groups of Knights who came to talk to the crew in their spare moments or even talk as they helped with the assembly themselves.

When they had a chance, Mikah and Jocelynn made sure the suite staff setup and manned the chocolate fountain and funnel-cake maker.  While they worked, someone had also turned on the vid screen and tuned it to the local news channel because things were not so settled in Atora that something could happen to which they might all have to react.  Especially since that was the day the terrorists had originally planned to have the assassination and other events kick off.  With the news going, they saw most of the local stories were based on the recent terror attacks and the Prince's visit.  But there were new stories from the interstellar networks which got significant coverage too:

    Regina (A788899-C  2  Ri Cp  G  703  Im  F7 V  M8 D  M6 V)               Date: 330 - 1113
    In somewhat of a surprise, a delegation from the Canaday Republican Union
    of Ruie attended today's ceremonies celebrating the ascendance of Duchess Seldrian.
    Attendance by the delegation appears to have been supported by Baron Sir Moh Ezuuh,
    the Imperial Consul to nations in the non-Imperial Ruie system which held Imperial
    client state status.  Attendance by the delegation, led by "Prime Caretaker"(Analog
    to a Prime Minister) of Jingarlu.

    Viewers are reminded that the Ruie system has refused membership in the Imperium
    since the initial invitation in 235 TI.  Ruie was later interdicted by the IISS
    in 325 TI, and that was not lifted until 1105.  Since then Imperial assistance
    has been provided to the nation Jingarlu and its allies against the dictatorship
    of Nebelthorn.  Indeed, it is believed Nebelthorn had been planning to invade a
    number of countries on-world and was only blocked in early 1107, when Jingarlu
    and other nations accepted Imperial Client State status.  Of course, that blocked
    invasion began in full as Zhodani forces arrived in-system on the eve of the Fifth
    Frontier War.

    Indeed, fighting between Nebelthorn and her opponents continued even after the
    armistice with the Zhodani was signed.  It wasn't until the 1594th Colonial Battle
    Squadron arrived in-system to take up the role formerly held by a small TL-A
    destroyer squadron from the 1156th Colonial Fleet.  On arrival on-station, Admiral
    Kidian Saldadaana ordered his surface attack assets to actively support treaty-
    bound nations against entrenched Nebelthornian positions.  Since those events,
    even more nations have entered the Comors Union and formalized an alliance against
    the country of Nebelthorn.  To this date, minor conflicts still continue as those
    fighting Nebelthorn attempt to recover territory lost to Zhodani-supported
    invasions.

    TAS continues to follow Imperial investigations suggesting a remaining Zhodani
    link to the government of Nebelthorn.  There are rumors of Imperial intelligence
    accusations that Nebelthornian authorities may have invited the Zhodani into the
    Ruie system as a stepping stone to Regina in late 1107.  It was that move that
    alerted forces in the Regina system even as advanced Zhodani strikes began in
    the Jewell subsector.  This follows on continuing rumors there may be a continued
    connection with the Zhodani within Nebelthorn borders.
                

    Rhylanor (A434934-F  2  G  Hi Cap  910  M2 V6)                          Date: 281-1113
   =====FLASH! FLASH! FLASH! FLASH! FLASH! FLASH! FLASH! FLASH! ======
    Late word has been released from Naval Command Rhylanor of urgent actions being
    undertaken based on data received from Admiral Uuela following actions in deep
    space some two months previous.  A spokesperson stated that the data had been
    received some time previously and there were delays as fast couriers transported
    investigators and orders across the region.  However, it has been decided the
    Admiralty had to act and are now declaring all space under the claim of the
    system government of Natoko as Interdicted.

    This announcement has come at a time of apparently climbing tensions from that
    system with expectations that surface landings may have already started.  This
    action increases what has been, to date, one of the largest interventions in
    Imperial history.  Normally sudden and lightning strike-like operations, this
    intervention seems more like a growing and massive tidal wave.  Despite this
    new action, there is yet to be any new announcements from the Natoko system.

    On a related note, TAS reporters have been seeking out any authorities or
    delegates of any type on Rhylanor.  Early confusion over the unavailability of
    any such sources led to an investigation of the same.  TAS has determined
    from the highest levels that all Natokan officials of any rank in the Rhylanor
    system have been detained either for research into operational data or "for
    their own protection".  Why protection would be needed was not immediately
    explained.  When questioned on this policy, the office of Leonard, Duke of
    Rhylanor stated His Grace was enroute to Regina to attend to the requirements
    of Arch Duke Norris and Prince Lucan.
                

    Regina (A788899-C  2  Ri Cp  G  703  Im  F7 V  M8 D  M6 V)                 Date: 330-1113
    Today, 330-1113, the Imperial Naval command of Regina released data received
    recently from the Denotam Naval Base(Vilis).  As announced in the Arden system
    on 288-1113, the Federation of Arden has acted to annex both the Utoland and
    Zircon systems.  This move came as no surprise to many experts and military
    observers, as they were colonized from Arden just more than a century ago.
    Word of this action has yet to reach Mora for official comment, however it is
    recommended Imperial travelers exercise additional caution if voyaging to those
    systems for the time being.  There has been no word from either of the
    affected systems as yet.
                

It was well after "dinner time", and much of the party had faded, when the work paused and one of the techs asked who the armor was supposed to be fitted to?  Everyone in the crew pointed to Jocelynn as Fesic proudly said, "Our medic."  That comment was so unexpected that everyone in the crew burst out laughing while the techs and helpers still in the suite wondered what was so funny?  As the laughs died down, Jocelynn was unprepared for the words as a Knight turned to her and said, "It's time to fit you into the suit, My Lady."  Yet again, as she almost looked for who the man was talking to, Jocelynn told herself this whole "having a title" thing was gonna take getting used to.

Of course, Jocelynn had to go into her room and change from her gown because that would not fit into the armor.  After she had changed and was ready, it took them a few minutes to snap her into the suit and start getting to work on fitting it to her.  While they did their work, Jocelynn, simply out of habit, activated the suit and started running the usual start-up diagnostic routines she'd run every time she'd gotten into the suit while on duty.  Each of the systems came up, creating a bitter-sweet moment as all the systems responded properly except the expected network connections from her team mates.  Those attempted connections simply came back as "Connection Unavailable" and Jocelynn knew they'd never be available again.

Of course, over the hours they'd worked, the techs and other knights had asked where Jocelynn had gotten the battledress from?  At first, Jocelynn wasn't sure she wanted to explain things but eventually decided they were all brother and sister knights of her Order, and she'd might as well.  She had asked them for a favor in helping assemble the suit and knew they might count on her bringing it if they ever asked her for a favor in the future.  So, Jocelynn told them her story.  She was surprised how much they all knew of the Regina's Storm even though she shouldn't have been.  The carrier had, after all, been named for the world.  And the recovery and investigation had only happened five parsecs away in the Inthe system.

Jocelynn told them she'd had no vacc suit, and come to feel her battledress was a sort of security blanket after the crew of the Hotel California rescued her.  She even admitted she'd named the suit, "Linus" for reasons many of the knights didn't understand.  But, she finally admitted, she didn't turn it in or report its existence when they got back to Inthe and she had to report in.  So, Jocelynn admitted, it was technically stolen from the Imperial Marine Corps.  That fact didn't seem to bother any of the knights she told and even seemed to amuse a few.

When she had eventually explained the situation to one of the senior members of the Order, Jocelynn also added in that she and the crew had been told they would report to the Arch Duke the next day with the reassembled armor.  There were nods, and then the knight told Jocelynn, "After you get done with them, come to us.  You really should come to your Order regarding things like this.  We can help advise you if nothing else."  Thanking them for the advice, things eventually were finished up and the knights outside had broken everything down and cleaned up so it could not be told there had been a party there much of the day.

After the battledress was certified operational and shut down, the last members of the Order said their farewells and left the crew alone and exhausted.  When the events of the next day and their meeting with the Arch Duke were brought up, Mikah admitted she'd not been told what time they had to be ready so she said they'd better all get up early.  Based on the butlers from the previous buildings, who all seemed to have had special skills, Jocelynn suggested asking their current butler, because he might have been warned.  But the household staff had only been warned a call would come when the crew were needed and such calls should not be delayed at all.

Not really pleased with how little help that was, Mikah said they should all plan to wake up at 7am.  She said they should make ready and all dress in their best business suits.  As they went to settle in for bed, Mikah checked her personal calendar, and was surprised to see a reminder pop-up showing.  Reading it, Mikah recalled the x-boat message she had sent from the Wypoc system nearly two months before.  The reminder told her that if all went as expected, that message was just arriving in the Equus system for transfer to an outbound x-boat to Rhylanor.  That meant the University of Rhylanor would be notified of the book deal in the next seven to nine days.  So, an auction could be held in the next three to four months.


An Unexpected Change In Plans
     As planned, alarms woke the crew at 7am, and they had all finished their morning routines and gotten dressed to have breakfast by 7:45.  Zimzod was still in the gravChair for the last day of his enforced confinement.  And while he knew his ordered jewelry and customized trench knife would arrive that day, he also knew they had more important business to deal with.  As they had breakfast, Zimzod considered getting himself a walking cane for the coming week while he was on light duty.  Emkir nodded and said he could see Zimzod with a nice 'wolf's head' topped walking stick while some others suggested a stick with a sword in it.

After eating, they waited for most of an hour and were told at 8:45 that the vehicle coming to collect them was on its way.  Hearing that, Emkir groused about not being given time to prepare or organize themselves if they hadn't already.  As Mikah agreed, Jocelynn suddenly started asking how the battledress would be moved?  She got worried there'd be no way to move it if she were not wearing it.  Since no one had been in this situation before, the questions started multiplying until the butler stepped in and told them those coming to collect the crew would presumably bring a means for moving the armor.  The answer was so obvious and calmly spoken that everyone accepted it and settled down again.

When "the vehicle" arrived, it was actually a number of vehicles of which one was meant for the crew to ride in.  The others carried two squads of Imperial Marines in Mk5 Combat Armor, carrying gauss weapons and conventional gear.  A team from one of those squads deployed with a set of gravLifters and asked where the battledress suit was?  With that answer, they moved in, secured the armor and moved it onto one of the vehicles in the small convoy.  Before moving the suit, an armorer did plug a portable computer into the armor and run diagnostics to confirm the suit was operational.  At the same time, the platoon's senior NCO directed Mikah and her people to mount up.  With the crew and armor secured, the vehicles got moving.

The small convoy quickly left the Ducal estates and drove deeper into the city of Atora until reaching the administrative core of the city.  There, they moved through the various sections of the complex until they reached the plazas surrounding the seneschalate towers.  Pulling up there, a smaller group of the marines escorted the crew into the building while another group handled moving Jocelynn's battledress.  The crew were eventually settled at a long desk at the foot of a lecture-hall like stage on top of which were the desks and podium at which the Arch Duke and his people waited.  The battledress was set up off to the side of the stage with two armed marines as guards.

If that wasn't "world-shaking" enough, Norris had Duke Leonard and Duchess Muktheswara sitting with him!  The crew were quietly informed that Prince Lucan wasn't needed for this gathering and Dame Elane was assisting him.  The advisement was not stated in a tone of comfort, and did not seem intended that way.  After the room settled down, Jocelynn was told His Grace was ready for her to step forward and be judged, though no one in the room was foolish enough to think she'd suffer any punishment on her own.

For her part, the most powerful person Jocelynn had ever encountered was an Admiral or General and she'd been able to keep out of their spheres of attention.  Now, she was summoned before a man who was, short of Prince Lucan, the most powerful person this side of the Iridium Throne.  A man who could, at a word, have her, her crew and even the population of her entire homeworld executed.  There was no word that gave meaning to how small and vulnerable she felt at that moment.  It didn't help her fears that the rest of the crew were then called in to stand behind her and share in her fate.

Nodding to Jocelynn, the Arch Duke rose and said, "Welcome to my presence." with the sort of smile that was almost that an uncle would give a young child.  After a pause, Norris continued, "Congratulations on your elevations yesterday." as if he'd not been one of the people to elevate her himself.  Jocelynn responded, "Thank you, Your Grace.  It was a very....  I'm most honored." as she struggled not to become tongue-tied.  Sweeping the whole group before fixing Jocelynn with his gaze again, Norris said, "I have good news and I have bad news for you.  The good news is that you will get to continue to enjoy your elevation, unless you do something that deprives you of it yourself."

After another dramatic pause, the Arch Duke continued, "The bad news is that the Imperial Navy seems to have lost their records of this battledress suit.  So, we can't simply certify it as a gift to you.  You will need to find some other way of establishing legitimate ownership of the armor."  Jocelynn nodded and said, "Understood, your Grace." though Norris very seriously doubted she did.  Still, he accepted her words and continued, "We do understand there are any number of people who do that sort of thing outside the Imperium, and we'd like to help you with that."

Those words shocked Jocelynn to the core!  She had come to the meeting fearing time spent in prison and now the Arch Duke himself was saying he was going to help her!  Even after specifically saying he couldn't do that.  It was all very twisted and Sylean, but she'd welcome any help from him!!  As Jocelynn considered that, Norris said, "Lady Mikah.  Will you step forward?"  When Mikah joined Jocelynn, Norris said, "Unfortunately, we have sent a number of people to the Arden system with orders to help us understand what is being planned there.  Sadly, some of those people have stopped reporting their data to us.  We would like it if you and your crew would visit Arden and see if you could help our people start reporting again.  And if not, then to gather any information they had or what you can recover and bring it back to us here.

As Norris spoke to Mikah, Jocelynn listened and wondered how any of that would have anything to do with legitimizing her battledress?  Yes, Arden was outside the Imperium, and in the process of building their own small Federation of systems based on the news stories she'd been hearing since being freed from the carrier.  But they had no real legal relationship with the Imperium which would let them legalize her armor.  Still she listened as the Arch Duke continued.

"On your way to Arden, you may stop in various systems and one you may stop in is the Tremous Dex system.  If you do stop there, it wouldn't hurt for you to look around there and see what you might find.  The world's port has a reputation as a 'Tortuga port' and ships of the Imperial Navy visit there periodically, trying to stamp down on any obvious piratic activity based there.  Our intelligence tells us that much which is stolen in the Vilis subsector finds its way there and is often smuggled out again, re-documented as legitimate cargo.  If you do visit that port, you may find a way to help Esquire Jocelynn resolve the problems she is having with her battledress."

Mikah nodded in thanks and told the Arch Duke, "I think we can handle that, your Grace."  Jocelynn realized this was going to be a 'hand's off' situation where anything that went wrong was not going to be recognized as the problem of anyone in the Imperium.  So, Norris had said, 'Go to Tremous Dex and learn to fix this yourselves'.  Nodding back to Mikah, Norris said, "Good!  You have four months to complete the job I have given you."  When Mikah again thanked him, Norris said, "I understand the Imperial Navy wants to talk to you.  You might want to check in with them."  Mikah said, "OK" as they all had to wonder how much worse this was going to get before they got clear?

Once more, the crew were excused from the presence of Norris and the nobility as Jocelynn was told the battledress suit would be secured in a "high security container" in the Upgrade's cargo bay.  They recommended that container not be opened until the ship left Imperial space.  She was assured the suit wouldn't be an issue with customs as the crew made their way out of the Imperium on their task.  Coming back into the Imperium, it was made clear it was the crew's problem to deal with if they didn't clear up the documentation.  At the same time, an aide to the nobility provided Mikah with the proper contact data she needed to use to reach the Imperial Navy contact wanting to reach her.

Leaving the building, Zimzod growled, "Well, what are we gonna do now?" and Mikah answered, "I guess I have to call the Navy and see what they want?" in a harassed tone.  But as she raised her comms to make the call, the device started buzzing!  Answering the call, Mikah was surprised to see she was being called by a uniformed Imperial Navy officer who seemed vaguely familiar.  When she answered, he introduced himself as Lieutenant Commander Martin Khirba Shurger.  All Mikah could think was that the man seemed to be in his mid-twenties and very young to be a Lt. Commander.

Then, Mikah remembered him from the meeting with the Duchess and the navy ten days before.  Even as she was remembering him, the man explained that he'd been assigned to help re-engineer Lady Mikah's ship to support a cloning gestation chamber to be moved from the INS Staupers.  Much happier now that she knew why the Navy wanted to call her, and it was a good thing, Mikah listened as the officer said they needed to meet to plan the work and set up dates when it could be done.  What neither of them had been told was that Rol's already gestating clone had been created on 325-1113, and that gestation chamber had been secretly moved aboard the INS Staupers in the days following her arrival in-system.

When he asked Mikah when they could meet, Mikah said she'd get her chief engineer and come to meet with the Commander right away.  Zimzod said he also wanted to go with Mikah as she told Aali they had a meeting with the Navy.  Accepting that, Commander Shurger gave Mikah an address where he was in the dirtside Naval offices in Atora so she could meet him there.  Mikah checked her computer and saw they were not far from the offices but not walking distance so she, Aali and Zimzod called for a cab because they'd been brought into town by the seneschalate.  When the cab arrived, Mikah made Zimzod pay because he'd wanted to come along.

Seeing the crew heading in different directions, Aiden asked Mikah about the combat gear bid sheets they'd sent out and Mikah said she wasn't able to deal with that because she had to meet with the Navy.  So, she told Aiden to talk to Fesic about them and left.  Terin planned to return to the suite and let his nerves settle after the busy few days they'd had recently.  Now she was a Knight in her own right, Jocelynn wanted to find the Order House for the Order of Caranda's Sword and have lunch there while continuing to meet more of her brother and sister knights because she'd been 'pre-occupied' the day before.

Overhearing Jocelynn's planning out-loud, Mikah called to her and said, "Get us some badges and lapel pins!"  Laughing, Terin changed his mind and decided to go with Jocelynn to the order house and Emkir said he'd tag along too.  When Fesic said he'd go too, Aiden decided he was going so he could discuss the bid sheets during the trip.  With that, the rest of the crew called for a cab while Mikah's cab picked them up and took them to the Naval administrative towers.

Atora was still a mix of older, "Pre-antigrav" small towers and soaring sky-towers rising hundreds of floors up thanks to in-built anti-grav systems.  Those were mixed in with still existing sections of even older and lower structures, even made from brick and other materials.  The entire city had been built and re-built to the point the wide boulevards and many plazas were filled with plant life and some of it was genetically encouraged to climb the sides of rising towers.  The result, as the various gravCabs flew through computer managed traffic corridors was of a garden-city below.  There were few signs of damage in those points where the city had been targeted by orbital fire in the recent war.

When Mikah's group arrived, they were able to check in at the front security desk.  After a quick call to confirm their appointment, Mikah was told how to get to the office Commander Shurger was using.  The ride up the lifts was quick and they soon got done with introductions and down to business.  One thing that made the conversation easier was that Shurger already had the full schematics and engineering readouts on their ship on a large holo-projection hovering next to his desk.

Getting right into the discussion, the Commander told Mikah he had a couple of topics to discuss with her before the work could be planned.  First, he confirmed, "As you know, Her Grace wants you to have a gestation chamber aboard so you can carry the growing clone of Sir Rol and be able to decant him on your own if needed, while you proceed about your travels."  When Mikah nodded, he continued, "What Her Grace did not mention was that you will need to have a neural scan/transfer unit available if you are to decant Sir Rol's clone once it is ready."  When Mikah only nodded and accepted that, the Commander turned to Aali and asked, "And you are the ship's chief engineer.  Correct?"

After Aali nodded, he asked if they still wanted to remove one of the Upgrade's low berths to create space for the gestation chamber and Aali said she thought that would be easiest considering the power and systems reconfigurations needed.  Turning and considering the ship schematics, the Commander said the work could be as easily done in any stateroom or other location which already had power conduits running to it on the ship.  When he pointed out that any stateroom could be used just as easily, Aali realized they didn't need to increase the workload by removing a low berth.  Using Rol's own stateroom would make things much easier.

With that decided, Aali and the Commander discussed in more detail just how the work would be done and what electronic and systems changes needed to be made to Rol's stateroom, including packing all Rol's gear into storage.  Ultimately, the work teams would need access to the common lounge area of the ship, Rol's stateroom and the ship's engineering section.  They wouldn't even need access to the ship's bridge or other sections so those could be locked off.  When they were happy with the plan they'd set up, the Commander asked when they could move their ship up into orbit to get the work done?  Aali turned to Mikah, who said they just had to call for one of their pilots to meet them and they could do it right away.

When Mikah asked who Aali wanted as pilot for the jaunt, Aali chose Emkir and Mikah told her to make the call for Emkir to meet them back at the suite so they could get the crew's rented gravCar and go down to the port.  At the same time, Commander Shurger started making the calls to the IMS Staupers, so her crew would be ready to receive the Upgrade.  Before Mikah and the others left, Commander Shurger got off the comms and said he was advised the Staupers crew were extremely well trained in securing ships docked with theirs because it was normally done in combat or during crisis situations.  So, they were expected to dock "airlock to hatch" with the Staupers.  Then, they would turn the Upgrade over to the Navy, and the work would take three days.

Mikah thanked Shurger for his work and they got moving as Aali called Emkir.  Down in the plaza, the three called for a cab to get them back to the suite so they could meet Emkir there.  Aali got Emkir well after that group had gotten to the Order House and he said he could bring the three their supply of Order Badges and pins.  They signed off as Emkir called for a cab on his own and Mikah, Zimzod and Aali hopped a ride to the suite.  Half an hour later, the four of them had gathered at their rental and started off for the port.

Drinks And Data
     In the cab, Aiden asked Fesic where they were on the bid sheets they'd sent out for the comm dots and other gear?  Fesic reminded him they'd had answers back from two of the three firms and were waiting on the third response.  he also pointed out that he and Aali had sat down to vet the two responses and while Instell-Arms was more expensive, their equipment quality was likely better.  When Aiden asked, Fesic said they'd put the bid sheets out on 318-1113, so it had been 13 days.  Considering that, both men agreed the third firm was not likely going to respond.  Because of that, they agreed to talk to Mikah about it later.

Jocelynn paid for the cab since she'd wanted to visit the Order House.  While this facility was less prestigious, it was also much more established.  On arrival, they were told the building had been a historic structure when the Order had taken it over.  They then used modern technology to carry out an internal renovation.  And even that work had been done several centuries before, so the building had a very classic appearance both inside and out.  Eventually, other work had slowly been done as the Order took over the entire block of structures in which the building stood.  Because of that, the Order had a number of separate structures such as a performance theater and several hotels.

The arrival of the crew was noted as they signed in on the guest book.  Because it was an electronic device, the entry of their names was not only checked against the rolls of the Order, but other actions and pre-programmed reactions were set in motion.  That was why the Primary of the Order received a chime-warning and electronic note as he worked on his paperwork from the day before.  That was also why the crew were interrupted as they got to know some of their brother and sister knights in the entry hall by the arrival of the Order's Primary.  He took the chance to personally greet Jocelynn and the others.

As it happened, the man had heard Jocelynn asking about Order pins and other whatnot as he arrived and grandly said, "What?  Lapel pins?  We can get you those!" as he stepped up to introduce himself and greet them.  When some in the group tried to wave off the idea of pin-on badges, the man reminded them all that many people wear lapel pins for different reasons so a badge might be better in some cases.  Aiden had to admit he had lapel pins with his coat of arms on them, and Zimzod had ordered similar pins.  So, pin-on badges might be better for them.  Leading them to where they could sit and talk a bit, the man gave orders they be given a supply of pins and badges as a gift.

The Primary introduced himself as Sir Dan Sapiil Shas and, when Jocelynn mentioned they'd come for lunch, said they could scare up some spare food from the restaurants and gather the staff to meet new members of the Order.  Jocelynn wasn't the only member of the crew pleased to be treated to a free lunch!  As they gathered with and met other Knights of the Order House staff, they learned "many" Knights had been elevated over the past three years, for their services in the Fifth Frontier War.  A number of their brother and sister Knights had just been ordinary citizens like Jocelynn until the siege forced them all to serve wherever they were needed.

So, regardless of chronologic age, the "Old Guard" were Knights who had earned their titles(or inherited them) before the war and the "Young blood" were titles earned during the war.  Jocelynn and her group were something new, with the special respect of having done something considered 'truly heroic' rather than just pulling together and doing what had to be done in battle.  If Jocelynn was honest with herself, the reverence made her even more uncomfortable.

It didn't take the servers long to fill a table with many of the best foods and drink from Regina, and the crew were enjoying a nice little impromptu party in the order house, listening to stories from the war.  They had to admit, a number of the stories were grim and none were "softened" because everyone there was a veteran and they all shared the pain.  It was quite a bit into this when Emkir's comms went off and he answered to find Aali was calling him.  After she explained that they had to move the ship, Emkir made his excuses and Sir Dan had someone call Emkir a cab.

While Jocelynn's group hung out at the Order House, a call had gone out for those who might find it convenient to drop by and meet the new members.  It wasn't long after that when Terin spotted a man wearing the insignia of one of the Order's "Knight Commanders" who looked very familiar.  Looking again and more closely, Terin realized this man's 'day job' must be as the Curator of the Cryptology museum because that was where he first met the man.  When Terin had to laugh at his own situation, the curator looked him up and down and muttered, "I guess the Order accepts anyone these days."  As Terin rolled with it, quipping, "I know.  They've really dropped their standards." the curator turned and walked away.

While the crew spent a good part of the afternoon swapping war stories and chatting, Jocelynn felt someone bump her elbow.  Looking up, she saw Sir Vorryt, who had gotten her and the crew help with the battledress the day before.  When she recognized him, the man tilted his head and said, "Would you like to come with me?"  Getting up, Jocelynn answered, "I would love to come with you." in a tone making it clear she knew she owed him.  Following along, Vorryt pointed out things in the facility as they walked.  Soon, he brought her through a door and into some back passages before they came to another door.  There, Vorryt knocked and a voice told him to enter.

When they stepped into the office, Jocelynn quickly realized this was the office of the Primary of the Order.  Sir Dan had gone back to his work after getting to talk to each of the new knights for a bit and get a feel for them, and had returned to his office.  One of the items that had been waiting on his desk was a report from Sir Vorryt and Jocelynn could tell it was related to herself and the crew.  There were two others in the office, who stood and introduced themselves.  And one of them was not a member of the Order of Caranda's Sword.  He was a Knight Commander of the Order the Knight Defenders of the Marches, to which most of the crew belonged.  He said he'd just happened to be in-system and decided to check into what was happening with his brother and sister knights.

After the introductions, Sir Dan asked Jocelynn to sit and asked her to explain the problem she had with her battledress?  With a sigh, Jocelynn went over the events aboard the Regina's Storm and her rescue by Mikah's crew.  She admitted that she'd known she'd essentially stolen the suit from the Marines, but felt she needed the suit in order to be effective.  Jocelynn then went over the meeting they'd had before the Arch Duke and his decisions on the matter.  Looking about, at the others, Sir Dan nodded when someone said, "Memory Worm".

When Jocelynn didn't understand what was said, Sir Vorryt told her the best way to "remove records" from the Imperial Navy database was to introduce a memory worm into the data.  He explained you could include specific data to target, like the serial numbers of a group of battledress suits, and send it on its way.  If the worm was part of a packet with a high enough level of authorizations, then it wouldn't just affect the database you added it to, but every database the data was copied to.  Sir Vorryt shrugged and said, "So, if you were, say, the Prince.  And you authorized the worm to be added to a regular Naval data update.  Then, that update would be shared out to all ships here at Regina.  And when those ships went out, they'd share it with other ships.  Eventually, such a worm could erase the serial numbers from all databases fleet wide."

Listening to Sir Vorryt, Jocelynn's jaw nearly dropped at how much had to be done simply to hide one suit of armor!  And it wouldn't just be "one suit" because a gap like that would be noticeable.  So, it would likely have been the entire block of suits which had been aboard the Regina's Storm.  Jocelynn began to see the turns her life had taken were sucking her down a wormhole, into a whole new universe she'd have to get used to.  Especially if she had people that high up in the Imperium making moves behind her back.  This time, for her benefit, but that could also change...  All he would say at the moment was that she has some serious ass kissing to do.  And that was something they all agreed with.

Moving on from that pothole, Sir Dan asked, "So, they told you to go to Arden?"  When Jocelynn said they had, the others nodded and Sir Dan said there was one piece of good information there.  When Jocelynn wasn't certain what he meant, Dan explained, "They specifically mentioned the Tremous Dex system."  Getting a bit of a glazed look in his eyes, Sir Dan said, "Tremous Dex is....an interesting system" with an introspective tone.  Pulling some data up on his work computer, Sir Dan said it was a high tech system without the industrial base to support itself.  That meant their support, not to mention their tech, came from somewhere else.

Another interesting note Sir Dan pointed out was that Imperial and Zhodani fleets had fought each other in the system on 302-1108.  That meant there could be unrecovered hulks drifting in that space.  He then muttered, "Not that the locals wouldn't have picked over them if they could."  He continued, "Despite the lack of anything to build with, the system has several top-notch shipyards and altered designs of raiders believed to have had work done there showing high quality work.  That's another suggestion what might have happened to some of those hulks."  The IISS Data suggests just over 30 thousand people "officially" live in the system, under the near-anarchistic control of a number of shipyard crews, port masters and a so-called Pirate Guild.

Looking Jocelynn in the eyes, Sir Dan said, "Since they are noted for getting hold of other people's cargo and re-documenting it as their own, I expect they can solve your battledress problem.  If they don't steal if from you or kill you while trying."  The last part of that didn't thrill Jocelynn as she asked if there were any specific persons or groups she should look for there?  Shaking his head, Sir Dan told her they couldn't introduce her to the people she might need.  But he did say he could give her a letter of introduction to some people they've done business with from time to time.  If she connected with them, they might be able to help her find the people she needed or wanted.

After that, the Primary had a hard-copy letter of introduction printed and gave it to Jocelynn in a letter storage case.  He explained there was no guarantee the person she was reaching would have a computer handy at the time.  They also recommended that, as much as possible, the crew do their best to do business using hard currency rather than electronic transfer.  Nodding, Jocelynn thanked the Primary and the others for their advice and was again congratulated on her elevation and welcomed to the Order before she was sent back out to her crew and those still chatting in the main hall.  There, she started buying people drinks and hoping to learn from their experiences.

Crossing T's And Dotting I's
     Riding down to the port, they talked about how this would be carried out.  Mikah explained to Emkir that the Upgrade had to dock 'dorsal to ventral' with the medical ship and then that ship's crew would begin securing the Upgrade in place.  After that, they would have to pack all of Rol's goods so the engineering team could work.  Then, Mikah or Emkir could pilot the Probe as they returned back dirtside.  Parking in the available space, Emkir sparked up the flight systems as Aali went back to engineering to work with the androids.  Mikah checked her logs and saw the ship had been entered using Imperial security codes.  A note was entered into the logs that a "high security container" had been placed in their cargo bay.  Mikah nodded because that would be Jocelynn's battledress.

After getting flight authorization to lift, Emkir started pinging the Imperial Navy frequency Mikah had from Commander Shurger.  After the INS Staupers responded, Emkir asked for an approach direction from them.  Lifting from the bay, Emkir then got a priority traffic corridor from the port and burned for low orbit.  There, Emkir took his readings and re-oriented the ship before beginning his burns to the higher orbit occupied by the naval squadron in which INS Staupers hung.  Contacting their bridge, he confirmed they had him in-bound as did Naval orbital security control.

While they flew, Mikah got word from Commander Shurger that he'd taken a shuttle to the Staupers.  He was waiting for them to dock so he and his team could board Upgrade for a full walk-down of the work sites and essential systems.  The 'less than happy news' was that there was no easy path to Rol's stateroom.  While there was a hatch leading to hard vacuum above the passage outside his stateroom door, that was too small to move in the gestation chamber, not to mention the batteries keeping it working during the move.  That meant the 'best route' was to bring the chamber in through the ship's main air-lock.  Then, they'd have to move it aft through the main lounge, going through the aft iris valve there, to the passage off which Rol's stateroom was located.

The good news was that the work space was compact.  Once the team were in Rol's stateroom, there was a hatch leading directly to the engineering spaces on the deck below.  So, before they moved the chamber in, they could open that hatch and the stateroom door and remove everything they had to in zero-g.  That would let them call orders from the stateroom directly to those in engineering through the open hatch.  The same would be the case as they maneuvered the chamber in and installed it.  After that, moving in the neural console and supporting computer/electronics systems and connecting them up would be simple.

When they arrived and docked with the medical ship, they exchanged introductions and found the Staupers' chief engineer would also be taking part in the exercise.  She said her Captain had been notified -"From the highest levels"- that if anything went wrong, she and her people would be held responsible.  She also quietly mentioned there was a noticeable increase in interest from the ship's Marine contingent.  The contingent's commander had even ordered a standing guard on the chamber ever since the cloning began.  That was in respect for someone who had been awarded the Starburst and live to tell about it.

After the ships were secured in space, the two groups re-boarded the Upgrade and walked, step by step, through what they would be doing.  When they got to Rol's stateroom, Mikah's access was required to unlock the door so they could go in.  There, they found Zimzod already working to pack and secure Rol's gear so they could work.  The naval engineers gave them guidance for what could be left in place and secured rather than moved.  The chief confirmed with Mikah that they could use Rol's bed as the position on which to set up the neural imaging station.  Mikah said that was fine if they could fit the computer systems in where needed.

After that, Mikah and Aali needed to turn over the control codes for the systems that would be needed.  Then, Aali went down to engineering and powered down most of the systems on the ship.  She left the few needed mains and multiple backups running.  She also left the ship's power plant on 'trickle'.  While she did that, Emkir went to the bridge and issued the proper lock-outs for systems the engineers wouldn't need, and sealed all portals that wouldn't be needed.  He double-checked that no one could get into the cargo bay, where Jocelynn's battledress was stored for the moment.

While they did that, Mikah joined Zimzod in moving Rol's gear and weapons.  They were soon joined by Aali and Emkir, after their tasks were done.  Shortly after that, the group had moved all of Rol's gear and secured it so the navy team could work.  They then moved to the Probe's bay and sparked up the systems.  Again, Emkir called out for flight clearance from the Navy and requested landing approval from orbital flight control.  With approvals from them, Emkir hit the thrusters as Mikah called down to remind the port they were returning.  The landing went smooth and it was just getting to late afternoon as the four of them got back to the suite.  Finding no one there, Mikah checked and found they were still at the Order house and decided to join them there.  Still, Zimzod was told he had two deliveries.  In one, he found his trench knife and in the other, he found his ordered jewelry.

Dinner And Deals
     When Mikah and the others arrived at the Order house, things had been dying down for some time.  Still, Mikah and Zimzod's names were more well-known than the others, except Rol and perhaps Jocelynn at the moment.  So, when they arrived with Emkir and Aali, more of the staff came out to shake hands, meet and talk.  Mikah found Jocelynn had been buying beers and sitting with Knights and chatting or listening to their stories.  The others had also been spending their time talking with locals, and there were a handful of Knights from the Order of the Knight Defenders of the Marches who greeted the four.

When they signed in and the Primary got the word, he had a "high table" set up as he came out to greet them personally.  Terin had found a number of members of the Order with Darrian ancestry and he made an effort to get to know them better.  From their stories, Terin had learned a number of biologic Darrians on the world had worked supporting technical units.  Those teams helped core combat units fight their way into orbit and strike at the Zhodani siege that had surrounded the world during the war.

A particular knight had specialized in frying hatch security on Zhodani ships.  He, and the people he taught, would make high-risk lifts into orbit and then make EVA assaults to reach Zhodani ships.  Once on the hull of a ship, he would use his gear to fry any hatches they found to allow the Marines to fight their way aboard.  And all that work happened while the ships they rode to orbit on were under heavy fire.  Then, the marines protected him against counter-boarding teams swarming up from other hatches to fight off Imperial attacks.  He would then make a leap to get free of the Zhodani hull and use a personal re-entry pack to return to the surface of Regina.  When asked, he guessed he had done over fifty personal re-entries throughout the war.

One thing that bothered Terin about that man, as the others also were bothered by some of the stories they heard, was why these people had not been more significantly recognized?  Stories like that of the man Terin had talked to were astounding.  The man had been a simple low-level electronics technician working his regular job until the war began.  Then, he hadn't even enlisted.  He simply heard the call for electronics technicians and showed up.  Eventually, he became a veteran of over fifty operations where each could have been considered a suicide mission.  Terin eventually swapped information with the man, Sir Zigal Nobhal, as they talked.

Eventually, things started to settle down as the time got closer to dinner and the crew decided to return to the suite.  Getting back, Mikah was told they had a message on the suite comms.  When Mikah checked the message, she found it was a file from the seneschalate providing her with the contact information she should be able to use to try and find the team that had been sent to the Arden system.  The file also provided basic descriptions of the two four-person teams and some possibly obvious recommendations.  These suggested not using local networks while using the provided codes and destruction of the bulk of the file before leaving Imperial space.

The bad news was that this was all the information they could expect from anyone from the seneschalate or on the teams they'd be looking for.  The good news was that they knew where they had to go, and what they had to do.  And with no ship for the next three days.  So, they had three days free to do whatever they wanted outside of planning what they would do next.  Aiden brought up the first issue when he told Mikah what he and Fesic had talked about regarding the combat gear order.  Mikah first asked how long they'd been waiting and, when she was told it had been 13 days, said they should just say "screw them" and move forward.

Emkir said they could always call the third company and warn them the ship was leaving but Aiden suggested they should call and demand a quote in twelve hours if one was to be given.  After that, they argued briefly about what sort of leeway they should give the third firm.  Added to that was the fact that they had two wildly different quotes from the War House and Instell-Arms.  When Mikah pointed out that the bid sheet had been given to Fesic to handle and he should handle it, Fesic said he wasn't interested in risking his life on cheap parts.  So, he decided to call Instell-Arms and accept their bid.  He also warned them the ship would be scheduling departure for a date to be determined in the next three days.

When Fesic made his call, Mikah stepped up and let him know she had a voucher he needed to call in to the seneschalate.  She told him about how Duchess Seldrian had committed to pay for half the cost of the order and he needed to get a record of the purchase submitted with that so the Duchy could pay them back.  The full cost of the order was Cr 12,370, so the Duchy would pay them back Cr 6,185.  Calling the seneschalate after Instell-Arms, Fesic placed the order and explained the situation to the seneschalate.  He gave them the order number from Instell-Arms.  The operator from the seneschalate said they would check the voucher and order number and get back to the ship's captain with any refund due.

Fesic reported his results to Mikah and told her the Instell-Arms gear would be delivered the next day.  Thanking him, Mikah told Emkir to start looking into the cargoes they should be interested in for each of the ports they might be visiting so they could try to make some money along the way.  She also told Terin to start looking into the atmospherics they might face on each of the different worlds.  Fesic kicked back that they had to decide what course they planned to take on the way to the Arden system since they had a number of routes to choose from.

Accepting that, Mikah had Terin pull up the nav-charts of the space they'd be crossing so she could see her options.  Knowing they had to reach Arden and they'd been given the recommendation to stop at Tremous Dex for "personal reasons", they had three destinations to choose from when leaving Regina.  Those were the Extolay, Phlume and Tionale systems.  Mikah liked the Extolay system because they had a Class-B starport where they could get repairs if needed.  The system was also on the x-boat route, supporting trade and information, and there was also a naval base in-system.

The Phlume system was interesting even if the port there would have minimal repair facilities.  That was because it was off the main trade route, meaning lots of ships passed it by.  They might be hungry for certain trade goods so profits might be higher.  Last, the Tionale system was both off the main trade routes and outside the Imperium.  So, even fewer ships would stop there and profit margins might be even better.  The down sides for Tionale were that the system was posted as an Amber Zone, so costs for gong there would be higher.  And, they were close to Tremous Dex while also being outside Imperial space.  That meant even more of a risk of being targeted by pirates coming from Tremous Dex...

Eventually, Mikah chose Extolay for the first stop, and told Emkir to look for cargoes that might be good to sell there.  From Extolay, they would next jump to Tremous Dex and then on to Arden.  With the course decided, Terin pointed out to Mikah that they could make a four-parsec jump directly from either Tremous Dex or Arden to the Imperial system of Denotam and its naval base if they needed to flee.  Nodding, Terin and Aiden knew they'd have to do their best to make sure they had emergency jump plots worked up in case they screwed up or something went wrong.

That said, the rest of the work was in Emkir's hands as he checked the spec's on Extolay and tried to guess what might sell well in that system?  The ship's library said Extolay had a thin atmosphere, rated "5" as opposed to a standard atmo(6).  Still, the world also had a balance of water farming plants, animals, or other forms of food.  But, the system's population was over 100 million and the world was too urbanized to be an agricultural world.  The world also wasn't listed as "industrial", so heavy industry manufactured goods should sell well.  Still, they weren't starving and had farms.  With a local tech that was "early interstellar", any higher tech goods would also sell well.  Emkir considered that as he checked the port data to see what was on offer?

Ironically, the first lot he saw on offer were four lots of farming machinery and Emkir simply wrote that lot off as not likely to be of value, though he didn't explain his rational.  The next lot was a lot of six air-rafts and he made jokes about not having Rol to "test fall" from each.  The next was a shipment of vacc suits, and Emkir marked that as something of interest because the world has a thin atmosphere.  The next two available shipments were for wood and silver.  Looking over what was on offer at the port, Emkir was interested in the vacc suits and air-rafts and asked the opinion of the others.

While most of the crew agreed, Zimzod pointed out that they did have farms.  They were just not an industrial world.  Because of that, he thought farm machines might be good to sell there.  Mikah admitted she'd missed that and agreed Zimzod might be right.  Fesic talked about not only buying some of the air-rafts, but also contacting one of the manufacturers to get a bunch of spare parts to sell too.  He figured, if the world couldn't make them, then they had to import spare parts too.  So, there could be a market in those.  Zimzod also asked where they'd put any cargo they bought "now" since they didn't have the ship's cargo bay to sore anything?

Mikah handled the last question, telling Zimzod they could have the cargo delivered to the berth and then load it onto the ship when they got it back in three days.  Then, she told Fesic he could start calling companies to see what lots of air raft spare parts went for if he wanted to hunt that down but the port wasn't offering cargoes like that.  So, it'd be a lot of work to do to get set that up.  Eventually, they agreed that Emkir should buy the lot of vacc suits.  Then, they should "fill in" the remaining open space with the farm machinery and air-rafts.

Most interested in the air-raft shipment, Emkir opened that data point first to check the "ask price" and nearly died of sticker shock when he saw the ask was MCr 4.2 each!  When the others reacted the same, Terin said they should check and see if that was a valid price for air-rafts?  Just before Mikah could volunteer him to do that research, Fesic volunteered instead.  Before he could be volun-told for another task, Terin said he'd check pricing on the farm machinery while Emkir checked into pricing for the bulk lot of vacc suits.  Terin's checking said the "KCr 225 each" asking price on the farm machinery looked fair for the machines on offer.  Emkir thought the price on the vacc suits was high, especially in bulk.

Fesic found that air-raft models varied so much he'd have to truly dig into the research before he could say if the price was reasonable or not?  Mikah told him to keep at it and see what he found?  Accepting that, Emkir decided to get started with a call to the person selling the vacc suits.  He felt that if they could get a better price than the MCr 5 the sellers were asking, he was OK with buying the entire lot.  While the others worked at their individual interests, Emkir negotiated with the vacc suit sellers.  Eventually, the seller agreed to give them the lot for MCr 4 if they agreed then and there, and sent payment.  Satisfied with getting them at 20% off, Emkir accepted that deal.

Logging into the ship's funds to pay for the shipment, Mikah sent the four million and told Emkir they only had one and a half million to spend after that.  Considering that, Emkir figured what they could afford and sparked up a call to the seller with the farm machinery.  These were four "four ton" machines and they figured they could fit three into the cargo bay with the vacc suits.  After another call to bargain and negotiate, the seller agreed to let them have the three for Cr 607,500, which was a slice over 10% off.  When Emkir was happy with that, they closed the deal.  Both cargoes would be delivered to their berth until they got their ship back.

When they admitted the air-rafts cost too much, Fesic joked, "But!  I have five test flights set up!"  and they all laughed.  Emkir said they should have a member of the crew at the port to supervise the delivery and Fesic volunteered, since he was the load master.  When Terin pointed out they could fill the one remaining open ton in their cargo bay with Cr 1,000/jump basic freight, Mikah reminded him they had an open stateroom and could book a high passage passenger.  If they did that, they had to provide that passenger one ton of cargo space.  So, she wanted the open tonnage left as it was.

Gambling By Any Name
     By half past eight in the evening, the deals were done and they realized they had nothing to do for the next three days.  Their course was plotted, their cargo purchased and they only had to get the delivery from Instell-Arms and get the ship back.  Then, they could load everything up and lift for the Extolay system.  Between then and now, they only had to not get arrested or killed.  They even had the vague idea of a plan to deal with Jocelynn's battledress issue.  Looking at each other for what to do, Emkir said, "Let's go to a casino, get drunk and gamble!"

Mikah said she'd go and Zimzod said he'd join them too.  Fesic then asked, "If I go, do I have to pay for it?" and they all laughed.  After the laughing died down, Fesic said he'd prefer to just go for a walk in the grounds.  Terin suggested they go clubbing.  Jocelynn said she wanted to go back to the Order House while Aiden wanted to relax with a vid.  When she heard that, Jocelynn said, "Aiden wants to come out with me."  When Aiden shook his head in disagreement, Jocelynn said, "Don't make me practice first aid on you!" and they all laughed.  In addition to the vid, Aiden planned to do some stent-work, but did "not" go out with Jocelynn.

Terin wasn't looking for anything specific in the club he chose but he did have to hire a cab to get there.  Before he went, he made sure he was unarmed and could secure his Ident.  He also wore a lapel pin for the Order of the Knight Defenders of the Marches.  Eventually, he had a good time and mixed with many people, some of whom saw his lapel pin and congratulated him on being a Knight.  No one seemed to link him to any news stories and he eventually ended up paying Cr 65 for the entire evening(rides, entry and drinks) before returning to the suite.

Getting ready for the casino, Emkir and Aali wore their matching silver-grey suit and dress while Mikah wore the pink cocktail dress Zimzod bought her and Zimzod wore the black suit she bought him.  Zimzod had the first chance to wear the cuff links with his coat of arms on his sleeves so he wore his Lapel Pin for the Order the Knight Defenders of the Marches too.  Because they'd dressed up, they decided to go to one of Atora's higher end casinos where Zimzod could use the gravChair to cut a crowd in style.  When he said that, the others just laughed.

On arrival, Aali planned to be eye-candy while Emkir, Mikah and Zimzod each connected their Idents with the casino and banked KCr 10 in playing funds.  They each agreed with Emkir that if they dropped to KCr 5, or doubled their KCr 10, they were out.  And then they moved onto the gaming floor where drinks were free.  After an hour of gaming, Emkir was up to KCr 11 while Mikah was down to KCr 8 and Zimzod down to KCr 9.  About that time, a man wearing a functionary's garb arrived at the table, cleared his throat to get their attention and said, "Greetings Sir Zimzod.  Their Excellencies would like the pleasure of your party's company at their table."

Looking at the man, Emkir responded, "May we have the pleasure of knowing which members of the nobility are inviting us?"  Nodding, the man said, "Of course!  Their Excellencies the Baron and Baroness Azakhi."  Referring to the knowledge she'd built up of a lifetime as a hobby, Aali realized these people were old money with a title that dated back to the old Monarchy of Regina!  Leaning closer to Emkir so the attendant could not hear her, Aali whispered, "really old blood and money."  Making his decision, Emkir said, "I would be honored to join their party.  Would the rest of you care to join me?" even though it had been Zimzod who was invited and not him.  Taking the que from Emkir, Mikah and Zimzod also agreed and asked the attendant to lead them on.

The attendant then had a whispered word with the croupier at the table.  That woman raised her hand and flashed some kind of signal which spared a small army of casino workers who came rushing over to very ceremoniously recover all their bets and organize their chips onto individual trays.  The workers then stepped between body guards who materialized out of the crowd and preceded the couples to the private table of their Excellencies.  This insured the four could constantly see their money as they moved.  Soon, they could see a couple sitting at a gaming table they were moving towards, which was manned by a personal croupier.

The couple sitting at the private table appeared in their fifties and were dressed for an evening of "polite relaxation" and gambling.  The game they'd selected for their private table was Blackjack.  Standing as the couples arrived, they invited Mikah, Emkir and Aali to sit while Zimzod maneuvered the gravChair to join them at their table and talk about the day's events.  While the four first assumed they wanted to talk about the elevations and get any dirt or insider rumors, the truth was their day had been good enough.  They'd planned out a merchanting route and managed to get cargo for a good price.  So, there was more to talk about than just politics.

Still, they talked as they played and after an hour Emkir found he was down to KCr 8 while Mikah was up to KCr 11.5 and Zimzod was still holding around KCr 9.  When asked why they'd sent the invitation to Zimzod earlier, the couple said few people come to the casino in a gravChair.  Seeing that, they remembered Sir Zimzod having been in a gravChair during the ceremonies the day before and played a hunch.  Despite that, it seemed they were more familiar with some of Zimzod's history.  They knew who Mikah, Emkir and Aali were.  But they seemed to have brushed up on Zimzod recently.  At one point, Mikah responded to their apparent interest by joking, "You want him?  He's for sale."

Driving the conversation in that direction, they learned that the Baron had also served in the Imperial Army and risen through the ranks a bit.  Still, his story was different as he'd enlisted as an officer, where Zimzod had never been commissioned.  What had impressed the Baron about Zimzod was that most people didn't crawl out of the mud so far as he had, and those who did had also usually earned more decorations than Zimzod had.  So, when he'd seen who he thought was Zimzod come into the casino, he rolled the dice to see if he could meet the man?

While the Baron had thought to discuss and compare their two careers, the added chance to get to know Mikah, Emkir and Aali broadened the conversation.  On the other hand, they learned the Baron had much more in common with Emkir, being a "child of noble birth".  Though, his parents had a much different view of his joining the service after college.  Of course, views of public and military service on Regina were much different than those of Emkir's parents.  Eventually, the Baron said he'd had to leave his military post to take over the family business when his father could no longer run things.  With a fond smile, he said his mixed background experiences made him a perfect leader to use his family businesses to support the Duchy during the war.  And even fight the Zhodani directly at times.

Nodding, Mikah asked what his business was and the Baron said his family owned the "Shanmuk Kavomiih" corporation and specialized in manufacturing and advancing electronics and consumer goods on Regina.  Those at the table considered saving that information to research later.  The Baron then asked if they had an interest in electronics and Mikah asked him to tell them more about why he asked?

Nodding, the Baron began a survey explanation as he would when talking to the media.  He told them Regina's industries had moved beyond electronic to fiber and crystalline circuitry.  That was possible because gravitic manufacturing processes could compress and stabilize refined metals into a stable crystalline structure.  This created remarkable improvements in every facet of material and electronics performance.  Even better, the molecular structure provided increased resistance and survivability against combat damage or radiation.

The Baron also said his firms also continued to work with both pure-metal and blended alloy circuits and systems too.  This was because they had many customers in nearby systems with lower technology bases.  That also made it easy to engage with customers who wanted to import advanced tech to upgrade their own systems.  That was a very profitable line of business.  After explaining that, the Baron then said the firms were in the process of trying to follow up on the openings provided by the Fifth Frontier War.

During the siege, it had been as if every industry on the world was nationalized and organized to support the defense of the world.  The corporation had gotten a view into military support contracts across the reach of their industry and production abilities.  Now, well after the war, the couple were seeking investors to help them make the changes, updates and upgrades needed to start actively competing for military contracts.  As they listened, the four realized that the Baron hadn't asked if they had an interest "in electronics" but an interest in "investing in electronics"?

In the meantime, they had played cards as they talked and Emkir's stake had been beaten down to just below KCr 7.  Mikah was almost up to KCr 15 and Zimzod had slipped below KCr 9.  When the Baron eventually came out and asked if they were looking for investments, Mikah asked, "What are the stakes of the investment?"  The Baron told her they were selling what he referred to as "Shares in the project" which turned out to be little more than bonds.  Those would rise or drop in value based on the success achieved by their program.

If they managed to get some contracts, the materials and divisions involved in the expansion would become a valued subdivision of the company with an economic value much higher than the simple cost to open doors.  And that escalation in value would determine the rate of interest used when paying back the bonds.  Of course, if no contracts were gained by the program, divisions and equipment would need to be sold off or retasked and personnel transferred or let go.  As with any profit made, the rate of loss would also determine the percentage reduction in paying back the bonds.

Mikah then asked what the shares were going for and what the Baron's projections were?  He first told her the shares would sell for KCr 10 each.  He then explained that his conglomerate currently controlled two percent of the industry and expected, if they succeeded, that they might increase that to five percent.  Mikah next asked how many competitors their firm had and was told there were five "major" competitors and an uncountable number of smaller firms always trying to grab a higher rung.  Fixing her eyes on his, she asked, "And, who is your main competitor?"  The Baron told her that would be the Akel Mamkan Corporation.

When it was obvious Mikah hadn't heard of them, the Baron said they were the largest on-world electronics manufacturer in Regina's defense industries.  He said they held most of the electronics contracts for the Regina Planetary Navy.  Mikah knew that, by extension, that also meant the Regina Subsector Navy and that they'd have advantages getting Imperial Navy contracts in Regina's space.  That included the new construction program the Prince had announced days ago.  Mikah asked how long the existing contracts were valid and was told that was both a good question and not a question at all.

When Mikah looked askance at him, he explained that contracts regularly come and go by the tens of thousands every year.  So, the people who directed those contracts were of more of a concern, and the directions given by those often depended on established personal relationships.  Allowing a pause after he said that, the Baron assured Mikah they were not looking to start a fight or steal contracts from Akel Mamkan due to the connections the family had to several senior Admirals.  They planned to grow their presence in the smaller ponds, against more vulnerable fish.

Mikah nodded and asked if they could send a packet of data for her to look over?  She expected the firm's balance sheet and Profit/Loss statements, and told the Baron they planned to be leaving in three days or so.  Because of that, she suggested he get the data to her quickly so she could read it through and get back to them.  The couple were pleased at that and the Baron promised Mikah the information would be delivered soon.  At the same time, they had continued playing and Emkir had fought his way back up to KCr 12!  Mikah was up to KCr 16.5 and Zimzod had a real run of luck and added half his stake, ending up at KCr 13.5.

As they added up their winnings, Mikah smiled and joked, "Hey!  We have money to invest now." and got laughs from everyone.  Still, she shared her contact information with the Baron and he promised to get her the information as soon as he could.  Shortly after that, a functionary stepped up to whisper into the Baron's ears.  As that happened, an attendant came up to the table and excused himself before getting the Baron's attention and saying the Prince wanted to consult with him.  With the casino securing their Excellencies' table and chips, the four knights decided it was time to head back to the suite.

Secrets And Sealed Packets
     While the others gambled or followed their pursuits, Jocelynn had returned to the Order House and hang out getting to know people.  She planned to file names and stories away against possible future need.  Her return to the house also surprised a number of those who knew she'd visited earlier.  While it was known she was crew on a ship and planned to leave the system, they also knew that some Knights found the Order house and just...stayed.  Some had to wonder if the House had bound another soul to it?  When some even asked, Jocelynn was very blunt and up front.  She was adamant that beyond having saved her life, she had found a place and a home in that crew.  She even mentioned that she'd ended up a share-owner in the ship because of the salvage settlement, and that was enough for them.

Of course, her friendship with the crew also meant they had many questions for her about the others in the crew and life aboard the ship.  Jocelynn did admit that every day was an adventure and walked that back to explaining that their lives were so different from her old life.  When that prompted more questions, she pointed out the accidents of timing which had led to her elevation.  How it had all sprung from wandering Credo-port's startown on their way to an amusement park.  Of course, that led to questions about the assassination plot, the assassin and Sir Rol?

They also asked where the ship might be going next and Jocelynn was careful not to give away anything she worried might not be for the ears of others.  Even the knights of her Order.  So, she said she wasn't sure and Mikah was in talks to decide that currently.  At one point, during a lull in her conversations, one of the Knights introduced himself as Sir Makxel ia Kiin, and wondered if the ship might be headed in the direction of the Arden system?  When Jocelynn told him, "That's a good possibility", he asked if she might be able to deliver something?

Ignoring the fact that accepting the request confirmed the ship "was" going to the Arden system, Jocelynn asked what he needed and he told her he had a "small, personal box".  Giving him a leery look, Jocelynn asked if it was dangerous, and he said it was "one hundred percent inert" unless she considered data to be dangerous.  Ignoring the many ways that could be interpreted, Jocelynn accepted his assurance.  Sir Makxel then said he could get the box now if she wanted to wait, or offered that she could go with him.  Jocelynn decided to follow along with him.  He then led her out of the Order house and to a fairly expensive model of gravCar before inviting her to sit inside.

After a short ride, the man guided the car to a landing apron fairly high up on one of the taller residential towers in the city.  Jocelynn was impressed because this all spoke of lots of money.  As she got out of the car, she delayed in following him because these kinds of views were rare to those who could afford as little as she could.  Following him into his apartment, Jocelynn was surprised at the decor of the space, which seemed lavish if a bit small.  Leaving her standing in the center of a sitting room, he went to a small secretary and folded the front down to expose the writing desk surface.  Reaching into a small inset, he grabbed something out of view and pulled.  When he did that, a section of the wall next to the desk slid aside!

The alcove she now saw had several more used and worn desks and walls covered with shelves of crystals and even some paper files, books and other items.  Very quickly, she watched as Sir Makxel stepped into the space and grabbed both a crystal and a small apparently plastic box.  He then put the crystal in the box, closed it and placed his thumb precisely against part of the boxes surface.  After he did that, he held the box out towards her and said, "Press your thumb right there." as he pointed.  When she did, Jocelynn saw a panel on the box change appearance and start to show a name, contact data and an address.  The box was not just a simple plastic container.

Checking the box to be sure it was working correctly, the knight then held it up saying, "Now, if you need to recall how to deliver this, just put your thumb here and this reminder will be shown.  It fades off quickly after, too.  So you can let check the box if you feel the need and they will not see what is keyed to your thumb."  When she delivered it, she said the person would be able to put their thumb to it and it would open for them.  When Jocelynn took the box and agreed to try and deliver it, the Knight told her how much he appreciated the help.  She waived it away and said it wouldn't be a problem.  Jocelynn then did her best to obfuscate, saying she couldn't guarantee when she might be able to deliver it and repeated she was uncertain where her ship was going.  Still, he was happy with the deal.

As they chatted, he asked about other systems of interest they might be visiting on the way and Jocelynn said she'd heard some mention of Tremous Dex.  Hearing that, he said, "Interesting.  Hold on."  The man then grabbed another crystal and slotted it into the computer's reader.  He then typed something into the keyboard and saved it before pulling the crystal from the slot and said, "If you run into problems on Tremous Dex, here is someone I've had business dealings with.  Again, Jocelynn thanked the man and he waved that off, thanking her instead.  As Jocelynn pocketed the crystal and box, she asked if there was anything else she could help him with and he said no, before thanking her again.

As they left, Jocelynn made sure to swap contact data with him.  Checking to see he'd given her both his personal and professional contacts, Jocelynn saw he was a Vice President for Dealka, Rhaliidi and Lijkha", a financial services firm.  On the way back to the Order house, Jocelynn realized she should check and asked if the box and crystal were to be kept a secret?  He said they weren't, but he didn't want to rely on the x-boat system because x-boats don't go to the Arden system anymore.  That was a reminder that almost 200 years before, Arden and the systems around it had been within Imperial space.  Before the Third Frontier War.  "Besides", he continued, "Sometimes x-boats go missing."

Jocelynn didn't really feel it would be good to mention that the crew she was with sometimes "got lost" too.  Or, to remind him they rescued her after both her carrier and their ship had misjumped and ended up together in a deep space anomaly.  Back at the Order house, Jocelynn offered to buy him a drink and he countered that they should share drinks.  As they chatted, other members of the Order stepped over to chat and, at some time in the evening, Sir Makxel slipped off and left Jocelynn with the small crowd.

Eventually, Jocelynn and all the others made their ways back to the suite.  Fesic had been the first back and had joined Aiden, watching a vid.  Aiden had done his stent-work and while Fesic had missed a good part of the vid, it didn't matter to him as they chatted about what they'd heard of Arden and that region of space.  Mikah's gang of four had been the next to get back, still very happy about their winnings.  Next was Jocelynn and finally Terin, who was entirely danced out and alone.


Goodbye, Old Foe
     Having set an alarm for 8am, Aiden as surprised to find he was the first person to wake up that morning.  Grabbing some of the food the cook was preparing, Aiden enjoyed a relaxing meal before settling in and turning on the news.  While he expected the same rounds of stories he'd been listening to, or even being part of, there had been new news from the interstellar sources on one of the overnight x-boats.

    Natoko (C8879AB-9  Hi An  G  204  Im  F4 V)                                 Date: 303-1113
    Breaking news had come from the Natoko system with the return of Admiral
    Uuela's battle fleet.  With some ships exhibiting minor battle scars and
    repairs, the fleet returned to the "Natoko embargo zone", which viewers
    will recall had recently been declared a Red travel zone.  Viewers will
    also recall the Admiral had moved squadrons under his command to engage
    what is still described as a "shadow fleet of undefined size and
    composition" in deep space.  While there have not yet been further releases
    regarding that action, the Admiral is said to have immediately ordered the
    Natoko siege fleet into battle ready condition and ordered surface strikes
    on specified targets from his orbital batteries!
     
    Reportedly, that action was very quickly followed up by orders to begin
    landing Imperial heavy forces in ten separate locations on world!  An
    examination of the troops and vehicles involved include the Trepida Main
    Battle Tank and Asterin APC.  It is understood every ground trooper in
    the battalions participating in the action have been armed with Imperial
    Mk 18 Battledress and a mix of heavy assault weapons.  Each gauss-armed
    fireteam is believed supported by a trooper armed with an FGMP-15 for
    use against fortified targets.

    Viewers are reminded the Mk18 suit has an advanced chameleon surface,
    rendering it near-invisible through all spectrums from everything but
    the most advanced targeting systems.  Each suit also mounts a shoulder-
    mounted laser doubling as a "point defense weapon" and target designator.
    Grav packs enable "sub-orbital short range jumps" of up to 30Km and 1,000
    meters high in standard gravity environments.  The Mk18 is also able
    to interface with a wide variety of weaponry that could be deployed,
    missile launchers and a variety of both launched and thrown grenades.

    Based on this report, there can be no question the Imperial intervention
    has entered an active stage.  Despite pleas and outrage from those systems
    and balkanized governments on other worlds, the Imperial Marine Corp.
    are moving to secure all key dirtside objectives on the Natoko world Operations
    zone.  As news of these actions has spread, TAS has become aware of a
    number of protest actions which have been undertaken by a coalition of
    world and minor governments which had previously supported the rights
    and complaints of the Natoko world government in earlier interstellar
    actions.  Most recently, this coalition had been arguing in the Subsector
    and Sector Senates against the investigation by Senator Kudila early
    in 1113, as well as arguing in several of the Sector's ruling Ducal
    courts.

    In yet another note of interest coming out of this event, it has been
    reported that most of those protesting the intervention have been
    allowed to carry out actions within the law.  Outside of those permissions,
    one group has been restrained and, in fact, detained when identified.
    Those sophonts have been identified as nationals of the nation "Stepozhevac",
    on Porozlo.  While TAS has no confirmed reports or evidence of the
    actions, it is rumored that any citizens of this nation have been
    placed on transports returning them to their home system and nation.
    TAS reporters are working both to confirm this and gain from authorities
    any rational for the action.  There has, as yet, been no comment
    from the Imperial Navy or the offices of Arch Duke Norris, Duke
    Leonard or Duchess Delphine.
                

As others came out and joined Aiden, Fesic watched an update on the situation and joked, "Sounds like a yard sale opportunity for Instell-Arms."  That got laughs from Aiden before Fesic sat to talk.  While they chatted, the butler came and announced they had a visitor at the door.  When Aiden checked who it was, he saw the visitor was a vargr female.  And, not just any vargr but a woman wearing the coronet of a Countess, and an Imperial Navy uniform!  And that was not the odd part.  The odd part was that he vaguely recognized her!

When she introduced herself, Aiden remembered the Countess from nearly a year before, on Inthe and then later on Regina.  Despite that, she had introduced herself as "Countess Dame Athkazuk Foezvoz, Captain in the Imperial Navy of the Imperium".  The Countess smiled the particularly predatory smile of her kind as she recognized Aiden and saw he remembered her.  She greeted him as she asked, "Is Lady Mikah available?"  The request was formal, but tinged with a small amount of familiarity and....something else Aiden couldn't identify.  Part of him felt it was humor but he seriously doubted that.

Aiden knew Mikah wasn't wake yet, or that she and Zimzod hadn't come out of the bedroom yet.  Still, he invited the Countess in and offered her a seat in the living room.  He then went to knock on Mikah's door and let her know they had a visitor.  Aiden first comm'd Mikah to wake her and then stood at the door and knocked.  When Mikah asked what was happening, he told her the Countess had arrived to talk to her and Mikah said she'd be right out.  Mikah then woke up Zimzod and started getting dressed.  As he did, Zimzod took care because it was his first day of light duty after kicking the gravChair to the curb.

Those awake played host to the Countess until Mikah was ready to come out and join them.  Soon enough, Mikah stepped out and the Countess rose, saying, "Lady Mikah.  Nice to see you again."  After Mikah agreed and asked what they could do for Athkazuk, the vargr said, "We have something we think you, Sir Zimzod, Sir Aiden and Sir Emkir would like to see."  Without giving any other information, Mikah couldn't help the woman's smile or the cant of her ears.  The Countess was definitely pleased about something.

When Mikah asked, "Really?" Athkazuk nodded and said, "I'm sure Sir Rol would have enjoyed this too, but..."  Mikah finished up, "Rol is spending his time swimming in a petri dish." and they all laughed.  Aiden added that Rol was too busy dividing to join them.  Before going back to her bedroom to see what was keeping Zimzod, Mikah asked Athkazuk if there was anything she could get the Countess?  The vargr smiled again and said she was just looking forward to the events of the morning.  That raised Mikah's expectations as she said she would wake the others.  Mikah then went back banging on doors and calling out that Countess Athkazuk was in the suite and wanted to show them something.

While Mikah did that, the Countess congratulated Fesic and Aiden on their "latest" elevations.  When Zimzod and the others finally came out, after a rushed morning routine, Zimzod asked, "OK!  What's up?" and the Countess smiled a grin that was, if possible, even more predatory, and told them, "We need witnesses."  No matter how friendly a contact she was, the wolf face was never meant to convey a 'pleasant smile', and the tingle that ran down the crew's spines was a call to the flight/fright history of their racial past.

Surprised, Mikah asked if Athkazuk wanted the rest of the crew woken and the Countess said that she, Zimzod, Aiden and Emkir would do as they were 'the affected parties'.  Arriving a bit later, because he and Aali had been engaged in 'other morning activities', Emkir was trailed by Aali in a bathrobe.  Seeing Countess Athkazuk, she stopped and said, "Your Excellency." with a slight bow.  Athkazuk nodded and greeted her, saying, "Dame Aali."  Aali noticed her use of the familiar/intimate name instead of her more appropriate public name and decided to ignore it.  One who might have been more familiar with Vargr behavior might have seen the name use as a claim of dominance over the engineer.

After she was sure the four people she came for were ready, she asked them to follow her and left the suite.  Following, they found a Regina Navy Lieutenant waiting for her at parade rest while a sub-Lieutenant waited in the gravCar the Countess had apparently arrived aboard.  After they were aboard and the car was airborne and moving north of the city towards the mountains, the Countess turned her seat to face the four and said, "I think this is something you will enjoy seeing very, very, very much."  The entire time, they weren't sure if it was an optical or mental illusion or if the Countess' smile continued growing.

Riding into the mountains, Mikah was the only member of her group not surprised when the gravCar suddenly appeared to orient on a mountain-side as if they were intentionally crashing.  At the same time, all the windows went opaque.  They quickly felt the vehicle go through a number of maneuvers and had the sensation of slowing down before the windows cleared again.  Looking out, they could see scattered vehicles and equipment arrayed below them in what looked like a large vehicle landing and maintenance bay!  The four watched as the car came to land before a waiting "greeting party" on the bay floor and all around were members of the Regina Planetary navy, going about their work.

The greeting party was led by a Naval Captain who came to attention and both saluted and greeted the Countess.  The Countess saluted back and told him, "Captain.  I have your witnesses.  We can proceed."  Her tone was now all business.  To their surprise, the Captain's face broke in a wide smile before he exclaimed, "Perfect!"  and then happily asked them to follow him.  Turning on the ball of his right foot, the man then led them across the bay and to a lift.  It was impossible, as they walked, for Mikah and the others to not noted the spring in the man's step or the very happy tone of his voice whenever he spoke.  They left all but four armed escorts behind as the Captain began punching buttons and the lift doors closed.

Dropping an uncertain number of levels, the officer then led them through a series of passages before they came to a locked door where armed security troopers guarded either side.  As he unlocked that door, the Captain told the armed escorts they could wait there for him, and opened the door to lead them through.  Following him through the door, Mikah and the others could see it let them into a room which was clear except for four seats which were set to face a wall to their right.  On that wall, there was an obvious window which looked into the next room over and in there was a man strapped and secured into a seat and gagged!  Seeing that, Emkir couldn't control himself as he said, "Oh!  An execution!" in a voice that mixed happy and giddy.

Looking the man over, Mikah and the others remembered "Mr." Mattin, whose real name and title were "General" Mattin, a high-ranking member of the planetary government of Natoko!  They remembered Mikah helping identify the man for the Countess the last time they'd been on Regina.  Back then, he'd claimed to be a VIP from the Stepozhevaci government on the world of Porozlo, and had false credentials claiming that.  He also had been caught taking part in an effort to use Mikah's crew to discredit then Lady Seldrian and support rumors and lies they were plotting against the Duchy.  And, by the look in the man's eyes, he saw and recognized them too.

Seeing that, Mikah turned to the Countess as she let out a whoop! and said, "This is great!  Thank you for inviting us."  After the four sat in the seats provided, the Countess stepped to a panel next to the window and hit a stud.  She then read through a brief number of statements about the man being found guilty of crimes including Treason against the Imperium, Duchy and Arch Duke.  Then she asked, "General Mattin.  Do you have anything you would like to say to the assembled witnesses here today?  While Mattin did try to speak, in what they guessed would have been a very angry tone, he was gagged and it was clear no one in the room actually cared what his final words were.

It actually seemed Mattin himself was more angry than frightened or concerned and it was even possible he thought this was another attempt to scare him into giving up information.  As the floor show continued, the Countess nodded to a technician standing next to where the Captain had taken position.  That tech threw a switch and Mattin's voice slowly faded to silence as his eyes glazed over and he passed from life to whatever he might face next.  Mikah watched closely and was heard to say, "Yup!  There it is." as she saw the lights go out behind Mattin's eyes.

Still, forms and procedures had to be followed and they waited and chatted for ten minutes before another set of technicians entered the chamber and carried out the tests to confirm the General was dead.  After that, the Captain stepped up to each of the "witnesses" in turn with a stylus and a datapad.  They each signed a 'statement of satisfaction' they had seen the lawful execution of the convicted in punishment for his crimes, and were satisfied he was dead.  After that was done, the Countess said they should follow her and she would return them to their regularly scheduled morning.  She asked a lieutenant to lead them back to the gravCar and have them taken back to the suite.

Scattered Interests
     Back at the suite, folks woke to get the story if the morning's events from Aali.  When she heard, Jocelynn came the closest to a guess what was happening as she asked, "Are they going to publicly execute Munarshu?"  That broke the tension in the suite as everyone, because they were all awake now, laughed hard at that.  Still, that was waived away as they were sure his fate had been sealed some time before.  After that, they chatted about the mornings events and the news until Mikah and the others returned to the suite.

Fesic asked, "So, what did you guys get up to?" as they arrived.  Mikah almost erupted in happiness as she announced, "We had the best morning ever!!"  Having everyone's attention, Mikah said, "We got to witness the execution of General Mattin, from the Natoko system." with a huge smile on her face.  Zimzod was a bit put out he didn't get to volunteer to be a one-man firing squad, but the fool was dead, so it was all good.  When Mikah reminded them about the rumor mill they'd faced the last time they'd been on Regina, and reminded him about the man the Imperials had caught in the middle of it, who'd been from Natoko, they all remembered Mikah and Zimzod being taken off to identify him.

Mikah speculated that the news from Natoko must have made his execution possible.  Aali said they must have gotten everything they could out of him and Zimzod suggested it may not have mattered anymore.  Terin just said it sounded like the guy came to a fitting end.  Things settled down as Fesic said it was too bad he and Emkir couldn't continue working on the computer program.  Emkir waved that off, saying they could keep working on that while in jump.  Then, Terin asked if anyone wanted to do stent-work as it was mid-morning?  Mikah sparked right up and said, "I don't."  Zimzod laughed at that.

Jocelynn was interested but was reminded she'd only received her stent five days before, and shouldn't try to use it for another two days.  So, while the others with stents decided to have a shared class, Jocelynn went back to reading the manual Aali gave her.  While they did that, Fesic connected with the TAS membership site and started looking up TAS-recommended outings and nature adventures on Regina.  Mikah figured the stent-work would only take an hour so she watched a vid.  Emkir called one of the spas on the estates and signed himself up for a massage.

As the stent class was breaking up, Fesic had found a number of "morning departure" tours of various wilderness regions.  Some were even offered by the firm "Hunting World-Regina", which he and Munarshu had "so enjoyed" on a previous visit to Regina.  Given how that trip had worked out, Fesic avoided those.  The basic walking "adventures" ranged anywhere from Cr 500 to Cr 900, and there were even more involved tours involving zip-lines and more at higher costs.  As they took his data to complete the order, they learned he was a Knight and was staying on the Ducal estates.  That made him a VIP, and they offered to send a car to collect him for the tour the next day.

After booking a Cr 600 trip, Fesic asked the others if they wanted to join in?  Hearing what he'd paid, Mikah criticized, "You're paying Cr 600 to go for a walk in the woods?" in a disbelieving tone.  When Fesic tried to explain it was a specialized walking tour, Mikah wasn't having it and someone eventually said that meant there was a chance he could fall down in the woods.  Aali quipped that if he was with a tour, someone would be there to hear him falling down in the forest.  She got lots of laughs from that.  Taking the joke up a notch, Zimzod reminded them they had gear with "Hunting World-Regina" on it in the ship's locker.  He then said Fesic could lift into orbit to grab that and wear it on his trip.  That got even more laughs.

When the stent class finished, Mikah talked with Zimzod about what they wanted to do and she decided to visit a museum.  As they considered which one to go to, Terin mentioned the cryptology museum he'd gone to and Mikah decided to go there.  Zimzod shrugged and said they would so long as he could sit from time to time because he was on light duty.  Mikah joked about getting out the gravChair again and he told her they could go into a field and blow that thing up.  Still, they decided to do the crypto-museum.  When they said that, Aali said she wanted to go along and started looking around for Emkir.

When she asked, the butler told Aali that Emkir had gone to the spa for a massage.  When the butler didn't know when Emkir planned to get back, Aali grabbed her comms and called him.  Of course, Emkir had signed up for an hour-long massage and was well on the way to being a puddle when his comms started to buzz.  Eventually, despite his 'near-boneless condition', the comms found a way into his hands and he was taking to Aali, telling her he was getting a massage.  When Aali asked when he might get back to the suite, Emkir said the massage was just about done and he'd have to start growing his bones back so he could move.

When Emkir asked what was happening, Aali told him about the museum and Emkir remembered Terin sending him a recommendation some days back.  Because he was interested and because of the recommendation, Emkir said he wanted to go.  Aali said she'd try and get Mikah and the others to hold up for him while he got himself together and got back to the suite.  While Aali talked to Emkir, Aiden decided he'd join in on the trip to the museum.  As the others made plans, Jocelynn had the idea of going to one of the local towns to have lunch and wander rows of shops to see what she found.  But, she found the weather outside was a bit nasty.  Not "wandering outside" friendly.

With her initial plans washed away thanks to the weather, Jocelynn considered what she'd like to do and thought about what the others had been doing.  One thing that had been very odd to her was the idea of swimming.  That was because Jocelynn had come from a frozen ice-ball of a world where the "city" was extremely compact and space for anything came at a premium.  Added to that, the energy needed to create water meant it was used for drink, cleansers and other sensible uses.  The idea of creating a room with a hole in the floor and filling that with water you bathed in - so you couldn't then drink it - was beyond crazy.  It wasn't until she'd left her homeworld that Jocelynn saw worlds with actual standing water that wasn't frozen.  And while she'd gone into the water on vacation on a number of worlds, she'd never learned to swim.

Deciding she wanted to try and swim, she remembered Aiden and Mikah had both gone to the pool in the spa.  Calling the spa, Jocelynn asked what was required to use the pool and was told it was available for any resident of the estates.  When Jocelynn asked if it was a problem because she didn't know how to swim, they said they'd set her up with an instructor.  Figuring lunch was soon enough, Jocelynn made plans to go to the pool after lunch.  So, she just relaxed and watched vids until it was time to eat.  Telling the others about her plans, Jocelynn was warned by Mikah to wait an hour after eating to swim, so she wouldn't get cramps.

Because of the weather, Fesic decided to stay in, relax and watch some movies to get more of a sense of Regina.  Terin decided to go to the Knight Defenders of the Marches Order house and mix with people there.  Because he planned to have lunch there, and knew Mikah would be taking the gravCar, he called a cab to ride out.  While the others waited for Emkir, they had lunch in the suite, so Terin was the only member of the crew who didn't have lunch there.  And Emkir did make it back in time to eat before they left for the museum.  On the way, Mikah also dropped Jocelynn off at the spa.

After being dropped off, Jocelynn checked in with one of the people working at the spa and got connected up with the instructor she'd be learning with.  That woman also helped Jocelynn pick out two bathing suits for Cr 20 each.  Both were "one-piece" suits in a style the instructor said was "racer style" and one was blue while the other was red.  After that, Jocelynn was led to a changing room where she could change and lock her clothes up.  During that time, the instructor asked questions and got to better understand Jocelynn's "recreational relationship" with water.  Because of that, she decided to help Jocelynn get into the shallow end of the pool and get used to the idea of being in water first.  Once she was used to the sensations and idea of it, the lesson started.

The bulk of the crew went with Mikah to the museum of cryptology and it really was everything Terin had suggested it was.  Of course, their perceptions were helped thanks to the fact they had run into the curator, Sir Shilar Kargilin, as they arrived.  While looking at the entry fees, recommended donations and other data after getting there, Sir Shilar stepped up and said, "Hello Lady Mikah.  We met the other day."  When Mikah and the others greeted him, the man asked if they would like a curated tour of the museum?  Of course, they accepted and spent the entire afternoon getting the best possible view of the museum's many displays.  They even got to see some displays not open to the public and got a much better understanding of the world of cryptology.

At the Order House, Terin wandered to the restaurant and ordered a meal to enjoy as he started people watching and wondering who he might meet?  Over the hours Terin had planned to hob knob with the goober smoochers, as Zimzod would describe it.  Terin met a number of people who either worked at the house, had business there or were passing through.  One thing Terin learned was where special dedicated items were to be found.  One of those was an alternate entrance which connected to a wing of offices which could be rented.  The pricing was much less for a Knight, but anyone could rent them to operate their business out of for a day, week or longer.  With one end of the wing appearing to be a civilian entrance to a generic office building, the other end was a secure passage only for Knights and their guests, which allowed entry to the Order House proper.

Eventually, the time Terin had allotted ran down and he had a cab called to take him back to the suite.  When he got back, he was the first of the crew to return while Fesic was watching the beginning of another movie.  As he joined Fesic, the two talked about the people Terin had met and what he'd learned about them, whose information he'd gotten in contacts, etc.  And Terin heard about what Fesic was learning about Regina and the world's culture from the movies.  Then, as they talked, Jocelynn was the second person to return to the suite.

When the guys asked her how things went, she happily reported that she hadn't drowned.  Both Terin and Fesic agreed that was a good thing.  As the three looked at each other, Terin brought up the idea of doing something for the afternoon.  Fesic said he was up to do something other than watch movies and asked Terin what he had in mind?  Terin admitted he had no plan to act on but reminded them they'd be leaving Regina and be stuck in a ship for some time.  So, he thought it would be good to get out and do stuff while they could.

Fesic said, "I have a trip planned for tomorrow if you guys wanna come with me."  Terin smiled and shook his head as he said, "Nah.  I'm not spending a bunch of money to walk in the woods.  I can do that without spending money."  Hearing Terin echo what Mikah had said earlier, Jocelynn only laughed at the comments.  Fesic only reminded them, "It may be the last chance you get for a while to walk in the woods without a rebreather or vacc suit."  Nodding, Terin said Fesic was right about the chances but still said he could walk in the woods without spending Cr 600 to do it.

After Fesic shrugged and accepted Terin's attitude, Terin still pushed for the idea of them going out for the rest of the afternoon because they had that and the whole night.  Of course, Terin was spending the night Fesic planned to rest up during so he could enjoy is walk the next day.  When Fesic again challenged what Terin wanted to do, Terin made it clear he hoped they had ideas.  Fesic said it was a bit too early to go bar hopping and Terin said he'd not meant bar hopping.  Then, Terin suggested an amusement park but was reminded the weather was not cooperating locally.

After it became clear Terin had no real ideas, Fesic stopped taking the conversation seriously and started suggesting things like taking a sub-orbital to another part of the world to hit an amusement park.  Or to make some orbital jumps.  When Fesic suggested going car shopping, Terin turned and asked Jocelynn what she was interested in.  She considered for a few seconds before she realized what Fesic had said and demanded, "What am I gonna do with a car?"  Fesic shrugged, said, "I don't know" and said he was only making suggestions in a tone that was more comedic than not.

When Jocelynn said she'd been considering staying in for the night, Terin again said they'd be stuck on the ship for weeks once they left.  It was then that Fesic delivered his master stroke and suggested they look to see if there was a lock picking museum, and that had all three of them rolling and laughing.  When they started talking again, Fesic said he was up for doing something if they were.  Hearing that, Terin suggested they head out to the city and wander around to see what they could find.  That had been Jocelynn's first plan before the weather changed her mind and she went to the spa, but she figured 'why not' and agreed.

As Terin called for a cab, Jocelynn was thinking to herself she'd see which one of the two fools would get beaten up first?  Terin was stuck with paying for that ride since it was his idea, and soon they were on the wet and windy streets of a random neighborhood in the city of Atora, wandering to see what they could find.  As they wandered, the financial documents the Baron had promised Mikah were delivered to the suite and the staff made sure Lady Mikah would be notified when she returned.

Different Kinds Of Helpless
     Wandering the wind and sometimes rain swept streets of Atora, Jocelynn and Fesic had to wonder why they'd followed Terin in the first place?  There had been a number of places they'd stopped to window surf before moving on, but nothing that lured them in.  Eventually, they wandered into one of the many park-like plazas between stands of buildings and lingered under the tree canopies, protected from the rain.  As they stood and looked at the avenues deciding on a direction to go, they heard what sounded like a loud crash!

Getting a jump on the others, Terin did his best to guess the direction from which the sound came and started running in that direction.  Shrugging, Fesic said, "I guess we can't let him go off alone." and Jocelynn joked back, "Says you."  Not missing a beat, Fesic answered, "But!  We'll miss seeing what happens to him." and they both had to struggle to run after Terin as they laughed.  Soon, they weren't laughing as they got to the far side of the plaza and saw what looked to be some kind of lean to which had collapsed!  A small number of panicked people seemed to be pulling at the material and trying to rescue someone who must have been trapped in the collapse.

Rushing in, the three didn't bother stopping to ask questions as they looked for ways to help and got into it.  Getting to work, it looked like there were two people trapped under the materials.  To make matters worse, Terin noticed the pallor on one of the trapped "hand and arm" extremities was remarkably light.  So, that person, presumably homeless like the others he could see there, would live out-doors and have been expected to be tanned.  So, if the skin had gone white that quickly, it suggested an issue with blood flow.  And that meant less time to get them out from under before things got worse.

Looking over the wreck of what they assumed had been a lean to, Jocelynn and Fesic realized it would have been lucky to have ever been considered shelter.  Where it had not likely been structurally sound to start, the winds from the storm made the collapse inevitable.  The only thing they could think of was to determine how to pick up the sticks so they could get people out without making the collapse worse, and perhaps dropping even more weight on the trapped victims.  And they didn't know if there were other victims they couldn't see?  While both Fesic and Jocelynn could see how to get the best leverage to lift the debris, they also saw they had to stop the panicking people around them, because the things they were doing were shifting weights and making things worse.

Fesic started working to get the attention of the panicking locals so he could get the situation under control while Jocelynn was working to get hold of the best lever she could use to raise the debris.  At the same time, Terin was trying to work out what they had to do to help the trapped people.  As Fesic calmed down those who had been crying out, two of them began being helpful while the others backed off at least.  Turning to the debris, he could start to see what Jocelynn had already worked out.  There were three beams they could use as a combined fulcrum to lift the material they could see.  What still had them worried were parts of the lean to they couldn't see and how they might shift before anyone could react.

Getting different hands on the three beams, they began to move things as Fesic directed until Jocelynn suddenly told them to stop!  As they had begun to raise the largest of the panels, Jocelynn suddenly saw a piece of covered debris which was only precariously being lifted and might suddenly slip loose and fall back on the trapped victims.  Making sure they had firm hand-holds and no one would accidentally drop the beams they'd lifted, Fesic also tried to see what it was Jocelynn was warning them about?  It was Terin who realized he'd have to stop working with the victims so he could grab hold of some of the debris to keep it from collapsing.

Still, while none of them were working with the victims at the moment, lifting the debris showed them there had been two people caught under the collapsed metal and wood.  There had also been a very young girl who'd been caught in the void created when parts of the fallen structure fell against the building wall they'd been trying to use to support the lean to.  While he tried to figure out how he could hand off or stabilize the piece of debris he was holding, Terin called out for someone to get to the kid so he could concentrate on getting the victims out from under the debris before something dropped on them again.

Because they'd managed to get everyone in the area involved in moving the debris, Terin started telling the others to see if they could shift hand-holds so they could pull the victims clear.  Normally, that wouldn't be the first move, for fear of worsening injuries or causing new damage, but the victims were still in mortal danger.  As soon as they saw she was clear, the knights called out to the small child to get her to come out from where she was curled up.  When she didn't move, none of the knights could spare the time to deal with her while recovering the other two victims.

After some juggling and movement, not to mention tense moments, Terin was able to get his hands free and get another person's help so they could pull both the victims clear.  That freed Terin to give the raised debris another look before deciding how to slip in and grab the small girl?  Finally deciding there was no other option but to take the risk, Terin scooted in under the debris and grabbed the girl, who started screaming and struggling as soon as she was grabbed.  Despite that, he got her out from under the debris, which meant the others could let go after checking carefully to make sure there were no more hidden victims.

Once the girl was out from under the debris, she broke away from Terin and ran to disappear into the plaza.  Having two victims to treat, Terin didn't have the time to deal with her and hoped she'd be safe wherever she ended up.  Looking at the victims on the ground, he could see one had obviously taken a nasty blow to the head and had a subdural wound.  Both remained unconscious.  While Terin started a full physical survey of the victims, Fesic grabbed his comms and started calling for emergency medical services.

The victims were a man and boy, and the man was the one with the obvious head wound.  Terin had to guess, based on how the boy had been lying, that he'd also taken a blow to the head.  The boy was also the victim with the bad skin tone, which suggested some sort of circulatory blockage or other.  Checking the boy further, Terin found the skin discoloration was just on the one arm, which prompted him to check further.  When Terin realized the kid might have a broken arm, that informed him why there might be a circulation issue with the arm.  But that was very bad news because lack of blood to the arm could mean he would lose the limb if treatment did not start soon.

Having an idea what was needed, Terin decided to concentrate on what he could do while they waited for EMS to arrive.  Terin popped open his basic first aid kit and started looking to see what resources he had that could help?  The first thing he did was open the foil-based 'thermal blankets' to cover up both victims and help keeping them from going into shock.  The next thing he found in the kit was a "diagnostic strip", which had microtech in-built, allowing it to sample many factors from a patient's skin and neural-electric tissues and establish a basic understanding of that patient's condition.

Applying it to the man, Terin saw the readout detect low blood pressure, respiration and heart rate.  Attempts to recover bio-electrical responses failed and the estimate was that man was already deep in shock and may well be dying unless immediate critical care was provided.  Moving the strip to the boy, Terin saw he was in less bad shape and looked to be simply unconscious rather than dying.  Deciding the man was in more desperate need, Terin turned back to him to see if there was anything he could do outside collecting his vital signs and condition details for any medical support that might soon arrive.

While Fesic was on the comms with the authorities and Terin worked on the victims, Jocelynn turned to start dealing with the other people present, who'd pulled together into a crying and frightened knot.  She did her best to start reassuring them things were being taken care of and they were doing their best to set them right.  Checking his kit, Terin considered the risk of hitting the possibly dying man with an ampule of adrenalin, which would hopefully improve the victim's vitals and get more oxygen in the blood stream.  But, he knew he wasn't trained to find if there were internal injuries and bleeding, and if administering adrenalin might make that worse?

The kit also had a fairly basic "injector cuff" which would wirelessly connect to the diagnostic strip Terin had used.  Checking the man's right arm, Terin realized it seemed there was a broken bone there which had not been obvious.  Moving to the man's left arm, he put the cuff on and also put the diag-strip back on the man's forehead in hopes the basic medical supplies in the cuff could do anything to help the victim.  The good news was that Fesic was told vehicles should be arriving momentarily.

Even as Fesic reported that to the others, they heard the warble of rescue sirens in the distance as grav-based units started sweeping in for a landing.  Another relief was that medical teams deployed from each of the first two vehicles rather than law enforcement teams.  This helped Jocelynn continue to calm the people she'd been dealing with, and they had mostly stopped crying and were concerned about the still unconscious victims.  When EMT's and paramedics arrived, Terin was able to report the man's stats seemed to have stopped slipping and he had the boy in a thermal blanket but had taken no further measures.

The first paramedic took a scanner and recovered the data from Terin's diagnostic strip before telling him he could remove the strip and cuff.  While Terin did that and pulled back to let them work, an EMT asked him about the thermal blankets?  After Terin explained those, the EMT pulled two new and still sealed blankets from a kit and gave them to Terin, saying the one's he's used would never fold back into the kit.  From there, it was a job for the paramedics and they worked together with their EMT's as an integrated, trained and experienced team.  While Terin stood by to lend a hand if needed, he found he wasn't needed.

As the vehicle drivers came over to start asking questions and working to understand what had happened, the first law enforcement teams arrived and started blocking off that section of the plaza to prevent others wandering into the scene.  Some of those officers also came over to join the effort to understand the situation and figure out how people were injured?  Listening to what was said as this happened, Jocelynn, Fesic and Terin learned they had been correct that the people were homeless.  They had tried to setup a lean to, at the last minute and from random supplies found, to get out of the weather.  Unfortunately, the lean to had other thoughts on the matter as winds picked up.

Eventually, some of the officers asking questions came over to the Knights and asked for Idents, and an explanation of what they had been doing in the plaza?  How they had become involved in the collapse?  The fairly gruff and slightly suspicious tones changed quickly as the three handed over their Idents and the officers realized who they were now dealing with.  Fesic explained he'd been the one to call for rescue.  When they asked again how the Knights came to be involved in the situation, Terin summed it up as, "We were walking by, we heard a crash and we came to help.  That's what we do as Knights of the realm."

If the situation had not been so grim and if they'd not been dealing with law enforcement, Fesic and Jocelynn would have burst out laughing at how self-important Terin's statement was.  As it was, they each had to work to stop from bursting out laughing to create suspicion and start the officers asking more questions.  Fesic's comments were more along the lines of hearing cries and a thud, which he later clarified as the sounds of something crashing.  The officers thanked the Knights and took a complete report from each of them before saying they knew how to contact the crew if they had other questions.

Meanwhile, the medical team had split the people into two groups.  The injured would be taken to hospital for treatment while the others would be taken to proper shelter.  They asked if there was anything else they should know based on what the Knights had seen before they arrived.  At that point, Terin remembered the little girl and told them, "There was a little child who ran off in that direction while we were pulling them out."  He first pointed in the direction the girl had run and then pointed at the injured, who were being loaded onto a carrier to be moved to the hospital.  The police also identified the mother of the missing child and said they'd begin a search.

After that, the officers offered the Knights a ride but the three just wanted to find a tea shop and get some warm drinks while getting a chance to relax.  Once they'd scored some hot mugs and seats in a shop, they talked about the homeless before moving on to what they wanted to do for the rest of the afternoon?  So far, they had walked in the rain, wandered a wet city, looked in some shop windows and helped rescue some homeless from their apparently homicidal shelter.  So far, it was not shaping up to be a day they would want to write about in their ship's log.

When Terin said they should keep wandering, Fesic asked if they were sure they wanted to, given the cold and rain.  Terin shrugged that off and said things had been pretty exciting so far.  At that, Fesic laughed at him and asked, "So, it's excitement you want?"  Terin did say he'd gotten to save a person's life even though there was no update on if the victim he'd worked on had actually survived or would?  All they "knew" was that he'd been taken to hospital.  Still, after the drinks, they were off and out onto the streets again.

Half an hour later, they had still not found anything exciting or even really interesting in the work-a-day city of Atora.  As they wandered, Fesic's comms began to buzz.  He answered it to find a member of the seneschalate was calling and asked how he could help?  The caller said, "We understand you are in Atora city with Dame Jocelynn and Sir Terin?"  When Fesic said he was, they said they'd like to have a word with the three.  That turned out to be a polite way of saying, 'prepare to be picked up because we've have sent a car for you without asking permission'.  The call was simply to get their location so the car could hone in on where they were.

After the driver came and scooped them up, they found themselves being brought to the seneschalate complex, where they were bought into a conference room and asked to wait a bit.  Not long after that, they were joined by an officer who said they'd been going over a report they'd received from municipal authorities which said they'd been involved in an emergency rescue.  The statement was turned into a question, asking if the report was correct?  After the knights said it was, the officer nodded and told them there was a standing request from Countess Josephine that events like this should be gotten into the media as quickly as possible.  All three of the crew remembered when the spread of rumors had gotten so bad this was one of the preferred ways to fight them.

And while the rumors had died down, there were still those people who had been convinced, no matter what.  So, any photo op that countered the rumors was a good thing, even now.  So, the officer asked them if they'd take part in a media interview, not that they really had a choice.  Fesic did get a chance to lean over to Jocelynn and say, "Welcome to the microscope."  He also managed to ask the officer, "Will they be sure to get my good side?" with a smile.  From there, it was into a room where the knights were "cleaned up" a bit before they were sat before reporters in a green room where anything could have been green-screened onto the walls around them.

Across Atora, at the same time, many regular programs were cut into with an announcement of breaking news.  The anchor who picked up from that to introduce the story announced that the actions of the Prince and Arch Duke to recognize those serving the Imperium was already providing dividends.  With that, she gave a brief introduction that the streets of Atora are safer with some newly awarded Knights walking the streets to save lives.  Then, the coverage shifted to the three crew and the reporter.

Taking the lead, the reporter in the room reminded the viewers that each of the people he was with had been created a Knight of Caranda's Sword two days before, and two of the three had personally fought the assassin targeting The Duchess.  The table set, the reporter then said these three had been working to help even more people even while randomly wandering the city.  On a monitor they could see, a crew had filmed the removal of what was left of the lean to, and that was being used as the green-screen backdrop to the report.

As the reporter ran down a sequence of events that had to have come from the police reports, the green-screen changed to images being caught in the hospital where two injured citizens of Atora remained in critical condition and were being treated.  Finally, the images changed to shots inside a shelter where the homeless group were apparently still being in-processed.  After that, the cameras were on them, and the reporter wanted to get their words on how they heard the crash.  How they selflessly ran to help.  Then, the reporter asked each of the crew questions based on their statements from the official reports, to "capture the emotions of the moment".  After shooting half an hour's worth of talk, some of which went out live at the moment, they had a package they could cut up and place into the news feed over time.

The reporter finished off with a heart-felt thanks to Sirs Terin and Fesic, and Dame Jocelynn, who the reporter reminded the viewers had been a commoner only three days before!  The piece certainly took a turn in progress and turned into a PSA on the rewards of serving the Imperium.  There were also added questions for Jocelynn about travelling with Lady Mikah's crew, which were then tied to the elevation of Mikah, Zimzod and the late Sir Brian.  While the three played nice, they could not ignore the hand of propaganda each time the reporter's metaphoric hammer came down on the point.  In the end, Terin was a bit disappointed there hadn't been a firm word if the man he worked on would survive or not?

Once they were done, the officer asked if there was anywhere the knights wanted to be dropped off?  After a short chat where Terin still pushed to return to the city streets, they asked to be dropped somewhere with a good selection of restaurants so they could decide where to eat dinner.  It was not long before they got hungry and finally chose a small restaurant with sit-down service, a bar, a vid screen playing from a selected broadcast channel and the smell of good food.  It was not long before they'd ordered and were sipping their drinks when the vid screen changed as the evening news came on.

The three shook their heads when the eventual report came on of Knights coming to the rescue of helpless citizens.  Jocelynn was especially annoyed when the bit about her having been a regular citizen only days before was a specific highlight of the report.  And enough of the workers and patrons in the place watched the piece that it wasn't long before someone realized "those knights" were sitting in a table right in the middle of them!  When the owner happily came over and welcomed them, he told them the meal was on the house.  Terin waited til he was sure the man was far enough from the table before joking they should have gone to a more expensive place.

While they were finishing up their meal, the owner came back over, as he had several times.  Seeing they were preparing to leave, he mentioned there was a "professional hall" just around the corner which was having a fund raising night.  Professional halls on Regina were non-union organizations which had raised up to support the various skilled trades on-world.  The halls were linked across Regina's cities in professional associations, and helped support members of their trade during downturns, as well as the government during the Fifth Frontier War.  The halls and associations had no "legal" power, but they were an economic force to deal with if you crossed them.

The hall the restaurant owner directed them to was having a "gambling festival" fundraiser night, where people would buy tickets and gamble with them.  At the end of the evening, the tickets could be used to vie for prizes that got fairly expensive.  When they decided to check it out, the man not only could direct them but had fliers which showed his restaurant supported that hall.  The walk was short and the weather had cleared a bit, so they were happy when they arrived.  After they introduced themselves, the locals were very pleased to have them come to their fundraiser.  The three knights were brought up on stage and introduced to the hall, and a toast was raised in their honor, after which another toast was raised to the Duchess, Arch Duke and Emperor in that order.

Following that, some of the organizers "helped" the knights around the hall, introducing them to VIP's and showing off the games and table croupiers.  The knights were given tickets to bet with and helped to try their hands at whatever games they chose.  The three then joined in on the fun although it was a third gaming and a third 'meeting the people' and a third clumsy or 'not so clumsy' attempts at politicking.  They stayed and played until they felt things got boring and then found likely people to give their various tickets to before leaving.  Of course, as they should have expected, it had not been long into the evening before the local media showed up.

What was supposed to be a few minutes covering a local fund raiser reported by a very junior reporter ended up being a scoop as the reporter got a chance to cover a celebrity appearance.  In addition to that, the reporter went right to the hottest angle and spent most of his time trying to cover Dame Jocelynn, as she had been a commoner just a few days before.  Still, Jocelynn did manage to use Fesic and Terin for cover at times and once pulled Fesic into the camera to introduce him as "Sir Crash Test Dummy" without explaining the crew's obvious inside joke.  Finally, the three caught a cab and returned to the suite with Terin paying because it had all been his idea.

Another Sunset
     Mikah and her group had spent the entire afternoon enjoying the museum and thanked the Curator when they finished up.  Rather than staying there to buy meals, Mikah decided they should go back to the suite and eat what the chef was cooking up.  When they arrived, the butler made them aware that Jocelynn, Terin and Fesic had gone into town and several wondered how badly Fesic would be beat up this time?  When Aiden heard that, he snarked, "Just when you got Zimzod out of the gravChair." and they laughed.  Mikah was also told the financial data from the Baron had been delivered and she said she'd check that out later.  The order from Instell-Arms had also arrived but they no longer had Rol, so they figured they'd deal with that later.

Still, they did break out the shipment to check the goods and store them.  Mikah had Zimzod wrap Rol's goods for storage once they got the ship back too. In the end, they got the following goods and paid the following costs:
    Aiden: Cr 1,050 for a set of 10 Com dots and a Mux, A Vacc Suit HUD, 3 Improved Gun
        Cams, and a HUD integration kit for his snub rifle
    Emkir and Aali: Cr 715 for 8 Improved Gun Cams, a Vacc Suit HUD w/PRIS goggle and
        Inertial locator and 2 HUD integration kits
    Fesic: Cr 1,530 for 3 Improved Gun Cams and a set of 10 Com dots and a Mux
    Mikah: Cr 1,570 for Telescopic/IR/LI Weapon sights, a Vacc Suit HUD, a HUD integration
        kit for her new gauss rifle and 7 Improved gun cams
    Jocelynn: Cr 1,010 for a set of 10 Com dots and MUX and Vacc Suit HUD (Even though she
        doesn't have her own vacc suit)
    Rol: Cr 520 for 5 Improved Gun Cams, 5 more Comm Dots and a Vacc Suit HUD
    Terin: Cr 260 for a Vacc Suit HUD
    Zimzod: Cr 515 for 11 improved gun cams, a vacc Suit HUD, an integration kit for his gauss
        rifle to connect to his combat armor and 7 integration kits for other weapons to connect
        to his combat armor

It was a bit of time before the chef cooked and they sat down to eat.  While eating, they sparked up the local news and they were eventually "treated" to a short puff piece on the three Knights who'd come to save the helpless.  As the rest of the crew watched the piece, they were all surprised to see Fesic had not been beaten up!  Shaking their heads, Mikah was glad it was someone else on the vid, and they weren't in trouble.  Still, Mikah felt she needed some relaxation.  So, after dinner, she decided to go to the spa and have a massage and swim a bit.  Perhaps she would read the Baron's financial data as she relaxed.

Zimzod joined her, because floating was still more comfortable than walking.  Aiden thought that was a good idea and went swimming too.  Emkir and Aali took the opportunity to move into their bedroom and have an evening of fun.  Eventually, Terin, Jocelynn and Fesic got back to the suite to find the living spaces empty except for some muted sounds coming from Emkir and Aali's bedroom door.  They left that well enough alone as they relaxed and waited for the others to return from wherever they'd gone.  As people dropped off to sleep, there was nothing special planned for the next day except Fesic's hiking tour.  So, he was the only person to set an alarm.


Where everyone is at the end of the session:
     Everyone but Rol: Asleep in the Suite
     Rol: Eight days into the process of cloning

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Next: Plans, Preparation and Departure