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Scattered Interests
Regina     As the morning broke and the crew woke, the only person to set his alarm had been Fesic.  He'd booked a walking tour of some of the forests of Regina and had to be up and ready for the car being sent to pick him up.  For the others, they had to leave Regina and return by 087-1114.  Still, beyond having that task, they could do little for the next days because the Imperial Navy was installing cloning systems on the Upgrade.  They'd not get the ship back until later on 336-1113.  They'd also bought speculative cargo which sat in their berth until they could load it onto the ship.  And, they'd set their choice of ports, leaving Regina for Extolay, then continuing on to Tremous Dex and the Arden system.

Things they could do were 'research the systems they were bound to', 'research news and event information from those systems' and 'get a better idea of the worlds and cultures'.  Of course, the day was also Zimzod's Second day of light duty, so they couldn't go wild.  Still, the only person who'd set an alarm was Fesic, and he did plan to go wild.  He woke, did his morning routine and prepared before being picked up by the wilderness tour group for his forest tour.  Fesic was almost out the door when some of the others started emerging from their bedrooms.  In addition to his new hiking boots, Fesic also took his cane as a walking stick, and holstered his snub pistol on his hip as an honor weapon.

The tour was advertised as walking expeditions exploring several old growth forests on Regina and the local natural geologic formations, with a group transport in between those.  The trip would begin with a suborbital flight to where they could ride into the forests on a gravTram.  Along the path of the treks, there would be meals and drinks provided as well as short hop lifts to other parts of the hike.  They would also have a dinner at the end, before being brought back to the port for a suborbital return to Atora.  Fesic wouldn't rejoin the crew until after dinner that evening.

While Fesic was off on his planned trip, the others had nothing they "had to" do.  Mikah had been looking into museums to visit, learning more of Regina's culture and history.  But, they also had the chance to visit the Spinward Marches Towers, and check into the displays there for the systems they planned to visit.  Those who'd been the crew of the Dawnstar Horizon had found the towers on their first visit to Regina.  Each tower covered a section of the Spinward Marches, with a suite set up to display and show data on every mainworld in the Marches.  Some of them even had active novelty shops, information booths and even travel concessions.  Now, they could use them to check on Extolay, Tremous Dex and Arden.

Mikah had been looking for other options and found word of a set of tours she was very interested in.  These were parts of "The Palace Tour", a multi-day travel tour visiting the sites of the historic palaces on-world.  The "full" tour included both the "Elder" and "Imperial" palaces.  Most of the world's earliest palaces had been built during the Pre-Imperial history of Regina.  Indeed, there were remains of the Abbey of the "Sisters of St. Regina", said to have been built by converting one of the colonial freighters, named "Matthew".  While not victim to violence or intolerance, the ship had undergone multiple "conversions" in its life as an abbey and then a religious shrine and palace.  Eventually, time and the failure of materials had their way.

During the "Irreverent Era"(119 to 168 TI), a more secular government on Regina planted the early seeds of monarchist governments.  This mirrored the growth of new settlements on other continents as Imperial visits dumped "undesirables" on-world during Imperial Pacification programs.  social events in the period led to construction of a number of "Palaces" for the petit kingdoms which began to rise at this time.  Of those palaces, the "Elder Palace tour" visited the many ruins of lost palaces as well as the only palace from the era which was still intact.  The "Palace of Ekhsthollae" was the oldest 'Ruling structure' which is still intact on-world.

The Imperial Palace tour visits the still intact palaces built as or after Regina became an Imperial member world.  These included the "Grand Palace", which had been built for the first "King of Regina", raised and recognized as the world joined the Imperium.  That palace finished construction in 251.  Next, was "The Palace of Iuda", also finished in 251, for the First Marquis of Regina, Raybon Iuda.  That palace had been augmented over the centuries, as the Marquisate was created a County and then a Duchy.  Finally, there was the "Aledon Palace", finished in 553, after Emperor Jerome created Estelle hault-Aledon the first Baroness of Regina.  That action also separated rule of the Regina "system" from the "County of Regina".  It was noted Estelle hault-Aledon was a distant relative to Arch Duke Norris.

Mikah was very pleased when she first found the palace tours, but was soon annoyed when she found the "full" tour would take several days.  Days she didn't have because they planned to lift on the 336th after they got the ship back from the Navy.  Checking her options, Mikah decided to take a tour of the Aledon Palace, because it was closest to Atora.  When Zimzod said he'd be going with Mikah, Aiden asked if he could join in?  Jocelynn said she'd like to come too.  Terin told them he was going to the Spinward Marches Towers to do research on the worlds they were heading to.

Over five hundred years old, the palace had a number of attractions which were favorites for different crowds.  Aiden was most interested in the palace's armory, which had been converted into a historic weapons archive.  By sections, the displays showed collections of "weapons of the period", showing off not only weapons used by the guard, and military units on-world, but also those weapons captured in the various wars.  These included Imperial as well as Zhodani and Vargr.  One collection of note were weapons from the Menorb system.

It highlighted events when then-Marquis Caranda had led Imperial forces to invade Menorb, keeping them from revolt while then-Admiral Arbellatra Alkhalikoi went to the Imperial core, ending the Imperial Civil War.  While Aiden very much enjoyed the armory, Zimzod nodded at him and dismissively said, "I've seen better."  They all enjoyed the tour, though sections of the palace alternated between "Understated and elegant" or "flashy and outright gaudy".  This was a common set of traits shared by all palaces Mikah had ever heard of, so she wasn't surprised by that.

Eventually, they had the chance to buy souvenirs and Zimzod looked for any tales of ghosts.  All he found were histories of the palace.  Jocelynn found a number of holocubes showing some of the more elegant displays she had been taken with and spent Cr 50 on those.  Mikah wasn't interested in souvenirs while Aiden first looked for weapon replicas.  The shop specialized in video or visual items, showing scenes in the palace.  Eventually, he spent a CrImp on a pin-on button showing the palace.

While Emkir wanted to go swimming at the spa, Aali wanted to check in with her parents because they were planning to leave the system soon.  When Aali called, she got her mother and learned what had been happening since they last talked.  The Duchy had, good to Seldrian's word, gotten fully involved.  Contractors had already been lined up to do the repairs even as site surveys and debris removal were carried out.  The Regina Unified Army had taken the event as a "mobility exercise", so the estate was swarming with teams led by engineers.  One result of that was that multi-ton, connectable, sealed habitat modules were brought in.  That meant Aali's parents now had three homes.  The first was the old family home, which they put on the market.  The second was the suite made available to them and the third was a multi-module residence set up for them on the mansion property.

When Aali brought up a visit, Emkir even suggested they could have the suite staff put together some supplies to bring.  Aali's mom invited them out to take a tour of what had been, or and was being, done.  Her mother made it clear they had a partial staff present, and were also being taken care of by the military.  So, there was no need for supplies.  Agreeing with her mother, they set their plans and got into the ground car so Aali could drive them out to the mansion for a day visit.  Telling Mikah they were going before they left, Mikah joked they should leave some of the bullet scars visible on the mansion walls to remember the crew by.

After sitting and catching up with Aali's parents, they took a tour of the structure to get the details on the damage and repairs.  The first thing they'd seen on arrival was that hydraulic columns had been put in place to support the front section of the kitchen wing of the mansion so the APC could be towed out from where it had been jammed.  Engineers were now evaluating that part of the mansion to see if it could be repaired or if the wing would have to be taken down and rebuilt?  Taking a small hoverTram around, Emkir and Aali were shown the work to remove the ruins from the utility's wing and the first steps to re-grading the area for construction.

When Aali wanted to go into the kitchen wing to see for herself what they were evaluating, Emkir came along.  Having more time to check the place out, and less interest in the engineering, except where Aali commented and pointed things out, Emkir was looking at things he'd not had the time to examine when they were assaulting the place.  One thing he noted was a door in one of the kitchen walls, which none of the team had seen or mentioned before.  What struck him was that there wasn't space for another room behind the door.  So, it was strange.

Trying the door, Emkir realized it wasn't locked, so he pulled it open to "stick his nose into it".  What he found was a musty and dusty landing, with a set of stairs to the right and descending into darkness!  Leaning back out, he called to Aali, "Hey!  There's a dungeon.  Wanna have a look and see who's up in hand-cuffs?"  Aali simply turned to Emkir and asked, "Munarshu?  What are you doing here?" in a conversational tone.  Both Emkir and Aali laughed at that as they grabbed a flashlight left by one of the workers.

Stepping carefully down the steps, they realized the military had been very wrong about the place not having some kind of basement.  Getting to the bottom of the stairs, they looked around to see it appeared to be an abandoned wine cellar.  While Emkir immediately had visions of finely aged wines, Aali worried they'd found a vinegar cellar instead.  Exploring the space, they came on a number of empty bottles and presses for corking bottles as well as old discarded stools and other discarded items.

They did find a small collection of sealed bottles, but any excitement Emkir felt right away faded when they saw the bottles weren't dusty at all.  Checking them, the pair saw the bottles were fairly new, and not very expensive or even notable.  In the end, Emkir and Aali guessed the twenty bottles had been put there by the terrorists, as their own small stash.  Moving on as Aali checked the bottles, Emkir checked the perimeter of the cellar until he came to a spot that appeared to have been mortared up.  Looking closer, it appeared to have been a door once, but to have been mortared up.

After he pointed that out to Aali, and she shared some time inspecting it with Emkir, they agreed to leave the mortared door alone.  Inspecting the bottles, they selected two to bring upstairs as they returned to the module cluster.  There, they sat with Aali's parents and told them about the find, the bottles and the mortared door.  They joked about what might be behind the mortared door as they ate dinner and drank.

The tour Fesic had taken brought them deep into old growth forests for a set of hikes to view notable geologic formations.  From time to time, the tour group brought in vehicles as one hike ended and they moved to another, and each hike would reach one or more formations to view.  In the middle of the day, the hike led them to a clearing where a lunch had been brought in and there had been workers from the tour group making drinks available through the day.  Eventually, they came to a prepared clearing in the early evening, where they had dinner before being taken to the local spaceport for a suborbital back to Atora.  On the whole, Fesic felt ready to return to shipboard life.

The Road Ahead
     When the crew gathered back at the suite for, or after dinner, Emkir suggested someone who was a member of TAS post that they had a stateroom available for passage to Extolay.  Because Aali was busy, Jocelynn said she'd do it and eventually set up the post on the TAS system.  When that happened, Terin said they had to decide what day they would be lifting?  Since they'd be getting the ship back on the 336th, and have to load the cargo, prepare the ship and deal with possible passengers.  It would be late that day if they wanted to lift on the 336th.  Mikah nodded and announced they'd be lifting on the 337th instead.

After that, Terin told them he'd spent the day in the Spinward Marches Towers investigating the systems they planned to visit.  As far as Extolay, he'd found the "Local Day" lasted 40 standard days, four hours, and twenty minutes.  That meant the local "day" and "night" lasted just over 3 standard days each.  The Local Year, around Harbinger, was 6 standard days, one hour, and fifty-five minutes.  The world was tidally locked, so all on-world settlements were in the "twilight zone" between the bright hemisphere facing the star and the dark, facing away.  A special project the world government was working on were domes along the border of the world's bright side.  They were are designed to capture sunlight and grow crops in, to help feed the population.

The population centers were a band of dark, urbanized segments ringing the world, surrounded by as much farmland as the world could reserve.  The world's culture could be described as post-industrial.  The world's atmosphere was thin, meaning it could be breathed at sea level, but rising in altitude could even force people to put on vacc suits.  The world's population was listed as just over 100 billion, with a world government which was viewed from the outside as a "Police state".  Explanations of this position range from 'extreme protection against accidental deaths' to 'extreme limits placed on a massive population to prevent populations shifts outside of prescribed management zones'.  Still, the legal system was said to be involved in "Everything".

Next, Terin said that Tremous Dex was described as a tectonically "violent" moon orbiting a gas giant surprisingly close to the system's parent star, an orange star.  Thankfully, the binary partner, a red dwarf star, occupied an orbit much further out in the system and has little effect on the gas giant or mainworld.  Viewed from orbit, and thanks to an atmosphere made up of trace sulfur compounds, the world was a colorful display of sulfuric ice sheets green, yellow and orange.  The system has the one gas giant around which the main world orbits, but no planetoid belts.

Early in the settlement of the Spinward Marches, the system's development rights had been bought by Exo Elements.  That corporation set up and still controlled the system's starport, expecting to profit from miners drawn to the system to recover chemicals from the world itself, as well as mineral and ore riches from other systems easily accessible from the port.  The original plan had been to create the port, bring in industry to manage the ore and chemicals as well as financial and other services.  Early plans also included ship services concessions, and that would lead to the first crack in the corporation's plans.  The first crack beyond the system being forced to leave the Imperium by the Zhodani.

Originally, a very well provisioned stopping point from systems deeper inside Imperial borders to the worlds of the Arden County, Tremous Dex remained a stepping stone.  Unfortunately, traffic to and through the system dropped significantly after the armistice of 986, when many worlds in the Vilis subsector, including Tremous Dex, were forcibly released from the Imperium at the end of the Third Frontier War.  In the following 127 years, the system saw a early and sudden flood of traffic back to the Imperium as those who could afford it fled the dispossessed worlds.  What followed that were drastic economic collapses and social realignments.  Some of the systems even suffered an entire collapse into literal hells.

One market Tremous Dex had built up since the dispossession was the ability to be a "transfer point" beyond the eyes of the Imperium.  This didn't mean there were no Imperial agencies operating in the system, but it guaranteed they were covert intelligence or under-cover law enforcement operations.  And the organizations could be Imperial, Zhodani, or even agents of the new Federation of Arden.  Terin continued to explain that the suggestion that Exo Elements and the port control things in the system is not likely to be true.  While it was true the port has "the largest" security operation on-world, there were many factions vying for different goals and the way those factions fit together or fought changed very often.  Two factions could even be working together on one goal while simultaneously fighting each other on a second goal.  And that included shootings and killings.

In the meantime, security operations ranged anywhere from large, organized and well trained forces to units of "irregular supply and training" and could even include hired gangs and groups of thugs.  What made even the worst of the gangs dangerous were the constantly shifting alliances.  While anyone could be powerful and well-armed, even the most secure starship and combat team could be overwhelmed by a large shift of alliances against it.  And where alliances often shifted because of the loot they might grab, the larger the shift would be, and the more people, if it seemed a ship would be cracked and even valuable parts of the hull, or specialized gear could be grabbed.  That could make the Upgrade a possible target where they had a small crew and two suits of very valuable battledress...

Terin also warned them the economy of Tremous Dex wasn't standardized either.  The value of the "CrImp", or Imperial Credit, could rise or drop because of who you were dealing with or what you wanted?  Any entity that had a regular and steady supply of CrImp's, like the starport, didn't have a reason to value the CrImp highly.  So, a docking fee might be cheaper if the arriving ship captain agreed to hand over a share of a particularly lucrative cargo...like computers or high tech electronics.  In that case, sticking strictly to paying in Credits might see the ship paying an extreme amount for inexpensive items.

At the same time, any entity that had very little access to CrImp's might also have little value for them.  This was because they'd lived without them for so long they didn't feel they needed them.  So, especially where the smaller groups are concerned, it is more important to try and figure out what they valued?  But most important of all, it was important to not let them know what you had until it was time to close a deal.  And then, to only let them know you have what you offered.  Because anything you were not offering was something they could steal.

When it came to factions in-system, the most well-known were the port and the ship-yards, who were bitter opponents outside events like invasion.  The next were the pleasure arcologies in space and the pleasure domes on-world, though no one knew who each might be working with or against.  The next well known faction in-system were the self-proclaimed "Pirate Guild", which were an organization of ship's captains and crews.  Often operating as little more than gangs, they were often well-equipped and very experienced gangs thanks to their experiences raiding.  And they would most often team up against outsiders and fight over the spoils later.

Hearing that, Emkir said it might be good for them to convert some of their cash into precious metals, minerals or other items of value.  The others heard that and agreed.  Mikah agreed, and said they should convert some of their cash to gold and silver ingots, just in case.  Mikah also said they'd have to find a way to work with the smaller factions, like gas miners, food and consumables provisioners and others.  They might be small, but even finding a berth, food or other accommodations might be difficult without them.  Those were every group or firm that made society work, including bars and entertainment.  With everything on the world including the ground being unstable, the one firm that seemed to be an island of stability were the Maakham Zuuker breweries.

That small firm appeared to have developed a web of alliances which kept it independent despite all the other shifts.  This seemed to be based on the secrecy surrounding their recipes.  While many groups had learned "what" they use to brew their drinks, no one had managed to combine them in the correct way to get the booze right.  When it looked like Maakham Zuuker was about to fall into someone else's control, the operators threatened to destroy the site and the recipe.  By then, their products had become so valued by almost every group in-system that the attackers backed off.  Since then, Maakham Zuuker were the one firm in-system that no one got caught crossing.

In an even more rare confession, even the Zhodani had admitted failing to divine the correct process.  To the current day, transport alliances let the brewery send purchasing agents to any system to collect stocks of supplies and return them to Tremous Dex.  Those cargos were mostly sealed and marked "no questions asked".  Those watching were certain some of the cargoes were red herrings, bought by agents to misdirect observers.  An existing rumor even suggested some of the best hackers in the Marches had failed to get the recipe from the firm's computers, suggesting the process was actually not on any computer to start.

Next, Terin reported on what he'd found about the Arden system, home of the resurgent Federation of Arden.  Terin's report even included the news, from reports three days before, that the Federation had officially claimed the Utoland and Zircon systems.  Terin reminded them the Arden system had not only been an Imperial member world, but had been designated an Imperial County.  In fact, the Vilis Subsector had, at that time, been called, the Arden Subsector.  At the time, the County of Arden held the Caloran, Zenopit, Zircon and 899-076 systems in fief.  At the time, the Zircon system hadn't yet been settled.

Near the end of the Imperial period for those systems, Arden had colonized both Zircon and Utoland.  Shortly after that, the Third Frontier War swept the region and the Imperial border was forced back to the trailing.  The former County of Arden became a demilitarized zone, and the worlds were forced to deal with sudden independence, loss of interstellar resources and isolation.  Arden's Count had attempted to declare "The Federation of Arden", but hadn't had the resources to make the Caloran and Zenopit systems comply.  Because they had been mostly disarmed, they also didn't have the resources to subdue the anarchistic settlers in the 899-076 system.

The world had a thin atmosphere, meaning they could wander at sea level without masks or vacc suits, but would need assistance if they climbed in altitude.  That meant the upper floors of any skyscrapers had to be sealed and pressurized.  The world's charismatic oligarchy ruled over a population over one hundred million, which suggested resources were always in demand.  The laws on-world were considered extreme, without a "survival need" as an explanation.  Terin had also seen that population movement was regulated by the government, so even moving from town to town required personal papers and travel documentation.

Information And Expenses
     After Terin finished up his reports, they talked about what he'd said, it but didn't come up with much other than changing some of their cash to precious metals and minerals.  When they considered what else they might need, Zimzod asked if Jocelynn had shopped for her own vacc suit?  Especially since she'd gotten a brand new HUD for it.  When she said she hadn't bought one, Jocelynn was asked if she wanted to go shopping?  Deciding she should, Jocelynn said she'd go to Instell-Arms when Mikah suggested they'd have the best selection.  That decided, Mikah and Zimzod said they'd go with her.  Aiden said he'd join in and Emkir and Aali said they'd go swimming.  Fesic went into his bedroom to do some work on his lock pick training while Terin did stent-work before relaxing and watching vids.

Along the way, Mikah's only advice was to be sure the suit was self-sealing, if they had one with that capability.  When Jocelynn got to work her way through what Instell-Arms had on hand, she found an imported TL-E vacc suit for Cr 14,000.  When she was told that was a good price, Jocelynn bought the suit and then turned to look at the PLSS systems.  While she did, Mikah reminded her you didn't cheap out when it came to vacc suits.  As she looked, Jocelynn could see a variety of PLSS units from bulky units with a basic air supply to more sleek units with a much longer supply.

As with the suit, Jocelynn found an imported unit from the same system the suit had been made in.  The unit could provide breathable air for up to forty eight hours, though it was more streamlined thanks to the carbon scrubbers and ultra-high pressure tanks built into it.  And, for whatever reason, the price or the unit was only Cr 10,000!  Along with those things, Jocelynn grabbed a pack of five suit patches.  The shop threw in a can of spray-in suit conditioner.  Realizing she still had the newly delivered HUD and Rol wouldn't be around to install it for some time, Jocelynn asked how much it would cost to have I-A do the work?  When she was told Cr 500, she said she'd bring the HUD from the suite the next day.


Plans And Surprises
     Fesic was the first of the crew awake when his alarm went off at seven.  After his morning routine, Fesic had breakfast before sitting to watch the news and wait for the others to get up.

    Regina (A788899-C  2  Ri Cp  G  703  Im  F7 V  M8 D  M6 V)                Date: 334-1113
    The Admiralty continue to assure that a sudden battle in the Regina out-system
    has been ended with no further danger to the system or spacers.  News agencies
    continue to gather information from naval offices on events from earlier
    this morning.  Organized reports state a flotilla of armed civilian vessels
    had left Regina's highport in apparent convoy very early today.  Things turned
    combatant when the outbound ships refused hailing from a number of Regina's
    customs cutters.

    That action was followed by a running engagement where a small number of
    customs cutters were disabled before a number of larger naval vessels reached
    the scene.  At battle's end, the smaller craft had blistered some naval armor
    while the civilian ships were all disabled with the survivors in custody.  It
    was then that naval officers learned the convoy had been hired by the self
    proclaimed 'Payan Government in Exile'.  Against Imperial policy and orders,
    the flotilla were chartered to deliver Payan exiles back to Paya.

    The population of exiles in the Regina system had settled in-system after it
    was determined a comet would strike Paya in 1075.  Only 20,000 of the world's
    original population of twelve million refused to leave, and only five hundred
    of those survived the impact.  The government established by "the Society
    of Evolutes" have refused to accept back the world's former citizens and
    managed to gain Imperial support for their legal restrictions.  This placed
    the Imperial Navy in the position of enforcing Imperial policy.

    On-world, Imperial forces have begun a search for those who have claimed
    authority in the Payan organization.  Specific warrants have been issued
    for personalities such as Mr. Gelamid Mome.  The well-known leader of the
    Payan movement has not been able to be located by Imperial or planetary
    forces.  Questions have been raised on the odds Mr. Mome might be one of
    the unfortunates who didn't survive the engagement.  Further details will
    be provided as they become available.
                

Follow on broadcasts from interstellar news included more discussion of the news from Natoko, and commentary from military experts hired to give their opinions or provide explanations and realistic descriptions based on what the reports did cover.  The one opinion that was shared by every commenter was that Admiral Uuela would very shortly be announcing that Imperial forces were completely in control of the world except for small bands of holdouts.  Local news continued to be largely based on the visit of the Prince and Arch Duke, the elevations and the recent terror attacks. When there were clips of the crew being elevated, Fesic captured that video for the ship's screen saver software.

Zimzod actually woke more than fifteen minutes before his and Mikah's alarm clock, and he got up to go about his morning routine.  It was Zimzod's third day of light duty so he had to take it easy on the exercises.  He eventually got out into the suites common spaces to see Fesic watching the news.  While Zimzod ate, Fesic showed him the crew's news highlights, captured from the morning news.  By 8:30, all those who'd set alarms were out in the dining room having breakfast as they talked about the coming day.  That left Terin in his bedroom as Jocelynn had plans to visit Instell-Arms with her HUD kit.

While eating, Jocelynn talked about having her HUD installed and some of the others realized they should do that too, since Rol wouldn't be available for more than four months.  They also talked about installing the new-bought gum-cams and comm dots.  Mikah said they should do that while they were in jump, because the weapons were aboard the ship.  Because of that, Emkir and Aali went with Jocelynn, and brought Aali's vacc suit helmet and new HUD.  Mikah also went along with her new HUD and vacc suit helmet.  Having realized she'd not ordered a set of comm-dots and mux with their bid, Mikah bought one for Cr 2,000.  She also bought five extra dots, which she had synchronized with the mux for Cr 50.  Jocelynn also realized she'd not bought guncams and ordered five of those for Cr 50.

At Instell-Arms, Jocelynn not only had her HUD installed in her new vacc suit helmet, but also bought five more comm dots to add to her set.  Having planned that before she'd left for the shop, Jocelynn had her mux, and the techs could tune the new dots for her.  While she and the others were at Instell-Arms, Aiden planned on doing some stent-work before exploring the estate grounds.  While they did that, Fesic went into the kitchen to work on a personal cooking project with help from the staff.  Terin asked Zimzod if they had any supplies they needed for the ship, before they left Regina?

Zimzod reminded him they'd have to find gear for operations in the extreme cold, for their planned trip to Sonthert.  The issue they had on Regina was that world had no market for that kind of gear, nor did they manufacture it in-system.  Still, they did agree it wouldn't hurt to look and see what they could find?  Eventually, while they did that, and while Terin communed with his stent, Fesic came out of the kitchen with a serving plate on which there appeared to be six red-candied apples or other fruits.  Since he saw Terin was busy, Fesic simply put the tray on a table, open to all, and moved to sit, relax and watch.

While working with Terin, Zimzod caught some movement from the corner of his eye as Fesic set out the onions.  Zimzod also saw that Fesic hadn't taken one of the treats for himself.  Zimzod then recalled experiences as far back as when Inger had bought the huge box of candies "for everyone".  Zimzod had hung back while others tried them before taking a couple to "test".  It turned out, he'd gotten some fairly terrible candies from that box.  Zimzod also remembered what Rol had done to Munarshu when that idiot had pestered Rol to cook for him.

Letting those memories keep him healthy, Zimzod wasn't beyond having a bit of fun, though.  So, he nudged Terin and indicated the treats with a nod of his head.  When Terin looked up, Zimzod said, "Looks like the staff have put out something for us."  As far as Zimzod was concerned, Terin would either enjoy one of the candied things or be disgusted.  Either way, he'd know if they were safe to eat or not?  Terin looked at the treats and said, "The staff, huh?  That's unusual."  Zimzod only nodded and kept up his pretense to better sell the line.

Standing, Terin walked over to look at the things and they looked like a red-candy covered fruit like an apple.  While Terin had heard of such things on his homeworld, Lysen was much too dry a world for the mass growing of fruits like apples.  It had been very obvious that there were a lot more fruits grown on Regina, so a treat like that would be much less expensive.  Shrugging and picking one from the tray, Terin licked at it and it tasted like a cherry flavored hard candy coating.  Fesic and Zimzod both watched as the navigator considered the taste of the candy coating.  He told the others, "This tastes pretty damn good."  With a growing look of anticipation on his face, Terin took a bite of the "apple" and began chewing.

While he chewed, the look on his face quickly soured and he soon stopped chewing and spit the bits out.  Turning to the others, Terin said, "I think these apples have soured."  Terin first spit the bits into a waste basket and then dropped the apple in behind it.  When Terin suggested telling the staff to try and get some more fresh apples, Zimzod only chuckled and said, "You do that."  After the floor show, Fesic went into his bedroom to work on his lock picking course.  When Aiden finished his stent-work in his bedroom, he relaxed to read a book.  Alone in the common spaces, Zimzod shrugged and figured he'd try one of the apples.  After his first bite, Zimzod realized the "apple" was an onion.  Like Terin, he spit out and threw away the onion he'd bitten but left the others sitting on the tray.

While those at Instell-Arms waited for work on their gear to be finished, Aali checked out the ship maintenance section to see what they had?  While more well known as arms and combat equipment dealing, I-A also had departments for anything a spacer could want.  As she shopped, Aali noticed a small batch of fairly high tech hand tools which interested her.  Looking closer, Aali saw two items that she knew were better than what she had already.  The first was a hand-computer tester and regulator that could even be jacked into systems like the jump drive power regulator while they were in operation.  With an additional packet of 'remote tools' that I-A also had in stock, she could even test for extremely small losses of power in the run.

The second item was a kit Aali could install in the ship's life support system which would help keep key active components viable even in the event the system was shattered and exposed to vacuum.  In this case, the specific kit would, itself, also have to be smashed to lose viability completely.  Another part of the kit allowed for a task to be added to monthly maintenance so they could remotely store a sample elsewhere.  Considering the misjump that devastated the Hotel California, Aali also remembered scouring the Regina's Storm for live cultures to get the Coronal Flare's system working again.  Shuddering at those memories, Aali grabbed all three items for Cr 1,000 each.

Finishing up their search, Terin and Zimzod found nothing new.  The only gear they had bought since they'd started talking about Sonthert were the five hazardous environment suits Mikah had bought on Wypoc.  They agreed they'd have to look for more gear along their travels as Jocelynn and the others got back from Instell-Arms.  Looking around, those who returned saw what looked like four candied apples on a tray on one of the tables.  Mikah and Jocelynn considered their figures and ignored the snacks while Emkir and Aali were not hungry.  After storing her gear, Mikah considered going to another museum while Jocelynn said she wanted to go swimming.  Aali had sat to watch the news while Emkir started stowing their things.

Mikah decided to visit another museum, this one, "The Zecema Thuma museum of natural art" and Zimzod looked to see what the others were doing?  Jocelynn grabbed a suit and went to the spa to swim while Emkir and Aali also sat and relaxed for a bit.  When Terin again suggested they go out to an amusement park, he was reminded the weather was still less than perfect for that.  Emkir suggested playing video games and Terin said, "That's a great idea!  Let's find an arcade."  Emkir protested, "Don't we have video games here?" but Terin said they did but an arcade would have more intense and realistic virtual reality games.

Terin's voice was so enthusiastic that Emkir figured he'd ask Aali how she felt?  And, when Aali said they might as well go, Zimzod figured that was something he could do so he joined in.  Hearing that, Mikah and Jocelynn changed their minds and joined in.  Aiden also joined in while Fesic wanted to keep working on his lock picking class.  At the arcade, those who went saw they had options ranging from single-console single-player games to massive virtual reality games where many people can play in teams or individually.  Zimzod was immediately up for the larger game because he could hunt other players.

Emkir, Aali and Aiden followed Zimzod in, paying Cr 20 each for entry.  At first, Zimzod started hunting Mikah, who returned the favor.  The others went for any target of opportunity, things changed fairly soon.  Shortly after they'd joined the game, a wave of new competition also joined, only they were hunting any members of the crew they could find!  Faced with a common foe, the crew pulled together under Zimzod's leadership.  Despite that, the numbers were overwhelming as they took down foes and died.  Still, they did take down an impressive number of the new attackers before they died.

When they finally pulled off their VR goggles to see who they'd been facing, they saw Countess Athkazuk standing with that predatory smile of hers.  As Mikah greeted the Countess, the vargr woman nearly howled as she said how much fun the fight had been.  When Zimzod said they should do it again, Aali jumped into demand more even sides.  In the end, they got to have one more man than the Countess, and they still got shot down by the numbers.  One of the reasons for that was that a lot of the other players got out of the way when they realized what was happening.  So, there were fewer "distractions".

Done working up a sweat, Mikah suggested they get drinks and the Countess said it was dinner time and asked if Mikah's group wanted to come along?  When the Countess called her people together, the crew were surprised to learn one of her team-mates was an Aslan warrior, and a lieutenant commander!  This was a surprise because they had all used human avatars while in the battlezone.  Still, the restaurant attached to the place served dishes for all the races on Regina, and they were given a space where they could all gather around a table and eat.  As they ate, Fesic was having dinner alone in the suite because no one else was returning.  After Fesic finished, he went back to his lock pick studies.

In the restaurant, Mikah and the crew were eating with the Countess and four of her people because the rest had other things to attend to.  All were naval officers of the Imperial or Regina navy, and one was an Aslan male while two were Human.  The other was a Vargr male.  the dinner went longer than usual because of the conversation, but the Countess finally said it had been fun but she had to get moving.  The other officers left with her.  When Mikah thanked her for the fun that day and then specifically thanked her for the fun two days before, with a wink, the Countess only answered, "We do what we can." and left.

After the Countess left, they considered going back to gaming but Mikah did say she'd gotten the financial data from the Baron and Baroness, and they should go over it.  Emkir agreed, because they'd been in and out of Regina often enough they should get some investments growing.  So, they agreed to go back to the suite.  Once there, Mikah pulled out the data and got Emkir to look at it, because he was the closest the crew had to an accountant or lawyer.  When they got back, with Fesic in his bedroom, the place looked empty except for the tray with candied fruit on it.

Looking the fruit over, Mikah grabbed a knife to cut one open, figuring she'd eat it if she could identify what kind of fruit it was?  When she saw and smelled that the item she cut open was an onion, Mikah looked up and asked, "OK.  Who's the practical joker?"  At that point, Zimzod admitted he'd seen Fesic drop off the tray earlier in the day.  Mikah considered that a moment or two before Zimzod asked if she wanted him to get Fesic?  Mikah shrugged, said "Nah" and then said they had to sit down and check out the documents from the Baron and Baroness.

All the data was electronic, delivered on datapads, and included the balance sheets, profit and loss data, industrial details and financial forecasts.  Parts of the documents ran down the corporate structure and details along with unit-analysis coverage of each subdivision.  There was a market analysis which had to have been updated very recently because it already included the new programs the Prince had announced.  With Aali's help, Emkir poured through the documents and briefly commented on what wasn't important while taking time to talk out things that were with the others.  From everything they had, Emkir was satisfied the deal was what it seemed, and there was a chance to make some money there.

When Emkir asked if this would be something the ship bought into, Mikah shot that down.  She said it would be up to each person how much they wanted to buy in for?  Emkir then suggested five of them could put in KCr 2 each for a single share but Mikah blew that out of space.  She said she was considering buying five herself.  Zimzod said he'd be in for four shares.  Emkir and Aali decided they'd be in for two shares each and Aiden was in for two shares himself.  Terin said he'd buy three shares, Fesic bought one share.  Jocelynn said she wasn't ready to jump into the universe of interstellar high-finance yet.

The decisions made, Mikah called the comms account they'd been given and got the Baron on the comms.  When she told him the crew wanted to invest, the man was pleased, exclaiming, "Wonderful!"  He then said they could meet the next day and Mikah said she was good with that at their convenience.  The Baron gave her an address and suggested 10am, and Mikah agreed that would be perfect.  After that, Mikah said she wanted to relax and play one of the video games they had in the suite.  Emkir and Aali went into their bedroom to "play with" each other while Terin broke out the hookah.  Mikah also told everyone who was investing to set alarms for 8am.  That meant Jocelynn was the only one sleeping in.


Investments And Entertainment
     The next morning, everyone but Jocelynn was up, cleaned up and dressed in acceptable clothing, if not 'professional', and had breakfast in time to get moving early if they wanted to.  It was Zimzod's fourth day of light duty and they would get the ship back the next day.  Eleven parsecs riftward of Regina, Fesic's x-mail about ordering a college class on computer core should have reached the Lanth system, headed for D'Ganzio.  That meant it should reach D'Ganzio in a week, on the 342nd day of the year.

By the time Jocelynn came out of her bedroom, the rest of the crew were planning the drive into town to make their buy.  She wished them well and reminded them not to lose the farm as they got moving.  Shortly after that, Mikah got them all into the gravCar and they took off for central Atora.  They landed and made their way into the non-descript building to look for the address inside.  The building ended up being a hive of suites which could be rented by companies for short or long term periods.

When they arrived at the suite in the instructions, they stepped in to see a man in professional dress working at a terminal of some kind.  Looking up, the man asked if he could help them and checked a screen when Mikah said they were there to meet the Baron.  Nodding, the man smiled and said, "Yes, you must be Lady Mikah's party.  Won't you follow me?"  As they did, he led them through a door into an office where the Baron and Baroness seemed hard at work at a number of terminals, with some datapads set about for easy reference.  The couple rose as the crew arrived, and warmly greeted those they'd met at the casino. The Baron also congratulated Zimzod on having gotten out of the gravChair.

After the greetings and introductions were done, they sat down and got to business.  The Baron led the charge as the investment was reviewed and they went over the offer, contracts and other paperwork.  Finally, they got to the question of the moment.  How much was each of them interested in investing?  Mikah went first, as she was the Captain, highest ranking and was also planning to spend the most.  Once Mikah said she wanted to buy five shares, they stepped through the process of signing the intent documents, transferring payment and then transferring the investment confirmation and account documents.  Done, Mikah sat back as they moved on to the next person and eventually got an email notification of the receipt.

Next came Zimzod and his four shares, Terin's three shares, Emkir and Aali's 'two shares each', Aiden's two shares and Fesic's one share.  The entire effort took them over an hour and a half.  After that, they returned to the suite to find Jocelynn had left.  Looking around, Zimzod joked she was out getting into trouble and Terin said, "At least she's not getting Fesic beat up.  He's here with us."  With time before lunch, Zimzod suggested he and Mikah go to the spa to swim and relax.  Mikah agreed, and they grabbed suits and left.  Emkir watched news and vids until lunch was served.  Fesic went back to his lock picking and Aiden did stent practice with Aali and Terin joining him.

At the spa, Mikah and Zimzod saw Jocelynn was taking swimming lessons.  While Mikah changed, Zimzod bought a bathing suit so he could float and do some light workouts in the pool.  Those at the spa soon got done with their lessons or workouts and went back to the suite for lunch.  After eating, Mikah started talking about packing things up and getting ready to move back to the ship.  Zimzod reminded her they wouldn't get the ship back until late in the day so they could pack the next morning.  He suggested they relax and have a party.

When Mikah agreed they should party, the hookah, funnel cake maker and chocolate fountain came out.  Booze was poured and everyone enjoyed.  The party went on for some hours, and through dinner before it started to wind down.  With things fading, Terin suggested they go to a club for the last night on-world.  Despite the fading party, Jocelynn said she wanted to go with Terin.  When Fesic said he did too, Zimzod joked about them getting the band back together and asked how many parts they'd bring Fesic home in?  That got a laugh as Zimzod added, "Remember.  If you come back without your Idents, the paper suits come out." in a menacing tone.  The others just laughed.

When they started looking at clubs to go to, Jocelynn surprised them all by saying, "Let's not go to a seedy one."  Fesic joked, "Let's go to a gay bar!"  Jocelynn put her face in her hands and said, "You too would fit right in", meaning Terin and Fesic.  That got everyone laughing.  When Jocelynn asked Terin what kind of club he wanted to go to, Terin said he wanted to go where the others wanted to.  He just wanted to go out to a club.  Not satisfied with that answer, Jocelynn suggested they ship Terin to a gay club and go somewhere else.  That got even more laughs than before.

Checking out a number of clubs on the local network, Jocelynn saw one advertising the 'darkened, anonymous and no-questions once inside' atmosphere of illicit clubs one had to have the password to enter.  She liked that idea, and said they should go there.  The three spent the rest of the evening in a bar which was dark, and decorated to a level of technology where leather combined with many gears and oddly shaped glass objects to create a theme.  A number of the people in the bar even wore outfits to match, which made the three feel even more like tourists.  In the end, they made few contacts while they spent on drinks.  Jocelynn spent Cr 60 while trying to forget her title, Fesic spent Cr 35 and Terin Cr 50 because he bought some drinks for women who let him pay, and nothing else.

In the suite, Aali discussed possibly leaving a number of items at her parent's new estate since they didn't need to carry those on the ship.  One of those were the set of wedding and reception dresses Mikah had bought for Aali in the Mora system.  They also watched vids and relaxed, as did Mikah and Zimzod.  Aiden read a book.  Jocelynn, Terin and Fesic eventually got back to the suite and things settled down for the night.  Only Aiden set an alarm as the crew went to bed.


A Brief Delay
     After the crew woke up, Mikah asked Jocelynn to check on the notice she posted to TAS, saying they had an available berth for high or middle passage.  Unfortunately, they had no takers there.  Mikah also wanted everyone to get packed.  They would also need to take the Probe into orbit to get the ship back.  Emkir and Aali wanted to drive over to her parent's place and drop off the wedding stuff before having a last day on-world party with them.  After telling the others, they got in the ground car and Aali drove them off to the estate.

As well as packing, Jocelynn finally had a chance to start trying to access her stent.  When Aiden offered to work with her, she accepted and both Zimzod and Terin joined in too.  The rest of the day was spent in packing, preparation and GI parties as they got ready to get the ship and leave the estates.  After spending the day with Aali's parents, they insisted the couple stay for dinner, so Emkir called Mikah to let her know they'd be getting back later than planned.  Finally, as they were finishing dinner, Mikah's comms went off.  She answered to see it was Lt. Commander Shurger, aboard the INS Staupers.  He was calling to tell her the Upgrade was ready for them to turn over.

Mikah found herself considering the situation, because she knew Aali would want to check the work before they took the ship back from the Navy.  But, having driven the ground car to the family's estate, Mikah knew she could grav over and pick them up.  But that would ruin the visit.  So, Mikah told the officer her chief engineer wouldn't be available that evening and asked if the delivery could be handled the next day?  Commander Shurger reminded her they were under the Duchess's orders backed up by the Arch Duke and Prince.  So, they were at her disposal.  Thanking the man, Mikah promised they would be able to lift to orbit the next morning to take back the ship.  Off the comms, Mikah told the others she wanted to lift from the downport by 9am the next morning.

Now facing another "last night on Regina", Mikah and Zimzod decided to dress up and find a nice club with a bar and dancing.  Before they left, Mikah called Aali to tell them they planned to be "at" the downport the next morning by 9am, and expected the couple would be returning to the suite that night.  So, they could leave the ground car at the suite for the rental firm to pick up.  Jocelynn wanted to go to the Caranda's Sword Order house, and asked Fesic if he wanted to go with her?  Fesic agreed and Aiden asked if he could come along?  Jocelynn said that anyone who wanted could join her and Terin also said he'd go with them.

At the Order house, Aiden found the shooting range and watched as various visiting Knights practiced with a number of weapons before moving on to meet people and explore.  Other than that, Jocelynn, Terin and Fesic hung out and chatted with other Knights who either worked at the Order house or were visiting for one reason or another.  While they met a number of Knights and their guests, they didn't have any significant encounters or find any item for sale that they had to have.  Eventually, they took a taxi back to the suite for the night.

As the evening came to a close at her parent's estate, Aali and Emkir got into the ground car to make their way back to the suite.  Driving through a somewhat winding road through the forest surrounding the grounds, they came around a bend and briefly saw something "Large and bipedal" caught in their headlights as it crossed the road and disappeared into the forest.  Since there was nothing they could do without chasing a possibly wild animal of unknown kind into forests which they didn't know but in which this thing actually lived, they agreed to drive on.  They also agreed to call Aali's parents and warn them to be careful at night because there might be large wildlife wandering the forest.  Soon enough, they joined everyone else in the suite and folks bedded down for the night.


Leaving Regina
     Because of Mikah's orders, the crew were up early and loading all their gear into the gravCar.  Because of the load, the ride down to the port was going to be much more crowded than any time before.  It was also Zimzod's sixth day of light duty, so he sat up front with Mikah where there was not as much packed in.  A reminder in Mikah's Ident popped up telling her that the x-mail about the book deal should have arrived in the Rhylanor system that day if things had gone as planned.

Along the ride, Zimzod called the rental company they'd leased the vehicles from and setup the returns.  They had left the ground car at a lot outside the estates where it could be recovered and planned to leave the gravCar at a vehicle park at the port.  Because the rental company was used to dealing with spacers, and because they'd become aware who the crew were, they were good with those instructions and thanked Sir Zimzod for his business.  At the port, it took them nearly an hour to get all their gear moved from the gravCar to the Probe before they could lift.  After that, and after Emkir and Aiden powered up systems, they called the port for lift authorization while Mikah called the Commander to tell him they were preparing to meet the Staupers in orbit.

When they docked, Mikah found the Commander and the Staupers' Chief Engineer waiting for them.  After the greetings were done, the Navy folks took them on a tour of the work sites and stood by as Aali examined what was done.  Soon enough, Aali said she was satisfied with the work.  Next, came classes on how to operate everything, which included an update of Zimzod's brain scan, because Aali and Mikah had to be shown how to use the equipment.  After that was done, they sat to sign off on all the work and finish off the visit before they could undock the Upgrade and return to the port.  There, they had to load up their cargo and finish loading and stowing their gear before they could move on with their plans.

At the port, Mikah told them everyone was gonna help move the cargo.  Renting two sets of gravMovers, Mikah also had Aiden go to the bridge and turn the gravplates in the cargo bay down.  That way, those without zero-g skills could move cargo pods to the bay with the gravLifters, where those with the skills could organize them in the bay.  It also eventually cost them Cr 50 to have someone from the port come out with a cargo moving machine to move the farm equipment into the bay.  The port also let them know they had rented the berth for a month and were leaving early.  Because of that, they were due a Cr 1,500 refund.

After they settled with the port and closed their accounts, they got flight authorizations and lifted from Regina.  Needing to fly beyond Assiniboia's jump shadow, Aiden said he'd take the first eight hours and Emkir would take the last four, and handle the jump.  While they flew, Terin and Aiden worked on the plot data for the jump and Terin realized the jump shadow entering the Extolay system was twenty two and a half hours.  He asked Mikah if she wanted him to try for a La Grange point entry to save time, but both Mikah and Zimzod shot that down.  Zimzod added that they didn't want the local system defense boats to notice them for the wrong reasons.

While Aiden handled things on the bridge, Mikah had the others get their gear moved into their stateroom and organized and then said they needed to pull out the stuff they wanted to connect comm dots to.  She said they had the whole week in jump to get it done, but she didn't want anyone to not finish it by the time they arrived in Extolay.  Everyone agreed and Aiden said he'd work on his gear after Emkir relieved him.  The others spent some time working on their staterooms, and Jocelynn spent some time checking over her terrarium.  But, soon enough, they were hauling armor, electronics and weapons out into the lounge so they could help each other as they worked.

The decisions the crew had to make were several.  First, what electronics they wanted to connect, including their comms and stents where a person had one.  Emkir showed them how connecting a dot to their comms automatically let them connect to comm dot networks linked to other comms.  So, if everyone connected one of their dots to their comms, that dot would connect over their comms to each other dot, and to each other "personal network".  Zimzod and Jocelynn also took the extra step to get into their Battledress suits and connect their battle computers.  Then, with their comm dots, they connected those computers to the network the rest of the team set up.  The only way the links could fail was if their comms were blocked or damaged.

Outside of the comm dots, Mikah wanted to spend some time doing gear maintenance.  She wanted to spend some time going over all her gear to check and test it.  She also wanted to go over the geo-political landscape of each of the worlds they'd be visiting on the trip so everyone knew what they'd be up against.  In addition to his own gear maintenance, Zimzod wanted to get back into hard core physical workouts as soon as he was off light duty.  So, he had to wait a day but then he was finally free to work out.  He knew they were heading into space considered hazardous, so he also added gunnery inspections and practice on top of joining in on group stent training whenever he could.

Jocelynn also planned to do gear maintenance while devoting more time to her workouts while joining in on the stent practice now that she could.  Emkir planned to spend the time in jump working with Fesic on the gunnery targeting software project when not working on other items.  Emkir also suggested they spend some time doing a review of the clik codes they'd set up.  Fesic was good with working on that when he wasn't working on his lock picking, gunnery skills or gear maintenance.

Aali had her engineering work on top of the group stent work and gear maintenance and upgrades.  She planned to put her old gear in storage in the ship's locker.  Outside of that, she wanted to relax and have fun with Emkir.  Aiden also planned to do stent work with the group while also working on his gear.  Aiden also suggested the crew sit down and go over the attack on the mansion, to dig into what they'd done wrong or could have improved on?  Terin wanted to work on his stent work, gear and other skills.

As they worked, Terin again reviewed the information he'd found in the Spinward Marches towers.  He reminded them Extolay was tidally locked, and the massive population over eight billion lived in a "ring" zone existing between the world's dark and light sides.  The society was a post-industrial culture living in darkened and highly urbanized grids between the world's limited farmlands and greenhouse domes.  The government was a layered bureaucracy that the public accessed through many different lower-level bureaus through slow and steady service.  The legal situation on-world outlawed all weapons outside one's residence and was largely regarded as a police state.

One truth was that Extolay couldn't feed her millions, so there was crime for food and for money to buy food.  While many laws existed to protect people against 'death by mistake', a lot of the laws were there because the world was over-crowded, underfed and had to have a large enough population of those who were desperate.  A very simple truth was that getting arrested on Extolay could be messy.  Terin then joked, "So, that means we should bypass the entire planet." and laughed at his sad joke.  The better news was that the world had a high port where the generic spacer activities could be expected and which was separated from the conditions dirtside.  Still, the system government owned the orbital high port, so the escape wasn't total.

They talked about Extolay as they worked and everyone agreed Terin could update them on Tremous Dex and Arden during the coming week in jump.  But all agreed, from what he'd said previously, that Tremous Dex would best be treated as an anarchy where nothing was really safe or to be trusted.  And Arden appeared to be another police state, but a charismatic one.  The biggest issue Terin had uncovered there was that they apparently tracked the movement of people from place to place.  So, sneaking around would be difficult at best.


Where everyone is at the end of the session:
     Everyone: Aboard the Upgrade in jump to Extolay

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Next: Karens Everywhere You Look