"I'd Walk a Mile for a Camel"-- R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Co.

354, 1122.

After much perusal of mappage, it's finally decided to take a jump-4 to Knorbes, refuel at the gas giant there, then a jump-2 to 0808. No matter what happens, it's going to be two jumps to get to 0808, so that's the best route. Which will mean two more weeks of inaction, Ghaer's brooding, and Hunter being Hunter. Oh boy.

They will have to wait until tomorrow, as the ship is awaiting supplies. Steve is demanding to be let off the ship, as he is entitled to some free time. The night passes uneventfully, and Steve does come back to the ship, unpursued by irate husbands.

355, 1122.

Just before going into jump, Robert cranks up the intercom speaker in Hunter's room and announces the jump. So there. Another boring week in jump. Argh. Hunter starts looking for something to bayonet.

Robert wants to speak with Cena about some business issues. Robert: "I believe the contract stated you could extend this contract at your choice, as long as you paid us for anything further than Louzy. What's the plan?" Cena: "We want to go to 0808; then depending on what we find there we may want to go on to Grant." Robert: "I understand that 0808 is supposed to be null space, but there must be something of interest there. And I know you've already said you don't know what we're going to find there, but what are your expectations? Did Ming-Na go there?" Cena: "Look. I don't have any expectations. All I know is she asked the guy at the bar to calculate a jump into that spot." Robert: "You also said something about not telling me anything that would land me on a prison planet for life. Is this related to that?" Cena: "What I said was did you want information that you might be prosecuted for having, and you said yes, so I gave you the codes to the Scout satellites' interdiction frequencies for Grant's red zone. That was what I was talking about." Robert: "So how much worse can it be if I know what you know about 0808? Do you know anything else?" Cena: "I don't know what's in 0808! All I know is Ming-Na had some one calculate the jump into that spot." Hunter: "Hey, babe, what's shakin'?" Cena: "Hunter, get out!" Hunter leaves, in search of warmer sections of the ship. Robert: "From a purely business standpoint, I'm having a problem calculating the charges. If it's going to be that dangerous, that is going to affect the price of the transport. We can't afford to lose a leased ship." Cena: "I am not covering the cost of the flipping ship." Robert: "Not asking you to." Cena: "Look, let me finish. The information I have, without going off on some wild guess, is that Ming-Na either wanted to go to 0808 to use it as a 'back way' to approach Grant, which is what the guy who plotted it believed, since she also wanted the plot from 0808 to Grant. Or, she was going to meet someone in that area, maybe on another ship." Robert asks for $10,000 each, in and out of 0808, for the passengers; if they have to land on Grant, there may be additional charges. Ariana asks for what she paid in insurance for the leased ship ($80,000 credits, for a year). Cena agrees to $100,000 total. Cena: "You realize that I don't carry $100,000 credits on me?" Ariana: "When we get to Knorbes, you can use your card." Cena: "I can do that." Robert: "We'll even give you a receipt." Cena: "Yes, you will." That's all for the accounting section of the adventure.

In the common area. Ghaer: "What's the heaviest thing you brought, Captain?" Hunter: "In what context? We're on board a ship - the only captain is the pilot." Ghaer: "So what do I call you?" Hunter: "Hunter. And I brought along two TAC missiles. But those things cost $20,000 each, so we're not using them unless we're going up against something really big. Those are for like, tanks or attacking ships. I've got lots of smaller stuff for other targets. Armbrusts, and the like."

362, 1122.

Knorbes. Whee. Steve demands to be let off. Steve: "I have to get off. I have to. All I want is eight hours." And Hunter "has to get off too." So it's scoop and land. At the E class starport. Even more lousy than Louzy. Lovely landing though; golf claps for the pilot.

Icky thick, dense atmosphere, high law level, low tech level - just what exactly is the attraction to Steve? Oh well, at least it should have some sort of drinking here. All the excitement of Kuala Lampur in the 17th century. But there are bars! Cena decides to go with Hunter from the start, although Hunter doesn't want to sit at the same table " No offense, but we've been on board the same little ship for way too long." No problem. And Hunter has decided he needs another tattoo to commemmorate his marriage.

Hunter finds a place with a "Tattoo" sign outside, and goes in. It's a traditional parlour, run by a tattoo'ed man. Hunter just wants Angela's name, so all he has to do is pick out a style for the lettering. Fortunately, Hunter has had tattoos before, so he remembers to ask for fresh needles, as germ theory hasn't really caught on here. New needles add to the price, but that's okay by Hunter. Hunter: "Do you mind if I pick up a bottle in the bar beforehand?" Artist: "No, most of my customers do." Cena comes along to watch, and makes sure things are really antiseptic. The tattooist isn't fast, but he really seems to know what he's doing. Hunter chats the guy up. Hunter: "Where can a manly man go to have himself a good time in this place?" The bar, inn, etc. can provide those services for an extra fee. And it has been a couple of weeks. The girls are as clean as the last ship that came through, so that's not too bad. Hunter decides to 'pre-load' on panmyacin first.

Off to the inn, tavern, caravansary, etc., once Hunter gets his 'Angela' tattoo. It cost $100 credits, which is a lot, but he did a fine job. And it took six hours. Hunter asks about the local customs, and is told the big issue is "if the local constabulary shows up to a fight, do not hit a cop! They might not stop beating you just because you're unconscious".

Cena gets bored a few hours into the tattoo job, and wanders off. First to the general store, where she finds some nice cotton-flax blend blankets with interesting geometric designs. She buys a couple of king size ones, and six singles, for $100 credits total. Quite the bargain.

Robert and Ariana book a spot for dinner at the boarding house, for two. The engineer, Steve Irgukar (just Steve, thank you) has gone off on his own. It's 2:00 p.m., and dinner's at 6:00 p.m., so Robert and Ariana wander around for a few hours. They get some fresh fruit for the trip out.

Cena uses the Western Union booth at the general store, since Ariana's there, and they can just do a card transfer for the $100,000. Ariana will give her a receipt later,which Cena fully intends to pass on to Corina. Cena heads off to the tavern, and Robert and Ariana join here, since they have time before dinner. Ghaer joins them in the large tavern, which has an oven built into the fireplace, large tables, and the traditional bar.

There is a group of local farmhands playing some sort of game involving cards, drinking, and a lot of laughter. No clue as to what they're playing, but it catches Robert's interest, so he goes over to watch. They're playing eight-handed Pinochle, and it's a rather spirited game. Other people are playing dice at the bar, but mostly everyone is sitting around drinking and talking. Robert goes up to the bar and orders drinks for everyone, while getting someone to explain the rules to the dice game. Robert: "Can I play?" Man: "Sure. Got any money?" Cena: "Hey Navy! Drink order first, gambling later." Robert delivers the drinks, then goes off to play while Ariana watches.

An argument starts up in a corner between two of the drinkers. "No you can't!" "Yes I can." "Not." "Can too, I've done it before!" One of them goes up to the bar, hands the bartender some money, and buys some of what appears to be lard or grease, in a bucket, then they go outside. No one in the group wants to know.

Robert is doing well playing the game, and is up $20 creds. He gives them the opportunity to win their money back, keeping the ante to $10 creds a 'round', or whatever. Robert breaks even, and continues playing. It's small stakes, so no big deal. There seems to be some sort of pattern, with the money going from man A to Robert, to man B. Man A : "That's okay, this happens every Saturday night. Only usually the money goes directly from me to him, instead of passing through you first. Robert buys him a drink, then cleans them both out. Apparently Robert's presence unbalances the universe. He buys them both drinks.

Ghaer can't stand the curiosity, and has to go outside to check on the men with the lard. He first asks the bartender where the best place is to buy dinner in town. He's told about the boarding house, but is warned they may not have room, so he'll have to check. Ghaer first goes to the general store to buy some real jerky (none of that synthetic crap), and also finds some hard cured bacon (it'll keep for months). The two men with the bucket and the lard, are greasing a large pole out front, along the train line. The bet involves climbing the pole after the other person greases the pole. It looks like the man will make it all the way up, but he slides down after getting about two thirds of the way up. He has apparently done this several times already. Ghaer's thought is "who's going to clean those clothes?" Best to just burn them.

Robert and Ariana go off to the boarding house to have dinner, since it's about that time. Ghaer is able to get another seat at the table, which is now full.

Back at the tavern, Cena drinks her ale, and gets some old-fashioned tavern food. The bread is a bit chewy, the stew is very good, and the pudding is bulletproof. But it's interesting, and has different flavors - after eating ship's food for all this time, any change is welcome. The farmboys are interesting, and very healthy looking, if a bit shy. Hunter shows up, newly tattoo'ed (Angela's name on top of his obscene tattoo - the one of a nude Angela on his bicep, that moves when he flexes. The young men are very impressed, and buy his drinks. And Hunter has the latest issue of PlayBeing (the human section). The males in the bar are his to mold in his image. And he gets to hand out Angela's cards. Hunter: "That's my wife." They blush. Hunter: "She can suck the chrome off a trailer hitch, and believe me, I'm in a position to know." Cena can't resist, and wanders over to Hunter's table. Cena: "Well, I see you've cornered the market on boys." Hunter: "All for you, babe." The locals are a bit concerned - their mothers warned them about that sort of men. Hunter switches to recruitment mode, trying to drum up some new, fresh pink bodies for the Imperial Army. Hunter: "...and when you walk out onto the field in that black beret, the girls are on you like white on rice." If there were a nearby recruiting officer, they might sign up. Hunter has at least planted the seeds.

At the boarding house, the food is great, and really, really plentiful. They will have to send for the wheelbarrows to get the diners away from the table. Robert eats like some one who's been starved. He's very popular. Ghaer converses with the boarders, who are warehousemen. Mostly they deal with big, bulk freighters, but they might occasionally get some smaller, high-priced cargo (i.e., icewine late in the season). Robert will keep this in mind, if they're back this way. Robert and Ariana talk potential business with the locals. Robert: "We're not trying to establish a hard and fast route, but we are trying to set up some regular trade. Some of the off-route trades, especially, if you should happen to need something shipped out to some where off the main route." After dessert, they waddle back to the ship.

Steve is on board, back in his stateroom. Probably not alone, but since the ship hasn't lifted, Robert isn't concerned. Privacy on a small ship is very important, and unless Steve has a pocket nuke, it's not a problem. If Steve is discovered to have a pocket nuke at a later point, then there will be problems, even if very, very briefly.

At the tavern, it's a pretty calm night. The people who are most likely to start a bar fight have fallen under Hunter's spell. This is the closest thing to corruption they've seen all year, so they're not up to the usual Saturday fight - they might miss something. Cena ignores Hunter, as he's not actively bleeding. Ghaer has taken a leisurely stroll/waddle, after the huge meal, and heads back to the ship enjoying the different sights and smells. He buys some regular and hard cured bacon, and some jerky, a couple of pies, and some fresh milk for the trip. And he picks up some proper coffee at the ship's chandlers.

Everyone returns to the ship. Hunter is mildly miffed at Cena. Hunter: "Hey, thanks for the 'boy' comment. Payback's a bitch. How are the Emperor's forces supposed to recruit more men if they think they're going to join up and get buggered? When we get to the next planet, I'm ....well never mind. You'll find out." Cena: "I'm sorry. I just couldn't resist."

362, 1122 to 004, 1123.

A new year, and still stuck in this damn ship. Holiday is celebrated, en route to certain death. No, make that to 0808. Ariana gets into the festivities, and the ship has a party. Hunter, given his less than pleasant upbringing, does not wax fondly about his childhood. On the other hand... Hunter: "What the hell is wrong with Imperial youth now, any way?" Comments on the less than manliness of the current crop of potential fodder for his Majesty's service are bandied about.

Ariana throws a fine party. And she even gets Hunter to play silly games. And everyone else, too. After the party, Hunter thinks he sees a tripwire coming out of the engineer's room. He checks it out, as if demo'd. It's not a tripwire, but it's definitely something odd. It's a small stick, with leafy stuff on it, that has dried. What the hey?? It smells leafy, but not like tobacco, or anything hallucinagenic. Hunter knocks. Hunter: "Hey, are you all right in there, buddy?" Steve: "Yeah, I'm fine." Hunter: "What the hell are you doing in there?" Steve: "Nothing!!" Hunter leaves, then tells Cena that the engineer is "having a hell of a good time in his cabin." He thinks the engineer is smoking weed. He'll check on Steve in engineering later, to make sure he's not smoking while he's working.

Cena goes to check on Steve, in his room. She knocks. Cena: "Steve? May I speak with you?" Steve: "Uh, sure. Just a minute." There are rustling noises, then a soft mtealic banging. After a minute he opens the door a crack, steps out into the hall and closes the door to the room behind him. Cena: "Steve, why do you have hay in your room?" He looks around to make sure there's no one watching. Steve <quietly>: "It's for the rabbits." Cena: "The rabbits." Steve: "Yes, my rabbits. I don't get fresh stuff for them very often, so when we set down on the agricultural world, I had to get some alfalfa for them. Do you want to see them?" Cena: "Sure." Cena goes inside. Steve really does have three live rabbits, in separate hutches. They have names, and one is bounding around loose. Cena, who has veterinary medicine, takes a look at the bunnies, and they are very healthy. The cages are clean, and the room doesn't smell bad. Steve: "Don't tell the captain. He didn't say I could have pets, and he didn't say I couldn't." Cena: "Not a problem. I won't tell anyone. You're taking very good care of them." Steve: "Thank you." He has exercise routines for the bunnies, and little name signs. Cena does not suggest Steve get a life.

004, 1123.

To 0808. Out of jumpspace, about twenty-five diameters out from a planet. Whoa!! There is a planet, and a relective moon, 50 planetary diameters out. There's also a Capital ship, with it's black globe generator on (it doesn't appear to be flickering, which is kind of odd - how are they supposed to keep in radio contact with the other ships if they're not flickering?). <OOPS> That's not to mention the two Naval Close Escorts, one of which is hailing the Ruby, and the Battle Cruiser. Robert: "Oh, <bleep>!" The ISS Dik-dik is the ship hailing them. Since this is not, in fact, a red zone, so what the hell, Robert answers the hail. The Dik-dik orders the Ruby to power down and prepare to be boarded. No problem.

Robert <over the intercom>: "Dr. Fitzpatrick, to the bridge please." To the Dik-dik, Robert states that "we are powering down and preparing to be boarded. Could you please supply a safe orbit trajectory?" Cena goes to the bridge. Robert starts pointing out the ships. And the planet. Cena: "Okay, I was not expecting a planet here." Robert: "You're not the only one. You might want to go back and warn the others we're about to be boarded." Cena: "Aside from burning the paper with the codes for the interdiction sattellites, there is no legal reason for to not be here. Stick to the truth." Ariana: "Why would they want to board us?" Robert: "They're not going to tell us first." Ariana: "We could run away." Robert: "No we couldn't. That close escort could catch us. Or that battle cruiser could just blow us up." Ariana: "We're streamlined. They're not." It's getting crowded near the bridge. Ghaer: "Ariana, why are you so concerned? Do you know something we don't?" Ariana: "No." [She's not used to being 'taken' from her ship. Her ship is sort of her safety blanket.] Robert: "Besides, they've already ID'd the ship." Ariana: "So that means they can find out who we are, if not the passengers. The Close Escort may not go after us, they may just shoot stuff at us." Robert: "We can't outrun a missile." Hunter: "No lie!"

They look at the planet, and the ships, while waiting to be boarded. The planet has volcanic action, and a dense atmosphere. The Close Escorts are set up in the configuration to be interdicting the planet, and the battle cruiser was coming out of the gas giant. And the Ruby is way too close to the planet to jump. [Okay, so technically speaking, it could jump. But it would get ugly either immediately, or when coming out.]

The Cruiser launches a pinnache, with a boarding party. Ghaer leaves the gunner turret, but leaves the remote on, so he can get passive readouts. He doesn't want to ping anyone, especially after Robert's interminable stories about being on boring interdiction duty. Bored Navy guys are dangerous, and when your ship's named the Dik-dik...

Hunter, Ghaer, and Cena are not too worried. Hunter and Cena do remove their combat armor. A party of ten Marines shows up, all in combat armor except for the lieutenant, who's in a vac suit, but he's Navy. The Marine sergeant is in charge of the boarding party. The lieutenant suggests a conversation on the bridge with Robert and Ariana.

The other passengers are waiting in the common area. Hunter: "Hey Top, what's the deal? We didn't expect to see any Navy types here. It's supposed to be empty space." Sergeant: "Well, it's occupied, isn't it? That's what you get when you jump into a red zone." Hunter: "This isn't a red zone. It's empty space." The sergeant points out through the ship's window at the planet (obviously NOT null space), but is kind of confused over the protestations that "this is an empty space on the Imperial Survey map". Hunter: "So, what are you guys looking for?" Sergeant: "Well, normally we'd be looking for interdicted items, but I have no idea what that would be. We haven't been doing any boarding lately. I haven't seen the list." Hunter: "Are you looking for something in specific? Maybe I can help?"

The Lt. is speaking to Robert on the bridge. Lt.: "Why are you here?" Robert: "Where are we?" Lt.: "You're in an interdiction zone." Robert: "That's not where we were going." He gives him the coordinates they were heading for. Lt.: "I don't know. You'll have to come on board the Cruiser." Robert: "Lieutenant, can you answer our question on where we are?" Lt.: "No sir. I can't answer your question, because I don't know where we are." They move out to the common area. Steve has been brought out, and has one of his rabbits with him. And it's not just a rabbit, it's Samantha. Hunter: "Does it bite?" Steve: "Only people like you." Hunter: "So, what, do you fight them or something?" Steve: "Ewww!" Robert <puzzled>: "It appears we will also be taking along some.. rabbits." Steve does have a travel hutch.

Robert is left with his pistol in the full-flap holster, as it's not much of a threat, more like ballast. Ariana is pale and sweaty. Robert: "Don't worry, we'll get through this." Cena: "Are you all right?" Ariana looks scared. They are all ushered onto the pinnache, and then on towards the cruiser. This brings back memories for Cena and Ghaer. Hunter was never a Marine, so he only spent the shortest possible time on board ships.

It's a long trip on the pinnache, with Hunter chatting up a storm, and hassling the Marines - in a friendly sort of way. They're new and different, and fun! This is what passes for rapport for Hunter. The Marines think he's obnoxious, but he's new and different, and that counts for a lot right now. Robert wishes the Lieutenant a belated Holiday, as Hunter changes the subject to sports, and how the Army guy beat the Marine for the Golden Gloves in 1119. Marine: "Hey, that's only because the ref was blind!"

Once on the cruiser, the group is put into a conference room, and left alone. The Marines are stationed outside. Hunter: "Oh look, the grey of the walls coordinates nicely with the grey of the desk." The captain enters the room. It's a female with a face rather like a Pekinese, or at least that's what pops into Hunter's mind. Captain: "So, who is responsible for your being here?" Cena <indicating Robert>: "It's his ship, he's the navigator, he laid in the coordinates." Hunter: "He did, it's all his fault." Hunter is laughing, but he's looking at the captain and repressing the thought "boy, I'll bet you have trouble getting dates." Captain: "Just exactly where were you going, and why?" Robert: "Right now, I think we're confused as to where we are." Captain: "That would be a good thing." Robert: "The coordinates I programmed in were for a section of null space, just below Grant." Captain: "This is, in fact, an interdicted world, under the Imperial Secrets Act. We have several options, as I see it, as to what to do with you. [That doesn't sound good!] Option one, we can reprogram your ship, and give you Memwipe. Option two, we can take you to the planet and when you're done, we will pick you up, reprogram your ship, and give you Memwipe." Hunter: "So, are you tellling me Memwipe really exists? I mean I've seen Dick Salamander..." Cena: "Oh yeah, it exists." Captain: "The easiest way to deal with this situation is to just erase your memories of having come here at all." Cena: "We're looking for an elderly relative, or her remains, if it comes to that. There was a civilian ship that entered the system about a month ago. Do you remember it?" Captain: "There was a ship at about that time, yes." Cena: "What happened to it?" Captain: "It refused to answer our hail, fired on a Close Escort, and was shot down." Hunter: "By one of these ships?" Captain: "Yes." Hunter: "Then we might as well leave now, since there won't be anything left. Were there any big pieces?" Captain: "You can check. We can set you down near the crash site." Turns out the TL on the planet is 3. Three?! And no one will be permitted to take any kind of equipment or weapon down to the planet from a higher tech level. Hunter: "What the hell are we supposed to use? Harsh language??" Lovely. Napoleonic or Victorian era, more or less. Hunter: "Once again, I find myself in a position to have to brawl with people." Cena: "Oh, quit bitching, Hunter." Hunter: "You've got to work on this mission thing; everytime I go with you, we end up throwing rocks at each other. <Cena looks at him quizzically> No, wait. That was Ghaer and Robert." Okay, so it's their fault!

The questions put to the captain about the ship and its crash, are where did the ship crash, how far from a population center, did it crash or crash land, and if there is any possibility that the ship launched an escape pod, or smaller vessel, or whatever, before the ship went down, or if the ship was blown into itty bitty little pieces right from the get go. They don't have readings from the point the ship (or it's remains) hit atmosphere, as the background (alpha) radiation is well above normal. The ship didn't go down into one of the volcanos (well, there's a plus!), the crash occurred in the early morning, and it's about forty clicks from a population centre.

Hunter: "Do the locals know that there's life beyond their world?" Captain: "I don't know. I don't go there." Hunter: "You just know that it's low tech." Captain: "I don't even know that for sure. I just know what you're allowed to take." Cena: "Hey, I've got a bunch of low tech, cotton-flax blankets!" Good work! Robert takes Ariana off to one side, and suggests that "one of us should go with them." Ariana: "Oh yeah. If I'm going to get Memwiped, I'm going along!" She hasn't come this far to stay on the damn ship. Robert: "Right. We'll both go."

Cena tries to tell the captain that "the person we are going after has a serious medical condition -" Hunter: "she's been on this planet for weeks already, she's not going to have a problem any more." Cena: "Hunter, where did you get your medical degree?" Hunter: "Under fire. Where did you get yours? <same place and he knows it> You're not that much better trained than I am." That's debatable. The captain is tired of the party bickering, and leaves the Marine contingent to sort things out. The Marines let Hunter keep his polypropelline underwear. Hunter takes one of the Marines off to one side and offers a few pieces of paper with Strephon's pictures on them, so he can keep more of his stuff, but the Marines aren't too keen on that, since the captain controls everything that goes on, including who gets the worst duties, so they're not taking any chances - this assignment is bad enough as it is. The party can take e-tools, lighters, and Hunter's snares. Since the party has been stripped down to underwear, Hunter's tattoo is visible, and one of the Marines recognizes it. Hunter: "You like it? That's my wife." Marine: "You're married to Angela? No, it can't be!" There had to be one.

Steve offers to stay behind and "watch the ship". Hunter: "Yeah, that's a good idea. He's got small, furred animals in his room - I don't think he's wrapped real tight." Turns out they're more concerned with the appearance of high tech rather than tech itself, so now that it's just Marines, they will allow laced boots. The party is allowed to do that, except for Robert, who's wearing very high tech looking 'pilot' boots with zippers. After some bargaining, he ends up with some one else's spare boots. Cena's Leatherman isn't allowed, but she gets lots of offers to trade for aknife, and gets a Marine K-bar, which is nice. The Marines are able to provide natural fiber caftan-like robes for the party. Ghaer is not allowed to take his titanium folding camp bicycle. NO. Absolutely not.

Back to the ship to dump off some stuff, and Steve, and get whatever else will be allowed. Hunter is not allowed to take his Pikchron watch, so he warns Steve "it better still be on board the ship when I come back or it's barbecue time for your furry little friends." Steve: "You come near my rabbits and your Pikron watch is the last item of yours you'll have to worry about." Good thing most of the party is getting off the ship.

They are permitted to take specie onto the planet, and Cena has 10 oz. of gold and 10 oz. of silver, in small rounds, Hunter has 1 oz of gold, and Dakars are allowed, so they will both have funds. Ghaer, when he goes to the fresher, inserts two ampules of Regen2™ internally, and tries to keep the smile on his face.

Ariana has a leather pack, so that's okay. Robert has almost nothing any way. Before leaving the Navy ship Robert is able to get the captain to confirm that they were, in fact, in section 0808, after all. Hunter <to Robert>: "Now, if I understand correctly, the size and shape of an item determines it's trajectory, right?" Robert: "Right. Mostly." Hunter suggests making a care package and jettisoning it off the ship, but it would probably just burn up in atmosphere. Damn. Hunter: "I swore I'd never set foot on another low tech, desert world." Robert: "You? I didn't want to go to the first one." The group is getting cranky on the way down, and there are some suggestions about taking over the landing craft. Hunter <to Cena>: "You're the REACT person, show us your moves." Cena's first move is to flip Hunter off. The Marines accompanying the group down aren't worried. Marine: "Well, where would you go? It's not like you could go anywhere."

They put down near the crash site, and the pinnache lifts immediately. It's night. Time to search the crash for bodies and extra equipment. Hunter is hoping to find weapons. Cena: "Unless the locals are blind and really stupid, they would have seen the ship crashed." Hunter: "Maybe they didn't care. Maybe it's against their religion." Robert: "Maybe they have lots of meteorites." Cena: "Haven't you seen those movies where a meteor crashes and all the locals go out and poke around, and next thing you know everyone in the movie theatre is being eaten." Hunter: "Okay, well, we just need to find some locals, and you can get the information out of them, since you're our spy person - I know, you're REACT, you just work with spies, you play one. You're good with the civilian naughty bits, and all that." Cena: "Yes, but never with a travelling circus in tow before. Or in a burnoose." Hunter: "What's wrong with a burnoose? I must say, it looks rather fetching on you. You know, if you stand just right, the moon shines right through the cloth. I just thought you should know." The cloth is not transparent - Hunter just has a vivid imagination.

There are no small, loose bits of ship around on the ground. There are, however, crops - chickpeas and barley. Ghaer: "That's a low intensity crop." Hunter: "Ghaer, you are a font of useless information. Where do I get guns? I hate to be singleminded, but I have a horrible feeling that there's a machinegun out there being used to plow a field." Hunter is suffering from firearm separation anxiety.

The ship is mostly intact. The main door is open, and the ship has been stripped. No bodies, but eight cairns nearby. Robert goes to check out the ship with Ariana, but it's pitch black. Damn. It's pointed out that there may be no point in continuing with the mission if Ming-Na Ling is under one of those cairns, so it's time to play "who's in the grave", Ariana can't stomach this kind of work, so she's sent away from the scene to "keep an eye out". Cena can identify enough of the charred remains to tell there are three females, all apparently under thirty. Ghaer: "Right. Let's rebury them." Hunter: "Already? There's enough meat left here for some soup." Robert: "That's it, we're out of here." He takes Ariana off for a walk. The bodies are reburied, then the ship is checked out, using Hunter and Cena's lighters. Hunter bangs on the hull to make sure nothing has set up a den inside, and it's clear. The ship is very burned, and has apparently been stripped of anything useful that remained.

Robert: "Cena, by the way, we are in the place we intended to be." Cena: "I figured. But there was no reason to tell them that." Robert: "The captain did confirm it." There isn't much left in the ship, due to the fire. The ship's locker has melted bits in it - the plastic guns all burned, but there are some heavily oxidized cutlass blades that will clean up. Hunter is after the pipe for a high-pressure line, but can only find the flexible stuff. He wanted something he could use for a gun barrel (hope springs eternal). Robert goes in search of the captain's cabin. He finds a cabin that's in the right place, and large enough to be the captain's. He locates the safe, which is intact. And welded shut. Whatever was in it is probably either melted or burned. It was a very hot fire, just like a really big car fire.

Ghaer: "Does this fit the description of the ship?" Yup. The ship's name is on the outside, it's the Invictus. Might be one of the ships on the list from Louzy. Maybe - couldn't bring the "high tech" printout onto planet, and no one remembered to ask. The rear cargo door of the ship is open, and the air raft is gone. Ghaer: "I'm guessing Ming-Na Ling wouldn't have any problem flying an air raft, after all these years." Robert checks out the air raft bay, and the external door is buried - the air raft ejected before the crash.

Hunter: "We're not going to find anything else here." Robert: "Maybe, maybe not. We know she came here for a reason. If she had the sense to get off in the air raft, she might have made contact with some of the locals." Hunter: "I'm sure she didn't land the ship in the town square, but if she just lost her ship, and all her supplies, she's going to want to resupply. But not necessarily by just walking in and letting everyone know who she is." Robert: "She's a megacorp CEO!" Hunter: "Isn't this like the same Ming-Na I read about who drank the blood of virgins to keep the rosy glow in her cheeks?" Much arguing.

In between the sound of frustrated people comes the sound of something sort of coughing in the woods. Hunter throws rocks into the woods, near where the coughing was. Nothing. A bear is probably going to be the least of their worries. Having done all the damage they could at this location, it's time to take the show on the road. Hunter: "If this is one of those hierarchical societies, I read about that - we may need to assign someone in our group to be the noble or aristocrat or something. I figure Cena can do that, we can be here guards, and Ariana can be her maid." Robert: "I don't think Ariana is going to take badly to being a maid." Ariana doesn't have a problem with it, it sounds like fun. Ghaer: "We'll need to get our stories straight. This <pointing at Robert> is our learned captain. Unfortunately, our ship has sank. Our ship from across the sea." Hunter: "Perfect. And if necessary, we can always claim head injury." Robert: "Undoubtedly the head injuries were suffered in the typhoon." Hunter: "Right. What's a typhoon? I think I saw that in a crossword puzzle." Robert: "I don't know. I think I've seen one from space."

Sigh. Walking down the road, several hours later, towards the town, looking around. No big shadows from attacking zeppelins or anything. Just those dark clouds, and the wind picking up. Time to look for shelter. Lightning storms, trees - not good. No buildings, no sheds, but tilled land to the left, bordering the road. The plants are very young, maybe a few weeks old. Barns? Nope. Hunter: "We must have taken the wrong direction on the road. There's no way a farmer would keep his animals several hours away from the fields." There are boats visible on the nearby lake, some of them large ships. They're all sailing vessels, and with the wind picking up they're moving very fast. The large ships could be transport vessels, or military.

Robert: "If there are ships, there will be docks. Where there are docks, there will be people." Finally, they see some camels coming up the road, from the direction of the crash site. Cena: "Oh no, I hate camels!" Hunter: "Didn't we have camels on that last planet?" Ghaer: "Yes." Hunter: "I'm of half a mind to just shoot the damn camels." But that would probably be expensive, one way or another. Hunter: "If this place is all male dominated and the like, we need to find a partner for Cena. I suggest Bob." Ghaer: "I think you'd make a good noble leader." Hunter: "I am hurt! I think he has that effete, shallow, inbred noble look. I have callusses." Ghaer: "That might be how they get to be nobles here." Hunter: "Well, let's not leap to any conclusions here yet. <to Cena> Besides, I think you should pick Bob because you two make such a cute couple." They yield right of way to the camels, because they spit. Robert: "And bite! They can just rip your fingers right off your hand if they get a good grip! I saw that in a movie." Attack of the Camel Creatures? Everyone looks at Robert. Robert: "What? Hey, when you have nothing to do but read and watch movies..."

The camels and men approach. They smile, and do the traditional bow and greeting, in an Arabic fashion. Robert: "Good day." Man: "Good day." There are five camels, two men on foot, and three riders; all the camels are laden. Robert: "Port or market?" Man: "Market." The camels came up from behind the party, catching up with the slower, un-cameled ones. Behind the camels are three alien animals. They sort of look like horned oxen with fangs. Fangs? Robert: "May we travel with you a ways?" Man: "Yes." Robert: "Have you travelled far?" Man: "Six days. We will be there tomorrow." Robert: "good, I was hoping we weren't going the wrong way. Do you know the name of the next town?" Man: "Alexandria". Robert: Where is your party from?" Man: "We live in the Kadna valley, along the savannah." Robert:"I've never been there." The men are traders, and come to town three or four times a year. Robert: "Is this the best place to trade? Are there other places that you can get better prices at?" Man: "This is the largest market." The women on the camels are listening, but not joining the conversation. Of course they're listening. And plotting.

Robert lets the merchant, whose name is Tyrel, do most of the talking, at least as much as possible. The merchant is polite, and does ask where Robert is from. Hunter: "You'll have to forgive my friend. We are all strangers here, and do not wish to offend. This is.. Bob. I'm Hunter. We're looking for a relative who came here looking for the star that fell from the sky." Ghaer: "It was not a star, it was a great rock." Hunter: "Or rock. Do you know anything about something falling from the sky?" Tyrel: "Well, everyone knows of this. It is in the holy book. Is it not so in your land? Are you infidels?" OK, time for some fast thinking. Ghaer:"The story goes that many centuries ago a star fell from the sky, and something like that happened again recently. Our relative heard of this, and came in search of it." Tyrel: "Even with the weather on this planet, something like that would be noticed. But we have seen no such thing. Many come to make pilgrimages to the holy city. Are you pilgrims also?" Hunter: "We're family retainers. But my companion and I have heard of the holy city." Ghaer: "I've heard that there are buildings that rise two and three stories above the ground. Can that be?" Tyrel: "Oh yes." Ghaer: "And the market, is it as large as they say?" Tyrel: "It is the largest I have seen." Ghaer: "Are the healers there as good as they say?" Tyrel: "I have not had to visit them. I do not know that I could afford them." Hunter: "And I've heard that there are wizards who shoot fire from their fingers and can kill a man without touching him?" [Cena glares at Hunter]. The merchant makes the evil eye sign. Tyrel: "There is a grove that beckons." The wind is picking up dramatically and thunder heads are near now.

Robert explains about losing most of their equipment, and about the ship sinking and all. Robert: "Perhaps some food or water we can purschase from you?" The merchant is willing to accommodate the odd tourists. A tarp is erected in the grove, and the camels are dug in. Camels associate wind with sand, and get spooked by the wind. The merchants invite the tourists to join them under the tarp. The women break out wine (yahoo!) and food. And Ariana speaks with them while helping.

Robert: "How long do the storms last?" Tyrel: "It depends. Hours, perhaps. If it were a bad storm, it might last days, but I don't think this is a bad storm - there are still birds. If it were a bad storm, all the animals would have taken shelter." Hunter is a bit worried about the fanged oxen things, as they're going to have to feed them... The merchants tell the group to not get close to the "dorums". Hunter: "We already figured that out." Every once in a while the dorums stamp and dig the earth with their horns.

The three females in the party are Tyrel's daughters. The other man is Jason, who is Tyrel's employee. Hunter: "Damn pleased to meet you. In my land, in the mountains, we have a drink that is made with frozen grapes. It is a tradition in our land that we toast our new friends." Hunter passes around the large flask of bourbon. Tyrel: "Not bad." He's obviously not a lightweight, and brings out some brandy. Ah, they don't use freezing, but they do know about distilling.

The daughters are all quite fetching, which means Hunter's in trouble. He just likes women. Blondes, brunettes, redheads, it doesn't matter. Hunter: "You've been very kind. I feel we must make some kind of repayment. Maybe we can have Cena marry his son? <whispered> Just for a while." Tyrel: "I have no sons, only daughters." Hunter offers one of the cutlass blades as a gift, although Tyrel tells him "no gift is necessary. It is our duty to offer hospitality to distressed strangers." Hunter runs out of things to say, so he stops and thinks a lot.

One of the women asks Cena is she related to the woman they seek? Cena: "Yes" Woman; "A mother, or sister? She is old, she must be your mother." Cena: "She is a very ancient woman, even for my family." Woman: "She must be very wise." Cena: "Yes, she has a great deal of knowledge. but we have heard nothing from here for some time, and the family grows concerned." Woman: "How many years ago did she leave?" Cena: "She didn't leave that long ago, but she was supposed to send word, and she didn't. She is the sort of woman who if she says she will do something, she does." Woman: "Many of the pilgrims who come here never return. Was she travelling with other pilgrims?" Cena: "She was hoping to meet up with other pilgrims here." Ghaer: "And we have heard from none of the eight." Everyone settles in for the duration of the storm. It blows some branches loose in the grove, and there's a downpour. After the dorums are fed, from bags, they are turned loose. They stay close to the camp, but wander around the grove. Robert: "Okay, don't wander off to pee." Hunter: "No kidding. Well, might as well get some shuteye. I don't know about you, but I've been up for some time." Ghaer: "Good idea." Hunter: "Yeah, you look like hell." Ghaer: "That's odd, mostly I look like purgatory." Hunter: "No you don't. I know Purgatory, and you look nothing like her."

After a while, on Hunter's watch, he hears a commotion outside of camp. He wakes Ghaer and goes to check it out. He finds one of the dorams, stomping on something large dog sized. The duram is jumping up and down, with all four feet, looking very pleased with itself. Then it notices Hunter. Hunter: "There's a nice... wooly bully." The doram glares at Hunter and wuffs. Hunter: "Now, let's not get on the wrong foot here. You don't try to eat me, and I won't have to cut you." The doram starts to charge Hunter, who runs for it, with a "Shiiiiitttt!" The doram doesn't follow Hunter, it just didn't want Hunter to take it's food. Hunter returns to camp and tells Ghaer that it was "just one of those ox things. He's killed a coyote or something. don't try to take it away from him - he gets mean. But it's your watch any way." Hunter goes to sleep. Cena will take watch after Ghaer.

The night will pass without further incidents.

005, 1123.