Live Fire Exercises

" Several of you have asked why we are conducting our training excercise with Third Medical, and made comments about 'dead weight.' The rest of you know by now that Third Medical will be what is standing between you and becoming *real* dead weight, once the fire starts. "

-- Major Eleck Jance, Second Light Armor Division, Tiras Legion, 2291

2779.100 - 2779.121 AS
Sparta -> Nonesuch -> Vircus

Rather than stay for the many months of rebuilding on Sparta, the party heads off to Crux to pick up the Tinoori and the mail. Some of the puttering is recapped for the people who were in the tubes:

"I got shot with the redliner." -Ace
"Shall we use the protoptye Kaufman tube to cure you?" -Sophia
"I wasn't wounded!"
"How inconsiderate."

The mail is picked up - they are paid 200 asters in advance and 200 to be paid on delivery to Nonesuch. It's technically all still in Eva's name, so if anything bad happens to the mail, she's the one responsible. As mail has been building up for several weeks, there are a large number of crates and boxes, in addition to a sack of data disks and letters. Exercising his Guardianly Authority, Janzur stuffs Jim into the mail hold for discipline. Jim notes that there's a large wooden crate (marked "Keep at or below 30 Celsius") is occasionally thumping. He mentions this to the group, and everyone troops down to the cargo bay to investigate. Yup, it's thumping. Ace gets a crowbar to open it up and see why - Janzur insists that there not be rampant mail-opening just yet.

Meanwhile, Sophia has been testing out her radio pattern analysis panel, and thinks that they're investigating the wrong box - the wooden one is entirely silent on the EM emission spectrum, but there's this other box which is putting out a variety of interesting scanning waves. It stops when she starts actively scanning, though. Most everyone else is fixated on the thumping box, though Katya notices that Sophia's noticed something.

Katya: <Sophia talking to Janzur!>
Sophia: "They're busy playing with their box over there. Once they're done, I'll tell them about the one actually hazardous to the ship."
Katya: Stomp.
Much argument ensues as to what constitutes a legitimate reason to open the mail. Technically, Eva's the only one who's signed any paperwork saying she won't open it. However, it's generally poor form to loot the mail shipments, at least as far as the more lawful members of the party are concerned. On the other hand, sending unauthorized surveillance devices is probably also poor form.

In the end, Ace is given permission to open the scanning box; he takes great care to open it in a way that can be resealed without it being noticeable. Inside is a moderately expensive scanner, which both Sophia and Dr. Kye proceed to investigate. Sophia notes that it it scans a lot of different frequencies. Kye determines that its purpose is to discover the secrets of the Hippocrates yellowline defense. Its what? Yellowline defense? Do they have one? No, not really. Er, yes, actually.

Sophia points out that this is an extremely sensitive scanner, and is recording everything that they're saying. Perhaps they should not discuss whether or not they have a yellowliner defense in front of it.

Janzur herds the non-techies to the bridge, while Sophia and Sharra start thinking harder about how to jam or block the scanner. Ace points out that the outworlds are, in fact, really keen to know about the yellowliner defense that nobody on the Hippocrates will talk about. Kye expands on his psi analysis: it's not currently broadcasting, just recording. It's owned by a collective, not a single person. It was in storage for a while, before being pulled out to be used.

Hippocrates wonders why the outworlds' main method of information gathering would be tech rather than psi. As the party has encountered before, there are small creatures who exhibit psionic talent in groups. Perhaps this is what the thumping box is?

"God help us if those are smeerps. We're doomed."
Ace opines, regarding the scanner: "Sook's the right person to crack this thing like a rusty omelet." The rest of the party falls over, clutching their ears.

Back to the cargo hold. Checking the box and the device for security systems, Ace notes that it has a photo-diode which will have noted that the box was opened. Kye puts a bit of tape over it, so it thinks the box is shut again.

Janzur silent bodyspeaks: "Try not to discuss tactics in front of the recording device. Just do things and come back."

Ace hacks in, assisted by Hippocrates, Sophia, and Jim (it does not prove to be possible to assist with hacking or programming using gestures and silent bodyspeak, they do actually have to talk). It reports what it's noticed so far: It was scanning lots of things. It didn't find a data feed for a yellowliner defense, at least, not labeled as such. The sensor range doesn't reach the entire ship; the Kaufman facility is about at the edge of its range. After it scanned for a while, something scanned it, and then it turned off all its active sensors. And then the box opened.

They pick it up and point the active sensors at the thumpy box, and tell it to scan. It seems to have several life forms at room temperature. Ace tells the device to stop recording for the moment.

While the medical labs have a number of devices useful for scanning humans and other life forms, none of them are really suitable for scanning life forms inside huge crates. Sharra starts disassembling one into more of a ranged scanner. Katya tries to read the minds of the box's inhabitants, and gets that they aren't very bright, and that they're cold.

Meanwhile, argument commences as to the fate of the bug. Janzur thinks that as much as possible of the package should be delivered. Ace thinks it would be a great bit of loot to keep, and whoever sent it deserves not getting it back. Not to mention, even if the party erases the data, what if they have a psi who can tell what it used to know?

And, it's a great scanner! It should be used! Once the techies have determined that the device's memory can in theory be wiped, Ace takes the scanner all throughout the ship (except for the Kaufman facility), scanning left and right. The only bug which is found is the mysterious time-teleporting bug, which is still left on the table where it was (or perhaps, will be) placed.

Sharra and Sophia disagree on the ideal method of wiping the memory. Sharra thinks that a strong EMP should clear the memory; Sophia thinks that if you take the module and put it really close to one of the plasma engines, she'll get a more wide-band EMP, which has a better shot of deep clearing the memory, including any residuals. Sharra wins the coin toss, though, and the memory just gets a standard EMP without playing with the engines.

The wiped memory is put back in the scanner, the scanner is put back in the box (Kye takes the duct tape back off), and Ace reties the string around the box, so it looks just like it did before. Except now there's no data, and it's no longer scanning. At least, that's the theory.

Sharra finishes her bioscanner, and turns it on the crate. It appears to hold four large constrictor snakes. Sophia notes that snakes of this size will last a good month or two without feeding, and will stay pretty dormant if they aren't at tropical temperatures.

By now, the Hippocrates has nearly reached Nonesuch, which is demanding to know what the heck happened - the jumpgates all flashed for days, and then they stopped. They assume that it was another attack, but how did it turn out? Briefings get scheduled.

Jim does some web searches on the addresses on the packages - the bug package is going to the Building of Envoys, and the snakes are going to a ranch halfway across the planet.

"We should do a mail route more often. That was fun." - Sophia
Once landed on Nonesuch, the party splits up:

Employing an alternative method to figure out where the suspicious bugged mail is headed, apart from checking the address, Ace heads off to stake out the post office. He arrives to find a pretty standard post office set-up. Scrounging a uniform to appear to look like a maintenance worker, he gets access to a couple of the behind the counter areas that need clean up and whatnot, though not actually the secure mail zones, which seem to require badges. From his vantage point, he is able to determine that package is still in the building and waiting to be loaded onto an appropriate truck.

He then starts watching customers. There is the usual fare of people wandering in and out, claiming packages, and sending off missives. At one point he notices a woman who looks like she may be familiar, but he is unable to place her. She starts filling out a mail slip when she glances us and sees Ace staring at her. Suddenly, with a startled exclamation, she recognizes Ace, grabs her belongings, and flees the building.

Ace gives chase, but by the time he gets outside, she is across the street and ducking into an alley. Rather than pursue directly, Ace tries to anticipate her moves and heads to the top of a building so he can follow her from above. He gets up there to discover she's headed down a different alley, and Ace must leap between two buildings to keep up.

After a successful jump, the chase continues. Ace seems to be doing a good job of predicting her movement, as the patterns seem vaguely familiar to him, but eventually she gives him the slip in an office building. Ace stakes the building out, and picks her up again as a woman with similar build, though completely different hair and clothing, comes out on the arm of a man. Certain he has the right woman, Ace trails the pair to a local singles bar. While Ace checks out the various exits, the pair head to the bar and order some drinks.

Meanwhile, Sharra and Dr. Kye have visited the Sparky Cola distributors. They note that each 12-pack case of cola comes with a small comic book of the Adventures of Jim Powell. Each comic is about four pages of plastiflimsy, in which Jim (and occasionally some companions or sidekicks, one of whom is moderately reminiscent of Katya) battles evil and crime. Additionally, each of the cans has, at the bottom, a holographic sticker of Jim or a companion. The pair buy sticker collection books (collect them all!) for everyone on the crew, and a pallet of Sparky Cola.

After they're finished there, Hippocrates, who has been monitoring Ace's progress by radio, sends Kye and Sharra to the bar as backup. They arrive to find Ace waiting for the mysterious woman to come out of the ladies room. Sharra heads into the ladies room only to find a discarded wig and an open window. The gentleman the woman arrived with is grumpy about losing his date, and everyone has a drink before returning to the Hippocrates unenlightened.

"Why were we chasing her?"
"Because she ran."
Ace stops by the post office on the way back and confirms that the package is still waiting for delivery with the rest of the mail.

Sophia finishes up her touring of First Landing, and finds a two-day whitewater rafting trip which she signs up for, leaving the next morning.

Meanwhile, Jim, Janzur, and Katya, proceed to the envoys' building. On the way there, a young boy stops Jim to ask where he got the "great Jim Powell costume." Jim isn't really sure what he means. The boy indicates Jim's scout uniform. He's a big fan too - he was Jim Powell for Halloween. He thinks Jim is a little too old, but his costume is better. "What do you mean, you were me for Halloween?" Jim asks in consternation. The boy realizes that he's faced with an even more obsessed fan, who thinks he actually is Jim Powell, and backs away slowly. Katya is giggling hysterically, and even Janzur can't help snickering. And then snickering more. And then some more.

"You can stop that now. Aren't you supposed to be all dignified and silent?" - Jim
The envoy building itself has a receptionist; the outside of the building doesn't have a listing of who works there. It doesn't seem quite the thing to go in and demand to see the guy without a better excuse than "we disabled your bug", so the trio heads back to the Hippocrates again.

The discarded wig is given to Sophia for DNA analysis, but the natural hair and eye color of the woman do not help Ace with his recollection. Dr. Kye examines the wig and gets an image of a woman on the run who is trying to cut all contacts with others, and has a strangely shifting face, as if she were switching from disguise to disguise regularly.

As everyone is gathered back at the ship, Hippocrates notes a radio signal coming from somewhere in the city. It's being beamed at the spaceport in general. At the same time, his detectors start hearing a quiet voice in the shuttle bay.

Intruder alert!

Janzur, Ace, and Jim sneak quietly into the shuttle bay in an attempt to surprise the intruder. It seems the intruder is also a master of stealth, though, as he's not evident. Then the voice starts up again, so the trio proceeds towards it in ambush. They find themselves in Maury's work area where the remains of the Dancer's radio systems (uninstalled during the upgrade) are talking.

"Come in, Royal Flush. Do you read me?"

Ace recognizes the voice. It's apparently Juliana, an old acquaintance of his. She wants him to leave her alone. She knows that he's been following her for a few weeks and doesn't want any part of whatever he's up to. She's not a pawn to be used in any of their games. Her position is somewhat undercut, however, when Ace points out that he hasn't been following her for a few weeks, as he just arrived on planet this morning. ("Hey, it was you who walked into my post office." "Your post office? When did you get a post office?")

Hmmm... Well that puts a different spin on things. The conversation warms a little as Juliana realizes that Ace isn't here after her. Juliana and Ace are about to make plans to meet somewhere and talk about what's going on, when there's the sound of a knock at her door. At first she tells whoever it is to go away, but after a few more knocks and some mumbling from the door, she decides to open the door. Ace thinks that perhaps this isn't the greatest of ideas, but she seems to be ignoring him now.

She unlocks all of her many locks and lets someone in. "Hello ma'am, I'm sorry to bother you, but I was hoping you could try out these samples from Cascade Perfumes." As the fellow offers to let Juliana smell this or that one, Janzur recognizes the salesman's voice as that of Johnny, the mind controller from the "gang of four" who kidnapped Ace back on Crux months ago.

The next sound they hear is the sound of Juliana passing out, being bundled up and taken away. Luckily, she still has the radio in her pocket, switched on. And Sophia has a radio pattern matcher, that she can narrow in on her signal! Though, now that she starts looking, she notes that there seems to be another signal, much like Sophia's, which is narrowing in on Juliana's radio. Another thing just like Sophia's device? Ace doesn't think "another thing just like Sophia's" is really a valid concept. But another sort of radio tracker.

Everyone piles into the van, and Ace drives at top speed towards Juliana's radio. At first the assumption is that Johnny is heading to join the other three team members who have a radio tracker, but Sophia insists that there are three teams - the four-in-one (Group A), the party (Group B) and some third set of, no doubt, bad guys (Group C), with the second radio tracker. Ace manages to catch up to a van; Jim has binoculars, and describes the people in it, which seem to be Genghis, J.D., Johnny, and Marcia. There's no sign of Juliana.

On the count of three, the group slides both van doors open and Dr. Kye shoots out one back tire and Jim shoots out the other. Then, Jim shoots out their back window. Janzur leaps out, and dashes towards their van, while Jim climbs up to the roof rack, where his scooter is mounted.

Marcia shouts back to the group: "No! Wait! Don't shoot!" and Ace shouts back "Why not?" Janzur leaps acrobatically through the rear window, cutting a few decorative holes in the roof with his plasma brand, and finds himself seated on the back seat between J.D. and Johnny. Johnny suggests that they just talk about it with no weapons, which Janzur is willing to do as long as there's no mind-controlling.

Juliana proves to be wrapped up in a rug and under the seat - Janzur hands her out through the back to Jim. Dr. Kye spots a guy lurking about a block away with what might be a camera case, and points him out to keep an eye on.

Marcia shouts back to Ace again "Ace, we've left your guys alone! If we knew she was one of yours, we wouldn't have..." Genghis cuts in: "She's not one of his, we've been following her for a week and they just got here yesterday!" Ace shouts back that they're in over their head; there are more people about to show up, and they don't want to be around for that.

As he starts to peel out, the guy with the camera bag throws his - camera? and it starts to stick to the window of the van, but then falls off. Sophia shoots at it, though, which causes it to blow up, doing some bodywork damage. Jim shoots the camera-case guy, and Ace drives off, taking as much evasive action as he can; Jim follows, higher up. Sharra rifles through Juliana's stuff, looking for the radio, and manages to shut it off, and Sophia doses her with Yellow - she should be waking soon. However, before they've gotten far, several vans converge, one blocking their path, and two more pulling up at the crossroads behind.

The party starts shooting at bad guy van tires, and Katya shoots out the party van's back window getting a better open shot. There is van tire carnage all around; the party van ends up losing three tires and comes to a flat halt. Combat starts in earnest; there are about a dozen ambushers, most armed with blasters but three armed with bags of bombs, both explosive and gas. Juliana's unconscious body is loaded onto Jim's scooter (the rating capacity of the scooter still appears to be "Jim and one babe" (or jellical, which are almost as photogenic as babes)) and Jim heads higher. A bad guy on a scooter does show up, but he doesn't have a rifle and Jim manages to take him down.

The bad guys start getting slowly whittled down, but it's looking grim. A gas grenade hits the van, and Katya, huddled in the back, ends up passing out, though not before pressing the panic button that Lord Stannis gave her. Janzur bundles her towards one of the bad guy vans that at present still has four working tires, and turns back to fight thugs. However, there are a lot of them, so more people show up to help him ("No! We're fleeing!"). Ace starts thinking about hot-wiring the van when another bomb-thrower puts an explosive bomb in the midst of Janzur, Sophia, and Kye (the latter two being out of actions). Janzur scoops up Kye and Sophia, and, three karma points later, has them back in the designated fleeing zone.

A bunch of bad guys are exploded, but they're starting to regroup when a fifth van pulls up. Two guys in black jump suits lay down suppressive blaster fire, and shout to get in. They get in, though Ace has to drag himself away from trying to steal the other van.

Meanwhile, flying around overhead, Juliana has woken up, and Jim notes her going for his gun. He tells her as earnestly as possible that he's from the Hippocrates, Ace's ship, and they're here to rescue her. She doesn't care what sort of hypocrites they are, she just wants down. And she has his gun. He's very helpful, and demonstrates that she gets to tell him where to go, but she does in the end insist on being let go. (Jim shouts after her that Ace's email address is

The new guys in the van drop everyone off at the spaceport. They ask if Katya and the crew need funds, or papers, or anything - but she's curled up and not talking to anyone. Do they know who those guys were? They think it looked like an Ozymandias hit team. Jim shows up - they recognize him too.

"Shit, that's Jim Powell!"
"Just get in the van."
People begin to interrogate Ace about what all this was about. Who is Juliana and why is she being hunted?

"Juliana has probably gotten into trouble with the outworld mob. They probably want her for the same reason they want me."
"Which is?"
This is not necessarily resolved to anyone's satisfaction when a delivery arrives for Ace. In full panic mode, the package is scanned three ways from Sunday - it has a flower, and a note: "Sweetie - next time you're in the area, call first." -Marcia

Before taking off, people think to wonder about the van. It's, um, registered to Eva. And pretty expensive. Perhaps they should get it back. Well, okay, they can go to the police. Ace notes that if the police think they're the bad guys, their story might get checked with psis.

Sharra and Sophia put together a story which is mostly true, and are most convincing when explaining it to the police. The police are, to a large extent, willing to believe that the party is the good guys: "There were five vans involved, and you were the only people who want to claim yours." It'll be towed back to the Hippocrates in the morning.

Ace puts out an ad in the local network that roughly translates to "Juliana, you should give me a call" but she doesn't. Sophia goes on her whitewater rafting trip after all while the bureaucracy is sorted out.

Sharra goes to talk to the guy at the envoy's office, and determines that he's one of the assistants to the envoy from Crux. She doesn't ask him about the bug, though. The shot-up van is delivered, and Sharra acquires about 250 asters of spare parts for fixing it (so it's still a net gain of 150 asters for the run).

Breathing a sigh of relief, the party takes off and heads for Klothos' station. The ship is met by two pilots, who take the bridge. Katya stomps off the bridge and into her quarters - Janzur and Sophia follow after. Jim figures that means he has to stay on the bridge - he never gets to go on the parts of the mission he wants to.

Katya isn't answering knocks on her door, though. People on the bridge talk to the pilots a bit - they mention that there was a Red fleet that headed through Nonesuch and then into the dust nebula in response to the jump gate alert. Throwing their weight around.

"Hate those guys."
"That's our Hegemony's fleet you're talking about."
Back at Katya's room, Ace has headed down to try and talk to Katya.

"Katya, it's Ace. I'd like to talk to you." -Ace
"Ms. Lavalor's room is in privacy mode." -Hippocrates
"That's good, I'd like to talk to her privately."
"It is within her privilege to decline."
Eventually she lets him in. They speak privately in her room for a bit.

The Hippocrates approaches Vircus. Scans indicate that the Battlestation is still in orbit as expected, and powered up even further than before. There's also some strange energy signatures from the area around the Battlestation. Hippocrates and Sophia combine their various scanning technologies to discover it's weapons fire. Hippocrates immediately hails the battlestation but receives no response. Next he tries hailing the planet, where he eventually reaches Vocari Selwyn. The Vocari informs him that Vocari Dyvas is currently on the battlestation, but last he heard, there was nothing wrong.

The weapons fire seems to have stopped for now though, so Hippocrates continues heading in. At closer range, the crew is able to detect the signatures of four fighters hovering outside the battlestation. He hails them directly. One breaks away from the pack and move to a different position before hailing the battlestation.

"Razor 1 to Judgment. Vocari Dyvas, sir. The Dagger units are cheating and using the name of the Sky Guard to try and order my units to break radio silence."
Hippocrates hails again once Vocari Dyvas is on the line and finally there's some action. "Hippocrates! This is Vocari Dyvas Firstjudged! My heart is bound by the chains of command! How may I be of service!"

It is quickly revealed that the razor wing of four fighters was engaged with the dagger wing of the other four fighters in war games/training maneuvers. The crew is somewhat disapproving of their using live blasters in exercises, but decide not to raise the point just yet. A few minutes later, the eight fighters head out toward the approaching Hippocrates. They are hailed by Janzur:

"Blades, this is Elite Therive. Are you our honor guard?"
"Unworthy though we are, sir."
"Very well, take up your positions."
Hippocrates docks with HBX Vircus. Vocari Dyvas is there to greet them at the air lock. "Welcome to the Star of Judgment."

The crew of the Battlestation present themselves for inspection. They consist of Vocari Dyvas who was here to oversee the training exercise, eight members of the Blades, who were flying the fighters, and several members of the Reverent Corps of Engineers, who are working on station maintenance and fighter repair. Apparently, the fighters require a lot of repair during the training exercises. The grandmothers tsk a fair bit, but keep their opinions to themselves for the moment. The sociologist among them seems alternately fascinated and shocked by the Vircans.

The crew is grateful that the Sky Guard has chosen this moment to stop by as there are some puzzling things aboard. They report that they have decontaminated sections 1-22 (about 2/3 of the station), but found some things in section 20 that they are unworthy to judge. Sophia agrees to look at what they found. She's taken to a maintenance/engineering bay, and discovers a frigate class high energy jump engine. After some initial torture and long winded discussion about what to do with the engines, it is finally decided, to the ship's great relief, that they should be installed on the Hippocrates. Members of the Reverent Corps transfer the parts to the ships engine rooms to await installation efforts by Maury and Sharra.

The crew tells Dyvas that they wish to address people in groups as they have some announcement, so it would perhaps be more convenient if everyone went down to the planet. Dyvas asks if they should leave the maintenance crew aboard the station or if they really need to address "everyone". They decide to leave the normal maintenance shift. Everyone is transported down on the Hippocrates, as Engine number 9 is currently on the planet. Apparently it makes a trip a day between the two locations.

On the planet the crew is greeted and treated to a tour of the various improvements about. (Katya doesn't wear her contact lenses, which tends to make Janzur startle occasionally, but doesn't seem to cause a massive stir otherwise.) The air in the domes is of much better quality since they've been slowly cleaning it out over the last year. It's still irritating to crew members, and they like to have oxygen bottles with them to freshen up now and then, but the full scale envirosuits are no longer needed.

They crew is shown the expanded nursery. Apparently there was a large population explosion a few months ago, so the nursery area (with completely pure air) has been widely expanded. Vocari Dyvas mentions to Sophia personally that almost a third of the female babies were named Sophia or some derivative thereof. He just wanted to make sure she wasn't offended by this, otherwise he would have had all the mothers change the names.

The members of the training academy are presented for the Sky Guard's inspection. There are the Blades (combatants/fighter pilots), the Glass (ranger/scouts), and the Chain (combat engineers). The crew is told that in honor of their arrival, the final tests of the current graduating classes will be moved up several days so that the Sky Guard and other members of the crew might observe them tomorrow.

"While the Blades are of course unworthy to battle Sophia herself in hand to hand combat, they would be most honored if she presided over their competitions of worth."

Then the crew is shown the headquarters of the Reverent Corps of Engineers. Most of them stay on the planet working on the domes and the air systems and repairing/salvaging what equipment exists, so there are a lot more than the station personnel indicated.

Doctor Kye is asked if he has found a way to recover the delicate pages of the Juridicist texts left behind. Kye indicates that he has several ideas to pursue and asks to take the book with him. They agree to have the Reverent Corps prepare the book for transport.

Finally, Elite Therive is invited to inspect the last facility personally, but first the party is invited to a feast in their honor where the Patriarch will preside and they will have the opportunity to address people. There is some sadness when people mention the Patriarch, for he is old and ailing, but when he does go, he will surely go with the joy that the Sky Guard have returned to them.

The feast is had, and then Sophia makes a speech in which she praises them all on their remarkable progress over the last year. She introduces the grandmothers from Creek as advisors who will be left behind to assist in whatever ways they can. Finally, she agrees to oversee the graduation contests in the morning.

She confers with the Vocari after her speech.

"We're just overseeing the contests, right? Not judging them?" "That was our intent, but if you prefer to dispense with the contests entirely and choose the most worthy from among them..." "No, no, that's fine."

She also makes it clear to them that the wisewomen are indeed merely advisors. When it comes time to choose a new patriarch, the process is to go on as it normally does. They are not meant to be considered replacements or anything. The patriarch and Vocari seem somewhat relieved.

That night, Kye and Sharra stay on the ship and everyone else stays in the dome quarters offered by the Vircans. Oxygen bottles are kept by the beds.

In the middle of the night, while most people are sleeping, Vocari Dyvas returns and asks Janzur to join him for the "inspection" he has alluded to earlier. Janzur is taken to a separate training facility, where, after much ceremony, he is presented with the 17 members of the Sacred Order of the Hand. They each swear their eternal allegiance to the Hegemon and ask only to serve the Hegemon with their lives, hearts, and souls, as Janzur directs. Their training is still in progress, so they are as yet unworthy to take their places at his side, but ask that Janzur provide three tests. Those who, in the fullness of their training, manage to pass all three tests, shall be considered graduated and form the core of a new Order under Janzur's direction.

In the morning, all are invited to a high mass of thanksgiving for the Sky Guard and benediction for the contests to come. During the mass, Katya tries to think thoughts like Jayla would and finds that indeed, she seems to receive some energy from the proceedings.

Finally the competitions are held. Sophia and Sharra observe the Chain competition, one with each of the two teams. The test seems to consist of running down streets filled with blaster fire, helpfully provided by the Blades, while carrying high explosives, entering buildings, planting demolition charges and escaping before the bombs kill them all! Sharra is hit by some of the blaster fire during the test, but Sophia dodges it all.

In the end, both sides concede defeat as they were assisted by their advisors. However the judges confer and decide to present the win to the team that was assisted the least. (Sharra's team.)

In the Glass competition, there are outdoor areas (beyond the domes) in which numerous coins have been hidden. Jim and Kye each accompany a team as they attempt to retrieve them. In true Vircan style, they are to stealth about retrieving them while they are hunted by Blades on patrol with blaster rifles. Katya also observes, but chooses not to even try and be stealthy so the Blades won't accidentally shoot her.

Doctor Kye's fine archaeological sense instantly detects the "artifacts" hidden around the field, but Jim's team does seem to be comprised by masters of stealth. So in the end, both teams have the same number of coins, but Kye's team has a casualty, so Jim's team is declared the victors.

Finally, the Blade competition. People wonder what will happen to them, as the Blades spent time shooting people in the other two competitions, but it turns out for their own competition, no blasters are allowed. Instead, each Blade is equipped with a dagger and the two teams are assigned to attack the other teams' fortified positions, to break the protected light bulbs in the middle. Janzur and Ace each accompany a team.

Both sides find their initial attack repelled and regroup for planning. Both Ace and Janzur advise their teams to provide a distraction while a separate force goes for the light bulb; Ace, true to form, reminds his team that daggers are ranged weapons. Both light bulbs go down, but Ace's team finishes faster, using thrown blades. There is only one serious casualty from the test.

At the end, Vocari Dyvas proclaims the victors but announces that in all three cases, the losing team performed well enough that they would not actually be cut from the program (as previously announced) and instead allowed to continue their training. There is much speculation among the crew that this was his intent all along.

The final order of business is to discuss the disposition of the fighters with the Vocari, who are informed that the ships are badly needed in the defense of the outworlds. Vocari Selwyn admits that their pilots are not yet ready to take the fighter to the lost Deep Expansion worlds as yet, but would like it if at least one is left for inspiration in their fighter construction project. "The fighter bay aboard the Star of Judgment is not full, you see." Hippocrates proposes that the crew keep at least one fighter on board. Ace suggests that two fighters be left on Vircus so that the Vircans can continue their training, that seven be brought to Crux, and one kept by the Hippocrates. Ace's plan is accepted by all and the meeting adjourns.