Belle of the Ball

 

Chan had decreed that after so many hard scrapes that the Crew deserved some down time and she also hoped that their contact with Harvey Killian might lead to more work. However, including Todd was a close run decision with Chan, William, Li Ming having reservations, but Todd’s assistance during the escape from the OddEasy was enough to buy him the trip to Bellerophon at no cost as he escaped with just the clothes on his back.

 

Needing some coin to offset the costs of the trip the Crew stopped at a small settlement and, with Monk putting in a good word, found a cargo consisting 265 tons of palletized natural fiber rope and cordage to transport to Bellerophon. To add to the profits of the trip, William managed to find four passengers, all members of the same family, looking for passage to Skyplex Domino. 

 

Lifting on 28 September 2518, the Ghost took off smoothly for the twelve day trip. The journey was thankfully uneventful, but there was much traffic on the Cortex concerning the disruption to shipping due to an increase in pirate activity. Xavier worked on what was hidden within the signals and found that it was heavy depredations by Neo-Browncoats was the real problem. She also found that the disruption in the Burnham quadrant was only just starting to recover from the large battle over Beylix.

 

The Ghost arrived at Skyplex Domino at 1400 on 10 October 2519. If not for Marsh shaving a bit off the course, they wouldn’t have made it and as it was, they arrived with tanks nearly drained by the trip. While the cargo and the passengers offset the costs, by the time more protein was purchased, the Crew had just barely broke even.

 

Not wanting the complication and expense of feeding more passengers, Chan elected to just look for cargo for the sixteen day trip to Bellerophon. Chan succeeded in finding cargo, but delays in unloading and loading kept the Ghost at the Skyplex for five days. During that time, Willis approached Chan with a plan he had devised to upgrade the collision avoidance suite Harold Lattimer had installed during the U-War. Willis was convinced he could do so during the ship’s next scheduled maintenance. Chan agreed in principle, but told Willis to wait until they reached Bellerophon before starting any modifications. Each of the Crew had a chance to work out a few personal things during the delay, but as soon as the new cargo was aboard, the Ghost departed for Bellerophon at 0200 on 15 October 2518.  

 

Sixteen also uneventful days later, Marsh touched the Ghost down on Bellerophon. On arrival, the Ghost was in severe need of maintenance and the Crew did not have the credits to cover the cost. Willis, Cindy, Chan, and Xavier went to the salvage yard to see if they could pick up some discounted parts. As the others looked for parts, Li Ming, William, and Marsh went to one of the casinos to see if Li Ming could find a hot table. Chan located, and Marsh masterfully extracted, several of the parts they needed, saving forty credits off the cost of the cost of repairs. Li Ming worked her magic and doubled the money she started with and combined with the savings from the salvaged parts, Willis was able to perform the standard maintenance and leave seventy credits left over.

 

Chan waved the normal split and each member of the Crew shared the small windfall for the mini-vacation on Bellerophon. [Todd Lian made several attempts at picking pockets and failed miserable leaving him in desperate straights]

 

Once Willis reported that all maintenance was complete, early in the afternoon of 1 November 2518, Chan released the Crew to have fun. The only restriction Chan imposed was that one person had to stay with the ship at all times, but chose first watch herself to give the others first crack at the fun.

 

Despite Chan’s attempt to get Willis away from the ship and his plans to upgrade her, Willis avoided Marsh’s request to hit the party trail and slipped away to do some research. Li Ming claimed to want to find a hot table and departed via her shuttle to attend to more personal desires soon after touchdown. Marsh, Cindy, William, and Xavier headed directly for the thickest part of the tourist area.

 

Marsh entered a windsurfing contest and managed to tie with the local champion. Forced to face three grueling sudden death rounds and despite all odds, Marsh won the match and the fifty credit prize. During the contest, William got into a chili eating contest. Cindy tried to slip away, but Xavier noticed her attempt. Cindy talked Xavier into trying the games of chance, which allowed the medic to finally get some alone time.

 

As Cindy moved away from the crowd, she noticed she was being followed. When she spun to face the man, he said: “Taylor’s blood saved you.” Cindy was dumbstruck as she relived the worst part of the Battle of Du-Khang again and before she could recover, the man added: “Too bad you didn’t kiss him on the cheek for good luck that morning like you normally did.” Cindy stammered that it wasn’t her fault. “Sarge was with the CO when she got sent on the advance party.” The man replied. “My brother Dehua sure seemed to think it was a big deal, you not kissing Taylor. Dehua said it brought the platoon good luck and you broke the chain. However, he and even Taylor need you now. “You know we are your real family”

 

Caught alone, weak, and vulnerable, Cindy could not resist the man’s words. Cindy’s deep yearning for the Browncoat cause drove away all thoughts based on logic and led to Cindy finally yielding to something she needed more than she realized – becoming a Browncoat again.

 

The man was Jiang Heming, the brother of Dehua who served with Cindy and had carried her away from where she was pinned by Taylor’s and Frost’s bodies after an Independent artillery barrage drove back the Alliance advance. Heming said he would be in tough soon, as Cindy had some big shoes to fill in the movement. Cindy was instructed to keep their meeting and her new allegiance secret. “Until the others understood” and joined the movement as well.

 

When Cindy rejoined the rest of the Crew, she was more relaxed than she had been in weeks. Returning to the ship, Chan met them with the news that she’d gotten a wave from Killian. He had a job for them, but hadn’t said what it was; coyly saying he would explain all when they came to his estate.

 

Marsh flew out to Killian’s floating home the next morning. The Crew was ushered to their patron by a butler. Killian greeted them warmly and then asked for some unusual help. The Grand Bellerophon Debutant Ball is in three days and his daughter Daphne is coming out at the event. Normally Killian’s wife would have seen to everything, but she died ten months ago and as a loving father, he wants to make sure everything still goes right. Clearly seeing Killian’s devotion and plight, the Crew agreed. On obtaining their assistance, Killian called for his daughter and everyone was immediately struck by her extreme lack of beauty.

 

In addition to the girl’s shortcomings, the Crew has to learn the very specific etiquette and the required dress for the event. Killian contacted tailors to outfit the Crew for the ball and then explains the details of the event to the Crew. Li Ming and Willis picked up the nuances fairly quickly, but the shock was that Marsh did as well. However, having three instructors was heaven sent as despite his connections, this close to the event he could only obtain two tailors. The Crew would alternate between the tailors and tutors to be able to get ready in time.

 

At the end of the first day with only breaks being for fittings, the entire Crew had cracked the code on the proper etiquette. In addition, William, Marsh, Willis, and Xavier had been fitted for their outfits. By the end of the second day everyone was properly outfitted and had learned the basics of ball room etiquette, with William and Willis almost seeming as old hands. Willis went over the lesions he had mastered so well with Daphne one on one for all of the second day, after getting a minor flaw in his tailoring corrected and for an hour in the morning of day three.

 

As prepared as they could be, the Crew spent the rest of the day practicing their new skills and waiting for the next day and the event to actually begin. [Todd Lian used his charm to seduce an older woman before slipping out with thirty credits. He then burgled a store that night and fenced the goods the next day, before finding a nice place to sleep. He then repeated his seduce and steal plot, but this time, got away with just a scant eight credits. He did however, learn of the debutant ball. Todd located a top notch forget and had a very high quality forged invitation made. Todd then spent the rest of his money to obtain a properly fitted suit at discount due to seducing the sales woman]

 

Xavier mused that such a gathering must have other businessmen like Killian and should be an excellent opportunity to make a few contacts. She tapped the local Cortex and produced a list of six names that had the potential for being interested in working with a small and discrete ship that was capable of handling unusual jobs. Xavier made sure everyone saw the names so they could make a pitch if Chan was occupied.

 

At the appointed hour, the Crew boarded hover-limos contracted by Killian and departed for the ball, arriving precisely fifteen minutes after it started to be fashionably late. On entering the soiree, Chan, William, and Li Ming peeled off to mix with the crowd and attempt to make contact with as many people on Xavier’s list as possible. Willis, Marsh, Cindy, and Xavier stayed close to Daphne to act as guards and screeners. Chan failed to impress any of her contacts, while William was able to make contact, but could not obtain a commitment. Li Ming was likewise able to make contact, but was only able to secure one call back.

 

Two obvious cads approached Daphne, but were intercepted in turn by Willis and Cindy and politely told to seek easier game. As the evening wore on, Cindy noticed a young man in the crowd and after a few minutes f conversation knew he was a true gentleman. Steering the man to Daphne, Cindy made the introductions and moved discretely out of the way to let them talk. As Cindy was playing match maker, an older woman took a fancy to Marsh, who foolishly agreed to speak with her in private. Cindy noticed this exchange and moved to speak to the other woman. Fortunately, the woman realized the situation for what it was and apologized. Cindy recognized that the apology was sincere and a potential problem was avoided. Cindy then turned to Marsh and made it clear that he had some fence mending to do.

 

William was asked by a young woman to help her find her earring and while he was initially suspicious, he assisted and spent a delightful time speaking with her. Chan bumped into one of the guests and the young dandy was hot headed enough to take exception. Chan was however, able to get the young man to relax without things getting out of control.

 

Willis was approached by an elderly gentleman unable to find his wallet. The man was not slow by any means and was able to lead Willis back through his steps to where he last knew he had his wallet. After a careful search, Willis could not find the wallet, but did manage to console the man and get him in touch with event security.

 

Xavier encountered a young man that earnestly attempted to seduce her. She found this interesting enough to counter his play with one of her own and after clearing her departure with Chan, dud indeed leave the party with the young man.

 

[Todd Lian was able to enter the ball with his forged invitation and immediately began casing the room. Not spotting anything especially attractive in the way of merchandise, he turned to the unmistakably rich pickings of young and older women, settling on an older woman obviously already on the prowl and found her more than willing to depart with him. After creeping out of her bed, he successfully disarmed the alarm and opened a safe in the floor. He escaped with 380 credits in jewelry. Returning to the same fence he’d used earlier, he received 192 credits for the jewelry and 30 more for suit he used, then found a newer and nicer hotel to spend the night]

 

At the end of the evening, Harvey Killian was ecstatic at how ell the ball had gone. Daphne was quite smitten by the young man Cindy had introduced to her and Killian couldn’t have been happier. He told the Crew to return to his office tomorrow regarding how he could repay them for how well they had done their job.

 

Arriving the next day in their uniforms, te Crew less Marsh who’d drawn the short straw to guard the ship. Killian greeted them warmly and informed everyone that he was aware that reliable work is hard to find. Jobs do not even have to be all that well paying as long as they are reliable. Thanks to their hard and tireless work to help his daughter, the Crew has earned a six month contract to transport Killian’s trademark product – desalinization equipment out to the Rim planets that need them. In addition, if the Crew can meet on time delivery, Killian will pay a ten percent bonus for the first six months. The runs are typically ten days travel plus two days loading and unloading on each leg. The standard rate being one point five credits per ton for a total of 600 credits per leg ot twelve hundred credits oer month, plus the bonus opportunity.

The Crew was of course overjoyed at the prospect of honest work. The next shipment had to depart in three days, which ignited a flurry of activity by the Crew to ensure the ship would be ready. Willis was concerned with all the near miss escapes they had had recently and pressed Chan to get his upgrade to the collision avoidance system installed. The down side of the upgrade was the 1,300 credit cost for the parts. Chan agreed that they’d cut it too close too many times and further agreed that part of the money earned from their shipping contract would be used to fund the upgrade.   

 

Cindy attempted to slip our of the ship to contact Jiang Heming, but ran into William, Li Ming, and Xavier in the cargo bay. Cindy quickly spun a need to pick up a few drugs and medical supplies. The first mate agreed, but insisted that Li Ming go with her. Cindy managed to spin a second story of being able to wait that the others brought off on without suspicion. Waiting until the next day, Cindy was able to successfully sneak off the ship long enough to meet with Heming who gave her a tracker “So the movement could be sure they were safe.” Cindy, desperate to believe, accepted this story and returned to the ship. Cindy was able to sneak back in unnoticed prior to departure. William asked Cindy about the medical supplies and Cindy deftly lied about finding a stash and they were shiny.