Episode 703: Dar Al Tabr

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Air date: 17 Jan 2012
Present: Andy, Bobby, Kim, Maer, and Terri

Part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, Special Features

… In the previous episode …

We splashed down on a sandbar 20 miles from Jibril on 15 Jun 2523. A few days after mopping up and licking our wounds, we see Rina and Joshua married. Two days later they take off down the coast for a two-week honeymoon, clearing the deck for the Independent army to make repairs without Rina in attendance. Three weeks from touchdown sees Equinox newly repaired, newly stocked with a short range shuttle, supplies and arms, and rechristened as Exeter.

Monday, 12 July 2523
Sandbar on the coast
Twenty Miles outside Jibril, Angel
Kalidasa (Xuan Wu) system

Made as ready as we'll ever be, we pick up our first mission flying under the Independent flag: we are to deliver food and supplies to Sheikh Al Tabr on Dephi. Once there we will diplomatically approach Al Tabr and try to get him to join the Independent side, allowing us favored access to a strategically important Thorium mine that he owns.

Delphi is in a bit of a proxy war. The Califate has lost its centralized authority on Delphi and rather than invest ships and personnel to fight for possession of the territory, the Alliance and the Independents have been utilizing the locals to do the fighting for them. Sheikh Ali Al Tabr had very early on declared his neutrality in the conflict and oh, by the way, he's also rigged his mine with explosives to self-destruct if anyone attacks him. Everyone's free to do business with him but the second they try to take him over the mine and everything on top of it is history.

We take off at noon on the 12th. Dephi is the next world over from Angel, about a day's flight away.

Tuesday, 13 Jul 2523
Airspace over Delphi

Delphi is something of a hot zone. Independent flagged ships are of course targeted by Alliance ships and/or other defenses they've installed in the area, but ships not flagged by either side are targeted by either side … so …

Joshua: If we're gonna be targeted, I'd rather be targeted by the Alliance.
Nika: Here's the thing. I'd rather only one side at a time shooting us at this point. Which is why I allowed the flagging.
Joshua: That's fair. Rock on. Smooth as silk. Oh, hey … truffles.

Kiera's brought treats for the folk on bridge duty and today she comes bearing truffles. Joshua turns from the sensors to sample them. Dark chocolate, milk chocolate … Not liking the white chocolate, but hey! chocolate! Yummmm…..

Joshua: Man, this is really good

The sensors start yarking.

Sensors: Warning! Missile lock detected. Jǐnggào! Dǎodàn suǒdìng jiǎncè. Warning! Missile lock detected.Jǐnggào! Dǎodàn suǒdìng jiǎncè.

Joshua: Oh crap! Three truffle locks—I mean three missile locks. You might want to evade those. (Off her look) If I can't joke about missile locks, what can I joke about?
Nika: At what range?
Joshua: Incoming.

The missiles are from an automated orbital platform.

Nika: (on all-ship) Guys, we got missile lock. Brace!
Rina: (comms) Yebani v'rot, do you owe them money?
Nika: Yes!

We're actually getting kinda good at this sort of thing. Rina and Beglan stand by in the engine room, ready to deliver more power for evasive maneuvers, Joshua and Nika take up their favored positions on the bridge. Arden and Kiera strap in and start mentally cataloguing the med supplies: Arden from his jump seat in med bay, Kiera from hers on the bridge.

Joshua: By the way, Kiera, excellent truffles.
Nika: (affectionately to Joshua) I hate you.

Three missiles are incoming, streaking right for us. Swooping and rolling our ship, Nika flies evasive maneuvers while the rest of us help her do it—engineering, sensors, cheering section. All three of the missiles pass us and spend out. Where they eventually land we don't know. Hopefully it's nowhere with people. We hit atmo and start our descent.

We have our destination's coordinates and they lead us to an oasis in the desert of Delphi. Dar Al Tabr it's called and they've rolled out the unwelcome mat.

Air Control: This is air control for Dar Al Tabr. This is protected airspace. Turn around and move away.

Joshua looks at Nika.

Joshua: We're here to deliver something, right?
Nika: Yeah. It's a gift.
Joshua: Well I'm not going to tell them that. (to Air Control) We're here to make a delivery to Sheik Al Tabr. Please advise.
Air Control: Get in a holding pattern over the area. Approach no closer than 50 kilometers.
Joshua: Will do. (cuts channel)
Nika: Okay. Pack 'em, stack 'em, rack 'em.
Joshua: We'll see how long that lasts. See if they actually land us at some point. Like, before we run out of fuel.

Not much chance of that—Delphi was only one world away and we've plenty of fuel left. We could circle for days. But still, what's with the cold shoulder? Eventually the word comes through: land 20 kliks from the compound. They'll come out and meet us.

Nika: They're taking no chances.
Joshua: Whatever works for them.
Kiera: Wow. They'll be carrying this stuff a long way.

Nika has Joshua take control and us on the sand, which he does with gusto.

Joshua: That's some excellent dirt they got there. Makes for a smooth landing.
Nika: Did you just bounce my ship?
Arden: I guess he's used to having all four on the floor.
Joshua: It's no good landing without a single bounce. It's, like, for luck.
Arden: Ohhhh, there's so many things I could do with that statement right now.
Joshua: I am perfectly innocent in this matter. Moving on …

Teasing the newlyweds with off-color remarks is the current pastime of choice for the rest of the crew. Even so, we take our places as we wait for the Sheikh's people to show.

Rina: Do you want me to cover you with the machine gun?
Nika: (What?!) No, I do not.
Rina: You're the Captain.
Arden: Ask them to identify themselves before you meet them face-to-face.
Rina: You meeting them in front of the ship?
Nika: Yes. We're not opening the cargo bay or anything like that, but no, I'm not going to sit in the ship and demand 'Identify yourself!' We'll go down the airlock ladder.
Rina: Kiera? Man the airlock they go out of. I'll watch from the bridge.
Nika: Fair enough. I don't like that whole we're-gonna-cower-on-our-ship scenario.
Arden: It's not a cowering thing.
Nika: It's just unlikely it's anybody else.
Rina: Yeah, that's what we thought on Ghost.

Nothing but sand all around Al Tabr's compound on our fly-by. No one else is likely to show up to meet us out in the middle of nowhere. And no one shows for a couple of hours. Eventually men on horseback appear. They are wearing traditional Arab garb, complete with assault rifles across their backs. There are about a dozen in total and they take up position along the crest of the erg that surrounds our ship, putting them at medium rifle range away from our ship and our Captain. Some of the riders have RPGs with them too. Three of the riders continue down the erg and come to a stop in front of our ship. The leader is easy to pick out. He's riding an absolutely beautiful white Arabian.

He dismounts and approaches. He is dressed in the desert Arab fashion—flowing robes cut for riding, a headdress and a face veil to shield his head from the sand and the sun. He bows at Nika and Joshua and then walks around them, observing them, his eyes keen over the line of his veil. He sees Nika and Joshua are unarmed and not wearing uniforms of any kind. Hmmmm.

Up on the bridge, Rina kicks herself for neglecting to put surveillance cameras on the shopping list she'd handed over to the Independents who repaired our girl. A bow-mounted camera would come in very handy right now—Nika and Joshua are standing under the bridge instead of in front of it, and the bulk of our ship is hiding them from view. Ditto for Kiera at the airlock. The only thing Rina can do is open the comm channel at the outer cargo bay doors, so as to listen in. It's not perfect but at least she can hear what's going on.

Leader: You are here to see the Sheikh.
Nika: Yes indeed. I'm afraid I didn't catch your name.
Leader: I didn't throw it.
Joshua: Very clever.
Leader: I am El Sahir. I am an assistant to the Sheik.
Nika: I understand. I am Captain Earhart. This is my First Officer Drake.
Joshua: (low) Should we open the cargo bay doors, Captain?
Nika: Yes.
Joshua: (comms) Open the cargo bay doors please.
Rina: (over comms) Seriously?
Joshua: Yes. Do it.
Rina: All right. (softer) I'm getting my grenades.
Joshua: No. Do not.
Nika: (breaking in) Just lock down the level.
Rina: Yes, Ma'am.

Rina lowers the ramp using the bridge controls and locks the access to the upper decks.

El Sahir: Is there any trouble?
Joshua: No. Nothing that's not unusual. We're happy to make this delivery.
Nika: You of course may inspect it.

She walks with El Sahir.

Nika: Beautiful horse you have.
El Sahir: Are you an aficionado of horses?
Nika: I was raised around them.
El Sahir: Where was that?
Nika: Boros.
El Sahir: Yes, they have decent horses I'm sure.
Nika: They do. I don't know that I've ever had one quite as fine as the one that you possess. He is absolutely beautiful.

El Sahir inspects the cargo and Nika gives him all the time he needs. Two of his men accompany him and they go through the cargo carefully. He seems very businesslike about it. One of his men has a datapad and he's busy taking notes while the other two inspect the delivery. El Sahir's expression and manner is neither impressed nor unimpressed. It's hard to get a read off the man. He eventually pulls aside his veil to reveal a rather handsome man with a neatly trimmed beard. Dark eyes, dark hair, clear olive skin, nice sculpted lines. Handsome.

El Sahir: You will provide water for our horses?
Nika: Absolutely.

El Sahir turns and makes a hand signal to one of his men, who immediately relays the word via hand com.

Nika: Kiera. I need you to come down and bring down enough water for the horses and the men, please.

Kiera rigs up pots to put the water in and fills them from the utility hose.

El Sahir: I take it you represent the Independent faction?
Nika: I do.
El Sahir: What are you offering? What is you wish apart from our alliance—perhaps that is a bad term.

Joshua chuckles over that one. Nika mentally reviews our briefing: the Independents want the Sheikh to stop selling to the Alliance and sell the thorium only to them as part of an exclusive contract.

Nika: I'm sure your Sheikh is approached semi-regularly with such offers but we are hoping that this meager offering and the promise of far more lucrative contracts would perhaps sway him to assist in the cause.
El Sahir: And when the Alliance Navy shows up, what protection are you offering? There will be a fleet of equal size to defend us from the Alliance war machine? I assume. Is this under construction? Do you have pictures of the ships you will send to us?
Nika: I'm afraid you know as well as I do that a fleet of that size is certainly not going to be soon.
El Sahir: I see.
Nika: What I can tell you there are enough ships and people to fight to back you up if that becomes necessary.
El Sahir: If we … from the Alliance view, if we ally with you, the Alliance has no reason to not aerial bombard us for it. Since we haven't been giving them the thorium anyway.
Nika: Dlo you think you'll be able to remain entirely neutral for the duration of this conflict?
El Sahir: I don't know. Does your ship have aerial bombardment capabilities?
Joshua: No, we do not.

Joshua suppresses a laugh, thinking: Does our engineer count? The woman can go ballistic.

Nika: Touche. It does not.
El Sahir: Well, then. For at least a day. (a beat) The Sheikh would like me to extend jis hand that you may stay with us for a little while and attempt to convince us of your cause.
Joshua: Very good. We appreciate it.
El Sahir: Two of my men will be on your bridge as you fly to the compound. If you deviate from the course, they are prepared to meet Allah.
Nika: I understand.
El Sahir: Very good.
Joshua: Allah's grace.
El Sahir: Thank you for the water.

El Sahir covers his face with his head dress and walks back to his horse, taking his two men with him. A few moment later, he returns with two other men and Nika escorts them up to the bridge without demur. Both carry a device between them. It has buttons and a light. It's a standard mining charg attached to some kind of detonator. Which Rina eyes sharply when they step onto the bridge. Joshua follows behind Nika and the two men and he doesn't miss the expression on his wife's face. He moves quickly to intercept. He gives her The Look: Don't say it. Zip it.

Joshua: Thanks for opening the cargo bay doors earlier, Irina.
Rina: (evenly) Because you told me to.
Joshua: Nice to have someone who listens to me.
Arden: Don't get used to that.
Nika: Go head and spin up the engines. We’re going to be staying a day or two at the compound.
Rina: Yes, Ma'am. (eyes men narrowly) Gentlemen.

Rina zips her lip on whatever else she clearly wants to say and heads aft for engineering. El Sahir's men mumble something to each other in Arabic and Joshua translates in his head: She looks like the kind of girl the Sheikh likes. Joshua lets it slide.

Arden: (of Rina) This should be fun.

Nika lifts off and follows their directions. We pass over the mine and its extensive ore processing facility. We land where we're directed and we touch down without getting blown up. As the dust settles, we make ready to disembark. The entire crew is invited and so the entire crew leaves. We make our way over from the landing pad to the Sheikh's compound. It's half palace and half fortress. There isn't the full-blown ornate decoration customary on Old Earth but it still has distinctive Arabic features. Minarets grace one corner, presumably indicating the direction toward Mecca. The compound is also relatively high tech once we pass through its gates, indicating that the Sheikh is well off.

For instance, once inside the perimeter, the quality of the air changes. The familiar pressure differential hits our faces when we pass through the doors and instead of the bone-searing heat and aridity of the desert, the air is cooler and more humid, despite the main courtyard being open to the sky. Fountains splash and run here. Graceful arches form colonnaded walkways and every walkway has a narrow stream of water running alongside. Rina looks for and doesn't find a dome over the place and knows that the Sheik is therefore expending a tremendous amount of energy just keeping the place moist. Even with the oasis nearby, such expenditure is impressive. Just what one would expect from a Sheikh.


Eventually we're escorted to our own suites of room—women separated from the men. When it's discovered that Joshua and Rina are a married couple, they are given a third suite to themselves. All have attached bathing facilities. Nika quickly offers our assistance in transferring the cargo. She's assured it will be done all in good time. There are certain things that must be done first, like inspecting the cargo for bombs. We are given time to freshen up before dinner. Dressing up is left to us to decide, and are eventually led to a dining room.

On the way, we notice a few things. There aren't a lot of men here. There are a lot of women, ranging from their late teens to their early forties. They are dressed provocatively.

Nika: (quietly) He's got a zenana.
Rina: (ditto) A what?
Nika: A harem.
Arden: Looks like a good place to live.
Joshua: Maybe it's the power structure.

We are ushered into the dining room and stop talking to take it in. It's huge. There's a long u-shaped table, easily seating a couple hundred to a side. At the far end, on the transverse section, a paunchy turbaned man is already making inroads on his repast. There are a couple of guards casually standing at the corners and the doorways. Places have been set for us and El Sahir stands next to them. He graciously waves us over.

El Sahir: His Eminence will be here shortly. (waves again) Please, make yourself comfortable.
Arden: (nodding at Paunchy) And who is this illustrious guest?
Paunchy: Oh I am just an accountant. I will take the accounting. Try the figs. They are delicious.
Arden: Thank you. I will.

The Accountant passes the bowl to Arden. A few moments pass while we settle on the cushions and afterward two lines of women enter the room. Some are carrying food, others are carrying vases of water and yet others are carrying vases of some other liquid. They do a circuit around the room and serve us food and drink and then busy themselves with setting up the rest of the table. They all sit at the table when they are done. We estimate there are about 12 or 13 dozen. Arden amuses himself by counting up the blondes, redheads, and brunettes. A dozen more show up when they sit, followed by the Sheikh Al Tabr. He sits opposite Nika.

Al Tabr: Salaam. You have brought gifts I am told. And you represent the Independent War Council?
Nika: Yes.
Al Tabr: Very good. Eat. Where did you fly from?
Nika: Angel.
Al Tabr: Ah! Malak. So you know our traditions and laws. I'm afraid you'll find there is no alcohol here but there are beverages you may not have tried before that are equally interesting.

We all eat and drink a moment and Al Tabr speaks again.

Al Tabr: Did you have any difficulty flying here?
Arden: The three missile locks.
Rina: Shhh-hhh!
Al Tabr: You were attacked by missiles?
Nika: (easily) It was a watch satellite. But it wasn't too big a problem.
Al Tabr: Hm. They should do a better job.
Nika: (smiles) They should.
Al Tabr: Perhaps I will send them a missive to that effect.

Great. So the next time we come by they won't miss? We smile and eat and drink on.

Al Tabr: We are always happy to receive visitors, especially those bringing gifts, but I hardly see that our position's changed much since the last gift that was sent—I don't remember if it was the Alliance or the Independents who sent the last set of gifts. It was a while ago.
Nika: I'm quite sure you're being courted on any number of occasions.
Al Tabr: It is a difficult position to … inspire belief.
Nika: Neutrality is difficult to maintain. And as the conflict gets bigger, there's always the chance that we might be able to persuade you, so we must keep trying.
Al Tabr: Perhaps I should show you the devices we have placed in the mines so you can tell your superiors that this is no joke.
Nika: No, I don't believe they think it's any kind of joke, sir. Though if you would like to give us a tour, that would be fine.
Al Tabr: I'll send someone. I don't travel much in mines.
Arden: It's awfully dirty down there.

Nika pauses a beat and continues.

Nika: I don't think anyone in the system really prefers the situation that any of us are in.
Al Tabr: Which situation is that?
Nika: The conflict is going to continue to get bigger. There will come a point where you are targeted simply for the fact that you are sitting on this Thorium mine. As your advisor—(nods at El Sahir)—mentioned on the way in, we are not in a position to orbitally bombard you to force you to make any decision nor would we even try. However, that is a tactic the Alliance eventually will use on you as they become more desparate.
Al Tabr: But the Independents would never do such a thing.

His tone makes it clear he believes otherwise.

Nika: I would like to say no, they would never ever do such a thing but I will not lie to you.
Al Tabr: So if we were to ally with the Alliance, then you would attack us from orbit? You or your people?
Nika: I can't say for sure.
Al Tabr: Hm.
Nika: I'm not the person who will give that order.
Al Tabr: It's hardly a mark in your honor then, if you're no different than your enemy.
Nika: We come to you to ask your assistance.
Al Tabr: Well I have had visitors from the Alliance as well.
Nika: Yes, but I sincerely doubt that any of our people will come and bomb you simply for the fact you've said no. The Alliance on the other hand will come and do that eventually. I think we would only bomb you if you opted to entirely turn your alliance—turn your allegiance to the Alliance and become a threat to us.

The Sheikh thinks for a beat.

Al Tabr: Hm. Very well. I'll consider that. So if I … go with you, I risk bombardment with the Alliance. Is that what you're saying?
Nika: You risk bombardment by the Alliance anyway because you're sitting on something that they want.
Al Tabr: For the moment they want what I have more than me.
Joshua: I think that the 'for the moment' is the key phrase there, sir. If you can think long term, the Independents are much more likely to let you be as you will, with your resources and your people and your compound. Whereas the Alliance long term, if they are to win, then they are much less likely to let you be. The Alliance prefers to control things the way … they want to control things.
Al Tabr: They have been fairly hands-off since I have been in power.
Joshua: Of course they have been. They are short on resources.
Al Tabr: I mean before the war.
Joshua: No, but even then they were short on resources. The Alliance has been struggling in their own system for some time. If the Alliance was at full strength and the Independent force were weaker, I have no doubt in my mind that you would be finding Alliance soldiers making their way here, telling you how to do things, how to run things, how to live your life. Because that's what the Alliance does.

Joshua's not being over the top with it, but you can definitely tell he's speaking from experience.

Al Tabr: Hm.
Nika: If I may ask, I know that you are at this time keeping your neutrality and doing quite well at it. Is there anything we can an offer you to make our position more attractive?
Al Tabr: Hm. I like to be on the winning side. Are you winning?

He smiles as he says it, but without malice. Nika smiles back with a chuckle.

Nika: Again, I won't lie to you. It's too early in the conflict to tell.
Al Tabr: Then perhaps it is too early then, perhaps, for me to throw in my lot to one side or the other. But we shall see. Perhaps there is something you can offer me. At this stage, I am doing fairly well. Because as you say, you never know when someone gets in their mind to bomb my facility or … or if I were to go over to one side, then there would be no reason for someone else not to bomb my facility. So that is a further danger.
Nika: I understand that.
Al Tabr: What protections could the Independents offer me?

Now here Nika has to go carefully. While we're effectively emissaries of the Independent movement, we weren't given any powers to make that kind of promise. At the moment, we're more like goodwill ambassadors with gifts, than policy makers and shakers. We are here basically to maintain what good relations the Independents already have with Al Tabr.

Nika: At this point, we can only offer you what we have.
Al Tabr: And that is …?
Nika: The more people who decide that the yoke of the Alliance is too heavy and try to throw it off, the more people we will have on our side. And I think that will continue to go on because the last war was …
Al Tabr: Yes, and how did that work out?
Nika: (continuing) … Not as organized as this one. And certainly not as widespread. All of the systems are fighting back now.
Al Tabr: Well, the Alliance forces are not as developed as they were.
Nika: Not even close. And they've been greatly hampered by the loss of several capital ships.
Al Tabr: That is true. (sighs) Well …
Nika: If nothing else, the least that we would like to do is to remain on good terms.
Al Tabr: (smiling) As long as you continue to bribe me …

Nika laughs.

Al Tabr: (continuing) You will remain on my good terms. But for now, I am offering you some hospitality, a little respite from your humdrum daily lives. There may be another visitor coming. I received a wave from … some sort of Alliance captain, I don't know exactly. I assume you'll all be on good behavior?
Arden: Of course.
Nika: Yes. I'm assuming you enforce neutrality on your compound.
Al Tabr: What's that?
Nika: I'm assuming you enforce neutrality on this ground.
Al Tabr: Yes. I am making sure that you are as well.
Joshua: Yes. Of course.

Al Tabr looks at Rina as he talks, has in fact been eyeing her throughout dinner. For her part, Rina's doing her best to play the perfect little wife—says nothing unless spoken to, serves her husband as she's able, keeps herself from staring at anyone. Joshua's not dumb—he knows it's Rina's way of saying she's already taken without getting ugly or starting a fight. Which is a stretch for her. He keeps an eye on her and Al Tabr, and catches the Sheikh looking at his wife again. Joshua's not the only one who notices either. Nika has caught the glances, too.

Al Tabr: We have a few days to discuss what you offer. But now, let's eat and drink.
Nika: Are all of these lovely ladies your wives?
Al Tabr: Yes. Well, these aren't all my wives. These are my favorite hundred and twenty.
Joshua: You're a very virile man.
Al Tabr: I have a hundred and sixty five wives. So far.
Nika: That is quite impressive.
Rina: (faintly) Yes.
Joshua: How many days are on this planet for a year? Actually .. one for every day, then?
Al Tabr: Well, that would need more, wouldn't it? Perhaps one day, if God is willing.

Kiera trades a look with Nika and begins to laugh.

Joshua: God is … (fails)
Al Tabr: Try some of that lamb. It is succulent.
Joshua: Actually, I'll try a little bit of everything.

He does and has been, actually, steadily making his way through all the offerings, taking little pieces of this and little puddles of that. Who knows when he'll ever see a meal like this again. For her part, Kiera's been watching the Sheikh watching Rina and counting the number of times he's looked at her. He's been glancing her way frequently, more so than at Kiera or Nika, and through the rest of the meal he cracks the dirty-old-man sorts of jokes.

Oh yeah. That's really going to win Rina over. Kiera files it all away, sending looks at Nika as if to ask if she's noticed this going on. Nika's making a point of ignoring all of it. Yes, she's caught it but she's totally ignoring it. Joshua's watching everything as he eats. Rina refuses to make eye contact with the Sheikh. Why encourage him?

At last we've reached a point for conversation again. El Sahir leans to the Sheikh and says:

El Sahir: Earlier, the Captain was admiring your horses, my Sheik.
Al Tabr: You like horses?
Nika: I do. I was raised on a ranch.
Al Tabr: El Sahir, you should take her out and take her to the oasis. It's a good run. You can give her the—

He names a horse. Fatima, he calls it.

El Sahir: As you wish.
Al Tabr: In the morning. Give them a chance to rest.

The dinner goes on. We pretty much have the chance to get everyone pigeonholed. There is the stoic assistant (El Sahir), the typical rich guy (Al Tabr), and the fat slob accountant who is thrilled to be at the table and eating all the food in sight. Rina leans over to Joshua during a course change and whispers.

Rina: Where's the Vizier and his daughter?
Nika: I'm wondering if the accountant is skimming off the top, too.
Kiera: Always.
Joshua: I want to say fat accountants would make good secret service, so to speak.
Nika: Mm-hm.
Rina: Actually, he'd be the guy to talk to. Because everything goes through billing. Follow the money.
Nika: (laughing) That's true.
Kiera: Yeah. Never piss off the accountant.

Dinner eventually ends. We go back to our suites. We're not closely watched but … every time we poke our heads out there's a guard in the hallway outside. We find ways to occupy ourselves before bedtime. Joshua eyes Rina pacing the rooms, going in and out of the private and the common areas the crew has been assigned.

Joshua: Are you looking for escape routes?
Rina: (distracted) Mm-hm.
Joshua: Go ahead, get it out of your system.

Rina scopes out the windows and possible exits from the rooms should we need to leave in a hurry. We're on the ground floor, so height above the ground is not a deterrent, but the windows are small and set high on the walls. Getting to them would require standing on the furniture.

Rina: All right. (snaps her fingers) Escape routes planned.
Kiera: Escape …?
Joshua: This is what she does.
Rina: Everywhere new.
Joshua: And sometimes to places we've been before.
Kiera: Ah, ha.
Arden: Just making sure we're safe?
Joshua: She doesn't believe we're safe anywhere.

Nika shakes her head and turns in early. Can't take any more of this nonsense, nope. Kiera has brought her guitar along, so she's quite happily occupied til she's sleepy. Joshua finds a way to take Rina's mind off ambushes and exit strategies, to their mutual enjoyment.

Arden inquires about a library and he's told that there is one. However, it's mostly in Arabic. There is also an electronic library if he would wish to peruse that. He would, thank you. He's also interested in offering his services as a doctor, as is his usual habit wherever he goes, but is unsure how to say it politely. Arab cultural norms are different from ours with respect to modesty and women. But there are over a hundred fifty women who might be in need of care … it would be more interesting than staying up all night browsing an electronic library. Arden decides to refrain from asking and browses the library.

The rest of the evening passes uneventfully.

Part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, Special Features

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