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johnnyputrid
21 November 2007, 06:31 PM
This is the first of several short stories I plan on doing, focusing on the aftermath of Order 66 and the fate of the characters stemming from Ronin's long-running 22d Regiment adventures. Hopefully you all will enjoy this and stayed tuned for some further installments.

Also, since I've used a bunch of Mando'a words, at the end will be a short terminology explaining their meanings.
*****

STAR WARS: KAPPA CELL
The Clothes Make the Man


CRUSHING FIST, BLACK FIST MOBILE HEADQUARTERS, SOMEWHERE IN THE OUTER RIM
“So what’s the verdict?”
Dutch stood calmly in the ship’s armory, surrounded by a vast array of weapons and equipment. He felt comfortable here in the presence of so much destructive power. Gear and tech were second nature to him, like a set of boots that fit just right. He’d spent more time in places like this than he could even begin to remember. It had a feeling of yaim’la, the Mando sense of comfort and being home. Only now, his home was on the run.

On the nearby work table lay the remnants of his Katarn armor. Just three short weeks ago Dutch, Republic Commando RC-0487, had been encased in its protectiveness, a shield against the chaos of an outside world he would probably never fully understand. But all that had changed after Order 66. The world he did understand was no more, crushed forever by betrayal. Kappa Squad was gone. The 22d Regiment disbanded. The Grand Army now an Imperial army. His brothers scattered, perhaps even dead. Everything he had cared about and fought for was now gone, replaced by a wicked mockery of its former self. The only thing he had left was a single friend who had brought him here, a promise of a new life, short as it may be. A grunt from the armory tech brought Dutch out of his brief reverie.

“Wayii! What the kark did you do to this thing? Looks like it took a cannon blast head on.”
“Just a small one.”
The tech didn’t look amused. “I thought these things could take cannon rounds without a scratch?”
“The shielded versions, yes. This was a recon model. No shielding.”
“You should’a ducked then. Recon my shebs.”
“Can you fix it or not? I’m gonna need some serious beskar’gam for this job.”
“Fix? Not a chance, son. Chest plating’s worn all the way through. Optics are totally fried. Power cells’re drained. Even the karking enviro-control’s are done for.”

Dutch frowned at this news. Hiring on with the Black Fist mercenaries was his best and only hope to keep on living. To earn the credits he needed, he would have to take on the most dangerous jobs. And he needed armor of some sort to do that. Otherwise, he would just end up another dead clone. Enough clones had been lost already as far as he was concerned.

“Alright, if you can’t fix it, what can you do? I’m gonna need something within a week.”
“Udesii, what’s the rush? You that eager to get revenge or something?”
“No, I just need credits. I don’t have much time left.”
“Time’s all we got here son. No contracts, no cash. Empire’s making contract work tough, all these new laws that keep popping up.”
“I’ve got a job already.”
“Really? I ain’t heard nothing come down.”
“It’s a bounty if you must know.”
Lighting a cigar, a gift from his mentor, Dutch slowly puffed on it and let the pungent smell drift through the armory. The tech, lighting one of his own, cracked open a bottle of something fruity smelling, probably tihaar, and poured himself a drink. Offering a glass to Dutch, he quaffed a measure of the liquid in one gulp. Grabbing a few tools and a datapad, he waved the clone towards one of the small alcoves towards the rear of the room.

“A bounty, huh? You musta been one of them commandos, or an ARC trooper, right? The boss don’t hand out bounties to just anybody.”
“A commando,” Dutch replied, sniffing the glass of alcohol and downing it. It burned fiercely on the way down, but had an aftertaste that wasn’t unpleasant.
“Huh. Heard about you fellas. Pretty good bunch of soldiers. Wish we had some more of ya.”
“Yeah, me too.”
“So how come you need the credits so bad? Shouldn’t ya be laying low for a while?”
“I need some medical attention. Its gonna cost a lot.”
“Didn’t the med techs check ya out when you came on board?”
“It’s complicated.”
“How so?”
“Genetically shortened lifespan. Built into all clones.”
“Mother of a Hutt. So that’s how they put ya all together so fast.”
“Yeah. Grow up twice as fast, die twice as fast.”
“Karking Empire. Someone needs to fry that hut’uun Palpatine.”
“Someone will, eventually.”
“Well this oughta brighten your day. Take a gander.”

The tech opened up a sealed locker and exposed the contents for Dutch to view. Inside was an armored suit the likes of which he had never seen. Pale gray armor plating was draped over a rigid black bodysuit, arrayed in layers of reinforced reactive material. The helmet had clean lines and a solid plasteel visor with what appeared to be enhanced optical ports. It was a piece of art that to Dutch’s trained eyes looked like it could stop a dozen blaster bolts and emerge without a scratch. He wanted to try it on right then and there.
“It’s beautiful.”
“Vor’e. Took me a long time to work it up. Prototype, built around an old Corellian powersuit frame. That’s one hundred percent genuine beskar right there. Pure Mandalorian iron.”
“Is it functional?”
“Not just yet. Got some wiring to finish, and some of the helmet systems need work. I could probably rip out some of your Katarn systems and integrate them, since you won't be using it anymore. But that’d take a few days.”

Dutch felt elated. Just the chance to examine the suit for a few moments brought a surge of warmth into his bones. It was funny how good tech could make a soldier happy. But just as fast, the feeling died away. This armor probably cost the tech thousands of credits and hundreds upon hundreds of man-hours to construct. There was no way he would let a total stranger try it on, let alone try it out in battle.

“Looks great. Who commissioned it? One of the mercs?”
“Commissioned? Son, I built this thing because that’s what I do. I’m a Mandalorian, though not much of warrior anymore. But building armor is in my blood.”
“So who’s gonna use it? You?”
“Nah, my days of glory and fightin’ are over. But you…ya might have what it takes to put this on.”
“I can’t, no way. I just got here. There’s gotta be someone…”
“Son, I’ve known Diermon Aricoza for over twenty years. If he says get my boy some armor, I’m gonna get him some armor. Now shut the hell up, strip down and get inside this thing.”

Dutch grinned and saluted the man, despite the fact that technically, neither of them were soldiers anymore. Peeling off his tunic, pants and boots, he started slipping in to the body suit, which slowly became rigid, yet flexible as he pulled it on.
“So you’ve been pulling my leg this whole time. Aricoza told you exactly who I was.”
“Course he did. You didn’t think I was gonna let some shabla chakaar in my armory did ya?”
“Course not.”
“Yeah, sure. Had you fooled. You clones ain’t all that smart, are ya?”
“Some of us less than others, obviously.”
“Just remember, you break it, you bought it.”

Dutch began clamping the boots and leg platings on. Despite its weight, the armor felt light. He realized soon the bodysuit contained microservos, enhancing his strength and making the whole system feel less like armor, and more like clothing.
“Micro-repulsors inside?” Dutch asked, just to be sure.
“I told ya, its built on a powersuit chassis. The plating and subsystems are enhanced, but it’s not much more than a high-end model. “
“So I can punch through walls with this thing, then?”
“Probably, yeah. Just don’t try running with it just yet. You might rip a tendon out.”
“Gotta get used to the extra strength, right.”
“And the helmet ain’t finished yet, like I said. I’ll gut your Katarn helmet and see what I can do.”
“Vor’e. So when do I get the bill?”
“Son, you just stay alive long enough to find your friends and get your medical help. I owe Aricoza more credits than this damn thing cost.”
“Will do. So can you make a few more of these suits?”
“I suppose. But only the first one is free. Beskar don’t come cheap.”
“We’ll get the credits.”
“You’ve gotta be nuts to be goin’ after yer buddies, ya know that? Empire’s gunning for you fellas.”
“No choice, they’re my brothers.”
“Yeah, that’s what Aricoza said you’d say. Just remember, ya ain’t gonna live forever.”
“We don’t want to live forever. We just want to live as long as regular people do.”

*****
MALASTARE, SEVEN WEEKS LATER
Dutch crouched low in the sweltering jungle heat, his thighs resting on his heels. He cradled a slugthrower in his hands; its cleaning oils smelled harsh in the moist air. It wasn’t a typical slugthrower, but a shot rifle, commonly known as a scatter gun. Deadly in close quarters, it fired plastoid shells filled with razor sharp metal slugs capable of shredding flesh in an instant. He’d come to favor the weapon recently, not only for its impressive stopping power, but for the fact that it was low maintenance and was easy to operate. He still carried his trusty blaster pistol and vibrodagger, but the jungle was known for its ability to wreak havoc on electronics. And running around in these post-Republic days with a Grand Army-issued DC-17 was likely to attract the wrong kind of attention. Fortunately, his new armored suit had been sealed against the ever-present jungle rot and allowed him to function well.

For the last two months, Dutch had been on a quest to find his missing brothers. During the chaos of Order 66, many clones had been killed by Jedi Knights defending themselves from the unseen onslaught of betrayal. Dutch had been lucky to have escaped. Refusing to murder the Jedi he had come to consider a friend had brought a death mark on his head. He knew from scattered intelligence reports that a handful of other commandos had disobeyed the order and were swiftly executed. He prayed that his former squad mates were not among the fallen, but he had to be sure.

Dutch’s former training sergeant and friend, Diermon Aricoza, had taken up the hunt along with him. With his Nikto partner Garloz Whitefeather, the two old warriors had gone to ground, evading the imperial forces diligently searching for them. Only hours after Order 66 had been delivered, Aricoza and Whitefeather had disappeared from the Special Operations Brigade HQ on Coruscant, after seeing the 501st legion march on the Jedi Temple and murder everyone inside. Only Dutch and a few trusted others knew Aricoza and Whitefeather’s location. Now wanted men, like Dutch himself, the two old soldiers were looking for genetic specialists who could administer gene therapy to any renegade clones they might find. Without biological samples from the prime clone, Jango Fett, gene therapy was the only way to solve the clone’s problem of genetically shortened life spans.

They also sought the whereabouts of any wayward commandos, but so far no luck. It was only chance that Dutch came across the rumor of a burly human resembling Jango Fett here on Malastare. The rumors spoke of a human winning several death matches in the underground fighting rings run by Dug criminals. While rumors seemed to be ripe in this new empire, Dutch couldn’t ignore it. So he found himself trekking through the blisteringly hot jungle, hoping to survive the trip to the fortress home of Sulgosa, a prominent Dug ryll peddler.

Rising from his crouch, Dutch resumed following the trail he had set upon three days ago. He had to strong-arm the information from one of the local bar owners, but he was certain this was the right path. Dugs didn’t take too kindly to armed visitors, so he’d circled around and snooped for a back entrance. After a few more hours of laborious tracking, he struck gold. Or rather ferrocrete. A few hundred meters down the trail was a small guard post, a pair of Dugs keeping lookout for intruders. Dutch’s armor had been treated with a reactive camouflage paint that constantly shifted with his surroundings. So far the paint job was working well. The two Dugs seemed more bored than alert and hadn’t spotted him.

He took some time to scope out the area through his helmet’s macro viewplate. The guard post was small and unobtrusive, covered with native plants for concealment. But the stony ferrocrete outer wall of the compound directly behind it was not so cleverly hidden. Dutch suspected mines or other traps lying hidden along the trail, so he looped around to the west, using the foliage to keep the guard’s view blocked off. As he got closer, he noted that one of the Dugs was actually fast asleep, his snoring audible even at ten meters away. The other guard was watching something on a portable reader, probably some sort of cheap entertainment program by the sound of it. Dutch grinned under his helmet. This was his kind of infiltration.

Creeping silently, despite the fact that he was wearing 20 kilos of armored battle suit, he moved within striking distance of the first guard. Raising the butt of his shotgun high, he struck downward and heard the satisfying thwack of plas on the Dug’s skull. Startled, the second Dug yelped and dropped his reader. His eyes went wide as the barrel of the weapon filled his vision.
“Don’t talk,” Dutch said calmly. The Dug apparently understood and showed his compliance by raising his limbs high and wetting himself.
“Open the door. Quietly.”
The Dug nodded and slowly moved a limb towards a red button on the small console next to him. Dutch responded by shoving the barrel of the shotgun nearly up the creature’s snout.
“Don’t be stupid. You hit the alarm and your brains decorate the wall, got it?”
Visibly shaking, the Dug moved his limb from the alarm button and hit the switch to open the barred door behind him.
“Sweet dreams, di’kut,” Dutch said as he slapped the shotgun’s barrel against the side of the Dug’s head, knocking him unconscious. As the creature slumped to the floor, Dutch crept inside the compound.

*****
SULGOSA'S COMPOUND, INTERIOR
Dutch was growing more and more frustrated by the hour. It was just barely past 10 AM local time when he entered the compound, and now night was beginning to fall. Without a map, he had no idea where to look for the fighting arena. So far all he had found were living quarters and storage rooms, only a few of which were inhabited. He stuck to the shadows where he could and crept up behind Dug sentries when he couldn’t sneak by. He’d already interrogated three of the foul-tempered creatures, but none seemed to understand Basic or Huttese. Dutch was so used to people speaking his language that he hadn’t thought to bring along a translator unit. He felt stupid and confused in a world he didn’t quite fathom. While he was doing exactly what he was trained to do, he was doing it in a completely alien environment.

Moving along down a hallway he didn’t notice before, he was surprised to hear loud noises and shouting. So far the compound had been relatively quiet, most of the occupants idle or asleep. He was certain that his presence had remained undetected and that he hadn’t incapacitated anybody important. No alarms rang out and nobody was shooting at him. With any luck, things would stay that way for a little while longer. Following the sounds of the ruckus, Dutch slipped quietly towards a small stairwell that seemed to rise above the din coming from down the hall. He soon found himself on a darkened balcony overlooking a large gravel-covered pit. Finally, he thought.

There was no doubt it was the fighting ring, as he could see scores of Dug along the opposite wall, shouting, screaming and cheering on a pair of Rodians in the arena below. The two combatants were armed with cheap vibroblades and both seemed on the verge of collapse. They were bloody and battered, but neither seemed willing to give up trying to kill the other. Dutch watched the crowd and the arena carefully, looking for signs of any humans around. So far it was just aliens of one sort or another waiting for their chance to fight. It seemed to Dutch that this wasn’t a slave gladiator ring. He’d heard how the Hutts sometimes enjoyed pitting captives against each other, but most of the beings preparing to fight appeared free and willing. The credits must be damn good to risk your life fighting an unknown opponent. Dutch was almost hoping he wouldn’t find any of his brothers participating in this gruesome event.

After several more matches, Dutch started to grow tired. He had remained hidden, powering down his active electronics and staying as motionless as he could. Soon he would have to find a place to hide out for the evening and get a fresh start looking in the morning. But just as sleep began to take him, he saw what he feared to see. A burly human male entered the arena, wearing a padded jumpsuit and armed with a wicked looking club. Though the human wore a face mask, Dutch easily recognized the man’s gait and demeanor. It was Chiiko, his former squad mate.

Chiiko looked much trimmer than Dutch had ever seen him, but it was unmistakably his clone brother. No doubt the tolls of fighting to the death had toned his muscles and stripped away any vestiges of fat. For the first time since he began watching the fights, the announcer spoke a language he understood. In bold Huttese, the Dug ringmaster began introducing the combatants and naming the stakes of the match. It seemed that Chiiko had won more than a few matches and was the star fighter today, with 6 to 1 odds in his favor. He would stand to gain around 3,000 credits for this match if he won, which the announcer seemed certain of. As the starting gong rang, Dutch found himself staring in rapt attention, fatigue washing away as adrenaline surged through him.

For the first part of the match, Chiiko stayed on the defensive. His opponent was a Trandoshan, easily a meter taller than the clone and heavily muscled. The Trandoshan was armed with a vibrosword and held it in a practiced two-handed grip. He slashed towards Chiiko with almost reckless abandon, but still maintaining control. Chiiko’s club looked pitifully small compared to the Trandoshan’s sword. Immediately Dutch saw his brother’s game plan. Chiiko was using his superior reflexes and martial arts training to keep his opponent ever moving, tiring him out. Indeed after just two minutes, the big lizard was panting, his chest heaving with labored breaths. Dutch found himself silently rooting his brother on, despite the fact that morally he considered death duels to be wrong. But then again, Dutch had never gotten along well with Trandoshans.

Seeing his opportunity after a failed swipe, Chiiko lunged, bringing his club down on the lizard’s right hand. The Trandoshan released his wounded limb from the sword and only realized his mistake too late. His defenses wide open, the Trando was in no position to fend off Chiiko’s ruthless blows. Strike after strike landed against his opponent’s head, drawing blood and cheers from the audience. Six, seven, eight blows landed and the lizard fell to the ground, confused and rattled from the pounding he was receiving. The crowd screamed and raised fists, urging Chiiko to move in for the kill and finish his dazed opponent. Raising his club high over the Trando’s head, he held it aloft for a moment, a dramatic pause before he crushed his enemy.

Dutch decided that enough was enough. He didn’t plan on watching his brother casually murder the downed lizard. He needed to get Chiiko out of this place and back to a world where there was some sense and meaning. Leaping from the balcony, he landed in a crouch, his armored form kicking up dust and gravel. He broke into a dead run, shotgun held level. He’d reloaded its magazine with flechette rounds, lethal and precise. Any Dug that got between him and his brother would find himself with a rather large hole he didn’t have before. Chiiko probably wouldn’t recognize him as an ally, so Dutch figured that spearing a few Dug might help prove his intentions. Two guards were leveling blasters at the clone when Dutch squeezed the shotgun's trigger twice in rapid succession. The flechette rounds tore through the two Dugs, shredding their chests and dropping them to the ground. The crowd roared in anger at Dutch’s entry and Chiiko turned, tossing off his mask, a look of complete confusion on his face. Dutch noticed more guards drawing weapons and dropping to the arena floor. This wasn’t going to be a simple rescue.

Chiiko moved to defend himself as Dutch rushed in. Skidding to a halt just a meter away, Dutch leveled the shotgun, not at his old friend, but at a pair of Dugs who had gotten closer than Dutch preferred. The guards kept their distance, having seen what the shotgun could do, instead circling around and waiting for more of their comrades to box the two clones in. Chiiko held his club ready to swing, but showed caution, waiting to see what this armored figure was going to do. Dutch noted that Chiiko had gone into a very familiar combat stance, one he himself had taught him only three years ago. Dutch responded by adopting the same stance, a mirror image of his friend.

Chiiko’s eyebrows raised high. “What the…who the frak are you?”
Dutch grinned widely under his helmet. “What’s wrong vod’ika, don’t recognize me?”
There was no mistaking Dutch’s familiar gravelly voice. “Dutch? Is that you? What the kark are you doing here?”
“Getting you outta this place.”
“Look, Dutch, this isn’t exactly a place you can just march into and expect to walk out of.”
“Why not?”
“Uh, you do notice the several dozen Dugs moving in, right?”
“Yeah. So?”
“Well they’re not fond of unwanted visitors. As in shoot ‘em on sight.”
“We both know Dugs’re lousy shots.”
“You’re one crazy bastard, you know that?”
“Same as always. Grab my pistol. We can blast our way out.”
Chiiko dropped his club and quickly fetched Dutch’s pistol. “My kind of exit strategy. Let’s do this.”

*****
MALASTARE JUNGLE, EXTERIOR
Chiiko held on to Dutch, gripping his side and breathing heavily. He’d taken a nasty blaster wound as the two clones fought their way to freedom. But pursuers were hot on their trail and a few stray blaster bolts landed nearby to reinforce that point.
“Lousy shots, huh?” Chiiko said, his voice dripping with sarcasm.
“He got lucky, that’s all.”
“This ain’t my idea of luck.”
“Just hold on, shuttles only a few dozen meters down the trail.”
“Some rescue plan.”
“I wasn’t even sure it was you I’d find here. Count yourself thankful.”
“Well, the death match scene was cramping my style anyway. I shoulda stayed on Zeltros. Glad to see you made it through alive.”
“So far it’s just me and you. Haven’t found a trace of the others.”
“Stiev.” Chiiko said, panting with exertion and trying to fight back the pain in his side.
“What?”
“I know where Stiev is. We can go get him next.”
“Where? Where is he?” Dutch felt raw excitement pound through his veins, excited that another brother had survived.
“Let’s get the kark outta here, and then I’ll tell you.”
“Right. C’mon, there’s the shuttle.”
Chiiko eyed the battered monstrosity that Dutch had the nerve to call a ‘shuttle’. There were more scars and blaster marks on it than anything Chiiko had ever seen before, even during the war.
“Tell me that’s not our escape craft.”
“That’s our escape craft.”
“Does it even fly? It looks like a junkyard science project.”
“It’ll fly.”

As the two clones approached, the shuttle’s landing ramp extended down, and a wiry old figure emerged, cradling a blaster rifle in one hand and a long cigar in the other. His steel-gray hair was cropped close and he wore camo fatigues streaked with sweat. A broad smile lightened the man’s hard features as he blew out fragrant smoke.
“Hurry up youse sorry sons of grub worms. I got a schedule to meet and youse two’re are pushing me fer time.”
Chiiko broke into pained chuckling as Dutch bounded aboard the ramp and hit the switch to seal the craft up.
“Well, well, well, if it isn’t the ugliest bastard in the galaxy. How you doin’ sarge?”
“I’d be doing much better Chiiko, if you’d shut yer hole and strap in.”
“Good to see you too boss.”
Diermon Aricoza slapped Chiiko on the back and handed him a flask as he strapped himself into the pilot’s chair.
“Drink up my boy. Youse’ve got a lot of explaining to do, but don’t never say I didn’t offer youse a drink.”

Chiiko eagerly took the flask and downed a few gulps. He passed it to Dutch, who had removed his helmet and taken the navigator’s spot. Aricoza fired up the shuttle’s engines and lifted off, a few Dug blaster bolts pinging off the hull as the shuttle raised out of the jungle.
“Okay Chiiko, now that we’ve rescued yer sorry tail, let’s patch up that wound.”
“Sounds great. Hey sarge, do I get some cool armor like Dutch? I feel naked without some good kit."
“Clothes make the man, huh? We'll get youse some armor. But first youse gets a lecture from me about being stupid and fightin’ in death matches.”
“Aww, sarge, it was…”
“Stow it soldier.”

Chiiko’s head drooped, feeling chagrined. Aricoza could make the toughest man feel like a gravel maggot with just a few simple words and a hard stare. Noting his distress, Aricoza brightened his features and clapped him on the shoulder. The lad was still good at heart, Aricoza knew that. Enough time for a lecture later.
“Alright, the hide-chewin’ can wait. Let’s get youse outta here,” Aricoza said.
“Can we stop and get something to eat?” Chiiko asked. The pain in his side was nearly eclipsed by the rumbling in his belly.
“Food? Is that all youse can think about?”
“Obviously you’ve never sampled Dug cuisine, sarge. It doesn’t exactly cleanse the palette.”
“Youse clones are all the same. Always wantin’ to fill yer guts and sleep.” Aricoza stared at Chiiko with a look of disapproval, but finally relented and grinned. “Fine, here’s a ration bar. We’ll eat better once we get home.”
Chiiko accepted the ration bar and chewed hungrily while Dutch applied a bacta patch to his side.
“So where’s home now? Did you finally buy yourself that little tropical planet you were always talking about, sarge?”
“Not quite son. I got other plans for my credits.”
“Well, anyplace is better than Malastare. I’ve had enough of jungles for a while.”
“I can’t promise youse a life of luxury son, but youse’ll be safe for a spell.”
“I couldn’t ask for anything more.”

After a clearing the atmosphere, Chiiko finally saw their destination, a refitted Corellian battle cruiser, painted in matte black and blistering with weapons.
Dutch slapped his brother on the shoulder and rubbed his head. “Welcome home Chiiko.”

~FIN~

*****
Mando'a terminology
beskar - Mandalorian iron
beskar'gam - armor
chakaar - corpse robber, theif, petty criminal - general term of abuse
di'kut - fool, jerk, moron
hut'uun - coward (worst possible insult)
shabla - screwed up
shebs - butt, rear end
tihaar - alcoholic drink made from fruit spirits
Udesii - Calm down! Take it easy!
vod'ika - "little brother" - term of affection or close friendship
Vor'e - Thanks!
Wayii - Good Grief! - general exclamation of surprise, good or bad
yaim'la - comfortable, familiar, sense of home

Ubiqtorate
21 November 2007, 07:37 PM
Good work as usual, johnnyputrid. Looking forward to seeing these guys continue their search.

johnnyputrid
21 November 2007, 07:47 PM
Thanks! I'm really enjoying writing this stuff and I'm glad someone else enjoys reading it.:)

The next installment is well on the way to being ready and has a neat little ending. Hopefully it'll be posted soon.

IzVenjari
24 December 2007, 12:16 AM
Absolutely excellent!!!

I've been meaning to read this for a lil while.

Of all the fan fics of yours that i've read jp i have to say i think that was the best. :D

Rostek
24 December 2007, 01:02 AM
Wonderful work as always, jp. I'm also greatly relieved to see that I survived the chaos ;)

I suppose this means that I'll have to speed up my work on the Vance series' updates for X-Mas-ish release, just to keep up B)