(9) To Be Named

The Crusader Campaign (061-1122)

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061-1123 : Adabicci / Lunion / Spinward Marches

    Nightshade has just landed in a field a short distance from the mansion of Sir Geoffrey of Adabicci.  There are many reasons to be here.
    First, they have to meet Marquis Marcus Crestworthy for the expedition to the Ancient site on Victoria/Lanth -- they believe this is clearly not black tech, but one of the other two possible sides -- the local conflict, or the enemy that passed through and moved on.  Finding anything out about a potential enemy's tech is a good thing.  Edward "Shark" Teeth is a bit leery about abandoning Adabicci to the clutches of multiple battle fleets that Santanocheev is probably sending this way without some sort of warning, but then again defense is always easier than offense.
    Marchioness Kalida Siena points out that they don't know for sure that they're coming here, but she has worked out a possible route and they all think it's a likely course.  Shark says that they have worked out a plausible story about where they got the information, so they can warn the Duke here so he can mobilize his single fleet.
    In addition, Kalida has promised Trin and Rhylanor that she'd find out which side Adabicci is on.  She herself was here in 1107, when the crisis that lead to the avoidance of a Fifth Frontier War took place.

    It was a perfect landing.  The long black ship settles down onto the landing legs, while Sir Geoffrey and his staff watch.  Considering Sir Geoffrey's history with this type of ship, he is remarkably composed.

    Callisto remains on board to keep an eye on the sensors, while Robert also chooses to remain behind.  Marquis Korwin Vanderfield remains behind as well.  That leaves Teri Cralla in command of Nightshade, and for once she is not at all concerned about the safety of the crew.
    Everyone else goes ashore.  Jack the Younger is of course going, and Grand Admiral Baron Bridgehead never misses a noble social occasion.  Kalida and Vonish Kehnaan are most know to Sir Geoffrey, of course, and they are accompanied by Misha Ravanos, Shark, Mich Saginaw, and Helia Sarina.
    They assemble on the cargo ramp, deciding that however insubstantial the rods that tether it, it's still less likely to attract attention than the translucent ramps from the bridge airlock.  The port side of the ship faces the mansion, so the patio ramp would be on the other side.

    It's quite warm here.  It's spring, although the climate on Adabicci is fairly neutral through the seasons in the 4-month year.  It's early evening.  The large orange sun has already set in the 34-hour day.  There are no moons to light the sky, although the secondary has risen, casting a red glow on the scene.  The red maltese cross on the sidepods stands out against the black hull.
    Everyone is dressed for an informal dinner.  Sir Geoffrey is known for having rejected much of the formality of nobility, leaving that for his elder siblings.  Luxury, however, he has not rejected.
    Geoff steps forward to greet Kalida enthusiastically.  He nods in friendly recognition to Vonish, who has a standing offer to be his personal chef.  He is obviously pleased to see everyone, but Kalida is clearly his personal friend.
    Kalida explains that they're to meet Marquis Marc here in a while, and thought they'd stop by for a visit.
    Geoff says he is expecting Marc, as his Imperial Navy comrade did send him a message along the way, saying he was making good time.
    "Then there's time for a party," says Kalida, knowing that Geoff's door is always open and he is an enthusiastic host.  Compared with his very formal brother Eduard, Lord Adabicci, and his less formal but diplomatically active sister Baroness Arahani of Adabicci, Sir Geoffrery's residence is party central.

    Sir Geoffrey leads them across to several gravcraft.  They are luxury extended air/rafts, with canopies and room to walk around and relax.  Inertial compensators make it easy to relax and wander without worrying about falling.
    The gravcraft head towards the house at a sedate pace, their motion providing a light breeze to the occupants in the otherwise still air.  It's warm tonight.  Average temperature on this world is 20 degrees, and while humidity is generally low, in the vicinity of Sir Geoffrey's mansion the lush fields and lawns of his estate, with pools, fountains, and water gardens, raise it to a very comfortable level.  It is conspicuous consumption of water, but his estate has the resources to support it.  It is located not quite halfway down in the southern hemisphere.  The air however is a little rough, it has an edge that catches the throat.  All buildings have filtered air, and offworlders are much more comfortable with filters, but Sir Geoffrey and his staff -- and the crew of Nightshade -- have not bothered.  The gravity is a little light but not too much.
    Geoff kicks back and relaxes on the short ride to the house, casting an occasional subtle glance over at the black ship resting in the field behind them.
    The crew has decided that they can take him on board, should he express an interest.  He has, after all, been on board one of these before, so technically they would not be showing him anything new.

    As the gravcraft approaches the large 3-story high conservatory, a glass door slides open.  The vehicles move inside slowly and settle on the indoor lawn, while the door closes behind.
    Servants are settting up a buffet to the side near the tennis court.  Chairs have been set up, servants walk around inconspiciously with drinks.  Lanterns are dotted around to provide light.  There is enough brightness so it doesn't feel dark, but not too bright to ruin the informal atmosphere.
    There are plenty of guests, considering Geoff has only had a couple of hours to set up this impromptu garden party.
    As Kalida looks around, she notices that Geoff has managed to invite several acquaintances of hers from here previous visit here.
    Shark looks around too, but he's seeking an entirely different kind of person.  He notes the positions and bearing of the security personnel.  One the guests, in fact, is active in the profession -- he does not look like he's here in his official capacity, but then people like that never completely are out of the job.  They cannot afford to slip up in that line of work.
    Kalida goes off to greet the people she recognizes.
    Another of the guests immediately approaches Vonish, and while he clearly knows that Sir Geoffrey has first refusal on his services, Vonish's reputation as a chef is clearly widespread.
    As for Geoff, he circulates among the crowd, clearly enjoying himself.  After all, the life of the party from Rhylanor is here tonight.  He gives Kalida plenty of room to circulate herself -- they'll have time to catch up, after all, and he doesn't want to monopolize her at her first party here in a long time.
    Misha does get some strange looks, even though he's left his sword behind.  People are not used to seeing the black skintight bodysuit look that is a zack.
    Shark circulates around the outside edges of the gathering, being professional rather than social.  After a while, he notices that Sir Geoffrey has moved off to the outside, and is having a moderately intense but very understated conversation with one of his security people.  Shark mutters into his commdot for Callisto to record the conversation.  They talk for about ten minutes, and then the man walks off back into the main house.  Sir Geoffrey subtly blends himself back into the party.
    Robert of course has been hacking into everything within digital sight.  He's a little surprised at the level of security.  It's Imperial tech, of course, but good Imperial tech.  It's higher than he would have expected as routine security at a minor noble's residence.  They've even added another twist or two to normal encryption methods, but it's still only Imperial tech and straightforward to Robert's sparkly pink invasion.  There's a lot to hack into.  Robert is quite busy.
    Callisto gets as much as she can of the conversation from the remote sensors, and passes that on to Robert to enhance.  The resolution of sound from the remote sensors makes it very hard to pick out an individual conversation.
    Kalida is the life of the party.  She's attracting a constant stream of people coming over to chat with her.  Even though it's been some time since she was on Rhylanor -- about 3-4 months -- they still want to know about all the fashion trends and noble gossip from there.  The fashion columns have reached here, but nothing compares with the in person view of a well known socialite.  There are several avid golf players here, and they of course can't avoid the subject of the game that Kalida first learned here.
    News of Misha's presence in the Rhylanor social circles has preceeded him, and he is popular too.  It seems he's as socially attractive here as he was back there.  He's initially been introduced as the Captain of Kalida's "little yacht out there," but he is quickly recognized as a personality in his own right.  He too gets quizzed on fashion, and in general the conversation is incredibly light.  There's even some people who recognize him from the Rhylanor gossip columns, calling him a close friend of the Duchess.
    Helia too is attracting attention, having chosen an outfit that is quite astonishing, and is thoroughly involved in her own conversations.
    Bridgehead has managed to find a group of three young women, and is hitting on them as hard as he can.
    The crowd is casual and fairly intimate.  Over the course of the party, Misha and Kalida circulate through all the guests.  Misha is a little disappointed that no-one is here who recognizes him from his previous job, but then a lot of these people are fairly local.  Probably half of them live on Adabicci, and most of the rest are from Lunion subsector.
    After a while, the person who left earlier after the conversation with Sir Geoffrey has obviously returned, as he makes his way over to Shark.  He sgabs a drink from a passing tray, as Shark says, "Nice party."
    "Yes, it is indeed," the man says.  "I assume you have all appropriate preparations?  I imagine everything is securely in order back at the ship?"
    "I believe so," says Shark.  "Is there some reason...?"  Of course the ship hears him too.  "We are in a fairly relaxed mode, but keeping our eyes open.  We never quite shut them completely."
    "I was wondering if there was any particular cooperation you needed from us, given the nature of your vessel."
    Shark is a little taken aback.  He says, "No, I think we can take care of ourselves.  Is there a better place for us to be settled?"
    "No, it's just that if there's anything we can do for you, be sure to let us know."  He hands Shark a card that has simply a contact number.
    Shark of course is left wondering if this person is more than just a local security man.  His impression is that he's locally assigned and employed, working for Sir Geoffrey (or from the Duke assigned to him), but from his air and attitude his training has a wider base.  He probably still has access to a lot of his former resources.
    Shark broadcasts to Misha that Geoff's security team has asked if we need anything specific for the "nature of their vessel" and that he told him not at the moment.
    Misha steps out of the crowd to reply, "Obviously Sir Geoffrey recognized the ship."  This is met with widespread laughter from those listening.  "And as far as I know we have not spoken about the ship.  We haven't given any kind of warning.  We haven't talked to him about it.  Either he recognized the ship and he's working with the INI and has basically called them in, or he recognized it and realized that somebody like the INI would be interested in it, and is attempting to protect us."
    Shark says, "I offered that we could put it somewhere else if they needed, and that was not accepted.  It was not necessary."
    "So that leads me to think the second."
    "Or the third possibility is he's offering to let us hide it, in case we're worried."

    Kalida, meanwhile, has been carefully listening for any mention of the Marquis of Aramis, and why he might have not showed up at the meeting on Rhylanor.  There are rumors that he might have left to go closer to Capital for a while, with his family.  This would have been several months ago.
    Shark wonders if he knows what's going on, or is heading in to sow dissention on the inside.
    No-one is discussing the Tussinian decision here.  No-one is discussing politics at all, in fact, possibly because it's well known that Sir Geoffrey finds it boring.

    Jack is having a great time circulating.  Shark is having a very hard time keeping an eye on her, as she seems to lose herself very easily in the crowd.  Only Bridgehead and Mich really know much about her at all.  She has in fact been spending some time with Mich here.  Shark notices that having checked out the surroundings, she then just circulates.  She seems to be subtly but successfully avoiding all the security people, including the unretired guest that Shark noticed earlier.  When that person came over to talk with Mich, she left and went to talk with someone else.  Shark's analysis of the crowd is that everyone is here to socialize, even the unretired guest.

    Eventually Geoff comes back around to talk with Kalida.  She tells him some of the stories of her travels, including Mich's skiing - paragliding - scuba accident on Spirelle.  Oddly enough, the world is not well known, as it doesn't advertise much.  Kalida didn't experience finding Anastasia there, so as far as she is concerned it's a great vacation spot.  She's really vague about where she's been, except for pulling out specific vignettes.
    It's been about three years since Kalida was here.  Geoff says he's kept a low profile during all the Ianic business a year and a half ago.  He does have a new golf course, and has implemented some advances in hydrographic conservation, lessing the need for water.
    Kalida asks after Arahani.  Geoff says she's still quite involved with Ianic, and visits there quite often.  She's getting more involved in behind the scenes politics of the area.  She's on this world now, caught up in some function with the three of them.  Geoff says that were Vonish to cook here, it would shame their diplomatic functions.
    Kalida agrees that Vonish really is the best chef they've come across anywhere.  She muses that they will probably lose him sometime, and indeed he may feel he is living on borrowed time anyway since he skipped out on Pimane right before Hope's End was blown up.
    Geoff himself has no desire to visit Ianic.  It's dry enough here for his tastes.  He mentions that he heard they finally shipped out all the knives, so everyone has to eat with chopsticks.  That in itself is OK, of course.  Eduard himself of course is always involved in the family business, setting himself up to take over.  He's welcome to it too, says Geoff.  Geoff is quite happy with his life as it stands and sees no reason to change it.
    Geoff asks if she's been to her world yet.  Kalida says she's been near it, but didn't want to mess with the blockade.  He is sympathetic and encouraging, and expresses interest is what the place is actually like.  She invites him to visit any time he wants, once the situation is sorted out.  She assures him it won't be anything like Ianic.
    Geoff turns to Misha, saying he made quite a name for himself on Rhylanor.  There was quite a buzz about him there, Geoff says.
    Misha shrugs it off modestly.  He says that Rhylanor must have changed.
    Kalida says the place seemed much the same to her, and Geoff backs her up and points out Misha is making quite a splash here too.
    Geoff asks how long they are going to be staying here.  Kalida says that of course depends on Marc, and when he gets here.
    Geoff asks about the scientific expedition -- he says it doesn't sound like Kalida's scene, but as long as the bar is stocked...
    Kalida says one has to pick up some sort of hobby when one retires.  Geoff of course is living proof that one does not.  His plans for the near future consist of doing exactly what he's doing now, enjoying himself, keeping busy, and staying out of the way of the rest of the family.  He is planning to take a vacation some time this year, but hasn't figured out a good place to go yet.  Kalida suggests Spirelle.  The only other resort they have visited recently was Zorro, popular with Zhodani; they were there over two years ago.  She mentions that one too, out in Foreven sector.  It's definitely somewhere new and different, a very interesting place.  She described how Vonish learned their techniques, including shaving off all body hair.
    Geoff is fascinated.  Kalida really is one to find all these strange places.
    Kalida laughs that it's nice to travel to new places without invading them.
    He jokes that he's been retired long enough that he doesn't feel the need to invade anywhere anymore.  He and Marc had the same kind of experience in the Imperial Navy, he says, and thinks they are both happy in their retirement.
    Geoff says that whatever she does, she must come back here next year for his 50th birthday.  He's already planning the event, and it will be quite something.  He says they'll have to talk Marc into a joint celebration, since he turns 50 next year too.  Marc's is on 224, while Geoff's is a little later at 271.  He says he'll send out the invitations, but Kalida should block in the time now.  It just wouldn't be the same without her.  He says they'll have to have the family, of course, but they can be quite fun when they're drunk.  Eduard of course would probably find some way to spin it as a political shindig.
    Geoff offers rooms in his mansion for anyone who'd like to stay ashore.  His entire place is at their disposal, and he realizes that she has a large yacht out there that is no doubt extremely pleasant.
    Kalida takes him up on the offer, and Geoff says he'll prepare rooms for everyone and they can come and go as they please.  He'll have shuttles stationed to take them back and forth whenever they want.  Kalida says it's nice to have a chauffeur.
    Kalida asks if there's anything planned for tomorrow.  Geoff says he'll make sure there's something, and if there's anything they want, he'll be glad to organize it.  He's looking forward to having Marc there too for a while, if Marc really is running ahead.  Marc will probably be running with the design minimum crew of three on his new Witchhunter.
    Shark suddenly considers that taking Marquis Marc's ship is the most sensible thing.  He's not sure what showing up in the black ship at a site of the enemy would cause.  Nightshade will be there, of course, but very stealthily.
    (As for future wealth, the crew of Nightshade have that assured.  They have lanthanum mines in Bowman, a deserted asteroid resort hotel, and the ability to mint as much Hinay Protectorate money as they want.)
    The party starts to fade relatively soon, but considering how short notice it was to set up, that's just to be expected.  This event was certainly very impressive under the circumstances.  But then, as the disinterested youngest child of a family of diplomatic nobles, this is his specialty.
    As the party breaks up, individual valets inform the crew of their rooms, and are ready to handle bringing their luggage over from the ship if they wish.  Bridgehead will stay here for sure, as will Helia.  Kalida sends for her luggage and will remain here.  Vonish too will stay here.
    Mich decides to return to the ship.  Shark needs to return to the ship to listen to some audio recordings, mentioning it to the captain.  Jack too will go back to the ship, for her own reasons no doubt, although Shark thinks it's that the novelty of the black ship has still not worn off.