(18) To Be Named

The Crusader Campaign (079-1123)

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079-1123 : Mora / Mora / Spinward Marches

Retcon: were going to point out how any movements we make that were seen would get back to Santanocheev.  In addition, the fleet movements might well alert Santanocheev, even if the Duke of Trin is being careful and keeping the exercises one jump away from Tussinian.

    Kalida Sience, Marchioness of Nakege, has a small metal box containing a message for Archduke Norris.  Edward "Shark" Teeth has a message for the Duke of Trin's agent here on Mora. Misha Ravanos has a hand-sealed envelope to deliver in person to the Archduke.
    Nightshade has arrived in stealth mode and is parked under the ocean.  The crew are planning to use their alternate identities and forged Imperial IDs while they are here.  Last time they were here, it was when they were telling Marquis Marcus Crestworthy the bad news that they'd lost his ship, and that several of them had been reported dead.
    Thanks to all the practice they've been doing, they believe that Robert Morris is actually competent to drive the gcarrier.  Accompanying him are Shark (who wants to see Misha's face when his message is revealed), Misha, and Kalida.  Grand Admiral Baron Bridgehead wanted to come, but after half an hour of serious discussion, Misha convinces him he'd be best remaining on board the ship.  They shouldn't need Teri, and they can't carry extra weapons under the auspices of nobility because they're using their alternate identities: Shark is Roger Jolly, Kalida is Anne Bonny, Misha is Edward Teach, and Robert is John Brunner.  Robert has worked on refining their ID cards on the way here, and is confident they'll pass all but the most detailed examination.
    They briefly discuss the possibility of using Marquis Marc's apartment, but that is quickly shot down by Misha pointing out that he has a known connection with the black ship, and therefore they need to avoid the place.  They'll get rooms at a hotel.

    The team board the gcarrier, and leave the ship through the main cargo lift.  Robert steers them out into the ocean and towards the city.  He brings them up into the atmosphere and into the city itself.
    Shark picks a hotel.  It's not the one he would have used in the past, of course, but it is just the right level of anonymous business luxury that will enable them to pass through without attention.  On the way there, he makes reservations online.  While he's on the net anyway, he checks the postings for anything interesting.  The "community" is in a slightly elevated state of alert, but there is nothing particular going on.  Shark doesn't think this is unreasonable given the rumors that should be circulating here by now.  He tells the Captain, "Spook chatter is high.  Higher than normal."
    They arrive at the hotel, and Robert pulls the gcarrier into the entrance to the parking deck.  They present their confirmation number and proceed to a parking space.  It's been a completely trouble-free trip, disturbingly trouble-free given their record with gravcraft.
    At check-in, they collect the keys, paying in cash and asking for a receipt to avoid suspicion.  The desk clerk processes them automatically, paying very little attention to them.  The four rooms are at the end of a corridor, two connected rooms either side.  Misha and Kalida take the rooms at the end.
    As soon as Robert gets into his room, he goes straight to the computer, hacks the hotel, and charges porno movies to everyone else's rooms.
    Shark calls the person named on the envelope.  He gets a secretary, and asks to speak to Bob Hackett.  The secretary says he's not available and asks to take a message.  Shark says his name is Roger Jolly, and he has a package he needs to hand-deliver to him.  He makes an appointment this afternoon at 2pm.  He then calls Naasirka about the robot pot-bellied pig he wants.  He doesn't need any special sensor packages, just the capacity so he can add his own.  He describes the connectors and so on that he things he will want.  The company representative says he'll put together a package with details.  Shark asks him to send the documents to a drop box at the TAS.  The man says they will be there in about two hours.

    Shark leaves to see Bob Hackett.  He arrives a little early at the large office complex, and at the appointment time the secretary takes him through to see Mr. Hackett.  The office doors are embossed with "Mora Offices of the Duke of Trin."  Bob is sitting at his desk, with his name on it.  Bob stands up to greet Roger Jolly, who introduces himself and hands over the envelope.
    Bob asks Roger to excuse him for a moment, and leaves through a back door for a few minutes.  He returns with a much more respectful attitude, and offers to make the appointment with the Archduke whenever he wants.  Roger says it should be as soon as possible; Bob leaves again, and comes back to announce that the appointment is at 9 pm at the Archducal Palace.  Roger calls back to the crew on the commdot and tells them when it will be.  He adds that he'll be a few hours running some errands.
    Shark leaves the Duke of Trin's offices and heads to the TAS.  He picks up the package waiting for him from Naasirka.  In the package are complete descriptions and specifications for various options that might satisfy his needs.  He selects the arrangement he wants, calls Naasirka, and arranges to pick up the pig at a nearby location.  The cost is on a sliding scale based on time, from 12 hours to a full week; he says he'll pick it up at noon tomorrow.  One advantage of picking a short time frame means that Naasirka will be putting good people on the job to get the quality out in the time.
    Back in the hotel, Kalida meditates and considers the connections between themselves, Santanocheev, Trin, and the Archduke.  She's looking for a way that by picking their own movements, she can affect what Santanocheev is doing.  There is of course the catch that when she pulls a string, the pullingness propagates down taking time and at a varying rate.  She sees that there are other strings constraining the path too, of course.  There is not a lot in terms of big effects that she can do, and the other end is rather fuzzy and hard to make out.  She finds that she does not have as many constraints on herself as there are constraints elsewhere.  She can pull a lot more strings than are pulling her.  Yet, all the strings pull through one point, Tussinian.  There are questions as to how much and what moves through there, but everything goes through that one focal point.
    Robert has been hacking further in, setting up relays with loops and forks and obscurities for him to use later.  He's now ready to do a search for script language.
    Misha does a zack training session in his room.  Fortunately he's good enough by now that he doesn't cause any damage.

    When Shark gets back to the hotel, all is quiet.  Everyone has been wrapped up in their own activites -- in fact, Kalida has had her commdot turned off and missed the conversation about the appointment with the Archduke.  She calls him to ask about it, and he tells her what the arrangements will be.
    Clearly they'll be expected to eat before the meeting.  They go out for a typical business expense-account meal.
    Kalida informs them that they should wear smart functional.  If they were military, smart active duty rather than ceremonial.  Anything with smart clean lines, not fancy but well tailored of good material, would be appropriate.
    Misha considers carefully what he should wear.  In particular, he would like to wear his normal work outfit -- cape over zack -- and wonders whether it would be wholly inappropriate.  He decides that given his extra-Imperium origin, it would not be inappropriate if it was not inappropriate on his homeworld.  Given that, his sword -- almost two meters long -- would also be thoroughly appropriate.  After all, even in an audience with the Emperor himself, certain backgrounds require a ceremonial firearm or sword, or some strange clothing such as a one-meter hat.  As long as he acts as if he is wearing the correct respectful attire -- which would be no problem at all -- then he should be fine.

    They decide they should take their own gcarrier to the Palace.  They arrive at the official residence of the Archduke and pull up at the guardhouse by the gate.  The guard asks Roger Jolly to step into the guardroom, where he checks his ID.  Everything seems to be in order from the cursory examination.  Roger is sure the real examination was the suite of biometric measurements that he would have expected on the way into the guardhouse.
    Once Roger gets back into the gcarrier, a four vehicle escort pulls into formation around them.  They are escorted through the gardens to the front of the main building.  This is one of the few areas in the city that has low buildings and open areas, towered over by the surroundings.
    Robert decides that because he doesn't speak galanglic, and they are likely to be in a shielded area, it would be very awkward if he came in too.  He'll just act the chauffeur and stay with the gcarrier.  Misha is carrying the panic button, but explains it would have to be extremely dire for Nightshade to have to shoot their way through the city and into the Archducal Palace to fetch them.
    A servant meets them when they pull up at the front door, and leads them into the building.  There is an honor guard lined up along the walk to the door.  They salute smartly as the three of them walk into the grand entrance hall.
    In the hall, another honor guard of six soldiers with an officer is waiting to escort them.  They come to attention, presenting their perfectly functional but ceremonially decorated gauss rifles, and the officer asks the three of them to follow.  They march on through the entrance hall to a large elevator.
    There is no sense of movement, and no-one has used any controls or issued any command, but after a short while the doors open into a large room, about ten meters by fifteen.  They are on the top floor of the building, as indicated by an expansive glass room above them.  It's almost a conservatory, with plants surrounding the center of the room.  In that center is a fairly low round table about two meters across, with six lounge chairs set around it.  In one of the chairs, facing them, is the famous face of Archduke Norris.  The commdots are no longer functioning.
    The honor guard step out of the elevator, the officer leading them in and stepping to the side.
    The Archduke waves them over.  "Come on in, sit down!" he says amiably.
    The honor guard forms back up and goes into the elevator.
    As far as they can see, they are alone here with the Archduke.  Shark looks around, and notices that there are a couple of manned sniper positions.
    The three of them sit down at the table.  Kalida sits at Norris' right, Misha at his left, laying his sword under the table.  Shark sits beside Misha.
    "I understand you have an important message from Trin," says Norris.
    "Yes," says Kalida, and hands him the box.
    Norris slips it into a pocket.  Misha then hands him the letter.  Norris takes it, studies the seal with some surprise, and says, "I don't think the Duke of Trin has sent me a letter with a wax seal before.  This is unusual."  He opens the envelope, reads the paper inside, and his eyebrows raise even further.
    Shark studies him carefully.  He was sure initially that this was a body double rather than Norris himself, but now he thinks it probably really is the Archduke himself.
    "This is interesting," says Norris, "I can't turn this down.  I've always wanted to do this.  May I borrow your sword?"
    Misha pulls his sword from under the table and hands it to the Archduke.
    Norris takes it and asks Misha to kneel in front of him.  Norris draws the sword, and with some difficulty under its weight, taps it on each of Misha's shoulders.  "Arise Sir Misha," he says, "Welcome to the Imperium."  He smiles at Misha and hands back the sword.  "I have always wanted to do that," he says, "Thank you."
    Misha smiles and thanks him in return.
    Norris places the letter on the table for everyone to see.

The Duke of Trin's Letter to the Archduke of Deneb via Misha Ravanos
(open to everyone)

    Shark brings the meeting back to other business.  He offers to describe what he thinks is in the message.
    Norris says he knows Misha's name, and asks for everyone else's.  Shark introduces them by their real names.
    Kalida says that they believe that Santanocheev is in command of several fleets from Five Sisters that are meeting at Dawnworld in District 268 on or around 090-094.  They will be collecting more fleets from Glisten as they move through, and coming through Tussinian on their way to Mora.
    Norris sighs.  He asks for their sources.  He seems a little surprised, not overly so, but seems not to have been expecting it.  His attitude is curious rather than nervous or confident.
    Shark says they acquired some of it through intercepting his inter-fleet communications.
    Kalida says the information from the intercept was sketchy, and all they could tell was that a few fleets were gathering at Dawnworld.  "At that point," she says, "We moved to Adabicci and discussed it with the Duke.  He had the information that Glisten was working with Santanocheev.  With that, I developed this timeline."  She hands it to the Archduke, obviously teh version without the mention of their own travels.

Kalida's Analysis (and local mirror of snapshot)
(Open to everyone)

    Norris looks it over.
    Kalida says that since they knew they could move through Glisten without alerting anyone to their movements, it seemed they had to go through Tussinian to go around the rift between Lunion and Mora, and to remain off any xboat routes and clear of Naval bases.  "Since we believe they're going through Tussinian, we jumped from Adabicci and arrived at Trin and alerted him to the probability that he's going to have a few fleets moving through Tussinian.  He is currently working up a possible holding action to delay them, because the other information we have from Adabicci is that they also have the fleets from Rhylanor.  That sets up a possible pincer movement, so any delaying action will harm that."  She adds that as they get closer, they'll start to pick up information on fleet movements and be able to react to them.
    Norris looks up from Kalida's analysis and says, "So it's me and Trin against the world."
    "It seems that way.  We don't know anything about Lanth, they're a mystery.  We conjecture that Aramis is remaining neutral, which is why he's high-tailed it towards Capital.  I should clarify something.  Rhylanor himself is loyal to you, however the Naval forces have been suborned and align with Santanocheev.:
    "That's curious.  How did they do that?"
    "We believe he is head of an organization that calls itself INISO.  Imperial Naval Intelligence Special Operations has no stated function, but they have the authority to do what they deem is necessary.  They have what was described to me as an obscure legal basis for taking action, whatever action is necessary for the security of the Imperium itself, as they deem it.  In other words, if they believed that Emperor Strephon was a danger to the Imperium, they would have legal authority to take him out."
    "So Santanocheev is coming over here to tell me he has the legal right to replace me."
    "I doubt he really intends to talk to you."
    "You never know.  If he gets the chance.  Interesting."
    "Of course it's the winners in any conflict who get to write the story."
    Norris nods.  "And no doubt this message will tell me what Trin is planning to do about it."  He pauses, then says, "I do have one question for you.  Since you went from Adabicci to Trin, why has a message from Adabicci not arrived here yet?  Is he not on this side?"
    Sir Misha says, "Because he didn't send it by us."
    "You're... faster.  That's interesting.  What other tricks do you have up your sleeve?  I am sure that Adabicci would have sent a jump-6 courier if he was to send a message.  It would have arrived here in the same amount of time as it would have taken you to get here to Trin.  Somewhere there's a gap where you get from Adabicci to Trin."
    Sir Misha says, "It is no trick.  I captain an extremely exceptional crew."
    Norris says, "Does this extremely exceptional crew happen to have an extremely exceptional military capability, or is it limited to going... fast?"
    "We have military skills on a par with our pace."
    "Trin seems to think you would use your powers for good, which I like to think I represent."
    Sir Misha glances at Nakege.
    Nakege says, "We support the stability of the Imperium, and we believe that INISO is not supportive of that stability."
    Norris says, "I would be inclined to agree.  Now, continuing in your circumspect answers, I will give you a circumspect question.  Is your speed a matter of time or distance?"
    Sir Misha says, "Isn't that the same thing?"
    "No.  If you can do a jump-6 in 3 days, hypothetically, you could go out 6 parsecs and come back within a week.  If you can do a jump-20 in a week, then your scope of mission capability is quite different.  Clearly you have some advantage here."
    Nakege says, "Our advantage is that we have Mich.  Mich Saginaw."
    Sir Misha says, "Our crew has managed to reduce the time it takes to jump."
    Norris says, "Ah, yes.  I seem to recall Mich was working on that.  Yes, Mr. Saginaw was... interesting.  At the time I was very confident that my researchers could back up and duplicate his work, but that seems not to have been the case."  He continues, "It is clear from what you have described that if a message arrives here from Adabicci tomorrow, you can jump in 3-4 days."
    Sir Misha says, "I don't believe I have pressed my crew as far as they can go."
    "The problem with reconnaisance is, of course, refuelling in the system you are observing."
    "Well, we desire to be of help, so if you have a mission in mind that would be difficult for a conventional crew, I would encourage you to put it to us."
    "I have a few things in mind."
    Nakege says, "I will say that we are a small ship, and gathering information is probably more our forte than battle."
    "So you could for example sit in a system waiting for his fleets to come in, and tell me much quicker when they arrived.  Or in fact you could perhaps not just say when the fleets arrive, but harrass them a little before leaving, if you were already fuelled up."
    "In a small way, in that we are one small ship against several fleets."
    "What's your ship's displacement?"
    "1600 tons."
    "So, if your military capabilities are in proportion, you are capable of jumping after taking on a couple of escorts, destroyer escorts, say.  So you could, for example, sit in a gas giant, wait until a refuelling crew comes up, knock down a couple of ships and escape.  That would force them to do a thorough search of the gas giant, it would slow down their advance.  You could just harrass them slowly and force them to commit resources."
    "Yes, we could do that.  And also the more often we do that, the more it looks to them like there are greater forces arrayed against them."
    "Exactly.  If you could just stay one step ahead of them, every time they jump into a system they get trouble."
    Nakege looks at Sir Misha, "Sound good to you, captain?"
    Shark points out, "At the moment they believe they have surprise.  When do we want to take that illusion away from them?"
    Norris says, "They would have to drop that illusion themselves by the time they hit Mora subsector.  At that point, messages are going to be able to move fast enough in front of them.  But that's also where they get the option of splitting up their route.  At that point, that's too late to send a message out to a fleet to come back and reinforce, and that's the advantage they're looking for.  Now if we look like we know what they're doing, they'll have to rethink..."
    "...everything," interrupts Shark.  "And then we have no idea what they're going.  So do we start this harrassment before they enter Mora subsector?"
    "They're committed to coming here now."
    Nakege says firmly, "They're going to move ahead to Tussinian no matter what.  No matter what happens, they will be going through Tussinian.  Trin will also be waiting for them at Tussinian."
    "What about in a full pitched battle.  Do you have a function there?"
    "I have never been in a full pitched battle on this ship.  It depends greatly on the forces on either side and what everyone else is doing.  As I said, we're a small ship."
    "Better leave it to the professionals, then.  This would be a Navy matter.  You'd have to exercise with the fleet to be useful, and there isn't time for that.  So, Rhylanor's fleets are coming down too."
    "We believe so.  Which way they come will depend on several things, including where Lanth stands.  Between Rhylanor and Mora there are lots of options, and it's pretty dense."
    "Now if Rylanor's fleets jumped in and the other fleets weren't here to support them, there would be no fight."
    "Right, they would not be enough by themselves to take you on.  If all the forces came in at the same time without warning, you would be in serious trouble.  But if we take out one side of the pincer and you're much better off."
    "Well, I have three fleets here right now, and that's enough to defend against Rhylanor.  I would prefer to have more so that the fight never actually takes place.  The defender has a certain responsibility to avoid collateral damage, and while it would be a seriously bad political move on anyone's part to damage anything on Mora, stray things do happen.  It would be much better if the Rhylanor fleets popped in for a nice visit, discovered nothing here, and allowed my staff to take over.  That would be an excellent solution."  He cocks his head for a moment, then says, "Here's a mission for you.  Get Rhylanor here as fast as you can.  If the Rhylanor fleets arrive here, clearly don't have a battle to win, and the Duke is here, he can take them back over."
    Nakege glances at Sir Misha, who nods.  She says, "That sounds like an excellent idea."
    "I do have one question.  Your exceptional capabilities, are they able to be retrofitted feasibly to normal ships?"
    "That's Mich's area.  I don't know how he does what he does."
    "I'd like to talk to Mich before you leave, then."
    Sir Misha says, "That can be arranged."
    "So you could do that in a little over two weeks, probably, maybe three.  At that point, Santanocheev would just be leaving Dawnworld."
    "I'll have to discuss this with my crew, but I think we can accomplish what you're asking.  If we can arrange a meeting in the morning, we can bring Mich and a firm answer to your request."
    Norris nods.  "That should still leave plenty of time."
    Shark says, "I'm sure your people are aware of it, but I did notice that there is a higher than normal level of intelligence chatter insystem."
    "Yes, that is correct.  That would be our people."
    Sir Misha asks, "Is there more going on than this?"
    "There is always more going on, but I think there is nothing of any significance going on.  By the morning I will have had a chance to look at what Trin has sent me."
    Nakege says, "You will let us know if there is any further analysis we can do for you?"
    "Of course."
    Shark hands him a piece of paper with the name Roger Jolly and the hotel, and says, "In the meantime, this is where you can find us."
    "And who is this?"
    "This is me."
    "Very well.  My people will contact you in the morning and will make arrangements then."

    The walk back to the gcarrier is the same as the walk in, in reverse.  The commdots come back on during the elevator ride.
    Their driver with the gcarrier is waiting exactly where they left it.
    Shark messages Robert: "Knighted Sir Misha of the Imperium is arriving at the car."
    On the way through the lobby, the servant hands Shark a small package of papers or something.

    The trip back to the hotel is uneventful.
    The package carries new Imperial ID for Sir Misha Ravanos.  Robert is delighted -- it's a brand new Imperial ID that has never been used.  He can use that to improve his own Imperial IDs and to make new ones himself.
    Shark and Kalida agree that this calls for a party.
    They call Mich and tell him he's going to be coming ashore tonight.  That'll mean another trip for Robert, and for someone else who can talk galanglic to the police if they're stopped.
    While Mich is on the line, Misha asks him how much he trusts the Archduke.
    Mich is an old career Imperial Navy man.  Trust simply doesn't come into play, he's the Archduke and that's enough.
    Sir Misha explains that the Archduke would like to talk to him about his ability to make fast jumps.
    Mich assures him that yes, he can do that without violating the agreement, and yes, it cannot be feasibly retrofitted to an existing ship.  Building a new ship would be cheaper.
    Shark says that Kalida and Sir Misha can figure out how to transport the Duke of Rhylanor without violating agreements, and he'll go with Robert to fetch Mich.
    Kalida says it's fairly simple, they just have to do normal jumps on the way back and pretend to refuel.
    Sir Misha asks her how fast the Duke actually needs to get here.
    Kalida says that the absolute earliest Santanocheev could arrive would be on 150, a full 71 days from now.
    Sir Misha wonders what would happen if they just take a message to him and tell him to come here by his own courier.
    Kalida points out that another part of it is that he needs to be able to get out safely and very secretly, because his entire Navy is against him and they don't know who on his staff can be trusted.  He has to get here in absolute secrecy, with people who are absolutely trustworthy.  It must be a surprise when the Rhylanor fleets arrive and discover the Duke here.
    The other factor, Sir Misha says, is that however long it takes to get the Duke here, they'll have plenty of time to go and harrass Santanocheev.
    Shark says that they should be aware that the Archduke is calculating their jump speed.  He said that if the message from the Duke of Adabicci arrives tomorrow, they can jump every 3-1/2 days.  Since it won't arrive for another 20 days....  "We can't let the cat out of the bag with him, he has the cat, and the bag.  As soon as he gets the Duke of Rhylanor here, the first thing that's going to come out of his mind after the military, is the cool ship that has a jump of less than... so we can't let the cat out of the bag with him.  And we didn't do it.  We didn't tell them anything about the technology.  So we can put him on this ship and jump as fast as we want.  So we don't have to worry about time, we can do it as fast as we want.  But remember that fast jumps damage the ship, so we need to plan for some longer duration repairs."
    Kalida reminds them that they can't use the fast jump capability to enter a system where Santanocheev might already be, because they can't use stealth with it and might have repairs going on.  She says, "Depends how we want to work this.  They will be stopping in perhaps two systems before they hit Tussinian.  They arrive at Mithras in Glisten on 100, which is in 21 days.  The second one wouldn't be until at least 110, and again these are absolute worst case scenarios and it will probably be later than that.  So while they're going through Glisten, they're going to be meeting fleets from Glisten, so it depends how fast we want them to know that their movements are known.  I guess it doesn't matter, though, because all routes go through Tussinian.  Our actions do not matter, they will be going through Tussinian no matter what."
    Sir Misha says, "I would like to get to them as soon as we can.  So in 15 days they'll be in Mithras."
    "That will be when they first enter Glisten subsector.  I'm sure they'll pick up some of the fleets there, and they'll pick up the rest in Bicornn."
    "So how many jumps is it for us from here to Glisten?"
    "Three to get to Mithras, two to Bicornn."
    "One of those needs to be a five day jump, right?  The last one."
    "Yes.  They're going to have scouts in these systems, and it's quite possible that Glisten troops will be there waiting.  We will want to come in stealthily."
    Sir Misha says that they don't need to be there until the day of their earliest departure.
    Shark says that means they need to leave Mora by 094.  He then muses aloud that the Archduke hasn't asked the other question: where is their ship?

    The trip to fetch Mich from the underwater Nightshade is simple, and the engineer is soon settled in the hotel.