(21) To Be Named

The Crusader Campaign (087-1123 to 088-1123)

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087-1123 : Jumpspace (from Rhylanor / Rhylanor / Spinward Marches)

    Nightshade has just jumped for 0409 / Rhylanor with the Duke of Rhylanor aboard, snatched at night from his personal rooms in the Ducal Palace.  The sense of haste is increased by the time between take-off and jump, which would surely lead the Duke to believe that the jump was at no more than ten diameters, a slightly risky move.
    He is restricted to C Deck in the middle section of the ship, comprising mostly the staterooms and the Lounge, but also the Gym.  This doesn't seem unreasonable for a passenger on any normal ship.
    The windows are not to be transparent whenever the Duke is within sight.  Instead, the ship has chosen for the Lounge a view of the sea on Goose looking away from the city, a dark and grey scene in which harsh wind constantly whips foam off the waves.

    Kalida Siena, Marchioness of Nakege, has been studying and analyzing all the possibilities.  She is convinced that a threat will hit Tussinian and Adabicci simultaneously.  She is still working on the details when Shark arrives to inform her that the Duke is aboard.  She puts aside her work to attend to their guest in the Lounge.
    Vonish has made sure the Duke is well supplied with whiskey from their Wonstar supply, accompanied by appropriate snacks.
    Shark simply escorts Kalida politely to the Lounge and excuses himself politely, heading for the Bridge.
    The two nobles exchange pleasantries.  Rhylanor then asks what this is all about, but concedes that it is late tonight and they will have plenty of time to discuss everything during the jump.  When Nakege explains that they are heading for Mora, of course that means several jumps and plenty of time.
    Nakege reminds Rhylanor that last time they met, they were discussing a wayward fleet in the back of beyond.  She says they've found a lot more out since then.  "Apparently Santanocheev is in charge, and fleets from Five Sisters and Glisten are moving on Mora.  The fleets based in Rhylanor are also with them and moving towards Mora."
    Rhylanor says nothing's moved yet.
    Kalida believes they are going to leave around 145-1123.  "The reason you're coming with us to Mora is that the Rhylanor fleets and the fleets from Glisten and Five Sisters are probably supposed to meet about the same time at Mora.  The Duke of Trin is already planning a delaying action on his side, and the Archduke hopes that if they're delayed enough and the fleets from Rhylanor arrive without support and he can produce you, that they will perhaps change their mind."
    "It's a nice theory, I like it.  It sounds like it's worth a try."
    "The reason we've taken you away secretly is everyone needs to believe you're still there.  That's the quick synopsis.  Any more questions?"
    "I'm sure there will be," says Rhylanor, sounding anything but sure.  "It's obviously the same people who took over when your First Officer was captured.  Kind of embarrassing that my fleets would be taking part in this.  So why, what's Santanocheev's motivation?"
    "Not entirely certain, but we have our guesses.  There was obviously a lot of animosity between Norris and Santanocheev a few years back.  Santanocheev disagreed very strongly with what Norris was doing, so I'm assuming that he thinks he can do better."
    "Not sure how he's going to do it and make it stick, but it's not like the Spinward Marches doesn't have a history of stuff like that."
    "Possession is nine tenths of the law.  If he can take it and hold it long enough for a message to go coreward and back, he may well be able to keep it."
    "I'm just wondering if he's going to come up with some trumped-up charges, or claim that Right of Assassination applies to Archdukes as well as the Emperor.  That would be kind of interesting."  Rhylanor sighs heavily.  "So I'm going to go to Mora and wait."
    "I don't know what the Archduke might have planned while you're there.  Our mission is simply to get you and bring you back as fast and as secretly as possible."
    "So if -- my -- fleets are moving at 145 or so... I guess I'll have quite a stay on Mora."
    "My estimate at the moment is that they might be arriving around 180 or a little later.  Possibly a little earlier, but most likely 180 or after.  It's all guesswork."
    "I'm sure it is.  So Trin's doing his part down there..."
    "Yes.  He doesn't have enough to completely stop them, but he's planning on delaying them as long as he can, while leaving himself enough to defend himself afterwards.  You know how long large scale naval actions can take."
    "Either way this works out, heads will roll.  Metaphorically if not literally.  There's going to be some new dukes somewhere, either in Glisten or here and Trin's Veil."
    Kalida reminds Rhylanor that the last time they met, he was waiting for Aramis to show up, and he never did.  "Our guess to that is he declared himself neutral and got himself out of the way, I believe with a trip to Capital."
    "That makes sense.  He can profit from it no matter what happens.  Well, that's something.  At least he's not actually involved... Well, involved he is, because he knew it was coming."
    "He did know it was coming and not warn anybody, but at least he's not actively attacking the Archduke."  Nakege pauses, then says, "If you want more details, I have pages and pages of notes."
    "Absolutely.  But, for the time, your chef has laid on quite a spread here...  I'm still curious how your ship is invisible."
    "It would be better if you didn't think about that too much."
    Rhylanor lets that pass.  He changes the subject, "You were also going to check on Adabicci, see which side he's on.  Did you ever get there?"
    "Yes, we did," says Nakege.  "He is on Norris' side and against Santanocheev, however I think there are forces on their way to attack him as well."
    Rhylanor sighs.  "So how bad is it?  Does Santanocheev have a chance?  Does Norris have a chance?"
    Nakege chooses her words carefully.  "It depends on how things work out.  If all the fleets get to Mora at the same time, I don't think Norris stands a chance.  If, however, Trin can delay them long enough at Tussinian, then I think Norris has the upper hand."
    "Tussinian.  That's where the Tukera dispute was."
    "Odd coincidence.  That's the only place that's logical for everyone to be going through.  Yeah, I thought so too."
    "It just makes me wonder if Tukera left anything there, like a support depot."
    "One does wonder," smiles Nakege.
    "That I'd like to know if it ever comes out, if Aramis actually arranged some active support there.  Maybe it's a coincidence, but if it's not..."
    "How long has Tukera been in Tussinian?  I know they're everywhere, but how long has the conflict been going on?"
    "It's been a couple of years, I'd guess.  I don't really know the details of the history, being more concerned with the legality of the current situation."
    "That would be interesting to know, because certainly this action has been planned for a very long time."
    Vonish slips over quietly and refills Rhylanor's glass.  The Duke says, "So how big is this ship?  This is an impressive passenger section, although I suppose it's probably for the crew as well.  The stateroom is enormous.  Is that a special luxury section or do you guys get the rest?"
    "It's a very luxurious ship.  It's a good size, about 1600 tons.  Have they already shown you around?"
    "Well, I got the 'here's the stateroom, there's the Lounge, Gym's down that way,' but that's about it.  I'm not exactly expecting more that that.  I'd love a tour..."  Rhylanor looks at Nakege carefully, then continues, "How many crew?"
    Nakege dodges the question with some small talk, and is glad to see that Rhylanor does not seem to have noticed the deliberate avoidance.  She adds that this area is just about it, and Rhylanor admits not really needing to see all the mechanical areas.
    Rhylanor adds, "It seems you've got yourself quite a yacht.  I mean, aside from the invisible part."
    Nakege smiles, "Don't think about that a lot.  Trust me, you don't need to know."
    "Well, it's not every day I step off a balcony and don't fall."

    Meanwhile, Shark has told Helia to inform him before she brings them out of jump.  He gestures to Sir Misha, suggesting they go back and greet the Duke.  Shark knows that the only way between the Bridge and Engineering goes past the Lounge, so he'll have even more advance notice when she goes aft to do her magic.

    Sir Misha and his First Officer arrive at the Lounge.  Shark says to Kalida, "Helia says her next action will be a little while."
    After a while, the conversation turns to the outer wall, showing the view of Goose.  The Duke mentions that it looks rather bleak.
    Shark says, "Yes.  That's where it was dull in a physical sense.  Metaphysically there were some very interesting people there.  A very interesting religion."
    "Where is it?" asks the Duke.
    "Goose.  It's in Foreven, Fessor subsector.  They have some very large sea life there.  The world is entirely sea, with one artificial floating city."
    The conversation drops back into small talk, until the Duke brings up the subject of the current crisis.  He says, "We haven't had a war with the Zhodani for a while, it figures we'd have to start something among ourselves."
    Shark says, "Actually that's what we thought he was going to do at first."
    "I'm sure he thinks that once he's in charge he can do what he likes, although he's using up some of our naval forces in the process."
    Shark nods, then says, "Sir Arken, have you heard from him recently?"
    "No, I haven't."
    "Professional curiosity," smiles Shark.  He adds, "Technically, as leader of INISO, Santanocheev might have some legal leg to stand on to uphold this."
    "I was wondering what he had in mind.  So he at least has some sort of vague legal standing that he can pull out of a hat if he happens to win.  He does need some semblance of legitimacy, unless he can get Norris to abdicate in his favor.  It's amazing what a bunch of fleets sitting over your head will do for that."
    Kalida says, "I'm sure that would be an interesting conversation."
    The Duke nods, "One I hope never happens."  He smiles, "And in the meantime you have a very fine chef, a good if somewhat limited liquor cabinet..."
    "That's not quite true.  I have a case of assorted interesting wines around here somewhere.  So we'll have to break out a bottle soon."
    "Tomorrow perhaps.  It is rather late now, although for some reason I'm not very sleepy.  Having an invisible ship turn up in the middle of the night will do that.  Kind of like eloping."
    Sir Misha asks, "Have you done that?"
    "No, but I'd encourage Celeste and Jane to do that, it saves a lot of fuss and bother."  He ponders that for a moment, then says, "So we're doing this in what, three jumps?"
    Kalida says, "Always best not to think about this ship much at all."
    "Hm.  That would be kind of hard.  Just the invisible by itself would be a start, and you're implying it's going to be a short time?"
    "Our orders are to bring you as quickly as we can."
    The Duke nods and says nothing.
    Shark says quietly, It will be a surprise to nearly everyone.  Who knows."
    "And who would that be?"
    "You, and the Archduke, and us."
    Kalida says, "And the Archduke has agreed not to think about it too much either."
    Shark turns to the Marchioness and suggests that she might like to give the Duke her full presentation in the morning.  This is a lot of information to absorb at this time of night, after all."
    The Duke quickly fills her in on the disposition of the Imperial Navy fleets in Rhylanor subsector so she can incorporate that.  At Rhylanor itself, there are three: one is based there, one is Expeditionary Fleet 2 under refit, and the other is the Yathanyi Tigress Battle Group.  The other Expeditionary Fleet is currently at Fulacin.  The remaining fleets are at Jae Tellona, Nutema, Macene, Risek, Celepina, and Margesi.
    Shark mentions he plans to retire for the night, and stands up to go to his stateroom.

    Helia comes flying down the corridor into the Lounge.  As she sweeps gently by, she says to Shark, "Hi!  It's time!"  She waves at the Duke, who gives a little wave back.
    "That's Helia," says Shark, sitting back down.  "Our pilot and astrogator.  She's a little flighty."
    The Duke looks questioningly at Shark as Helia flies on out of sight.  "I didn't know she had wings," he says.  "So she's your astrogator?"
    "Pilot and astrogator.  She's very good at both jobs."
    "I thought when she turned up to the party that she was just... decoration."
    "She likes to bring that impression."
    "OK.  This is a very interesting yacht."
    Shark says, "Mich, give us thirty seconds warning, please."
    "Will do," says Mich from Engineering.
    Shark gets up again, and this time says he's just going to step forward to the Bridge to make sure nothing needs his attention.  He leaves the Lounge just as Mich gives him the thirty seconds warning.

    Mich's voice announces to the ship that they're shutting down all non-essential systems for a few seconds.
    The Duke is visibly troubled.  He asks if everything's all right, after all they are in jump.
    Kalida reassures him that it's non-essential, it's just a quick engineering check and he shouldn't worry about it.  She quickly tries to distract him with some of Vonish's snacks.
    The lights dim.  The ship slams out of jump with an audible rattle.
    The Duke is now clearly very worried.  "What was that?" he says, "I felt that, that's not good."
    Kalida says with confidence, "If there's anything wrong, they'll call me."
    "I don't like things happening in jump."
    "Everything is almost certainly... all right," says Kalida, not quite projecting as much confidence this time.
    Mich tells Shark that it'll take about 15 minutes to readjust.  Everything is within spec, but as usual these days he wants it to be perfect.  It'll take longer than that for space to stabilize, he's sure.
    In the Lounge, Sir Misha reassures the Duke that everything is fine.  He's very convincing, and their guest settles down somewhat.  Kalida backs up her Captain, explaining that Sir Misha is right.
    The Duke expresses surprise at the mention of "Sir Misha," who says that he was recently knighted by the Archduke himself.  The Duke congratulates him, and says that the media will love him next time he shows up in public there.

    Helia flies back past the Lounge, waving and saying brightly, "Hi!  Just going to the Bridge!"
    Kalida says, "All's done?"
    "Oh yes.  Bit of a rattle but it wasn't bad.  Mich says the ship is red, so we're fine."  Helia flies on out of sight.
    The Duke looks at Kalida and says incredulously, "The ship is red?"
    Kalida shrugs it off, saying lightly, "It means it's fine."
    Sir Misha nods, and the Duke is satisfied.  Their guest says good night to everyone, and retires to his stateroom.

    Marquis Marcus Crestworthy arrives safely at Adabicci on board Witchhunter, in command of his crewof three.  His first thought was to run the standard scientific module, but he's had time to special order a custom module for the mission if he wants.  There are eight staterooms on the main ship, so there's no need for crew space.

088-1123 : 0409 / Rhylanor / Spinward Marches

    Half an hour later, Callisto and Helia agree that space has stabilized around them.  Mich says the whole ship is red, after spending 15 minutes to reset a few things which weren't even out of spec anyway.  Since they're in an empty area, it takes another hour for Callisto to verify their position.
    Helia pops them into jump for Mora / Mora.

    Since they have an important guest with no luggage, Shark starts work on putting together a robot to make clothes.  He'll consult Mich to help put together the final prototype in the Machine Shop.  Mich himself intends to spend the jump working on his papers for the Archduke.