(24) To Be Named

The Crusader Campaign (096-1122 to 107-1123)

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096-1123 : Jumpspace (from 0309 / Lunion / Spinward Marches)

   It's about 13:00 on board Nightshade after the excitement with Kalida Siena, Marchioness of Nakege.  She remains stable, and should be brought out from the induced coma on 098 or 099.  They're expecting to come out of jump at Dawnworld just after midnight on the morning of 101-1123.
    Robert Morris continues to work on his jumpspace simulation, and also has Edward "Shark" Teeth's spare football sensors and Helia Sarina's vaccsuit on his list.  The last of those is quite a high priority now that they're headed towards a dangerous area, even though it's unlikely the Imperium is going to damage Nightshade.  If the shields were down, a Meson Gun might be able to damage the ship although they're not sure about that.  The shields themselves could be brought down by coordinated Meson Gun blasts or, of course, enough coordinated nuclear weapons.
    Baron Bridgehead has assumed he simply fell asleep through natural exhaustion.  He has no idea that Shark spiked his drink.

099-1123 : Jumpspace (from 0309 / Lunion / Spinward Marches)

    Mich finished making the spare emitters on 097, and finishes Helia's vaccsuit today.
    Kalida has remained stable, but it isn't until 099 that Bridgehead decides she's ready to bring around.  She's brought out of the coma but still remains in the klatrin trance.
    Robert works on the automatic astrogator.

100-1123 : Jumpspace (from 0309 / Lunion / Spinward Marches)

    In the evening, about 9pm, Kalida comes around.  Bridgehead immediately announces to the crew that she's basically fine.
    Kalida elects to stay here in Sick Bay for a while to get her bearings.
    Bridgehead confirms for her sharply that they are indeed still in jump, due to come out in about three hours.  He adds that she has Shark to thank for being no longer dead, explaining that she had a bad experience like Shark did.
    Kalida says it wasn't quite like Shark, not the same thing.
    Bridgehead suggests she should talk to the Captain and have him approve that she's fit to go back to duty.  He says she's physically capable of it, and that's his job done.  He says he's washing his hands of the whole thing.
    Kalida leaves Sick Bay and takes the lift down to C Deck.
    Bridgehead follows sufficiently far behind that he doesn't have to talk to her.  He's headed to the Lounge for a large glass of whisky.
    As Kalida passes the Lounge, Sir Misha greets her and asks her how she is.  She replies that she believes she's fine.  She's not sure about the rest of the universe, but she thinks she's fine.  The universe is stranger than she thought.  She then asks if anything odd happened during the jump.
    "No," says Sir Misha, "It was smooth.  Except that our gunner died."
    Kalida says she had heard she owed Shark a lot.
    "Thankfully you got better."
    Robert says there were bangs and stuff rattling across the wall.
    Sir Misha says, "Yes, there was a bit of a telekinetic storm."
    "While I was dead?" asks Kalida.
    "Yes, before and during.  The details you'd have to get from the Doctor and Shark."
    "Don't ask me," says the Baron loudly.  "It was a mess.  Trashed Sick Bay.  Slammed a couple of people into the wall."
    "Who did?  What did?" says Kalida.
    "You did," says Sir Misha.
    "I thought you said I was dead!"
    "Well, before you died.  Or maybe.  Maybe during.  You never know."
    "You say I should speak to Shark?"
    "Well, no.  You asked what happened.  I can only say that Shark knows more than I do.  He's in his stateroom."

    Kalida gets up and knocks on Shark's door.  He invites her in, and Kalida asks him what happened.
    Shark says there were very large spikes on the sensor readings, if she remembers those, and stuff including people flew around Sick Bay.
    He says that there were two events.  She got much worse at the first one, and at the second she died and that was an enormous spike.  That time she knocked out Bridgehead, the Captain, and Robert.
    "Right when I died?"
    Shark says that at least, by the time he'd got up off the floor, her monitor was flashing blue.  It was a good think she didn't knock him out too.
    "How far apart were the two spikes?"
    Shark says that they weren't very far apart.
    Kalida wonders what it means.  Apparently the rest of the crew was hoping she could tell them.  She says, "It was very black where I was."
    "Black like shadows?"
    "Black like black hole.  You didn't see anything like that?"
    Shark shakes his head.  He pauses, and asks if she got any new information from her experience, better dates or anything like that?"
    "No," says Kalida solemnly.  "It was all very... confusing.  I could catch a small piece here and there, but for the most part it was very tangled."
    Shark suggests she give it a while to sink in.
    "Thank you for my life."
    Shark smiles and says modestly that it was his job.
    "Jump has been smooth?"
    He says it has, and it is just a normal jump anyway.  Everything's been smooth except for the episode in Sick Bay.  With a smile he wonders if she perhaps has anger issues against the doctor.
    Kalida laughs and says she doesn't think that was the problem.  She's not sure yet how it all connected together, but she's sure it does.
    Shark then asks whether she's capable of taking on her duties as Gunner.  He reminds her that they're jumping into a hostile system.
    She reassures him she is, and says she'll head up to the Bridge now and check things out before they emerge in a few hours.
    Shark says he'll go back and ask Vonish to send up some food for her.  Kalida heads to the Bridge, while Shark walks aft to the Lounge.  There Shark tells Sir Misha that his Gunner says she thinks she's capable of doing her duties, and asks Vonish to feed Kalida on the Bridge.  Vonish says he will take it up there himself.

101-1123 : Dawnworld / District 268 / Spinward Marches

    Just after midnight, Nightshade comes out of jump in stealth.  Callisto says immediately they are surely at the right place, as it's a white dwarf - red dwarf binary system... and there are masses of ships here.  They are Imperial Navy ships, and Dawnworld is independent, and so it seems almost certain it's Santanocheev.
    Sir Misha wants to know for sure, however.
    Callisto tells him that the Llannamith Tigress Class is here from Five Sisters.  That's Santanocheev's flagship.  She adds that there are ten fleets here.
    Kalida is completely shocked.  That's more than she was expecting, a heck of a lot of ships.  "Ten?" she keeps repeating.  "Ten?"  "Ten?  I'm guessing there must be Glisten fleets here, which we weren't expecting.  It doesn't change our plans any, of course."
    Callisto can't answer that yet.
    That underscores that what they really need is information.  First they want to pick up anything they can passively, and the first is a listing of the fleets here from the transponder and other identification information.
    There are: the Llannamith Battle Group from Five Sisters; all six fleets from Five Sisters: Iderati, Emape, Mirriam, Jone, Raweh and Wonstar; and all three fleets from District 268: Elixabet, Motmos, and Mille Falcs.  There are no Glisten fleets here, but he has pulled everything from Five Sisters and Glisten.  That could be unwise since the Hinay Protectorate probably considers themselves at war with the Imperium.
    Robert sets to work analyzing the informal insecure transmissions in the system, seeing if he can analyze them to pick up any free information.

    Next, of course, is Robert hacking into the navy.  By this time they're very familiar with the procedure.  Helia positions Nightshade to intercept the communications of Robert's target of choice, a fleet tender.  He will start by taking over this ship, then set up a multiple relay to minimize the chances of anyone intercepting it or tracing it back.
    Robert is completely on form.  He's moving expertly and would have grabbed this ship completely were it not for one problem.  There is a new security system, and it does not even slightly resemble anything he's seen before.
    This fires Robert up, and while collecting a vast amount of data starts work on decrypting it.  He reports to Sir Misha that they haven't been detected, and he has a good sample of information and should be making progress shortly.
    His first guess is to compare it with the Hiver system, something he's worked on before but found difficult.  But it is competely unrelated to that, or anything else he's seen.  He has samples of the other (traditional) Ancient script, but he only has an uninterpreted script and that just isn't useful.
    The encryption seems unusually difficult.  This is as if Nightshade's computer architecture is not set up to crack it.  That was a problem with the Hiver system, a totally unfamiliar way of thinking, but this is more so.
    Robert reports to Sir Misha that this is a totally alien way of thinking that they haven't seen.  It's even more so than the Hivers.  It's almost as if this is an alien invasion in Imperial ships.  The Imperium wouldn't have thought up things like this.
    The good news, however, is that the idle chatter over the airwaves is paying dividends.  Careless talk will cost Santanocheev's fleets lives, it seems.  All except one of the fleets -- Wonstar -- will be jumping out in about a week, and the other will be staying behind at least for a while.  No-one has been told their destination.  The Wonstar Fleet is not happy about this because there is absolutely nothing here.  It's the perfect rendezvous, of course, but recreation and shore leave are not options.
    Robert is still confident he can break the new encryption, but he doesn't know how long it will take.  He works on it for several more hours until 06:00, and since he still has not the slightest clue he then takes a break.

    In fact, the officers decide that everyone needs a break.  Sir Misha tells Helia to take them clear of the fleet, and she does so quickly and effectively.
    At 07:00 they are well clear of the fleet, and everyone can rest for a while.

    Kalida has picked up on Robert's idea of alien technology, and meditates in her stateroom seeing if she can pick up some sort of thread on that.  She has no success.

    Later, Sir Misha questions Robert on the alien nature of this new system.
    Robert explains that everywhere they've travelled, he's collected security and encryption technology like Helia has collected books and candy.  At this point he can generally figure out any new system quite quickly, knowing what to look for, what they look like.  This is radically different.  So if there's a culture basis in the ancient past, everyone creates the same type of mathematical formulas, the same logic steps to go through.  This is totally different, taking radically different approaches, so this is alien to the Imperium's way of thinking.  The Hivers are a total alien race; what Nightshade uses for communication today has more in common with the Hivers than what they're looking at here.
    He still believes it's crackable -- anything is crackable -- but he has no estimate as to how long it will take.
    Sir Misha wants to know if it's crackable in a week, so it'd be done before the nine fleets move out.
    Robert believes so, but he can't guarantee it.

    Sir Misha widens this conversation to the crew in general.  He states that if the system isn't cracked by the time the fleets leave, that they should get non-passive with the remaining fleet.  In particular, he wants to provoke a response to see what else might not be Imperium.
    Kalida points out that there are implications regarding when Santanocheev's group might learn that a black ship is involved.  She promises to work on that in her meditations.
    Sir Misha emphasizes that their primary goal is gathering information, not to destroy the ships, and particularly not to die despite acknowledging that they'll have to put themselves in danger.  In fact they may have to run, because the point is to get the information back.

103-1123 : Dawnworld / District 268 / Spinward Marches

    For the last few days they have been following a routine of going in, intercepting and gathering, and moving clear for everyone to rest.  Robert collects a vast amount of data, but makes no progress.

    In one of the rest periods, Kalida goes into sparkly pink on the command dais and meditates on the ship movements and patterns to see if she can get anything that way.  It worked in Trin, and she's hoping it might work here too.
    She see that whoever is in command here, presumably Santanocheev, is keeping a very tight rein on everything.  Positions, movements, activities, all look like they're being directed by one person in particular.  Santanocheev -- if that's who is behind it -- is micro-managing his fleets.  It's being run from the Llannamith Happy Fun Ball.

    Among the idle chatter, Robert catches an unsecured fragment that indicates that theWonstar fleet will be here for a little over two weeks, and then will be going to a different place from the others.  The clear implication in the conversation was that the other would all be going to the same place.
    Kalida of course is convinced that place is Mithras / Glisten.

104-1123 : Dawnworld / District 268 / Spinward Marches

    Kalida has been studying Santanocheev's historical records, and concludes that if it's not him in charge then it's a very exact simulation.  She reports to Sir Misha that Santanocheev is in charge, and he's personally present on Llannamith.
    Sir Misha says that perhaps it's not aliens, but that Santanocheev has found some alien tech.
    Well, now they know where they might dump all their 720 nuclear missiles, and where to fire the expander.  It would leave them without missiles, but they would get them back in 30 days.
    Mich adds that what they could do is move in stealth right next to the ship, and then pop out and fire the missiles.  It would be much harder for the screen to intercept them.  It would of course also leave them out of stealth mode for at least 7.2 seconds as they completed firing.  It's also not an ideal firing position, as the missiles require some time to coordinate on their target.
    Kalida reports that Santanocheev is running a screen with the Iderati fleet as well as his own battle group.  She believes the ideal firing position would be between the second and third defensive shell.  It would minimize the number of defensive ships while optimizing missile spread.  She says she'll work on that with Helia.

    In the late afternoon, Robert gets his first clue.  It looks like not everyone's running the same encryption scheme, but they are still talking with each other.  You could do that, he says, but you would need to send more data than you'd need to.  At least it's a first clue.

105-1123 : Dawnworld / District 268 / Spinward Marches

    Ships are starting to break out and move towards their jump formation.  They are still continuing patrols, but refuelling has ceased and they're starting to move.
    Kalida slips into sparkly pink on the command dais and notes the defensive distribution.  They look like they'll be set up for every single ship to jump out at once.  She also reports that Santanocheev is being significantly more defensive with his ship than standard procedure.
    "Like he was afraid of a ship in stealth mode?" says Sir Misha with a smile.
    Indeed, says Kalida.  The inner spheres are running a pattern that would make it hard to get close to his flagship without a defensive ship getting close to the intruder.
    Sir Misha observes that means that other parts of the fleet are less well protected than standard procedure.
    Kalida agrees.  It does make the capital ships in the Iderati Fleet an easier target.

106-1123 : Dawnworld / District 268 / Spinward Marches

    Mich has been working hard to make sure that not only is the ship perfect to jump at a moment's notice, but also that he has plenty of spares to cover any damage that could occur in a short jump.
    The fleets look like they're being careful to get into a safe formation to jump out of the system tomorrow.
    The crew still have no more information as to where they might be going other than Kalida's wild guesses.
    The Wonstar Fleet remains in the inner system.

107-1123 : Dawnworld / District 268 / Spinward Marches

    Robert realizes that they are not transmitting more data than they need, even with different encryption schemes.  He's not sure what to make of that, but that is surely useful information in itself.

    At midday, nine fleets jump out of the system in perfect coordination.
    It's only three days later than Kalida's prediction; she hopes they're going where she predicted, too.

    Sir Misha is eager to start on the Wonstar fleet immediately, but when Vonish suggests lunch first, he thinks that's a better idea.  So they have lunch, and will move after that.
    His first idea is to do an active probe on an isolated ship and see what reaction they get.
    Kalida says that the fleet is just maintaining a defensive position in the inner system, not doing anything special.
    Sir Misha wants to know if there are any small craft travelling between the ships.
    Kalida says there are not many.
    Sir Misha wants to hear opinions on whether they could sneak aboard a ship.  They would have to do it secretly, as boarding openly and surviving might be difficult.  What are the odds that they would notice an extra ship's boat?
    Bridgehead points out that their own launch is far from conventional, as it came with Nightshade.  They do have an Imperial gcarrier, but as Kalida points out the fleet are not using gcarriers.
    Sir Misha concedes that active probing is probably the best plan.
    Robert points out that they can't do that in stealth, but at that point lunch is served and his point is interrupted.
    Sir Misha says that they need to know whether the alien technology is just in communications, or whether they have other things too.  To find that out, they would ideally put themselves in a position to be shot at, and draw them out.
    Kalida puts it simply: "We want to be attacked."  She adds, "By something we can counter.  Something small and out of the way."
    Bridgehead looks uncomfortable.  He mutters something about cockroaches and battledress and an ice world, and then says loudly that it's a stupid idea.

    After lunch, it's time to get active.  Kalida checks the Wonstar Fleet again, and says that while they're still on alert and patrolling, they're more relaxed than when Santanocheev was telling them exactly what to do.
    They'll want to poke a ship that gets far away from the rest, but that isn't going to happen in their current configuration.
    Sir Misha suggests a ship suddenly appear, and see how they respond to it.
    Kalida would expect the fleet to send a ship or two to investigate and challenge it, unless they have orders to shoot everything.  If they do attack, it wouldn't be hard to slip back into stealth and get away.
    Sir Misha then says, "What if something other than a ship appeared over there?"
    "Like a giant unicorn?" says Kalida.
    "Something noticeable, a little interesting, a little frightening, something that they might want to investigate.  A probe broadcasting.  Something to draw them out rather than shooting from long range.  If they send a ship, it'll separate once from the herd.  What about a probe broadcasting a recording of their own encrypted communications?"
    Robert smiles at that idea.  He and Mich immediately get to work, the latter building the probe and the former setting it up to broadcast.

    At 16:00, they kick the probe off the ship.  They wait a little and then start it broadcasting.

    After a while, three Chrysanthemum class Destroyer Escorts break out of formation and head in the direction of the probe.
    Kalida does not believe they would have any difficulty taking out these three 1000 std ships.

    After an hour, the trio start approaching the probe's location and start challenging it on hailing frequencies.  Obviously the probe does not respond, just maintains broadcasting its recording.

    Nightshade waits.

    The three ships fire on the probe.

    Back at the fleet, ships are firing their lasers in random directions.  They keep it up, firing and sweeping lasers everywhere.
    The probe is quickly destroyed, but as the three DE's return towards the fleet, they too are firing lasers at random.
    Sir Misha says, "Hit them with a couple of missiles."
    But it seems they have already caused damage without firing a shot.  Back at the fleet, friendly fire is taking its toll.  Presumably the fleet hasn't been doing random fire exercises -- at least, they haven't seen any in the last week, and the fleet does not seem very safe at it.
    Sir Misha adds that they don't need to destroy the Destroyer Escorts, they just want to see a response.  "Drop out of stealth, fire missiles, pop back into stealth," he commands.

    Nightshade drops out of stealth, Kalida burps two missiles at the nearest DE, and Nightshade vanishes again.  At Sir Misha's command, Helia flies them rapidly towards the three Imperial Navy ships, which are screaming communications.
    The DEs are headed in a V formation.  The one on the port wing has not responded to the incoming fire, but the other two have.  Laser batteries open up on the missiles from two ships, but the rapid acceleration of the black tech projectiles is clearly messing up their targetting.
    The ship on the starboard wing has started evasive maneuvers, and between point defence shots is sweeping the laser trying to find the attacker, starting with where the missiles originated.
    The lasers take out one of the missiles on the way in, but the second nuclear warhead makes it through for a direct hit on Engineering of the lead ship.  It is dead in the water, drifting toward the fleet under no power at all.

    Sir Misha directs Helia to move alongside the ships and do this again on another target, intending to pass them and attack from the side.  Then they'll take the third from another direction, between it and the fleet.  He wants to spread fear and panic.

    The port wingman has taken off in a direct straight line to the fleet, not attempting to evade.  The starboard wingman is working a search pattern, firing the laser battery to locate the attacker.

    Sir Misha designates the starboard ship as their target.  Helia brings them quickly into position and Kalida rips two more missiles at this one.  As they fire, the DE returns fire on Nightshade with their laser.  For a moment the Imperial laser plays ineffectually on the black ship's hull, and then Nightshade is back in stealth and immune to laser fire.  Nevertheless, for a brief time they succeed in tracking the stealthed ship with their laser, but soon lose it to Helia's evasive flying.
    So far none of the Imperial ships have used anything unusual.

    Bridgehead ponders the legality of using nuclear missiles against Imperial Navy ships.  He then recalls the letter of marque, and reflects that they were ordered to harrass these fleets.  He is satisfied.

    Their target take out one incoming missile with their lasers, and bring their fusion guns to bear on the other as a last resort, but the missile evades and strikes, taking out all their weapon systems.  The DE turns and runs towards the fleet.

    Helia pushes Nightshade at full acceleration to overtake the third Imperial ship.  It takes a while -- short in naval combat terms, but interminably slowly to the crew who are fully involved in serious combat for the first time in this ship.

    As they move into Sir Misha's designated position, Helia swings the bow towards the target and Kalida pops another pair of missiles from the launcher.
    This ship has been running in panic, firing their laser totally at random, and fail to respond to the incoming missiles until it's too late.  They manage a couple of wild point-defence shots with just the laser battery, but they are wide of the mark.  Both missiles hit the running ship head on, and it brews up in a blast of nuclear fire and secondary explosions.

    Kalida reports, and asks Sir Misha, "More confusion, or do you want them to think about this for a while?"
    "More confusion!" says Sir Misha immediately.  "Head towards the fleet, and deep into the fleet."

    The fleet is firing lasers in all directions, but the ones on their side are headed in Nightshade's general arc.  That's opened up a weak spot in their coverage further around the sphere, and at Kalida's tactical direction Helia heads them to there for their penetration.  They have about 20 minutes before they'll be ready to move into close range of the Imperial ships.  The lasers themselve of course won't hurt the ship, not even if they were not running stealth or shields, but avoiding them seems like a good idea.

    The outer spheres don't interest Sir Misha, as the smaller ships and fighter screens aren't so likely to have any alien technology installed.  He commands Helia to bring them deeper.  He tells her she is welcome to avoid the lasers, but since they won't hurt the ship, it's not a priority.  Her further orders will be to get in to the second or third layer, then position the ship between two moderately sized Imperial ones, then pop out of stealth briefly.

    Just as they approach the outer sphere, some lasers strike across them.  Suddenly a whole bunch of ships sweep their lasers through Nightshade's area.  Now they will know they're coming in.  They are using their lasers like a Crusader would to locate a stealth mode ship.  Laser, however, are all they're firing.
    This changes Sir Misha's plans.  Instead of stopping in the second or third layer, Helia is to take them all the way in, still in stealth.
    The Imperial ships continue to track them with lasers.  Sir Misha was expecting that they would not risk firing in the direction of their own ships, but that is clearly not the case.  Occasional friendly fire hits indicate their committment to their tactics.  At this point it looks like they've taken out five of their own ships.
    Now the Imperial Navy has opened fire on Nightshade with particle accelerators too.  The occasional hit is not harming them at all.
    Sir Misha likes this.  If they can do so this safely, they can keep flying around and sow confusion and cause damage without firing a shot.
    Bridgehead calmly reminds him that in there -- pointing ahead of them, to the inner spheres where the capital ships are positioned -- there are meson guns.  They are not sure, but they might be able to hurt them.
    Kalida concurs that they should avoid the meson guns.  She also points out that they are currently advertizing black tech capabilities.  Also, they are attacking Nightshade with nothing that they did not expect, standard Imperial technology only.
    Sir Misha concedes her point, and that they have perhaps found out as much as they can.
    Helia is taking evasive action on her path inwards, but a meson gun blast close to starboard indicates that they've come within range of the heavy ships.
    Sir Misha and Kalida quickly agree that they could pull out and jump from here.  Their next move is still to try to find out Santanocheev's plans, and that means that following them is a good idea.  Kalida believes that he has jumped to Mithras, and Sir Misha agrees that would be where they should go.
    Helia says that even she is going to have to drop into a steady course before jumping.
    Sir Misha tells her to take them out of range of the meson guns with an evasive course, and then she can take a steady course.
    One more shot comes close, but wider than the first, and then Helia is clear of the meson gun range.  Only lasers and particle accelerators here, and they can't hurt the ship.
    Helia locks a steady course, does her calculations, and they jump for Mithras.

    The ship is undamaged, and they only used six missiles, which will be replaced in just six hours.  With those six missiles (and friendly fire) they have destroyed or damaged at least eight ships.  They have not seen any non-Imperial technology aside from the encryption and security.