(30) To Be Named

The Crusader Campaign (133-1123 to 134-1123)

133-1123 : Adabicci / Lunion / Spinward Marches

    At 11:00, Nightshade takes off from the grounds of the Ducal Palace on the first step of their journey to Tussinian.  Helia Sarina takes them out to a normal jump point, and they enter jump for 0708 / Lunion at 13:00.
    Jumpspace stablizes in 15 minutes.  They decide to finish lunch before coming out of jump, however, so it's 14:00 when Helia does her thing and Nightshade emerges back in normal space.

(still) 133-1123 : 0708 / Lunion / Spinward Marches

    It takes only 5 minutes for space to stablize this time.  Callisto takes her full hour to scan and verify their position.  The ship is perfect, red across the board.  Everyone is ready to jump at 15:00.

    Before jumping, they decide where to come out in the Tussinian system.
    Kalida Siena, Marchioness of Nakege, points out that there are only two possible places to refuel: the asteroid belt, and the mainworld.  Of those, only the mainworld would support refuelling a fleet in a few days.  That is where the defenders would be.  This is as close to a textbook pitched battle as possible: there is one goal in the system, and the attackers have no alternative but to take it.  Of course, the Duke of Trin will only have four fleets there to face 18 fleets in Santanocheev's flotilla, but on the first day the defenders should outnumber the invaders.
    Edward "Shark" Teeth asks about whether the defenders are likely to have mined the system.
    Baron Bridgehead says that mining an Imperial System is unlikely because of the problems to civilians.  He says it would be better to add submersible defence installations that could attack the refuelling operation.
    After a surprisingly brief discussion, they eventually pick a normal jump to the mainworld, and decide to come in publically with the transponder running.

    At 15:00, they jump for Tussinian.

    It takes two hours for jumpspace to stabilize, but once again they decide to wait after the crew eats.  After all, they may not have time to do so once they arrive.  So they have dinner at 18:00, and then Helia brings them out of jump at 19:00.

(still) 133-1123 : Tussinian / Trin's Veil / Spinward Marches

    Nightshade arrives with a slight shudder at 19:00. Mich immediately starts checking the ship, while Shark gets nervous because not only can't they run shields until space stabilizes, they don't know what effect the instability might have on the transponder signal.
    Callisto's visual observations and calculations suggests they are about two and a half hours out from the mainworld at 4G.  Kalida takes those numbers and says the nearest ships are probably about an hour away.
    There are already ships coming towards them.
    Shark asks Robert Morris to try to get a signal through to them.
    Robert replies that he'd rather not do anything extraordinary to punch the transmission out, because they don't want to show any unusual capabilities.  Instead, he does everything he can to try to pick up any incoming signals.
    Robert reports that there's an incoming signal, but it's far too garbled to make any sense of it.  He tries processing it, and manages to extract the meaning.  They're hailing Nightshade, telling them to identify themselves and to do nothing, not even move at all.
    Callisto says she thinks it's a Destroyer plus a screen of about a dozen fighters.
    Robert tries to put a signal back out, compensating for the distortion.
    Captain Sir Misha Ravanos tells him to say they're having communications difficulties, and to identify themselves as requested.  They are, as the transponder also says, the private yacht of the Marchioness of Nakege, registered at Dulu in Foreven sector.
    The next transmission coming in says, "Very well.  Hold where you are, and stand by to be boarded."
    They're still not sure who these other ships are, as they can't pick out anything from the transponders, and they haven't yet identified themselves by voice to Nightshade.
    Shark reminds everyone what happened last time they sent anything -- his robot dog -- out into an unstable space region.
    Kalida tries to make them all feel better about it by pointing out that was while they were in the fog, and it might not happen in these circumstances.
    That doesn't cheer anyone up at all.  No-one likes the idea of that happening to an Imperial Navy destroyer.
    Robert says that they could tell that they've just come out of a misjump, and space hasn't stablized around them yet.
    Shark says they should do that if space still hasn't stabilized before they get there.  Maybe it will have settled down in time.  He really does not want them to look weirder than they are.

    Mich finishes his diagnostic while the ships are still 15 minutes out.  He says Nightshade is completely red, nothing even slightly out of alignment.

    When the ships get to 10 minutes away, space stablizes.  Sir Misha was on the point of ordering Robert to send out the signal, but Helia's excited cry stops him.  The crew breathes a collective sigh of relief.

    "OK, we're getting your transponder now," says the destroyer.  "Can you respond?"
    Sir Misha says, 'Yes, we are the Nightshade of Dulu, registered to the Marchioness of Nakege.  We are here on a mission from the Archduke."  After all, they have the papers to prove it.
    Kalida suggests that if Trin is here, they should speak with him.
    Sir Misha continues, "We are interested in speaking with..."
    There are many suggestions from the crew, but before the Captain can say what he'd intended, the destroyer says, "Remain where you are, stand by to be boarded, and present identification."
    Sir Misha tells Robert to transmit their special papers to the destroyer and asks to see the fleet commander.
    The destroyer says he needs to verify it with his commander, and tells them to stand fast.  The Imperial ships come to a relative halt and hold station, not moving in to board.
    Robert really wants the destroyer's sensor logs, but he can't possibly set up a relay yet.

    Shark calls for a full tactical display of the system.  Callisto says she's working on it, and puts up what she has, updating it as she can.  Bridgehead joins the First Officer and the Captain at the command dias.
    There are just four fleets here, not the five they had expected.  Transponder information shows these are the two expeditionary fleets, and the ones based at Trin and Murchison.  The Tigress Battle Group is not here.  Shark's first thought, of course, is that the missing fleet may have turned to Santanocheev, but he and Kalida agree there are other possibilities.  It could be held in reserve, or he could be planning a second delaying action.
    The ships continue to hold station.  It's been about ten minutes, and no-one's worried yet.  There's probably some admiral being dragged out of dinner right now.
    The tactical display indicates another ship has come out of jump, some distance away.  After a few minutes, Callisto catches the edge of a tight-beam scatter from that ship to somewhere in the fleets.  Robert patches some of the signal together and says it's a standard Imperial coded message, but can't assemble it enough to get the continuity he needs to decode it.

    After 25 minutes of waiting, the destroyer contacts them and says that the papers have been verified and approved, and transmits a flight plan.  It takes them into the fleet formation and to a capital ship.
    Sir Misha thanks them, and they leave.  He tells Helia they are to follow the flight plan exactly.
    Helia sulks at the prospect of following an exact plan at a miserable 2G.  It'll take them three and a half hours when Helia could have got them there so much faster and more efficiently.  She tells them they'll arrive at exactly midnight.

    Travelling at 2G is really hard for Helia, but she does indeed stick to the flight plan.
    Sir Misha takes a nap while they fly in.
    Shark and Kalida play backgammon, and Kalida decidedly gets the better of it.  Shark curses in Zhodani.  Soon they've both turned to trying to influence the dice telekinetically, but apparently they're both lacking in psionic abilities because it makes no difference at all.  They take a break to make coffee for the bridge crew.
    The incoming ship was not running a transponder, but doesn't seem to have provoked any sort of response.  It's moved in to refuel, while a similar ship moves out towards jump.  Clearly they're couriers at work.

134-1123 : Tussinian / Trin's Veil / Spinward Marches

    At midnight, they take up station alongside Nightflower, a 100kt Heavy Battle Rider from the Trin Fleet.  While there are a lot less battle riders in the Imperial fleet now -- the heyday was the Fourth Frontier War -- they are still very effective in certain situations.  Here perhaps it's making a statement that the commander will not jump out and abandon his forces.
    Once Helia has parked the ship on station, a message arrives requesting that the Marquis and her entourage transfer immediately to Nightflower.
    There is a brief discussion in which it is decided that a gcarrier would be much less suspicious than the ship's launch.  Robert's been working on his skills extensively in the simulations, and he is now the most qualified gravcraft driver on board.
    Sir Misha notes that while the launch is too large inside to carry Imperial tech levels of fuels and drives, it ought to be possible to set up partitions to make it look as if it's more normal.  Mich nods, and adds it to his list of tasks.

    Robert drives Kalida and Sir Misha over to Nightflower without any difficulty.  He parks in the battle rider's vehicle deck, remaining on board while the two nobles step out to be greeted by an Imperial Marine escort.
    Kalida notes with relief that the marines are relaxed, as if they're on a routine courtesy duty rather than escorting anyone suspicious.

    They are escorted to what is clearly an admiral's conference room.  The four Imperial Navy officers here, sitting around a table, are an Admiral, two Captains, and a Commander.  While Kalida and Sir Misha don't recognize any of them, Shark (following them on remote sensors) recognizes one of the Captains and being involved in Naval Intelligence in a public role.  Shark isn't even bothering to try to use their commdots -- he figures they'll either be monitored or blocked.
    The marine escort stays outside the room, closing the door behind them.

    The Commander welcomes them to Nightflower.  He introduces himself as Commander Trent, and the others as Admiral Altrafe, Captain Gorren (the INI person), and Captain Wistfat.
    The Marchioness of Nakege introduces herself as such, and then Captain Sir Misha.
    The Admiral speaks up for the first time.  He says he was expecting them, as they were mentioned in his orders.  He says he's glad they managed to get here safely.  "What can you tell us?" he continues.  "We just had some news come in from Bicornn, but I'd like to know if you can tell us anything."
    The Marchioness says, "I'm afraid I have very little to tell you that you don't already know.  The communications you're getting in probably know more than I do.  All I know really is that I believe about 18 fleets are coming in here, and are probably set to arrive around 138.  I know very little else."
    "There's 15 fleets currently at Bicornn.  We just received word today that an additional 11 fleets arrived there to bring it up to that number, supplanting the four that were already there.  They were starting to arrive there about a week ago.  I expect them here very soon.  That's the last word we got out of Bicornn, and nobody else is hanging around there."
    "Have you had any news from Mora?"
    "Not that I have been informed, no.  Our orders are really quite simple.  We stand here.  Until it's time to leave -- I hope to be able to get most of the fleet, as much as is left, out.  That means they have almost four to one on us."
    Sir Misha questions the apparent contradiction between standing and getting most of the fleet out.
    The Admiral says, "We stand and delay as long as possible, but I do not intend for everyone on board these ships to be sacrificed.  If I can just delay fighting, make a stand-off for a few days, that will do the job.  More, if anything starts."
    The Marchioness says, "Is your entire force here?"
    "This is what I have, yes.  The Duke is retaining his flagship fleet at Trin to respond if..."  The Admiral pauses.
    "If anything goes in that direction?"
    "Yes.  If anything goes bad."
    "I was hoping to find out more useful information before coming back, but in the end didn't have the luck."
    "Well, what we're aiming to do here is a total delay of at least five days.  My orders say to hold this place for five days.  After that, it's at my discretion to leave.  And that's five days from the main body of the fleets.  Which is going to be difficult, if we start fighting right away.  It's an interesting dilemma -- do we start fighting while we have a numerical advantage, or do we stall?  Anyway, that will be resolved by the time they get here."
    "How were you planning to stall them?"
    "Perhaps asking to talk to them.  I'm sure they'd rather go through with their ships intact."
    "They're not going to want to get into a battle that will delay them."
    "And if it seems they can't rule out the possibility of picking up an additional four fleets here, then there is a chance they could be stalled for a while.  So we'll see.  There's only one place they can go here."
    "Yes, if they were in Bicornn, they have to be coming through here."
    "I gather you're to thank for that analysis.  This is as classic a defense possible. You don't often get a textbook battle like this. Trouble is, we've all read the same textbook."
    "Yes, that's a problem.  Particularly a problem for them."  She wonders to herself how many White Tech texts they've been reading.
    Sir Misha asks what they can do to help.
    The Admiral asks him what they can do.
    Sir Misha says, "We are... well crewed, and... fast."
    "Well, I could fit you in to a unit..."
    The Marchioness says they'd be better at surgical strikes.
    The Admiral frowns.  He says, "I find it difficult to believe that a yacht would be capable of standing with military ships of a similar displacement.  You might be reasonably well placed in a destroyer escort group, thousand-tonners."
    "The yacht is extremely... well crewed," the Marchioness says, "And perhaps a trifle more powerful than it appears."
    "Well, we are looking for innovative tactics.  We are considering what the textbook says, and trying to find something that's better.  Considering how long the textbook has worked, that's..."
    "We could possibly help with that."
    "In what way?"
    "What exactly are you looking at right now?"
    "A lot of sleepless nights.  The book's been written for hundreds of years, we don't have a lot to add to it.  We know we'll be facing some black globe ships, which will be tricky.  We know we'll be facing real capital ships, a large number of them."
    "What is your plan to take them down?"
    "Our plan is to try not to have to.  Given a choice, I would rather harrass the edges than try to face them in direct battle, it's just tricky to do when what we have to do is defend this world.  It's why it's tempting to let them in -- if they would go for it -- and catch them while they're refuelling.  That would give us a significant advantage, as I'm sure you are aware.  It would catch them low on fuel.  It would catch them low in a gravity well.  At the moment they have the high position over us -- we're in a gravity well, and they're coming in to us.  That gives them an advantage.  It's difficult to reverse that given the numbers we'll be facing.  We don't have much planetary defenses, no permanent sites, and all there is to defend is the oceans, they don't care about anything else here.  But we have to harrass them enough to disrupt their refuelling, we can't be too far out.  Like I said, a lot of sleepless nights."
    Sir Misha asks, "If we let them in, won't they go in a few at a time?"
    The Admiral says, "Probably not, they don't have time for that."
    "They're in a hurry," says the Marchioness.
    "They'll have to bring their fleets in and send out their refuelling ships.  They don't have time to refuel in phases.  But they also may not go for that.  They may consider that given the strength of numbers they'll consider it simpler to push us out of the way.  It would reduce their strength somewhat, but at the same time they have the numerical advantage and they have the high position."
    Sir Misha continues, "What's the feasibility of taking out their transports?"
    "There'll be a lot of them.  There'll be a good bit of redundancy.  Just the sheer number, and getting too them, would be difficult.  They would be protected by the fleets surrounding the world.  All their fighting ships would be protecting their transports."  He pauses, then says, "That's our dilemma, and our position here.  If you would like to consider it, please keep your ship on station.  Feel free to contact us if you have anything."
    The meeting is over.  The Marchioness and Sir Misha return to their ship.

    Back on Nightshade, Shark says, "Our dilemma is we can't use our weapons without giving away our Black Tech.  Even the nuclear missiles accelerate at 40g, with an incredible rate of fire.  The lasers originate from a point outside the ship.  And our best defense is not being seen."
    Robert says they can give them the Blue Screen of Death Ray.
    Sir Misha wonders if they could Blue Screen of Death all their transports, but Shark is quick to say that is not feasible.
    Shark continues talking.  He says they could get to Bicornn and back before they get here.
    Kalida says that they would probably have already left.  The main bodies of their fleets would have arrived on 126.  They'd then have the refuel, but even then they have probably already jumped.  If they're going to arrive here on 138, they would have jumped on 131.
    Mich laughs that they could intercept them in jumpspace.
    Sir Misha laughs, but then perfectly seriously looks at Helia and asks, "Can we find them in jumpspace?"
    Helia says, "Jumpspace doesn't work like that."
    "Could we cause them to misjump?"
    Helia gets a thoughtful expression and says, "I've looked at this occasionally before.  Everybody effects everybody else, but the effect is infinitessimal."
    Shark says, "If they've already calculated a destination, could we push them off a little?"
    "It would take some work to figure it out, and I'd have to collaborate."
    "With who?"
    "Helia.  And Sally."
    Shark and Kalida sigh, look at each other, and both remark that the girls are not around.
    "Um," says the larian, then pauses.  "Actually, if we had a couple of days... they're not far from here."
    "Yes," says Kalida, "They're very close to here."
    "How would you know?" says Helia sharply.
    "Because we know they were at Bicornn," says Kalida slowly.
    "Helia and Sally," says Shark.  "Helia and Sally that got blown up."
    "They're not far from here and they didn't get blown up."
    "Right.  Reportedly blown up.  We've been reportedly dead.  Apparently it's a pretty common error."
    Kalida says, "Where do you think they are?"
    "I know where they are," says Helia.
    "Do I want to ask how?"
    "No.  I just know where they are.  I sent a message them just a little while ago."
    "All right.  Where are they, then?"
    "I can't tell you that."
    Sir Misha says, "Can you work on the possibility of forcing a misjump?"
    "If we can go visit Helia and Sally, yes."
    Shark says, "We've only got four days."
    Sir Misha says, "How long would it take to visit them?"
    "It would be one jump away from here."
    Kalida says, "How would we explain our disappearing and the reappearing?"
    "Oh, I don't know!  Say we popped out for candy."
    Shark suggests that the Admiral put some raiders, themselves included, well out and give the raiders the advantage of downhill to come through the fleet from there.  "Let's volunteer to be one of them and just disappear on the way out."
    "We probably can't do it anyway," says Helia.  "Never mind."
    Shark continues, "Some small ships like destroyer escorts or something, just go shooting through the fleet, wouldn't be out of position for too long, and it'll give us a strike from behind.  We'll volunteer to be one of those."
    Bridgehead pipes up, "Because the incoming fleet would have time to react to it."
    Sir Misha says, "I would like to put off using our extraordinary weapons until things get really ugly here.  Ideally, the local fleet holds them off for a number of days, jumps out, we stay here and hold them off for another couple of hours and do what we can with our superweapons, and then jump out ourselves.  But in order to do that, we can't be in the middle of the fleet.  I was going to consider another possibility.  How effective could we be at harrassing the transports?  The water transports."
    Shark still wants to attack from behind.  "We can get out there and tell them we'll turn out all our power and hide for a while.  Then we go into stealth, and we're free.  Then we can come in and do later attacks."
    Sir Misha says, "How stealthy can you be if you're on land and shut down?"
    Mich says, "You're more stealthy in space than on a planet, because that's what Military Black is."
    Kalida adds, "We can only be in stealth until we want to shoot something.  We can't use the weapons and remain in stealth.  Also, we can't run the shields and stealth at the same time."  She mentions that the expander is remarkably effective in an atmosphere, the denser the better.  It could be airburst at a point for a similar effect to a gigaton level nuke.
    Sir Misha wants to know how effective their lasers would be against the fighters.
    Bridgehead says they'd be a little more effective than an Imperial weapons-grade laser, with better rate of fire and more accuracy.
    Mich wonders what the effect would be on the people on the world.
    Shark says that there are 500 people registered here by census, so probably no more than 1500.
    Sir Misha says, "Could we present a credible enough story...?  Harrassing the tankers might be fun, but the main point is to keep us out of the battle.  If we presented this to the Admiral and said this is what we want to do, is he going to laugh at us because it's a useless thing to do, or is he going to say OK?"
    Shark says, "Our Imperial writ just says don't inspect the ship.  It doesn't give us permission to break...?  I'm just trying to consider whether we can get away with dropping some nukes."
    Bridgehead says it depends on if the fight goes to nukes, and who makes first use.
    Sir Misha says he's not opposed to using nukes if it comes to that, but he wants to put off using them and the expander.  "The way I want to put that off is come up with some credible tactic that we could be in, to keep us out of the naval battle."
    Shark is convinced that if they go stealthly, that would be noticed.
    Mich says that if they go far enough underwater, they can be out of sensor detection.  Then they can go stealthy and do what they like.
    Sir Misha thinks that in the heat of battle, it's unlikely anyone will care or notice whether they're popping in and out of stealth.  "I fully intend to pull as many g's as we can in this.  I'm not afraid of showing off our speed.  I would like to avoid showing off the weapons unless we absolutely have to.  So I just need some thing that we can be doing to keep us out of the main battle."
    Kalida thinks it's plausible.
    Shark adds that it would be considered pretty much a suicide mission, and Kalida agrees.  Shark doesn't think it is believable that the Marchioness would do that.  Bridgehead counters that Kalida used to jump out of ships in orbit, so it's definitely believable.
    Sir Misha points out that he is not afraid if the Admiral thinks something else is going on, as long as he doesn't know what that something else is or care.
    Kalida says that the note Norris gave them specifically asks people not to think too hard about them, after all.
    Shark suggests that they simply say that the would best serve this battle in detached duty.  He adds, "Now it could be that he goes back and says that we chickened out and ran off."
    Sir Misha says, "I want to avoid that.  OK, soes the suicide mission sound like fun?"
    This is met with laughter.
    Sir Misha continues, "So let's expand on this a little bit.  We have several of the best tacticians here on this ship."
    Shark interrupts, "Can you fire an expander from under water?  Does it do anything to the water or does it explode where we tell it to?"
    "I'll let you know," says Kalida.
    Shark smiles as the crew gets his idea.  Random gigaton nuke explosions among the transport ships sounds like a good area.
    Sir Misha wants to know if there's any visible evidence to Imperial sensors about who fired the expander, or where it came from?
    Kalida says that it's somewhat like a meson gun, but without the mesons.  It explodes where it's aimed at a specific distance.  If ships weren't equipped with meson screens, they might just thing it's an enormous meson gun, although vastly more powerful.
    Sir Misha wants to know if the range is enough to cause explosions at the far side of the battle.
    Kalida says that isn't really practical.  It is however true that there isn't anything visible or obvious.  A black tech ship could tell, but not an Imperial ship.
    Shark says that the enemy will have been briefed on small black ships: "If there's a small black ship around, swarm it!"  They'll have standing orders to target Nightshade.
    Sir Misha says they do have the option of just using the expander in the battle, and telling the Admiral some engineering gobbledegook about a new type of meson gun, and just expanding stuff.
    Shark suggests telling the Admiral that he can put them where he wants the enemy to attack, because Santanocheev hates them and will attack on sight.
    Mich suggests firing the expander while inside another ship.  They can sit in a bay with their shields up and fire.
    Shark says they should just go off and try this out, firing through a small asteroid or something.
    Sir Misha brings the ever wilder discussion under control, and asks the tactical team to pick whichever of Mich's plan or the decoy plan is more interesting.  He's even willing to put the question to the Admiral and ask him, being up front about it.
    Shark is still worried about the effect of the expander on the sides of the ship they're firing through.  That's why they need to experiment, he says, but then wonders what effect the expander would have if fired into empty space.
    Sir Misha fields that one.  "That depends what it expands.  What does the expander expand?"  He concludes, "Space."
    Kalida says there will be a bright flash with radiation.  It doesn't just fizzle in space, although the effect is a lot less obvious.