(42) To Be Named

The Crusader Campaign (147-1123 to ???-1123)

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147-1123 : Mora / Mora / Spinward Marches

    NIghtshade sweeps in to the mainworld in stealth mode, heading for their usual landing in the ocean near the capital.  They're coming in fast through a high traffic area -- if nothing else, the eight fleets in the system restrict their possible route.  At least the eight fleets are in a normal Imperial setup, if you can call eight fleets in any system normal, and so are predictable.  Normal traffic is somewhat curtailed, but being the domain capital is still very busy.

    It's 23:00 when they settle in the ocean.  They decide to wait until morning to visit the Archduke.  A few more hours at this point won't make any difference.  They are simply to show up at the archducal palace, rather than send a message.  Messages can be intercepted.
    As Shark points out, the whole place is riddled with spies, and he should know.  He was hired here, he adds, and he's still accomplishing his assignment.  Mich is still alive.

    With that decided, Kalida works on her estimate of Santanocheev's progress.  How long was the delay?
    She figures that they will have be at Tussinian until at least 146.  That would be the bare minimum, a delay of four days.  They'd be very badly disorganized if they left then, leaving behind all the damaged ships and reorganizing on the way.  They could get here on time, but would be losing even more ships along the way to do that.
    Shark has a different question.  He wants to work out how many full fleets they could now field after all the losses sustained in the Battle of Tussinian.  His guess is that the rebels would have lost the equivalent of 4-5 fleets, including of course both their Happy Fun Ball flagships.
    It looks like the delaying action has had a major impact.

148-1123 : Mora / Mora / Spinward Marches

    Robert will drive the gcarrier, of course.  Sir Misha, Shark, and Kalida are his passengers.  The package remains behind -- they will simply report it and arrange delivery.  They bring the unvirused Santanocheev's information on Norris, plus an original virused version, plus some medical records from Bridgehead's analysis of Santanocheev.  Kalida brings a concise summary of the Battle of Tussinian.

    The trip to the palace is uneventful.  Robert's driving is perfect, and they believe they are not observed coming ashore.

    Robert brings them to a halt at the guard post in front of the archducal palace.  This time security is much heavier.  Facing them is a detachment of Imperial Marines in full battledress bearing heavy weapons.
    Roger Jolly steps out of the gcarrier, covered by heavy weapons, and walks calmly to the guardhouse.  He identifies himself, and is very politely and respectfully invited to pass through the grounds.
    An honor vehicle escort guides them to the palace doors.  As they disembark, the full battledress guards formally hand escort duty for these important guests over to the regular uniformed guards.

    When they arrive at the same interview room as before, they find the Archduke alone at the familiar round table.
    Sir Misha greets the Archduke, telling him they have returned from Tussinian with information and a prisoner for him.
    Norris raises an eyebrow and asks what news he has.
    Sir Misha tells him the Marchioness can summarize the battle.
    Norris looks more surprised.  "There was a battle?  What happened?"
    Nakege says, "Four fleets from Trin managed to hold off the attackers and delay them for quite a few days.  The quick summary is, I think the earliest they could leave was a couple of days ago on 146.  If they left that quickly they will be down four or five fleets and somewhat disorganized, because they will have to combine themselves along the way."
    Shark says, "Fifteen fleets arrived, at least four or five will be left behind, and they were delayed by several days."
    Kalida adds that they are a couple of Happy Fun Balls short.  She says, "If they left on 146, they could get here on 171, but they'd be shedding ships along the way.  That I believe is their original schedule to meet with the Rhylanor fleets here.  For Santanocheev's forces to get here in that time, they would be rushed."
    That's a significant change.  That's taken away the 3:1 advantage, putting the defenders here in much better shape.
    Shark says, "They had prepared Tussinian for battle.  There were six deep meson guns on planet which caused a lot of havoc."
    "Really?" says Norris.  "Those take time to establish.  That was not a spur of the moment installation."
    Nakege says, "They were preparing for a long time, but we knew that."
    "Do you have any information about how those got there?"
    "Information?  No."
    "I'll take speculation.  Wild guesses if you have any.  I'm interested to hear what you might have thought."
    Nakage says, "RHylanor and I had been discussing coincidences about Tussinian, and he was wondering what Tukera might possibly have left behind there.  That would be an extremely wild guess."
    "And Aramis is conveniently out of the picture at the moment.  I'm sure nothing will lead back.  That's a very interesting observation."
    Shark says, "We mentioned a prisoner.  We have a possible Santanocheev in custody."
    Norris bursts out laughing.
    Shark continues, "A possible Santanocheev.  It would be my advice in his situation to have more than one walking around.  We cannot with our information available positively prove or disprove that we have the one true."
    Sir Misha suggests quietly that he suspects a triumvirate, ruling jointly because they're all the same person.
    "Do you mean literally the same person?" asks Norris slowly.
    Shark says, "It is a possibility.  We have information which I can give you here on data pack, and we can produce him if you wish."
    "I think I would very much like that," says Norris.  "I don't think I will be seeing him in person, of course."
    "We can bring him by."
    "We can pick him up, if you wish."
    "It will be easier to deliver him."
    "Even if he is not real, he has to have enough working knowledge for you to think that he might be.  That alone would be useful.  Could you deliver him here, discreetly?"
    Shark says they'll bring him in the same vehicle.
    Norris says he will give them directions where to go, and says they will not be met by guards.  "By discreetly I mean very discreetly, in this case.  Please make sure he is not readily observable."
    "We'll have a box," says Shark.  He pauses, then says, "Trin lost about three of his fleets.  It was a very good performance, considering the meson guns took out most of Trin's capital ships first."
    "That sounds interesting.  I will be very interested to see that.  Or, rather, what my staff comes up with as a good visual summary after we get your data from the battle."
    There is a slight pause.  The crew look at each other, all realizing that they don't want to show exactly what Nightshade was doing, not to Norris' staff anyway.  Nakege says, "We will put together something to show you, and you only."
    "Very well," says Norris.  "As battles go, it sounds very interesting.  How on earth did they manage it?  I will very much look forward to this."
    Nakege says, "Trin's fleets were very effective."
    Shark says, "Their tactics were excellent, staying deep in the gravity well."
    "Doing what?" says Norris.
    "Staying very deep in the gravity well."
    Nakege says, "Made the attackers come in abd burn fuel, which they didn't have."
    Norris smiles, "I'll be very interested to see that.  As you all probably know, that's not standard procedure."
    "There will be some new books written," says Nakege.  He pauses, then says, "How did you get this prisoner."
    "The old fashioned way," says Sir Misha with a smile, "We raided his ship."
    Shark says, "We took a guess where he might be, and it paid off.  We figured he might be running the operations from a remote point on the surface of one of the moons, and availed ourselves of an opportunity to check it out."
    Norris laughs, "This is sounding like a Gavrolovitch novel!"
    "Very much so," smiles Nakege.
    "One of these days I will have to find out for myself if he really is dead.  Even among my staff there are a few people who think he might not be."
    Sir Misha gets the discussion back on more immediate matters.  He says, "Considering he was well prepared for the battle at Tussinian, my guess is he is equally prepared for the battle here at Mora."
    Shark points out that there has already been an unauthorized discharge of a meson gun here.
    Norris said they've worked on that.  He believes their deep meson sites are secure and loyal, and that the systems are cleared of any non-standard irregularities.
    Sir Misha suggests one more precaution: a way to disable them.
    Norris points out that a way to disable them can be used by both sides, and they can be effectively "disabled" by simply fighting further out.  He is still hoping it won't come to a fight.
    Shark says they have one more block of data to share -- Santanocheev's legal justification.
    Norris laughs, "That should be rich!"
    Nakege smiles.  She says, "It kept us all entertained for hours."
    "As did our legal representative's argument against it, which was...  quite interesting," says Shark.
    "How did you find time to discuss legal matters?" asks Norris.
    The crew laughs in unison, "That was part of our delaying tactic."  They kept them arguing for about a day, adds Nakege.
    Sir Misha says that at least this Santanocheev truly believes what he is doing.
    "I'm sure about that," says Norris.  "Having had issues with him in the past, I'm sure there is not any question that he believes what he is doing.  There is also not a lot of question that his path of action would work.  I don't like it, I prefer mine.  I think that establishing a lasting peace is much better than a military standoff, but the military standoff has worked in the past."
    Sir Misha nods agreement.
    Shark wonders who does most of the transport of military supplies.  Is it Tukera?  If so, then...
    Norris explains that it's a good mix of contractors.  Tukera has their own profit centers, and they're better equipped to do some of those than their competitors, particularly in picking up their cargoes on other ships close to the Imperial border.  "They're good at pre-emptively acquiring cargoes," he says.  "It would be unfortunately but would not surprise me if they could get hold of deep meson site construction equipment.  I am equally sure it would not be through any traceable means, they're very good at that.  Anytime you deal with any megacorporation, they're very good at what they do."
    He sighs, then continues, "So, we have a battle at Tussinian which beats down Santanocheev's fleet significantly.  We have possibly Santanocheev here.  We have a possible delay -- either a delay or a really significant weakening of strength."
    Shark muses, "If he left at 146, and had to make three jumps, he'd lose perhaps 10% of his fleet at each jump, so he'll lost another 15-25% of his remaining fleet before he can get here.  If he gets here on time."
    Nakege says she imagines he will do anything to get here on time, because he will have failed if he's late.
    "Unless," says Norris, "He could gain significantly more strength by delaying for a couple of days and coming in at the tail end.  It'll put him at a much weaker position in the beginning.  Two days would gain him a fair amount of strength, but still what he'd add would be the weaker capability units, and he'd get bigger losses among those by rushing.  He's kind of screwed."  Norris grins broadly.
    Shark says, "I've just had a very odd thought.  If there is in fact more than one Santanocheev, then what's to prevent one from being with the Rhylanor fleets?  It doesn't change communications or timing in any way, but...."
    "...it changes the effect we might have in persuading them to revert to Imperium loyalty, yes."
    Nakege points out that they can't know until they get here.  She asks if there's anything else Norris would like them to prepare before they return later.
    Norris has nothing specifically.  He adds, "Of course, I can't say anything officially... when was this battle?"
    "A couple of days ago," says Nakege.
    "So I can't officially announce this marvellous delaying action for some time yet, until it's at least 14 days after that.  It'll be a while, unfortunately.  That's a great shame, it would inspire everyone here, but at least it can be broadcast some time before anyone gets here.  That is... good news."
    "On the other hand," says Shark, "We don't want it announced before fourteen days before the arrival, because if we announce there's been a delay at the other end, it would give the Rhylanor fleets time to react."
    "So somewhere around 160-ish would be fine.  I hate sitting on such a good story.  Yes, there will be severe limits as to which of my staff can see this information now, and it's going to be pretty much none of them.  So if you could prepare your own summary that I can watch myself or with Rhylanor, please."
    Nakege says she will bring two different summaries: one for him, and one he can use in a couple of weeks.
    "One more thing.  Obviously speaking completely off the record here, but how did you lot do?"
    "We're here," says Nakege.
    "Yes, but so would somebody who just sat at the back and watched from a safe distance.  How much did you contribute to the battle?"
    There is silence for a while.  Everyone looks at Kalida.
    "That well, eh?" says Norris.
    Nakege says, "I believe the presentation will show it best."
    "I"d kind of like to know, I like the personal touch."
    "They are missing a great many capital ships."
    Norris nods.  "One more question.  Do they have... let me explain where this question is coming from.  There are breaks in technology in space warfare where when you reach a certain level, technology is no longer a force multiplier, it's a guaranteed win.  Do they have countermeasures and means of reducing your effectiveness, or are you a meson gun to the tech level 12s?"
    "They can counter us enough that we're cautious."
    "That's a good answer, thank you.  But not enough to stop them losing capital ships in a large fleet action."
    "We did a lot of damage.  Obviously we were not able to completely stop them, and the only reason we delayed them as long as we did is we got into a legal wrangle with them.  One ship, no matter how powerful, cannot take out everything.  We are just one small ship."
    Shark says, "They wanted to recruit us, and were willing to spend the time..."
    "...pretending we were recruitable," finishes Nakege.
    Norris smiles and says he is very glad they were, presumably, wrong.  He adds, "For my own personal use, in addition to your summary, I really would like a very detailed recording of the battle from your point of view."
    "I'll bring you what I can," says Nakege.
    "Have you determined anything about the wider scope or effects of Santanocheev's actions?  Do you have any indications of anything happening outside the borders that might affect the Imperium?  We... he is pulling a lot of fleets off the border."
    "In delaying him as long as we can, we also of course weakened Imperial forces, and it's only going to get worse here.  I'm not worried about the Zhodani right now, though."
    "What about the Sword Worlds?  Opportunistic incursions?"
    "I expect we'll see something from them, I just don't know what."
    "That we can probably take back... especially if you'd help us."  He turns to Sir Misha.  "Any personal observations?"
    Sir Misha shakes his head politely.  "What next?"
    "Very well," says the Archduke.  "Next we examine the prisoner.  We examine the reports and eventually hand some of them over, and continue waiting."
    Nakege says it will take her several hours to prepare the reports.
    Norris points out that they have plenty of time here, and tells her to take all the time she needs.  It's going to be several weeks before anything turns up here, so taking an extra day or two is fine.  He tells them simply to turn up at the gate whenever they have anything.  He thanks them, and it is clear the audience is over.  Shark leaves the legal and sanitized medical information with him as they leave.

    They leave the way they came.  The uniformed escort hands over to the battledress escort, and the cavalcade proceeds to the gate.  Robert takes them through the city to the shores, where once again they are sure they are not observed.  The trip to Nightshade is uneventful.

    On the trip, Sir Misha turns to Kalida and says, "Don't take your time.  In fact, I want to talk right now about what we're going to do next."
    Kalida agrees.  They can do a lot in the next three weeks.
    Shark even points out that they don't need to stay on this planet for three weeks.
    Kalida says she does want to take enough time to perhaps find a good place to look for some Rhylanor fleets.  There's also the matter of Adabicci -- she knows something happened over there, she just doesn't know what.
    Shark says they have time to make a run over there.
    Sir Misha says he's convinced that Santanocheev has something here, and they might be able to find it.
    Shark suggests starting with a full planetary survey.  They can do physical, but the Archduke is going to have to deal with his own personnel, including the fleet captains.  They can do a full passive scan from the edge of the atmosphere.  They can also let Robert loose in the electronic systems.  He adds that he doesn't have the contacts here that he'd trust anymore.
    Kalida says she also wants to check Santanocheev's threads more thoroughly.  The only ones she found were in Tussinian, but she look everywhere.  She adds to Shark that they won't be able to pick up deep meson sites using that kind of a scan.
    Sir Misha suggests deliberately hitting the same trigger they did that got them fired on last time and look for a reactions.  He says they should concentrate on the things that Imperial capabilities can't do.

    Sir Misha goes on to explain to Kalida where he draws the line on what should be included in her summaries.  It's fine to include the Whats, show what happened to other ships.  She should fuzz as much as she can on the Hows, the capabilities of this ship.
    Shark points out that Rhlyanor knows about stealth mode.  They can explain why they're scanning the skies with high-powered lasers at all time.  It's a minor tactical thing, but if you know he's going to be doing that, he might not be so effective at intercepting missiles.
    One thing Sir Misha wants to make clear is that they're on contract.  They're allies, not the Archduke's to command.

     Back at the ship, Kalida immediately goes to work on the summaries.  A lot comes out of the public summary, of course.  The private summary is harder -- she wants to show what happened, but fuzz Nightshade's role in it and how it was accomplished.  She asks Sir Misha for clarification of what he wants to hide.
    Shark says they shouldn't show him what weapon did it, but simply show that such-and-such damage happened to that ship at that time, not being clear what did the kill.
    Sir Misha agrees that would be good.  Does it have to be obvious who fired what shot?
    Kalida points out that damage is going to be shown occurring well away from the defending fleets.  It will be obvious who did it, although she can leave out what type of weapon caused it.  You can't show the Expander anyway, all you see are the results.
    Shark says that the acceleration capability of the ship will show, but that probably won't be a surprise.  He already knows their jump performance, and the Duke of Rhylanor has seen stealth mode so they don't have to hide that.
    Sir Misha says that in about three weeks, ships that were at the Battle of Tussinian will be here, and they will have sensor logs from the battle.
    Shark suggest simply providing Imperial technology sensor logs.
    Sir Misha thinks that's a great idea.  If Kalida can reduce her reports to precise records using a scaled down tech level, that is sufficient fuzzing.
    So first there will be the public summary, showing the heroic defense of the Tussinian system by a handful of Trin's Veil fleets, vastly outnumbered by the rebels.  This one is certain to be a hit all over the sector.
    Then there will be a full Imperial technology level log of the battle, and a summary based on that for the Archduke's private consumption.  Kalida pulls in Robert to help with the computer aspects of it.  Together it takes them about 8 hours to finish it.

    Shark asks Mich to build a plastic coffin with low life support to hold an unconscious Santanocheev.  Mich suggests putting him in a vaccsuit.  Bridgehead vetoes that idea so he can include medical equipment, IV feeds, and so on.
    Mich starts work on the plastic box.  Shark would like it to look like a coffin too, but Mich really doesn't care about that.  Baron Bridgehead provides the equipment to be set up in it.