While Mich and Bridgehead are setting up the box for
transporting Santanocheev, and Kalida is preparing her reviews with
Robert's help, Helia
takes Nightshade up so that Callisto can run a full passive
scan of the surface
of the planet. Nothing out of the ordinary shows up on the scans.
They go ashore with the gcarrier at the same time as
the day before. Robert drives of course, accompanied by Sir
Misha, Kalida, Shark, Bridgehead,
and Teri. Bridgehead doesn't need to be at the meeting, but he
does want to be along to monitor the "package."
Sir Misha has requested that Teri be along just in
case something goes wrong. Also just in case, he also wants Nightshade
up in the air and ready to respond.
The trip to the palace is smooth and
trouble-free. This time when Shark goes out to the guards,
however, they give him a small package, a metal box, which he brings
back on the gcarrier.
The dilemma now is where to go to deliver the
coffin. They weren't told anything about it, and when they
proceed through the gate there are no guides or escort.
Kalida suggests opening the box. The rest of
the crew exchange nervous glances -- they've had bad experiences with
metal boxes before. Still, it's likely that this contains the
Inside the box is indeed a hand-written note
directing them to an outbuilding -- a gravcraft carriage house --
around the back of the palace.
Robert drives them around the back and to the
indicated gravcraft hangar. There is one Imperial Marine in
battledress on guard. They pull up to a halt at the door.
The Marine comes over and waves his gun to get their
Sir Misha stands in the door and tells the marine
that they were told to park this vehicle in the hangar.
The marine says he needs to talk to the person in
Sir Misha says he is the person in charge.
The marine says that he is not the person authorized
to be let into the building.
Kalida remembers that Shark, as Roger Jolly, has
always been the one to present himself to the guards. She gives
him a nudge and he walks over to the door.
When Roger Jolly appears, the marine goes over to
the hangar, presses a button to open the door, and leaves at very high
speed with the battledress grav capability.
Robert drives them inside and comes to a stop.
The building is empty.
At Sir Misha's direction, they take Santanocheev's
coffin out of the vehicle and place it on the ground. Bridgehead
does a last check of the life support systems.
Sir Misha walks over to the obvious door button on
the inside and presses it.
As the door opens, Robert backs them out into the
palace grounds again.
Robert pulls them around to the front
entrance. This time as they pull up, all the guards move quickly
out of the way rather than forming an escort guard. Bridgehead,
Robert, and Teri stay behind while the rest take the familiar
route to the audience chamber, although without any escort either.
The Archduke is seated at his round table.
Sir Misha greets him, and tells him that Kalida has
her reports prepared.
The Marchioness of Nakege tells him she has three
reports. One is a summary suitable for him to broadcast when the
time comes. Another is a full report in real time. The
third is a summary for the Archduke's eyes only.
"And the package?" asks the Archduke.
Nakege says it has been delivered.
Sir Misha tells the Archduke if he would appreciate
it if he would tell him if the person is the real Santanocheev or not.
The Archduke can tell him that now. Based on
the information Bridgehead provided, the person is not the real
Santanocheev. The DNA profile does not match.
The earliest trouble could be expected to get here
is in three weeks time. Sir Misha turns back to the Archduke, and
says that if it's ok with him, they will plan to get back in touch with
him in 20 days.
The Archduke would prefer a little earlier, 18 days,
on 167-1123, and Sir Misha agrees.
They conclude the audience and return to the front
of the palace and board the gcarrier.
There is no escort on the way out either. Even
Shark and Sir Misha are sure that there were no guards around, not just
hidden out of sight.
The first thing Sir Misha wants to do as they pull
out of the palace is to get rid of the metal box. Just because it
didn't explode doesn't mean it doesn't have some other purpose.
He tells Robert to pull over some place where there's a public trash
can. Sir Misha burns the paper, and throws away the ashes and box.
The trip back to Nightshade is as uneventful
as the trip out. Helia brings the ship down into the ocean to
meet up with the gcarrier, and everyone is soon back in the lounge to
discuss their next move.
They have 18 days. Kalida tells them that's
time for three standard jumps, and of course a lot more fast
jumps. Adabicci is three jumps away, and they can do two quick
jumps and one stealthy one to get there.
After their experience with the fake Santanocheev,
Mich would like them to pick up some more truth juices, but Faldor
is a good bit further than Adabicci, two more jumps.
Sir Misha presents Victoria as another
possibility. Kalida agrees that there is something weird going on
there too -- weird but nothing external.
They could also of course investigate what's
happening from Rhylanor, although that's more of a thought exercise for
Kalida than an actual flight plan.
Kalida says they can go to three places -- they can
make three stealth entries -- and one of them has to be back here
again. So they should pick one primary place to go, and once
there they can consider the possibility of one more place depending on
how their limited time gets spent at the first place. There may
be just one useful place in the area anyway.
Sir Misha says they should go to Adabicci
Kalida agrees. She is inclined to go there
physically rather than mentally again.
Robert suggests trying to trigger an attack on them
again, where they tapped into the database and were fired on by the
planetary defenses. That should give useful information about
whether the defense system is still compromised. No matter how
much the Archduke thinks he's removed those elements, Shark at least is
sure he hasn't got them all.
Sir Misha agrees. They'll trigger the
database, and if nothing happens then continue on to Adabicci.
Helia takes them up into orbit and sets them up
close to a ship for the first step in Robert's relay. There's a
lot more Imperial Navy ships here, but also more civilian ships.
Robert chooses an Imperial Navy ship to piggyback
from-- they're still using the same encryption that Robert cracked some
time ago, so it's no problem for him. It's one of the smaller
ships, as the larger vessels are further out of the gravity well.
It's easy to hack in and run his relays to step to
the database. While he's passing through the Navy ships, he pulls
in standing orders, fleet disposition, and so on. Standing orders
are to defend the system and channel civilian traffic, and to keep all
conflict well away from any of the many inhabited worlds in the Mora
system. Kalida is disappointed that there seems to be no secret
hidden information or orders.
The database is not there. There is, however,
a trap on it to detect attempts to access it. It's good,
virtually impossible to avoid triggering it. Robert does so,
"Trigger it," says Sir Misha.
First Robert traces the trigger. It feeds back
to some unidentified place located on Mora, but Robert pulls up
the general location. It's an office block downtown in the
When Robert tells Shark about it, Shark says it's a
location he knows about, an Imperial Intelligence organization not
related to the Navy. It's an Imperial Intelligence organization
not associated with the military.
Robert suggests the trap could be to catch the
people who put it there, or of course it could be to catch people like
He sets off the trap and watches.
After a few minutes the ship Robert's piggybacking
gets an incoming communication message, urgent orders. It is
ordered to proceed to a certain location in the system where it is to
power down and stand by to be boarded. The ship starts pulling
out of orbit and complying.
Callisto reports that out in the system, three
destroyers have broken formation and are headed to that location.
Robert, meanwhile, has removed all traces that he
was ever there.
Sir Misha laughs that they have just got one captain
in a lot of trouble. He turns to Kalida. He says that he'd
like to contact the commander of the unit of the destroyers and tell
them that the incident should be ignored and there isn't anyone on the
ship that they need to be interested in.
He has two options: go through military channels
with Kalida, or intelligence channels with Shark. Sir Misha opts
for the military.
Kalida tells him that their credentials will be
checked. On Rhylanor they'd just believe them, but here the paper
they have that says they should not be questioned will need to be
verified. The order for the intercept came from well up in the
Sir Misha would like to avoid pulling in the
Archduke. He doesn't mind saying that they did it rather than the
ship, as long as he doesn't have to explain how.
So they come out of stealth to open a channel to the
Imperial Navy. Robert hooks Kalida up, and she talks her way
straight through to the top, where she delivers her message and
presents her credentials.
The officer says they're still going to check the
ship, but it will be a much calmer operation. He thanks her for
Nightshade is still within 10 diameters, but
that doesn't worry Mich. They jump for 0104 / Mora at
Once they're in jump, Kalida goes back to her room
to consider the Santanocheev question. There is one fake
Santanocheev on Mora, leaving two left back with the fleets at Tussinian.
She wants to figure out if the two are still there, and also to look
for another possible Santanocheev with the Rhylanor fleets. On
consideration, however, she can't really locate any of them and can't
tell about Rhylanor. The mass is connected, but it's very fuzzy,
exceptionally so. Something has fuzzed it even more recently in
the Rhylanor direction. She is however sure that the ones that
were at Tussinian have moved somewhere else.
She then tries to follow the connections with the
one on Mora. Right now, they're just hanging, almost in
limbo. There is the potential for connections but she doesn't see
any at the moment.
She then takes a look out at Caladbolg.
Nothing has changed since the last time she looked on 142-1123, and
nothing looks likely to change. It's stable. Adabicci, then. Last time there was
some kind of threat but it seemed somewhat stable. Right now it's
stable too, since the last time, but it's still tense and the tension
appears to be building, and that's not a result of Nightshade
moving that way. They are not currently affecting what is
happening at Adabicci, which is a great relief. Sometime
in the next few days it looks like it will be fuzzy, but whether
anything will actually change or not she can't tell.
Kalida emerges from her stateroom and seeks out Sir
Misha. She tells him that nothing's changing at Caladbolg.
The last thing they knew was Santanocheev's fleet was moving there and
was going to sit there for at least several weeks. Adabicci, on
the other hand, looks like something might be happening in the next few
to several days, which coincidentally might be the time they get there.
Sir Misha of course asks if they're causing this.
"It's not our fault this time," says Kalida.
It takes four hours for jumpspace to
Helia and Mich do their thing, and Nightshade comes out of jump
at 0104 / Mora at 16:00.
It takes a further hour and a half for normal space
to stabilize. Callisto is very quickly sure they're in the right
place, but of course they can't jump until it's stable.
Everything's red across Mich's Engineering board, but he runs some
extra diagnostics anyway.
At 17:50, Nightshade jumps for 0305 / Lunion.
Robert is still working on his astrogation
simulator. He's finding that Helia's astrogation doesn't fit her
model this time. It's an outlier, and he has no idea what she
could have done.
He mentions it to Helia, who explains with great
enthusiasm and great detail. Unfortunately she loses Robert
within a few seconds. She presents the equations, showing one
following from another without the slightest indication why.
Mich manages to get the first time she says that,
but the second time he has no idea why the result follows. He
questions her about it.
She says it's obvious. She needs to give him a
book reference, she says.
Mich says he's looked for the books but can't find
Helia says she doesn't have a copy herself, but
they're all fairly basic texts. One in particular he should look
at to help him understand what she has just presented. "I
remember it," she says, "Because, well... I wrote it. Here you
here's the publisher and the date and the reference number and
Mich thanks her and says she'll look for it.
He looks at the details. The publishing date is in 1140.
Mich stares at it silently for a while. Then
he says, "This book hasn't been published yet."
"Oh, it has," Helia assures him. "I published
it, I wrote it."
"Oh. Yeah. Um."
"We haven't got to 1140 yet. This is a date in
"Oh, you're right, it is!" says Helia
brightly. "Well, maybe it will turn up." She pauses, then
says, "There's a couple of the others that might not have been
"Yes," says Mich, "That's why I haven't been able to
"That might be... yes, ok. That's
interesting! Am I married yet?"
"No, you're not married now, or if you are you
haven't told us."
"Oh, that's interesting. OK."
Mich wonders to himself if the other Helia was the
same one from a different time, although Helia had denied they were the
Mich and Robert exchange glances. Mich tries
to explain that first equation leap to Robert, and with some difficulty
and after a long time manages it.
Kalida, meanwhile, has asked Jack which "after Mora"
she meant when she said she'd explain things then.
Jack says there's still a few things she needs to
figure out, just fill in a few more blanks. She says she'll let
Kalida know when she's ready, which she hopes will be before they get
back to Mora.
It takes twelve hours for jumpspace to
stabilize. At 05:50, Helia and Mich pull them out.
There's quite a shudder as the ship lurches out of
jump. Mich has some blue on his board -- the jump
emitters need realignment, which he thinks will take two and a half
hours to finish.
Space stabilizes after 20 minutes, at 06:10 well
before Mich is done. Helia takes a nap while the engineer does
his work, while Callisto verifies their position.
Mich is done at 08:20, and they immediately jump to Adabicci.
This will be a normal jump, coming out in stealth
mode, so they have several days to relax.
At breakfast, Jack asks Robert and Mich if she can
have the brown box for a while. She'd like to just take it to her
stateroom and take a look at it. The two are happy to let her
take it after the meal is over.
Helia is somewhat subdued and contemplative.
After breakfast she heads back to her stateroom to sleep and ponder
what Mich had discovered.
After the larian leaves, Mich tells the rest of the
crew about it. He says Helia made some references to books that
hadn't been published yet. In fact, they won't be published for
another 17 years. She had the whole catalog number and
everything, but the publication date was in the future. When he
pointed that out, Helia said that was interesting and then asked him if
she was married yet.
Kalida says that happened in one of her klatrin
trips. She was married in one of them.
"So she's time travelling in klatrin trips?" asks
"It's another destination, isn't it?" says
Kalida. She says experiences of klatrin are highly
individualized. She even suggests that they all see the same
thing but from a different perspective.
Mich leaves the table to sleep in his stateroom, as
the crew continues to talk about klatrin. Kalida says her last
trip didn't really end well, while of course Shark nearly died on his
last one too. Robert on the other hand has never had a bad one.
Robert still hasn't been able to work out how that
jump fit in with the astrogation simulator. It just doesn't fit
the model at all.
In her last klatrin trip, when she tried to look at Adabicci
Kalida almost got pulled into a black hole. Since then, outside
the klatrin trip, she's looked at that area and not had problems.
It's still strange there, but she doesn't think it's something that
would suck her in. Perhaps she's not just looking deep enough?
She approaches Shark and tells him she wants to look
at what almost pulled her under last time, and if she gets caught she
wants him to pull her back. When he asks how, she says she
doesn't know. She wouldn't be taking klatrin this time, however,
so perhaps he could just wake her up or whack her over the head or
something? She wants him to pay really close attention to the
Shark suggests they do this in Sick Bay, with the
Doctor present too if there is trouble.
Kalida goes in, looking for the hole. She is
in the hole. She was in the hole before they jumped, and they're
jumping into it right now. It's dark and strange and she can make
no sense of it, and it's really feeling weird. Here in jumpspace
she's not as far in it as she might be, for example at either end of
this jump. And something is... ... ... ...
Suddenly she's wide awake and looking around Sick
Bay, where Shark is picking up things from the floor. There was a
spike on the footballs, he says. It happened again, and as Shark
points out she wasn't under klatrin this time.
"No," says Kalida, "But I was in the black hole."
"What black hole?"
"The one we're in right now."
"We're in jump. We're not in a black hole, I
"Well, you know, not a black hole, but a black hole."
"That makes me feel so much better," says Shark with
a wry smile.
Kalida asks where Helia is.
Shark says she's probably asleep somewhere.
"Should we get the Captain and talk about this?" He explains that
Bridgehead woke her up with a shot of something, for which Kalida
Bridgehead says that she'll probably have a really
bad headache in about an hour, and she should probably check back into
Sick Bay then for something strong. He might even put her under
because the something strong might not be enough.
Shark explains that Sick Bay wasn't as much of a
mess this time. As soon as things started flying, Bridgehead
nailed her with the drug.
The two of them, with Baron Bridgehead trailing
along, go to the lounge. Shark calls Sir Misha, and also whoever
else is awake and might hear about it. Robert and Mich join them.
Kalida starts out by reminding them how her last
klatrin trip ended, with throwing things around Sick Bay while
unconscious. "Well, I went back there," she says.
"Where is there?" asks Sir Misha.
"Here," replies Kalida.
The others say nothing, but share one of those looks
that says, "Is she sure she didn't take klatrin?"
"Last klatrin trip I was looking specifically at Adabicci
and I found something that was going on and tried to ferret it
out. I was getting closer and closer and something blocked me, it
was just this huge black hole that obscured everything, and I was
sucked down into it and that's where I apparently threw everything
around the Sick Bay and died and was quickly resurrected by
Shark. So I've been reluctant to take klatrin again and go back
there again and get sucked in again and die again."
Sir Misha says, "Tell me again the part about
getting sucked in and dying. You were in a klatrin trip?"
"Yes. This was the last klatrin trip, when I
was trying to find out what was going on in Adabicci. I
was blocked by something and it got bigger and bigger and it was this
giant blackness that obscured everything. I couldn't get away
from it and it sucked me in, and I was unconnected to anything."
"OK. Similar to a dizzy spell."
"Sure. So just now, without taking klatrin, I
wanted to see if I could find that hole again and see if it was still
there and -- it's still there, by the way."
"The same place in your thought patterns? I
mean, did you go try to look at Adabicci?"
"Yes, I was looking at Adabicci. The
hole isn't between us and Adabicci, Adabicci and us are
in that hole. Right now, even though we're in jump, we're kind of
Sir Misha says, "Adabicci is in a big black
"Not a literal black hole, a..."
"A klatrin black hole."
"Yes. Hard to explain if you haven't been
there. Shark saw some intriguing black once, he might..."
Shark says darkly, "That was different. That
was black things hunting... me."
Kalida continues, "What concerns me at the moment is
we're in jump and connected to this giant black hole, and where we're
going is in blackness."
Sir Misha says, "Could it be we're in this hole
because we're on the way to Adabicci? I mean we are in
some sense already in Adabicci, assuming we haven't misjumped."
Mich says it's a good sign that if it's in a black
hole and they are too, then that's a good sign that they're going to
the right place.
Kalida concludes, "What it all means, I don't know."
Mich starts talking about the relationship between
space and jumpspace, but Kalida interrupts him. She says, "Don't
get stuck on the fact that I'm calling it a black hole. I'm
calling it that because... it's not a literal black hole."
Sir Misha says, "So this is definitely a klatrin
"Directly?" says Kalida, "I don't think so."
"My question was, you were on a klatrin trip..."
"The first time, yes, but just now I was not.
And I kind of see the same things whether I'm in klatrin or not, it
just makes it... the same but different."
"OK, so it is possible that when we arrive in Adabicci
we will all be in the black hole, and it is possible we will all
experience it, it is possible only those who have taken klatrin will
experience it, but we'll know in a few days."
"Well, we're sort of there already. It depends
on what you're looking at, I think."
Sir Misha laughs, "So we'll keep everyone's eyes
shut when we arrive. It's sort of a reverse stealth mode.
Everybody can see us but we're not allowed to look at them."
Robert says, "So we need to give you a shovel -- a
lantern -- and let you explore the hole." He looks around at the
others and says, "Some symbolic thing to take with her on her
meditation to light her way."
Kalida says that they were all there in the
hole. She muses to herself that within the boundaries of the hole
they were not connected. Well, they probably were, but not that
she could tell because she can't see any threads in there. It's
an area without any threads. No threads at all.
Kalida then turns to Shark and says, "In the klatrin
trip, when did things start flying around in relationship to when I
Shark considers for a while and says that it was
very close to the same time, just before it. Everything smashed
around the room and he flew around, and when he came to a stop his
puter was alerting him to a big football spike, and he looked across
the room and her monitor was flashing blue.
"And this time as soon as anything started moving at
all, Bridgehead woke me up? And there was no blue this time?"
"Yes, that's right." This spike wasn't as
strong as the one under klatrin, but it stood out clearly against the
That satisfies Kalida. She goes back to the
Sick Bay with Bridgehead. He says he has a drug he things will
work if she relaxes and stays away from coffee. She takes the
drug and goes back to her stateroom to rest. She'd like to
describe this to Helia, but describing any klatrin experience to
someone else is almost impossible.
Kalida finds Helia when the larian has some time,
and asks her what jumpspace feels to her right now.
Helia says it feels normal. She can't feel
anything about where they're going because they're not there yet.
"Do you know where we're going?" asks Kalida.
Helia not only tells her they're going to Adabicci,
but tells her an exact spot in the system. "We're going there!"
"And everything feels perfectly normal?"
Helia assures her that everything is normal.
"Good," says Kalida, although the look in her eyes
says anything but that.
Later that day, Jack gives the brown box back.
Robert asks if she's found out anything.
Jack says she doesn't think she's found anything of
any more practical use than they already have. It's not
communicating in any way that can be decrypted.
Robert says that is seems to need several of these
boxes in a network to be able to do anything.
She says that the boxes talk to each other, and to
nothing else. That's about it, she says. There's enough
variation in the communications that she doesn't see a lot of promise
in trying to decrypt it. She tells him he can run all the
programs he wants and he won't be able to figure out what they're
saying to each other.
Robert agrees. He'd figured that. They
need to capture more.
Jack nods. Whatever he can capture, she says,
make sure she can get it and she'll see if she can come up with
anything. She's sure she's not doing anything that he's not doing
already, but you never know.
Nightshade arrives from a normal jump, in
stealth mode, at 20:20 at Adabicci.
It looks far from normal. There are about one
and a half Imperial Navy fleets here, the one that is stationed here
usually, plus Grand Admiral Winchester's expeditionary fleet which was
under refit at Lunion.
There are also four Sword World fleets.
The Sword World fleets are further out at the gas
giant. The Imperial fleets are clustered around the
mainworld. None of them are doing anything. The Imperial
fleets are in defensive formation. The Sword World fleets are
clearly keeping themselves topped off, but are just sitting there
making no offensive moves. There is a total absence of civilian
traffic. There are no signs that there has been any fighting here.
"This could be interesting," says Kalida.
She's clearly not alone in that sentiment.