(45) To Be Named

The Crusader Campaign (156-1123 to 157-1123)

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156-1123 : Adabicci / Lunion / Spinward Marches

    Nightshade has jump-0ed to avoid a very large incoming missile.  The dogfight with the silver ship, and the hasty jump, left some blue on Mich's engineering board.  It took him four hours to finish that work, and another two hours to work on the green energy pulse that Helia barely dodged.
    Kalida was feeling very bad once the danger of the fight wore off, but she's had a good many hours now to recover.  With the Doc's help, she's feeling normal by the time Mich is done with all his work.
    Jumpspace stabilized when Mich finished his repairs, so when they'll be ready to come out of jump when he's done with analyzing the pulse.  He's still concerned that missile might be loitering waiting for them to come back.  He suggests that they should call this new tech Silver Tech, as opposed to the hypothetical White Tech they would have called it before.
    By then Kalida and Shark have checked the football sensors again, and verified that they were not attacked psionically during the fight.  Shark is still expecting a black tech fleet to turn up as a result of the signal being sent out by the box from Goose.

    It's 08:00 when everything's done and ready to exit jump.  By this time, Nightshade has rebuilt 6 of their 720 nuclear missiles.
    Shark's vote is to pop right out now, even thought they won't have shields or stealth.  They don't know where in the system they will pop out, of course.
    Kalida points out the other possibility, which is to wait five and a half days and come out with either stealth or shields.
    Mich states the worst case -- popping out right next to the 20 ton missile.
    Shark speculates about the missile.  They don't know what it does, but it's likely it doesn't poke little holes -- it's too big for that.  He remembers that the swiss cheese ship was hit randomly rather than radiating from a point alongside it, so it's unlikely the missile generated them.
    Mich's opinion is that it's more like swiss cheese was used for target practice.  It would have been incapacitated well before many of those holes were drilled through it.
    Shark then states what more of the crew must have been fearing.  Did Santanocheev or his people man the Silver Tech ship?  That would mean he could have deliberately drawn them back here.  If that was true, then they'll be facing a real problem in Mora.
    Kalida wonders aloud if she could trace the threads of the Silver Ship, even though it's been dead for six hours.
    Shark picks up on that.  If the ship generated Kalida's black hole, they're safe.  If it didn't generate the black hole, they'll know whether or not to wait five and a half days.  He believes that is a very important data point to gather.  If the blackness of possibilities in this area has gone, they'll know there's not another ship waiting for them.  If it's not gone, they'll need to wait and come in with full shields or stealth.
    Sir Misha would be much happier with a full complement of missiles, but his crew quickly tells him that it will take 30 days, and they can't generate missiles in stealth or with the shields up.
    "Not at this time," adds Mich with a grin.  He has plans involving the large power cube to run those systems full time.  He then points out that their own missiles are powered off the ship's cube, so if they were destroyed, they would go dead.  He originally thought it was most likely that the 20t missile would die when they destroyed the Silver Ship, but it was in fact self powered and autonomous.
    The discussion then turns to when exactly they were detected by the Silver Ship.  They were headed towards the ocean because the footballs had triangulated it.  About the time it broke the ocean would be when it picked them up.
    Sir Misha asks why they need to be in stealth when they come out.
    Shark says that if there's another White Ship here, there was a period of time when they didn't detect Nightshade.  It was only when they started moving closer that they were detected.  If they come in from a normal jump, they can choose whether to use stealth or shields immediately.  If it's a quick jump, there's a period of time when they can do neither.
    Kalida backs him up.  If there's another Silver Ship here, they need to be ready for it.
    Shark brings it back to Kalida's abilities.  If the blackness isn't there anymore, that lessens the chance of there being another White Ship.  He repeats that she should go in again.

    So at 08:30 Kalida goes to Sick Bay to look again.  Sir Misha is concerned about the danger to her, but she believes they can do at least as safely as before.
    Shark would like Bridgehead to be strapped in, but Sick Bay just isn't set up for it.  What he can do, however, is spread some light pieces of paper around the room, and bring her out immediately they start to move.  He then rigs up a harness to hold him right next to Kalida's bed, so he'll definitely be in position to bring her out.
    Kalida puts herself into her trance.  She's still in the hole, but the thing that attacked her is definitely not there anymore.  The hole is still there, however, and it's sucking.  She can't see the fleets, and in fact she can't see anything.  It's just the black hole.  Even though it's pulling at here, it seems like it might not be as strong as it used to be.  At least, it wasn't out there, but now that she's deeper it's starting to pull hard again.  She looks for residue of the Silver Ship, but really can't make anything out.  That distracted her slightly and she started to slide in faster.
    The paper in Sick Bay starts to rustle and move around.  Shark brings Kalida out immediately.

    Kalida has her usual splitting headache, but before Bridgehead gives her something to sleep it out, Shark debriefs her.  She says it's still there, but it's different.  It's like she started further out -- even though she couldn't tell where the boundary was, or even in which direction it is -- but it just felt like she was closer to the horizon.  She tried to explain this to Shark: "The edge I couldn't perceive felt nearer.  But the thing that attacked me there is no longer there for certain."
    Shark nods, and tells her that they're going to wait for her to recover so she can talk to the Captain directly.
    Kalida lies back and rests, comforted by Bridgehead's concoction.  The drugs don't seem quite as effective this time, but he promises to work on something else.

    Kalida comes into the Lounge at 12:30, having been out for four hours.  The remainder of the crew has rested in that time too.  Shark has already given Sir Misha the quick summary, and he agreed that waiting until she recovered would be the best thing to do.
    Vonish starts serving lunch when the Marchioness comes in.
    Shark quickly questions her on her experience.  He assures her that nothing but her was on the football sensors.  He shoots a quick question to Helia about them being in jumpspace now compared with when they were coming here, in terms of physical distance.
    Helia stares at him like he's just suggested that coffee puts you to sleep, and tries to explain how his simple idea is pure imagination.  She quickly gives up, just shaking her head at the absurdity of his ideas.
    Shark persists for a short while, but he too tails off.  He asks Kalida to confirm that there was no active resistance.
    She does.  There was none at all.
    Sir Misha says this means the black hole is separate from that ship, and separate from whatever attacked her.
    Shark wonders if the black hole is persisting as residual fallout.  Kalida thinks that's plausible, but she doesn't know.
    Sir Misha comes back to the main question -- do they have to come out with shields or stealth up, or can they come out from a quick jump?
    Kalida says it didn't seem like the blackness itself was a threat to them.  It was the thing that attacked them that was the threat, and that appears no longer to be there.
    Shark thinks that given the objects in this system, the chances are very good that they will be somewhere that won't be dangerous.  He asks Helia if it's reasonable that they'll be out of range of the missile.
    Helia says it is likely that they'll be several hours away from where it could be, but it's hard to say.
    Sir Misha makes the decision: they will come out after lunch.

    At 13:00, having rebuilt 11 missiles, Helia and Mich do their thing and bring Nightshade out of jump.  They pop out at 100d from the gas giant, as Callisto soon tells them from visual observations.  She adds that she's pretty sure nothing is heading this way.  Mich's board is red all the way across -- the ship is perfect.
    Shark formally tells the pilot, the engineer, and the astrogator "Well done.  Officially, well done."

    It takes two hours for space to stabilize, and so by the time they slip into stealth at 15:00 they have 13 missiles in their inventory.
    By that time it's clear that the Sword World fleets aren't around the gas giant anymore.  They're all headed in at maximum acceleration towards the mainworld.  They started at different times about 3 to 5 hours ago.   They are not in a battle formation.
    Shark can't believe they're not in battle formation.
    The Imperial fleets are still around the mainworld, but they seem to be moving around in some sort of operation.
    To hack into their communications, they'll have to catch them up.  While the Sword World ships have a large head start, Nightshade has a lot more acceleration, so they will be able to do it.
    Helia drops them into stealth mode and heads off in the fastest intercept course she can manage.
    Shark and Kalida want to make sure that the football sensors are watched at all times.  Shark slips into sparkly pink, takes the passive external psionic activity sensors of the ship and hooks them into his alarm as well.  He is determined that they won't miss a thing.  He is slightly surprised that the footballs are better than the ship's sensors, and makes a point of telling Mich so.

    It takes four hours to catch up.  At 19:00 Helia brings them alongside the flagship of the Sacnoth First Fleet.
    The fleet is not on a combat standing.  Again, Shark is shocked that they're not attacking.  Why else would they be on the move?
    The command to move came from this ship, to all Sword World ships in system.  It directed them to move to the mainworld as quickly as possible, and assist the Imperial fleets with whatever they need.
    Immediately the crew hammer Robert with questions.  Was there anything from the Imperial fleets, a distress signal or something?
    Robert ignores the agitated monkeys chattering away around him, and tells them what they wanted to know anyway.  The answer is in personal communications between the commander of the Sword Worlds fleets and the commander of the Imperial fleets.  The Sword Worlds commander called the Imperial commander to ask if they needed assistance.  The Imperials said they needed everything they could bring, and to please come help.
    Sir Misha's immediate reaction is to try to contact someone in the Imperial fleets, but he takes Kalida's advice to find out as much as possible first.
    Robert breaks connection, while Helia pulls them away and takes them in the direction of the Imperial Navy ships.
    Kalida knows that Grand Admiral Winchester would be the ranking Imperial Admiral here.  She wants to find out what communications there might have been between him and the planet, anybody down there.
    Robert points out that they have to get there first.  He'll also want sensor logs and communication records for the period while they were gone.  It's been about 17 hours since the fight.
    Shark sets Callisto to searching for the missile anywhere it could have reached in that time.
    Kalida reminds them that they'll have the expander this time to deal with the missile.  In the dogfight they had to reserve it for their opponent, but with the Silver Ship destroyed the situation is quite different.

157-1123 : Adabicci / Lunion / Spinward Marches

    Nightshade arrives at mainworld at midnight, with 13 missiles in the store.  They've arrived well before the Sword World ships, and there has been no sign of anything but those and the Imperial ships.  The footballs are silent.
    The Imperial ships seem to be doing atmospheric operations.  Shark wonders quietly what they did to this world.
    Something was done to this world.  Where the capital of Adabicci used to be, on the ocean shore, is now obscured by a cloud of dust and gases, but it's fairly obvious that there is a several hundred kilometer diameter crater there.  This seems to be the only thing that's different, but it's certainly dramatic.
    Shark's immediate concern was to be sure their own missiles didn't do this, but their fight with the Silver Ship was too far out for that to happen.
    Sir Misha wonders if the ground defenses of the capital could have fired on that ship as it came up out of the water, although they didn't see anything fire on it except Nigthshade.  His theory is perhaps the ship took it out just like it cleared the orbital area ahead of it.  Perhaps it knew the city could fire on it, and just took it out for that reason.
    The crater also of course includes the Ducal Palace, but not Sir Geoffrey's estates.  It's deep enough to have taken out any possible bunkers too.
    Sir Misha observes that the threat to the Duke was caused by them coming to see what the threat to the Duke was.
    Kalida says that she told them it was their fault.  She reflects to herself that it is really all her fault, as she didn't figure this out properly.
    Shark says that all they can do at present is to go in and see what is there.  At least they know that one of the successors is safely off planet.
    Kalida says there should be two others.  Baroness Arahani should be on Ianic, and she checked that Sir Geoffrey was at Victoria.  They don't know where Eduard is.

    Helia brings them in carefully.  The orbits are full of ships engaged in coordinated maneuvers, so it's not that easy to get alongside Grand Admiral Winchester's flagship.  It takes her about twenty minutes to do so.

    Kalida is wondering who's really in charge down there now.  Aloud, she says, "Here's my thought.  With Adabicci taken out, whoever takes over, whoever that might be, is allied with Santanocheev and bringing the Sword Worlds in."
    Shark says, "You don't think that Eduard is...?"
    "It's possible.  I don't know."
    "Did not look like that."
    "Didn't, and I would think not, but if I didn't know of anything else and just came from seeing this situation, that's what I would think.  It could easily be someone else entirely took out the whole thing"
    "And is planning to take out the whole family.  They know where the daughter is, she was public about that, although if there's anyone that can hide someone, the Black Things That Spit..."  Shark has certainly heard stories from Mich and Bridgehead of the strange pair that travelled on Anastasia."
    "You think she's probably all right?"
    "Unless, of course, she's actually the instigator."

    Shark has been quietly running the sensors on the crater.  It's not radioactive, but it is very deep.  The interior of the planet is coming up through it.  Nightshade's expander could not have done this damage, it's in a whole other scale.  They don't know the capabilities of the swiss cheese ship's weapon, of course.  It's also different from the damage that destroyed the ecosphere of the IFSS research station, and different from the antimatter bomb that destroyed the city on Pimane.
    He says, "I know what happened.  The missile lost us, and went on to the secondary target.  It's an automated missile.  The primary target can't be gotten, you fall back to the secondary."
    Sir Misha asks why the capital would be a secondary target.
    "You're Santanocheev.  You don't like this guy.  Your primary mission is to get rid of the Black Ship, but after that..."

    Helia now has Nightshade in position with the flagship.
    Robert hacks in.  This should be easy because it's Imperial, but it has been modified from the standard.
    His attempt to get in has been detected and blocked.  Somebody in there is really good.  It is, after all, perhaps the most elite fleet in the Spinward Marches.  That channel is completely blocked up now, and Robert simply can't get in here.
    Kalida suggests it would be much easier to get into the Adabicci Fleet rather than SP-X-1.
    Helia pulls them alongside the flagship of that fleet.
    Shark's prioirity concern is to find out when this happened in relation to when the Silver Ship blew up.  The Imperials should have sensor events for both of those.

    This time Robert's hacking was unopposed.  He looks for communication and sensor logs for the past 24 hours.
    He finds nothing interesting until Nightshade's dogfight with the Silver Ship.  The Imperial sensors don't pick up as much as black tech, of course.  In analysis afterwards they located Nightshade, but didn't pick it up at the time.  This fleet at least did not identify them, just marking them as Unidentified Ship.  All they saw were the missile launches, that pretty much appeared out of nowhere at the time, and then one laser shot.  They could not have picked up the expander.
    Kalida asks if there was any communication with the planet.
    There wasn't, not through here, but after the explosion on the mainworld there was a general broadcast to the planet that was carried on all the Imperial ships too.  It was from the Duke, broadcast from Winchester's ship, telling everyone to remain calm and that the Navy was carrying out rescue operations.
    Tracking back, Robert picks up more of what happened.  After Nightshade vanished, It looks like they sent somebody out to investigate the missile, which had come back and took up station pointing at where they had left.  When they approached, the missile accelerated away and went straight to the capital.  It did blow up the capital.
    That fits Shark's theories.  It was waiting for them to come back, and then when something approached, it took off.  Sharks asks the ship they they could have survived that.
    The ship says, "I don't know."  That wasn't the answer he was hoping for.
    Sir Misha looks at him questioningly.
    Shark explains what happened.  He says, "So the missile came to where we were when we jumped.  We weren't there, it decelerated, came back and stopped there, waiting for us.  The Imperial fleet sent out somebody to investigate this object that was floating in space.  As they approached, it said, 'Na na na!' and went straight to the capital."
    Sir Misha says, "So it attacked the capital, not the ship that came to investigate it?"
    Shark nods.  "Programming," he says.  "I didn't get my primary target, I will wait here until it comes back.  If you're interfered with, that's your secondary.  Imperial robotics don't do that, they don't trust things to take secondary targets."
    "Wouldn't it make more sense to take out the thing that's bothering you?"
    "It hadn't given up on the primary yet.  Then someone interfered with its primary mission, I can't stay here, my primary mission is in jeopardy, so..."
    Kalida points out it didn't care about the ship that investigated it.
    "Right," says Shark.  "It can't take out that ship without destroying itself."
    Sir Misha agrees.  It was about to be killed, so it gave up on the primary target and went after the next one.
    Shark says, "So, White Tech did it to both of them.  Now I'm really worried that Santanocheev has control of this.  We've been here before, in this ship, and we were not attacked.  So this White Tech, Silver Tech, whatever you want to call it, was not here before or not aggressive before.  Why would it not have been the first time, but was the second, or third, or fourth, or whatever time this is?"
    Kalida asks how long they've been here, and says something under her breath about the state of the black hole.
    Shark takes that as a request to go black hole surfing again.
    Kalida says that if it's gone, or at least not in the way, they can find out more.
    Shark turns back to Robert to ask him the current situation at the mainworld.
    Robert says they're evacuating from reasonable survival distance outwards, evacuating to the other inhabited world in this system.
    Kalida asks him if there were any other broadcasts from the Duke, and when Robert shakes his head, she wonders how generic this one was.
    The whole crew thinks about this, and agree that it's most likely genuine.  That means the Duke survived and is probably right now on Winchester's ship.
    As Kalida says, if that was really him they could make real contact with him.
    Sir Misha was thinking the same thing.  Should they perhaps to go Sir Geoffrey's estate to contact him from there?
    Shark thinks that's a good idea.  If they do it from Sir Geoffrey's house, they can go there in stealth, go into the house, and send a message.
    Sir Misha wonders if his people would let them in.  Also, why would that be better than just going out at this point?
    Shark says they were there in the fight when the capital blew up, and a personal communique signed by Kalida to the Duke would be pretty convincing.  He can probably calm them down and let them approach.
    Sir Misha says they can simply send a message addressed to the Duke from Kalida, saying they want to talk.
    Robert shrugs and points out to his captain monkey that he can do that easily from here.  He's in the comm system of the Adabicci Fleet flagship.  He puts a comm link straight through.

    Kalida soon has Grand Admiral Winchester's aide on the line.  He asks her what he can do for her.  She says she needs to speak to Duke Adabicci.  The aide says he'll let him know she's available.
    It's mere moments before the Duke of Adabicci himself replies.  "When did you arrive on our ships?" he asks.
    "Recently," Nakege says.  "What happened here?"
    Adabicci sighs, "Well, you can see.  Something blew up."
    "I'm very glad to see you're here, rather than down there."
    "Me too, but that isn't much of a comfort.  It's a mess down there.  We're evacuating everybody we can, priority outwards.  I'm just glad everybody else is out of here."
    "What about the Sword Worlds fleets?"
    "They're coming in to help us.  They dropped all pretense of being a stalemate.  They saw what happened, and they called us and asked if they could help.  They're coming in right now to help us get as many people clear as we can."
    "And you're sure you trust them?" asks Nakege guardedly.
    "Absolutely on this.  This is just... one of those things where... there's war, and then there's this. Whatever this was.  Do you have any idea what it was?"
    "Not really."
    "What was that thing you had a fight with?"
    "No idea," says Nakege.  "I still have absolutely no idea.  I've never seen anything like that before."  She pauses, then says, "We have to return to Mora fairly soon.  I'm not sure how long we can stay here, but is there any way we can help you?"
    "Depends how much you can carry," says Adabicci.  "If you don't have much capacity, we'll just let the Navy organize everything."
    "We can't carry a lot.  If there's one or two people you want out of the way, we can handle that."
    "Well, Geoff's place has been evacuated already.  Obviously the Navy has taken the priority evacuees, so I'd say we're pretty well covered.  We have a whole ton of ships coming in that are going to help us.  The Sword World fleets are about ten to twelve hours out right now."
    Nakege says she's sure he's busy, so she'll let him get back to it.  She'll be here for a little while longer, and will let him know before they leave.
    Adabicci asks her what's happening everywhere else.
    Nakege tells him that everything is converging on Mora.  "Everything was meeting at Tussinian.  Trin's fleet put up a valiant defense and delayed and disrupted them greatly.  The remainder are on their way to Mora, and they'll probably get there on the scheduled day but definitely weaker than they would have been."
    "Well, you do what you have to do.  Anything you need from me?"
    Nakege says they have everything they need right now.  She says again that she'll get in touch before they head out.
    Adabicci thanks her, and ends the call.

    So they do have some time here to investigate before they have to leave.  Kalida wants to wait until at least the Sword World fleets get here around 13:00, to make sure that they aren't going to be hostile.
    Shark says she could go investigate the black hole again before those fleets come in.  He adds that the problem with looking for Silver Ships in the Mora system, is that if they were coming in with the Imperial Fleets to attack someone, they would come in on the first day of the Imperial ships arriving.  They wouldn't be there until then.  They wouldn't be there to get detected before that.
    Kalida points out that the Silver Ship at the bottom of the ocean wasn't very detectable.
    Shark says that his passive scans out of the ocean are better than theirs in.  The ship moved before they saw them.  He doesn't think they'd be very effective at finding Silver Ships there, until they went active.
    Kalida says he knew they were there.  He didn't attack her immediately, but he knew they were there.
    Shark says they triangulated him, but that doesn't mean he doesn't have the ability to do that too.
    Sir Misha's point was to check on the Sword World ships, and then move on.
    Kalida suggests she go into her trance and look around.
    Shark says there is also the ocean to check.  There could be more ships there, which could be another fight.  He says they should not go active out here, because of all the trigger fingers up here, but once in the ocean they'd have some more freedom.  He says they could take several hours to check the area where the Silver Ship -- Silver Fish? -- came from.
    Mich suggests something that would affect their journey back.  At some point in an empty area, they should take a while to expose Engineering to hard vacuum and hook up the big power cube to the missile manufacture.
    Kalida is concerned at how long that would take, and when Mich says it could be of the order of days, she at least thinks they should not take that time from the journey.
    Sir Misha suggests a compromise -- if all Mich needs is hard vacuum, they could do it after getting back to Mora.
    Mich says that he needs hard vacuum, and there must be no shields or stealth.
    Kalida adds that if they wait until Mora they won't get much benefit from it, but then they don't really have the time anyway.
    Sir Misha says they should go to the ocean now, then.

    At one edge of the ocean, of course, is the large crater spewing volcanic gases and ash and clouds of steam.  It's not quite the ocean it used to be, the shores are messy, and the atmosphere is turbulent.  Helia picks her way through and down under the water, and switches from stealth to shields as soon as she can.
    Both Shark and Callisto stay on the sensors, looking for anything at all.  They see nothing, although as Shark says it could just be sitting on the bottom.
    Shark then suggests they do the trance down here.  It would at least be hard to missile them down here.  Kalida agrees.

    They set up Sick Bay again the same way.  This time, he suggests that Shark be in battledress.  He can use the grav capability to avoid being thrown around, and administer the wake-up easily enough.      Bridgehead himself plans to stay out of battledress, just in case he needs to fix something delicate.  Shark suggests that the Doc stay out of the room, which oddly enough is exactly what the Baron himself was thinking.
    So Teri helps Shark suit up securely, and Kalida drops into her trance.  Shark plans to give her as long as he can.

    Kalida is in the hole.  It is weaker.  She looks for a way out of it, but can't see one.  On the other hand, she is not being sucked in, and won't be unless she goes deeper.  There are no connections in here still, everything outside it is blocked.
    This is the first time she hasn't been sucked in.  She is in the hole, but its sucking force is weaker here.  It's as if she's in it, but not quite in it.  It's still blocking everything, no connections, but she can almost see connections trying to poke their way in.  It's definitely weakening.
    Kalida tries to grab hold of one of the ends that's trying to poke in.  She can't get hold of it, however.

    Paper is rustling in Sick Bay, small objects are rattling.

    Kalida spins out her own connection and tries to send it out.  She pushes a hook outside the hole.

    Shark gets shoved and buffeted, and stuff starts to fly around.  Kalida's monitor shows a great deal of stress, but not dangerous yet.  He himself is not in danger, so her condition will be his cue.

    Kalida tries again.  She throws out a hook and starts to pull herself out.  It's like pulling herself onto the land of a river delta, out of the river of the black hole.

    It's getting rough in Sick Bay, and the footballs register a strong, strong reading, climbing and ramping up hard.  Kalida is showing severe stress, including dangerously elevated blood pressure.  He wakes her up.

    Kalida is immediately out and awake.  It hurts.  She aches all over.  She lays there and says quietly, "Wow."
    Bridgehead rushes in, takes one look at the monitor, and insists she stay in his care for a while.  He starts to put her under right away, saying she can talk later.
    Kalida gets out a few words as she passes into unconsciousness: "Black... hole... weakening."

    Shark leaves the Doc to his business, and heads for the Lounge.  He tells the Captain that if they wake Kalida in six hours, as Bridgehead suggested, that will give them another four hours before the Sword World fleets arrive at the mainworld.

    At 09:00, Bridgehead wakes Kalida.  She's in fine shape now.  He suggests she take it easy for the next couple of days, if at all possible.  The two of them join the others for breakfast.
    "Good morning!" says Shark to Kalida brightly.
    "What did the footballs do?" she asks him.
    "I'm letting them cool," he laughs.
    "I'm far from the strongest reading you've had, so it can't be all that bad."
    "Well... not anymore.  It was strong.  You were rocking my battledress, and that was probably just the side effects of what you were trying to do, I take it."
    "I threw out a connection, but I don't know what it hooked to because you pulled me out too soon."
    "It was a rocky ride," smiles Shark.
    "I did feel like crap when I woke up.  Thanks."
    "Your blood pressure was..."
    "I was working very hard.  However, the black hole is definitely weakening, so I think we can probably guess that whatever it was here that we destroyed was creating it, and it's dissipating now it's gone.  So after a while it should be gone completely.  I was still in it, but I tried something new this time, and it was working, I was actually pulling myself out, but I don't know what I hooked."  She makes a mental note to check what she tugged while she was there.
    Shark suggests they move back into space and watch the incoming ships.  There's probably a couple of days they could spend here, long enough to see that.  He asks Kalida if it's weakening here, or it's doing so because it's moving somewhere else.
    Kalida says it's weakening here.  It's retreating into itself.  She pauses and then asks a question of her own.  What do they do if the Sword Worlds fleets attack?  The Imperial fleets are at a disadvantage in the gravity well.
    Shark points out that while they have a robust command structure, but they don't have meson guns and they don't know how to find them in stealth.
    Bridgehead nods.  Nightshade is on the other side of a force multiplier singularity -- the Sword Worlds can't detect them in stealth, and they can't hurt them with the shields up.  Even if they landed simulataneous nukes to take out the shields, they have nothing to penetrate the hull.
    Kalida adds her assessment of how it would be if Nightshade wasn't here.  Given the strategic positions, she'd expect the Sword Worlds to win, but suffer at least 50% losses.  Judging from what they achieved at Tussinian, they would have an absolute advantage.  They could destroy the entire Sword World fleets without taking any damage.  As she says to Sir Misha, they could wreck the Sword World fleets enough in a couple of days that the Imperial Fleets could mop them up.
    Shark is still concerned about the rescue effort.  The damage to the mainworld could wipe out its habitability for dozens of years.  There are plenty of worlds even within jump-1 of here to take some refugees, and they can probably use the other inhabited world here as a staging point at least.  At least all the buildings here have their own pressurization systems.  Anything left standing should remain habitable until the relief effort got to them.  Of course nothing is going to be standing within hundreds of kilometers of the blast.
    The class A starport is gone, of course.  The only one left is the F-class insystem port on the other world.  The Xboat service might have to divert for a while.

    Helia puts them back into stealth and takes them up to orbit.
    At about 13:00, the Sword World fleets arrive.  They seem to be coordinating with the Imperial fleets and engaging fully in the operation.
    Kalida is still suspicious.  She insists on waiting until 16:00, when the Sword Worlds are so intertwined with the Imperials that they are not in a position to start anything.  They're a great deal of help in the evacuation.
    Shark asks how much information Kalida could get from here once the black hole is gone.  He believes he knows what Santanocheev did to them here -- he laid a trap for them.  What he really wants to know is, was that his only White Tech?
    What Kalida would really like to see is what changes this made everywhere else, because it is going to have a huge ripple effect.
    Shark agrees.  He adds that once they jump, or at least the second jump, they'll be out of the hole.
    Kalida's thinking even further than that.  They'll have a real jump at the end of this journey, so there'll be time for a real klatrin trip then too, without a black hole.

    The next thing to do is contact the Duke again.  Helia and Robert hook them back to the same connection as before, and Kalida makes her call.  The aide patches her through immediately.
    Nakege asks Adabicci how the rescue operation is going.
    Adabicci says it's going as well as could be expected.  The Sword Worlds fleets are being a big help, but even so they're going to be busy here for quite some time.
    She asks him if he has an understanding with the Sword World fleets after this situation is cleared up.
    The Duke says they'll be talking about it, but obviously the relationship with them is on a much more trustworthy standing than it was before.  They might go back to a rough stalemate, but he's confident that there won't be any hostilities, just sitting around.
    Nakege says she's about to jump out on their way to Mora.
    Adabicci says that won't be a problem anymore.  The Sword Worlds lifted that restriction.
    She asks if there's any message he wants her to take back to the Archduke.
    "Tell them what happened here," he says.  "Maybe you'll figure out more about it on the way back there.  Just let him know the situation here.  That's about it, really.  There's nothing active they can do to help there, they're too far away."
    Nakege says she'll check back in on them when she can, but it will be well after things are settled at Mora.
    Adabicci says that will be fine.  He's certainly going to be busy enough here in the meantime.
    She says, "We believed that the Sword Worlds originally arrived here in concert with Santanocheev's moves.  Do you know anything more about that?"
    "Yes.  Their statement here was they were protecting concessions that the incoming Archduke will give them.  This world was not to be one of them, but they're just making sure everything is calm here."
    "Can you send us the transcript of that?"
    "Absolutely," says Adabicci.  He taps his console and sends the data over.  The two nobles say their closing formalities, and the Duke closes the call.

    Nightshade's business here is done.  At 18:00 they jump for 0804 / Lunion.