(47) To Be Named

The Crusader Campaign (164-1123)

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164-1123 : Mora / Mora / Spinward Marches

    During jump, Mich has worked on his book.
    Robert has been working on automatic astrogation, but has found that Helia has been stepping outside the model.  The larian now seems to have found something different, and even when Robert pulls Mich in to help they can't get very far at it.  Even what Helia was doing a short while ago made more sense, but recently she's started getting very weird.  Perhaps it might be covered in one of her books that haven't been published yet.
    At least Helia has an opinion on Mich's Jumpspace for Dummies, which she consideres a good introductory text.
    It occurs to Kalida to wonder about asking her what else Mich had written, but she doesn't really want to open the potential paradoxes involved about that.
    Sir Misha launches into an exploration of whether time has already happened and they just experience it in a certain order -- which Helia seems to have a certain fondness for -- or if everything that could possibly happen has happened, and their experience wanders down a path based on their choices.
    The only sure thing is that being in jump with the same crew too often leads to strange conversations.

    Nevertheless, they discussed what to tell the Archduke exactly about what happened at Adabicci: the silver ship, jumping to evade the strange missile, and coming back a few hours later to find the destruction.  They do know that it was the missile that did it.  The Imperial fleet saw the missile hovering, and when they went to investigate, the missile shot off to the capital city on the mainworld.
    The Archduke does already know that they do fast jumps, so including that now shouldn't be important.
    Sir Misha says that the story is that they went to Adabicci, where they detected another alien tech ship.  When they went to investigate, the ship attacked them.  In the ensuing battle it fired on the capital and destroyed it.  When the Archduke asks the inevitable questions, they'll say that they think the city was intentionally targetted as a secondary when it couldn't get Nightshade.  They did, however, destroy the ship but know nothing about it.
    Kalida nods, adding that the ship was different from theirs.
    Sir Misha says that's a distinction he'd rather not make.  Advanced alien technology, and leave it at that.  They are sure that the Sword Worlds and the aliens were not working together.
    Kalida summarizes the reason the Sword Worlds were there.  After all, they have a transcript of their mission.  That was rather vague, but the important part was that it was to protect the concessions that Santanocheev had promised them, which did not include Adabicci itself.  They had, however, dropped everything to aid in the rescue effort, and were at least very helpful if not in fact friendly.
    Sir Misha wants to gloss over the technical aspects of what happened, but can take full responsibility in that their being there precipitated the whole unfortunate situation.
    They also know, says Kalida, that Santanocheev's forces are split and are going to be a couple of days late, perhaps 173-ish.
    Sir Misha points out that they only know that because of Kalida's trances.
    Kalida says quickly that almost everything they've told the Archduke has been from those, every warning they've ever given.  They just haven't told him where they got the information, and he hasn't asked.

    At 06:00 Nightshade comes out of jump in full stealth.  They now have 169 missiles.  Although the Silver Ship was less effective at point defense than Kalida believes she would be with Nightshade, it's still too few to have any degree of confidence.
    The system looks very much the same as when they left.  The fleets are a little more precise in their maneuvers, having had time to practice, but nothing really looks different here.
    Kalida is sure it will be at least nine days before anything happens here.  The news of the Battle of Tussinian, however, would have been released by now.  The public is no doubt proud of the valiant defensive action of Trin's fleets.
    They had promised that they'd be here by 167, so they are a three days ahead of that.  There's no reason not to visit the Archduke today, though, so that's what they plan.

    It'll the usual procedure.  Helia brings Nightshade down into the ocean, and two hours later, at 08:00, they are ready to leave on the gcarrier.  There have been no missiles made since they arrived in the system, as they can't do that and run in stealth, but now they can turn off stealth and start the builder running.
    Robert takes the controls, of course, driving Shark, Kalida, and Sir Misha uneventfully to the palace.

    Security in the city is heightened.  Shark notices more Imperial personnel on the streets, particularly as they get closer to the palace.  It's very subtle, wouldn't be noticed by anyone unless they had a background in looking for that sort of thing.
    At the palace itself, Shark's presence is enough to get them into the palace grounds, where the gcarrier is escorted to the palace itself in what appears to be normal procedure.
    Robert remains in the gcarrier, while the others are escorted into the palace and to the familiar round table room.

    Archduke Norris is alone in the room.
    Nakege notes to herself that to be ready for them in the 15 minutes it took them to get here from the gate either means he dropped everything, or he spends a great deal of time here.
    Norris welcomes them back.
    Sir Misha says that they decided to bring the bad news early.
    "So you say you have news?" says Norris.  "I have some news too.  But I don't want to steal your thunder.  Go ahead."
    Nakege says they have news from Adabicci.  "We got into the system and found that there were four Sword Worlds fleet just sitting in place around the gas giant.  They weren't attacking anything, they were just sitting there."  She paused, then continued, "We scouted around a bit and found a mysterious alien advanced tech ship, which attacked.  We managed to defeat it, but while it was attempting to take us out, it took out the capital city on Adabicci instead."  She glances at Sir Misha for approval, and he gives an imperceptible nod.
    Norris says, "There's a lot in that, and that seems a little abbreviated."
    "There's more to it.  The Sword Worlds fleets were there specifically to protect the concessions Santanocheev had promised them.  They were merely there to make sure nobody left the system.  As soon as great destruction hit Adabicci, they abandoned that mission and are currently assisting Adabicci in evacuating and taking care of things as necessary.  The Duke is fine.  He was on Winchester's flagship at the time of the attack."
    "So Winchester is there as well."
    "So when you said they shot at you and took out the capital city, would you like to expand on that?"
    "There was a lot of evading of missiles going on.  We evaded the missile shot at us -- or whatever it was, we really don't know what it was -- we evaded it and it couldn't hit us, and apparently its secondary target was the capital city."
    "OK, so the capital of Adabicci has been nuked?  Destroyed?"
    "Destroyed.  We have no idea what precisely hit it."
    "When you say destroyed, what level of destruction are you talking about?"
    "Large scale destruction."
    "Complete," says Sir Misha, "You can write it off entirely."
    Nakege says, "Very, very massive."
    Norris says something like, "Whoa."
    "That's what the Sword Worlds fleet said," continues Nakege, "It was massive and unprecedented."
    "Yes, it is.  Both of those.  So the good news is that the Sword Worlds invaded just in time to help with this?"
    "That's one way to look at it, yes.  I don't have any idea what might happen afterwards, but at the moment you can count on these fleets as friendly.  As for the rest of the Sword Worlds, that's something else."
    "We can probably assume that the Sword Worlds are invading somewhere else too, to protect whatever these concessions might be.  You have a full report on the incident and situation, I assume?  Well, that's interesting.  Oh, dear."
    "The attack was very clearly aimed at us, so..."
    "Yes.  That's the next thing I would like you to elaborate."
    "I wish I knew more.  Although it was aimed at us and it seems it took out Adabicci as its second target, its destruction is clearly our fault.  But we know nothing about that ship.  We have no idea what it attacked us with, why it attacked us, who it belonged to, where it came from, we know nothing."
    "Including whether there are any more."
    "No, we definitely don't know that."
    "Aside from that..." says Norris.
    Nakege says, "There's a small amount of good news unrelated to Adabicci.  We believe that Santanocheev's forces are coming in a little weaker than we projected, and we also believe they'll be a couple more  days late, so we don't think they'll be here until 173, 174 or thereabouts."
    "That's funny, because I suspect the stuff coming in from Rhylanor is going to hit here a little weakenend and a little late."
    Nakege is genuinely suprised.  "What happened?" she says.
    "I got a message not too long after you left that the Fulacin Fleet had been, well... somebody attempted to take it over and the Count took it back.  He sent a courier, and his plan is to meet that fleet's rendezvous at Rhylanor, and convince or fight whatever collects there to stop it.  So somebody's been fighting at Rhylanor a good while ago, and we haven't heard anything since.  We got the message on 156, and it was around 130-ish when the fleet was attempted to be taken over.  I believe you know Fulacin?  Former Admiral Rikk Bainoi from Rhylanor?"
    "Yes, we've met him."
    "Well, he happened to be home, and apparently still commands the loyalty of fleets in that subsector."
    "Who tried to take it?"
    "Somebody claiming to be Imperial Navy Intelligence Special Operations."
    "Of course."
    "They produced the authority to take over and do what they wanted with it."
    "How did he capture them?"
    "I believe it involved firearms.  It also involved some questioning.  This fleet was supposed to rendezvous at Rhylanor on 138 and eventually moving on my supposed illegal position.  The actual route from Rhylanor has not been determined.  That was going to come from further orders.  It would appear that a significant number of Rhylanor fleets were planning to come this way.  What happened after Fulacin did his business at Rhylanor we don't know, but we haven't heard anything since."
    "How many fleets does he have with him?"
    "He has one.  There were about two and a half fleets stationed at Rhylanor, one in refit and two fully active.  It is not necessarily good news that we have heard nothing.  We would have been expecting to receive a courier in the next day or two if he was able to send more word.  I guess we'll find out."  Norris laughs, "At least somebody's loyal, without being told to be so."
    "There are a few."
    "I would hope so.  At the very least it has to dely the forces from Rhylanor.  That's one that isn't coming, and two and a half that have been interfered with.  We don't know the knock-on effect from that.  But if they're delayed, and Santanocheev is delayed too, perhaps they'll arrive at the same time after all.  And it does show that at least one fleet in Rhylanor had some loyalty to the nobility, which means that Rhylanor here might be capable of turning them back."  He pauses, then says, "It does worry me what else might be going on.  I don't suppose you have word on any of the other Imperial borders?"
    "I do not," says Nakege.  "Yet."
    "So we're assuming that on 171 something is coming -- that's the date you gave us -- and will stay ready from then on.  Would you care to explain the trick with the laser fire?  Santanocheev's fleets at Tussinian were firing their lasers at nothing all the time.  Do you know what that is?  Well, of course you do.  What is that?  And do we need to do it?"
    "I don't believe you need to do that."
    "OK, that's half the answer.  Since they know why they're doing it, it would be kind of nice if I knew too.  Why do they think they're doing it?"
    "Protection against attack?"  Nakege sounds like she's desperately trying to come up with something on the fly.  "An unexpected attack."
    Sir Misha says to her, "Go ahead and explain."
    "Really?" Nakege says quietly to her captain.
    Sir Misha nods.
    To Norris, Nakege says firmly, "It's the only way they can find us."
    "How does that work?"
    "Technically I have no idea," smiles Nakege.
    Sir Misha says, "I'm afraid we can't explain."  It's clear from his tone that he really means "can't" and not "won't."
    "So you don't think that we will need to face anything like that?  Like you?"
    Sir Misha says, "We don't believe that Santanocheev has sufficiently mastered this technology."
    "That's true," says Nakege, "But there is the matter of that mysterious ship at Adabicci.  We don't know if there are any others."
    Sir Misha adds, "But we don't believe that mysterious ship was related to Santanocheev."
    Nakege suggests that they should be prepared for the worst case.
    Norris says, "Does that mean we should be firing our lasers?"
    Sir Misha says, "It would be good if the crews were practiced in the art of using lasers as a sensing device, but it might not be worth it to put it into action unless there is some reason to believe that there were ships that are cloaked in this way.  Having some practice in it would be of benefit if it becomes necessary.  Santanocheev's ships took a while to practice it."
    Nakege agrees, "It would be better to practice it before the battle rather than during."
    Norris says, "So, this ship you destroyed, was it easy?"
    "It was not," chorus Nakege and Sir Misha.
    "So where would you place this tech relative to Imperial and then yours?"
    Sir Misha says, "We don't know.  It's different.  My own personal guess is that it's... higher.  But it's at least as high as us."
    "How did you win?"
    "Their attack was not particularly inventive.  While their technology was extreme, their method of attack seemed to be motivated either by overconfidence or bigger risk."
    Nakege says with a smile, "I think it's safe to say we had a better crew."
    "So no clues about it?"
    "No," says Nakege, "We hadn't seen it before, and we didn't see it for a terribly long time."
    Sir Misha adds with a laugh, "We didn't have the luxury of playing with it to see how it worked."
    Nakege nods.  "It was a very close call," she says seriously.
    Norris says, "Should such a thing turn up here, you would of course consider it your priority target."  It is clearly not a question.  He adds, "Preferably without losing a city this time."
    Nakege says, "If there is a way to prevent it, yes."
    Norris sighs, "I suppose really all we can do here is wait."
    Nakege has a question.  She says, "Have you shown your Admirals that?"
    "Yes, everyone has been briefed to an appropriate level on the Battle of Tussinian.  It will go down in history.  It's actually one of the largest fleet actions we've ever seen in the Imperium to date.  As for Adabicci, it's too far away for us to offer any help at this point.  Much as I wish that was not true, but the damage has been done and they seem to have the resources to get people off, at least."
    Nakege says, "Before we left, Adabicci said that the rescue operation was going as well as could be expected.  The Sword World fleets are helping them out a great deal, makes a very big difference."
    "Good.  I think we'll wait for official word to come this way before we send extra resources.  We'll just let this come through official channels."
    Nakege nods, "There's nothing we can do, it doesn't change anything."
    "It does knock a hole in the Xboat route, but the Sword Worlds invading knocks a hole in it anyway.  Our possessions in the far side of that being in open rebellion makes it difficult too.  We'll have to clean this up later.  Have to shake things up a little there, and do a heck of a lot of rebuilding."  He adds with a wry smile, "There'll be a few corporations that are going to make a fortune out of this."
    No-one answers that.  After a while, Norris asks, "Are you going to be part of our fleets, and if we're firing our lasers how do we distinguish friend from foe?"
    "We're not going to attack you?" says Nakege hopefully.  "I'm not certain exactly what our role will be here yet.  In general we prefer that we're not a part of any official fleet.  We work better on our own.  But this is a somewhat different situation from Tussinian."
    "It certainly is.  Well, we have some time.  At least a week, probably a little more.  In the next few days, perhaps we'll get some word from Fulacin about whatever happened at Rhylanor.  There's really not much else going on."
    "There are all kinds of things that would be nice to do, but I don't think we have time."
    "Not that we can do in a week.  And just to be clear, there is no question that you'll have to be here for this one.  All we really know right now is we know less than we thought we did.  We no longer know when the Rhylanor fleets are getting here."
    "As always, things get fuzzier as they get closer."
    "well, I guess you're on your own at this point.  I expect to see the effects of you in the battle, and if you come up with anything else, I am sure you will let me know."
    Sir Misha says, "We'll be in touch to clarify our role in the upcoming battle."
    "As much as we can," adds Nakege quickly, "We don't really know exactly what we're going to be facing."

    The audience is over.  The crew return to Nightshade.  It's an uneventful trip.

    Back on board, Sir Misha immediately calls a meeting to discuss their role.  He starts out by saying that he wants them to perform the same kind of role as they've previously done.  He wants to make sure that the Archduke's forces have a clear idea of who they are, so they don't confuse them with an enemy ship.  Would it be enough to have a transponder running?
    Kalida says that they won't be running a transponder in battle, because it acts as a homing beacon for enemy targetting systems.  It will be a matter of identifying Nightshade from various sensor cues.  If there's only one of them out there it won't be ambiguous.
    Sir Misha says the worst situation is if they're in stealth, they can't make any sensor readings.  If they start doing the laser thing, they can either stay out of it, or tell them they're coming through.
    Kalida points out that they won't be in stealth while fighting, as they can't run the shields, just to move secretly from one place to another.
    Sir Misha laughs that he has the real answer.  They'll be among the enemy fleet anyway, so if they sense a black ship, it isn't them.  They still want to be sure that the loyallist commanders know their profile.
    Kalida says that they'll need to be out of stealth for a while before the battle, or they can't make enough missiles.  They'll need every hour they can get to restock.
    Mich asks what they're planning to do in the near future.  Will they just stay around here?
    Kalida says they will.  They don't have time to go anywhere out of this system, as they'd have to short jump and be vulnerable when they came out.
    Mich suggests they go out beyond 100d, out where there's virtually no gravity to interfere, where there's hard vacuum, and take a couple of days to hook up the big power cube to the missile generator.  If they do that, then they can make missiles while in stealth and while shielded, because that's a whole separate power supply.  Now it will take several days -- two or three -- to do that work, and missile building will be offline at that time.  It won't change the rate at which they make missiles, but it will allow them to do it all the time.
    Kalida says that the two or three days would be 48-72 missiles they would not be able to make before the battle.
    Sir Misha agrees with her implicit point, that it would be better to have the missiles now that they know a major fight is coming up.  Mich can do the work after the battle.
    Kalida is concerned that if they go up against another black tech or white tech ship, they may not have enough missiles to do the job.  About 60% got through the white tech defenses, more than Nightshade would have shot down with her point defenses, but they also don't know how many are necessary.  And if they save all their missiles in case they are facing one of those, they won't have any to use in the battle against conventional ships.  They were useful in the Battle of Tussinian, but they can just use the expander anyway.
    As they discuss, they could have taken down the big missile if they had the expander available -- it was shielded only lightly, effective against point defense -- but then Nightshade obviously wasn't designed to handle more than one major target at a time.  She can sneak up and take out one target, but when faced with two they have to make a choice of which to destroy.
    Sir Misha observes that the silver ship never tried to make an expander shot at them or fire a swarm of missiles.
    Mich nods, saying that it fired a weird unguided green energy blast, and a large missile that chased them.
    Sir Misha says that if they go up against another one like that, he thinks a better strategy might be to try to expand the missile rather than the ship.
    As Kalida points out, that only works if the ship only had one missile.  If it had more than one, they wouldn't have an expander shot for the second, and they can't outrun it.  One shot every ten minutes doesn't give them enough time.  Helia could only evade that one for a limited time.  She couldn't do it with two on the way at once.
    Mich agrees.  It accelerated so hard that it could reach enormous velocities, and they didn't see it stop accelerating.
    Kalida says that there is a way to avoid it somewhat, but doing a jump-0 quickly, but they have to hope it does something else when they come back.
    As Sir Misha points out, if they do that someone will die.  It will hit something.
    Kalida agrees.  The Archduke would rather it didn't go for the mainworld.
    Sir Misha suggests firing the expander against the ship, and firing the missiles against its missile.
    Kalida shakes her head.  She can't fire the expander against the ship until the missiles have taken down its shields.  She reminds them that she'll be starting out with a lot less missiles this time, and only 60% get through.  They know a top limit on how many are needed, but they don't know how few need to land.  Based on what they do know, however, she expects their shields to be pretty strong.
    Sir Misha asks what everyone thinks about coming out of the water, out of stealth, just to make themselves visible so the Imperial forces here can get used to seeing them.  Since they're under water, coming up out of the sea is at lot less flashly than other ways of appearing in the system.
    There's unanimous agreement that this is an excellent idea.

    Sir Misha sends the crew to the bridge to execute this right away, everyone at battle stations in case this ship sparks off some unexpected situation.  They have been fired on here before, after all.
    Helia turns on the transponder and flies up towards a parking orbit with stealth off.
    Traffic control hails them, and informs them that as a non-Imperial yacht they are to proceed to a specific location where they will be boarded and inspected.
    Of course they have papers from the Archduke specifically exempting them from that, and they has the desired effect.  Nightshade replies that they will proceed to that orbit, but will not be boarded or inspected.  They are instead simply assigned a parking orbit.
    In addition, Robert connects Sir Misha to the Archduke's office, where the captain leaves a message informing him of their presence.

    Now that they're in the open, Vonish is eager to restock the ship's supplies.  The ship's launch would be rather ostentatious and only carries 6 tons of cargo anyway, so he would much rather the ship itself landed to be able to take on more at once.
    Under the current alert circumstances, it takes some effort to navigate the bureaucracy to obtain permission to land.  Kalida and Vonish work their way through the red tape and get a landing assignment at the starport.
    Helia takes them down.

    Sir Misha has been working out their operating procedures.  He says he wants at least one person in sparkly pink on the bridge at all times while they're out of stealth.  Even if it's not a qualified pilot, they can still direct the ship to respond.  He wants to be sure that there's someone in sparkly pink so they can help out if something dangerous comes up.

    With Nightshade on the ground, Vonish goes about his business ordering supplies.  Now they're in the Imperium they can't forge the currency, but they do have conventional resources.  They don't bother faking air and fuel because they could have obtained that from the atmosphere and the ocean.

    For once, aside from the one person assigned to sparkly pink duty, the crew can relax in the safety assured by the starport of the capital of the Domain of Deneb.