(48) To Be Named

The Crusader Campaign (165-1123)

This file has yet to be fully edited...

This file has yet to be fully linked...

165-1123 : Mora / Mora / Spinward Marches

    Nightshade now has 185 missiles in stock, and is parked at Mora Downport.  The Archduke has been informed of Nightshade's public presence in the system.
    Vonish's supplies arrive in the afternoon.  The loading takes several hours, but is done by 16:30.  He would like a few visits to some backward worlds to fill out with more interesting ingredients, but is very pleased to be able to stock up with Imperial food at the capital of the Domain.
    The missile stock in a week is likely to be about 450.  Kalida is concerned that will be too low -- while it isn't enough to fight a black ship, however, they don't know how many the silver ship takes to wipe the shields.
    The ship's Paranoid Officer, Shark, is concerned that Santanocheev might have some sort of FTL communications system and is resynchronizing their fleets to arrive at Mora at the same time.  The Archduke did say that he expected the Rhylanor fleets ot be delayed by more mundane methods, but Shark's job is to be paranoid, after all.
    Shark also suggests trying to expose any White Tech here by repeating what they did at Adabicci, being better to pull it out and deal with it separate from the incoming rebel fleets.  Kalida is very concerned that less than 200 missiles will not be enough to deal with it this time.
    They all agree that Kalida should do it tomorrow morning so they can get all the supplies settled.  Also, Kalida has in mind some social activity tonight, and she really doesn't want a splitting headache for that.  They are all agreed that they must flush out any silver ship before the rebel fleets arrive.
    Shark also wonders if they should have Robert hack into the networks again to see if they can trigger an attack on them by INISO.  They did try that before, of course, and found that it was now watched by regular intelligence.

    That reminds Shark of something, and he starts a search of all the want ads, to see if there's anything that show unusual activity in his community.  A morning's research reveals that the community is on a very high state of alert.  There are codewords he doesn't recognize, of course, but they are monitoring everything they know about.  Everything is under surveillance, and everyone is ready to move into action.  By the time he is done, he is pretty sure that there is no INISO activity -- it's all groups who believe they are working for the Emperor.
    The foreign agents don't seem to be doing more than watching what is going on, laying low for the duration and staying out of trouble.  They're just waiting, actively avoiding any interference with this internal Imperial matter.  Not all the other agents are sure it is internal, but they are acting as if it is.  There is evidence that the Zhodani might be a little better informed than the others -- they appear to be actively on Norris's side rather than being neutral like the others.
    The Sword Worlds aren't doing anything.  They don't seem to have heard about the invasion on the spinward border of the Imperium.

    Kalida wasn't expecting any interesting parties, but that couldn't be further from the truth.  Social life goes on with renewed vigor, defying the situation and insisting on continuing their way of life in the face of hardship.  Sir Misha and Baron Bridgehead jump at the chance to get back into the Imperial social scene, and are eager to accompany her.
    The Marchioness is concerned that she might be out of date, since it was a long time ago and a long way away that she was last up with the latest fashions.  She goes on a shopping expedition to the best places, putting the costs all on her account.  She plans to make a splash on the red carpet, money no object, and the outfit she selects will certainly do that.
    There is no question that she will be in the tabloid pictures that night.  She wanted a spectacular look that would bring people talking to her, without having to seek anyone out, and this will do the job.  Whether anyone would be looking at her face while talking to her is another matter entirely...
    The Baron too has been shopping, but staying with a fairly conservative outfit in the latest fashion.
    Sir Misha, however, already has what he plans to wear.  A cape over his zack, sword prominently displayed, is all he needs.

    The social event of the evening is a party being held by Duchess Delphine of Mora.  This will undoubtedly be the place to be seen for anyone who is anyone.  The occasion is the arrival of the Countess Judi Tarassi of Maitz on the capital -- she arrived yesterday -- and the Count of Nexine and his family will also be in attendence.  That's a good foundation of landed nobility, and Kalida as the Marchioness of Nakege will bring it even further.
    At the Ducal Palace, the arrival is all about the Marchioness of Nakege.  The press is even more numerous than usual, and Kalida makes an even larger splash than she'd intended.  Sir Misha's entrance is notable too, so unusual is his look and presence.  Baron Bridgehead walks pompously in behind them, completely ignored by the reporters and indeed everyone else.
    The palace isn't as large as the Archduke's residence, of course, but it is older and more traditional.  That alone lends a certain weight to the proceedings.

    Almost immediately she makes her entrance, Nakege attracts the attention of the Countess Alania of Nexine, who comes over dragging her youngest daughter.  Helga, Lady Nexine, is in her early teens, around13-15.
    Countess Alania has heard that Nakege was active in the Rhylanor scene recently, and wants to hear all about it.  The fashion, the nobility, the customs, the gossip -- she laps up whatever Nakege can tell her.  Kalida does her best to oblige.

    Baron Bridgehead seems to be in the process of drinking the palace dry, or at least making a good start on it.  He hasn't hit on anyone yet, but is obviously scanning the room to pick out his target.

    Sir Misha's is outwardly playing the Mysterious Hero, but most interesting in picking out anyone in the military.  There are several Imperial Navy officers here in uniform, a Commodore, a Captain, and a couple of junior officers.  Without being too rushed or seeming too serious, he makes he way over to one of them.  On the way he scans the room to see if there's anyone here he's worked for before, but he can't indentify anyone.
    Commodore Sir Walter Highdridge is the senior officer here.  He is clearly treating Sir Misha as a social superior, obviously considering him higher status than himself.
    Sir Misha starts off with inocuous social chatter, pointing out the dress of some young lady other than Kalida.
    Sir Walter is friendly and happy to talk about whatever Sir Misha wants.
    Sir Misha quickly picks up that Sir Walter is in the Hexos fleet, and somewhat in awe at being posted to Mora.  He's not talking about his mission here, but he seems a bit tighter wound than he would be normally and is just starting to relax.  He looks like he feels out of place at this social level and in this kind of military operation.  He has also clearly heard of Sir Misha.
    Sir Misha directs the conversation skillfully.
    Sir Walter is in the Hexos Fleet, commanding the heavy cruiser Fouthari.  He says that it's an unusual posting to be outside the Hexos area, and such a great opportunity to be on maneuvers with all these Imperial Navy fleets.  He asks a little about Sir Misha himself.  He tried to be subtle but failed, asking why Sir Misha is dressed funny and where he's from.  Who the hell is he?  He's seen his name, but...
    Sir Misha tells him that he's from a little world so far off the beaten path that it hasn't got a name.  This is how they dress there.
    Sir Walter accepts that, and apparently believes him.  That's not unreasonable -- it's not that far off the truth.

    It doesn't take long for Nakege to want to break free from the Countess of Nexine, but by then Lady Nexine has managed to get a word in and divert the conversation.  The teenager wants to know all about Nakege's Marine career, what it's like to drop from orbit, to be in battle, all the war stories.  Nakege obliges her too, even though the Countess is clearly uncomfortable with it.  She looks like she'd like to interrupt her daughter, but since that would interrupt the Marchioness too she doesn't.  She starts casting around the room trying to catch her husband's eye.
    An audience starts to gather around the Marchioness, even attracting one of the junior naval officers.  This is not really what she wanted to do -- she wanted to listen rather than talk -- but she goes along with it for the time.

    Sir Misha has disengaged from Sir Walter, and is circulating around the room.  He doesn't want to be seen to go directly from one naval officer to another.  He slips into the periphery of the Marchioness's group, and helps her shift the conversation away from the war stories.
    The Countess quickly and politely drags Lady Nexine from the group and towards the Count, and the audience breaks up and the crowd circulates again.

    Baron Bridgehead looks like he's having a great time.  He seems to be fascinating two attractive young women in their twenties.

    The Marchioness can now do what she wanted, circulate and gather the mood of the crowd without directly mentioning the current crisis.
    The mood is generally optimistic.  They've heard all about the Battle of Tussinian, and with all the fleets gathering here it's obvious what is going on.  They are absolutely confident that their own fleets will soon see off the remnants from the Battle of Tussinian, if they get here at all.
    Everyone who isn't in the Imperial Navy is overconfident.  Sir Walter and the other officers are decidedly not overconfident.  They're putting on a good face for the crowd, but there's clearly an undercurrent that they are concerned with what's going on and what they are likely to face soon.
    The rumor, as the Marchioness gathers, is that the Nexine family and the Countess of Maitz are here for safety, that they were summoned here by the Archduke, and it's possible other nobles will be on the way.  None of them would admit it, of course, professing a social visit, but that's the rumor.  The Nexine family even travelled here with the Imperial fleet rather than on their own yacht.
    There seems to be an evacuation of important nobles from the outskirts of Mora subsector.  While everyone is confident that the rebels will be easily dispatched here, there is an underlying current of resentment of the Archduke for handing over the rest of the subsector to them, pulling all the fleets back with the nobility rather than defend it system by system.
    There is also a rumor that the Count of Carey is dating an actress, and the reason he isn't here yet is he's trying to arrange her to evacuate with him.  The feeling that there is definitely something scandalous about it, that the unnamed actress is married.  The Count is surely neglecting his duties.
    The Marchioness finds that most of the talk is focussed on the subsector.  No-one seems to care too much about the subsectors the rebels came from.  There is some talk about Lunion and Lanth, but not a lot.  Those are clearly not involved in any of this rebellion rubbish, so it doesn't matter.  There is some support for the Archduke putting the whole Five Sisters - District 268 - Glisten area under martial law and settle the whole thing down.

    Both the Marchioness and Sir Misha notice that there are a lot of minor honorific nobility here who are keen to make a strong social impression, with their eye on important landed titles that will come up for grabs when the rebel nobility are removed.  Of course, most of those looking for the opportunities are the ones that the two of them would definitely not promote -- they're looking for all the wrong reasons.
    Now there are some nobles here who would make good Counts, but they are not the ones trying to push themselves forward.  Rumor also has it that the Count of Nexine might be in line for a Dukedom if it comes up.
    There is also a feeling that the lack of nobility in the naval administration of Five Sisters might be a root cause of this whole affair, letting the navy get uppity with an overblown view of their position in the Imperium.  Assigning landed titles to appropriate existing honorific nobles, like those here trying so hard to make sure their name will be on the Duchess's and Archduke's mind, would surely prevent such a thing ever happening again.
    Putting the Imperial Navy in charge of a subsector was clearly a mistake, especially in these days of peace with the Zhodani Consulate.  After all, the Sword Worlds wouldn't dare do anything, and the savages outside the Imperial border couldn't mount a threat, so the whole arrangement is obsolete.
    Among the more responsible nobility there is a feeling that there will be openings, yes, but they are confident that the Archduke will pick the right people.  Social maneuvering would surely backfire.

    Now over there might be more scandal in the making, because Baron Bridgehead seems to be in the process of leaving with two women whose ages don't add up to his.

    The Imperial Navy Captain approaches Sir Misha and introduces himself.  He is Captain Elias Garothion, Lord Brody, and is a staff officer on Strephon's Hand.  He seems much more confident here, not such a stranger to noble society.  He asks Sir Misha how he feels about the upcoming situation, since he has the bearing of a military man himself.  He is sure Sir Misha would love to have a go at these rebels.
    Sir Misha says that he has some experience in combat.  As to Lord Brody's question, he says something non-commital but complimentary and turns the question back at him.
    Lord Brody says he believes that they're setting up for events here that will be written in the history books.  The Battle of Tussinian was a start, and the upcoming defense of the capital of the Domain of Deneb will be the biggest thing since fleets moved on Capital in the old days.  He is somewhat concerned that both the Tigress Class ships (he doesn't use the slang Happy Fun Ball) at the Battle of Tussinian were lost so easily.  He is worried that the ship has not been tested enough in battle for its role in the fleet.
    Nevertheless, he is sure this will be a very different battle.  The fleets will have to engage in clear space, as they can't afford anything falling down on Mora.  That means they will be directly outnumbered.
    Lord Brody catches himself and quickly tries to cover up what he just said with an air of false confidence.  But as a staff officer on what will be the flagship of the fleets here, it's clear to Sir Misha that the high command here has a solid idea of what they're facing, and are preparing for it with the expectation of substantial losses.  They expect that this will be a major fight, and they hope that the defensive advantage will be enough to crack the rebels.  The way he talks, he's clearly seen Kalida's middle version of the battle himself.
    He does imply that he feels very strongly that there should be no attempt at a diplomatic solution, that they should just get into battle immediately.  He wants to attack the rebels as they come in, to press the advantage of jump spread before they can consolidate the attacking force.
    The Marchioness has been overhearing this conversation, and delicately slips in.  She assures Lord Brody that she believes that there is no question of a diplomatic solution being possible.
    Lord Brody agrees.  There never is a diplomatic solution to rebellion, it can only be settled by force.  He wants a fleet battle, and he wants it to start the instant they see the first jump flash as the rebels pop in.  He is concerned that there will be a delay, which will allow more of a numerical advantage for the attackers.
    Subtley and carefully, the Marchioness tries to find out if he knows more of the plans and what they might be.  She finds he doesn't know what politics might be behind it, just that he is afraid there will be political elements that get in the way of the military doing the job it has to do.
    Lord Brody doesn't say anything about the Rhylanor fleets, but she thinks he knows that they're coming and that the schedule is up in the air.  That seems to be the basis for him wanting to attack anything that comes in, to stop it building into a bigger force.  It's pretty clear he doesn't know the Duke of Rhylanor is here.  It is also clear that he's been in on strategy meetings and knows what's going on, although obviously he doesn't say a word of it.
    He also seems to be resigned to the military being held back initially, that the politicians won't want to have Imperial ships engaging Imperial ships until the politicians have been seen to have tried to avoid it.  The staff, however, has clearly considered all possible scenarios.
    Lord Brody is very confident of one thing, and that's the fleets here are all completely loyal to Norris, and anyone trying to change that will be summarily dispatched by a shot to the head before they can do anything.  There will be no takeover of these fleets.  Not that he's said it, of course, but they've clearly been briefed on how INISO took over the rebel fleets.

    That's pumped the two top naval officers as much as they can, but breaking out of this conversation is easier said than done.  Fortunately, the Marchioness and Sir Misha are about to be rescued.
    A lady in her mid-late thirties comes over and shoots a look at Lord Brody.  The navy Captain sees it, politely makes his excuses, and leaves them.  They both recognize the Countess of Maitz, having looked up who was going to be attending.
    She introduces herself simply as Judi.  She welcomes them to Mora, and says she's heard a lot about both of them.
    The Marchioness of course wants to find out subtley what she has heard.
    Judi says she heard they made a big splash on the Rhylanor social scene, and the next thing everyone knows he's Sir Misha here on Mora.  He must be doing something interesting.
    "That's what barbarians are for," says Sir Misha.
    "I gather your yacht is quite interesting too," Judi says.
    "No point in having the same kind of yacht as everyone else," says the Marchioness.
    "Registered outside the Imperium, that's an interesting one.  Why that choice?"
    "We thought it went along with the barbarian theme," smiles Sir Misha.
    The Marchioness simply says, "I picked it up in my wandering."
    "So where is that, exactly?" asks Judi.
    "So far away that it doesn't have a name," says Sir Misha.
    Judi laughs.  "I'm sure it has a name in the transponder.  So far away it's not important to anyone here."  She continues, "So what are your plans during this crisis here?"
    "I'm just here for the social scene," says the Marchioness.
    "Yes, me too.  Yep.  That's right," says Judi.  "I think it's safe to say the Archduke didn't summon you from Nakege, or if he did it wasn't to evacuate you."
    The Marchioness laughs off the comment politely.
    "So rumor has it that your yacht is a little more of a gunship than a yacht?"
    That gets Sir Misha's and the Marchioness's attention.
    The Marchioness says, "Where would you hear something like that?"
    "In what sense?" says Sir Misha.  "One must defend oneself."
    "One must," nods Judi.  "So, are you planning to be on board during all this, or are you going to be huddled down in a bunker with Nexine over there?"
    The Marchioness says that it's hard to tell from day to day where she might be.
    "Could you take a passenger?  If you'll excuse the frankness."  Judi looks from one to the other.
    The Marchioness thinks for a moment.  The answer is clearly "No," but she's looking for a better way to say it.  She does so, politely declining Judi's request.
    Sir Misha asks her why she wanted to be on board.
    Judi said that it would be much more interesting than being down hear.  "You two have kind of a reputation," she adds, "The noble and the captain.  Well, maybe reputation is a bit too strong a word.  I heard from a few sources that, well -- a source in particular -- that things happen around you."
    "We live in interesting times," says the Marchioness carefully.
    "We certainly do.  Most people do, actually.  There's always something interesting going on."
    The Marchioness is desperate to find out what she knows and how she found it out, but without being at all obvious about it.  Her careful response reveals that Judi must know someone who knows them, and who knows what they've been involved in.  Judi isn't naming her source, but she must have one.  She's also keeping an eye out, and making sure that no-one is overhearing anything important, but she is being very informal.
    The Marchioness doesn't know much about Judi.  She's Countess Judi Tarassi of Maitz.  She inherited the title around age 20.  She's unmarried, 37, and has kept quiet and a low profile out of the gossip columns.  The various noble activities that come under her jurisdiction have been dealt with well.  In as much as she has any reputation as an Imperial Noble it's a good one.
    Finally, the Marchioness says, "I think flying around in a yacht in the middle of this battle that is certain to happen would be extremely hazardous."
    "I guess you like your hazards, then," says Judi.  "I imagine you'll be at least watching from orbit, which to me sounds much more interesting and at least as safe as sitting around at a ground target.  When things are falling into a gravity well, I'd much rather not be at the bottom on it."  She looks at Sir Misha again.
    Sir Misha says politely but firmly, "I'm afraid that will be quite impossible."
    "I understand," says Judi.  "I was worth a try.  Should you change your mind, please let me know.  I would like to be able to observe it from somewhere more interesting."
    The Marchioness again carefully enquires her source.
    "I gather we have a mutual acquaintance.  Someone who gets around.  He seems to think that you kind of do the same thing he does, but with less subtlety and a bit more shooting."
    Sir Misha thinks he knows who she's talking about, although he won't say the name: Sir Arken Hauther.  This Countess of Maitz had suddenly become very interesting.
    The Marchioness wonders when she last talked with him, but her subtle inquiries don't get much more of an answer than, "A little while back, happened to run into him.  He just dropped by a while back."  Judi's answers are deliberately vague, but it was obviously on Maitz.
    Sir Misha says, "If you don't mind me asking, in what sense did our name come up?"
    Judi ponders for a moment, then says, "I think that would be far too boring to go into here."
    "Perhaps we could find another time and place?"
    "I think that's an excellent idea!"
    Sir Misha suggests two days from now, at the Countess's apartments.
    She accepts, and suggests starting with cocktails at 4 pm.

    As they walk away, Kalida whispers to Sir Misha, "Well, that was interesting."
    "That's why we're here, right?" says Sir Misha.

    The party continues, the nobles circulate and talk about all the vital matters of the day, such as whether socks should match the shoes or the trousers.
    The course of the Marchioness's evening has been determined.  Helga, Lady Nexine, has found her and wants to hear more.  Also she's brounght her father, Count Nexine, who wants to hear all the stories she told Lady Nexine earlier.  The Marchioness quickly looks around for Sir Misha to rescue here, but to no avail.  Sir Misha has been collared by the Duchess of Mora.
    Sir Misha and the Duchess just engage in small talk for a while.  The barbarian makes a good impression, it seems.  As the conversation continues, he gets jealous looks from some of the more ambitious nobles around, no doubt wondering if he's in line for landed nobility.  All it would take would be a word to the Archduke from the Duchess, of course, and he could find himself Count of somewhere in Five Sisters, for example.  There will be quite a few people looking up his name in Who's Who in the next day or two, if the local gossip tabloids don't get it out first.

    Eventually the party winds down, and it's time to return to the Marchioness's yacht.  Baron Bridgehead is nowhere to be found, and does not return to the ship that night, but no-one is too surprised.