(49) To Be Named
The Crusader Campaign (166-1123)
This file has yet to be fully
This file has yet to be fully
now has 209 missiles. It isn't as many as Kalida wants, but it's
a good start, more than a quarter of the ship's normal complement.
Today is the day to try to flush out any White
Tech ships in this system. Sir Misha orders everyone to be ready
Bridgehead has not returned after the party the night before, and his
commdot is turned off. There's no telling when he might turn up,
and they can't locate him with it turned off. Sir Misha gives
orders to inform him when it turns on, and Robert makes a mental note
to modify commdots to be able to turn them on remotely.
Sir Misha orders the ship into orbit. Helia
obtains flight path clearance and takes them up into orbit. It
feels very exposed to be visible and running a transponder.
In Bridgehead's absence, Shark fills in as Medical
Officer to monitor
Kalida. He's in battledress just in case things go crazy.
Kalida goes wandering off into her head.
The first thing she does is to find out if there's
else there. To her relief there isn't, and there isn't a black
either. There seems to be no immediate threat, and nothing like
she sensed at Adabicci.
First she checks the Rhylanor fleets. They're
fuzzy. Definitely fuzzy. Fuzzier even than last time she
Then she homes in on Rhylanor itself.
nothing of interest there. Stable, calm, no fleets at all.
It's a definite, non-fuzzy absence of fleets.
As a followup to that, she checks for the Count of
Fulacin. She can't find him, not around there anyway.
Then she checks the other fleets, Santanocheevs
forces that came through Tussinian. They're
close, and they have just -- today or yesterday -- arrived in a fuzzy
band that's a single jump away from Mora. It would have
to be a week plus turnaround time before they could get here.
weakened some more, but they do feel more organized. There are
still three Santanocheevs, spread across the band.
The Countess of Maitz is her next target, but both
she and Sir
Arken can't be picked out of the noise. There's so many threads
pulling and being pulled in the vicinity of Mora that trying to
identify an individual is pretty much impossible.
Finally she swings back to Adabicci.
The black hole is
definitely nearby there, but Adabicci itself seems to be
stable, and the same with the Duke. The hole is pretty much where
it was when she first encountered it, not sucking anything in.
She gives it a wide berth and avoids its influence completely.
She comes out normally without the slightest sign of
Shark is there, looking somewhat daft in battledress
surrounded by crumpled paper. It's been 45 minutes, and there's
been nothing on the football sensors.
It's now 10:30. There has still been no sign
of Bridgehead's commdot. Kalida joins the rest of the crew in the
lounge and tells them everything she experienced. There seems to
be nothing White Techy around here, or at least they aren't showing
There seems no reason to stay in orbit any longer
when they have social matters to deal with on the planet itself.
The ship obtains permission to land, and Helia takes
them back down.
It's now noon, and Bridgehead has still not turned
on his commdot. The crew relaxes over lunch, with nothing
specific to do before the evening.
Shark asks Mich if the Baron has ever gone off on a
multi-day jaunt without checking in. Mich isn't worried yet, as
it was only last night he left the party with two women.
Kalida checks the tabloids for anything about the
crew from the night before. She finds plenty. Kalida
herself and particularly Sir Misha are all over the papers.
One distinct rumor about Sir Misha is that he's in
line to be Count of Wonstar. All that time he spent talking with
the Duchess would surely not go unrewarded. The rumor is he was
summoned here by the Archduke to be Count of Wonstar. After all,
his barbarian background would be well suited to handling all the
uncivilized people in Five Sisters and bring them into mainstream
Imperial society from under the thumb of the Naval Administration that
has run the subsector until now. He can pave the way for all the
good designer stores to move in to Five Sisters, with his standing
among the well dressed and well positioned.
The party was definitely a significant event, that's
There are more rumors about the Count of Carey, and
all the juicy details -- or rather, unfounded juicy speculation
-- have now made their way into the tabloids. Apparently he will
be ordered to come to the capital, and he'd better respond and not
bring his actress with him.
The Count of Nexine gets a small mention in passing,
but seems to be highly regarded and possibly in line for some kind of
promotion when the crisis is over.
As for the Countess of Maitz, she's being linked
romantically with Sir Misha.
There is a paparazzi shot of Baron Bridgehead
leaving with the two ladies, with a caption saying business as usual
for the retired Grand Admiral.
Kalida can say with confidence that they made a
splash in society here.
Tonight, however, the social calendar is pretty
empty. They'll have to make their own entertainment. If
there aren't any specific social events, there's still interesting
places to go.
It's a little before 15:00 when Bridgehead finally
He says he is just checking in to see if anything was going on, and on
being assured that nothing is, he says he'll call by the ship tomorrow.
They are of course members of an extremely exclusive
club here on Mora, the Eagle's Nest. Robert hacked them a
membership last time they were here, and that sounds like the perfect
activity for the evening.
Sir Misha wonders if they should try to contact Sir
Arken Hauther. The first time they ran into him was at Eagle's
Nest, after all.
Shark says that they have arranged a code, and he
can put a notice in the paper to make sure he'll be there. Or, as
he says, at least his second might show up.
Last time they were here they actually took Nightshade's
launch, and this gives them a good excuse to exercise the unusual
craft. That means Helia will pilot it, and so Vonish will
remain behind as backup Pilot. Kalida, along with Sir Misha,
Shark, and Mich will go to
the Eagle's Nest tonight. Sir Misha will be equpped with sword
and dragon. In response, Shark says he will leave his flying pig
In contrast to the outrageous fashion statement that
Sir Misha will be making, Kalida is dressed by the latest designers
here on Mora. Shark and Mich stick with the reliable
military uniform, with appropriate ribbons. That is never
wrong. Of course Shark can't explain what some of the ribbons are
Robert is not in the slightest bit interested in the
social posturing of a bunch of monkeys. He will stay behind in
the more civilized environment here. At least the ship speaks a
real language. Perhaps he'll even have some fish oil.
Jack says she'll stay on board too. She has
some research she wants to do, tapping into the University library.
It's about a three hour flight to the Eagle's
Nest. Helia does have to hold back to Imperial normal performance
levels, but it is nice to give the launch a good run even at limited
On approach they are challenged, of course, and have
to provide the names of the members. That would be just Kalida,
since Baron Bridgehead and Marquis Korwin Vanderfield were the other
names hacked in by Robert. It's a lot of people to accompany one
member, but Kalida has the manner and status to carry it off.
They are allowed in, although being slightly sneered
at as they would expect. The nerve, turning up to their own
club! It's almost as if they think they had a right to be here.
A guide at Kalida's elbow discretely escorts her and
her retinue to the Members Room.
Sir Misha is amused at the concept of a Members Room
in a private club. Who goes to the other rooms? It is
quietly explained to him that it is called that because it is open to
The Members Room is dark with heavy wood
panelling. It's divided up with screens, so there isn't really a
sense of how many people are here.
Kalida is offered her usual table. It's
discreet, but has a fairly good view of who might be coming or
going. It's about 6 pm by now.
No-one has given any obvious attention to Sir
Misha's dragon, even as drinks are served. The fact that Mich is
drinking beer is probably more shocking.
Shark has been looking around to assess
security. It's there, but extremely subtle and very well done.
As Kalida sips her bourbon, she observes that the
place is very much the same as before. The atmosphere here is
intended to be so. If you were placed in here any time in the
last 300 years you'd have a hard time figuring out exactly when it was.
The people here today are what interests Kalida,
however, and she's been unobtrusively scanning the room.
In fact, over there is the Count of Carey.
He's with some young blond woman at a fairly private table.
Reportedly he isn't on Mora, of course, so his presence really
is rather interesting.
Mich idly wonders if Baron Bridgehead might be here,
but he can't see him.
At about 8:30, Judi Tarassi, Countess of Maitz,
arrives, walks over
to them, and sits down at the extra chair which has conveniently and
unobtrusively arrived at their table.
She says, "The party you were seeking is not
available. Can I assist?" She glances at Sir Misha's dragon
Sir Misha greets her.
The Countess politely asks to be introduced to his
Sir Misha says she is a very old friend of his, and
has not deigned to tell him her name. He then says that they had
hoped to make a social connection with their mutual acquaintance.
Judi says that he's elsewhere at the moment.
She looks at Helia and tells her that he's delivered her message, and
in fact that's where she thinks he is right now. She looks around
and says she didn't realize they were members, quite an oversight on
Sir Misha says, "Oh? This is a members-only
"Members and their guests. You're not a
member? We could fix that, of course, if you wish."
Sir Misha expresses interest in that. He goes
on to say that he doesn't understand why, since they're awaiting a
siege, why he might be summoned here by the Archduke, as the gossip
Kalida points out that they answered that, he's
supposedly going to be Count of Wonstar.
Judi says she's pretty sure that the Archduke
doesn't award titles by using a stopwatch to time how long someone
talks to the Duchess. She says with a smile that she's sure he
has other ways to determine it.
Of course it's not generally known that Nightshade
had a role in the Battle of Tussinian. The Archduke, the Duke of
Rhylanor, and the top-level Imperial Navy fleet command know, but
no-one else should. The rags can't really know why he's
here. He's shown up in social circles in Rhylanor, where the
Duchess there was particularly fond of him too, and this barbarian
shows up, gets knighted, then marches in to important parties in a
tight fitting leather body suit, with a cape and a sword. It must
be because they don't know anything else about him that they're
promoting these rumors. They must have assumed that because he
appeared at the same time as all these evacuated nobles, he must be
here for the same reasons.
Judi asks what they have been up to, aside from the
obvious of course.
Shark laughs and asks her to elaborate on that.
Judi says that it all depends on your sources and
resources really. Where have they been since their last big
Sir Misha says his last big adventure was last night
at the party.
"Before that," says the Countess.
The crew aren't sure what she means by last big
adventure. Sir Misha says so. All their adventures are big.
Some are bigger than others, she says. She was
thinking of things blowing up. She finally gets specific, and
asks where they've been between the Battle of Tussinian and here.
Kalida quickly says that it wasn't very long
ago. They haven't had time to go anywhere.
The Countess says, "Well, when your space drive is
powered by alien space bats, you could almost go anywhere."
Sir Misha says that's what Helia says, when you go
to jumpspace you're everywhere.
Helia jumps in, of course, and says that's not quite
right. She could show him if he wants, and pulls out her puter to
do produce the equations to show him. Mich joins in too, pointing
out where in the equations they actually are when in jump.
The Countess says that she is sure that their
acquaintance is having a great time on Helia's world, and that all her
friends are having a great time showing him equations just like this
Helia looks slightly puzzled and says that she
hasn't shown them these yet. "I think," she adds. "I think
I showed them these after I wrote the books. Which I haven't done
Judi says, "You know, a few of the things I've heard
about you are starting to make a lot more sense. Hypothetically,
if you had not been at Tussinian but some place within reach of
somewhere you might hypothetically have gone before coming here, if
you'd have been there early enough to have gotten here in that time,
where would that be?"
Kalida says, "Why are you so interested in our
"I'm interested in everything. I'm supposed to
be interested in everything. You are actually interesting, I
don't have to fake it with you."
Sir Misha says he's pretty sure he remembers being
in jumpspace. It's possible he knows a story about a ship who
went somewhere else.
"That sounds just like the type of story I'd like to
"So. But before I tell you such a story, who
else would hear this story?"
"Our mutual friend, and if certain aspects of that
should prove interesting to for example the Archduke, they could find
their way there without revealing the sources. As a purely
hypothetical story heard in some high-rent bar or something."
"I don't think there's anyone else who would be
interested, unless you thought there would be."
Sir Misha shakes his head. He adds that Kalida
would be much better at telling this story than he would.
The Countess says that stories change depending on
Kalida sighs, then looks around. While no-one
is going to overhear them unless they have a directional microphone or
something, it's not as secure as she'd like.
Shark is sure no-one will overhear here.
Sir Misha suggests dinner in a private dining room.
The Countess thinks this is an excellent idea, and
leads them to her private suite.
On the way, she asks Sir Misha what his friend likes
to eat. He says that she prefers live prey, but if they don't
have that, she might accept a little raw meat. The Countess
smiles and says she thinks that can be arranged, and taps a few things
into her puter.
Her suite has a nice panoramic window looking out
into the sky. Everyone takes their seats, observing that a buffet
has already been laid out by the time they arrived, including a
selection of raw meats.
It's time to tell the story. Kalida looks at
Sir Misha, wondering what story it was he wanted her to tell. She
says, "I've heard rumors that the fleets that were left over from the
Battle of Tussinian are still making their way here, but I've heard
they've been delayed and further weakened along the way."
The Countess says conspiratorially, "I've heard
there were some spontaneous explosions in their reserve line, including
very expensive spherical dreadnoughts, and it would be really nice to
know if it was an infestation of alien space bats, or if they did it
spontaneously. That would be something important to know."
Kalida says that they shouldn't have to worry about
that kind of thing spontaneously happening on the fleets defending Mora.
The Countess smiles and says she won't worry
about. But it could happen to ones that weren't defending Mora?
"It's possible," allows Kalida.
The Countess is sure some reasonable explanation
will come out at some point. She adds that they shouldn't worry
about anyone looking too hard for the cause of that. She's sure
the Rebels didn't have good discipline and didn't do all the proper
checks. Not something they need to worry about, anyway.
Shark suggests that perhaps Gavrolovitch's next
novel might reveal that the Imperium's new technology to teleport nukes
has come to light.
The Countess laughs, and says he'd have trouble
doing that since he's dead.
"Is he?" asks Shark, "He keeps publishing."
Kalida asks Sir Misha if there's any particular
topic he'd be interested in hearing stories about.
Sir Misha considers suggesting a story about
fetching someone, but only the Archduke knows that one, so that's
out. The crew look at each other, everyone one of them going over
a different story, but each one is too secret to tell.
Finally Kalida asks the Countess if there's a
particular story she's interested in.
She says she's interested in all sorts of
things. What might be on offer? "I hear so few stories, you
understand," she says. "Obviously you had something in mind,
something anyone in the Members Room wouldn't appreciate." She
pauses expectantly. Then she says, "Or you could just tell me
what the heck you've been doing."
Kalida asks what she's heard about them.
The Countess smiles, sighs, and says she's heard a
number of things. They're very elusive, they turn up in places
where there's trouble, or trouble turns up in places where they are,
they have a very interesting pilot, they have an interest in whiskey,
they occasional come up with bottles of extremely exclusive whisky
although she gathers Kalida didn't actually get that from her
world. They break into buildings, they fire off heavy weapons
downtown, they invade hypothetically secret government psionic projects.
Shark says that's the Marquis' bailiwick, isn't
She says that she understands he's been promised a
tour in a few years, when they finish construction down there.
She also gathers that there's a means of detecting invisible ships by
firing lasers at it.
"That we've heard," says Kalida.
The Countess looks around the group. She says,
"You see, I should probably mention that the Archduke never tells me
Shark says, "Which bothers me, because he seemed to
know an awful lot."
She says cautiously, "Like I said, that's my job."
"But it's my job to be bothered by it."
"What, you don't like to compare independent
"I like to identify independent sources."
"I'm an independent source. The Archduke likes
to hear my version and compare it with the version he gets from other
sources, so he doesn't tell me his version. That's my job, yo
come up with what I think is happening. Working here I don't get
to travel as much as our friend."
Kalida says, "The Archduke has access to our primary
"What kind of primary sources would they be?
Would they happen to fall conveniently to one's hand?"
"We prefer to remain completely anonymous."
"Of course, of course, there's no trouble there."
"We're fairly certain we're the only ones like us,
but not 100% certain. There also might be others who are...
"In what way?"
"In ways that have been rumored to be able to
destroy large portions of an inhabited planet."
"All right. Now you have my attention.
Shark does a mental calculation as to how long an
event that happened ten days ago on Adabicci would take to get
here. It's 6 weeks by xboat, but of course the xboats are shut
down because of the Sword World incursion. A courier would of
course be coming, four jumps plus refuel time, so 30 days at the
absolute minimum. He also observes that she hasn't said anything
that indicated she actually knew about their accelerated travel,
although she implied it -- which could have been fishing for it, of
The Countess says, "Now if the information wasn't
going outside this room at all, no sources, and would only be combined
with other information... Look guys, I'm fishing here, ok? Tell
me what you're doing. What's going on out there? What's
this other thing that's unlike you? What happened? I'm
sorry, I'm not as subtle as Sir Arken. Just tell me."
Kalida says, "I don't think there's anything we
could tell you that the Archduke doesn't already know."
"Doesn't matter. I don't. Does that mean
I can tell the Archduke anything you tell me, or...? Tell me, let
me put together what I've got."
Sir Misha says clearly, "I will tell you a
story." He looks around the room, makes sure he has his
audience's attention, and continues. "Once upon a time there was
a small crew of
investigators. They came across what we will call an interesting
ship and decided to salvage it. Got it running, and made it their
own. And very soon after salvaging this special ship, they were
attacked by nothing less than the Imperial Navy, which bothered and
disturbed them as you might imagine. And in particular it
bothered the captain of this special ship, and after a good bit of
investigating and a few more attacks, the crew of this special ship
discovered that there was an organization operating within the Imperial
Navy who were responsible for these attacks. And as you might
further imagine, the captain of this story has set his heart on
eliminating this special branch of the Imperial Navy to the extent
that he can. Unfortunately this story doesn't have an end
yet. Perhaps it will be interesting enough to, with some
become a Gavrolovitch story. So, did you like my story?"
Shark muses to himself that's the most interesting
tidbit they've given her. They've just admitted they're
The Countess says, "Yes, but I'd like to hear about
this captain and
his encounter with a something unlike their special ship."
"Well, if one can imagine a special ship, it's not
hard to imagine that it wouldn't be a unique special ship, because
whenever somebody else builds a bigger one, or tries to anyway."
"A bigger one, or a different one?
"Well, I meant bigger in the very abstract sense,
better and different in some way."
"Perhaps this story needs work," concludes the
Countess, "Are we
still on for cocktails and dinner tomorrow?"
"Oh yes," says Sir Misha.
"Perhaps the story might be more developed then, or
there might be other stories, or data that might find its way and be
left behind when somebody leaves."
"Possibly. I'm not that great a storyteller,
but I'll do my best."
Shark says, "One good story always breeds another."
Sir Misha nods. "Do you have any stories for
"I'll see what I can come up with for
tomorrow. I think I might find something I can tell you about, a
story you might find interesting that you might have very little idea
about." The Countess smiles.
The serious conversation is clearly over. The
Countess asks about live prey for the dragon for tomorrow, but Sir
Misha says he'll make sure she's well fed. The Countess makes it clear
that it's an open invitation, to bring anyone she likes.
Shark wonders to himself if she'd like to hear about
fish oil. Or beans. Beans, beans, good for the heart... and
The rest of the evening passes pleasantly.
It's a well fed and well watered group that returns to Nightshade
that night, although Sir Misha still holds some concern that this Judi
Tarassi, Countess of Maitz, might not be who she says she is or who she
implies she is. Shark thinks she could be playing both sides too,
regardless of that. There'll be a lot to consider before 4:00 pm