(49) To Be Named

The Crusader Campaign (166-1123)

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166-1123 : Mora / Mora / Spinward Marches

    Nightshade 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 at 09:00.
    Baron 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 anyone else there.  To her relief there isn't, and there isn't a black hole 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 looked.
    Then she homes in on Rhylanor itself.  There is 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.  They have 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 a headache.
    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 themselves.
    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 for sure.
    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 calls in.  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 robot behind.
    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 for...
    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 pace.
    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 all members.

    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 with interest.
    Sir Misha greets her.
    The Countess politely asks to be introduced to his dragon.
    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 her part.
    Sir Misha says, "Oh?  This is a members-only club?"
    "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 rags thought.
    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 adventure?
    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 one.
    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 yet."
    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 movements?"
    "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 hear."
    "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."
    "Anyone else?"
    "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 the author.
    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."
    Everyone laughs.
    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 it?
    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 anything."
    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 sources?"
    "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 sources."
    "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... unlike us."
    "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.  What happened?"
    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 course.
    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 rewording, 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 Gavrolovitch.
    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 us?"
    "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 interrogations.

    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 tomorrow afternoon.