(50) To Be Named

The Crusader Campaign (167-1123)

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167-1123 : Mora / Mora / Spinward Marches

    Nightshade now has 233 missiles.
    The crew has until 4pm before their meeting with Judi Tarassi, Countess of Maitz.  Shark has been thinking about ways to check up on her, to see if she is who she appears to be claiming to be.  His idea is to go to the Company and demand to receive his back pay -- and offer for them to give him information on her instead.
    His assignment to look after Mich came from his non-military intelligence organization.  They could perhaps have been infiltrated, but in general they would not be under the special Naval Intelligence umbrella.
    Shark had dropped an advert in the paper the night before asking in the appropriate way to come in and report.  He tells Robert what he'll be doing and to track him, and that he'll be taking one of the special panic button flashlights with him.
    Now, in the morning, he tells Sir Misha that he's going to check in on the people who assigned him several years ago to protect Mich.  He explains to his captain that back when they met, when people were shooting at Mich, Shark had just retired from the organization that he'd been working for, and been contacted by them asking him to do a job.  There was this retired Naval guy who'd invented some stuff, and people were after him, and they'd asked him to provide protection.  For the last several years he'd been fulfilling that mission while getting rich with them.
    So, continuing to use that job as an excuse, he says he's planning to use that to get files on Sir Arken Hauther and the Countess of Maitz.  Robert will be tracking him to make sure he doesn't disappear.  Shark reassures Sir Misha that this was not a military organization.  There would be some risk, as they could have been infiltrated by INISO, but it should be acceptable.  He says that this is as trustworthy, or at least the least risky, of the intelligence organizations.
    He adds that he doesn't expect to be given the real files, but since Robert will be watching, perhaps he can track the real ones down in addition to the edited ones they give him.
    Shark then asks if anyone else has any sources here on Mora.  Kalida has the regular and Marine gossip channels, he suggests, she could check into those too.
    The expected response to Sharks ad is indeed in the paper that morning, so he heads out right after breakfast as soon as Robert is ready too.

    During breakfast, Kalida studies the local papers.  There's not a lot of extra reporting on anything last night.  While nothing at the Eagle's Nest is ever reported, the papers do note that both Sir Misha Ravanos (future Count of Wonstar, so they say) and the Countess of Maitz were indeed both unavailable at the same time last night.  That does reinforce the rumor that they are romantically involved.
    There is some speculation on who might pick up the Dukedom of Glisten and any other rebel subsectors, but no-one has come out as a favorite yet.  The papers are definite that Five Sisters will be brought under noble instead of military rule, opening up the possibility for a lot more landed titles, but aside from the obvious assignment of the barbarian Sir Misha Ravanos to the backwater Wonstar cluster there are no solid rumors yet.
    The Count of Carey's absence from Mora is still a matter of some concern.  He can't resist the Archduke's call much longer, and speculation is rife as to whether he turns up alone or with his actress.
    It was really a quiet night for gossip last night.  There really aren't any new tidbits that the papers have picked up.

    Shark arrives at the Company and is shown in to a small office.  He hands his report to the man behind the desk, starting with the initial attack and anything else they might have known about.  It contains an (invented) itinerary of their travels up to this point.
    The man asks about the arrest on Rhylanor.
    Shark explains that he was at a bookstore shopping for a particular set of books for Mich, and a naval intelligence organization he's never heard of arrested him.  Shark asks who those people are that they can order a planetary defense alert?
    "You don't need to be asking that question.  We have that under control," says the man.
    Shark says he'd still like to know as much as he can so he can be prepared for it as a threat to Mich.
    The man says he'll tell him as much as he can: "We have the situation under control."
    Shark notes that the man did not have to look anything up.  He just came up with that off the top of his head.
    The man then asks him about the occasion when they were reported officially dead in the incident at Zett.  Shark and Mich were both listed among the casualties.
    Shark says that their ship was irreparably damaged, but they found and salvaged another ship and with Mich's expert engineering they were able to get themselves back to civilization.  He says they've since apologized to Marquis Crestworthy for the loss of his ship.
    The man says the Marquis has a new ship now.
    Shark nods.  He says he keeps in touch with them from time to time, and has told them about the new ship, Witchhunter or something like that.
    The man says, "You're not leaving here anytime soon?"
    Shark says that given the current crisis, they're staying right here, as close to the Archuke's palace as they can get.
    The man tells him that Mich is on the list.  The List of priority bunker occupants.  Should it come to it, Shark is to bring him here and he'll handle it from there.  Shark himself is not on the list, and neither is anyone else on Nightshade.  The only person Shark should be concerned with is Mich.
    After the debriefing is done, Shark explains that as a result of his duties looking after Mich, he's become part of the crew.  In fact he's First Officer, and drawing a salary there.  In lieu of asking for back pay, he would like certain information about certain people who've expressed an interest in them.  He doesn't think there's an issue with her, but he'd like the file on the Countess of Maitz.
    The man is only too eager to help out.  He pulls that right up for him and hands it over.  He asks if there's anything else he needs.
    Shark says a friend of their navigator Helia's, Sir Arken Hauther, was heading off to her homeworld and she won't tell them where that is.
    "Sure, I'll look up that one too, no problem.  Oh.  Can't give you that one, sorry."
    "Restricted information, I take it?"
    "The situation is under control.  No, I can't give you that.  I can tell you he's not under suspicion for anything.  He's on our side.  And that's off the record."
    Shark thanks him, says he'll be on planet for a while and can be contacted at the Nightshade or whatever downside residence the Marchioness takes up.
    The man says that they'll go through his report, of course.  He says that if he stops by the pay office on the way out, he can collect his back pay.  There was no marker that the mission had ended, so Shark should just continue doing what he's doing.

    Shark returns to Nightshade.  He meets the Captain in the lounge, and tells him and the crew about his debriefing.
    Sir Misha wants to know what he meant about Sir Arken being on "our side."
    Shark says that this organization is a civilian intelligence unit, which considers itself above any military equivalent.  It is theoretically limited to offplanet investigations, but obviously they don't follow those rules strictly.  It's an Imperial organization.  He says that, as he said, they claim to have INISO under control.
    On the other hand, he continues, he asked about Sir Arken and they said, "He's a good guy.  That's all you'll get."  He asked about Sir Misha's Countess friend, and they said, "Here's her dossier."  Shark looks over at Robert and asks him if it's the full dossier.
    Robert nods and says it's the whole file.
    Shark explains he didn't want to open it before getting on board, but now he opens it.  The quick summary is, "Effective and involved noble."  It doesn't say she's in the intelligence community.  It does say that she has an understanding with the organized crime bosses on Maitz, keeping their activity reasonable.  She's a known associate but not a participant.  She spends a good bit of time on Mora every now and again.  She visits the Archduke but on informal occasions mostly.  It also goes through her place of birth, education, military service -- two terms in the Imperial Navy as line officer, finishing with the rank Lt. Commander.  She has no combat experience.  There is a recent note that the tabloids are linking her with Sir Misha Ravanos, with a notation to watch that for confirmation.
    Shark then asks Robert if he can find out who was it who declared that someone should keep an eye on Mich.  He's not as interested in why as in who.
    Robert says he's designated critical technical expertise, file sealed by order of the Archduke.
    Shark tells Mich that if he feels safer on land than on board, there's a bunker he's allowed in that none of the rest of them can get into.  All Shark has to do is take him to the agency, and they'll protect him.  It was implied he'd be in the same place as the Archduke.  But none of the rest of them are allowed, including the nobility on board.  He adds that he's still on duty as Mich's bodyguard as ordered by the Imperial government.  He also says they paid him his back wages.
    So the really interesting parts were that they know Sir Arken by that name, and he's clearly above the standards he needs to know about.  Mich is cleared for highest safety, which means that if the planet is under attack and Shark doesn't bring him, they will come and get him.  Shark is curious why they aren't as interested in Helia, but she hasn't been credited with the work that's been available to the Archduke.
    Shark sums up about Judy Tarassia, Countess of Maitz.  She's a busybody, with no official position in the Company, or even in their files.  That does not mean her story is a lie, but it doesn't mean they can trust her, either.  He looks over at Robert and asks if he knows any of the people she might have been involved with on Maitz.  He's smiling, but it's pretty much an open secret that Robert has a nefarious past.
    "Robert Morris isn't wanted on any worlds," says their Computer Officer.  That's true, as far as he knows.
    Shark points out that Sir Misha is probably wanted on Wonstar for that office building intrustion.
    Kalida says that was all explained by Alien Space Bats, but then remembers that was the matter with the desert installation, not the downtown office affair.  She adds that the Countess appears not to have any connections with anyone Kalida knows or has known.
    That applies to everyone else, too.  Her time and place in the Navy doesn't correspond with anyone on this ship.

    Towards the end of lunch, Baron Bridgehead calls in with his commdot.  He says he has a "bit of a situation" and will be ashore for a couple of days.
    "What did you pull?" says Shark.
    "I can't really talk about it at this point."
    Shark quickly checks the identity, and the voiceprint matches.  He's located in the penthouse suite of a hotel downtown.  He says, "We'll be in contact soon," and hangs up.  He asks Robert to find out who's paying for it.
    "And what's her name?" says Robert.
    "Their names," says Kalida.  It was two women with him when he left the party.
    Shark tells the Captain that they have a social situation.  He considers it dangerous -- it would be laughable on Shark or Mich's social level, but at the noble level could cause the Captain some difficulty.  He explains that the Grand Admiral has got himself into trouble, and is holed up in the penthouse suite of a downtown hotel.  He left the party with two young ladies.  He's part of the crew, and while he doesn't know what Bridgehead might have done, if it comes out then it could hurt Sir Misha's social positioning.  It is one of the high class hotels, a rank down from the very top ones but a regular hotel suiting his station, or maybe a little higher.  The Princess Suite is a little above him, and Shark is a little concerned about his ability to pay for it.
    Sir Misha asks what trouble he is in.
    Shark says that he didn't say -- or rather, much more worrying, he wouldn't say.  He just said he had a situation and would spend a couple of days ashore.  Shark doesn't know how good he is at staying out of the gossip rags -- he has a reputation, but is mostly off their radar -- but it could cause embarrassment.  Should they investigate?  Do they care?  Would they want to cover it up if there was something to justify it?
    Mich says they could simply go and get him.  That's true enough, they could park the ship in stealth mode outside the balcony and just take him on board, just like they did with the Duke of Rhylanor.
    Sir Misha asks Shark to find out what might be going on, and they'll decide once they know that.

    Robert checks the hotel records.  It's not that easy to break into an upper class hotel, but it's well within his skills.  He quickly reports what he's found.
    The room is being paid for by the account of the Marquis of Rorise.  Rorise is in Mora subsector, a low population non-industrial world.
    Shark looks him up.  There's pretty much nothing about the Marquis of Rorise.  He's in his forties.  He and his wife don't visit the capital often.  He has two daughters, and when Robert does a tricky search he finds pictures that show they're the women who left the party with Bridgehead.  They're in their late teens or early twenties.
    Now the two young ladies were not identified in the tabloids, but their father could have come across the picture and found out.
    Shark asks if they can make it so the Baron can't turn his commdot off.
    Robert says they can't, and in any case he could always take it off.
    Sir Misha isn't sure whether Bridgehead would want them to help or not.  If he'd have needed something he might have asked, or he could be too proud and try to figure it out himself.  No way to know at this point.
    Shark as paranoia officer comes up with another scenario.  Perhaps Bridgehead didn't get the girls into trouble, perhaps they were already in trouble and are blackmailing him into fixing it.  Bridgehead was a little more abrupt than usual, so he did sound a bit stressed.
    Sir Misha decides they need to go and check on him.  When Shark volunteers to do it, since he's not known downtown, Sir Misha tells him to go and do it.
    Shark thinks he could walk right in the front door, saying he has medical supplies that have to be delivered in person.
    Sir Misha is thinking the more direct approach, however.  He says they will just fly to the penthouse in stealth mode and they can walk straight on to the balcony.
    Of course this appeals to everyone.  They'll have to fly to the ocean and submerge to switch to stealth mode, and do the opposite coming back, but that's normal procedure for them by now.  They should have enough time to do it and get back in time to make their appointment with the Countess of Maitz at 4:00 pm.  They can dress for it on the ship on the way back.

    It's about 1:30 now.  By the time they arrive outside the hotel and park beside the balcony, it's 2:30.
    Shark checks the sensors.  There are three people in the suite, fairly obviously the Doctor and two girls.  They're all in the living room.  He checks the security system and quickly identifies the components.  It includes the capability to record what goes on in there, but it is not turned on at present.  He tells Robert to make sure it stays that way.
    Sir Misha walks down the ramp and appears on the balcony.  The girls have their backs to him, but Bridgehead sees him appear and is somewhat shocked.
    "This is unexpected," says Bridgehead, and invites him in.  "It's just you, I take it?" he says, and fixes him a drink.  He turns to the girls and says, "This is Sir Misha, Sir Misha Ravanos, you've heard about him in the papers."
    Sir Misha bows politely.  He's wearing conventional clothes, so he won't shock them quite as much.
    Bridgehead seems mostly surprised -- shocked, stunned -- and offers him a seat.  The girls are looking at Sir Misha.  Bridgehead says, "To what do I owe the pleasure of this visit?"
    Sir Misha says it's a friendly call, just to make sure he's having fun.
    "Oh, it's been a little bit complicated," says the Baron, "But it's going right, right?"  He looks at the girls.  They smile brightly and agree.
    It didn't sound like it he was trying to convince them.  He did sound distracted and a little concerned.

    Shark has linked sensor information on Bridgehead's medical indicators with the rest of the data.  He is sure that the Baron is deliberately not telling Sir Misha something very important.

    Bridgehead casually asks after the Marchioness.  He then says he's heard Sir Misha is dating the Countess of Maitz.
    Sir Misha smiles, "Rumors of my demise are greatly exaggerated."
    "Really?  So you're not going to be the Count of Wonstar?  Shame, that seems so appropriate, since we've been there and had dealings there.  And they have good whiskey."
    "We've been a lot of places," says Sir Misha, "None of which I'd like to be Count of."
    "Well, sometimes you don't get a choice."
    Sir Misha sagely nods his agreement.  He says, "So, the three of you are having fun?"
    The girls nod enthusiastically.  They say it's being very busy.
    "Busy?" asks Sir Misha.  "Doing?"
    "It's just... being busy at the moment," says the older girl.  "Lots of things to... organize.  You know, life's a whirl, all sorts of things go on.  You know."
    Sir Misha indicates he doesn't know.

    Shark has picked up the girls' personal computers beside them.  He asks Robert if he can do anything with them from here.  They're connected, so yes he can.

    Sir Misha continues, asking the girls if they're having fun.
    They smile happily and say they are, and they seem to be enjoying this busy time.
    Sir Misha thinks they seem genuine enough.  He says, "Busy how?"
    "Oh, all sorts of things to organize, shopping to do, all that sort of thing."

    Shark smiles and starts humming the wedding theme, making sure Sir Misha can hear him over the commdot.
    Robert has hacked into the puters, looking for personal information.  There's a lot of it to sort through.  He finds a personal message that there's a dress fitting with a top designer, and the note says the trick will be to find a dress that suits both of them.  At Shark's direction, he follows the thread back and finds the original message.  The girls are marrying Bridgehead.  The date has to be announced by their father by tradition, so that wasn't specified.
    Shark passes that on to Sir Misha.  THEY are marrying Bridgehead.  Apparently this is legal on Rorise.  That would put Bridgehead in the line of landed nobility, although he wouldn't get the title until the girls' parents died, and considering that they're younger than he is...
    Kalida confirms with Shark that there's no mention of when the date of the wedding is.  Or rather, there is, "It's all up to Daddy."
    Shark does a search for contact information for the Marquis of Rorise.  He is on planet, although staying at another hotel about four blocks away.  He passes that on to Sir Misha too.

    Sir Misha asks Bridgehead if this business is something his shipmates might...?
    Bridgehead says it's something they might be involved in, yes, but all in good time.  He's not at liberty to divulge it yet.
    Sir Misha asks if it might have an effect on his ability to perform his shipboard duties.
    Bridgehead says that's something they'll have to discuss later when he can tell him more about it.  He says he will be on vacation here on shore for at least a couple of days, and then expects to be able to address all his concerns.
    Sir Misha finishes his drink, says goodbye, wishes all three of them good luck, and leaves through the front door of the suite.  He makes sure Bridgehead will let him know if the situation changes.

    Sir Misha returns to the downport by conventional means, while Nightshade goes through the procedure to return to the public eye and land at their starport berth by 3:30.

    On the way back, Shark checks references on marriage law.  The noble family are the only official permanent residents of the world, although there's non-permanent people there like starport personnel and some mining operation staff as well.  The family on Rorise is pretty much in charge and can do what they like there.  The family has held that title for generations.
    He also notes that as long as he doesn't outlive the girls, there's no question of him taking over the real title.  He still has no idea why they might be doing this.
    Sir Misha says that they live on a backwater planet, and this might be the most interesting person they've run across, ever.
    Shark says the girls might see him as a way off planet.  Surely Bridgehead wouldn't want to live there.  He might not like the high gravity there, perhaps they have grav plates in the residence.  The girls did look healthy and strong, though.
    Anyway, surely this would make the tabloids.  The Baron is older than their father, and that surely would get the rumors starting.
    Shark laughs that the Baron is trying to catch up on the rank of people on board.  To inherit the title, the current Marquis and Marchioness would have to die, but socially he would be boosted from his retained Baron title by being in line to a Marquisate.
    Sir Misha asks if the girls have actually told their father.
    Shark says that would probably be by voice and they don't have access to that.  On the other hand, it will surely be leaking out tonight or tomorrow, since the girls have told their friends.  So the Grand Admiral finally got caught, but what could make him get caught?  Mich has told him about how he picked up Helen one night in a bar in Zaibon, and she promptly moved in with him on board.  But this seems on a whole different scale...