(51) To Be Named

The Crusader Campaign (167-1123)

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167-1123 : Mora / Mora / Spinward Marches

    It's a little past 3:30 and time to go to their appointment with Judi Tarassi, Countess of Maitz.  Shark has obtained his Company's official file on her, but it didn't have her as having any official capacity.
    The matter of Baron Bridgehead's impending wedding with the daughters of the Marquis of Rorise would wait.  Shark is sure the news of that will come out very soon ahead of the official announcement by the Marquis of Rorise, since one of the daughters has already told her friends.

    The crew have discussed what they might tell the Countess.  She clearly wants to know more about their adversary at Adabicci, although of course she doesn't know where it was.  They don't have any limitations on talking about White Tech, but they don't really want to tell her too much.
    Kalida is still not sure which side she's playing.  She likes the idea of telling the Countess something wrong and seeing where that knowledge ends up.
    Shark comes up with a quick explanation about a combat in which the other ship crashed into the planet causing lots of damage.  That won't contradict anything likely to be in the public information about the incident.  That still leaves open their own role: was it a lucky shot?  Were they fighting it?  They should also come up with a timeline of what she should know given normal travel times, so if she slips up, they'll recognize it.  For example, unless she's getting information from the Archduke, there's no way she could know anything about Adabicci.
    Shark adds that they have said that they're fairly certain they're the only ones like them, but there might also be other who are unlike them in ways that have been rumored to be able to destroy large portions of an inhabited planet.  Then he pauses, and notes that the date they arrived here will be a matter of public record, so if she links it with Adabicci, she'll figure out their fast travel capability.  Of course, Adabicci wasn't the only world they've been involved with that was damaged severely.  There was the antimatter bomb at Pimane, and Professor Farol's station in the Brod system.  They can certainly say that the Pimane incident wasn't caused by anything they know about in the Imperial arsenal.
    Kalida suggests they say that they were referring to something that happened way out in Foreven subsector a long time ago.
    Shark thinks this is a really good idea.  After all, something happened at Dulu and nobody is sure what it was.  There were even rumors of star triggers.  There are plenty of places they've been involved with, or some of them have been involved with, where things have blown up badly.  Which fairy tale do they want to spin?
    Mich suggests they tell a story about the hazy past.
    Kalida agrees.  The white tech story wasn't connected to any time or place.  There's no connection their current ship.  It could have been long ago and far away.  They could even jumble that up with the cockroaches.

    Shark, Kalida, Sir Misha, and Mich take a limousine to the Countess's apartments.  As far as Shark can tell, they aren't followed.  There are, however, reporters on way into the building, but they pass through without giving away any comments.  Once in the building, they're in the clear.
    They're soon in the Countess's apartments, being offered cocktails.  There's even some bottles of popular beer, looking quite out of place but showing an accomodation for the less noble among the crew.
    It's not long before the Countess reminds them about their story, and that it had needed some work.  In particular, she's very interested in the ship what was like theirs but unlike it. that caused significant damage to some world.
    Shark looks at Kalida, but she says that she isn't the right person to tell it, because she joined the ship only recently.  Shark nods, and says that Mich was the one with the crew back then, on the ship before Third Eye.
    Mich says that Anastasia was an odd mish-mash of Imperial technology along with advances made from studying other alien technology.  He launches into a few details about the ship.
    The Countess says she's heard of it.  It was destroyed in a very odd and suspicious way while being recovered off Pimane.  She asks what they know about that.
    Mich says only what they've heard from other reports.
    "Then you know it was an antimatter bomb?" she says.
    Mich says he does.  He says some people suggested it was the antimatter generators on Anastasia, but that was impossible given the way they were set up.  It had to have been a bomb.
    The Countess wonders aloud who set it.  She then says that she's confused about all the timeline of it all, and would like them to explain it.  She knows about Anastasia beforehand, and Mich was doing some interesting things with it.
    Mich says that the original designers were taking a fairly conservative approach on some things, and he extended it based on his knowledge.  That gave the ship even more capability than had originally been built into it.
    "So Anastasia crashed on Pimane."
    Mich nods and admits he was a little too bleeding-edge there.  He adds that it's almost like there's a faction that doesn't want technology to advances beyond the current state, and any advances are seeked out and attempted to be destroyed.
    Shark says that the antimatter bombs on Pimane were some of the evidence of other ships that they were talking about.
    The Countess points out that they didn't actually see another ship there.
    Shark asks if she knows anyone with antimatter bombs.
    She laughs that she could tell them but then she'd have to kill them.
    Shark says he could tell her more about other ships, but he'd need a fair trade.
    The Countess nods seriously and asks him what he wants to know.
    Shark asks which nobility other than Santanocheev are involved with the INISO.
    She says that first, they don't really count a disgraced Admiral as nobility.  Technically he is, but....  Then she says that she doesn't believe that any nobility is directly associated with the INISO.  There are people who are associated with Santanocheev, but that's a secondhand INISO connection.
    Shark asks about the Duke of Aramis.
    She states that he is not.  He's conveniently out of the way and staying out for plausible deniability.  She doesn't think he's doing anything active, just waiting to get the contracts to clean it all up afterwards and fill in power vacuums.
    Shark asks about the fleets in Aramis.
    She says that she imagines they're staying exactly where they were.  He's too much of a merchant to not play both sides against the middle.
    What about the antimatter weapons?
    She hestitates, then says they're working on them.  The Imperium is working on it and has prototypes that have been tested.  She adds that there's a distinct possiblity that one or more of the prototypes could be on the ships up there in this system.  Shark expresses concern that the rebels might have them too, but she is confident that the chain of custody and so on is very well under control.
    Shark counters that if someone can call a system-wide alert on a whim, then they could have access to secondary labs and so on and have the plans.
    Again, the Countess is certain that could not happen.
    Shark says quietly, "Then, what happened at Pimane?"
    She agrees that's a good question, and she'd like to know the answer to that too.
    Shark says simply that they weren't there.  They were off on a scientific expedition with Marquis Crestworthy when that happened.
    Sir Misha starts to add to the story he started at their last meeting, using the same vague style.  The Countess very politely stops him, and says she'd like to hear it in Shark's words and continue the straightforward exchange of information.  In that spirit, she adds that they still don't know what happened at Pimane.
    Shark says, without going into why, the crew of investigators wanted to go to a restricted destination.  Someone made approaches and was given a device which was supposed to protect the crew from the solar storms which were the reason why the area was off limits.  Unfortunately the storm stuff turned out to be false, and the device was a booby trap, hence the investigators' ship was damages severely.  Fortunately due to the skill and ingenuity of its crew, they were able to repair the ship and in the meantime find the new toy.  On their way home, the people who gave them the protective device, who turned out to be INISO, took a more direct approach and the Third Eye was actually blown up.  He believes it damaged the INISO ship, by remote control or something, while the investigative crew made their escape on the new ship.
    "OK, so this new ship is the one you're travelling in now?  Which is why it's registered outside the Imperium -- if it's actually registered at all."  She ends with a smile.
    Shark smiles back, and says she can check all the records, they all say it's registered.  If she can find any record that says it isn't, they'd like to know about it.  He continues that they then bounced around from place to place on a whim, with the general idea that someone didn't like them.  Their ship on Pimane was blown up, and hundreds of people killed in the process.  Then INISO tried to kill them, twice, "And there was my arrest on Rhylanor, all because I wanted to look at a book."  He turns to Mich and asks if they ever got copies of it.
    Mich shakes his head.
    The Countess says that could be arranged if they need them.
    Mich says they didn't really need them.
    Shark continues.  Clearly the INISO did not want them looking at those books.
    "Which, of course," says the Countess, "Is why we looked at those books."  She agrees that INISO drew attention to them by their actions.
    Shark agrees.  They seem to have people everywhere, too, which is why they don't quite trust her position.  He hopes she understands that.
    She does, and asks what she needs to do.
    Shark just smiles.  He continues, "So, in following up all possible causes of these things we've been to all sorts of places.  We've been to Wonstar, and looked into things...."
    She nods, and says that in fact they interfered with a genuine Imperial installation there.
    Shark says they can't tell the difference, and in fact INISO claims to be genuine Imperial, even more so than genuine Imperial does.  He adds that some of them saw some every strange things even before that, on Anastasia, on the far side of Foreven.
    She says she knows something about what went on out there, the fleets that they sent out.
    Shark asks what happened at Dulu.
    She says it is secured.  When Shark looks questioningly at her, she says that the Imperium does not have a working Star Trigger.  It's not a Star Trigger.  She adds that they have some doubt whether the Darrians themselves have a working Star Trigger, as opposed to having accidentally triggered their star.  They don't know quite what the story is there.  But Dulu is secured.  It's mined heavily, and anything coming in there is going to get wiped.  It's full of mines.  And they'll be triggered by anything that jumps in there, including an Imperial fleet.  That way they can't be spoofed.  There's enough mines there to use up the entire fleets of any combined forces.  Anyone wanting to get through would be better off spending 20 years trying to set up a deep space refuelling installation, and they don't believe the enemy in Whitestar can maintain a long term strategy like that.  She then points out that she's just told them something that no-one else would tell them, information they couldn't get anywhere else.
    Shark says that the crew of the Anastasia was of course Mich and the Baron...
    She asks where the Baron is, since he hasn't shown up anywhere in a while.
    Mich says that he's preparing for his upcoming nuptials.
    "He's WHAT?"
    Shark says he hasn't told them anything about that, or anyone for that matter.  Two young ladies have caught him in a hotel room.  But, he continues, the rest of the crew of the Anastasia have all died in very interesting and spectacular ways.
    She only knows of Fostriades, assassinated by a tactical nuke.
    Shark adds that related to but not actually a member of the crew was Professor Farol, who died when an asteroid collided with his world.
    Mich says he was actually the main designer of the Anastasia.  Mich had given him research that he was doing on it, and the Professor was working on that with Helia and the mathematician Sally.
    Shark says that there was just a whole string of "Somebody's after us."  They were looking into that, came across INISO, and decided they should do something about it.
    She says that a lot has been eliminated.  Mora is pretty clean, the whole system, at least it is now.  The planetary defense issue has been cleaned up.  She speculates that it was INISO shooting at them, but the crew neither confirms nor denies it.  She observes then that INISO really is out to get them on a pretty personal basis, as everything they've done has been out to get them.
    Shark says then that they think they may have salvaged the ship from an INISO stash.  Because they got it working, INISO may have moved their timeline up.
    The Countess nods.  She says that they're basically responsible for the coup, then.
    Shark says that if they hadn't, then it would have been a lot better set up.
    She says with a wry grin that if this spread from the Spinward Marches, history could still show that they were the spark that started the Civil War.
    Shark can't deny that.  Small actions can trigger vast wars.  He continues that the fact that there is a movement to take over is their prime goal.  Getting Nightshade is secondary now.
    The Countess disagrees.  She believes they are still the prime goal, and the rebellion is a means to that end.  Taking over the Spinward Marches would give them the whole sector resources to hunt them down.  People do tend to overestimate their own importance, but it is possible for that to go the other way, too.  She then says that since INISO didn't get this ship working, then they don't have any of their own because they would have them all working -- including Nightshade -- if they did.  She asks if there is more than one.
    Shark says there were some broken ones that they dumped.
    "How broken, and how many?"
    Kalida says, "Not many, and very."
    "So they don't have anything like you.  That's good news," the Countess says brightly.  She adds, "How much would you take for it?"
    Shark says, "It's not for sale.  If you have to ask, you don't have enough."
    The Countess smiles, "You may not be thinking a high enough scale."
    Shark laughs, "We have a mobile planetoid, a lanthanum mine, and all the Blockade Bourbon we can drink, we don't need anything else."
    That gets the Countess's attention.  "Mobile planetoid?"
    "We found something somewhere.  If you just open your eyes it's just amazing what you can see."
    "So at some point you might be able to slip me a bottle or two, right?"
    "We have to get there first.  We have none left.  We sold our last one.  Maybe as a celebration for our upcoming victory.  After our upcoming adventure, maybe we'll take a cruise."
    She says that if they take charter flight, she'd love to take a trip.
    Shark smiles and says they'll add her to the list.
    She then goes back to the matter of alternate tech.  Is the only thing they seen, other than their own ship, the antimatter bombs?
    Shark says that other than the antimatter bombs, and people moving asteroids on collisions, no.  He says they were counting the Dulu star explosion as one.  It would still be another year or so before the light from that showed up, if it had been a Star Trigger.  But what if the light didn't turn up?
    Then, says the Countess, it would show the Imperium was telling they truth and don't have a Star Trigger.
    Shark observes that the rumor of having one is as good as actually having it.
    She smiles and says that's what she figures the Darrians are doing.  In fact, if they'd like to look into that sometime...?
    Shark laughs and says they'll add it to their list.  Anyway, Marquis Crestworthy's investigations should finish first before they start on anything else.  He wonders aloud what's happening to him.
    "That's right," she says, "He's in charge of the University of Mora's archeological expedition somewhere in Lanth.  Some Ancient Site.  Victoria, I think.  I don't think there've been any results issued from it yet, so presumably they're still ongoing out there."
    Shark says they were supposed to be on that expedition but had to decline.  He smiles and says that they probably don't even know about the rebellion.
    Shark then looks at the Countess and with a straight face says, "So, are you going to propose to Sir Misha like all the newspapers say?"
    She laughs loudly and says, "No.  No."  "And I don't think you're in line for Count of Wonstar, as far as I know," she adds to Sir Misha.  "This visit will give the papers a field day, eh?"  She idly wonders what he's got going on with the black leather thing, but guesses that must be the style where he comes from.
    Shark says that he thinks they picked that up on one of their travels, back on the Third Eye.
    "So it's not, like, dress where you come from, eh?"
    Sir Misha smiles and gives a slight shake of his head.
    The Countess asks Shark if he's still on active duty, or detached duty?  She was just curious, she says.
    Shark says he's an independent consultant.
    She smiles.  She says she's starting to get a pretty good feel for them now.  "You're pilot's from somewhere interesting, right?"
    Shark nods.  He says she's as quiet about that as Sir Arken is about his origin.
    "I don't know if Sir Arken even remembers where he came from."
    Shark is sure Helia remembers where she came from.
    "I believe Sir Arken knows where she comes from too."
    "So where is it?  The Brothers of something, Brothers of Id, or something like that."
    "Ah, the Brothers.  Yeah, the Junoit Brothers.  Now as to where it actually is?  It's not far from here, I know that.  It's more than one jump, but I'm sure exactly how far.  I don't know where it is, but I do know it's not far.  Apparently I don't have a need to know."
    "It was just a personal curiosity," says Shark offhandedly.
    "Speaking of personal curiosity," she says, "Do you run background checks on your crew?"
    Shark says non-committedly that yes, they have done.  "In whom are you interested?"
    "Just consider it a gentle tip that I believe -- although I certainly couldn't prove it -- that one of your crew is not who he claims to be, or rather is somebody else he would claim not to be.  He's apparently got better over the years, too."
    "Having a -- what's the correct word here? --- having an indeterminate past is of benefit in these situations."
    The Countess agrees, and adds that it's also useful if you know what that past is.
    "The actual history of this crew hasn't always been shared."
    Kalida says, "Are any of us who we claim to be?"
    "Yes, pretty much" says the Countess, "You are.  Mich is.  Sir Misha, as far as he does, and Mr. Teeth is.  There's no discontinuity in your identity.  But I have mounting circumstantial evidence on one of your crew.  I'm curious if you could confirm or deny it.  I guess the answer's no."
    Shark says, "I can confirm and deny a lot of things, but truthfully it doesn't matter."
    "It kind of does in the grand scheme of things."
    "To whom does it matter?"
    "Just if that person went somewhere and wasn't careful, he or she could be picked out.  You should probably know what assets you have and their weaknesses."
    Shark says that the Captain's knowledge of his crew's abilities is without question.
    "Oh, the abilities are not in doubt.  That's where I started suspecting."
    Shark says that he doesn't believe they have anything to worry about.
    "Well, if that person ever wants to stop hiding, let me know.  I... could line up a number of extremely impressive deals.  Including a full pardon, so to speak, under other identities."
    "I'm not sure he cares anymore, but I will pass that on."
    "Well, the offer's there.  OK, well you've put my mind at rest that we won't be fighting a whole lot of ships like yours.  Yours will be the only one here.  You fight pretty effectively, I imagine."
    "What have you heard?"
    "Wandering around invisible is pretty effective, surely?"
    "And who would spread such a rumor?"
    "Rumor?  I'm only talking about bats.  You know, the alien space bats leaving laser shadows in the dust of the desert of Wonstar.  Where the laser went through and came out the other side a little weaker?  The guys running those ships picked up on that, really impressed by that.  They're... going places."
    "Unfortunately it seems to have been picked up on by other people as well."
    "You know, you came through the Battle of Tussinian, and caused some spontaneous explosions on some very, very expensive Imperial flagships."
    Kalida says, "We were only part of the action."
    "Yes, but I think only invisible ships are going to be part of the action in the back lines.  And I appreciate your reassurance that the ones on our side are not going to blow up like that here."
    "Well, frankly, we were lucky in our find.  We hope that no-one else gets lucky."
    "But you removed the broken ones.  The only question is whether there's any places like -- that -- anywhere else."
    "We have been looking, but haven't found anywhere else.  We even looked here."
    "Oh, one other thing.  If it came to marketing Blockade Bourbon, if rather than a full commercial venture you wanted bottles here and there to slip out into the... unofficial marking channels, as it were, I think that I could assist in the distribution network.  Should you want them to remain rare and off the open market, I have access to channels."
    "So I've heard," says Shark.
    "Where would you hear that?"  The Countess seems genuinely curious.
    "A friend of a friend."
    "A friend of a friend might want to stop sticking his nose in or it might get bitten off.  Just a friendly word of advice.  Not that I would do the biting, you understand, but..."
    Kalida says she'll keep the offer in mind, but it's something she'll want to discuss with the company.
    The Countess says she quite understands.  She says she doesn't have any other questions, but if they come up with any they should not hesitate to ask them.
    Shark asks where would someone get a clone made?  How would they track Santanocheev if he had been cloned?
    It can be done, the Countess says, but adds that she didn't think he was using clones, just doubles.  She says that if she was Santanocheev, she wouldn't use clones.  She wouldn't want any doubt as to which one was really her.
    Kalida asks if it matters which one is which if you are one?
    "I believe it does," says the Countess.
    Shark says, "Does if matter as long as people thought you won?"
    "It matters to the real you."
    "If you were sane it would.  I think we're all questioning Santanocheev's sanity."
    The Countess can't argue with that.
    "So who do you work for?" asks Shark.
    "Me?  Think of me as... an independent consultant.   A little more independent than, say, Sir Arken, although essentially feeding into the same kind of ultimate destination."
    "I'm trying to figure out where your profit comes from."
    "I have substantial business that provide me with... Oh, you mean my profit in doing this?  It's a hobby." She laughs.  "I am... rewarded, but it's not really a consideration.  I don't need to be rewarded, it's just nice to know you're appreciated."
    "That's the question.  Who is rewarding you?"
    "Well, you won't find direct payments in the Archduke's records, but if you were under the table you might see money changing hands.  I'm on the Archduke's side, but an independent consultant.  Does that help?"
    Shark nods.  He makes a mental note to check out the links between the underworld on her world and everybody else.  He suspects that information is going to those people as well.

    The hard questions are all done.  Cocktails become dinner, dinner becomes after dinner drinks, and light conversation dominates the rest of the evening.
    On the way out, they're photographed for the papers, but again avoid giving any comment.  From there's it's a quiet and uneventful limousine ride back to Nightshade.