(52) To Be Named

The Crusader Campaign (168-1123)

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168-1123 : Mora / Mora / Spinward Marches

   Nightshade now has 257 missiles.  The crew is expecting everything to be stable here until 173-1123.  That's when Kalida's experiences expect Santanocheev's fleets, in a severely weakened state, to arrive.  The Rhylanor fleets have been just too fuzzy to guess so far.  Shark thinks that it would be bad if they had been delayed as well, but according to the Archduke, the Count of Fulacin had apparently tried to do just that.
    Shark has been keeping careful eye on what might be arriving in the system.  It seems like it's just been normal traffic, liners, traders, merchants, and so on.  Nothing that looks like it might be a military courier has arrived.  Some ships have been leaving, no doubt people getting out of the way of what might be a battle, but obviously Mora itself could not possibly be evacuated.
    There is a little local news about the fleets here.  All over the news in the morning is that the Heavy Cruiser Solomon's Tooth of the Hexos Fleet was lost overnight in a training accident.  There are no details about it, however, and the Imperial Navy has commented that there have been very few incidents considering the scale of the exercises here.  Of course, the loss of a Heavy Cruiser is very notable, rare incident or not.
    The tabloids are also buzzing about the Countess of Maitz and Sir Misha Ravanos.  Photos of him arriving and his entourage leaving are all over the news.  Photos of Sir Misha leaving with his entourage are notably absent -- perhaps they wouldn't have supported their story well enough.  Everyone seems to be expecting a wedding announcement any day now.
    Kalida suggests she do her trance thing and try to find out some real news.  Everyone agrees that would be a good idea, so she and Shark go to Sick Bay to set up the usual precautions.  Shark's footballs are of course recording throughout the whole procedure.  Less usual is that Shark is currently Acting Ship's Doctor, with the Baron occupied onshore.

    First threads Kalida follows relate to the Rhylanor fleets.  She really wants to know anything about what's going on to coreward.
    The overall impression is that there are Rhylanor fleets headed this way.  They're spread out, with a fuzziness about whether they're actually coming.  Something is coming, though, no doubt about that.  The fuzziness seems to be centered around something else going on.  It's not just the Rhylanor fleets, something else is adding to them and it's hard to tell what.
    But some careful tracing shows that perhaps there's something from Lanth joining them.  Numbers are too indistinct, but timing is dominated by the synchronicity of all events moving here at the same time, much as Tussinian was a time-space nexus of events.
    A further look, and the part of Lanth that is adding to the spinward-most Rhylanor fuzzy lump is making it about four times bigger.
    This unexpected news about Lanth prompts Kalida to take a look further afield, at Vilis.  To her surprise she finds something strange going on there.  It's totally unrelated to this rebellion, and not related to Digitis either, but that's about all she can tell about it.  There is something very strange about Vilis.  But Vilis is not involved in the rebellion, even though it is involved in something.
    Back around here, she suddenly notices a familiar thread right here.  It's Bridgehead, and he's somehow hooked into this stuff arriving from Lanth.  She leaps onto that.
    The Bridgehead connection is giving her an avenue to follow, a way into the fuzziness without losing the way.  With luck and some work, she might be able to resolve some details.
    Three fleets from Lanth are linking up to 3/4 fleet from Rhylanor at Rorise.  They're meeting there right now, about three days away from leaving to jump straight to Mora.  That would put them here around 178-1123, with the first ships arriving on 177-1123.  They have definitely been delayed, running about a week late.  That timing goes for the rest of the fuzziness of the Rhylanor group, moving in a coordinated way.
    It's also pretty clear that these are the only fleets in Lanth that are coming this way.  There are other fleets in Lanth involved in this affair, but they aren't coming to Mora.
    Of course Kalida knows people who are currently in Lanth.  Marquis Marc and Sir Geoffrey are at Victoria on that archeological expedition.  She can't, however, even tell what is going on there.  They are isolated, and she can't even tell if they are there or not.  The threads are weakening, with no real outside influence.  She's lost any reasonable means of finding her way in there.
    She returns to the Rhylanor fleets.  Looking for a thread, or collection of threads, that can be tugged to change things is not successful.
    Back to Santanocheev's fleets now.  They're still spread out into three groups, running about a week late as they caused at Tussinian.  They will be jumping directly to Mora in about two days, which would bring them here at 177-1123.
    Again, she looks for a thread or group of threads that could be pulled to change things there.  Again, she can't find any.
    She then tries to follow the Countess of Maitz in the same way she followed Bridgehead.  She finds that nothing is at Maitz, and that the Countess is not directly connected with either group of fleets.  She has no real connections with Santanocheev himself, either.
    Kalida tries an experiment.  She stretches her abilities, shifts herself out of being rooted in the web and sees if she can follow possibilities.  She finds that she can't.  She can't do "what if" scenarios, or really do anything active with threads aside from tweaking them at times.
    Finally, she looks back over at the Adabicci area.  The black hole is still there, still stable, right where it was when she first encountered it.
    She comes out of her trance.

    It's been a routine voyage.  Shark hasn't noticed anything unusual on the footballs.  While everything is fresh in Kalida's mind, she calls the crew to the Lounge to discuss what she's found.

    The quick summary is that they've delayed both sides by the same amount, to arrive at the same time.  There are also three additional fleets on their way from Lanth.
    The 3/4 fleet would presumably be as the result of whatever the Count of Fulacin did with the fleet he'd taken back from the INISO.  Alternatively, as Shark suggests, perhaps he's the 3/4 fleet meeting up with the Lanth group to divert them.
    Shark says they need to talk about this to the Archduke.  Also, should they give him a box he can use to talk to them, to give them orders in such a rapidly changing political situation.  They can of course receive the normal fleet transmissions, but this would be unable to be intercepted.  It would be a direct secure line from the Archduke to his wild card.
    Kalida wants to know what Shark suggests if the Archduke gives them an order they don't want to follow.
    Shark says they can simply pretend they didn't get it.  It's a one-way box, and he would have no way to know whether they received it or not.
    Kalida suggests they should not use the word "order" but something more like "information" or "suggestion."  The Archduke may be accustomed to his suggestions acting as orders, but he's been very good about them working on their own so far.
    Shark checks with Robert and Mich that they can give him such a box.  They say they can, and agree with Shark's assumption that if they jump, the connection will break and the box won't work.  It would have to be reconnected all over again by Mich in microgravity and hard vacuum.  He says that they should put a light on the box to show to the Archduke whether it's working or not.
    Kalida asks if they can turn it off or on.
    Mich says that they can cut it off permanently and break the connection, but they would have no control over anything other than the feed of power.  They can provide a switch in the box for the Archduke to turn it on and off -- not that he would trust it -- but all they can do from Nightshade's end is break the box permanently.

    By now it's time for lunch.  Vonish serves that while the crew relaxes and enjoys the food.  They'll call the Archduke to set up an appointment to visit the Archduke that afternoon.

    After lunch, Shark sends that message to the Archduke, and is told to drop by whenever he wants.  At Kalida's suggestion they won't be bringing the box this time, but they will mention it.  This will give Robert and Mich plenty of time to build it, which they say will take about 3-1/2 hours.
    So Shark, as Roger Jolly, heads out to meet the Archduke.  Kalida and Sir Misha accompany him, with Robert driving as usual.

    Before they leave, Shark just runs a paranoid check of the sensors.  He's looking for anything interesting that might have been happening in the system.  Fleet movements and exercises show up, and also a collision between a heavy cruiser and an asteroid at high speed in the asteroid belt.  It looks like they were practicing close flight maneuvers and got it wrong.  The ship was completely destroyed.  Shark is relieved that it was a "normal" accident, and nothing to do with a black ship, white ship, or even an accident loading an Imperial antimatter bomb.

    Finally, the announcement of Baron Bridgehead's upcoming wedding hits the papers.  Or rather, the paper, which had an exclusive interview with the Marquis of Rorise in which he made the announcement.  Baron Bridgehead will wed Angela, Lady Rorise (22) and Dame Erica (19).  The wedding is set for 170-1123, a mere two days from now.  It will be held at the palace of the Duchess of Mora, and will be a small private ceremony.  The paper has a short discussion of the unusual situation of the Baron marrying two sisters at the same time, along with the implications for the title both as a result of the wedding and should the titles pass on.
    After the wedding, they will be "Baron and Baronesses Bridgehead, Lady and Lord Rorise."  Should the Marquis and Marchioness pass the title, they would then be Marchionesses and Marquis of Rorise.  Angela would be Marchioness of Rorise by inheritance, Bridgehead would be Marquis of Rorise by marriage, and Erica would be Marchioness of Rorise also by marriage.  Now if Bridgehead died first, Angela and Erica would be the Baronesses Bridgehead, and still being married, when they inherited the title they would be Marchioness and Marchioness Rorise.
    Shark's concern of course is what this will do to the crew and their operational capability.  He could take over as Ship's Doctor on any ship in the Imperium, but with Bridgehead on board of course he's been just a flunky.

    The trip by gcarrier to the Archducal palace is straightforward, and they are let in and escorted to the front door as usual.  There are of course no paparazzi at the Archduke's palace.
    This time the Archduke receives them in a drawing room, panelled in dark wood in centuries-old fashion, with reproduction period furniture.  He is drinking coffee, and informally offers them some too.
    Nakege says that they have some updated information.  She believes that Santanocheev's group of fleets will be jumping for Mora in about two days.  She also believes that the Rhylanor fleets will be jumping for Mora in three days.
    The Archduke is clearly disturbed by this.  When Nakege adds that there are three Lanth fleets also joining the Rhylanor fleets, he shakes his head and laughs.  He asks, "Was that the good news or the bad news?"
    "That's all the news I have," says Nakege.
    The Archduke nods.  "That doesn't sound very good," he says.
    "At the moment I can't think of any way to delay one side or another."
    "How reliable is this information?"
    "I suppose as reliable as all the information I've given you."
    "OK, we'll set up for the first ships coming in on 176, then a whole bunch on 177 and 178."  He sighs, "Thank you.  Well, we have a date now, right?  A little over a week."
    "Looks that way."  She pauses, then continues, "As we discussed before, with our ship we are planning on being your wild card, without any real connection to official movements.  However, we can offer you a direct line of communication to us.  It is absolutely secure.  It is one-way -- you can talk to us, but we can't talk to you.  There is also a chance it could break down and not be functional again.  There will be a little indicator light to tell you if you're online.  If you're interested..."
    "Of course.  Now, you say secure, in what way?  A very strong encryption?"
    Shark says that it cannot be intercepted in any way.  "We couldn't intercept it if someone else was using it."
    The Archduke looks puzzled.  He says slowly, "So it can't be intercepted?  There is no signal to intercept?"
    "Not that I can understand in any way that our mathematician has explained."
    "So we won't see it transmitting anything?  Will it work from inside a shielded zone?"  As the crew nod, he adds, "Has your entire ship been listening to our conversations?"
    "No," the crew assure him simultaneously.
    "Thank you.  Yes, I would like this."
    Shark says he will deliver it personally tomorrow.
    "With any extra news we might discover," adds Nakege.  She asks if he has any more information for them.
    The Archduke says he doesn't have anything new.  When Shark asks, he says that he has heard nothing more from Fulacin.  He takes that as bad news.

    There being nothing more to discuss, the crew return to Nightshade.

    Back on board, Kalida looks for Jack.  She had been sitting in on the earlier meeting in the Lounge, so she heard what Kalida had found out.  Jack is in the Lounge when Kalida enters, with Vonish sitting quietly in a corner enjoying a glass of whiskey and staring out the window over the downport landing field.
    Kalida says carefully, "Considering the news from this morning, if you could come up with anything interesting, now would be the time."
    Jack says, equally carefully, "Interesting...?  What do you need?  Do you need the option that I outlined before?"
    "Possibly.  Or if you could come up with something more certain."
    "I'll see what I can do.  We've got about a week, right?  I'll see if I can come up with something, yes.  I can't promise it, but I'll see what I can do."
    Kalida thanks her and leaves, heading forward towards her stateroom.

    Tonight there are no social activities on.  It has been kind of dead socially the last couple of days.  Perhaps the impending threat to the system is being taken seriously by the upper class after all.
    There is some social news, though.  The crew's invitations to Bridgehead's wedding have arrived.  The whole crew has been invited.  The wedding will be at 15:00 Imperial time.
    That settles their activity for the afternoon.  Shark starts it, by asking Kalida to help him pick out a wardrobe for the event, and soon others in the crew are also asking the ship's fashion authority for advice.  A shopping trip follows, and all are outfitted suitably.  Some, like Mich, will be attending in Imperial Navy dress blues, but he is in the minority.  Kalida will no doubt be spectacular.  Helia is likely to be spectacular too, but in rather different taste.