(53) To Be Named

The Crusader Campaign (168-1123)

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169-1123 : Mora / Mora / Spinward Marches

    Nightshade now has 281 missiles, with a full week until the first early jumpers from Santanocheev's fleets are expected in the system on 176.  This is approaching the level where it might be enough for Kalida to use once on black or white tech, provided she holds onto them and doesn't use them on the Imperial ships.  The expander can only be fired every 10 minutes, so holding that in reserve could be important too so it's always ready.

    Robert amd Mich have been working on the communications box they are to deliver to the Archduke so he can communicate to them (but not the other way).

    Shark would love to know the battle plan of the defenders, and asks Kalida about it.  She doesn't really know, but can at least lay out the problems presented by the upcoming confrontation.
    They will of course be outnumbered, but they will have the planetary defenses of the capital of the Domain of Deneb at their disposal.  Anything that has a military base here, plus the mainworld, will have some kind of firepower they can add to the battle.  The weak point would appear to be the gas giant in orbit 3, which has no moon and therefore no ground-based assets, although there would no doubt be ship-based forces in the gas giant atmosphere.
    In this system, at least, Santanocheev has an interest in not causing serious damage to populated areas, at least if he hopes to be supported as Archduke afterwards as the Good Guy.  Now, he could blame any civilian casualties on Norris for positioning his forces using them as shields, at least when he writes the history afterwards.  The megacorporations with substantial installations on Mora, however, might feel differently and not be swayed by trite news items.
    Kalida and Shark would both really like to know the disposition of the fleets in the system so they can plan their own strategy.  Perhaps the Archduke will tell them something useful this afternoon.
    Shark also wants to know the psychological profile of the Archduke in command.  Will he command his own forces, or leave it for others to do the work?  Since Norris served in Naval Intelligence, he is at least familiar with naval operations.  He's unlikely to be on the bridge of a ship himself, even though Shark points out he has nothing to lose by doing so -- if he loses the battle, he won't be Archduke or probably even alive for long.
    On the bad side, it is pretty much certain that the coreward fleets will know about the laser scanning to deal with stealth mode.  They were using it at Dawnworld on 107-1123, so it is likely the other section would have found out about this a month ago.

    More immediate is the matter of Baron Bridgehead's wedding, due to take place at the palace of the Duchess of Mora tomorrow at 15:00.  It will be a small family only affair, but the whole crew has been invited too.  He's a little unlikely to be inviting many of his old military "friends," but there could be some Imperial Navy representatives there.
   Obviously they won't leave Nightshade unmanned.  So who would stay behind on board while the rest of the crew attend Bridgehead's wedding?  Teri volunteers immediately, and Callisto too.  Kalida asks Jack if she wants to go, and Jack is also not really excited by going to a wedding.
    Everyone else will be attending.  Kalida isn't sure she wants to go, but it would be a social snub for her not to.  Shark isn't going to miss this for the world.  Robert would be amused to observe the mating rituals of a bunch of primitive apes, although he doesn't put it like that, at least when the ship translates for him.

    Jack asks Mich and Robert if they need the brown box anymore.  She wants to know if she can break it, as in make it useless.  They say that's fine.  She wants it still hooked up to Mich's ship simulation.  She has an experiment she wants to try in the next couple of days once she has it set up.

    So there are several definite things they have to do today.  What could they possibly get a filthy rich Baron or his two young brides?  They do have to deliver the communications box to the Archduke.  That still leaves them several hours for Kalida to do mind games.

    Kalida will go into her trance with the usual assistance of Shark.  The two discuss what they want out of this.  Obviously any information on the fleets would be important.  The other thing they want her to try again is if she can influence things by pulling on strings.
    Shark points out that the Lanth and Rhylanor fleets are meeting up at Rorise.  The Baron is marrying the Rorises tomorrow.  His ever paranoid mind is still not sure that they are not involved in some way.
    Kalida says they're connected in that she might be able to hook through Bridgehead's threads to see what's going on there, but she firmly believes they are not involved in the rebellion.
    The other thing Shark wanted to know is specifically about the fleets in Lanth.  They know all those fleets are involved, but aren't coming here.  Where are they going?  He's not really worried about Victoria, as Kalida has told him there's weird stuff going on there, but it's not at all related to Santanocheev.  There's also the black hole near Adabicci.
    Kalida reminds him that she is in danger of getting sucked into that.
    Shark agrees that would be bad, especially if it triggered the appearance of another white tech ship.

    Kalida heads off on her trip.  First she looks at the fuzzy clumps of Rhylanor, but nothing seems to have changed.
    She then looks for the multiple Santanocheevs.  Their locations have unfuzzed some, and are Moran, Fornice, and Grille.  They have some fleets with them, and there's still some fuzz around them, but that's where they are.  She looks for any threads that she could pull to mess them up, but they're on a railroad to Mora now, there's really not much that could stop them or even slow them down.  It would take something on an astronomical scale to derail it now... perhaps a Star Trigger might do it, but nothing short of that.
    The Count of Fulacin is dead at Rhylanor.  She tries hard for more details, but all she can tell is that there was some kind of conflict there.  She can't even tell what state the system is in now.  As for the Duke of Rhylanor's family, she can't tell that either.
    Now she moves on into Lanth.  Santanocheev's fleets here are spread three ways.  Some of them are coming to join the Rhylanor fleets; some are headed down to Lunion subsector, where it's rather fuzzy with timing and location; and some are currently in jump for Regina.  The arrival of the last of those would have been coordinated with the original planned arrival at Mora.
    She focusses in on Lunion.  Several fleets are at Lunion itself.  Another fleet is doing something else, but it's kind of strange.  She starts to get a bad feeling about that one, and pulls out quickly.  None of them are actually going to Adabicci.
    That runs out of things she can see clearly.
    She turns her attention to Baron Bridgehead, as his immediate future might be important.  He gets fuzzy very quickly over the next day or two, along with his fiancees.  Extending out into the couple of weeks she wants to see is impossible.  She can't even pick out the Marquis of Rorise.
    She finishes off by looking at the fleets here, but there isn't anything useful she can tell about them.  She pulls herself out of her trance.

    Sharks footballs did register a lump -- not really a spike -- some of the time into the session, but not at all high.

    Kalida immediately delivers her scouting report to the rest of the crew in the Lounge.  They already knew Santanocheev's forces had split into three, and she relates where the three copies of him are.  She says there is pretty much nothing they can do to alter their course.
    She tells them that Fulacin is dead at Rhylanor.  She says she'll try again the day after the wedding to see if she can find more.
    She confirms that three Lanth fleets are coming in with the Rhylanor fleet.  Two are going to Regina and are in jump, timed to arrive when the original plan said the fleets would reach here.  The rest went into Lunion.  That means all the fleets are gone from Lanth.
    There was one of those that gave her a bad feeling, and Shark suggests it might have been going towards Adabicci.  He wonders if the darkness might be centered around Ianic, since he'd heard things were weird there.  All Kalida knows is that it's in the Adabicci area, she can't figure out where.  Zaibon is another system in that area with an interesting history, so there's all sorts of possibilities.
    She then brightens up and says that she looked for Bridgehead's general direction in the next week or two.  If nothing interesting had happened, he should be linked to them.  But he was very, very fuzzy within the next few days.  That's well before the fleets get here.

    Shark contacts the Company again, since he was so happy with his contact last time.  He can't just walk in, unless he was bringing Mich for safety, so he has to do it the old fashioned way through the want ads.  It takes a couple of hours to get a response.  As soon as it comes in he tells the Captain he's going walkabout, and Robert can find him.
    He takes a taxi into town, and soon finds himself in front of the same person as before.  "I'm sure you've heard about the upcoming wedding," he says.
    "Sir Misha and the Countess?" asks the man,
    "Ah, no.  I'm sure that Sir Misha is not planning anything like that.  The Baron and the future Marchionesses.  He is technically part of the crew and therefore has some effect on the wellbeing of the crew in general and Mich in particular.  I'd like to know more about the Marquis of Rorise and his daughters.  Specifically, why they are latching on him."
    "We don't have a lot on them.  Politically they aren't important.  Economically not particularly important either.  We don't know much about the family, they stay out of anything that's causing any trouble.  The family consists of the Marquis, the Marchioness, and the two daughters... plus one, well, we have it down as Butler, who's been with the family a long time.  Those are the only people considered permanent residents."  He pauses, then adds, "They do seem to have a fair turnover in domestic staff.  There are some mining operations there, but they're kept small scale.  It's not good conditions for mining, so whatever reserves there are, aren't worth enough to merit full exploitation.  They run their own system -- they're in charge of the system themselves.  There's nobody else there."
    "There's no political reason that you guys have that they would be making for an unlanded Baron?"
    "Well, the succession rules are kind of complicated there.  They become very complicated," he sighs.  "It would immediately elevate the daughters to the level of Baroness, one of which would become the Marchioness.  We think they both will provided they are still married."
    "When the Baron dies."
    "When the current Marquis and Marchioness die, or when they abdicate the title, which could happen before that."
    "Our concern is that if they both marry the Baron, when he dies they become equal and they both get to be Marchionesses."
    "Yes, we believe that is the case.  It hasn't been tested in court, but given it's Rorise no-one's really going to make a fuss about it."  He continues, "We don't really know a lot about them.  They've spent some time on Mora, they've both been through the University.  They both seem quite bright.  One of them is studying Art, the other Political History."
    "The younger one Political History?" asks Shark.
    "The younger one Art," his contact replies.  "We just figured that the Baron was doing his usual thing, and just happened to..."
    "Get caught this time?"
    "Yes, fell into one of those local traditions that we don't know about.  Family traditions of the Marquis of Rorise."
    "My professional nervousness makes me wonder if they don't have an earlier 'retirement' planned."
    "They aren't on our watch list.  They haven't stood out as being active or having any significance."
    "Well, that's what I wanted to find out.  Thank you for your time."
    Shark is satisfied with what he's discovered.  Now it'll be time to shop for wedding presents.

    When Shark returns to Nightshade, he doesn't have a lot to report.  The older daughter is studying Political History, which makes sense with their talk about inheritence.  If the Baron died first, both daughters would be Marchioness... provided the two daughters didn't divorce each other, of course.
    Kalida points out they don't know the structure of the marriage.  He could in fact be married to both of them, but they could be married just to him and not to each other.
    This is right along Vonish's background in Law.  He believes that the way it would be set up in terms of Imperial recognition is that all three of them would be mutually married, not individually married to the Baron.  In the latter case it could constitute bigamy, but if they all get married at once there would be a grey area, and local laws of Rorise would take precedence.
    Kalida raises an eyebrow.  "There are Imperial Laws on marriage?"
    "There are Imperial Laws on the recognition of marriages across systems," explains Vonish.  "It relates to inheritance rights, taxes, import duties, and so on.  From the Imperium's point of view, they would recognize that the three were mutually married.  Remove one, and the other two no matter who they are would remain married."
    Vonish waves aside the barrage of questions, and says, "Yes, that means if the Baron died, two siblings would be married to each other.  As for Kalida's question about children, remarriages and inheritance in that case, I have no idea how that would work and neither does Imperial Law.  One would hope that they did not remarry or at least divorced first."
    Shark says that it is a well established tradition that a child does not have to be born in wedlock to inherit titles, so there's no reason for them to remarry.  Imperial titles would only affect their non-spouse.
    Vonish disagrees.  Under certain circumstances, divorce for example, it could split the titles held by the two Marchionesses.  Angela would retain the title Marchioness of Rorise, whereas Erica would take Baron Bridgehead's honorific Baron title and become merely Baroness Erica.  He agrees that for title inheritance purposes, both their children would be a single pool of potential heirs and the question of who was the actual mother would not have the slightest relevance.
    Regardless of all that, if the daughters did split up then at least Erica would gain an inherited title, rather than remain merely Dame which would not pass on.
    Shark still believes that the Baron is in danger of being discarded at the earliest convenience.  But then, he's sure the Baron would be alert for any of that kind of thing -- unless the girls are keeping him distracted.
    Kalida and Shark wonder not only if they want to talk to him first, but how to get him alone for a frank conversation.  The best bet would probably be to try to claim some kind of Ship's Tradition and throw him a bachelor party.  They agree that would be the way to do it, and at least offer him a chance to talk to them alone if he wants it.
    Meanwhile Robert is been hacking into their gift registry.  That's made him very popular with the crew.
    Robert reports on what the girls are requesting.  It's mostly furniture, china, and housewares.  There seem to be two sets of taste represented, modern and traditional.  Robert adds a full set of Gavrolovitch novels to the list.  Some pet rabbits would be nice to add to the list too.  He thinks a signed first edition of the last Gavrolovitch novel would make an excellent gift.  He'll pciks up a copy and then makes sure "Gavrolovitch" signs it specifically for the occasion of the Baron's wedding on the particular date.  It's a truly perfect example of the author's signature and writing.

    Shark isn't done with paranoia, however.  He starts looking into what other activities the daughters were engaged in while at the University of Mora.  Were they playgirls or what?  Were they playing the field or did they actually have a thing for older guys?  There's very little on either, but nothing on Erica.  Angela was involved in sports, played for the UoM Cricket Team and athletics in pole vaulting.  Nothing social, not that he has found yet in the papers.
    Kalida joins in to help him, and the two of them working together are more successful.  The girls weren't involved much in the noble social scene, not directly anyway.  They were involved in a number of clubs and societies.  They are both members of the UoM Alumni Country Club and the UoM Cricket Club.  They are both members of the Eagle's Nest, but there are not reports of them ever being seen there.
    Robert checks the member list and finds they were sponsored by the Duchess of Mora, the Marquis of Moran, and Baroness Sumdobi (a local noble of little significance).  Their parents are not members; the daughters each received membership for their 16th birthday.  This is not at all common practice among other Marquis families.
    "Why them?" asks Kalida.  There doesn't seem to have been any particular connection between the Duchess of Mora and Rorise.

    Shark sends a personal note to Baron Bridgehead "reminding" him that he has a traditional bachelor party on board ship.  Would he be able to make it tonight?  They'll of course open up some of their good whiskey, order a keg, and is there anyone else he'd like to bring?
    After a short while, the reply comes that the Baron will be coming, and won't be bringing anyone.

    Next order of business will be the visit to the Archduke.  He'll be expecting them today and they were told just to turn up.  Robert drives Shark, Kalida, and Sir Misha in the gcarrier.
    They are escorted to the front door, and led to the same drawing room as last time.  The Archduke greets them and offers drinks.
    Shark presents him with the box, with a light on it that is showing it works.  There's a Ready light, a push-to-talk button, and a Transmitting light.
    Archduke Norris asks Kalida if she has any more information.
    Not a lot, replies the Marchioness of Nakege.  The other fleets from Lanth are heading into Regina and Lunion.
    The Archduke nods, "That makes sense.  Nothing we can do about that.  With any luck, they'll just stay out of the way until we get this all resolved."
    Nakege says, "We'd like to start discussing amongst ourselves what our general tactics are going to be once the fleets arrive.  Is there anything you can tell us about the general strategy or more specific tactics of the fleets?"
    "You'd be best to get that from an Imperial Navy representative.  We can set up an interview with them.  How much advance notice do you need?  Of course things are still in flux at the moment.  On three days, on 172?"
    Nakege nods, "Yes, that would be fine."
    "Someone from the Imperial Navy will contact you and set up a meeting."
    Hesitantly she says, "We probably will not really be sharing much of what we plan to do."
    "So far as I can gather, even if you did, it would be unlikely to survive the first contact with the enemy."
    Nakege smiles her agreement, "Probably not."
    The Archduke says,  "It would make sense for them to put some forces into Regina to stave off any potential uprising in my power base when news of my downfall gets there.  I imagine that news of my success will turn things the other way around."
    It was a short meeting.  The device was handed over, and plans of the defenders should be forthcoming.  The crew return to Nightshade.