(54) To Be Named

The Crusader Campaign (169-1123 to 170-1123)

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169-1123 : Mora / Mora / Spinward Marches

    It is still several days before the first of Santanocheev's ships is expected to arrive insystem, on 176-1123.  On 172-1123, three days from now, the crew of Nightshade will have a meeting with the Imperial Navy's strategic representatives so they can work out their role in the upcoming battle.  Baron Bridgehead's wedding is scheduled for tomorrow, and they've arranged to interrogate him under the pretense of a bachelor party tonight.
    Mich wants to set up a system to dump shield overload energy into Mora's planetary power grid.  His end of the system, a solid tech unit to transfer the power, would take about 5 days to set up including linking all the unspace holes.  The planet-side part of the system would take a lot less.

    It is now evening.  An overly large gravlimo shows up outside Nightshade, and disgorges Baron Bridgehead.  He's alone beside the chauffeur, who stays with the limo.
    The Baron seems to be in an excellent mood, if rather more distracted than usual.
    Vonish Kehnaan has laid on a superb spread, accompanied by the ship's ample supply of whiskey.
    Shark leads with the blunt question everyone has been asking: "Why the ball and chain now?"
    Bridgehead is clearly happy with the committment.  He says, "Why not?  How many times do you get the opportunity to marry two young ladies?"  He laughs.
    Shark says with a smile, "More than I've looked for.  Never that I was willing to..."
    "Well, they're very nice, they like me, and there's a ... tradition involved.  It wasn't my original intention, I must admit."
    "'Tradition involved'?"
    Kalida hands Bridgehead a large North Whipsnade as he continues, "The Rorise family, there's a tradition on Rorise about getting married."
    "They have to?  Or they have to marry an old man?"
    "It's kind of a shotgun thing.  And since both of them were... involved, I get to marry both of them."
    "They told you this, or dad told you this?"
    "They... they told me this, they seem to have assumed I knew it.  Perhaps if we'd spent more time on Mora I'd have known it, but I don't think so.  But it seems legitimate, and I'm not objecting."
    Sir Misha says, "Tell us more about this tradition.  I'm not familiar with 'shotgun.'"
    "That's it really.  I've taken the girls home, I marry them."
    Mich says, "So we don't need to check your brain scan to see if you've been altered?"
    "Gosh no," says Bridgehead, "They haven't been altered.  I'd have to be crazy not to go with this.  I've been trying to pick up every girl in every bar everywhere we've gone, and now two of them have just fallen into my lap."
    Shark says, "But now you can't do that anymore."
    Bridgehead laughs, "I don't need to do that anymore.  You don't get girls like this in starport bars."
    Sir Misha nods, then says, "OK.  So what are your plans after the wedding?  Your career?"
    "I think I could convince them to come along.  Well, not during the actual battle, of course, but..."
    Sir Misha says carefully, "Come along on the ship?"
    "As crew?"
    "Or as passengers, they would need to access much of it if you didn't want them to."
    Shark asks, "Do you think they would spend most of their time in the staterooms?"
    "Staterooms, lounge... taking passengers is explicitly allowed as long as they don't see any black tech."
    Shark says that if the girls were allowed back into the conservatory, they'd have to cover the catwalk so they couldn't see engineering.
    "It's not like we don't have room, this is an enormous ship."
    Mich says, "But they'd have to share your stateroom, which is..."
    "Which is the plan," says Bridgehead with a grin.  "You never know, maybe they'd turn out to do something useful."
    Sir Misha says, "Have you talked to them about this plan of yours?"
    "In general terms, yes.  Obviously nothing too specific, I'm not sure whether their picture of what this ship is, is exactly what the words I used described.  It's the private yacht of a Marchioness, the captain is a knight with very good social contacts and excellent dress sense."
    Sir Misha says, "I am not entirely comfortable with inviting largely unknown persons..."
    "They're not unknown!  I'm sure you've done your research, haven't you?"  Bridgehead looks pointendly at Shark.
    Shark says, "There's very little information available."
    "There you go!"
    "Therefore they're unknown," adds Shark.
    "Therefore they're not a threat!"
    Shark gives him a look that refutes his statement.
    Sir Misha says, "They did, to a degree, throw themselves at you.  So it's not like we found them and invited them on board."
    Bridgehead signs and says, "Well, I definitely picked them up.  I'd need a brain scan if I didn't."
    Sir Misha suggests that it's not the Baron who needs a brain scan, but the girls.
    Bridgehead promises to do a brain scan on them.
    Sir Misha says they need to use all due diligence that the girls' intent is not to work against the ship.
    "They're definite Norris supporters, if that counts."
    "It counts only so far as we can verify it," says Sir Misha.
    "Their father is an interesting person.  They have an interesting setup on their world.
    Shark asks him to describe it.
    "It's essentially a personal estate, the entire world.  Not in legal terms, it's not their Land, but they run everything, the family and the Butler.  I haven't actually met the Butler, of course, he's running the estate back there.  The Marquis and Marchioness are very nice people.  They were a bit concerned about this originally.  But there is this tradition and they can't do anything about that."
    Sharks asks if that's how they married.
    Bridgehead doesn't know -- he hasn't asked.  Things have been busy: "You know how girls are when they're getting married, and there's two of them.  If I never have to look at another wedding dress... it has to suit both of them.  It has to be the same dress, and it has to be perfect for both of them."
    Shark says, "Your suit has to be approved by both of them too."
    "That's easy.  Imperial Navy Grand Admiral uniform is never wrong.  Well, not in places I'd go.  Mich probably knows some places where it isn't a good plan.  So, what's been going on here?"
    Shark says, "We've all been a-flutter about your wedding."
    "Good, glad to here that," says Bridgehead.
    Helia demonstrates by a-fluttering around the room.
    Bridgehead continues, "Well, we've got some time before the big show.  No, not the wedding, the other one.  About a week."
    The interrogation starts turning into a real party.  Mich suggests everyone get brain scans and they all look at each other's, but Bridgehead insists that lying still for a scan is definitely not fun, and looking at all the scans -- no matter how little they might show in practical terms -- violates patient confidentiality.
    Bridgehead asks, "So, this is tradition if a crew member gets married?"
    Shark says that it's usually more raucous and low-end than this.  Bridgehead has no objections.
    Kalida says she thought there were usually strippers involved, and Bridgehead is all too happy for Kalida to go ahead if she wants.  The Marchioness politely declines.
    Sir Misha wonders whose job it was to get the strippers.  The consensus is that it should be the Best Man.  Speaking of which, who is the Best Man?
    Bridgehead explains that traditionally it should be the Butler, but a cousin of the Duchess of Mora is standing in for him since he can't be here.  He suggests that after all this fuss is over, they could all pop over to Rorise and take a look around and meet this chap.  Now would be a bad time, since it's on the route of some of the Rebel fleets.
    The conversation comes back to the subject of strippers, and since there's a stand-in for the Butler as Best Man, would the brides' family paying for the strippers?
    Bridgehead says that they're paying for pretty much everything, they certainly don't seem to be short of money.
    Sir Misha wonders if there is any chance that the brides' family is more than they seem to be, looking meaningfully at Shark and the Doctor, "Significantly more than they seem to be."
    Bridgehead says that the daughters certainly aren't alien space bats, if that's what he means.  What does he mean?
    Sir Misha asks, "How many noble families have their own planet?"
    "She does," says Bridgehead, pointing at the Marchioness of Nakege.  "If she bought the company, she'd own the whole thing.  It's not unknown.  Not so many out here, but further in to the Imperium.  Things are established longer, families have had longer to acquire things.  What do you think they might be?  I assure you they give a very good impression of being human."
    "I wasn't doubting their humanity," says Sir Misha, "More on the sense that... this ship has a habit, dare I say a Fate, of encountering exceptional situations."
    "Well, so did the Anastasia, although Mich created some of those."
    "It is true that situations do compound themselves.  I wondered if somehow you meeting these sisters, marrying them, was a sign, another instance of something we stumbled across."
    "An omen?  Do you want to consult a fortune teller?"
    "No, not an omen, another situation.  Perhaps another extraordinary -- odd is not the right word, extraordinary -- situation."
    "Not any more so than picking up a pirate in a bar."
    "Yes!" exclaims Sir Misha delightedly, "That's exactly what I mean!"
    "Well, I don't think these are pirates."
    "No, that would be a repeat, and you can't repeat extraordinary situations.  Except once, in which case it's the exception that proves the rule."
    Bridgehead says, very slowly and slightly slurred, "I don't see your point."
    Sir Misha looks around.  None of the crew are backing him up, so he pours himself another drink.
    Bridghead looks over at Shark, "I'm curious, what is the worst you have come up with for what this might be?"
    Shark pauses, then laughs, "You die on your wedding night.  The worst for us?  Well, not that obviously."
    Sir Misha says, "We accidentally stumbled upon the INISO.  I wouldn't call it worse, but I wondered if perhaps somehow the family was actually royalty or descended from royalty, and out here because that's what they'd rather do."
    Bridgehead says, "You think I might be Prince? An interesting idea, I like that one."
    Sir Misha says, "But clever enough to arrange it so you were never Prince no matter what happened."
    Bridgehead assures him that titles, even if secret, were still there.  "So I could be the next Emperor, if enough people die."
    Sir Misha laughs that if enough people die, anyone could be Emperor.
    Bridgehead says in all seriousness that once you're nobility, only one person has to die for you to become Emperor.  He explains about the Right of Assassination, but it's not a serious conversation.
    Sir Misha again says, "I have a feeling daddy came and said, 'Oh, by the way, you're going to marry them.'  Am I close to right?"
    "That's close to right," says Bridgehead, "More like 'Daddy's going to insist you marry us.'"
    Shark says, "Ah, better make it look good and volunteer.  Yes?"
    "No," says Bridgehead, "I think there was never really any question about it.  It would have looked really bad if I hadn't.  But more drinks, more drinks!"
    Sir Misha doesn't let the subject sit, however.  After another round of drinks, he says, "So, are these girls intelligent?"
    "Yes.  They're very interesting.  Yes, they're intelligent."
    "What's their interest in you?  I terms of a ship devoted to privateering?"
    "Privateering?" says Shark, "We have yet to privateer.  What ships have we boarded and taken stuff from?"
    A chorus points out that they took the fake Santanocheev off a ship.  No, Shark, it was not crashed before they shot it, just on the ground in perfect shape.  All the things they did against Santanocheev was under a Letter of Marque.
    "So we're rogues and privateers," says Sir Misha.
    "Which reminds me, I still want to go find this piratetress that is dead.  Your ex-girlfriend," Shark says, looking at the Baron.
    "She's dead," says Bridgehead.
    "Not according to the news reports."
    "Being dead makes her much more interesting," says Sir Misha.
    "Did we make any more?" asks Mich.
    "But you could have," says Shark.
    Bridgehead says, "There's only one person on this ship I can actually make, and that's not me.  I haven't created a checkpoint for myself."
    Shark says, "It would have to be a simpleton, I think he's talking about me."
    Sir Misha says, "How can you make another person, aside from the normal way?"
    "I made most of Jill," says Bridgehead.  "With the right samples and a very deep brain scan, I can make a person as of the time they're scanned.  I only have a deep enough brain scan of one person."  He refuses to answer who that is, because it's confidential medical information.
    "Somebody simple like I said," says Shark, "Somebody he experimented with the medical equipment on."
    Bridgehead says, "I would never do anything like that without their wishes."
    Sir Misha asks, "What can you learn from a brain scan?"
    "All sorts of things.  For a start you can learn whether somebody has been tampered with, whether they can tamper with people..."
    "Whether they're lying?" asks Shark.
    "Best way to tell if someone is lying is to pump them with a drug that stops them doing it."
    Sir Misha asks if you can tell if someone is possessed from a brain scan.
    "If there is such a real thing," says Bridgehead, "then... no.  It's Marquis Marc you really need to ask about that."
    The evening progresses, as does Bridgehead's state of inebriation.  Apparently he doesn't want to be rescued, and doesn't need to be rescued.
    Sir Misha asks what they can do to make themselves more comfortable with the idea of Bridgehead's wives joining their ship.
    Shark says that as he remembers it, every time the Baron brings a girl home, she ends up stabbing someone in the back.
    Mich says that Jack brought Jill, not the Baron.  Or rather Jill brought Jack, but that's not how it looked at the time.
    Bridgehead says the only girl he brought on board didn't stab anyone.  She did turn out to be the famous pirate Robin Sherwood, but that didn't hurt them.
    "What about that time you flew up in the air and got shot?" asks Shark.
    "That was my own fault.  It was a strategic maneuver that had certain tactical disadvantages I had not forseen," Bridgehead says.  "There we were, under cover on this ice world, with all the cockroaches hidden out there across the ice.  I was in battledress, so I just floated up to get a better view.  Everyone else was under cover, and the cockroaches had some... big guns.  Of course we had more people hurt after the battle when we tested their weapons than we did during the battle..."
    "So, back to the question," says Sir Misha.
    "I'll give them a brain scan, Shark can look at it," volunteers the Baron.
    Mich says, "There's having them aboard as passengers, then there's having them as crew."
    "Well," says Bridgehead, "We do need more art around here.  Maybe it needs a sparkly pink artist to change the exterior."
    Sir Misha asks how closely the ship can monitor people on board.  Of course it won't tell anything about what happens in a stateroom, including what they access, but their access to computer and physical access to the ship can be controlled.  When the Duke of Rhylanor was on boards, the Lounge wall showed an ocean scene from Goose.  There certainly would be no problem with restricting their access, and it would be much more effective than they could limit it on an Imperial ship.
    Soon, it's time to pour Bridgehead back into the limo.  They carry him out, dump him in the back seat of the limo, and watch as he is driven back into town.

170-1123 : Mora / Mora / Spinward Marches

    Nightshade now has 305 missiles.

    The wedding of Angela, Lady Rorise and Dame Erica of Rorise with Baron Bridgehead is to take place at 13:00 at the palace of the Duchess of Mora.
    Teri, Jack, and Robert are remaining on board, while the rest of the crew are attending the ceremony.

    The ceremony is in an ancient Terran language called Latin.  Translator chips are provided at the door, and Shark compares it with his and verifies that there is no apparent dark magic hidden in the ceremony.  Now there are a whole lot of response-answer sections that don't make much sense, such as:
    -- Who will tow the goat along the path of the riverside?
    -- We shall, for we have the lute of goat-towing.

    The burning question of who kisses who first, which has occupied the crew the whole time on the way and before the ceremony starts is settled when Angela kisses Erica.  The dress does indeed look superb on both of them.

    Bridgehead is married.

    The crew are still trying to figure this whole thing out, watching everyone carefully.  Everyone seems pretty happy with it all.
    The brides' parents seem relaxed, in an old-blood noble kind of way.  The family has been born into nobility for countless generations, it seems, and they're a little informal in the way that the best nobles can get away with because everyone knows their heritage.  They seem very pleased that the wedding is taking place, and with Bridgehead.

    The reception follows the two-hour wedding ceremony.  In contrast to the wedding, the reception is very informal.  The food is of course superb, and the punch is excellent.
    On the wedding list are the Duchess herself and her immediate family, the parents of the cousin who is the Best Man, the parents of the brides, Baron and Baroness Sumdobi (who sponsored the girls to the Eagle's Nest), and assorted other local nobles.

    Sir Misha circulates through the crowd, with the primary object of talking to the two new brides.  He wants to take a guess about how intelligent they are, and ask them what it is they like about the Baron.  It's quickly clear that they're both smart -- they wouldn't have needed money or connections to get into the University of Mora.  They both really like the Baron -- he's fun to be around, he's a great person to be close to privately, not at all stuffy in private just a really nice person.  And yet he still carries himself like a Grand Admiral and is good to be around.
    Now as for what their plans are for the near future.  They both know he travels around a lot.
    Angela, the elder, is not sure of her plans.  She knows that the sort of wandering around that he's been doing could provide her with lots of opportunities to learn interesting things.
    Erica is more definite.  She wants to put it into her art.  She wants to, needs to, create.  Exposure to all the things the Baron could show her will give her more experience to enhance her expression.
    Sir Misha is sure of one thing: both were being completely honest with him.  He tells them he is very pleased to have met them, and looks forward to spending more time with them if and when that becomes possible.

    While that's been going on, Shark has been standing to the side of the room watching.  He's trying to observe who is talking to who.  In general, anyone spending more time in certain conversations that he would expect based on the current political climate.  Oddly enough, his impression is that the brides' father is spending a little too much time speaking to one of the waiters, but he puts that down to too much punch on their part (rather than his).

    Sir Misha has politely stepped away from the girls, and looks around the room to see where to circulate next.  While doing so, with the reception having gone on for several hours, he notices that one -- just one -- of the guards has changed.  He walks over and quietly points that out to Shark.
    Shark agrees.  This person, one of the palace security and not a member of a noble's entourage, has not been here before.  He looks around at the other guards to see if anyone else has noticed.  They must have been watching the guests rather than each other, because none are showing any signs of noticing anything unusual.  This new person is very similar to the one he replaced, same build, same general features, but a slightly different hairstyle.
    Shark steps over to one of the waiters, grabs something from the tray, and moves back to the wall at a different spot closer to the new guard.
    Kalida has been circulating listening to the conversation.  Mostly it's as would be expected at a wedding, about the pretty dress, the strange ceremony, the usual small talk.
    Sir Misha walks over to her, and asks for a quiet word with her.  He tells her there might be some security issues going on, and she should keep her eye on guard number four and her crew.  He then returns to Shark, tells him he'll take over for him, and that Shark should find the head of security.
    Shark has noticed that there are subtle differences in the new guard's clothing.  From a difference he looks the same, but there's small differences in the shirt and suit.
    Shark moves over towards the kitchen, follows a waiter in, and tells the staff he wants to talk to the head of security.  He's directed to a guard outside a door, and tells him that his employer has a concern.  The guard lets him in.
    Shark introduces himself to the head of security as Edward Teeth, from the Marchioness, and tells him that the third guy clockwise from the kitchen is no longer wearing the same suit of the rest of them.  "Is that of your design?"
    The head of security clearly knew who he was all along.  He says this was not planned, and thanks Shark.
    Shark returns to the reception.  He takes up a place against the wall near the kitchen door, and gives the nod to Sir Misha that he has done has he asked.  He isn't wearing his zack, but prepares for trouble by loosening up and making sure his gauss pistol is ready to hand.

    The security head's guard comes out of the kitchen with a couple of other guards.  They start moving around the room starting one away from the suspect, first having a quiet word with the legitimate guard and switching him out with a new one.  They move on to the suspect as if it's a routine shift change.  They talk to him, then escort him out towards the kitchen.

    Shark moves around to put himself between the Marchioness and the suspect.  She's over near Bridgehead now, having noticed something going on and moved over to him.  Mich is off dancing with all the pretty girls, apparently making quite a hit, but Shark can't cover everyone.  Sir Misha is still by the wall where he replaced Shark.

    The suspect is drawing his gun and spinning around to take a shot.  It was far from a perfect move, and both Shark and Sir Misha see him telegraph it like he'd sent them xmail a week ago.
    Shark draws his gauss pistol for a shot, but stops short of firing because Sir Misha was a little quicker.
    Sir Misha is in his zack, and puts all those countless hours of zack fighting training to good use.  He covers the distance to the suspect in a flash, and in a blur flips a martial arts move and slices off the gun arm.
    The man would have been shooting in the general direction of Kalida and the Baron.  As the two guards shovel the man into the kitchen and grab the severed arm, Shark commdots "Pill in tooth" to Sir Misha.  It wasn't needed, however, as one of the guards has rendered the man unconscious with a gun butt.  Sir Misha simply draws his sword and follows them into the kitchen.
    Kalida scans the room quickly.  People screaming, moving away, trying to look, all sorts of reactions.  Among those reactions, however, no-one looks out of place.  All honest reactions.

    It's a matter of moments before the head of security comes out and announces to all that there is nothing to worry about.  It was merely a small misunderstanding and everything is under control.  The guests accept this -- the blood and all evidence that there was a struggle has already been cleaned up.  He gives a slight nod to Shark, then returns to the kitchen.

    In the kitchen, the man is taken back to the guardroom and has a first aid patch slapped on the stump.  They clearly don't care about reattaching the arm, which is still holding some sort of small large-bore pistol.  They thank Sir Misha and tell him that they have found the body of the other guard.  They will be taking this one for processing.  Sir Misha's zack is clean, no blood sticking to it.

    The party continues, a lot louder now.  Everyone is talking about what happened, what people saw, and of course the astonishing actions of Sir Misha.  Some people saw a gun and are wondering who the target was.  It takes a while for the conversation to settle down, but settle down it does eventually.

    Shark works his way over to a couple of the Rorise guards and says that in his opinion, the target was either his employer or their latest charge.  They agree.

    The incident happened at about 18:30, but the night is still young.  Much, much later the party starts to wind down, and the Nightshade crew prepare to leave.  Mich could surely have brought a girl with him, but given the events of the night decides that more complications aren't a good idea.
    On the way out, Shark pings Callisto back on the ship.  He tells her there's been an incident, he's not sure if the Marchioness or the Baron was targetted, but asks her to keep an eye on their surroundings as they return to the ship.
    At that point Shark steps into the open air, and he doesn't need Callisto to tell him there's been trouble.  Four heavy columns of smoke are rising into the air over the city.  An official Imperial Navy gcarrier sits outside that wasn't there before.
    Callisto tells him that there have been some explosions, some other incidents that haven't been officially described yet.  The buildings that have been damaged don't seem to have been important.
    She takes Shark's instructions: watch them on the way back; watch the Baron; and find out what was destroyed.  She then tells Shark that there's a message from the Archduke on the Bat Phone for Sir Misha to contact him as soon as he gets in.

    The crew get into the limo that the Duchess had provided, and return to Nightshade without further incident.