(55) To Be Named

The Crusader Campaign (171-1123 to 176-1123)

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171-1123 : Mora / Mora / Spinward Marches

    Nightshade now has 329 missiles.

    Robert asks Jack about the Brown Box she's been working on.  She says she might have come up with something.
    Robert asks if they can overload their communications systems by having it broadcast to every ship and set the ships working on some problem to overload them.
    Jack says she's working on something.  It isn't ready for release yet, but she might have something by the time the fleets get here.  Robert asks if he can help, but Jack says it's more in her line than his, and politely turns him down.

    Meanwhile, most of the crew is leaving Baron Bridgehead, Lord Rorise's wedding reception.  Four columns of heavy smoke are rising over the city, and an Imperial Navy gcarrier that wasn't there before has pulled up to the front door of the palace of the Duchess of Mora.
    Shark has asked Callisto to keep an eye on them and their route on the way back, and Robert to feed him as much information as he can on what's happening.
    The main information, though, comes from a TNS news item earlier that evening.  Robert adds to that, however.  The explosions were all at apartment buildings, and although they don't recognize the names of most of the minor nobility who lived there, one was Marquis Marc's and another was Sir Arken Hauther's.  Three or four nobles were residents in each building; the total was about 15 apartments owned by nobles.  Apparently these were selected for an as yet unknown reason, as there are many more apartments held by nobles in the domain capital, more than the one device which was said to have been disarmed.
    Robert wants to know how the list of bombings lines up with their political leanings, but he doesn't really have access to that.  The Archduke would know, of course.
    In fact, Shark suggests, they should go directly to the palace now.  They know the Archduke has called them on the Bat Phone, so he should be expecting them.  Helia and Vonish are in a separate limo, going back to the ship.
    On the way, Shark summarizes for Sir Misha: a bunch of nobility has been assassinated, either directly or through blowing up their residence buildings entirely.  The news doesn't say how they were assassinated, but Shark assumes it would be pistol or rifle like the attempt at the reception.  There were four bombs that went off, and at least one was found and disarmed.  Shark wants to know how they found the one or more that they did, what can they tell about the builders, and of course they'd just been talking about the political aspect.
    Kalida tells Sir Misha that one of those assassinated was Judi Tarrassi, Countess of Maitz.  The media will no doubt be very disappointed that their alleged wedding won't take place.  They also know the Count and Countess of Nexine, among those killed.

    The limo floats up to the gates of the Archducal Palace.  The platoon of Imperial Marines in battledress moves aside to let them in, and they are escorted to the front of the palace.
    Marines escort them directly to an audience with the Archduke.  This time it's an old-fashioned book library, a fairly small room.  Imperial Marines in battledress stand guard outside.
    Kalida studies the Marines.  They are tense, in a high state of alert.  These don't look like combat line troops, more like ceremonial guard pushed into this role in an emergency.  Everything is well polished, and they're tense, but they are still Imperial Marines.
    The group is welcomed in, and the door closes behind them.  They are offered drinks, and the crew's choice this time is mostly coffee.
    The Archduke asks them if they've seen the news, and what they think of it.  He wants to hear their opinion before he gives them more details.
    Sharks says that Santanocheev is trying to take out opposition before the battle.  Kalida adds that it will undermine the Archduke ahead of time too.
    Mich says the timing suggests they don't know that they've delayed the battle.  It was expected to go off very soon before the Rebels arrived.
    Shark wonders why they would put everyone on alert the day before the attack.
    Mich says that disrupting the chain of command would be worth the alert.
    Sir Misha asks who the target was in their group.  Shark and Kalida agree it was either Bridgehead or Kalida.
    Mich reminds them that although Sir Arken Hauther was targetted, they know he wasn't there.
    Shark says that people who have worked with them, or given other support against Santanocheev, were the ones targetted.
    Sir Misha goes further than that.  He says the attacks were against confidants of the Archduke, advisors too.
    The Archduke sighs, "That is correct.  A lot of my close advisors."
    "Would those advisors be well known?" asks Sir Misha.
    "No," replies the Archduke.  "Some of them would have been straightforward to assemble from fairly easy intelligence, some of them would not.  We are speculating that this was set up well in advance.  The operations on the mainworld here were not INISO operations, they were independent cells."
    "Mercenary cells?" asks Shark.
    "Some known mercenaries."
    "So clearly you had some counter-intelligence because you got to one of the bombs before it went off," says Shark.
    "I believe that the security measures in that particular building were better.  I believe you're familiar with the place -- you've visited contacts there a few times since you've been here."
    Kalida asks if all the bombs went off at the same time.
    "Yes.  They all went off at exactly 19:00."
    "We read between the lines, the other assassinations were mostly handgun, rifle?" asks Shark.
    "Rifle mostly, long range weapons."
    Shark says their limo is moderately well armored, but they might want alternate transport back to the ship.
    "I was coming to that," says the Archduke.
    Mich asks if any of them were caught, and what information they obtained from them.
    The Archduke says that they picked up a couple, and that's where they found out that they were independent cells.  They received a message that coordinated their attack.  He goes on, "It was probably set up yesterday morning, because that's when the meeting that was bombed on our flagship was arranged."
    "Flagship?" says Kalida, wide-eyed.
    Shark says slowly, "There was a bombing on a flagship."
    "Yes, and also they've taken out the meson gun installations on the moon of the inner gas giant as well.  That means we're going to have to send more ships out there.  Yes, Shark, it could be that it would make it easier to refuel there, but it also might be that they want to divert ships that would otherwise have been in the line of battle."
    The Archduke pauses, then says, "The flagship attack took out most of our command staff.  It seems we missed one INISO operative.  He managed to get one missile warhead into position.  The ship is not capable of being a flagship any longer, but internal damage control was sufficient that it can still fight to a certain extent."
    He again pauses, then continues, "Now this affect you directly.  I am recalling Baron Bridgehead to active duty."
    The crew exchange glances.
    Shark says, "I know where that puts some of us in terms of command rank, but as a civilian ship..."
    The Archduke says, "As a civilian ship, your role has not changed, although you would probably be the most secure means of transporting the Grand Admiral to his flagship -- once we have swept the flagship, which we have been doing for a while."
    Shark asks, "Is he the only Admiral left in the system?"
    "He is the only Grand Admiral left in the system.  He will be commanding the defense.  But we are aware of his personal skills, we will have substantially competent staff officers to relay his commands."
    "His tactics on the grand scale are impeccable," says Shark.  "His personal tactics are..."
    "Exactly," says the Archduke, "He will be officially in command, he will be directing the operation, but orders that he issues will be... filtered."
    Shark turns to Sir Misha and says, "I'll put myself down as Medical Officer when we get back on board."
    The Archduke continues, "Technically, of course, he would be recalled for a four year term.  In practice, it is not likely to last that long."
    Shark observes, "It will start as a four year term, he can always have an early discharge."
    "He's already done one extra term during his period of service."
    Shark says, "Have we identified the person who arranged the bomb on board?"
    "Yes, we have."
    "And they did not survive capture?"
    "They did not survive the blast.  Obviously the news of the non-civilian targets will not be released.  We will be announcing Baron Bridgehead's appointment as some fantastic move, a strategic genius."
    Mich and Shark speculate briefly on the nature of the bombs.
    The Archduke states, "The building devices were small nuclear demolition charges.  They also took out the secure bunker underneath each one.  We are not sure who was killed yet.  We are not sure of the location of Sir Arken, for example."
    Mich assures the Archduke that Sir Arken is offworld.
    Shark nods his agreement, and again observes that the targets were not politically high placed people, but intelligence based personnel.
    The Archduke nods, "And certain other advisors.  A lot of my network is down.  It was extremely well done."  He looks around at the crew, then says, "I also have in mind a more long term civilian role for the current Baron.  I believe it would be a posting he would not refuse, so I am afraid he will not be returning.  Assuming, of course, that the appointment is confirmed.  I have already sent a message to the Emperor for confirmation, so should Santanocheev take over, it would be hard for him to counter it.  At least one person who is on the right side will be in a position of some power."
    Shark smiles, 'Until their untimely demise."
    "Yes, well you could help out there."
    Shark asks, "What do we do in the short term?  What other things would Santanocheev do based on his projected arrival time?  Given he's already done a reasonable job on the military side and the civilian side.  I know your security guys must be going over everything with a fine tooth comb."
    The Archduke laughs.  He says, "Fortunately we'd already purged our own meson gun network here.  That was probably targetted as well, but we apparently took out who was intended to target that.  At least that's something."
    Shark nods.  "That was the inner gas giant?"
    "Yes.  The outer gas giant has no place to mount meson defenses.  It requires naval control.  That's the one we'd expect him to go for, of course.'  He pauses, then says, "So that's the situation.  I'd like you to stand by to be ready to transport the Grand Admiral to his flagship.  I can't think of any safer way of doing it."
    "There will be more operatives out there."
    "We would expect there to be.  Fortunately Imperial Intelligence was not disrupted, so they are fully able to operate on this."
    Shark says, "I'm not going to suggest that I won't be recalled to active duty."
    "It is unlikely that you would be recalled to active duty."
    "Or if I am, my post would be exactly where I am," Shark smiles.
    "So, at least you will have access, I am sure, to our strategic plans.  The Grand Admiral's orders have already been delivered, and I would like you to collect him at noon from the Ducal Palace... today I suppose, given what time it is now.  We will have completed the sweep of the flagship by then.  And obviously your communications device works."
    A brief discussion follows as to the safest way for them to get back to their own ship.  It is soon decided that they will leave from the back gate in what appears to be a regular convoy of Imperial Marines to the downport.  It won't be as comfortable as the limo, but it won't attract attention and it will be safe.

    On the way to the starport, Sir Misha says they should contact the head of security and explains that they have been asked by the Archduke to protect the Baron, and to ask permission to come and stay there.  Unstated is his intention of taking the ship itself to the palace in stealth mode, landing on the back lawn and walking directly into the formal gardens where they would not be observed.
    Shark makes the call, as head of security for the Marchioness of Nakege, and makes the arrangements to augment their security.  He says he might have some useful information for him too.
    The security head thanks him again for his help earlier, and says to ask if there's anything they need.
    Shark says they will be arriving in the formal gardens in two hours.  When asked how they will be arriving, he says simply, "On foot.  We'll see you in two hours."

    Back at the ship, it's time to do the usual underwater disappearing trip.  They head out over the ocean, so the Marchioness can go fishing, perhaps?  They dive down underwater far enough to be lost to sensors, and then go into stealth mode.  Of course in stealth mode they will be unable to generate new missiles.
    Shark, Sir Misha, and Teri will be the shore team.  Everyone else will be at battle stations on the ship should it need to go into action.

    Helia flies them to the Ducal Palace.  While their sensors show that security is good, it's simple enough to move in to the formal lawn in steath.  They extend the walkway from behind the bridge, and Shark, Sir Misha, and Teri exit into the formal gardens.  Teri leads in battledress in case the local security is trigger-happy.
    The head of security is there, doing a very good job of not being surprised.
    Shark introduces Captain Sir Misha and Captain Teri Cralla.  (Teri was a Leading Sergeant in the Scorpionis Marines and prefers to remain an NCO; Shark still insists she's the Captain of their shipboard marines.)
    They proceed to the guardroom to discuss matters.  Teri takes up station in front of the Grand Admiral's door alongside the two Imperial Marines in battledress already there.  It's clear that these Marines are elite troops, not from the ceremonial unit at the palace.

    Now they're settled in a secure location, Shark asks the security head what he knows of what happened.
    He knows there were various explosions across the city, and a fifth device found.  He knows a little more than the news -- the general design of the devices, and that the security bunkers under the buildings were targetted.  He knows of only two failed operations: the fifth bomb in the intelligence building, and the assassination here.  All others seem to have been a complete success.
    Shark says he understands that the groups that carried it out were professionals, but not within any particular organization.
    That matches what the Duchess's security believes.
    Shark then asks about the weapon the assassin here was using.
    It was a small pistol firing explosive bullets.  It would very comprehensibly take out one target, not an area blast.  They have reviewed the tapes and can't tell whether it was the Baron or the Marchioness who was the target.
    Shark says there will be an announcement that makes the Baron more likely.
    The security head says that the Imperial Navy has taken over security responsibilities for the Baron here.  They have been briefed on the Nightshade team's role, apparently.
    Sir Misha has, meanwhile, been reviewing the security plans.  He finds a couple of holes in their coverage -- a couple of large storm drains that could be used to access the area, for example.

    The next step is to plan Bridgehead's exit.  The quickest way would be to move Nightshade up to the balcony and retrieve him the same way that they did the Duke of Rhylanor.  Apparently he isn't using the room that adjoins the balcony, and all they need to do is move the Ducal forces inside and no-one would see.  Sir Misha suggests that if they really need to obscure it, they can pump smoke onto the balcony and hide it completely.

    Most of the crew is pretty tired by now.  Shark's first action on taking the position of Medical Officer was to go through Bridgehead's stimulant records.  It's amazing what he had available, and what the Baron would risk on himself is not quite the same as what he would be prepared to give anyone else.  He'll have this covered if necessary.
    Kalida has been doing a full analysis of the records of the assassination attempt.  She identifies the Baron as the target -- a slight flick of the assassin's eyes to his target reveals it under very precise analysis.  The crew had been of course provided with the full details of the attacks as they left the Archduke, so that they could use the information to protect the Baron.
    She then considers whether there are likely to be more attacks.  It does seem likely that since these were independent cells, there could be others out there.  The attacks seem to have been coordinated at the top with no communication between cells.  The activity was prearranged, and the execute time was provided by a classified ad yesterday.

    Shark discusses all the information with Sir Misha.  The signal was simply the time, and the teams were in place for maybe months, with their operation planned in advance.  They won't be able to find who set them up -- it'll be all fake IDs and cash, not even worth looking into.  Since the Duchess wasn't attacked in the first wave, she's unlikely to be a source and probably isn't very high on the list at all.  If there was a plan to attack here it would be a lower reliability team, probably no plan at all, so they don't have much to worry about here now.  There may be contingency plans for spaceport or other facilities.  So when they transport the Baron -- and perhaps his wives, since he'll probably ask to have them on Nightshade -- they should rendezvous at an abnormal location with his flagship.

    At 11:30, Sir Misha goes to talk to the Baron.  He congratulates him on his wedding and his appointment, and tells him that his transportation to his flagship will be leaving at 12:00.  He then asks what Bridgehead's plans are for his wives.
    Bridgehead says they could remain here at the Ducal Palace, or they could be looked after on Nightshade.
    Sir Misha says he would prefer they remain here.  With no other questions, he says that he will return at noon to collect him.

    At noon, all the guards are removed from the balconies for a "shift change".  They are to go inside and not look out the window.
    Baron Bridgehead bids his brides goodbye in the inner room.  He steps into the outer room with Sir Misha, Teri, and Shark, closes the door behinds him, and walks onto the balcony.  He boards Nightshade on the bridge ramp.
    Helia flies them to the ocean, drops out of stealth, and emerges.  They fly directly out to rendezvous with the Baron's flagship, Pegasus, the dreadnought flagship of fleet MO-X-1 ("Moxi" in Imperial Navy slang).
    Robert transfers the Baron between ships on the gcarrier.  The Grand Admiral is piped aboard and takes up his new command.  He carries with him his own Bat Phone to Nightshade; that will allow them to get advance notice of the Royallist movements because it isn't lightspeed limited.

    The question now is whether to tell anyone about the Brown Boxes.  The Baron knows that the Rebels have an uncrackable communications system, so should they release the knowledge?  They decide not to do so yet.

    It's five days until the first ships should arrive.

173-1123 : Mora / Mora / Spinward Marches

    Bridgehead is fairly certain that the Rebels will be arriving far out in the system.  They will want to avoid any contact until the main body of their ships arrive.

    Kalida asks Jack how her work on the Brown Boxes is coming.  Jack says that she doesn't have anything solid yet, aside from the original option, and that work is coming slowly.  She's making some progress, but it's very slow and hard.

    Mich has done a full check of Nightshade.  Everything is red and ready to go.

    Shark sets up the football sensors for as much triangulation as possible.  One goes into each outrigger, while a third goes far into the nose.  It's a good thing Shark is a small man, because some of the spaces to get to them are very tight.
    He also checks the medical records.  Jack scans as a normal human, which answers one question.  He also knows the one person who has been checkpointed, and after dinner he takes the several hours necessary for the deep scan to checkpoint himself.

174-1123 : Mora / Mora / Spinward Marches

    In the morning, Kalida goes wandering off into her head to see if she can see anything different.  Shark warns the crew that if a Silver Ship will be triggered by anything, this will be it.  Of course their gunner might be out, and they really don't have a good backup; Mich is probably the best.
    Kalida ranges out looking for the fleets.  They are definitely coming here, and nothing's changed.  She then checks the Baron.  He's a little fuzzy, but then everything is fuzzy the day after tomorrow.  She can't find Sir Arken, but he's not here, and not dead.
    She can't tell where in the system the ships will be arriving.
    She then looks for any connections with the attacks from a few days ago in terms of attacks yet to come.  Those attacks started from somewhere else, too small and tenuous to follow a long way and long time, but all end up in a dead end tangle here.
    Kalida comes back out of her trance.  There had been no rustling of papers, nothing showing up on the football sensors.

175-1123 : Mora / Mora / Spinward Marches

    The first rebel ships should arrive tomorrow.

    Kalida explains about "Jack's option."  The Brown Box can't be decrypted effectively, so they can't use it in any way directly.  Nevertheless, Jack believes she can use it to inject a virus into their communication systems that will then spread through all their ships.  The effects, however, would be extremely unpredictable.
    Robert says they have a "virtual ship" to hook up to the box and try to hook it into Santanocheev's comm network and get access to it that way.
    Shark points out that is what Jack says they can't do.
    Kalida expands on unpredictable.  She says, "Imagine what a large completely psychotically insane fleet of ships could do."
    Shark says, "In terms of going off in random directions completely out of control, or they could go berserk and attack?"
    Jack says quietly, "Completely under control."
    "But completely mad.  Would they just go off in a random direction, or...?"
    "It's unpredictable.  Based on what the box did to the simulated ship..."
    Mich says, "It killed all the crew of the simulated ship, waited until there were no life signs, and then jumped."
    Jack says, "Whatever's left of 15 fleets of ships might decide to do something else.  Yes, they probably would be coordinating with each other."
    Kalida says, "Maybe they'd want to bomb the planet."
    Shark asks, "Is the box AI, or essentially a brain cell?"
    "Something like that," says Jack.  "You don't need to know exactly what's in the box."
    "Are any of the boxes more important than the others?"
    "So there's no switching center, or main trunk line, that would be more disruptive to take out than any other?"
    "They are lightspeed communication?"
    Kalida says, "If you infect one ship, it will spread to the rest.  If you infect one ship in a small cluster away from everything else..."
    Jack says, "You can't stop the transmission that's gone out."
    Shark sums up: they agree it's a dangerous option, but can be used as a last resort to take out a certain percentage of the bad guys.  They can't use it on the first ships to arrive, because they couldn't take them all out in the 24 hours until the next ones arrived.
    Shark says, "So these are brains in buckets, then."
    Jack says, 'I prefer to think of them as slaves."

176-1123 : Mora / Mora / Spinward Marches

    Nightshade now has 431 missiles.  This might perhaps be enough to fight a Silver Ship, depending on how many it takes to drop their shields.
    Helia has taken them out to the outer gas giant in a close orbit, where they can see ships coming in but won't be detected easily.

    The first Rebel ships pop out of jump at noon.  It's a mix of all sorts of ships, and definitely only ships that were at Tussinian.  It's hard to guess exactly how many fleets they represent, but somewhere between eight and ten, probably more likely the lower end of that.  That's from the fifteen that were at the Battle of Tussinian.
    The Rebel fleets are laser scanning.
    There is a broadcast message coming from them that Santanocheev wants to speak to the Nightshade.
    "Captain!  It's for you!" shout Kalida and Shark simultaneously.

    Shark's first thought is a safe relay so they don't show their own position.  After a short discussion, they kick their gcarrier out into orbit, take the ship away and down into the atmosphere, and use a meson communicator to relay through that.
    Sir Misha is not really in a mood to talk, however, at least not at first.

    After a while, Bridgehead calls on his Bat Phone.  He says that the fleets are arriving, and Santanocheev is communicating that he believes there is a diplomatic solution to this issue.  The Archduke is, according to Bridgehead, "bloody well" committed to a diplomatic solution if there is one.  They do know that Bridgehead is under orders not to open fire first.

    That changes Sir Misha's mind.  He opens the channel and welcomes the arriving fleets to Mora.
    A familiar face, that of Santanocheev, greets him.  "Thank you.  I see there is a welcoming committee, and you are at the head of it.  Good, I had expected you to be."

    Shark has a quiet word to Callisto to be sure to be scanning for Silver Things.
    Robert is trying to trace the signal back to Santanocheev, and making sure there is defense against intrusions from the Rebel end.  At the other end, however, is a talent to match.  Everyone blocks everyone else.

    Santanocheev says, "I would very much like this to go down without a fight.  Now I am willing to discuss a compromise.  In fact, I would like to discuss a compromise solution that gives me some of what I want and avoids all the loss of life and destruction of the Imperial Budget that is necessarily going to follow otherwise.  Now, depending on how much you'd be willing to step aside from the upcoming conflict -- since I don't expect you're actually in the Imperial Navy at this point -- we could figure out some kind of compromise here.
    "What I want, fundamentally speaking, is Norris out of the Archduke position.  I want to stop his pandering to the Zhodani, his corruption of the Imperium, and I would like some access to your technology, or at least some hints, as well as where you put the others.
    "Now what you have to realize is that at this point, Norris is the unstable option.  If you want stability in the Imperium, if you want this to continue into peace, I'm the best option at this point.  Norris, if he wins, he'll go into a big purge.  There will be dukes falling, there will be military officers falling, there will be witch-hunts.  Norris will become the thing you think I will be.  He will be the unstable option.  He'll have a weakened fleet, he's going to weaken it still further by his purges, and the whole Spinward Marches are going to be under serious threat.
    "I am the path of stability.  I'm not suppressing a rebellion, so I don't have to go after the people who are defending the Imperium.  They are doing their job, following their orders.  I don't even have to get rid of Norris entirely, I just want him out of the Archduke position.  I could forsee a situation where he could continue his role as Duke of Regina, and either myself or a suitable qualified candidate could take over as Archduke.  Best chance of stability is if the Archduke abdicates his authority in favor of a more suitable candidate.  We can discuss who that suitable candidate might be.
    "I represent the person who doesn't have to clean up and prosecute all the rebels and topple the structure of the Spinward Marches.  I'm the stability.  Providing this goes down without a fight, you should be backing my side."

    Sir Misha muses to himself that Santanocheev is INISO, and it was INISO who took out the Third Eye.  The reason he is on this side is that Santanocheev shot at him, and now he's going to shoot back.

    Santanocheev says, "This is an initial point.  Can we at least consider this, talk about this?"
    Sir Misha says, "We can talk.  It was a beautiful speech, but I didn't actually hear any offer."
    "The offer is, don't fight on the Imperial side, and use your influence to speak to the Archduke about the possibility of a from now on bloodless and peaceful transition simply to another Archduke."
    "And for these actions you are offering?"
    "Peace.  Stability.  What you want.  And we won't go after you and try to kill you.  But in return for that, you have to tell us something about your ship."
    Shark says, "Let's see, we have two street thugs as Captain and First Officer of our ship, and you're telling us you won't kill us if we give you everything we have.  I don't think that's going to work."
    "Basically what I am offering is for us to be on the same side, and the Imperium to be nice and stable here.  We will stop what I suppose history will call a rebellion right here, with a simple transfer of power of Archduke.  Full immunity from prosecution for anybody fighting on either side.  We just all go back to the way we were as much as possible."
    Sir Misha says firmly, "No."
    "Why not?"
    "I don't get anything out of it."
    "You get us not going after you.  You get your Imperium, the Spinward Marches, stable."
    Sir Misha says, "I think you are confused.  This is not my Imperium, and I'm going to die.  I fully plan on it."
    "Perhaps you might like to talk this over with your crew?"
    Sir Misha turns to his bridge crew and gestures.
    Shark looks at his captain and says loudly, "Off the bastard."  He seems to speak for everyone.
    Santanocheev sighs, "This won't end well.  Well, it might, I still might be able to convince the Archduke."
    Sir Misha says pleasantly, "Would you like to talk to the Archduke?"
    "I will certainly be doing so, if I can arrange it," says Santanocheev seriously.  "At least don't fire the first shot.  Let's get a chance to do this without destroying most of the fleets of the Spinward Marches, all the spacemen aboard, all the civilians who would die, let's at least give me and the Archduke a chance to find a solution to this without shooting."
    Sir Misha says, "I tell you what.  I will offer this.  You stand down one capital ship, and I won't take the first shot.  Send it back to the Imperium."
    "Very well."

    The conversation is over.  Sir Misha wasn't going to take the first shot anyway, he laughs to his crew.

    After 20 minutes, a battleship from the Rebel fleets pulls out of formation and starts heading towards the mainworld.

    Sir Misha opens a channel to Bridgehead on board Pegasus.  He tells him that he has spoken with Santanocheev.  He made ridiculous offers, and in the end they agreed that Nightshade would not take the first shot if they turned over one of their ships to the Imperium.  He assumes Santanocheev will be contacting Bridgehead or Norris shortly.
    Bridgehead confirms that a battleship is coming in, broadcasting surrender.
    Sir Misha tells Grand Admiral Bridgehead that he is standing by and to keep him in the loop.
    Bridgehead requests that as much detailed information on the ships there, what kind of damage the ships have sustained, what condition they're in, that would be very useful.  The Rebels will be coming in to refuel, and that should present a good opportunity.
    Sir Misha understands from the conversations with their ex-Doctor that the Archduke wants to negotiate, to avoid any fighting if possible.  Apparently Santanocheev wants to negotiate too.
    Bridgehead recalls the mythical Legend of the Fifth Element, and quotes a translation from the original Latin, "Anyone else want to negotiate?"  Meson guns beat diplomacy in this situation, he believes.

    That mission seems reasonable, but Shark would like to stay outside laser scan detection range, of course.
    They retrieve the gcarrier, and prepare to circle the Rebel fleets at a safe distance in stealth.  It will take eight hours to get the level of information that Bridgehead probably wants.
    The Rebel fleets are in pretty bad shape.  Some are worse than others, and even the freshest ships show hastily repaired battle damage.  Some ships exhibit maneuver drive problems and are not at all agile, weapons have been wiped off some ships, they look like they've been through the Battle of Tussinian.
    Nightshade compiles a detailed roster of ships they can identify and the level of damage they show. Grand Admiral Bridgehead should be pleased with this.

    As the scan is ending, Sir Misha checks with Bridgehead.  The Grand Admiral does send them a briefing every now and again through the Bat Phone, giving them realtime data ahead of the lightspeed sensors of what happens near the mainworld.  Nevertheless he keeps the Bat Phone in a place where if Mich "forgot" and had the push-to-talk work all the time, it wouldn't compromise security.
    Bridgehead reports that the Rebel battleship has arrived safely and peacefully.  It's moderately damaged, definitely not the worst off.
    Shark is sure it must be a captain he doesn't trust that much.  Sir Misha is more generous -- one ship doesn't matter that much to Santanocheev, he has a dozen more here already with more on the way.
    The transfer was apparently smooth.  The Captain is being debriefed, and the crew transferred to Mora where they will be "peacefully restricted."  It seems, at least on the surface, that Santanocheev acted in good faith.  The Captain did have a message for the Archduke, but Bridgehead has not been informed what was in that message.

    The next thing Sir Misha wants to do is a straight drive-by through the Rebel fleet.  He wants to provoke them.  They aren't going to shoot, but if the Rebels get trigger-happy then Bridgehead would be very happy.
    Shark and Robert suggest various ways of making it safer, but Sir Misha wants a straightforward cruise through the fleet.
    Mich agrees they should not do this in stealth, but with the shields up.  That really is safer, and Sir Misha agrees.
    Sir Misha points out they can even do active scans while they're doing this.  Bridgehead will be very satisfied with the scans -- and delighted if the Rebels twitch and shoot.