(56) To Be Named

The Crusader Campaign (176-1123 to 177-1123)

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176-1123 : Mora / Mora / Spinward Marches

    Nightshade has 431 missiles coming into today.  They are about to buzz the Rebel ships at 21:00.  Sir Misha wants active scans for Grand Admiral Baron Bridgehead, and desperately wants to find Santanocheev.  Bridgehead has told them privately that he would love it if they could provoke the Rebels into shooting first.
    It's not a safe run, however.  The Rebels have about ten capital ships in the system so far, and that is enough for the nine shots to take down Nightshde's shields and open them up to meson gun shots on the ship itself.
    The run will be made under shields, but Sir Misha wants an unpredictable path through the ships so at least the Rebels won't have a simple target solution.  From his point of view, their goal is not to get the enemy to shoot at them, but to get a good look at all the ships and by some miracle find the Santanocheev that's in this system.  Sir Misha is convinced that the one they talked to was the real Santanocheev, not one of the duplicates.  This one spoke with a particular tone of authority that comes from knowing his capabilities, while he recalls his duplicate -- although excellent substitutes -- knew they were fakes.

    It's late in the evening when they start their run.  The Rebels arrived at noon, and a lot has gone on in the day since then.  Helia dives them down into the gas giant atmosphere, switches from stealth to shields, and takes them out on an approach to the massed Rebel fleets.
    The run is uneventful.  No-one gets close to a collision, no-one fires on them, and they aren't even doing the laser scan, which they stopped as soon as Nightshade appeared out of stealth.  The Rebels just let them do their run without apparently reacting to them.  By 22:00, the run is complete.
    Shark runs an analysis of the Rebel fleet positions and movements, looking for a ship that subtly moves away from them, or is keeping away from them.  He does not find one, so that possible clue for Santanocheev's location is a dead end.  Shark also checks the ships that arrived in the system and that are here now, and all are accounted for.  The location they came out of jump made it impossible for him to have hidden quickly before the ship he was in had been spotted.  There aren't even any moons of this gas giant, nowhere to hide.  From this orbit 3 it would take the Rebels about a day and a half to reach the mainworld.
    Kalida from her sparkly pink gunnery position focusses on the sensor information, but she can't smell Santanocheev anywhere.  He's not showing up on the sensors, that's certain.  He must have resisted the temptation to look out the window at them.
    The run is complete by 22:00.  They move back to the gas giant, drop into the atmosphere, and into stealth.  The Rebels track them with active sensors on the way, but of course lose them when they get deep enough.

    Shark has been thinking about checkpointing people.  They could build clones, imprint the brain scan, and put them into low berth storage.  There would be instructions that if they don't check in every two years, the duplicates should be woken.
    Sir Misha objects to that on cultural grounds.  He seems to prefer going down in a blaze of glory to dying and having a duplicate come back.

177-1123 : Mora / Mora / Spinward Marches

    Nightshade now has 434 missiles.  All that time with stealth and screens cut heavily into their missile regeneration.  Mich recalls that Swiss Cheese did not have a missile launcher, which has interesting implications for its other weapon.
    Helia repositions them in stealth mode near the edge of the gas giant atmosphere.  She keeps them in a position where they can get the most information about the enemy fleets while also staying away from the laser scans that resumed when Nightshade went out of sight.
    At Shark's request, Robert has packaged the scan data on the Rebels and sent it out to Bridgehead.

    At 1:00 Kalida goes into one of her trances.  Shark takes the usual precautions.
    The first priority is to find Santanocheev.  She quickly determines that there is just one of them in this system at present.  She wants to find his location, but of course this isn't a crystal ball -- she has to follow threads of causality.  She can tell that he's physically with the fleet, but that's all so far.
    She follows the connection to Nightshade first, and does determine that he's with what remains of the Llanamith battle group, the one on which he originally took command back in Five Sisters.  That fleet is probably in good shape, as it didn't see a lot of action at Tussinian.
    Next to follow is the Norris connection, but that's extremely fuzzy.  The whole Santanocheev - Norris connection is vibrating in fuzz, and it threatens to overwhelm every other thread in this system.  She backs out quickly, leaving a slight blip on the football sensors.
    This system is not a comfortable place to be.  How much effect is she having in this system?  How much does staying up and going into a trance tonight instead of resting until morning effect events here?  How many people is she killing by deciding not to sleep first?
    She tries another trace.  From the Battle of Tussinian, she weaves forward from that, but that leads only to fuzz.
    Next is trying to hook up to the fake Santanocheev they captured, but there's no connection there anymore.  That connection does not exist in this system.
    More dead ends, and then she tries one more thing.  What does the thread look like tomorrow?  She's hoping that's close enough that it doesn't split out into too many threads.  But there is just too much fuzz.
    This place and time in the web, this system, these few days, is a definite thing.  Having got here, however, it's a mass of fuzz, a singularity in the web.  So many possibilities could explode out of here that the connections are all over the place.  Fuzz is drifting out of the system in several directions.
    She tries to follow one of those directions, but starts to get lost in the fuzz.  It's so solid here, solid fuzz, and it's pulling her in and she's losing her identity in it.
    Paper is moving around in Sick Bay, objects are rattling.  Shark gets the hypo ready, touching Kalida's skin, giving her as much time as possible but ready to pull her out in an instant.
    Kalida tries to find herself.  She's losing herself in the fuzz, becoming part of the fuzz, generating the fuzz herself.  She herself might be responsible for the destruction of Mora at this rate.  Maybe the whole Imperium will collapse because of a breath she takes, or even someone else who does something to affect her, like bringing her out of this trance.
    Shark did not think it was worth being in battledress.  Suddenly he is across the room from Kalida, bouncing off a cabinet onto the deck.  He's had the breath knocked out of him, but he's basically ok.  He rushes back to Kalida.
    The future of the Imperium lies with Kalida.  How can she pull out of this fuzz when she might be pulling the Emperor down with her?  She gets enough of herself together to hold still and not touch anything for a minute.
    Objects are flying, Shark is being shoved around, but he makes to Kalida and gives her the shot.

    Kalida wakes up.  She realizes Shark may have just destroyed the Imperium.  Her head hurts, very badly.  "I wonder what I've done this time," she says to herself.
    Shark goes to work as Medical Officer, setting up to support Kalida.  She needs to be here for several hours, he believes.
    Kalida says that not moving might be a bad idea too.  It's too dangerous.
    Shark tries to get through to her, ask her if there's anything she needs to tell the Captain.
    Kalida says, "Llanamith fleet, but I don't know which ship.  And I don't know what else I might have done."
    And Kalida is out like a light.  Shark puts her under, and she'll be that way for hours.

    By the time Shark is done, it's 02:00.  As Sir Misha had requested, Shark buzzes him and tells him that it got exciting down there, but Kalida is physically well and in Sick Bay for a while.  She's been given a sleeping draught, and the only thing to pass on is that Santanocheev is on the Llanamith fleet, but not sure which ship.  With that, Shark pulls out the cot and settles down.  The ship will wake him if Kalida needs attention.  He knows that they have plenty of time, with a day and a half to the mainworld it would be a long time before any fleet action could start.
    Sir Misha knows his crew needs rest.  At the time of Shark's call, Helia has been flying solidly for 17 hours.  Vonish could take over for a while, but Sir Misha wants everyone fresh.  The whole crew really needs sleep.  Helia, Mich, Callisto... that's enough to take the ship to a safe place where they can all take a break.  Provided no-one starts shooting, that'll be fine.
    Helia avoids the scanning lasers and takes them rapidly to a safe place.
    It's 03:00.  Sir Misha orders the crew off duty and to get some rest.

    Bridgehead is fuming, and overnight has made it quite clear over the Bat Phone.  He should have been out here in battle already, not hanging around a day and a half while the Rebels get the rest of their ships into the system.  He has not been able to get approval to move his fleets, despite submitting requests to the Archduke every hour on the hour.

    At 10:00, Kalida up.  Shark reports that she is fine physically.
    Vonish has breakfast ready.  Nothing has happened overnight, although Kalida is very worried that they can't know that.
    Sir Misha doesn't really care because nothing happened where he could see it.  He orders the whole crew to Eat Breakfast.  After that, he gives everyone specific orders that will make sure everyone stays rested while nothing is happening.

    At noon, two groups of ships arrive in a bunch of jump flashes -- a whole lot from the Tussinian group, and about a fleet and a half from somewhere else.  Everyone is laser flashing.  This will be the first day for the Coreward group.  It's the second day for the Rimward group, who now have most of their ships here.
    Shark suggests they get as much information as they can again, but it's a lot more dangerous because they have a lot more big guns here now.
    Bridgehead is happy with the random sample information he has already.  He can extrapolate enough from that and does not believe it is worth the risk for Nightshade to get too close to that many ships.
    Sir Misha asks for suggestions for what they should do next.  Eventually Shark suggests sending the legal information Vonish produced to certain selected naval commanders who might be receptive to it, to sow doubt among Santanocheev's forces.
    Sir Misha calls Bridgehead and aks if there is any military law that they could use to help convince commanders to turn.
    Bridgehead says there is not really anything legally, aside from asking them who really represents the Imperium here.  The Duke of Rhylanor intends to exploit that with his broadcast to the Coreward fleets.
    Sir Misha wonders if the Rebel fleets are following Santanocheev because they believe removing Norris is the right thing for the Imperium, or because they are just following orders.
    Shark is sure he hasn't tried to convince all of his captains, just the major fleet staff and selected resistant officers.  They've already been through the Battle of Tussinian, which would have brought them together.
    Bridgehead would like to know if any of them have ideas of how to solve it without a fight.
    Sir Misha says he wants to take their best guess for which of their commanders he should approach first to sound them out.  What is there attitude, why are they doing this, is there any room to talk at all?  Who should he contact over a tight-beam personal connection.
    Bridgehead says that they most likely to turn right now would be Admiral Nathaniel Kuyper, commanding the Jae Tellona fleet.  He's far and away the best bet, and is with a fleet that has not yet been engaged in combat and so does not have lives spent on the cause.  It's less of a frontier fleet, stationed in a more internal and stable system.  Of course he may not be among the ships that have arrived today.
    Callisto reports he's here.  The Jae Tellona flagship is here.  She also says that while most of the fleets in the second group are undamaged, some do show battle damage.  There are no ships here from the fleet that was at Fulacin.  There are also no ships from the Rhylanor fleet itself.

    Sir Misha orders them into the gas giant, to drop stealth, and come out again so they can talk to this person.  As they appear, the fleets which are in their area drop their laser scan, although the ships further away do not.  Helia flies them away from the gas giant to a good position to communicate with the Rebel ships from coreward.
    Sir Misha gets through.  With his leadership skills, his social standing on Rhylanor, and his knack for getting things done, he gets a personal like to Admiral Kuyper.  He greets the Admiral, introduces himself, and asks how the Admiral is.
    Admiral Kuyper replies seriously, "Ready for any action that might be required."

    Robert piggybacks the connection to defend their own ship from hacking.  He quickly finds that on the other end is a team that is up to the challenge and both ends hack themselves into a mutually respectful stalemate.

    Sir Misha presents his case.  He is a pirate and a rogue and likes nothing better than a good fight, but Archduek Norris has convinced him that at this point conversation is better.  He's come to Admiral Kuyper to ask what in his perspective would it take to solve this without a battle.
    Kuyper sighs.  He says, "It would take some accord between Santanocheev or his representatives and the Archduke.  This fleet is under command of INISO.  It is legally under their command.  I am also given to understand that Santanocheev is not insisting that he be Archduke.  This to my mind adds some legitimacy to his claims."
    (In the background the crew laughs that Bridgehead could be Archduke.  Shark says that the girls must have known it in advance and that's why they married him!)
    Sir Misha says, "So from your perspective this is a legal argument between INISO and the Archduke?"
    "Like most legal arguments that involve military force, legal arguments tend to descend into whoever wins the battle.  I'd rather it didn't get to that stage, obviously.  I am hoping that a show of force of this nature will force a compromise.  I will if necessary put my forces in, as directed by INISO, but I would very much prefer it not come to that.  I will certainly do whatever I can to facilitate a suitable agreement and resolution."
    "So do you have any opinion on what might be a reasonable compromise?"
    "Santanocheev is not going to stop with Norris in office.  In order to avoid a fight, Norris must not be in office.  Or, the odds have to stack enough against Santanocheev that the military side of the legal question is more important.  As it is, looking at the fleets over there, we don't have the overwhelming numbers that were promised us.  We are only going to outnumber the local fleets by two to one, which is going to make it extremely messy.  We figured that Santanocheev's group represents about eight and a half fleets worth of strength, not the fifteen that we were expecting."
    "So in your opinion, are Santanocheev's grievances worth the possible bloodshed?"
    "As a Naval officer, it is not my position to question whether they are or not."
    "Ok, as a gentleman speaking to a rogue...?"
    "As a gentleman speaking to a rogue, no-one is going to win here."
    "If it comes to a battle."
    "If it comes to a battle, nobody will win here.  If it doesn't come to a battle, I guess we both win."
    "Is there a legal authority that you would accept above the INISO?"
    Kalida reminds Sir Misha via commdot that the Imperial Navy's allegiance is to the Imperium, not technically the Emperor.
    "I would accept word from the Emperor.  I would normally accept the Archduke over INISO, except that in this particular case, the circumstances are such that I cannot do that."
    "Forgive my ignorance, but what circumstances?"
    "Essentially it is as if your First Officer decided you were insane and relieved you of duty.  You would not be able to order him to not relieve you from duty."
    "And you mean that Santanocheev is acting as the First Officer in this scenario."
    Kalida says to Sir Misha that what is needed is a Medical Officer to back it up.
    "Is there someone who might act as a Medical Officer in this scenario?" asks Sir Misha.
    Kuyper pauses, then says, "In this scenario I would have to say that Santanocheev was the First Officer and INISO would be the medical staff."
    "And what if the First Officer on this ship didn't agree with the Medical Officers?"
    "They would figure out what to do before taking action.  Once the action to relieve command has begun, they would relieve command and then sort it out afterwards if necessary."
    Sir Misha says, "I agree."
    "It's a difficult situation.  It is going to be hard for anyone to win."
    "There are some who believe that the INISO is not legally founded.  Have you heard that?"
    "No.  That sounds like a legal matter, and for a legal matter like that to be settled would probably take years.  We do not have that time.  That sounds like something that would have to go to Capital and that would take a couple of years to resolve.  I have to act as if they have the authority."
    "I see that, and admire that.  Is there anything I can do in terms of delivering messages, or anything else I can do for you?"
    Kuyper sighs again.  He says, "I know that the Duke thinks highly of you, and the late Admiral Count of Fulacin thought very highly of you.  If I can help you negotiate a solution here -- and you seem to be in a position historically to be able to do that -- any support I can give, if there is a diplomatic solution that the Navy can believe in that the INISO is not so keen on, maybe I can tip the balance there.  If we can on paper satisfy what INISO has been ordering us to do, then maybe the actual practice and effect, even if it is a little counter to their objectives, maybe the Imperial Navy can go with that."
    "All right.  Thank you very much."
    "Feel free to contact me at any time.  I have a superb communications team, this is a secure contact that INISO will not be able to access recorded or live.  That will not be the case with every fleet.  I will be glad to help this come to as good a conclusion as possible."
    "Can you recommend other commanders who might be willing to act in this regard?"
    "Not among the fleets that have come from the coreward group.  Lanth is a little wilder, they are less likely to put the more stable view on thing, I can't recommend any of them.  In this group, I would say me.  In the other group, they've been through some heavy fights and I would say they're pretty committed at this point."
    "That was unfortunate."
    "Yes.  Although of course we've lost a fair amount on our side too.  The Rh-X-2 fleet that the Count of Fulacin commanded, they took the Rhylanor fleet with them and knocked the Tigress battle group down to 75% strength.  So that would mean that from our end we have five untested undamaged fleet, and one that has fought but is at 75% strength."

    The discussion is over.  Sir Misha turns to his crew.
    While this discussion has been going on, Kalida and Shark have a diplomatic solution -- propose a regency for the Archduke.  The Archduke steps aside, does not lose his position.  Santanocheev steps aside and stops hosility.  Someone takes control, holds status quo for the Navy more importantly than the INISO, while both sides send a representative to Capital.  Conveniently, the Duke of Rhylanor is right here.
    As Shark says, they need to balance out what Santanocheev wants with what they can afford to give him, while the Archduke steps aside.  That's if they can convince him to do so, and Shark thinks he will.  He believes the Archduke will think he's standing on moral ground and will be supported by the Emperor.
    Sir Misha agrees, if they can get enough Naval commanders to do the same thing, to feel like the situation is resolved enough to be no longer willing to support the INISO, then "I get what I wanted which is to rip the hell out of Santanocheev's fleets without killing anyone."
    "Right," says Shark, "And I think the Rebel Navy will feel like INISO has won, and the Loyallist side will have the moral high ground and feel like the Emperor will support them -- the Duke will say the same on his side.  We don't really know which way the Emperor is going to..."
    Kalida says, "A lot can happen in two years.  People die all the time."
    Sir Misha says, "That part I really don't care about at all.  In fact, my guess is that nothing will happen and that the Archduke has enough savvy to move back in or at least take over in fact if not in name, and the meantime I can keep kicking Santanocheev's butt."
    Shark says, "Right.  We can go after him, since he's blown up our ship and shot at us."
    Kalida says, "It's a perfectly reasonable offer, and if Santanocheev completly says no that's not good enough, that further weakens him."
    Shark says, "Especially if we broadcast, 'This offer has been placed before both sides, and every Imperial Fleet be notified that this diplomatic solution is on the table, your commanders will choose,' there is no way the Archduke is not going to jump.  He's already jumped, actually, by telling us we can't shoot."
    Sir Misha says, "I actually believe the Archduke has the political skills to carry this off way better than we can do it, so I'll just I think it'll work and let him go with it."
    Mich asks, "What if we're requested to escort representatives coreward?"
    "We'll have to politely decline, there are other important things we have to do.  We're much too connected to the Archduke to be a reasonable escort."

    The Rebels have not even finished arriving in the system, and the crew of Nightshade believe they have solved the situation.