(57) To Be Named

The Crusader Campaign (177-1123 to 182-1123)

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177-1123 : Mora / Mora / Spinward Marches

   Shark and Kalida have come up with a diplomatic solution.  They have suggested proposing a Regency, so both of the parties will believe they are in the right and will prevail through reasonable means.  Shark with a smile asks if it really matters who wins?  It will give them some time and chance for a payback.  At the same time, Shark is adamant that they do not want to involve Bridgehead -- he is definitely not the right person to present this idea.
    First, they will need to contact the Archduke and ask him to call them.  They are of course out of range of any secure communications.  It will take them about 16 hours to get to Mora at full speed in stealth.  It's now about 14:00, which would mean arriving tomorrow at about 06:00 if they left now.
    The order is given.  Nightshade heads towards Mora.

178-1123 : Mora / Mora / Spinward Marches

    Nightshade now has 435 missiles.

    At the mainworld, they do their usual secret arrival procedure.  They descend into the ocean, and Robert drives the gcarrier with Sir Misha, Shark, and Kalida to the Archducal Palace.
    They arrive at the palace 07:00.  Roger Jolly's party is immediately let in without any fuss, despite the fierce security, and escorted to the front door.  Imperial Marines in battledress are very obvious all around, but the three of them are admitted to the palace with dignity and respect.

    The meeting is in the same cosy room as last time.  After brief greetings, they get down to business.
    Kalida says they've spoken with Santanocheev and Admiral Kuyper.  Everyone prefers some sort of diplomatic solution, but the essential problem is that any kind of battle up there is going to be a mess whoever wins.  Santanocheev is not insisting that he be the Archduke, merely that Norris steps aside and someone takes over.  It's obvious from Kalida's and Norris's expressions how much they believe that would be the case in practice.  As far as Admiral Kuyper goes, from his position Santanocheev has the right to do this, and that's why they're supporting him, although it's put Kuyper in rather a tough position.
    Kalida then gets to the point.  "We had a suggestion.  That's to put in place a temporary regency while you and Santanocheev both send representatives to the Emperor and let him decide what happens."
    Norris laughs heartily.  He seems genuinely amused, not offended.
    Kalida continues, "There are couple of benefits to this, one being that it's a long journey and three things might happen before anybody reaches the Emperor."
    "Go on," says Norris encouragingly.
    "Imposing a regency does not require that you abdicate, but merely step aside.  It also requires that Santanocheev step aside."
    Shark adds, "Admiral Kuyper wants a diplomatic, and didn't as much say but strongly implied that any out..."
    Kalida and the Archduke both nod in agreement.
    Sir Misha is still wondering about the Archduke's laughter.  "Why is it funny?" he asks.
    Norris says, "It's a radical solution.  It's not something we had thought about.  So, talk to me about it some more.  Expand on it.  What would we have to do to get it to happen?"
    Kalida says, "We haven't discussed it with anyone else, because obviously we can't propose anything like that on your behalf without you knowing about it."
    Shark says, "We might not want to propose it on your behalf even when we do propose it, but that is yet to be decided."
    Kalida continues, "You would need to, I think, have a proposal for a regent and someone will have to convince Santanocheev this is the only way you're going to step aside."
    "Do you have someone in mind for Regent?" asks Norris.
    "We have a suggestion.  Duke Rhylanor."
    Shark says, "The most intact fleets out there are Rhylanor.  If they follow the lead, it puts more pressure on the rest of them."
    Kalida continues, "Its strikes me also that Rhylanor is friendly to you, but Santanocheev will find it difficult to reject him because half of his force is from Rhylanor."
    Norris nods slowly to the Marchioness, "And Rhylanor himself has not publically declared support for me, or opposition to Santanocheev yet."
    Nakege reminds him, "Admiral Kuyper is eager for a diplomatic solution, as we said.  This is one that he might support."
    Norris says, "That would take care of the Rhylanor fleets, at least, and if he carried the Rhylanor fleets that would switch the outnumbering just about equally."
    Nakege says, "Of course Santanocheev could simply reject it outright.  I don't know what the Admiral would do in that case.  He still feels legally bound to support Santanocheev, and yet obviously a head to head battle between Imperial forces is not in anybody's best interest.  I couldn't even begin to predict what he might do."
    Norris appears lost in thought.  He sighs, then says, "What exactly would we be asking to be resolved by the Emperor?  What do you forsee as being the question?"
    "The question at hand is whether Santanocheev really does have, as head of INISO, the legal right to go around deposing whoever he feels like."
    Shark says, "The reason he's doing this is he disagrees with the direction of governing, so perhaps the Emperor should be asked what he wants."
    Norris says, "Actually two questions at hand.  The main question is have I been doing anything illegal and should I be removed, and the second question is whether INISO has a right to exist and therefore has standing to bring such a suit.  That reduces it all to legal questions."
    Shark says, "Santanocheev's postion is that he is completely outside the Emperor, and so..."
    "Yes," says Nakege, "But standing in front of the Emperor and saying 'I outrank you' has the tendency to get one shot."
    Norris says, "But he is still subject to Imperial Law.  He maintains that he outranks the Emperor under Imperial Law, so Imperial Law is capable of making that decision.  So we can send it down to Capital."
    Shark says, "With appropriate teams of lawyers."
    Kalida adds, "And of course this will all take a while and anything can happen in the meantime."
    Norris obviously gets her point.  He smiles, "That letter of marque you have, I don't see that expiring providing it is used against Santanocheev."
    Sir Misha wonders if from a negotiation perspective it might be better if it came from their ship, as if it was something Nightshade wanted.
    That inspires Norris.  He says, "Here's another thing you could do.  You're very good at carrying people around secretly.  This Admiral you've talked to, of the Jae Tellona fleet, do you think he could on his ship concealed from INISO that the Duke of Rhylanor had been aboard all that time?  Would he be willing to work with that?  If we could slip the Duke of Rhylanor onto Admiral Kuyper's flagship and then the Duke would be in a position to claim he was on Santanocheev's side, that positions the Duke as Santanocheev's candidate."
    Shark says, "I would expect that the Admiral would listen to commands from the Duke to take him on board secretly."
    It is clear that the three Nightshade crew are agreed.
    Sir Misha asks if there's been contact between the Archduke and Santanocheev.  Norris confirms that there has been, but that no progress has been made.  Sir Misha says that this would create grounds for negotiation, "If Santanocheev came to you and said this was what he proposed, that Rhylanor became Regent, then that would be reason to start negotiating."
    Norris agrees, "I can go with this.  We can think of better solutions but they aren't practical."
    Sir Misha says, "The toughest question, which I'm sure you've asked yourself, is do you trust that Rhylanor will at least not oppose your cause?"
    Norris says, "Yes.  Rhylanor is firmly on my side.  He would be a reasonable Regent, certainly politically acceptable too."
    Sir Misha says, "All right.  Let's make it happen."
    Norris reminds them of the shed out back where they dropped off a certain "package."  Nightshade can come in carefully and pick up the Duke of Rhylanor there in an hour.  The Duke will of course be fully briefed on the situation and plan.  He assures them that no-one will be able to see them pick him up.  He reminds them that it's in Santanocheev's interest to stall as long as possible before acting, so all the Rebel ships can be here and refuelled, so they can be sure he won't do anything rash in the meantime.
    The audience is over.  They will wait at the shed, with the gcarrier, for Nightshade to arrive.

    While waiting, Shark suggests that Nightshade could be the neutral place for whatever meeting might come from this.  Sir Misha, however, insists they are not neutral in the slightest and would certainly not be a good place to meet.
    One thing the team are agreed on, however, is that their idea is something the Duke of Rhylanor could have come up with himself, and therefore that he should propose it to Santanocheev as if it is his.  Santanocheev, they think, is much more likely to respond to it well if it comes from his side.  That puts Santanocheev exactly in the kind of situation he likes, him in control.
    The Duke arrives 45 minutes later.  He's in subdued mood, not really wanting to talk much, and waits in the gcarrier with the rest of them.  This time he's brought luggage, a small amount that he might have brought on board Admiral Kuyper's flagship.
    As far as the team can tell, the Archduke is good on his word about no-one watching.  Callisto confirms that later as Nightshade approaches and Helia comes down into a landing in front of the shed.

    Helia lifts off at 09:00.  Quickly she takes a course away from the mainworld and out towards the Rebel fleets.
    On the way, Sir Misha and the Duke of Rhylanor agree that Sir Misha should talk to Admiral Kuyper about the plan.

    At noon, the remainder of rimward and main body of coreward Rebel ships arrive in the system.

179-1123 : Mora / Mora / Spinward Marches

    Nightshade now has 436 missiles.

    At 01:00, they arrive in vicinity of outer fleets.  Helia takes them quickly into the gas giant atmosphere, out of stealth, then back out towards the fleets from Rhylanor.

    It's 02:30 when Sir Misha calls Admiral Kuyper.  The Admiral has clearly been woken, but seems pleased to talk.  They exchange brief greetings and then get down to business.
    Sir Misha says he's been considering their situation.  "I wonder if perhaps there isn't a compromise between the Archduke and Santanocheev that you might be willing to be a part of."
    "If there's a compromise that works and is acceptable," says Kuyper, "I would be very glad to be a part of it."
    "How would you consider proposing the Duke of Rhylanor as Regent while the questions that Santanocheev posed are taken to the Capital to be answered."
    "I would consider that grounds for standing down the fleets."
    "Then let me take it one step further.  Would you have been ready to have taken Duke of Rhylanor on board at some point?"
    "Yes.  What are we driving at here?"
    "I can make that possible, if you are willing."
    "How so?"
    "Rhylanor is aboard my ship, right now.  I can transfer him to your ship without anyone knowing, as long as you're willing to make it happen, and make the appropriate changes to your memory that it happened."
    "Of course.  I definitely recall that when the fighting started in Rhylanor, his yacht left the system to be out of the way, and rendezvoused with me at Jerome, where I took him on board there."
    Sir Misha has already talked over with the crew how to do this.  They'll have to approach in stealth mode, and extend the ramp to an open airlock on the Imperial ship.  The trick will be that they'll have to penetrate the laser scanning.  It will take about three hours to set that up.
    Kalida has been listening and watching the Admiral carefully.  She gives a discreet nod to her captain that she believes he's genuine.
    Sir Misha tells the Admiral what needs to be done.  In three hours, his fleet needs to make a 300 meter hole in the laser scan pattern (it can move around slowly), and open an airlock on his ship.  They won't see Nightshade approach, and the Duke of Rhylanor will come aboard in a vaccsuit.

    That's exactly what they do.  At 05:30, Helia has taken them via the gas giant into stealth, then piloted through the laser scan hole and brought them alongside the flagship of the Jae Tellona fleet.  The Duke of Rhylanor leaves from the ramp behind the bridge, in vaccsuit with a large suitcase in hand.  He walks into the airlock of the other ship, and cycles it behind him.

    At 06:30 they enter the gas giant atmosphere again, and come out of stealth.  They head towards the mainworld at a sedate 4g, which will take 1 day 10 hours.  They expect to arrive at 16:30 tomorrow.

180-1123 : Mora / Mora / Spinward Marches

    Nightshade now has 452 missiles.

    The remainder of coreward ships arrive at noon.

    On the way back, Shark asks Sir Misha, "So, assuming they accept this, when do we assassinate him?"
    Sir Misha is keener than that.  He says, "As soon as it's clear that the battle is over, the situation is resolved, then we assassinate him.  Wait, after this is over, if it's clear there are forces that are still loyal to him, I want to take that out first.  I want to kill Santanocheev last, after everything falls apart around him."
    Grand Admiral Baron Bridgehead has kept up with his briefings over the Bat Phone.  It doesn't seem like he's expecting anything more from them than he has already.
    Sir Misha half expects Santanocheev to get in touch with them on the way back, but that doesn't happen.  As Shark points out, they don't know when the proposal will be made.

    Nightshade arrives at Mora at 16:30.  Everything is quiet on the mainworld -- no more explosions or incidents have been reported.  The social scene dampened down after the assassinations, no-one willing to expose themselves.  Once everyone realized just how many Rebels there were, the reality of the situation pressed home and killed the pre-battle party mood.
    Gossip is limited to who might have been seen leaving hurridly on their private yacht, who is making brave statements, and so on.  Shark and Kalida analyze the reports, but with everyone on the mainworld publically supporting Norris, it's hard to find anyone who might be staying quiet or just avoiding the question.  There is some speculation on the open titles, of course, with the Counties of Fulacin and Maitz having no successor.  Rumors abound that Dukes who supported Santanocheev will be removed, like Glisten, Lanth, and Rhylanor.

181-1123 : Mora / Mora / Spinward Marches

    Nightshade now has 476 missiles.

    Bridgehead reports that the Rebels are fully fueled and completely ready for battle.  He sounds really annoyed, even more than before, but is resigned to the attack and provides Nightshade with sensor reports and the planned defense strategy.

    Kalida asks Sir Misha if he wants to keep a low profile, or show himself in public.  Sir Misha does not feel strongly one way or the other.  Shark suggests a trip to the Eagle's Nest for lunch, and everyone agrees that is a good idea.

    Sir Misha and Kalida visit the exclusive club via limo rather than taking any of Nightshade's subcraft.  Sir Misha in particular is upbeat and expectant, eagerly awaiting the upcoming battle.  After all, there is good money to be made in this situation.  Kalida is quietly confident.
    While the two of them are noticed, they don't see many people they know.  Just one couple they saw at Bridgehead's wedding reception, who consider this an unfortunate business.  After all, there could be a Civil War happening right on top of them!
    Sir Misha says there is glory to be won, but the couple say that's for the Navy.  And there are ships to be lost, and there was the horrible business of the assassinations and explosions.  If the fight gets too close to the mainworld, all sorts of things might happen.
    Sir Misha reassures them confidently.  They do seem to respond to that, at least a little.
    Nothing else unusual or of interest seems to present itself, so after enjoying the excellent meal, they take the limo back to the ship.

182-1123 : Mora / Mora / Spinward Marches

    Nightshade now has 497 missiles.

    At 8:30, Sir Misha and Kalida get a call from Archduke over the normal channels.  He tells them -- acting as if they had never heard of the idea -- that an agreement has been reached in principle for a Regency.  The current Duke of Rhylanor will take over as Regent while Norris himself steps aside while the matter is settled at Capital.  He expects official announcements tomorrow, and they are at the moment sorting out the terms.
    Norris says he wants one of Sir Misha's people -- he wants Vonish for his legal team, to send to Capital to assist the case.
    Shark's immediate thought is of the ship's cook, and when he points this out to Sir Misha the captain is appalled.  Vonish is a good cook!
    Vonish is a good cook, agrees Norris, but he's also the person who found the legal inconsistencies in the establishment of INISO.  He wants him on his team.
    Sir Misha says that Norris should, then, find them a replacement cook.
    Norris looks surprised at the request, but says he'll see what he can do.
    Shark asks Norris if he is happy with the solution.
    Norris answers slowly, but says that yes it is indeed a suitable solution.

    There's also the matter of a backup pilot, of course, even though Vonish never could get the hang of sparkly pink.  Mich can do pretty much any job on the ship, but not all at once.  Shark suggests that Sir Misha should learn to pilot -- he can practice his reading on the pilot manuals.
    Shark points out to Sir Misha that he essentially just asked Norris to put a spy on their ship.  Sir Misha simply smiles and says he knows that.
    Kalida decides this would be a good time for a trance to take a general peek at things.  It's the usual setup, but this time Shark is in battledress.
    First impression she gets is that there is still a lot of fuzziness around.  It's particular around her, and she can't quite shake the feeling that she'll cause something by inadvertant action.  She feels like a fuzz generator herself.  The rest of the web is starting to clear a little on the local scale.  Fuzziness contines further out, though.
    On the local scale, it looks like these fleets will stay here for a while.  That's all she dares do at this time, even though she really wants to take a close look at Santanocheev.
    Kalida reports her observations to the crew, and adds that the first thing she wants to do when their time is their own is talk to Marquis Marc.

    Shark noticed just a little flex from the footballs, barely above the background noise.

    Sir Misha asks for suggestions for the rest of the day.  Shark says they should lay low since they know about the negotiations too early and can't exactly go out and celebrate.  Kalida points out that they don't have to stay here on board as long as they don't tell anyone or celebrate too much.
    Sir Misha considers this, and announces that he's going to a bar.  Not one of the fancy ones they've been stuck in recently, but a real bar, one Mich would feel at home in, somewhere they won't call him "Sir" Misha except to ridicule him or pick a fight.  Mich likes the idea, of course, as does Teri.  Shark exchanges glances with Kalida, and the unspoken agreement is that Shark will go while Kalida remains on board.

    So Sir Misha, Mich, Teri, Shark walk out of the spaceport and take a taxi.  Sir Misha directs the driver to take them into more and more run-down areas, until the barbarian spots a place that suits him.
    It doesn't take long.  The Silver Mermaid looks exactly right, and Mich grunts his approval when Sir Misha tells the driver to pull over.
    It's fairly small as bars go, fairly dark, some cheap tables scattered around, a floor that looks like it might have been cleaned early this morning.  Drink selection is right along Mich's lines: whisky, gin, vodka, and a couple of styles of beer.
    Mich walks right in and orders one bourbon, one scotch, and one beer.  The others seem to pay a little more attention to their surroundings, but it seems reasonable safe enough.  The place is maybe a quarter full.  The corner tables are taken, and while Shark is looking around in paranoia, Misha orders his drink, tips the bartender well but not too much, and walks over to a table that isn't in too ostentatious a position and sits down.
    The team settle down to drink until they fall over or something happens.
    Misha hasn't just been drinking blindly, though.  He's quickly assessed the people in the bar, figured out who's local, and who might be connected to anyone.  Everyone here is a regular, he decides, and no-one has connections to the mob.  They team seems to have been accepted at least well enough.

    Everything was going smoothly, but then someone from a table in the corner walks up to them.  He taps Teri on the shoulder and is clearly about to charm her into joining his table instead.
    Teri turns around and slugs him.  She nails him right in the nose, and he starts to bleed.
    Shark takes a swig of his beer but doesn't put his glass back on the table.  He notices everyone seem to relax, knowing that means they're loosening up ready for a fight.
    Misha tries not to look surprised.
    Everyone's attention is on Teri.
    Teri watches the man to see what he does.
    He takes a swing at Teri.
    Big mistake.  Teri dodges it and swings back, hitting him in the gut.  He falls over backwards.
    The bar erupts with laughter.  Toasts to Teri echo from all around the room.
    Teri raises her mug in acknowledgement and sits back down.
    The man scrambles up from the floor and leaves quickly.  He does not look pleased, and Misha and Shark are both expecting him to come back with friends.

    One of the men at the table the man came from waves them over, adding a table to make room for them all.  He orders a round and welcomes them to their corner.
    Misha Ravanos introduces himself, Teri, Shark, and Mich.
    Tom introduces himself, Dick, and Harry, and says that he doesn't think Fred will be back.  "Good shot," he says to Teri with a broad grin.
    Once they've settled down for a while, Misha sounds them out about the upcoming battle, if they care at all.
    "New boss, old boss, same thing," says Tom.  "Only thing you know for sure is it'll lead to more taxes.  Someone has to pay for all this stuff and it's going to be us, not them.  They'll make a big deal out of it, probably blow some stuff up around here, whatever.  It's always the same, doesn't make any difference here."
    Misha says that's the same back home.  He's from spinward, he says, a long way.
    That doesn't surprise anyone here.  His accent wasn't Imperial, and they're curious what it's like out there.
    Misha says it was a bit like this, maybe a bit less crowded.
    Tom nods, and says, "You live where you are, you know?"  He waves for another round, but Misha quickly steps up to pay for this one.
    "To the new boss," toasts Misha and is joined in chorus, "Same as the old boss."
    "Yeah, lot of big fuss," muses Tom, "All that bombs and stuff out there too.  Of course they don't bomb down here, nothing worth bombing."
    Tom, Dick, and Harry ask about where everyone else is from.  They're obviously interested in these offworlders.
    Teri quickly answers first, "Way, waaaay, out there," she slurs, waving her arm in emphasis and nearly catching Mich in the face, "Way more spinward than 'im," she adds, nodding at Misha.  "More spinward than anybody."
    Shark says quietly "Romar, Glisten."  It doesn't look like any of them have heard of it.
    They have heard of Rhylanor, though, when Mich says that's where he's from.  As to what he's doing here, did he lose the bet?
    "You could say that," says Mich.
    "Well, you certainly made a hit of yourselves here.  Not everyone slugs Fred like that.  Everybody will have heard of you now.  We told him it was bad idea, you can just kind of tell, you know?"
    Harry adds, "You might to stay out of the Blue Anchor, though.  Fred has friends there.  That's where he'll be headed right now.  You'll be welcome here anytime."
    Dick agrees, "We might pick up the odd newcomer or two and tell them to go chat up Teri here.  You wouldn't mind, would you?"
    Teri clearly wouldn't mind, she's definitely amused at the thought.

    The evening continues.  Shark tries to nurse his beer, but he isn't really given the opportunity.  Finishing your beer is expected at every round, and while it isn't the strongest beer they've had, it does keep coming.  The conversation goes round and round, not stopping anywhere for too long, but animated and seems fascinating to all of them.
    Before long, Teri and Mich are singing up a storm.  Teri is leading them in Scorpionis Marine drinking songs in her own language.  They can kind of tell what she's singing from the way she sings it and the gestures accompanying it, and soon Mich is joining in the chorus in a somewhat wordless style although he thinks he's getting it right.
    It's been about two and a half hours, and Teri is loosening up more than they've seen her do before.
    Misha thinks it's time to go.  Teri thinks it's time to get up on the table.  While she takes off her shirt and waves it around in time with the chorus, Misha goes up to the bartender.  He thanks him, and pays for another round for everyone after they leave.
    Misha deftly eases Teri off the table and carries her out to the street, still singing.  Her shirt is somewhere back by the table.  Shark half-carries Mich out too.  Misha's parting words are, "Remember the Nightshade!"

    A couple of blocks later, and they manage to hail a cab.  Pouring Mich and Teri into the seat, Shark tells the cabbie to take them to the starport, berth 1-21.
    The cabbie laughs, saying he'll take them to the starport but they have the berth wrong, that's the noble landing pad.  He's still shaking his head and laughing when he drops them off in front of Nightshade, sure they're in the wrong place.
    They stumble on board, accompanied by belting out the Scorpionis Marine drinking songs.
    They seem to have come away from the evening without any permanent damage.
    Kalida is a little surprised, given the state of the four of them, that she hasn't heard any news about riots or anything.  Still, it's interesting to see what this crew is like when they really loosen up out on the town.