(22) Nightshade

The Misha Campaign (124-1121 to 144-1121)

124-1121 : Ferle / Lirian / Foreven

    Now that they're on just one ship, and anticipate the need to identify it at a starport , the crew discusses the weighty matter of naming the black ship .
    Helia Sarina says they should give their homeworld as "the place with the trees," Digitis , and therefore name the ship after a flower or tree -- like Magnolia .  The larian thinks the authorities in that system would back them up in that claim, although they might have to file a lot of paperwork next time they get there.
    Misha Ravanos asks Edward "Shark" Teeth about the security and checking of such claims.  Shark says that such information generally comes from the transponder, and is not normally checked at all.
    Robert Morris points out that they don't have a transponder.
    Misha asks about the legality of wandering around without a transponder.  Shark tells him that it's required in the Imperium .  While it's expected elsewhere, whether it's required or not would depend on local laws.
    Robert adds that it's merely a matter of telling the communications system to act as a transponder.
    Mich points out that for Imperial ships, the transponder can be examined on demand to determine whether it has been (illegally) turned off at some point.  But for non-Imperial ships, that would depend on the laws on the homeworld of the ship.
    Shark assures Misha that even if someone decided to check, since Digitis is independent, they'd have to send a message to that system -- which could easily take at least six months before they'd expect a reply.  And as Mich Saginaw points out, they can outrun any message.
    Helia then asks who's responsible for making sure the ship's boat and gravcraft are ready to fly, in case they run out of fuel and have to leave the ship.
    Mich replies that the Imperial gravcraft, two air/rafts and a gcarrier , have their own fuel supplies and are fully ready.  The black ship's boat is powered off the power cube in the starship; if the main ship runs out of fuel, so does the ship's boat.
    Suddenly Helia says, "That's it!  We name it Nightshade , because that's the color of the ship!  Then you can call me Belladonna!"

    There are no objections.

    Nightshade of  Digitis it is.

    Robert starts work on programming a symbol for the transponder simulation into the computer.

    Meanwhile, they have been continuing towards the mainworld of the system, slowly, carefully, and in stealth mode.

    As they approach the world, Robert starts tapping into communications.  The main objective is to find out why the politicos of this world gave authority to the Imperial destroyer to do what it wanted in the system.
    Ferle is the only moon of a small gas giant .  It is home to a class B starport.  There is a fair amount of interplanetary and ground-to-orbit traffic.  There are warships orbiting the world, and on station around the gas giant itself.  There are beacons indicating traffic lanes -- the Nightshade is well clear of those lanes.
    They would prefer a geostationary orbit over the starport, but that is not an option.  There is a lot of traffic in that area, and a space station (small by their standards) in orbit at that position.
    Robert immediately taps into the space station to us it as a relay for his hacking.  His first approach is into government services.  There's no way into internal computer systems from here, but he does find an edict, issued by the Defense Council, in the minutes of a meeting on 060-1121.  There is no record of who attended that meeting, but the Defense Council consists of three names.  No-one recognizes the names, of course.  A quick cross-reference reveals the home estates of these landed nobles, each with their own bureaucracy systems.  Unfortunately those systems include an air gap firewall, and Robert is stopped from going further.  All three of the nobles are high-ranking, all reporting directly to the Grand Poobah.
    It does seem very odd that an Imperial ship coming into the system was granted such authority.  Helia postulates that maybe they threatened them with a space pirate story, but there's nothing in local news to back that up.

    They review the situation that resulted in them taking the bomb on board...
    Misha suggests assigning a crew member the task of contacting the operative, and telling him that he never left with the ship.  That, however, would require Shark teaching the contact procedures, -- and he would not do that.  What is more, as Helia points out, Shark knew that after the four weeks expired the Third Eye would be put on the kill list, and wouldn't want to contact in that manner.
    Misha then suggests that the crew member turn up in the starport bar and wait to be contacted.
    Helia says that anyone from the crew has a death warrant against them.  Only Shark might be able to correct that.
    Misha says that they need someone to act as bait to lead them to Imperial Navy Intelligence on this world.
    Shark says that would be very difficult -- the INI operative would be a professional, and they'd be outnumbered and outclassed.  Now they may be able to figure it out with long-term surveillance, but they don't really want to spend several months here.
    The consensus is that indeed Imperial Navy Intelligence wants them dead.  No-one has any ideas what they can do about it here.
    Shark does suggest one way -- charter a ship to go to the Red Zone and see who contacts them.  It's simple, but they'd have to find a ship capable of doing it, and the nearest place would be somewhere in the Lirian Conglomerate.  It would then take several months to get that ship back here.

    So pursuing this avenue would take too long to be worthwhile .  So what do they want to do now?
    It's decided that they don't want to go to Professor Farol on Brod just yet, because they don't want him dissecting the ship.  Therefore they could go to Digitis , and Helia could send Helia a message which would indicate indirectly what they wanted them to do.  Since Helia and Helia grew up together, just "Hi, how are you doing?" would be enough.  Anyway, Helia wants Helia to know she's OK.
    The problem with that the shortest time for a message to go one-way from  Digitis to Brod would be 28 weeks, because of the topology of the xboat routes.
    Misha decides they will go to  Digitis .  On the way they can work out whatever message they might want to send.

    At her captain's direction, Helia works out their flight plan to Digitis .  Their route is to take them mostly through minor systems, avoiding any major routes and visiting just independent worlds.
    Helia's route goes from Ferle , through Troon , Caru , Junction , Bael , Attica , and Caloran , and ends at Digitis , in the Vilis subsector of the Spinward Marches .

    Grand Admiral Baron Bridgehead has been to  Attica before, on the Anastasia.  He tells everyone that it is a pirate base.  He adds that there is excellent gambling, but that there's someone there who holds a grudge against him for winning.
     Caloran has recently been upgraded from a class D to a class C starport.  None of the other systems are notable.

    Helia takes the Nightshade out to the jump point to start their journey to the ship's supposed homeworld.

125-1121 : Ferle / Lirian / Foreven

    Mich checks over the drives, and Helia slips them into jump for Troon .  Once in jump, Helia turns off stealth mode.

131-1121 : Troon / Lirian / Foreven

    They arrive in the system after a very smooth jump.  There is a starport beacon here and virtually nothing else.
    Their route has been planned through systems rather than empty areas in case they run out of fuel.  They have food for about two months, plus the ship's original supplies.  Vonish Kehnaan will at some point want to stock up on fresh supplies to keep up the quality of the cuisine on board, but this doesn't look like a promising place; neither does  Caru , their next intended stop.  Adding to the unattractive qualities of this place is the high gravity.
    They remain where they are, take 8 hours to check out the ship, and then jump on.

137-1121 : Caru / Reidan / Foreven

    There's a lot of traffic in this system.  They spend eight hours in stealth mode checking out the ship before continuing their voyage.  No-one has actually been on a planet for a very long time -- Mich offers the opinion that it would be a good time for shore leave.  The mainworld orbits a cold yellow dwarf star, and shore leave in a dome won't satisfy the crew's rumblings.
    Mich points out that before too long they'll need water to crack for fuel, for the Imperial equipment on board.  He could just run a hose from a tap, of course, but he's not sure where that would come from.  There is a holding tank on board, but it's replenished on demand by the environmental recycling and recirculation systems.  Whether that would cope with the demand of refueling the other equipment is highly unlikely, according to Mich.
    So Mich suggests they take a while at their next stop,  Junction .  They can flush the atmosphere, stock up on hydrogen, and take some shore leave.
    The Baron has continued to monitor Robert, and tells him (and the captain) that he will start to be in real danger of passing out in about six days.  They will take care of it during jump.

138-1121 : Caru / Reidan / Foreven

    Mich's diagnostics are complete, so Helia puts the ship into jump.  The two of them have been comparing notes, and are getting a pretty good feel for the unfamiliar drives.

142-1120 : Jumpspace (from Caru / Reidan / Foreven)

    Robert doesn't turn up for breakfast.  Helia points this out to Bridgehead.  The Baron mutters that he's probably passed out in some corridor somewhere, and starts to get up to look for him.
    Misha has a better idea.  He asks the ship, "Can you tell me where Robert is?"
    "Robert is in his stateroom," says the calm male voice with a neutral accent.
    "What is his physical state?"
    "I don't know."
    "Is he alive?"
    "I don't know."
    "Why don't you know whether Robert's alive?"  He turns to the Doc and asks him to get his butt down to Robert's stateroom.
    "That information is not available."
    On his way out the door, the Baron harrumphs, "Damn Joey computer, doesn't do shit."
    "Why is that information not available?" continues Misha, addressing the ship.
    "Information about personnel in their staterooms is not available."
    It is apparently a privacy issue.

    The Baron arrives at Robert's stateroom, with Teri accompanying him in case muscle is needed.  Robert is passed out on the bed.  A quick scan with a bioscanner, and Bridgehead announces that the man is indeed in a fish oil trance.
    Bridgehead tells Teri to take him to the Sick Bay.  "And make some coffee while you're at it," he adds.  Teri gives him a look and says nothing.

    In Sick Bay, Bridgehead scans Robert.  His brain chemistry is doing fascinating things again...

144-1120 : Junction / Darrian / Spinward Marches

    Robert fortunately wakes up 35 minutes before the ship comes out of jump.  His brain has indeed discharged.  He sees no reason not to continue with his klatrin consumption.

    Helia slips the Nightshade into stealth mode, waiting for Misha to decide how to approach the mainworld for their stay.