(28) Damsel in Distress

The Misha Campaign (166-1121 to 173-1121)

166-1121 : Mizan-Fel / Querion / Spinward Marches

    The Nightshade comes out of jump, finally back in the Spinward Marches.  This system is, however, of very little interest.  There's nothing remarkable about the world, and no reason to stop here.
    Still, since they are not in stealth mode, and their transponder is giving out the usual signal, they need to appear to refuel if they're not going to attract attention.  It's decided to "refuel" at the nearest gas giant, and then hang about as if they're refining the fuel they've supposedly scooped.
    There is no news network here, only a local news service.  Nothing much of interest seems to be going on, and there's essentially no outsystem news.  There is some trade information, which they store for future reference.

    During jump, Robert Morris has been working on the take-over program.  The whole crew has been running one combat simulation a day; Ed "Shark" Teeth has been putting in extra study time with the sensors in sparkly pink mode, as well as exercising with his zack.

    Helia "Belladonna" Sarina flies in to a gas giant.  There's a lot of choice in this system; the nearest one is in orbit P7.  She dives into the atmosphere, swooping and soaring and generally having way too much fun.  Aerolift is exhilarating in sparkly pink mode, and she makes the most of the opportunity.
    The Nightshade stays in the gas giant for a reasonable scooping time, then Helia flies up to orbit for long enough to simulate refining the fuel.

167-1121 : Mizan-Fel / Querion / Spinward Marches

    It's the next day when they're ready to resume the voyage.  Helia takes them out to 100 diameters, then engages jump for Caloran / Vilis.

    During the jump, practice continues.  They run a combat simulation once a day.  Shark continues with his zack practice and sensor simulations.  Vonish Kehnaan tries sparkly pink piloting, but is not at all comfortable with it; he gets on much better using the regular console and armchair controls.  Helia, meanwhile, lets him do that while she runs the ships weapons.
    One of the things Helia practices is use of the third weapon.  Its range is not large, but damage is interesting.  Against a space target, it "merely" destroys a large section of the ship.  Use in atmosphere, however, is absolutely devastating: in one simulation, against a city, it destroys it entirely with a vast amount of fallout and secondary effects.  A rough guess indicates it was well in excess of 200 megatons of thermonuclear blast, with a strange fireball effect. It's very nasty, and very ugly.  There are some very odd things about the signatures -- it's unlike anything they have experienced.  It's a lot cleaner on space targets.
    Shark's sensor practice pays off: he does get a basic familiarity with ship's sensor systems.

173-1121 : Caloran / Vilis / Spinward Marches

    After six days, the Nightshade comes out of jump in the Caloran system.  This is an agricultural world, with a class C starport on a half-gravity world with a dense, tainted atmosphere.  Average temperature is 16 degrees, although that varies depending on the position of the secondary red dwarf.
    There are no gas giants here, so to maintain the illusion of normality they will have to "take on" fuel at the starport.  That's no hardship, since this is their last chance at shopping before jumping for Digitis.  Vonish will be glad to take on fresh produce here.  There is no point in picking up any trade goods, as Digitis is self-sufficient to a fault and does not generally accept trade goods.  Here however, trade is welcomed -- agricultural products for export, and importing agricultural and industrial equipment and machinery, technological items, luxuries, and so on.
    So they'll land and take a couple of days for shopping and relaxation.  It would be good to be somewhere that they don't have to be on such an alert for threats -- while Shark always suspects conspiracies everywhere, here he thinks he'll be able to relax a little.  Shark muses aloud that he'll be twitching all the time on Digitis.

    The starport here is fairly busy, but perfectly normal for an agricultural class C world off the main routes.  It's about what they'd expect for a smallish independent world with a number of other systems close by.  No doubt the Arden system, just Jump-1 away, trades here.   The starport administration is being handled by the local government.
    There is a section of the downport dedicated to large freighters in the 5000 std range.  Of course there's also the usual complement of free traders and various small merchant ships.  The Nightshade is assigned a landing bay in the area reserved for private ships.  Robert allows the ship itself to handle talking with the starport traffic controller.
    Like the other systems they've been passing through, only local news is available here.  They'll have to wait until they've hooked up to the starport for Robert to hack into other ships to extract their news.
    As they come in Shark drops into sparkly pink on the sensors and tries to check out the ships.  He's totally disoriented, partly by the motion, partly by the spherical vision, and partly by atmospheric effects.

    The berth they've been assigned is a large concrete landing pad.  There are fuel and physical wire connections.  Mich sets up equipment to dispose of the liquid hydrogen as it comes in; at least they don't need to spend the extra for refined fuel!  The apparatus he sets up incorporates a lot of safety precautions.
    Now that they're down, Shark checks out the other ships.  There are in fact just five military ships here, all from the Arden Federation.  Nevertheless, given the location of this world just Jump-1 from Arden itself, he expects the place to be crawling with Zhodani and Arden agents.
    He tries very subtly to convince the Baron that he shouldn't use his real name here, talking hypothetically of course, but subtlety is lost on the Imperialnoble.

    There's not a lot of news.  There's very little offworld news, but what there is indicates no sign of tension between the Zhodani and Arden.  There was a tense situation for a while here too, during the crisis on the Arden - Imperium border, but not as much as on the trailing Federation border.  With the crisis over, tensions eased rapidly here too.

    The landing pad is a fairly short distance from the starport hub.  They are apparently expected either to walk or provide their own transportation.  Their past experience with gravcraft disasters provokes a unanimous vote for walking.
    Vonish of course wants to go shopping.  Shark clears shore leave for anyone who wants to go with the vilani chef, and he'll be accompanying the shore party.  Helia definitely won't pass up the chance of exploring another world.  Mich Saginaw decides it's time he took a break and went ashore; Teri Cralla of course will be his shadow, although rather more restricted in weaponry than she'd like.  In fact, they're not supposed to be carrying weapons -- no open carry, and no firearms.  Shotguns are permitted outside the starport, but that doesn't extend to starport territory.  Shark tells Teri not to get caught carrying weapons; he will be wearing his zack under normal clothes, with no weapons of course visible.  Teri decides to wear her Scorpionis Marines uniform, carefully tailored, with her ceremonial saber prominently displayed.
    Robert stays on board ship -- he has five military ships to investigate...

    Local time is the early morning, although it's about lunch in ship's time.  It's a nice day.  Information indicates that supposedly they don't need any respirators, but as soon as they step outside they all notice a chemical smell to the air.  It doesn't send any of them scampering back inside for a filter mask.  There is a heavy haze, with the high humidity adding to the thick feel of the atmosphere.
    The Nightshade is very clearly the largest ship in the private landing area, by about a factor of three.  So much for not being obvious...

    The shore party walk up to the starport hub.  Nothing unusual here, including the guy with the forms to be filled out at the check-in desk.  Shark starts working on the paperwork, guessing (with a sigh) that it will take about fifteen minutes.  Vonish quickly interrupts, since he used to be the starport administrator on Pimane; he's done in five minutes, and they are all admitted to the building.

    They've all seen nicer places.  It could use a good cleaning.  The whole feel is that it isn't cared for as scrupulously as they'd expected.  Other than that, it's a pretty generic setup.  There's a small hotel in the building, next to a bar.
    Shark notices a bulletin board just inside the bar, and walks over to check it out.  He immediately recognizes a note from one of his folks.  Now at least he has a contact here.
    Helia joins him.  She scans the board.  There are at least a dozen cards talking about opportunities with no experience required, with just a number for reply.  There are assorted things for sale, like used vaccsuits.  There is also a card for Madam Sarah's.

    The five of them sit down at a table.  It's not so much a restaurant as an alcove off the starport corridor, wider than it is deep, with a bar along the far wall.  Aside from them, there's just one customer, a woman, talking to the bartender.  It's around breakfast time locally, and the bar does apparently serve food.  An arrivals and departures board, along with a berth directory, takes up one of the side walls; on the other side is a display showing agricultural market prices.
    Shark is interested to see a genuine printed newspaper.  He is pleased to note that they will take Imperial credits here, although they prefer their own currency.  Scanning the bar with a practiced eye reveals some other tidbits.  The bartender is armed -- he has a bulge inside his jacket that indicates a holster for a slug-throwing pistol.  He's stocky, and speaks galangic with a slight accent.  The customer is dressed in Imperial clothes of good quality -- quite interesting.  There are no Imperial ships in port.
    The group settles down at a table for breakfast.  Local time is about six hours earlier than ship's time -- it's early afternoon for the crew, but morning here.
    Helia decides on beer, steak, and eggs.  A brief discussion ensues...
    The bartender gives them all a funny look, but says they can do that.
    Helia asks him if they have any good beer -- or good ale or good wine, for that matter.
    "We've got beer.  Do you want it or don't you?" says the bartender.
    "It's just beer?"
    "Well, what's the best local juice you have?"
    "You want whisky?"
    "Is that the best thing to drink?"
    "Me, I don't touch a drop of it."
    "OK, what's the best thing that you drink?"
    "Jeez, I just drink zurta."
    Helia settles for zurta, steak and eggs.  With potatoes on the side if they have them.  Tubers?  Good.  Unless they have a local specialty breakfast?
    The bartender nods and says they'll whip up something.  Mich orders beer and cornflakes -- there is no coffee available.  In fact, the only caffeinated stuff they have is zurta.  Shark orders the same as Helia.  Teri just props herself up against the wall, saying she ate before she left the ship.
    Vonish is somewhat offended at the idea of being forced to eat fast food.  He's not expecting anything worth eating, and just orders some bread.  The rest of the guys tease him mercilessly.
    Helia asks the bartender about bookstores, particularly local books.  He says that she should be able to find something in town.  She then asks if there's anything they should definitely see while they're here, but he says there isn't anything.  She then asks about the most interesting place for dinner -- where's the fancy place that all the tourists go, and where's the good place that all the locals go?
    "We don't normally get tourists.  The good local place -- that's an interesting question."
    Shark says, "Where do you take your best girl when you have a little extra money?"
    "Well, there's a diner, on the road to town.  Go down about ten kilometers, hang a left on the dirt road, go about another three kilometers.  You'll see a field, and a gate.  Go through that, go across two fields, and you'll find the building right there."  He assures her that they will not need reservations
    Helia asks, "Do they take Imperial coin?"
    "Probably not.  You can change currency near the starport exit.  You can use credits inside the starport, though.
    Helia puts down way too much Imperial money to pay for all their breakfasts.  She's astonished when the man gives her change, but accepts it gracefully and thanks him.  She starts to ask about gambling, but then remembers that Shark said there were no gambling establishments here.
    Shark notices that the other customer is looking at them with interest, especially when they produced Imperial credits.

    The food arrives.  It's unremarkable, except that the quality of the ingredients is good.  The steak is very good, the eggs are fresh, and it bodes well for Vonish's shopping.  The produce markets are in the center of town -- they can take a taxi from the starport.  Alternatively, the bartender says, they can take their own vehicle from their ship, but he tells them to keep it low and slow, as some of the farmers take quick offense to anything that might upset their crops or livestock.  The farmers and ranchers wouldn't think twice before shooting at anything they thought was a threat to their farm.  Helia assures him they wouldn't buzz the fields with anything smaller than their ship.
    Speaking of their ship, the bartender says, it's quite a fancy one.
    Helia thanks him with a smile.
    "They common in the Imperium?"
    "We like her," Helia says.  She gives Shark a knowing look.

How Kalida Arrived Here
(Referee and Kalida's player only)

    Just about when they finish eating, the lady at the bar comes over.  "So where did you all come in from?" she asks.
    "Out there," says Helia, guardedly.
    "That's an interesting ship you've got."
    "Thank you.  What did you come in on?"
    "I came in on a free trader a little while ago.  I'm looking for a way to get off this planet."
    "How'd you get here, and why did you stay?"
    "I've just been staying here.  I was on the free trader, and... they left."
    They note that her accent matches her clothes, which are Imperial and very well cut.  Helia continues, "You look like the kind of person who'd be willing to pay money to get off the planet."
    The lady laughs, "I'd be willing to, certainly.  If I had any."
    "Well, he's our first officer," says Helia, indicating Shark.  "He'd be an interesting person to talk to."
    Shark gestures her to join them at the table, and asks her name.
    "Kalida," she says.
    "What were you doing on the free trader?  Working passage?"
    "I was working passage.  I was their gunner."
    "Why'd they leave you?"
    "They were interested in pursuing options that I was not necessarily interested in."
    Helia asks, "Free trade options?"
    Shark laughs, "'Free' being the operative word?"
    Kalida smiles.  "'Free' being the very operative word, yes."
    Helia asks, "None of them were named Robin, were they?"
    Shark asks what the ship was called?
    "It was the Lonely Teardrop."
    "So where are you staying?"
    "In the starport hotel.  It's just next door to this bar."
    Helia asks, "Looking to pay to get off here, or for work?"
    "I'm looking for work."
    "With clothes like that?  It makes me wonder why you need to work to buy them when you look like you have plenty of money to buy them whenever you want."
    "I could pay to buy them, but at some point I'd run out of the credits to buy them with."
    "So your taste and budget don't always match."
    "Very rarely."
    "Candy?"  Helia offers Kalida some from her bag.
    Kalida politely declines.
    Shark and Helia ask if she has any ID.
    Kalida says she has a TAS membership card, and Imperial military ID.  They indicate that she's Brigadier General Kalida Siena, Imperial Marines (retired).  They look genuine to Shark.
    Mich pipes up incredulously, "A Brigadier General gunner?  A marine?"
    Helia asks, "So you're a retired Brigadier General Imperial Marine and you've got no money?  Wow..."
    Shark says quietly, "The army doesn't pay very well."
    "She's got to meet the Doc.  Let's invite her out to dinner and make sure that the Doc comes too."
    Mich introduces himself as Lieutenant Commander Mich Saginaw, Imperial Navy (retired), the Chief Engineer.  In turn he introduces Shark as the First Officer.
    Helia says she's the pilot.
    "Just Helia?" asks Kalida.  "No rank?"
    "Rank?" says Helia.  "I'm the pilot."
    "Pilot, astrogator, and all around candy fiend," adds Shark.
    Helia tests Kalida with the chinese finger puzzle.  She passes.  Then Helia talks about yo-yo's, and how they used to be a weapon.  She's not very good at them yet, but if she wants a weapon she can get a zack.
    Kalida asks, "So what sort of ship is that, exactly?"
    Mich says she's a nice, 1600 ton ship.
    "Research vessel," clarifies Helia.
    "So what are you researching?" asks Kalida.
    Mich asks her about her favorite ship's weapons.
    Kalida says they're anything that helps the marines on the ground.

    Mich changes the subject, mentioning that Vonish should be sure to look for beans while he's here.  He adds that the beer is actually very good.  On that recommendation, Helia orders one too.
    Kalida asks, "I take it this isn't actually breakfast for you all."
    Mich says, "Yeah, it's breakfast."
    Kalida declines Helia's offer of a beer, saying she has her breakfast.
    Helia then asks Kalida about the good places to go on this planet.
    "I have no idea," Kalida says, "I've only been here for a day."
    "And you're already looking to leave?"
    "Does this look like a fun place to retire to you?"
    "I'm sorry, but I can only think of two places I'd like to retire.  Actually, we're going to one of them."
    Mich says, "I want to go to Spirelle to retire."  He explains that's where his bank is, giving him 20% interest, compounded annually.  But you have to deposit a bunch to get that -- like several million credits.
    Shark gets back to business.  He tells Kalida, "You'll have to meet the Captain, the Doc, the snake, the dog, and the starfish.  We have some other things to do now, but let's meet you back here at 5 pm local, and we'll go to dinner.  We'll bring transport, and at that point we'll know when you can come and visit the rest of the crew, and get their input."
    Kalida agrees.  The crew of the Nightshade leave her in the bar and go to the starport exit.

    Outside the exit is a taxi rank.  The taxis are internal combustion, very square bodywork.  Nothing sophisticated has gone into the design, apparently -- they look very rugged.
    The attendant at the taxi rank determines that they want to go downtown, and tells the driver in the local language.  Shark calls out to see if any of the drivers speak galanglic, but gets puzzled looks all around.  The attendant assures him that he'll be able to find someone at the market who can speak galanglic.
    The ride is pretty rough.  The road is paved, but not smooth.  The traffic is light, except there are some pretty heavy, very big, trucks coming from town -- almost road trains, with three trailers behind the cab unit.  It's about a 15 kilometer trip.  On the way they pass through an industrial district, with all the trappings of pre-nuclear industry -- smoking chimneys, dirt, and noise.  Eventually they enter the town itself, and come to a halt at a large market in a square in the center.
    Shark has no idea what currency is on the meter, although they changed some money before leaving the starport.  (Robert has asked them to bring back two copies of each denomination for his currency collection.)  He pays the driver in Imperial credits, an amount Shark thinks is more than enough.  Apparently it is.
    Vonish immediately heads into the market to procure supplies for the ship.  Shark gives him instructions to meet back here in three hours.

    They look around for any writing they can read, on any signs.  They recognize the letters, but the language is incomprehensible.
    Failing that, Shark looks around for a policeman.  He walks up to him and says, "Do you speak galanglic?"
    Apparently not.  He's very pleasant, but clearly doesn't understand a word.
    Shark looks around.  No-one around here is carrying a book.  He pulls out his pocket computer, and images a book.
    The policeman smiles and points.

    There is indeed a bookstore here.  They go in and look around.
     Shark recognizes the word "galanglic" on one cover, and pulls it out.  It's apparently a phrasebook, from the local language to galanglic.  They'll have to scan it in to reverse it and make it useful.
    Behind a counter is a slightly overweight balding man.  He's smiling at them.
    Shark says, "I don't suppose you speak galanglic, do you?"
    "Galanglic?  Yes."
    "You wouldn't happen to have a galanglic to... what do you call your native language?"
    The man looks a little flustered.  "Slow," he says.  "Talk slow.  Please."
    "What to galanglic?"  A little pantomiming and pointing finally gets Shark's meaning across.
    "Oh!  Corshin."
    "Corshin to galanglic.  Galanglic to corshin?"
    "Other galangic books?"
    "Yes.  Section is of shop back."
    Shark walks towards the back of the store.  None of the galanglic books look particularly recent.  It's an odd selection.  There's a lot of romance novels and action novels, the sort of thing that a spacer might want to sell to get a book for the next trip.  There are three of Akim Gavrolovitch's books -- Archduke Bedlam, Gram Rising, and one he hasn't seen before called Drop Zone: Efate.  Shark takes all three, for his research.  He then says, "Corshin dictionary?"
    "Dictionary?  Yes!  Lookup books."  The shopkeeper points.
    Shark picks up the biggest unabridged dictionary, and adds it to his stack.  He tells Mich that his and Robert's book reading machine can scan it tonight, and they can get a translation program for tomorrow.
    At this, the shopkeeper perks up.  "Translation program?" he says brightly, and hands Shark a chip.
    "How much?  Cost?  Money?"
    "600 dudahs."
    "Imperium.  Credits."
    It's well worth it to be able to communicate here.  Shark gladly pays him.  While the chips aren't supposed to be able to be copied readily, he is sure that Robert will have no problem with it when they get back to the ship.  Since the chip also handles written language -- but not very well -- it's good enough for titles so he can help Helia choose her books.
    Helia takes Shark's computer.  She says, "History books?"
    "Yes," replies the shopkeeper in corshin, "We have a fine selection of history books.  Over here, I think you'll find that this one is the most respected, although this one here has some interesting new ideas that put quite a different slant on some of the aspects.  Now for a basic introduction, this is definitely the finest one."
    "Thank you!"  Helia is very pleased.  "Local mythology?"
    "Hmm.  This encyclopedia pretty much covers everything."
    "Children's stories?"
    "We have an entire section here."
    "Most popular?"
    "Children's best sellers?  This shelf here."
    Helia takes the whole shelf.  What the heck, it's just ship's money anyway.  "You can send to our ship?"
    "Yes, certainly."
    "Oh, and cooking."
    The shopkeeper shows her the cookbook section.  The three basic local books are added to Helia's stack.  She also takes his recommendation for the top eight gourmet cookbooks, covering different styles and cuisines.
    Helia asks, "What's the best restaurant to go?"
    "What sort of food?"
    "Most interesting local food?"
    "Well, my father-in-law has a restaurant three blocks away.  Come out of the shop, turn left, take the second left, and go a block.  You can't miss it."
    At this Shark asks, "Do you have a map of the city?"
    A map is produced, and the shopkeeper shows them where they are now, and where the restaurant is.  Shark takes the map with them, rather than have it delivered to the Nightshade.
    Helia asks, "Comic books?"  The translator said "Comic tyuquz."  Not promising.
    The translator also has a lot of difficulty reading the map.  Nevertheless, Shark is confident he will have no problems with it.
    Helia remembers one last thing.  She asks Shark, "Weren't we supposed to continue to get psionics books?"  She turns back to the shopkeeper, and through the translator says, "Paranormal experiences?"  The translator has a fit.
    Shark helps out.  "Zhodani books?" he says.
    The shopkeeper directs him to the Zhodani section, where the books are in Zhodani.  Fortunately Shark speaks the language fluently.  He picks out the books that look interesting.  He then requests that the books are delivered to the Nightshade, bay 15.
    The shopkeeper assures him that they'll be there this afternoon -- he'll get his son on it right away.
    It's a couple of hours before they need to meet Vonish.  Shark looks around for a phone book, but doesn't see one.  He asks, "Directory of local businesses?"
    The shopkeeper grabs a booklet from the rack with the maps.  It's a free directory of businesses, mostly consisting of advertising.
    Shark doesn't bother to translate it, just looks through for pictures of knives, or guns.  He finds none, but pockets the directory anyway.
    The final question is from Helia, who asks where a candy store is.  Apparently it's just up the road.  The shopkeeper did act as though she was a child -- but obviously knew what she was talking about, reads at a high level, and has the authority to spend money.

    The candy store and bakery are near each other, about a block away.  The bakery is getting quite busy at this time of day.  Helia looks for big sweet elephant-ear type confections, and orders a good selection to be delivered to the ship.  She overpays with ship's money.
    At the candy store, Helia picks up some interesting things she doesn't have.  She then produces some of the things she has, and asks if there's anything like it.  She's soon exchanging candy samples with the shopkeeper.  He produces something special for her, a candy that melts in the mouth with a burst of flavor. She orders five kilograms of that one, along with several kilograms of other candies.  She also gets five kilograms of liquor-containing candies, in a gift box, to be delivered to the ship to "Sir Doc."  She pays for all of this with her own money.
    One other stop... Mich asks about a liquor store.  The candy store owner says it's out of town about five kilometers, turn left at the big tree, go down the dirt road, and they'll see the distillery.  They can't miss it, he says.

    They meet back with Vonish, who bought a translator chip of his own.  He says he's bought all sorts of supplies and products to be delivered tomorrow morning, and is pleased to hear that Helia has picked out delicacies for him too.  Helia also tells him about the cookbooks.
    They take the taxi back to the starport, and return to the ship.  There they will tell the others about the stranded lady, the gunner.  They discuss her on the ride back.  Shark asks what they think of her on first sight -- the question is, how would they use a classically trained gunner on this ship?
    Teri says she's clearly career military.  Carries herself like a marine.  As an aside, she adds that she has examined the heavy weapons in the armory, but aside from knowing which end to point, she doesn't know what they do.
    Back on the ship, Shark explains that they've met an Imperial general, who's temporarily stranded on planet.  The GrandAm mutters about Army guys getting stuck on planet.  Shark points out she was a Marine, at which the old doctor recants a little, saying something about them not going anywhere without the Navy.  On hearing she's a woman around forty, the Baron's interest is more obvious.  Helia says she has very nice clothing, but professes to be poor.
    Shark says that the Baron should join them at dinner with the lady.  Shark says he'll drive, taking the gcarrier.  At least it's a scientific rather than a military vehicle.
    Now they could take the ship's boat, but they haven't tried it yet.  All they know about it is what Mich says, that it's powered from the ship's power cube.
    Robert is pleased that they have samples of the local currency, as he requested.  They're very well made, much more difficult to analyze than most local notes of this tech level.  Nevertheless, his analysis is complete, and he adds the data to his collection.
    Shark tells Robert that the equivalency is about 30 dudahs to the credit, and that he'd like enough to pay for dinner tonight.  A 1000 dudah note is the largest in common circulation.

    Robert has been busy while the others were ashore.  He tried to get into the Arden military ship computers, but triggered a very sophisticated intrusion alarm.  They are very well protected.  It's a good thing he come through in a circuitous route -- he drops it quickly.
    This is a lot tougher than he'd expected.  The last ship he met that had this sort of sophistication was the Baba Yaga .  That ship was more sophisticated than these, but there's definitely a family resemblance.  These are dangerous ships to intrude.  Now these are military ships of Arden, while the Baba Yaga turned out to be -- once he stripped off their civilian cover -- operated by Vilis intelligence.