(38) But Which Lead to Follow?

The Misha Campaign (199-1121)

199-1121 : Digitis / Vilis / Spinward Marches

    The Nightshade is holding station beside the egg communications relay.  They have investigated the space station, and sent a message asking to be contacted.

    But where to go from here?  They were planning to look for Jane Southcombe, but of course she isn't in this system.  Ed "Shark" Teeth suspects she's in Zhodani space.
    Meanwhile, Shark goes into sparkly pink mode on the sensors, and looks around at the gravity wells in the area.  His theory is that is how they found the object in stealth mode, but that doesn't seem to be correct.  The only measurable gravity well is the one of the Nightshade itself -- apparently the egg does not have one.  He comments that the CPU power on this ship must be immense -- it can sense and project in every direction what would be seen if the ship wasn't there.  Also, it does it outside the ship itself, not physically in contact with it at all.  It also means they can generate gravity outside the ship without grav plates, like on the gangplank they extended to the egg.
    Shark asks the ship for a modified stealth mode, projecting an image of the Third Eye.  It can't do that, apparently.  Shark is not discouraged -- he knows the ship can do it, it's just a matter of describing it with the correct symbol.

    Back in the lounge, Misha Ravanos has called a meeting of the crew.  He asks if there are any leads they have not yet followed up.
    Shark replies that they can look into Cappy Starfugger, who sent the message that originally brought them to this system.  Based on what they found in the egg, the message was sent explicitly to get the Marquis -- and more importantly Mich Saginaw -- here.  The question is, did they forge a message from Cappy, or get him to send it?
    Robert Morris says he couldn't forge an xmail message.  It's practically impossible to do so.
    So who asked Cappy to do it?  The answer, Shark says, can be determined by finding Cappy, or Jeff Collins as his real name is.  He suggests that now they have seen how good stealth mode is, they can go to Mora and investigate there.
    Kalida Siena asks if they really want to be in a high-traffic area under stealth mode, but Helia Sarina indicates that she can keep them out of the way of traffic.
    Helia asks Robert if he thinks the ship can keep itself out of trouble while she's not on watch.  Robert, of course, feels that the ships is quite capable of independently doing anything they ask it.
    Misha says the next move is clearly to find Cappy Starfugger.
    Shark continues to iterate the possible organizations that might be involved, like the Department of Horticultural Fertilizer on Mora , funded by the Wonstar Development Corporation.
    Misha reminds everyone that they went to Zett because it was the main candidate for the Marquis' experience on an unknown ship, and he wanted them to find the place.  But what's the connection between Cappy and the Marquis?
    Shark says Cappy was one of the people in the Marquis' network of rumor sources.  Cappy had put him on to a study subject some time back, and the Marquis had told him to keep an eye out for any more likely rumors of interest.  So when the message about Digitis arrived at Mora from Cappy, the Marquis loaded up the Third Eye and went out to investigate.
    Misha and Shark discuss the connection between Zett and Digitis .  The obvious connection is the the black ship and the black egg, but that connection wasn't made by the government military but by the people who asked them to come to Digitis , before they had the black ship.  Shark's theory is that these people knew that there was some technology they wanted to check out.  The military built the container holding the black ship, but Cappy was contacted by the people who built the ship, to get them to come here so they could talk to Mich.  They found out he was probably going to kill himself with this technology and let him go.  That's why they haven't been looking for them since -- until, of course, they sent these messages.  Now that they've told them they have a black ship, and can speak their language, and didn't kill themselves, they're now a potential problem again, and the department of foreign affairs which keeps the lower species in place is going to try to take care of them.  That's Shark's view, anyway -- but then he's the paranoid security officer, and that's his job.
    Now the people who took the Marquis to Zett were Imperial Navy.  Shark says that the Imperial establishment knows about the other people, and have the black ships and were trying to keep them a secret so those other people couldn't retrieve them, so they had a chance to learn the technology.
    As Misha points out, whoever had that holding station hadn't figured out the technology yet, and were working on the damaged ship first before opening up this untouched one.  They hadn't even touched the other one since the Marquis' incident, aside from removing the bodies.
    In answer to Kalida, Shark explains that the Imperium did a failed experiment.  They tried to get someone into sparkly pink mode, and the ship was probably screaming in agony, and he fritzed, and it fried a few other brains around, and others went crazy and started shooting each other.  Luckily Helia was able to do it the first time without frying her brain or anyone going crazy.
    Misha brings up another detail:  the missiles.
    Shark explains, considering that Kalida and Helia are hearing it for the first time.  The Navy had built an experimental ship, originally called the Kinunir, and later called the Anastasia .  There were nuclear missiles on board that ship that had warheads identical to those of the black ship.  They found the ship on a skiing holiday -- it shot at them, but that's another story.  General Products had written a security system that went overboard and killed its crew.  The ship crash-landed on a planet.  Anyway, they salvaged the ship, kept it for several years, went on a campaign and saved the universe as they know it, and enhanced the antimatter drives.  It went wrong, they misjumped, and crash-landed on Pimane .
    Bridgehead nods.  It's a bit distorted, but basically sums up the story.
    Shark continues.  There were nuclear missiles on the Anastasia that had black ship writing on them.  He believes they came from the damaged ship where the Marquis had his experience, as there were no missiles on board that ship.  Those nuclear warheads were mounted on conventional Imperial missile bodies on the Anastasia.
    Misha confirms that they have nuclear missiles on this ship.  He continues, "But.. there were three weapons.  One is missiles, one is lasers, and the third is the one that..."
    Shark interjects quickly, "...the mystery weapon."
    Kalida perks up.  She has only been shown the missiles and lasers.  She makes a mental note to follow this up later.

    Shark returns to the subject of what thread they want to follow.  He says the strongest one, although probably the longest, would be the corporation funding the Marquis' research through the Fertilizer department.
    Misha summarizes: the Wonstar Development Corporation has been funding the Marquis to look for psionic events.  He asks Shark why the Marquis started on that research in the first place.
    Shark replies that it was because of the event with the ship, which was obviously psionic , and awoke his personal latent ability.  So he had this event when he was a young officer that caused him to get interested in psychic phenomena, and also saved the son of a Duke, which they all know about.  He was knighted then, and later moved up to Marquis.
    Misha says that someone must have noticed him, or at least started watching him, around then or at least early in his research.  The WDC then started funding him and handing him leads.
    It could have been early in his academic career, suggests Shark, perhaps in his graduate work with Plankwell University on Rhylanor .  He could have been doing subtle illegal research, and someone could have found out about it.
    Misha says that a clue could be whoever was told about the Marquis' event on the black ship.  "An interesting question for the Marquis would be, to whom did he tell his story?  Anybody except me?" he asks.  It's a rhetorical question, of course.  He goes back to the subject of the WDC.  What would their motive be?  Maybe they're trying to find the ship, or ships like it.
    Shark adds, "Or how to contact the ship, how to control it.  Like we did."  He says there is clearly a psychic component to sparkly pink mode, and any government would like a mechanical way to contact minds like that.
    Misha has been thinking that the Wonstar Development Corporation was a front for the black ship people.
    Shark wonders if it's not a front for the Imperial government.  If you're going to do illegal research, setting up a corporation with an obfuscated ownership would be the way to do it.  Any researchers would only know they were funded by the corporation.  "Advanced track covering 501," he says with a smile.
    "But if the WDC is a front for the government, the same government that..."
    "Built the Anastasia, put the missiles on the Anastasia... but they don't know how it works, so they're funding people to figure out how it works."
    Kalida points out that parts of the government don't necessarily know what's going on in other parts.
    "What if it was a setup the whole time, and everybody involved in this, you all have been... innocent dupes?" asks Helia.
    Misha laughs, "We're clearly all innocent dupes!"
    Shark smiles.  "H.M.S. Ship of Fools!" he suggests.
    Misha says, "There are a group of people who use and know how to use the black ship technology.  And there's a group of people who don't.  There are those people who know about the black ship but don't know how to use it."
    Shark adds that there's still a relatively large number of those people.  There's the research staff who did the initial research.  There are the navy security guys.
    Misha is trying to get it down to two organizations.  He believes they have to be different organizations.  They might be part of the same government, but they have to be different groups.
    Shark says that the ones who know how to use the black ship technology are surely not part of the Imperium government.  He thinks they are another government -- outside, above, within, the Imperium, but separate from the Imperium.  They are trying to hold the Imperium back, to keep them from making a technology leap -- which is why they are interested in Mich.

    Shark breaks out his hand computer and consults his notes.  He tells them that the WDC was granted public service tax exempt status by the Duke of Regina about two hundred years ago.  It is the only company with such status in the Spinward Marches .  It's actually impossible to register a company with that status -- the only way to do it is for a senior Imperial official to order it.  So as of then, they either paid off, convinced, or whatever, the Duke to do that -- or it was his organization.  Now it's well known that organizations, once built, can be forgotten -- and that they continue to exist on their own momentum.  Their funding also continues from precedent.  Two billion credits a year goes into the basement of the DoHF.  Now there is a Naval base in the Wonstar system and, like the whole of the Five Sisters subsector, it is under Naval administration.  The Marquis' research is funded by a corporation in a system run by the Navy.
    He reminds them that they were intended to go to Wonstar , but they got distracted, and after a few misjumps the Marquis left.  He left instructions for Misha to find the black ship, and their priorities changed.  Shark says that "his people" have nothing to do with the basement of the DoHF -- it's not their department, and they don't look there.  They did confirm that the basement is not the group that is interested in the language.
    He then reminds them that Robert knows where the language information is.  The cyberspace location is owned by Count Walter von Hayden, who apparently has landholdings in Core sector and is a minor stockholder in Imperiallines .  He could hack into it, but it would leave a trail -- and Shark had been advised that such action would attract some quite undesirable attention.  Of course, a trail to an invisible ship would be an invisible trail...

    The conversation drifts to the pirate Robin Sherwood -- and the other person who Mich says has psionic abilities.  Mich actually killed her -- under orders, he says -- but the Grand Am grew her body back.  Shark says she was called Jill, and was married to Jack.  Not Jack, Jack's daughter, but Jack who they rescued (with Jill) from a snowing planet with intelligent furry spiders.
    Misha says that many things point towards the pirate actually being Jill -- but maybe that's just in their head.
    Shark says that both Mich and the Admiral say that the real Robin Sherwood is dead.  Her body was on the Anastasia, where she died in the ship's last misjump.
    Since she was Bridgehead's girlfriend, and he saw the body, he should know.  She was going by the name Helen Merrick when he picked her up in a bar at Zaibon .
    Shark goes on to explain what happened after the misjump.  Many were dead after the jump.  The Admiral and Teri were OK; Mich was unconscious.  Jill, Vana, Varda, David Brock, and Joe (a member of the Order of the Reptilian Black Things that Spit, from Ianic ) were missing, along with a lot of the marines.  Robin Sherwood -- Helen -- was dead.  By that time most of the crew were fighting among themselves anyway.  Several had left the ship already -- Fostriades and Lia (later to become the Count and Countess Fostriades, attached to the embassy in Darrian), and Chiang Ho and NoName.  William Avon and Alice Waterford, and Jenny Roberts, left after being rescued from Pimane .
    Bridgehead adds, sourly, that he thinks the only reason Fostriades made Count was that after he and Lia left the Anastasia , no-one could find the Imperial Warrant on board.
    After Mich had been rescued, Shark says, he was asked by his former service on Resten (planetary security) to keep an eye on him and protect him -- so he had to join the ship then.  Shark says he's now a freelancer.  Misha is skeptical that Shark would have been asked by a planetary authority to watch Mich.  Surely the orders came from off-planet -- or at least from an Imperial agent onplanet.  Shark agrees, and explains how that protocol would work, and that a retired officer would be considered expendable and highly suitable for such a mission.
    Misha returns to the subject of Robin Sherwood again.  What do they know about her?  She appeared from nowhere, she pulls over ships and takes the cargo.  She doesn't harm anyone, takes nothing from the passengers, and lets the ship leave peacefully when she's done.  She's been seen at Stellatio , Denotam , and Calit -- all in the Vilis subsector .
    Misha then asks about the history of this area at the time Lap'da's people came to Digitis .
    Helia's the history buff; she says, "Lap'da's people came to Digitis at the time of the Final War of the Ancients .  There is no history.  Didn't he say he was here about 300,000 years ago?  That was the time of the Ancients.  All through Regina subsector, there is stuff people are unearthing about them.  There's some stuff Lap'da's told you, Misha, that I'd like to discuss with you.  But if he recognizes the ship, it could be a ship using Ancient technology."
    Misha says, "The story I got from Lap'da is that his people came to this area when there was already a war going on.  His people made a deal with whoever was fighting, and said they didn't want to fight any more and would live here.  I don't know what the deal was, but they left each other alone.  The war passed them by, and Lap'da's people stayed there.  There is also some hint that not all his people stayed here.  Some of them went on, wherever 'on' is."
    Jump-6 for 300,000 years means they could be long gone.  Nevertheless, Misha wants to chase down Lap'da's side of the story.  The only source on Digitis is the Janns -- but Helia thinks they have a shared memory of some sort, and they'd just get the same story again.
    The only clue for the language is the database on Mora .  The Marquis should be there, too.  That, in Misha's opinion, makes it the obvious place to go next.
    On the way, they want to pick up news as soon as possible.  The most obvious way to do that is to go now to Frenzie , which would give access to the most up to date news about Robin Sherwood.

    So it's decided.  Helia slips them into jump for Frenzie .