(43) Another World, Another Girl

The Misha Campaign (249-1121)

249-1121 (073 / 322 local): Spirelle / Lunion / Spinward Marches

    The Nightshade arrives from Pimane .  Since they're planning on an open appearance here, they have the transponder running and stealth mode off.  Helia Sarina flies in to the mainworld at an acceleration that won't get them too much attention.  At the prescribed 3g it takes the larian five hours to pilot them to Spirelle .
    The ship has already talked to the starport and obtained a landing berth.  Helia brings them down to a prime spot right by the starport building.  It's around midday local time.
    Helia checks with the local tourist office, and makes a reservation for nine at Allys Hollow, leaving on 251-1121 at 9 am.  They'll stay one week, with an option to extend their vacation.

    First business on this world, however, is the trip to the bank.  This must be done as soon as possible -- certainly before news of their deaths reaches this world.
    The starport is very nice for a class C.  The main building is decorated with plants and artwork, in an open and fresh style.  There's a bar that's clearly more upmarket than most worlds, with a large window overlooking the landing field.  The Nightshade, deep black with a large red maltese cross on each maneuver pod, is in clear view of the patrons.  The administrative offices are also located in this building, although overlooking the city of Heliopolis rather than the starport.
    They walk out to the taxi rank, and take the next available electric groundcar to the bank.  Grand Admiral Baron Bridgehead smiles when he sees the first-timers' reactions to the age of the driver -- she's a small girl about Helia's size, no more than ten years old.  Helia sees nothing unusual in it, and neither does Mich Saginaw who's been here before.
    The bank is about ten minutes away.  In short order they're with a manager, a man apparently in his late thirties.  Bridgehead and Mich present their ID's, and the appropriate paperwork is quickly signed.  He then leaves them alone for a while so he can arrange for the large quantity of Imperial cash .
    After about 15 minutes, he comes back.  He tells them that everything's arranged.  He gives them their ID's back, smiles as he tells them everything checked out, and gives them some forms to sign.  With the paperwork done, the manager presses a button on his intercom.  Someone comes in carrying two suitcases.  One is handed to Mich (14.5152 MCr, comprised of his original 7 MCr plus interest), the other to the Baron (containing his 6 MCr deposit; the interest has been paid to his account).  (William Avon, of course, having left the Third Eye a long time ago, is still drawing his 100 KCr a month.)
    Mich asks if there's any charge for the suitcase, and he is assured there is none.
    They are thanked for doing business with the bank, and the manager expresses the hope that they'll do business here again.
    The manager tells his secretary to call a cab, and walks his customers out into the lobby.

    As they're walking out, the manager smiles brightly at a woman walking towards him.  "Hello, good to see you!" he says to the woman.  "I'm sure you haven't met, but you're from offworld, these guys are from offworld too.  This is Baron Bridgehead, and Mich Saginaw, ..."  He pauses in front of Helia.
    Helia says brightly, "Madam Bridgehead," and extends her hand.  The apparent ten year old girl with a barbie figure, wearing a sprayed-on black leather jumpsuit, a bright tunic, and a backpack, looks an unlikely companion for the Baron -- more like his childish granddaughter.
    "Pleasure to make your acquaintance," says the woman.  She looks like she's about 150 lbs., 5'11", wearing a lightweight sweater in very bright colors.
    "I'm Teri," says Teri Cralla, stepping forward,  "And your name is...?"
    "Callisto.  My friends call me Cal.  Just one name," she smiles.  "I'm from Efate / Regina .  It's nice to meet you.  I hope you enjoy your stay."
    The Baron steps in and says, "So you're from offworld?  What brings you here?"
    "As it happens, I recently left the Scout Service.  I'm looking for something interesting to do, and just generally hanging around here for a bit."
    "Hm.  Well." the Baron indicates himself and Mich "We were Imperial Navy, of course.  And Teri here is a Marine."
    Helia adds, "We've got someone else with us who was a Marine too.  And Vonish was a merchant, and who knows what Ed was.  The Marines wouldn't take me -- I don't meet the height requirement.  It's OK.  As Madam Bridgehead I can do what I want."
    The Baron gives her a strange look, and says coldly, "Yes.  My dear."  He turns to the first non-crew woman he's had a chance to hit on in a long time, and says charmingly, "Perhaps I could buy you a drink sometime?"  He ignores Helia's raised eyebrows.
    Cal replies, "If you care to have a drink, I work every evening at the bar at the starport.  You're all welcome to come by and chat about your adventures, and I'll tell you about mine."
    The crew, pretty much in unison, say they're very familiar with bars.
    Helia asks, "Is there food at your bar?  Is there a chef?"
    Cal says, "Of course.  An excellent one, the best one around."
    "Are you serious?  Well we'll bring Vonish, and we'll see what he says."
    Bridgehead says, "Of course it might be a bit high-class for you, Mich!  I don't know if they'll scatter sawdust on the floor for you."
    Mich mutters, "As long as I can get a good beer."
    Cal says cheerfully, "We have twelve beers and ales, and even a couple of stouts on tap.  We serve wines by the bottle."
    Bridgehead is anxious to get his cash back to the Nightshade.  He says his good-byes -- Cal says she has some business to take care of herself -- and they part.
    As they leave, Helia ribs Bridgehead about flirting in front of his "wife."  He is not as amused by the whole thing as Helia, who enjoyed it immensely.
    Helia says, "Think what it'll do for your reputation.  A cute young thing hanging off your arm.  Don't worry, I'll dress the part tonight.  With big heels -- I'll be four feet tall!"
    Bridgehead mutters something about her not having to bother.  In fact, he suggests in no uncertain terms that she drop the "wife thing."
    "OK, Mich has more money, I'll be his wife," says Helia.  She turns to the engineer.  "OK Mich, I'll be your wife tonight.  We'll confuse the bartender.  Madam Saginaw, sounds good."

    They take a taxi back to the airport.  They believe they are not followed.

    On the way back, Helia says, "I think that bartender was a shill, and that the guy from the bank was putting her on our trail. Maybe we shouldn't go to the bar.  Shark will think that."
    Of course Ed "Shark" Teeth will -- he thinks everything's a plot.  Helia tells him over the commdot, just so he can worry before they get there.  Ed agrees that it's more than a coincidence, and will have Robert Morris check up on her.  Helia tells him that Callisto has been here for a while, and that she thinks she's just his type.  She says, "She's kind of cute, and a redhead."
    They return to the ship.

    Back on the ship, Helia asks Mich where he's going to put his money.
    "I'll find a place," he smiles.
    Helia says, "I've got a place you can put it.  You can put it up there, in my top hammock.  Of course, I'm not sure how you'd get it up there.  Anyway, you probably have places in engineering too.  I found some secret compartments in my room -- didn't you?"
    Mich smiles, "There could be.  Once, while the Anastasia was in jump, I travelled through the fuel tanks to get from one place to another.  Of course, can't do that here."
    Robert asks, "Who were you talking to, and how did you introduce yourselves?  The more people that know that..."
    Helia says, "The lady's name was Callisto.  You were supposed to check on her."
    "Well I was asking what name did you give to Callisto?"
    "Madam Bridgehead.  Well, see, the bank guy introduced Mich and the Baron by their real names.  So I figured I wouldn't use my real name."
    "OK.  And how did you introduce Teri?"
    "Teri introduced herself as 'Teri'."
    "So now we've got all of these fake ID's that you can't use at the bar because if you do, the bartender will know."
    "We've got lots of cash.  We don't need to use ID's at a bar."
    "Do we want to go around at this planet and say who we are, given that we're all supposedly dead?"
    Bridgehead says, "Well, we're not dead yet."
    "I know we're not dead yet."
    Helia says, "Since we didn't give our first names, it doesn't matter so much what names we use later.  She may just think that the Bridgehead thing was just a title rather than a real last name.  You never know.  You get to meet her tonight anyway.  And then we get to go to the lake!"
    "So everybody's going to the bar?"
    "Everyone who wants to go.  I was hoping you would, Robert.  As communications officer it might be a good idea for you to come."
    "Who are we going to leave behind on the ship?"
    "Sagan won't want to come.  Anyway, he's even more readily identifiable than I am.  You know, there's more than one small blond chick running around in the universe.  Around here they don't even think twice about it -- they just figure I'm working at an early age like them.   Vonish should come.  She said they have one of the best chefs on the planet, which I find hard to believe.  I think Allys Hollow probably has the best one.  And frankly, you know, we have Vonish, so we actually have the best one on the planet."

    Robert checks up on Callisto, and the starport bar.  Helia wants to help, and Robert says she can check up on the bar while he looks up the bartender.
    Robert finds out that Callisto has been here for about six months.  She's been employed as bartender at the starport bar for a good while, with recommendations from someone at the Scout base .  She is an ex-Scout, four terms in the Exploration branch, demobbed at Lunion at the beginning of the year having left the service honorably.  In local records, there have been fights in the bar, but she's never been accused of starting anything.  In fact she has broken up fights there, and testified in Imperial Court when charges arose from them.  Her homeworld is Efate , and everything matches up with no gaps or oddities in her record.  She would have left Efate just before all the trouble started there in 1105.  There's nothing to indicate that she's done anything but the Scout service -- her record shows mostly routine missions, some training, and she did have one special mission in 1117.  She applied for a job as a (civilian) sensor data interpreter, and has her resume on file at the Scout base, but they have no data to interpret here and have had no job openings for quite some time.
    Robert makes his report to Shark, and Helia of course is sitting right there.  In summary, Robert says, "She's OK."  He adds that she's a Sensor Ops specialist.  "I was hired on as the Sensor Operator, although I did say at the time that communications and computers are my forte."

    Robert then returns to working on analyzing the database from Mora .  He still has several days work left on the project.
    Helia plans tomorrow's shopping expedition.  She pulls up the directory and tourist guide, and runs a loose schedule by Ed and Teri to make sure one of them can go (she prefers Ed for shopping, she says, and Teri is more fun in a bar), as well as inviting anyone else who wants to join them.

    Evening arrives.  Baron Bridgehead certainly won't miss a chance to chat up a new single woman.  Helia accompanies Mich as his "wife," in smart casual catsuit and tunic, with a silver backpack -- she's quite a sight, with her barbie body and sprayed-on leather catsuit.  Vonish Kehnaan comes to evaluate the food.  Robert wants to meet this person he's looked up on the computers.  Teri joins them as armed escort.
    Misha Ravanos stays behind, but reminds them that they're trying to keep a low profile.  In particular, they're not to get involved with the government in any sense or form.

    Callisto welcomes the group to the bar.  A quick word with her manager clears her to take a break to sit at a table with them -- the place is not that busy right now.
    They start with light conversation, in which Vonish introduces himself as the ship's chef.  Callisto says she's been here about six months, and looking for a way off the world to something more interesting.  She adds that her specialty is sensor ops.
    Helia says, "Well, if you have an electronic copy of your curriculum vitae, we can certainly pass it on to our captain and see."
    Callisto passes it over, and Robert transmits it to Misha, along with a message that she's looking for a ride off planet and is willing to work with sensor ops.  Of course, that's what Robert was hired for (by Marquis Marc), but last time they had to call in Mich before a fairly routine sensor operation succeeded.
    "So you're good at sensor ops?" asks Mich.
    "Yes.  No shit, there I was..." and she launches off on a great sea story of saving a ship with sensors.
    Robert asks, "So how does a crackerjack sensor operator like yourself end up being a bartender?"
    "I wanted to take a short vacation, and a chance to meet folks.  I have other talents which are handy, and I happen to be quite a good bartender.  You can make quite a bit of money if you rake in the tips on a Saturday night.  I was hoping eventually to save enough money to get somewhere off this planet to somewhere a little more exciting.  Hopefully something involving travel."
    "So how did you get here?" asks the Baron, charmingly.
    "I bummed a ride with a friend that took me part of the way, and then I hitched lift with someone else in exchange for fixing their HVAC on board.  A little here, a little there, I came across that this place had a reputation for vacationing, so I took a week off..."
    Mich asks, "So you have sensor ops and you do some engineering?"
    Callisto nods.
    Helia says, "It's not a tourist planet.  It's a funny place to land, kind of out of the way."
    Bridgehead points out, "We took a vacation here first time we were here."
    "Yeah, we did," agrees Mich.  "We were here about four years ago."
    "That's for Mich and myself.  It's the first time here for the rest of these guys."
    "That's why we're going to Allys Hollow," says Helia.
    Callisto says, "I've been there.  It's amazing, just so much to do."
    "How's the skiing?"
    Callisto's face lights up.  "Fantastic!  They do extreme skiing, they drop you from an airship down onto the mountain, just amazing."
    "It's like flying, isn't it?"
    "Sure, because you're using your intuition, and you're sort of navigating the..."
    "I've never skied.  I'm looking forward to it."
    "I think you'll have a great time."
    "Good.  Do they have bunny slopes?"
    "Oh, don't worry about the bunny slopes, you'll learn how to ski."
    "OK, because I don't want to have to avoid little rabbits."
    "Oh no.  You do have to look out for the rabbits, because they're white and so is the snow, but other than that..."
    "Arctic rabbits!  Is that why they call it a bunny slope?"
    "That's it," nods Callisto.
    The Baron butts into the conversation.  "We went to Allys Hollow last time we were here.  We would have gone skiing, but we had... a little trouble."
    Mich explains, "The airship broke.  Then the scoutship broke."
    "Yes.  The scoutship broke real good."
    Helia says, "But you met Anastasia."
    "Yes.  That was an experience.  Definitely."
    Mich returns to the interview.  "What type of engineering systems are you good with?"
    Callisto laughs, "Whatever.  Jump drives, gravitics, mechanical...  And I can drive a gravcraft.  And I get by as a pilot."
    Helia asks, "You're good at sensors?  How would you go about finding a bassalope on a desert planet?"
    "I'd go into a gift shop, since bassalopes only exist in stuffed form, but other than that..."
    "No, a real one.  A real bassalope.  On a not entirely hospitable world."
    Mich says, "Where we were was hospitable."
    Robert calls up some video of the bassalope.  "See, one of these.  This is our bassalope.  Well, it was ours.  We set it free."  The creature looks much like a German Shepherd with antlers.
    Mich gets more direct.  "What do you think of the mind-sucking joes?"  Mich of course is wearing his helmet, although his improved model is just a metal filigree mesh that his dorky hairstyle grows through.
    Callisto doesn't notice the helmet, but the name for the Zhodani clearly pegs Mich as an old-school Navy guy.
    Bridgehead lightens the conversation, asking in a roundabout way if Callisto is a party girl.
    She, of course, as a Scout, loved meeting new people.  "That's one of the things I like about being a bartender.  You hear interesting stories, some believable, some not.  Sometime the unbelievable ones turn out to be true."
    Mich asks, "Are you willing to share a stateroom?"  He knows there's plenty of space on the ship, just wants Callisto's reaction.
    "Wouldn't bother me," says the ex-Scout.
    Bridgehead adds, "How do you feel about being cooped up on a ship for a long period?"
    "As long as I get out to see the universe in the process, I'm all for it."
    Mich says, "So if you spend a month stuck on the ship and don't get shore leave, that's OK with you?"
    "Six months without shore leave?"
    Bridgehead harrumphs, "Come on, we don't do six months!"
    Mich concedes the point, but says that certain strategic Navy forces do run that long.  Helia, his "wife" for the night, gazes up at him adoringly.
    Something occurs to the Baron: "How did we just run across you, was that just coincidence?"
    "Yeah," says Callisto, "You know, if you hang around here long enough, you make friends, you run into people, when they're meeting other people, and things just sort of happen, don't they?  It is a small planet really.  I just had some business to take care of at the bank.  I think it's quite fortunate really.  Sometimes improbable things happen."
    Vonish has been staying quiet, but has evaluated the food.  It's certainly well above most starport standards -- and, unlike the rest of Spirelle , includes meat -- but not up to the quality of the cuisine aboard the Nightshade .  It's certainly enjoyable, but there's nothing unusual about it to pique his interest.  On the other hand, Callisto was quite correct about the local beer and wine, which are excellent.
    Suddenly, the Baron says, "Robert, don't you have to go to the restroom?"
    Callisto is not alone in giving him a strange look, but Robert stands up and says he'll be back shortly.

    In the restroom, Robert calls Misha and tells him that so far, everything is checking out.  "She regaled us with a story of sensor opping, it seems OK.  We'd have to get her on a simulation to see how true it is, but there's nothing in her history that we've been able to dig up to contradict what she says.  "The story she told could have been on the special mission on her record.  Sensors are not my specialty, they're not Mich's specialty, we don't have anybody who is really good at sensor ops, and that would help us under certain circumstances."
    Misha says, "You met her in the bank, right after picking up your money.  Yeah.  Do you want to know if we should waste her now, or just ignore her?  Or bring her on board and then waste her?"
    Robert laughs, "I mean, how did we meet our gunner?"
    "Bars are safe places.  Banks.  Not.  Safe.  You don't show your ID's in a bar."  He adds, "We could invite her to come on vacation with us.  She's female, she's unattached, the Baron will pay."
    "I tell you what we can do.  I'll go back, you hail us, and you tell us that you've looked over the resume and offer for her to join us on vacation as an extended interview.  Coming from me it would look weird, coming out of the bathroom and saying 'Oh, by the way...'  So in five minutes just hail us."

    Robert returns to the bar.  The evening continues with light banter.  Robert asks Callisto if, as a bartender, she'd ever heard of klatrin.  Of course, she hasn't.  Helia is amused that Callisto hasn't blinked an eyelash at her hanging on first the Baron and then Mich.
    The captain calls, and says, "Callisto, I like your resume, and I'd like you to join us on a little outing we have planned.  Assuming that goes well, we'll talk about a tour on board our little yacht."
    That sounds great to Callisto.  A "yacht" sounds comfortable.
    Of course they only have nine rooms at Allys Hollow, so she'll have to double up with someone.  The Baron would only be too glad to share a room with her, of course, but the rest of the crew think it would be a good idea for Teri to double up with the new girl.

    On the walk back to the ship, Mich tells Helia about the Jill incident, how he tried to kill her but the Baron rebuilt her.  She was a mind-sucking joe, proven to be influencing the minds of several people on the ship, and confessed to murdering quite a few crew on a friendly ship she caused to blow up.

    Once on board, Helia checks the reservation and calls Callisto to tell her where to meet the day after tomorrow.  They'll be leaving from the airship terminal, the other side of Heliopolis from the starport, and she will meet them there.
    Shark's job will be to check up on Callisto -- perhaps even keep an eye on her that night and the next day.
    At the first officer's request, Robert checks the bank to see if Callisto had a legitimate reason to be there.  He confirms that she does have an account there, and did perform a transaction after meeting them.