(47) Sneakers

The Misha Campaign (277-1121 to 284-1121)

277-1121 : 0803 / Five Sisters / Spinward Marches

Private activities by Jaekovic Ils-Nevronne
(Referee and Jaek's player only)

     After six days, the Nightshade comes out of jump in empty space.  Helia Sarina pops into sparkly pink mode and almost immediately tells Misha Ravanos they're ready to jump.  Misha asks his senior officers if there's any reason to hang out here, and getting no such answer he tells Helia to go ahead.  The ship slips into jump for Wonstar.
    Jaekovic Ils-Nevronne is getting accustomed to surprises.  From his customary station in the lounge, he observes the jump bubble disintegrate and almost immediately reform.

    Helia suggests they should practice calling each other by their "new" names.  Grand Admiral Baron Bridgehead thinks this is a stupid idea.
    Misha polls the crew to see if Callisto and Jaek would be a good addition to the crew.  Callisto is clearly the best sensor operator on board, and they have historically had difficulties in that area.  As opposed to just "difficulties," their experience driving gravcraft has been dangerous, and Jaek is really rather good at it; he's also already helped out Ed "Shark" Teeth in his analysis of the wood sample from Spirelle, and from his resume could certainly help Shark with his "other" activities.  The consensus is that they would be valuable on the permanent crew.

    Despite this, Helia still has concerns about Jaek's motion sickness.  She suggests an endurance test simulation -- have him stay awake for a full day of gravcraft races against the rest of the crew trading off seats.
    Helia presents the idea to Jaek.  He's not exactly keen on it without some sort of stake as an incentive.  They come up with the idea of staking a full keg of beer on it -- which he would be getting anyway.  But he eventually goes along with the idea.
    Of course Vonish Kehnaan will be the first representative for the crew of the Nightshade.  They'll each be running a shift of two hours or first crash, whichever happens first.  The vilani crashes about an hour and a half in, and is replaced by Helia.  Kalida Siena follows, and eventually pretty much all the crew (with the notable exception of Teri Cralla and Sagan) try their hand at keeping up with the new Flight Officer.  Mostly they fail -- there are lots of crashes on the crew team.  Grand Admiral Baron Bridgehead does OK, and credits it to the martini beside him.  Callisto mixes drinks for anyone who wants.  Finally they even talk Jaek into flying blindfolded, and he still doesn't crash.  Robert Morris spends a little while on the computer "practicing" before trying his hand at flying, and he doesn't have any problems either.
    Jaek has won unlimited beer.  He says to Helia, "So, girl, you were trying to make me sick?  You're going to have to try harder than that."
    Helia replies, "No, no.  I saw you getting sick that one time, and you're supposed to be a gravcraft pilot.  Gravcraft pilot getting sick, you know, just going in and out of the gravitational field of a gas giant, well that's a nothing.  It's like trying to fly in the face of a hurricane and getting sick, nobody does that.  It's when you fly across and back and forth and up and down and eat too many hootangs that you get sick, trust me.  I saw my cousin do it.  Celia.  Though... let me think... no, she was fine.  Oh, then there was Aunt Helia, she made us come in out of the hurricane, and she was nauseous chasing Helia.  And Celia, come to think of it.  That's what finally got Celia sick.  Trying to outrun Aunt Helia.  Of course, Bedelia was faster.  And Cordelia wouldn't come out and play.  She was properly named.  I've never met a Cordelia that likes storms.  So how's your family like?  Although technically Helia's not... well anyway."
    "I have a normal run of the mill kind of family."
    "So do I.  What is a normal run of the mill family for you?"
    "Father owns large ranch."
    "You're a rich boy!"
    "No, my father owns a large ranch."
    "You're the son of a rich man.  Are you the number one son, the number five son...?"
    "Oldest son, youngest child.  They'll inherit."
    "So they paid you off and told you to go travel?  Make your fortune?"
    "It was the whole male right of passage thing."
    "So you could have stayed at home and married the rich girl from some other big stretch of land."
    "Too boring."
    "I understand that.  It's kind of like, you know, you can only go out fly around and pick up skirrit fruit for so long before you want to do something else.  Idyllic lifestyle isn't all that idyllic."
    "So, you know, being the oldest son but the youngest child leaves me free to wander."
    "I've never wanted to wander.  See interesting things yes, wander no.  I don't know, would you consider what I do wandering?"
    "Depends.  Do you like visiting new and unusual places?"
    "Well, I always know where I'm going before I go there.  That's not wandering."
    "No, it's not.  Sometimes I don't know where I'm going.  That's wandering."
    "That's the advantage of being a pilot, of course."
    "I'll go home.  Eventually."
    "Where's home?"
    "Jewell.  Subcontinent."
    "Oh, Jewell's supposed to be very nice, isn't it?  Why do I know about Jewell?"
    "It's a capital.  Subsector capital."
    "That's why I know about it.  No politics in your family?"
    "Lots of politics in my family.  That's why I'm wandering."
    "Ah!  Intra-family politics.  I meant, like, could you have become somebody political if you'd wanted?"
    "Being youngest child, I'm not going to enter the political arena.  That's what the sisters were doing."
    "So what about a wife or anything?"
    "I was married."
    "You were?  Children?"
    "I was married.  We spent some time on a tour of duty.  I haven't seen her in a long time."
    "No children?  Did you ever get divorced?"
    "Tell me more about Cordelia.  Shelia."
    "There is no Shelia."
    Kalida asks, "Ophelia?"
    "She doesn't live right where I grew up.  I went to school with her."  She turns to Callisto and says, "Mix us some more drinks!  Let's do shots and beers!"
    Callisto does some fancy bottle handling, and grinning broadly continues to serve them drinks until the party subsides.

    Shark spends the rest of the jump continuing with zack training and so on.  Everyone else keeps their training programs going too.
    Shark also works on reading and writing the script.  Writing is extremely hard, but he perseveres.
    Robert starts relabelling the various fixed script on the ship with galanglic.

282-1121 : Jumpspace (from 0803 / Five Sisters / Spinward Marches)

    It's the day before the ship is due to come out of jump.  Misha has decided it's time for a talk with each of the new folks, so one at a time he takes Callisto and Jaek aside for a private conversation in his stateroom.  The staterooms are the only place on the ship that provides privacy from the internal ship displays.

    First, Callisto: Misha says, "Would you be interesting in staying on as permanent crew?"
    "Yes," says Callisto.  "It's an interesting crew, I like the dynamic.  I've had a lot of fun playing bartender while on the ship, and I'm looking forward to, you know, doing some real sensor work when the opportunity arises."
    "Well, before you say yes, it's only fair of me to warn you that the ship itself was salvaged from a highly classified..."
    "Was it in a pre-lost state when it was found?"
    "It was salvaged from a highly secret, highly classified, Imperial Navy storage facility.  We are wanted -- and actually presumed dead -- by this same organization, and if we were to be found again, we would probably die again.  Our underlying goal is something like find out where the ship came from, identify what organization this is, and if possible stay alive."
    Callisto seems totally nonplused.  "I'm rather fond of puzzles, and I'd be glad to help you on this quest."
    "Finally, the job pays shit."
    "Hey, who cares about pay when you have such a wonderful hook?  And a great bar to hang out with, and... I could get used to this for a while."
    "You're hired."
    "Thank you.  I look forward to working with you."

    Next is Jaek.  Misha opens, "Would you be interested in staying on permanently?"
    "I don't know.  What's the offer?"
    "OK.  Let's see.  It is the chance to ride around on a ship scavenged from a highly classified Imperial Navy storage facility.  It is the chance to survive the attention of some not so friendly highly secret military organization.  And all for pretty much standard Imperial rates."
    "I don't know.  You know, the kid annoys me."
    "The kid?"
    "The little girl."
    "Oh.  She's not a kid."
    "And the crew... You gotta understand, from my point of view the crew is full of weirdoes and freaks, OK?"
    "Is that a good or a bad thing?"
    "I haven't seen anybody do anything except shenanigans and pranks.  We haven't stopped anywhere, jumped to empty space.  Jumped to an empty hex.  Not a good idea.  In my book, that's just asking for trouble.  We run marathon simulations for beer I'm going to get anyway.  I'm, like, I'm not sure what's going on.  Standard rates, huh?"
    "You think that's high?"
    "No, no.  Well, I just feel my entrepreneurial spirit kicking in.  I went into business about six months ago, and I've got a business going here.  I'm just happy to get to the starlanes.  So.  What's the plan?  Are we going to just, uh, jump to empty space, make me nervous, jump out of empty space, make me nervous, jump back to empty space... I mean I'm just looking for a little more..."
    "Well, what would be more interesting?  Perhaps taking out a highly confidential secret military organization?"
    "OK.  Subject two.  I spent most of my career trying to make myself less noticeable.  You guys draw attention from all corners of the universe.  So is that what you're going to do when you're trying to get to the bottom of a conspiracy, and, like, destroy these people?  What if you discover it's like, your uncle?"
    "We're reasonably sure it is not my uncle.  He's dead."
    "Well, then it would be a real conspiracy, wouldn't it?  I could certainly offer my services, because it looks like you guys need them, however... I think that standard Imperial rates are a little low.  There may not be a lot of profit motive by many of you guys.  It looks like I'm well equipped and funded, but I feel a little -- self-conscious about taking money from the rich guys, you know, the Baron.  Standard Imperial rates are kind of low."
    "So you want something on top of standard Imperial rates?  Your own stateroom, all the beer and food you can eat, all the fires you can take..."
    "You want to make me fat and lazy."
    "Well, there is a gymnasium.  There is the whole, you know, Imperial Navy to deal with."
    "I have no problem with the Imperial Navy."
    "We have a problem with the Imperial Navy.  Certain parts of it.  What I meant is they're all out to get us. That's on top of strangers."
    "In a dysfunctional sort of way, it's intriguing.  What if we said I'll stay on until something better comes along?"
    "I would think that's a given.  Or something worse."
    "Something worse comes along?  I don't follow you."
    Misha laughs, "What, you can't think of anything worse than working here?  The ship could blow up, misjump..."
    "You might be misunderstanding me.  I'm not, like, going to bail at the first sign of trouble, that's not me at all.  You know, a bunch of people who are going out waving red flags, saying come and get me, shoot at me, take me put me in jail, I'm dead I don't exist, yeah makes me a little nervous, that's all I'm saying."  He pauses.  "I could use a little excitement.  I guess in a sick and dysfunctional sort of way this is the best course of action for me."
    "So.  You're hired.  Get to work.  Welcome aboard."
    "Do I get a name now?"
    "You're not supposed to be dead, you don't need another name.  But if you'd like one, you're welcome.  So your job is to drive the grav craft, and assist Shark in any way he wants."
    "OK.  I'll give you a list of things I need."

    So the crew of the Nightshade is now twelve.

283-1121 : Wonstar / Five Sisters / Spinward Marches

    The Nightshade comes out of jump in the Wonstar system.  They're running in stealth mode with no transponder.  This is their third six day jump in a row -- strange, but then Jaek has already assumed they're using some sort of strange technology.
    Helia has astrogated them into the system near the mainworld.  She holds position for a while until they determine their course of action.
    Here is a good place to pick up news.  Helia will have to bring them within about five meters of a ship for Robert to be able to pull it in undetected.
    There is a good bit of traffic in this system.  Callisto -- their new sensor operator -- pulls all the ships up on the main holodisplay for the command crew.  It's pretty much what one would expect for a B-class starport on the starlanes with an Imperial Naval Base.  She's been warned to look for "object in stealth mode" but sees none of those on her displays.
    The traffic control beacons direct incoming ships to the mainworld.

    The command officers hold a briefing on the bridge for the crew as to what they're planning to do in Wonstar.
    Shark says, "This is the home of the company which is sponsoring the Department of Horticultural Fertilizer at the University of Mora, which is funding the Marquis.  The Wonstar Development Corporation has been here for two hundred years, was granted tax-exempt non-filing public service company status by the then Duke.  It is the only one to have received that status."
    "Tax exempt non-filing?" says Jaek, "That would be nice to get."
    "Yes.  It is exempt from filing.  The rules... it's impossible to apply for such status."
    "Give me a few blank certificates and I'll have it worked out."
    "Not without the Duke."
    Misha says, "Well, let's find this corporation.  I'm sure it's in more than one place, but let's do it.  Any thoughts about whether we should stay secret for a while, or just go public?"
    Jaek says, "If we're running silent, we can't... Did the transponder just kick on?  We're within the 100d limit."
    "What transponder?" says Helia.
    "It's off," says Shark.
    "Yeah, and if a ship is running, and they see you, and you're running without a transponder..." Jaek says.
    "They can't see us."
    "That's what I just said.  He was talking about coming out and going public."
    Helia agrees, "Yes, we'd have to be further out to go public.  But we can get there pretty quick.  We can get there quick enough to make your head spin."
    "That isn't much of a challenge, is it?" quips Callisto.
    "Oh, come on!" says Jaek.
    Misha says, "Any other thoughts on going public?"
    Shark says, "We are a lot closer to where we disappeared, right?  We want to be alive to get back to Digitis in six months or so, so let's go get news.  Let's find out what they know, maybe look into their databases and see what else they know, and then make a decision with more knowledge about the local situation."
    Helia asks, "So you want to sneak in and get real cozy with one of their ships?  All right, you're in charge of intelligence, you find the ship to do it with.  You work with Robert and I'll get you there as long as it's OK by the captain."
    "Do it," says Misha.

    Their first thought is to find a ship with most of its crew on shore leave, idling in orbit.  Jaek says he doesn't really have a handle on what they're trying to do here, but how about an orbital communications satellite?  It won't be anything special, but should get local news if that's what they want.
    That's an excellent idea.  Helia brings the Nightshade in to the mainworld, and matches orbit with a geostationary comsat.  The ship moves really rapidly, more like missile acceleration than a starship.
    Robert tells Jaek and Callisto what happened when they did something like this on Mora -- the planetary defenses opened up on the ship they were tapping through, and then fired at where they Nightshade would have been if they'd been leaving at a mere 6g.

    Robert taps into the comsat feed, and pulls in four new TNS entries: 216-1121, 233-1121, 239-1121, and 240-1121 .
    The report of their deaths, under the headline of Baron Bridgehead's death, has finally caught up with them.  The Baron is officially dead, as are "Imperial Citizens Edward Teeth, Mich Saginaw, Vonish Kehnaan, and Foreven native Misha Ravanos."
    There has been a clash between Tukera Lines and the government of Ianic.  The Duke of Adabicci has intervened in the dispute, coming down solidly on the side of Ianic and penalizing Tukera heavily.
    The Count and Countess Fostriades -- both former crew members of the Anastasia with Mich and the Baron -- have been killed in an explosion on Mire, the capital of the Darrian Confederation.  Threasis Fostriades was "The Boss" of the old ship -- the merchant officer -- while Lia (nee Geratta) was one of the Scorpionis Marines with Teri.
    Jaek says, "Here's a question for you.  With your interesting and unique backgrounds in history, it sounds like an assassination, but could it be a staged assassination?  Do they need to start over?"
    "No," says Mich, "They were already clean, and made a break."
    Shark agrees, "They were completely legit.  They had changed their rank after."
    The Baron adds that Fostriades probably gained his rank not through merit but due to the item that wasn't on the ship after he left.
    Helia adds, "It's the five other households that makes it sound like somebody trying to kill them."
    Jaek says, "Can you do more when you're dead than when you're alive?"
    "The Baron has," laughs Helia.
    Mich tells everyone that Fostriades had possession of an Imperial Warrant, signed by the Emperor Strephon himself.
    Shark asks, "Who else was from that previous crew?"
    Bridgehead says, "Chiang Ho and NoName -- they left the Anastasia.  They probably went to Spirelle."
    Robert adds, "We also know that some people were trying to kidnap Mich."
    Shark says he thinks he knows why the kidnapping attempt happened.
    Bridgehead points out that the Black Things That Spit were from Ianic -- NoName was training Chiang Ho.
    Shark wonders if they were caught up in the conflict there -- should they try to inform them of the sequence of events?  They don't know that the Admiral or Mich are "dead."  He goes on, "From here on we have a problem.  Reports of our demise might or might not match with activities in our names."
    Jaek nods, "If you're dead, but twenty days later you withdraw from your bank account..."
    Bridgehead says, "It wasn't just some bank account, was it, Mich?  Yeah, Mich has been compounding his interest."
    Mich asks him, "Well, there's another million that just disappeared.  Wouldn't know anything about that, would you?  There was a million stashed on the ship."
    "What?  What ship?"
    "The Anastasia."
    "Oh.  No, I wouldn't know anything about that."
    "I had a million credits hidden on that ship," laughs Mich.
    Jaek asks, "And you blew it up?"
    "No.  It was... destroyed."
    Shark says, "It blowed up good."
    The Baron adds, "Although you won't read about that on the news."
    "Yeah.  The city blew up and a ship in space was damaged, right?"
    "That's a long story."  The Baron obviously thinks they've discussed this enough.
    Mich continues, "We have several mysteries to look at.  Why was the Anastasia and the starport destroyed?  Why was Fostriades killed, if he really was?  We have to continue on the run from anybody who thinks we have this ship."
    "If anybody does.  They might just assume that it was one of their people, it's not like there's any evidence of it."
    "...we want to contact the original builders of the ship, or as close to their living..."
    Jaek says, "I have a couple of questions.  If someone did do an active scan -- materials, energy output, densitometer -- what kind of things would they pick up?  Apparently we're using paper thin walls that are not steel."
    "In stealth mode?"
    "Nah.  I'm getting on the ship, we're loading the gravcraft up, somebody runs an active scan."
    Helia says, "They'd see a thin walled spaceship."
    Shark says, "Depends on what spectrum..."
    "Right," says Jaek, "We're talking TL-15, densitometers, power output, neutrino sensor, what would they pick up?  Would they pick up a normal ship output or would that raise suspicion immediately?"
    Mich waffles about stealth mode.  He concedes it would look really strange to have Jaek and the gravcraft vanish into mid-air as they crossed into the stealth bubble.  He adds, "The weirdest thing that we did was to cross to one stealthy box while we were stealthy.  Trying to walk across the gangplank and not seeing what we're walking to, saying well there's something there..."
    "So you guys really can't answer my question."
    "No," says Shark,  "Well we have, but not in stealth mode.  No power output, no neutrinos, some heat, and a visible blue glow when we run the maneuver nacelles."
    "And we're not very dense," adds Mich.
    Jaek continues, "I'm just curious, because the sensor op over there will know that she flips on the sensors to check those ships out there, she can tell you displacement, power output, probably engine size, probably crew compliment, life support rating, she can tell you how fast they're going if the computers do a few iterations.  I'm just curious."
    Mich says, "There is a fairly big dense lump -- the 720 missiles are rather dense."
    The Baron says the jump drive is a big solid mass too.
    Jaek says, "I'm just curious whether they're going to pick up a non-standard configuration or a standard configuration."
    "Non-standard, most definitely," says Bridgehead.
    "That adds to the hazard of going public.  You go public and somebody runs an active scan, and suddenly they want to know what we're carrying.  They want to know who we are."
    The conversation returns to the issue of Fostriades.  Shark says that whether he escaped the explosion or not, apparently another issue involving the Anastasia has been taken care of.
    Mich points out that Fostriades hasn't even been active in the gravitics journals in the last several years.
    "Right," says Shark, "But he was a link, and in operations of this kind you take care of all links.  If I were in charge of that operation I would have blown him up.  So, given that Akim's next book would have been Anastasia Conspiracy or something like that, and would have detailed all the assassinations..."  He laughs, "We could write this book, and he could stay alive for a long time!"
    Robert says, "We have the other copy of his manuscript -- the only one that wasn't destroyed, right?"
    Jaek asks, "Did you publish it?"
    Shark says, "Actually we did ship that to the Marquis to get published.  In Akim's name.  But we could ship another one later.  Anyway, so they'll probably go after Mr. Ho next, and NoName, if they haven't already.  It wouldn't have turned up in the news unless they were on a ship or something.  And there was a civil war on Ianic, and lots of people died."
    "So we're here to find out about Wonstar, is that what you guys want to do?  The Wonstar Development Corporation?"
    Mich suggests, "We could land here on Wonstar, and hold a press conference and say the rumors of our death are greatly exaggerated -- we all survived.  I don't know what that would get us."
    Kalida says, "A death sentence."
   The Baron breaks in loudly, "It would get me my authority back again, and it might be useful to have a real noble on board."
    Shark says, "It might get you killed."
    Helia agrees, "You'd be a dead noble pretty soon."
    Bridgehead says, "How could it be any worse?  I'm dead right now!"
    Shark says, "But you could spend the money."
    "While hiding and pretending to be dead?  I'm a noble!"
    "So?  We can posthumously publish as many journals as you like."
    "That's not the point!"
    Misha says calmly, "Are you saying just because you've died you're no longer baron?"
    "Well, I've got to wander around as somebody who isn't a baron!"
    "That's only on the outside."
    Kalida adds, "Presumably they would give your position to someone else, as you're not there to..."
    The Baron says, "Well, actually..."
    Robert asks, "How long have you been a baron?  How long have you been alive?"
    "A Baron, not too long..."
    "Well if you don't have to wander around as a baron, ..."
    Bridgehead harrumphs, "What would you know?  You know, I can pull strings you can't.  Now if we could have somebody else announce that we were alive..."
    Shark changes the subject.  He says, "I find it very interesting that Helia wasn't reported, and she had been on board much longer than Misha and I."
    Helia says quietly, "I'm not sure how the Marquis has me listed."
    "As official crew..."
    "I'm not sure how the Marquis has me listed," Helia says again.
    Kalida says, "Still, it did say 'ten' and it didn't list ten names."
    Robert says, "It listed the Imperial citizens and the commander."
    Helia says, "Um, actually it did miss an Imperial citizen at least, because I am an Imperial citizen.  But I wasn't the only one.  It didn't mention the starfish and he was with us."
    Shark says, "Robert wasn't.  Interesting.  Vonish was listed."
    Robert stays silent.  He's probably not officially anywhere.

    The next stage is to look into the WDC, perhaps look into some corporate records.  Robert figures he can bounce through other comsat hops, and especially after the Mora experience it would be wise for Helia to be ready to pull out quickly.  Unfortunately the net here is pretty primitive, and there's only a directory entry.  He'd like to get into the Naval Base system, but it's not connected to the civilian networks -- they have their own manned stations in orbit.
    Jaek starts perusing the news that Robert's been downloading.  Contrary to what he expected, the WDC does not have a large footprint in the news.  They are not prevalent in the news, hardly appearing at all.  There are occasional items about contracts awarded for construction, survey, food service, and so on.  They have five locations, one of which is their head office, which has about fifty employees.  The head office is about 60 km southeast of Down Port city.  The other four are scattered around the planet -- three of them are in farming areas, while the fourth is on the desert side of the mountains in the northern hemisphere.  There are apparently no offworld locations; there is a farming colony on the moon, but the company does not have a presence there.  Despite what the rest of the crew have been saying, the WDC's not as large, or its presence as apparent, as he had first perceived.
    Jaek says, "This rinky-dink little company is scaring you guys?"
    Shark says, "They're funding a couple of billion credits a year to a single department at the University of Mora."
    "What is that department?"
    "The Department of Horticultural Fertilizer."
    "Bullshit.  Yeah, OK.  They're funding it.  What kind of research is performed there?"
    "Officially, or what do we know unofficially?  Unofficially it funded the ship we lost just after we found this one."
    Misha adds, "It funded the Third Eye."
    Jaek asks, "Why would this Mora University department fund you?"
    "They were asking the Marquis to do research, and they gave him a ship.  From the outside, the department appeared to be under-funded.  Two billion credits a year from this company to that department."
    "How was the funding done?  Money transfers?  To Mora, from here?"
    Shark nods, "The physical security was extremely good.  It's a tax exempt public service company.  It's privately held, and not required to file, so the owners are not known.  But this is their official corporate headquarters.  We need to know where they're really operating out of, and we're hoping to find that from here.  Yes, we know it's a front.  We suspect it's a front for the Navy, or specifically for the Imperial Navy Intelligence Special Operations."
    Misha says, "Wait.  Did we find any connection between INISO and Wonstar?"
    "Not yet.  I suspect there is one."
    There are no electronic ways of looking into the company, so they'll have to use physical methods.  They could just land and go up to their offices.  They could pretend to be reporters or something like that.
    Callisto says, "It's not like Jaek has anyone following him around.  And he's our information specialist."
    Shark points out that it should be easy enough for them to appear to be local civilians.  They do also have valid Imperial ID's.
    Misha asks how they get behind the front.
    Shark replies that they'll have to check out a site for physical evidence.  Jaek, Shark, and Robert, with Teri for backup on board the ship in case they need bailing out.
    Jaek agrees.  He suggests they build a digital link so that once they get there, they can hook up to their systems and broadcast back to the ship.
    Shark says they have a totally secure way to broadcast back -- a completely secure one way link.
    Jaek adds, "I tend to get into computer systems and set off alarms.  As long as I don't have to get into the system, I'm good.  I can do almost anything we need to, but getting into the system, that's for someone else."
    Robert says, "We can hook a data port into the system, have it turn a flashlight on and off, and we'll know about it -- from orbit.  It's a flashlight in a black box connected to the dataport.  That's it.  No-one can see the flashlight, and it doesn't transmit."
    Shark asks which site they should go for, one of the agricultural sites, or the one in town?  They could just land and use a grav vehicle.
    Jaek points out that from the news it seems like a gravcraft would stand out -- there aren't any in use here.  "It depends how covert you guys want to go.  I wouldn't go tech 10 in a tech 7 location, unless we wanted to."
    Shark agrees.  He says there's two obvious choices: the one in the city, or the one in the desert off by itself.
    The desert is the choice of the crew.

    Shark asks Helia to move them into geosynchronous orbit above the desert site.  She does so.  Shark slips into sparkly pink mode.
    Jaek says, "Why are you doing jump calculations?"
    "I'm not," says a distracted Shark, "I'm looking for objects in stealth mode near the site in the desert."  No objects in stealth mode show up.
    Jaek idly wonders what he means by stealth mode.  He hasn't heard of any cloaking technology except black globe.
    Robert tells him that they have previously come across another object cloaked in exactly the same way as this ship.  It showed up on the scanner as "object in stealth mode."  That was the whole extent of the information, but it saw it was there.
    Shark asks Callisto to work the sensors and see what else might be there.  He doesn't mention that he has already tried himself.

    Callisto reports that the building looks like a warehouse, situated about 1500 meters from a fairly steep rock face.  There is a landing pad out front.  It's built on the desert, which here is hard with small rocks.  She's also picking up signs of a small fusion plant, enough to run a small village; it's more than would be needed just for a warehouse.  The building is thermally shielded -- she can't make out any people inside the building.
    There are five people outside at the moment, who all appear to be security guards in uniform.  Two are armed with high power rifles, the other three with submachine guns.
    Jaek says it's probably not a warehouse of canned peas, and probably not gold bullion. -- somewhere in between.  It's also not an area where you'd expect to see anyone, and anyone who did approach would be visible for a long way.
    Shark briefly entertains the idea of intersecting the roof of the building with the stealth bubble, but the effect of looking like there was a hole in the roof would probably not help their cause here.

    The five guards are all at the front of the building.  The landing pad seems to be intended for helicopters -- there's insufficient length for it to be used by conventional fixed wing aircraft.  There are no aircraft within a hundred kilometers.  The main door is at the front, but there are what seem to be fire doors at the back as well.

    It's a couple of hours before mid-day local time, just before midnight Imperial time.  At Misha's order, Helia drops the ship down near the back of the building.  This is on the west side of the warehouse; the long axis runs north - south.  The Nightshade is facing south.
    Shark asks Robert about a fiber optic cable to run out with the away team, to look inside the building.  Robert reminds him that last time they tried that, they couldn't keep the cable intact -- in fact they broke it three times before giving up.  Still, it should be easy enough to slip a small camera under the door...
    All Shark wants to do is get a look inside the building before they go in.  He drops into sparkly pink sensors and looks around.  Pictures from inside the door appear on the main command holodisplay.
    Inside the building, it clearly really is a warehouse.  There's some crates stacked in here, but not too many -- the building is fairly empty.  Labels indicate that the crates contain mostly unassembled equipment, primarily construction equipment, moisture collectors, and so on.  There's some drilling equipment.  Some vehicles are parked in the building.  It's not enough equipment to do development here, but it is all of appropriate tech level and consistent with a small scale project to improve the desert environment.  The floor is solid concrete.
    Shark moves the viewpoint around to see most of the building interior.  In the near corner -- the southwest corner -- are some offices enclosed by internal walls.  The fire door they've selected -- about a third of the way from the south corner -- doesn't reveal any alarms to Shark's visual examination.
    Overlaying a map of the outside with the views from the inside reveals no unusual voids, even though because of the crate layout there are some areas that can't be seen right now.

284-1121 : Wonstar / Five Sisters / Spinward Marches

    It's time to examine the building in person.
   Shark is wearing his zack, and carrying his pistol and a set of Mich's PRIS binoculars.  He selects a set of clothing from his wardrobe to fit in with the locals, and wears that over the zack.
    Jaek dons a grav harness over his leather, carrying a hand computer and intrusion gear.  He's armed with two pistols in shoulder holsters, and a large chromed pistol strapped to his leg.  With his shades on, he looks the epitome of coolness.
    Robert has the data port, hand computer, and intrusion kit.  He travels light.
    Shark, Jaek, and Robert go down via the main cargo lift, and walk out of the stealth bubble to the building.  The thin hot air rasps at Jaek's lungs, but he's breathed worse. Robert is less accustomed to the change of atmosphere, and gasps for breath briefly before being ready to go.  Jaek is more disconcerted by the lack of a visible ship behind him.  It doesn't seem to be bending light, it's just as if the ship wasn't there.
    Jaek slips the latch on the door easily.  Robert watches him intently, and is satisfied with the newcomer's work.
    Inside, the building is well lit and cooler than the outside, despite the open delivery door on the far wall.  The wall is thick with insulation.  Air conditioning units lend an ever-present hum to the ambiance.
    Shark scans for electronics, but finds no evidence of surveillance.  Everything appears civilian and above board.  The group has entered between stacks of crates; the office area is not visible from here.
    The ceiling is about ten meters up.  Jaek floats up to look around from above the crates.
    There are about a dozen workers over by the main entrance in the center of the east wall.  They're lounging about as if it's a lunch break or something.  Four others towards the north end of the building are de-crating something.  Nobody seems to be doing anything out of place in a warehouse.  Jaek passes on the information.
    They start moving towards the offices.  Shark and Robert move along the ground, while Jaek floats silently above them.
    About twenty meters from the offices they start hearing voices.  There's an open door on the east internal wall, where they can't see through it.  Some windows also look out on the east wall; there is no window facing them on the north internal wall.  The office area has a ceiling about three meters high.  From this distance it's clear that the internal walls and ceiling are plastic.
    Shark suggests they try again later, to see if there's a night shift.  There's no reason for anyone to be working a night shift here, surely.
    "Are we bailing?  I could kill them," jokes Jaek.  He leads them back out of the building and onto the Nightshade.  Robert is a bit noisy on the way out, but no-one seems to have noticed.

    While they wait, they take the ship up two klicks.  That should keep them out of the way of anything that might reveal their presence.
    For the next few hours, waiting for night, Shark goes to the gcarrier and runs the NAS equipment on the ship and the people in it.  He is astonished to find that he only picks up himself and no-one else on the ship.  He tells Robert, who didn't know that but isn't surprised.
    They wait for sunset.  The local day here is 23.4 hours, but the tall mountains will bring a much earlier sunset that it would on the flat.
    Later in the day an aircraft approaches from the south.  It's a twin rotor transport helicopter, approaching from the south and not keeping a very high altitude.  There are three people on board.
    Shark expects them to leave one security guard here and take the others way.
    The helicopter is unarmed.  "See," says Jaek, "This is just a warehouse facility.  They don't appear to be unusual."
    "Except they have five security guards," says Shark.
    "I haven't figured that one out yet."
    The helicopter comes into land at the pad and shuts down.  The people walk from the copter to the building, and others come out to unload the cargo.  Nobody seems in a hurry.  It takes about an hour to unload, then all return to the building.  The helicopter is then closed up and secured for the night.
    As the sun sets, the five guards enter the building and are replaced by another set.  This group is also five, but this time is equipped with (primitive) night vision equipment.  These move out from the building and set up patrols around the building.
    At Shark's request, Helia moves the Nightshade down again to a position over the east side of the building.  He then looks inside again in sparkly pink mode.  Over in the northeast corner there's another three meter high internal division, which is where everyone seems to be.

    Now they have a plan of the building and an estimate for number of people.  There are two sets of five guards, sixteen workers, plus the three in the helicopter, for a total of 29, plus voices inside the office area.  The offices have been shut down for the night.
    Jaek can't figure out why they're so worried.  They've seen nothing during the day to indicate there's a reason for alarm.
    Shark points out that there are no roads to here; the only way here is by aircraft.  They can probably take out the external guards (non-lethally, even) before they sound an alarm, and they can then get inside.  That makes it an overt operation, though.  He says he's sorely lacking in the catlike maneuvers of a professional -- he's more used to outdoor environments.  Robert is also uncomfortable with silent physical intrusion.
    Jaek figures he can get in and out without being detected, and can probably hook up the data port if it's not too complicated.
    Shark says they could put an active two-way unit in there.  Robert points out that even though they'd have to transmit to it, it would never have to respond.  Jaek can be rigged with a camera so Robert can talk him through the installation if need be.  Robert goes off to build the spread spectrum receiver; he already has the black box with the LED inside it.
    When Shark suggests putting a relay on a nearby mountain top, Jaek says he doesn't know why he's so paranoid -- they'd be using bands the locals haven't even discovered yet.  Shark responds that the company they're dealing with is not a TL-7 company, not based on the TL-15 security they faced on Mora.

    Jaek floats out of the side hatch behind the bridge, and moves over to the same back door.  Again he slips into the building, and this time moves over to the offices.
    The office door is not locked.  There's a minicomputer sitting in a full height rack in the corner, and it's trivial for Jaek to hook up the port.  He positions it tucked into the rack so that unless a computer tech works on stuff in the back, no-one will notice the additional box.  These low tech computers are so full of cables and wires anyway, it might not even be noticed then.
    The main job done, Jaek picks up a paperweight as a trophy.  He then takes some time to examine the rest of the office.

Additional Observations by Jaekovic Ils-Nevronne
(Referee and Jaek's player only)

    After a while Jaek leaves the building and returns to the Nightshade.