(57) Loose Lips
The Misha Campaign (298-1121 to 311-1121)
has followed the Imperial
Defense Boat carrying Miss Franklin as far as the Naval Base. There
are signs of heightened but not high security; nothing fundamental has
changed on the continent. A lot of small ships are still on the
ground -- no vessels have been scrambled, and there's no extra patrols.
The crew are still not intending to fire on any Imperial ships,
at least until there
is some chance of hurting the black ship. If they come under
fire, they will evade as they did at the desert site of the Wonstar
At this point, quite a few of the crew have
introduced themselves to Marquis
Korwin Vanderfield by their real names, and have explained that the
report of their deaths was premature.
Robert Morris has started his analysis of the data
their bugs recorded. He finds that a lot of conversation has
been captured. While some of the bugs obviously remained on the
helicopter, others did come up with the two WDC people. Six of
the tiny devices did not respond to the ping; they will destroy
themselves after seven days, while the ones that were pinged should
have fused immediately after transmitting the data. Edward
"Shark" Teeth says that they obviously found one of the devices, since
they were ready to respond to the ping; the others should still be at
The SDB comes in to land. The ship's senior
officers, along with Miss Franklin and her metal attache case, go
ashore and walk towards the nearest building. Nightshade
watches from 300m above the boat.
Despite having apparently been accepted onto the
ship, Korwin continues to keep an eye open for opportunities to escape.
He was, after all, abducted against his will -- the quality of
life aboard this ship doesn't change that.
After a few minutes, two air/rafts leave the
building towards a central building at the base. All those who
left the SDB are on board. Once they reach the destination, all
go into the building leaving the gravcraft parked outside.
The building is well shielded. Attempts to
listen to what's going on inside are unsuccessful, despite all
Callisto's efforts. She's good, but even she can't do the
While they're waiting, Robert produces his first
analysis of the tapes from the bugs. There's some conversation,
discussion, personal small talk, and background noise consistent with
being in the first underground level. There are some meetings
recorded, all of which are entirely about terraforming this desert area
-- plans for construction of the town, water supply, evaporation plant,
setting up fields, and so on. There's a long discussion on the
environmental safety of bringing in the nuclear materials for the
fission plant. Everything is totally consistent with the outward
purpose of the WDC site.
Miss Franklin herself would appear to be some sort
of WDC manager overseeing logistics. Arranging transport,
in supplies, getting inhabitants in staged through the coastal camp --
these issues seem to be her main areas of concern. She's also
very interested in how the farming's going to be set up. There's
no discussion about where she's come from, or where she's going, or
anything about her personally. There is some discussion of other
people visiting this site -- some names are mentioned and noted.
"These people need to learn to talk more usefully,"
says Kalida Siena.
"Or they were talking knowing they were being
bugged," says Robert. "But these were totally passive bugs, and
there are no gaps to indicate they were hiding anything."
All of the conversations are as if there was no
knowledge that they were bugged. There were no signs of anyone
except WDC personnel being present. The conversations are
entirely in galanglic.
The Marquis was here to talk about gravcraft in the
desert -- specifically about military gravcraft. As Korwin says,
"I don't think they brought me here to talk about speeder racing."
Misha Ravanos says, "Would your talk have equally
applied to other kinds of gravcraft?"
"It was definitely military. It was more a
discussion on tactics. There is however the distinct possibility
they just had me here as a figurehead."
"So if not this world, where would they be talking
about?" Misha looks at the sector map. "What
these green worlds? Droyne?
What are they? Is there a big empire of Droyne
There aren't any of the insectoid aliens where Misha is from.
Korwin says, "Not a big one. They just happen
to be the offspring of Grandfather. So we're taught in school."
Misha looks puzzled. "What?"
"Have you heard of Ancients?"
"OK. Well, the Droyne are supposedly offspring
of the Ancients. Also known as chirpers. They're
about so tall, little beaked winged things, mostly run in a caste
That seems to satisfy Misha. He says, "Is it
normal for the Imperium to build bases this big?"
"Remember you've also got the Aslan Hierate coming
up from rimward.
They're growing with them. We're generally peaceful with
them, but you never know."
Shark suddenly says, "Where is Zett on this
map?" The display expands, and the system
is indicated about three subsectors
over into Foreven sector. "This is about as close as you can get
there and still be in the Imperium."
Helia Sarina points out that most traffic into
Foreven would be going through Emape
Hinay Protectorate. Jump-4
would be enough to go through the gap to rimward of the Lirian
Conglomerate, but most traffic would be going through the Foreven Main.
Korwin says, "So I guess I'm just trying to
understand... WDC's pouring billions of credits into the
University of Mora's horticulture department that has a hothouse and an
administrative building. Tons of money coming into this world all
under the table and tax free. Your interest in it is...?"
Shark fields that one. He says, "Our employer
was delivering information to a courier who immediately went to the
basement of the Department of Horticultural Fertilizer."
Misha says, "So we were being employed -- indirectly
-- by Wonstar. We got curious. The more we look, the
curiouser we get."
Korwin continues, "Because if they're out to get
you, getting away from here seems to make sense."
"Well, we're not sure that the people who are out to
get us are connected. We don't have any evidence. We know
that parts of the Imperial Navy are out to get us. We know that
for a fact. We've managed in our curiosity to piss off this
part of the
Imperial Navy, but they weren't out to get us before we got here, as
as we know."
Kalida says, "They did seem caught by surprise at
that first encounter."
Misha laughs, "So did that other ship that attacked
Korwin asks, "Did you guys do something to let them
know you had a stealth ship before the system defense boats attacked
"There would have been a lot of circumstantial
evidence. We had managed to sneak in and out of a lot of places
Shark adds that they would probably be ahead of any
news from an incident at Mora
to get here. He then says, "We know that there are various random
places where black ships, or pieces of them, appear. Where are
black ship relics
discovered? Are they all around here?"
Robert reviews for the crew the information he had
obtained from Count von Hayden's database. "Count Walter von
Hayden is part
of an organization called the Imperial Naval Intelligence Special
Operations, or INISO. This database we downloaded and they then
fired on us immediately, belongs to them. It was a compilation of
gathered data along with some organizational notes. INISO are
trying to find, secure, and investigate items and technology of those
who use the ship's language. It doesn't have every place
mentioned, but it does list some of them. They have not been able
to translate anything, they don't know what it is, they haven't been
very successful, they have a good many artifacts, they don't know how
they're powered, and they can't get anything to work."
"They need to hire us," smiles Kalida.
"Fish oil, man!" drawls Shark, "They gotta have the
right drugs, dude!"
Robert says, "Well, we had it working without the
Misha asks, "We figured out the batteries. Is
that the only difference?"
Shark says, "We opened the unopenable door.
No-one else knew that there was a door. We stumbled across
the door and got in."
"Right. They'd got into the open ship, but not
Robert continues, "From the analysis of all the
artifacts they've found, it looks like this technology was on the
losing side of a
battle, and the military is guessing that if the Imperium can reach
they might be able to put up a good fight with whoever was fighting the
of the black ships."
Shark says, "Our estimation is that they were a
couple off, right?"
"The caches of some of these artifacts are in
obscure asteroid belts waiting to be picked up. They expect there
to be ground caches, but they haven't found anything. These are
caches done by
the losers; INISO has found caches and items at Zett, Zaibon, Shionthy,
We picked up the ship at Zett."
Misha says, 'What we found was definitely Imperial
Shark nods, "They had moved what they found into an
Imperial Navy station."
Robert says, "Professor Farol's operation is one of
the research units supported by INISO. The guy who originally
the Anastasia's engines. Which explains why he equipped
Anastasia with nuclear tipped missiles with this weird script on
INISO is not in a hurry, they're accumulating details, they're
to figure out how it works, and they're trying to keep all their
extremely secret. Zett
is the master headquarters. There are other caches, but this
does not tell where they are. They are scattered around the Spinward Marches
Everyone else is looking at the starchart, picking
out those locations.
Robert continues, "Now here's a very important
paragraph: anyone who knows anything about black technology, even the
script associated with it, is a target. Anyone who looks into it
or even shows an interest in the script, or starts asking questions
that could be relevant to this
black technology, is just as big a target. Standard practice is
apprehend the persons in question and interrogate them. They've
to great lengths to encrypt the database and obscure all their
The motto of INISO is, 'We outrank you.'"
Korwin says, "So you're hunted by an Imperial Navy
special ops group, and you have obviously technology that they're
Therefore you're targets for them."
Shark says, "Um. Yes."
"I see. So you could live your life peacefully
by getting rid of your black technology... and erasing your minds."
Robert says, "Now all the items on the ship that
have a label on it, we've gone through and defaced or replaced the
label so that the script is not visible -- except on Shark's console,
and of course mine is nothing but. We haven't figured out how to
change the shape of the ship, or to change its color other than the two
Shark smiles, "We want it to be bigger on the inside
than the outside."
Mich says he's seen a room with a zuchai crystal
that was essentially that -- a true hypercube.
Shark says, "Does Goose have
anything to do with the script, other than the klatrin of course?
As I remember, there's no link other than that they recognized
the ship. Oh, and Korwin, you're tainted now too since you've
touched black technology!"
Kalida smiles, "Welcome to the society of targets."
Shark gets back on topic: "All the places they list
are within a couple of subsectors of here. Zett is the only
one in Foreven. The other three are in the Spinward Marches.
of them were in systems with an asteroid belt. Two or three of
have the asteroid belt as the mainworld. You know, I bet we could
these things pretty easily with our ship."
In response to a chorus of questions, Robert says,
"No, the ship didn't have any information, like it had come right out
factory. It also didn't know where it came from or how long ago
was built. There are areas on the ship's starcharts that are not
ours, and vice versa. All the starcharts, however, apparently
for star movement. The preconfigured data is a collection of
that are dependent on the current time."
Misha asks Robert, "Now is the reason it doesn't
know the time relative to when it was built because it was turned off,
or because it doesn't have the concept of relative time?"
Robert stares at his captain like his boss is an ape
scratching his armpits and grunting. He says out loud, slowly,
Shark says, "So the only way we know if this ship
can detect these caches is to go somewhere there's currently a cache.."
Robert says, "Now we do know that when we were
leaving the previous cache, there were no other active displays of that
ship, even though we knew there were ships there. They weren't
Kalida says, "And we haven't figured out how to get
to the bottom of the shaft here."
Shark says, "Not without blasting our way in.
And now there's a couple of destroyers sitting there."
"We can take them."
Mich says, "So we lob our minimum complement of
missiles down into the shaft and get out. What's the minimum
you're down to?"
"Seven. Five if I'm really on form."
Mich turns to Korwin and says, "There's a fire
button, and if you push it, all missiles leave the ship.
Independently fire and forget, arriving time on target. In
one quick burst, all 720 of them at 100 per second, each one
accelerating at 40g. All coming in at different angles, taking an
independent trajectory, so you englobe the target."
Korwin asks, "What do you do when another target
Kalida and Shark say, "That's when you use the other
weapon." They laugh together.
"The ship's power source, is that detectable?"
"No," says Mich. "We put the D-cells into the
jukebox so the gnome will start pedaling his bicycle, and that opens up
the hole in n-space."
Shark says, "And then we unplug the batteries
because we didn't need them, and the jukebox is powered off the gnome.
the batteries are recharged."
"It's a solid box about a meter on each side.
You can't look into it."
"The ship's flashlights are powered by the same
cube. You can take them anywhere you want to and they'll still be
powered off the ship. Except through jump -- other than that,
seem to be a distance limitation."
Shark summarizes part of his conspiracy theory: "We
know the WDC is after psychic
research. We know a branch of the Navy is also doing psychic
research at Zett."
Kalida asks, "Does that database list which site was
found first, and when?"
"They don't even list what is found. They just
say that Zett
main center of research."
Robert nods. "There is another center of
research for weapons, but it doesn't say where."
Shark then states what everyone's been thinking.
"Are we done on this world? I can't figure out how
the WDC is linked in and who this branch of the military is without
acting openly. Now we can't get to any of the secret sites, is my
bet, so..." He starts perusing the astrographic data.
Robert asks, "So you want to head to the nearest
"I wasn't thinking we'd go to a cache. I was
thinking we'd go to Bowman
actually, which isn't too far away. It's got an asteroid belt."
Misha says, "And search for a cache that maybe they
"Yes. But before we leave here, let's attempt
to hack their system, and as soon as they detect us we go to Bowman,
Misha agrees. "OK. Let's do it."
"How about we go to 875-496
first? The asteroid belt is actually around the secondary.
We can check out a couple of systems while we figure out what to
do. We do have
a date in seven months or so."
Korwin says, "I do have another conference coming up
in a couple of weeks on another world. I'd like to at least
Helia says, "Where? What's it about?"
I'm presenting again."
"You can practice on us. I'd like to learn
Meanwhile, Robert has figured out what he needs to
hack into the Naval Base. He wants Nightshade over a
suitable ship; he'll bounce his connection through a chain of other
ships to disguise their trail. Helia flies them over, and Robert
starts his work.
The security is standard high security Imperial
Navy. It presents no problem, but Robert still proceeds
carefully. He pulls out troop complement, and starts looking for
standing orders and so on. Helia is ready to break out fast to
10d and then jump.
The base's standing orders are for the most part
normal. As expected, the base commander reports to the Admiral on
are all sorts of contingency plans: in case of overwhelming force and
case of other various possible situations. Nothing mentions black
There is a mention of the Wonstar Development Corporation: at the
commander level, it says to do whatever they ask -- treat them as if
have an Imperial
It does not mention names, but it does describe the verification
which uses independent hardware devices for coding.
There is a listing of a name for liaison with
Imperial Navy Intelligence. It's not a name they recognize -- Sir
William Kramer. Contact information is provided -- just a
telephone number. As expected, there's no mention of the special
Korwin asks, "If you find out who's at the bottom of
the WDC, what's next?"
Kalida says, "That depends what the answer is."
Misha says, "I wouldn't be shocked if the WDC is the
Shark says, "Then we could make some guess if we
could trust them. We don't know who we can trust at the moment.
We're in search of 1) the enemy, and 2) our friends."
Korwin says, 'You have no place other than seven
months to be from now, right?"
"Right. We can go hide for seven months.
And then we have no idea who's going to be there. If
enemy of the black ship could be there in seven months. We have
idea. We left a message in a secret drop box -- we don't know if
ever going to be picked up."
So the data is all collected. A quick survey
indicates that the whole continent -- including the underground
facilities -- is indeed Imperial Navy. Outlying sites include
ammunition stores, nuclear warhead stores, and other hazardous or high
security facilities. There's nothing to indicate this is anything
other than a regular Imperial Navy Base.
Robert backs down the communication system slowly
and carefully, and does so successfully without anyone firing at them
Helia flies Nightshade up to 10 diameters,
and they drop into jump for 875-496.
Korwin is a bit disturbed to find that the
transparent walls of the ship are still that way in jump. It
doesn't look like
it does on Imperial ships, though -- there is a glowing grid a couple
meters from the hull of the ship, and the greyness of jumpspace starts
The grid is constantly shifting, forming and breaking
in what Mich tells him is a dynamically adaptive jump grid to
for jumpspace viscosity variation. On the bridge, the solarium,
the lounge there's no way to "close" the windows, but in the staterooms
of the crew blank their outer walls. He finds he gets used to it
time, though, without the freaking jump madness he was sure would
at first. But it's pretty clear he isn't going to get to Karin.
Mich continues to work on his vortex generators for
the jump system. He makes a slight but very significant step in
understanding how the dynamic grid works.
Everyone continues with their own training; Shark
works on zack and pistol, of course.
There's also the matter of having more people than
staterooms. Shark needs somewhere to be his personal space, and
while both Helia and Teri Cralla offer to share with him, that doesn't
satisfy his requirements. Sagan doesn't want to share, but he is
open to the idea of being dropped off somewhere safe. Mich
doesn't mind sharing with Teri, so Shark moves his stuff in room C-25,
while Mich moves in with the Scorpionis Marine in C-18; Korwin is in
On the sixth day of jump, Korwin is a little
surprised to see that everyone else is certain they will come out of
jump today. Indeed they do, and set about the task of searching
the asteroid belt.
The mainworld here is tidally locked and so there's
a good habitable zone despite the low average temperature. The
secondary also affects the climate drastically depending on how close
it is to the
There is not a lot here except traffic control
beacons and what passes for a starport. The
biggest installation of significance is a Scout Base, but it
be a small one and there's not much activity in the system.
There is some minor activity in the asteroid belt.
Callisto points it out to Misha. Nightshade stays in
stealth mode while investigating.
According to the transponders, there is a 400 ton
mining vessel and a standard 100 ton seeker. They're orbiting a
large rock. Closer visual inspection confirms the transponder
data; the 400 ton ship is probably a converted merchant, while the
seeker is a standard ex-Imperial ship. Both are rather scruffy
with eroded paintwork, but at one point they were quite well decorated;
the tail numbers are not noteworthy.
After a week of careful searching, they have found
nothing unusual in the asteroid belt. Callisto does point out
lanthanum deposits --
if they've detected it, those miners have a major strike on their hands
-- but there is nothing to indicate a black technology cache.
Shark has been running a sound imaging program from
the various bug recordings.
Kalida starts researching good places to sell the
North Whipsnade whisky they picked up on Wonstar.
the officers' mess at any naval base would be good, but they can
sell it at a profit pretty much anywhere the locals can afford it.