(58) Staking A Claim

The Misha Campaign (311-1121 to 316-1121)

311-1121 : 875-496 / Five Sisters / Spinward Marches

    The search of the belt has revealed nothing -- no sign of black technology, anyway.  They have found an asteroid with large deposits of lanthanum.  It's a good 120 degrees from the current mining activity in the belt, and so should be free to claim.  All they need is a claim beacon and to register the claim at a local office in this system.
    The mainworld here is large, quite earthlike if it were not tidally locked to the cold star.  Tech level is the same as Wonstar, but there's a Scout Base here instead of a Naval Base as at their previous port of call.
    Immediately the discussion turns to whose name should be on the claim.  Most of the crew are officially dead, so they can't do it in their own names.  Marquis Marcus Crestworthy would be a good choice, but if he's dead then ownership would transfer with the title and leave them out in the cold.
    But as Kalida Siena points out, not all the crew are in fact dead.  The lanthanum deposits here are probably worth a couple of billion credits if extracted commercially and sold.  That would keep them in spending money for a long time -- even just selling the claim should net them a very good sum.
    So they need to fly to the mainworld.  The plan is to do pretty much what they did on Wonstar -- to sneak in using stealth mode, then register their claim at a local office with a gcarrier trip.
    Marquis Korwin Vanderfield suggests that they should file a number of claims rather than just the one.  Everyone thinks this is a good idea.  Callisto will select twenty or thirty of them in random locations, promising in terms of commercial value but not necessarily viable to extract anything.  The idea is to cover the claim, but Callisto works on at least making it potentially of value to them.
    Edward "Shark" Teeth brings up the subject of whether Korwin should get a crew's share of the claim.  He is essentially a kidnap victim, but it might help commit him to Nightshade and her crew.  Misha Ravanos ponders the issue, and agrees that the noble is entitled to a share.
    Korwin says he isn't earning much of a salary at present, but he does get a retirement pension if they can visit class A starports reasonably frequently.  Kalida smiles: she too gets retirement pay, since she -- unlike most of  the crew -- hasn't been reported dead.

    Shark reviews where they stand on their conspiracy theories.  He, after all, is their expert in such things -- noticeably more so since his klatrin experiences.  The Wonstar Development Corporation funnels four billion credits a year into the University of Mora Department of Horticultural Fertilizer.  He then suggests that if they found another black ship, they could take it in tow and put it back in the station at Zett and they'd be out of trouble.
    The rest of the crew don't think that would take them off anyone's hit list.

    Helia Sarina flies them in to the mainworld, where she puts them in orbit so Callisto can run a scan of the planet.
    The world has a lot of ice.  On the daylight side there's a lot of open ocean, which is where most of the settlements are.  The starport itself -- such as it is -- is located right next to the floating Scout Base, attached but some distance away.  The beacon says they must dock in the water at the small town there and go through customs.  Probably only those required to run the starport live here.
    There is no major land mass; there is land, but no substantial areas.  Most of the settlements are on the ocean itself.  There should be a population of 50,000 here.
    There are no ships in port at present, only at the Scout Base, and there's a Donosev class survey scout in orbit.  They decide to find a town other than the starport for their shore party.  The ocean cities have nothing but surface ships and fixed wing aircraft -- no spaceships are at any of the cities.  The only way to enter the city they've chosen is by air or water.
    As for subcraft, Nightshade has a ship's boat, and they have a gcarrier and two air/rafts.  The ship's boat is quite distinctive and would attract a lot of attention, so the gcarrier is the obvious choice for onworld travel.
    Korwin suggests that they should park out over the ocean, take the gcarrier in, and if asked just say their ship is refueling on the ocean.

    Helia brings the ship down to the ocean and hovers ten meters over the water.  There is a substantial swell out here in the open ocean.
    The shore party will be lead by Misha, with Helia, Robert Morris, Kalida, Teri Cralla, and of course Korwin to fly the gcarrier -- ironically the highest ranking noble on board (Korwin) will be chauffeuring them around.
    Law level here is 1.  Teri Cralla can outfit herself in her most comfortable outfit -- anonymous Imperial battledress with her FGMP-15.  Since she's going to be carrying rather openly, that frees up everyone else to carry pretty much whatever hardware they want without attracting attention to themselves.  Misha is glad to be back in full regalia: cape and large sword.
    Helia steps out on the ramp from the doors behind the bridge to check out the weather.  It looks like the wind is very strong, but of course Helia is just enjoying the fresh dense air without being bothered by the gale.

    Korwin takes the gcarrier out of the main cargo lift and they head off towards the city.

    Back on Nightshade, Shark tells Vonish Kehnaan to take the helm and follow the gcarrier in stealth mode, about three kilometers away.  Perhaps he just doesn't trust the highest ranking noble on board...
    There is very little air traffic.  This makes Vonish's task easier, although the ship is helping him out -- as is Callisto, who makes sure his display shows all the objects around them.

    The Marquis is indeed a fine gravcraft driver.  The trip to the city is uneventful and blissfully boring.  The crew have never seen anyone drive like this before.  As Misha says, "This is eerie.  We're not banging off of things."  Shark tells Korwin that the last time they landed in water, they used the air/raft as a boat because it was safer than trying to fly it.
    Helia twiddles the radio dials looking for music, but can't figure out where to find the local stations, neither frequency nor encoding.  He asks Robert, who rapidly tunes in some heavy industrial rock.  Helia grimaces.  Robert finds some pleasant disco pop on another channel.
    The city is laid out on a grid system.  It's actually floating, not resting on the ocean floor, somewhat irregular shaped.  Surface ships are docked at a harbor, while the airstrip which makes up one side of the city is home to fixed wing aircraft.  The administrative area is apparently in the center of town.  Traffic is mostly pedestrian, with a light rail system for mass transit.
    As they approach, they're hailed by New Wave City air traffic control.  They identify themselves as the gcarrier from the H.M.S. Dread Roberts, coming in on mining business.  They're put into an approach pattern as if they were a fixed wing aircraft, but they're the only vehicle in the pattern.  Korwin complies with amusement.
    On coming in they're directed to park at general aviation, and told to report to customs.  They land where directed.  There is a strong wind blowing down the length of the runway.  To be on the safe side -- as Kalida says, to avoid embarrassment -- they tie down the gcarrier to the hooks provided in the parking area.
    The customs building is about 600 meters downwind.  The wind is even strong enough that Helia is in definite danger of blowing away.  Perhaps her baggy ship suit is contributing to the problem.  She asks Teri to help her, and the Scorpionis Marine hoists her onto her shoulders.  Helia giggles.
    Customs is simple enough.  It's pretty much like any minor port on a minor world, in that the customs officer is totally bored.  He says that they should have come in at the starport since they're from offworld, but Misha assures him that they've already done that.  He's very convincing, and throws the customs guy into confusion.  Misha chats for a while, tells him that they have nothing to declare, and gets directions to where they can register mining claims -- that would be downtown.  Korwin tips him.  The guy looks even more confused, but seems possibly more content with his job.

    If one took "north" to be the point of the world that follows the sun, the airstrip makes up the eastern edge of the city.  The wind is blowing strongly straight down the airstrip.
    There is a light rail stop right by the building.  The shore party take the first car to come along, which doesn't take long.  It's a regular light rail car, driver in the front.
    Inside is a map of the rail network.  It indicates they're on the wrong train -- this one's heading around the outside of the city only.  They'll need to get off two stops from here, and change to one headed downtown.
    At the next stop, five people are waiting at the platform.  They look at the crew and get into the other compartment.
    The next stop is theirs.  They get off and join the others waiting for the train.  This seems to be mostly a commercial and office area.  After a short wait, the train they want comes along, and they board.
    The further they've come from the airport, the more people they've seen.  The locals are giving them very odd looks and are avoiding them, although without hostility or fear.  Local attire consists of shirts, trousers, just regular generic cheap imported Imperial backwater clothes.  Robert is the least strange looking of their group; Kalida and Korwin are too well dressed, while the others are just plain odd.  Helia would look OK to a first glance, but when you look closely she just doesn't quite fit in.
    At the downtown stop, they step out and immediately notice a map of the administrative area.  The problem is to determine which branch of the bureaucracy might handle space mining claims.  There is nothing obvious at all, or even anything that might be likely.  Kalida starts reading the buildings off to Misha, but he can't figure it out either.  Finally Korwin, drawing on his experience with university administration, suggests that the Office of Offworld Claims is probably under the Department of Fisheries.
    The Marquis' suggestion is met with derision, but it's the only guess they have.  So there they go.  Around here they're seeing uniformed armed guards at the government buildings, but they're relaxed and not expecting any trouble at all.  They don't even react to Misha's sword or Teri's battledress.  At the Department of Fisheries, the guards glance at each other and shrug, but don't otherwise do anything.
    The building directory presents their next problem, but Kalida quickly finds the right place -- the Department of Extraterrestrial Affairs, office 205.  They all troop up to that room.
    Misha notices that they are being followed subtly by a man with concealed weapons, presumably part of the building security staff.  Unlike the guards outside, this person is certainly ready to use force.  He points him out to Teri, who makes sure the group is covered.
    At the DoEA, an elderly woman greets them at the desk.  Misha explains that they want to file mining claims -- asteroid mining, he clarifies.  The woman brings a wad of forms and a pen, and tells him to fill them in and present them to her with a fee.  The fee is listed on the forms, she says.
    Kalida takes the forms from Misha, and starts filling them in.  They're a little convoluted, but not terribly so.  The fee depends on what sort of claim they're filed, and on whose behalf they're filing it.  The fee for a resident is a lot less than for an offworlder; in their case, for all 30 sites, it comes to 4200Cr.  The person making the claim has to present the forms in person, along with their Imperial ID.  So they can't file it in the name of Marquis Marcus Crestworthy.  Instead, it's in the name of Brigadier General Kalida Siena.  Her ID is pronounced genuine, and she is provisionally the holder of 30 claims in the asteroid belt.  She now has 30 days to put claim beacons on her rocks; she is given the information the beacons need to transmit.
    Once the claim is filed, only the claimer is allowed to mine it.  Claims are regulated under Imperial law -- if they came back and found a claim jumper, they themselves would have to prosecute them under Imperial law, both criminal and civil.  But no-one but the claimer is responsible for enforcing the claim, not in this system anyway.
    Beacons could probably be bought at the Scout Base, but nowhere else on this world.  It will undoubtedly be cheaper and attract less outside attention for Mich Saginaw to build them himself.
    Their business done, Misha says, "Well, I don't think I can get offplanet without going to a bar."  So, as is their custom, off they go.

    But first, Helia has one hour for shopping.  Unfortunately, there really is not much worth buying here.  There is no real local culture -- shopping is a washout, unusually bland.  Nevertheless, she picks up a couple of things.  Not clothing, though -- it's cheap, mass-produced, Imperial imports.
    Now to head for a bar -- the unsavory kind, says Misha.  They head for the docks by light rail, changing trains once on the way.  The last train is dirtier and noticeably less well kept than the others.
    Within sight of the station are three bars.  It is late evening Imperial time, about 20:00, although of course the sun has not moved in the sky since they arrived here.
    A sign outside the first bar says "Check your weapons at the door.  No weapons, no attitudes.  Take your fights outside."  That doesn't satisfy Misha -- too high class.  The second says simply, "No weapons.  Weapon check free."  Misha leads them on to the third bar.  It says, "No weapons, no colors."  Time to move further from the station...
    Another two blocks, and the area is becoming shadier.  A few unsavory characters lurk in the shadows.  From their reactions, Teri's battledress seems to be commanding respect.
    This bar is Misha's sort of place.  It says "Bar."  Lighting is low, decor is formica.  There are about twenty people in here, probably all manual laborers.  They all stop, look up, and stare at the shore party as they come in -- not with hostility, but outright suspicion.  The only free tables are in the middle of the room.  They pull a couple of tables together there.
    Nobody comes out to serve them.  This confirms it's Misha's kind of place.  Mich will be sorry he missed it.  Misha walks up to the bar and orders a round of beer for everyone.  He carries them back to the table, leaving the requested three credits on the counter.
    The beer is not exactly good -- not bad either, but rather bland.  It's not expensive, and comes in liter glasses.  Half a credit for a liter of beer is not bad.
    Misha glances over at the Marquis.  Korwin seems to be comfortable -- he was after all in the army, and probably had to bail his guys out of bar fights many a time.  No doubt the Marquis knows this is definitely not a good place to pick a fight with the locals.
    For their part, the locals are keeping an eye on the newcomers.  They look like they'd love an excuse to start a fight with the offworlders, but they aren't going looking for an excuse.  They are less suspicious -- the odd people are now clearly not cops.
    After about an hour, all the beers are finished and they're almost ready to go.  As a last thing, remembering Goose, Misha goes up to the bar and asks what the strongest stuff he has is.  The barman steps back, reaches around behind something, and presents the barbarian with a clear unlabelled bottle.  Ten credits completes the transaction.  They leave.
    As they go down the street, they are followed by six guys who Misha immediately categorizes as regular thugs.  Korwin suggests playing with them, but Misha wants to avoid trouble.  Once they leave on the train, the thugs disperse into the streets.  Helia blows them kisses through the window, but they ignore her.  Probably Teri's gear was enough to dissuade them, and they were hoping for the group to split up.  Whatever, they were clearly just normal street thugs, not ordered to follow them or anything.
    The group return to the airport.

312-1121 : 875-496 / Five Sisters / Spinward Marches

    The trip back to Nightshade is again trouble-free, thanks to the skills of Marquis Vanderfield.  Of course, they can't see the ship to approach it -- it is completely invisible -- so they're not worried about it.
    Shark can't figure out the meson communicator to talk to the gcarrier.  He settles for Vonish putting Nightshade exactly back in the same position.
    Unfortunately the concept of "exactly the same position" doesn't agree with where the gcarrier is.  They're about a kilometer away.
    No doubt this is an attempt to preserve the perfect record of wrecking their gravcraft.  Korwin, however, is much better than the regular crew and doesn't take the opportunity to smash it up.  As they get closer, Shark opens a laser comm channel and sends Korwin a picture of the gcarrier as seen from the ship.  Korwin's skills are well up to the task; the ship suddenly appears to him as they cross the stealth bubble -- the weird effect of having the nose of the gcarrier disappear until his head crosses too is a little startling.  He alights on the cargo lift, and they board the ship.
    From the outside, Nightshade is totally black except for the windows and for a large red maltese cross on the sides of each of the maneuver drive nacelles.
    The shore party recount the tale of cheap plentiful beer, and display the bottle of clear "strongest stuff."

    Now to deal with the claim beacons...  it's an easy task for Mich to put them together.  Still, it's take them about four days to make all thirty of them.  Kalida helps him out with her electronic expertise.  The communications part is trivial, standard parts, and Robert doesn't really have anything to contribute to such a simple assembly job.  The lack of a standard Imperial workshop makes it a little more difficult, but they all get the hang of it quite quickly as Mich explains it to his assistants.
    Misha wonders if they should even bother to stake any claims aside from the lanthanum rock.  Callisto smiles and says that they aren't all totally useless.
    So they'll start on their deploy missions.  At the same time, Callisto will run close scans of their claims, and also scan some more for black ship sites.
    Helia has an interesting astrogational problem -- to solve the travelling salesman problem for thirty moving objects.  She comes up with a solution that will take three days -- she's asked to slow it down and take four days so that they can keep up with producing beacons.
    Shark also decides he'd like to take a couple of weeks off at some point for Grand Admiral Baron Bridgehead to replace his fake elbow with a real one.  Since he's not an EVA person, this is a good time to start.
    Of course Helia can position the ship precisely enough that they could walk out on the ramp and place the beacons on the ground.  That would, however, be rather risky since they've never tried it.  A conventional EVA with vaccsuits would probably carry less risk, so that's what they do.
    Their best EVA tech is Teri.  Mich could do it, but isn't exactly eager to step out in vacuum.  Kalida too is qualified, but not too good at it.  They leave the job to Teri.  She does have a couple of dodgy moments where a plain vaccsuit would have been in trouble, but in battledress it's no problem.

316-1121 : 875-496 / Five Sisters / Spinward Marches

    In four days they have beacons on all the claims.  One of them even has some superheavies in it, although exactly what isn't clear yet.  Three have commercially viable lanthanum deposits, probably worth about three billion credits.  They could sell one of the claims, and use that to set up a mining operation for the others.  To help relieve suspicion from the current mining operations, the beacons will start transmitting in a few days time after they're clear of the system.
    In the meantime, Mich has sampled the clear liquor.  He appreciates it, although it's unlikely that anyone else will.  It's rough and strong, such as one might make in an illicit still in the engineering section of a naval vessel.
    There was, however, no black ship stuff.  Time to leave for another system and another belt.
    Nightshade jumps for Bowman.