(70) Coming Out

The Misha Campaign (061-1122 to 075-1122)

073 / 802 local (061-1122 - 062-1122) : Digitis / Vilis / Spinward Marches

    The discussion with Mary is over.  The crew of Nightshade is free to leave, according to her, to meet back here at Cormor Home on 094-1122.  To test The Society's integrity, Misha Ravanos' plan is to go somewhere openly.  Helia Sarina wants to go for a short vacation -- that fits in with her captain's plan.  After browsing the astrographic charts and information, she's selected Mongo, in Jewell subsector, as a good place to spend five days or so.
    Kalida Siena agrees that Mongo seems like a good place.  No-one else feels strongly about it, and they're all happy to go along with their pilot/astrogator and gunner.
    Edward "Shark" Teeth mentions something about them being known to be alive.  Helia tells him that no doubt Grand Admiral Baron Bridgehead will make that quite plain, as he's sure to insist on using his noble title to gain entry to the exclusive Nakege Room club in the starport on Mongo.  The Baron will love walking into the club with, as Helia puts it, two beautiful ladies on his arm.
    Helia adds that there is actually a world called Nakege -- but it's an amber zone, and she's not sure that's actually a good thing.  Still, that shouldn't affect anything on neighboring Mongo.

    The crew spend the rest of the day packing, relaxing in the hot tub, and going for walks (or flights) in the forest.  They'll return to the ship tomorrow.

074 / 802 local (062-1122 - 063-1122) : Digitis / Vilis / Spinward Marches

    The morning train leaves Cormor Home for Center -- Mary doesn't leave on that train with them.
    On the way back, Shark asks Helia about their upcoming flight plan.
    Helia says that Mongo has the largest starport bar complex in the Spinward Marches.  The world runs on Imperial standard time, ignoring daylight and darkness; she says that's fine, because you really aren't going to see them anyway.  With the really short day -- barely over nine hours -- the locals do business on Imperial time, even outside the starport.  The government is a civil service bureaucracy.
    Shark's interest is more in terms of what security level he'll be able to employ.  The law level on Mongo should mean that personal concealable weapons would be banned, with only shotguns tolerated in the general population.  That means that they'll mostly be limited to wearing their zacks.  Tech level is Early Stellar, but since there are casinos and other high money places, he's expecting that there'll be much higher level surveillance gear in effect -- as he says, a bar that charges 5 Cr a drink can afford to import high tech security.
    Shark briefly asks whether they'll be going in totally black, or displaying windows and the large red crosses on the maneuver nacelles.  Kalida reminds him they're doing this as them, as it were, and so want to be running openly -- anyway, the windows and red cross will actually attract less attention than a ship with no windows at all.
    Helia isn't sure whether she'll be going under her own name, or her alternate name of Belladonna.  Misha shrugs -- he doesn't really care what name she uses.  Just flying into a system and docking openly is enough to test Mary's promise that their lives are not part of the negotiations.  Nevertheless, they'll be entering Mongo as Nightshade of Dulu.
    Helia adds that while on Mongo, they should not visit the Hivernation bar.  She hasn't seen the award-winning Gege Anderson vid from which the bar takes its name, but wonders if they'll be able to get a copy in town.  Shark points out that finding it here on Digitis is quite unlikely, but he's sure they'll have a copy at Mongo starport.  Helia goes on to explain that you have to go through low berth to get into the bar, and there's an advisory not to let crew members in there.  Shark says he'll probably just join Mich Saginaw in the engineer's bar -- the Zuchai Room.
    Shark still thinks they can't trust Mary not to shoot at them when they leave.  He advises Helia to be ready to jump at just one diameter.

    Meanwhile, Nightshade has returned to her familiar berth at the harbor of First City.  She is followed in about an hour later by another black ship.
    The new ship looks identical to Nightshade, and is running the same color scheme with the red cross.  The only visible difference is the layout in the solarium -- the other ship doesn't have a waterfall, but instead has two large fountains.

063-1122 (075 / 802 local) : Digitis / Vilis / Spinward Marches

    The away team arrive back in Center, take the commuter train to First City, taxi to the Yacht Club, then are ferried out to Nightshade by Marquis Korwin Vanderfield in one of the air/rafts.  As has been their usual procedure, they go in and out from the patio.
    No-one has left the other black ship, so they see no reason to try to socialize.  Helia checks with Nightshade, which says that the two ships have not been in contact in any way.
    Everything is fine on board.  While they've been away, Vonish Kehnaan has restocked the supplies -- the cuisine on board is assured for quite some time.

    Before taking off, everyone goes into their battle stations, just in case.  The bridge crew are all in sparkly pink mode.
    Helia lifts them off from the harbor, as required following the sea route to Down Port before climbing up towards orbit.  Callisto verifies that the other ship has remained at First City.

    As Nightshade hits one diameter from Digitis, Helia slips them into jump heading for Lysen.  It's pretty risky to jump this close to a planet, but with Helia as astrogator and Mich as engineer it presents no problem.

069-1122 : Lysen / Jewell / Spinward Marches

    Nightshade arrives out of jump from Digitis, already in stealth mode.  Helia takes them in close to a convenient far trader so Robert can piggyback through it to pick up the recent news items.  To their disappointment, there is nothing new.  Helia takes them back out and drops into jump for Mongo.

075-1122 : Mongo / Jewell / Spinward Marches

    With stealth mode off and transponder simulator active, they arrive in system.  While there are a lot of ships around, Callisto says there are no black ships here.  Shark asks if Baba Yaga is here, but Callisto assures him that no such transponder signal is out there.
    This system has a class A starport, with a naval base and scout base.  There's not a lot of naval presence here near the mainworld.  All the gas giants orbit the secondary, while Mongo itself is the lone world orbiting the primary well outside the orbit of the secondary. The mainworld should be quite pleasant, reasonably warm with a standard atmosphere and fairly light gravity.
    Shark lays down the ground rules.  He is in paranoid mode, but recognizes that everyone will be allowed to come and go as they please as long as they meet up back on the ship before they leave, and as long as someone is on board at all times.  Everyone is to have a commdot, and everyone to have something around that will work as a weapon, such as a zack.  Shark presents Teri Cralla with a gun cane, which she accepts without comment.
    Baron Bridgehead reminds everyone that as a noble, he and his retinue and bodyguard are permitted discreet weapons for his protection.  That pretty much frees them up to be well armed, as long as the Baron or Marquis Korwin Vanderfield are in the group.  Teri will still have to leave her battledress and FGMP-15 on board, of course.  Shark notes that there are only the two nobles on board, although as he says Kalida certainly dresses the part.

    It's evening by the time Helia lands them at the starport.  The ship has already talked to the starport authorities, and they've been assigned a prime landing bay among the other nobles' yachts.  Between Marquis Vanderfield and Baron Bridgehead, they rank quite highly here.
    The starport is located on a fairly large island near the equator.  It's quite warm and humid.  In fact, as Shark observes, aside from the water this place is surprisingly similar to his own homeworld.  Of course the water is quite a difference -- Romar is a desert world, while Mongo is only a few islands short of water world status.
    Kalida and Bridgehead have dressed up to the nines for the trip ashore; he in full retired Imperial Navy Grand Admiral uniform, she in all silk.  Helia has chosen something she considers appropriate: an aubergine leather vest with built-in backpack over her black zack, with aubergine boots that reach just over the knee with pointed tops and a band around the top.  Shark and Teri dress as bodyguards in matching black with sunglasses, armed subtly but credibly for their role -- Shark is most comfortable with his trusty gauss pistol.
    Bridgehead, Shark, Misha, Vonish, and Mich had been reported dead in the news reports.  The Baron will of course use his real identity here, but since Shark expects the noble to be paying, he himself can remain incognito.  The other "dead" people are remaining on the ship at present, although they may well decide to come ashore later.

    So it's Bridgehead, Helia, Kalida, Shark, and Teri who are disembarking first.  Shark yields to the Baron as to where to go, and the noble of course heads straight for the exclusive Nakege Room club.  Shark leads the group with Teri bringing up the rear.
    The starport itself is really big.  Most of it consists of bars, lounges, clubs, entertainment, and so on.  There are Travellers Aid Society facilities here, accessed through the Weary Traveller bar.
    While currently they're on their way to the classiest establishment, Shark resolves to take Mich to the Zuchai Room, which sounds much more like their kind of place.  Maybe they don't use the same dirty towel to wipe all the glasses, but at least the atmosphere -- and the drinks -- should be more familiar and comfortable.  Helia might even join them.  Shark muses that it's still not his kind of place -- they don't advertise his hangouts, they raid them.

    The Nakege Room is very near their berth.  Nightshade is by far the largest yacht among those docked, and has been assigned one of the top three locations.  It's as if the more important the noble, the easier they make it to get to the expensive club.
    Outside the club is a uniformed doorman.  The heavy oak door is closed.
    Shark walks up to the doorman.  He announces, "Grand Admiral Baron Bridgehead and party."
    Kalida adds, "And Marchioness Nakege."
    The doorman bows deeply and says, "Come in, please."  The door opens.
    Helia says, "Marchioness Nakege?  And we're going to the Nakege Club?"
    "Precisely," says the Marchioness, stepping forward and gesturing Shark to lead them in.
    Helia says, "After you, your Ownership!" and trots forward to take Kalida's arm instead of Bridgehead's.
    Baron Bridgehead is quite simply speechless.
    "Baron?  Would you like to join us?" Kalida says.
    The maitre d' greets the Marchioness at the door, nods at her request for the best table, and leads them into the dining room.

    There are a small number of people in this extremely high class dining room.  The Marchioness of Nakege's table is nicely shaded with indoor plants, providing privacy but not obscuring a view of the room, slightly raised from the floor level.
    Helia cannot believe that the Baron stumbled so readily -- he should have presented his arm to Kalida and escorted her in, surely, and been as gallant as possible.  It's amazing that he's so... quiet.
    Shark and Teri are taken a little aside and some security details pointed out to them, then shown to a table just to the side of their charges' table.  This one has discreetly hidden camera views and security terminals, along with lockdown screen controls.  It's all positioned so the two of them can use them, but so they won't intrude on their employers or other guests.  Teri and Shark have their own waiter, and Shark relaxes at not having to remember his etiquette.
    The Marchioness of Nakege and her retinue have a flock of waiters, catering to their every whim.  The head waiter, the sommelier, all the top staff of the club are ensuring that their honored guests have the perfect dining experience.
    Shark has everything he needs -- not only security within the club, but monitors for starport security as well.  He relaxes and settles in for the several hours he expects the meal to take.  He brings Teri up to speed on all the gear, and then surfs for his own brand of contact.  It doesn't take long -- he quickly finds out how to make contact with the local operative.
    At the main table, they don't even have to order.  The chef will design the meal for them, and all they have to do is relax and enjoy it -- which they do, thoroughly.  The whole entourage is being treated as royalty.   The Baron is still dumbfounded, looking at Kalida every now and again as if trying to figure her out.
    The furniture is all wood, as is all the paneling on the walls -- Kalida notes that it is appropriately white oak.  Whatever is not wood is leather.  Helia's seat is even designed to rise to the proper height as she sits down, as it's pushed in for her by a servant.
    Between two of the courses, a servant delivers a business card to the Marchioness.  It has a handwritten note, "Welcome.  If you need anything, I am at your disposal."  The card is from Sir William Edgerton, who is presumably the man bowing his head in her direction from a table across the room.  He's probably in his fifties, a bit short of social presence for his title.  He's sharing his table with two younger men who also aren't really up to the social standard of the club.
    Shark quickly looks up the knight in the local who's who.  It says he's in the import/export business, supposedly from Aramis.  He's done business here for a good while.  Shark doesn't think the Marchioness needs to be bothered with this information at dinner.  He also picks up images of all three at that table, for use with his database later.
    The Nakege Room's exclusive reputation is clearly correct.  A small number of people go in and out over the evening -- they don't recognize any of them.  Nobody is being accorded the status of the Marchioness of Nakege.
    Finally the Baron speaks.  He says, "So, my lady, why did you decide to grace us with your title?"
    Kalida says, "There was no point in the rank on the ship, or any other place we've been out here."
    "It certainly explains your exquisite taste in wardrobe."
    "Thank you," smiles the Marchioness.
    Shark shakes his head.  He'd pulled up her military record before she joined the ship, but didn't think to look in the noble records.  He now finds her listed in the Nobility of the Spinward Marches, and open further checking finds that she was granted the title recently -- as soon as she retired from the Marines, in fact -- rather than inherited it.
    As the end of the meal approaches, an after dinner drink arrives in a bottle they all recognize.  It's Blockade Bourbon, a bottle of which they have on board for sale.  The Baron of course has been dying to taste this stuff -- and he is not disappointed.  It is absolutely superb, unbelievably good.  The open bottle is placed on the table -- now that it's irretrievably paid for, they'll take what's left back for the rest of the crew to enjoy too.
    After the meal, the Marchioness is informed that a suite will be held at her disposal while she's here, should she wish to use it.  At the same time Shark is given security details for the suite -- and it is quite a suite indeed, luxurious and spacious.  Not only does it have the hot tubs that this crew always demands, but plunge pools and lap pools.  Nevertheless, they will sleep on the ship tonight, and decide later whether they will want to stay there or on shore.  Shark is also given all the contact information the Marchioness might need for whatever business she has here -- he uploads it, and passes it on to Kalida's hand computer.
    Shark asks Teri if she'd ever believe she'd be on a ship with so many -- and such high ranking -- nobles.  She smiles and shakes her head, and entertains him with stories of her time in the Scorpionis Marines.
    Helia suggests they see if the club has a concierge, who can make recommendations and arrangements for them.  She says for one thing, Vonish will probably want to take the tour of the agricultural areas.
    Shark requests a concierge attend the Marchioness; he lets the club know that they won't be staying the night tonight, but may be back tomorrow with a larger group.  He'll try to give them advance warning of how many might be staying.
    Kalida signals the concierge to approach.  She tells him she wants the agricultural tour for her chef and whoever else might want to accompany him.  She also says they want to collect books on various subjects -- tomorrow she'll give them a list of interests to work with.  Also, they'll only be here for a few days, and she wants recommendations for places to visit, things to do, and specialty shops.  Helia says that she and their chef are particularly interested in pastry and sweet shops, and want to meet with the chefs and proprietors of those.  The concierge will provide all the information and relay it to the Marchioness' ship.
    The bourbon is taking effect: Baron Bridgehead is getting used to the idea that this lady is the high ranking noble in their group, and in fact thinks it's great because she's actually nice.
    Meanwhile, Shark calls Marquis Vanderfield back on Nightshade, and asks if he'd like to be announced at dinner tomorrow.  Shark smiles at the thought of his local counterparts going nuts trying to figure out what all these nobles are doing on board, and maybe even making connections with Marquis Marcus Crestworthy.
    No bill arrives, of course -- the club is not that crass, they would charge it back through the ship.  In fact, they inform Shark that tonight is on the house.  As the party leaves the table, he makes sure that the bottle gets back to the ship with him.

    All return to Nightshade to rest for the night.  Once there, after a brief discussion, Shark calls the Nakege Room club to tell them that tomorrow will be arriving all three nobles, plus the captain and ship's officers numbering four (captain, chef, Miss Belladonna, and the chief engineer).
    Helia asks Shark and Robert to help her send out a secure message, and also to investigate all sources to see if there's any news of Helia (and Professor Farol and Sally Forsythe).  They promise to do so.
    Helia's book request list will include local cuisine and agriculture, local legends and stories, local history, and any strange phenomena.  That should get into the paranormal stuff that Marquis Marc likes without setting off any alarm bells.  She also plans to visit bookstores in person.
    Kalida spends a while going through the information sent by the concierge.  There are details of many establishments both at the starport and on the world itself.  She notes with interest that the Nakege Room is owned by the Bank of Mongo, who own a bunch of stuff here.  She also notes the address of the Bank of Mongo's head office.
    Shark has determined that his local contact here is with Imperial Navy Intelligence -- and so was the person who gave them the bomb on Ferle, although that was way outside the Imperium, and it was an Imperial Navy Midu Agashaam class destroyer that attacked them.  Here is not only in the Imperium, but on the border with the Zhodani, so it's actually plausible for them to be here.

    Later, over some more Blockade Bourbon, Shark asks Kalida, "So, whose butt did you pull out of a fire?"
    "Nobody," replies the Marchioness of Nakege.
    "And for no reason you're a Marchioness," laughs Shark.
    "I just made some friends, and when I retired I was suddenly granted this.  I don't know why they decided to, they just did it."
    "I know why the Marquis Crestworthy got his title.  He did that because he pulled the Duke's son's butt out of the fire.  So we know that story -- we know what he did.  We know what the Grand Admiral did to become a baron."
    "I was stationed doing some liaison work when I was still in the military on Adabicci.  I became friends with Sir Geoffrey, and thereby kind of knew the Duke, and when I retired I was very suddenly given the post of Marchioness.  Rather surprised me."
    "Sir Geoffrey is...?"
    "The Duke of Adabicci's son."
    "The same person," laughs Shark loudly.
    "Exactly," laughs Kalida.  They toast the Duke's pockets full of "Make a Marquis" cards with another glass of bourbon.
    Helia asks, "So, you like, own the system?"
    "No," says Marchioness Nakege, "I don't own the system."
    "Do you get any money off it?"
    "That's no fun.  No wonder you were sitting in port with nothing but your good outfits!  So they give you this title that you're supposed to live up to, but they don't give you any money or any lands."
    "There is land -- I do have substantial estates.  It's is exceedingly productive, but sadly enough nothing can leave the planet.  Do you remember that entire thing with Ianic and Tukera Lines?  That was because Tukera Lines was blockading Ianic and not letting anything out -- they're doing the same thing at Nakege.  That bottle of bourbon?  That's what they make."
    Shark ponders, "How much could we put in our attic?  We could put a few cases..."
    "We could get around that blockade pretty easily, couldn't we?" smiles Kalida.
    Helia says, "If your family makes that bourbon, I'm sure we could get down there and..."
    "Not my family," corrects Kalida.
    "OK, your lands.  How does it normally get exported?"
    "It doesn't make it out."
    "Except for these two bottles that we know of."
    "Some people manage to run it past.  That's why it's called Blockade Bourbon.  The rest of it's just sitting on the planet."
    Shark asks, "What was the jump range on Anastasia?"
    Mich replies from deep in his bourbon glass, "Four."
    Helia continues, "Wait a minute.  Your property makes the bourbon that we bought -- that really expensive bottle?"
    Kalida clarifies, "The company that technically owns the world makes the bourbon.  I don't own the company, I'm not part of the company.  I just have jurisdiction over the system."
    Shark agrees, "She has legal authority over the planet."
    Helia says, "So can't you tithe them, and ask for a couple of barrels?  For administrative fees?"
    Kalida says, "If I were able to take bottles off and bring money in, I'm sure they would let me take whatever I wanted.  Again, I've never been there.  I've never seen this place."
    "I think we've just found a business," says the larian.  "I think we know where we're going when we get back."
    "Ideally I would like to break the blockade.  I'd like to get them out of there."
    "Wait," says Shark, "I'm thinking of a way to break the blockade."  He turns to Mich and says, "On Anastasia you made the jump-4 even more than jump-4."
    Mich replies, "No, you can't make it more than it is.  I just made it faster than six days.  I'm working on it for this ship."
    "OK.  I'm wondering if we can get Anastasia back and retrofit it as a blockade runner."
    Kalida says, "But again, that doesn't get rid of the actual problem."
    "If you make the blockade ineffectual, would it be worth the money for them to keep it up?"
    "I don't know.  They almost started a war on Ianic.  Tukera are known for not playing fair.  They even have their own intelligence group, Vemene."
    Shark smiles, "What do we need to do to convince the Wonstar Development Corporation that they need to pay attention to them and do something to them?  Convince Wonstar that we've given them black ship technology?"
    "Then we have to deal with Mary and her group because we're not supposed to give out anything," says Kalida.  "Even though we won't have done, the rumor will get out that we did so."
    "Not if we tell Mary that's what we're going to do.  If we can get Tukera to attack Wonstar, or vice versa, then we're getting Wonstar involved in something, which can only hurt them.  I think we should consider how we can get someone else to fight Tukera corporation for us."
    Kalida points out that one of the odd things about the Ianic situation is that usually the company doing the blockade gets what it wants.  It's remarkably unusual for decisions to go against the company -- Ianic is the first time that somebody has intervened on behalf of the other guy.  That was the Duke of Adabicci, who was right there.  He doesn't have jurisdiction here.
    The catch is that the ducal authority here is Archduke Norris, pending him having a child to take over the title of Duke of Regina, and so there's an absentee situation here.  Getting him involved directly would be really difficult.  There is the Countess of Jewell, but she doesn't really have the practical authority to go against an Imperial megacorporation with impunity, as might a powerful duke.
    Kalida muses as an aside that if she owned the company, she really would own the system.
    Shark asks how much the company would cost.
    "I don't know," says Kalida.  "The Bank of Mongo has been simply floating them a loan for all these years.  That's why I was going to talk to them tomorrow.  The Bank of Mongo also owns the Nakege Room we spent the evening in, and a lot of the other places here."
    Shark smiles, "So that's why the Bank of Mongo is catering to you, because they want to keep you happy, and if you pay off the loans..."
    "Sadly all I've got is another bottle of bourbon, and that's ship property, not mine.  I have a lot of nice clothes, and that's about it."
    Shark wonders how many loads it would take to pay off the debt.  He adds, "Of course, as soon as we start running the blockade, the price would go down.  50% I would expect."
    Kalida adds, "It's all made with the traditional method, so it's not made particular quickly.  The quantity is limited and the quality is very high, so the price is always going to be quite high.  We can pay off loans; we probably will not be able to buy the company outright because it's a family business, but we can probably buy at least shares in it."
    Shark still thinks they can solve this: "If we can blow up enough of their ships that it costs them more than they would be making..."
    "But it's a long term investment.  They're looking at making a lot of money over very many years."
    "If their ships just blow up, and they can't figure out how or why, and can't stop it...?"
    "Then they will probably start attacking physically, I would think.  Unless we're going to sit here baby-sitting the world..."
    Shark concludes, "But it's a business I could get into -- blowing up Tukera ships and running the blockade.  It's more like privateer and not piracy, you know?"
    Kalida smiles, "It's my system.  It's not like we'd be stealing anything."