(72) Corporate Ownership

The Misha Campaign (077-1122 to 090-1122)

077-1122 : Mongo / Jewell / Spinward Marches

    It's after lunch, and all have assembled back in the suite at the Nakege Room club at the starport complex.
    Edward "Shark" Teeth tells everyone a little more that he's discovered in his search of public records, rumors, and so on.  Creative Imports owns only one property, a floor of an office building.  To his surprise, they have no warehouse space -- but if you want goods from Nakege, you have to talk to them.  Of course, the only goods you'd want from Nakege are the size of a bottle.  The Nakege Room itself is outfitted in white oak paneling and furniture -- the latter built on Nakege itself by Traditional Heritage Craftworks -- but it's not like handmade wood furniture isn't available from non-blockaded worlds.  For the most part, all you'd really want from Nakege is the bourbon.  For that, you don't need a warehouse, just a climate controlled storeroom -- you could store a fortune in Blockade Bourbon in just a single office.  He adds that selling a large quantity would take several years, what with making sure the price wasn't depressed and you weren't shanghaied by Tukera Lines.
    Kalida Siena, Marchioness of Nakege, says that what she found out from the president of the Bank of Mongo was that once the goods left the Nakege system, they were free and clear of the blockade.
    Shark asks Vonish Kehnaan what Imperial Law says about such a blockade and the goods from a blockaded world -- what about goods being confiscated off planet?  Is that piracy?
    The vilani chef replies that the law is fairly clear, although it could have local slants which affect certain cases.  Nevertheless, he's been studying Imperial Law and the law books from Mongo, and can offer Shark his opinion.  Were it to be a legal blockade, it is only permitted to affect trade from that one world (outbound and inbound); anywhere in that system.  It is not to be used to restrict trade or ownership of goods once they have left the system.  If the blockade were multiple systems, the blockaded worlds would count as one system -- you couldn't break the blockade by shuffling the goods from one blockaded system to another, but once the goods are out into a free and clear Imperial world, they're safe.  This could be countermanded by ducal fiat or whatever, but that would be a matter of local law.
    Shark briefly ponders the possibility of physically launching small packages of goods from a blockaded world out of the boundaries of the system, but then returns to his main point.  Tukera has no need to settle the blockade -- and neither does the planet.
    Kalida says that the problem with Tukera is that they are not just insisting on being the only distributors, but also on a 40% interest in the company.  The origin of the blockade is that Tukera says they had a deal for exclusive distribution and 40% of the company, and THC says no such deal was ever made.
    Shark adds that Tukera doesn't need that.  Right now, anyone who wants to sell anything, sells it through them.  He explains, "Anyone who's in the company who wants to make money goes to the Tukera agent on the planet -- there have to be agents on planet -- and sells through those agents.  Maybe at a reduced price, but they can sell.  So the economic pressure for the company to settle the blockade is relieved.  Tukera is making a profit because they're selling it, maybe through a chain of holding companies, someone like Creative Imports.  Creative Imports, from your report, is not well searched on the way out.  So my guess is the economic pressure on the company is at least reduced, if not eliminated, because Tukera has given them an outlet, if not a free..."
    As Shark tails off, Kalida says, "Making some amount of money, but not as much as they could be, and there is the matter of the debt, which they aren't going to be able to pay off at this rate."
    Shark wonders aloud who owns the Bank of Mongo -- officially and unofficially.  He's sure he can find out the official owners himself, and asks Robert Morris to find out the unofficial owners.  Officially, the corporate officers own a small amount themselves, and there's a list of holding companies that own the rest (a controlling interest).  Now it's Robert's turn to work on it -- he says it will take him quite some hours of solid effort, and he'll get back to them when he's done.
    Misha Ravanos asks why Tukera couldn't just sue the company.
    "Because they'd lose," says Kalida.
    Misha continues, "OK.  So the Imperium has this kind of..."
    Shark interjects, "Megacorps have their own armies, their own security forces.  Tukera has their own covert ops division, Vemene.  And destroyers, and cruisers, and system defense boats."
    "So how was the blockade broken on Ianic?"
    Kalida explains that the Duke put together the council to review it.  This is something that hasn't been done before.  But here there's no-one to intervene.  She says, "There is no Duke in this sector.  The next step up is Archduke Norris, and that's a big step."  Technically, Norris has the duties of Duke of Regina (who has authority over Jewell), but his responsibilities as Archduke of the Domain of Deneb make him unlikely to get involved in a local trade dispute unless it threatens Imperial security.
    Misha says, "So, as far as the Imperium and nobles are concerned, this blockade is a legal way to resolve this dispute."
    Kalida agrees.  "Essentially I am the local authority, I think," she says, "But I'm not sure what I can do."
    "Yeah, I guess that's my next question.  How much authority do you have?"
    Shark answers, "A lot on planet, not much anywhere else."  Kalida could interfere some, but in practice they really need someone higher up.
    "So if she could make a case that some part of the blockade, or some aspect of it, was messing with inside the system, she could tell them to move back."
    "Or humanitarian concessions," says Vonish.  "In terms of restricting trade, the next one up is the Countess of Jewell, but to interfere with a megacorporation you really need someone of the standing of a Duke.  It's a really serious matter, legally and politically."
    Misha nods.  He then says, "So it's starting to sound like Tukera Lines may well own the very company that's making money off the blockade."
    Shark says, "So there's two companies here where we really need to find out the ownership.  There is Creative Imports, that's exporting to and from Nakege, and the Bank of Mongo, which is making huge continuous loans to the whisky company."
    "Traditional Heritage Craftworks," nods Kalida, then continues, "And Creative Imports is the company taking supplies to the planet, but they're not supposed to be bringing anything out."
    Shark observes that their ships aren't being inspected, or at least not as thoroughly as any other ships.  Sir William Edgerton operates Creative Imports; Shark's investigations reveal it's a privately owned company, with Sir William owning 51%.  The remainder is owned by a couple of other local people.
    Misha wonders that if the blockade isn't actually injuring anyone, and may in fact be the source of the value of the bourbon, why not let it remain?
    Kalida replies that it's the source of only part of the value of the bourbon: "Without the blockade the price would drop, but it'd still be worth a lot because it's produced on a very small scale and long term production, and it's exceedingly high quality and production is always going to be low."  She adds that it's also her problem to solve and doesn't really have anything to do with the rest of the ship.
    Misha assures her that as long as the majority of the crew agrees, they'll continue to support her.
    Shark points it's be quite possible that they could bring Tukera Lines and the Wonstar Development Corporation together into an adversarial position.  Then they'd solve one or other of the problems and only have one left.  Then, of course, there's the group with Count Walter von Hayden's database, which has no obvious connection with the WDC or any other organization that they have found, but from which Shark's contacts did warn them to stay away.
    Robert looks up from his work and says that the database could be the WDC.  It could even be Mary's group, which given that they have the Anastasia (and presumably the navy ship carrying her) could go up all the way to the Archduke even.
    They return to the subject of the THC debt.  Vonish interjects that legally, while the blockade continues, the Bank can't foreclose on either side of it until it's settled.  Kalida says that if Tukera got fed up with the blockade, they could absorb the loss easily -- the megacorporation is huge.  The actual debt, as of 1109, was 8 GCr.

    After a total of six hours, Robert announces the results of his search.  It was incredibly difficult to follow the trail -- someone tried to make sure it was impossible, but they didn't count on someone of his caliber.  The Bank of Mongo is owned by Tukera Lines.  Every single one of the myriad little holding companies traces back to Tukera Lines.  So Tukera itself is keeping the loan to THC going, for whatever reasons they have.
    Shark points out that means that Tukera will not let Kalida pay off THC's debt, even if she came up with the money.  He adds as an aside that they can make the money easily enough by running the blockade, even if it would take some time to come up with the full amount.
    Robert says it would be quicker to earn the money by piracy -- take Tukera's blockading ships, then sell them.  Selling them back to Tukera would be poetic justice, of course.
    Mich Saginaw does of course know good places to sell Imperial naval vessels and their parts.  He himself has fitted prematurely surplus Imperial Navy turrets -- with serial numbers erased -- to Anastasia.
    Robert says that Creative Imports is indeed privately owned.  Unlike the Bank of Mongo, this is a straightforward trail with no obfuscation.  Sir William Edgerton owns 51%, with three other locals owning the rest.
    Of course, as Kalida points out, Sir William is the sort of person who could easily be himself owned by some other entity.  She adds that Tukera is big enough that this whole situation might even just be the pet project of some middle manager who likes the bourbon.
    Robert idly wonders if they could take all the information they've discovered about Wonstar and so on, feed it into the computer, and get it to write a novel in the style of Akim Gavrolovitch.  That would certainly stir things up.

    Vonish orders a full complement of supplies, even replacing some stores already on the ship.  The agricultural and fishing products here are excellent.  The fish is not as interesting as on Goose, of course, but they ran out of those quite some time ago.

    That evening, the whole crew goes to see the pirate show at the Attica Privateer.  Helia Sarina wears her new aubergine leather outfit, with a hat with an enormous feather.  Since they have nobles accompanying them, they can carry weapons as long as they're discreet.  Helia points out that she is already carrying -- or rather wearing -- a weapon in the form of her zack.
    The show is spectacular, especially from the best seats in the house.  Spaceships fly in and out, pirates fight all over -- and above -- the floor.  Helia throws one handsome pirate a handkerchief -- he catches it and ties it around his forehead as Helia blows him a kiss.  There's even a Robin Sherwood with her flaming red hair, a cutlass in one hand and laser pistol in the other.  Shark smiles and reflects on the armament with which he, Misha, and Teri Cralla are themselves equipped.  Teri handles her shotgun cane as if it were a simple cane -- she's been well coached by Shark, and is perfectly discreet.
    They follow up the show with a session at the casino.  Here it's all conventional gambling, no strange games or anything particularly weird.  Grand Admiral Baron Bridgehead loses a great deal at the gambling tables, while almost all the rest of the crew win back his losses.  They all return having had a very satisfying night's entertainment.

078-1122 : Mongo / Jewell / Spinward Marches

    Mich puts together a message with absolutely everything he knows about antimatter generators, jump engines, and suchlike.  It includes nothing of black technology, but does include the work he did on not only Anastasia but also H.M.S. Third Eye, and so even contains his work on vortex generators.  Unlike the information that he and Fostriades had sent to the Archduke a few years ago, this time there are no deliberate errors introduced into it -- this is the real thing.
    He wants it sent to someone specific, in someone's hands, with instructions that if they don't hear of him for two years they should publish it as a series of papers.  Or perhaps he should just send it to some obscure journal for publication right away?  That sounds like a very good idea, and after some thought decides that one particular journal about a year's xmail travel away is perfect.  His work shall at last be published openly.

    Helia discreetly sends a message home, in her own language of course, while Kalida also sends messages to her family.  Shark sends to his contact on Ferle in Imperial Naval Intelligence (the guy who set them up the bomb) a simple  "Ha! Ha!  You missed!"

    The SCUBA diving with the students is great fun.  Helia flirts mercilessly, and then amazes all the guys by going diving in her zack with no external air supply.  The need not to decompress on the way up really impresses them.  The Marchioness of Nakege accompanies her, but doesn't participate in the diving, just lounges around looking decorative.
    The location is a very tall reef based on some ancient volcanic feature.  Wildly diverse colorful fish and sea plant growth makes it a truly amazing experience.  The gravcraft trip from the town is also fun -- Helia tells them all how much fun their next stop Digitis is too, only with forests instead of oceans.

    Meanwhile a TNS reporter has contacted Baron Bridgehead asking to interview him about his non death.  Misha advises him to keep it simple, along the lines of that he managed to survive, and any more details will have to wait for his memoirs to be published.  Misha is at the interview in case he needs to intervene in what the Baron says, even though he has complete confidence in the GrandAm's ability to say nothing for a very long time.  It's a much longer interview than the reporter wants, even though all the Grand Admiral really says is that the ship was lost but they survived, and after a long roundabout route this is the first chance they've had to talk to anyone about it.

    The ship files with the starport to leave that evening; Vonish's supplies have all been loaded during the day.
    Soon after those plans are filed, the Marchioness of Nakege called by Sir William Edgerton, who says he's sorry she's leaving so soon and assures her that whenever she returns, he'll be at her disposal again.  She replies that she'll probably be back quite soon.  She adds that when she returns, she'd like to get together with him and the other owners of the company -- she might be interested in buying into it.  Sir William will put together a portfolio for her to be waiting when she arrives next time.

    After Mich runs a systems check, Helia takes Nightshade into orbit and out to jump for Lysen.  They'll be following the same route back to Digitis, travelling stealthily, and Mich will be monitoring the jump transitions and jump state intimately from engineering.

084-1122 : Lysen / Jewell / Spinward Marches

    Here they sneak in and pick up news by their now customary piggyback method.  There are in fact three new items -- those for 333-1121, 360-1121, and 042-1122.  The first deals with more about Akim Gavrolovitch, while the second refers simply to the Digest Touring Award.
    The third is somewhat stranger -- a powerful Tigress battle group leaving Iderati / Five Sisters.  Helia's first thought, of course, is that they might be after them from their activities on Wonstar, but Shark points out that the timing just isn't right.
    The larian adds that Imperial Navy ships operate on jump-4; if they were heading for Digitis, they could be waiting when they get there.  By now the battle group could be anywhere within 24 parsecs of Iderati, if they were travelling fast, or rather a little less to allow for refueling.  More reasonable progress would be 12 parsecs.
    Shark thinks it's much more likely they'll be headed against Norris; they know the black ship people control a part of the Imperial Navy (enough to capture Anastasia), while it was Imperial Navy ships that tried to destroy them at Ferle, and the Wonstar Development Corporation uses Imperial Navy ships to protect their sites on Wonstar.  He then adds that he's less concerned about Santanocheev going after Norris than him starting a Fifth Frontier War with an unprovoked attack on the Zhodani or Sword Worlds.  He observes that if they were headed to Digitis, a Happy Fun Ball couldn't pass freely through the Sword Worlds without a major confrontation, although they could probably do so through Darrian.
    Helia considers this; they would take probably five jumps minimum to get from Iderati to Digitis, which means they would be getting there right before the meeting.
    With help from the astrogator, Shark determines that the news of the next meeting couldn't have reached Iderati in time to send the battle group to respond to it -- in fact they left Iderati twenty days before the meeting was set up.  That means they're not coming for them, but are definitely after something else.
    As Misha and Kalida say, a battle group isn't something to send after them anyway.  Send a few Baba Yaga's out to suitable ports and wait until they turn up, or send two black ships.  A battle group makes no sense.
    Mich concludes sarcastically, "Send a Marquis out to a bar and wait for us to pick him up as one of our crew."

    After getting clear of their piggyback news host, they jump for Digitis.

    Right after jumping, Robert takes a shot of klatrin.  He's tired of talking to the apemen on the crew and ready to move to thinking properly on a full time basis.

090-1122 : Digitis / Vilis / Spinward Marches

    Nightshade arrives insystem from Lysen, already in stealth mode and with all critical crew in sparkly pink mode.  Helia has brought them well away from a conventional arrival point, just in case there's a battle fleet waiting for them.
    In fact, the system is essentially empty.  Wherever the Tigress Battle Group is going, it obviously isn't here.
    Helia says she'll be able to bring them to the yacht club early the next day, in time for the morning train.  Misha says they should move in a bit closer -- like to 10d -- and wait here and watch for as long as possible to see if anyone arrives.