(74) Moving On

The Misha Campaign (093-1122 to 098-1122)

110 / 802 local (093-1122 to 094-1122) : Digitis / Vilis / Spinward Marches

    It's after the hot tub party in the guest quarters at Cormor Home.  They've negotiated and agreed to a contract with the Arden Society, the leaders of the Federation of Arden.  There's a brief discussion as to whether they could be considered to be working for Arden, but as Helia Sarina points out it's more like a mutual non-aggression pact.
    The burning question now is what to do next.  Mich Saginaw had talked about going back to where they got Nightshade, and had also suggested going to Mora to talk to Marquis Marcus Crestworthy.  Those idle suggestions were as much as they considered the matter then.
    Kalida Siena, Marchioness of Nakege, says they can't really pull Marquis Marc into this without telling him ahead of time, and they can't really tell him ahead of time.
    Misha Ravanos says they've figured out at least one of the groups out to get them, but there has to be at least one other group out there.  It's possible that when the Imperial Navy -- or at least one element of it -- attacked them, it was just because they'd been to Zett.  Of course they were also fired on at Wonstar and Mora, but a generous interpretation would say that was because of what they were doing at the time, not who they are.
    Misha then talks with Robert about the database.  He reviews what they'd learnt from it -- about INISO and where they'd found the original caches and left their own.
    Meanwhile, Kalida asks if they want to take Anastasia back.  Mich replies that there's nothing special for them there aside from sentimental value.  Kalida suggests they put it at Marquis Marc's disposal, but of course the ship is too notorious to be useful around here.

    Misha seeks out Eric and asks him to come talk to them.  The Arden Society Member is there very quickly.  Misha starts out saying, "We are aware that the Imperium, or parts of the Imperium, are searching for black technology.  I assume you are aware of this.  This organization has found caches of black technology in various places around Foreven and the Spinward Marches.  Does the Arden Society keep caches of black technology?"
    "No, the caches aren't for us.  They're for... well... us if the need should arise, but they're really for anyone who ends up in a fighting retreat back through here, or who needs to make a stand here, or fight against anything the enemy left here.  This was the first place we caught up with them, and actually fought with them here.  That could have been coincidence, or it might have been that they had something here.  So we set up here, in case.  We are limited in how much we are permitted to use."
    "Right.  Do you have a problem with the Imperium -- or anyone else for that matter -- finding these caches?"
    "Yes.  They shouldn't be finding them, but they have been there for a long time.  It's bad that they are looking for them."
    "But if they're for anybody, would that mean somebody knows where they are?"
    "Not necessarily.  The ones who went on know how to find them, what to look for."
    "So it's not that they're for anybody, but it's for them if they should return?"
    "Yes.  We're just here to keep an eye on it."
    "Was the Arden Society responsible for the destruction of Karma, in the Brod system?"
    "Yes.  We were systematically eliminating those who knew anything.  We assassinated Fostriades as well."
    "You assassinated Fostriades?"
    "Really?"  Misha laughs.  "You did try it with us, but it didn't work."
    "Catching up with you was difficult.  We tried a number of things at various times."
    "What did Fostriades know?"
    "He worked on the antimatter generators on Anastasia, and those were incorporating aspects of a path that would lead to our technology."
    "So you hit Karma -- you must have known something was going on before you talked to us."
    "Yes.  We had an eye on what was going on there.  For a long time they were working on dead ends, and we obviously didn't worry about that at all."
    "How did you know it was a dead end?"
    "Because we know what works and what doesn't.  For example, if they were trying to research electric motors, you would know what the research paths were.  We did mislead him too -- after he built Anastasia we sent his research off in a different direction.  We weren't always sure what he was doing -- he tended to keep himself to himself -- but anything that was important he built into prototypes.  And we didn't have coverage there all the time."
    Misha changes the subject and asks if there are any other color schemes for the black ships.
    Eric replies that no, there are just the two -- one with the insignia, and the completely black low signature one.

    Helia asks about the possibility of disguising Anastasia as some other ship, so they could use it openly in the Imperium.
    Mich points out that Anastasia, or Kinunir as she was originally known, is notoriously well known, particularly in the Spinward Marches.
    Misha says they only way they're going to get another ship for that is either to sell Anastasia and buy another one, or steal a ship.
    Helia asks what would be more dangerous, taking Anastasia into the interior of the Imperium or taking Nightshade.  She adds, "Of course the advantage of this one is we can get away a lot easier."
    Mich believes that the Emperor knew about Anastasia.  A personal friend of the Emperor knew what Anastasia was, and since it vanished that probably went up the chain of command too, especially as Archduke Norris was the guy who arranged for it to be taken off Pimane when it blew up.  So by being more infamous, Anastasia is the more dangerous.
    Misha asks how much it would cost to disguise Anastasia as something else.
    Mich says that couldn't really be done.  The Kinunir class was built to hide the special Anastasia among them, and not many were ever built.  They have a distinct exterior look that really couldn't be disguised.  They couldn't even really disguise Anastasia as one of the others, since there are so few in the class that it's too easy to keep track of where they really are.
    Misha asks if they could sell Anastasia.
    Mich says that since it's been stolen from the Archduke, they could only really sell it as a prematurely surplus navy ship, and there are limited places to do that.  One of those places is quite nearby -- Attica -- and it would probably end up either parted out into pirate ship components or sold intact as a pirate ship.
    Misha asks if there's a jump capable ship capable of being carried on board Nightshade.
    Mich says that while theoretically there's just exactly room for one in the attic, there are no cargo doors or anything to launch or recover it, and it would have to fit exactly anyway.  There are jump nets, used for bulk transport of ore, that could be used to "tow" another ship through jump, but they're difficult to use.  In practice, the only real way to have a ship come with you is to have it jump itself.  The other ship would have to refuel, too, so it would force you to interact with the system and refuel.  It also wouldn't have stealth mode.
    Misha points out that Marquis Marc's new ship should be ready in a few months, and if they absolutely have to use a ship other than Nightshade, they could use that.  He then wonders what the odds are that the Archduke knows about INISO.
    Robert's opinion is that he would not.  Everybody is on a need to know basis, and the way he's responded to Mich and the Anastasia crew in the past indicates he's not part of INISO.  If you're not part of it, you don't know about it, no matter how high up you are.  Of course, they did link into the planetary defenses of Mora very quickly.  Now Norris does have a background in Naval Intelligence and would have contacts in that organization, but INISO doesn't have contacts as such.
    Misha asks Shark how common these kinds of subagencies are.
    Shark says there aren't any independent agencies -- except apparently INISO -- but everything would be sub-departments.  There are no autonomous organizations.  There are some departments where their existence is known, but nobody knows what it does, but INISO is a very different organization.  The distinct implication from the database is that they don't really report to anyone -- their motto is, "We outrank you."  He adds that he was warned by his contacts when the crew started looking into the script.
    Misha asks if anyone wants to guess how the Archduke would react to the existence of this organization.  No-one answers.  He then asks what the odds are that INISO knows about the Arden Society.
    Shark replies that if they did, they would have done something about it.
    Misha then asks what the odds are that someone at a senior level of the Imperium knows about the Arden Society.
    Shark shrugs.
    Misha again brings up the subject of where to go next.  Without ruling out a return to Zett, or visiting Marquis Marc on Mora, he asks what they would think about getting the location of some other caches from the Arden Society, then going to the caches and seeing if there's anything they can learn from them that the Society hasn't figured out on their own yet.  He gets general agreement.

    So once again Misha calls Eric over.  Misha suggests the idea to him, asking if they'd be willing to give out the location of some of the existing caches.
    Eric simply says, "We don't know where they are."
    "OK," says Misha.  "You have some of the technology..."
    "We have everything we need."
    "What I'm trying to get to is whether you have examples of technology that Mich, for example, might be able to learn something from, something you don't already know."
    Eric looks puzzled.  He says, "It's unlikely.  We've continued research.  To a certain extent the ship is already at the physical limits.  We've only made minor improvements over time."
    "Does the Arden Society have an interest in finding out more about those who went on, or the enemy?"
    "Yes!  Anything you can find out about the enemy we'd be really interested in!  We'd like to know what happened to the ones who went on, but it's not our job."
    "Do you have anything, databases or technology, that might yield information of that sort that we could chase down or look at?"
    "No.  We would have chased down or looked at it.  We do wonder from time to time if the enemy has an equivalent to us here, but we've seen no evidence of that."
    "Is the enemy's technology significantly different from the black technology?"
    "We don't know.  They have no need to refuel either, but we think they have a different power source.  Their weapons are different, but we all have equivalences.  There are only so many ways you can tear something apart."
    "If we were to stumble across some bit of technology, would it be obvious what's other than black technology?  To Mich, that is."
    "He should have a fairly good idea.  I haven't actually seen any myself, you understand."
    "Does the Arden Society know of examples of enemy technology?"
    "No.  None of us are old enough to have seen it in action."
    "Right.  I just wondered if you'd found a cache, or knew of a cache, or had inherited examples or descriptions of it."
    "There were no real descriptions other than the battles we'd had.  There was no up close and personal contact."
    "Do you have more detailed accounts of the history of the enemy and the ones who went on?"
    "Not a lot that you need to know.  Not a lot that you would benefit from knowing.  We have no history other than ourselves after we split out."
    "OK.  How is Lap'da related to the Arden Society?"
    "He's one of the ones who went off to live off nuts and berries in the woods.  They got fed up..."
    Helia pipes up, "Physically he's one of them?  That was a very long time ago.  Physically?  Same body?"
    "He's not that old, I'm sure."
    "He went off to live of nuts and berries."
    "Many many many generations ago as humans reckon time.  Was he physically or was his spirit?  Did he physically run off into the woods and become one with the forest like he is now?"
    "His ancestors did."
    "OK!  Do you know how long he has physically been on this planet?"
    "Since he was born, I imagine.  He's not supposed to leave.  I don't know how old he is."
    "So he's descended from the people who ran off to eat nuts and berries."
    "Right.  One of the parties of the treaty."
    "When was the treaty signed?"
    "A very long time ago."
    "Lap'da was one of those people."
    "Lap'da's descended from one side of that, as we're descended from one side of that."
    Helia seems satisfied.  She concludes, "He's a member of the treaty but not one of the signers of the treaty.  OK."
    "I thought this had all been explained to you," says Eric.
    Kalida says, "In Lap'da's own unique way."
    Helia says, "Lap'da just makes it sound like he's very very very old by human reckoning, but not one of the original people that ran off into the woods.  But how very old I've been trying to figure out.  By standard years a hundred, three thousand, I don't know."
    "Have you tried asking him?" suggests Eric.
    "Yeah," says Helia.  He did say how old he was, but it didn't make any sense to her.  She still wants a second opinion.
    "That's another reason we're still here, to keep an eye out and make sure nobody trashes the place."
    "It's a place I wouldn't mind retiring to and becoming one with."
    "Yeah, if you want to give up all your responsibilities and duties, sure."
    "Well, I figure if I retire I can get me a big jug of fish oil, come live in the forest, and Lap'da or his children would be perfectly happy to have me."
    "Probably.  I don't know.  You'd have to ask them."
    Kalida smiles, "As long as you don't trash the place."
    Helia says, "I'll just drink enough fish oil until I can speak the language, and fly amongst the trees.  Maybe I can be one of those people who greets visitors like yourself.  I wonder what would happen if there were a jann/larian child, whether she would have wings or not..."
    Misha interrupts, "OK, now we've gone way off the edge here."  He turns to Eric and says, "How much do you know about what happened before the creation of the Arden Society?"
    "How much of that are you willing to tell us?"
    "Not a lot.  There's no reason why that knowledge needs to be spread around.  Some things are better if fewer people know it, such as -- I'm sure you'll understand -- the world we came from.  You don't need to know where it was.  If you know that, maybe somebody is going to go trash it again."
    "Maybe somebody trashes it anyway."
    "It got trashed once.  That's how this whole thing started."
    "OK, now there's an interesting thing!  How did this get started?"
    "The enemy trashed our homeworld and took off."
    "You chased after them."
    Kalida asks, "They just trashed it just for the hell of it?  They were just out one day and said, 'Let's trash this planet'?"
    "As I said, they're the masters of the unprovoked attack.  Yes."
    "There must be a reason.  I mean..."
    "If there is, we'd like to know what it is.  They didn't blow it up, they just laid waste to it.  We took off after them.  We got here, there was a war going on.  They got caught up in it -- actually managed to blow up somebody's world this time -- somebody who was already here.  We don't know if they deliberately stopped here to do that, or just got caught in some crossfire, but we did manage to catch up and fight them some here.  Then they got away, and we resumed the chase.  But it was an important enough occurrence that some of us stayed here to make sure there was nothing important about this area."
    Misha asks, "Have you made any progress?"
    "We haven't found anything important here.  We did sign a treaty with the locals that Digitis was to remain safe within their war."
    "So why are the janns here?  Can you tell me more about your history?"
    "They got fed up with all the fighting.  They wanted to settle somewhere.  The local war here was over relatively quickly -- it's been over for a long time now.  One side eliminated the other.  Humans started drifted in and settling down here.  That's when we founded the Arden Society and set up our own neutral area."
    "To have a political presence, a physical presence, to have something here.  To have the resources for an organization to keep track of what's going on."
    Kalida asks, "Did anybody go back to your original home?"
    "None of us, no.  We think it was... resettled, but not by us, not directly."
    Misha says, "Does the Society have any interest in following up on or trying to see where those who went on went?"
    "We'd like to find out eventually, I guess, when somebody comes back.  If we went after them and got intercepted, that would be a sign that we were still here, and that might lead someone back.  That's our main concern -- that somewhere out there the enemy will pick up on some sign that we are still here.  Or that people are here using our technology."
    "Let me put it this way.  We're interested in doing some investigation, so if the Society had leads that they wanted us to follow, felt that we might be qualified to follow some leads they had, we'd be interested in hearing about it."
    "We will bear that in mind.  We are limited by treaty in what resources we can use.  You aren't.  That could be useful.  I think this was an eventuality completely unforeseen by the original treaty: first of all, that humans would be populating this area, and secondly that they might find some of our stuff and use it.  Now we would like to know who is looking into our technology, and who knows anything about it - who's found the caches, what they've found, and what they've done with it.  If you ever found out what the guidelines were for predicting cache locations, you could re-hide the stuff appropriately if you got hold of it.  We don't know what the guidelines are, and we aren't supposed to know."
    Kalida says, "We're not you."
    Misha says, "So we'd have to guess what the guidelines are."
    "Or find out if somebody came back and knows it.  They might not have told us, because that's not our job."
    "If somebody came back they wouldn't tell you?"
    "Quite possibly not."
    "It's information we don't need to know.  If they had reasons for coming back like stocking up on supplies, or coming back to look for some extra evidence that became relevant later...  Also they might be afraid that we'd evolved into something that would be more harmful than useful to them.  There are all sorts of reasons they might not tell us."
    "OK.  If you learned of the location of a cache, would you be allowed to move it if necessary to protect it?"
    "Then we'd still know where it was."
    Kalida says, "But you'd be able to tell us, then we could move it and not tell you where it was."
    "That would be much better."
    Misha says, "So is it against the rules for you to know where these caches are?"
    "Yes.  If we find one by accident we conveniently forget it."
    "I was in fact wondering why you hadn't pressed us harder on what we might know about caches."
    "Right.  We don't want to know.  And as your doctor probably knows, there's equipment on the ship that can erase memories, so...  There are other means of erasing memories too, of course."
    Misha laughs, "There's one we used to use on my homeworld all the time!"
    Eric smiles and continues, "Now we do think that it is likely that the enemy is not here.  Or that what is left doesn't have enough interest or resources.  If enough people have been looking into the black ships, and the enemy haven't found out about it, then it might be that they're not here.  Or maybe for some reason a low level of activity doesn't matter to them."
    Kalida says, "Or that they destroyed themselves eons ago."
    "Yes.  That likelihood is why we finally agreed that you could operate.  And as I believe you said, if they are around, you can flush them out."
    Misha notices that it is getting late.  He says goodnight to Eric, and the meeting breaks up.

    Misha then talks briefly to the crew.  The database contained the location of some caches -- INISO had found caches at Zett, Zaibon / Lunion, Shionthy / Regina, and Regina / Regina.  He suggests picking one of those, and going there.  The locations have generally been in asteroid belts.
    Anastasia has already visited Zaibon.  For one thing, it's where the Baron picked up his girlfriend -- and the original captain of Anastasia, too.  Helia checks out the astrographic data on the system -- she thinks it sounds a fun approach to the starport.  She adds that in 1107 it was the scene of the Porky's Raid, which helped avert a possible Fifth Frontier War with the Sword Worlds.  Kalida points out that it's also right next to Adabicci.
    On the other hand, Shionthy has the lure of being a Red Zone -- Helia is always fascinated by those.  Finding out that the reason for interdiction is that it's dangerous, with an especially hazardous asteroid belt, just encourages her.
    Zett they know, of course.
    Regina doesn't seem to have much going for it, except for being the subsector capital; it's also where Norris was Duke, before he became Archduke of Deneb.  Nevertheless, Helia suggests they go there first because it's the subsector capital and could be interesting, and then go to the place with the really dangerous asteroid belt.
    Helia starts gushing enthusiastically.  She says the only bad thing about going to Regina is that if they run into bad guys there, they are going to guess that they're headed for Shionthy next.  Two things work in their favor, though.  First, they can get there much more quickly, and have time to look around and be gone before they catch up.  Second, they probably don't have a pilot capable of handling the dangerous asteroid belt.
    Kalida points out that if they did run into bad guys, they could always just wander around for a while and come back later.
    Misha tells Helia to pick it.  She picks Regina.

111 / 802 local (094-1122 to 095-1122) : Digitis / Vilis / Spinward Marches

    In the morning, everyone sets off to return to First City.
    On the way, Erik assures them that he will give them all the contact information and protocols, names and types of all the ships they have wandering around (Baba Yaga is one of them, of course), and so on.  Their operatives will not be informed that Nightshade is working with them unless it becomes necessary.

112 / 802 local (095-1122 to 096-1122) : Digitis / Vilis / Spinward Marches

    All arrive back at the black ships anchored off the First City yacht club without incident.  Once there, work immediately begins on the upgrades to Nightshade.
    Jane transfers on board.  She will be upgrading all the non-offensive systems: stealth mode, sensors, shields, and the laser.  As Jane puts it, the laser is a defensive and sensor system, not an offensive system.
    Mich and Helia work closely with Jane for the whole operation.  Jane uses only equipment already on Nightshade, from the ship's three extensive workshops.  Mich discovers a great deal about the workshop equipment, a lot of which was completely incomprehensible.  Also the two crew members see a lot more of the ship -- crawling through access hatches and tight spaces in the lower decks of the ship.  It's some of the same areas, in fact, that they used to get into the other small black ship at Zett.
    Robert oversees the computer upgrades.  In the process he picks up a good bit about the computer systems.  Also, he makes sure that everything Jane does at any time -- even when just apparently relaxing in the lounge -- is recorded.  They'll be able to go back and study the whole process second by second if they want -- if they have the patience.
    Mich has learned a lot about the technology, but his most significant gains are in the use of the workshops.  He can now start to perform actual work on the ship if he wants, including how to power new equipment from the power plant.  Helia also picks up a very good introduction to black technology.  The difficulties arise because Jane explains the changes thoroughly, but assumes they already know how it worked before.  Callisto, on the other hand, pesters Jane with incessant questions during the sensor upgrades, and really picks up a good basic understanding of how sensors work on this ship.
    Robert also supervised the transfer of the contact information.  In addition to details on operatives and contact codes, there's also blind contact protocols.  To Shark's amusement, they're very much the same as used by Imperial Intelligence, although obviously with different codes -- the old ploy of leaving a card on the Travellers Aid Society bulletin board is alive and well.
    Kalida runs simulations with the new gunnery systems.  The shields are tougher, and can take more hits before folding.  The laser is more responsive, and can engage and switch targets faster.  As Jane points out, she can now knock more missiles out of the cloud.  Kalida practices this extensively.  Jane also says that the laser is more effective and tracks better when used to designate a stealth mode target.
    The sensors have enhanced sensitivity, and can also be operated from points more remote from the ship.  Spacial anomaly detection is much better, yielding a very significant increase in the ability to detect stealth mode.  Nightshade's stealth mode is better -- except against spacial anomaly sensors, which by the nature of physics will pick it up -- and is better at relaying higher intensities.  The ship won't stand out so much against bright objects, and is trickier to designate with laser rasters.
    There's also some routine enhancements to the efficiency of the ventilation and other comfort and convenience features, including adaptive prediction in the freshers.

114 / 802 local (098-1122) : Digitis / Vilis / Spinward Marches

    The work is complete.  All say their good-byes, and Nightshade lifts off into orbit, bound for Regina.