(19) It Wasn't Me!

The Mora Campaign (339-1119 to 340-1119)

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339-1119 : Mora / Mora / Spinward Marches

    Mich Saginaw wants to send a message to Fostriades, but finding his location will be difficult.  He's trying to recover as much information about the Anastasia's engines as he can.  Fostriades is one source, the Professor would be another, and so would be the papers that Mich and Fostriades published.  He's reconstructing as much as he can, and he wants anything that can help; here on Mora, he should have access also to the latest research papers.
    Now the last they heard of Fostriades was via the TNS news item on 198, when he was appointed to the title of Count.  He was then reported to be taking a vacation after picking up the Hermes on Spirelle before joining the ambassadorial staff in Darrian.  Presumably he would therefore eventually end up on Mire, but when is anyone's guess.  A reasonable estimate is that he would have reached Spirelle about ten days ago, and would certainly have left by the time any message could get there.
    Vonish notes that Fostriades left the Anastasia on Vilis, which is where the ship that probably tried to kidnap Mich is supposedly from.  He mentions that to Mich, and if there could be a connection.
    "Probably not," replies Mich, "Because he just got off there, and would be on Spirelle by now."
    "Perhaps he talked to somebody before he left," Vonish suggests.
    "Fostriades wouldn't do that."
    "What if he were given no choice."
    "It seems odd to be questioning somebody about something they have no knowledge of existing to begin with.  Now if they got off, and then said 'We'll lay low here to kidnap Mich at some point,' then I could see it, but that's pretty far-fetched.  They'd have had to be shadowing the Anastasia all the time, just waiting for a chance."
    "I'm not much on the technical side of that sort of thing.  Perhaps they've got a means of tracking you?"  He pauses.   "But aside from that, it seems like an awfully big coincidence.  Even if they didn't talk, it doesn't mean somebody didn't get curious about the ship while it was at Vilis before it left."
    "It has a slightly unusual energy signal, but not enough to raise any suspicion.  No-one came aboard, either.  Besides, Fostriades, was raised up to the level of Count, and that would have happened after they'd left."
    "Why was he made a count?"
    "Because we... um... we helped the Archduke on various things on the mission of the Anastasia.  Even the Grand Am was raised to be Baron.  By giving people the information that we had...  So if they gave that information to a representative of the Archduke at Vilis, they might have had enough information, but why would the government of Vilis start looking out, unless the Archduke's representative on Vilis couldn't be trusted."
    "Espionage?  Perhaps they gained a hold of a piece of information that wasn't meant for them?"  Vonish ponders for a moment.  "It was the Vilis ship that had unusual computer security, and fought back.  Compared to all the other ships, including our own, that was suspicious in and of itself."

    Vonish goes off to point this possible connection out to the Captain, since it hasn't arisen before.  He then gets to work on collecting recipes and so on -- he's determined that his cooking will excel on the next trip.

    Mich tries to find any other clue about Fostriades' location.  The only TNS entry indicates that information had to get back to Mora about him before the nobility was announced.  Fostriades left the Anastasia on 123.  65 days is plenty for a message to have reached Mora from Vilis -- especially if there was a courier waiting there...  There is, of course, no reason for the government of Vilis to have been involved.
    The next stage is to search the gossip columns.  There is just one item, a small column dated 218-1119 which mentions that the Countess is not only from outside the Imperium, but from the next sector over.  The author wonders what Fostriades might have been doing to pick up such a trollop out there, and what sort of bars he would have been frequenting to do so.  It mentions nothing about where they are, and could therefore just be someone sitting down with computer archives on a slow news day and making something up.  There are no pictures associated with the story.

    Mich sits back from his console and tells Vonish about the door opener lasers on the Anastasia; not only did he modify them to read retinal patterns, but they had weapon grade power.  You'd go up to a door, it would notice you weren't authorized, and ZZZAAAPPP!!!  That was part of the original security system -- they had a couple of laser battles when they originally took over the ship.

    Mich then searches for the papers that he and Fostriades published, but is surprised to learn that none of them seem to be available.  He'll just have to settle for the mainstream research papers.  He mentions to Vonish that the Professor has the information, of course, but it would take five or six months to get a message there and back, given it's outside the Imperium.
    Next he thinks about what's needed to bring the H.M.S. Third Eye back to shape.  There is of course the damage to the rear door, and the lack of an air/raft, and the damaged gcarrier.  The best thing to do about the vehicles -- assuming the budget will stand it, of course -- is replace them all.  Here at Mora, new high-tech vehicles are available for immediate delivery.

    The Marquis Marcus Crestworthy calls up the Archduke's office, and sets up a meeting with the Archduke himself, tomorrow.  He's quite surprised at achieving this, but very pleased at his good fortune.
    The tailor issues have also been all handled, the clothes being delivered to the ship.

    Vonish goes out shopping, and returns with a vast selection of spices, ingredients, and galley supplies, charging it all to the Marquis' account.  The Third Eye is now be stocked to the cook's satisfaction.
    That evening, Vonish shows what he can do with a properly stocked galley.  The dinner is brilliant, an amazingly good spread.  Grand Admiral Baron Bridgehead appreciates it particularly, as he has experience of fine Core cuisine during his career, and he assures Vonish that this meal is as good as any he has ever had.

    Sagan the hiver goes out on the town, looking for research subjects.  Hir Imperial History interest can wait until later, as sie has decided to talk informally with Mich and Ed "Shark" Teeth about the fate of the Anastasia.  For now, human reproductive mystiques is hir priority.  After starting at the library, looking at various books, Harlequin romances, and porn films, someone there suggests singles bars.
    So sie hits the singles bars -- and is promptly, and to his great surprise, hit on.  A really drunk guy makes a blatant pass at Sagan, who plays along with him.  He suggests the hiver should come back to his hotel room, where they can try some explorations.  Sagan plays a little coy at first, and then "OK!"
    It looks like it's going to be an interesting night for the notes.  These humans are stranger than sie thought.  Much stranger...  This guy was pretty drunk, and looking for something different; and he certainly found it.  This was a new experience for both of them, and for both of them something to boast about in appropriate locations.

340-1119 : Mora / Mora / Spinward Marches

    Sagan arrives back at the Third Eye.  Sie has a strange manner about hir, perhaps best described as bemused.  Sie immediately retires to hir stateroom, no doubt to pore over hir notes.

    The time comes for the meeting with the Archduke.  The Marquis, the Baron, Mich, and Misha Ravanos set off for the palace.
    Vonish notices that Shark leaves shortly after the Archduke's group, and promptly ignores the fact.

    The group arrive at the palace.  They are shown in, by a different door from the last meeting.  The areas they pass through are much more ornate.  They're shown into a room with easy chairs, and a fire (or very good imitation of one) burning in a fireplace.  They are all brought drinks -- Mich's beer is brought in a decanter, along with a tall-stemmed glass, but it is good beer.
    They wait for some time.  More drinks are brought around.

    After about 20 minutes, Archduke Norris walks in, carrying a glass of wine.  "What can I do for you?" he asks.
    The Grand Admiral explains that they've heard reports of the Anastasia being destroyed by an antimatter bomb (which Norris confirms).
    Mich tells the Archduke that the ship itself couldn't contain enough to cause it.
    Norris says it was definitely a bomb, of the same type as the one that destroyed the city of Hope's End, presumably to destroy evidence.
    Mich goes on to explain that on Resten a group tried to take him with them, and said they were from the Archduke.  The Archduke denies they were with him, to which Mich answers that they think they were from Vilis.  Mich tells him that the Vilis Secret Service ship was the most likely culprit.
    Norris says, "I can't see why Vilis would know anything about you, or why would they be interested?"
    "Fostriades did leave the Anastasia at Vilis," Mich adds.
    "Why would he talk to them?  They're not very friendly."
    "The link is tenuous at best," Mich admits.
    "Now Vilis Secret Service ships, I could see them being around.  They're having a lot of problems on Garda-Vilis with the Tanoose Freedom League, who's trying to establish independence there.  They're actively interested in sorting out arms suppliers and so on, and there's no reason why they couldn't be travelling around the Imperium.  Why they'd be interested in you I have absolutely no idea."
    "The other two ships were the Marigold, and one other..."
    "Marigold?  Who figured that one was a suspect?"
    "Robert Morris was our computer operator, and he did various searches on registries of ships that were in that area of the spaceport.  Of the dozen or so ships he eliminated some based on why they were docked -- like waiting on spare parts.  Of that we narrowed it down to three, of which one was the Baba Yaga, which was the Vilis Secret Service ship, and the Marigold, ..."
    "You can definitely eliminate the Marigold.  It was not responsible.  I would agree with you that the Vilis ship sounds most likely, but..."
    "It was extremely odd that multiple people were invoking your name, with badge number 761..."
    "I can definitely state that there was no connection with my people at all in this matter."
    '...and since they insisted that it was in your name that I should come with them, I thought we'd better check.  It was highly unusual, the way in which they were trying, but through the Marquis' name we were able to convince them to let us pass, and make our way to you directly."
    "No, I had nothing to do with that.  I had no reason to -- don't take this the wrong way -- I had no reason to be asking for you.  Why would anyone else?  What is it you have?"
    "It would have to be the knowledge of jump drive technology.  The jump drive we were using on the Anastasia was very unusual for this time.  We were starting to see average jumps around five or six days instead of the usual seven."
    "Could you build another drive like the Anastasia?"
    "A lot of the records were on the Anastasia.  I'm trying to recreate now... with some work we could probably do that.  The last misjump on the Anastasia lead to the jump bubble impinging on the hull -- basically we were moving so fast in jumpspace we were pushing the jump bubble onto the ship, but we were seeing a significant reduction in travel time.  There were some other applications of the matter to antimatter phase conversion, and..."
    "OK.  Could you build one of those?"
    "Um.  Yeah."
    "But why would anyone be looking for you?  This sounds like long-term projects."
    "I don't know.  My initial thought was that the Anastasia had been recovered instead of destroyed, and you had a cover story because of the technology involved."
    "Well.  We recovered the Anastasia, and put it on a special freighter -- the Paul McGann carried a full complement of fighters as well, and it was supposed to be coming directly back here.  It's interesting that we put the Anastasia in our ship, and as soon as it left orbit -- boom.  Have you any idea how it might be faked? Could the destruction of the ship have been faked?  It looked to our sensors -- which were admittedly in far orbit -- that it was all blown up by an antimatter bomb.  Is there a technology that could have faked that explosion while jumping the freighter out from orbit?  This all seems very unlikely, but...?"
    "If the jump drives of the Anastasia itself were activated, and it jumped from inside the freighter...?  I'm clutching at straws..."
    "So are we."
    "I didn't personally have time to evaluate the damage to the  Anastasia's jump drives.  We lost various power systems and crashed onto the planet.  There were alternate power systems that could have been enabled had we had reasonable means to do it.  There were several people that were missing that were unaccounted for -- no bodies were discovered."
    "Could any of them made the jump with the ship?  Was the ship in a condition to jump, and is there anybody who could have made that jump from orbit, inside a freighter?"
    "According to the information from scans and from our acting Chief Engineer, there is absolutely no way that ship could have jumped.  An attempt to do the jump would have been suicidal."
    "Could a jump drive failure on that ship have looked like an antimatter bomb?"
    "There wouldn't have been enough antimatter to have caused an explosion.  While we generate antimatter, we don't keep it around long enough to cause that.  We react it immediately -- it's much safer that way."
    "I could see maybe if someone had the ship and wanted you to unlock its secrets..."
    "That's what I thought initially when they said they were from you."
    "Had we needed you, we would have used more direct means and probably have followed the chain of nobility through the Marquis or the Baron.  Quite honestly, I have no reason to be talking to you.  If anyone says that they're from me, and I'm calling you, they're lying because -- don't take this personally, but you're not important... enough.  Now it sounds like you're becoming important enough to somebody.  Have you come across anybody who's capable of producing an anti-matter bomb?"
    "The initial research in this direction was done by Professor Farol, originally from Darrian, and last time we came across him he was in the Brod system, where roughly 20 or 30 years ago he designed the Anastasia, and I did some extensive modifications."
    "Yes, I got that much from your dispatches."
    "In the records of the literature there isn't anything like this."
    "We intercepted your papers.  Should you need access to them, you would need to... we have some facilities where you could be granted access, but if you're not a staff member, you would not.  There would be no record of those papers."
    "I would like to continue my research into the jump drive advances.  I feel it would greatly benefit the Imperium."
    "Sure, let us know how you're doing, but we have some good people working on your results."
    "Is there any way I could assist them?"
    "I don't think so, no.  Of course, if you come up with anything, send it encrypted."
    "Fostriades and I would be the only people who could keep the Anastasia in running condition."
    "Yes.  He was more into the gravitics side, right?  We determined that of the two of you, you would be more able to advance the research, really.  Well as you know, he's joining the Ambassador's office in Darrian, basically in a foreign policy type role.  His girlfriend -- who I hope he married and doesn't make me a liar -- is a very useful research for the diplomatic matters of that end of Foreven.  I think he'll be very useful where he is.  I gather he has the Emperor's ear as well, which doesn't hurt."

    Archduke Norris clearly intends the conversation to be over.  He adds, "I have a public lunch coming up.  If you would like to join me, you are welcome to sit at my table."
    They all know better than to refuse... so they go on to lunch.
    They are, of course, seated in a position where they don't have access to the Archduke.  The lunch is good -- but not as good as Vonish's cooking.  Mich is pretty much ignored, except by Misha.
    The group then returns to the Third Eye.

    Mich continues with his simulations.  He has his messages out to Fostriades and Professor Farol, but of course it will take a long time for a response to come back.  He has access to the latest research papers -- except his own.  He has noticed that it's become statistically significant that they have been making minimum jumps -- every time.  Whatever Helia Sarina is doing, it alone constitutes a significant reduction in travel time.  She has a grasp of jump space mathematics that leaves Mich floundering.
    Mich mentions to Robert that the Archduke has the set of papers he wants, but won't let him have it.  Robert seems interested in finding it, in the process breaking into one of the most secure computer systems in the Imperium -- the Imperial Navy Research Facility.  He knows he can't stay there long without being detected -- and the consequences of being detected would be dire.  He has to curb his appetite -- so he grabs Mich's papers (and Fostriades', and Farol's), and details of the next generation of Imperial Navy communications and cryptography.  (Oddly enough (not that Robert would notice) there's no mention of the IFSS or their research facilities.)  Robert backs out, safely and apparently undetected.  All that messing with hiver computers has paid off.
    Robert is astonished, of course, because Mich has been acting crazy, talking about antimatter all the time, and papers that nobody knew existed, and here they are -- on a military top secret system.  Who IS this guy?

    The meeting with the Archduke was the first time, of course, that Misha and Marquis Marc had heard about the antimatter bomb -- the first indication that the TNS news stories were false.  They also let that slip in front of Sagan, no doubt fueling his curiosity...