(25) I Don't Think We're In The Imperium Any More

The Mora Campaign (097-1120 to 098-1120)

097-1120 : Digitis / Vilis / Spinward Marches

    The H.M.S. Third Eye comes out of jump in the Digitis system, outside the Imperium.  The transponder is broadcasting normally, and they don't expect anything unusual.
    Broadcast radio informs them to proceed to the mainworld, and pick up further instructions there.  That is the sole populated world in this system.  Helia Sarina sets the ship on a course for it.  According to the astrographic information, there should be water on the planet; they can just refuel from the ocean there, and if they do have to buy, it shouldn't be too expensive.
    The Marquis Marcus Crestworthy reminds the crew who their contact will be here -- according to his rumor from Cappy Starfugger, they're looking for someone called Erwin Hedaker, who should be in the directory at First City.
    There is one ship at large in the system.  It's transponder identifies it as the Imperial Far Trader Mudpuppy, apparently heading out of the system to jump.  It's too far out to make sense trying to exchange news with it.

    At the Marquis' direction, Helia takes the Third Eye into orbit around the mainworld.  It's four and a half hours since they entered the system.  They run the sensors to get a basic scan of the world's terrain.  They note that there are five major population or industrial centers in the southern hemisphere, and one in the equatorial land bridge.  There are none in the northern hemisphere.  Three of them are on the coast, two inland.  Tech level should be 5, according to the information they have, and the government is by civil service bureaucracy.
    The directions here tell them to follow the landing beacon to the starport.  Helia drops the ship into the atmosphere, and glides down towards the designated landing area.  It will be late afternoon local time when they arrive.  The Marquis takes the eye graphic off the ship, and switches to shiny metal color for the exterior.
    As they approach the landing site, they pause at around 10 km altitude to survey the area.  It seems to be a fairly large city on the coast, built in a natural harbor.  There's evidence of local air pollution.  The automated instructions direct them to land in the harbor.
    When they get closer, they are hailed by the port.
    "Hello, spaceship!  Who are you?"
    The Marquis answers, "The H.M.S. Third Eye, from Mora."
    "You'll be assigned a docking berth.  If you come in and moor up by the customs pier, we'll deal with immigration."
    "OK."  Marc waits.  "Are you going to tell us where the customs pier is?"
    "It's the one signified by the customs flag."
    "Ah, most clarified."
    The port official is clearly fed up with them.  "The customs building is a big red and white building.  A pier is something that sticks out into the sea.  Land in the sea by the big red and white building beside the thing that sticks out into the sea.  Tie up with rope."
    Marquis Marc turns to Helia, "Bring it down, and maintain us a meter off the pier."

    Helia brings the Third Eye into a courteous approach, and settles down into the water -- not floating as such, but maintained rock solid on the plates and thrusters.
    Someone walks out along the pier towards them.  The figure is carrying a clipboard.
    Marc and Misha Ravanos (leaving his sword behind) emerge from the top hatch and walk out along the wing towards the pier.
    The man addresses them, reading from notes on his board.  "All right, where are you from?"
    "Mora," Marc answers slowly.
    "Where did you just come from?"
    "OK.  Why did you come here?"
    "Scientific investigation."
    "Um.  What cargo are you carrying?"
    That seems to confuse the man.  He pauses, then says, "All right.  How many on your ship?  Thank you.  Imperial ship?  Are you carrying any weapons?"
    "Any illegal goods?"
    "No goods.  We're not here to trade."
    "Are you carrying any illegal goods?"
    "OK.  Who's in charge?"
    "I am.  Marquis Marcus Crestworthy."
    "Good.  You'll have to come down to the office."
    "For what purpose?"
    "Fill in paperwork."
    "Is that the paperwork there?"
    "No.  You'll need to be there in, um, half an hour."
    "Someone from my crew will come by to pick up the paperwork and..."
    "No," interrupts the guy, "You'll need to come down and fill it in yourself at the office."
    The Marquis is already walking back to the upper hatch.  The man turns and walks back along the pier towards the shore.

    The air here is quite thin.  That means that Grand Admiral Baron Bridgehead, their paperwork expert, won't be able to do much exercise here.  A walk down the pier is likely to beyond him.
    They look around at the port.  No other ships are at this pier.  There are a bunch of piers elsewhere, a tank farm with large wet ships tied up loading or unloading through pipelines, a number of other smaller wet boats around.  People are dressed in light clothes, and true to the Imperials' information, no-one seems to be carrying weapons..
    A standard far trader, in distinctive yellow and green livery, floats in the bay, tied up to a buoy.
    Robert Morris calls up the trader, starts exchanging news, then pokes into who they are, their manifest, and so on.  It's are running a route between Denotam and here.  It's an independent ship, operated by the owner.  They're taking on local spices, and dropping off various higher-tech consumer goods, luxury and entertainment items mostly, some pharmaceuticals.  They have no news of interest.  The ship is old, and has been owned by the current person for a long time.  It's a typical frontier far trader -- running a regular route, regular cargo, some passengers on demand.

    It's now time to tackle the bureaucracy...  Helia swings the Third Eye around so that the Marquis can leave from the rear door, dropping the ramp onto the pier.
    Marquis Marc and Misha walk slowly over to the customs building.  The air is thin, but warm.  It's about 30 degrees right now.  Gravity is light but comfortable, 0.39.
    Inside, Marc talks to the receptionist.
    "Well, Mr. Crestworthy," says the man, "If you'll go into that room, you'll find someone who can help you."
    The man in the next room presents the Marquis with a set of forms.  They are not in Galanglic -- not even the script is comprehensible.  Nevertheless, Marc goes ahead and fills it in, guessing which field is which.  He passes it back saying, "By the way, which language is this in?"
    The man says something incomprehensible, and hands him another set of forms.
    These are less obvious.  Marc guesses anyway, fills them out, and hands them back.  The man says something, and steps into another room.  A strident conversation is heard.
    A different man returns with the forms.  "I'm sorry, this won't do at all."
    "I filled out your forms."
    "You're carrying a cargo of two weeks...?  I'm going to be tolerant.  Try these." He hands Marc a version in Galanglic.  "I praise you, by the way, for your command of our language.  Obviously it needs some work, though."
    "Well, I've only been trying it for the last half hour."  Marc applies himself to filling out the forms.  This set includes some odd and unrelated questions, such as "what plants are grown on this ship?", which is what threw him off last time.  He completes the forms quickly and hands them back.
    "Thank you.  Would you like me to make an appointment with your liaison officer tomorrow?"
    "For what purpose?"
    "For where you're going here."
    "Fine.  We'll need a berth for this evening, and if you will just come to the berth at a reasonable hour in the morning, that will be acceptable."
    "No, you'll need to come ashore."
    "Yes, I will send in my liaison officer."
    "No, you'll need to come ashore."
    "You said you'd need an appointment with my liaison officer?"
    "No.  The liaison officer that will be assigned to you."
    "I see.  And he can meet with the liaison officer I'm assigning to you."
    "No, he will meet with you."
    The Marquis sighs and agrees.
    "Thank you.  Someone will be along shortly to give you your berth assignment."
    Marquis Marc and Misha stand up, and leave the building to return to the ship.

    About ten minutes later, the berth assignment is delivered to the ship.  A collection of papers is handed over for the navigator, and they are informed that the captain's appointment is at 8 am tomorrow.  It is currently 6:30 pm.
    The papers turn out to be a chart of the harbor, with their berth marked near the other starship.  It's about the middle of one of the sides of the horseshoe shaped bay.
    "Move us there gently," says the Marquis to Helia.
    Helia sets the autopilot to move the Third Eye there, but to take twelve hours doing it.  The movement is barely perceptible.

    They try listening to local radio, but it's all in the local language.  The Marquis asks Robert if the other ship has any translators; he runs a quick check and finds that while there are none in the cargo, they do have several chips in their ship's locker.
    Robert hails them, "This is the H.M.S. Third Eye, under the command of Marquis Marcus Crestworthy..."
    "Oh my gawd!" comes the reply.  "OK. Uh.  Hi!"
    "We've come here on an investigative mission, and we don't have as much information as we thought we did on some of the local customs here.  We are without translation equipment for the local language, and some of the forms we have to fill out are a little difficult."
    "They've got them in Galanglic as well.  Most people speak it, except the ones who refuse to.  Some of them are a bit stuck up about it.  But you can usually find someone who can.  Not everybody."
    "Do you have any translation equipment that we can purchase?"
    "Sure!  We can sell you some translator chips!  300 apiece.  So how many do you want?"
    "One will be enough."
    "We'll be right over!"

    Robert and Misha are assigned to talk to the visitors, while Vonish Kehnaan is to prepare dinner for them.  They are supposed to pump them for local information about customs, bars, the name of the city, and so on.
    The air/raft from the far trader arrives and lands on the top of the hull beside the top hatch, where Misha is waiting.  The two people aboard (in well-worn shipboard clothes) secure the air/raft and join Misha in the ship.  He takes them down to the module lounge, where Robert and Helia are waiting.  They exchange the chip for Imperial cash.  Misha tells them they're invited to dinner -- there's an excellent cook aboard, he says.
    They are delighted.  "So I guess this Marquis guy can afford the best, eh?"
    "Yes, I think he can.  Can I interest you in some pre-dinner libations?"
    Drinks are served.  They all sit around drinking whisky.
    "So what brings you guys here?" one of them asks.
    "The Marquis is a curious man.," says Misha with a smile.
    That doesn't satisfy them, but as they're happy to be aboard such luxury, and are clearly enjoying themselves, they don't question it.
    Misha starts a conversation about the local area.  There are some illegal bars near the dock area, but they're advised not to go there -- they are very rough and subject to police raid, when the police aren't too scared to go there, that is.  The trader crew just don't go ashore.  They'll be here for about a week, and will unload their cargo in a few days -- they're still looking for a good deal to sell it.  Here isn't much fun for them, but every year the captain takes them to Frenzie for an all-expenses-paid vacation while the annual maintenance is performed.  This city here is called Down Port.  They don't know where First City is -- they visit only here, dealing with brokers and so on.
    Ed "Shark" Teeth walks in, and introduces himself as Eddie Teeth.  He mentions the gravity -- good for walking.  The traders reply that they don't walk much here -- the docks are very dangerous.  Even though the law level is high, that just means that the laws are restrictive, not that they're successfully enforced.  Going through the process of getting visas to go ashore outside the dock area just isn't worth it.  They just treat this place as a necessary stop to make money from speculative trade, and accept that it's a boring trip.
    The goods they pick up here are some spices that they produce here -- it has a pretty good market over on Denotam.  They have no idea whether it tastes good or not -- to them it's just cargo.
    Ed brings up the subject of piracy.  They're not worried about it because they run an obscure route, it's just not worth it for a pirate to prowl there.  As for Robin Sherwood, they've read the news reports but have no other information.  Opinions, though, they do have -- they actually own their cargo, so they have something to lose, but if they were on a sub or something they'd probably just hand it over.  What have they got to lose, after all?  The cargo's probably insured anyway.
    Ed ponders the concept of Robin Sherwood as being part of an insurance scam...
    Dinner is produced -- they are really impressed, it's very good indeed -- and they leave well fed and happy.

    Robert takes the chip and programs translators and their communications system.

    Marc tells Helia that they need to be back at that dock, ready to lower the ramp, at 7:45 am tomorrow morning.

    Overnight, Mich refuels the ship from the sea.

098-1120 : Digitis/ Vilis / Spinward Marches

    At 20 seconds before 7:45 am, Helia takes the controls and flies the Third Eye to the dock at a very high speed.  The ship skims over in ground effect, throwing up an enormous rooster tail of spray and water, and she slips it into position at the dock.
    "We're alongside, sir!" announces Helia.

    Marc and Misha step out onto the pier.  There is still a vast cloud of spray settling over the harbor from their approach.
    In the building, the same receptionist directs them to the liaison officer, in another room.
    "Mr. Crestworthy?" says the liaison officer, pleasantly.  "Can I help you?  What's your purpose here?  Where do you want to go?  What do you want to see?"
    "I would like to go to First City and speak with some people who have reported to some associates of mine the activities of the local fauna."
    "OK, so you have someone to contact there?  Excellent, no problem."
    "Is there a local library that I could visit?"
    "What for?"
    "Read up on what you have researched and the extent of your knowledge of the local fauna."
    "I think you'll probably find that at First City.  If you'll just fill this out..."  He hands Marc a form to file his travel plans.  "Pull in at the port there, talk to the port officer."
    Marc then comments on the manner of the communications person they talked to on the way in.  He also points out that this planet doesn't use a standard flag for customs.  The liaison officer says that's his problem.
    "You'll need some charts, right?  200 Cr."  He reaches down, pulls out a tube of paper, and hands it to Marc.
    Marc examines it.  It's a set of sea charts, covering the route to First City.  "Thank you.  You have a transfer module?"
    "A transfer module.  To transfer credits."
    "We'll take cash."
    "I'll send my man back with cash to pick up the charts."
    "They'll be at the front desk.  Oh, and you must fly only over the sea."

    They walk back to the ship.  Misha then goes back to the office and returns with the charts.  Marquis Marc asks Robert to read them into the computer and add them to their scan of the planet.

    They are to leave immediately.  The trip is about 1500 km, and it's a routine trip of 3 hours.  Helia keeps it over the water as the liaison officer had requested.
    Below them there's a fairly obvious sea lane of cargo ships running between Down Port and First City.
    On the way, Marc tells Vonish about the spices they apparently grow and sell here.  Obviously they don't know whether the spices are anything he'd want to use.

    At Marc's request, Helia makes a gentle polite approach to the harbor, coming to a halt in front of the customs building.  It's 2:00 pm local time.  First City is a much smaller place.  There's not nearly as much industry here.

    Marquis Marc disembarks on the dock, and walks over to the customs building.  The receptionist greets him politely.  Everything seems to be in order.  She directs him to the liaison officer.
    "I'm Marquis Marcus Crestworthy, and I wonder if you could tell me where I can find a map of the city that might show me where libraries and other buildings of interest are?"
    "Sure," smiles the Liaison Officer, "I can give you a packet with that."
    "I'd like to look up a local inhabitant I was told was listed in the directory."
    "Sure.  I'd suggest take the train into Center, and you should find everything you need there."  He hands Marc a small folding map of the city, with points of interest marked on it.
    "Interesting technology," says Marc, fumbling awkwardly with the paper.  He thanks him and turns to go.
    "You're welcome.  Have a nice day!"  Something else occurs to him.  "You'll be wanting somewhere to berth?"  He reaches over to the intercom.  "Set him a berth, will you?"  He turns back to Mark and tells him that the receptionist will tell him where to berth.  "Oh, and here's my card, call me if you need anything or have any questions."

    The berth assignment is fairly near the shore.  Helia cruises the Third Eye into position.  It's an area that is populated mostly by large pleasure craft.  There are no other spaceships here.
    On the way, Marc sets the rules for this visit.  Two crew members are to remain on board at all times.  Anyone else may go ashore -- apparently there was no requirement for extra paperwork or anything.
    Baron Bridgehead, no doubt remembering the thin air in the valley of Pimane, announces that he has no desire to leave the ship.
    Marquis Marc goes on to tell them that the local party spots are rather rough and generally raided by the police.
    "Does that mean we have to wear spikes on our leather?" asks Helia.
    "It means we should be very, very careful."
    "Well, I could go in the ultra-feminine stuff, that would work," she says.
    The Marquis turns to Mich.  "I expect to be here for a week and a half or so.  If you have system maintenance that's going to take less than a week..."  Mich nods.  Marc continues, "I don't believe that Mich needs any particular protection on this planet."  Marc then asks Robert how communications work here.
    Robert replies, "It seems to be mostly hardwired with some radio."
    Marc hands Robert the liaison officer's card, "This card is in some way a way of contacting this person.  I'm not sure how it works.  If I need to I will ask you."  Robert smiles; he knows what it is.

    Marquis Marc announces that he's going to go into town to look up Erwin Hedaker.  "It's suggested that we go into town to ride the train.  We'll need some local currency for sure.  All who wish to go ashore...?"
    It looks like it'll be a fairly full gcarrier.  The customary dress of the locals seems to be light tunics, loose fairly baggy trousers, sandals.  Misha doesn't have much clothing for warm places, and of course will have to leave his sword behind.  So it'll be Marc, Ed, Misha, Robert, Vonish, Sagan, and Helia.  Mich will stay on board.  Everyone will carry a compact respirator, including Sagan, who is perhaps the least comfortable with the environment on this planet.

    Vonish takes the controls of the gcarrier and parks it at the customs office.  Marc asks the liaison officer about changing currencies.  He says the bank will do that; he suggests that they park over at the yacht club and pick up a taxi there.
    Vonish takes them over to the yacht club -- an obviously grand building on the shore.  There are several boats pulled up on shore, and docked at the piers.  Vonish parks ashore, and they walk into the sea-side entrance to the yacht club.
    The Marquis tells the doorman he needs a cab; he is told to pass through the club, up the stairs, and pick up a taxi out front.
    It takes two taxis to carry everyone.  The Marquis instructs the doorman, and the doorman instructs the taxi, to take them to a bank.  The doorman, happy with his 5Cr tip, says something to the drivers, and the taxis drive off.
    It's soon clear that the taxis have an onboard compressor -- the air inside the internal combustion groundcar is distinctly less thin than it is outside, and a little cooler too.

    The taxis roll up outside a very large building, about the size of a city block.  Looking up, there are rails -- as of a ground-based railway -- coming out of the building about two stories up.  The Marquis tips the drivers handsomely, and they all go inside where they have been told there is a bank.
    Inside the building, it's pressurized and cooler.  It looks like a mall in here.  Fortunately the bank is obvious, and changing currency is no trouble at all.
    The next stop is at a small cafe.  Part of Marc's idea was to find out how much a credit was really worth here, and it seems that for a credit's worth of local currency, they can get about two credits' worth of goods.  He gives everyone 100 Cr worth of local currency -- that's about 200Cr of buying power here.
    They order drinks.  It's now clear they really not in the Imperium any more.  This is the first place most of the crew has seen that does not carry Zurta.