(1) A Slow Start

The Nightshade Campaign (098-1122 to 119-1122)

098-1122 : Digitis / Vilis / Spinward Marches

    Nightshade has taken off from Digitis and is heading out to jump on the way to Regina.
    Mich Saginaw points out that they can test their new improved sensors for stealth mode using the egg relay station.  Simulations are one thing, he says, but there's nothing like trying it in the real world to see if it really works.  As he says, they don't need to actually stop there, so they can accelerate all the way for a quicker journey.
    The station is one light day from the mainworld -- 25,920,000,000 km.  At 20g, this will take almost six days.

101-1122 : Digitis / Vilis / Spinward Marches

    Eric's black ship takes off and leaves Digitis.  It's not in stealth mode, but even so they're happy with the sensitivity of the new sensors.  The ship jumps out of system, presumably to return to the Federation of Arden.

104-1122 : Digitis / Vilis / Spinward Marches

    Five and a half days out from the mainworld, Callisto announces that she's picked up the object in stealth mode, 3,000,000,000 km away.  At this point, Nightshade is actually travelling at about 0.32 c.
    The alarms sound, as they do for "objects in stealth mode," but since they're outside effective weapon range nothing locks on.

    With the stealth mode sensors tested, they're done with this system.  Helia Sarina doesn't even flinch at their excessive velocity when she drops them into jump for Extolay.
    Mich observes the jump transition from sparkly pink mode.  He is still hoping to get the breakthrough he needs to install vortex generators on Nightshade.

110-1122 : Extolay / Lanth / Spinward Marches

    Nightshade comes out of jump in the Extolay system in stealth mode.  They pick up the latest news using their usual method -- get really close to an unsuspecting trader, and piggyback their news feed.  But there is no new news.
    Immediately, Helia clears them from the trader and heads away.  Soon after, they jump for Regina.
    This time, Mich gets a major breakthrough in his understanding of jump and the dynamic jump grid system in this ship.  It'll take a long time to work this knowledge into practical systems applications, but he's made a vital step forward.

116-1122 : Regina / Regina / Spinward Marches

    They arrive in stealth mode at Regina, subsector capital and location of a cache found by INISO.  The big question now, of course, is how to find any remaining black technology in this system.
    The system is absolutely packed with pleasant worlds.  From the astrogator's point of view, what makes it a fascinating system is that it's trinary, with worlds orbiting every single sun.  It's also politically important, being Archduke Norris' homeworld, and also militarily important, being a significant border subsector with the Zhodani.

    This could be a good place to sell the bottle of Blockade Bourbon, and the North Whipsnade irish style whiskey they bought on Wonstar.
    That brings up the tricky subject of who's paying for expenses, salaries, and so on.  Marquis Marcus Crestworthy's money still hasn't run out, but they'll need an income soon.  All the crew were originally being paid union rates (on the non-military skill basis), and additional crew was also hired on under that scheme.
    Grand Admiral Baron Bridgehead and Mich are independently wealthy, of course, and don't really need the salaries.  Everyone else needs to be paid somehow.
    Misha Ravanos asks if anyone wants to change the arrangements into a partnership of some sort.  The consensus is that as long as the ship is making some sort of money, there's no real need to change the arrangements yet.  They can after all make a lot of money running whiskey.  Mich suggests building a ship using black tech that looks just like an Imperial ship, but uses all the fuel tankage to store bourbon.  Kalida Siena, Marchioness of Nakege, points out that shipping it that way, not in the original bottles, would depress the value substantially.
    Right now there is enough surplus cash on hand to run the ship for about six months.  Also, they don't have as many expenses with this ship as would a normal Imperial one -- no loan to pay off, no fuel to buy, no air to resupply.

    But now, where to go...  there are three gas giants, a bunch of separate worlds, a whole bunch around the tertiary, and no asteroid belts.  They'll have to set up a pretty extensive search pattern, and they don't even know what to look for.
    Misha says that they're on a black technology ship, and it senses black technology, right?
    Everyone else points out that the ship does not magically sense black tech.  Mich says it can sense spatial anomalies at a very large distance.
    "Spatial anomalies?" asks Misha.  "Ships in stealth mode register as spatial anomalies?"
    Mich nods.  "Light passes through but gravity waves are bent."  Misha's blank look discourages Mich from explaining further, especially why they're subject to gravity but densitometers might not detect them.  The engineer makes a mental note to work on this.
    So they have a vast sphere of space to search.  If they knew the guidelines for finding caches it would help greatly, but they have yet to meet anyone who will admit to knowing them.  Mich comments that they'll probably spend the six months until the money runs out prospecting here.
    As Misha points out, they had the advantage last time that the cache attacked them.  That cache, though, was an Imperial installation rather than the sort of cache they're looking for.
    They do know that according to INISO, caches are often found in asteroid belts.  Obviously that's not true here, as Regina has no belts.  Also, all they've found searching belts have been lucrative mineral resources, not what they were looking for at all.  As Kalida points out, this is a huge system, but it's still going to be easier to search all the worlds and moons than it is to cover the whole volume of an asteroid belt.
    Now they can't do densitometer searches and remain completely stealthy.  While such scans don't usually show up unless someone's looking for the densitometer emissions, there are a lot of naval and military bases here -- the Imperial Navy is probably being pretty careful at a border subsector capital.
    Robert Morris suggests getting really close to a naval vessel in stealth mode and making it look like they did the densitometer scan, like they do for news gathering or breaking into sensitive computers.  Even so, densitometer scans are slow and it would be impractical to search the whole system that way.
    They do know one thing: there exist guidelines for finding caches, which means their location can be described in a straightforward fashion.  The guidelines were also set a very long time ago, well before this area was settled.
    Callisto tells them that given the range of the spatial anomaly sensors, they can cover the entire system in a few days if the ship is in the right place.
    Mich says they had just as well start with that: "Other than that, you're looking for a vacant hidden building somewhere on the planet.  Maybe.  And how are we going to investigate that?"  There's no power signature to find, even if it's powered up, not with the ship's power system.  He tells the rest of the crew that if Nightshade is not in stealth mode, someone looking at the ship wouldn't see a fusion plant signature.  Now he's learned more about black tech, he has actually built something to emit neutrinos powered from the ship to simulate appropriate emissions.  With Robert's help, he could rig it to change emissions to suit what the ship was doing at the time -- that's really difficult, but the two of them should be able to get it working in a few days.  One of the things he learnt from Jane's upgrades was how to power something from the ship's power cube -- power transmission is via linked unspace holes.  Those are essentially at the same point, there's no distance or time involved -- and there can't be anything in the way of transmission, as they are at the same point.  This is Mich's first practical application of this TL25+ technique.
    Kalida adds, "Maybe it's all in a cave somewhere underground.  Or maybe it's in an innocuous looking satellite orbiting something."
    Bridgehead says sarcastically, "Or maybe it's in the basement of an Octagon Society building."  He and Mich, of course, remember the strange beacon they found in the basement of an abandoned Octagon Society building on Spirelle, that they eventually traded to the IFSS on Lianne.
    Given how difficult searching the system is turning out to be, Mich wonders how anyone but the Arden Society ever found a cache.  They must have bumped into it.
    Kalida says that INISO found several sites, so they must have a way to find them.  They couldn't have just stumbled on that many.

    Since the spatial anomaly scan is pretty easy and straightforward, with just some moving of the ship from the tertiary orbits to the primary, they'll start with that.  Callisto and Helia work out they can cover it in just three days, searching for a stealth mode sized spatial anomaly.  From just one carefully chosen scan position, they can cover the entire complex system.  Fortunately with a complex system outermost orbits tend to be unoccupied, so that makes it much quicker.  All the orbits of the primary star -- including the close orbit secondary and its single world -- can be covered with just one scan; one more scan covers the orbits of the tertiary.
    While a cursory scan could be complete in a day, Callisto prefers to take her time and make sure she doesn't miss anything.  She announces she'll require three days for the job.  Helia puts Nightshade on a track to keep the perfect scan position over those days.

119-1122 : Regina / Regina / Spinward Marches

    Mich and Robert have finished and tested their work on the neutrino emitter.  That's the good news.
    The bad news is that no spatial anomalies have been found anywhere in the system, and Callisto is certain that nothing was overlooked.  If there were a spatial anomaly here, she would have found it, she says.
    Misha wonders if there's something they can deduce from caches usually being in asteroid belts.  He asks if there are specific orbits where asteroid belts are found.
    Helia tells him that there's a wide range of orbits for belts, although they tend to occupy the midrange of orbits.  At Zett, it was in orbit 4; Regina doesn't have one; at Shionthy the belts are in orbits 1 and 2, uncharacteristically close to the star; Zaibon's belt is in orbit 6.  All those are within the area that Callisto has scanned here -- the sensors pretty much cover the diameter of orbit 7.
    Misha asks if an object could be placed in a position relative to a star, and stay there without active station keeping.  He is told it would have to orbit a star or world.  Misha then says that it therefore has to have its own station keeping device -- which they could detect -- or it's stuck on something or around something.  That limits the places it could be.  He assumes, he says, that they wouldn't put it in a place that was easily findable -- for thousands and thousands of years -- and yet it has to be in a place that, given any system, it is there.
    Robert says that if it's supposed to be a cache of tools for the other race to use against the enemy, they need to know how to find it.  One easy way to find it is the spatial anomaly process that they just went through.
    Misha says that just anyone could do that, so it's not hidden.
    "That wouldn't be anyone," adds Robert, "Because Imperial technology would not find it."
    Misha counters that presumably the enemy has a similar level of technology to the black ships, so they weren't hiding it from the Imperium, they were hiding it from the enemy.
    Robert points out that they were abandoning this area too, and if they ever come back they would need them.
    Misha says, "So my guess is it's not something we can sense, or anybody can sense, it's something they would try to hide as much as possible.  You just know the location, by some code that you'd have to break.  The simplest would be, it's always at some orbit from the primary star, but that's too simple because there may not be a body to attach it to."
    Robert adds that in the cache on Zett there were no records as to where the stuff was found -- there were no records at all, in fact almost everything was deliberately erased by the computer systems in the cache.  You leave with the data, and leave nothing at all behind.  You could get an inventory of what was currently there, but not even who took what or when.  That's why they had free run and could take whatever they wanted.  To even know that place existed, you had to have incredible clearance -- and if you had that level of clearance, you could take whatever you want.
    Mich nods, thinking of a full complement of zuchai crystals for H.M.S. Third Eye.  He laughs, "We could go there and check in a bunch of antimatter generators."
    Robert points out there are military bases here.  They could look for "secret" military bases, where they might have found a cache and left it there, building a base around it.  It might not do them any good here, but it might help them find them in other systems.  He adds, "Are we expecting to find a cache in every system?"
    Misha shakes his head.  "I'm going on the assumption that the guidelines have to apply to any system, not every system.  In other words, whatever guidelines they developed had to cover the case of putting a cache in any system.  Regina is obviously a very complicated system, so I'm just wondering..."
    "We can try looking through the military bases or other installations for data on the cache that was found," suggests Robert.
    Misha smiles, "We should just go and ask the Archduke."
    Bridgehead says, "We could just let Shark loose and see what he gets warned off."
    Misha laughs.  He then goes back to the subject of making money, and asks for suggestions on how to do so here.
    Kalida says this should be a pretty good place to sell all the whiskey.  "When I did some research on selling the Blockade Bourbon eons ago, just about anywhere would do really, but obviously the officers at any naval base, or any place where the locals can afford it.  We could probably make a pretty decent profit on it here."  She then asks about the North Whipsnade whiskey -- do they want to continue the individual ownership of the cases, or fold them into some sort of partnership?
    Mich says what he bought was for his own consumption.  Bridgehead nods -- he did the same, although he only bought one case to Mich's ten.
    Misha agrees.  Any personal cases should remain so.  Only those "the ship" bought -- twenty -- should go to ship profits.  He leads a brief discussion, but adds that they can avoid the issue of a partnership for profit by forming a kind of non-profit, whose only purpose is to keep the ship running.  It pays the salaries and expenses, and just generates enough money to cover that.  Everyone listens to his idea, and all agree.  He mentions that Marquis Marc is getting a new ship to cover the loss of Third Eye; he has already been allocated hull number 29, and it is due for delivery in three months time.
    Kalida says they should keep back four cases of the ship's supply, and sell the rest.  They paid essentially Cr50 per bottle, and should be able to sell each bottle for about Cr150.
    Robert suggests that the crew could sell their cases back to the ship at cost.  As Misha points out, that would keep the crew from being in competition with the ship.  Kalida agrees that she'll sell hers, and Misha encourages everyone else to join in.  He's very convincing -- Bridgehead is reluctant, but agrees to join in provided the ship guarantees it will never run out of good whiskey.
    The plan is settled.  Vonish Kehnaan says they can keep four cases in reserve for on-board use (and be ready to go back for more).  He volunteers to use his merchant background to help get a good price on the remaining 96 cases
    Kalida calculates that if they sell as expected, that's a profit for the ship of Cr288,000, which will keep them running for quite some time.
    Now in terms of selling the Blockade Bourbon, Vonish is not the man for the job.  They need someone who can get into the market -- be it high naval officer or high society -- and identify potential buyers.  It's a matter of finding out who's who, who has the money, and who wants to sell it.  Kalida says that it's less likely now that they'd need the bottle to buy favors, now that they're all officially alive again, and at least the Arden Society isn't after them anymore.