(4) Playing With Dolls
The Nightshade Campaign (119-1122 to 120-1122)
crew has just successfully
escorted Trow Backett from the starport to his uncle
downtown, and back to the Traveller's Aid
Society with a statuette and
Vlen Backett's diary. Trow has paid them 1000 Cr in cash for
task. They have full 3d pictures of the statuette, but in
practical terms scanning the diary will have to be done back on the
ship -- Mich Saginaw's book scanning robot is in the attic, where the
rest of the Imperial
gear taken from the H.M.S.
Third Eye is
Edward "Shark" Teeth tries to negotiate taking the
diary back to Nightshade and then returning it back here, but
Trow is reluctant to let it that far out of his possession. Shark
asks if Trow would like to see the ship.
"Yes, I would, as long as you aren't going to
shanghai me," smiles Trow.
Misha Ravanos says, "Weren't you looking for working
"What's your job?" Shark asks him.
"I'm a steward."
"Ah," says Shark. He muses to himself, "We don't
enough staterooms to need a steward."
Even though Trow won't be working on the crew, he's
still welcome to "see the ship" so they can scan the diary. They
all set out from the TAS
building, taking the shuttle train to the
private yacht terminal where Nightshade is berthed.
Vonish Kehnaan, who has been researching which local bars and clubs
might be useful in finding a buyer for the Blockade Bourbon,
accompanies them to supervise their guest's hospitality. Both
Shark and Misha are certain they are not being followed.
The black ship is certainly an interesting
sight. Even though there are several kiloton
yachts, Nightshade is quite distinctive with her needle
configuration and black color scheme, with the unusual drive nacelles
with a large red maltese cross on each. Then there's the
unusually clear transparent windows, the large multi-deck rear one
revealing a large garden complex complete with waterfall. Trow is
clearly fascinated, although he says nothing.
Shark quietly commdots to Callisto to scan Trow for
any devices or weapons. Callisto reports that he's clean.
Since crates of North Whipsnade whiskey are being
unloaded at the moment, they enter through the main cargo lift,
transferring on D deck to the smaller personnel lift and taking that to
The attic where the book scanner is located is
accessed by going aft through the upper cargo bay. That is safe
to take outside people through: there are cases of whiskey that haven't
been unloaded yet, and a lot of original cases of food on which the
original scryptese labels have been obscured. Still, there's no
need to show Trow any more of the ship than necessary.
Shark asks Trow if he can run the diary up to the
scanner. Trow agrees, and Shark settles him in the lounge with a
large pot of Navy coffee as prepared by Mich. Trow may be a
merchant, but his father was in the Navy, and he appreciates the thick
The book scanning is straightforward, but takes a
while for the robot to physically turn the pages. Robert Morris,
as the computer expert, will be in charge of sorting out the
handwriting -- of course, it's in galanglic, not his
anymore, but he still has no problem setting up the interpretation.
By the time Trow has settled into the lounge and
been fed coffee and whiskey and light hors d'oeuvres, Shark has joined
them again. It'll be another quarter of an hour before the robot
has scanned the book, and the transliteration is ready as fast as the
physical scanning can provide the data.
Trow is clearly impressed by the ship. Grand
Bridgehead is doing a fine job of keeping him distracted,
telling him yet another long-winded story that everyone has heard a
thousand times already.
Shark sits quietly to one side, reading the entries
relating to "statue" as they come in.
The first entry refers to a stopover on Victoria,
in the Lanth subsector. Vlen
Backett was on a small far
merchant, and they were running industrial equipment into and
agricultural goods out of a cluster of red zone systems in Lanth -- Victoria,
The ship had a drive
failure coming in to Victoria. While the rest of the crew
relaxed and played tourist, he was left on board to fix the
problem. After several
failed attempts to fabricate new components, he was frustrated enough
to take an R&R break himself. He went to Albert, Victoria's
largest moon. There is a known Ancient site there, and
visited that first. It had of course been completely looted long
Vlen's storytelling then starts to get more
flowery. He says he went hunting, and started to pursue an
Ivory Gazelle that he'd wounded. At this point he's clearly read
too many classical literature tales of ancient hunters following
deer into forests to discover unusual wonders, and in purple prose he
claims to do just that. He says he came to a clearing, and found
an intact Ancient residence. He says that everything was weird,
in many cases defying description: the sounds, the sights, the
smells. He describes nothing in detail, but mentions paper-thin
walls, doors of cloud mist. He brought back a few artifacts, but
the items he liked the most were two small statues. He called
them "angels." Later on when he retired, he sold one for 120,000
Cr to pay for
the apartment downtown.
Shark asks Trow if he can pull out the statue.
Trow is apparently finding the Baron's stories quite interesting, and
just nods at the First Officer. Shark takes it down the hall to
bridge, places it on his sensor console, and drops into sparkly pink
mode. He asks the ship what it thinks about it. Based on
the sensor facilities, it's nothing remarkable -- he does find it's an
unusual alloy, mostly of lead but with some stable superheavy
metals. The ship suggests that engineering equipment for
analyzing solid state objects might do a better job.
Shark walks back to the lounge with the statue, and
whispers an aside to Kalida Siena, Marchioness of Nakege, to persuade
Trow to let him take it away for a while so he can examine it in
engineering. She says to ask Misha, so Shark asks the Captain to
persuade Trow. He explains to Misha that he's a little concerned
that the statue is an artifact from "the other guys."
Trow seems to have been accepting Misha's authority
since the escort mission, and it's not hard for the barbarian to
convince him to allow his statue to be examined more closely.
Mich takes it back to engineering to do the analysis.
Mich finds that the distribution of the superheavy
metal atoms in the statue does seem to have some pattern to it,
although it doesn't make any sense. Shark asks Mich if he can
make a duplicate copy of the statue; aside from the technical
difficulties, Mich is not at all in favor of that. Mich does
pass the data on to Robert to do an analysis of the pattern. Any
conventional analysis would say it was amorphous; it's only the
equipment Mich has for working with solid items (like the power
cube) that can pick out the superheavy atoms and their pattern.
While Robert's doing his work, Shark looks at the
pattern from the point of view of a robotics control circuit or
something like that, but it doesn't seem to be that.
Robert confirms that there is some information
encoded -- some sort of data are stored there. It's probably not
a lot of data, but he can't figure out what is encoded. It could
be the equivalent of laser etching a serial number into a
diamond. His best guess at this point is that it might be a
manufacturer's mark, a serial number, or something of that nature.
That's all they need from Trow. After a polite
time for more socializing, they will escort their guest back to
Even though Trow's looking for a working passage, as a steward he
really isn't a good fit for the crew. He's planning to get back
towards the Lunion
subsector area of the Spinward
Shark takes Misha aside and observes that they could
take Trow to that general area, or at least get him a lot closer.
It wouldn't take much to get him there from Victoria.
They could offer him a ride to Lanth, or
possibly to pick up the Spinward Main at Ivendo.
He asks Misha if they want to offer him a passage. They discuss
their plans, and the consensus is that they'll spend a couple more
weeks searching here, then go on to Victoria. Shark
quickly calculates how long they should take to get to Ivendo
if they were a normal ship, and says they could take five weeks with
Trow in restricted access areas to hide their jump
capabilities. The catch, of course, is the always open windows in
the lounge, but they can just pretend it's a holographic projection of
a simulation of a jumpspace view. Misha suggests that rather than
hide their long jumps, they just take their time and do smaller jumps
-- they're not in a hurry.
As a result, Shark offers Trow free high passage
to Ivendo in return for his statue. Trow immediately
responds that the statue is not for sale -- he wants to keep it.
In private, Shark acknowledges that they already
have as much information as they can from the statue -- Mich's full
atomic-level analysis should be as much as they could get. Shark
adds that it could possibly be a combination key to something, but then
they might need the other statue too, and it was confiscated by the
Imperial authorities. He says that probably means it's on its way
They leave to escort Trow back to the TAS. In
the station at the TAS stop is the black suit guy, who nods and waves
to them as they go by. Shark tells Trow about him, but adds that
he's probably fine in the TAS facility itself.
They return to the ship for the night. The
whiskey is already offloaded when they get there; that leaves the
computer equipment and of course the Blockade Bourbon to be sold.
Shark makes contact with a local representative of
his services, and asks about military deployments and the reasons for
them. Of course the news
report about the Five
Sisters battle group won't reach here for about three weeks, so
Shark sticks to vague generalities. The local agent hasn't heard
of any border disputes or operations planned, but he does say that
there is still a state of high readiness on the frontier with the Federation of Arden.
Other than that there are no definite threats.
He then checks to see if Baba Yaga has been
through unannounced; it has not been here. With a smile, Shark
tells the agent that Baba Yaga is a ship operated by Vilis Intelligence,
and to add them to their database.
The agent confirms that unregistered Ancient
artifacts would be confiscated here, then sent back to Mora via
secure shipments. He adds that they think there's still at least
one at large on this world, and Shark comes across anyone trying to
smuggle it out, he should report it. Apparently they have
recently confiscated a statue that is one of a pair, and they've
tracked down that some guy called Vlen Backett owned the other
one. Mr. Backett is dead, and they haven't been able to determine
an obvious heir or the fate of that statue. They're still on the
lookout for such a person trying to get passage out of the system.
Shark is extra careful to make sure he is not
followed, and gets Callisto to scan him for bugs. He is indeed
bugged; he plants it on an unsuspecting random passenger in the same
car of the train. Shark gets out at the TAS stop, observing that
suit guy is no longer at the station. He leaves a message at the
desk for Trow Backett that "The existence of the angel is known, and
it's relatives are being sought by the authorities. Good
luck! Call me." Shark boards the train again and returns to
It's mid-morning Imperial time when Shark reports to
his captain. He tells Misha that there is no information on
military movements -- they have beaten the news of the
deployment. Confiscated artifacts are taken offworld and shipped
to somewhere on Mora. The existence of a second angel,
probably in the possession of a relative of the dead man, is known and
he is to let them know if he runs into anything. So if they want
to get something from this guy, they can probably convince him of the
serious criminal consequences. That might help persuade him that
he should part with the statue.
Mich has been re-thinking the possibility of
duplicating the artifacts. With the equipment on board, he could
possibly in time make an indistinguishable copy of the statue -- which
they could then sell for large sums of money.
Vonish has identified the best high class exclusive
club in the system. That is where Kalida -- and her entourage --
should try to sell the Blockade Bourbon.