(5) Interesting People

The Nightshade Campaign (120-1122)

120-1122 : Regina / Regina / Spinward Marches

    All that's left to sell now are the Imperial computers, and more importantly the bottle of Blockade Bourbon.  To this end, Vonish Kehnaan has identified the most exclusive club in the system.  It's the Eagle's Nest, a floating building complex currently located a good way around the world from here.  It stays on the move, apparently, being a smaller equivalent of a grav city.
    There is no public transport to the Eagle's Nest, so they'll have to provide their own.  They will also need membership, and that's the hard part.  One becomes a member by being voted in by three current members.  As you approach you'll be challenged, and only those in the current database of members will get to land.
    Edward "Shark" Teeth points out that they only need one vote -- Robert Morris.  Three convenient members can be recorded as voting them in.
    It's not easy to connect with the Eagle's Nest computer systems, but it presents few problems for Robert to break in.  Once inside, getting far enough to analyze the database structure and so on is even harder.  Again, Robert manages this comfortably, figuring out the protocols and so on.  It's not as bad as counterfeiting Imperial credits, but any normal person would consider it impossible.  In sparkly pink mode, Robert moves into the systems and credits several of them with membership.  The sets of three nominating members are conveniently chosen as ones who are on a trip to Capital, and are due to arrive there in a couple of weeks.  That gives them at least two years of grace period before they could be challenged.
    Robert also finds out that the rules of etiquette are held in extremely high regard in the Eagle's Nest.  Members can be thrown out for trivial infractions by either themselves or their guests.  Three guests are permitted per member, plus up to three servants per member or guest.  The servants are restricted to servants quarters and are only permitted to the member or guest rooms to attend their masters.
    Dress code is "smart" -- it doesn't matter much the actual form of clothing, as long as it's currently fashionable somewhere.  As for armament, the same restrictions apply as do throughout Regina, and by the same token nobles and their retinue are excluded from those restrictions and can carry discreet weaponry.
    Suddenly finding themselves with membership are Kalida Siena, Marchioness of Nakege, Marquis Korwin Vanderfield, and Grand Admiral Baron Bridgehead.  Kalida, as marchioness of the world of origin of the Blockade Bourbon, will help add authenticity to their sales pitch.  Now they have three members, of course, they could even vote in new members legitimately!
    Shark will go as Bridgehead's guest, and Misha Ravanos and Helia Sarina as guests of the Marchioness of Nakege.
    The nobles of course have no problem with their wardrobe.  Shark goes with his Army Colonel uniform -- military uniform is never a bad choice of dress.  Misha forgoes his sword this time, feeling naked in just his black leather and cape.
    Getting to the Eagle's Nest might be a little tricky.  It's a long flight for two air/rafts, and they only have one good gravcraft driver anyway.  The gcarrier is of course in the Bowman system with Jaekovic Ils-Nevronne and Sagan.  That leaves the ship's launch, which they've never actually used before.  Still, Helia is confident she can handle it easily.  Certainly there's plenty of room, with three bridge seats and six in the after compartment, plus room for six tons of cargo that they could convert into passenger space or even a lounge area if they wanted.
    Helia slips into the boat's pilot seat, and takes the controls.  There is no sparkly pink here, so she has to do it all with conventional console operations.  Once Robert and Mich Saginaw have confirmed that the launching interlocks and pre-flight checks of the starship's systems for the launch bay are correct, control is passed over to the launch.  Helia triggers the release, the launch drops out of the back of the ship, and moves off towards the Eagle's Nest.

    Robert, meanwhile, has been hacking starport and ship systems.  He doesn't find any unusual security or anything else that sets off suspicion.  He also then continues his work on the ship's own automated security response programming.  By the time he's done, Nightshade has a level of response equivalent to the black computer system on Baba Yaga.  He then continues work with his blue screen of death ray used to take over or disable Imperial ships.  In conjunction with this, he also works on a program to take over a nearby Imperial ship's sensor computers, so that they can feed dummy inputs while actively scanning the ship themselves.  Obviously this will work best on fully integrated ships; lower technology won't be vulnerable to it because of more independence and isolation of the sensor systems.  Once that's done, he'll continue his work with Mich on controlling the dynamic jump grid for vortex generation; that'll be really hard for the computer to do, and for a long time it'll have to have Mich in the loop in sparkly pink.
    Mich works on his antimatter generator academic papers.  He starts considering the possibility of actively linking the unspace holes rather than starting with them unlinked.
    The lure of the Naval Base is also strong, and Robert hacks into it too.

    The launch looks somewhat unusual close up -- in particular the drive nacelles -- but from a distance doesn't look too much out of the ordinary.  Helia sticks to conventional speeds and accelerations, and the trip to the floating complex takes three hours of atmospheric travel.  The launch is capable of pulling 20 g, but she doesn't exercise that on this trip.
    The Eagle's Nest is a large grav-suspended complex, including a fully landscaped outdoor golf course.  The complex is travelling at about 10 kph through the atmosphere, moving around so that the view changes constantly.
    As they approach, they see there is an obvious landing deck on the underside of the complex, an entrance to a large hangar.  The launch is challenged as to who is on board, and they provide the names of the three members and their guests.  They are immediately given permission to land.
    Helia brings the launch over the deck and into the hangar, landing perfectly on the assigned landing spot.  There is quite a selection of vehicles here: ships' boats, private gravcraft, and a thorough assortment of high-credit vehicles.
    On disembarking, they are escorted to a reception area where they are all required to sign in.  The manner of the staff of the Eagle's Nest is more aloof than servile -- as Misha puts it, they are more aloofants than servants.  There is a slight hitch -- while there has been no question about their legitimacy as members, apparently there is a problem with Helia.  The receptionist motions Kalida aside for a private word, and points out a small item of Helia's clothing that is not in conformation with appropriate attire -- a small matter of fashion, it seems, as that item is so last year.  Kalida firmly convinces the receptionist that in fact where Helia is from this is the height of modern fashion, and that the little girl is perfectly in vogue.  The man does not apologize, but does acknowledge the Marchioness' point.  They are all admitted to the club premises.
    Almost magically, a guide appears at the elbow of each of the members, ready to escort them wherever they need.  The club complex itself is vast, as the full outdoor golf course indicates, but their primary interest lies in the Members' Room.
    The Members' Room is a very large wood paneled room with quite low ceilings, lower than on board ship.  There's a definite feeling of heavy wood oppression.  While the room is large, it's rather hard to tell how many people might be in here.  Screens divide up the room to make areas of various privacy.  There are currently about a dozen groups of anything from two to five people.
    The guides escort them according to Kalida's preferences to a table in a fairly open area, where they can see and be seen by a good number of people.  There's the distinct impression that the table was just put in place right before they arrived at it.  Further into the club they can see another open area with a bar, and they have a good view of that too.
    It's currently mid afternoon Imperial time, which is the time displayed on all the clocks here at the club.  Everyone here is dressed impeccably, but there is a great variety of cultural styles on display.  Kalida notes that everyone is in the height of fashion.
    The people at the bar are mostly making conversation with the bartender, who is drifting from one to the other with great skill.  Kalida suggests they might do better themselves at the bar, and so they move there.  The bartender raises an eyebrow at this large group approaching his area, but greets them cordially.  One of the men at the bar moves down further so the group can sit together.
    Kalida orders a glass of their finest bourbon.  It is indeed very good, but obviously not as good as THC's product from Nakege.  The rest of the group orders as usual, with Helia picking a red drink with a pink parasol.  Even so, the most unusual of the group would have to be Misha in his black leather.  He muses to himself that he would feel even more naked if he wasn't wearing his cape.
    The more alert in the group notice that an elderly gentleman down the bar has just had a very quiet conversation with the bartender during which he passed a thousand credits in cash across the bar.  As Shark notes, if they don't see any goods change hands in the next fifteen minutes or so, that's an information purchase.  The man is very well dressed, and probably no younger than 80.
    Misha suggests to Helia that it might be good if she took an interest in the gentleman at the end of the bar.  He's curious who he is and why he's here, but doesn't want to ask him directly.  Helia is reluctant, but Misha is persistent and she eventually agrees.

    So Helia jumps off her barstool and heads over that way.  She says to the gentleman, "Excuse me, is there a ladies' room back there, do you know?"
    "No, it's back over that way," replies the man, pointing back beyond where the crew are seated.
    "Oh, OK.  You must be all lonesome by yourself."
    "At my age I have come to enjoy it.  At times it can be very peaceful."
    "At times.  I like being around people, but I like having my own room.  I'm not disturbing you, am I?"
    "Um... no.  So... your friends..."
    "Shipmates.  We're travelling.  I can't remember what they're studying, I'm actually the ship's pilot.  They do research.  My name is Helia."  She smiles brightly.
    "Well, hello, Helia.  My name is Arken."  Arken beams back at her.
    "Ah, Arken.  With an A.  Sorry, sometimes where I'm from, my ear isn't always correct."
    "Ah.  Where are you from?"
    "Some planet back home."
    "Which one?  I wonder if it's one I know?  I travel around a lot of places."
    "Have you ever been to a planet with little miniature humans like me?"
    "No, but I must have been close, because I've seen others of your kind before."
    Helia is taken aback.  She says, "Others of my kind?  Little blond people?"
    Arken nods and smiles.  "I've actually met a couple of pilots like yourself."
    "Did they look like they could be my sisters?"
    "Yes, actually."
    "Tell me, Arken, was there something interesting about them beyond that?  I bet they were all very good pilots."
    "As far as I can tell, they were, yes."
    "My people tend to be very good at flying.  Vessels."
    "So I gather.  Although... your friends here don't look a lot like monks."
    Helia looks surprised.  She says, "Really?  And tell me, have you had the... luck... of being introduced to my friends?"  She clearly is not referring to the crew of Nightshade.
    "Not directly, no."
    "So you don't know who you'd seen.  It's been a while since I've seen my other friends that are pilots.  I trust you have a good relationship with the brothers?"
    "Yes.  They've been most helpful to me at times.  I think I have managed to return the favor."
    "They've been most helpful to us too.  Is there any chance you may be travelling to a place you might see some of the brothers any time soon?"
    "Not immediately, although I do anticipate perhaps in another couple of years...  I have a little business here, and then I'll be headed back in that general direction."
    "Could you carry a note for the brothers?"
    "Absolutely, I'd be delighted."
    "Would you care to join us sometime later?" asks Helia, this time referring to the crew.
    "Certainly, if you wish.  It would be an honor."
    "Let me check with our captain and see if we'll be eating here for dinner.  Perhaps you could join us."
    Helia walks back to Misha and the crew, and says, "His name is Arken.  He's a traveller.  He... has a very wide range of interests, and I thought we could invite him to join us for dinner if you'd like."  Misha says that would be fine; Helia returns to the old man.
    To Arken, Helia says, "My captain would be delighted to have somebody new to speak with for dinner."  She says they'll set up the reservations and arrange meeting him.  She then says her good-bye, and walks off to the ladies room.
    The immediate reaction, of course, is for Shark and Robert both to look up this Arken person.  All they have is a name and what he looks like, which makes Shark's public records search rather difficult.  Helia helps out by suggesting Shark check for him in or around Glisten subsector.  Still, Shark finds nothing.
    Robert, on the other hand, has other places to search.  He hooks up through Eagle's Nest records, finding four members with a name like Arken.  Only one of the pictures matches -- Sir Arken Hauther.  The club records have no mention of homeworld or anything like that.  On the other hand, his three sponsoring members are listed: Delphine, Duchess of Mora; Norris, Duke of Regina; and Ricardo, Duke of Adabicci.  Now Norris was promoted to Archduke in 1111, so it would have to have been before that.  So Sir Arken has been a member for more than ten years, and has very influential friends -- or he has a hacker like Robert to do it for him.
    Shark searches public records about the Eagle's Nest.  It dates back four hundred years or so.  As Shark notes to himself, this might be about the same age as the Wonstar Development Corporation; but then, making unrelated events match up is in Shark's nature.
    Robert continues to dig into information about Sir Arken Hauther.  He's not listed in any arrival records that he can find, or any hotel records, and there's not even any records of when he was granted knighthood.
    Misha asks if there's any plausible alternative to Sir Arken doing the same thing they did to get membership, but more brazenly.
    Helia replies quietly that from the way he spoke, he probably not only knew his three sponsors, but they might well owe him favors at some time.
    Shark adds that if he were knighted, it wouldn't appear in any who's who.  He has several non-documents to his own name, he says.
    Helia says, "It's more than him bragging about anything.  Whoever he really is, I think he really has travelled far and wide and met quite a few interesting people, such as his supposed sponsors.  Either that or he's as good as us and we should really have a good time with him."
    Robert does finally find one other record of Sir Arken Hauther.  It's in the standing orders to the base commander of the Imperial Naval Base here, to cooperate with him as much as possible.  This order dates back to 1073.  He's certainly had time to travel all over the Imperium in those fifty years or so.
    Shark laughs that if they go to another world, this is someone whose name they'd want to assume.

    Now back to the business of selling the Blockade Bourbon... Since the bartender seems to be a purveyor of information -- and valuable information at that --the plan is to get the information from him.
    Misha of course immediately asks the bartender directly.
    The man says he knows exactly who they want -- Walter Elliot is in the market for a bottle.  He says he can put them in touch with him, or broker the transaction himself, or set up a meeting.  An appropriate finders fee would of course be in order.
    Misha replies that they'd like to meet the guy in person.  They already have dinner plans for tonight, but they'd like to do it as soon as possible tomorrow.  Misha asks the bartender to set it up with anyone on board Nightshade.
    The bartender says that Mr. Elliot is ready to buy, and would certainly be ready to bring cash to the meeting, if they want to bring the goods.  He adds that he'll still be here at the bar, assuming everything is to their satisfaction.  He says his name is Walter, and they can just ask for him.  He'll probably be here -- he laughs and says he doesn't sleep that much.

    Now all that remains is to set up the dinner date with Sir Arken Hauther.  It's decided that they will eat here at the Eagle's Nest, and after consultation with the concierge set up a private kitchen and dining room.  They will bring Vonish here as chef for the meal.

    It's an easy matter for Helia to hurry back to the ship and bring Vonish to the Eagle's Nest.  He sorts out a lot of the arrangements on the way, as he won't have long once he gets here.