(6) The Archduke's Man

The Nightshade Campaign (120-1122)

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120-1122 : Regina / Regina / Spinward Marches

    Helia Sarina has to hurry to bring Vonish Kehnaan to the Eagle's Nest to prepare dinner for the crew and their guest.  She finds that Nightshade's launch is capable of very rapid atmospheric travel indeed, although no-one else really notices except Vonish.
    Preparations for the meal are difficult, given the time constraints and the unfamiliar facilities, but Vonish handles them well.  The Eagle's Nest is set up to accommodate members' personal chefs, and provides him with all the staff, resources, and materials he needs.
    They have chosen a dining suite which looks out over the countryside below, moving past at 10 kph as the floating complex flies over the surface of Regina.  It has a much lighter feel than the dark oppressive wood paneling of the Members Room.  Kalida Siena, Marchioness of Nakege, has arranged all the details and done so perfectly.
    Sir Arken Hauther is right on time.  He nods to Helia, and smiles at the rest of his hosts.  They exchange greetings.  Helia introduces the crew to him, and they make small talk for a while.  He recognizes Grand Admiral Baron Bridgehead, and makes a comment about being back from the dead.  The Baron is visibly pleased to be recognized.
    Arken says, "So what brings you all out here?"
    "A very good pilot," says Helia.
    "That goes without saying."
    "I'd say a quest for knowledge and the sport of it.  Wouldn't you, sir?"  Helia looks at Misha Ravanos, her captain.
    Misha replies, "Most definitely."
    Arken says, "Anything in particular?"
    "Interesting knowledge."
    "Much the same as I do these days, too.  I'm always finding interesting knowledge.  The trick is in knowing what's interesting."
    Helia suggests, "Not getting killed finding it?"
    "I don't do much of that these days."
    Misha says, "So, what do you find interesting these days?"
    "All sorts of stuff.  I'm just generally looking around, seeing what's around, investigating rumors, picking up rumors, dining on an expense account, that sort of thing."
    "So what do the rumors say about us?  About Helia's crew?"
    Arken laughs.  He says, "Other than you're all very lucky to have Helia, you mean?"
    Helia blushes delicately.
    Arken continues, "Rumors say you're into all sorts of interesting things."
    Misha asks, "Is that all?"
    "No, it's not all.  But I'm not at liberty to discuss everything I've heard about you."
    Kalida smiles, "That's all right, we're not at liberty to discuss everything about us, either."
    "I imagine not."
    Misha says, "So perhaps we should seek topics about which we are at liberty to speak."
    "Yes, absolutely.  Do you play golf?"
    "No, neither do I.  Seems a shame to waste the golf course out there, but I never could get into it myself.  So you're pretty much staying in the Spinward Marches at the moment, is that right?"
    "Pretty much.  Where are you staying these days?"
    "Pretty much in the Spinward Marches.  There's enough to investigate here without having to go any further out.  I tend to stay around the borders a lot of the time.  It's convenient.  It's a lot safer now that it used to be, when the wars were going on.  Yes, the conflicts have all moved other places.  There's always something going on, that's about the only thing you can guarantee."
    Helia changes the subject to the menu.  She chats about that for a while, then almost as an aside says, "Is the information business a profitable one still?"
    Arken says, "Well, for me it's more of an ongoing hobby, you know.  I can't say I'm really in the business of it.  I just do it as a favor, mostly.  Gives one a good reason to travel to interesting places and meet unexpected people."
    "Unexpectedly dead people?"
    "Unexpectedly alive people," says Kalida.
    Arken nods, smiling.
    Edward "Shark" Teeth  muses to himself that the news of the battle group deployment wouldn't get here for a long time.  It in fact wouldn't get here until 147-1122, about a month from now.  Not even the news of them being alive should have reached here for another week.  He checks via hand puter with Mich Saginaw on the ship asking what the fastest would be for a message to get from Iderati / Five Sisters to here; the simplest way would be that taking the news from Adabicci to Lanth by a jump-6 ship would reduce the time by eight weeks.
    Misha asks, "What do you know about ancient history?"
    Arken says, 'How far back do you want to go?"
    "300,000 years."
    "Not much more than anybody else.  My specialty is more modern than that.  I stay up with current affairs, and for me ancient is 200 years ago.  Maybe 400."
    Shark says, "400 years ago.  Like when Wonstar was founded."
    "I'm sure that you know about Wonstar."
    "What about Wonstar?"
    "Well, 400 years ago, they were founded, right?"
    "Who was founded?"
    "The Wonstar Development Corporation."
    "What do you know about them?"
    "That they were founded 400 years ago, basically.  What do you know about them?"
    "What do I know about them?  I... couldn't say I know a lot.  400 years ago, that was before the Psionic Suppressions."
    "That's true.  I didn't put that together.  Psionics was legal then."
    "My specialty is in more modern stuff.  My main interest just goes back around the Fourth Frontier War.  So what's your interest in ancient history?"
    Misha says, "We've recently heard some stories about ancient history, and I wondered if we could..."
    "New information about ancient history?"
    "It's not new.  It's ancient."
    "So what have you found out?"
    "Just some stories.  About war."
    "That would have been about when the Final War was taking place.  When the Ancients took themselves out, or were wiped out, or..."
    Helia says, "Which Ancients?"
    "The Ancients."
    "Do you think they did?"
    "Well, they very clearly were wiped out or wiped themselves out, one or the other."
    "Do you think any of them survived?"
    "Their descendants survived. It's pretty well accepted that the droyne are related to them."
    Shark asks, "So, when did you arrive here on Regina?"
    "Oh, I've been here a while," replies Arken, "A month or two.  I'm just looking into some rumors and things."
    Kalida says, "This seems to be a good place to pick up rumors."
    "It is, yes.  All sorts of things go on out here near the frontier."
    Shark says, "Do you have your own private news routes?"
    Arken laughs, "What makes you think that?"
    "Well, someone in your position probably does."
    "When you work for the people who run everything, well..."
    "They keep you informed," suggests Kalida.
    "I have a number of people who keep me informed, about all sorts of stuff.  But you guys don't seem to go anywhere unless there's something odd going on."  Sir Arken looks pointedly at Baron Bridgehead, who remains silent.
    "If you're travelling you'd just as well go somewhere interesting," says Kalida.
    Misha asks incredulously, "There are places where there's nothing going on?"
    "Yeah, sure," says Sir Arken.
    Kalida says, "We haven't found them."
    "Well, like I said, you go places where interesting things are happening.  For a start, you have quite an amazing choice of pilot."
    Helia beams at Arken.
    Arken asks Misha, "So what are you really into?"
    Misha and Kalida chorus, "Bourbon."
    "OK, I'll believe that."
    Misha says, "We've acquired a bottle of bourbon, and we're looking for a buyer."
    "I'm sure you'll be able to find one here."
    "That's what we thought."
    "So did you smuggle it out yourselves, or did you pick it up somewhere?"
    "Picked it up somewhere," says Kalida.
    "So I don't suppose you're -- of course, you're not -- trafficking in unregistered ancient artifacts?"
    Shark says, slowly, "Now why would that subject come up?"
    "Because you've been asking about ancient things, and you guys are always in the center of something, I'm sure."
    Misha says, "I assure you, we would not be trafficking unregistered artifacts."
    "No, you wouldn't be.  But should you come across a small statuette, I would be very interested in seeing it."
    Shark asks, "Are you brokering for someone, or...?"
    "Oh, no.  I'd just be very interested to know if the two of the pair had some synergetic effect."
    "And you have one, then."
    Arken nods and smiles.  "The one doesn't seem to be anything special, you know, just a statue.  I'd really like to know if you come across anything."
    "To our benefit in...?"
    "You would earn my gratitude."
    "Certainly worth quite a consideration."
    "It is."  Arken states that simply as a fact.  He continues, "And if there's anything I can help you find."  He pauses, and then says, "Speaking of Wonstar, have any of you been around there?"
    "I've had a long travelling lifetime," says Shark.
    "Yeah, OK.  Let's say you were there -- just hypothetically -- and hadn't announced your presence.  Strange things happen when you're around, right?"
    "OK.  There's a point to this story?"
    "Oh yes, there's a point to this story.  If anything really weird happened that you might know something about, would you let me know?"
    Kalida mutters under her breath, "He hurts my head."
    Arken continues, "Let's take, for example, the Wonstar Development Corporation.  Were you perhaps might have been involved in anything relating to them?  Given that this is, of course, completely off the record."
    Shark says, "Did we run over one of their executives?  Why are you asking?"
    "Like using an FGMP in downtown areas."
    "No," says Shark firmly, "We haven't."  That's strictly true -- Teri Cralla is conveniently back on board the ship, of course, and not among "we" dinner guests.  "Why are you interested?"
    "Because eventually I'm going to have to look into some aspects of that mess, and if anybody happened to have been involved in it, it would be nice to have a little more information and at least, you know, rule out alien space bats."
    Kalida laughs, "Theoretically speaking, I think we can rule out the alien space bats."
    "Sooner or later I'm going to sit down in some meeting, and some guy is going to say 'What about alien space bats?  Did they do that?'  I don't have to say why I know, or explain anything, but I'd like to know if you were the alien space bats who had the FGMP, for example."
    Kalida says, "I don't think I've ever been called an alien space bat."
    Silence comes over the table.
    Misha says, "Well, as you are aware, we... died.  Having died, it has altered our perspective on freely offering information on our whereabouts, past, present, or future.  I would never impugn the value of your gratitude, I am afraid I am ignorant of the value of your gratitude."
    Arken says, "The value of my gratitude could include, for example, me just reporting that this case is closed.  I mean, the FGMP downtown is just a small part of what went on there, as you might know."
    Shark types into his hand puter a message to Mich, asking him to ask Misha (where it can't be overheard) if he should ask who it was who killed them.  Mich relays the message.
    Out loud, Misha says, "So, are you aware of the circumstances surrounding our death?"
    "No," says Arken.  "If you'd like to tell the story, that would be great."
    "Actually we were more interested in filling our gaps in the story."
    "If I knew more of the story, perhaps I would know what gaps there are to fill in.  The news said there was a problem with the star, a solar instability.  You were conducting privately funded research.  So what's the story?  What gaps can I fill in?"
    Helia says, "Who tried to kill us?"
    "I don't know.  Unless you can give me some clues...?"
    "How did they try to kill you, what happened?"
    "If we knew, that would be the answer, wouldn't it?"
    Shark says slowly and carefully, "A person who met all the requirements of Naval Intelligence gave us a device that was supposed to assist protecting from the stellar disruptions that are reported for that system.  That device in fact exploded just as we exited jump, damaging our jump drive which we were able to repair using the skills of our crew.  And then when we returned, our return was resisted with great force."
    "What sort of great force?  Can you be specific?"
    "A Midu Agashaam class destroyer not broadcasting any identification."
    "How were the credentials of the guy who gave you the device?"
    "He met all the correct ID exchange."
    "Why would Imperial Navy Intelligence want you...?"
    "I asked them if them if there was any reason we shouldn't, and he volunteered...  That was on the system next to Zett, Ferle."
    "So there was a destroyer there?"  Arken pauses, then says, "And that would be when you picked up the ship that's registered for you.  Well, I'm sure you had some trick for getting out of that situation.  It was not... regular Imperial Navy Intelligence."
    "That's what we were afraid of.  Who was it?"
    "I don't know.  But it was not anything that was sanctioned by Imperial Navy Intelligence up the regular chain of command."
    "I had made that leap."
    "It was definitely not sanctioned by any of the regular chain of command that Imperial Navy Intelligence, or anyone on that regular chain of command from... the bottom to the top."
    Helia says, "Not officially, you mean."
    "No, I don't."
    "So it could have been surreptitiously approved."
    "No.  I mean, nobody on the official chain of command sanctioned it."
    "So it was local."
    "It was... some other element."  He looks pointedly at Shark and says, "And you understand what I mean by the chain of command running from the bottom to the top."
    "Yes.  And that should concern us and the chain of command."
    Misha asks, "Does it concern the chain of command?"
    "Yes.  It does now."
    Shark muses to himself that this renders redundant the question of whether they should go to the Archduke with this information.  He believes they just did.
    Arken continues, "So what about Wonstar?"
    Shark says, "We suspected them because of the... This crew was originally funded through the Marquis Crestworthy, through the Department of Horticultural Fertilizer, through the donations made to that organization from the Wonstar Development Corporation, and it was on a research mission for that chain of command that this whole thing happened.  So following that chain back up, they were the people who knew where we were going, potentially, so we suspected them."
    "They had nothing to do with killing you.  They had nothing to do with the destroyer where it shouldn't have been.  What about what actually happened on Wonstar?  Did you have anything to do with, um, anything there?"
    Misha says, "Theoretically."
    "OK.  I must say I'm less concerned with setting off major military weapons downtown than I am about an invisible ship that was in the vicinity of one of the company's installations."
    "What would an invisible ship look like?"
    "What an invisible ship would look like is the gap that happens when lasers hit it, or wash from one side to the other, and make holes in the desert but not where it crossed the invisible ship."
    "So what would your concern for the invisible ship be?"
    "If I knew that the invisible ship was a once-off situation that was not going to recur, then I could tell them to stop worrying about it and blame it on alien space bats that vanished.  If you have an invisible ship, quite frankly with the stuff the Baron has done before, I don't care."
    The stories Misha has heard were significant enough service to the Imperium, if they were true.  They were pretty crazy.  They rescued a ship from the side of a mountain, come back in and fly it away.  Then they take that ship, invade enemy "cockroach" territory, bring back scouting reports... all sorts of crazy things.
    Shark says, "Speaking of service to the Imperium, the Baron's old friend, Fostriades...?"
    Arken says, "As far as we can tell, he was assassinated by a small nuclear device."
    "Who assassinated him?"
    "We don't know who did that, no."
    Misha says, "Well, if someone -- anyone -- were to have an invisible ship, it would not be in their interests to promise never to use it again."
    "Not at all.  I just think it would really be in their interests not to attempt to penetrate some company installation.  One particular company installation.  Again."
    "That company's..."
    "That company's particular installation, yes.  Now I'm not saying I could arrange a tour of the place..."
    Shark suddenly realizes that Sir Arken Hauther is speaking relatively freely here.  That means he must trust the security in this location, far beyond anything Shark himself could claim.
    Arken continues, "...but I can assure you that if they know that the invisible ship really was a figment of their imagination, then they would have no reason to be concerned about it."
    Misha says, "Perhaps something less than a tour, more of a... white paper?"
    "I'm not at liberty to tell you what's going on there."
    Kalida says, "Hypothetically speaking?"
    "Hypothetically speaking?  It is not surprising that Marquis Crestworthy is getting his funding from that... place."
    Shark says, "There's always stories of invisible ships.  How many recent stories have there been?"
    "There have been two."
    "That one and...?"
    "The other one we are still investigating."
    "And it was... where?  When?"
    "It would relate to an unauthorized use of planetary defenses."
    "Yes.  Unauthorized.  Now if you wanted a link with somebody who might have been trying to kill you, an unauthorized use of planetary defenses, an unauthorized use of a Naval Intelligence destroyer... one would have to wonder if those were connected.  I am wondering."
    "I would certainly consider them very connected," smiles Shark.  He types to Mich again to ask Misha if he should say that anyone who authorized the use was able to see the invisible ship.  Mich relays it to Misha.  Misha nods.  Shark continues, "Whoever did the authorization certainly targeted the invisible ship rather precisely."
    "Well, something was targeted, and the first thing to be targeted was hit.  That was some possibly innocent ship that happened to be in orbit.  In the same way that weapons grade lasers show up invisible ships, meson gun explosions can show up invisible ships."
    "That ship was probably collateral damage.  So completely hypothetically, that was very precise targeting of something that can't be seen."
    "It could probably be seen well enough to estimate the target, in the same way that a ship shows a shadow from laser weapons, large explosions washing around the edge of an invisible ship..."
    "Before the explosion, the targeting was precise."
    "So do you have any information about that?"
    "No," says Shark quickly.
    "Can you help us track that down?"
    "We would love to help track down unauthorized use of Imperial resources,"  Shark smiles.
    "If, for example, hypothetically some anonymous data tape were to find its way into my hands describing a hypothetical imaginary situation that might have taken place, containing information that might help us track it down..."
    "No official investigation would then be started," says Shark.
    "Correct.  If at some point some work of fiction were to find its way to me, I would of course treat its source as a work of fiction..."
    "Gavrolovitch publishes some very interesting books," smiles Shark.
    "If you say so.  I've never actually read any."
    "And they might be even more interesting in the future."
    "Really?  OK."  Arken is clearly intrigued.
    "And the Marquis has taken on the challenge of publishing him since he's gone into hiding."  Shark tries very hard to keep a straight face.
    "OK.  But anything that could find its way to me that would help in a hypothetical unofficial investigation would be really useful.  We'd really like to know who did that and why."
    Misha says, "Well, to the previous matter of space bats, I think you can tell them that it was in fact space bats.  We don't believe the space bats will return to Wonstar in a..."
    "...space batty kind of way," says Kalida.
    Misha says, "We continue to remain curious about Wonstar, to the extent that any of those you run into might be able to share information with us.  Just to assuage our curiosity."
    Arken states, "Let's just say that Wonstar is sanctioned by the higher levels of the chain of command.  Marquis Crestworthy's research is contributing to the knowledge of the Imperium.  Personally I wish him great success with it.  Should he wish a restricted tour -- say in five years time or so, perhaps when there's less construction at the site -- we might be able to arrange that.  Of course, that would require my gratitude.  But there is time to come, we will no doubt run across each other again."
    Shark laughs, "I have that feeling, yes."
    "...if you seem to continue to find interesting places."
    Helia says, "So people that find interesting places tend to run into people who are just plain interesting."
    "I would say so."
    "I guess that makes us interesting as well," smiles Helia brightly.
    Shark assures Arken that if they get data, they will investigate what they can.
    Arken says, "You don't need to investigate it, just pass it on.  I'll make sure that if there are results, you will find out."
    "I'll give you what I know about the people who arranged for our 'safe' passage to Zett."
    "I would be grateful for that too."
    Misha says, "Are you aware of the Marquis' last military assignment?"
    "I am aware he got a Starburst for Extreme Heroism for his actions during a mutiny.  The details have always been very vague about it."
    Shark says, "Do you know where that mutiny was to have occurred?"
    "No, the details are too vague for that.  It's all been in -- I would say misplaced, but more displaced -- files.  Would that be an interesting story?"
    "Yes, I would suspect it would.  Maybe the Marquis would tell you himself."
    "I guess a trip to Mora is in order.  Could you perhaps provide a letter of introduction?"
    Misha nods.
    "Then I think that Mora would be my next stop," says Arken.  He turns to Helia and says, "If only I had a pilot and astrogator of your capability to take me there!"
    The larian says, "Do you have a pocket deep enough?"
    "Yes," smiles Arken.
    Shark says, "But his travels aren't as interesting as ours, I would bet."
    "I'm not sure about that," teases Helia.  She continues, "I suspect the Marquis would be very disappointed if I left the ship at this time.  Perhaps the next time we meet up I may be... more able to dispose myself that way."
    Arken says, "It was just wishful thinking."
    Helia gives one of her bright disarming grins, and says, "Ask again another time, sir.  You know my people, we do like to fly.  And we look good doing it."
    Arken returns her grin.
    Misha adds that they would be interested in any information about alien space bats he might come across.
    Shark says, "I don't know if you'd know this, but... Do you know who declared Zett a red zone and why?"
    Arken says, "It's because of stellar instability."
    "Yes, that's the party line.  Who made that declaration?"
    "I'm not sure.  I don't know that."
    "We would like to find out."
    "By that same token, I think so would I.  I will look into it."
    Dinner is absolutely wonderful.  Bringing in Vonish as private chef was definitely a good move.  Surely this meal will raise the effective social standing of those attending!  That at least would be true among the local social circles.  Certainly those who dined here this night have learnt more about carousing.
    Small talk occupies the rest of the night.  Sir Arken and Kalida discuss the latest fashions on Rhylanor, with input from Helia.  Arken also asks if Kalida has any message to take back to the family on Adabicci, as he'll certainly be passing through there on his way to Mora; he also offers to deliver any message Helia wants to send back home.  Both will be taking him up on his offer.

    The discussion among themselves continues as Helia flies the launch back to Nightshade.  Misha notes that they know there's a link between the stuff they're doing at the Wonstar Development Corporation and Zett.
    Shark corrects him, saying that there's a link between psionics and the WDC, because of the funding.  They don't know if the WDC got the Marquis because of his academic record and focus, or because of that and the Zett incident.
    Misha asks if the Marquis was publicly investigating psionics.
    "No," says Shark, "That's illegal.  He can't publicly be doing it.  He is doing parapsychology, a fringe science in which the University of Mora has a very strong department.  He has his Ph.D., but dropped out of medical school after three years."  He then recalls that the Arden Society denied the Zett event, but they didn't ask them about the Mora event.
    Misha says, "I'd be shocked if...  I had been assuming that the Mora event was sanctioned, and if it wasn't, then..."
    Shark continues, "I suspect that whoever shot at us, are the same people who tried to kill us at Zett.  I now suspect, given his non-answer about why Zett was quarantined, given his knowledge of the activities of the Marquis currently, that he is not aware of why the Marquis was at Zett, or that he was there.  So if we find out who quarantined it, we're well on the trail of who it is has been trying to kill us.  But that means there's a second organization doing psionic research, within the Imperium structure or more precisely, parallel to the Imperium structure, using Imperial resources.  I had suspected this was possible, and we had discussed whether we should go to the Archduke and say this is going on.  I think we just did.  That was the Archduke's man."
    Misha asks if there's any chance their friends from the Federation of Arden are connected with, or are, this organization within the Imperium.
    "No," says Shark, "Because they would have shot us directly.  They wouldn't have had to explode something behind us to see us.  So there's yet another organization that's interested in black tech.  So it looks like Wonstar doesn't know about black tech in any way.  Not even that there is black tech that they hadn't figured out, which is what we thought before.  They don't even know about what was at Zett."
    "Our dinner guest didn't seem to know about black tech, so..."
    "...that means the Archduke doesn't know about black tech."
    "Right.  Unless he might know something that this guy doesn't know, but I doubt it."
    "This guy has a lot of the information.  Given the importance of this, he would have acknowledged even a reminder.  Now I suspect that at some point he will call in a favor of 'take us on a tour of your ship' or whatever."
    "I think that would violate our agreement."
    "Certainly.  But do we really want to abide by that agreement?  We're definitely loyal to ourselves; the question is, are we loyal to the Imperium, or to the Protectors of the Known Universe, as they've claimed."
    Misha says, "I think we have to be loyal to both.  When it comes down to it, we have to be clear to Arken that we can't talk about this thing."
    "There's a benevolent organization that..."
    "We want to be careful about that.  We can't say that there's some organization."
    "If we ever tell them, 'We can't tell you that,' we can never be in their physical presence, anywhere they can get to us, because they will get us and they will drug us or whatever."
    "Actually, if they stole that information from us, in my opinion we haven't violated it."
    Kalida says, "We don't want to be in a position where that interpretation is forced on us."
    Misha continues, "Now I think we might find a way that we can guide them in the right direction without violating our agreement."
    Shark notes that they have not told the black ship people about Zett, not directly.  He says, "Arken already knows we got our invisible ship while we were at Zett.  He's smart enough to send somebody to check it out, even if there was only one ship there."  He adds that no-one knows of their secret base in the Bowman system in District 268, where Sagan and Jaekovic Ils-Nevronne are fixing up the pre-Maghiz Darrian base and exploiting and/or selling mining claims under Kalida's name.  He continues, "Now the Archduke knows we have an invisible ship.  That the Grand Admiral has an invisible ship -- as far as he is concerned, it's his ship.  Even though there's a Marquis or two on board, politically it's his ship.  He's the trustworthy military man on board."
    Misha says he was really hoping to get some leads on black tech from him.
    Shark says, "They don't have any information on black tech."  He pauses, then says, "Do we want to give him the guy with the statue?"
    Misha says, "If all he wants is information about the statue, I'm willing to trade something like that if he's willing to give us information about his statue."
    Shark asks what the best information TL17 could give on the statue -- he doesn't want to give the best information they can give him with black tech, obviously.  The answer is that it's not enough -- at least, pretty much just general composition and precise dimensions and 3d model.  They could give him that.
    Misha wonders if Arken would be willing to give him his statue in trade for information they'll learn from it.  It seems unlikely, but it's worth asking.
    Shark sums up: "We still have to worry about the Navy.  Not the Navy in general, but individual pieces thereof.  There is a faction of the Navy controlled by the Arden Society.  The black tech people stole Anastasia by using what appeared to be the Imperial Navy.
    Mich chimes in over the comm: "From what the Arden Society said about these ships, there's no technology that the Imperium has that could defeat them."
    "It implies that enough nuclear warheads will lower our shields enough that the primary weapon will actually damage another ship.  The nuclear weapons themselves won't do anything."
    Mich confirms, "The nuclear weapons are not there to damage the ship.  They're to knock the shields down to where the big gun can get through the shield.  So even the big gun won't go through the shield until you knock it down with nuclear warheads first.  If we came across another Arden Society ship and just shot it with the big gun, it would do nothing."
    "Which is why we shoot all 720 missiles at once," adds Shark.
    "Not all will get through, but that creates a cloud exploding simultaneously to knock down the shields enough that the primary weapon can get through."
    "So this is a gunboat.  This is not a battleship.  This is a one shot -- you only get one shot.  Then you have to run away and hope they don't kill you."
    Kalida says, "You have to hope you're only battling one other ship."
    "Or that you've got other ships with you.  This is a gunboat.  This is a PT boat.  Big frigging PT boat, but it's a PT boat."
    "Just imagine what a battleship would look like," says Kalida.
    Mich says, "We've seen one twice this size."
    Shark says that's not enough to carry a lot -- maybe ten shots.
    Misha says that the other thing they got out of this meeting was they had suspicions that the Imperium, or some factions within the Imperium, was out to get them.  What they've learned is that those factions are disconnected from the Imperium itself, and that Wonstar is not part of that faction.
    As Shark puts it, they're learning who that faction is not.  They're not Wonstar, and they're not the Archduke.
    They have already figured that the other quasi-Imperial agency that is after any black technology they can lay their hands on, they were the ones responsible for their "accident."  They didn't know whether the Archduke knew about them or not -- now they're reasonably confident that he does not.  But as Misha points out, that does somewhat complicate their situation.
    Shark says that the Emperor's daughter, Grand Princess Iphegenia, could be in on it.  She sponsors the Imperial FarSpace Service.  But it's not the Archduke.
    Mich says that whoever it was had to be high enough to take over the planetary defenses on the Archduke's homeworld.
    Misha asks Robert if he -- or someone with his skill -- could break into the planetary defenses and take them over.
    Robert replies that he couldn't do it that fast.
    Misha continues, "What if you knew you were going to need to, with enough lead time...?"
    "Still couldn't do it," says Robert, "You're not going to know the command codes ahead of time, because they're going to be rotated."
    "So this actually required someone working on the inside of the planetary defenses," says Misha.
    Shark says he hopes that the fate of the people there will be among the data Sir Arken will give them.  Names, images, descriptions, contacts -- all this could be useful.  He intends to give in return the name and as much information as he can about his contact on Ferle that tried to kill them.
    Misha says that in terms of their agreement with the Federation of Arden, if they could convince the Archduke and his people -- without actually telling them who the Federation of Arden is, or that they even exist...
    Robert points out that they've already told the Archduke's man that Gavrolovitch's books ring true.
    Shark says what they really said was that he should read new ones coming out, that they would be a means of communication.
    Robert says again that the most recent book is about Arden, and basically said that they're there with black technology and guarding it for themselves.
    Shark wonders where Gavrolovitch got his information.  They need to read that book and see if there's anything they missed.  But how did he get it so close?  So he had to have some sources.
    Misha continues, if they can convince the Archduke to eliminate the rogue organization on its own, but not chase after black tech himself -- leave that to them...
    Robert says that the way it's described is not black tech as such, but it's couched in terms of artifacts.  "So there's a rogue group in the Imperium that's hoarding artifacts, and they're terminating people who've ever seen an artifact.  Those are true statements."
    Misha nods.  He likes that.
    Robert continues, "The language on things like the statues is different.  They're looking for artifacts of this one ancient race, and they're hoarding those artifacts.  It specifically says, if it has writing like this on it, we will find you and kill you, and confiscate those artifacts.  So we're couching this in terms of artifacts, not black tech.  So if you can convince the Archduke's man to go after the quasi-Imperial organization that's hoarding artifacts, and terminating anyone who held those artifacts.  That's not the Arden people."
    Shark says, "The Arden people are doing that as well, but they're only doing it to people who figure out the artifacts."
    "Using black technology.  That's different.  While the quasi-Imperial group is interested in black tech, we don't want to phrase it that way."
    "There's another connection here that I don't understand yet.  Anastasia got black tech warheads.  Did those come from the Zett stash?"
    "There's no way for us to tell," says Mich.  "Professor Farol just said a shipment came, and said he might be interested in these, and he equipped the ship with them.  He didn't ask where they came from, and there's no marking on them other than a manufacturing glyph."
    "So where did those warheads come from?  They were certainly provided to Farol to help with the war against the cockroaches.  Basically what he was doing was providing technology and resources at that end.  So whoever it was, was helping the Imperium -- not that we're saying this parallel organization doesn't help the Imperium, but they don't report to the Archduke, and probably not the Emperor."
    "If another organization came across a cache..."
    "But they would have black tech.  There would be rumors .  Unless we're saying there's a third organization...  We have two organizations we know of that have black tech.  There's the Federation of Arden, which isn't going to supply Imperial organizations with warheads, and the other one, but why?"
    Mich points out they could have come from the bigger ship at Zett, or from the smaller ship with the hole in it.
    Misha asks if they have any evidence to connect whoever it was who took Crestworthy to Zett, and the quasi-Imperial group.
    "Yes," says Shark.  "The only people who knew what was at Zett are the people who were protecting Zett.  They know about the black tech.  They brought Crestworthy there to try to figure it out.  But it wasn't Sir Arken Hauther."
    Misha says, "So somebody within the Imperium found the cache, or just the missiles by themselves, and somehow got them to the Professor..."
    Mich adds, "There's other aspects of black technology that had to have been leaked to Farol.  To build the antimatter generator, he had to have had some guidance in that area, it was so far beyond."
    Misha asks if it's possible the FarSpace Service itself found black tech, and passed it on to Farol.
    Mich agrees.  It's a possibility that they were supplying him with interesting pieces of black technology, hoping he could figure some things out.
    Shark agrees.  Based on what he's heard that they did to support Anastasia that far out, they certainly had a lot of resources.  "They claim and have some evidence of being backed by Grand Princess Iphegenia, but if you ask any scout, they don't know about the FarSpace Service."
    Misha says, "Mich, you've dealt with the FarSpace Service, right?  Just your impression of their style, would they eliminate someone going to Zett, or try to eliminate us at Mora."
    "No," says Mich immediately.  "FarSpace was more autonomous.  It wasn't a centrally managed system."
    "My impression is that their point was to combat the cockroaches."
    "That's what they were doing at that time," agrees Shark.  "They are supposed to... boldly go far beyond where the scouts have gone.  That would be the perfect organization to take over, to utilize.  There's a loose organization of well financed spacemen, that if I come in with a shred of credible evidence that I can give them an order, will likely do what I tell them to do.  The FarSpace Service might be a good organization that was taken over by that technique, or it might have been a corrupt organization that has taken on the cover of a good one.  Or it could be a good organization, and that one place with the Professor was being used.  Didn't you say you had a hard time finding the Professor a couple of times?  They kept moving him?"
    "Yeah, they did," confirms Mich.
    "Like they were hiding him."
    "He went out hunting a lot.  Hunting what?  Perhaps hunting other caches."
    "That planet was blown up by the Federation of Arden people because he was too close.  But then they weren't feeding him information because they wouldn't have blown it up, unless they pulled him off the planet first, but let's actually believe they blew him up."
    They lapse into silence for the rest of the three-hour flight to the starport.