(7) Whiskey for Walter
The Nightshade Campaign (121-1122)
Everyone has returned to Nightshade after
dinner with Sir Arken
Hauther. The immediate plan now is to
finish selling their stuff -- the computers on the TAS board,
Blockade Bourbon at a lunch with Walter Elliot, who apparently
wants just such a bottle. They also, of course, want to find out
who is trying to kill them -- the ones who control a piece of the
and shot at them at Mora.
One related question that comes up over breakfast is
whether a meson gun
can actually damage the ship. As Edward
"Shark" Teeth points out, if it can't, then whoever shot at them from Mora
has no idea of the capabilities of the black ship. Mich Saginaw
Kalida Siena, Marchioness of Nakege, come up with the answer that they
could probably be used instead
of nuclear missiles to overload the shields, if timed perfectly.
For that the firer would have to target around the ship rather than in
it. They also can't rule out the possibility that the meson gun
might be able to damage them once the shields were down. Any
Imperial ship would aim the meson gun inside the ship, which wouldn't
hurt Nightshade. Of course, large Imperial warships also
have meson screens, which negate the effect of the weapon. If the
planetary defenses had been directed by someone who knew about black
ships, all the shots would have had to surround Nightshade
simultaneously, and it might well have taken more than three to get
coverage. Kalida and Callisto could have pulled off the
retargeting based on the shadow from the first shot; it's not
outrageous to believe that top planetary defense operators at the
Domain capital would be
that good too.
One thing they didn't mention to Sir Arken was that
Shark was warned off the database by an agent on Mora.
One reason he didn't say anything was because to do so would involve
revealing that they were looking into the black tech trail.
Misha Ravanos says that the Mora incident
was not only remarkable for the speed of the response, but for its
intensity. Are other databases that might trigger it? He
continues, "We've been assuming that there's some secret thing that Mora
defenses have been co-opted by. Maybe that's not true, and this
database is on the list of things considered so sensitive that it
automatically and legally triggers that defense."
Shark says that Arken said it was an unauthorized
use of planetary defenses. He then goes on to consider possible
good places to go: perhaps Zett;
perhaps wherever the Imperial
FarSpace Service is, to track their funding and look for black tech
Misha points out that they should probably finish
their search here in Regina
before moving on. It doesn't
have asteroid belts, but was mentioned in the database. It's the
only place in the database that doesn't have belts.
Shark adds that there is a fourth possibility.
There is Victoria,
the system where the statues come from, a
red zone. The
trader Vlen Backett had found an intact
residential site. It didn't seem to be black ship tech, although
it was clearly highly advanced. Whether it's the other guys, or
an earlier or later colony, they don't know. He does have another
thought: the droyne,
descendants of the Ancients
-- the statue could be
interpreted as a stylized droyne.
Shark then asks Mich about converting the ship's
missiles to probes. Powered from the ship, they would have
unlimited endurance provided that Nightshade was still in the
system. Mich says that really can't be done, not at all easily,
since the coordinated time-on-target guidance systems are built into
the missile body; also, the ship doesn't have single missile launch
capability -- it would have to be physically put outside the
ship. It's not nearly as simple as converting an Imperial missile
to a probe, something he's done many times before. The solid
systems in black tech devices don't lend themselves readily to
conversion to a different use.
Shark would also like to be able to project whatever
he wants as the exterior appearance of the ship. Mich says that
he hasn't figured out how to do that, and he'll need to understand a
little more about the technology before he can give any sort of
There is some definite good news: the Imperial
computers have sold for 2.5 MCr.
That's a good sum to add to the
It's now time to leave for lunch with Walter Elliot,
the prospective buyer for the Blockade Bourbon. They originally
paid the small amount of a 250 kCr for it, back when they bought it
from Andy on Wonstar.
Kalida says they'd expect to get 5
MCr from the Emperor,
or move it quickly for 2 - 3 MCr.
So Kalida, Misha, and Grand Admiral Baron Bridgehead
board the launch as passengers, while Helia takes the pilot's
seat. They can afford to be inconspicuous, as they have plenty of
time for a conventional three hours to the Eagle's Nest where Mr.
Elliot has arranged their meeting.
Meanwhile, Shark and Robert have checked up on this
Walter Elliot person. Shark's work with public records reveals
some information. He's a local businessman, very wealthy.
He runs a whole bunch of companies in speculative trade and shipping
within the Regina subsector. His
family came up from independent
merchants, and from his grandfather onwards has built that up to a
small subsector-wide shipping line. He runs ships along the main
including a good number of subsidized merchants.
His operations don't extend beyond the subsector, and obviously he
doesn't ship to any interdicted
world. As a person, he keeps a
fairly low profile. He is definitely the sort of person who would
buy the bourbon; the only question is whether they could get a better
The consensus is that they should push for a good
price, but definitely try to sell it. They can get more whiskey,
all, by running the blockade at Nakege.
They'd have to be
careful about where they claim to have obtained it, short of laundering
it through Andy, but it could certainly be done.
Misha asks if there are political or human rights
reasons for breaking the blockade -- not just running it, but breaking
Kalida says that the colony is pretty much self
sufficient. Anyway goods are permitted in, just not out.
The problem is that they are just going steadily further and further
into debt because they can't sell the bourbon. She reminds them
that Tukera Lines
was doing the same thing around Ianic, and
they have a history of doing this, that one was the first time the
Imperium has interfered with it.
Misha asks what Tukera is getting out of this.
"Money," replies Kalida. "They want to be the
sole distributor. The Bank of Mongo is floating the loan for the
company that manufactures the bourbon. The Bank of Mongo is
wholly owned by Tukera Lines, so if they sit there long enough they'll
own the company themselves. That's what they're after."
"Ah," says Misha, "Then they can take down the
blockade and sell the bourbon. Is this the only product on this
world, or is there a whole range of products?"
"That's pretty much it. They do some wood and
furniture, but everything is being blockaded."
"What was the product on Ianic? Anyone
Bridgehead says the dispute was over an exclusive
shipping contract for all state owned crafts, after several former
industries had been outlawed.
Misha continues, "So what's the legal reason for the
Kalida says, "They're claiming that there was an
agreement that they should be the only distributors, and the company
says that's not true." That's essentially what Tukera did on Nakege
She adds, "It's considered a local commercial thing. Tukera is
very powerful, too."
At this point, Vonish speaks up. He thinks
Tukera Lines might have some sort of legal tax angle on the whole
thing. He believes there's some weird quirk in the laws of Aramis
subsector that lets Tukera get reimbursed for the interest that they're
not currently being paid on the loan. By an odd megacorporation
law, they could well be getting the interest paid to the company in
actual cash from the Imperial government. Megacorporations are
subject to different laws, and Tukera is particularly powerful in
Misha says, "So despite the fact that they're the
cause of the company's inability to pay its loan..."
Vonish says, "Yes. Based on Kalida's figures,
the interest accumulating for 1122 is around a gigacredit. The
loan is about 8.7 GCr, compounded annually at 12%." If they're
taking in a gigacredit in cash from the Imperial government, that
represents quite a profit from just maintaining the blockade.
That's a big incentive to make sure the loan can't be paid off.
In addition to that, they're skimming off profits from anything that
does make it out of the system
through their people on Mongo.
There is absolutely no reason for
Tukera to settle the dispute. He adds that technically the
Imperium could interfere if the situation was considered a threat to
Imperial interstellar trade. That was the grounds used to break
up the Ianic situation. That being said, to break up such
a long established blockade as the one at Nakege, you'd have to
have serious support from upper nobility because Tukera is so powerful
-- they'd have to go up to Archduke Norris.
The only other
possibility would be if there was a
separate Duke of Regina -- a title that would be inherited by Norris'
second child, if he were to marry -- and that Duke would have to be a
"So," laughs Misha, "Short of marrying the Archduke,
getting him two children, watching them grow up and then appealing to
them... We could run the blockade. We could run the
blockade in quantity. We could make the blockade very
expensive. We need to come up with a much more elegant scenario
so that it no longer makes sense."
Shark points out that Tukera has one of the best
security forces -- actually more like a full complement of private
armed forces -- in their subsiduary Vemene.
Right now the bourbon is just piling up.
Production isn't fast to begin with. Even if the everything there
was to hit the market suddenly, because of the limited and special
production methods, the price would still be very good indeed.
Misha asks if the company -- Traditional Heritage
Craftworks -- owns the right to produce it, or just the current
production facilities. "What if all that bourbon were to go
away? What if we destroy it? The company shuts down and..."
His words are drowned in roar of
outrage. Vonish quietly adds that the company isn't making money
now, it's just piling up the loan, and Tukera will continue the loan as
long as they can. Even if the company tried to declare
court would accept it as they have a continuing source of funds in the
Shark wonders what would happen if they pointed out
to the Archduke that it was costing him -- the Imperium -- the amount
Tukera was being paid. Of course, that would depend where the
money is actually coming from.
Misha says, "OK, ignore my destroy the product
scenario. What if another company were to start making the same
bourbon the same way. That company wouldn't owe money to Tukera."
Kalida says, "Tukera wouldn't let them out either,
and they would be going bankrupt. So Mongo comes in, floats them
a loan, and now Tukera has two companies."
"Ah, it doesn't matter that they never pay off the
loan. Even if the stock was destroyed or disappeared, it wouldn't
matter. They'd just keep collecting on this tax thing. Bank
of Mongo isn't doing it for the future revenue from the whiskey.
It might be a blow to certain aristocrats who would no longer get it."
Shark adds that Tukera Lines is covering the
interest to the Bank of Mongo, so the Bank isn't losing anything
either. Tukera doesn't care about the product, just their
gigacredit a year.
Misha says that perhaps the way to eliminate the
blockade is to get rid of the stock of bourbon. With no product
to ship out, the company continues to owe and Tukera continue to get
their money, but there's no longer any point in maintaining the
"There's something wrong there somewhere," says
Kalida. "THC can sit there doing absolutely nothing, but all
these people need something to earn their livelihood, so they're going
to start up another company to do essentially the same thing. Why
isn't Tukera going to do the same thing to another company?"
Vonish says that if they paid off the loan -- and
kept it paid off -- there's nothing Tukera could do to stop them.
Misha points out that if the price dropped to just a
million per bottle, they only need to sell 8700 bottles. Surely
there's that many on Nakege now, and that would only take a
couple of trips.
Shark says again that they need to break the
economic reason for the blockade, and it has nothing to do with the
Kalida says they have to bear in mind that Tukera
has been quite willing to resort to military action in the past, and if
there was enough smuggling going on they might well just bring in their
marines and invade the planet. So it's not as simple as just
shipping the bourbon offworld.
Finally Helia flies the launch into the Eagle's
Nest. They are escorted to a private dining suite, this one very
much showing the oppressive wood panelling style of the Members
Room. Kalida notes that the wood is not up the the standard of
the white oak in the Nakege Room on Mongo. Mr. Elliot's
personal chef is overseeing the meal, as did Vonish for yesterday's
dinner with Sir Arken.
Mr. Walter Elliot is pointedly ignoring Misha.
Obviously the barbarian is not up to his exacting etiquette standards,
or perhaps he just doesn't like the look of him. After everyone
else manages to make it clear that Misha is a respected member of their
group, it helps, but Walter still clearly does not like him.
Walter Elliot is in his early fifties. He's
dressed in perfect high end clothes, but does not wear them well -- he
even manages to make them look a bit scruffy. He immediately says
that he much prefers to get business done right away, and then they can
relax and enjoy the rest of the meal. He motions, and a servant
comes in carrying a suitcase, gives it to Elliot, and leaves. He
says, "The bartender tells me you have the bottle."
Kalida says, "Yes. How long have you been
looking for one?"
"How did you hear of it?"
"Everybody knows the quality and... it's the best,
"It is indeed the best."
"I hope you will find this satisfactory." He
hands Kalida the suitcase. "Five million?"
Kalida hands him the case containing the bottle.
"Excellent," says Elliot. He motions again,
and hands the case to the servant.
Kalida hands her case to Misha. She says, "I
hope you enjoy it. It's excellent."
"Well, I need something to cheer myself up at the
moment. One of my ships got into trouble."
"What happened? That's a shame."
"Yeah. I got a 10,000 ton
"Why?" asks Helia.
"The Navy says they were using the wrong
communications channel. Apparently something about running into a
couple of their fighters."
"Having an exchange?"
"No, no. Just literally running into a couple
of their fighters. They said our captain should have known about
the interference in communications there. I figure it's the Navy
just trying to screw me, you know? Just because I don't have a
title. But I'll figure out who I have to pay to get it out of
Kalida asks, "What kind of cargo did you have?"
"It was just mostly manufacturing equipment."
"Well, I hope you get it untangled."
"Yeah. So do I. I'm not so worried about
the cargo as having the ship out of impound. I need to get the
ship running. It's not like I'm Imperiallines or
can't afford to have ships sitting still."
"I'm sure not."
"I hope you enjoy the meal. I'm told it's a
traditional style from Ruie.
Never been there
myself. I like the food, you know. Don't have to go
somewhere to steal somebody's food."
It is good. It's not as good as Vonish's --
little is -- but it's good and accompanied by some rather good wine.
Helia asks, "What sort of goods do you usually trade
"All sorts of stuff," says Elliot. "Whatever I
can buy cheap and sell high. That's how business goes."
"If it's not too prying, because I really don't
understand all this business stuff as well as my companions, what are
normal good things to trade in, aside from bourbon?"
"Agricultural goods, manufacturing goods..."
"Yeah, whatever. You buy something where it's
made, and ship it to somewhere where there's demand. If there's
nothing really being on sale, you pick up a government contract and
"Spider silk," says Helia.
"It's a thread that you can find that has a very,
very high tensile strength. You can use it to make some stuff,
but it's not usually available in this part of space. I
understand that there's only one planet it's ever made on."
"Where's that?" asks Elliot, almost offhandedly.
"I hear you can get it in Reidan subsector. Raschev?
I think that's it. I'm not quite sure, I've only heard stories
about it. I myself like interesting clothing, and I hear tell
it's very lightweight and strong, and it would just float and look
pretty. I guess it would be a luxury item. Once in a while,
when I meet a trader such as yourself, I ask him if he's heard of it,
because it would truly be interesting to find it."
"Thank you. I'll definitely be looking into
Kalida says, "Luxury items get the best markup."
"Yes, they do," says Elliot with a smile.
Helia says, "I was raised with simple tastes, but
travel widens one's perspective."
"It's a long way out of my working radius, but it
might be worth sending a ship to look into it."
"I think you should make inquiries first, because
I'm not positive that's where it's from. I would hate for you to
send one that far away. That's about 20 parsecs," she rattles off
as if anyone knows the distance. She continues, "Ask
around. I may have the location wrong, but I know it's very far
Kalida says, "There would certainly be a market for
that on Regina."
Elliot says, "Yes, there would indeed."
Helia says, "Does Regina have that many rich
people with nothing to do?"
"Yes. And rich people with lots of things to
"Rich people who like bourbon?"
"Rich people who appreciate the finer things of
"I mean, I prefer fizzy burblesnaps with an nice
pink umbrella, or straight giddyhooch which is really pretty good too."
"Do you play golf?" He looks at the Baron, but
the Baron avoids his glance.
"Sure, I do," says Kalida.
Elliot brightens visibly. He says, "Do you
have time for a round this afternoon?"
"Yes, I'd love to play a round."
"Excellent. Always interesting to find a new
"I haven't played in a very long time. It will
be a treat."
"The course here is excellent, as I'm sure you
know. Do you have anybody else you could bring to make a
The others at the table glance at each other and
exchange blank expressions. But it turns out that Calliso plays
golf, so Kalida suggests her. Helia will have to rush to the ship
and back to pick her up, but she enjoys flying fast anyway...
Helia takes Misha (with the money) and the Baron
back to the ship; Misha will return and caddy for Kalida, while Shark
will caddy for Callisto. Misha doesn't know why they'd need
security guard for a golf game at an exclusive club, but as Shark said
it's his job to be paranoid, and this guy overpaid without question, no