(8) On The Road Again

The Nightshade Campaign (121-1122 to 143-1122)

121-1122 : Regina / Regina / Spinward Marches

    Golf with Walter Elliot at the Eagle's Nest is most pleasant.  Mr. Elliot is much more comfortable playing golf than he was at the high social dinner spending 5 MCr on a bottle of Blockade Bourbon.  Callisto and Kalida Siena, Marchioness of Nakege, play well, and the course is indeed excellent.  Edward "Shark" Teeth and Misha Ravanos caddy, although they don't even have to carry the grav-assisted golf bags.  Helia Sarina is disappointed to find that the golf carts are entirely robotic; then she's delighted to realize she can just ride around and drink pink fizzy stuff with an umbrella while watching the others play.
    "This is a lot like deeseedow!" she says.  The last word is high pitched and quick, clearly in the native language of the larians.  She goes on to explain it's like full contact 3d frisbee golf with four teams.  Their two year old children start out with something very like quidditch.

    Later, back on the ship, after more study Mich Saginaw has a better answer for Shark about making a probe from a missile.  His practical answer is no, you couldn't do it.  You could in theory reuse the tube and the motor, but there is no real difference between that and building a probe from scratch.  As he points out, this ship is not solid state engineering, it's solid engineering.  The power plant, for example, is a single solid cube of metal.
    As Mich says, everything on Nightshade is laid down atom by atom.  That in fact is how the missiles are regenerated -- the ship builds its own missiles at about one an hour.  It can't do that if all the ship's power is being used for other things, but they can regenerate missiles during jump.  It would take 720 hours -- 30 days -- to rebuild the entire missile stock.
    Mich points out that they shouldn't be using those missiles in a fight inside the Imperium -- they should be reserved for black ship fights.  They should use the lasers -- technically a sensor system for a black ship -- and if those don't do enough, they have the expander.  The lasers are by Imperium standards weapon grade, as they are used for a raster scan of a stealth mode object, which doesn't transmit high levels of light through and so can be located that way.  The effect of the expander, if they had to resort to that, would probably look to the Imperium like an enormous meson gun, probably planetary defense scale.  And there is pretty much no way Imperium level technology can hurt Nightshade.
    Mich then poses the question of whether Berlin might be a black ship.
    Shark says that there have been descriptions of Berlin from the piracy it's been doing.  There aren't any descriptions in the news reports on TNS, but those descriptions would have to exist.  Shark points out that one of the reports indicates that a battle between Berlin and another ship lasted half an hour.  If it was a black ship, the battle wouldn't take that long.

    Now for the matter of what to do next.  Shark is most interested in finding out who tried to kill them, which they need to do either back on Mora or on Ferle, the system outside Zett.  Those are their two biggest leads.  They already know that Zett is not really run by the Navy.
    Mich would love to go to Zett and check in a set of antimatter generators, with Jane's sabotage fixed, along with full instructions on how to build, install, maintain, and adjust for scale.  Shark of course wants to know why they should give the bad guys good technology, and Mich explains that his motivation is to make sure the knowledge doesn't get lost, to preserve it.  They can't just give it to anyone, because it's black technology and it would violate their contract with the Arden Society.  By just checking it in to somewhere that already has black tech, they don't know the timeframe where it would be rediscovered, or when, and they haven't personally given it to anybody.
    Shark says the other possible line of investigation is the Imperial FarSpace Service.  They have contacts there they can use.  Mich and Grand Admiral Baron Bridgehead of course know people at the base on Lianne in the Karin system, including Jack the Younger (Jack's -- but not Jill's -- daughter).

128-1122 : Regina / Regina / Spinward Marches

    They've spent the last week in the system, relaxing on planet and restocking everything the ship needs for their next extended voyage.  They've brought in 7.5 MCr here, between the bourbon and the computers -- not bad for a ship that only needs food and air to keep running.
    Mich corrects them -- the ship does not need air.  Water is handled through the usual extraction process, although it too is enhanced using the life support systems.  The air is entirely regenerated by the life support systems, he says, just like the missiles are restocked by the missile systems.
    Shark laughs and suggests that if they could scan a steak, Mich could build ones just like it.
    Mich replies that it's not that simple.  In theory, yes, but the ship is not set up to do that.  The generation systems are extremely specific, and not at all generalized.  He says they've have to build a system from scratch to generate steaks.
    Over that week they've also conducted a fairly good scan of the system.  They have found nothing, despite using active as well as passive scans (as if they were surveying normally).
    But where to go next?  There are the obvious choices of Mora and Zett, of course, but there are other interesting things to investigate.  One of those is Victoria, where the two statuettes were found by Vlen Backett, Trow Backett's uncle.  They do have a scan of Vlen's journal, so that will help them find the site there.  They could also spend some time searching for Berlin, although finding a specific ship in a subsector is quite a search task, especially since Berlin won't want to be found.
    Mich suggests heading to Ghandi, then on to Victoria.  They can check for news at Ghandi, and also check it for spatial anomalies on the way.  It's a jump-6 from here.
    The astrographic information for Victoria mentions Ancient sites, but the journal says it was not that site that Backett found.  It was a completely undiscovered site, apparently a residential area, on Albert, Victoria's moon.
    Mich emphatically says that there's no point in searching anymore here in Regina.  They've done all the reasonable scans they can, and the chances of just coming across a cache by sheer luck is far too small.  He says they should leave now.
    All agree.

    Before they leave, Shark sends to Sir Arken Hauther the identification that the operative on Ferle presented to him before setting them up the bomb.  He also sends a toned down scan of Trow's statuette; a fine Imperial tech level scan, including the presence of trace superheavies, but not in too much detail as there wouldn't have been time for a densitometer microscope analysis.
    On the basis of Shark's extensive information and description, Arken comes up with a probable ID for the person.  He is clearly Imperial Navy Intelligence; there should not be a permanent station there.  He has a 60% likely ID -- while that's far from conclusive, if it is the person, he is on record as being on a classified mission, but there are no orders placing him in that status.  Apparently he was just reclassified as being on a classified mission, with no corresponding orders.  Someone clearly has access to the Imperial Navy Intelligence system.  That information alone is enough for Arken to set some serious investigation going.

    Helia flies Nightshade up from the starport, out to orbit and out to jump.  They slip into jump for Ghandi.
    For the build-up to and entrance into jump, Mich gets into sparkly pink mode to try to get some insights for his vortex generators.  He continues to monitor as the ship slides through jumpspace, only taking breaks for food and occasional sleep.  No-one interrupts his vigil in Engineering, or even realizes what he's doing -- aside from Bridgehead and his routine brain scans, of course.
    Mich now has a very good idea of how the system is working now.  Not only that, but he is pretty sure he knows what he needs to do to implement vortex generation.  The tricky part is to do it safely.  It's hard to be completely certain that the jump won't be turned into a misjump.  He does get a new appreciation for Helia's astrogation -- she's doing things that no computers ever do.

134-1122 : Ghandi / Lanth / Spinward Marches

    Nightshade arrives in stealth mode.  Immediately Callisto starts her spatial anomaly scans and other passive scans, while Shark also practices with the sensors.  Shark as always looks for Baba Yaga, but doesn't find her.
    One of the reasons for being in stealth mode is to throw off any of Sir Arken's information gathering as to their jump capabilities, both in terms of distance and in their routine six day jumps.  Mich points out that he already knows about the six day jumps simply from the fact that Helia is their astrogator.  It's become apparent that any larian astrogator knows that six days is how long a jump takes, with no variation.

137-1122 : Ghandi / Lanth / Spinward Marches

    The scans are all complete, and the usual piggyback news gathering reveals there is no new news.  They jump for Victoria.

    Shark starts building a database that he hopes will reveal black tech caches.  To the known cache locations he adds in the factor of known Ancient sites -- did the caches generally avoid Ancient sites, or were they collocated?  So far, the limited data on black tech caches isn't enough to even guess anything, and correlating that with Ancient sites does not reveal anything either way.  He then classifies Ancient sites as Group A (not black) and Group Black.  Unfortunately for that, all other known Ancient sites appear to be Group A.  He would have expected there to be no Group Black sites in systems with a Group A site, but the presence of both in Regina negates that theory.
    He continues to expound on the subject.  The theory he's getting is that the black tech people were the victors, and they left caches of weapons because they would need them in the future.
    Robert adds that from what Lap'da and the Arden Society have told them, there wasn't a victor.  After they stopped fighting, the black tech left caches because they were leaving.  Lap'da's ancestors set themselves out of the game, while the Arden Society were left behind to watch.

143-1122 : Victoria / Lanth / Spinward Marches

    They arrive at Victoria in stealth mode.
    Mich has spent the whole time in sparkly pink again, feeling jumpspace sliding by.  He is ready to try manipulating it on the next jump.  Of course, then it will be time to let Robert in on his secret research, and have the computer expert record and analyze what Mich is doing in sparkly pink.  After enough of that data, and with input from Helia, they at last may be able to automate it to a certain extent.
    The system has a lot of Naval traffic.  They aren't really in a position yet to pick up any coded Navy communications, just the general broadcasts.  These include the standard interdiction signal, and instructions to land at a Naval operated landing field on Victoria itself in the case of an emergency.
    They are actually headed for Albert, Victoria's moon.  Almost immediately, Callisto reports that there are spatial anomalies on Albert.  They are apparently of an unknown type, as the ship did not go into blue alert, as it does for an object in stealth mode.  Those are the only anomalies they find.
    Correlating those anomalies with active powered Imperium sites shows an Imperial battlecruiser directly over the anomaly site; other known Ancient sites do not have such coverage.  Shark then pulls in evidence from the scanned diary.  The diary is very vague about the location -- Vlen Backett himself wasn't clear on where it was -- but it soon becomes clear that it is completely consistent with where the anomalies and battlecruiser are.  There are smaller signatures of Imperial power sources on the ground in that area.  Clearly the Imperium has now found the site.  Mich and Callisto agree that the ground source is an Imperial military ground station camp, with a local fusion reactor in a semi-permanent installation.  It is what the Army would set up once an area was secure enough to land heavy transports.

    As Nightshade approaches, Shark asks Callisto to remain alert to see if the site reacts in any way.  If 720 missiles suddenly launch from the surface, they need to leave immediately.  But there is no apparent reaction -- not even a broadcasting beacon like the box that the Anastasia group found, as Bridgehead reminds them.
    Helia slips them in between the battlecruiser and the ground, and Robert intercepts the communications stream.
    Meanwhile, once the ship is stable and stationary, Shark goes into sparkly pink with the sensors and starts moving his viewpoint down to the surface.

    Now that the ship is locked, Helia points out some very strange astrogational details about Victoria and Albert.  While the bodies' masses are not similar, their size is very close.  This is most unusual in a configuration without tidal locking or odd tectonic effects.  The day lengths are perfectly normal.  It just strikes Helia as odd.
    Shark wonders if they have some way to find out if Albert is hollow.  The whole planet could be the cache he hopes to find in this system.  But where is the door?
    Callisto has also found something odd.  She's found interference coming from the general site itself in one of the Imperial communication bands.  Robert quickly checks the signal and announces it is just noise, interfering with the Imperial G band communications frequencies.  The noise is sporadic but consistent.
    The Imperial installation has obviously been here for a while.  A large dome structure encloses the Ancient site itself, with heavily armed marines patrolling it.  A marine camp is located a short distance away from the structure.
    Shark slips his point of view inside the dome.  The site inside is clearly the residential structure that Vlen Backett described.  The whole thing has an organic rounded shape as if it had grown there rather than been built.  Shark tries to move his viewpoint inside, but it is impervious to his attempts.
    Robert taps into the communications beam between the battlecruiser and the marine base.  It's all routine communications.  His next task is to try to hack the system.  He finds that the scientific detachment is a civilian unit, and while it is separate he thinks he can get into their system with some work.  The role of the military here is to keep all unauthorized personnel away, with whatever force is necessary.
    Robert says, "So we make fake orders that say we're authorized personnel."
    Shark laughs, "Oh, yeah.  Like this isn't going to get back to Sir Arken!  If there's any alien space bats, he'll know which ones were here."
    "That's what I mean.  Instead of snooping around and then getting discovered and vanishing, if we inject orders into their own system, go back out, announce that we've just jumped in, here are our credentials..."  He goes on to add that the civilian unit is from the University of Rhylanor.  That's where Marquis Marcus Crestworthy started his academic career.  He continues, "The problem is, then we have to pass ourselves off as civilian researchers.  Somebody has to be like an archaeologist, and while it is doable, we can't make an Imperial ID to satisfy the detailed analysis a marine installation will want to do."