(13) Welcome to the Crew

The Nightshade Campaign (194-1122 to 195-1122)

194-1122 : Mora / Mora / Spinward Marches

    Marquis Marcus Crestworthy is at the Ling Standard Products planetside yards overseeing the final details of the construction of his new starship Witch-hunter.  Unlike H.M.S. Third Eye, this ship has wired in football sensors spread through the hull, hooked into the main sensor system with a feed to the scientific module.  The module is based on a biology module, with holding tanks for lifeforms with environmental controls.
    He's received some unexpected visitors -- a delegation from Nightshade, consisting of Misha Ravanos, Edward "Shark" Teeth, Mich Saginaw, Helia Sarina, and Kalida Siena, Marchioness of Nakege.  The LSP technicians are no longer on the bridge, working on other parts of the ship.  With the vessel completely powered off, they can converse securely.  Just to be certain, Shark does a scan for bugs and announces they're clean.  It's not a surprise -- LSP does have an incentive to respect the privacy of their noble customers, after all.
    Shark suggests hiring the Marquis onto the crew as a consultant, so they can bring him up to date on the ship and the events surrounding it.  They also want the Marquis to set them up as the next official research team from the University of Mora to go to Victoria.
    Marquis Marc of course wants to know why his old crew would want to hire him.  Misha says that they can't tell him why until he's hired, but that it is worth his time and he will find it fascinating.  He adds that once he does sign on, he'll be privy to certain information which he is forbidden from repeating outside the crew -- and that there is no question of breaking that contract.  Misha explains that this is related to Lap'da.  They then go on into an almost metaphysical analogy of an ancient dark box.
    Still, Marc trusts his old first officer, and signs on as a ship's scientist.
    Marquis Marcus Crestworthy is told the whole long story.  After it is done, of course he wants to see the ship.

    But first, dinner.  They all retire to a local restaurant to discuss, among other things, what logo Marquis Marc will use on his new Witch-hunter.  The ship is his own personal property, funded by his benefactors (traced back to the Wonstar Development Corporation) through the University of Mora.  In fact, hull #29 was originally going to be a University of Mora ship until the Marquis' first ship was lost, when the slot was reassigned to him.
    The rest of them explain about the WDC, and that they have an outpost on Wonstar under cover of agricultural research.  They have large farm plots, but also have a large underground complex with fusion plants and so on.  They are clearly involved in psionic research, and are funded by the Imperial government.  They weren't able to get in to look around, of course.
    Mich tells Marc that they've now done safe five day jumps.  That leads to reminiscence of misjumps of times past, when Mich was messing with the drives of H.M.S. Third Eye.  Mich explains that there are no misjumps now, that it's safe and effective.
    Mich then asks Marc if he'd heard anything more than they knew about the firing of the planetary defenses, and reveals that it was Nightshade they were actually used against.  Marc hasn't heard anything different from the official story as reported by the TNS, but he does observe that being around them is apparently not as safe as it used to be.
    What they do know is that they were fired on within a few seconds of retrieving the data.  They must have tripped some sort of alarm, and there had to have been standing orders to fire under certain circumstances.  There could not have been a human in the loop.
    Marquis Marc is puzzled why the government of Mora would do that.  The answer, of course, is that it wasn't the government.  They do know that there's a secret society -- INISO, Imperial Navy Intelligence Special Operations -- that wants to have the technology for themselves and will destroy any evidence of that.  They are pretty sure that the cache at Zett is run by INISO.  Then of course there's the Arden Society, who are protecting the universe from the Enemy and from learning about the black technology.  INISO seems to be outside the government, although members may have infiltrated the government or at least have enough power to influence it.  That same group also sent a Midu Agashaam class destroyer to destroy H.M.S. Third Eye.  Sir Arken Hauther says that they are not sanctioned by the Imperial chain of command.
    Sir Arken Hauther they met on Regina; he clearly knows a lot about what's going on in all sorts of ways, and they've traded information to their mutual benefit.
    At this point Helia tells Marquis Marc that Sir Arken seems to be good friends with some of the mutual friends of the two of them.  Everyone on the ship has by now gathered -- if they have thought hard enough about it -- that Marc knows the people who knows Helia's people, which is why he was able to hire her on to his crew in the first place.  There is only one way to have contact with the larian, and Marc knows those people.  Shark smiles knowingly, remembering she's talking about a group called the Brothers -- whoever or wherever they may be.
    Marc is relieved, however, that even though he's officially a crew member he doesn't actually have to travel with them.  He'll be sure to travel a lot more safely on his new ship with his new crew, even though he doesn't have the experts that are now on Nightshade.  His new crew hasn't seen Witch-hunter yet -- access at this point is just available to the owner -- but have trained on mock-ups and simulations.  Marc will be wanted to look at sparkly pink mode, however, as it probably lies within his area of expertise.  They continue to discuss a few more technical details about the ship: the power source, missile replenishment, air processing, filling out starport paperwork, stealth mode, unspace holes, and so on.
    Nightshade's bridge would be hauntingly familiar to Marquis Marc.  It was on a ship exactly like this -- in fact, the other one in the Zett cache -- that the events leading to his Starburst for Extreme Heroism took place.  A failed experiment lead to the deaths of all of that team except for Marc and his friend Sir Geoffrey of Adabicci.  They assure Marc that the other ship is still there, complete with bloodstains although the bodies had been removed.
    Marquis Marc summarizes what they've told him about INISO: "There's an organization which is not the Imperial Navy masquerading itself as Imperial Navy using Imperial Navy resources, acting as if it's Imperial Navy, forging or actually receiving orders such that the rest of the Imperial Navy believes them, and lets them get away with stuff."
    Everyone nods.
    "And you can't tell anyone about this?"
    Misha replies, "That part we can talk about."  In fact, they've talked about it to a certain extent with Sir Arken.  It's the Arden Society, the black ship, and all black tech that they can't talk about.
    Mich points out with a smile that Akim Gavrolovitch's last book, The Arden Gambit, is actually true.  It says the that Arden Society has high technology that they're keeping from everybody and making sure no-one knows it, and will hunt you down and kill you just like the hero of his story.  Of course, they didn't kill Akim, that really was an animal that killed him in a hunting accident.
    As dinner winds down, Marquis Marc confirms he will continue to stay here -- at the hotel maintained by LSP -- at least until the next morning.  He needs to go back to the yards to work on a few more details tonight first.
    Tomorrow they'll see if Sir Arken has arrived on Mora.  He's certainly had time to do so, given all the sidetracking they did on the way, searching systems, playing on the Rock, and investigating Victoria.  Dinner with him might be very useful indeed.  Shark calls the TAS office at the starport and asks them to put the appropriately worded card on the bulletin board to contact Sir Arken if he is here.  They'll invite him to dinner tomorrow night at a place of Kalida's choosing, a very posh hotel in downtown Giyachii called the Bracker Inn.
    In fact, rather than spend the night on the ship, they decide to check into a hotel.  After all, they're ashore for once, and they'd best take advantage of the opportunity to relax.

    In the meantime, back on Nightshade, Robert Morris has been busy.  He has managed to find his way into records about the planetary defense incident.  He's used the information Sir Arken Hauther gave them on Regina to ease his way carefully into the systems.  Unfortunately for him, the systems are very well designed against penetration and he therefore only has limited access.  Still, he can progress further than Sir Arken's people: what triggered what, and why, and the tail end of the authorization route.
    The codes to fire and the target were inserted into the regular firing authorization chain.  It traces up from the sites to fire control, through target identification, and it came in as if it were authorized by the Imperial Navy here as part of the defense of the capital.  It did not come from the Imperial Navy.  It did not start out where planetary defense is authorized to fire: it came down between there and the level at which authorizations are accepted.  It had all the correct codes.  Everybody did their job correctly, except that instead of the Imperial Navy saying "Fire" someone else gave the command.  That person had all the correct codes of the day and it was totally integrated with the system.  This implies a physical hardware connection as well as having all the codes.
    Robert himself does not have access to the planetary defense codes.  Not yet.  It would be extremely hard to obtain them.  For once, he's encountering systems that are very cleverly designed to be difficult to penetrate -- yet, somebody had hardware built into the system to do just that.  This hardware does not seem to be a recent addition, but even just identifying the hardware and where or when it was installed is far from trivial.  There are no records of such equipment whatsoever.  To shut this down, they'd have to remove it physically.  Robert would really like to disable this capability in case his searches trigger a response again, but he can't figure out any way to do that, not even knowing where to start looking.
    Going through internal reports on the incident, everyone along the line performed their job perfectly.  There is no indication that the system was compromised.  The duty officer ended up resigning, as it looked as if he authorized it.  Investigations showed he did not in fact authorize it, so he was permitted merely to resign.  They know he didn't do it, but they can't prove anything, and he was the only one with opportunity.  The reports leave the mystery unsolved.  Furthermore, Sir Arken's information indicates that methods of research developed by Wonstar Development Corporation were used in the interrogation of the duty officer, and they are absolutely certain he did not authorize it.

195-1122 : Mora / Mora / Spinward Marches

    The day is spent relaxing.  Kalida goes shopping, updating her wardrobe.  The styles here are a little different from last time she was at a major fashion center on Rhylanor, but she goes about the task with relish.  Helia of course accompanies her, getting some lady in waiting clothes as well as some fun stuff.  Grand Admiral Baron Bridgehead also comes along, getting himself some new suits, while happily paying for the whole trip.