(17) High Visibility

The Nightshade Campaign (243-1122)

243-1122 : Rhylanor / Rhylanor / Spinward Marches

    Nightshade arrives from jump just two hours short of six days, with stealth mode off and the transponder running.  It's about 10 am.
    They're here checking up on Professor Willi Marsh, hoping to find a trail they can follow to his research and publications.  Perhaps he had a personal library or other records here.  Back on Mora, Robert Morris had found a suspicious gap in the academic papers in the ancient languages section of the official Library of the Domain.  There were five papers by Professor Marsh which were removed in 1004 at the request of the executor of his estate.  At the time he was a professor at Plankwell University here in Rhylanor.
    No new news has arrived here.  Even though they spent a long time in the Red Zone, clearly if anything has happened it was a long way from here, far enough to have not arrived yet.
    They're arriving as a noble's yacht, in the name of Kalida Siena, Marchioness of Nakege.  They've picked the right name, as this week all non-Imperial ships -- Nightshade is registered as from Dulu / Scorpio / Foreven -- are subject to minute inspection, and are to remain outside orbit until boarded and searched thoroughly.  Supposedly this is part of routine security measures.  Being the private yacht of the Marchioness of Nakege, they are however given the green light to proceed without inspection and land without hassle.  This is one occasion where the ship couldn't handle all the conversation itself -- Kalida herself had to pull rank and talk to the authorities, something she handled with ease.

    They are assigned a berth befitting the Marchioness' rank, and are number three in the order of nobles' yachts.  On the way down they arrange refueling, so that they can be seen to be ready to leave at the whim of their noble.
    The two nobles ahead of them are
Artur Milhelm, Duke of Trin, and Gratha and Alania Delrio, Count and Countess of Nexine.
    Unfortunately, an air gap and shielding prevent Robert from picking up anything about the Duke's mission.  He can find everything about the ship itself, including weapon loadout, Duke's itinerary, and so on, but he can't even get the remote viewpoint to where he can connect with the secure computer systems.
    Edward "Shark" Teeth of course is concerned that they need to know about this, and whether they should be involved.  Perhaps there's a high stakes poker game going on?
    On the other hand, the ship of the Count of Nexine is vulnerable to a remote viewpoint intrusion.  Robert reveals that the Duke and Count are here to meet with the Marquis of Aramis about trade along the Mora - Trin's Veil border.  Personal notes by the Count indicate that there's a fair amount of tension between local lines and Tukera Lines concerning some of the more backwater worlds on the border.  They're here to discuss it.  The Marquis of Aramis is of course of the Tukera family, and so important despite not having any geographical interest.
    On the Trin's Veil - Mora border are a number of worlds that are not on the regular trade routes.  Traditionally worlds of this type are prime Tukera exploitation fodder.  It might well be that the Ianic decision has fired up other nobles' concern about the megacorporation's activities.  The implication from the Count of Nexine's notes is that they're intending to make sure that Tukera does not expand there, and in fact cuts back on supposed existing unauthorized expansion.
    Of course they are also here for social reasons, including continual parties where -- as Kalida explains -- most of the real business will actually be conducted.  She also says that this set of nobles can't actually help with the Nakege issue, except in terms of setting a precedent with another ruling against Tukera.
    So that's why they are number three in the parking list, beating out all the various Barons, Knights, and other lower nobles.  The ranking noble is what counts, and a landed Marchioness ranks quite highly indeed.  The Marquis of Aramis has not yet landed, and Kalida has gained field #3 by arriving first since they're of equal rank.
    There is no public timeline for this event.  The schedule hasn't been finalized, and probably won't be until the Marquis of Aramis gets here.  The Duke of Rhylanor will be hosting it but not taking part, and he has a guest section of his estate blocked out and reserved.  According to the information Robert's found, Marquis Aramis is three days late.
    Tussinian is the world they've picked to discuss as a primary topic.  Negotiations should be centered around that system, although obviously it's intended to be a precedent for all the other worlds in the area.  The Count of Nexine is here because even though Tussinian is in Trin's Veil subsector, it's in the Nexine cluster and therefore under his jurisdiction.  While the Count of Nexine is subject directly to the Duke of Mora in the chain of fealty, because of the system's location it's the Duke of Trin who's here to rule on the matter.
    Helia has been looking up Nexine, and finds out the place is fascinating.  She reads, "Nexine is an underpopulated water world currently being used by the Ministry of Conservation for reseeding efforts using biologically altered humans. Candidates are provided with gill implants, synthetic skin insulation, and webbed extremities; they are transplanted to Nexine and participate in sea farming operations under the world's shallow seas. In order to avoid disruptive effects on the shallow seas, no craft over 100 std are permitted to fly low across the sea except with special permits, available from the IMoC at the starport."  Both she and Shark think it would be a great place to go visit and use their zacks or the regular suits from Goose.

    Shark starts out by finding out where the library of Plankwell University is located.  P.U. is about as big as the University of Mora, and of course there's also the Rhylanor Institute of Technology here too.  He observes as an aside that the asteroid belt here is sure to have been searched thoroughly, although the Imperium has probably not checked it for spatial anomaly shadows.  For now, the task at hand is Professor Marsh's work.  He connects to the local net and thus the P.U. library.
    He's looking for all publications by Marsh, all papers, notes, or anything else he has written.  There are none.  Next he tries the R.I.T. library, and finds that there is nothing there either, although R.I.T. has an entry saying that all his papers are at Plankwell University.
    He tells Robert, who is not surprised.  Shark expected some listings to be there, just not the critical papers.
    Rhylanor is not as concentrated as Mora, but it's still pretty built up.  Since Marsh was doing he work about 120 years ago, Shark looks for listings of all antique book stores within 30 minutes of the University.  There are three.  He tells Misha Ravanos, that he's going out on a trip.
    Kalida also needs to make a trip ashore.  Her most recent wardrobe was assembled on Mora, and while it's adequate for shopping or informal occasions, it needs serious updating for the fashion center that is Rhylanor.  Clothes from Mora aren't up to date here, but anything here would still be in style on Mora.  Shark notes that the bodyguard suit never goes out of style.

    By the time all the routine stuff has been dealt with -- Vonish Kehnaan has already been working on resupply, while Mich has already arranged the "refueling" -- it's mid afternoon.  Robert will remain on the ship, as Shark can show him anything important if they're in contact.
    Mich Saginaw wants to go ashore too, planning to visit a bank with 5 MCr in cash; this is his homeworld, and he's going to put money on deposit -- once he's been reported dead for two years it's to be used to start up a scholarship for jump drive research here.  Vonish will help Mich as his legal advisor to make sure it's set up properly; Mich wants to keep it a secret from all but the crew.  This will be a separate trip from the others, and they take Teri Cralla as security.  Teri doesn't have any civilian bodyguard outfits, but Shark sets her up with the right gear as she's being put in this position more these days.  Teri looks awesome in a black bodyguard ensemble - it really suits her -- and Shark gives her a trenchcoat as well.
    Helia Sarina of course is interested in book shopping as well as clothes.  Grand Admiral Baron Bridgehead also will accompany them so he can update his wardrobe too.

    So Shark, Helia, and Kalida visit the first bookstore.  Kalida is looking for books on Nakege and related subjects.  Helia is doing her usual cookbook search.  Shark is also looking for books on witchcraft that he can pass on to Marquis Marcus Crestworthy.
    This store has a large section on popular witchcraft folklore.  Three of these books appear to be serious about magic, or at least were written that way -- one of them has clearly been treated by the publisher as a work of imagination, although the content is perfectly serious.
    There are no books by Professor Marsh.  This is a small compact store run by an old man who knows where everything is and can point it out, even though the sections have absolutely no logic or system in how they're laid out.  He says that if they have anything by Marsh, they'll be in the section over there.  Shark asks him what Marsh's subject was, and the man says he thinks he was into ancient languages of some sort.  Ancient Languages are between Gardening and Gravcraft, right over there.  He tells Shark to yell if he needs a ladder.  Shark uses his PRIS binoculars to read the titles on the higher shelves, but all the books are on languages he knows, and there's nothing at all of interest to him right now.
    Helia has been directed to Cookbooks, next to Historical Romance.  She finds some interesting ones to take back to Vonish.
    Kalida asks about book on shipping lines.  Wet or Space?  Space, she assures the old man.  He says he'd better show her where that section is, and hobbles off into the depths of the maze.  This section is well hidden.  It has very little on the megacorporations, but is well stocked on the smaller operations.  There's nothing on any lines operating near Nakege.
    All are done here.  The clothing shops are nowhere near the bookstores Shark wants to visit, so they decide to split up.  Kalida, Helia, and the Baron will go for clothes -- which will take several hours of wining and dining, of course -- while Shark will go to look for books.  He knows that the sort of clothing store the Marchioness of Nakege frequents will guarantee their safety while they're there, freeing him up to do his work.

    At Aliya Enli, which Kalida says is the only store they need, Shark's aside to the doorman about ensuring their safety is met with a sneer.  He leaves them with a smile, knowing that they'll be secure.
    It's been a long time since Kalida has been on Rhylanor.  The shopping experience is wonderful, and they are treated to discussion on the evolution of fashion since the Marchioness was last here, the trends that are developing, and several new designers who are starting to make a splash.

    Shark finds the next bookstore is more modern with a fully computerized stock inventory.  There is absolutely nothing by Marsh here either.  Again, he looks for the magic section, but they're all folklore.  He looks specifically for books on low tech civilizations that still claim to practice magic.  There is nothing here, and on reflection he would have noticed if there was something like that in the previous store.
    As Shark says he's done, the proprietor says that he should hold on because there might be some stuff that isn't catalogued.  If he'd like to wait for a little while -- have some coffee -- he'll check.  Shark immediately realizes that the nervous guy is trying to delay him; he says he has an appointment and so can't stay right now.  The man suggests he leaves his card, and if anything comes up he can contact him.  Shark hands him his Alfred E. Neumann card, and is glad he's wearing gloves as Helia suggested.
    It's been about half an hour since he left the others.  As Shark leaves the door, the bookstore manager is reaching for the phone.  Shark muses that the place would be full of security cameras, but nevertheless uses his expertise to make sure he loses any tail that might be on him already.  He runs through the pattern, and as soon as he changes taxis he should then be clear; he does so at a public terminal.  He then calls the Captain and tells him that his queries in the public environment -- just asking for these papers -- have drawn attention, which is interesting in itself because how could he have known to look out for these queries?
    On his way back he does cruise by the third bookstore.  It's another hole in the wall, even more than the first one.  Now is not the time to visit it, though.  He resolves to come back another time.
    Shark just goes back to the starport, checking the TAS board there on the way.  TAS does have another building downtown, but the one at the starport is usually more interesting.  He drops the three books there to be delivered to the ship in case he's arrested before he can get there.
    But how did the proprietor know to hold him?  The answer of course is that he didn't, he put it into his computer and it flagged the guy to hold him there.  Then there's the security cameras...
    Robert hacks into the computerized book lookup system.  Under Professor Willi Marsh, the author, is a note to call a certain number.  His next task is to hack into the bookstore itself and erase the local video records.  He is amused to find that with some clever work, he can actually crash the video hardware.  He erases the records of Shark, and then with a smile wrecks the system.
    Robert and Shark are collaborating now.  After hacking into the telecom company's systems Robert says that the number, which was unlisted, is registered to a private investigation company.  Gerry Medford Investigators is the name of the company, located in a low rent part of town.  The number is not the public number of the company, but another line into the office.
    Of course now Robert hacks into the Gerry Medford Investigators computer and pulls in a record of all his cases.  He works mostly on divorce, tracking children, checking people's business partners, and the occasional lost pet.  There are three people who work for the company: Gerry Medford himself, the secretary Virna Wyck, and junior investigator Darya Krelft.
    Shark runs out to a public phone (which to his surprise is free) and calls the number.  It's answered by a man, probably in his forties.  Shark curses, says it's a wrong number, and hangs up.  It certainly wasn't the 22 year old junior investigator, so it must have been Gerry himself.  Sounds like it's time for a face to face visit...

    By the time all this is done, the Marchioness and her entourage have finished shopping.  It's been a very successful trip.  Everyone has a fine wardrobe picked out.  The Baron pays the bill, even though this time he barely succeeds as he tries to hide his astonishment at how much this actually is.  Still, clearly it's worth it for him.  While Bridgehead has stayed with the timeless classics, the women have bought an assortment of classics and more radical designs.
    Shark's timing is perfect.  He arrives at Aliya Enli just as the other emerge, and escorts them back to the ship.

    Mich's task has been simple and straightforward.  Vonish has smoothed the process perfectly; Mich's 5 million is secure and its fate assured, with merely token fees.

    All return safely on board Nightshade by early evening.