(21) Social Responsibilities

The Nightshade Campaign (244-1122 to 245-1122)

244-1122 : Rhylanor / Rhylanor / Spinward Marches

    Everyone is back on board Nightshade after dinner with the Dukes of Rhylanor and Trin.  Kalida Siena, Marchioness of Nakege, is still curious why the Marquis of Aramis hasn't shown up yet for the meetings with the Dukes and the Count of Nexine.  Edward "Shark" Teeth observes that they seem to be caught in the middle of all of this.
    Kalida brings up the subject of whether they want to talk about Sir Arken.  She is in favor of telling the Dukes about him, but not vice versa.  As for the Adabicci family, it's not only Kalida who has connections with them.  Vonish Kehnaan has a standing open offer to be personal chef to Sir Geoffrey, youngest son of the Duke of Adabicci, while of course Marquis Marcus Crestworthy (of course presently not on Nightshade) served with Sir Geoffrey in the Imperial Navy.
    Mich Saginaw says that if the Archduke was in on this, it would explain some of his attitude towards Anastasia several years ago.  He recalls that his answers were quite confusing if he hadn't been in on it.  Mich presented him with a research ship saying that they were working on consistent six day jumps, and the Archduke said that he wasn't really interested.
    Grand Admiral Baron Bridgehead says that the Happy Fun Ball battle groups are usually reserved for diplomatic missions, as except in dire emergency they are too valuable to risk in battle.
    Shark wonders what the battle group might be going after.  There is Karma, the destroyed research station, and Zett is there too.  They talked about both with Sir Arken -- suggested he look into who declared the latter a Red Zone -- but without revealing anything important.  He then reminds everyone how close to treason the conversation with the Dukes really was.
    Misha Ravanos says they don't know if these activities they are questioning are as a result of actions of the Imperium -- the Emperor -- or someone against the Imperium.  There is treason going on here, but they don't know for sure if its "Us, or them."
    Kalida voices the feelings of all of them: they're assuming it's "them."
    The subject of what to do next comes up.  They could go Happy Fun Ball hunting, but they do have a rendezvous with Marquis Marc at some point.  Shark then asks whether the battle group is going after something, or just abandoning Five Sisters subsector.
    Kalida says that the fleets remaining in Five Sisters would be sufficient to fight a delaying action until reinforcements arrived, against a conventional enemy anyway.
    Mich says that Nightshade is pretty much invulnerable to the Happy Fun Ball.  Roughly one hundred simultaneous enclosing nuclear explosions are required to make the ship drop shields, which exposes her to expander fire.  A combined spread of meson gun shots from all their capital ships could have the same effect, but they would not know to do that.  No-one but the Arden Society knows the capabilities of the black ships anyway.
    It seems very likely that it is indeed Santanocheev who is responsible for the Tigress battle group leaving.  Admiral West, officer in command, would not have done it without orders, and it is clear that there were no orders from the Imperial Navy through the normal chain of command.  The timescale of the conflicts at Hinay are consistent with them moving fairly directly towards Zett.  Tracing the route from Iderati is fairly simple, but not certain.  In any case, any further news about them won't be here for a long time.
    There are other places to go, of course.  Bridgehead's babble juice and Mich's beans were all obtained on Faldor / District 268, and both of them would like to get their supplies again.  They have plenty of space in Mich's stateroom for the still, or could even use the empty stateroom that theoretically is assigned to Marquis Marc.
    Shark points out that sooner or later one of these nobles will catch them and know that they're doing jump-6 in ways they shouldn't.  Even if they don't care themselves, they'll tell someone who'll care.  In fact, they should even work out when they are allowed to tell someone about anything on the basis of when they should have been there, not when they actually were.

245-1122 : Rhylanor / Rhylanor / Spinward Marches

    The Marquis of Aramis has still not arrived.  There is no word about him, either, he just hasn't shown up.  On the other hand, there is a reception at the Duke of Rhylanor's palace for a couple of local dignitaries.  Kalida says she will attend -- that is how and where noble business is done -- and Misha will accompany her.  As the says, the function itself won't be interesting, but what goes on there might be.

    The whole family of the Duke of Rhylanor is in attendance this time, although the children will only be there through the dinner.  The Count and Countess of Nexine are here this time, although the future Count of Fulacin isn't, of course.
    The event itself is some sort of award for some local government people.  It's the sort of thing that goes on all the time in the life of a major noble, and is as boring as ever.  The press are present, but not intruding.
    The seating is all at one large table.  The nobles are distributed around, presumably to give the commoners a chance to mingle and make it feel like an important event.
    Everyone finishes eating, and the Duke of Rhylanor gives some sort of speech.  All move off to a hall for drinks, finger food desserts, and general mingling.

    Eventually Artur Milhelm, Duke of Trin, makes his way to Kalida and after some small talk suggests the two of them, with Misha, take a walk outside on the verandah.  They pass a couple of security guards at the door to the outside, who pretend to ignore the three while making it quite clear that no-one will follow.
    The verandah looks out over the courtyard gardens.  It's a good view, and from up here a discerning eye can tell that the very formal gardens were designed with an eye to providing secluded areas where those so inclined could talk in private.  It's the perfect place for a noble garden party.
    "Aramis still isn't here," starts Trin.
    "So I noticed," says Nakege, "You haven't heard from him?  He's how late now?"
    "Several days.  We had expected him to be on time."
    "I would think so."
    "I don't know why he's doing this, but at this point it's obviously intentional."
    "Was he coming alone?"
    "That wasn't clear.  Certainly the invitation extended to his family."
    Misha says, "How voluntary was this invitation?"
    "He should be here," says Trin.  "If he's not here in two days, we're going to go ahead and decide things without him."
    Nakege says, "And things would most likely not be deciding in his favor."
    Misha asks, "Does he have the clout to duck the decision?"
    "Not really," says Trin.  "We're pretty confident that after the Ianic precedent we can enforce whatever we need to do, which is basically stop Tukera expanding down there.  Or at least require Imperial oversight."
    "And that would be two precedents," says Nakege.
    "One more and you've got a movement," smiles Trin.
    "I would like to have one more."
    "You would, I suppose you would, wouldn't you?  We'll see what we can do about that, I guess, although it's not really our jurisdiction.  It's a well established situation too, not a new one."
    "Yes, it has been going on for a long time."
    "Basically we're trying to push Tukera's aggressive trade expansionism out towards the border.  We think that the Spinward Marches, despite its reputation in the rest of the Imperium, isn't quite the backwater of primitive worlds that Tukera would have us believe, and their strong arm tactics aren't really welcome."  Trin pauses, then says, "Unless he knows something, has some reason not to be here."
    Misha says, "He clearly has some reason not to be here.  So what could be more important?"
    "Something more profitable.  Some larger pending thing.  As for this decision, we will make it in two days.  It's pretty clear if he's not here what it will be, and while it won't affect their normal shipping operations it will severely affect their exploitation."
    Trin looks out over the garden and takes a sip of his cosmopolitan.  Without turning back he says, "So, we've been looking into things we were discussing the other night, and we really haven't come up with a lot yet.  We're pretty sure there's just one person in that line business here on this world, with a dedicated backup automated system, and a good many resources we believe.  But in terms of where they're actually doing business, we don't know yet.  Darya Krelft went back to the same office as before.  What else is there to do, if you can't keep up appearances?"
    Nakege says, "Have you heard of a certain person called Sir Arken Hauther?  We met him in Regina, and he claimed to be working on behalf of the Archduke.  We were asking him some questions about something else we were tracking down, and he related it to something at Mora.  He knows that what happened at Mora was pointed at us."
    Trin nods contemplatively and turns back.  "That's interesting," he says.
    "So you might add him to your list of things to look into."
    "Yeah.  Any feel for where he'd fall?"
    "No idea.  He was rather a mysterious person.  He was sponsored to the Eagle's Nest by Regina, Adabicci, and Mora."
    "Interesting collection.  He does bear looking into.  Any idea where he might be?"
    Misha says, "He said he was going to look into stuff, and Mora would be the place to go."
    Nakege adds, "We haven't seen or heard of him since.  That would about 120 days ago."  She adds that she'll send a picture of him.  She then says, "There was one other person of interest.  Admiral Santanocheev.  There are rumors that he was seen boarding Llanamith right before it mysteriously left, and he just seems to pop up once in a while in odd mysterious news stories."
    Trin ponders this.  "I was sort of young when he retired, but I gather that he and Norris clearly do not get on.  Unless that's an act, but what I gather is they had a major falling out on the ways of dealing with the Zhodani.  Norris thought they could manage a diplomatic solution, and Santanocheev preferred a first strike."
    "I don't know where he is now, but we can try to figure out his movements.  He's certainly someone to watch out for."
    Trin and Nakege agree that they're still raising more questions than answers.  The Duke rejoins the main room, where he's immediately accosted and drawn into the circulation.  Rhylanor is still fully tied up with the locals.  Nakege and her captain stay outside for a while, then return to the main room.  They politely work their way out of the room and the palace.

    Back on Nightshade, speculation about Santanocheev continues.  He could be making an end-run at the Zhodani Consulate.  If he did, though, he'd have to go through Goose on the way, which everyone finds amusing.  Even then, the fleet he has isn't going to be able to do enough damage, just stir up trouble.  It would, however, be enough to face a serious Sword World force.
    Shark suggests the mission might actually be diplomatic at the Archduke's orders.  It could be a diplomatic mission to the Zhodani Consulate coming around the back door rather than publicly through the Marches.  He also points out, on the other hand, that there are a lot of factions in the Imperium who don't like the current peace with the Zhodani and would like to disrupt it.
    Misha then suggests that perhaps they should backtrack and investigate why the Marquis of Aramis isn't here.  Shark and Kalida both wonder what he's doing rather than being here, or if he's been held up on the way for some other reason.
    Shark wonders if the Zhodani might have some intelligence about INI or INISO that they could use.  It's unlikely the Zhodani themselves would sell them the information, but they could always try asking at Attica.
    Misha summarizes.  They have the Marquis mystery, which they'll put aside for a while.  There's the Five Sisters fleet to consider.  That's just a couple of the potential paths they could follow.
    Kalida adds that they need to sound out Adabicci and see where he and the Archduke stand.  That responsibility would mostly lie with her, although Marquis Crestworthy and Vonish might be able to help out with their connections to Sir Geoffrey too.
    They then briefly discuss Darya Krelft.  Clearly she acted with confidence, and not with any inexperience that might be indicated by her young age.  If there had been any doubt about her ability to act with authority, INISO would have set it up so she didn't have as much freedom to act.  Obviously her orders were to find out why this person was looking for the papers, and make a call as to whether they were basically harmless or not.  They didn't know who they were picking up in the car, and it wasn't until they got to the Naval Base and Shark was already in the holding room that she would have found out he had any sort of intelligence background.
    Robert has a practical suggestion: kidnap her, take a brain scan and a DNA sample, and let her go.  At their leisure they could then grow a clone, reimpose the brain scan, and interrogate the clone on board the ship.  "What's the problem?" he says, "We have the technology, and the original would never know that we were torturing the clone.  Slow but relatively safe.  And when you're done, you dispose of the clone.  The original would know that they never talked, never divulged any information."
    Misha asks what the chances are that she knew or discovered that they're them and they have the black ship.
    Shark slowly comes to the realization that she triggered the alert and set everything in motion before she picked him up, because she didn't make a call in the car.  Also he observes that the cabbie wasn't followed or shut down, even though he was surely picked up on the fighters' radar and flew low and fast over residential areas.
    Robert confirms that the alert was triggered before Shark was arrested, but after he asked for the books.  It had been just one day since the previous time he had visited a bookstore and asked for it.
    Shark speculates that the alert didn't happen that time because he left before the call was done.
    Misha thinks that given the level of action she took the first time, she should have at least tried the second time.
    Mich suggests that the first time put her on guard.  That alerted her that someone was looking.  He'd probably try again and she'd get him that time.
    Kalida points out that they trashed the security system the first time, which indicated they were dealing with someone with skills, and so they overreacted the second time.
    Misha agrees, this makes sense.  She knew somebody with skills asked for the book the first time.  Even though Robert made it look accidental, she surely thought it more than a coincidence.  He adds that she is sure that she or her organization can find him again and re-interview him whenever necessary.