(22) Garden Party

The Nightshade Campaign (245-1122 to 274-1122)

245-1122 : Rhylanor / Rhylanor / Spinward Marches

    If the crew of Nightshade want to find out the answer about the Tussinian dispute, they need to wait here at least two days.  Certainly they would outrun any news too quickly to find out that way, and this is news they want to hear -- or, at least, Kalida Siena, Marchioness of Nakege, would love to hear of a second precedent-setting ruling against Tukera Lines.
    They have pretty much decided that their next destination will be Goose.  If it's on the way, they could drop by Faldor to pick up some beans for the famous bean juice and coffee.  Helia Sarina tells them however that District 268 is nowhere near their route, which would lead pretty much directly to spinward from here.
    That also means that their base at the pre-Maghiz Darrian site in Bowman is even more out of the way, even though it would be the best place to store the holographic data unit they found hidden in the asteroid.  Misha Ravanos points out that it's a little irresponsible to be carrying it around all the time as it exposes it to possible risk of losing it, if anything happens to the ship.
    In two days, after they hear the decision, they will jump rapidly to Goose, spending as little time out of jump as possible.
    Another priority they have is to determine where the Archduke stands in the grand conspiracy the Dukes of Rhylanor and Trin seem to have sniffed out.  Several of the crew have connections with Sir Geoffrey of Adabicci, the youngest son of a Duke who has a close connection with the Archduke.
    Helia announces that it will take five jumps to get to Goose, a little over a month at their rate of travel.

247-1122 : Rhylanor / Rhylanor / Spinward Marches

    Tonight is the evening of the ducal garden party.  Misha is expected to accompany Kalida, of course, given his regular attendance.  Helia Sarina will join them too, dressing "impressive" rather than "conservative."  She decides on something semi-flashy with big heels that match, a little sexy, covering everything other than her cleavage (for a long definition of cleavage), with full jewelry down to her navel ring and below, with a candy ankle bracelet for fun.
    Robert Morris is aware that the commdots will stop working once they reach the area where the shields will be turned on.  He again offers the flashlight emergency call, but Kalida assures him they won't need that.

    The party takes place in the garden they looked down on earlier.  The whole area turns out to be shielded, so not one conversation at the party comes back through to Nightshade.
    Helia immediately attracts an adoring circle of attendants, hanging on her every word, bringing her drinks and food, and being an audience for her tales as she poses by the fountain.  She looks a little like the fairy statue on the top of the fountain.  While she talks, she listens, and picks up a lot of juicy gossip about the minor nobles on this world.  She enjoys herself thoroughly.  She makes quite a splash here, but she isn't a regular enough participant in the social whirl of the subsector capital to make a lasting social impression.
    Misha is approached by the Duchess of Rhylanor, who engages him in a fascinating conversation about swords.  It's obvious she's very knowledgeable about their construction and use, their design and balance, and from the way she talks and handles Misha's sword, she can probably use quite a wide range very well.  When they return to the general party it's clear that his social importance here on Rhylanor is quite good indeed, significant enough to be a genuine social attraction.
    Meetings and paired conversations are going on everywhere, all respecting everyone else's privacy.  The Marquis of Aramis has still not arrived, but Rhylanor, Trin, and Nexine are making their decision anyway.  With Nakege they talk about anything but the topic, staying with light subjects as one would at a garden party.
    Later in the evening, Trin buttonholes Nakege and pulls her aside to a romantic nook.  He says that they've come to their decision.  They're stopping Tukera from expanding in that end of the Marches.  They've also made a resolution to investigate the Nakege situation.  It doesn't necessarily mean it's going to get anywhere because it's not under their jurisdiction, but a commission will be appointed to investigate it.  He explains there's nothing Nakege can do to help it for a year or two, it will take some time.  He adds that if there's anything he can do for her, she should not hesitate to ask.
    Nakege explains they'll be leaving Rhylanor shortly, but they will be returning.
    Trin encourages her to return, and says that she can come and visit Trin whenever she wants.
    They return to the party at large.

    After staying for quite a while -- the last social occasion they're likely to experience for some time -- they return to Nightshade and get ready to leave this world.

    Helia takes off into the sky and out to 100 diameters, and Nightshade goes into jump for 0509 / Lanth (an empty area) at 23:00.

253-1122 : 0509 / Lanth / Spinward Marches

    It's three hours short of six days when they come out of jump, arriving at 17:00.  Mich is out of practice jumping in sparkly pink and can't stay in there for much of the jump.
    After an hour to make sure everything's good, and a quick scan by Callisto to fix their exact position with no nearby landmarks, they slip back into jump for Asgard / Vilis at 18:00.

259-1122 : Asgard / Vilis / Spinward Marches

    Six hours short of six days, Nightshade arrives in stealth mode at 12:00.  Shark's guess as to why it's a red zone is that it's a low tech civilization and is interdicted to prevent interference.
    Callisto does the half hour scan just for the sake of it, while Shark does his own scans.  Mich also gets a while to relax between jumps.
    Mich and Robert -- with some critical data provided by Callisto's work on the sensor systems -- are close to running a synchronous simulation to see if the system will work.  They could try it live, but that is of course running the risk of disturbing anyone else on the ship who might learn of it.  For some reason, everyone on board Mich's ships seems to be scared of misjumps.
    At 12:30, Helia jumps for Zeta 2 / Vilis.

264-1122 : Zeta 2 / Vilis / Spinward Marches

    At 00:30, they arrive at their next step in the trip, Zeta 2.  It's 5-1/2 days since they left Asgard, and they have stealth mode running again.
    Again Callisto runs her half hour of scans.  This time she finds at least something of interest -- there are several heavily radioactive areas on the mainworld.  She can't tell why that's the case, but it is at least something unusual.  There are no other ships in the system, so Shark suggests they could run active scans.  Callisto does so.
    Mich and Robert have verified their automated system.  Mich's most recent advances in understanding black tech have definitely made the difference.  Mich considers they are ready to go live.  To avoid any anxiety, he doesn't tell the rest of the crew.  In his experience that's a good precaution.
    They jump for 0310 / Querion at 01:00.

269-1122 : 0310 / Querion / Spinward Marches

    This time it's another empty zone.  It's 5-1/2 days after jumping, at 13:00, when they arrive nowhere.
    The question, of course, is whether it's the right empty space.  For some reason, only Mich is actually concerned about it.  That is, until Callisto announces that an hour isn't enough to be certain and she'll need another hour to try to confirm it.
    Indeed, another hour and Callisto announces that they are indeed in the right place.  She wakes up Helia, who's been sleeping for a couple of hours in one of her hammocks against the back wall of the bridge.
    Their destination should be just one jump away.  They jump for Foreven sector at 15:00.
    Once in jump, Callisto throws a small party in the lounge for herself, Robert, and Mich.  None of them will tell the reason for the celebration, but they are all relaxed and saw no reason to make any adjustments before jumping out of the Spinward Marches.

274-1122 : Goose / Fessor / Foreven

    The journey ends with a jump of 5-1/2 days.  They arrive in stealth mode at 03:00.
    Everyone reminisces about the odd happenings when they've been here before -- people appearing suddenly on the bridge, strange conversations, strange people.  Kalida listens with a somewhat unreadable expression, as she's the only one on board who's never been here before.  Shark says that the people here rival but don't quite reach the level of Lap'da in obfuscation skill.
    Mich tells Kalida that this is where they picked up the klatrin and where they bought the zacks.  Shark adds that the zacks were illegal.  Misha tosses in the information that they almost worshipped the crew last time they arrived here, or at least kind of respected them for no other reason than having a black ship.  Shark counters that the locals were very disappointed when the crew walked ashore -- they were hoping for someone else, it seems.
    Shark explains that the system is run by a complex arrangement of secret societies.  He figures the whole purpose of the societies is to wait for the black ships and the people on board.
    Callisto announces that there are no other ships in the system.  She tells Kalida that there's often a free trader or two here, but this time Nightshade is alone.
    They drop out of stealth mode and approach the mainworld.  The ship handles all the interaction with the starport, which is a very good thing here -- it's not the easiest of worlds.  As before, they're running in the regular color scheme with the red maltese crosses on the sidepods.

    Goose is a water world with extensive ice caps.  The starport is a circular saucer-shaped riveted steel floating city located at the equator.  Helia brings them in to a water landing at a pontoon sticking out from an open dock area of the city.
    Teri is staying on board with Marquis Korwin Vanderfield.  Grand Admiral Baron Bridgehead definitely remains on board; the local gravity is too high for his comfort.  Vonish will want to come ashore to restock, and is most enthusiastic about the seafood available here.
    At the far end of their dock are six robed figures watching the ship settle in the water.  Misha says that they won't appreciate them whatever they do, so they'd just as well dress however they like.  He suggests they all dress warmly; there's a nasty cold wind and a wet salt spray from the ocean.  Shark recommend to Kalida that she at least get one of the local suits, even if not a zack itself.
    As they walk down the ramp onto the dock, five of the robed figures throw their arms up in disgust and walk away.  Misha laughs loudly and grins.
    One figure remains on the dock, his face hidden under the robe's hood.  He sighs disgustedly, "You again?"
    Misha says, "Who are you expecting?"
    "We hoped it was somebody else, the real people," says the man in the robe.
    "How would you know?"
    "Well, we know you.  We know you're not it."
    "What if we wore kind of drab colored robes," says Misha, waving at the man's clothes.
    "I don't think you would be entitled to do that."
    Robert greets him in scryptese.
    The man almost jumps out of his skin.  He drops to his knee and replies in script.  The gist of what he says is that it's calm and has been for hundreds of years, there's been no enemy activity.  It's a very brief conversation, obviously, but conveying a lot of information.
    Robert improvises some fast talk to keep the robed man convinced that he's the real thing.
    It seems to work.  The man asks if he's seen any enemy activity.  Or rather, it's a much more complex question involving conceptual references to both their previous statements and to an unspoken background.
    Robert is up to the challenge in what is now his native language.  He states they haven't seen any, but are planning to head off to dig through an abandoned enemy site (he's talking about the Ancient Site on Victoria).
    The man asks him to come with him.  He asks Robert to communicate to them that they are welcome to whatever they want here, which Robert does.  The two of them walk off along the dock towards the entrance to the next inner ring.
    As the others follow along behind, Misha asks Robert if he wants the company.  Robert doesn't want to lower himself to the level of the apes that are grunting at him, but he says tersely in galanglic that no, he doesn't want it.  The pair walk out ahead.
    The others discuss their plans for shopping.  They get some strange looks from the dock workers, who are obviously watching while obviously ignoring them.  Shark is a little nervous because he's not carrying his gauss pistol -- it's improper to carry a firearm with a zack because "it's not fast enough."
    On the subject of zacks, Helia explains to Kalida that you can't order one, you either get one or you don't.  Even if she doesn't, she should get one of the suits -- it resists pressure differences, lets you breathe underwater, and keeps you at a comfortable temperature.
    Robert and the robed man are met at the entrance to the next circle by another man in robes.  The three of them vanish into thin air.
    Shark commdots the ship and asks them to contact Robert.  Callisto replies that she has no contact, he's just vanished.  Shark suggests that she look for the black tech, and she cynically replies that she's working on it.  In the meantime, he says, they're going shopping.