Robert Morris has been taken away by the black robed
and vanished. The remainder go on from the docks into the first
ring of the floating city. Teri Cralla, Grand Admiral Baron
Bridgehead, and Marquis Korwin Vanderfield have remained on board;
ashore to go shopping are Kalida Siena, Marchioness of Nakege, Edward
Misha Ravanos, Helia Sarina, and Mich Saginaw.
Kehnaan is remaining on board Nightshade for
the time; he'll do
his own shopping trip for supplies later on, and he will need no help
as he gets on very well with the vendors here.
On the way through the docking ring, the stevedores
deliberately ignore the group, although Shark realizes they recognize
most of the party. Misha actually makes eye contact with the
ringleader; although his face does not visibly change, he makes it
clear to the captain that the Nightshade crew will not get any
trouble. From their previous visit, they know that the stevedores
act as a filter, approving everyone who comes into the city. The
stevedores have approved, and while they will still be surly and
stand-offish, they will offer no trouble.
One goal for the shoppers is to get Kalida a zack,
or at least a special suit. To get there, though, they have to
pass further into the city. Now that they've reached the end of
the dock walk, a familiar man at a lectern nods to them and waves them
acrid smell of smoking tar rises from his pipe.
itself is a several kilometer wide
riveted floating steel saucer. The population code of the world
doesn't include the 3000 or so in the starport, as they count as
starport personnel rather than native population for census
purposes. The upper surface is slightly domed, the lower surface
also slightly convex, outer walls straight but leaning slightly in at
the top. The exterior of the whole thing is painted a dirty
green. The construction seems consistent with the world's
reported tech level. Electrical power is freely used through the
city, but the power generation method is unknown. The city is
laid out in
docks are open to the elements. In the first ring are
marine and space chandlers and related merchants, the storefronts built
into the structure. In the second ring are merchants and bazaars,
stalls in a large open corridor. The third contains restaurants
The people here are generally short and stocky, olive-skinned.
They continue to get strange looks. Helia
explains that they have never seen any children here, so she stands out
conspicuously. Nevertheless, as a group they are apparently
recognized, and they do get some deferential nods from the people they
Shark remembers that they do scrimshaw work here,
and thinks they could get such art as excellent trade goods.
Bridgehead of course reminded everyone that the beer is not only
excellent but also highly nutritious, and Vonish delights in the marine
food available here.
Moving on through to the bazaar ring, their
destination is the clothing shop where they were offered the zacks the
first time. Still, they begin by wandering around and exploring,
around. Since their last visit some of the stores and stands have
changed, but the setup is very similar. There are food stores,
book stores, clothing stores, snack bars around an eating area.
Shark notices that they have seen no pottery.
One stand that is new since last time is one
selling rugs of various sizes and very elaborate patterns. Helia
asks the vendor, "Any of them fly?" He says something
unintelligible in return. The larian asks again, but the
communication barrier is still there; she then tries charades with even
Shark examines the rugs and tries to figure out what
they're made of. It's hard to tell what it is, but he's sure it's
mixed fibers of some sort, nothing he recognizes. They're
probably processed fibers, but processed from what he can't tell.
Helia, meanwhile, has managed to figure out that
when she said "fly" the storekeeper understood it as "floor."
With this level of understanding achieved, she asks for wall
rugs. The man says something else, and produces one in a garish
combination of orange and blue. The pattern is somewhat
disturbing, almost seeming to move when Helia looks at it out of the
corner of her eye. She tries to ask the shopkeeper how much it
would cost, and eventually manages to mime it out. The man writes
down 2000 on some paper and passes it to her. Shark reminds Helia
in a whisper that they're supposed to haggle. Helia turns over
the paper and starts drawing: a bird in the sky, some butterflies, and
some grass. She indicates she would like a rug in this sort of
pattern. Shark says that there probably aren't any birds on this
world, or bugs for that matter.
The shopkeeper, however, has an idea. He steps
to the back and pulls out a large rug with a scene of a coral
reef. It's colorful with a main theme of blue. There are
familiar looking fish and some other stranger creatures, but it's quite
pleasant. The texture has a softness and a stiffness to it that
feels quite good. Helia asks for a price, and the man writes
4000. Helia turns over the paper to where it still says 2000 and
passes it back. The man crosses out the first zero and writes in
a 5. Helia nods, 2500 sounds a fair price to her. It will
look good in her stateroom. She starts looking for another rug
with a complex pattern, but before she can really do so the man
gestures over his assistant and jabbers at him quickly and
Shark muses that there is no translator program for
here. Translating dialects and odd accents of galanglic to
galanglic is not generally a priority, particularly outside the Imperium.
Helia looks around at the rugs. She looks at
ones with a red and brown color scheme, writes down a size, and says
she wants to see some floor rugs. The man chatters at his
assistant, who starts pulling out some that meet her criteria and
showing them to her.
Shark and Kalida let the larian and the staff
continue, while the two of them survey the scenes for anything showing
local life: animals, plants, anything. They discuss
buying a bunch of these for trade goods. Helia overhears them and
writes down "100 rugs." She suggests pulling out rugs and she'll
sort them into Yes and No piles. The assistant seems to
understand her galanglic perfectly. Helia asks him about
birds. The assistant looks at his boss for guidance.
"Trees?" asks Helia. The storekeeper says something to his
assistant, who then looks at Helia, shrugs, goes back and pulls out two
rugs. One of them is an undersea volcanic vent scene; the other
is a scene of a tree. The storekeeper says something in
frustration at the assistant, who brought out this scene of a tree
despite it not being what the customer asked for. On a whim,
Helia adds the orange and blue rug to the Yes pile, along with the tree
Kalida has been thinking about whether they can
actually sell 100 rugs elsewhere. They're somewhat odd; the
fabric is nothing they recognize. They'd probably have to make
their own market for them. Now, If she could make them
some high population world and sell them individually for a fortune
Helia keeps picking out more rugs, sage green ones
this time. She has a nice sized stack of about a dozen, and
starts bargaining over the price. She is satisfied that she's
arrived at a good price. She muses that Lap'da might love the
orange and blue one.
Kalida is picking out the 50 rugs of various sizes
and shapes, when the guy from the suit store wanders over and motions
the rug store man aside. They have a quick whispered
conversation. The rug man walks over to Helia, takes the paper
with the price, tears it up, and bows. Helia objects -- she wants
to pay -- but the man will take none of it.
Helia considers what she could give him in exchange
for her rugs. She has some toys, a large assortment in fact, but
they've seen no children here at any time, so it might not be
appropriate. She just thanks him graciously, and asks him to come
to the ship when the rugs are delivered so he can give him a gift, but
the language -- or rather dialect -- barrier is too strong. She
resolves to send him a skein of her special thread, with a very nice
note of thanks for his hospitality. Even without knowing this,
the rug man is obviously pleased and honored that Helia has picked rugs
from him -- he is actually happier after he was told not to charge her,
and considers it a very great honor to serve her.
Misha actually has a lot less difficulty with the
dialect, and can communicate with most of the locals here if
he tries hard. He explains to the rug dealer that they'd like to
buy several rugs for their own use, and also buy a large number of rugs
as trade goods. The man says he will be absolutely honored to
supply them with trade goods. Misha tries and tries to get him to
let them pay, but all the vendor says is that he would be greatly
honored -- and he seems to be serious too. Questions about who
might pay for these goods are equally unsuccessful. The man just
insists that it's an honor, and it would make him great among the
merchants to supply them; he even offers to supply his entire
inventory, that it would be greatest honor he could do. Misha
actually has to apologize that they can't take it all. In the
end, he accepts the rugs that have already been selected, and asks the
man to select 100 rugs for them to take as trade goods. The store
keeper is very happy with that indeed.
Helia smiles at the thought that her gift will be
worth an absolute fortune to him. It's a very special thread
indeed, from a place that she's been a while ago. It's a small
thing to her, she explains to the crew, but will be worth a very great
deal to him.
They are done with the rugs. They move on
towards the zack store, being eagerly offered food and drink from the
stands along the way.
Next stop is the scrimshaw store. Among the
articles on display is an enormous object forming the centerpiece of
the rear of the display. It's four meters tall. After
looking at it for a while, it becomes clear this is actually a
tooth. They continue on, but will come back.
They arrive at the zack store. The shopkeeper
is still the brother from their last visit here, not the original
person who provided their first zacks.
Misha speaks first. He introduces himself, and
after looking around to make sure no-one is in sight explains that his
friend here (Kalida) would like a suit like his.
The man quickly interrupts him and suggests they
talk in the back. He does not have a strong accent; everyone
understands him well.
Misha and Kalida follow the man into the back
room. Misha asks him if they can purchase a zack for his officer.
The man looks Kalida up and down. Having no
real status here, she's wearing a practical but elegant business
suit. He says, "Will she trust it?"
Kalida starts to say something, then realizes she is
not the one being addressed.
Misha says, "Yes."
"Have you learned to use it?" asks the man.
"I have learned to use it, yes. It is possible
there is more to learn."
The man reaches over for a measurement stick.
Suddenly he whips it around and attacks Misha with it.
The attack is very fast and directed. Still,
Misha reacts almost instinctively. There's a blur of motion and
the stick is in several pieces, the last one ending right at the end of
the tailor's finger. Kalida has watched Misha, Shark, and Helia
and so should not be surprised, but this was really spectacular.
It never looked like anything came near the stick, but it was just
suddenly chopped apart.
The man turns to Kalida and starts making
measurements. After a couple of those, and obviously gauging her
size and shape mainly by eye, he turns to Misha and says, "It will be
Back on the bridge of Nightshade, Robert
suddenly appears with the black robed man. There is a brief
stunned pause among the crew, and the black robed man vanishes.
Previously Robert had set up the communications
system to work mostly even in the bazaar ring. It's a bit
inconsistent, but it works.
Now the commdots shriek with the voice of the Grand
Admiral: "Shit! Oh, it's OK, it's Robert. And some other
chap. But the chap just vanished."
"Welcome home, Robert," says Shark, "How was your
"Enlightening," says Robert.
"In a good way?"
"Yes. I'd rather talk when people are on
"The rugs are coming, and I'll see you later."
The shoppers have moved back to the scrimshaw
shop. The pieces are skillfully carved, mostly sea scenes of
course. The large tooth is full of hunting scenes: people in the
suits hunting fish underwater with harpoons and nets. Several
figures are being torn apart by very nasty looking creatures.
This is probably the most extensive representation yet of sea life and
the native folk doing their thing. Shark walks around it,
Kalida looks around at the other large pieces,
looking for something more pastoral that would go well in the
garden. Most of the scenes, however, are very active. Only
in the smaller abstract jewelry is there anything that could be
described as peaceful. Helia of course picks up a set of the
small jewelry, the coolest she can find.
Kalida and Shark pick out a few items to take
aboard. They haven't decided yet whether to use them as
decoration on the ship, or to sell them, but that's something they can
Mich has gone on to the next inner ring, to drink
the free beer at the bar where they first encountered klatrin.
After a while, the scattered shoppers return to the
ship. They already know the stevedores have approved them, so
they can ignore the hostile glances they get on the way along the outer
dock area. For once the wind is quite calm, although there's a
cold wet rain to drive home that they're on Goose.
Once everyone's ready, Helia raises the screens for
the talk with Robert. Mich smiles at the knowledge that the
screens should prevent anyone from teleporting aboard. Of course
it looks rather odd with the water held away from the hull, but there's
no offworlders here to surprise with it.
Robert says that this is an old listening
outpost. They are actively tracking, looking for enemies.
Shark says, "So this was in fact the front line."
"No," says Robert, "I wouldn't say it was the front
line, this is just a remnant tracking station that is actively
monitored. Groups of ancients do visit here occasionally."
"When was the last time?" asks Kalida.
"We didn't discuss that."
Misha says, "Who told you? The robed one who
took you away?"
"The robed one asked me when the next guy will be
by, and last time they were here they left a communications device that
they will be delivering later. It will work across jump."
Shark explains to Misha that the device they left
with Marquis Marcus Crestworthy stopped working permanently when they
entered jump. Even jumping, this device will still work to
communicate with the ancients (wherever they are).
"That's scary," says Misha.
Robert continues, "They're a tracking station,
they're monitoring activity of the enemy party's students."
Helia asks, "And who are the enemy party's
students? Anybody we know?"
"No. And their activity is currently off in
Shark says, "Oh, you mean where the bugs are!
Isn't that where the cockroaches are? Whitestar?" He looks
from Bridgehead to Mich and Teri, survivors of Anastasia's trip
out there. "That's what you told me before." The three of
them exchange glances and nod.
Robert says, "They also have a display up of where
the information caches are located."
Everyone laughs and asks questions at once.
Robert continues, "There are four of them.
We've found one of them, and there are three more. Let me see if
I can remember where they are. The one in Foreven is easy, the
rest a little harder."
Helia brings up a starmap.
Robert points at Carei. He
was just up on a general information status screen, and these were
labeled as library repositories. Just the systems. There
was an astrogation
map, and there was a glyph on each on of these
systems." He says the one there is in a mass of stars, and while
he can probably point out the general area, he can't be sure which one
it is. "They asked me how the Janns and the Arden Society
Misha observes, "They know about the Arden Society."
"Not by name, but by deed."
"What did the call the Arden Society."
"That doesn't translate," says Robert. To
himself, he adds silently, "Into ape grunts."
"I'm trying to figure out what they know about they
"The Arden Society and the Janns were referenced as
the group that stayed behind that has an offshoot that is not the
original people but are doing good work for the original people.
That's the simplest way for me to explain it."
Misha laughs, "I was a little bit afraid that this
planet and the Arden Society were on opposite sides, and we'd find
ourselves on both sides of the war
a long time ago."
"No, we're not. This is a listening post, it's
manned say by acolytes, hence our treatment, and they are given the
technology and taught how to use it. Their job is to sit here and
monitor and look for enemy activity. There is no enemy activity
at present. They are watching the Whitestar sector. It
looks like an air traffic control center -- there are people monitoring
displays, about a half of them are in sparkly pink. It looks like
the bridge of our ship except it's bigger with more stations and
"I want to see that," sighs Helia. Nightshade
is set up for a crew of twelve, even though they don't know why that
many might be needed.
"I told them that we would stay here for a couple of
days and then continue on, and they accepted that. They will be
delivering at some point the communications device. I don't know
what we're going to do with it, that's the scary
thing. We don't know if the Arden Society has it too -- I doubt
it. We're posing as a courier, just here to give information and
check the status of the listening stations. That's who they think
I am, a cardinal to their acolytes."
Kalida says, "We need a list of exactly which people
think we are who."
"And I told them that so we can travel throughout
the Imperium and not raise suspicion, that we need to carry an Imperial
crew. So they will either discover our deceit and eliminate us..."
Shark says, "Clearly they have the technology to
eliminate us. Do they have the weapons is the question."
"A man in a zack while you're sleeping will do the
"We can leave the shields up," scoffs Shark.
"No, we shouldn't leave the shields up, because that
would be... insulting."
Misha points out that they can put them up and take
them down at random times, that should be OK.
Helia says, "If they're being deferential to us we
have rank over them and can do whatever we want with the shields."
Misha says, "A king who has a lot of guards around
him is not a king. A king with lots of guards is sure to invite