(23) Carpets and Answers

The Nightshade Campaign (274-1122)

274-1122 : Goose / Fessor / Foreven

    Robert Morris has been taken away by the black robed man, 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 "Shark" Teeth, Misha Ravanos, Helia Sarina, and Mich Saginaw.  Vonish 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 him and 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 through.  The acrid smell of smoking tar rises from his pipe.
    The starport 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 concentric rings; the outer 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, open stalls in a large open corridor.  The third contains restaurants and bars.  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 pass.
    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, just looking 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 less success.
    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 incomprehensibly.
    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 and vent.
    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 fashionable at some high population world and sell them individually for a fortune each...
    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 practice 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 two days."

Robert's Abduction
(Referee and Robert's player only)

    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 visit?"
    "Enlightening," says Robert.
    "In a good way?"
    "Yes.  I'd rather talk when people are on board."
    "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, carefully recording.
    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 decide later.
    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."
    Helia cheers.
    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 Whitestar sector."
    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 adds, "This 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 are doing."
    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 Arden Society."
    "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 displays."
    "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 job."
    "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 attack."