(18) Leaving Home for the First Time
The Regency Campaign (14/1573 to 15/1573)
(261+262-1123 to 262-1123)
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As Nightshade heads back to the Forest
Lodge, Shark outlines his plans:
gets back to the Lodge at 4am local time. Lucas parks the ship
and everyone rests, Shark having declared that the ship will work on
Crow Time from now on while here.
- Look up Baron Graun von Hathelet at whichever planet they take
the Gravella to. Look for history, memoires, military
- Put an ad and talk to the local contact about the very very
old "Imperial Crisis Stronghold" project. Anything in the
next day or two can can be delivered directly, and they also
expect to be by again in a few weeks.
- Who is running the Marquisate of Nakege offices on
Jewell? Do they spend more than expected and where does
their money come from?
- Go through the housekeeper records and see if stories match in
terms of food expenditure, and any unexpected spikes in
- While Chuck is hunting, Robert should hunt in the old computer
system. Check via scanner if possible (especially given
the ceramic resistance) and track down the network physically.
- Shark is now concerned that the planet's meson guns might
present a threat if they provoke anything with the palace.
Active scans didn't do it last time, but they should take care.
Mich will take about a day and a half to get data
off the mercenary cruiser parts they retrieved from the wreckage on
the far side of the world. Shark suggests that they should
take a piece of carapace down to Misha to test with his zack.
Mich also takes one of Chuck's nuclear
bullets. He'll analyze it and set up a rig to make more,
although they might need to buy raw materials.
After breakfast, Shark calls Kalida and gives her
a full report on what they've found. He adds that her chef,
who wants to go hunting, is not of a standard appearance and might
raise questions. Should they just drop him off the boat or
should she prime the way first?
Chuck is the Marchioness's chef, and Kalida is
sure that him being a vargr shouldn't matter, not if the staff are
behaving properly. They can just let him off. After she
says that to Shark, however, she does inform her staff about who
Chuck is, and what he will be doing.
Chuck will hunt after breakfast, this being his
choice rather than starting before dawn. Shark has provided
the sensor data he obtained earlier over the forest, which should
help him find his prey. The vargr is equipped with his bow,
his rifle, assorted knives... and a communicator which Chuck insists
must be able to be turned off so it doesn't make a sound.
He'll take a grav pallet along with him to carry his kills.
Getting Chuck to the Launch could present an
onboard security problem, since he'd have to pass through
Engineering to get there. Now they could just pull the Launch
around to the cargo lift, but that would be a little more
tricky. They can't use the gcarrier or the air/rafts because
of the remains of the Wandering Pearl.
Sir Misha asks the crew if it might be time to
make Chuck a full member of the crew.
Shark asks if Misha trusts the vargr's realigned
Misha answers immediately: "Yes."
Kalida points out that the loyalty is not
forever. What happens when he moves on to another
leader? So far with the people they've signed on, there's the
contract. The problem with the vargr is that he's following
Misha explicitly, and when his stint is over here and he goes on to
follow someone else, will that contract hold him? Misha will
no longer be his leader, so he can't hold him either.
On the other hand, as Shark points out, he's not
going to pass on any of the Duke's secrets to them. Vargr are
complicated. Shark says simply, "If he breaks his promise, we
Misha laughs, "I don't think we have to do it."
Shark says, "It might be that we have to do it,
so they don't kill us."
Misha says he will approach Chuck with the issue
and get his take on it. For the time, that decision doesn't
have to be taken: he tells Chuck that he needs to keep his eyes
closed as he walks through Engineering.
Chuck of course does not ask why. He just
says he will.
They walk the vargr through the ship to the
Launch, and Mich flies him and Robert down to the Lodge.
Chuck lopes off into the woods, heading north,
while the others walk to the mansion. He plans to be back
around sunset. Since at this time of year the secondary star
rises and sets before the primary, it's clear he means the main sun
of this system. It's a bright sunshiny day, quite a change
from the overcast and rain they've seen so far in the forest area.
Robert has brought his suitcase communications
relay, an improved version of the one he used back on Digitis,
among other places. He's hoping that will help once he's
inside the ceramic Lodge.
The head of kitchens has also provided the tape
of the accounting records for Misha, who hands it over to Robert on
Robert sits down at the "other" computer
system. It looks really old, with a physical keyboard and a
screen instead of a holoprojection. His attempts are met with
"This network is not operational at this time." With some more
effort, however, he gets into the network diagnostics and finds that
the message is correct. Whatever is on the other end of this,
it's not working.
This has characteristics of a secure military
system rather than a civilian one, but it is indeed a terminal into
a system that isn't running. This is Imperial technology, and
rather than just being old it seems also to have been designed as a
primitive system so as not to be subject to advanced tech hacking
methods. There are no external device connections, and no way
to hack in remotely.
It's a physical optical network, however, so
Robert can figure out how far it is to the next node in the
system. That's a kilometer away, which at least puts an upper
limit on the distance -- there might be coiled cable in a basement
taking up length, but it can't be more than a kilometer away.
Of course it would help if they could scan for the conduits in the
ceramic walls, but that's made even harder by the cable being
fiberoptic instead of metals. Now it's possible it could be
metal sheathed for protection and/or location, but it's likely this
was designed so it couldn't be located.
Misha suggests that it might be worth taking a
scanner outside the builder, walking around with it, and pointing it
down. Mich, however, is pretty sure that his scanners aren't
going to be able to penetrate far enough.
Shark points out that an active scan from the
ship would mean coming out of stealth, and while the orbiting
destroyer escort wouldn't see them if they timed it right, they
would be visible from the Forest Lodge itself. It might be
worth a try at night, if there are no security cameras pointed up.
The other thing that Shark wanted Robert to do is
make sure there are no other hidden network jacks in this
room. It doesn't take Robert long to confirm that is indeed
the case -- there's just the two networks here. As Robert
points out, unless there's an access point in every room, a wireless
network wouldn't work well in this white ceramic building.
Shark is definitely sure there's something funny
going on here. He wants to know who's playing the games.
On that subject, Robert goes back to the
similarity between the centipede carapace and the building
material. He says that the only thing they know for sure is
that the creatures made it over the 20m wall, and apparently aren't
going over the 5m wall into the palace area.
That prompts Shark to say that they need to drop
a volleyball sensor into the palace area, to see if the centipedes
ever go into it. They themselves could come in more quietly
than the marine task force did, and come down into the palace area.
As Kalida points out, that's exactly what the
task force themselves did. Team Tiger Beat was a highly
competent mercenary unit.
Mich says they could just fill the whole area to
a depth of 5m -- it's surrounded by a tough ceramic wall with no
gates or openings. The catch of course is the amount of water
required. They could bring an ice body from the oort cloud,
but it would need to be about 4.6km in diameter to melt to that much
water. Landing a 4.6km icy asteroid in a non-catastrophic way
would be a little impractical with what they have at hand.
Shark points out that to fill just the inner
palace circle requires a lot less -- closer to just 215m across,
about the length of Nightshade.
Kalida adds that they'd need more, since it would
evaporate quickly, and they don't know how porous the ground might
Misha wonders if, centipede attacks aside, if
they had access to the palace could they get inside? Could
they unlock the doors? He suggests they try to sneak into the
The rest of the crew reminds him that he has not
seen the centipedes in action first hand. It might be rather
dangerous, and then there's the theory that one or more of the
creatures rode the mercenary's cutter up into space (probably on the
outside) and attacked the cruiser there. It would be much
safer to drop sensors first.
In addition to that, Shark does not trust the
Marchioness's staff at all, and he isn't alone among the crew on
Chuck returns a little after sunset with more
than half a dozen deer carcasses strapped to the grav pallet.
He look very happy, and can't suppress a slight tail wag. He
calls as soon as he gets out of the woods saying he needs to be
transported to Nightshade to start processing the meat.
This is as good a time as any for the Marchioness
and her entourage to leave the Forest Lodge. They all load up
and return to their ship.
As they leave, Kalida tells her Assistant
Seneschal that they will be back sometime in the next two or three
weeks, and will probably appear suddenly.
Shark sets up a sensor package to leave here in
case it picks up any transmissions from the Forest Lodge while
they're gone. It's unlikely they'd pick up any tightbeam
(unless they get enough backscatter), but if the Lodge is sloppy
once the Marchioness is gone they could perhaps get that.
Once on board Nightshade, they head back
to the Palace to drop another volleyball sensor. Kalida
suggests they drop some debris first to assess whether the hunters
would take out the sensor. That is what they do, dropping
bowling ball size of debris into the Palace grounds somewhere.
They spend some time picking out the spot they
want to use. The lake has water in it, surrounded by
bamboo-like vegetation, but it isn't large enough to be certain that
if they landed in it they would not be in range of the hunters.
It's night, so the hunters are less active.
There is still no sign of anything moving inside the Palace wall.
First they drop an object to the rear of the
Palace. That prompts no reaction, so then they drop another
piece halfway between the front of the Palace and the gate in the
wall. Again, there is no reaction, so that's where they drop
the volleyball sensor.
Staying at 500m altitude, now they drop a chunk
of debris into the area where the hunters are, to see how they react
at night. At 20m off the ground, it is nailed by one of
them. Apparently they are just as accurate at night.
Mich wants to try out his noisemaker device, that
generates very loud ultrasonic noise in the range that the hunters
use for echolocation. It should drown out anything else they
Shark says that there are creatures that fly in
mass swarms with echolocation that don't crash into each other, so
he's skeptical it will work.
Mich insists his is really loud, and if
their life depended on it he wants to know if they work.
Even so, that's something they'll leave for their
As they return to Crow, Shark goes over the data
from the cow area sensors and tells the crew about them.
They did catch an actual attack. The hunter
leapt on the cow, chopped off the back two segments, and dragged
them off. The herd scattered and gathered back together; the
one that was attacked ran off with them but they can't tell whether
it died later. There was some spurting when the segments were
chopped off, but that's about all the detail they can see.
They had already noticed that some cows were
shorter than others, and now they know exactly why. As Shark
points out, not only are they farming them, but they are sustainably
Lucas parks Nightshade over Crow for the
As they're talking, the issue of the nose of the
Wandering Pearl comes up again. They want to be able to
use the gcarrier to bring the Gravella on board so he doesn't have
to go through Engineering, which means they'll have to get rid of
the remains of Lucas's old ship.
Mich suggests they add it to the crash debris of
the mercenary cruiser, making it look like part of the crash.
That'll be tricky. They'll have to get Nightshade
in the right trajectory, then stop the ship so the debris shoots
forward off the cargo lift. Mich and Lucas work together on
modelling the reentry of the ship section, as well as the
astrographic problem. The piloting itself is all Lucas, of
It's done perfectly. The nose section
lights up the Nakege sky as it hurtles through the
atmosphere, and crashes into the desert right among the debris from
the Broadsword class mercenary cruiser. To anyone else, it'll
look like part of the same crash. It would take close
examination to notice the difference in erosion, since there has
been so little with the original crash craters.
Lucas parks Nightshade over Crow for the
Now the gcarrier is available to bring the
Gravella on board, and Robert can return to his duties as gravcraft
driver. After breakfast, with Nightshade out of sight
of the town, he flies in to Crow and lands in the courtyard of the
They get some astonished looks until the
Marchioness herself steps out, whereupon the locals fall over
themselves to help her in any way she wants.
Very soon, the Gravella himself is welcoming her
back. She asks him how soon he can be ready to leave, and he
says it will take him 10 minutes. He calls for his luggage;
it's being loaded on the gcarrier inside 5 minutes. A case of
Blockade Bourbon and a case of the best local wine are happily
presented to the Marchioness.
Robert flies them back to Nightshade,
with Lucas talking him in so he can approach the invisible ship
safely. The cargo lift can be extended beyond the stealth
bubble, but it's apparently not normal procedure for the ship.
The Gravella is assigned an empty stateroom, and
introduced to the crew. He seems to treat the vargr as he
would any other polite introduction.
They orbit the mainworld on the way out so the
Gravella can look down on his world. They point out Crow to
him -- the forest looks such a small part of the world from up here.
On the way out to a jump point they are very
careful to avoid any Tukera ships. They won't be detected, but
they want to maintain plausibility on how they are not getting
stopped by the blockade.
Nightshade jumps for Jewell at
13:00 Imperial time on 262-1123, which means they will be due to
arrive 268-1123 at 01:00.