(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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14/1573 (261+262-1123) : Nakege / Jewell / Spinward Marches

    As Nightshade heads back to the Forest Lodge, Shark outlines his plans:
    Nightshade 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.

    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 loyalty.
    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 kill him."
    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 his arrival.
    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 be.
    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 palace.
    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 that matter.

    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 are hearing.
    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 next visit.

    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 farming them.

    Lucas parks Nightshade over Crow for the night.

    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 course.
    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 night.

15/1573 (262-1123) : Nakege / Jewell / Spinward Marches

    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 Great Hall.
    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.