(19) A Nakege Gravella in the Imperium Court

The Regency Campaign (262-1123 to 268-1123)

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262-1123 : Jumpspace (from Nakege / Jewell / Spinward Marches)

    Nightshade has jumped for Jewell at 13:00 Imperial time on 262-1123, which means they will be due to arrive 268-1123 at 01:00.

    On the way, Mich analyzes Chuck's nuclear bullet and sets up a rig to make them.  He puts together as innocuous a shopping list of materials as possible, so they can buy raw materials on Jewell.  Of course this starts Mich thinking about antimatter bullets too, although that's a whole lot harder.  His next project, at least in the planning stage, is a large bore gauss rifle to fire Chuck's nuclear bullets, powered by black tech.
    Robert has made Shark a medical licence issued from Dulu, and a fake Imperial ID for the Gravella.  They don't really want it to be known that he is here, or Tukera will definitely find out at some point.
    Sir Misha has decided that he will need to have a talk soon with Chuck about becoming a Crew Member, with all that implies.  Now, however, is not yet the time.

268-1123 : Jewell / Jewell / Spinward Marches

    Nightshade emerges from jump at 01:00 in the Jewell system.  This is certainly a busy system, with multiple military bases and the volume of ships expected in a main trade center.  Traffic control is strict here.  Lucas pilots them in towards the mainworld at a plausible 4g, which takes four hours and brings them in to land at 05:00.
    Kalida has managed to get priority treatment here as Marchioness of Nakege, which doesn't get them the best spot at the starport but does get them fast clearance and a good landing berth.
    Shark posts his personal ad as soon as he can, on the approach to the mainworld.
    There's nothing in news from the Sword Worlds.  It takes only two weeks longer to get news from Mora to Jewell than it does from Adabicci, so it will be a while before they hear any official stories here.
    There is, however, other news:
    Official news of the Regency has still not reached here, so there is no news about any Zhodani response to it and the Santanocheev Rebellion.  Kalida riffles through the gossip papers, however, and finds that here at least there is certainly reaction among the Imperials.  The feeling is that asking to incorporate independent worlds into the Zhodani Consulate is one heck of a nerve considering that Gougeste itself had requested to join the Imperium.
    As for the Countess of Jewell, her social schedule seems to have be fairly light recently.  The biggest event is a local festival coming up on 285, where they are celebrating an otherwise unknown major event in local history.  Social engagements are generally light in the period before that comes up.

    The Gravella watches the approach and landing from the lounge.  He's been provided with his fake ID to keep him incognito on his visit to this system.  All he wants to do is step outside, breathe a different atmosphere, feel a different gravity.
    Kalida, however, wants to take most of the crew out to dinner at a good place, with the Gravella too.  She's not looking to make a splash, but just somewhere good to eat.
    The mainworld is run by an impersonal bureaucracy with a high law level.  That means severe restrictions on weapons, and also that they shouldn't push the privilege of noble entourage too hard.  The population in general would not like an obvious display of weapons, no matter how legal under noble law.
    Robert wastes no time in hacking into the local computer systems, a connection which Mich uses to collect materials for his nuclear bullets without attracting attention or suspicion.
    Mich needs a special licence to buy some of this, which Robert provides readily, in Shark's name since he's the Medical Officer.  This will attract some attention, of course, since it will arrive with an armed escort.  The materials are of course going to be used for peaceful purposes, such as power sources for water purification for backward worlds, and the escort is to ensure they can't be diverted to weaponry.

    By the time they have landed, the crew has been up for quite a while very early in the morning.  Misha declares the crew should take a nap and then wake up for a late brunch.
    Shark, however, already has an answer to his personal ad and an appointment at 08:00.  He has pills for this, at least, part of his medical legacy from now-Duke Bridgehead.

    Shark takes a cab into the city, dropping off a block away from the building.  He keeps a good eye on his surroundings, and quickly picks up that he is being followed.  His protocol at this point depends on who exactly is following him, so he takes a guess.  He's paranoid that it's Tukera, but another possibility is it's an operative from the people he's visiting to check him out.  A government operative is unlikely to have as many resources as a Tukera man, so that is something he might be able to use.  After some consideration, he's pretty sure the follower is from the very agency he's visiting.
    Inside the building, he's directed to his interview with an elderly lady who introduces herself as Beatrice.  Shark tells her about his tail that he picked out, and she makes a note about it to deal with later.
    Shark says that he is currently assigned to the Marchioness of Nakege, and that there are records missing and interesting reported origins of her palace compound.  He wants to find out anything she can gather on the Imperial Crisis Stronghold project, planet of Nakege, about 300 years ago, implemented around a certain date by Baron Graun von Hathelet.  This same project is apparently still funding the staff of the palace, even though the palace had to be abandoned due to natural disasters on planet.  "There is a natural phenomenon that has kept occupation of the palace untenable," he says.
    Beatrice is certainly interested.  After a couple of taps at her computer console, she says that she sees the project.  It's worded like it's a black ops project, she says, and it's still being funded through the Imperial Navy having started in the timescale Shark reports.
    Shark asks if the funding came through the INISO.
    She says it did not.  There is nothing about the baron except he was a minor baron who had some role in Imperial procurement.  The project was definitely funded from a source further in towards the Core.  She can't find an exact source where it came from or was approved, and she cannot find any mention of an Imperial Crisis Stronghold project.
    Shark asks if therefore there are no records on file about the construction plan, the meson gun installations...
    "What?" interjects Beatrice, "We don't have meson gun installations on Nakege!"
    Shark says they were in the plans, of which they only have a hand sketch.  They don't have the construction plans because they are still in the actual palace and they can't get there.
    Beatrice asks him why they can't get there.
    "Do you really want the long story?" asks Shark.
    "Yes," she says sharply.  "We have meson guns that we don't know about.  Yes, we want the story.  Apparently we have a world that is a defensive strongpoint that we don't know about.  The long story might be helpful.  Coffee?  Whiskey?  Gin?"
    Shark declines.  He has whiskey in his stateroom.
    Beatrice offers him breakfast too, but Shark settles for just coffee.
    Shark runs down what he knows about the mercenaries that were hired, and what they know about the employees.  The Assistant Seneschal's accent is Core, and he claims to be from that area, and gives his current name as Jon Wilford.  He asks with a smile which branch of the service he is from.
    Beatrice says his real name is Harold Franker.  He is indeed from the Core area.  He has a background in Imperial strategy as a civilian advisor.  He has been attached to the armed forces, but he has never been an armed forces member.
    A professor of tactics, suggests Shark.
    "The government pays for his suits," she says.
    "He has very good suits," nods Shark.  "He voluntarily or involuntarily has been on Nakege for ten years."
    Beatrice says they'll look into this, although it will take some time.  "He was offered the job and accepted, that's all we know."
    "Given that there's some unaccounted for military installation..."
    "Exactly," says Beatrice.  "Our interest is aroused."
    Shark says that as he stated, the natural disaster is in the form of the native fauna, which has taken out ten automated laser turrets with bites.
    Beatrice laughs, "Are you serious?"
    Shark says, "Yes.  We have evidence that one of these creatures hitchhiked on a returning landing craft and caused the crash of the Broadsword class cruiser of the mercenary unit Team Tiger Beat.  That was 50 years ago, how they were chosen we don't know yet."
    Beatrice says they will consider that, and asks Shark to explain again why they do not have access to this space.
    Shark says the mercenary group was slaughtered to a very small returning group by these creatures, who are still occupying the palace.  He says the Marchioness's ship has a crew of six, with one marine.  They do not have anything near to qualify as a mercenary attack group.
    Beatrice says that Nakege is a tricky spot, with the Tukera involvement.
    Shark says that the reason for the Tukera involvement is another good question.  He asks her for anything she find about the Imperial Crisis Stronghold project, anything she can find about Baron Graun von Hathelet.
    She says that the Baron is pretty much a dead end.
    Shark continues, "...if he published any memoirs, or anything else."
    Beatrice insists it's a dead end.
    Shark asks who is running the Marchioness's offices here on Jewell.
    She says that would be people appointed by the noble commission.  She thinks it's very unlikely that they know anything about this, but she will look into it, including what they might know about the staff on Nakege itself.
    Shark says that Mr. Franker has a personal contact on one of the Tukera patrols that shows up in the rotation.  Either his contact is actually smuggling stuff in for him, or it's his contact back to whoever is actually paying him.
    "You are aware that this is a very crazy story," says Beatrice.
    "Yes.  Good."
    "Just wanted to check that you weren't totally insane."
    "Here," says Shark, handing over some video footage from the volleyball sensors.  He says that the scale is that the creatures are about 5m, and are jumping about 20m.  He tells her about the firing tests on the herbivore skeleton -- omitting the nuclear round, of course.  Shark then adds that their ceramic building materials are very EM disruptive.  Communication is very difficult through the walls of the buildings.  He adds that he does not expect to be on this world for more than three days, but he could arrange to be back here within a month.
    Beatrice asks if he has a trusted contact on Nakege, which of course he does not.  She then says slowly, "If what you say here checks out and depending on what I find out... we could really use some more information on these installations."
    Shark says there is an active fusion plant under the palace, powering all but a small wedge of the defensive towers.  He hands her a surface map of the compound and describes the towers and their capabilities, and also a scan of the original sketches.
    Beatrice asks if the Marchioness is aware of this.
    Shark says she is.  "I don't think her appointment was as random as it seemed."
    "Well, if she needs to take it back, tell her to come up with plans of what she needs.  If -- if -- my research checks out, and if it is as you say, then I would see no problem in authorizing an Imperial Marine operation to liberate it."  She adds that she's unlikely to find out anything new before Nightshade lifts, but Shark should come back in about 3 months, in the new year.  It's likely to take that long.  She adds that he should give Frank a wave on the way out.
    Shark thanks her, and leaves.  He gives the follower the secret handshake, then takes a cab to the main public library.

    In the library, he looks up Baron Graun von Hathelet.  He avoids the military and intelligence histories that Beatrice surely checked, but instead looks into social sources.  It's a very daunting task, but even an experienced investigator like Shark has trouble finding anything.
    The Baron was a hereditary title, about three generations old when he acquired it.  His descendants moved to Aramis, apparently.  Interesting that his family should move there of all places, with a possible Tukera link.
    Shark then checks the staff in the Marchioness's offices, and the location.  They are all local, or at least recruited locally from residents.  There is no information on their funds.
    He takes a cab back to Nightshade.

    On board ship, after brunch, the crew retire to the bridge to discuss Shark's visit.  Robert, at Shark's request, sets up a holoboard against the aft wall where they can write things they know about the situation.  The title is "Paranoid Thoughts"
    Shark is the first to draw in the air and have his writing appear on the board.  As he writes, he says, "The Baron drew up plans for a secret military installation that Imperial Intelligence doesn't know about.  (It's not certain it was the Baron himself, but it is contemporary.)  Imperial Intelligence did not know about the potential of meson installations.  They're going to do some deeper checking, and if it checks out they've offered us a Marine contingent to take backyour palace any time you want."
    "How about keeping it?" asks Kalida.
    "That could probably be arranged as well.  Now, the Baron is a nobody.  No records, no personal papers anywhere, he doesn't seem to have a military record.  His family moved to Aramis about 150 years ago.  If there are any personal papers from him, they would be with the family who is now on Aramis.
    "Your local staff are all locals," Shark continues, "There is nothing I can find in any newspaper or public recordings about the yearly advance from the bank.  There is nothing about where the money comes from.  Your Assistant Seneschal's real name is Harold Franker, and he's from a world towards Core.  He is a civilian tactical specialist, who has been hired in the past by Imperial military services and for some reason was offered and accepted this position.  There might be more information if we come back in three months."
    Kalida asks when the von Hathelet family were awarded the title.
    "Several generations before this guy," says Shark, "At least.  But local intelligence doesn't know who is funding the Stronghold Project, and they didn't know it was there.  They could see the funding for Nakege described in black ops project terms.  This is originating coreward somewhere.  As for Franker, he wasn't running as we suspected.  He was assigned there by somebody for some tactical reason."
    Kalida asks if Shark will go back and talk to them.
    Shark nods and says he can.  He doesn't think Kalida's fears of having to go around heavily armed now are justified, even considering he told Beatrice that she knew about this.
    Kalida says she doesn't want any of this to make a splash Nakege.  She wants the system to remain quiet, no loud invasion, no publicizing.  She points out that the Gravella wasn't keen on the idea of a military presence, especially since it's only a few thousand kilometers away.
    Shark says they probably wouldn't notice the Marines marching around in the desert anyway, or camping out inside a big swimming pool.  And they could call it a terraforming project and have them bring in a whole bunch of water.  The Imperial Navy does have the lift capability to bring in Oort cloud ice bodies to bring water to the palace.
    Kalida resolves to draw up a plan.
    Misha says they should consider the possibility that if they can convert the centipedes to their side, it might be as useful a defense force as a squad of marines.
    Shark says that as a ground assault person, their attack pattern was the tactics he would have used against an installation like that.

    The conversation turns to shore leave.  Any party leaving the ship will have protection, whether Misha, Teri, or Shark.   There will be dinner tonight, shopping in the meantime, and Kalida wants to check her offices too.
    Shark says Robert should hack into the Marquisate offices under the guise of conducting an audit.  Kalida herself authorizes it, after all.  What Shark really wants are the financial records, but personal records won't hurt either.
    Robert does his thing.
    The money is spent on reasonable expenses.  The money comes from an account at the Bank of Jewell.  The surplus goes to a reserve account, which is where the surplus goes annually.  Robert has both account numbers of course.
    The reserve account is being held for the Marchioness.  They can't tap into that, all their expenses have to come out of the regular account.  No-one at the offices officially has access to the reserve account, and that is what the records of the offices say.
    Nothing comes out of that reserve account.  It was used as security for a loan to build the palace in the first place.  The palace is paid off.  It's running only on operating expenses now.
    That gets Shark;s and Robert's attention -- they might already have the money to pay off the Bank of Mongo, after it's been there for 350 years.
    The offices don't know how much is in the reserve account, but for the last 250 years or so it's been paying in of the order of 30MCr a year.
    Kalida wants to know how she can access it.
    Apparently the account can only be accessed by the current holder of the title.  Shark says she can do that at any terminal where she can be verified with her ID.  He also suggests going to the bank on the pretense of depositing a large amount and asking to see the manager, and then using that to get a private meeting where she can find out about the account.  He adds that on board Nightshade is pretty much the safest place she could possibly be to do this.
    Misha asks about Kalida's staff.  She says that the office is hers, but she has no hand in running it.
    Shark says there are no records in the office that say they've checked on the balance or withdrawn from it.
    Misha questions that they have never checked the balance.
    Robert digs deeper.  Once every 10-15 years someone tries to check on the balance, but have not been able to obtain it.  Apparently the Marquisate offices can't get it.
    Shark and Misha say that it would be perfectly normal then to run a check on the balance via the offices' computer system, perhaps just auditing or something.  After all, now there is actually a Marchioness; there wasn't at the time the last check was made.
    Robert agrees.  It can be done remotely while none of them are there, and they can have it check the balance and report back to them without any of the staff there knowing about it.
    But there is a catch.  The Marquisate of Nakege's computer system just went down completely.  This might mean a physical visit to the Bank of Jewell after all.

    First trip ashore is for shopping.  Kalida, Misha, and Teri take the Gravella out into the wild world of the civilized Imperium.
    The Gravella sniffs the air, staggers a little in the higher gravity, and says simply, "Thank you."  Clearly all that is left from his point of view is to return to his homeworld without interference from Tukera.
    That doesn't mean he's not interested in shopping, of course, but he doesn't want to buy anything himself.  He seems to enjoy the high end shops that Kalida likes to frequent, soaking up the culture and experience like any other tourist.
    Mich suggests that they try to find Blockade Bourbon to show the Gravella that they told him the truth about what it's work.
    Kalida knows just the place.  A very high end liquor store, after the application of Kalida's not insubstantial social skills,  admits to having a bottle that they would be willing to sell to such a customer as the Marchioness.  She manages to ask the price in a very polite and unobtrusive way: it could be hers for a mere 4 million credits.  She says she will consider it, and come back if she decides to purchase it.
    The Gravella does not react, although he obviously heard it.  He maintains his air of pleasant observation.
    The shopping trip continues, showing the Gravella many interesting things to show him of a high tech Imperial world that is nothing like Nakege.  Eventually, they return to the ship to relax before dinner.

    The Gravella, Kalida, Misha, Teri, and Lucas head out to dinner in the evening.
    The rest of them stay on board for Chuck's version of beer and cheap pizza, a request he handles surprisingly well.
    Both groups expect a quiet and pleasant evening.