(23) Why Here?

The Regency Campaign (29/1573)

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29/1573 (277+278-1123) : Nakege / Jewell / Spinward Marches

    The crew spends some time discussing what they've learned.  Shark wonders why the Assistant Seneschal immediately gave the new Seneschal a sitrep without knowing what she already knew.  He was clearly working for someone, but the chances of them being employed by the same organization has to be slim.  He doesn't believe that the A.S. would have done that unprompted.  He had to be either under orders to immediately dump all information, or she asked for it immediately.
    Misha says that clearly he believed the credentials.
    Shark points out that the A.S. was given a false name and appointed from halfway across the galaxy.  His real name is Harold Franker, with a background as a civilian Imperial strategy adviser, but he's going by Jon Wilford here.  How believing of credentials is he likely to be?
    Shark also says that he may not have been the reason Beatrice was appointed Seneschal, but he was the reason she was appointed now.  She was probably in a position to be available.
    As Kalida pointed out, that happened extremely quickly, so it would be interesting to know who gave the order.
    Shark agrees: it had either to be herself, on pre-existing orders, or someone actually on Jewell at the time.  There simply wasn't time for them to be anywhere else.  Beatrice could well have been section chief here.  However it was ordered, Shark triggered her orders.
    He then muses on her comment that, "The picture is larger than she anticipated."  Something in what he gave her expanded her scope of operations.  He also wonders what "all those systems up and running" meant not only in terms of systems but what they were intended for explicitly.
    Kalida says she definitely wants to have a short follow-up conversation with Beatrice, although not necessarily right then.
    This whole operation would have started with the construction of the palace about 400 years ago.  Construction was commissioned in 745, completion would have been around 750, soon after the planet was settled.  The palace was finished before the world was declared self-sufficient.  Shark turns to Mich, whose opinion is that for a high priority project like this, with meson guns, could have construction started in around 18 months.  Shark, working backwards, figures that they must have decided to build it no later than 743.
    Kalida points out that in 750 was the second Zhodani Core Expedition, whether that had anything to do with it.  I was 100 years after the Second Frontier War, which ended at about the same time as the Civil War.  That was also before the Psionic Suppressions.
    Jewell subsector was originally settled between 300 and 400, so it was well established as part of the Imperium by that time.
    Shark then brings up this white ceramic that everything seems to be made of here in the Marquisate.  It's nothing they've known of before, and they don't know anything about how it's made except that it involves fusion torches and gravitic moulds.  Those records, of course, are probably in the palace along with everything else they want to know.  It could simply be made from desert sand, but they don't know at present.  Certainly the settlers here based in Crow use nothing like it.  Maybe it's just crushed centipede skeletons.  He suggests doing an analysis of the sand and skeleton samples they have to see that that helps.
    Kalida's thoughts are on strategic matters: why would the Imperium spend so much on meson guns here in particular?  Yes, it's close to the Zhodani, but it's not a primary strongpoint and it's not on any critical path into the Imperium.
    Shark agrees.  Why would they want to protect a backwater like this?
    Mich suggests it could be a fall-back position for royalty.
    Shark points out it is not so much a fall-back position as a lateral move -- it's not getting any further from the enemy.  It's still a backwater, and was even more a backwater back then.  There were only a few hundred people on this planet, and they weren't even producing bourbon yet.  There is Something Else here, probably under the palace.
    Everyone is agreed that they should take the palace.  Misha hopes to do so without killing anything, including the centipedes.  Mich's suggestion is replacing the turret lasers with water cannons.
    Of course they don't even know whether the skeleton they have is of a cow or a hunter.  The cows are not a threat, as far as they know.  Perhaps this calls for a hunting expedition, suggests Mich.
    A hunting expedition would certainly be popular among certain members of the crew.  On the other hand, as Shark points out, this particular group does not have a good record of hunting safety -- wasn't Akim Gavrolovitch killed while hunting with a rifle out the back of a flying air/raft?  Shark himself will not be the one shooting out the back door.
    Misha wonders about entrances to the palace.
    They haven't been able to raise the palace on communications, and all they know about is what they can see from the outside -- doors, windows, no obvious keypads or anything.
    Shark then reminds them that they were intending to investigate the secret room where the two seneschals came to such a pleasant arrangement.  They'll need to go into the Assistant Seneschal's office while the two of them are unconscious aboard.
    So the next matter is to make the seneschals unconscious.  At Shark's suggestion, Chuck prepares a particular brew of coffee containing something Shark provides, and this works perfectly.

    Today is overcast, looking like rain will roll in before too long.
    Lucas brings Nightshade down to where they can reach the ground behind the building using the ramp.  This involves some creative taking advantage of the extended artificial gravity on the ramp, but Lucas is more than up to the task of positioning the ship.
    Robert brings the low bandwidth communications suitcase that he built for Digitis.  He'll be on the team, as will Misha and the Marchioness.  This time, they'll just try non-destructive methods first.  There will be no need for Teri and her specialty.  Shark will follow them closely on the sensors.

    The team reaches the ground, then walks around to the front and walk in.  Oddly enough, they have opened the door before one of the staff can open it for them.  Even once inside, there is no sign of the staff -- they have been told that the seneschals are away, after all, so while someone should have been watching and greeted them, it is not too surprising.  No-one ever visits here.
    They walk towards the Assistant Seneschal's office.
    Suddenly they see a servant walk into sight ahead of them.  It's a very brief encounter, as he quickly darts back out of sight again.
    Soon after, another servant hurries towards them purposefully and asks the Marchioness if she can help her, and apologizes for the seneschals' absence.  The Marchioness politely assures her she needs nothing, and agrees to ring for her if she needs her.

    They arrive at the A.S.'s office.  The door is briefly locked, but barely breaking his stride Robert walks right through.  Once everyone is inside, he locks the door behind them.
    No-one has seen this office personally before.  Shark can see through the window into this room, but could not see in the small connecting room once the seneschals closed the door.
    Now, Shark is monitoring closely for any sign of alarms.  Nothing has triggered so far, although Shark wasn't expecting any until they open the next door.
    The next door is a white ceramic sliding door.  There is a keypad next to it, that Robert takes his time studying.  He realises that this will take a lot more care than one might expect, but his efforts are rewarded when the sliding door opens, revealing a small connecting room with another ceramic door at the other end.  There is a keypad by each of the doors inside the small room.
    Everyone walks into the small connecting room.  It's not that small -- eight people could easily fit in here.  At Robert's insistence, they close the first door behind them -- he does not think it is a good idea to have both doors open at once.  He moves on and does his thing with the next keypad.
    The door opens, revealing another office.  There is a conventional door that ought to open into the original corrider, and a window to their left to the outside.
    Shark did not see the seneschals in here.  He says, "Didn't you guys press the down button?  They didn't talk in this room."
    "No way," says Misha.
    Shark explains again that they did not spend their time sitting on the floor in an unfurnished windowless room, not for a couple of hours.  There has to be a down button.
    The conventional door in this room indeed opens to the original corridor.  Misha had a little trouble with the lock, but Robert pushes the monkey aside and shows him how it's done.
    Misha says this would be the Seneschal's office, but there has never been a Seneschal until now.
    There is unaccounted for space either side -- inside and outside -- of the connecting room.  There is no window between the two offices.
    Misha searches the walls in both the offices, and the walls in the connecting space.  The others help too, but it's Misha who finds anything.  First he finds, hidden behind a bookcase in the first office, the A.S.'s stash of porn.  It does not account for the extra space.  In addition, while he can't really point to anything, he feels like there's something slightly strange about where the connecting rooms joins the other rooms at both ends.  It just doesn't look quite right to him.
    They have tried every combination of opening doors, and still nothing has happened.  They even tried repeating what the seneschals did, with Robert and Misha being the lucky people.
    Shark tells them to hold their breath while they're in there, and to tell it to go down.  He then wonders if there's another code they need to enter, perhaps?  He is curious if there is missing space above or below the connecting room.
    Misha suggests Robert take a close look at the inner keypads.  There is nothing else in that connecting room except a couple of lighting panels in the ceiling.  There is no obvious microphone, and it's not clear what ventilation there might be.  Pushing on walls does nothing.  He tells Robert to do his magic on the keypads.
    Robert says he is certain there is no alternate code on these keypads, not something involving both keypads at once.  He also points out that the suitcase communicator does not work inside this room.  Of course while in here he's limited to the simple translation his hand puter can handle from scryptese to monkey talk, and that makes directing the rest of the team harder.He studies the room carefully but can't find anything, not even the strangeness Misha found.
    Next they try saying "Down", but anything they can think to say of doesn't work either.  Misha bangs on the wall in frustration, and asks Robert if he has any ideas.  Robert does not.
    Now they open both doors, and examine closely the area that Misha thought was strange.  He still thinks it looks odd, but can't really point out anything definite.  He can't really see it, but thinks there might be a joint of some sort at both ends.  Come to think of it, those are pretty thick sliding doors, too.
    Shark says they need Mich and his scanner.  He'll accompany him.

    Kalida has been looking through both offices thoroughly, but finds no old books or anything like that.  While the others are waiting for Mich to arrive, she wanders around the Forest Lodge and examines the areas below the connecting room.
    She finds the wine cellar, the root cellar, the pantry... it's quite confusing how everything is laid out, but with careful use of her hand puter she can keep track of it.
    There is no basement under the connecting room.  It's not just under that room, but along that side of the wing, there is no cellar.  That certainly leaves open the possibility that there is an elevator there.

    This time, Shark and Mich are greeted at the main door.  Leaving the servants behind, they go on to join the others at the Assistant Seneschal's office.
    Mich scans the door frames.  He finds a very fine joint between the connecting room and the others.  They are not one solid piece.  He cannot possibly imagine how Misha could have noticed that.

    Then Kalida asks Robert, "Did you only check the interior keypads?  Is there a different code to enter on the exterior to tell it what you want to do?"
    Robert did only check the interior.  He looks for something on the exterior one in the Assistant Seneschal's office, and indeed finds that there is an alternate keycode.
    Considering who would be left in charge of the ship if this team vanished, Shark decides to stay behind here.  Mich too will remain behind.  Shark of course has a restore point scan for Kalida and Robert, and possibly one for Mich when he was playing with sparkly pink the first time.

    All doors are closed and locked.
    Robert enters the alternate keycode.
    Robert, Misha, and Kalida enter the connecting room, while Shark and Mich stay behind.

    Inside the connecting room, nothing happens.
    "Down!" Kalida orders.
    Nothing happens.
    "Level One," says Robert.
    Nothing happens.
    Robert goes to the other door and enters the alternate sequence there.
    Nothing happens.
    At Misha's suggestion, he then enters the main sequence there.
    The door immediately opens.

    They are not in the Forest Lodge anymore.

    They could triangulate the panic button to work out where they actually are, but of course Robert could do that once he gets back on the ship.

    Ahead of them is a large empty warehouse.  It has several large garage style doors.
    Clearly they have either white-tech teleported, or gone down a very long way.
    Misha asks Robert to open the other door too.  Leaving the first door open, he does.
    On this side is an office area, quite open with cubicles and several doors.  It too is completely empty but shows signs of being used recently.
    Before they go any further, Robert gives both key codes to everyone in the team.  On the outside of both doors are keypads.
    Misha says he'll stay here while the others check the outer areas.

    Kalida investigates the warehouse side.  The walls, floor, and ceiling are all ceramic.  The doors look like large metal cargo doors, standard Imperial, three along the far wall and one on each side.  As she steps in, she is nearest the right hand end.  The lighting is also standard Imperial, mounted on the ceramic.  The ceiling is about 8m high.  This is a lot further down than one floor, or it was a shuttle to somewhere else entirely -- Kalida thinks it's most likely the palace.
    She certainly isn't going to open one of those doors yet, since they might have centipedes on the far side.  She walks around the warehouse, examining what she can find.
    The cargo door on the right wall is not airtight, but there's no obvious air movement or light shining through.  The bottom is completely flush.
    The next door, the first one on the original far wall, is the same, as are the others.
    There are no sounds except for the noises Kalida herself makes.
    The floor looks like it's slightly dusty.  It doesn't look like anyone has been here at all recently, and it seems uniform.  The doors may have been opened at some point, but definitely not in the decade or so.
    Misha points out that the air is fresh, so there must be ventilation -- it can't have been sealed for 400 years.

    Robert checks the office area.  Only a little seems to have been used, a reception area to the right with an open door beyond it.  Only this is fully lit, while the rest of the area is dimmed.
    The door leads to an office suite, with a reception desk and three other doors, one to the left and one each side of the desk in the far wall.  A large starscape picture, featuring a colorful planet with several rings, dominates the wall behind the desk.  The decor is apparently local oak.
    The computer in the reception area is not powered on, and it doesn't look like it's been used in a very long time.
    There's nothing to choose from the doors, so he starts with the one on the left.  It's the executive washroom, and looks like it's been used very recently, in the last few days.
    He moves on to the next door, the one that's on the left from the entrance.  It's not locked, and he walks right in.
    This room has an active holotank display.  It's showing a representation of Nakege, rotating gently.
    Robert looks for the meson gun sites, and anything else of interest.  He goes over to one of the computer terminals and surprised to find it has virtually no security.
    It seems that this room is informational rather than control.  It is laid out in some kind of military tactical arrangement, but he doesn't have much experience with those and can't really tell a lot about it.  He can tell that a lot of the information feeds are not currently active.
    Security is his area of expertise, however, and he looks for any records of recent use, security codes, any indication who might have used this or when.  There are none.
    There is nothing to indicate where they are right now.  The world has the palace marked, Crow, the Forest Lodge, the current location of the destroyer escort that is orbiting NakegeNightshade is not marked, much to everyone's relief.
    This place has clearly been used very recently.  There's even a dirty coffee cup on one of the consoles.
    Robert calls for Kalida to look at this.  While waiting, he conf

    Kalida walks in and immediately says it's modern Imperial, much more recent than 400 years.  It's not the most recent, but quite capable.  She'd expect to find something like this on a second echelon warship group.
    It is a tactical display, showing status of everything of interest to the military mind.  There are no control capabilities, but she can find stuff out here.
    Misha asks her who would use such a thing.  Would the general sit here, or the president?
    She says it is the kind of place where the colonel would brief the president.  There is not a lot of fine detail here, but enough to show a fairly detailed status.
    Kalida sits down at a console and works with the display.  As Robert had found, there is essentially no security here.
    Not a lot is operational, but some systems are.  Power is up.  Sensors are operating worldwide except for a few random sites, with about 80% fully operational; there are no large blind spots.  The images of the palace are not a realtime picture as if from satellite surveillance, more likely from hardcoded models.  It does show the defensive towers, and shows the non-operational ones as such.  Both the palace and the Forest Lodge show no significant differences from what they've seen themselves.
    Yes, there are meson guns.  None are currently operational.  There are eight of them, and essentially mothballed.  The display doesn't show whether they are complete, just that they are offline.  If they are ready, it would take about 2-3 days to get them staffed, calibrated, and bring them online, if they could get people to them fast enough.  The locations are not near the palace or Forest Lodge.
    She pulls the view back to a display of the system, which has marked the other Tukera ships that are here.  Pulling back further shows a strategic map of this area of the Spinward Marches, but no other system can be zoomed in.  She could annotate this display, but it shows nothing currently.  The only up to date information is of the Nakege system itself.
    This site is not connected to the main command center, which is also not operational at present.  It is located under the palace.

    While Kalida continues her exploration of the system, Robert goes to the other door from the reception office.  This is a conference center, briefing room, lounge, with a side kitchen.  This would possibly be for a briefing before being shown the status on the holotank, or to relax while waiting.  The kitchen has been stocked very recently.
    Robert returns to the reception room and examines the computer here.  It's not powered on, but he powers it up and finds it accesses only a standard office administrator suite of applications.  It's on an isolated administrative network and nothing to do with the other systems, and there are no other systems powered up on it anyway.  He shuts it down, erases his tracks, and sprinkles dust on it to match what was there before.  He then rejoins Kalida.

    Kalida has the locations of the meson sites, but there is no indication of how far away they are.  That would allow her to find out where they are now.
    Robert runs a diagnostic on the system.  He confirms that most of the systems are offline.  There is a connection with a repeater and automated status reporting system from the palace which shows the state of the towers and power generation.
    Robert can fill in what Kalida couldn't.  With some delicate work he manages to get ping timing which triangulates their current location to exactly that of the Forest Lodge.
    Kalida says this means the warehouse doors are probably safe to open.

    Misha calls them back to the elevator room, and tells them to stay there while he investigates the cargo doors.
    Like Kalida, he starts with the door on the right.  It can be opened either manually or by button control, and he uses the latter.  Lights flicker on in the new area.  Beyond is another empty warehouse, identical to this one but without the one corresponding to the elevator.
    This is obviously a huge underground facility, currently empty.
    Misha closes that door, then goes to the door straight across from the elevator.  He opens it.
    Beyond is a grav railway platform.  There is even a grav train here, pointing west which would be in the direction of the palace.  The tunnel continues in both directions.
    Robert is sure that the seneschals, in that two hours, came down here and went to the palace on the train... well, except they didn't because the dust wasn't disturbed here, and they left a coffee cup in the display area.
    The gravtrain looks like a passenger unit, settled down on buffers and not powered.  It doesn't look operational.
    Looking to right and left, he sees other similar cargo doors, and this platform area continues at least a kilometer in either direction.

    It's time to leave, Misha decides.  They close all the doors, turn off any excess lights, and try to cover their tracks.  He says their plan should be to put everything back the way they found it, return to Nightshade, and give the Seneschal a chance to tell them about all this.  If she doesn't take it, then they will come back with everyone and explore it more thoroughly.
    Everyone clears the elevator, with both doors closed.  Robert enters the alternate code on the external keypad, and they enter the connecting room and close the doors.
    They have no idea how long it will take to get back to the Forest Lodge.  They wait about half a minute, then open the door that should lead to the Assistant Seneschal's office.  They are very relieved when it does so.
    Misha steps out and says, "We didn't find anything."
    Shark looks up from a bottle of bourbon that he'd been drinking from and asks if they found out anything.
    Misha says "We'll tell you about it when we get back to the Nightshade.  We'll call it fascinating."

    They return to Nightshade.  This should indeed be a fascinating discussion.  Kalida's biggest question is still, "Why here?"