(25) Red Cross, Blue Cross

The Regency Campaign (29/1573)

This file has yet to be fully edited...

This file has yet to be fully linked...

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

    Lucas Fuentes, Chuck, Edward "Shark" Teeth, and Robert Morris are on Nightshade, while everyone else is still at the Forest Lodge. The ship is locked in position a short way from the Lodge, in stealth mode.
    Robert was in the Sick Bay because of his injuries in the underworld exploration; after half an hour, Shark helps make him ambulatory to a certain extent. They then join Lucas is in the Lounge, where Chuck is serving a small dinner.

    Down in the Forest Lodge, dinner is being served too.

    But it's on Nightshade that something very odd happens, something that never happens on a ship. Chuck doesn't seem to notice, but everyone else feels the ship move.
    Lucas leaps up and rushes to the Bridge. All the interior doors are open, including all those to the staterooms. Shark also takes off at a run towards the Bridge. Robert can't run anywhere in his state.

    There is another black ship alongside them. The nose of each ship is up to the other's maneuver nacelles; while the main fuselages are only a couple of centimeters apart.
    "Ship, who are our visitors?" asks Shark.
    "Busy," says Nightshade.
    "Robert," starts Shark, but he suddenly realizes that with the ship busy, he can't talk to Robert. Robert doesn't speak Galanglic anymore. Instead, he tries to open communications to the ground party, but in such a crisis he can't quite figure out how to route it.
    Lucas reaches the Pilot chair and tries to slip into sparkly pink, but it doesn't work.
    Much to Shark's dismay, the sensors aren't working either. There is absolutely no response, even under manual control. He tries again to open a comm channel to the Captain, and this time succeeds. He says, "Captain, an emergency. We have visitors, an identical matching ship. And the ship is busy and will not follow any of my instructions. I can't bring it down to get you, but I thought you'd like to know." Shark adds, "Ship, inform me when you're not busy, immediately."
    "Busy," says the ship.
    Of course Robert can also see the other black ship alongside the Lounge. He'd like to point out to the rest of the crew that usually what happens when another black or silver tech object appears in the same system, Nightshade usually goes into full alert and warns them of a spacial anomaly. This didn't happen this time. Perhaps there was communication with the special communications system; it was very low bandwidth, but was bidirectional at least. He slowly makes his way to his station.

    In the Forest Lodge, Captain Sir Misha Ravanos of course can't make this communication public, not in the presence of the two Seneschals. Shark has just informed him that all the interior doors are open, but he can't open the cargo door to allow the gcarrier back on board. He looks at Mich Saginaw, Teri Cralla, and Kalida Siena, Marchioness of Nakege, but says nothing. He says to the whole table, "We have an emergency on board our ship and need to leave now." He gets up and walks out.
    Kalida and Mich follow him out to the gcarrier, Mich bringing the bottle of Blockade Bourbon. Mich slips into the pilot seat and takes them up towards where Nightshade was parked.
    They are shocked to see -- actually see! -- two black ships above them. They don't look quite identical -- the conservatory on the other ship extends further forward, through what should be Engineering, all the way through Engineering. All the windows are clear. The other difference is that the cross on the other ship is blue. And of course, "Blue bad, red is good."
    Mich brings the gcarrier towards the two ships. In their interlocked position, the back end of the Bridge is alongside the other Lounge, but none of the doors match up.

    From the front of Nightshade's Bridge, Shark can see some ways into the "Engineering" conservatory of the other ship. There are none of the expected Engineering components, just the conservatory, so presumably they've moved them forward into the rest of the ship. That would leave them with no cargo space, surely.

    The cargo door may not be working, but Mich knows the manual override of the external doors. He tries first to bring it up to the other ship, and is lucky to retain control of the gcarrier as it bounces off their shields. He winces at the damage he knows he'll have to fix later, and swings around to position the gravcraft to access the nacelle door on Nightshade. There's an actual airlock on those that doesn't depend on internal doors being closed.

    Meanwhile, Shark goes to the other side, towards the blue cross ship, and opens the other side to look out at the other Bridge. There are two people, one of which looks human. The other is human-sized, but the profile doesn't match a race he's seen before. Misha has come over to there by now, as the gcarrier crew come aboard, and joins Shark looking at the other ship.

    Robert has now reached the Bridge, and asks the ship what's going on. What is "Busy" in Galanglic is much more expressive in Scryptese, a response conveying that the ship is extremely busy doing a very important task and cannot spare computing resources for any non-critical activity; it takes about as long to say this as "Busy". Robert tries everything he can to get more information about what's going on. That seems impossible, but he does manage to find out what's going on. The computer is doing a complete system dump, sending everything it has, all memory. He tries to set it up so as soon as this is complete, there will be a full transfer in the other direction from wherever it's sending it. Unfortunately, it's sending to /dev/null. There is no destination, so it should be possible to stop it, surely? But it's not.

    Shark points out to the Captain that Teri could go around the outside. While he's doing so, he notices that while one of the figures on the other Bridge is at the Pilot console in sparkly pink, the other is walking up to get closer to them and waving at them to go back in.
    Shark mouths "Why?" at it.
    The figure looks like a human female, and she mouths something at him in reply while she waves.
    Shark lip-reads well enough to figure out what that is likely to sound like, and broadcasts it to the crew. It doesn't sound like any language anyone knows.
    Misha wonders if this ship could be one of the Arden Society's, but the one they saw of theirs looked like Nightshade, not this one.

    There are incoming communications. Robert brings it up.
    That woman is saying something extremely heatedly in some language he doesn't understand.
    Robert responds equally heatedly in Scryptese, telling her to stop what they're doing. While thinking about how to say rude words in his language, he suddenly realizes that a few of the words she used might have the same root. But she's not talking Scryptese, the structure is different.

    Meanwhile, Misha wants someone to go to their ship, knock on the door, and try to establish communications directly. Perhaps the people on the other ship are as mystified as they are, which is why that woman would be angry. He wants to know if she is as uninformed and annoyed as they are. They do know that the other Pilot is in sparkly pink, so they're not doing the same kind of dump as Nightshade.
    Shark, Misha, and Teri (in her battledress), float over to the other ship. Apparently he's inside their shields here. The ships are too close to get to the near side door, so they float over the other Bridge to the far side.
    Shark gets a good look at the woman as they pass. She look perfectly human; a little too perfect, maybe. She is way too close to the standard of classical beauty.
    They reach the door behind the Bridge on the far side of the blue cross ship, and knock.
    The door opens. They step on board, and the door closes behind them.
    They walk up to the Bridge door, and Shark says, "Ship, we'd like to go in."
    A voice says something politely in a language they don't understand. It sounds like a person rather than a ship. Shark hopes Robert understood it, but there's no way to tell yet.
    Shark says, "Hello. We come in peace. Take us to your leader. I'd like coffee with that, please."

    Mich has brought up diagnostics, and everything is red, working perfectly. He seriously considers engaging the jump drive, but that's not an option that's available at this time.

    The door behind Shark, Misha, and Teri opens, leading back past the (closed) staterooms to the Lounge. The interior layout is identical to theirs, and the furniture seems sized for human proportions. None of the other doors are open, and don't open when Shark walks into them. They wave at Lucas on their own Bridge.
    Shark tries knocking on the aft door that would lead, on this ship, to the extended conservatory. He even asks nicely, but it still won't open.

    Kalida has gone to Nightshade's Lounge, where she can look directly into the other Bridge. The woman is clearly shouting, and she's gesticulating wildly at her own Pilot. Kalida tries gesturing diplomatically.
    The woman walks back to opposite Kalida, apparently much calmed down. She waves.
    Kalida smiles at her.
    She smiles back and makes a calming motion, saying something.
    Kalida says, "Hello," but the woman obviously doesn't understand.

    Robert has been trying to talk his way into the other computer. It's very quickly clear that the other computer is nothing like he's seen before. He's seen totally different computers before, and has actually hacked into the very different Hiver computers, but this one doesn't even make sense. It could just as well not even be a computer at all.

    Kalida fetches her puter and uses the display to try to communicate. She brings up a starchart and points to the sector they're in.
    The woman indicates NNW, spinward and coreward, a long way.
    Kalida broadcasts that to the crew, and continues with her communication efforts. She points at the other Pilot, and the woman indicates the same direction as before.
    The woman waves at Kalida, pointing at her, and then pointing at the aft end of her own ship, and then pointing around. She doesn't look confident that she's communicating what she means. She clearly is having trouble communicating things other than herself through gestures -- she's followed Kalida's lead, but doesn't seem to be able to come up with many gestures herself. She's of course stopped talking to Robert, and is apparently ignoring his attempts to speak to her in Scryptese.
    Kalida indicates the door on the Bridge that leads to the other team, trying to convey that it needs to be opened.
    The woman turns around, says something, and the door opens. Kalida tells the away team.

    On the other ship, the three of them go to the open door, trying not to look like they're in a hurry.
    The woman has noticed them coming, and leaves the window and goes to meet the three interlopers. She stands slightly tense, both hands at her belt, and she says something.
    Shark says, "Hello," and bows.
    She says something and bows very slightly, keeping a close eye on them.
    Shark tries again, saying "Hello" in Zhodani.
    "Hello," she responds awkwardly in Zhodani. It looks like the ship is translating for her. In turn, Shark translates for Misha.
    "This is Captain Misha, I am First Officer Teeth. We... don't understand what's happening to our ship."
    "You... blanket safe. Speak long."
    "We would like to converse with you, share information, learn from you. Like to understand more about you, your ship, and our own ship."
    She looks puzzled.
    "Where are you from?"
    "Long way."
    "Why are you here? Why did you come here?"
    "Our ship called you?"
    "The ships are talking, yes?"
    "He say you say."
    "Yes," says Shark, "I am translating for him." He glances at Misha and suggests he try his native language.
    Misha says, "My name is Misha Ravanos. I come from Lickta. I would like to understand why you are here." He uses the general Foreven name for his homeworld, the first time he's said it out loud since he left there. But in a sentence of his own language, in speech that isn't being recorded because the ship is busy, it probably slipped by the notice of all the crew.
    "No," she says. "No. No, no, no."
    Shark says, "Do you understand his speech?"
    "Wait," she says. After a while, she says, "Zhodani not."
    "I am not Zhodani," says Shark.
    "Not," she says, apparently satisfied with an answer at last.
    "Did you want to know if we are Zhodani? No, we are not." Shark squints and tries to get a look at her pilot, all the way on the far side of the Bridge in sparkly pink. He can't really tell what it is, but it's pretty clear it's not Zhodani either. It seems like it's furry. There's no wings, but he instinctively looks up at the aft wall of the Bridge to see if there's a stash of candy there. He says to Misha, "She does not recognize your language," and switches back to Zhodani.
    Misha carefully walks towards a general purpose console, sits down, and tries to go into sparkly pink. Obviously it won't be as easy as the specific type of console with which he has affinity on Nightshade, but he tries anyway. There are pink sparkles, and he faints.
    Shark pulls out his black tech med scanner and checks Misha. He's just fainted, all red otherwise. He turns to the woman and says, "I think his attempt there was to communicate more clearly. Did your ship get angry?"
    "No. No, it... he... observer console. That is the Observer console."
    "Ah," says Shark, "Sensor console."
    "No," says the woman sharply, "Observer. I am Observer, this ship."
    "Where is your Captain?"
    "I am Observer, I... I..."
    "Overseer, um...?"
    "Yes. I am."
    "He is our overseer."
    "Ah. You do not speak Zhodani normally?" The translation seems to be getting better and the conversation more fluid. "Why are you speaking Zhodani now?"
    "You did not understand my native language."
    "The ship will take a while to learn it. We are learning, helping to learn Zhodani off yours. We will pick your language up fairly soon."
    "Will you share your knowledge base with us?"
    She pauses, then says, "I will tell you some things."
    "Will you tell us why you can't tell us... share all?"
    "Yes. At the appropriate time." In Galanglic now, she says, "I am your Inquisitor."
    Shark too switches to Galanglic. He tells Misha, who is just waking up, "They learned Galanglic from our database. You just passed out, I don't think you're compatible." He turns to the woman and says, "You were trying to explain why you thought he passed out."
    "Yes," she says. "That's the Observer console. That puts you into the Observer role. Your people... it takes normally six of your people to Observe a ship like this. This is set up for me as sole Observer. So it is not something you could normally do."
    Shark says, "So it's just the two of you on this ship."
    "No, we have a crew of four. It is carefully chosen and perfectly balanced."
    Shark starts, "To bring my Captain up to speed--"
    She interrupts, "I would prefer to do this on your ship."
    Shark says, "Our ship is very non-responsive at the moment."
    "It's almost done. I'm sorry about that, but we needed to get as much information as we could off your ship before we question you."
    "Would you do us a favor and let our ship go back into stealth mode?"
    "There is nothing going over right now."
    "We're more worried about the people below observing."
    "Really? Oh, I'm sorry."
    Misha speaks up. "Why are you here?"
    "To talk to you."
    Shark explains, "She is our Inquisitor."
    Misha says, "Why is it better to do it on our ship?"
    "I am more comfortable. I am not comfortable with you on this ship. You will be safer on your ship."
    "Your ship doesn't like us?" says Shark in surprise.
    "Oh, the ship doesn't care. It will restrict your access. But we are a perfectly balanced crew..."
    "Ah, we might disturb your balance."
    "No. We have four crew members. We represent Self-Preservation, Treachery, Morals, and Ethics, the four of us."
    "And if I may be so bold, you are...?"
    "I am Self-Preservation."
    Misha asks, "Why were you angry earlier?"
    "Because you were doing things that... Why couldn't you just sit and wait for it to finish? I was going to talk to you."
    Shark says, "You assaulted our ship."
    "We did not!"
    "You took it over. We have no control of our ship."
    "It's not doing any harm! We just took your computing power for a while. You didn't need it."
    "If it was your ship, you being Self-Preservation, you would be very happy about this, yes?"
    "Self-Preservation does not extend to the preservation of the ship, unless..."
    "Yes, but would that have made your ability tio preserve yourself...? I will say that I have a little bit of all four of those concepts. I may have more of one than the others."
    "We will need to talk for a long time. I need to ask you all about the battle you lost."
    "The battle we lost?" says Shark, almost to himself. He then says, "Do you like barbeque?"\
    "That did not translate."
    "Do you have any aversion to meat?"
    "Good." Dinner it will be, then. Shark muses out loud that if she is Self-Preservation, he's not sure he wants to meet Treachery.
    "Oh, you won't, unless she wants you to see her."
    Misha decides he needs to get back to his ship before he does bad things on this one.
    Shark asks if the download is done.
    "Just a little longer. There was a lot to download, and--"
    "More than normal?" asks Shark.
    "No, just that your computer is different from ours. It takes longer. It is a little trickier."
    "Any control that you can return will make it much easier for our cook to make us a meal."
    A voice from the front of the Bridge says, "Give it back to them. Take the rest of it slowly later."
    "Very well. Control is back."
    Shark says he'll ask his ship to provide a walkway they can return on.
    The woman says she'll just back up this ship and let the hatches line up. "May I come about with you, or shall I wait until later?"
    Misha says she should wait until later.
    Shark requests that both ship should go into stealth.

    The three crew return to Nightshade. The other ship vanishes, and Nightshade does soon after.

    With control back, Robert immediately attempts to hack into the other ship. But it's just not a computer, not in any recognizable form.
    The other ship has vanished, and there is no spatial anomaly. Their stealth mode must be different.

    Misha rushes back to his console, drops into sparkly pink, and investigates what happened. Apparently the other ship gave Nightshade a priority command: this is a scout ship, and this is their job. He asks if he can communicate with the other ship through Nightshade, and apparently he can. He starts up a conversation with Nightshade.
    "Where is that ship from?" he asks.
    "I don't know."
    "Why here?"
    "I don't know."
    "Can you ask it for me?"
    "I don't know."
    Lukas asks, "Can you do to that ship what it did to us?"
    Shark tells Nightshade to ask the other ship where it's from.
    "It will not tell me," says Nightshade.
    "I don't know."
    "Ask it."
    "Diplomatic protocols."
    "To follow them, we need to know them. Ask them for the protocols."
    "Transfer of information to this ship needs to be through their representative. That is their protocol."
    Lukas asks, "Who is their representative?"
    "I don't know."
    "Ask the other ship who their representative is."
    "I don't know."
    "The other ship doesn't know?"
    "I don't know."

    Time to try another tack. Now that they can talk with Robert again, Misha asks him if he can break into the other computer. Robert tells him he can't -- he's trying to teach it Scryptese, and maybe if he can do that he might get somewhere.
    Misha decides they're ready. He asks Robert to tell the other ship that they're ready for their Inquisition. Shark tells Chuck to provide appetizers for their guests, and some Blockade Bourbon for them.

    The woman comes aboard through the matched hatches behind the bridges, appearing out of their stealth bubble. Shark welcomes her aboard, and invites her back to the Lounge. He introduces her to Chuck, Kalida, Misha. Mich stays in Engineering, while Lukas and Robert are on the Bridge.
    The woman thanks Shark, and says she appreciates their cooperation. Shark says they didn't really have much of a choice, but she thanks them again for their cooperation. It appears that her ship is translating for her via personal translator.
    Shark types into his puter, asking Robert if he can see the communication channel between her and her ship. Robert reports that it is not detectable. Shark follows up with Mich, to see if he can figure it out. He can't either; it is simply not detectable.
    Misha asks what the purpose of this situation is.
    The woman says she is there to debrief them. "Your ship sent a lot of information to us indicating that a matter of concern that required personal debriefing."
    Misha says, "Was this information transferred as part of the recent download, or...?"
    "No, you have a device that communicates. The disciples installed it on your ship."
    It is as Shark thought. It was the Goose acolytes. And the Arden Society doesn't know about it.
    Misha says, "What are the possible results of this questioning?"
    "It is possible that we may get some information that will help us."
    "Do what?" asks Kalida.
    "To contain the threat."
    "The threat of what?" asks Misha.
    The woman laughs. "The threat, the Enemy."
    "Which enemy?" asks Kalida.
    "There is only one."
    "The silver ship?" asks Shark.
    "Who are the silver ship people" chorus the crew.
    "The Enemy."
    "And their name is...?" prompts Shark.
    "The Enemy. That is the name we have called them for a long time."
    "And the name of your people?"
    "Which people?" she answers slowly.
    "The non-enemy," says Kalida.
    "Oh, all kinds of races are involved. This is not a ship that contains the main... We are Foreign Legion."
    "Oh," says Misha.
    Shark says, "You also inherited this ship from the builders."
    "No. We signed up and they assigned it to us."
    "Who are 'they'?"
    "They are... human, kind of. They came from this way."
    That matches the story that Lap'da told them on Digitis.
    She continues, "Since I can Observe a ship by myself, this involved bringing less crew, and not risking any of them, risking us instead."
    Shark says, "You said we lost the battle?"
    "Yes. You did. You destroyed a ship, they destroyed a world. Who do you think lost?" She adds, "Although at least you did destroy the ship."
    Shark asks, "Is that surprising, or not surprising?"
    "For people with as little experience as you, it is surprising. Yes, if you consider those losses acceptable, that was a good performance."
    It is clear the crew do not consider those losses acceptable. They say so.
    "But yes," she continues, "Your ship told us a lot about that, gave us a lot of information."
    Shark says, "It was hidden there."
    "Yes. They left elements around, just as we did."
    "As your employers did," corrects Shark.
    "Yes. Well, we are all fighting on the same side. I have a personal grudge, but..."
    "Don't we all," says Kalida.
    "No, you do not," she says levelly.
    "But not quite in the same way. You are human, you would not really understand what happened to us."
    Sharks says, "So your appearance is not the reality of your being?"
    "Oh, this is how I look, yes."
    "By design."
    "Think of it as protective coloration. I am not... human. Although to a certain level of scanning, I would look human. Evolutionary pressure has made this a very useful shape, and it's stuck. We all look this way now."
    "Exactly?" asks Kalida.
    "No, not exactly. That would cause suspicion and fear, and another attempt to wipe us out." She pauses, then continues, "There are a number of things I am not clear on. I cannot tell why you triggered the Enemy's ship. Also, since this is a two-way communication to a certain extent, I am willing to share certain information. Not everything. That's one reason I was chosen for this, I am good at not sharing things that threaten us."
    Shark says, "So why would sharing threaten you?"
    "The less you know, the less you can use against... us. Information can be used in many ways, and there is some information that... anyway, I will help as much as I can, and this is a friendly Inquisition. I conduct friendly Inquisitions when possible. Two of my crew members would insist on it."
    Shark says, "Insist on friendly inquisition."
    "And the third one?"
    "The third one? No."
    Misha says, "What is the history of the battle between the Enemy and the friendlies."
    Shark says, "Give us a name for your side. The confederation, the society of good people..."
    "Crusaders. I believe it is a term you have come across in your ship and it suits us well. A battle into a far-off land to recover... not so much to recover as to win an ideological war that can't be fixed any other way. After all this time they still won't talk with us."
    Misha asks, "Do they look like bugs?"
    Shark says, "Actually that's a good question. What is their physical appearance?"
    She says, "Somewhat bug like in some ways, in that there is a shell of sorts, but human-ish. Rounded and stocky and solid. Very fast."
    Shark pulls up pictures of statues from Victoria that might fit that description and show them to her.
    "None of those," she says.
    "Interesting," says Shark.
    "Yes, interesting," she says. "Where did you get this?"
    "We find things," he smiles.
    She returns to her previous question. "So how did you get this ship to attack? You'd been through that system before, and nothing happened then. Your ship is not clear on that either. You have some extra sensors that indicate something, but they are not well integrated, their function is not well integrated into the ship."
    That prompts Shark to check the football sensors, but there is nothing going on here, just normal background. Nothing popped up when the other ship showed, so it's not using that.
    She continues, "What can you tell me?"
    Everyone looks at the Captain. He says, "What can you tell us?"
    "I can tell you what it was not. It was not your presence in the system. It was not your proximity with a spatial anomaly. It was not..."
    "I can tell you what it is. What can you tell me that I want?"
    "What do you want to know?"
    Kalida says, "When was the last time one of these ships got triggered, and where?"
    "There is ongoing fighting all the time, a long way away from here, around the core."
    Shark says, "Towards Hiver space?"
    "Where is that?" Shark shows her on a starchart, and she says, "Oh gosh no, much further, in the opposite direction. Another arm over. That's where we are now."
    "Jumped an entire arm," says Shark, almost to himself.
    "We don't jump anymore. We use different... we still use jumpspace at times, it's convenient for not interacting with physical objects in your way."
    Shark says, "What can you share technically?"
    "You don't have the technology to do what we do."
    "It's amazing what we can find out."
    "Yes, it is."
    "So, what you can share...?"
    "Our breakthrough is in manipulating the quantum nature of time. An action which takes less than a quantum unit of time may happen in zero time. It may not, it depends what happens when you collapse the states by Observing it."
    "So you are choosing whether the cat is alive or dead?"
    "Yes. And I am the one on the ship who chooses that. For human-like people, it generally takes six of them to do the job that I do. It takes more than a lifetime to train."
    "You do that through the ship, or do you have an ability that helps you do it?"
    "I do it. The ship is used to take the actions during the time-states that are collapsed." She sounds like she's trying to explain something in very simple terms. "That is why your technology is not compatible."
    Misha asks, "What is the relationship with the Goose disciples?"
    "They are one of the things we set up and left behind. We occasionally contact them. It has been a very long time."
    "The group that we call the Arden Society, what's your relationship with them?"
    "They are an official group that was left behind. We have no contact with them. They should have caught that Enemy ship. That was their job."
    Shark says, "Maybe they used us as bait."
    "I think not. I think they are just not very good at it. They have stagnated."
    Misha asks, "Why would an Enemy ship be in this area?"
    "I don't know the full details. But the first major battle was in the area. Well, technically the second, but the first was more of a massacre. We caught up with the Enemy here."
    "Do you think that ship was here from then?"
    "Yes, probably. Like the Arden Society, sitting around, watching, manipulating."
    Shark says, "Do you think it was manned?"
    "Undoubtedly, yes of course. Unmanned ships can't fight effectively."
    "Then that means there is an Arden Society equivalent, either masquerading as human, or...?"
    Misha asks, "Where is the Enemy now? Where are they from?"
    "I personally am from very close to where they come from. We are fighting close to their homeworld now."
    Shark says, "So your bosses left this area, leaving a few pockets behind, to pursue the Enemy. And they did this... three hundred thousand years ago? And the war is still ongoing? Even though you can manipulate time?"
    "We can't manipulate time. We can collapse quantum states of time. That is not the same thing. When we open the box and the cat is alive, it will still be older than when it was put in there. We can't change that."
    "So let us assume that we have decided that we don't like the Enemy, and we especially don't like collaborators with the Enemy, who destroy worlds of our friends. We would like to know as much as possible that will help us detect the Enemy: their language, the way they speak, the way they look."
    "They prefer to attack by surprise. They stay as hidden as possible."
    "But there have to be clues. Speech patterns, language..."
    "They are much easier to kill in the ships than they are out of it. They are very fast. They are very good at personal killing, and seem to prefer that if possible. We have not won a ground battle against them, ever."
    As an army guy, Shark understands that. The navy can only do so much. You have to put boots on the ground, that's when you can hold the land. Until you have boots on the ground, you haven't won.
    Misha calls up Robert and Mich and see if they want to ask anything over the ship's comm.
    Robert says, "I am speaking in the ship's native language. Your language has taken a different path."
    "Yes. Your language is how they started, back here. It has changed over 300,000 years."
    "The disciples still speak this language."
    "That is not surprising."
    "The pacifists still speak it."
    "On Digitis there is an enclave of those who stayed behind."
    "I don't know about that."
    Shark says, "We wouldn't mind having full specs of our own ship. Can you give those to us?"
    "Well... no. We don't have them. We stopped making them like this long ago. Do you have detailed documents on exactly how to build a ballista?"
    Misha says, "Maybe, but Greek Fire, we can make guesses, and the Pyramids, we have lots of good guesses about how they might have done it, but we have no idea how they actually did it, and that was barely ten thousand years ago."
    "The design has stayed the same because this design is home to us now. We have..."
    Shark says, "Your employers have essentially become space born."
    "Yes. The materials are a little different, obviously the systems are completely different, but it's familiar and it's comfortable. And it works. The human-crewed ships still have a crew of about a dozen. We have other ships too, but the overall shapes and layout have stayed the same for hundreds of thousands of years."
    "So this would normally be crewed by about a dozen?"
    "Yes. But we can crew this ship with four. This crew is uniquely qualified for this type of operation."
    "As we said, any information you can share that would help us find, identify, recognize..."
    "Look for them in plain sight, but just not quite right. Everything looks normal until you think. Something slightly different, they just don't fit."
    "That's exactly how I would describe you."
    "Yes. Absolutely. We are Foreign Legion. Of course, this blue cross is a warning."
    Misha says, "Yes, why is the cross blue? As a warning to what? Of what?"
    "That I am on board."
    Shark says, "Because you will do anything to protect yourself. And therefore you are dangerous to be around."
    Misha asks, "Are you the Enemy?"
    "No," she says.
    "Are you sure?"
    "Yes, I am sure. The Enemy tried to wipe us out. We have a very..." She looks at Shark. "As a doctor, you would find our life cycle fascinating."
    Misha says, "The Enemy has a different life cycle?"
    "The Enemy? No, they do not, but my race... we have evolved to survive repeated genocides."
    Shark says, "If you can get your ship to share any bio, physical, whatever data on the Enemy you can, that would be great."
    Mich asks if they have anything that could help him repair Nightshade if needed. He knows how to, but would normally need a dry dock for major repairs.
    She says that they have some systems that they could set up to make repairs easier. It would take their technology to make it less complicated, but they will work with him to make sure he has something that will help them through major repairs.

    Shark says he needs a private word with the Captain briefly. He takes him to his stateroom, hoping the ship's draconian sense of privacy there will keep the other woman from knowing anything about the conversation. The commdots are off.
    He says that it is very clear that some of their activities are beyond... do they want to share that? Do they want to show the only cards they know they have that the others don't?
    Misha's reasoning is that if they wanted to wreck what they have going on here, they could do that whether they wanted to or not.
    Shark clarifies that he is talking about fish oil, and the abilities that they're getting from it. It's something they don't have, and he wants to hold at least something back.
    Misha understands. His belief is that if they hold on to the card, the best possibility is that they go away frustrated and they never see them again. The flip side is that they tell them, spend the hole card, and perhaps they come back and will give them more. He agrees, however, that Shark was right to question that.
    They return to the Lounge.

    Shark explains their official account of the encounter with the Silver Ship. He says, "Some psionic activity from our crew was accidentally directed at the ship. It attacked, but Nightshade was able to defend that attack, and I guess they decided that it was worth a physical attack at that point."
    The woman says, "I would appreciate whatever full report you can give on that."
    Shark says, "It's all in the logs, you can see the spikes."
    "But I'm not clear on what they are."
    Kalida says, "I was looking... it's very hard to explain."
    "So you do know what triggered it."
    "Sort of. I don't really know what it is I was doing."
    Shark explains, "Kalida has a previously undefined skill at piecing together information that should be beyond her reach, and building a pattern and a story out of it."
    Kalida is encouraged by that. She says, "Everything is connected, so if you can follow the connections you can see the effects."
    "And in her investigation she followed a path towards a masked location which turned out to be the Silver Ship. It was hiding its information trails."
    "Very well. So well that I wanted to know what was in it, and apparently I triggered something."
    The woman doesn't look like she quite understands, but desperately wants to. She says, "Could you perhaps take some time to write down, record, exactly what you think you felt, saw, and did? I don't reallly..."
    "I don't understand it completely, but I can write down what I figured out and what it feels like."
    "Thank you. That would help."
    Shark says, "To us that would indicate that the enemy is psychic at some level."
    "That I would say is probably correct."
    "But you don't know."
    "No. Not really. But... look for a culture of personal combat, with an aversion to weapons of some sort. Look for a culture that emphasizes a code ."
    Shark voices what the whole crew is probably thinking at that point. "Do the creatures spit, and are they black?"
    He says, "We know of a society like that. Should the Arden Society know what they're looking for?"
    "They should have figured it out by now. They should know it better than we do."
    Kalida says, "They are more concerned with hiding themselves, and..."
    "Waiting to be called up," Shark finishes. "My reading is that they believe they are the reserves."
    "Oh dear," the woman laughs.
    Shark says, "Maybe they need to be educated."
    "Maybe they would be happier if they were not."
    "That doesn't mean it helps you."
    "It doesn't mean they could help us at this point. Not as much as you can, apparently. They seem... useless."
    Shark says, "Our ship has decided it is a scout ship, and therefore subservient to many other classes of ships."
    "Technically it's the most important type of ship."
    "But it thinks it's subservient and should salute and follow commands. I'm not suggesting we should move up in your chain of command, but there's no reason we can't be at least near the top on this side of the galaxy."
    "You would like your ship's attitude adjusted?"
    "Its willingness to follow orders from anybody else to..."
    "Oh, not just anybody else."
    "But you understand. The implication from your visit is right now any other ship with theoretical command, it will just follow without a choice, and I don't like that as a Self-Preservationist."
    "Yes, I understand that. To be honest, one of our crew..."
    "...trapped us," says Shark. "Well, we don't like that."
    "She is... very good. I will... ask her to help you out here, and the others will check her work. You are probably our greatest asset here right now. Your ship can contact us easily now."
    Robert wants to know if they can have some visibility into what the beam sends, the box the disciples installed.
    "Yes," says the woman, "We will make that visible and give you some control over it. We can hook it in as a genuine communication system."
    Shark asks, "That's bi-directional?"
    "Oh yes, it can be. It can be set up that way."
    Shark says that they don't have a lot of research time, and they can't scan into some of the buildings on the planet. He is sure they can. If there;s something they can do to help them scan, or whatever...
    The woman says to tell them what kind of thing they're looking for, where they want to look, and she'll see what they can do.
    Mich asks about the items in the Armory. The woman doesn't think they will know much about ancient weapons, but if she can bring another crew member aboard to look at them...?
    Mich then asks about the swiss cheese ship, what it was, and what would have caused the holes in that and one-hole. Kalida points out they probably know what caused that -- one of the weapons from the Silver Ship.
    The woman says that the larger ship would be for larger targets. It needed the same crew size as these ships, just carried a larger weapon. The weapon had three components, two each side of the ship plus a triangulation unit. That fixes the size of the weapon system and thus the size of the ship.
    The meeting is clearly winding down. Shark hopes Chuck's appetizers met with her approval -- fascinating, she says -- and thanks her. She returns to her own ship.