(26) To Catch a Fish

The Regency Campaign (29/1573)

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

    It's evening of Day 19 of Nightshade's visit to Nakege. The after dinner discussion with their Inquisitor is done, as is Blue Cross's data pull from their ship. Everyone is on board.
    The ship is in stealth mode, keeping track of the Seneschals but not paying too much attention to anything else, although the ship would alert them to a spacial anomaly, of course. They are hoping the Seneschals did not look up and see the black ships, but that is very unlikely since Nightshade is far enough away so that the gcarrier can come and go without vanishing and appearing in mid-air.
    Speaking of the gcarrier, Mich Saginaw takes some time to check it over quickly. It's not just dented, it's tweaked, and there is internal damage too. It will take a couple of days work to repair. It's not too bad, but it could definitely be better.
    Robert Morris is trying to get a feel of how the other ship's language has diverged from Scryptese, and is not surprised to find that it has diverged a very long way. He also has in mind their promise to hook the communications box from Goose into the ship's systems, so they can use it bi-directionally. All they know right now is that it is extremely low bandwidth, and is capable of communicating over extremely long distances. His conjecture is that it's power system linked, but in such a way that jump does not break it down.
    Everyone has settled down into their own activities. It seems like it will a quiet evening now, quite welcome after the earlier excitement.

    The ship does alert Robert to something that isn't really in the scope of their concerns, but it apparently considers of concern. There are some nuclear blasts in the upper atmosphere about a third of the way around the planet from the Lodge. He passes this on to Kalida Siena, Marchioness of Nakege since it's her planet.
    There's nothing significant underneath the blasts -- it's not the Palace -- but they can tell they were in the 10kt range and most likely standard Imperial missile. It appears to be a spread of half a dozen nukes, all in a sub-orbital altitude.
    They clearly need to investigate. They inform the Seneschals what has happened, and this emergency is why they had to leave so suddenly from dinner. They also inform Blue Cross that they will be leaving station for a while.

    Lucas Fuentes takes his pilot station and pulls away from the other ship, taking a course very rapidly towards the location of the blasts.
    As they get closer, Edward "Shark" Teeth determines from his sensor station that the blasts were very likely to have been missiles fired by Tukera's orbital patrol ship.
    Suddenly Shark picks up something fast and low, a small object moving very rapidly back the way they have come. It looks like an Imperial style fighter, flying a couple of hundred meters off the ground, travelling very fast.
    Lucas pulls Nightshade around in a quick turn and shadows the craft. It makes a slight course change, and is now headed exactly towards the Forest Lodge. Robert would love them to match with the fighter so he can break into the computer. That isn't possible, however, as the fighter is moving around too much, almost as if it's not quite under control.
    Shark tries to get a closer fix on it, to have a chance of matching, but in the process loses his lock on it. Lucas will have to follow it himself, without Shark's help.
    The fighter descends and slows a little, still on the same heading. They decide to break ahead of it and be at the Lodge before the fighter gets there. Lucas takes them past the small craft, while Shark manages to pick it back up on the sensors. It's headed towards the landing field, but it looks like it might miss an exact approach.
    The craft starts to break through the treetops. It is coming in too fast for a good landing, and now definitely looks like it's not under full control. It descends lower, crashing through lower branches, and breaks into the clearing. It levels out its wings, flares, and hits the landing field hard. It bounces a couple of times, then a wingtip digs in and it starts to flip, leaving a trail of dust and dirt as it gouges the grass. Finally it comes to a stop.
    They need to see if the pilot is alive and can be rescued, but they can't let the Lodge see their ship. The Lodge staff will take some time to respond, of course, so that combined with stealth mode should give them a few minutes. Lucas brings Nightshade into position, while Robert has the gcarrier ready to go. Robert is really resenting all the chimp grunting today, but he complies with their chattering. Teri accompanies in battledress, while Shark is there as Medical Officer.
    Fortunately the wreck has landed the right way up. It looks like a very modern Imperial fighter, but it carries no markings. The landing is not as bad as it could have been. It appears structurally intact, although of course it's sustained a lot of damage. The pilot is not moving.
    Robert opens the hatch quickly, and steps back for the others to deal with the ape.
    The pilot is in a combat vaccsuit, slightly oddly shaped, but with Imperial Navy markings. The rank insignia are those of a Commander.
    Shark goes in, takes one look at the pilot, and says, "Let's take him back as he is."
    Teri also does a double-take when she sees the pilot, but picks him up and carries him back. The pilot is very obviously not human. It's not anything any of them have seen before.
    Robert reaches in and grabs the black box module, and they return to the gcarrier.
    People are starting to file out in front of the Lodge, peering in this general direction. Robert takes the gcarrier back to the Lodge, but Shark says they need the medical facilities on Nightshade, since he has no idea how to treat this alien. He briefly steps out of the gcarrier to explain to the assembled crowd that there was a battle in the atmosphere, this fighter survived, and that they're going to take the pilot back to their ship where they have better medical facilities.
    Beatrice wants to know if there is any threat to the Lodge, but they assure her there is not. She seems satisfied.
    Robert knows there is no threat to the Lodge. After all, Nightshade is here.

    Lucas has taken Nightshade into the original position, so it's easy to get back aboard. Shark and Teri take the alien directly to Sick Bay, while Robert takes the computer module for investigation.
    In Sick Bay, Shark manages to get the alien out of his vaccsuit and under treatment. He was carrying a puter, money, and a pair of short blades; Shark puts the latter aside for the time, but will give him his puter and credits back when he comes around.
    Robert finds the history in the computer has been completely wiped up until a few hours ago. The fighter accelerated hard in to the main world, dipped into the atmosphere, sustained damage to several systems which caused loss of control. Contragrav and inertial compensators were knocked out, while the thruster plates were knocked out of alignment and became increasingly worse during the descent. That must have been quite a landing. There was no indication that the fighter fired any weapons, or even acquired any targets. The registry and assignment to the ship are completely blank. There is no history, no records, nothing whatever -- very unusual. He notes that it was manufactured by General Products.
    From what they saw, they only know they saw nukes in the atmosphere, then they saw this thing coming in. It is an up to date Imperial fighter, and looks like it would have been brand spanking new before it was wrecked. Robert reports back to Shark, Sir Misha Ravanos, and the Marchioness.
    Shark, meanwhile, reports that the pilot was just knocked around a bit. The ship could analyze its anatomy better than Shark could have done. He says he's taking it to the Lounge.

    Mzrk Avnchnzl wakes up in a Sick Bay, but it's nothing like any sick bay he's ever seen before. The doctor looks a little weirded out by him -- nothing Mzrk isn't used to, of course -- and says, "Hi, let's go to the Lounge for a bit and find out what's going on." He leads Mzrk out of the Sick Bay, across to the lift, and down to the Lounge.
    The Lounge is full of humans, with one vargr. He notices immediately a woman in full marine battedress, armed to the teeth, leaning nonchalantly against the wall. Other than that, there are two human men, quite short -- the doctor, and another man with a slight military bearing in scrubby overalls -- and a human woman.

    The person they have rescued is not human. It's best described as fish-like, bipedal, bluish with scaling on shoulders and around the back. It may be humanoid, but the overwhelming first impression is that's it's a fish. It's wearing Imperial Navy fighter pilot fatigues. None of them -- Mich, Kalida, Teri, or Chuck -- have seen anything like this before.

    Mzrk lets them gawk for a while, then says, "Where am I?"
    Mich tells him he's on Nakege.
    Mzrk nods. He says, "Nakege, ah. That is helpful. I know where Nakege is. Relatively. That's not bad. Anybody know how I got here?"
    The crew look at each other. "By fighter?" says Mich.
    "Uh, noooo. I seem to recall being on another planet, not Nakege, when I fell asleep."
    Mich explains, "Nakege is under blockade."
    "Is it really?"
    "Other ships are not... allowed, and the blockade shot down something."
    "OK. Great. Anybody know how to get off Nakege?"
    Misha laughs, "That's harder than getting in."
    "You said you saw a craft that had been shot down."
    Mich says, "No, we never saw a craft shot down. We saw nuclear detonations in the high atmosphere."
    "Oh, I see. Yes, that was... probably... You didn't happen to know where my wreckage was, did you?"
    "Yes, we know where your wreckage is. It's on the front lawn."
    "It's on the front lawn?" Mzrk is clearly surprised.
    "It's right near the landing field, just a little past it, of the Marchioness's Forest Lodge."
    "OK. Would it be convenient for some of you, it might not be a horrible idea to try to salvage the craft."
    "Yes, we can probably do that. Is there anything of import in particular you want to salvage?"
    "Oh, no, you know, not particularly, I'd just kind of like to have it back."
    "But you said that wasn't your ship. You said you woke up on another ship."
    "Oh, that ship. No, I meant this ship when I said that. I was talking about the ship I'm currently on. I was in Sick Bay, and now I moved to the Lounge. I didn't mean to be confusing."
    "No, you were on another ship, on another world, and then you woke up and you were here. That's been your story so far."
    "Yeah, I think I might have been confused, sorry. I think I was on Nakege the whole time. I saw so many planets, it's difficult to keep track sometimes. It does appear as though I was here when I crashed."
    "Yeah, but... where you before you were in the fighter that crashed?"
    "Oh, uh, well... You know, here and there, taking odd jobs, I'm trying to get back to my fleet, or, well, what's left of it if there's anything left of it. Which I doubt."
    "So why were you stopping in Nakege?"
    "It just kind of happened. I've been taking some rides from some humble travellers here and there."
    "And you absconded with their fighter?"
    "Oh well no, I know how it might appear that way, but that fighter was issued to me, rather legitimately. So don't worry about that. I'm supposed to have it and everything. I know I'm all blue and stuff, but I hate stealing."
    "What does being blue have to do with stealing?"
    "People give me funny looks. It's not as though I don't notice. Anyway, if at all possible, it would be nice to be able to retrieve some things from on board, or the entire ship itself, to repair it. It probably isn't in such great shape as I left it, and I might need it."
    "Where would you go with it?"
    "I'm not sure. Other than to eventually find, you know, the rest of my fleet. I know it doesn't have jump capability, but..."
    "Given this planet's under a blockade, how did you intend to leave?"
    "I don't know yet. What's with all the hard questions? I just woke up." He pauses, then continues, "Are you particularly opposed to salvaging the wreckage?"
    "No, we'll salvage the wreckage. We've been known to do that. We did dump the whole front of a..." Mich trails off.
    "As a matter of curiosity, what brings you to this awful planet?"
    "This lady is the Marchioness. This is her planet. And you ploughed a furrow through her front lawn."
    "I see. Sorry to have inconvenienced you so much. It was not my intention to be... well, here, at all, actually, much less... here."
    "How did you know to make a bee-line for the Forest Lodge?"
    "I did not. I decided to land someplace with more water than the desert, which is apparently pretty prevalent on this planet. I was sort of aiming for forest."
    That is not implausible. Shark is of course suspicious, but that's his job. All the data wiped from the fighter's log module adds to the paranoia. But if you're going to land somewhere, a front lawn is better than ground level tree trunks. If you couldn't make it to the starport, this is a pretty decent place to land.
    Mzrk continues, "Ultimately I'm trying to get back to Jewell. There is an Imperial base there, I think. I'm in the Imperial Navy and I need to... most of my fleet was destroyed, I think, so... ah..."
    "When?" asks Mich.
    "Relatively recently, in the past few months."
    "What were the dates, and where were you?"
    "It was the Battle of Rhylanor around 140-1123. We were stationed at Fulacin, jumped to Rhylanor. We launched a surprise attack on the Yathanyi Tigress Battle Group and the Rhylanor Fleet. We lost. Horribly. Almost my entire fleet was destroyed, and I've been sort of trying to do some odd jobs to get me passage back."
    Nightshade would have been at Tussinian then, when they grabbed Santanocheev's double at the Battle of Tussinian. They found out about the Battle of Rhylanor later. That would put him in the Loyallist side.
    Mzrk of course doesn't know what side these guys would be on, if they were involved or even knew about it. He continues, "Not much to tell about that, other than obviously we lost. Horribly. Irreversibly. Irretrievably. And consequently I'm quite lost. I shouldn't be anywhere near this planet."
    Mich says, "Well, if you stick around, we may be able to get you someplace else."
    "I'm a pretty good pilot. I tend to use those skills to, you know, trade. Galanglic is not my first language."
    "We have a pilot. And fighter pilot is a bit different from starship pilot."
    "I flew a ship once that was a starship. It was very fondly referred to as The Poop Bucket by its crew. I don't know what kind of ship it was, I couldn't decipher it, nor could they. So we don't really know. But it worked pretty good. Got us out of a tough jam. So who's your pilot?"
    "Lucas. He's elsewhere."
    It suddenly occurs to Mzrk that this might be a building rather than a ship. The room here has way too much open space for a ship, and the internal walls are too thin. There's a view out over the forest, a couple of hundred meters down. The outer walls are curved, as if this was a large cylinder, but it's really much more likely this is the top of a tall building.
    They have been monitoring any transmissions of course. He has his puter back but is not transmitting, and the footballs are showing only the usual background.
    Mzrk says, "Where exactly am I? You said I'm on some planet? Some person's planet?"
    "Yes, hers. She's the noble of this system."
    "Ah, fantastic. Pleasure to meet you, and all that. Sorry to have intruded into your... planet. How could I get down to this surface?"
    "We'll be heading there shortly," says Mich.
    "Really? Fantastic. I'd like to, you know, collect some of my items and such."
    At this point Kalida offers him some Blockade Bourbon. Do fish drink? They explain that this is the major product of this world.
    "Ah yes, bourbon," says Mzrk. "I am quite familiar with this human drink."
    "Not this human drink," says Mich. "This is bourbon from Nakege. This is the best bourbon in the Imperium."
    "A subjective analysis."
    The crew laugh. Mich says, "Supported by the going price of this bourbon in other parts of the Imperium. Give it a try."
    Mzrk tastes the Blockade Bourbon. It is quite something. It really is quite something, delicious. "Fantastic!" he exclaims.
    Mich says, "This bourbon normally sells for one to three million credits a bottle. This is a blockaded system. You've never heard of Blockade Bourbon?"
    "No, I haven't, but I am certainly glad to have discovered it."
    "The only bottles of it offworld had to run through the blockade. And by your own experience, running through the blockade is not something taken lightly."
    "It turns out to be quite difficult. More difficult than I had previously anticipated. If it sells that well, it's less fortunate news that we can't get it off the planet. It seems like it would be a lucrative business."
    "It probably is. Now, to get you off the planet we have to find somebody who is willing to run the blockade."
    "As long as there were a jump ship waiting outside the blockade, it might be possible for me to run it. If I had something to run it in."
    "Well," says Mich, "We're not going to hand you bottle of bourbon on spec just so that you can run a blockade."
    "I'm certain that's not the case. Although it did seem like a nice suggestion. I understand we just met, and all..."
    "Maybe we can continue this discussion at the Lodge."
    "Perhaps. My name is Zel, by the way. Everybody just calls me Zel. Commander in the Imperial Navy, and probably still one. It depends how things turn out."
    Mich introduces everyone: Kalida Siena, Marchioness of Nakege, Brigadier General, retired; Shark, the guy who treated him; Mich Saginaw, Lieutenant Commander, Imperial Navy, retired; and Chuck.
    Zel says he was on a vargr ship quite recently. They had some fun, he says, at least the vargr call it fun. "By which I mean death-defying narrow escapes from death."
    The crew smile. They've all had those, some of them more than others.
    Mich suggests moving to the Lodge. Shark says that while some of them should return to the Seneschals, he insists that Zel stay here for observation, at least overnight. He should definitely spend the night in Sick Bay, although he can have access to the Lounge too of course. The lift only goes between those two floors, and all the doors except to Sick Bay seem to be locked.
    The more Zel sees of this, the more it looks like a luxurious Imperial building. It's probably a cylinder on top of a spire reaching up from the forest floor, perhaps the Marchioness's official residence. The white mansion in the woods, the Forest Lodge they called it, is presumably for her to relax away from the constant pressure of noble duties. There's really no way this could be a ship, not with all this space and the construction and materials. The cylinder would be about 20m in diameter; the ceilings are 3m high. There is silence, no humming or vibrations, and suspending a ship this perfectly still over an oak forest would be odd. It surely must be a building.
    Still, Zel would like his personal effects. On his way out of the Lounge, he says, "Before we all leave, can I just, like, collect my belongings? I know you guys are trying to assess my situation here, but I just kind of woke up in a strange place and I'd like my stuff. I'm sure you can understand how it -- what do you humans call it? -- distress me."
    Shark assures him they will pick up his stuff tomorrow, when it's daylight again.
    That satisfies Zel. He'd like to find a private place to check his puter, but Shark is watching him closely and it's likely that he'll be monitored even when he's apparently alone.
    Chuck asks him what kind of food he eats normally. Zel says he's quite fond of a human dish called sushi, but yes, he can eat the meat that everyone here seems to subsist on. Chuck does say he'll see what he can do; he has his own smoker here, and his smoked meats are quite good. Zel assures him that his race are omnivores, and don't have any special requirements he needs to take into account.
    Shark asks him what he is, and Zel tells him he's Qldrn, from Qldr. The human name is Violante; it's not far from here, in the Aramis subsector.
    So Shark escorts Zel back to Sick Bay, while Misha, Kalida, and Teri will go down to the Lodge and stay overnight. The remainder will keep the ship ready to respond quickly if they need to move, and will have someone on watch the whole time.

    Robert shuttles the two nobles and Teri down to the Lodge. It's quite late now, but no doubt they'll have to explain something to the Seneschals at least in the morning.
    The fighter could be picked up easily while everyone at the Lodge is distracted; in the middle of the night Mich will steal it away. As long as no-one notices, they just can say they had it salvaged without going into details. Of course they won't tell Zel about it until they've had a chance to go over it.

    The salvage operation is straightforward and takes about 45 minutes, once Kalida tips them off that no-one is looking. The fighter does fit in the cargo lift, although not with much clearance.
    Once aboard and secured on Deck E, Mich takes a good look to try to document all the damage it's ever had. It seems like it was all from taking the edge of a nuclear blast, and from crashing through trees and bouncing around on the grass. It looks like it was brand new a few months ago, produced by General Products. The gcarrier will be parked in front of the main cargo bay in Deck D now, perhaps more convenient than Deck E anyway.