The first thing Edward "Shark" Teeth does in Sick
Bay is take a new baseline brain scan of Kalida Siena, Marchioness of
Nakege, and take a fresh genetic sample. That takes a couple of
hours. Shark also quickly checks the Library of Humanoids to see if
there's an entry that looks like Zel. He does indeed find what is
obviously a Qldrn represented there.
They go down to the Gym and set up for the trance
session, with Shark in battledress. The usual paper and football
arrangements are made. Kalida drifts away.
After a while, Shark notices paper rustling and
starting to bounce around the room a little. This is enough to get
his attention, but since Kalida is still stable at the moment he
just lets it continue.
Before long, however, heavier objects are
starting to move around. Shark himself is not affected much yet, but
it's close enough for him to act. He knocks her out, but immediately
afterwards he is knocked back against the wall hard. He definitely
applied the medicine correctly, but it was like it didn't stop her
Meanwhile in the Lounge, one of the glasses
slides off the table all by itself and falls on the floor. The
occupants of the Lounge don't seem obviously disturbed by this --
perhaps the Blockade Bourbon has done its work on them all.
Back in the Gym, Kalida is out now anyway. He
carries her back to Sick Bay, avoiding the Lounge so that Zel
doesn't get suspicious. It's around 11:30, and she'll be out for at
least 3 hours he thinks. He settles her down to spend the night in
Shark studies the football records, not just for
this session but for others, and looks for a signal pattern that
precedes the violent events. This will take a while to work out, of
course, but he has to be up to monitor Kalida for a while anyway
until she falls into normal sleep.
The first day of Winter on Nakege breaks clear,
bright, and cold.
Kalida wakes up normally, early as is her custom.
Shark is snoring on the next table in Sick Bay. She grabs something
off the counter and throws it at him.
Shark wakes up suddenly. His hand was starting to
reach for a weapon automatically, but he stops himself. He tells
Kalida she's fine.
Kalida asks how things went.
"You broke a glass," he says.
"That's it?" she asks.
"There were no glasses in the Gym. And you threw
me across the room, in my battledress."
"I've done that before."
"After I gave you the shot."
Kalida ponders this. She says, "Where was this
glass that I broke?"
"It was in the Lounge."
"We usually discuss this in the Lounge," says
Kalida, changing the subject, "But we have company so we should talk
about it on the Bridge."
Shark agrees. It is definitely time for a Bridge
But first, Kalida says, it's time for breakfast.
Shark rolls over and says to call him at 10, hitting the commdot and
telling Sir Misha Ravanos the same thing.
When Kalida gets to the Lounge, she finds that
Misha, Zel, and Teri Cralla are already there.
"Good morning, Your Ladyship," says Zel formally.
The view outside has put him in a good mood. It's bright and clear,
the red sun casting a beautiful glow across the treetops. It reminds
him of Qldr.
Chuck has served breakfast, a fine selection of
smoked and fried meats. He's even produced a plate of excellent
biscuits to accompany them.
Kalida asks Misha when Mich Saginaw might have
Zel's fighter available, but Misha doesn't know, of course. Mich
hasn't given an estimate yet.
It seems that the fresh morning and good food has
overridden the need for conversation. Breakfast proceeds quietly as
more of the crew file in to eat.
10:00 arrives all too soon, and with it time for
the meeting. Teri and Chuck remain in the Lounge with Zel, while
everyone else heads forward. Lucas Fuentes makes sure to take a
large plate of food with him.
Before the meeting, Shark has checked up on Youghi's
Drawstring and Youghi's Pocket. They are indeed run by
the same company, a collection of small traders specializing in
exotic and insidious atmosphere operations.
The crew has gathered on the Bridge. Aside from
Teri and Chuck, the only other person absent is Mich, who is calling
in from Deck E where he's working on repairing Zel's fighter.
Shark opens the discussion. "What's the news?" he
says to Kalida.
"I think this is connected to me," says Kalida,
"And Rhylanor. I don't know what the connection is, but he's in
"As the instigator?"
"We're all connected together. Very strongly.
There's also I think probably some kind of connection to Jewell,
they're connected very strongly to the blockade, and again to me."
Shark drifts off into his own world. He's been
thinking about Zel, that he was with the Rh-X-1 fleet that had been
commandeered by the Count of Fulacin. The Count himself had earlier
resigned as Admiral in protest at being overruled by INI in the
matter of Shark's arrest. He jerks back to pay attention to the
conversation on the Bridge. He says, "This is a wonderful tool to
"Right, but it's been set up that way," says
Kalida quickly. "By whom and why, and is it a mechanism to actually
come against us in some way, because we're expected to use this?"
"There is that possibility," agrees Shark. "But
you saw no-one else connected?"
Kalida sighs. She says, "I saw a lot of
connections here, and... well, you put me to sleep, I guess. I might
try it again, but not today. There's a lot of connections to follow.
A lot." She adds, "I think Zel's story checks out. His connections
seem both tenuous and straightforward. I didn't follow it all the
way back, but..."
Misha says, "That's both vague and definitive."
"I'm not sure what we want to do with him, but we
might need him if we're going to track down the connection here."
Misha agrees. "I think if we're going to keep him
with us, we have to offer him joining the club."
"Is there a reason to do that?"
"Well, either we leave him here, like just kick
him off on the planet..."
"We can't leave him here," says Kalida
Shark says, "If he jumps with us,
he'll know something about this ship. That wouldn't violate our
covenant, but it gives more public information that Nightshade...
it puts someone else out there talking about the capabilities of Nightshade.
Our only choices are: 1, to take him with us and a) keep him
prisoner, b) make him a provisional part of the crew, or alternate
2, catch a smuggler on the way in and then out and dump him on them.
Or 3, knock him out and drop him on a planet with no explanation.
Those are our choices."
Misha says, "Could we keep him locked up until we
get to a suitable place to dump him off?"
"Yes, but the problem is that you know jump. If
you're in a ship that jumps, you know it."
"Knowing that we jumped is not giving away
"We jump once and we show up at Jewell.
He goes to sleep in a building, and he wakes up in that same
building on Jewell. Once again, people will know."
Misha asks how often smugglers come here.
Kalida says that the only ones they've seen so
far has been the one Zel arrived on. She also points out that they
believe that the bourbon that makes it out is actually smuggled
Shark reiterates for Misha that the time it took
to jump, to outfit this ship with fighters, to get into position, to
plan all of this, started six months to a year ago. And the patrol
ship was tipped off. And the captain of the patrol ship switched
from standard missiles to nuclear weapons four days before the
event, for no reason, because they never put nukes in their tubes.
This had to start six months or more ago.
Kalida agrees, and says that at that time nobody
could have guessed that they were coming here. They didn't know they
were coming here. "Yet somehow it's still my fault," she concludes
Shark's opinion is that it's her fault because
she's been trying to get rid of Tukera.
Kalida concedes that has been known for a long
Shark again insists that the guy who ordered the
nukes has had no communications in the four and a half months he's
been here. He was installed here that long ago with the orders to do
this, and a planned date to do it for.
Robert suspects the Seneschal might have
something to do with it, but she was only ordered to come here a
very short time ago, just a couple of weeks. For this to work as a
plan to get rid of Tukera, someone had to witness them using nukes.
Kalida says the ship that dropped the fighters
off was a witness.
Shark says that's a good point. Who else was here
who could have witnessed it?
Robert doesn't seem to think that a blockade
runner would be a very reliable witness. On the other hand, this is
a commercial blockade rather than an Imperial one.
Shark says that would mean the ship is most
likely to have jumped to Mongo
first, and then on to Jewell to report it.
Misha asks whether the captain who fired the
nukes needed to use them. Would conventional missiles have done the
Yes they would, says Kalida, and they were loaded
four days before the fighters showed up.
Misha wonders what it would take to hack a ship,
or to load nukes without the captain knowing.
Shark points out that the missiles would be
loaded physically with a missile crew, not automated like Nightshade,
and the ship's logs showed very explicitly that the captain himself
gave the order.
Misha returns to the subject of Zel. He is in
favor of offering him a spot on the ship, under all the usual
conditions. If he doesn't want it, they can put him to sleep and
take him to Jewell. He asks for any objections, but there
are none. He asks about the original terms of the contract with the
and it basically said that they can't reveal anything about black
They all march down to the Lounge.
The only person missing from the Lounge now is
Misha steps up and says to Zel, "We have reached
the point in our relationship where you have to make a decision. You
can either join our merry band, which involves accepting certain
restrictions on the rest of your life that we can't tell you about
until you agree to them, or you can refuse it. If you refuse it,
we're going to put you to sleep, and dump you in the starport in Jewell."
Shark says, "I have to give a couple of
positives. The consequences are, you can't tell anybody what you're
doing, how you're doing it, or why you're doing it."
"That's... rather normal," says Zel.
"And you get to live in that room as long as
you're a crew member, which is until death do us part, pretty much.
Which could happen, given what we do."
Kalida agrees, "This is not a safe position."
"The Marchioness is a very adventurous soul,"
says Shark, "And so are the rest of us."
"OK," says Zel, "I'll need some time to think
about it of course. I have to admit I was already on my way to Jewell."
"How long ago did you not report for duty?" asks
Shark. "After surviving a battle that no-one else survived?"
Kalida comes in on Zel's side, "There were others
"But they were there. He left." It's hard to tell
if Shark is being serious or not. "I'm sure they had no questions
about that. I just want to point out..."
Zel says, "It is distinctly possible that I may
not be exactly welcome. I hope that was not going to be the case,
Kalida points out that he does like the bourbon,
and that is a perk.
"It does help that you do seem to be generally
aligned. Having been part of an organization whose intentions were
clear and whose..."
"Clarity," says Shark, "That might be something
you have to give up."
Kalida says, "Certain principles are very clear.
The course is completely unclear. To outsiders it looks very much
like the yacht of a dilettante just wandering around aimlessly. Now
from the inside, that's totally not true."
Zel says, "I imagine it would be pointless to ask
what your long term goals are."
Shark says, "Turn an asteroid into a hotel, and
fly it around space. We want to turn it into a ship with jump. An
entire asteroid. And fund it with the lanthanum mines
that we have going with a couple of our other crew members, who are
"You have your own lanthanum mine?"
Shark continues, "Break down the blockade, or
control the blockade so that we can control the monopoly of Blockade
Bourbon, which you were trying to smuggle. Therefore we would have
to re-implement the blockade."
Kalida says, "I'm thinking of taking it from Amber to Red."
"So that would make it an actual Imperial
blockade." Shark laughs and says, "As soon as it's a Red Zone, Robin
Sherwood will show up." He turns to Zel and says, "She's a very
famous pirate. She never kills people, or rarely kills people."
Zel says, "All of that sounds quite interesting
actually. It may be fun to travel with you guys for a moment. It
seems like such a shame to leave a promising career behind."
Shark says, "We can promise you that it will be
Kalida says, "So what career would you like to
Zel says, "I was on the way to Captain before I
left the ranks... was presumed dead. It was going well. But if it is
not to be, it is not. My primary function was fighter pilot. I am a
pretty decent pilot. I can make it go."
Misha grins, "Can you drive a gravcraft?"
"I can, yes."
A chorus of cheers rings around the Lounge. Shark
says, "The last time we flew a gravcraft, we bent it." He pauses,
then says, "Should we tell him our Communications Officer does not
Zel says, "How can your Communications Officer
not speak galanglic?"
"The ship does."
"Isn't that an obstacle?"
"No," Misha assures him, "It hasn't been so far.
He used to speak it, of course. Things change."
"How do you unlearn a language?"
Laughter echoes through the Lounge.
"We have ways," says Misha mysteriously.
"What does fish oil do to a fish?" asks Shark.
"Let's not go there," says Misha. "Not right
Robert says, "Fish oil makes you achieve your
Kalida says, "It makes you more you."
"No," says Shark, "It helps you achieve your
Kalida repeats, dissenting slightly, "It makes
you more you." Robert agrees with her, and after a pause so does
Robert adds, "It permanently alters your brain
"It rewires your brain," says Misha.
"Which reminds me," says Kalida to Shark, "I want
a conversation with you later."
Zel says, "In that case then, it seems as though
it would be advantageous to accept your offer. But how exactly are
you planning on taking control of the blockade if the blockade is
"Politically. Legally," says Shark.
Kalida says, "There's a commission meeting to
discuss it, arranged by the Archduke."
"Ah, through the proper channels," says Zel.
They tell him that he'll get a nice boost in
social standing the first time they meet him. It's clear this is
quite a high ranking crew, what with the Marchioness, and another
absentee noble in Marquis Marc. They don't mention that the Duke of
Five Sisters is
also technically on the crew.
Shark gets back to the main subject, which Zel
actually answered a short time ago now. "So it is your intent to
join the crew?"
Zel says, "It seems like it would be better than
my other options."
"At this point, the only person who can properly
present you with the contract is Robert."
They do have a galanglic translation, but the
definitive version is in Scryptese. Robert summarizes: "It's a
non-disclosure agreement. You cannot say anything at all to anybody
about the capabilities of our vessel."
"What vessel?" asks Zel.
"We have a classical yacht that we use on
expeditions. You will be issued a stateroom on it. You will have all
rights and privileges of a crew member, however none of the
capabilities of the ship can be discussed with anyone other than
another crew member. You cannot make allusions to it, to anyone
else, ever, for the rest of your life."
"That seems simple enough," says Zel.
"You'd be surprised," says Kalida darkly.
Robert continues unabated, "If someone questions
you about your yacht, you must lie. You must not divulge any part of
the capabilities of the ship."
Zel assures him that he can lie. He says, "What
if I tell someone then kill them?"
"No," says Kalida, "You have to kill them first."
Zel says it is becoming clear to him. He applies
his signature to the document.
Robert says he will supply him with a galanglic
copy of the agreement.
It's very long in that language; it's a lot shorter in the original
Scryptese. It does contain a few other clauses too, including
certain things they have to report to the Arden Society. The Arden
Society, in turn, will support them in certain ways, especially in
the case of contact with The Enemy. That means they should go back
to them for an upgrade.
"Except we have that right now with the Blue
Cross," says Robert.
"And that might be better," says Shark.
Robert agrees emphatically. The Blue Cross is
much more up to date.
Zel is now officially a crew member. Misha says,
"Follow me," and takes him to the Bridge, leading him forward from
the Lounge, past what now must be staterooms and not guest rooms, to
It is now apparent this is not a building, but
this mysterious ship to which the crew have been referring. Zel is
already on board.
The Bridge is immense. Twenty meters from side to
side, almost 40 meters long, and the transparent canopy extends in a
semi-circle above them. There is a large central dais, and consoles
scattered around. This is ridiculously large. This is no normal
yacht, and obviously not of Imperial origin either.
That is even more apparent as the tour continues.
The massive Solarium with its waterfall is perhaps the most
impressive of all to Zel, although the sparseness of equipment in
Engineering is strange too. When they tell him that the entire ship
is powered by a solid metal cube a meter on a side that requires no
fuel at all and has no apparent connections, he shrugs and accepts
this impossibility. And apparently there are only quarters for
twelve crew , and there aren't even that many in the crew here.
They continue to explain the capabilities of the
ship, its 20g acceleration, silent atmospheric travel, and a little
about the weapon systems. The missile launcher system gets Zel's
attention -- the concept of 720 independent nuclear missiles,
accelerating at 40g, fired at 100 rounds per second, all arriving to
surround the target with a complete spherical simultaneous blast,
that's unlike anything he could have conceived of before. Kalida
says that she can fire as few as three at a time now, and suggests
that Zel read up on the Battle of
They then tell him about the expander. It
consumes a massive amount of power and can only be fired once every
ten minutes. Fired into solid matter, it causes explosions on the
order of a gigaton. They fired nine of those into Tussinian.
The hull walls are paper-thin but extremely strong. There is no
fuel, and they can do a Jump 6. They add that they have an extra
power cube, 1.5m on a side, that they are using solely used to
restock missiles while under stealth. They do have a lighter weapon
system -- lasers -- but while very effective against ships it's not
even really part of the weapon systems.
Zel is apparently no slouch in space combat
either. During the discussion, he lets slip that the last thing he
did at the Battle of Rhylanor was
charge a Happy Fun Ball with his fighter. It ended up with his ship
blown in half, but that is not really the point, is it?
Shark requests a full timeline of Zel's journey
from the Battle of Rhylanor to here, including what ships he
travelled on, and so on. He asks if the Qldrn speaks Zhodani, but his only
languages are his own and galanglic.
But the next important task is to find out some
more about the people who brought Zel here. Perhaps the contact at
the starport would
still be there, ready to load up the smuggled bourbon. Mich should
have the fighter repaired enough soon -- he says early tomorrow --
and Zel could try to meet his contact there.
That reminds Shark about the other pressing
matter, the Blue Cross. He tells Zel they have some "friends" here.
"Remember we told you no-one can see us? Well, they're a little bit
better than us. We can't see them unless they want us to. And they
took over our ship for a little while. We were talking to them about
They had promised them equipment to perform hull
repairs. What they hadn't told the Blue Cross was that they could
then use this equipment to repair their other Black Ships, vessels
that were conveniently absent from any conversation they had with
Misha suggests telling Zel the story of how they
acquired Nightshade. It did cost Marquis Marc his ship, but
it was a reasonable trade.
Shark summarizes, playing fast and loose with the
details. They broke into a secret installation managed by a rebel
alliance and stole it. He says it was he who found the door that let
them in. The ship didn't know where it had been for a few hundred
thousand years until they woke it up. Then, of course, the old
subject of whether Nightshade is intelligent or sentient
comes up. They assure Zel that it is not in fact sentient.