(30) Questions and Answers

The Regency Campaign (35/1573 to 36/1573)
(284+285-1123 to 285+286-1123)

35/1573 (284+285-1123) : Nakege / Jewell / Spinward Marches

    After an excellent dinner of smoked venison on Nightshade after the excitement at the starport, it's time to wake up the prisoner and interrogate him. Edward "Shark" Teeth is sure he was sent to kill anyone who came down to pick up the bourbon, and that there are probably more bomb cases in the building too.
    Sir Misha Ravanos points out that they don't know he was sent to kill anyone, just deliver this cases.
    Kalida Siena, Marchioness of Nakege, says the important question is who he was working for.
    Misha says if he knows who he works for, and he works for either Tukera or for Imperial Intelligence... or does Shark not think he works for Imperial Intelligence?
    Shark says he probably works for "John Smith", and was contacted just to do this job. If Shark were running it, that's what he would have done -- grabbed some fresh special ops guy mustering out, and offer him a quick easy 50k Cr.
    Misha says they should tell him that his only use to them is to tell them everything.
    And, adds Shark, they'll put him in low berth until they've verified everything he tells them.

    The interrogators move to Sick Bay, where Shark wakes up the prisoner. As requested by Misha, he is brought around clear headed and aware, and heavily restrained.
    Misha is suitably intimidating in his full native regalia, with his jherig on his shoulder.
    Teri Cralla stands by in full battledress. Having the person who shot off his lower leg right there should intimidate him too.
    The prisoner does not look intimidated.
    Misha says, "You almost killed a friend of mine. I don't like that."
    The man looks confused.
    Misha thinks he's faking it, and isn't as confused as he looks. He hits him in the face, hard.
    "What was that for?" the man almost screams.
    "For lying to me."
    "I didn't lie to you! I didn't say a thing!"
    "That's right. I want you to start talking."
    "You were telling me stuff... that wasn't true."
    "You admitted it. You said it was."
    "No, I didn't! I didn't say anything!"
    "You said enough."
    "I'll say exactly as much as that then, and you can fill in the answers, since you're obviously going to do it anyway! Who are you?"
    "I'm the guy who decides how long you live."
    "Oh, so it's a matter of how long, is it? It's not 'Answer us or we'll kill you,' it's 'We'll kill you, but how long is it going to take?' Is that what you're doing?"
    "Well, if you want to live a normal lifespan, or do you want to die slowly?"
    "How slowly are we talking here? Another sixty years?"
    "Slowly, painfully, or live a long..."
    "Are you actually going to ask anything?"
    "What do you think I want to know?"
    "I have no idea what you want to know."
    "Tell me everything that you know, starting with why you were at the starport."
    "Why I was at the starport? Oh. Who are you, anyway? Where am I?"
    "We went over that."
    "No, we didn't."
    "You're with me. That's enough."
    "OK. I was there to deliver some things. That's all. Just deliver some crates."
    "What was in the crates?"
    "Bourbon. As far as I know."
    "Why do you know it's bourbon?"
    "Because it's written on the outside. It says Bourbon, and I'm supposed to deliver these crates."
    "Who gave you the bourbon?"
    "It was delivered by one of the locals. Some local guy. They all look the same to me, farmers or something."
    "A local guy told you to go to the starport and wait for him?"
    "No. I was hired by this guy. A guy."
    "A guy. That's the best you can do?"
    "Yes. He paid me money."
    Shark interjects, "Did they tell you about the centipedes on the planet?"
    "I have no idea what you're talking about. Is that supposed to be intimidating?"
    Misha looks around for a medical pokey thing. He picks one up and pokes the man's leg stump.
    Now the man looks intimidated. "Ow! Stop that! A guy with money hired me!"
    "Name? Where?"
    "I don't know. Someone on Jewell."
    "Where on Jewell exactly?" asks Shark.
    "Travellers' Aid Society. There was a card up on the board. And he gave me money."
    "In person?"
    "In person. Cash. Half up front, half on completion."
    "And your orders were?"
    "Come here, hand over some crates."
    Misha says, "And how did you get here?"
    "I flew in on some little far trader thing."
    "Through the blockade," says Shark.
    Misha pokes him again. Hard.
    He yells in pain. "Look, look, stop it, OK? I'm telling you what I know!"
    "The name of the ship?" asks Shark.
    "I don't know!"
    Misha says, "You got on a ship and you don't know. You got on a ship that ran a blockade."
    "They seemed friendly enough! Everything was normal."
    Misha says, "How much you were paid, to go to a planet that's embargoed, and deliver a package from one part of a starport to another part of a starport?"
    "A hundred thousand."
    Misha repeats the amount, sounding surprised.
    Shark says, "And there was nothing strange about that."
    The prisoner says, "Oh, there was plenty strange about it."
    "So you didn't bother taking note of the name of the ship..."
    "For fifty thousand credits up front..."
    Shark turns to Misha. "He's not smart enough to know anything," he says, "Can I kill him now?"
    Kalida prompts the interrogators by commdot: how long has he been here, and when did he get here? She continues to feed questions through them as they continue.
    Misha asks him how long he's been here.
    "A month," he replies.
    Misha continues, "Where were you staying?"
    "Here. At the starport. They have a couple of rooms. I paid them some money. They gave me some food. I mean, it looks like a house because it is, kind of."
    "How did you know who you were supposed to give it to?"
    "Some guy was supposed to come in an Imperial fighter, and I was supposed to give him some crates. That's it. Two crates. Only one guy showed up, I had a stack of crates."
    "Where's the rest of the crates?"
    "They're still at the starport."
    Shark says, "How many crates?"
    "Twelve crates in total."
    Misha says, "What did the guy look like?"
    "It was some guy, you know?"
    "Human? Imperial?"
    "He looked normal. Some guy on Jewell."
    "And how were you going to get the other fifty thousand credits?"
    "When I'd handed the stuff over, they were going to send another trader, and I was going to go back. That's it."
    Sharks says, "And where were you going to get the credits?"
    "The Travellers' Aid Society when I got back to Jewell."
    Misha says, "How were they going to verify that you'd delivered all the crates?"
    "No idea."
    "How long were you supposed to wait?"
    "What, here? I was just supposed to wait here, and if they showed up give them the crates. I was to wait here until the trader came to take me back. Why don't you just let me go back?"
    Shark says, "You tried to kill us."
    "No, I didn't!"
    "Those crates."
    "What about them?"
    "They blew up."
    "Well, ... What?"
    "You've been sleeping on explosives."
    "I've been what? What?"
    "OK, so 20 kilos of C4 each."
    "So who was it? Your last chance."
    The prisoner sighs, "I don't know. Look, I'll give you his contact info, OK? On Jewell, Travellers' Aid Society, you want this guy called Mongo Slade. Contact him through TAS, that's the guy who hired me. Or at least that's the name he gave me."
    "And he gave you cash? Do you have any on you?"
    "Yes. Unless you've taken it."
    "Well, yes I have, but I wanted to know if it was the same cash."
    "Yes. Are you maybe going to give me back the money and just drop me off back at the starport here? I will very, very carefully get rid of those crates, like take them out to the woods or something."
    "That will be taken care of. Anything else before you bid your last goodbye?"
    "Yeah, who are you guys?"
    "Say goodnight, Gracie," says Shark, and puts him back to sleep.

    Mzrk "Zel" Avnchnzl suggests dressing someone up to look like him, and go meet his contact. He really is not used to nefarious dealings, apparently.
    "You want to get blown up again?" says Shark. "Is that what you're after? You think they're going to leave a loose end? Just like you were a loose end and were going to be blown up, he is a loose end and would have been blown up. They were willing to sacrifice millions of credits worth of fighters, what's 50k to get this guy to do their dirty work? Blowing up the ship was a loose end -- all the officers are dead. I don't think that was a coincidence."
    Shark realizes they did not interview the survivors of the Tukera patrol ship about what happened. Did they have an explosion in the bridge or something that made them lose control? The report was that they lost maneuver power and were crashing, but they don't know who made the report from the ship.
    He then goes back over the scanner logs of the damaged escape pods. What kind of damage was it? A careful examination of the pictures leaves him convinced they were indeed torn up by centipedes.
    Shark says that they have one more loose end on this word: who was the native who gave him the crates?
    Kalida asks if he thinks the prisoner was telling the truth about not knowing the name of the trader and so on.
    Shark says they could pump him for details about the name of the ship, crew names, and what dock on Jewell he boarded it. If it's a Baba Yaga or Youghi's Something, for example.
    Kalida says she has a theory, but wants to hear what he says. It's looking like they'll have to interrogate him again.

    So Shark wakes him up again and asks him for the details.
    The ship was called Jorjie Darling, registered at Emerald / Jewell, commanded by Captain Julie Faraday, and stewarded by Bill Borsen. It left from dock number 341 on 249-1123 at 13:00 Imperial time. He had high passage and interacted mainly with the steward, although he did meet the Captain.
    With that done, Shark puts him back to sleep. He rolls him over to the low berths and puts him in one.

    Kalida checks and finds that the ship is privately owned under the name of the Captain. It seems on paper at least a legitimate far trader.
    Shark does a full forensic examination of everything that was on their prisoner. There's not much that will help, except that he is interested that the 50k credits seems to have been laundered, in that it's suspiciously clean with not even the normal traces he'd expect on normally circulated cash.
    It's been a busy day. The crew get an early night for once.

36/1573 (285+286-1123) : Nakege / Jewell / Spinward Marches

    This is the worst weather they've seen so far. It's a total blizzard, with zero visibility and zero sensors.

    Misha asks Nightshade to contact Blue Cross and say they want to talk to their Captain, Self-Preservation.

    After a short while, Misha looks up and sees Self-Preservation waving at them and knocking from outside the Lounge window. Misha tells Nightshade to open the door, and she walks in.
    Zel notices that despite the white-out, she is not covered in snow and no snow enters the ship when the entire transparent wall of the Lounge opens up.
    She says, "You wanted to talk to me?"
    "Yes," says Misha.
    "Are you ready to take aboard the equipment? If you will open your main cargo bay, we'll transfer it across. Someone will need to come over to work on the communications systems too, so we can talk over it. What do you want?" She then looks at Zel and says, "Who are you?"
    "Hi, I'm Zel, hello," says Zel.
    "You must be the one from the fighter."
    "I am, yes." Zel notes that this person seems to be a human woman. "I crashed the fighter and they picked me up. I did not miraculously get dead, which is what I was expecting."
    She seems a bit confused over his phrasing, and asks him when he expected to get miraculously dead. Apparently her galanglic translator does not handle it as a second language so well. But Zel clarifies to her satisfaction.
    Kalida hands over her report on the Adabicci incident. Self-Preservation says they will probably head there next and look around, depending on what's in Kalida's report.

Kalida's Report on the Adabicci Incident
(Referee and Kalida's, Misha's, and Shark's players only)

    "There won't be another one there, will there?" asks Kalida.
    "Not likely," says Self-Preservation. She pauses, then says, "Is everyone here in the Lounge? In that case, please open your cargo bay, and please everyone remain here, and please give permission for our Engineer to adjust your communications system. We do not wish you to see the changes we make, or rather the methods we use to work on it. It will be fully integrated with your ship's system."
    Misha gives permission.
    Shark says, "Can you tell us why you don't want us to watch you?"
    "There are techniques that our Engineer will use that you probably shouldn't advance to yet."
    Shark grins, "We're not grown up enough yet."
    "Oh, you're grown up enough to blow yourself up and cause trouble if you try to duplicate it, but we do not wish to reveal everything that we have done in the last...."
    Shark says, "Would it be too much of a bother to get a complete inventory of our ship?"
    "You don't have one?"
    "The ship doesn't have one. The ship can't tell us what's in the ship."
    "Oh! Yes, I understand now."
    Zel says he doesn't. He's clearly not alone amongst the crew, but he says, "Is there stuff on the ship that we don't know what it is, that the ship doesn't even know what it is?"
    Mich Saginaw says, "We've figured out most of the ship, but there are some things that, through other experience we've had with artifacts, you don't touch."
    "What kind of things?" says S-P, "What do you not know?"
    Shark says, "Well, the ship has the ability to do a symbol on the outside. We don't know if there's any other ways to change it's appearance."
    "There is not."
    "OK. I can quit wasting my time on that."
    Mich says, "When is it appropriate for us to display the red cross versus none?"
    "When you wish to be black."
    Shark says, "Like the medical systems. There are many specifics that I would love to understand more about."
    "I do not think I can help you with that. We do not have systems on our ship to deal with humans."
    "I didn't think you did. But do you have any historical databases that would describe the workings of the systems on our ship?"
    "No. We know some things about ancient history, but specifics..."
    "Well how about as much about ancient history databases you're willing to share with us?"
    "What kind of ancient history?"
    "About the ships, how they were used, or the battles they were in in the past?"
    "You know what the ship is for. It is a reconnaissance ship that is capable of taking on one enemy at a time. That is what it is for, to seek out the Enemy's equivalent."
    "The personal equipment stores across from medical. We don't know much about those."
    "On ours that would be the armory."
    "Yes, I guess that's what it is. It's what we are using it for."
    "Oh, I don't know what you'd have back then. The personal shields were primitive, the weapons very limited and not very accurate or powerful. The limited amount of power that could be put through the harness units was just unable to do the things we can do with ours now."
    "I fear you're overestimating our knowledge of even these general concepts. You haven't given a framework to base..."
    "Then it may be dangerous for you to try using them."
    "Then maybe it would be better for you to tell us."
    "The harnesses -- have you seen those? -- that is a personal combat unit. It has personal shielding and -- I'm not sure how the weapons work. It may have built-in lasers or something. I don't know how the system was controlled back then."
    "So your historical records don't cover where the caches of items were left behind."
    "There were caches of items left behind? We did not know of their existence. We do not have much detail of anything that long ago."
    Shark asks Mich if he has anything specific.
    Mich says, "Do I need training for the repair systems?"
    "It comes with instructions," says S-P. "It is already on your cargo lift but our Engineer is not finished yet. She has reported that the acolytes made some modifications to the design."
    "Ah," says Shark, "And she's correcting them, I hope."
    "No, she is learning from them. They seem to be... interesting. Maybe we should go there."
    "It's a very interesting place. They may travel personally the way you do."
    "They will welcome you," says Robert Morris.
    S-P says, "I would hope to not be observed, but that would be complicated."
    Shark says, "We did not try. We were very open there."
    "So yes, it will be completely integrated with your communication systems, so we should be able to talk. I should emphasize that this is not a free pass for you to chat with us whenever you like. Please reserve it for important matters."
    "We will not use the bat phone irresponsibly."
    "Do not be afraid to send data instead. You can send more faster through that way than to talk to us."
    Shark looks at Robert and says, "They're going to fix your bandwidth issues."
    "There is nothing wrong with the bandwidth," S-P says.
    "I know," says Shark, "But the original thought was that it was slow."
    "It is not slow at all."
    "Then they lied to us when it was originally put in. They told us it was..."
    Robert cuts in, "They didn't tell us anything about it. I figured out what it was doing. It was a very slow bandwidth communication in one direction to them, but it was link through..."
    "She's telling us it's a high speed link. Bi-directional?"
    S-P says, "No. It will be now."
    "It is with you. Is it with them as well?"
    "No. It does not communicate with them."
    "Ah, they just build it in to communicate with..."
    "Us. Yes. It is a high bandwidth system even by our standards. The physical carrier wave is time-modulated."
    This makes no sense to Robert, Mich, or anyone else. Robert in particular is certain that she is talking about something beyond their physics; any reasonable interpretation of that phrase is clearly not what she means, not when talking about this equipment anyway.
    Shark says, "So you're not from around now?"
    "What are you talking about?" says S-P.
    "Your timeline may not match ours."
    "I told you we don't time-travel. We travel in time at the same rate everybody does."
    "But do you change positions in that time?"
    "That would be time travel," S-P says slowly.
    "And so would time modulation."
    "The data has to travel in time."
    "No, it modulates... the data is being carried on the modulations of the time. No, don't think too hard about this. It works. It is magic." She looks around and says, "Which reminds me, don't take apart the equipment we are leaving."
    "Last time we did that the ship blew up. That was long ago on another ship."
    "The trouble is, this is a very old ship, and you don't have a way to speak about ... things." She pauses, apparently listening to something, and says, "Nishi says she is done."
    "Do ships have names?" asks Shark.
    "We call ships by name, yes."
    "This ship hasn't been given a name, or...?"
    "This one? You appear to have given it a name. That is its name."
    Mich gets up and leaves. As soon as he is out of sight, he breaks into a run to go and look at his new toys.
    S-P says, "Is there anything more you want from us that we can provide?"
    Misha says, "Not at the moment," and thanks her.
    Shark asks if she has any information on the plants in the Solarium. He'd like to understand from a biological point of view, or any education on that theory system she could supply.
    S-P says they are constructed, and probably not the same as what she has now. She says she will check if this is something they can share with him She says it is not wholly her decision, and she will pass it on to the appropriate persons.
    Shark then says, "You are currently in combat with somebody far away from here, right? The technology that they use, does it present itself as white mists and..." He goes on to describe what they call White Tech, the Ancient Site with the tunnels. "Is that anything like their technology?"
    "No," she says, "That is not like any technology that we know about."
    Shark then says, "One more thing. Our sensor system is disturbed by some material in the soil of this planet. What is that material?"
    "We have not the slightest idea. It is nasty, but could be useful."
    With that, she is done, and leaves through the Lounge window into the snowstorm. She says they will be in the area for some time.

    Mich reports that they seem to done to Nightshade only what they said and no more. The repair system has various attachments, and seems to be self powered and not connected to either of their power cubes. It has instructions for how to use it to repair hulls, as well as internal systems. As long as he has something to work from -- and there'll need to be a working computer system to use as a source -- he can repair anything on this ship. Or on either of their other black ships they have hidden on a trajectory out of Zett. He explains to Zel about the one just like this but with one perfect circular hole punched through it, and the much larger ship with a massive weapon that is full of holes. Now they need to go back to the Arden Society to get a full upgrade from them.
    Robert confirms that the communication system is completely integrated with the ship. There are no extra clues as to how it works, but it is controllable from his end. He thinks that if he was good and lucky enough, he could even control what was sent from this end.
    Shark points out that S-P said that they don't have any systems for dealing with humans on the ship, so none of the crew are human. He thought she'd implied earlier that some of them were, although they knew she is not.
    Mich says that since her race is adapted to survive extinction events, they probably grow whatever body they need and transfer their consciousness to it.

    Now they have to wait for the storm to pass. Shark asks Lucas Fuentes to take them up above the storm so they can see how big it is. This is a massive widespread weather system stirring everything up and covering the forest area. Mich's best estimate is that this will continue for about three days. The temperatures on this world are rapidly changing, and that's driving the weather system which extends even into the upper atmosphere.
    Shark now wants to check some of the crashed escape pods. There is a patrol ship in orbit now, since the Tukera destroyer escort has arrived; they have just three ships left now, which means none of them have jumped out with the news of the loss of one of their blockading ships.
    At this point, Shark receives information about the garden over the new comm system.

    The pods are located easily again. Shark wants Chuck ready with his gun and special rounds just in case they encounter any centipedes. Mich and Shark are eager to try out the harnesses, but tempered by their experience testing Cockroach weapons. They'd need somewhere safe to do it, too, and this desert is definitely not safe. Still, Mich adds a few finishing touches to his new rifle in case he has the chance to use it.
    Of course, Zel doesn't know about the Cockroaches. There was an entire war that the Imperium didn't tell anyone about, and they had to blow up a sun to finish it. Zel says there are many things he expects the Imperium does not tell him.
    The first pod has a welcoming committee, a pack of about six hunter centipedes about 300m away. Shark wants to experiment with them, despite Mich reminding him that they can track Nightshade even in stealth. Zel prefers to err on the side of caution, as does Chuck, and in fact most of the crew seem to have a more ominous feeling about messing with centipedes than Shark does. They do have a weapon that will probably penetrate their carapace, but they don't know whether it would kill them or not.
    Even Shark agrees that is way too close. He asks Lucas to fly high, fake out their direction, and move on to the next damaged pod. This one has a pack of three staking it out. Shark asks Lucas to park 500m up absolutely solidly locked, and tries the sensors to see if there is any blood or human remains, but he can't really tell.
    But Shark does pull up a view of the centipedes to show Zel. He emphasizes to the Qldrn that one of these took down a Mercenary Cruiser -- a crack team of mercenaries in a ship designed for landing under fire.
    The hunters are about the size of an air/raft, about 5m long. Four pairs of inverted V-shape legs spring out of a flattish body close to the ground. The legs are carried on four segments, and in front of that is a head segment carrying massive jaws with no other apparent features. There is a segmented tail that folds underneath, but there isn't a good view of that from above.
    There are also, say Shark and Kalida, herbivores that are even bigger. And there are signs that the hunters are farming the herbivores at the Palace. They may be intelligent, but they also might just be like ants that farm aphids.
    Shark had asked Mich about making an acoustic weapon that will disrupt the centipedes' echolocation and blind them. Mich can do that, but there are potential drawbacks of such a device.
    Next Shark looks for a space of empty desert to take a sample, checking three times to be sure there are no centipedes in the area. He's in battledress, with Chuck standing by nervously with his gun at the ready. He flies out of the open main cargo lift, goes down and takes a sample of the plain desert sand. He returns to the cargo lift, and asks Lucas to take them up a few kilometers into safety.
    Shark wants to analyze whether the sand is substantially centipede carapace. That will take a while, of course. He also wants to use the new information on the engineered plants in the Solarium to help determine whether the beasts are engineered too.
    Misha suggests that instead of going down to a wrecked pod, could they pull one on board? They discuss that for a while, but it doesn't seem too practical and sounds very dangerous considering the nearby hunters.
    Shark is sure there are centipedes inside the Palace. If they can chew through hull material, they can probably get through the ceramic walls too.
    Mich tells Zel that the laser turrets were keeping them at bay until there was a bad storm, and several of the turrets were taken out. Now that they've seen a bad storm themselves, that becomes a lot more understandable. Repairing the turrets would be hard because they've have to keep the centipedes away during the process.
    Shark says perhaps they could get the Imperium to get the centipedes out of here by telling them that they can use them as marines. Then he wonders what the Zhodani could do with them. After all, there are two Zhodani systems within just Jump-3 of Nakege, and another four within military standard Jump-4. At least Nakege isn't a squeeze point, like Dulu was for the Cockroaches.
    But now Shark has his sample, he's happy just to hang out here and watch the storm.