(31) From the Pub to the Distillery

The Regency Campaign (36/1573 to 40/1573)
(285+286-1123 to 290+291-1123)

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

    Mich Saginaw believes the storm will end on 39. That gives the crew of Nightshade some time to catch up with training and so on while they can't do anything much in the forest area. Edward "Shark" Teeth wants to continue training Kalida Siena, Marchioness of Nakege, as his medical assistant, who he wants to be able to qualify as a doctor. He is also fascinated by the idea of testing out the harnesses in the Armory.
    Mich and Teri Cralla recall the testing of Cockroach weapons they did on Jax back in the old days, and how that testing caused more casualties than the battle in which they captured them.
    That in turn, brings up the story of how Akim Gavrolovitch was killed -- or not -- in the back of the gcarrier on Gorram.
    They have also just missed a festival on Jewell, happening there today.
    Then there are the loose ends to tidy up here. There are the crates at the starport, and they want to talk to the survivors to get more details about how the Tukera destroyer escort was destroyed. Sir Misha Ravanos suggests they go in friendly but serious, and they find out if they know anything, and what they know. If it looks like there's something seriously there, they start with a little brandy, then a lot of brandy, and see what that loosens up. They have booze, they have money, they have drugs, and they have guns. Whatever works is what they'll use.
    In the meantime, the Tukera ship that was approaching the mainworld has now taken up station in orbit, replacing the one that was lost. That reduces their presence elsewhere in the system, of course.
    Misha then suggests they should talk to the Gravella, the head of Traditional Heritage Craftworks and thus the effective ruler of Nakege. They could talk about the possibility that one of the natives, or someone posing as a native, delivered bombs in bourbon crates to the starport.
    Shark agrees. This was a setup from months ago, when the blockade run was planned. Someone was placed on this world to handle the crates. It might give the Gravella a little more motivation to find the culprit, and to alert him to the fact that there has been weird stuff going on here.
    Kalida also says they need to pick up bourbon to pay off THC's debt.
    Midwinter is in 5 days time, so they aren't even in the coldest part of the year yet. Temperatures are changing fast, with the desert cooling faster than the forest.
    Shark wonders what the centipedes do when it's cold. They could fly over the Palace and find out, as well as checking if they are warm-blooded -- he would be surprised if they aren't, and more surprised if he couldn't tell. He is sure these carapaces are engineered, not evolved naturally, and there is no reason for these creatures to have all these adaptations.

    So everyone goes into their respective training, Nightshade spending time out here until the storm has abated.
    Mich continues to work on his new gun, and also studies the repair equipment that was delivered from Blue Cross. That equipment comes with instructions, but with no information on how any of it works, of course. He just has to hook up a connection with the ship's computer, and then let it go to work. It is self-powered and autonomous, and all he essentially has to do is press the button that says "Repair the ship". It will then talk to the computer to determine the state of the ship, and then deploy whatever objects it needs to effect the repairs. It has various elements which lock in place to do their work, little autonomous drones that go out and do stuff, and so on. It is also self-repairing, but it is possible to damage it to the point where it won't work any more. It isn't fast, but it will eventually repair everything.
    Of course then Mich turns it on to see if there's anything on board it thinks should be repaired. There is some equipment in the Mechanical Shop that is showing signs of wear; there are two systems in Sick Bay that are operating at 98%; there is a ding in a chair on the Bridge. Depending on the threshold Mich wants to apply, there are a number of things that could be repaired if he wanted. But in general everything on the ship is in excellent shape.
    The gcarrier is of course not black tech, and the system will not repair that. Now if Mich could get into the computer a full description of how it should look down to the atomic or subatomic particle level, it would do the repairs. He also recalls  has an atom-by-atom scan of an alien artifact from a long time ago, that contains some kind of star map, that they handed over during that matter with Trow Backett.
    Kalida works on her home study course from Marquis Marcus Crestworthy, and manages to get the footballs to flutter. Shark gives her a display that she can use for feedback, and that helps a lot.

    Before they start those activities, however, Lucas Fuentes takes the pilot seat and moves over to the Palace, parking the ship there. The last time they were here was on 258-1123, which was 11/1573, at the end of summer.
    As far as Shark can tell, everything is exactly the same as it was before. He runs the sensors on record for a while. He also checks the sensors, and finds nothing but the usual background noise, including the new guests. The three footballs allow him a pretty good triangulation, but he wants a fourth for full triangulation in three dimensions, since the sensors are not directional. Mich will build Shark another one, and does so with improvements. He resolves to make a full computer model of the footballs so they can be repaired automatically too.

40/1573 (290+291-1123) : Nakege / Jewell / Spinward Marches

    The weather does indeed clear up today. It is clear, wind light, and the temperature about -3.
    Lucas takes them close to the starport, and then Mzrk "Zel" Avnchnzl takes the away team down in the Launch. There is about 3 meters of snow on the ground there now.
    Shark checks the sensors to see where people are on the ground. Most of the people are fairly stationary in the building, but there are a couple of people outside the front door moving around with the occasional sudden burst of energy. None of those are the odd activities Shark is checking for; he is sure the people outside are melting the snow. He asks Robert Morris to monitor communications with the orbiting patrol ship, as he's expecting them at some point to send down transport for the survivors of the wreck.
    With Zel piloting, Kalida, Misha, and Teri land in front of the starport building in early afternoon. Everyone is appropriately armed.

    Almost but not quite enough snow has been cleared for the Launch to land. Zel sets it down on the packed snow where the ramp can reach the cleared area. He considers that a better situation than balancing the just the ends of the craft on snow.
    The two people out front stop what they're doing with the weird equipment -- something with a horn-like protuberance pointed at the snow -- and greet the arrivals. They obviously recognize them and the Launch, and ask what all the fuss was about.
    Misha explains that someone substituted an explosive for Blockade Bourbon.
    The locals offer the opinion that it is not good at all. After all, you can't drink explosives.
    These explosives were not meant to drink, but to kill, Misha tells them.
    "Oh, that's OK then. Come on in and have some bourbon! Or hot drinks, if you prefer. Come on in, come on in!"
    Bombarded with small talk, the away team are led into the starport building.
    Misha explains that they are probably not staying long, as they need to do some business with the Gravella.
    This clearly impresses the men, but they say that the train to Crow isn't running at the moment because of the snow. It will probably be a couple of days before they can get it going again.
    Misha is not too concerned about that. They can simply pop over to town in the Launch. But before that, they can certainly take a little while to sample the bourbon here.
    To the left of the main entrance hallways is a bar/kitchen/restaurant room. The men from outside lead the team in, wave at Mabel at the bar saying, "Bourbon for everyone!" and return to the outside leaving the team under her care.
    At one end of the room are eight people in ill-fitting local clothes, who they recognize as the survivors they rescued.
    Misha starts the investigation. He wants to find out if any of the locals know anything about the man who was waiting to deliver the Blockade Bourbon crates here.
    They tell him that he came down in a gcarrier about two weeks ago.
    That's inconsistent with the man's story in every possible way. Far traders don't carry a gcarrier, unless it was in the cargo hold, and he said he'd been here a lot longer than that. "Where is the gcarrier now?" Misha asks.
    Apparently it took off again, after dropping him and the boxes off here. Again, pretty much the opposite of what he told them.
    "Didn't you think it was strange that they were bringing Blockade Bourbon?"
    They do. But then again it is a starport here, there's no accounting for foreigners. The gcarrier had some markings on it, just like everything that lands here, but of course they didn't recognize them and they don't keep records.
    Misha asks if they had a camera recording it.
    Why would they have a camera?
    "In case someone came asking questions."
    "Why would somebody come asking questions?" asks Mabel. "We don't get anybody like that out here."
    "Some people ask questions when they drink," says Misha.
    "Oh, yes, that's true. But they're not usually questions about what it says on the outside of some thing. We don't get people asking those kind of questions at all."
    "Who's the guy out front? Is he always out front?"
    "No, he's clearing the snow away, at least enough to land on. It's going to be cold enough it's not going to go away by itself. But the storms are over now, so it should be all clear until it starts warming up again."
    "How much traffic do you get?"
    "Here? Well, the train goes forward and back of course. Once in a long while we get a ship. There was a lot of fuss the other day, we had a small ship thing come in and that guy was here with the cases and stuff and he just vanished." Mabel looks over at Zel and says, "One of them looked a lot like you."
    Zel says, "I get that a lot. I have one of those faces." He has noticed that the locals are not treating him any differently from anyone else. It's a welcome change from some of the places he's been, that's for sure.
    Misha asks Mabel, "So how have the offworlders been treating you?"
    "Oh, they're fine," she says. "They're warming up, getting some good food into them. That makes a big difference, don't you think? I don't think they feed them well on those ships, all that package stuff, you don't get any real vegetables, and goodness knows what they do for meat up there."
    Misha takes his drink -- which he is not actually drinking -- over to the tables where the offworlders are sitting, and strikes up a friendly conversation. He asks them how they ended up in that situation.
    They says they not sure. Those were pretty old ships anyway, but the pay's good. They get extra for being in a hazardous zone. They say they're waiting until the weather clears before they can arrange to be picked up. The snow has to be cleared out some more for the communications to work prooperly. But it's nice here, they say.
    The offworlders have various drinks, a lot of bourbon, some of the hot drink they serve here, and one of them is drinking the local wine and clearly regrets his choice. They seem comfortable and happy.
    Misha asks them about the extra pay.
    They get an extra 120% on top of union rates, they say. Their ship crashing certainly supports them being in a hazardous area, doesn't it?
    Misha asks how they like their bosses, and if everyone on the ship is a contractor.
    The bosses are fine, they say, and they're not contractors. Everyone on the ships in this system is a Tukera employee, or rather technically employed by Vemene.
    What happened when they had to bail out, asks Misha. Was there a warning?
    There wasn't any warning, they say. They had a maneuver drive blow up, completely blew out the pod and blasted it off. The whole ship was thrown off balance and they were going down.
    One of them says, "We were thrown into a deadman's tumble, and when I was trying to recover using just the one drive, we were already bouncing off the atmosphere and getting drag that was killing us. Balance was off, center of gravity was off, it was pretty clear I couldn't hold it. Yeah, that's right, I was indeed the pilot. Thank goodness they told us to get off too, because that was going to come down hard."
    Misha goes around the table, asking what their various positions were. They're all enlisted ranks, mostly general spacehands; one engineer, an astrogator, and of course the pilot. "So the order went out everybody abandon ship, and everybody hit the pods?"
    "That's right. Everybody should have hit the pods. But none of the brass are here, hope they made it. Did you see them out there?"
    Misha shakes his head. "So who were the brass?"
    "Captain Rivers, Chief Peters. Kind of funny, the Chief gave the order to abandon. We aren't sure where the Captain was at the time."
    All that sounds plausible to Kalida and Zel. These ships weren't that good when they were new, and that would have been a very long time ago. A crew of about 15, probably, they could well have been running short-staffed. If one of the maneuver pods broke off, that would have been enough mass to cause a reaction with the rest of the ship and throw it into a tumble. If it kicked it the wrong way, it could easily have de-orbited it, and with the ship hitting atmospheric drag in a tumble it would have been hard even for a skilled pilot to pull it out. Lucas could probably do it, but this guy probably isn't a crack pilot anyway, not in this job. For an average pilot, it would definitely have been time to hit the pods.
    They say the ship had a crew of 18, "If you count the pongos."
    That's not a term familiar to Misha. The Vemene crew apparently use it to refer to the security guys: where they go, the pong goes. Apparently all they really did was sit around playing cards and eating.
    The ship had a total of about eight pods altogether. The don't know if the pongos or the officers made it to the pods. They are a bit worried about the Captain. They hadn't seen him since before the accident, for all they know he could have been in the drive unit that broke off. Most likely though, he'd have picked up a pod near officer country.
    As for their future, they don't know what they'll be doing until the regular rotation goes around again. They might be stuck on this world until then, since they obviously aren't needed on the other ships. They don't seem too unhappy at that prospect.
    Misha asks them if anything odd happened recently.
    They say there was a bunch of smugglers came in, and they shot them out of the sky.  Any blockade breakers normally get intercepted further out, especially since they'd be coming in low on fuel. This time they were small and numerous, not a single ship. This was really unusual. The smugglers never got a shot off, but maybe all that fuss weakened some structure in their ship that failed later.
    Everyone except Misha is sure these guys are on the level. They have no reason to be making anything up, just a bunch of enlisted sailors hanging out in a pub. Misha is certain that they have rehearsed this story and its delivery, even the back-and-forth way they told some of it. He is highly suspicious.
    Kalida quietly reminds Misha that the remaining crates with explosives are still here. He walks over to Mabel and asks where the rest of the crates are. She tells him they're in the cloak room, just across the hall. Misha tells her they're probably also explosives, and says they'd like to take them off their hands. She is all too happy for him to do that.
    Teri says she can handle that. Explosives are her specialty, and at Misha's insistence she agrees to make sure they are actually explosives before she destroys them. She confirms they are, and says they are booby-trapped if anyone tried to open them. Chances are they are probably rigged to explode under specific conditions that would be found on a ship, such as a certain gravitational profile. She says she'll carry them out to the woods and blow them up there. She starts right away; it'll take her about 20 minutes to do it with the appropriate precautions.
    While she's doing that, the others go out to talk with the snow clearing guys. They tell the same story about that guy as Mabel did: he arrived on a gcarrier with the crates and some personal effects. Does Misha know if he'll be coming back to his room?
    Misha says he won't be coming back.
    They tell him about how he vanished, then realizing that they are talking to the people who did that. They must be Imperial Cops or something like that! They had better search his room then, there might be clues! Mabel will show them, just ask her. It was odd that he would stay two weeks here at the starport, after all, but then it was a bit unusual for a blockade runner to land here. Usually they don't leave from the starport. Misha wins their confidence enough to tell him that there's a farm about 20km northwest of here that is where they usually load up. They thank him for coming in and clearing this up. Explosives in bourbon crates? That's criminal!

    Mabel does indeed lead them upstairs to a fairly small room in the back, looking away from the landing field. She's heard they were spies, which Misha denies -- which of course just confirms it for her. Then he tells her that they work for the Marchioness.
    That really impresses Mabel -- "I hear she's quite something," she says -- and she's all too willing to help them however she can. Anything they need, she'll take care of it.
    The room is very neat and tidy, too tidy really. There is a large suitcase in the corner, a closet with mostly dark suits and trench-coats, and toiletries. It's probably the same tailor as the person who hired Zel that brought him here in the first place.
    They search the room very carefully, and discover some gauss pistol ammunition in the sock drawer, and then find that underneath the bed are attached a number of plastic cases. Misha suggests that they shouldn't touch them, but that Shark and Teri can come back later and examine the room. There's no rush, however, they can do this later.
    Misha goes back downstairs and asks Mabel how long that room had been rented -- how long had he paid up?
    Mabel doesn't seem to understand -- she says he was staying here. Then she realizes what Misha means, and says, "You don't pay to stay here! This is the starport!"
    He tells her that he'd like the room kept locked up for a few days. Mabel agrees readily, delighted that there is something she can do to help.
    Misha, Zel, and Kalida emerge from the starport building to find that Teri is chatting with the guys outside, being shown the snow clearing equipment and helping out with her laser. They board the Launch and Zel takes them downtown, off to visit the Gravella.

    Like last time they were here, they start their visit to Crow at the railway station, since the Launch won't fit in the city streets. On the way, they pass a sweeping laser mounted on a high-tech vehicle on the railroad tracks, clearing away the snow. It looks like it will be several days at least before the way is clear to the starport.
    While the platform is clear, the areas around the station are covered in three meters of snow. Zel settles the Launch on the snowbank where the ramp can lead steeply down to the platform. It's tricky to descend; Kalida slides straight down it, but fortunately Misha reaches out and grabs her, conducts her to the bottom, and sets her on the platform.
    Someone further down the platform sees them, and rushes up to the Marchioness and welcomes her profusely. He leads her to the Royal Waiting Room and says he will send for her carriage immediately.
    The Royal Waiting Room looks like its name. There's no sign on the door, but inside it is decorated in gilt with lots of heavy carpets and ornate furniture. Across the town, bells are ringing to signal the Marchioness's arrival. They wait.
    Eventually there is a clatter from the town side of the station, and the Gravella steps into the Royal Waiting Room. The man is wearing an elaborate jerkin embroidered with trees and bottles, he has a small wooden crown and a cape, and is carrying a staff. The head of the staff is very delicately carved into a tree, with branches and even leaves in extraordinary detail. He is wearing striped purple and yellow hose over bright red shoes that come to a point. He bows theatrically and says, "Welcome back. Your carriage awaits."
    Kalida acknowledges him politely, and they walk out to the waiting carriages. The two ornate wooden carriages are being drawn by not actually horses, but horse sculptures with wheels on the end of their feet. The Gravella gestures the Marchioness to the first carriage, which has room for about a dozen people. Elaborate wooden scroll-work announces this carriage is for "Her Ladyship the Marchioness." Most of the team pile into that carriage, but Teri climbs up beside the driver.
    Crow looks quite like the ideal of an ancient medieval town, without all the filth. The streets are about six meters wide, with wood and stone buildings. There is a lot of snow in town, although it seems to be kept somewhat under control on the main streets. A lot of the side alleys are still full with snow.
    The carriages set off through the streets. People come out of the buildings and wave as they go by. They approach the center of the town, to a building that is more a manor house than a castle, although occupying a similar prominent position. The carriages pull up in front of the gate to the courtyard, and stairs silently and smoothly descend for them as the door opens for them to exit. Carpet has been laid down for them to walk into the building, since the snow has not been completely cleared.
    The building is like a Great Hall, with ornate carvings and decorations. It's quite low tech, although there are touches of high tech around and it's clear the builders were familiar with that.
    On the walk in, the Gravella and the Marchioness establish that this is an informal visit that does not need a full banquet. The Marchioness says they are not staying long; they are concluding business here for now and so will be leaving soon, much as she appreciates his hospitality.
    The Gravella, for his part, expresses his pleasure at every visit by the Marchioness. He asks if she'll be leaving the world, and hopes she will be returning soon.
    The Marchioness explains that they will be making their way towards the commission on the Nakege situation, and trying to take care of Tukera.They had discussed taking some Blockade Bourbon to collect the funds they need.
    The Gravella says they will be glad to provide as much as she wants. He doesn't even blink when Kalida says they want 600. They can load it directly into the Launch from the main Distillery building, he says. They will load it up for her whenever she wants. Zel will start on that right away. The Gravella calls over a servant and tells her, "Six hundred cases for the Marchioness," and indicates she should arrange transport for Zel back to the station and go with him.

    Zel doesn't get the fancy carriage. He gets a cargo cart with no horses, a horseless carriage as it were, which takes him back to the station. He clambers up the ramp into the Launch without any difficulty at all. The woman with him is a little more unsteady, but makes it all the same.
    The main Distillery building is by the lake. The woman directs him there, and Zel lands right in front. There are only a few centimeters of snow here where it's been cleared. She tells him to get the Launch ready to receive the cargo, while she goes into the building to arrange it.
    Very shortly, people start coming out of the building carrying cases. The boxes look very familiar to Zel, but of course last time they didn't contain bourbon. He checks with Shark on board Nightshade, who from his sensor scan assures him the contents will not explode without fire. Zel thanks him, and starts directing the load. It will leave plenty of room to walk around, and of course there are the six seats in the back that won't be affected.

    Meanwhile back at the Great Hall, the Marchioness asks the Gravella if, assuming they could break the blockade, he'd want to keep Nakege isolated? Does he have a strong opinion on whether it should remain an Amber Zone, or perhaps convert it to a Red Zone?
    The Gravella simply trusts the Marchioness to do what is best for Nakege.
    The Marchioness tells him that there is a new Seneschal at the Forest Lodge, Beatrice Drakenfoll, who will be taking care of Imperial interests here. The Assistant Seneschal still retains his position.
    He is pleased that her presence is increasing here. It's a good sign for the future, he says.
    The small business concluded, the Marchioness takes her carriage to the Distillery. This ride takes a while, since some of the streets are not well cleared. The Distillery is a little way outside the town itself, on the outskirts. They are still loading bourbon into the Launch when the carriage arrives there.

    It's early evening when everything is loaded. Zel takes them back to Nightshade, and Lucas takes them off towards the Forest Lodge for dinner while the bourbon is unloaded and stowed.
    The names given by the survivors match the records from the Tukera ship. Once they get back to civilization they can check the official and find out if they actually died or not. The fishy thing is that the Chief gave the Abandon Ship order, and they hadn't seen the Captain for a while.
    Kalida's plan is to head to Jewell first, to check on the commission date and location -- it's most likely to be on Regina, as the local administrative capital, somewhere toward the end of the year -- and perhaps deal with a few matters there too. They want to make their money before the commission meets, but not pay off the debts before the meeting itself.