Retcon: were going to point out how any
movements we make that were
seen would get back to Santanocheev. In addition, the fleet
movements might well alert Santanocheev, even if the Duke of Trin is
being careful and keeping the exercises one jump away from Tussinian.
Kalida Sience, Marchioness of Nakege, has a small
metal box containing a message for Archduke Norris. Edward
"Shark" Teeth has a message for the Duke of Trin's agent here on Mora.
Misha Ravanos has a hand-sealed envelope to deliver in person to the
Archduke. Nightshade has arrived in stealth mode and
is parked under the ocean. The crew are planning to use their
alternate identities and forged Imperial IDs while they are here.
Last time they were here, it was when they were telling Marquis Marcus
Crestworthy the bad news that they'd lost his ship, and that several of
them had been reported dead.
Thanks to all the practice they've been doing, they
believe that Robert Morris is actually competent to drive the
gcarrier. Accompanying him are Shark (who wants to see Misha's
face when his message is revealed), Misha, and Kalida. Grand
Admiral Baron Bridgehead wanted to come, but after half an hour of
serious discussion, Misha convinces him he'd be best remaining on board
the ship. They shouldn't need Teri, and they can't carry extra
weapons under the auspices of nobility because they're using their
alternate identities: Shark is Roger Jolly, Kalida is Anne Bonny, Misha
is Edward Teach, and Robert is John Brunner. Robert has worked on
refining their ID cards on the way here, and is confident they'll pass
all but the most detailed examination.
They briefly discuss the possibility of using
Marquis Marc's apartment, but that is quickly shot down by Misha
pointing out that he has a known connection with the black ship, and
therefore they need to avoid the place. They'll get rooms at a
The team board the gcarrier, and leave the ship
through the main cargo lift. Robert steers them out into the
ocean and towards the city. He brings them up into the atmosphere
and into the city itself.
Shark picks a hotel. It's not the one he would
have used in the
past, of course, but it is just the right level of anonymous business
luxury that will enable them to pass through without attention.
On the way there, he makes reservations online. While he's on the
net anyway, he checks the postings for anything interesting. The
"community" is in a slightly elevated state of alert, but there is
nothing particular going on. Shark doesn't think this is
unreasonable given the rumors that should be circulating here by
now. He tells the Captain, "Spook chatter is high. Higher
They arrive at the hotel, and Robert pulls the
gcarrier into the entrance to the parking deck. They present
their confirmation number and proceed to a parking space. It's
been a completely trouble-free trip, disturbingly trouble-free given
their record with gravcraft.
At check-in, they collect the keys, paying in cash
and asking for a receipt to avoid suspicion. The desk clerk
processes them automatically, paying very little attention to
them. The four rooms are at the end of a corridor, two connected
rooms either side. Misha and Kalida take the rooms at the end.
As soon as Robert gets into his room, he goes
straight to the computer, hacks the hotel, and charges porno movies to
everyone else's rooms.
Shark calls the person named on the envelope.
He gets a secretary, and asks to speak to Bob Hackett. The
secretary says he's not available and asks to take a message.
Shark says his name is Roger Jolly, and he has a package he needs to
hand-deliver to him. He makes an appointment this afternoon at
2pm. He then calls Naasirka about the robot pot-bellied pig he
wants. He doesn't need any special sensor packages, just the
capacity so he can add his own. He describes the connectors and
so on that he things he will want. The company representative
says he'll put together a package with details. Shark asks him to
send the documents to a drop box at the TAS. The man says they
will be there in about two hours.
Shark leaves to see Bob Hackett. He arrives a
little early at the large office complex, and at the appointment time
the secretary takes him through to see Mr. Hackett. The office
doors are embossed with "Mora Offices of the Duke of Trin." Bob
is sitting at his desk, with his name on it. Bob stands up to
greet Roger Jolly, who introduces himself and hands over the envelope.
Bob asks Roger to excuse him for a moment, and
leaves through a back door for a few minutes. He returns with a
much more respectful attitude, and offers to make the appointment with
the Archduke whenever he wants. Roger says it should be as soon
as possible; Bob leaves again, and comes back to announce that the
appointment is at 9 pm at the Archducal Palace. Roger calls back
to the crew on the commdot and tells them when it will be. He
adds that he'll be a few hours running some errands.
Shark leaves the Duke of Trin's offices and heads to
the TAS. He picks up the package waiting for him from
Naasirka. In the package are complete descriptions and
specifications for various options that might satisfy his needs.
He selects the arrangement he wants, calls Naasirka, and arranges to
pick up the pig at a nearby location. The cost is on a sliding
scale based on time, from 12 hours to a full week; he says he'll pick
it up at noon tomorrow. One advantage of picking a short time
frame means that Naasirka will be putting good people on the job to get
the quality out in the time.
Back in the hotel, Kalida meditates and considers
the connections between themselves, Santanocheev, Trin, and the
Archduke. She's looking for a way that by picking their own
movements, she can affect what Santanocheev is doing. There is of
course the catch that when she pulls a string, the pullingness
propagates down taking time and at a varying rate. She sees that
there are other strings constraining the path too, of course.
There is not a lot in terms of big effects that she can do, and the
other end is rather fuzzy and hard to make out. She finds that
she does not have as many constraints on herself as there are
constraints elsewhere. She can pull a lot more strings than are
pulling her. Yet, all the strings pull through one point, Tussinian.
There are questions as to how much and what moves through there, but
everything goes through that one focal point.
Robert has been hacking further in, setting up
relays with loops and forks and obscurities for him to use later.
He's now ready to do a search for script language.
Misha does a zack training session in his
room. Fortunately he's good enough by now that he doesn't cause
When Shark gets back to the hotel, all is
quiet. Everyone has been wrapped up in their own activites -- in
fact, Kalida has had her commdot turned off and missed the conversation
about the appointment with the Archduke. She calls him to ask
about it, and he tells her what the arrangements will be.
Clearly they'll be expected to eat before the
meeting. They go out for a typical business expense-account meal.
Kalida informs them that they should wear smart
functional. If they were military, smart active duty rather than
ceremonial. Anything with smart clean lines, not fancy but well
tailored of good material, would be appropriate.
Misha considers carefully what he should wear.
In particular, he would like to wear his normal work outfit -- cape
over zack -- and wonders whether it would be wholly
inappropriate. He decides that given his extra-Imperium origin,
it would not be inappropriate if it was not inappropriate on his
homeworld. Given that, his sword -- almost two meters long --
would also be thoroughly appropriate. After all, even in an
audience with the Emperor himself, certain backgrounds require a
ceremonial firearm or sword, or some strange clothing such as a
one-meter hat. As long as he acts as if he is wearing the correct
respectful attire -- which would be no problem at all -- then he should
They decide they should take their own gcarrier to
the Palace. They arrive at the official residence of the Archduke
and pull up at the guardhouse by the gate. The guard asks Roger
Jolly to step into the guardroom, where he checks his ID.
Everything seems to be in order from the cursory examination.
Roger is sure the real examination was the suite of biometric
measurements that he would have expected on the way into the guardhouse.
Once Roger gets back into the gcarrier, a four
vehicle escort pulls into formation around them. They are
escorted through the gardens to the front of the main building.
This is one of the few areas in the city that has low buildings and
open areas, towered over by the surroundings.
Robert decides that because he doesn't speak
galanglic, and they are likely to be in a shielded area, it would be
very awkward if he came in too. He'll just act the chauffeur and
stay with the gcarrier. Misha is carrying the panic button, but
explains it would have to be extremely dire for Nightshade to
have to shoot their way through the city and into the Archducal Palace
to fetch them.
A servant meets them when they pull up at the front
door, and leads them into the building. There is an honor guard
lined up along the walk to the door. They salute smartly as the
three of them walk into the grand entrance hall.
In the hall, another honor guard of six soldiers
with an officer is waiting to escort them. They come to
attention, presenting their perfectly functional but ceremonially
decorated gauss rifles, and the officer asks the three of them to
follow. They march on through the entrance hall to a large
There is no sense of movement, and no-one has used
any controls or issued any command, but after a short while the doors
open into a large room, about ten meters by fifteen. They are on
the top floor of the building, as indicated by an expansive glass room
above them. It's almost a conservatory, with plants surrounding
the center of the room. In that center is a fairly low round
table about two meters across, with six lounge chairs set around
it. In one of the chairs, facing them, is the famous face of
Archduke Norris. The commdots are no longer functioning.
The honor guard step out of the elevator, the
officer leading them in and stepping to the side.
The Archduke waves them over. "Come on in, sit
down!" he says amiably.
The honor guard forms back up and goes into the
As far as they can see, they are alone here with the
Archduke. Shark looks around, and notices that there are a couple
of manned sniper positions.
The three of them sit down at the table.
Kalida sits at Norris' right, Misha at his left, laying his sword under
the table. Shark sits beside Misha.
"I understand you have an important message from
Trin," says Norris.
"Yes," says Kalida, and hands him the box.
Norris slips it into a pocket. Misha then
hands him the letter. Norris takes it, studies the seal with some
surprise, and says, "I don't think the Duke of Trin has sent me a
letter with a wax seal before. This is unusual." He opens
the envelope, reads the paper inside, and his eyebrows raise even
Shark studies him carefully. He was sure
initially that this was a body double rather than Norris himself, but
now he thinks it probably really is the Archduke himself.
"This is interesting," says Norris, "I can't turn
this down. I've always wanted to do this. May I borrow your
Misha pulls his sword from under the table and hands
it to the Archduke.
Norris takes it and asks Misha to kneel in front of
him. Norris draws the sword, and with some difficulty under its
weight, taps it on each of Misha's shoulders. "Arise Sir Misha,"
he says, "Welcome to the Imperium." He smiles at Misha and hands
back the sword. "I have always wanted to do that," he says,
Misha smiles and thanks him in return.
Norris places the letter on the table for everyone
Shark brings the meeting back to other
business. He offers to describe what he thinks is in the message.
Norris says he knows Misha's name, and asks for
everyone else's. Shark introduces them by their real names.
Kalida says that they believe that Santanocheev is
in command of several fleets from Five Sisters that are meeting at Dawnworld
in District 268 on or around 090-094. They will be collecting
more fleets from Glisten as they move through, and coming through Tussinian
on their way to Mora.
Norris sighs. He asks for their sources.
He seems a little surprised, not overly so, but seems not to have been
expecting it. His attitude is curious rather than nervous or
Shark says they acquired some of it through
intercepting his inter-fleet communications.
Kalida says the information from the intercept was
sketchy, and all they could tell was that a few fleets were gathering
at Dawnworld. "At that point," she says, "We moved to Adabicci
and discussed it with the Duke. He had the information that
Glisten was working with Santanocheev. With that, I developed
this timeline." She hands it to the Archduke, obviously teh
version without the mention of their own travels.
Norris looks it over.
Kalida says that since they knew they could move
through Glisten without alerting anyone to their movements, it seemed
they had to go through Tussinian to go around the rift between
Lunion and Mora, and to remain off any xboat routes and clear of Naval
bases. "Since we believe they're going through Tussinian,
we jumped from Adabicci and arrived at Trin and alerted him to
the probability that he's going to have a few fleets moving through Tussinian.
He is currently working up a possible holding action to delay them,
because the other information we have from Adabicci is that they also
have the fleets from Rhylanor. That sets up a possible pincer
movement, so any delaying action will harm that." She adds that
as they get closer, they'll start to pick up information on fleet
movements and be able to react to them.
Norris looks up from Kalida's analysis and says, "So
it's me and Trin against the world."
"It seems that way. We don't know anything
about Lanth, they're a mystery. We conjecture that Aramis is
remaining neutral, which is why he's high-tailed it towards Capital.
I should clarify something. Rhylanor himself is loyal to you,
however the Naval forces have been suborned and align with
"That's curious. How did they do that?"
"We believe he is head of an organization that calls
itself INISO. Imperial Naval Intelligence Special Operations has
no stated function, but they have the authority to do what they deem is
necessary. They have what was described to me as an obscure legal
basis for taking action, whatever action is necessary for the security
of the Imperium itself, as they deem it. In other words, if they
believed that Emperor Strephon was a danger to the Imperium, they would
have legal authority to take him out."
"So Santanocheev is coming over here to tell me he
has the legal right to replace me."
"I doubt he really intends to talk to you."
"You never know. If he gets the chance.
"Of course it's the winners in any conflict who get
to write the story."
Norris nods. "And no doubt this message will
tell me what Trin is planning to do about it." He pauses, then
says, "I do have one question for you. Since you went from
Adabicci to Trin, why has a message from Adabicci not arrived here
yet? Is he not on this side?"
Sir Misha says, "Because he didn't send it by us."
"You're... faster. That's interesting.
What other tricks do you have up your sleeve? I am sure that
Adabicci would have sent a jump-6 courier if he was to send a
message. It would have arrived here in the same amount of time as
it would have taken you to get here to Trin. Somewhere there's a
gap where you get from Adabicci to Trin."
Sir Misha says, "It is no trick. I captain an
extremely exceptional crew."
Norris says, "Does this extremely exceptional crew
happen to have an extremely exceptional military capability, or is it
limited to going... fast?"
"We have military skills on a par with our pace."
"Trin seems to think you would use your powers for
good, which I like to think I represent."
Sir Misha glances at Nakege.
Nakege says, "We support the stability of the
Imperium, and we believe that INISO is not supportive of that
Norris says, "I would be inclined to agree.
Now, continuing in your circumspect answers, I will give you a
circumspect question. Is your speed a matter of time or distance?"
Sir Misha says, "Isn't that the same thing?"
"No. If you can do a jump-6 in 3 days,
hypothetically, you could go out 6 parsecs and come back within a
week. If you can do a jump-20 in a week, then your scope of
mission capability is quite different. Clearly you have some
Nakege says, "Our advantage is that we have
Mich. Mich Saginaw."
Sir Misha says, "Our crew has managed to reduce the
time it takes to jump."
Norris says, "Ah, yes. I seem to recall Mich
was working on that. Yes, Mr. Saginaw was... interesting.
At the time I was very confident that my researchers could back up and
duplicate his work, but that seems not to have been the case." He
continues, "It is clear from what you have described that if a message
arrives here from Adabicci tomorrow, you can jump in 3-4 days."
Sir Misha says, "I don't believe I have pressed my
crew as far as they can go."
"The problem with reconnaisance is, of course,
refuelling in the system you are observing."
"Well, we desire to be of help, so if you have a
mission in mind that would be difficult for a conventional crew, I
would encourage you to put it to us."
"I have a few things in mind."
Nakege says, "I will say that we are a small ship,
and gathering information is probably more our forte than battle."
"So you could for example sit in a system waiting
for his fleets to come in, and tell me much quicker when they
arrived. Or in fact you could perhaps not just say when the
fleets arrive, but harrass them a little before leaving, if you were
already fuelled up."
"In a small way, in that we are one small ship
against several fleets."
"What's your ship's displacement?"
"So, if your military capabilities are in
proportion, you are capable of jumping after taking on a couple of
escorts, destroyer escorts, say. So you could, for example, sit
in a gas giant, wait until a refuelling crew comes up, knock down a
couple of ships and escape. That would force them to do a
thorough search of the gas giant, it would slow down their
advance. You could just harrass them slowly and force them to
"Yes, we could do that. And also the more
often we do that, the more it looks to them like there are greater
forces arrayed against them."
"Exactly. If you could just stay one step
ahead of them, every time they jump into a system they get trouble."
Nakege looks at Sir Misha, "Sound good to you,
Shark points out, "At the moment they believe they
have surprise. When do we want to take that illusion away from
Norris says, "They would have to drop that illusion
themselves by the time they hit Mora subsector. At that point,
messages are going to be able to move fast enough in front of
them. But that's also where they get the option of splitting up
their route. At that point, that's too late to send a message out
to a fleet to come back and reinforce, and that's the advantage they're
looking for. Now if we look like we know what they're doing,
they'll have to rethink..."
"...everything," interrupts Shark. "And then
we have no idea what they're going. So do we start this
harrassment before they enter Mora subsector?"
"They're committed to coming here now."
Nakege says firmly, "They're going to move ahead to Tussinian
no matter what. No matter what happens, they will be going
through Tussinian. Trin will also be waiting for them at Tussinian."
"What about in a full pitched battle. Do you
have a function there?"
"I have never been in a full pitched battle on this
ship. It depends greatly on the forces on either side and what
everyone else is doing. As I said, we're a small ship."
"Better leave it to the professionals, then.
This would be a Navy matter. You'd have to exercise with the
fleet to be useful, and there isn't time for that. So, Rhylanor's
fleets are coming down too."
"We believe so. Which way they come will
depend on several things, including where Lanth stands. Between
Rhylanor and Mora there are lots of options, and it's pretty dense."
"Now if Rylanor's fleets jumped in and the other
fleets weren't here to support them, there would be no fight."
"Right, they would not be enough by themselves to
take you on. If all the forces came in at the same time without
warning, you would be in serious trouble. But if we take out one
side of the pincer and you're much better off."
"Well, I have three fleets here right now, and
that's enough to defend against Rhylanor. I would prefer to have
more so that the fight never actually takes place. The defender
has a certain responsibility to avoid collateral damage, and while it
would be a seriously bad political move on anyone's part to damage
anything on Mora, stray things do happen. It would be
much better if the Rhylanor fleets popped in for a nice visit,
discovered nothing here, and allowed my staff to take over. That
would be an excellent solution." He cocks his head for a moment,
then says, "Here's a mission for you. Get Rhylanor here as fast
as you can. If the Rhylanor fleets arrive here, clearly don't
have a battle to win, and the Duke is here, he can take them back over."
Nakege glances at Sir Misha, who nods. She
says, "That sounds like an excellent idea."
"I do have one question. Your exceptional
capabilities, are they able to be retrofitted feasibly to normal ships?"
"That's Mich's area. I don't know how he does
what he does."
"I'd like to talk to Mich before you leave, then."
Sir Misha says, "That can be arranged."
"So you could do that in a little over two weeks,
probably, maybe three. At that point, Santanocheev would just be
"I'll have to discuss this with my crew, but I think
we can accomplish what you're asking. If we can arrange a meeting
in the morning, we can bring Mich and a firm answer to your request."
Norris nods. "That should still leave plenty
Shark says, "I'm sure your people are aware of it,
but I did notice that there is a higher than normal level of
intelligence chatter insystem."
"Yes, that is correct. That would be our
Sir Misha asks, "Is there more going on than this?"
"There is always more going on, but I think there is
nothing of any significance going on. By the morning I will have
had a chance to look at what Trin has sent me."
Nakege says, "You will let us know if there is any
further analysis we can do for you?"
Shark hands him a piece of paper with the name Roger
Jolly and the hotel, and says, "In the meantime, this is where you can
"And who is this?"
"This is me."
"Very well. My people will contact you in the
morning and will make arrangements then."
The walk back to the gcarrier is the same as the
walk in, in reverse. The commdots come back on during the
Their driver with the gcarrier is waiting exactly
where they left it.
Shark messages Robert: "Knighted Sir Misha of the
Imperium is arriving at the car."
On the way through the lobby, the servant hands
Shark a small package of papers or something.
The trip back to the hotel is uneventful.
The package carries new Imperial ID for Sir Misha
Ravanos. Robert is delighted -- it's a brand new Imperial ID that
has never been used. He can use that to improve his own Imperial
IDs and to make new ones himself.
Shark and Kalida agree that this calls for a party.
They call Mich and tell him he's going to be coming
ashore tonight. That'll mean another trip for Robert, and for
someone else who can talk galanglic to the police if they're stopped.
While Mich is on the line, Misha asks him how much
he trusts the Archduke.
Mich is an old career Imperial Navy man. Trust
simply doesn't come into play, he's the Archduke and that's enough.
Sir Misha explains that the Archduke would like to
talk to him about his ability to make fast jumps.
Mich assures him that yes, he can do that without
violating the agreement, and yes, it cannot be feasibly retrofitted to
an existing ship. Building a new ship would be cheaper.
Shark says that Kalida and Sir Misha can figure out
how to transport the Duke of Rhylanor without violating agreements, and
he'll go with Robert to fetch Mich.
Kalida says it's fairly simple, they just have to do
normal jumps on the way back and pretend to refuel.
Sir Misha asks her how fast the Duke actually needs
to get here.
Kalida says that the absolute earliest Santanocheev
could arrive would be on 150, a full 71 days from now.
Sir Misha wonders what would happen if they just
take a message to him and tell him to come here by his own courier.
Kalida points out that another part of it is that he
needs to be able to get out safely and very secretly, because his
entire Navy is against him and they don't know who on his staff can be
trusted. He has to get here in absolute secrecy, with people who
are absolutely trustworthy. It must be a surprise when the
Rhylanor fleets arrive and discover the Duke here.
The other factor, Sir Misha says, is that however
long it takes to get the Duke here, they'll have plenty of time to go
and harrass Santanocheev.
Shark says that they should be aware that the
Archduke is calculating their jump speed. He said that if the
message from the Duke of Adabicci arrives tomorrow, they can jump every
3-1/2 days. Since it won't arrive for another 20 days....
"We can't let the cat out of the bag with him, he has the cat, and the
bag. As soon as he gets the Duke of Rhylanor here, the first
thing that's going to come out of his mind after the military, is the
cool ship that has a jump of less than... so we can't let the cat out
of the bag with him. And we didn't do it. We didn't tell
them anything about the technology. So we can put him on this
ship and jump as fast as we want. So we don't have to worry about
time, we can do it as fast as we want. But remember that fast
jumps damage the ship, so we need to plan for some longer duration
Kalida reminds them that they can't use the fast
jump capability to enter a system where Santanocheev might already be,
because they can't use stealth with it and might have repairs going
on. She says, "Depends how we want to work this. They will
be stopping in perhaps two systems before they hit Tussinian.
They arrive at Mithras in Glisten on 100, which is in 21
days. The second one wouldn't be until at least 110, and again
these are absolute worst case scenarios and it will probably be later
than that. So while they're going through Glisten, they're going
to be meeting fleets from Glisten, so it depends how fast we want them
to know that their movements are known. I guess it doesn't
matter, though, because all routes go through Tussinian.
Our actions do not matter, they will be going through Tussinian
no matter what."
Sir Misha says, "I would like to get to them as soon
as we can. So in 15 days they'll be in Mithras."
"That will be when they first enter Glisten
subsector. I'm sure they'll pick up some of the fleets there, and
they'll pick up the rest in Bicornn."
"So how many jumps is it for us from here to
"Three to get to Mithras, two to Bicornn."
"One of those needs to be a five day jump,
right? The last one."
"Yes. They're going to have scouts in these
systems, and it's quite possible that Glisten troops will be there
waiting. We will want to come in stealthily."
Sir Misha says that they don't need to be there
until the day of their earliest departure.
Shark says that means they need to leave Mora
by 094. He then muses aloud that the Archduke hasn't asked the
other question: where is their ship?
The trip to fetch Mich from the underwater Nightshade
is simple, and the engineer is soon settled in the hotel.