(30) A Tense Wait

The Misha Campaign (174-1121)

174-1121 : Caloran / Vilis / Spinward Marches

    Before he goes to sleep, Edward "Shark" Teeth checks out the name Albert Patyr.  He inserts his private data tape that is only used when he's totally isolated from the network, and pokes around to see if he was correct in remembering the name.
Shark's findings on Albert Patyr
(Referee and Shark's player only)

    Shark discusses the ex-Imperial Marine Brigadier General Kalida Siena with Misha Ravanos.  He explains to the Captain that her story of being left here for being too ethical does bear up to scrutiny -- one of the crew members on Kalida's last ship was someone who operates in the grey zone of the law.  He is well known to be into a lot of stuff; his last cover was with something called the Associated Surplus Distribution Company, known to distribute surplus pirated gear.  In fact, the Lonely Teardrop was registered as owned by ASDC, home port Dekalb / Querion .

    Misha has been wondering about where they stand as regards the Imperium .  The crew is fairly evenly split between Imperial and non-Imperial citizens.  They now believe it was the Imperium which blew away the Third Eye , Marquis Marcus Crestworthy's old ship.  It was an Imperial Navy ship, recognizably a top-notch Midu Agashaam class destroyer.  Interestingly enough, that class of ship is often used by the Imperial Navy Intelligence.  Anyway, Misha sees a problem with the Imperium that they have to work out, and will the Imperials on board be a concern?
    First Officer Teeth points out that as long as Mich Saginaw has a wrench in his hand, he'll probably be OK.  Grand Admiral Baron Bridgehead's opinion is that this is clearly a renegade element within the Imperium.  Robert Morris is probably more motivated by money.  Helia Sarina is an Imperial citizen, but without a lot of contact with or understanding of the Imperium.  The question of Kalida is another matter -- but they did salvage the ship as they told her, and it is on essentially a scientific mission with their sponsor being the Marquis Marcus Crestworthy, and they did lose his ship in the salvage of this one.
    As to whether Kalida is an INI agent, the main factor is that there hasn't been time for a message to reach here about this ship -- even if they knew the Nightshade was coming here, that is.  She would have to have been on planet already and taken the initiative after recognizing the ship.  Shark will check that out, although it's pretty certain that INI doesn't have enough manpower to distribute agents everywhere.  Now it's plausible that there could be agents here -- it's a good agricultural world just Jump-1 away from the capital of the Federation of Arden .  The time Kalida gave for her journey, mustering out at the beginning of the year from Rhylanor , does match a normal time to get here.

    Shark has also started reading Akim Gavrolovitch 's book, Drop Zone: Efate.  It's about the Imperial action on Efate that Kalida talked about.  It's from the point of view of a Marine private who's involved in Marine backup of the Army operation.  Supposedly they're going to be dropped in on certain specific targets.  At this point in the book, the hero hasn't been told why these targets are important.

    Not a lot remains to be done here on Caloran before they leave for Digitis .  Vonish has a large amount of supplies arriving in the afternoon, and of course Kalida's gear is still on shore at the hotel.
    As yet, Kalida has seen very little of the Nightshade's secrets.  It's been implied that if they do offer her a job it'll be at standard rate, but as yet there has been no formal offer.  She saw some of the supposed capabilities of the ship in simulation -- the ship accelerates way too fast, as do the missiles, and those missiles have an incredible rate of fire and independent operation.  But of course, that was just a simulation...  She also knows that the ship looks new, and the gcarrier looks brand new (it was picked up on Mora last time they were there).
    Shark can check her out at the hotel to see how long she's been here.
    That's not Misha's main concern.  His worry is that if she is an agent, she could send out a message about this ship or its capabilities.
    Shark points out that all they need to do is keep her on board -- they can make sure she doesn't send a message from here.  She's currently asleep in a stateroom.
    Misha says he'll ask her to remain on board.  Shark will fetch her personal effects from the hotel.  The offer will be that they want to have her on board to work passage, but they want her to stay on the ship.  They'll send someone to get her stuff.
    Shark points out it could be here in the morning.
    Misha laughs.  Shark probably could just go and get it, he muses.
    Helia says they can just leave.  Of course, that would be tantamount to kidnapping, and also Vonish Kehnaan would be incensed that he didn't get his supplies on board first.  But she feels it would be bad to refuse to allow her to leave the ship.  She is, after all, a General.  Perhaps they could just encourage her, rather than order her?
    Misha agrees.  He says that they'll ask her to stay on board, but if she insists on going, Shark will accompany her.
    Shark has a shot of Navy quality coffee, and makes a certain call.  There's an answering machine -- he says he'll call back in six hours on the same frequency.  He then announces that they have five hours to do nothing but sleep.

    Five hours later, Shark gets ready to make his call.  Everyone else is still asleep.  The first thing he does is check the starport to see if there are any passenger ships in port.  There is a liner that arrived overnight; it says it came from Arden , and is heading back there.  There are quite a few traders, all docked in the commercial section.  Kalida said that the ship she was on, the Lonely Teardrop , landed here in the private section.
    He makes the call.  He identifies himself, and says he needs information on a certain Imperial Marine unit, with key personnel names, for a date six months before Kalida is supposed to have mustered out.  The voice on the other end says that unit was on a classified operation in the last year, under commanding officer Brigadier General Siena.  Now Shark knows that Kalida said she was in training, Staff College in fact.  It was a regular Imperial Marine classified military operation, not an Intelligence one. There is no information available about the true nature of the mission.
    Shark ends the call, and goes to talk to Vonish.

    The vilani is in the lounge, on the comm, talking to his suppliers and arranging the purchase of good local beer.  Shark says that they'd really like to get it all on board in the morning if possible, but Vonish says that won't work around here.  Everything has to be trucked out, and loaded and unloaded.  Vonish assures him there's nothing they can do to accelerate the process -- for the technology and culture, the agricultural suppliers here are actually quite efficient.

    Misha is up by now, and also relaxing in the lounge with a morning beverage.
    Shark tells him that Kalida told them that she was in Staff College the year before mustering out.  Official naval records indicates she was actually on a classified mission where she was commander.  He adds that he didn't want to give too much away to his local source by asking too many questions.
    Misha nods.  He points out that if she was on a classified mission, she'd be expected to lie about it to them.
    Shark wonders if her mission was in the Pimane system, something to do with the relocation of the population onto the naval ship.  Now they didn't see any Imperial Marines when they were there, of course.  The Imperial mission into Foreven wouldn't have come back yet -- if she'd have been on that, she'd still be out there.  Shark mentions as an aside that Akim wrote a book about the Efate operation, which is where Kalida says she did her first combat drop.  The TNS entry said it was an Army operation, but Akim's book says Marines were there -- except, of course, that Drop Zone: Efate was a work of fiction, right?
    As an aside, Shark quickly checks the records of the football sensors since Kalida has come aboard.  Nothing has changed in the usual pattern.

    Also on that morning, Robert does some investigating of his own.  Fresh ships have arrived which can be used as relays for his investigation of the Arden military ships.  He is very careful, and takes it very slowly.  First he sets up a series of relays.  He's looking for the mission records of the ships, and to verify how many groupings these five ships are organized.  He finds that the ships are in two groups, one of three and one of two.  They are both on general patrol duties; the two ships are specifically on shipping protection and anti-piracy, the other three are on military patrol.
    Next he looks for military codes and suchlike he can pick up.
    Suddenly he realizes that they're coming back at him -- they're hopping the links back towards the Nightshade.  He tries to stop them, but in his urgency makes a mistake and leaves them hopping towards him.  His reaction is to try to power down their ship.  He succeeds -- for a moment, their system goes into restart and they lost all their progress.  Robert stopped them just two hops from the Nightshade.
    Robert ponders the nature of their attack.  Slowly he realizes that was an automated response -- now those would be fun algorithms to get hold of!  It would be difficult to program something like that -- but a whole lot easier in script than in conventional programming.  Just getting the concepts together is hard.  It is a very surprising thing to find in military ships from a federation with a highest tech level of C.  The last ship with tight security like this was the Baba Yaga , which Robert found on poking around to be attached to Vilis intelligence.  He's not at all confident that this is the same security system, but it surely required the same skill to put together, and the capabilities are obviously similar.

    At that point Shark arrives at Robert's stateroom.  He asks him to download Arden news from the liner that just arrived.
    Robert has it already, of course, and hands it over immediately.  He also tells him that three of the Arden military ships are on active military patrol, visiting just Arden and here, while the other two are on specific shipping protection duty in this system (six months into a two-year tour).
    Shark is surprised that there are Arden ships on active military patrol in an independent system.  He tells Robert that next time they come here, it will probably be part of the Federation of Arden.  He is not surprised, however, that the Arden news from the liner indicated that they had been told nothing of the fuss with the Imperium last year.  They were told that one of their Admirals had been "removed."
    Robert tells him about his experience with the Arden ships.  "It was difficult to get in, but not really impossible, but a look around very much triggered lots of automatic..."
    "Yes," Shark interrupts, "They're a very paranoid organization."  He leaves Robert, and goes down to the gym for a zack workout.

    By the time Shark's workout is complete, Misha is up and around.  The first officer tells his captain about Robert's experience: "Misha, there are five Arden military ships here.  Two of them are on piracy patrol, that's to be expected.  Three are on active patrol.  Active border patrol does not usually occur outside your own borders.  They also have an extremely high security system, better than the Imperial Navy.  I suggest that this planet is probably, given its tech level and so on, primed for incorporation by an aggressively expanding federation, which is what Arden is."
    Having briefed his commander, Shark plans to relax until early afternoon, when he intends to visit the starport bar.  That isn't to be, however, as Misha tells Shark to go ahead and collect Kalida's stuff right away.  The captain is concerned that they may have to leave quickly, given what Shark has told him about the Arden ships.

    Shark immediately calls the starport hotel.  He says, "Good morning, sir.  Miss Siena has asked that we have her belongings transferred to the Nightshade, and how may I settle her bill?"
    The clerk tells him that he needs to come ashore and sign for the luggage, and provide some authorization from the lady.
    Shark drops by Robert's, and asks him to write the note for him.  He figures at this tech level, Robert won't have any problem producing something good enough.  Robert agrees.
    Shark goes to the hotel, presents the authorization from Miss Siena, in her handwriting, and tells the clerk that she wants to pass along her good fortune in gaining her position with a handsome gratuity -- in cash, of course.  He hands over a wad of local cash, more than enough to cover the bill and a very fine gratuity indeed.
    The cash lubricates the procedure very well.  Shark declines the offer to deliver the gear to the ship, as he wants to check out the room himself.
    Shark goes up to Kalida's hotel room, and packs her stuff carefully and meticulously.  He is disappointed to find nothing of great interest, except for a standard Imperial secure suitcase.
    Her clothes are all good; she has nothing that's not high-class.  Shark does not recognize all the labels; those he does are of top designers on Rhylanor , and would have been individually tailored.  What is more, only someone of high class (or trained as Shark is) would notice the difference between these originals and mass-produced items.  It's all consistent with someone of very good social standing and excellent taste.
    There's nothing Shark would identify as tools of his trade; nothing to indicate Kalida is anything other than she says.  The whole lot comes to about three steamer trunks, plus a suit of personalized Imperial battledress.  He packs it all up, and takes it back to the ship.

    Misha invites Kalida to join him at breakfast in the lounge.  Through most of breakfast they just engage in idle small talk.
    After they've eaten, Misha clarifies that they're a research vessel and that they don't have a set course.  They're not necessarily headed back into the Imperium that soon.
    Kalida's fine with that -- she was, after all, headed out of the Imperium on the Lonely Teardrop, and so isn't in a hurry to go anywhere in particular.
    Then Misha addresses more sensitive issues.  Cautiously, he says, "As you can probably can tell, we have some non-Imperium personnel on board, including myself.  There are elements within the Imperium that are not completely friendly to our ship, and our research.  Is that going to be a problem?"
    Kalida naturally wants to know more about this.  What is he talking about here, wanted posters at the local TAS building?
    "I've never read a wanted poster for anyone aboard this ship."
    "You have Baron Bridgehead on board.  How is he with this?"
    "He has not objected."
    "Well, that certainly counts for something."
    "Let me put it this way.  Let's say we got to a situation where you felt uncomfortable.  Would you be willing to give me your word that you'd state your uncomfortableness and leave the ship?"
    That seems reasonable.  Kalida agrees.
    "All right.  I'm prepared to offer you working passage, for standard rates, at least as a start.  I've had your stuff sent for, and it should be here shortly.  We'd prefer you not leave the ship until we leave, which we hope to do very soon.  Oh, and we've settled your bill."
    "Well, there are people who are looking for us, and right now we need to build up a level of trust.  This is my way of testing you."
    Kalida is not happy with this, but does accept it.  She signs on the crew as Gunner.
    As a passing comment, Misha asks if she has skill in blade weapons.
    She does, at least in cutlass.
    Misha says it's been a while since he's had someone to work out with, and she agrees to train with him in the gym for a while.

    Shark has brought Kalida's stuff on board.  Robert tells Shark that the secure container is tamper-evident as well as tamper-proof.  He could get into it, given time, but there's no guarantee it wouldn't be detectable.  Like Imperial currency , forgery is designed to be pretty much impossible.  There's certainly no way he can do it in the time available.  Given a month or so in a specially equipped lab, it might be possible.
    Shark takes Kalida's luggage up to her stateroom, passing through the lounge where he greets Misha and Kalida.  He says he'll store the battledress in the armory, if that's OK, but Kalida says she'll see to that herself.

    Misha quickly checks with Vonish on the status of the supplies.  Most of the deliveries have arrived by mid-morning local time.  Vonish has ordered a lot of supplies this time, and has been fully occupied for quite some time as he supervises loading them onto the cargo lift.  Teri works with him storing the supplies.  Misha then confirms that Mich and Helia will stand ready to take off as soon as the stores are on board.

    All they need to do now is to settle up the bill at the starport.  Shark goes in to the building, tells them they're planning to leave this afternoon, and pays their final day's berthing.  He uses up the last of their local currency, and makes up the balance in Imperial credits.
    The clerk tells him that unless they are trying to leave at the same time as a commercial ship stack, they won't have to wait for traffic to clear.  The next convoy is leaving at dusk.
    Shark tells everyone that they need to be ready to leave before dusk.  All the supplies need to be on board, and they must be ready to go.  Otherwise they'll have to wait until all the commercial ships clear.

    The last delivery arrives, and it takes some time to get it on the cargo lift.  Meanwhile, while he had a break in loading, Vonish has brought the gcarrier on board and parked it.  He only ran into one stack of boxes, fortunately containing nothing breakable.
    They are loaded soon before dusk.  The ship, with a friendly male voice (without much accent) and face, obtains permission to take off from traffic control.
    Everyone takes position on the bridge.  Misha has said that now Kalida is a member of the crew, she's free to wander anywhere she wants.  Helia goes into sparkly pink mode and takes off.  The Nightshade heads out to jump for Digitis .