(64) Rules of Engagement

The Misha Campaign (051-1122 to 054-1122)

061 / 802 local (050-1122 - 051-1122) : Digitis / Vilis / Spinward Marches

    Nightshade floats in the harbor at First City.  The crew has divided: one team is to go to Cormor Home for the meeting, the other is to remain on the ship.  Misha Ravanos leaves strict instructions that no-one who isn't a crew member is to be allowed on board while they're gone, and Marquis Korwin Vanderfield is not allowed to leave the ship unescorted during that time -- they still don't quite trust him yet, although clearly that's not going to continue for long.
    Communication with the ship while they're gone will be through Robert Morris' backpack relay box.  It's dependent on atmospheric conditions and other factors, but it's the best they can do on this world.
    Misha has been musing about the connection between Baba Yaga and the Vilis Intelligence Service.  Is there some way they could inquire about that connection that would give them back an answer which could reveal whether they were in fact Imperial or not?
    Edward "Shark" Teeth replies that he has no Imperial contacts left that wouldn't report him as alive when he's supposed to be dead.  Even those who only know him by a pseudonym would report the contact, and at some level there would be someone who would make the connection with his real name and death.
    Misha continues: they know Baba Yaga isn't a yacht, and almost certainly isn't Vilis secret service.  Is there any way they can probe deeper, and get the Imperium to help them?
    Shark says that the ship has some very serious tech -- they could imply it's black, and that'd get someone to investigate.
    But the consensus is at the moment they have too many burned bridges, and there are no real contact networks remaining.  Jaekovic Ils-Nevronne might have some contacts remaining -- he's not supposed to be dead, or even kidnapped, but at present he's renovating the pre-Maghiz Darrian base in the Bowman system.
    Kalida Siena says she might have some useful contacts, but it would take some time to invoke them, and they should really be somewhere she can talk to them in person about it.  Via xboat it'd take a couple of months at least, and it'd be faster to go there.  It would take a few channels, but eventually she could get in touch with someone who'd have the authority to look into something like this.  It's a possibility, at least.
    Misha suggests that once they're done here, they could take Kalida to her contact faster than if she sent xmail now.
    Shark reminds them that those remaining here in First City should protect the ship and themselves at all costs.  If another black ship arrives, almost certainly both ships will go into red alert mode.  He thinks it's definitely a possibility that whoever's at the other end of the open invitation comes here in a black ship -- they have black technology, after all.
    Nevertheless, Nightshade should be in good hands.  While Grand Admiral Baron Bridgehead only had a command position once in his long naval career, he's actually even better at tactics than his is as a medic.  Given how good a doctor he is, that's quite an amazing fact.
    Misha does emphasize that they should not attack out of hand whoever arrives.  They should only fire in self defense.  If necessary they could just come and get the away team.

    The journey from the harbor at First City to Cormor Home is familiar by now, and nothing happens this time that is any different from the previous trips.  Korwin shuttles them to the shore, then they take a taxi from the Yacht Club to First City's train station.  The commuter train to Center heads out over the rooftops, then over a band of scrub, then over the houses and parks of the green spacious commercial town.  From Center, a large freight train with just two passenger cars takes a full day to travel to the Sheriff's estates in Cormor Forest.
    They are alone in the front passenger car, aside from the bartender.  The other carriage has two passengers, an elderly couple who also boarded the train at Center station.  There is a connection between the two cars, but only the staff use it.
    The crew plays poker while the scenery rolls by.

062 / 802 local (051-1122 - 052-1122) : Digitis / Vilis / Spinward Marches

    The train rolls into the top of the passenger station at Cormor Home.  The crew disembark; their luggage is being handled for them, as usual.
    Shark approaches the person at the reception desk.  He is told that they have been expected, and that accommodations are ready for them.
    They are escorted to the glass floored lounge in the guest mushroom, with the living suites above.  The forest canopy shines below them in the bright red sunny day.
    Shark checks the guest quarters for bugs, and finds none, not even on the telephones.
    According to the phone operator, the Sheriff is not in at the moment, but his Steward will be by shortly.

    After half an hour or so, the Steward arrives.  Frederick Houlihan has met most of the team already during their previous visits, so introductions are not necessary.
    Fred says, "Welcome!  You're a lot earlier than we'd expected."
    Shark says, "We were hoping to stay and relax for a couple or three weeks."
    "Of course.  Not a problem.  As you can see we reserved the rooms for you anyway."
    Shark nods.  "Has anyone else arrived?"
    "Not yet.  The Sheriff will be a couple of days.  In the meantime, make yourselves comfortable."  He pauses, then continues, "He did leave with me some... instructions.  Both sides of this meeting are guests of the Sheriff.  None of you are to violate hospitality.  No harm to anybody.  No bugging anybody.  Nothing to invade their privacy.  No telepathic poking.  No listening in on radio conversations -- if you pick up somebody else's transmissions, get off that frequency.  And while you are in the Sheriff's home, or this forest, or the train to and from Center, until you step off the train at the other end, that's the limits."
    "I understand," says Shark.  "I appreciate his concern."
    "Yes.  And that does work both ways.  Whoever should arrive to meet you will also be under those constraints.  That's all I've been told to convey.  Any questions?  Anything I can do?"
    Misha asks, "Any evidence that someone is going to arrive?"
    "Somebody should be arriving, yes.  We're not sure when.  Like yourselves... I gather jump is a..."
    Shark says helpfully, "There's some randomness involved."
    "Yes.  They may be early, but we do not expect them to be late."
    Shark adds, "We might take some walks in the forest...?"
    "Certainly.  Remember our outfitters are at your disposal.  I would ask that if you have any weapons, that you leave them in your rooms upstairs, except if you take them with you into the forest.  As I said, these restrictions will apply to the other side of the meeting as well.  Enjoy your stay."  Fred smiles and leaves.

    Shark muses whether, since Goose is linked to black technology, their clothing be recognized as a weapon?   He doesn't actually mention the word "zack," as just because he didn't find any monitoring devices doesn't mean he thinks there aren't any.
    Robert points out that in some cultures hands could be considered weapons.  Is the Steward implying that they shouldn't bring their hands?
    Shark says that they should just keep in mind the question.  Not wearing their clothes is not an option, he says.
    Misha says they should go by the definition that weapons are those tools which have no other purpose.
    Shark suddenly says, "Should we invite Lap'da to this?"
    Misha laughs, "It's quite possible Lap'da will arrive.  I did want in fact to try to get up with Lap'da some time while we're here."
    They all realize they probably have less than three weeks, given that the other party will almost certainly arrive early too.

    It's getting well into the afternoon on this bright sunny day.  Communications with Nightshade are working just fine at the moment.  Everything's fine back at the ship, except for Bridgehead coming back for lunch.  This time he was bugged -- Callisto ran a sweep when he came aboard and found he's carrying two devices.
    Still, the Baron isn't talking about anything critical anyway -- he's idly wondering if they could throw a party on the patio, since it's not clear that it would technically be allowing someone on board the ship.
    Misha has no such uncertainty.  He says they will not hold any parties on the ship, patio or anywhere else.  Bridgehead has been coming and going by air/raft from the patio, since it's the only exit that isn't underwater while they're floating in harbor, but that doesn't mean they can invite non-crew onto it.  As Misha points out, the Yacht Club has a perfectly good deck, and they can hold a party there if they want.

    With the situation at First City harbor back under control, the whole away team goes down to the forest to acclimatize to the oxygen-rich air.
    On the way down in the elevator from the guest lounge, they discuss klatrin.  Robert says he has some with him, but he is not planning to drink any.  He's sure that if he does so, he will lose all ability to speak or understand galanglic.  As it is, he has to pause before he speaks to translate into the linear ape grunts that the Imperial humans use.
    Everyone except those with zacks use respirators, breathing the forest air for increasing duration until they're used to it.  Helia enjoys the dense air to exercise her wings.
    Acclimatization is completed without incident this time.  Like gravcraft or groundcar accidents, this has been one of the historically difficult tasks of this crew, and there's a communal sigh of relief when they get back inside the guest quarters.

    Shark has been thinking over the documents that Misha scanned in the customs office.  He can to a very limited extent read Jannish, although it's a lot harder than the ship's script language just because it's difficult to relate the linear kindergarten Jannish to its adult nonlinear form.  He reflects that Nightshade filled in their forms in perfect Jannish.  Baba Yaga's forms were also filled out in perfect Jannish, although they were handwritten.  Based on their experience here, it would not have been filled out by a local but by someone on Baba Yaga.  Someone on that ship understands the local language, as well as having been here six times in the last ten years.  They also gave them the distinct impression that this was Baba Yaga' first visit, not the seventh.  None of those dates, however, correspond with anything significant.  The last time they were here was about two years ago, so they weren't involved in transporting Jane Southcombe to or from here.

    The plan now is to wait for the Sheriff.  Once they've talked to him, they will see if they can find Lap'da.  Helia's personal plan notes that they have about a month when she doesn't have to fly, and is therefore free to drink fish oil.
    The Steward, it turns out, doesn't know how to contact Lap'da -- that's something the Sheriff does himself -- and so they'll just have to wait for him to return.  They relax and enjoy their stay while they wait.

064 / 802 local (053-1122 - 054-1122) : Digitis / Vilis / Spinward Marches

    The Sheriff arrives and visits the guest quarters.  He walks in and says, "Good to see that you've all made it.  You know, it's not too late to call off the meeting, if that's what you want."
    Shark says, "Are you suggesting we should?"
    "I'm not suggesting anything."
    Misha asks, "Why would you say that?"
    "Just in case you've changed your mind.  Fred said he'd told you the ground rules."
    Shark says, "I was a little interested in how you could keep them from reading our minds, or know when they were."
    "We'd know."
    "I'd like to find out how sometime."
    "Actually we have someone on watch, making sure nobody does."
    "That's effective.  That makes me feel better."
    Misha asks, "Do you always have someone on watch in this way?"
    "No," replies the Sheriff, "But under the particular circumstances of this meeting, we thought it would be good to make sure that the rules of sanctuary were not broken.  We don't want anything happening here."
    "Oh, we'd like to talk with Lap'da sometime while we're here."
    "OK.  I'll leave a message.  If he turns up, then he'll turn up."  The Sheriff smiles.  "I'm sure he'd be very interested to meet you again.  Anything else?"
    "Not at the moment," says Misha.
    Shark asks, "Do you have any idea when the others will be arriving?"
    "No, I have no idea," says the Sheriff.  "I am expecting somebody to arrive, but who, how many, or when, I have no idea.  I have been assured that they will not be late, but how early they are is another matter entirely."
    This seems to satisfy the crew.  The Sheriff leaves.

    After their host is gone, Misha asks everyone, "Why does he think this meeting is going to go badly?  Is this a surprise to you guys?  Not necessarily go badly, but why does he think there's going to be tension?"
    Shark says, "I think he believes he can handle us, but he's not so sure of..."
    "But why would there be any tension at all?  I thought this was just a friendly meeting.  She gave us some technology, didn't work out right?"
    Kalida asks, "Was there something weird that happened with all that?  Something weird with her disappearance?"
    Shark shrugs, "He was never really enthused about it last time we were here."
    Misha reflects on the issue.  He decides it needs resolving.  He picks up the phone, and requests that the Sheriff meet with them again at his convenience -- there's no rush.

    Fifteen minutes later, the Sheriff comes back.
    Misha comes right to the point: "Why do you believe this meeting will be hostile?"
    "I just want to be prepared," says the Sheriff calmly, "To make sure it doesn't turn hostile."
    Kalida asks, "Why do you think it might?"
    "How did you get on with those jump drive modifications?  The ones you worked on here?"
    "We haven't continued down that path," says Mich.
    "Why would that be?"
    "Our power source configuration is radically different on the new ship."
    "What were the results of you using them last time?"
    "We had some quantum effects where the unspace hole..." Mich notices the blank expressions around him, most notably on the Sheriff's face, and jumps straight to the summary.  "The net effect was that we had two units, one with an infinite energy source, one with an energy sink.  We had hard radiation that we needed to shield, and we had atmosphere freezing on the other one."
    "And this was the stuff that you'd worked on with, um, ..."
    "Yeah.  But there was no lasting damage caused by it.  It brought some interesting theories to light."
    Kalida explains, "There was a chance we were sabotaged in which case they want to take another shot at us, or we could be upset about it."
    That satisfies Misha.
    The Sheriff says, "Not that I would put it that way because of my... neutrality or allegiances in this matter."
    Kalida says, "Then again, the hostility could be on either side."
    Mich says, "On our side there's more curiosity than any hard feelings."
    Misha thanks the Sheriff for his candor.
    The Sheriff says, "You can be sure that there will be no outside interference, of course.  Any ships or small craft approaching this area will be... effectively suppressed.  All I ask is that you make it a good meeting, and that nothing causes harm.  I certainly wish you all the best.  I won't be present during any of it, and I don't want to hear about any of the discussions that go on.  Whatever is discussed is probably things I do not wish to know.  I have my reasons.  Sometimes it's better not to have been told, so that you don't have to acknowledge it with your actions.  Sometimes it's useful to be able to tell people you don't know anything about something.  So I don't want to know, please."
    Mich asks, "How is your lightning suppression system?"
    "The crystals are all in excellent shape... whatever shape that might be," the Sheriff says with a sideways smile at Nightshade's engineer.  "I am assured that they are all operative and ready to go into action at a moment's notice.  Now if you will excuse me, I have matters to attend to."
    They exchange pleasantries, and he leaves.

    The crew get into a rhythm of rest and relaxation: hot tub, forest, and so on.

    Helia realizes she's not expected to have to fly anything for a while.  She tells Robert, and has a good time drinking klatrin in the hot tub.  She retires to her bed before the trance hits.  Once she's out, Shark checks her with the medical scanner -- she shows red, so she's fine.  He is interested and a little surprised to note that his football sensors are not registering any activity.