(64) Rules of Engagement
The Misha Campaign (051-1122 to 054-1122)
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
"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
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
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
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
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
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."
"I'd like to find out how sometime."
"Actually we have someone on watch, making sure nobody
"That's effective. That makes me feel better."
Misha asks, "Do you always have someone on watch in this
"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
"Oh, we'd like to talk with Lap'da sometime while we're
"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
"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
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
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
Mich says, "On our side there's more curiosity than any
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.