The Misha Campaign (058-1122 to 059-1122)
It is time for the dinner meeting with Mike.
The dining room is in another building, about 200m walk through the
forest. Everyone chooses to walk rather than ride the electric
golf cart -- even Helia Sarina, who furls her wings and walks along the
ground for the first time since her last klatrin trip. The
atmosphere is invigorating, but all have acclimatized by now and there
are no mishaps.
Edward "Shark" Teeth is performing a security search
around the area, so will be late to the meal. Misha Ravanos,
Helia, Kalida Siena, Mich Saginaw, and Robert Morris enter the building
and are escorted to the large private dining room.
There's seating for about sixteen around the one
large, heavy, wooden table.
The room is completely paneled in a dark wood, giving a warm
old-fashioned gentlemen's club feel.
The crew are not the first to arrive. Mike is
already there, seated to the left of the head of the table. The
Sheriff of course is not here, as he wanted to remain ignorant of what
is said here. Misha sits across from Mike, on the right of the
head of the table. Helia takes a place a little further down,
spreading out her book, toys, and hand computer around her place
The table is set for an elaborate formal meal.
The confusing array of silverware, dishes, and glasses makes Misha and
Robert uneasy and uncertain, but the others -- even Mich -- have no
problem slipping right into this upper class environment.
Kalida notices her companions' unease, and says
aside, "It's not that elaborate." She is pleased to find that the
wines are excellent, and the food very good too. The style of the
meal is an apparently unending stream of short small courses.
Kalida muses that the Sheriff would have no problem entertaining high
nobility -- if any
were ever to visit here, of course.
Mike has not said a word since they arrived.
He's clearly leaving it up to Nightshade's crew
to start the
Misha opens, "So. Is Angela dead?"
Immediately Mike is thrown for a loop. He
"Angela who knew about the technology."
"I have no idea who Angela is."
"Is Jane dead?"
"Jane knew about the technology?"
"It's not important."
"You said it, it must be important. It was the
leverage you had over us."
"No, but anyone.... But you're the last one."
Mich says, "But Jane doesn't count."
Misha continues, "Why doesn't Jane count?"
Mike seems to have regained his composure. He
says, "We have Jane."
"Ah. It's not that they're all dead, you have
"No. The others are all dead." Mike
pauses, then continues, "You see that's what puts us in such a strong
position here. No matter what happens here, we win."
"Who?" asks Helia.
"We." Mike refuses to elaborate. "It's
quite simple. The worst that could possibly happen for us is that
you kill me. I'm expendable. If that happens,
Mich dies when he steps off the train, your ship gets blown up when you
leave orbit, so either you end up stuck here and never leave, or you
end up dead when the ship's destroyed."
"Wait a minute!" says Helia, "Excuse me. We
can stay here? Well what's the problem?"
"According to the conditions that I have... laid
out, your ship will be destroyed when it leaves orbit."
"So what's the problem if we just stay here?"
"You can do that. That's fine. I have no
problem with that."
"Well we're just going to stay here, so you can go
"Of course it'll take resources just to make sure
that you actually do stay here."
Kalida says, "Why do you care where we are?"
"The only place you can be is here."
Helia says, "Is it us, or is it Mich?"
"It's Mich. And your ship."
"What's wrong with our ship? It's just a
perfectly ordinary ship."
Mike stares at the larian with a meaningful
Helia continues, "So how many years were you in the
"That's none of your business."
Misha says, "Why are you here?"
"I'm here to negotiate."
"Whatever you want." Mike raises his voice as
he says, "You see, we win, no matter what happens, but there are levels
of winning. There are things we can get out of this that will
improve our position, and at the same time we're willing to negotiate
things that will improve your position in return."
Misha says, "Like what?"
Helia says, "So you leave us alone and go away."
Kalida says, "Does our position need to be
improved? Well, I agree our position could be improved, but does
it have to be?"
Misha says, "In what way can you improve our
Mike answers, "For example, you could all be alive."
"We are all alive!"
"Essentially you're not. You could be alive
and free to travel."
Helia asks, "Flex our wings, so to speak?"
Misha asks, "And what would you want in return for
this freedom to travel? What do we have that you want?"
"Mich, and your ship."
"Mich, and our ship. Well, if you took Mich
and our ship, we couldn't travel any more, so it wouldn't improve our
"We could give you another ship."
"Which ship? We have several. Which one
would you want?"
"The one that's parked out in the harbor right now."
Mich asks, "What's interesting about that
ship? There have been absolutely no modifications made to that
"Exactly. But we want it. And we'd love
to have Mich working on our side."
Misha says, "Mich is working on your side."
"No, he's not. We'd love to have Mich working
"Oh. That's different."
"There are some things that he has done that are...
interesting, that we have not come across before, and it would be good
to have him working for us."
Helia says, 'No, no, no, you don't understand.
Ever since he took the fish oil, it's all gone, he can't do anything
any more, so I wouldn't worry about him if I were you."
"He can't even remember doing that. He's a
whole new person."
"Oh well. The offer is still there, whether he
remembers or not."
"Well what's the use?"
Kalida says to Mich, "You could make a lot of money
for doing nothing. That's not a bad position."
"That's true," agrees Helia, "But he won't be able
to go where he
wants and do what he wants because I have a feeling they're just going
to lock him up somewhere where he can't get away."
Mike says, "Oh, he'd be... extremely comfortable."
"In protective custody," emphasizes Helia.
"He'd have all sorts of wonderful facilities."
Kalida says, "A gilded cage is still a cage."
"Yes, it is, " agrees Mike, 'But you asked me what
we want. That's what we want: Mich working for us; and your
ship. Now if you're willing to give us that..."
"Wait a minute," interrupts Helia, "And our
"Yes. We'll give you another ship."
"Just like it."
"No. That's the whole point."
Helia asks, "Have you ever lost any of your senses?"
Mike looks confused. "Pardon?"
"Lost your senses. I mean, aside from the
obvious lost your senses came here with these demands. But have
you ever lost your taste, smell, sight, hearing...?"
"What has that to do with anything?"
"Well, you can't take the ship away from us
now. It's too late."
"Oh, we can. Or we can destroy it.
Taking it away from you is not as easy as destroying it. That's
why I'm here to negotiate."
"'Demand.' Be honest. Oh, please!"
"I am being honest." Mike pauses, then says,
"So what do you want?"
"To be left alone?" says Robert.
"Oh no," says Misha, "We want much more than
that. We'd like to know who 'we' are, when you say 'we.'"
Mike says, "I can't do that. That's one of the
things I cannot negotiate."
Helia says, "So if we don't care about whether you
get killed, if we tortured you, you'd tell us who your 'we' are."
"No, I wouldn't." Mike seems confident about
"Oh. Well, that's a shame."
Misha says, "The things you've offered us don't seem
like improvements to us."
Mike says brightly, "How about a billion credits and
a new ship?"
Helia says, "How about a billion credits and the
same ship and Mich?"
Misha says, "Mich is only worth a billion credits?"
Mike says, "Well, it was a thought. Consider
it an opening negotiation."
Helia asks, "But you're not going to move on this
ship and the Mich part, are you?"
"Yes, I can move on the Mich part."
"So we can keep him."
"Yes. If... if what you give us is
sufficient to make it worth while."
Helia and Mike stare at each other.
Misha breaks in, "How much money for just the ship?"
Mike says, "A billion?"
"How much for just Mich?"
"For the ship and Mich?"
"What do you want?"
"No, no. I'm asking. You want the ship
no matter what. You're unwilling to accept just Mich on his own."
Helia asks, "What if you take the ship, and the ship
leaves you? Of its own accord, to come back to us?"
Misha asks, "How about a hundred billion
credits? For Mich and the ship?"
"And our lives, and a replacement ship."
Helia adds, "And we get to go and do whatever we
want, and never have fear, and not only that, but your 'we' will
protect us 'us.'"
"No. That's up to you."
Helia continues, "We want to guarantee that you 'we'
will never interfere with our lives again."
"No, we won't guarantee that. As long as you
stay out of our business, yes."
"What's your business? We have to know in
order to stay out of it."
"No, you don't. Just don't poke your nose into
things that are... uh... too deep mysteries."
"What deep mysteries?"
Mike doesn't answer.
Meanwhile, Mich turns to Misha, and says, "Don't I
have some say in this matter?"
Misha laughs, "I don't know. Do you want a
"You're going to get a hundred billion
credits. And as far as I know, I'm going into slavery."
"But you're the one getting paid."
"Well, we'd give most of it to you."
"How do I know?"
"Well, I can't bargain for you anyway, so this is
At this point, Helia says, "Well Mich, how much are
Misha says to Mike, "How about a billion billion
credits? How many zeroes can you go?"
"We can go... high."
"Would you give us... Digitis?"
"No. We can't give you Digitis.
It's not ours to give. Anywhere else you want?"
Misha pauses for a moment to recall where Baba
Yaga is supposedly from. "How about Vilis?"
"OK. But it's up to you to hold it."
"But it's yours to give."
"It can be, yes."
"And Digitis can't be?"
"No. Digitis is not part of any
deal. We cannot give it to you."
Robert asks, "Do you like the jannish people?"
"Um... we have nothing to do with them."
Misha asks, "What about Mora?"
"You want Mora? If you think you can
hold it, sure. One of you want to be archduke?"
"We'd all like to be archduke. We'd each like
to be archdukes of different areas."
"Yeah. You will bear in mind that holding it
might be extremely difficult."
"Holding it against who?"
"Against everybody else who resents you being
archduke. Such as the families of the current archduke.
their navies. And everything else."
Robert asks, "How about trading for
information? Who 'we' are." He turns to Misha, "He said he
couldn't tell you outright, but instead of a billion billion credits,
maybe they'd tell you..."
Misha ponders this.
MIke says, "We can give you some more information,
but it will not be completely what you're looking for."
At this point Shark walks in. He's done with
his perimeter security check, and takes a seat at the table. He
slips right in to the meal, picking up the silverware and so on at
exactly the right point as if he were born to it.
Misha continues, "What about Wonstar?"
says Mike, "Sure, whatever."
"The corporation Wonstar."
Mike is unimpressed, "Sure, I guess, why not?
That sounds easy."
Misha catches Shark up on what they've covered so
far. The First Officer has been following it to a certain extent
over the commdots -- Helia in particular is being careful to keep the
line open -- but his Captain's briefing is useful. Shark observes
snidely that the Imperium
would probably bomb Mora rather than allow it
to be out of Imperial hands.
Misha turns back to Mike and says, "So where you are
"Where am I from? That's not important."
"No, it's not important. I was just trying to
make conversation. Perhaps you could come up with some other
unimportant conversation we could have while we consider your offers."
"Of course. I was wondering where you found
Misha says, "That's not important."
Helia says, "We found it where it was. When we
found it. It found us."
Mike continues, "I do wonder how you managed to fool
into broadcasting reports of your deaths."
Misha says, "I thought you -- as in you plural --
"No. I thought it was you."
Helia says, "Then you have competition you should
Kalida says, "Perhaps this isn't the guy we're
supposed to be talking to."
Helia says, "I have to say on that, honestly, I'm
more afraid of you than I am of them, then. And you should be
more afraid of them than anything else in the world."
Misha says, "So if you're not with the group that
arranged for our deaths, then... who are you?"
Mike says, "What group arranged for your deaths?"
"We don't know."
"In what way did they arrange for your deaths?"
Mich says, "They tried really hard to eliminate us,
and damn near succeeded. Several times."
"Now you have my curiosity! Maybe you should
tell me some stuff, and I'll volunteer some. This is very
Shark asks quietly, "Who really controls the navy of
"I haven't the slightest idea."
Robert asks, "Do you know what Wonstar does?"
"Then you're not the ones we should be talking to."
"Oh, I am."
Kalida says, "You don't apparently know anything we
need to know."
Shark adds, "You haven't proved it." He turns
to Kalida, "This is not the right person."
Kalida nods, "This is not who we are looking for."
Mike blusters, "Well that's OK, because you can't
leave. Alive, anyway. So it really doesn't matter."
Shark says, "And if I say I don't believe you?"
"Then you will die a fiery death. Well, maybe
Cries of "Been there, done that, a number of times"
echo through the room.
Mich asks, "Did you arrange the capture of the Anastasia?"
"Now that was us, yes," says Mike. "If you
want Anastasia in return for your ship, I can do that.
Helia says with interest, "You have the Anastasia?
Can I tour it? I don't want to have it, I just want to see
it. Can you, like, bring it here so I can look at it?"
"We can bring it here if necessary, if that becomes
part of arrangements, yes."
"Well that's definitely part of the arrangements
that if we don't get the Anastasia I want to see it, because
I've heard so much about it."
"Except for the stuff Mich did with it, there's
"I was just a little gleam in someone's eye when the
Shark laughs, "The first, second, or third time?"
Mich says, "The Anastasia only crashed
once. Well, twice."
"And it blew up spectacularly, apparently." Shark
continues, "It crashed once, then it crashed again on Pimane."
Into the resulting silence, Mike says, "Yes, Anastasia
is ours, as is the ship transporting it. We have that too."
Mich says, mostly to himself, "You have the ship
transporting it too. That was a big Navy ship."
Misha says, "That was at the same planet that they
blew up the town, right?"
Mike nods, "Yes, we did that too."
Mich says, "We figured that."
Misha asks, "Why?"
Mike says, "Covering our tracks."
Mich says, "That was an interesting weapon that they
"It was pretty primitive," mutters Mike.
Misha says, "Why did you have to cover your
tracks? From whom?"
"How about the people we stole the ship from?
Mich asks, "Now, is Fostriades...?"
"Fostriades is dead."
"Yes, we did that too. We assassinated
Fostriades with a small nuclear demolition weapon. The news
reports don't say that, so if you want to, check that out.
Likewise we destroyed Farol's station, the ships in orbit, everything;
in a century or so you'll be able to live on the planet again."
"But not Helia."
"Helia was working with Farol."
"Then she's probably dead too. There was
nobody left at the base."
"No, she's not," say Robert and Helia in
unison. Robert continues, 'That means that you've missed, and
that there's more than just Mich who knows."
"OK, so we'll have to go after them again."
Helia is staring hard at Mike. She says
slowly, "Helia is right here. Obviously she didn't die."
"What do you mean?"
"Helia is right here."
"Oh, OK. So you weren't on the base at the
time we blew it up."
"Helia might have been on the base at the time you
blew it up."
"Well, there ain't nothing there now."
Helia continues quietly, "And Helia is here.
Helia is still alive."
Mike turns away from the little larian. He
says, "OK, so if you want Anastasia, we can give you Anastasia."
Misha asks, "So why can't you give us Digitis?"
"It's... not ours to give."
Helia says, "It belongs to the forest."
Misha continues, "But Mora isn't yours to
Mike says, 'But we can take Mora."
Kalida and Robert chorus, "But you can't take Digitis."
"We won't take Digitis."
"Why?" asks Helia sharply.
"Why? If we're having an honest conversation,
I'd like to know why. Because we would like Digitis.
We enjoy it here."
"Well, you're welcome to stay here as far as I know."
"We're pretty welcome ourselves to stay here.
I don't think we'd mind. Especially if it would piss off this
"Um... we're not permitted to do anything with Digitis."
"By... a treaty."
"Can we see it?"
Kalida asks, "Treaty with whom?"
Mike mutters to himself, "... treaty." Then he
changes the subject: "So tell me about Wonstar. What's
Wonstar? What's all this Wonstar thing?"
Misha says, "We don't know. The military on Wonstar
tried to kill us."
Shark says brightly, "They're worth far more than a
hundred billion credits. They dump billions in a year."
Robert says, "Wonstar is a company that does
research into all sorts of things."
Misha adds, "Actually we don't know much about
Wonstar. We thought they were you. You were they."
"Part of what Wonstar does is research into... the
things that Mich has been working on."
Mike asks, "So what have you been working on
"Vortex generators," says Mich.
"Hm. Managed how to figure out how to do it
with the ship?"
"No. See, if you come to work for us, we can
help you figure that out."
"So you've already figured out vortex generators?"
"No. That's why you're valuable."
"The Anastasia has vortex generators."
"Yes, but we also know that they didn't work."
"Oh no, they worked perfectly."
"Well, we know Anastasia had an unfortunate
"The work that Jane has done would correct that
"What... work? What.. exactly?"
"Jane's modifications to the antimatter generators
smoothed the power flow."
"Oh, right, yes," says Mike with a wry smile.
"You survived that, I guess."
"That was another thing that was trying to kill us."
"Yes. That was us. What about all the
other occasions when someone tried to kill you? I think we've
covered all the ones where we tried."
Misha asks, "What were the other times you
tried? Was that it, just the antimatter?"
Mich asks, "How about the time you tried to kidnap
me? Was it you who were trying to kidnap, on Resten?"
"Yeah, well, we did want to get hold of you.
But we got you here and found out what we needed to know, and didn't
need to kidnap you. That is, until you escalated things."
Mike pauses, then continues, "So, I've told you a lot, how about you
tell me some?"
Misha says, "We have."
"Not really. Not a whole lot. How did
you come across the ship?"
Shark says, "Found it."
Mich says, "Salvaged it."
Shark volunteers more information: "Let's see.
The pirate Robin Sherwood isn't Robin Sherwood."
Mike doesn't look that interested in the captain of Berlin.
He says, "So where did you salvage it? Where was it? How
did you come across it?"
Mich says, "On one of our jumps, before we left,
some people we trusted gave us a package to carry. That package
detonated, destroying the bulk of our zuchai crystals."
"Who did that?"
"We thought it was you."
"No, that wasn't us."
"And we were stranded on a planet that we had to
make an emergency crash landing on, and it took us a while to piece
back the jump drive."
Sharks asks, "So where did you get your first black
technology? Where did you find it?"
Mike laughs. "It was around," he says.
Helia says, "And you guys want to be the only ones
to have it?"
"Yes! Exactly! That's why we need your
"Ah," says Mich, "And you've never heard of Wonstar."
"Because Wonstar also wants to have it."
Shark adds, "Probably has some."
"Yes. Wonstar definitely knows about it.
And wants to make sure no-one but them has it. Now Wonstar was
supplying Professor Farol with samples of the black technology.
So we're not the people you should be looking for. You should be
looking at Wonstar."
Mike takes this all in and says, "Well, you are, but
there are others we should be looking for, too, yes."
"Do you know about Wonstar's meson guns on Mora?
They fired at us."
"Oh well. Obviously they missed. I don't
"They fired at us when they figured out we knew
about black technology. So you're not the only player in the
Shark suggests sending a message to Wonstar and
inviting them to this meeting.
Misha says, "I'm disappointed that you don't
represent the right people."
"Oh, we are the right people," Mike assures him.
Kalida says, "I don't know. You can't answer
most of our questions."
Misha laughs, "You don't seem to know
anything. You've made some amateurish attempts to kill us, but
Mike says, "We try to be subtle, usually."
"Well, in comparison, your attempts have been
Sharks says, "A nuclear suitcase bomb...?"
"A demolition charge," corrects Mike.
"And Pimane," adds MIch.
"Oh, yeah. Antimatter bombs."
"We figured that out."
There is a long pause. Then Mike says,
"So. Well. This may turn out to be a productive meeting
Misha asks, "In what sense?"
"In the sense that we're both getting quite an
exchange of information here."
"We're finding out that you're not who we thought
you were. We're disappointed."
"And you're maybe not as dangerous as we thought you
Helia says, "Good. Then the negotiation's
over, we'll both go off in our separate directions..."
Mike interrupts, "No, it's not over, not until I
call off my dogs."
"Wait a minute. Now you're saying 'I,' but
before you were saying 'We.'"
"I'm the one who has to call back and say it's OK
for you to leave."
Kalida says cheerfully, 'Well, you go right ahead
Mike ignores her.
Helia asks, "What else can you tell us?"
Mike says, "I can tell you a number of things.
What can you tell me?"
Shark says, "We've told you quite a bit so far."
Mich says, "We can tell you exactly where we got
"Yes," agrees Mike, "That would be very interesting."
"Not yet," teases Helia. She adds, "We could
tell you why we're dead."
"Yes. Why are you dead?"
"Well, I'm not dead. Some of us are
dead. Because our previous ship was destroyed."
Mich continues his story, "As soon as we repaired
our ship, and through our investigations on this planet, that's where
we found the ship that we're in now. We jumped back, and
immediately were attacked."
"By what? By whom?"
Helia says, "We thought it was you all, behind the
"No... We don't do that."
Shark says, "You don't antimatter innocent cities,
"Well, we do that, but there was nobody in it at the
Mich says, "We were attacked by the same ships that
gave us the package, that we had trusted beforehand."
"So they really wanted you dead."
Mich nods agreement.
Helia says, "We thought it was you."
"No, that wasn't us."
"So you don't want us dead."
"If we... had attacked you, you would be dead."
"All right, if you don't want us dead, what exactly
is the minimum you want from us?"
"Maybe we can get away with less than I came here
"All we want to do is take our ship, and fly it
around, and live our lives. We aren't interested in doing
anything else. We're not interested in politics. We're
interested in making money and having a good life. Sir?"
The larian looks at Misha.
Before Misha can respond, Mike says, "Well, there is
a catch. Your ship. That's the catch. It's a little
Mich asks, "Can you tell us how to make it a
Misha says, "We'll tell you the story of how we
died, in exchange for... uh... you showing us an example of black
technology which you have with you."
"OK," says Mike, "I have here the device that is
transmitting this conversation back to my ship." He pulls out a
small box. "It's doing it by drawing power from our engines."
Shark says, "May we examine it? No?
Hah! I have one too."
Helia says, "And so do I." She quickly pulls
out one of her toys, and puts it back in her bag.
Kalida agrees, "We're not impressed," she says.
Shark says, "We can claim anything we want. We
haven't had any proof."
"Proof?" says Mike.
"OK," Shark continues, "We got the ship on the water
Helia runs with it, "With the really cool water
ship, and it was so sweet to ride on. A trimaran is cool."
Mike is getting annoyed. He says, "I'm trying
to take this seriously."
Shark says, "So are we, but you haven't given us
anything to believe."
"Yes," says Helia, "We want proof, we don't want you
just to pull out one of these." She pulls another toy out of here
bag. This one looks reminiscent of Mike's supposed device.
Mike says, "But the fact that I know how that works,
Shark interrupts, "...you're no better than us."
Kalida backs him up, "So far you're just making
Helia says, "Can you tell us exactly how the ship
gets its power? High level discussion, no details needed, but
how. Because the ship appears to just pull power from the ether,
and I mean that in the full facetious manner of the ancient humans."
Mike nods, "Essentially that's what it does, yes."
"More detail than that. What is its
source? It's not a potato clock, for gods sake!" She's met
by blank stares. She continues, "You stick two electrodes in a
potato and the clock runs. Why? Who the hell knows, but it
Mich says helpfully, "Because there's two dissimilar
metals and the potato's acidic."
"There you go. Mich knows. It's a great
parlor trick, but it doesn't explain it. I asked you for a
high level explanation. A coherent, scientific, explanation is
perhaps the correct way to put it."
Mike says, "It draws power from nowhere."
"No, not really."
"Is there a nowhere, or is it...?"
Mich says, "Maybe all the people in nowhere will get
upset when we use it all up."
Mike says, "That's the trick. You don't use it
all up. Something's always replenishing it somewhere. Or it
will replenish it, or it has done, it doesn't matter. It's... you
remember the modifications Jane made? It works like that, only it
Helia looks at Mich. Is it making sense to him?
Mich says, "Well... we were pulling the atom out of
unspace, that was the atom we were looking for, and we were putting
atoms back into unspace that weren't exactly the right kind, but that
we'd need them kind of later..."
Mike says helpfully, "Or that somebody else would
Helia asks, "So it's an infinite power source
because it's merely an exchange of atoms?"
"It's not really atoms. Energy will do the
Mich says, "If you think about it, you know, we've
got matter and antimatter. Well, there's would be a parallel
universe that has antimatter and matter. So if we give the
antimatter universe matter, they can give us antimatter in
return. And so if we do that, then we'll never run out."
"It comes from nowhere, so it can't run out."
Helia asks, 'Is that just a theoretical can't run
out, or is there a finite reason why you can't?"
Mich says, "If we give all the matter in the
universe to the antimatter universe, then..."
Mike shakes his head slowly, "It's not another
universe, it's the same one. You're just taking it from the
Helia pushes her hand computer to him. She
says, "Can you give me some kind of paper on that theory?"
"Why? If I promise not to share it beyond the
people in this room."
"Why? Can you get it from the 'we' people and
have it delivered to me? It's not like we know how to build the
damn things, I'm not sure you do either."
"You know that on a temporary basis you can borrow
energy from the universe at large providing you pay it back very
rapidly? Right, well it's like that but you don't have to pay it
"Pay it forward," laughs Mich.
"Essentially. At some point through the entire
continuum, you're all working with probabilities and things that are
mathematical abstractions anyway, so it turns out you don't actually
have to pay it back."
Helia asks, "So is there anybody who's written
anything I can see on this?"
Mike waves at her puter, "Not that you could read on
that, no. It's basic fundamental stuff."
"Transmit it to my ship, please."
"I could do that, but you'd have to be giving me a
heck of a lot. Like the ship afterwards. But I'm afraid I
can't represent it on that machine."
Mich says quietly, "What about the location of the
two other ships?"
Helia asks, "What about other ships and we get to
keep ours? How about this: we tell you where you can get other
ships like it, we keep our ship, and you give us a ship that we can fly
around and we won't fly around in this one all the time?"
Mike looks interested.
"That way we get to keep our ship, which like any
other pet we've gotten to really enjoy. We keep the ship, we
don't fly this ship everywhere, and you give us another ship that's
very very nice, and adequate for our purposes, and we fly that ship
around around to the places you don't want us to fly that ship around
to, and you don't give us a fully restrictive list of the universe for
places we could fly the black ship around, so we could still enjoy the
black ship when we want. We could, for example, take both ships
places -- that's what we want, a ship we can put the black ship in, and
we'll promise to not go insystem with the black ship for... most places
in the universe. Not every place, but most. You can give us
a list of restricted sites and we'll review them with you. And
we'll point you to the other ships like the black ship. Face it,
we don't anybody stealing the black ship, and we don't want the
technology to get into the wrong hands, either. I think we are in
Mike says slowly, "OK. So you're saying that
you're on our side."
"No, we're saying that we're not against you."
Kalida says, "You haven't identified what your side
Helia continues, "What we're saying is we're
interested in protecting the black ship technology, but we've really
gotten to like our black ship, and we deserve it, after what we went
through to get it."
Mike says, "After what we went through, you don't
deserve it. We deserve it."
"Well, you can deserve the other ships we know."
Shark breaks in, "Who's the bugs, by the way?"
Mich explains, "The cockroaches? Do you know
"No. I doubt they're significant. Why?"
Shark continues, "They were invading for a
while. They stopped."
Mike sighs. He announces, "These ships, like
your ship, are supposed to be sitting somewhere in case they are
needed. By us."
Kalida asks, "You specifically and no-one else."
"Us specifically and no-one else, yes."
"Designated as people who get to us them by...?"
Shark asks, "And they're needed to be used against
"We... that's an interesting question. I would
have to say... we don't know for sure."
Misha says, "And you clearly don't know where the
ships are supposed to be."
"Well... that was part of the arrangement.
We're not supposed to be operating many ships."
Kalida says, "So they're held in trust for you but
you don't get to know where they are."
"Yes, that's right. That's essentially it."
"And who holds them in trust for you?"
"They're just... stashed somewhere."
"By somebody. Who?"
Helia adds, "I know it's not the builders."
Mike answers Kalida, "Us."
Helia asks, "Can you name us three people or
entities that we might have heard of that are members of 'us.'"
"No, no, no. Three distinct..."
"Jane Southcombe. That's why she's not
important in terms of knowing, because she knows. She gave Mich
just enough to blow his own head off, but fortunately for you -- and
unfortunately for us at the time -- you managed to survive."
Robert says, "Well, there's a fair contingency on Goose."
Misha says, "That's what I was going to ask.
Can you give us Goose?"
"Yes," says Mike, "We can give you anywhere that's
not here, although I know about as much about Goose as I know
"Hm," says Robert, "Then you're not the people we
should be talking to."
Shark says, "He's no more than us. Maybe a
slightly larger organization. But we still don't know that his
ship's any bigger than ours."
Helia says, "Who else besides Jane?"
"I don't know that you've met anybody else," says
"So why does Jane belong to an entity that wishes to
kill... is she in agreement that Mich may need to be killed, kidnapped,
or otherwise taken out of this equation?"
"Mich, what do you think?"
"I definitely believe so," replies Mich.
Helia says, "Is she not a friend of yours anymore?"
"Certainly from information he's said, she's
purposely tried to kill us, by inserting a suspected fault into the
design to begin with, that caused them to generate hard
radiation. Antimatter generators were outputting hard radiation
and absorbing energy."
There's a pause, while Helia and Mich quietly
discuss whether it would have helped for the larian to go through the
specs of the device before using them.
Mike says, "Believe it or not, we're actually the
"But you tried to kill us," Helia points out.
"For the greater good."
"Of who?" asks Shark.
"Of everyone, actually."
Robert says, "And that was before we found the ship
that we're in now."
Shark says, "Look, you haven't told us who the
shadows are. We have no idea who you're fighting."
"The bad guys," says Helia helpfully. "If
you're the good guys, who are the bad guys? Are you telling us
the Imperial Navy is the bad guys, or under the control of them?
Well, the Imperial Navy tried to kill us."
Mike shrugs away the question.
Shark says, "If our ship went into stealth mode now,
I wouldn't mind."
Helia adds, "I think you're right."
"Neither would we," says Mike.
In the harbor at First City, Nightshade
lifts from her mooring and cruises out of sight of the city. She
slips into stealth mode. Grand Admiral Baron Bridgehead got the
Mike continues, "Don't count on stealth mode working
against us that well."
"Why?" asks Helia.
"It doesn't work against their relay in far orbit,"
Shark points out that they had to be relatively
close to detect it.
"As you said," says Mike, "Your ship is... stock."
"Like the day it was manufactured," says Mich.
"Exactly. You think we might have made a few
improvements since then?"
"Hard to say. What in?"
Robert says, "Anyway, we're trying to negotiate the
use of the ship we're in, along with keeping our full crew
complement. And what we have to give you in return, the biggest
Shark interrupts, "Wait! You see, that's a
whole assumption you're making there. I don't see that we have to
give them anything. There's no proof."
Mike says simply, "Because if we're not happy, we
blow you up."
"But you haven't shown us any reason to believe that
"Well, in the time since your ship was built, we
have improved things..."
"No, you haven't. You were given these
ships just like we were. You've just said that."
"Yes, originally. However, ours was
operational when we had it. We didn't just find it somewhere."
"Ours is fully operational too."
"Yes. But you won't overwhelm ours with
missiles, not as much, and it won't give you a clear blast with the
expander. So, we win."
Helia says, "It won't give us a clear blast for the
"What? See, you haven't given me any
indication that you know how to fight with this anyway."
Kalida says, "Then what are you worried about?"
"I'm not worried. We can blow you up."
"So you say."
Mich adds, "They also say they have antimatter
Mike says, "Well, we threw those out because we
figured we just needed something exotic to make a point, but we didn't
really want to do anything too exotic."
Helia says, "It's the expander that's the useful
one, anyway. It's the only truly useful and versatile..."
She trails off and gives Mike a real level look.
The larian continues, "If you used the expander
around here, that would be quite a violation of your treaty...?"
"That's why we're waiting for you to leave orbit."
Shark laughs. The laughter is infectious --
Mich catches it too. They exchange glances. Helia joins in;
she asks innocently, "So there's no way we'll be able to run to a place
"No. As soon as the pieces won't fall down
Shark has had enough. He asks Misha, "Captain,
are there any more questions we have for this gentleman?"
Helia says, "So, anyway. You were going to
give us a big ship, and let us keep Mich, and we were going to promise
not to take the black ship anywhere it would get people too excited..."
Mike says, "The catch is, we don't know what will
get people too excited. That's why you can't use it."
"Well, we won't take it anywhere we haven't been,
and if there's some place we have been that you would rather we not, we
can negotiate that."
"It depends who might be there. I hope you
haven't caused too much trouble already."
Robert says, "When we landed on Goose, they
liked the ship."
Helia adds, "They were concerned because you weren't
with it, or rather the 'we' weren't there."
"But you don't know about Goose," says
Robert, "So they weren't expecting you, they were expecting
"Perhaps the builders?" suggests Helia.
"But you don't know about Goose, so you're
not the people we should be talking to. Because obviously these
ships aren't for you, because the people on Goose
weren't expecting you, they were expecting someone else, so the ship
must have been built for them."
"You obviously didn't build the ships either.
And they didn't kill us for having the ship, and didn't say we couldn't
have it, and obviously they know who should have it, so if they didn't
say we couldn't have it, then obviously we should have it. Right?"
"Right," says Robert.
Mike responds to this assault, "They may have had
contact with another group."
Helia says, "Maybe the builders."
Robert says, "So we've already let you know that Goose
knows about this ship, we've let you know that the Wonstar Corporation
knows about the ship..."
"That one concerns us," says Mike.
Shark says, "We've been to maybe two dozen systems
in the last couple of years, and out of that at least three or four had
people who knew about black technology."
"OK. So we're going to need to know everyone
who you say knows about black technology."
Helia says, "Not if you're going to blow them up."
Kalida's attitude is different: "Figure it out
yourself. We did. It was very easy. We weren't even
looking. So if you're looking and you can't find anything, we
aren't very impressed."
Mike mutters, "There aren't very many of us."
Robert adds, "And we do know where there are more
ships like this."
"See, we don't need the ships, we just want to stop
anyone else getting them."
"These ships were not stored for you."
"Exactly. That's why we want to make sure
nobody else gets them. There aren't enough of us to run the ships
and use the weapons that are out there."
"It was obvious that these ships had been discovered
and then lost previously, and they weren't being stored for a
"We don't have to," says Shark. He addresses
his crew as a whole, and says, "Do we have any other questions?"
Kalida says, "Probably not that he can answer."
Shark turns back to Mike and says, "I think we would
like to go and discuss things among ourselves."
Mike nods. He says to Mich, "I'll cut off the
kill order on you, but keep the ship here."
Shark says, "We'll take your advice under
"And no doubt we will meet again, tomorrow I
imagine. If you have any questions..."
Helia asks, "Do you have a hot tub? Are you
"Yes, I do. I am the only one in the guest
suite. I am the only one here because I was the most
expendable. But if you'd like to come over, you're welcome.
I mean, if you want to see this..." -- he pats his large belly --
"...in a hot tub. Well then, until next time. It's been, as
you say, enlightening. Thank you."
Both groups return to their own quarters.
On the way back to their building, the Nightshade
crew discuss their experience. The forest is as secure an area as
and they go for a long walk to talk about the meeting.
Robert starts by telling the others he wanted to try
showing Mike a glyph and seeing if he understood it, but didn't want to
let him know that they knew the language. He adds, "Remember that
the Baba Yaga's paperwork was filled out in handwritten
jannish. Someone on the Baba Yaga filled it out."
Shark agrees, adding that no-one on this planet
fills out paperwork for you, so one of Baba Yaga's crew might
well be able to speak or write script, "But we didn't want to pass that
information onto this guy."
"And we didn't even ask this guy if he's from the Baba
Yaga... although he did admit that he tried to kidnap Mich, and
that was at the same time the Baba Yaga was there."
"And there's not that many of them. There's
not enough to run the ships they have."
"So if the Baba Yaga is this modified
Shark turns to Mich, "The energy signatures from the
Baba Yaga were normal, right?"
Mich replies, "Yes, but if you wanted to fit in,
that would be the first thing you'd do. The next thing to do
would be to color the outside different. However, when you walk
into it, you would realize how thin the hull actually was -- and we've
been on the Baba Yaga, and it's normal."
Misha says, "It could still be associated with
them. It could also be a total front -- he was delivered here by
the Baba Yaga, and there's no black ship out there."
"Well, he has given clues that he knows about black
Shark changes the subject: "Mich, what is the effect
on the planet of a surface jump?"
"There's a bit of a bang as the atmosphere comes
into the vacuum that you've created. We'll create a giant
thunderclap, and there's a flash that goes with it."
"So no major damage to forests or anything else?"
"No, not to the forest. I mean, we can travel
out into the ocean away from the forest, and jump from there. Now
if we can time that at just the time they're firing a weapon... there's
a big flash, and then we're not there anymore."
Helia nods, "We can do that. But he's probably
listening to us and will expect it."
Sharks says, "The question is, what warning can we
sense of an expander shot? You know, the third weapon?"
"The way it works is that you pick a point, and
"...neutralize the atomic bonds?" interrupts Mich,
"Basically, yes. That's why we aren't using it
as any kind of matter of course, and we haven't discussed it because
you could destroy an extraordinarily major city with it. It's an
explosion in the gigaton range."
"Big bang," Shark says, "That's why the Navy ship
Helia nods, "It's just that I was hoping we'd never
use it again."
"So he obviously has a ship. I don't know how
big a ship you have to have to have an expander on it. So I would
say a two-man ship would probably have one as well. That doesn't
mean that there's any ship out there, and we don't know what our ship's
defense against that is."
Misha says, "Just so you all are clear, all my talk
was total crap. I was just trying to draw information out of
him. I'm not willing to give up the ship for something as minor
as my life, and it's even less for the risk of my life."
"We give up the ship, we have no reason to be kept
"Precisely," says Kalida, "He was making a lot of
promises and assertions, but nothing to back them up."
Misha says, "And the fact that he's so blithely
willing to threaten our lives just annoys me."
Shark says, "And the fact that we blew him off so,
may mean that we just need to turn south and start walking right now."
Helia says, "It doesn't matter which direction we
go, because wherever we want to go we'll end up there, or wherever we
should be going we'll end up there. Remember that, where we are."
Misha says, "There is some possibility that he is
perfectly sincere in that somehow he's part of a group that's supposed
to be using the black ships, blah, blah, blah, and he's just bungling
this attempt. I'm willing to give him more shots -- and I'm more
interested in trying to draw more information out of him, if we can."
Helia says, "I think mentioning Goose was a
major tactical error, then."
"It was for Goose," says Shark, "If they
have any power at all. Although I'd like to see them try to deal
with people on Goose!"
Robert points out, "Remember, they teleported
themselves into the ship."
"Not the black ship. Only the Third Eye.
They walked up to the black ship." Shark pauses, then continues,
"That means they're not learning the language through klatrin."
Misha says, "I have a guess about who they are, but
I hesitate to make it because that would get me and everybody else
thinking..." He tails off.
One thing they all agree on is that Mike was honest
about having no idea who Wonstar are. Robert adds, "If he is a
representative of Wonstar, and he's trying to discover how much we know
about black technology, so he's trying to draw us out... But his
reaction appeared quite genuine."
Shark says that Wonstar would pay them just as much
for the ship as Mike would, and they'd have more chance of surviving
Misha says, "My guess is that they're Zhodani, and associated
with the Baba Yaga."
Shark counters, 'I think they are either an
organization like us, maybe a generation ago, fifty years ago, someone
found this technology and has worked out in the meantime how to use
it. The assertion that he has improved upon it stands in stark
contrast to what I can believe. He may have learned how to use it
fully, possibly, but improved upon it? Especially when he said,
'We were given the ships.'"
"So who do you think they were?"
"There are two possibilities. They're a small
organization, extra-governmental, a group like us, maybe had the ships
for a few years longer, maybe not. We know for certain the
Imperium has known about this technology for twenty-five plus years."
Misha has another observation: when Mike talked
about not giving away Digitis, he was completely serious.
He says, "That's the thing that makes me think there's more to it than
just some group like us. They're somehow associated with somebody
who's associated with Digitis."
"Or, they found it here in this system, and got
Lap'da's people to show them how to use it in return for never messing
"Maybe they are Digitis. Not the
janns, Digitis. Not necessarily the Sheriff, but I'm
thinking maybe some part of the government."
"The city as opposed to the forest." Shark
shakes his head, "It doesn't feel right -- they would come in and say
'you're arrested.' And if they were part of the government, they
would have no reason to acknowledge the Sheriff's no touch
conditions. Plus there's been no other evidence of
extraordinarily advanced technology."
Kalida says, "That whole thing about no psionics was interesting
"Yes." Shark's footballs have shown nothing
except normal background readings. He tells them that there was
no evidence of psionic use.
"I wonder where that request came from. Not
from the Sheriff, but probably Mike, which means for some reason he
thought we could or would. Why would he think that? Except
of course for the black technology of the ship itself. That's the
"No, it's not. Our prime charter before the
Misha says, "So. Anybody got any ideas about
how we draw him out more?"
Shark says, "What lie do we tell him that sounds
reasonable? What story?"
"Give him fake information in the hopes he gives us
"More reliable than we're giving him, of
course. It has to be legitimate slips like 'expander' and things
like that. He's going to be slamming his head against the wall
Robert says, "We can just tell him exactly where we
got the ship."
Misha asks, "What good would it do to tell him
that? What bad would it do?"
"It's not going to do us any bad, and if we bartered
free passage because we told him where those ships are...?"
Shark objects, "It hurts my giving them something
for nothing commercial side."
Misha says, "I don't know that we should carry on
the bargaining any more. I mean, my previous bargaining wasn't in
good faith, and I feel bad about that, but it's all I could think to
do. So, he is willing to bargain information for information, so
we have... information."
"Well, we have to be careful about the information
we give. We have a bunch of other people with us, we have a
couple on an asteroid with a dead ship, there's a guy living on Mora
that we shouldn't give away."
Kalida offers, "And Geoffrey. Sir Geoffrey."
"Oh, Sir Geoffrey." Shark nods. He
continues, "They couldn't figure out how to fake a death.
Yeah. Given these ships blowing up another ship in such a way
that there's not enough left, and they're reported as dead, that
doesn't make sense to me."
Misha says, "Oh, I thought he was just being just
intentionally stupid on that point, but maybe you're right, maybe he
wasn't being stupid."
"I mean, I think they know about but they don't use
the black technology. I think they have it in the lab, but it's
never been fielded. They don't have any practical..."
"But there are other ways. A ship blows up,
you can't retrieve bodies, so you just assume whoever was on board is
Mich asks, "Who put the egg, then? The
relay? If they've not fielded black technology?"
Kalida points out, "Well someone has, not
Shark says, "Did they start using the egg?"
MIch says, "And they don't know how to move
it. We know how to move it. We could have taken total
control of the egg."
Shark reminds them all that there were two
communications sent for this meeting: one for Jane, through the
Sheriff, which they think also went through the egg; and one directly
from the egg.
Misha suggests one way they could draw him out
is just to say that they don't think he has the ability to carry out
his threat, and unless he can show them something better, they're
Shark reviews ways out of the train from Cormor
Forest to First City. He could open a hole in the top, which
could get them out of it at 100 kph. Mike's people won't do
anything while they're over the forest, but they will attack them once
they clear it. They do have a record of using nukes to kill one
person, or so they claim. Misha says that Mike said they weren't
going to do anything until they were off the planet-- Shark says that's
what he'd say, too, regardless of whether it was true or not.
Shark continues, "Now they do seem to have a working
relationship with the Sheriff. The Sheriff does have technology
here in the forest that is not Imperium technology."
Mich points out that Jane was working with them on
their lightning suppressers.
"Right, and their zuchai array is much more
extensive and multi-dimensional than anything Mich has worked with
before." They all fall silent.
Finally Misha says, "How about this? One of us
-- whoever seems most likely to succeed -- goes to him and says pretty
much what I just said, but acts as if they're doing it on their
own. LIke you, Shark, tell him that the Captain says he doesn't
believe him, but you believes him and are scared, and want him to show
the Captain that there's more than he thinks he has."
Shark suggests that Mich or Kalida would be the
likeliest, since he himself has been too aggressive. Perhaps even
a small group? They could say they're leaving if he doesn't show
them something right here, right now.
Kalida volunteers to play the good cop. She'll
try this first and see if it works, and if it doesn't they can all go
call his bluff. She'll go tonight.
Shark suggests that Kalida borrows Helia's ring --
she can wear it on a chain on her neck.
It's now getting on for late evening. The red
sun has set over the forest canopy. Kalida leaves their guest
suite and goes to visit Mike.
Once pleasant greetings are exchanged, Kalida says,
"I wanted to talk with you for a few minutes. I'm going to be
honest with you. My captain does not believe for a second that
you you have the power to do anything to us whatsoever."
"Well, that's his loss," observes Mike.
"To be honest, I do believe, and I would like to be
able to convince the captain that I'm right. Is there any
assistance that you can give me on this? Any way that you can
prove some tiny little portion of what you said today."
"Prove? I don't have anything with me to
prove. What do you want me to do?"
"Is there any way you can back up any of the
statements you've said? Even just one of them?"
"What can I back up? I don't have anything
here. I can talk to my ship. That's about it. I
was... not allowed to bring weapons, or I could show you some weapons."
"So if the Captain decided that we should just walk
away, you personally couldn't actually do a thing."
"No. Your ship would be blown up as soon as
you try to leave orbit. We can pick up stealth mode better, so we
can fire from where you can't detect us."
"So you always know where our ship is."
"No. Not when it's in stealth mode.
Depends how far away we are. But yeah, the range of stealth mode
detection is much better now."'
"I couldn't answer that, that's classified.
Further than you can pick us up."
"You're not really giving me anything I can take to
the Captain to convince him that you're speaking the truth."
"Well. You know your ship contains enough
weaponry to destroy a ship of its type, used properly."
"Well, we can get the first shot off, and when you
try to overload our screen, it won't overload it as much so you can't
get the expander shot in."
"But again, you're just saying this. The
Captain isn't going to believe you."
"It at least shows I know how your weaponry
works. What can I say that will convince him?"
"It's nothing you're going to say that is going to
convince him. If you show something, that will convince him."
"I don't have a show. How about if you tell
him that I know your ship is outside the harbor in stealth mode, and
isn't picking up ours? Have him check with his ship, because you
certainly haven't told me that."
"OK, I'll tell him that, and see what he says.
"You're welcome. And if I can help... but all
I have here is... things I can say. But thank you, and come by
Kalida returns to her own quarters. The rest
of the crew have listened to the whole conversation through the commdot.
Misha says, "All they had to do was have one person
in the harbor, to watch the ship sail out. How he knows it's in
stealth mode? Well, some things you can guess."
Shark says all it really indicates is he's got
bi-directional communication, like they do. It still doesn't
Mich points out that black ship communication
technology by draining a power source is a one way system. He
obviously has some other method too.
Misha asks if Nightshade could tell if the
other ship got a lock on them. They could if it was active, but
not if it was passive. No doubt Callisto is on the look out for
Mich suggests that they tell Mike to fire a laser at
their ship. Everyone nods.
Robert observes that Mike speaks galanglic too well
to be a script speaker. Shark suggests that he and his team might
have learned it differently, since they don't know about Goose.
Shark would like to know if Lap'da or his people
have an agreement with Mike's people -- they know the Sheriff does to
some degree. They can check that tomorrow.
Misha agrees. They can take advantage of the
Sheriff's hospitality, and talk to Lap'da if they want. They will
let Mike come to them.