(68) Turning the Tide
The Misha Campaign (059-1122 to 060-1122)
It's about midday. The crew of Nightshade
have returned to their guest quarters in Cormor Home after an
interesting conversation with Lap'da.
Mike still hasn't come up with his criteria for
rescinding his threat to destroy their ship if they try to leave.
He left his negotiation goals open, although he made it very clear he
wants their ship, and would like Mich to join "them," whoever "they"
The Sheriff's instructions were that there was to be
no violence against either party, and no eavesdropping or other spying,
and no psionics
use. The area subject to these restrictions is
his entire jurisdiction -- Cormor Forest, Cormor Home, and the train to
Center. Stepping off the train in Center steps out of the
It's not known how exactly Mike arrived here --
whether he made the trip by train or not.
They are not, however, worried by Mike's
threats. Both Helia Sarina and Mich Saginaw are completely
confident that they can jump
before leaving orbit, and therefore escape
without Mike's supposed black ship attacking them. Jumping in
atmosphere will cause a loud bang as the vacuum fills in where they
were, but won't hurt anything else. Helia says they should
probably just get up to a good altitude and jump from there.
They briefly discuss the possibility of kidnapping
or killing Mike as a counter to his threats, but since Mike considers
himself expendable, it seems likely that "they" consider him so
too. His only use to the Nightshade crew is as a flunky,
and a channel back to "them."
Still, talking with Mike is useful. As Edward
"Shark" Teeth points out, he has let slip a couple of things. One was
tactics for using the weapon -- without overwhelming the ship's shields
with nuclear weapons, apparently the expander is ineffectual against a
black ship. He spells it out for the benefit of the others: "The
only use for the nuclear missiles is to attempt to overwhelm the
shields. Once you've overwhelmed the shields with your entire
volley of nuclear weapons, then you can use the expander on your
opponents' black ships." In other words, the shields stop the
expander, and the shields are affected by nuclear blasts.
They still don't know how big Mike's supposed black
ship is. Given that Nightshade has twelve staterooms, yet
doesn't require twelve people to run it, there could well be smaller
ships -- probably smaller military ships of perhaps four berths.
They know there are larger black ships, because they've seen one, but
they have no idea what size ship Mike has.
The know that Mike is communicating with his ship,
and that anything said in his presence is being relayed back to his
ship with a one-way ship's power communicator. As Shark points
out, they themselves haven't figured out how to make it work through
jumps, so if that's true then Mike must have the black ship power
source here in the area. They also know that within whatever the
range is, the egg station has been on and active for a very long time
-- 200,000 years since the first logged test message.
Misha Ravanos reminds them that what they've learned
from Lap'da is that thousands of years ago -- in the time of the
Ancients -- his
original people were part of a group that he gave the
name the Crusaders. Misha explains, "They were warring against
something. They reached this point and ran into their
enemies. At the same time, there was another pair of peoples
fighting locally in this area. The pair that Lap'da was part of
were more highly technically advanced, and could certainly clean up the
other two. Something happened, and part of Lap'da's group decided
they didn't want to be crusaders any more. They wanted to settle
down, not fight anymore, and live on the planet -- they became the
janns. The rest of them went on to continue the crusade.
The other pair continued fighting too. But somehow they managed
to work out this arrangement where none of these peoples were allowed
to attack this planet. This planet was just off limits."
Shark says, "Three of the parties agreed not to
attack this planet. The fourth, who the crusaders were fighting,
I assume would not have agreed."
Misha nods -- the enemy were not part of the
treaty. "But anyway, there was an implication that the Crusaders
-- the ones who continued crusading -- were also protecting this
planet. Lap'da didn't know that there were still Crusaders,
but his belief is that there are -- or at least that
their protection still applies, is still in force."
"Right. So we have the Crusaders in the black
ship, because Lap'da in the past has said his ancestors had a black
Kalida Siena says, "He said his people came here in
the black ships. Do you remember what was going on 300,000 years
ago? That would have been when the Final War of the Ancients
occurred, destroying them. They were the ones who presumably
seeded everything with humans."
Misha says, "My assumption was that all four parties
in these two pairs of wars were Ancients."
Kalida points out that Imperial library
that the Ancients weren't human. She adds, "That's kind of what
Lap'da said. He said that they were not people like us."
Robert Morris points out that the scryptese term for
"people-like-us" as used by Lap'da is applied to humaniti in general,
and that Lap'da includes himself in that concept.
Kalida says that Imperial theory is that it's the droyne
who are the descendants of the Ancients -- decidedly not human.
Misha laughs that Imperial theory on this could well
be completely bogus.
Shark wonders if the Crusaders ended the
Ancients. A lot of Ancient technology has been found, but what
about weapons? The black globes are based on Ancient
technology, of course, and there's certainly a lot of artifacts that
remain completely unidentifiable. He then returns to their
immediate dilemma, "The whole deal here, what Mike has told us, is 'You
have information and possessions we can't let you have.' Now no
matter what he tells us he's going to do, they can't let us go.
We're going to have to escape. They can't leave us here either,
because there's too many ships that come and go. They would have
to put us under permanent guard, and from the sound of his conversation
their organization isn't very large. So they can't afford to put
us under lock and key. They can't afford to let us live. As
a matter of fact, they may want us to try to leave, so they can shoot
us while we're not on this planet."
Kalida nods, "That would explain their poor
"Now that they think that they've pumped us for all
the information they're likely to get from us, like where we've been
and so on, we're no use to them. They cannot, according to the
treaty, attack us here. Now if they truly are operating under the
Treaty of Versailles, then until we attempt to leave we're OK, but as
soon as we attempt to leave they are free to attack us. So for us
to safely leave, we may in fact not be able to leave the
atmosphere." He wonders why the destroyers of the forest got off
Misha says he remembers the answer at the time was
clear -- Lap'da said they
needed to learn.
Kalida adds that Lap'da's sense of "no damage to
here" was very vague, but the point was that Mike would have to wait
until they were outside orbit to blow them up, so that nothing would
damage here, so it would fall up.
Misha says, "So what do you guys think of the
following strategy? We go to him and say something like, we've
decided we can't let go of the ship -- we're emotionally attached to
the ship -- and we understand what that means for us in terms of our
future. Before we go, we'd like them to tell us everything they
know about the black ships."
Kalida smiles, "So we can take that knowledge out in
a blaze of glory with ourselves?"
"Right." Misha laughs. "What do you
Helia drips sarcasm, "Oh sure, I think it'd work."
"I didn't think it's going to work. The real
question is, is it going to be fun?" smiles Misha.
Kalida says, "However it could end really quickly if
he simply says no, and that's pretty much the end of it. There
ought to be somewhere else to go after that."
They then briefly discuss whether they want to stay
on planet a little longer, or if there's anything else they want to do
here, anything more they want to cover with Lap'da, for example.
Shark raises the issue of what if anything Lap'da
knows about Goose.
Misha says, "We directly asked him. He had no
reference for Goose -- it meant nothing to him, and we had no
way to explain it to him. Robert was there, and he couldn't
manage to tell him either."
Shark wonders idly how one would describe Goose
in scryptese. He notes that Robert learnt the language by
drinking fish oil repeatedly -- and the fish oil came from Goose.
He adds, "The people on Goose recognized the black ship, and
they're expecting the Crusaders back -- now we know that they were the
Crusaders -- someone in a black ship, but not
us. In fact, expecting someone in a black ship who hasn't been
back there in a long time. It was more like generations than a
few years, and given the formality of their society and the way it
seemed to work, it could have been many hundreds of generations."
He notes that the humans on this world speak the child's version of
scryptese -- jannish -- and that's what Lap'da speaks to them even
his native language is the full version. Shark continues,
"Obviously the Sheriff understands the treaty."
Misha says, "What makes you think that? My
impression was the Sheriff made up his own treaty to cover this
particular meeting. He's obviously playing some sort of
"And Mike and his people are using this as some sort
of base. Building this multi-dimensional array of zuchai
crystals underground -- this is beyond Imperium technology, and
certainly beyond the technology of people on this planet. In
fact, this could be where all the gnomes live, for all I know -- the
gnomes whose boom box we powered up with the batteries, the source of
power for the black ship."
Helia says, "It's everywhere. It gathers
energy from everywhere. It draws it as it needs it." There
is a pause, then the larian changes the subject. She says, "I
don't think 'Lap'da's people' has anything to do with Lap'da's
body. I think his manifestation as being humanoid may have
nothing to do with what his people originally were."
"I do," says Shark. "He built the black ship,
which is clearly designed for humans."
"It's not clearly designed for humans -- Lap'da appears
to be human," insists Helia. "It doesn't mean they weren't some
other human sized
similar race. Nowadays they appear to be fully human, but this
ship could well have not been built by some human species, just more
something that was our size and shape."
Shark smiles, "Wouldn't it be funny if in fact the
Ancients were responsible for seeding the universe because they shot
down so many of the black ships over various planets, and we're just
"That didn't happen where I came from," says Helia
firmly. "Grandfather explains us."
Misha goes back to the origin of the janns, after
they split from the Crusaders. He says, "They went from high
technology -- black technology -- to taking care of forests."
Shark corrects him, "Planting and creating a
forest." He laughs, "With alternate realities embedded, but
that's another story."
Misha continues, "What I'm getting to is that there
was another group of Crusaders who stayed, but didn't give up the
Helia nods, "I think the janns moved away from the
"I'm not sure that the thing that's protecting us is
part of the treaty. All that's protecting us is sort of a
Shark says, "Lap'da's implying that the Crusaders
are not supposed to come back to this planet at all. If Mike is
claiming membership by proxy in the Crusaders, then he's breaking the
Kalida says, "And he'd have to be one of the
Crusaders, as he's clearly not one of the others, because they weren't
people like us. And he's not a jann."
Misha says, "Lap'da said something like, 'Is Mike
sure he's even allowed to be here?'" He turns to Robert, "What
would be the right way for me to learn script?"
Robert doesn't miss a beat. He says, "Drink
Shark adds, "Several times. With the risk that
if you drink too much you may not be able to speak galanglic, because
it's too simple."
Kalida says, "Except that it hasn't done that to
Shark grimaces, "I think... I run the risk if I
Misha says, "But people on Goose drink this
"No," laughs Shark, "The bartender gave it to
us. And there are people on Goose who can blink in and
out of the ship. And Lap'da can move across the forest in no
Robert adds that the tar that they smoke on Goose
helps avoid the chemical charge buildup you get if you drink too small
a dose of klatrin.
"I'll drink more," says Helia.
Kalida says, "I don't know, you got married last
"No, I was married last time."
"To be married, one has to have got married."
"That was the problem. I missed my
wedding. I was married for that year, but I didn't live through
the wedding, I just was already there. Although we were talking
about having a child. I'm not sure I could have come back if we
"OK," says Misha. "Can I say that this
conversation is just too weird for me?" He hadn't been in the
room when Helia came out of her last klatrin trance.
"I didn't live my wedding, I just lived a year of my
married life. And we were talking about having children."
Misha shrugs and leaves the subject behind. He
says, "So, I was thinking, if nobody has any ideas where we want to go,
why don't we just stay here for a couple of months? Learn script,
and explore the forest. Talk to Lap'da. See what Mike and
"OK!" says Helia brightly. She reaches around,
picks up a jug of klatrin, and puts it down in front of him. "I'm
ready when you are, boss!" Shark and Kalida grin.
"I wanted to talk to Lap'da about his thoughts
on learning script."
Kalida says, "He thinks learning is good."
Helia says, "I think if we take fish oil and ask him
to guide us, he probably will. I'd like that. Very
much. How about you?"
Shark says, "Last time he guided us, and he didn't
have to have fish oil."
"Problem is, Shark doesn't need any more fish oil."
"Robert survived it."
Kalida says, "He might be all right with a guide."
Helia says, "Yeah, but there's something about
Shark's personality. He fights the fish oil. It takes him
into bad places. Wouldn't you say so?"
"No," says Shark, "It showed me bad things.
Bad things showed up."
Kalida says, "There are a lot of bad things in the
Helia says, "Well, Shark looks for the bad things."
"That's reality," says Shark.
"Only more so," adds Kalida.
Misha decides they need to talk with Mike
again. He picks up the telephone to talk to Mike, but the
operator says he's not available. Misha leaves a message inviting
him to dinner tonight. He then leaves a message for the Steward
to arrange dinner; shortly thereafter, the Steward calls back to
confirm the dinner arrangements.
That evening, everyone heads over to dinner --
short walk through the forest, and to the same dining room as last
time. Soon after they sit down, Mike arrives. The
parties greet each other pleasantly. Food and drink arrive.
Kalida and Helia have no problem with the etiquette of the dinner
service, along with Mike; Shark has a little difficulty, while everyone
else is decidedly ill at ease in this formal social situation.
"So, Mike," starts out Misha, "Your people -- the
group you represent -- what are their origins?"
"That's not important," says Mike.
"Is it also classified?"
"By who? Who classified it?" asks Shark.
"If we're not going to share the information, why
are you worried about it?"
Mike ignores him.
Misha asks, "How come our ship can't detect yours?"
"Because ours have improved."
"Is yours bigger than ours?"
"If you can't detect us, you wouldn't know that."
"You're right, I don't know, I was just
asking. Another classified bit of information?"
"Yes," smiles Mike.
Misha continues, "When was your ship built?"
"You don't need to know that."
"Do we need to know anything?"
"No, you really don't need to know very much at all."
"Why did you come here?"
"Because we can come out of this better than just
destroying you -- although that's a suitable fall back position."
"Better how? What outcome is better than just
"Us having the ship. Us having Mich working
"What would you like Mich to do, if he worked for
"Much the same as he's working on now, probably,
except our facilities are better. We also have other engineers he
could work with as well to accelerate his research. Jane, for
"What's Jane working on?"
"That would be classified."
Misha tries a different tack. He says, "What
do you do when you're not having dinner with groups of potential...
"Me? Actually, I'm an administrator."
"What do you administer?"
"All sorts of things."
"Like what? I mean, the parts that aren't
Mike ponders the question. He says, "I oversee
a lot of government bureaucracy functions."
"For what government?"
"That's classified. I'm only here because I'm
the most expendable."
"What an honor! You must feel really
privileged," laughs Misha. "How did you become part of this
"I was born into it. But we do accept new
"What's the aim of this group?"
"That would be classified."
"Then how do you get new members?" laughs Kalida.
Misha asks, "How do new members know that they want
to join you?"
"They don't," smiles Mike.
Shark asks, 'Did your father do this job before you?"
"No," says Mike, apparently missing the point of the
question. "He did something else."
MIsha asks, "Was he a member of the group?"
Helia says, "Did the word 'pirate' have anything to
do with it?"
"No. We don't have pirates."
"No, we don't have those either."
"You mean you either belong or you don't belong?"
"Mafiosi," concludes Helia.
"No," laughs Misha, "They're nothing like mafiosi."
Mike smiles his agreement with Nightshade's
Misha says, "OK, so... the aims of the group are
decided by the leaders of the group?"
"Yes. Although we have an overriding general
"And that is?"
Helia interrupts with her latest label: "Illuminati?"
Mike beams at her, "That's better."
"Got it. We've heard about you even where I
"I don't think so. You haven't heard about us."
"No, but we've heard about groups like the
"Oh, yeah, they're all over popular literature."
"So do you consider it to be more of a religion,
more of a social club, or more of a nefarious underworld organization?"
"None of those? How would you best describe
"I wouldn't describe it."
Helia leans forward and whispers theatrically, "An
unseen force. Got
it! That's a good one, isn't it? Kind of like the
Illuminati that way. Unseen, undiscussed. Do you guys have
a private name all to yourselves? No? You don't have a
name, you just are?" The larian sits up suddenly and says, "How
do I join?"
"You would have to be invited."
"So invite me."
Misha says, 'Is that how you get new members?
They get invited?"
"Yes," confirms Mike.
Helia says, "You don't have the power, do you?
You can't invite a new member."
"By myself? No. I could sponsor you for
membership, but I certainly don't intend to do so at the moment."
"You haven't shown me anything that..."
Shark says, "But Mich does. Sponsor Mich."
Helia says, 'Really? How about this?"
She whips out her puter and shoves it in Mike's face. Displayed
is a complex mathematical proof. She says, "This one hasn't been
published yet. There's not enough information on the first page,
so you can use your mechanical eye."
"What, you want to work for us too?"
"I don't know. What can you do for me?"
"Provide you with excellent facilities..."
Helia says, "Did you guys kill Helia?"
"I don't know. Who? You?"
"Helia. You know, Helia. Didn't you kill
"Did you kill Helia?"
"Pardon? What are you talking about?"
"Who did you kill besides the Professor?"
"Anyone at the base, and in orbit."
Shark interjects, "The poor guy I went hunting
with. He was a nice fellow, too."
Helia continues, seriously, "If she is dead, I'm
going to have to kill you one of these days. But I don't think
she's dead yet."
Mike doesn't react. He says, "But yes, the
Professor is dead, his assistants who were there, anybody else on the
"Did you kill the little girl?"
"We killed anyone who was there."
"She was the most intelligent person in the
"Well, then it's good that we... Like I said,
destroying you -- even Mich -- would be an acceptable outcome."
Kalida says, "So you're all for throwing out the
baby with the bath water."
Misha says, "What of the goals that you can mention
does destroying us fulfill?"
"It prevents you wandering around causing trouble."
"We already did that."
"Yes, but we're hoping that you haven't caused too
much trouble yet. Trouble in the wrong places."
Shark says, "Like passing on information to the
various security systems."
"That would be bad, yes."
Misha says, "Maybe we don't have the same idea of
what trouble is. So what is your idea of trouble?"
Mike says, "Attracting the wrong attention."
"Um... we're not sure. That's why destroying
you -- or at least depriving you of the use of the ship -- is such a
Shark says, "But aren't your crusades over?"
Misha says, "Maybe we're the very people you're
trying to protect us from."
"Pardon?" Mike is getting more and more
Misha comes back, "Maybe we're the very people
you're trying to protect from us."
Mike still looks confused.
"You said, you don't want us to cause trouble in the
wrong places. But you don't know who we might cause trouble
with. You don't know who you're protecting. From us."
"Oh no, not protecting from you! I know
exactly who we're protecting."
Misha shakes his head. "Let me start over
again," he says. "You want to prevent us from causing trouble in
the wrong places."
"Yes. Like getting noticed by the wrong
"Maybe we are 'the wrong people.'"
"If you're the wrong people, you should be
dead. Or actually, I would be, probably. No, you're not the
Kalida says, "I think I'd prefer that: option two,
Misha says, "I thought you said you don't know who
the wrong people were."
Mike says, "We don't, specifically."
"Then maybe we're them."
"I don't think you are."
Shark says, "But how can you identify them if you
don't know who they are?"
"By their actions. If it walks like a groat,
if it smells like a groat, it's probably a groat."
Misha asks, "What's a groat?"
"Not from around here, are you? Look it
up." Mike pauses, then says, "We're worried that you might tip
off the wrong people. There are two things. First, you
might spread information to anybody -- we don't want anybody wandering
around with this technology, or..."
Misha interjects, "So this technology is the
information you don't want spread around?"
"That and the presence of your ship. Yes."
Shark has noted the fact that Mike used a reference
to an animal native to Fulacin / Rhylanor, and fairly
Misha says, "This secret group that you're a part of
-- is working for them your whole life?"
"That's basically it," says Mike. "That's my
"Have you ever considered leaving?"
"No. Why would I? There is no reason to
leave, and every reason not to."
"Could you leave?"
"Why do you stay?"
"Because what I do is important, I feel. I
have a useful function. I'm doing my part."
Helia says, "An administrator? That makes you
"No, I'm just expendable."
Misha asks, "In what way does your part contribute?"
"It keeps the organizations in place."
"You could do that from anywhere. There are
"Yes, but this is more important."
"Why is it more important?"
Helia answers him, "He contributes to it because of
the sheer fact of the matter that he is an administrator, he is
justifying his reason to breathe air anywhere, because that's an
administrator's job, to justify their own reason for breathing
air. That's the only point of administration. An
administrator's job is to come up with reasons while he's around."
Mike says, 'Right now you are attempting to justify
yourselves. You haven't totally achieved it yet."
"I don't have to justify myself. I'm worth
having around, period."
Misha asks, "What would justify us?"
Helia adds, "And who are you to say that we need to
prove ourselves to you anyway?"
Mike says, "Because it's on my say-so whether you
can actually leave this world or not."
"Says you. I mean, what if you're just
bullshitting us? You're a pretty good bullshitter, that's part of
your job, that's the other function of an administrator is to give a
bullshitter a job. No offense meant. I'm not offending you,
"No," replies Mike cheerfully.
Helia continues, "We don't have administrators where
I come from. We don't need them. But we are amused by you."
Mike returns to his point, "So, what you have to
convince me, is that you will not go around spreading the technology..."
He is interrupted by general laughter and
snickering. Helia says, "Don't worry, we can't. What are we
going to do, give somebody else our ship? That's the only way
we're going to spread it. Somebody gets this ship over our dead
"And you might reveal anything you know about it,"
"Not only that it draws power from everywhere."
"So we won't tell anybody. Simple."
"Right. But how do I know you won't?"
"Because I said so," says Helia firmly, "On the
souls of my ancestors."
"OK. The next problem is that it's not just
the technology, but you could tell people where you got it. The
mere fact that the ship exists is a problem."
"We're not going to tell anybody where we got it
because there's more. If we need another one, we go back."
Helia laughs loudly, "Duh! You don't tell people where your
secret stash is!"
"The other problem, in terms of the ship, is... it
"Well, it's not like we can hide it!"
"If you turned it over to us, we would make sure it
"But we wouldn't have it, and we like it."
"We'd give you another one. We'll give you Anastasia."
"I've heard about the Anastasia. I
don't want the Anastasia."
Shark says, "This ship is our friend."
"It talks to me," says Helia.
Kalida says, "If you're so concerned about it, why
don't you tell us how we can camouflage its appearance?"
Mike says simply, "Don't use it."
"An alternate method. More useful, something
that we would actually do."
"You already know about stealth mode, and you also
know that it's not perfect. You can pick it up -- not as well as
we can, of course. Is it not reasonable to assume that there are
others who can pick it up?"
Misha says, "Who else can pick it up?"
"I don't know."
Kalida says, "Presumably someone else with a black
ship, in which case it hardly matters."
"Well, there are others who can pick it up."
"How do you know?" asks Misha.
"You know, but you don't know who they are?"
Misha changes the subject: "What's your relationship
with the Sheriff?"
"You could call him a business partner."
"What's the business?"
"That would be... I'm not at liberty to tell
you. Nor will the Sheriff. We have agreed to keep that
"Is the Sheriff acting as an agent for the
government of this planet, or acting for himself?"
"He's acting for himself. Otherwise we would
have dealt with the government, which is not what we want to do.
We have no business with the government."
"What business do you have with the Sheriff?"
"We have a business agreement."
"What does the Sheriff have that you want?"
"I can't answer that. You can be assured that
it's a good relationship in both directions. The Sheriff is a
good, principled man. He also seems to have a liking for
you. I'm not sure why..."
Shark says, "And if he hadn't? Had a liking
for us, that is. What would you have done?"
"We might have started out with this meeting under
different terms. They are quite favorable to you."
Helia says, "Wait a minute. Favorable is
you're going to kill us later. Not favorable would be...?"
Kalida answers the larian, "He views the supposed
neutrality as favorable to us."
Mike nods. He says, "So what can you do to
convince me? You want to go away with your ship and just keep
going. What can you say to convince me to let you?"
Misha laughs, "That's classified." He goes on,
"You mean how can we convince you that we won't spread information
about the ship? I don't think we can do that and get away with
the ship. Do you imagine there's some way we can take the ship
and not spread information about it?"
"Maybe. Now, spreading the fact of its
existence is a separate matter."
"I thought the two matters were related."
"I'm holding separate the information about the
technology, which you can do yourselves without the ship, from going
somewhere in the ship and being observed. If you're going to be
alive, you need to convince me you're not going to spread information
-- you, anyone who's ever served on the ship, anyone who ever will,
anyone who comes on board, this, that, and the other. If you can
find some way to convince me of that, I have no reason to kill you."
"We're pretty honest people," Misha assures
him. "What if we promised not to tell anybody?"
"If we put that in writing with sufficient
penalties, we could do that."
Shark asks, "To be enforced by?"
"That would be part of the agreement. We would
of course include some sort of safeguards both ways."
"Tell me more," says Misha.
"I'm not sure. If that becomes the case, we'll
have to work on the details. But I'm not bringing anyone else in
unless there's a firm commitment on that."
"Who would you bring in?"
"Someone who can write such agreement."
"So do you imagine there is some way such an
agreement can be judged, and enforced?"
"The first assumption is that we would equally keep
our word. We would include penalties we were permitted to do --
such as hunt you down and kill you if you told anybody. And there
would be penalties for us if we hunted you down and killed you if you
didn't tell anybody."
"How would those penalties be enforced?" says Misha.
Kalida says, "If we didn't tell anybody, then who
Mike says, "First of all you'd have my word, but I
doubt that's good enough for you."
Misha says, "Your word's pretty good, but..."
"My word is very good."
Shark says, "At least as good as ours."
"My word is good," emphasizes Mike. "If I
promise you something, that's how it will be, and I will not promise
you something that I cannot promise. We don't break our word."
"Who's we?" asks Misha.
Shark says, "Can you name your organization?"
"No. I would not name our organization."
Kalida says, "If we put together this treaty, will
you name the organization?"
"Yes. If that's what you want. But you
will sign it."
Shark says, "And we get to chose the witnesses."
Helia says, "What's your penalty if you do
Misha says, "A deeper concern of mine is not
necessarily your word, but who judges compliance?"
Mike says, "Who do you suggest? How about the
Kalida says, "He's not truly neutral, as he's a
business partner with you."
"It not so much that he's not truly neutral, as he
has a business relationship with me and he has some sort of
relationship with you. It was just a suggestion."
"Lap'da," says Helia.
"He's one of the jann."
"That would be acceptable," says Mike.
"OK," says Misha, "There's room for negotiation
here. What would you consider not telling anybody?"
"Anyone who was not part of your crew, say."
Helia asks, "What if someone leaves our crew?"
"They must still not tell anyone."
Misha says, 'What if someone joins our crew?"
"You can tell them."
Helia says, "If someone leaves our crew, and then
decides to tell, you will take care of them at that time?"
"That would be a violation of the agreement on your
"But there would be no penalty against the rest of
"Yes, there would. It's up to you to ensure
your compliance with your side of the agreement."
Misha says, "So what information would you want us
to not tell?"
"Anything that you learnt from us in the course of
preparing the treaty. Anything about the ship or its technology,
it's origins or history."
Kalida says, "That should go the other way,
too. You shouldn't tell anyone about us."
"We will not."
Helia says, "And you will tell us things we don't
know yet about your ship? Give us more information?"
"We still haven't dealt with the issue of the ship
being a hazard by its presence."
Misha says, "Let's move on to that, then. In
what way is it a hazard?"
"If the wrong person were to notice a ship of this
type, it could be a serious problem."
Helia says, "So are you saying there are places you
don't want us to go, or...?"
"I don't know where they all are. I know
places you can go. This place is safe. Our worlds are safe."
"Where are your worlds?"
"I can't answer that at this point."
Misha says, "So, in terms of percentages of the two
sectors the Imperium
"I have no idea where these other places may
be. One of our tasks is to make sure that there aren't such
people, but we are spread thinly and we can't tell for sure."
"How common are these people?"
"I don't know. There may not be any. But
if there are, the consequences could be disastrous."
"How many safe places are there?"
"Very few. In terms of guaranteed safe, maybe
Helia says, "So how do we balance this against your
proposed restriction of trade? We need to be able to make a
Mike nods, conceding her point is reasonable.
Misha says, "If the ship is in stealth mode, is it
"Unless you come close enough to someone who can
detect stealth mode."
"And these people who you're trying to hide the ship
from can presumably detect stealth mode?"
"We don't know if they have that capability, or
whether they're just relying on us being complacent."
Kalida says, "So you're saying that if we just
completely accidentally brushed against someone we didn't know was
there who was looking for us, that would be in violation of the treaty."
"That would be a major disaster."
Helia insists, "But would it be in violation of the
"It could be, but the consequences are such that you
should never do that, never put yourself in that situation."
"But how can we know?"
"The same way we know. We don't."
"If we sit at home somewhere with the ship parked in
a garage, maybe -- maybe -- nobody would find out we have the
"You could park it here."
"And do what?" asks Helia.
Kalida says, "And yet you're taking your ship
Mike says, "Not very far, and we do not do so
lightly. This is a safe world."
Helia says, "Are you saying you think we are
"No, I don't. I am just saying that we are...
"Well I'm glad you said that!"
Misha says, "We'd have to know more about the aims
and origins of your group before we could enter into it."
"What do you need to know? Our aim is to
Helia says suspiciously, "Which people? From
"Everyone from... death and destruction."
Kalida says, "You cause death and destruction on
people. That's hardly protecting them."
"On a limited scale. The Imperium has many
worlds that execute people. Secret services execute people all
the time, whether they deserve it or not."
Misha says, "So can you be more specific about what
sort of death and destruction you're protecting people from? What
death and destruction? Which death and destruction?"
Mike grunts. He says, "Somewhere at least on
the scale of attempted genocide."
Helia says, "Who genociding whom?"
"From genociding you all, and us."
Misha says, "OK, I get that. Who's the
Mike says, "If we knew, then we would be in a better
"What do you know about these people?" asks Misha.
"Aside from that their capabilities are very strong,
and they have a history of destroying and killing..."
Helia says, "So you're pissing up a rope, hoping
it's the right rope."
Mike looks really puzzled at that.
Kalida takes up the slack. She asks, "How long
"As long as we've known of them."
"How do you know what you know about them?"
"It's in our charter."
Misha asks, "What is your charter?"
Mike laughs, "Protecting you all from death and
Helia observes, "By threatening us with death and
destruction, that ain't making no sense."
"It certainly does. Your secret services do it
all the time."
"My secret services? I think not."
Kalida says, "That's beside the point. Where
does your charter come from?"
Mike says, "From us. We put it together.
Not me, personally, but... The Society was set up to do exactly
that. It's its original charter."
Misha asks, "And when did this charter come into
Helia mutters, "And oh so far away?"
Mike mumbles, "Not very far away at all, actually."
Misha says, "Do you actually know when?"
"Yes, I know."
"Well, I'm afraid that's just not enough."
"What do you need? Fame and fortune is not
your motive, obviously. What will it take?"
"I can't tie my fame and fortune to a group I know
so little about."
"Well, ask the Sheriff about us. About our
"It's not your integrity I'm concerned about..."
"OK, so why don't you trust me?"
"...it's your history and motives. I do trust
you. I trust that you believe you can destroy us as we leave the
planet. I trust that you believe you are trustworthy. I
trust that you believe in your motives. What I don't know is what
your motives are."
"Our motives are to protect everyone and maintain
secrecy while doing so."
"Well, those are our motives too. To that
extent we are already part of the same organization."
Mike does not look convinced. He says, "I see
your point, but rogue agents are not a good thing, and you are are
distinctly a rogue agent if your motives are as you claim -- somewhat
aligned with ours, but you're distinctly a rogue agent."
"Rogues are not a good thing? There are no
rogues in your organization?"
"Not in our organization. From our
organization. At least from our... overall general pool of
membership. The pool from which we would draw members. We
don't believe there are any operating around here."
"What's the pool? Can you tell us about that?"
"No. Not at this point. If you sign the
treaty, yes we will."
Misha decides it's time to wrap up the
conversation. He thanks Mike for his company, and the two parties
get up to leave.
Before they go, Mike asks, "Where would I find this
Lap'da? I want to meet with him, find out if he's a suitable
"You ask for him," says Helia, "The Sheriff knows
him. So does the Steward."
Misha adds, "I was going to say you'll find him
quite informative, but perhaps you will not."
The crew laugh among themselves. Clearly there
is an in-joke that Mike does not get. Nevertheless, he thanks
them, suggests dinner again tomorrow night, and they go their separate
Once he's gone, as they're walking through the
forest, Kalida says that the last time they were here, the Sheriff did
say something about this group, they just didn't know it at the
time. She says, "We were talking about getting back in contact
with Jane, and Shark asked the Sheriff if he knew who she worked
for. He said not exactly, there's some small rich group, he's not
sure where they're from, who have an interest in this place and some of
the trade and so on. They provided him with help setting up his
zuchai array and the equipment that runs off that. We asked what
they got out of the arrangement, and he said, 'I'm not sure. They
get some trade goods. They're involved in the mushroom
trade.' Remember the mushrooms? We asked if it was for
foodstuff, and he said not really, not in that sort of quantity.
He said he wasn't sure exactly what it was used for, but it seems to be
fairly valuable to them. He said, 'They've provided me with a lot
of help. They get to come and stay here if they want, or they can
use the facilities here. Sometimes information, if there's
anything they need. It's well worth cooperating with them.'
He said they're generous, and have certainly treated him well."
They ponder that as they walk back to the guest