(69) Talking with Mary

The Misha Campaign (059-1122 to 062-1122)

071 / 802 local (059-1122 - 060-1122) : Digitis / Vilis / Spinward Marches

    It is late evening, after dinner with Mike.  Nightshade's crew is back in their guest quarters at Cormor Home.  Even though they've been discussing a treaty, Misha Ravanos' main object has been to get information out of Mike.  As he says, though, they've actually got more information out of Lap'da than him.  Also, Mike's offers have been far too restrictive to take seriously.
    The idea of kidnapping Mike is still attractive, although his interrogation would be less effective now that Grand Admiral Baron Bridgehead's babble juice has run out.  No doubt the Doc would at some point like to return to Faldor to get a new supply, and he'd have to find the local herbalist again and then probably impregnate her again as payment.  There are other drugs he could use, of course, but he's found nothing that is as effective.  The only person it didn't really work on properly was Jill, and she was just plain odd.
    The plan of action right now is simple: wait for Mike to make the next move.

072 / 802 local (060-1122 - 061-1122) : Digitis / Vilis / Spinward Marches

    Early in the morning, Bridgehead calls them from Nightshade.  He says he'd finished going through Baba Yaga's bugging device logs.  There is nothing interesting, he reports -- everything is completely consistent with what they said they were.

    Soon after that, the telephone rings.  The operator has a message from Mike -- he said he's been recalled, and his replacement will be arriving tomorrow morning.
    This is met by incredulity.  Kalida Siena wonders what Lap'da said to him.  Helia Sarina wonders if he's still alive.
    Apparently he left about an hour ago -- the operator says he saw him leave on the train, but doesn't know whether Mike actually spoke with Lap'da or not.
    Helia insists he must have done something he shouldn't have, or vice versa.  Clearly he's in trouble for something.
    Misha says that they need to get in touch with Lap'da.  The only way they know to do that is to go outside and find him, since he is presumably still around.  Helia volunteers to go out and find the elusive jann.
    Misha leaves a message for Mike's replacement, that when he arrives he's to get in contact with them.  He then says he'd like to speak to the Sheriff some time later today -- the operator promises to leave a message.
    Robert Morris says that at this point he could probably do more if he were back on the ship.  The catch, of course, is that there is only one train a day -- it arrives in the morning and leaves in the morning, taking a full day to complete the journey one way.

    Outside, Helia immediately finds Lap'da sitting outside on the grass.  She flies over to him and says, "I was just going to fly around and meditate and see if I could find you.  Your timing's perfect.  Could you please come in and speak to the Captain?"
    Lap'da says that he'll be right here.
    Helia calls the Captain on the commdot and relays the jann's message.  Misha says he'll be there shortly.  Helia exchanges small talk with Lap'da for a short while, then the larian flies up to the canopy and drifts around, relaxing with glides and slow flights.

    Misha, Kalida, Robert, Mich Saginaw, and Teri Cralla go down to see Lap'da.  Edward "Shark" Teeth stays in the guest quarters to continue to question the Baron about the bugging device logs to see if there was something there after all.
    When they get into the forest, Lap'da is sitting on the ground.  Helia is lazily drifting through the air near the canopy, apparently with her eyes closed, in a much more relaxed manner than her usual flitting around.
    Misha gets right to the point.  He says, "Did Mike come and talk to you?"
    "Yes, he did," replies Lap'da.
    "What did you talk about?"
    "We talked briefly.  It was useful.  We talked about... him, and us, and you."
    "And what did you say?"
    "We... clarified some points."
    Kalida asks, "Did you discuss the treaty?"
    "Yes.  I will of course be willing to act as arbiter of a treaty.  I will even help make sure it says what you think it says, if I can."
    Misha says, "Are you aware that Mike left this morning?"
    "No.  I am now."
    "He message says he was recalled.  Was there anything in your conversation that might have caused him to leave, or be recalled?"
    "I don't know."
    "In our earlier conversation we talked about the three that became five, speculating perhaps that Mike represented or was part of one of those groups.  In your conversation, is there further evidence that he is?"
    "Yes.  The ones who stayed behind."
    "At one point in our conversation you implied that Mike might not actually be allowed to be on this planet?"
    "It is a difficult... definition."
    "Did you discuss that with him?"
    "And did he have an opinion?"
    "Can you share that opinion with me?"
    "Not quite.  But we agreed he is permitted to be here, provided he does not interfere here."
    "Interfere with who or what?"
    "Interfere... garga?"
    "Hoo'dollah.  Cory... callacthlan deh."
    Misha shakes his head and laughs to himself.  He continues, "Had he interfered?  Has he interfered?"
    "Hallakeh."  Lap'da says something to Robert in script language, something long and complicated.
    As it is in scryptese, since Robert doesn't quite get the meaning he doesn't get it at all.  He can however recognize that it's a comprehensive explanation and discussion, summarizing what went on between Lap'da and Mike.  It's way beyond Robert's language skills.
    Misha says, "Did you learn anything about the current nature of the ones who stayed behind?"
    "Yes," says Lap'da, "And I learned that the other war has been over for a long time."
    "The war between the native groups?  Do the two groups continue to exist as separate groups?"
    "Only the one that won remains."
    "The other group ceased to exist?"
    "He kept very careful count and killed them all."
    "Who's he?"
    "The one who won."
    "There was only one member of one of the factions?"
    "One remaining?"
    "No, one."
    "There was always just one member of that faction."
    "I assume this individual continues to live?"
    "Probably.  It is unlikely he does not."
    "I take it he's not human."
    "What is he?  Do humans have a name for him?"
    "I don't know.  If you are asking, I presume not."
    Kalida says, "There are things that some humans know that other humans do not.  So some humans could have a name for him that we don't know."
    Misha says, "Do you know of any names for him that we might know?"
    "No," says Lap'da.  "I do not know where he is.  He was... helped to hide.  By those who went on."
    "Why did he hide?"
    "He wanted to."
    "Did he come out of hiding to do the killing, or...?"
    "He was not in hiding.  He went into hiding after the war was over."
    Kalida says, "After he won, he went off and hid."
    "I know very little more than that.  We did not discuss it beyond a symbol."
    Misha observes that Mike was apparently a lot more open with Lap'da than he was with them.  He asks the jann, "Do you believe he was open, or are you simply perceptive?"
    Lap'da says, "When you communicate properly, it is not possible to be not open."
    "Mike communicates properly?"
    At this, Helia glides down to them and perches on a sturdy bush.
    Robert muses that this strongly suggests that Mike came on Baba Yaga.  There wasn't any sign of black technology on that ship, but that still doesn't mean Mike didn't arrive that way.  That makes sense if this is a group that doesn't want it to be known that black technology even exists.  They could have done some judicious upgrades to the ship, such as the security system which gave Robert so much trouble when he hacked into it.  They may even have a stealth system and (from their threats) upgraded weaponry.  They may have a conventional jump drive and so on just so the energy signatures look normal -- the stealth system and weaponry would of course need a black power source.  To have someone fill out by hand the registry forms on Digitis -- that is very unusual.
    Misha says to Lap'da, "I would like to communicate properly."
    "Absolutely," says Helia.
    "How does one learn?" asks Misha.
    The jann replies, "One... thinks properly.  Then one can... learn."
    "How does one learn to think properly?"
    "All limitations are self-imposed."  Lap'da continues, "Conceive of a whole thought.  You can clear your mind and start again."
    Kalida smiles, "Just erase you and start from scratch."
    Misha laughs, "That sounds drastic."
    Lap'da says seriously, "No, because the background and the concept are separate.  You do not lose the background when you erase the concept.  But it does take time."
    "Mike learned to do it."
    "It does help to be born that way.  When you think differently, you make physical changes.  To your... brain.  Mike was born with those changes.  They were not changes, they are the... natural form."
    Helia says, 'If I keep taking doses of fish oil, will I get the changes?"
    "I... do not know."
    "Robert's starting to understand."  She turns to Robert.  "Aren't you?"
    Kalida points out that if she took that path, she could cease to understand galanglic.  She adds, "However, Mike doesn't have any trouble understanding both."
    "No," says Lap'da slowly.  "You can study... linear thought."
    Misha asks, "How does one study linear thought?"
    "As one studies... anything.  As you would study the language of... birds."
    Misha continues, "When you spoke to Mike, did he speak jannish or script?"
    "He spoke script.  What else would he speak?  Neither of us are children."
    "I was not aware that he was not a child," says Misha calmly.
    "No, he is... much older than a child."
    "Is the Sheriff a child?"
    "In some ways.  He speaks jannish.  And he speaks galanglic.  We do not... teach people script unless they live here."
    "Who is 'we'?"
    "We... the janns."
    "Where is here?  This forest, or this world?"
    Lap'da says to Robert <<reference>>.
    They've already talked about the concept of here, and Robert understands it perfectly, although explaining to these primitives is hard for him.
    Lap'da continues in jannish, "So Mike has left?"
    "So we are told," replies Misha.  "Apparently a replacement is coming."
    "Then you are not... the threat they feared you to be."
    "Why?" asks Helia.
    "Mike was... expendable.  They considered him expendable."
    Misha says, "What makes you think they won't send another expendable?"
    "He was chosen because he was the most expendable."
    Kalida says brightly, "So we're moving up the chain."
    Misha finishes for her, "...to less expendable people.  Because we're not dangerous."  He laughs loudly and says, "We should kill the next one just out of spite!"
    Helia says, "We're not dangerous, and yet we're important for some reason."
    "Well, we're not dangerous to the representative, that's all it says."
    "Will the next person be more dangerous to us?" Helia asks Lap'da.
    "I don't know," replies the jann.
    Misha asks, "Why is Mike the most expendable?"
    "He's... old, and his skills... others have more important skills."
    "He has nothing unusual that... you do not have."
    "He speaks script."
    "Yes, but he is not... an engineer, he is not... a coldada."
    "Neither are we."
    "Mich is an engineer."
    "But he's not what you'd call a coldada."
    "Shark is."
    "Aha!" exclaims Misha.
    Kalida laughs, "I don't know that we want to meet with a coldada!"
    Lap'da continues, "Mike will be glad to get back to his job... his office."
    Misha shrugs.  He says, "Was Mike afraid that he would be expended?"
    "Of course."
    "Despite the treaty?"
    "He did not know that you could be trusted."
    Misha nods.  He says, "How old is Mike?"
    "I don't know.  He is older than you.  He is not as old as I am."
    Misha laughs.  That doesn't exactly narrow it down much.  He says, "Mike was born... without certain limitations, to enable him to think properly.  Are all those who remained behind born without these limitations?"
    "Of course.  It is in the... c'callah."
    "That which you pass on to your children?"
    Yet again, Lap'da has refused to answer a simple yes or no.  Misha changes the subject, "So why do those who remain behind wish to hide what we call black technology?"
    "They have... differences.  We have differences."
    "Who's we?"
    "Mike and I.  Our background and concepts are different."
    Robert points out that means they're not speaking the same.  He explains to Misha, "In a language full of references, if you don't have the same reference base, how do you talk?"
    Misha doesn't understand how that answers his question.  He says, "Why do the ones who remain behind want to keep hidden black technology.  And the answer is...?"
    Kalida says, "Because we're different."  She pauses, then continues to Lap'da, "So you do not wish to hide black technology?"
    "We do not have it," replies Lap'da.
    Mich asks, "Do you want it?"
    Misha says, "What difference causes them to want to hide it?"
    "They wish to be in control, and yet they are... afraid.  They do not understand, and when there is not understanding, concepts are different and backgrounds are uncertain."
    Kalida asks, "Are you saying they don't completely understand black technology?"
    "No.  But no-one completely understands anything."
    Helia takes off into the air again, but stays close enough to keep listening.
    Misha starts trying harder to get the answer he wants out of Lap'da.  He says, "Perhaps what you should have asked is whether it is black technology that Mike doesn't understand.  What I meant to ask was more like, is the thing that Mike doesn't understand, black technology?  Is the lack of understanding that causes him to be afraid, is that a lack of understanding of black technology?"
    "No," says Lap'da.
    "Is it a lack of understanding of the purpose of black technology?"
    "No.  He is afraid he does understand."
    "But he doesn't."
    "We have different concepts and background."
    Kalida says, "Our concepts and background are even more different."
    Misha laughs, "Oh yes.  That's clear.  Not much else is as clear as that!"  He then continues, "Does Mike know about the treaty?"
    Lap'da says, "The Treaty of Versailles?  Yes."
    "Is Mike's understanding of the treaty relatively close to yours?"
    "Our understandings have converged somewhat, after our conversation."
    "Was Mike's understanding of the treaty fairly close to your understanding of... This is too complicated!"  Misha laughs, then continues, "The Treaty of Versailles, was it written down?"
    "But it was probably written in script, or something similar."
    "Did all parties to the Treaty of Versailles think 'properly'?"
    "No, but we could teach them.  To understand the language."
    "Can you teach us to understand the language?"
    "I don't know."
    "What information do you lack?"
    "I do not... know what will happen."
    Robert idly wonders if he should drink more klatrin, and then after he forgets galanglic he could learn to speak it again afterwards...
    It's pretty clear there is nothing more they can get from Lap'da at this time.  They all -- including Helia -- return to the guest quarters to wait.

    Later that afternoon, as requested, the Sheriff visits them.  They exchange pleasantries, and then Misha comes to the point.  He asks what the Sheriff gets out of these meetings.
    Erwin Hedaker, Sheriff of Cormor, replies, "Nothing.  I don't want to know anything about them."
    "Why did you agree to host them?" asks Nightshade's captain.
    "It seemed like it would be a good neutral ground... and you are my friends."
    "And your relationship with the other party...?"
    "I have a business relationship with them."
    Helia interjects, "But we're your friends?"
    "Yes.  I consider you my friends -- I hope that is not too presumptuous."
    Misha assures him it is not.  He continues, "Could you tell me the nature of your business with them?"
    "We have a fairly open business relationship.  They buy some goods from me.  I get some things from them."
    Misha nods and asks him if he could be more specific.  The Sheriff declines.  Misha continues, "Are you aware that Mike, the previous representative of the other party, has left?"
    "Yes.  I was surprised.  I had expected that you all would come to some conclusion, and make some announcement or have some celebration or something.  I have noticed you tend to celebrate things.  It seemed like you didn't expect him to leave."
    Misha confirms that.
    Robert adds, "We were still in negotiations."
    "I sure he has his reasons," says the Sheriff.
    Misha asks if he was aware that a replacement is coming.
    "No, I wasn't, but that's probably a good thing."  Erwin adds, "The replacement will still be bound by the same rules."
    Misha smiles, "That was the next thing I wanted to clarify.  Well, I thank you again for your information, hospitality, and friendship."
    "You're welcome.  Glad I could help.  If there is anything I can do, do not hesitate."
    "Oh, wait, one more thing.  How did you learn jannish?"
    "It's the language we speak here."
    "The only language you speak here?"
    "A lot of people speak galanglic, but everybody speaks jannish."
    Helia asks, "So how would we learn it?"
    "You could go to school, or learn it from books.  You could probably get private lessons in Center."
    "Could somebody come out here to work with us?"
    "Certainly, if you want.  Is the translator not working properly?"
    "It's not a translation problem, a knowledge issue.  Just learning, you know."  The larian smiles sweetly.
    The Sheriff leaves.

073 / 802 local (061-1122 - 062-1122) : Digitis / Vilis / Spinward Marches

    As the sun rises over the forest canopy, Mike's replacement arrives on the train from Center.  She sends a message that she'd like to visit them in about an hour.

    An hour later, a middle-aged woman shows up at their guest quarters.  She's wearing nondescript grey sweat clothes.
    Misha introduces himself.  The woman introduces herself as Mary, and accepts Misha's offer of a drink.  Kalida busies herself at the lounge bar making the martini Mary requests -- and actually does a fine job of it, including the obligatory olive.  Helia also gets one of Kalida's martinis.  Mary doesn't react to Helia's young appearance.
    Misha starts, "When Mike arrived -- your predecessor -- he had a list of demands."
    "Yes," replies Mary pleasantly.  "That seemed reasonable at the time.  I'd say that over the course of the negotiations, the picture's changed a bit, wouldn't you?"
    "The picture has indeed changed.  So are you aware of the negotiations?"
    "Yes, I've been following it."
    "So, do you have more to offer than Mike?"
    "Things seem to have changed a lot.  We didn't know who you were, obviously.  So, you're willing to go into a contract?"
    "We're willing to discuss going into a contract."
    "OK, good.  When he talked to Mike, Lap'da said he'll help arbitrate it and set it up.  That works for you?"
    Helia says, "Mike was rather forceful."
    "In what way?"
    "He said he was going to kill us."
    "Well, yes, we were."
    "Past tense," observes Helia.
    "Possibly," says Mary, "We can't guarantee that just yet.  I mean, the order's still there that if you leave orbit, we blow you up.  But I'm confident we can come to an agreement which results in that not happening."
    Misha says, "So, you know us better now?"
    "Yeah, I'd say so.  You don't seem like a bunch of yahoos."
    "You don't know us very well," smiles Misha.  "But that aside, we don't know you very well."
    "That's intentional.  You're not supposed to.  It would be a bit upsetting if you did at this point."
    "But you see how that... restricts our ability to negotiate."
    "Yes, absolutely!  I quite understand.  But I hope you also understand that there's very little point in a secret organization if you tell everybody about it.  Wouldn't be much of a secret then, would it?"
    "I think it's one of the best kept secrets," says Misha mysteriously.
    "So," continues Mary, "You have the ship."
    "Yes, we have a ship.  What do you have?"
    "We have a few ships."
    "In case we need them."
    "Who created this 'in case'?  Who decided there might be a need for these ships?"
    "Well, duh, you know, we might need the ships.  Like, to come here, for example."
    Mich says, "But you can come here without one of those ships."
    "Only recently.  Relatively recently."
    MIsha says, "Recent in my frame of reference, or Lap'da's?"
    "Oh, no.  Lap'da's frame of reference."
    Mich says, "So you don't need them anymore, then."
    "We do.  For one thing, they're an awful lot more comfortable than anything else, and they're really..."
    "They're black," says Misha.
    "Well, yes.  But we didn't actually decide that."  Mary pauses, then says, "We don't actually use the ships very much."
    Mich asks, "Did you use one to come here?"
    "Yes," says Mary.  "Of course.  We didn't know quite what we'd be facing, except it was likely you had one of the ships.  Either that, or one of the enemy's ships, because you detected the relay station out in far orbit."
    "Is the relay station one of the enemy's ships?"
    "No.  We set that up."
    "But Mike's already said that your ships can be detected without one of these or the enemy's."
    "Well, probably.  We don't know.  But it's most likely that for something out in space, you detected it with a ship."
    "On some of the agreements we were discussing with Mike, there were concerns about taking the ship anywhere -- even under stealth -- because it could be detected.  Now you've already stated that it couldn't be detected."
    "That's not strictly true," says Mary.  "The ways of detecting it don't have to be mounted on a ship, but if you're detecting a relay station out there, and actually visited the thing, you probably had a ship."
    "We haven't confirmed or denied that we visited the relay station."
    "Well, you said you were on Nightshade, come find you.  Oddly enough, that's the ship you've registered in port.  There was also a record of Nightshade visiting couple of other places too, corresponding with reasonable travel times -- it wasn't that much of a stretch."
    Misha says, "So you believe that the ship we call Nightshade is either one of your ships..."
    "No, we know it's one of our ships," Mary interrupts, "But before we came here, we weren't certain."
    Helia asks, "What do you mean, it's your ship?  Are you saying that you own our ship?"
    "No, I'm saying that I came here in a ship that from the outside looks very much like yours."
    "Oh, so you're saying we own a ship like yours."
    "You do not own it or make any claim to it."
    "I wouldn't say we didn't make any claim to it, but it's pretty clear that at the moment you own it, by any definition of law.  I presume you didn't steal it from somebody."
    "Thank you," says Helia, "And no, we didn't steal it.  We salvaged it."
    "Well there you go," says Mary pleasantly.  "Salvage law is pretty clear."
    "So we can leave orbit in our rightfully possessed..."
    Mary interrupts her quickly, "No, I didn't say that we wouldn't try to take it by force, that's a different matter, but it's clearly your ship."
    "Why would you want to take our ship?"
    "If you're going to go around spreading technology everywhere, we really don't want that."
    Helia seems quite offended at the thought.  She says, "We don't spread technology, we just use the ship as a ship.  It's what it's supposed to be."
    "Yes, but I'd like a solid agreement that you don't spread the technology.  Don't do it.  We need that to make us comfortable."
    Helia says loudly, "So if we agree that we're only going to fly around the ship, and not going to give the stuff from inside to anybody, then we can go."
    "We need to do it in writing.  I need some conditions, and I'm sure you do too."
    "What extra conditions do you need, other than allowing us to fly around?"
    "It's more a matter of definitions: what constitutes 'you,' what constitutes..."
    Kalida says, "So to make sure we're using the same backgrounds and concepts."
    "Yes, exactly."
    Helia continues, "So there'll be no restriction of trade, restriction of places we can go, or anything like that?  I'm guessing you already have something written down, or close to it."
    "Actually, it's fairly simple, but..."
    "Why don't you go and get your stuff together, and we'll have a late lunch, and you can give us a preliminary version?"
    "Well, I think we need to talk a bit first, before we get into too much detail.  Let's at least make sure we're not going to waste our time."
    "Can I be the only pilot allowed to fly it?" adds Helia.
    "If you want that -- if for some reason you want that as part of your conditions, I don't see why not.  I mean, you adding conditions that restrict yourselves -- go ahead, be my guest!"  Mary laughs loudly.
    Helia smiles brightly, "No, I was just kind of teasing you then."
    "OK."  Mary pauses to look around the assembled faces, then says, "How much history do you know?"
    The crew respond with a torrent of snappy come-backs.
    "No," says Mary, "I need to know what you know."
    Robert is actually fairly helpful.  He says, "There were five parties who entered into an agreement.  There were three, and then they became four, and then five..."
    Helia asks, "What history are you looking for?  History of what?"
    "Of the ship, say, and the various people... what this gentleman was talking about."  Mary indicates Robert.
    Misha says, "What was this gentleman talking about?"
    Mary snaps, "Don't play me like I'm Mike!"
    "After all, Mike was expendable," says Misha.
    "Mike is a pencil pusher.  He sits behind a desk."
    "And what are you?"
    "I'm capable of making decisions around here."
    "Are you expendable?"
    "No, not really.  At least I would really be upset about it, and probably so would everybody else."
    Helia asks, "If Mike is a pencil pusher, then why did he come threatening our death?"
    "Because those were the initial conditions that seemed reasonable."
    "You send pencil pushers?  Not trained assassins?"  The larian sounds incredulous.
    "He's the oldest guy we've got, OK?  We went by age."
    "How old is he?"
    "Old enough.  Older than I am."
    "How old are you?"
    "Never ask a lady her age."
    "OK.  So you're a girl.  How old are you?"
    Mary laughs.  She says, "No, no.  I'm not answering that.  How old do I look?  OK, you don't have to answer that either."  She continues, "So I'm not here to play games and mess about.  I'm hoping to come out of this with a nice agreement that lets you fly around and at the same time protects us."
    "From you spreading the technology -- I know, you said you wouldn't do that.  And... it would be really nice if we could cooperate some, too.  For example, you've come across places that know about these ships.  We'd really like to take those leads and maybe follow them up."
    "What would happen to the people on those planets?"
    "What planets?"
    "The ones that might know about the technology."
    "We'll... see what we can do.  We certainly don't intend to go around blowing everything up."
    Mich says, "Like you did on Pimane, or on..."
    "We didn't hurt anybody on Pimane.  We did blow things up."
    Helia nods, "They were already gone."
    Mich persists, "And everybody on the Navy ship."
    Mary explains, "Oh, no, they're fine.  We have the Navy ship, the one with Anastasia on board."
    Helia says, "Oh, that Navy ship.  I don't care about no Anastasia."
    "Well, you're welcome to visit her sometime if you want, assuming we get all this worked out."
    Mich says, "Did you say you didn't want to go around blowing things up and hurting people?"
    "In general.  Like any secret organization there are a few specific exceptions, but we don't go around..."
    "Professor Farol?"
    Mary concedes the point grudgingly.  "Yeah, Farol, Fostriades..."
    Helia says, "I want to know who was killed when you blew up the Professor."
    "Those at the base, and those in orbit."
    "I want names, exactly."
    "I don't know.  I don't know who was there.  It was a research base that was implementing elements of black technology."
    "Isn't that OK as long as they're discovering it on their own?"
    "Well, there's a couple of points.  The first is that we want to be in control, and we sure as heck don't trust, say, the Imperium with that technology."
    "There was a ten year old child on that base."
    "I'm sorry, I really am."
    Kalida says, "You realize that the cat never really goes back into the bag."
    "Right.  However, at the moment the Imperium is just looking at a rather degraded photo of a bag.  They're not even sure it's a bag yet, even, probably, so if at this point it turns out not to be a photo of a bag as far as they're concerned, then that's all fine."
    Misha asks, "What do you call black technology?"
    "It depends what it is."
    Robert says, "We've been calling it black technology because there's an Imperium file that we found that gave it that name."
    "That's a reasonable name," says Mary.  "We don't have a name for our technology, you know?"
    Helia says, "Is it your technology that you invented, or is it your technology that you seem to have inherited or otherwise found?"
    "Our people invented it."
    "When was the last time anybody knew how it really worked?"
    "We've got people who know how it really works.  You've met Jane.  Jane knows how it works."
    Kalida asks, "Has it been advanced appreciably in recent memory?"
    Misha interrupts before Mary can answer.  He says, "Is Jane one of your people?"
    "Yes," says Mary, "Jane is one of our people."
    "Jane?" asks Helia, "The one from Anastasia?"
    Mary looks puzzled.  "No, Jane that Mich met here."
    Mich tells Helia she's thinking of Jill, not Jane.
    Misha continues, "How old is Jane?  Is she older than you?"
    Mary still declines to answer any age-related questions.  She does however admit that Jane is younger than she is, but tells them to stop asking her how old everybody is.  She returns to a previous subject: "So, yes, we understand the technology.  We know how it works.  We know how to build it.  Of course you have to have the technology to build it in the first place."
    Kalida says, "So you regularly build new ones?"
    "No, we don't.  We don't need to."
    Helia says, "But you could?"
    "Yes, we could.  We are restricted by our charter to operating three ships -- three specific ships.  We can replace one with one of the same if it's destroyed, but that's it."
    Misha asks, "Does the enemy still exist."
    "We haven't have the slightest idea.  They went that way."  Mary gestures to space.
    Helia asks, "So what's the history of this ship?  Ours."
    "It's probably one that was left around this area."
    Misha says, "What else do you know about the enemy?"
    "Not much.  We caught up with them here, fought a big battle -- a series of running battles -- they got mixed up in the war that was going on here.  We both took losses, they went on, and we chased them again.  That is, most of us went on."
    "Do you remember that time?"
    "Gosh, no, I'm not that old.  Lap'da isn't that old.  This was ages ago."
    Helia asks, "How many Digitis years ago?"
    "1200."  Mary's answer matches with what Lap'da told them.
    Misha asks, "What do you know about the other two warring factions?"
    "One of them won.  The other one lost."
    "What happened to the one that won?"
    "He hid somewhere."
    Helia says slowly, "The winner gets to go and hide?"
    "He had his own reasons.  I don't pretend to understand them.  He wasn't human, you know?"
    Misha asks, "What do you call yourselves?"
    Mary says, 'We call ourselves The Society.  I believe Mike already said that."
    "Did The Society help the winner of the local war?"
    "No, we were neutral.  That was part of what we were doing -- staying out of their war.  We were the lesser of evils.  Once the enemy had wasted the locals' homeworld it was clear they weren't friendly.  We didn't blow up other people's homeworlds just because we got caught in a small crossfire."
    "Why do you want to keep things secret?"
    "First of all, we don't know if anyone from the enemy is still hanging around here too.  We don't know if they're going to send off a message to come back and get us.  That's why we're worried about your ship flying around everywhere -- what if there's an agent of the enemy out there who sees it and calls in a fleet to destroy it?"
    Kalida says, "On the other hand, if you disseminated that knowledge and everyone had it, then it wouldn't really matter."
    "Then they might come back and destroy us all."
    "The entire... everybody."
    "I wouldn't count it out."
    Misha asks, "What happened to those who went on?"
    "I haven't the slightest idea."
    "You don't know what happened to the enemy, you don't know what happened to the friendlies."
    "No.  We have had no contact.  Now, you talked about some place that recognized a black ship.  Somebody may have come back and visited briefly, and for reasons unknown to us not talked to us."  She laughs, "Perhaps we're too secret and they couldn't find us!"
    Helia says, "They were expecting visitors."
    Mary continues, "Or maybe there's rogue agents out there."
    Misha says, "Rogue agents of the The Society?  So what's The Society's relationship to Lap'da and his...?"
    "We started out the same.  Now we don't have anything to do with them.  They're a bunch of peace loving hippies.  They go off, live in the woods, living off nuts and berries, you know...?  I mean, they don't contribute anything."
    "So, what conditions would you need to impose?"
    "That you, your crew, anyone who comes aboard, anyone who learns the technology, anyone you bring in as a member of your group, doesn't tell anyone anything about technology, the history, or about us."
    "All right.  With some clarification, that doesn't sound too awful.  What else?"
    "There's the problem of... hm.  Now, Lap'da presented the point of view that since the enemy hasn't come back, the chances are there isn't anybody here who's going to call them back.  Our position is better safe than sorry.  Somewhere in the middle there we can probably find something... I'm ready to yield on some of that."
    "To what degree?"
    "Can you convince me?"
    "Of what?"
    "Not even convince me, just..."
    Robert breaks in, "Would you like to know whether the enemy is out there?"
    "I'd love it."
    "So if we would be your advance scout, to attract the enemy, by us just flying around -- we'd be the ones who'd be in danger."
    "That's not necessarily true.  They may not just come after you, they may just keep destroying things until they find what they're after."
    Misha continues, "So what other conditions?"
    "Work with us, not against us?"
    "How are we working against you now?  We didn't know you exist."
    "Now you know of us, it'd be really nice to be on the same side."
    "It's tough to be on the side of somebody you don't know."
    "You'll know enough at that point to work with us."
    "So what else?"
    "Of course, you can't interfere here.  Hurt anything here."
    Helia says, "Have we ever?  Why would you expect us to?"
    "No, I wouldn't expect it in the slightest."
    Misha says, "Where's 'here'?"
    "'Here' as in the treaty."
    Helia says, "How about we add a clause that you don't interfere with any of our homeworlds?"
    "That'll have to be slightly complicated, but we can work on it."
    "Why complicated?  Any of the homeworlds of anyone that is on the team now."
    "What if some opposing organization sets up there?"
    "Then you'd contact us and we'd work with you to make any alternative arrangements before that would even be considered."
    "How about this: we won't interfere with any of your homeworlds -- and you'll pick specific ones -- if they're not major Imperial worlds.  If you're from Mora, for example, we can't not operate there."
    Helia says, "I'd like to make this agreement without naming my homeworld."
    Kalida says, "Kind of hard to ask them not to interfere with something they don't know."
    "Let's just put it this way," continues the larian, "It would be very obvious it would be my homeworld."
    "Doesn't matter." says Mary, "We need to know."
    "I can't give you coordinates."
    Robert corrects her, "You won't give her coordinates."
    Helia insists, "No.  Can't give her coordinates."
    Mary says, "You can tell us what the world's called, where it is.  Otherwise we can't do it."
    "No."  Helia will not budge on this point.
    Misha suggests, "Just make the contract that you don't interfere on any world which has a population like Helia."
    Helia agrees.  "The indigenous population would look like me.  It would be extraordinarily obvious, and only a true idiot -- which none of your people are -- would fail to know that."
    Misha laughs, "Mike is."
    "Even Mike would be able to recognize a planet where the indigenous people were a meter tall with wings."
    Mary says, "There's only one place?  If there's only one place where you're indigenous, we can work on that."
    Helia says, 'I'll give you one phrase.  If you use it on the planet, then you'll be taken to the leadership."
    Mary nods.  "We can work on that," she says.  "We're the good guys, you know?"
    Helia says sarcastically, "The good guys threaten to kill us, and then say they're the good guys."
    Kalida says, "Usually the ones who threaten us are the bad guys."
    "So how do we know for sure you're the good guys?  Except Lap'da likes you guys."
    Mary says, "Well, there you go."
    Kalida adds, "Lap'da's frame of reference is a little different from ours."
    Misha says, "So what would we get from cooperation?"
    Mich laughs, "We don't die."
    Mary smiles, "Well, that, yes.  But also we'd be working with you instead of against you.  That would work both ways."
    Helia says, "Have you been working against us?  Aside from trying to kill us."
    Mich reminds them that Jane sabotaged their ship, thus trying to kill them all.  He then adds that the business of the TNS report of their deaths was someone else's doing, so "There are two groups trying to kill us."
    "At least two groups," says Kalida.
    Mary says, "We'd really like to know who these others are."
    Kalida says, "So if we came out of this with this agreement, we'd be allies, you'd help us track them down."
    "Yes.  If you give us good solid leads and investigation, given that... there's obviously not a whole lot of us, but we're willing to go to quite some lengths to get things done.  We'll follow up on them.  If you can find out who's trying to kill you..."
    Helia turns to Misha and says, "I'm confused.  The people who gave us the box, they're the ones we want them to go after?"  Misha nods, and Helia says to Mary, "The people who gave us the box, they're the ones who wanted us dead."
    Robert says, "We had thought from the evidence we'd already gathered, as we told Mike, it was Wonstar.  But you have no knowledge of Wonstar."
    Helia says, "You should do business with them.  It might be the quickest way to get in touch with them -- use their front.  They may not be the big enemy, but they're certainly a local one."
    Mary says, "Any layers, any names, any things you can point us towards..."
    Misha says, "So, we want our lives taken off the negotiating table."
    "In what way?"
    "You said that one of the things we would get out of such an agreement would be our lives.  We don't want that involved at all.  We want our lives no matter what."
    "It's hard in our position to do that without an agreement first..."
    "But you understand how hard it is for us to negotiate in good faith given that our lives are on the line."
    "Yes, but you understand that if I say, 'Yes we won't kill you,' and you walk off right now and show everybody the ship and how it works...?"
    Helia suggests, "Why don't we just make a good faith agreement here that we will bargain in good faith, and that won't be a problem.  A handshake agreement on that point."
    "Yes," says Mary.
    "No," says Misha, "I want the offing to be off the table.  If we have to negotiate under the threat of death, we're not going to negotiate."
    Mich agrees, "Basically you're saying that if we don't reach an agreement we will be killed, therefore..."
    "Right," says Misha.  "And I can drive it home even clearer: if it's not taken off the table, and if we manage to survive, we will tell everybody."
    Mary says, "Now that's a threat the other way.  But you're counting very heavily there on surviving, which is unlikely."
    "And you're counting very heavily on our ability not to tell anybody."
    "No.  We're hoping we can get you before you did, if you were going to.  I think you probably could get the word out if you were lucky -- and already I know you're devious."  She ponders for a moment, then says, "Our goal is that you should not be our enemies."
    Helia says, "Then in a move of good faith..."
    "I can't promise that we aren't going to kill you, because I don't know what you're going to do."
    "That's where the trust comes in."
    Misha says, "I'm not asking at this point for a promise you won't kill us, I'm asking that our lives be taken off the negotiating table."
    Mary asks, "What's the difference?"
    "Right now we're under the threat of death if we don't complete negotiations.  You have to be willing to let us live even if negotiations broke down."
    Robert laughs, "They already said that.  We can live here."
    "We have to be able to leave the planet," says Misha, "Even if negotiations break down."
    Mich says, "We can leave the planet if we never tell anybody about the technology."
    "Yes!" says Helia.  "At the very least we will never tell anybody."
    Misha says, "Even if we come to no agreement, our lives aren't at stake.  We each go home with what we had when we came to this."
    Mary says, "And then we decide that you're... I mean, this makes no sense."
    "It makes as much sense as requiring that we reach an agreement."
    "If you don't try to spread the technology, we have no reason to kill you.  And we have no intention of doing so."
    Helia says, "So we could leave here today, fly off, and as long as we happily keep our mouths shut and say we salvaged the ship, we don't know how it works, everybody's happy."
    "...and no, you can't come on board, that's fine."
    "And if anybody joins our crew we make sure they're sworn to secrecy as well."
    "OK.  So if we agree to those conditions, and you agree not to kill us, we could leave here now and no other agreement needs to be made.  And while we would not necessarily be allies, we would not be enemies."  She turns to Misha, "Sir, is that what you're looking for?"
    "No!" shouts Misha.  "All we get out of this is our lives!"
    "No, we get the freedom to fly around and... yeah, you're right."
    Misha asks Mary, "What do we get for keeping quiet?"  Everyone nods their support for their captain.
    Mary pauses, then says, "You get some enhancements to your ship's systems."
    Helia says, "Last time somebody wanted to enhance our ship's systems they put a bomb on it."
    "No, these will not be harmful, they will be exactly the same enhancements as on ours.  Not everything -- you'll get improved stealth mode and ability to detect it; improved sensors; improved communications.  They are just refinements -- the ship is already really close to physical limits.  What we won't do on just that basis is anything to improve your offensive or defensive systems."
    Helia asks, "Do you understand the language that the ship wants to use?"
    "Well, duh."
    "I want all of us to have quick training in the language."
    "There is no quick training.  We could do some artificial brainwiping and memory placement -- we could artificially implant the knowledge, maybe, but it wouldn't last and there'd be side effects."
    "Your technology is not up to that."
    "No.  I'm afraid there really is no solution other than hard work."
    Misha says, "I think that's something we can work on.  We agree to keep quiet, in exchange for some improvements to our ship."
    Mary agrees, "You agree to keep the technology a secret, and we enhance your ship."
    "That's a start."
    "If you want to get our two ships together, we can have Jane come over and start making the modifications whenever you want.  We can't do everything here, but we can do a lot of it."
    "Let's agree to meet back here in a month, and do that."
    Mary nods, "OK.  Some modifications would have to be done at our facilities, which are not here."
    Mich says, "Should we meet there instead?"
    "No," says Misha, "My intent is that we meet back here, we sign the agreement, and then we do whatever needs to be done to make the modifications.  You understand my intent is to leave here for a month?"
    "Yes," says Mary.  "In that month, in good faith, you aren't going to spread the technology, and we in good faith are going to set up things to improve your ship, and to negotiate with you."
    "That's good," says Misha.
    "So we'll specify an exact date, in Imperial dating."
    Helia says, "Let's make it 31-32 days from now."  She doesn't mention that she plans to spend the time at some resort for a vacation.
    Mary says, "OK.  Let's say meet here, at Cormor Home, on 094-1122.  We'll park our ship in First City, and you do the same."
    All agree.
    Robert adds, "Do you know anything about the Baba Yaga?"
    Mary smiles, "Do we get something from you if I tell you?"
    "Sure," says Misha.
    "OK.  Baba Yaga is ours.  It's a field operative ship.  The crew are our employees, but only the captain of the ship is actually a Member."
    Helia says, "I think the Admiral would be more than happy to meet with one of the crew members again."
    Misha says, "So the purported owner is just a front?"
    "Yes," says Mary.  "His job is to have fun, wherever the ship takes him."
    "Can I get a job like that?" says Helia.
    Misha replies, "Don't you already have a job like that?  I thought I paid you well!"  He then turns to Mary and says, "What do you want in return?"
    Mary says, "What actually happened when Third Eye was supposed to be destroyed, when you were supposed to have all died?"
    Mich says, "We were given something to protect our zuchai crystal array from radiation that a star was giving off as we were jumping into a Red Zone."
    "That would be Zett, as reported?"
    Mich nods.  He says, "Yes.  We were doing research for this group.  We came out of jump successfully, and the very next day the device that was supposed to protect our zuchai array exploded.  We came out of jump after six days instead of seven, and it was a fraction of a second before we would have come out of jump that the bomb went off.  We were able to land and repair everything.  When we came back after repairing it, to report what had happened to us, we were attacked by a Navy ship."
    "Imperial Navy?"
    "Wonder what it was doing there.  Where was that?"
    "Thank you.  So you didn't actually fake your death deliberately, but it worked out that way."
    "We thought it would be best that we remained dead, so that they didn't try again."
    Helia adds, "Let's just say that in defending ourselves we destroyed one ship, and we thought it best to look like we were all on it."
    Mary says, "Hang on... you were attacked by an Imperial Navy ship.  What happened?"
    Misha says, "We won that battle."
    Mich says, "Although the Third Eye was damaged beyond repair."
    Helia looks Mary directly in the eye and says, "Superior firepower.  And reflexes."
    Mary accepts that.  "Well, well done.  Thank you."  She sighs.  "I guess I'll get back to my ship now -- well, tomorrow morning -- and meet you back here on 094."
    Helia says brightly, "Hot tub party?  Suit's in there... or not, if you prefer."
    Kalida adds, "And whisky!"
    Mary accepts their invitation.  She turns out to be quite the life of the party, and -- socially anyway -- fits right in with Nightshade's crew.  Perhaps they aren't quite so different after all...

    After Mary has finally left, well into the afternoon, the conversation turns once again to the Wonstar Development Corporation and Professor Farol.  Mich starts it off out of the blue by saying, "Farol didn't know about Wonstar."
    Helia says, "I think Wonstar got in under their radar, because Wonstar isn't the enemy they're looking for.  I think these guys are very focussed, there's one enemy.  They weren't considering the fact that there might be somebody who's at a much, much lower level of technology -- in other words, an Imperial level group -- that has seen and lusted after black technology.  It didn't cross their mind that those people could be dangerous.  It only crossed their mind that the enemy could be dangerous, because I think they're a little bit arrogant that way."
    Misha says, "I was just marveling that they found out about Farol and dealt with him, but they didn't know about Wonstar.  But if even Farol didn't know about Wonstar, then..."
    Mich nods, "Farol didn't know about Wonstar."
    Helia says, "I think they just sniff out the technology.  I think the whole intrigue thing doesn't bother them unless somebody puts it in their face like we did.  I think Wonstar is in a lot of trouble right now, because it's not hard to track it down."
    Mich reminisces, "Because Farol had designed it, and put Anastasia together thirty years ago, and they didn't go after him then.  Now it was only flying for a year or so before a software problem killed off all the crew."
    Misha says, "So the overlapping technology was not active until recently."
    "...and Farol thought that technology was a dead end, because that ship had disappeared.  It wasn't until the last five years or so..."
    "He didn't work on it after Anastasia disappeared."
    "No.  Well, after Anastasia was recovered, he started working on it again."
    "So even though it was twenty-five years ago, it really wasn't twenty-five years, it was a few years and then nothing."
    "But now it's interesting that the other ship that Farol put together, that someone -- Jill -- tried to sabotage both, and succeeded in the case of that other ship."
    "What was the other ship?"
    "Hm.  Wonder if Jill...?  Well, that's interesting.  There's a link between these people, jannish, and Jill.  As I remember when we picked them up..."
    Misha interrupts, "As I remember, the people from The Society never called themselves jannish."
    "Well, the people themselves are long lived, right?"
    "Right.  They're all the same race of people, just not..."
    "When we picked up Jack and Jill, who we thought we were picking up should have been much older than the people we did pick up.  That was never quite explained, why they were as young as they were.  It wasn't inconceivable, but it was unusual."
    Misha smiles and nods knowingly.
    Perhaps the whisky has clouded Mich's mind -- he doesn't mention that they later found out from Jack the Younger that Jill had to have been an impostor.