(71) Let's Do Lunch

The Misha Campaign (076-1122 to 077-1122)

076-1122 : Mongo / Jewell / Spinward Marches

    It's now Nightshade's second day on Mongo.  The concierge from the Nakege Room has sent his list of interesting places and so on.  Kalida Siena, Marchioness of Nakege, adds to the list of their book interests those on local law, especially trade law.  Vonish Kehnaan has a passable knowledge of Imperial trade law from his merchant background, and will be able to research and interpret them for her.  The Marchioness is clearly interested in the legal aspects of Tukera Lines' blockade of Nakege, which is probably covered solely by Imperial Law since it is an aspect of interstellar trade.  Then again, there may be aspects of local Mongo law that could be applied to the situation too, and she wants to be sure she has every angle covered.
    Kalida also has a few things for Edward "Shark" Teeth to investigate.  In particular, she wants him to snoop anything he can about Sir William Edgerton, who made himself known to her briefly last night over dinner.
    The Marchioness' main objective for the day is to visit the Bank of Mongo to talk about the Nakege situation.  While she's there, she can also pick up her pension -- she could do that at the starport, but she needs to visit the local bank on business anyway.
    As for Helia Sarina and Grand Admiral Baron Bridgehead, their only plan is to shop and have fun.  This is their first visit to a Class A starport world in a long time, and the Baron's wardrobe, while good quality, is a few years out of date.  Helia as always could use a couple of things, including small pieces of jewelry and other accessories.  The two of them take for granted that the Baron will be paying -- the Baron because he's like that, and Helia because she just doesn't seem to think about money at all.
    Vonish is going to be investigating whether he wants to stock up the ship's supplies.  While they completely restocked at Digitis, this is a major agricultural world and might have something worth picking up here.
    Mich Saginaw is busy setting up the fuel burning equipment, redesigning it and making it more permanent.  As soon as that's ready for unattended operation, he'll be free to go ashore, but for the time he needs to make sure that Nightshade can appear to take on the expected amount of fuel.  Whether or not there's a large puddle of water forming under the ship will depend on the form the final equipment takes...
    Shark has already told the Nakege Room that the three nobles and four of the ship's officers will be staying there tonight.  He's also already examined the security arrangements and determined that they're more than adequate.  He arranges for what little luggage they have to be taken there, although Helia for one intends to buy a new wardrobe.
    Helia and the Baron arrange to meet Kalida for high tea at the Nakege Room, after they're all done with their various visits ashore.

    The Bank of Mongo is downtown, in the city outside the starport.  Kalida takes a taxi directly from the Nakege Room.  The ride is pleasant -- the town is fairly spacious and modern, as she would have expected from an Early Stellar metropolis.  It's quite large, with a lot of skyscrapers in the commercial district and some scattered parks through the town.  Near the starport are mostly warehouses and so on, although the road (and ever-present rail transit) runs to the city through a parkway directly to the commercial district -- a much more attractive corridor for offworld visitors than passing through the warehouse district.
    The Bank of Mongo occupies the second most impressive skyscraper in the city.  Kalida briefly regrets calling ahead to announce her arrival, but only briefly.  The most impressive building is quite nearby, but only about another ten stories higher than the Bank of Mongo.  With gravcraft buzzing around the upper levels, obviously there's landing facilities up there.
    The taxi pulls up at the entrance to the bank, and the driver asks if she wants him to wait.  Instead she accepts his card, and says she'll call when she's ready to leave.
    The people going in and out are all smartly dressed in business attire, in standard Imperial fashion.  Not cutting edge, but normal for a Class A starport city -- obviously there's plenty of offworld contact here.  As for the building itself, to support this obvious prosperity a lot of offworld trading money would have to pass through the Bank of Mongo.
    Inside, the receptionist -- a young man about 19 -- receives the Marchioness of Nakege deferentially.  The Marchioness says she wants to talk to the person in charge of the loan to Traditional Heritage Craftworks.
    The receptionist taps on his keyboard briefly, puts a "please wait" sign on his desk, and leads Kalida to a side door.  He keys it open to reveal a man waiting for the Marchioness, who tells her the manager will see her right away.  From there she's lead to what is presumably an executive elevator on the outside of the building, with glass walls so she has a fine view of the city as they ascend to the top level.
    At the top, the inner door opens to reveal a very well dressed woman probably in her late 40's.  She introduces herself as Jone Riksson, and welcomes the Marchioness into the suite.  She leads the way through to a very well appointed room that's more a drawing room than a conference room or office.  The chairs are large and comfortable, original artwork decorates the walls, and large potted plants add to a relaxed feel.  The large window has a fine view over the city.
    From up here Kalida can see that the area is actually quite flat.  The city spreads out across the land from the coastal starport and a substantial beachfront (to her left as she looks out) to residential areas well inland.  The largest skyscraper is not visible -- it is probably on the other side of the building, muses Kalida.
    The two of them take seats, and immediately servants arrive to offer drinks and anything else they might want.  Kalida takes coffee, while Miss Riksson takes a martini.
    Miss Riksson starts the conversation, "What can I do for you, my lady?"
    "Well," says Kalida, "As I told the young man downstairs, I'm interesting in discussing the business relationship you have with Traditional Heritage Craftworks."
    "We have an excellent relationship.  They're a fine customer."
    "Well, as you know I've only fairly recently been appointed as Marchioness, and this is the first time I've actually been able to get out here, so I'm trying to find out as much as I can about the situation here.  I know you have been basically floating a loan to them for quite some years now.  How long are you planning to continue that?"
    "Indefinitely, as it stands.  Certainly until the blockade situation is sorted out."
    "You view them as a good risk, then?"
    "Oh, absolutely.  Yes, we have no doubt that the loan is excellent business."
    "So you're quite confident that the blockade will be settled at some point favorably?"
    "I'm sure that at some point it will be settled, yes.  It's... I suppose as friendly a blockade as you could imagine, really."
    "It's hard to picture a friendly blockade."
    "Well, nobody's getting hurt.  At this point the traders all know that it's a bad place to go.  A few ships get in and out -- in fact Tukera has an arrangement with one of the local companies, who have managed to negotiate an arrangement so that they can bring goods in to the world without too much hassle."
    "I'm sure that is much more pleasant for those that are living there.  Which company?"
    "Creative Imports."
    "So they're allowed to bring in supplies, but not take anything out."
    "Yes.  Correct.  Nobody's allowed to take anything out.  Of course, things do come out, and when they do trade in them is open.  Creative Imports, in fact, handle the goods that do come out.  They're very well established in being able to market such goods.  If you wanted to find any goods from Nakege, that's where you would ask.  But yes, THC are excellent customers -- we'll be glad to extend the loan as long as they wish."
    "What happens when things are settled properly and everything's paid back to you?  What are your plans after that?"
    "I would hope we'd be able to continue to operate a good business relationship with both sides of the conflict.  We certainly wish everybody all the best.  The Bank of Mongo has a very long term approach to things."
    "I see that."
    "We recognize that any agricultural based activity requires a long term view, and certainly with Traditional Heritage Craftworks the long term view is maybe a little longer than we're used to with an agricultural cycle, but..."
    Kalida nods, "Even without the blockade, it's a very long cycle."
    "Yes.  We take the long view."
    "Do you handle other agricultural business here on Mongo?"
    "Yes, we handle a great deal from agricultural combines, some of the farmers' cooperatives, personal banking, and we handle a lot of offworld trade as well."
    "Do you have a personal representative there on planet?"
    "No.  There are no representatives there.  Of course, there are people manning the blockade, but that's...  No, nobody has any representatives on the world."
    "If I were interested in arranging a visit, would that be difficult to handle?  Would someone specific I should go through, or...?"
    "I would suggest talking to Tukera.  That's probably the best way to arrange it.  I'm sure you wouldn't want to go through a blockade runner!" Jone laughs.
    That's pretty much answered all the questions Kalida has so far.  It has at least confirmed that the bank is still happy with the loan situation, which was the main thing she really wanted to know.  The Marchioness thanks Jone for her time.
    In turn Miss Riksson says her bank is at the noble's disposal, as would be any financial services she'd require, or perhaps a line of credit?
    "I think that would be an excellent idea," says Kalida.
    Jone says she'll get her Senior Financial Officer on it right away, and by the time the Marchioness is downstairs, it will be ready.  She walks Kalida to the elevator.
    Back at the ground floor, Kalida is met by a man in his mid thirties, dressed impeccably, who introduces himself -- deferentially -- as Colin Gaiterby, the SFO.  He passes her a credit card to access her account, and suggests that she not hesitate to call him or the president if she has any needs whatsoever.  He passes her a card with his number and that of Jone Riksson, the President of the bank.  Kalida adds that this time her visit will be brief, but that she will be returning.
    A flunky makes the call to fetch Kalida's taxi to the front door.  In a few minutes, she's escorted from the bank to the waiting groundcar.  She shakes her head slightly with a sigh -- and people wonder why she didn't announce she was a marchioness to begin with!

    Back at the Nakege Room, it's a little early to meet with Helia and the Baron.  Kalida has plenty of material to work through, however, and more planning of her fief to consider.  Among other things, Creative Imports was the company associated with Sir William Edgerton, and that will definitely bear investigating.  On the other hand, she needs to do some shopping herself, even though it's three and a half months from Rhylanor to Mongo, and she's still in style.

    Helia and Bridgehead have made a late start -- if fact, they're about to leave when Kalida returns.  So the three of them head off to the top designer store, of course a very short distance from the Nakege Room, as is everything expensive.
    As the three enter the store, the Marchioness is immediately recognized and attended by her personal shopper.  He in turn assigns personal shoppers to the larian and the Baron.  They are escorted to a private reception room, where champagne is served, along with snacks and small pastries -- or alternate beverages and snacks for those who request them.  Helia indulges her fruit juice kick, going for what she thinks is something obscure -- fizzy pomegranate juice.  The servers never miss a beat, bringing it right out to her.
    The Baron is whisked off rapidly after just a single meaningful glance from his personal shopper, obviously recognizing that he is way out of date and requiring emergency fashion triage.  The other two shoppers use their hand computers to show the women selections from the catalog.
    Helia concentrates initially on evening wear, something she can wear over her "bulletproof" black suit.  She's shown a purple creation, shaded to complement the black -- a fairly heavy looking fabric, triangular straps, a straight line through the body, flaring into a fishtail lower section ending above the knee.  It looks very interesting on the puter screen.  The back of the dress is cut for normal humans; Helia asks the shopper to add some 1.5 meter wings to that.  The shopper does so, apparently with no difficulty, adapting the back to suit.  The wings don't look like Helia's, but the attachment is similar enough that the dress will fit perfectly.  Helia then suggests an integrated backpack.  That's a real challenge, but her shopper is well up to the task.  Helia complicates it again by asking for the backpack to be removable, with the pack used to hide the wings.  Again, the shopper presents a solution -- the larian's requirements are fully met, no matter how hard she tries to complicate matters.  The result looks great on the puter.  Next on the list are ships work clothing, something perhaps more feminine than the general purpose things she's been wearing.  A selection of overalls, skirts, and so on result, all of which look excellent.  Helia picks low-backed overalls and a selection of miniskirts, along with trousers and tops, ever so slightly floaty.  After that, some more evening clothes -- including half a dozen that look decadently scandalous with the black suit on, and as Helia says, "positively arresting, if you get what I mean" if worn with the black outfit off.  Then on to accessorizing, adding baubles and jewelry and so on.
    Kalida is already completely in fashion, her shopper recognizes.  There is, however, one particular designer show that would have been after she left Rhylanor, which has just arrived here at Mongo.  The shopper delights in showing the Marchioness the fabulous outfits.  Some are in natural fibers, as Kalida requests.  Natural fibers play well here on a rich agricultural world, of course.  She picks several outfits, including one absolutely stunning evening dress in emerald green.  Other more casual afternoon and evening dresses are added, as well as some simple ensembles that presumably the Marchioness would wear to relax in her own household.  She too finishes off by accessorizing.
    Both women find that the clothes look great when tried on.  Helia keeps passing Kalida jewelry to try, and the two of them find they have quite similar tastes.  They also add some jeweled snoods, happily discussing the latest styles.  Helia tops her purchases off with a fun wig -- a silver pageboy -- to go with her purple dress and the boots she's added to that.  The outfits will be sent to their suite at the Nakege Room; so will the bill, presumably, although the subject of money never comes up.
    The Baron is transformed.  Finally he's in style, wearing his new clothes already.  Not that he wasn't dressing well before, of course, but he has been woefully out of date.

    The obvious way to finish off the afternoon is tea at the Nakege Room, followed by a session at their spa.  Shark and Mich, along with Marquis Korwin Vanderfield, have gone Zuchai Room bar -- somewhere that smells of the familiar steel and oil, unlike Nightshade.
    The Baron excuses himself after tea, planning to settle down for the afternoon with some brandy and some newsprint.  The two women get thoroughly pampered at the spa, getting manicures and makeup to match their planned evening outfits.  Even the larian's wings don't faze the spa staff for a moment.  Much to Helia's surprise, they even bring in a specialist to work over her wings -- she handles them perfectly, but denies having seen someone of Helia's race before and doesn't apparently recognize the larian's native tongue when she tries it.

    In the meantime, a number of books have been delivered to the suite.  Vonish has started working on the law books, which he finds fairly straightforward.  The laws here are definitely set up to encourage trade, in a much less complex way than the ones he studied back when he was in the merchant service in Core sector.
    Shark has found some things about Sir William Edgerton.  The man indeed runs Creative Imports, which seems to be doing very well.  Sir William has a reputation for spending lots of money, but he is well known to confuse expense with taste -- he has a very expensive public lifestyle.  His company makes lots of money, but he has a suspiciously high level of personal spending.  He has no visible partners in the company.  Sir William is new money from Aramis, apparently in business, with no indication of what brought him out here.  He has a reputation of being a good person to have on your side -- he appears to have connections.  Creative Imports handles all importing to Nakege.  The ships that go in are hired by the company, going in under a special license from Tukera Lines -- the cargo manifest is supplied to Tukera, and the ship inspected before takeoff, and in return does not get too many hassles on the way back out.  They don't have the clothes stripped from their back or all their food confiscated, as is reputed to happen to independent ships leaving Nakege.  The goods all go through Creative Imports as a middleman -- the company buys them here, and then sells them at Nakege, supposedly so they can certify the goods for clearance with Tukera.  Shark points out the obvious -- that there are many opportunities for high profits there.
    That's good enough for Kalida for the time, but Shark has more to offer.  The Tukera blockade consists of two destroyers and four system defense boats.  There's always at least one destroyer on station, but they do rotate crews.  The ships are all serviced at Tukera's highport here at Mongo.  So the blockade is certainly based here.  Common chatter about the blockade is that it's a way of life -- it has been going on for so long, after all, and shows no sign of stopping.  Generally it's respected, with an occasional rare blockade runner.
    Shark then adds that Robert has been poking around, and did find out one thing.  Apparently Creative Imports does all their shipping -- other than to Nakege -- using Tukera Lines.  It's not from a lack of competition -- Tukera clearly does well here, but among the megacorporations Sharurshid and Imperiallines are also represented, and there's several local Jewell subsector lines too.

    Dinner is as yesterday, the same elite table in the Nakege Room's dining room.  Everyone staying here is in attendance -- the three Imperial nobles (Kalida, Korwin, and Bridgehead) and the ship's officers (Misha, Helia, and Vonish) at the main table, with Shark and Teri Cralla at the security table.  Mich, despite being a ship's officer, prefers to sit at the less formal table.  The experience is as rewarding as the night before, a very different meal but of the same quality, along with another bottle of Blockade Bourbon at the end of the meal.  The dining room crowd is much the same as the night before, although Sir William and his cronies not here tonight.
    Vonish is impressed with the meal.  There are a couple of points he says he could improve, but it's very good quality.  The preparation is good, from superb ingredients, and presentation also excellent.  There's a couple of details he would have done differently -- a balance of seasoning here, a different garnish there -- but he thoroughly enjoys it.  He adds that his research today has shown that the local produce is superb, and says he might even replace some of the stocks he took on board at Digitis.
    Over a glass of bourbon, Kalida wonders aloud if they want to go gambling tonight.   Helia is sure the concierge can recommend places in the whole range -- raucous to discreet.  In fact, she suggests that tomorrow night they can do the pirate show at the Attica Privateer and then go gambling.  That satisfies everyone; tonight they'll retire to the hot tub -- or rather, for this evening, the japanese style set of pools that flow into one another.  The crew spend the evening in and out of the pools, drinking beverages of their choice (spiked fizzy pomegranate juice in Helia's case) and finishing off the bottle of Blockade Bourbon.  As Kalida points out, it'll be hard to go back to regular drinks after such luxury here, although as Helia responds there's always fish oil for that unique experience.

077-1122 : Mongo / Jewell / Spinward Marches

    At a lazy communal breakfast, the crew discuss their plans.  They need to be at Cormor Home on Digitis on 094-1122, so that means they need to arrive at First City by early (local) morning on 093, which gives a last possible date for leaving here as 081.
    Today, Kalida decides she needs to do lunch with Sir William Edgerton.
    Helia is sure he'll be available for the Marchioness.  She asks how Kalida ended up with such a nice title, when Baron Bridgehead didn't get such a good one.
    "It's all in who you know," says Kalida.
    "Do all retired military people get titles?" asks Helia.
    "Definitely not."
    "So, were you like, a hero?"
    "No," smiles Kalida.
    "You were just very good."
    "I impressed the right people.  Like I said, it's all in who you know."
    "I suppose as a pilot I don't ever really want to be in the military, do I?  This is more fun, isn't it?"
    "I would not recommend the military for you."
    "It would be interesting, but it would be pretty boring, wouldn't it?  For me."
    Kalida nods.  She then calls Sir William and, as Helia predicted, he is at her disposal.  At her request, he suggests a place for lunch.

    Helia announces that she wants to go somewhere for lunch that would make Shark nervous, particularly if she was by herself.  Indeed, Shark asks that she take someone with her, but the larian brightly replies that she has her zack on.  Shark concedes that is probably OK, but presses the point that someone should go with her.
    Helia turns to Teri and asks if she wants to go have some fun rather than work.  Shark points out that they still can't be armed properly unless there's a noble with her.  In response, Helia asks Marquis Vanderfield to come along; he accepts.
    On her way out, Helia asks the concierge to suggest somewhere "normal people" would go, sort of a fish and chips atmosphere, in town somewhere.  She picks one from a list of several places, one where she can get a nice table outside on a deck, near the water perhaps, and watch the people go by.  Since the weather is warm and clear, that should be fun.

    Helia has dressed in the peter pan style: miniskirt (over her zack) and a cute hat with a feather.  The weather is indeed perfect, and the table under the umbrella gives a good view of the boardwalk.  Teri and Korwin relax too, enjoying the chance to be away from the ship and starport.  Helia charges everything to the Marchioness' account at the Nakege Room.
    The restaurant and bar is a beachfront place called The Amber Waves.  Decent beer and drinks, friendly staff, relaxed atmosphere.  The impression of the townsfolk in general is that they're pretty relaxed, except for the uptight business nerds.
    Naturally the larian attracts attention from the young crowd.  Helia picks one pleasant looking group and asks them to join them.  The four locals sit down with them, and they have a good old time.
    Helia asks if they've seen the pirate show.  A couple of them have, and say it's fun.  As for gambling, they don't know, but they do rattle off a number of other tourist traps as worth the visit.  Helia expresses an interest in local gossip, and picks up some local political scandal talk.  She is sure to flirt with one of the single men in the group; she lets him know where they're staying -- which really impresses him -- to which she responds that they've just got some well connected people in their party, like the Marquis here.
    "Oh!  A real Marquis!" the man blurts out, then blushes -- "Sorry..." -- and goes quiet.
    "It's OK, honey," Helia assures him, "Because we've got a Marquis, a Baron, and a Marchioness with us.  They're just normal people, they just did things to get titles."  She pauses, then indicates Korwin and says, "I think this one was born with it."
    Korwin merely nods quietly.
    The man Helia's picked out turns out to be a student.
    "Really!" says Helia.  "I was a student, but I didn't go to school for that long, actually.  For what I do you have to kind of learn on the job.  I'm a pilot and astrogator.  What are you going to be?"
    "An oceanographer," he replies.  "I want to get out on one of the research stations here."
    "So you dive, right?  Wow, is the diving here beautiful?"
    "Not really here.  You've got to fly out to..."
    "Can we go out and back from the starport in a day?"
    "You can get a shuttle from just up the road there."
    "You want to go tomorrow?"
    "Yeah, I'd love to!  Cool!"  The guy is genuinely enthusiastic.
    "Sweet!  Make sure I know how to get hold of you, and I'll arrange it.  We'll definitely go tomorrow."  She smiles to herself, wondering his reaction to her skin-diving with no tank; but then, he'll probably just think it's some high tech thing.  Anything that looks like magic is invariably sufficiently high technology, after all.
    On return to the club, Helia tells everyone that she's going skin-diving tomorrow and they're all invited.  She met this cute student, he's a nice boy, and the trip is all arranged -- all she needs to do is finalize the time, and she'll let him know, and she's sure he can bring some other friends.  She'll ask him to invite some tutors or teachers -- if he wants to bring four or six friends with a good age range, that'd be great.

    Kalida's lunch isn't anything like as relaxing.  The Starview Restaurant is full of uptight business nerds trying to impress each other.  It's a revolving penthouse restaurant with a wide glass dome, not in one of the taller buildings but still with a good view of the city.
    Especially since Sir William was obviously not up to the status of the Nakege Room, Kalida pulls out all the stops.  She is The Marchioness, in appearance and presence.
    Sir William tries to present himself as the gracious host and servant.  Clearly, though, he mistakes conspicuous consumption for style, and just picks the most expensive selections from the menu, accompanied by the most expensive wine.  His clothes are expensive, but they aren't put together into a classy ensemble.  He's severely lacking in breeding and taste, but he does have money -- at least, he's spending it.
    Kalida just lets him bumble his way through lunch, and lets him spend all he wants.
    Sir William grovels appropriately (as he thinks), saying how wonderful it is that the Marchioness is here, hopes she's having a good time.  He adds that if there's anything he can arrange for her, he has influence with quite a few officials.  He's desperately trying to give the impression that he's the person to contact around here if anything needs to get done.
    Kalida doesn't want to take this time to grill him, so doesn't mention Creative Imports yet.  She just wants to impress him, and maybe ease him into saying something he didn't intend to say.  As for impressing him, she's clearly succeeded.
    In the midst of his groveling, Sir William does imply that some of the means he has to get things done around here might not be completely above board.  He tries to imply that his income is on a higher level than just some company executive.  Nevertheless, he says very little about himself on a personal level.
    That's enough for Kalida for this meeting.  She says she'll contact him again, and leaves him to pick up the bill as she returns to the suite.  Sir William has not left a good impression -- he speaks way too much for someone who has so little to say of value.
    When she gets back, Shark tells her that Robert has found one more thing.  Apparently their bill here at the Nakege Room has already been arranged to be paid -- by Tukera Lines.  Kalida smiles -- she doesn't feel bad about shopping at all now.  She's all for spending their money.