(73) The Agreement

The Misha Campaign (090-1122 to 094-1122)

090-1122 : Digitis / Vilis / Spinward Marches

    Nightshade has arrived in system, and is waiting at 10d off the mainworld to see if anyone turns up.

    Robert Morris took klatrin as soon as the ship had jumped, and does seem rather different now.  It was apparently a perfectly normal fish oil trip.  He's lost galanglic now -- not so much because he doesn't understand it, but because it's just too much bother to wait and hear what these apes are saying.  Everything they say is too much of an irritation -- the droning of bees on a summer day, the croaking of frogs, the bleating of groats in a high pasture.  It's a lot of effort to wait for whatever it is they're trying to say in their stupid little imprecise baby talk linear language.  Fortunately the ship can translate for him; it relays their conversations into script on his hand puter screen.
    Mich Saginaw's work with the vortex generators has stalled.  He has not been making a lot of progress over the last few jumps.  He's no longer getting nauseous jumping or in jump from sparkly pink mode, and is in fact quite comfortable feeling the jump grid and jumpspace viscosity, but changing the jump grid manually is quite another matter.  He has now discovered that Helia Sarina is no normal astrogator -- she programs the transition in a very complex fashion, obviously taking into account more factors than would the normal computer calculations relied on throughout the Imperium.
    Their meeting is scheduled at Cormor Home on 094-1122.  To get there, they would have to catch the train from Center midday on 093 (morning 109 / 802 local time).  A conservative allowance would be five hours for the onworld travel.  That would be the 1500 km from Down Port to First City, then berthing at the yacht club, then ashore and taxi to the train station, then local train to Center.  Of course Nightshade will handle all their paperwork for them in advance, so they won't have to visit the customs offices.
    Both sides involved in the meeting should berth at the yacht club in First City.  Callisto tells them that in fact a black ship is already there.
    There has been no sign yet of a Happy Fun Ball in the system; either the Five Sisters Tigress Battle Group has not yet arrived, or it was going somewhere else.  While the latter seems most likely, Misha Ravanos decides that just in case the former turns out to be the case, they will wait here in stealth mode until the last possible minute before landing.  In fact, during their wait, they see no other ships at all.  As Callisto points out, though, there would be no way to see any other black ships in stealth mode unless they came close to Nightshade.

109 / 802 local (093-1122) : Digitis / Vilis / Spinward Marches

    It's time to go to the meeting.  The journey is perfectly routine and absolutely uneventful.  With Marquis Korwin Vanderfield on the crew, even gravcraft handling is straightforward.

    Edward "Shark" Teeth remains on board in command.  Those going to the forest are Misha, Robert, Mich, Teri Cralla (as bodyguard), Helia, and Kalida Siena, Marchioness of Nakege.

110 / 802 local (093-1122 to 094-1122) : Digitis / Vilis / Spinward Marches

    The train ride has been uneventful.  The weather has been miserable -- dark skies, hard rain through the whole journey.  Still, they've been able to maintain irregular contact with the ship through Robert's backpack radio, and of course they have the flashlight panic button as well.
    Robert himself can't really communicate well with the rest of the crew, now that he's out of reach of the ship.  He has to descend to talking baby talk, and hoping the words he uses are picked up by the jannish translator.  In that he has about as much success as Lap'da.  At least the apes' talk is translated to jannish, although it's still such a pain wading through their linear concepts.  The translator is hooked into his commdot, and so it's at least as painless as possible.

    Finally they arrive at Cormor Home.  It's still raining this morning as the train pulls into the station above the forest canopy.  The lightning suppression system is obviously working well, as there is no lightning (as if there ever is).

    The crew are expected.  They are welcomed by the Steward, Frederick Houlihan, who escorts them to their usual guest quarters and tells them that the other party is already here.
    Misha is eager to get started.  As soon as everyone has settled in, he calls the Steward and asks him to arrange a meeting as soon as possible.
    In just five minutes there's a knock on the door.  One person -- yet another new person, not Mike or Mary -- is at the door.  The man is fairly tall, red hair, probably in his early thirties.  He introduces himself as Erik.
    Introductions over, Robert asks what has become of Mary and Mike.
    Erik says that Mike is back home, while Mary is on the ship.
    Misha asks why Mary didn't come today.
    "I'm the person in charge of this," says Erik.
    "We seem to be moving up the ladder," laughs Misha.
    "Mary could have represented us here, but let's... call it my turn.  So, you are ready to sign an agreement?"
    "We're ready to see the agreement, with high hopes of being able to sign it."
    "Can any of you read..."
    "Ask him," interrupts Helia, pointing at Robert.
    "...the ship's language?" finishes Erik, acknowledging the larian with a raise of his eyebrows.  "OK.  Here's the original."  He hands Robert a hand puter, showing just four script symbols.  Erik continues, "I have here a translation."  He hands Misha the large stack of printed paper.
    Robert notes that the agreement is simple and straightforward.  It's completely what they asked for.  He nods at Misha.
    Helia has been looking over Misha's shoulder as the captain pretends to study the paper.  She says, "Shark needs to read this, too."
    Erik says, "I'd prefer we agree on the original rather than the translation.  The translation is less precise.  Lap'da has looked this over, and of course you're welcome to talk it over with him."
    Misha tells Erik that they'd like some time to look over it and discuss it, and they'll contact him later.
    Erik leaves, and the crew discuss the contract.

    Basically the agreement is as follows.
    It makes no mention of their lives as a bargaining point, as Misha had insisted.  The main reason the translation is so thick is that it is very tediously written with all sorts of subparts enumerated to cover all sorts of cases; in the original, this is a simple part of the symbol.  The original is specific and general, it covers everything, and does not have to be expanded.
    The crew's primary responsibility is not to spread the technology.  Anyone who is or will be part of the crew (from now; this agreement can't bind the past, that's obvious) cannot tell anyone else about the technology, comment on it, talk about it, spread it; this applies after anyone left the crew, too.  This set of people must never spread the technology.  That includes anyone who comes on board; it doesn't preclude passengers, provided those passengers don't experience anything that would reveal anything about the technology.
    Just saying that the ship runs without fuel, for example, is spreading the technology -- spreading the concept that this is possible.  The paper-thin walls of the ship, on the other hand (as a passenger might observe), aren't the technology.  The power system, ventilation system, all these systems of the ship -- they can't observe that.  They can even give them a flashlight from the ship, as long as they aren't told how it's powered, but they can't give it to a passenger if they have some reason to believe that they would take it apart.  It's OK to let people think it's advanced technology, just not to tell them specifically or generally what that sort of technology is.  That lets them run the ship as a liner if they want, provided they restrict passengers appropriately.
    If from now on they come across anyone who already knows about or is looking for the technology, or come across more of the technology, they have a responsibility to report it at the earliest opportunity.  The chances are, of course, that this is pretty unlikely to come up very often, but when it does they must report it.  If necessary, they will fly the message themselves.
    The other party has responsibilities to tell the crew who they are, where they operate, and enough about how they operate.  They will keep the ship upgraded in terms of sensors, stealth, everything except offensive and defensive systems.  Everything except weaponry -- which is those systems the gunner would normally control.  Robert points out that's OK because they're already very confident that "This is more capable than anything else except a gorslacvaka" (=<<ref.ship-like-this>>).
    Helia wonders aloud if the upgrade is anything like the last time they carried a package for somebody.
    The life span of the contract is "from now."  There is no end limitation, and nothing that discusses what might break the contract or how such a breach would be handled.  That is a really simple and self-evident truism for Robert; there is no concept of a contract breach in the language.  To him, in scryptese, the concept of a broken contract is an obscenity.  That comes with the language and the way of thinking -- it just doesn't happen.
    The time frame also means, of course, they don't have to report anything they've found up until now.
    The other party will also support them, giving them access to the support network.  If they come across something that needs help, they will do their best to help.  The original doesn't really say "their best," but carries the concept of balancing both sides' resources and priorities, but within that assistance as complete as possible.
    In the event of any contact with the enemy, however, their ship will be upgraded completely and everything they have at their disposal will be immediately available.  It does not say they have to stay and fight.
    Helia observes that all their initial threats aside, this is essentially a colleaguial contract of alliance.

    Robert videos the scryptese contract to the ship; Nightshade translates it for the benefit of those on board.  In particular Shark, Grand Admiral Baron Bridgehead, and Vonish Kehnaan all study it intently.

    Misha then contacts the Steward and asks if Lap'da is nearby.  Fred replies that he's probably outside -- he's been hanging around here for a while.
    So Misha, Robert, and Helia go down into the forest to talk to the jann.  Robert just wants to talk to someone other than these apes...

    Lap'da is right outside the guest quarters.  Misha and Robert acclimate immediately to the dense atmosphere, while Helia keeps the faceshield of her zack deployed so it isn't an issue.
    Robert and Lap'da exchange greetings in scryptese.  The translators hum and whistle, totally incapable of handling the language.  The very short greeting summarizes everything that's happened to each of them since they last met.
    Misha says, "We've come to sign a contract."
    "Yes," says Lap'da, "Robert has just told me."
    Helia asks, "You've looked at it?  What do you think?"
    "It is a contract.  Is it what you want?"
    "Depends on whether we can trust the other party."
    "It is a contract."
    "Doesn't mean the other party is going to be honor bound by it.  Do you think they will?"
    "It is a contract."
    "I understand that it's a contract, but some people are not as honorable as your people."
    "It is a contract."
    "Lap'da, it's a contract and you think they'll live up to it, or it's a contract and that's the way it is."
    "Do you think they are trustworthy people?"
    "Do you think they are trustworthy?"
    "I'm not certain.  That's why I want to know your opinion."
    "It... does not matter."
    "It matters to me, which means it does matter."
    "It does not matter if they are trustworthy.  It is a contract."
    "So they must abide by it?"
    "It is a contract."
    "It is a contract."
    "There are people out there that will sign a contract without... and their signature on the contract is a lie."
    "But they're just signing a contract.  This is a contract."
    "Ah.  So this kind of contract is different from that kind of contract."
    "It is a contract."
    Robert sighs and shakes his head.  He sympathizes with Lap'da, trying to explain this to children.  He admires the jann's infinite patience.
    Helia asks, "Robert, what's the nuance between contract and contract here?"
    Robert replies, "It's a contract."
    "Robert, you know that in most human society most people would sooner stab you in the back rather than follow through on a contract."
    "But this is a contract."
    "OK. So, Robert, you feel very certain they will not hurt us."
    "This... is a contract."
    "Is it like adopting somebody into your family?"  Robert stares at her, and she continues, "How much more fish oil do I need to drink, Robert?  Just tell me how much, how many doses, and how big a dosage.  We'll just stay here on the planet until I understand."
    Robert looks at Lap'da, then says to Helia, "If the contract is not upheld, there are no parties to the contract."
    "Got it," says Helia, "They can't kill us necessarily, then.  I guess we can trust them in that way."
    "Contracts can only expire, they can't..."
    "Does this one have an expiration?"
    "It explicitly doesn't," says Lap'da helpfully.
    "So it's like the old song, always and forever."
    "It starts now and keeps going."
    This has satisfied Misha, and he suggests they go back and sign.  Robert and Lap'da say good-bye to each other -- or whatever complicated conversation they just had in those few utterances -- and the remainder thank the jann in more conventional language.

    Back in the guest quarters, Misha calls Shark and asks his opinion.  Shark says he's bogged down in it as it's rather complicated; Vonish and the Baron are having similar difficulty.  Nevertheless, it really requires nothing more from the crew members than Misha had required of them when they joined the crew.
    Misha asks Robert to explain it to the shipboard crew.  He replies that he can't explain it any better than the many page translation.  The captain then turns to Helia to try to explain it.
    Helia says to think of the contract as a bond for life.  "If they try to do something to us that violates the contract, then we're all fucked.  So not only is it an alliance against mutual enemies, but it's also a bit of what my people call a blood pact.  That means that by agreeing to this thing you now become blood, you're more or less family.  To translate it, you don't violate the contract.  If you do, something awful and bad and terrible will happen but nobody thinks about the fact that you could do that, so there's no 'if you violate it, this bad thing is going to happen.'  They're not holding a knife to our throat more or less than we are.  But where I come from, this is called a blood pact.  It means that we, even though we may still be separate groups, are allied so tightly that everyone else is an outsider to that alliance.  Robert, is that close?"
    Robert waits for his translator to spew that back to him in jannish.  He nods.
    Misha tells Helia to explain that to everyone else on the ship, including Shark.  She does that.
    Misha then gets verbal confirmation from everyone that they're willing to accept membership in this compact.  He then calls the Steward and asks for another meeting as soon as possible.

    Erik arrives in a couple of minutes.  They greet each other and get down to business.
    Misha says, "We're ready to initiate the contract."
    "Good.  I believe you like to shake hands over these things."  Erik shakes Misha's hand and says, "We agree.  It is so."
    Helia says, "Now we have to have the party!"
    Misha signals her to hold on.  He says, "Actually there is a series of events which have to take place before the party.  One is that you, Erik, have information you need to impart to us.
    "Yes," says Erik brightly.  "We are the Arden Society.  We run the Federation of Arden.  Our Society formed the Federation as this area was settled.  It's long been a neutral place; recently the Archduke has undermined that slightly in his settlement with the Zhodani, but we're still here, it's a good place to observe."
    Helia pulls up an astrographic map on her puter, shows it to the group, and says, "The purple ones."
    Erik nods, and continues, "We have agents out around like Baba Yaga; we have three total in the Spinward Marches.  We have another five covering the rest of the Imperium.  We have two in the Zhodani Consulate.  Our black ships, of which we have three, are kept at Arden.  They are on alert all the time.  The argument that happened with the Imperium recently was... once we'd lured Mich here, we were ready to move in and nominally take over with full fleets if needed.  The build up of forces in this area triggered the Imperial response.  Unfortunately one of our admirals was a bit too enthusiastic about spouting his mouth off, otherwise it would have been a lot quieter."
    Helia says, "Can I ask you a question?  As citizens of the Imperium being affiliated with Arden, could we be in trouble with the Imperium?"
    "No.  Who would know that you were affiliated with Arden?"
    "I don't know.  Shark knows interesting people."
    "We have no military designs on anything.  When we take over worlds, which we do once in a while, it's to solidify our position."
    "Are you going to take over Digitis?"
    "No.  That was a critical matter during the Saginaw Crisis."
    Misha asks, "How much of the Federation knows about the primary mission?"
    "Just the Arden Society.  The Society became the Arden Society.  We run everything, and nobody else knows anything.  I'll provide you with code you can use when you send messages that will get the attention of our operatives, or you can leave messages at certain locations with certain codes, or you can send messages to Arden or to some other worlds.  We have a number of agents who aren't members, don't know who we are, but nevertheless work for us.  Those also will support you.  For example, the rest of the crew of Baba Yaga, aside from Miss Elliot.  She is a member, but the rest are just agents."
    Helia says, "So what happened to the guy that threatened us?"  When Erik looks puzzled, she adds, "Your first negotiator?"
    "Oh!  He's back at his desk job.  He's much happier doing that."
    "I'm sure he's much better at it."
    "Yes.  Jane is on board our ship.  She'll be ready to make modifications whenever you want.  If anyone wants to oversee her work, you're welcome to do so.  There's a good bit of work to do, so I'm not sure how much time she'll have for explaining it.  You will have a full record of what she's done."
    Misha asks, "How much do you know about... the enemy?"
    "Very little.  They went away, we haven't seen them since."
    "Do you have a name for them?"
    "No, we do not.  Those who went on after them may have a name by now.  We fought them in this area, but we never got a name for them."
    "How do you recognize them?  How would we recognize them?"
    "They've always attacked us on sight."
    Misha laughs, "So anybody who attacks us is obviously your enemy."
    "Their ships were fairly small in general, but we think it was a scouting force.  They must have bigger, more powerful ships somewhere.  We had not encountered them at that point."
    "What about the possibility that they've all died off, or lost whatever they had that made them your enemy?"
    "Yes, it's possible.  That would be really good.  If we actually knew that we could relax, retire maybe.  But they were, at least, masters of the unprovoked attack."
    "Anything else?"  Misha is asking both Erik and the crew.
    Erik says, "I suppose in terms of operatives, the Sheriff would count as one to some extent, in that he liaises with the janns for us.  There are certain things that grow in the forest that we like that we can't get anywhere else."
    "Why do you need him to liaise?  Why don't you just contact the janns yourself?"
    "Because... we're leaving them alone, to have their own existence.  Part of our contract is that we don't interfere here.  In return, we supply the Sheriff with certain things -- technology assistance, for example.  He has defense systems that help him protect the forest, and so on.  He does not have any of our power sources, so you can't discuss that with him.  You can help him with the technology he has, if you wish -- Mich, you worked with Jane on some of his systems -- but you can't expand his technology further.  You can refine what he has, but not advance it.  Obviously you can incorporate Imperial technology if you wish, but not advance it in terms of the contract technology."
    That satisfies Misha.  He asks, "How do we contact you... until you give us the contact information?"
    "I'll be here for a while.  Whenever you want me to travel back to the ship, perhaps I can do that when you do?  We can travel together if you wish."
    "All right.  Let's do that tomorrow."
    "Very good.  Yes."  With that, Erik leaves.

    Time soon for a hot tub party, but first to discuss anything else remaining.
    Robert reminds them, "We've already told them that Wonstar exists and is interested in black technology; they acted like they didn't know that.  We told them that Goose was expecting somebody else.  And I think that if we get any kind of reaction like we got at Goose, we need to let them know."
    But the main question, as Misha puts it, is, "What do we do next?"
    "Want to go back where we got this ship to begin with?" suggest Mich.
    "Sure.  To what end?"
    "Either that, or go to Marquis Marky Marc, and let him know we're still around."
    Helia says, "He'd actually be bound by the contract, sort of, wouldn't he?"
    Misha says, "Not unless we made him a member of the crew."
    "But he's the owner of the ship."
    Mich points out he's not -- he was the owner of the H.M.S. Third Eye, which no longer exists.
    "But I mean, we could make him a member of the crew and tell him what happened.  I mean, if there's anybody out there to make a member of the crew, Marquis Marc is that person."
    Misha says, 'I have no problem making him a member of the crew, particularly for just being able to explain to him what's happened."
    Helia observes, "The problem is, he's in a place that's so central to Imperial space, that us showing up in a black ship is going to get a lot of attention from a lot of people.  If we did show up and very blatantly had some very serious contact with Marquis Marc and leave, that's like saying 'Tag, you're it!' and let all the bad guys go hunting him."
    Mich says, "We can't show up there with this ship.  We know that's the central place for a society that's looking for this type of technology, and is set up not to allow anyone else to have it, so much so that they took over the planetary defenses to try to destroy us.  So we can't just go there and land at a regular starport."
    Helia nods.  "We need to stay on the fringes," she says.  That is what they did last time, after all.  She continues, "What we need is a small landing craft that's not a gcarrier, one that's really spaceworthy.  We could use stealth mode, park behind a planet, and take the little ship in."
    "We have one sitting right in the bay.  There's a 20 ton launch that we've never used.  Why didn't you want to use the gcarrier -- aside from that we don't have one any more?"  They left the gcarrier with Jaekovic Ils-Nevronne and Sagan in the Bowman system.
    "Because nobody knows how to fly the damned thing!  I mean, those of us who know how to fly it have not had good luck.  But we have an alternative, that's good."
    The launch is 20 std, with room for 6 tons of cargo and seating for six aside from the three bridge seats for a total of nine seats -- and of course they could use cargo space for more people.  The Kankurir class gcarrier was 11 std, so the launch is almost twice as big.  Helia's can fly that, even though it technically falls within the skills of a Ship's Boat operator rather than a Pilot.
    Misha wonders whether they could contact Marquis Marcus Crestworthy and tell him to meet them somewhere.  The problem with that is the quickest way by far to get a message to him would be to do so in person, in which case they're back to meeting him on Mora again.  Also, his new ship is not due for delivery for about another 90 days, on 203-1122, and he still won't have a crew then either.
    As Mich points out, the TNS news item about them being alive will eventually get back to the Marquis anyway, no matter what they do.

    But now, it's time for the hot tub party.  In addition to all the crew members, they'll be joined by the Sheriff and the Steward.  They also invite Lap'da, but he declines the invitation -- he thanks them, obviously surprised; Helia flies up and kisses him on the cheek.  They also invite Erik, who also accepts.
    Erik reminds them that if they want Anastasia, they are welcome to her.  He explains that years ago they'd arranged agents on five transport ships of this class for just this eventuality.  The Tardis class was used for priority transport of significant items, and they had anticipated that some day they might want to divert a cargo from the Imperium to Arden.  They used an antimatter explosion to cover up the jump flash.
    Helia says, "So the Navy was working on taking it, and you all just stepped in and said 'Why, thank you for getting that ready for us.'"
    "Essentially," says Erik.
    "Smart," says Helia.
    Erik smiles.  He adds that the Anastasia seemed important enough to take.
    "Why?" asks Misha.
    Mich fields that question.  He says, "Because it has antimatter generators."
    Erik explains to the rest of them that the generators use related technology.  Instead of just directly using the energy generated from nothing, it shifts the phase of the matter.  Using it in close proximity like that is easier to do, a much lower tech level but along the same path of knowledge.
    Mich quietly observes that this might mean that the potential weapon upgrades might include antimatter torpedos -- if there isn't anything better, of course.
    Erik just smiles at that.  He says that of course the purpose of the missiles is just to overwhelm the shield -- provided you can get enough through, of course.  He suggests that they make sure their gunner is trained in shooting down an approaching cloud of missiles.
    Mich comments that they've been training their gunner mostly to fight against Imperial ships, to use a very small salvo of missiles and not empty their magazine.
    Erik is very amused by that.  He cautions them to make sure they don't hurt their gunner's reflexes -- a small salvo would do nothing against a serious target.  Neither would the missiles themselves, of course.  The expander is the main weapon, and everything is just to help drive it home.
    Mich asks if he recommends that if they're in a battle with Imperial ships, to forget about the missiles and use only the expander?
    "Sure," says Erik.  "It takes a while to restock the missiles, so if you run into something heavy in the meantime, you might want those missiles."
    The party continues into the evening on a lighter note...