(6) The Archduke's Man
The Nightshade Campaign (120-1122)
This file has yet to be fully
Helia Sarina has to hurry to bring Vonish Kehnaan to
the Eagle's Nest to prepare dinner for the crew and their guest.
She finds that Nightshade's
launch is capable of very rapid
atmospheric travel indeed, although no-one else really notices except
Preparations for the meal are difficult, given the
time constraints and the unfamiliar facilities, but Vonish handles them
well. The Eagle's Nest is set up to accommodate members'
personal chefs, and provides him with all the staff, resources, and
materials he needs.
They have chosen a dining suite which looks out over
the countryside below, moving past at 10 kph as the floating complex
flies over the surface of Regina.
It has a much lighter
feel than the dark oppressive wood paneling of the Members Room.
Kalida Siena, Marchioness
of Nakege, has arranged all the details and
done so perfectly.
Sir Arken Hauther is right on time. He nods to
Helia, and smiles at the rest of his hosts. They exchange
greetings. Helia introduces the crew to him, and they make small
talk for a while. He recognizes Grand Admiral Baron Bridgehead,
and makes a comment about being back from the dead. The Baron is
visibly pleased to be recognized.
Arken says, "So what brings you all out here?"
"A very good pilot," says Helia.
"That goes without saying."
"I'd say a quest for knowledge and the sport of
it. Wouldn't you, sir?" Helia looks at Misha Ravanos, her
Misha replies, "Most definitely."
Arken says, "Anything in particular?"
"Much the same as I do these days, too. I'm
always finding interesting knowledge. The trick is in knowing
Helia suggests, "Not getting killed finding it?"
"I don't do much of that these days."
Misha says, "So, what do you find interesting these
"All sorts of stuff. I'm just generally
looking around, seeing what's around, investigating rumors, picking up
rumors, dining on an expense account, that sort of thing."
"So what do the rumors say about us? About
Arken laughs. He says, "Other than you're all
very lucky to have Helia, you mean?"
Helia blushes delicately.
Arken continues, "Rumors say you're into all sorts
of interesting things."
Misha asks, "Is that all?"
"No, it's not all. But I'm not at liberty to
discuss everything I've heard about you."
Kalida smiles, "That's all right, we're not at
liberty to discuss everything about us, either."
"I imagine not."
Misha says, "So perhaps we should seek topics about
which we are at liberty to speak."
"Yes, absolutely. Do you play golf?"
"No, neither do I. Seems a shame to waste the
golf course out there, but I never could get into it myself. So
you're pretty much staying in the Spinward Marches at
the moment, is
"Pretty much. Where are you staying these
"Pretty much in the Spinward Marches. There's
enough to investigate here without having to go any further out.
I tend to stay around the borders a lot of the time. It's
convenient. It's a lot safer now that it used to be, when the
wars were going on.
Yes, the conflicts have all moved other
places. There's always something going on, that's about the only
thing you can guarantee."
Helia changes the subject to the menu. She
chats about that for a while, then almost as an aside says, "Is the
information business a profitable one still?"
Arken says, "Well, for me it's more of an ongoing
hobby, you know. I can't say I'm really in the business of
it. I just do it as a favor, mostly. Gives one a good
reason to travel to interesting places and meet unexpected people."
"Unexpectedly dead people?"
"Unexpectedly alive people," says Kalida.
Arken nods, smiling.
Edward "Shark" Teeth muses to himself that the
news of the battle
group deployment wouldn't get here for a long time. It in fact
wouldn't get here until 147-1122, about a month from now. Not
even the news of them being alive should have reached here for another
week. He checks via hand puter with Mich Saginaw on the
ship asking what the fastest would be for a message to get from Iderati
/ Five Sisters to
here; the simplest way would be that taking the news
to Lanth by
a jump-6 ship would
the time by eight weeks.
Misha asks, "What do you know about ancient history?"
Arken says, 'How far back do you want to go?"
"Not much more than anybody else. My specialty
is more modern than that. I stay up with current affairs, and for
me ancient is 200 years ago. Maybe 400."
Shark says, "400 years ago. Like when Wonstar
"I'm sure that you know about Wonstar."
"What about Wonstar?"
"Well, 400 years ago, they were founded, right?"
"Who was founded?"
"The Wonstar Development Corporation."
"What do you know about them?"
"That they were founded 400 years ago,
basically. What do you know about them?"
"What do I know about them? I... couldn't say
I know a lot. 400 years ago, that was before the Psionic
"That's true. I didn't put that
was legal then."
"My specialty is in more modern stuff. My main
interest just goes back around the Fourth Frontier War.
your interest in ancient history?"
Misha says, "We've recently heard some stories about
ancient history, and I wondered if we could..."
"New information about ancient history?"
"It's not new. It's ancient."
"So what have you found out?"
"Just some stories. About war."
"That would have been about when the Final War was
taking place. When the Ancients took themselves
out, or were
wiped out, or..."
Helia says, "Which Ancients?"
"Do you think they did?"
"Well, they very clearly were wiped out or wiped
themselves out, one or the other."
"Do you think any of them survived?"
"Their descendants survived. It's pretty well
accepted that the droyne
are related to them."
Shark asks, "So, when did you arrive here on Regina?"
"Oh, I've been here a while," replies Arken, "A
month or two. I'm just looking into some rumors and things."
Kalida says, "This seems to be a good place to pick
"It is, yes. All sorts of things go on out
here near the frontier."
Shark says, "Do you have your own private news
Arken laughs, "What makes you think that?"
"Well, someone in your position probably does."
"When you work for the people who run everything,
"They keep you informed," suggests Kalida.
"I have a number of people who keep me informed,
about all sorts of stuff. But you guys don't seem to go anywhere
unless there's something odd going on." Sir Arken looks pointedly
at Baron Bridgehead, who remains silent.
"If you're travelling you'd just as well go
somewhere interesting," says Kalida.
Misha asks incredulously, "There are places where
there's nothing going on?"
"Yeah, sure," says Sir Arken.
Kalida says, "We haven't found them."
"Well, like I said, you go places where interesting
things are happening. For a start, you have quite an amazing
choice of pilot."
Helia beams at Arken.
Arken asks Misha, "So what are you really into?"
Misha and Kalida chorus, "Bourbon."
"OK, I'll believe that."
Misha says, "We've acquired a bottle of bourbon, and
we're looking for a buyer."
"I'm sure you'll be able to find one here."
"That's what we thought."
"So did you smuggle it out yourselves, or did you
pick it up somewhere?"
"Picked it up somewhere," says Kalida.
"So I don't suppose you're -- of course, you're not
-- trafficking in unregistered ancient artifacts?"
Shark says, slowly, "Now why would that subject come
"Because you've been asking about ancient things,
and you guys are always in the center of something, I'm sure."
Misha says, "I assure you, we would not be
trafficking unregistered artifacts."
"No, you wouldn't be. But should you come
across a small statuette, I would be very interested in seeing it."
Shark asks, "Are you brokering for someone, or...?"
"Oh, no. I'd just be very interested to know
if the two of the pair had some synergetic effect."
"And you have one, then."
Arken nods and smiles. "The one doesn't seem
to be anything special, you know, just a statue. I'd really like
to know if you come across anything."
"To our benefit in...?"
"You would earn my gratitude."
"Certainly worth quite a consideration."
"It is." Arken states that simply as a
fact. He continues, "And if there's anything I can help you
find." He pauses, and then says, "Speaking of Wonstar,
have any of you been around there?"
"I've had a long travelling lifetime," says Shark.
"Yeah, OK. Let's say you were there -- just
hypothetically -- and hadn't announced your presence. Strange
things happen when you're around, right?"
"OK. There's a point to this story?"
"Oh yes, there's a point to this story. If
anything really weird happened that you might know something about,
would you let me know?"
Kalida mutters under her breath, "He hurts my head."
Arken continues, "Let's take, for example, the
Wonstar Development Corporation. Were you perhaps might have been
involved in anything relating to them? Given that this is, of
course, completely off the record."
Shark says, "Did we run over one of their
executives? Why are you asking?"
"Like using an FGMP in downtown areas."
"No," says Shark firmly, "We haven't." That's
strictly true -- Teri
Cralla is conveniently back on board the ship, of course, and not among
"we" dinner guests. "Why
are you interested?"
"Because eventually I'm going to have to look into
some aspects of that mess, and if anybody happened to have been
involved in it, it would be nice to have a little more information and
at least, you know, rule out alien space bats."
Kalida laughs, "Theoretically speaking, I think we
can rule out the alien space bats."
"Sooner or later I'm going to sit down in some
meeting, and some guy is going to say 'What about alien space
bats? Did they do that?' I don't have to say why I know, or
explain anything, but I'd like to know if you were the alien space bats
who had the FGMP, for example."
Kalida says, "I don't think I've ever been called an
alien space bat."
Silence comes over the table.
Misha says, "Well, as you are aware, we...
died. Having died, it has altered our perspective on freely
offering information on our whereabouts, past, present, or
future. I would never impugn the value of your gratitude, I am
afraid I am ignorant of the value of your gratitude."
Arken says, "The value of my gratitude could
include, for example, me just reporting that this case is closed.
I mean, the FGMP downtown is just a small part of what went on there,
as you might know."
Shark types into his hand puter a message to Mich,
asking him to ask Misha (where it can't be overheard) if he should ask
who it was who killed them. Mich relays the message.
Out loud, Misha says, "So, are you aware of the
circumstances surrounding our death?"
"No," says Arken. "If you'd like to tell the
story, that would be great."
"Actually we were more interested in filling our
gaps in the story."
"If I knew more of the story, perhaps I would know
what gaps there are to fill in. The news said there was a problem
with the star, a solar instability. You were conducting privately
funded research. So what's the story? What gaps can I fill
Helia says, "Who tried to kill us?"
"I don't know. Unless you can give me some
"How did they try to kill you, what happened?"
"If we knew, that would be the answer, wouldn't it?"
Shark says slowly and carefully, "A person who met
all the requirements of Naval Intelligence gave us a device that was
supposed to assist protecting from the stellar disruptions that are
reported for that system.
That device in fact exploded just as we
exited jump, damaging our jump drive which we were able to repair using
the skills of our crew. And then when we returned, our return was
resisted with great force."
"What sort of great force? Can you be
"A Midu Agashaam class destroyer not broadcasting
"How were the credentials of the guy who gave you
"He met all the correct ID exchange."
"Why would Imperial Navy
Intelligence want you...?"
"I asked them if them if there was any reason we
shouldn't, and he volunteered... That was on the system next to Zett,
"So there was a destroyer there?" Arken
pauses, then says, "And that would be when you picked up the ship
that's registered for you. Well, I'm sure you had some trick for
getting out of that situation. It was not... regular Imperial
"That's what we were afraid of. Who was it?"
"I don't know. But it was not anything that
was sanctioned by Imperial Navy Intelligence up the regular chain of
"I had made that leap."
"It was definitely not sanctioned by any of
the regular chain of command that Imperial Navy Intelligence, or anyone
on that regular chain of command from... the bottom to the top."
Helia says, "Not officially, you mean."
"No, I don't."
"So it could have been surreptitiously approved."
"No. I mean, nobody on the official chain of
command sanctioned it."
"So it was local."
"It was... some other element." He looks
pointedly at Shark and says, "And you understand what I mean by the
chain of command running from the bottom to the top."
"Yes. And that should concern us and the chain
Misha asks, "Does it concern the chain of command?"
"Yes. It does now."
Shark muses to himself that this renders redundant
the question of whether they should go to the Archduke with
information. He believes they just did.
Arken continues, "So what about Wonstar?"
Shark says, "We suspected them because of the...
This crew was originally funded through the Marquis Crestworthy,
through the Department of Horticultural Fertilizer, through the
made to that organization from the Wonstar Development Corporation, and
it was on a
research mission for that chain of command that this whole thing
happened. So following that chain back up, they were the people
who knew where we were going, potentially, so we suspected them."
"They had nothing to do with killing you. They
had nothing to do with the destroyer where it shouldn't
have been. What about what actually happened on Wonstar?
Did you have anything to do with, um, anything there?"
Misha says, "Theoretically."
"OK. I must say I'm less concerned with
setting off major military weapons downtown than I am about an
invisible ship that was in the vicinity of one of the company's
"What would an invisible ship look like?"
"What an invisible ship would look like is the gap
that happens when lasers hit it, or wash from one side to the other,
and make holes in the desert but not where it crossed the invisible
"So what would your concern for the invisible ship
"If I knew that the invisible ship was a once-off
situation that was not going to recur, then I could tell them to stop
worrying about it and blame it on alien space bats that vanished.
If you have an invisible ship, quite frankly with the stuff the Baron
has done before, I don't care."
The stories Misha has heard were significant enough
service to the Imperium, if they were true. They were pretty
crazy. They rescued a ship from the side of a mountain, come back
in and fly it away. Then they take that ship, invade enemy
"cockroach" territory, bring back scouting reports... all sorts of
Shark says, "Speaking of service to the Imperium,
the Baron's old friend, Fostriades...?"
Arken says, "As far as we can tell, he was
assassinated by a small nuclear device."
"Who assassinated him?"
"We don't know who did that, no."
Misha says, "Well, if someone -- anyone -- were to
have an invisible ship, it would not be in their interests to promise
never to use it again."
"Not at all. I just think it would really be
in their interests not to attempt to penetrate some company
installation. One particular company installation. Again."
"That company's particular installation, yes.
Now I'm not saying I could arrange a tour of the place..."
Shark suddenly realizes that Sir Arken Hauther is
speaking relatively freely here. That means he must trust the
security in this location, far beyond anything Shark himself could
Arken continues, "...but I can assure you that if
they know that the invisible ship really was a figment of their
imagination, then they would have no reason to be concerned about it."
Misha says, "Perhaps something less than a tour,
more of a... white paper?"
"I'm not at liberty to tell you what's going on
Kalida says, "Hypothetically speaking?"
"Hypothetically speaking? It is not surprising
that Marquis Crestworthy is getting his funding from that... place."
Shark says, "There's always stories of invisible
ships. How many recent stories have there been?"
"There have been two."
"That one and...?"
"The other one we are still investigating."
"And it was... where? When?"
"It would relate to an unauthorized use of planetary
"Yes. Unauthorized. Now if you wanted a
link with somebody who might have been trying to kill you, an
unauthorized use of planetary defenses, an unauthorized use of a Naval
Intelligence destroyer... one would have to wonder if those were
connected. I am wondering."
"I would certainly consider them very connected,"
smiles Shark. He types to Mich again to ask Misha if he should
say that anyone who authorized the use was able to see the invisible
ship. Mich relays it to Misha. Misha nods. Shark
continues, "Whoever did the authorization certainly targeted the
invisible ship rather precisely."
"Well, something was targeted, and the first thing
to be targeted was hit. That was some possibly innocent ship that
happened to be in orbit. In the same way that weapons grade
lasers show up invisible ships, meson gun explosions can
"That ship was probably collateral damage. So
completely hypothetically, that was very precise targeting of something
that can't be seen."
"It could probably be seen well enough to estimate
the target, in the same way that a ship shows a shadow from laser
weapons, large explosions washing around the edge of an invisible
"Before the explosion, the targeting was precise."
"So do you have any information about that?"
"No," says Shark quickly.
"Can you help us track that down?"
"We would love to help track down unauthorized use
of Imperial resources," Shark smiles.
"If, for example, hypothetically some anonymous data
tape were to find its way into my hands describing a hypothetical
imaginary situation that might have taken place, containing information
that might help us track it down..."
"No official investigation would then be started,"
"Correct. If at some point some work of
fiction were to find its way to me, I would of course treat its source
as a work of fiction..."
publishes some very interesting
books," smiles Shark.
"If you say so. I've never actually read any."
"And they might be even more interesting in the
"Really? OK." Arken is clearly intrigued.
"And the Marquis has taken on the challenge of
publishing him since he's gone into hiding." Shark tries very
hard to keep a straight face.
"OK. But anything that could find its way to
me that would help in a hypothetical unofficial investigation would be
really useful. We'd really like to know who did that and why."
Misha says, "Well, to the previous matter of space
bats, I think you can tell them that it was in fact space bats.
We don't believe the space bats will return to Wonstar in a..."
"...space batty kind of way," says Kalida.
Misha says, "We continue to remain curious about
Wonstar, to the extent that any of those you run into might be able to
share information with us. Just to assuage our curiosity."
Arken states, "Let's just say that Wonstar is
sanctioned by the higher levels of the chain of command. Marquis
Crestworthy's research is contributing to the knowledge of the
Imperium. Personally I wish him great success with it.
Should he wish a restricted tour -- say in five years time or so,
perhaps when there's less construction at the site -- we might be able
to arrange that. Of course, that would require my
gratitude. But there is time to come, we will no doubt run across
each other again."
Shark laughs, "I have that feeling, yes."
"...if you seem to continue to find interesting
Helia says, "So people that find interesting places
tend to run into people who are just plain interesting."
"I would say so."
"I guess that makes us interesting as well," smiles
Shark assures Arken that if they get data, they will
investigate what they can.
Arken says, "You don't need to investigate it, just
pass it on. I'll make sure that if there are results, you will
"I'll give you what I know about the people who
arranged for our 'safe' passage to Zett."
"I would be grateful for that too."
Misha says, "Are you aware of the Marquis' last
"I am aware he got a Starburst for Extreme Heroism
for his actions during a mutiny. The details have always been
very vague about it."
Shark says, "Do you know where that mutiny was to
"No, the details are too vague for that. It's
all been in -- I would say misplaced, but more displaced --
files. Would that be an interesting story?"
"Yes, I would suspect it would. Maybe the
Marquis would tell you himself."
"I guess a trip to Mora is in
Could you perhaps provide a letter of introduction?"
"Then I think that Mora would be my next
stop," says Arken. He turns to Helia and says, "If only I had a
pilot and astrogator of your capability to take me there!"
The larian says, "Do you have a pocket deep enough?"
"Yes," smiles Arken.
Shark says, "But his travels aren't as interesting
as ours, I would bet."
"I'm not sure about that," teases Helia. She
continues, "I suspect the Marquis would be very disappointed if I left
the ship at this time. Perhaps the next time we meet up I may
be... more able to dispose myself that way."
Arken says, "It was just wishful thinking."
Helia gives one of her bright disarming grins, and
says, "Ask again another time, sir. You know my people, we do
like to fly. And we look good doing it."
Arken returns her grin.
Misha adds that they would be interested in any
information about alien space bats he might come across.
Shark says, "I don't know if you'd know this, but...
Do you know who declared Zett a red zone and why?"
Arken says, "It's because of stellar instability."
"Yes, that's the party line. Who made that
"I'm not sure. I don't know that."
"We would like to find out."
"By that same token, I think so would I. I
will look into it."
Dinner is absolutely wonderful. Bringing in
Vonish as private chef was definitely a good move. Surely this
meal will raise the effective social standing of those attending!
That at least would be true among the local social circles.
Certainly those who dined here this night have learnt more about
Small talk occupies the rest of the night. Sir
Arken and Kalida discuss the latest fashions on Rhylanor,
input from Helia. Arken also asks if Kalida has any message to
take back to the family on Adabicci, as he'll certainly be
passing through there on his way to Mora; he also offers to
deliver any message Helia wants to send back home. Both will be
taking him up on his offer.
The discussion among themselves continues as Helia
flies the launch back to Nightshade. Misha notes that
they know there's a link between the stuff they're doing at the Wonstar
Development Corporation and Zett.
Shark corrects him, saying that there's a link
between psionics and the WDC, because of the funding. They don't
know if the WDC got the Marquis because of his academic record and
focus, or because of that and the Zett incident.
Misha asks if the Marquis was publicly investigating
"No," says Shark, "That's illegal. He can't
publicly be doing it. He is doing parapsychology, a fringe
science in which the University of Mora has a very strong
department. He has his Ph.D., but dropped out of medical school
after three years." He then recalls that the Arden Society
the Zett event, but they didn't ask them about the Mora
Misha says, "I'd be shocked if... I had been
assuming that the Mora event was sanctioned, and if it wasn't,
Shark continues, "I suspect that whoever shot at us,
are the same people who tried to kill us at Zett. I now
suspect, given his non-answer about why Zett was quarantined,
given his knowledge of the activities of the Marquis currently, that he
is not aware of why the Marquis was at Zett, or that he was
there. So if we find out who quarantined it, we're well on the
trail of who it is has been trying to kill us. But that means
there's a second organization doing psionic research, within the
Imperium structure or more precisely, parallel to the Imperium
structure, using Imperial resources. I had suspected this was
possible, and we had discussed whether we should go to the Archduke and
say this is going on. I think we just did. That was the
Misha asks if there's any chance their friends from
of Arden are connected with, or are, this organization
within the Imperium.
"No," says Shark, "Because they would have shot us
directly. They wouldn't have had to explode something behind us
to see us. So there's yet another organization that's interested
in black tech. So it looks like Wonstar doesn't know about black
tech in any way. Not even that there is black tech that they
hadn't figured out, which is what we thought before. They don't
even know about what was at Zett."
"Our dinner guest didn't seem to know about black
"...that means the Archduke doesn't know about black
"Right. Unless he might know something that
this guy doesn't know, but I doubt it."
"This guy has a lot of the information. Given
the importance of this, he would have acknowledged even a
reminder. Now I suspect that at some point he will call in a
favor of 'take us on a tour of your ship' or whatever."
"I think that would violate our agreement."
"Certainly. But do we really want to abide by
that agreement? We're definitely loyal to ourselves; the question
is, are we loyal to the Imperium, or to the Protectors of the Known
Universe, as they've claimed."
Misha says, "I think we have to be loyal to
both. When it comes down to it, we have to be clear to Arken that
we can't talk about this thing."
"There's a benevolent organization that..."
"We want to be careful about that. We can't
say that there's some organization."
"If we ever tell them, 'We can't tell you that,' we
can never be in their physical presence, anywhere they can get to us,
because they will get us and they will drug us or whatever."
"Actually, if they stole that information from us,
in my opinion we haven't violated it."
Kalida says, "We don't want to be in a position
where that interpretation is forced on us."
Misha continues, "Now I think we might find a way
that we can guide them in the right direction without violating our
Shark notes that they have not told the black ship
people about Zett, not directly. He says, "Arken already
knows we got our invisible ship while we were at Zett.
He's smart enough to send somebody to check it out, even if there was
only one ship there." He adds that no-one knows of their secret
base in the Bowman
system in District 268,
where Sagan and
Jaekovic Ils-Nevronne are fixing up the pre-Maghiz Darrian base
exploiting and/or selling mining claims under Kalida's name. He
continues, "Now the Archduke knows we have an invisible ship.
That the Grand Admiral has an invisible ship -- as far as he is
concerned, it's his ship. Even though there's a Marquis or two on
board, politically it's his ship. He's the trustworthy military
man on board."
Misha says he was really hoping to get some leads on
black tech from him.
Shark says, "They don't have any information on
black tech." He pauses, then says, "Do we want to give him the
guy with the statue?"
Misha says, "If all he wants is information about
the statue, I'm willing to trade something like that if he's willing to
give us information about his statue."
Shark asks what the best information TL17 could give
on the statue -- he doesn't want to give the best information they can
give him with black tech, obviously. The answer is that it's not
enough -- at least, pretty much just general composition and precise
dimensions and 3d model. They could give him that.
Misha wonders if Arken would be willing to give him
his statue in trade for information they'll learn from it. It
seems unlikely, but it's worth asking.
Shark sums up: "We still have to worry about the
Navy. Not the Navy in general, but individual pieces
thereof. There is a faction of the Navy controlled by the Arden
Society. The black tech people stole Anastasia by using
what appeared to be the Imperial Navy.
Mich chimes in over the comm: "From what the Arden
Society said about these ships, there's no technology that the Imperium
has that could defeat them."
"It implies that enough nuclear warheads will lower
our shields enough that the primary weapon will actually damage another
ship. The nuclear weapons themselves won't do anything."
Mich confirms, "The nuclear weapons are not there to
damage the ship. They're to knock the shields down to where the
big gun can get through the shield. So even the big gun won't go
through the shield until you knock it down with nuclear warheads
first. If we came across another Arden Society ship and just shot
it with the big gun, it would do nothing."
"Which is why we shoot all 720 missiles at once,"
"Not all will get through, but that creates a cloud
exploding simultaneously to knock down the shields enough that the
primary weapon can get through."
"So this is a gunboat. This is not a
battleship. This is a one shot -- you only get one shot.
Then you have to run away and hope they don't kill you."
Kalida says, "You have to hope you're only battling
one other ship."
"Or that you've got other ships with you. This
is a gunboat. This is a PT boat. Big frigging PT boat, but
it's a PT boat."
"Just imagine what a battleship would look like,"
Mich says, "We've seen one twice this size."
Shark says that's not enough to carry a lot -- maybe
Misha says that the other thing they got out of this
meeting was they had suspicions that the Imperium, or some factions
within the Imperium, was out to get them. What they've learned is
that those factions are disconnected from the Imperium itself, and that
Wonstar is not part of that faction.
As Shark puts it, they're learning who that faction
is not. They're not Wonstar, and they're not the Archduke.
They have already figured that the other
quasi-Imperial agency that is after any black technology they can lay
their hands on, they were the ones responsible for their
"accident." They didn't know whether the Archduke knew about them
or not -- now they're reasonably confident that he does not. But
as Misha points out, that does somewhat complicate their situation.
Shark says that the Emperor's daughter, Grand
Princess Iphegenia, could be in on it. She sponsors the
FarSpace Service. But it's not the Archduke.
Mich says that whoever it was had to be high enough
to take over the planetary defenses on the Archduke's homeworld.
Misha asks Robert if he -- or someone with his skill
-- could break into the planetary defenses and take them over.
Robert replies that he couldn't do it that fast.
Misha continues, "What if you knew you were going to
need to, with enough lead time...?"
"Still couldn't do it," says Robert, "You're not
going to know the command codes ahead of time, because they're going to
"So this actually required someone working on the
inside of the planetary defenses," says Misha.
Shark says he hopes that the fate of the people
there will be among the data Sir Arken will give them. Names,
images, descriptions, contacts -- all this could be useful. He
intends to give in return the name and as much information as he can
about his contact on Ferle that tried to kill them.
Misha says that in terms of their agreement with the
Federation of Arden, if they could convince the Archduke and his people
-- without actually telling them who the Federation of Arden is, or
that they even exist...
Robert points out that they've already told the
Archduke's man that Gavrolovitch's books ring true.
Shark says what they really said was that he should
read new ones coming out, that they would be a means of communication.
Robert says again that the most recent book is about
Arden, and basically said that they're there with black technology and
guarding it for themselves.
Shark wonders where Gavrolovitch got his
information. They need to read that book and see if there's
anything they missed. But how did he get it so close? So he
had to have some sources.
Misha continues, if they can convince the Archduke
to eliminate the rogue organization on its own, but not chase after
black tech himself -- leave that to them...
Robert says that the way it's described is not black
tech as such, but it's couched in terms of artifacts. "So there's
a rogue group in the Imperium that's hoarding artifacts, and they're
terminating people who've ever seen an artifact. Those are true
Misha nods. He likes that.
Robert continues, "The language on things like the
statues is different. They're looking for artifacts of this one
ancient race, and they're hoarding those artifacts. It
specifically says, if it has writing like this on it, we will find you
and kill you, and confiscate those artifacts. So we're couching
this in terms of artifacts, not black tech. So if you can
convince the Archduke's man to go after the quasi-Imperial organization
that's hoarding artifacts, and terminating anyone who held those
artifacts. That's not the Arden people."
Shark says, "The Arden people are doing that as
well, but they're only doing it to people who figure out the artifacts."
"Using black technology. That's
different. While the quasi-Imperial group is interested in black
tech, we don't want to phrase it that way."
"There's another connection here that I don't
understand yet. Anastasia got black tech warheads.
Did those come from the Zett stash?"
"There's no way for us to tell," says Mich.
"Professor Farol just said a shipment came, and said he might be
interested in these, and he equipped the ship with them. He
didn't ask where they came from, and there's no marking on them other
than a manufacturing glyph."
"So where did those warheads come from? They
were certainly provided to Farol to help with the war against the
cockroaches. Basically what he was doing was providing technology
and resources at that end. So whoever it was, was helping the
Imperium -- not that we're saying this parallel organization doesn't
help the Imperium, but they don't report to the Archduke, and probably
not the Emperor."
"If another organization came across a cache..."
"But they would have black tech. There would
be rumors . Unless we're saying there's a third
organization... We have two organizations we know of that have
black tech. There's the Federation of Arden, which isn't going to
supply Imperial organizations with warheads, and the other one, but
Mich points out they could have come from the bigger
ship at Zett, or from the smaller ship with the hole in it.
Misha asks if they have any evidence to connect
whoever it was who took Crestworthy to Zett, and the
"Yes," says Shark. "The only people who knew
what was at Zett are the people who were protecting Zett.
They know about the black tech. They brought Crestworthy there to
try to figure it out. But it wasn't Sir Arken Hauther."
Misha says, "So somebody within the Imperium found
the cache, or just the missiles by themselves, and somehow got them to
Mich adds, "There's other aspects of black
technology that had to have been leaked to Farol. To build the
antimatter generator, he had to have had some guidance in that area, it
was so far beyond."
Misha asks if it's possible the FarSpace Service
itself found black tech, and passed it on to Farol.
Mich agrees. It's a possibility that they were
supplying him with interesting pieces of black technology, hoping he
could figure some things out.
Shark agrees. Based on what he's heard that
they did to support Anastasia that far out, they certainly had
a lot of resources. "They claim and have some evidence of being
backed by Grand Princess Iphegenia, but if you ask any scout, they
don't know about the FarSpace Service."
Misha says, "Mich, you've dealt with the FarSpace
Service, right? Just your impression of their style, would they
eliminate someone going to Zett, or try to eliminate us at Mora."
"No," says Mich immediately. "FarSpace was
more autonomous. It wasn't a centrally managed system."
"My impression is that their point was to combat the
"That's what they were doing at that time," agrees
Shark. "They are supposed to... boldly go far beyond where the
scouts have gone. That would be the perfect organization to take
over, to utilize. There's a loose organization of well financed
spacemen, that if I come in with a shred of credible evidence that I
can give them an order, will likely do what I tell them to do.
The FarSpace Service might be a good organization that was taken over
by that technique, or it might have been a corrupt organization that
has taken on the cover of a good one. Or it could be a good
organization, and that one place with the Professor was being
used. Didn't you say you had a hard time finding the Professor a
couple of times? They kept moving him?"
"Yeah, they did," confirms Mich.
"Like they were hiding him."
"He went out hunting a lot. Hunting
what? Perhaps hunting other caches."
"That planet was blown up by the Federation of Arden
people because he was too close. But then they weren't feeding
him information because they wouldn't have blown it up, unless they
pulled him off the planet first, but let's actually believe they blew
They lapse into silence for the rest of the
three-hour flight to the starport.