(17) High Visibility
The Nightshade Campaign (243-1122)
arrives from jump
hours short of six days, with stealth mode off and the transponder
running. It's about 10 am.
They're here checking up on Professor Willi Marsh,
hoping to find a trail they can follow to his research and
publications. Perhaps he had a personal library or other records
here. Back on Mora,
Robert Morris had found a
in the academic papers in the ancient languages section of the official
Library of the Domain.
There were five papers by Professor Marsh which were removed in 1004 at
request of the executor of his estate. At the time he was a
professor at Plankwell University here in Rhylanor.
No new news has arrived here. Even though they
spent a long time in the Red
Zone, clearly if anything has happened it
was a long way from here, far enough to have not arrived yet.
They're arriving as a noble's yacht, in the
Kalida Siena, Marchioness of Nakege. They've picked the right
name, as this week all non-Imperial ships -- Nightshade
registered as from Dulu
/ Scorpio / Foreven -- are subject to minute
inspection, and are to remain outside orbit until boarded and searched
thoroughly. Supposedly this is part of routine security
measures. Being the private yacht of the Marchioness of Nakege,
they are however given the green light to proceed without inspection
and land without hassle. This is one occasion where the ship
couldn't handle all the conversation itself -- Kalida herself had to
pull rank and talk to the authorities, something she handled with ease.
They are assigned a berth befitting the Marchioness'
rank, and are number three in the order of nobles' yachts. On the
way down they arrange refueling, so that they can be seen to be ready
to leave at the whim of their noble.
The two nobles ahead of them are Artur
Milhelm, Duke of Trin, and Gratha and Alania
Delrio, Count and Countess of Nexine.
Unfortunately, an air gap and shielding prevent
Robert from picking up anything about the Duke's mission. He can
find everything about the ship itself, including weapon loadout,
Duke's itinerary, and so on, but he can't even get the remote viewpoint
where he can connect with the secure computer systems.
Edward "Shark" Teeth of course is concerned that
they need to know about this, and whether they should be
involved. Perhaps there's a high stakes poker game going on?
On the other hand, the ship of the Count of Nexine
is vulnerable to a remote viewpoint intrusion. Robert reveals
that the Duke and Count are here to meet with the Marquis of Aramis
about trade along the Mora
- Trin's Veil
border. Personal notes
by the Count indicate that there's a fair amount of tension between
local lines and Tukera
Lines concerning some of the more backwater worlds on the border.
They're here to discuss it. The
Marquis of Aramis is of course of the Tukera family, and so important
despite not having any geographical interest.
On the Trin's Veil - Mora border are a number of
worlds that are not on the regular trade routes.
worlds of this type are prime Tukera exploitation fodder. It
well be that the Ianic
decision has fired up other nobles' concern
about the megacorporation's
activities. The implication from the
Count of Nexine's notes is that they're intending to make sure that
Tukera does not expand there, and in fact cuts back on supposed
Of course they are also here for social reasons,
including continual parties where -- as Kalida explains -- most of the
real business will actually be conducted. She also says that this
set of nobles can't actually help with the Nakege issue,
in terms of setting a precedent with another ruling against Tukera.
So that's why they are number three in the parking
list, beating out all the various Barons, Knights, and other lower
nobles. The ranking noble is what counts, and a landed
Marchioness ranks quite highly indeed. The Marquis of Aramis has
not yet landed, and Kalida has gained field #3 by arriving first since
they're of equal rank.
There is no public timeline for this event.
The schedule hasn't been finalized, and probably won't be until the
Marquis of Aramis gets here. The Duke of Rhylanor will be hosting
it but not taking part, and he has a guest section of his estate
blocked out and reserved. According to the information Robert's
found, Marquis Aramis is three days late.
is the world they've picked to discuss as a primary topic.
Negotiations should be centered around that system, although obviously
it's intended to be a precedent for all the other worlds in the
area. The Count of Nexine is here because even though Tussinian
is in Trin's Veil subsector,
it's in the Nexine cluster and therefore under his jurisdiction.
While the Count of Nexine is subject directly to the Duke of Mora in
the chain of fealty, because of the system's location it's the Duke of
Trin who's here to rule on the matter.
Helia has been looking up Nexine, and
finds out the place is fascinating. She reads, "Nexine is
an underpopulated water world currently being used by
the Ministry of Conservation for reseeding efforts using biologically
humans. Candidates are provided with gill implants, synthetic skin
and webbed extremities; they are transplanted to Nexine and
in sea farming operations under the world's shallow seas.
In order to avoid disruptive effects on the shallow seas, no craft over
are permitted to fly low across the sea except with special permits,
available from the IMoC at the starport." Both
she and Shark think it would be a great place to go visit and use their
zacks or the regular suits from Goose.
Shark starts out by finding out where the library of
Plankwell University is located. P.U. is about as big as the
University of Mora, and of course there's also the Rhylanor Institute
of Technology here too. He observes as an aside that the asteroid
belt here is sure to have been searched thoroughly, although the
Imperium has probably not checked it for spatial anomaly shadows.
For now, the task at hand is Professor Marsh's work. He connects
to the local net and thus the P.U. library.
He's looking for all publications by Marsh, all
papers, notes, or anything else he has written. There are
none. Next he tries the R.I.T. library, and finds that there is
nothing there either, although R.I.T. has an entry saying that all his
papers are at Plankwell University.
He tells Robert, who is not surprised. Shark
expected some listings to be there, just not the critical papers.
Rhylanor is not as concentrated as Mora,
but it's still pretty built up. Since Marsh was doing he work
about 120 years ago, Shark looks for listings of all antique book
stores within 30 minutes of the University. There are
three. He tells Misha Ravanos, that he's going out on a trip.
Kalida also needs to make a trip ashore. Her
most recent wardrobe was assembled on Mora, and while it's
adequate for shopping or informal occasions, it needs serious updating
for the fashion center that is Rhylanor. Clothes from Mora
aren't up to date here, but anything here would still be in style on Mora.
Shark notes that the bodyguard suit never goes out of style.
By the time all the routine stuff has been dealt
with -- Vonish Kehnaan has already been working on resupply, while Mich
has already arranged the "refueling" -- it's mid afternoon.
Robert will remain on the ship, as Shark can show him anything
important if they're in contact.
Mich Saginaw wants to go ashore too, planning to
visit a bank with 5 MCr in cash;
this is his homeworld, and he's going to put money on deposit -- once
he's been reported dead for two years it's to be used to start up a
scholarship for jump drive research here. Vonish will help Mich
as his legal advisor to make sure it's set up properly; Mich wants to
keep it a secret from all but the crew. This will be a separate
trip from the others, and they take Teri Cralla as security. Teri
doesn't have any civilian bodyguard outfits, but Shark sets her up with
the right gear as she's being put in this position more these
days. Teri looks awesome in a black bodyguard ensemble - it
really suits her -- and Shark gives her a trenchcoat as well.
Helia Sarina of course is interested in book
shopping as well as clothes. Grand Admiral Baron Bridgehead also
will accompany them so he can update his wardrobe too.
So Shark, Helia, and Kalida visit the first
bookstore. Kalida is looking for books on Nakege and
related subjects. Helia is doing her usual cookbook search.
Shark is also looking for books on witchcraft that he can pass on to
Marquis Marcus Crestworthy.
This store has a large section on popular witchcraft
folklore. Three of these books appear to be serious about magic,
or at least were written that way -- one of them has clearly been
treated by the publisher as a work of imagination, although the content
is perfectly serious.
There are no books by Professor Marsh. This is
a small compact store run by an old man who knows where everything is
and can point it out, even though the sections have absolutely no logic
or system in how they're laid out. He says that if they have
anything by Marsh, they'll be in the section over there. Shark
asks him what Marsh's subject was, and the man says he thinks he was
into ancient languages of some sort. Ancient Languages are
between Gardening and Gravcraft, right over there. He tells Shark
to yell if he needs a ladder. Shark uses his PRIS binoculars to
read the titles on the higher shelves, but all the books are on
languages he knows, and there's nothing at all of interest to him right
Helia has been directed to Cookbooks, next to
Historical Romance. She finds some interesting ones to take back
Kalida asks about book on shipping lines. Wet
or Space? Space, she assures the old man. He says he'd
better show her where that section is, and hobbles off into the depths
of the maze. This section is well hidden. It has very
little on the megacorporations, but is well stocked on the smaller
operations. There's nothing on any lines operating near Nakege.
All are done here. The clothing shops are
nowhere near the bookstores Shark wants to visit, so they decide to
split up. Kalida, Helia, and the Baron will go for clothes --
which will take several hours of wining and dining, of course -- while
Shark will go to look for books. He knows that the sort of
clothing store the Marchioness of Nakege frequents will guarantee their
safety while they're there, freeing him up to do his work.
At Aliya Enli, which Kalida says is the only store
they need, Shark's aside to the doorman about ensuring their safety is
met with a sneer. He leaves them with a smile, knowing that
they'll be secure.
It's been a long time since Kalida has been on Rhylanor.
The shopping experience is wonderful, and they are treated to
discussion on the evolution of fashion since the Marchioness was last
here, the trends that are developing, and several new designers who are
starting to make a splash.
Shark finds the next bookstore is more modern with a
fully computerized stock inventory. There is absolutely nothing
by Marsh here either. Again, he looks for the magic section, but
they're all folklore. He looks specifically for books on low tech
civilizations that still claim to practice magic. There is
nothing here, and on reflection he would have noticed if there was
something like that in the previous store.
As Shark says he's done, the proprietor says that he
should hold on because there might be some stuff that isn't
catalogued. If he'd like to wait for a little while -- have some
coffee -- he'll check. Shark immediately realizes that the
nervous guy is trying to delay him; he says he has an appointment and
so can't stay right now. The man suggests he leaves his card, and
if anything comes up he can contact him. Shark hands him his
Alfred E. Neumann card, and is glad he's wearing gloves as Helia
It's been about half an hour since he left the
others. As Shark leaves the door, the bookstore manager is
reaching for the phone. Shark muses that the place would be full
of security cameras, but nevertheless uses his expertise to make sure
he loses any tail that might be on him already. He runs through
the pattern, and as soon as he changes taxis he should then be clear;
he does so at a public terminal. He then calls the Captain and
tells him that his queries in the public environment -- just asking for
these papers -- have drawn attention, which is interesting in itself
because how could he have known to look out for these queries?
On his way back he does cruise by the third
bookstore. It's another hole in the wall, even more than the
first one. Now is not the time to visit it, though. He
resolves to come back another time.
Shark just goes back to the starport, checking the TAS board
there on the way. TAS does have another building downtown, but
the one at the starport is usually more interesting. He drops the
three books there to be delivered to the ship in case he's arrested
before he can get there.
But how did the proprietor know to hold him?
The answer of course is that he didn't, he put it into his computer and
it flagged the guy to hold him there. Then there's the security
Robert hacks into the computerized book lookup
system. Under Professor Willi Marsh, the author, is a note to
call a certain number. His next task is to hack into the
bookstore itself and erase the local video records. He is amused
to find that with some clever work, he can actually crash the video
hardware. He erases the records of Shark, and then with a smile
wrecks the system.
Robert and Shark are collaborating now. After
hacking into the telecom company's systems Robert says that the number,
which was unlisted, is registered to a private investigation
company. Gerry Medford Investigators is the name of the company,
located in a low rent part of town. The number is not the public
number of the company, but another line into the office.
Of course now Robert hacks into the Gerry Medford
Investigators computer and pulls in a record of all his cases. He
works mostly on divorce, tracking children, checking people's business
partners, and the occasional lost pet. There are three people who
work for the company: Gerry Medford himself, the secretary Virna Wyck,
and junior investigator Darya Krelft.
Shark runs out to a public phone (which to his
surprise is free) and calls the number. It's answered by a man,
probably in his forties. Shark curses, says it's a wrong number,
and hangs up. It certainly wasn't the 22 year old junior
investigator, so it must have been Gerry himself. Sounds like
it's time for a face to face visit...
By the time all this is done, the Marchioness and
her entourage have finished shopping. It's been a very successful
trip. Everyone has a fine wardrobe picked out. The Baron
pays the bill, even though this time he barely succeeds as he tries to
hide his astonishment at how much this actually is. Still,
clearly it's worth it for him. While Bridgehead has stayed with
the timeless classics, the women have bought an assortment of classics
and more radical designs.
Shark's timing is perfect. He arrives at Aliya
Enli just as the other emerge, and escorts them back to the ship.
Mich's task has been simple and
straightforward. Vonish has smoothed the process perfectly;
Mich's 5 million is secure and its fate assured, with merely token fees.
All return safely on board Nightshade by