(20) Dining With Dukes
The Nightshade Campaign (244-1122)
Edward "Shark" Teeth has been released and is back
on board Nightshade.
There really doesn't seem to be much
they can do now until Kalida Siena, Marchioness of Nakege,
tonight with the Dukes of Rhylanor and Trin.
The woman who kidnapped Shark uses the name Darya
Krelft. Supposedly she's age 22, a junior investigator with Gerry
Medford's agency. Everyone is pretty sure that's an assumed
identity, but Robert Morris hasn't been able to track down anything
behind it. They've collected some intelligence from
Shark's experience with her, but nothing that helps find out who she
is. She has a plausible enough background, but only the bare
minimum of records to establish her identity -- no club
memberships, no library card, nothing outside the required records.
On the other hand, Robert's monitoring of the
alert has revealed a good bit about the military
operations here. There are no new codes, however, and nothing
that shows any communications with unexpected groups -- the Imperial
FarSpace Service in particular is what Robert has in mind, but there's
been no evidence of them at all here.
They have a brief discussion about the "Library of
the Ancients" of which they have a part. Of course it means
nothing until it is complete, and they can't even tell how many parts
it will take to complete. They could discuss it with the Arden
Society, or with Lap'da on Digitis, but
it's not clear what
that would get them. The other distraction they have from their current
issues is they're supposed to meet Marquis Marcus Crestworthy on
185-1123 to sort out their mission as representatives of the University
of Mora to the ancient site on the red zone world of Victoria /
Marquis Marc should send them more details via TAS
Then there's Professor Willi Marsh's books.
The interesting thing is that he's put together some of the basic
principles of the script language, as well as the philosophical and
cognitive implications of such a language. In addition to that,
there was a side reference in another book to his work on the "talking
plants of Valhalla."
Mich Saginaw goes through the ship carefully to
perform a full diagnostic check. It's been a while since he's
done one, and he's always more comfortable knowing the ship is
perfect. The ship is indeed perfect. With that done, he
goes back to the training regimen that Grand Admiral Baron Bridgehead
has laid out for him, so he has the endurance to stay in sparkly pink
mode for longer during jump.
As for automating the process, he
and Robert have already done as much as they can with the data that's
available so far.
Time approaches for dinner. After a short
discussion, it's decided that Kalida will take
Misha Ravanos with her; it would be rude to take too many people to
this kind of occasion.
Kalida briefs Misha on who they'll be meeting.
Harlo Erghal, Duke of Rhylanor, is in charge of Rhylanor subsector, with
Artur Milhelm, Duke of Trin, being in charge of Trin's Veil. They
are both trailing
subsectors in the Spinward
Marches, which makes them
powerful in terms of economics and military. In the Domain of
Norris maintains a close relationship with the Dukes
under him; since he was and is still Duke of Regina, he tends to be
closer to Spinward Marches nobility than the other sectors in his
Krelft doesn't fit into this structure -- Kalida
says that she is clearly working on a different type of "outrank", as
the Duke of Rhylanor is only outranked only by the Archdukes and Emperor.
Kalida knows Rhylanor personally during her social
butterfly days here, but has never met Trin. The area they're
here to discuss is on the Trin's Veil - Mora border. The Count
Nexine reports to the Duchess of Mora, and so the world in Trin's Veil
-- that is under his jurisdiction would report to
Mora from the nobility point of view, but for Imperial administration
and taxation purposes are covered by the Trin's Veil civil service and
would be protected by the Trin's Veil fleets.
Kalida and Misha take a limo to the ducal
palace. Robert has everyone hooked up for communication; they all
assume that if anything sensitive is to be discussed, it will happen in
a secure environment and the commdots won't work. Mich could
build a black tech device to transmit (only), but it would not be very
small -- he would love to convert all their commdots to use black tech
transmission, but the smallest he could do right now would be about 15
x 10 x 2 cm. Now they do have miniaturized recording devices that
transmit only on receiving a triggering signal, like the ones they used
but Kalida considers that would be a breach of
protocol and Misha doesn't see a need for it either. Robert does
insist on giving them a flashlight, and tells them that if they get
into trouble they should turn it on, and the ship will know.
The meeting starts out in a thoroughly social
fashion, just the usual small talk. Attending are the Duke and
Duchess of Rhylanor, the Duke of Trin, and one other man who's
introduced simply as Admiral Rikk Bainoi. None of Rhylanor's
children are here, but that's not a surprise as all of them are still
under age. The Marquis of
Aramis isn't here -- he still hasn't arrived onworld -- and the
and Countess of Nexine are not at this occasion.
Kalida and Misha hold their own in the
conversations. They discuss fashion and mild gossip, and Admiral
Bainoi updates Kalida on some of the Marine and Navy people she used to
know. No-one asks any awkward questions, not even about Misha's
background and origins. If something isn't volunteered, it's not
a topic of conversation.
Trin is drinking cosmopolitans. The Rhylanors
are drinking a light red local wine. Kalida sticks with the good
bourbon (although not Blockade Bourbon, it is still excellent).
No doubt the Grand Am would have loved to have been here, but he's not
relevant to the discussions and it would have been a gaffe to bring him.
Small talk continues through dinner. It's a
very good meal indeed, thoroughly enjoyable to all. There is a
little discussion about the absence of the Marquis of Aramis, who is
now a little more than fashionably late. There is a definite
undercurrent that he might be harming his case by his delayed arrival
-- there's a comment that in light of the Ianic affair,
is unwise for him to risk offending anyone.
With dinner over, Rhylanor suggests that they might
all wish to retire to the drawing room. Duchess Sarah makes her
excuses and leaves, and the five remaining go on. The decor is
heavy wood, thick leather, and one large panoramic window looking out
over the city in the direction of the starport. Ships
taking off and landing provide a light show in the distant sky.
Robert loses the signal from the commdots.
This is not unexpected, of course.
Trin settles himself into an armchair with a large
glass of brandy and lets Rhylanor do the talking.
Rhylanor says, "Well, that was quite some
excitement, wasn't it?"
Nakege replies, "I've never seen anything quite like
"Well, not in peacetime I haven't."
"And during other times it's usually...
"Yes, that was a... quite a strange circumstance,"
nods Rhylanor. "You said your First Officer might have been...
involved in it? What happened?"
Nakege pauses. She plans to tell him the
story, but has reservations because telling him about the script
language will make him a target. She says that her First Officer
had come across some papers by a professor of Plankwell University that
had mysteriously disappeared. He was doing some research to see
if he could find them, and at that point he was kidnapped, apparently
over those papers.
"You say kidnapped? Kidnapped or arrested?"
"I guess that depends on your perspective.
There was no mention of an arrest being made. This woman simply
forcibly took him with her."
Rhylanor ponders this for a moment, then says, "And
at some point during this... process... somebody pulled a full military
"Exactly," Nakege confirms. "She took him to
the Naval Base.
I don't know what the alert was about, except to
make sure that nobody interfered with what she was doing."
"Rikk" -- Rhylanor indicates the Admiral --
"tells me a strike cruiser was standing by over their location too,
with scrambled marines ready to drop. It seems like a very large
over-reaction to me."
"It surprised us!"
"So who did this kidnapping, and what chain of
command do you think this involved?"
"She seems to think she outranks absolutely
everybody. We think perhaps she's connected with INI in some way,
but it goes a lot further. Where exactly it goes, I don't know."
"So what we've got is somebody who's pulling the
resources of Imperial Navy Intelligence, commandeering a subsector
capital's Imperial military forces for her own... jollies, and claims
to outrank everybody. Now when you say she outranks everybody,
what exactly does she mean by that? Do you have a feel for that?"
"She came out and said clearly that she outranked
you," says Nakege.
Admiral Bainoi nods.
Misha says quietly, "We have a recording of it, if
you would like to hear it."
Rhylanor raises his eyebrows. He says, "I
would be very interested in hearing it, yes!"
Misha says, "This may be of no concern to you, but
some of the conversation that was recorded talks about the contents of
the papers, and it was the contents that caused this
over-reaction. So you will become privy to some of the nature of
the contents of these papers."
Nakege adds, "That knowledge could be hazardous to
Rhylanor says, "I'll take that risk." He looks
around and says, "Anyone here is quite welcome to leave this room
before the recording starts."
No-one moves. Misha plays the recording of the
entire conversation with Darya Krelft. All listen in
silence. When it reaches the part about "vanishing" the Duke of
Rhylanor, Misha watches him closely, trying to judge something about
his character. He's not frightened, not angry, not annoyed even
-- interested, curious, definitely challenged.
Rhylanor speaks first. He says, "So, we're now
all targets, are we? So what is this linguistics? Why is it
Nakege says, "It's an extremely old language.
We believe it dates from the Ancients. It seems
communications and philosophy in one all encompassing way of being,
really. We don't know much about the spoken portion of it, all we
have is the written portion which is sort of a script. We believe
that the papers that have gone missing were about the script language."
"What about the person who wrote the papers?"
"He's dead, about 120 years ago. No heirs on Rhylanor,
his son and wife left a long time ago."
"So what's so important about this that people can't
know about it? That is worth making a duke vanish over it?"
"We'd kind of like to know that," says Nakege.
Misha says, "Certainly frightened somebody."
"We'd also like to know exactly who's involved,"
At this point Admiral Bainoi says, "She's Imperial
Navy Intelligence Special Operations. Apparently this group is
capable of taking
charge. Legally they appear to have the right to do pretty much
whatever they want to. This was described to me, and her office
presented me with documentary evidence as soon as it became necessary,
that she was entirely entitled to commandeer the Imperial Navy of
however much she wanted."
Misha asks, "So what is the stated function of the
"There is no stated function. They simply have
the authority to do what they want. As far as I can tell from
what I was presented with, there is some obscure legal basis for
considering them capable of taking whatever action is necessary for the
security of the Imperium. It's quite clear that the security of
the Imperium need not include the security of anyone in particular
Nakege says, "And it's the security of the Imperium
as they define it."
The Admiral nods. "They don't need to present
any justification or obvious threat, they can just take action.
As an Imperial Navy officer obviously I was under her command and not
able to repeat any of this. Obviously it would be very unwise to
repeat it outside this room's company. As an ex-Naval
officer, however, I am no longer bound by her authority. Now in
theory, as I read it, they can pretty much do what they want.
Those of us here think this is highly undesirable. We think they
are a threat to the Imperium."
"I completely agree with you," says Nakege.
It is obvious that the three of them have already
discussed this among themselves and agree with Admiral Bainoi's
The Admiral continues, "I would love to have any
idea of who might be in this organization, what their resources might
be, what they're doing. The Duke has appointed me as leading a
subtle investigation into this. We will be trying to look into
it, but it will be very difficult, obviously."
Nakege says, "I wonder how large this organization
"So do we," says Trin. "I'm assuming they have
operatives everywhere, but there can't be that many of them -- you
can't have a secret organization if it's too big. So, we know so
far that they've commandeered the Imperial Navy at a subsector capital,
they've grabbed somebody off the street, they've essentially threatened
to assassinate a duke... We were wondering what else they've done?"
Misha says, "We are aware of an incident on Mora, in which
they were able in short order to commandeer the planetary defenses."
gun incident? I never thought the news story quite sounded right."
"Well, we were investigating another aspect of this
language, and that triggered the planetary defenses. They are
well entrenched," says Misha.
Rhylanor says, "Well, Fulacin here tells me that
they could have ordered an orbital bombardment of this world and the
Navy would have complied. Oh, um, by the way, the ex-Admiral is
to be the Count of Fulacin. It'll be official in about a week's
time. Someone with the integrity to accept his orders not to tell
me, and then the courage of convictions to resign so he could, is
certainly a man I want on my side. I hope you two will be
cooperating closely, as obviously you have found these people more than
once." He indicates Nakege and Fulacin.
Nakege says, "I wouldn't say we found them as much
as they have found us."
"But if they are rare, then the incidents where they
have found you have been pretty spectacular. Compared with just
getting rid of a professor and erasing his works, they seem quite
Misha says to Fulacin, "How might a small ship of
highly talented individuals be of service?"
Fulacin replies, "Well, you obviously know something
about what they're interested in. That alone gives you an edge in
"We could keep poking our noses around until they
finally hit us with a meson gun. Not exactly the wise thing to
"What I'd really like to know is where they're
operating, what they've got, and what the chain of command might
be. All we've got so far is we have two operations, which could
be two people. Could be one person on Mora and one person
here. It's probably more than one on Mora. A
minimum of three people so far, and nothing that makes any sort of
organization." Fulacin pauses, then continues, "Except for one
other thing. Given what they're interested in, do you have any
idea why a flagship battle group from Five Sisters would be
headed into Foreven?"
This item was of course in the news. Fulacin
continues, "What we've got is, at this point we're pretty certain that
the deployment of the Five Sisters Tigress battle group was not ordered
through the Imperial Navy chain of command. We know it moved into
Foreven, from reports we know it was moving with whatever force was
necessary, in that it got into a battle
of sorts with some pocket empire in Foreven. So it was headed
from Five Sisters. Let me bring up a map here..."
The path he shows heads from Iderati
in the general direction of both Professor Farol's base on Karma and where
they found Nightshade at Zett.
Fulacin asks, "Is there anything out here they might
be headed for? This is not just a battle group, this is a Happy
Fun Ball battle group. It has to be very important. Any
Nakege and Misha exchange glances. Misha says
slowly, "We information that the INISO has some connection or
relationship with the Imperial FarSpace Service..."
Fulacin clearly hasn't heard of the IFSS.
Misha explains, "The Imperial FarSpace Service is a
bit like the INI, except that its area of expertise is Foreven.
They had a base on Karma in the Brod system
which was destroyed."
"Would that be the Imperial
Research Station in the news
item?" asks Trin. "A natural disaster, it said."
Nakege says, "It wasn't as natural as news reports
would lead you to believe."
Misha says, "It was natural in the same sense as a
nuclear explosion is natural."
"It sounded a lot more devastating than that," says
Fulacin. "Why would they be moving a battle fleet to a destroyed
base? Did they think that something's still there, or are they
going for something else? Anyway, so it seems INISO has reason to
be going that way. So it is distinctly likely that they have
commandeered this battle fleet. Which is an awful lot more of a
public move than causing an alert or firing off planetary defenses."
"Yes," agrees Nakege, "That's really noticeable."
MIsha asks innocently, "Moving a battle fleet,
that's a big deal?"
"Yes," says Fulacin. "You don't deploy Happy
Fun Ball unless it's serious. They said the meson gun firing was
to counter an act of piracy. The alert here can be explained as a
drill. Those two have plausible reasons. But to move all
those capital ships and escorts and support vessels..."
"So what's down there?"
"There's not a damn thing down there that's worth
it. There's nothing that justifies this amount of force.
This fleet could wipe its way through the entire Foreven sector and not
Nakege nods, "This is not subtle."
Misha says, "So, could this be yet another
Misha and Nakege silently consider that they may
realize one of their ships is missing. Of course, there's no
local records at the base to say what was supposed to be there.
It would have taken someone who actually personally knew what was there
to know that something was missing. Like retired Admiral Lord
Misha says aloud, "Do any of you have contacts in
INI that you trust well enough? On the theory that INISO use INI
for communication, is there a way to track her patterns of
Trin says, "The INI does not encourage the tracking
of its transmissions from its own people. It's a matter of
policy. If anyone in the INI can track it, a Zhodani spy can track
it. I have some contacts in INI and... a little background in
that agency myself. Here's another question for you: the
Archduke, whose side is he on? Just something to think
about. I know that we can trust everybody in this room.
That's about it at the moment. Given what's been going on here, I
have no confidence that this commandeered fleet isn't going to come
back through the Marches, pick up another couple of fleets on its way,
march on Capital
and depose the Emperor. I don't know who we can trust
here." Trin addresses Nakege, "You know Adabicci. He's
traditionally the Archduke's man."
"Very much so," agrees Nakege.
"Whose side is he on?" continues Trin. "That
might be somewhere you could help. Figure out if there's somebody
in the family who is not on the right side."
"I could try to find that out. I have some
contacts there. Who was in command of that battle group before it
Fulacin says, "That would be Admiral West.
He's just a hair short of making Grand Admiral. He wouldn't do
anything to jeopardize his career unless it was a serious thing.
If he's moving the fleet, then he has good reason to do it. Like
we had good reason to call this alert."
"So you think that it isn't that he took out the
battle group himself but was directed to by..."
"Absolutely. He would not have moved it
without orders through the chain of command. In fact, his orders
are to sit there and defend Five Sisters, not to move that fleet out of
Misha says, "So you think someone turned up at his
doorstep with papers like they did here?"
"It's certainly possible. He would not of his
own initiative take the fleet somewhere, and we believe that no orders
came through the Imperial Navy chain of command."
"So it's likely that if the orders came through
INISO, they went to him directly?"
"Yes. It would be the same pattern as here,
they came directly to me for the alert."
"So once we can contact him we can find out who the
orders came from."
"If you can. He'll have been ordered not to
say." Fulacin pauses, then says, "By the way, my presence here is
not public knowledge. As far as anybody is concerned, I resigned
my post and have left on my own private yacht already. I am not
here on this world."
Rhylanor says, "That's basically what we have.
If you need any resources from us -- a faster ship, one with better
"We'll think about it," smiles Misha. "We are
pretty attached to our ship."
Nakege adds, "It's served us well so far."
Rhylanor says, "Well, you dodged planetary defenses,
right? In a way I'd love to know how you did that.."
"A ship full of highly talented individuals," says
"Do you have any questions for us?"
"How do we contact you?"
"In the days to come, I hope you'll stay around here
for a while, while we sort out the aftermath of all this and see what
options we have. I'll have some trusted staff look into it and
see if we can get anything out of the data. And there is the
matter of the trade disputes -- we are having constant dinner parties
and receptions. Nakege, you and your entourage are always welcome
at all of them."
Rhylanor continues, "You can talk to any of
us. I hope we'll expand the list of trusted people soon, but as
of the moment, this is it. And if I may say so, it's a pleasure
to have you back. The circumstances are strange, but it will be
good to have you back on the social circuit again."
"I will certainly try to come back a little more
often," says Nakege. She and Misha say their good-byes and return
to the ship.
Of course no-one said anything about Sir Arken
Hauther. He himself never said who he was working for, of course,
even though Shark clearly considered him the Archduke's man. He
was another person with a theory that there was a separate chain of
command. They will probably want to mention him to Admiral
Bainoi, although Kalida suggests that they not tell Sir Arken about
these other people here.