(25) No Wild Geese Here
The Nightshade Campaign (287-1122 to 307-1122)
287-1122 : Curmudgeon
/ Fessor / Foreven
arrives in the system
at 19:00 in
stealth mode. The astrographic
data seems rather out of date, or
at least the description doesn't mesh with the UWP. Supposedly
the world presents a
serious risk of getting involved in local
politics, but on the other hand the UWP says there is an official
population of just 10.
They've been looking for the Llanamith
battle group which they believe has been commandeered by Admiral Lord
Santanocheev, who they think is making an end run to attack Zhodani
Consulate worlds in Chronor
There is very little here. There's a fairly
dim red star, three gas
giants, the mainworld
itself orbiting the
innermost gas giant. Curmudgeon
is classified as tech
level 5, Industrial. It is possible they would not have noticed a
fleet come through, especially if all the fleet did was refuel at one
of the outer gas giants. There are no ships currently insystem.
Misha Ravanos presents their options: they can land
on the off-chance that they did or did not see the fleet come through
here, or they can just move on. The consensus is to at least talk
to the locals from orbit.
Helia Sarina flies them in to the mainworld and
enters orbit. Confusingly, there are no less than three beacons
broadcasting on Imperial
frequencies claiming to be the starport.
Robert Morris is a little concerned that they can't
tap into the net here through another ship, to hide their own way
in. Nevertheless, he tries to tap in anyway; he has to use some
emissions, of course, but isn't too concerned about that just
yet. Still, it doesn't make a difference, as there is no
network here to tap into. There are manned starport radios, but
that seems to be it.
Misha says they should come out of stealth and ask
Mich Saginaw asks if they want the transponder on --
not in Imperial space, and so don't really need it legally here.
Misha agrees. Helia drops out of stealth mode.
For once they'll be talking to the starports
themselves rather than letting Nightshade handle it.
Robert picks the nearest one and patches Misha through.
"Hello," says the starport.
"Hello," says Misha, "We're seeking a large fleet of
ships and wondering if perhaps they came through here."
"No, nobody's come through here. If you want
to come down and land, you can check our records."
"I believe you."
"We'll even throw in a free refueling."
"A free refueling? Wow. I'll talk it
over with my captain."
"Okay, we'll still be here."
"Thank you." He indicates to Robert to end the
Robert connects Misha to the next starport.
"Curmudgeon Starport, how can I help you?"
"Yes," says Misha, "This is the H.M.S. Starduster.
We're looking for a large fleet of ships that would have come through
here in the last month or so. Do you know anything about it?"
"No, no ships come through here."
"No ships at all?"
"No, just you. So the trade goods are
particularly good at the moment. You might get some really good
prices if you come in and land."
Helia whispers to Misha to ask what they have.
Misha asks, "What do you have?"
"We have all sorts of local goods here. What
are you looking for? You can find some pretty good chemicals and
raw materials too, if that's your line."
"We're looking for Blockade Bourbon."
"It's a special kind of liquor. My captain's
overly particular. I'll talk over landing with my captain and get
back to you."
"Thank you. We'll be waiting for your call."
Robert ends that one, and connects Misha to the
final remaining starport.
"Hello," says Misha, "This is H.M.S.
Watchamacallit. We're on the trail of a large fleet that
would have come through here."
"No large fleet has come through here."
"Are you sure?"
"Thank you very much for your time."
"You're welcome. You need any services while
"Undetermined at this time."
"Okay. Feel free to come back. Give us a
call. We're the official starport on this world, so don't accept
"I see." Misha signals Robert to end the call.
To the crew, Misha says, "What makes a starport
Helia says, "The government. Oh my god, I bet
there's more than one!"
"Really? They all made an emphasis that they
were the official one. I'm trying to figure out if they're simply
competing with each other, or whether they're actually trying to lure
people in for nefarious purposes. I have a small urge to go down
to the planet and see what it's like, but we can do that later."
It's time to leave. They're headed to Atsa
in the Zhodani Consulate, and that's just a single jump from
here. They will be arriving in stealth mode; even though they're
not an Imperial ship -- Nightshade is registered as from Dulu
/ Scorpio / Foreven -- they want to be sure not to appear as if they're
an Imperial ship pretending not to be an Imperial ship. Misha
wants to make it very clear -- but being
not noticed at all is the best.
Misha and Mich discuss the artificial power
signature that they usually emit. Misha has been wondering if
they can emit something that's less recognizable as Imperial.
Mich tells him that all fusion plants have a similar signature, and
it's more a function of the tech level than the area of origin.
Helia takes them out of orbit, out to 100 diameters,
and at 23:00 they jump for
Atsa / Chronor / Spinward Marches.
Nightshade arrives at 11:00 after a now
consistent 5-1/2 days in jump. Mich decides that this is pretty
much the limits of the vortex generators at the moment; to make further
progress he needs a mathematical genius, or preferable several -- like
Helia, Helia, and Sally. Of course there's a high probability
that the last two of those are no longer alive, perishing with
Professor Farol on the research
station on Karma.
that crew, however, they could start advancing the science of
jump. Mich has started work on a paper on
vortex generators, sensors, and jump drives. None of that is
actually black tech, and he's careful to keep it in the context of the
Imperial technology stream. He can now incorporate samples of the
control logs -- empirical data to back up the theory.
For most of them, this is their first visit to the
Zhodani Consulate, although of course in stealth mode they won't
exactly be visiting as such. Still, Mich has made sure that his
helmet is working properly now that they're in the land of the
Shark keeps working on Zhodani language.
Misha keeps training Kalida Siena, Marchioness of Nakege,
in the use of her
zack. The instruction is painfully slow -- Misha seems unable to
improve the speed of her progress, but certainly isn't getting in the
way. Strangely enough, at this point Helia is the best instructor
for basic Zack Fighting; Kalida starts making fast progress under the
larian's direction. Kalida still is at the level where she needs
to wear her safety necklace to avoid hurting anyone else.
Atsa has a white primary star with a dim
red dwarf secondary. It's a busy system with lots of ships coming
going. There is definitely a naval base, but no
signs of a battle
going on or even of a massive Imperial battle group. As far as
Callisto can tell, there are no signs of there having been a battle
here either. All the normal transmissions are being made.
Nothing out of the ordinary is going on.
Robert gets the idea to sneak up on Zhodani warships
and try to figure out their transmissions and coding methods.
While they're doing that, Helia will (at Misha's
request) be ready to jump immediately for Ninjar.
will be ready as well.
The process of tapping their communications is
normal procedure for everyone now, but making it riskier is that
they've never done this with Zhodani ships. Helia matches
perfectly with a fairly good sized warship.
The first task Robert does is to start the ship
learning the Zhodani language. That's pretty easy. The next
thing to do is to crack the coding scheme. He records the data
stream, but Zhodani cryptography is quite different. He has the
coding system -- sort of -- but it's modulating in a very unexpected
way. He understands Imperial and even Hiver coding, but the
Zhodani are using some strange modulation that he just can't
grasp. He can gets snippets of information, but all he can do is
hang on to the interpretation for a short while and then lose it again
when the modulation changes. He tells everyone that from the
clear data he does get, that everything is normal here and there is no
state of alert.
He asks Helia how long they can stay in position to
gather data. She says that as long as the ship doesn't jump, she
can follow it for quite some time. She has positioned Nightshade
clear of the surrounding escorts and fighter screen, and should be safe
in this position next to the much larger warship. In fact, she
tells Robert, this ship is in transit between the mainworld and the
naval base on the secondary. She estimates that she can stay in
position gathering data for about eight days. Vonish will have to
take over piloting watch while she sleeps, of course, in case of any
sudden course changes. The Doc could keep her awake for eight
days, but the consensus is that they are much better off with Helia
rested -- otherwise if the Zhodani ship does something sudden in five
or six days when the Doc says she might get a little touchy, it might
be quite unpleasant.
Even after eight days, Robert still hasn't cracked
the Zhodani code. Whatever they've done is extremely clever --
they're obviously better at it than the Imperials and even the
Hivers. Still, he keeps working on it -- once he's cracked it, he
can use it to improve their own algorithms. He does have enough
data from this one run, he thinks, to finish the work eventually.
It's 16:00 and the ships are approaching the naval
base at secondary. Helia says that she's expecting them to start
maneuvering soon, and they need to break off.
Misha asks her to take them away from the naval
base, and jump for Ninjar.
Helia does so. She takes them clear for an
hour, and then jumps at 17:00.
They arrive in system at 05:00 in stealth mode,
after 5-1/2 days in jump again. Everything seems normal here too,
again it's a busy system. The naval base here is larger than the
one at Atsa, but there is a lot less here in general
terms. There's less refueling options -- there is some
water on the mainworld, and the only other possibility would be
searching for iceballs in the asteroid belt. An incoming fleet
here would not be able to refuel before -- or during -- battle, so
would have to win in order to refuel.
There is no sign of an Imperial fleet here, and no
sign that one has been here.
Robert is still working on the Zhodani codes; at
least he's now certain he has enough data. He is making progress,
but it is going to take longer.
Misha goes back to Grand Admiral Baron Bridgehead
and asks him about the likely progress of the fleet -- could they have
beaten them here?
The Baron says that if Santanocheev was coming here,
he would have been here already. If he had been destroyed, they
would have seen signs of the aftermath wherever the battle was
fought. The fleet came to neither Atsa or Ninjar.
So what now? They do have a restriction on
their movements in that they need to meet Marquis Marcus Crestworthy at
about 130 days from now. At Nightshade's
jump-6, that still gives them plenty of time to "mess around" as Helia
At 07:00 they jump for Mizan-fel,
then being to go to Gyomar,
then back to Curmudgeon to
see the sights. Beyond that, there's nothing except to see how
the time's going in terms of their rendezvous with Marquis Marc.