(27) To Be Named
The Nightshade Campaign (323-1122)
This file has yet to be fully
323-1122 : Curmudgeon
/ Fessor / Foreven
The representative from the starport has just
left. Misha Ravanos has told him that they aren't interested in
taking out some free trader on the ground, and thought they might get
better prices elsewhere. The military forces are still on alert
near the outlying buildings, but none of them have made any move.
Callisto has been pulling in her sensor data in sparkly pink, to
enhance the sparkly pink of Kalida Siena, Marchioness of Nakege, at her
Misha now wants to check out this other free
trader. They didn't get the coordinates when they refused the
job, but there is only one other free trader in the system and so it
has to be the one. It was landing at starport #2. There is
of course no local comm network, so the only information they have
from the transponder on the Imperial ship. The man didn't say
anything to verify that it was the same ship, so it was possible he was
sending them on a wild goose chase, and Misha wants to be sure.
Misha asks Robert Morris to contact the man at the
starport. Robert brings up the link and nods to his captain.
Misha asks what the coordinates were of the
ship. He eagerly gives the position of starport #2, the same one
where the trader had landed. The man adds that a good price would
be waiting for them if they help him out.
Misha motions to Robert to cut the connection, and
turns to his pilot. "Helia, take us there. Not too fast,
just normal speed for a normal ship. I don't want to scare this
Helia Sarina takes off and flies them to the next
starport at an uncharacteristically sedate pace.
Misha asks Robert if he thinks he can break into the
ship. He laughs, and presents the Captain with a crew list.
At Misha's request he adds that there has been no recent tampering with
the information -- it's all perfectly legitimate. Misha asks
Robert to open a link.
"Captain Ravanos, of the starship H.M.S. Number Two. Is
"Yeah everything's fine. This is Captain Will
Everson of the free trader Starshader. We're fine."
Privately on Nightshade,
Misha asks Robert if there's a way he can verify that voice matches the
name, and it's not just someone else claiming to be him. Robert
checked the crew identifying information on Starshader and verifies it is
indeed the Captain, and nothing's been tampered with.
Misha continues, "Captain Everson, I primarily want
to inform you that the other starport offered us a reasonably large
bounty to, and I'm quoting here, 'Smash you.' It wasn't enough
money to convince me to do such a thing, but I wanted to warn you that
the locals may not be entirely honest or friendly."
"Yeah. Ok. Thank you, I appreciate
that. Anything we should particularly watch out for?"
"The locals are neither honest nor friendly.
But they're not well-armed, as far as I can tell."
"Any reason we shouldn't do business here?"
"No reason, except watch your back. Caveat venditor."
"Yeah, we were kind of getting some funny responses
from the guys here. We weren't quite sure what to make of them."
"Well, as far as I can tell each of the starports
claims to be The Official Starport. It's not unreasonable given
the balkanization of this planet, but open bounties on other traders is
not good business."
"We figured there was some money to be made here."
"There very well could be. I'm going to give
it a shot at another starport. But we'll see what happens."
"Well, thank you. And thank you for not
smashing us. Just out of interest, what would it be worth to
"I think it was two million credits, minus a box of
"Nice to know we're worth that much," smiles Everson.
MIsha laughs. "Well, if you're not worth that
much, you could consider selling your ship."
"Hey, I'm still paying for it. I'm not going
to be worth anything for another ten years."
Misha says good-bye to the Captain of Starshader, and gets Robert to
connect him with starport #2. He tells them they have alcohol and
rugs for sale, and asks if there might be a market for either of these
here. The starport, of course, enthusiastically says they'll have
a great market here.
Kalida wonders if there's a history of free traders
vanishing here. There's not a lot of sources they could try, but
the system is an Amber Zone because of "High danger and likelihood of
being drawn into local politics as a tool of one faction or another."
Misha muses that it might not be so much that they
wanted them to smash the free trader, but more that they were hoping
for extensive collateral damage. He asks what a free trader is
really worth -- was the captain joking? He is told that a brand
new free trader would cost about 36 MCr, and an older one like this is
probably worth at least 5 - 10 MCr depending on what shape it's in --
and if it's operating this far out, it's probably in good shape.
Misha is now confident they were after the collateral damage.
Misha tells the ship to ask for landing clearance,
which it does and passes on to Helia. The berth is conveniently
right next to Starshader, and
the larian brings them in to a gentle and sedate landing The
Captain glances at Kalida and Callisto meaningfully.
This starport is laid out somewhat
differently. Callisto reports that the military capabilities here
are significantly better hidden. The underground bunkers and in
this case several missile stations are indeed already on active alert,
ready to open
fire. Misha asks Robert to send this information over to their
"Jeez, are you guys serious?" exclaims Captain
Everson in shock. "Whoa. After your last message were were
trying to get our guys back from the starport, but it's taking them
some time to get through the bureaucracy there."
"Let's see if we can confuse the situation a little
bit," muses Misha, "It's our specialty." He turns to Kalida and
confirms that Nightshade
would not be in any danger from the weapons here, but that Starshader would be in some
danger. To take down their own shields and expose them to an
expander takes about a megaton of coordinated nuclear assault, assuming
that enough non-black tech missiles could even get past Kalida in
sparkly pink. A standard Imperial free trader could be disabled
without much difficulty, causing considerable damage. Misha
tells Kalida she can act on behalf of the free trader should it seem
Misha turns to Vonish Kehnaan, and asks if he'd like
to take a trip into the starport. The vilani replies that he
feels much safer on the ship. Grand Admiral Baron Bridgehead
backs him up, hastily stating that no-one should leave the ship -- the
missiles wouldn't hurt the ship, but would kill anyone in
battledress. This isn't just an artillery barrage, it's full
Misha understands, and says that he and Teri Cralla
will go ashore to see if they can get the free trader's crew back to
their ship. Mich Saginaw double checks their gear before they
leave, and confirms that they have indeed donned it correctly; of
course, Teri doesn't need to be checked, but it has proven wise to
check the rest of the crew whenever they get into hostile environment
gear. Of course Misha looks really odd with his large sword
on the back of his vaccsuit.
The Captain and the Marine disembark to the landing
field. They walk over to the starport terminal -- probably built
by the same company as the previous one to the same design, a little
before the other most likely. At least, the landing pads and
buildings look the same, which of course is not true of the military
installations. They also probably get about the same amount of
traffic, perhaps slightly more here but on the same order of magnitude
-- almost none. Fessor subsector is not exactly the galactic
center, particularly this end of it -- at the rimward end it's a
bit more dense than it is here.
Before they cycle the terminal's airlock, Misha asks
Kalida if there is some weapon that they could have for sale that might
be interesting to a starport that they don't already have here.
His gunner says there isn't, but they could offer personal arms.
Misha likes that idea -- what Teri is wearing, TL15 battledress with an
FGMP-15, should go over very well here. Kalida suggests he offer
dozen combination units; she adds that the missile systems are well
above local tech, about TL13 she estimates. Someone came in from
offworld, probably the Imperium, to put in this anti-ship defense
system. She observes that they probably paid quite a bit for it,
Misha and Teri enter the airlock, which cycles
twice. There is a military guardpost here, but aside from the
behind the desk this starport presents much more obvious force.
There are a dozen men here, armed and equipped thoroughly. Even
the entry official is in military uniform.
Misha attempts to bluff his way in as a gun
runner. He makes it look good, exploiting Teri's presence to make
it convincing. He says, "Who's in charge of purchasing?"
"What are you selling?" says the man behind the desk.
"Well, I have some alcohol, and some rugs, and
perhaps some other equipment that could be useful. But we'll talk
about that with whoever's in charge."
"Certainly. Would you like an audience with
"If that's who's in charge, that's who I'd like an
"If you'd like to wait here for a moment, I'll set
it up right away." The man gets up from his desk and leaves
briskly through a side door. He's gone for five minutes, and
comes back to tell an impatient Misha that the Colonel will see him
now. The man adds apologetically that they'd like it if they
didn't take the heavy weaponry into the private audience -- as he says,
"The Colonel didn't get to be Colonel by submitting to potential
MIsha says, "I didn't get to where I am by allowing
my First Officer to stay behind. I assure you that I am quite
capable of assassinating your Colonel by myself."
The man blanches. "Yes, sir!" he says.
"This way please."
He leads them through a few rooms, through a blast
door, and to a fairly spartan office. The person sitting there is
in a Colonel's uniform, obviously modeled on the Imperial pattern.
Misha adopts a much more friendly attitude with the
Colonel. He reaches out to shake his hand, and the Colonel
responds and welcomes him. They exchange brief pleasantries, then
quickly get down to business.
"What do you want?" says Misha.
"Firepower," says the Colonel.
"What have you got?"
"Well, it's less what I've got than what I can
obtain, but as for what I've got, at the moment I have a dozen suits of
battledress with FGMP-15s."
"Fifteen million credits?" proposes the Colonel.
Kalida tells Misha that such gear should command a
premium price this far out, and the stuff is worth more like 1.5 MCr
per suit/gun combo, 18 million for twelve.
Misha attempts to look thoroughly disappointed and
says, "I'm sorry, I thought you might understand the effect this
equipment might have on your, uh, local economy."
"If you'd be willing to sign an exclusive deal with
us for this world, and deal only with us, we could definitely include,
say, a 10 million signing bonus for the contract."
Misha continues to look like he's suddenly found out
his potential customer is just a small time junta.
"That's a good deal," says the Colonel, "We have the
budget to buy what you have to sell. Particularly if you'd be
willing to arrange a training contract, or broker a training contract
with an appropriate mercenary unit. Another five million for
arranging the training contract?"
"No. Thank you." Misha gets up to
leave. The Colonel allows him to do so.
Neither Misha nor Teri have seen any sign of the Starshader's crew members.
The most likely place would be the trading room, if it's laid out like
the other starport, but for the time they just walk back to the
ship. No-one stops them.
"Well, shit," says Misha as they cross the landing
field. "Called my bluff."
"That's always a danger when trying to sell things
you haven't got," sympathizes Kalida.
"I'm open to ideas," says Misha.
"What exactly were you trying to accomplish?"
"To get the free trader's crew out."
"Are they still there?"
"I assume so. Actually contact the free trader
and find out. I was hoping that he'd be so interested in my deal
that I could say that before we went any further they'd have to get the
free trader out of there because I didn't want them to see what was
going on. Actually I was hoping he'd ask for a demonstration,
because then I could say 'Get the free trader out of here and I'll give
you a demonstration.'" Obviously Misha had done too well at
projecting the air of a legitimate arms dealer -- no-one had questioned
that he could deliver.
Robert tells him that Starshader's people are being
delayed. They're done with the trading, but they're being
told that there's some problem and the two of them are being kept there
in that room.
On Misha's return, he asks Vonish to contact the
Colonel and try to reopen negotiations. He can say anything he
wants about the foolishness of his captain, and his goal is to get the
Colonel to agree to a demonstration. He of course has to bear in
mind that they don't actually have anything for sale, and that the goal
is to get the free trader out of here.
It takes Vonish about half an hour to get it
done. He adds that he was offered the choice of having made sure
the free trader could not report at all that they were here, but turned
it down. Starshader is
free to go.
In fact, Captain Everson calls them soon
after. "Did you do something?" asks Everson incredulously.
"My guys are not only being let out, but they're being escorted
out. We're having our tanks filled for free and being told to
leave. Something weird is going on here. What did you guys
"We pulled a few strings," says Misha with a
smile. "You're welcome. And you might find another world,
more suited to, uh..."
"Yeah, we got that. But you know, we figured
an Amber Zone is generally a pretty good bet. Just one question,
"What the hell kind of ship is that?"
"It's a very special ship."
"I have never seen anything like it."
"Yeah, it comes from a long way aways."
"Yeah. Well, I owe you one. Just call it
in whenever you like. I'll be glad to oblige. Thank you."
It takes about half an hour to finish refueling
the free trader. It's easy to tell that the crew brought in to
hasten the process are all military. There has been no change in
the alert status, and when Starshader
takes off they are still on high alert.
Kalida asks Misha if he's planning to proceed with
In reply, Misha tells the crew, "Here's what I'd
like to do. We have a situation here where we've offered to sell
a bunch of stuff that we don't have. So we need the deal to break
down. We need the negotiations to fail. Now, Vonish, do you
think you can pull this off?"
Vonish looks at his captain strangely.
Helia says, "So we offered to trade stuff and we
don't have it to trade?"
"Yes," chorus Misha and Kalida.
Kalida adds, "If they don't offer enough we can just
walk away. So far they haven't offered enough. But if we do
this little demonstration they may negotiate up. All we can do is
say it's not enough and just walk, but if they end up offering us a lot
over what it's worth then it would be mighty suspicious that we would
Helia asks, "Why are we trying to sell stuff to them
that we don't have?"
Misha says, "The whole point was, it was my plan to
get the free trader..."
"Ah! You were trying to get the free trader
free by promising them a lot of bullshit stuff!"
Vonish doesn't think he can pull it off.
"I can!" says Helia brightly. "Do we have any
of the stuff we promised them?"
"No," says Misha. "Well, we've got one but we
aren't selling it."
Teri quietly says that they do have more than that,
aren't selling any of them.
Misha lays out their options. They could just
leave, or they could try for some more elaborate scheme. He looks
around for inspiration to strike the crew. Misha says that one
thing they could do to turn it around is just kidnap the Colonel for
fun, and admit it was all a scam.
"Isn't it just easier to leave?" asks Helia.
Misha replies, "It certainly would be easier.
Is that what we want to do? We could just do the demonstration
and see what happens."
Kalida says, "If they just try to up their price a
little bit we can say it's not enough and leave. It's a bit weird
I would think if they upped their price a lot and then we went
away." She doesn't even mention the possibility of a sub-par
demonstration -- she knows that it would totally blow their cover, as
Imperial equipment is just too reliable to fail. At least, to
fail without killing Teri. Mich and Teri could probably, with
time, try to get an FGMP-15 to fizzle, but it still wouldn't really be
credible. It would also ruin their reputation as arms
dealers, which she seems to think actually matters. Out loud, she
suggests they just do the demo and see how
it turns out.
Misha says that there are three starports, so they
could get their income three times. That means the Colonel
doesn't really need to show them that they can afford this block of
stuff, but that they have enough cash flow to pay for three income
Bridgehead mutters something about directly going
against the Traveller's Advisories. This really is getting
involved in local politics. Everyone ignores him.
Kalida continues that one sale and this bonus won't
cut it, because they could make more by selling to everybody.
Misha asks Vonish if he thinks he can carry this off?
Vonish just shrugs and says he's out of his depth in
the arms trade.
Misha clarifies for them all: the matter is not so
much this hypothetical dozen units now, it's setting up an exclusive
deal, a relationship, and any kind of exclusive deal is about making
enough money off one guy to make up for the money they're not getting
from selling to the others too. "Let's just go for it," he says,
"Let's do the demo and see what happens."
Kalida adds, "And if nothing else we can always just
Misha nods and smiles. "The Captain can throw
a fit," he says.
There's a free for all as everyone excitedly takes
on new roles for this fun caper. Since Teri has already been
introduced as the First Officer, that leaves it wide open. Helia
wants to be Chief Money Officer, and grabs one of her most disturbing
outfits that make her look like a sexy ten year old, with a purple lace
bra and matching panties under the skirt -- she really wants to mess
with them. She's disappointed to find out that full environmental
gear will be required, making dressing up pointless, but dress up she
does nonetheless. Kalida takes one of the generic unmarked suits
of battledress rather than her own Imperial Brigadier General Marine
Preparation and planning fills the half hour until
the locals call back to arrange the rendezvous. Misha points out
that the rendezvous point might be another starport they want the
weapons demonstrated on, in which case they can flatly refuse and walk
out. They agree to refuse to do any demonstrations on live
targets, or inside. While they have used one inside -- on Goose -- it's generally
the best place to use an FGMP.
The location is about 130 km away, and the Colonel
suggests they take their ship there and meet in three hours. The
area is open and hilly, well clear of any civilization. It's
On arrival, it's clearly a military installation --
a large scale firing range, exercise base or similar. There are
troops in the area, and in fact about 10 km away there's an armor
exercise under way. The area designated for the demonstration is
clear of uninvolved people, quite secure.
A dozen people have turned up to watch the
demonstration, plus assorted drivers and staff officers and so
on. The official party is a collection of army officers all the
way up through General. These people are in vaccsuits of about
TL13, Imperial design. No-one but Teri and Kalida are in
battledress, and despite
all the crew's initial excitement it's just these two who represent the
The Colonel is here, and greets Kalida as she goes
up to him. He asks for a simple demonstration run: grav belt,
FGMP... he points out several pillboxes as targets. Kalida gives
Teri the signal, and the demo starts.
Teri does a perfect pass, sweeping through the range
and taking out the pillboxes in spectacular fashion as only an FGMP-15
can do, textbook basic training stuff really, using cover as
appropriate and just doing the whole run in a matter of fact manner.
Kalida of course knows exactly what to expect, and
is watching the officers rather than Teri. They seem quite
impressed. Oddly enough the Colonel is doing much the same,
clearly knowing what capabilities are being demonstrated.
Teri swings back to the observers, comes in to land
in front of Kalida and presents arms. She follows that up with a
perfect parade ground drill demonstration, not at all easy to do with
an FGMP. Kalida notes with interest that it's not quite an
Imperial drill, but very impressive indeed. On a private circuit,
Teri tells Kalida that "Back in Scorpionis they were very keen on
drills, ceremony, and stuff." There is a hint of smugness in her
Kalida starts renegotiating on the basis of such an
impressive demonstration. Most of the officers start to filter
away, leaving the Colonel to pick it back up. He emphasizes that
his offer was a good one, and he knew what the gear could do all
along. He adds that they have the budget to keep an exclusive
arrangement for this world quite profitable.
Kalida spells out that further trades would be
important to them, of course, because one trade exclusively with them
is not enough.
The Colonel reassures her that they are very
interested in further trades. He says the units they've talked
about are a good start, but they'll need other equipment, both heavier
and lighter. They want, he says, to be able to make a good first
strike -- a capability this deal will provide, but making that strike
more effective would certainly be a good thing. If they could
pull in a few gravtanks, that might be very useful. At the same
time, some simpler weapons that were up to normal grunt level that
would give the guys in the field a good resistance suppression, that
would be good.
Kalida desperately wants to find some way to fail
this, but can figure it out. Misha calls in and suggests telling
him they need to see a demonstration of the Colonel's ability to buy on
a regular basis. To her customer, she says, "How can we be
certain that you actually have the means to continue to buy extremely
expensive weapons and armor from us? I would like some assurance
that we don't come back ready for a second deal and you tell us you
don't have the funds."
"Would you like some references?" says the Colonel
"Yes, we would."
"Give me an hour or so and I'll come up with a list
of references for you. You can go off, check them out, and come
back ready to deal if you like. I presume you're familiar with a
bunch of the folks at Attica?
I've got a couple of very good references there that I think you'll
"I'm sure that will do just fine." In her ear,
Misha says that they may not be familiar with the people at Attica, but they're
certainly familiar with Attica
The Colonel suggest they drop back to the starport,
and he'll contact them there shortly. Kalida and Teri return to
the ship, and Helia flies them back over to the landing field.
Back on board, Kalida says, "That list of references
will certainly be interesting to look at."
Misha agrees, "I would love to see that list."
"And I suppose you could just see a name on that
list you just have a pathological dislike for, and refuse to deal with
him anymore. You are, after all, an unreasonable barbarian."
"I am an unreasonable barbarian," smiles Misha.
Helia brings Nightshade in to land at the
The Colonel contacts them again, and gives them a
list of four people. Robert actually recognizes one of the
names -- a major arms dealer,
supplier to the less reputable and more successful mercenary units that
work outside the Imperium. The Baron is quite reluctant to follow
this up -- he has
some enemies on Attica as the result of being too successful at
gambling. The Colonel, of course, is oblivious to all this and
tells them to go off and check with these people, come back, and he'll
have the money.
The Captain turns to his crew. "Well, that was
fun," he says. "Do you want to do it again, or move on?"
Misha adds that his plan was simply to take an inordinately long time
to talk to this list of people, and if they ever run into this guy
again, or come back here again, just say they found a better deal
somewhere else. In the meantime, they could do the same at one of
the other starports. After all, they came here in the first place
explicitly to mess with the locals.
But that leaves open the issue of where to go next...