It's 11:00, and Nightshade
is in orbit around the mainworld in the Regina system.
Their new crew member has settled in somewhat --
Shark has even allowed his weapons to be returned to him, after
carefully cataloguing them. He's started to discover interesting
things about the ship, such as that his stateroom has complete privacy.
Edward "Shark" Teeth has considered and dismissed
the idea that the attack on Lucas Fuentes's ship, Wandering Pearl,
had anything to do with Robin Sherwood and the New Berlin.
It's not too far away from her usual activity area in Vilis subsector,
but she would surely have to have a big reason to go this far from
The next matter of importance is to contact the
office of Norris, Duke of Regina, to collect the new chef that has been
promised to them. They have a hand-written note from him that
they will need to present to the Duke's offices here, and Kalida Siena,
Marchioness of Nakege, is the right person to do that.
Kalida has been doing her usual scan of the local
papers. The news of the Rebellion has not reached here
publically, of course, and neither is there any news of anything going
on in the Sword Worlds. There is nothing either on the Imperial
worlds that were ceded to the Sword Worlds by Santanocheev, although
the worlds themselves would probably learn ahead of the official news
because it is being administered from Adabicci.
Local gossip is limited. Out here on the
Imperial border there simply isn't the proliferation of tabloids that
Kalida has seen at Rhylanor and Mora. The news
media is more serious here, so close to the Zhodani. No
interesting social functions seem to be going on, even. There is
however a rumor that the Archduke will be coming to Regina for
an extended stay and to pay attention to local matters here.
Shark is sure that was an official leak.
Shark voices the opinion of a lot of the crew and
says that it would be good to get off the ship for a while. Nice
as Nightshade is, they've been on board a very long time and
are due for a break.
First, however, they have to land. Kalida
calls the downport and is assigned Dock One, the prime landing pad for
VIPs. This bay even has its own apartments, so the crew who are
looking for luxury don't even need to find a hotel.
Lucas, in his first real test of piloting, brings Nightshade
in to a perfect landing, even doing the astrogation himself since Mich
was busy when they started down.
Shark places his normal advert on the bulletin
board. He is sure his contacts have the news already, but still
wants to talk to them.
Most of the crew will stay in the apartments.
A few crew will remain on board, while several others leave the
starport in search of a hotel in the lesser well-off parts of the
Kalida calls the Duke's office and sets up an
appointment to talk
to Duke's secretary at 16:00 that afternoon. That call in turn
in an appointment to come in and talk to the Secretary in person at
Teri and Mich do indeed find find a seedier part of
and put up at a hotel there. The hotel has a bar, so they don't
even have to go outside to stagger back to their rooms.
Mich manages to keep Teri out of trouble, despite
her best attempts to cause it when none comes her way by itself.
The ex-Scorpionis Marine seems to be taking the expectations of her
service on shore leave very seriously.
Misha, Kalida, and Shark take the apartments' dedicated limousine to
their appointment at 10:00 at Ducal Palace.
The Palace itself seems to have been designed to be
much grander than its astrographic position would indicate. It is
rather too grand and ornate for even a subsector capital, being this
close to the border.
The three of them are escorted through grand
corridors lined with marble carvings over a sea of luxurious carpeting
to an office decorated with much the same sense of taste.
The Marchioness of Nakege and her entourage are
welcomed enthusiastically. Refreshments are pressed on them, as
Shark takes up his discreet position to one side by a wall.
Fortunately the Secretary is a bureaucrat rather
than a noble and is not interested in smalltalk except to the extent
that his noble visitor expects -- which is this case is almost
none. He takes the note, nods, and says he will make the
arrangements. If Her Ladyship will allow him a couple of days...?
The Marchioness confirms they will be here for a few
The note itself said simply, as they had of course
read on board Nightshade:
I promised the Marchioness of Nakege my
personal chef. Hand this note to the head of the kitchens and he
will know who I mean.
which certainly leaves some room for
interpretation. The Secretary is not able to provide the name of
the chef at this time, but will let them know as soon as he can.
The Marchioness and her team return to the downport
On the way back, Shark visits the address that he
had received in response to his advert. The setup here seems a
good bit more laid back than the equivalent Imperial Intelligence
office on Mora.
First, Shark needs to know the office here knows
about the office of the recent conflict.
ImpInt here has been well informed, but is not sure
when the Duke will be arriving here. It depends on when the
Regent's independent powerbase is secure -- Norris and his people will
be making sure that is in place as well as setting people right on the
Regent's position and ensuring minimal interference from the rebellion
The chain of command of Imperial Intelligence goes
around Norris rather than including him directly, although he was
involved and certainly still has his contacts.
Shark then says they are being given a chef to be
named by the head of the Duke's kitchens. What branch of service
might he be from?
The man laughs heartily, and is still snickering
when he says that it depends on what the head of the kitchens is going
to do to him. There are several possibilities, and it all depends
whether the head of the kitchens places information gathering above
personal annoyance. There are three personal chefs that could in
"And some of them have an abrasive personality, I
take it...?" says Shark calmly.
"Well, let's find out which one he assigns you
anyway. If it's the woman, Hilda, she's a spy -- she'll be
feeding everything directly back to Norris. She's in
Intelligence. The other two, not so much. I honestly don't
know which one will be assigned to you. It all depends probably
on personal history of communications between Norris and the head of
the kitchens as to which one he actually means."
Shark then asks who came up with the Regent idea.
His contact believes it was the Duke of Rhylanor's
idea. They are themselves quite happy with the outcome. It
puts Santanocheev right where they want him, where they can monitor him
closely and control his contacts. When Shark asks about
Santanocheev's people here, he assures Shark that they were very
obvious when the fleets came in, and were reassigned to those fleets
when they left. He believes that pending the arrival of the Duke
of Regina, that the loyalty of the staff here is secured. Of
course there is always someone left behind, but they are on it.
Shark then asks about any reports from Adabicci.
They have heard that the relationship with the Sword
Worlds appears to be holding, but they have no news from inside the
Sword Worlds yet.
Shark thanks him, and says that as soon as he knows
he will come back and they can laugh or cry about whatever was done to
them with the chef.
Shark returns to the downport Dock One by taxi, but
intending a side stop. The driver tells him, however, that the
university library is not open to the public, so that stops that line
At the downport, a flunky opens the taxi door for
Shark, while another flunky tips and pays the driver. Shark is
sure it will show up on the Marchioness's bill before they leave.
Since they're the only noble yacht at the downport, it wouldn't be
practical for Robert to divert the bill to another dock.
When he arrives, Shark briefs the rest of the
crew. If they get Hilda, they must get used to light conversation
at meals only, and she should not become a crew member. The other
two are less so, but they should be checked out.
Kalida asks the question on everyone's mind: do they
want to accept the cook? If it's Hilda, after all... Misha
did talk about getting a pilot, a chef, a grunt, and maybe a skilled
sensor operator, and of course Pilot is now filled. Mich does a
pretty decent job of cooking too. But if Misha put out an ad and
found a sensor operator who could cook... but then again, refusing
Norris's gift of a chef would be rather a faux pas.
Shark points out that at least with Hilda they know
who they are getting. She'll be reporting to the Duke
directly. It won't be going to INISO, for example. The only
question then is who gets to see the information along the way.
Now even if they accept the gift of a chef, there could always be an
accident, couldn't there?
Lucas goes out and finds a game. He's been
searching the local sources and manages to find one that is just about
the right level. It's not actually at the hotel where Teri and
Mich are enjoying Shore Leave, but only a block or so away.
This isn't quite the high stakes game he was looking
for, and no-one else at the table is doing any cheating or even any
clever techniques. After a while of playing it straight, he's
winning too easily and not enough, and starting to scare away the
Lucas politely extricates himself from that game and
moves on to find another. The game he really wants, it turns out,
is the one a couple of houses down.
This is a much more interesting game and the stakes
are much higher. Clearly the house is very happy to advance
players who run low on cash, and they are the kind of loan that it is
very advisable to repay. One of the players is taking heavy
advantage of these notes, and while that is happening the house is
quite content for Lucas to be winning.
Lucas, in fact, brings the game completely under his
control. He's playing these people perfectly. The loan
agents know exactly what he's doing, and that's just fine with
them. Their money is in the loans, after all, not on the
table. Lucas keeps up the appearance of taking a lot more of the
complimentary drinks than he actually is, and the house cooperates
helpfully by providing him with whisky glasses of cold tea on the rocks
with a splash of soda.
It's been a very good night for Lucas when he rolls
in to the downport in the early hours of the morning. He's
bringing a lot more cash than he left with, and a number to call
whenever he wants to find a "good" game on Regina.
With the visit to the palace done, Misha now
joinsTeri and Mich at the hotel. Teri isn't in such a fighting
mood tonight, but is determined to make the bar run out of alcohol all
by herself. Mich has an easier time tonight, since Teri is a lot
more easily handled and is staying put at and under the table.
She's not even capable of standing up long enough to dance on the
table... not tonight, anyway.
Now it's Robert's turn to do some research.
He's looking for any advances in cryptography, intrusion detection, or
special codes. He discovers to his dismay that the Imperial
Navy is installing what they call unbreakable cryptography to all their
ships, starting with the capital ships downwards. They will be
installing brown boxes as quickly as practical, hailing it as a major
advance in the security of the Imperial Navy. Robert is now
regretting sending their own Brown Box off with Jack when she returned
to the IFSS.
Robert knows that these brown boxes are really
intelligent lifeforms, and this is especially relevant given the most
recent ruling about the right of sophonts in the Imperium. Mind
reading intelligent slaves on every Imperial ship will surely arouse
horror among those who learn of it. He does not, however, feel
the need to tell the monkeys about the brown boxes. He does
carefully put together information about the boxes and plans to leak it
to a reporter through hijacked military channels. Although that
will be hard, the public outcry that the Imperial Navy is installing
mind-sucking joe beings in their warships should handle it.
It takes all of Robert's tricks and skills to make
the leak, but make it he does. The knowledge is now out there.
Shark himself wants to find copies of papers by
Lucas Fuentes. He has the abstract of everything published up to
three or four years ago, but will have to send off by xboat message for
the papers themselves. That will of course take years, and is a
substantial fee, but he does so anyway using his Edward Teach name, to
be delivered via the TAS. After all, he can't ask his special
contacts about Lucas without giving out information by doing so, and he
doesn't give out information for free.
Kalida, the other person on board ship, has found
nothing interesting to do in the social scene. She spends the day
studying her lessons.
At 13:00 the atmosphere of quiet contemplation is
shattered when someone strides purposefully up to Nightshade
carrying a pair of cases. Loudly and repeatedly he demands to be
"Your identification, please?" responds Shark
"Me? I'm your cook. Let me in."
"There is no I. M. Cook listed."
"Open the damn door or I'll carve my way through the
hull!" The newcomer leaves no doubt that he is perfectly willing
to do that, with his chef knives if nothing else is to hand.
This is clearly not Hilda. This is a vargr.
"Look, you wanted the cook from Norris? I'm
the cook from Norris!"
"Hold on a moment, please," requests Shark. He
slips on his zack with his pistol ready to hand, and says quietly again
that he has to see his identification.
"All right. Let me in. I'll give you my
Shark, pulling himself up to his full 5'6" height,
stands on the cargo lift in front of the taller vargr. "Your
The vargr hands it over.
The name is Uraerrksaerr
Fengougksaetikokhuegz. Shark scans it, which of course Robert has
instantly. He asks the vargr if he has any notes or anything like
"Notes, what do I need notes for? I know how
to cook! Come on, I'm your cook." Uraerrksaerr takes an
aggressive stance, and says, "Look, I just got told, I got to come cook
for you. I've been in this palace here cooking, and next thing,
I'm the one, got to go."
Shark nods, and says resignedly, "OK, come with me."
But the vargr isn't done. He continues, "They
save the two incompetent humans who don't know how to cook meat to save
their lives, and me, I'm the one who gets to go with you. I hope
you like meat."
Shark gives a half smile for the first time,
"There's several marines on board, I think that might do. And
several navy guys, but..."
"As far as slicing and dicing, I'll let the Captain
talk to you about that."
"Yeah. Let's do it."
"Come aboard, um... what do they usually call you?"
"All right, Chuck, welcome to the Nightshade.
I'm sorry, but you're going to have to have a standard stateroom."
"I'll manage. I don't walk with a lot."
Shark takes him up to the lounge, wondering how to
verify him. He says, "By the way, who sent you?"
"Norris's office. Jon yan Stanley."
That matches Shark's information at least.
"I'm Chuck, Norris's kitchen."
"Well, Chuck, you'll be in stateroom 21. I
hope it won't be too small for you." He then tells the ship that
Chuck is their cook, and he is to have normal non-crew access plus the
galley. Stateroom 21 used to be Vonish's, therefore it must be
the cook's stateroom, right?
Shark shows Chuck around. He says the Galley
is a little non-standard, but if he's as good as Norris says he is, he
is sure he can manage.
Chuck agrees. He can manage.
Shark then explains there is voice recognition on
the ship, and to ask it for anything he needs.
Chuck has other ideas. He says brusquely to
Shark, "I'm going to need storage, a place to set up
refrigeration. Where's your engineer?"
Shark gestures again to the expansive galley.
"You can't find enough storage in here?"
"Depends how much food you need. How many
"Nine or ten. We have plenty of storage and we
can set up any room to be what you need it to be." He takes Chuck
up to Deck A and points out the storage that their previous chef used.
Chuck nods. This seems acceptable space.
He immediately investigates the refrigerated units that Vonish left for
his care packages. "This doesn't seem so bad. Going to need
more of these units, and I'm going to need places to cure meat, and do
some smoking. So we're going to need some wood and a good
firebox. I'll write up some specifications and give them to your
Shark sounds dubious. "I'm sure we can handle
Chuck interrupts him dismissively, "I'll be in my
stateroom getting the specifications prepared."
"...are you sure you want to smoke the meat while
we're on planet, or do you...?"
Chuck turns back and says scathingly, "How long do
you think it takes? How long are we going to stay? Then we
go out, do some hunting, bring it back, and then you want to sit there
for a week or two? This is not a fast process! I'm going to
do most of the smoking while we're in jump, so make sure we have stores
of wood and smoke units."
"How long does it take to smoke?"
"Depends on the meat." Unspoken is the word
"moron" which Chuck obviously left out for politeness.
"Some of the time you'll get it done."
"And we will be stopping at places to hunt
"Good. Make sure we do." That was clearly an
Shark asks, "How's the hunting around here?"
"Sucks. Those bags were my personal
gear. You don't mind me sending for my own guns?"
Shark agrees he can. He asks if Chuck hunts
with pistol or rifle.
"Not necessarily. Depends what we're hunting."
"Sword?" asks Shark.
Chuck almost grins for the first time.
"There's a thought," he says.
"You might enjoy Captain Misha."
"I kind of like a bow, myself."
Shark says he prefers pistol himself. This has
almost become a normal conversation at last. But it doesn't last
long: Shark says, "Would you like to meet the Marchioness?"
"This is her yacht, and she gets to choose and say
what she likes to eat."
Chuck is quick to correct him. "No. I
get to say what you eat, and you will like it. That is what I am
"Well, we'll see."
"Yes. We'll see."
Shark then shows again the boundaries of his
authorized areas on Decks C and A, not including B, and suggests he
start laying on supplies.
Chuck says he needs his facilities set up and he'll
handle it then. That area on Deck A is perfect. He strides
into his stateroom, leaving the door open behind him, and starts
working on his specifications.
Robert, listening in of course, wonders idly if the
dog will want to stock the Solarium with wildlife and go hunting there.
With Chuck dealt with for the time, Shark lets
Kalida know that their "cook" person has arrived. It's not Hilda,
it's an other. Most definitely Other. He explains he's
called Chuck by humans, and he's a vargr. "How do you like your
meat?" he says, "Never mind, he'll tell you. So he tells
me." He says Chuck is going to have a smokehouse upstairs.
He hopes the life support can handle it.
Robert had checked into Chuck's record. The
first thing he finds out is that he is Sir Chuck, he's been
knighted. This is extremely confidential, known only at the
higher levels of the Ducal Palace itself. He has a classified
service record, so much so that the record isn't even kept here.
He passes this on to Shark.
Shark says he's been restricted to guest spaces and
one section of Deck A. He isn't permitted off the lift on Deck B,
although Shark doesn't know how they can stop him with no rails on the
lift. The ship will alert them if Chuck wanders around on Deck
B. They'll have to have a discussion about him when everyone gets
back. He adds that he did say Chuck could bring his weapons on
board, and that he does expect to hunt for food.
Shark then leaves for a taxi ride. He has no
intention of recalling Mich and interrupting his shore leave to build
things for Chuck. Chuck will have to learn that he doesn't run
Shark tells his contact that their cook is Chuck.
Giggling most inappropriately, he tells Shark what
information he has on the vargr. The head of the kitchens is
making his life easier, something Shark can certainly understand.
As for Chuck's background, that's an interesting question. Chuck
has a military record. He's fought on both sides in the Vargr
Extents, for and against the Imperial Marines.
Shark asks why he's with Norris now instead of the
The man says that loyalties are mutable with
vargr. Someone is in charge for as long as they're in charge, and
then... it's a vargr thing. He doesn't have access to Chuck's
record, but he does say that it is believed that Norris has a
particularly personal reason for him to be considered trustworthy and
favored. He advises Shark to be careful with giving him shore
Shark says, "Because his hunting expeditions are
less restrained than they should be?"
"Hunting? He goes hunting? Well, he has
a... police record here. Certain disturbances, all charges were
always dropped. To say that he took to the Imperial Marines with
an excess of spirit, well..."
Shark says if that's true, Chuck might actually fill
a couple of postions. He'll recall the Captain to take care of
the who's-in-charge issue. "I'm sure your records will indicate
why I think Captain Misha will be able to handle him." Shark
thanks his contact, then asks him what his hunting weapons might have
His contact does not know, but simply wishes him
good luck. He adds that they may be ok from the spy point of view
At 16:00, while Shark is out, the starport contacts
the ship and says that there's a delivery for them. What are presumably
Chuck's weapons show up in two very large trunks.
An hour later, Shark gets back on board.
Kalida has left the trunks are still sitting on the
main cargo lift so they can scan them.
Unfortunately Robert hasn't been able to get
anything through these well shielded and insulated containers, and
Shark has trouble with them too. They are well secured from the
outside, and Shark just isn't good enough at the sensors to get
through. Whatever is in here, Chuck wanted them to survive the
worst cargo handlers could throw at them, custom built to take
anything. Imperial technology, but very well built.
They're going to need Mich after all.
So at 17:00, Shark calls Captain Misha, Engineer
Mich, and Lieutenant Teri and tells them that they have their cook on
board. "Chuck, as he allows humans to call him, is a very
carnivorous vargr. We will like what he cooks, so he tells me. I
have been informed that vargrs need strong leadership and will respect
that until it's not strong. That's your job, Captain.
"He's requesting extensive culinary modifications to
storage room 3 on Deck A so he can smoke the meat he hunts with the
weapons and gear that are in the baggage cases that I can't get
into. Which is why I'm calling you, Mich, to see if you might
have better luck. If it's not too inconvenient to delay your
revelries for this evening, could you come back to the ship?
"He has a military record and has worked with
marines in the past, so he might be useful in that capacity. His
exact service record is unavailable to my contact, and not available to
Robert's investigations either. Oh, Captain, he's another knight
under the table, although I think yours was actually announced and I
don't think his ever was.
"I will keep his gear in the lower cargo area until
you guys return."
Shark then asks Robert to check on Chuck's police
record. As promised, it is indeed interesting. Over the
last three years Chuck has managed to get arrested 17 times for
disorderly contact. The charges were dropped on every occasion.
Teri says the Marines never got arrested in
Scorpionis. They went to places that knew about the Marines, and
knew better than to arrest them.
Chuck has already been busy ordering a lot of
supplies, not all of it meat oddly enough. The vendors are
holding the deliveries until Chuck is ready to receive them.