(15) Chocolate is People!
The Regency Campaign (258-1123 to 259-1123)
It is approaching lunchtime in the Great Hall in
Crow. Kalida Siena, Marchioness of Nakege, and her entourage have
come up with not just a plan, but a plan of action to solve all the
problems of her world.
The first step is to talk with the Gravella, so
Kalida pulls the bellrope and asks for lunch with him. The
servant asks where she wants that to take place. Since the hall
was so massive and public, Kalida says she wants it to happen in her
rooms. She has no specific requests for lunch itself.
It's still raining outside, a light rain that
filters the light from the two suns. The secondary will be
setting soon. Nightshade is parked well up above the
clouds, not making a shadow in the rainfall.
After a short while, the Gravella turns up at
Kalida's suite. He is accompanied by a servant with a cart of
bottles and pitchers. There's no sign of food yet, but drinks
seem to be here.
They take seats at the table. The drinks are
bourbon, beer, wine of some sort (the pictured fruit is not familiar to
them) and a pitcher of something light golden in color. Kalida
selects the bourbon -- a known quantity -- as does the Gravella.
The Gravella apologizes for the rain, but explains
they get a fair amount of rain here.
Kalida says it is probably good for the trees, which
gets an enthusiastic nod from the Gravella. She says she would
like to visit her holdings at some time. She can just take her
ship out there, she says.
The Gravella considers that best too. If her
boat is small enough, it can land in the courtyard here if she
wants. He recommends she first stop at the Forest Lodge, a few
hundred kilometers to the west. She has a staff there who can
make further recommendations. They have a gcarrier there they use
for cargo runs. He again offers to put in a rail link if she
takes up residence and desires them to do so.
She says that at least some of her entourage would
like to go hunting. What might be available?
The forest is available, he says, but he doesn't
know much about the rest of the world. No doubt the Forest Lodge
staff will be able to help her further.
Lunch arrives. Roast meat, breads and cheeses,
vegetables of some sort.
The Gravella switches to wine with the meal.
Out of politeness, Kalida does too. The wine
is a lurid shade of purple, and the flavor is... well, Kalida could
call it wine. It's definitely fermented fruit, on the sweet side
and not with much complexity. A first time amateur wine-maker
might produce something like this, in fact. It's not something
that Geoff would appreciate, certainly. After a moment, though,
she thinks he would appreciate it as a gag gift. She asks the
Gravella for a case to take with her off planet, as she has a friend
who will appreciate it, and he gladly agrees to send their best wine
Mich tries the wine too, and even he isn't too fond
of it. Nevertheless, he hides his distaste very well.
While most of the group are up to the social
occasion, Teri lets loose on the roast meat in a manner that indicates
her background is in some Marines or other. The Gravella doesn't
seem to notice.
The Gravella asks Kalida if she would like him to
inform her Forest Lodge, or if she wants to make it a surprise visit.
Kalida doesn't really want to make it too difficult
for her staff, so agrees that they can be informed.
Lunch moves on to dessert, mostly varies pastries,
mostly involving unidentified fruit.
Kalida asks him about what kind of fruit they grow
The Gravella says that they are fairly
obscure. Rather than engineer plants to suit this climate, they
grow fruits which are already suitable for Nakege's unusual
year cycle, but yet still get on with the flora and fauna they have
introduced. They have come to like them. After all, fruit
is fruit to a certain extent. Mostly they are bushes, so there is
no danger of them competing with the forest. He offers to provide
Kalida with a guide to the local plants, and says it will be delivered
With a gesture, the Gravella dismisses the servant,
who leaves the drinks cart. He passes another bottle of wine
around, but reaches for the bourbon himself and then offers that
too. He asks, now in private, if there is anything else he can do
for the Marchioness.
Kalida says they have a proposal of sorts to resolve
the issue of whether they can get bourbon out of the system
safely. They would like to take him, or a representative of his
choice, off planet to a destination of his choice. Somewhere
close would be best, of course, so it doesn't take too long. They
would then bring him back without any interference from Tukera.
The Gravella says enthusiastically that it is
perfectly acceptable. He will be glad to make the journey himself.
That is settled, then. They will make
arrangements for that when Kalida returns from her visit to her
holdings. Perhaps within the next week?
The Gravella will make arrangements for his
absence. They can go to any place of their choice -- Kalida's
suggestion of Mongo or Jewell are fine, although he
certainly does not want to visit the Bank of Mongo. This is an
There are no further questions from the Gravella,
and so they finish off their lunch meeting. Kalida will move out
to the Forest Lodge later that afternoon, and the Gravella will make
sure they are expecting her.
The team packs up and heads out to the courtyard,
where the Marchioness's carriage is waiting. The Gravella has
provided them with a bearing and distance from the starport beacon, and
the Field Guide to Farming Nakege has been delivered too.
Apparently they raise regular terran cows here, of a black and white
variety. For fabric, they have an animal they don't recognize
that they shear in spring.
They board the Launch at the railway station, and
Mich takes off and flies them towards the Forest Lodge, staying fairly
low over the forest. Nightshade follows them from above
It's late afternoon when they arrive at the Forest
Lodge. The secondary has already set by now, leaving just the
main star to illuminate the scene.
There is a large clearing in the forest, with a hard
surface landing pad in front of the house. A gcarrier and
air/raft are parked at one end of it. There is plenty of room to
land the Launch, but it's not big enough for Nightshade.
A squatter confirguration ship of 400 std, or a little larger, could
land here however.
The house is a substantial mansion. Three
stories high, the brilliant white building reflects the red sun in a
spectacular fashion. Each storey is surrounded by a five meter
porch extending from the living areas, giving a rather pagoda-like
architecture. The layout is a flattened T-shaped, with a central
area and large west and east wings, with a smaller wing extending to
the north. Landscaping is limited to grass lawns.
Mich brings the launch down to land on the
pad. Two people walk out to meet them.
The person clearly in charge is a short man, with
blond hair in a crewcut, wearing a very smart suit. Behind him is
a taller servant. Kalida is surprised to notice that the suit is
smart by modern Imperial standards; she'd estimate it would be the
height of fashion at Regina just three years ago.
The short man greets the Marchioness as she and her
entourage disembark. He says, very politely, "Your Ladyship,
before we proceed I hope you will excuse some formalities. I will
require some identification. Now, let me simply say that your
identification will be subject to the verification one would expect for
an audience with the Emperor. We have all the appropriate
procedures here. Should this be an inconvenience for you, you are
welcome to leave right now and we will not pursue the matter."
The man's accent is, Kalida believes, from near
Core. She had been wondering when someone was going to ask for
ID, and she gladly hands it over. She neither offers, nor is
asked for, the ID of anyone else in her entourage.
He hands the ID to the servant, who jogs off towards
the mansion. He says, "Assuming that everything checks out, of
course, I am glad you have chosen to make a visit here. I am
certainly glad you checked in with us here first, although it would
have been better had you told us when you first came into the
system. We could have helped advise you and made sure there were
"I prefer to move quietly," says Kalida.
"I understand. Sometimes it helps to have all
the information first, however."
"I am sure everything will be adequate."
"Of course, of course. I understand you have
been visiting the town for a while."
"Yes. It's a very interesting place."
"It is, isn't it? Yes." It seems like
man's tone indicates he means more than he is saying, but his
expression remains that of a polite staff member. "Yes, very
interesting. They have definitely built their own little world
"That they have." Kalida changes the subject,
"What facilities do you have for hunting here? I have some of my
crew members who are interested."
"The woods here should be excellent hunting."
"What kind of game is there?"
"When they set these woods up, they introduced fauna
that they thought would go with it. There are real terran deer
here." He pauses while Kalida and Mich exchange a few comments,
then says, "By the way, have you heard of a food called
chocolate? I am curious, I have heard stories that it tastes so
good people would do anything to taste it. I've even heard that a
man would sacrifice his own life so his brother could taste but a
crumb. Is that true?"
"Perhaps out here, where you can't get it."
"Ah, I see your ID is all in order. If you
would like to come over to your lodge... do you have much luggage?"
Kalida indicates their minimal luggage.
"I hope this small lodge will be of satisfaction to
"It looks like there will be enough room for us."
"It is the best we could do under the
circumstances. You should probably think of this as your main
residence. It is the most pleasant atmosphere here, the hunting,
the trees, the weather, most convenient."
Kalida looks around at the grass, contemplating a
golf course. It looks superbly suitable. She might be able
to make something of this place.
Meanwhile Robert has checked to see if this Forest
Lodge is in communication with anyone off-planet. There is
nothing he can detect, and he informs the away team by commdot.
He continues to monitor it.
The mansion looks like it has been moulded out of
some white satin finish material, the columns, the roofs, everything
seems to be the same material. There is no veining or
inconsistencies in the finish. Kalida says to herself, "That
doesn't look natural."
Her attendant overhears her and says, "No, it's
not. It's a ceramic we make from local materials. We use
fusion torches and gravitic fields to mould it. You can build up
entire buildings, or entire cities out of it. It's a fantastic
material. It's very strong and very effective, but is not
practical for anything but buildings. It's too heavy for anything
that leaves the ground."
The sun is one its way down, casting a red glow
through the light rain. Mich looks closely at the building as
they enter, and the construction looks solid and without flaws.
This would be a very expensive method of manufacture, but low
maintenance and would last a long time.
Inside, the building is white too, but decorated
with luxurious carpeting and wall hangings. This is definitely
not of local origin. It looks Imperial, mostly from the Spinward
Kalida asks the man, "How long have you personally
been out here?"
"Me personally? I've been here for twenty
years, give or take a few. I'm your Assistant Seneschal, by the
way. I am in charge of this lodge, and I am your senior staff on
"How big is the staff?"
The Assistant Seneschal considers this before
speaking. "We have about a dozen."
"Everyone is from offworld. There are no
locals working here." He pauses, then says, "May I ask the
purpose of your visit?"
"I thought it was time I visited my holdings here."
"Well, since you are here, I should probably give
you a briefing. Just for a moment, I should show you the view out
of this window here." He takes Kalida aside to where the window
shows a soft lawn extending to the edge of the forest. Very
quietly he says to her, "For this briefing, just your most trusted
people. I will give you an opening to allow you to exclude anyone
as appropriate. They must be absolutely trustworthy."
"My whole crew is trustworthy. That's why I
"Absolutely trustworthy," he emphasises, "But it is
of course your choice." Louder, he says, "Doesn't it look nice
from here, the view across the lawn to the trees? We think it is
a particularly good aspect at this time of day." As they return
to the group, he says, "Ah yes, the briefing. I'm afraid the
briefing room is really rather small, so I'm not sure if you want to
include only yourself or if you want to squeeze anyone else in? I
think we should probably start with that."
Kalida agrees. She indicates that Misha and
Mich should go in with her, while Teri remains outside. That
should make her Assistant Seneschal more comfortable as she at least
appears to have selected the most trustworthy.
The door to the North Wing opens to a short
corridor, with doors on either side. Once the Marchioness's party
is inside (leaving Teri outside), a servant closes the door behind them
and opens the one in front to the briefing room.
The Briefing Room is large and spacious, with
excellent views across the lawns from the windows on either side.
Mich notes that the windows appear Imperial, high tech, presumably
bullet resistant and safe from spying.
The Assistant Seneschal offers the Marchioness and
her advisers seats, and asks if he can get them anything.
Kalida says, "I don't suppose you have actual
"Why yes, we do!"
"Excellent! Bring a nice large pot!"
The A. S. calls for it with the intercom, and says
that as soon as it arrives, they can start.
Mich muses that they certainly have chocolate on
board Nightshade, whether it's in Helia's stash left over or in
Coffee arrives. Excellent coffee, in fact,
although Mich would have preferred his Engineer Style rather than
The A. S. begins the briefing. "This is your
first visit here, I understand? I'm afraid things are not quite
as they seem here. This is your only practical residence, I am
afraid." He glances at the Marchioness, who acknowledges his
statement. He continues, "There is a problem with Nakege.
It is not habitable by humans."
"Then who exactly is living here?" asks Kalida.
"Here? In the forest, it is fine.
Everything is fine here. But elsewhere it is... there is no
intelligent race here, but there is an apex predator that...
Humans are made of chocolate."
"Tell me more about this."
"We have -- you have, technically, and it still
appears to be running -- a large palace out in the middle of your
lands. The predators... have it now. You had a staff of
several hundred at one point. These people here are... well the
main point is that no-one has been there and no-one is told about
it. I have done some extensive research, and I probably know as
much as anyone here, but all the records are at your palace. Of
course, that is not accessible."
"So no-one has actually been there since..."
"No. Well, that's not strictly true.
Around 50 years ago now, we came to an arrangement with the blockade
and brought in independent mercenaries with a mercenary cruiser, to go
in and attempt to drive out the animals. What was left of their
team aborted their mission. They returned to their ship, and
around half an hour later, their ship did an uncontrolled entry into
the atmosphere and crashed around the far side of the world.
Those were the last people to visit your palace complex."
"Yes. The forest is an anomaly here.
This world does not have a lot of water. What water there is, is
mostly here. There is a mountain range to the east of us.
The prevailing winds drop rain on those mountains, which is then sucked
up by the forest around here, fed back into the air, and this has
created essentially a pocket of moisture in this area. It really
doesn't rain anywhere else. It seems to be sucking the moisture
from the rest of the world into this little spot of terraforming.
What makes this practical is that the local fauna do not get on well
with water, with moisture.
"You have heard the theory that humans originally
came from one world? Well, if there was a world where centipedes
came from, this is it. The moisture in the air softens their
shells, whatever severely hard stuff it is made of, and they don't come
near. My own personal theory is that the expansion of the forest
drove them westward towards the palace. That is why we had...
so... many. Some of the defences are still active... but not all
"So the palace is filled with giant centipedes?"
"Yes. We think. At least, it was last
time that we knew. This predator is... very dangerous. It
is derived from the centipedes -- the large vegetarian centipedes are
their prey, although they will eat almost anything including humans if
they can get it. They are about the size of an air/raft, and they
only have four or five segments in the main body, but have others
tucked underneath as a segmented tail. They have some very
vicious fangs, enough to grab hold of a gcarrier. They jump, and
they jump very accurately. And... far." The A. S.
concludes, "The best way to reclaim your palace would be to sterilize
the planet and start again."
"That sounds a bit drastic," says Kalida.
"It does. That would be justified."
"We could just make it rain around the palace," says
"Yes, that would work. There isn't enough
water. Now, given time and enough chunks of... well, we don't
have an asteroid belt, but... icy objects raining down, we could
possibly put enough water here to solve the problem. Of course
the people in the town know nothing of this. They have never seen
the rest of this world, which is basically desert."
Mich asks, "Why did you build a palace in the
"It was in the center of the land. It was the
area picked out by the Imperial Commission, designated the holdings
associated with the title."
Mich says, "So we just need a sprinkler system,
"And to get close enough to use them. That is
your catch. We had an effective defensive system, for a while at
least. Your holdings are surrounded by a 20 meter wall out of
this ceramic, outside that at several kilometer intervals, we have a
starship triple laser turret that takes down anything that might
"That went wrong?" says Kalida.
"You needed a moat," observes Mich.
"Yes, but we did not have enough water, and we
didn't know that at the time."
Mich jokes that 400 years of bourbon might fill it,
aside from the evaporation of course.
The A. S. continues, "We occasionally have
sandstorms in the desert. During one sandstorm our sensors were
out, and for some reason these predators... they came over the
walls. We lost a sector of defensive towers, we are still not
quite sure how that happened."
"That was 50 years ago?" asks Kalida.
"Oh, no. This is was several hundred years
"When, exactly?" asks Kalida.
"You have lost all the records?" asks Mich.
"No," replies the A. S., "I have some records of
what I could piece together from the few survivors... we don't have a
lot of records. A lot of this is guessing."
Mich says, "Do you have any scans showing the
centipedes from the tactical team?"
"No. We know about them from the descriptions
of the survivors, and from the various people who lived here before the
problem started." He continues, "There are various forms of
centipede here. There are the large herbivores, there are the
small scavengers, the whole scale, up through to flying ones. On
top of all that are the..."
Mich asks, "Did you try any ultrasonic to keep the
bugs at bay?"
"I don't know. They tried all sorts of things,
and for a while everything was fine. Once we learned that we
needed a wall and defenses... well, I am sure the Imperial Navy budget
did not miss the money that was diverted to it."
"How long ago did you say that was? The overwhelming
of the palace?" asks Kalida.
"That was back in the early 800's, three hundred
Mich says, "And it's been four hundred years
"Yes. Originally this was set up... my
predecessors figured they could work out a really good deal. They
managed to find some creative accounting, and you have a small ceramic
town built out there. The enclosed lands are a fabulous place,
from the early pictures I've seen. But it's not ours now.
Not yours, excuse me, Your Ladyship. So this is why your senior
staff is called the Assistant Seneschal, because your Seneschal would
be your senior staff at your palace. We don't have staff at your
palace. Although it appears that some of the infrastructure still
runs. Lights come on at night, and some of the systems designed
to keep the town warm in winter may still be running. We built a
good system there."
"Can you tell us if the communications line is still
working?" asks Kalida.
"There is no-one to communicate with. There
are systems there that appear still to be working, just there is no-one
on the other end of them."
"It is comfortable here. It is safe
here. I'm afraid you don't have much in the way of commercial
operations, although this building material -- aside from the expense
-- could be an interesting export. I strongly advise not flying
over anything but forest. Do not underestimate what these
creatures can do."
"How big are the flying ones?"
"Mostly quite small, with exceptions. I'm sure
the dense atmosphere helps. The early settlers called the larger
ones dragons. They fly, and are long. Of course with the
blockade no-one goes or looks at the place."
"Speaking of which, what kind of arrangement do you
have to bring in the technology I see here?"
The A. S. looks uncomfortable. He says, "Ah...
I have a... friend, shall we say, on one of the ships on rotation
through here every six months, who is not paid nearly enough by
Tukera. We have... plenty left of that loophole in the Imperial
budget, and we appreciate his monetary worth more than Tukera
does. We get stuff coming in when his shift starts."
That is certainly believable, but Kalida wonders if
he is not being truthful, or omitting something important. Still,
as far as she can tell he's being straightforward with her.
Obviously some details have been left out, but the story is honest.
The A. S. says, "So, do you have any
questions? I have not had anyone to explain this to before, I'm
sure I have left something out."
Kalida says, "You say you've been here about 20
years. How long has the rest of the staff been here?"
"They vary. The longest is ten years.
Most of them stay here about three to five."
"It must be dead boring out here. What do you
"I study old records to find out what happened on
this world. Stay warm in the winter, and stay cool in the
summer. This place opens out nicely in the summer, we get a good
breeze through. Not in the full heat, of course, but aside from
that... the trees moderate it nicely. You'll have noticed it's
pretty easy to breathe here compared with the rest of the world...
which you haven't been to, of course. The air there is a lot
rougher on people elsewhere. The trees help remove the
taint. If we just add water and wait a few thousand years, we
could have a nice place here. I would however advise thinking of
this as your residence. We don't like to admit what happened
here. It would attract unwelcome attention, particularly to how
this was financed, and the taxpayers of the Spinward Marches might...
not be very understanding."
Mich asks about the power sytstem of the palace
The A. S. explains that it's a fusion plant,
designed to be very low maintenance. They did at least pick a
location that has an underground aquifer, enough to fuel the plant and
maintain a small lake... or pond, as they would probably call it on any
other world, big enough to take a few minutes to swim from one side to
the other. The oxygen from the water splitting facility is used
to help purify the air systems for the buildings. He says, "It
would surprise me if these creatures had managed to get inside the
palace. The air in there is probably very pleasant... for
us. Horrible for them. Probably not enough to be put off
the taste of humans, but enough that they would not wander in
Kalida says, "I take it that there are plenty of
plants that grow out in the desert?"
"Yes. We have things that resemble cactus,
some twigs and branches -- sticks really. There are even small
scrub areas that you could almost call woods. The predators hide
very well in that. Their legs blend in with the stalks... they
are very effective at hiding in there and jumping on prey."
"Well, I think the Forest Lodge looks perfectly
lovely, so if you would escort us to our rooms, we would like that."
The A. S. is glad to do that, as well as to answer
any questions she might have.
They emerge from the Briefing Room to rejoin with
Teri, everyone clutching a recently filled cup of real coffee.
The Marchioness's rooms are in the East Wing.
The West Wing is where here attendants would normally be housed, but
Kalida says her current entourage will join her in the East Wing.
As they walk, the A. S. apologizes for the
understocked kitchens. They rely mostly on local ingredients,
although they do have certain offworld priorities, he says as he
glances at the coffee cups. The local beer is quite acceptable,
apparently, and of course there is no shortage of bourbon.
Kalida's substantial suite occupies all three
storeys of the end of the East Wing. There are grav platforms to
transfer between floors, and full TL14 Imperial luxuries, although the
entertainment selection is rather outdated. The others have rooms
on either side of the East Wing.
Now it's time to call back to Nightshade. Of course they
are ready to take a quick trip to scan the palace quickly. The
first thing to do is certainly to check that what they've been told is
actually the case.
Dinner is standard Spinward Marches cuisine adapted
to local ingredients. It's not great by noble residence
standards, and it's certainly not as good as Chuck's meals, but it does
the job. The four of them settle down for the night while Nightshade
does her run.
The ship won't be able to keep them in communication
during this run. The building ceramic weakens the signal
significantly, which means they'll lose the signal sooner than they
As soon as Nightshade leaves the forest
area, a few hundred kilometers out from the Forest Lodge, the woods end
sharply. The native plants are much shorter, with a bamboo-like
stand around the edges of the forest. The plants nearest the
forest look sickly, but improve quickly before tapering off slowly
again into the desert.
The desert itself varies substantially, from vast
sand dunes to rocky scrub. There are certainly animals out there
-- not much that can been seen from their altitude, but herds of the
herbivores are obvious. The front two segments together are about
the size of a cow, with the whole animal much longer. They are
gathered together in herds of 20 to 30, slowly grazing on cactus and
the occasional bamboo grove.
The palace area itself is obvious from a
distance. It is first visible as a vast 20m high wall, enclosing
a circle about a hundred kilometers in diameter. About half a
kilometer outside it, at varying intervals, are 50m high ceramic towers
with what is or was a starship turret on the top.
To the southwest, there is a 20 or 30 kilometer
sector where the towers are not operating. Elsewhere, there is
active radar scanning from the towers aimed at the ground. There
is no vegetation near the walls. In hundreds of years, apparently
nothing has grown up to the walls.
Inside the walls is certainly a palace. This
rivals the archducal palace on Mora, but of all white
ceramic. To the south, it is surrounded by a small town of white
ceramic. Non-ceramic wreckage dots the area occasionally, while
sand has piled up against walls at several places.
Something is living there, certainly. There
are a large number of beings the size of an air/raft, although mostly
dormant at night it seems. To the east in the open areas outside
the town (but inside the wall) are herds of the herbivores, grazing on
vegetation. Street lights occasionally illuminate areas of the
Lucas takes Nightshade down to 500m, which
Shark thinks is close enough to get a good scan.
From this close, it looks as if the cattle have been
coralled in, or at least separated from the town by a fence of
debris. Metal shards, chunks of metal buildings, every type of
debris except ceramic has been piled into a barrier.
The football sensors show nothing.
The city area appears only to be occupied by the
predators. They are collected into small groups, presumably
asleep. It's hard to tell, of course, but it doesn't look like
there are any in the buildings.
They are indeed the size of an air/raft. They
are about 5m long, with four pairs of inverted V-shaped legs that could
certainly pass for sticks in a scrub grove. With their flattish
bodies close to the ground, there isn't much to see at a quick glance
than the stick-like legs. It looks like they have four segments
with a pair of legs each, and a front segment carrying massive jaws
with no obvious head features other than that. The segmented
"tail" folds underneath them and is not visible from this height.
The debris was probably originally buildings or
machinery originally, accompanied by larger boulders. It looks
like it's been cleared from the town to this barrier.
The palace itself is enclosed in a 5m high
wall. There doesn't seem to be any of the creatures inside this
wall. The wall surrounds the palace grounds to the front, and
circles around to the back. There is a pond there, with a bamboo
stand all around it. Shark can't really tell if there's anything
in the palace, but there isn't anything outside or at the windows.
No communications signal is coming up from anywhere
in the complex.
Not much is moving around at the moment. Both
suns are now below the horizon, and except for the street lights there
is no illumination except the starlight.
Robert notes there is a built corral. Either the
centipedes built it themselves -- perhaps a sign of intelligence, or at
least hive behavior -- or there is a keeper, intelligent creatures that
are not being eaten by the creatures.
The crew is curious at the thought of shooting one
of them from the ship, but their gunner is not on board. Of
course Chuck could lean out the side with an FGMP, but they have a bad
safety record at hunting out of vehicle windows.
Anyway, Chuck wants to observe them more closely
first. He wants to figure out what kind of round to use, where to
aim, and so on. He is pretty sure that a rifle from range is the
safest, but he doesn't know how fast they move, how they jump, and so
This is about as much as they can get from this
scanning run. Nightshade returns to position over the
Kalida has been trying to find out about her lands
here, like when it was set up, and so on, but she doesn't have access
to any of the records about the Marquisate in the local computer
system. She resolves to ask Robert in the morning.
Overnight the surveillance puters are set up again,
although anyone but Robert would probably not be able to do it with the
weak signal from inside the building. The night passes quietly,
except for something that sounds suspiciously like wolves in the
Local and Imperial time are still close today.
The secondary has been up for hours when Kalida
wakes at 6:00, although it's hard to tell in the heavy rain. She
calls Robert on Nightshade and asks him to hack into the
computer system here and pull out the records.
Robert has kept the comm system in contact despite
the ceramic and the heavy rain. He then finds breaking in is
extremely hard, better encryption and protection than he's seen
anywhere else in the Imperial Spinward Marches.
Kalida in particular wants to find out about the
palace and the area in general -- when it was commissioned, who paid
for it, current funding, and so on.
Robert reports back. This was commissioned
about ten years after the world was orignally settled, by Baron Graun
von Hathelet (whoever that might be), for the nobility of the Spinward
Marches. The funding appears to have come through the Imperial
Navy, on some very vague contract for "Imperial Crisis
Stronghold". The funding is still there, and the item uses the
same kind of language you would use to hide a secret project.
There is no other project associated with this contract -- just the
Marquisate of Nakege.
Robert can't find details of the account, but it
looks like maintenance costs and expenses are being drawn on it,
without any significant unexplained extras. It is probably
appropriate for this location, perhaps plus a couple of other
unoccupied areas. It's still using the original account
number. There's enough extras being pulled out, but there is no
excessive skimming. The Assistant Seneschal authorizes all the
The expenses have been fairly constant over the last
couple of centuries, with a spike about 50 years ago. Looking
into that transaction reveals a contract with a mercenary group based
on Fornice / Mora. It was to recon the palace area, and
if possible reclaim it. There are notes that the team was to be
state-of-the-art equipped, including battledress, FGMPs, the works, and
based out of a Broadsword class Mercenary Cruiser. It was an
expensive, well equipped, small but elite team.
Robert can find very few records from the
mercenaries who were here. There are communications of them
checking in, an operational plan with locations and timings, how the
operation was supposed to proceed. The plan was approved by the
A. S. at the time. They went down for a reconnaisance in force
mission with the ship's modular cutter. There was then a
communication that the mission was being aborted, and that was the last
that was heard from the mercenaries.
Kalida goes through the plan. It seems pretty
sound. Observation from orbit, then dropping in on the modular
cutter to set up a base camp inside the palace walls, and from there
moving out and scouting across the palace wall carefully, shooting down
anything that appeared. The plan lasted about 15 minutes from
landing to abort. About a dozen combat marine-equipped
mercenaries were on that team, plus cutter crew.
Mich thinks these creatures obviously are very
sensitive to detecting chocolate.
Now at least they have some information to work
with. Robert does a search for that Baron on the ship's systems,
but finds no information on him. At Kalida's request, he then
looks up the current Assistant Seneschal, trying to find out
information like where he came from and so on. There are no
records on Nightshade, which is not surprising, but he reports
that he is certain there are no records here at the Forest Lodge
either. Monkeys are so bad at keeping records.