(16) Visiting the Palace
The Regency Campaign (259-1123)
This file has yet to be fully
This file has yet to be fully
Kalida Siena, Marchioness of Nakege is at her Forest
Lodge, with Sir Misha Ravanos, Mich Saginaw, and Teri Cralla.
It's still quite early in the morning.
Shark, meanwhile, hovering over the Forest Lodge in Nightshade,
has been trying to figure out the white material that was used to build
the mansion. He gets a good scan of it, but it doesn't match
anything in their database. All he can really tell is that it's
some kind of ceramic. He does plan to compare a centipede
carapace sample to it -- he's wondering if the creatures are mad
because the building is made out of them. He notes that Nakege
is actually very similar to his own homeworld of Romar.
He also distrusts worlds with strange
conditions. The lack of water in this system, the dense
atmosphere in the relatively light world, his job as Paranoia Officer
leads him to want to check that everything here seems natural. It
would take a massive scan for complete coverage, of course, but he
checks every scan they have and then collects everything else he can
with Nightshade's sensors.
The forest here is about a thousand kilometers
across, while the Forest Lodge is about a hundred kilometers from the
forest edge. That, to Shark, means they can drop Chuck here to
hunt without worrying about him leaving the forest.
He calls down to Kalida and suggests that she take a
her Launch and disappear into the air, then they can all investigate
the palace directly. There's no communications they've found to
the palace, but if necessary they could perhaps land on the roof and
find a data port to plug into.
Shark's next question is about the staff. If
they're only here for a few years, where do they come from? How
are they rotated in? Where are they snatched from? Kalida
didn't choose them, after all.
Kalida doesn't know that yet. She had hoped
that Robert would find it, but that information wasn't there. She
also points out that what the Assistant Seneschal says might be more
important than the actual truth.
There have still been no transmissions from
here. Even so, Shark certainly doesn't trust the A. S., even if
what he seems to have said so far seems at least somewhat accurate.
Now as for the matter of the palace itself, Shark
says they need to drop sensors out there. They need to records
sounds, movements, and so on. They can drop those out there today.
Shark then considers what they know about the
overwhelming of the palace complex. Defensive towers were taken
out around an arc facing to the southwest. There is no difference
in the terrain cover in any of the directions. If this was a
military assault, there would be no tactical advantage to this
particular approach. There is no gate anywhere in the 20m wall,
but this arc is, however, adjacent to the town section. The town
of Crow is to the east of the palace, as is the forest.
The palace is across a lot of desert to the west. It was attacked
the southwest, away from the forest.
The towers are about 50m high. The tower
columns themselves were intact, but the laser turrets on top and their
associated sensors were not operational. They'd need a closer
look to see what the actual damage was.
As for inside the wall, something is corralling the
cattle. Something built that wall of debris. Now, there are
insects that farm other insects, but Shark suspects very strongly that
it's the result of intelligence.
One other thing Shark wants to try is to hail the
palace as if the Marchioness had arrived in the system. Perhaps
there's an automated system that will respond to that.
From the tactical point of view, the towers that
were taken out left a large path that did not have sensor or defensive
coverage. Less could have been taken out and achieve a similar
result -- four would have been enough, while ten were taken out.
If the sensors were capable of perfect long range, eight would have
been plenty to guarantee a path. Ten is still more than needed.
Kalida calls to request breakfast. She is told
politely that it will be ready in the dining room shortly. Of
course she doesn't know where the dining room is, but it's a fair guess
it's on the first ground floor. She collects her entourage and
emerges from her suite, and immediately she exits there is a servant to
accompany her to the dining room.
The dining room is in the east wing near the central
part of the mansion. It faces north across the lawns. They
can see the smaller north wing on the left.
Breakfast is conventional Imperial, although using
local ingredients, and is accompanied by very good coffee.
During breakfast, she requests a meeting with her
Assistant Seneschal. Arrangements are made for her to meet him at
her business office.
Again, she is escorted to the right place. Her
business office is on the second floor, above and to the east of the
dining room. This time it's on the south side of the wing,
looking out towards the landing pad.
This office is well equipped. There is a full
holodisplay pit, computer support facilities, nice wooden furniture
presumably of local manufacture, and a well stocked drinks
cabinet. Bourbon in quantity, of course, sherry, and in a
refrigerator there is beer, and a couple of token bottles of local
wine. Perhaps the wine is more tolerable when cold.
After about ten minutes, the Assistant Seneschal
Polite greetings out of the way, Kalida turns to a
few more questions she had for him. Now, he has been here about
20 years, and the rest of the staff for shorter periods. Was he
hired for this position, brought here from somewhere else, did he
select it? How does the rest of the staff get selected?
The A. S. says he was offered this position by the
offices of the County of Jewell. When Kalida asks, he says that
at the time he had a positon more towards the heart of the
Imperium. The rest of the people here are all hired through the
offices on Jewell. Contract periods vary, with options to
extend. Five year contracts are normal, sometimes three. A
five year contract could be extended to ten if it is advantageous to
the smooth running of the Marquisate. Five years is usually
plenty here, but if they fit in very well and are an asset to her
holdings, the contract may be extended to ten.
Kalida says that if he's been here twenty years, he
must like the area.
He does, he says. He adds that he is on a
different kind of contract, and he knew this would be a long term
Shark's unspoken assumption is that he would have
been arrested had he not taken this position, but that's his job to
think of angles like that.
Kalida asks how the transport is arranged.
The A. S. says it is arranged through Tukera, to
allow transport of people but not property.
She then informs him that she plans taking her
ship's boat out for a while, but will be back later.
He again suggests strongly she remain over the
forest, and again apologizes for the weather.
Kalida and her entourage take off on the Launch, fly
well out of sight of the Forest Lodge or anyone else, and rendezvous
with Nightshade. They immediately head out towards the
palace complex at around 5000m altitude. Mich will have a dozen
20cm sphere sensor units ready a while after they get there, that they
can just drop out of the ship. Shark would like a flying pig --
or at least, the functional parts -- but that would take too long to
Shark wants to cover the farm area, which extends
out from the town to the remainder of the 100km circular 20m
wall. The barrier is between the town and the open land -- to
keep the predators, who are in the town (but not in buildings) safe
from the herbivores?
The 5m wall is about a kilometer in diameter, and
has a gate to the town area and another to the open land. There
is no sign of creatures inside that wall.
A light wind blows from the southwest. The
atmosphere is more tainted here than back at the forest area.
Nakege is, during the day, pointed away from
the gas giant in the system. A destroyer escort is orbiting the
world, which does give them a couple of hours window every now and
again to do a limited active scan.
The first thing Shark determines is the location of
the fusion plant here. The palace itself, some places in the
town, and several places within the 5m wall such as outbuildings or
some appliances, all those are using power. The towers that are
active are using power; the others are not.
Now they examine one of the disabled towers.
On top of it was definitely a starship turret, but it's been torn up,
physically attacked from the outside apparently. There are no
marks on the white tower material itself. Another tower shows
very similar (but not identical) damage.
Nightshade descends to 250m, still in
stealth mode, to examine the hunters to see if they match the
damage. Oddly enough, they seem to be attracting attention --
they are gathering a group of hunters following them around. The
footballs aren't registering anything, so what is it they are
following? They ascend to 500m, and when they move on, at that
altitude the hunters are still gathered around the place they were last
at the lower height.
Staying at 500m, they look for a hunter that seems
to be resting, staying still, to get a very detailed scan. With
the destroyer escort at the far side of the world, Shark adds active
scans to make a 3D model of the creature.
In resting state, the body rests on or very near the
ground, so nothing is visible of the underside. The model will
show the rest of it, however.
The front segment of the hunter does have a very
impressive pair of jaws. They are consistent with the damage to
the heavy steel turrets on the towers. It looks to Shark, from
the damage to the turrets, that it was a coordinated attack by the
hunters on the towers. There are no laser marks on the turrets,
so either they were all taken out at the same time, or couldn't defend
each other through the sandstorm, or both of course. Shark still
wonders whether the centipedes are just window dressing and someone
else did the attack.
Nightshade really doesn't leave a wake in
the air, although it's possible that in this dense atmosphere there
might be enough turbulence at slow speed to be detectable by the
hunters. It's designed to leave no wake at high airspeeds, but
the system doesn't work at slow speeds. It doesn't come into
effect until at least 80kph. Still, it's not likely that they can
detect the disturbance, although Imperial military sensors that were
looking for it could possibly find it. Shark notes that to
himself that is another way they can be found in stealth mode.
Shark asks them to descend to 100m near one of them,
and try to find out what they're following. Kalida suggests it
might be sonar. They are invisible to EM, but they are still
Immediately Shark finds what he was looking
for. It is indeed ultrasonic sonar. A quick call to Mich
reveals that he doesn't have a countermeasure for that; he adds that
the sensors will be ready in about 20 minutes, if Shark would stop
Shark wonders why they only attacked that once, and
haven't attacked any of the other towers in the 300 years since that
Kalida points out they don't need to attack them.
Shark's attention then goes to the active towers, to
see if they have killed anything. They have indeed.
Herbivores are more common than hunters, but there are some dead
hunters too. Those that are all at the extreme range of the
towers. There are some live creatures around, but the ones they
see alive are all under about two meters. One of the larger
flying creatures is around there too, ignoring them. This
creature is harder to get a good reading, but it's clear it doesn't
have anything like the same kind of mandibles. The "dragon" is
long and thin, alternating wing and leg segments, with much smaller
jaws in proportion than the hunters.
Nightshade parks a couple of kilometers up
for lunch. Mich's sensors will be ready soon after.
During lunch, Shark postulates that the hunters
acquired this area as a lair. They only have to defend that
arc. They should check to see if there are signs of them having
defended it, scenes of pitched battles with other tribes or
something. It's pretty clear that they actively knocked out a
minimal set of towers and left the rest to defend their lair.
Unless, of course, those ten towers buzzed and annoyed them. That
implies some level of organization.
Shark isn't clear what they're going to do with the
volleyball sensors, but it should be interesting. They should
drop some near the herbivores so they can catch them hunting if they
see them. They need to look for the trash heap, skeletons, along
with signs of warfare. In addition look for nesting or birthing
grounds, and to see if they enter any buildings or avoid them.
He notes that the terrain around the wall doesn't
differ significantly from this arc to any other. There is a
little blown sand up against the wall on this side, as well as a little
inside the town. There isn't much -- this is a fairly rocky area.
With lunch out of the way, they head out to look
again at the arc of dead towers. There are a couple of skeletons
in the area that would have been inside the defense area. It's
not clear from here what might have killed them.
This area is sparsely scattered with small cactus
about a meter tall. There are no other living creatures in view.
While waiting for a clear window in the destroyer
escort's orbit, they return to the town and look for a trash
heap. There isn't a heap as such, but there are herbivore-sized
segments incorporated in the barrier around the town, just dumped and
piled. It's hard to tell whether it accounts for hundreds of
years of trash, but the wall is long. The main thing is that
there aren't any scattered around randomly. They might still be
just insect-like, but they do have some kind of organization.
Shark would love to trap one of the skeletons inside
the shield, but he doesn't know what will happen if they turn it on
with an object in the way. They know it moved water aside on Goose,
but he wants to test it on a solid object. They move back outside
The answer is that the cactus they try it out on goes splat, the soft
plant smashed away by the shield rather than being cut by it.
The danger is that to pick up a body from out here
they will have to expose themselves to possible attack. They have
a laser to defend against them, but that doesn't sound quite safe
enough. The cargo lift only extends about 5 meters from the hull,
not far enough to get good separation.
From a distance, Shark's scans indicate the skeleton
material is related to the ceramic that's used in the buildings.
He really needs a physical sample to get anything more.
The hunters are acoustic hunters. They didn't
see any obvious eyes or other sense organs.
Shark at first volunteers to go down to take the
sample, but when Kalida asks if he can do it in battledress, Teri is
the obvious candidate. She isn't too keen on the idea, even with
Chuck covering her with his rifle.
Chuck isn't sure what kind of round to use on
these. A sample of a dead one to fire at would help. He'd
much prefer to be at 500m altitude, however.
Shark says he could shoot them from 500m, sparking
Chuck into a challenging stance and suggesting they see who's the
better shot. Shark backs down quickly and diplomatically, which
Chuck acknowledges, saying that trying out some shots on the material
would help. Even then, it won't tell what a live one would be
like to shoot, or where to target.
There are no articulated segments out here.
Everything looks like it's been cleaned. At least they can pick
up a piece of one. Picking it up remotely isn't going to be easy,
and the grapple hooks they have don't look like they're work easily.
The easiest thing to do is to go down and pick it
up. Chuck points out that they're not sure what they're bringing
back in with it. His suggestion is to take a sample in a sample
container, and sterilize the outside before coming back on board.
Scans indication nothing of consequence alive
nearby. They'll drop Teri down in battledress on a tether, and if
anything appears near they'll lift the ship (with Teri dangling) as
quickly as possible. It'll hurt to lift that fast, but they do
have a harness to handle it and Lucas promises to try to minimize the
The segment is about the size of half a cow.
Mich has a clamp that should work to pull it up. While Teri drops
from the cargo lift, Shark and Chuck will be on the deck above
it. This again triggers Chuck standing up to Shark and insisting
that it would be better to be on the lift. Shark's opinion is
that would make them vulnerable to ground level attack; Chuck agrees,
but says they would have a longer view and a much better shot.
Chuck is the more aggressive, but in this case Shark is the more
stubborn: they will take up position on the deck, not the lift.
Chuck continues to mouth off objections, but loads his rifle for "space
buffalo" as he puts it, setting up with his long muzzle-loading rifle.
Oddly enough, the operation is flawless, and
conducted with less drama than the setup. The segment is brought
on board, decontaminated, and taken for study.
The segment is clearly an exoskeleton, not just
armor on an otherwise supported creature. Four channels that
could have been major nerve canals run down at the box-corners of the
The only sign of damage is a neat 10cm hole drilled
into the shell. There is no corresponding exit wound, no signs of
heat damage -- it was definitely not a laser shot. On a closer
examination it looks like it was drilled in, with slight marks that
could be back and forth saw blades or teeth. The shell shows no
fractures, and there is no sign of the disc.
Next is material examination. Yet again, Chuck
and Shark face off -- Chuck would like to use the whole segment,
structurally intact, as a target. Shark insists that material
samples take priority, enough to take a fusion torch to it with
gravitic molding. This time both think they've won the argument
-- Mich simply takes what samples he needs and leaves the rest.
Mich says he isn't really the person to examine
animal remains, but does what he can. It does seem to be almost
some kind of ceramic, a fairly amorphous material which doesn't show
any layering. It is about 2cm thick, smooth like the building
material, but with a light brown or beige color rather than
white. It is opaque, and extremely hard. The uniform color
would blend fairly well with the desert. It is silicon based, but
with a very strange composition involving a lot of trace elements and
an unclear structure. It's definitely not crystalline at the
microscopic level, almost a glass, a single amorphous unit.
The hole was definitely bored, like by a hole saw
moving back and forth rather than in circles. Whatever teeth did
this were certainly very hard. Shark says there are analogies
among sea creatures on certain worlds that bore through the shell of
others, it's certainly plausible.
Kalida wonders if the creatures are actually organic.
Shark says it's likely they are not robots in any
sense he knows. They look to be in various sizes, so he assumes
they grow. But when they drop the balls, they'll find out more
The balls are designed to survive a fall from
several kilometers, and will not broadcast until pinged. Shark
would like to place some on the flat top of the wall, but they haven't
seen these creatures jump or even hunt yet. They'll start by
Shark again brings up something that doesn't seem
right about this world. He doesn't think it's right that it rains
at the forest. So he'll want to do a full scan of the world to
try to figure this out.
At this point, they are clear of the orbiting Vemene
ship. Shark runs a quick scan into the ground to try to pick up
the aquifer and anything else that might be under there, but he can't
really pick it up. Something about the distance or the ground
composition makes it too hard to figure out.
By now, Lucas has brought them over to the palace
itself, about a kilometer up. There are no antennae visible
externally, although there are protuberances that could be internal
Time to drop balls. Shark suggests four in the
herbivore area, four in the city, and four on top of the wall or
The first one that is dropped into the town attracts
attention. The hunters rush over to it, and one of them plucks it
out of the air about 10m up and destroys it. It jumped from about
Kalida suggests dropping something inert and seeing
what happens. There is of course the nose section of Wandering
Pearl, but Mich can't really cut a section off it no matter how
much Shark wants to see if the hunters can cut hull material.
Shark bundles his oldest, ugliest suit into a ball
and drops that. This one hits the ground before it gets pounced
on, but pounced on it is from about 20m away, jumped straight onto
it. Perhaps if they wrapped a sensor ball in cloth and parachuted
it down it might survive, but that would compromise the sensors.
Shark says Mich can make more armored ones for another try.
One more sensor to try in town, and then they'll
move on to the herbivore area. This one Shark sets to be
broadcasting actively on the way down, and he wants to see and hear the
This one gets snagged about 15m up from about 20m
away. There is a green flash, then a closeup of jaws coming
in. Shark plays it back slowly, analyzing the data as it
plays. There is first the echolocation, ultrasonic as they
expected. There is no throat -- there is no mouth where the jaws
are. What they do see are three worm-like appendages that pop up
out of door-like openings in the shell before the hunter jumps.
As those pop up, there's a green flash that blinds the camera, and then
there's the closeup of the jaws.
"It emitted light," says Shark. He pulls up
the external sensor log of the event, slowing it down for precise
detail. Yes, the hunter emitted light from the three appendages,
lighting up dots on the sensor.
"Interesting," says Shark. "It's echolocating,
it used a flash of light... and it used laser ranging. This is
The appendages are definitely organic,
worm-like. The organic lasers don't have to use reflection, just
the distance between the dots to give it a distance -- more accurate
and quick than the sonar. It presumably picks up the target with
sonar, then quickly locates it precisely with the laser. "We need
a biologist," says Shark.
They then drop four of the sensors near the
herbivores, which ignore them. They'll need to come back and ping
the sensors in the next three days before they run out of storage.
The herbivores in this area are more dense than they
are outside the palace wall. Shark runs a cataloging scan of them
so they can perhaps see if any are missing later. He is surprised
to find that the creatures differ not just in length, but in number of
segments. There are smaller ones that are presumably juveniles,
but the fully grown ones are all about the same thickness, but have
different lengths. Shark suggests that perhaps the hunters aren't
eating the whole creature, just segment by segment.
Next they move over the palace building, up a
kilometer or so, and eat dinner while waiting for the Vemene ship to
move past them again.
They come out of stealth and ping the tower with a
standard hailing call. There is no response, but as it starts to
get darker below the street lights come on with associated power
drains. Back into stealth, and descend a little to look closely
at the buildings.
There are some buildings with larger open doors,
perhaps storage buildings. There are some creatures inside the
building, but all they can see with this limited view are normal sized
ones. They are now certain that none of the creatures are inside
the palace section.
This will do for this trip. They'll now drop
the Forest Lodge group back to the mansion, while Nightshade
will move on to do a full orbital scan of the world overnight.
Shark and Lucas will have a long night.
It's late evening now, around 10pm local time.
The Assistant Seneschal hopes the Marchioness had a pleasant day, which
she assures him she did. Kalida, Sir Misha, Mich, and Teri then
settle down with a glass or two of bourbon, then retire for the night.
The scan does quickly reveal something strange about
Nakege. There is a ridge of high mountains running all the
way around the world from pole to pole. Crow is near this range,
and the areas to the west of the mountain ridges are definitely
wetter. The forest extends more to north and south than it does
to the west. That is consistent with the prevailing wind, but
Shark is not convinced that this is enough to account for the
difference in weather. Perhaps there are Ancient technology water
pumps operating here, for example.