(19) A Nakege Gravella in the Imperium Court
The Regency Campaign (262-1123 to 268-1123)
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Nightshade has jumped for Jewell
at 13:00 Imperial time on 262-1123, which means they will be due to
arrive 268-1123 at 01:00.
On the way, Mich analyzes Chuck's nuclear bullet
and sets up a rig to make them. He puts together as innocuous
a shopping list of materials as possible, so they can buy raw
materials on Jewell. Of course this starts Mich
thinking about antimatter bullets too, although that's a whole lot
harder. His next project, at least in the planning stage, is a
large bore gauss rifle to fire Chuck's nuclear bullets, powered by
Robert has made Shark a medical licence issued
from Dulu, and a
fake Imperial ID for the Gravella. They don't really want it
to be known that he is here, or Tukera will definitely find out at
Sir Misha has decided that he will need to have a
talk soon with Chuck about becoming a Crew Member, with all that
implies. Now, however, is not yet the time.
Nightshade emerges from jump at 01:00 in
system. This is certainly a busy system, with multiple
military bases and the volume of ships expected in a main trade
center. Traffic control is strict here. Lucas pilots
them in towards the mainworld at a plausible 4g, which takes four
hours and brings them in to land at 05:00.
Kalida has managed to get priority treatment here
as Marchioness of Nakege, which doesn't get them the best spot at
the starport but does get them fast clearance and a good landing
Shark posts his personal ad as soon as he can, on
the approach to the mainworld.
There's nothing in news from the Sword
Worlds. It takes only two weeks longer to get news from Mora
to Jewell than it does from Adabicci, so it will be
a while before they hear any official stories here.
There is, however, other news:
Official news of the Regency has still not
reached here, so there is no news about any Zhodani response to it
and the Santanocheev Rebellion. Kalida riffles through the
gossip papers, however, and finds that here at least there is
certainly reaction among the Imperials. The feeling is that
asking to incorporate independent worlds into the Zhodani Consulate
is one heck of a nerve considering that Gougeste itself had
requested to join the Imperium.
- from Jewell itself comes news that the Zhodani have
agreed in principle to allow Gougeste to join the
Imperium... provided that Plaven and Algebaster
join the Consulate, or at least does not object. There
will be talks on Quar, scheduled for early next year.
- Piracy is active again at Phlume in the Vilis
subsector. This time Robin Sherwood on the New Berlin
performed a typical raid on a cargo freighter that took a
section of cargo and left the crew, passengers, and other cargo
As for the Countess of Jewell, her social
schedule seems to have be fairly light recently. The biggest
event is a local festival coming up on 285, where they are
celebrating an otherwise unknown major event in local history.
Social engagements are generally light in the period before that
The Gravella watches the approach and landing
from the lounge. He's been provided with his fake ID to keep
him incognito on his visit to this system. All he wants to do
is step outside, breathe a different atmosphere, feel a different
Kalida, however, wants to take most of the crew
out to dinner at a good place, with the Gravella too. She's
not looking to make a splash, but just somewhere good to eat.
The mainworld is run by an impersonal bureaucracy
with a high law level. That means severe restrictions on
weapons, and also that they shouldn't push the privilege of noble
entourage too hard. The population in general would not like
an obvious display of weapons, no matter how legal under noble law.
Robert wastes no time in hacking into the local
computer systems, a connection which Mich uses to collect materials
for his nuclear bullets without attracting attention or suspicion.
Mich needs a special licence to buy some of this,
which Robert provides readily, in Shark's name since he's the
Medical Officer. This will attract some attention, of course,
since it will arrive with an armed escort. The materials are
of course going to be used for peaceful purposes, such as power
sources for water purification for backward worlds, and the escort
is to ensure they can't be diverted to weaponry.
By the time they have landed, the crew has been
up for quite a while very early in the morning. Misha declares
the crew should take a nap and then wake up for a late brunch.
Shark, however, already has an answer to his
personal ad and an appointment at 08:00. He has pills for
this, at least, part of his medical legacy from now-Duke Bridgehead.
Shark takes a cab into the city, dropping off a
block away from the building. He keeps a good eye on his
surroundings, and quickly picks up that he is being followed.
His protocol at this point depends on who exactly is following him,
so he takes a guess. He's paranoid that it's Tukera, but
another possibility is it's an operative from the people he's
visiting to check him out. A government operative is unlikely
to have as many resources as a Tukera man, so that is something he
might be able to use. After some consideration, he's pretty
sure the follower is from the very agency he's visiting.
Inside the building, he's directed to his
interview with an elderly lady who introduces herself as
Beatrice. Shark tells her about his tail that he picked out,
and she makes a note about it to deal with later.
Shark says that he is currently assigned to the
Marchioness of Nakege, and that there are records missing and
interesting reported origins of her palace compound. He wants
to find out anything she can gather on the Imperial Crisis
Stronghold project, planet of Nakege, about 300 years ago,
implemented around a certain date by Baron Graun von Hathelet.
This same project is apparently still funding the staff of the
palace, even though the palace had to be abandoned due to natural
disasters on planet. "There is a natural phenomenon that has
kept occupation of the palace untenable," he says.
Beatrice is certainly interested. After a
couple of taps at her computer console, she says that she sees the
project. It's worded like it's a black ops project, she says,
and it's still being funded through the Imperial Navy having started
in the timescale Shark reports.
Shark asks if the funding came through the INISO.
She says it did not. There is nothing about
the baron except he was a minor baron who had some role in Imperial
procurement. The project was definitely funded from a source
further in towards the Core. She can't find an exact source
where it came from or was approved, and she cannot find any mention
of an Imperial Crisis Stronghold project.
Shark asks if therefore there are no records on
file about the construction plan, the meson gun installations...
"What?" interjects Beatrice, "We don't have meson
gun installations on Nakege!"
Shark says they were in the plans, of which they
only have a hand sketch. They don't have the construction
plans because they are still in the actual palace and they can't get
Beatrice asks him why they can't get there.
"Do you really want the long story?" asks Shark.
"Yes," she says sharply. "We have meson
guns that we don't know about. Yes, we want the story.
Apparently we have a world that is a defensive strongpoint that we
don't know about. The long story might be helpful.
Coffee? Whiskey? Gin?"
Shark declines. He has whiskey in his
Beatrice offers him breakfast too, but Shark
settles for just coffee.
Shark runs down what he knows about the
mercenaries that were hired, and what they know about the
employees. The Assistant Seneschal's accent is Core, and he
claims to be from that area, and gives his current name as Jon
Wilford. He asks with a smile which branch of the service he
Beatrice says his real name is Harold
Franker. He is indeed from the Core area. He has a
background in Imperial strategy as a civilian advisor. He has
been attached to the armed forces, but he has never been an armed
A professor of tactics, suggests Shark.
"The government pays for his suits," she says.
"He has very good suits," nods Shark. "He
voluntarily or involuntarily has been on Nakege for ten
Beatrice says they'll look into this, although it
will take some time. "He was offered the job and accepted,
that's all we know."
"Given that there's some unaccounted for military
"Exactly," says Beatrice. "Our interest is
Shark says that as he stated, the natural
disaster is in the form of the native fauna, which has taken out ten
automated laser turrets with bites.
Beatrice laughs, "Are you serious?"
Shark says, "Yes. We have evidence that one
of these creatures hitchhiked on a returning landing craft and
caused the crash of the Broadsword class cruiser of the mercenary
unit Team Tiger Beat. That was 50 years ago, how they were
chosen we don't know yet."
Beatrice says they will consider that, and asks
Shark to explain again why they do not have access to this space.
Shark says the mercenary group was slaughtered to
a very small returning group by these creatures, who are still
occupying the palace. He says the Marchioness's ship has a
crew of six, with one marine. They do not have anything near
to qualify as a mercenary attack group.
Beatrice says that Nakege is a tricky
spot, with the Tukera involvement.
Shark says that the reason for the Tukera
involvement is another good question. He asks her for anything
she find about the Imperial Crisis Stronghold project, anything she
can find about Baron Graun von Hathelet.
She says that the Baron is pretty much a dead
Shark continues, "...if he published any memoirs,
or anything else."
Beatrice insists it's a dead end.
Shark asks who is running the Marchioness's
offices here on Jewell.
She says that would be people appointed by the
noble commission. She thinks it's very unlikely that they know
anything about this, but she will look into it, including what they
might know about the staff on Nakege itself.
Shark says that Mr. Franker has a personal
contact on one of the Tukera patrols that shows up in the
rotation. Either his contact is actually smuggling stuff in
for him, or it's his contact back to whoever is actually paying him.
"You are aware that this is a very crazy story,"
"Just wanted to check that you weren't totally
"Here," says Shark, handing over some video
footage from the volleyball sensors. He says that the scale is
that the creatures are about 5m, and are jumping about 20m. He
tells her about the firing tests on the herbivore skeleton --
omitting the nuclear round, of course. Shark then adds that
their ceramic building materials are very EM disruptive.
Communication is very difficult through the walls of the
buildings. He adds that he does not expect to be on this world
for more than three days, but he could arrange to be back here
within a month.
Beatrice asks if he has a trusted contact on Nakege,
which of course he does not. She then says slowly, "If what
you say here checks out and depending on what I find out... we could
really use some more information on these installations."
Shark says there is an active fusion plant under
the palace, powering all but a small wedge of the defensive
towers. He hands her a surface map of the compound and
describes the towers and their capabilities, and also a scan of the
Beatrice asks if the Marchioness is aware of
Shark says she is. "I don't think her
appointment was as random as it seemed."
"Well, if she needs to take it back, tell her to
come up with plans of what she needs. If -- if -- my
research checks out, and if it is as you say, then I would see no
problem in authorizing an Imperial Marine operation to liberate
it." She adds that she's unlikely to find out anything new
before Nightshade lifts, but Shark should come back in about
3 months, in the new year. It's likely to take that
long. She adds that he should give Frank a wave on the way
Shark thanks her, and leaves. He gives the
follower the secret handshake, then takes a cab to the main public
In the library, he looks up Baron Graun von
Hathelet. He avoids the military and intelligence histories
that Beatrice surely checked, but instead looks into social
sources. It's a very daunting task, but even an experienced
investigator like Shark has trouble finding anything.
The Baron was a hereditary title, about three
generations old when he acquired it. His descendants moved to
Aramis, apparently. Interesting that his family should move
there of all places, with a possible Tukera link.
Shark then checks the staff in the Marchioness's
offices, and the location. They are all local, or at least
recruited locally from residents. There is no information on
He takes a cab back to Nightshade.
On board ship, after brunch, the crew retire to
the bridge to discuss Shark's visit. Robert, at Shark's
request, sets up a holoboard against the aft wall where they can
write things they know about the situation. The title is
Shark is the first to draw in the air and have
his writing appear on the board. As he writes, he says, "The
Baron drew up plans for a secret military installation that Imperial
Intelligence doesn't know about. (It's not certain it was the
Baron himself, but it is contemporary.) Imperial Intelligence
did not know about the potential of meson installations.
They're going to do some deeper checking, and if it checks out
they've offered us a Marine contingent to take backyour palace any
time you want."
"How about keeping it?" asks Kalida.
"That could probably be arranged as well.
Now, the Baron is a nobody. No records, no personal papers
anywhere, he doesn't seem to have a military record. His
family moved to Aramis about 150 years ago. If there are any
personal papers from him, they would be with the family who is now
"Your local staff are all locals," Shark
continues, "There is nothing I can find in any newspaper or public
recordings about the yearly advance from the bank. There is
nothing about where the money comes from. Your Assistant
Seneschal's real name is Harold Franker, and he's from a world
towards Core. He is a civilian tactical specialist, who has
been hired in the past by Imperial military services and for some
reason was offered and accepted this position. There might be
more information if we come back in three months."
Kalida asks when the von Hathelet family were
awarded the title.
"Several generations before this guy," says
Shark, "At least. But local intelligence doesn't know who is
funding the Stronghold Project, and they didn't know it was
there. They could see the funding for Nakege described
in black ops project terms. This is originating coreward
somewhere. As for Franker, he wasn't running as we
suspected. He was assigned there by somebody for some tactical
Kalida asks if Shark will go back and talk to
Shark nods and says he can. He doesn't
think Kalida's fears of having to go around heavily armed now are
justified, even considering he told Beatrice that she knew about
Kalida says she doesn't want any of this to make
a splash Nakege. She wants the system to remain quiet,
no loud invasion, no publicizing. She points out that the
Gravella wasn't keen on the idea of a military presence, especially
since it's only a few thousand kilometers away.
Shark says they probably wouldn't notice the
Marines marching around in the desert anyway, or camping out inside
a big swimming pool. And they could call it a terraforming
project and have them bring in a whole bunch of water. The
Imperial Navy does have the lift capability to bring in Oort cloud
ice bodies to bring water to the palace.
Kalida resolves to draw up a plan.
Misha says they should consider the possibility
that if they can convert the centipedes to their side, it might be
as useful a defense force as a squad of marines.
Shark says that as a ground assault person, their
attack pattern was the tactics he would have used against an
installation like that.
The conversation turns to shore leave. Any
party leaving the ship will have protection, whether Misha, Teri, or
Shark. There will be dinner tonight, shopping in the
meantime, and Kalida wants to check her offices too.
Shark says Robert should hack into the Marquisate
offices under the guise of conducting an audit. Kalida herself
authorizes it, after all. What Shark really wants are the
financial records, but personal records won't hurt either.
Robert does his thing.
The money is spent on reasonable expenses.
The money comes from an account at the Bank of Jewell. The
surplus goes to a reserve account, which is where the surplus goes
annually. Robert has both account numbers of course.
The reserve account is being held for the
Marchioness. They can't tap into that, all their expenses have
to come out of the regular account. No-one at the offices
officially has access to the reserve account, and that is what the
records of the offices say.
Nothing comes out of that reserve account.
It was used as security for a loan to build the palace in the first
place. The palace is paid off. It's running only on
operating expenses now.
That gets Shark;s and Robert's attention -- they
might already have the money to pay off the Bank of Mongo, after
it's been there for 350 years.
The offices don't know how much is in the reserve
account, but for the last 250 years or so it's been paying in of the
order of 30MCr a year.
Kalida wants to know how she can access it.
Apparently the account can only be accessed by
the current holder of the title. Shark says she can do that at
any terminal where she can be verified with her ID. He also
suggests going to the bank on the pretense of depositing a large
amount and asking to see the manager, and then using that to get a
private meeting where she can find out about the account. He
adds that on board Nightshade is pretty much the safest
place she could possibly be to do this.
Misha asks about Kalida's staff. She says
that the office is hers, but she has no hand in running it.
Shark says there are no records in the office
that say they've checked on the balance or withdrawn from it.
Misha questions that they have never checked the
Robert digs deeper. Once every 10-15 years
someone tries to check on the balance, but have not been able to
obtain it. Apparently the Marquisate offices can't get it.
Shark and Misha say that it would be perfectly
normal then to run a check on the balance via the offices' computer
system, perhaps just auditing or something. After all, now
there is actually a Marchioness; there wasn't at the time the last
check was made.
Robert agrees. It can be done remotely
while none of them are there, and they can have it check the balance
and report back to them without any of the staff there knowing about
But there is a catch. The Marquisate of
Nakege's computer system just went down completely. This might
mean a physical visit to the Bank of Jewell after all.
First trip ashore is for shopping. Kalida,
Misha, and Teri take the Gravella out into the wild world of the
The Gravella sniffs the air, staggers a little in
the higher gravity, and says simply, "Thank you." Clearly all
that is left from his point of view is to return to his homeworld
without interference from Tukera.
That doesn't mean he's not interested in
shopping, of course, but he doesn't want to buy anything
himself. He seems to enjoy the high end shops that Kalida
likes to frequent, soaking up the culture and experience like any
Mich suggests that they try to find Blockade
Bourbon to show the Gravella that they told him the truth about what
Kalida knows just the place. A very high
end liquor store, after the application of Kalida's not
insubstantial social skills, admits to having a bottle that
they would be willing to sell to such a customer as the
Marchioness. She manages to ask the price in a very polite and
unobtrusive way: it could be hers for a mere 4 million
credits. She says she will consider it, and come back if she
decides to purchase it.
The Gravella does not react, although he
obviously heard it. He maintains his air of pleasant
The shopping trip continues, showing the Gravella
many interesting things to show him of a high tech Imperial world
that is nothing like Nakege. Eventually, they return
to the ship to relax before dinner.
The Gravella, Kalida, Misha, Teri, and Lucas head
out to dinner in the evening.
The rest of them stay on board for Chuck's
version of beer and cheap pizza, a request he handles surprisingly
Both groups expect a quiet and pleasant evening.