(23) Why Here?
The Regency Campaign (29/1573)
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The crew spends some time discussing what they've
learned. Shark wonders why the Assistant Seneschal immediately
gave the new Seneschal a sitrep without knowing what she already
knew. He was clearly working for someone, but the chances of
them being employed by the same organization has to be slim.
He doesn't believe that the A.S. would have done that
unprompted. He had to be either under orders to immediately
dump all information, or she asked for it immediately.
Misha says that clearly he believed the
Shark points out that the A.S. was given a false
name and appointed from halfway across the galaxy. His real
name is Harold Franker, with a background as a civilian Imperial
strategy adviser, but he's going by Jon Wilford here. How
believing of credentials is he likely to be?
Shark also says that he may not have been the
reason Beatrice was appointed Seneschal, but he was the reason she
was appointed now. She was probably in a position to be
As Kalida pointed out, that happened extremely
quickly, so it would be interesting to know who gave the order.
Shark agrees: it had either to be herself, on
pre-existing orders, or someone actually on Jewell at the
time. There simply wasn't time for them to be anywhere
else. Beatrice could well have been section chief here.
However it was ordered, Shark triggered her orders.
He then muses on her comment that, "The picture
is larger than she anticipated." Something in what he gave her
expanded her scope of operations. He also wonders what "all
those systems up and running" meant not only in terms of systems but
what they were intended for explicitly.
Kalida says she definitely wants to have a short
follow-up conversation with Beatrice, although not necessarily right
This whole operation would have started with the
construction of the palace about 400 years ago. Construction
was commissioned in 745, completion would have been around 750, soon
after the planet was settled. The palace was finished before
the world was declared self-sufficient. Shark turns to Mich,
whose opinion is that for a high priority project like this, with
meson guns, could have construction started in around 18
months. Shark, working backwards, figures that they must have
decided to build it no later than 743.
Kalida points out that in 750 was the second
Zhodani Core Expedition, whether that had anything to do with
it. I was 100 years after the Second Frontier War, which ended
at about the same time as the Civil War. That was also before
the Psionic Suppressions.
Jewell subsector was originally settled between
300 and 400, so it was well established as part of the Imperium by
Shark then brings up this white ceramic that
everything seems to be made of here in the Marquisate. It's
nothing they've known of before, and they don't know anything about
how it's made except that it involves fusion torches and gravitic
moulds. Those records, of course, are probably in the palace
along with everything else they want to know. It could simply
be made from desert sand, but they don't know at present.
Certainly the settlers here based in Crow use nothing like it.
Maybe it's just crushed centipede skeletons. He suggests doing
an analysis of the sand and skeleton samples they have to see that
Kalida's thoughts are on strategic matters: why
would the Imperium spend so much on meson guns here in
particular? Yes, it's close to the Zhodani, but it's not a
primary strongpoint and it's not on any critical path into the
Shark agrees. Why would they want to
protect a backwater like this?
Mich suggests it could be a fall-back position
Shark points out it is not so much a fall-back
position as a lateral move -- it's not getting any further from the
enemy. It's still a backwater, and was even more a backwater
back then. There were only a few hundred people on this
planet, and they weren't even producing bourbon yet. There is
Something Else here, probably under the palace.
Everyone is agreed that they should take the
palace. Misha hopes to do so without killing anything,
including the centipedes. Mich's suggestion is replacing the
turret lasers with water cannons.
Of course they don't even know whether the
skeleton they have is of a cow or a hunter. The cows are not a
threat, as far as they know. Perhaps this calls for a hunting
expedition, suggests Mich.
A hunting expedition would certainly be popular
among certain members of the crew. On the other hand, as Shark
points out, this particular group does not have a good record of
hunting safety -- wasn't Akim Gavrolovitch killed while hunting with
a rifle out the back of a flying air/raft? Shark himself will
not be the one shooting out the back door.
Misha wonders about entrances to the palace.
They haven't been able to raise the palace on
communications, and all they know about is what they can see from
the outside -- doors, windows, no obvious keypads or anything.
Shark then reminds them that they were intending
to investigate the secret room where the two seneschals came to such
a pleasant arrangement. They'll need to go into the Assistant
Seneschal's office while the two of them are unconscious aboard.
So the next matter is to make the seneschals
unconscious. At Shark's suggestion, Chuck prepares a
particular brew of coffee containing something Shark provides, and
this works perfectly.
Today is overcast, looking like rain will roll in
before too long.
Lucas brings Nightshade down to where
they can reach the ground behind the building using the ramp.
This involves some creative taking advantage of the extended
artificial gravity on the ramp, but Lucas is more than up to the
task of positioning the ship.
Robert brings the low bandwidth communications
suitcase that he built for Digitis. He'll be on the
team, as will Misha and the Marchioness. This time, they'll
just try non-destructive methods first. There will be no need
for Teri and her specialty. Shark will follow them closely on
The team reaches the ground, then walks around to
the front and walk in. Oddly enough, they have opened the door
before one of the staff can open it for them. Even once
inside, there is no sign of the staff -- they have been told that
the seneschals are away, after all, so while someone should have
been watching and greeted them, it is not too surprising.
No-one ever visits here.
They walk towards the Assistant Seneschal's
Suddenly they see a servant walk into sight ahead
of them. It's a very brief encounter, as he quickly darts back
out of sight again.
Soon after, another servant hurries towards them
purposefully and asks the Marchioness if she can help her, and
apologizes for the seneschals' absence. The Marchioness
politely assures her she needs nothing, and agrees to ring for her
if she needs her.
They arrive at the A.S.'s office. The door
is briefly locked, but barely breaking his stride Robert walks right
through. Once everyone is inside, he locks the door behind
No-one has seen this office personally
before. Shark can see through the window into this room, but
could not see in the small connecting room once the seneschals
closed the door.
Now, Shark is monitoring closely for any sign of
alarms. Nothing has triggered so far, although Shark wasn't
expecting any until they open the next door.
The next door is a white ceramic sliding
door. There is a keypad next to it, that Robert takes his time
studying. He realises that this will take a lot more care than
one might expect, but his efforts are rewarded when the sliding door
opens, revealing a small connecting room with another ceramic door
at the other end. There is a keypad by each of the doors
inside the small room.
Everyone walks into the small connecting
room. It's not that small -- eight people could easily fit in
here. At Robert's insistence, they close the first door behind
them -- he does not think it is a good idea to have both doors open
at once. He moves on and does his thing with the next keypad.
The door opens, revealing another office.
There is a conventional door that ought to open into the original
corrider, and a window to their left to the outside.
Shark did not see the seneschals in here.
He says, "Didn't you guys press the down button? They didn't
talk in this room."
"No way," says Misha.
Shark explains again that they did not spend
their time sitting on the floor in an unfurnished windowless room,
not for a couple of hours. There has to be a down button.
The conventional door in this room indeed opens
to the original corridor. Misha had a little trouble with the
lock, but Robert pushes the monkey aside and shows him how it's
Misha says this would be the Seneschal's office,
but there has never been a Seneschal until now.
There is unaccounted for space either side --
inside and outside -- of the connecting room. There is no
window between the two offices.
Misha searches the walls in both the offices, and
the walls in the connecting space. The others help too, but
it's Misha who finds anything. First he finds, hidden behind a
bookcase in the first office, the A.S.'s stash of porn. It
does not account for the extra space. In addition, while he
can't really point to anything, he feels like there's something
slightly strange about where the connecting rooms joins the other
rooms at both ends. It just doesn't look quite right to him.
They have tried every combination of opening
doors, and still nothing has happened. They even tried
repeating what the seneschals did, with Robert and Misha being the
Shark tells them to hold their breath while
they're in there, and to tell it to go down. He then wonders
if there's another code they need to enter, perhaps? He is
curious if there is missing space above or below the connecting
Misha suggests Robert take a close look at the
inner keypads. There is nothing else in that connecting room
except a couple of lighting panels in the ceiling. There is no
obvious microphone, and it's not clear what ventilation there might
be. Pushing on walls does nothing. He tells Robert to do
his magic on the keypads.
Robert says he is certain there is no alternate
code on these keypads, not something involving both keypads at
once. He also points out that the suitcase communicator does
not work inside this room. Of course while in here he's
limited to the simple translation his hand puter can handle from
scryptese to monkey talk, and that makes directing the rest of the
team harder.He studies the room carefully but can't find anything,
not even the strangeness Misha found.
Next they try saying "Down", but anything they
can think to say of doesn't work either. Misha bangs on the
wall in frustration, and asks Robert if he has any ideas.
Robert does not.
Now they open both doors, and examine closely the
area that Misha thought was strange. He still thinks it looks
odd, but can't really point out anything definite. He can't
really see it, but thinks there might be a joint of some sort at
both ends. Come to think of it, those are pretty thick sliding
Shark says they need Mich and his scanner.
He'll accompany him.
Kalida has been looking through both offices
thoroughly, but finds no old books or anything like that.
While the others are waiting for Mich to arrive, she wanders around
the Forest Lodge and examines the areas below the connecting room.
She finds the wine cellar, the root cellar, the
pantry... it's quite confusing how everything is laid out, but with
careful use of her hand puter she can keep track of it.
There is no basement under the connecting
room. It's not just under that room, but along that side of
the wing, there is no cellar. That certainly leaves open the
possibility that there is an elevator there.
This time, Shark and Mich are greeted at the main
door. Leaving the servants behind, they go on to join the
others at the Assistant Seneschal's office.
Mich scans the door frames. He finds a very
fine joint between the connecting room and the others. They
are not one solid piece. He cannot possibly imagine how Misha
could have noticed that.
Then Kalida asks Robert, "Did you only check the
interior keypads? Is there a different code to enter on the
exterior to tell it what you want to do?"
Robert did only check the interior. He
looks for something on the exterior one in the Assistant Seneschal's
office, and indeed finds that there is an alternate keycode.
Considering who would be left in charge of the
ship if this team vanished, Shark decides to stay behind here.
Mich too will remain behind. Shark of course has a restore
point scan for Kalida and Robert, and possibly one for Mich when he
was playing with sparkly pink the first time.
All doors are closed and locked.
Robert enters the alternate keycode.
Robert, Misha, and Kalida enter the connecting
room, while Shark and Mich stay behind.
Inside the connecting room, nothing happens.
"Down!" Kalida orders.
"Level One," says Robert.
Robert goes to the other door and enters the
alternate sequence there.
At Misha's suggestion, he then enters the main
The door immediately opens.
They are not in the Forest Lodge anymore.
They could triangulate the panic button to work
out where they actually are, but of course Robert could do that once
he gets back on the ship.
Ahead of them is a large empty warehouse.
It has several large garage style doors.
Clearly they have either white-tech teleported,
or gone down a very long way.
Misha asks Robert to open the other door
too. Leaving the first door open, he does.
On this side is an office area, quite open with
cubicles and several doors. It too is completely empty but
shows signs of being used recently.
Before they go any further, Robert gives both key
codes to everyone in the team. On the outside of both doors
Misha says he'll stay here while the others check
the outer areas.
Kalida investigates the warehouse side. The
walls, floor, and ceiling are all ceramic. The doors look like
large metal cargo doors, standard Imperial, three along the far wall
and one on each side. As she steps in, she is nearest the
right hand end. The lighting is also standard Imperial,
mounted on the ceramic. The ceiling is about 8m high.
This is a lot further down than one floor, or it was a shuttle to
somewhere else entirely -- Kalida thinks it's most likely the
She certainly isn't going to open one of those
doors yet, since they might have centipedes on the far side.
She walks around the warehouse, examining what she can find.
The cargo door on the right wall is not airtight,
but there's no obvious air movement or light shining through.
The bottom is completely flush.
The next door, the first one on the original far
wall, is the same, as are the others.
There are no sounds except for the noises Kalida
The floor looks like it's slightly dusty.
It doesn't look like anyone has been here at all recently, and it
seems uniform. The doors may have been opened at some point,
but definitely not in the decade or so.
Misha points out that the air is fresh, so there
must be ventilation -- it can't have been sealed for 400 years.
Robert checks the office area. Only a
little seems to have been used, a reception area to the right with
an open door beyond it. Only this is fully lit, while the rest
of the area is dimmed.
The door leads to an office suite, with a
reception desk and three other doors, one to the left and one each
side of the desk in the far wall. A large starscape picture,
featuring a colorful planet with several rings, dominates the wall
behind the desk. The decor is apparently local oak.
The computer in the reception area is not powered
on, and it doesn't look like it's been used in a very long time.
There's nothing to choose from the doors, so he
starts with the one on the left. It's the executive washroom,
and looks like it's been used very recently, in the last few days.
He moves on to the next door, the one that's on
the left from the entrance. It's not locked, and he walks
This room has an active holotank display.
It's showing a representation of Nakege, rotating gently.
Robert looks for the meson gun sites, and
anything else of interest. He goes over to one of the computer
terminals and surprised to find it has virtually no security.
It seems that this room is informational rather
than control. It is laid out in some kind of military tactical
arrangement, but he doesn't have much experience with those and
can't really tell a lot about it. He can tell that a lot of
the information feeds are not currently active.
Security is his area of expertise, however, and
he looks for any records of recent use, security codes, any
indication who might have used this or when. There are none.
There is nothing to indicate where they are right
now. The world has the palace marked, Crow, the Forest Lodge,
the current location of the destroyer escort that is orbiting Nakege.
Nightshade is not marked, much to everyone's relief.
This place has clearly been used very
recently. There's even a dirty coffee cup on one of the
Robert calls for Kalida to look at this.
While waiting, he conf
Kalida walks in and immediately says it's modern
Imperial, much more recent than 400 years. It's not the most
recent, but quite capable. She'd expect to find something like
this on a second echelon warship group.
It is a tactical display, showing status of
everything of interest to the military mind. There are no
control capabilities, but she can find stuff out here.
Misha asks her who would use such a thing.
Would the general sit here, or the president?
She says it is the kind of place where the
colonel would brief the president. There is not a lot of fine
detail here, but enough to show a fairly detailed status.
Kalida sits down at a console and works with the
display. As Robert had found, there is essentially no security
Not a lot is operational, but some systems
are. Power is up. Sensors are operating worldwide except
for a few random sites, with about 80% fully operational; there are
no large blind spots. The images of the palace are not a
realtime picture as if from satellite surveillance, more likely from
hardcoded models. It does show the defensive towers, and shows
the non-operational ones as such. Both the palace and the
Forest Lodge show no significant differences from what they've seen
Yes, there are meson guns. None are
currently operational. There are eight of them, and
essentially mothballed. The display doesn't show whether they
are complete, just that they are offline. If they are ready,
it would take about 2-3 days to get them staffed, calibrated, and
bring them online, if they could get people to them fast
enough. The locations are not near the palace or Forest Lodge.
She pulls the view back to a display of the
system, which has marked the other Tukera ships that are here.
Pulling back further shows a strategic map of this area of the
Spinward Marches, but no other system can be zoomed in. She
could annotate this display, but it shows nothing currently.
The only up to date information is of the Nakege system
This site is not connected to the main command
center, which is also not operational at present. It is
located under the palace.
While Kalida continues her exploration of the
system, Robert goes to the other door from the reception
office. This is a conference center, briefing room, lounge,
with a side kitchen. This would possibly be for a briefing
before being shown the status on the holotank, or to relax while
waiting. The kitchen has been stocked very recently.
Robert returns to the reception room and examines
the computer here. It's not powered on, but he powers it up
and finds it accesses only a standard office administrator suite of
applications. It's on an isolated administrative network and
nothing to do with the other systems, and there are no other systems
powered up on it anyway. He shuts it down, erases his tracks,
and sprinkles dust on it to match what was there before. He
then rejoins Kalida.
Kalida has the locations of the meson sites, but
there is no indication of how far away they are. That would
allow her to find out where they are now.
Robert runs a diagnostic on the system. He
confirms that most of the systems are offline. There is a
connection with a repeater and automated status reporting system
from the palace which shows the state of the towers and power
Robert can fill in what Kalida couldn't.
With some delicate work he manages to get ping timing which
triangulates their current location to exactly that of the Forest
Kalida says this means the warehouse doors are
probably safe to open.
Misha calls them back to the elevator room, and
tells them to stay there while he investigates the cargo doors.
Like Kalida, he starts with the door on the
right. It can be opened either manually or by button control,
and he uses the latter. Lights flicker on in the new
area. Beyond is another empty warehouse, identical to this one
but without the one corresponding to the elevator.
This is obviously a huge underground facility,
Misha closes that door, then goes to the door
straight across from the elevator. He opens it.
Beyond is a grav railway platform. There is
even a grav train here, pointing west which would be in the
direction of the palace. The tunnel continues in both
Robert is sure that the seneschals, in that two
hours, came down here and went to the palace on the train... well,
except they didn't because the dust wasn't disturbed here, and they
left a coffee cup in the display area.
The gravtrain looks like a passenger unit,
settled down on buffers and not powered. It doesn't look
Looking to right and left, he sees other similar
cargo doors, and this platform area continues at least a kilometer
in either direction.
It's time to leave, Misha decides. They
close all the doors, turn off any excess lights, and try to cover
their tracks. He says their plan should be to put everything
back the way they found it, return to Nightshade, and give
the Seneschal a chance to tell them about all this. If she
doesn't take it, then they will come back with everyone and explore
it more thoroughly.
Everyone clears the elevator, with both doors
closed. Robert enters the alternate code on the external
keypad, and they enter the connecting room and close the doors.
They have no idea how long it will take to get
back to the Forest Lodge. They wait about half a minute, then
open the door that should lead to the Assistant Seneschal's
office. They are very relieved when it does so.
Misha steps out and says, "We didn't find
Shark looks up from a bottle of bourbon that he'd
been drinking from and asks if they found out anything.
Misha says "We'll tell you about it when we get
back to the Nightshade. We'll call it fascinating."
They return to Nightshade. This
should indeed be a fascinating discussion. Kalida's biggest
question is still, "Why here?"