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The Thousand Blessings is a work of art, a wonder of technology and aesthetics. Out beyond her viewports lies the dramatically edge lit blue-green arc of the planet Mayara, a world famous for its luminescent birds, deep lush valleys, and being the familial seat of House Soyinka
Aboard, in the elegant entertainment suite/observation lounge with its magnificent view, a small collection of the wealthy and noble mingle together. The epicenter of this group is the Duchess Soyinka Rei, resplendent in white and gold surrounded by her most important vassals, Lord Kaluga, Lady Calabar, and Lord Askira. She also has her three most-favored consorts, elegant and beautiful men, at her sides
This is the second day of this three-day effort and your first actual outreach mission with the ship after three weeks in space. How is your confidence? How did the first day go? Despite the Duchess’ precise manners and distant friendliness she is hard to get a read on. Her eyes are deceptively lazy, like those of a lion. Her consorts whisper in her ears, sometimes coaxing a smile from her. Of her vassals, who seems the most receptive and who the most hostile? Which of your guests are you engaged with at this moment? What have they asked about that you weren’t completely prepared for?
Terci has been a wreck of nerves. You can tell because she works even harder to have every detail of… well, everything at your most casual request. Are you long associates or is she relatively new? You’re sure she has hardly slept in the last several days. She is standing quietly nearby, datapad in hand.
Are you in the mix here or standing off to the side? As Captain of the ship it was made clear that your appearance was absolutely expected, though I suspect these aren’t your usual people. How did you get this assignment anyway? Seems rather high profile from your last gig, doesn’t it?
You’ve had a chance now, to run the Thousand in actual travel, how is she performing? I mean aside from the immediate lay-in at Panipar to replace the FBA couplers that nearly shook you into a wild jump. Surprising really, considering the overall quality of the ship’s build, but easily resolved. And how do you feel about the new haptic, holo interface design?
The door to the suite hisses open and you see Rajani come in and scan the crowd, probably for you, her face a tense mask of calm that spells trouble.
She sees you and makes a beeline in your direction and steps in close when she gets to you.
“Captain,” She whispers, glancing nervously around at the glittering assembly, the floral perfume of her hair in your nose. “We have a problem, there is a bomb onboard.”
What do you do?
You have yet to hear from the Emperor or any official about your decision to join the Thousand Blessings on her tour, or more specifically your decision to bring Xuan with you. The first had already been planned of course, as you are an ideal representative of the Imperial family and its stake in TXR, and more importantly you have work to do and contacts to make with the Rebellion on this voyage.
None of the important people here are unfamiliar to you, of course. You and the Duchess herself have had a rather fluctuating relationship over the years. Are you in with her just now, or not? Why is that? Which of the Duchess’ vassals secretly supports the rebellion?
You are, of course, an attraction, just like the ship itself. Perhaps even more so. Fawning over the Emperor’s child is to honor the Emperor.
You have just gotten rid of one of Lady Soyinka’s simpering hangers-on and contemplating your escape. When a beautiful young man approaches you.
“Your Highness.” He greets you with a proper bow, but the slight humorous twist of his lips belies the formality. “I am Soyinka Nobu, First Scion of Lady Soyinka… and if I am not very much mistaken, I believe we are engaged.”
What do you do?
The mission became a lot more… interesting… when Princess Xuan came aboard, didn’t it? You weren’t even out of system before the Imperial Spymaster assigned investigating her and her rebel contacts as a priority mission. The Void Wasters have the ship’s itinerary, of course, and there are places for you to send messages off to them to fulfill this devil’s bargain. When the ship had to lay in after it’s very first jump, there was an opportunity to let N’Sira know that the Princess was on this ship. Did you?
Your finely honed sense of danger goes up when you see the dark-haired crewman cross to King. This is just about the same time you see the young man approach the princess.
What do you do?
I am quite sure that the reason I've not heard from my dear nephew is that chagrin has stolen speech from him entirely. Things unfolded rather more independently than he would have liked, I am sure.
He might have liked to order me to undertake this mission, but he cannot because I have already publicly informed him that I have done so. He might have ordered me to return, against his own interests and purely out of spite, but that would leave Xuan without a proper escort, damaging her honor, and by extension, his as well. He cannot order Xuan back, because she would flatly refuse. His honor could not permit the revelation that he cannot control his daughter, for all that it might make him more human to admit it. He cannot bring the child back forcefully because of her choice of ship--and I have to wonder if my grand niece is really that astute or simply lucky, for she chose the ship hosting the Lady Soyinka. Besides being an inauspicious start to Xuan's engagement, sending imperial troops to storm the ship and abduct the headstrong girl would give the Lady Soyinka a rather poor first impression of her prospective daughter-in-law. Nevertheless, I should think we might all be grateful for the extra ballast of a boarding party to prevent our ship's being pulled from its moorings by the hot air Lady Soyinka is pouring into the ship.
The Duchess cuts a swath through the guests with her orbiting vassals and consorts. I can't help but smile and remember the little girl she used to be. Even then, she had an entourage of dolls and stuffed animals that she always brought with her to tea. She was easier in those days, when she was but a little thing, bringing her stuffed companions to tea and discussing the goings on of her house. You'd be surprised how much a precocious child observes.
I do not like the current unpleasantness between us. She has heard that I opposed the engagement of her son to Xuan. How does she know? I told her. It would have been better to see how long it took her own intelligence network to bring that information to her, but I owe the child more consideration than that. She disagrees with my stated reasons, of course, as well she should. However, as I told her, it is not for her to agree or disagree, This has not sped the closing of the rift between us. I cannot tell her that the real reason is that I do not want her son caught up in the rebellion because of Xuan. One cannot feel guilt over good decisions made for good reasons, of course, but I regret having to hide this from her--this and Lord Kaluga's role in the rebellion. She's a smart girl, and very likely has suspicions. Perhaps if we could have tea without her stuffed friends present, I could discern where the Lady Soyinka stands. But to what end? I already have Xuan to ensure I get no sleep. Must every child I care about become involved in this rebellion?
It's a gorgeous ship, it truly is, though I was shaken a bit when the FBA couplers needed to be replaced. Naturally we're keeping the old ones in the hold - company rules for a prototype - and I'd like to tear them down and see what happened. I'm not sure Allevard is comfortable with the idea, but I know I can convince him.
Our first day was all planetside, so that the hull design could be appreciated and compared. Production presentations and lots of initial Q&A was had, and then we recessed for some light entertainment and a Mayaran sporting event. It was capital.
When asked how the ship seemed to be 'breaking itself in', I must confess the matter of the couplers came to the forefront of my mind too strongly to avoid comment. That the ship is not 100% TXR parts is something of a shame.
I'm confident we can make a good impression with Lady Soyinka and her attendants; even if we don't cinch up a deal right now I can cement myself and the company as pleasant to work with, produce a little word-of-mouth. Lady Soyinka's composure is impressive, that I cannot easily read her is something that I take as an extension of politeness - no promises, no rebuffs, simply space to present the company's case in. I don't focus exclusively on her, of course. My job isn't to be a pest.
Lord Kaluga is something of a ship-head, so he's received a little extra attention from me. I do so love it when I can discuss ships without scrubbing technical terms from the conversation. We've exchanged contact information and he's promised to show me some local zero-gravity gliders.
One of the Lady's consorts seems to not like me. I've caught him giving me stares and behaving defensively, and I'm not sure why. Luckily I'm nowhere near him right now, chatting with Lord Askira instead.
"Terci, have we gotten the duplication license for any Mayaran spirits? Lord Askira is interested in a tundra grass vodka.." I ask her from my lounged position, my vowels long in my usual galactic accent. She's been excellent, but it's been difficult to keep her tension from running infectious with me. We're new to each other, though I have a nagging impression that I've seen her before, maybe some distant cousin by marriage or something. I have so many of those.
Since every party is like its own environment, I wonder if I can ask; What is profitably exploitable here?
The Thousand Blessings — a ship that truly lives up to its name. It handles like a dream. The new helm is so seamless that it almost feels like an extension of your senses. My last ship, The Phoenix, was so old and clunky that I would get headaches from the impedance mismatch on my headset. The inertial dampers were so old that you'd get delayed jolts if you hit the maneuvering thrusters too lightly. I'd trade a fluke FBA coupler failure over those things any day of the week.
I fiddle with the cuffs on my formal uniform the moment I catch eye of Rajani entering the suite, a habit I've developed since she teased me for letting them ride up during conversations — everything is appearances with these people. I stand up straight, casually scan the crowd as she approaches, and listen as fills me in on the situation. A bomb? Damn. Here I was hoping she was just coming over to give us an excuse to get out of this... I rub my chin, scratching at the stubble, and nod – trying not to let the gravity of the situation show on my face. "Where is it?"
You know, I just might want to hitch a ride on this bird even if I didn't have to. She's pretty slick, moving and steering like a fish and she's just busting at the gills with bleeding-edge TXR tech. There's weaknesses to exploit, though. I've reported some of them up the food chain so they could be patched. Others I keep in my pocket for a rainy day. After three weeks I've got a number of eyes buried in places obvious and nonobvious. Spymaster Damiran would know if I was slacking, so you bet the Wasters would do the same. I can't know for certain that I'm the only operative on the boat, so you bet your rhinestone-studded yo-yo that I told N'Sira that Xuan was here. Last thing I need is for her to ask me why I didn't tell her.
Now hear me, I don't mind keeping a few eyes on Xuan, but there's a tension in Rajani's pace that twigs me and I get that oh-shit feeling on the back of my neck. I grab my plate of canapés but leave my drink and saunter over, a little casually but none too slow.
What's the worst that could happen?
[OOC, first witnessing a situation, using Deduction. Who is most dangerous in this situation?]
"Soyinka Nobu," I repeat to buy myself time. It's hard not to feast the eyes on his eyes, those lips. "Well, of course we are engaged. I must have proposed to you in my dreams, no? Surely I have had no other opportunity to do so."
Once the initial absurdity of the moment passes, I start to become furious with Akio. This must have been his idea. I start looking around the room. Where is my guard?
I'm not yet so angry that I can't play this one carefully. "When were you given notice of the betrothal?" I ask, fingers clenched white around my goblet.
Observant as you are it’s impossible to not to notice the interchange between the Captain and his executive officer. He looks alert enough but she’s very tense. Equally obvious is the interchange between Xuan and Nobu,
You are just overlooking the second exchange when the Duchess aspproaches you. Up to now it’s all been formal interactions. She’s been treating you with the same cool distance that she shows everyone else, albeit slightly more respectful. Her consorts hover behind her.
“Lady Bai” She says in her rich voice, while nodding acknowledgement. “How lovely you look, such a wonderful color. I confess I had no idea you were coming. A wonderful surprise, to be sure.” She glances across the room. “They make a lovely couple, don’t you think?”
As far as profitable exploiting, there is an intense rivalry between the three vassals. Appearances are very important to all of them, though Calabar and Askira more so. As you noted, Kaluga is a ship head, more than that, the other two and the Duchess herself seem to know it. All of them, the Duchess most subtly, perhaps, pay attention to Kaluga’s public questions and his reactions to your answers. As you speak with him, Lord Askira tries not to be obvious about prying what features Kaluga seems most keen on, while at the same time casting Kaluga’s interest in ships as rather more than a true gentleman should be interested in.
Terci jumps as if pulled out of a thought, though she was looking at you both, and is instantly accessing her datapad after you ask the question.
“Yes, Sai, We have license for… for the northern blue variety as well as the light and dark green. Shall I have some made?” She replies, a slight quaver to her tone, and a hint of color in her pale cheeks. She clearly believes she should have had that information in her head.
Askira purses his thin lips slightly as if disappointed that his favorite variety is not among those on offer, but it’s a beat off and too deliberate an expression to be natural… and it’s not aimed at you. “Delightful. Your honored Prime, Varix, favored the eastern teal variety, you know. The light green, if you please, Mixter Archbelloch.” He says his reedy voice sounding gracious.
Terci’s agitation grows as his reaction plays on her. She’s standing stiffly, waiting for your go ahead.
In the background you notice Rajani enter the party and move immediately for King, tension in her step. She wasn’t enthusiastic about discovering you were taking the liason job, was she? What’s between you?
I smile at the Duchess. "Thank you, my dear. You look radiant as always. So youthful in aspect and outlook both." I lean on my walking stick and step close to the Duchess, giving her a loose hug--something more than a pat on the shoulder and less than a full hug--with my unoccupied arm. Why the hug? I have a genuine affection for Rei, and more importantly, I am the only one here who can do that.
I gesture to Xuan and Nobu. "They do make a lovely couple..." I say, observing the tension in Xuan. "Though I daresay you might have warned the boy that Xuan is unaware of the betrothal. My grand-niece is something of a free spirit." I sigh and shake my head. "It would be a shame for such a carefully considered match to cause distress simply because the parties involved do not fully understand the situation."
“I’m afraid it isn’t simple. It’s invasive tech sir, we’ve found three nodes on the jump core itself and two each in life support and cooling systems. We think the root is in plasma regulation. We’re not sure how long it’s been growing. We’re trying to search for more nodes without setting it off. Peshkov suspects a nodal virtual intelligence, the more of them there are, the smarter it gets.” Rajani answers.
She pauses, drawing your attention to Jek’s approach. She spoke to you about the ‘consultant’ when he came aboard, unhappy that Peshkov had been pushed off his assignment so suddenly. She doesn’t trust the man. What do you think?
You see Rajani’s look when you approach. Aside from Rajani herself, how have you gotten along with the rest of the crew? Is Rajani the most hostile of the bunch? Who among them has become… well I don’t know if you have friends, Jek, but at least an ally?
As for who is the most dangerous at the party, the relevant question is dangerous to whom? To you personally, probably Rajani. She’s been poking around about you. Among this group of people, the Duchess is powerful and intelligent and Kaluga is possibly the strongest of her underlings, but you suspect Lady Calabar. She’s not as flashy as the other two nobles, she’s quieter, and she watches the goings on with a keen intelligence. From looks you’ve seen exchanged and other behaviors you’re pretty sure she’s in league with Lord Askira, or controlling him, and that the both of them are aligned against the Duchess herself.
This is really prickling at my sprezzatura. Needling my assistant like she is his to make sport of. Well, if I've made Lord Kaluga a point of interest for the other three accidentally, I can do the same to Askira on purpose.
I bring to heart the principles of the auction; you must make your participants feel like they're about to steal something. You hope to hook at least two people who can't stop themselves with this feeling.
I give Terci what I hope is a subtly comforting smile, masked with a little self-indulgence.
"I'll take one of the northern blue variety, Terci. I know my second parent, Teovon, is partial to Glaice Station Prosecco. I must confess, Lord Askira, my prime does not take much time out of xir schedule to talk liquor and.." I pause to find a substitute for 'gentlemanly', "..distinguished pursuits with me." I cross my legs back over the opposite way to lean in closer, bracing a couple of fingers close to my lips.
"What is the Mayaran standard of quality in pastimes, would you say? I'm terribly behind on my planetary manners and your opinion would be appreciated." If it's something I can link to a luxury liner ownership, all the better.
Rajani..she holds a grudge with my second's imago (that is to say, a self-birthed clone) Nashe, and by extension myself, I suppose. Rajani , Nashe and I attended some TXR-sponsored schools together. Nashe was someone I looked up to and thus defended when xie was, in hindsight, clearly toying with Rajani's affections.
"Tell the crew to monitor and isolate vital systems, and prepare for condition 1. Let's see if our new security expert is worth the money we're paying him..." I motion for Jek to join me.
I deep breathe through my nose to keep cool, a silent technique. I dunno exactly why Rajani doesn't like me- she doesn't strike me as a bigot, and I don't openly threaten her job. Maybe she's got the hots for me or I pissed her off and didn't know, or it's just TXR Not Invented Here syndrome. Peshkov has been a step above civil during the handoff, and you have to wonder if they two had a thing and I'm Captain Third Wheel. I nod slow at her, acknowledging her role with a half-ass apology for butting in. But if she's got that look on her face, then I need to know.
Most o' the crew has been civil and professional, but we haven't really been to the mattresses yet in this bird. Closest thing I got to an ally is the cloak tech, er, the Special Engineering Liaison Saeva. We both hail from the same system, which makes us practically neighbors. Just like Rajani clicked against me, Saeva clicked t'other way. We've seen some shit, we've got each other's back.
"I've seen some pretty nasty kudzu before, Captain. Wiping out the nodes is one thing, wiping out the root is another, but making sure it don't get planted again is the true knot to cut." I glance at Rajani, thinking I know my stuff. "Who found it first?" I ask her.
I make a tsk sound at myself.. "Enigmas seduce, Captain, you're right." I straighten my back, "The approach is to get eyes and tools on a node, find all of its siblings, and wipe them out before they bloom. Peshkov's right about the exponential danger of this stuff, so the angle is to get inside their command-and-control loop. However it's talking to itself." That last is more to myself, thinking.
I'm keeping the corner of my eye on Rajani. I don't want to be the menfolk cutting her out.
Nobu’s lips curve into a sensual smile at your comment.
“I had heard rumors, Highness.” Kohaku responds evenly from her place at your elbow. “But no formal notice to us before you departed.” Her glance is significant. She’s probably reminding you of the audience with your father that was scheduled for the day after you left.
“I was just told myself when we were informed you were arriving, your Highness.” Nobu says. “It is an exquisite honor to become First Consort to the famous beauty of the Imperial House.”
Rei accepts the hug, her expression loosing its guard for a moment before slipping back into place. She waves off her consorts. who hesitate and look confused. She simply looks at them until they move away. She turns back to you.
“More her misfortune to be born into the Imperial House then.” Rei’s expression is empathetic, then smooths out again. “it was sudden, perhaps. I am surprised the Emperor did not tell her before sending her to meet her First Consort. They will have far more treacherous space to navigate in the future. A little surprise should be well within their capabilities.” She pauses. “I cannot be unhappy that you did not persuade his Majesty against my son. The union will bind our families even more closely together in a troubled time.”
I sigh, and cross my arms. Without taking my eyes off the crowd, I whisper to them both. "Get it done. Rajani, make sure he and Peshkov have everything they need to isolate and remove this threat. Let me know the moment you feel you've lost control, so we can deal with this," I nod to the crowd, "accordingly."
(Rolled: 2d6. Rolls: 1, 5. Total: 6)
"You don't know yet," I say. Unintentionally to Nobu, but really to myself. Neither my father nor Akio has told them? They must not have. This is good. But they've put in place this engagement, faux or not. Why? To ensnare me with these pretty lips? I can't decide if it's foolish or entirely possible.
I look at Kohaku. We've known each other since being children, but things have changed between us in the last few days. She was assigned to my protection, but with the protection of the Empire. Now, every day she spends in my service is a gesture of her deepest commitment. The Empire will not be kind to her if we are captured.
Nobu is insignificant, in the big picture. Pretty as he is. I must entertain him until we leave. And then I will have to tell the captain of our true purpose in leaving the capital on such short notice. Robynne, knows, or at least suspects. I don't know what to do with Auntie Bai.
But perhaps... "You lay the charm on too thick, Nabu. I am famous for my tongue, not my beauty." It is true -- I am no affront to the eyes, but you must truly find me interesting for myself before you'll be writing poetry to me. Without my pigments and my gowns, I look like any other woman with good teeth and a strong brow.
"Tell me, if we wed, and you were to point the Empire towards your true honor," I used the old cliche they used with children, "Where would you guide me?" I was fishing really. What did he stand to gain from wedding me? What issues would he push from House Soyinka?
Trying to Assess House Soyinka with Influence.
“Your happiness, my dear, I shall accept as my consolation, ” I say, in a world-weary voice, gripping my cane as I shift my weight and turn back to face the Duchess. “I give your son–and perhaps his mother?” I add with an arched eyebrow, “credit for my nephew’s decision. I am quite unprepared to accept the failure of my own persuasive powers.” I sigh, “You must know, dear,” I say, patting her hand lightly, “it is not your son I find objectionable. Marriage ill-suits Xuan, who I fear has inherited more than a little of the wanderlust and unruly fire that I had in my younger days.” All of which is true, yet none of which is the true reason for my opposing the match, which is the fact that I do not know where House Soyinka stands in relation to the rebellion.
“Yes, Sai. My Lord.”
Terci bows slightly and offers the slightest smile to you in return before retreating to procure your drinks, but she’s still shaken.
“New, is she?” Askira says in a lower voice, following Terci’s departure. “Decorative enough, I’ll give you, but you shouldn’t coddle her if you want performance. Scare the daylights out of her a few times, and she’ll smarten up or break. But where were we… ah yes, pasttimes. Horses, Mxr. Archebelloch, “ Askira smiles at you, his eyes taking on a glow of passion. “I have the best horses in the Empire, I’ll wager. True non-uplifted stock carefully preserved and bred from ancient Terra. Beautiful animals produced by knowledge and refined judgement… an art rather than crass genetic manipulation. And none faster. I would be honored to show them to you.”
Trying to Assess House Soyinka with Influence.
(Rolled: 2d6+2. Rolls: 3, 5. Total: 10)
I don't comment on Lord Askira's advice, mostly because it is beneath comment. I do need to have a word with her, and those words will be my own. I make some affirmative noise for my Lord, of course. I'm young and need the advice and all that.
"Horses?" I repeat softly as his eyes change. Does Lord Askira have any idea how much crass genetic manipulation rests between the now of my family and the past of ancient Terra? I certainly have a good idea of how close to the envelope of barenaked gene tinkering that 'natural' breeding of animals comes these days. Computer-assisted matchmaking. Artificial insemination. Bloodline tagging.
It must all cost an absurd sum of money.
Ah, but none faster? Lord Askira's lures will be speed and mastery, I wager. "It would be an honor to see them, my Lord. I'Faith, there is not space for them in the interior world of the galactic. I've only known them from holograms."
I lower my voice further. "Would there be a race, then?"
“Yes, Sai.” Rajani replies, and exits the suite, Jek in tow.
Jek go here
You catch movment out of the corner of your eye. When you turn you see, an older, rather thin man who, by his livery, is part of the security detail for one of these big shots. It looks as if he probably overheard everything you just said and now he’s moving quickly into the party.
What do you do?
I clear my throat loudly, and raise my hands up to get everyone's attention. "Excuse me everybody, if I could get your attention please, we have a situation on board which requires everyone to return to their suites. Please make your way back to the passenger suites in an orderly fashion, and await further instruction."
Nobu looks you in the eyes a long moment, seeming to search for something there. He glances about to locate the Duchess herself and the other notables in the room. He checks his scrambler to make sure it functions before he speaks.
“Alas, my lady, my mother will not thank me for talking myself and our family out of the position, but if this be the only opportunity to plead my case, then so be it.”
“The Empire is mortally ill, Highness, corrupted honor chokes it to death. Were I to point you to my true honor and yours… I would advise that the true honor of an Empire lies in how well it takes care of its weakest and most vulnerable and not in maintaining appearances of grace and infallibility. There is a great deal of suffering coming if the Empire does not change.”
He clears his throat, slightly uncomfortable.
“Despite my, er, radical views, I can promise you absolute loyalty, Princess.”
It has the ring of truth. Idealistic, isn’t he? He stands to gain the influence to push his agenda in the Empire, and believes his House and the Imperial House together stand a greater chance of success.This is when the Captain calls for attention.
“Not necessarily a bad thing in the young,” Rei replies. “Nobu’s demeanor is quiet but he has an unfortunate strain of idealism that I fear will ill-favor him in the galaxy.” She glances at you. “Part of why I hoped for this union is to protect him from the less tolerant peers. I have no wish to bury my own child and plunge my worlds into blood feud over some fool’s honor.”The Captain calls the room's attention.
I've been vaguely aware of Rajari's tense conspiracy with Allevard until now, when my awareness needs to become precise. "Pardon me, my Lord, I should withdraw and confer with the Captain rather than impede your safe return to quarters with clinging conversation." I rise up smoothly to my full height, impressive even for a child of low-gravity. My mind picks at possible answers for what would merit such an announcement.
"Do call on me later." I smile confidently, waiting for someone in his security retinue to make motions of collecting him.
I give Lord Askira a low bow of apology before parting from him entirely, making my way towards Allevard.
"Pardon me, Captain King, might I have your escort to my quarters?" I lower my voice and lean in, offering him a significant look. "Or perhaps an insider's preview of my further instructions." I don't want to undermine his authority in a situation where people's safety is at stake, but I also refuse to be frozen out if there's something I can do. I glance back at the dissolving party in case I need to deflect anyone else who's had the same idea as I have.
"Thank you, Captain." I wrap an arm around his smoothly and listen. My eyebrows rise up slightly at his comment about my post before I can regain my neutral expression. "Ah, I see."
As I follow Allevard's lead, I also use my free hand to 'ping' Terci via text and let her know to belay the vodka request and wait for me at engineering with my tools.
“Dangerous words, my dear. I begin to discern the source of the point of view you claim for your son." I put a hand to the pearls at my throat in mock dismay. (Real pearls, harvested from the sea, not bio-cast in one of those ghastly labs) ”I scarcely know whether to be honored by your trust or disturbed by your imprudence. You speak of my nephew, and the balance of honor and foolishness in him is something I know better than most." I say this last in a hushed tone as the captain makes his announcement.
"Oh dear. It appears there are more immediate dangers afoot. I suppose we should retreat to our quarters as the captain suggests." I start back toward my quarters. After a couple steps, I turn back to the Duchess. "Rei, I really do hope your victory with respect to the engagement works out as you intend. My pride and my honor can suffer a defeat if it truly accomplishes what you intend for your son." Without waiting for a response, I head for my quarters.
My eyes light up as Nobu speaks. I can't believe my luck. The more he talks though, I get somewhat dishearted. He thinks he can effect change from within the system. I've already tried that.
He is his family's First Scion, yes, but he is only of House Soyinka. I don't know how they have arranged our betrothal, but it will take more than a marital alliance with the Imperial House for him to have real influence within the Empire.
The Captain says something about moving to our chambers. I boldly touch Nobu's knee below the table, a gesture of intimacy. "Come, slip away with me to my quarters, so I may talk with you further. They are not far. It is improprietous, but I need to talk more with you, in private."
Captain and Robynne
Before you’re able to escape competely the head of Lady Soyinka’s security detail catches up to you.
“Captain, Her Grace requires that you fully inform me about this ‘situation.’ There are rumors circulating of a bomb aboard, is this true?”
I glance from Kali to Captain King and back to the dissolving party. Word certainly travels fast. A bomb? It's a terrifying prospect, but I also feel..possessive. How dare they? When would they have planted it?
I wait to see if Kali is particularly persistent. Allevard may need some help to convince her - she's the lead guardian of a Duchess, after all.
Kali folds her arms across her chest, raising her chin a bit, her eyes flashing with displeasure.
“I remind you that you are in Mayaran space, Captain. The Duchess’ safety is paramount. And if this rumor is true, your lax security has already put Her Grace at unacceptable risk. You will provide me with the access codes for your shuttle and we will evacuate her, immediately.”
"We're still ascertaining the nature of this threat. I've got my entire crew devoted to the safety of everyone on board, and until such a time I'm satisfied all threats are contained, and that an evac could be done safely, I order you to go back to your quarters, and await further instruction.
(Rolled: 2d6. Rolls: 6, 4. Total: 10)
Your commanding mien has its effect. Though she still isn’t happy. She straightens her spine even more, if that’s possible.
“Very well, Captain. But you can be sure both that TXR will hear from Her Grace about this disgraceful incident and that, when we are back on Mayara, you and I are going to have words about your security procedures.”
She spins on her heel and walks away to catch up with her mistress’ contingent.
I let out a held in-breath. We may or may not have an opportunity to patch up relations between the Duchess and the company after this, but right now that isn't important. "If I need you, I'll find you." I assure Allevard quietly.
Separating from Captain King, I stride down the hall. I at least want a change of shoes before I take up space in engineering. The door slides open in anticipation of me and I throw my shoes into the far wall with a snarl. As I slide on my sturdier footwear I try to recall how the different hull interior and exterior structures responded to critical trauma and impact testing. Thoughts of a stowaway invade my memories, have me reaching for my stun baton and secreting it in my jacket.
Back in the hallway I keep my back straight and walk with purpose towards engineering.
Which of your bridge crew just rubs you the wrong way most of the time?
"Mr. Bezier seems to be making headway against the device, sir. We've also found infestation in the evacuation system and the shuttle bay."
Six consoles line the edges of the top level, which we man during a crisis such as this, along with a manual pilot's chair, and our hardpoint manning stations, (all required holdovers by intergalactic law, while they sort out the specifics of these holographic neural interfaces). Nowadays, though, the core of the ship is the holographic table located in the middle of the bridge. Ship functions, status, communications, everything you could imagine, accessible from that one location. I make my way over to Rajani's side, and start taking in information. Rajani's report about the evac and shuttle bays being compromised validate my concerns with Kali earlier, but I try not to let it get to my head.
"Excellent. I want a guard posted at the shuttle bay in case any of our guests get any ideas about jumping ship." Tetsu Qing, the heir of a rather powerful TXR shareholder's interests, is manning the emergency response console front-most port side of the ship. He's one of those self-entitled assholes who presumes he's entitled to positions above his actual rank. He's not incompetent, by any stretch of the imagination, and he may actually earn those positions later on in life... But for now, he's under my command, and I expect him to follow my orders. "Rajani, let's plot a course for the nearest port. In the event this powder keg goes off, I want us as close to assistance as possible."
“Acknowledged. Crewman dispatched, Sai.” Rajani replies after a moment. Her slightly insubstantial holographic form looks up at you. She’s working from engineering keeping an eye on the interdiciton of the device.
“Two options for making port, Captain. The commerce hub between Mayara Prime and Askira, or the Mayaran Naval Yard. It’s around 6 hrs at a 1g burn either way.”
Then back to the private crew comm, "I need to know who put those bombs on my ship!"
"Yes, Sai, Captain. Should we consider a 2g burn? it would be uncomfortable until we compensate, but cut our time to 4.4 hrs. The Vips would love it." The last is delivered in a terribly dry tone.
I lock in the course, and listen in on the theories the crew are formulating about whoever did this.
Rajani smirks at your response, a glint in her dark eyes visible even in the holo, but answers professionally,
“1g burn, acknowledged. Locked in, ready to execute on your mark, Sai.”
“Captain!” Alchea, another of your bridge crew, the one who keeps making eyes at you when you aren’t looking. “Vessel on intercept vector. 1 light-second out. Estimated intercept at our proposed course and speed, 2 hours, 9 minutes, Sai.”
What was your last relationship, Allevard? Seems that divorce is pretty fresh, have you had something since then, even someone who catches your interest?
The divorce... Yes, I suppose it is pretty fresh. I was with Melanie for almost three years, and it wasn't all bad. She was the assistant cluster representative for TXR back during my solo scout days. We played the distance game, waiting for the day when my accrued overtime could afford a property buyout on a new colony out in the rim. The idea was to push through the years, doing as much work as possible so we could live comfortably for the rest of our lives... Little did I know she started fucking her boss about a year and a half into our marriage, which would have been avoidable had she told me she wanted me to slow down and spend more time station side... Anyway. He got promoted, and he promised her a job if she left me.
You can guess who got the shit end of that stick. She dumped me faster than a captain dumps an overheating core on an FTT-16803.
So you can imagine I was a little wary about relationships in the years following the divorce. Rajani and I had a brief stint together back when she was first mate on the Crescent Moon, but when Melanie called me with the opportunity to captain the Thousand Blessings as an "olive branch for past mistakes", I knew I needed an XO more than I needed a girlfriend. I hired her on, and our fraternizing came to a rather unceremonious end. I think it worked out for the best, though. We're better friends than lovers.
As for Alchea, I was peripherally aware of her gazes, but I've been actively avoiding relationships with members of my crew... Not that I wouldn't be open to one, but Melanie was a hard wife, and she's an even harder boss. I don't want to ruin anyone's career... Or rather, I don't want Melanie to ruin someone's career for sleeping with me. That said, I'd sleep with a member of my crew that could put Melanie in her place in a heartbeat — but those options are limited, and of the ones who are above my station on this ship, most aren't my type.
What can I say? I'm a sucker for powerful, capable people?
Hmm... What was Alchea's position in TXR again?
After escaping a slew of bad memories, I make my way to the bridge just in time to hear Alchea announce our unexpected visitor. Was this why the party had been summarily cancelled?
I busy myself with a console nearby, waiting to see if I hear more from Allevard and Rajani.
I liked Rajani, although she clearly hadn't warmed up to me yet. It was difficult to get the crew to treat me just like anyone else, now that they knew I was the crown princess. Captain King, too. I wasn't sure if he'd forgiven me yet for trying to obtain passage on the ship without announcing my identity. Of course, Auntie Bai had put my plans to travel quietly to bed immediately.
Don't ask me how I was going to hide Kohaku and the rest of my guard. I would have thought of something.
Allevard saw me skulking around once before in my pilfered uniform. Just acknowledged "Private Johannesburg" with a wry smile. Not sure if he'll let me off that easy again.
Alchea is a senior remote sensing research engineer, something of a prodigy and head of a team of such engineers at TXR’s main R&D facility. She jumped at the chance to serve aboard the Thousand Blessings rather than staying back in her lab. You remember that one software upgrade to your surveying sensors? That was her work. She says she’s here because she wants to understand the sensors performance and workflows in the field in the name of optimization, which could be true, or at least part of the truth. Let’s just say she’s taking a pay cut for this assignment.
She looks up at you from her station.
“No comms, yet, Sai. I’d say we’re looking at a Class 3 with a 500 meter beam. Its transponder is Mayaran military but the profiles are all wrong.”
Seing "Johannesburg" on the bridge fills me with a mixture of amusement and concern. I don't mind having her on board, acting as a representative of her people, or even being a member of the crew — but I would prefer she land one way or the other. I can't have somebody on the bridge in a crisis who doesn't obey my orders... "Sai Johannesburg, hail them, and tell them we're in need of assistance, but to keep a wide berth in case of emergency." The last thing I need is a military vessel thinking we're a suicide bomb, or something worse.
I look up, startled, halfway through the Captain directing me to perform an actual duty. My fingers flit across the console, hesitantly at first, but then confidently remembering the correct sequence. When at first I hear no confirmatory sound, I quickly slip the console earpiece on, where it should have been all along.
"Attention, jump-side vessel coming in to Mayara, this is merchant-class Thousand Blessings, TXR ID in transmission. We are currently experiencing an on-ship complication, may require assistance. Recommended berth per safety considerations also in transmission. Do you copy?"
A hard voice comes over the comms. “Thousand Blessings this is Her Grace’s Ship Winter’s Heart of the Mayaran Navy. Your transponder ID is suspect. You are instructed not to deviate your course or speed until we intercept you. You will prepare to be boarded and surrender your vessel at that time. Failure to comply will result in your destruction. Acknowledge.”
My eyebrows furrow. When Allevard finishes message, I check to make sure I've muted my comm. Private Johannesburg is out of line suggesting anything to the Captain, so I ask quietly, "Captain, will I fetch the Mayaran dignitaries to the bridge? Surely there's been a misunderstanding."
The Captain's right of course. I don't think Nobu would have done that, considering our conversation, but it's not something I want to bring up on the bridge.
Is this a request of my father or Akio? Have they decided to try and bring me in? Or does this have nothing at all to do with me? Maybe TXR is involved in something bigger than I know.
Allevard's words sink in more and I get a chill... He hasn't actually taken the Mayarans hostage, has he? Is that what this is about? I look cagily between Alchea, the Captain and the other bridge crew. What were they talking about before I got here?
The cold voice responds. Thousand Blessings you wi...
Rajani's holographic form blinks out suddenly.
Qing speaks up from his station. "Captain, we've just lost comms. Some kind of power surge. Trying to bring the secondaries on-line."
Xuan, Alchea looks up as you're looking around, she stares a moment, her eyebrows draw down as if she's trying to place you.
I let my blonde hair fall in front of my eyes. She'll figure it out, maybe, but I won't make it easy for her. I pull up the ship schematics and ping it with a request for the Duchess' location. While I'm at it, I look for Nobu too. If Kohaku were here, she could feed me a list of every Mayaran dignitary on the ship, but this is the price to pay for mobility.
(Rolled: 2d6+2. Rolls: 4, 4. Total: 10)
You feel Alchea look for another moment before she looks away intent on other duties, but you’re sure the question has been raised in her mind. How often have you ventured out like this? You’ve been on the ship about three weeks and on a vessel this size, remaining undiscovered in disguise will be an increasingly difficult feat.
Your ping comes back showing you glowing points with tags noting that the Duchess is in her quarters with several retainers and guards. But it isn’t only the Duchess’ tag that stands out. Another nearby tag catches your eye, one bearing Rieva’s name. They hadn’t told you where she went, had they?
Nobu shows as still being in your Aunt’s quarters. By proximity it appears Bai has cornered him just outside your door.
“Yes, Sai” Qing replies in a tone that insinuates he doesn’t approve of the way you’re doing things.
Your experience with sensors serves you well. You catch several signals dispersed on active sensor beams, one very subtle indeed and the other three also hidden but clumsy compared to the first. All signals are heavily encrypted but you know enough to recognize them as rebellion. Why is that?
In terms of time. The subtle one and two of the more obvious have been sent in-system and the last obvious one was sent on the way through the last system as you transitioned between jump gates.
“Captain, I looked into the trasponder. It’s our id, Sai, but it’s got a glitch in the secondary encryption. It might be seen as a fake.”
This is my seventh venture out of my room in this guise, but the first two were strictly quick hallway walks to test whether the crew was big enough that I could pass unnoticed. It was a shame the uniform I'd found came with no ranking insignia -- Private Johhanesberg gets less attention than a Lietenant would, yes, but also has less autonomy. Regardless, the ruse can't last forever.
Seeing Rieva's name nearly drops me to my knees. I can't help but gasp audibly. My head spins.
I bring up my admin console, and start running some test data through the encryption/decryption process, checking for junk output. If this wasn't so time sensitive, I might consider finding the offending code, first... But I'll have to settle with an emergency backup hopefully catching the glitch. "Get me the emergency backups for our encryption libraries! Do a diff to see if our backups are corrupted. If not, make a copy of the bugged version, quarantine it, and replace it with the functional backup. If our backup is corrupt... Well... We'll have to do some bit bashing. How are you on encryption algorithms, Alchea?"
"Passible, I think, Sai." Her mouth quirks up just a moment. Then she turns her head with a concerned glance towards the Princess, who seems to be having some distress at her console. Alchea glances back at you before starting to work on the transponder issue.
Go ahead and make a patch-up roll +Expertise, Avellard.
(Rolled: 2d6+2. Rolls: 2, 2. Total: 6)
"Transponder... appears normal, Sai." She looks up. "Let's hope they don't think we're deceiving them."
Alarms flare up on your console, telling you that the Co2 scrubbers and oxygen production have gone offline... with your complement that's not a lot of air before you start getting inert gas asphyxiation.
"Internal comms restored, Sai" Qing reports "...still trying to establish our external with system relays."
Ensign Cordova was alarmed by your gasp and moves xir console out of the way "Crewman... are you well?"
I pull away from Cordova by instinct but stop myself before scolding them for their presumption. "I'm fine, Sai. A moment of undue alarm." What I want is for them to return my console to me so that I can lock on those coordinates.
"Of course, Captain."
As soon as I join him in his ready room and we can speak privately, I make a moue of apology. "I appreciate your discretion, Allevard."
"That is more than fair, Sai."
I wonder if now is the time to tell Allevard about the stealth unit the Rebels installed onto the ship for me.
I lean over Allevard's shoulder, my upper body briefly brushing against him, to pull up Rieva's coordinates. I ignore his initial question, saying instead, "A year ago, the captain of my guard was removed from her responsibilities by the general after she and I became, well, 'too close.' And now she is on your ship without my knowledge. It seemed noteworthy considering the rest of the comedy of errors we seem to be currently engaged in."
I squint at the screen to see what part of the ship Rieva is in. It better not be anywhere near the life support modules that just went down.
"I'm not sure," I say with frustration.
"There was a time I would say unequivocally no. But now I'm not so sure." I tap a few commands to pull up the raw data on her identifier and key my wrist unit to Rieva's location. "I'll go ask her," I say decisively, hand self-consciously straying to where my katana would normally be, then nervously hooking into my belt loop. For the best I wasn't wearing it really, Rieva was the one who taught me to use it.
"With your permission, that is, Captain." There's more than the veneer of truth to this statement than I strictly need to get away with talking so boldly. Probably. But part of me wants Allevard to think I can handle this on my own. From
the flashing lights on his console, it seems he has enough to take care of without me under foot.
I relax a little. This disguise of her takes a little bit of getting used to – I keep expecting to see Xuan's face when I look at her. I try and look past it, to see the woman underneath... "Do you need any support? I could accompany you... Or send an escort."
You both notice on the readout that the Duchess´ retinue is gathering toward the hatch of their compartment.
"I think I can contain-- oh, shit. They're on the move, all of them," I say. "I think I need you after all. Let's catch them in the observation bay before they get too far."
In the rush of things, I grab at Allevard's hand for a moment, a habit I had with Rieva. It must have just happened because I was thinking of her, but regardless, I flushed a deep red and dropped it just as quickly as I'd held it. I regret the layers of makeup I was forced to wear in less furtive settings --- I could be blushing at every moment and no one would be the wiser. "Sorry," I mumble, and turn to open the door panel with a gesture. I try not to think about what Allevard's fingers felt like in mine.
I clear my throat, and wave a hand to dismiss the thought I found that offensive. "It's quite alright," I say with only a hint of shakiness in my soothing baritone. I point to the shuttle bay on my console, "I'd bet two trips' salary they're going there to commandeer a shuttle pod — that's a compromised area, and we need to keep them out at all costs." I motion to the door with a restrained smile, "after you."