(2) The Downward Spirelle

041-1117 to 042-1117

041-1117 : Spirelle / Lunion / Spinward Marches

Fostriades and Saginaw are contacted by the Scout Base early in the morning. It seems that Zaibon requires a statement by Chiang Ho about the death of the person outside the bar, and they require two witnesses to identify him. The scouts will look after the Hermes and the puppies while they fly Threasis and Mich to Allys Hollow by scoutship.

The pilot is very pleased at this chance to fly over the mountains, but is a little concerned since the scout base has only been here thirty years, and during the whole time the government hasn't allowed them to fly over -- they're scared of mining rights, apparently, and don't want scoutships blasting over at treetop height. Although he does seem to be somewhat nervous, he does have some reason -- the Scout Service is particularly interested because it turns out a scoutship was lost without trace here just before the base was established.

Fostriades checks out the ship's locker. The ship itself is well maintained and well equipped.

The Allys Hollow group takes up a High-Altitude-airship to visit Lake Kharon, contemplating the crazy idea of parawinging the 5km down into it. David Brock signs the ship out as pilot. They take off for the first 100m with the aid of a mains power cable from the ground (under full throttle, therefore), and lift up to the right altitude to swing the rotors away and get lift solely from the gasbag. Avon notices a scoutship about 10km or so away, heading in their general direction.

In the scoutship, they are flying over the mountains running the sensors and they notice the airship.

"Wait a minute, what's this? that's funny, there's a fusion power plant down there," says the pilot. It's somewhere down in the forest.

Fostriades notices another light on the display and points it out to the pilot.

"We're being scanned, that's odd," he says, "It's right from where the fusion power plant was. It seems to have locked on to us or something."

"WHAT???" says Fostriades, "I suggest you take evasive maneuvers."

"Oh, shit! Go fetch a vacc suit and stuff, just in case."

Fostriades and Saginaw run to the ships locker while the pilot takes evasive action. Fostriades grabs loads of useful stuff while Saginaw brings the vacc suit to the pilot.

The sensors now show incoming missiles. They try the lasers in defense, but can't shoot them down.

Fostriades suggests dumping the data so far into a portable memory cube unit, and they do so. The first missile explodes right by the ship and interrupts power to the computer -- Fostriades, in Engineering, starts working on it. On the bridge, the pilot sends Saginaw to help.

They hook the computer back up, but at that moment there is a large crash and the ship shakes violently. Another direct hit slams into the scoutship, and the reactor goes into automated emergency shutdown.

The two engineers decide to make for the air/raft so that they can rescue the pilot if the ship crashes. The iris valve shows a lower pressure on the other side, so they close up their vacc suits -- there's an incredible noise out there, and they can see through a shattered hatch that the front has been blown off the ship and they're tumbling. They get into the air/raft section, but the first missile hit back there and the door is jammed. Fostriades powers up the vehicle while Saginaw manages to force the door open and then leaps into the raft. Fostriades backs the air/raft out of the ship and gets control again as they come out tumbling.

The scoutship has the front end blown off and is going down fast -- the pilot is presumably dead. They start signaling Mayday from the air/raft -- maybe that airship will help?

In the airship, meanwhile, they see the scoutship go into some sort of maneuver and start shooting. It is firing at the missiles but it's clear to the Navy folks that the ship will be hit.

"Get us the hell out of here, Brock!"

Brock brings the airship down close to the ground, swinging the rotors into position to give them better maneuverability. The scoutship takes three missile hits -- it staggers for a moment as the first missile explodes off the stern, then the next two missiles plow directly into the nose in quick succession. The ship starts tumbling down, shedding debris.

It looks like the ship was hit by, perhaps, a salvo from a triple missile turret, standard Imperial issue. On the airship they signal Mayday and start preparing for a landing, passing out atmospheric gear and parkas.

Fostriades and Saginaw see the airship go into a quick dive, headed in their direction. They notice an emergency signal and reply to it -- it's the airship.

They recognize each other and briefly discuss the situation. Fostriades explains what happened to them. Without giving out directions on the radio, they meet and land together on a snow bank. The airship anchors and Fostriades and Saginaw join the others in the cabin. They explain that they have a memory cube with all the data, and this is fed into Sir Bridgehead's portable computer. They assess what information they have.

Sir Bridgehead, meanwhile, has picked up a signal on an odd frequency -- a regular pattern, a beacon or something. It's about 15km away from here, West and slightly North -- not where the missiles came from.

Helen suggests going to the ship (or whatever it was) and trying to take it out. They like the idea, but want to send the data from the scan back safely. They read the cube into the hand computer and duplicate and examine it. The fusion generator is pinpointed to a depression in the wooded area -- it looks like the power output fluctuated, running very high for a short period and then cutting right back down again -- it could be a reasonably large power plant down there. The signature looks like it could well be from a ship down on the surface, quite a bit larger than the scoutship, possibly 400 tons. It looks like most of the systems weren't running.

They decide to send a minimum crew back with the memory cube, so Helen takes the air/raft back to Allys Hollow, with a vacc suit, a grav chute, and a communicator.

The party that stays behind sets up as two groups to approach the ship -- Chiang Ho, Brock, Joe and NoName in one group to circle around to the West while the other moves up more directly past the scoutship crash site. They examine the scan further and it seems like the orientation of the metallic lump that is probably the ship is such that it was a forced landing. The scan, by the way, shows no sign of the beacon at all. The two groups set out.

The first group passes fairly near the site where the bulk of the scoutship came down -- the stern came down in one big lump and is rather a mess. It hit where the snow gives way to dirt, and there are pieces scattered everywhere. The pilot of course was on the bridge, and since the nose was blown off he is presumed dead. Avon scans their planned course with PRIS binoculars, and sees a spot in the rocks that looks like it has taken a hit from a big laser battery, probably of at least three turrets. Four turrets (these 3 plus the one missile) would imply a ship of at least 400 tons. They notice something reflective there, and eventually identify it as a vacc suit. They decide to investigate carefully, since they have some time in hand over the other group; it's further down towards the woods.

Avon notices some tree damage further in the forest that could have been caused by the exhaust blast from missiles. He then investigates the vacc suit. It looks like this site is also a good forward observer position -- Avon feels that they could be retracing the steps of someone who's been here before -- he doesn't like that feeling. There's a rock lying on the chest of the vacc suit.

Avon sneaks over. It looks like the person was higher in the rocks originally, the laser blast hit above him and he was killed by the rock fall. It is a civilian vacc suit, with an "AC" logo on it -- the cloth patch that was probably the name has decayed. This spot, he feels, is screened from the valley by trees. Near the vacc suit is a weapon -- smashed under the rocks is an autopistol. Avon goes over to the weapon and finds a sealed weatherproof package also with the AC logo. He takes it back to the others and tells them what he has found.

Fostriades opens the package and finds some papers inside it. There are ship's papers for the Kinunir (a 2000 ton Colonial Cruiser) and two envelopes. He opens the (already opened) envelope and reads it, and also opens the sealed one -- he finds an Imperial Warrant ("Shit!"), which he pockets. The papers indicate that this used to be an Imperial Navy ship that was sold to a commercial line (Alastaranin Caristachi Lines). Sir Bridgehead reads the letter. The ship came down in mid-1088, almost 30 years ago. They read the log and discuss possibilities. They scan the letter, papers, and log, and destroy the originals.

Meanwhile, the second group goes in towards the big ship they see in the forest, which has been overgrown slightly. It looked like it belly-flopped into the trees in a controlled forced landing, with the nose and left wingtip slightly in the air. The left forward missile turret was probably the one that destroyed the scout. They examine the ship, looking for a way in first on the underside, then try the top, where they find an iris valve at the back of the top deck, to starboard just under the fin. Inside, life support and grav plates are operating. Passing through an airlock, they go into a small room -- Chiang Ho has been using three knocks when asked for an authorization code, and it has worked so far. The small room has a desk and computer terminal. They get both iris valves in the airlock open. The group opens an internal door into a Marines equipment store -- containing full Imperial Marine equipment.

Chiang Ho steps in and the door closes quickly behind him, separating him from the rest of the group. He is shot in the back by a laser and falls unconscious to the ground. Brock hears an "AAAH!" and a thud from behind the door, but all attempts to open it fail. He tries to access the computer, but it tells him that he is not authorized personnel and must leave the ship. He tries again, but it just asks him for his Imperial Navy serial number and rank. He calls in the other group with the prearranged signal. The TDS guys jam the iris valves with their newly-bought weapons to secure an avenue of escape.

Both groups meet at the outer airlock iris valve after about 20 minutes. They update each other briefly, then try to raise Chiang Ho on the radio, but there's no answer. Sir Bridgehead enters his rank and number at the computer and it says "Please wait". "Welcome aboard, Grand Admiral. I will inform the commanding officer that you are aboard. Please wait." They find this ominous, especially since the ship had crashed here before he joined the Navy.

Sir Bridgehead asks the computer to open the door and it asks for his security clearance ... "Verifying your security clearance. Please wait. Security clearance not on record. Provisional security clearance has been assigned, Security will be informed for confirmation at the earliest opportunity. Please continue." The door opens, revealing Chiang Ho unconscious on the floor, shot in the left shoulder by a laser pistol. Sir Bridgehead administers initial treatment. Brock looks for the pistol, sees the scanning laser over the door, and smashes it.

The computer goes "BEEP!" and says "STAN v1.0. Security informed." Sir Bridgehead asks for the crew of the ship. "Internal threat recognized. This terminal disabled." The terminal does not respond to them at all now. There is a creak from the airlock as it tries to shut, but the weapon jams it open. Sir Bridgehead plugs his hand computer into the terminal. The grav plates go off and the lights dim. The air circulation system stops. Sir Bridgehead unplugs his hand computer, but it is scrambled and will need rebooting.

Fostriades has worked out that this ship is a serious high-tech machine, with some TL16 and even TL17 stuff in Engineering. He recaps the mission of the ship and its experiences as described in the log. He points out that computers were definitely causing a problem.

Chiang Ho recovers consciousness and is questioned. He thinks it was the security system that shot him, because he was only one step into the room. He is badly hurt and will need to stay inactive for eight days.

Brock goes to the intercom and says, "Computer, if you don't talk to me, I'm going to smash the other laser." A laser shot misses him and smashes the terminal instead; it also burns out the scanning laser. The grav plates come back on and the air starts circulating again. They try the intercom, but there is no answer -- certainly not from the terminal, because it has just been shot... There was no terminal in the marine equipment storeroom.

They discuss putting on armor from the stores, and the consensus is that everyone should. They discuss salvage laws, and that someone has to stay on the ship and they have to get the ship back to the starport to claim salvage. Lots of people put on armor; NoName and Joe put on reflec, and do a couple of drills with each other to make sure that they can still move freely.

Avon opens the other door, steps through and tries to shoot out the scanning laser, but misses. The laser hits Avon, but does no damage. Avon shoots back and this time makes no mistakes.

This room is the standby bridge. Sir Bridgehead goes over to the computer. "Welcome to the standby bridge," it says, "Please identify all personnel present." He does, then tries to find out the state of the ship ... "Maneuver drive problem. Systems failure identified. Physical problem, please rectify. Crew intervention required." The crew manifest is as found in the ship's papers, except that it does not list the dead engineer, and lists Jacobs as Chief Engineer. As for a list of people on board, it lists the party. It says it cannot locate the various crew names they tell it.

The computer then decides that there is a serious internal threat, and asks them about it. "What was the exact nature of the catastrophe?" They answer it variously. "Please repair maneuver drive," it says. "What was the exact nature of the catastrophe?" "It's lost it's mind completely," exclaims Avon. Sir Bridgehead continues to try to help STAN: "The catastrophe involved security breaches that were accidentally breached and which triggered defense mechanisms." "Security threat recognized, thank you." "Control has been restored to the main bridge."

NoName tells Chiang to look at one of the pages in his TDS book (page 9), and to chew the small leaf he gives him -- he finds he can move around despite his injuries if he concentrates on the symbol hard enough.

The party considers trying to reach Engineering, wherever that is. They work out where that is likely to be. Chiang Ho walks into the room, to the great consternation of Sir Bridgehead -- his scanner says that Chiang should NOT be up and around and walking, and should not even be capable of it.

They try to get more information from the computer, but it isn't cooperative. The engineers determine from the bridge monitors that the ship is almost out of fuel. It has enough for maybe one shot of the laser batteries, and to maintain life support, but not enough fuel for anything much else. They try to get more information from the computer, and when questioned as to the status of the ship, it says "The ship is under internal threat from unauthorized invasion through rear airlock, A Deck. Internal security has been notified, internal threat has not yet been neutralized."

At this point, the "BWOOP! BWOOP!" Battle Stations alarm goes off. The display comes up and identifies a "dot" approaching. "External threat, systems activated. Threat has been identified, attempting neutralization." Chiang Ho goes out the back door, and sees that the port wingtip missile turret is just firing. "Missiles fired, tracking trajectory." Chiang Ho keys his communicator, "Mayday, Mayday, missiles fired accidentally, dodge!" The missiles miss their target and detonate harmlessly. The air/raft (as Chiang sees it) continues straight overhead. The "blip" is identified as about 10 tons. Sir Bridgehead goes down the corridor out of the standby bridge. Chiang Ho comes back in, describes what he saw, and goes to get some reflec from the stores. Sir Bridgehead, meanwhile, comes to an open area with three air/rafts and a GCarrier -- presumably a vehicle deck.

Back on the bridge, the display says "Pinpoint systems activated, lock-on achieved, lasers firing." The lights dim, the grav plates go off (everyone slides around), and the holodisplay goes off. The display comes back on. "External threat vaporized, internal threat still exists." There is now enough fuel on the ship for about 6 months of life-support. The only operative weapons system left is the starboard missile turret, which is the one that is buried in the undergrowth and can't fire.

There is a short discussion on the fate of the air/raft occupants. There was no sign of anyone baling out.

Back on the vehicle deck, Sir Bridgehead and Avon have found the main elevator -- they are each shot by lasers over the iris valves, so take cover behind an air/raft. "Threat neutralization in progress," says the computer. Chiang Ho moves up the corridor towards the vehicle deck, but needs to rest halfway up. There is a battle with the lasers, during which NoName is hit. When the fight is over and the lasers neutralized, Sir Bridgehead treats the injuries as much as possible. NoName just has a superficial wound and it hasn't hurt him much; he's chewing on a leaf of some sort. Everyone gathers on the vehicle deck. Chiang Ho gets the GCarrier ready for immediate emergency exit, opening the doors of the vehicle deck and the GCarrier.

They descend in the elevator using an air/raft (which they have maneuvered onto the platform) as cover.

MEANWHILE, Delaney has been enjoying himself back at Allys Hollow when Helen turns up wearing a vacc suit in an air/raft. She tells him what has happened and they leave to help. What Helen suggests is to get as close as they can, then to see if there is a threat out there they can get of the air/raft, send it out on a straight line over the ship to see what happens and sneak in. There is, after all, an airship a few km away if they need transport. The air/raft gets missed by a missile salvo, then it continues over the ship location and is vaporized by a shot from a big laser battery. Just before the laser shot, there's a radio call (Chiang Ho's voice). They trek over to the ship. It's about 2/3 the size of the Ethelred, the ship Delaney commanded at Zaibon. He recognizes this type, perhaps, but it looks rather bigger than it should be for that class. The ship shows no sign of battle damage. They notice a fresh trail of footprints in the dirt up the ship to the rear of the fin.

Delaney mulls over possibilities for disabling weapons and sensor systems from outside the ship, but there's nothing they can do from there, so they enter through the open (jammed) airlock, into the security room beyond. There are some shouts and commotion from deeper in the ship. They go into the standby bridge, and looking down the corridor they see everyone gathered in the room at the end. Delaney hammers on the wall and says "May I come in?"

The group covers Delaney and Helen with weapons as the two join them. There is a quick debriefing, then Helen and Delaney go to armor up.While Delaney is away, Sir Bridgehead conveys his distrust of him- - Delaney overhears and comments on it. Delaney is then updated on most of the information they have gathered so far.

Chiang Ho, Avon, and NoName go down on the elevator. As they pass through B Deck, Avon is hit by laser fire again. Everyone comes down into C Deck, out into an open area, and considers their options.

One group (NoName, Chiang Ho, Sir Bridgehead, Helen, Delaney) goes forward to look for the bridge, and the others (Brock, Fostriades, Avon, Saginaw, Joe) go aft to find Engineering. Everyone is very careful, using cover as much as they can. As both groups move down the corridor, they come under laser fire. Avon is hit and falls unconscious, but all the lasers are eventually taken out.

In the secondary computer section, Chiang Ho waves his reflec on a stick until the lasers burn themselves out shooting at it. Once out of his armor, it is obvious that Chiang Ho is seriously wounded out of all proportion to his ability to move around. Delaney manages to bring up one of the standby computers and instructs it to sever contact with the main computer. It turns out that the main computer has control of the ship's systems so they cannot shut anything down. It tells them that the bridge is forward on B Deck, and engineering is aft on C Deck. The main computer must be shut down before the ship's systems can be controlled--they should then complete power down and physical disconnection from Engineering, then disconnect all power systems and bring them back selectively. The main computer (STAN 1.0, anyway) will not allow itself to be shut down from the bridge. The emergency access between levels is via a shaft in front of the elevator, and can be reached through access panels.

Back towards Engineering, the group has reached the Boat Deck. Fostriades and Saginaw shoot out the lasers over the loading doors and the iris valve on their left, but when Fostriades goes through he gets shot in the back by the scanners over the valves behind him--he turns and blows those away with two quick shots. They check the Pinnace bay, then move aft to Engineering proper. There are no lasers in here and no other doors, but they can shut down the power from here. They look around--the Maneuver drives don't look like anything they've seen before, but parts of the Power Plant they have seen described in research papers. They do think they can do a shutdown, but are not sure where the cables go to bring it back up selectively. They shut down the power and start to study the manuals. They then find Jacobs' body, by an open panel with a large disconnected cable--it looks like he died from loss of blood as the result of a serious laser wound, and dragged himself here after being shot.

Chiang Ho and NoName go to the flight deck, take the pinnace and alert the scout base. Chiang Ho claims salvage on the ship in the names of Fostriades and Chiang Ho (although, of course, anyone who made a fundamental contribution could in theory claim). He explains the fate of the scoutship, then lands the pinnace behind the Kinunir.

Delaney goes to the bridge, sees a body shot in the pilot's seat (that would be D'Farne) and another body with a broken neck (Dirachent) crumpled against some of the equipment. Fostriades, Sir Bridgehead, and Helen go to the captain's cabin where they find a LOT of cash in the safe--they then join Delaney on the bridge. They have now noticed that every part of this ship has a General Products manufacturer's plate, rather than subcontracted components like the drives and computers and so on--most unusual. They discuss merits of bringing up the computer. They disconnect all the scanning lasers over the doors and valves.

Saginaw studies the manuals, and some of Engineering makes no sense at all--what would an "anti- matter diffusion injector" (whatever that is) be doing in a jump drive? On the other hand, he has worked out how to shut down and bring up the power plant. The Jump Drive is a total mystery, as is the Maneuver Drive control system--on the other hand, he can reconnect the drive cabling that Jacobs separated.

They power up the ship under control of the auxiliary computer system. The ship status says that the Maneuver drive is not operational, that the ship is very low on fuel, all weapons systems are disengaged or unable to fire. It runs a diagnostic check, and a security check just notes the jammed airlock and internal doors and smashed computer terminal in the security room, disabled door lasers, and that the rear pinnace doors have been manually opened. The computer adds that the main security system is not available with the main computer down-- the standby computer only has a standard security system.

They question the records of the standby computer, and find that there was a total wiping of the system two days into the last jump, initiated by the main computer. This standby computer can perform all normal functions of the ship itself without recourse to the main computer. The main computer had some auxiliary hardware, with extra sensor lines and a black box interface, installed at the main overhaul -- including System for Threat Assessment and Neutralization version 1.0. They get instructions for disconnecting the Black Box and all the associated cables, do so, and will reload the main computer from it's original (normal) software. They disconnect all the extra cables and the Box, and Fostriades takes the Box down to Engineering with the stated intent of taking it outside the ship, but is waylaid by Saginaw and stores it in Engineering. Delaney, meanwhile, considers this main computer a cross between Psycho and Jason--they put in some physical relays so that they can bypass the main computer system easily.

Sir Bridgehead examines the ship's Sick Bay, which seems to be a full TL17 field hospital. Some of this equipment is beyond even his comprehension.

There is a suggestion as to what everyone should do. There is a consensus that they should go to Karin/Five Sisters to try to find Jack. Fostriades and Sir Bridgehead disagree as to what sort of classified advert they should run to get his attention.

Delaney and Fostriades have a Politburo meeting and sort out the future of the group and the ship. It is decided that a message needs to reach a really trustworthy authority immediately, and it seems that Archduke Norris of Deneb is the nearest such person--it would take too long to contact the Emperor directly.

Meanwhile, Saginaw is fixing the ship's systems -- reconnecting the maneuver drive, repairing the door scanning lasers (with low-power ones), replacing the terminal in the A Deck security room, reconnecting all the weapon systems. All the systems now check out as functional and ready to take off, except that the ship is dangerously low on fuel, so it is refueled from Lake Kharon using the Pinnace.

The ship is searched thoroughly. It seems that the marine troop was one of the Emperor's personal units under direct command of the Emperor. The Politburo meeting continues. Delaney is brought up to date by Fostriades on all the ship's papers that were found, including the ship's log. There is enough cash on board (126 MCr) to pay off the Hermes -- options are discussed, including setting up an annuity to pay off the Hermes and seal both it and the Woodstock here for an indefinite period. Company options are discussed.

Division of responsibility and ship's officer roles are discussed. Sir Bridgehead seems to have acquired a figurehead role in addition to Chief Medical Officer, Delaney will be the Captain, and Fostriades the Financial and Merchant Officer and Assistant Engineer, with Mich the Chief Engineer, Avon the Chief Gunner, Brock a Gunner, and Helen the Flight Officer. Joe (Jarge Derinnh) is Security Officer, and NoName (Xzrdz Krzztz) is Wellness Officer. Operations procedures and "cover" for their intended course of action is also discussed. Half the cash found on board will be distributed immediately to the people involved in salvage (the TDS guys won't want any). They will look for a Computer Officer, and also deal with the papers from Zaibon that needed signing. The Hermes company being dissolved, Fostriades buys the field hospital on the Hermes from Sir Bridgehead; an annuity will be set up to pay off the Hermes.

The lasers in the admiral's cabin and the lights outside it are flaky and don't always work properly--the laser is actually set up to acquire a retinal scan of Helen Merrick (by Mich and Delaney in conspiracy) -- with image enhancement it should be possible to get a readable scan in a few days.

The Kinunir will be renamed the Anastasia. The ship's papers are filed with the scout base.

Chiang Ho calls up the scout base, where he finds an old friend of his, Fred. They discuss old times (apparently Fred swore on a bottle of Aranian Rum that he wouldn't get married, but now he has to a local girl). The scout base doesn't want Imperial investigation, because they don't want to be transferred away from here. Chiang Ho says they're looking for a computer person, and Fred recommends a couple of local people who have been working with them on liaison. One of them is a "bit stuffed up," a liaison officer who played professional baseball at age 5-7. The girl, on the other hand, is very pleasant and has been working with the scouts on satellite delivery and so on, so she actually has space experience. Chiang Ho says tell her to send them a resume. They set up a dinner date, three nights from now-- Chiang Ho will buy dinner. Fred wants somewhere that serves meat (i.e. on the starport) (of course, his wife won't eat it).

The emperor's letter is read by Fostriades to Mich, who hasn't seen it yet. The envelope says "To Admiral William R. Darani. Private and Confidential."

The letter says:

Sir Bridgehead sends a coded message to Archduke Norris describing the situation.

The group decides that, given the tradition in the Imperium of taking things into your own hands because of communications problems, they will at least take this ship to Karin and find out if they can do anything there. Training and crew positions are discussed, as is the resume of the potential computer person.

Avon searches the ship. He finds nothing really unusual, but the nuclear weapons are not quite Imperial standard, although in perfect condition. The warheads are definitely not standard -- he takes one apart and finds some non-Imperial markings which he does not recognize -- they're in an alien alphabet. He calls in Fostriades to look at it -- maybe it's something he's seen before but has no idea where, an obscure dead language or something. The computer can't help. It's not Darrian, or Aslan, but does have components which suggest influences on/by Darrian and Aslan. Known sources of nuclear warheads in the vicinity of the Spinward Marches are Imperium, Sword Worlds, Aslan, Vargr, Zhodani ... the writing doesn't match any of those ... and the Federation of Arden does not maintain a nuclear capability.

Avon suggests that the Captain might know something about it, so calls him in (Avon doesn't really want the Admiral involved). Avon and Fostriades show him the writing on the warhead. Delaney scans it into the computer but can get no more information. There are no known real connections between Darrian and Aslan cultures, though.

Delaney has seen some of this before, and recognizes something like it from his training courses on covert operations. It was some sort of example, with no name put to it or anything. Delaney takes a rubbing of it (it is etched lightly into the warhead). It was somewhere in the course on "occasionally you may see these weapons, just go ahead and use them if you find them."

Avon reassembles the nuclear weapon. The record of the writing is stored securely for access only by Avon, Delaney, and Fostriades.

Sir Bridgehead has been working out what the medical equipment is. One piece is used for memory transfer during brain transplant -- BRAIN TRANSPLANT???! It can't be used for a brain memory scan, though. It can be used to record, image intensify, and implant. Specific memory erasure can be performed. He can work on memories and various brain functions directly, but can't interpret the readings that are recorded to implant. It may be able to superimpose a brain reading on another, but selective transfer is not possible. This goes through the equipment, not the computer -- it doesn't have the bandwidth or capability to cope (computer is TL16, equipment is TL17).

Another piece is used to deliver some disease-fighting stuff suitable for injection. Obviously it has to be better than the standard broad-spectrum antibiotics and anti-viral stuff available now, but he doesn't really understand it, or why it is needed with broad-spectrum antibiotics. The equipment doesn't seem to be for reconstruction, but specifically disease or toxin elimination -- it seems to have something which can go in and pull out specific things, and it does require precise analysis of what it's required to fight.

Other than those items, the remaining medical equipment is familiar but smaller, faster -- recovery will be faster--and operates more easily. The equipment is quicker, more precise, and easier to use. For example, the strap-on imaging system is more stable under magnification and automatically selects the best spectrum and mass analysis methods to make operations easier. There are other things in the sick bay that the computer cannot interface to or tell much about.

The drug supplies are very good, and even equipped with several outlawed drugs. The system can synthesize most things, if it is known what is wanted.

Freshly dead people can be revived, pretty much whatever the state -- although of course Sir Bridgehead is not familiar with brain transplants and that would be a very dangerous procedure.

Chiang Ho reconfigures the ship's controls with the assistance of Delaney.

Delaney shows Chiang Ho the heiroglyphics. They are familiar to him! He calls in NoName, who has never seen anything like it before. He then tries to run some analysis on the computer, but just comes up with the usual "Elements of Darrian and Aslan, not clear whether convergent evolution or ancestor" answer. The computer is unable to gather enough elements to make a translation. Chiang Ho remembers where he has seen it before -- there was an alien hulk picked up at some unknown (or rather unstated) location in the middle of nowhere: torn apart, with engineering blown away, it was a strange ship, streamlined to some extent, picked up in pieces from an asteroid belt out this way somewhere--beyond the Spinward Marches, maybe?

042-1117 : Spirelle / Lunion / Spinward Marches

David Brock flies the airship to Allys Hollow, with Helen following in an air/raft to bring him back. They check out of the resort.

It is decided to investigate the beacon. Chiang Ho, David Brock, NoName, and Bill Avon take the GCarrier over there in the morning before the ship leaves. There is a discussion as to whether pushing a button to fire a weapon mounted on a vehicle is civilized or not, and the current conclusion is that it is, pending further consideration. The beacon is now off -- it turned on when the scoutship approached, and Fostriades (communicating from the bridge of the Anastasia) adds "Jeez, it was also on when this big sucker approached a long time ago."

Chiang Ho flies the GCarrier within half a km of the location, whereupon they see a building cut out of the rock on a hill, with a light showing from inside. They move the GCarrier closer. It's an octagonal building, about 2 internal stories, with the light on the upper story. (Fostriades suggests they look for odd script--they know the sort.) There's a small valley there in which it would be possible to land a starship if absolutely necessary. The building is a bit below the peak, cut back into the side of the mountain, leaving a small overhang over the area. (The concept of "wreckers" occurs to Delaney.) In this general area, the valley is the only place where a ship could come down. They check the light with the GCarrier's imaging systems, and it turns out that it is mostly in the visible spectrum. As they come in closer, they see that the octagonal building is about 15m across, with a landing-spot between the building and the rock-face, and the actual entrance on the opposite side overlooking a drop to the valley.

They land the GCarrier on the open side, rather than risking the obvious landing place, and walk to the building (most of them in battledress). It has been carved out of the rock with no seams with some really high-tech tools -- it is definitely NOT of local construction. The landing party relays a verbal description via an open mike. From the 3m entrance ledge, there's a 10m drop to the valley, which forms a basin where a ship could be brought down if need be. The open doorway entrance is up a few steps. There is a light shining from unglazed windows on the upper level, and on the top of the building it looks as though someone has (after the original construction) cut crude slots that could be used as battlements. The walls are about half a meter thick.

The ground floor room is empty, but there are footsteps leading up cut into the fireplace and an iron bar as a handrail. The floor is wood. The fireplace has been used for a fire at some point. Bill Avon goes up the steps, looks into the next level (the upper of two interior levels), and sees that the light is coming from a standard Imperial issue emergency light, the sort that has a 50-year battery. He continues upwards and comes out onto the roof. The walls rise up from the edge of the flat roof, and the battlements were definitely cut after the building was built, perhaps with a laser weapon. Nothing seems out of the ordinary here, but at Chiang Ho's suggestion they take a sample of the rock, even though it really looks like native rock.

They return to the ground floor, where Chiang Ho tries to pry up a floorboard with his "halberd" but finds it's too solid to do that. Bill Avon cuts a piece out with his laser rifle, but it falls down about 1m to the next level. Looking into the hole with the lantern they took from the top level, it looks like there is a small box down there. "Bingo!" says Bill. It looks like there are footsteps in the dust down there that lead to what would be the fireplace at this level. It occurs to them that the wooden floor on this level might have been added later, but the dimensions of the room do not bear that out. The footsteps look like a human moving in a 1m space--they look like they've been there a good while, but (obviously) not as long as the building or the wooden floor. Bill finds a stone in the fireplace that lifts out, revealing the 1m drop. The supports for the wood floor are cut into the rock, apparently original construction. Chiang Ho guesses that the building must be over TL14, but Bill points out that military equipment does not make as smooth a cut as construction equipment.

The box is sealed, seamless metal of some sort. There is not really room for someone in battledress, so David goes down and crawls over to it. It is about 40cm x 40cm x 25cm height with no obvious connections or openings. It is not attached to the floor and moves easily--it has been in that spot for as long as the dust-- there is dust in the footsteps but not under the box. It's quite light-- David passes it up through the fireplace.

They take it back to the ship and down to Engineering, where Mich builds a shielded cage for it in the machine shop. He investigates the box and finds that it's not identifiable by anything in Engineering or on the computer. None of the sensors can penetrate it, and he can't get a sample from it because nothing will mark it. It's CG is to the bottom in the center, the box is 25cm high with the CG 5cm off the bottom. He sets up a sensor to alert them if the box starts transmitting.

Sir Bridgehead finally realizes that Darrian has TL16 for some stuff, but there is TL17 stuff on board this ship...

All non-essential people get on board the Pinnace (while Helen, the Flight Officer, pilots it--is she using Pilot rather than Ship's Boat skill?), while the remainder operate the ship. David has already cleared the right wingtip of undergrowth by using the GCarrier's weapon. As soon as the drives on the Pinnace start, the box starts transmitting; the cage, however, works to block the signal.

When the pinnace is 2km away, they start up the Anastasia's drives and lift off, trailing dirt. They fly it to the starport slowly and carefully, and bring it in to a safe landing at an assigned pad close to the Hermes and the Woodstock. The pinnace follows. It is late afternoon when they land. Now their previous (yesterday's) salvage claim has been verified and ownership changed. They fill in details on the ship's papers and crew, for which there is a 10kCr fee.

Fostriades oversees a lot of financial investment in planet-based banks (Helen just puts her money in the safe), and also various other financial arrangements including the storage of the Hermes and Woodstock. They buy 3 loads of life-support supplies for the full run to Iderati (stored in the Marine storage area). They organize internal wall re-arrangements and install collapsible fuel tanks. Another 10kCr covers that work, to be supervised by Mich ("sometime I'll get those door openers worked out").

They update the ship's computer from the Hermes and Woodstock, and move everyone's personal effects and pets into the Anastasia. The dogs all like each other, and the ship is definitely mutual territory; the crew are all accepted as allowable people.

Sir Bridgehead donates 10kCr to the local hospital in his name. He can't find anything out about the octagonal building in the local files.

Based on the prohibitions on overflying local terrain, it is not unreasonable that no-one has noticed the beacon in the last 30 years, especially considering that it transmitted under such a strange frequency.