Robert thinks it would be a good idea to go back to
the H.M.S. Third
and bring it into this arm of the station. That way they can establish
communications between the two computer systems and teach the
about military cryptology. Before it leaves the bay it needs to tell
the station defense sensors that it's friendly.
The only pilot they have right now is the vilani chef Vonish Kehnaan. He's not as good a pilot as Helia, and so it might be wise to stick to the original plan of taking the black ship out to meet up with the Third Eye, as originally planned.
Mich Saginaw is still trying to get familiar with the
engineering systems. He still hasn't found anything related to fuel,
or how much energy the ship has left. With Robert's help, however,
he does find that the root of the power systems is indeed the small cube.
The only power input is through the two electrical terminals behind the
access panel. There are no indications of how much power it takes,
or anything like that. The panel is, according to Robert, labeled with
a symbol that he can colloquially translate as "starter." In ideogram
terms, it's the origin of an event which continues with the assistance of
something -- the whole symbol is not clear to him, but it's clearly a "starter."
Any further levels of the manual for the power systems are totally incomprehensible
to them both. It's becoming clear that the systems on the ship are mostly
solid-state. They're repairable in the same sort of way a computer chip
might be repairable, by rebuilding the pathways.
After reaching that dead end, they continue with the jump drive . For Mich to adapt his vortex generators to this ship, he has to know the shape and parameters of the jump grid and jump bubble. Essentially that requires data to be gathered during jump.
The next item to study is the environmental system. First, the artificial gravity is independently alterable throughout the ship. The staterooms also have individual control of humidity, pressure, atmospheric mix, and so on -- within the limit that the door opening affects it, of course. With careful work, it becomes apparent that the emphasis of the systems is on regeneration and purification, both of atmosphere and water. It doesn't seem to rely on drawing out of air tanks. There are circulation systems, surge tanks, holding tanks, and so on, but nothing that could be considered an "air tank" in the Imperial technology sense. The system works through regeneration and reuse, rather than flush and refill. Air molecules are regenerated on a dynamic basis to maintain the desired mix. There is also some passive circulation, so that if all the power is off the air doesn't go stale. The whole system is solid state, no mechanical fans or anything like that.
One thing is clear -- if the Zhodani had anything remotely related to this technology, they have not put it on their warships, or anything else for that matter. Mich could not even begin to guess the tech level, except that it's clearly above the advanced TL17 parts of the Anastasia.
Mich thinks it might be a good idea to recover the other power cube from the black ship in Arm C. On the other hand, it's small enough that if a spare might have been needed, there is no reason there shouldn't be a spare on board -- and there isn't. Obviously the builders of this ship thought that there would be no need for one.
In terms of scheduled maintenance, there seems very little. There is a section on regular diagnostic checking, but they can't find anything on regular scheduled maintenance. It is likely of course that they just haven't found such a section yet.
Since Helia's out and the ship won't be going anywhere, Robert tries to get some sort of communications running. Unfortunately it can't be done, because of the physical interlocks and barriers. This is consistent with all the other security he's seen on the station, but it is nevertheless disappointing.
Over dinner, Grand Admiral Baron Bridgehead suggests
that the Sick Bay on the Anastasia might have been derived from someone
trying to figure out what this one did. Some of the stuff they got completely
wrong -- but some of it they didn't.
Mich counters that the Anastasia's jump drives sure weren't like this.
In the evening, Robert starts preparing for opening
the door of Arm C. He believes that everything is ready, and as soon
as they want to take the black ship out of the station, they can do so.
He then asks Vonish if he thinks he's up to piloting the Third Eye into the bay. He says he is, but adds that if he messes up, Helia will kill him. He suggests waiting to see if Helia comes out of her trance in the next day or two.
Robert's task for the day is to go over to the Third
Eye and hand carry data back from the ship's computers.
Mich installs an Imperial computer from the Arm C supply area in the Attic of the black ship, so they can load the data onto that. He then moves the fuel cell generator and installs new fuel bladders up in the Attic too. It takes quite some time, as he has to move various supply boxes around, but the odd shape of the ceiling makes this a particularly good place for the bladders. This gets all the Imperial equipment out of the way of normal daily operations. Robert then installs a radio link interface to the computer, so they can access it from anywhere on board.
By the end of the day they have the whole Third Eye 's library loaded on board the black ship, albeit only accessible in the Attic at the moment.
Late that night, Helia comes around.
(Referee and Helia's player only)
Helia sits up quickly, then gets dizzy and lies back
down. "How's it goin', Admiral?" she says.
"How are you?" asks the Baron cautiously.
"I understand Robert now."
"Good, good. Well don't do it again -- look at Shark."
Helia glances over at the body of the first officer, obviously suffering badly. Shark's skin is clammy and pale, his breath shallow. "Oh no. He didn't go to a good place, did he?"
"He's getting worse."
Helia says, "Give him more."
"You know they didn't give him a zack at first, either."
"What's that got to do with it?"
"I think they give you things there that they know you can handle. He needed to prove he could handle a zack."
"Well, I advised against it, and now he's in this state."
"Yes. You've had changes. Your brain chemistry has changed, and it will continue to change for a while. The metabolic products of metabolic products continue to resonate around for quite some time."
"You think I'll be better in the long run?"
"I have no idea."
"It's very interesting. You should try it. Except you're the only doctor."
"Yes. Well, now that my assistant is lying on that bed over there."
"Anything I can do?"
"No. If it gets bad enough, I'll put him in low berth."
"Poor Shark. It wasn't for him, I guess."
"You're going to have to come back for monitoring frequently. We need to see how the charge is building up -- Robert's is building up again. There's a chemical charge that builds up -- that was what was causing him to pass out with increasing frequency."
"I'm going to go to the bridge."
"Be sure to report back here first thing in the morning, and then every... two hours."
Helia goes to the bridge and sits in the pilot's seat.
The labels of her console are now almost completely in
. She still can't read the samples of the script that remain.
She goes into sparkly pink mode. It feels a little... different. Her perceptions are different, it feels different. It's not clear that it's better, just different. She had such a limited view of things before...
She goes back to her cabin, gets a bunch of candy, gives half of it to the Doc and lays the other half out in a carefully arranged elaborate pattern around Shark's body. The Baron doesn't interfere, except to ask her not to touch him or put any of the candy on his body.
Helia then retires to her stateroom. She didn't think a coma would make her tired, but she certainly is sleepy.
At breakfast Helia tells Robert that Shark is worse.
"He needs more," says Robert.
"That's what I told the doctor, but he won't listen. You think it's because he doesn't believe?"
"I don't think believing has anything to do with it. I mean when I took it I didn't know what it did -- it was a drink."
"No, you think he doesn't believe what happened? You think like he's fighting it?"
"I have no idea. I'm not a doctor."
After breakfast, Helia goes back to Sick Bay and talks to Shark in her native language. She tells him baby stories, fairy stories, and so on.
Robert, meanwhile, sets up communications between the
computer systems -- the Imperial one in the Attic and the black ship's computer.
He slips into sparkly pink mode at his station. It's rather stressful,
as he has to manage the interface directly for a while. It feels like
forever to him, but in fact is about four hours. He does achieve his
goal, however. The two computers are linked.
By lunchtime, Robert is feeling very drained. He eats in the lounge, and then rests. His job is done well -- labels are spontaneously translating all over the ship, and even the manual in engineering is filling in as Mich watches. Helia's starmaps are becoming comprehensible in the Astrogator 's display, including numbers.
Helia has been in Sick Bay, and her scans reveal no charge buildup. Shark is no better... in fact he's worse. The Baron says she's doing no harm, so she's welcome to keep talking to him. Helia goes to lunch, and brings back food for Shark to the Sick Bay where she resumes her vigil.
Mich explains to Helia that the labels are changing as a result of Robert hooking up the ship to the computer in the Attic, and that's where the fuel cell and equipment recharging unit are now located. Helia can recharge her robot cat there.
When Robert returns to his stateroom, he finds that labels that were in galanglic have changed back to the script. It's a simpler, dumbed down, version -- but it's definitely the same script.
Even with the new translation capability, Mich is still finding obvious gaps in the manual. There is still no reference he can find about fuel. Helia says the ship's a mind-sucking joe, and it powers itself from synergy with the crew. Mich retorts that if the mind-sucking joes had this technology, they sure weren't using it in the war.
The ship is indeed ready to go. The only branch that is unavailable is security -- with Shark out of it in the Sick Bay -- but they decide to wait until tomorrow anyway.
Helia goes to the Sick Bay again. She takes all
the candy away and arranges other stuff around him. She tries to put
the finger puzzle on Shark, but the Baron stops her.
"He'll remember it," insists Helia, but it isn't good enough reason for the doctor to yield. She adds, "Maybe he needs his zack."
"No," says the Baron, "I think he just needs rest."
"But he's still getting worse? He needs more."
"OK." She goes back to the bridge. She tried.
It's time to take the ship out.
Mich has found no reason not to, other than the absence of any sort of idea how long the power can keep running. He has discovered one thing: there is no static jump grid. The grid is dynamically formed as a field around the ship, outside it. That does affect his vortex generator design, as the system has components outside the grid, perturbing the jump field itself. He wonders if he could achieve that effect by just modulating the jump grid -- probably not, there are other effects that would be needed. Now a dynamic field grid like this would have let them save the Anastasia from her fate, as they could modulate the shape during jump -- if they knew what to do with it.
Helia takes the helm, while Robert goes ashore on the station to operate the doors. Mich is in Engineering, and of course the Grand Admiral remains with his patient. Misha Ravanos takes his seat on the command dais on the bridge. Vonish returns to the Third Eye to take over pilot duties there.
The ship tells Misha, "Ready to go." Misha gives the order.
Helia is prepared to bolt the heck out of there if looks like anything might happen, or they have to dodge any firing at the ship. She slips into sparkly pink mode.
Robert evacuates the air from the Arm.
(Referee and Helia's player only)
Mich notices a sudden jump in power consumption as the air is pumped out.
The bay is in vacuum. Robert opens the doors to Arm C.
Helia lifts off and takes them through the doors into
the open space of the
. Her first priority is to see if there's any perceived threat from
the station. She can see all the station defense outposts around her,
and notices that they're all locking on to her -- as they're locked on to
the Third Eye, and every asteroid in the vicinity.
Helia decides she needs to leave quickly to be safe. She wants to be there. Now, before the lasers can vaporize her. Her intent is to go out to a safe distance first, and return to dock with the Third Eye.
The black ship gets the identification hail. It responds. Misha notices this on his display.
There is of course nothing Robert can do from his position on the station. He completes the cycle, closing the door to Arm C, then rushes up to the Third Eye to monitor from the communication station there.
The station defenses open fire with a coordinated laser
Helia is glad she's wearing her zack. The lasers that hit do no damage whatsoever.
Helia calls, "Hey Robert, how long will the lasers keep going before wearing out?"
There's no answer as Robert is on his way from the station control room to the Third Eye.
The defenses open up with multiple missile salvos.
Helia's first thought is to duck and cover -- behind an asteroid -- but then she notices that she's outrunning the missiles. She quickly loses them, and they expire far behind her.
All fire has ceased.
Helia brings the ship to a halt as quickly as she can. "How was that, Mich? How are the engines holding out?"
Mich replies, "Just fine. Everything's red." The drives did take a lot of power. He wonders again how much more they have left.
Helia drops out of sparkly pink mode and takes over
with the console controls. She turns to Misha and says, "Now what?"
"They were shooting at us, right?"
"Not that the ship might have noticed, but yeah."
"According to this screen here, they were shooting the heck out of us. What happened?"
"I don't know. We went out like we were supposed to, and the lasers started firing at us, and we left a few missiles behind. I didn't do it, boss, I don't know. It's like it didn't listen to Robert."
Helia opens a channel from the black ship to the Third Eye.
Sagan has pointed out to Robert where the black ship
would be, based on glimpses of the blue glow from the drives, and the hull
Robert answers Helia's hail: "Hello, good to hear from you. What happened?"
"Can you make it so it doesn't fire on us?"
"I tried before. Let's see if I can look through the system logs and see what went wrong." It's an almost impossible task, but he does manage to access the logs. He realizes that the defenses advanced their coding in a different relationship to the actual time difference -- obviously to prevent such a programmable system working every time. He starts working on the appropriate changes -- it won't be easy, but he's pretty sure he can do it. He sends it over.
Sagan comments quietly to Robert, "This is not an Imperial
ship, is it?"
"Good. I did not think Imperial ships could accelerate at 20g." The hiver 's expression is inscrutable to the human.
Helia forgot one more thing. "Hey Mich, does
your brain feel sucked dry yet?"
"No," replies Mich.
"Excellent! I told you it wouldn't hurt you. It doesn't feel like it did anything to my brain, except it was a great ride. How's the power?"
"We used a heck of a lot of power." Even so, it's a small fraction of the maximum output of the power unit.
"We'll be able to recharge these batteries, right?"
"There's no instructions on how to recharge."
"What are we doing taking the ship anywhere, then?"
"That's a very good question."
"OK. I'm glad I asked it."
"As near as I can tell, those were just batteries we plugged in. They were starter batteries."
"You mean they weren't the real thing? So we're getting energy from some source we don't know what?"
"The big cube. There's a big cube down here, and we just started the engine. Two meters on a side cube here, and we just started the generator or whatever by plugging in the battery."
"Is it recharging?"
"No, it's just providing power, it's not recharging."
"So what happens when we run out of the power?"
"It stops. I guess."
"We'll park next to the Third Eye and see if it starts recharging at all. You say there's plenty of energy to get back?"
"There are absolutely no indicators of the amount of power in the cube. Not how much is in there. There is no direct indication of how much we have used, there is an indication of how much we are currently using, and so by integrating that I can get our total power consumption."
Helia starts the ship back towards the station. This time the hail is received and apparently the response is acceptable, as nothing fires. She parks next to the Third Eye, and they set up a tube between the two ships.
Now all that remains is for Robert to go into the station
and patch up the security. Of course there are no records at all in
the arms. He finds that all records of their visit -- other than the
record at reception of what ship arrived and the purpose -- will automatically
be erased three hours after they leave.
Helia finds it incredible that they're going to take off with this ship, and it's OK because they have the clearance. "So if the Imperium sees us, what are they going to do? Are they going to know? Are they going to care?"
"They're not going to know. Now it'd be an extremely odd ship, and somebody might say the ship's energy consumption really looks weird, or something like that. They probably won't refuse us entry to anywhere, but they might refuse us exit."
"So you're telling me that we can't go anywhere that might want to keep our ship? We should go back to Digitis."
Mich laughs and shakes his head. "Man, jump-6's without refueling, a straight shot, you don't care that it's an empty hex. You just go. As long as you've got food. We still need to take the Third Eye somewhere and park it."
"Is it refueling while we sit?"
Mich explains yet again: "There is no indication of the amount of fuel currently on board. There is no indication of the amount of charge of the cube. All there is is the instantaneous power drain from the cube. I have to program in something to integrate that to see how much we've actually used. There is no indication how much power goes in and how much power goes out. It's just an instantaneous percentage of maximum. And our 20g jaunt used only ten percent of maximum output."
Robert goes back to the station and hacks himself into the highest security clearance. With that authority, he then eliminates any record of there having been a visit at all.
It is done. This never happened.
Personnel is transferred. Vonish and Sagan will take control of the Third Eye, while everyone else remains on the black ship. It's a short crew, but the Zodiac class is designed to be run easily by three people, and two is not too much of a strain.
The ships detach from each other, and the Third Eye separates from the station.
They're ready to go.