Shark is from a desert world. Nevertheless,
he decides to go for a swim and investigate the underside of the starport.
He notices that the ship is still being watched surreptitiously from the
dock. He walks out of the starboard hatch over the drive pod arm.
The surface of the hull is wet and slippery. He sits down carefully,
then drops into the ocean.
The sea is very cold, but to Shark in his suit it feels fine. Breathing is normal with his faceplate down over his face. He swims around the ship a few times. None of the locals comes over to swim with him. He clambers back onto the dock, and at his request the gangway extends to let him aboard the Nightshade. He walks back onto the ship, still dripping wet.
He checks with the bridge crew -- there was no apparent reaction from the natives while he was doing his experiment.
He goes out again for his main trip. This time
he wears a compact video camera, arranged so it will point up at the surface
of the starport while he is swimming under it.
He goes back into the water, and starts swimming under the ship. Mostly what he sees is barnacle- and weed-infested riveted steel plate.
Ed "Shark" Teeth swims under the starport.
There really isn't that much of interest -- it's a slightly convex expanse
of riveted steel plates, encrusted with barnacles, shellfish, and weed.
He does observe a team cleaning off a section of the surface.
He also sees a fishing team returning with their catch. They proceed towards an area near the center of the starport, where light shines down into the ocean from an open area. They take their catch up into that area, and climb out of the water there. Later, on his way back, Shark takes a look at it from underwater -- it's an open dock area, obviously a major fish-handling bay.
Seeing nothing else of interest, he returns to the Nightshade.
In the meantime, the black-robed figure has come
on board. He walked straight to the lounge as if he already knew
the layout of the ship.
When Shark arrives, the ship's crew have just started their conversation with the man. Shark sits down where he has the best view of the man, to try to figure out his body language and see who he looks at when.
Shark opens the serious part of the discussion: "Thank you for the supplies."
"You are welcome." says the man in black, "It is our obligation."
"To the ship?"
"It is our obligation to... It is our obligation."
"What do you seek here?"
"That is an interesting question."
Helia asks, "Do you want to come with us?"
"No," the man replies quickly.
Shark continues, "But you came seeking something."
"I came to see... if you needed anything else."
Robert signs in the language of the ship, something loosely translated as, "Can you tell us about the creators of the ship?" The man ignores him, as if Robert is just idly waving his hands around. Robert asks again in galanglic: "Can you tell us anything about the race that pilots these ships?"
Shark asks, "What can you tell us about these ships?"
"What have you learned?"
"Basically how to operate it. Where would we go to find more information on the history of this ship? Or its brothers?"
"That's an interesting question. The answer is not... clear."
"Is the first steps?"
Robert asks, "Is there a place you'd like us to be headed?"
"Will we be welcome if we pass this way again?"
"Yes. As welcome as you are now."
"Your hospitality is very generous."
"It is our obligation."
"Is there anything that we can do for you in return?"
"Bring news if you have any. Do you know what this ship is for?"
Helia says, "Flying. All ships are made for that."
Shark adds, "We know some of its purposes, not all."
"What do you know?" the man asks.
"To transport people, to fly. I suspect to carry life from one place to the other -- the purpose of the garden. So what purpose do you ascribe to the ship?"
The man does not answer.
Helia says, "All ships are to fly and to learn, otherwise why bother? If you don't learn, you die?"
The man nods.
"What do you think it's for?"
"It's not important."
"It is important."
"You brought up the subject," points out Shark.
"If whoever built this ship is no longer able to use it for its proper purpose, we should know what the proper purpose is, so we could either use it such, or perhaps you could tell us who to return it to. Perhaps they could give us another ship in return, because ours was destroyed saving this one."
"Is that true? You did well. Your other ship is not as useful." The man's attitude has taken a definite positive shift.
"But it was beautiful and lovely ship, with special... adjustments. How is this one more useful?"
"This one is stronger."
"It uses a much simpler fuel source."
"Your old ship would not stand up. This one may."
"Stand up to what?"
"You'll know if you see it. But I am sure that since you saved this ship, you'll do the right thing."
"We can only try."
"Thank you. I have no further questions."
Misha Ravanos has been sitting quietly, waiting for the others to finish. He starts his questions now. "Why is is your obligation?"
"It is our obligation."
"Do you know why? Can you tell us?"
"Yes. It is part of an... arrangement."
"How old is this arrangement."
"It is old. Younger than this ship. Younger than this planet and its colonization. Older than I am. It was an arrangement made that we would resupply a ship like this when it arrives."
"In return for?"
"Must there always be a return?"
"Whose obligation is it?"
"This world. This whole world."
"Does everyone know of this obligation?"
"Everyone who needs to know, knows.'"
"Do you want this ship?"
"No. It is of no use to us."
The black-robed figure nods politely and stands up.
He walks to the clear wall on the port side of the open area forward of
the lounge. He waves at the hull, and the wall opens. A flat
area extends, then a ramp extends from that down to the dock. He
walks ashore, and the ramp and deck retract, and the door closes.
The crew stare at this open-mouthed.
Shark says, "Mich, he just moved the hull to create a ramp out to the dock. Thought you'd like to know."
Mich knows. It showed up his power monitor. It was not an insignificant drain.
Shark tells him that there was no cold blast of wind; as the man stepped from the flat area to the ramp, that's when the wind affected him. He turns to Robert, and says that they want to work out how to do that -- open random sections of the hull. Checking the footballs, Shark finds that there was a certain level of activity around him the whole time, but no spikes.
Robert asks the ship who it was who was just aboard. This ship doesn't know. Then why did it obey his commands? The answer does not translate into galanglic -- a mixture of "of course it did" with "the answer has no meaning." Asking further, he finds that the only other sections that open is the starboard side of the section opposite, along with the area alongside the lounge. Robert tells Misha and Shark about this other section that can open.
Now that the black-robed man has left, they can leave.
The crew take their stations, and Helia flies them up through the atmosphere.
At Shark's request, she proceeds slowly in the direction of W by S, but
the sensors reveal nothing along that line, not that they can see from
500m altitude. Helia continues that way for 30 km, then zooms up
and heads out to the jump point for their next destination.
Shark continues to review the sensor tapes, but no matter how many times he goes over them, he can't detect anything interesting that the swimmer might have been heading towards.
At the ship's full 20g, Helia hurtles out to jump.
The Nightshade jumps for Zorro.