So Lap'da, Misha, and Mich go off for a walk and a
Misha opens the serious conversation by asking about the script, and the "adult" version of what the settlers call Jannish.
"It is our language," says Lap'da. "The settlers would not understand the concepts. There are many things they do not understand. That's why they speak a child's language."
Misha asks, "So do you have any explanation for why this ship would use this language?"
"Why would it not?"
"Given it uses the same language as you, can you surmise the history of this ship?"
"Well, we're trying to figure out... we haven't learned much."
"You know about this ship. I have told you."
"You said you did, but you didn't."
"I did. Last time you were here."
"Is that what you meant? Can you tell it to me? Remind me of that story?"
"The background changes the story. Stories are all interpreted within a background. Change the background, and the same story is different."
"That makes good sense to me, but it doesn't answer the question. You say that if you told the story again, it would be different?"
"It would never be the same."
"Well. So, is there anything preventing you from telling us the story of the ship?"
"Yes. No. Tell me about the ship."
"We found it in a military installation. An Imperial -- do you know what the Imperium is? -- military installation. It is not far. We -- stole it."
"I.. think... not."
Mich says, "We salvaged it."
Misha asks Lap'da, "You think we didn't find it, or didn't steal it?"
"You did not steal it," replies Lap'da.
Misha laughs. "OK, we did remove it."
"They stole it. They may not have realized they were stealing."
"Well, we didn't steal it, but we didn't realize we weren't."
"You learn well."
"So, will that allow you to tell us something more about the ship that I don't know?"
"You know many things about the ship."
"OK. That doesn't answer my question."
"What do you not know?"
Mich asks, "Where does it get all of its power from?"
"Where does it get its power from?"
"A meter and a half side cube."
"Then you know where it gets its power from."
"How does that cube get its power?"
"How does it not get its power?"
"It doesn't get its power from fusion reactors. It doesn't get its power from zuchai crystals."
"And when you have exhausted all the sources of power that it does not use, what is left?"
"Is it sucking the life out of us?"
"No." Lap'da pauses for a long time. "So you know where it does not get its power."
Misha says, "I guess what really matters is under what conditions does it run out of power? Or are there other questions?"
"So when you know where the power comes from, you will know."
Mich says, "We started the cube up with a bunch of batteries." Lap'da nods, and Mich continues, "Once it was running, it's been running fine ever since. We've been through several jumps, and never refueled."
"What fuel does it use?"
"I have no idea."
"Then how could you refuel it?"
"Right. But on everything I've ever used before, you have to refuel it sometime. In fact we normally refuel after every single jump, a large quantity of hydrogen. That has not been necessary on this ship. There's no evidence that it's doing solar conversions. I guess gravity tidal forces, it could be using."
"You think too glottily."
They walk for a while in silence, munching on fruit from the bushes as they pass. Mich wonders whether they could make a good wine out of the fruit.
"You see," says Lap'da, "You already know the answers to your questions."
"Yes, but," says Misha, "I need to narrow it down, from all the things I know."
"But you can."
Mich says, "We remove everything that it's not, and whatever's left, it is."
"Perhaps you don't need to narrow. Perhaps you need to widen. What do you need to know?"
Misha says, "I'm curious. Who built the ships? Why? Where did it come from? What was their purpose? How old is the ship?"
Mich adds, "Will they want us to return it? Will they come after us with really big guns if we don't?"
Misha continues, "How did you know we didn't steal it? Who stole it?"
"Perhaps the Imperium. Did anyone own it?"
"It's possible the ship's intelligent."
"Almost everything you wish to know, you already know. If you know enough to ask the question, you probably know the answer."
Mich says, "I figure the ship was built for some sort of suicide mission, because if it didn't take out whatever it was going to take out, it didn't need to come back. I mean, a ship that's designed to fire every single missile in one salvo... to get in there, and then run away."
Misha says, "I wonder if the ship can make more."
"It hasn't so far. Of course we haven't fired missiles yet."
Lap'da says, "Perhaps that was what was necessary to attack its target."
Misha says, "So it doesn't necessarily have to be a suicide mission, it just has to be a win or lose."
"Why build a ship you can live on, if you don't intend to live?"
Mich says, "To make the people on the suicide mission comfortable. The ship is built incredibly tough, but it has awesome firepower, and if that one salvo isn't enough... look at the other ships we found, they were full of holes. There's nothing that we have that could produce those holes."
"You found other ships?"
"There was a total of three ships."
"And what were those other ships?"
"There was one exactly the same as ours, and one much larger."
"So there were... targets... that this ship could not destroy... or why build a larger ship?"
"The other ship was swiss cheese, just full of holes, and we couldn't investigate it as much as we'd like without danger to ourselves -- lots of sharp edges. And the other ship had one big hole across the bridge."
"So be careful whose fight you get into."
"But it seems strange that if you had an exploration style ship... Yes, you could have a missile magazine of this size, but you'd fire a few at a time, not the entire load. Not unless, as Misha said, they magically regenerate. then it'd be all right. Fire one load, wait, then fire another one."
"Perhaps it needed all those missiles to do the job."
"It'd be quite a job. There is the other weapon. It just makes things -- implode."
"Yes. Not exactly."
"We don't know exactly what it does."
"Perhaps if you knew where the power came from, you would know what it does. You know what it does not do."
"It does not preserve life. It seems to penetrate everything. I suspect that... hmm... we should see if we could come up against a ship of this exact same type."
"Why would you come up against a ship of the same type?"
"I don't know. Why not?"
"You would fight your friends?"
"Would we know that they are our friends, just because they had a ship of similar size and shape? Where we found this ship had one like this, and we know they aren't our friends."
"Yes," says Lap'da slowly.
"Are you saying only friendly people could control a ship like this?"
"No." Lap'da pauses. "You found this ship. Why was it there? What was it for?"
"It was there to study. We know that..."
"But why was it there before, where it was found?"
"We have no idea where it was originally found."
"That does not matter. Why was it there? Why are there not more?"
"It seems like a pretty good design. I don't know why there wouldn't be more. The technology on the ship is beyond our reach."
"If you say. Yet you use it. Is that beyond your reach?"
"Many people know how to use an axe, but they don't know how to make one."
"But once you have an axe, or know that an axe exists, then you can make one."
"Not as good a quality."
"Not at first. Or maybe better."
"How many people know how to make a pin? A simple straight pin? You just buy them, you don't make them. There are many things that we barter or trade for that, we have become specialized, and not..."
"How do you refuel a pin?"
"A pin doesn't require fuel."
"But when will it run out?"
"It doesn't require fuel, so it doesn't run out."
"Yet you put lots of hydrogen into your ship, why can you not put hydrogen into a pin?"
"A pin has no need of hydrogen. You could infuse it into a pin, but there is no requirement to do so."
"How do you repair a pin?"
"You straighten it out with a vice, or pliers, or sharpen the point, or if it's too badly damaged you throw it away and get another one. Most people, because the pin itself is an expendable item, throw it away. Most people don't know how to make a pin, so they don't know how to repair one."
"It has been an interesting walk. Here we are back again."
Lap'da is correct. They have arrived back at the camp.
Lap'da says, "Kalida, can you make a pin?"
Kalida replies, "A pin? With my bare hands, or do you mean do I know how to make one?"
Mich says, "With what you have on you right now. What would you need to make the pins?"
"Basically all I would need is a small length of wire, and a file."
"How would you get the wire?"
Lap'da asks, "And how would you refuel the pin?"
Kalida replies, "There's nothing in a pin."
"I have a feeling that I'm coming in at the end of a conversation here."
"You see, the background changes the story. Your box is solid, is it not?"
Mich replies, "As near as I can tell, yes."
"Then there is... nothing in it."
"OK. I'll believe you. It's a solid box, made out of solid material. What's the battery for?"
"But... a pin is solid."
"A pin is solid, yes."
"...and you cannot refuel it, because there is nothing in it."
"Your box is solid."
Kalida breaks in, "But a pin doesn't emit any kind of power."
"Surely it does. Used properly, a pin can do many things."
"But the power is coming fro the person, not the pin."
"Who knows where the power comes from? If it's the pin that appears to use it... and if you cannot see the person who is using the pin?"
"Why wouldn't you be able to see the person?"
"Perhaps they are not there."
"But when the pin is sitting there by itself it isn't doing anything. Someone has to pick it up and use it in some way."
Mich says, "I know, but perhaps the same could be said of our box. By itself it's not doing anything, but when it's installed in the ship..."
Lap'da asks, "If there is nothing that uses power, does it emit power?"
Kalida says, "Something makes the ship go."
"It's the box, and we don't know what's in the box."
Simultaneously, Kalida says, "Nothing," and Lap'da says, "Nothing is in the box."
"Right," says Mich, "The box just is. Now what's really neat is we have a bunch of batteries, and we stuck the batteries in, and it drained the batteries and started the box. And then we could charge the batteries using the box."
Kalida asks, "So the box wasn't working when you originally found the ship? But you found the batteries. And the box now recharges the batteries."
"Yep. So we get more power out of the box than we put in. A whole lot more. It powers the whole ship, and never seems to run down. You were on that jump, you've been all over the ship, did you see any tankage? Except for in the attic, but that's for the fuel cells. Not enough to run a jump drive, is it? And we've made several jumps."
Lap'da says, "Why does something have to power it?"
Kalida says, "The ship wouldn't go by itself. Something needs to make it move."
Mich says, smiling, "Well, it could stay in one place and the universe could move around it. Depending on your frame of reference, it would look the same. So if it's one with the universe, and it just asks the universe to move..."
"But perhaps nothing powers your ship."
Kalida asks, "What were the batteries for?"
"You can't get something from nothing, unless..."
"Exactly!" interrupts Kalida.
"...you can separate it."
Mich says, "There's a little gnome inside and he needs to play his boom box. He won't ride his tricycle until we have the batteries to run his boom box."
"That is an interesting way of looking at it. In many ways, that's insightful."
"We do know that bigger ships need bigger boxes, but not linearly bigger. We don't know if it would take more batteries or not..."
"It would be the same. The same number of batteries. The... boom boxes are the same size."
"The other ship was about three times the size of our ship, and the box wasn't three times the volume."
Kalida asks, "So the batteries were just sitting there charged."
Mich nods. "Most of the batteries were charged. We had enough to start the box up. After we started the box, we know enough about the batteries. There's nothing strange about them -- they're batteries -- except for a slightly abnormal size. But they're batteries. They store energy, discharge energy. I could build up another set of batteries to replace them."
Lap'da says, "Or you could power the gnome's boom box from.. a hand crank. As long as the boom box will start playing, then the gnome will pedal and power his own boom box."
"St. Vitus' dance. As long as the music is playing, they're dancing, powering the ship."
"In a way."
Kalida says, "If there isn't any power in the box, one can assume that it does eventually run down if left on its own."
"There's nothing in the box."
Mich echoes, "There's nothing in the box. If he gets tired, we can let him rest for a while, and then start the boom box up again."
"What is the box itself made of?"
"We have no idea. We could test to destruction, which wouldn't be a good idea. It would also be extremely difficult, based on the testing we have done."
"What if it's simply the material itself? Some materials are magnetic, for example..."
"It's extremely dense. It doesn't weigh a lot, but it's dense."
"It contains nothing," says Lap'da.
"It contains nothing. It reflects all our probe technology at the Imperial level."
"It is a pin."
"It is a pin. So we just shouldn't worry about our ship's energy source."
Kalida observes, "You have the batteries. What more do you need? And you can keep them charged."
Misha asks, "So is the ship... do you find red a pleasing color?"
Lap'da replies, "It is nice."
"What about blue?" asks Mich. "Do you prefer red over blue?"
"Red is warm but not too warm. Blue is too hot."
"And pink sparkles?" asks Robert. He muses to himself that Mich of course has never seen pink sparkles, and it would probably freak him out if he did.
Misha asks, "Is the ship intelligent?"
Lap'da replies, "What is intelligent? It is not alive." He pauses, then says, "So, as I said, you knew the answer. Nothing powers your ship. Once you understand that, you will understand many things."
Kalida says, "Nothing... Nothing powers the ship. And there is nothing in the box."
Mich says, "That's... interesting. That's where the matter phase inverter was going. When I had the perfect energy source and sink. Or at least, that was what... Yeah, Sally said the realm of nothing was where..."
"Who was this Sally?"
"A researcher with Professor Farol. She said something like that. Jane called it an unspace hole."
Kalida asks, "You created an unspace hole? Explain."
"Well, in the matter phase inverter, we have a problem with predicting the spin of a piece of matter, and when we're inverting the phase, we need to invert it with the exact opposite spin, so that we can get the most out of the matter-antimattter reaction. On our input fuel, we get variations of matter -- some are not what we're expecting, so Jane helped on the input buffer by using an unspace hole to queue up or buffer what we were expecting. and magically -- as far as I can tell -- popped out what we were expecting, so we had a nice even flow. The law of averages is that what we'd put into the buffer would come out when we needed it, so it went into the unspace hole if we didn't and it would come out later. That gave us a very smooth and even reaction, and we wouldn't have to be as cautious with our input fuel. It worked very well, except for a problem that we had when two of these generators started acting as an infinite energy source and an infinite energy sink. It froze the atmosphere right over the casing, very rapidly, and the other one quickly went to hard radiation. There was an unspace hole in each one."
"Or was it the same hole?" asks Lap'da.
"It could have been, I suppose."
Kalida says, "Perhaps they're all the same."
Lap'da says, "Nothing is ever the same."
Mich adds, "Two ends of the same hole. Things were going in the hole and coming out on the other end." He laughs. "So we have an infinite energy supply."
Kalida asks, "But if it doesn't run down why do we need batteries?"
"The batteries are there to open the hole. And you can park the ship and close the hole. We were never able to shut it off, but I guess if we tried really hard we could close the hole. Then once the hole closed, you'd have no energy, and use the batteries to open it up again. And a bigger ship just needed a slightly bigger hole."
Lap'da asks, "So why do you ask me about the ship if you know the answer?"
Kalida says, "We didn't know we knew the answer."
Mich adds, "You've lead us down a promising path. Literally and figuratively."
Lap'da says, "I didn't lead you anywhere. You just need to realize that you know the answer. You have an axe. You need to realize that you know how to make one. But look, I think the others are waking up."
Lap'da is right. The three in the klatrin trance are in fact waking up. It hasn't been three days this time -- it's still the same day, in fact.
(Referee and those players only)
The three look around them.
Kalida asks, "Are you OK?"
Helia just looks at her and smiles.
Lap'da says, "They are well. Are you not?"
Robert replies, apparently in Lap'da's language, "Yes, we are well."
"Have you learned hollery?"
"Apparently so. Juggusli."
It is very quiet. No-one seems to be in the mood for conversation. In fact, Lap'da seems to be translating what the sober people say for the benefit of the klatrin drinkers. The three stoners speak strangely through the translator, using gibberish words like Lap'da does. They also don't seem to understand galanglic too well -- or possibly think it is cute, like you'd try to figure out what a cat is saying.
Kalida asks, "Does this always happen?"
Misha says yes, it's always something like this anyway.
Lap'da says, "Callorie the thingtonn... hollowa."
Helia answers, "Simbieye ee... persowa."
There is a pause. The three who woke up seem to be hungry, and eat from the bushes. Helia eats some of her candy too.
After a while, and after eating, the three of them don't
look quite so spaced out. Lap'da suggests that Misha, Mich, and Kalida
tell them what they've learned.
Kalida says, "Nothing powers the ship."
Misha adds, "A very special kind of nothing."
Mich says, "The same kind of nothing that was used in the phase inverter in the antimatter units. The batteries opened a hole to nothingness, and once the hole is open we had power. We could think of it as powering the boom box that the gnome listens to as he pedals the tricycle."
At this point, Helia, Shark, and Robert are starting to understand galanglic again, while their understanding of what Lap'da is saying in his native language is starting to fade. Still, they know something of it will remain. Shark is scribbling furiously into his hand computer, muttering something about improving the translator.
Lap'da asks, "So, have you learned what you came here to do?"
Mich replies, "We have learned a lot, but we're not sure where to go from here."
"You've learned where to look for the answers. But I have a question for you. Mich, why did I take the other group 'out of the way?'"
"I really don't know. Did you take them out of the way so I could transfer knowledge unrestricted to Jane?"
"Possibly so. Did you gain more than you gave?"
"I believe so."
"And what did you give?"
"I gave designs for zuchai crystal inspection devices."
"To Jane... we had the basic matter phase inverter, although from her work with the unspace hole, it seemed like she would have had some of this knowledge already."
"What did she gain?"
"I am really not sure what she got out of it."
"But you told her things. Sometimes the knowledge is not in the knowledge itself."
"I gave her empirical data that this really would work. That's better than theoretical knowledge of the existence of something."
"Was she human?"
Kalida suggests, "Perhaps what she wanted was to share her knowledge?"
Lap'da asks, "Why would she need to be uninterrupted for such a selfless reason?"
"I don't know, I wasn't here."
"But that means you are free from the background, you can go straight to the concepts."
Mich says, "Fear that I would divulge information that should never..."
"How did she know you had that information. Did she know?"
"She does now."
"Yes, she does now."
"Is that why she came here?"
"I don't know how she would have found out we were on our way. One of the Marquis' friends suggested that we come here, and it was after we were here."
"So who was this friend? What did he look like?"
Mich tries to remember. "Cappy Starfugger? We never met the man. The message was waiting when we got back to Mora."
"Then how do you know the message was from him?"
"I don't. The Marquis said it was."
"The Sheriff told me to take you out of the way, but it was not his thought. It was not his command."
Kalida says, "Was it Jane's?"
"Was it? I was not there."
"But you know it wasn't the Sheriff's idea. How do you know that?"
"I know the Sheriff."
"Did the Sheriff think it was his idea?"
Helia adds, "The Sheriff is no fool."
"I think that's why he asked me to take you out of the way. I think I did what the Sheriff expected from me."
"How old is the Sheriff?"
"He is young. Not one year yet." He pauses. "Misha. Think carefully on what I said last time you were here. Think carefully, and you will remember it." He looks around. "Are you ready to return?"
The crew look at each other. They are ready to go back to Cormor Home.