(36) That's not Xmail
The Misha Campaign (190-1121 to 199-1121)
Everyone is now back on board the Nightshade in the
harbor at First City.
Robert Morris has been monitoring the communications
on the planet to see if he can detect the message sent by the Sheriff of
Cormor to tell Jane Southcombe to be here in nine months. He has picked
up the Sheriff's voice calling a place in Center, leaving a message to that
effect. It's a regular voice message with no hidden sub-communications,
and was sent soon after they requested it. On returning to the ship,
Robert checks traffic to that number and finds that there has been no activity
to this number in the past two months; any further back than that, and they'd
have to check paper records. There is still the regular low bandwidth
data stream running from Cormor Forest to Center, but there is no hidden information
underlying it. The data is running in just one direction, from the
forest to the city.
Misha Ravanos has been thinking back to the last visit
here. Something has occurred to him: "There is a red cross on the
side of this ship. Lap'da says his grandparents came to this planet
on a ship called the Red Cross. Something like that, anyway."
Of course Lap'da didn't tell them anything about the red maltese cross symbol,
but then it's hard to get a straight answer out of him at the best of times.
Ed "Shark" Teeth reminds them (Kalida Siena is hearing
it for the first time) that there is a group on Mora that understands
about the script language. He was warned by certain people there that
they should not investigate the script, and should not ask questions about
it. There were also warheads on the the Anastasia that matched
the ones on the Nightshade. Now the Marquis Marcus Crestworthy's
research is funded by the Wonstar Development Corporation, located on Wonstar
/ Five Sisters , but
it's not clear whether they have an interest in the script or not.
Shark also thinks Mich Saginaw is out of danger of kidnapping, now that Jane
Southcombe's group has determined that he is not up to their technology.
Also, that group has planted the seed that antimatter technology is dangerous,
so they probably think they've deflected Mich off into less threatening research.
Now in nine months they could easily get to Mora, but they probably
don't want to go to the sector capital in this ship. It could be interesting
to go to the Zhodani
Consulate and see what they have, but given their technology level it's
unlikely that they're involved.
They then go on to discuss what to do for the next nine
months. It's agreed that they don't want to be here for the whole time
-- although Helia would like it -- but they could wait for a few more days
to see if they pick up any more transmissions. Last time there was a
tight-beam transmission up into space, but they haven't seen it this time.
Robert suggests going to orbit and waiting there, perhaps in stealth mode.
He's sure that the message is not intended for anyone currently on planet.
Shark then mentions the message that brought them here
the first time. It was a regular xmail message received at Mora for the Marquis.
It was from Cappy Starfugger, and sent by Jeff Collins at Frenzie.
Perhaps that would be worth a visit, but it is the Imperial subsector capital with a
major naval base, so it
might be a bit dodgy in this ship. Shark is convinced that the message
was a setup, to bring Mich here to see what he knew.
Helia Sarina is bored. She announces that if
they aren't going anywhere, she's going to drink some fish oil right now.
Everyone quickly says they're going somewhere very soon, at the very least
to orbit. Helia grudgingly puts down the klatrin and walks off to the
bridge. Once there, she calls Misha to see if he's ready to go.
Misha says they need to settle their bill; Helia decides she'll go ashore
to do that.
She walks purposefully back through the lounge, onto the
patio, and flies to the yacht club. Flying here is a little difficult
with the thin atmosphere, but it's not too bad. She alights on the
upper deck, which certainly gets the attention of the other customers.
The maitre d' seats her at a table with a good view of both the harbor and
the other tables, and at her request brings her a large fizzy drink and some
snacks. She tells him to put it on the bill for the Nightshade,
and to be sure not to let the ship leave until it's settled. She settles
down with an interior decorating magazine.
Back on the ship, Shark is telling Kalida about the
first kidnapping attempt, when he joined this crew in the first place.
It sounds like he is surely embellishing the tale, but he's actually sticking
pretty close to the facts.
Shark alerts the crew that they'll be leaving in twelve
hours. Vonish Kehnaan has all the supplies he needs. Helia is
not answering the commdot, but they saw her fly to the yacht club.
Shark first takes the air/raft
to the customs building, where Vonish settles up their anchorage fees (in
They then putter over to the yacht club.
Here Vonish finds that their tab is being held open,
because Helia is still a customer upstairs on the deck. At Shark's
suggestion, he pays in advance for another ten drinks, then goes back to
the air/raft. They fly back to the ship.
To park the air/raft, they would normally go in the main
cargo lift at the bottom. They can, however, bring it into the ship
from the patio and take it down on the small lift. Shark parks it on
the patio, while Teri Cralla fetches a grav unit and pulls it into the ship.
Robert retracts the patio, and closes the doors.
Vonish goes to the bridge to take the pilot's console
and lift off. He points out that Helia's commdot is on the seat, but
Shark tells him not to worry about that.
Misha, on the other hand, wants Vonish to take him to
the yacht club.
So Robert extends the patio and opens the doors, while
Teri hauls the air/raft back into the open. It's about half an hour
before they climb onto the gravcraft and Vonish flies Misha ashore.
Misha walks into the yacht club, then upstairs and to
the upper deck. He sits down next to Helia and has a short conversation.
After a while, Misha returns to the air/raft. Vonish
flies him back to the ship, while Helia flies back under her own power.
Teri is waiting to stow the air/raft, which she does as soon as her captain
and chef come aboard.
It's night when Helia takes the Nightshade into
orbit. Once outside they atmosphere, they send an omnidirectional message
on the frequency of the tight-beam communication. It has the same content
that the Sheriff's message had. They wait for a response, and repeat
the transmission every four hours.
They were prepared to wait for a week, but it's only
the next day when Robert picks up scatter from a tight-beam burst transmission.
With Robert's assistance, he tries to plot out the area where the two transmissions
probably intersect. Quickly they realize that an astrogation expert would
be best at this, and hand the data over to Helia.
Meanwhile, Shark works on getting the general facing
of the mainworld last time there was a tightbeam transmission. It was
facing out into the far system.
The location is a long way out -- about a light-day from
the mainworld. That's a long way away indeed -- at the Nightshade
's maximum acceleration of 20 g, the 3.6e10 km will take about eight and
a half days. It would be faster to jump, but Shark suggests
they go insystem to be able to monitor any other transmissions -- they will
of course be running down the course of the tight beam, so they should be
able to pick up any signal sent that way.
They switch to stealth mode. Shark mans the sensors,
and Helia takes them out of orbit at full acceleration.
Shark has been running a general sensor sweep every four
hours, both of their path ahead and the system as a whole. He's in
sparkly pink mode when a far
trader drops out of jump and starts to head towards the mainworld. The
ship's transponder indicates it's the same one they met the first time they
were here, then running the route between here and Denotam .
The trader is not reacting to them, and they're travelling
away from the ship at a high speed, so they decide not to try to pick up news
or interact with the trader any other way.
Shark has been wondering if he can pick up any sort of
wake of interplanetary particles behind the ship, that might give away their
presence in stealth mode. That's really advanced sensor work, though,
and he starts studying to try to get up to that level.
The Nightshade has been decelerating -- without
flipping over! -- and is now approaching the area of the tight-beam target.
Helia doesn't think there's anything unusual about this, as from her
perspective in sparkly pink mode it feels perfectly natural. Everyone
else is amazed to realize that the thrusters apparently are capable of full
power in reverse, rather than a mere 10% as are Imperial drives.
Shark starts looking for something in stealth mode, in
case whatever is the recipient of the transmission is hidden that way. He's
looking for anywhere there might be an absence of background radiation, or
stars being occluded. He finds nothing.
Robert points out that the astrogation abilities just
to direct a tight-beam to an object 24 hours away is pretty amazing. Of
course, at this range the beam should be diffusing somewhat. He confirms
that there have been no further transmissions on that beam since they left
Robert joins Shark on the sensors. Shark invites
everyone to take a look -- even just by looking out the window.
They've spotted something. An "object in stealth
mode" (that's the galanglic
label) comes up on Misha's command holodisplay. The object is somewhere
between 20 m and 100 m in maximum dimension. It's a lot smaller than
the Nightshade, which is 21 m in diameter and 203 m long.
The weapons systems come online by themselves. They
have automatically locked on to the stealth object. Kalida's console
is ready to fire missiles and lasers at the unidentified object.