(60) Not What We Were Looking For
The Misha Campaign (339-1121)
Nightshade has been
searching the Bowman belts for signs of black technology. Callisto
has found something artificial -- man made, metallic -- on an 80 km diameter
asteroid. Whether this is what they're looking for or not, it's
well worth investigating.
They're about 100 degrees out from Bowman itself,
and it's been a week since they've seen any other ships. This is
well out of the way of any activities.
Everyone who sparkles pink is in that mode
as the ship approaches the asteroid in stealth mode. Even Edward
"Shark" Teeth piggybacks onto the sensors in sparkly pink, although Callisto
is using them conventionally.
Misha Ravanos directs them to approach closer,
quickly. Helia Sarina does so, bringing them close enough for
Callisto to pick out some details.
The rock has a rough surface, and the composition
is rocky. The metallic object is not visible at present during this
Misha hears one of his advisors advise him
to go to full alert -- it's not his tactical advisor, but Shark's voice
he hears.. Everything is ready, though, so how much more alert
could they be? Kalida Siena's voice indicates that the gunnery
systems are all red.
Shark calls Teri Cralla and asks her to be
ready for EVA. She suits up in her battledress, FGMP-15 at the
Callisto has found the metallic object, and
brings it up on the holodisplay. It's a radio dish, about ten meters
in diameter, with associated hardware to orient it. It hasn't been
broadcasting or they would have picked it up. There is no sign of
an entry hatch.
Shark drops out of sparkly pink. He says,
"Marquis, meet me at the gcarrier. Teri can go
out by herself, but the rest of us need the gcarrier."
Misha suggests that the away team should consist
of Shark, Marquis Korwin
Vanderfield, Teri, and Robert Morris.
Teri is stationed in the airlock of the gcarrier
in full battledress with FGMP-15. She's a little uneasy, as this
is what Akim Gavrolovitch
was doing when he was killed.
The rock has a rather complex motion that's very
hard to match. Nevertheless, Helia manages to achieve it, making
it very much easier for the gcarrier to go down to the surface.
Korwin brings the gcarrier closer to the dish.
Shark tries to fire up the NAS to check for any people around, but
finds it too difficult. In fact, he almost manages to throw it out
of calibration, but is saved by Robert stepping in and taking over for
him. Robert was originally hired as a sensor operator, after all,
and shows Shark how he almost messed it up badly. But he finds no
sign of neural activity.
Korwin maneuvers the gcarrier around so they can
get a good look at the site. While there are no hatches or anything,
there is cabling running from the dish along the surface. They follow
The wires continue for some distance to a small
metal box. This is probably a coupling; the wires would go into
the ground here.
Shark calls the ship for a detailed survey of
this area. Meanwhile, he looks for caves or crevasses nearby --
he's sure there has to be an entrance somewhere near here. He quickly
locates a cave, with an entrance more than big enough for the gcarrier.
He checks his football sensor (nothing shows) and tells the ship they're
If they get too far into the rock, the radio might
not be reliable. Robert fires up the gcarrier's meson communicator,
but can't get a channel established. He might have to do some work
on the ship to figure it out. For the time, they'll have to cope
with radio. They do also have the emergency one-way signaling device.
Korwin slips the gcarrier into the cave. He
turns on the lights, since the interior is pitch dark in shadow. The
place is plenty big enough to hide Nightshade in here, and up ahead
are what can only be hangar doors. They move up closer.
Shark wants to find a non-destructive way to open
the doors. Teri reluctantly agrees to go out and look for an access
panel or some other way in.
Soon Teri calls in that she's found something,
and feeds the video to the gcarrier. It looks like some sort of
access door. She opens it. Inside are a bunch of handles and
switches. There's writing on the labels, but it's nothing that anyone
on the away team recognizes.
Shark starts to run through the major language
scripts; the closest he can find, not an exact match, is Darrian. He
calls back to the ship, but no-one there speaks Darrian. The translator
on board the ship sort of makes sense out of it. Obviously it's some
dialect that doesn't correspond to the ones in the ship's computer.
Robert studies the translations and the layout
of switches, and describes to Teri the ones she should set. She
does so, and at his direction pulls one of the large levers. The
doors begins to move very slowly.
The headlights reveal a hangar beyond. There
is a ship in there, probably no more than 300 tons. The stern that
faces them shows signs of damage. Although the door is wide enough
for Nightshade, the bay isn't long enough to hold her -- it looks
like it's designed for a capacity of around 600 tons.
Korwin moves the gcarrier into the hangar while
Teri stays outside. The ship is tethered to the floor.
Kalida reminds everyone that it's been over a week
since they've seen any ships. If they dropped out of stealth mode
it would still be really hard to pick them out -- a small ultra black ship
in an asteroid belt. She switches to the all black color scheme and
they drop out of stealth. Callisto starts full active scans, as directed
as possible to keep scatter to a minimum. She starts building relief
and density maps of the area.
Shark calls, "Captain, there's a damaged ship in
here. The script resembles Darrian."
No-one on board Nightshade recognizes the
type of ship. It looks like it's taken some asteroid or meteorite
damage to engineering. The ship itself is probably not military.
It doesn't really look like a merchant, more like a scout or courier.
Shark points out that there are signs of energy
weapon damage -- personal weapons -- on the hull, particularly around the
open entry ramp. He says, "Someone fought their way on, or fought
their way off."
Aside from the lights from the gcarrier and Teri's
battledress, the place is dark. No sign of power, and there was
no rush of air when the doors opened.
Shark continues, "My feeling is it's old. I'll
date the language if I can."
The only person on board with linguistics or archeology
is Jaekovic Ils-Nevronne. He confers with Robert to get the computer
to help, and after a short while announces it's probably pre-Imperial Darrian, 1000
to 2000 years old.
Shark says, "I think we need to investigate this.
About the only reason for them to be here is black ship technology.
This is a long way from their area."
Jaek says that during that period, the Darrians
were expanding. If one put this at pre-Maghiz, before their big disaster,
then they could well have had a colony here. It would have been
about the right time period.
On the far wall of the hangar, there are some smaller
doors clearly leading deeper into the base. This is as far as ships
would go, though, as the other doors are sized for cargo or personnel.
Callisto confirms from preliminary densitometer readings that there
are tunnels and open areas in the rock further into the asteroid.
They need to explore the rest of this place in
person. That means switching away team personnel to those more suited
to the task, in particular those who can use vaccsuits. This time
it'll be Misha, Mich Saginaw, Helia, and Teri, with of course Korwin at
the gcarrier controls. Robert remains on Nightshade to figure
out the meson communicator issues.
Helia has locked the ship into a good position,
although Vonish Kehnaan stays at the pilot's console in case they need
to move. The meson communicator problem, Robert says, turns out to
be that the ship's shielding acts as a meson shield; he has to set up a
receiver location with a virtual meson sensor outside the shield, and in
turn set up the gcarrier meson communicator to transmit to the revised location.
This is very tricky to do, but nevertheless he manages to make the
necessary changes to the systems. Now they have much more reliable
secure communication between the gcarrier and the ship, no matter what's
Korwin brings the new team down to the cave and
into the hangar. Misha asks how old this ship might be relative to
Nightshade. Jaek has estimated this ship is at most about 2000
years old; if what Lap'da told Misha is true -- and they interpreted it correctly
-- there could well have been black ships around at least 250,000 years
ago. The Maghiz was in -925, which devastated the Darrian Confederation
-- this ship here might date from around then, in which case it could contain
more advanced technology than the Imperium.
Everyone has already donned vaccsuits under Mich's
supervision before leaving Nightshade. They're ready to go
out and investigate -- except of course for Korwin who will stay on the gcarrier.
Misha suggests they look at the old ship first.
For one thing, it's already open. The team dismount and head
The entry ramp is down, and now they're closer to
it the marks from a firefight are much clearer. There are some similar
marks on the hangar walls, too.
The ship is of course in darkness. Nothing
has any power. It's rather eerie moving through the silent ship
with virtually no gravity and no lights. What minuscule gravity there
is, is oriented towards the bow. Over the years, loose items have
collected on the forward walls.
There is not much of immediate interest. It's
obviously not Imperial; Jaek, watching the video feed, says it's consistent
with pre-Maghiz Darrian. Tech level is around 15 or 16, also consistent
with that supposition. There are no bodies on board. Nothing has
any power. The interior of the ship looks basically undamaged in the
crew areas, aside from the gunfire marks in the entry way. To hook
the computer up to a power source would probably take about an hour, says
Mich -- it's of an unfamiliar type, of course.
For once, everything seems to be going fine. No-one
gets into trouble with their vaccsuit or the strange low gravity orientation.
Engineering is damaged. The ship has taken impact
damage to engineering from the outside. There are hull patches, and
damaged engineering gear that's been jury-rigged. Some the rigged
gear has obviously repeatedly failed and been repaired, with the remains
of burnt cables just pushed aside and replaced. It looks like one
or more objects hit the ship and penetrated the hull into engineering, and
the crew patched it back enough to make it here.
Mich would like to play at getting the whole ship
working again, but Misha just wants enough restored to get the data off
the computers. They could perhaps use one of the external power outlets
on the gcarrier to run it, but Mich is not yet certain that will do the
To everyone's surprise but Mich, the power systems
are not antimatter. It's a fusion plant. There is no fuel on
board the ship. It's very rapidly apparent that the jump drive has been damaged
substantially and is not operational at all. Of interest is that it
doesn't use zuchai crystals
-- it uses a system of gravitic fields to contain the energy for the jump,
sort of a gravitic capacitor.
The ship is clearly of archeological interest. The
jump drive is of academic interest, although the gravitic capacitor layout
is almost certainly less efficient and more cumbersome than using zuchai
Helia, meanwhile, has been playing with the pilot's
station on the bridge. To her disappointment, nothing works.
The hold is small, and completely empty. It
looks just like one would expect from a scout type ship. There are
some personal items in a few of the staterooms. Among them are several
handwritten personal diaries. The overall impression is that the people
just left, expecting to come back. In contrast, four cabins (of about
ten) have no personal effects at all. None of those are officers' quarters
-- all those have personal effects.
They loot the ship of anything that might be useful
or give a clue to what happened here -- the diaries, books, and so on.
There are no personal weapons on board; what was probably the armory
is now completely empty. Some clothing is on board, including some
uniforms. From what they've found, the crew would have been a mix
of service and civilian personnel, even at the officer level.
Misha looks for signs that the ship has been looted
before, but it really does look like the crew has just left. There
is weapons fire evidence in the entrance and some in the hangar, which looks
like a gunfight between people in the ship and outside it. The fight
did not apparently continue into the ship, which Kalida takes to mean that
the people in the ship won.
But if there was a fight, why would they come here?
Why, asks Misha, would they fly into an enemy hangar? Mich
suggests that they probably had no choice, given the damaged engineering
on the ship.
Misha says they're done with the ship for now, and
they should move further into the asteroid complex.
Everyone moves down to the doors on the inner wall
of the hangar. There are two personnel doors, and one larger cargo
door. Only the small doors seem to have manual operation.
The chosen door is stiff, but no problem for Teri
in the battledress. It opens into what would be an airlock. The
inner airlock door is already open, but there is no sign of atmosphere within.
Beyond the lock is a storeroom or cargo receiving
area. Some stacks of crates are still locked to the floor, while loose
items have collected on the far wall. Smaller doors, airtight but not
airlocks, are in that wall. Despite the crates, this area is fairly
The doors beyond lead to a crossways corridor in what
is apparently the living areas. Again this is in complete vacuum. The
center of this corridor opens up into a lounge, mess, and galley area. Everything
has been left neat and tidy. Nevertheless, all loose items -- some
clean dishes, decorative objects, and furniture has collected on the far
wall. Fixed objects like some tables are still in place. There
is a slight layer of dust over everything. Misha hypothesizes that
they didn't go away expecting to be gone long -- or they didn't go away
They continue through the complex. Everywhere
they go they get the same impression -- everything's been left tidy and
clean. In the living areas and laboratories, for example, everything
has been put away neatly. There's what was probably some sort of survey
work room, with some sort of holodisplay equipment.
It's quite clear that this is a full station, not
just a warehouse. There were grav plates everywhere, but obviously
they're not working at present. There were no signs of gunfire anywhere
except the ship and the hangar. No blood, no bodies, no people.
Looking further in, it appears that the station was
built for about 50 people. The Sick Bay is neat and tidy -- a TL16
installation that Shark can figure out pretty easily. Command and control
is deeper in the rock, as is Engineering, which houses the fusion plant
that would power the base. Mich announces that the systems seem to
be in good shape -- the fusion plant was apparently left running and did
so until the fuel ran out. It might need some freshening up to bring
it back online, but it's basically in good shape. Also deeper in the
station are conference rooms, more luxurious suites, and so on.
Deeper still they find a rack of fifty emergency low
berths. Thirty-two of them were occupied. The bodies are desiccated,
perfectly preserved. They have darrian features.
Shark presents a theory: "You are a scout out from
the main system world. They tried to test a star trigger or whatever,
and it blew up their main world. You're not going to get any resupply,
you're not going to get anything else. You're stranded here. There's
a mutiny, you fight it out, you kill a few people. You now have control
back, but you can't leave -- your ship is damaged, for whatever reason, and
there's not going to be anyone coming back. The only thing you can
do is put yourself in low berth and hope someone comes and gets you. You
can't fix your jump drive -- you don't have Mich!"
Misha says, "So you put yourself in low berth, power
everything else down, and you hope that somebody comes and gets you before
you run out."
Kalida says, "And here we are -- late."
Mich adds, "And you build a communications system saying,
'Here we are, come and rescue us.'"
Misha says, "But the ship still worked a little bit,
right? They could go get more fuel for the fusion reactor?"
Shark says, "OK, so they topped it off. It still
wouldn't last 2,000 years."
"You have the system wake you up every now and again,
and go get more fuel."
Kalida says, "And if the computer crashes?"
Mich says, "We won't know until..."
"...we power up this place," finishes Misha.
Shark points out they don't have any way of collecting
or refining hydrogen.
"Does the ancient Darrian ship have fuel collecting
Mich says it does not have fuel scoops. Misha
nods -- that would explain it.
Shark says that means it's not really a scout ship,
but a courier or shuttle. He guesses the mutiny was about doing something
rather than sitting around. He then adds that they could use this
as their own base -- once it's powered up and freshened, of course.
"What do we need a base for?" asks Misha.
"Piracy!" says Helia.
Shark ignores her. He says, "You know, if we need
some place to be out of the ship, whatever. So we should take the
dish off the surface so no-one else finds it."
Misha nods. "What's the easiest way to get enough
power to the systems and the ship so we can find out what happened here?"
Mich says that the gcarrier can probably power the computer
systems on the ship. Bringing the base computer system online would
require more. He muses that he needs to work on a converter to get
the black ship power into a form where everything else can use it. He
knows it's possible, he just doesn't know enough about black technology
yet. Misha tells him to go ahead and get the data off the ship's computer,
and also to remove the dish from the surface.
Shark says they can plan on coming back with some water,
work on repairing the fusion reactor, and bringing the base back up. He
adds that the astrogational
data on the ship's computer should allow them to date this place pretty accurately.
Mich presents the plan. They'll recover what they
can from the ship's computer powered from the gcarrier. At a later
date they'll show up with a large quantity of fuel for the fusion reactor
and whatever they think it will take to repair it. They'll take down
the satellite dish and the cabling, which is how they found this place.
Shark adds that they can take Helia back to the ship,
finish off the scan of the asteroid, then bring Nightshade into the
cave -- there isn't room in the hangar for their ship, but there is room
in the cave. Mich and Teri can dismantle the satellite dish and bring
it into the cave, while Robert gets the data from the ship's computer. While
this is all going on, Shark will stay on the ship and watch.
They put the plan into motion. Korwin drives everyone
back to the ship, then takes Mich and Teri back again to do the work. They
first dismantle the satellite dish and cabling, taking it back into the
hangar. There they hook up the darrian ship's computer to the gcarrier
power outlet. It takes them just half an hour to get power to the
system; Korwin then fetches Robert to make the connections and figure out
how to extract the data. The transfer rate is slow -- it takes a couple
of hours to get everything they need off the old machine. Soon, though,
everything is done and they're ready to leave the rock. Robert can
decode and translate the information at his leisure.
This has delayed their scan of the belt by a day. They
still have plenty of time to complete their run and still get back to Digitis in time
for their meeting. They'll have to leave here by 051-1122 to make it.
So they continue with their scan. They expect
to complete it on 014-1122.
While they do so, Shark suggests the whole crew should
start a training regimen for vaccsuit, a skill most of them are clearly
lacking. Mich will teach -- perhaps that will help his instruction
skills too. They don't even mention that Grand Admiral Baron Bridgehead
has both vaccsuit and instruction...