During the trip, Robert Morris trains on the sensors. The reindog becomes accustomed to eating the meat that's provided to him, and seems to be having no trouble adjusting to the normal gravity on the ship. Misha Ravanos works on environmental combat as he works out with Teri Cralla. Marquis Marcus Crestworthy works on his reports for his patron. William Avon works on the computer and sensors. Vonish Kehnaan works on sensors and piloting. So the bridge will be a busy place during jump...
The food continues to be excellent throughout the trip. Obviously Vonish is a major asset to the crew!
Robert determines that as far as he can tell, everyone on the ship is who they say they are. He can't check much about Misha, Teri, and Alice, but everyone else at least seems to be consistent with their apparent identity.
Sir Bridgehead has been working hard. There has been a staggering improvement in Mich's condition over the course of the trip. He's on solid food, and can be fairly active. His upper body strength is pretty good, and he can move around with some assistance, but he still tires easily.
Marquis Marc checks for trade goods at each stop, but clearly their route is not optimal for trading.
The Zodiac class research ships usually land at the University rather than the main starport. Since the ships were designed for the UoM, this is where all the facilities are for maintenance of this class.
Vonish takes the controls for landing, but the final approach is rather tight, and he overcompensates for Mora's high gravity. Helia hands Vonish her yo-yo and takes over to bring the Third Eye down to the pad.
Marquis Marc reiterates his usual groundside protocol: the crew can remain on board, or spend their time ashore as they want. While the Third Eye is open to them for accomodations, they can choose to stay at a hotel on-planet if they want. Gravity here on Mora is sufficiently high that the crew choose to remain on board most of the time.
Robert has done quite well at demonstrating his sensor skills. While not superb, he has performed well enough. Marc offers him an extension of the probationary period on the Third Eye -- for the duration of their next mission -- and Robert gladly accepts.
The Marquis' priorities here are to deliver his reports (his offical report, and the other report to his patron), and then look up a couple of other worlds of interest. First there's Misha's homeworld, Lickta, in the Foreven sector. Then there's also a world he's heard some rumors about: Gorram, in the Lunion subsector of the Spinward Marches.
Misha warns him that Lickta is not friendly to foreigners. The population of the planet is also low enough that passing as a native from another region will be difficult if not impossible.
As for Gorram, the rumor comes from a merchant the Marquis met in a bar a while back:
"Now this really happened to me, back when I was on the Donsharid free trader, operating out of Ivendo. We happened to be on Quiru when the Junta took over, and I tell you we high-tailed it out of there as fast as we could. Those mercs had the exits covered, and all we could do was jump for Gorram. As it was, we took some fire and had a hull breach in the passenger section, so we had to land and patch it up. Now normally we wouldn't have gone into a Red Zone, but the mercs had a few SDB's covering the good jump points to Skull, so Gorram it was.Marquis Marc hooks into Mora's net and tries to find out why Gorram is interdicted. The public reason is that it is a Red Zone to protect a local stone-age culture. Robert Morris is skeptical.
Anyway, the place is a hell-hole. We were there a couple of months, and it went from comfortable to freezing blizzards and back through to blazing heat. I tell you, you could fry up for nikok just leaving it out on the dirt. No exaggeration. Specs had a weather station out there, and it melted. No shit -- he said it was over 70 degrees in the shade; that's if you could find any shade. One day the 'fridge units in the ship failed, and old Nutso was in his skivvies in Engineering and still sweating buckets.
There was a bunch of stuff living on this awful place. Little creatures that dashed from shade to shade, grabbing cactus on the run. Then there was this big turtle thing, that just waited for one of the little beggars to run close to it, then when the little thing died from heat exhaustion, the turtle would waddle over and eat it. Yeah, seems like when the little things got close enough, the sight of this turtle was enough to cause them to freeze in their tracks, cactus in hand or whatever. Sometimes the turtles would hide behind the bushes, but still the little things froze -- musta smelled 'em or something, I dunno.
Red Zone, heck! Who'd *want* to go there?"
Marc considers his options: get a permit to carry out a study there, or not get a permit and sneak in unofficially. If it's not protected by the Navy, they could always blame some systems failure for an emergency stopover. Whether it's protected depends on the reason for interdiction; while the Navy enforces the blockade on Lewis, they rarely are involved seriously in a simple protection of a developing race.
Misha checks his contacts here; his information on Red Zones goes somewhat further. There's always the possibility that the real reason is something other than the published one. Even in those cases, though, the Navy maintains a presence that is consistent with the published reason. So if Gorram is secretly a high security system, there would not be a large or obvious presence anyway, and it would be unlikely to intervene unless they could be sure of destroying the intruding ship completely -- their cover must not be blown. If they need a large presence and need to lie about it, they will come up with a simple reason that requires such a presence -- the Imperium is too good a bureaucracy not to get those details right. The best way to stop a ship going to a high-secrecy system is sabotage or mutiny, perhaps through infiltration of the crew.
At Marc's request, Robert Morris taps into the net too, and breaks into the Scout base database to find out the real reason. Even so, everything he finds supports the official explanation. There is no permanent station maintained, but there is an intermittently manned scout orbital docking station. The conditions on the planet are not conducive to establishing a ground facility. Part of the reason for the interdiction is that there is a report indicating that the harse conditions might accelerate the development of intelligence by the native species. When staffing budget and weather permits, the service makes some visits to check on the status. There is no official report on fauna or flora, but nothing really about the system except astrographic data. The whole situation seems to be above board and there are no clues to indicate that this is anything but the correct reason.
Robert also manages to access a complete list of reported violations of the Red Zone. This list includes incidents reported by naval intelligence services in addition to civilian filings. Of note is one visit by a ship believed to have been manned by Zhodani agents that investigated the system. There is a violation noted at approximately the time of the Quiru revolution, and Robert traces a ship that fits the rest of the story. The Zhodani visit was prior to the Treaty of Quar.
Mich, meanwhile, has been studying the sensor logs from the scan of the wreck of the Anastasia. There's very little information, really: the location, the attitude in which it's lying, but very little about the damage. The most obvious problem is that port vehicle bay door is canted up, and Teri reported that several internal bulkhead hatches blew too. Careful examination of the data and measurements indicates, however, that the Anastasia has been twisted and tweaked. The frame of the ship has been distorted -- it'll need serious work at a high-tech class A starport to straighten it up with a gravitic jig. All the hatches and seals will need to be checked for integrity, and it's likely that most of them will have to be replaced. It's not as much work as rebuilding the ship, but it's labor-intensive rather than material cost that will determine the expense. The external skin looks OK, though; the ship is basically intact, but badly tweaked.
Sir Bridgehead calls up the office of the Archduke. He reflects that it would be good to have that letter from the Anastasia. Still, his administration skills are more than adequate to work his way up the chain of staff far enough to find out that Archduke Norris is not currently in residence -- he left several weeks ago and it is not known when he'll return. He also apparently carries enough weight to set up a meeting with the Seneschal in a few days time. Sir Bridgehead immediately starts work on his "presentation." While visual aids are for commoners -- nobles eschew such formality -- he still needs to collate the data for analysis and write a personal note for the Archduke.
Sir Bridgehead discusses the matter with Avon and Mich. While there isn't much they can add to his knowledge in this regard, he does take this opportunity to update them on some of his work. He says he was doing some cloning experiments, not just the succesful cloning of rabbits, but aging the rabbits quickly and was performing ongoing experiments in applying the original rabbits' memories to them. Some of the techniques and experience were also useful in his work on Jill. There was some very sophisticated equipment on the Anastasia that he wants back: the memory transfer equipment was very high tech indeed.
Marquis Marc visits the Anthropology department at the University of Mora and enquires off the record about any research being carried out at Gorram. There is none -- given the environmental conditions and the need to be completely hidden, the cost is prohibitative. The temperature runs from somewhere around -20 to 100 degrees. Marc says he has access to an excellent engineer who owes him a favor, and the budget to run an expedition there. Of course, the zoology department would be interested too, and the mission would need clearance to enter the Red Zone...
He then goes on to the Zoology department and repeats the story, and telling them about the jackalope as well. Both departments would like to contribute staff to go along with the Third Eye on its mission.
Marc then checks with Mich about covert sensors that they could set up on Gorram; of course Mich will have no trouble designing such a thing -- invisible to light is much easier than invisible to full sensors. The fabrication shops on board the Third Eye are more than adequate to build such a probe. Robert could handle the communications aspects. Mich and Robert list out the equipment they want; Marc submits it to the University, and much to his surprise gets everything on their list.
Sir Bridgehead looks into what would be involved in salvaging the Anastasia. Basically a gravcrane would have to be shipped from here on Mora, and then the wreck would have to be brought back here. While most of this could be done along regular trade routes, there would be a need to charter a J2 freighter to do the last jump into and out of Pimane. Standard freight charges wouldn't be too bad in terms of cost, but renting the crane and crew, and chartering the freighter from Pimane to Carey and back, would cost the most -- perhaps around 10MCr to recover the ship. That of course is just to bring it back, before even looking at what's needed to repair it. Sir Bridgehead would like to finance the operation; if the repairs should exceed his capital, no doubt he could arrange financing to pay for it. (While that reminds him, he calls up the Naval Base and collects his back pension; he also has money accumulating on Spirelle, which he could get wired here if needed.) The best way to do this whole operation would be to hire a personal aide on salary or retainer to retrieve (but not enter) the ship; for a noble, it is easy enough to engage someone for this, but it will take some time to check out references and so on. He starts immediately.
Vonish uses his connections with Marquis Marcus Crestworthy, famous academic at UoM, to access the University Library. He finds his goal: cookbooks galore!
In the evening Marc discusses his plans with Sir Bridgehead. The Admiral is interested in accompanying him on the mission, which the Marquis expects to last a couple of months. After that, of course, the HMS Third Eye would be returning here; fitting in perfectly with the recovery of the Anastasia. The jackalope seems to be working out as a ship's pet -- Sir Bridgehead is still interested in sedating it, but Marc suggests that off-ship might be safer, perhaps in University facilities.
Marquis Marc files his report. He describes the rodent, the herbivore, and the apparent lead predator which is a dog with horns, one of which has befriended a member of the crew. He attaches the data. He discusses with Misha, the apparent "owner" of the dog, what to do about the zoologists examining the creature.
Misha takes the dog to his stateroom, and tells it what they're planning -- he has an assumption that if it's intelligent, it'll let him know; if it's not, it doesn't matter. Despite the creature's lack of apparent communication, he gets the feeling that it's very comfortable with him, and trusts him to pick the right thing -- Misha is sure it will all work out fine.
Misha agrees that the zoologists can come on board and do some work with the dog here. Two scientists arrive -- one of them is very businesslike and cold, looking at the dog as if it were a chunk of rock or something, but the other is friendly enough. They perform some simple physical measurements and data-gathering with bioscanners. One of them wants to put the creature out and do a full scan -- actually he'd like to cut the creature open, take biopsy samples, and so on. Misha tells them that a tranquilizer shot doesn't seem to work, so they propose trying gas in one of the labs. Misha agrees that will be fine. They will analyse their data so far, and come back with some alternate tranquilizers to use in the Third Eye's labs.
The zoologists try to knock out the dog. None of the gases they brought have any effect whatsoever. The scientists are very puzzled indeed, and leave. Misha is very amused. He turns to the dog and says, "Well done!"
The Marquis also files his "other" report. He'd like to know who his patron is, but the trail is too well obscured. His report is entered into a restricted access store; who is authorized to access it is well hidden information.
Avon is no longer concerned about watching the salvage operation, so he is happy to accompany the Third Eye to Gorram too.
The zoologists have one more gas to try on the dog. It doesn't work either. The scientists are at a loss. (Nothing odd is picked up on the Marquis' equipment in the lab too.) There will at least be a zoologist on the next expedition, so further study time may be possible then.
The Marquis is willing to assign ten staterooms and eight laboratories to the University staff. They in fact want five: two anthropologists and three zoologists. The Third Eye will be staying here a month to allow time for preparations.
Marc congratulates the Baron and proposes a small celebration on board
ship. He plans to invite some of the University heads of department,
and have the ship's Chef prepare a fine meal (for around ten people).
The Baron asks about the jackalope experiments, and Marc tells him that
it's immune to almost every known knockout chemical.
"I told you it wasn't my gun!" exclaims Baron Bridgehead. "Do you have any idea what it is about hte creature that could cause this?"
"No," replies the Marquis, "I exhausted my initial guess."
The celebration is scheduled for next week. The heads of zoology, anthropology, medical, and engineering departments will all be invited. Of course the medical head of department will want to meet the famous Baron Bridgehead (or is that Baron von Bridgehead? haut Bridgehead?)... The Marquis wants him to attend so the Baron can bring up how appalled he is at the state of the facilities on board the ship. There is some speculation as to where the new Baron's lands will be. The Crestworthy estate is actually underground on Pallique.
Vonish has used his cookbooks to good effect. He is sure of serving a most excellent meal for the celebration.
The Marquis finds out about Pimane being red-listed. This is undoubtedly an unusual event...
On the way to Gorram they'll be going through a A, C, and B starports. Now that they don't have to go to Pimane, it takes another jump out of the trip.
There's one more urgent matter: Crazy Bob can't be trusted on board
ship. He is hired as an employee of the Marquis, and he'll be assigned
groundside here on Mora; he'll be set up well enough in a small
apartment, with enough money to buy not too many beers for himself.
Now that Bob is not on a world that's grey, abysmal, and full of dust,
the Marquis also provides him with a list of people to contact to help
clean him up and get him back on his feet. Marc explains to Bob that
he can't come along this time, and that it will only be a couple of months.