Misha Ravanos is not yet satisfied, and wants to investigate right now. There were no cameras inside the gcarrier, just the outside village probe view. There is audio from inside the gcarrier, which includes nothing odd until the popping noise. Telemetry from the gravcraft indicate everything working normally, and that the laser had not been activated. Synchronizing the records indicates that the creatures looked at the gcarrier right before the pop.
Marquis Marc also is concerned. He calls Misha.
"If you can come up with an explanation for our alien guest, I would greatly
"Did what I think happen, happen?" asks Misha.
"Did the critters look at David, and his head explode? Yes."
"And can you you guess at some reason they might have chosen David?"
"He was actively engaged in seeking out their, uh, life force, to count how many there were."
The Marquis spends the rest of the evening trying to come up with a plausible variant of the truth. He is in rather a quandry. He wonders if these natives are related to someone who built something else he'd seen a long time ago.
Late at night, Misha walks over to the captain's
stateroom. He knocks on the door, and the Marquis wakes up and lets
"Have a seat," says Marc. "What can I do for you?"
"Why don't you want the hiver to know?" asks Misha.
The Marquis sighs. "I'm not sure who he's going to disseminate his information to. If he tells the wrong person about my investigative directions here, and so on, that could get me in... I would have to answer lots of questions and spend lots of time answering them. On the other hand, if I can come up with no other explanation, he's going to demand one, and etiquette indicates I'm going to have to tell him something, be it truth or not. So if we can't come up with anything good, we may just have to give him as little information as will satisfy him. They are notoriously inquisitive. Oh, and by the way, no known hivers have any sort of ability at all. Only humans have been recorded as psionic... except for my research, that is."
Misha has an idea. He suggests getting the hiver's cooperation in blaming him for David's death.
Marc adds that as the anthropologist was going to sleep, he suggested to him that it was some sort of missile weapon that was shot through the door. He is sure that they can put together evidence to support that as an explanation. "My communications officer seems to have a real knack for computer stuff. Let's see what he can do to alter or erase the record." He checks the logs and finds that so far, no-one has checked the computer record from the other probe. The video feed was only being watched on the Bridge, and only ship's crew were on the bridge.
The Marquis then calls Robert via the intercom, telling him to call back as soon as he is available.
Robert calls him back, "What is it?"
"Misha and I would like to speak with you in our quarters, please. We have a task for you."
Robert arrives at the Captain's stateroom.
Coffee is served.
The Marquis explains, "There was a recording from the probe over the visitation site today. At a reasonable point -- several seconds, minutes -- before the unfortunate demise of David, and lasting for some minutes after, the recording communications link needs to have gone down."
"We just need a good explanation," adds Misha, "If there's a better way to do this, then...?"
"Having an erasure is going to be suspicious to any official investigation," observes Robert.
"The only investigation we're expecting is from people on board," the Marquis assures him.
Misha repeats, "If there's a better way to do this..."
Robert answers, "We can insert data without too much difficulty. We can replace what is actually there."
"Yes," agrees Marc, "You can put static there."
Robert laughs. "The problem is that we have the good telemetry logs. We have to modify the entire transmission so we can lie about how we are actually receiving the data. We have logs showing a good carrier all the time."
"So then make one of the worms use his slingshot in the right trajectory," says the Marquis. "That's the only two ideas. If you can come up with a better one..."
Robert says, "Do we have any record of them hunting, did we see them --"
"We have never seen them use a sling bullet," interrupts the Marquis. "That's right, these guys have no weapons, so they would have to have thrown a stone. I didn't say the idea was perfect..."
Misha asks, "If an official investigation were to come about, would we actually be in trouble for some aliens using psionics?"
"We would be in trouble for interfering with an uncivilized race," says the Marquis, "We would be in trouble for well, a lost crew member in a first contact situation."
"So we don't have to hide it from the Imperium, just the ship. If we do something that's good enough for them, that's fine."
"We could tell the Imperium that he just exploded, we don't know why. We think maybe the worms did it, we don't know how. If we never say the word psionics then we're much better off. We have to explain it to the scientists and the hiver in such a way that when they're asked, all they know is that he died on the surface."
"The anthropologist would go with the 'it was a missile weapon', and we can alter the tapes such that he can't easily dispute it."
"I think that if the data were unavailable for some reason it would be safer. Our goal here is to hide it from the non-crew members." The Marquis turns to Robert. "Now the hiver had a slug thrower at some point, didn't he? What if he panicked and accidentally shot and it ricocheted into the vehicle?"
"OK," says Robert. "The hiver had a projectile weapon and he was outside."
"Now if we do it that way, we have to bring the hiver into our confidence. It was an accidental death, unavoidable, no charges to be brought, so says the Captain on the scene."
Misha volunteers to be the culprit if they want. He doesn't own a rifle, but it's not unrealistic that he had one under his coat.
Robert says, "We'll film you carrying one and then I'll match it. OK, what were you wearing? We have to make sure you're wearing the exact same clothes. Now if you had stumbled, and your gun goes off. You have to be facing the right way, it's hard for a ricochet to go 180 degrees."
The Marquis says, "Tomorrow morning Mich's first job is to repair the gcarrier, including ricochet marks. And now I have to tell the hiver, because he will know there was no gunfire."
Misha says, "Actually I was going to talk to the hiver."
The Marquis agrees.
The filming, and the correction of the ship's records, goes perfectly.
As soon as Misha leaves, Sagan opens up a link to the Extraordinary Circumstances to look for information on psionics.
Misha himself tells the Captain about the conversation, then goes to the vehicle bay to clean up the gcarrier.
The Marquis calls the crew together, and shows them
the (doctored) video from the incident. It shows Sagan and Misha
turning to go back, being surrounded, running back to the ship, Misha drawing
a weapon and firing -- accidentally or whatever -- into the open doorway
of the gcarrier.
Helia asks him why this is different from what happened.
Marc explains, "This is the story we are going to give to the scientists."
Helia turns to Mich, "How long would it take to quadruple the powerplant in this baby?"
Marc interrupts, "We will get to that in a future staff meeting."
Mich says, "We can quadruple, but only for short --"
Marc interrupts again, "We will get to that in the next staff meeting. In the next few minutes I will be going down and presenting this to the scientists."
Helia asks, "How does Misha feel about this?"
"Misha is paying his penance by cleaning up the gcarrier, and our engineer's first duty is to go down and repair any damage from this missile weapon that occurred to the gcarrier, in all appropriate places -- whether it exists or not."
Those in board who are not crew members are Sagan, Alice, and Brandon. Teri is temporarily a crew member.
Marquis Marc asks the Baron about the anthropologist.
Is he awake yet?
"No," says Baron Bridgehead, "He's still sedated. When do you want him to wake up?"
"I want him to wake up enough that we can show him this film, then he can go back to sleep again. That will give even more time for the explanation to sink in."
"Anything you can do to encourage him to believe this would be appreciated." The Marquis also wants the Baron to perform an autopsy and determine the official cause of death as a gunshot wound.
Baron Bridgehead absolutely refuses to taint his integrity by falsifying results. If he were to perform an autopsy, he would put down the correct findings.
The Marquis compromises by deciding to have the funeral without an autopsy. This does not offend Bridgehead's professional ethics, and is therefore acceptable.
Mich goes to fix the gcarrier. Misha has finished
"There isn't any damage here," Mich reports to Marquis Marc. "It looks OK. I can't find any evidence of that blast." The only time Mich saw the video, of course, was the doctored version -- he was not on the bridge at the time of the incident.
"You must have done an excellent job of repairing it," says the Marquis. "I would like you to do just a slightly less good job of repairing that accidental damage, so that there is evidence of such."
"OK," says Mich, very slowly.
Mich and Misha then recreate the damage to the gcarrier. Misha fetches a gun from the armory, and Mich fires it at the doorway -- the first time Misha fired a gun was . There is no ricochet, but that doesn't worry them.
The Marquis then gathers the scientists for a meeting,
and tells them about David's death, and the severe traumatizing of the
senior anthropologist. He shows them the official video, and places
it in public access for their review. He announces that the service
for David will be held later. There are no questions or comments.
The Marquis adds, "We will be planning to leave in about two weeks, if there is no major objection." This would cut the trip short. The loss of two crew members in such a short period indicates it's too dangerous here.
Since they'll be leaving in two weeks, Mich will spend that time checking and polishing the jump drives. He is instructed not to modify anything -- at least until at a major shipyard when they can discuss it again.
The wake for David Markland is held that night. Once again, Vonish produces a superb meal, while the Baron ensures plenty of alcohol is drunk.
The Marquis prepares a totally factual report, which
he will give to David's sponsor. He believes they deserve a true
explanation. The most likely real reason is a massive Psionic Assault.
He includes information on the new sensors, the data they recorded, and
the improved schematics as prepared by Mich. Of course he will also
file the information with his usual sponsor, too.
Thinking of that, he meets with Misha and asks how good he is at following a trail. The Marquis will be filing a memory card, and wants to know who gets it and where it goes. Misha agrees -- he'll actually probably "subcontract" some of the work.
Meanwhile there are plenty of sensors to observe, and the Marquis has a special experiment in mind too. He asks Mich to prepare three special sensors, to be dropped on the ground in a triangle around the village, to handle as high an energy spike as possible. They agree that they'll deliver them from the gcarrier, just pushing them out. The sensor packages need minimal guidance, and just need to survive a landing somehow. The Marquis expects one of them to be targeted, and the others to provide data about that assault.
Since this is the last opportunity to visit the world
of Gorram, the Marquis finally relents and allows Helia to take
the gcarrier down. She'll be accompanied by Misha, who'll shove the
packages out of the door from 2km altitude.
Vonish prepares them a nice picnic lunch.
Helia and Misha board the gcarrier. They notice the patched damage with interest.
Helia drives the gcarrier out of the bay, and descends
into the atmosphere. They take up position over the village.
Misha opens the side door of the gravcraft and pushes the three 50kg beachballs
The operation is all performed successfully and they prepare to ascend.
The door doesn't close properly. The air is pretty thin here already.
Helia considers the best situation is to get well away from the villages, and to a know safer area. That will let them work out the problem in safety. She heads off to the other spot they have studied, the landing site of the free trader Donsharid.
The Marquis asks the gcarrier what they are doing. Helia explains the situation, and that the vaccsuits aboard the craft won't let her fly the craft -- they're made for normal sized humans.
Misha examines the door, but can't work out the problem. Helia tries to fix it using the computer, but it's not fixable from there -- there's a physical problem. Examining the door doesn't help, as there's no problem visible either.
Helia sets up the controls to take the gcarrier vertically up to orbital altitude. She instructs Misha in the correct control to activate to start the process, then takes refuge in the airlock with Misha's jehrig, where they'll be in atmosphere. Misha dons a vaccsuit, and starts the gravcraft's ascent.
Up in orbit, the Marquis asks Sagan if hir ship could
recover the gcarrier for them. The hiver agrees, and instructs the
Circumstances to recover the craft.
The operation proceeds flawlessly. The hivers retrieve the gcarrier, pull it into their vehicle bay, and welcome the humans aboard. It's a little cramped in height for Misha, of course, but Helia has no problem with the low ceilings. Helia, in fact, is very comfortable in the conditions on board the ship. She thoroughly enjoys her visit.
After a short while, the Extraordinary Circumstances
returns to the Third Eye. Mich transfers over to the hiver
ship to check over the gcarrier.
Mich examines the gcarrier door, and finds that some debris from the gun damage to the doorway has contaminated the hinge. He cleans it out and fixes the door easily.
The three of them sit down and enjoy their picnic lunch before boarding the gcarrier and returning to the Third Eye.
Meanwhile the three sensor units have landed, deployed, and switched on. They are initially registering very little in the way of emissions; they are relaying their data through the other probe, to minimize their own emissions.
Mich continues with his work in Engineering, checking
out the drives and familiarizing himself with the system. He reconfigures
the engineering consoles to his own liking. Jenny assists him.
He also works with Helia in configuring the engineering readouts for the
pilot and navigator consoles.
Mich is struck by Helia's remarkable grasp of astrogation. They start working together on simulations. He finds it very interesting that Helia seems to get a minimum length jump every time. She says that she thinks it's an inherited talent, that her clan seems to have a genetic disposition towards mathematics and visualizing jumpspace calculations. They spend quite some time studying the jump records, and looking to see where they could get improvements from the drives.
Misha starts training for space environment -- using a vaccsuit safely, and so on. Teri helps him, and shows him some tips for fighting in vacuum as well.
Over the next two weeks, there's a success with Marc's
new sensors. One of them records an extreme level of activity, and
using readings from all three it triangulates back to the village.
It's a good thing Mich was not very familiar with Marc's area of research,
because otherwise he never would have bothered to make the sensors capable
of surviving such a high reading!
The level reaches a maximum, holds for a while, then stops.
Over the next six hours, all three probes get another couple of attacks each. The readings are similar each time. There's then a pause of around 35 hours, and then one takes a hit -- it goes up as before, plateaus, then takes yet another jump in level, maintains that level, then stops.
About 30 hours after that, the visual probe at the village sees a hunting party head out towards that sensor unit. Marc quickly calls Helia to the bridge, and gets her to follow the hunters so that they can observe them.
Three of the creatures reach the sensor unit, pick it up, carry it to the nearest ravine, and throw it in. The sensor unit survives.
The Marquis notes that they seem to be detecting a theoretically passive sensor.
The creatures return to the village.