(10) The Rock
The Nightshade Campaign (185-1122 to 186-1122)
Callisto has found something. She's not sure
what it is, but thinks it's worth investigating.
The rock in question is about 2 km in
diameter. There is nothing obvious about it. Helia Sarina
in close enough for a full densitometer scan. They haven't been
scanning actively up until now because they've been in stealth mode,
but close to this rock they can drop out and run the densitometer
without undue danger. If they were to file a claim for this rock,
they would have to
reveal themselves and do so in this system. There is no
on it, of course.
Nightshade appears in the total black color
scheme, with the transponder simulator off. Callisto starts her
After a few hours, Callisto announces she has found
a hollow near the surface that appears to be a regular shape, some sort
of construction. Everyone agrees this is worth investigating.
The rock itself isn't big enough to have any
significant gravity. The place Callisto has indicated as an
access point is about 5 meters underground. She brings up what
she's found on the holodisplay.
There are a number of what look like rooms, with a
tunnel moving up from one set to another, and then up to the
surface. The final tunnel to the surface is buried under about 5
meters of dirt. The tunnel is of square cross section, about 5
meters on a side.
Misha Ravanos asks for suggestions to clear the dirt
and get into the tunnel. Teri Cralla, of course, says
"Explosives." Edward "Shark" Teeth suggests a more cautious
approach: investigate it in person and see if it's easy digging or is
going to require more. Shark's is the approach Misha chooses.
The question then is who has sufficient experience
in a vaccsuit to be safe enough outside. Mich Saginaw can help
check everyone's suit and make sure it's correct before they go out,
and Teri can help too although her specialty is battledress.
Mich, Shark, Teri, and Kalida Siena, Marchioness of Nakege,
suit up. The former two are in regular vaccsuits, the latter two
in battledress. In both cases, Mich and Teri find errors with how
Shark and Kalida have put on their suits; they are quickly
corrected. Teri plays it safe and carries her FGMP-15.
Misha wonders if they can just use a zack instead of
a vaccsuit. Rather than just jumping outside, however, he goes
into the forward airlock tunnel with Teri (in battledress) to try it
out in decreasing pressure there. For a long time he has no
problem, but once the pressure drops below a certain point, he starts
having trouble breathing. It turns out that the zack can handle
atmosphere of about code 2 ("Very thin"), no thinner. So it does
provide the equivalent of a respirator, but won't work if there isn't
The rock, of course, has no atmosphere. Misha
decides that since the zack won't work, and he has no vaccsuit
experience, he will stay behind and leave it to Mich, Shark, Teri, and
Kalida. They leave from the airlock corridor behind the bridge,
down the ramp to the ground near the top of the tunnel Callisto found.
Once they step off the ramp, they're in
microgravity. The battledress has an integral gravbelt; those
with vaccsuits have a gravbelt too. The surface at this point is
mostly loose rocks of various sizes. Teri, Kalida, and Mich start
moving the rocks around to uncover what might be underneath. They
are careful not to throw the rocks into low orbit where they might come
back and hit them. Shark stands nearby and stays out of trouble.
After about four hours of work, the ground is clear
enough to reveal what's beyond. The work has taken them into the
next Imperial day.
The rocks and debris were covering a smooth cut area
of rock, a flat area in front of airlock doors. A panel is marked
with a large green arrow.
Shark points out that black tech people would not
have marked it like that. They would have used a symbol, or at
least used red (or blue, if dangerous).
The left side of the panel has two buttons, one red
and one green. The right side has a removable panel.
Shark examines what they've discovered with a view
to figuring out who may have made this. He decides it's not of
recent Imperial manufacture, but pretty certain to be human, or more unlikely vargr. There are
signs of pitting and erosion that indicates it's been here a
while. It's not of advanced tech, probably no higher than TL-11.
Mich presses the green button. Nothing
happens. He presses the red button. Nothing happens.
He opens the panel. Behind it is a hand crank and a fixed
handle. Obviously the handle is to grab while turning the
crank. He calls Teri over to turn the crank.
The crank is easy to operate -- and would be without
the assistance of battledress -- but it's slow to see any effect.
Eventually, slowly, the door opens.
After five minutes of cranking, the door is open
enough for a person to enter. The two parts of the door open
inwards. Suit lights reveal a 10 meter deep chamber, with another
airlock door at the end. Everyone enters.
Teri closes the outer door, sealing them all inside,
then opens the inner door using the panel for that one.
Communications are working fine. Callisto has moved her sensor
viewpoint inside with them.
There is air behind the inner door. It is thin
but breathable -- cold enough to freeze out water vapor and carbon
dioxide, but not enough to remove anything but the high freezing point
gases. There is no artificial gravity here -- they're still using
the gravbelts to anchor to the ground. They decide to proceed
without closing the inner door.
According to Callisto, they should have about 100
meters of tunnel ahead of them. That's indeed what they see; the
walls are sheathed in steel, not natural rock. At the end of the
tunnel is another set of airtight doors.
Beyond is some sort of receiving area. It is
empty except for a desk and chair. The metal desk is empty.
There are light panels in the ceiling, but none are lit. There
are no signs or writing of any sort. Opposite where they came in
is another set of airlock doors. Mich muses that they need to get
some power on in this place.
Opening the next doors reveals what looks remarkably
like a hotel lobby. There is an old-fashioned mechanical bell on
the first desk; Kalida rings it. No-one responds. The walls
have artwork of planetary scenes, mostly lush wooded scenery, lake
scenes, and so on. In one of them a castle tower overlooks a
lake. There are no forms, paperwork, books, or anything else
behind the counter.
The room is octagonal. As they came in, to
their right is what looks like a freight door. The desk is on
their left; beyond that is a corridor leading further in. Across
from them is another desk which could be a check-in arrangement.
There is another door behind that, as well as some shelving.
Everything is empty.
Shark's guess, based on his forensics, is that the
place is at least 300 years old.
The hallway continues beyond the desk, with doors
off to the side, and a more open area at the end. That larger
room is also octagonal, and could well have been a lounge of some
sort. There are still a few chairs here. Over in one area,
a panel has been left with exposed conduit, as if equipment has been
removed. On closer examination, there's also signs of
plumbing. It's as if anything useful has been taken away.
The hallway ends here. There are a couple of
doors that lead off into what are probably service areas.
Mich is keen to restore power, which might involve
bringing in their own power cells. He says he bets that when the
place was abandoned there was power, because it would have taken so
long to operate the doors. That does mean that there is probably
a power system left intact and connected.
Misha tells Mich to pursue that. Callisto says
that the service door to the right as they go in seems most likely.
Mich leads them down this corridor. It is
sparse, without any attempt to decorate or even clean up the welds in
the metal sheathing. There are a couple of doors to left and
right, and the corridor continues about 30 meters to where it opens
out. There are no signs on the doors, but Shark points out a
couple of marks indicating that signs have been removed.
The area at the end is a landing that leads to a
spiral ramp leading down, with guardrails. It looks like it
descends about 40 meters, to a floor at the bottom. There is no
sign of machinery. Teri floats over the rail and drops down the
well. She reports that there is a small door off the ramp about
every 10 meters down, and at the bottom is a larger airlock door of the
type that they saw on the way in.
Going down the ramp is safer for most of the team
than jumping over the rail. They all clamber down the ramp while
Teri has been opening the airlock door at the bottom.
This is a real airlock, not just airtight
doors. Ahead are another set of airlock doors, but Shark points
out that to the right is a well hidden panel. It too contains a
crank, along with a numeric keypad labeling in Imperial numbers.
This is not the panel that opens the other end of the airlock; as soon
as Teri starts cranking this one, another cleverly hidden airlock door
opens to the right.
Beyond is a fairly small area with counters on both
sides, and another set of airtight doors ahead. Mich laughs that
this was where the Marines were stationed. Misha muses that the
hotel they saw initially wouldn't need all those airlocks, but a
military base might. The room is illuminated with a very faint
Teri cranks the panel for this airtight door.
Beyond is another faintly lit room, this time with equipment in
it. It is some sort of control room, large and clearly set up for
a staff of about 50. Consoles, screens, a tactical or strategic
area down in the center. At the other side of the room, at their
level, is a door labeled "No Admittance." So they took the other
signs, but left this one. If they could get through the lock...
Teri forces it open with her battledress.
Robert Morris probably could go through it easily, but in his absence
brute force is an acceptable alternative.
Beyond is a corridor, with others leading off.
Following his engineer instincts, Mich leads them to a door that says
"Power Plant Staff Only." That door leads through yet another
This opens into the power plant room. They
have come out on a balcony overlooking an extremely large fusion
plant. There is a large section of operator consoles on the floor
level, and the entire plant is laced with catwalks and ladders.
"Now all we need is some liquid hydrogen," says
Mich, "And lots of it, no doubt." Finding the fuel tanks, and how
to fill them, is going to take some sort of schematic. One of the
consoles is showing some light, which might be promising. From up
here on the balcony there is no way to tell.
Normally one would use the elevator to go down the
three stories to the floor. Teri just hops over the rail, but for
the rest of them it might be safer to use the ladder. This is a
much harder thing to do in the microgravity. Kalida ignores the
ladder and flies down with her battledress, but not before Teri has to
come and rescue her and bring her to the ground.
Mich examines the lighted console. A button
labeled "Standby" glows. Mich pushes it. The console comes
up. It's an engineering console, providing an overview of the
systems. It seems to follow Imperial conventions, although the
controls are not as he would expect. They nevertheless do make
The indications are that the plant is on standby and
has some power. It could be brought up to full power, but it
would then need full staffing: ten people on consoles, plus crew for
the plant itself. Still, by running back and forth between a
couple of consoles, he thinks he just might be able to bring up life
Through a major effort by Mich, systems start to
come online: ventilation, heating, airlocks, emergency lighting.
The open airtight doors close automatically. Grav plates are up
to a 1/10g. That's at least enough to move around more
safely. Indications are that there is still fuel. The plant
has a good reserve of emergency fuel in this mode.
Enough systems are up to enable them to explore much
more rapidly. They will still need the suits until it warms up
Mich looks into increasing the gravity. The
console shows that they will run up to 1g, with inertial compensators
up to 3g. Mich immediately thinks that's weird: inertial
compensators in an asteroid? Perhaps they're for withstanding
bombardment -- you don't expect an asteroid to be moving. If he
brought the grav plates up to 0.5g, it would still be ok on fuel for a
good while. He compromises at bringing it up to 1/3g. An
alert shows a gravitic systems failure in the crew quarters; that will
remain at microgravity, as Mich has to shut that section down.
This whole area did not show up on Callisto's
scans. She's still not picking it up, not even any neutrino
emissions. The must be some quite substantial shielding.
Next to bring up would be the computers. Mich
is a little worried about doing that -- with Robert around to handle
it, there would be no problem, but he's concerned about any security
systems that might be in place. They decide to keep it shut down
until Robert is available.
It will probably take about six hours to bring the
place up to a reasonable temperature. In the meantime, they
should stick with vaccsuits.
With that done, they start exploring the place more
thoroughly. While they have emergency lighting, none of the
consoles in the control room are up yet. The layout of the place
is much like a starship
would be, although with more space between them. The rooms are
actually more spacious than Mich expects from an Imperial ship.
Crew quarters are left for later, until the gravitic systems can be
checked. The console shows grav plates and life support
operational in the control room, power plant, external facilities,
maneuver drive, and weaponry. Mich laughs that this is a
ship. He is not surprised at the absence of a jump drive. So
now they have another ship... provided they don't want to take it out
They've been going a long time, now. It's
going to take six hours for the environment to stabilize anyway.
The best thing to do is to go back to Nightshade, and come back
later once they're fed and rested.