(11) Into the Fire

The Misha Campaign (030-1121 to 051-1121)

030-1121 : Brod / Tardele / Foreven

    Captain Wendy Farradon contacts Misha Ravanos, as promised.  Unfortunately, she says that the IFSS can't offer the H.M.S. Third Eye any job at this time.  There isn't anything going on that can use any outside help, although of course they always appreciate any information, from any source.
    According to the base, local weather should be clear and decent for the next few days.  They're not expecting another storm, especially like the one that was raging when they landed here.  Today it's sunny, but of course there's still a lot of snow on the ground.
    Ed "Shark" Teeth and Vonish Kehnaan decide to spend a few days on a hiking trip, hunting and gathering ingredients for the pantry.  Shark is more interested in getting away from inside a ship than the actual reason for the trip, but he's happy to guide an enthusiastic Vonish through the countryside.  Shark wears his leather catsuit, with nothing else over it, while Vonish wraps up in regular cold-weather gear.

    Helia Sarina, Helia Sarina, Sally Forsythe, Professor Benshani Farol, and Mich Saginaw continue work on their jump drive technology.  In the process, Helia explains to Helia how the matter phase inverters work; the larians' native language seems much more effective at communicating technical details between them than Galanglic.
    Robert Morris is curious about their language.  He checks samples of their speech against the data in the computer, but finds it doesn't correspond to anything they have.
    Shark, meanwhile, has been carefully studying the Helias to try to determine which is which.  It's a very difficult task indeed.
    The one to finally break silence and ask why they have the same name is Vonish.
    Helia answers, "Because she's Helia, and I'm Helia.  It's not the same.  She's a different Helia."
    "Are there more Helias?" asks Vonish.
    "Names are name," replies Helia.  "Everywhere you go, don't you meet people with the same names?"
    "Are you related?"
    The Helias look at each other and chatter in the fast high-pitched larian language.  Eventually Helia nods, and says, "Way back."
    "So you're like cousins?"
    "Yes, cousins," agrees Helia readily.
    "Cousins?  That works," adds Helia.
    "Absolutely," says Helia, "Somewhere there.  It's just... way back."
    Vonish asks, "Do you always go around together?"
    Helia replies, "We saw each other growing up.  We were in some classes together."
    Helia adds, "We both had Advanced Mathematics and some other classes together.  But in general, not since we've been grownups.  You know, she's doing math and I'm doing astrogation.  She's more into that theoretical, you know, engine stuff.  Of course then there's Helia, the one that really got into math."
    "Oh, Helia!" nods Helia.
    "Yes," adds Helia, "She's into pure math, and we're into applied math."
    Helia points out, "Then there's Helia the doctor."
    "She was OK at math but didn't like it much," explains Helia.  "You know, Mich is OK at math.  Don't you have cousins?"
    Vonish looks like he was sorry he asked.  Now he knows why no-one else brought up the subject.

    Shark and Vonish leave on their trip.  They are travelling very light, with a portable shelter just for Vonish.  Shark sleeps in the snow with his faceshield down.  The weather gets a little colder, but that just makes the walking less slushy.  They live off the land very well indeed for three days.

    The engineers continue work on the construction machines, and then build several new matter phase inverter units, the same as the ones from Digitis.  The tricky atom-by-atom part that Jane Southcombe did herself goes surprisingly smoothly, although it is quite unfamiliar to all of them.

033-1121 : Brod / Tardele / Foreven

    Shark and Vonish return to the Third Eye.  Everything is much as they left it, to their relief.  Vonish has collected a fine assortment of items, mostly flavorings and so on rather than major ingredients.  Of course the doctor, Grand Admiral Baron Bridgehead, will want to check it out before they're used, especially after the problems with Robert and klatrin.

    Mich and the rest of the engineers have finished building the matter phase inverters.  There are four new units for the Third Eye, with the two units remaining from the Digitis build as spares.  The Professor now has everything he needs to make more.  Farol is very interested to find out more about the woman who helped him on Digitis, but there really is nothing more to tell.  The Sheriff of Cormor did say that they wouldn't be using the units themselves.  Mich resolves not to use the new units until they hear more from Sally.  Farol promises that if they find out anything more, they'll leave a message at the IFSS bases.
    Helia has come up with some suggestions to improve Mich's jumpspace vortex generators.  They'll work on that tomorrow, but she suggests that Mich should tell Helia about them too.
    Sally has worked on the unspace problem, but hasn't got anywhere yet.  She goes out to build snowmen, along with Helia.  Helia builds one with an axe, standing beside another with its head on the ground.

034-1121 : Brod / Tardele / Foreven

    Mich works on the vortex generator modifications suggested by Helia.  The changes are complete by the end of the day.
    Misha tells Helia that Helia suggested making these modifications to the formation of the jump bubble by the vortex generators.  Helia reminds him that he's supposed to tell her about any changes as soon as Mich makes them, and makes sure that he hasn't added anything else strange about it.  Mich promises to tell her when he makes any more changes from now on.
    Helia asks Helia how this could affect the equations.  Helia explains it quickly in the larian language, and they discuss it briefly.  Helia is satisfied.

035-1121 : Brod / Tardele / Foreven

    Everything has been done that can be done here on Karma.  It's time for the Third Eye to get on her way.  They will follow Misha's original plan of investigating the Red Zone at Zett.
    In clear weather, Helia pilots the ship up into orbit, and then to a jump point.  They set coordinates for the Jost system, and enter jump.

041-1121 : Jost / Tardele / Foreven

    The jump is perfectly smooth.  The ship arrives insystem, and as the last time they were here, find no emissions or beacons of any kind.  Like last time, they consider it prudent to refuel at the gas giant.

044-1121 : Jost / Tardele / Foreven

    With the refueling and refining complete, they are ready to leave.  They take a course outwards from the gas giant, and jump for Ferle.

049-1121 : Ferle / Tardele / Foreven

    Everyone is eating lunch.  Helia is the only one on the bridge when the ship comes out of jump.
    Over the intercom comes the squeal, "Excellent!"
    There is no such thing as a jump less than six days.  The Third Eye has just completed a successful jump in 5-1/4 days.  This is probably the first ever successful five day jump in history.  The Anastasia did a five day misjump, but that was not only in the wrong system, it also wrecked the ship.
    Helia calls engineering, and Otto Harkaman replies that Mich is at lunch.  So she calls the pod lounge, and says, "Mich, come up to the bridge please.  By the way, I told you if you told me it would work better!"
    Mich gets up to go to the bridge.  Everyone else in the lounge looks at each other and stands up too, except the Baron who continues eating undisturbed.

    On the bridge, the window shows a view of space.  Helia keeps saying "I told you so" to Mich and everyone else, but it's clear she's very happy with it.
    Mich is happy too.  He immediately sends a coded message to the Professor with all the data collected from the jump, and Helia adds an explanation in her native language to Helia and Sally.
    Helia points out that they will have to be careful about trying to hide their five day jumps.  Mich says that they've already put together an enormous string of six day jumps, and given the military implications of guaranteeing a six day jump, if someone was going to notice, they already would have done so.
    Helia adds, however, that five day jumps are readily noticeable by a ship taking the same route as they do, comparing it with their jump.
    Shark thinks that in the Imperium it could be noticed eventually, but out here with so many different political units in the area, it is unlikely to be a problem.
    The expert consensus -- Helia and Mich -- is just to keep going, and if it looks like there's be a problem, just run.  Still, they might want to pay a little more attention to what's going on around them, who's coming and going, and so on.

    Helia follows the nav beacons to the starport, and they come in to land.

    Misha briefs his crew.  He informs them that as far as they are concerned, they are going to Jake for their next jump.  They will stay here just long enough to resupply, and then get on their way.

    They consider what they might bring as useful trade goods to a system that has no visitors.  Unfortunately they can't find any record of regular trade with Zett, and the few records there are of trade visits say emphatically that there's nothing worth trading there.  After rejecting Mich's idea of booze, they decide on high-tech entertainment systems and modules.
    Robert investigates the local computer systems for records of ships heading there.  The only real records are of IFSS ships that went there -- some of them came back, the ones that didn't were all listed as lost.  He also checks for references to the symbols to Digitis -- Professor Farol had run across artifacts that must have been in this general vicinity, after all.  He is disappointed to find no such references.

051-1121 : Ferle / Tardele / Foreven

    Four hours before the Third Eye is ready to leave, in the early morning, a message arrives at the ship.  Shark recognizes it as containing certain patterns that attract his attention.  It's a simple contact message, for the starport bar, to occur immediately.  He tells Misha he'll be leaving the ship for a couple of hours, and he'll be going alone.
    Shark enters the starport bar -- wearing his zack, with a pistol -- and looks for his contact.  He readily recognizes the appropriate sign, and greets a man in his thirties, dressed casually.  They move to a booth to talk, and the man says that the location is secure.  Shark recognizes the contact procedure as being Imperial Navy Intelligence.
    The man asks, "Where are you headed?"
    "Jake, the captain said," replies Shark.  "Why?"
    "It's just that if you were headed to a Red Zone, you might need some information."
    "Information is always useful.  What would that information be if I were headed that way?"
    "I'd have to know you were headed that way, first."
    "We might be... it is one of our possible destinations."
    "If you do end up going there, it would be good to have a full report of the situation there.  We don't have a lot of contact."
    "I understand."
    "And if you were to be going directly there, not through anywhere else, I might have some experimental equipment that might help your chances of not getting caught out."
    "I see.  Definitely interested in that."
    "How about if I come about in an hour?"
    "OK.  You alone."
    "Me alone.  With a package."
    They leave the bar separately.  Shark returns to the ship.

    On his arrival, Ed tells Misha that they're to expect a visitor shortly, bearing gifts.  "Not sure if it's a large wooden horse, but it's a technical gift that might be of use in certain planetary systems that we might be visiting."
    Misha asks, "Why would this person be giving us this?"
    "Because I have promised to give him a technical report from my point of view of the system."
    "And why did you promise him this?"
    "I said if I'm going there, I'd be happy to, since I'm in the business of selling information.  That's how I make my living.  And stay alive."
    Misha agrees, as long as his First Officer hasn't put them in danger.  He tells Mich that there's a technical gift arriving that he should check over.

    An hour after the bar meeting, the man arrives at the ship.  He is indeed alone, carrying a large suitcase.
    Shark escorts him to one of the labs.  Mich is already there.
    The man pops open the suitcase.  He hands over a tape with the installation and operations instructions, and a unit about the size of a briefcase.  It has regular power connections and a small control panel, and mounting lugs.
    Shark says, "To be explicitly clear, in return for the use of this device, you want a report."
    "I want a full report to the best of your ability on what's going on there, what the situation is, and bring this unit exactly back here.  I expect it in four weeks.  If it's not back in four weeks, this ship goes on the... list."
    "Mich, please review the technical information."  He then turns to the agent, tells him he has to clear it with the captain, and leaves Mich to discuss the unit.
    Installation is simple.  Mich has to build a metal cage of certain specification over the zuchai crystal array, and mount this unit as shown inside the cage with connections to the cage and a standard power source.  In theory it shields the zuchai crystals from the wave that comes out before the stellar material, so they can jump (a jump0 is sufficient) to safety.  The Third Eye will in fact have one unit of fuel when they arrive at Zett.  The unit is to be in place and powered on before jumping -- it has to attune to the size of the array and so on.
    Meanwhile Shark has told Misha the conditions of the deal.  In particular, he's quite clear that if they don't return it in time, they go on the "to be hunted down and shot" list.  He says that the box is supposed to protect the ship, and in return he can provide them with a report.
    Shark calls Mich.  "Do we need this?"
    Mich replies, "With the radiation waves that come through, yes we will."
    Shark goes down to accept the deal, and escorts their benefactor off ship.  He promises to contact him on their return.

    Mich tells Helia that they have this unit that shields the zuchai crystals from the waves coming from the unstable star.  He adds that they need to run with it so it can calibrate itself.  Unfortunately the instructions contain a warning that any attempt to disassemble the suitcase would have disastrous consequences.  It's shielded very well, including PRIS binoculars.
    Helia asks, "Who gave it to you?"
    "A Shark tooth," Mich replies.
    Shark says, "A specter.  A spook, a ghost, a non-existent person."
    Helia is unsure, "A non-existent person from what sector of space?"
    "Imperium."  Shark adds, for Mich's benefit, that it's Imperial Navy.  "It's hand built by the best ghostly engineers in the Imperium."
    Helia asks, "Are you an Imperium spy?"
    Shark says, carefully, "No, I am not an Imperium spy."
    "Do you have a history of working with the Imperium spy people?"
    "I have worked with non-existent people in the past, yes."
    "Are you still affiliated with these non-existent people that we get this toy?"
    "Um... I have enough contacts left that they're willing to trust an expensive piece of equipment on the chances that I'll survive and return with information."
    "I don't recall that you sent out any special notice that you were here?"
    "I am part of the crew manifest."
    "When do you think those people will start noticing we're doing five day jumps?"
    "When they start talking to each other, which will be a hell of a long time from now!" laughs Shark.  "There are so many little groups of non-existent people that don't talk to each other that we have nothing to worry about from them."
    "As far as they are concerned, I don't exist.  Understand?"
    "Sure, OK."
    "Any more that they already know.  And what we've been doing, in terms of time, does not happen.  Must be a mistake."
    Shark nods.

    On the way out to the jump point, Mich assembles the cage.  The instructions are foolproof.  He mounts the unit as specified, and turns it on.  He sets up various sensors to see what this thing does -- it seems to set up an electromagnetic shield around the zuchai crystals.

    They jump for Zett.