(14) Into Blackness

The Mora Campaign (106-1121 to 107-1121)

106-1121 : Zett / Klarn / Foreven

    It's been five weeks since the H.M.S. Third Eye arrived at the secret station in the asteroid belt.  In that time, the crew have mostly concentrated on various training activities.  Mich Saginaw has upgraded the ship's inertial compensators to military standards.  Helia Sarina has been flying all over the station, and found a stash of entertainment tapes over a century old, which she's uploading to the ship.  She's also found some plants to decorate the bridge.  As a precaution, she's been wearing her zack all the time, with the necklace outside it.
    They still know nothing about the space station except that the Marquis Marcus Crestworthy's incident apparently took place in Arm C.  The station's log entry contains nothing but purpose and ship names -- and the ship name matches the one Marquis Marc served on at the time of his SEH.
    Misha Ravanos and his First Officer, Ed "Shark" Teeth, discuss whether to take the Third Eye outside the station while they explore.  The Captain decides that it would be prudent to take the ship outside and park it, so they can escape if anything goes wrong.
    Robert Morris is still frustrated by the station's computer setup, which makes it impossible to link from the ship's computers.  He has to be physically on the station to do any computer work.

    Robert and Teri Cralla go to the station Security facility and start work.  They open the outer door of Arm D, and Helia pilots the Third Eye out of the dock and to the central disk, where she extends a docking tube and links the ship up to the station's entrance lobby.  Meanwhile Robert hacks the station into giving him the same level of security as Grand Admiral Baron Bridgehead had achieved.

    The exploration group is chosen.  Misha, Helia, Robert, Teri, and Shark will investigate Arm C -- the most interesting one from their point of view, since it presumably contains what the Marquis sent them to find.  The remainder of the crew on board the Third Eye have sufficient skills to fly the ship.  Misha, Helia, and Shark wear their zacks.  Helia's is saftied, the other two are fully active; Misha believes he has enough skill in the suit to avoid triggering it unintentionally.

    The shore party walk into the Arm C control room.  It's soon apparent that this is a security access control station -- there are no direct controls for the arms here.  Robert authorizes himself up a level, and the door they're interested in -- deeper into the arm -- opens as he approaches it.  But first, to get any further, he has to enable the security systems to authorize the others in the group.
    Helia expresses concern that anyone following them will know about their activities.  Robert assures her that the systems keep no permanent records on who was accessing the arm -- if you get this far, you're clearly supposed to be here.
    Through the door is the subway stop.  There's a transport car ready at the platform.  They all enter the car.
    With the inertial compensators and no windows there's no indication of how far or how fast they travelled.  Their first indication that they have arrived is when the door opens, revealing another subway stop.
    They walk off the car.  This area simply has armament pointing into the room, a security console, and a single door.  Robert goes to the security station and pulls himself up to level two (two from the top).  He then authorizes everyone else.
    The door does not open automatically -- it has a button requiring a living palm print.  It opens for Robert.

    Beyond is a room full of supplies and equipment.  There is access to various engineering and electronic shops.  It is clearly a storeroom and workshop, together the size of a large warehouse, for a team to work and build scientific equipment for an extended period of time.  A big clue is the number and size of the Imperial Navy coffee machines.  Among the equipment are some very strange cobbled together contraptions.
    As expected, their commdots can't hook up to the ship from here.  Also, the computers here have no inventory available.  Likewise, there is no map of the area -- if you should be here, presumably you know where you are.
    Shark quickly spots another security station.  "Anything that's locked must be interesting.  That door is locked," he says.
    Robert has been examining at the equipment, looking for communications stuff.  There is some thoroughly experimental stuff here -- some of it extensions of current research, some of it apparently thrown together on the off-chance it might work.  There is also some regular equipment here, while Shark recognizes some items that he knows the others have never encountered.  Teri walks around, recording her view of the warehouse and its contents for review when she uploads the video to the ship.
    It's not clear that any of this equipment is worth taking back to the ship.  Some of it is too dodgy to be useful, while other pieces are too fragile to be picked up and moved.  Most of the interesting equipment is scratch-built and not portable.

    Robert brings his security level up to one, and opens the door to the bay.  The whole of Arm C is visible in front of them.  They are approximately in the center of the bay, and there is just one thing here, on the work platform right in front of them.

    There is a ship.  It's very black, blacker than military black even.  In shape it most resembles a Gazelle class Close Escort, but much bigger.  They guess it's about 1500 - 2000 tons displacement.  It's about 200m long.  The central body is a tube about 20m in diameter.  It's streamlined, with a tapered nose and partially tapered tail.  There are two pods, one each side of the ship, about 20m off the hull.  Each of the pods is a large and somewhat shield-shaped.  There's a large hole in the hull about 20m back from the nose, as if something about 5m in diameter punched straight through from the far side.  The hull skin itself seems to be extremely thin.  The ship has no markings whatsoever.  No doors are obvious.
    This matches the Marquis' story perfectly.
    There is a ramp leading up to the hole in the ship.
    "Let's get on board!" says Misha.
    Helia mentions that this looks like the ship where the guy's head exploded.  She runs back to the storeroom, makes a pirate hat out of aluminium foil, and rejoins the group with a smile.

    Before the group can start to move towards the ship, Helia takes off and flies around the ship.  She reaches out and touches the hull.  It's not a material that's familiar to her.  It's smooth, not cold to the touch, and completely black.  She flies around to the other side and through the hole, meeting the others who've walked up the ramp.
    Shark's football sensor still reads nothing.

    They have stepped into what looks like a bridge.  They can see out through windows, which they couldn't see from the outside.  The hull material is clearly very thin.  Shark reaches out to touch the edge of the torn hull and immediately cuts his finger, like a paper cut.
    Helia says they should get a sample of the hull for Mich.  It might be molecular thin metal of something they don't know about yet.
    The bridge looks pretty much like any other starship bridge.  There are human sized chairs for the crew stations.  By the pilot's chair is a broken piece of cobbled together equipment.  There are signs of a battle here -- discarded shell cases, bloodstains, as if someone has removed the bodies but done no other cleanup.
    Helia goes over to the pilot chair, which is raised about half a meter from the deck.  The consoles in front of her are plain and smooth.  She perches on the edge of the chair, and puts her hands where she would normally to fly a ship.  Nothing happens.
    Robert looks around for a computer or communications station, but it isn't clear what that would be.  There are several other crew positions and consoles.  Further back is what looks like a command deck -- a dais raised about a meter, with various consoles around it, and several chairs.  The consoles are all flat plates with a small stand instead of a large electronics box.
    The ship is clearly not Imperial in origin.
    Helia, still in the pilot's seat, says, "Computer.  Status."  Nothing happens.
    Helia then suggests finding a stateroom.  Shark walks back to the single door at the aft of the bridge, but it doesn't open for him.

    Helia looks around for the helmet that exploded the man's head.  Misha points out the scratch built equipment that's fallen to the ground beside the pilot's seat -- it has a helmet, and has been broken.
    It's the only thing of Imperial origin they can see, and looks very similar to another one in the storeroom.  It has a headset somewhat like a boxing helmet, that would fit some distance from the head.  It has a stand and adjuster so it could be positioned over someone's head.

    Shark looks for other ways into the rest of the ship.  He finds a break in the deck where the exit hole was, under the ramp, that apparently shows some sort of maintenance area -- conduits, equipment, and so on.  The hole is large enough that they could squeeze through if they removed the gangplank.  The edges are all sharp, however, and Shark is not comfortable going through.
    Helia checks to see if the edge of the hole cuts the zack -- it doesn't.  She runs back to the storeroom for tin snips and flashlights.
    Teri tries to bend the edges of the gap.  Even with her battledress, she can't bend it.  It flexes a little, but doesn't bend.  She tries the tin snips on it, but it just breaks the tool.
    Shark looks carefully and finds a place where a small part of the hole edge has been cut away -- clearly the Imperial folks did get several samples.  He says that what they need to do is to get into Engineering, and then bring Mich in.

    Misha has come up with a plan.  They move the gangplank, and Helia -- wings inside her zack, faceplate down -- climbs into the gap.
    It's an under-deck area, just as you would expect under a bridge.  Various tubes run down through the it.  Helia sees an access panel at the rear, and opens it.  Beyond is various machinery, perhaps a mechanized missile bay of some sort.  That room is not really tall enough for the others to stand in, but plenty big enough for the larian.
    With permission from Misha, Helia passes through to the room.  It seems to be a missile autoloader, with a rotating 6-tube dispenser that drops down through doors in the hull.  At the back of this area are a couple of access panels, a feed for the autoloader, and a hatch in the ceiling.
    She opens the hatch.  It opens upwards.

    Shark has gathered up some cloth and padding, and uses that to protect the sharp edges of the gap.  He slides into the bowels of the ship and crawls over to Helia.
    He stands up into the access tube.  He sees several access panels going off at various levels.  He moves up the ladder.
    The first panel leads into another area, smaller than the first, clearly between the top of the missile bay and the deck above it.
    The next leads to a corridor, normal human height, no light.  The other panels are into mechanical areas.  There are at least three deck levels to the top.
    At the top of the shaft is a hatch.  Shark opens it to reveal a larger open area.  The ceiling is curved, like the top of the ship, and there are various access ways up here.  It could be fuel tankage, or possibly a hangar of some sort.  He reports that he's made it all the way up the ship, and calls the others in.  He opens the face cover of his zack -- the air still seems good, without the benefit of the suit's filter.
    Everyone -- except Teri, who can't fit through the gap -- climbs through to the shaft, and into the corridor at the first deck.
    Helia doesn't expect them to find anything here; the Imperium would have cleaned it out.  Still, it's well worth a careful look around.
    Shark marks their path through the ship so that they don't get lost.

    They now find themselves in a corridor, running fore and aft.  There are regular internal ship doors, including one at the far end that would pass through to the bridge.  The corridor runs about two-thirds of the length of the ship to the door at the back.
    Shark looks for any way to open the doors, or any evidence that power is on.  The only evidence that they've found so far is that the air is clean in here, but Helia points out that they don't know how the ventilation works in this ship.  Robert says the only other possible evidence is that the ship is black on the outside, but they can see through the windows from the inside.
    Shark pushes hard at one of the doors.  It moves a little, and with Misha's help they get it open.  Beyond is a large stateroom, with a window across the wall opposite them.  There's ample light coming in from the bay beyond.  There's a bed with a mattress -- Helia immediately bounces on it, but it's a soft energy-absorbing foam of some sort.  All the cabinets and drawers are empty, as is the fresher (which is recognizably conventional, with a sink and shower cubicle).  The whole place looks human-style.  The room is much larger than they'd expect for a stateroom on board a ship.
    Shark tries out the sink.  Putting his hands in the bowl produces nothing from the faucet.  Helia gets into the shower cubicle and closes the door, but nothing happens there either.
    Misha is the first to notice that there are no controls at all, not for the sink, not for the shower, nothing.  Helia thinks hard at the sink.  Nothing happens.

    Shark leads them out of the room and to the door at the back.  This one looks like a bulkhead door, and has an access panel beside it.  Shark opens the panel, and cranks the door open.
    It's an airlock.  There are no lights, but the other door has a crank too.  Shark opens it.

    Beyond is what is probably the engineering section.  Large blocks of equipment fill the room, which takes up most of the height of the hull.  Some things are familiar -- catwalks, ladders, consoles, and so on.  There is no obvious power.  There are no wires connecting anything, included some objects mounted above the floor.  It's recognizable where the air purification unit is located; it's not running.  The consoles are all blank, just like the ones on the bridge.  Helia touches the consoles all over, but nothing happens.  There are access tubes -- two each side -- that presumably allow someone to walk out to the pods each side of the main hull.  There are various doors leading forward, at the various catwalk levels, and one leading aft -- it's open, and leads into an airlock.
    Helia recognizes the jump drive, and points it out to the others.  There is probably room here for about a dozen people to work, but there are just three major console areas -- or perhaps it was run by just one person, as the three console sets are arranged so you could operate them all fairly easily.  She says that rather than bringing Mich in now, they should just record everything so he can go over it on board the Third Eye first.
    They go into the aft airlock, where Shark cranks open the other door.

    This is clearly the back of the ship.  All the walls, with the exception of the floor and the bulkhead to engineering, are transparent.  This is a huge observation room, with seats, tables, swing seats, plants (alive!), and so on -- it looks like a garden area or solarium.  Except for the area underneath it, it occupies the entire rear of the ship, several decks high.  There are walkways and doors leading to other levels.  Shark examines the plants -- they don't seem that adjusted to a dry atmosphere.  On the other hand, it feels moister in here, so something is clearly going on.

    Back to engineering, and then down the tubes to the outriggers.  The pods are packed with equipment.  It doesn't look quite like Helia would expect, but she says it's clearly maneuver drive thrusters.

    They have seen no Imperial equipment anywhere, and no sign of other marks like they're doing to keep track of their way through.  There were no personal items, and no small items left in engineering.  It looks like the Imperium has probably cleared out the ship of most -- but not all -- items.

    They continue to go through the ship.  Shark is particularly interested in finding any small craft -- air/rafts, lifeboats, pinnaces, anything at all like that.  Helia searches the small places for anything that might have dropped out of sight, where her small fingers can retrieve them.
    There are some tools in the workshops off engineering.  There are hammers, pliers, hand tools, and so on.  Shark is delighted to find some metal snips -- perhaps their snips can cut their metal!  There is also some portable equipment, which might be handheld diagnostic units and so on, which they take for Mich to examine later.
    One area looks like it might have been an armory, but it has been cleared out.  It definitely looks like weapon storage, though.
    There is nothing in the attic to indicate it's a hangar, as Shark suspects.  It could be fuel tankage, but there are multiple accesses to it right off living space.
    There are areas that look like lounges, and a galley.  There's workshops, and a ship's locker, with equipment all removed.  There's an exercise room, with some human sized mechanical exercise equipment remaining.  There's a scientific laboratory, where almost anything that remains is unrecognizable; an electronic microscope is still there, as are some other items with guessable functions.  There's a sickbay.
    Helia and Robert suspect it could be a Zhodani ship.
    In total, there are twelve suites for passengers or crew.  They could be multiple occupancy, of course, especially considering the size.
    The overwhelming oddity is that nothing is connected to anything else.
    There are several airlocks going to the outside.  They open one, over the port pod access tube, which lets Teri come on board and record everything.  She keeps careful watch in the IR spectrum in case there's anyone moving around on board.
    Helia says once again it is probably a ship of the mind-sucking Joes.  Robert concurs, pointing out that the ship is apparently thought controlled, and they know that there was some sort of psionic experiment going on.
    Shark points out that they can detect psionic activity already with the footballs.  With more development, psionic controls should be possible.
    Misha asks why it can't be voice controlled, but Shark says that in that case the equipment would have connections to each other -- the equipment itself is thinking at each other, and back at the user.  Robert nods, musing that it's an efficient means of communication.

    They've now investigated the entire ship.  After three hours of that, it's time for a lunch break.  Shark suggests cruising back to the ship for lunch and coming back with Mich.  There is food in the workshop area for the others, but Robert would have to go with Shark anyway to get Mich authorized, and then Teri of course is not going to leave Robert's side.
    Misha wonders if they could just bring the Third Eye into this bay.  Physically it would fit, but it would be a lot of trouble to get their own ship here.  Also, Helia is concerned that there might be some defenses -- either on the station or the black ship -- that would open up on their craft.  Shark also points out that they'd have to go back and close the airlock doors on the black ship, or they'd expose the plants and so on to vacuum.

    Robert now has top level security, and it's easy enough to authorize anyone for anything.  He and Shark (and Teri) bring Mich to Arm C.  Passing through the workshop, Mich notices equipment to measure various fields; densitometers with very small resolutions; also various psionic sensors, although not as good as the footballs.  It seems like they were trying to measure anything they could -- it seems like the workshop of someone who's been looking into everything, and hasn't been succeeding very well.  There are no research notes or computer records.  Obviously they did whatever investigation they could, took the data, and left with it.
    Mich examines the helmet unit in the storeroom.  It doesn't take him too long to figure out that it's psionic related, and with a closer look it seems to be a crude amplifier.  Mich is sure he could do better himself.
    Onto the ship, and Mich starts looking around.  He confirms that nothing is connected physically to anything else.  There is also nothing that looks like fuel tankage, pipes, or anything else to indicate the ship runs on fuel.  He identifies the attic area as a cargo bay, not fuel tank or hanger.  He also finds a launch area for about a ten ton small craft -- empty of course.
    The jump drive and maneuver drive are smaller than he would expect, but he confirms Helia's identification of those components.  There is clearly no provision for drop tanks, no fuel scoops, no purification units, absolutely no fuel whatsoever.  His best guess for a power unit is a solid lump, not even two meters on a side, with a single plug on one side.  The plug is behind an access door, and has two metal prongs sticking out.  It's a plug rather than a socket, but its purpose is not obvious.  There is also nothing that he recognizes as an antimatter generator.
    Mich's conclusion: "This is a weird ship."

    Suddenly Teri reports that there's a problem.  Robert has laid down on one of the swings in the garden and has flaked out.  "He was just wandering around, walked over to the swing, and lay down.  He's just lying there."
    Shark rushes back to him and checks him over.
    Robert looks quite peaceful, as if he's asleep on a park bench, with his eyes open.  Shark announces he's in another fish oil trance.
    Misha says they should return to the ship now.  At Helia's suggestion, Shark takes a hair follicle sample (for blood and other analysis) from Robert.
    They return to the Third Eye, taking all their goodies with them.

    Grand Admiral Baron Bridgehead confirms that Robert is in a klatrin trance.  Teri's tapes show him walking around the garden, gazing around.  He looked at the swing, walked over to it, sat down, then lay down.  It's obviously a reoccurrence of his previous trances, but there's no indication what could have triggered it.
    Mich analyses the helmet unit.  It's definitely a psionic amplifier and recorder, not just psionics but air density, temperature, and so on.  Clearly the Imperium thinks the ship has a psionic interface too.
    The hand tools are not too unusual.  The metal snips won't cut the hull material.
    The doctor thinks he knows what some of the sickbay equipment is -- he's seen something similar to it on the Anastasia.  It qualifies as a "good" sickbay by his standards, if they could just power it up.  But it's a bit odd, it doesn't look complex enough.
    "That's one problem," muses Ed, "Nothing on the ship looks quite complex enough."
    The two metal prongs on the box were near the centerline of the ship.  Obviously it's not a fueling port, or it would be nearer the outside of the ship, points out Shark.  He continues, "No wiring anywhere, everything is not radio powered, there doesn't seem to be any power system powering any of the consoles.  Now it could be built into the hull, perhaps."
    They continue looking through the tapes and readings, including the football sensor data.  Nothing seems to help.

    Misha, Helia, Teri, Shark, and Mich are still authorized for highest security level.  They can try exploring the other arms and see if the doors open automatically.

107-1121 : Zett / Klarn / Foreven

    Today Shark and Mich go to investigate the Arms A and B.

    They start with Arm B.  Doors open for them on the way in, through to the workshop and bay.
    There is another ship here.  This one is somewhat different.  It's still shows the same needle configuration with the extended outriggers, but it's much bigger -- maybe 10,000 tons.  It is riddled with holes, in very bad shape indeed.  There is what looks like a gun sponson on the side, with an immense gun barrel pointing down and out from the hull.  It's paper thin hull is torn apart badly, shredded metal everywhere, reinforced by scaffolding from the platform and portable grav units.  It would be almost impossible to walk through this one, it's so badly damaged.  Still, it's pretty obvious that whoever built this one also built the ship in Arm C.
    They return to the central disk, where Shark gives his report.  "We found a ten thousand ton swiss cheese, made by the same people.  It's completely shot to pieces, and would fall apart if we turned the gravity on."

    On to Arm A.  Again Shark and Mich have free access all the way.  Here the storeroom is full of equipment, but with no indication that anyone has worked here.  It's ready and stocked for work, but hasn't been used.  Everything is still in place.

    Here is a ship exactly like the one in Arm C, but apparently intact.

    Shark thinks at it and talks to it, but nothing opens.
    He and Mich go to where they expected a hatch -- over the outrigger tube -- and with very careful searching find a panel for the crank.
    Shark turns the crank and the hatch opens.  There are no lights inside, but Shark notices that the air smells a little different.  This one has not been opened before.
    Shark wants to go in now -- they have another 45 minutes before anyone would come looking for them.  He wants to be first.
    Mich, however, insists they need more people to investigate it.

    The two of them return to the central disk, and as soon as their commdots allow, call up the Third Eye.
    Shark says, "Misha!  We have an unopened easter egg for you.  Without holes in it!  But we found the door."
    Mich adds, "Just like the other one, the little one."
    Shark continues, "Would you like to be the first to open the door?"
    Misha replies, "No, I'll give you that one."
    "Would you like to be there when we do it?"
    "I'll be there!" laughs Misha.  "Let's everybody go, the same crew as last time."
    Robert is still out, though.  They decide to wait until the next day before investigating the ship.  They'll spend the time reviewing the tapes and so on.

    They speculate as to why this ship is here.  Either it was killed by some other weapon that left it intact, or perhaps it was abandoned.  Maybe there's a crew on board, asleep.
    Shark is expecting the remains of a crew.  "They misjumped or something, couldn't refuel, and died."
    Mich says, "What fuel?"
    "Whatever they use for fuel."
    "Maybe everyone's in low berths," Mich continues.
    Shark says, "The other one looks like it was abandoned."
    Helia disagrees.  "No, it looks like it had a hole blown through it, everyone died, and the Imperium scrubbed it."
    "Why didn't they scrub it again for the human remains?"
    "Because they scrubbed it before they brought the other guys there.  Once they'd done that, they started trying human guinea pigs, and then when they had the huge disaster they left it alone and weren't going to mess with it until they thought they were ready to come back.  I'm surprised the Imperium hasn't come after Mich and tried to get him on it."  She looks thoughtful.  "The Imperium could pretty much order him to do it, rather than have to kidnap him."
    Mich says, "Archduke Norris himself has said that they don't need my help."
    "You see, I think if I they knew what to do next, they'd employ Mich, or Helia, or the guy she's working with, or Sally.  They might have employed them.  I think they decided to back off and come up with another plan, and they have not come back to it yet.  I think they will at some point.  Or the people in charge of it, something happened to them."
    Mich says, "These ships are using a different technological direction from what Farol and Helia have been working on.  A totally different direction."
    Misha muses, "There is one other approach.  We do have two psionics on board.  The dragon, and the dog."