It's late afternoon, and several of the crew have
gathered in the Sick Bay on the for an informal discussion.
Helia Sarina has been thinking about taking some klatrin. She asks Grand Admiral Baron Bridgehead, "So how much fish oil do you think would not be too much?"
"I would not recommend drinking any," the Doc replies. "It changes your brain chemistry in strange ways."
"And the problem is? Robert can do everything he can usually do."
"No. He had some strange things with his brain chemistry. Remember him passing out?"
"Sure. But it would help me understand. What if I tried half a dose?"
"I can't recommend trying any. Robert already has his head mixed up, he might as well drink it."
"Robert said I could have some."
"I can't recommend drinking any."
"You don't think it would help me with, like, flying the ship and stuff?"
"I don't think passing out for three days would help you fly the ship, no."
"But we're not going anywhere for the next three days. And if I take a half dose, it's only a day and a half."
"My recommendation is that you not drink any."
"Other than that temporary reaction it would not impair me for duty as far as you can tell, though, right?"
"Yes it would. It changes your brain chemistry."
"So if I can still do my job afterwards, what's the difference?"
"I can't guarantee you can still do your job."
Robert Morris breaks in to suggest that the larian wait until they're in jump before trying it -- she would have six days without any duties then.
Helia presses the point: "So are you forbidding me from it, or just recommending against it?"
"I strongly recommend against it. It is my medical opinion that the Pilot and Astrogator of this ship has a duty to not be impaired."
"Robert, what do you think?"
Robert says, "I think you are impaired now."
"By not knowing the language."
"It's just so much easier to deal with the ship's systems if you know what the systems are in their native form."
"Is there any other way to improve my ability to learn about it?"
"Not that I am aware of."
"So the only thing that would work is to drink the fish oil."
The Baron sputters, "I cannot possibly..."
Helia interrupts, "You've reprogrammed these displays, though, haven't you?"
"How did you reprogram them?"
"They got reprogrammed."
"Did you do it, or did the ship do it?"
"The ship did it."
"How did you make the ship do it?"
"I have no idea. That's not a medical matter. You'll need to ask the computer officer. Anyway, I think nobody should drink klatrin. At all."
"No. I don't think Robert should try it either."
"But Robert says it would help."
"Well that's what he says, but he has altered brain chemistry."
"Yes, but his is altered to the right state for the ship."
"We don't know that for sure."
"He says so. It's not like he's smoking ganja."
"Yes it is."
"Actually it's worse. Because he blacks out, he gets into strange cycles where he could end up in a coma for ever."
"What if I just took a teeny teeny tiny bit, and see if that..."
"No," says Bridgehead firmly. "I can't recommend it at all."
"OK. I tell you what. I'm going to take a very tiny tiny bit, to see if it gives me any ability to understand the language, but not enough to make me black out. Do you think we could figure that out?"
Ed "Shark" Teeth interjects, "Don't you think you should ask the captain for permission to take a drug that could cause you to black out while you're piloting our ship at a critical moment?"
The Doc nods his approval. At last someone is talking sense.
Shark adds, "I think I'm the least critical member of this crew, and if anyone's going to experiment with it, it's probably me."
Meanwhile Bridgehead calls the captain and says there's a conversation he needs to be involved in. Shark suggests they postpone the conversation until dinner; Misha agrees, and tells them all to get back to work.
So does the Doctor, "No-one is to take any unapproved substances until after dinner!"
Helia offers him an unapproved substance -- a piece of candy. Bridgehead scans it with his bioscanner/sniffer, and eats it. He accepts the next one too, also harmless. The third one she offers him has a center containing THC, and when the Doc scans it he says he'll save it until later.
Helia says brightly, "It's approved, cool! If you need any more of those let me know, I've got some."
Meanwhile, in Engineering, Mich Saginaw has been
wondering what it would take to fit his jump vortex generators to this
ship. Unfortunately, he'd need to know a lot more about this ship
first. He hasn't yet seen how the jump grid connects into anything,
and in fact hasn't even seen a jump grid yet. There's the jump drive,
and he can see power lines on the holodisplay leading to it, but nothing
leads to anything resembling a jump grid.
He's also concerned that they haven't figured out enough about the power systems to know whether they'll be able to maneuver after a jump -- or even to complete the jump, for that matter.
Shark has arrived in Engineering. He thinks they should plan a jump-0, and leave a crew on the Third Eye. That way if they run out of power, they can rescue the survivors on the black ship from the Imperial ship. Once they're into jump, they shouldn't be using more than a trickle of energy.
Mich also wants Robert to help him with reading the ship's manual.
Robert mutters that they have a perfectly good computer, and now they want to slow it down with translating into a primitive monkey-boy language. The real problem is that Mich has no concept of communication other than what is comparatively a system of grunts, and that makes it hard for Robert to relate to him. Now if Mich would take his psi helmet off and go into pink sparkly mode, it might help, but there's no way the engineer will open himself up to the danger of mind-sucking joes.
Nevertheless, they do have some common ground -- Mich is pretty decent at computer skills, and with his jack-of-trades abilities he can pick up most things eventually. Still, Robert sees the task as daunting as teaching a chimpanzee to speak fluently in ancient Latin poetry.
Robert does help Mich navigate the system, however, and label yet more controls and display items. They make some real progress in that respect, even though Mich doesn't learn anything more about how the ship works.
Shark had fed an Imperial dictionary and encyclopedia into the ship, and that's lead to a lot more being translated now. In fact, labels sometimes switch over to galanglic as they watch, as if the ship is learning more words from context references in the texts.
By now it's time for dinner. Vonish Kehnaan
has prepared an excellent meal with Imperial ingredients, and serves it
in the lounge. The transparent outer hull in this area provides a
spectacular view of the inside of the bay.
Misha wants to hear about sparkly pink mode. So far only Helia has used this, both for piloting and for sensors.
In answer to his questions, she tells him about it. She controls the mode, and can turn it on or off whenever she wants. She doesn't think it would refuse her, but then it might if it thought it was dangerous. In sparkly pink mode, she communicates with the ship directly.
The conversation continues to the ship's ideogram script. Robert says that every symbol tells you where it is, and when it is. Everything is relative to everything else. You just need the beginning block.
Shark has been staring into space, lost in his own
thoughts. He says, "I just got a funny concept. So we come
from a planet where the people live for ten thousand years, and do funny
things like walk in space. Then we went to a planet where everyone
lived on a floating metal platform, and had these suits that don't live
but are alive and cut things that... Anyway, you know, and they gave
us fish oil. And now we're with a ship where the only person drinking
fish oil can now read the indecipherable language, that we also saw on
the first planet. How many of us want to bet that these three planets
are linked together?"
Misha laughs, "Could it possibly be that we are the center of the universe?"
"What three planets?" asks Mich.
"The planet where you built your antimatter drives that keep blowing up, and where Robert found a language which he couldn't interpret which he's also found on this ship."
Misha asks, "Is it the same language? Or is it just that you can read both of them?"
Robert confirms that it's the same language.
Misha continues, "Now the reason the second planet, the water planet, is connected is that they had the fish oil that enabled Robert to read the things. OK."
Robert adds, "They also had the secret society that looked at you and knew what your path was. There were the watchers... we captured one, and they came and took him away -- they just kind of popped in."
Shark continues, "I expected them in the bridge with the door locked, so I sat in a corner with my gun. And I couldn't shoot him. I shot at him a couple of times but missed, which means I couldn't shoot him."
Misha says, "Do you think that makes for stronger connections, or just...?"
Shark says, "Put all that together and that we're a crew on a ship hunting for ESP. Just all of those things together..."
"So on the tree planet you found writing...?"
"It was a hidden data stream being transmitted over the phone lines from the tree place to the city."
Robert says, "And over the old-fashioned phone lines they were transmitting data that was so close to the theoretical limits of data transfer that it would be infeasible for that technology. The gist of the message, by the way, was 'Don't worry, be happy.'"
Misha says, "Now on the tree planet, part of what was going on was the story of people landing from ships... did we ever see an example of those ships?"
Shark shakes his head. "We decided eventually there were two races. The most recent race was the one that came in the ships only 400 years ago. Then there was this guy..."
Mich says, "Your guide for the hiking was over ten thousand years old."
"...claimed to be. His grandmother was supposed to be, um, 160,000 years old or something like that."
Misha says, "Right, but the latest comers to the planet didn't believe that, but that he was one of the runaways from their own ships."
Mich says, "He also walked in a straight line for a week and travelled several months worth of distance, and then you walked back in less than a week in a straight line and were back where you started."
Misha changes the subject. "So you want to
talk about the go juice."
Shark says, "I wouldn't mind partaking. I think if we're going to risk someone..."
Bridgehead interrupts, "Captain! I strongly recommend that nobody -- nobody! -- drink this stuff!"
"...I'm the least useful on board."
Helia says, "I think it would be very good for me to try a little bit because I need just enough to help me understand the language a little better."
"No, absolutely not!" says Bridgehead, "It could totally impair her function, her life. We don't know what the effect is on her!"
"Oh, come on! My biochemistry isn't that different from any human."
"We don't know what the effect is on Robert at the moment! He was out in a trance, passing out in a coma every day or two."
"I'm not going to pass out, I'm just going to have a little sip."
"How do you know? We don't know what the effect will be."
Robert says, "What, do you think I'm addicted to this stuff? That I'm going to die if I don't take it?"
Helia asks, "Well then, where's the harm?"
"Because it causes permanent changes."
Robert says, "Are you sure my brain chemistry has changed permanently?"
Misha turns to Robert. "Do you have spontaneous blackouts, or just when you take the juice?"
"Well," says Robert, "There were some... the last blackout was when I took the juice. The previous one to that was while I was under stress, concentrating hard on solving these problems with communication. Every time I've blacked out, I've been concentrating hard on solving the riddle of these communications, of this language. So if I don't concentrate, and just put solving the language away, I shouldn't be blacking out. However, I must point out, that the doctor said that I was showing signs of a buildup."
"That's right," says Bridgehead. "He was showing a chemical charge-like buildup in his brain, before the most recent blackout."
Robert adds, "So we have a method of telling, and also to alleviate the charge. We can do another empirical study, and let me charge up."
The Doc nods his agreement, then adds, "I must recommend against anyone else taking this stuff, except unless their brain is already frazzled."
Helia says, "I don't understand the harm in it. It seems to be doing him some good."
Misha announces his decision. "I hear and understand what you're saying, Doctor, but every member of this crew is important one way or another, and we're always in some sort of danger. So everybody should consider that before imbibing, but I'm not going to say you can't."
Bridgehead says, "Well, anyone who does should at least be monitored constantly."
Helia asks, "Doctor, can you determine what dose he's taking, and relate that to what it might be for someone my size?"
"No, because I don't know how it works. There's a cascade effect of metabolic products that keeps changing things."
Misha changes the subject. "What more do we need to learn about this ship before we comfortably can launch?"
Helia says, "I'm ready. Oh. Um. There's the matter of getting the bay doors open."
"I don't see that as a big deal." Misha is confident Robert can do that from aboard the station.
Mich says, "I need to know the power utilization curve, so that we know we're not going to just run out of jump fuel in the middle of our jump, or that when we come back we'll have no maneuver power. What we have are just some batteries."
Misha asks, "I can understand running out of fuel. Do we have any way of knowing how much fuel we have, and how much we consume at any particular moment?"
"No. Not yet. I have not found anything that indicates the amount of fuel."
"OK. Would it make sense to just take it out for a run and see what it does? Do you have some way of finding out how much fuel we have?"
"Right. Do you have any hope of finding such a method?"
"I have hope."
"All right. We'll give you some more time to fulfill your hope. Anybody else? Anything to do before we launch this puppy?"
Helia says she could use more "stuff," personal items, and so on. That goes for most of the crew.
Misha asks, "Has anybody got any sense that the ship doesn't like us?"
Mich thinks that's a really strange question to ask. A ship doesn't like or dislike, it's a machine. He says, "With this thing, if someone didn't want us on it, we would have been wiped out long ago."
Helia says, "I think it's happy to be like, going out. It wants to do what it's supposed to do."
Next issue. Misha says, "Does anybody not want
to take part in appropriating this ship?"
Helia says, "I think we need to double-check with Sagan, because he's probably going to come with us."
Shark says, "I think once the Imperium knows we have this ship, the only way we're going to survive is by being in the ship."
Helia disagrees. "I honestly think that if the Imperium knows we have this ship, and they don't think anyone can steal it from us, the Imperium is just going to do its darned best to make sure that we're on the Imperium side and give them data. That's all they're going to care about. Because they think we're on the Imperium side anyway, no matter where our captain's from. There's, like, too many people here who have too many ties to the Imperium, especially at the level we have them, to take a chance on considering the opposite. As soon as we cooperate with them they're going to think we're on their side."
Mich wonders if the Berlin is one of these ships. Now according to the late Helen Merrick, her ship was TL14 and only 1000t, but since it was supposedly destroyed many years ago, that doesn't mean the current ship masquerading as the Berlin isn't one of these.
Mich adds, "Now if we land at various starports, we're going to need to see if we can change the outside hull color. Emulating a transponder is not difficult, at least. We can also see what it would take to do a sort of reverse EMMask to simulate emissions of a normal ship."
Misha says, "Next issue. Sagan. Why didn't sie come?"
Shark says, "Sie was initially not invited. Then sie was concerned that the station would shoot hir on sight if sie came aboard."
"So sie was concerned with being aboard the space station, not the ship."
Misha says, "The last issue before dinner is what is everyone going to do tomorrow?"
Mich says, "What we'll do is just learn more about the primary systems we're responsible for. And the day after that, we plan on taking this sucker out."
Shark suggests doing a jump-0, once they've done the maneuvering, to test out the jump systems.
Robert points out that they have to teach the station defenses about this ship too. When -- if -- the defenses detect the ship, they need to respond correctly. He's pretty sure that the sensors will register this ship, since they saw their half-ton probe.
They also discuss what to do with the Third Eye, whether to hide it somewhere insystem, or take it with them. They can astrogate it remotely from here, and set up the jump for them. It would probably require Vonish, Bridgehead, and Sagan on the Imperial ship -- but that would of course leave them without a master chef on board this ship.
Shark wants to go over to the swiss cheese ship in Arm B, and check it carefully for bodies. Mich and Helia didn't see any when they were there, but Shark has some skills they don't. He also would like to know how old this ship might be. His other thought is to bring over one non-nuclear missile to blast their way out if they need to -- an Imperial missile won't fit, but the warhead will fit one of these missile bodies.
That evening everyone gets whatever they need from
the Third Eye. Personal items, equipment, zacks and suits,
power unit and fuel supply to run the Imperial items, and so on.
Robert brings his 20 liter container of klatrin.
There is of course a catch. All their library data and so on is on the Third Eye's computers. They may have to take the Third Eye with them after all. And, of course, when they give the guy on Ferle back "his" box, they'll have to arrive on the Imperial ship, not the black one.
Then they have to consider that eventually they'll need to give the Marquis Marcus Crestworthy back his ship. Misha plans going further outside the Imperium for the time at least, but they will go definitely back sometime. They need to decide whether to take the Third Eye with them the whole time, or just park it for a while.
Robert suggests that there's a not-too-distant system where the Marquis' friend lives. They could leave it there -- at least it's closer than Mora.
Baron Bridgehead examines Robert in Sick Bay. He declares him in good shape, with no sign of the chemical charge buildup at this point.
Late that evening, Shark arrives at Robert's suite
for a nightcap of klatrin. Robert serves him a full 40cc, in the
traditional round bottom test-tube glass, telling him it will knock him
out for three days probably. Of course, Robert himself had three
glasses that first time...
Shark starts drinking the oily liquor, wincing initially at the overwhelming smell of rotting fish. He follows Robert's advice to sip it, else he won't get an appreciation of the flavor. It's an acquired taste that grows on the drinker as they sip it slowly.
Helia arrives. She asks for 3cc, as a small taste to see if it does anything. Given her body weight, she figures about 13cc would be a full serving -- she wants just a quarter of that.
Shark notices that the more he drinks, the better it tastes. The oily texture feels pretty good, and as he savors the flavor, he really begins to appreciate it.
Robert joins him with his usual nightly 10cc.
Helia leaves to visit Sick Bay. "OK, Doc,"
she says brightly, "I'm reporting in!"
"What for?" asks the Baron.
"3cc. Check me!"
Bridgehead groans, and tells her to lie down on one of the tables. He tells her there's not a lot of sign of changes, and that he'll need to check her again.
"Should I try some more? I only had a little tiny bit."
"Why don't you stay right here, and we'll keep you under observation."
"I only had 3cc of it!" Helia protests, "No, I'm not going to stay, I'll report back." She walks out of Sick Bay, leaving Baron Bridgehead sighing and shaking his head.
Helia pops her head back in Robert's stateroom.
"Hey guys! Nothing happened here. Do you like it yet?"
"It's OK," smiles Shark.
"I'm going up to the bridge to see if anything's changed, then I might be back for more. Is that OK?"
Shark and Robert nod and go back to enjoying their klatrin.
Up on the bridge, Helia does the sparkly pink thing.
It's just the same as before, nothing's apparently changed. She hurries
back to Robert's room, and gets another 10cc. That would make what
she thinks would be a full dose of 13cc. While it tastes bad initially,
as she keeps sipping it, she realizes that the flavor has a lot of complexity,
and it really tastes rather good after a while.
They finish their drinks, and the party breaks up. Shark says they'll have to go back and get more of the stuff -- not that Robert doesn't have rather a lot of it, of course.
Shark returns to his stateroom to sleep, while Helia goes to her hammock on the bridge.
Robert walks up to the bridge. Helia waves
"Hi" at him as he walks by, and watches him idly.
Robert sits down at station number 8, the one he's set up for communications. He goes into sparkly pink mode.
(Referee and Robert's player only)
Robert drops out of sparkly pink mode.
"Hey Robert!" calls out Helia, "Did it talk to you?"
"No, it didn't talk to me," he says, slowly. "I talked to it. It understood what I wanted. I could have communicated with anything I wanted to."
"So the only thing you found out there was the beacon, right?"
"There isn't a beacon. Nothing gets beyond the walls of the Arm. It's only us inside the Arm."
"That's right. It's cool, though. It really understands, doesn't it? Do you really think that taking the oil is going to help?"
"Yes, I do."
"I don't know how much more it can understand me. It pretty much does what I need it to do when I ask it to. Do you think it's going to get better?"
"Yes, I think it will get better."
"Do you think it's a mind-sucking joe?"
"Is it beneficial?"
"Seems to be."
"Taking the fish oil is better than not taking it?"
"Oh yeah," smiles Robert, "Always better."
"What if you stop taking the oil?"
"I don't know."
"Do you think we need to go back to where we got the zacks and oil?"
"After a while, yes. We want to be further down our path, and I think we'll be better accepted there."
"Have a good night!" Helia rolls over and curls up to sleep.
Misha, meanwhile, has talked with Sagan. The
hiver has of course been
on board the Third Eye the whole time, and sie hasn't even seen
the black ship except on video. Misha explains it's their intent
to switch their main ship to be the black ship. They're going to
take the Third Eye with them at least part of the way -- sie can
stay there, or sie's welcome to come over to the other ship. There
are concerns that transporting through the station will be a problem, so
they're going to wait until the black ship is outside the station before
transferring hir. He explains that they may be in trouble with the
Imperium already, and may be in even more trouble if they take the ship.
Sagan says sie's willing to take that risk. Sie wants to visit the black ship before deciding whether to transfer.
Helia and Shark are both absent from breakfast. The Doctor has them brought into Sick Bay, and he puts them under observation. In addition to muttering darkly about having to deal with the stupid actions of two of the crew -- and what is more his assistant is one of them -- he says "I told you so" as he points out to Misha the changes in the patients' brain chemistries. He says he has no idea what the changes mean, but based on the data he has from Robert, they should be out of it in a while. Whether they'll be competent for duty then or not, he has no idea.
Misha did want to investigate the swiss cheese ship, but Shark isn't there to accompany him. Teri Cralla could go with him, of course leaving her battledress behind because it won't fit through all the holes, but she has no particular desire to go. That leaves Vonish, the Baron, Robert, and Mich, none of which are enthusiastic about the idea. Misha decides to put off the trip, instead practicing with his zack in the gym.
Robert is certainly competent for duty -- as much
as ever, anyway. He sits down at his station again, and tries to
sparkly pink the computer.
(Referee and Robert's player only)
When Robert comes out of sparkly pink mode, Misha
asks him what he was doing.
"Trying to communicate."
"Everything on the ship."
"Did it work?"
Robert nods. "Pretty well."
"All right!" Misha says enthusiastically.
"It will help us with our translation if the crew turns on their personal computers," Robert says. He leaves the bridge and walks through the ship, turning on all the Imperial hand computers and similar devices.
Mich has set up an Imperial power station on Deck
E at location 4, outside the electronics shop. Fuel cells provide
the electricity, with a tank of hydrogen fuel that should last for at least
a month or so.