(24) A Dramatic Return

The Misha Campaign (151-1121)

151-1121 : Goose / Fessor / Foreven

    The Nightshade comes out of jump a day later than expected.  Misha Ravanos orders stealth mode off and the transponder on, in the alternate color scheme -- the red maltese cross on the maneuver drive pods, and the windows being two-way.  They'll run into the mainworld at a leisurely 2g pace.  It will take about five and a half hours to reach orbit around the mainworld.
    That does allow time for Mich Saginaw to run his diagnostics, which he has down to about four hours now.
    The seven day jump is unusual for Helia "Belladonna" Sarina.  Mich and she discover that the reason is the dynamically controlled jump grid -- the ship encountered an area of high viscosity jumpspace, and the adjustments it made were enough to push them into seven days despite Helia's perfect astrogation.

    Ed "Shark" Teeth doesn't wake up before coming out of jump.
    Robert Morris explains that he is not taking klatrin daily any more.  He still believes everyone should take it, but says that it should be taken as a full shot.  He says that taking small amounts build up and make you pass out randomly.  A full shot discharges it, and that's no doubt why it's served in round bottom tubes -- so you have to drink the whole thing.

    While they don't need fuel for the ship, they do need to take on some.  A small amount is needed to run the low tech Imperial equipment.  One advantage of landing on this world is they don't have to pretend to take on jump fuel, since ships here would normally just take it from the sea as they're berthed.
    Helia asks about the fresh water stores on this ship.
    Robert replies that there are some holding tanks, but in general it's all handled by the recycling and regeneration systems.

    Helia brings the ship into orbit.  Their transponder has been queried, and Robert opens up a channel and obtains permission to land and dock.  He tells the crew that the ship can do that automatically for them if they want.  His console is the only one that has no galanglic, just native ship script, and he communicates with it by waving his hands at it.  Sagan, the hiver, watches him with interest.
    Last time they were here, Helia had to make an unpowered landing in the Third Eye.  This time she has no such trouble, but it is her first atmospheric landing for the black ship.  She drops into sparkly pink mode, and finds it a most exhilarating experience.  She brings the ship down with apparent glee and a lot of giggling.  She moves into their assigned dock, Berth 3.

    As Helia comes in to land, she suddenly gets the odd feeling that her zack is holding water away from her, and she needs to take it off.  She comes out of sparkly pink mode.  She looks puzzled.  "Hello, we've landed," she says, and scampers off the bridge.
    The view outside is rather unusual.  The ship is floating in the ocean, but the water, instead of lapping against the hull is being held by some invisible force about 5 meters away from the ship.  It's like the ship is sitting in a large bubble.
    Helia comes back, goes into sparkly pink mode, and there's a splash as the water rushes up against the ship.  She drops out of sparkly pink, and says, "OK.  That makes sense."
    In engineering, Mich sees the power consumption drop.
    Misha asks, "What was the bubble all about?"
    Robert says, "The maneuver drive was holding us above water."
    "No," says Helia.  "Let's just say, I should definitely fly wearing my zack."  Misha notices she's now wearing her plain suit, not her zack.  She landed with the zack on.
    Misha asks, "Why a bubble?  Some sort of magic force field around the ship that you turned off?"
    "You know how the zack basically puts a magic force field around you?"
    "Well, magic's maybe not the right word, but you know how the zacks protect you from things?  Like, water?  Like you can swim underwater wearing the zack?"
    "Well, OK, I wouldn't call it protect me.  Insulates me, prevents the water from touching me, yeah."
    "Right.  And I was wearing the zack, flying the ship, and it landed on the water, the zack kept the water from touching me.  And the ship."
    "The zack doesn't keep the water five meters away from me!"
    "Well, think of it as a relational skin.  The zack gives you a layer around your body, and I'm saying that when I landed, my zack gave us a layer around the ship."
    Robert adds, "So when you're in direct thought input mode, it's taking your current environment into account.  That makes sense."
    "Something along that line, yes."
    Misha asks, "So you were still in direct contact with the ship when you left the bridge?"
    "All of us are in direct contact with the ship, but that's not what he was saying.  He's calling sparkly pink mode direct contact with the ship.  It is."
    "But it can't just be sparkly pink mode, because you went out of sparkly pink mode."
    "I landed the ship.  I came out of sparkly pink mode, and the ship stayed where I told it to stay.  I could not land the ship so it was touching the water while I had the zack on.  It makes sense.  What would really be interesting...  I'll be right back."  Helia runs off the bridge.
    Helia returns to the bridge, this time wearing her zack.  "Let me check something."  She goes into sparkly pink mode.  The water remains next to the ship.

    Misha realizes they are actually in the docking berth, and tells Helia to stop what she's doing and put the ship back.  It's too late.  There are a number of people watching the ship from the starport.  "Turn it off, Helia!" he says.
    Helia thinks that she really wants the protection of the zack on the ship if she can -- she feels protected.  Helia drops out of sparkly pink mode.  The bubble is around the ship again.
    Misha is frantic.  "Helia!" he cries.
    Helia says, calmly, "There's a problem.  If we leave the ship like this, we may be more protected than if we don't.  It really does extend the zack's protection if I land the ship being aware of having the zack on.  I think the ship is projecting something.  And this is the land of the teleporting gunslingers.  You really want to be exposed to those people?"
    "If we didn't want to be exposed to those people, we wouldn't have come here."
    "OK."  Helia goes back into sparkly pink mode and thinks.  The bubble vanishes, and the water splashes up against the hull again.  She drops out of sparkly pink and beams happily at Misha.
    Misha says, "So now we've attracted a crowd."
    "Oh, they'll just think somebody was having trouble parking."
    "My impression from the other astronauts here is that this is not a common occurrence, ships that make water come and go."
    "No, it's not.  You can just tell them, use my other name, and they'll think I'm not Helia.  They'll think I'm new."
    "New to what?"
    "Parking in water."
    Misha laughs, "Ladies and gentlemen, what you saw was not a phenomenal magic trick, it was just an inexperienced pilot!"
    Helia gets serious.  She says, "At all times while on this planet, we should have you, or Ed, or me, in our zacks, ready to go into sparkly pink mode and say 'I want the zack's protection to be extended to the ship.'  At all times one of us should be ready to do that just in case."
    "I've never been in sparkly pink mode," says Misha.  "How do I do that?"
    "Sit there and think, 'I'm the Captain of the ship, I want to do Captain things.'"
    Misha laughs, but does it anyway.  He goes into sparkly pink mode.

Misha in Sparkly Pink Mode
(Referee and Misha's player only)

    Misha drops out of sparkly pink mode.  Actually, he almost staggers out of it.
    "See?" says Helia.  "Isn't it cool?"
    "It's different," says Misha.

    Their object here is for Vonish to stock up on supplies.  Robert wants to get some more klatrin.  Grand Admiral Baron Bridgehead wants to pick up more of the highly nutritious and most excellent beer.
    Misha says that the crew can do what they want, but they must have permission before leaving the ship.
    Zacks are illegal here, but there is no way to tell a zack from the regular suit, at least as far as they know.

    Ed Teeth has woken up.  Bridgehead explains to him that he's not charged.

Shark's Klatrin Experience
(Referee and Shark's player only)

    Bridgehead explains that he was out for just over three days, and that they're on Goose.  He advises Shark to stay away from the fish oil in future.

    Shark walks onto the bridge.  the Nightshade is floating on the ocean, docked at the starport.  There is quite a crowd watching from the dock.

    The crowd on the dock parts.  Six figures in black robes are walking out to look at the ship.

    Helia turns to Ed, and suggests that he tell the ship that no-one is to be allowed on board except the crew.  She explains to him how to enter sparkly pink mode as Security Officer.
    Nothing happens.
    Ed says, "Ship, only current occupants of the ship are allowed on the ship."  He looks at the strange symbols, but none of it makes any more sense.
    Helia suggests Misha might want to go sparkly pink and make sure that is the case.

    The black-robed figures kneel before the ship, heads bowed slightly.  The dock workers move back.

    "Let's go!" says Robert.  He leads Mich, Vonish, Helia, Ed, and Teri Cralla (in battledress with FGMP-15) to go ashore.

    But which door to use, and how do they get to the dock?  They obviously don't have the external stairway they used in the space station.  Ed laughs and says he's half expecting a ramp to extend magically from the door.
    Ed walks to the port external iris valve in the corridor behind the bridge.  As he does so, the bridge door closes, and a new door they've never seen before closes off the corridor to the stateroom.  The iris valve opens, letting in the cold, wet, windy air of Goose.
    A gangway extends magically from the door to the dock.  Ed smiles.

    They walk out onto the 3 meter wide gangway.  It's not slippery, despite the salt spray driven by the harsh wind into their faces.  The door closes behind them as they leave, and they proceed to the dock.  They turn towards the starport and start walking towards the six robed figures.
    One of the figures starts nudging the one next to him, and apparently mutters some sort of comments.  There is a brief whispered conversation, then one of them stands up and walks towards them.  He gets about ten meters away and stops.
    Helia raises a hand in greeting.
    The figure exclaims, in a mixture of disgust and incredulity, "You?"  It's the teleporting man who visited them on the bridge.  "What are you doing?"
    Helia says, "Walking."
    Ed says, "Altering your perception of reality."
    The man turns back to the crowd on the dock and waves them away.  They start walking off.  He turns back and sighs, "What did you do with the crew?"
    Ed replies, "We are the crew."
    "No, the crew.  What did you do with them?"  He is starting to sound annoyed.
    "We are the crew.  Would you like to join us for a beer at the bar.  Come on, I'll buy you one."  Ed walks off towards the starport.
    "Wait!  You are telling me you did not kill anyone?"
    "On this ship?  No."
    "All right."  The man sighs and starts walking with Ed and the rest of the shore party.
    Shark says, "My name's Ed."
    "I know."
    "And yours, sir?"
    "It's not important."

    They proceed into the starport.
    The stevedores move aside into their normal positions.  Shark notices that they have knives ready.  No-one else notices the weapons, just that the dock workers ignore them.
    They carry on through the starport rings to the bar where the fish oil saga started.  As they get deeper, they have to relay the commdots through the battledress; the connection is rather fuzzy at times.
    In the bar, Ed marches over to a table and calls for beers all round.  It's the same bartender as last time here, and he brings a beer to everyone, including the robed man.
    Ed turns to him, and says, "Excuse me for being nosy, but who were you expecting?"
    "How did you get that ship?" is the reply.
    "We found it lying about."
    "Lying about."
    Helia says, "It was empty and waiting."
    "Why did you take it?"
    Ed says, "Ships are expensive."
    Helia says, "No, it was more than that.  Because it let us."
    "It likes us, anyway."
    The man resumes his questions.  "Where was it?  What were the circumstances?"
    Helia says, "It was abandoned in a hangar."
    Mich adds, "The ship has never been used."
    Ed says, "I'm not sure that the precise location should be discussed."
    The man says, rather more pleasantly, "It does not need to be discussed.  Just tell me."
    "Only if you tell me why first."
    "I want to find out your motives, your motivations..."
    Helia asks, "Why were you bowing to the ship?"
    "I was not bowing to the ship."
    "Why were you bowing to the people you thought were in the ship?  We gave us some information, you give us some."
    "It doesn't work that way.  Where did you find it?  What sort of hangar?"
    Helia says, "A big one."
    "Where was this hangar?"
    Mich adds, "In a system far, far, away."
    Ed adds helpfully, "The ship is registered out of Dulu.  It's name is Nightshade."
    "If you say so," says the man.  "What happened to its crew?"
    Mich replies, "It never had any crew."
    "How do you know?"
    "Ship's logs are totally empty."
    Helia says, "It was waiting for us."
    Mich continues, "It was manufactured, put in storage, and we were the first people to take it out."
    The man says, "All right.  I believe you.  What do you plan to do with it?"
    Mich says, "Travel."  Helia says, "Ride it.  Stay alive."
    "Do you know what it is?" continues the man.
    Helia says, "It knows what we are.  Can you tell us?"
    "No," he says.
    Shark says, "Do you know what it is?"
    "That doesn't matter."
    Mich says, "More importantly, did you recognize what it was?"
    "Someone... told me."
    Helia asks, "Is that why you and your friends were kneeling to the ship?"
    Mich asks, "Was it just the appearance of the ship, or how it behaved when we landed?"
    Shark asks, "Would that person like to meet the Captain of this ship?"
    "No," replies the man.
    "You can speak for that person?"
    Helia asks, "Can you tell us more about what you know about the ship, and the people that would normally been on it."
    "We have been... expecting one."
    "Really?" says Helia, surprised.  "We have seen another one."
    "Yes."  The man sips his beer, holding the glass with black gloves over delicate fingers.  He's still very careful to make sure no-one can see his face.
    Shark finishes his beer, notes where Teri is standing by the table, and moves it around so that she could perhaps get a glimpse the man's face.  He'll review the tapes later.  He asks, "What do you say a fair price for a keg of beer would be?"
    The man says, "We will cover your costs."  Nevertheless, he sounds reluctant.  "If you get news, come back."
    "News of?"
    "You'll know."
    "Are there any other specific questions you'd like to ask us now?  Text you'd like us to read?"
    "When were you expecting the ship to arrive, by the way?"
    "When there's news."
    Helia says, "We may have seen it."
    Mich asks, "A ship this size, or larger?"
    "What's the news?"
    Helia says, "They were unable to deliver any news.  The ship was abandoned, as opposed to this one.  That ship was dead."
    Ed mentally groans at how much information they're giving to him.  In return, the man is doing a fine job of giving up very little.  Ed says, "When was the last time one of these ships stopped by?"
    The man says, "It doesn't matter."
    "That long ago, huh?"
    Mich asks, "Does the big red cross give us away?  Announce our presence more that if it wasn't there?"
    Ed says, "We'll probably be here for a day or so more, so if the man who told you about the black ship would like to come and talk to us..."
    "He is of no importance."
    Mich asks, "Do you have any news you want us to deliver?"
    "To whom?"
    "You'll know.  And the news is that we're still here.  Tell them where."
    Ed asks, "What about the other organizations that are here.  Are they part of the we?"
    The man replies, "We are all part of the we.  But when I saw you were impostors, and I dealt with you last time, I have jurisdiction over contact with you."
    "He is our interface to the organization, by right of first contact," explains Ed.
    "Appearing on our bridge," says Helia.  She turns to the robed figure, "Could you do that today to this ship?"
    The man says, "I have no need."
    "You've been on another ship like ours?"
    "That's not important."
    "Do you understand the workings of ships like ours?
    "That's not important."
    "It might be to me," insists Helia.
    Mich asks, "Would you like to come aboard?"
    "No," replies the man.
    Helia continues, "Have you ever... flown... a ship like ours?"
    "You enjoy your stay.  I will speak with you before you leave.  Do not leave without speaking with me again."
    "Can you help us?" says Helia, but the man has already teleported away.

    Helia says to the shore party at the table, "It was more important to tell him that the other ship was dead.  In the long run, it was more important."
    Mich adds, "And there were ships."
    Shark says, "We should not give away information."
    Helia says, "No, there was something about him, that was important."
    "That may have been, but we shouldn't have given it away quite that early."
    Shark pulls out his hand computer, and emails Robert to see if he can get a reflected image from Teri's tape.  He looks up, then says, "Let's go shopping.  No more zacks this time."
    Helia says, "I think Robert needs one."
    "Well, if Robert wants to come get one...  Let's go buy some fish and some bread and other stuff.  Barkeep!  We'd like a barrel of beer delivered to our ship."
    "A hogshead," corrects Mich.
    "Oh, and some spirits," says Helia.  "Brandies, liqueurs..."
    The bartender looks at her and says, "You want klatrin?"
    "Tell me something, do you have to continue to drink it once you start?"
    Ed says, "More precisely, have you ever met someone who stopped drinking it?"
    "Yes," he replies.
    Helia asks, "What's the trick to klatrin?"
    "What trick?"
    "It seems like if you don't drink the right amount, it can adversely affect you?"
    "Why do you think it comes in a glass that's rounded?  It's so you have to drink the whole thing before you put it down."
    "Can you give me a klatrin glass for somebody my size?"
    "I'd just give you the same size everybody else has.
    "It doesn't matter that I'm smaller?"
    "No.  You can just drink it."
    "It won't matter?  I drink less because I'm small."
    "I thought if I drank more it might be bad."
    Ed smiles, "You'll turn into a fish faster."
    Helia asks, "Why do people drink klatrin.  It's not for the taste."
    The bartender replies, "Why do you drink beer?  Why isn't it for the taste?  People like it."
    Helia says, "We'll take a small barrel of klatrin.  Do you have anything other than beer or klatrin."
    "Just water."
    Helia offers him some off-world candies, but he declines.

    Shark leads them off on their shopping trip.  They head for the bazaar.  Vonish suggests they go on -- he has a lot to do -- but Shark doesn't think they want to split up that much.  Their chef insists that they'll be bored, but they think it's safer.
    Vonish immediately heads for the food supplies.  He spends his time arguing loudly -- but happily -- with the shopkeepers.
    The rest of them pick up food for lunch.  Shark is surprised that the shopkeepers wave off payment.  He says to one, "How did you know not to charge me?"
    "I don't understand the question, I'm sorry."
    "Why aren't you charging me?"
    "It's all right, it's paid for."
    "I know.  Who paid for it?"
    "It's paid for."
    One more experiment by Shark -- he takes his medical diagnostic equipment (the non-Imperial version), and points it surreptitiously at one of the vendors.  It shows red.
    They continue through the bazaar, trying various foods.  The bread is a little sticky in texture, but not bad.  The flavor is a bit unfamiliar, but not bad at all.  Helia hands a piece to Vonish when he pauses for breath; he asks about the recipe, and she points him at the bread vendor.
    The stalls have no fruits, or anything recognizable as vegetables.  No figs, dates, apples.  Helia looks for sweet things, and finds something like a sweet rice cracker.  She likes it; she offers the shopkeeper some of her candy -- he likes it.  There isn't anything like it here.  Helia takes a bunch of rice crackers -- apparently they keep quite well if kept dry.  She's offered some different things too, and the shopkeeper offers to make a sizable delivery to the ship.

    Shark and Teri keep an eye on the whole group as they shop.

    Helia's next target is a bookstore.  To her surprise, they're all in galanglic.  She looks for books about this world, and finds some.  She buys them all, asking to have them delivered.  She muses that they haven't seen any children here, despite wandering around at quite diverse times.  They don't normally see many children on planets they visit -- except Digitis -- but they have been around here at sufficiently different times to expect to see some.
    She looks for other interesting books, such as on ships or mathematics, or starmaps.  There is an atlas of Goose including with the shipment she's picked out already, but that's about all.
    There are no books for young children.  There are some for sub-adult level, but nothing younger.
    Helia asks, "Sir, can you tell me where there's a toy store?  You know, toys, games?"  She pulls out some items from her bag to show him.
    "I think you can find some things down... hmmm... that way.  It's a long way..."
    Helia looks around for jewelry stores.  Shark doesn't expect her to find anything, as there's not much metal here.  She does find some decorative things, stones, and so on.  She buys some -- hands the vendor some money and insists he keeps it, even though the stuff is paid for.
    Shark glances around for anything with maltese crosses, but finds none.

    The next stop is the tailor.  Helia is first there, and says cheerfully, "Greetings!"
    "Greetings," says the tailor, cautiously.
    "Do you remember me?  You made me a suit?"
    It does look like the same person.  "I thought I had bought some stuff here a while back, less than a year ago?"
    "Ah.  That would explain it.  I'm new."
    "Oh, I'm sorry.  Is the gentleman that was here going to be here sometime?"
    "No, I don't think so.  He's... No."
    "Is he retired?"
    A pause.  "Yes."
    "Can you tell me where I can find him?"
    "No, not really, I'm not sure."
    "That's a shame.  I wanted to say hello to him because I really liked the things he made."
    "I can get word to him.  He's my brother."
    "Well, my name is Belladonna, although he may remember me under a different name.  Just describe me, I'm sure he will remember me."
    "I will."
    "I just wanted to talk to him.  I don't think we're going to be here long enough for me to commission any work, although my cousin was very interested in getting some clothing like I have.  She may come by.  She looks very much like me.  I don't know when, though, she's elsewhere.  Well, thank you.  We're in the harbor, if you'd like to send a message, I'd like to just speak with him."
    "I'll see what I can do."
    "Thank you."  Helia does order some clothes to be made in her size -- for Helia, not for herself.

    They walk back over to where Vonish is buying fish.
    Ed asks, "So, are you getting the same price you did from this guy last time?"
    "Well, I tried to," says the vilani, "But he won't take anything.  It sort of takes the fun out of it, but even so..."
    The shopkeeper clearly recognizes them, and Shark notices that it is indeed the same person as last time.
    Shark is distracted by the thought of food.  They get themselves lunch at the food court -- fish on a stick, bread, and beer.

    Now that Vonish is done with his shopping, they set off in search of a toy store.  Helia asks them to keep a lookout for any women that might look pregnant, or children.
    Shark looks at the clothing shops.  All are for normal-sized people, nothing for children.
    Vonish makes a stop at the bookstore, picking all sorts of volumes to be shipping back to the Nightshade.
    There are no gun shops, as such, but there are harpoon guns and utility knives, shark knives, and so on.  Helia is disappointed to find there are no knives made from shark's teeth.
    Helia and Shark finally come across a toy shop.  There are dice, yo-yo's, and so on; all suitable for adults, no specific child's toys.  Helia picks up a butterfly yo-yo, and the most elaborate yo-yo she can find.
    Helia asks the shopkeeper, "I'm looking for a present for my 10 year old niece.  Do you know where I might find something?"
    "Not here... is she here?"
    "I... don't think you'll be able to get anything then."
    "There's nothing for children here?  A different part of town?"
    The shopkeeper is looking very uncomfortable.  He's turning slightly red, like it's an embarrassing subject.
    Shark moves between the two of them and changes the subject, asking about some random toy.  Now he looks at it, he has no idea what it is.  Neither does Helia.
    The shopkeeper demonstrates: "You go like this , and that, and it whirrs and clicks, and things move in and out."
    Helia notes that it's like an elaborate low tech clockwork automaton.  She thinks it's cool, and buys it.
    Shark explains that they need to get back to the ship.  They leave the bazaar, and return to the Nightshade.

    Back on the ship, Shark and Helia explain to Misha that there's no sign of children, or anything that is a product for children.  Talking about children makes people uncomfortable and embarrassed.  They theorize that either the children are kept somewhere else, or they don't have children.  Shark wonders idly if they are related to the Jann on Digitis, although as Helia points out, the Jann do have children.

    Robert is disappointed to find that the starport computer is just a simple Model-1 type machine, which is used only to keep arrival and departure records.  No other ships -- space or surface -- are currently at the starport.

    Shark asks Robert what he's managed to get from the video of the robed guy's face.  Robert reports that the man was wearing a fine black mesh over his face, so aside from showing that he has a nose and a mouth, there are no features visible.  It's clearly a cloth mask, not like the clear face cover that the zacks have.

    Shark drops into sparkly pink mode for the sensors.  He wants to look at the underside of the starport, but not a lot is visible.  It's probably all metal, but much of it is overgrown by weed.  Some areas are cleared off as if there's an ongoing project.  The starport is also apparently anchored with some large chains.  There is no-one working under there right now; there are also no vehicles, surface or subsurface, in the area.  Last time they were here, there were four ships at the starport.
    Shark then checks the football sensors.  Nothing aside from sparkly pink mode events (or failed attempts to start sparkly pink mode) shows up.