On shore, the rest of the crew have been relaxing in the luxury hotel suite. Grand Admiral Baron Bridgehead has been so delighted with the quality of the restaurant and accommodations that he has happily offered to pay for the whole crew.
On the ship, Shark checks into public records of
ships in dock, registry, and so on. There are records of arrivals,
departures, and ships in dock. There are about a hundred ships in
port, of which a are few Imperial. There are two small traders, but
there are also some private yachts. Shark recognizes three of the
yachts as being minor Imperial nobles;
one from Vilis subsector,
and two apparently travelling together from Aramis
subsector. There is no obvious sign of Robin Sherwood or the Berlin,
although her reported area of operations is about a subsector away.
Anyway, for major repairs to a pirate ship she'd be much more likely to
head for Attica.
Most of the ships here are from the Spinward Marches area, not surprising considering that Zorro is just over the sector border in Foreven.
According to the trade information, there is very little import market here. What there is consists of items destined for the starport itself. Export of native materials, crafts, animal and plants, is encouraged; prices are notably high, and would mean that they would have to be specialty items.
There is no official offworld news here, either Traveller News Service or Yonder Veterans Network. Local news is available in both galanglic and zhodani, consisting mainly of advertising. The Imperial ships have not uploaded their news -- there's nothing set up for it.
He checks one more thing -- and is surprised to find that there is no coded contact information in the ads on the starport board.
Shark decides to practice sparkly pink sensors.
He can't do it from his room, as he'd prefer, but he needs to be at a console.
He tries the consoles in engineering, but sensors don't work from there.
He takes up his usual station on the bridge. The symbols on his double
labeled console still don't make any sense to him.
He drops into sparkly pink mode and explores the starport. Most of the ships are on standby; he can see through the ships' windows. He finds he can move his viewpoint around, so he can look at the ships from all sides (including underneath). The range of motion for his viewpoint is limited, but it does cover the whole starport landing field.
He moves his viewpoint over to the far side of the starport building, looking for the restaurant and hotel the shore party are patronizing. He's finding it quite disorienting -- the travelling process, as he shifts his viewpoint, is very weird. Any time he's going further than 500 meters, it gets disorienting. Out beyond a kilometer and it's difficult to get to the right place, and it's very disorienting indeed -- moving the viewpoint very slowly helps, but the further away it is, the harder it gets. Nevertheless, he does manage to look in at the restaurant, the craft shop, and the hotel.
Now that he's figured out he can do this, he concentrates on practicing the technique. His experiment to move up beyond the atmosphere, following a ship, is pretty much impossible. He can observe from the Nightshade, but shifting his viewpoint to follow something moving is hopelessly disorienting.
His next experiment is to see if he can sense on the football's frequency; he gets nothing. Audio works, but not over much distance -- shifting viewpoints is pretty much impossible for sound, and as he had expected, he can't pick up anything from inside ships.
Shark shows Robert everything he's found, from the
public news services and from his extensive sensor session. Robert
immediately traces through the starport network into the Imperial ships,
and picks up the pending TNS news. The merchant security presents
no problems, and his past experience with commercial private security combined
with his new way of looking at things makes the yachts easy to patch into
He finds some news:
Misha arrives back on board the Nightshade
that afternoon, freeing up the First Officer to go shopping. Shark
quickly goes to buy one of the large wooden swords in the native craft
shop. He follows that with an assortment of clothes -- everything
from native clothes, work clothes, dress-up clothes, in local, zhodani,
and Imperial styles. He likes to accumulate a lot of outfits everywhere
he goes. He limits his spending to a reasonable amount -- no more
than 1000 Cr on
a suit. Spending 15 kCr on a single suit, like the Baron did here,
is not in his plan. Of course, Shark pays in cash, giving his name
as "Herb." He meets up with Belladonna, and she accompanies him to
the stores. He complains to her about the Baron using his real name,
since he's supposed to be dead. Of course, after a few months the
word will probably get around anyway -- the free traders here will probably
spread gossip about this black ship with the red maltese crosses.
Shark is disappointed to find that there are no gambling establishments on planet. It's not illegal, and in fact playing cards and other gambling materials are for sale.
He finds that it's not a particularly busy time for visitors -- this is a normal level of activity. Still nothing explains why it's so very busy in this backwater system.
As for security, he observes that the whole area is well covered. Security is subtle, but there is a presence everywhere. Company police, cameras, monitors... good coverage. So Bridgehead is on camera as himself, after his official death. It's in too many systems to eliminate the traces, except by destroying most of the starport.
On his return to the ship, Shark checks the football sensors. The systems doesn't reach into the starport building itself very well, but there is some activity apparent in the walkways and hubs. It's not too busy, just some light signals. There are enough Zhodani nobles on planet to account for this.
Vonish too makes a shopping trip, to stock up on
food and drink as usual. He is particularly interested in the native
foods, and makes a point of taking a good supply of those on board.
He also, somewhat to his surprise, manages to talk his way into an overnight apprenticeship at the native restaurant. He has to shave off all his body hair to spend time in the pit, but that's a small price to pay for such a culinary prize. The day -- and evening -- is most successful, and he acquires a fine knowledge of Zorro cooking.
Shark eagerly takes advantage of this, and practices
the disorienting experience of shifting viewpoints. Now he realizes
that what's really throwing him off badly is the total spherical vision
-- when he tries to move his view, that's a serious problem. He then
suggests they set up a combat simulation.
Robert works hard on the battle simulation project, and after a while manages to get the simulation ready. He observes that the way he'd run combat is to tell the ship to defend itself, firing only if fired upon; everyone else thinks they should run such situations themselves.
They man the stations for a full drill. Shark takes sensors, Mich goes down to his engineering station (not, of course, in sparkly pink mode), Vonish takes the pilot seat to allow Helia to run the gunnery, while Bridgehead goes into sparkly pink mode on the command dais to run tactical. Misha also takes his station on the command level, watching everything on the large holodisplay.
The first thing that happens is that Vonish loses
control of the ship. He's never piloted in sparkly pink mode before,
and the unfamiliar sensations leave the (simulated) Nightshade spiraling
out of control.
Helia pre-empts Vonish out of sparkly pink mode.
"SHIT!" shouts Vonish. "Hey, how about I just use the regular controls? I've never flown before."
"Okay," says Robert, "Let's start again. Vonish,
you can just use the console controls."
It's decided to start with an easy scenario: duplicating the Imperial destroyer they faced last time.
Helia opens fire. She is sure this one will not explode spontaneously like the last one. She scattershots the missiles, and aims the laser at the center of the target. She decides to fire missiles until they do enough damage. She is astonished at the fire rate -- a hundred missiles per second. By the time she has reacted to that, she's launched 300. They take independent paths, jinking wildly, showing accelerations on the order of 40g, and arrive simultaneously at the target. The destroyer is nuked into oblivion. Simulation complete.
The next simulation will be the same, but this time Helia tries to fire just twenty missiles. A hundred missiles vaporize the ship again.
Vonish has not been getting very much practice.
Helia requests a situation with simple avoidance being required, so that
the vilani can work on his piloting. She'll hold off on firing until
Vonish has done some maneuvering.
Shark tries to watch the conflict from a point well above the two ships, but finds he can't move his viewpoint that far.
Same scenario: this time the destroyer fires a spread
of missiles in their general direction. There is no sensor lock evident.
Helia wants to stop the missiles. She points at them rapidly in succession with the lasers.
"Hey," says Vonish, "I thought you were going to let me practice! You got them all."
"Keep evading, he's going to shoot more," assures the larian.
Helia tells the Nightshade that it has to be more realistic -- they wouldn't just stop shooting!
Shark tells her that the sensors show the other ship never had a lock, just fired in their general direction. He turns on the (simulated) transponder. "Now they can see us," he smiles.
The other ship fires again.
Vonish throws the Nightshade into an evasive pattern.
Helia starts taking out the incoming missiles one by one, not too rapidly this time. There's incoming laser fire too -- now that the other ship can lock onto them, they're really letting them have it. Helia throws some lasers in their direction to distract them, to give Vonish time to react.
The incoming laser fire does no damage.
Vonish is clearly struggling. He's doing OK for a while, if rather wild, but soon he makes a false move and slams one of the incoming missiles head on. The Nightshade keeps going, but Vonish has instinctively thrown up his arms to protect his face and has stopped piloting.
Helia realizes that, and blows up the other ship. With missiles.
Helia tells Vonish he's doing very well, and asks
the computer to step back the difficulty a bit and try it again.
This time the opposing ship opens up with lasers. They do no damage, and the ship follows up with several missile salvoes.
Helia tries to fire a single missile at the bow of the other ship, as a warning shot. The fire rate gets her again -- about thirty missiles nail the destroyer simultaneously on the nose.
Vonish dodges the missile spread.
The destroyer is not doing anything now, since it's had its bow section blown off with 300 kt of nuclear missiles.
Helia asks Vonish to bring their ship into a boarding position.
Shark moves his view in towards the damaged section of the ship, but before he can start practicing close-in work, Vonish collides with the derelict.
Mich notes that all the missiles are indeed being powered from the Nightshade's power cube. They are also independently autonomous fire-and-forget.
Robert muses about the holes in the other black ships.
Shark suggests that they were made by ships like theirs -- the third weapon, perhaps. He says, "These ships were never killed by the Imperium. They were killed by others just like it, or different ships with similar technology, and we canned them. Good thought!" he adds to Robert.
They repeat the scenario. This time Helia manages
to fire just ten missiles. The destroyer manages to take down a couple
of incoming missiles, but the remaining ones blow out the bow section again.
Vonish moves to match vectors. He is having some trouble with the high performance of the Nightshade, but manages to get them in.
Once they're matched and close, Shark moves his viewpoint in towards the wreck. He moves his view into the hole in the ship, observing at the remains of bulkheads and dead bodies. He says, "Too bad we don't have a this technology battle suit, or Teri could go in and take the whole ship by herself". But there weren't even vaccsuits on this ship...
Next simulation: two ships, emerging from behind
a planet. Two destroyers this time. They're still running the
transponder, so that the other ships can lock onto them.
The Baron is muttering something under his breath.
"How's that, sir?" says Vonish.
The Baron mutters something positive. He then says, "Sensors, I want to see gravity well effects. See what you can do."
Shark shifts his sensor mode to do as the GrandAm suggests, but suddenly he's totally disoriented, bombarded with a dazzling array of colors. He flounders around, but manages to pick out what he's looking for, and with a thought relays it to tactical.
The two ships split out somewhat, and are accelerating into different positions.
Helia asks Robert to tell the ships to surrender. He does so.
The destroyers lock onto their ship, and fire missiles.
Shark disrupts the locks. He's not sure what he did -- he just saw the locks, and broke them.
Vonish evades the missiles easily this time, sticking to basic simple patterns.
Robert starts working on a computer / commo attack, getting the enemy ships to power down. First he gets a representation of their systems, then merges the symbol with the appropriate shutdown. Both destroyers power down. "So this is another weapon we can use," he says.
The projected path of the ships shows them spiraling down into the world.
One of them powers back up. It's moving away, slingshotting through the gravity well to escape.
Now what? Time to try something more difficult?
Helia asks, "Vonish, what are you ready for?"
"A beer," he says, obviously tired.
The simulation has also taken its toll on the Baron, who is clearly somewhat dizzy and weak from whatever sparkly pink tactical feels like. All he will say is that it was intense and not what he expected.
Helia agrees. She will just blow everything up, and then they can all go to the lounge and relax. At Shark's suggestion, she fires the third weapon system at the planet, but she's out of range; the ships are out of range too.
Vonish considers the simulation over, and leaves his console looking distinctly frazzled. Everyone follows.
Helia says they should do this every day in jump,
so that Vonish can pilot while she mans the guns, since she's the closest
to a qualified gunner on the ship. Vonish is dubious about the effort
involved -- so's the Baron -- so Helia backs her suggestion down to just
a small run every day.
Bridgehead is a bit upset that it's apparently so easy to take out state of the art Imperial destroyers. He mutters to himself as he retreats to the lounge, wondering what a difficult scenario would look like... what can't this ship handle?
Robert makes a mental note to try to automate taking over Imperial ships. While it isn't so bad when he's in the loop, automating it will be very difficult indeed -- there is so much adaptive stuff going on.