Lap'da suggests that if they want to return to the Sheriff's,
that they just hang out here until evening, get a good rest, and then they'll
have just a short walk tomorrow morning.
They take that suggestion. Most of them decide to use the day to practice and train. Shark wants to practice his long blade skill with someone -- Kalida, being an ex-Marine, has the requisite cutlass skill and is happy to work with him. Lap'da works with Robert to help his speaking. Shark also collects some plant samples that could be interesting to analyze back on the ship; he is interested to note that his ship-powered analyzer is indeed working this far away from the Nightshade.
Helia flies around, looking at the branches up by the canopy, and playing with the wildlife. The creatures are very cautious at first, but after a while some of them will come within several meters to feed on things she puts down for them. She comes down, hovering by Shark, and says, "You know, cousin Edward couldn't fly either, but we got her past that. Don't you want to learn how to fly, Shark?" Shark mutters something about not wearing his zack, but Helia demonstrates that has nothing to do with it.
Having exercised well, they all sleep well that night.
It is indeed a mere eight kilometers to Cormor Home.
They easily pick out the pulsating lights of the guest quarters. Lap'da
sits down on the grass and watches them go in. Their plan is to talk
to the Sheriff as soon as they can, and try to get answers to the remaining
loose ends. But first, clean up from a few days in the woods...
Shark calls on the guest phone, and invites the Sheriff to join them for dinner. While they wait, they discuss what they're going to ask him.
The Sheriff arrives for dinner. Light conversation
occupies them for a while, talking about their walk into the forest and so
Shark asks, "Have you met Lap'da's family?"
"That's hard to say," replies the Sheriff.
All agree that is very true. Shark continues, "We are very interested in getting in contact with Miss Jane Southcombe. You said she was a visitor. Do you know who she works for?"
"Not exactly, no."
"Even a vague idea, a rumor, an innuendo, a guess?"
"Some small rich group. I'm not sure where they're from. They have an interest in this place, and some of the trade and so on. They provided me with help setting up my zuchai array, and equipment that runs off that."
"What do you think they get out of the arrangement?"
"I'm not sure. They get some trade goods. They're involved in the mushroom trade."
"Do they get a particular type of mushroom?"
"Yes. The stuff we grow -- I think you've probably seen it out there. It gets shipped out, most of the trade going through Denotam."
"As a foodstuff?"
"Not really, not in that sort of quantity. I'm not sure exactly what it's used for, but it seems to be fairly valuable to them. They've provided me with a lot of help. They get to come and stay here if they want, or they can use the facilities here. Sometimes information, if there's anything they need. It's well worth cooperating with them. Yes, they're generous, and have certainly treated me well."
"Good. May I ask what information they're interested in?"
"Hm. I've never quite sure. Some things they ask for, it doesn't seem to match up or make much sense."
"I was a... puzzle solver for a long time. You've piqued my interest, and I'd love to see if I could fit the pieces of the puzzle together."
"Well, I tend not to remember what it was they asked for."
"Since we're on a galactic walkabout, and our current curiosity is in reaching Miss Jane, could we take the message? As a sort of letter of introduction rather than a request?"
"I doubt it. I send a message out, and it gets transmitted or sent out somehow, and somebody turns up if it's appropriate. I don't know where the message goes. There are certain channels I use."
"And you're willing to share those channels?"
"No. I am pretty sure she's probably not in the Imperium. So she's probably somewhere in the other direction, out more towards the Zhodani Consulate." The Sheriff pauses, then continues slowly and deliberately, "Be sure you want actually want to meet her. Do you think that would be to your advantage?"
"As a person who values knowledge above almost everything else, yes, I do."
"You say almost everything else. What do you value more than knowledge? Be careful you're not sacrificing it for your knowledge."
"You would never trade your life for knowledge alone, although you might risk it. So is there anyone around who might know her better? Not here? Well, do you know anyone anywhere that would know her better?"
"Yes. She's not the only one who visits here."
"Do you know how we can get in contact with any of them?"
"Yes, I would send a general message."
Kalida asks, "How long does it usually take them to respond to that?"
"It depends on how important it is to them. They are busy and have many demands, I gather."
Shark continues, "If we can be of assistance to you, you can leave a message..." He gives the Sheriff a few message drops that will work. He then thanks the Sheriff, and they drop back into light conversation.
The Sheriff says, "Of course the rain didn't affect you in the forest, I suppose?"
"No," replies Shark. "It continued to rain?"
"Yes. This is pretty much how the rain comes here. It's a steady stream when it comes, it's not like we really get many storms here."
"And the ones you do get, you seem to handle quite well with your equipment."
"Yes," says Mich, "Your lightning suppression system."
"Lightning?" the Sheriff asks, "I can't remember ever seeing any lightning here. Hm."
"How's your lightning suppression system working?"
"I've never seen it be used. We've run a test every now and then, but..."
Shark asks, "How long has the array been in place?"
"Oh, about twenty years."
"And Miss Jane and her associates helped you put it in."
"Did they suggest it?"
"It was something they could help with that nobody else could."
"So it was your idea, I take it."
"I was looking for something to do that sort of job."
"But you've never seen lightning."
"Exactly. But it's... quite an effective suppression system."
"It works quite well," says Mich, "Because there's no lightning."
Shark says, "A hundred percent effective, in all cases."
The Sheriff makes a non-committal noise.
Mich ponders that he's only seen some of the crystals from the array, not the array itself. He's also seen plans for the lightning suppression system. It must be impressive -- there are a lot of crystals, and they are all of the finest quality.
The Sheriff continues, "You haven't actually seen the crystal array, have you?"
Shark asks eagerly, "Could we?"
"I'm not sure. Like wanting to seek out Miss Southcombe, you need to be careful what you ask for. Yes, I think one of you could see the array, briefly. We could do that right away, if you like. Oh, and I'd appreciate it if you don't mention what you see to anyone -- except your group in a secure setting. This is a secure setting, of course, as no doubt Mr. Teeth will have determined to his satisfaction."
It's immediately apparent that Mich is the one for the job. The Sheriff leads him down to the forest, then off in a ground car.
They arrive at one of the large silos in the industrial
area, the same one that Mich visited to work on the crystals before.
This time they go down in an elevator some undetermined distance. There
is no sense of motion at all in the elevator car, and no indication of how
far they've travelled.
From there, they continue through several guard stations. It is clear that it's only because the Sheriff himself is escorting him that Mich can pass through. All the guards are armed, and the impression is that there are probably a lot of other security precautions too.
Eventually they come to a viewing room, apparently overlooking the zuchai crystal installation.
"If we walk out here," says the Sheriff, "We'll be able to see the array."
The Sheriff warns Mich that it won't look like anything he's seen before. He gestures for Mich to go ahead onto the platform, while obviously not looking down on the array himself. Mich steps up, and looks down on the crystal array.
When Mich wakes up, he's back in the forest. What
he saw was indeed not anything he'd seen before. Yes, it was a zuchai
crystal array. However it was really weird, because it was clearly
an array in more than three dimensions, a hypercube of crystals. Mich
has no idea how you would even create an extra-dimensional space that would
allow construction of such a thing. It twisted his mind just to look
The Sheriff makes sure Mich is OK, then says he has to leave him for other business. He re-iterates that (as he said about Miss Southcombe) they should be careful what they ask for, in case they get it.
The driver takes Mich back to the guest quarters.
Up in the guest lounge, Shark has been explaining to
Kalida that yes, sending a message to Miss Jane will probably put not just
Mich back in danger, but all of them. On the other hand, he's already
asked Robert to keep a watch for transmissions.
Mich returns. He's looking rather pale and unsteady.
Shark says, "I take it you were impressed?"
"Yes. It's hard to get your thinking straight around what they did with the zuchai crystals." He explains that the layout is impossible to do with their level of technology. "There's no way to connect it that way. In fact, they have more crystals in the three-dimensional space than is possible. The crystals seem to be in at least four dimensions."
"That would almost explain..." starts Shark.
"...how she knew about matter phase inverters," finishes Mich.
"And it also may explain in some ways the distances we move in the forest. Couldn't we be 'jumping', but not spending the six days in jump in this timestream?"
"Hm. Could parts of the zuchai crystal array be in jumpspace? It's hard to say -- just viewing it caused me to pass out." Also, he says, there were a lot of crystals in that array -- it's hard to tell, but there had to be thousands. One lightning strike is not enough to power a jump drive, and there's a lot more crystals here than in a jump drive... Of course, zuchai crystals are just short term storage -- too long, and the crystals start to disintegrate. These were very high quality crystals, which does lengthen the time, but it's still short term storage.
Shark recaps the issue of getting the Sheriff to send a message to Miss Jane. Having Robert track the message would make a difference, if that's possible. Robert points out that last time he couldn't trace the message, just detect that there was one -- and for all he knows, perhaps the Sheriff just posts a message on a bulletin board.
Shark then says that the crew has come across two pieces of technology that are beyond Imperium -- not counting the Nightshade. There's a zuchai crystal array that is currently technically impossible, and a previous ship exploded in a technically impossible way -- the antimatter bomb that blew up the Anastasia. His point is that being involved in both of them links them. The Anastasia had Mich's first pass at his technology.
Mich says that Professor Farol had a single large antimatter power unit, and Mich modified it to use a number of smaller units. That made it safer and easier to control.
Shark says they're essentially dealing with a clandestine security organization and technological sabotage. If they get too close to making a technology leap, this foreign body is eliminating those involved, or at least discouraging them, or misdirecting them, or whatever.
Mich says there would have been a much easier way to dispose of the Anastasia than to take a chunk out of Pimane.
Shark counters that the Imperial government knew what devices were on that ship -- that's why they were recovering it -- and now they have the feeling that it's an unstable technology.
Shark returns to the subject of the communication from the Sheriff -- he's satisfied that if it's sent with a conventional means they can track it, otherwise they can't.
They discuss how long it should be before the date they set for a meeting here with Jane Southcombe. After going to and fro for a while, they settle on nine months.
Mich stands up to go to his guest suite. Before he leaves, he turns and tells Shark that on his way to the array, they passed several checkpoints of armed guards.
Robert says that he wasn't trackable once he descended far enough -- but with a good guess from Mich on the time spent in the elevator, and an estimate of the speed of the car based on movements of the commdot while it was trackable, he should be able to come up with an order of magnitude for the depth of the installation. He works on it for a while, and announces that while it's hard to say exactly, it was at least a kilometer underground -- quite possibly much more. He notes that the elevator must have been very fast, with inertial dampers.
As Shark points out, it's not surprising that such technology was here -- after all, the array itself was well in excess of tech 17. He speculates aloud that the Nightshade is probably around tech 21. Laughing, he suggests that perhaps the ship is powered remotely from some large planet somewhere -- perhaps what the box does is to send an instantaneous message saying "jump there!"
The matter of Jane is settled. Kalida calls the
Sheriff. She requests that he send out the message they discussed.
They would like to speak to Miss Southcombe, and will be back here in nine
The Sheriff is glad to offer Cormor Home as neutral meeting ground.
Shark says that this time they'll bring their chef with them. By then he'll probably have found some additional new delicacies.
"Be sure not to fly over the forest, of course," the Sheriff reminds him. "Anything flying over the forest is suppressed."
Kalida laughs, "Suppressed."
Shark assures the Sheriff they won't fly over the forest.
"See you in nine months, then," says Sheriff Hedaker.
Shark adds to his list of questions the precise meaning of "suppressed."
There is one last matter remaining. Shark asks
the Sheriff if they can have a sample of the mushrooms that they're growing
in the forest. The Sheriff refuses. Shark contemplates getting
a sample, perhaps with his robodog, but doesn't think it's worthwhile alienating
He does, however, walk out to the mushroom rows. He looks for any broken parts, or anything lying on the ground that's dropped during harvesting or packing, but finds nothing. He has to settle for a reading with his bioscanner/sniffer.
Nothing remains to be done here. They'll spend the night in luxury here, then take the train back tomorrow morning.
Shark and Kalida drop in on Mich and asks him what the
Sheriff might have meant by "suppressed."
Mich says that they have a long history of banning flights over the forest, and they do know that Cormor Home is protected by missile batteries.
"But he didn't say stop, or shot at, or anything like that," observes Shark. "He said suppressed. That's not a euphemism that would usually be used."
"And I think that flaming wreckage crashing into the treetops would do more damage than flying over. I wonder if the reason for not wanting flyovers is more because of what might be seen rather than potential damage."