Shark then checks out the ship's launch. He wants to see
whether it can use stealth mode, but everything here is labeled in ship's
script. He calls in Robert Morris to work on reconfiguring it to be usable
. There is no sparkly pink mode on the launch.
After a couple of hours, Robert has finished his work. Unfortunately, it's now clear that the launch has no stealth mode.
While he's working on the launch, everyone else starts
pondering how to get a message to the Marquis. They could try getting
into close quarters with a communications satellite perhaps? Also,
having the gcarrier
just pop out of nowhere (out of the stealth mode bubble)
would be rather odd -- perhaps there is somewhere else they could emerge
out of sight without attracting attention. Pretty much anything that
could be inhabited in this system is -- there really isn't any low
population place here. In such a high traffic system it
would be necessary to file a flight plan, but that shouldn't require any
identification as such for just a gcarrier or air/raft
The alternative solution, and what seems to be the best, is to take the ship into the ocean, submerge, then use the gcarrier from there. The capital is off the coast, so they decide to come down a couple of hours away by gcarrier. That's where the Marquis' penthouse apartment is, just three blocks from the Department of Parapsychology of the University of Mora.
Helia Sarina takes the Nightshade in towards the
mainworld and descends into the atmosphere, landing in the ocean.
She's picked a good spot with the least traffic, and it's nice and quiet.
She parks the ship just off the bottom of the ocean.
Helia asks how they are going to get the gcarrier out without filling the ship with water, but Shark isn't worried about that. For one thing, the air inside will stop it filling up -- although it's just possible that there might be some equipment that could be damaged by contact with what water might come in.
Kalida Siena suggests asking the ship if there'll be a problem. Shark takes her suggestion, and finds out that the ship can equalize pressure so water doesn't come in, and if any water comes in the ship can pump it out.
The next question is where to meet the Marquis. Kalida again comes to the rescue, having been on Mora before. She suggests a bar near the university, a true town-and-gown type of place called the Ratskeller.
After a little discussion, the message says simply that a friend of Lap'da will be in the Ratskeller at a certain time. Robert inserts it anonymously into the planetary net.
Grand Admiral Baron Bridgehead, Sagan, Vonish, Teri Cralla, and Mich Saginaw
stay on board. Helia takes the controls of the gcarrier, with Shark,
Misha Ravanos (with his jherig), Robert, and Kalida aboard.
Once everyone's on the gcarrier, and the cargo lift is all the way down ready to deploy outside the ship, Shark pressurizes the lift area. He opens the lift.
The lift platform descends. They watch with not too much surprise as they pass into the "bubble" around the ship -- there is no water in contact with it. Helia takes the controls and drives the gcarrier out of the bubble into the water. As they pass beyond the stealth mode zone, they lose sight of the ship, but do retain communications -- Robert has set up the meson communicator of the gcarrier to work with the ship.
Helia takes them for some distance under the water, then emerges and flies to the city. She parks the gravcraft, and they step ashore for the first time in many weeks.
Helia, Shark, and Misha are all wearing their zacks.
Shark's is safetied, while Helia's necklace is outside the suit.
Everyone is dressed well, in casual but conservative clothes. They
take a cab to the Ratskeller.
The Marquis has, on receipt of the message, dropped everything and hurried to the bar. He is already there when the others arrive. He has a glass of decent wine in front of him. As the others come through the door, he gestures to them to join him.
"Welcome back!" says the Marquis. "I didn't hear that the ship had come in."
He is met with strange laughter. Misha says, "We lost your ship."
"So you did misjump again, and that did it."
Helia clears her throat loudly.
Misha says that it wasn't a misjump that did it. They were attacked. Not by pirates (the Marquis' first guess), but by the Imperial Navy.
Marquis Marc looks stunned. He says, slowly, "When you're here, are you who you used to be, or are you someone else?"
"We have not chosen our names," laughs Misha, "On this particular planet, at this particular time."
Helia adds, "Although the Baron would still say he is Baron Bridgehead, even though he's dead. He's officially dead, we think."
Marc waves at the bartender and calls for something harder. "A scotch. Make it a double. With the bottle!"
Helia calls, "Tequila! Limes, and salt."
"That was a 350 MCr ship..."
"You should see the replacement we got for free. It's better, and it's older, and it's neater. It doesn't need fuel. It flies... fast." She is talking quietly. "It does 20 g. Oh, and we think it's a hundred million years old. Or something like that."
"I don't think the bar is quite the place for us to be holding this conversation. Is it?"
The drinks have arrived. Kalida joins Helia with the tequila, lime ready, hand salted. They call out, "Lick! Drink! Bite!" and do so.
The Marquis continues, "How is Mich doing? Still tinkering?"
Helia answers, "Still wearing his helmet. The aluminum foil one."
Marquis Marcus Crestworthy and Kalida Siena are introduced. The noble asks Misha if a gunner is necessary, and apparently it is a fillable position on the new ship. He then asks if Mich has been altering the drive systems.
"There are no drive systems," whispers Helia conspiratorially, "That's what I told you."
Misha has his own answer: "Yes, Mich has spent most of his time trying to figure it out."
Marc observes, "Well, if he hasn't altered it, it might still be safe."
Misha laughs, "He's not sure if it's safe."
"It's safe," assures Helia, "He's just not sure if it's sucking his brain out."
The Marquis asks about the others who aren't here, such as the bassalope, Sagan, and so on. He declines Helia's offer of leaving the bassalope with him, saying the apartment isn't set up for it. He then turns to Misha: "I asked you to find something. Did you find it? Is that what you found? Ah-ha! But it wasn't in any shape to use...?"
Misha says, "There was more than one."
"I see. And you didn't kill each other. But you wouldn't have turned it on. But you obviously did. Let's find a more private place."
"Lick! Drink! Bite!" call out Helia and Kalida. They suggest the ship is the safest place to have this conversation. One more for the road, and they leave the bar. Helia chatters happily to the Marquis as she stands up, and they agree to meet at the gcarrier shortly.
Shark takes a separate cab from the others to determine if they're being followed or watched. He is sure they are neither.
They are ready to leave when the Marquis arrives
a few minutes later. Helia flies them out to sea, and sings happily
as she dives the gcarrier into the ocean.
"So where is this ship?" asks the Marquis as Helia brings the gcarrier to a crawl.
"Right there," says Helia.
Misha adds, "It's... um... invisible."
Helia brings the gcarrier in, and as they enter the stealth bubble, the Marquis sees the ship in all its glory. They land on the cargo lift, and ascend into the ship. The Imperial noble stares around him in astonishment. Misha and Helia apologize that it wasn't big enough to hold the Third Eye .
Practically the first words Marquis Marcus Crestworthy says on board are, "I'd like a cup of Vonish's coffee."
The crew meet in the lounge for coffee, drinks, and snacks.
"So," says the Marquis when they're all settled,
"Tell me about the ship blowing up, and who's chasing me, and why you're
here unannounced. I can guess why you're here unannounced, it's because
you have the ship."
Helia says, "I don't think they know we have it."
Kalida adds, "And it's best to keep it that way."
"So," says the Marquis again, "How did the ship blow up?"
Helia says, "It got shot out of space by the Imperial Navy, and we got everybody out just in time."
Misha and Shark take the story rapidly from leaving the Marquis on Emape , doing a few jumps, and stopping in at the Imperial FarSpace Service station on Karma. There they talked to Professor Farol. Helia adds that Helia was there, and a little girl.
Before they jumped for Zett , they looked for information about the Red Zone . Shark's "contacts" in the intelligence agency told him not to go there, and then said that since they were probably going anyway, to install a piece of equipment to prevent them blowing up. It was actually a bomb, and they lost an engineer in the explosion.
Mich adds that if he hadn't modified the Third Eye to jump in less than six days, the shaped nuclear charge would have gone off in jump and they'd all be dead.
Misha continues. They put the ship back together and did some exploring in the system. They discovered that the story they'd been told of sun weirdness was just... stupid. It was just a story. They then found the enormous storage container that Marc had been in. It had some automated defenses, which Robert managed to fool into letting them in. This container had three black ships. One had just one hole through it, as the Marquis had described; one was severely damaged; and this one was undamaged and appeared to be unopened. They somewhat by accident discovered how to open the ship, and commandeered it. They repaired the Third Eye there, and left with both it and the new ship, which they christened the Nightshade. Robert did some magic to make it appear that they were never there.
Shark takes up the tale. They jumped back to the system they'd left. Now when they had been given the bomb/device, they had been told that if they didn't come back in several weeks, then they would blow us out of space as soon as they saw us. They had taken three months repairing and exploring, and the intelligence folks were good to their word.
Misha adds that there was a little accident after that, and they managed to take out an Imperial destroyer, entirely by accident. "The pilot, who was the gunner at that point, swears it was an accident."
Helia responds, "No, I swore that it did it itself. The destroyer blew up all on its own. I fired no weapons at it. It seemed to sort of spontaneously explode from somewhere in the middle."
Shark mentions that the destroyer had damaged the Third Eye severely, beyond repair at that time, and they gave it a good shove out of the system.
Marquis Marc agrees that if they've been reported dead, as they say, and they or the ship showed up again, there could indeed be trouble. He suggests that they could come up with some story about being rescued by a hiver ship, or something like that. On they other hand, if "they" guess that they escaped from the system, they'll be out to get them anyway.
Shark says that the Baron has been using his real name, but it was at least outside the Imperium.
The Marquis asks a few more simple questions about the incident with the destroyer, then closes, "And you've been having fun ever since." He mentions with a smile that the footballs seem to like the ship.
Then Misha says, "Remember the weird language we found on Digitis ?"
"Yes, Robert found a database but decided not to go after it."
"Yes. Did you know that was the written form of Lap'da's language?"
The Marquis is astonished. "No! Lap'da spoke Jannish, that was hard to translate."
"Apparently Lap'da speaks a very ancient language. The language they actually taught to the settlers on that planet is like a reduced simple form of the language. So this language that Robert found in the data stream, Lap'da's language, is the language of the ship. The consoles are all labeled in the same language. We had to teach it galanglic. Then there's this hallucinogenic drug in liquid from apparently derived from fish, on the planet Goose . Anyway, you drink this fish oil, and it sends you into a hallucinogenic coma, and somehow those comas make you more receptive to the standard communication method of the ship. It sets the footballs off every time."
"So you have a language which you learned by drinking a beverage you got on the planet Goose . You have a ship which has all of its devices labeled in that language. That language is spoken by Lap'da on Digitis ..."
"The ship has a big red cross on the side of it. The ship that Lap'da's family came to that planet on was called the Red Cross."
Shark adds, "And the people on Goose recognized the ship."
Misha explains, "They gave us a big warm welcome when we got there, until they saw who was on board. They were somewhat surprised it was us, but wouldn't explain. They're annoyingly enigmatic both times... dangerously enigmatic. Violently enigmatic."
Marquis Marc asks, "So how do you know Lap'da speaks the language?"
"We asked him. We went back again."
"So why did you come back to Mora ? You really didn't have to, since you destroyed my ship, and cost me 350 million credits."
They explain that they wanted to tell him the news personally rather than have him hear it on the news. They go on to skim the story of their trip back here, leaving out anything unimportant (such as zacks).