(Referee and Shark's player only)
Everyone continues enjoying their vacation.
Anne prompts the girls to go scuba diving, then Belladonna takes them all parasailing.
Anne, however, has really taken a liking to scuba diving, and spends most of her vacation from here on under the surface of Lake Janakra. Belladonna dives with her a lot too, but of course in her zack without any air tanks or respirator mask.
Belladonna spends some time on the surface of the lake, too, being rowed around while relaxing in a lacy dress under a parasol.
John Brunner places a phone call back to the Nightshade and talks for a while. They practice verbal communication. He still can't do any verbal programming at this stage, but he can at least exercise his spoken language skills.
John Brunner has taken an airship out to Lake Kharon,
and he intends to do some more interesting activities than the girls are
doing. He plans to parasail to the high snowfields, ski down to the
lake, ski right into the lake, and go scuba diving. Unfortunately he
doesn't get very far with it, and breaks his leg in the early part of the
The airship brings him back to the resort, and he has to spend the rest of his vacation in a wheelchair. James promises to heal him up rapidly once they get back to the ship.
Now that John has a broken leg and can't walk around,
and Roger has returned from his hike, Belladonna sets up a picnic for them
on boats on the lake. She dresses in an elegant lacy outfit and reclines
under a parasol, while Anne again brings out what looks like a designer original
(something in scarlet that's translucent in all the right areas) but eschews
the parasol. Jaek, in contrast, is in a loud shirt, khakis, and sandals.
Roger asks John, "How'd it happen? Did you make a pass at the wrong lady?"
"No, we were skiing," replies John. He pauses, then adds, "With parachute and scuba gear. And a tree was in the way."
Anne points out that the use of "we" is inappropriate in this case, since no-one else was crazy enough to join him.
Belladonna has primed Roger to ask probing questions of Jaek, but he is more into the spirit of the picnic than being first officer. Roger has checked him out in his personal computer, but found nothing about him there.
Roger asks Jaek if he's met the captain. Anne tells them that Mr. Teach has been off by himself for several days, and while he's reported in regularly enough not to mount a search party, he's not accepting calls.
Jaek says he's been wrapping up some pleasure activities, some fishing, some scuba diving, and so on, and only got the invitation to the picnic this morning.
Anne enthuses about scuba diving; Belladonna agrees, adding, "It's almost like flying. So they say."
Jaek asks, "So what do you do when you're not... vacationing?"
"We're... on board," says Roger. "Wouldn't you agree?"
"Absolutely," says Anne.
James Cox says, "Harrumph! Well, we're, like, a scientific ship. We do research. We have connections quite high up with the University of Mora . You know, of course, that it's definitely a private vessel, but we have enough serious people on board that it's a good tight ship. And um, whatsisname here, fine engineer, fine engineer."
"Best you'll ever meet," says Tio Blanco. The others nod in agreement. Tio continues, "What do you know about jump drives ?"
"Turn them on, make it go," says Jaek. "I've a lot of hands-on experience with the dirtier aspects of engineering. Mines all been, you know, finesse, getting that last little bit of speed out of the gravitics."
"Well, unless you beef up your inertial dampers, you're flattened against the wall."
James agrees, "Seen that ourselves, actually, yes. Not too far from here actually, come to think of it. Well, it was a little way from here, but it started over here. Isn't that odd, it crashed in a valley both times?"
Tio asks, "Ever been in a misjump?"
"During tours of duty, or after retiring?" laughs Jaek.
"Ever experienced jump sickness?"
"Indeed. There was once."
"Just once?" laughs Tio.
"Scout engineers are extremely, extremely good."
Belladonna points out that it's usually the engineer's fault in the first place. You set up the astrogation properly, and despite your best efforts somebody's done something to the jump drive, and the next thing you know you're somewhere else.
Tio smiles, "Without a good engineer you wouldn't survive the misjump."
"All right, children!" says Roger. "If you both want to discuss this, I suggest you do it in the water. Less chance of anyone getting hurt."
Tio adds, "I've survived at least... half a dozen misjumps. Since getting out of the Navy."
Jaek says, "Of course, if we ever do misjump, at least we know where we are when we get there."
Tio and Roger look at each other and shake their heads.
"We do. Scouts do."
Roger says, "No, at least for one misjump with a scout on board."
James says, "Of course, our ship hasn't misjumped. It's never misjumped."
Roger nods. "The Nightshade has never misjumped," he says. "Since we've had it."
"We've had it from new, haven't we?"
"Since it was mothballed, yes."
"Yes. Never misjumped. Won't misjump."
"You trust it that much, do you?"
"I trust it that um... whatsisname here doesn't mess around with it as much as he did the other ships."
"I'm working on it," says Tio quietly.
"I know. That's what worries me. So, we do a lot of scientific stuff, wandering around investigating rumors, a lot of that."
Jaek says, "Sounds like fun. When do I meet this captain?"
"If he ever decides to rejoin us," says Anne.
James says, "Actually I suppose Shark could essentially make the decision if he wanted to. Misha... sh... sh... ster... mishter Teach would be quite happy to take your recommendation, I'm sure." He turns to Jaek. "Hm. So where are you planning to go?"
"Back to the mains," says Jaek. "As long as I get back to the starlanes , I'm satisfied."
Anne asks, "Are you in a hurry ot get back there?"
"Not particularly, as long as my... expenses are covered."
"Hm," says James, "Willing to work for it, eh?"
"That was kind of the understanding from the conversation a few days ago."
Belladonna says brightly, "No! He's supposed to pay! Pay and work!"
Roger says, more seriously, "Hey! Wait, wait. He does two things well. At least he says he does, so we should test him. He says he can drive a gravcraft, and he does sensor operations reasonably well."
John points out that Callisto is very good at sensors. "And I can do sensors."
"And I can do sensors," adds Tio.
Roger continues, "He also does a little bit of piloting."
"The only thing that gives me some trepidation is that this is a large conspicuous group. I'm not real comfortable in a large conspicuous group."
"Unfortunately conspicuous, yes."
James says, indicating Roger, "He's comfortable enough. If he is, anybody can be. Right, Sha... sh... shit, I can't remember your name."
"Roger," says Roger.
"Yes, right. He's in charge of security. He does it very well. You don't need to worry. We're not always this conspicuous. The hiver doesn't usually come ashore."
"And we did get rid of the dog with horns."
"Yes. Very good thing too, that was. Nasty beast."
"He didn't like Doc -- we call him Doc, he is our doctor."
Jaek is unsure. He says, "I don't know. What's the offer?"
"We'll see how you fit over the first... Actually, what's our next port of destination?"
James says, "I know where we're actually planning to go. I think it's a couple of jumps to get there. It is actually on a route. A little out of the way, but on a shipping lane."
"Then why don't we see how we like each other, and we'll call it from there?"
"That sounds like a plan. It worked for her." James gestures at Anne. "You too, Callisto. You'll have your own stateroom. But this does fill up our staterooms."
Roger says, "I must admit this is probably the most luxurious ship. We might have to pull some stores out of the staterooms. What? Oh, that's right, there's nothing in the staterooms, we have the attic." He turns to Jaek. "Our starship has an attic. And a basement, but that's full. It's a very formal ship -- it's always black dress."
John suggests doubling him up with the hiver. All look at each other knowingly and laugh.
Tio points out that they have low berths. If it doesn't work out they can put him in there and thaw him out when they are ready to let him off.
Jaek says he won't willingly travel in low berth. Callisto is even more emphatic -- she has, and she definitely does not want to do it again.
Roger says they have an excellent medical team.
"That's me and him," says Br... bri... James.
"I'm backup, merely backup," says Roger.
"All he has to do is hold them together enough to get them back to me."
Jaek says, "Then we're in agreement that the contract is working passage until I get back to the starlanes."
Roger nods, "And we'll make another decision at that point."
James agrees. He says, "Yes. If you then want to sign on as regular crew and we want to take you on, we normally pay standard rates. Plus room and board, of course. Once you're on leave, it's up to you. But Vonish here is the best chef. Sir Geoffrey of Adabicci has offered him a permanent position as his personal chef, in fact."
Jaek says, "Ammunition...?"
"You can draw what you need out of the ship's stores. You can be issued whatever you need. We have good stores."
"That is satisfactory."
Roger says, "I don't think that in the last year we've had any cause to use weapons."
"Then why keep a security guy on board?"
"That's why," says Anne. "He keeps us so secure we don't need to use weapons."
Roger says, "Anyway, we have marines for that sort of thing. Teri, and... Anne."
Jaek has noticed the hesitation in the names. Nevertheless, he says, "OK. We have a deal."
Vonish Kehnaan asks, "Do you have much gear?"
"Two standard lockers."
"Oh, plenty of room then."
They relax on the lake and watch the sun set over the mountain. In the light of paper lamps, they continue to carouse through the evening. As the cool of the night air starts to roll over the lake, they return to shore.
In the last few days, they've done everything . Anne has spent most of her time scuba diving, often with Belladonna who also does a lot of parasailing. Jaek and Callisto, having actually had an offer to join up with these guys, hang out with them now. They've spent evenings at the nightclubs, sampled every form of dining the resort has to offer, and gambled away. Anne always seems to have a perfect dress for every occasion, and Belladonna clearly also has an interesting wardrobe.
It's time to leave Allys Hollow. Captain Edward Teach has missed the airship. The resort staff tell them
that he is out hiking by himself, and should be back soon. The crew decide
to return without him, as they have work to do to prepare the Nightshade and her new crewmembers for takeoff.
The dirigible flight back is as spectacular as the ride out. Jaek keeps away from the windows -- the others, assuming he has a fear of heights, tease him mercilessly.
On the way back, Roger says he's found where "the
box" was. He asks if anyone can do carbon dating; Jaek says he can
do that, as he's done some archeology. The scout base
will have the necessary carbon isotope data for the analysis.
The dirigible arrives back at Heliopolis. They take a couple of cabs from the airship terminal to the starport .
At the starport, there is new TNS
news. An item from 205-1121
has reached Spirelle
. It's not the item they feared -- this one is from Pannet
, where a
starship has crashed into the downport city dome and caused a major disaster.
Roger says it sounds suspiciously like a planned accident. The serious of false alarms before the accident sounds overly convenient to him.
Vonish points out the Nightshade to Jaek out of the starport bar window. The ship is clearly needle configuration, military black, about 1500 std. They tell Jaek it's 203m long, 21m is diameter. The cylinder is streamlined at the front, and the rear tapers off to a flat stern. Sticking out near the back on streamlined beams are two sidepods; each carries a large red maltese cross. Except for the windows, the ship is black. The entire upper half of the front of the ship, about three decks high, is a large window showing the bridge. A similar window at the rear is not really visible well from here. The windows are so clear as to be practically invisible. There are some other windows further back along the ship's side.
Jaek and Callisto have never seen any ship like this. It looks brand spanking new, with no signs of re-entry staining or anything. The hull is beautifully smooth, with no obvious hatches. It's clearly a high-tech ship, at least TL13, probably more like TL15. It is a big ship, but they have apparently been running it with a crew of just ten, including the cook, the marine, and the hiver.
Tio adds that they took it out of dock with only two people on board.
Belladonna says that as long as it's the right two people, it's no problem.
Roger says, "Robert doesn't even think it needs that many. Ah. Sorry." He looks embarrassed.
Jaek says his gear is at the scout base. He can have it sent over to the Nightshade. Vonish confirms that they need no supplies before taking off -- they are well set with plenty of fresh vegetables.
They walk out onto the landing field towards the ship,
coming to a stop halfway along the starboard side. Here the scale of
the vessel is more apparent to the newcomers.
Roger says, "Robert, open the hatch please."
John pushes his wheelchair forward and waves at the ship.
Out of the side of the ship, about halfway up under one of the window areas, extends a translucent patio-like shelf. From that, a ramp of the same material extends down to the ground. The ramp seems to be a paper-thin plastic, but it doesn't visibly distort as they walk up it.
They enter an open receiving area, with a small elevator off to one side. Aft of this area is a large lounge, with tables, chairs, room to relax -- an ostentatious waste of space.
John waves at the side of the ship again, and the ramp and patio retract. A transparent section of hull shuts where the opening to the patio had been.
Jaek mutters that he can see that this crew is well funded.
The newcomers are led forward into a wastefully wide corridor, where they are shown their staterooms. Each stateroom is enormous, more on the scale of a luxury suite, at least three or four times the size of a regular stateroom. There's a fresher, a fold-out bed, and a wall that can become transparent or opaque at the occupant's command. There are no markings or controls for the doors, even -- they just open when people approach to go through them.
Tio says, "One thing to remember -- red is good, blue is bad. On any indicator, red is good, blue is bad. Let me know if you see anything blue."
James Cox says, "I suppose that now we're back on board, I can stop trying to struggle with all the names I can't remember. Baron Bridgehead, Grand Admiral, Imperial Navy, retired. You might have read about me in the news, I was elevated to Baron recently for services rendered."
Jaek looks around in amazement. "How do you guys keep from drawing attention on yourselves? I've spent most of my career trying not to draw attention."
Edward "Shark" Teeth (Roger Jolly) says, "Believe me, with a crew like this, if you don't want to be noticed, there's enough for them to look at."
Kalida Siena (Anne Bonny) agrees, "Sometimes hiding in plain sight can be very beneficial."
Jaek says, "I'm not so much concerned about being noticed, as you guys being noticed."
Shark says, "We've tried, but it's a failing effort, I'm quite sure. It's going to be interesting soon."
They start to show Jaek and Callisto around the ship. Starting at the lounge, where they take their meals, and Vonish's expansive galley, they continue around the entire ship.
Bridgehead explains that the gravcraft are parked in various receiving areas, where they could fit them. The gcarrier and two air/rafts are practically brand new -- they were pulled out of mothballs a few months ago. They also have a launch -- Jaek says he can fly a ship's boat "adequately." Bridgehead comments, "Sounds like you're going to do the job Helen used to do. Ever been a pirate? I only ask because she was."
Jaek laughs, "That's a nebulous term."
"Yes, that's what she said too. Very sad that. Some impostor going around by her name now too."
It's now around lunchtime local time, and therefore
time to eat. Vonish gets to work on the meal, while Robert is taken
down to Sick Bay so that the Doc can work on his leg.
Mich, Shark, and Kalida continue with the tour of the ship. They've shown the staterooms, and so move on through the ship.
Engineering is a major surprise. There is not enough equipment here for one thing; for another, the tech level of the gear is definitely quite high, probably at least 15, and nothing is of Imperial manufacture. Mich brings up a holodisplay of the ship and points out the major features to Jaek and Callisto. Everything shows a comforting red status.
Behind Engineering is the next surprise -- a vast solarium laid out as a garden with plants and trees, with ramps and stairs, chairs, tables, and a waterfall cascading down from the uppermost deck level.
In the deck and a half below the solarium is the ship's boat -- a launch of about 20 std, with a shape reminiscent of the Nightshade itself, but flatter and fatter, with the same distinctive drive pod arrangement. There are doors underneath the hangar to drop the launch out from under the ship.
On the top deck is the "attic" they had mentioned before, and this is where the largest installation of Imperial equipment is seen -- some top-level computers with a fuel cell power supply, run off several small fuel bladders tucked into the corner of the storage area.
The bridge -- more like a ballroom, says Jaek -- is three decks in height with a completely transparent hull around it. There are several hammocks at varying heights on the aft wall, with fine knotted ropes dangling down from them -- these are where Helia likes to relax. There's a command dais raised half a meter off the regular deck level, and the pilot's station is similarly raised.
None of this is at all familiar to Jaek or Callisto, despite their scout background. While the ergonomics clearly suggest it was designed for humans, some of the consoles are labeled in an incomprehensible ideographic script, while others are labeled in galanglic . The layout of most consoles is unfamiliar too, although they seem to be reconfigurable -- Kalida has set up her gunnery console in normal Imperial fashion.
Shark shows Callisto the standard sensor configuration. He says she can run sensors from any of the consoles except the pilot or gunnery stations. Shark then brings up an internal display of the ship on the command holodisplay. It shows all the people in the ship, except Sagan in his stateroom, which Shark explains is for privacy. He points out other features of the ship they haven't visited yet, such as the low berths, the ship's locker, the armory, the laboratory, the various engineering shops, the missile launcher, loader, and magazine areas, and so on. There are two 100 ton cargo bays, with expansive receiving areas and cargo lifts. The waste of space is amazing.
The internal space is all accounted for. Jaek and Callisto both notice that there are apparently no fuel tanks on the ship.
"So," observes Jaek, "we're in a huge resort... How's this baby going to get off the ground?" The drives aren't big enough to move the ship anyway, and there's not even a fusion plant for power.
Following that, they continue to see in person the points of interest. The ship's locker contains plenty of Imperial vaccsuits -- added later, as the ship had none on board originally, Mich says. Kalida gives Jaek and Callisto a tour of the armory, which is extensively stocked with weapons. Two suits of Imperial battledress stand out -- one with no insignia at all, the other with the rank markings of a Brigadier General in the Imperial Marines. Weapons go from small knives up to FGMP-15 support weapons, with laser weapons, grenade launchers, gauss guns, and some incomprehensible devices.
Lunch is ready. Jaek is looking rather uncomfortable
at the unfamiliarity of the ship, while Callisto is very quiet and somewhat
dazed. How could they leave anyway, with no door controls? Robert
is at lunch, the Baron having worked on him -- more work is required later
The quality of the onboard cuisine has not been misrepresented. The food is superb. The Nightshade may be strange, but it is certainly luxurious. It is certainly not of Imperial construction.
Shark explains that their original ship was owned by Marquis Marcus Crestworthy of Pallique , a researcher at the University of Mora , but that ship had an accident and they ended up rescuing this one. He says that this ship is the Nightshade, home port of Dulu / Foreven.
Bridgehead then explains that he's dead -- at some point they'll run into the news of their death. He's looking forward to reading his obituary.
Shark adds that the crew of the Third Eye were reported dead in the Zett system of Foreven.
Jaek asks what sort of documentation they use to access bank accounts and so on.
Shark says that the news of their death hasn't reached here yet -- they're running ahead of the news.
Bridgehead says that they haven't actually done anything wrong -- there's no record of them doing anything illegal. Nevertheless, the coming report of their death is why they've been using assumed names.
Shark asks if Jaek has ever heard of the IFSS?
Shark says it's Margaret 's personal service -- the Imperial FarSpace Service -- and is sort of an extracurricular scout service. This crew gets on well with them.
Most of Jaek's activities have been along the border with the Zhodani.
"The mind-sucking joes," says Mich. "At least they're not as bad as the cockroaches."
Shark says Mich will have to fill him in sometime about them.
"Ah, they're nasty," continues Mich. "Hard to squash."
"They shot me, you know," says the Baron. "I was just floating up over the battlefield to get a good view, and some idiot with an AP rocket grenade shot me. That was quite a battle, but it was several years ago."
Robert has already checked into Jaek's background. Getting into the scout base records is not too hard, and he pulls out everything this scout base has about him. Some of the deletions are not filled in on his records here.
Later that afternoon, Jaek's gear arrives from the
scout base. He takes it on board from the main cargo lift. Now
he notices that not only are the interior walls paper-thin, but so is the
outer hull. So to add to the strangeness of this ship, somehow it holds
together with a hull a tenth of a millimeter thick. Surely it really
isn't going anywhere...?
Then Mich explains that the power unit is this metallic cube about a meter on a side. He says that there is nothing in the box, and that nothing powers the ship. The gnome opens the hole, provided his boom box is playing, and once he pedals his tricycle he generates power to run his own boom box. Really, that's the most accurate technical analogy they have...