(46) Road To Nowhere

The Misha Campaign (263-1121 to 274-1121)

263-1121 (085 / 322 - 086 / 322 local) : Spirelle / Lunion / Spinward Marches

Private activities by Jaekovic Ils-Nevronne
(Referee and Jaek's player only)

     Jaekovic Ils-Nevronne stows his gear away in the enormous stateroom.  He has figured out that there really isn't a military attitude on the Nightshade -- except for Grand Admiral Baron Bridgehead -- and the "dress code" seems to be thoroughly casual.  No-one on board appears to be armed -- not even the captain, Misha Ravanos, carries his sword around the ship any more.

    On the morning of 086 / 322 local time, Misha arrives back at the Heliopolis airship terminal.  A taxi brings him back to the starport .  He approaches his ship, walking purposefully towards the door behind the bridge, and the ramp extends for him.  It's early enough that he expects most of the crew to be in the lounge after breakfast.

    In the lounge, the crew are eating breakfast.  Misha walks in from the forward corridor and joins them.
    Misha and Jaek introduce themselves to each other.  Ed "Shark" Teeth explains that he is working passage as Flight Officer -- he can drive a gravcraft without wrecking it!  On this ship, that's cause to welcome him with open arms.
    Misha notices that Robert Morris is walking rather stiffly.  It is explained to him that the communications officer broke his leg while parasailing - skiing - scuba diving, by running into a tree during the skiing phase.  Bridgehead says that with another session in Sick Bay this afternoon, Robert should be back to full mobility.
    Shark suggests they leave at midnight Imperial time, about seven hours from now, but Misha is anxious to leave as soon as possible.
    Helia Sarina asks Mich Saginaw if they've fueled yet -- or rather, behaved as if they've fueled.  A quick discussion arrives at a consensus to pretend to refuel at the nearby gas giant on the way out.
    Shark informs the captain that now the Nightshade is fully crewed, with all twelve staterooms full.  Helia suggests that for practical purposes they should limit the number of people on the bridge to essential personnel only.  The bridge does have space for everyone -- ten stations plus the command dais -- but many of the crew have no reason to be there.  Shark agrees -- only essential personnel are to be on the bridge, and neither of the new crew members are to be on the bridge yet.
    One of those is Jaek, who while the ship is in flight is unlikely to be called upon to man a gravcraft or the launch.  He says he'll just hang out here in the lounge and not clutter up the bridge.  He raises his beer to reinforce his intentions.
    Helia says, "Actually.  Fish oil.  You should be drinking fish oil."
    "I don't even like fish," says Jaek.
    "Once we get into jump..." starts Helia.
    Bridgehead interrupts, "Oh no, you should not drink fish oil.  Do not drink the fish oil."
    "Just do it like a shot."
    "Do not drink the fish oil.  It can have very harmful effects."
    Suddenly something more important comes up.  Helia turns to Misha and says, "Sir!  The gunner is requesting to make a practice run in sparkly pink mode.  Are we ready for that?"
    Misha agrees that they can do that later on.  He then says they should leave as soon as possible, and he'll be in his stateroom until them.  They are to call him when they take off.  The captain walks forward to his quarters.

    Right behind him, Helia walks down the corridor too.  She goes on to the bridge, takes her seat at the pilot's console, and calls Misha.  "Sir, we're ready, shall I warn the rest of the crew?  All hands to launch stations!" knowing full well that the new folks have no idea what that means.  "Bridge personnel to the bridge!"
    Mich is already in Engineering, performing diagnostics on the ship's systems.  Everything is red.  They're ready to go.
    Misha walks onto the bridge.  "Kick it," he says.
    Shark brings up an internal ship view on the command holodisplay.  He has Helia represented by an icon of a butterfly, which the larian approves with delight.
    Helia asks, "How fast do you want to get there?"
    "Relatively normal," says Shark, "Not too unusual."
    Helia sets the ship for 4g, a nice pace for a fast yacht.  At that pace it will take eighteen hours to reach the nearest gas giant.

    In the lounge, it's an unusual experience for Jaek.  The transparent lounge wall gives the impression he could just fall off the deck into the air, and it's not a comfortable feeling.  He shuts his eyes, then turns away from the view.

    Back on the bridge, once Helia has the Nightshade on course for the gas giant, Robert sets up the simulation for Kalida Siena to try out sparkly pink mode.  It's the old standard they've used, two Imperial Midu Agashaam class destroyers against the black ship, no stealth mode, transponder active.
    Before Kalida does this, however, Helia takes her aside and talks to her about it.

Kalida and Helia talk about gunnery
(Referee and Kalida's and Helia's players only)

    Kalida walks forward to the gunnery console and sits down.  The simulation is ready to go.  She is suddenly engulfed in a pink light that sparkles within it.

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

    Kalida comes out of sparkly pink mode, obviously very satisfied with the experience.  She performed very well indeed on the simulations.  The Nightshade has a top-notch gunner.

264-1121 (085 / 322 - 086 / 322 local) : Spirelle / Lunion / Spinward Marches

    At 12:00 the Nightshade arrives at the gas giant.  Helia starts having fun, diving the ship into the atmosphere and swooping it around in what could only be described as a dance.  She will continue to pretend to refuel for six hours, then they'll head out to jump .
    Robert has had further treatment from the Doc.  Now he's pronounced fit enough for normal duties, and can move around very easily.

    When there were stars outside, it was rather fun for Jaek to watch out of the lounge window.  Now that they're diving into a gas giant, it's rather disturbing.  Vonish Kehnaan looks up as the flight officer shouts, "Shut the window!  Close the damn window!"  The window remains transparent.  Jaek kicks the wall, and runs out of the lounge to his stateroom -- this is just too weird for him.
    In the stateroom, the door closes behind him.  He looks at the window in shock -- another damn transparent entire wall -- and after about ten seconds the wall opaques for him even though he has apparently done nothing to cause it.  Surprised but relieved, he settles down to relax while Helia finishes her gas giant dance.

    Shark invites everyone up to the bridge to watch as Helia swoops the ship through the gas giant.  Jaek declines the invitation, but Bridgehead and Callisto come forward to enjoy the spectacular scene.  Helia does a lot of fast strange maneuvers just to try to freak out the Baron -- she is only partly successful.
    With Callisto on the bridge now, Shark asks her to run some scans of the gas giant.  She does so -- she's at the very least competent at sensor ops.  To test her full abilities will require more challenging tasks.

    At 18:00, with six hours of fake refueling complete, Helia swings the Nightshade out towards a jump point.  Their ultimate destination is, of course, Wonstar , but it will take three jumps to get there.  Shark wants to stay off the starlanes until they get to the end of the journey, and so Helia suggests Caliburn for their next stop.  Misha agrees, and so orders.  They're still proceeding at a sedate 5.5g, and so it'll take about 8 hours before they reach 100d.
    As the ship clears the gas giant atmosphere, the wall in Jaek's stateroom turns clear again.

265-1121 : Spirelle / Lunion / Spinward Marches

    At 02:00, the Nightshade slips into jump for Caliburn .

    Outside Jaek's stateroom, the view of jumpspace is unusual.  The grey blob is about a meter away from the ship, and he can see the glowing lines of a grid holding jumpspace away.  The grid lines move, connect, and reconnect, in step with some strange flux in the jumpspace beyond.

    Mich starts practicing with sparkly pink mode.  After his last bad experience with jump transition, he can only stand about fifteen minutes without getting nauseous.  The feeling of jumpspace around him is sort of creepy, but he can handle it for short periods.  After he's done, his routine brain scan shows unchanged status.  He continues to try this once a day to acclimatize himself to it -- he's sure it will help greatly with his jump drive work.
    Shark continues with his zack workouts, practicing martial arts moves with Misha.  Helia works out with them from time to time.  Shark also has a pet project of his own he works on in his stateroom.
    Kalida joins in the fight training, sparring with her cutlass against Misha's sword.
    Robert continues analyzing the database he collected on Mora.
    Shark asks Jaek to help him carbon date the wood sample he collected on his hike.

266-1121 : Jumpspace (from Spirelle / Lunion / Spinward Marches)

    Jaek has finished dating the wood sample.  The equipment was totally unfamiliar, but it didn't take him too long to figure out how it works.  His estimate is that the sample is around 800 years old, plus or minus a hundred years.
    That answer satisfies Shark, and confirms his suspicion that something weird was going on in that building.  There were no signs of rotting or insect damage to the wood, and yet it's been exposed for over 700 years.  The wood looks normal, like it was maybe five years old -- recently cut and cured, not hundreds of years old.  This is in a building that's been cut out of the rock of the mountain.

    Shark then has a question for Robert: "If you were going to build a box that was going to beacon back to say, 'Hey, another ship has come by," and you were running on black ship technology, would you actually transmit any sort of signal, or would you just interrupt your power pull back to your mother ship that's powering it?"
    Robert says, "From what we see here, you just interrupt the power."
    "So why would someone build a box that actually broadcasted in a broad spectrum BEEP!?"
    "Because the people who were interested in the information didn't have the same technology level?"
    "That's a possibility."
    Jaek says, "It's wood, for god's sakes!"
    "So the floor was put down at least seven hundred years ago.  In the building, where the box was under it -- you know, Mich.  From the physical age, I'd say that this wasn't cut more than five years ago.  And I couldn't tell how old the lantern was.  Less than fifty years, since it was still burning."

    Later in the day, Mich brings some of Fostriades' papers on gravitics for Jaek to look over.  Jaek doesn't understand them, which is unsurprising and doesn't reflect badly on his abilities -- Fostriades' level was way beyond what could be expected to be reached in the field.  It's sufficiently advanced that even Jaek knows it doesn't reflect badly on him.

268-1121 : Jumpspace (from Spirelle / Lunion / Spinward Marches)

    For the past several days, Helia and Mich have been working together to build a climbing wall in the solarium.  The work is complete today.  The larian is eager to try it out, and scrambles up rapidly.  Several of the rest of the crew are at the grand opening -- including Jaek who also starts climbing up, presumably to attempt to demonstrate that he doesn't have a simple fear of heights.
    Helia reaches the top, then calls out, "Hey!  I'm up here!  How the heck am I supposed to get down?"  She has deliberately waited until Jaek is about a meter off the ground.
    "You climb," says Jaek.
    "Oh, that's too hard!" says Helia.  She jumps spread-eagled from the top of the bulkhead, way above Jaek.
    Jaek buries his face in the wall, tensing for the expected thud as the girl hits the ground.
    The thud never comes.
    "Not again," says Shark.
    Jaek slowly eases his way back to the ground, and slowly looks around.
    Helia is not on the ground.  In fact, she's still in the air, flying on gossamer wings with an enormous grin plastered across her face.  Now she looks more like a meter high tinkerbell than she does barbie.
    "That would explain the backpack," observes Jaek to himself.  "She had it with her all the time, and never took anything out of it, never put anything into it."
    Helia lands next to him.
    "This crew gets stranger and stranger," says Jaek.
    "Why?" asks Helia.  "What's so strange?"
    "Because you're different.  I've been a lot of places, I've seen a lot of things."
    "You've never seen anybody fly?"
    "I've not seen anyone with wings."
    "Anybody can get wings."
    "But it appears that those... come with the model."
    "Attached?  Well, it's easier if they come that way."
    Shark says, "They're not aftermarket with her sister either.  She generally doesn't pull them out in public -- she only shows them to people she trusts.  Or to mess with their heads."
    "She's not my sister.  She's Helia.  I'm Helia and she's Helia.  I keep telling you, she's not my sister and she's not my twin.  And she's not a clone.  Neither of us is a clone."
    Jaek's natural scout curiosity kicks in.  He'll just talk to her and figure this all out.  He asks where she's from.
    "Home," replies Helia.
    "Where's home?"
    "Back home."
    Shark smiles, helpfully, "Where the other Helia's from."
    "That's true.  Well... she's from the same planet.  She's from nearby, actually.  We grew up together.  More or less."
    "They went to math school together.  Only Helia's better than Helia."
    "No, that's not true.  Helia's different from Helia.  It's just that we each had specific strengths.  It's not that one of us was better.  That's why we're not twins and we're not clones.  That's how you know we're not.  And we're not even siblings, I mean, obviously we have different strengths."
    Shark grins and walks forward to resume his zack training.
    Helia goes back to climbing on the wall; she'll practice zack with them later.  Jaek engages her in conversation about paragliding, skiing, and scuba diving vs. flying -- he doesn't see the point of something being "like flying" when you can fly.  Helia and Kalida try to convince him that the comparison is worth while.   "Anyway," Helia concludes, "Buy a girl a beer?"
    Back at the lounge, Jaek is surprised to find that the beer is actually very good.  The Baron adds that it's quite nutritious, too.  This beer was brought on board at Caloran , just the other side of the Federation of Arden in Vilis ; the even more nutritious beer from Goose has been finished for some time now.

    Shark goes around the regular crew, telling them not to be surprised at dinner tomorrow.

270-1121 : Jumpspace (from Spirelle / Lunion / Spinward Marches)

    Gravcraft simulation races resume today.  Jaek shows his skill by blowing everyone away -- this guy can actually drive .  Seeing the others at the simulation, he is not surprised that they crash regularly.  Helia is not too bad, but the others pretty much suck.  Jaek continues to push it -- he pulls more and more outrageous maneuvers, until finally he hits the wall while spiraling through the flight deck of a barrel-rolling carrier in a severe rainstorm with turbulent winds.  Helia promises not to roll the Nightshade while he's trying to land in a rainstorm.

    Shark is a little late for dinner that evening.  He calls from his stateroom, telling everyone he'll be down shortly.
    After about ten minutes, Shark finally turns up.  He announces, "All right, guys, now we can show our true selves."
    Jaek and Callisto look around.
    Shark looks very different.  He's the same height and build, but it's clear he's not human.  His head is squid-like, and has tentacles that are wiggling around.  His four eyes now show clearly -- two on the sides, the other two frontally placed above and below the central mouth.  The arms are plain tentacles, curling nicely at the end.  The legs look fairly normal, but his feet splay out, flat and disc shaped.
    Jaek has pushed his chair back and is looking very shocked.
    Helia is delightedly yells, "Cthulhu!" then continues in a more normal voice, "And they said I was a legend!  You're like, not going to suck our brains out?  Why do they call you Shark, they should be calling you Squid?"
    Jaek stares at the "true self" of his First Officer.
    Shark turns to Misha.  "Think this is enough, Cap?"
    "Enough of what?" says Misha.
    Helia adds, "No wonder Marquis Marc liked you."
    Kalida says pleasantly, "Have some vegetable chips, they're really good."
    "Actually I can't eat in this thing," says Shark, laughing, and pulls off his head mask.  He pulls his arm tentacles off too.
    Jaek shakes his head and sighs.  Just until they reach the starlanes...
    Helia is visibly disappointed.  "Aw, that sucks.  Is that tomorrow night's dinner, or is it just fake?"
    Shark tells her it is indeed fake.  "I just had to do it," he adds, "With this ship, and you people, I just had to do it."
    The regular crew approve.  Kalida says it's a very good look for him.
    "What the hell was that?" asks Jaek.
    "Fun?" says Shark, "At your expense, I apologize.  And Callisto."
    Helia reaches over and hands Jaek a 40 cc test tube saying, "Here, try a shot of this, it'll make you feel better."
    The thick oily liquid smells of rotten fish.
    The Baron says quickly, "If that's fish oil, don't drink it!"
    Helia says innocently, "It's not fish oil, it's klatrin."
    "Helia!  You can't give that to him right before we come out of jump.  He might need to fly."
    Even Robert agrees, "No, not now."
    Helia is not discouraged.  She quickly hands Jaek something else.  "Here, try this instead.  It's a kamikaze.  Wait!  Wait!"  She keeps pouring lime-containing drinks and handing them to him.
    Jaek sighs, and knocks them all back at once.
    "By the way," says the Baron, "I have an excellent hangover cure."
    Jaek puts down the empty glasses and joins Mich in another beer.

271-1121 : Caliburn / Sword Worlds / Spinward Marches

    The established crew prepares to come out of jump as if they know exactly when it'll happen.  They're right.  The Nightshade comes out of jump as expected at 02:00 at Caliburn .  They're running in stealth mode with the transponder off.

    They jump immediately for the empty hex of 0803 / Five Sisters .  That's the only way they'll be able to make it to Wonstar in two jumps instead of three.  It's the first time most of the crew have ever deliberately jumped for empty space -- the Anastasia did it on a couple of occasions, so it's not new to Mich and the Baron.  Nevertheless, it's a more difficult calculation since there isn't a gravity well at the end of it, and Mich runs extra diagnostics to be sure everything will be running correctly.
    While Mich finishes his diagnostics, the rest of the crew relax in the lounge.  Over several drinks, Helia invites Jaek to come to the bridge to watch the jump transition.  He accepts, and the two of them walk forward. 
    Helia sits down in her chair.  She goes sparkly pink -- she's surrounded by a pink light with sparkles around her.  After a few seconds, the ship goes into jump.  Helia comes out of sparkly pink and steps down from the pilot's dais.
    "That's it?" says Jaek incredulously.  "When did you program it?  I thought you were going to program this thing?"
    Helia flies up to one of her hammocks.  "It's already done," she calls down.  She lands beside Jaek again, and hands him a pastry.  "These are wonderful with beer, and they'll help with any hangover you might get.  When did I what?  Do the jump?  Well I knew the numbers by the time we got here so I just went into sparkly pink, told the computer the numbers, and I was done."
    "Back up.  You knew the numbers.  You didn't figure it out."
    "I did.  I figured it out before we left the lounge.  It's just maths."
    "So you're a savant."
    "No, I'm not a savant.  It's just math, it's not Calculations, it's very straightforward."
    "I figure you're a savant.  Another cultural anomaly."
    "I'm no more of a savant or cultural anomaly than Mich is."  They've been walking back to the lounge, and Helia's timed it so that she says it loudly just as they get back to the open area.

    Shark casually mentions over breakfast that he's going to drink some klatrin.  Now that they're in jump, it won't be a problem with him being out of it for three days.
    "No!" says Bridgehead, "Remember the first time you had that stuff, you were out for about a week and almost died.  Which is why you should never have any."
    Jaek listens with evident interest.
    "Not the second time," says Shark.
    "You were lucky," says the Baron.
    Helia adds, "I was fine, I took a nap."
    "You fly, too," says Jaek.
    "Maybe you'll be able to fly."
    "I don't want to fly!"
    Bridgehead continues, "It permanently changes your brain chemistry in ways I cannot predict."
    "So does beer, but at least beer is over time."
    "I can predict how beer changes things."
    Helia says, "You don't know how it affects brain chemistry."
    "No, but I do know it can be dangerous."
    "You don't know that it's changed my brain chemistry."
    "Yes I do.  I haven't scanned you, admittedly, but I've seen it on other people."  The Baron adds, "You act weird anyway.  I've studied Robert and Shark very thoroughly, and with the latter I even have a pre-klatrin baseline.  It causes irreversible brain changes.  It is dangerous and can cause damage.  Shark nearly died."
    Jaek says, "We probably won't drink it then."
    Shark and Robert say in unison, "It's good."  Robert adds that he should drink it.
    Jaek and Mich agree that beer is better.
    Robert concedes that he'd like to have some more, but knows he should not have more than he needs.

    Shark goes down to medical, drinks a shot of klatrin, and lies down on a bed.  Bridgehead tells Misha that his First Officer is out; he adds that Misha should line up a replacement First Officer in case Shark doesn't make it one of these days -- preferably someone who doesn't drink fish oil.

    Jaek checks out the gravcraft.  The gcarrier and two open air/rafts are indeed very new, and while they're in "as manufactured" shape, there's always a few tweaks to adjust to get the best out of them.  The current crew have obviously not been paying much attention to them, just driving the gcarrier rather than looking after it.  At least the air/rafts have not been used, but they get some tweaks too.  LSP 's quality is very good, but there's always manufacturing tolerances.
    Of course there's also the ship's boat, the launch.  It is at least set up so everything's in galanglic , and the controls are now pretty much configured to Imperial standards.  There's no power plant on board, just a couple of drives in the pods, but no-one on the Nightshade seems to think that's a problem.  Just another weird thing about this whole situation.

273-1121 : Jumpspace (from Caliburn / Sword Worlds / Spinward Marches)

Robert's Analysis of von Hayden's Database  
(Referee and Robert's player only)

    Now that Robert has analyzed the database, he needs to talk to the captain in private.

    The Captain has been in the lounge, discussing with the whole crew the matter of how to get out of this mess with the Imperium.  A popular suggestion is to sell them back the information about who is the Department of Horticultural Fertilizer, if they're not Imperium, which will probably get them out if they contact the right people.  Alternatively, contact or find out how to contact the people who built the black ship (in a friendly or non-friendly matter), and that information should then get them out of this trouble.

    Robert arrives in the lounge and tells the Captain he has something urgent to discuss in private.
    As soon as they're away from the rest of the crew, Robert tells Misha that he's decoded the information that they stole from Mora , from the secret data repository.  It was from the Imperial Navy Intelligence Special Operations unit, and it basically says that they found evidence of the script, they don't know what it means, but they want to deny any existence of it.  So anyone that's caught with any of it will be detained and questioned.
    "That's all?" asks Misha.
    "They found evidence that... they found some artifacts, caches of weaponry and other things that they haven't been able to power.  The items have the script on it but they don't know what it means.  They have samples in the database of the script, and it actually says, 'MRE's quantity 2000,' or 'Rifle, quantity 1.'  Simple minded stuff like that, but they're trying to deny any of it ever exists.  There's a research program to figure out how things work, and they're slowly gathering information.  They believe that there was some great battle between two races, and the race that had this technology lost -- and they don't know what it is that they fought.  They've found caches in various places; the research on the ships was at Zett .  Some other cache was found in Zaibon .  They've found various other caches in asteroid belts, hidden away.  They expect to find a cache to supply ground troops, but they have located it yet."
    "Expect to find a cache where?"
    "They just expect to find one.  These caches have been sprinkled around, mostly through the Spinward Marches and Foreven."
    "Does it say why they want to keep it hidden?"
    "They fear that knowledge of this higher technology will cause panic.  Or somebody else will figure out how it works."
    "How did we learn about this data cache?"
    "We were looking for samples of this writing, and found some in this database."  Robert doesn't add that at the time he was way deep into stuff he shouldn't have.
    "Any connection between this cache and the Wonstar Development Corporation?"
    "No.  All we know is Imperial Navy Intelligence Special Operations, Count Walter von Hayden."
    "Does he really exist?"
    "He's in the Who's Who.  He's reported to have holdings in Core."
    "Any connections between the data cache and the Department of Horticultural Fertilizer?"
    "No.  But there is the definite reference to Zett , where we got the ship."
    "Any reference to the water planet, Goose ?"
    "No.  There's no reference to Digitis , either."
    "The other evidence... there were missiles that had this written on them, where did they come from?"
    "Professor Farol is one of the outposts where technology...  Everything is cellularized as to who gets what little piece, and nobody knows the whole deal, they're just to get some small thing to research and report it back.  He was given some missile warheads -- they were fitted to Imperial launchers.  The warheads had the writing on them.  Mich saw the ones on our ship and recognized them as the same as on the Anastasia, and we knew that Professor Farol built the Anastasia."
    That's all there is for the captain to know.  They return to the lounge, and don't mention any of this conversation to anyone.

274-1121 : Jumpspace (from Caliburn / Sword Worlds / Spinward Marches)

    Shark comes around after the normal three days in a fish oil trance.

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

    "Did you have a good trip?" asks Robert.
    "Yes, excellent," says Shark.  "The realities of the universe are falling into place."
    Robert explains to Jaek that klatrin expands your mind, and you're connected to everything.  He then mentions idly that they should eradicate the script symbols that are printed on various things on the ship, in case anyone else comes on board.  All the food stores, supplies, and missiles have the writing.  All they need to do is stick labels in galanglic over them.
    Vonish asks, "Are we going to let somebody on to examine it?"  Of course, labeling everything in the galley and stores will make his life easier.
    "Well, jeez!" says Robert, "We seem to let anyone on board who says 'We want to get off this planet.'  Oh yeah, sure!  Hitch a ride!"
    "But we've always done that," laughs Bridgehead.  "As long as they're the right sort of people.  We never would have found Helen if we didn't pick people up in bars."
    "Or Jill," adds Mich.
    "Well, that was another matter.  And they were the only humans in that sector , on a planet with ice spiders, and slugs, and so on."
    "They weren't cockroaches, though, they were spiders.  They would have been dead, I'm sure, if they were cockroaches," continues Mich.  "Or the cockroaches would have been their slaves, which is even scarier."

    Misha tell Robert to brief Shark in private on what he told him; it turns out that even Shark has not heard of INISO.