(60) Not What We Were Looking For

The Misha Campaign (339-1121)

339-1121 : Bowman / District 268 / Spinward Marches

    Nightshade has been searching the Bowman belts for signs of black technology.  Callisto has found something artificial -- man made, metallic -- on an 80 km diameter asteroid.  Whether this is what they're looking for or not, it's well worth investigating.
    They're about 100 degrees out from Bowman itself, and it's been a week since they've seen any other ships.  This is well out of the way of any activities.
    Everyone who sparkles pink is in that mode as the ship approaches the asteroid in stealth mode.  Even Edward "Shark" Teeth piggybacks onto the sensors in sparkly pink, although Callisto is using them conventionally.
    Misha Ravanos directs them to approach closer, quickly.  Helia Sarina does so, bringing them close enough for Callisto to pick out some details.
    The rock has a rough surface, and the composition is rocky.  The metallic object is not visible at present during this approach.
    Misha hears one of his advisors advise him to go to full alert -- it's not his tactical advisor, but Shark's voice he hears..  Everything is ready, though, so how much more alert could they be?  Kalida Siena's voice indicates that the gunnery systems are all red.
    Shark calls Teri Cralla and asks her to be ready for EVA.  She suits up in her battledress, FGMP-15 at the ready.
    Callisto has found the metallic object, and brings it up on the holodisplay.  It's a radio dish, about ten meters in diameter, with associated hardware to orient it.  It hasn't been broadcasting or they would have picked it up.  There is no sign of an entry hatch.
    Shark drops out of sparkly pink.  He says, "Marquis, meet me at the gcarrier.  Teri can go out by herself, but the rest of us need the gcarrier."
    Misha suggests that the away team should consist of Shark, Marquis Korwin Vanderfield, Teri, and Robert Morris.
    Teri is stationed in the airlock of the gcarrier in full battledress with FGMP-15.  She's a little uneasy, as this is what Akim Gavrolovitch was doing when he was killed.
    The rock has a rather complex motion that's very hard to match.  Nevertheless, Helia manages to achieve it, making it very much easier for the gcarrier to go down to the surface.

    Korwin brings the gcarrier closer to the dish.  Shark tries to fire up the NAS to check for any people around, but finds it too difficult.  In fact, he almost manages to throw it out of calibration, but is saved by Robert stepping in and taking over for him.  Robert was originally hired as a sensor operator, after all, and shows Shark how he almost messed it up badly.  But he finds no sign of neural activity.
    Korwin maneuvers the gcarrier around so they can get a good look at the site.  While there are no hatches or anything, there is cabling running from the dish along the surface.  They follow the wires.
    The wires continue for some distance to a small metal box.  This is probably a coupling; the wires would go into the ground here.
    Shark calls the ship for a detailed survey of this area.  Meanwhile, he looks for caves or crevasses nearby -- he's sure there has to be an entrance somewhere near here.  He quickly locates a cave, with an entrance more than big enough for the gcarrier.  He checks his football sensor (nothing shows) and tells the ship they're going in.
    If they get too far into the rock, the radio might not be reliable.  Robert fires up the gcarrier's meson communicator, but can't get a channel established.  He might have to do some work on the ship to figure it out.  For the time, they'll have to cope with radio.  They do also have the emergency one-way signaling device.
    Korwin slips the gcarrier into the cave.  He turns on the lights, since the interior is pitch dark in shadow.  The place is plenty big enough to hide Nightshade in here, and up ahead are what can only be hangar doors.  They move up closer.
    Shark wants to find a non-destructive way to open the doors.  Teri reluctantly agrees to go out and look for an access panel or some other way in.
    Soon Teri calls in that she's found something, and feeds the video to the gcarrier.  It looks like some sort of access door.  She opens it.  Inside are a bunch of handles and switches.  There's writing on the labels, but it's nothing that anyone on the away team recognizes.
    Shark starts to run through the major language scripts; the closest he can find, not an exact match, is Darrian.  He calls back to the ship, but no-one there speaks Darrian.  The translator on board the ship sort of makes sense out of it.  Obviously it's some dialect that doesn't correspond to the ones in the ship's computer.
    Robert studies the translations and the layout of switches, and describes to Teri the ones she should set.  She does so, and at his direction pulls one of the large levers.  The doors begins to move very slowly.
    The headlights reveal a hangar beyond.  There is a ship in there, probably no more than 300 tons.  The stern that faces them shows signs of damage.  Although the door is wide enough for Nightshade, the bay isn't long enough to hold her -- it looks like it's designed for a capacity of around 600 tons.
    Korwin moves the gcarrier into the hangar while Teri stays outside.  The ship is tethered to the floor.
    Kalida reminds everyone that it's been over a week since they've seen any ships.  If they dropped out of stealth mode it would still be really hard to pick them out -- a small ultra black ship in an asteroid belt.  She switches to the all black color scheme and they drop out of stealth.  Callisto starts full active scans, as directed as possible to keep scatter to a minimum.  She starts building relief and density maps of the area.
    Shark calls, "Captain, there's a damaged ship in here.  The script resembles Darrian."
    No-one on board Nightshade recognizes the type of ship.  It looks like it's taken some asteroid or meteorite damage to engineering.  The ship itself is probably not military.  It doesn't really look like a merchant, more like a scout or courier.
    Shark points out that there are signs of energy weapon damage -- personal weapons -- on the hull, particularly around the open entry ramp.  He says, "Someone fought their way on, or fought their way off."
    Aside from the lights from the gcarrier and Teri's battledress, the place is dark.  No sign of power, and there was no rush of air when the doors opened.
    Shark continues, "My feeling is it's old.  I'll date the language if I can."
    The only person on board with linguistics or archeology is Jaekovic Ils-Nevronne.  He confers with Robert to get the computer to help, and after a short while announces it's probably pre-Imperial Darrian, 1000 to 2000 years old.
    Shark says, "I think we need to investigate this.  About the only reason for them to be here is black ship technology.  This is a long way from their area."
    Jaek says that during that period, the Darrians were expanding.  If one put this at pre-Maghiz, before their big disaster, then they could well have had a colony here.  It would have been about the right time period.
    On the far wall of the hangar, there are some smaller doors clearly leading deeper into the base.  This is as far as ships would go, though, as the other doors are sized for cargo or personnel.  Callisto confirms from preliminary densitometer readings that there are tunnels and open areas in the rock further into the asteroid.
    They need to explore the rest of this place in person.  That means switching away team personnel to those more suited to the task, in particular those who can use vaccsuits.  This time it'll be Misha, Mich Saginaw, Helia, and Teri, with of course Korwin at the gcarrier controls.  Robert remains on Nightshade to figure out the meson communicator issues.
    Helia has locked the ship into a good position, although Vonish Kehnaan stays at the pilot's console in case they need to move.  The meson communicator problem, Robert says, turns out to be that the ship's shielding acts as a meson shield; he has to set up a receiver location with a virtual meson sensor outside the shield, and in turn set up the gcarrier meson communicator to transmit to the revised location.  This is very tricky to do, but nevertheless he manages to make the necessary changes to the systems.  Now they have much more reliable secure communication between the gcarrier and the ship, no matter what's between them.

    Korwin brings the new team down to the cave and into the hangar.  Misha asks how old this ship might be relative to Nightshade.  Jaek has estimated this ship is at most about 2000 years old; if what Lap'da told Misha is true -- and they interpreted it correctly -- there could well have been black ships around at least 250,000 years ago.  The Maghiz was in -925, which devastated the Darrian Confederation -- this ship here might date from around then, in which case it could contain more advanced technology than the Imperium.
    Everyone has already donned vaccsuits under Mich's supervision before leaving Nightshade.  They're ready to go out and investigate -- except of course for Korwin who will stay on the gcarrier.
    Misha suggests they look at the old ship first.  For one thing, it's already open.  The team dismount and head for it.
    The entry ramp is down, and now they're closer to it the marks from a firefight are much clearer.  There are some similar marks on the hangar walls, too.
    The ship is of course in darkness.  Nothing has any power.  It's rather eerie moving through the silent ship with virtually no gravity and no lights.  What minuscule gravity there is, is oriented towards the bow.  Over the years, loose items have collected on the forward walls.
    There is not much of immediate interest.  It's obviously not Imperial; Jaek, watching the video feed, says it's consistent with pre-Maghiz Darrian.  Tech level is around 15 or 16, also consistent with that supposition.  There are no bodies on board.  Nothing has any power.  The interior of the ship looks basically undamaged in the crew areas, aside from the gunfire marks in the entry way.  To hook the computer up to a power source would probably take about an hour, says Mich -- it's of an unfamiliar type, of course.
    For once, everything seems to be going fine.  No-one gets into trouble with their vaccsuit or the strange low gravity orientation.
    Engineering is damaged.  The ship has taken impact damage to engineering from the outside.  There are hull patches, and damaged engineering gear that's been jury-rigged.  Some the rigged gear has obviously repeatedly failed and been repaired, with the remains of burnt cables just pushed aside and replaced.  It looks like one or more objects hit the ship and penetrated the hull into engineering, and the crew patched it back enough to make it here.
    Mich would like to play at getting the whole ship working again, but Misha just wants enough restored to get the data off the computers.  They could perhaps use one of the external power outlets on the gcarrier to run it, but Mich is not yet certain that will do the job.
    To everyone's surprise but Mich, the power systems are not antimatter.  It's a fusion plant.  There is no fuel on board the ship.  It's very rapidly apparent that the jump drive has been damaged substantially and is not operational at all.  Of interest is that it doesn't use zuchai crystals -- it uses a system of gravitic fields to contain the energy for the jump, sort of a gravitic capacitor.
    The ship is clearly of archeological interest.  The jump drive is of academic interest, although the gravitic capacitor layout is almost certainly less efficient and more cumbersome than using zuchai crystals.
    Helia, meanwhile, has been playing with the pilot's station on the bridge.  To her disappointment, nothing works.
    The hold is small, and completely empty.  It looks just like one would expect from a scout type ship.  There are some personal items in a few of the staterooms.  Among them are several handwritten personal diaries.  The overall impression is that the people just left, expecting to come back.  In contrast, four cabins (of about ten) have no personal effects at all.  None of those are officers' quarters -- all those have personal effects.
    They loot the ship of anything that might be useful or give a clue to what happened here -- the diaries, books, and so on.  There are no personal weapons on board; what was probably the armory is now completely empty.  Some clothing is on board, including some uniforms.  From what they've found, the crew would have been a mix of service and civilian personnel, even at the officer level.
    Misha looks for signs that the ship has been looted before, but it really does look like the crew has just left.  There is weapons fire evidence in the entrance and some in the hangar, which looks like a gunfight between people in the ship and outside it.  The fight did not apparently continue into the ship, which Kalida takes to mean that the people in the ship won.
    But if there was a fight, why would they come here?  Why, asks Misha, would they fly into an enemy hangar?  Mich suggests that they probably had no choice, given the damaged engineering on the ship.
    Misha says they're done with the ship for now, and they should move further into the asteroid complex.

    Everyone moves down to the doors on the inner wall of the hangar.  There are two personnel doors, and one larger cargo door.  Only the small doors seem to have manual operation.
    The chosen door is stiff, but no problem for Teri in the battledress.  It opens into what would be an airlock.  The inner airlock door is already open, but there is no sign of atmosphere within.
    Beyond the lock is a storeroom or cargo receiving area.  Some stacks of crates are still locked to the floor, while loose items have collected on the far wall.  Smaller doors, airtight but not airlocks, are in that wall.  Despite the crates, this area is fairly empty.
    The doors beyond lead to a crossways corridor in what is apparently the living areas.  Again this is in complete vacuum.  The center of this corridor opens up into a lounge, mess, and galley area.  Everything has been left neat and tidy.  Nevertheless, all loose items -- some clean dishes, decorative objects, and furniture has collected on the far wall.  Fixed objects like some tables are still in place.  There is a slight layer of dust over everything.  Misha hypothesizes that they didn't go away expecting to be gone long -- or they didn't go away at all.
    They continue through the complex.  Everywhere they go they get the same impression -- everything's been left tidy and clean.  In the living areas and laboratories, for example, everything has been put away neatly.  There's what was probably some sort of survey work room, with some sort of holodisplay equipment.
    It's quite clear that this is a full station, not just a warehouse.  There were grav plates everywhere, but obviously they're not working at present.  There were no signs of gunfire anywhere except the ship and the hangar.  No blood, no bodies, no people.
    Looking further in, it appears that the station was built for about 50 people.  The Sick Bay is neat and tidy -- a TL16 installation that Shark can figure out pretty easily.  Command and control is deeper in the rock, as is Engineering, which houses the fusion plant that would power the base.  Mich announces that the systems seem to be in good shape -- the fusion plant was apparently left running and did so until the fuel ran out.  It might need some freshening up to bring it back online, but it's basically in good shape.  Also deeper in the station are conference rooms, more luxurious suites, and so on.
    Deeper still they find a rack of fifty emergency low berths.  Thirty-two of them were occupied.  The bodies are desiccated, perfectly preserved.  They have darrian features.
    Shark presents a theory: "You are a scout out from the main system world.  They tried to test a star trigger or whatever, and it blew up their main world.  You're not going to get any resupply, you're not going to get anything else.  You're stranded here.  There's a mutiny, you fight it out, you kill a few people.  You now have control back, but you can't leave -- your ship is damaged, for whatever reason, and there's not going to be anyone coming back.  The only thing you can do is put yourself in low berth and hope someone comes and gets you.  You can't fix your jump drive -- you don't have Mich!"
    Misha says, "So you put yourself in low berth, power everything else down, and you hope that somebody comes and gets you before you run out."
    Kalida says, "And here we are -- late."
    Mich adds, "And you build a communications system saying, 'Here we are, come and rescue us.'"
    Misha says, "But the ship still worked a little bit, right?  They could go get more fuel for the fusion reactor?"
    Shark says, "OK, so they topped it off.  It still wouldn't last 2,000 years."
    "You have the system wake you up every now and again, and go get more fuel."
    Kalida says, "And if the computer crashes?"
    Mich says, "We won't know until..."
    "...we power up this place," finishes Misha.
    Shark points out they don't have any way of collecting or refining hydrogen.
    "Does the ancient Darrian ship have fuel collecting facilities?"
    Mich says it does not have fuel scoops.  Misha nods -- that would explain it.
    Shark says that means it's not really a scout ship, but a courier or shuttle.  He guesses the mutiny was about doing something rather than sitting around.  He then adds that they could use this as their own base -- once it's powered up and freshened, of course.
    "What do we need a base for?" asks Misha.
    "Piracy!" says Helia.
    Shark ignores her.  He says, "You know, if we need some place to be out of the ship, whatever.  So we should take the dish off the surface so no-one else finds it."
    Misha nods.  "What's the easiest way to get enough power to the systems and the ship so we can find out what happened here?"
    Mich says that the gcarrier can probably power the computer systems on the ship.  Bringing the base computer system online would require more.  He muses that he needs to work on a converter to get the black ship power into a form where everything else can use it.  He knows it's possible, he just doesn't know enough about black technology yet.  Misha tells him to go ahead and get the data off the ship's computer, and also to remove the dish from the surface.
    Shark says they can plan on coming back with some water, work on repairing the fusion reactor, and bringing the base back up.  He adds that the astrogational data on the ship's computer should allow them to date this place pretty accurately.
    Mich presents the plan.  They'll recover what they can from the ship's computer powered from the gcarrier.  At a later date they'll show up with a large quantity of fuel for the fusion reactor and whatever they think it will take to repair it.  They'll take down the satellite dish and the cabling, which is how they found this place.
    Shark adds that they can take Helia back to the ship, finish off the scan of the asteroid, then bring Nightshade into the cave -- there isn't room in the hangar for their ship, but there is room in the cave.  Mich and Teri can dismantle the satellite dish and bring it into the cave, while Robert gets the data from the ship's computer.  While this is all going on, Shark will stay on the ship and watch.

    They put the plan into motion.  Korwin drives everyone back to the ship, then takes Mich and Teri back again to do the work.  They first dismantle the satellite dish and cabling, taking it back into the hangar.  There they hook up the darrian ship's computer to the gcarrier power outlet.  It takes them just half an hour to get power to the system; Korwin then fetches Robert to make the connections and figure out how to extract the data.  The transfer rate is slow -- it takes a couple of hours to get everything they need off the old machine.  Soon, though, everything is done and they're ready to leave the rock.  Robert can decode and translate the information at his leisure.

    This has delayed their scan of the belt by a day.  They still have plenty of time to complete their run and still get back to Digitis in time for their meeting.  They'll have to leave here by 051-1122 to make it.

    So they continue with their scan.  They expect to complete it on 014-1122.
    While they do so, Shark suggests the whole crew should start a training regimen for vaccsuit, a skill most of them are clearly lacking.  Mich will teach -- perhaps that will help his instruction skills too.  They don't even mention that Grand Admiral Baron Bridgehead has both vaccsuit and instruction...