(for Referee and Mike Greene only)
Fortunately, the Marquis is well known on Mora
and word travels fast among the nobility
and academia. An old acquaintance contacts him asking for a favor
-- a job for a friend, who just happens to be qualified to be the Third
Eye's engineer. The Marquis is in a hurry to get on his way,
so calls up this person, David Markland, and asks him to be on board in
an hour and ready for departure tomorrow.
Helia of course had joined the Marquis some time ago. She herself had come recommended by a merchant captain he knew, and had been serving on a Junoit Courier. She's a larian, a minor humanoid race that's rarely seen. She's normally dressed in a gray jumpsuit, often accessorized with colorful vests.
The Marquis had retained Misha Ravanos (on 100 Cr per day, plus expenses, plus a trip back to where he hired him) to investigate a rumor he's heard about Pimane. Misha reported back that while the prospector's story does change with alcohol level, the elements that the Marquis is interested in -- a dog-like creature with antlers, living in deep valleys with air and plentiful life -- seem to remain constant. Clearly it's worth the trip to investigate the story.
The H.M.S. Third Eye arrives
It's a simple journey to the mainworld -- or rather, it would be, but
the near miss with the subsidized merchant Yellow Snow, which
leaving the starport
with apparently no-one paying attention.
"Oops, sorry, thanks!" says the Yellow Snow.
"What are you bozos doing up there?" comes the voice of Pimane downport.
"We're not the bozos!" says Helia.
"Uh, yeah," says the Yellow Snow, "See you guys in a few months!" They don't seem to care much about the near miss.
"Just stop playing with that thing and settle down!" says the voice of Pimane.
"Yes sir," says Helia, "We were just doing our thing and they weren't paying attention coming up. No problem, where do you want me to put it?"
Where to put it is pretty obvious. There's
a marked concrete landing pad standing about 10 meters above the dust
right in front of the dome. Still, the Marquis wants to run a
orbit scan of the planet before actually landing. The Third
is equipped with excellent scanners.
Helia informs traffic control of their plans.
"Sure, see the sights," the voice says. Anywhere in particular? "There's this nice little planet about..."
Helia takes the ship on a pass around the planet
at around 100 km altitude. Once they're out of line of sight,
no way to contact the starport, as there's no comm satellites
The ground below them is mostly one vast dust plain, broken up by the
They guess that the canyons are the most likely places to find atmosphere, and therefore jackalopes (or bassalopes, or whatever they are). At this altitude, however, it's hard to tell for certain if there's any atmosphere in the canyons. The scans are inconclusive, but show signs that could be some water, some carbon dioxide, deep in the canyons. Whether that is "atmosphere" as such is another matter entirely. They'll have to take a very close look to find out -- but that'll be after checking in at the downport.
"So I'm going to need my ground crew," says Marc, thinking of Misha. "Helia, take us to the starport."
The H.M.S. Third Eye is a pretty big ship for this starport. It's a 600-tonner, whereas the subsidized merchants (like the Yellow Snow) only displace 400 tons. The big ship, looking rather like a manta ray, comes in to a smooth easy approach. Not so smooth is the picture on the front of the ship -- one of Marquis Marc's eyes, of which he takes a picture every morning and transfers it to the ship skin.
Vonish Kehnaan watches them land with interest. Unlike the centuries old crates that are the usual visitors, this one can't be more than 40 years old. It's clean, sharp, and looks fresh out of the yards. "Maybe my ship has come in," he muses. The job of starport administrator, which sounded pretty good back in Core when he accepted it, turned out to be a dead end. Anywhere but here would be good after a year in Hope's End. Supervising a port with routine goods coming in and ore leaving is a depressing job.
Hope's End is the only structure. It's a single domed city, with no sign of vehicles outside the dome. There is a cargo bay, suitable for standard 50t cargo containers or mining equipment, but it looks like ships have to rely on their own subcraft to get in. It's either that or walk.
Vonish runs the cargo door opening sequence -- first running the pumps to recover as much atmosphere as possible, then retracting the heavy door. As it opens, David Markland slips the Kankurir class gcarrier through effortlessly, parking it perfectly inside. Vonish smiles to himself as he cycles the cargo bay. First a fancy ship, now a flash state-of-the-art gcarrier. There's money here. His ship has come in at last.
The Marquis looks around expectantly, assuming that somewhere is an elevator to the real city underground. No such luck. A fading hatch stenciled "Customs and Immigration" in Galanglic indicates where they presumably need to go.
Once within the CHI office, Vonish sorts out
paperwork. They're here on a scientific mission, the Marquis
speaking for the whole crew of three. Helia stands behind Marc,
wanting to attract attention.
"How far is Hell's Armpit?" asks Marquis Marc.
"I don't know, but it can't be that far," says Vonish. He speaks with a slight Core accent, Vilani probably; he sounds amused.
"I was told there was a town here called Hell's Armpit."
"No sir, this is the only town. It must be what you're looking for. It certainly fits the description."
The Marquis says they'll want to spend a day or two off the ship. He asks for directions to accommodations, local evening entertainment spots, and so on. Vonish acquaints them with the local entrance fees, which Marc deftly bypasses with a 100 Cr note, and then points them towards the only hotel.
Marc leaves David to fill in all the paperwork -- ah, the privilege of being a junior crew member! -- while he and Helia go to the hotel. On the way out he looks at the local postings board. Along with wanted posters and a "job wanted" card from Vonish, and jobs open for prospectors and miners (two year term in the outer system and so on), he sees what he's looking for -- a card from Misha Ravanos with contact information. Conveniently enough he too is staying at the hotel.
Marquis Marc had taken a good look at Vonish's
resume. His starport administrator job certainly served him as
experience -- he seems like he might be a good person to help crew the
Eye, to give them more of a chance to switch off watches.
the ship can be run with three, it's a much easier job with five or
Marc mulls it over on the walk to the hotel.
It's late afternoon. The day here is 30 hours, with the gravity 0.55. The year is 0.64 standard. Hope's End works on Imperial time, though, as day and night don't really mean that much here in the dome.
The Marquis and Helia arrive at the hotel, but it looks much more like a bar. Marc asks the barman for the front desk, and is told that the bar doubles as that. The three rooms he gets are numbers 2, 3, and 6 -- all accessed through the door in the back of the bar. 2 is the best room, 3 the second best, and as for 6... well, that can be David's.
Time to settle down and wait for Misha. Marquis Marc orders bottled water. Helia asks for a Shirley Temple with a shot of vodka on the side, but has to settle for vodka and zurta.
Robert Morris is already in the bar. He noticed the ship land, and it's a reasonable assumption that folks from any unscheduled ship will end up in the hotel at some point or another. This tall slim stranger in safari clothes looks interesting, and he's accompanied by a little girl. Robert has met both Misha and Vonish during his stay here. He knows the latter because he's working for the starport as a communications technician -- having fixed up all the equipment in his first few days, there hasn't been much to do since, just fix occasional failures, and walk outside to brush off the beacons' solar panels once a week. As for Misha, Robert met him some time ago -- he'd heard Misha was looking around, trying to track down someone, and helped him find Crazy Bob in a prospector's bar. Anyone off-planet is of interest, of course, and someone who's looking for something here (of all places) doubly so. Robert was looking for somewhere to get away for while -- but it seems this is a little too far away.
The Marquis starts up a conversation with Robert
about the mining here. Robert starts expounding on bauxite, its
forms, where it's found, what to do with it, and seems unstoppable in
flow of words. Marquis Marc listens intently -- at the very
Robert's information sounds plausible. Helia on the other hand
he's probably bs'ing, but can't really prove it.
MIsha comes in -- tall and wiry, in outdoorsy clothes with a long sword over one shoulder and a small flying reptile over the other -- and joins his friend and current employer. Marc buys him a drink, while continuing to encourage Robert to tell him about that special blue form of bauxite.
Fifteen minutes later Vonish Kehnaan enters the bar. Robert, his commo tech, is still talking up a storm. He also recognizes Misha, the guy who asked to be notified when the unusual ship came into port. Vonish has several printouts that contain a lot of the information the Marquis had asked for -- it's just dull statistics on the economic administrivia of the area, but the noble takes it totally within his stride. The Marquis even excuses himself from Robert's bauxite lecture, and he and Vonish talk shop for a while.
The conversation turns to less dry matters. The Marquis tells Vonish he's looking for rare minerals, uncommon stones, local antiquities, local crafts, something that might be of commercial interest elsewhere in the Imperium. Vonish confirms local crafts are mostly absent -- the place crushes inspiration.
Marc says he's heard rumors of local fauna and flora, and is wondering where he might find such. Vonish has heard of this, but only in the wildest drunken stories; when the Marquis asks about a planet survey database, he can confidently say that the Third Eye's single orbit survey gathered more real information than they have in any form here.
"I have an excellent idea," Marc suddenly says to Vonish. "To evaluate your skills and help us with our survey mission, perhaps you could accompany us? Could you perhaps suggest someone else? We do need another backup person."
Robert Morris is rather sick of Pimane too, and volunteers rapidly. He does have some appropriate skills, so he'll be taken on to try out as well. Even though he seems to be over-representing himself, he is using all the right buzzwords and so is certainly worth evaluating.
As Helia slyly unfurls a wingtip at the dragon, Marc explains in more detail why he's here. Rumors of local fauna, including jackalopes, were reported by Crazy Bob. While he's just a drunken prospector, the jackalope part of his story is consistent. There's something odd about these jackalopes, and the Marquis, a well respected professor at the University of Mora, wants to capture one. He's planning to take Crazy Bob along to show them where he found the creatures.
Time to set things in motion. The party breaks up.
Vonish and Rob go back to the starport offices to
study their respective supposed areas of skill -- looks like they'll be
pulling an all-nighter with the standard manuals in the starport
Meanwhile Marquis Marc sends Misha over to the prospectors' bar to find Crazy Bob. It's easy, and he's cheap to hire -- he accepts 1/3 miner's wages. He initially wants a stake in any claim, but he's talked out of it. Misha tells Crazy Bob to meet at the ship in an hour -- he says he'll grab his gear and be right there.
The Marquis offers David the option of sleeping in a hotel room (#6) or on the ship. He picks the ship without hesitation, and Marc says he and Misha can sleep there with Bob. He's concerned about the security of the ship with the prospector on board, and however they accomplish it is fine with him. Misha and David return to the gcarrier to wait.
An hour later someone walks up to the
It's Crazy Bob, in an archaic vaccsuit, carrying his helmet and
The suit looks pretty dangerous -- no self-sealing or safety features,
just a plain old-fashioned suit. "You're a brave man, Bob," says
Misha, "welcome on board!"
David takes the gravcraft back out, but reversing is harder than coming straight in, this time it isn't quite the polished maneuver it was last time. Still, it's accomplished without incident.
Bob will be restricted to the "guest quarters",
module unit. The Zodiac class ship is built to contain a
module, which can almost be self-contained. Keeping him in this
contributes greatly to security. Misha suggests they cook -- Bob
claims to be a tolerable cook, but doesn't understand the
Unfortunately, neither does Misha. They settle mostly for a
dinner. (Now Vonish, on the other hand, can actually cook...)
David goes on down to engineering to check on the engines. He thinks the jump drives need some checking, some disassembly, maybe a day's work... but he'll check it again in the morning.
The evening passes...
Once on board, Marc makes sure everything is
David's to check the drives for a sensor run (this morning the jump
passed all testing, wonder what happened last night?), and to remain in
engineering. Robert is shown to the sensor operator's console,
the Marquis sets up a tutorial simulation for him; Vonish takes the
station, and he too runs through a tutorial to familiarize himself with
The Marquis calls for Misha and Crazy Bob to join them on the bridge. He shows Bob the map they've produced from their survey run, and asks him which way to go. Bob says that they travelled on foot for a couple of weeks. He can direct them right to it.
With Robert on the sensors, Vonish takes his
turn at piloting the H.M.S. Third Eye.
About 300 km out along Bob's path, they come across one of the deep canyons.
"How deep is it? Any atmosphere?" asks Marc.
"It's hard to tell from this angle," says Rob.
Vonish starts bringing them down towards 100m AGL, but suddenly runs into trouble on the controls. Helia takes over for the tricky descent. She brings the ship across the middle of the valley and swings left to run along it.
Crazy Bob explains to the Marquis that they'd just walked down into the valley, carrying their gear.
Out of the panoramic bridge window it looks like
there might be some green near the bottom. Marquis Marc asks
to take them down to 300m from the bottom of the valley. She asks
Robert how much clearance they have vertically and horizontally, but he
seems to be concentrating on something else on the sensor console.
Helia starts to feel air effects. She backs off the contragrav as she takes the ship into aerolift.
There are definitely signs of vegetation down below. It looks surprisingly hospitable. There may even be a river flowing down the middle of the valley -- they're travelling downstream.
The Marquis asks Crazy Bob where they saw the jackalopes, but his memory is not too good. How much of the supplies were liquid? Were they partying, perhaps? Yeah, they had a party once the vaccsuits were off -- they had to sit down and rest because of the thin atmosphere.
The Third Eye's flight down the canyon is accompanied by running banter between Marc and Helia. Helia brings up the possibility of watching out for other traffic. Marc replies, "I'll give you 100 Cr if we even see another ship down here!"
Now they're starting to see some signs of
in the foliage -- trees blown down and so on. A storm,
But the wind here couldn't be too strong in the light air, no matter
the storm. So what could it be? There are no falling rocks
among the trees. The damage gets worse as they go on. A
Robert is having some trouble with the sensors -- Marquis Marc deftly flicks them into recording so he can analyze the data later. He asks Helia to take them up a little and increase speed -- she's disappointed that they aren't buzzing the ground, but "higher and faster it is." She gets the speed up as fast as she can and still have the ground conditions clearly visible.
Now it looks like they're passing over an area where there was a forest fire. Could have been a meteor, suggests Marc. Could have been a meteor or a ship, says Helia, coming in hot from space.
Meanwhile William Avon spots some sort of vehicle approaching their camp in the valley! Grand Admiral Sir Bridgehead gets excited and has to pause for breath, much to Avon and Alice Waterford's amusement. Avon scrambles for flares, but can't remember where he put them. "I have my gauss pistol here!" exclaims Sir Bridgehead, ever helpful. The vehicle is clearly a spaceship, looking much like a manta ray with one large eyeball. It's the first sign of anyone else they've seen in the twenty or so days they've been here.
Back on the Third Eye, they reach the end
of the destruction. Helia brings them to a stop over a
Now a flare fires up into the sky. There's still no sign of
-- and it's probably not a jackalope that set off the flare.
gets a definite reading on the sensors -- people! The rest of the
bridge crew see several people by the trees, jumping up and down and
The Marquis suggests landing right away in the lake, but Helia wisely wants to check the depth first. Robert reports that it would be deep enough, except there's a large mass of metal about 10m below the surface. Helia points out it's probably whatever ship was there first. She locks the Third Eye in position and pushes back for a rest.
The away team consists of Marquis Marc, Crazy Bob, Misha, and Robert. They head down to the surface with an air/raft and the gcarrier.
The marooned crew of the Anastasia are in
mixed health. Avon, Alice, and Sir Bridgehead are in good
Teri Cralla is capable of moving, but barely so. Mich Saginaw is
critical but stable. The gcarrier, an Imperial Kankurir, parks in
front of them. A single figure in a vaccsuit emerges. He
himself as the Marquis Marcus Crestworthy. Avon says they are
pleased to see them.
As they start to load the wounded onto the gcarrier, the Marquis asks Avon if they've seen any jackalopes? No, some stuff in the river, but nothing really large anywhere. Avon introduces the weak Grand Admiral Sir Bridgehead. "He's actually OK except for the atmosphere effects", says Avon. Sir Bridgehead is clearly delighted to meet another noble. But for now the priority is the wounded -- the Third Eye doesn't have any good medics, but Sir Bridgehead says that's no problem -- the rescued have. Getting them into a regular atmosphere is a very good first step.
While they've been talking Misha heads off in a
direction. His jherig seems to be telling him something, wanting
him to go somewhere off into the bushes. He does.
David calls the Marquis that Misha seems to be heading towards something. "Maybe he's catching a jackalope," says Marc, "We'll just let him go."
Misha notices something, and approaches the creature hidden behind a bush. It looks like a large dog, somewhat like a German Shepherd. It comes out to sniff. It has teeth, large heavy claws, and antlers. Despite the heavy natural weaponry it doesn't seem to present a threat. The creature seems to be trying to communicate with the snake-like thing (the jherig) but it doesn't seem to work.
Misha looks around to see if anything else is around. Apparently not. He walks back to the gcarrier and the creature follows him. They all go on board and return to the Third Eye.
So the ship hovers over the lake while they deal with the wounded. There are just 6 survivors from the Anastasia disaster, out of around 30 crew that entered the last fateful jump from Frenzie.