Grand Admiral Sir Bridgehead tells the Marquis he's glad he's found someone who understands about social standing and rank, and that one's rank in civilian life depends on one's standing in the nobility. Sir Bridgehead, despite being just a knight, has an air of being higher than that. On finding that the Marquis is also a scientist, he offers to help with the studies of the creatures and so on.
The survivors of the Anastasia had packed enough clothes, money, and personal effects to fill a large suitcase each. In addition, Sir Bridgehead had brought all the necessary portable equipment from the Anastasia's sick bay, and data from his experiments and readings from the non-portable special equipment. His opinion of the Third Eye's sick bay is that it is adequate but primitive. He asks that it be upgraded at the nearest convenience. He is met with slightly astounded stares.
Meanwhile the jackalope searches the ship for rodents. He can't find any. He seems to be having no problem with the thick atmosphere and high oxygen levels.
Marquis Marc spends the time until dinner devising, laying out, and programming intelligence tests for the jackalope. It'll take about two or three days to set up the tests, and probably three days to run them.
Misha considers the guests: six survivors of the
wrecked ship. Most are in their mid thirties. One is in critical
but stable condition. Another is recovering and conscious in the
sick bay -- about 30, obviously fit and in good physical shape.
William Avon is not too physically imposing, fairly quiet. There's
a young woman in her mid-20's who seems to defer to everyone else, like
she's a lower crew member or something. There's a woman around 40-ish
or in her mid 40's who seems to be Avon's girlfriend; she's well dressed,
clearly civilian, with an unusual accent.
The group was well armed. Sir Bridgehead carries a gauss pistol, and Avon has a gauss rifle in storage. Of course there's some other equipment too -- a suit of Imperial battledress, and some weapons that are high-tech enough to be beyond Misha's knowledge. One of those weapons is clearly a very large gun. The arms and equipment (mostly belonging to the woman in sickbay) are put under secure lock and key in the armory. The Third Eye's armory is only really big enough for hunting rifles and so on, but some re-arranging makes room for even the battledress.
The gravity in sickbay is backed off for a while. Mich Saginaw should continue to improve now under Sir Bridgehead's care, while Teri Cralla should heal quickly.
Misha would like to check the new folks and gear for explosives. It'd be easy enough to do with a bioscanner/sniffer, but he himself doesn't know how to do it. Of course security is enhanced by putting all the new people in the pod. From the bridge they can lock the main bulkheads, and there's individual locks on the staterooms, but there isn't a full security system as there would be on a merchant or military vessel. The Marquis programs as necessary to set up the locks to allow him and Misha full access (to locked staterooms and so on), but limit everyone else to normal access.
Misha goes around all the new people, to talk to each one, get to know them, and get their version of the story of how they arrived here. He's also looking for a sense of whether there's some conspiracy or something going on here.
He starts with Grand Admiral Sir Bridgehead, who
says he ended up on this planet when they crashed. In return, Misha
says he's been working for the Marquis for a couple of days.
Sir Bridgehead says he's impressed by the Marquis in general. He seems to be a good man, of appropriate rank, and he'd be honored to serve with him.
"So what brought you here?"
"A ship. We've been just flying around, going on different trade missions, going between systems and seeing where we can make some money. Meanwhile I've been doing some research like with the natives, and basically I just enjoy meeting people."
"What's an Admiral doing on a commercial vessel?"
"Boredom. I'd just left the service and there wasn't anything to do. I had this opportunity to meet people and I took it. It is a nice change to be on a ship that's commanded by an appropriate rank. I might say that the captain of our previous ship was a renegade. He had a rather suspect background, in a sense -- there was speculation that he may have been involved in some piracy at some point. It is nice to be with someone reputable."
"And what happened to this captain?"
"He is dead, unfortunately."
"Where did you go on these commercial ventures?"
"All over. Mostly in the Spinward Marches, and a bit outside because we got some really good deals out there. We dealt in whatever would fetch a good price -- we had a pretty large cargo hold. Fostriades was our merchantman, who did all the transactions. We had a parting of ways. Basically we had been some places that were a bit risky, and Fostriades got a bit tired of the danger. We did come across a few pirates from time to time, and that can be pretty scary especially when your ship is smaller."
Misha gets the sense that Sir Bridgehead is being evasive -- either he's stupid or doesn't want to tell him everything. What he's being told is probably the truth, but the Admiral is definitely hiding something. His story does match reasonably well with the story from other people.
Next, Misha visits Teri Cralla.
Teri tells him that she's a Marine. She was a marine with Scorpionis, which no longer exists as a political unit, and is on detached duty with these folks as ships troops. They did some exploring, some trading, some reconnaissance work. Their recon was into unexplored systems and so on. There was a lot of political turmoil in the area and they did some missions going in to report back on the situation.
"Did they make a lot of money doing this?"
"I didn't see any of it. I don't think so. The trading was where they made their money, but they must have been pretty well off when they got there. Presumably they'd been trading all the way out. Then we misjumped back this way, and, well, we misjumped again, and the ship was a wreck when we came out of jump. The Grand Admiral and the crew he put together from the survivors managed to put the ship down here."
"Where is the ship now?"
"Under the lake."
Teri says she herself was actually from Yonder (the local name for Foreven sector), way out to spinward.
Misha gets the impression that she's a pretty straight-up person -- she won't give away anything that seems important, but is pretty forthcoming about everything else.
All the military equipment is hers -- there were originally 20 ships troops on this ship; most of them died in misjump, and the rest on landing. When they came in for the landing, the vehicle bay door popped open, and the overpressure finished off the rest of the guys. "I was lucky Sir Bridgehead kept me together. I just wish more of us would have made it through."
"How do you feel about Sir Bridgehead?"
"Stuffed up old sonofabitch."
"Good solid guy. He'd probably say the same thing about Sir Bridgehead but more diplomatically."
Next is William Avon, who is about as forthcoming as Sir Bridgehead, but without the snobbery.
Jenny Roberts, the young woman, obviously doesn't know anything. She signed on, and she's under the command of Sir Bridgehead, the Captain of the ship.
Misha then visits sick bay. Mich Saginaw is clearly genuinely hurt. He looks like he's been badly burnt after being repeatedly slammed into heavy objects. His breathing is being assisted. There's no question he's very badly injured.
Misha's report to Marc is along the lines of "I don't think they planned to ambush us here, but they may yet..." He confirms with Marc the plausibility of the ship being in the lake, and the Marquis says that there is a large lump of metal under the water which is probably the ship.
Two people miss the dinner by being on watch -- the engineer and sensor op stay on the bridge.
At 17:30, the dinner is a great success. The
meal is unusual for most of the folks -- Core-style and vilani
cooking -- and is very good. Cocktails from the well stocked bar
precede the meal (Helia's taste is for sweeter drinks -- liqueurs, light
wines, and so on).
The Marquis dresses what he considers appropriately -- just under formal, more business casual.
Sir Bridgehead compliments the chef for the best meal he's had in a long time.
Marc echoes the compliments for the first meal Vonish has cooked for them. He explains to Sir Bridgehead that on this mission they're trying out a couple of potential employees. The ship's complement is four: Misha, Helia, and the engineer David who is on watch.
Helia looks like a young girl, dressed in a grey jumpsuit with a long brightly colored vest over it, eye shadow to match her vest, and wings. "Helia, our ship's pilot," says Marc, introducing her to Sir Bridgehead.
"Nice to meet you, Helia," the Grand Am says, "and where are you from?"
"Around," replies Helia.
"I really like your wings, they're very attractive."
"Why thank you," she says, fluttering them for him.
"Do you fly?"
"On occasion. I fly this ship."
"I think that's very appropriate, it's nice to have someone who has flight experience flying."
The Marquis steps in. "Vonish's cooking talents are
secondary to his position, he's potentially our assistant pilot and backup
"So what is your mission?" asks Sir Bridgehead.
Marc replies, "I'm actually here to find the horned animal that followed Misha aboard. I heard rumors about it, it was a fauna that hadn't ever been reported before, and we thought we'd come and investigate."
"There must be plenty of fauna of that type around the Imperium, what makes this one so special?"
"None quite rumored like this one."
"Well if I may be of any service, please let me know."
"Certainly. Actually, maybe over dinner you can tell me of any other fauna that's... "
"To be perfectly frank, sir, I have been under the weather since I've been on this planet, and I haven't done a lot of investigation."
"I understand your ship was quite large?"
"Not really. It's larger than this one, but large in the scheme of things, no."
"More than twice the size of my ship, which is three times the size of a regular merchant." Unvoiced is the thought that it was actually the size of a small warship.
"Yes, but we were coming up against bigger ships."
"It must have been quite an adventure, travelling from wherever it was you needed such a grand ship."
"We had some remarkable experiences. I like your style, and like to travel, like to investigate things."
"Well, I do that as much as I can get financing for, and right now I'm here to investigate this. Obviously I'm going to have to put that on delay to get you people back to civilization, and Hell's Armpit is not considered civilization even by its inhabitants."
"Quite frankly, sir, I'm not in any hurry to get back to civilization."
Marc looks at him in surprise.
"Could you tell us, sir, where we are?" continues Sir Bridgehead.
"You're in Hell's Armpit, Pimane system, Mora subsector. Very few have heard about it, and those who have don't want to come here. I've been finding out more and more about it from Vonish."
"I would like at some point to get a message to Archduke Norris."
"That can be accomplished, maybe not from here but from just one jump away. Tomorrow, after everyone's had a good night's sleep and a chance to consider things, perhaps we'd like to consider some additional salvage from your ship."
Sir Bridgehead then suggests a card game, with wagers appropriate to their station.
Alice Waterford says, "I know just the game!".
The Marquis continues, "Let me introduce our final guest, he's been on the planet for a while, Crazy Bob. He's the person who told us about the jackalopes. We actually came here to see Mr. Bob."
Bob does look a little crazy. "I'm a prospector, explorer. I was telling people there was air down here when people didn't believe me. And they still don't. Trekked a couple of weeks in vaccsuits we did, on foot, all the way from Hope's End."
Sir Bridgehead is distracted from his card game idea. He asks, "What's so special about these jackalopes, Bob?"
The Marquis adds, "Yes, tell us your story again, Bob!" Bob defers to Marc, so the Marquis tells them what he'd heard from an old free trader, remembering a stopover on Pimane:
|"I remember the town was called Hell's Armpit. Really, this is no shit. Anyway, I was in a bar when this guy rolls in, looking like he'd wandered out of one of those old Indy Jones holovids. Turns out he'd been on an expedition exploring the canyons. Says there was a lost kingdom out there, a whole city made of Lanthanum! Yeah, that's what I thought too. Still, mad or not, the guy bought me a drink, and since drinks are friggin' expensive there, figured I owed him a listen. He told this crazy story of Jim and his mates being hunted down by a pack of jackalopes or something, big dogs with antlers. What was weird was that they saw them coming at them, but most of the guys just went all crazy -- just like they were all spaced out, without a care in the world, and dropped their weapons, stood up and let themselves get caught. He saw the whole thing from where he was setting up camp."|
Sir Bridgehead asks, "What
did the jackalopes do with these men?"
"Ate them," says Bob.
Sir Bridgehead is shocked. "ATE THEM? And we've got one of these creatures on board this ship?"
Vonish suggests that there might be legal issues in transporting dangerous animals. Marc suggests that as a Marquis, reporting to a Duke, reporting to Archduke Norris, this might not be the issue he considers it to be. Vonish agrees.
Sir Bridgehead continues, "I'm a bit confused why you would be interested in investigating wild animals? Are you doing a research paper, or...?"
The Marquis replies, "I am doing research on the request of a patron."
Sir Bridgehead is determined. He says, "Obviously this animal has some strategic importance to somebody?"
The Marquis explains, "As you know, science is always on a quest for knowledge. We are here not only to study the fauna, but also to study the environmental situation, what reasons there might be for men to just lay down their arms and... be eaten." He asks Bob where this happened.
"Back up where we climbed in," answers Bob. "We left everything pretty much there. I brought the stuff I needed back, since I wasn't eaten. I was checking out some supplies. Oh, and yes, the men were armed."
Sir Bridgehead asks, "Did the jackalopes just jump on them and tear their limbs apart?"
"Oh, um, yeah! That's it."
"Are you sure you weren't drinking anything at the time?"
Marquis Marc steps in, "I'm sure Bob can handle anything he drinks for quite a while." Bob nods agreement, and Marc continues, "This information, though clouded, has proven to be quite accurate."
Sir Bridgehead says, "Odd we have one on the ship. Convenient that. You mean this terrible jackalope, that devours men, comes right up to you and says 'Put me on your ship'?"
Marc tries to reassure him. "It may be that the team that was travelling with Mr. Bob came into their -- I won't say nesting site, but brooding area -- which could have caused a defensive reaction. There are all sorts of possibilities. Further study needs to be done."
The Marquis changes the subject. He asks Sir
Bridgehead if the accommodations are up to his standards.
Bridgehead says they are, but that the medical facilities are very primitive -- he could probably do better with his medical equipment and a stateroom than with their sickbay.
Marc asks where their ship came from, since he's familiar with most of the Imperial shipyards, and the Third Eye is from the prime Imperial shipyards, and the facilities on board are quite up-to-date. "There is a possibility, since you misjumped, which we had not considered before," he continues. "What date do you believe it to be?"
Sir Bridgehead replies that it's mid-1119. He does concede that they did get a top tech level ship and had good funding; the Archduke authorized its use. He adds "I know that you are interested in pursuing what we were doing, but I'm really not at liberty to tell you more."
Marc then asks Sir Bridgehead where he'd like to
"Right now, I would be happy to stay right here and help with the investigation," says Bridgehead.
"What about the rest of the crew?"
"Those in sickbay should stay there a while."
Alice says, "Well, I was never part of the crew anyway..."
Marc interrupts, "Where are you from"
"I'm from Lirian."
Marc is none the wiser. "Which system is that in?" he asks.
"Lirian system. I'm actually from the capital of the Conglomerate. It's a couple of subsectors spinward of the Spinward Marches. I'm not in a hurry to get back."
Avon is being uncommunicative tonight. Jenny accepts the offer of some good wine, and says she's from the Imperium -- she was sort of with the Scouts, and signed up with these guys as crew member. She too is in no hurry to go anywhere, and technically she's still Sir Bridgehead's Acting Engineer for the Anastasia, the ship that crashed.
"In that case," says the Marquis, "Unless anyone has any objection, we'll continue with their research here. Time for dessert!"
After dessert, it's time for the card game -- Alice explains the rules of the poker variant (although of course Avon knows them to a certain extent already). Although no-one seems to "get it", the game progresses enthusiastically. The initial bid limit will be somewhat in keeping with the Third Eye's tradition and cash level of the crew, and thus start low at 10Cr a hand.
(The survivors of the Anastasia never did get any money from the Captain's safe. They couldn't get in normally, but in fact Linda Gregson had managed to find some way to get it open. It was empty except for the ship's papers. Clearly there had been a thief on board... or perhaps the Captain had left buried treasure somewhere?)
The players are Marquis Marc, Avon, Alice, Sir Bridgehead,
Misha, and Helia.
Bridgehead starts out sandbagging. As the stakes rise to 1000Cr (a nice sporting wager, Bridgehead says), Misha drops out -- he wanders off for a nice chat with Teri in the sickbay.
Sir Bridgehead and the Marquis seem to be the winners (about 10kCr each) -- just goes to prove that the rich (or rather the upper class) get richer.
Sir Bridgehead then suggests a few hands at 5kCr -- the Marquis agrees, and at this point Helia drops out too. Sir Bridgehead wins, and seems very pleased -- he suggests they do this again some time.
Back in the sick bay, both Teri and Mich continue to improve. Sir Bridgehead thinks he'll be able to upgrade Mich's condition to serious tomorrow.
Bridgehead wants to coax the jackalope (which spent
the meal lying down by Misha) back to sickbay, but it's much more interested
The Marquis has set up a containment facility for the jackalope. He's leaving the door open all the time. It has a large dish with water, and some raw meat (thawed out) in the hope he'll eat that. Also some equivalent dry food like bread. The teeth look like it's an omnivore, but primarily carnivorous. The jackalope drinks the water, but does his waste disposal in the other container.
The jackalope follows Misha to his room (outside the pod), and sleeps there. Misha is not at all nervous about sleeping with an animal that reportedly eats people. He's slept with worse, he says, and the two-legged ones are much more dangerous than the four-legged.
Vonish continues to study intensively that evening.
Meanwhile Sir Bridgehead has, with the aid of the medical facilities, healed Teri to the level of walking wounded. She wants to check her equipment, just to make sure it's in good shape and so on. Misha has noticed that it's clearly high-tech weaponry, some of it military and not available to civilians.
The plan for today is to set up sensors to monitor animals in the area, and those sensors must be set up so they don't disturb the animals. The Marquis only needs visual and sound. Misha will lead the expedition and will be assisted by Robert. The jackalope follows along with Misha. Marc offers everyone the option of going along -- a chance to get out of conditioned air (although the air on the ship is much fresher than that in Hope's End). Sir Bridgehead takes him up on the offer -- he's curious about the life here.
The Marquis stays at the ship site and does some
basic sample taking. This is not just to gather data for other scientists,
but to determine any supplemental nutrition that the jackalope might need.
He asks the away team to keep an eye on the creature, and if it eats make
sure they get a picture and preferably some sort of analysis -- Sir Bridgehead
will be taking his bioscanner/sniffer and offers to help gather that data.
Marc lays out a square for insect and plant data gathering. It's a standard procedure, familiar to anyone conducting a xenoecological survey. The data will be useful to other researchers back at the University of Mora.
While Robert could drive an air-raft, Misha favors walking. His rationalization is that it won't disturb the animals as much. Of course it is a five mile walk each way with gear and a respirator.
Misha, Robert, and Sir Bridgehead leave on their mission. The jackalope trots along and tries to locate any rodents that might be around. There's nothing in the area of the ship -- they've probably been scared away.
Once at the sensor site, Robert quickly sets up the communications relay for the live feed to the Third Eye. Sir Bridgehead, however, is panting and sweating profusely. He's clearly in need of a good rest. Once the group has settled down at the site, the jackalope goes off briefly and comes back with two 7 kg rodents. He eats one, and drops the other in front of the dragon.
Meanwhile, the away team is overdue. Marc calls
them, and Misha explains that Sir Bridgehead is having some difficulty
with the conditions. He'll probably need some extra time to come
back. Marc says there's no hurry, but if necessary he can come to
fetch them in the gcarrier.
Marc then tells Helia that when the away team returns, he wants her to take the Third Eye back to where Crazy Bob said the incident occurred, and search the area for the team's abandoned equipment. When Robert returns, he'll need to work on a sensor program to search for the gear. Helia checks on Bob to see if he's asleep or drunk...
It takes some time to get hold of Bob. He has a few problems working the comm system, but manages to do it with some help from Vonish. He says he's been asleep. Helia asks him to come to the bridge, but corrects herself and asks Vonish to bring him there.
Bob arrives on the bridge. He's probably still drunk from the night before. Helia straps him into a chair (fastening his safety belt for him) and feeds him lots of coffee while chattering to him to keep him awake.
Meanwhile the away team gets back in, after stopping
for another rest on the way back.
Marc asks the Admiral whether he's discovered the prey of the jackalope. He says he caught two of them, and that he's scanned them; he says that the creature was eating rodents.
Time to find Bob's camp. Helia flies the ship up to the edge of the canyon, and follows it along looking for signs of their sleds. Robert scans for the metal sleds. Helia explains to Bob what "wood" is, and shows him a pair of drumsticks from her toybag.
Bob is the first to point out the site. Robert is still poring over the controls -- the Marquis suggests that he run some more training sessions. Robert explains that the unusual configuration is causing interference in reception, and his explanation is quite convincingly.
Marquis Marc spots the campsite too, and Helia brings the ship down. There's too much vegetation to land here, and no open water this near the edge of the canyon, so she parks the ship in a hover about 6m above the ground.