(8) Reckless Driving

The Mora Campaign (259-1119)

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259-1119 : Gorram / Mora / Spinward Marches (cont.)

    Teri Cralla and Vonish Kehnaan look out the back door of the stricken gcarrier.  The lake is an area of open water several hundred meters across.

    Inside the gcarrier there is no sign that they are taking on water.  They have a full complement of emergency gear, including survival bubbles that would float if needed.  First Officer Misha Ravanos makes sure the gear is ready to deploy in case the gcarrier starts to sink suddenly.  Akim Gavrolovitch helps him lay out the gear.  Since there is dense air and warmth in the gcarrier, and there's no apparent immediate danger, it makes sense for them to stay inside.

    Misha calls the HMS Third Eye.  Robert Morris is on communications duty, and tells him that they're on their way down.  They'll be there in 2:45 -- they need to bleed off orbital velocity and not startle the natives.  Misha would prefer that they get there somewhat quicker.

    So they wait.  Vonish and Teri remain on watch in the rear airlock.  Teri of course has no problem seeing in these conditions, since she's in battledress, and Vonish picked up night vision goggles on the way up so he's OK too.  They are not showing any lights.

    After a while, they spot something moving out there.  A few fairly large creatures are wandering around in the trees bordering the lake.  The creatures stay at a distance.

    Suddenly, Vonish spots something circling the gcarrier in the water.  He points it out to Teri.  It's circling at around 30m from the craft.  It's hard to say how big it is, since it's mostly underwater.  It's probably at least man-sized.
    Vonish goes inside and tells Misha about the creature.  He thinks they should just come inside, close the hatch, and see what happens.  Vonish goes back out to talk to Teri.  Her opinion is that Misha is the boss, but she does point out another one that's starting to circle.  Teri and Vonish retreat into the gcarrier.
    Misha calls the Third Eye.  "Something's in the water with us," he says.  "I don't think it's an emergency, but we'll let you know as soon as know anything more."
    The Third Eye is still over two hours out.

    Misha asks Vonish is there are any hand-held sensors in here.  Vonish suggests he should look for some.  There are some rudimentary units, and of course Teri's battledress.  Unfortunately the sensor units only really good for testing the water quality and so on, so they're not much use.  The gcarrier's sensors are not working properly, so they can't use those.

    Time passes.
    Misha calls the Third Eye.  He wants to talk to the Marquis Marcus Crestworthy, but he's busy, so he'll have to settle for Robert.  He wants some advice.  Whatever is in the water doesn't seem to be a hazard yet, so they have two choices: stay hidden, or investigate the situation.  Misha doesn't want to break any rules.
    Robert points out that they have all the permits they need to investigate this planet, but shouldn't expose the locals to outside attention.
    What if the locals are right now circling the gcarrier in the water?  All they've seen so far is this big metal cylinder.  Misha wants to know if there's a difference between seeing the ships and seeing people.
    Robert says that the rescue operation would be highly visible anyway.

    "What the hell," says Misha.  "Teri, are you ready to go out? Remember we're on a scientific mission."
    "So what are the rules of engagement?"
    "The rules are, they shoot first."
    Teri doesn't like those odds, but accepts them rather than stay inside.
    "I'm going with you, so they'll eat me first," says Misha.
    "Not if I can help it," Teri assures him.  She shows him how to use the night vision goggles, Vonish puts his back on too, and they cycle the lock.  The three of them look around.

    The back end of the gcarrier sticks out about a meter from the water.  There's a slight breeze and some waves on the water.  The creatures that were among the trees have now gone.  It's noisier than last time they were out -- probably the animals that were scared by their landing.  From the water there's some splashing, some glurps.  There's still something swimming around -- there's now a third one.
    Misha takes a careful look at the creatures.  They're probably a little larger than a man, but not too much so.  He decides they should wait and watch.

    Time passes.  Eventually one of the swimmers comes in closer, about 10m away.  There's a flash of a head, then it dives.  It's probably around 80 - 120 kg.  It has teeth, lots of them.  It has a smooth skin, a somewhat flat snout.  All they could see was the head and some of the neck.  It's somewhere out there now...
    Vonish notices that now they're circling, but coming in closer underwater and then circling back out.  He thinks it looks like they're preparing to feed.

    The zoologists are fascinated.  Robert sets up a video feed from Teri's battledress -- providing Akim doesn't touch anything, the feed should stay up.
    The view gets better -- the creatures' underwater passes are now only about 5m away.
    Misha suggests Teri gets a good view for a while, and then they should get inside.  The zoologists want her to stay outside and continue the feed as long as possible; Robert passes the request to the gcarrier.
    Vonish replies, "While I appreciate the zoologists' desire to see this creature in all its natural splendor, I really do not wish to demonstrate its carnivorous tendencies.  And I don't think anyone else here does, either."
    Teri's opinion is that "Pandering to scientists is a "bloody stupid thing to do."
    Misha agrees.  They go inside.

    There's a thump from the back of the gcarrier.  Occasional thumps continue at intervals.  Once in a while, a creature swims past the window of the gcarrier briefly.  It's fairly slim, fairly long, solidly muscled.  They rig up a camera to capture this for the zoologists.
    A still from the video reveals more details.  It's fairly long, streamlined, with a short stock tail and a fin along the back (which it uses to help it swim).  The head has a mouth, but no obvious eyes or sense organs.  Misha points out that it had been making attacks at where they were on the gcarrier, so it must have some sort of way of sensing where they were.  The teeth look very wicked.  Four legs, fairly long, ending in fairly large webbed feet with vicious-looking claws at the end.

    They wait.  They watch.  It's creepy in the gcarrier, but they're dealing with it.  The Third Eye is just under two hours away...

    About an hour later, there's a boom, an enormous roar, and a great rumbling.

    Helia Sarina has taken the ship into the atmosphere, and come in very fast.  A steep rapid dive flares out into a perfect stop over the gcarrier.
    "OK, we're here, what's up?" she says eagerly.
    "How about hoisting us aboard?" suggests Vonish.

    Mich Saginaw has been working on the hoist in the vehicle bay.  The framework, controls, and cables are all ready to go, despite arriving well ahead of schedule.
    Somebody has to be there and hook up the cables.  They'll have to attach the rear first, and then haul it out of the water and attach the front.
    "Why don't you just fly down there and hook it up?" asks Helia.
    Misha suggests that magnetic boots on Teri's battledress can help her walk down the side when it's in the air.  Teri prefers Helia's idea -- someone fly down in an air/raft and hook it up for them.
    It's like an unpopular task.  No-one wants to do it.
    In the absence of anyone else doing anything, Mich climbs into a vacc suit, hops into an air/raft, and prepares to fly down.
    Sagan speaks up.  "There's a difficulty in attaching the cable?"
    "Nobody wants to do it," Mich replies.  He's already taking off.
    Misha asks Teri to step outside and give him any assistance he needs.

    Mich apparently needs much assistance.  The air/raft comes out of the hangar, clips the edge of the door, and tips straight down towards the water.  As the vehicle plunges, Mich wrestles with the controls and manages to bring it to a flat, splashing landing on the water.  He brings it to a halt, floating on the lake, albeit with quite a lot of water on board.  He guides it carefully over to the gcarrier.
    Teri watches him.  "Nice job," she says with a straight face.
    "Thanks.  I'm a little rusty," replies Mich.
    "So, are the zoologists going to filter that water for organisms?  I haven't seen somebody take a sample that way before."
    "Works quite well."  He adds,  "Are you checked out on an air/raft?"
    "Not me," she says, "That's why I didn't fly the gcarrier down here."
    "Get everyone off-loaded and we'll haul this thing up.  Let them go out on the air/raft since they seem to be so nervous about staying around here."
    Teri informs Misha what's going on, and that they might want to bring waterproof gear for their legs.  Mich has been taking water samples with the air/raft, she tells him.

    Misha climbs up on the back of the gcarrier.
    "Is there a reason you want everyone on the air/raft?  Is it safer there?" he asks Mich.
    "I thought you wanted out!  Now hook the damned cable up and we'll haul you out."  Mich hands him the cable, after grabbing it quickly so the rest of it doesn't go over the side of the air/raft.  He'd already shown Misha where it attachs.
    Misha reaches over the side to hook it into place.  He stumbles, and drops the cable rather than fall in the water with it.
    Mich hauls it back in, and hands it to him again.  This time Misha clips it into place, and hooks the other two up with no problems too.  The back end is secure.
    "The attitude of the craft is going to be radically different," warns Mich.  "If you stay on board, you'll have to strap yourself in.  Or you can fly up in the air/raft."
    Teri ponders the situation.  "We can either get on with the guy who tried to take a dive in it, or we can sit in a tin can that might get dropped into the water from a great height."
    Misha asks Akim if he can fly an air/raft; Teri suggests Vonish do it, as he's the only one who hasn't crashed a grav vehicle yet.  Misha calls him up and tells him to get in the boat.
    The other catch is that the air/raft has room for four, and there's five of them including Mich.  Misha will remain on the gcarrier while the others take the air/raft up.  Misha goes inside and straps himself in.
    Teri requests that Vonish fly the craft.  Mich slips over to the other front seat and makes room for him.

    While Vonish starts to lift the air/raft, Mich reaches over to the drain plug to get the water out of it.
    As Vonish pulls up the craft, the water all rushes to the back.  The air/raft tilts wildly tail down and slips back into the lake, dumping Teri and Akim into the water.
    Akim tries to clamber over Vonish's shoulder, which is making it more difficult for him to control the craft.  Vonish brushes him off his back, and Akim hits the water with a splash.  Vonish lifts the air/raft out of the water and levels it out.  The water rushes back, and starts pouring out of the vent hole that Mich has opened.  Getting lighter, the air/raft starts rising.
    Teri grabs Akim and drags him over to the gcarrier.  They sit on the back, dripping water.
    Meanwhile, Vonish gets the air/raft stopped.

    Misha asks Robert to give him a feed of what's going on outside..
    "You don't want to know," says Robert, "But here it is."
    Misha unstraps himself, climbs up to the back of the gcarrier, and cycles the lock to let them in.  Akim is soaking wet, and gratefully gets into the craft, trailing vegetation.  Teri opts to ride on the outside of the gcarrier for a while.

    Helia, whose comments and requests have been ignored by the folks outside, pulls out a harmonica.  Strains of "Sailing, Sailing, Over the Seven Seas" drift over the intercom.

    Mich curses Vonish in a stream of invective only possible from a navy engineer.  No doubt the sea shanties playing over the 'com don't help his mood.

    "Guys," says Teri, "I'd rather you didn't drop it.  There's about five of those swimming things headed this way.  Probably the same things we saw earlier."
    "Let's go!" says Misha.

    Helia slowly and carefully raises the Third Eye.  It's putting more stress on the cables than Mich had anticipated.  The gcarrier seems to be sticking somewhat.
    Helia continues to pull up slowly.
    The gcarrier suddenly springs up with a jerk.  Teri loses her footing, and just avoids falling into the water by grabbing the cables.  She pulls her way back onto the craft as it bounces slightly.
    The gcarrier hangs there, draining water from the front of the hull.  It's apparent that the outer shell of the double hull had indeed been penetrated, as Mich had suspected.
    Now there's quite a large number of the beasts swimming about below them.

    Helia pulls them up until the gcarrier is about 15m above the water.
    It's time to attach the fourth cable to the front of the gcarrier.  The attachment point is damaged.  Mich improvises a hammer and beats on it.  He just manages to slip the cable into place.

    Now it's time to start pulling on the hoist.  Mich asks Vonish to take the air/raft back to the bay.
    Vonish misses the door.  He hits the upper edge of the entrance bay, smashing the windshield and scraping the top of the open air/raft along it.
    Fortunately, Vonish ducks.  Mich was not so lucky.  His face slams into the ship's hull, and he's knocked over backwards into unconsciousness.
    The air/raft careens off the top of the hangar, and lands with a crash on top of the other one that's parked there.
    Vonish is relatively unharmed.  He's a bit stunned, but conscious at least.  "Any landing you can walk away from is a good landing," he mutters to himself.  Apparently that includes parking one air/raft on top of another.
    Mich isn't walking anywhere, though.  He's not moving.  Vonish reaches over and checks the suit readouts -- his vital signs indicate he's alive but unconscious.  Vonish calls for medical help.

    Grand Admiral Baron Bridgehead comes running.  He takes control of the situation rapidly, and instructs Vonish to shut the vehicle bay door.  Vonish does so.
    The Baron treats Mich.  After ten minutes or so, he recovers consciousness.  He'll take several days to recover fully.  Vonish just needs a little wound dressing and he'll be fine.
    In the meantime, the gcarrier will just have to stay where it is.  Nothing's getting worse, so they can wait a bit longer.

    Helia noticed the ship lurch a little.  The sensors don't show anything unusual.  The air/raft was coming in.  "Are you all in?  Everybody on board?  Hello?  Hello?  Hello?"
    Nobody is responding.
    Baron Bridgehead calls the Bridge.  "We have a medical emergency in the vehicle bay, but I've got it all under control here."
    "Everybody's on board?"
    "Um.  Mich and Vonish are here."
    "Is everybody on board?"
    "I don't know.  I'm a doctor, not an engineer!"
    "Who else was with you?"
    "Who, me?  I was in the sick bay.  I don't know what's going on!"
    "OK.  Ask Mich and Vonish if everyone is on board."
    "I can't ask Mich, he's unconscious.  Vonish, is everybody on board?"
    "They're being winched aboard now," replies Vonish.
    Helia calls David.  "Are they here?"
    "No, not yet," replies David.  "Where's Mich?"
    "Well, you'd better hurry up, because something's making the ship go funny and we're not being hit by anything visible."
    The Baron explains, "Vonish says that's from when he parked the air/raft."
    "Did he hurt my ship?"
    "I don't know."
    "Did he hurt the air/raft?"
    Vonish replies, "The air/raft might need medical assistance.  So might the other one."
    She suggests that he might want to practice his skills, and wants a full report on what might have affected the ship (later).

    David will point out that they still have the gcarrier hanging from the winch.  Helia is anxious to get it aboard so she can seal up the ship.
    Misha suggests they should wait until they can do it properly.  He calls Mich.
    "Hey, Mich, how are you doing?" he says.
    "I've been better."
    "Can you operate the winch?"
    "Everybody hold tight, we'll wait on Mich."
    Sagan heads for the gcarrier hanger too.
    At this point Teri climbs into the gcarrier and straps herself in.  She doesn't like the idea of joining the swim party going on in the water below them.

    Mich makes his way painfully over to the gcarrier hangar.  He takes the controller (with manual and slaved control for all the cables) and starts the recovery.
    In contrast to the rest of this operation, Mich does this part perfectly.  The gcarrier is hoisted in, the bay closed, and everyone aboard safely.

    Helia checks that everyone is in and ready to go.  First Officer Misha Ravanos gives clearance, and they head back to orbit.  At Misha's request, she takes it a little slower than she came in -- but barely slower.

    Misha goes to the sick bay to talk to Vonish.  "How are you doing?"
    "Much better."
    "So what made you think you were a pilot? Would you like to continue being a pilot?"
    "I don't get as much practice with the grav-craft."
    "I would like it if you would put full-time effort into training for piloting air/rafts.  You can put off your ship's pilot duties until you've done that.  I'll talk to the captain about it."

    Vonish goes to the galley to prepare for the next meal.
    Misha walks up to the bridge and checks the ship's status.
    Helia is hurtling the Third Eye up into orbit.  There's a little turbulence coming off the air/raft bay door at hypersonic speeds, so she backs off it a little.  The ship climbs rapidly under her capable hands.

    Misha asks Mich if there's any point in trying to recover the damaged probe.  The consensus is that there's little left to recover and it's just not worth the effort.
    There aren't even any operational gcraft at the moment.  Mich's examination reveals serious damage to the gcarrier -- much hull damage, some gravitics damage.  The front end needs major work, and the whole thing needs to be flushed out and cleaned.  The water is easily removed by venting to vacuum, but the weeds and vegetation will have to be cleaned out by hand.
    When he's done with the gcarrier, he proceeds to the air/raft.  They're wrecked.  One is badly scraped up in the hull and has no windscreen; it's parked in the right front seat of the other one.  The two are separated using cargo lifters, and reveal a bad situation.  The lower one has had the controls totally wrecked; the one on top will be easier to repair, but one of the four lifter units is destroyed.  Mich can build one functional air/raft from the two, but it will take a while.  The frame of one, the body panels of another, ...
    Each of the gcraft would be several days work.  The limited crew on the Third Eye -- basically just Jenny is available to help -- will slow it down, too.  This ship doesn't have the spares that the Anastasia carried, either, so they'll have to improvise some of the parts.  Civilian ships don't expect all three subcraft to be wrecked in such a short period.
    Mich asks Misha what his priorities are.  It's decided that they'll start on the gcarrier first, about a three-day job.  Mich suggests asking the hiver ship if they have any components that can help, but the differences in technology will surely hinder that possibility.
    They'll also need to check the turbulence from the air/raft hangar door.  David can do that, but he'd much rather do that in atmosphere, on land if possible.
    Now Mich is experienced in working on the outside hull, under fire even, so he's a better choice to do the EVA work.  Of course, he'll need to use a new vacc suit...

    In the meantime, Misha ponders what it will take to continue their scientific mission...  Mich and Robert can get another probe ready fairly rapidly to replace the wrecked one, but that will pull Mich off gcarrier work.  It's a good thing that David can fill in with that task -- quite well, too, especially the internals.

    Mich will work on the probe while he gets in physical shape for the spacewalk.  David can get work started on the gcarrier.

    At least dinner is excellent.  Misha makes a point of complimenting Vonish on such a good meal.