Mich prepares Marc's special probe, complete with the new reduced-volume special sensor box. It has been substantially compacted, allowing the regular sensors to be retained as well.
Mich prepares two probes for deep sea. According
to him, the practical limitation is around 20 m, say 15 m to allow a better
safety margin. Marquis Marc orders a survey to identify a continental
shelf site -- starting with the data they have, and backing it up with
a close radar scan.
One of the scientists is an amatuer geologist, and suggests likely locations based on his guess of the tectonic plates. Marc runs a simulation to narrow down the likely sites to survey.
Helia Sarina brings the HMS Third Eye into the atmosphere for the two survey scans. She takes it smoothly and quietly, staying subsonic and keeping the hull cool. It's a perfect flight, with a wonderful view of the planet. She pulls up and returns to orbit near the Extraordinary Circumstances.
It's now around 9 pm. As an exercise, Marquis
Marc orders Robert Morris to run a sensor scan of the system. There's
nothing on the sensors, he reports, but there is something odd coming in
It's a Mayday signal. The source is heading this way.
The Marquis directs Helia to take them to that ship, maximum speed. Helia smiles at the chance to crank it up, and does a fine job of calculating a good fast trajectory, ETA around 30 minutes to intercept and match.
Marquis Marc wakes up Misha Ravanos from his after-dinner nap, and informs him about the Mayday, and that they are legally obliged to respond. The First Officer is to prepare an away team.
The ship has no transponder signal, it's just broadcasting
Robert opens a channel to the ship for the Marquis.
"To ship in trouble," he says, "This is the HMS Third Eye, what is your situation?"
"Thank God there's someone out here!" comes the reply. "I thought I'd be floating around forever!"
"To unidentified ship," continues the Marquis, "Who are you, what is your ship, and why are you here?"
"This is Rattlesnake's Ship's Boat One."
On the off-chance that the Third Eye's computer has a record of this ship, Marc checks. There is no information. He asks, "What is your situation? Why are you broadcasting a Mayday? And where is the Rattlesnake?"
"I don't know where the Rattlesnake is," the person replies. "We were doing some... I was scanning the ship from outside. We were having some jump engine troubles. I went to survey the damage and send the information back to the head engineer, when the ship -- this blue thing happened, and the ship was gone."
Marc asks Mich to put that in Anglic. "The ship jumped," says Mich.
Marc returns to the comm. "They left you behind."
"It appears so," says Ship's Boat One.
"You must have done something really bad for them to have left you behind on the ship's boat."
"I won a few credits from the Captain, but that was about it."
Helia laughs openly -- it carries over the comm.
The Marquis scowls at her and carries on. "Where does the Rattlesnake hail from?"
"We were coming from Capon. I don't know the registered home port."
"Are you currently under power?"
"Yes. I'm heading towards the innermost world."
Misha is not clear that they need to do anything about the situation. The Marquis explains that it's like being adrift in a dinghy in the middle of an ocean. Misha concedes the point grudgingly.
There is no room for the ship's boat on board, obviously -- unless it would fit in the cargo bay, but the bay is full of cargo.
"We'll escort you back to orbit," says the Marquis.
Helia insists that the boat should do nothing, and she'll match with it.
The Marquis continues to question the boat. "Where were you headed?"
"You only got halfway there. You're in the interdicted system of Gorram. That means you'll have to explain to the authorities what you're doing here."
"I don't suppose there's a starport or Traveller's Aid here?"
Helia speaks up, "We are your Traveller's Aid, get used to it!" She tells the Marquis that she'll match with the boat, and then slave through it's computer to the Third Eye, and bring them both into orbit that way.
"Please prepare yourself, sir" says the Marquis, "We are about to dock."
Helia matches the Third Eye to the boat, and links them up with an umbilical. The boat is a standard Imperial 40 ton modular cutter.
The person walks into the airlock. The sight
that meets him is a barbarian with cloak, large sword, and lizard; someone
in full Imperial battledress with a sophisticated firearm; and a grungy
engineer behind them.
Misha the barbarian steps forward and reaches out to shake the man's hand. "Welcome to the HMS Third Eye," he says.
The man introduces himself as Brandon Asu.
(for Referee and David only)
Misha escorts him to the module lounge, and introduces
him to Marquis Marcus Crestworthy.
"Brandon Asu, refugee," is how the man introduces himself.
The Marquis wonders out loud to himself how much he could charge the previous owners for the boat if they leave it here -- the boat is technically the Marquis' now, by salvage law.
"You can have it," says Brandon, "I just signed on for temporary working passage."
"Well, the chances are that if your parent ship misjumped twice, they're dead -- or will be. How long have you been in system?"
"About a day."
"I'll have to ask my sensor operators to keep a better eye out," observes the Marquis.
Robert pipes up, "Oh, here it is, right in the sensor log. How could I have missed that? DOH!"
The Marquis continues, "We have a minor issue... are you physically ill, or hurt in any way?"
"No," replies Brandon.
"Well, you're welcome to stay on board your ship, or on ours. I don't know how much personal possessions you have on board there."
"I have my most valuable stuff with me."
Helia asks, "What kind of valuable things would they be?"
"Anyway," interrupts Marc, "Would you like to stay on board our ship? Good. We will assign you a guest suite." He's not kidding. The module stateroom is a first class suite. "Now the ship wasn't your ship, and you're not part of the ship's crew... or rather you're just detached, if they come back and get you. We're going to be here for several more months. We're here on a scientific survey mission."
"Doing what? Some freaky little creatures on the planet?"
"Some people think so... here, I'll play a clip for you." The Marquis brings up the film of the 45 ton hippos playing football with their probe. Brandon is duly impressed.
The Marquis introduces Brandon to the scientific
staff and the crew, including First Officer Misha Ravanos;the ship's doctor,
Grand Admiral Baron Bridgehead; the stormtrooper, Teri Cralla, from the
Scorpionis Marines (not that Scorpionis exists any more, Teri points out);
Mich Saginaw, an engineer; David Markland, the real engineer; Helia Sarina,
the ship's pilot; William Avon; oh, and the little dragon on Misha's shoulder;
and the scientists. "And we have another guest on board," he adds,
"Sagan, who's a hiver."
Helia asks Brandon about himself.
"I consider myself a trader," he says. "I did a little stint in a college." The Marquis has never heard of it; Brandon, on the other hand, is suitably impressed that Marquis Marc is working with the renowned University of Mora.
The Marquis adds, "Oh, and one more guest who came on the hiver ship: Akim Gavrolovitch. You might have read one of his books, especially since you've been on Capon."
"The writer?" asks Brandon. Apparently he has read some of his novels.
The Marquis nods. "Oh, and you're actually the second set of people this ship has rescued in the last few months." He then introduces the ship's cook, Vonish, and the sensor operator, Robert Morris. He then takes Brandon to be introduced to his fellow academics; he explains that two of them are on the hiver ship.
In celebration of the rescue of Brandon Asu, Vonish Kehnaan produces a magnificent dinner.
After dinner, Robert mentions that there are some new Traveller News Service entries in the cutter's computer. They read them:
The Marquis quietly works on a computer program to monitor the sensor data continuously, and alert them if anything turns up. Clearly he is not happy with the job that his crew have been doing in this task. He also works on a program to interpret the sensor data from his special probes, to at least get a plane in which the source of the emissions lies.
At 8 am, there are a couple of blips from tthe Marquis'
special sensors -- they give maximum readings, and at the same time both
"Helia, are you awake yet?" he calls.
"Yes, whatever you need, sir!" the larian replies.
"I know it's before breakfast, but we need to go down to the planet," he says. "We've had two probes fail simultaneously. We need to do a visual survey. Subsonic, but get us there as quickly as possible."
Helia informs him they'll be in position in about two hours.
Marquis Marc reviews the regular data from the probes.
There's no sign of anything moving. Comparison pictures show nothing
other than changing snow.
Breakfast is served on the way, while the Marquis explains to the crew what has happened. He plays the video clip -- nothing except it's snowing gently. The scientists have no explanation, and await more information with interest.
Helia takes the Third Eye down to about 1000
m over the village.
The temperature at ground level is a little below freezing. The Marquis asks his First Officer to put together an away team to investigate on foot. The team will be Misha, Teri, Mich, and the senior anthropologist; Akim will fly the gcarrier for them.
Before the away team leaves the ship, they look down to see if there's anything unusual. There is -- the two probes are on the ground, and one of them shows signs of scorching. Marc sets the goal of the away team to be retrieving the probes as quickly as possible and then leaving. Mich comments that the scorched one looks like the Marquis' box fused the probe's power system.
The gcarrier leaves, and the Third Eye retreats
to 2 km altitude.
Akim brings the gcarrier to a halt 30 m off the snow.
Misha has a bad feeling about the situation. Nothing he can point out, just a general uneasiness. "Teri, I have a bad feeling about this," he says.
"And you want me to do what?" she replies.
"Kill it when it comes."
Misha directs Akim to bring the gcarrier down beside the scorched probe. Misha and the anthropologist will load the probe while Teri, in full battledress with her FGMP-15, covers them. There's no apparent danger, although Misha is still getting a bad feeling about it.
At that very moment, on board the Third Eye watching from 2 km, the Marquis studies the ground carefully. He manages to detect some items of interest, and notes them on his map. He concentrates carefully on trying to refine the location.
Suddenly the Marquis staggers heavily. He grabs the comm. "It's time to leave now. Take what you have and leave now!" He turns to Helia, "Take us up to five kilometers."
Misha orders everyone onto the gcarrier; they leave
the probe on the ground. They get on board, close the door, and Akim
prepares to take off.
Teri screams, rips off her battledress helmet, and stands there watching it smoke.
Akim takes off, hurtling up to return to the mother ship. He scrapes the top of the gcarrier coming into the vehicle bay, damaging the sensors (it'll be easy to fix).
"Orbit, please," Marc says to Helia, "And don't worry
about speed, they know we're here."
Helia flings the ship around and shoots up to orbit rapidly. It's an impressive job of piloting.
Marc stumbles off the bridge, headed for Sick Bay.
"It hurts," he says to Baron Bridgehead.
"In here," the Marquis says, indicating his head. "It just about knocked me over."
"The psionic attack."
"The psionic attack."
"And you think you were psionically attacked by whom?"
"By the fifteen or so life forms that were down around the away team. Is there anything you can do for me?"
The Baron directs him to lie down, and performs some scans. He says he can't really prescribe anything specific, but he can give him something for the pain and a sedative so that he'll wake up fine tomorrow.
The Marquis accepts the medication, but before taking it returns to the bridge.
Marquis Marc calls the crew to the bridge; not Akim,
not Brandon, not the starfish, and not the scientists. "As this is
my ship, and as the records will show at the end of this meeting, this
meeting never happened. What I am about to tell you will probably
cause you as much grief in reporting it as it would cause me if you did
report it, so don't bother reporting it."
The Marquis continues, "My private area of study is Psionics. I know about as much as any academic in the Imperium that I know of. I was just attacked by one of the strongest psionic attacks that has ever been reported in any of my research. The sensors on the probe were psionic sensors. The probes were brought down by a psionic burst that blew their fuses. Mich, have you had a chance to look at the helmet? What happened to the helmet?"
"It's fried," says Mich. "The psi shield is fried in it."
"Teri," says Marc, "I'd like you to get checked out by the doctor, to make sure there's no additional damage. Mich, there was a psi shield in that helmet, do you think you can construct some additional ones?"
"No problem, I've done that before."
"So where were they?" asks Misha.
"All around you." He pulls up his map. "Under the surface. I have a minor ability that I can sense where creatures are myself."
"So you're psionic?" asks Helia.
"Very minor," he replies, "Nothing important except that I knew there were creatures around you. They were very roughly man-sized, I'd estimate, but I knew there were creatures around you."
"Obviously enough to hurt a psi shield," says Misha.
"Enough to fry the psi intensity sensors, enough to hurt me at a range far greater than should normally be possible. Several pieces of information: they knew you were there, they attacked the psi shield, they attacked the psi sensors, they attacked me when I sensed for them. Think on what has occured, what damages have occured, come up with some plans, I am going to sleep this off. I hurt."
The Marquis stands up and goes to leave the bridge. He turns at the door and says, "As you all know, psionic activity in the Imperium is illegal."
"Really?" exclaims Misha.
The Marquis looks at him, and looks at the lizard on his shoulder. He continues, "So you could at this point report me to the Imperium. If you did so, they would certainly interview you for some extended period of time to find out what you knew, which will cause you some serious amount of grief. I would suggest that it is in your own best interest to deal with the situation and move on."
Misha still looks puzzled.
"Psionic activities are outlawed by the Imperium," the Marquis emphasizes. "I would ask that you keep it to yourselves. Not the scientists, the rest of the people on board, the hivers." He turns back to Misha and says, "Something I want you to come up with is a story to feed the researchers, including the anthropologist who was with you."
Misha asks, "Do you want to hide the existence of these creatures?"
"No. The way we know they were there and how they attacked us. I may have to let it be known about the creatures themselves eventually." He pauses, then continues, "Let's not mention the creatures yet, since they didn't see them, and they're underground. Mich, we will not be personally going down for a while. I want you to build more of those sensors in a shielded or more robust form."
Mich thanks him wryly for finally telling him what the sensor does. The Marquis wants two or three of them prepared so he can pinpoint the source. Mich observes that they could then nuke them from orbit.
As the Marquis leaves, Misha takes over the meeting. He asks for suggestions for a plausible reason for the probes crashing. The consensus is that the most plausible reason seems to be "lightning." The helmet will be determined to have malfunctioned.
The rest of the day continues somewhat subdued.
The sensors show nothing unusual. The zoologists are still busy with far too much data. The turtle-thing at the landing location has still not moved.
Mich says it will take a while to do the special
probes. Hardening them and extending the amplitude of the detection
is going to take some work. He's already put the psi helmets into
the ship's locker -- all except the one he's wearing, of course.
Mich says that all essential personnel should be wearing them. Also,
perhaps the creatures on the ground didn't reach up 2 km to attack him,
perhaps it was someone on the ship?
The Marquis does not think this is at all likely -- he's sure it was the creatures on the ground.
Marc goes to check the psi sensor on the ship, and it recorded the spike, off the scale. Obviously they need to stretch the scale. His research has advanced dramatically in the last 24 hours. It also indicates another reason to continue to interdict the system. Or perhaps the attack was an attempt to communicate by the creatures?
At the meeting, Misha volunteers to go back down.
What about Teri without a psi shield? No psi shields, no weapons,
just go. Teri is not keen on that idea at all. Misha is not
willing for Akim to go without telling him what the danger is, and since
he's not ship's crew that can't happen. The Marquis is not will to
risk Helia on such a mission. That leaves Vonish.
Misha asks if they have any way to tell if those who return are untampered.
The Baron replies that with the equipment on the Anastasia, he could have done that. With the primitive equipment on this ship, he can't do that for sure. They'll have to rely on Misha's pets and a general feeling of whether the personality is the same.
"Why his pets?" asks Helia.
"The jackalope was my test subject on the previous planet," replies the Marquis. "I'd like to take the cutter down and launch the air/raft from that. I don't want to try launching the gcarrier from orbit again, given what happened last time, and I don't want to risk the ship as I don't know who else on board might have latent untrained abilities. Vonish could pilot the cutter down there -- he's qualified in Ship's Boat -- and leave it parked while he runs the air/raft. How you run the mission is up to you, Misha, but I suggest not trying to land the cutter."