(27) The Sheriff of Cormor

The Mora Campaign (099-1120 to 101-1120)

099-1120 : Digitis / Vilis / Spinward Marches

    Before leaving for the Cormor Forest to find Erwin Hedaker, the crew of the H.M.S. Third Eye examine the books that have been read into the computer.  They pay particular attention to Your Heritage, a short school text on the history, government, and culture of the planet.  Helia Sarina is very curious about the Janns -- they're from the same people, so why are they considered so inhuman?  After all, the world took their language and writing, but now views them as too primitive to be human...?  Helia definitely thinks something is wrong here.
    Marquis Marcus Crestworthy points out what is so unusual about the forest: it constitutes a natural self-repairing pressurized dome.  The possibilities are intriguing.

    Robert Morris then discusses communications options for the trip.  It isn't really possible to set up a geosynchronous relay probe from here -- they'd have to get into orbit to do it.  He will however provide them with a radio unit that is a suitable frequency to bounce off the ionosphere.  It will not be very reliable, and the signal may come and go depending on the weather and where the antenna is, but it at least gives them some sort of contact.  He's already set up the ability to make and receive telephone calls from the Third Eye.

    The Marquis issues instructions for those remaining behind.  They are to remain on board ship at all times.  If he isn't back in two weeks, they are to inquire about him, and if he is unavailable they are to return the ship to Mora, and contact his heirs.

    That being said, all ashore who are going ashore.  Marc wants to keep it to a fairly small group: himself, Misha Ravanos (with his jherig), Helia, Sagan, and Ed "Shark" Teeth.  Vonish Kehnaan can pilot the Third Eye if Helia is absent.  Grand Admiral Baron Bridgehead and Teri Cralla will also stay behind, as will Robert Morris and Mich Saginaw.
    They'll be taking a week's clothing, and equipment for simple camping.  They'll also take some PRIS binoculars and some adjustable spectrum sunglasses in case there is low light under the forest canopy.
    The Marquis also, of course, brings one of his miniaturized special activity sensors.

    Vonish ferries them and their equipment to the yacht club in the gcarrier.  From there they take a taxi to the station in First City, and the railway into Center.  At Center they pick up tickets to Cormor Forest, and after a couple of hours their train arrives.
    This train is quite different from the First City to Center train.  The train is long, with two passenger cars in a large train, at least four or five engines and a lot of freight cars.  It has just one scheduled stop -- the rail line goes to Cormor and nowhere else.
    The passenger cars are quite luxurious.  They are compartment style, with a corridor running down the near side of the carriages.  There are sleeping compartments, since the trip is a full day -- little more than bunks.  Each car has a lounge area, with a bar that has snacks and drinks and so on.
    The Third Eye's groups are the only passengers on this train, so they take the opportunity to stretch out and relax.
    Helia asks the bartender for chocolate milk, and is surprised to find that they have no milk products -- because they have no cows.  They can, however, fill her request for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and the chocolate soda, along with biscotti, satisfies her.

    Marquis Marc is the first to strike up a conversation with the barkeep.  "Sorry to disturb your quiet trip.  I don't suppose you have many passengers, do you?"
    "Not many.  It depends."
    "Do you always ride on board?"
    "Not always this train."
    "But are there always cars on every train?"
    "Oh yes.  You never know who's going to want to leave from the other end?"
    "Is it an actual city at the other end?  A small town?"
    "It's not a city."
    "I was wondering about accommodations at the other end.  There was no information I could find."
    "You'll have to sort that out when you get there.  The Sheriff will handle all that."
    Helia says, "So it's like a family ranch?"
    "Yes, it is."
    The Marquis continues, "So I guess there's an elevated station.  And then to go down in the forest city we go down in an elevator, or...?"
    "You get off at the station, that's up here."
    Helia asks, "What's the light like?"
    The Marquis answers, "The rail goes over the forest."
    "Oh," says Helia, "So you don't go into the forest."
    "No," says the barkeep. "I've never been in a forest.  I really don't know anything about them, only what I've been told."
    Helia says, "I would have thought everyone would want to go see it.  Your planet's so interesting."
    "Yes, but I'm happy doing this."
    "Oh, that's right!" Helia exclaims.  "Was your father a train attendant?"
    "Yes he was, actually."
    "Oh!  How many generations back was your family train attendants?"
    "Four.  Before that, I've never been quite sure what they did."
    "So somebody qualified up?"
    "Yes, my great-grandfather."
    "But this is what you want to do?  You're not looking for anything else to qualify for?"
    "No, not really.  I like this.  You get to meet different people."
    "Well the scenery is great, it changes some."
    "It changes some.  Certainly the Gap is spectacular, but as soon as we get over that it's pretty much the same."
    "Is the Gap really that spectacular?"
    "Well, we should be coming up to it fairly soon.  Take a look."
    Helia asks, "Does that mean the train driver's family has been train driving for a long time?"
    "I don't know.  I don't know who's driving this train."
    "What does your wife do?"
    "I'm not married."
    "How about your sisters?"
    "I don't have sisters; my brother is in the other car."
    "What if you had a third brother, though?"
    "I don't."
    "OK.  What happens in families that have a lot of kids and they can't all do the same thing their parents did?"
    "They take another job."
    "Is it easy to change jobs?"
    "Yes.  All you've got to do is qualify.  You have to work at it, and know something about it, but you can study for it."
    Helia pauses.  "Can I ask you a question?  You don't have to answer it if doesn't sound like, OK."
    The barkeeps shrugs.  "Sure."
    "We read about your history, and the Janns, the wild people.  They came from the civilized people that landed here."
    "No, well the civilized people stayed on and built everything.  They just ran off."
    "But I mean everybody was civilized when they got here, they just ran off.  So they were civilized to start with."
    "Yes, but... you know, if they had really been civilized, they would have hung around with everybody else."
    "Why does the stuff say they're not human?  They're still human."
    "Well, they're not really.  Because... because... they don't have... they aren't civilized.  They don't have any of the principles of civilization."
    "They don't act like people?"
    "Oh no, not at all."
    "But genetically, aren't they the same?"
    "I don't know.  I guess they've sort of devolved a bit, from the way they live."

    The Marquis breaks in.  "Excuse me, I've got one of my crew members who's interested in the local foods.  He asked me if I'd ask people what's their favorite food."
    "My favorite food would be boogie fruit.  I love boogie fruit."
    Helia asks, "What's boogie fruit?"
    "It's farmed down in the south, over by Sirrily.  I've got some here.  Here you go, try this."
    Helia tries it.  It's very nice, a bit like papaya, or mango, or cantaloupe.  "Do you have any of this dried?  It seems like it would dry very nicely."
    The barkeep shakes his head.  "You can probably get some dried back in Center."

    Suddenly the Great Gap opens out under them.  It's water, it's rocks, it's a canyon.  The sides are cliffs of rock, falling down to a canyon with some stretches of deep smooth water, but a lot of places where there are rapids, where the water is breaking its way through rocks, roiling, tumbling, and foaming.
    The Marquis turns from the window and addresses the barkeep.  "So this connects the two oceans."
    "Yes, that's right."
    "Is there a moon in this system?  The tides cause the waters to flow in?"
    "Yes, there's a couple of moons, but I gather the water flow is due to the prevailing winds.  They push the water up against the western side of the isthmus, and so it's higher than on the eastern side."
    "Could you fly a glider through here?" asks Helia.
    "Probably not," says the Marquis, "Remember the atmospheric pressure is low."
    Helia asks the barkeep, "So you have trains that go places but no planes?"
    "Right.  We have trains and we have ships."
    "And there is no way to get a plane that would fly even around it?"
    "We don't have any planes."
    "But I mean, like, does anything flying over the forests kill it?"
    "We don't fly anything over the forests."
    "That was the problem though, wasn't it?  That the settlers did and they were killing them?  Do they know why flying over the forests killed it?"
    "I don't know.  They must do."
    "I'm just really curious about the forests and flying and stuff."
    The Marquis says, "I think we'll be getting to the right location to ask.  I think the Sheriff of Cormor will be an expert in that, or at least have someone who is."
    "He needs to be an expert himself," says the barkeep.
    "He needs to be an expert on what you shouldn't do, but he doesn't actually have to know everything in detail about the forest."
    "He has to know a great deal about the forest.  That's part of what makes the job so difficult."

    Helia thinks about her books of folklore that she bought at Center.  There was nothing about flying over the forest, but there was about something dropping out of the sky into a forest -- a magic ball that had a frozen princess with an apple in her mouth.
    The Marquis settles back into reading some of the anglic books, working his way through an advanced Zhodanipsionic text.  It contains the proceedings of a conference at Querion with annotations.  None of his texts mention this planet.

    They reach the other side of the Great Gap.  At the top of the cliff is a wooden wall, as if tree trunks had grown together, with a green canopy at the top and overlapping the wall somewhat.  They can see the shadow of the train on the forest, but can't see any detail of the canopy.  The train is moving pretty fast.
    They also can't see how the railway is supported over the forest.  The rail line is travelling straight, and so they can't see under the carriages.  Misha asks the barkeep about it.
    "As I understand it, the scaffolding goes down into the forest.  I don't know how it works, but it seems that you can put a pole through if you're careful.  Each forest has a full-time staff that works on maintenance of the railroad."
    Marquis Marc looks outside for signs of maintenance platforms or anything beside the rails.  He watches for quite a long time, but sees nothing of that sort.  "Maybe we can get a book on the rail systems of the world," he muses.

    The trip continues.  They read, eat, drink, talk to the barkeep.  Marquis Marc monitors the conversations, and breaks in if his crew seems to be taking it in a political or religious direction, like he did with Helia earlier.

        Back on the Third Eye, it's been quiet and peaceful.  The closest to exciting that's happened was when Mich asked Vonish to look out for beans when he does his next shopping trip.  A quiet day indeed.

    On a whim, Helia calls up Vonish on the train's telephone.  "Hey, Vonish, they don't have milk or cows here."
    Vonish confirms that.
    "OK.  Can you get a lot of dried boogie fruit?  I think we'll like it, and it'll be good for munchies."
    Vonish agrees to look out for it.
    Helia hangs up.  She's accustomed to having instant communication, and she sees no difference between making a short phone call and chatting briefly on the commdots.

    Time passes.  They eat, drink, and sleep.  While most of them return to their bunks, Helia just requests a blanket and sleeps right there in the lounge.

100-1120 : Digitis / Vilis / Spinward Marches

    Breakfast is served on the train.  The Marquis' request for eggs, bacon, and toast is met by toast, a salty meat, and some sort of eggs.  Not quite what he had in mind, but close enough and enjoyable.

    Finally the train pulls into a station.  It's a simple, fairly short, passenger platform.  They step out onto the platform.  In front of them are two glass walls, a door in each, forming a sort of airlock.  Beyond that is a lounge.  Windows are everywhere -- the walls and ceiling are completely transparent.
    Now they can see how the rails are supported.  There is metal scaffolding rising on poles from the forest to a height of about 10m over the top of the canopy.  Below them, the forest canopy seems to be solid.  The poles just stick up through the leaves; at the interface, the leaves just fold themselves around the pole, and build up a little.
    This area they are in seems to be some sort of bridge between buildings.
    The freight cars are still behind the station.  Looking the other way, the rails continue on to some sort of other building.

    No-one else is on the platform.  The train staff unload their luggage for them, and put them on a baggage cart.  The group pass on through into the lounge.  The air here is more dense than on the pressurized train, and is very comfortable.  There are phones here, but of more interest right now is the information desk.
    Marquis Marc walks over to the desk.  "Hello," he says, "Good day, sir.  I'm Marq... Marcus Crestworthy, captain of the Third Eye, a ship that we came in.  I'm here to see if I can speak with the Sheriff, Erwin Hedaker."
    "Is he expecting you?"
    "When I called, it said to come in person, so he's expecting anyone who wishes to come, I assume."
    "I wondered if he was expecting you explicitly.  OK."
    "And since it's a day trip, what do we do about lodgings."
    "Oh.  That won't be a problem, I don't think.  May I ask why you're here?"
    "I'm a scientist, I study animals from very many different worlds, and I've heard of an interesting..."
    "You're from offworld?"  The desk clerk beams a big smile at him.
    "Yes, and I'm here to study the native life.  I've heard a report that this forest is of particular interest."
    "If you'd like to take a seat, I'll call the Steward, he'll be right up."  He speaks into a handset in his language.

    They all sit down to wait.  The Marquis says that this local language should be studied, perhaps the University of Mora could send a team out.
    Marquis Marc walks over to a phone and calls back to the Third Eye.  "Robert, would you ask Mich to activate a couple of those sensors he built during the last mission.  Just keep them running and recording.  Thank you.  I forgot to do it before I left."
    Marc then goes back to the information desk.  "Excuse me, sir, having never actually been in the forest, what is... is the canopy opaque or is it translucent?  I was wondering how light... what the light sources were under the canopy?"
    "Fairly dark.  Your eyes get adjusted after a while."
    "I see.  How long have you and your family been here?"
    "We moved here about a year ago."
    "So you're not from the forest yourself?"
    "No.  Oh no."
    Marc thanks him, and returns to his seat.  He is interested in finding people whose family have been here for a long time, to see if their eyes are getting any bigger.  He theorizes that the thin atmosphere would promote higher rates of mutation.

    After about another 15 minutes, someone comes in.  The Marquis introduces himself, and he says he's Frederick Houlihan, the Sheriff's steward.  Marc explains that he's a university professor, from the University of Mora, here to study the local fauna; he has a report of some particular species in the northern parts of the forest, and would like to arrange a trip there to see such a beast.
    The Steward says he'll arrange it right away.  He goes to all the group and introduces himself to them, including Sagan and the jherig ("He doesn't speak," explains Misha).  "If you'd all like to come in," he adds, "I'll show you to the guest wing.  Someone will bring your luggage.  We are most honored by your presence."

    Frederick leads them from the lounge to a single large circular room, with several doors coming off it.  Some of the doors clearly go to elevators.  The wall and ceiling here are transparent too.  There are a few other people here.  Frederick leads them over to one of the doors.  He's olive skinned, clearly quite athletic, fairly young, and rather handsome.
    Marc asks him, "May I ask if you and your family have been at the forest city for very long?"
    "Yes, we've been here a while."
    "You are one of the...?"
    "I'm the assistant to the Sheriff.  We've been here for many generations.  Actually we've been Stewards to the Sheriff since the Hedakers took over."
    "If I remember my history, that was several hundred years ago."
    "A long time ago, yes."
    Marc looks at Frederick's eyes -- they seem no bigger than normal.

    The Steward places his hand on a metal panel.  The door opens, and they step on through into an opaque corridor, which turns around a curve and ends in another door.  They are still above the forest.  Frederick palms the panel by this door, revealing the lounge of the guest wing.  "After you," he says with a smile.
    There is apparently no wall, no ceiling, no floor -- but there is furniture "suspended" at their level.  The Marquis leads them onto the completely transparent floor.
    This area is mostly lounge.  There's an opaque central area, with doors that seem to be labeled as elevators, and above that is an upper domed level that is also opaque.  Looking down they can see a large tree trunk shaped stalk, also opaque, going down into the canopy.  It's as if this guest wing were a mushroom.
    Marc says, "Can I ask how many people are at this city?"
    "It's hard to say," replies Frederick.  "Approximately, a couple of thousand.  It varies depending on whether we're at harvest time or not, for the various crops."
    "What do you farm here?"
    "We farm all sorts of things here."
    "I wasn't able to get much information.  Do you have a computer link, perhaps I can get some general information?"
    "No, I'm afraid we don't have that, not generally available, although we do have our own computer system.  We do have a printed library, but it's not very extensive."
    "I was thinking something describing the city and its produce, things like that."
    "Not really.  The produce varies according to what we're harvesting at the time.   A lot of our products are naturally grown, and picked as they occur in the forest."
    "Do you export much wood?"
    "No.  We export no wood at all."
    Marquis Marc recalls that there was very little wood back in First City.  A lot of stone, glass, some plastics, but not much wood.
    Misha waves his arm to encompass this building, and asks, "What's this made of?"
    "Glassteel.  Everything you see here is locally made."
    Misha continues, "By locally you mean the planet?"
    "Yes, absolutely.  Of course a great deal of it had to be hand-made, because there are no factories producing a lot of this stuff.  All the components for our fusion reactor, for example, are completely hand-made."
    Marc takes over, "So what is our next step?"
    "This is the guest wing.  This is the lounge.  If you need anything, servants will assist you.  Over there you will see a phone -- just pick it up, someone will answer and get you what you need.  The doors around there are elevators, each one goes up to a private suite in the disk above, where you'll find sleeping quarters, personal areas, and so on.  I'll certainly inform the Sheriff that you're here, and if you want anything -- have any questions, or anything else -- just ask for me and, assuming I'm not out in the field somewhere, I'll be very glad to come and answer your questions."
    "When do you think we'll be able to arrange a field expedition?"
    "A Field expedition?  Let's talk it over with the Sheriff first, make sure everything's going to be in order, check on what area you want to see, and so on, and we'll arrange guides and all that.  I imagine he'll get back to you today.  I know he's booked up this morning, but he'll probably be glad to see you this afternoon.  We're certainly honored by your presence here.  If there's any special needs you have" -- addressing Helia, Sagan, and the jherig -- "be sure to let me know, please."  Frederick walks to the center, palms a panel beside the down elevator.  He turns back to them.  "Make yourself at home, make yourself comfortable, someone will be arriving with your luggage shortly.  Have a pleasant stay."  He leaves.

    Marc asks Helia to check out one of the guest suites.  There are eight of them, labeled A through H; she picks one at random.  The elevator opens into an entrance area, with a door (open) and windows into a luxury hotel suite.  There are two bedrooms per quite, each with one large bed.  The windows look out over the canopy.  None of the windows open.  She wanders around the suite for a while.

    Edward looks around for the camera sensors in the opaque area, that he is sure are there.  Sure as he is, though, he finds none.  There are several phones around the lounge, however, and he is sure that there is either something mechanical or a human listening ot every one.  If they have a fusion reactor and glassteel, surely they have computers to monitor such.
    Someone arrives with the luggage, and delivers it to the appropriate suites.  Marc takes suite A.
    They settle down to relax.  Marquis Marc reads his books, and tries to figure out what they are loading or unloading at the cargo terminal -- he can't, because it seems to be happening inside a closed area.

    Meanwhile back on the ship, Robert has studied the telecommunications books.  The information on traffic indicates that there are indeed areas of activity disproportionate to the population -- the forests talk with Center a lot.
    He then progresses through the radio link to the shore phones, and phreaks his way into wiretapping some of those.  Most of it is voice in the local language, with inventory and production numbers, and environmental data.  A notable exception is a line coming from the Cormor Forest, which is data traffic via acoustic coupler.  This means there's a computer at both ends -- most unusual.  It's going to take quite some time to interpret the data, since he hasn't dealt with anything this crude in a while.  It's digital data at about 30 cps, with a lot of redundancy and error correction so the actual data rate is much lower than that.  He just can't be sure what it is at this point, as it doesn't seem to be any representation scheme he's seen before.  He'll need to do a lot more analysis on it -- there's just something about it that doesn't seem quite right.  It's a very odd and interesting puzzle...

    Later on, one of the phones rings.  Edward answers it, and it's someone asking if it's convenient for the Sheriff to visit them.  It is, of course, and they request refreshments too.
    Shortly after, the Sheriff arrives.
    Marc greets him.  "Hello, I'm Marcus Crestworthy."
    "Ah!  Nice to meet you.  Erwin.  Erwin Hedaker."
    "I've heard about you."
    "Probably," the Sheriff laughs.
    "Locally, and actually abroad."
    "Really?  And how so?"
    "An acquaintance of mine I had the interest of meeting some years ago told me about your world, and mentioned you by name.  You're the only person from this planet that he mentioned."
    "Well, I suppose I should be flattered."
    "What really brought me here was some of the stories he tells of some of the animal life from the north Cormor Forest.  Specifically the magical hunting beast, the one that hunts the other predators, and only other predators.  What is the name of that... what do you call it locally?"
    "It has a lot of names, depending who you talk to.  It's so rarely seen by citizens that it doesn't really have a name.  It's quite... retiring."
    "Sounds like it's going to be a difficult hunt.  I don't want to capture one, I just want to record it, as much of its behavior as I can."
    "May I ask who put you onto this?"
    "Yes.  The name was Cappy Starfugger."
    "Oh yes, I know him!  He ran some stuff for me a few times from here.  Interesting."
    "Yes, he says he was doing some... travels."
    "He has an interesting way of doing business.  It was rather difficult to convince him to stay put at First City and load up there, rather than try and fly up here.  I have a few missile turrets that convinced him otherwise."
    "That's one way to keep a forest safe," observes Marquis Marc
    "That's my job.  To protect and serve."
    "I study abnormal, uh, activities such as animals that hunt using extra-normal abilities, and Cappy's story about your unnamed creature fit that profile, and I thought it worth coming here and investigating."
    "What exactly do you mean by that?" asks Erwin, curiously.
    "The ability to lift an object with your mind, or to sense..."
    "Oh, psionics!  Ah!  That's an interesting idea.  It hadn't occurred to me that it would do it by psionics."
    "It fit the profile I've come to apply to such creatures."
    "Interesting.  Well, I'd be glad to set up an expedition for you, but what do you have to offer?"
    "We have our research ship and all its resources while we're on planet.  We have an excellent medical doctor.  I brought these as something you might find useful."  Marc hands over the sunglasses.  "If I understand it correctly the interior of the forest is rather dim, and you can adjust the light application."
    "Nice job, very nice.  I tell you what I really need, though.  You're here with a ship, right?  Good.  Do you have somebody or portable equipment you can use to check out zuchai crystals?"
    "If we don't have the equipment, our engineer can probably build it."
    "I have some lightning dispersal equipment that uses zuchai crystals to store the energy -- very much like a jump drive really..."
    Marc breaks in, "You're beyond me, but precisely up the path of my engineer.  My communications officer has arranged a local phone number for my ship."  He shows Erwin the symbols for the connection.  "You're welcome, and I'll ask him, you can talk to him or ask him to come here, either way."
    "That would be wonderful.  Although we can build everything here, having the experience to check things over is something we're short of."
    "Mich is a twenty year jump drive engineer retired from the navy.  If he doesn't have the experience you need, then I don't think it exists."
    Erwin laughs.  "I'd be delighted to set up an expedition for you!"
    "Do you have an engineer tech that can explain to him what you need, so he can prepare and bring whatever he needs on the train."
    "Certainly!  I'd be glad to.  Actually I can explain it myself very well.  I need to know most of what's going on round here, for my job."
    "I'm beginning to understand that."
    "If you'd like to call him, you can maybe put me on, if it's convenient for you...?"
    "Absolutely."  The Marquis pauses.  "Excuse me, Sheriff, I don't know how to read the symbols.  All I know is how to punch them in, and with this phone I have to tell someone the symbols, so I'll have to ask you to do this for me."
    The Sheriff does so, telling the operator that this is how to connect to the Third Eye, should anyone request a call there.  He hands the phone over to the Marquis.

    On the ship, Robert Morris answers.
    "Robert, yes," says Marc,  "May I speak to Mich, please?"
    Robert connects him.
    Marc says, "Mich, we have someone here who's requesting someone with experience with zuchai crystals and jump drives.  You know something about this, correct?"
    "Oh yes," replies Mich, "Zuchai crystals are the storage for..."
    The Marquis interrupts him.  "That's far beyond what I need to know.  This is Sheriff Erwin Hedaker, he has a request for some analysis and whatever, he has some requirements and I wish you would help him out."
    The Sheriff takes the handset when Marc offers it to him.  "This is Erwin Hedaker."
    "Mich Saginaw."
    "Pleased to make your acquaintance.  I gather you're an engineer.  We use an array of zuchai crystals here for an electrostatic lightning repulsor.  When we see signs of a storm approaching, we use our fusion reactor to charge up the zuchai crystals, feeding it through a circuit to compress the power pulse, and use it to build an electrostatic field to repulse the lightning.  The lightning normally around here bleeds naturally into the upper canopy -- there's no real buildup of charge -- but where our buildings extend above the surface, lightning tends to concentrate.  So that we don't get a charge firing down through the buildings and damaging the forest, we throw up an electrostatic field which tends to bleed off and divert the lightning, and we use the zuchai crystals to get a strong pulse in response to the buildup of charge.  Everything seems to be working fine, but it's been about five years since the crystals were checked, and while we build everything locally here we don't have a lot of experience in maintenance.  We were wondering if you have some equipment, some expertise that can check our array and see if any of the crystals might need replacing.  We'd be very grateful for that."
    "Yeah, that's pretty easy a job to do."
    "Is there some special equipment we could buy off you, or maybe you could train our engineer as well...?"
    "Yeah, I think so."
    "We'd be most grateful.  Plans only, we'd build our own, but you can bring your own equipment to check this time."
    "Bring some prototype samples, I guess, that you'd be able to disassemble..."
    "Great.  You understand that part of our principle here is is that we ourselves only use locally built equipment."
    "Do you manufacture your own zuchai crystals?"
    "We have a source on the planet, yes."
    "And you might consider absorbing the lightning hit into the zuchai crystals, instead of repulsing them, and using the zuchai crystals as an energy source."
    "That's an interesting idea, indeed.  So I'd be most grateful if you could come out here and talk to us about it, that would be wonderful!"
    "Sure.  I'll have to see how the system you have is set up."
    "We'd be glad to give you a tour of everything we have here, you're welcome to browse all our blueprints, everything we have on our computer about it will be open to you."
    "So we just have to arrange some transportation, then?"
    "Of course the only transportation is the train, but I can arrange to have someone escort you, bring any equipment you need and all that.  The next train out would be tomorrow morning."
    "That would give me time to put together the equipment that I'm going to need."
    "That would be excellent.  We very much appreciate it.  Thank you!  Some of my people down in First City will contact you about the travelling arrangements.  Thank you!"
    The Sheriff and the Marquis wish Mich a pleasant trip.  He should arrive the day after tomorrow.

    The Marquis hangs up the phone and turns to the Sheriff.  "I'm glad we could be of assistance."
    "That will be wonderful assistance, yes."
    "Trading of information is always a welcome thing with a university."
    "Indeed.  I must admit we don't get very many university people here."
    "Well, you know, as a field research professor, I follow almost any reasonable lead.  That's why they allow me to use the Third Eye."

    Refreshments arrive.  Marquis Marc invites Erwin to join them, but he says he has some loadings to supervise over in the cargo area.  They will meet again tomorrow after breakfast; the Sheriff will check on the availability of guides and so on.  Erwin Hedaker leaves.

    Helia comes back down from the suites.  She is told she missed the Sheriff, and that Mich is coming.  She expresses surprise that they have a jump drive here.  Marc tells her that Mich will fix their jump drive, and tomorrow morning they'll be discussing the expedition.
    "Does Mich think it's safe here?" asks Helia.
    "Yes," Marquis Marc assures her, "Mich thinks it's safe here."
    "If Mich shows up with a helmet we should worry."

    That reminds the Marquis of something.  He calls Mich again and asks him how many of those small sensors he has.
    "About half a dozen.  You have one, and I have one turned on here."
    "Bring three more, with battery systems."
    "It's going to be a big pile of luggage!"
    The Marquis asks if anyone else wants to talk to Mich.
    Helia takes the phone.  "Hey Mich, are you going to wear your helmet?"
    "Do you need to wear your helmet?"
    "Well, it's better safe than sorry."
    "Are there Joes?"
    "I hope not."
    "So you haven't found a reason, you're just thinking about it.  OK."
    "How do you know what I'm thinking?" says Mich suspiciously.
    "Because when you said better safe than sorry that means you're worried that there might be so."
    "OK?  I don't read minds.  I'm just a woman."
    No-one else wants to talk to Mich now, so she hangs up.  Ed thinks to himself that it's not the Joes that Mich has to worry about, it's the Josephines...

    About two hours later, someone from the Sheriff's office calls Mich to arrange travel.  The limo, and a cargo van, will arrive tomorrow morning and pick him up from the yacht club.  Mich says he'll need about two steamer trunks full of equipment.  That'll include the three football-sized sensor packages.  He'll also be carrying one of the shoebox communicator units, and something to attach to the side of whatever computer terminal they give him to use.

    Back in the guest quarters, they relax and enjoy the view.  Sunset is quite a sight, with the big red sun setting, reflecting from the forest canopy.

101-1120 : Digitis / Vilis / Spinward Marches

    Next morning, Mich is taken to the train station at Center, via two boats (one for him, one for his luggage), and a limousine and a truck.  He is driven all the way to Center, and his luggage loaded on the train with him.  There's actually about half a dozen people in the other passenger car this time, but he still has a car to himself.