(32) It's Good To Be Home

The Mora Campaign (107-1120 to 110-1120)

133 / 800 local (107-1120 - 108-1120) : Digitis / Vilis / Spinward Marches

    After breakfast, Misha Ravanos calls the Steward to ask if there's any further word on the Sheriff.
    The Steward replies, "Well, he's still not available at the moment.  Was there something special you wanted to talk about?"
    "And that would be...?"
    "I'll talk about that with him."
    "All right," sighs the Steward, "As soon as he's available, I'll make sure he gets your message."

    Robert Morris, back on the H.M.S. Third Eye, has been working hard on the encrypted high bandwidth transmissions.  He has now managed to synch up with the data, and worked out the continually shifting protocols.  If he hadn't hacked those hiver computers, he wouldn't have stood a chance -- as it is, his experience with the alien systems has provided the break he needed to get a handle on this stuff.  It's very strange, very odd -- definitely not something to have come out of some hot-shot Imperial programmer (or hot-shot hiver, for that matter).
    He also picked up a slight unexpected glitch of interference in the transmission to the relay unit.  He investigates, and it turns out to be interference from another signal.  Someone was sending a high power tight beam short transmission from the city of Center, upwards.  A little bounce back interfered with the multiple frequencies Robert is using for reliable communications with the away team in Cormor Forest.  This is definitely not a natural occurrence -- it's a transmission deliberately aimed at space.  Unfortunately the transmission was very short, and he can't get anything more about it or locate it any closer than somewhere in Center.  There is no way to tell where the transmission was aimed, other than it was clearly somewhere in the system, not on this planet.  He continues to work on all these interesting enigmas.

    Back in the forest home, Marquis Marcus Crestworthy calls Mich Saginaw around mid-morning.  He confirms that Mich will be finished with building the generator units today.  He then suggests to Misha that they should depart tomorrow evening -- or even tonight, if possible.  He requests his First Officer to make sure that everything can be ready to leave.
    The Marquis then turns to their Jann guide.  "Lap'da, do you have any interest in travel off planet?"
    "Travel to Center?"
    Helia Sarina asks, "Learn how to fly a ship?"
    Sagan comments, "Why should he want to learn to leave the planet on a ship when he can do so on his own?"

    The day continues.  Marc continues reading his psionic texts, and monitoring the football sensor (which still detects nothing).  Misha continues to feel uneasy, like they're missing something, but he can't figure out what.  Ed "Shark" Teeth goes back over the living quarters again looking for bugs, and is certain that the area is still clean.
    Lunchtime arrives and there is still no contact from the Sheriff.  Some of the group are getting a little itchy to leave -- this waiting in such an uncertain situation is starting to get on their nerves.
    Sagan asks Lap'da how many Janns are on this world, but like others before hir, sie can't get a useful answer.  Sie does find out that there are some on this world that are over 1 year old, but Lap'da says he doesn't know how many.  Misha and Helia do manage to pry out of Lap'da that there are children among the Janns.
    Helia observes, "So we could have children..."
    Misha tries to find out about the lifespan of the Janns, but again can't get much of an answer.  "Do you have regular meetings with other Jann?"
    "No," replies Lap'da.
    "Your father, how long did he live?  How old was he when he died?"
    "I'm not sure, he hasn't told me."
    "Is your father still alive?"
    "So he hasn't told you his age?  Or he hasn't told you how old he'll be when he dies?"
    "He has not told me how old he will be when he dies."
    "Do you know his current age?"
    "What... age?" asks Lap'da, slowly.
    "The difference between the year he was born and the year we currently stand in."
    "Oh," says Lap'da brightly.  "Yes!  About a thousand years.  He was born about two hundred years after my grandparents got here."

    After a while, Marquis Marc asks, "Did your people bring the forest with them?"
    "No," replies Lap'da.
    "Until the most recent stuff here, were there always nine forests?"
    "Do any of the Jann leave the planet?  Have any of the Jann left the planet in the past few hundred years?"
    "Do you know what planet you originally came from?  Is that in your histories?"
    "What can you tell me about that?"  Marquis Marc triggers his recorder.
    "It was probably much like yours."
    "Is there a name?"
    "There is a name but I don't think it would mean anything to you."
    "You'd be amazed at what is passed down through legend and survives.  Could you say it please?"
    "No, I think not."
    Now human written history certainly goes back through the Vilani empire, and there are hints about the Ancients, but the Jann claim to go back to the days of the Final War which destroyed the Ancients' civilization, or shortly thereafter.  What is more, according to Lap'da none of the Jann have left this planet since well before the rise of homo sapiens.

    Mich has been working on the new power units.  They are all complete before dinner, but unfortunately not soon enough to catch the train back to Center today.  He has eight units; all have been checked out, not just in normal operation but under varying circumstances such as load conditions, various levels of fuel impurities, and so on.
    Sagan points out that they don't actually have to wait for the train -- Lap'da could take them.  On the other hand, while they could leave, Mich has enough equipment that they would have to abandon some very desirable stuff.  The most critical items, though, are the data files -- which have already been uploaded to the Third Eye's computers.
    Misha would prefer not to leave yet anyway -- he wants to talk with the Sheriff and try to figure out some of the motivations and loose ends.
    Still, everything can be packed up ready to go.  Mich was planning to talk to Jane Southcombe to see if there was anything he could help with, or anything more he could find out perhaps.  Jane, however, is not available -- she did say she was just doing some routine tasks.

    Misha puts the question to the Marquis.  It's up to him to balance the risk factors.  Should they walk back to the ship with Lap'da tonight, or take the train tomorrow?
    Marquis Marc asks Lap'da how many days walk it is back to the ship -- and of course he says "Some."
    Helia tries to pin Lap'da down further.  She asks, "OK, if we walk very focussed, do you think we can make it to the ship by dawn?"
    "No," replies Lap'da firmly.
    "OK, Do you think we can make the ship by noon?"
    "If we started now, what do you think would be the fastest we could get to the ship?"
    "I don't know."
    "Could we make it by tomorrow dinnertime?"
    "I don't know."
    Helia turns to Marc.  "That's the best answer we're going to get," she says.
    Sagan says, "This again assumes that the ship does not move."
    Helia doesn't really want Vonish Kehnaan to have to handle the atmospheric flight from First City.  She again turns to their guide, "Lap'da, can the Jann bring the ship to us here without damaging the forest?"
    "Tonight?  Now?"
    Marc thinks it would be too visible a proposition.  He discusses the matter briefly with Misha, and comes to the conclusion that they should probably just wait until tomorrow and take the train.  They all settle down to spend the night.

134 / 800 local (108-1120 - 109-1120) : Digitis / Vilis / Spinward Marches

    Shortly after lunch, Sheriff Erwin Hedaker arrives unexpectedly in the guest wing.  He greets them warmly.  Marquis Marc thanks him for his hospitality, the Sheriff thanks them for their work, and Mich thanks him for the opportunity.  Erwin expresses the hope that the Marquis found what he was seeking, to which the latter says he indeed found much of interest.
    "Good, then it won't have been a wasted journey," says the Sheriff.
    "Not completely," says the Marquis.
    "Excellent.  I gather you are leaving today?  Well, I hope you feel welcome to return any time you like."
    "Thank you.  We may in fact take you up on your offer."
    "Is there anything I can do for you?"
    "For me personally, no."
    Misha is not so coy about avoiding the difficult subjects.  He says, "I understand that you sent us to the north forest to get us out of the way."
    Helia lets out a shocked noise.
    The Sheriff says, "How far out of the way were you?"
    Helia says, "Apparently as far as Lap'da was told to take us."
    "And that didn't turn out to be very far, did it?"
    "That depends on how you look at it."
    Misha asks, "Why would you do this?"
    "You wanted to go there."
    Helia says, "We didn't want to be 'out of the way.'"
    "But you did want to go there, did you not?"
    "Out of the way implies there is some reason that we cannot be where we were."
    Misha says, "Not necessarily was that where we wanted to go.  We wanted to find this creature the captain was looking for."
    "And does this creature exist?" counters the Sheriff.
    "But that's where you wanted to go, the northern forest, wasn't it?"
    The Marquis confirms that was where he asked to go.
    Misha asks, "Do you deny that you sent us out of the way?"
    The Sheriff says carefully, "It was a long distance, which depending on how you interpreted it could have meant out of the way, but on the other hand your return was easy enough."
    "True.  But so why did you send us out of the way."
    "I sent you where you wanted to go."
    Helia says, "I didn't want to go out of the way."
    "You weren't, were you?"  He pauses, then goes on, "Let us just say, hypothetically, that you were intending to go to the northern forest -- which you were -- and let us say hypothetically that perhaps someone wanted to be assured that you would be out of the way there.  Now a thousand kilometers is out of the way, is it not?  But at the same time, you would not be in a position where being out of the way would have left you out of touch or ability to respond to anything."
    Misha says, "I do see how that is the case.  Continuing this hypothetical situation, who -- hypothetically -- would want us out of the way?  And to what end?"
    Erwin replies, "To what end?  Well... who knows?  But as long as all parties come away happily and unharmed...?"
    "Perhaps our sense of comfort has suffered."
    "Maybe so, maybe so."
    "Well, in that case, thank you for our hospitality, and the introduction to Lap'da."
    Helia adds, "We certainly enjoyed that clean country air in the forest."
    "Excellent," nods the Sheriff.  "And Mich, I gather you're taking something away with you?"
    "Yes," says Mich, "I have a need of some of the energy amplifier packages that we developed.  You have all the production line set up, so you can make them."
    "I... think we won't be building any."
    "You'd rather depend on the zuchai crystals?"
    "They are... dependable.  We know who put the unit together, and we rely on them."
    "And you don't believe you can rely on these units that we put together here?"
    "Oh, I didn't say that, just said that with our current system I know who designed and built it and put it together, and I know their background, and... and I don't think we'll be building any of the new units."
    "Jane is quite capable as an engineer and did help quite a bit in various stages of the development of this unit."
    "I'm sure she did."
    "I only wish that I could have been more helpful.  It sounds like we got a lot more out of this deal than you did."
    "Oh no, I assure you.  I have the best end of the deal right now."
    "OK.  Well, thank you very much for your hospitality."
    "You're welcome.  As I said, anything you need, anytime that you want to come back, you would be very welcome.  Anyone else have anything?  No?  Thank you for staying with us!"
    The Sheriff leaves.

    Helia says, "We've been missing something all along.  We missed it again."
    Misha says, "About being sent out of the way: the point of that was that while he did send us out of the way in the sense that we were a thousand kilometers from where Mich was, we were not a thousand kilometers in days from where he was.  He implied that he did that on purpose."
    "Yeah, we still missed something."
    "There's clearly something going on that we don't understand.  He doesn't really want to share it with us in an obvious way.  Very Lap'da-ish!"  Misha laughs.
    Marquis Marc looks at Lap'da.  "You have taught him well," he says.
    Lap'da says, "I have taught him some things.  I did not teach him what he is doing now."
    Helia asks, "What is he doing now?"
    "What do you think he is doing now?"
    "Hiding something."
    "What do you think he's hiding?"
    "I don't know, but I don't like it.  Do you know what he's hiding?"
    Marc says, "Hiding what he gained from us."
    Lap'da answers Helia's question, "I don't know."
    Marc adds, "Obviously he didn't gain the obvious."
    Misha says, "He's playing some kind of game with someone else on planet, and we're just some kind of pawns in the game."
    Helia says, "That's what it feels like."
    Marc says, "I'm hoping it's only on planet."
    Misha says, "Why does it matter whether it's on planet or not?"
    Helia answers, "Because we have to go off planet, and if there's somebody that he's in contact with off planet, it might be bad for us."
    "Well, you know Lap'da vouches for the Sheriff, at least in terms of his honesty.  The Sheriff wouldn't do something to harm us, that's what Lap'da says.  I'm inclined to believe that."
    "But the Sheriff might not do something that would prevent harm.  He may not step in the way of someone who meant us harm."
    Misha says to Lap'da, "I sense from you that you're not entirely happy with the Sheriff's current game, whatever that game happens to be."
    Lap'da asks, "His game?"
    "His game, his current activities, obviously he's not being -- completely forthright.  He's -- his current actions..."
    "I believe he's doing what he thinks is best."
    "OK.  I'm willing to accept that.  Lap'da, this is a decision we must make as a group.  We must decide whether to leave planet and go on to bigger and better things, or stay here and investigate."
    "The Sheriff does not intend to bring you harm."
    Marquis Marc asks him, "Do you know of anyone on planet who does?"
    "I don't know."
    "Do you know of anyone off planet who does?"
    "I don't know."
    Misha says, "Well, I wondered if you have any advice on this question?"
    "I don't think you will come to harm on planet."
    "That's not the question.  The question is whether it would be a good thing to stay and investigate this little mystery, or just to move on and let the Sheriff continue his game in peace."
    "That depends."
    "On what?"
    "Do you think you can finally get what game it is?"
    "I have no idea.  But we'll never know if we never try."
    Lap'da says quietly, "Perhaps you're stuck with rock - paper - scissors, and he has a flower."
    "Do not play the game if you do not think you can play it."
    Marc adds, "Don't play the game if there's more to lose than there is to win."
    "But have you already won?"
    Misha says, "We're ahead on the game, that's why I'm willing to continue playing."
    Marc says, "I'm playing a conservative game.  At this time, with the information at hand, I don't think there's much to be gained by staying.  Now as we travel, as more information becomes available, once we return to the ship me may decide to change our minds."
    Lap'da says, "Most people who ask a question already know the answer."
    Helia says, "That's a very human thing.  We like to have our thoughts affirmed."

    There seems nothing more to be gained.  They arrange for their baggage to be on the train, while everyone will take their own personal luggage.  The Marquis calls the Steward and asks when the train will leave tonight.  He plans that they will be there an hour ahead of time.

    Misha wants to go for one last walk in the woods.  Mich joins him -- he's not had much of a chance to wander in the forest.  Helia also goes along, to stretch her wings and fly for a while before getting back on the ship.  The two humans take a gentle walk, half an hour to the east -- away from the commercial section -- and return safely.  The lirian flies up towards the canopy of the forest, and enjoys herself relaxing and flying around in the fresh air; she keeps the lights from the guest tower in sight, and of course that makes it certain she does not get lost.

    After the walk, everyone moves over to the station.  They embark-- they are the only passengers on the train this time -- and their luggage is loaded into the baggage section.  The bartender is the same person they had on the way out here, although he's done other runs in the meantime and hasn't just been doing this one train.

135 / 800 local (109-1120 - 110-1120) : Digitis / Vilis / Spinward Marches

    Robert has been working on the data stream, but is very surprised when it stops.  The low bandwidth carrier remains, but the encrypted and high bandwidth transmissions are gone.  He has, however, managed to work out that it's not numeric data -- there's some sort of ideograph representation.  Now he doesn't have to spend as much computing power just synching up with the data stream, he can concentrate on translating the data he has already collected.  He feels like he's on the verge of some sort of breakthrough.

    The trip back from Cormor Forest is uneventful.  Marquis Marc continues to read, while the others talk and occupy themselves as they can.  They try without success to spot the location of the old train wreck, but it's night as they go by and they don't see anything.  They do, however, get a good view of the Great Gap as they pass over it to the southern continent in the afternoon.
    The train arrives back in Center right on time, in the evening.  There are a couple of limousines and a van waiting for them, and they are driven direct from the station to the yacht club at First City.  From there, they are chauffeured by boat back to the Third Eye.  The Marquis tips well, in Imperial credits.  All are relieved and pleased to be back on board their ship.

    Mich and Shark go through the baggage carefully -- Mich makes sure everything they packed is actually there, while Shark makes sure there's nothing there that they didn't pack.  All checks out fine.

    Robert reports to the Marquis and Misha.  He tells them that there's technology in use on this planet that is much higher than it appears, and that there's extremely high data rate communication lines between Center and Cormor Forest.  He's been wading through the content, but isn't sure exactly what's going on with it.  There was some highly encrypted content that stopped about the time they left the forest.  At one point -- about the time that they would have arrived back at the settlement -- there was a high energy transmission from Center off-world.  There have been no transmissions picked up from the rest of the system.  Robert didn't want to tell them about this until they were in a secure location.
    The Marquis says to Misha, "This is some of that additional information we might be gathering.  Does this change what you want to do?"
    Misha replies, "It intrigues me, but..."
    Robert adds, "We have some of the encrypted conversations recorded and we're working on deciphering them."
    Marquis Marc says, "How long do you think it will take?"
    "Maybe about two days.  It depends."
    Marc asks if there's anyone who can help Robert with it.  Helia is good at maths, Ed is good at... who knows what Ed is good at?
    "I have the encryption broken, it's more the ideograms than..."
    "So it's language skills?"
    "Yes.  I'll take anyone's help."
    Marc asks, "When you say high technology, is it beyond Imperium technology, or...?  Because these guys are TL5 with some TL7 computer stuff, and some missile launchers they claim."
    "It's beyond that," Robert laughs.  "It's edges of the fringe of Imperium.  What I'm seeing I could believe is in some Imperial lab somewhere and could see the light of day in maybe five years.  But this is out of place for this location.  It's a different direction from Imperial technology but it is achievable in the near future."
    "Would the technology necessary to implement this be the sort of technology a person would carry around with them concealed?  Could you build that technology into a concealed device, with what you have now on the ship?"
    "OK, so it is either a large installation, or it's advanced technology."
    Robert supports the large installation theory -- it's main line communication between two points.  He has a lot of individual conversation data, but there were many before he started recording.  He just happened upon it because he noticed that there was some low bandwidth data transmission that looked rather odd, and he noticed it was a carrier for extremely high bandwidth communications.  He promises to let Marc know if it resumes.
    The Marquis calls Mich to find out how quickly they could leave if they wanted -- Mich tells him about two hours to get everything checked out and warmed up.
    Misha's opinion is that besides satisfying curiosity, it doesn't seem that there's much benefit to spending more time on this.  He asks Robert if he could trace this end of the communications.
    Robert notes that the recipient of the high bandwidth transmissions could be tapping into it the same way they are, in which case they can't locate them, but that they can trace the destination of the continuing low bandwidth stuff.
    The Marquis observes that there is definitely a ship in space -- another player off planet -- and at least one more ship on planet.
    Misha wonders if the transmission off-planet could have contained the plans to the energy amplifier device.  Robert says that it was far too short for that.  It could not have been the plans that were transmitted.  Also, the interference from that one transmission can't be located any more accurately than to say it originated in Center.
    Marc says that the problem with looking for someone who doesn't necessarily want to be found, is that if you find them, they might shoot -- and his ship is not really equipped to shoot back.  So while they can look to see if they can find anyone on their way out, chasing after another ship is not really an option.
    Misha asks about tracing the transmissions -- he says he can get physical access to the location once Robert tells him where it is.
    Robert says that he thinks his time would be best spent deciphering the content of the transmission first, to see whether it's anything that might be worth investigating.  It might be something totally innocent.

    The Marquis decides that they will stay here another two days to see if they can determine anything else.  That would mean leaving on 138 / 800 local date, 112-1120 Imperial.
    Vonish, who has some language skill, will help Robert; Sagan also offers the possibility of adapting the hiver translator algorithms for use in understanding the ideograms.