At the bookstore, the clerk does not recognize the pictograms. Nevertheless, the Marquis does find about ten books that might be useful, so he buys them all. They return to his ship.
Back on board, the Marquis studies one book while the others are read into the computer. He actually beats the computer in an approximate match, and passes that book on to be read next. To help him with his reading, he gets Mich to knock together a stand for books so he doesn't have to hold the book. He still turns the pages manually -- he finds it relaxing.
At dinner that night, the Marquis asks if they have
translated it yet. The answer is no. They've compared the match
that Marc pointed out, and according to them it's not in fact a match.
Back in his room that night, Marc tries it himself -- the translation makes
no sense. No more sense than Lap'da makes anyway. He sends
a message to Robert saying, "Here's a translation. It's in Lap'da-ese.
Good luck in understanding it, but it says nothing really, and a bunch
of untranslatable words in the middle of it."
The language he's been thinking matches is a Zhodani archeological text. The book shows symbols carved on stones from an old -- but post-Ancient -- site in Zhodani Consulate space.
There seems to be insufficient reason to stay any
longer. There doesn't appear to be anything more they can gather,
so they would probably be better off heading back to Mora
and looking things up there. The Marquis suspects that if that old
language is the right one, they won't find much about it there, but you
never know. He would have guessed the language was Jannish, but the
written script that they use here on Digitis
is not pictogram in form.
Marc asks his navigator where the nearest sector capital to Zhodani space is, to carry on research there. Actually he has a report to file with his patron -- he has found a planet on which there are no psionics, except for one visitor. The absence of any even latent psionics on a human planet is quite remarkable in itself. Unfortunately most of the border capitals don't have much of a University. The best on in archeology is probably Regina; it's not that close to the border, but in Imperial terms of course the whole of the Spinward Marches is close to the border.
Helia plans a route for them. She takes careful consideration of Amber Zones (like Tionale) and so on. The intent is just to make the trip as quickly as possible.
To their surprise, they are hailed almost immediately
by a system Navy vessel, which orders them to power down their motor and
prepare for boarding.
This is abnormal. The Marquis rushes to the bridge, asking Robert to check the local news reports immediately. Robert reports that the Navy ship is jamming their signals. They have enough fuel left for jump-0, not out of this system. Robert does a scan of the system, and finds that all the gas giants are being patrolled.
There seems to be no choice. The Marquis directs his crew to prepare for boarding; Robert will be securing all the files, while everyone with strange possessions hides them somewhere obscure; Marc's special books are just left arrayed neatly on the bookshelf. Marquis Marc then calls the Grand Admiral Baron Bridgehead to the bridge.
There is an Imperial Navy base in this system. There are a lot of ships here, many more than one would expect. Something is clearly up.
The naval ship calls them again, and tells them that they will be there in about an hour, and not to do anything that might cause them to open fire. The Marquis asks them what this is about, and they tell him that the Third Eye is being boarded as part of a routine patrol; the jamming is to make sure they don't do anything.
Marc then asks if Grand Admiral Baron Bridgehead can speak with the senior Imperial Navy officer.
"Certainly," comes the reply, "We'll be there in an hour and he can talk with him then."
"I'm certain the senior Imperial Navy officer is not on board your ship."
"Well, he can talk with the captain of our ship in an hour. End transmission."
They prepare for the visit. Vonish is asked
to prepare some food for their visitors. (The food has been superb
ever since they got back on board at Digitis.)
Misha asks if most of the ships in the system are from a single unit. That is not the case -- there are at least three Imperial Navy units here, in addition to the system Navy.
Suddenly the Marquis realizes what is going on. He remembers the news item about the saber rattling by the Federation of Arden. Clearly there is a buildup happening here. The ships seem to be engaged in patrol actions, rather than battle or post-battle cleanup.
Edward plays with his cat. He suggests that Misha might want to put aside the object he's currently sharpening, rather than carry it as he usually does. Why? First, they can't fight them, because the ship can't fight. Secondly, most scientific mission crews don't carry weapons on board ship.
"He can just add it in here," says Helia. A panel opens up revealing a weapons cache. She shows Ed and Misha how to open it.
The naval vessel reaches them. Alarms light
up on the bridge consoles as the ship locks onto the Third Eye.
They are being hailed.
"Hello," replies the Marquis brightly, "We've been expecting you."
"Any particular reason?" comes the suspicious reply.
"Because you told us you were coming an hour ago?"
"OK. We're sending a ships boat over, have somebody at the lock to meet us. We'll want to talk to your captain and your first officer, and your navigator too."
Marc directs Misha to take Helia and him to the lounge. Vonish rapidly arranges the snacks in the lounge, and hurries up to the bridge to take over the pilot's console.
Helia tells Vonish that everything's locked, and she's not going to tell him how to unlock it. "They can't make you do anything you don't know how to do," she explains.
The ships boat arrives. Misha cycles the lock.
There's a system navy Captain, accompanied by two people in battledress
with big guns. He says, "Follow me," and takes them to the lounge.
In the lounge, the Marquis recognizes the insignia on the battledress as Imperial Marines. He introduces himself to the captain, and in turn introduces Captain Warden to the Baron, Helia, and Misha.
The questioning is brief. Port of registry, last port of call (and the one before that), have they been anywhere outside the Imperium except Digitis?
When asked about the situation on Digitis, the Marquis says, "Very quiet. Basically a localized planet, they're not too much into interstellar travel, they allow some external trade. My scientific research was not as fruitful as I'd wished." He confirms that there was no sign of military activity. There was one trader on planet, but that was it.
Marquis Marc says they're in Denotam on their way to Regina, via Phlume.
"You might want to be careful in Phlume," says Captain Warden. "If you could stay away from the Imperial border you might find that advantageous. We're in a state of alert here. Please stick to your assigned traffic lanes, and cooperate with the authorities, and I believe you'll have no trouble. Thank you very much."
As the navy team turn to leave, Marc says, "Can I ask if was because of the announcement from..."
"I certainly can't answer any of those questions. Have a good stay in Denotam, and have a good voyage."
"Can I ask who's in command of the local fleet? The Admiral has a lot of old friends, and few chances to greet them."
"Admiral Lethbridge-Stewart is in charge here. The Imperial Navy is running things." He thanks the Marquis again, apologizes for the delay, and leave.
As soon as the ships boat clears their dock, the
jamming stops and they are told that they are free to proceed.
Robert immediately hooks up with the news services. There are several new TNS items, for 084, 086, 091, and 103. These items explain the extreme Naval presence. Helia says they are NOT going to Phlume. She looks for an alternate route, but because of the Abyss they either have to go way out of their way, or through the high security border systems. It would take them an extra month to go around the Abyss. The Marquis checks with Mich about carrying extra fuel to make a two jump trip, but there is only enough room for one jump-unit of fuel, not two.
The last news item reveals that the pirate Robin Sherwood's ship, the Berlin, must be carrying a lot of fuel, to be able to jump in and jump right out again.
They discuss their options again. The Marquis
agrees with Helia that Phlume
is not safe -- the risk of jumping in to a battle in progress is far too
high. Likewise the next sector capital to rimward, Frenzie,
is just jump-2 from the Federation of Arden, and the site of a major military
base as well. The next one would be Lanth,
but there isn't a big university there.
Misha suggests looping around the other side of the Federation of Arden. If there's tension on the Zhodani side of the Federation too, that might be just as bad. For example, 899-076 is so close to the Arden system itself, that the Marquis says there is sure to be a Federation presence there. Helia likes the idea; she then suggests stopping at Ylaven if they can get away with being in the Red Zone, but the Marquis just gets more and more nervous about whole idea.
Finally the Marquis makes his decision. They will go home, to Mora.
Once they reach the mainworld, the Baron can't set up a meeting with Admiral Lethbridge-Stewart; he's someone he knew in the Navy, but for some reason the man is just not available.
The Marquis checks with the local library about written
language forms of the Ancients. Information available here indicates
that they used many different forms, varying wildly from one site to another,
sometimes even one artifact to another.
He also checks with any local archaeological societies, but the only one is amateur and there are no experts of anything among its members.
Helia decides on their route plan: from Denotam, then Calit, Ficant, Tavonni, Arba, Rabwhar, Lunion, Gandr, Carey, Jokotre, and ending at Mora. It will take about three months to get there.
During the jump, Mich has tested the power generators
he had built on Digitis.
He checked each one individually, and they all ran perfectly.