(35) Fire Down Below

The Mora Campaign (200-1120 to 214-1120)

200-1120 : Mora / Mora / Spinward Marches

    The basement of the Department of Horticultural Fertilizer at the University of Mora still presents a mystery.  They can't figure out who is running the operation in the basement.
    Marquis Marcus Crestworthy decides to check up on what grants and so on are funding the department.  He notices, as he expected, that there are grants out of proportion to the activities of the DoHF.  A corporation, the Wonstar Development Corporation, is providing extraordinarily large sums of money.  Adding them all up, it comes to around 2 billion credits a year.  That is absolutely outrageous.
    The Wonstar Development Corporation is based on Wonstar / Five Sisters / Spinward Marches.  That's an Imperial world in a lightly developed subsector on the border of the Imperium.  The Marquis of course immediately asks Robert Morris to look into the WDC.
    Robert finds that the company is around 200 years old, with a post office address here on Mora, but no local phone numbers or contacts.  It's a privately held company.  There are no news releases relating to it.  Checking the tax records reveals that it's registered as a tax-exempt public service company, and unusually is not even required to file.

    Marc then calls a friend of his, a professor of tax law at the UoM.  He asks him how a company gets that status.  He says he's come across one.
    "Are you sure?" asks the professor.
    Marc assures him it is true.  "Why do you ask?"
    "Well, in theory if a company exists only for public service...  they'd have to prove it to everybody, of course, that they are not for profit, that nobody gets anything beyond their working expenses.  It's a completely ridiculous set of applications to file."
    "OK.  So let's say they filed them 200 years ago.  Who would they have filed them with?"
    "That depends where they are."
    "Five Sisters?"
    "Hmm...  The status is issued on the sector level, and it's a formality to extend it beyond the sector level to the Imperium.  Generally a company would have to have very limited operations in order to prove anything."
    "So if you have a business established as non-profit in one sector, then you can as a formality extend it to other sectors."
    "Yes, but it's more than non-profit.  It actually has to prove public service."
    The Marquis asks his friend for references about the status.

    Checking those references, he finds that it's not a simple task.  The laws are scattered around, and it looks very odd -- there are some contradictions.  Further research proves too complicated for him.
    Next he checks historical records.  For 50 years before and after 200 years ago, he looks for companies granted that status.  At the time, the Spinward Marches were administered by the Duke of Regina.  At that time, the Duke did indeed grant that status to the WDC, and that is the only company that was granted that status in that period.
    He then searches 25 years either side of that date, and looks for anything about the company.  All he finds is the company registration, and the record of it being granted the public service status.
    The Marquis decides to put his crew onto the problem.  He asks Edward "Shark" Teeth to look into anything he can find about the WDC.  Ed of course wants to know why, and on being told that they put 2 billion credits a year into the basement of the DoHF, he goes to his sources and asks them what black operations are being covered by the Wonstar Development Corporation.
    Then he asks Robert to find out if they make any other donations.  That is rather an intractable task, but he does what he can.  The postal records don't really exist for long enough, and are just too big to handle.  Still, for the last month he finds that no deliveries were recorded at the box.  He finds that the post office box is paid through the year 1140; no record exists of when it was originally paid, or by whom.
    The next information the Marquis wants is anything Robert can find out about the Naval base in the Wonstar system.  The information he finds from Naval records here state that the subsector is under Naval administration, and the base is mainly the administration center.  There is a small system squadron in place, as would be expected at a base.  It's a small squadron, the biggest ship being a destroyer; mostly it's destroyer escorts and system defense boats.
    The Marquis muses aloud to that the people who are paying his bills to search and find psionics are based in a subsector controlled by the Navy because of the Psionic Suppressions...  The company was established in 920, about a hundred years after the Imperium took over the subsector.  So it could be the Navy that's doing it, or it could be the perfect place to run an underground Psionics Institute, right under the Navy's nose.

    Marquis Marc does have a valid excuse to head out that way for research -- some rumors that he'd discounted as being implausible -- and of course he could just be doing a survey of a system or two just to see what's out there.
    It's a good enough reason, anyway.  He announces to the crew that they will leave in two days.  It's a fast turn-around, but he promises that they can all have a two month vacation when they get back.

    Mich Saginaw scans the papers available, and there's nothing new on jump drives.

    Helia Sarina plans a route to Wonstar.  Mich requests that they visit Spirelle on the way, as he has some investments there he wants to check.

201-1120 : Mora / Mora / Spinward Marches

    Shark is contacted and told to come in.  He is told that there is no Imperial operation masquerading as the Wonstar Development Corporation.  They did notice that the company is unusual, because it's the only company to have the status of tax-exempt public service in the Spinward Marches.  In fact, the way the laws are set up it's actually impossible to register a company for that status, as conflicting things have to be proven to different government agencies.  The only way a company could be approved is if several of those agencies were told to approve it from higher up.  They have a couple of people looking at the situation -- they find it interesting.  Not only that, but they haven't found out anything yet, which is interesting in itself.
    As for the "basement," it's not their department.  They're not in this chain of command, and while Shark's friends don't have jurisdiction to investigate that, they are investigating their source of income.  They are grateful to Shark for putting them onto it.  They do confirm for Shark that the people in the basement are not the ones who would be interested in the language research.
    As Shark leaves, he is told that he can use the usual channels, and that when he gets to Wonstar they'll probably have something there.  He offers to courier if needed, but there's no need for one apparently.

    Shark reports back to the Marquis: the special company status has to be awarded, and his friends don't know anything about it.

    Robert reiterates to Marc that he knows where the language information is, but he can't get to it.  The location of the information is actually owned by Count Walter von Hayden.  The Marquis has never heard of him, but Robert quickly searches the Who's Who resources.  His landholdings are in Core, near Capital, and he's a minor stockholder in Imperiallines.  There is no other information about him available.  Surprisingly it's a much shorter bio than Marquis Marc's, although maybe it's not so surprising given his Starburst for Extreme Heroism and his status as Professor of the University of Mora.
    Marc says that they should not try to get at the information now, but consider it during their trip.  Robert gets as much detail about the situation -- security and monitoring -- as he can, so he can work on it later.

    Marc's finances are still fine; a package containing his latest grant has appeared in return for his last report.

202-1120 : Mora / Mora / Spinward Marches

    The Third Eye takes off on the way to Wonstar / Five Sisters.  Helia takes the ship out to jump point, and engages the jump drive.  It's a really smooth transition.
    Unknown to the rest of the crew, Mich has installed the new matter phase inverter units, and the jump drive is powering off those.  He is running the old system in parallel as a fail-safe in case anything happens during jump.

    The Marquis continues his research, looking through his books for anything on psionics in Five Sisters or the Sword Worlds.

    Ed wants to work on his gravcraft skill.  Unfortunately no-one is qualified to teach him.  His second choice is Sensor Ops, and the ship has an adequate training program he can use.

208-1120 : Grille / Mora / Spinward Marches

    Six days later, the Third Eye comes out of jump.

    Mich has collected lots of data from the jump.  He is pleased to notice that the actual behavior matches his model extremely well, and also that the drives were noticeably smoother.  Helia noticed the smoothness too; she'd really like it if Mich could squeeze the time down to five days, though.

    Helia lands the ship beside the refueling pond.  They start turnaround operations right away; this is to be a quick trip.

210-1120 : Grille / Mora / Spinward Marches

    Helia takes the ship off the planet and they jump for Duale.  The drives are noticeably smooth again.

214-1120 : Jumpspace (from Grille / Mora / Spinward Marches)

    It's four days into the jump.  Mich notices a small anomaly in the power units -- one is not pulling its weight, and another is pushing harder to compensate.  He's not worried; he even has two additional units if he needs to replace them, and he can also switch out the whole array if he wants.

    Over the course of the day, it gets more unbalanced -- one is falling off dramatically, while one of the others is pushing to keep up.  Now that's odd, thinks Mich, all the others should be pushing to keep up, not just one.  He switches out the failing one, and switches in a brand new unit.
    Fire alarms and the air pressure alarms for engineering go off.  On the bridge, Helia asks Mich if he's OK down there, but he replies that it's all under control.
    Mich tumbles across engineering and into his vaccsuit.  Fortunately at this point the bright light is being filtered through the faceshield... the unit that was supplying extra power is glowing, and the one next to it -- the one switched out -- seems to be gathering some frost.
    Mich quickly switches the whole array out and engages the zuchai crystals to take over.  It's fortunate that he had them already powered up as a precaution in case he needed to switch in jump.  The transfer is smooth and successful.
    The glowing unit is now brighter, and the ball of frost on the other one is getting larger.  Clearly one is dumping energy into the other, which in turn is absorbing energy.  Both units are totally disconnected now, but they're still continuing to misbehave.
    Mich decides what he needs is a heat pipe to connect the two, to get the heat from one unit to the other.  He runs to the engineering shop and hurriedly finds what he needs, and returns to the problem area.  He finds that the hot unit is now glowing white.
    This is nothing like anything Mich has experienced before.  He gets closer to the units, so he can set up the heat pipe between them.  His suit tells him it's a little too hot to get that close.

    The air pressure in engineering is still dropping.  Marquis Marc is quite concerned and calls Mich, but he replies that things are under control.  Marc suggests that everyone on board should get into vaccsuits just in case the problem spreads beyond engineering.

    Mich grabs a big wrench and lowers the heat pipe into place.  One end melts away while he holds it in place.  He contemplates what do to -- there's no fuel going to either unit, and there are no connections to them at all.
    He drops the heat pipe and sets up an electrical connection between the two units.  It blows out immediately from the massive current.
    Suddenly Mich is flung backwards and hits the ground.  Where the hot unit was is now a point source glowing with the unmistakable aura of cherenkov radiation.
    He stands up, a bit the worse for wear, and examines the situation.  He has a glowing point source about a meter off the floor, and alongside it the atmosphere is condensing on the cold unit.  The difference between ambient temperature and the heat source is much higher than the difference between ambient and the cold unit.
    The temperature is starting to drop off from the hot unit -- but with a corresponding increase in hard radiation.  The remaining atmosphere is condensing on the cold unit.

    The fire alarm stops.  Helia asks Mich if that means things are better.
    "Yeah, they're a little better," he says.  He assures the bridge crew that he has everything under control.

    The hard radiation is Mich's biggest concern.  He quickly works on shielding to protect the rest of the ship.  This is a "standard" emergency procedure for engineering, and he has it rigged up in about ten minutes.  He encloses the radiation source in shielding, and despite taking a fairly heavy dose himself, the ship and the rest of the crew is now safe.
    Mich feels quite sick.  He now addresses the problem of the atmosphere, condensing on the cold unit which is essentially at absolute zero.  He builds an airtight container around that unit, double walled to insulate it, and strong enough to contain the pressure if the frozen atmosphere decided to become gas again.

    After an hour, Mich is done.  All the other units are off and normal.  He repressurizes the engineering section.  Everything seems to be OK.  He reports back to the bridge.
    "We had some problem with the power systems," he says, "That overheated and supercooled.  It supercooled freezing the atmosphere out, and overheated to..."
    "I've never heard of zuchai crystals doing that," the Marquis interrupts.
    "I didn't say zuchai crystals, I said the power system."
    "What power systems were we using?"
    "Fusion reactor, zuchai crystals, and matter-antimatter generators."
    "They warned me... they told me not to do this," mutters Marc.
    Mich continues, "But all of the matter-antimatter generators are off-line, so we're OK now."  He assures the Marquis that his ship is just fine.  He says he'll keep the units off-line until he figures out what happened.
    Marc asks if he can inspect the damage.  He asks if Mich is hurt, and the engineer replies that he wants to talk to the doctor.  Marc calls the doctor, Grand Admiral Baron Bridgehead, to meet him in engineering.

    The doctor is quite concerned about Mich.  He's suffering from both thermal and radiation burns, and extensive bruising.  He escorts him to sick bay immediately and puts him under treatment.

    Marquis Marc observes two new boxes in engineering.  Mich explains that one is all radiation shielding, because the failure of that unit started emitting radiation in the thermal band, and then progressed to harder radiation.  The other one cooled and removed the air.  So they have one box that is emitting energy and radiation, and another that's absorbing energy.  The air froze on the cold one.  The rest of engineering is undamaged.
    Helia says she'll watch engineering from the bridge while Mich is in the sick bay.  She has no intention of getting near the new boxes, despite being assured that radiation levels are normal there.

    The crew settles down to wait for the Third Eye to come out of jump...