(9) Stealing the Answers

The Nightshade Campaign (143-1122 to 185-1122)

143-1122 : Victoria / Lanth / Spinward Marches

    Today is the birthday of Kalida Siena, Marchioness of Nakege.  There will, of course, be an appropriate party.

    Nightshade is in stealth mode, positioned between a battlecruiser on station above the Ancient site on Albert, Victoria's moon, and the marine base camp on the surface.
    Misha Ravanos likes the idea of faking their way into the site. but Robert Morris tells him that their chances of getting away with it are not good at all.  Now most of the crew have Imperial IDs that are perfectly valid, and if they could fake a document that they are supposed to be here -- in the red zone -- they might be able to do it.  Robert again says that faking such an authorization would not be practical.  Misha's next idea is to insert information into the computers here to expect somebody, i.e. them, to come calling; they could then go back out to the system borders and fly back in as if they'd just arrived.
    Kalida wonders aloud if she knows anyone here.
    Robert offers to get her a personnel list; it doesn't take him long to get the Naval list, but the Marine list takes a bit longer.
    As it turns out, Kalida does knows someone here: Commodore Jacques Lebrun, who is commanding operations here, was a junior line officer in 1108 on the same ship as Kalida, Kingfisher.  Kalida has met him, and he would know her -- it was quite a memorable cruise -- but she is unlikely to recognize someone who was just another Ensign at the time.  She really doesn't have enough to make a connection out of the blue in a red zone, but if they already had some real supposed justification for being here it could help.
    Misha then wonders if it would just be easier to break into their computers and get everything they know.
    Robert immediately starts work on stealing all the academic data from the installation.  All the records aren't online, but he's set up trojans so that when researchers' hand puters dock it'll take all that too.  This will all take quite some time.

144-1122 : Victoria / Lanth / Spinward Marches

    Robert has slowly collected the data from the academic station.
    The researchers are not removing any artifacts, just cataloguing what they find.  They have lost two people so far -- two archaeologists just disappeared.  That brings their team down to eight people.  There are no personal journal entries at all, and no interpretations or speculation on their explorations.
    The team has been here for two years.  This is an initial exploration of the site -- their job is just to do general physical measurements and not touch anything.  They've tried to get a little bit into it, but in another year their term will be up.  At that point they'll be shipped out, and an entirely new team will come in and take over.  The current team is attached to the University of Rhylanor.  The next team will be provided by the University of Mora.
    There's a lot of data, the majority of which has not been analyzed.  There's a vast amount of video and still holography.  There are some very precise measurements.  With very good computer work, Robert has built an image of what it looks like as far as the researchers have found.  It's been a hard day's work for him.
    There are four rooms that have been examined.  The archaeologists have, like Vlen Backett, classified this site as a residential area.  The site consists of one building -- more of an organic dome-shaped growth than a construct, with the elements forming it reminiscent of trees and branches.  The door that they use as the entry point is a gap between branches.
    The entrance room has some sort of chairs and/or perches, all growing out of the floor and walls.  This is drastically different from any black tech style, confirming it as a Group A site.  The presence of perches again points towards a droyne-like form for the residents.
    At the end of the entrance room is an elliptical "door" of shimmering mist.  Passing through that door leads into a more puzzling room.  It could be an art gallery, it could be a room full of equipment.  Strangely shaped objects with no apparent purpose line the walls of the elongated room.
    At the end of this second room are another two elliptical doors, side by side.  The left door leads to a large spherical room, entering on the equator of the sphere.  This room, about 50 meters in diameter, is full of platforms with no visible means of support.  It's lit with a faint glow from the wall.
    The other door from the second room leads into the center of an end wall of a cylindrical tunnel, again about 50 meters in diameter, extending at least 400 meters before it dissolves into a cloud of mist.  Obviously something is odd about those two doors, as the sphere and cylinder would otherwise occupy much the same physical space.  There is film of researchers in this tube room walking on perfectly transparent "floors," and they record these floors as being slightly yielding and warm to the touch.  The two people who vanished were in this room taking measurements; they all split up, and when the team reassembled to leave after half an hour the two were not there.

    There seems little more to do here.  They can come back in a year, arranging themselves to be part of the University of Mora team, and look at the place in person.  That in fact sounds like a good plan, to go to Mora and set things in motion there.
    Of course, they will pick a route between here and Mora to give them reasonable places to scan.  It will be at least three jumps whichever way they go.  After some discussion, it's decided to take the route from here to Icetina to Fosey to MoraIcetina is an amber zone for an unspecified reason -- that could be something interesting.  Fosey is on a different enough xboat route for them to perhaps pick up on some new news.  They'll remain in stealth mode until they reach Mora, where they'll want to be in the open.

    Helia Sarina carefully flies them from their station in the atmosphere of Albert, and up and out to jump for Icetina.

    Mich Saginaw gets into sparkly pink before the jump transition and stays there for the whole jump, aside from breaks to eat and sleep, to feel jumpspace slip by and induce vortices in the ship's wake.  He lets Robert in on what he's doing so the computer expert can record and analyze what he's doing with the intent of automating it later.

150-1122 : Icetina / Lanth / Spinward Marches

    Nightshade arrives in stealth mode.  But there's a problem -- very few crew are at their stations, because it's 3 hours early.  Helia makes a habit of relaxing at her pilot console anyway, so she's in position, but everyone else (except Mich, of course) is shocked and astonished.
    Helia immediately calls down to Mich and says, "I don't know what you've been doing, but we're faster.  That's so cool."  She tells Misha that they've arrived.
    Callisto rushes onto the bridge looking extremely worried.  She pokes at her console for a few minutes and with a sigh of relief announces that they're in the correct system.
    Misha looks bemused.  He doesn't really understand why everyone is so worked up at a variance in jump duration.  He looks over at Helia, quizzically.
    Helia replies that Mich has done a great job fine tuning the drives, and she's very impressed.
    Of course, Mich has done this before with the automated systems on the Third Eye, but aside from that their jumps have always been exactly six days with Helia as astrogator.
    Misha asks Mich if he's playing with the jump drives.
    Mich says he's not playing with them, he's decreasing the viscosity of jumpspace.
    Helia congratulates him enthusiastically, and goes along with whatever he says.
    Mich explains he's modifying the jump field to induce a vortex, so in effect they travel "faster" through jumpspace.
    Misha's only concern is that Mich must not tell anyone who is not a part of the crew about this.  He acknowledges that the work was carried out on Third Eye and before that Anastasia, but nevertheless Mich is not to tell anyone.  Misha laughs that his reasoning is that he doesn't think Mich would kill himself before he told someone what he had done.
    Helia and Mich then try to explain to Misha why jumps always take 6, 7, or 8 days.  They have limited success.  Mich adds that an extremely good astrogator who is capable of surpassing the computer algorithms can skew that towards the six day end, which Helia does as a matter of course.

    Callisto starts a detailed scan of the system.  There are plenty of ships in the system, of course, having a class B starport, but they are more interested in any strangeness or spatial anomalies.  Fortunately the system is quite compact and a three day scan can be quite thorough.

153-1122 : Icetina / Lanth / Spinward Marches

    Callisto has completed her scans and announces that she has found nothing.

    In the meantime, they have found some more general characteristics.  The facilities are all in orbit, concentrated at the highport.  There is in addition a Naval Base.
    The amber zone status indicates that travellers should exercise caution.  It's not unusual for there to be no specific information in the general astrogation guides.
    Robert hacks into the Naval Base.  There is nothing out of the ordinary with the standing orders, and there are no new codes or anything else of technical interest to him.  There is, however, no shore leave permitted on the mainworld.  This is because the local government is very hostile to outsiders, which is undoubtedly the reason for the amber zone.
    Mich has taken the three days to rest after his exhausting excursion through jumpspace.  Robert has been gathering the data, but they're a long way short of having enough to be useful yet.
    There is no new news.

    Time to continue on the voyage: Helia takes them out to a jump point, and with Mich again in sparkly pink they jump for Fosey.

158-1122 : Fosey / Mora / Spinward Marches

    Five and a half days later, Nightshade arrives in stealth mode in the compact system of Fosey.  Helia is delighted at the short jump duration.
    Callisto immediately starts her scans, as she starts to get over her fear of misjump.
    There is a class A starport here, but no bases.  The system really is pretty empty except for the mainworld, its two moons, and two asteroid belts.  There is the expected high level of traffic, as this is the trade route from rimward to coreward in the Spinward Marches.
    There is no new news.

161-1122 : Fosey / Mora / Spinward Marches

    Callisto announces that she has found no spatial anomalies or anything else definitive.  Nevertheless, the two asteroid belts are interesting for some reason she can't really articulate.  She thinks it might be worth investigating them.  They decide to take the 25 days for a full scan of the belts.
    While Helia flies them around the belts, Robert works on the jump data.  After resting for a few days, Mich joins in.  They're beginning to have a pretty good idea of how the controls will have to be structured, but they're a very long way from being able to automate.

185-1122 : Fosey / Mora / Spinward Marches

    By now they've managed to pick up a new TNS item for 108-1122.  It relates to the Hinay Protectorate in Foreven sector.  There's an alert now in Five Sisters subsector near the border, especially in Emape where the route from the Imperium leads into the neighboring spinward sector.
    Anastasia has certainly been through there in the past, and it could be on the way to Zett from the Imperium should they decide to go that way now.  Other than that, it doesn't seem to affect the current crew or ship.  Even Wonstar should be far enough away from the problem area.  Obviously the news originated quite some time ago, too.

    A day short of finishing the full scan, Callisto picks up something odd.  Again, she can't be certain exactly why it's interesting, but she thinks one particular rock is worth investigating more closely.  Other than that, all she's found are mining claims, most of which are locally owned.