(10) The Rock

The Nightshade Campaign (185-1122 to 186-1122)

185-1122 : Fosey / Mora / Spinward Marches

    Callisto has found something.  She's not sure what it is, but thinks it's worth investigating.
    The rock in question is about 2 km in diameter.  There is nothing obvious about it.  Helia Sarina brings Nightshade in close enough for a full densitometer scan.  They haven't been scanning actively up until now because they've been in stealth mode, but close to this rock they can drop out and run the densitometer without undue danger.  If they were to file a claim for this rock, they would have to reveal themselves and do so in this system.  There is no current claim on it, of course.
    Nightshade appears in the total black color scheme, with the transponder simulator off.  Callisto starts her densitometer scans.
    After a few hours, Callisto announces she has found a hollow near the surface that appears to be a regular shape, some sort of construction.  Everyone agrees this is worth investigating.
    The rock itself isn't big enough to have any significant gravity.  The place Callisto has indicated as an access point is about 5 meters underground.  She brings up what she's found on the holodisplay.
    There are a number of what look like rooms, with a tunnel moving up from one set to another, and then up to the surface.  The final tunnel to the surface is buried under about 5 meters of dirt.  The tunnel is of square cross section, about 5 meters on a side.
    Misha Ravanos asks for suggestions to clear the dirt and get into the tunnel.  Teri Cralla, of course, says "Explosives."  Edward "Shark" Teeth suggests a more cautious approach: investigate it in person and see if it's easy digging or is going to require more.  Shark's is the approach Misha chooses.
    The question then is who has sufficient experience in a vaccsuit to be safe enough outside.  Mich Saginaw can help check everyone's suit and make sure it's correct before they go out, and Teri can help too although her specialty is battledress.
    Mich, Shark, Teri, and Kalida Siena, Marchioness of Nakege, suit up.  The former two are in regular vaccsuits, the latter two in battledress.  In both cases, Mich and Teri find errors with how Shark and Kalida have put on their suits; they are quickly corrected.  Teri plays it safe and carries her FGMP-15.
    Misha wonders if they can just use a zack instead of a vaccsuit.  Rather than just jumping outside, however, he goes into the forward airlock tunnel with Teri (in battledress) to try it out in decreasing pressure there.  For a long time he has no problem, but once the pressure drops below a certain point, he starts having trouble breathing.  It turns out that the zack can handle atmosphere of about code 2 ("Very thin"), no thinner.  So it does provide the equivalent of a respirator, but won't work if there isn't any air.
    The rock, of course, has no atmosphere.  Misha decides that since the zack won't work, and he has no vaccsuit experience, he will stay behind and leave it to Mich, Shark, Teri, and Kalida.  They leave from the airlock corridor behind the bridge, down the ramp to the ground near the top of the tunnel Callisto found.
    Once they step off the ramp, they're in microgravity.  The battledress has an integral gravbelt; those with vaccsuits have a gravbelt too.  The surface at this point is mostly loose rocks of various sizes.  Teri, Kalida, and Mich start moving the rocks around to uncover what might be underneath.  They are careful not to throw the rocks into low orbit where they might come back and hit them.  Shark stands nearby and stays out of trouble.

186-1122 : Fosey / Mora / Spinward Marches

    After about four hours of work, the ground is clear enough to reveal what's beyond.  The work has taken them into the next Imperial day.
    The rocks and debris were covering a smooth cut area of rock, a flat area in front of airlock doors.  A panel is marked with a large green arrow.
    Shark points out that black tech people would not have marked it like that.  They would have used a symbol, or at least used red (or blue, if dangerous).
    The left side of the panel has two buttons, one red and one green.  The right side has a removable panel.
    Shark examines what they've discovered with a view to figuring out who may have made this.  He decides it's not of recent Imperial manufacture, but pretty certain to be human, or more unlikely vargr.  There are signs of pitting and erosion that indicates it's been here a while.  It's not of advanced tech, probably no higher than TL-11.
    Mich presses the green button.  Nothing happens.  He presses the red button.  Nothing happens.  He opens the panel.  Behind it is a hand crank and a fixed handle.  Obviously the handle is to grab while turning the crank.  He calls Teri over to turn the crank.
    The crank is easy to operate -- and would be without the assistance of battledress -- but it's slow to see any effect.  Eventually, slowly, the door opens.
    After five minutes of cranking, the door is open enough for a person to enter.  The two parts of the door open inwards.  Suit lights reveal a 10 meter deep chamber, with another airlock door at the end.  Everyone enters.
    Teri closes the outer door, sealing them all inside, then opens the inner door using the panel for that one.  Communications are working fine.  Callisto has moved her sensor viewpoint inside with them.
    There is air behind the inner door.  It is thin but breathable -- cold enough to freeze out water vapor and carbon dioxide, but not enough to remove anything but the high freezing point gases.  There is no artificial gravity here -- they're still using the gravbelts to anchor to the ground.  They decide to proceed without closing the inner door.

    According to Callisto, they should have about 100 meters of tunnel ahead of them.  That's indeed what they see; the walls are sheathed in steel, not natural rock.  At the end of the tunnel is another set of airtight doors.
    Beyond is some sort of receiving area.  It is empty except for a desk and chair.  The metal desk is empty.  There are light panels in the ceiling, but none are lit.  There are no signs or writing of any sort.  Opposite where they came in is another set of airlock doors.  Mich muses that they need to get some power on in this place.

    Opening the next doors reveals what looks remarkably like a hotel lobby.  There is an old-fashioned mechanical bell on the first desk; Kalida rings it.  No-one responds.  The walls have artwork of planetary scenes, mostly lush wooded scenery, lake scenes, and so on.  In one of them a castle tower overlooks a lake.  There are no forms, paperwork, books, or anything else behind the counter.
    The room is octagonal.  As they came in, to their right is what looks like a freight door.  The desk is on their left; beyond that is a corridor leading further in.  Across from them is another desk which could be a check-in arrangement.  There is another door behind that, as well as some shelving.  Everything is empty.
    Shark's guess, based on his forensics, is that the place is at least 300 years old.
    The hallway continues beyond the desk, with doors off to the side, and a more open area at the end.  That larger room is also octagonal, and could well have been a lounge of some sort.  There are still a few chairs here.  Over in one area, a panel has been left with exposed conduit, as if equipment has been removed.  On closer examination, there's also signs of plumbing.  It's as if anything useful has been taken away.
    The hallway ends here.  There are a couple of doors that lead off into what are probably service areas.
    Mich is keen to restore power, which might involve bringing in their own power cells.  He says he bets that when the place was abandoned there was power, because it would have taken so long to operate the doors.  That does mean that there is probably a power system left intact and connected.
    Misha tells Mich to pursue that.  Callisto says that the service door to the right as they go in seems most likely.
    Mich leads them down this corridor.  It is sparse, without any attempt to decorate or even clean up the welds in the metal sheathing.  There are a couple of doors to left and right, and the corridor continues about 30 meters to where it opens out.  There are no signs on the doors, but Shark points out a couple of marks indicating that signs have been removed.
    The area at the end is a landing that leads to a spiral ramp leading down, with guardrails.  It looks like it descends about 40 meters, to a floor at the bottom.  There is no sign of machinery.  Teri floats over the rail and drops down the well.  She reports that there is a small door off the ramp about every 10 meters down, and at the bottom is a larger airlock door of the type that they saw on the way in.
    Going down the ramp is safer for most of the team than jumping over the rail.  They all clamber down the ramp while Teri has been opening the airlock door at the bottom.

    This is a real airlock, not just airtight doors.  Ahead are another set of airlock doors, but Shark points out that to the right is a well hidden panel.  It too contains a crank, along with a numeric keypad labeling in Imperial numbers.  This is not the panel that opens the other end of the airlock; as soon as Teri starts cranking this one, another cleverly hidden airlock door opens to the right.
    Beyond is a fairly small area with counters on both sides, and another set of airtight doors ahead.  Mich laughs that this was where the Marines were stationed.  Misha muses that the hotel they saw initially wouldn't need all those airlocks, but a military base might.  The room is illuminated with a very faint light.
    Teri cranks the panel for this airtight door.  Beyond is another faintly lit room, this time with equipment in it.  It is some sort of control room, large and clearly set up for a staff of about 50.  Consoles, screens, a tactical or strategic area down in the center.  At the other side of the room, at their level, is a door labeled "No Admittance."  So they took the other signs, but left this one.  If they could get through the lock...
    Teri forces it open with her battledress.  Robert Morris probably could go through it easily, but in his absence brute force is an acceptable alternative.
    Beyond is a corridor, with others leading off.  Following his engineer instincts, Mich leads them to a door that says "Power Plant Staff Only."  That door leads through yet another airlock.
    This opens into the power plant room.  They have come out on a balcony overlooking an extremely large fusion plant.  There is a large section of operator consoles on the floor level, and the entire plant is laced with catwalks and ladders.
    "Now all we need is some liquid hydrogen," says Mich, "And lots of it, no doubt."  Finding the fuel tanks, and how to fill them, is going to take some sort of schematic.  One of the consoles is showing some light, which might be promising.  From up here on the balcony there is no way to tell.
    Normally one would use the elevator to go down the three stories to the floor.  Teri just hops over the rail, but for the rest of them it might be safer to use the ladder.  This is a much harder thing to do in the microgravity.  Kalida ignores the ladder and flies down with her battledress, but not before Teri has to come and rescue her and bring her to the ground.
    Mich examines the lighted console.  A button labeled "Standby" glows.  Mich pushes it.  The console comes up.  It's an engineering console, providing an overview of the systems.  It seems to follow Imperial conventions, although the controls are not as he would expect.  They nevertheless do make sense.
    The indications are that the plant is on standby and has some power.  It could be brought up to full power, but it would then need full staffing: ten people on consoles, plus crew for the plant itself.  Still, by running back and forth between a couple of consoles, he thinks he just might be able to bring up life support.
    Through a major effort by Mich, systems start to come online: ventilation, heating, airlocks, emergency lighting.  The open airtight doors close automatically.  Grav plates are up to a 1/10g.  That's at least enough to move around more safely.  Indications are that there is still fuel.  The plant has a good reserve of emergency fuel in this mode.
    Enough systems are up to enable them to explore much more rapidly.  They will still need the suits until it warms up enough.
    Mich looks into increasing the gravity.  The console shows that they will run up to 1g, with inertial compensators up to 3g.  Mich immediately thinks that's weird: inertial compensators in an asteroid?  Perhaps they're for withstanding bombardment -- you don't expect an asteroid to be moving.  If he brought the grav plates up to 0.5g, it would still be ok on fuel for a good while.  He compromises at bringing it up to 1/3g.  An alert shows a gravitic systems failure in the crew quarters; that will remain at microgravity, as Mich has to shut that section down.
    This whole area did not show up on Callisto's scans.  She's still not picking it up, not even any neutrino emissions.  The must be some quite substantial shielding.
    Next to bring up would be the computers.  Mich is a little worried about doing that -- with Robert around to handle it, there would be no problem, but he's concerned about any security systems that might be in place.  They decide to keep it shut down until Robert is available.
    It will probably take about six hours to bring the place up to a reasonable temperature.  In the meantime, they should stick with vaccsuits.

    With that done, they start exploring the place more thoroughly.  While they have emergency lighting, none of the consoles in the control room are up yet.  The layout of the place is much like a starship would be, although with more space between them.  The rooms are actually more spacious than Mich expects from an Imperial ship.  Crew quarters are left for later, until the gravitic systems can be checked.  The console shows grav plates and life support operational in the control room, power plant, external facilities, maneuver drive, and weaponry.  Mich laughs that this is a ship.  He is not surprised at the absence of a jump drive.  So now they have another ship... provided they don't want to take it out of system.
    They've been going a long time, now.  It's going to take six hours for the environment to stabilize anyway.  The best thing to do is to go back to Nightshade, and come back later once they're fed and rested.