(14) Pet Projects

The Nightshade Campaign (195-1122 to 197-1122)

195-1122 : Mora / Mora / Spinward Marches

    They have invited Sir Arken Hauther (if he's on Mora) to dinner tomorrow night at a place of Kalida Siena, Marchioness of Nakege's choosing, a very posh hotel in downtown Giyachii called the Bracker Inn.
    In the meantime, Edward "Shark" Teeth asks Mich Saginaw about using Nightshade's power to run all their Imperial accessories, replacing the batteries, or fuel cells, or fusion power.  It would have the advantage of being undetectable -- no neutrino emissions, for example -- and would give them an undetectable communication path from battledress to the ship (but, of course, not from the ship).
    Mich himself has started a supervised program of endurance training under the care of Grand Admiral Baron Bridgehead.  Edward is trying his hand at starting a new Akim Gavrolovitch book.
    The Baron is still incognito, as the news of his non-death is due to arrive here on 218-1122.  That hasn't cramped his style, of course, as all the shopping has been with his ample cash.

    Marquis Marcus Crestworthy comes to visit Nightshade, now that he's actually been hired on the crew as a consultant.  The main reason, of course, is so they can tell him about the ship and the Arden Society and so on, but they do want his input on how sparkly pink mode works.  It's late morning before he can get away from the Ling Standard Products yards where his new ship Witch-hunter is being built, and he will need to return there again tomorrow for the final details.  A shuttle from the LSP yards to the starport is of course readily available, but it's not cheap.  On the other hand, the cost is added to his account at LSP, which is being paid by his mysterious patrons.
    Marquis Marc arrives at the starport soon after lunch.  Kalida, Helia Sarina, and the Baron are still shopping, but everyone else is on board to meet him; the shoppers are told that he has arrived.  Marc has seen the ship before -- the last time they visited him and hid in the ocean -- but now he's here with a purpose, and somehow the ship seems more impressive when parked with the rest of the nobles' yachts.
    Mich is of course his primary source of information on the ship, and Marc has also brought his journal puter so that Mich can remove any sensitive devices from it.  Marc starts out by asking to see the football data of sparkly pink mode.  Mich shows him, and tells him that from his own experience that it interfaces neural pathways but does no damage.  He shows Marc the before and after brain scans that the Doc did on him.  He says you just have to think about doing the job... there isn't a button to turn on sparkly pink.  He clearly finds it a somewhat frightening thing -- he has to remove his psi helmet when he does it.  He does mention that he has considered building a psi shield area around the console so that he's protected for the time he has to have the helmet off, but even Mich is not quite that paranoid.  After all, he knows from the brain scans and football sensors that no mind manipulations are going on, unlike that awful period when Jill the witch was manipulating people on Anastasia.  He then demonstrates sparkly pink for the Marquis, explaining that sparkly pink is attuned to people's abilities -- those trained in sensor ops can work the sensors, but wouldn't be able to go into sparkly pink for engineering, even here at the engineering consoles themselves.
    Mich then takes Marc on a full tour of the ship -- engineering facilities, workshops, staterooms, galley, sick bay, labs, and so on.
    Marquis Marc is particularly interested in the Laboratory, an area on which no-one else has spent much time or effort.  It's a very large facility, with large doors allowing straight through access from the Main Lift.  There isn't a full console here like the ones used for sparkly pink, although there is a lot of equipment and computer access.  Indeed, most of the equipment has been incomprehensible to anyone else.  Marc is quite surprised to find he's able to figure out some of it.  His main project right now is to determine how sparkly pink interfaces, and given he can't observe it directly in here, between the footballs and that stack of equipment over there, he can do a pretty good job of it.
    Marc asks Mich to go into sparkly pink in Engineering, and does his work on the equipment in the lab.  He finds his academic background is perfect -- it takes both elements of psionicology and parapsychology.  Functionally, it's artificial psionics.  The way it's achieved has nothing to do with anything any Imperial research has ever been, and actually involves more parapsychology than he would have expected.  It really is black magic, as he puts it, as if the ship and the person are channeling each other.  There is a direct psionic link, but it's not in any way he would have expected -- indeed closer to black magic than Imperial research, or even Zhodani research.  While of course he can't tell anyone else what he's done here, it does give him new avenues of psionicology and particularly parapsychology that he can use to conduct his own publishable research off the ship.  He can now go out and research shamen and mediums and see who is doing it for real and how.
    He doesn't actually tell Mich that he needs magic sensors built.  He quite rightly feels that would intensify the engineer's paranoia, and anyway he doesn't have any solid design principles yet.
    There are of course sections of the lab that really are incomprehensible, but for those he can figure out -- and for those he can just get an inkling of the general applicable area -- he goes around and labels everything.  It is an impressive set of facilities.  A lot of the equipment is applicable to multiple areas, and reconfigurable to suit the needs of the moment.

    By now, Kalida, Helia, and Bridgehead have returned to the ship.  They all greet Marquis Marc, who bubbles enthusiastically about the research facilities and the ship in general, and ends by saying, "It's just absolutely magic!  You do believe in magic, don't you?"
    Helia looks at him strangely, and says, "Magic?  Well, if that's what you want to call it."  She then changes the subject and asks him what he's been doing since he came on board.
    Marc says he's been looking into sparkly pink.  "Does Vonish cook in sparkly pink?"
    "No, he doesn't need to.  But we fly in sparkly pink, because it's easy.  It's so great because all you say is go there and it goes, and do this and it does.  It asks you questions if it needs to.  It's almost like having another crew member.  And it remembers things, so it learns too.  It's a little slow in mathematics, but then most computers are."
    Marc smiles, "I never quite understood your talent."  He says he can't travel with them now, as the maiden voyage of his new ship is coming up, but he would like to one day.
    Helia asks if he's heard anything else about Helia?  After the usual confusion, she explains that Helia was travelling with the Professor and the little girl.  "Somebody blew them up, but Helia's not dead.  We need to find her.  I think Sally may be with her.  Sally was really good.  In terms of mathematics she's almost good enough to be one of us.  If you hear anything, I'd like to know, because I fear for her.  They did say the Professor was dead, but they didn't say anyone else was.  But maybe he got with them."  The larian pauses, then says, "I hear the crazy man's book is doing well, that must be good for you."
    "It's quite pleasant to have an additional source of income."
    "It might be nice to write something else by him, to keep the rumors going."
    Marc nods.  They discuss a few ideas they could use for Gavrolovitch's next conspiracy novel.  Marc then asks if they have a plan for what they're doing next.
    No-one very clear on the plan, apparently.  Certainly Helia isn't.  She muses about going home for a while, or being pilot / astrogator for Marquis Marc's new ship.  Then she comes up with the brilliant idea of rendezvousing and going on vacation together.
    Mich points out that they want to go back to Victoria, and for that Marc needs to pull some strings so that they can be the official archaeological expedition from the University of Mora.  He then goes on to say what he thinks might be interesting to Marquis Marc about the place: "Well, we know that the people that built this ship were at war with another group of people.  We theorize that the cache at Victoria was their enemy."
    "Why do you think that?" asks Mich.
    "Because the only artifacts that have ever been found have been of these two types.  The artifacts that were found at Victoria hint at similar technology in manipulating superdense materials."
    Marquis Marc logs into the University of Mora computers and checks the schedule for the Victoria expeditions.  It'll be about ten months from now before the next team is due.  That leaves ample time to get the paperwork in and to write his proposal.  He adds that they'll need a real archaeologist on the team.
    Of course they do have a genuine archaeologist on the crew, but there is a catch -- he's in the Bowman system in District 268.  They have plenty of time before the relief team is due at Victoria, however, and that means plenty of time to go and pick him up.  Jaekovic Ils-Nevronne's background is all from the Scouts, though, not academic -- but that experience could act as a plus for a team to go into a secret interdicted Ancient site.
    Marquis Marc loads Jaekovic's resume onto his hand puter, and adds that he'll need an engineer (Mich), a personal bodyguard (Misha), communications and computers (Robert), and he's sure he can invent reasons for anyone else they want to enter the site.  He then says, "Is there any evidence that this alternate technology worked in any way similar to this?"
    Mich replies, "No, we do not know much about the other technology.  There are shimmering floors, doors of cloud mist, and spatial anomalies."
    "And we know there are spatial anomalies because...?"
    "The spatial anomaly sensors say so."
    "On this ship?  Then we don't know that.  We can't tell anyone if there's no way for anyone else to detect it.  It's very important that we keep separate what we do and don't publicly know."
    Mich says emphatically, "We do not know anything about the planet because we could not have been there.  We legally could not have been there, so we weren't."
    Bridgehead points out that information about the Victoria site is probably restricted, in the same way that some of Marquis Marc's papers get restricted.
    Marc asks if there's any other reason they hired him.  Of course the primary reason was so they could tell him about the ship and events relating to it, but they did want him to look into sparkly pink mode.  He says that it is a scary thing to look into -- last time he was involved in something like that, everyone ended up shooting everyone else, and the ship wasn't even powered up, they just had a bunch of
Imperial equipment running.

    Robert, meanwhile, has been hacking.  He's looking for anything on the script or other Ancients.  He does manage to get through to a secret catalog of what is clearly not black Ancient technology.  There is a whole sequence of artifacts spread over a wide area, most of which are not comprehensible.  Details include speculation as to what they might be, injuries sustained during investigation, and so on.  It's really just a catalog of strange things.
    These are not so much caches as sites -- most have sustained damage of some sort.  They've tied it in with the Ancients' Final War and tried to categorize the damage.  There is very little correspondence between sites in terms of identical objects -- even artifacts with the same function differ in some way or another.  There's also a vast variety in the weapons used against them -- very few sites seem to have been hit by exactly the same weapon.  There is a similarity in an organic style between a lot of places, but the layout is always different.  One factor they all have in common is that none of them are the same.
    Nevertheless, it's all set up for the same physical biped, and the organic theme carries through.  The creators of the black technology do not fit those criteria.  These sites are more suitable for droyne form than human, and if there is any symmetry it is the six-fold symmetry favored by the droyne.  The main concentration is in and around the Spinward Marches.  Of course there haven't been black tech caches found to establish a pattern.  For these droyne compatible sites, they don't seem to have been caches as much as residential locations, research installations, and so on.
    As Shark points out, all the known droyne style ancient sites have seemed relatively peaceful, while all the known sites of black tech have been military -- ships, weapons, and so on.  He suggests it's an interesting pattern that's emerging.
    Robert adds that there's a group that decided not to fight anymore...
    "And had enough of an upper hand to make that work," adds Shark.
    Robert shrugs.  The droyne stuff is secret; but the humanoid ancients, the ones who created the ship --- do they have a name for them yet?  They don't really have a name for the race, aside from the Janns on Digitis.  Lap'da is a Jann, of course, but the Sheriff is not.  The Sheriff is aware of the Janns and the treaty, however, and has some inkling of black tech because of the so-called lightning suppresser.  It's good at "suppressing."
    Mich's guess is that it's a system defense system to keep anyone from flying over the trees, and there is enough power stored there in the transdimensional zuchai crystal array to do it.  He then speculates on the possibilities of going back to Zett and trying to repair the two ships remaining there, although he is pretty sure that they'd need the equivalent of a black tech shipyard to pull that off.  They almost be better off building a new power cube than repairing the one in the swiss cheese ship, and that's a shipyard task.  They could do certain hull repairs themselves, but a power cube requires careful control of what space itself is doing through the atom deposition process, holding them in place in the spatial distortion field.  Their own power cube has a three dimensional presence, but the secret is what space does around the layout of everything within it, and consideration of more than three dimensions is required to understand the internal structure.
    Then of course the eternal issue arises of where to go next.  Marquis Marc has pretty much done all they need from him so far.  Helia suggests a vacation, perhaps to visit Lap'da, or perhaps something like skiing at Spirelle again.  After that they can go blockade running, she adds.  There's also two crew members at the old Darrian base on Bowman, but they should be fine for their extended stay there.  Vonish Kehnaan has already restocked Nightshade with fresh supplies.
    Helia talks about starting up a mobile candy stand, something she can take to other worlds and drive around to sell candy.
  Or better yet, she could give the candy away.  Perhaps a grav vehicle could be converted.  She says she's going to draw up some plans for it,
    Mich mentions they could go get some special beans.  Bridgehead agrees enthusiastically, adding that there are some cocktails that he put together from things on that world that have expired and are no longer useful.

    It is now time for dinner.  They have received no acknowledgment, but they have a reservation for dinner and are going to use it whether Sir Arken turns up or not.
    The Bracker Inn treats the party with the respect due to a landed noble, it being the party of the Marchioness of Nakege.  They are alone for dinner -- Sir Arken does not show up.  It is, however, a very good dinner indeed.  Vonish is actually impressed by this place.  Well, it is the capital of the domain, after all...

    Marquis Marc stays on Nightshade overnight.  He has taken over the empty stateroom, now that he's an official crew member, even if he isn't planning to be on board very often.

196-1122 : Mora / Mora / Spinward Marches

    Marc needs to put in more work at the yards today, so takes the shuttle back to the LSP shipyards.  The ship will be complete later today, with a final inspection tomorrow morning.  That will leave six days before the official commissioning on 203-1122.

    No-one else has anything much in mind.  Helia continues working on her candy shop, as well as starting research for her version of Akim Gavrolovitch's next novel.  Shark has already started on his version of the next novel.

    Robert continues poking around as many public and private computer systems as he can.  He does find a suspicious gap in the academic papers in the ancient languages section of the official Library of the Domain.  There are five papers by a particular researcher about 120 years ago that have been removed.  There is nothing specific about their titles, but the note is that the papers were removed in 1004 at the request of the executor of his estate.  The researcher was a Professor Willi Marsh, at the time with Plankwell University on Rhylanor.
    This might be worth investigating, but they'd have to go to Rhylanor to do so.  Robert has found nothing else that might relate to script language or black tech.  They can look into Professor Marsh, and see where he might have come across samples of the languages he was researching.  They could check his history, where he travelled, and so on.  There's very little about him here on Mora -- presumably Plankwell U. and official Rhylanor records would have more.
    Robert also finds that Count Walter von Hayden's database has vanished.  At the very least it's been moved.  Obviously firing the planetary defenses wasn't the only action taken when Robert penetrated it.  As yet, he hasn't been able to find any trace of it anywhere.
    Of course they have ties to Rhylanor: Marquis Marc started his academic career there, Kalida was awarded her patent of nobility there, and it's Mich's homeworld.

197-1122 : Mora / Mora / Spinward Marches

    If nothing goes wrong, this will be the final inspection of Witch-hunter.  Indeed, nothing goes wrong -- LSP didn't find any issues, and neither did Marquis Marc and his future crew.  The ship is powered up for diagnostics, and everything seems perfectly fine.  Witch-hunter is finished.  First voyage, of course, won't be until 203-1122.  Until then they can just move in all their gear and be ready to go.  That gives Marquis Marc time to figure out where they're going -- probably a "short jaunt" of about three months or so.

    Helia does some shopping for her planned candy shop.  She also adds some local cookbooks to her collection.
    Robert and Mich work on the dynamic jump grid vortex controls.  There really isn't enough to put anything together yet, but they do assemble what they have so far.
    Mich works on tidying up the design of the antimatter generator power systems from H.M.S. Third Eye.  Those don't violate the contract, being pre-existing work.  He spends a lot of time on making Jane's sabotage work properly, but it's hard to do such a hybrid system.  Nevertheless, his goal is to check the systems in to the cache at Zett, along with a full systems operation manual -- explaining how to operate it, but of course with none of the theory.  It would also include instructions on how to scale the unit up or down as needed for various applications.  This turns out to be just a day's work -- figuring out how to fix it, maintenance and calibration procedures, operating instructions using all Imperial engineering terms, and so on.
    Robert continues digging through computer systems.  He does find a new advancement in meson communicator technology, the problem of controlling the meson decay at the right point and synching the system.  He finds this very interesting.  It looks like maybe with Nightshade's sensors they can intercept and tap meson communications, which up to now have been secure.  Now they can listen in using remote viewpoint on the meson stream, they can try to predict the behavior of the mesons and thus pick up the location of the target as well as the conversation.  The tricky part is to do it without interrupting the communications.