(14) Pet Projects
The Nightshade Campaign (195-1122 to 197-1122)
They have invited Sir Arken Hauther (if
he's on Mora)
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
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
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
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
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
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
Marquis Marc arrives at the starport soon after
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
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
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
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
psionicology and particularly parapsychology that he can use to conduct
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
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
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
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
"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
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
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
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
"And had enough of an upper hand to make that work,"
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
Marc needs to put in more work at
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.
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
Marc and his future crew. The ship is powered up for diagnostics,
everything seems perfectly fine. Witch-hunter is
voyage, of course, won't be until 203-1122. Until then they can
move in all their gear and be ready to go. That gives Marquis
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