<>(15) Drilling Down
The Nightshade Campaign (198-1122 to 235-1122)
to arrange everything so they can be the next official team to
the Ancient Site on Victoria.
For that they'll want to pull in
Jaekovic Ils-Nevronne, their own amateur archaeologist, who's currently
at the old pre-Maghiz Darrian base
in the Bowman
Still, it's a long time until the expedition needs to be formed, so
there's no hurry to pick him up yet.
The options of places to go now haven't changed: Zett,
and so on. INISO runs the Zett
base, and Mich Saginaw's plans to check in the antimatter generator
design would just put it in their hands alone. They could also,
suggests Edward "Shark" Teeth, go to the Karma FarSpace
Station in the Brod
system to see if there's any sign of the
Professor or the girls.
Helia Sarina suggests Rhylanor
first, then Spirelle
is on the way to Faldor, which is right next to Bowman
of course. Zett and Brod are a long haul out into
the Foreven sector,
although of course with Nightshade
such a long trip as on other ships.
Marquis Marc has been checking the Galactic
Enquirer for stories of ghosts, proof they exist, and so on.
Of course the paper is full of them, although they are of varying
promise in terms of his new research direction. He mails the
picture of "Satan's Face in Meson Gun Blast" to Robert Morris, saying
that was what attacked them.
Robert proposes going to Rhylanor via 457-973
to scan it on the way, since it's a Red Zone and it will take
to Rhylanor anyway. This world, though, has an
stated reason for the interdiction
-- to protect a local developing
race. Helia doesn't want to go near the planet -- she feels
strongly that the locals should be protected, and it would just be
wrong to interfere. The rest of the crew promises they'll just
scan the system, not go to the mainworld, after trying
to convince her that even if they did go there, it wouldn't interfere
because no-one would see them.
They set up the place and date of their rendezvous
for the Victoria trip. Obviously they can't meet there
since it's a Red Zone, but they should meet somewhere nearby.
Mich suggests an empty hex for the meeting, but Marc points out that
will be hard for Witch-hunter.
The conventional Imperial
ship can do two Jump-1's in sequence (she has Jump-3 capability), but
it's still fairly dangerous to jump in and out of empty space.
They settle on Adabicci
for a good meeting
place. Both Marquis Marc and Kalida Siena, Marchioness of Nakege,
have personal ties to the Ducal family, and so that makes a good
location. They agree to meet on 085-1123, about a month before
the science team is due to swap out at Victoria. In six
Marquis Marc will send a general message through TAS with
information about the expedition.
457-973 is an odd system. In spite of the fact
that there are four gas
giants, the mainworld is a planet in its own
right, warm, with low gravity. Not that they'll be
going to the mainworld, of course...
Marquis Marc leaves Nightshade, while the
rest get ready to leave Mora.
Mich has been working with
Grand Admiral Baron Bridgehead on his endurance, so he can stay in
sparkly pink during jump longer, but he doesn't know whether he'll see
any benefit from it yet.
Helia flies them up to orbit, heads out to 100d, and
they jump for 457-973 / Rhylanor. It's a Jump-5.
Mich does his thing, going into sparkly pink before
the jump transition, and staying there as long as possible during the
jump. He still needs frequent breaks, but he doesn't wear himself
out as completely as he has before. Robert of course continues
with data collection, trying to get enough to start to automate the
process. He might almost have enough data to start getting a feel
for what has to be done -- the concept is coming together.
Once they're in jump, Helia goes back to practicing
with her zack.
After just 5-3/4 days in jump, Nightshade
pops out in the 457-973 system in stealth mode. It's late
in the Imperial day when they arrive.
Callisto reports from the sensors that there are
Imperial warships patrolling this system. There are three
destroyers and one frontier cruiser. The Kinunir class frontier
cruiser of course looks identical to Anastasia.
Shark thinks there is too much force here for a
interdicted world. On the other hand, the Kinunir class doesn't
get prime assignments, as Mich tells him that without TL-17 systems the
design doesn't work too
well. Even so, three destroyers and a frontier cruiser are
a lot more than he would expect. The destroyer at about 3000 std is
the largest, but the frontier cruiser is more flexible, since it has
drop troop capability. Kalida smiles, fondly remembering her own
Shark asks Callisto to try to determine which ship
is getting most comm traffic, but there really isn't anything she can
pick up right now to determine that. The destroyers are stationed
one to a gas giant, while the frontier cruiser is stationed near the
mainworld. Shark asks Helia to go to the nearest destroyer.
Helia flies them to the outermost gas giant.
As she does so, Callisto continues her system scans, of course using
passive sensors only. The trip takes 8-1/2
Today is the maiden voyage of Marquis Marc's ship Witch-hunter.
Nightshade arrives at the
outer gas giant in the early morning. Callisto has not picked up
The destroyer is simply orbiting the gas
giant. Communications are routine. It does seem that the
operation is being run from the frontier cruiser.
Robert hacks into the computers, looking for
standing orders and so on. What he finds backs up the published
reason for the Red Zone. The Navy's mission here is to protect
the indigenous population until they reach a high enough tech level --
they are to have no outside contact. The Navy also has the task
of supporting the local secret base on the mainworld -- the one that's
observing the locals -- in any way it requires. Their main
concern is independent traders trying to exploit resources on the
mainworld, and so they're primarily looking for incursions by small
The frontier cruiser is holding station about 100d
away from the mainworld. This will be their next place to
The mainworld is at the other
side of the solar orbit, about twelve hours
away even at 20g and with Helia's astrogation and
piloting. Fortunately she took about an hour's nap while they
were doing their work at the gas giant, so she's rested enough for the
Once at the frontier cruiser, Robert hacks his way
in. He checks for information from the "secret" base, including
its location and crew complement. The logs pass through here too
for relay out of the system. Once every three weeks a courier
comes through the system to take information out and bring in any new
orders. It's been about a week since the last one, so another is
due in about two weeks. The courier arrives near the outer gas
giant, refuels, and leaves from there.
The people here are considered physically
dangerous. They are about 12 meters in height, thin and spindly,
At this, Helia says, "Yeah, you've got to worry
about the traders coming in and stealing people. Believe me, I
know about that. Just because you're different doesn't mean
you're something to be stolen."
The locals here are very fast, omnivorous, and are
farmers of animals and vegetation. They have steam technology,
although the lack of metals inhibits their development in this area. Apparently they consider humans a good food source.
Robert says there's nothing else unusual on the
Now they decide to spend a month for a full scan of
the asteroid belts in this system. While Callisto will be
extremely busy, and Helia will be busy too, the rest of the crew can
relax, train, and so on.
A month has gone by. The
scheduled courier has come and gone, nothing else of interest has
On the last day of the month, at 17:00, Callisto
says she might have found something. It's very small, and she
describes it as a shadow on the spatial anomaly sensor. The
asteroid where it's located is about 300 m in diameter, and the shadow
is in the center.
Nightshade is well away from any ship in the
system. The nearest one is the destroyer at the outer gas giant,
but it is a good distance away. It's decided to position the ship
carefully and use active densitometer scans to try to get more detail.
After an hour on the sensors, Callisto says that
there's a 3 m diameter hollow in the exact center of the
asteroid. The shadow reading is coming from there. There
are no tunnels of any kind going down to it.
Shark wonders if this is a natural phenomenon, but
Mich is pretty sure it is not. Callisto says she can't relate
this to anything, as she's never seen anything like it before.
She sticks by her description of it as a shadow of an anomaly. The asteroid itself looks normal. Normal
composition and distribution, impact craters on the surface, and so on.
Shark considers digging down to
it. They have lasers and hand tools, but that would take
forever. The quickest option would be to use the ship's laser to
drill down to it. They're out of stealth mode already to run the
active sensors, and if they are very careful about how they use the
laser, they should be able to make the tunnel without a great risk of
First, though, they'll set up a simulation to
practice. It won't be perfect, since they don't know the exact
composition, but it will serve well as targeting practice for
Kalida. Robert sets it up based on Callisto's data, which she
continues to refine.
Kalida practices on the simulation, and is perfect
on the first shot. They're aiming for a penetration of 100 m.
At 19:00, Kalida fires Nightshade's
laser. The resulting tunnel is 107 m long. Helia drops them
into stealth mode and moves the ship away from the rock to let it
cool. Of course it will take some time, but they have time.
It's two days after the shot when
they return to the rock. Of course they have changed the
asteroid's orbit, but it's unlikely that anyone cares enough to watch
the orbit of a 300m rock in the asteroid belt. Even if they were,
it would probably be a few weeks before the effect was really
noticeable. Nothing else in the system has changed.
The job of finishing the tunnel by hand is assigned
to Teri Cralla and Mich. Teri in fact volunteers right away, with
her expertise in battledress, demolitions, and heavy weapons. She
figures she can use her FGMP-15 to finish most of the excavation.
Mich will back her up, as the best vaccsuit expert. Both of them
have environmental combat skills.
Helia brings Nightshade in so that they can
extend the ramp directly to the hole. Mich and Teri go in.
It's not long before Teri runs into some difficulty,
getting caught up at an awkward angle. Mich takes his time, but
helps her out of trouble. They continue on down the tunnel.
They observe that the asteroid composition indeed looks normal.
After about two hours, they're getting very
close. The final breakthrough should be with something less
drastic, perhaps hand tools. There's about 10 cm left. Mich
suggests building a mechanical device to drill the remaining
distance. He starts work on it.
Shark goes down the tunnel to scan with handheld
scanning gear. Helia is concerned at what might be down there,
and the potential consequences of breaking through.
Using ultrasound and whatever else he has in hand,
Shark finds that after the 10 cm, there is a change in density and he
can't figure out what is beyond. Something more solid is blocking
the scan. It seems to be a fairly regular barrier. He's
found nothing more than the ship's sensors, but backs them up that
there could be a regular spherical hollow in the center. Their
tunnel is 5 m in diameter; the hollow is 3 m.
It is now 23:30. Mich will have the drilling
equipment built in about an hour and a half.