(16) Pandora's Box
The Nightshade Campaign (236-1122 to 237-1122)
By 01:00, Mich Saginaw has finished building his
drilling equipment. Everyone has been busy enough
over the last day or so that it makes sense to rest before attempting
to break through to the spatial anomaly shadow in the center of the
After breakfast, Teri Cralla and Mich go
out to set up the equipment. Edward "Shark" Teeth suggests that
Mich as well as Teri should wear battledress, but Mich only has
experience in vaccsuit and would be a liability in the unfamiliar
combat equipment. Those on the ship will be watching through a
full sensor readout from Teri's suit.
Kalida Siena, Marchioness of Nakege
and Helia Sarina
go into sparkly pink mode at their gunnery and pilot/astrogator
stations respectively. They're prepared to react as soon as
anything dangerous occurs.
Shark goes into sparkly pink on the sensors to run a
viewpoint. Running two remote sensing views would
degrade their sensitivity, but Callisto is happy to perform her duties
conventionally from the console and leave sparkly pink to Shark.
The mission gets off to a bad start. Mich gets
into trouble, and can't handle both his own safety and the drilling
equipment -- he chooses to look after himself, while the equipment gets
stuck in the tunnel. After some contemplation he figures out what
needs to be done to free it, but it needs someone a little more nimble
than himself. Mich will
Misha Ravanos himself comes to help. He's
familiar enough with a vaccsuit, although far from being an expert, but
his barbarian upbringing makes him ideal for the task of manipulating
heavy equipment in a tunnel in an asteroid. He chooses not to
risk his zack under the vaccsuit, although Helia tells him she always
wears hers that
This is rapidly turning out to be another away team
disaster, like they used to do with the gcarrier. Misha
manages to wriggle around and avoid ripping his suit. He is,
however, stuck in the drilling equipment. Teri and Mich work on
getting him free, but in the process Misha holes his suit. Teri
slaps a temporary patch from her battledress vacuum triage kit, but
insists on carrying Misha back to the ship where he will need medical
attention. Misha is conscious, but hurts -- his right forearm is
Back on board Nightshade, Grand
Baron Bridgehead takes charge of Misha and works on him in the sickbay
for a while. He says that the injury isn't bad, but after
treatment the Captain will need to rest his arm for a couple of days to
So now Shark is the next person to suit up and join
the team in the tunnel. Mich and Teri check his suit and correct
his errors. He then takes great care and extra time to get to the
mining gear. In that time Teri has managed to give the equipment
the right tweak and free it up.
They are ready at last to resume moving the gear
down the tunnel. Mich joins in again, and immediately jams it
again. All three work on it for a while, but eventually they free
it up and carefully move it down the
tunnel to the end. Mich makes sure it's set up correctly to do
the final cutting.
It's been several hours getting things into
place. It's decided to rest and have lunch, and start the
drilling in the afternoon. Misha joins them for lunch, and
announces that he'll have his right arm strapped up through tomorrow.
The drilling equipment will cut out the whole ball
as one lump, leaving a post at the back attaching the ball to the
asteroid. They know where the rock density changes, and that
there's basically nothing (vacuum or possibly air) inside the 3 m
sphere. Mich's equipment is designed to be flexible in terms of
where they want to cut, and it's perfectly suited to their plan.
They will extract the hard outer shell and whatever's within it from
the surrounding rock. Mich supervises the operation of the
machinery from the ship -- all the sensors he needs are built into the
Everything goes perfectly. The ball is cut
from the rock, attached by a small post at the back. They move
back in to examine it.
The hard shell is most unusual. In appearance
it is a dark metallic grey. It is composed of the same basic
as the asteroid, but has some sort of unusual crystalline
structure. As for taking it on board, it would be a close fit
between the decks, which are 3 m apart.
They discuss how to get more information on
it. Shark, ever curious, tries knocking on it to get it to ring,
but it suppresses the vibrations completely. He keeps trying with
everything else he can think of, but is unable to get any useful
data. He gives up and comes back on board.
Shark then wanders through the scientific lab
looking for something to help analyze the object. Fortunately
Marquis Marcus Crestworthy left copious handwritten notes on all the
equipment he'd deciphered, and Shark soon finds some apparatus that is
applicable. It's somewhat portable -- the size of a small
refrigerator -- and has grav plates for pushing around and locking in
position. Shark takes it out through the airlock behind the
bridge and down the ramp and tunnel. He locks it into position
and tries to use it, but it is pretty cryptic to someone used to
Shark calls for more help. Marquis Korwin
Vanderfield has research experience, so he's the obvious candidate; he
even has no trouble with the vaccsuit. Robert Morris also has a
background, and of course the equipment is actually in his native
language. All three of them collaborate to operate the gear.
It's a very multipurpose piece of equipment, like
most of the stuff in the lab. Also, the various purposes for
which the apparatuses can be used are quite unintuitive, often seeming
to be totally unrelated to each other. Robert's help reading the
scryptese is invaluable in this case; as when he sees unfamiliar black
tech terms he calls in Mich to help as well, feeding the data back up
The shell is artificial and has been built with
black tech principles. It's rock -- a single rock crystal -- with
the atoms aligned so that the unspace effects give it certain sensor
barrier properties and very high strength. It's quite simply just
a strong container. A lot of the physical properties can't really
be measured, but they do confirm that it's hollow. They can't
determine whether there's vacuum inside or air or whatever -- they
don't know the exact mass of the shell. What is more, it's
designed so that if triggered in exactly the right way, it will
completely disperse. That trigger is to fire an unspace hole into
in a particular way.
It takes Mich a while to figure out what he'd need
to do to trigger this. He does have equipment in the engineering
shop that will do what he wants, once he sets it up correctly.
Shark says it's something They put in a locked
box. It was probably a long time ago -- they built an asteroid
around it, and they've been gone for a few hundred thousand years.
Mich's speculation is that if this was a regular
cache, how could anybody have opened it?
Clearly this is not a regular cache, points out
Shark. You have to shoot a particular unspace pulse at it to get
it ot open. It's not like if a battlecruiser cruises by, it's a
Mich agrees, "It's more like, prove you have
the same technology that built it, and then it will open."
Shark wonders whether they would put something
that's dangerous (to them) and hide it like this. "Is this a
Pandora's box, or is it storage for dangerous materials, or is it their
long lost history records, a time capsule?" He looks around and
says, "Do we dare? Boss, do we open Pandora's box?"
Misha puts it the question to the crew. Robert
is emphatic that they should open it on the ship; Helia opposes that
vehemently. Robert's point is that if it is something that
requires an atmosphere, they would lose it by opening it in
place. All agree that they should open it, but Shark backs up
Helia strongly and says it should be definitely not be brought on board
Misha suggests taking it to another atmosphere first
and opening it there. Kalida laughs that a derelict ship with
atmosphere would be perfect, and Shark joins in and suggests taking
over one of the Navy ships here.
Mich -- ever the engineer -- suggests sealing the
chamber in the asteroid, so that if there is atmosphere within the
ball, it won't all be lost. Everyone else nods sagely at his
suggestion, and Mich starts work on the project.
It's now about 15:00. First, Mich identifies
and sets up the equipment to fire the unspace hole. He is a
little surprised to find such gear ready and waiting in the engineering
shop, but is happy to use it. He sets up remote control so they
can run it from the ship. Then he builds the
pressure door and gets that sealed, positioning it about three meters
from the sphere. It's set up so that if there's a strong
overpressure from the contents, it will blow progressively rather than
Helia moves Nightshade away from the line of
the tunnel, so anything that blows out of it won't hit the ship.
Sensors are set up inside the chamber, and full active and passive
sensors are focussed on the sphere.
Mich triggers the equipment. The unspace hole
fires into the sphere at a precise trajectory. The shell just
vanishes, dispersing into its own unspace holes within itself.
Not one particle remains of the shell of the sphere.
Everyone is watching.
Almost everyone faints.
Misha alone is
conscious. What he saw twisted his mind, something strange and
confusing, and just not right. Something about 30 cm in diameter
is lit up where the center of the sphere was. He drops into
sparkly pink, and looks again from there. It's almost like it's
script writing, but it's not straightforward. He's looking at
something that just shouldn't be, doesn't connect in the right
ways. The crew appear to be fine, but only the Baron, Vonish
Teri are conscious as they weren't watching.
Misha calls the Baron to the bridge to attend the
unconscious crew. Before the doctor gets there, the captain turns
off the main holodisplay so he too doesn't pass out. The Baron
moves among the crew, waking them carefully; he says there's nothing
wrong with them.
Mich speaks up first, because he's seen something
that had this sort of structure before -- but this is much more
complicated, using significantly more dimensions than the zuchai
crystal hyperarray on Digitis.
This is script language in
seven or eight dimensions.
As Robert comes around, he tells them what this
is. It is... information. It is concept and background, but
the two don't quite correspond to each other. It's partial
information. It is a lot of information but there isn't enough to
make any sense whatsoever. You need all the components to the
puzzle before the script language makes any sense, so alone there's no
information you can get from it other than it's a repository of
"So now we have to find more of them, huh?" says
Robert says they could take it to Digitis,
or they could tell the Arden Society.
"But not today," says Misha. Today they have
to package it up and get it on board the ship. Once again the
task falls to Mich, and he starts work on a machine to fit around it in
a clamshell action.
Meanwhile Shark runs a physical sensor scan on the
object, but everything is getting distorted and he can't get a clear
It's a relatively simple task for Mich to take his
machine down and lock around the object, and retrieve it to the
ship. It masses about three grams.
Robert explains that they can't tell how many other
parts there are. Until they have them all, it doesn't mean
anything at all, including how much is needed to completed.
Misha asks if there's anything they can do to
conceal what they did at the asteroid. Shark suggests nudging the
rock so it falls into a gas
giant or something. They can't have mapped all small objects
in the system, and if they give it a slight bump to put it into a
spiral into the sun would be the best thing they could do. As
Mich points out, blowing it up or hitting it into another rock might
leave fragments with signs of the smooth hole -- even capping it and
hiding the hole wouldn't prevent densitometers from revealing the
The orbit has been changed somewhat anyway from the
vaporized column of rock that used to form the tunnel. So they
decide to send it in an orbit that will arrive at the closest gas giant
in a few years. That should make it look like just another
asteroid belt rock that's been deflected out of its original
orbit. They'll need a very good astrogator indeed to figure out
exactly what they need to do to achieve this, though -- but they have
Helia, of course.
The larian does her calculations. She nudges Nightshade's
shields up against the asteroid, and pushes it into the right
orbit. The crew have never seen her so intent on her job --
clearly even for her, this is very hard. But she succeeds, and
the asteroid should hit the gas giant in a couple of years.
After all this effort, it's time to rest. The
whole crew will take some time off, and tomorrow they'll continue on
their voyage to Rhylanor.
Helia takes Nightshade the short distance to
a good jump point,
and slips them into jump for Rhylanor.
As usual, Mich does his thing in sparkly pink in
engineering. After all the effort over the last few days, he
can't spend as long at it as he would want. As for the data, he
and Robert still don't have enough to put something together, but they
are starting to get the hang of it. They might even be about two
jumps away -- if they're lucky, of course -- from putting something
together that will do no harm.
Kalida practices her battledress skill while in
jump, and Misha starts working with it too.