(24) Loading and Leaving

The Nightshade Campaign (274-1122 to 287-1122)

274-1122 : Goose / Fessor / Foreven

    The crew of Nightshade are pretending to be a black ship courier -- apparently such ships visit this world on an irregular basis; Robert Morris has accepted the black robed acolyte's briefing on enemy activity.  They've accepted a hundred rugs of the vendor's choice as trade goods, plus several that Helia Sarina has picked out herself.  A zack has been ordered for Kalida Siena, Marchioness of Nakege.  A black tech communication box will be delivered that can maintain contact with somebody through the barrier of jumpspace.  Based on their guess from the locals' reactions, they are the only black ship to have been here in over a hundred years.
    The box arrives at the ship, carried by a respectful man in black robes.  There are no installation instructions, of course.  Helia will help Mich Saginaw install it, even though it's way beyond her understanding.  It seriously challenges Mich's understanding too, as it's the first time he's tried to match up an unspace power portal between two unmatched objects.  It'll take him time and research to figure this out, but to the rest of the crew he presents a confident attitude.
    Callisto and Edward "Shark" Teeth have both been working on the sensors to try to penetrate the city, and to find out where Robert was teleported.  For some reason, the city seems to be remarkably resistant to remote viewpoint projection.  Shark says that there's a serious problem with teleportation if the place they went didn't have a zero relative velocity to the place they left from.  That probably means at the very least that they went somewhere on-planet, aside from the distance issue.  Kalida backs him up on this from her training for facing Zhodani Commandos.

275-1122 : Goose / Fessor / Foreven

    The installation of the communications box is going reasonably well, but Mich thinks he'll need another day to set it up completely.  He's installing it in Engineering and insists that no-one is permitted to be in there at all.  He's pumping the entire section down to vacuum to do it.  He mutters something about very precise measurements being required and the impact of air molecules on the box will interfere with the precision.
    The rest of the crew think Mich just wants to keep them away, but Helia backs the engineer on this.  The relative positions of the box and the power cube have to be controlled very precisely in order to link up the unspace holes and synchronize the power delivery.  Helia will help him set this up, and then it'll be a job for Mich alone.
    Mich says that once it's linked up, there won't be any more precautions needed -- they can move the communications box wherever they like and it will work fine, just like they can fly the launch wherever they like and still draw power from the ship.

    In the afternoon, Vonish Kehnaan goes ashore to get supplies.  Helia accompanies him to deliver her gift of the special skein of thread to the rug-maker.
    Also in the afternoon, the rugs arrive.  Kalida assesses and inventories the trade goods, while Helia's are stored separately on board.  Kalida announces they have a very fine inventory.  When the scrimshaw arrives later, Kalida is again the person who takes the pieces on board.

    While all that is going on, Misha Ravanos goes for a swim in his zack.  Shark warns him there are big fish down there, and offers to accompany him.  Misha takes him up on it.
    Misha is cautious with the breathing at first until he's comfortable with it, but it's never an effort.  This is his first open water swim with his zack, and while he's not really used to swimming his environmental combat skills serve him well.  He is very cautious about navigating too.
    There's plenty of plant and animal life to make this a worthwhile trip.  Seaweed grows below the dock, while fish are plentiful.  A group of local swimmers -- in either regular suits or a zacks, it's impossible to tell -- leave from underneath the city and head off in some direction, swimming down as they go.  After a while they see another group of swimmers returning to the underside of the city, bringing large fish and nets full of fish.
    Misha soon finds he has no trouble, a natural at swimming underwater.  Shark is having more difficulty at getting around and regulating his depth, and doesn't notice his captain try out a few zack fighting techniques underwater.  Misha is confident he could fight well down here.
    The weather up above is actually clear today.  The wind is still blowing hard, but shafts of sunlight pierce into the water between the broken clouds.  Highlight of the sights down here is a school of remarkable fish, each about 50 cm long, a bright shiny pure gold in color, spectacular in the sunlight.  It's a large school, travelling at a reasonable speed, not too fast.  Shark can't resist trying to grab one and swims after them; he misses, and the school scatters and reforms, too far away for him to catch up again.
    Misha and Shark return to Nightshade thoroughly refreshed by their dip in the ocean.

    The installation continues.  Mich is expecting to complete the job sometime early tomorrow.  He restores atmosphere to Engineering in the evening, and says people can come into the section now if they want.  He still has to integrate it and find somewhere to put it, but it's powered.  He'll need Robert's help to incorporate it into the ship's systems.
    Misha takes this chance to ask Mich about the device.  It's a communication device: who does it communicate with?
    Mich doesn't know.  All he can do is quote Robert and say it presumably communicates with other black ships or something.  He doesn't know exactly what it does yet.  Until it's integrated, they won't know.  He does assure Misha and Shark that it can be powered off again if they want, although it might take some time to do it.

    This evening is the first meal from the seafood here.  It is excellent indeed, and quite a change from what they've been eating recently.  Vonish brought back enough with him to cook until the full supplies are delivered, and remind them all how good seafood can be.

276-1122 : Goose / Fessor / Foreven

    The next day is cloudy but not raining, which makes it easy for the delivery of the supplies in the early morning.  They're stowed on board quickly.

    In the afternoon, a young man approaches the ship along the dock.  He looks very nervous, glancing around as if afraid of being jumped.
    Shark greets him at the ramp.  The man asks him to please inform the lady that her package is ready.  Shark nods, and the man hurries back into the city.  Shark goes back in and tells Kalida her suit is ready.
    "How does this work?" asks Kalida.
    "You go there, you put it on.  You do what they tell you."
    "I can do that.  I was a Marine, I can follow instructions."
    Misha says he'll go with her.  The two of them go ashore and through the rings.  On the way in, the dock workers look more suspicious than they were before, but they don't seem to be threatening any trouble.  They move on to the zack store in the bazaar ring.
    Shark has been trying to follow them in on the sensors, but loses track of the remote viewpoint and has to give up.  Callisto keeps tracking, however, and Shark experiences her viewpoint through sparkly pink.
    At the zack store, the shop keeper looks around and, seeing it's clear to his satisfaction, motions Misha and Kalida to the fitting room.  He presents Kalida with her zack and steps back quickly.  Misha steps back too, which is somewhat disturbing to the Marchioness.  The store keeper tells her to wear it back to the ship, and to be sure to wear it once a week for about five minutes.
    Kalida dresses in her zack.  It's a glossy black, except of course for the transparent faceplate.  She can't identify the form-fitting material, but it is certainly comfortable.  She thanks him, and he reminds her that this never happened.
    Misha asks if they can make a contribution to his situation; it is declined respectfully.  He then warns Kalida not to make any sudden moves, to walk carefully, and avoid any valuable objects while she's wearing it.  Fortunately the walk back to Nightshade is uneventful; the dockworkers look more concerned than suspicious.  Kalida notices that the temperature feels a lot more comfortable on the way out than it had on the way in.
    Back on board, Misha takes Kalida directly to the exercise room, and starts training her by throwing things at her.  Shark joins in, explaining that some level of adrenaline activates it.  Of course, scaring a Marine may be tough.  Misha helpfully tells her not to try, just to do.
    Helia says she should just practice a lot, but gives her a nice necklace to wear under the zack at all times unless she expects trouble.  She explains it's like a safety to wear something under the zack, and she should definitely do it when on board.  She says she wears her zack all the time, and on the ship she almost always has something under it.  Anyway, she's happy for the opportunity to give her a necklace!
    Kalida has trouble using the zack at first.  She seems somewhat clumsy and erratic with it.  Some chairs she slices, some she doesn't, and some come right through and hit her without being intercepted.  Misha reflects that this is going to take a lot of work.

    About an hour after the Captain and Gunnery Officer get back, Mich announces that the communications device is installed and integrated into Nightshade's communication systems.  They still don't know what it's going to do, but it will communicate with something.
    Robert has set it up and has a carrier established.  Now the other end knows that the box is turned on, and the other end is turned on too.  He adds that the bandwidth is extremely low.  There is no way of selecting what it communicates with -- it talks just to "the other end."  He's pretty sure it's matched up with a corresponding single other device, which is currently active.
    Neither Robert nor Mich know how this works.  It represents an advance in black tech, probably enough of an advance to be another full tech level.  As Mich explains, black tech cannot talk through the jump barrier this way.

    There is nothing more to do here.  It's time to resume chasing Santanocheev and his commandeered fleet, which they still believe is pulling an end run into Zhodani space.
    Callisto confirms that there are still no other ships in the system.  No-one has arrived while they've been here.
    They expect the Imperial fleet to be able to maintain Jump-4, and so plan their route accordingly.  After pondering it for a while, they ask Baron Bridgehead what he thinks.
    Bridgehead points out that the first question is where would be be attacking.  If he assumes that he's attacking to start in order to spark a war and resume hostilities between the Imperium and the Zhodani, then probably the most disruptive move would be to cut off the worlds in Querion subsector.  He'd have to do an end run around that, dipping into Querion subsector briefly and swinging back into Foreven -- Zorro and Curmudgeon -- and then swinging back in for the attack.
    Shark interrupts to ask what they plan on doing about it if they do find the fleet making an attack.
    Bridgehead ignores him and continues, saying that he would have to go through Mizan-Fel, which is necessary to hit the best targets at Ninjar or Atsa.  Alternatively he could go through Curmudgeon to Gyomar to hit Atsa.  The Baron says that would be the way to do an end run, and it would be a strategically sound action as well as having the desired political effect.
    So they decide to head for Curmudgeon.
    The question is, what route should they take?  Most of the crew suggests Zorro as a waypoint.  They have actually spent some time there before, an interesting ice world with a surprising resort.  The cooks in the firepit were very interesting.  Still, their goal right now is to get to Curmudgeon and so Helia says they'd be better off hitting the empty area at 0805.

    Helia takes off from Goose, and at 18:00 they jump for 0805/Fessor.

282-1122 : 0805 / Fessor / Foreven

    Nightshade arrives out of jump at 06:00, 5-1/2 days after entering jumpspace.  Shark has spent the whole jump practicing his Zhodani language skills, and also helping Kalida train with her zack.
    Callisto takes the usual hour to confirm their position precisely, and at 07:00 they leave for Curmudgeon.