(2) Carbonated Syrup

The Regency Campaign (201-1123)

This file has yet to be fully edited...

This file has yet to be fully linked...

201-1123 : Victoria / Lanth / Spinward Marches

    It's 13:30 Imperial time when done with lunch, which is still mid-morning local time.  The local day here is 22.7 hours, not far off Imperial time.  There won't be any major adjustments needed by the Nightshade crew if their stay is fairly short.
    Aside from the low gravity, Albert is very pleasant.  It's warm, the day is reasonable, and aside from the major lack of water it's quite normal.  It's actually remarkably like Edward "Shark" Teeth's homeworld of Romar / Glisten, but without the violent swings in temperature.  There is an eclipse once an orbit every 6 days or so, but that doesn't have anything like the effect on the climate that Romar's secondary does.
    The moon does have a small population of the order of a thousand natives, but there aren't any near this Ancient Site.
    The one crew person not here with Witchhunter is Marquis Korwin Vanderfield.  With little need for a gravcraft driver here now the expedition is settled, he's working liaison with the Imperial Navy here, on board their vessels, to make sure that Marquis Marc gets no interruptions.

    Marquis Marcus Crestworthy's expedition has mapped the Ancient Site as best they can.  It's not really so much a map as a Choose Your Own Adventure book: for each room, there are probabilities of leading to certain other rooms, with no attempt to put together the map above the room level.  Attempts to do so lead to physical impossibilities.
    So far when a group has gone in, the door has lead to a constant room that time.  There hasn't been an occasion where one person has gone through, and a person behind has ended up in a different room.  There has been no pattern that they can find to the rooms that appear.
    Shark asks if they've tried a robot yet.
    They haven't -- but if he has one that is autonomous, perhaps he could send it out after their missing person?
    Shark does have that.  His flying pig can do that, but he'll want to set it up specially for this mission first.  Then he'll want to go back to the place where Dyuuk went missing, which was from the door to the left in the entrance room.

    Shark and Mich get to work on the pig.  Shark wants it to be able to leave a trail of breadcrumbs, and sets up a spool of line that the pig will lay down as it heads out, and can follow to come back. The pig will be carrying 2000m of line.  The pig isn't set up with a Black Tech power source, so that Shark could leave it behind when they jump and have it still work.
    Mich wants to set up sensors to triangulate the location of the pig and the team inside the complex.  Between Witchhunter and Nightshade, that should give them all the information they need.  Everyone will be carrying transponders to enable that.

    Two students, Wulf and Pat, will lead the Nightshade team on a quick look at the site.  They'll be accompanied by Shark (and his pig), Mich, and Kalida.  Sir Misha will stay behind this time with Marquis Marc.
    The complex itself shows a surprising lack of color.  Almost everything looks grey, except for the room of glowing crystals, with an ambient white-ish light.  That prompts Shark and Mich to bring full spectrum sensors and PRIS binoculars.

    At 14:30, they leave Witchhunter to enter the Ancient Site.

    The entrance door to the complex is semi-circular with a radius of about 2 meters.  It looks like a flat wall, a dark grey metallic substance apparently, but has no substance.  They walk through the wall into what the expedition calls Room Zero.
    Immediately all signals with the outside cut off.  The expedition has installed a relay station for communications to the outside, running a cable through the "door" to the outside.  Within the complex itself, communications work fine -- it's only blocked from passing from inside to outside.  That of course prevents the triangulation of their location.
    Robert immediately tries to reconnect, doing what he can to move viewpoints and so on to make it work.  There is, however, no way through.  There is no apparent way around it, and he is certain that there is an active block.  It's not simply distance, it's a real block.  The remote viewpoint too can't be moved into the complex.
    Mich's Black Tech flashlight works.  That means, of course, that Nightshade can locate them precisely using that -- or, rather, Mich could if he was on the ship.

    Room Zero is a circular disc, with a flat floor and ceiling.  There are three doors, one ahead and one each to left and right.  "Door" is the term the expedition has used, but it's a bit misleading.  It's more like a doorway in the wall really.
    Every door they've seen in the complex has been exactly the same.  The door is mist, shifting and moving all the time.  They are somewhere between a rectangle and an ellipse, a smooth curve but in a roughly rectangular shape.  They are about 2 meters tall, and about a meter wide.
    The missing person went through the door to the left.

    Kalida wants to sit down and think about things.  She is Somewhere Else.  There is no web here, just little blobs of existence everywhere in all directions, like she's sitting in a cloud of bubbles.  She can't sense anyone else, she's all alone in here.  When she comes out, she describes it as like carbonated syrup: the bubbles are in constant motion, but moving as if in a viscous medium.  The bubbles were all unconnected.  There was no "relative", nothing related to anything else.  Soon she drops out of her trance and tells everyone what it's like in here.

    While Kalida's been doing that, Mich has been instructing Robert how to record the data from the Black Tech flashlight power stream.  He is pretty successful at that, and with the computer's help Robert sets up the recording.

    Shark sends his pig through the mist door to the left.  The room to the left is currently Room Three, the Room Of Mist.  That is the room where Dyuuk vanished, several weeks ago.  The Room Of Mist isn't always behind that door, of course.
    Shark is still being paranoid: he checks the pig's clock vs. his clock, his clock vs. Nightshade's clock, and verifies that everything is indeed in sync.
    The visibility in the room is about 3 meters.  Shark sent the pig 5 meters in and back.
    Shark sends the pig in again, doing a semicircle 5 meters in.  The pig finds walls, and to room is probably an ellipsoid.  He asks Wulf and Pat if the traction is such that they can climb back out, but they tell him that there is an invisible walkway straight through the middle.
    Shark asks if anyone has checked on the bottom of the walkway.
    Wulf and Pat say that the walkway is transparent, perfectly so, and is at the level of the bottom of the door.  This is the room where Dyuuk vanished, but sometimes this door is blocked -- solid, blocked.  The walkway is about 3 meters wide.
    Mich wonders if this shape -- football, egg, whatever you call it -- might be a good shape for a psionic resonator.  That is something no-one knows.  The so-called football sensors were shaped that way by coincidence, or so Mich thought at the time, but this is pushing into areas of psionic research that haven't been done in the Imperium.
    Shark asks whether they want to go into the room, or whether they want to have the pig do a complete room search here.  The choice of the pig is unanimous, so Shark has the pig enter the room and map the outsides of it, and the walkway.
    The room is indeed ellipsoid, but very suddenly there is no contact with the pig.  It lost signal about 15 meters into the room, on the walkway.  It did a full circuit first -- the room is 30 meters deep -- and then went down the walkway.
    Shark says there is something out there, 15 meters in, like another door, an unmarked door, but they have to wait for the pig to come back.  It'll search until the cable runs out, or the power runs out, or it finds Dyuuk.
    In the meantime, Shark and Mich pull out their various sensor equipment and start taking readings from the entrance.  The multi-spectrum PRIS binoculars can see through the fog, as can some of Shark's gear.  Everyone steps into the Room Of Mist to investigate.
    There is indeed something shimmering around halfway down the walkway.  It's like mist, but not in the visible spectrum.
    Kalida tries her trance.  This time she's in a bubble, looking out.  Everything looks the same, carbonated syrup, but she's in one of the bubbles.  She can't direct it, and there's no-one else around.  There's no-one else in the universe, just bubbles and her.  Any bubbles close enough to see are empty.  She comes back, but feels a little sticky.  She's not sure whether she almost got stuck or whether she brought something back with her, but something isn't quite right.
    Shark asks her what she saw, and she says it was more or less the same thing except she was in a bubble.  Then he steps back into Room Zero and calls the Marquis.  He asks him what the knowledge level of Wulf and Pat are -- he doesn't mean their academic knowledge, of course, but something he knows that Marquis Marc will understand.
    Marquis Marc replies that they were carefully selected for this expedition through some of his contacts.  They are capable of testing the propagation of signals that the football sensors detect.
    Shark returns to Room Three and observes Wulf and Pat.  They are interested in what Kalida is saying, but not disturbed by it.
    But now, looking further in the room, the shimmering thing has gone.  Shark looks down at the floor, and the pig's cable is there, but stops at the place of the shimmer.  It's cut.  Shark did set up the robot pig so that at the point where the string stopped on its return, it would try picking up with other means of navigation such as inertial guidance.
    Mich takes a look at it, and at every scale of magnification he can access here, it's clean cut.
    Shark says that the moral of this is when you go through a door, go through it, don't stop halfway through.

    That's when Shark notices that Kalida is shimmering like the door was, just a kind of a heat haze at certain frequencies.  Mich and Shark exchange glances -- this is not good.
    Dyuuk had food for several days, as they do, but after several weeks he's probably not in good shape.  The pig can run for at least 3 months, but it doesn't have any implements to pick anyone up and pull them back.  It might be able to do the lifting, but it doesn't have attachments to grab hold.
    So now there's the matter of seeing if Kalida can scrape off the shiny somewhere.  It's not visible, of course, but the sensors show it hasn't diminished at all.  Shark decides that they should return to Room Zero.  He asks Mich to throw the string back as far as he can in case the pig comes back.
    They go through the door back to Room Zero... except for Kalida, who runs into resistance as if pressing against a rubber sheet.  She doesn't have to do it herself, though, as there's no shortage of volunteers to help shove a Marchioness through a door of mist.
    Kalida is through, although she falls flat on her face on the floor.  The others scramble through, avoiding her.  Mich is especially graceful in the way he dances past her.  They quickly determine that Kalida is no longer sticky.
    Now Mich wonders if the stickyness is on the other side of the door, and whoever goes through first might get it on them.  Shark and Mich rush to get through and try it, but the door is closed.  It looks exactly the same, but it's solid.  There's a very slight give to it, a slight softness, but nothing like the rubber sheet effect Kalida encountered.  This is solid, and it's shut.  There is no door there now.
    This is very interesting to Shark.  He asks if it did the same thing when Dyuuk disappeared.
    Wulf says they could go through the door for a while.  He went through, and they were all wandering back and forth for a while before they noticed he had gone.  Dyuuk walked down the walkway, like the pig did.
    Shark fills in the rest: he went wherever the pig went, and the door vanished afterwards.
    Kalida asks how long it takes shut doors to open again.
    Pat says they haven't a big enough sample, and they don't have any pattern to it that they can find.
    Shark finds a rod and leans it up against the now solid door.  That falling when the door reappears will alert them to when it opens again.  The expedition's relay station has enough sensors to pick that up.

    After a brief discussion, they decide to go on through another door.  They head to the right.
    Shark observes that the doors look like they have a perceived thickness.  Pat says that even though it's a perceived thickness, they haven't been able to measure it -- either the thickness is a sensory illusion, or something even stranger is going on.

    This door leads to a cylinder, the exact same height as the door.  It's about 50 meters long, no fog or anything else.  The expedition called this the Long Room, or Room Two.  Most of the time, Wulf says, it leads to the Sphere Room, Room Four.

    Walking along the Long Room with its smooth circular section is not easy, but nothing the team can't handle.  At the end of the room is another misty door.
    Beyond is indeed the Sphere Room.  The room itself is another egg, ellipsoid.  It's about 30 meters in height, and 40 meters in length, a slightly stretched sphere.  There is one door, directly opposite, and a transparent walkway across.
    In the room are spheres, floating, in constant motion.  The motion appears regular, like there's a pattern to it.  The largest is about half a meter, and the smallest are tiny, grains of sand perhaps.
    The sensors say the spheres are metal of some sort.
    The expedition has had sensors in here recording the room for weeks, observing their motion.  Even though everyone agrees that it looks like there's a pattern, analyzing the actual movements reveals no pattern at all.
    The spheres seem to move in a pattern, but for some reason the pattern somehow never takes them into the path of a person.  They pass through the invisible walkway as if it's not there.
    Kalida reaches out and touches one.  It feels cold, metallic, and as she touches it, it's as if she pushes it away.  The pattern -- not just that one sphere -- adjusts for this new movement.
    Shark asks if the expedition had tried this before.
    They haven't, replies Wulf.  They haven't tried bringing crazy people in here before.
    Shark's next curiousity is whether they've taken a marble out of here, while Mich wonders if they've hit one with another one.  Mich's idea is to take one that's about softball sized, and throw it at another one.
    Shark offers to do this while Mich records.  He grabs a sphere, but misses the one he was aiming at.  He threw it straight, just as if it was in the 0.18 gravity here, and after it had cleared the other one it swung into the pattern.
    Mich tries this time.  He grabs one, and throws it directly at another.  The small one doesn't quite touch the other sphere, but the two of them move as one in the direction of the small one for a short way, then swing into their own places in the new pattern.
    Shark had observed that the small sphere felt like a solid metal, about the density of iron perhaps.  Mich agrees, and says the sensors agree that it's as if they were made of solid pure iron.  There is no sign of any magnetic sensitivity or activity, however.  They are not the same density as the statue they saw from here.
    Next, Mich grabs one and tries to bang it together with another.  They won't touch, by about 1.5 cm.  Nothing shows on the sensors when he does that.
    Mich's next idea is to throw one at the door.  He grabs a sphere, and throws it at the door from about 10 meters away.  He throws it about three meters, then swings into the pattern.  No matter how hard he throws it, it behaves the same way -- the distance it travels depends on the pattern, not the strength of the throw.  If he could just figure out that pattern... he's sure there's one somewhere.
    Shark notices that no two spheres are the same size.  He measures as many as he can, and doesn't find any within a tenth of a millimeter of each other.
    Mich decides that perhaps they can't see them all.  He checks for microscopic spheres, and is not surprised to find them at all scales.  The differences between their sizes reduces as they get under a centimeter or so, but they are all still different and go down in size at least as small as he can measure.
    Mich takes a small piece of candy and throws it at the other side of the room.  It travels as a normal object would, and the pattern didn't intersect its travel path.
    Shark smiles, "How do you not get shot?  You just don't be where the bullet is going to be.  You don't think about it, you just don't be there."
    Mich wants to know if the expedition has even tried to bring a sphere out of this room.
    Wulf says they haven't.  They've measured the patterns for weeks, but haven't touched one.

    Kalida sits down and goes into her trance.  She's in a bubble, but it's a different bubble from the one before.  She's still surrounded by carbonated syrup.  She tries to tell if the bubbles are all the same size, but she can't really tell.  It's hard to tell.  She can't get the direction, the size, the position, any of those at the same time.  There's no sense of scale.  She drops back out.
    Or, rather, she thinks she's back but she can't move.  She needs to do something, because breathing is important in the real world here and she can't move.  She goes back into the trance, back into a different bubble again.
    This is the third bubble she's been in.  She can't tell how the bubbles are different, they just feel different and she knows it's a different one.  She tries to see how big her bubble is, and all she can tell is that it's big enough -- it's bigger than she is, or massively bigger than she is, or a little bigger than she is... there's no sense of scale other than she's entirely contained within it.
    She tries to come back out again, but she can't get out of the bubble.  She can move within the bubble, but there's no sense of scale to tell how she's moving.  Did the bubble move, or did she move within the bubble?
    She tries again to come out, tries very hard.

    Suddenly everyone is slammed away from Kalida, and the spheres scatter away from her too, as if a force wave originated from her and pushed everything in the room.
    Pat hits the invisible walkway with a thud, but everyone else manages to stay on their feet.

    Kalida comes back.  The balls are all quite some distance away from her, but beginning to adopt their pattern again.  "What did you all do?" she asks.
    Everyone stares at her.
    "Sorry about that," says Kalida, "I got stuck.  It's very hard to get back."
    Shark clearly knows more about this than anyone else.  "Warn me next time, ok?" he says.
    Kalida says, "I told you I was going to do this.  You should bring a football sensor with you next time."
    Shark says he thinks he has plenty of evidence.  He looks around at the others and notices that Wulf and Pat are now looking at Kalida with a new appreciation, and also glancing at Shark and Mich as if wondering what they can do.
    Shark says to them, "We also work for the Marquis."
    They nod and accept that with a sense of relief as if it explains everything.
    Kalida is still looking puzzled, so Mich tells her that she pushed everything away from her, right before she asked what they did.
    Shark insists Kalida should immediately write down what she did before she forgets it.  He doesn't say so, but he intends it for Nightshade use only.

    She does:

I went into my trance and I was in a bubble again. It's odd, being in a bubble. There's no sense of scale, no way to tell how big the bubble is in comparison to me, no way to tell where I am in the bubble. There's mostly just a feeling of total isolation. I can sense in some way the presence of other bubbles moving around outside mine. As far as I could tell, the ones I could sense were empty.

They move around, but not in the same way the balls in the room do. The balls seem to move in some pattern, with some purpose. The bubbles seem to move aimlessly, like brownian motion, through something viscous.

Since I didn't see anything different, I tried to come out of my trance. But I failed. Or rather, I succeeded, but I wasn't all the way back, I guess. I saw everyone, heard everyone, like normal, but I couldn't move. At all. Couldn't talk, couldn't even breathe.

With little time to wonder about things, I tried to go back, and succeeded in that at least. I was in a different bubble, and no, I can't tell you how I could tell.

I tried to come back, and failed utterly. Since I was stuck in the bubble, I tried to work the bubble a little. I couldn't affect its movement at all. I could move myself within it, but there didn't seem to be any purpose to that.

One more try, and I came back to see all the balls having moved far away from me.

I assume that my final push back into reality somehow pushed all the balls (and shoved y'all too) somehow.

    While she does that, Shark does a quick medical scan.  Kalida is showing signs of physical stress, elevated heartrate, low blood oxygen, but is recovering and generally in good health.  "What was your threat?" he asks her.
    Kalida hesitates, then says, "When I tried to come back the first time and I felt like I was back and could see everything..." She trails off into silence.
    Shark looks up and asks the students, "What's through the next door?"
    They tell him that it varies.  Usually it's a long cylinder room, but it could be in any direction including up or down.
    Shark asks about the way to the statue room.  Is it through the other door in Room Zero?
    It is, says Wulf, but the statue room could easily be a couple of days trip.  They have full sensor readings and pictures if he wants to see them.  The journey depends on whether the room is in the sequence or not.  There's a spot in there where you can go back and forth, or the rooms are different, or you can keep going and it flips you back into the previous room.  There is a possible loop section in there.  It's never taken them more than a day or so to get out of the loop section.
    Shark nods, and says, "You haven't travelled with us."
    "I'm beginning to think that's a good thing," says Wulf, apparently seriously.
    "Sometimes it is, sometimes it's not.  We either get places very fast uneventfully, or with a lot of fanfare."
    The Nightshade team seem to think that's a fair statement.

    Shark says they should go back and discuss what's next.  They have a transponder active in Room Zero, so if the pig shows up, they'll know.  And if he does show up, they'll get the data.  On the way out, however, he wants to try taking a marble with them.
    Wulf and Pat don't mind him doing that, as long as they leave first.  They'll leave a sensor on a cable to observe in case Shark doesn't come back.
    Shark grabs a marble, while everyone else leaves the room.  The marble will not go through the door, and Shark doesn't resist it.  He lets it go.  They can't bring a marble with them, which brings up the question of how Trow Backett's small statue was taken out.  This place does match the story, with the misty doors and so on.

    They return through the Long Room back to Room Zero without any additional strangeness.  Shark confirms once again with Wulf and Pat that if they do get the tube room on the way out, the way back is usually rather fixed.  Shark says it's like there's a virtual breadcrumb trail, locking the configuration in.
    With the exception of the loop section, they agree.  It's like the act of observing it collapses its probability state.  Except for the loop section, but even there they're generally moving through the same rooms.  Pat wonders if that section is too old and is stuttering.  Apparently Sir Geoffrey thinks the site itself is choosing where they go, but the real scientists do not agree with him.  Or it's magic, of course.

    Back in Room Zero, there is no sign of the pig.  The rod is still leaning against the closed door.  At this point they've been in here for several hours, and rather than go on now through the other door they decide to go back to the ships and analyze what data they have now.  They can also then decide whether to go on an expedition to the statue room.
    They have a lot of data to work with, certainly.  Robert can apply Nightshade's computer to the matter of the Sphere Room pattern, and there might be some way to figure out the source of the ambient lighting which the University of Mora expedition has been unable to determine.
    On that subject, Kalida asks Shark, "Did the light change when I made everything move?  Did you notice any difference in the movements up until I came back?"
    The pattern did seem unchanged until everything moved, the spheres just moving around by some unidentified means in their unidentifiable pattern.

    Everyone returns to Witchhunter.  Shark will be alerted if the rod falls and the door opens, or if the pig returns.
    The lounge is getting rather crowded.  Except for Korwin, the whole expedition is here, the team of seven scientists who also double as crew: Marquis Marc, Sir Geoffrey, Wulf, Pat, bikini girl, and one more scientist they hadn't seen before.
    Mich has more ideas for the sphere room -- they could get Teri with her FGMP in there to hunt spheres.
    Shark politely suggests something a little less energetic, no more than rubber bullets to start with at least.  If they violently react, then starting slow and less violent would be safer.

    The plan for the night is to eat, watch the videos, and discuss it.  Dinner is on Witchhunter, but the discussion with Marquis Marc will be taken over to Nightshade so it can cover more special subject matter and technologies, so he is invited over to the black ship for a nightcap.
    Over on Nightshade, Mich analyzes the data from the power transmission locator.  A quick preliminary analysis shows that the Ancient Site is indeed not physically contiguous.  Room Zero is at the expected physical location, but the other places are scattered all over in the crust of this world.  The depth underground varies from 500m to 1500m under the surface.  At least they were always on Albert.  The gravity in all the rooms was absolutely identical to that in Room Zero, and that shows that it was artificially adjusted -- variations in those other locations would have been measureable.
    Shark says that the whole gravity of this world must be artificially generated.
    Mich agrees something strange is going on, as Albert and Victoria should have torn each other apart.
    Shark is also still concerned about time variations, although he hasn't encountered any so far.
    They all wonder how space is being folded.  It's definitely not Black Tech, however, they know that.  They could dig up one of the rooms, like the Long Room, and put it on board... but then there's the issue of getting into the room if they can't take it apart.  Can they take it to another star system and just walk here through the portal, Shark wonders?  That would be great for taking Blockade Bourbon out of Nakege, wouldn't it?  What if they could get a transport to Core?  They could set it up in the hotel, for example!
    The implications of that, of course, are enormous.  Instant travel to Core?  Megacorporation executives and couriers transferring information two years faster than any other way would probably get them a billion credits a ticket and fill as many as they could walk through.  But then, it would certainly make them a target for those megacorporations and other groups who would want it exclusively for themselves.