(3) Impossible Feedback

The Regency Campaign (201-1123 to 204-1123)

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201-1123 : Victoria / Lanth / Spinward Marches

    Mich Saginaw has determined that there is nothing in common between the tech of this Ancient Site and Black Tech.  It's barely using the same physical laws.  The doors are a complete unknown -- he doesn't even know how he would do that in practical terms with black tech.
    The physical locations of the rooms in the Ancient Site, however, that he does have.  He does want to do an active scan of at least one of those to see what he can find.  Witchhunter has done scans, of course, but with their technology they can't pick up Room Zero at all.
    Robert Morris has continued working on the bouncing sphere patterns, and despite his best efforts he can't get the computer to resolve it.  He's completely convinced that there is a pattern -- he can almost see it -- but no matter what he does, he can't find it.
    Robert has also been looking through Witchhunter's computers.  The encryption is standard civilian Imperial, although absolutely state of the art for that.  There's nothing much of interest until he finds his way to a specially encrypted area.  He hacks into that too, and retrieves a large amount of data on psionics.  It also contains Marquis Marcus Crestworthy's personal notes, including the psionic capabilities of his crew -- to varying extents, they are all psionic.  He passes this on to Shark to add to his psionic data.
    In a burst of generosity to the talking monkey, Robert re-encrypts that area using much more secure methods.  He sets it up so that it automatically and only be unlocked when Marquis Marc himself tries to access it through a terminal on his ship.

    Marquis Marc has been invited to Nightshade from his expedition base on Witchhunter to look at the various "movies" that Edward "Shark" Teeth wanted to show him.
    As for Kalida Siena, Marchioness of Nakege, her intention is to discuss matters of her football data.  It's Shark's data, but her problem, so they are both going to have to be involved in the discussion.  She asks Shark to present the football data to Marquis, and asks him what this means.  It does of course include the events in Adabicci inside the black hole, including the 95% attentuated response, and other "normal" data both in and out of fish oil trances.
    Marquis Marc says it will take him some time to analyze it.  He'll take it back to Witchhunter and work on it there.  He asks if Kalida has any specific questions, but she says she'd rather he look at it and come to his own conclusion first before she tells him what he might see.

    They spend the evening eating, drinking, reminiscing, and eventually Marquis Marc makes his way back to his own ship.

202-1123 : Victoria / Lanth / Spinward Marches

    After breakfast the next day, an away team is assembled to make an expedition to the Statue Room.  Mich takes a one-way black tech communcation device with him.
    Staying behind are at least Robert and Teri; Sir Misha, Mich, Kalida, and possibly Shark will be going on the mission.

    Meanwhile, Robert is sure that he almost has the pattern within his grasp.  With a little more work, he is certain that he can write the pattern as a single scryptese glyph, but it just isn't quite there yet.  Perhaps he can puzzle out the last details before the away team comes back.

    Over on the Witchhunter, Wulf and Pat have been preparing their end of the expedition.  They have a grav platform -- immediately dubbed The Mule by Nightshade's crew -- loaded with a week of supplies in case the site delays them, and hi-tech survival gear such as efficient water condensers.  Of course the Mule has to be narrow enough to get through the doors, but even so it can still carry a lot of gear.

    They enter Room Zero in mid-morning 11:00.  Shark's rod is still propped up against the door on the left.
    Kalida asks Wulf and Pat how long that door remains shut.  They reply that it varies -- it could be as long as three or four days, so this is not unusual.
    Of course, as Wulf points out, they don't call anything "unusual" here.  Once they have more data they can establish what is "normal," but until then it's just speculation.  He does add that they have never seen the other two doors in Room Zero shut, the ones straight ahead and to the right.
    Straight ahead is where they are headed now.  They are to continue straight, heading neither right nor left, and that will take them to the Statue Room if it's accessible this time.  Of course, "straight" is an apparent term in here.  Pat adds that they don't think they have to worry about doors changing where they lead while the group goes through.  They have always been consistent about that, and they're calling that "normal."
    Mich suggests throwing a flashlight through the portal where they lost the pig, and perhaps water and food for Dyuuk if he's still alive.  They can then figure out where the special portal leads in a physical sense anyway.

    The first room is the Donut Room.  This is a tunnel with a circular cross-section just like the Long Room, except this one curves upwards ahead of them.  Wulf says that this room goes on for a while, and that they're on the right path.  Finding this one here skips several rooms and takes them a fair way in.
    The upward curve is at about a 30m radius.  The entry door is in a flat wall, just like the Long Room, and at the base of the curve.
    The team is a little apprehensive about climbing this curve, but they soon find out that the gravity curves too, so that each person appears to be at the base of the curve.  Pat says that they considered calling it the Hamster Wheel, but Donut Room was the name they decided on.
    This does mean they're always walking slightly uphill, and of course it's not easy walking because the floor is curved in cross section too.  It's kind of like walking in a ring of an old-fashioned small rotating space station.  Walking back the way they came would also be uphill.
    The room goes on for about five kilometers.  Obviously that's well beyond where they would have encountered the other side of the door, but they don't reach it where they would have expected.  This is one of the rooms that was an early clue that physical and apparent space didn't correspond -- precise measurements show that the ring does not deviate from a plane, and that they seem to be walking around and around in a single ring the whole time.
    Robert reports that they are physically about 30 km away, and walking in a straight line on a flat level.
    Most of them manage to stay on their feet, but Kalida stumbles and falls down.  Mich trips at one point too, but elegantly keeps his feet under him and stay upright.

    After a couple of hours of walking, they approach a door like the one they entered by, in a flat wall ahead of them.  Robert confirms that they have walked five kilometers in a straight line, but all the sensors the team have with them show the room is exactly circular.  Football sensors show nothing, and Mich is wearing his psi helmet, so it is unlikely to be something messing with their brains directly.

    Through the next door is The Crossroads.  This cross-shaped room is semi-circular in cross section with a 5 meter radius, the door at the level of the flat floor.  Ahead of them the tunnel goes about 20 meters and ends with another door, while halfway along a similar tunnel intersects this one, leading to doors to the left and right.  They will be going straight.
    Wulf explains that this is not the only room like this, just the first crossroads of this type they found.
    Kalida asks if they are all identical.
    Wulf says that they are, but they feel different.  They don't know for sure if they are the same room, because they never thought to mark them.
    Robert reports that they are about 500 meters directly below Room Zero.
    Kalida tries to write on the wall with a pen, but it doesn't leave a mark.  The surface is grey and fairly smooth, and it doesn't seem scratchable.
    Mich hands Kalida some chocolate pudding, and she uses that to make a smear on the floor.  She glares at him when he suggests lipstick or eye shadow.
    Sir Misha matter of factly observes that leaving fingers on the floor pointing the way is a good solution to this kind of problem.
    With the room marked, they move on to the door at the end ahead of them.  Wulf says that they have about a 90% chance of the Crystal Room, and a 10% chance of the Black Room.

    This is the Crystal Room.  The room itself is a 40 meter sphere.  The entire surface of the sphere is made of hexagonal prism crystals.  They're not quite a prism, because they taper very slightly so that they would meet at a point in the center of the room.  The crystals vary in length up to 10 meters from the base depth, although most of them are just two or three meters long.  Each is a single color, although each is a different color from its neighbors.
    This room is phsycially about 1500 meters underground, and about 200 km south of the landing site.
    The team is standing on a totally invisible bridge, with a door directly opposite.  The outline of the door is cut out through any crystals that would intersect it.  Wulf says they have tried to take samples of the crystals, but they don't have anything capable of even marking them.  They have not had any success determining the composition of the crystals.  It seems to resemble quartz in terms of its crystal structure, but it isn't quartz.
    Kalida reaches out and touches a crystal with her hand.  It feels slightly warm, and slightly sticky as she pulls her hand away.  She tries another, and it feels the same.  It does leave her hand feeling a little sticky afterwards, but it just feels that way -- it isn't really stick, and the feeling fades quite quickly.
    Mich reaches out and touches one himself.  He observes that it doesn't feel electrostatically sticky, just plain sticky.  Under magnification it looks perfectly smooth -- at every magnification Mich has available, it looks smooth.
    The pathway here is about 3 meters wide, Wulf says, the usual width.  They have found none where the walkway stops anywhere across.  They used to feel their way with a stick, but they don't bother now.  The walkways are completely reliable, they believe.
    The team sets out across the room.
    Sir Misha happens to pass through the exact center of the room, and as he does so he feels for a moment like his body is charged with some kind of energy.  He steps back and walks back to the center again.  It's nothing he's felt before, but he just feels charged up with something.
    Sir Misha says, "There's something here.  Something energizing."  The feeling starts to fade after a little while, but he can still feel it.
    Kalida grabs the PRIS binoculars and looks at Sir Misha.  He doesn't look unusual at all.  Mich looks too, and is sure there is nothing there to see.  They watch their captain as he walks through yet again, and they still don't see anything.  The footballs are silent.
    Sir Misha definitely feels like he's charging up more each time.  It's a feeling that's totally unfamiliar.  He suggests someone else try.
    Wulf and Pat look at each other and back off to a safer distance.
    Kalida walks through the center, but she feels nothing.
    On the other hand, Sir Misha still feels a little charged up.  It's not fading as fast now.
    Kalida decides she wants to go into a trance in the exact center.  The place is about a meter above the walkway, so she'll have to sit on something.  They pull the Mule in so that she can get in the right place.

    Kalida goes into her trance.  The carbonated syrup is still there, although she's in a different kind of bubble.  This one is glowing brightly, almost blinding her.  She can tell there are other bubbles around her, ones like before, but it's hard to see around her because of the light.  She's still the only one around, but this time her bubble is not moving.  Well, it's not moving around, but it is closing in on her.  She tries to come back.
    Out of her trance now, she looks around.  She's still having trouble seeing, like everything is still bright around her.  She doesn't feel strange in any other way, but it's starting to feel worse.  She clambers off the Mule and promptly falls over because she can't see what she's doing.
    She tells everyone there there's definitely something right here at this spot.  She explains that it's still glowing brightly and she can't see anything, but it was the only bubble she's been in that didn't move.  Her vision is improving a little, but very slowly.

    Meanwhile, Mich has been preparing a snack for everyone.  The MREs are actually palatable when he's done with them.
    By then Kalida can see well enough to eat, although she's not normal yet.
    Mich suggests it might be because Sir Misha is wearing his zack that he is getting charged up.  It's a reasonable theory.  The footballs still aren't registering anything.
    Kalida is curious if she went into a trance not in the center, how it would look then?
    Whatever the reason, it's still only Sir Misha who's noticing it.  Mich keeps trying but with no results.

    Kalida's next experiment is to take the flashlight and holds it up in that spot.

    Suddenly something doesn't feel right.  Marine instincts kiek in, and she lets go of the flashlight and hits the ground.
    Pat says, "What?"
    And at that moment the flashlight explodes.  There's a very bright flash and shrapnel flies.
    Most of the team get away with singed hair from the bright hot flash, but Pat takes something in the chest and goes down backwards.  Mich rushes over and tends to her.  She has several shrapnel wounds and is unconscious, but it won't be life-threatening as long as he treats the injuries.
    While Mich is patching up Pat, Kalida starts to call Robert to see what it looked like from his end.
    Before she can, Robert calls Mich.  "We've got something blue," he says, sounding concerned.  "The power cube went blue and the ship has shut itself down.  We have a problem with the power cube."
    Mich suggests restarting the cube from the batteries, explaining to Robert where to find them and how to do it.  He tells Sir Misha that they're too far away from Nightshade for him to go back and do it himself.  He's sure Robert can do it with his instructions.

    Sir Misha says they need to wait here until Robert's done.  They should not go any further or try anything else until they know whether they have to go back to the ship.
    While they're waiting, they talk over what happened.  Kalida let go of the flashlight and it hung there, not falling, until it exploded moments later.  Shrapnel from the flashlight scattered across the room in a burst of heat and light.

    After an hour, Robert calls back.  He's made his way through hand-cranked doors, fed the power cube the batteries, and Nightshade is up and running again.  Mich's instructions worked.  Even though stealth went down, the Witchhunter crew would not have seen the ship unless they were peering intently at the brush and vegetation that hid it from sight.
    Kalida wonders if the flashlight was still here when it exploded, or whether it just appeared to be in this physical location.  Mich might be able to determine that from the records once he gets back to Nightshade, but it might be very tricky to be certain about it.
    The words Robert uses to describe what happened translate as "It was an mpossible feedback."  That's not quite what the scryptese means, but to say it any other way would be to talk like Lap'da.  The description in his native language is much more complex, and allows for other possibilities.  Since it did happen, clearly it can happen, and an involved weave of background, concepts, and frame of reference expresses that plainly to Robert.  The idea that there isn't enough background to make it possible is easy for him to understand, but that's completely different from "we don't understand it" or "we don't have enough date" and can only really make it into Galanglic as "Impossible."
    "Don't do that again," says Mich to Kalida.  If the power cube itself had blown up, there is no telling how big an explosion that could have been.  They do have the spare cube, of course, but they could only use that if there was enough of the ship left to patch it into.
    Kalida has no intention of doing anything like that.  She isn't even going to place her body in that spot again.  She recalls now that this bubble felt sharp, unlike the other ones she'd been in that felt softer.  This was a hard bubble, whatever that means.  Once again, the football sensors showed nothing, but there is just enough background readings to be sure they are still working.

    Sir Misha says it is time to move on towards the Statue Room, at least as soon as Pat is ready to move.  She's only just now regaining consciousness, but Mich says that she should be able to move on after another hour of quiet rest.

    So at 17:30 they are ready to move on again.  They walk to the far side of the room, and through the door.

    Wulf shrugs, sighs, and announces that this might be the Slow Room.  It's another circular corridor about 5 meters long.  He says they'll walk across it and come out about a day later.  All clocks and their perceived time will be off when they exit.  It's too late now to avoid that.  Communications don't work in here at all.
    The black tech communicator still has power, but undoubtedly it looks strange to Robert in a way he can't interpret.  The away team can't tell it's not working, of course, since it's one way.

203-1123 : Victoria / Lanth / Spinward Marches

    The team emerges from the slow room into Crossroads again, complete with chocolate pudding.  It's as if they've entered from the same door they entered it the first time.
    Kalida asks Wulf and Pat if they consider this "different" in feel to the one they entered before, but they say it doesn't feel any different.  They say they might have to go through this loop several times, but they don't know how many.  There usually is a loop on the way to the Statue Room.
    Robert syncs up the communications, and says it's 8:00 next day.
    Kalida asks Robert if this Crossroads is in the same physical location as it was last time they where here.
    He confirms it is, and despite the strange power draw in the previous room he could locate it at somewhere around the far side of Albert.  He mentions as an aside that he is sure there's a pattern to the Sphere Room, even though the computer has finally come back and said there isn't one.

    The next room is the Crystal Room again, confirmed by the flashlight shrapnel and by Robert reporting their location.  Everyone avoids the center point.  Kalida does, however, touch a crystal again.  It's still sticky and warm.
    Kalida wonders if the crystals reacted in any way to the explosion.  They check all the sensors, and fortunately some of them were running at the time.  There were no detectable changes.

    Beyond the Crystal Room is the Slow Room again.  This time they come out on the same day, just hours later at 13:00, into the Crossroads with pudding.
    Wulf says they just need to keep going through the loop until it breaks.
    Again, on to the same Crystal Room and again avoiding the center spot, they go into the Slow Room a third time.

204-1123 : Victoria / Lanth / Spinward Marches

    At 18:00 -- over a day later -- they emerge from the Slow Room into something different.
    This is a circular corridor.  It curves to the right on a 50 meter radius, and Wulf says it's called the Right Room.  There are several other ways they could have reached here, but they are on the right track although there are several more rooms to go.  The room curves around 90 degrees and ends in a door.
    Robert says they are 800 km to the northwest of the landing site, about a kilometer underground.  This room does curve physically, matching the apparent curve.

    The door opens up into a vast ellipsoid cavern, about 500m long and 100m in maximum cross section diameter.  It is full of what look like trees, completely grey, but very organic and very much like trees.  The trunks are almost like a bundle of twisted fibers that then splay out into branches with leaves.  They all grow out of the floor of the room.
    Wulf says this is the Tree Room.  He adds that the walkway is five meters wide here, unusually wider than the three meters they have come to think of as "normal."  They have laid down two lines of cable to mark the width since it's hard to be sure you're walking in a straight line in this long room.
    Kalida's first act on entering the room is to walk up and touch a tree.  It looks and feels smooth, and seems to be pulsing or throbbing about every second and a half.  It is neither warm nor cold, a neutral temperature.  The texture is smooth, but the trunk is not quite even.  It has slight bumps along the trunk.
    The trees are definitely not constant.  Now and then a leaf falls to the floor of the room, and while no-one is looking some of the branches definitely seem to have shifted slightly.  Pat says that they have taken some recordings of this room, but have never seen a leaf leave a branch, and that no leaf ever lands on the walkway.
    Kalida's tree is one of the ones that goes a long way up towards the top of the room, and has a trunk about 3 meters in diameter.  There are no branches within reach.
    Mich asks Kalida if she's planning to climb the tree.  She says she isn't, but Mich is welcome to if he likes.  He politely declines.
    Multi-spectrum scans don't reveal much more.  The trees are a uniform grey in color, but it does seem like they're pulsing slightly.  It's slightly audible, but they are all at slightly different rates.  There doesn't seem to be a pattern to it.
    Sir Misha looks down.  The floor is covered by layers of leaves, forming a flatter floor than the shape of the room itself.  In the center of the room, it might be as deep as ten meters.
    Kalida studies the color of the trees, and thinks she notices a slight difference in the shade of grey in places.
    Mich agrees now he looks at it carefully.  Not only is it not quite even, but the shading is moving.  The color of the tree is actually moving or changing.  There is an ambient glow in this room, as in the others, and it's definitely not an effect of different lighting.
    Kalida asks Wulf what usually follows this room.
    Wulf says there is at least one corridor, maybe another room or two, and then it is likely they would be at the statues.  Some of the corridors might be long.

    It is 19:00.  Kalida is determined to try a trance here.