(7) Marooned in an Open Boat

The Regency Campaign (215-1123)

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215-1123 : Dinom / Lanth / Spinward Marches

   Nightshade arrives out of jump at 02:00 in stealth mode.  This system is certainly strange, and not just because it's the only blue-white giant star in the Spinward Marches -- fiercely hot inner worlds, the mainworld almost tidally locked and quite nasty, and a comfortable world that is not the mainworld.  The very strange planet with three massive moons in the outer system prompts a lot of discussion but no answers.  Perhaps that world shares atmosphere with the innermost moon?  Perhaps the moon was engineered into position by the Ancients and has been feeding atmosphere to the world ever since?
    The system is an Amber Zone because of the recent revolution on the mainworld, which still hasn't settled down yet.  It is however on the Spinward Main, and is a decent waypoint for anyone who might want to avoid Regina itself.  If the situation on the mainworld doesn't prevent it, it could be a decent run for independent small free traders.

    During the jump, Robert has discovered what he believes is the secret of the Sphere Room.  The pattern is that there is no pattern, there is never a pattern.  It's not predictable, but it's not random -- it deliberately avoids those particular random movements that have the appearance of a pattern.  The pattern is that there is no pattern, which is so alien to the human mind that they cannot help but feel there is one.
    Kalida has been taking medical lessons from Shark, who in turn is working on pistol.  Kalida's other activity is working on her lesson plan.

    There are no naval ships in system, and no ships at all in fact... except for one.
    That one is sending out a Mayday signal.  The ship claims to be the Wandering Pearl, and it has engineering disabled and is drifting.  Nightshade has nothing in the data banks about this ship, but that's not really surprising.
    Shark suggests that before they do anything, they take a look.  Hurtling over there at high g, still in stealth, Mich brings them in close to examine it.  At 03:00 they pull alongside.
    The Wandering Pearl was clearly once upon a time a standard scoutship.  That would have been quite some time ago, though, and it has definitely been modified -- one might almost say vandalized.  Engineering looks like it's taken a direct hit, weapon damage, and by something heavy like a particle accelerator rather than lasers or missiles.  One precision hit with a powerful weapon was enough to set Wandering Pearl truly wandering, drifting with no propulsion at all.
    The ship is in a slow rotation.  Shark takes to the sensors and sees that life support is somewhat active, and there is someone aboard.  There could be someone alive, but they wouldn't be in good shape.
    Shark says they should board and talk to this person.  He is very curious why someone would waste a particle accelerator shot on something as small as this.  Surely they must have seen something they weren't supposed to see.  The Wandering Pearl had a standard hybrid turret -- one each mounting of laser, missile, and sandcaster -- but it would have been pretty useless against something with that firepower.
    Clearly this wasn't navy that did this.  They wouldn't just leave the ship here, and this wasn't part of the Santanocheev Rebellion.  They must have run into bigger and better smugglers.
    Shark asks the rest of the crew if they are as curious as he is, or should they just give it a nudge so it will get to the mainworld at some point.  He is pretty sure that if they set Nightshade under the ship, it is at least plausible that they would not be visible from the bridge and so it wouldn't be too odd that they weren't seen.
    The Wandering Pearl is almost entirely shut down.  The transponder is running, there is very limited life support, and communications is limited to the automated Mayday signal.  Everything else seems to be offline, including the grav plates.

    Teri and Shark will be the boarding party, both in battledress.  There is certainly no shortage of (unmarked) Imperial battledress on Nightshade, although they haven't identified any black tech equivalent.  They pull up and study the standard scoutship layout and load it into their tactical units in the suit.  Shark suits up himself, but Teri checks him carefully and confirms he has done it correctly.
    Mich doesn't have the skills to line the ships up to walk over, so he just parks Nightshade underneath the Wandering Pearl.  Teri and Shark will exit from the main cargo lift.  They'll be entering from the hatch in the lower bow area.

    Teri and Shark grav over to the hatch.  With Teri standing by covering the entrance, Shark opens the hatch.  Atmosphere vents as he pulls it open.
    Teri moves into the storage area beyond, verifies it's clear, and signals for Shark to come in.  He closes the hatch behind him, but the area does not repressurize.  The ship is making those horrible creaks and groans that dead ships do.
    The hatch above should access the corridor aft of the bridge.  Kalida, working the sensors, says there haven't been significant signs of movement, but she thinks there is someone on the bridge.
    Shark snatches the hatch open and Teri hurtles through.  She looks uncomfortable -- this is really tight confines for a Scorpionis Marine to operate.  She takes up position on the ceiling and declares the area initially clear.  There is pressure here, although some of it went to fill the storage area.
    Shark moves through too.  Teri covers the bridge hatch and the corridor, while Shark quickly secures the four staterooms and the common area.
    He then announces himself: "This is Lieutenant Teeth, Imperial Navy.  Open the iris with your hands in full view."
    The iris valve opens.  Standing there is a person in a vaccsuit.
    "Identify yourself.  Where is the rest of your crew?"
    He says he's Fred Walker, and this is it.  There are no other crew.
    "Who and how long ago shot your ship?"
    Fred says that it was some pirate, and it was about a week and a half ago.  He seems really keen to leave this ship.
    Shark escorts him to the common room, while Teri secures the bridge and staterooms again to be sure.  He asks Fred what the pirates were after.
    Fred shrugs and says simply that they were pirates.  He holed up in the bridge while they boarded.  Whatever they wanted, they must have got, because they left without coming onto the bridge.
    "What did you have aboard?" asks Shark.
    "Nothing important," replies Fred.
    Shark reports back to the ship.  He asks Fred if the atmosphere is breathable here, and apparently it is but it smells and there's not a lot of it left.  Again, Fred is keen to get out of here and somewhere with real life support.
    Shark leaves Teri guarding Fred while he searches the Wandering Pearl.  He keeps his laser finger ready while he goes through the ship, but encounters no opposition.  He takes considerable care and covers each hatch or valve before opening it.
    The staterooms have personal effects in several of them, but it's hard to say how many people lived here.  Vaccsuit storage would be back near engineering, which might have compromised hull because of the battle damage.  None of the iris valve displays are working, so he can't tell whether there is atmosphere beyond.
    The various crates and so on in the storage areas look undisturbed.  Some of them are open, but it doesn't look like it was in a hurry and he can't see anything of significance.
    The ship's computer is not powered up.  He checks with Mich, but the engineer tells him it would be impractical in battledress to pull any physical memory from the very tight sections in avionics.
    Shark then performs a thorough search of the ship, looking for logs or anything else that he can figure out.  He plans on taking an hour or so, and while Fred complains about the delay but Shark simply shuts out his voice for a while.
    The foreward two staterooms were probably used by a single person, one as living quarters and the other as an office or personal space.  There are what looks like a collection of physics textbooks, but no accounting books that Shark can find.  He is sure that if Fred was really legitimate, he would be able to find those books.
    Of the next two staterooms, one was empty while the other looks like it was occupied.  So there were two people on this ship, one of them being a passenger.  There is a travel suitcase here propped open with clothes around.  There is no sign of blood or other violence anywhere.
    Shark takes a hairbrush from each section, and takes them back to Fred.  He asks which was his.  Fred points at the captain's one, so Shark asks, "Who was your passenger?"
    "Some guy," says Fred.  He doesn't know why the pirates took him, he was just some guy.  He just paid money for passage, and there wasn't any need to ask questions.  Shark prompts further, but Fred insists he was just some guy, and probably wouldn't have given him a real name anyway.
    Shark asks about the ship that intercepted them.
    Fred says it was a gunned escort, Fiery class.  He was completely outpowered and outgunned.
    Those 300 std ships are common through the Imperium, in civilian and military use.  They do carry armament consistent with the damage to the Wandering Pearl.  This of course is far too small to be Robin Sherwood's Berlin.  Shark asks what else the passenger carried on board.
    Fred says he had a couple of suitcases, personal stuff, that was all.  No cargo or anything.  He was just this guy, you know?
    Shark goes back to the guest room and starts to pack everything up.  There is too much stuff here to fit into the one suitcase that remains here.  He returns to the common area.
    Fred asks if they are going to leave soon.  Can he gather his personal items?  They are welcome to watch him do it, but he'd really like to be on a ship that works instead of a dying wreck.  He can't stay here, the air will run out.
    He's right.  There's probably only about three days left here, by Shark's guess.
    Again, Fred asks if he can get stuff together.  He points out that while they aren't Imperial Navy as Shark said -- they have no insignia -- they don't seem to be pirates and so it's a good guess that at some point they'll take him to their ship.  Can he just assume that's the case and put together his stuff?
    Shark nods and says, "Captain, keep an eye on him."
    Teri says, "Good suggestion, Lieutenant," and motions Fred to go foreward.  They head off to gather his things.
    Shark watches Fred move around to gauge his zero-g abilities.  Fred is clearly comfortable on ship, but doesn't seem to have had any formal training in this environment.
    Once Fred comes back with his containers, a thought occurs to Shark, and he calls out, "Which hatch did they take him out?"
    Fred says he has no idea, as he was on the bridge with the door locked and gun pointed at it.
    Shark says, "And all your systems were down?  Including the backups?"
    "Backups?" says Fred.  "Do you know how old this ship is?  It's running on the backups."
    Finally Shark wants to obscure Fred's viewport for the transit to Nightshade, like a roll of spacers tape.  That would be near engineering, however, and that might be in vacuum.  He tells the others to hold on, and opens the aft iris valve.
    Yes, it's in vacuum back there.  Furniture, tools, all kinds of stuff is floating around.  Shark moves into the area, but has to fend off a table.  The table hits a chair.  The chair hits other stuff.  In a matter of moments, all the junk in this room is flying around and bouncing off the walls.  Shark takes cover in a corner for a while, then when he sees an opening he dives for the valve and closes it behind him.  No tape.
    Over the comm, Kalida very sensible suggests just putting a bag over his head.
    Shark however decides on the simple approach.  They'll bring Nightshade out of stealth and run a line between the ships.  They'll bring him in through the lower cargo hatch.  Shark does a cursory once-over of Fred's luggage, approves it, and they do the transfer.

    Nightshade is eerily reminiscent of a gunned escort in shape, but of course substantially bigger.

    Shark runs into trouble in the transfer, but recovers simply enough.  He might look like a fool, but at least they've done the whole operation safely.
    The three of them manage to orient themselves to the gravity on the open cargo lift.  Captain Sir Misha is standing there in his zack, cape, and sword, apparently unaware that it would be normal for the lift to be in vacuum.
    They raise the lift and seal the ship, slipping back into stealth.
    Shark asks Fred whether he's spent the whole time in his vaccsuit, but Fred says that he heard them coming aboard and put it on then.  He wasn't going to let himself get vented to vacuum.
    Teri and Shark step back while Fred takes off the vaccsuit.  Shark introduces Captain Ravenos to Captain Fred Walker.  Shark too steps out of his battledress, although Teri remains ready in hers.  Nightshade has no provision for prisoners, of course, so they'll have to lock him in the luxury of a stateroom.  They can transfer him to the Gym easily enough too.
    Fred wants to know if there's any chance of a meal.  He certainly has a hungry look to him.  They escort him to the lounge and give him one of Mich's MREs.
    Once he's been fed, Shark pats him down for weapons.  He finds a gun and a knife.  He checks again, and finds another knife.  He asks Fred if he's going to tell him where the rest of them are, or if he's going to test him more.
    Fred just smiles.
    Shark checks one more time and finds the other knife in Fred's boot.  That one was very well hidden indeed.
    Fred says that's it.  Sharks says he said that last time, but Fred says that now he knows how close Shark looks.  Shark says he's going to search the luggage now, and asks if Fred has anything he wishes to tell him.  Fred shakes his head.

    Shark asks the crew if they should blow the space junk apart, or just leave it floating in space.  He thinks they have everything they need from it, and the whole ship will run down in a few days anyway.  The chances of anyone showing up are pretty slim.  Unfortunately they can't get a good enough resolution on the sensor readings to predict exactly where it will end up, but it isn't going to hit anything for a good while yet.  They'll take its position now, and check it again once they're done with the system scans and are about to leave.
    Mich starts to take them away and parks them in space well away from the wreck.
    Their guest is not in great physical shape, but well enough considering he's been drifting in space for a week and a half.  Shark is satisfied he isn't carrying any disease or anything that would be a danger.
    Shark tells the ship that they'll be putting Fred Walker in stateroom 24, and that he is not to be allowed to leave without permission from the crew.  The ship agrees it can do that, ask whoever is on watch for permission when Fred wants to leave.
    The prisoner is placed in his luxurious cell.  This used to be Bridgehead's room, and while the now-Duke took most of his things with him, he left several formal pictures of historically important Imperial Navy vessels.

    Shark asks Mich to bring his gear to scan the cases, while Shark goes through the actual luggage in minute detail.  Mich says that these are standard Imperial airtight insulated and shielded personal containers, exactly the kind of luggage that anyone would use if they might have to expose it to space or have to walk it to a starport entrance on a vacuum world.
    The contents are not unusual.  Well, not unusual considering that lone crew on scoutships have hobbies, and Fred's hobby seems to have been physics.  There's nothing dangerous in here, certainly.  There's a lack of personal logs, but it looks like Fred has been working on physics papers and so on.
    Shark shows Mich the papers and asks him to look through them.  He adds that they could just replenish his vaccsuit, drop him a reasonable walk away from one of the mainworld cities, and just leave him there.  In the meantime, they should go look at some planets.

    Wandering Pearl was near the gas giant in the system, or at least in that general orbit.  This is a massive system, however, and the world they are interested in would take a 7.5 days to reach even at the full 20g.  It will be faster to jump.

    Mich calls Shark and says that either Fred is a loony, or he's into some strange physics.  Physics of space and dimensions.  He looked at the abstract, and if he tried to get that published, he'd be called a raving loony:

The Irrelevance of Dimensionality Regarding the Interstice that Separates the Universes


Our universe is only one of an infinite number of universes. In the infancy of theoretical physics, it was claimed that our universe was defined by the 3+1 dimensions that we humans directly experience, plus a number of others (commonly 10 or 11) to reconcile varying string theories. This paper proves that only the 4 dimensions define our universe, and other dimensionality actually impinges on ours from other universes at the quantum level. In an earlier paper, I proved that amongst all the infinite universes, there are only 42 possible dimensions, and different combinations of the 42 dimensions define the different universes. Since that paper, it has been theorized that the interstice that separates the universes has either no dimensions or all 42 dimensions. This paper further proves that a discussion of intersticial dimensions is meaningless.

    Shark points out he was a scout.
    Mich says he might have something.  After all, they'd call Mich a loony if he said how black tech works.  Right now he can't tell whether Fred is insane or a genius.

    Shark continues working on the personal effects.  He hands the ID that says Fred Walker to Robert, who says it's fake but a very good one.  That of course doesn't surprise Shark, but he had been hoping for a clue as to who he really was.
    Shark thinks hard about Fred's accent.  On careful consideration, he narrows it down.  It's a long way away from here, the other side of Core.  Easily three years travel away from here at Jump-2, very likely more, towards the Solomani Rim rather than the Vilani areas Vonish called home.  It's definitely from the Imperium, but the far side of it.

    Shark tells the crew where he thinks Fred is from, and how long it would take to get here.  "He's made a bazillion jump and a bazillion gas giant scoops, and hasn't crashed.  Mich says he's a lunatic or a super genius at physics."
    Kalida says he could well be both.
    Shark continues, "He is not Fred Walker, unless he has a fake ID in his real name.  He's very good at secreting weapons on his person.  If Misha wanted we might still find another on him, but let's let him have some comfort.  He was carrying a passenger who was kidnapped, or who he sold and was double crossed.  Not sure if he was legitimate or illegitimate on this trip as far as his passenger was concerned.  Didn't find any cargo of interest anywhere on the ship, nothing nefarious.  We could go back and do an active scan since there isn't anyone in system.  Let's let him sleep in the stateroom and we'll think about it."

    Before they leave this area of the system, they will head back to the Wandering Pearl to scan it.  They'll take four hours to sleep, have brunch, then do the scan.

    The wreck does indeed seem that it was at some point a standard scout ship.  Mich says that it's been patched up, signs of jury rigged repairs and so on.  It's the opposite of Shark's concern, that it had been souped up.  Mich is of the opinion that it hasn't had the mandatory annual maintenance in a few years, but has had the necessary work done on board rather than at a starport.  Obviously it's worked.

    Time to head out to orbit 11.  At 18:00 they enter insystem jump, to arrive in stealth at 06:00 on 221-1123.
    They'll let Fred out for meals and to use the Gym, but otherwise keep him in his stateroom.  One of Kalida, Shark, and Teri will be watching him (or his stateroom door) at all times.