(8) Construction Zone

The Regency Campaign (216-1123 to 225-1123)

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216-1123 : Jumpspace (from Dinom / Lanth / Spinward Marches)

    Nightshade is making an insystem jump from the wreck of the Wandering Pearl to the curious world - moon system in orbit 11, due to arrive in stealth at 06:00 on 221-1123.
    Kalida Siena, Marchioness of Nakege, has been studying medicine under Edward "Shark" Teeth's instruction, and also working on her self study plan.  Shark himself has also been working on his pistol skills.  Captain Sir Misha Ravanos has been continuing his literacy studies.
    Mich Saginaw has been working on shortening regular jumps even further.  With his expanded understanding of jumpspace, he now thinks he can get it under five and a half days.  He believes he can do something with the resonance of jump space interacting with standing waves in the ship's jump field.  He believes it should be possible to get it down to five days.
    Robert has looked over "Fred Walker"'s fake ID and determined that while it wouldn't pass near Capital, it would work pretty much anywhere out here.  It's a good fake ID.
    Shark points out that if he's right where the Wandering Pearl came from, then he's made a hundred or so jumps to get here.  He's done that without scheduled maintenance, and has probably skimmed fuel rather than paid for it.  He's navigated that many times, maybe misjumped and got lucky, and hadn't crashed.  He's either very, very lucky, or moderately good.
    Still, Shark would like to know what was so important that the ship was hijacked.  They could just dump him on the planet and let him walk to a town, of course.
    Sir Misha would really like to find what's on the computer of the Wandering Pearl.  They can do that after they've done their survey of the outer system, since they were planning to come back and check its trajectory anyway.

    "Fred" himself has been relaxing in the insanely large stateroom of non-Imperial design.  There's always a guard on his door and he is not allowed out without permission of the watch officer, but compared with his ship and its failing life support this is total luxury.  Two standard Imperial transit luggage containers contain what are now his entire possessions.

    Over breakfast, they talk with their rescued guest.
    Mich tells Fred that he found his physics papers rather interesting, about the 42 dimensions.
    Fred says that's the way it is.
    Mich asks how it would relate to jumpspace and astrogation.
    Fred says he hadn't considered any practical applications.  "It doesn't matter if there are any applications, it just is," he says.  "It's up to engineers and stuff to figure out what they want to do with it."
    "Well," says Mich, "We want to get from point A to point B as quickly as possible.  With jumpspace we pretty much..." He trails off, realizing that any way he can explain it in normal terms is incorrect.  Jumpspace For Dummies would seem to be talking down to a physicist, surely.  "And it's different from unspace, that's totally different."
    "What's your definition of unspace?"
    Mich is silent.  He's explained it to Jack in simple terms, but Jack was a crew member.  He can't explain it to Fred because it's black tech.  He eventually says, "Well, let's not talk about unspace now, we can talk about that later.  Let's concentrate on jumpspace."
    "But they're two different things?"
    "Yes, totally different."
    "So how do you relate jumpspace to this space?"
    "It's kind of a translation.  Jumpspace... well, you can see it out there."  Mich gestures at the window.  He has quickly figured out that Fred's jumpspace knowledge is no more than standard astrogation training.
    Outside the ship, jumpspace in its maddening greyness is clearly visible.  So is the ship's dynamic jump grid, several meters off the hull and constantly shifting.  "That's very cool," says Fred.
    Shark changes the subject.  "So, you've been a scout pilot for long?"
    "A few years," says Fred.
    "I was in various services for 20-odd years."
    "Just a few years," says Fred.  Looking like he's in his late 30's, he's definitely a youngster compared with Shark.
    Misha asks him about the ship that attacked.
    Fred says it was a 300 std gunnied escort, Fiery class.  It called itself the Raptor, and the transponder said it was owned by the Associate Surplus Distribution Company out of Dekalb / Querion.
    This sounds familiar to a couple of the crew.  Mich was on board the Hermes six years ago on 014-1117 when it encountered the Raptor on the way out of Ianic / Lunion.  Its captain was Ed Williams back then.  Mich says, "And what was the name of the ship?"
    "The Raptor," says Fred.  "The captain called himself Ed Williams."
    Mich laughs.  He's definitely met that ship before, he says, at Ianic.  They'd figured the Raptor was going to jump them back then, but talked their way out of it.
    Shark too recognizes something about this.  The ASDC was running the Lonely Teardrop that left Kalida behind on Caloran / Vilis.  He tells Fred about it this one too.  What the Associate Surplus Distribution Company mostly distributes is surplus pirated gear.
    Fred doesn't know where either of those places are, but accepts the validation of at least part of his story as plausible.
    Misha asks who the passenger was.
    "A guy who wanted passage.  Picked him up on Dinomn, he wanted to go to Dinom."
    Shark asks Fred if he's published any scientific papers.
    Fred says of course he's published.
    Shark says that Mich is published on gravitics, and several jump theory and power systems papers.  He adds that, "Our previous navigator... has been published, at some time, although the actual timing of that is... interesting."
    Misha asks where Fred was headed.
    Fred says he was headed here, to drop off his passenger.  "After that, he said if I dropped him off safely he's probably have some cargo to take to Extolay."
    "Where are you headed eventually?" asks Misha.
    "I'm just, you know..."
    "Wandering.  Wherever the cargo takes me."
    "So, can you tell me the story of the attack?"
    Fred again repeats his story.  "I was attacked immediately on exiting jumpspace here.  Well, when I jumped in, someone was waiting for me, Ed Williams and his pirate ship.  He hailed me, told me he just wanted my passenger.  I took a chance and tried to escape, and he shot me.  He said if I locked myself up on the bridge and let them take the passenger, they'd leave me alone, and so I did that.  I figured maybe I could hail someone insystem, or some traffic would come through, but no-one's been here for the past week and a half."
    "Did they take anything other than your passenger?"
    "Nothing of mine.  I don't know what the passenger might have had."
    Shark asks, "So how long were you on Dinomn before you got a passenger?"
    "A couple of days."
    "And how long after you got the passenger did you leave?"
    "We jumped as soon aas we made our agreement.  He was in a hurry."
    "You came out, they hailed you, and said, 'We want your passenger.'"
    "Didn't ask you if you had a passenger."
    "They obviously knew I was coming."
    "That's my point.  You talked to him, he said he'd pay you this much money to leave now, you walk out of the bar, go to 100 diameters and jump.  They don't have time to set something up.  They weren't waiting for you, they were waiting for the next ship."
    "Yeah.  They weren't interested in me personally, just the passenger they knew would be going there."
    "Did you talk to him?"
    "He wasn't very social.  I wasn't going to pry."
    Misha asks, "Do you know what luggage he brought on board? Two suitcases about the same size?"
    Fred nods.
    "And you're sure they didn't take anything off your ship?"
    "I have no idea, I was locked in the bridge, staying away from pirates."
    "In addition to taking the passenger, they took nothing of yours?"
    "Yeah, they took nothing of mine."
    "So what are you going to do now?"
    "I have no idea.  I don't have any ship anymore."
    Shark says, "Do you want us to put you off here?"
    "Here?  God no!"  Fred is quite sure of that.
    "Well, what reason do we have to take you anywhere else?  I mean, our legal requirements are to put you on a habitable world with some chance of getting somewhere else."
    "If you put me here I'll never get out of here again.  This place doesn't get much traffic."
    Shark says, "Robert got off a planet much like this at one time, didn't you Robert?"
    Robert nods.
    "And how did that happen?" asks Fred.
    "We took him off," says Shark.
    "There you go!" says Fred.
    "Mich crashlanded on him, that's what happened, and in the investigation of that he came on board.  And so did the world's best cook, that the Duke took away from us."
    Misha says, "We like to stick our nose in where other people don't want us to.  It gets us in a lot of trouble.  So being on our ship is a little bit dangerous.  I'm not saying that you haven't been through worse, or that you aren't in a spot right now.  I'm just saying you might want to calculate that into how long you want to stay aboard with us."

    Sir Misha considers it isn't necessary for the guard in the corridor anymore.  Teri happily takes him at his word, although Shark is perhaps a little less convinced.

    Later, Shark does a search for Fred Walker and physics papers.  He isn't surprised not to find anything -- it's unlikely they would have that information if he's really from so far away -- but it was worth a try.
    On a hunch, he then looks for keywords from Fred's "previous paper" that is mentioned in that abstract.  They did pick up a lot of papers because of Helia's and Mich's research, so there is a chance of it.  This search hits gold: the name on the abstract he finds is Doctor Lucas Fuentes.  It's in a physics journal from the Old Expanses in 1115, which doesn't narrow down his homeworld but is in the right place of the Imperium.  That's a heck of a long way from here.  He shares the name with the Sir Misha, but suggests they not use it yet.

221-1123 : Dinom / Lanth / Spinward Marches

    Nightshade comes out of jump at 06:00 near the mysterious P11.  A moon of the same size as the mainworld orbits close in, while two more of the same size orbit further out and pass within a very short distance of each other quite frequently.  This should not be a stable configuration.

    There is still no sign of any other ships in system, although the research station on P11 is sending out regular radio communications.

    Shark starts work on detailed scans of the mainworld first, with Mich piloting.

222-1123 : Dinom / Lanth / Spinward Marches

    The mainworld didn't reveal anything strange, so now they move on to P11-6.
    It's obvious even from "Fred"'s cabin that it's a strange approach.  They seem to be headed in to land at the moon.
    Shark says that they're heading closer than he wants for his sensors and Mich needs to back them off.
    Mich starts, obviously unaware that they were heading for a crash into the moon.  In fact, he notices it right after Shark tells the Captain about the impending crash.
    In the pilot's seat, Mich makes some urgent corrections.  It's not a crash course anymore, but it is a really eccentric orbit.  At the closest approach there will be some atmospheric drag and the orbit would eventually decay, but they aren't going to be here that long.
    When Misha asks Mich about what happened, Mich simply says, "This piloting job's hard."

    Shark's scans make it clear that the world is not following the path that the orbit would dictate.  It must be under thrust to keep it on this path.  The moon is being deliberately controlled.
    Mich is certain there is no black tech doing this or the ship would notice, and the same would probably be true of silver tech based on their last encounter.
    Shark observes that they know white tech opens portals large enough to move planets, and that they can hide rooms so that they simply do not appear to be there from sensors.
    Mich adds they also had holes in the middle of planets.

    Shark's report to Misha says that this moon and the world should be destroying each other, and the same is true of the far two moons. The scans have not revealed anything strange about the worlds themselves.  This is not black tech because they would have detected that on this scale.  Something is keeping them apart, and stopping them tearing each other apart.  There is nothing the ship is screaming about, so it's probably not silver tech.
    Misha asks if something odd about the physics of the area is what messed up Mich's piloting.  Mich leaps on that and agrees wholeheartedly.
    Shark also says that this moon and the main planet are not of the same composition, and neither are the atmospheres similar.  The moon and the planet did not originate in the same star system, he says.  They'll examine the other two moons here and that should get them more information, and perhaps another world in this system too.  Unfortunately P10 is around the other side of the star, and so only practically accessible by jump.

    On the first meal after taking up orbit, "Fred" asks about their strange orbit.
    Shark says they were just joyriding, and deflects further questions by bringing up a holodisplay of this moon and the world.  He is apparently oblivious of there being no holodisplay equipment, and goes on to say that the moon is clearly being powered to keep it from colliding with the world.  He points out the large lounge window, saying they are the same size and far too close to each other to be stable.
    He then brings up a comparative holodisplay of the world composition, showing that in orbits this close they could not originate from this system.  Also, this orbit could not have naturally originated from a captured moon.
    "Fred" agrees it's interesting.
    Shark and Misha talk about what race could have done this.  Shark explains they believe there are three ancient races, two are basically human sized but they don't know about the third.
    "Based on...?" asks Fred.
    "Our... data that we've collected," says Shark.
    "Our special relationship," grins Misha.  "So, Mich, there's no Imperial tech that could do this?"
    Mich says there is not.
    Shark adds, "It's not black tech.  That would glow in the dark."

224-1123 : Dinom / Lanth / Spinward Marches

    Allowing for the "odd physics", Mich takes Nightshade out to P11-40.  This moon is different in composition from the other two, and this one too must be powered to avoid the outer two moons crashing into each other.  In fact, at least three of the bodies in this orbit would have to be powered.  But again, nothing strange shows up on the scans.

225-1123 : Dinom / Lanth / Spinward Marches

    Now it's time to investigate P11-45.  This one turns out to be a fourth composition -- none of these moons or the world came from the same system.
    There are other orbital anomalies in this system too, orbit 13 for example.
    Shark says, "Somebody built this system.  And then there is the tiny mainworld all by itself in orbit 7, the smallest body in this system."  It definitely isn't black tech here, and at Albert it wasn't either -- they couldn't even pick up the rooms that they knew were there.  They couldn't figure out what made the lights or the gravity, or indeed anything about it at all.  Is this the same tech?  It's not black tech, and the silver ship set off alarms as soon as it moved.
    That raises another question: was that ship alone there, or was it just a watchdog chasing off a threat?  Would it be dangerous to the planet if they scanned for it or Kalida did her trance?