(17) Libraries and Starship Wreckage

The Regency Campaign (13/1573)

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13/1573 (260+261-1123) : Nakege / Jewell / Spinward Marches

    Shark and Lucas's scan of Nakege from the orbiting Nightshade is now complete, at 5:00 Imperial, which is midnight Crow Time.  There was a chance these scans could have picked up the crash site of the Mercenary Cruiser, although weather patterns and so on were more the original focus.  Surprisingly enough, they do find the crash site -- it's in the middle of the desert on the other side of the world.  It's more crash sites plural than crash site singular, as the ship broke up before impact, but it should give them enough information to analyze what happened.  The area is a low sand part of the desert, so the wreckage has not been buried over the last 50 years.  The craters are clear and have not been eroded significantly.
    Another thing they'll need is a stronger volleyball sensor package -- or a very much smaller one -- since the Hunters find and destroy their current ones so easily.  Kalida is particularly interested in how they eat, because there is no apparent mouth.
    Those will be matters for another day, however.  They can spend a few days investigating the centipedes, but they do have to return to Crow and take the Gravella offworld soon.

    When Kalida wakes at 6am Crow Time (6:00-CT), it is 11:00 Imperial Time.  Actual local time is more complex than that, working of an ancient wet navy system of Watches, with the local second being longer to allow 24 local hours in a day.
    It is not raining today, just slightly overcast.  On the way to breakfast Kalida tests her freedom of movement -- the servant escort correct her politely initially but are perfectly happy to be at her disposal as she wanders around at random.  Apparently there are no restrictions and no-one is upset by her going anywhere she wants.
    Breakfast is around 7:00-CT, the Forest Lodge keeping Imperial convention rather than the local system.  It's the usual Imperial style of breakfast, with local ingredients but does include real coffee, otherwise unknown on Nakege.

    Kalida then visits her business office.  It is located on the second floor, looking south across the landing pad.  The furniture is obviously local, while there are shelves of books and papers.
    The drawers are empty.  The book selection seems to be standard Imperial, possibly chosen more for appearance than content.  There are quite a lot of books that probably found their way in with staff or shipments and were then just left here.  There's even a Gavrolovitch novel: Gram Rising.
    Kalida is looking for books from early in the settlement.  A History of the Spinward Marches from 200 years ago is not old enough for her.
    A careful search reveals a book published around 720 called Defense in Depth: Strategy for a Conquered Imperium.  It is in quite good condition.  She riffles through the pages, and a folded piece of paper falls to the floor.  This looks like it might fall apart if she touches it.
    She calls Shark.  It's about 9:00-CT (13:00 Imperial).
    Shark says he could do something with it if he was there.  The gcarrier and air/rafts are blocked on board by the remains of Wandering Pearl on the main cargo lift, and for Robert to fly him down would really limit the number of people on board.  The best solution seems to be for Mich to take the Launch up to fetch him.
    While waiting, Kalida looks through the other books, but finds nothing else of interest.  She informs the staff to expect another of her entourage, which Mich will be fetching from her ship.

    Shark retrieves the paper very carefully, and then he and Mich take their own look around the books.  Mich in particular wants anything on the ceramics, or on the construction of these buildings, but sees nothing here.  They do know this lodge was built around the same timeframe as the main palace.  The construction was commissioned around 745, and completion would have been by around 750.
    Shark looks for business books, such as ones that might be related to a major contract.  Shark is luckier than Mich.  He finds one in moderate condition.  This one is on Imperial Navy Contract Regulations, also from around 720.  Both these books will be taken back to Nightshade to read into the computer, and to scan for anything hidden more thoroughly in the structure of the book itself.
    MIch's black tech book reading machine can read the books.
    Before Shark leaves, he walks over to the drinks cabinet and puts six bottles of Blockade Bourbon in his bag.

    Mich flies Shark back to Nightshade.  Mich sets up the books to read, while Shark starts his forensic work on the paper.
    The paper proves to be a 3D sketch of the overall palace schematic.  The palace itself and the big circle are clear, as is the town, with the fusion plant below it.  There are some other circles and arrows and icons, none of which are immediately familiar.  Those icons were probably well known 400 years ago, but not now.
    Shark shows the drawing to Mich, and send it to Kalida too.  While Mich doesn't recognize them, Kalida has studied military and history and does.  She says these ones here are meson gun installations, while this one here is a secure bunker and command center; supplemental power units, sensor systems, orbital sensor delivery systems.  It is a block diagram of a planetary defense system centered around her palace.
    Kalida says they need to find out who is in control of it.  Shark says no-one is, but Kalida points out that means "no-one that they know of."
    Shark considers the more important question to be who wanted to be in control of it.  He also suspects that there is a meson gun installation here at the Forest Lodge, or why would they put this lodge here anyway?
    This was not what Kalida was looking for, but it is certainly fascinating.  Mich is a little disappointed that it was not schematics for a robotic hunter.
    Mich's book reader shows that there are no other loose pieces of paper in either book, in plain sight or hidden in the structure.

    Next on the list to visit, once Mich has returned, is the library of the Forest Lodge.  This is not a large library, and it does have some empty shelves.  Even so, there is more here than in the business office, and this one has a catalog system.
    Mich was hoping for a publicity document or coffee table book on the construction project, but there is nothing like that here.  He is also still interested in anything about the ceramics.
    The first thing Kalida searches for is anything old, dating back to when this was built, but there is nothing that old.  Nothing on the Forest Lodge, nothing about ceramics except a couple of books on pottery.  A search for old military books also comes up blank.
    Mich and Kalida split their efforts, Mich going through the catalog while Kalida looks along the shelves.
    The closest they find is a book about 100 years old about Zhodani military organization and capabilities.  This is present in both electronic and physical forms, and Mich grabs it for the ship's library.  A century old book on "contemporary" encryption techniques is also grabbed for Robert.
    Most of the books in this library are really uninteresting.  The only large section is on the ecology of Terra in the Sol system of the Solomani Rim, and a collection on terraforming.
    To Kalida's disappointment there are no ledgers, logs, or anything like that.  There are two a recent books on the history of the subsector, however, one about 20 years old (both forms) and the other about 40 (physical only).  She takes the electronic version of the newer one, and "borrows" the copy of the other one.
    Shark asks if there are any news archives here.  The closest they can find is something Mich points out, a collected volume of articles from Mercenary Monthly from a little over 50 years ago.  The articles go back a few years.  They cover specific mercenary units, operations, strategic and tactical analyses, and so on.

    Shark then wonders if they can find the real head of housekeeping.  That person should have accounting records going back forever for this lodge, and from those records they should be able to get some significant secondary information.
    Misha is the person on the spot to do that, and finds the staff member(head of kitchens) very cooperative.  The records are archived electronically, but on a system that isn't hooked into the main computer.  Robert will need to hook into it later, or -- as he suggests -- someone should just plug their hand computer into it.  While Misha tries to figure that out, the Head of Kitchens brightly says he can put all that on tape for him.  It will be ready tomorrow.
    The head of kitchens is on a ten year contract -- he was here for five years originally and then requested a contract extension.  He was hired by the Marquisate offices on Jewell, but doesn't know why or how he was picked for the offer.  He likes it here -- it's interesting balancing the sporadic imports and the local ingredients.
    The next local festival would be Midwinter.  It's not as big a holiday as Midsummer, of course, but it is celebrated.
    The ceramic shell of the building requires very little maintenance, it turns out.  The main activity is cleaning the gutters.

    Back in the library, Kalida is delighted to find a book on Golf Courses of Jewell Subsector, in physical form only.  That's a definite borrow.  It lists the "must play" courses, descriptions of the courses and the club facilities, and so on.

    Shark studies the Mercenary Monthly collection.  The name of the group that was hired here, Team Tiger Beat from Fornice / Mora, is not mentioned much here.  Shark does have a lot of fun with all the coded messages, though, to see what they were doing 40-50 years ago.

    There has still been no sign of any communication between the Forest Lodge and anyone offworld.  Of course they couldn't pick up meson signals, but anything else should have at least some scatter.  Shark wants a sensor they can drop here that could cover that while they go to the crash site, but that isn't practical.
    Kalida wonders if she could get away with joining that trip overnight, but since she's noticed that the Assistant Seneschal has probably been observing and noting everything she does, she decides it's better she stay here.
    Shark sends Kalida back to her business office to check the network connections.  Everything is fiberoptic cables, and there are two networks here.  One old-looking computer is connected to one network, while everything else is connected to the other.  Kalida sits down at the old one and tries to use it, but it simply says, "This network is not operational at this time."  Of course none of them believe that, but it has an old fashioned keyboard and no apparent way to connect other devices.  They'll need to hook Robert into it physically.

    The Forest Lodge is in the northern hemisphere, as is Crow, whereas the crash site is in the southern hemisphere.
    Kalida will remain here, as will Misha and Teri as her guard.  Mich will return to Nightshade overnight, and will bring Robert down in the next morning.
    Shark suggests that tomorrow would be a good day for Chuck to do some hunting in the woods.  Chuck says he wants to do a full shooting test with the herbivore segment.  He's a little leery of doing it in the desert, but agrees to shoot from the cargo lift so they can take off if anything approaches.  He says 300m will be about the right distance for the initial tests.
    Shark would like some jamming devices for the Hunters' senses.  Mich will work on that while they fly out to the desert.

    Lucas flies out to the other side of the world, where the crash site is in daylight.  They have about two hours before the orbiting destroyer escort would be able to see them.
    Shark sets up the sensors to alert them if anything of significance approaches, and says there is nothing currently in range.  The shields will have to be off while Chuck shoots, of course, but Shark arranges so that the shield will be on except when Chuck is in his shooting stance, a formal braced position that is reminiscent of a certain show dog stance.  After each shot, Lucas is to put the shield back up.
    Lucas stays in sparkly pink ready to jump up into the air if anything gets near.
    Shark sets up the segment off the cargo lift, then Lucas backs them away to the right range.
    Chuck brings down his long rifle and a box with a selection of ammunition.  Mich was going to act as Chuck's sniper assistant, but Shark quietly says this is a test of Chuck too and to leave him alone.
    Chuck loads his rifle and fires the first shot.  The rifle is certainly loud and seems to pack a heavy recoil.  The round just splatted against the segment with no damage.  As Chuck explains, he's starting with hollow point expanding bullet and working up.
    The second shot is about 10cm to the right of the first one.  This one does not damage anything either.
    The third shot is a regular armor piercing solid core bullet.  Again, 10cm to the right, and this one does not damage it.
    The fourth shot is a heavy duty APFSDS round.  Perfectly on target, and this one shows some chipping of the ceramic.  Shark is beginning to understand why the Hunters took down modern mercenaries.
    The fifth round is designed to transmit the shock and spall off from the inside.  Moving down a row, on target, but no visible damage from the outside.  Lucas brings them up to the segment so they can check the inside.  There is no damage on the inside from any of the rounds so far.
    Shark sets up a remote camera watching the inside, and Lucas takes them back out to range.
    Chuck's next round shows some fairly extensive damage on the outside, but it does not penetrate.  As Chuck points out, there could be hydrostatic effects on a live one, but they can't tell.  And, of course, they don't know where any of the vital organs might be.
    The vargr then takes Shark aside, and quietly asks him if he would permit a small illegal round.  Shark smiles and says he sees no police around, and asks Chuck the nature of the round.  It's a nuclear bullet, he says, and they could back out to 500m to be definitely safe.  Shark puts on a vaccsuit, while Chuck puts on goggles.
    Chuck makes the shot.  There's a bright flash at the target, and a large hole is punched through it.  Chuck nods with satisfaction and says they have the round to use.  He says he has a limited supply of them, however, as they are rather hard to get hold of.
    Shark asks what they do to battledress.  Chuck says they will penetrate it, as would have the previous round he'd used.  This segment is tougher than battledress, he says, and adds that as far as the legality is, for nuclear bullets he simply likes to think of "in the Imperium" as a grey area depending on local circumstances, such as who might notice.  There is a little residual signature, but they'd have to scan up close to notice it.
    Shark tells him not to look in their cellar, and that's all he'll say about that.
    Chuck laughs and nods, obviously pleased.  He finally seems to be looking at Shark with a little more respect, as if he had more use than a target for demonstrations of alpha status.
    Shark says that given the residual signs of that round, they might let Chuck hunt a predator away from the palace, but...
    Chuck interrupts, but fairly politely.  He says that he wants to know more about the capabilities of the creature first.  He's seen what they do when hunting little metal balls, but that's not nearly enough to narrow the odds.

    Now, though, it's time to visit the crash site.  This time Shark spends extra time scanning the area for livestock.  The closest equivalent they have to Chuck's bullet is the FGMP-15, which requires battledress.  Shark could do that, or so could Mich for that matter, since Shark is needed to investigate the wreckage.
    Chuck volunteers to stand guard too, and Shark asks if he has another rifle or some pistols in case he needs more than one shot.  Chuck says he could reload fast enough to take out two, but more would be a problem.  Not knowing where the soft spots are, he'd aim for the head where the jaws and laser rangefinders are location.
    The wreckage is spread over a large area.  Nothing came down intact.  First of all Lucas flies them over while Shark runs some sensor scans to get some specific data on the crash and pick out a segment or two to check.  Shark will be looked for shells within the wreckage -- he's wondering if the Hunters got up there with them somehow.
    The Broadsword class mercenary cruiser is not a streamlined design.  It can land in vacuum, but that's a long complicated process in a world with any kind of atmosphere.  It is simply not designed to land in atmosphere.  There are several impact craters, and it's clear the ship broke up before it hit the ground.  An open hanger door and a fast atmospheric entry stern first could very easily have caused this.  A de-orbit thrust without careful rotating of the ship's orientation afterwards could be the culprit.
    The aft end of the ship is in small pieces, scattered around.  The stern is much worse than the front.  There is a large piece of the bow section, however, that is largely intact.  That is what they will investigate.
    The forward airlock is buried in the ground, so they'd have to come in through the internal wreckage.  Shark does one more careful scan for life, finding nothing of significant size -- 1-1.5m -- in range.  Shark arms himself for a scaled down herbivore based on their previous tests, wanting something twice as heavy as the estimate.  An RPG launcher, or gauss rifle concentrated on one spot, might do the job, as might an ACR with the right ammunition.  Mich and Shark each check out an ACR from the armory, with RPG launchers attached.

    The internal structure of the wreckage is heavily damaged, but passable.  Shark scratches his arm while moving through, slapping a bandaid on it and making a mental note to check for possible infection later.  Batteldress would have been safer, but there would have been no room to move around in this space while wearing it.
    There is not only crash damage here.  This section looks like there was definitely a centipede inside to tear apart the wall like this, as if something was moving through the ship on the inside in the direction they are going.
    Shark mutters to himself, "These things just do things too right, too often."  His theory is that it came back on board with the remainder of the crew and one or more of those things on board.  It started rampaging through the ship.  The captain ordered them to land immediately, and before they could accomplish that correctly it made it to the pilot or control systems, and they crashed.  Perhaps it even rode on the outside and could tolerate leaving the atmosphere.
    They keep working their way forward.  Shark sees small pieces of centipede, scorched a little like the ship around here.  There are pieces of broken segment, which Shark collects to assemble later.
    Avionics is a mess.  A lot of smashed gear ended up here, but there is no pincer damage.  There are remains of a gunner also, as well as centipede parts.  That means the creature made it through the pilot, although most of the bridge deck was wrecked in the crash.  There is not a black box recorder as such, but Mich picks up a number of parts to take that should in time help them reconstruct the crash.  There are other components he would like to take if they were more intact, but there is no point in bringing them from this wreckage.

    Shark and Mich return to the ship.  There has still been no sign of life.
    On their way up clear of the ground, Shark and Lucas look around to find the modular cutters.  One is completely destroyed, while the other is is small pieces.
    Shark's wound did need cleaning to remove local bacteria, but otherwise is not a problem.
    The Vemene destroyer escort is in range now, so they work only with passive scans.  Shark zooms in on the cutter parts, but can't tell anything.  The pieces are probably too damaged to be able to tell even if they studied them closely, but they head down to look at it anyway.  There doesn't seem to be any creature life around this area either.
    Unfortunately this doesn't seem to be the crew module that would have been used for the recon operation, so it would not be the one that brought the centipede back.  There is no point in looking at it close up.

    Nightshade heads back towards the Forest Lodge.  A quick pass over the palace at altitude gives them a burst from three of the four sensors in the herbivore area.  They can study that data tomorrow.
    On the way, Shark and Chuck discuss hunting.  Shark does some scans looking for the local wildlife, but it's hard to pick up much.  Even so, there is at least a little information he can pass on to Chuck.