(29) Catch a Falling Starship

The Regency Campaign (31/1573 to 35/1573)
(280+281-1123 to 284+285-1123)

31/1573 (280+281-1123) : Nakege / Jewell / Spinward Marches

    It is around noon. Edward "Shark" Teeth is studying the historical football data to see if he can predict spikes, while Kalida Siena, Marchioness of Nakege, wants to look through the data from the last session and see if she can make it correspond to events she experienced. The glass broke at the same time Shark was slammed into the wall, after he had administered the medication to Kalida.
    Shark asks Kalida to describe her sequence of events. She does so:

Private Activities byKalida
(Referee and Kalida's and Shark's player only)

    Kalida's theory is simple: when she's right at the end and things are getting bad, that's when Shark shoots her. She isn't quite clear on which is causing which.
    Shark agrees that it matches the football sensors -- right at the end is when the spikes occur, when she's losing control, and essentially that's when he turns off her consciousness.That might explain her losing control.
    Kalida says that everything else is a lot muddier, not that any if it is clear.
    Shark then remembers that she did get stuck once, and if he hadn't pulled her out she wouldn't have come back.
    That may have happened more than once, she says, it is hard to tell.
    Shark thinks it might be useful to do a brain scan while Kalida is trancing. That might indicate which brain area would need to be affected. He asks if she's given the report to Sir Misha Ravanos.
    Kalida says she mentioned it, but she can talk to him again in more detail. At least they're collecting more data for Marquis Marcus Crestworthy to examine later.
    Shark asks one more question: her view of the web changes based on her physical location, correct, because she was in a black hole once?
    She confirms that. The first time she saw the black hole, she was nowhere near Adabicci but looking there. At least, her perspective changes anyway.
    Shark observes that there must be the social web, the physical web, the influence web, all kind of superimposed.
    Kalida agrees with him, although of course it's not really like that at all as she sees it.

    Meanwhile in the Lounge, Mich Saginaw is explaining to Zel how Nightshade's weapon systems are designed to work. The 720 missiles are intended to be launched in one salvo, for a time-on-target arrival enveloping the enemy in a sphere of simultaneous nuclear blasts. All that does is knock down the shields, but that opens the way for the expander to be used on the target. Not all of the missiles have to get through, but the target is also assumed to have point-defence lasers like Nightshade, which will be taking down as many of the incoming missiles as possible. They have also since discovered that meson guns aimed at exactly the right point can also impact the shields.
    Zel's fighter should be ready tomorrow morning, when they can try to flush out the local contact at the starport. They will have to do this while the orbital patrol ship is out of sight, but they can take Nightshade close so that Zel won't have to fly too far.

32/1573 (281+282-1123) : Nakege / Jewell / Spinward Marches

    Mich has finished fixing the fighter, takes a short nap, and then announces it to the crew at breakfast.

    Overnight the weather has turned very bad. There is an intense blizzard, with a howling gale, well below freezing, and dark.
    Shark looks outside to see if there's a pile of snow on the invisible Blue Cross -- there isn't. That makes him want to be sure that Nightshade doesn't have one too, but everything slides off the ship anyway. The snow shadow would only be visible from below, and with the wind this strong it probably doesn't really exist anyway.
    To his dismay, Shark discovers that the weather is interfering with the sensors, and it's clear the weather is very widespread. The snow is over the forest rather than the desert, it seems, but it seems like dust caught up in the snow is causing problems for the sensors.
    So everyone gets the day off. There isn't even any possibility of a stable radio link with the Forest Lodge.
    As for contacting Blue Cross, there is at least the special communications device. They don't have any control over it and it's not hooked into the systems yet, as they promised they would do, but perhaps if they just talk it might get their attention.
    Instead, they'll spend the time training. Lucas Fuentes is ready to move up from Jump Space for Dummies to the intermediate book, second in a series of three, which Mich Saginaw provides for him.
    Shark decides it's time to show Zel sparkly pink. He takes his seat at his sensor console, concentrates for a little while, and is enveloped in a sparkly pink haze. Little sparkling flecks dance around him as his console lights up as if he's controlling it very rapidly. He throws up on the main holodisplay on the dais that Blue Cross has moved about 200m upwards. The sparkly pink haze vanishes as he stands up, looking smug. He says he saw its wake in the snowflakes.

    There won't be any fighter operations today because of the weather. Zel again says all he was supposed to do was land -- he didn't have any instructions about contacting anyone and wasn't supposed to hand anyone anything. If the weather improves tomorrow, he'll fly in to the starport, land, and wait for his contact to approach him.
    Shark says that since they knew they weren't going to make it, there may not even be anybody there.
    Zel is more concerned that there will be someone there waiting to kill him, and wants to know what the backup plan would be.
    Misha says the plan is "Don't let them kill you."
    Shark asks Zel if he has much experience with nefarious activities. Zel says he does not.
    But in the meantime, Zel can use the training facilities, of course. They can teach him almost anything except Zack; to do that, they'll have to go back to Goose and get him one -- assuming a fish can make friends on Goose, that is. There they use zacks -- and the regular suits -- to hunt fish, after all.
    Zel asks about a shooting range. They can use the Gym, which is plenty big enough for pistol training, or they could set up a range elsewhere. The Gym is odd -- it's an inverted U shape -- but as Shark points out they can invert gravity in there to use it as a full width floor. Shark will help teach him gauss pistol. He'll have his flying pig wandering around in there too to add some interest.

33/1573 (282+283-1123) : Nakege / Jewell / Spinward Marches

    Today the weather is worse. The wind is stronger and blustering, and visibility is non-existent. They are in effect blind.
    Mich goes back to work on Zel's fighter, and by mid afternoon he has it as good as new. Actually, it's better than new, perfect in fact.

34/1573 (283+284-1123) : Nakege / Jewell / Spinward Marches

    How could the weather possibly be worse? But it is.
    Instead of fixing the gcarrier, Mich spends the day working on his new gauss rifle. It's close to finished now.
    Misha wants to go rifle shooting outside. In the snow would be fine, he says, but they could go snipe at centipedes. He finally admits that in the current weather that would invite all kinds of danger, and puts it off to another day.

35/1573 (284+285-1123) : Nakege / Jewell / Spinward Marches

    The day breaks clear and cold, -10 outside, with a light wind. Snow covers everything, but all the leaves are gone from the trees. The red sun reflects beautifully off the snow.

    But something odd is going on. They have been keeping track of the patrol ship, of course, and it isn't there anymore. Shark tells Misha, and they agree they have to find it.
    Lucas flies up to orbit, and once they're clear of the atmosphere Shark searches the system for the missing ship. The other three ships he finds quite quickly, including a destroyer escort that is headed this way. The ship that was in orbit around the mainworld is completely gone.
    The incoming ship is about 10 hours out. Shark says they need to hack into it to find out what happened to the other ship.

    It takes Lucas three hours to match up with the ship, parking 20m off their hull. It's under constant acceleration, rushing towards the mainworld, and Lucas estimates they have about an hour before they would turn and decelerate to approach orbit.
    Robert hacks in quickly. He finds that there was a Signal GK message from the ship orbiting the mainworld, saying that they had an explosion in Engineering, the maneuver drive is down, they're going down, and they are abandoning ship.
    Shark is sure this is part of a procedure to destroy the evidence that the ship fired nukes.
    There is a record of where the signal was sent, but the ship was abandoned before it hit the atmosphere and so there isn't any information about where it might have crashed.
    Shark is concerned that if the crew's escape pods came down in centipede territory, they would be dead. The pod wouldn't protect them, not when a centipede could take down a mercenary cruiser.

    After 20 minutes, Robert announces he is done. Lucas breaks them clear and rushes back to the mainworld to beat the Tukera ship.
    Shark manages to pick out some beacons from escape pods. They are out in the desert, but much further west than the Palace. They are spread over an area 100 km by 20 km.
    Lucas flies a search pattern to cover the area. They find a cluster of three pods in a similar area, with a group of maybe half a dozen or a dozen people huddled together against the cold. There is no sign of the centipedes.
    Shark says they aren't going to rescue them, of course, and they should continue to the next ones. The ship was about 1000 std, and should have had a crew of about 16. They find three more pods, spread out across the desert. That gives them some information about where the ship might have been. The first pod away from the cluster looks wrecked, torn up, as do the next two. There are no signs of life around those.
    Shark asks Misha if they are going to rescue these guys, and he says they are. Shark almost reluctantly asks Lucas to turn back so they can pick up that group.

    Misha and Teri (in battledress) take Zel down to the Launch, where he takes the controls which have been configured as fairly standard Imperial layout. The Launch seats six in the back, with room for more in the cargo area. The cabin seats three.
    Zel is surprised to find that this is not some sluggish ship's boat, but a quick and nimble craft. It can pull an astonishing 20g, although Misha tells him to keep it under 3g so as not to look unusual.
    The survivors look up and wave frantically when they see the boat approaching, and rush the craft as it lands and the doors open. Misha and Teri flank the door, waving them in, but the obviously very cold crew need no encouragement to hurry. They are all wearing ship's fatigues, all with insignia of enlisted crew.
    Meanwhile, Shark is scanning the area for any incoming wildlife. The area appears clear.
    As soon as all eight survivors are in and the doors closed, Zel lifts off and heads back to Nightshade. Misha asks if there was anyone else here, and they reply that this is everyone from these pods. They don't know what happened to their officers.

    Zel docks the Launch, but the rescued crew will have to stay aboard since the only way to the rest of the ship is through Engineering. Misha tells them that they are on their way to the starport, and it will be a while.
    Meanwhile, the priority now is to find the wreckage of the destroyer escort before the incoming Tukera ship can get here. They work out that it is likely that the ship made it as far as the forest area before hitting the ground. In fact, it's all the way to the mountain range before Shark picks up something.
    It looks like the ship broke up on the way down through the atmosphere, and the main section of it smashed into the west side of the mountains. At that velocity, nothing would have survived.
    Misha wants to know if it's wreckage from that particular ship. There should be some kind of black box, but it is doubtful it would have survived the impact.
    Shark scans around for a piece that might have a readable serial number, but nothing here is large enough or intact enough. Looking around for a piece that might have fluttered a bit on the way in, he finds what looks like it might be one of the drive pods. It is in a lot of pieces, but looks more intact that anything at the main crash site. He pulls up a picture to show Mich, who is the most likely of the crew to recognize it.
    Mich says he can't tell for sure, but it is consistent with the type of ship that was on patrol. Not enough has survived to read a serial number.
    Of course they can check the pods, but Misha's theory is that they told the crew they were abandoning ship, kicked out the crew, and then jumped. That's less likely given there's wreckage here, as Shark says this crash happened in the last couple of days and is consistent with it, but that also doesn't say they intentionally flew it into the ground.

    Lucas takes Nightshade closer to the starport, and Zel takes the Launch down to the landing field. It's really hard not to crank it up, it's so fast and nimble, but he keeps the impulse under control.
    The starport is covered in two meters of snow. Zel lands the Launch right in front of the house-like building. The crew are disembarked; they will have to talk to Tukera using the starport communications to arrange a way offworld.
    As they're doing this, Misha spots someone looking out of the window of the building who is not dressed like a local. In fact he's dressed a lot more like Shark does in his missions. This must be the guy that Zel was supposed to contact.
    Of course Zel is in the wrong ship right now, so as soon as the survivors are clear he quickly returns to Nightshade.

    The Tukera ship is still a little ways out from Nakege. Zel has a few hours to make his drop and come back before they arrive and shoot at him again. At least this time Nightshade will be watching his back.
    Launching isn't as straightforward as on a real carrier, of course. Zel has to move the fighter onto the cargo lift, then lower that down, and then move off the cargo lift. Still, it's simple enough for a pilot with his experience.
    Soon Zel is landing at the starport, settling down in the heavy snow in front of the building. The man they saw earlier comes out to the front porch while Zel opens the cockpit and steps out.
    The man says to him, "You're here for the stuff? Wait here." He walks back inside, and comes back out with a wheeled dolly with two small cases on it. Zel will have to carry them one at a time to the fighter.
    Up on Nightshade, Shark scans the cases. It's one of his best sensor tasks yet, which is lucky because it's not bourbon in those cases. Immediately he calls Zel and says, "Don't. Set it down on the ground and grab the other one." He turns to Misha and says, "We need this guy. Do you want to get him now, or what?"
    "Yes," says Misha, "Let's take him now."
    Shark says, "Teri, go get him. He can be broken but he has to be alive."
    Teri pops out of the door in her battledress and hurtles down to the scene on the ground. As she does so, Shark tells Zel he should get back in his fighter and fly away.
    At the starport, suddenly out of nowhere someone in battledress comes swooping down fast. Zel is somewhat shocked, but rushes to his fighter and takes off out over the treeline. The man on the porch stares; Teri shoots his leg off below the knee. She grabs the "package" and carries him back to Nightshade, where Shark sedates him and rushes him to Sick Bay, telling Teri to dispose of the cases.
    Teri is most comfortable blowing them up where they are now rather than trying to move them. She flies back down, waving away the starport staff who have come out on the porch. "Get out of here!" she shouts.
    The people stand there for a moment, staring open-mouthed, then run like hell.
    Teri blows up the cases. It blows out the front door, the windows, and a few roof tiles off the building, and then she hurtles back to the invisible ship.
    Out of sight of the starport, Zel holds station. Lucas very carefully flies Nightshade to where Zel can see the ship, and the Qldrn flies onto the cargo lift. He pulls his fighter back into the parking position and gets out.

    Up in the Lounge, Shark tells Zel there was no bourbon in those cases. They wanted him dead; that cargo was the last line to make sure that happened. Zel was not only expendable, he was supposed to be expended. Now to find out who they were...
    They should of course send someone over to deal with the remaining crates, and to interview the locals about this guy. How long he's been here, where the crates came from, and so on. And then, once they've deal with the loose ends here like the Blue Cross and the Seneschals, they can leave for Jewell.