Chapter 8 - Salvage
We left our heroes at the deserted spaceport of Destine, looking over their freshly crumped ship, and examining the spaceport for derelicts we could use for salvage and repair.
The most obvious derelict is a crashed ship that landed so heavily, it wedged itself nose down in the tarmac of the landing field. This has left the doors partly buried, so normal entry is not possible. Tom clairviews through it and finds two massively shattered and dried out bodies. This is not very surprising, but the ship probably crashed only four or five weeks ago and the bodies look much more mummified than that -- part of the accelerated decay that seems to be affecting all the Destine settlements.
Back at the hanger, there are two more ships. One, outside, is tightly locked up. The other, inside, has hatches and access panels hanging open, clearly interupted in the midst of major repairs or overhauls.
Clearly, there is no trick to getting into the second ship. How to get into the first? Robbie dons a spacesuit against the pervasive radiation of the place (more damaging to his electronics than to flesh and blood), and goes out to try electronic TK on the lock. While waiting for him, Tom simply picks up a handful of pebbles and hurls them, plus some Dicing psi, at the lock. Three of the seven pass-code lights come on. Encouraged, Tom tries again -- and fails so badly that he busts one light and lodges a pebble in the socket.
When Robbie comes out, he fares no better. He returns and Braeta comes out with her clever little computers and her native ability to feel electrical current. She gathers data and goes back to the Baron Munch to crunch numbers and figure out the rest of the pass code.
Markel and Brunalf, meanwhile, have been exploring the open ship. There are no people or obvious perils. Just like the outside, the inside features lots of panels hanging open, invitingly full of equipment to grab. They summon a remote from the Munch and have Edvard go shopping. The computer sniffs somewhat at the Destine's technical level (being from the next century itself) but finds plenty it can use for repairing our burned-out gravitics.
Dafnord, meanwhile, eschews psi and electronics, and sets about breaking into the crashed ship with a couple fo wrecking bars and his sword Umbra to cut the tarmac. Soon, he has a neat pile of plasticized tarmac blocks dug out, as for a futuristic peat shanty.
We work. Hours pass. Eventually, Dafnord has the hatch of the crashed ship clear and calls Kate to ask for the use of her macrometal knife to cut through the lock. About the same time, Braeta finishes cracking the security on the locked ship. Tom and Brunalf enter to look around. Braeta tells them it should be fairly safe, but only because she has the security algorithms cornered in the captain's console, on the defensive. It's got a lot more beef to its security than would first appear.
The ship turns out to be suitable for a light interstellar courier or a biggish shuttle. It has hyperdrive. It is also crawling with little robots, rather the way the Munch is just now. Braeta thinks the ship has been trying -- and failing -- to repair itself for the last few weeks. Tom notes that several of the little robots are idle or twitching in an unwell manner.
On the bridge, Tom carefully avoids the embattled captain's console and uses his Knack of Tools to access the recent logs. The ship suffered attack from energy weapons about a month ago and has, yes, been stewing on its self-repairs ever since.
Meanwhile, Brunalf has found his exploration through the courier ship barred by a small robot that refuses to let him through a door. he tries side-stepping it by leaping onto a chair. Turns out this chair rolls, and bears the neo-cat gracefully away... Robot: 1, Cat: 0.
Stymied on the direct approach, Brunalf asks Braeta what's behind the door that the robot is guarding. Secondary engineering, she says, which presently has dangerous malfunctions going on. Oh... Brunalf leaves the little guard robot alone.
Edvard, who has finished shopping for parts in the open ship, now looks over this courier and opines that it could still be used for interplanetary flight, despite all the damage. Braeta, meanwhile, finishes putting a hammerlock on the security software. So Tom approachs the captain's console and looks through its logs.
He finds the ship has very heavy stealth technology, and major shielding. Odd for a small ship like this.
It wasn't occupied when the attack came. It was peacefully parked over by the control tower. Then EMPs, laser beams, and blaster canons showered down. The tower is now a burned-over stub, and the ship has no clear "memory" of what happened next, but it presumably automatically raised its heavy shields and was then rolled across the landing field by the blast, encased in impact screens. It came to light here, landed itself, and has been trying to repair itself ever since.
Tom looks around for mission logs. He finds three flavors:
It appears to have avoided Terran Space in its explorations, and to have poked around the human Diaspora and in areas unexplored by the rest of humanity or the Ecumene. It avoided the human settlements. It found alien worlds that had been occupied but were now empty. Like Destine? Hard to say; the logs are pretty cryptic.
Tom revs up his Tools knack again and sets out to open the sealed logs. At the last moment, though, he decides against it. It didn't feel like it was going to work.
The cat, meanwhile, has found a grav-pallet to replace the grav-sled we lost in our disaster. He has been larking about the landing field, allegedly studying the control, until he is sent back to the corner of the hanger where he found it, to fetch more.
Back at the crashed ship, Tom joins Dafnord in his explorations. The ship is still somewhat functioning, and knows it's in trouble, so makes entrance easy for anyone who might be repair crew. We find there were actually five people aboard, now all thoroughly dead, the bodies unnaturally dessicated. There is some equipment we could salvage.
More work. The sun sets. We knock off and lock up as best we can. The five children are doing pretty well, considering. We congratulate Timmons, the eldest, on his baby-sitting job, rez up a bedroom for them, and Brunalf even volunteers to do teddy-bear duty. And they say cats aren't magnanimous.
Next morning, thanks to the comm links Braeta set up for him, Edvard announces that repairs have gone on apace, and he now has all his cybernetics back. We could get the Munch back in decent shape if we used ALL the resources, or we could repair the intelligence courier and the Munch both, if we're willing to let the Munch limp on its hyperdrive.
We decide that we don't really need to acquire the spy ship and we really do need the Munch to be in good shape. So we'll gut the spy-ship. We will also take the computer with those sealed logs in it.
Robbie tries his cyberclair on it and looks at those third-level logs. What is meant to look like passive encrypted data turns out to be a multi-layered program. Seriously self-protecting. Even from psi. With Braeta standing by as algorithmic scrub-nurse, Robbie tries to hack open the logs. The code starts boiling and Braeta yells, "Oh damn!" and hits the power-off button. "It was erasing itself," she explains. She disuades Robbie from any more poking and announces there were at least seven layers of software in that "log."
Markel, meanwhile, has been poking about the now-gutted and -lobotomized spy ship. He finds some hidden panels. Clairvoyance shows they hide weapons lockers full of very powerful little blasters, blaster-rifles, etc. Or, in one case, computer pads. And, in another, some funny-looking tools. The tools include some state-of-the-art (for this century) comm sets, sensors, and other spy stuff. We even scavange a mobile camera Robbie can steer, though it can't park in his head like his lost third eye. There are even six little self-launching spy-satellites, the size of softballs. Cool. We take them.
Now reasonably patched up, we take the Munch back to "our" crater in what used to be downtown Destine City. The ground is loose rubble, so we hover. Landing didn't work so well last time, anyway... The exterior radiation is at a level where 22 hours expose would cause irreparable damage to an unprotected human. We renew our radiation scores, put on protective gear, and go outside on our newly-acquired grav-pallets, staying within the Munch's radiation screen for good measure. From this vantage, we now have Salimar (who is somewhat recovered from our accident) retrocog into the Event.
After peering her way through the major blot on the akashic record representing our accident, she finds tens of thousands of people, marching by, surrounded by lizard-men warriors, being herded into a huge portal -- a near-complete circle, interrupted only by the ground, filled with a wavering, water-like surface. The march goes on for hours. The people are not zombified or anything; they're being marched through at gun-point, plain and simple. We're looking at a mass abduction.
Remembering the few half-elven children we've found in the elf-hills near Destine City, Katrina recommends we look for more elf-hills in the other cities of Destine, to make sure we rescue all the ones that the lizard-men missed.
Examining the area occupied by the portal, Brunalf finds dimensional tracers of it and feels it would be a "different" kind of place to start a witch-walk from. Tom feels that sense of psi-character in transition he felt before.
We decide to explore. That's the main thing we're here for. We program one of the remote cameras and tether it to the front of Brunalf's flying egg. Then we tie ourselves to the back of the egg, mountaineer fashion, as we have before, and Brunalf pushes off into the nothing-in-partcular, Tom immediately behind him.
The remote floats off into the gloom. The cat in his egg get pulled after it. Soon, it becomes apparent that we are on a witch-way that PULLS. The tether is taut. The cat, all eagerness, tries to inch forward carefully and gets pulled along. We start pulling BACK. Soon, the tether to the remote is humming with tension. It snaps and the remote vanishes. Brunalf faintly sees a suggestion of blue above, green below. He edges foward again. YANK. He and Tom both vanish.
Out in the vagueness, Tom persuades the cat to head home. They both haul back and soon Tom becomes faintly visible again. Everyone hauls on the ropes, which are soon humming the way the tether did just before it snapped. Braeta seizes the semi-visible Tom directly about the waist and hauls. She starts to glow with corona discharge at the effort.
Tom and the cat are both back with us. Everyone goes flying back across the gravity pallets. The first pallet recoils into the distance. Braeta falls off and lands with a flare of sparks. Markel nearly falls off but Dafnord catches him. Tom falls off but catches himself with TK. The cat regains control of its egg-ship.
Braeta gets up, pulls rocks out of her back, and has Robbie help her to the autodoc. Someone goes to fetch the pallet. Tom examines the rope-burns and electrical burns around his midsection, and the car ruefully notes that his much-tried egg is down to 85% redundancy.
There will be little trouble following our quarry. If we want to.
©1984, 1994, 2005 Earl Wajenberg. All Rights Reserved.