Chapter 7 - Thump!
We left our heroes poking around the ruins of Destine, investigating the "elf-hill-like" dimension markers on our Map of Here, and thereby discovering refugee half-elven children, part of an ethnic minority of half-elves who shared Destine with the nephilim and their human followers, and apparently vanished with them.
Having looked into both elf-hill markers, we move on to the green dots on our map, picking the one that showed up earliest. It's rather near the fairy circle where we collected kids. Salimar retrocogs at the marker and gets the following vision:
Night. A hole in the air like unto an omniport, but ragged instead of neatly square, its ratty edges quivering. Someone skulks through, looks around, rubs his hands over his face, then slinks off toward the nearby habitations. His face seemed to change when rubbed. He was dressed in dark clohtes (of course), with gleams of silk or leather. He had a couple of gadgets at his belt. Obviously a scout.
We try another green marker, near more population. This time, Robbie glamours some darkness around us so we can watch the dark vision better. It's much the same vision. This guy is more melodramatic about his skulking. He reaches for something at his belt just as he disappears. On a second viewing, it looks like a weapon.
Third point. Lousy image. He sort of hops out. He neglected to rub his face, at least during the time we observed him.
We now turn our attention to the many red marks on the map, time-stamped as showing up after the green marks of the scouts. These, recall, are laid out neatly, almost in a hex grid, at least for the earlier ones, apparently varied to take local population density into account. We pick a nearby red mark, and Salimar retrocogs:
A ragged portal opens in the dark, and thirteen figures come out at a dog-trot. There are six pairs of big ones -- Dafnord's size -- in dark camo, carrying rifle-like things, wearing helmets and, uh, tails. And their faces look rather lizardy. At the end comes a smaller one, about Tom's size, looking more humanoid insofar as we can see him. The troopers move out in orderly array while the little guy whacks at his belt and the portal closes. The group forms into an orderly hexagon, then moves out into the rural dark.
We try another one, this time landing the Munch in a parking lot near a playground. The radiation here is higher, so we pick a marker under the cover of the Munch's radiation screen. Very much the same critters come through, 12 big, one small, but this time firing their weapons before they even finish deploying. The rifles are energy weapons.
Brunalf investigates the area with cat-nose and cat-sight, and finds some "scarring" floating in the air where the portal was.
There is a second marker in the scope of our radiation screen. This time the retrocog is visually dramatic, as they appear to come barreling straight out of the portal at us, firing. Behind them, we can glimpse a dark landscape with something blocky in the background -- rough buildings or ruins or rocks. There seems to be a figure in the middle distance.
A later photo-analysis of this figure fails to give scale, but shows they have something that might be folded wings, but is probably just really wide shoulders. The proportions aren't human or elven.
Some of the red markers showed up in the air. We go aloft in the Munch for a retrocog of one of these. (This requires opening the airlock to get close, which annoys Edvard.) We are rewarded with the image of a matte-black manta-like aircraft flying right through us, out of a gate. On the other side of the gate, we see deep space, one HUGE ship, several big ships, and loads and loads of the manta-fighters in the act of dropping out of portals like this one.
While we're at it, Robbie records the star patterns and has Edvard try to locate the position of the big mother ship. Not surprisingly, nothing comes of this.
We now feel there is nothing left to investigate but the Big Event, the marker that covers all of downtown Destine City, which we have been trying to avoid because of the radiation hanging around it. We edge into the Big Event's zone. Dafnord has the Munch prepare itself a landing pad by flattening the ruins underneath with its impact screen.
The Munch bucks a little. A bit of reaction to--
Klaxons. Red lights. Lots of characters passing out. Lots of equipment passing out. The Munch flutters, but doesn't quite hit the ground.
Robbie: "Edvard, next time we try something like that, remind us it's a bad idea."
Edvard: "Yes, sir. Recommend we land, sir."
We do, and Edvard tells us the aft engine is failing. "May we know the nature of the attack, sir?" it asks Robbie. Robbie can only reply vaguely.
Those who are still conscious survey the situation. Of the five children, two are out cold, two are busy screaming, and the eldest is throwing up into the nearest plumbing. Some of the younger ones evidently didn't get that far. And don't ask about the dragon. It's conscious but very cranky. Markel, its rider, isn't. Conscious, that is. (Cranky, either. At least, not yet.) Gannar is conscious but wishes he weren't. A look in Salimar's bucket shows she seems to have de-emulsified into green and purple, instead of her usual octarine. Kate and Katrina are out cold. So is the cat. Braeta, Dafnord, Robbie, and Tom are the only crew useful at the moment.
We peice together the various messages written in flashing red light, we make our way to the lab and read sensor logs, Robbie makes his way to the aft engine room and puts up with some very rude machinery frantically trying to repair itself.
We learn that we just lost integrity in one of our plasma bottles. See, the Munch runs on pinhole effect -- tiny artificial black holes into which you dump a little matter (typically hydrogen). Hawking effect causes the black holes to spit the stuff back out as even mixtures of matter and antimatter, busily annihilating into pure energy. This is called ambi-plasma, and has to be confined in powerful magnetic bottles.
We have three pinhole-effect generators. The starboard aft generator blew its bottle. The ship did its best, and vented the plasma away from the nearest inhabited planet. Since we were virtually landed, this meant shooting it straight up in the air. This explains why the few working displays of the outside show new fires raging across the derelict city.
This also explains why so many planets insist that ships with pinhole-effect power stay in high orbit, thank you very much.
While we're explaining things, Braeta points out that we've probably explained why the city showed so much fire damage when we first surveyed it from orbit -- something we will do 19 weeks from now, since (as the reader may recall) we have time-traveled back a little from our arrival date.
So why did the magnetic bottle break? Well, it is probably part and parcel of why the whole ship is now rather bent. The doors stick, being out of true with their frames. Even the projected doors of the furnisher stick. (Come to notice, Edvard is spending vast computer resources keeping the furnisher going. We tell it not to bother, and so several people who were by themselves in several small rooms now find themselves together in a big room. Edvard is grateful for the freed capacity.)
Meanwhile, we are doing what we can for the crew. Robbie tells the autodoc to self-check. (It says some of its diagnostics are down.) Dafnord goes about slapping anti-nausea patches on the reluctantly conscious and apologizing to the hysterical children -- "I'm very sorry. I did something wrong." What that was, we don't quite know yet. He tells Timmons, the eldest child, that he's doing a very good job keeping the youngsters in order. Timmons is probably wishing he were back in the elf-hill. Dafnord considers dropping an anti-nausea patch into Salimar's bucket, but decides it might do more harm than good. Maybe lecithin or some other emulsifier...
Back in the lab, the sensor logs, we have found:
Tom pokes around psychically. There's no active psi, but something is funny about the psi environment. Eventually, he decides it most resembles the little ripple in psi he's felt when stepping through an omniport -- only this is permanent and widespread. Like we're parked in an act of transition. Whee.
Perhaps we set off one of the enemy gates with our impact screens, maybe a failed one that was hanging fire, like a left-over land mine.
Edvard sort of confirms this by speculating we suffered a "spatial attack." This is very creative thinking, for Edvard.
We poke around some more. One of the hyperdrives is trashed. Edvard isn't letting ANY flesh and blood into its housing just now, but Tom clairs in to view the damage. It looks like a bomb went off. Tom is truly impressed that Edvard gives the hyperdrive a 68% chance of being repairable. The Philippian Space Force really knows how to build 'em, it seems.
Dafnord starts hitting warped door frames with hammers. Robbie helps Edvard re-boot some of the 38% of the ship's computers that crashed. Markel wakes up and looks over his grav sled. Like most other things gravitic, it's damaged. In fact, it's making a burning smell, its displays are dark, and when you open the access hatch, white smoke pores out...
Disturbed by this, Brunalf, who is also now awake, checks out his flying egg-ship. Its displays are full of red lights, and it says its repairing itself.
Braeta announces that the second thump, the big one, may have been the impact of getting kicked by our own sub-light drive exploding. Sounds plausible. Of course, we can't tell because ALL the computers and sensors in that section are out...
Tom finishes his dimensional survey and finds leftover space-warp. Looking at the Map of Here, we still see the Big Event, with its timestamp of "ongoing," but it's changed color. There is now a sort of orange stain in the middle of the red, getting brighter toward the middle. The legend labels orange as "event." We are parked in the red area, abou half a kilometer from the center.
Tom and the lab AI concur that all our gravitic machinery -- grav-sensors, pinhole-effect generator, hyperdrive, sublight drive -- were burned out by a gravitic pulse, or by a similar but non-gravitic pulse of spacetime distortion. Did we do that by poking the Big Event with an impact screen?
Robbie suggests we limp out to the spaceport, to see if there's anything there we can salvage for our repairs. (We know there won't be in 19 weeks, when we first get there, but maybe now, earlier...)
We do this. Tom, Dafnord, Brunalf, and Markel set out as scavanging party. They find a little hanger with two small ships in it and some toher equipment. They also find a crashed ship, with a small engine -- a suborbital or cislunar ship, 20% buried in the tarmac. Tom judges that one of the two small ships can still fly, and we can strip the other for equipment.
©1984, 1994, 2005 Earl Wajenberg. All Rights Reserved.