Characters: Verroel & Fi Khong
Location: Happy Trails
System: Hteh Hut
After an uneventful week in jump, the Happy Trails has arrived in the
Hteh Hut system. Passive scanners are picking up at least a dozen ships in orbit
around the main asteroid, a rock 50 miles in diameter. The ships are of a
variety of classes—warships and traders—but all are 800 tons or
less. A couple of the military vessels scan Happy Trails, but none makes
any effort to intervene with its approach.
Verroel hails the starport and is given clearance to land. The starport resides inside a hollowed out crater that has been covered over by metallic shield. Within the shield, an aperture irises open large enough for the ship to pass through. It closes behind them.
Inside is a spacious, multi-tiered docking bay. Ships on the upper levels are held in place by docking clamps and collars. There doesn't appear to be any artificial gravity in the place.
Happy Trails is instructed to dock on level three. Once in place, the docking mechanisms are engaged. A starport services menu icon appears on the screen. Clicking on it reveals the services menu options: fuel, life support, data access, and starport. It just costs 200 credits to get started.
Verroel grumbles at the expense but pays it.
He's thanked for his payment and can now navigate through the menu. Fuel and life support are obvious. Data access allows you to access the Hut's InfoNet and thus on to the electronic version of the marketplace. Starport contains menus to access the shipyards or communications with the authorities.
A quick check of the date and time finds no discrepancies between ship time and real time.
Verroel puts in an order for fuel and life support refurbishment. He then calls up the news feed to see what they can learn. Most of it appears to be trifle local news of no use to them. One story of interest talks about an offensive on part of the 17th Disjuncture against the Ngath Confederation. Attacks at Uekgngig (Windhorn 2031) and Kasukfog (Windhorn 1834) were repelled. The newscaster's words imply that the news bureau he works for clearly favors the Confederation, despite the fact that Hteh Hut is supposed to be neutral. The subsector governor is vowing to strike back with "total lethality".
The video cuts to a press conference. "If the 17th Disjuncture can't recognize us as an ally, then perhaps a bite will remind them who we are."
Verroel says, "I don't think that we want to stumble into the shooting war too far coreward in the Windhorn."
Fi says, "That's not all that far from here. Kasukfog is only 10 parsecs."
Vued adds, "We're already in the middle of it. Angvae. Hteh Hut. These are all buffer worlds between Ngath and the Disjuncture. He brings up a map. If you ask me, it's only a matter of time before the Disjuncture gets tired of nipping at the heels of the Vilani and heads in this direction."
When it's done, Vued says, "I think we should try and find a physicist or jump drive specialist and explain to him our little problem with time and space around Ninningam."
Fi wags his tail and says, "Sounds like a good idea. We should check on the InfoNet to see who might be around."
Verroel gives a short bark of agreement. "This is a more neutral place and should have more experts given the tech level. You have more of an academic background that the rest of us, Fi, can you see if you can find someone that would help with the Jump problems? Given that it stopped doesn't mean that it won't come back." He makes a note to himself to run the data on this jump to see what might be different than the others beyond the mere physical location of their destination.
Fi nods. "I'll get right on it."
Afterwards, Verroel calls up MarketNet to see what's going on. Trading appears to be brisk. Checking the prices for the commodities in the hold reveals that every item is priced more than what Verroel paid for it. A profit on the speculative cargo is guaranteed.
Verroel announces his presence on MarketNet and lists what he has available to sell. He decides to let the bidding process go on for a while to see what his best offers are.
Meanwhile, Fi has found a couple of candidates via InfoNet to investigate their jump engine problem: the physics department at Hteh Hut University and the engineers at the Hteh Hut Shipyard. He indicates that he prefers the physics department. He figures jump space anomalies are a physics problem first, an engineering problem second. "Boss, you want me to go and ask a few questions?"
Verroel wags his tail. "Go ahead and see what you can find, Fi. Hopefully someone can help us with this."
Fi makes an appointment and then leaves to make sure he can arrive on time.
Vued stays behind with Verroel in anticipation of assisting with cargo unloading when the bidding is complete.
Character: Fi Khong
NPC: Dr. Araks Anknavokh, Dr. Irimaash Lashinlur
Location: Hteh Hut University
System: Hteh Hut
Fi has left the ship with his combat knife (just in case), a hand computer with
the collected data, and a comm. After leaving the ship he found the public
transit assistance network. He stated his destination and the network guided him
to the proper concourses and trains to take.
Arriving at the university stop, he steps upon the platform which leads him to University Crater, a large, domed cavern that is home to an idyllic college campus. The students walking around, or lounging on the grounds, are mostly human, but he sees a fair amount of vargr. The largest group appears to be playing catch with a plastic disk.
Fi breathes in deeply, catching the scent of many varieties of flowers. The place is meticulously landscaped. As he walks along a sidewalk to the science quadrant, he notes that there's actually real grass growing in real dirt. Normally that sort of expense would be saved for arboretums, not for a college campus inside an asteroid.
Fi has no trouble finding the physics building. He's greeted by an older human female receptionist who asks him to sign in next to his listed appointment. After doing so, he makes his way to Dr. Anknavokh's office. It's small, probably 2 x 2.75 meters.
Anknavokh stands upon seeing Fi. He sniffs the air and invites Fi in. Anknavokh is an older vargr, with lots of gray in his fur.
"Greetings, Mr. Khong," he says. "It's a pleasure to see a fellow vargr on campus. There aren't enough of us around here. The message I received stated that you had a question regarding physics. Normally, people would just consult InfoNet."
"Yes, well, InfoNet had nothing to explain what my pack has encountered."
"Which intrigues me to no end." Anknavokh seems genuinely interested in what Fi has to present him. His tail wags, his eyes and ears are alert.
Fi connects his hand comp to a holodisplay in the office and explains what they've encountered. Fi notes that Anknavokh's tongue is dangling from his mouth in an eager, if undignified, manner.
When Fi's done, Anknavokh leans back in his chair and scratches the fur under his neck. He asks, "Do you mind if I call in a colleague?"
"No, not at all."
Anknavokh comms over a fellow professor who he introduces as Dr. Irimaash Lashinlur. After the introductions, Anknavokh asks Fi to run through the presentation again. After it has concluded, the two professors exchange looks and start hashing out ideas. There are some friendly arguments about what each hypothesizes. They consult their computers. Despite his rudimentary physics knowledge, which went paw-in-paw with his pilot training, the whole conversation is over Fi's head. After some time, they appear to have reached consensus.
Anknavokh finally explains, "What happened to your ship shouldn't be possible. It appears that you have a chronoton particle embedded in your ship, most likely your jump drive. Subjecting it to jump space radiation normally dislodges it. But if jump space radiation strikes it while in an exotic meson field, it creates a bubble of space-time. Your bubble of space-time appears to slow subjective time."
Fi is astounded. He doesn't know how long his jaw has been hanging open, but once he realizes it, he snaps it shut. "But how did this happen?"
Lashinlur answers, "Pure luck. You just happened to be in the right place, at the right time, doing the right thing. Or the wrong place, time, and thing. Depending on how you look at it.
"There's a scout base in the Ninnigam system. Everyone assumes that it's just a listening post monitoring traffic in the Extents. There are plenty of worlds like that along the border. But this place has always been far more secretive than the others." He looks over at Anknavokh. "Apparently they're conducting some interesting experiments." Turning back to face Fi, he says, "We'd love to go there and check them out."
"They'd shoot me on sight," Anknavokh growls.
Lashinlur frowns. "Well, maybe not. We could try to get permission first."
Anknavokh chuckles. "We could. I'll probably be fur and dust by the time that happens."
Fi asks, "Why are the time delays getting longer?"
Lashinlur answers, "The chronoton particle absorbs energy each time. The more energy it absorbs the stronger the space-time bubble becomes."
"Will it become permanent?"
"It's possible, but I doubt it. At some point the chronoton particle will absorb more energy than it can hold, and it'll pop."
"Pop? As in explode?"
"Again, it's possible."
"Don't scare the pup," Anknavokh objects. "Unless the chronoton particle is trapped in your fusion core containment vessel wall or a fuel tank, the energy released will only have local effect."
Fi asks, "How do we fix this?"
Anknavokh answers, "Get a new jump drive, or a new ship entirely, just to be safe."
Lashinlur says to Anknavokh, "Now who's scaring him." To Fi, he says, "You need a facility capable of chronoton manipulation to find and extract one. A facility like that is going to cost hundreds of gigacredits. If anyone can do it, my money's on the scout base at Ninnigam."
Anknavokh adds, "Your alternative is to avoid Ninnigam. It appears that the field is always on. Every time you enter that system, more energy is given to the chronoton. You can expect those order of magnitude time delay increases to continue." He pauses. "But you can always wait out the chronoton. It'll eventually come free or harmlessly pop."
"What can we use to detect if the chronoton is still there, besides going back to Ninnigam?" asks Fi.
Anknavokh replies, "Nothing practical. Chronoton detectors are massive pieces of equipment. They really don't exist outside of research labs."
Fi thanks the professors for their help and stands.
Anknavokh says, "Please keep us informed of any future developments."
Lashinlur adds, "You're living through an amazing experiment." He glances at Anknavokh. "If we could afford to buy your ship from you, we would. This is a once in a lifetime chance to experience something profoundly different."
As Fi turns to go, Anknavokh says, "Good luck and stay safe."
Fi departs the building and heads back to the train station, not sure that he wants to be part of this grand experiment.
NPC: Bob Degurmiir
Location: Hteh Hut Starport - Engineering Dept.
System: Hteh Hut
Fi has contacted the starport through his comm. After explaining that he wasn't
calling to complain about a ship built or repaired at Hteh Hut, he was
transferred to someone a little less...defensive. Not necessarily wanting to
let everyone on the train know about Happy Trails' little jump drive
problem, he kept things vague. Before he got re-routed to scheduling, he
explained that this was a problem to be discussed in person. He offered to bring
some data that Drs. Anknavokh and Lashinlur found interesting. He mentioned
them by name so as to pique the engineer's interest. He finally relented and put
Fi on his schedule.
After explaining who he was to the receptionist, she called the engineer. Bob Degurmiir met him and took him back to his office.
"Ok, let's see this data of yours."
Fi gave him the holocube and explained the situation. Then he passed on what the physicists at the university told him. When he was done, Degurmiir frowned. "What you described just isn't possible."
"The guys at the university said—"
"I don't care about theory. There's just no way this is just going to randomly happen while just flying around in space. If chronotons really do exist, they're going to be in some research facility."
"And if what you say is true, and all this is not the product of faulty readings or worse, then there's not a damn thing I can do about it. You'd have to scrap your jump drive, and I don't think you're stupid enough to do that."
Fi is confused and scratches his chin. At a loss, he thanks the engineer for his time and returns to the ship to report his findings.
Character:Fi Khong and Verroel
Location: Happy Trails, parked at the starport
System: Hteh Hut
Fi returns to the ship with a frown on his face.
When Verroel asks him why the long face, Fi explains his visit with the physicists and then the one with the starport engineer.
"According to the physicists, we have a chronoton stuck in our ship. Probably the jump drive."
"What's that?" Vued asks.
"It's a sub-atomic particle of some kind. They think that it got lodged in our ship at Ninnigam. Jump space radiation is supposed to dislodge them, but they suspect we were exposed to an exotic meson field at the time we went to jump. What happens then is that the chronoton creates a bubble of space-time. The bubbles can have different effects depending on the state of the chronoton particle. In our case, the bubble slows down subjective time."
Vued's eyes have glazed over.
Verroel growls and lowers his ears.
Fi continues, "However the engineer over at the starport says that it isn't possible. He thinks the data is wrong or faked."
Vued scoffs, "He can bite my tail!"
Fi adds, "I think our data upset his view of reality."
Vued replies, "I don't blame him. It's upsetting mine. But we're not lying." He pauses. "So what do we do?"
"Well, the engineer agrees with the physicists that there's nothing we can do short of getting a new jump drive."
Fi raises a paw. "But the physicists also said that a facility capable of chronoton manipulation could probably extract it."
"Where are we gonna find one of those?"
"They think the scout base at Ninnigam is responsible, and that they can remove it."
"And if we don't?"
"Assuming the exotic meson field is still on, every time we go to Ninnigam we'll experience more of these time displacements. Eventually it should come free or pop."
"Yeah, they don't think it'll blow us up or anything."
Verroel wrinkles his snout and raises his tail in curiosity. He speaks slowly, asking questions as much to get information as to clear his thoughts, "So there was some exotic meson field in the Ninnigam system, perhaps created by the Scout base, that caused this particle to latch onto us, right?"
"Yes," Fi replies.
"And every time we go back to Ninnigam, if this field is on, we will get another time displacement, right?"
"And it seems that the displacements are getting worse each time."
"All the data we have indicates that is true."
Verroel's tail twitches as he listens to Fi's explanations. His ears perk forward in a posture of curiosity and intense interest. He says, "If we never go back to the Ninnigam system, will the time displacement happen again?"
Fi shrugs. "As far as we know. It certainly hasn't happened at any other system we've jumped to."
"Is it only the meson field in Ninnigam that causes the problems?"
"Well, that's what the physicists are saying."
"If we avoid the meson field will the particle remain stable?"
"Again, that's what the physicists say."
"Do we need to get this fixed before it 'pops'?"
"The physicists don't seem to think it's a problem, but then they're not the ones dealing with this."
Vued says, "But if we don't go back to Ninnigam, we don't get paid for that cargo delivery we made for Liishaap to Grnouf. And we've got his merchandise catalog. He offered to give us 5% of his profits from future sales to represent him out here."
"I don't want to pass off the payment or the chance of future profits. Particle or no particle, we'll return to Ninnigam when our route returns us there. It won't be for a few months as we have a number of worlds to visit yet."
This satisfies Vued as the big wolf is wagging his tail and slightly panting.
Verroel bares his teeth slightly. "What I want to know is what the Scouts were doing with this oddball meson field in the system. Were they up to some military research?"
"That would seem to be the 64 megacredit question," Fi says.
"If we go knocking on their doors I don't want to get snapped up as a 'leak' and permanently silenced."
Vued says, "None of us wants that. We'll have to be discreet when we go back."
Character:Fi Khong and Verroel
Location: Happy Trails, parked at the starport
System: Hteh Hut
Once the troublesome discussion of exotic sub-atomic particles has ended, Verroel relates his experience selling the goods in their hold. "I sold half of everything. It was tempting to sell it all, but I felt it was important to have something to trade at the other worlds on our journey."
Character:Fi Khong and Verroel
Location: Hteh Hut Starport
System: Hteh Hut
The trio exit the ship and follow signs for the commercial plaza. Verroel has a
pair of brass knuckles and is wearing casual clothes. Vued is likewise
unarmored, but he keeps an autopistol hidden underneath his shirt. Fi dresses
casually, with a blade tucked inside his jacket.
When they reach the plaza, they note that it's a two-tiered oval affair. Storefronts sticking out from the cavern have faux roofs with semi-circular tiles of reddish-orange hue. The floor of the plaza is inlaid with tile with the occasional bench or garden box breaking up the pattern. The place has a Terran Mediterranean feel to it. Artificial lighting overhead appears to be mimicking natural lighting; the light levels matching the time of day on Vland—sunset. There are lampposts to provide light for night-time illumination. The temperature is a pleasant 22°C (~72°F).
The trio find themselves on the upper level. A three-meter wide walkway follows the perimeter of the plaza.
Verroel says, "How about some food and beer first? It'll be good to eat something other than ship food, and it's always good to try beer."
Vued nods his assent.
Verroel adds conspiratorially, "Maybe we'll overhear something useful as well."
They descend to the plaza level and find a restaurant catering to both human and vargr palates. The decor and the menu of the place seems to follow the Mediterranean feel of the plaza. The waiter recommends the Kfoerudzo tuna seasoned with basil and garlic. For beer, there's a locally produced pilsener and IPA he recommends to complement the meal.
They accept his suggestion. While they keep their ears open before and during their dinner, they don't pick up anything but casual conversations.
After finishing their satisfying meals and relishing the beer, Verroel asks the waiter if there are commercial sections where there might be brokers and such.
The waiter explains that the plaza is more of a retail zone. If the group is looking for more mercantile business, they should look online. There's a warehouse district on the other side of the starport where goods are stored, but actual business exchanges are all handled online now. They used to be handled on the plaza, but as Hteh Hut advanced, it made more sense to separate mercantile exchanges from retail.
Verroel wags his tail and thanks the waiter. He then asks for a recommendation for bars or faces that might be friendly to vargr.
"Try the Regal Wolf. It seems to be popular among the vargr crowd."
The group thanks the waiter, pays their bill, and leave a 20% tip.
As they leave, Verroel looks around. "Let's walk around the retail district and see if there is anything of interest here. We might find goods for sale that we could buy elsewhere in bulk, either here or on another world." He takes a deep breath through his nostrils. "It's good to have a feel...the smell of the movement of people goods. Some of that information may be worth something to others."
The warm, inviting social atmosphere of restaurants, cafes, and bars give way to shops. There are some specialty shops (tea, aromatics, trinkets from other worlds) to more general purpose retail shops (clothing, electronics, communications) and the ubiquitous Imperial Outfitters.
Vued says to Verroel, "Didn't you say a couple of weeks ago that you wanted more comms and some outdoor gear? I think we've found the place."
Verroel sniffs the air and then wags his tail. "This would be ideal. We can probably get a fair bit of gear at a decent tech level. Let's try the Imperial Outfitters first. We might be able to pick up a few rumors as well."
Fi nods his assent.
Verroel then leads the others into the store.
Next: Off to Imperial Outfitters