Log:Array Consortium: Tripping the Rift, Part Three: The Iron Lady and The Lucky Break
And so it is that the two of you return to Kalarba, again to plumb the waves, perchance this time not to get your arses fed to a giant plasma-spitting worm. Adhar has purchased a new set of sensors for you out of apology, and it is these which ride in the bay this time - also, he has had the ship's cargo tractors tuned up a bit, squeezing out some more range so that the deployment (and retrieval) will be easier.
The two of you sit in the cockpit as the Voidhome cruises over the seas; beneath the ship, the rocky islands pass by, while the larger continents stretch on in the distance. Somewhere there is Kalarba City, where people all think way too much of themselves. Adhar, who sits at the pilot's station, guides the ship with a casual hand, though he keeps an eye on the ship's holographic instruments. Frickin' worms.
"We're about ten minutes out from the new site," he announces. "How are you doing back there, Mandl?"
Mandl's headset is clamped. High-protein liquid nourishment at the ready. Amid all the *blerps* and the stacatto blinks in various primary colors, the Bith is unerringly focused -- possibly, also, for terawatt-barfing annelids. "Sensors steady, everything is greenness, Cap'n."
"Good, good." Adhar checks the instruments moment by moment, though his hand on the yoke remains loose. "How are those new sensors? I hope they're sufficient replacement - I'm really sorry, Mandl." He says this for the fifth, sixth time now.
Mandl nods. "Adhar need not worry. Geologists' equipment is no crushed particle-accelerator complex."
He laughs. "Yes, yes," he says, "But I do feel badly about it." Adhar leans back, letting himself relax a little more. "Hopefully we won't have to worry about...oh. Second."
On the sensors, a contact appears - two of them, actually. As they appear on the projected display, one of the little motes of colored light broadcasts a signal over the comms.
<< Attention, overland vessel, >> the voice instructs, strident and seemingly female. << This is Kalarban air security. What is the nature of your presence on planet? >>
Adhar ducks his head back a bit in surprise. "Uh, okay," he mutters to himself, before keying up the comms and replying. "Kalarban air security, this is Voidhome. We are en route to the following coordinates on a planetary survey mission. Transmitting now."
Mandl might be heard to mutter, "Oh, _now_ they are wanting to pay the attention..."
"Well, I have all the necessary permits, so this shouldn't be a problem." He cuts speed, waiting for the ships to catch up. "Oh, good," he mutters. "Gunships."
Sure enough, a pair of heavily armed security airspeeders cruise up to either side of the ship, bracketing it overlapping fields of fire. Once in position, the comms crackle to life again. "We have had reports of smuggler activity in this area. Land at this location, and prepare for inspection."
Now what Adhar wants to say is a bunch of invective - what he /actually/ says, however, is a cheerful "Roger that! Please transmit coordinates."
Mandl says, "What to smuggle on Kalarba? Affordable swimwear?!" Mandl obediently flicks all switches to 'standby,' easing from the station's chair in preparation for inspection, though.
"Who knows?" Adhar reaches for the navicomp, locking in the coordinates stream ing in. Then he says over the link, "Coordinates received. We'll see you in a few minutes."
He cuts on the autopilot, rubbing at his brow. "Well," he says, "At least the landing site is only a little ways away. Won't take us too long to get back on course." Not that it was far away in the first place. "You got anything considered illegal on your hands?" Mandl says, "Mandl's secondary firearm is unapproved. In fanciful bag."
"Well, let's go get that sorted," he says. "Under the console there, you see that panel? The one marked with a red warning sticker?"
Mandl nods. "Mandl sees."
Adhar Gann nods as well. "So open that up, reach in - don't worry, it's not got anything dangerous in there - and...you feel that catch back there? Lift that up, and drop your gun into the panel that opens underneath. It's shielded from sensors."
Mandl obeys, stowing the tiny pistol in the double-secure secret locker. "Is Mandl's only shady possession, apart from hyperdrive. How more powerful weapon is street-legal, Mandl does not know..."
"Gun laws in this universe make no sense," Adhar says with a snort. "If it's a holdout, though, it's all in the concealability. People seem to think that holdouts are for murdering people, even though they're really just for security. Glad I didn't get that wrist laser yet, though, suns below!"
Eventually, the ship comes to a stop over the prescribed coordinates, a rocky stretch of land on one of the mountain islands out in the Great Sea. Adhar brings the ship down, and as he powers down the engines, heaves a sigh. "Well," he says, "Let's go roll out the red carpet."
Mandl dusts itself off. "Yes, is best."
The two of you descend into the lounge, and Adhar moves aft into the airlock to engage the boarding ramp. He jogs down, and after a brief conversation, he returns with a look that says 'Well, there goes the neighborhood.'
Behind him come a quartet of Kalarban security troops, kitted out in armor and carrying carbines, followed by a frowning woman in a simple but oddly intimidating uniform of dark blue fabric. She regards the lounge with a flat look, like a cat testing new eyes, and finally turns those eyes to the two of you.
"I am Lieutenant Sedess," she informs the two of you. "We will be performing a full inspection of the ship. You say you are on a surveying mission?"
Mandl nods vigorously. "Mandl is geologist. Adhar is pilot. Together we seek minerals, elements... untapped profit."
"Untapped profit, indeed." Sedess gestures to one of the troops, who takes out a commlink and mutters into it; as they spread through the lounge, then the quarters, a new trooper with a scanner kit comes up the entry plank. She looks at Mandl, first. "A geologist. Do you have a license? Proof of education?"
"Lieutenant," says Adhar with a hint of incredulity, "He's a Bith. Why would he lie about that?"
"People lie about everything, Captain Gann. I take it /you/ have your paperwork in order?"
Mandl extends a six-fingered hand. "May Mandl use your device? So the authorities are certain Mandl is not ... 'spoofing.' Can summon credentials."
She eyes him faintly. "Very well," she says, handing a datapad to the Bith. The lieutenant looks at Adar expectantly then, her other hand held out. Adhar, canting his head a bit, extracts a pair of datacards from the breast pocket of his vest. She waits for Mandl to finish before slotting them.
Mandl's graduation photo from the Clak'dor School of Bithness looks like a mug-shot, but Bith aren't renowned for their keggers. A droll list of qualifications and patents scrolls underneath.
Indeed, Mandl is a bithnessBith, and Sedess regards the list for a long moment before nodding. "This is in order," she says, and then slots Adhar's datacards. Behind the two of you, the troops and the scanner officer go through the bunkrooms - and, then, the cargo bay.
A few moments of further inspector, and the lieutenant gives the cards back to Adhar. "This is also in order. Have you moved any cargo of late?"
"...not in a few weeks," says Adhar. "Just the sensors in the cargo bay."
Mandl says, "Mandl's sensors contain a variety of systems for most accurate readings-- Mandl's unfamiliarity may make certain compounds or systems skirt 'letter of Kalarban law?'"
"Your sensors do not concern me, Doctor," says the lieutenant, frowning at her datapad. "Captain Gann, do you know what the penalty for lying to customs officials is?"
"You take my ship apart looking," Adhar says, sounding resigned.
"I take your ship apart looking," she agrees. "Good, I see you've had this conversation before. Bad liar, are you?"
"It's not my favorite thing to do."
Mandl waits, unconcerned, but curious.
"Then you shouldn't try," she says flatly. "I'll ask again."
"No need, no need," Adhar says with a sigh. "I ran a load of biological fertilizer through the system not long ago, and I didn't pay the duty for it." He looks her in the face. "And that's not a lie."
Mandl looks askance at Adhar, admonishing: "Even organic nitrates can sometimes make false-positive on explosives detectors, Captain Gann-- Mandl will pay the duty, but your droids must thoroughly clean the hold to remove troublesome residues."
"No, no," says Adhar with a toss of his head, "It's my fault. I'll take care of it." He looks to Sedess now. "How much is the duty, Lieutenant?"
Something's going on here - Sedess knows it - but she doesn't know quite what, and that irritates her. "...nevermind the duty," she says, narrowing her eyes faintly. "Let's talk about what you're doing here, Captain. This says you're prospecting for...deuterium? We like to keep our planet unspoiled here, Captain."
"Of course," says Adhar with a nod. "That's why we're using low-yield, ecologically sound techniques pioneered by the Bith. Isn't that right, Mandl?"
Mandl lifts chin. "Mandl would assent to no less! Care-of-ecosystem is drilled into every Bith!"
"Quite so," replies Adhar with a nod.
Sedess looks between the two of you once more. Suspicious, yes. Too suspicious? No. "...right," she says, then touches a stud lodged in her ear. "Well, gentlemen, it appears that you're clear. Make sure to pay your duties, Captain, won't you? I look forward to seeing the results of your...prospecting."
Soon enough, the lieutenant and her men are off the ship, and the boarding hatch sealed behind them. Adhar shakes his head. "Suns below," he mutters. "Let's get out of here."
Mandl shudders. Loses a full 2.5 centimeters of height. "Mandl does not want to know what Mandl just covered for."
"Nothing that you'd be morally scandalized over," Adhar says, and jerks a thumb to the stairs. "Come on, let's find them minerals."
Behold! THE SEA. And after abandoning the ridiculous customs people and their steely-eyed mistress of justice, you are back out across the ocean. "All right," Adhar says after a few minutes pass, "We are...ready to go. Prepare for descent."
He says this as he's plunging the descent lever.
Every time - every time! - the ship dips like that, it appears that CERTAIN DOOM is coming for you all. And yet, while Adhar is not the best liar in the world, he's a damned good pilot. The ship makes the transition from spacecraft to submersible with barely a rattle, and soon the deep eclipses all. Adhar cuts to the floods, and multiple cones of bright light shoot through the darkness; they track the seafloor, one that is rapidly coming closer and closer.
"The shields help," says Adhar, frowning at the sensor display in concentration. "They help a lot, actually, though you wouldn't think it. Keeps the pressure at bay. How are you doing back there, Mandl?"
Mandl nods. "This is not Mandl's first rodeo." is the reply, attention on the switchboard. "... is actually second!"
"Oh good," says Adhar, smirking. "Reminds me of the time we smuggled fifty tons of rare fish under the Great Sea of Nantadonna. For a week the ship was like a flying aquarium, and then we parked the boat under the sea and just....let them swim out. Helped the fishing industry there a lot." There's more to that story - there has to be - but Adhar has grown serious once more.
"Okay," he says, "We're here."
And lo, the ship has stopped over what the sensors say is another vast trench, this one deeper than the last.
"Well," says Adhar after a moment, "...I can't get a sensor read. Can you get anything?"
Mandl says, "Board is black. Master reboot inoperative... all systems frozen!"
"Of course it is." Adhar gets up, sliding underneath the sensor board by your feet, opening the hatch there and prodding around. After a moment, he calls up, "All right. Try it again."
Mandl's switchboard lights back up! Hallelujah! "Did Adhar find a rodent?" Mandl cannot conceal (nor would Mandl wish to!) the relief in the Bithvoice.
"No, no," says Adhar, sliding back underneath the console. "I think when we opened the secret panel we jiggled a power contact. Happens sometimes, professional hazard - do you have a scope on the thing? Any lifeforms?"
Mandl says, "This deep? Few, but large. Whaleform, squidform-- must rise to eat."
"I'm more worried about giant deadly wormform, Mandl." Adhar climbs back to his feet and then into the pilot's seat. "Can we drop the sensor buoys without worry of reprisal?"
Mandl says, "... for the moment, yes."
Adhar grunts. "That will have to do. Right, you know the deal, buddy, let's go down and start dropping them buoys."
Mandl unfurls the bay, and drops the first several receivers on-target. *bonk, bonk, sploosh!* Hopefully the ray-shields keep the cargo bay dry... Mandl hazards a look over the Bithshoulder, to be sure.
Now, now, you've forgotten that the controls can be operated outside the bay! But yes, the cargo bay has a magnetic shield strong enough to keep atmosphere in - and liquid out. Thus the sensors can be dropped, while Adhar waits in the lounge to bring up the display on the holoprojector.
Mandl heads Adharward, headset still attuned to the main switchboard. Acoustic signals will remind the ecological warrior what's what -- meanwhile Mandl, too, awaits a visual display of the buoys' collected data...
Adhar keys the holodisplay. Instantly, the collected holographic visual the probes transmit manifests in hazy blue - topgraphical scans, mineral concentrations. A thick strata of heavy water three quarters of the way down the trench, apparently ejected by vents closer to the bottom.
And not a single hint of biological life.
"So, Mandl," Adhar says, rubbing at his brow. "What are we looking at here?"
Mandl says, "Is devoid of biological forms. No life signatures *whatever.*"
Mandl says, "Walls of trench are all-but-radioactive? Very potent and unforgiving source."
"That's fine, so long as it won't hurt anyone." He squints at the display. "Won't have to worry about upsetting the ecology, either, if nothing's down there to be ecological." Oh good, Adhar's being scientific. "Think we've found our site?"
Mandl nods. "What are odds of review by customs? Should we take special precautions? Alter registry?"
"I don't think so," Adhar says with a shake of his head. "Frankly, this just cements the claim. Can you show me how to do up the paperwork?"
Mandl grins. Bith grins are small. "Mandl is a whiz at paperwork. Have no worry."
Adhar grins back at you. "I appreciate it, mate," he says, and flops back onto the acceleration couch, hands behind his head. "Suns below, I think we /finally/ may have caught a break."
Famous last words, Adhar Gann.