"Don't think there are no crocodiles because the water is calm." -- Malayan Proverb
236 to 240 - 1122.
After a while, the pilot, Malcolm, points out that some of the ships that jumped into system are headed for the asteroid belt as well. And they are not being subtle about it. But are they looking for the blasted treasure as well, or are they using their targeting radar to hunt for ships? Seems like they're looking for a ship. Maybe even a Scout Courier...
Malcolm has managed to convince himself that his passengers are ISA agents. Malcolm: "You can tell me, really." Another subscriber to 'Conspiracy Monthly', no doubt. Treal points out that it might be a good idea to be prepared to make a run for it, just in case. Malcolm: "Well, the hell with that - I'm not risking my ship. I'll just surrender. It's not like I've done anything wrong." Treal explains that the Ardenians may be a bit more twitchy that usual, what with the revolution and all. Not to mention the fact that they might be looking for a member of the Lyrian noble family, which is not entirely quite all dead yet, no. Malcolm will plot a jump, just in case.
Treal checks out the 'treasure map', for some kind of help in the hunt, by no such luck. As the asteroids vary in size from small to the size of Texas, it's thought to maybe start with the larger ones. Malcolm: "Now, just supposing this treasure does exist. We need to discuss the financial aspects." The $100,000 credits was just for transportation one jump away from Tremous Dex, not for anything else. Malcolm: "You know, I'm starting to believe you guys might actually be on to something. What's in it for me?" Treal: "You'll get a share." Malcolm: "Now we're talking, partner." Now that Malcolm is motivated, he leaps into action.
After thirty or forty pots of coffee, and no sleep, Malcolm has written a search routine. Treal takes Malcolm to the fresher, then to his bed. On the ship's computer, that Malcom has written the search routine for, stuff is rolling past the screen at an alarming rate, with Shaw watching it compile (he must be really bored). The Arden ships are really searching for something, and they seem rather determined. Fortunately, the ore content of the asteroids helps make it difficult to find the small Scout Courier. For now.
After about four hours, a bunch of alarms go off and the hair on the passengers goes up. That, along with the static pops all over the ship, indicates that the ship is being pinged, and from very close by. The computer is in the middle of it's run, so that can't be messed with, but everything that can be shut down is. The pilot is dead to the world, so he's no help.
Shaw notices that Ghaer is suffused by a faint, lightly purple halo. This is not normal. Unless you're used to Ghaer glowing, or whatever. From Mikie's point of view, this is about as normal as it gets. Shaw goes to the bridge, to put a bulkhead between them. Ghaer notices that he's putting out static discharges, from sort of around him.... Oh.
Mikie just glances at Ghaer and says "You're sparking." Ghaer: "Oh my." As Shaw heads forward, he glances out a port, and not only can he see the other ship, he can read the writing on the side of it! The military grade radar is not doing good things for the Scout Courier's controls, as everything is arcing. At least for now, the ship has not apparently seen the Scout ship.
Watson is acting all squirrelly. He's wandering around in random patterns, sparks arcing between his toes. Shaw decides to shut him down, but he's afraid to touch him. There are little lightning bolts in the air, Ghaer is really glowing, and there's a scream from Lily as she dashes into her room, tossing her smoking bra over her shoulder. (Underwire bra. Don't think about it.) Treal notices several people on board the other ship looking out the window, and pointing towards the Scout courier.
There are three heavy impacts to the ship, right after the arcing stops. Three ship's missiles, fired too closely to arm. Then the two ships' antennas scrape. Treal has dragged the semiconscious pilot up to the bridge, where Shaw is. Ghaer goes to the weapon turret, to see if he can hit the broad side of the barn, as Shaw is moving the ship to put an asteroid between them and the other guys, so Ghaer sort of strafes the other ship's hull, hitting one of their turrets (much to the dismay of their gunner).
There's a moderate (for people from Regina) explosion, as the Scout Courier's turret is hit, while Ghaer is in it. As Ghaer is blown into the ship, Mikie is being blown out. Oops. Contrary to popular belief, one does not explode when exposed to vacuum, fortunately. Ghaer was not able to grab Mikie, since the protective shield won't allow it. Mikie snags on something on the way out, and is able to pull himself back into the ship, but there's still no air, which is bad when your lungs are on fire. Ghaer grabs Mikie and stuffs him into an EPLS ball, pulling the inflate tab. Through bleary eyes, Mikie is able to read the instructions on the inside of the ball, and gets the hood on, so the pressure is low, but he is breathing pure oxygen. Oxygen is your friend.
Ghaer searches out something to use to cover the big hole. Since he knows the room he and Mikie have been sharing is unoccupied, he decides to go in and use a mattress. Unfortunately, this will mean losing the air inside that room, but there's not much to be done about that. He stuffs the mattress into the hole, and is able to find some expansion foam to fill in the gaps.
Up in the bridge, there's a bang, alarms (loss of pressure, collision), and there are no readouts at all from the turret. Shaw: "Well, we've lost our gunner." From his point of view, Ghaer definitely, and Mikie probably are gone. And the chase amid the asteroid belt goes into high gear. Big rocks in space, unexploded ordinance, bigger ship in pursuit...
Treal is watching through the windshield for the flashing grail light. He does see a series of flashing lights straight ahead. This would be the incoming missiles (or torpedoes) from the mine up ahead. Shaw heads for the missiles, as the pilot comes completely awake, yells "What are you doing you maniac?!?" and lunges for the controls. Shaw tries to fly and fight at the same time, which results in some really creative evasive action. So, the missiles fired from the ship behind miss initially, and have to turn. Then the ship opens up with it's infinite repeaters, having anticipated Shaw's next move perfectly, and hitting in the bridge. No penetration, but the spallation is a bitch. Shaw is fortunate to be partially protected by the pilot's chair. Only partially. Treal is fine in his combat armor, and Malcolm was dead before he hit the floor - Shaw's decision to use unarmed combat during the struggle with Malcom was not, perhaps, the best. Shaw is bleeding all over the controls, and when Treal checks him, it does not look good. Treal: "Just in case you go unconscious, tell me where the jump control button is." It's in one of the amazingly intact sections of the control panels. The helm is not responding quite right, either. But the computer has printed out the results of it's program. The alarm goes off to let the pilot know that the ship's locked into someone's targeting sights as more missiles are fired.
Treal decides the only thing to do is to push the jump button, which he does. There's a flicker, the maneuver drive goes out briefly, and the ship does not go into jump. It continues to head for the big asteroid straight ahead. Then there's another flicker and a big explosion a few hundred kilometers off to one side...?
Apparently, the Scout Courier micro-jumped within the asteroid belt. This is not recommended by the manufacturer, and probably voids any warranty. Not to mention the fact that the jump drives are most probably glowing slag now. But, the maneuver drives are working. One of the few functioning dials tells them that the ship has only 65 liters of fuel. Bugger. Treal needs to find out if anyone aft of the bridge is alive, and when he can't locate the manual crank, he just has to push the door open button and hope for the best.
The atmosphere equalizes, and Treal gets a bit of a free ride. He picks himself up and looks at Ghaer. Treal: "Since you're still alive, you're going to have to try to medic the Colonel. He's killed the pilot, so he's the only one we have left." Ghaer: "Great." They head for the bridge as Mikie unzips himself from the now deflated EPLS ball. Shaw is evidently starting to lose it, because one of the asteroid's is looking at him. There's a head in space. Treal looks the same direction, and he can see that the asteroid has apparently been sculpted. Shaw is removed, chair and all, to be medicked, for which he is very grateful.
Treal is able to fly the ship into the mouth of the 'head'. He only somewhat scrapes off any other antennas, etc., and manages to mostly stop the ship before it crashes into the end of the tunnel. As soon as the ship stops, it's glide wings deploy; this is not terribly useful, but it does serve to secure the ship into place.
Treal leaves the cockpit and goes back to the common area, where he announces that he's found what they were looking for. Treal: "We've landed in the mouth." Mikie: "What?!!" Treal: "There was an asteroid shaped like a head, and we sort or flew into it's gullet. But the good news is that there are no ships or missiles after us right now." This is good news. More or less.
There are some kind of rails, and a docking ring inside the 'mouth'. The docking ring is off by a few feet, but it's reachable. Treal will check it out, but after everyone's conscious. He does take a look into engineering, and the drives are not slagged!! There's at the most five days of power left, and no one knows where the heck that big rock in engineering came from, but all in all, not too bad. Treal decides not to wait for Shaw to wake up, since no one knows how long that will be.
The late captain had a vac suit in his cabin, and it's just a bit big for Mikie, so it's easily adapted. Treal has Mikie hold one end of the rope, while he goes across. Treal give Mikie the thumbs up, and ties off his end of the rope. Mikie follows suit, then joins Treal. They enter the really old-fashioned air lock, and are able to cycle through and go to the other side.
There's some kind of storage facility on the other side, and Treal's indicators say the atmosphere is okay, so he pops open his helmet. The air is stale, but breathable. After a few seconds, the lights start to come up automatically, then the gravs increase. Obviously the system is set up to make guests comfy. This set up was obviously not just thrown together.
There are many boxes in the room, containing useful things like food, oxygen tanks, weapons, batteries, etc. (or boxes labeled as such). Treal decides to wait until everyone else can come over, so they return to the Scout Courier to eat and rest, and wait for Shaw.
Once Shaw is conscious, the entire group carefully relocates to the inside of the asteroid, to further explore. Mikie has noticed that some of the ornamentation has griffins in it. Well, actually, most of the ornamentation (and it's quite ornate in here) has griffins worked in somehow. Moving further into the facility, a short corridor leads to a large, very secure looking door with no apparent key or obvious opening device on it. There is a small pedestal that rises up just in front of the door, with a hand-shaped indentation on it. Treal, since this trip was his idea, tries putting his hand into the space, and feels a slight prick on his finger. Several seconds pass, and nothing more happens, so Treal removes his hand, which is undamaged except for a very small bit of blood on the tip of his index finger. No damage done, but no movement from the door.
The rest of the group start looking at Mikie, expectantly. Mikie makes an obscene gesture, and places his hand onto the pedestal. He feels a slight prick, then a sort of restraining cuff smoothly slides around his wrist, securing it in place. After a brief moment of unrest, Mikie just waits as he feels numerous points on his hand being 'sampled' by the device. The wall near the door lights up to display what apparently is a genetic pattern, and a second pattern being generated (evidently from Mikie). Several minutes later, Mikie's hand is released, and the pattern sequencing is done. The patterns match almost perfectly. Treal: "See, I knew there was a reason we brought you along." Mikie <tersely>: "Not a word." (He's not happy about finding yet another oddball branch of his 'family'.)
Lights come up slowly, music swells (really). The griffins on the door, apparently gold covered (at least) and encrusted with shiny glass (okay, gems - Mikie can tell the difference) rotate as the door opens into a longer, really ornate corridor. The walls are covered in gold leaf, and the thick wool burgundy carpet (woven with gold thread, in the form of stylized griffins) is in perfect shape. Continuing along the corridor, there are a dozen suits of armor along the wall. All the armor is very ornate and engraved in gold - talk about rococo.
At the end of the corridor, there is another door, heavily engraved with a lock and key pattern on it, and hundreds of key holes, all identical. On the small pedestal in front of the door is a pillow and a key. But which key hole? Mikie picks up the key and looks at the door. He sees a slight difference in the coloration of the doorway. Shaw steps way back and can see the griffin pattern. The griffin is holding a shield, and the real key hole is in the center of the shield. Shaw, with backup from Ghaer, directs Mikie, since you can't see the pattern when you're close enough to use the key. Mikie turns the key.
There is a blur of something metallic whizzes by a few inches above Mikie's head. Just in case a taller than expected person was in the way? The door opens silently, and a soft golden glow comes up. Picture the traditional ancient treasure room. Gold everywhere, in every form imaginable, including a golden throne. And gems. Don't forget the gems. Yes, the ancient and decadent Lyrian Empire. There are also pictures on the walls, one of them is the same picture of a woman that the Prince gave Mikie when they were on board the liner - the Grand Duchess Caroline, and obviously some one closely related to Mikie's late mother.
Shaw is a bit worried, so he steps back outside of the inner chamber. Mikie: "Treal - you found it, now what?" Treal: "Well, I wasn't expecting to wreck the ship on arrival. But we should probably stay here for a while, in case some one is still looking for us." Besides, the supplies in the asteroid are much better. Shaw goes to get Lily, and also gets the shears that Pandoran gave him back on Regina (just in case); and he shuts Watson down, since he is still not quite right.
There are some very, very nice apartments in the asteroid, and an extremely nice room. The latter is heavily gilded and be-griffined, with lots of burgundy. The group senses a theme here. Shaw goes in pursuit of a ship, but does not find any sign of one. Only about ten percent of the asteroid has been hollowed out, leaving it with factor eighteen armor. But no way to leave.
Aside from the supplies and treasure, the only interesting thing found is a room in the back with eight low berths. The low berths are on, functional, and occupied by beings with respiration and pulses. There's no way to tell if the occupants are human or not, since there are no viewports, just readouts. Mikie's opinion is just to absolutely not revive any of these people. Just to be on the safe side.
The power plant is located, almost directly below the treasure room. This is the only room that has dust in it; dust and some rocks that look like the metal almost rotted. Looks like this was caused by leakage around the control rods of the fission plant. There are some dosimeters in the control room, which Ghaer takes out of the engineering room, resets, then takes back in. Nothing dangerous unless you were to stay in the room for a week or so. Or the dosimeters may be damaged.
Back in the treasure room. Shaw <to Mikie>: "If I were you, I'd take a seat." He gestures to the ornate throne. Mikie groans inwardly - this was not something he was planning on trying. Shaw: "If I were setting this place up, that's where I'd put any controls. Who knows, you might be able to activate the suits of armor, or the griffins. Or maybe just the security system." At Shaw's insistence, Mikie tries the damn throne. It's not comfortable, although it is the correct height, and there are no controls or anything on it. Later that evening, however, Mikie develops a slight rash or sunburn, mostly on the backs of his legs and rump. He's been slightly irradiated. Shit.
Ghaer: "I don't suppose anyone has considered the fact that none of this is ours?" Shaw: "I don't think that was a concern when we came on this trip." Ghaer: "I didn't come on this trip for your treasure. The only treasure I was interested in was my friend." Shaw tells Ghaer about finding the low berths, not that this is terribly useful.
Mikie, meanwhile, checks out the really nice quarters. He finds many uniforms. And a lovely gold box containing a gold handgun and gold bullets, and set on lovely burgundy pillowing with an embroidered griffin. The griffin motif is rampant in here. (Literally and figuratively.) Mikie checks around, looking for another way out of the room. On all the bedposts except one, all of the griffins are facing the same direction; on one bedpost, there is a single griffin facing the opposite way. Mikie manipulates that one, and the bed noiselessly slides away on it's slab, revealing a stairwell going down. To the 'royal rumpus room'?
Shaw is studying the writing on the outer doorway, trying to figure it out. He looks around the rooms, in search of other examples to compare, and in the room with the low berths, he sees that there have been changes in the readouts. He goes to find Mikie. Shaw: "They're waking up." Mikie: "What?" Shaw: "The low berths." Mikie: "You didn't push anything did you?" Shaw: "Please." Shaw and Ghaer figure it would be to their advantage to have some one who looks like they belong, so they decide that Mikie should put on one of the uniforms. Mikie is not thrilled. He first checks out the stairs under the bed, but quickly, since it looks like the low berths will finish their cycle in about fifteen minutes. There is another one of the handprint readers at the bottom of the stairs, and when Mikie uses it, an opening appears in the floor, revealing a ladder. Mikie doesn't have time for this, so he closes it for now, and puts the bed back.
Shaw is monitoring the low berths while Mikie looks for the least overblown outfit to wear; he finds something in basic black with some gold on it. He has to fight his way into the big shiny black boots, but after much swearing he is dressed and in the low berth room by the time the low berths pop open. The occupants slowly emerge, but they are not, in fact, human at all.
Some one with a degree in genetic engineering has taken the family 'motif' way, way too far. From the low berths emerge eight black, cougar-sized honest to God griffins. With wings, sharp beaks (with sharp teeth), claws, the whole bit. They get out, stretch, look around the room, and then start to mill around Mikie, who stays very still. He's never had 'pets' before, so he's not really sure what to do (these are really big kitties). After a few tense moments, the griffins rub around Mikie, but in a friendly way. Oh good, they've bonded.
Mikie takes the griffins to the big storeroom to stretch out and play. Turns out the damn things can really fly too. And it's silent flight like owls. They are hungry after their 'nap', but they'll take food only from Mikie. Mikie goes back to the main quarters, and encounters a robot servant emerging from under the bed. The robot 'recognizes' Mikie, addressing him as "Your highness." He seems to want something to do, so Mikie sends the 'bot off to make dinner for 'guests'.
After some experimentation, Mikie discovers that while the griffins don't respond to his verbal commands, he can communicate telepathically with them. And they appear to do the same with each other. They will not allow Mikie to go off alone, he has to have at least one griffin with him at all times.
Treasure found. Mythical creatures unleashed. Only means of transportation wrecked. Such fun.