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Home Sweet Spaceship

    Private Airfield
    The Aurora Group has a private airfield for this project. It seems to be little more than a field, surrounded by a two meter high chain link fence, with plastic slats slid in to the links to add privacy. The airfield's "tower" is a building in the far northeast corner of the space, with the classic outward-angled windows on the second floor, up above the fence, and more antennas on it than might be normal. The runway isn't paved, only oiled gravel, and the rest of the field is just that -- a field, where the grass is being driven on until it is merely dirt or mud. There are a couple of pickup trucks and vans parked near the building, and a large bulky shape under a blue tarp behind it.

Owen tells Kerry the details of the co-ordinates of the ship, and hands him a copy of the flight plan. He says, "Are there any special checks you folks want to make of the shuttle before you take off, or are you all ready to go?"

Douglas nods, "After the last... incident," he says the word with a touch of irony, "I'd like to take a close look at the shuttle's engines. Shouldn't take too long." He pauses, then looks to Vash and Kerry. "If that's good with you two, Captain, Pilot?"

Vash says, "You read my mind."

Kerry glances at Vash and Douglas. "I'd prefer that we run a full preflight check myself. I concur, Captain."

Owen nods and says, "Oh, a full pre-flight check, of course. I meant anything additional, like extra exploration of the engines or life-support systems."

Most of the engineering "section" aboard the shuttle is below the decking, with crawlways for access. It contains a densely packed array of equipment, including the life-support equipment, and constant renewal. There is also a wonder of miniaturization -- a completely self-contained micro-molecular-fission plant, which should be able to drive the shuttle nearly indefinitely on its tiny fuel rods, which appear to be completely loaded. It takes nearly two hours to access all the equipment through the various floor plates and access hatches that have to be removed, but everything seems to be in perfect order.

Kerry does a visual/ultrasonic inspection of the outside of the shuttle while the engineer is working on the guts. The shuttle's skin seems to be smooth and intact, the lower portion of the shuttle densely packed with equipment and the upper mostly empty. Little else shows to the bat's sonar.

Owen asks, "Everything looking all right so far?"

Vash nods, folding his arms and looking up at the superstructure. "Looks good to me. And Skydancer hasn't bitched about a single thing yet, so something must indeed be right."

Kerry flits down from the shuttle again to alight beside the human and the armadillo. "I heard that. So far, she looks fine. I think we'll be lifting on schedule -- I'm going to go inside and start prepping."

The human nods and says encouragingly, "Good! I'll go tell the tower crew, and we'll make sure everything's ready on our end! Good flying!" So saying, he waves and jogs off to the tower, vanishing inside.

Douglas lifts himself out of the engine accessway, wiping his hands on a cloth, though the machinery is immaculate. "It looks good to me. She'll at least take off..."

Vash says, "Well then, I think we'll be off."

Kerry walks back up the ramp and goes forward to the pilot station. "And... it's showtime."

Vash says, "Tally ho. Or... something."

The pilot's station is a fairly standard dual mode human/keero setup, already set to the ultrasonic settings. The comm is asking if the on-board pre-flight checks are complete. Kerry clicks open the ship's intercom. "Pilot to all stations. Are we go?"

Douglas moves to a couch at the engineering panel and straps himself in. You may only be a shuttle, he thinks warningly at the shuttle, but for as long as I'm aboard you're going to work, and we'll get along fine. "Control rods engaged, coolant systems show green. We're ready to go."

Vash settles himself into the seat behind the pilot station and rolls his shoulders. Finally... now if we can just get to geosynch without any of my crew catching fire...

Kerry skrees, "Engineering is go. Life Support, are you go?"

Sakura checks several panels, and replies with, "Life support is go."

Kerry skrees, "Life Support is go. Pilot board shows all green for go. Captain, the ship is go."

Vash nods, "Helm. When you're ready."

The control tower relays that their systems confirm status, and they double-check the flight plan. Finally they clear the shuttle for take-off when it is ready. Kerry depresses the switch that opens the air breather vents for the turbines -- when they are open, he acknowledges the tower. "Field Control, this is Shuttle Alshain showing green for go. Seeya on the flip side!"

The tower clears, "You are clear for take-off, shuttle. Have a smooth flight." As there is no other local traffic, it's easy for them to give the go-ahead.

Kerry finishes the final check, powers run-up on the turbines with the brakes engaged, brings all three to full power, and releases the brakes. "We are rolling, Tower. Gott mit uns."

Vash checks his restraints and takes a deep breath. "Vaya con dios, TAG. See you shortly."

The shuttle accelerates smoothly, if a little less rapidly than is typical for the breed. Kerry brings the nose up and rotates off the deck with a fair chunk of runway remaining, and the wheels *chunk* into their slots shortly afterward. He grins to himself and keys the intercom. "We are on our way, tovarishchee. Next stop is our home away from home."

Vash closes his eyes. Here we go, Nano. Watch out for us a while longer, okay?

Douglas lets out a breath, nodding quietly and leaning back into his chair. Even his thoughts are muted, as he lets the shuttle take them to their fate -- but that's such a negative word, he has to admit. And 'destiny' sounds too damn pretentious. I'll settle for the shuttle taking us to where we need to be. He glances at the board with a critical but brief eye, seeing it reading all green and with nothing out of the ordinary. He nods to himself, then looks out again at the increasingly dark sky outside. His breath catches a little. This is what I wanted, after all, isn't it? he asks himself. To be in the space program... so, why did it take them so damn long to pick my number? Ingrates. Well, no use fuming about it now, there's a job to do...

Kerry opens the radio as the ship climbs to cruising altitude. "Omaha ATC, this is TAG flight 247 clearing as scheduled for Dakar. We will be running at 10 km, heading 100." After a brief pause, the voice of ATC responds, directing the Alshain into its place in line.

Vash leans his head on his hand, tapping a clawtip on the end of his nose, watching the sky grow dark. I picked a fine time to get introspective... no time for doubts now. Hrm. I just want to get underway. Sakura spends her time checking the life-support systems, the readouts reassuring and steady that everything is working normally and as expected.

The flight passes uneventfully. Alshain leaves American air traffic control on a heading for Africa, and heads equator-ward. Out of all sight of land, even from her altitude, is the orbital pre-insertion point... Kerry keys the intercom five minutes out. "All hands, this is the pilot. Please buckle in, we're coming up on the insertion point."

Alshain is just crossing the twilight line when the insertion point is reached. Kerry points the nose up and opens the throttles to the max. The ship responds beautifully, rising up to the edge of the atmosphere on a plume of superheated gas. As the controls go mushy, Kerry activates the rockets.

The switch over to the rockets goes flawlessly and the passengers are pushed back into their acceleration couches as Alshain initiates the 5 minute, 5 gee burn that finishes the job of putting her into orbit. At the end of that time the engines cut off, leaving the ship silent except for the small mechanical noises of the ventilator fans. The bat seals the turbine intakes and releases the straps on his couch, pirouetting in the cabin's air. "Free at last!" Vash looks up at Kerry, utterly deadpan. He opens his restraints and stretches slowly. Kerry grins at the other uplifts. "Welcome to zero-gee. Hope you enjoy it, we've got about 20 hours before we get to the Indigo."

Vash gently pushes himself off of his couch and curls into a ball, rotating slowly on his X-axis, and uncurls, getting himself acquainted to the freedom of movement. The lack of gravity doesn't bother Sakura in the slightest, as she unhooks her harness and gracefully bounds across the cabin to make sure everyone else is managing all right, then returning to her station and coming to a gentle rest above it, watching attentively.

Douglas twitches a little, as the shuttle's acceleration comes to a halt. He blinks, then grimaces slightly. Oh, damn it all... it figures -- I come all this way, finally get into space... and I get zeegee-sick. Must be some irony in that, since I had to almost be dragged into the program. He sighs a bit and keeps his harness securely fastened and his eyes closed, attempting to sleep while rummaging about mentally for where the gee-sickness acclimation medicine might be kept.

Sakura hms softly to herself... then drifts to hover over the unhappy cougar. Her small hand touches his shoulder lightly, "Douglas-san? Would you like one of the pills for gee-sickness acclimation, just in case?"

Douglas opens his eyes, blinking up at Sakura. Oh, bless her heart. "Ah... yes, please, Doctor Sakura, I'd appreciate it." She's letting me keep whatever dignity I have left. I'm even more glad we didn't end up with the carniphobe rabbit uplift, now.

Vash grins and lets himself drift slowly. "Fly me to the moon / And let me play among the stars..." He folds his arms and floats off-axis. "So. This is how it starts, eh?"

Almost on cue, the radio squeaks a bit -- and then music drifts through as a bandwidth is accidentally picked up. The song's a popular current re-release, the male voice sounding vaguely elated, "This is Major Tom to Ground Control... I'm *crackle* very still... and I'm floating in the most peculiar way..."

Sakura smiles at Douglas, pressing a small vial of pills into his paw and patting his shoulder lightly... then she drifts back to her position. He smiles back to Sakura, nodding his thanks, and as she drifts off discretely taking a dosage of the medicine. As the radio squawks he looks... slowly... at it. "That," he says flatly, "does not bode well."

Kerry has gone back to the cargo bay. If anyone follows along he's doing aerobatics, stretching his wings and having fun before settling onto the superstructure, hanging on with one foot while he takes a nap. Vash remains in the bridge for a time, staring out the viewports. He gets restless before long and heads back to the cargo bay, himself. Once there he takes a deep breath and begins to move slowly, attempting to guide his limbs through the formal arcs of the kata without a center of gravity to reference from. He glides past the sleeping Keero without a word. He's imposing, of course, but he's not inconsiderate.

The rest of the flight/drift to the parked spaceship is uneventful, the launch window having been well and truly clear and all the other traffic being well behaved and staying where it's expected to. The shuttle's radio and telemetry pick up the signal from the Indigo before she can be seen, transmitting an encoded message of quiet computerish satisfaction and stability. Kerry wakes up long before Alshain reaches the top of her current orbit. At the proper time everyone is back in their couches. The main engines burn for a minute to put the shuttle in an orbit about a hundred kilometers from the Indigo herself. From there, it's a matter of careful but routine maneuver to dock with the ship.

After the adjustment burn, it is Sakura who points it out ahead, a rapidly growing spot of light which she has already gotten images of on the shuttle's telescope. The ship (which isn't at all purple) hangs in the blackness of space, a silver wedge in front of the shuttle. Only as the Alshain glides closer does the size of the ship become apparent; the shuttle bay landing lights coming on at the shuttle's approach, taking up less than a quarter of the vertical space visible and more than large enough for the shuttle to land easily. The ship resembles nothing so much as a five-story office block, being nearly cubical, with only slightly rounded edges; the engines at the back, which is slightly wider than the nose, giving it a blunt sort of wedge shape.

Douglas looks out front, actually risking leaning over in his chair to get a better look out the viewports, looking at what will essentially be his charge for the next... well, for however long the mission lasts. Vash grins widely, staring out at the approaching ship. I dunno how I'm going to deal with people saying this is MY ship... we're flying the Sunrise 66 Building! He nods to Douglas. "Home sweet home..."

Kerry is concentrating on the docking maneuver, so it isn't until the shuttle is actually settled into its cradle that he vents his feelings. "I can't believe they bought one of these things. A #ee!* 1500XL??? Lousiest trash-haulers ever put up for the Deep Run. Bloody damned desk jockeys." He pauses in his rant as they all debark, floating in free fall. "Well, they did something with the engines at least. Douglas, shall we go check things out?"

Vash says, "Deal with it, Kerry. It's a bit late to be brand-loyal."

Kerry sighs theatrically. "I just hope they cleaned it out. Thoroughly."

Douglas nods, undoing his harness cautiously. "Certainly. They use this kind of ship for hauling garbage? I guess it's to be expected. Those engines'd better be in good shape or I'll be really annoyed..." His voice fades as he goes through the passageway past Kerry, towards the engine room of the Indigo.

Sakura looks quizzically at the bat, and asks, "Is something wrong, Kerry-san?"

Vash shoulders past Kerry on his way out. "Bitch, bitch, bitch..."

Kerry flits back to hover before Sakura. "Well, it's certainly a big ship. I just hope they upgraded things. If it's a standard 1500XL crew cabin, we're going to be living in each other's pockets." He grins at her before flying after Douglas.

Vash makes do, pushing off where he can. "I seem to recall hearing something to the effect of upgrades. Just relax, Kerry. There's no point in getting your flight surfaces in a twist before we've even started. Let's go have a look at them when you're done in engineering."

The worry that the ship has been cleaned out fades quickly as the crew climbs aboard through the airlock and connecting umbilical. Outside the shuttle a gleaming deck and bay exists, with doors large enough to slide shut and pressurize the deck. The flexible passage to the lift is not fancy, but well made and sturdy, setting the tone for the rest of the ship. The ship's lift shows five decks, Engineering, Docking/Storage, Crew Quarters, Recreation, and Flight. The lift has handles all about for easy gripping in zero-gee, although it does look as if it's designed for use in gravity, and seems to run through the center of the vessel.

The Engineering deck is divided up in to several sections, almost like honeycombs, to provide a baffle against decompression and to allow different sections to seal independently. Each of the four propulsion engines is in a separate section, and each hooked to the reactors via three independent sets of cables. They are of a new, electrically powered gravitic drive type, to propel the ship quickly once outside of the gravity well from a planet. Despite being smaller than the originals they should each provide nearly as much power, which is not inconsiderable considering what the ship was designed to do.

The reactor is in the center of Engineering, oddly built on to the ceiling, clinging like a limpet to the upper structure. A bigger and more capable version of the micro-molecular fission engine aboard the shuttle, it gives a large amount of output from a small amount of fuel. Producing a small amount of waste, this type of reactor is quickly becoming a standard on long-distance ships, as it provides a lot of power in a little space. Extra fuel is stored in insulated containers between the Engineering deck and the docking bay.

Below the reactor, also in the central segment, extending down through the decking and out to the strange emitter array seen from the shuttle, is the gate-drive: a squat, unimpressive set of machinery which seems to be mostly large capacitors and transformers. Multiple power drops from the reactor above, and three sets of computer hardware are connected to it, providing redundancy and load balance.

In each segment, a chunk of life-support equipment clings; ductwork, piping, and conduits trailing around the superstructure as if it were woven there by giant steel spiders -- an organized tangle of the hardware that keeps the fragile life in the huge steel bubble safe and warm. A portion of the ship's computers -- processing sensor input, communications data, and providing terminals from which the entire ship can be operated -- resides in two of the outside four sections, and another in the central section with the reactor and gate-drive.

Kerry skrees, "So that's what the Gate interface drive looks like... everything seems in order here, shall we go up deck by deck?"

Douglas is looking around as he makes his way to the engine room, pleasantly surprised and approving. They really did clean out this lady, he thinks to himself, then blinks and chuckles quietly as he examines the couplings between the gate-drive and the reactor. I guess what they said at Stamford was true -- older, used ships have more personality. They just feel right. They're less likely to give you bad surprises. Isn't that right, Indigo? He straightens, and nods to Kerry. "All rights. Should I seal the landing bay?"

Vash says, "Why don't you. I think we're about ready to move on."

Kerry nods. "I think so. Ought to fill it with inert atmosphere while we're moving, unless we've got enough oxygen to make it breathable.

Vash grins, "Unless you've got more catching up to do, Douglas. We could leave you two alone."

Douglas looks to Vash quizzically for a long moment, then shakes his head. "No, that's all right. I'm interested in seeing the rest of the ship."

Vash says, "Well then. By all means."

Douglas nods. "I'll put in a standard atmosphere for the time being, if we can spare it. It looks like we can, but I'll double check." He proceeds to one of the engineering consoles; making the necessary preparations, closing the hangar doors and letting the compartment pressurize with a standard oxygen-nitrogen atmosphere, keeping his thoughts quietly to himself as he does so, his face showing only the smallest of concern.

Another brief foray through the lift leaves the crew in the lobby of the crew quarters. Each crewmember has a cabin, all the same, with a sleeping area, storage, shower, and living area with library terminal and monitor. They are furnished comfortably, with options available for the different species that are aboard, particularly the unusual sleeping and lighting preferred by the keero. There is a spare set of quarters and a common galley, as well.

Vash looks around and nods, "Well... I've slept in worse." He glances back over his shoulder. "You can feel free to bitch now, Kerry."

Kerry chuckles. "As you command, your Nebulosity." He squeaks a bit, grinning the entire time. "Looks pretty good, actually."

Douglas notes, "It's much better than the Rutgers dorms. It could be home."

Vash strides over to his suite and looks around. "This is pretty nice... better than I expected, actually..." He leans down and touches the library terminal to calls up a basic directory listing. "Pretty impressive. Could be pretty comfortable."

Kerry skrees, "And a good thing, too... we'll be weeks flying here and there."

Vash nods, "Well, at least we won't be too crowded. So... where do you want to go now?"

The terminal responds easily, and seems to contain a wide selection of video and reference works, ranging from popular video to eastern mythology to hard science fiction novels. The company has subscribed to a standard "long-distance" package, which makes everything available and only charges for actual use. No billing or tracking mechanism is visible, which suggests nobody cares too much how much you read. Vash smiles and deactivates the terminal. That should be quite handy.

Kerry skrees, "Let's see what they've got for 'recreation'."

Vash grins. "You read my mind."

The lift opens on to the recreation deck. No lobby awaits; instead, an open, well lit space is visible, with various sets of lines stenciled on to the decking, and a firm but not too hard surface, their usage not entirely clear at first glance. A number of rooms are off of the edges of the deck, labeled "Video," "Games," "Meditation," and "Exercise."

Vash hmms. "So... will it be Door Number One... Door Number Two..."

Kerry skrees, "I'd just as soon meditate on the hangar deck."

Vash looks around, turning on his heel a few times. "It's either a fencing strip or bocceball gone horribly, horribly wrong..."

Kerry skrees, "I've never fenced. I'm not exactly built for it. I wonder if we can rig up a climbing wall..."

Vash hehs, wandering over to a terminal near the lift. "It's a fine sport. I doubt you'd like it, though. Something tells me you'd find the jacket uncomfortable. And let's not even discuss the mask..." He leans down, fiddling with the console. "Now. What have we here..."

Kerry flits over to hover over Vash's shoulder. "Dunno. What is it?"

As Vash messes with the console, it lights up and, with a quiet whirring, a pair of posts slide out from the wall on tracks in the ceiling, and adjust themselves to a particular height, this one actually touching the floor. A set of the lines on the deck actually light up. It's only when the computer's neutral female voice says, "Badminton," that anyone notices the far post has a net coiled about it which can be stretched to the other. There are several settings, most of which only make sense under gravity.

Vash looks at the posts, then at Kerry. "Wow. Cool."

Douglas blinks. "Badminton?" he asks, almost incredulous. "What else? Tennis? Volleyball? Croquet?"

Kerry snorts. "I am not playing bat-mitten."

Vash pffts. "Let's see what else they got... gotta be some kind of directory here."

Kerry skrees, "Indeed. I'm sure there's a user's manual somewhere."

There are settings for badminton, squash, tennis, and volleyball. There are also settings for basketball, fencing, wrestling, and floor hockey, as well as some other less common ones. The terminal has full on-line help, and directions to the cabinet where the needed equipment is stowed. Vash says, "Well... at least we won't be bored."

Kerry skrees, "Looks like an interesting sort of layout. I wonder if it's holographic. We can't exactly field a baseball team. Hmm... skeet-shooting, maybe?"

Vash says, "We could use me for a kickball. This is pretty cool, I don't mind saying... you want to go check out Door Number One?"

Kerry skrees, "Why not?"

Vash nods, leading the way over to the first door. He looks around to make sure that Sakura is out of earshot, and subvocalizes to Kerry, "If they have porn behind this door, we're moving the flight deck down a level."

Kerry snorts. "If you're going to be looking at porn while we're maneuvering, you can stay on this deck all by yourself."

Door Number One is labeled "Video." It resembles a large, comfortable living room, with a sunken sofa, drinks dispenser, and a large video screen tied in to the ship's computer, the video library, and the intercom system. A ghostly string quartet is playing from a set of high-fidelity surround speakers that aren't immediately visible. When the door closes, the quiet humming of the ship is almost completely muted, as the room is well soundproofed. Vash says, "Wow. Nice."

Kerry skrees, "Indeed. I wonder how high-frequency we can drive the sound system..."

Vash says, "Very cool. We'll have to make use of this later. So... wanna try Door Number Two?"

Kerry nods. "Let's check them all out. Interesting things here."

The second door, "Games," leads to a room with five odd pieces of machinery, a couple of large round tables, and a rack of narrow drawers. Exploring the drawers reveals common board games, cards, dice, backgammon and chess sets, as well as a set of rules and regulations for each of them. Four of the five machines are video game enclosures, the kind games are played in while seated at the controls. The controls consist of a flight yoke or a steering wheel... it's hard to say, and a large number of buttons. They're all completely unlabelled, inside and out. The other machine is a large flat screen, with a piece of machinery hanging above it.

Kerry skrees, "Target shooting, maybe? What is this gadget?"

Vash says, "Well now. I dunno... what do you make of it?"

It doesn't take Kerry long to notice the tall door (something like a broom cupboard) next to the screen. Opening it reveals a set of controls, a set of directions, as well as golf clubs, balls, a bow, arrows, and a dummy rifle. The scanner above the screen watches the user, and as the equipment is used it digitizes its path and trajectory, completing them in the simulation. Directions are also available.

Vash grins. "Oh... nice."

Kerry skrees, "Ah, good. We can keep in practice."

Vash says, "I agree."

Entering the meditation room means taking a couple of steps up and passing through a very thick door, although it doesn't seem heavy. When the door closes, the noises of the ship outside are completely muffled. The inside of this room is very nearly a perfect cube, with walls and floor all painted a near white and lit brightly with full-spectrum simulated sunlight. One end of the room contains a plain, unmarked altar, the other an empty depression, which looks like something is missing. There are several benches facing each of these ends. Stowed below them are a set of books which cover very generally all of the prayers of all of the Earth's major religions, as well as explaining the light controls and controls for the sound system (which are hidden on the back of the altar), and the depression on the other side, which can be either a fountain or rock garden when gravity is present. The room is a little warm, and very quiet, and radiates calmness and tranquility.

Vash says, "Hey... this is very nice." He looks around, and gently runs a hand across the edge of the altar. "I like this." He mentally goes over a kata in his head, trying to determine whether he's got room to perform all the actions.

Kerry flits to the center of the room and hangs in midair. "Interesting. Just in case we get spiritual yearnings while we're Out There?"

Vash says, "I don't mind a bit of quiet every now and then."

Kerry skrees, "Well, true. Heh. If the loonies are right about it being a Hell Gate, we're all set."

Vash says, "Yeah. We know where to run for the holy water." He grins and scratches the back of his head plates, then laughs to break up the awkward pause. "So let's check out the last door and go hit the Flight deck."

Kerry skrees, "Sounds like a plan."

The Exercise room appears at first to be firm material on all the walls and ceiling, with little to differentiate one from another, although they all seem appropriate for use as a dojo or practice room. One end of it has an odd, circular track, which doesn't help the feeling of directionlessness. Next to the door is a set of controls, which opens a cabinet containing weights and other exercise equipment, all firmly fastened down in zero-gee. It also clarifies; the round track is a treadmill that should work in zero-gee or gravity. Directions and safety recommendations are included. Kerry skrees, "Ah. Weightlifting. What fun."

Vash hms. "I can think of more interesting ways to exert myself... but they're good to work off stress sometimes. Rather hit a bag myself."

Kerry makes that odd chirriping noise again, which seems to serve him as laughter. "I'm not smart, but I can lift heavy objects."

Vash grins and shrugs. "It's something to do. So. The flight deck now?"

Kerry skrees, "Yep. Let's go see where I'll spend most of my time."

Vash says, "Mmhmm."

Going up to the flight deck is uneventful, although the lights in the lift indicate the docking bay is now pressurized and habitable. The lift opens into the flight controls. Several stations around the perimeter of the room offer different functions. Two are identical flight consoles, either of which can be primary or secondary. An engineering station allows monitoring of operational status of all systems, and a science station has extra displays and feedback for the ship's scanner array. A station labeled "Security" offers views and access control for the interior of the ship as well as external views, and control of the ship's light micrometeor shielding. A communications station has extra displays, as well as headset jacks and video pickups. The whole room is only dimly lit, with indirect floor lighting, and lights outlining the walkways, each station's lights being individually controllable by the operator. All of the stations can perform all of the jobs, although they are optimized for better response to one or another. Doors around the edge of the deck are labeled "Medical," "Offices," "Security," and "Conference."

Vash says, "Ahh... there's our sickbay. Good. It'll be nice to have our doctor close on hand. So. Have at it, Kerry, tell me what you think."

Kerry floats around the bridge, checking out the consoles and bringing up the status reports for each one. "I take back all the bad things I said about the hull. Looks like they've done her up proud." Then he notices that the comm board has a message waiting. "Oh-ho... they're already wondering what we're doing. Or else we've got our first piece of junk mail." He brings up the message. "Let's see which..."

Vash says, "Isn't it a bit late for insurance? We don't want any."

Kerry grins. "What, not even if it's for Hot Furry Femmes?"

Vash says, "Well. We are supposed to be negotiable..."

The face of Owen Carter appears on the screen, wearing a headset and beaming energetically in to the camera. The computer dates the message having been recorded twenty-seven and a half hours ago, with a time and date stamp as well, notes its length, and that company encryption keys were used and validated. On the screen, Owen says, "Hi, crew! I know you're not there yet -- you've just left here minutes ago, with a perfect take off. We're all eager to hear from you and find out if you've had any problems, found anything you needed missing, or had any questions we could help you with from dirtside. If the computer hasn't got the answer in its data banks, one of the engineers who built it probably does! We await your response. Owen out." The smiling man reaches out and flips a switch, and the screen flicks to the steady blue of "no signal" after the message ends. The computer marks the message as viewed, notes the time and date in the logs, and would allow Kerry to file it in a category if he so desired.

Vash looks at Kerry. "Does that guy make you at all nervous?"

Kerry skrees, "Well, we ought to send them something back; they haven't heard from us since we bounced the telemetry check off them at the insertion. Nervous? Nah. He's a bit over-enthusiastic is all. Turk -- now he makes my teeth itch."

Vash hmms and nods. "Well. Any luck, we're outside his influence soon. So... let's file this one and snap down a reply."

Kerry grins. "We're already beyond his influence, Captain. There's not a lot he could do to us at this point. He was just a manager, after all. Not worth losing sleep over." He nods, then pauses with his finger over the record button. "You want to make the call or should I?"

Vash smiles a bit. "I'll do it. I have to make myself feel useful around here somehow." He clears his throat a bit and looks toward the pickups. Kerry moves to float a little behind Vash, and at right angles. Maybe it'll freak someone down there...

The computer makes the connection. For a moment the screen remains blank, saying, "Connecting to Aurora Base..." then, "Authentication in progress..." followed by an impressive stream of numbers. The screen clears and overlays the message, "Connection secure," and chirps once to indicate that the system is online and recording. The other end transmits a screen which says, "Paging operator..."

Vash looks to Kerry, mouthing, "We on? We're on." He turns toward the monitor. "This is Montoya, we've just received your message, and we're happy to report that everything looks good on this side, the Indigo's a fine ship. Once the crew's properly settled in we should be good to go."

It only takes a moment or perhaps three for Owen's face to appear, still adjusting his headset and cheerfully replying, "Indigo, this is Aurora Base." Seeing Vash, he adds, "Captain Montoya! That is good news! Are there any questions? Anything missing from stores?"

Vash turns around and looks at Kerry, who's determined to make the feed look like outtakes from East German TV's Sprockets. "Kerry, we missing anything that you can think of?"

Kerry skrees, "Not that I've noticed yet. Everything's checking out fine, we should be ready to go tomorrow. We'll finish checking things out and launch once we've had a good night's sleep."

Vash nods, "Well, if you can hear that, I concur with Mr. Skydancer. We're fully stocked and should be ready to take off tomorrow. I think Engineering would like to have a chance to shake things down thoroughly and get a feel for the ship... and I'm sure the whole crew is eager to get settled in for the trip."

Owen replies, "Roger that, Indigo. We're pleased to hear it. Let us know before you launch so we can schedule a landing at Los Angeles Station if you'd like to stop over there on your way out, or not if you want to get straight to the Gate. As of now you've no cargo for the stations, although this might change in the next few hours." With a sheepish grin, he adds, "Different departments in the company are suddenly clamoring for cargo space on an unannounced run."

Vash grins a bit and nods, "Roger that. We're making noise already, eh? I think we can handle that, Control. You have a good night, now."

Kerry looks annoyed. "We don't have that much uncommitted space, to be honest... and I'm not sure I want to take on a lot of sealed cargo with Maker knows what in it."

Vash says, "I'm not going to let them overload us, Kerry. I won't even let them put us behind schedule."

Owen grins and replies, "You'd be towing containers. Don't worry, we're trying to tell them it's not feasible. We'll think of some excuse." He winks and finishes, "Luck! Aurora base out!" The connection is closed by the remote end, and the computer notes the end of the message and records it all to the logs.

Kerry looks a little mollified. "Well, towing is okay, I suppose. We've got the power, and it would take a nuke to damage us from that distance."

Vash hmms, licking one of his canines. "Kerry... was this pickup live when we came in?"

Kerry skrees, "Wouldn't surprise me. Remember what happened to the Confederacy ship. I suspect that they want to take any chance they get to record whatever might happen, even if we don't make it back."

Vash says, "How comforting."

Kerry takes a moment to look at the security system. He discovers that it doesn't do anything quite so bad as to record the entire ship. It will record all comm traffic, both internal and external. Sensors are automatically logged, as are all piloting commands. A number of seemingly unrelated things get recorded; what video titles are selected from the library, the power levels from each of the decks, hourly single frames from the ship's telescope, who requested what meals and when, and any attempt to edit the computer's logs, which is listed as being impossible. All of this is clearly defined in the system's operations guide, along with how to add more items to the recording queues. The operations guide is an impressive and large document, covering most of the ship's systems and weighing in at over 1,500 pages if it were to be printed to paper.

Vash hmms, arching an eyeridge. "Tight. Which reminds me... I want a look at the Security terminal."

Kerry skrees, "Hmm. Looks like they're going to notice if you replay Stewardess Vixens in Bondage every night."

Vash grins, "Nah. Ten Miles of Tough Tongue." He seats himself at the console and smirks. "Director's cut." Kerry shakes his head, not wanting to know, and settles in to the pilot station to start his own preflight checks. Vash laughs softly. "Don't take it so serious, Kerry."

The ship's security systems consist of cameras throughout the ship, which can be set to record constantly, or just on motion, or to follow crew members. They pick up video, IR, and sound, although not to keero ranges. The living quarters do have cameras, although the sleeping rooms have only audio pickups, as do all the sanitation facilities aboard. Security can lock or unlock, open or close any door aboard the ship, and all actions are logged to the computer's logs for later review in case of any report of abuse. The security door on the bridge leads to a set of safety deposit boxes, or small safes, which are constantly recorded, as are the two small cells in the brig. The brig has no fancy force fields, only grates that lock over three-meter square rooms. The operations guide suggests that if it is needed for long term use, confining to one of the crew quarters would be easier to manage and can be accomplished by removing local control of the door.

Kerry grins. "Who's taking things seriously?" Vash snickers softly.




Last modified: 2000-Oct-12 23:10:51

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