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Traveller: Session 19

 


This session was run on February 9, 2023.

 

Hour 63

 

With the submersible mission and refueling operations complete at Area 58, they decided to move on to investigate another area. Based on the damage from collisions the Far Horizon had suffered and CASS’s strange behavior, they decided that they had to assume that they might only get a chance to investigate one more site. They chose Area 23, as the strange radiation readings there were the most promising lead they had and prepared to fly the shuttle over.

 

On board the Far Horizon, repairs following the collision with the moon fragments continued.

 

Hour 64-65

 

Bob had no issues piloting the lander from Area 58 to Area 23 and was able to safely set down about 500 meters from the cliff face where the radiation readings originated from.

 

Hour 66

 

They suited up and Vic and Katiya headed for the cliff face to perform some preliminary scans. Bob and Helen set up the heaters to avoid refreezing around the lander nozzle and started the fuel processor. Kurt and Shireen stayed aboard the lander as backup.

 

While setting up the scanner, Katiya suffered a blowout around her cuff. Vic struggled to patch the suit as it took a few seconds to bring Katiya’s arm under control. Kurt and Shireen wanted Katiya and Vic to return to the lander to examine the suit, but Katiya denied the request, saying that there was no reason to think any of the suits were better than any of the others at this point and she didn’t want to waste any more time. They resumed scanning the cliff face.

 

Hour 67

 

The completed scan showed that there was a hollow area, perhaps a tunnel, twenty-four feet into the ice of the cliff face. There was no doubt that the radiation was emanating from there. Vic confirmed that even accounting for the attenuation from the ice, the radiation would still not be harmful to suited humans.

 

After a back-and-forth discussion, the team determined that there was likely not enough time to use the tunnel digger to reach the opening and decided to use the explosives to blow off the cliff face instead.

 

Kurt, Helen, and Shireen left the lander to bring the explosives to the cliff face, while Bob stayed aboard as backup. While they were on their way to the cliff face, Katiya began to experience sever visor fogging. Since the controls to adjust the environmental balance were now wrapped in a patch on her cuff, Vic had to manual adjust the settings on her backpack to clear the visor.

Hour 68

 

Shireen set up the explosives along the cliff face. She cautioned that, while she understood the basics of who the charges worked, she had no real training or experience. They told her to make the best estimate she could on how much to use and how to shape the charge.

 

They retreated from the cliff face and Shireen remotely detonated the explosives. The cliff face collapsed cleanly, but Some of the ice hurled into the air travelled further than expected and rained down on the area they were standing in. One chunk hit Shireen, bruising her arm, but did not damage her suit. They called Bob out from the lander and began making their way to the opening in the cliff face.

 

Hour 69

 

The opening proved to be an artificial tunnel that had been burrowed into the rock cliff face. A metal hatch had secured the opening, but it was now bent and blown to the side, allowing them to pass. Bob examined the hatch and determined that the damage was not from their explosives and that the hatch was very old. Based on the amount of degradation in the metal, he estimated that it must be at least a hundred thousand years old. They moved through the opening and proceeded down the tunnel.

 

After about twenty meters, they encountered a semicircular chamber off the left side of the tunnel and two alcoves cut into the rock on the right. Vic and Bob went into the semicircular chamber and found it empty except for piles of brown sludge on the floor with two metal poles sticking out from them. Bob took samples of the sludge and cut off a section of one of the poles as a sample as well. He theorized that the sludge might be from the degradation of composite materials over time.

 

Helen found four hexagon markings on the wall of one of the alcoves. They appeared similar in design to the ones they had found earlier, but she was not able to determine what they represented. She tried pushing on one, but the wall seemed to be solid.

 

They made their way another twenty meters down the tunnel and were met with a metal door blocking their way. The door was jammed, and Vic began working on it with his crowbar. While Vic was working on the door, they received a message from CASS letting them know that she had completed her analysis of the pulsar chart they had found. The origin point seemed to be Tau Ceti.

 

Hour 70

 

After Vic pried the door open, they found themselves in a large chamber with a raised dais at the far end. There were also two small passageways leaving the room in the opposite wall. Kurt investigated some panels against the right-hand wall and noticed that they had dials, levers, buttons, and switches similar to those found on an audiovisual control panel on Earth. He mentioned this to the others, and they cautioned him not to touch anything.

 

They chose to investigate the left had corridor first and, after about twenty meters, it opened into a hemispherical chamber with a dais in the center. The ais was covered in the same brown sludge they had found in the alcove earlier. There was also a hall leaving the room on the right-hand side, which they guessed would link up with the right-hand corridor.

 

Their hunch proved correct; the hall led to another hemispherical room that also mated with the right-hand corridor from the large central room. There was another passageway, leading away from the central room, in the hall linking the two hemispherical chambers, but it was partially collapsed, and Bob’s instruments showed that the radiation levels spiked, so they did not explore any further in that direction.

 

The second hemispherical chamber was dominated by some kind of machine on a dais in the center. It was badly corroded, and the remaining metal was very thin. It had the general shape of a get engine and, despite its poor condition, many of its internal parts were still present. Since it was only two meters long, they decided to take with them and carefully rigged a sling to carry it in.

 

Hour 72

 

They moved back into the central chamber and noticed that the dais had some kind of hatch in it. Kurt and Helen decided to explore the hatch while Shireen and Bob took the device back to the lander and Vic stayed in the central chamber to maintain a link between the two groups.

 

The hatch lifted away easily, and Kurt could see the floor of a corridor that faded out of sight in both directions about eight feet below. He and Helen rigged up a tripod and pully to lower him down. As soon as he cleared the hatch his vision exploded into different colors, he lost his balance, and he began to spin wildly on the rope. Over the radio he could hear that the others were experiencing similar vision and disorientation problems as well.  

 

Aboard the Far Horizon, the effects were less dramatic on a personal level, but the overall effect was far more dangerous. The crew in orbit experienced a momentary bout of vertigo and then alarm klaxons began to sound throughout the ship. CASS reported that their orbit had suddenly decayed and that they were in danger of impacting the planet. Lucas made his way to the bridge and found that the ships orbit was now several thousand miles lower. This seemed impossible since the crew had not experienced the kind of acceleration that would have been required for the ship to have moved this much.

 

He ran back the sensor readings for the last few minutes and determined that the ship had not moved at all. In fact, Tartarus had instantly dislocated several thousand miles in the direction of its north pole. This placed the Far Horizon in an unsustainable orbit. Lucas ran a few calculations and determined that he could not afford the fuel required to bring the ship to a stable orbit but, if he did nothing, the ship would impact Tartarus in two hours.

 

He was able to make minor adjustments that bought them five hours at most. The Far Horizon now had to burn for home by hour 79 of the mission instead of hour 96 as planned. The crew on the surface had to start back now.

 

Hour 73

 

Kurt and Helen abandoned their search of the corridor beneath the hatch and joined Shireen and Bob in loading the device in the lander. With everyone else out of the complex, Vic decided to push some of the buttons on the control panel.

 

As Kurt has suspected, it turned out to be an AV control panel; touching it started a holographic display projected into the center of the chamber. The hologram depicted a machine, like the device they found but larger, mounted in a vast cavern. Humanoid figures, barely discernable in the strange green light, moved about the machine fiddling with various controls. Suddenly, light burst from the machine and the figures around it seemed to catch fire, running frantically, and waving their arms. The hologram cut to an overlay of a star system with a single yellow star orbited by three planets. The outermost planet flickered out of view and reappeared much further out in the system. A few seconds passed and the planet flickered and moved again.

 

Given the reports coming from the Far Horizon and the hologram he had just seen, Vic had no doubt what the machine was. They had to get it safely back to Earth. They had found some kind of faster than light drive. A larger version of that drive was clearly still malfunctioning and moving the planet.

 

Hour 74

 

With everyone back on board, and the strange machine carefully secured, Bob started a burn to bring the lander back into orbit.

 

Hour 75

 

As they approached the Far Horizon, realizing that the hatch-to-hatch docking they would have to do with the vehicle bay destroyed would be much harder than a standard landing, they decided to have most of the lander crew spacewalk over before Bob attempted to dock. Everyone but Bob and Shireen used tethers to get aboard the Far Horizon.

 

Hour 76

 

Bob and Shireen lined up to attempt the tricky hatch-to-hatch docking procedure and started to close. At the last second, Bob realized that his closing speed was too high and he tried to abort. The abort failed, they slammed into the airlock hard, and the lander initiated the emergency power shutdown procedure. Shireen managed to abort the procedure before full shutdown and Bob repositioned for another attempt.

 

Hour 77

 

Once Lukas had cleared the lander’s docking hatch through visual inspection, Bob started his second attempt. This time he achieved a clean dock without any complications, and they moved the device into the Far Horizon.

 

Once everyone was safely aboard and secured, Lukas started the escape burn to head back to Earth. They managed to escape orbit and set a course for home, but they were not able to achieve the optimal orbit and calculated that the trip home would take five years.

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