Chiang Ho then focuses the scan on the Secondary's gas giant, and picks up a small amount of fusion power generation from that area, consistent with a spaceship. Chiang Ho suggests they blast in for a couple of hours to get them moving closer, and then make a fast pass with most of the power systems off.
With some fantastic luck they later get some better definition of the radio emissions. There seem to be two distinct sets of frequencies, shifting and encrypted as would be expected for combat communicators. Vana recognizes one of the sets as Scorpionis transmissions, but not the other. The computer starts work on breaking the encryption, but they don't expect anything for several days. The entire sensor input is being saved as much as possible.
The source of the transmissions is discussed. Avon suggests that they might be Scorpionis people cooperating with the enemy. It is also postulated that there might be ground forces stranded on the planet.
Chiang Ho suggests that their pass should be to ID the ship they have located at the Secondary gas giant.
Chiang Ho starts the Anastasia powering into a tangent above the solar plane of the secondary gas giant.
Further work with the sensors indicate that there is more than one ship in the area of that gas giant.
They also pick up one ship in orbit around the gas giant, probably 2-4kt, generating around 10,000Mw. The only Visitor ship the numbers suggest is a Tube-S, but it is more likely to be a 3kt Scorpionis destroyer.
The Anastasia cruises on past.
The main problem with the radio emissions from the region of P3 is that they are just getting pieces of several simultaneous transmissions, nothing they can really grab hold of to decrypt.
The Sir Walter Raleigh starts decelerating for its approach to the mainworld.
A standard automated civilian hail is directed at the Sir Walter Raleigh from the mainworld. They respond that they are the Free Trader Sir Walter Raleigh requesting permission to land at the mainworld starport. A real human takes over the Staru end of the conversation: what is their business, what is their cargo? They are carrying a load of farm equipment. "Come on in and land at the starport, there's not too much traffic right now."
Some of the Anastasia's crew are concerned about the danger the Sir Walter Raleigh may be in, but the Captain points out that if they get shot down they will know what the enemy weapon strength is. They follow on quietly and continue to monitor.
The Anastasia now is beginning to be able to characterize some of the emissions from the mainworld itself. Avon, based on his Forward Observer experience, notices that the starport is on the night side of the planet, but there are not as many emissions as one would expect from a major city at night. The planet is supposed to have a population of 800,000; it is a mainly agricultural planet with most of the civilization centers clustered around the starport. Avon would expect to see a lot more lights and emissions than he actually does.
The two ships get in closer, and the Sir Walter Raleigh is hailed to take up orbit over the starport pending allocation of a landing space. The Anastasia's sensor operators notice nothing abnormal, but the computer indicates possible ships powering-up in orbit. The sensor crew investigate and guess at least three ships. The Sir Walter Raleigh powers up its weapon systems, so apparently they noticed it too ... Fostriades and Avon observe dryly that this is just like one of their nice little training scenarios.
The Sir Walter Raleigh has stopped decelerating and has adjusted course to clear the planet. There are 3-5 ships coming out from the planet to intercept; they are probably in the 1000t range, at the best guess. The Anastasia follows, with the Computer Operator calculating jump points as they go.
The planet calls the Sir Walter Raleigh to enter a parking orbit above the starport where the customs ships will approach them and give them clearance. The Anastasia launches a probe to put into parking orbit to pretend to be the ship, but the probe takes off, goes about 200m and goes out of control -- it becomes very noisy, broadcasting all sorts of junk, and goes into full acceleration in a slight spiral heading in the general direction of the starport. Chiang Ho discretely moves the Anastasia out of the area. They can't tell whether they have been seen yet or not.
The other ships split into two groups, one of which is moving to intercept at 2G, the other at 4G. Their intercept course is probably heading for the Sir Walter Raleigh, but it's hard to tell at this point. The Captain wants Chiang Ho to keep the Anastasia shifting around to make it hard to lock onto, but the Computer Officer complains that it makes it impossible to do the jump point calculations, so they maintain their quiet course.
The Sir Walter Raleigh peels off from the planet to try to stay outside 10 diameters, and most of the other ships are still aiming to intercept them. Those other ships are in two groups, each of which is probably at least three ships, although something is heading off to intercept the probe. The Anastasia will follow, hanging back just far enough to stay in touch. It is now several hours to combat scan range.
The planet is now calling for the Sir Walter Raleigh to pull over and let the customs ships intercept them. They do not reply, except occasionally for the automatic identification (Free Trader Sir Walter Raleigh carrying agricultural equipment).
As Avon looks from his Gunnery console, he notices that scans of the planet show what he interprets as extremely heavy widely-scattered ground damage -- it is distinctly possible that there is no place to land there, even.
About an hour from intercept, the Sir Walter Raleigh hails them over the tight-beam laser. "It looks like it's going to get fairly hot here. You've seen the ships approaching?" The Captain suggests they might like to jump soon, but they want to see what the ships are like. "There aren't that many of them, we make it four in the lead group and three in the group behind." The Captain asks his crew if that's right, but they can't give specific numbers. He asks the Sir Walter Raleigh if they know anything of the capabilities. They guess they are all the standard 1000t BOXER class. Yes, they do have a jump point calculated, but if they get into combat maneuvering, of course that will not be any good.
The crew of the Anastasia hold a quick consultation. The Captain is of the opinion that their friends are showing themselves to be far more capable than they had estimated... "OK, I want a consensus on this, we're about to get our neck scorched." They reckon that they can run the weapons defensively for a turn if necessary to give them enough constant motion to calculate and execute a jump. They decide to load some conventional missiles as well as nuclear so that if a ship gets up close to the Sir Walter Raleigh they have something they can fire. They check the known capabilities of the BOXERs from the Battle of Dulu. They will maintain a tight-beam communications link for exchange of locks and tactical information. The consensus is to fight.
The Admiral does not approve of going into battle, but from his position in sick bay he will help with his tactical expertise. He is very vocal about his opinion that they should be collecting information, not fighting. He is very critical of the Captain's "stupid" plan..."If there's anyone killed on this crew from enemy fire, I hope it's you!" He expects 3 or 4 cruisers in the 30kt range to arrive suddenly as soon as the firing starts.
The Captain calls the Sir Walter Raleigh and explains that the Admiral is very good at tactics, but he's a bit unusual and in his nineties, so whatever he says that doesn't directly pertain to tactics, take it as it comes. The Sir Walter Raleigh shares the specifications of their ship to allow full tactical advantage; the Sir Walter Raleigh can only contribute a Ships Tactics of 3.
The crew go to their assigned battle stations:
A probe is loaded and fired past the ships in the lead group. They are revealed as four 1kt box-shaped ships, confirming the Sir Walter Raleigh's earlier scan. This pretty much settles that they are definitely not Scorpionis ships, but are of the BOXER type observed at Dulu. The Admiral now contemplates that once they have beaten the BOXERs, they might wait and fight the (hypothetical) cruiser for a few rounds to find out what it's like.
The Captain calls the Sir Walter Raleigh with Chiang Ho's suggestion that they accelerate away and see how the enemy maneuver, but they want to see what they will do as they approach. The Captain gets increasingly concerned about the possibility of a spinal mount ship sitting back waiting for a remote lock.
Chiang Ho asks the Sir Walter Raleigh to try a passive lock on some of the enemy ships -- "That's an idea!" they say, and run a lot of sensor operations. The Sir Walter Raleigh continues to maintain a lot of locks and locates throughout the battle. The enemy has initiative, and retains that throughout the battle.
The Sir Walter Raleigh suddenly announces that someone has an active lock on them and they are taking evasive action. They do not want to jump yet; they also do not want to open fire unless the target proves hostile -- a lock is not sufficient grounds for attack.
Sir Bridgehead contemplates the effects of a major nuclear missile blast on the tightly clustered enemy ships. The Anastasia will stay hidden as quietly as possible for as long as they can, however.
The first enemy ships scatter, then BOXER-3 pulls out 6G to close with the Sir Walter Raleigh and opens fire with ten plasma gun batteries; the one that penetrates is stopped by the armor.
The enemy ships continue to maneuver and fire on the Sir Walter Raleigh, which sustains some weapon damage; they and the Anastasia concentrate fire on BOXER-3, causing heavy damage to engineering, sensors, and weapon systems.
The Captain asks the Sir Walter Raleigh about their damage. They are confident and they think their situation is totally under control.
The far group moves inwards steadily, then opens fire too. The Sir Walter Raleigh takes damage to the weapon systems from particle accelerators and missiles. They are still not too concerned and are willing to continue -- they have no crew casualties -- although the repairs to the weapons will have to carried out later in dock. The Captain emphasizes that they can jump whenever they want now (hint, hint!).
So far, all enemy missiles fired have been conventional, not nuclear. The enemy are emitting no radio signals for communications.
BOXER-3 moves in extremely close to the Sir Walter Raleigh and hits with three plasma guns. The Sir Walter Raleigh settles for allowing the armor to protect them, at the advice of the Anastasia, saving the sandcasters for any incoming (nuclear?) missiles, but they take damage to the Maneuver drive and weapons. They return fire, hitting heavily.
BOXER-1 comes to a halt, but does not fire (it didn't fire last time, either).
The Anastasia opens fire on BOXER-6, one of the far group who are traveling in close formation, and hits with all four nuclear missile salvos. All three ships take substantial damage to weapons and sensors, with some computer and fuel damage.
The crew of the Anastasia now consider that the damage to the Sir Walter Raleigh is sufficiently heavy (particularly to defensive weapons) that they should jump out now.
BOXER-2 and BOXER-4 fire at the Sir Walter Raleigh, hitting with a nuclear missile salvo each, causing a small loss of fuel.
The far group splits up to a wide formation to reduce their vulnerability to nuclear missiles. Enemy fire causes more weapon damage to Sir Walter Raleigh. The enemy is now using nuclear missiles themselves.
The Sir Walter Raleigh has taken very heavy weapon damage but has managed to get their particle accelerator repaired a little. They have also taken one crew casualty -- a missile loader -- who is severely injured. It is suggested that they freeze him. They think that they should jump out now. They coast (for the jump), then fire all their weapons at BOXER-3. As Chiang Ho says, "We're going to kill this sucker if it's the last thing we do. Well, it will be the last thing we do..." They score damage to weapons and computer, and cause a fuel leak. It now clearly has substantial damage to the Engineering section, obviously with a hull breach. The Sir Walter Raleigh then jumps for Jusk.
The enemy now achieves a lock on the Anastasia. They decide to leave, but before they do they saturate BOXER-3 with all available weapons, causing massive damage to computers, weapons, sensors, the maneuver drive, and fuel tanks.. It has not been destroyed, but they decide to leave anyway (after a really close look at BOXER-4) and jump for Jusk after 3 hours of battle.
This is the closest the Anastasia herself has come to any enemy ship. BOXER-4 is 1kt displacement, weighing about 30kt, generating about 14000Mw, probably armed with six missile turrets, two triple(?) lasers, and two sandcasters (the weapons look different from Scorpionis/Imperial technology); EMLevel Moderate, ObjSize Large. A number of the enemy ships were running EMS jammers and none were using radios for communications. BOXER-3 had ten plasma gun turrets, about 15000Mw, size and weight about the same as BOXER-4; it had taken a great deal of damage but it looked like the ship was fairly strong. That is basically all the useful information they have.
The crew is satisfied with their performance in the battle. No ships were destroyed, but they handed out a great deal of damage in return for not a lot of damage to the Sir Walter Raleigh and the Anastasia.
Sir Bridgehead has made some progress with his experiments in memory transfer. He has a rabbit which could just perform some simple movements while it was alive. He thinks that if he analyses his work carefully he could identify his breakthrough -- after a long time on the wrong track, he finally tried something just for the sake of it and it worked.
Rufus is at the sensors as the Anastasia comes out of jump, and announces that there is a battle going on somewhere in the Secondary system. Steve Howard examines the scans and concurs; now that the computer is aware of this interpretation, it can confirm that nothing was going on last time they were in the system.
It is interesting news that there was a battle at all, because all the Scorpionis fleets they know of are accounted for at Jusk. Perhaps the invaders are fighting each other? Chiang Ho says they need to go in on a quiet pass, to look for survivors of any race and dead ships of either side which they could tow away and investigate at leisure.
For the 1.5 days of travel to the gas giant, they look for a dead hulk, survivors, and so on. The Anastasia shuts the grav plates down to 0.1G to reduce emissions. They go to yellow alert; Fostriades camps out in the auxiliary bridge (Lia will bring him his meals).
Sir Bridgehead is busy talking to his rabbits to see how they respond. Chiang Ho's beans are doing fine.
They discuss the possibilities: it is suggested that the battle was staged for their benefit, or that the opposition was completely obliterated and the forces have moved on.
Linda Gregson sets up the computer to recalculate jumps on this steady course, as several crew members think the situation is very worrying. They decide not to send any probes yet because they don't want to give themselves away.
The Anastasia is now getting better scan information than the Sir Walter Raleigh because of their new crew member.
They analyze the scans of the battle. They can't tell who was fighting, or even if anyone won. They could guess that there were 20 to 80 ships involved.
At 04:00, two hours out, Rufus picks up some other information and pipes it through for Avon to use his Forward Observer skills: there is some debris in orbit around both S2 and the gas giant S3; and it looks like an area on the planet S2 has been scooped out/smashed and has some radiation emissions. The place has apparently been bombarded heavily and shows signs of some secondary explosions, and looks as though it was some sort of military base.
Vana says that there were no military bases here, and no covert operations or anything like that to account for the base (Scorpionis had no non-Naval covert operations).
There is no sign of any power emissions from the area; the last time they passed by here there were ships in orbit and power on the surface as well.
The radioactive area would only be tolerable in Battledress for no more than about 5 minutes (more in the outlying areas), but it could be investigated safely using the pinnace. They think they should at least try to find out whose base it was. They think they should perhaps send a probe first, partly to assess potential defenses that could hurt the pinnace...they will fire the probes after they are well past the planet.
Sir Bridgehead suggests landing the Anastasia herself to investigate the base, but the Captain vetoes that. The pinnace should be able to hide out for 30 days in the area safely without being detected, but the ship would be fairly vulnerable on the ground. Sir Bridgehead then suggests dropping the marines in using the pods, but of course that wouldn't provide protection against radiation and they would have to pick the marines up later.
The Sir Walter Raleigh's scans have picked up some debris around the gas giant, but not much else.
At 06:00 they reach the gas giant. There is some hefty debris in orbit here, including one lump that looks like it is around 5000t. There are no signs of any energy emissions. Some pieces are recognizable as from BOXER invader ships, and some could be other visitor ships.
The nuked site on the planet is a real hell-hole. There are still no emissions from the ground. It is likely that there is more information to be gained from the orbital wreckage than the ground.
When they start decelerating at 10:00, they send out the probes: one is going to the ground, one is going to the 5kt object, and the third is investigating some of the other debris. They turn the Anastasia's grav plates back to normal strength.
The probe sends back information from the 5kt chunk: it is recognizable as a portion of the midsection of a 30kt Scorpionis Light Cruiser. All engineering and control sections are missing; there is heavy surface damage and signs of internal explosions. The marines reckon that there are probably no survivors, although it could be possible if someone had access to extra vacc suit tanks or something. The orbit is decaying and will bring it into the gas giant atmosphere in a month or so. It shows a little radioactivity, but not enough to be a hazard. The ship would originally have had a crew of 192; this section is probably mostly crew staterooms.
There are readable identification marks on the fragment that identifies it as from one of the fleets that came here after the battle of Dulu.
This raises the question of why didn't they jump out of here? Were they not able, or did they choose not to jump? This fleet left for Staru from Dulu on 089-1117, and therefore would have been expected to arrive here on 096-1117. It could be a captured ship, and this fits the data better than any other theory.
In that case it is even more important that they examine it, because they can tell more about the enemy by seeing what modifications they made to this ship than they could be examining an enemy ship.
It is definitely not the same ship they saw in orbit around the gas giant last time through here. They examine the specifications of the Light Cruiser: it would be too small to have carried a spinal mount. Scorpionis ships suffer from being constructed so that all crew members (except marines) get a full stateroom...rather luxurious. A Scorpionis Naval career is a very high-status job, even for the lowliest grunt.
The debris should at least contain bodies. The Anastasia will investigate this wreck and board it with marines, while the Sir Walter Raleigh investigates some other debris; the wreckage from the visitor ships is noticeably smaller than that from Scorpionis ships. There is definitely BOXER debris, and although it is not clear whether there are any remains from other types of visitor ships it is probably actually all BOXER pieces. There are several other Scorpionis ships represented, including 3kt Destroyers and 600t Patrol Escorts.
Sir Bridgehead examines the specifications of the visitor ships (from Dulu). He hypothesizes that the TUBEs are older versions, as there seems a great discrepancy between the abilities of the types. The TUBE series seems to be very ineffective and may be a lower tech level. It's as though they are an older model of which they built a lot, and all their really effective people go to the newer ships.
At 22:00, they ready themselves for their boarding/scanning missions. The Sir Walter Raleigh's main restriction in boarding operations is that their only craft is an air/raft.
Rufus continues to scan, but can't pick up anything from the Primary at this range (they were looking for the radio emissions). He can say that there is no big battle going on there, so the situation at the Primary is unlikely to change before they can get there.
There is a lot of debris in this area, so it is decided to stand off a little with the ship while the boarding party goes over in the pinnace. Chiang Ho brings the Anastasia in as close as is reasonable.
Helen commands the boarding party, which consists of Sir Bridgehead, Avon, NoName, Jeffry (as an engineer) and marines. Vana thinks that they can handle it with three marines, and selects Varda to command Teri and Kara. Vana and Lia will stand by with the GCarrier just in case they are needed.
The Captain warns them that if something breaks loose, they will be on their own until the Anastasia can get back to them. The pinnace is fully provisioned in case they need to stay for several weeks while the ship jumps out and comes back. If they really need to hide, they could park in the radioactive bomb site on S2.
Helen backs the pinnace out of the bay, then Avon volunteers to take over as pilot. Since he is apparently better at it than she is, she hands him the controls and is free to take her role as mission commander.
The debris is indeed a 5kt wreck that shows extensive external scarring damage and shows sign of having had turrets blasted off it. At the splits, the exterior hull shows jagged edges, and the inside has cracked mainly along bulkhead lines, with fragments of internal walls hanging off it. Possible entry points include the turret remains (but that would be dangerous because of sharp edges) or internal hatches (a much safer option). There is nowhere that the pinnace could actually land, as it were, so Helen directs Avon to bring it in close to one of the internal hatches. He matches velocities perfectly -- a really fine job of piloting.
The whole party leaves the pinnace and boards the wreck of the Light Cruiser. The pinnace relays low-power communications to the Anastasia -- it is unlikely that anyone else could pick them up. They move across the 3 meters to the manual hatch they have selected. They open it carefully -- there is vacuum beyond.
The hatch leads to an unlighted corridor, which they enter. Sir Bridgehead is carrying his sniffer, to use if they come to any air; he checks for radiation, but there are no significant levels in this area.
The corridor has what looks like stateroom doors off it. There is another hatch at the end of the corridor towards which they head. They discuss how to open the door into one of the staterooms -- Varda blows the door open with her PGMP-13, just as Sir Bridgehead expresses concern about hurting anyone inside.
The contents look like a normal Scorpionis crew stateroom. The gist of Varda's opinion is that it is a typical room for one of those Navy posers, probably in use just a few days ago. It does not look like this area has been subjected to explosive decompression, more as if the air leaked out slowly. They look for personal diaries, but those are not encouraged (to say the least) by the Scorpionis Navy. Avon points out that as a military ship they would probably have destroyed any official records. They find no bodies in this area -- Sir Bridgehead wants to search further, but is concerned that Varda may cause too much damage with her plasma gun. Varda teaches him some new words.
They close the hatch behind them in case there is air in any of the deeper sections, and head towards where they think the turret areas are.
They open the next hatch, and there is air behind this one. It leads to another accommodation area, now at about ½ atmosphere as the outer area has some ability to hold air. Sir Bridgehead confirms the atmosphere is safe and normal. They go through and close the hatch behind them. The Captain points out that they don't look like Scorpionis troops...
Varda blasts a few doors on the way, but they find nothing unusual. They proceed to the next bulkhead and that has air too -- there is now enough atmosphere that Sir Bridgehead's sniffer could detect signs of life if there were any. They pass through another accommodation area and have still seen no bodies. Perhaps this area was accommodations for the active shift when the ship was destroyed?
They now come through a hatch into a corridor which is also pressurized. Sir Bridgehead suggests that they might find some live bodies in here... The people with the best sense of direction while boarding this ship seem to be Helen (surprise!), Teri, and Kara; they lead them towards the hull turret area. The hatch from this corridor has vacuum behind it.
There is a recreation lounge beyond with signs of explosive decompression. There are two bodies, not in vacc suits, who (according to Sir Bridgehead) died from decompression probably about six hours before the end of the battle. They are human and in Scorpionis uniforms. The area is probably a standby lounge for gunnery crew. There are signs of distorted bulkheads and a fair amount of damage in this area.
Sir Bridgehead wants to check for survivors in the pressurized sections. Avon thinks it might take too long -- they've been in there about an hour so far -- so unless he has some idea of where to go...? Sir Bridgehead wants to continue their search because of the importance of finding someone alive. Avon sees no point in it, but agrees they could search for another hour or two.
They return to the pressurized corridor and head back towards the center of the wreck. The next section is much like the previous ones, but in the one after that Sir Bridgehead picks up faint signs of something. They could open all the doors here, but the PGMP would probably cause enough combustion products to interfere with the sniffer.
"Couldn't you just use the butt of your plasma gun?" asks Sir Bridgehead.
"What was that? You want a plasma gun up your butt? You just bend over, we'll deal with that!" replies Varda with uncharacteristic restraint.
Sir Bridgehead leads them on. Avon and Varda both notice that one of the stateroom doors ahead is open about 4cm. They draw weapons, and Sir Bridgehead announces that his gauss pistol is loaded with tranquilizers and if someone starts shooting he wants to tranquilize them not kill them. The marines are the only people who speak Scorpionis, although they are of course all wearing Imperial Battledress.
The crack is not really wide enough to see through. It will need a fair amount of strength to open it, but Varda has the heavy weapon so Avon moves beyond the door while Varda covers the crack as it is opened by NoName. Perhaps he is taking the opportunity to show off again?
NoName moves the door about 5cm and it sticks. They still can't see anything through the crack. Sir Bridgehead detects some evidence of life in the area. The Captain suggests it is time to announce their presence there, but at that moment NoName gives the door a huge yank and it gives suddenly and opens.
There is a large explosion right in front of him, and he is thrown heavily onto his back, unmoving. Avon is hurt too, but Varda is out of the main line of the blast and escapes injury thanks to the battledress. The door was apparently booby-trapped with two hand grenades.
Varda leaps up to the door looking for targets, but there is no-one in the room. The Captain tells her to announce their presence. She does so in the Scorpionis language, using her own colorful (frequently untranslatable) version, and claims that Scorpionis marines are in charge now.
Sir Bridgehead attends to NoName, whose battledress has been damaged heavily in the chest and both arms. He starts field treatment for his major wounds.
There is a voice from down the corridor using many untranslatable words but saying something about it being a Navy ship and the Navy is in charge here, and they are to put themselves under Naval command. Varda replies that if he can demonstrate his command of this ship, he can come out and they will put themselves under his command.
One of the doors further down is pushed open, and a man steps out. He is wearing a fairly ragged Scorpionis Navy uniform, carrying a rifle.
Varda says, "I lied. Drop your weapon."
The Captain calls Helen to ask her to do something about this, but she thinks things are going fine. They need to get this person back to the ship, and the casualties too of course. Avon says to Sir Bridgehead, "You were right. Glad I decided to humor you."
"Get your untranslatable over here or I'll untranslatable your untranslatable," says Varda to the prisoner. Sir Bridgehead tells her to ask him if there are any other people on the ship, because they would like to take them back to the Scorpionis Admiral so that he can know what has been happening. Varda is still talking to the captive: "I am Captain Doskova of the Scorpionis marines, bozo, and I don't take any orders from any untranslatable Navy man. OK? Any of your other guys in here? This is a Marine operation to take this hunk, this is a piece of junk, it is not a Navy ship, I'm in command, I'm taking command here, who else is on board this ship?" "I don't think there's anybody left," he replies, "I got a cold, excused from duty. OK, you got me."
They return to the Anastasia with their captive. Once again Avon pilots the pinnace perfectly back to the ship, docking in the pinnace bay at 02:30.
The prisoner is taken back to sick bay, where Sir Bridgehead gives him a shot to "help him relax." His physical condition is generally run-down, but he has no real medical problems. The truth cocktail takes effect, and the questioning begins in the presence of Fostriades and the Captain.
The Captain introduces himself and asks how the man is. He is tired. Sir Bridgehead introduces himself. The Captain tells him that it may comfort him to know that the marines are under the charge of the navy here. The man seems confused when Sir Bridgehead says he has met his Admiral, when the Admiral he named is not a Scorpionis one. Fostriades explains that there have been some major political changes while he has been in this system. He says yes, there would be. Sir Bridgehead asks him what has happened these past nine months. He says they've been fighting. Why? For Scorpionis and victory! Slowly his story emerges...
There weren't any Scorpionis fleets here when they came in on 096-1117, straight from the Battle of Dulu, but they did find some debris right near the mainworld gas giant that could have been from the Coruska-fleet. They never sent anyone to Jusk because they assumed it was under enemy control -- if not, someone would have come through and reinforced them.
Their fleet and that of the enemy was pretty evenly matched. The enemy were ready for them when they came in, with their fleet spread through the whole system. The initial Battle of Staru took ten days, and on the tenth day there was a big battle around P4, where all the capital ships got together and smashed each other up. They dropped some ground troops in various places as well, and there were minor battles going on in other areas of the system, including heavy bombing sorties on the enemy installations on the surface of Staru.
The starport at Staru was the enemy home base. They had taken over the system and had traitors operating the civilian frequencies.
The man (serial number 9671111) was initially a missile loader on the Light Cruiser, but when they lost so many crew in the battle he performed other duties, such as firing turrets, repair work, and so on. The ship was so badly damaged in the early battle that it was only just put back into service.
The biggest Scorpionis ship, the flagship, was the Lollipop, a 200kt Heavy Battleship, which was destroyed in the fight between the capital ships of both sides about ten days into the battle around the gas giant P4. The Admiral was on the flagship and after that engagement Rear Admiral Aliotski took over. About 50 ships survived the first battle, the largest being a Strike Cruiser and his Light Cruiser, although both very heavily damaged. The enemy ships they fought included some large ones -- their cruiser firing the killing salvo for a one of the BRICKs.
After the initial engagements, so many ships were damaged that both sides withdrew to repair. The enemy pulled back to the inner three orbits of the main system, while the Scorpionis forces pulled back to the Secondary, where their marines captured the enemy base on S2 on 108-1117.
They launched an invasion of P3-15 on 110-1117, dropping marines and supplies there to try to get a foothold in that orbit. The operation failed, partly because the Scorpionis marines were vastly outnumbered, partly because of the rough terrain, but also because the enemy had supporting fire from orbit, but they couldn't do the same because the enemy controlled that area of space. Although both sides had about the same number of ships (very few), the Scorpionis ships were working a long way from their base on the secondary while the enemy were a lot closer to their home base.
Even though the invasion didn't succeed, it never really became an enemy base because their troops stopped them getting any sort of permanent facilities there. They dropped supplies in every now and then from orbit.
During the stalemate they also had some blockade runners going in to Staru, picking up supplies and so on. There was a resistance there that was sabotaging enemy installations -- the planet is so agricultural that it was hard for the enemy to keep complete control.
There was a three month pause while both sides rebuilt. Then on 291-1117 the Scorpionis Navy launched their last successful attack. There was a research station on P2-8 (Korokal) that the enemy had captured apparently intact, and that was the target of the raid.. They had one Strike Cruiser operational again at that point, and they loaded all their remaining missiles onto it and they destroyed the installation completely, smashed several ships on the ground and supply depots, and generally left the place useless.
On the next day they moved on to Staru itself. There was a big battle in close orbit, and a lot of ships were destroyed there and a lot of debris fell down on the planet. They fired all the missiles they had left at the starport, including a lot of nuclear stuff, then the Captain who was commanding the Scorpionis fleets (on the Strike Cruiser) took the ship and crashed it (with the crew still aboard) into the starport to destroy the enemy installations that survived the missile bombardment. The commander of the Scorpionis Navy died in that, of course, but it destroyed all the enemy bases and they now have nothing left.
Most of the civilian population (originally 800,010 in the system) was in that starport city area. He has no idea how many civilians survived the war.
At this point, Lieutenant Walthur took command of the Scorpionis fleets, and when they retreated back with the few ships they had left (some Destroyers, some Patrol Escorts) this Light Cruiser became the flagship when it was rushed into action (about ten days ago).
It was after this big raid that the supply runs to the marines on P3-15 stopped completely, although they had been petering out for a while. He did not know what the enemy strength was at this point, but they didn't have much left and they knew they didn't have any useful bases because they'd destroyed them all. The Scorpionis bases were still intact then.
On 345-1117 the enemy counter-attacked with everything they had left, mostly BOXERs. Their Light Cruiser was not really in a shape to do much running and was smashed pretty heavily. The enemy still had some missiles left (unlike Scorpionis) and devastated the base on S2 with nuclear and conventional missiles. There were at least 40 ships in the battle which raged through the Secondary system. The enemy probably have a dozen or so BOXERs left -- the Scorpionis Navy was destroyed, and he believes he was the only person to survive.
The man is then questioned further. There were no indications that the enemy received any reinforcements during this period, obviously because their forces were busy taking over the rest of Scorpionis. There were no Scorpionis reinforcements, of course. He can give no information at all on enemy tactics or weaknesses, and can't tell if any of the enemy ships looked or acted differently.
Why did they find no bodies on his ship? They were down to a skeleton crew, and most of them were out manning the weapons, running damage control, or engineering or something. The engineering people got a lot of medals for their efforts in keeping the ship running during that period. The medals were issued by Captain Dulaski, who was the commanding officer of the entire operation, commander of all the Scorpionis fleets until this ship was destroyed.
Fostriades says that as a whole Scorpionis was still free, but the survivor can't believe that. They were the remaining Scorpionis fleet, he is convinced.
Sir Bridgehead asks the prisoner if, as far as he knows, he is the only living Scorpionis person from the fleet, and he says as far as he knows he is the only living Scorpionis person. Sir Bridgehead assures him that there are many other living Scorpionis people.
Did they capture any enemy ships? No, although they did board some early on, but stopped that practice after they started self-destructing.
Did they get any information on what the enemy looked like? The enemy are ugly and they smell. They are nasty, like cockroaches, horrible, ugly, they smell and they eat people. They flay people alive and eat them.
After leaving the Sick Bay, the Captain holds a conference.
Fostriades suggests that the reason the visitors have not continued to come through is that this fleet stopped them here. He points out that no enemy ships arrived in the system during the war. This is very interesting -- they got some ships through Dulu somehow but couldn't get any more, because the Battle of Dulu was won by Scorpionis and they would have had to come through Dulu. The Captain asks if they were cut off and Fostriades replies that everyone was cut off: the Scorpionis people thought that they were isolated because if this system had been taken then so had all the others (which turns out not to have been true), and the visitors must have been cut off because if they could have got any more ships through they would have. This would imply that Dulu is still friendly.
Sir Bridgehead suggests that they jump into Dulu and see if it is indeed still friendly. The last they heard, of course, they would have an alternate route back from Dulu via Darthlaru, which is either abandoned or a member of the Tail Nations being administered from Stevvin.
They decide they should refuel at the gas giant they are now orbiting, but it will be dangerous because of all the debris. They will then try to rescue the marines on P3-15, as the Captain thinks it would be criminal to leave them there. They could send them back with the kids on the Sir Walter Raleigh. The Captain believes that the enemy ships in this area have been quite thoroughly decimated.
The Captain brings Chiang Ho up to date, and he concludes that the visitors breathe normal air, are capable of eating human agricultural products, but eat people in addition(?). Does the information that the visitors are insectoid life help in breaking their coded transmissions that they picked up from P3-15? Apparently not.
The Captain insists that they pick up the marines from P3-15 -- the Sir Walter Raleigh can stand high guard for them during the operation.
Chiang Ho wonders again about his idea that the visitors are just traveling willburys that just scavenge along the way and keep going. The other thing is that this could be just the scout ant -- but if the scout ant doesn't return with a positive report, they won't come this way either -- if they are insects.
They examine routes out of Dulu. Last they knew, Stevvin was friendly. If it isn't when they get there, they could go from Stevvin to Jusk.
The consensus is to go to Dulu: if there's nothing there, they will go to Stevvin; if there is something, they will come back to Staru. But will Staru be friendly enough to refuel here in two weeks? "Things are changing fast," says Fostriades, "The visitors here have live ships, Scorpionis now doesn't. You know what those bozos are like in Jusk. They'll probably just sit there and go on sucking their thumbs."
This prompts Chiang Ho to ask William Rufus if he wants to continue with them, now that he's accidentally stuck here, or whether he wants to go back with the Sir Walter Raleigh. He says he's signed on as crew now, so... They agree that the captive grunt should go back on the Sir Walter Raleigh. He's so badly disoriented that he will need a lot of convincing about what's happened in his absence, and since they don't even pretend to be true Scorpionis people, they're not the ones to do the job.
Fostriades does not think it is a good idea to rely on refueling here at Staru on their way back from Dulu. Stevvin is much more likely to be safe, particularly since the system is not on a route to anywhere.
The Sir Walter Raleigh has meanwhile found some fragments of enemy ships, but they're all small. They have found nothing big enough to board, or even really worth examining.
The probe that was sent to S2 shows just a radioactive mess where the base used to be, with no signs of life.
So the plan is to take some of the marines from P3-15, send the rest back on the Sir Walter Raleigh to Jusk, then jump to Dulu and come back by way of Stevvin and then either Jusk or Federu. Sir Bridgehead would be much more comfortable with the support of the other ship, but it is agreed that they need to get information back to Jusk, and that the Anastasia stands less chance of being detected if it is alone.
Chiang Ho starts his refueling run at 03:30, and makes an excellent job of the dangerous operation, taking ten hours and finishing at 13:30. Since no enemy bothered them, there is probably no-one there.
The Sir Walter Raleigh refuels as well, but they hit a large piece of wreckage in the process and suffer damage to their weapons systems, taking out a sandcaster battery. The crew of the Anastasia greets this news with cries of derision.
The two ships set course for P3-15.
The planet is heavily forested, with heavy jungle. Somewhere near the center of these transmissions there is evidence of a blasted area as if there has been a very large explosion very recently.
Since they were nuclear missiles, the Captain considers the threat to the ship to be too high, and authorizes the gunners to nuke the missile site.
Chiang Ho moves the Anastasia into position to make the attack, and Rufus locks onto the target. Avon fires one battery of missiles, which destroy the target -- there were no anti-missile defenses, apparently. The sensors show a blast crater on the site, and some secondary explosions.
Mich has prepared a probe to broadcast a message, and it is launched into a low orbit. The message is recorded by Vana, telling the marines to standby for the pickup signal, and to broadcast tactical information on enemy locations and so on.
The Anastasia orbits for a while. At 15:30 there is transmission by tight-beam laser from the surface to the Anastasia -- this means someone down there has located the ship despite its EMMask. The signal is in Scorpionis code hailing protocol. When they respond, the ground site sends up information on enemy locations -- three enemy airspace defense bases, two more enemy ground troop bases, and then says that this tight-beam communications system is operating from a remote relay station. All of these enemy bases are on the surface, not hardened.
There is a brief discussion as to whether to use nuclear or conventional weapons against the targets, and it is decided that nuclear will achieve the desired effect more reliably and with fewer shots.
The Captain opposes attacking the two bases containing enemy ground troops, on the basis that they will not be going anywhere once the marines have been lifted off, and can be easily overrun by a large Scorpionis force. It is also conceivably possible that the enemy has acquired Scorpionis codes and is really transmitting friendly ground troop locations, but they can't tell that until they try to come in and pick up the marines.
Sir Bridgehead really wants a cockroach to experiment on, preferably one living and one dead. The request is signaled to the ground, but they say they can't do that right now.
So they will go down and pick up the marines, and see what happens. "And fry the cockroaches on the way out," adds the Admiral. The Captain objects -- they're not going anywhere, and the whole Scorpionis army will be coming in here in a few weeks and may be able to take some alive.
Avon launches a salvo at the remaining airspace defense sites and nukes them thoroughly.
The pickup protocol is arranged. Each of the three marine sites will be located within 100km, then they will transmit actual locations once the ship gets in close.
Chiang Ho takes the Anastasia down towards the first general location, at just under Mach. The ship is being actively tracked from the two enemy ground troop locations, and also from two other locations of which they have not been told. Rufus locks the Anastasia's sensors onto all four, just in case. Chiang Ho suggests that there could be some grounded starships there, possibly.
They approach location 1. As they come in, they get a short transmission of a precise location. Rufus scans the area intensively as Chiang Ho brings the ship in to land, and finds an intermittent laser source showing them where to land. At Vana's suggestions, they display camouflage colors on the hull. Chiang Ho brings them down into a fairly rocky clearing and about 15-20 marines, some in Scorpionis uniforms, run towards the ship. Vana, in the loading bay, opens the ramps and the marines dash on board.
As soon as Vana signals they are clear, Chiang Ho takes the ship up and to the next location, trying to avoid the known enemy bases. Vana assures him that the marines will follow the same procedure at the other pickup sites as well. Sir Bridgehead is concerned that some may require medical attention, but Vana tells him to do something useful and brew some coffee for them. There is a short but intense conversation, terminated when Sick Bay's communicator is cut off for a short while from the bridge.
Chiang Ho brings them into location 2, smashing through some trees during the landing this time. There are 20-30 marines here, this time with five wounded. Sir Bridgehead goes to work, while the unhurt marines are allocated staterooms.
At location 3 there are about a dozen marines, with no wounded. Vana confirms that this is the last pickup, but they have a couple of cache locations they want blasted on the way out to make sure they don't get captured.
Chiang Ho pulls the ship up from the ground as fast as possible, with as much acceleration as the engineers can manage. Mich squeezes 6G's from the engines, and maybe a tad more -- the inertial compensators are holding, but "We canna keep it up for long, Cap'n!"
Avon nukes the two cache locations on the way out.
The have picked up a total of 45 people, including 5 wounded. Most were in Scorpionis uniforms, some in improvised uniforms, some in furs.
The wounded had mostly minor wounds, some burns, some infected injuries, some broken bones. Most of them have received crude field treatment, native wood splints and so on. Sir Bridgehead and Brock will need to work on them for a while.
The ranking marine officer is called to the bridge. Sir Bridgehead wants to "examine" him, but he is discouraged from any such dubious activities.
This Second Lieutenant is in charge of the ground forces -- Vana outranks them heavily. It is explained to him that they want to transfer the five wounded, and five more, to the Sir Walter Raleigh to return to Jusk, while they go on to investigate Dulu. The ship has enough battledress for everyone -- he says that if they just have clean uniforms, that will do nicely.
Five of the people they rescued are actually Navy personnel who came in on a destroyer that survived the last battle, and they will go back with the wounded. The destroyer crash-landed heavily, and they blew it up after rearming and regrouping the marines on planet. They recovered some tracking equipment and stuff, which were located at the equipment caches that were destroyed on the way out. There was no contact with anything offworld for quite a while until the destroyer came in, and they would guess that about 8 BOXERs were left in the system, all of which headed for the mainworld.
He wants them to nuke the enemy ground bases, but they explain that they want to leave them for the main Scorpionis forces. The five wounded and the Navy people should be able to give information to help the fleets when they come in the system. The marine complains that the Navy people were dragging them down a bit, what with their desire to have their meat cooked and stuff like that.
The ten Scorpionis personnel are transferred to the Sir Walter Raleigh on the pinnace, with Avon piloting and Sir Bridgehead to supervise the wounded.
Commodore Watson is asked to take these people back to Jusk, where she should ask them to take Staru and clean up the system. She is informed of the Anastasia's intended flight plan: they will go from here to Dulu; if they can refuel at Dulu they will come back directly to Jusk, otherwise they will go to Stevvin, refuel there, and do the two-jump hop from there back to Jusk. If the Anastasia is not back in 3 weeks, they are to assume that Dulu is occupied.
Good-byes are said, and the Anastasia heads out to a jump point, while the Sir Walter Raleigh heads out to jump for Jusk.