Scothe is an Imperial Client State. The planet is quite cold (-113 in temperate zones) with low gravity (0.28). The government is an impersonal bureaucracy with a very high law level. The language here is very close to Imperial Galanglic, and readily understandable by all -- a nice change from their most recent stops.
Although they could have delivered their cargo in orbit, they decide to land as the local TL-5 would probably delay the process otherwise. Fostriades sells the cargo for Protectorate Dollars via the primitive computer hook-up available here.
Sir Bridgehead continues his experiments and stays on the ship.
Chiang Ho, David Brock, and Helen take the GCarrier (Brock can drive a grav vehicle now!) and go to the starport bar with a small keg of brew and a small bag of coffee. There is an enclosed garage to park the GCarrier, so they don't need vacc suits to get in to the bar.
The bar is a bit of a dive, and it's full of rednecks who look hard at the group as they come in. Helen lays her gauss pistol on the bar (the starport isn't technically under government jurisdiction) as Chiang Ho orders beer. The locals are still suspicious -- the bar is crowded, and the Anastasia is the only ship down on the landing field.
Chiang Ho starts a loud conversation about how good to is to be off the ship away from the Admiral. General agreement is expressed, and Brock asks Helen how are things with the Admiral? Helen says she has no complaints -- he's still great, getting better with practice, and hasn't even tried to slip her any drugs recently. Chiang Ho asks if he's spent all his money, and Helen says he never spends ALL his money -- anyway, she has more on the ship than anyone else, probably. They find it interesting that Helen and the Captain are the two who are carrying all their money with them so that it's accessible.
"So, if we're not going to start trouble, what exactly are we going to do here?" says Brock. Helen calls for some serious drinks, not this "rat's piss" that they have been served. The barman complies -- it is much better beer. Chiang Ho orders a whisky chaser, and his 100Cr note vanishes quickly to cover the tab. They drink for a while, Helen knocking back drinks like she's trying to use up Chiang Ho's 100Cr. The locals seem to be less suspicious now.
Chiang Ho fetches the 20-litre "pony" keg from the GCarrier, and asks the barman to tap it. He offers the barman a drink, and he chokes on it a bit, but pours another quickly. "One dollar a drink!" shouts Chiang Ho. The locals all queue up, dropping their money on the bar. The evening develops into a good party. Chiang Ho spends the whole evening complaining about the Admiral.
Chiang Ho ends up with $100, and gets $10 change from his tab; he leaves 100Cr tip for the barman when they leave, and tells the barman he has some more kegs if he wants to buy some -- he says he will, if they take the pig away with them. They take the "pig" (ashtray) and step over the sleeping bodies on the way out.
They refuel the ship from the water hose provided at the starport (50Cr per ton of fuel equivalent). Fostriades announces that they will only be carrying 19 tons in the hold, and so it is suggested that they fill up the bladders in the hold with fuel as well to test the system over the next jump.
It seems that one of the reasons why the starport bar is popular is that they don't mind the occasional fight, unlike the planet outside the starport where fighting can get you into serious trouble.
Sir Bridgehead is told about the bar -- it's a real dive, somewhere where Mich would be right at home (he's actually busy checking the drives and supervising the refueling). Sir Bridgehead says he does not want to go there -- Chiang Ho says that's a shame, because they told them so much about him! After what they had said, Helen points out, he might not be welcome in there anyway.
In the evening local time, Chiang Ho (accompanied by Helen) returns to the bar with 120 liters of booze and 5kg coffee. The bargaining starts at $500 for just the bean mash (over many drinks), but he actually sells it all for $2200 and 4 empty wooden barrels (which he needs to mature more of the bean products).
The coffee, by the way, is highly caffeinated, tastes interesting, and does not seem hallucinogenic. It does, however, seem to sharpen the senses.
Chiang Ho contemplates buying wood here, but it is extremely expensive as it does not grow naturally here. Chiang Ho remembers his first cargo -- flammable acidic (corrosive) wood!
Midnight local time is at 12:03 ships time.
Sir Bridgehead describes his experiments and explains all the medical equipment in the sick bay to David Brock.
Suddenly they pick up a Mayday signal -- "This is the merchant ship Fredfin, we're under attack by pirates, please help!" They give their position, which is further out from the system than the Anastasia.
Chiang Ho scans that area and pinpoints the broadcasting ship, but can't distinguish two ships. The scan is inconclusive. The Captain puts the ship on alert and orders the ship out to investigate.
As he pilots the ship, Chiang Ho scans repeatedly. The position is around 150,000 km away. He asks the Computer Officer to precalculate jumps from the ship's projected locations on the way (Formidable, Computer, Navigation), including a location close to the merchant; she sets up a countdown display and configures a button for the Captain to press which will enable a jump at the next pre-computed point they reach.
Chiang Ho now registers two ships in close proximity -- one is larger than the other, and it is the smaller which is transmitting the Mayday signal.
The Captain asks Helen for her evaluation, as she's the only one who really knows pirate ships (Avon objects -- it used to be his job to do nothing but chase pirate ships!). It could be a merchant under attack, it could be two pirates pretending, it could be... This is not an unreasonable location to find a merchant. Chiang Ho asks the computer for its evaluation, and it says it's inconclusive -- he asks it to advise when there's a better evaluation.
Avon sets up to target the larger ship when he gets close enough.
Fostriades tries to find out what sort of merchant it might be, and the computer says the information is consistent with it being a Far Trader. There is not enough information on the other ship to make a guess about it.
Chiang Ho asks the Captain if he wants to load nuclear weapons.
"Are we in Imperial space?"
"No, this is just an Imperial Client State."
Sir Bridgehead, however, objects strongly to loading any nukes whatsoever. Chiang Ho suggests loading them into just one turret, with conventional missiles in the other three.
"Make it so," says the Captain.
Helen and Joe take on the job of missile porters.
Pilot Chiang Ho is ordered to bring the Anastasia in fast and stop clear of the other ships.
The time is now 16:00. Chiang Ho tries to locate the larger ship, but at 450,000 km can't make it work until his second try. It is generating somewhat over 5000 Mw.
The small ship accelerates towards them at a mere 1G. Fostriades suggests that if they're in league, the small one is the one they need to worry about. The larger ship matches the small ship's velocity.
The time is now 16:20. Chiang Ho keeps the Computer Officer busy all the time calculating jump points based on what he SAYS the ship will do. Mich keeps the Jump Drive prepared, rechecking it every 40 minutes.
Chiang Ho locks on to the larger ship (#2). It is 330 tons, generates about 7000 Mw, probably a Gazelle class Close Escort. These ships are often sold as Navy surplus to other governments and so on, and in that configuration are usually equipped with two particle accelerator and two beam laser turrets.
The small ship is still transmitting a Mayday signal. Chiang Ho locks onto it. It is a standard Far Trader; the power is fluctuating like there's a problem in Engineering, and it looks like the hull has been holed in several places.
The Captain hails the pirate ship (CE-2) -- "This is the Merchant Trader Anastasia, could you explain yourself please?" There is no reply. "I said this is Merchant Trader Anastasia to you there pirate. We expect your response or we're going to start shooting." The Captain authorizes the gunners to fire at will and requests a warning shot across their bows. Avon, who has taken the missiles, fires a salvo to pass close to them. Brock takes control of the defensive weapons, the lasers and sandcasters.
Chiang Ho scans the Far Trader to try to determine their weapon status. They seem to have a major systems failure and are mostly concerned with keeping the ship together. Fostriades, at the Engineering station on the bridge, will monitor them carefully just in case they are pretending.
The Far Trader continues on the same course and speed and CE-2 matches it, breaking the lock. The Anastasia's computer postulates that the Far Trader has lost its maneuver drive capability. CE-2 opens fire at the Anastasia with all weapons but misses.
Chiang Ho continues to request more jump points from the Computer Operator -- she is definitely overworked and underpaid now!
The time is now 16:40. Chiang Ho breaks the lock as they continue closer while locking on CE-2. Two more ships appear ahead to right and left, apparently having just powered up their fusion generators. Chiang Ho locates them -- one appears to be another Close Escort (CE-3) while the other (#4) has a rather larger power output.
"Hello, this is the Merchant Cruiser Anastasia to incoming ships!" the Captain hails, "We are under attack by a pirate vessel, please identify yourselves."
"We're the, uh, Imperial anti-piracy ship. We demand that you pull over, disarm your weapons, and come to a full stop."
They reserve the lasers for defense, so Avon fires the three conventional missile batteries at CE-2, knocking out both particle accelerators and damaging the hull.
Chiang Ho transmits the ship ID and requests theirs. The response (from #4) is "We're Imperial Navy ships, you idiots! Pull over or we'll blast you up!"
This is not standard Navy procedure. The Captain suggests to the opposing ships that they should withdraw. There is silence.
The computer cannot determine whether those voices were likely to be Imperial Navy. It's sufficiently close to an Imperial accent that they could conceivably be.
Sir Bridgehead thinks that this is a trap which has been set up specifically for them, but the rest of the crew disagree. They are of the opinion that the Far Trader is genuine and not part of the other group, who could be local Navy, but of course there were no signs of a Navy on the planet when they were there.
The enemy has a lock on the Anastasia. CE-2 and CE-3 fire but miss. #4 opens up with two each missile and laser batteries--one missile salvo is on target, but Brock shoots it down.
The time is now 17:00. Chiang Ho locks on to CE-3, which is indeed another Gazelle class Close Escort. Everyone belatedly gets into vacc suits, except Sir Bridgehead who suits up in battledress. Avon launches three missile salvos at CE-3, damaging Engineering and causing severe damage to the weapons. The Anastasia is now at a jump point and can stay stationary here ready to jump. Linda is still busy calculating more jump points (Formidable, Computer, Navigation). Chiang Ho takes the Anastasia off the enemy sensors.
They move into visual range of the Far Trader. It is unarmed. It has severe damage to the Engineering section and the maneuver drive is inoperable, but life support is still working despite hull damage.
They contemplate what it would take to board a Close Escort -- the CE has a normal crew of 10, and they think they could handle that. They would like to recover some of the costs of the battle through salvage or booty, or at least replenish their missiles from captured stores.
CE-3 starts accelerating hard away from the battle. CE-2 comes to a dead stop, with #4 between him and the Anastasia. CE-2 and #4 fire, but Brock's sandcasters turn their shots aside.
The time is now 17:20. CE-2 moves into visual range -- it looks like a decommissioned Navy vessel -- and shoots, but the lasers are just turned back by the defenses. CE-3 accelerates rapidly away from the battle, firing its one weak laser as a parting shot. It misses wildly. #4 moves into visual range and shoots.
Chiang Ho locks onto #4 -- it is a 400-ton System Defense Boat. Brock damages the hull with his lasers, and Avon's missiles hit Engineering, weapon systems, and hull. Chiang Ho breaks the enemy lock, while the Captain calls on them to surrender. There is no reply.
The time is now 17:40. SDB-4 hits the Anastasia, making both laser batteries inoperable. The engineers swing into action on repairs -- Fostriades leaves the bridge so that they can work on a battery each. CE-2 moves in very close (all three ships are now at visual range) but misses with both lasers. Chiang Ho locks onto both CE-2 and SDB-4. Avon's missiles hit Engineering twice (maneuver drive damage) and also the hull. CE-3 is long gone by now and can easily outrun any possibility of pursuit.
The time is now 18:00. Mich repairs one laser battery. SDB-4 tries to stay close, but has serious maneuver drive damage. CE-2 (who has full power) remains in visual range. Brock hits SDB-4 with the repaired laser, taking out another missile battery. Avon chooses to fire the missiles at CE-2, as it could still escape fairly easily -- the remaining laser battery is damaged, and he hits Engineering twice. Mich and Fostriades repair the other laser battery.
The time is now 18:20. SDB-4 comes to a halt and shoots at the Anastasia -- Brock's defenses hold off a repaired missile battery and a laser battery. CE-2 fires its lasers, and Brock has to use two sandcasters to turn it aside. Avon hits SDB-4 with the missiles -- there's an internal explosion, the missile system is wiped out as is one of the lasers, and he hits Engineering yet again. Brock hits CE-2 with the lasers, damaging the remaining laser and the hull.
The Captain again calls for them to surrender, power down, and prepare to be boarded.
The time is now 18:40. The engineers strengthen the repairs to the laser systems, so they should now hold up reliably for the rest of the battle. SDB-4 starts to move away despite serious Engineering damage. The Anastasia causes major damage to weapons and engineering sections of both enemy ships.
The time is now 19:00. SDB-4 (with no remaining weapons) is breaking away at increasing speed, while CE-2 breaks in the opposite direction. The Anastasia chases CE-2, damaging its Engineering section, disabling all its weapons, and damaging the sensors.
The time is now 19:20. CE-2 tries to hail the Anastasia but they ignore it. They try to get a lock-on SDB-4 but it is too far away. They fire all non-nuclear weapons at CE-2, damaging the hull, smashing the remains of the weapon turrets, and hitting Engineering three times which disables the maneuver drive (killing several crew members trying to effect repairs), but leaves life support still operational.
The time is now 19:40. As the Anastasia passes CE-2, they see that Engineering is devastated, even by Mich's and Fostriades' standards. They decelerate to chase SDB-4, who is trying to escape. They call the Far Trader, who says he can hold out indefinitely until they have dealt with the other ships. They contemplate sending the pinnace out to rescue the Far Trader or to board CE-2 but decide against it. At Helen and Mich's instigation, they fire a few more rounds into CE-2 just to make sure -- one of the shots actually misses, but the others damage the ship's systems even further. It would now probably take several days in a starport to repair the ship.
They work out how long it would take to catch SDB-4, and they come to the conclusion that it would take too long, and if he ever broke their sensor location in the process they couldn't regain it at that range. It would take 4:30 to match velocities with them, and by that point they would be 3,250,000 km away. They have no choice but to let SDB-4 escape.
The time is now 20:00. Chiang Ho returns his attention to CE-2, and matches velocities one hour later.
It is 21:00, and they have matched velocities with CE-2. The ship shows large holes in both maneuver drive pods, and all four turrets are destroyed.
The Captain hails the Close Escort. It asks what their terms are. The Captain says that if they surrender, the crew of the Anastasia will not kill them. The CE suggests that they open the main airlock so they can board, as they say they are cut off from their vacc suits by damage. This sounds an unlikely story, so they suggest sending two crew over first in the vacc suits they must surely have near them. The CE crew want the Anastasia to send out a vehicle to fetch them. Chiang Ho suggests throwing them a line to come across, but they don't like that idea. The CE suggests paying off the Anastasia, but the offer of 10MCr is turned down, so they then offer to send over hostages if they will leave the ship alone.
The gunners set up for pinpoint shooting. Chiang Ho suggests rigging up a charge to blow into the ship, pointing out that they should resign themselves to sending over an armed boarding party. The Captain asks for gas canisters to help in the operation.
The computer is asked the optimum way to take this pirate ship, and it replies that they should send over their 20 marines. The Captain asks what to do with only 5 marines to take it with minimal damage. It suggests waiting until they run out of fuel, then giving a couple of extra days for the crew to die. That will, however, take too long for the Captain's tastes.
They discuss their options. Since they are probably covering the airlock, they will send the pinnace over there with an explosive device to jam the airlock (so they're trapped) then send one boarding group in at each of the bottom and top turrets. The CE crew probably has fairly crude weapons.
A boarding party is selected. The Captain will take the pinnace over to the airlock, while Brock and Joe go in the bottom and Helen and Avon go in the top. Helen prepares some explosive devices to throw at the airlock to jam it -- the detonation of that charge will be the signal to start the attack.
Chiang Ho asks them to SHOW the 10MCr over visual, but they say they can't because of communication difficulties. The audio, however, is quite clear, and the computer thinks their voices sound "amused." Chiang Ho keeps them talking so that they won't notice the vacc-suited boarding party approaching -- he says that if they have any pretty women on board, they might let them live. Chiang Ho demands visuals, and the CE blows a raspberry at them.
The boarding party goes over in battledress. Only Brock has problems -- he overshoots and takes a while to join Joe at the lower turret.
At the top turret, there is very little remaining of the gunnery station, just a few pieces of console. At the bottom turret, there is also virtually nothing left. Joe and Brock will be coming in on the lower deck, just underneath the bridge.
The Captain can see only the upper turret from his position in the pinnace. When Helen and Avon reach it, he throws the charge at the airlock. It takes him a little longer than he had anticipated, and he throws it as Brock reaches the lower turret. He misses and the charge hits the hull under the airlock, causing no damage but signaling the attack!
Both groups go in. Both hatches vent air as they open. Joe gets stuck, so Brock has to work on freeing him while the other group goes in.
Avon and Helen come down into an empty ward room, which does not show much damage. They close the hatch behind them to repressurize the section.
At this point, the Captain's second charge hits the airlock and jams it. The shock jars Joe sufficiently that Brock can free him. They go in and close the hatch behind them. A second explosion is not expected by the boarding parties, but they carry on anyway.
Avon and Helen search the aft section of their deck, including the galley, sick bay, and jump drive section. The jump drive is in vacuum, so the ward room loses pressure again -- the indicator light at the hatch was faulty. They find no-one. They then proceed to the starboard iris valve into the officers' lounge.
Brock and Joe unfasten the access panel into the forward room of the lower deck, which contains electrical equipment. They go in and move forward to the iris valve in the ceiling. They go up into the avionics room, and then to the access hatch that leads to the bridge. They open it outwards onto the bridge.
Brock opens the hatch at the same time as Avon opens the iris valve. Brock sees a vacc-suited person on the bridge at ultra-short range with his back to him. He is crouched covering the airlock with a weapon, while there are two others in the corridor beyond also covering the airlock. Brock steps out onto the bridge right behind him. Avon sees a person in the officers' lounge covering the iris valve, and another aiming from the corridor leading forward. All the enemy are in vacc suit-14, armed with shotguns and 9mm rifles. Avon has a gauss pistol, Helen a snub pistol, Brock an autorifle, and Joe his stick. From the cover of the iris valve, Avon injures the person in the corridor, who fires back with a shotgun and hurts him and then moves back into the cover of the corridor. Helen misses.
Brock says to the man in front of him "Freeze!" but he turns round so Brock shoots him. He is wearing a high-tech vacc-suit, probably Imperial Navy surplus, and therefore does not go down. Joe leaps out of the access hatch and tries a mighty blow at him, but misses. The man shoots wildly at Joe with his rifle, injuring him.
Avon leaps out into the room -- shots ricochet off him from the man in the lounge -- and Avon lets fly with rapid fire on the man in the room, but the shots only tear up the furnishings. He ducks back into cover.
Brock steps into the corridor and opens up with automatic fire on the two enemy near the hatchway to the lower deck. Joe swings at one about to shoot at Brock, but misses badly again. Being in battledress, he is not hurt when fire is returned.
Helen shoots at the man in the corridor and he goes down.
Avon leaps out again, and hits the man in the lounge with full automatic fire. He goes down. Avon moves up to the corridor and takes cover behind the corner.
Brock shoots down another one. Helen moves down the corridor and shoots down another. The remaining crewman hasn't seen the mess going on down the corridor, and so steps out and shoots at Helen, but misses. Joe steps out and hits him on the back of the head with the blunt end of the stick. He goes down too.
The ship is now captured. Five crew members were killed -- the four gunners in the turrets, and the engineer killed while repairing the drives. Of the boarding party, Joe and Avon are injured. The Close Escort is searched thoroughly. Sir Bridgehead goes over to tend to the injured pirates -- two die quickly of their wounds, but he saves the three others; they are transferred to the brig on the Anastasia, where Sir Bridgehead monitors their condition. Mich fixes the airlock that was damaged by the explosive charge, then examines the engineering section. The power plant is undamaged, but the maneuver drive is not repairable. The jump drive is damaged but repairable. They discuss what to do with the ship. The gig is intact and worth 13.5 MCr, so that would give them a good profit from this venture.
They find 50 kCr on the people on the ship, but it seems that the papers have been collected and destroyed before capture.
At 22:00 they take the CE in tow and go to rescue the Far Trader. This takes about 12 hours.
The engineers go over to fix the Fredfin, which is functionally identical to the Hermes. They cannibalize the Close Escort for parts, but by 21:00 they still can't fix it. Sir Bridgehead tends to the crew (they have only minor injuries) while the engineers continue working.
They remove the EMS Jammer from the Close Escort, taking it on board the Anastasia for later installation.
While they are doing all this work, the engineers consider rigging up some dummy serious weapons, like for example a meson gun. They are still frustrated by the inadequacy of the power infrastructure.
They travel from 100 diameters to orbit around Scothe, which takes until 18:00 as they are limited to 1G by the performance of the merchant ship and their towed Close Escort.
When they get there, they sell the 30-50 year old gig, slightly shop soiled but well maintained, for $17 million (Protectorate currency). Scothe will find it exceedingly useful for transport to their colony on orbit 9, which heretofore has only been accessible by years of travel by rocket, or resupply by incidental traders passing through the system.
Delaney thinks they should leave this system as soon as possible. It is eventually agreed that the pirates should dropped off with the authorities rather than with the Fredfin, and that they should not divert to attack the pirate base, but should leave that to the authorities too.
They intend to give the truth cocktail to one of the pirates. Even the least injured one needs six days complete rest, and it would probably be dangerous to give this drug to someone who is weak. There is a discussion as to whether they should worry about the medical risks, or just go ahead anyway. The pirate captain would need seven or eight days rest to be safe from any side-effects.
Sir Bridgehead administers the truth cocktail with a stimulant to bring the least injured pirate awake for a while. His questioning begins...
The pirate's name is Malcolm Forbes. He has been in this system for a long time. He does not know who his questioners are or that they were in this system. What system ARE they in?
"Scothe. Why did you attack that ship?"
He is rather confused. They attacked a little trader and another one that stuck its nose in. They attacked because the captain said to attack and it's a good idea not to argue. He points out the captain of the ship, and says there's someone else who gives the orders who isn't here. No-one's seen him, except maybe the captain, who says he's seen him -- he has a marvelous estate somewhere in this system. He starts babbling, and Sir Bridgehead gives him a sedative. The pirate's condition deteriorates rapidly and he is in bad shape, but not actually life-threatening.
The rest of the crew criticizes Sir Bridgehead, as he didn't find out any real information of use about the pirates! They decide to question the captain regardless of the health risk. Delaney, Helen, Avon, Sir Bridgehead, and Joe are to be present when Sir Bridgehead administers the cocktail and brings him round.
The pirate was indeed the captain of the Close Escort. There were about six or seven ships in their group. They have a number of refueling caches, but their home base is at a secret location -- he went there once blindfolded, and guesses it is on one of the outer planets. The SDB will have told the others about the battle. When they lose a ship they just ignore it -- it doesn't happen very often, as there aren't very many powerful ships around here, and they don't normally choose to attack them. They don't do any operations outside this system, and have no contact with groups outside the system. They live on the ships. They sell all the booty to whoever will buy it -- usually they dump it in orbit somewhere, and someone collects it, sells it, and gives them the cash. The orbit they use changes each time. The organization has no name, but the leader is called Russell, who is probably from the Protectorate rather than the Imperium. There are a lot of ex-Imperium people in the group -- they have better discipline than the locals. He has met Russell at his underground home. He does not want to be turned over to the ship they attacked, but would prefer to be turned over to the planetary authorities. They have enough friends in the planetary authorities that he would love to be turned over to them, as he'd probably be handed straight back. Personally he knows the customs officer at the outer colony, another 3 who help him refuel on Scothe, and a couple more down here at the starport who fence some of the cargo they manage to slip past Russell, etc., etc.. Sir Bridgehead sedates him -- he is in very bad shape but will not die.
Chiang Ho points out that this person has been slipping stuff by Russell, so why don't they just broadcast this tape? Delaney suggests finding a planetary authority who is not mentioned on his list -- there are no real newspapers here, just the one official party organ. The consensus is to deliver the chap to the planetary authorities, and broadcast the tape as they leave the system.
Chiang Ho "paints" a Band-Aid design over the hull damage on the Anastasia.
They leave the pirates with the local authorities, then take off to resume their journey. In return for their activities and leaving the Close Escort behind, they replenish their fuel, ammunition and medical supplies, but not their missiles. (They did of course "liberate" the radio jammer system from the CE before leaving it.) They leave orbit at 20:00. As they leave the planet behind, Sir Bridgehead broadcasts on general news frequencies -- appearing in his full Imperial Navy uniform -- and introduces the tape.
They enter jump at 22:07, bound for Hinay / Urnian.