At 23:00, Linda opens a laser comm channel to the surface. The other end is not transmitting.
Helen says, "Hi, Bill! It's been a while, we're coming in. Open the doors for us, please."
The bridge crew mutters in the background.
Helen starts taking the ship in slowly, at just under 1g.
The planet seems to have a number of domed cities. They are approaching one of the smaller ones.
The Captain makes sure Vana is aware of the potential security problems of getting repairs at what is most probably a pirate base. The marines will be on a state of alert, and the Captain is to be informed about everyone who comes and goes. The marines will practice setting up and tearing down some of their heavier weapons, in a convenient place like the receiving dock.
Looking around, it seems like they are in roughly a D-class starport. Helen says that a few of them should go out and negotiate a deal. Sir Bridgehead wants to go -- he's good at Admin. Helen suggests strongly he not wear his Naval uniform.
Mich puts together a list of everything he wants -- everything he needs for fixes, supply restocking, all that stuff.
Sir Bridgehead's analysis of Jack's scan is now complete. It has anomalies -- like Rufus. The Captain postulates that this is "controlled," and Jill's anomalies indicate "controlling."
"Now we know what Jack saw in her," says Sir Bridgehead.
The Captain, Helen, Sir Bridgehead, and Brock will visit the presumed pirate boss with Mich's list. As Brock puts it, "The Admiral can take over when we hit a bureaucracy, Helen will deal with the pirates if we run into pirate types, and I'll deal with anybody else, and the Captain will just say 'Yes.' Let's go."
The Admiral dresses up in his fancy civilian clothes. The Captain chooses attire of unornamented black from head to toe, with no insignia. Helen and Brock do nothing special -- they remain in shipboard casual. They will ride to the exit in the GCarrier in case the docking bay vents for some reason.
Brock flies the GCarrier the 500m to a small-vehicle airlock and parks inside. The lock cycles and they step ashore for the first time in a very long while.
The iris valve leads into the domed city. People are going about their daily business. There's electric mass transit. There is a slight haze of cigarette smoke in places -- the ventilators are clearly not up to the standards expected of a starport city (which of course it isn't). Just another typical domed city...
It is suggested that Helen might know where to go. She says she thinks there's a bar nearby, and leads them on into the town.
After about five minutes, it is clear she is lost. After a short pause, though, she gets her bearings and finds the place she was looking for.
Joe's Bar is quiet. It is 11:00 Imperial time, which is 5pm in the local 22-hour day. There's a couple of groups of two or three people in the corners, nursing their drinks and engaging in slow conversation. The room itself is not too small, perhaps 10m by 15m, with a bar at one of the longer sides. The barman looks bored -- perhaps he has been polishing that same glass for the last hour.
Sir Bridgehead feels uncomfortable here. Brock leads them to the bar and orders beers for them all.
Helen says that Bill must be around somewhere, but the problem is getting to see him. She doesn't recognize the barman -- it's been a while, she says. "Brock, do you have a gun with you? Oh, well. We need some way to get the barman's attention, to let him know we're serious."
Brock calls him over. He grabs the man's arm and twists it behind his back. He now has the barman's undivided attention; in fact, the barman can't even twist his head away right now. "Helen, I have his attention."
Helen admires Brock's work. To the barman she says, "We need to see Bill. He wants to see us. We're going to be very profitable for him. We're going to make him lots of money. He'll know me. I suppose you could tell him Robin's back. Go see him now. Right now. I don't care where he is, what he's doing, what he told you, but go find him now. Brock, you can let him go now."
Brock has done a good job -- the barman is undamaged and scurries away through the door behind the bar.
The group now has the attention of all the other customers, who are sitting quietly, watching them.
They wait for Bill. Helen vaults over the bar and pours everyone another beer.
After 10 minutes the barman returns with someone else who looks a lot like Colonel Sanders. This person scans the bar, sees Helen, and greets her warmly as a long-lost friend.
Helen introduces the group: "Gerard Delaney -- he's the person you'll be doing the business with; David Brock; Bridgehead; and you know me. So, let's sit down and discuss things."
The Captain takes over. "Hello, Bill. I understand you run this place."
"Yes," says Bill, "I understand you have some money for us."
"Yes, actually, we do have some available..."
Bill interrupts politely. "A few preliminary questions, if you don't mind, just to know where I stand. How hot's your ship?"
"How hot is it, if somebody comes looking?"
"The title's free and clear. That doesn't necessarily mean that there isn't anyone looking for us, however the ship itself is ours free and clear."
"That's good. I like that."
"Anyone who comes looking for us wants us for other reasons."
"Don't they always," Bill laughs. "So what's your business? I mean, what business do you have with me?"
The Captain shows Bill the list that Mich put together. "Any idea where we can come by this stuff?"
"Yes. You're ship's of Imperial origin?"
"Originally. Our engineer is very inventive -- if what's on the list is not actually available, he can probably work with close substitutes."
"Purely hypothetical question... Were some of the stuff you get to have serial numbers which were obviously stamped there by mistake, because their origin is somewhere else, you'd be able to fix that?"
"Anything that's not quite to spec I'm sure our engineer can fix. He's very talented."
"OK. We can get you your turrets and the weapons systems parts -- that we can certainly do. Most of the stores, we can fix up. Some of these are big maintenance items -- are you going to need facilities to put these in?"
"Well, our engineer hasn't asked for any help, and we have some unusual systems on our ship. He gets nervous when... you know."
"OK. We could get a hoist out there. We can't necessarily come by all of this. How much time do you want to take? We could put out a call on some of this if you needed it badly enough."
"Which items might you not be able to get immediately?"
"There's some specific Imperial..."
"Jump drive related, weapons related?"
"The jump drive stuff is clear. The ship weapons are clear. There's a couple of things here... you must have some ground troops or something. These fighting vehicle pieces are going to be a little tricky -- we'd have to put a special call out on that."
"The bars around here... do they have any, ah... restrictive preferences on clientele?"
"Yeah, they like people who have money, who can pay their bill."
"But aside from that, we can allow some shore leave without having to worry too much about it?"
"I presume if people are going to pick a fight they can stand up for themselves, right? I mean, if you end up with sufficiently few crew that you can't take off again, we can always come to a deal on the ship."
"So how much is this going to run us?"
"I'll have to get back to you on that."
"OK. Listen, the money on the ship is controlled by an individual named Fostriades. He keeps our books. You have your bookkeeper get in touch with our bookkeeper, and if everything looks fine..."
"You'd like a fuel hook-up, I presume?"
"That would be nice. We don't want to be going scooping while we're having maintenance."
"In the meantime... I'm just curious. What's your ship called?"
"Haven't heard of it. Hasn't been any word of it at all."
"Well, we're quite far afield here. Some of those repair items are related. I believe our last recorded location was 23 parsecs from here."
"That's a fair haul. You can certainly run quiet, I'll give you that."
"We were fortunate to find you here. It would have been uncomfortable to come up with nothing but Zhodani. We had just had a rather tense encounter with a Zhodani ship. They mistook us for someone else."
"Odd, that. So, is anybody looking for you now?"
"Nobody that should show up in this area for weeks and weeks and weeks and weeks and weeks."
"Are you planning to fit this equipment here? When we get towards the end of your safe window, let us know."
"Nobody is going to be looking for us here. Nobody knows we're here."
"I know you're here."
"Unless you tell someone, no-one else will know. I presume that if you do tell anyone, you wouldn't mind them showing up, so that pretty much takes care of it, right?"
"You might want to remind your crew to be careful. This whole town isn't necessarily as selective about its friends."
"How do you manage to maintain this place this close to the Zhodani?"
"There's nothing here. This planet, a few hunks of rock, and that's it. Nowhere to refuel."
"Where do you get the fuel from?"
"Interesting. We have some former asteroid miners on board." He pauses. "Mr. Fostriades, our Boss, often likes to do some trading when we put into a port. Is there anyone in particular to contact?"
"Just do the usual stuff."
"Is there anything in particular we should be worried about or careful of in this area?"
"That depends what you're worried about and where you go. There've been some Zhodani Naval movements -- one of the border fleets moved out quite suddenly and some reserves have been brought out to replace it. Haven't heard what it's doing. That was quite a while ago, but there's still a lot of shuffling of reserves going on."
"Do you have enough information on their fleets that if we gave you the name of a ship you'd be able to tell if it was in the fleet that moved out?"
"That depends. I'd have to check with my accountant."
"You don't know anything about the Zhodani working in league with the Imperium, do you?"
"Yes. Norris has been trying to calm things down at the border, relax tensions, work with them."
"You wouldn't have any psi experts, would you?"
"Depends whether you're looking for training, or looking for...?"
"Not training. Someone who might be skilled in assessing damage done."
"Not sure what you're on about, but I don't think so. You're certainly not going to find a witch-smeller here."
"We have an individual in custody who we believe to be substantially tampered with."
"Possible, but it might be an expensive service."
"OK, well. Can we buy you a drink?"
"It's on the house," says Bill. "It's good to see you back in town."
"Sometime when you're free... have you ever had bean juice?"
"I've had most things in my life, sir."
"We'll bring a keg over. It's interesting stuff. You probably want to sample it before making it generally available."
"If the buggers can't stand it, they'll end up on the floor. Is this a problem?"
"You might not want it to be generally available. We manufacture it on the ship. It usually brings a good price -- but this would be free. Anyway, you two," indicating Bill and Helen, "must have a lot to talk about, so we'll be heading on back to the ship. It's been nice meeting you."
Helen tells the Captain she'll join them later.
Sir Bridgehead has been strangely quiet -- he's been forced to drink beer, of course...
Brock says, "Admiral, you can stop drinking beer now. Let's go."
They leave Helen in Joe's Bar, and try to find their way back to the ship. When they get lost, the Captain takes over and leads them to the GCarrier. Brock flies them back on board the Anastasia.
They tell Mich about the status of the parts -- most of them can be found, but some may be of dubious legality. Fostriades points out that it is important to resist price gouging, otherwise they will be taken all the time here; he is assured that he has been appointed to do the negotiating himself.
Brock updates the marines on their location, and authorizes shore leave. They are to keep their wits about them, their mouths shut, and travel in groups.
William discusses the situation with Alice. She is willing to stay on the ship, provided she can continue to do business during shore leave, perhaps adding some items to her hand baggage occasionally. The two of them agree that some time ashore would be great -- they have been cooped up in the ship for a long time. Perhaps there's a casino in town? Even the idea of finding a hotel to stay at, instead of living on the ship, is rather attractive.
There are just a couple of kegs of bean juice left, but there is another batch due in a week. Brock puts together a pony keg to take to Joe's Bar for Bill.
According to Mich, the work on the ship will take about a month. He is rather pleased that all the jump drive stuff on his full list will be obtainable. He starts disassembling in preparation for maintenance.
Brock, William, Alice, Varda, and Joe go ashore. Brock leads them to Joe's Bar, but Helen is no longer there. There is someone different behind the bar.
Brock places the keg on the bar and tells the barmaid it's for Bill. She says it was expected, and takes a shot of the bean juice herself. Brock's attempts to be suave are wasted on her.
The place is a little busier now. There are about four groups of 3 to 6 people.
Brock tells her that his friends are looking for a place to gamble. There is a short discussion on how serious they are about gambling.
William, who has brought his gun and half a million credits, smiles. He says he likes card games, and looks through his wallet. She reaches for it, and he shows her. She examines one of the notes carefully to see if it's genuine. She must be satisfied, because she writes down an address and directions which she gives him.
The barmaid suggests that since Bill isn't here, why don't they drink this keg now? She knocks back a few more shots.
A customer tries to get her to serve him. He is told to go away, can't he see she's busy?
Brock slips behind the bar and serves the guy the beer he wants. The young man is from the largest group, and seems somewhat intimidated -- in fact his whole group looks a little out of place.
Brock asks him where they're from. It seems they are students from Attica Poly, in town for the big game against the local university -- the visitors lost. He seems thoroughly irritated at Brock's pointless questions, like "What big game?" and "Who won?", but is visibly worried and trying to be polite.
William looks around to see if there is some threat that is worrying the student, and suddenly notices a pair in the corner who are certainly hoodlums. Perhaps they even noticed William's money? They are apparently ignoring him -- very suspicious.
Anyway, back to the student... He looks a typical student, and has the guilty air of an under-age drinker, although of course no-one is being checked for age here. Brock keeps asking questions -- the youth is a Junior, studying Business Management; he's not really interested in getting on a starship, thank you, and hurries back to his group.
Brock checks to see that no-one else needs a drink, then returns to the crew at the bar. The barmaid is still drinking shots of bean juice.
It is now 14:00, which is 8pm local time. They plan to find somewhere to eat, then go on to the game. The barmaid recommends a restaurant two blocks down -- they leave the keg with her and walk out of the bar. They discuss the locals (barmaid and student) as they walk.
As promised, they cannot miss the restaurant. It is Olde Earthe style, with oil lanterns outside, low ceilings, subdued lighting (electric candles) and so on. It looks fine, although it'll probably be overpriced. The food is much as they would expect of Olde Earthe, although it has a distinct style of its own -- it is extremely good. The wine is adequate but not great. Price comes out to about 25Cr a head. They leave a generous tip.
They follow the directions that William was given, which lead them to a private residence. William realizes that they didn't get the name of the barmaid, so who can they say sent them -- a friend of Bill's?
William knocks. A butler, dressed in traditional uniform, answers the door. Although his dress is conventional, the colors are not -- neon green tie with a neon green shirt, and subdued maroon jacket. William tries to suppress a snicker and fails.
"This place was recommended by a friend of Bill's at Joe's Bar," says William.
"Would you care to buy some chips?" says the butler. He is still standing in the doorway.
"Yes", says William. He starts out small, handing the butler 20kCr.
"Certainly, sir. Right this way if you would, please." He leads them in, and hands William twenty red chips.
William wonders whether these are the high or low chips. He asks the butler about the colors. He is told that these red ones are good for an early stage of the game, and that the colors go through the spectrum, each one being ten times the previous. Cash is apparently also accepted. William regrets that he has not brought much money.
The butler directs the group to a "relatively casual" game. The room has eight people playing a poker variant. There are a lady and gentleman wandering the room, serving drinks.
William gives Alice half his chips, and the two of them sit down at the game. The table has mostly red chips, but some orange -- there are no yellow chips on the table.
The cards look refreshingly Imperial. For the first few hands, William takes it easy while catching on the rules -- both he and Alice bet lightly but lose.
As they get accustomed to the game, Alice and William starts to win. Since William is now ahead, this is when he starts his strategy and tries to lose.
The drinks keep coming around. William asks for the most obscure drink he can think of -- it takes just a few minutes for the girl to bring it back. The drink is perfect, and William is so delighted he tips her 100Cr.
He plays on for a while, mostly breaking even, and then the butler returns and suggests that he move on to another game, now he's warmed up.
They are led upstairs and into a larger room. There are three tables here -- one is poker again, there's a roulette variant with some really high-tech holographic equipment (a lot more advanced than anything else they've seen on this planet), and a dice game.
William chooses the nifty high-tech game. He places the smallest bet that seems socially acceptable -- 50kCr. He gets a grasp of the game quite quickly, placing small bets at first.
The way the game works is that each player puts his bets on, then picks up a little wand and flips it, and colored lights come flying off the end of it and start spinning round. When everyone in the group has flipped their wand, the lights spin round in a complex pattern and come together in one of the little numbered depressions in the table.
Alice and William each lose 50kCr. Alice backs out of the game; she takes a drink and sits beside William to bring him luck. William decides to lose the next 50kCr, and places it on the most bizarre obscure thing he can find. His bet holds through to the next round, if he's prepared to add the same again to it. He does, and comes up the winner. He has won 5MCr.
"If I had any sense, I'd leave right now," says William. He goes to the poker game instead. His lifetime wealth up until now was about 9MCr, and he has just won 50% more.
The game is conventional poker. The stakes are much higher than downstairs -- there are some green chips in players' stacks, although they are not used on the table much.
William is prepared to bet up to a million or so, depending on the hand. He doesn't push the first hand, but his second one is good. There is about a million in the pot, and the other player left in raises it by 2M. William sees the 2M, and raises another 1M. The other man matches the 3M, and puts in another 3M to see William's cards. William wins, for a net gain of about 12M. So far today, he has made 17MCr by gambling.
"Much more profitable than trading," observes William.
At this point Bill and Helen step in from another room. They are surprised to see the group, and invite them into the other room for a drink. It's a private room, except for the servants bringing drinks.
William says he's been doing pretty well tonight.
"I gathered that," says Helen. "Bill suggested that it might be good to relax on your winnings tonight. The guy you were betting against is an interesting person."
"Interesting person? Anything in particular I should know?"
"Don't make a habit of winning too much off him."
"I was planning to stay playing for a little while, to give him a chance to win some back."
"The way you've been playing tonight..."
"Well, so far I'm up 17 million credits, which is really very good... but then I've been betting more. It's been an exceptionally good night, actually, it really has." He addresses Bill, "I'm sorry -- we'll bring you another keg of that stuff. We brought a keg by, but she drank it all. I didn't actually catch her name... whoever it was told me about this place."
"Ah," says Bill, "Judy."
William promises they will bring another one with instructions not to open it, but Bill says they will have to come by when he's in.
William says, "This is a nice place. Is it something you're involved with, or do you just...?"
"The nice thing about this place is you see who has money. Take the chap you were playing against, Rudy... word is, he just knocked down a Zhodani currency shipment."
"He had some money to lose, then, didn't he?"
"Yes, but he's real possessive. Marketing Zhodani currency is... interesting here. There are better places he could have taken it, and he knows it."
"I'm sure he had his reasons for coming here."
"Yes, I can guess what they were, too, given the shape he turned up in."
"Similar to the reasons why we're here, I guess."
"I don't ask, I just hear rumors," says Bill. "So why are you here?"
"To get our ship repaired."
"Well, yes. I was just wondering what you'd hit... or what hit you?"
Brock says, "We're just lost in space."
"As it were," adds William. "Actually the major damage happened some time ago. We've been in areas where it's been very difficult to get good discreet repairs."
"Just out of interest, where have you been?" asks Bill. "Obviously you've come a long way quietly."
Brock says, "You find this mysterious?"
"No," says Bill. "I'm just curious. I make my living by being politely curious."
"Yes," says William, "We've come a long, a LONG way, VERY quietly. I must say, we certainly have. I suppose if Helen and the Captain didn't say anything more, it's not really my place to... I mean, um, Robin."
"Oh," says Bill. "Helen? If you say so. Which name do you want to use?"
"I'll take Helen if you don't mind," says Helen.
"So who's the Captain?" asks Bill.
"You met the Captain this afternoon," says Brock. "Delaney."
Bill says he had the air of a Naval man about him; Imperial Navy, perhaps?
"He apparently had some history in that regard, and I gather," William says, looking at Helen, "Some other interesting history as well, although we don't really all know that much about a lot of us."
Bill says, "I do find it interesting that your ship should turn up here with a retired Grand Admiral on board."
"It's a long story. He certainly livens up life on the ship. He's a damn good doctor, though."
"Is he in any official capacity? How retired is he?"
"As far as I can tell, he's quite retired," says William.
"He's on into dead," says Brock.
Bill continues, "I don't suppose you'd like to give me a hint as to what sort of business you'll be engaged in for the next little while?"
Brock says, "We buy extremely high quality rare jump drive parts, and sell bean juice. You figure it out."
William says, "We just kind of go around and do whatever seems interesting at the time."
Bill says, "That sounds just like you, Helen." He turns back to William. "That's a fair old interesting group, then."
"It's quite a variety of backgrounds," agrees William, "Quite a variety of things we've done.
"You've been doing some fighting certainly outside the Imperium," says Bill.
"I'll give you that," concedes William, "A long, long way outside the Imperium."
"I don't know that I'd really fancy being somewhere that people are using nukes against me."
"There weren't exactly people using nukes against us," says William.
"They weren't people," laughs Brock.
"Excuse me?" says Bill. "Would you care to perhaps clarify that a little?"
"Not for free," says Brock.
"I'll pay you what it's worth."
"Do you have a starmap?" asks Brock.
Bill produces a chart of the Spinward Marches.
"This isn't far enough," says Brock. "Well, we were actually over here somewhere." He is pointing well beyond the spinward end of the map.
"Interesting. It might be nice to have a meeting, have a little chat, see if we can exchange some information."
William says, "Do you think you have some information to exchange?"
"I always have information to exchange." Bill suggests meeting on the Anastasia in a couple of days. This seems acceptable to the crew.
The conversation is pretty much over. William returns to the gaming tables, where he manages to lose a couple of million. He is now only up about 13M credits for the evening.
They all return to the Anastasia. Fostriades is pleased to hear that William has made so much money.
Mich has been tearing the drives apart. He keeps very good records of where everything goes. Fostriades helps him, despite being a wimpy Engineer-7. Mich says he will need Fostriades to help him put it back together -- differently.
"We have redesigned the jump engines to be safer," explains Mich to Fostriades. "You know that black box? I know how it works, and can make more. I'm going to make a bunch more, only smaller." He shows Fostriades the current design, and his new one. It replaces about half the crystal array with multiple anti-matter generators, and modifies the jump governor; if any one of the generators fails, there is enough reserve capacity in the others to take over, so they can do in-jump repairs. The jump governor will need some hefty computer control, with local computer control as well; one of the reserve ship's computers could handle the load, but Mich would prefer a dedicated machine. Mich speculates that they might even be able to pull a Jump-6 with it, perhaps.
Fostriades is impressed. He wonders if they could have learnt anything from their misjump experience to get a clue about controlled misjumps. They certainly have a lot of information from the last one. They discuss how to deal with the medical problems... recruit the crew from the Black Things that Spit, and put everyone else in low berth or drug them?
Midnight local time was 17:00 Imperial.
Fostriades has negotiated a price for the repairs -- they will cost 75MCr (talked down from 90MCr). This includes berthing, replenishing life support, fuel, and stores, and use of the heavy equipment and facilities. It even includes restocking their nuclear missiles.
Mich checks the quality of the parts -- they're all good, almost like a lot are to Imperial Navy standards. Fostriades tries to trace their origin, but only some pieces have intact serial numbers, and he doesn't have the information to trace the ones that do. The maintenance progresses smoothly. Mich starts with external items, in particular repairing the hull and external weapon systems first. William assists Mich in supervising the weapon repairs.
Mich notices that the sandcaster turrets contain a nameplate from the Imperial Navy ship the Ethelred. He has not heard of that ship, so he asks Linda to try to track it down, but she can't find any records of the ship. Since it's perfectly possible that these items are salvage, free and clear, he doesn't worry about it unduly. Some items have hidden identification at the molecular level, which Mich removes along with all other identifying marks.
Mich supervises the work, of course, but the general crewmembers do most of the heavy stuff, with help from the marines for items that need unskilled heavy work. Mich stamps identification marks on the components as they are fitted.
The work should be completed on 090-1119.
Fostriades is concerned about the number of crewmembers taking shore leave. He is taking Bill's warning to heart and doesn't want to lose anyone. He also doesn't want to take off with any more pirates on board than when they arrived.
Mich says that they will have some surplus zuchai crystals from the jump drive redesign. They could sell them here, perhaps, to reduce their losses on the maintenance. Mich will, of course, sort through the crystals first to make sure that they retain the best ones for the Anastasia's crystal array.
Mich still wants to send out a message, but given where they are and that the mail route would pass through Cronor, it might actually be quicker (and certainly safer) to carry it closer to the Imperium themselves. Linda will keep an eye out for any ships heading in a favorable direction that could enable them to bypass Cronor -- she can access the flight plans at the main starport.
The Captain makes sure that security is suitable for the large amount of shore leave. So far, everyone who leaves also comes back. Although bailing people out of jail is one of the major jobs of a Captain (he says), he hasn't had to do it yet.
He also updates the ship's library data on this area. There is, it seems, quite a lot of Zhodani anti-piracy activity here.
He then checks on Rufus, who is doing just fine, as is Jack (considering his circumstances). The Captain does instruct NoName that Jack is not to be taught any of the pictures in the little book; NoName assures him that he would not be ready for it, anyway.
William, Alice, and Brock are interested in what entertainment is available. The local specialty seems to be burlesque and music-hall. They find a very good show, with a decent restaurant and bar attached.
William's gambling luck continues; even though he is not a skilled gambler, he always seems to do well, particularly with Alice there to bring him luck. This evening nets William 6MCr.
Brock plays poker too, but his main purpose is to observe anyone who might be watching William; he loses 300kCr. He notices that the management seem to be happy enough with William winning so much. Some people are paying attention to William, although none of them look as though they are there to watch him specifically.
When William gets back to the Anastasia, he visits Mich. Although it is 2:30am local time (which William is living by), Mich is at 15:30 Imperial. He tells Mich that so far he is on track for winning the money to repair the ship. William says he could get the company to lend him some money, then he could win enough to repair the ship.
At 3pm local (01:00 Imperial), Bill turns up at the ship. William is amused that everything on the Anastasia always happens "early in the morning" -- William himself, of course, is living by local time.
William meets Bill at the loading deck and escorts him to the mess area on 'B' deck. He explains that the Captain and the others are on Imperial time and are therefore asleep. Brock entertains Bill while William wakes the Captain.
Brock introduces Bill to bean juice. They drink beer with a shot-glass of bean juice submerged in each. Brock asks Bill some general questions about his background and business. Bill says he's lived here long enough to be "from" here, although he has not been here all his life.
William returns. He explains that the Captain is asleep and will be there in a few minutes, and says he doesn't understand why everyone doesn't adapt to local time, since they'll be there for a month and a half. Bill agrees.
Bill compliments William on his gambling, and (unlike William) does not think that this run of good luck is eerie. He says that most of the big players are staying out of the game for a while, to see how William does and get a feel for his style and weaknesses before returning. The games are all straight -- the establishment doesn't tolerate cheating.
Bill does like the bean juice, and adds that Judy said it was pretty good. He says that the word has spread that the Anastasia has arrived here after battling all sorts of stuff -- they (apparently) ran into the Zhodani, who used nukes on them. The crew are amused at these rumors.
The Captain arrives. He exchanges greetings with Bill, who tells the Captain that his ship has quite a reputation. William explains that they have been in big battles with the Zhodani, who used nukes against them -- but given who they thought they were last time they encountered them, that wouldn't have been unreasonable.
"Who did they think you were?" asks Bill.
"An old friend of yours," says the Captain.
"For some peculiar reason they thought it might be the, um, Helen's old ship," says William.
"Pirate women, flaming red hair, attacks out of nowhere, destroys Zhodani..." adds the Captain.
"Flaming red hair?" asks Bill.
"Well, we added some embellishments," explains the Captain.
William ponders the name of the ship. Bill suggests it might be the Berlin?
They explain that when they encountered the Zhodani, they were already damaged, and that nothing they said really dissuaded the Zhodani that they were not the Berlin.
"Is the Berlin still in operation?" asks the Captain.
"That wouldn't be for me to say," replies Bill.
Brock fetches Helen.
The Captain asks Bill for advice on disposing of Imperial spies -- space them, he says. On it being explained that they want them alive, but not able to report until the Anastasia is well out of the way, Bill recommends dropping them off somewhere obscure in Darrian, like Entrope perhaps.
They discuss the Anastasia's travels. Bill says he knows nothing about the area they came from.
"Have you ever seen a cockroach?" asks the Captain. "The intelligent kind of cockroach, that builds its own ships?"
"...and shoots tactical nukes at you," adds Brock.
William thinks Bill is really not going to believe any of this.
The Captain continues, "Then I take it that these are not common in this area? They are becoming increasingly common over in the TradeMain Foundation. Oh, I'm sorry, the politics have changed in that area -- it used to be, um..."
"Scorpionis and the Corona Foundation," says William helpfully.
Bill looks blank.
"We have a lot of their marines on board," says the Captain. "It seemed a better alternative than remaining at the home world." He continues. "Cockroaches, an alien race. They attack in force, they appear to..."
"Captain!" interrupts Brock, "We are supposed to be trading information."
"That right! Your turn, Bill."
"What do you want to know?" he asks. "The planets round here are pretty well defended by Zhodani. It's getting difficult to do much against trade ships these days."
"Oh!" says William, "I know one thing we'd be interested in, because we've been a long way away for a long time. Have there been any interesting political developments in the Imperium we should know about before we wander in there and get ourselves shot at."
The Captain adds, "And why is the IFSS not necessarily working any more?"
Bill says, "Well, Imperium politics is pretty much the same as it was. How long have you been gone? No, there hasn't been much going on in the last couple of years. Relations with the Zhodani have improved, just a slow process really."
The Captain asks about what is happening at Karakus. "The Zhodani indicated that if we were going to go to Karakus for repairs, we might find that Karakus might no longer be in a position to provide them. It sounded like a Zhodani takeover to us."
Bill does not know of this "Karakus" place. William calls up a chart, shows Bill where it is and tells him they came over 20 parsecs on the last jump. Comprehension dawns. William adds that the last place they were they had an encounter with the Zhodani, something that Bill finds very interesting. As William puts it, "We both showed up in the system and said 'What the hell are you doing here?'"
William says that clearly they have information that Bill knows nothing about, and Bill can't tell them anything they want to know about that area, so it's time for them to shut up. What DOES Bill know about?
The Captain asks, "If you were coming into this are from a long way away, what would you want to know about?"
William asks about the Zhodani and relations with them.
Bill says, "Relations have been improved, but there has been some strange shuffling of troops around the border areas. One of the Zhodani border fleets moved out, to destinations unknown, but they pulled reserves in. So the forces here are reserves, a little less hardened but more numerically. Right before the fleet left, there was a fair amount of diplomatic interaction of some unspecified nature." He says that there have been no public announcements, and that he does not know where the fleet has gone -- it has not come back through this way, and was not headed into Zhodani space. He suggests that they had clearly done their best to hide the movements.
William asks about Archduke Norris.
"Norris has been working with the Zhodani to a certain extent. He's pulled all the support for interception of Zhodani merchant shipping by unauthorized people. Intercepting merchant shipping is no longer a supported activity. The number of places that are safe to go to is reduced. It's harder to get subsidized parts and things like that. It's not as easy in the pirate trade as it used to be. Some Imperial ships have been helping the Zhodani in anti-piracy activities, but you -- or your engineer -- will have already gathered that."
"So you've never heard of the IFSS?" asks William.
"No. What is it?"
"Oh, it's a non-existent organization. It doesn't exist."
Brock adds, "A non-existent branch of the Imperial Navy, or of the Imperium basically."
"Which doesn't do a lot of it's operations outside Imperial space, says William.
"Or it would, if it existed," says Brock. "But it doesn't."
"It doesn't do anything like help the Zhodani fight pirates, then?" asks Bill.
"Quite the opposite," replies William, "Until very recently, that is. Well, if it existed it would just be kind of keeping an eye out on things, and watching out for Zhodani influence, among other things."
"I gather," says Bill, "That there was an Imperial ship knocked down recently in the area. Remember Rudy? The guy you played poker with? He ran into something rather heavy in Zhodani space a while ago. He tends to go for the high-credit high-risk targets, and what he hit didn't have a great deal of escort until the Imperial ship turned up in an anti-piracy role. The stories are rather wild, of course..."
William asks Bill if he's interested in strange artifacts, and shows him some of the cockroach ship hull. He is interested, and suggests he could find a market for it. William explains that he's not the one who does the dealing, and so they'd have to wake up Fostriades. William goes to do just that.
The crew still wants more information from Bill, but he says he doesn't know what they want. What is their business, for example?
The Captain replies that their business is very fluid.
William returns with Fostriades. The Boss is wearing flamboyant pajamas and a Turkish robe; he is carrying one of his dogs.
Fostriades makes some bean coffee while Brock explains to him that they were discussing the sale of cockroach ship fragments.
Fostriades is not convinced that this is the optimum market for alien relics. He does, however, tell Bill that they will have some jump drive components for sale -- zuchai crystals, for example. Bill is very interested, but curious as to why they are selling vital components when they've just bought a bunch of drive parts. Fostriades suggest they use the crystals as part payment for the repairs and supplies -- Bill's bookkeeper will call him to arrange the deal.
They discuss the cockroaches and this area briefly, catching Fostriades up on the situation. He observes that there is profit to be made in interesting times.
Bill agrees with William that things are changing -- certainly the class of customer here has changed.
William says, "I guess the Berlin picked a good time to retire."
Bill thinks the Berlin could still be doing good business.
"Is it?" asks Brock.
Helen smiles. "The Berlin is not doing any business any more," she says. "That's why I could tell you with confidence that this ship is not the Berlin. I know it can't be the Berlin because I know exactly where the Berlin is."
"So how many pieces is the Berlin in?" asks William.
"It's molecules have merged with something on a much more stellar scale. What's left of it is in a gas giant fairly near here."
Fostriades says that the Zhodani wouldn't believe a word of it. He goes on, "I hear Archduke Norris is cooperating unusually warmly with the Zhodani. Interesting. Any idea if this is Archduke Norris' bright idea for keeping the peace, or is he operating under...?"
Bill replies, "I think it's just an extension of his diplomatic effort of the last decade."
They discuss the IFSS. Fostriades suggests that they are the sort of organization that would be funding covert activities here, and that the Zhodani were quite vehement in their hatred of it after finding them at Karakus.
Bill says that there has definitely not been anything called the IFSS operating here. "The only direct Imperial involvement I know about was the anti-piracy support that's coming in now."
"That's being provided by Archduke Norris," says Fostriades. There are too many factions here for my liking," he adds quietly.
Mich walks in. They discuss the parts, such as the good Imperial Navy sandcasters that are now on their ship.
Fostriades shows Bill the coffee machine with the most unusual General Products plate. He is very interested, and wonders where they picked it up. They explain that it came with the ship as standard equipment.
"Do you know anything about laser door openers?" asks Mich. "Why would you put a 2kW laser in the door opener sensors?"
"Depends what you want to do with something after you've sensed it," says Bill. "Or to make sure you have nothing to sense."
"That's standard equipment on this ship," says Mich. William says that as far as they know, they may be standard equipment on all General Products ships.
"You're willingly flying a General Products ship?" asks Bill.
"Hey, the price was right," says Fostriades. "Remarkably right."
"Well, they do have a bit of a reputation."
Mich says, "Did you know this class of ship has been known to start a minor war? In Lirian..."
Bill does not know where that is.
Mich continues, "There was that weird box we picked up, too."
Fostriades explains that they found it in an Octagon Society place, and the box was a lot more modern than the building.
Bill says he thought the Octagon Society was pretty much abandoned after it was discredited.
Mich says, "It was an interesting box that sent out a signal when maneuver engines were operating near it. The box itself was impervious to X-rays and any other form of analysis that was available to us. We could not open the box, we could not even cut off a piece. I did put shielding around it and we carried it with us for a while. We got a good price for it. We found it on Spirelle, by the way. Have you heard of an artifact like that? We noticed the signal, and traced it to the Octagon Society building, where we found the box under the floor. The floor was covered with layers of dust like no-one had been there in years."
"If you find anything else like that," says Bill, "I think I can get you a good price on it."
"As what?" asks Mich. "As just an artifact for collectors, or does it serve some useful purpose?"
"Whether it is or not, I'd sell it as an Ancient artifact. If you go back there and find something else like that, I'll get you as good a price as anybody."
They return to discussing the cockroaches and their experiences with them.
Mich says, "Most of our damage came from two encounters. One we jumped in, they saw us and fired before we could react."
William adds, "We came into a system that we thought we knew was going to be abandoned."
"We bravely ran away," continues Mich. "Luckily we made it out of that one... and we had another case where we were a little too close to a very big explosion. Another ship was destroyed very actively very close to us, and we were caught in the blast. That did some extra damage. We were limping back."
"Well," says Bill, "I'm glad you made it here. We're one of the best sources for starship parts in four subsectors."
Mich was impressed at the availability of the good quality parts they needed.
Bill says, "We always make sure we have top-quality stuff. Most of our customers rely on our parts to be good -- their line of business doesn't allow for failure in use."
William says, "It's a lot less forgiving when you're out solo."
Mich says, "When we were out so far away -- it's been nigh on two years since our last jump drive service. We've kept it together with chewing gum and baling wire. Yes, that last jump was quite impressive. We were lucky we had some fuel left, because we came out in dead space, fortunately just a short range away from this place."
"I'm glad you made it," says Bill. "It'll be a very mutually beneficial visit. It's certainly for at least one of you been a very profitable visit so far."
William agrees that so far it has been quite comfortable.
Mich points out that they're going to be here for a long time, but if William offends someone gambling he can always go to the doctor for a new leg or whatever. "It's the only thing the Grand Am is good for," says Mich.
"He's certainly a quite remarkable doctor," says William. "Maybe we could sell him?"
Bill says there's not much of a market for retired navy admirals. Now the engineers, on the other hand, could pull in quite a salary.
Mich says it's never boring on this ship. "Especially the last couple of months, when every jump we've been babying the drives. At least people stop bugging me after about the tenth day of the jump."
William asks Bill about the gambling establishment. It is one of his enterprises, and pays for itself mostly in information. William mentions the show they saw in town. Bill says that for sophisticated entertainment, they'd have to go to Attica.
Bill starts to leave. Mich does his sales pitch for bean juice and coffee -- he explains the research they did to get the coffee right -- and tells him that another batch is due soon; he explains the process in very general terms, from the hydroponics to the distillation. Bill says he might take some later, perhaps a keg or two for a few selected guests. Bill's bookkeeper will discuss it with Fostriades when he calls.
Bill is escorted from the ship.
Fostriades has continued meditating on the nature of jump space, based on his experiences in the last misjump. So far, he hasn't discovered anything special. He starts a literature search.
Mich reflects that around here, a ship is more valuable than its cargo.
William gambles some more, losing 10M. Brock joins him, winning a little. Some of the big players are back, although no-one has seen Rudy yet.
After an excellent dinner and show, Brock suggests they drop by Joe's Bar for a drink. William orders the obscure drink he gets at the gambling house; they don't have one of those, but he could try some of this beer? Brock has been in here fairly frequently with the marines (who are picking up the language quite well now) -- his drink is poured before he reaches the bar.
Mich asks for the strongest drink they have. He is presented with a shot of something that smells like diesel fuel, but is not really strong by his standards. After a couple of these, and some prompting by Mich, the barman realizes that Mich is with Brock, and produces the strong stuff for him. This actually looks like diesel fuel. Mich sips it at first, and finds it rather stronger than he had expected. "Now that's more like it!" he coughs. It taste is somewhat reminiscent of Everclear with tar dissolved in it.
Fostriades orders ouzo, and is surprised to find they actually have some. He orders some for Lia too.
Brock chats with Mich for a while, about their backgrounds before they entered service. They compare medals, and brag about how they got them.
William recognizes a couple of people who have just walked in. They were hanging around the high-stakes table with Rudy at his first night of gambling. One of them leaves, but the other takes a seat in a booth and watches the group.
Lia doesn't notice. She is getting very drunk on ouzo.
It occurs to William that he should tell Lia about the guy, very subtly of course... he has clearly been drinking more than he realizes, though. "Hey!" he shouts, and nearly knocks Lia off her stool (not a difficult task in her state). He tells her about the guy, and Lia subtly stares directly at him.
Brock calls the bartender over and, in addition to ordering a beer, asks if there is a back door. He is shown the alternate way out.
William tries to make a semi-graceful recovery. He starts towards the guy, saying, "Hi! Haven't I seen you somewhere before?" He is trying to act more drunk than he thinks he is, which is probably about as drunk as he really is. The man recognizes William and greets him warmly. They exchange introductions.
William waves everyone over. "Everybody, this is Mick, he was at that good gambling place I mentioned before."
Mick asks after William's recent luck.
"Oh, not so well... but you know, luck comes and goes. Haven't seen Rudy there in a while."
"Well, that old runt, you won a lot off him."
"If I keep going like last time, he could get it all back."
"Yeah, but I bet you're just playing the patsy though, just trying to sucker him into it. It'd be the right thing to do, too. You know, he throws his weight around a lot, he's not much to do anything about it. He might be around. He drops in here occasionally."
"I haven't seen him here before."
"Well, how long have you been in the trade?"
"We've just been here for a couple of weeks."
"Yeah, but I mean you've been around before, right?"
"No, actually, this is the first time we've been here. We've been all over the place, but it's the first time we've been here."
"Really? So you're moving into new territory then?"
"Well, I don't know if we're even sticking around. It was kind of a spontaneous move to come by here."
"I heard some wild things about you lot. Heard your ship's pretty tough."
"It's not bad. It's pretty solid. We were in kind of bad shape when we got there, though. We'd taken some heavy damage."
"Really. So what were you fighting?"
Lia says, "You'd never believe us."
Mich says, "Big nasty things with pointy teeth."
William says, "Giant insects."
"Yeah, right," says Mick.
Lia says, "I told you you wouldn't believe us." Her accent is getting thicker.
William continues, "Well, they seemed like insects to us."
"Yeah," Mick agrees, "They seem like insects to us occasionally too."
"No," says Lia, "I mean with six legs, wingcases, funny eyes."
Mick asks, "So what brings you out here prowling for things?"
"Our ship," replies William. "It was a surprise to everybody, believe me."
"Why'd you bring them here?"
"No, no, the ship brought us here. No, really!"
"So, when are you planning on leaving?"
"I don't know where we're going from here, not my call, really."
Mich says, "Nobody here knows where we're going next. None of us make the decision. Well, Moneybags only goes where there's money."
"Yes," agrees William, "We go wherever Fostriades says we can get the most money."
"Oh," says Mick to William, "We thought you were the Captain. I mean, you're the guy with the money, right?"
"The Captain is a tightwad. He just sits on his bundle of money. He doesn't do anything interesting. I don't know what he does for fun. He just eats food that's been carefully screened, and counts his money or something."
"Yeah, I knew Captains like that. You had to watch yourself or you'd be out in space, walking home. Sounds pretty tough."
"Oh, we haven't had too much of that, although the Captain did recently lay down a new rule that no-one could be killed without his permission."
"So who do you have to ask before assassinating him? Just a thought... So if you're not in charge, there must be a lot of money on that ship. You must have got some pretty hefty targets."
"Well, I acquired a lot of my money on the side."
"Yeah," laughs Mick. "Uh-huh. Captain know about it? Just asking, just asking..." He pauses. "So you've been fighting some big stuff? How big, I wonder?"
"Oh, I don't know, there was one 50,000 ton ship, but we high-tailed it out of there."
"So you reckon you're pretty hot stuff, eh?"
"No, we didn't try to pick a fight with the 50,000 ton ship, that was really unplanned."
Mich explains, "We were in the wrong place at the wrong time, and they noticed us, so we left."
William says, "We can stand around pretty well against a couple of ships of roughly our own size."
"So where are you going from here?" asks MIck.
"I don't honestly know, and I don't think anybody else does either. I think we'll decide that about when we leave. we usually decide where we're jumping about when it's time to enter the jump coordinates."
"When are you planning on leaving? You've got the repairs mostly done?"
"Oh, we'll be around for a while," says Mich. "We just put a fresh coat of paint on the outside, we have the interior decorating to do. There's plenty of that."
Brock notices that the man who had left earlier has returned, and is hanging about outside the bar with Rudy and a couple of other guys. He scans the bar quickly, but doesn't see anyone else who might be connected. He keeps his eye on the back door.
Brock tells William quietly.
William continues talking to Mick. "Oh, I'm sure we'll be hanging around for a while."
"So, got a good job on that ship, do you?"
"It's a pretty good arrangement. I'm in charge of the weapons."
"Must be quite a shot, then."
"Reasonably competent, we do OK. Kind of a nice arrangement. What you do on the side is your own business. I like it."
"Might be able to earn some more somewhere else. The labor market is open and free."
Mich says, "So, Avon, are you shipping out with another ship?"
"I don't think so," says William, "But I always like to keep my ears open."
Mick adds, "A person with wealth, taste, and skill is always capable of finding a better offer, I reckon."
William says, "It's a pretty good arrangement I've got now. Always variety -- I don't get stuck in a rut. I like that."
"I agree. I don't like to stay on the same ship for too long either."
"This ship goes all over the place."
Mich adds, "Sometimes when you don't want it to."
"Hopefully it won't be doing too much of that any more," says William. "I didn't enjoy that particular bit of variety all that much."
"What was it?" asks Mick.
"Oh, well, we made a really long distance in a really short time. It was not pleasant."
"It wasn't that short," says Mich, "14 days."
"14 days in jump," says William.
"So where are you from?" asks Mick, "Where did you start this?"
"A long ways from here. Very far. Quite a distance spinward and rimward."
"So you don't know the area around here real well?"
"We don't get over here very often," says Mich.
Mick asks him, "When was the last time you were by?"
"I haven't been."
"None of you been here before?"
William clarifies, "None of us who are here. Some of our crew have been here before."
Mich adds, "One of them recommended that we come here, when we had to limp the last bit of our journey. We didn't end up here when we were in jump for 14 days. We popped out somewhere else and decided that this was the best place to get some repairs done, and it was, What's her name? The woman who said we should come here -- Helen. Helen said we ought to come here, it was a good place. She said she had been here before. She said she knew Bill."
"So she knows Bill?" asks Mick. "Personally, like?"
"I don't know their relationship. She just said that Bill was a good person to talk to around here to help us with stuff. He seems to be a nice chap."
Brock notices that Rudy and the people with him have left.
Mich and Brock both agree it's time to leave. They say their good-byes, William saying he'll probably see Mick at the game sometime.
There seems to be some difficulties, though. Mich tries to get up and promptly falls on the floor, muttering something about the grav plates. Lia is leaning heavily on Fostriades' arm, but is (barely) capable of walking. Fostriades is fine. Brock reaches over to help Mich, but falls on him; he manages to pick himself up with a little dignity. Paula, who seems the least drunk despite her heavy drinking, helps Mich up.
They leave the bar and eventually, after some discussion on the route, return to the Anastasia.
Brock tells them that Rudy was outside the bar with a group of people, and he was certain that they were planning something, which is why he bothered to whisper about it to William.
"They probably were planning something," says William.
Fostriades adds, "Once they realized that we knew about it, owing to some people's lack of discretion, maybe they decided it wasn't worth the attempt. Alternatively perhaps they decided to go after the ship instead of just after us."
Fostriades decides not to look for trade goods here, something that astonishes the rest of the crew. He explains that he thinks the risk is not worth the potential profit.
A batch of bean juice is ready. It is decided to sell it for 5KCr per 200-litre "keg." Bill takes two. This will be the first time they have actually sold a large quantity of bean juice -- they usually give it away. Here, Mich notes, they are giving away information, and as long as they give information, Bill's happy, and as long as Bill is happy he will tell other people not to mess with them.
Fostriades has been working with Mich to make sure they both understand the new engines. Fostriades tries to relate this to his attempt to understand deep-hyperspace jumps, but all he can come up with is that it will probably all make sense sometime. He extends his search to more obscure journals, but suspects that a good bit of what he is looking for is classified. He wonders if Bill would have anything.
Fostriades wants to know the titles and authors. They are Zhodani journals concerning advanced jumpspace stuff. Fostriades is totally unfamiliar with Zhodani research, and expresses cautious interest.
Fostriades asks the Captain to authorize the expenditure of 20MCr for technical engineering papers concerning Zhodani jump drive research. The Captain wants to know what the Zhodani know that they don't, and Fostriades says that's what they want to find out. The Captain is skeptical, but eventually approves the deal.
Fostriades calls the accountant back and agrees to pay for the papers. They are delivered promptly, and Mich and Fostriades take one each. There are several papers in each journal. One is distinctly harder to translate than the other.. They start working with the translator to try to get a better understanding.
The Captain wants to see what they've spent so much money on. He can tell it's a technical paper but that's about it.
Fostriades and Mich determine that one of the things the Zhodani have been working on in conjunction with the core expeditions is superjump. As for understanding the journals, that will take time, especially as they have a lot of other work to do right now.
"The Captain's coming?" grumbles William, "It's like gambling with your mom along." He tries to explain again that he won something like 10MCr from Rudy, and he needs to give him a chance to win it back. What happens if he doesn't? It would be rude... The Captain still does not understand, despite William's best efforts to explain.
Rudy is there tonight.
It seems that William can't lose when Rudy's playing. On the first hand, he wins 5MCr. Rudy suggests to the game at large that the stakes are raised. Five people immediately leave the table, so there's just four players left.
William loses 6MCr on the next four hands. Rudy has been losing them too.
The game gets serious. Both the other players fold on the next hand, leaving just Rudy and William in the game. William's two pair beats Rudy's two pair, and he rakes in 12MCr for this hand alone.
"I think you're doing better at this," says the Captain.
William sighs, "He's led a -- sheltered -- life. Why don't you just sit down?"
"Who are you?" Rudy asks the Captain.
"I'm the Captain, of the merchant cruiser Anastasia. It's not every day that one of my crewmen walks out of the ship with that much money." He turns to William. "Are you supposed to buy drinks for me or something?"
"Drinks are fr... Why, yes, Captain, I'll buy you a drink. I'm in a generous mood." A waitress fetches the Captain a martini.
The next round starts. One of the others has now left, so there are only three players remaining. They raise the ante to 2MCr. William worries about how to lose to Rudy... Rudy raises 3M, and the other player sees him, as does William. The best hand is the third guy's. It seems so very difficult for William to lose to Rudy...
The Captain wanders around, watching the roulette for a while. He calls over a waitress. "Do you get many Zhodani in here?" he asks.
Several patrons spill their drinks.
"No, sir," says the waitress.
"It just seems so natural that if there's an establishment like this near the Zhodani, that they should come by to get rich every once in a while."
The next round of poker starts. William leads off, adding 2M to his 2M ante. The third guy folds. ("Perfect!" thinks William.) Rudy sees his 2M and raises it another 5M. ("A perfect way to get myself killed, though, if my hand actually beats his!" thinks William.) William sees his 5M, but doesn't raise it. The cards are laid down, and Rudy wins.
The Captain walks back to the poker table.
William has achieved his goal of losing to Rudy, but would like to keep playing for a while. If Rudy is going to keep raising the stakes by 5MCr, though, William can't sustain it. He decides to stay in for at least one more hand.
The third man starts the betting, and raises it 2MCr. Rudy sees the 2M, and raises it another 2M. William sees that, and raises it another 2M. The other guy folds. Rudy sees William's bet, and raises it another 2M. William doesn't have another 2M -- he left it back at the ship -- so he calls the butler over, who gives him 5MCr in chips on credit; William sees Rudy's 2MCr. Rudy's hand was not that good -- William rakes in another very large pot.
William thinks to himself that Rudy is very predictable. His bets are too highly correlated with his hand.
"An interesting game," says Rudy, standing up. "I must return to my ship. See you another night, I hope." He turns to Delaney. "Goodnight, ah, Captain."
No-one else seems interested in playing with William, so he goes to the roulette holo and places the 5MCr in chips on a fairly safe bet. He loses it. He pays back the house for the chips, and leaves, a mere 5MCr up for the night.
They return to the Anastasia. As they leave the house, the Captain thinks they are being followed. He mentions this to Joe, but Joe says no-one is following them. The Captain walks in front of the group, just in case.
They arrive at the Anastasia. Even though no-one is skulking around, the Captain still insists they were being followed. He tells Avon that next time he goes gambling, he should take a marine.
William observes that Rudy plays life the way William gambles -- going for the high-risk high-stakes chances.
Mich suggests engaging the jump drive from the docking bay, so they can't be followed, but points out that it is rather safer to travel out to 10 diameters first.
Mich and Fostriades have put together two practical-oriented "classified" papers on the Anastasia's jump drive, as it was when they arrived at Attica. They list the Professor as the lead author, the others being his infamous research student (the one who proved it wouldn't work), and Jill. They can't release them in the Imperium from here -- not even Linda can manage that -- but they will sell them to Bill. After negotiation, they arrange on a price of 10MCr each, for a total of 20MCr (how convenient!). They express an interest in any more papers Bill has, and he suggests they call him the moment before they leave. They see no need to tell the Captain anything about it.
The Captain wants to know certain information, like what the other ship involved was, and whether there were major bodily injuries, or damage to the bar.
Apparently a bunch of students had a go at the marines, and it resulted in a couple of broken legs -- nothing serious.
The Captain is rather surprised that the marines are in jail for defending themselves, but the official says that it's hard to determine who really started it. The students, apparently, are being shipped back to Attica.
Varda accompanies the Captain to the jail. The marines are all in good shape. The Captain questions the marines. He is astonished that they got in a fight with students, and wants to know the details. Varda promises him a full report, but it doesn't shut him up. She is insistent that it will all be in her report, and eventually the Captain gives up.
When they return to the ship, Vana severely restricts marine shore leave for a while.
Brock asks the engineers about the Anastasia: is she ready to leave? They assure him that once they leave the docking bay, they can be jumping safely in about half an hour.
The Captain calls Vana and checks on the status of the marines. Are they all accounted for? "Yes, Sir," says Vana, and tells Varda to account for them right now. Shore leave is canceled immediately and all marines called back to the ship.
William has an idea -- Bill trades in information, so why not buy information about Rudy from him? It would be good to know what his current disposition is, and what capabilities he has. Does he, for example, have ships in the air at this moment, and what are their capabilities? What sort of ground troops might he have to stop them returning to the ship?
Brock calls Bill, saying he wants information on Rudy because it might be rather important to them. William says they will pay 250kCr for the general information, and later agrees to pay a total of 1MCr (i.e. 750kCr more) for the more specific strength information; he will pay Bill at the gambling house tonight, or if necessary put it in a suitcase and leave it near the exit to their docking bay.
Rudy, Bill says, is rich. William is not on his Favorite People list, but rather on his Respected list. As for the game, if Rudy thought he could jump William and take all his money back, he would; it would not, however, be good etiquette to do this in town. He has undoubtedly already decided his plans regardless of what happens at the poker game. Rudy canceled all shore leave a couple of days ago, and his ship is ready to leave right now. How he came by his ship is not known. It is a 10kt ex-Imperial Navy ship, 4G, Jump-4; it carries 30 ship's troops, with a total crew of around 120; weaponry is a particle accelerator bay, with a bunch of missile, laser, and sandcaster turrets.
They discuss ways in which they could win a battle against this ship. The conclusion is that they don't want to fight it if at all possible, but they can't think of any ways of appeasing Rudy.
Brock points out that Rudy's ship won't leave without him. At some point it will become a race between them to reach their respective ships, and if they could set up a diversion for him. Sir Bridgehead suggests drugging his drink, but this wouldn't be good manners in the gambling establishment.
Mich says, "He's not going to attack us while we're on the ground. He's not going to attack us when we're within one diameter. That means between one diameter and ten diameters is our only vulnerable point. That's a very small distance for us." He says they can do 6G for quite a long time, which would take 44 minutes from ground to 10d, or rather 32 minutes from orbit to 10d. Fostriades suggests that they could probably stand half an hour of combat.
The Captain, who is familiar with Imperial Navy ships, suggests that Rudy's ship is most likely to be one of the ED-11 through ED-15 Escort Destroyer series. [It is actually an ED-14.]
Brock says that running away offends his pride. He'd like to leave some sort of calling card, but something intelligent, not violent.
Mich points out that they could pull 16G for five minutes. The inertial compensators wouldn't cope, but they could strap everyone down.
William says, "Can I just point out one other slender possibility, just off-the-wall thing, is that we could really confuse them by not leaving."
This is very popular. They would have to come up with some legitimate reason, like the Captain being flighty. Brock adds a twist to the plan, that Linda break into Rudy's ship computer to cause some failure when they try to chase them -- something interesting and spectacular, but not too bloody. She is of the opinion that Jill could probably do it better, though she will try.
The Captain suggests turning the old security devices on and letting Rudy take the ship, but he is talked out of that.
When they are ready to leave, it'll be just a matter of firing up the maneuver drive and calling for the doors to open (about 30 seconds). Mich calculates that it would take 21 minutes at 16G to reach 10 diameters. Pushing the engines to 16G for longer than 5 minutes, though, would be rather risky -- not only in engineering terms. Mich says that at 16G for five minutes they should expect crew injuries but no fatalities -- for twenty minutes, though, that's another matter... He suggests pulling 8G all the way, which the inertial compensators should maybe handle. While the others go gambling, he will try to beef up the compensators in critical areas to cope with the projected load.
They get ready to leave for the fateful poker game. William, Alice, Lia (full dress uniform, including the Faberge quick-pin hand grenades), Brock, Joe, and Sir Bridgehead (with his medical kit) will all be going. Only William and Sir Bridgehead will play -- although Alice likes gambling, she says that this game is going to be altogether too serious for her tastes.
Sir Bridgehead says that while they are ashore, they should not call him "Sir" Bridgehead, or "Admiral," just Bridgehead. If a title is really necessary, they can call him Doctor. He is wearing his posh civilian clothes. He intends to project an air of someone who is very stuffy, but with no playing ability.
The Captain insists that someone should be wired for sound, but that will be difficult in the city. Steve Howard and Rufus will work on it. William says that he should definitely not carry anything like that, since he will be playing.
The arrive at the gambling house, where Bridgehead starts his obnoxious novice act on the butler: "Hi there! I thought I'd come along. I heard you had a nice little poker game here! Now, do you all play with one-eyed jacks and twos wild, I'd heard something like that."
"No sir," replies the butler politely, "We play poker here."
"There's, like, a lot of different kinds of poker, right?"
"Not here, sir."
"Do you play draw poker? No? Just tell me what you play."
"You'll pick it up, sir."
"And does two pair beat three of a kind, or the other way around?"
"This way, please, sir." He leads them upstairs.
William pays Bill the 1MCr for the information.
Rudy is here already. He is sitting at a table to himself, lounging back with his feet propped on one of the chairs. The game will be just the three of them tonight, it seems.
Bridgehead walks up to him enthusiastically. "You must be Rudy! Glad to meet you! I'm the ship's doctor, and this butler here, he just would not tell me..."
"I didn't catch your name...?"
"I'm Doctor Bridgehead."
"Ah, the Grand Admiral."
Sir Bridgehead babbles about two pair and so on. Rudy says nothing, and eventually the Admiral tails off.
William says, "It's an interesting crew, don't you think?" He explains how to play poker to Sir Bridgehead: "Take the cards, ante up, and the next time it goes around, you say you see your whatever we said, and raise it by some large amount, and you put that much money in, and next time it comes around you say 'I fold.'"
Sir Bridgehead wants to know what limits raises. It is explained that good manners, sportsmanship, and honor caps the raises here.
Rudy wants to start at 1MCr ante. He makes a crack about a Grand Admiral's pension, what with the budget having to keep going to replace Imperial ships.
The first round starts. They ante up. Sir Bridgehead shows his cards to William (and incidentally Rudy), saying "Is this a good hand?" They explain that he should keep his cards to himself. It was indeed a good hand, so both William and Rudy fold. Sir Bridgehead is delighted.
On the second hand, both Sir Bridgehead and William fold when Rudy raises it 1MCr.
Sir Bridgehead checks. Rudy and William explain to him that this is not good manners here, but he does it anyway.
The game progresses rapidly. William has appalling luck, while even Rudy can't keep up with Sir Bridgehead's cards.
Eventually William has to borrow 5MCr from Sir Bridgehead, and promises to pay him back when they get to Spirelle. Before long he has to drop out of the game.
Sir Bridgehead continues to rake in Rudy's money.
"Well," says Rudy, "This game is getting a little tight for me. Obviously they teach you a lot of things very well in the Imperial Navy. Probably something to do with your time."
Sir Bridgehead says, "I have a lot of spare time as a ship's doctor."
"As a Grand Admiral too, I gather."
Sir Bridgehead says he's had a great time learning this fun game.
"I'm very glad. No doubt we will meet again. You must drop by here again."
"I've really enjoyed meeting you. You seem like a really nice guy, a real proper chap. I can tell that you move in some nice circles."
Rudy looks thoughtful. He says, "What ships have you served on? No, you've never really had command of anything, have you?"
"Well, they wouldn't let me take command because they said I wasn't any good at it. I have been known to cure people pretty well, so if you do get hurt, come to me and I'll help."
At this point Brock steps up to the table and says, "I'm sorry, gentlemen, but the Captain has recalled us to the ship." William borrows another 6M from Sir Bridgehead to pay what he borrowed from the house.
Rudy says, "If you'll excuse me, gentlemen, while you're sorting that out, it was good to see you, but I too must leave now." He hurries out.
The group sorts out their bill with the house, and Sir Bridgehead tips the butler 100Cr.
It was a miserable evening for William -- he did not win a single hand. Sir Bridgehead was a very big winner, at the expense of both Rudy and William.
They hurry back to the Anastasia. On the way, Alice suggests that Sir Bridgehead should visit the gambling houses in Lirian sometime -- they play some great games there, and William could tell him about those.
Meanwhile, Fostriades has called Bill's accountant. He has had some trouble finding more journals, but if they could call back in a couple of months he may have something.
As soon as the gamblers get back on the ship, the Captain calls an immediate launch alert. The crew rush to their stations, and the Anastasia is ready to go the instant the engines are warmed up.
Linda reports that Rudy is ready to go too, but is still hooked up to the network to see if the Anastasia takes off. Linda has made some progress at breaking into his ship, but has had a lot of difficulty getting very far.
At the last second, the Captain aborts the launch -- the crew are told that the Captain has changed his mind, and they should stand down.
Rudy ordered his docking bay opened, but still doesn't disconnect. After waiting about an hour, he shuts the door again without leaving.
Sir Bridgehead is keen to go gambling again. Helen says she thinks it wise to stay on the ship -- she certainly intends to, but she doesn't mind whether anyone else does as long as enough crew remain on board to run the ship.
A day passes...
Brock thinks they should make a showing in town. He is willing to give William some money to spend on it. Sir Bridgehead suggests they could get smaller stakes in the game.
So William, Alice, Sir Bridgehead, Brock, Joe go gambling again. Rudy isn't there, but Mick is on the phone as they walk into the room.
Sir Bridgehead and William join the poker game, running at a mere half a million ante. After ten minutes, Rudy walks in. Both Sir Bridgehead and William have been breaking even.
Rudy approaches them. "Ah, gentlemen! So, your Captain decided not to leave?"
"He's so fickle," says Sir Bridgehead. "You know what happened was he was sleeping. He said 'I want to take a nap.' He's such a spoilsport he wouldn't come out and play poker with us, either. You know, our Captain, he's not all there. He doesn't really have much up there."
"He does OK at Captaining," says William.
"Imperial Navy guy, right?" says Rudy.
"Something like that," says Sir Bridgehead, "We're not really sure. But he had connections, so we thought he'd make a good Captain. He also had a large interest in the ship we're on, so that had something to do with it, too."
Rudy says, "I have an interest in your ship. It's very interesting."
"It's done pretty well by us so far," says William.
"So where'd you pick up this Captain?"
Sir Bridgehead says, "I'd rather not go into it."
"Ah, tricky mission, eh?"
"No, just that I'd rather play poker, personally. I've even been doing pretty well here."
"Well, you people fancy a game?"
Sir Bridgehead is enthusiastic. Rudy insists they start their own game instead of joining the petty one in progress. Sir Bridgehead and William would rather have other people in the game too, but Rudy says it's so much more personal this way.
Rudy asks why they didn't leave. Sir Bridgehead says they should ask the Captain, and William adds that he thinks they needed to check or repair some systems.
"So the ship isn't really that good after all," muses Rudy.
The hand starts. Sir Bridgehead checks. William folds in a sense of sportsmanship. Rudy smiles at Sir Bridgehead and raises him 10M. Sir Bridgehead sees, and Rudy wins. "See, that's what happens when you check," he says.
William rapidly runs out of money again, and drops out quickly. Sir Bridgehead's winning ways continue.
"So when are you planning on leaving?" asks Rudy.
"Whenever the Captain decides," says William.
Rudy starts winning something back from Sir Bridgehead, but is offended when he keeps checking. Rudy says that if Sir Bridgehead keeps checking, there is no further point in continuing the game.
After one more hand, Rudy says he should be getting back to his ship and excuses himself. He has won big tonight, at the expense of William and (especially) Sir Bridgehead.
Sir Bridgehead plays the roulette holo for a while. He loses on two successive flips and gets bored.
They head back to the Anastasia. When they reach the entrance to the dock, Joe reckons it is being watched. No-one approaches them, though.
Sir Bridgehead tells the Captain that Rudy was interested in a number of things, including where the Captain came from, and especially interested in when they were leaving and why they didn't leave before. Sir Bridgehead says he told Rudy that the Captain was quirky and wanted to take a nap. William explains to the Captain that this time he was trying to win at poker, but it didn't work out that way.
Linda has had problems getting into Rudy's computers, but is confident she still hasn't been caught.
No-one notable is there, so they start to return to the Anastasia by midnight (03:00 Imperial). Sir Bridgehead wants to drop by the gambling establishment, though, and they go there instead.
Sir Bridgehead tips the butler 1000Cr, then joins the poker game. The stakes are 100kCr ante -- none of the big players are there. Sir Bridgehead tries an experiment -- the ante may be low, but there's no house limit, right? There are eight other players in the game. Sir Bridgehead folds on the first four hands. On the fifth, the stakes are up to 400kCr. He sees that and raises it 2M. The other players all fold. Sir Bridgehead gets 1.5MCr and a lot of ugly looks.
They return to the ship.
By 20:00 (6pm local) Linda has had 3 days to try to break into Rudy's ship, but says she can't manage it. With that avenue closing, Brock tells the Captain it's time to launch right now.
The Captain gives the launch order, and commands everyone to take high-G precautions. Chiang Ho eases the ship out of dock, cutting it really close. As soon as they are clear of the doors, Mich cranks the drive output to 8G. Chiang Ho uses every bit of that.
At 20:20, 20 minutes after they took off, another ship hurtles after
them from Attica. It is 10kt, and scans indicate it's probably Rudy's ship.
They are pulling 12G's, but it's not going to be enough to catch them.
[Rudy was severely delayed by problems when launching, and is extremely