(3) Three

043-1117 to 065-1117

043-1117 : Spirelle / Lunion / Spinward Marches

The last of the personal effects (including the still) are transferred, the Hermes and Woodstock are sealed and the crew signed off. Fostriades starts to make arrangements for selling their cargo and buying new cargo. Chiang Ho signs the papers from Zaibon: it's just a statement that he agrees with the coroner's findings of accidental death from exertion while attempting a criminal act.

Chiang Ho meets the computer person for a basic informal meeting. He offers the standard salary of 2500Cr, with possible future options of buying into the company. He describes the ship briefly, then suggests an interview tomorrow morning at 08:00.

Chiang Ho buys a bottle of Anaragdinian Whiskey, and Aranian Rum, and goes off to dinner with Fred. Fred, by the way, is quieting down the whole salvage operation -- there will be no Imperial investigation, because if there were one, the Imperium might notice them and transfer them or something... Chiang Ho arrives with NoName, and Fred's wife will be along later (she's dropping the 3 kids off at the baby-sitter).

Chiang Ho mentions the beacon -- Fred has heard of beacons transmitting on that frequency, out in Regina subsector mostly, but it's a very rare frequency. Chiang Ho then mentions the weird alien ship with the strange writing, and Fred says that the Navy picked the ship up and shipped it off to some secret project at the University of Mora. It was picked up somewhere spinward of Five Sisters. It was jet black, just a fuselage section -- bridge, simple missile turrets, fragments from engineering (but no jump drive) indicated maneuver drives for about 4- 5G, ship was 400-500 tons and a warship -- thin-skinned, no armor, could even be damaged by a heavy meteorite shower. It seemed pretty primitive really, but primitive in odd ways. (Frederickson with the big nose taught the First Contact course.) They thought the ship was a long way from home. Yes, there was some lettering on the ship, but the linguists never really got anything from it. Someone wrote a thesis on the subject, but that got shuffled away too and never saw publication somehow. They have sent some deep-scout ships way out that way about three years ago, but they haven't come back yet. There's not much information here, but there should be a bit nearer that way. Karin/Five Sisters, for example, has a scout base.

They talk about the Anastasia (and the hooch in the staterooms). At the thought of General Products labels on everything, he is very amused. A General Products microwave sounds very dangerous, and as for the General Products shower heads, well... He suggests they get their engineers to examine the coffee pots, in case they blow up and destroy something critical. His opinion of Sir Bridgehead is similar to his opinion of General Products ... the reputation of his shore activities seems to have preceded him. Chiang Ho suggests a meeting with the engineering guys  in one of the critical (hooch) staterooms. They have a good time, meet Fred's wife, and so on.

044-1117 : Spirelle / Lunion / Spinward Marches

Chiang Ho returns to the ship and suggests to Mich that they and Fostriades have a party in his (Chiang's) cabin tomorrow night. Of course, right now his cabin is being torn up and rebuilt, but he can flop in a marine room for the night. He calls Fostriades (about 01:00), and tells Fostriades that the funny writing ship was towed to Mora -- where the Anastasia came from last -- technical papers on the writing can't be found now; parts of the drive sections were found in pieces.

Fostriades checks the computer for "strange unidentified aliens coming in from spinward of Five Sisters." After some poking around and invoking the right keywords (the information is hidden pretty well), he finds some records of three of the black ships found in deep space, all suffering various sorts of damage but with some equipment recovered more or less intact.

Fostriades suggests running a scan on the beacon area as they take off -- since it's a General Products ship, it should not be difficult to use handling/engine problems as an excuse for the trajectory.

The modified door lasers have not yet picked up a sufficient retinal scan of Helen Merrick to identify her, but have collected a partial image. Delaney goes to the base and runs a simple check based on just Helen's physical description against known spies, etc. -- he doesn't find anything.

Chiang Ho puts a rider on his account that if he doesn't come back after 50 years, it will go to an orphanage. People work out their training programs for the near future.

The "computer person," a 16-year-old Spirellean called Linda Gregson, arrives at the ship at 08:00. Fostriades takes the initial call, then wakes up Chiang Ho, who goes to the sick bay and picks up a non- prescription hangover medication from the automated medibot assistant. Delaney is then informed, and he says he will meet Miss Gregson after breakfast.

Linda Gregson arrives at the Anastasia in a groundcar, and the ship certainly looks impressive to someone used to scoutships. (It has had most of the dirt cleaned off it by now.)

Threasis Fostriades, in a somewhat faded merchant uniform, opens the passenger ramp and says "Hello."

"I'm supposed to have an interview here, at 8 o'clock?" "Yes, come on in."

She walks up the ramp into the receiving area. Fostriades takes her up to the B Deck galley and cooks up a batch of pancakes.

(Joe has been familiarized with the security system, and watches the monitors carefully.)

At this point an old man in gold braid, with an attractive young woman on his arm, walks in. They are introduced, then sit down at a separate table. Delaney is in the Ward Room, but incognito.

The interview continues. They go to the computer room, where Linda Gregson demonstrates some of her expertise. She seems pretty good, getting an instinctive grasp of the system. She is told about some of the highly advanced systems on board. Sir Bridgehead walks in and tries to take over the interview, but Delaney and Fostriades regain control. Linda easily calls up a map of the ship, and coaxes out as much information on personnel locations as is available.

Chiang Ho arrives, bouncy and alert. Sir Bridgehead does not like the idea of people walking into sick bay and taking things, but agrees that it is OK to pick up non-prescription stuff from there. (He arranges later that only himself, and back-up medic David Brock if he himself is incapacitated, have access to the medical facility.) Linda boggles slightly at the level of heated interaction revealed by the crew. Mich (the "competent slob") wanders in and starts adjusting the door lasers ... "Computer expert?" he says, "Oh boy, have we got a computer for you!". Chiang Ho leaves for breakfast and contacts the Captain to suggest he might like to rescue the interviewee from Sir Bridgehead.

Delaney arrives as Sir Bridgehead is questioning Linda on Spirellean education, careers, and childhood. The Captain instantly takes charge, and takes Linda through to the bridge.

Sir Bridgehead tries to get local records on Miss Gregson, but can't get actual access to their computer files initially, but when he talks to the administrative staff he gets some basic facts about her career in Transportation.

Mich continues to repair the ship, now removing laser blast damage.

Delaney asks Joe to restrict access to the bridge temporarily to Delaney, Linda, and Helen -- Helen arrives via a roundabout route through C Deck. Delaney points out to Helen that Sir Bridgehead is being a little difficult, and perhaps he should relax somewhat and try to adjust with Helen's direction and assistance. Helen leaves them. Delaney sets up some basic tests on the computer, some of them centering around the now disconnected security system, based on both information in the computer and on holographic images of the system itself. Miss Gregson does very well.

Delaney describes the ship, the crew, and so on, and offers Miss Gregson the job. "We're traders, but we do some unusual things for very good reasons. The ship may at times seem to be run in a military fashion, but that is also for very good reasons." Delaney then explains that Sir Bridgehead is not in charge here.

On returning through the ward room, Bill Avon is introduced. Miss Gregson is taken to Fostriades' suite and introduced to Achilles and Zenobia. Fostriades explains that the ship was lost 30 years ago on the way to Five Sisters. One of the problems, he says, is that some of the drives can't be worked on except by someone in Darrian. They will be doing speculative trading on the way. He explains that they salvaged the ship, and how they did it, before going on to describe the terms of the job offer. Miss Gregson promises an answer soon, and leaves the ship.

Miss Gregson checks out as much about the ship as she can. Everything they told her concurs with the facts she can determine. She also checks them out with Fred, who tells her about Chiang Ho and Sir Bridgehead.

Sir Bridgehead (at Mich's request) gives Mich a device that will signal if Mich dies. Sir Bridgehead also requests that everyone schedule a check-up while in jump-space. The Security and Wellness Officers, and Chiang Ho, say thanks but no thanks, while most others in the crew ignore the message.

Delaney plans to schedule tentative watches for the next several weeks, so that they will be established when they get into potential combat zones. Sir Bridgehead and Helen's watches will have either NoName or Joe as a "chaperone."

045-1117 : Spirelle / Lunion / Spinward Marches

Fostriades organizes the buying and selling of cargo.

Mich and Delaney have now obtained a perfect retinal scan of Helen Merrick. Delaney gets authorization from the scout base to check the records. There are no current records, no records of her as military personnel, but there is a medical record: she was treated for severe burns at the naval base at D'Ganzio a couple of years back under the name of Alice Nottingham. Alice Nottingham is not on any passenger list or crew into or out of the system. Neither Alice Nottingham nor Helen Merrick are on any passenger lists at Zaibon. No next of kin are found. No records of any accident that could have caused the burns are found.

They then check minor violations records, parking tickets, or anything. They do find one minor customs violation (failure to declare foodstuffs) at Lanth about 6 months before the injury. This one is in the name of Mary Walker.

Mich has found the problem with the doors -- there is a bad batch of relays that will need to be replaced -- it will take him about an hour and a half to fix.

Linda Gregson accepts the job as Computer Officer, and closes up her affairs on this planet. Threasis Fostriades responds immediately, saying that she should join the ship by noon tomorrow, as they are planning to leave that day.

Sir Bridgehead and Helen go shopping in the mall for clothes, and pick up a really good wardrobe, including a sexy nightgown for Helen and some really high-class civilian suits for Sir Bridgehead (he spent 31kCr). Sir Bridgehead also buys two white rabbits. When he returns from shopping, he announces that he does not want anyone to use his naval title any more, but wants to be known as just "Sir Bridgehead," as befits the apparently civilian nature of the ship and its business. He is, of course, now wearing most excellent civilian clothes.

The watches are finalized. Each watch is 1/5 of a day in length (i.e. 4:48), and the watches will be rotated back once a month or so. Watches can be exchanged between people if desired. The current watches are:

00:00 to 04:48
Sir Bridgehead, Helen Merrick, and NoName
04:48 to 09:26
Joe, Mich Saginaw
09:26 to 14:14
Captain Delaney, Colonel Brock
14:14 to 19:02
Chiang Ho, William Avon
19:02 to 00:00
Threasis Fostriades, Linda Gregson
Mich will have a "dead man" device rigged up so that if he dies, it will transmit a signal. There is also an emergency computer shut-off switch on the bridge.

The delayed party is held in the evening. Fred arrives at about 8 o'clock, and various watch-swapping takes place to enable the intended participants to take part. The first batch of bean mash is opened (Joe says the second batch is best, after using the residue from the first to seed it) -- Chiang Ho christens it "Bodka." It is excellent. Achilles likes it, Zenobia thinks it's OK. The rough booze from Zaibon is also opened. Bill Avon stores away about three glasses for when his watch is finished. Mich gets complemented for the bean stuff, and is nicknamed "Jim Bean."

Sir Bridgehead volunteers Helen as a model for a painted figurehead for the ship. They discuss pirates, keelhauling, and walking the plank. Sir Bridgehead thinks Delaney might have pirate experience, Bill Avon says he has a lot of experience of piracy (from the anti-piracy end). Sir Bridgehead keeps coming back to the subject, and suggests that they become pirates (he is a little drunk now).

They discuss scanning the planet with Fred, and the crew think that Spirelle must be hiding something. If by some chance the scanners should be on while taking off, obviously it would be necessary to send the data to the proper planetary authorities (such as Fred at the scout base).

Bill Avon slips away and asks Joe to record the party -- he does.

Sir Bridgehead is getting much more drunk now, and they discuss the rabbits and other interesting animals found on the planet. Sir Bridgehead says "What possible need would I have to experiment on rabbits? I have plenty of human subjects on board." He is very drunk now. He asks Delaney what sort of spy work he has done in the Navy (he suspects Delaney of being a Sword Worlds spy now), and the Captain replies he might have found out how our admiral was spending his nights with young ladies and that might advance certain peoples careers. The conversation gets confused, and Chiang Ho says "Bridgehead has a wife?" which Sir Bridgehead denies and then proposes to Helen, who dodges the question, gets onto the subject of rabbits, and Helen gets embarrassed and goes for another large drink. Sir Bridgehead is VERY drunk.

Talk turns to Fred's family. Apparently his eldest son is goofing off professionally.

"Well, Captain," says Sir Bridgehead, " How much information did you give the Sword Worlds about the Imperial Navy?"

"About my former Captain's pink pantaloons? That was a great one, we hung them up in the bridge."

The group discusses taking (invading?) Steel, or at least the gas giant. Fred casts aspersions on Chiang Ho's flying ability, and mentions the time they tried to reach orbit from the bar but went through the roof of a concert hall.

Fostriades goes back to Engineering and studies some manuals, with the help of Mich's highlighting the useful passages. Mich has taken the most baffling section to his stateroom, though.

Helen has yet another drink and tries to get Sir Bridgehead off the subject of marriage by giving him one too. "I am no longer an Admiral!" Sir Bridgehead announces, "I think I will be an Ensign. I never get to salute first. I have to salute second. I will be a country gentleman doctor, Sir Bridgehead. Yes, Gentle Bridgehead." Sir Bridgehead makes a fool of himself with a computer terminal, asking it if his clothing is suitable. Fostriades displays his "designer labels" faked by Mich and fastened onto his old merchant uniform.

046-1117 : Spirelle / Lunion / Spinward Marches

At midnight, Bill Avon says "You're it!" and drinks his three stored-up bean mash glasses. Sir Bridgehead goes to the sick bay and takes some anti-intoxication drugs -- he is therefore not now drunk on watch. "I believe I am perfectly sober, Captain," says Sir Bridgehead, "How about you?" "Absolutely not! I'm not on watch. By the way, Helen should be around, too. Is she sober?" There is a familiar foot sticking out from under a table. Sir Bridgehead drags her out--she is holding a glass and a bottle. "Take this," says Sir Bridgehead, "You're on duty." "As a Flight Officer?" "No, you're on watch."

"Christabel!" shouts Fostriades.

"What?" says Helen.

"Ah-ha!" says Fostriades, "You're right. Sarah!"


Sir Bridgehead and Delaney finally convince her to take the anti-intox pills.

"This stuff doesn't work any more," she says of the drink.

"Yes it does," says Mich, "Watch this!" He takes a slug, takes a lighter, and ignites his breath--his forehead hair and eyebrows go up in flames, although he's basically OK. Fostriades helps Mich to his room, then goes off and crashes in his own room.

Fred and Chiang Ho pass out at 02:00, after a good two hours of storytelling with Avon and Brock. Chiang Ho shows Avon Page Nine, which Bill doesn't understand. Brock staggers up to the vehicle deck and falls asleep in the gunnery seat of the GCarrier.

At 08:00, Fred wakes up and kicks Chiang Ho in the ribs to wake him too. Chiang Ho flies Fred back to the scout base in the GCarrier, where Fred goes straight to work. Chiang Ho then returns to the Anastasia.

Fostriades asks Mich about Helen's "other names," and he tells him about Alice Nottingham who was burnt and Mary Walker who had a parking ticket and all these people had the same retinal eyescan as Helen Merrick.

They then try to work out the part in the manuals that they don't understand. It makes no sense whatsoever. The computer is no help either -- it refers them to the engineering manuals.

Linda Gregson gets all her stuff together and heads for the starport, where she takes a groundcar out to the Anastasia at about 10:00. The Captain shows her to her suite, where she throws her stuff on the bed and starts poking around at the computer. She is next due on watch at 19:00. She pulls up a deck plan of the ship, but can't find out where everyone is at the moment. She finds the ship's intended flight plan to Karin/Five Sisters, which is rather further than she had thought. She checks the armaments and finds out that they have several hundred nuclear missiles aboard! She then checks the exits and vehicles, and tries to break into the security system but can't manage that. She is seriously worried what she has got herself into (An Admiral? A Captain? What's going on here?).

By now it is about 14:00. She tries to query the spaceport to find the actual flight plan, but the attempt to link is blocked from the bridge. Linda is invited to the bridge for lunch, then Delaney comes down to meet her. Linda asks to make a shore call to tidy up some affairs, and they authorize a channel from the bridge but monitor it. Linda notices that the channel is being monitored and switches quickly to a call to her mother (she gets an answering machine) and is speaking when Delaney knocks at the door.

Linda is invited to a meeting on the bridge. Some of last night's party recordings are played. The self-tests for the launch are started, and they adjourn to the ward room for lunch. There is a chaotic meeting during which Linda is informed something about the nature and short-term intentions of the group.

"Do you want to hear where we're going?" asks Captain Delaney, "If you hear, you cannot leave. If I tell you where we're going, you're in on this and there's no way I'm going to let you walk off. You can, however, leave right now if you like."

The engineers arrive and want to know what's going on. Fostriades explains (again) that they are heading for Karin/Five Sisters. He adds that when they salvaged the ship it was half way through something, and that they have morally acquired the duty to finish this mission. Unfortunately, their knowledge of the mission is somewhat limited. They are going to Karin/Five Sisters to find out about it. It is also true that the only person who can service the drives (and they are badly in need of servicing) is on Darrian and this is a suitable route there.

The engines and drives are brought up ready to go. (The box, of course, is transmitting, but the cage is shielding it.) At 16:00 everyone takes up their duty stations. Chiang Ho lifts off, starts on a normal ascent, then veers and drops and swoops up into orbit over the beacon area in the mountains ... the scanners are running, what a coincidence!

The Captain opens communications with the starport and explains that they had a few problems. The apology is accepted.

Chiang Ho takes the ship out to the jump point, and just before they leave he transmits the planetary scan to Fred at the scoutbase.

The ship goes into jump.

While in jump, they analyze the data scan. There were no alloys, no power sources, no heat sources, no real mineral deposits, no unusual gravitation or EM emissions, the geology is normal, and there is indeed no indication that there is anything out of the ordinary. There is no deviation whatsoever as the ship passes over the area.

Helen performs a thorough check of the pinnace, its bay, and launching mechanisms.

054-1117 : Steel / Sword Worlds / Spinward Marches

At 20:09, the Anastasia comes out of jump at Steel/Sword Worlds. They immediately head for the nearby small gas giant, where they start refueling, then spend a while in orbit refining.

056-1117 : Steel / Sword Worlds / Spinward Marches

The ship finishes refining the fuel and they fly out to the jump point. At 10:09, they enter jump for Faldor/District 268.

060-1117 : Jump Space

The engineers finally work out what the manual means, and how that part of the jump drive works. They went back to all their papers and academic notes to come up with the answer. It's really quite simple. What the "miracle box" actually does is to shift the phase of the matter to create anti-matter, which is then recombined with an equal amount of matter to give the right energy boost. That's why you don't have to put any anti- matter in. All it does is create it at the right moment and inject it, so there's no containment field or anything like that. On the other hand, if the calibration is wrong and too much anti-matter is created, it will start to eat out part of the jump drive.

061-1117 : Jump Space

Helen Merrick visits Threasis Fostriades in his cabin and warns him that someone is planning to slip something into Captain Delaney's food or drink, perhaps a truth drug; she doesn't think that it would be in the interests of the mission if that happened. Apparently the person has access to those drugs, and although he hasn't had a real opportunity so far he may be getting more desperate. She says that this person doesn't trust the Captain's past or motives, and might want to question him on the subject.

Fostriades points out that Helen herself is not exactly trusted by most of the crew, including the Captain. Fostriades' career was with Tukera Lines, and in a company with a reputation like that, one does need to be careful -- and he has some training in spying.

Helen says that, as far as she knows, no-one is aiming for him. She insists that the Captain should be warned, and that it would carry more weight if it didn't come from her -- she also doesn't really want any particular person implicated. Fostriades says he is willing to believe that what she has mentioned has been planned, but he's not sure why she should choose to act against her good friend's intentions.

Helen changes the subject, and asks to see Fostriades' Imperial Warrant. She says it looks genuine, but questions whether it was originally issued to Fostriades, noting that it has neither an expiry date nor a specific name; nevertheless, she still thinks it's at least being used in the original spirit -- that's why (she says) she's coming to Fostriades and not Delaney, other than the fact that Delaney doesn't trust her.

Fostriades again mentions Helen's past, and that they knew nothing about her when she joined the ship. He does, however, compliment her on her stewarding on the Hermes, and says he would hire her again if they were to be released from their current duties and return to his ship.

"What do you know about me?" Helen asks.

"That you had a laser burn, that you have given the same retinal scan to at least three different names, and that you once in a moment of drunkenness answered to a fourth," Fostriades replies, and suggests that a little more openness might be appreciated.

"Perhaps we should introduce ourselves," says Helen, "You are...?"

"Threasis Fostriades, originally of Midas, formerly chief engineer on sundry ships of the line Tukera, formerly Captain of the Hermes and CEO of the Hermes Exploratory Company, freelance merchant, money-maker, agent of the Emperor by default. And you?"

"Christabel Dolores Forrester, born on Arkadia/Vilis, also known by several other names (most of which you would not have heard), most notably Robin Sherwood, Captain of the Berlin ... now, what's the right word?"

Fostriades has never heard of the ship. He suggests she might be in the import/export redistribution business?

"That's one way of putting it, yes. We did a lot of business in Cronor and Querion, of which the local authorities were not very appreciative." Her ship, the Berlin, picked up some inviting bait at a gas giant in the Sansibar system, and was ambushed by several Zhodani cruisers from the naval base there. The Berlin was rather damaged, and they misjumped. By a diverse route including a rather broken-down free trader where they had a minor explosion and she sustained burns, she found her way to Zaibon. Until it expired at the beginning of the year, she had a Letter of Marque (from Strephon via Norris' office) for the purposes of "redistribution of Zhodani trade goods." The Berlin was about 1000 tons, not exactly standard, but basically normal, TL14.

Fostriades recommends frankness with Delaney, but Helen wants her past to remain concealed, especially from Sir Bridgehead. She is, however, concerned that Sir Bridgehead's distrust of Delaney will jeopardize the mission.

Fostriades says his information source is a not entirely sober Mich, who is apparently working as Delaney's "skills man." It comes out that the retinal scans were made by the door lasers -- Helen is impressed. Fostriades once again recommends that Helen talk to Delaney. She is not so sure: "What do I do, I go up and say 'Hi, I'm a pirate?'"

"Not at all, you're a privateer. I doubt your past contains anything more peculiar or ruthless than bits of mine. You after all have the excuse of acting on behalf of your Emperor and Empire." Fostriades does agree to warn the Captain, and will in fact not reveal the source of his information. Since Helen no longer has her warrant, of course, there is no supporting evidence for her story.

The conversation turns to Zaibon. Helen says there's a covert naval operation there, and that there's been a presence there since the Porky's Raid; there's at least a destroyer there on permanent watch, probably at least a 3000-ton ship. She and Fostriades agree that Delaney's remarkable unfamiliarity with small ships and apparent ease and confidence in larger ones might be explained along those lines. It's apparently a totally secret operation, and Helen has never seen the ship herself, but she has a lot of evidence from her prospecting days that there's a rotating watch through the system. If Delaney was really involved in that operation it might explain his unwillingness to be forthcoming about what he's done.

Fostriades explains the purpose of the mission. "We're trying to find Jack. The idea is I think that Jack tells us what we're doing, and at the moment we know practically nothing. We have a mysterious menace to ourselves and our friends the Darrians, we have a very curious ship."

"A very nice ship," says Helen, "I would have given an awful lot to have had this instead of the Berlin -- particularly given its armory." Helen talks about the ambush: "We should not have gone into that system, really. Well, when you've got a good crew, and you've had so much good luck, and you're the famous Robin Sherwood of the Berlin, these things get to you. Of course, I'm not famous with anybody here, which may be a good thing. We came out in quite a state at Stellatio and since the ship was pretty much wrecked when we jumped, we dumped it into a gas giant and bailed out, and the crew dispersed. I had quite a few contacts and that helped."

Helen describes her skills in case some of the more unusual ones could be useful on the mission. They then discuss the mission in more detail, and after another assurance that Fostriades will warn the Captain, she leaves.

Fostriades warns Delaney. Delaney talks to Linda Gregson and wants her to monitor (discretely) anything withdrawn from the pharmacy, along with a simple description of what it is. At first, she runs into the security system, and finds that access is restricted to the medical officer, but with a change of approach she manages to get in. She sets up the system, patching in with security, to monitor who enters the sick bay and when, and how long they stay there, and correlate that with drugs dispensed.

062-1117 : Faldor / District 268 / Spinward Marches

At 10:09, the Anastasia comes out of jump at Faldor/District 268. They head straight to the planet and land at the starport at 14:33. Local time is midday through the 12-hour day. The gravity is quite light here -- about 5/8. They come down next to the starport beacon in an open field; about a mile away there is a village of some sort across a lake. The grass here is about 20cm tall and fairly stiff; there are large bush- like ferns in various places outside the starport field. There is no-one in sight. The weather seems quite pleasant and warm.

Sir Bridgehead goes outside, taking a bioscanner "sniffer" with him to look for any life forms. He walks out towards the town, enjoying the low gravity. Chiang Ho, meanwhile, picks up a pair of binoculars and sees a person leaving the town on foot towards the ship. He then spends some time practicing with the sensors.

Sir Bridgehead meets the man coming the other way. They exchange greetings and continue on their separate ways. The man then approaches the ship. He is welcomed by the Captain and insists on coming on board. He (his name is Josh) has some trouble understanding their Galanglic -- his version is idiosyncratic, using a rather odd word order. Linus doesn't like him, and Achilles is rather wary. Eventually they convey that they have freight to deliver, and Josh promises to unload it -- "Workers I bring. Goods you deliver! Tomorrow." They then asks about water for refueling, and it seems they are free to fill up from the lake.

Chiang Ho, Helen, and Mich remain with the ship while the others go to town to find out where to deliver the freight. NoName will look after Linda Gregson on their excursion; Fostriades will take Achilles with him. They set off on the path to the village, following the same route as Josh and Sir Bridgehead.

Mich breaks out a large hose, and starts refueling the Anastasia from the small lake. It will take rather a while to fill the tanks, and of course 24 hours to refine the fuel.

Sir Bridgehead is wandering along towards the village, studying his scanner carefully on he way. He comes across a path, leading from a nearby building to the village. He comes about 2m away from the building. As he is watching his scanner carefully, an old woman pokes her head out of the door and says "Yuggablaah? Yuggalabloh?" Sir Bridgehead doesn't seem to understand, and the woman points towards the village. He thanks her profusely and walks off towards the town.

The party that left the ship has been catching up with Sir Bridgehead. Most of them are having no problem with the gravity, but Linda, on her first trip on a new planet, goes sailing over Fostriades shoulder and lands heavily on her arm. She gets up, somewhat subdued. The group carries on, and sees a small hut, or house, to their left, but doesn't want to bother them and so carries on along the path towards the village. Sir Bridgehead is now about 100 meters ahead of them, where the path turns into a road. They catch him up, pass him and ignore his attempts to talk to them -- he's looking carefully at a pile of manure in the road. The road now passes between hedges of fern-like trees. Sir Bridgehead rushes to catch up with them, but trips over a rock in the low gravity and falls on his face in the dirt -- his scanner fell in the dirt heavily, and is rather covered in muck.

The road takes a sudden turn, revealing the village. The road is surrounded by a heavy hedge of large fern-like trees, which would also seem to be the local building material. The streets seem to be laid out in a rectangular fashion, and the road goes past several houses and ends up in a central village square. There are no visible street or business signs, but there are quite a few people going about their daily business. Mostly they are wearing fairly light and voluminous clothing, sandals, a jerkin, and knee-length skirt. The locals give them funny looks. Sir Bridgehead follows them about 100m behind.

The party wonders about lunch, so heads towards the central square. Linda picks out someone to ask for directions, a woman around her age (actually about 20). She obviously doesn't understand a word, but points to the central square. Delaney joins in and makes some strange gestures. She says something unintelligible, and points to the town square.

The group reaches the square. Sir Bridgehead now catches up, and is rather irritated at being ignored. The town square is a large village square, paved (the first area they have seen that is) in some slate-like flat rock, irregular shapes fitted rather nicely; it slopes slightly down towards the center, where there is a small stone fountain bubbling up slightly. The day is fairly warm, about 80F. There are large 2-storey buildings around it, with a street leading out from the center of each side. Some of the buildings look like they could be shops, swing-down shutters propped open, with tables and people eating in some places. There is a building with a particularly large front door and ornate wood carvings that looks like it could be an administrative building. Fostriades dips some water from the fountain and lets Achilles drink from it -- he sniffs at it, but it smells a bit funny. It is warm, too, but perhaps that's understandable from the heat. Sir Bridgehead's sniffer indicates sulfurous fumes (back at the lake, the water does not seem at all sulfurous, although there are impurities -- it is not exactly soft).

They go to the official building, and walk in. It looks like an administrative building; there's one large room with a lot of desks. A person is standing beside the door at a pulpit, with a pen and a book. Delaney walks up and produces some Imperial ID and gestures at him. There is a short and difficult conversation between that man and the Captain and Fostriades, during which mostly the man says "Slowly speak!" and ponders each sentence very carefully. Delaney and Fostriades try to find out what to do with the freight -- "Workers goods for the transporting of Josh arranging." They "converse" a bit more, and work out that it is OK that Josh will come and unload everything; on the other hand, he calls for a 1000Cr fee -- Delaney questions it, but they agree to pay up in the end. They then ask him where to find a translator, and after a short problem communicating with the person who sticks their head out of the overhanging 2nd-floor window, they manage to hire a translator (200Cr for 2 days) who seems to have an excellent grasp of Galanglic as she is spoke (it seems he learned it from a scout).

The group heads off to eat, but from the position of the sun it seems more like afternoon tea than lunch. It is now 16:30, 2 o'clock local. They call up the ship to find out how things are going there. Chiang Ho has spent some time in communion with the computer and the sensors, and has determined that the lake will probably drop about half a meter from the refueling. Speaking of the refueling, it is progressing fine, and the Engineer (Mich) and Flight Officer (Helen) are floating on the lake (on inflated vacc suits) drinking and sunning themselves. Delaney warns that they should be very careful dealing with the natives -- particularly watch your money!

The restaurant serves frothy yeasty weakish beer in liter jugs, game stew, and large loaves of flat bread. They have taken a bench under the swing-up shop awning. The landlord brings out a large bowl of stew with a serving-spoon, and two-handled bowls for everyone. The food is not bad, really. They discuss the shopping they intend to do at a general provisions store (the translator tells them there is one close by) -- David and Joe want to shop for beans. Fostriades draws a bean plant, but it is not until he draws a bean that the translator shows any recognition -- they are called "Belhpholph" here. What is his language? Faldorean, of course. Apparently scouts and free traders pass through occasionally (a scout came about 10 years ago). Sir Bridgehead asks about local medicinal herbs, and it seems he can buy some at the provisions store. After the stew is finished, the landlord brings out a bowl of fruit (generic round fruit with a skin, flesh, and a stone in the middle). They finish eating about 18:00, 3:30 p.m. local. One credit pays for the meal, but Sir Bridgehead thanks the landlord profusely and hands him another 10Cr.

Fostriades, Linda, and NoName head back to the ship (they think they can just make it before sunset), but they get a little lost and so call the ship. Chiang Ho runs a scan with the RDF to find them -- they are now about 3 miles away. Since it is only about 10 minutes till sunset, Chiang Ho asks the Captain if it's OK for someone to leave the ship and pick them up, and so Avon takes out the GCarrier to pick up Fostriades, Gregson, and NoName. They arrive back at the ship at 18:30, 4:00pm local (just after sunset).

The others went on to the general provisions store. Delaney buys some travel food -- dried meat, bread cakes, several sorts of beans, dry biscuits, and so on. The translator points out that it would be wise to take the purchases with them, rather than trust the storekeeper to deliver them. David and Joe find some things that look like dried beans (about 2cm long black beans). Sir Bridgehead scans the beans quickly, then picks out several bags (about kg each) of dried herbs for medicinal purposes -- most of them are to made into a tea and drunk, some are for long life and health, some reduce fever, some induce sleep (according to the local) -- some do contain poisonous substances.

They decide that the GCarrier should come and pick them up. Sir Bridgehead suggests that Helen might like to come to collect them, but Chiang Ho points out that she is drunk and floating in the lake. Sir Bridgehead wants to know if she's wearing a suit, and Chiang Ho says that "You don't know, I know, he [Mich] knows, the camera knows..." Avon makes another trip with the GCarrier to pick up the group and their purchases.

Mich and Helen watch the sun go down over the lake, then walk back to the ship and in through the passenger ramp. Since everyone else is flying into the vehicle deck, they don't meet anyone on the way. Mich checks the refueling process, and sees it will take 6.5 hours altogether, so will finish at about 21:00, although of course refining will take the full 24 hours until 15:30 tomorrow.

Midnight local time is at 20:30.

063-1117 : Faldor / District 268 / Spinward Marches

00:00 ships time is 3am local, about sunrise.

At 4am local (01:00 ships) Josh and the laborers arrive with a wagon train, and spend 5 hours unloading the goods (i.e. until 3pm local, 06:00 ships).

Joe reckons that it would be worth buying some of these beans for speculation. The beans, he thinks, should be salable because of their "interesting overtones" -- from chewing one bean he's not too sure, but they could have mild mind-altering properties. Chiang Ho is interested in putting around 16kCr into this. Linus and Achilles, by the way, think the translator is OK, sort of. Chiang Ho wants the translator to find a good deal on these beans; for every credit less than what they expect to pay, they will give him 10% of the difference. They agree that they want about 5 tons or so. The translator asks for a driver to take him to somewhere he can get a good deal -- Chiang Ho will take him in the GCarrier.

They head out to a place about 30km away, and drop him about 8km miles off and wait for him to bring the goods there. The GCarrier will carry 2 tons of cargo, so it will take three trips to carry it back. The translator arrives back with a wagon and five tons of beans, for which he paid 200Cr total (40Cr per ton!). (The "beans" are, of course, actually fern seeds.)

Midnight local time is at 09:00.

During this day, Sir Bridgehead rehires the translator (at 250Cr for the day), and Helen takes him off in an air/raft to visit a local healer, who he was told yesterday (by the administrator) lives 2 days ride away. First he goes over the computer analysis of the materials he bought at the provisions store. Most are green herbs to be made into teas. They do the following: reduce fever, an aspirin analogue, induce sleep, create hallucinations (poisonous in overdose), several stimulants (one of which is very strong and poisonous in stronger doses), two others actually contain substances which boost the immune system, there's another which will induce fever (but not at all fatal), and some standard things, such as simple herbal teas and simple muscle relaxants. Most of this stuff is fairly well known -- some of the hallucinogens are different, and their effect is obviously not quantified; the fever reducer is also not in the standard drugs; the immune system booster is superfluous given the medical facilities at hand on this ship. Many of the herbs are harmless, with no real effect except relaxation a little and a pleasant flavor. The strong stimulant is impure and the herbs contain poisonous substances, so would need a great deal of purification. The hallucinogens seem to be fern leaves.

He then heads off at 3 a.m. local, chauffeured by Helen in an air/raft, and goes the 30 km to the town of the healer. (The translator will later acquire a supply of the particular herbs he is interested in, for a nice kickback.) The town is similar to the one they have come from, with a central square in which they land. They start at a restaurant with bread and beer for breakfast while the translator finds out the location of the healer. This town is not as big as Darrowby, but is otherwise similar.

The healer is about 1km from the center of the town, and the translator suggests walking rather than taking the air/raft. The door is open to the single-story hut-like building (better than the shack he saw on his walk--it has multiple rooms). The healer is a young lady, about 25 years old. He introduces himself as a healer, and suggests a share of information and materials. She seems very cooperative, but says she has some special secrets and techniques that she will pass on only to her children -- she is, however, willing to share some other secrets that are not well known in the world. She has something that one rubs into wounds, and gives him the jar for 5 Cr (it's a powerful antiseptic that also aids in blood clotting-- perhaps rather more effective than the current stuff on the ship, but obviously he will be able to set up the field hospital to synthesize the stuff he wants). He asks where he can buy more, but she says that one must collect it when the other planet Skaril comes close.

She says that if he gives her a son, she will give him a secret herb -- he agrees (apparently the offspring of two healers is rare and honored -- healers are rare). First, though, he gives her some things (better drugs than the herbs available here), and she gives him some more things in turn. She hands him a small bottle of black powder, of which a small pinch will stop all pain; she gives him some shredded roots that will relax the patient and the patient will do whatever the doctor wishes (everything one says) so the patient can be treated better; a small jar of powdered seeds that helps internal wounds heal after operations. She tells him that some of these things cannot be bought at any price.

Sir Bridgehead does his agreed duty (it is rather fun), and gives her a son. She gives him a small jar of ointment that will counteract any poisonous bites absolutely and completely, with a small amount rubbed on the wound -- even if they have been dead recently from a bite, it will restore them if their arms and legs are rubbed to start the circulation -- this is a great secret that has been passed down. It is gathered -- one takes rocks from the great mountains of the equator, and there's a particular peak (the diamond peak that shines in the sun) where one gathers the rock, crushes it, and bakes it on a hot fire for several hours, and then it is crushed completely and made into a paste with water.

Sir Bridgehead tells her he would like to see her again if he comes back to the planet, and suggests there might be a market for some of these drugs in the Imperium, and it might be lucrative. She does not know of any mind-reading medication, and no healer has ever even claimed that.

Sir Bridgehead buys various supplies (in that town) of various herbs that he wants, about 5kl of various things, then buys more in Darrowby (he pays 2Cr for the herbs, and 100 Cr to the translator as a kickback).

The air/raft returns, and the goods are moved into the medical supplies with a full computer record of everything. Sir Bridgehead suggests a tea-tasting during the next jump. Reactions are mixed. Captain Delaney requests a computer analysis of everything that might be used in such a tasting. Sir Bridgehead suddenly recalls that Helen was there when he "did his duty," but as, as Avon says, nothing seems to faze her.

Delaney, meanwhile, has decided to take all his meals in his cabin and analyze his food too, but does sometimes carry his coffee into the mess room. He also occasionally makes a meal in the galley and takes it back into his room to analyze.

Midday local time is 15:00, and the ship finishes fuel processing at 15:30, whereupon the Anastasia promptly lifts off (after Mich checks the drives again). She jumps at 18:57 for Iderati/Five Sisters.

At the end of the day, the watches rotate one backwards. They are now:

00:00 to 04:48
Joe, Mich Saginaw;
04:48 to 09:26
Captain Delaney, Colonel Brock;
09:26 to 14:14
Chiang Ho, William Avon;
14:14 to 19:02
Threasis Fostriades, Linda Gregson;
19:02 to 00:00
Sir Bridgehead, Helen Merrick, and NoName.

065-1117 : Jump space

Sir Bridgehead doctors Delaney's food with the truth drug and some of the extract of root that makes the patient do what the doctor wants. Delaney takes his food back to his cabin and locks the door, having noticed Sir Bridgehead's action. Sir Bridgehead knocks at the door, but it is not answered from inside -- he calls but there is no answer, so he tries the door. Delaney calls Joe to remove Sir Bridgehead from the door discretely -- Joe does so, by saying there is a message on the computer (that he can conveniently not get out of it!). Sir Bridgehead tells Joe he is concerned about the Captain, but Joe says he's fine.

Joe reports to Delaney. Delaney asks whether it is civilized to poison people, and Joe says it is; actually, they have a tradition of it... Delaney calls Linda to his cabin. Linda runs a quick computer check, and determines that Sir Bridgehead has removed some truth drug and some other substance obtained on Faldor. Delaney tells her that Sir Bridgehead has tried to poison her, and gives her a sample to analyze; she does so.

Delaney returns to the galley, eating similar food to that which was doctored. Sir Bridgehead approaches him, and starts to question his motives -- he says there is a lot of distrust in the party -- Sir Bridgehead distrusts the Captain, and the Captain distrusts Helen, and it might be a lot better if this were resolved before they get to Karin/Five Sisters. Sir Bridgehead points out that Delaney has obviously been involved in covert operations, and one is never sure who those covert operations are for -- "You mean Helen hasn't told you?" asks the Captain. Sir Bridgehead says no, and Delaney acts confused. Sir Bridgehead then questions whether Delaney was doing covert operations for or against the Empire, and Delaney gives a non-committal dithering answer, except that he says that his loyalty to the Emperor is without question. Sir Bridgehead asks if Helen participated with Delaney in his covert activities, and he says yes, he has worked with her. Sir Bridgehead says he wants Delaney and him to be able to work together as a team.

Delaney asks him to wait, then returns to his cabin and comes back with the doctored food, which he offers Sir Bridgehead -- he eats it. Delaney says the food tastes funny, doesn't it? Not something one would expect from one's trusted friends? Sir Bridgehead agrees. Delaney asks Sir Bridgehead how much he really knows about Helen, and he says he knows only what she has told him, and that she's a very good lover and a sensitive and caring person; he knows she's been a good prostitute, and that she's stayed at his side and supported him. Sir Bridgehead's loyalty is to the Emperor, forever and always, and, no, he's not asked Helen where her loyalties are, nor has he fed her any of these drugs. He then starts babbling under the influence of the drug and says that this was a test of Delaney, and that Sir Bridgehead knew that the food was drugged, and that this was to see what questions Delaney would ask him, and that as a result of it he now feels good about Delaney commanding this mission. Sir Bridgehead now feels rather sick, and has to leave rather suddenly. When he recovers, he returns to the other crew and announces that he now trusts the Captain.

The crew asks the computer about the real way to make coffee, starting from raw beans, and finds out a great deal which they intend to put into practice, perhaps starting from some of the trail coffee that Delaney bought on Faldor, or some of the strange beans.

Linda's analysis turns out a truth drug, and something brought off planet. Delaney tells her it made Sir Bridgehead rather sick. They are amused. Delaney warns her that the Admiral has no scruples about trying out drugs on people, and she might want to warn the crew, except that if Helen got some she wouldn't worry too much about it...

Linda sends out a "message of the day" to everyone but Helen, the doctor, and the Captain, saying "Don't be a guinea pig, watch what you eat!" The message will come up when they log on to the terminal and are alone in the room, and will flash at them. Linda also sets up alarms to find out if Sir Bridgehead, Fostriades, or Delaney go anywhere strange.

Sir Bridgehead then slips some of the drug combination into Helen's mead (from the last planet). She notices instantly that there is something odd about it, and runs an analysis on it which reveals that there is some truth drug in it. Sir Bridgehead runs an analysis and says that there is no problem with it, but she reveals the truth drug in it and says that someone must be trying to slip it to Sir Bridgehead, or alternatively trying to slip her something. Sir Bridgehead subtly suggests the Captain, but she say's he's probably OK, although she doesn't know much about him. Helen goes to talk to the brewers (Chiang Ho and Mich). She asks them if they are slipping something into drinks, but they deny it and the main batch tests out OK... They discuss the matter -- Chiang Ho and Mich say they will have to lock the door, and Helen says she will have to scan her drinks at the next party. Chiang Ho and Mich say that the next party is due in two and a half weeks, when the brew from the beans is ready. The coffee will also be ready then.

Sir Bridgehead questions Chiang Ho and Mich as to what Helen asked them and what they told her. Sir Bridgehead implies he knows what was in there. Delaney says that apparently drugging people is civilized.