Mich wonders if there is any way to get more power out of the plant. Professor Farol tells him that there was someone on Darrian 40 years ago who was really hot on that, and gives his name to Mich.
Chiang Ho has been training intensively with NoName, including outside trips lasting several days. When at the starport, he spends his time trying to chat up the women at the base.
Chiang Ho suggests they take up a collection to pay off Fostriades' debt to the Captain -- the 1.8MCr was for the trust fund to ensure the Hermes will be paid off. Chiang Ho, Mich, and Helen contribute most of their latest dividend towards it, and pay it off. This dividend is 1 million Protectorate dollars.
Before they leave they take on a new crewmember to fill the duties of Communications Officer, Sensor Operator, backup engineer, and so on. This person, Lt. Commander Steve Howard, has just left the IFSS, most recently assigned to the mail run. He was recruited into the Imperial FarSpace Service out of Naval Academy, and has done various exploration and communications missions. He came to Karma on demobbing, and although he admits the hunting and fishing is good, the place gets boring after a while. The alternative was running the Karma-Karakus mail run, which is really a dead-end task. Lt. Walter Rickenbacker is a friend of his, and it is through him that he gets the job on the Anastasia.
He doesn't know much about the visitors, but he does at least know how to contact IFSS operatives on planets and how to tap into the IFSS message banks on their communications routes.
A typical interview follows, then a tour of the ship, then a port-leaving party with Rickenbacker.
The engines are started up, and everything is smooth and perfect. The engineers definitely know how to operate the ship now. The Anastasia takes off for Brod to pick up the cargo and freight that Fostriades has just bought.
There are two stars in the Lerruy system, and the mainworld orbits a gas giant in the closest orbit. Both stars are dwarfs, and Lerruy is another of these terribly cold worlds (-183 degrees). The starport is a patch of tarmac with a simple radio beacon. The people here live underground, and have very primitive vacc suits, sometimes even with air hoses leading back to the airlock. Mining and industry are major activities here, and it is possible that this was once a higher-tech mining colony that degenerated. Most of their equipment, while primitive, is heavy and strong and requires little maintenance.
Since they will be here for several days, they decide to run the on-board air purifier to replenish their supplies (from the atmosphere frost) and buy only the food portion of the life-support requirements, which only costs them 10% of the price.
Chiang Ho and Helen go outside to hook up a refueling rig in the ice. Chiang Ho seems a little careless in his vacc-suit work.
Fostriades sells the cargo -- the profit is somewhat over P$1m. Unfortunately, the Tech Level here is too low for the locals to load and unload the hold simultaneously -- it is very dangerous in fact for them in their primitive vacc suits to do anything at all on the surface of their planet. They couldn't go faster if they wanted to (Fostriades even offers them extra pay), so the crew resigns themselves to spending eight days on this frozen rock.
The air is thin, there is some water, high population, and for once it is a pleasantly warm world (a balmy 16 degrees). The day is 29:50 hours (14:55 per half-day). Tech Level is 9, and so there is the capability for normal system space traffic with Grav thrusters. In fact there is thriving interplanetary travel, although they don't actually have any interstellar ships (there are no places within Jump-1).
The local trading facilities are excellent, and the good ground crew can get them through in three days. They decide to use the compressors to replenish their air while taking on just food supplies.
Around 12:00 (3:00pm local time) Steve Howard contacts the starport and taps into the IFSS communications message bank. The Althea, with Captain Delaney on board, has already passed through this system on its way to Karakus.
The latest news is that the IFSS has more information. On 141-1117 a message arrived at Corona stating that Coruska had recognized Stevvin's independence, and also that Stevvin had investigated Darthlaru, finding that a research station was the only thing left in the system, because the fleet passing from Dulu to Staru came through and wiped out the starport and the entire civilian population on its way out. Apparently they missed the research station because they didn't know it was there, but they bombarded the rest of the system from orbit.
The IFSS now has a new projection. They believe that the initial invasion has actually been defeated, and that Scorpionis has totally over-reacted because of their total lack of strategic military expertise. They have concentrated a very massive force at Jusk, and seem to be reasonably sound in tactics (based on their victory at Dulu). The guess is that the next wave of invasion is going to arrive around mid-1120, possibly longer if there's an alliance between Scorpionis and the Corona Foundation, but they're not prepared to predict further because their information is starting to dry up as events are moving so fast. If the visitors have captured any Jump-3 technology then all bets are off.
The IFSS also sent a request to Karma to send the latest hostile exploratory ship to Karakus.
The locals will not let them take on fuel on the planet without paying, so they decide they will refuel on the way out.
Lt. Cmdr. Steve Howard taps into the IFSS message bank again. The latest is that on 207-1117 the base at Karakus received a message from William Rufus. He had been planning to go out into "enemy" territory, check out Stevvin, and so on, but the message he sent came from Corona, saying that things were changing really fast, and he recommended that everyone go Walkabout (any currently active IFSS person with a ship is free to go do their own thing in any way they think might help).
That's not exactly what he tells the crew. He reports to them that one of their dignitaries says that things were changing extremely quickly and has recommended that ships just go explore their own ideas for any information they can gather.
Steve Howard gets them clearance to come into the underground IFSS starport facility, where they land at 06:27. Karakus itself is cold, but tidally locked to the primary sun. There are no gas giants in the system. The Tech Level is basically 8, but the IFSS starport is full TL-15 with class A facilities. Chiang Ho finds the piloting a little more difficult to get into the underground port, having a little trouble with the routine approach from orbit (half an hour delay) but has no trouble with the two extra Routine rolls to come in and land inside.
The starport is awfully empty. There are very few ships here at all; those that are here are quite possibly mail run ships.
Steve Howard's old friend is happy to tell them anything they want to know. The latest is really under the category of local news, as it basically concerns Corona. On 169-1117 an alliance was officially signed between the Corona Foundation and Scorpionis. The government of Scorpionis seems to have had a slight disagreement with their Oligarchy (who are conveniently somewhere else right now) and has decided to ignore them. There are currently unification talks in progress between what's left of Scorpionis and Corona. Lorkin and Stevvin are being recognized as independent nations. Federu is still intact, as the courier from Stevvin passes through there.
The new government is called the TradeMain Foundation, and it is taking over the military arrangements; Admirals from Corona have been sent to take over the fleets at Jusk. William Rufus is being retained as an advisor to those Admirals and is transporting them personally.
Further news is that an attempt is being made to hold Federu, as securing both that and Jusk will block a Jump-3 through the area. The IFSS knows that Stevvin (and the rest of the tail nations), Darthlaru, and Federu are OK, and of course there is a massive "friendly" force of seven fleets at Jusk.
The crew discuss their plans in the light of the new information.
There is now a little information on the enemy ships available, thanks to the TradeMain Foundation personnel that took over the fleet that was involved in the Battle of Dulu. The basic enemy ship is 1000t, a flat box configuration; there are several variants of that, frequently heavily armored and deployed in great numbers. They used conventional and nuclear missiles, lasers, and plasma guns. Almost all the ships were of this configuration. There were also a couple of very large ship types about which there is no real information.
The Captain rejoins the ship after having had a full briefing from the IFSS officers at the base, whom he knows rather well by now.
The crew have a conference to work out their plans. They decide to take a route through Lorkin to take a look at the mystery fleet on their way to Jusk. When there, they plan to take a look at Staru, as nothing has been heard from there for a long time. Chiang Ho wants to pounce on an enemy ship, strip it, and jump out, but others in the crew think that would be too dangerous given the visitors tendency to booby-trap things.
They try to negotiate the IFSS into giving them an EMMask (135MCr worth). It takes a while, and much haggling, but thanks to Avon's timely suggestions they finally manage to settle terms: the IFSS will give them the EMMask, if they perform two missions for them. The final terms are one mission to go in to scan and report back to their agent on Jusk (William Rufus), and then one more mission into possible enemy territory (deeper than just a jump in and out, possibly) as directed by Rufus based on the information from the first scan; the IFSS will give them the EMMask, and compensate their loss of merchant income. From the time they contact the operative at Jusk, until the second mission is completed and they have contacted the agent again (or until they are deemed to be lost in action), they will pay an amount equivalent to the monthly payment on the ship (pre-EMMask price). That is 6.4MCr per month. This mission can be aborted if superseded by a direct Imperial Warrant (!), at which point the payments will of course stop.
As it happens, they do need to hire more people. They need several ratings for tasks such as missile turret reloading, and several marines for boarding parties. The Captain would like people who have been in the Dulu battle, but those are all at Jusk. It is decided to hire five ratings here, and see if they can pick up five marines when they get to Jusk, as there is no-one with any combat experience here on Karakus.
The five they hire have general shipboard skills, with some ship gunnery skills as well. They are Richard Martin, Jeffry Peterson, Bill Wedgewood, Paula Harris, and Jenny Roberts, and are hired with the job title of Rating and a (high) salary of 600Cr/month.
Jenny Roberts then shows David Brock the local bars.
Chiang Ho pilots the Anastasia out of the underground base and to the jump point. His bean plants, by the way, are doing fine.
Brock is clearly having a wild hair day. He suggests marrying the queen of the aliens, and taking charge of them and then stopping the invasion.
They take off from the IFSS base at 12:00, and jump for Purr at 15:41. During the jump, everyone has an opportunity to socialize with the new crew members. To his disgust, neither of the women like Chiang Ho much, but Paula takes a real liking to Mich.
Purr is cold, vacuum, with a population of 300. The mainworld is a long way out from the sun for the mining, but there may be habitable planets in inner orbits.
Chiang Ho takes the ship to the mainworld, for 2 days orbit-to-orbit (roll from orbit->10d, once for the insystem, 10d->orbit, etc.).