After an hour or so, they are met by a cylindrical, streamlined, 600t patrol cruiser. They exchange hails. The Anastasia is refused permission to refuel and is told in no uncertain terms to follow the escort closely into the mainworld at 3G. They land at the class C starport at 05:33. There are a lot of military ships in this system (no surprise).
Chiang Ho has been studying TDS Combat. He gets 2 AT's and wounded in the process. This time he was beat up pretty bad, bouncing off a few walls during high-G practice.
The specifications that Scorpionis gathered on the visitor ships are considered carefully. One of the first targets of the visitors on entering the Dulu system was to try to gain control of the Secondary gas giant.
(At Mich's insistence, the Computer Operator has rigged up a means of eliminating all manuals and texts about the jump drive in case the ship is captured.)
Sir Bridgehead's secret experiments are coming on, but he cannot get the memory transfer to work. It's as if he is missing some important concept...
Jusk is almost tidally locked to the gas giant it orbits (on a 6-day orbit), and the average temperature is 38, ranging between 37 and 41 depending on the position of the three suns in the system.
When the Anastasia lands at 5:30, they are met by an honor guard and a flashy tasteless grav limo. The Captain, Fostriades, Helen, Joe, and Sir Bridgehead go to meet the "higher powers." (Chiang Ho would go, but he is a little indisposed as a result of training.) Sir Bridgehead likes the limo and the immaculate matched guards in their matched uniforms.
They are taken to an executive landing port, through a security station airlock, and land in an indoor garden where there is another full honor guard here to meet them. They proceed into a luxury lounge full of plants, where there are two people plus inconspicuous eager waiters. The Captain suggests the crew should have only one drink each.
One of the people is in full dress Admiral's uniform which is rather overdone, even by Sir Bridgehead's standards. The other person is in T-shirt and jeans. The Navy man introduces himself as Admiral Lhule, Commander-in-Chief of the TradeMain Forces, and the other man as William Rufus. The crew start questioning them in polite conversation.
The Admiral says that his forces are making a defensive stand here at Jusk. Admiral Therrikka (the second-in-charge) has secured the Federu system with the elite Scorpiu-fleet. When pressed, they admit that they don't know anything new to help the Anastasia in her mission. Rufus keeps wanting to run an exploratory mission, but the Admiral feels that they are better off fighting a defensive action as brought them victory at Dulu. The Scorpionis fleets are "a little lacking in the brain department," Admiral Lhule says.
The Captain says they want to hire some marines. Rufus says he knows five girls who are more eager for battle than the Navy chaps and are looking to find some way into the action. They were indeed involved in the battle at Dulu, which is one of the Captain's requirements.
Sir Bridgehead asks how the integration of Corona and Scorpionis is proceeding. Apparently it is going quite well, according to Admiral Lhule: Corona has the economy, Scorpionis has the Navy. There was a big shake-up in the command structure, except for Admiral Cartha. There have been training exercises to improve from some of the disasters of the campaign.
Sir Bridgehead wants some examples of disasters, and the Admiral points to giving up all those systems without a fight -- does that count? Tactically there is not so much of a problem. It's fairly clear that there really was a serious victory won at Dulu.
Sir Bridgehead continues his questioning. Yes, some of the visitor ships did have trouble locking sensors on to Scorpionis ships. No, he won't give up military secrets of TradeMain ships; Sir "CNN" Bridgehead is not discouraged. They don't know whether Staru is enemy territory or not. They don't know much about the unmarked fleet at Lorkin since Rufus went through; Lorkin is an independent planet with full diplomatic relations maintained with the TradeMain Foundation. Lorkin's independence was brought up by the Scorpionis negotiators when Corona insisted that Stevvin be independent, so apparently they had some interest in the system that the TradeMain Foundation have not yet worked out.
There is still no evidence of visitor technology higher than Jump-2. Even the Scorpionis ships are Jump-2: you can't put Jump-3 on a warship and still make it a warship, according to the Admiral. The last they knew about Staru was that one fleet from Dulu came through Darthlaru and Federu and ended up here under Admiral Cartha, the other jumped to Staru and they have never heard of it since. That is the second fleet to go to Staru and vanish, as one went there from Scorpiu earlier. They have (of course!) sent no ships to investigate since.
It is William's prerogative to direct the Anastasia's mission. Rufus declines the offer to come with them, as "old Yethtot here" turned him down when he offered earlier, and now he's acting as a liner for Admirals. The Anastasia's mission will be to find out anything they can from the system. Sir Bridgehead tries to be more specific, so Rufus elaborates. What they know from Dulu is that the visitors' first objective was the gas giant around the Secondary star, and a lot of fighting went on there. Now Staru also has a secondary with a gas giant... So they should get in there, hang around and see where they can pick up any radio transmissions and so on, and try to get indications of what's going on.
Sir Bridgehead asks if there's anyone locally who's a really hot sensor operator, and Rufus says he is, if Yethtot would let him go -- but the Anastasia is considered expendable, probably. The Admiral considers the expectations of them returning from the mission to be classified information. Sir Bridgehead tells him he is going to be surprised. "Very little surprises me, little man," he retorts. Sir Bridgehead takes this personally, and insults the Admiral's manhood, but is calmed by Fostriades and the Captain.
So, they are to go into the system, do a scan, and try to make some sense of what they pick up ... but they MUST come back and not get involved in combat, and should therefore jump out if anything gets too close to them. Based on information from that, their next mission will be worked out when ... if ... they get back.
Everyone agrees that the Scorpionis principle of complete information or no information is not in favor any more. Admiral Cartha is still in command of his fleet, but that's because of his performance at Dulu ... Admiral Cartha "The Butcher" as they call him (he apparently is proud of the name).
William Rufus politely declines an invitation to a party right now, but instead thinks they should leave right away, as soon as they've called the marines -- the leader is called Vana, and Sir Bridgehead is given her phone number. Vana is from Staru, by the way. Sir Bridgehead wonders if she turns letters. Rufus doesn't understand. Sir Bridgehead has had too many free drinks.
Sir Bridgehead wonders about the wisdom of taking Scorpionis people on board, but Rufus says that though their strategy stinks, their tactics are not too bad and they're certainly not lacking in courage.
Meanwhile, back at the ship... There are many guards at the starport. Chiang Ho takes a walk around the ship, watched carefully by the guards. The Anastasia will be refueled free, as they don't have the paperwork to charge one ship, and don't really care how much the Navy's supplies cost anyway. The ship is also reprovisioned completely.
Chiang Ho calls the Captain, because he wants authorization for refined fuel. The Captain asks the Admiral, and he says to tell them that Yethtot Lhule authorizes it, and not to mess anything up or they'll have to answer to him. Refined refueling proceeds, and Mich's monitoring confirms its quality.
The crew return to the ship, with full honor guard again. The armed guards around the ship line up nicely when they arrive. Sir Bridgehead points out that the Captain should be taking notes on how to treat a Grand Admiral, but the Captain thinks he has ideas on that subject already. Mich agrees.
Back on board, Sir Bridgehead calls Vana. It is agreed that the Boss and Brock (their own "marine") should be in on the call, too.
"Hi! Jerry's bar, can I help you? Hey Vana, it's for you!"
"Hi, Vana! This is Grand Admiral Sir Bridgehead..."
Vana is not impressed. Her language conveys this graphically. When he finally says he's heading for Staru, she warms up and says she's got five marines. Sir Bridgehead keeps asking stupid annoying questions ("Do these five have knowledge about Staru? Are you one of these marines?", and gets the responses he deserves ("I'm from there, dumbchuck! What the...??"), until Chiang Ho patches the Captain into the conversation. The Captain invites them to the ship, and after a couple of questions (do they have battledress experience? Will they get a chance to kill some of these guys?) they agree.
About 15 minutes later a groundcar arrives outside and disgorges five women with various and sundry pieces of equipment. Chiang Ho meets them, and Vana asks to see not the idiot who thinks he's an Admiral, but the other guy. The Captain directs them to the Boss, who meets them (with Achilles) in the mess. The crew members present are introduced. The Boss says they are looking to acquire information, but Vana's ideas of information seem to be more along the lines of number of enemy killed. After a few drinks she relaxes a bit. The brew is brought out, and the Boss in particular studies the marines hard under the influence. Chiang Ho tells Helen that he is in no condition to pilot.
The deal will be room and board, use of equipment on the ship, and they will be under the command of the ship's officers (except, of course, the Grand Admiral). They will examine the ship's equipment before they agree, and the Boss in return asks for a run-down on their experience.
They served on a Strike Cruiser in the Faranu-fleet, which was the first one to engage the enemy at Dulu. They "had the shit kicked out of them" (what a colorful lady!) and were one of the few surviving ships. They did board an enemy ship at one point but were beaten back hard and quickly. The enemy have two arms, two legs, work their ships under high-G grav plates (1.5G?) and have bright white-UV lighting.
They are escorted to the marine stores and approve of the equipment. Some of them have brought on board weapons that really require battledress to use effectively, and fortunately they are compatible with the Imperial equipment.
They go back to Chiang Ho's lounge to relax and introduce themselves. The leader of the marines is Infantry Captain Stravanara "Vana" Lebuva (age 34, home planet Staru, a.k.a. That Bitch), the others are Commando Captain Edvardain "Varda" Doskova (34, "swears like a marine"), Infantry Leading Sergeant Anteristan "Teri" Cralla (30), Infantry Sergeant Carathia "Kara" Tostana (26, Sting), and Commando Lance Sergeant Baliaran "Lia" Gerratta (30, Coruska, one of the most decorated (and least promoted) marines in the force -- 4 SEH, among other stuff).
They describe what happened at Dulu. The visitors came out of jump a long way out of the system, and drifted while powered way down. The Faranu-fleet was defending the gas giant of the Secondary, and when the enemy started powering up in close the battle started. The Faranu-fleet suffered badly, and there were a lot of civilian casualties -- visitor ships which disengaged from the naval battle would bombard planets.
(All their gear is on board, so they go ahead and take off while they are still talking in Chiang Ho's lounge. Linus takes a sip of brew, looks round, and leaves. The ship takes off at 12:00 and is allowed to proceed to jump without escort.)
The enemy's attack on civilians was the result of bombarding anything that gave out any sort of emissions. Basically they made a big effort to secure the Secondary and its gas giant as a base, and they sort of succeeded for a while before the other three fleets could rally to the assistance of the remnants of the Faranu-fleet. After the Secondary was regained, an analysis was made of where the visitors had come out of jump, and fleets were stationed there to intercept as they came out. It seems like when they come out of jump, it takes a while before they start shooting ... that's not on the official records, but that's what they say. The remainder of the battle was fought out at jump-point, except for some mopping up in-system.
They don't know what happened at Staru, but something must be going on because the fleet that jumped in there was pretty strong. They reckon it could have been possible that the enemy had slipped through to Staru, and (when asked) maybe even to here? Nobody was defending anything until William Rufus convinced the government that there was a need, so things could have been going on for months, or years even.
It is agreed that Engineering and the Bridge are off-limits to the marines. The Engineers may take them into Engineering -- after all, Mich takes Paula in there rather frequently right now.
They work out how to approach Staru based on the layout of the system. The Primary is a yellow star (spectral class G0 VI); P0 is very hot, and not really of interest; P1 is a gas giant, with three satellites which are all very hot; P2 is a gas giant, with five satellites, of which the first, called Korokal, is habitable with a colony (-19 degrees), the second has a thin atmosphere and is not populated, and the third is Staru itself (temp 1, agricultural), and the other two satellites are not inhabited and lack atmosphere; P3 is a gas giant, with nine satellites, none of which are inhabited, but two are habitable but cold (the fourth and seventh) with breathable atmospheres; P4 is a gas giant with no satellites; the Secondary is in orbit 11, which is a red dwarf (M1 D); all its planets are very cold indeed; S0 and S1 are small worlds; S2 has a moon, and would have a breathable atmosphere were it warm enough; S3 is a gas giant with three moons, none of which have appreciable atmosphere.
The marines are questioned again. The enemy could conceivably have refueled during the battle, but at great risk.
During the trip, the crew mixes and gets to know each other better.
The marines served on a 50kt Strike Cruiser, which carried 600 Marines,
50 GCarriers, and a total crew of 1061. Vana and Varda have low social
standings, the other marines are reasonable. Lia and Fostriades hit it
off right away, and end up in bed before the jump is over. Chiang Ho finally
finds a woman who likes him -- Kara. Vana declines a sparring match with
NoName (Chiang Ho's suggestion); the marines prefer to engage in shipboard
exercises to know every nook and cranny of the Anastasia under varying