The Sir Walter Raleigh starts decelerating for its approach to the mainworld.
A standard automated civilian hail is directed at the Sir Walter Raleigh from the mainworld. They respond that they are the Free Trader Sir Walter Raleigh requesting permission to land at the mainworld starport. A real human takes over the Staru end of the conversation: what is their business, what is their cargo? They are carrying a load of farm equipment. "Come on in and land at the starport, there's not too much traffic right now."
Some of the Anastasia's crew are concerned about the danger the Sir Walter Raleigh may be in, but the Captain points out that if they get shot down they will know what the enemy weapon strength is. They follow on quietly and continue to monitor.
The Anastasia now is beginning to be able to characterize some of the emissions from the mainworld itself. Avon, based on his Forward Observer experience, notices that the starport is on the night side of the planet, but there are not as many emissions as one would expect from a major city at night. The planet is supposed to have a population of 800,000; it is a mainly agricultural planet with most of the civilization centers clustered around the starport. Avon would expect to see a lot more lights and emissions than he actually does.
The two ships get in closer, and the Sir Walter Raleigh is hailed to take up orbit over the starport pending allocation of a landing space. The Anastasia's sensor operators notice nothing abnormal, but the computer indicates possible ships powering-up in orbit. The sensor crew investigate and guess at least three ships. The Sir Walter Raleigh powers up its weapon systems, so apparently they noticed it too ... Fostriades and Avon observe dryly that this is just like one of their nice little training scenarios.
The Sir Walter Raleigh has stopped decelerating and has adjusted course to clear the planet. There are 3-5 ships coming out from the planet to intercept; they are probably in the 1000t range, at the best guess. The Anastasia follows, with the Computer Operator calculating jump points as they go.
The planet calls the Sir Walter Raleigh to enter a parking orbit above the starport where the customs ships will approach them and give them clearance. The Anastasia launches a probe to put into parking orbit to pretend to be the ship, but the probe takes off, goes about 200m and goes out of control -- it becomes very noisy, broadcasting all sorts of junk, and goes into full acceleration in a slight spiral heading in the general direction of the starport. Chiang Ho discretely moves the Anastasia out of the area. They can't tell whether they have been seen yet or not.
The other ships split into two groups, one of which is moving to intercept at 2G, the other at 4G. Their intercept course is probably heading for the Sir Walter Raleigh, but it's hard to tell at this point. The Captain wants Chiang Ho to keep the Anastasia shifting around to make it hard to lock onto, but the Computer Officer complains that it makes it impossible to do the jump point calculations, so they maintain their quiet course.
The Sir Walter Raleigh peels off from the planet to try to stay outside 10 diameters, and most of the other ships are still aiming to intercept them. Those other ships are in two groups, each of which is probably at least three ships, although something is heading off to intercept the probe. The Anastasia will follow, hanging back just far enough to stay in touch. It is now several hours to combat scan range.
The planet is now calling for the Sir Walter Raleigh to pull over and let the customs ships intercept them. They do not reply, except occasionally for the automatic identification (Free Trader Sir Walter Raleigh carrying agricultural equipment).
As Avon looks from his Gunnery console, he notices that scans of the planet show what he interprets as extremely heavy widely-scattered ground damage -- it is distinctly possible that there is no place to land there, even.
About an hour from intercept, the Sir Walter Raleigh hails them over the tight-beam laser. "It looks like it's going to get fairly hot here. You've seen the ships approaching?" The Captain suggests they might like to jump soon, but they want to see what the ships are like. "There aren't that many of them, we make it four in the lead group and three in the group behind." The Captain asks his crew if that's right, but they can't give specific numbers. He asks the Sir Walter Raleigh if they know anything of the capabilities. They guess they are all the standard 1000t BOXER class. Yes, they do have a jump point calculated, but if they get into combat maneuvering, of course that will not be any good.
The crew of the Anastasia hold a quick consultation. The Captain is of the opinion that their friends are showing themselves to be far more capable than they had estimated... "OK, I want a consensus on this, we're about to get our neck scorched." They reckon that they can run the weapons defensively for a turn if necessary to give them enough constant motion to calculate and execute a jump. They decide to load some conventional missiles as well as nuclear so that if a ship gets up close to the Sir Walter Raleigh they have something they can fire. They check the known capabilities of the BOXERs from the Battle of Dulu. They will maintain a tight-beam communications link for exchange of locks and tactical information. The consensus is to fight.
The Admiral does not approve of going into battle, but from his position in sick bay he will help with his tactical expertise. He is very vocal about his opinion that they should be collecting information, not fighting. He is very critical of the Captain's "stupid" plan..."If there's anyone killed on this crew from enemy fire, I hope it's you!" He expects 3 or 4 cruisers in the 30kt range to arrive suddenly as soon as the firing starts.
The Captain calls the Sir Walter Raleigh and explains that the Admiral is very good at tactics, but he's a bit unusual and in his nineties, so whatever he says that doesn't directly pertain to tactics, take it as it comes. The Sir Walter Raleigh shares the specifications of their ship to allow full tactical advantage; the Sir Walter Raleigh can only contribute a Ships Tactics of 3.
The crew go to their assigned battle stations:
A probe is loaded and fired past the ships in the lead group. They are revealed as four 1kt box-shaped ships, confirming the Sir Walter Raleigh's earlier scan. This pretty much settles that they are definitely not Scorpionis ships, but are of the BOXER type observed at Dulu. The Admiral now contemplates that once they have beaten the BOXERs, they might wait and fight the (hypothetical) cruiser for a few rounds to find out what it's like.
The Captain calls the Sir Walter Raleigh with Chiang Ho's suggestion that they accelerate away and see how the enemy maneuver, but they want to see what they will do as they approach. The Captain gets increasingly concerned about the possibility of a spinal mount ship sitting back waiting for a remote lock.
Chiang Ho asks the Sir Walter Raleigh to try a passive lock on some of the enemy ships -- "That's an idea!" they say, and run a lot of sensor operations. The Sir Walter Raleigh continues to maintain a lot of locks and locates throughout the battle. The enemy has initiative, and retains that throughout the battle.
The Sir Walter Raleigh suddenly announces that someone has an active lock on them and they are taking evasive action. They do not want to jump yet; they also do not want to open fire unless the target proves hostile -- a lock is not sufficient grounds for attack.
Sir Bridgehead contemplates the effects of a major nuclear missile blast on the tightly clustered enemy ships. The Anastasia will stay hidden as quietly as possible for as long as they can, however.
The first enemy ships scatter, then BOXER-3 pulls out 6G to close with the Sir Walter Raleigh and opens fire with ten plasma gun batteries; the one that penetrates is stopped by the armor.
The enemy ships continue to maneuver and fire on the Sir Walter Raleigh, which sustains some weapon damage; they and the Anastasia concentrate fire on BOXER-3, causing heavy damage to engineering, sensors, and weapon systems.
The Captain asks the Sir Walter Raleigh about their damage. They are confident and they think their situation is totally under control.
The far group moves inwards steadily, then opens fire too. The Sir Walter Raleigh takes damage to the weapon systems from particle accelerators and missiles. They are still not too concerned and are willing to continue -- they have no crew casualties -- although the repairs to the weapons will have to carried out later in dock. The Captain emphasizes that they can jump whenever they want now (hint, hint!).
So far, all enemy missiles fired have been conventional, not nuclear. The enemy are emitting no radio signals for communications.
BOXER-3 moves in extremely close to the Sir Walter Raleigh and hits with three plasma guns. The Sir Walter Raleigh settles for allowing the armor to protect them, at the advice of the Anastasia, saving the sandcasters for any incoming (nuclear?) missiles, but they take damage to the Maneuver drive and weapons. They return fire, hitting heavily.
BOXER-1 comes to a halt, but does not fire (it didn't fire last time, either).
The Anastasia opens fire on BOXER-6, one of the far group who are traveling in close formation, and hits with all four nuclear missile salvos. All three ships take substantial damage to weapons and sensors, with some computer and fuel damage.
The crew of the Anastasia now consider that the damage to the Sir Walter Raleigh is sufficiently heavy (particularly to defensive weapons) that they should jump out now.
BOXER-2 and BOXER-4 fire at the Sir Walter Raleigh, hitting with a nuclear missile salvo each, causing a small loss of fuel.
The far group splits up to a wide formation to reduce their vulnerability to nuclear missiles. Enemy fire causes more weapon damage to Sir Walter Raleigh. The enemy is now using nuclear missiles themselves.
The Sir Walter Raleigh has taken very heavy weapon damage but has managed to get their particle accelerator repaired a little. They have also taken one crew casualty -- a missile loader -- who is severely injured. It is suggested that they freeze him. They think that they should jump out now. They coast (for the jump), then fire all their weapons at BOXER-3. As Chiang Ho says, "We're going to kill this sucker if it's the last thing we do. Well, it will be the last thing we do..." They score damage to weapons and computer, and cause a fuel leak. It now clearly has substantial damage to the Engineering section, obviously with a hull breach. The Sir Walter Raleigh then jumps for Jusk.
The enemy now achieves a lock on the Anastasia. They decide to leave, but before they do they saturate BOXER-3 with all available weapons, causing massive damage to computers, weapons, sensors, the maneuver drive, and fuel tanks.. It has not been destroyed, but they decide to leave anyway (after a really close look at BOXER-4) and jump for Jusk after 3 hours of battle.
This is the closest the Anastasia herself has come to any enemy ship. BOXER-4 is 1kt displacement, weighing about 30kt, generating about 14000Mw, probably armed with six missile turrets, two triple(?) lasers, and two sandcasters (the weapons look different from Scorpionis/Imperial technology); EMLevel Moderate, ObjSize Large. A number of the enemy ships were running EMS jammers and none were using radios for communications. BOXER-3 had ten plasma gun turrets, about 15000Mw, size and weight about the same as BOXER-4; it had taken a great deal of damage but it looked like the ship was fairly strong. That is basically all the useful information they have.
The crew is satisfied with their performance in the battle. No ships were destroyed, but they handed out a great deal of damage in return for not a lot of damage to the Sir Walter Raleigh and the Anastasia.
Sir Bridgehead points out that they have now discharged their commitment to the IFSS. The crew in general seems to be of the opinion that they could carry on if they're paid six million a month like this, especially if they can negotiate things like replacing their nuclear missiles. Sir Bridgehead is still concerned about the Sir Walter Raleigh and their crew casualties.
On landing they are immediately asked to go to a debriefing session; Admiral Lhule wants to talk to everyone who has any information at all. They are so keen, in fact, that when the crew balks over leaving the ship with so few people on it, Admiral Lhule and William Rufus come over themselves. They meet in the Boss' suite.
The dogs like the people well enough, although they're not so sure about Admiral Lhule. (Chiang Ho's dog likes the marines and they like him; Linus particularly likes Varda.)
The first thing Rufus wants to know is where the Sir Walter Raleigh is. They are of course not sure, but they should wait a few days for them to arrive from jump before worrying. They present the final status report that they have on the Sir Walter Raleigh -- heavy weapon damage, maneuver drive damage, and some fuel loss. This does not inspire confidence.
Chiang Ho presents full sensor reports from the battle: he suggests that the enemy beat the Scorpionis forces by having very specialized ships and working out which ships are vulnerable to what, then sending in ships for specific targets; they also have a lot of small ships, and their acceleration varies, depending on what they fire, between 3G and 6G. Sir Bridgehead adds that each ship seems to have one or two weapon systems, and they work together in concert. It's a RISC navy -- small, fast, specialized, and each one does a small task well and quickly.
Avon suggests that they could go in again and see if something else is there; they could then just apply massive force at one point. Chiang Ho says they don't know how many enemy ships there are, to which Avon says lots. Chiang Ho says that their tactics aren't that great either, because they were able to nuke a tight formation with one missile salvo.
The enemy did not immediately use nuclear weapons, but only after the Anastasia did. They concentrated heavy fire on one enemy ship for a long time and it was still operating at the end of the battle. They fired 42 nuclear missiles in all and the Admiral agrees to replace them.
The hardest part of fighting them from the Anastasia's point of view is that when they can pull 6G it is hard to get away without jumping.
Rufus asks them what their plans are now they have fulfilled their obligations from the original deal. Sir Bridgehead says that they want to continue to see action, but Chiang Ho says that needs further discussion. Rufus asks them if they would be prepared to continue to assist the IFSS for the same financial deal; the IFSS would refit them and replace supplies and so on. They reply that it would depend on the nature of the mission.
The crew does not yet feel that it is wise to send a couple of fleets in to take the system. Chiang Ho would like to know what is around the gas giant so that they can have contingency plans. They don't have any definite idea of the numbers that are there, or how to find the numbers. Sir Bridgehead suggests that next time they should all go in masked, but Avon and Chiang Ho both point out that it will still be harder because they will be looking for masked ships now.
There are still Scorpionis forces on one of the planets -- could they contact them? Sir Bridgehead says they could use the marines for that. There were also a couple of other quiet ships around the gas giant -- they don't know whether they're hiding, or captured -- if they're hiding, they could make a good contact.
The conquering fleet did have fuel scoops, according to the visual range scan from the Sir Walter Raleigh, so they would need the gas giants as a strategic target.
Chiang Ho points out that their marines would have an easier time of capturing the Scorpionis destroyer because they are familiar with it. The Boss wants to know why that ship can't leave. Chiang Ho suggests that if it is captured, they could look at the bad guys: how are they, what modifications did they make to the ship for their comfort and ease. Once they know how many ships are around the gas giant, they could maybe take them.
They could go in, take the gas giant with a couple of fleets, try to scavenge or salvage the destroyed ships, get everyone refueled and out of there as an operation to take the Secondary star system, get information and get out -- recon by force. But of course, the fleet that comes in does so over three days, and the TMF does not have enough ships with EMMasks.
Mich complains about the probe that didn't work, but his words falls on uncaring ears.
So are they saying it would be possible to go in and secure the Secondary for sufficiently long to refuel the fleets? Well, they want to check it out first; when they made their first pass, all they saw there was just a few ships. So do they think that if they went in there with a few fleets to take the Secondary they could do it without a great deal of trouble? They don't think they know enough to say. Avon says that it would be bad to send in a small number of ships over and over because they would just pick them off -- massive force is called for he thinks. The Admiral responds that they have massive force available, but the crew don't think they know enough yet to commit the forces.
Avon says they need to get some idea of how many ships they have, which they might be able to do by going in and scanning around for a while.
The "several" ships they detected were at the planet in orbit 2 of the Secondary, which although uninhabited does have breathable atmosphere in frozen form -- the only planet of the Secondary which does.
Avon says there are two things to do: contact the resistance on the planet; send a lot of probes out and stay quietly while they transmit -- let them actively scan for ships, and count the number they find, and if the probes are destroyed that tells them something too. To be maximally effective they should send a lot of probes out at once so that one ship couldn't go through and pick them off one at a time. They could launch 24 every 20 minutes between the two ships.
Chiang Ho asks for TradeMain codes so that they can contact the marines. The Admiral dithers a bit and eventually agrees, and says that their Computer Officer can have the codes she was trying to get from their computers.
As everyone is leaving, Chiang Ho moves right up to Rufus and asks quietly if he wants to come with them. He's not sure, but "See you!" he says as he leaves. The Anastasia is given full authorization to restock.
The Sir Walter Raleigh comes out of jump and limps in to the starport. They contact the Anastasia and call for a good medic. Sir Bridgehead, who has been standing ready for this as they approached, goes over with Helen and (at Helen's suggestion) Teri. They find that one person was severely injured while on missile loading duty when his turret was shot out -- he was stuck in a medical deep freeze right away. The Sir Walter Raleigh's Medical Officer does not come up to Sir Bridgehead's standards, but the Admiral does show him some of the facilities of the super high-tech Sick Bay. The Medical Officer is a little unwilling to take advice, but does pick up some stuff.
The casualty would be dead without extremely good medical attention. Sir Bridgehead attends to him and he is then transferred to a ground facility. He should regain consciousness in three months. It is expected that after a year he will be fit enough for a desk job or a medical discharge from the IFSS.
The Sir Walter Raleigh replaces their casualty with one of William Rufus' crew from the Althea.
While over there, Sir Bridgehead compliments them on their performance in the battle. They do have nuclear missiles on board, but they have the usual Imperial hang-up about using them.
He talks to Commodore Watson, complimenting her on the tactical work in the last battle. He criticizes the plan of having the Sir Walter Raleigh's EMMask turned off, then says that they should have used nukes. Watson says that they were still hoping to be able to talk to the visitors and not using nuclear weapons may have helped that. She says that Sir Bridgehead should tell them when a situation arises calling for the use of nuclear weapons. He requests that he be allowed to instruct their medical officer in the use of the Sick Bay, especially the computer system, and this he is encouraged to do.
They check the clocks on the ships to make sure that they are not time displaced, and everything seems OK.
The Captain suggests a quick jump in and out to investigate the gas giant while the Sir Walter Raleigh is being refitted, but if Mich and Fostriades helped them the repairs could be performed in about a week. Since the Anastasia needs to be refitted as well, it is agreed that this is a good idea.
They have three things they want to do on this mission: look at the gas giant; send out probes to detect ships; and contact the rebels. They intend to do it in the order: gas giant, rebels, probes.
The ships will make a pass of the gas giant across opposite sides of the planet and rendezvous outside, then decide which ship will go in to talk to the rebels, then after that excursion both ships will launch all their probes.
They plan to leave at 12:00, as usual. At 11:55 William Rufus comes on board, and he says he should discuss something with the Boss for 3 or 4 hours, but don't let that interrupt their schedule. "Oh gosh, the ship appears to have taken off. What a shame. Do you have room at your sensor station? Now I'm here, it seems a shame not to contribute."
Sir Bridghead is delighted that Rufus is coming with them. He asks if he has any tactical skills, to which he replies that he will take the sensor station. He is added to the crew as a Sensor Consultant.
The Anastasia and Sir Walter Raleigh jump for Staru.