Under the influence of the booze, Sir Bridgehead spouts forth as usual. He moans that he can make new rabbits, but can't make them as smart as the other rabbits -- they're adults but they can't learn to hop! Everyone offers suggestions, and they rush down en masse to the sick bay to see the rabbits! There are just four new ones, all full grown. Sir Bridgehead demonstrates that although the original ones react normally, the new ones are basically vegetables. It soon comes out that Sir Bridgehead is actually cloning the rabbits; the problem is that he can't get the mind transfer stuff to work -- he's been playing with all the fancy high-tech equipment that came with the ship! When he grows the rabbits, they have basic instincts and so on, but after the transfer they just sit there and quiver. He wants to get this to work to get a Nobel prize.
Avon suggests that the Computer Officer may be able to help. Sir Bridgehead thinks this is a good idea, and the Captain approves providing that Joe accompanies her as chaperone. Linda Gregson points out that as Sir Bridgehead has restricted access to this stuff to himself and Brock, it seems a little unreasonable to expect other people to help him; but she does anyway.
Linda takes a quick look at the systems. The main problems appear to be hardware interface compatibility and probably bandwidth, and that they can't use the backup computers independently easily because they are set up as safety backups. They particularly don't want to mess with the systems during a jump into a potentially hostile area. Linda will work with Mich and Sir Bridgehead in trying to fix things up, but the sick bay is TL-17 and the computer TL-16 -- most of the complicated stuff is not connected with the main computer.
It takes them a few hours to approach. Rufus thinks he picks up four ships close to the gas giant. The signatures are not of ships they have seen before, but he and Avon would guess they're all somewhere around 50kt. A more detailed scan reveals three which are roughly cylindrical, and one which is disc-shaped and slightly smaller than the others. They are definitely not Scorpionis ships.
Sir Bridgehead looks up the list of known cockroach ships: the cylindrical ones would be TUBE-L battleships, 50kt, used in defense of BOXERs, capable of 3G, probably older with poor sensors and low fighting capability for the size. The fourth ship is probably a FRISBEE, which is a lot better than the TUBE-L despite being a little smaller.
There is no reason to believe the ships will necessarily pick them up, but they plot jump points on the way just in case they need to make a hasty escape.
Fostriades suggests that the cockroaches may have been using this whole system as a decoy. It was surprising that the mainworld was in such good condition, and he was surprised at the local (lack of) reaction to their murder of the warehouse guard. He thinks they wanted them to go back and report that the system is fine. Avon points out that the place is so tightly controlled that if there were one or two cockroaches pulling the strings of the people in charge, they could be controlling the whole world. Sir Bridgehead, though, thinks that they might just have been left alone. Either way, Fostriades thinks it is being used as a trap. The Captain says that they should get back and report, as the Sir Walter Raleigh will have already said that things are OK. The Captain vetoes the idea of launching probes, as it will reveal that someone is in this system. Fostriades points out that they can still make the Jump-4 to Jusk without refueling.
Sir Bridgehead thinks that there may well be a lot more smaller ships that they aren't picking up, so it's important to get a closer look. They will make a quiet data-gathering pass at 3G, and then jump direct to Jusk. They don't want to come any closer than the FRISBEE or accompanying BOXERs could detect them.
Helen votes for switching all the power off and just coasting through with basic life-support and sensors operating. "Another reason why we need a former pirate on board!" exclaims the Captain. "Former pirate?" asks Helen. "Privateer, privateer!" suggests the Captain. Helen doesn't think either title appropriate.
Based on their previous experiences, they will run at 0.1G to avoid crew injuries.
Brock has been readying for combat, and Helen sees no point in not firing back before jumping if they're detected. The Captain suggests that instead, they prepare a message probe (with emissions to look like a ship), with a garbled but barely intelligible message: it will make clear that it is from the government of Dulu to the military government of some other likely planet (not Jusk, though), and make it clear they are engaged in a treasonous activity to contact that government, and that they want to hand over the system to them.
Sir Bridgehead thinks it's a stupid idea, but Helen says "Gosh, I love it! I wish I'd had you as First Officer on the Berlin, that would have been fun." Avon asks her about that, but she refuses to answer.
The Captain explains further -- the message will say that they're handing over the system to Darthlaru, and all the secrets and so on, under the noses of the cockroaches. If they are going to be sensed anyway, they should leave the cockroaches as confused as possible. Sir Bridgehead enumerates several reasons why he doesn't like the idea, but the Captain continues.
Better yet, he says, would be that the attack that is coming will not come through this system (that was the bargain), but skip on and hit L-0803 with full force -- this will not only get the cockroaches to draw their forces back, but also put Dulu's government in a bad light. What do you assume when you see something that looks like a ship? You blast it out of the sky, so there'll be no evidence left.
The Captain reemphasizes that this is to be used only if they are detected. Sir Bridgehead thinks that they should load the other turrets with nukes, and launch a salvo as well. The Captain agrees, as this will make the probe look dangerous and make sure that the cockroaches blow it up.
Sir Bridgehead still really thinks the whole idea is stupid, and who knows whether the cockroaches would understand the message anyway? The Captain says that in that case it would do no harm -- it's just a ship, they blew it up. If they can understand, and there is collusion, it should be a message that incriminates the leaders of Dulu; but the main thing is that it should indicate that the attack is to hit the next system, not this one. Sir Bridgehead finally agrees.
They can pose as a scoutship from another empire, says the Captain, checking prearranged jump coordinates. Rufus suggests that they pretend to be an IFSS ship, checking for an Imperial battle fleet that will be striking through; when the Captain suggests that Rufus write the message, he protests that his job is only local diplomacy and politics. The Captain tells Varda to do it.
They prepare for their pass, shutting down the grav plates and unimportant systems. Varda prepares a detailed authentic message for the probe that the next system out (L-0803) is to be invaded in about a month with some slight implications that the Dulu government is involved; Varda is beginning to like the Captain's way of doing things.
Sir Bridgehead wants to know how close they can get to the enemy safely; he guesses that they will be facing 3 TUBE-Ls, 1 FRISBEE, about 100 BOXERs, and maybe some smaller TUBEs. Rufus suggests that basically they need to avoid a lock-on from the FRISBEE, and they should be able to pass fairly close, maybe 15-20 hexes. Helen still thinks that if they are detected it would not be a disaster, and if the TUBEs really are that bad at sensor operations they could probably stand a few rounds of battle. Rufus does not agree. Helen points out that this analysis of enemy ships is based on their ability to fight the less-advanced Scorpionis ships, so the Anastasia should have distinct advantage.
The Captain calls a halt to the discussions and orders the crew to action stations.
Those ships are heading out at constant acceleration of 1G away from the gas giant and the Anastasia. Since there is nothing at all in that direction, they are probably heading for a jump point.
The Captain decides that they have gathered as much information as they can, and so orders the Anastasia to jump for Jusk.
Sir Bridgehead, meanwhile, works out that one of the equipment pieces in the sick bay is for making intelligent antibodies, that can, for example, pull out all the arsenic from someone's system, or tailor something to protect from a poisonous atmosphere. He is not yet, however, too confident as to whether he can get it to work right every time. He experiments on his rabbits. He could now, he says, produce something that would protect against the effects of the sulfurous atmosphere on Dulu.
The computer officer has been working on interfacing the equipment. She wants Sir Bridgehead to give her full access to all the medical systems -- she says she will put in stuff to make sure that she maintains that access, too -- he agrees, and will work with her on the project. The nature of Sir Bridgehead's work is now public knowledge among the crew.
Rufus has some ideas about the medical equipment -- he's not sure, but he's heard of some advanced stuff that was pulled off some hulk or relic somewhere. Not Ancient, but something more advanced in this area than the Imperium. It is very possible, especially given the lack of any interface between it and the computer when it was installed on the ship, that this stuff has never been hooked up to an Imperial computer, because it was never Imperial equipment -- the only stuff on the ship without a General Products plate! Rufus knows there have been some wrecks picked up in this sector which were very advanced in some respects and very primitive in others.
The Anastasia arrives at Jusk, and is immediately bombarded with calls to identify themselves or be destroyed. They choose to identify themselves, and say that they have urgent emergency communications for Admiral Lhule. They have a tight direct link within ten minutes.
The Admiral welcomes them back. He says that Staru has been recaptured by Admiral Cartha, who has eliminated all roach resistance there. They have destroyed all the remaining ships, which were in the process of setting up a secret base before withdrawing; the base was also destroyed. Staru is now officially a member of the TradeMain Foundation. Admiral Cartha's report was that he had "obliterated" the opposition at Staru, as compared with when he "secured" Darthlaru.
The Captain says that things are not as good as they had hoped. He tells them about the battleships jumping out from Dulu, and transmits the sensor information they have gathered there; he had hoped to be able to say all was clear ahead, but that is not the case.
"By the way," says Admiral Lhule, "If you have Bill Rufus on board, tell the sonofabitch he's a slimy little bugger, will you?"
The Captain reports that the government on Dulu is still functioning fairly well, ominously well in his opinion. Lhule says that this is usual for a local Scorpionis government; he adds that if the battleships entered Staru, Admiral Cartha would know it, although the news would not arrive here for another week. It is suggested that they could have jumped to Faranu, or any other place within Jump-2, even back to L-0803.
The Captain reports that when they were on Dulu, they told them that the enemy fleet had been destroyed at Staru -- this may have been a mistake, he says. Admiral Lhule then assures the Captain that Admiral Cartha is under strict instructions to send back a message at the first sign of anything unusual, even though this is in conflict with traditional Scorpionis military doctrine. Cartha "The Butcher" has the liberty-fleet there, a very competent fleet which includes his 500kt flagship, various 75kt Fleet Cruisers, and a couple of 100kt Battleships -- his morals may be suspect, but his courage and military ability are unquestionable.
Sir Bridgehead points out that Dulu is the key to this whole campaign, as any attack must come through there. When they were there, there were only four ships insystem, and they were jumping out, so it should be pretty easy to secure the system.
(Admiral Lhule, by the way, is the Admiral that was dispatched by the new government of the TradeMain Foundation to take charge of the old Scorpionis fleets at Jusk. His background is in the Corona Foundation, which never had a strong military, but were better at strategy and tactics than the numerically much superior Scorpionis forces.)
Sir Bridgehead asks Lhule if he has any plans to secure Dulu, but he is not prepared to discuss that with them. He does have a Commodore Judith Watson who is rather anxious to talk to them, though.
Commodore Watson comes on, sounding very glad to have them back. They are a bit late... The Captain brags that they encountered 3 TUBE-Ls and a FRISBEE, but is forced to admit that the enemy never even saw them. He promises to tell her sometime about the plans they had if they had been detected. Some further reconnaissance missions might be fun, says the Captain, and the Commodore is anxious to take the Sir Walter Raleigh on another hostile exploratory run. The Captain discusses this privately with his crew.
Now that they are back at Jusk, they suppose that they need to leave William Rufus here to resume his advisory role with Admiral Lhule, but Rufus himself is keen to remain on the Anastasia for their next mission -- he would miss out on the bean mash if he left now!
The Captain calls back the Commodore and says that as soon as they have replenished their supplies, the two ships can head out together. At Helen's insistence, Avon gets the chance to fly the Anastasia in to the mainworld and bring it in to land -- he does a very nice job of it.
The Anastasia is refueled and replenished at the starport on the surface of Jusk, taking advantage of the free Naval facilities as usual. Fostriades looks for trade goods that would be valuable on Dulu, considering their isolation -- possibly small high-tech stuff which can wear out, such as interstellar range radios. He is expecting an extra +4 factor on prices when they arrive at Dulu. The TradeMain Foundation will accept Scorpionis currency when they come back.
It takes two days to load the ship, since the local crews are military personnel rather than the usual union labor.
David Brock takes off and enjoys the chance to see real sky, grass, and so on. He takes Jenny with him.
At 12:00, the Anastasia and Sir Walter Raleigh head out to the jump point, then jump for Dulu at 16:00.
The crew is suspicious. There is no sign of additional damage to the planet since last time they were here. The Sir Walter Raleigh runs high guard for them. Chiang Ho wants to make a really fast approach to the landing spot -- Mich tweaks the engines to pull 5.5G out of them, and Chiang Ho zooms in for a perfect landing, probably shattering a few windows on the planet on the way.
They seem to be on a parking lot for a park area outside the city. They contact the ground via a low-power radio link. Fostriades sets up the trade arrangement -- in half an hour someone will come out to them to deal.
In about 45 minutes, one of the van-like limousines comes out to the ship. Someone in a decent civilian suit comes aboard and discusses trade arrangements with Fostriades. The 25 tons of goods are sold (at a good profit) and will be unloaded over the next two days. They are paid in Scorpionis currency, which will translate directly into Imperial Credits when they return to the TradeMain Foundation. There are no trade goods available at Dulu at the moment.
Fuel here is unrefined and costs double the standard rate. This outrages the profit-minded Fostriades, and they decide to refuel at the gas giant since the Sir Walter Raleigh will need to refuel anyway. The Anastasia replenishes their air supply; the Sir Walter Raleigh is standing high guard and of course is unable to do the same.
While the trade is proceeding, Avon checks the sensors, and the sensor feed from the Sir Walter Raleigh.
The single star is white, spectral class F6 VI. No other information is known yet, so the sensors are manned to find out what is here. For two hours, until 14:00, they scan for basic layout of the system. There is a world in orbit 0, a small hunk of rock that is probably exceedingly hot; orbit 1 is empty; in orbit 2 is a gas giant with one set of rings and eight moons, all of which are probably very hot; there is a world in the habitable zone with two moons.
They also pick up weak radio bursts from the gas giant -- unintelligible radio signals that could be from ships.
There is no sign of civilization in this system. Avon theorizes that it is possible that the cockroaches have pulverized it, or not of sufficient tech level to be useful, or in a really severe blackout.
The Sir Walter Raleigh indicates that they believe that the world P3 does have liquid water and they could refuel there as an alternative to the gas giant.
It is decided to refuel at the planet for several reasons: the cockroaches may be refueling at the gas giant, and they can stay out of the way if they go to the planet; and the Sir Walter Raleigh needs to replenish their air supply. They head there at the Sir Walter Raleigh's maximum acceleration of 3G.
Both ship come in to land in the equatorial ocean, at local sunrise (02:00), about 1km from a wide isthmus connecting the north and south continents. Local gravity is in fact 0.69G. The Anastasia floats well enough that the vehicle deck is above water.
Chiang Ho sets to work on assessing the planet -- his old Scout job, as he says. The planet is remarkably close to Earth normal in many respects. The atmosphere is normal, untainted air. The sun is rather brighter than they are used to, but a bit too harsh for prolonged exposure. It's not really warm enough for sunbathing, anyway...
There is no sign of large animal life, but the Sir Walter Raleigh reports some algae and plankton in the salty sea. There is some sort of forest on the land.
Chiang Ho, Kara, Mich, NoName, Brock, and Jenny take the GCarrier to the shore to plant some beans. Since the bean is a flowering plant, it may not have the insect life needed to pollinate it, and they also don't know anything about the long-term climate. There is little axial tilt, and they are currently in winter in this near-equatorial area.
Brock flies the GCarrier over the lazy rolling waves to the shore. There is no discernible tide. There is a rocky uneven shore; moving further from the shore there are scattered mosses growing on the rocks, turning into a bed of moss further in. Inland a bit further are primitive fern-like trees. There is no sign of insects or other animal life.
They disembark at the edge of the forest. Chiang Ho seems to be developing hay fever. He digs down through the moss to reach the poor soil beneath, and plants six beans. They record the location.
The rocks at the shore appear to be sedimentary, apparently uplifted at some point in the past. Mich wants to look for fossils, but Chiang Ho finds his hay fever is much better inside the GCarrier.
They return to the ship, where Chiang Ho studies his Book, and his hay fever recedes rapidly. Mich is skeptical, and thinks it is more likely due to the ships filtered air supply than any mystical procedure.
Scans still reveal no sign of sea creatures such as fish.
No-one leaves the Sir Walter Raleigh while on planet, but Chiang Ho, Mich, Avon, and Linda Gregson (towing them) improvise a water-skiing trip with one of the air/rafts. Avon has snow skiing experience, and is the best water-skier. Varda thinks this looks fun and joins them. Bean juice adds to the excitement.
It will take about 1.5 days to get to the gas giant.
The Captain asks Helen to use her experience as a pirate, ah, privateer, for advice in capturing a small ship. She suggests drawing one off, or finding one on isolated sentry. They would have to take it reasonably intact, which means the TUBE-L, at 50kt, would be too big to board. Perhaps they could draw off the BOXER? If they could conduct the entire battle at ranges where they could lock on but the cockroaches couldn't...
The discussion that follows concludes that it would be hard to engage the BOXER without the TUBEs getting involved, despite how deep they are in the gravity well. The Sir Walter Raleigh is interested in seeing the response of the TUBEs, because they haven't encountered any close before. The Captain suggests just going back to the planet and making noise, and seeing what they do.
Finally the Captain concludes that they should skip this system and go on to the next one, perhaps finding cockroaches on the ground instead of in powerful ships. The next world is only Jump-1 away, so they could jump back quick (even to Dulu!). The further they go, the less likely the cockroaches will be on guard.
The Sir Walter Raleigh is keen to follow them on a "hostile exploratory" mission, of course.
Both ships leave the gas giant, and head out for the jump point.
The main star is a K8 V (orange). P0 is small, one tiny moon, in the habitable zone; all other planets are likely to be quite cold. P1 is a small hunk of rock. P2 is of reasonable size, with two tiny moons. P3 is a small gas giant, with one small moon. P4 is a fairly large world, no moons. P5 is a small gas giant, with two rings and three moons. P6 is a moderate sized world with two small moons. P7 is a tiny hunk of rock. P8 is a fairly small world with one moon. P9 is a small gas giant with two rings and six small moons. P10 is a moderate-sized world. They pick up no signals of any kind.
At 04:00 they head towards the habitable world P0 to check it out; it is two days travel away at the Sir Walter Raleigh's painfully slow 3Gs.
P0 is fairly small, with minimal atmosphere but a fair amount of water. It may be fairly warm.
The Sir Walter Raleigh takes a slight detour to investigate P2 while the Anastasia carries on to P0. They report that P2 has virtually no water (not enough to refuel) despite the atmosphere, and there are no signs of anything in the area.
The Anastasia meanwhile investigates P0. It turns out to have an extremely thin tainted atmosphere that could be used to replenish their atmosphere in about 2 days. There is, however, a fair amount of water so they could refuel easily. It is quite warm -- the average temperature is in the 30-50 range.
In order to keep a large reserve of fuel and air (they don't know what they are getting into next), the Captain decides that they will replenish here in turn. The Anastasia lands and starts air and fuel replenishment while the Sir Walter Raleigh stands High Guard.
The average temperature turns out to be uncomfortably hot at 40. The day is almost 24 hours, the gravity is 0.4G.
The world P5 is probably the most habitable. There are gas giants in orbit 6, 7, 8, and 11, all of them with a lot of moons. There is an asteroid belt in P10. There are a fair number of radio signals from P5, and there are ships moving around in the inner orbits, most traffic being around the gas giants and also P5.
Since there is no sign of any activity at all outside the asteroid belt, they head to the P11 gas giant to begin refueling at 17:00. They do the usual hostile area refueling operations, with one ship standing High Guard while the other refuels.
Rufus picks up something on the sensors in the vicinity of the ring of this gas giant. It appears to be metallic, around 10t. They decide to investigate it. The Sir Walter Raleigh picked up that, apparently, but didn't think it was worth mentioning -- they are enlightened on that attitude.
They bring the Anastasia to within visual range. The object appears to be a standard Imperial Scout issue Kankurur model unarmed GCarrier. "Jack!" exclaims Fostriades.
Sensor scans reveal more: it looks like it has taken some battle damage -- not within the original design parameters of the vehicle.
The avoid exposing the ship to the dust and rocks of the rings, Helen will take the pinnace (with Avon piloting) and a small away team: Linda Gregson is chosen in case the GCarrier's computers can reveal anything; Brock because he's "bored shitless," he says; Vana, Kara, and Teri as firepower -- they all have good zero-G skills.
The away team discovers that the GCarrier shows damage from a direct hit amidships from a laser battery, and has also taken damage from the rocks in the ring itself, enough to have been here for a while. It is decided to hook up the vehicle and tow it out of the ring so they can investigate it in the clearer space near the Anastasia.
Brock sends Kara over to hook up the tow cables, a task she performs flawlessly. At 07:00 the GCarrier is hooked up and they haul the vehicle out of the ring to where the Anastasia is waiting.
Avon pulls it out to the wider orbit, but when he gets there the vehicle starts tumbling rapidly and starts to twist up the cables. Avon releases the cables successfully, but the GCarrier is still tumbling rapidly so it will be much more difficult to board it.
Linda Gregson goes over to the GCarrier to look at the computer on it. She mismatches badly, but before she is hit violently by the vehicle she grabs one of the cables and flips herself inside the laser hole. A neat trick, huh? (It would be if it had been deliberate...) Kara joins her on the vehicle.
The power has run down, so the computer cannot be analyzed here. They remove the important memory units and bring them back to the Anastasia for analysis. There were no bodies on board.
By 09:00 Linda Gregson has managed to get some information from the memory units. Hidden deep in the system is an encrypted message, obviously intended to be discovered only by an Imperial computer expert on very careful examination. The message says that the GCarrier is from the IFSS Aldrin -- Old Jack's ship -- and indicates that the GCarrier was set up to emit a decoy signal, and that the Aldrin was about to jump for L-0303 as the next point on it's journey.
L-0303 is Jump-2 away from here. It is decided to follow the route of the Aldrin there after investigating the inner system here. Since orbit 11 is 3 weeks travel from the inner orbits, they jump for the vicinity of P5 at 10:00, simply abandoning the GCarrier where they left it.
It looks like there are major ground facilities on the planet. There is ship traffic around the planet, and around (to and from) the gas giants. There is the usual spattering of BOXERs, fair number of various TUBEs, and several of the other large ships; mostly it's BOXERs and TUBEs.
There are two or three major bases on the planet's surface. The planet is fairly large, and its gravity is probably 1.5-2G.
There is a glitch when engaging the Anastasia's jump drive; the
calibration ran wild for a short while and it was rather tricky to get
it back under control, but Mich manages it with some creative engineering.
He wants to take some time to power it down, disassemble some components,
and check it. The rapid jump - jump - jump - jump sequence with few breaks
between might have something to do with it.