(15) Fifteen

073-1118 to 079-1118

073-1118 : ? (0303) / L / ?

Both ships come out of jump at L-0303 at 11:00. They spend the usual two hours on initial survey of the system, completing this at 13:00.

L-0303 is a system with a great many worlds. The star is bright white, there are some exceedingly hot worlds in the inner orbits and some very cold ones in outer orbits. There are three gas giants, and two worlds that should be in habitable orbits.

The ships have arrived near the gas giant P8. There are worlds in orbits 0-11, with the most habitable ones likely to be in orbits 5 and 6.

There are weak radio signals from all the gas giants, and from the world P5, but they are too faint to interpret.

The two ships go to investigate the nearest gas giant. P8 is about twelve hours away.

074-1118 : ? (0303) / L / ?

The Anastasia and Sir Walter Raleigh approach the gas giant P8 at 01:00.

The planet has a ring and four moons, one of which is of significant size. The radio signals are probably cockroach ship-ship communications, and there are three BOXERs in orbit.

It is then decided to check out the planet P5, which is about 5 days travel. Mich wants to take the opportunity to disassemble the jump drive. The Captain points out that this is not a fantastically good time or place to do it. Given that it has to be done here, though, this insystem transfer is the least bad time to perform the maintenance. Mich and Fostriades do the necessary work.

079-1118 : ? (0303) / L / ?

The Anastasia and Sir Walter Raleigh approach P5 at 05:00. There are two ships in orbit: one is a BOXER, the other is around 5kt -- not a ship they have seen before, possibly a SLIVER.

Since it takes several days to travel from the nearest gas giant, they could pick a fight here and cockroach reinforcements would not be able to arrive in time -- and if no reinforcements arrive, they will have time to salvage some stuff.

They are also picking up something odd: at the north pole of P5 is a weak neutrino source, as of a small fusion generator, producing small bursts of very low power, maybe 10kW. It seems to be on the surface, and is the only source of emissions on the planet.

It is decided to attack the BOXER and SLIVER which are in orbit around P5. Their fuel status is that of their 7 jump-units of fuel, they have spent four; this leaves enough for a Jump-2 out of the battle if needed. They are currently carrying a supply of air that would last 45 days total before conservation measures are needed. The Anastasia and the Sir Walter Raleigh go into battle stations and coordinate their attacks. The Sir Walter Raleigh can contribute only Ships Tactics-2 to the tactical pool. Marine #16 is assigned to the standby bridge as reserve tactical officer to join the team of Fostriades, Bill, and Lia.

The object is to capture an enemy ship to learn something about the cockroaches, and capture a cockroach if possible. Also, perhaps, to find out more information about the fate of the Aldrin. The neutrino emissions would need at least a TL-14 sensor to pick up; they set to work trying to analyze anything encoded in those pulses from the North Pole -- it is a regular repeating pattern emitted at suspiciously truly random intervals, but there seems to be no other meaning to the pattern.

They decide to fight the ships before investigating the neutrino source: pulp the SLIVER, disable the BOXER, board and take it, then having gained control of the planet's airspace investigate the source, grab whatever is there, and split.

The Anastasia and Sir Walter Raleigh both load up nuclear missiles, intending to be careful that no stray ones reach the planet (although it appears uninhabited).

The battle begins at 05:00. The two ships coordinate their approach so that they can come to a dead stop a short way beyond the planet using 3G deceleration. They remain sufficiently apart to avoid a nuke hit on one affecting the other. Both ships are of course running under EMMask, and intend to use only passive sensors to lock on to the enemy ships. They will communicate with each other by tight-beam maser.

There is no reaction from the enemy ships as the Sir Walter Raleigh locks sensors onto both the SLIVER and BOXER. Both ships open fire on the SLIVER in an attempt to disable the most powerful of the enemy ships. The two ships' attempt at ToT fire is not bad but not quite perfect.

The SLIVER takes extensive damage from the massed attacks, despite using about 10 sandcaster batteries in response. It has suffered substantial surface damage, and several interior explosions, some of them in the engineering section.

The human ships have the advantage in tactical ability.

The BOXER gains an active lock on the Sir Walter Raleigh. The Anastasia interrupts, but the SLIVER interrupts in turn and opens fire on the Sir Walter Raleigh: the missile bay salvo misses. Having fired, the SLIVER does not try to break the lock on it but maintains orbit around the planet. The Anastasia fires on the BOXER with all offensive weapons, inflicting heavy damage. The BOXER now fires on the Sir Walter Raleigh: one nuclear missile salvo and one laser shot are on target but defeated by sandcasters; the ship then swings out of orbit but fails to break the lock. The Sir Walter Raleigh breaks the lock on them, then follows their textbook and continues to attack the SLIVER with all offensive weapon systems. The SLIVER is severely damaged but still apparently operational. Radio signals between the enemy ships are being jammed successfully.

The Anastasia and Sir Walter Raleigh split trajectories to pass each side of the planet; the former will take the SLIVER, the latter the BOXER. The two human ships are temporarily out of contact on opposite sides of the planet.

It is now 05:40. For some reason, the enemy ships have acquired some more tactical skills and now have the initiative -- how strange! Linda Gregson is set to work calculating jump points in the usual paranoid fashion.

The BOXER closes rapidly on the Sir Walter Raleigh and moves into visual range, locking onto the IFSS ship. At this range, of course, neither ship can use nuclear missiles without taking damage themselves. This does not seem to be important to the BOXER, which tries to ram the Sir Walter Raleigh. A very clever evasive maneuver by the IFSS pilot avoids the collision, but at the closest point of approach the BOXER opens fire and then explodes in a violent nuclear fireball. The Sir Walter Raleigh is hammered with debris and radiation. It loses most of its weapon systems; three of the five gunnery crew are killed, one is severely injured and out of action; were it not for the very heavy armor the consequences would be disastrous.

The Anastasia moves out of the planet's shadow and regains contact with a frantic Sir Walter Raleigh. They are very glad they did not have thirty marines boarding the BOXER when it exploded. They fire at the SLIVER, whose one remaining sandcaster proves ineffective at stopping the barrage. There are several major explosions in the target's engineering section. The Sir Walter Raleigh adds its one (nuclear) missile turret, one laser turret, and damaged particle accelerator to the carnage.

The SLIVER is generating practically no power and has fallen into a decaying orbit with apparently no maneuver drive capability.

It is now 06:00. The enemy still have the tactical pool advantage, but the SLIVER is incapable of reacting. The Anastasia loads conventional missiles and opens fire; this choice is fortunate as one of the missile salvos misses and impacts the planet's surface. The SLIVER sustains yet more damage, totally destroying the engineering section.

The Sir Walter Raleigh slows down to avoid overshooting the planet and continues to fire on the SLIVER. The SLIVER is frantically signaling by radio but they are still being jammed. A number of GCarriers are launched by the dying SLIVER (undetected by either Imperial ship), but the Sir Walter Raleigh's nuclear missile hits on the ship itself destroy most of them; 5 vehicles survive the blast and scatter for the surface.

The Anastasia vectors back in to the planet and enters orbit. While they are hidden from the SLIVER by the planet, they release the pinnace with a landing party which will investigate the neutrino beacon. This landing party consists of Helen and Teri (pinnace crew), Varda, Brock, and 28 Scorpionis marines. Both ships continue fire on the SLIVER (nukes from the Sir Walter Raleigh kill one more unseen GCarrier). The SLIVER itself starts entering the atmosphere, trailing hydrogen fire. They expect it to start breaking up soon -- there is unlikely to be much left after the pieces hit the planet. The SLIVER continues to be attacked relentlessly, and although it is generating no power there are some radio signals (which are, of course, being jammed).

It is now 06:40. The SLIVER is starting to break up in the atmosphere, but they are now distinguishing the radio signals as weaker and separate from the ship. There are some small craft or vehicles which have separated from the ship and are heading down to the planet's surface. "Get 'em!" exclaims Fostriades, "Let's go, boys!"

Chiang Ho swoops the Anastasia deeper in the atmosphere and they chase the scattering objects, which are probably large grav vehicles.

It is now 07:00. The Sir Walter Raleigh has overshot the planet and returns, scanning space for any arriving reinforcements. The Anastasia engages the craft, which turn out to be GCarriers. They kill 3 of the four, and track the other as it descends to the land, slightly north of the equator.

It is now 07:20. The Sir Walter Raleigh enters orbit and takes up the High Guard, while Chiang Ho tries to dissipate the Anastasia's energy and slow them down. They continue to track the GCarrier. The Sir Walter Raleigh reports that they will need to land to assess the damage. Both ships, of course, could use replenishing their air supply too. They consider options to get them back to friendly space as fast as possible, which should in any case involve refueling here.

It is now 07:40. The SLIVER breaks up in atmosphere and the debris scatters.

It is now 08:00 and the battle is over.

The pinnace reaches the North Pole. It is in the height of summer, or what passes for summer here. The terrain is broken and cracked ice, with lots of fissures and chasms. It would be very hard to land safely. They have located the neutrino source as being about 100m down in the ice. The pinnace hovers nose down and starts to cut into the ice with the laser.

The gravity here is 0.98g, the day is 25.6 hours. The planet has a band of ocean around the center, and the rest of the planet is covered by an ice sheet. The planet is about the same size as Earth.

At 09:00 the enemy GCarrier comes down to ground level at dawn on the edge of the northern ice sheet.

An away team will be collected to go down in the Anastasia's GCarrier to go after the cockroaches. The vehicle can carry 14 people plus the operator.

By 10:00 they have managed to get a relay link to the pinnace via the Sir Walter Raleigh to tell them their plans. They estimate it will take until 12:00 to get through enough ice to get close to the beacon. They have as yet seen no sign of anything else. The winds are fairly high, but there is no sign of rocks, just ice. There is in fact no sign of any land not covered in ice.

They start a low-power broadcast in Imperial and IFSS frequencies to say "Hello, Jack!" There are still no signals from the planet except from the neutrino source, which is still unintelligible to them; they keep looking for a pattern in it.

The cockroach GCarrier has reached ground, and if they don't get something after it soon they will lose it in the ground clutter. Chiang Ho works on slowing the Anastasia down enough to launch the GCarrier safely, and he manages to bring it just slow enough that he does not lose control when the vehicle deck door opens. The GCarrier launches successfully, but is lost in the turbulence for a while before recovering control -- they therefore take a while to restore tight-beam communications.

The enemy GCarrier has landed close to the sea edge. The terrain is fairly rough there, with ice breaking off the sheet and changes in the level of the ice. It is getting harder to pick them up as they get closer down.

They start to analyze the data from the battle, particularly the SLIVER which they had not encountered before. The ship was indeed 5kt, but they could not tell much about its capabilities because they ripped into it so quickly. They seemed to use passive sensors for location and active sensors for pinpoints. The only weapons they saw from the SLIVER were missiles and sandcasters, whereas they saw missiles, lasers, and sandcasters from the BOXER.

The Sir Walter Raleigh tracked several large chunks from the break-up of the SLIVER, one of which was apparently the forward section which appeared to splash down in the ocean intact. The ship broke apart amidships, with the aft sections destroyed. The Sir Walter Raleigh noted the splashdown location.

The GCarrier team is Vana, Lia, Kara, Avon, six Scorpionis marines (SM#'s 5, 35, 10, 11, 41, 30), and Sir Bridgehead. It carries field medical equipment and a large emergency food supply in case they are stuck here. They are now regretting sending so many marines with the pinnace, but at the time of course they expected trouble there. Avon takes the GCarrier's gun controls, and will also act as Forward Observer. Lia is pilot.

Vana takes an FGMP-15 from the stores. Lia takes an autorifle and a 9mm rifle, along with RAM-9 rifle grenades. All who can, take hand grenades and rifle grenades. Avon uses a gauss rifle. Sir Bridgehead takes a well-equipped medical bag and his gauss pistol, along with a GravBelt (which he doesn't really know how to use -- well, he can always float 10m above the battlefield while everyone shoots at him...!), and a red cross/star flag to indicate medic just in case. Everyone who can use it will have battledress; the rest will use cloth armor (with eye protection from the white sun and glare from the snow) with reflec underneath.

The GCarrier group descend towards the cockroach vehicle, which is heading into cover close to the edge of the ice/sea boundary. The ship's sensors are having increasing trouble picking it up among the ground clutter, and the GCarrier itself will have to track it from here.

They follow to the ground level. At this latitude, the temperature in this early post-dawn light is about -15. The GCarrier closes to about 5km range, where Avon spots that the vehicle has landed and is probably digging in. He relays the location back to the Anastasia by the tight-beam link. Sir Bridgehead makes it clear that he doesn't want to kill all the cockroaches, as he wants a live one to examine.

They close to 4.5km, where Vana wants the cockroach vehicle taken out. Their target has landed on the lower ice nearest the sea (about 1m thickness showing above the water), rather than on the higher elevation which starts 200-500m away from that.

About 500m away from them, silhouetted against the sky on the upper ice level, something is moving. Vana pops the hatch and looks at it through binoculars. It appears to be living rather than a machine, with a rounded look to it, moving up and then down into cover. Sir Bridgehead does not want it destroyed, even though he thinks it's a cockroach. It is bobbing up and down from cover. They close with it carefully to 50m. It appears to be about 200kg, dark gray, a rounded form rather like a legless armadillo, with the front tip moving up and down; it seems to be concentrating on something and ignoring them.

Vana orders Avon to fire on the enemy GCarrier. He does, and reports he has hit the intended target area. She then tells Lia to fly them to the target location, following a route first inland and then back to the target at the coastline. All goes well, with no sign of enemy activity.

As they come back over the ridge between the inner ice plain and the lower coastal level, their GCarrier takes a direct missile hit in the nose. Shrapnel flies around the inside of the vehicle, and one of the Scorpionis marines, SM#5, is injured but not seriously.

Lia does her best to soften the crash landing, and the vehicle bounces off the ridge and hits about 50m beyond. Communications with the Anastasia are lost before anyone can send a distress call. Lia manages to keep enough going that the on-board grav system takes most of the shock of the landing. The computer controls have not survived the accumulated damage, however, and the GCarrier is no longer operational (but probably salvageable).

Back on the Anastasia, they have noticed that the GCarrier has stopped transmitting. They have lost track of both vehicles.

The Anastasia's troops abandon the GCarrier as quickly as they can, fearing more enemy fire. Lia grabs a portable radio pack on the way out the back and hands it to Sir Bridgehead, who in turn delegates SM#10 to carry it. "Everybody out of the bus!" commands Vana, and directs them inland towards the ice ridge and cover. Sir Bridgehead keeps some marines between him and the enemy vehicle location to protect him.

They only get about 40m away from their downed GCarrier when the incoming fire arrives. The vehicle takes another hit by a similar missile, probably a man-portable anti-vehicle weapon. Another missile explodes about 30m the other side of the GCarrier and scatters pellets over a 150m area -- including the landing party, although since they are all well-armored no-one is hurt. "We've got ourselves a fight here," states Sir Bridgehead, never one to miss the obvious. The missiles seem to be coming from the general vicinity of the enemy GCarrier, quite possibly on or beyond the ice ridge.

The group make it to the ridge where they take cover in the broken ice. Vana sends Lia to reconnoiter the enemy position. She and Kara climb up over the ridge, where Kara can watch for hand signals as Lia moves forward.

Another anti-personnel missile goes off directly over the GCarrier. The missile was definitely fired from somewhere on top of the ice ridge, directly inland from the enemy vehicle, about 400m away from them. Avon climbs up the ridge to join Kara, where he can get the best view of the enemy. He spots something moving towards them under cover, about 250m away close to the sea -- greenish, grayish, or something. It shows up strongly under IR.

Avon examines the creature. It looks roughly humanoid, about 2m tall, two arms, two legs, a head, wide body, greenish-gray, carrying a gun-like weapon of some sort. Sir Bridgehead moves up the ridge to get a better view, then shoots at it. It ducks under cover.

Lia has worked her way closer to the enemy positions. She can now tell that their initial shot disabled the enemy GCarrier, and there are signs of some enemy dug in behind it in a line stretching from the sea to the ice ridge, and possibly further inland. It is not clear how many there are at the moment.

She is now about 90m from the estimated source of the missile launches. At that spot are three creatures: they are about 2m tall, with two legs, two arms, the head folds into a carapace, there are bristles on forearms and lower legs; one is wearing some sort of pack on its back, and there are several weapons laid on the ground near another; they are all carrying some sort of gun. A well-placed grenade could take out all three. There are no others further inland, but about a dozen spread out between the ice ridge and the sea.

Lia crawls up close to the enemy position. She stands up and lobs a grenade into it, killing the one with the backpack and the one close to the weapons on the ground. The other is thrown back and is about to leap to take cover when Lia throws another grenade and kills it. She quickly takes over their position. She finds their equipment: the backpack looks like a portable rocket launcher, as if the wearer would have to lie down while someone else operated it; three stacked shoulder-fired rocket/missile launchers; several personal weapons.

Meanwhile, back at the main group, the creature they shot has not moved, although there is a little warmth rising from the spot. Suddenly there are two grenade explosions from where they expected the enemy position to be.

Lia reports that she is in their main position, there are about a dozen creatures dug in a long line between her and the sea. She has secured the rocket launch area, and they can come in now. She has three bodies, although all are in bad condition.

Vana orders the whole group to move up to the top of the ridge, where they will move along it to link up with Lia. The first person starts to climb up and is immediately shot by a laser rifle, although not seriously hurt. No-one can see the firer well enough to get a shot off, but Avon sees where it was, although it has ducked back into cover again. They get ready to shoot the instant it sticks his head up again. To draw his fire, a marine in battledress climbs the ridge.

The sniper sticks its head up to shoot, and Avon picks it off with the gauss rifle. It falls over backwards and its weapon goes flying. The body has fallen back under cover. Sir Bridgehead says this is his intact body for examination, and he wants to go and check it. Vana reminds him that there is a line of creatures covering the area, but he is confident that he will be able to do this in safety now that the missile position has been taken out.

The main group climbs the ridge and starts to move towards Lia's position.

It is hard for Sir Bridgehead to see the position of the body, so he uses his GravBelt to lift him high enough to see. He's not good at the belt, and lifts up but not under much control. He's not too worried about exposing himself as a target like this, though, as he is in battledress. He wants to get there inside 5 minutes, so he has a chance to save the life of the creature.

He fiddles with the GravBelt to get himself stabilized, and at that moment is hit by a powerful explosion, probably a rocket-assisted armor-piercing grenade. He falls to the ground, unconscious and severely injured. Fortunately one of the marines is a Medic  he rushes over to him, staying under cover. He manages to stabilize the Admiral, but he is in very bad shape indeed. It will be 6 hours before he regains consciousness, and he will then need 60 days of total inactivity to recover.

Lia saw the creature shoot Sir Bridgehead. It has just dropped back under cover. There are two others near the sea ready to fire, and two others nearer the ridge with what is probably an officer (it's beating them over the back of the head as they stand up and shoot). Those three are about 50m away, and she drops a RAM grenade on them, killing them all. The two which are further away fire towards Sir Bridgehead's position, but the rocket grenades serve only to distract the Medic and don't fall close.

The Medic stays with Sir Bridgehead while Vana advances along the lower-level ice towards the enemy, looking for targets. She tries to contact the ship, but the Anastasia can only pick up a faint transmission and can't distinguish what it is. Chiang Ho starts to take the ship down to investigate.

Lia spots that the enemy are trying to reach the ice ridge, and in particular one is trying to climb it right now about 70m away. She moves to the edge to get a clear shot, and one from near the sea fires at her with some sort of assault rifle. She shoots the climber but he continues, using the ridge to stay out of her sight. The others continue to advance on her position; they look awkward but move easily and make good use of cover.

The one at the ridge stays out of sight, and Lia herself stays under cover in the missile nest.

Vana shoots her FGMP-15 into the air to attract attention from both the enemy and the ship -- she would really like someone to shoot at her so she has a target to fire back at.

One creature breaks cover to fire a grenade, probably at Vana. Although Vana can't see him, Lia can and she takes him out quickly with a RAM-9. There are three still left, all now advancing on Lia's position; one is still out of sight under cover of the ridge.

Lia looks around to see if there's an enemy grenade she can use, as she's running low on hers, and at that moment one is thrown into her lap from below her on the far side of the ridge. She is hurt but not badly. She moves to the edge, sees the creature about to lob another grenade at her, and drops a hand grenade on him. He appears to be unarmored, and is taken out by both grenades exploding. She moves back and examines an enemy grenade: it is cylindrical with a small T-handle at one end, apparently with no moving parts. She cannot work out how to arm it safely and continues to watch the other two continue their advance on the ridge -- she doesn't have a clear shot yet.

One enemy climbs over the top of the ridge and moves towards the missile nest. The Anastasia's main group has now advanced about 100m from there, and Avon spots the creature -- he shoots but misses. He points out the enemy location to the others near him, moves closer, and fires again. This time he hits, and the creature breaks cover enough for Lia to spot it, and at a range of 30m she shoots him with her 9mm rifle. She reports that there is one creature left as the group join her.

A search starts for the final creature, which has apparently vanished. Vana has joined the group now. Kara is ordered to hold the nest, while Lia joins Vana on the lower side of the ridge and starts searching for the escapee. The rest of the group spread out along the upper ice to make sure it can't evade them that way.

Vana and Lia can't see the creature anywhere, but with careful searching find a trail which they follow several hundred meters until the tracks end at the base of the ridge. There is no sign of the creature, so they back up and for want of something better to do Vana lets rip at the ice with her FGMP-15. It blows a big hole in the ice, and reveals the body of the creature several meters in.

Communications are now restored with the ship, and the Anastasia comes down to land on the inland ice plain.

They load up the wrecked GCarrier and other damaged equipment, and transfer Sir Bridgehead to the Sick Bay. They have two decent cockroach specimens, and some captured equipment. They take everything they can find.

Undamaged equipment is: three shoulder-fired missile launchers, one with missile still loaded; six hand-grenades, cylindrical with a T-handle; two large 14.5mm revolvers; one laser rifle with integral 27.2mm grenade launcher; five 27.2mm rifle grenades (HE); five combat knives, with T-handle; one pack containing rotten food(?) and two ceramic jars (closed); one T-handled shovel with battery pack; eight metal hooks, with long shaft and T-handle; three harnesses with attachment points for equipment.

Other damaged equipment is: the missile launcher backpack, no missiles found; one 19mm automatic shotgun, with four 19mm RAM grenades (HEAP); four 12.1mm assault rifles with integral 27.2mm grenade launcher; one severely wrecked GCarrier with turret-mounted energy weapon (interior destroyed); one 1m tube, dense wood, carried by "officer"; one pair binoculars.

Examination of the creatures reveals the following. They are bipedal, 2m tall, with a slightly stooped stance. The backs of the torso and head are protected by a tough, horny carapace. The skin color varies from black and gray to shades of brown and green. The skin is leathery and tough. The lower legs and arms are covered by short coarse bristles. The carapace over the skull has silver mottling. The two eyes are small and dark under large brow ridges. The mouths are insect-like, with a large number of complicated mouthparts around a vertical slit mouth. The hands and feet each have three mutually opposable digits.

During the day it warms up a bit. The Anastasia starts refueling and replenishing the air supply.

Meanwhile the pinnace reaches the neutrino source. They manage to cut the ice down to it, then send down some marines to recover it. It turns out to be a small fusion generator that has been modified with a control circuit to pulse output. It seems to be constructed from Imperial parts. There is nothing else nearby -- they search for a few hours to make sure.

The generator is loaded into the pinnace and at 15:00 the craft flies down to the ship's landing site on an orbital trajectory and arrives at 18:00 (20:.6 local time, after sunset at 19:.2). Brock seems to be a bit miffed at missing the fight.

The Sir Walter Raleigh wants some time on the surface to try to make some repairs, although that may be difficult because of their loss of gunnery personnel. They have also suffered damage to the hull which needs repair soon. The possibility of putting sensor probes in orbit to avoid the need for a High Guard is discussed.

Midnight local time (25:.6) will be at 23:00 ships time, and sunrise will be at 06:.4 local time tomorrow.

They assess some of the captured equipment: the GCarrier is really wrecked, as Avon scored a direct hit on it. It was not as heavily armored as theirs, and it looks like the controls are really simple. The weapon would have been a plasma gun, around TL10 - TL12.

All the cockroach equipment is extremely solid; the controls are heavily built, with protective grilles over some computer keyboards. Perhaps they have less digital (as in finger) control than humans? The controls are obviously built to take a great deal more punishment -- there are various dents in some of the control areas, too.

All the captured equipment seems to be the product of consistent technology. The weapons are all large, with large calibers, and are all solid weapons.

The neutrino source brought back by the pinnace seems to have been modified from a small craft or vehicle power plant. The computer operator and engineers will set to work on the "message" they are sure must be hidden in the programming (after their experience with the Aldrin's GCarrier computer).

The Sir Walter Raleigh has suffered serious blast damage to the hull and they want to come down and do some repairs before they continue from this planet.

They consider the cockroaches themselves. There is no physical difference between the officer and the other cockroaches, but it was wearing a helmet with an integral communicator (now badly damaged). There are no gross physical differences between the bodies other than skin color; the officer was brownish, but there seems to be no correlation between skin color and weapon carried, or anything like that. Lia recalls that she did hear some sort of speech from them.

Mich takes the hand grenade down to the machine shop and finds out how to arm it -- one slams it hard against something (like one's carapace) and that arms it so it can be thrown. He also manages to take apart the damaged leader's helmet, and determine some of the frequencies and at least the general frequency band -- there is a frequency modulation system, but it is too damaged to analyze it fully.

While Sir Bridgehead is incapacitated, he will spend his time instructing the marine Medic (who is a captive audience as he tends Sir Bridgehead) to improve his Medical skill. The 24-year-old private is eager to learn and impressed by the Admiral's air of authority.

They manage to talk the Sir Walter Raleigh into letting them have one of the crew bodies so that this student can use it to practice on. They promise to return it (sort of put back together) when they're done. The body, and the cockroach bodies, are put into medical cold storage.

It is possible that Sir Bridgehead could hook himself directly into the computer, given his recent work in the memory transfer stuff, and could probably set it up so that he could project strong surface thoughts directly into the computer interface. It would require some surgery, though, and Sir Bridgehead himself is the only person qualified to do that sensitive an operation. A hook-up of this sort, once he was used to it, would give him an advantage in applying his tactical abilities.

Mich has modified some of the probes to work as sensor satellites to pick up any approaching ships. The Anastasia is refueling, while the Sir Walter Raleigh has heavy damage to the missile launch systems, so they decide to take the probes up in the pinnace and place them in orbit by spacewalking -- this is what Linda Gregson used to do for a living back home at Spirelle, so she and Helen go up and do it. It is a straightforward job for them. The probes are set up to monitor for approaching ships.

The Anastasia's GCarrier is badly damaged. It has taken a direct hit in the nose, and another on the right side near the front. Most of the control and cockpit area will need to be rebuilt, and it would take about a month to repair from the ship's stocks. In Imperial territory it would be considered a write-off, but they don't have that option here.

They rig up a floodlit area and use it to try out the cockroach weapons. In each case they will set up a test range with appropriate targets at various distances and compare the weapon with the closest Imperial equivalent.

The shoulder-fired missile launcher has only one round, so they can't really test-fire it.

The first test is the 12.1mm assault rifle (with integral 27.2mm grenade launcher), which is to be test-fired by Jenny Roberts. The comparison weapon is the Imperial 9mm ACR, which is fired first. Jenny then fires the cockroach weapon, choosing the standard round rather than the HE one. She takes several practice rounds before attempting to fire at the targets. The first shot slams her flat on her back, injuring her slightly -- the weapon has an exceedingly high recoil, accompanied by a large muzzle flash and a loud bang. Perhaps these guys are stronger than us? "Tougher than us," adds Fostriades, "I mean anyone who bangs his grenade on his head to arm it..." The test is re-run with appropriate bracing, and is rather more successful this time. They prudently decide not to try out automatic fire. Jenny seems to make a lot of progress with the weapon, and is actually getting quite good at it by the end of the test. The estimation for Pen/Att is 5/3, with damage about 4. Maximum range would seem to be v. long.

The propellants seem to use normal technology.

The 19mm automatic shotgun cannot of course be fired as it is damaged, but it has HEAP capability which is clearly what hit Sir Bridgehead. They cannot tell enough from his damaged battledress to make any guess as to the capabilities of the weapon.

The 14.1mm revolver is next. Mich is the volunteer tester, and having seen what happened to Jenny, he decides to wear battledress to try out this "little" pistol. The comparison weapon will be the Imperial 9mm autopistol. Mich carefully braces himself to try it, but that does no good as the recoil breaks his wrist anyway. Or so he says -- on medical examination it proves to be just a simple bad sprain. Nobody else volunteers to try it.

The next is the laser rifle, which Fostriades compares with a standard Imperial laser rifle. His experience with the weapon may be 20 years old, but he's actually about the only person on board who can use one. There is no recoil from the cockroach weapon, but it has exposed hot parts which burn him quite badly, sort of like firing a car exhaust pipe. Add yet another to the list of people hurt while trying out cockroach weapons! The estimate for this one is Pen/Att 9/2 with 3 damage, basically about a TL-9 laser rifle -- definitely inferior to the Imperial version.

When Mich has his wrist patched up, he sets up a test stand for the cockroach pistol and they fire it safely that way. It is probably Pen/Att 4/2, damage about 4 (the same as a gauss pistol).

When the testing is over, everyone licks their wounds and sleeps, glad that the local night for once corresponds to the ships time night.