(19) Nineteen

130-1118 to 193-1118

130-1118 : Nexus (0207) / O / ?

They arrive from jump at 01:00 and perform the usual scans until 02:00.

The star is a bright white F8 VI. The cockroaches would like it. There are worlds in orbits 0-4. P0 is tiny and very hot; P1 is a small gas giant, no moons; P2 is a large gas giant, five moons, one of which has a slight atmosphere but no water, fairly hot but tolerable; P3 is a large gas giant, ten moons, several of which have thin atmospheres, some water, cool, probably the most habitable part of the system; P4 is a large gas giant with ten moons, some of reasonable size, some with thinnish atmospheres, some water, quite cold.

P3 is the obvious choice for the beacon, although orbit 2 and 4 are also habitable at a pinch.

They start the trip to P3, but almost immediately a control unit fails at the pilot's station on the main bridge. Control is transferred to the standby bridge while the engineers fix it unit. The repairs are completed by 03:30, which makes Chiang Ho happier as (like most pilots) he much prefers to be able to see out the window from the main bridge while doing tricky stuff like refueling.

They finally reach the gas giant P3 at 14:00, and immediately start refueling which they complete at 18:00.

At this point it is considered prudent to perform a full scan of the gas giant and its moons, since they intend to make one of them the rendezvous / message point. Chiang Ho places the Anastasia in orbit around the gas giant while Rufus initiates sensor operations.

131-1118 : Nexus (0207) / O / ?

Rufus finishes his scans at 02:00 and has determined the physical profile and approximate temperatures of all the moons. P3-4 is S00 (tiny hunk of rock, no atmosphere, no water), temperature -20; likewise P3-5; P3-7 is 210, trace atmosphere, temperature -20; P3-8 is 535, very thin atmosphere, temperature -35; P3-11 is 310, trace atmosphere, temperature -20; P3-25 is 72A, very thin tainted atmosphere, temperature -10; P3-30 is 100, temperature -20; P3-35 is 444, thin tainted (probably breathable with respirators), temperature -15; P3-40 is 100, temperature -20; P3-60 is S00, temperature -20.

The name of the system is chosen as "Nexus", with the mainworld selected to be P3-35. This is where they will place the beacon.

While here they plan to perform a long astronomical scan of the nearby systems (especially the intended base), as well as running a good maintenance check on the ship's systems, which have been failing with remarkable frequency recently.

Checking the ship will take five days. The scans by Chiang Ho and Rufus (Jack and Jill don't have much survey skill) will take 14 days, and will get simple astronomic information on all systems within five parsecs.

136-1118 : Nexus (0207) / O / ?

By 12:00, the engineers have completed their check of the Anastasia's systems. They have identified several areas that need fixing. The repair work will take 1.5 days -- there was some fixing carried out along with the diagnostics.

138-1118 : Nexus (0207) / O / ?

At 00:00 the work on the ship has been completed, Mich EVAing to weld the fuel scoops.

At Chiang Ho's suggestion, the pinnace is given a thorough preventive maintenance; it will then be used for the insystem work while the stellar scans are completed.

139-1118 : Nexus (0207) / O / ?

The maintenance on the pinnace is complete at 12:00.

This is the day that Admiral Sir Bridgehead is now healed completely. He leaves Sick Bay only to find that a bunch of the crew has just left the Anastasia in the pinnace...

The pinnace has been prepared for the beacon-laying mission. The away team consists of Helen, the Captain, Linda, Avon, Brock, NoName, Vana, Varda, Lia, Jack, Jill. The trip to P3-35 will take 12 hours.

140-1118 : Nexus (0207) / O / ?

The pinnace arrives at P3-35 at 00:00, and Avon pilots the craft down to the north pole.

Nexus is about the same temperature as Jax, so it will not be at all pleasant at the pole. The atmosphere is tainted with sulfur-based contaminants but would be breathable with just a respirator. A lot of the water is bound up in the ice-caps, although there is some free water at the equatorial areas.

Rather than drill a hole in the ice with the pinnace, Helen favors just dropping the beacon on the ground. She is overruled, however, and Vana uses her FGMP to blast a suitable 3m deep cavity in the ice while hanging out of the airlock of the pinnace.

Avon lands the pinnace nearby.

They place the beacon in the cavity, Jill checks it with transmissions to/from the Anastasia, then they hide the beacon with ice.

With the beacon installed, they fly down the equator to check the potential for food; they arrive at 08:00.

The water is full of slime. There is some land plant life, very primitive indeed, mostly slimes and stuff.

Avon puts on an environment suit and goes out to sample the slime. He anticipates no problems in the half-gravity here, but he slips on the slime, falls down, and drops the sampling equipment.

NoName walks out to help in his usual clothes/sandals, with just a respirator. Brock goes out with a respirator, but wearing boots. NoName picks up the sampling equipment, now conveniently full of slime, and hands it back to Avon. Avon returns to the pinnace and decontaminates in the airlock.

NoName, however, has one of his all-too-common away team misfortunes -- he slips on the slime and splits his head open on a rock. Brock examines him and determines that NoName needs to be transported to the ship as soon as possible, as he needs immediate surgery.

Avon jumps into the pilot's seat and flies the pinnace back to the Anastasia as fast as he can.

The pinnace returns to the ship at 12:00, and NoName is immediately transferred to Sick Bay. Sir Bridgehead fixes him up, but the ship's Wellness Officer will be out of action for 30 days, until 170-1118.

The bluish slime turns out to be edible, and can be processed into generic food.

145-1118 : Nexus (0207) / O / ?

The scans of nearby systems are complete.

O-0103 has three stars, the primary is K7 V, the secondary M6 D, the tertiary M2 D. There are two gas giants around the primary, two around the secondary, and one around the tertiary.

O-0605 has a F5 VI star, no gas giants.

N-0607 has a G0 VI star, two gas giants.

The future plans have been discussed: the Captain wants the Bermuda Triangle to be close to or on the invasion route, not out here in the boonies. In fact, they need address one system on that principle, in subsector L, and there are even convenient base systems nearby.

It is decided to cause some flashy fast trouble out here, then move back to take up their role as privateer -- sufficiently fast that the cockroaches cannot connect the problems.

The Captain also wants to check for any natives in this area who can cause trouble for the cockroaches.

Strategies and routes are considered.

The Captain suggests that Mich make up some artifacts with obvious TL-12 level, clearly stronger bigger better than the cockroaches. Perhaps a piece of space junk with 3G grav plates, with just enough functioning weaponry to ensure the cockroaches don't bypass it, and shaped to be obviously from a ship of around 150kt.

In the meantime, the pinnace has flown several missions (Avon and Helen alternating as pilot) to the planet Nexus to stock up on food, which is processed into "Mystery Tofu".

With the food stocks filled up, they now will fill up the air tanks from the "pretty cruddy" atmosphere. Chiang Ho flies the Anastasia to the planet Nexus, and lands at their "starport". Air replenishment begins.

Avon points out that if they really want to make the Bermuda Triangle plan work, they need to find out more about the cockroach ships. Perhaps they could capture one? Of course they can cause a diversion without knowing much...

146-1118 : Nexus (0207) / O / ?

The air replenishment is complete at 18:00, and the Anastasia heads immediately out to the jump point, bound for N-0607.

147-1118 : Nexus (0207) / O / ?

At 06:00, the Anastasia jumps for N-0607.

154-1118 : ? (0607) / N / ?

The Anastasia arrives from Nexus at 06:00. There are maybe two habitable planets, and no sign of any other ships.

During the jump, the engineers have completed repairs to the GCarrier, and although it is now rather ugly it is certainly functional.

Their grand strategy has been determined. They will set up a base on L-0707, assuming it is suitable, with the Bermuda Triangle being L-0504. In the near future they will head towards subsector M, cause some obvious trouble, then scoot back to L by an expedient route faster than the assumed speed of cockroach communications. They will have fun on this side, try to find out more about the cockroach ships, plant the fake debris of the DeathStar.

As normal, they perform system scans for the first hour until 07:00.

The star is G0 VI. There are three gas giants in the outermost orbits. P0 is a tiny hunk of rock, hot; P1 is a small hunk of hot rock; P2 is a small gas giant with one ring and four moons, probably fairly comfortable temperatures, some air, some water; P3 is a large gas giant, six moons, some air, some water, livable but cold; P4 is a large gas giant, two rings, nine moons, marginal atmosphere and water, very cold but survivable possibly.

They go to the P2 gas giant, which happens to be the nearest planet, and start refueling at 13:00. The task is complete at 17:00.

At this point it is decided to scan the planets around the gas giant while they purify the fuel, so Chiang Ho and Rufus set to work.

155-1118 : ? (0607) / N / ?

The scans are complete at 05:00. Physical characteristics are: P2-7 is 200, temperature -5; P2-8 is 658, about 0.75g, temperature -43; P2-12 is S00, temp -5; P2-15 is 643, temp 8.

The Anastasia now heads out to a jump point, which they reach at 11:00, and they jump as soon as refining is complete at 13:00, bound for N-0306.

163-1118 : ? (0306) / N / ?

The Anastasia comes out of jump at N-0306 at 13:00, and they perform the usual basic system scans until 14:00.

The star is an F7 V, and there are no gas giants. P0 is an asteroid belt; P1 is moderate size, very hot; P2 is small, very hot; P3 is good size, hot, with three tiny moons; P4 is fairly small, comfortable temperature; P5 is moderate size, cold but livable, with one tiny moon; P6 is fairly small, cold, with one ring and two tiny moons. P5 and P6 have traces of atmosphere, but there is no water anywhere. There are no signs of any ships or civilization.

Given that they cannot refuel here, they decide to scan the nearby systems to work out where to jump next. The scans will take 12 days.

170-1118 : ? (0306) / N / ?

NoName is healthy again, but Chiang Ho once again breaks his arm during training in TDS Combat.

175-1118 : ? (0306) / N / ?

The scans are complete at 12:00. Since they are still at the jump point, they leave straight from here to N-0304 at 12:00.

183-1118 : ? (0304) / N / ?

The Anastasia comes out of jump at 12:00 at N-0304, near an asteroid belt in P3. The sensors all light up, BING! Lots of radio traffic, many ships, lots of emissions!

"This looks like a good place to..." starts Fostriades.

"Wreak havoc! Wreak havoc! Oh boy!" says Chiang Ho.

The primary is F1 V. P0 is a very small, very very hot, about 950 degrees; P1 is a very small, very hot world (only 600 degrees); P2 is an asteroid belt; P3 is an asteroid belt; P4 is a small gas giant with two rings and two moons, one tiny, the other moderate size with atmosphere but hot (about 150-200); P5 is a largish world, heavy atmosphere, some water, warm.

The secondary is in orbit 12 of the primary, and is of class M2 D. It has four worlds, in orbits 0-3; most are insignificantly small but S2 is of a reasonable size. No further information is available at this distance/time.

The initial systems scans take longer -- 1.5 hours -- and are therefore complete at 13:30. The reason for this is that Chiang Ho has to make a violent course correction to avoid the Anastasia being hit by a fast-moving asteroid.

It is decided that they need much more information on this system and the traffic patterns and so on, since this could be their base of operations for a while. The careful scans take 8 hours and are complete at 21:30.

There is a lot of on-planet activity at P5, probably a fairly major starport. Most of the traffic is around this world, with ships of varying sizes. There is some traffic around the gas giant.

Chiang Ho speculates that they have found the homeworld.

Scans reveal the physical characteristics of the planets: P0 is 200; P1 is 100; P2 is an asteroid belt; P3 is an asteroid belt.

P5 (the mainworld) is size 8, atmosphere 8, 9, or A, can't tell hydrographic percentage, temperature around 50 degrees. There is a fair amount of orbital traffic, and a lot of different ground sources.

The Anastasia needs to refuel, but to minimize the possibility of being detected they drop the grav plates to 0.1g, and travel at a leisurely 1G to the gas giant P4 (about 0.6 au away).

They monitor as much communication as possible to try to work out some of the cockroach signals.

186-1118 : ? (0304) / N / ?

They arrive at gas giant P4 at 00:00, where refueling takes until 05:00. A cockroach ship, about 10kt, was leaving the gas giant as they approached, but it was unlikely to have picked them up.

While there, they scan the gas giant's moons. P4 has two rings; then the moon P4-30 is S00; P4-40 is 520, temperature around 150 degrees.

It is decided that they should replenish their air supply at P4-40 when they have finished refueling operations. Chiang Ho flies the Anastasia there, traveling at a slow pace once again.

187-1118 : ? (0304) / N / ?

The ship arrives at P4-40 at 06:00, where they come in to land at the north pole. It is inhospitable and hot, with no sign of life. Replenishing the air takes 30 hours.

188-1118 : ? (0304) / N / ?

The air tanks are filled by 12:00.

During the refilling, they discuss plans for the future in this system. Chiang Ho suggests dropping six nuclear missiles out of the ship into orbit around the mainworld, putting them on time delay, then jumping out of the system.

"It's nasty, it's mean, these are the bad guys," he says, "You want to wreak havoc, we can wreck Havoc!"

Fostriades points out that the Computer Officer had better get into back into the habit of calculating jump points continually...

Helen suggests that they go back to the asteroid belt for a while and observe the patterns for a week or two, work out where everything's moving, ambush a couple of cargo ships that are too far away to get help.

Chiang Ho suggests stealing food for the Anastasia from cockroach supply ships.

Helen thinks that a random cargo ship is unlikely to be armed much, and maybe not armed enough to have a self-destruct mechanism. Mich says they want to find out more about the ships, too. Chiang Ho enthusiastically suggests boarding a ship.

Helen's opinion is that if they want to be privateers, she is very much in favor of the asteroid belt, unless they don't have any pilot skills. She also suggests that if it doesn't look like there's much of a military presence, get a good speed up, make a slingshot close pass by the planet, as they come in, identify a population center or two, lob a salvo as they make the slingshot, accelerate away at 6G, and they'll be gone.

Mich suggests rigging up some missiles to home in on emissions from the planet to help them take out the starport. They don't have any on board now, because the Anastasia's role was not as a planetary assault ship.

The Anastasia proceeds back to the P3 belt at a gentle 1G.

189-1118 : ? (0304) / N / ?

They return to the P3 belt and take up station at 14:00.

Jill, meanwhile, has been working with Linda on interpreting the cockroach signals. They have identified some of the routine navigational signals, which are simple and not encrypted. They have picked up transponder signals but cannot interpret them. There are ships moving to various jump points, mostly located within the same general (but wide) area. About every 22 hours there is a 50kt ship that leaves the planet, goes to a particular jump point (away from the others), and jumps; 11 hours off that a similar ship comes in. Helen suggests they could take that one out when it was leaving, and it wouldn't be missed for 7 days, or for 14 days here.

There is also a fair amount of smaller traffic. There is some traffic heading for the secondary (ships of various sizes), which seems to be going via normal space rather than jumping despite the distance.

The plan is to attack and board a smallish ship, so they can get a good chance to examine it. Rather than waylay an insystem shuttle, they particularly want to look at a jump drive and so need to find a starship they can attack with pinpoint shooting to disable the ship while trying not to damage the stuff they want to see.

At 18:00 the Anastasia leaves to ambush ships at their outgoing jump area, a 4-day trip at a quiet 1G. "It's not piracy," says Mich, "Because we don't want to take anything from the ship..."

193-1118 : ? (0304) / N / ?

The Anastasia arrives at the jump point area at 18:00. By this time they have been able to interpret some of the transponder signals for the more common ships.

They detect three ships approaching the area. There is one 10kt ship, and two 2kt ships traveling as a pair. They decide to ambush the pair, which are decelerating at 1G, probably aiming to come to a stop before performing navigation calculations and jumping.

At 19:00 the battle starts. The Anastasia powers up all systems, calls battle stations, and closes on the unsuspecting prey at 4G. Rufus works hard at the sensors, but can't get a location at this distance.

At 20:00, Rufus finally gets a successful scan on the targets, and locks on to #2. Neither ship appears to have noticed the Anastasia. The ships are indeed about 2kt, but are in fact consistent with a TUBE-S type. They did not really want to be fighting a warship, but it is decided to go ahead anyway, especially as the Scorpionis report indicates that these were not very effective and had deficient sensors.

Nuclear missiles are currently loaded; after the first shot, they will load conventional missiles as they are likely to be too close to the other ships.

The unanimous call is "Make 'em glow!" Avon opens fire on #2 with all four missile turrets, all of which hit the target, which makes no attempt to block the incoming fire. "Candy-gram!"

#2 is hit heavily, and #1 is close enough to take radiation damage as well. At this range it is hard to assess the effects, but it does appear that at least one of the ships has lost some fuel.

By 20:20, then, the enemy ships have finally noticed the Anastasia! #1 starts to maneuver towards them, but #2 maintains course and speed. #1 uses actives sensors on the Anastasia but does not lock on, which makes it trivial for the Anastasia to get a lock in return.

Avon fires again with all the offensive weapons on #2, and all hit. Once again there is no attempt to defend against the incoming fire. The ship has taken a fair amount of hull damage, with several hull breaches, as both fuel and air is venting; there is very heavy damage in the engineering section; there was also an internal explosion.

The scans still are very consistent with the ships being TUBE-S.

At 20:40, #1 closes with the Anastasia and locks on with active sensors. Helen's advice is to blow them away before they can fire. Again, all weapons hit and the cockroach ship does not attempt to stop the incoming fire. #1 explodes violently and vaporizes in the onslaught.

The Anastasia then closes with the remaining enemy ship, but not so close that they can be damaged by a suicide attack. The ship is still maintaining its course and speed, and is neither scanning the Anastasia nor firing.

It is now 21:00. Mich tweaks the drives, and the Anastasia pulls out a massive 6G ("This ship goes to 11") and slams into visual range.

The ship looks like a TUBE-S. It is a blunt-nosed cylinder. It has taken substantial damage. The hull is extensively scarred; there is a major breach in the midsection at the top; there is a lot of obvious damage in what would be the engineering section. The ship appears to be unarmed. This is the first inconsistency with the hypothesis that is a TUBE-S. Perhaps it's just a supply ship after all? There are doors in the lower hull which could be vehicle deck or cargo doors.

It is decided to take out the bridge, where they can see cockroaches moving around, and just hope that the computers survive. Avon fires the lasers and indeed destroys the bridge as ordered.

The Anastasia has, of course, been jamming all the transmissions from the two enemy ships throughout the encounter.

At 21:20 the Anastasia matches velocities with the cockroach ship, which is still coasting at a slow constant speed out of the system. At Helen's request, the Anastasia displays a Jolly Roger on the hull. (They will also burn an ace of spades into the wreck's hull before they abandon it.)

The boarding party is assembled on the GCarrier: Brock in command, Vana, Varda, Kara, Teri, Lia ("Rambina", says Mich), Steve Howard, and four grunt marines chosen for their Zero-G/Vacc Suit skills: m31, m32, m13 and m12. Their objective will be to secure a path to the jump drive so that an engineer can examine it. Helen wants to look at the cargo, and dump it into space (throw out of the system) to look like it's been stolen by pirates.

The ship still has power, and grav plates are operating in all areas except the bridge. They decide to try to shut down the power plant by more firing. Avon fires the lasers with pinpoint targeting on engineering (and risks damaging the jump drive, of course), but the first shot misses totally, and the second is slightly off aim and merely shatters all the fuel tanks instead. Deprived of fuel, the power plant shuts down.

At 21:40, the boarding party leaves the Anastasia in the GCarrier and approaches the wreck. The possible entry points are: a hole in the back of the hull at engineering; a hole in the top of the ship; a hole where the bridge used to be; and they could force an entry through the lower cargo/vehicle doors.

They choose to enter at engineering, and bring the GCarrier to a matched safe position near the hull breach.

Lia goes over alone to reconnoiter. Beyond the gap is part of the engineering section, a room about 12m wide by 8m deep by 6m tall with lots of machinery. She enters carefully.

She notices a vacc-suited cockroach behind some machinery near the gap, apparently ready to repel boarders. She takes a grenade and rolls it under the machinery, then climbs up the machine to get a handhold and protection from the blast. The creature is killed, but Lia's handhold was not solid enough and she is blown out into space. She easily gets control, though, and moves back into the ship again.

This time she comes in at the top of the area. She has a better view from here and sees, in addition to the cockroach she has just killed, another body further in. The area is otherwise unoccupied. She signals that the room is secure and moves to the hatch she can see on the far wall.

The remainder of the boarding party now comes in to back up Lia, moving the GCarrier close to the hull but in a position where it is out of any line of fire from inside the ship. Varda and m31 remain on the GCarrier.

Lia now sees that there are in fact two hatches in the far wall, and one on the floor between them. They are simple manual hatches, with no pressure gauges apparent. She moves over to the one in the floor, which seems to open upwards.

Sentries are posted on the other hatches, and also covering the hole in the hull.

The cockroach body, still lying on the floor, carefully picks up its gun, and shoots m32 in the back. He gives a short cry and floats up against the wall, a large hole blasted in his battledress.

Steve Howard shoots the "body" with his gauss rifle. The creature jerks, drops its weapon, and does not move. Air slowly vents from a hole in its vacc suit. Steve moves along the ceiling to cover it just in case, and plugs it again a couple of times to make sure.

Lia moves over to m32. It looks like he was hit by an armor-piercing shell. The cockroach's weapon is an auto-shotgun, the same weapon that shot Sir Bridgehead on Jax. The man looks dead.

Brock arrives to try to treat the marine, but he can't help him. "He's dead, Jim."

The rest of this room is searched, and there is nothing else found here. Lia moves back to the hatch in the floor, and with a great effort opens the mechanism. While several marines cover the opening, Lia pulls up the hatch.

The space beyond is dark and vacuum, and nothing much shows up by IR, although there is enough residual warmth in the ship to see a little. It appears to contain another part of the engineering section.

To draw any fire, they stick the body of m32 through the hatchway, and move it as if it were entering. There is no response from anything in the room. Lia goes in to check it. There are no ways out. This area, which is also 6m tall, does not seem to have taken much damage.

This lower area is clearly the jump drive, while the room they initially entered contains the maneuver drive. First objective achieved.

They check the rest of the ship carefully but quickly. There is nothing else alive on board.

By 23:00 the ship is determined secure.

The hull is plain hard steel, a cheap low-tech material. The breach in the top of the hull is directly over what is probably crew quarters. The large cargo hold is full of containers of crushed ore ("So it was a cargo ship!"). There is no secondary bridge. The (single) computer system is intact, separated from the bridge by a strong bulkhead. The ship weighs around 45000 tonnes. Based on the size of the crew quarters, they would expect a crew of at least ten. The bridge is heavily damaged, but they can tell that there probably two command chairs and several control stations. The ship was completely unarmed. The sensors are destroyed.

Examining the scans and transponder recordings, the other cockroach ship seemed to be exactly the same type, and also unarmed.

So what will they do with this ship? Eventually, of course, they will burn an ace of spades into it and send it towards the mainworld, but for now they will tow it slowly to the asteroid belt (about a week's trip, probably).

These ships will not be missed for eight or nine days, and then only at the other end of the jump. They could stay here and take out all outgoing ships for a week...