(27) Twenty-Seven

317-1118 to 328-1118

317-1118 (cont.) : Jax (L-0303) / O / ?

The Sir Walter Raleigh disaster is still the hot topic of conversation. A lot of time is spent rehashing facts and speculations, with nothing new coming to light.

They review the possible suspects. Linda is considered OK, as she brought things to their attention in the first place; Fostriades is considered above suspicion; the Professor could have done it, but obviously didn't; Jack is unlikely, as his expertise is totally different.

Steve Howard suggests that someone is lying about who they are. Mich points out that they know that there is someone on their crew who is lying about who they are -- Helen.

At the Captain's request, Sir Bridgehead re-evaluates the condition of Commodore Watson, and determines that she should remain under care until the ship arrives where they can transfer her to a ground facility. She will of course not be conscious for this time.

Zhodani suspicions are again brought up by Fostriades. They would have motive, and be good at doing mind games. If the Zhodani were anywhere in this area, he'd be happy to suspect them, but they have no evidence that they are, or know of the existence of these ships, or anything. They're a fair way away from Zhodani space. The Darrians may resent the ships, but the Professor is a Darrian, but they don't seem to be psionic, and there's no obvious connection with either of their ships.

Sir Bridgehead is asked to find some equipment that can detect psi use on the ship. He suspects there is something, but he's not sure what it looks like among all the high-tech stuff in Sick Bay.

Steve Howard suspects that there may be a traitor aboard the Anastasia too, in that if a traitor sacrificed themselves to destroy the Sir Walter Raleigh, they had to know there was one ready to destroy this ship too.

The Captain says that the sooner they get back to civilization, the less time the traitor has to act.

Vana has of course already implemented many precautions against internal sabotage: splitting up the marines between bulkhead sections; two marines in Sick Bay at all times; at least two in battledress at all times; all marines armed; stations at every deck; and basically everyone is ready for trouble at any time, and watches the entire ship carefully, especially the "guests."

It is agreed that they need to leave as soon as possible.

The return route is discussed. It is decided not to go via L-0504 which apparently had a cockroach base and major activity last time, even though there was a gas giant outside the asteroid belt that had no activity. Instead, they will proceed directly to Nicholai (L-0704) where there were 3 gas giants and no enemy ships.

Fostriades suggests that from now on they should jump from 10d, not 100d. It would save a lot of time and exposure, and not gain a great deal of safety. Steve Howard is skeptical about that last point, given how long overdue the service is.

It is now 10:00. The air replenishment is long complete. Before they leave, however, they want to stock up on food (seal blubber, seal meat, and so on) by hunting.

318-1118 : Jax (L-0303) / O / ?

Food, fuel and air are replenished, and the ship is ready to take off by 12:00.

Chiang Ho takes the helm. The Anastasia takes off. There are no signs of enemy ships, so they fly out to 10d where they jump at 13:16 for L-0704.

The jump drive needs some work after entering jump. Fostriades and Paula start work right away.

319-1118 : Jump Space

After all the work on the ship is complete, Brock wants to call a planning meeting. What does the future hold?

A meeting of the company shareholders is convened.

The first order of business is to consider whether to offer Steve Howard shares in the company. It is decided to offer him membership immediately; Steve accepts. They will defer the question of whether to offer Vana's marines membership until such time as they are given the chance to resign their commission in the TMF marines, and thus be free to go with the Anastasia to the Imperium if they want.

The discussion turns to future plans, voting being close but revealing the priorities 1) Glory; 2) Money; 3) Good Of The Imperium. What will they do to achieve this?

Helen suggests attacking the enemies of the Imperium (Glory, GotI), and ripping off their cargoes (Money). This could be either cockroaches or Zhodani, perhaps. Others say that since they're not at war with the Zhodani, it might be better to settle for the cockroaches.

So the Captain presents the options: 1) Fight cockroaches and steal cargoes; 2) Fight Zhodani and steal cargoes.

Fostriades suggests figuring out the Star Trigger and using it against the cockroaches. There seem to be two attitudes to this: Great! and Stupid!

A discussion on Loyalty To The Imperium as opposed to Good Of The Imperium follows. It is decided that the systems between the cockroaches and the Imperium provide a nice buffer zone. Brock, Helen, and the Captain are particularly insistent that the best thing to do is to boost the trade and so on in these worlds first, but Avon says that he can't see why a bigger Imperium wouldn't be better and wants to help these worlds join the Imperium immediately.

The Captain interrupts the lively discussion to present the two options again: 1) Kill and loot cockroaches; 2) Kill and loot Zhodani. Helen says that killing and looting do not necessarily go together. Avon reminds them that there's a third option, the Star Trigger.

The Captain again states the two options: 1) Terrorize and loot the Zhodani; 2) Terrorize and loot the cockroaches; 3) Find the Star Trigger and take out a crucial cockroach planet; 4) Then sell the Star Trigger to the highest bidder! Some wag adds Proposal 5, NO POUFTERS!, no doubt an obscure reference to ancient Terran literature.

The first vote eliminates Zhodani as an option, says the Captain, so they should vote on the other two. This vote comes out in favor of Star Trigger, as some of the cockroach proponents think this is a good way to achieve their goals, too.

Steve wants to add a new goal, Not Get Killed, but with the exception of Helen this is roundly dismissed as boring. As Steve and the Captain (and Helen) point out, getting the Star Trigger would make them a target for every group in the galaxy.

Brock insists that the vote must be unanimous, and tries to draw out objections from the opponents. Helen says she will wait outside Darrian with the ship -- she thinks Staying Alive is an important factor. A quick vote sets Staying Alive shows that the voting is incredibly close again regardless of what they vote on.

The discussion is still inconclusive. Brock suggests someone pull out another random legend to chase instead of the Star Trigger. Helen suggests the black box from Spirelle, and Fostriades explains about it to Steve. Hectic discussion continues again.

The Captain tries to regain control of the meeting. He suggests going far enough back into the Imperium to find out what the Star Trigger is and if it's appropriate for their purposes. When they have enough information, they will have another meeting to determine if they are going to use it, or return to the straightforward approach. Steve points out that at least three Intelligence services will be bugging that meeting by the time they've finished that search.

Finally it is decided to visit the Professor (who is a Darrian, after all), and a roughly unanimous decision is made to do that.

"But that's what we were going to do anyway!" exclaims an exasperated Avon.

"So who's the Zhodani spy among us?" asks Helen. The Captain appoints her to the job of spy-finder, but she declines hastily.

325-1118 : Jump Space

Linda reports to the Captain that someone has been accessing the personnel records, particularly those of the Captain and Helen. The person doing it was quite clearly highly skilled. It seems that most of interest were past histories of the two, and although very cleverly done the intruder did not get through the protections that Linda had put in place. The Captain asks Linda to leave lots of clumsy trampling marks all over Brock's records; after that bean juice party it's pretty clear what's going on, he says.

326-1118 : Nicholai (L-0704) / O / ?

The Anastasia arrives out of jump from L-0704 at 13:16. There was no traffic last time they were here, but that seems to have changed. There is now a lot of traffic in the inner system. The Anastasia performs the usual scans until 14:16. No ships are approaching them yet.

The nearest gas giant is the outermost one, P9. Last time here they refueled at the mainworld, but there are a lot of ships in that area -- the planet could well be attractive to cockroaches, based on what they guess about them. The closer to the sun, the more ships.

There are several ships around the P9 gas giant, but less than any of the alternatives. They decide to travel there very quietly, and see what the situation is when they get closer. The trip will take two days.

327-1118 : Nicholai (L-0704) / O / ?

At their next bridge game, Jill reports to Brock that someone has been trampling all over his personnel records, looking hard at them. It seems that whoever it was has looked at all sorts of stuff in his records. Jill reckons it was Linda, but it's a bit crude for her.

Brock says that both the Captain and Fostriades looked at him odd on the night of the party, and started asking a lot of questions. It could be one of them, either directing Linda or doing it themselves.

Brock tells her to make sure the "bridge games" continue. He observes that they will need to put together some sort of draft plan for when they reach Dulu, which looks like it will be just about a week from now.

Jill thinks they could implement the plan and take over in 2 days. It could be tricky to get through, though. The Sir Walter Raleigh reported that the place was stacked with Naval forces, which have probably commandeered most of the planet. The situation is figured into the 2 days, but the Navy will essentially be in control until they leave, either pushing forward or back. Could Brock get them to advance? If the military weren't there, they could take over in about six hours. Perhaps they could convince the Navy to move forward at the debriefing?

Brock suggests that they could cover up the operation by the celebration of the returning heroes. Jill says that if the natives themselves would put on some sort of a show, they could take it over.

As Brock says, they should instill in the populace the feeling that they are heroes -- they can of course build on the reception they had last time there. A nice party, time to meet some top officials, shake some hands, and so on. This means that they need to get as much information about what is happening at Nicholai and the other planet on the way to report to them.

Jill points out that since the cockroaches have spread out in such depth, they may be able to convince the TMF Navy that they can launch a concentrated attack.

Brock says he wants to make a case for jumping to the next system, scanning, and jumping right out -- they wouldn't need to refuel there.

328-1118 : Nicholai (L-0704) / O / ?

Brock suggests to the Captain that while they are here on the frontier they should gather as much information as possible.

The Anastasia nears the P9 gas giant, where they find 8 BOXERs in orbit.

Brock suggests a decoy -- could they convince somebody to go explode on the far side of the system? The Captain suggests using a drone to draw off the ships.

It would be unlikely that they could refuel, even under the EMMask, with the BOXERs still there, so the plan is to decoy the ships away, and refuel hastily while the gas giant is free.

Fostriades rigs up the decoy probe, and Avon launches it on a trajectory past the gas giant. They wait for the reaction.

The reaction is disappointing: radio transmissions, and then two of the ships break from orbit to chase the probe. The others change their orbit pattern to cover the gaps -- they are therefore there to guard the gas giant, not just incidentally refueling.

They consider their options. It seems unlikely that they could make it in to the mainworld and refuel without being detected.

There are, however, traces of water at a couple of the moons of this gas giant, including the outer one, P9-60. They could refuel there, although it could well take around three days.

Brock suggests that if they can refuel, they should jump to the system between here and Dulu, and scan until they are detected at which time they should jump to Dulu. Vana suggests going to Faranu rather than Dulu, but the consensus is that Dulu would be safer.