(31) Thirty-One

343-1118 to 351-1118

343-1118 (cont.) : Jump Space

The crew discusses the situation of Jack and Jill, and what to do to resolve it. Various ways of keeping them "on ice" are discussed, including separating the head from the body and putting it back later.

Brock suggests 1) trust them; or 2) incapacitate them, suck all the information they can out of them, and drop them in space. Mich suggests some more fanciful and drastic means, such as grinding them up and THEN dumping them into space.

Fostriades suggests letting them live but not trusting them -- death is kind of irrevocable, he says; if they are going to kill them, though, they must make sure they are very dead indeed. He considers their argument that they killed 11 people because they might have caused some inconvenience rather specious.

"What does Helen think?" wonders Fostriades.

"Oh, we're going to trust Helen now?" says Brock, pointedly.

The bar-room discussion now becomes an official company meeting.

The Captain feels that the safest course is to keep them in stasis until they meet a friendly planet, then leave them with instructions to be woken up after the Anastasia is gone.

Fostriades remembers that they have not revealed the presence of Jack and Jill to anyone not on the ship ... so if they kill them, there is no way the information will get back -- the Imperium has already written them off as being dead.

The Captain points out that it is in the crew's interest to suck all the information out of Jack and Jill and then kill them; it is therefore in Jack and Jill's interest to present them with some viable way of coexisting. As far as he is concerned, there are only two ways to have them on the ship: dead or in the freezer.

They then discuss ways of covering up the possible demise of Jack and Jill. Avon suggests that the best way is to stage an accident -- it should be easy for the engineers to manage that. On the other hand, they are working for the Emperor...

Not everyone agrees that is necessarily true; Jack and Jill believe they are working for the Emperor, which is not the same thing.

Avon points out that they are extremely competent -- if they say they are working for the Emperor, they probably are. "If they are working for the Emperor, and we are working for the Emperor, as long as we can come up with some way..."

"...to keep them from murdering us!" interrupts the Captain.

"Well, they have stated the conditions under which they wouldn't murder us," replies Avon. The rest of the crew all add their own opinions of that, all at the same time.

When the chaos recedes, Brock says, "All this would be solved if we just decided to trust them."

The Captain asks Sir Bridgehead whether he could brainwash them well enough to solve the problem, but he is not confident he could.

Avon asks why they don't ask Jack and Jill what they should do to serve the Emperor, and what is really wrong with taking them back to Karin/Five Sisters anyway?

Fostriades brings up the issue of the nebulous debriefing, and the implication that the ship could be taken away from their control.

Brock and Avon point out that the crew is very valuable to the Emperor -- they're the only people to have gone so far out and come back in an awfully long time.

Fostriades says that they won't be dealing with the Emperor, but rather with a bunch of people who have already proved unscrupulous. He is concerned that the crew will be taken out and the ship retained, or that they will be forced into service.

Avon says they could ask Jack and Jill about it.

The Captain says he can't believe that they disposed of the entire Sir Walter Raleigh just because they MIGHT have turned them in to the IFSS.

Avon says that's a good argument for going ahead and killing them. In his opinion, deep freeze is the worst option. Why? "No matter where they are, they will be able to find us. After they get out of deep freeze, they are going to be PISSED!"

Fostriades observes that they are starting to sink to their level.

Helen says that the Captain could hold a trial, find them guilty, and execute them. This wouldn't be sinking to their level.

The Captain says that Jack and Jill have committed murder, mutiny, and are a material threat to the ship. Any one of those things are grounds for executing them. He proposes that they simply let Jack and Jill know where they stand, hold the trial, convict them, and offer a stay of execution if they provide enough reason.

Brock suggests that they tell them they are going to trust them as long as they are cooperative.

The Captain refuses to trust them.

Brock says they can let them live, tell them that they trust them to a degree...

The Captain insists on trying them for the destruction of the Sir Walter Raleigh; their execution may be stayed, but the act must not be condoned.

It is pointed out that the attempt to take over the security system has not in fact been definitely pinned on Jack and Jill. They were discussing whether they had planted the virus that destroyed the Sir Walter Raleigh, then the security attempt happened, and they stormed up to Jack and Jill's room to find them playing cards, nowhere near the computer.

The Captain dashes down to Sick Bay, and asks Jack and Jill, "Was the attempt on the ship's security system your doing?"

They admit attempting to take over a couple of functions just to protect themselves, but maintain that it was not mutiny -- they were only taking over the ship's computer security system, not resisting the Captain's authority.

The Captain thanks them and strides back to the company meeting.

The Captain reports his conversation to the assembled company.

Avon wonders whether they took over the security system to protect themselves against Rufus, since they were so obviously concerned about him?

Fostriades points out that if they couldn't get Rufus, Rufus couldn't get them.

The Captain gets up to visit Jack and Jill again, but Brock interrupts.

"Captain, Captain, before you start doing this long-distance questioning, why don't we actually hold the trial, determine as much as we can, and we can decide what to do at the trial or after the trial."

"Well," replies the Captain, "I have a question to ask before I do that." He strides off to Sick Bay again.

"Jack, Jill," the Captain says, "If we let you live, what's the chance that both you and Rufus arrive at Karin/Five Sisters alive and in possession of all your faculties?"

"That sort of depends on Rufus," replies Jill, "If you can get us there without him causing us trouble, we have no objections whatsoever."

"What defines causing you trouble?"

"If he contacts the IFSS, it would cause us trouble."

"Was the Sir Walter Raleigh causing you trouble?"

"They were likely to cause us a great deal of trouble."

"You don't believe that Rufus is likely to cause you trouble?"

"Unless you can restrict him so he doesn't. If you make sure Rufus doesn't have access to any communications and doesn't leave the ship, I have no objections to him staying alive, providing he doesn't actually attempt physical violence against us."

"Considering that you are the murderer," says Fostriades (the discussion is being piped to the company meeting), "And he hasn't done anything wrong, ..."

"Oh, come now!" interjects Jill, "He's working against the Emperor's purposes."

"Why doesn't the Emperor fire the IFSS if it's so bloody counter-productive?" asks Avon.

"Because the Emperor is a long way away and hasn't heard about it."

"What makes you the mouthpiece of the Emperor in these parts?" asks Fostriades.

"I'm not the mouthpiece of the Emperor."

"What makes you the only person who has insight into how the Emperor works?"

"Because we're working for the Emperor."

"So is Rufus. So are we."

"He's working for the IFSS, which is an organization which reports through about 20 different levels of bureaucracy to the Emperor."

"That is not a sufficient reason for committing murder! Inconvenience is not a sufficient reason for committing murder."

"What are you talking about, inconvenience?"

"Inconvenience of red tape," answers the Captain.

"It's not an inconvenience, it's a threat," points out Jill.

"Can you quantify this threat for us?"

"Yes, the IFSS would probably want to..."

"...debrief you, the way you want to debrief us?"

"Excuse me?"

"You've already said that we'd have to be debriefed when we get there," says Fostriades.

"You asked what would earn our trust. We told you."

"It is, of course," observes Fostriades., "A totally stupid question."

"It all depends on how much you learn, too." Jill continues, "If you restrict Rufus as much as you restrict us, I don't think there'd be any problem."

"Why should we restrict Rufus? What has Rufus done?"

"He's a high-level diplomatic agent in the IFSS."

Avon chips in. "So how is it you get killed by red tape? What's the threat of the red tape? I still don't get it."

"Our methods," replies Jill, "Are rather ... unorthodox. They are against anything that..."

"So what are they going to do, put you on trial?" asks Avon.


"Yes," says Fostriades, loudly, "I would say that if your methods generally include murder, they are absolutely against any other organization of the Empire."

"Any organization of civilization, I suspect," says the Captain. "I'd like to call in some..."

"Uncivilized people?" suggests Fostriades.

"...some very civilized people," continues the Captain with a smile, "Exceedingly civilized people. They might have some intriguing possible suggestions for this circumstance. They are used to civilized solutions to problems. They're the most civilized members of the crew."

"They do go around bonking people over the heads," observes Avon.

"Nonsense, they're completely civilized." The Captain calls Joe and NoName to the meeting. When they arrive, he explains to them that he wants their advice on the most civilized solution to their problem, and that Jack and Jill are responsible for the deaths of all the crewmembers -- well, all those who died -- of the Sir Walter Raleigh. They felt that they might report them back to the IFSS, and that just wouldn't do. They have said that they would do the same to the Anastasia, if they thought that they were in any way considered to be a problem, and they in fact tried to take over the ship's security systems. What is the civilized method for dealing with individuals such as this?

"What are the goals?" asks Joe.

"The safety of our ship, and the good of the Empire."

"You could assign each of us as a personal guard to each one of them and we could not leave their side until they leave the ship."

The Captain tactfully expresses concern that Jack and Jill might be able to outwit the TDS folks, but Joe convinces him that his worries are unfounded. Joe says that this seems to be the best solution to the various conflicting goals. What about when they sleep? "When they sleep, we will sleep. When they wake we will wake."

The Captain presents the conditions to Jack and Jill. They will be separated, assigned cabins with no computer access, and each will have one of the black-robed gentlemen as a constant companion. They agree, provided that they will still be kept informed; they agree that the ship needs a full service before returning to the Imperium. There is a concern that Rufus might get in the way, for example at Karakus. Jill suggests dropping him off at a backwater, like (looking at a starchart) Lorkin for example, where he could not get messages to Karakus before the Anastasia left there. The Anastasia could arrange to return for him later.

Fostriades thinks that they are underestimating the length of time for the service. He also still does not approve of mistreating Rufus at the expense of self-confessed murderers and mutineers.

"If you really care that much," says Jill, "Take us back to Karin and put us in front of an Imperial Court."

The Captain and Fostriades allow as how this is a distinct possibility. The Captain says they could do the trial right here, but Jill expresses the opinion that they are unlikely to get a fair trial (as opposed to a legal trial) on this ship.

The crew want to know what Jack and Jill would have done in their situation, but they insist that they would never have been in this situation because they would have picked up on the first extra transmission to the Sir Walter Raleigh, and before the second transmission would therefore have discussed matters and come to terms.

Fostriades suggests that they should discuss the matter with Rufus. If they can square it with Rufus...

Jack and Jill agree, and they debate who else is to be present. They agree on their shadows, plus one marine each? No, not marines -- at least the shadows are from the Imperium. Mich suggests Brock and Chiang Ho to guard Rufus. They settle on Brock, in battledress with a large gun. A further condition is that the meeting is not to be overheard or monitored (except for a medical life-sign monitor on Brock's battledress), and all present at the meeting must agree not to repeat anything about it.

The meeting takes place...

(If one recalls, Brock has been spending time learning bridge from Jack and Jill. The TMF Navy presence in Dulu rather squashed the plans for taking over there, but they continue to work together towards realizing some other opportunity. Brock learns quite a lot from these sessions -- like how to identify key people, and apply the right force at the right place. Jack and Jill have repeatedly expressed concerns about Rufus. When pressed, they say it's because Rufus is working towards stability in the area and the IFSS would oppose any Imperial people taking over here. As for Jack and Jill, they would welcome a competent Imperial person in charge of a local system, as this would improve the military capabilities of the area.)

So, the meeting takes place, with Brock chairing it. Jack and Jill's aims are to work out a situation where Rufus can co-exist on the ship with them; Rufus's initial goal is to find out what's going on, and what this meeting is all about -- the last he heard, a special situation had been announced and all crew members were confined to their quarters.

Brock explains to Rufus that there was an attempted mutiny, but they don't know who was responsible, and it has been narrowed down to these three people. The situation is that they are to be kept separate because there are some differences of opinion in political direction, and in case there are problems resulting from that. They are to be put under guard, and Rufus will be dropped off at Lorkin.

Rufus gives Jack and Jill a funny look.

"What's wrong with Lorkin?" asks Brock.

"What do you know about Lorkin?" counters Rufus, cautiously.

"Nothing. What is there to know?"

"It's weird that should come up, because I mentioned a few things to these people," Rufus says, indicating Jack and Jill. "I think Lorkin's the home of the previous Scorpionis rulers. They're probably putting together a battle fleet there to try to take back Scorpionis. I don't think they would like me there."

"Jack," says Brock, "What do you think of Lorkin?"

"I think it's a wonderful place. I think he'd get on just fine with the natives."

Brock returns to questioning Rufus. "Where do you want to get off?"

"I don't particularly want to be left off. I don't really need to go back into the Imperium. If you've got to leave me off, how about somewhere in the Lirian Conglomerate? I haven't done a lot of work there yet -- they need to be altered about things, and worked a little."

"Is there an IFSS presence there?"

"Only the usual agents, safe houses, and stuff."

Jill speaks up. "OK, not Lorkin. We can agree on that."

Rufus is still rather confused as to the actual situation. "What sort of mutiny was this anyway?"

"Well, we have strong evidence that the death of the Sir Walter Raleigh was intentional."

"Who blew it up?"

"We don't know that. We know it wasn't us."

Jill asks Brock for a quick word with him privately. "If you'd like to turn your back for a few moments, we could fix this..."

Brock doesn't want to turn his back. "What would you do?"

"No physical harm, we'd just... well, he may get a lot of headaches when we're through, but we'd fix it so that he won't contact anyone or be a threat for a while."

"He wouldn't know different, he wouldn't act different, he'd just get these headaches?"

"Yes, but he wouldn't get the headaches for a couple of months, probably. He might start working out what happened some time after that."

"OK then, go."

Brock convinces Jill that he should not turn his back. He does agree to keep quiet.

"Joe, NoName," says Jill, "Restrain him, please."

They grab Rufus before he can move, and Joe does some strange hold. Jill goes right up to the immobilized Rufus, sticks her face right in his, and starts muttering things about not taking action against them, being their friends, and so on.

After about ten minutes, she steps back, and Joe and NoName let Rufus go. He faints, and immediately gets up looking rather confused, feeling rather odd. Brock suggests that he should go back to his quarters and take a sedative, perhaps. He agrees, and suggests perhaps a good stiff drink. Actually, he's now feeling much better, and suggests that they should all go have a drink together.

So Jack, Jill, and Rufus head off to the bar, while Brock goes to inform the crew of the new state.

Brock arrives back at the company meeting.

"Is everybody still alive?" sighs Fostriades.

"Everybody's still alive," laughs Brock, "In fact everybody's a lot happier. They were able to work out their differences. Rufus has agreed to be dropped off at Lorkin, and doesn't seem to have any problems with that. I wish I could tell you more, but as part of all this I had to promise not to."

"I think that means we're committed to trusting them," says Avon.

"Well," says the Captain, "I want to talk to Rufus."

"They've gone off to the bar," says Brock.

"All of them," says Fostriades, glumly. "Together."

"Can we join them?" says Brock.

They all head for the bar, where they find Jack, Jill, and Rufus enjoying a drink together. Mich leaves early to work on cleansing the ship's systems.

Fostriades drinks bean juice and stares at them all. His dogs decline the offer of any themselves -- that's suspicious, he thinks; Achilles and Zenobia seem not too sure about something. To Fostriades, the three people look very happy... Helen has her usual horns, but no vine leaves today. Rufus looks very happy, with long ears and long front teeth. Jack and Jill have taken on a remarkable resemblance to Ren and Stimpy.

Avon tries some bean juice, but Rufus thinks he'll stick to regular booze. To Avon, everyone looks fairly normal.

The Captain, meanwhile, goes to talk to Commodore Judith Watson of the Sir Walter Raleigh. He tells her that he knows who destroyed her ship, but that it could be very dangerous to her to have that information.

Commodore Watson feels that she can survive without knowing yet (perhaps a sealed envelope as she leaves the ship?) -- she seems to have been through enough danger that she doesn't want any more for a while.

The Captain returns to the bar.

Mich and Linda have been working hard to find what traps and modifications are left in the software. They find a great many...

Mich finds a particular diagnostic that would normally only be run in port on the door opener systems would trigger an overload and cause a fire in various selected locations.

Linda finds a whole bunch of stuff: voice-activated keyword systems that start all sorts of weird things. There are lots of hooks for things where under certain conditions it would check to see if there had been anything installed to run. The security system attempt was something like that, which is one reason Linda found it relatively easy to defeat. Most of the changes are to the general computer systems rather than dedicated engineering areas.

Working together, they also discover stuff in overlapping areas of their expertise, such as the gunnery system control override (including target selection) that is cleverly designed to look like a malfunction.

None of the changes would have improved efficiency. In fact, many of them would degrade performance, enough to have the side-effect of interfering with the operation of the ship.

There has been no tampering with any of Mich's research. Everything they find is related to ship control systems and so on. No physical devices or changes are found.

Linda wants to shut down the computers and start everything back up, but that's not possible in jump space. They could switch to the backup computers, but those are suspect as well.

The Captain, meanwhile, takes NoName aside (a marine temporarily takes his place as shadow), and asks him what was agreed in that meeting. He says he has promised not to reveal any of it. He does assure the Captain that the agreement did not compromise the safety of the ship or its crew. He then resumes his duties as shadow.

Paula and Mich prepare the assigned quarters for Jack and Jill, removing all computer access and so on. They set up the door so it will only open if two people together approach the door. The chosen staterooms are on "D" Deck, rooms 23 and 16.

Mich explains the precautions to the Captain. He would still prefer to lock them up, but apparently that's unacceptable.

He also explains the many computer tricks they have found, along the lines of "You turn the coffee-maker on, and it's a Tuesday, the lasers fire. Somebody says 'Holy Cow!' and it shoots at the nearest..."

"...bovine," suggests Avon.

"Bovine, yes. It's just full of that. That's how the security system was attacked while they weren't doing anything. it was just some automatic process that just the right conditions had been met." He also reports the door-opener diagnostic trap, and says that's just one of the jolly things they've found. He says that they have kept a record of everything, with several copies scattered around the ship.

Brock asks if it's clear who set them.

Linda says that whoever did it was good, but there's no direct evidence of who set it.

Brock suggests that they might not all come from the same person.

Mich wonders if Brock is implicating Rufus.

Eventually, all leave the bar, proof that a rational and non-confrontational solution can be found for the thorniest of problems.

The Captain finally stands down the alert condition, and life on the Anastasia returns to normal.

349-1118 : Jusk / Scorpio / Yonder

The Anastasia arrives from Dulu at 12:00. The transition is quite smooth this time -- some of the software traps they have taken out have perhaps speeded up some of the computer responses, so things are working a little better now.

"Oh, great!" says Fostriades between clenched teeth. "You mean they've been messing with our computer to the point where the ship was in danger?"

The Anastasia is hailed immediately. They are requested by a representative of the TradeMain Navy to continue on the same vector with weapon systems downpowered, and wait for a ship to greet them.

They wait.

Avon wonders why they just didn't shut down the computers and reload.

"Shutting down all computer systems while you're in jump," says Mich, "Considering the computers are managing the jump drive, is a Very Bad Thing To Do. We are not in jump now. NOW we can shut down the computers."

Linda points out that they need to shut everything down -- they can't just switch over to the backup computers because they've been messed with, too.

They take advantage of the time they have to be drifting anyway, and shut down the whole computer systems and bring them back up again clean. Fortunately this is completed before a ship arrives to escort them.

350-1118 : Jusk / Scorpio / Yonder

The computer operations are complete by 12:00.

At 16:00, a mere 28 hours after being told to wait, the ship arrives to escort them to the mainworld. The ship is a design originally from the Corona Foundation, rather than Scorpionis.

They explain to the ship that they have returned after bravely fighting the cockroaches. The TMF chap sounds bored and unimpressed, and offers to escort them to the mainworld. They set off on a relaxed two-day trip.

351-1118 : Jusk / Scorpio / Yonder

At 18:00, they reach orbit around the mainworld of Jusk and are released from the escort after being assigned a parking orbit.

The ex-Navy people notice that although there are not that many ships here, the system itself has been heavily fortified. Avon, with his system Navy experience, points out several of them to the others. All this fortification is new since they were last here.

The automated traffic control system sends them routine messages from time to time, including a protocol for requests they may want to put in.

There are a quite a lot of ships here, many of which are non-military, freighters and suchlike. There are some fairly ratty-looking ships obviously pressed into service in a hurry, but none as badly beat up as the Anastasia.

This system is where Vana needs to meet with Admiral Lhule to discuss reassignment, and the disposition of the Scorpionis troops that they rescued on Staru. The Captain wants to request a meeting with the Admiral, but that is not one of the messages they can transmit given the protocol ("If you would like fuel, press button 1, hang up, and we will get back to you...").

Brock suggests that the way to get around the protocol would be simply to power up the lasers, but Avon points out to the errant landlubber that this might have rather undesirable consequences like they would be blown up.

They best they can think of is to request landing clearance, so they do so. It is now 18:30.

After an hour, at 19:30, traffic control acknowledges that they have received the Anastasia's request.

After yet another three hours, at 22:30, they are given clearance to land in a field ("Does it have a pond? I want to land it in a pond!" says Avon). A detailed precise flight path is transmitted to them, and they finally come in to land at 23:00.

The landing site is marked by a big "X", and next to the site is a portable services unit, with connections for communications, fuel, air, and so on. It has notices in several languages indicating that they can hook up, but to get fuel fed through it they have to pay in advance (the prices are high, but there is a discount for Imperial Credits). They consider whether it will rain enough to fill the tanks, but this seems unreasonable.

The temperature is a reasonable but warm 30-40 degrees. The atmosphere is breathable but somewhat dense, with no major contaminants.