Vana and her group consider their future and discuss their current situation. They need to talk to Admiral Lhule to resolve their position. As far as the ship is concerned, Jack, Jill, and Rufus are currently under close surveillance, with Jack and Jill denied computer access.
Varda, as Protocol Officer, tries to request a meeting with Admiral Lhule. The call is answered by a bored starport authority comm operator, who tells here to call the Admiral's appointments office at 08:00.
Meanwhile, the Anastasia has been hooked up to the services unit at the landing site. They request fuel, which will be delivered on receipt of 800Cr per ton. Fostriades has a fit at the price (not quite twice Imperial cost), especially as they haven't had to pay anything for fuel in a very long time. He checks the cost in Protectorate Dollars, and that comes out to the equivalent of 1200Cr per ton. He is disgusted, but pays the Credits anyway. The engineers monitor the quality of the supposedly refined fuel -- it is up to their strict standards.
Which of the former political units is dominating the TradeMain Foundation: Corona or Scorpionis? Scorpionis has the military, but two of the top three admirals are from Corona; Lhule is from Corona, as is Therikka, but Cartha is a Scorpionis man. So far, though, experience indicates that Scorpionis philosophy and methods seem to be dominant.
Fostriades wonders what would happen if Lhule has fallen out of power. They've been gone a long time...
It does occur to the crew that this doesn't really feel like Scorpionis (not military-oriented enough) but also doesn't really feel like the Corona Foundation.
"Wonderful!" says Lia. "They've managed to combine the worst of both worlds."
"This is Captain Stravanara Lebuva."
"Thanks you for calling."
"I wish to schedule an appointment for..."
They are playing sickening Corona classical music. Vana looks disgusted, but waits patiently.
"Thank you for holding. Have a nice day! What can we do for you?"
"This is Stravanara Lebuva, Captain of the Scorpionis Marines detachment assigned by Admiral Lhule to the starship Anastasia. We have returned to port, and I need to have a debriefing with the Admiral."
"Certainly. What day would be convenient?"
"We have a spot free for you in half an hour, could you be there?"
"Tell me where it is, we'll be there."
"Certainly, we'll transmit the coordinates to you."
"Have a nice day!" The classical music starts whining again.
"You too, bitch!" says Vana. The classical music keeps playing.
The coordinates come in as a flight plan involving a minor orbital trajectory. Vana picks her team: herself, Lia, Teri. She does not want a representative of the Scorpionis marine group along just in case Lhule is not in power.
They all equip themselves with full dress battle armor. They are all fully armed -- Lia carries some grenades as well, just so she'll feel comfortable. Teri has her plasma gun, and a demolition satchel disguised as a cummerbund.
Helen flies them to the meeting in the pinnace. Vana tells her to get there quickly. Traffic control tells them to slow down -- Helen produces an interesting stream of technical garbage, explaining that the reason she is going so fast is that she doesn't want to go fast, however the sparlificous widgets on the ship aren't capable, as their stutter frequency is sufficiently high that you have to get the meliculous waushids calibrated.
Helen lands them on the roof of the designated building.
"Keep the engines running," says Vana.
"And the laser powered up," adds Helen. "Don't worry, I've done this before."
The team disembarks. There is an honor guard at the roof entrance. They are disgustingly ragged by Scorpionis standards -- not only don't their eye colors match, but they are different heights and have different hair colors. They salute, fairly sloppily.
The team guesses that Lhule is indeed out of favor.
They enter the elevator (which has no internal controls). It goes down, then opens to reveal a fairly luxurious entrance lobby, just like any other Scorpionis lobby except for the honor guard, who are again mix-and-match. They are carrying antique bolt-action rifles.
Lia wonders if this is a Corona honor guard.
They continue to a reception room, decorated in the Scorpionis style with many indoor plants and so on. The chairs are luxurious. There are no windows, it being an internal room, but there are several viewscreens with pastoral scenes.
Admiral Lhule is waiting.
There are two matched guards at the entrance to the room, who ceremonially block the team with their weapons, which are NOT bolt-action rifles.
Vana identifies herself, and they are allowed to pass. As Lia salutes, her faceplate clears as her arm goes up, and returns to its mirrored finish when her arm goes down. Somebody has clearly had fun programming her suit.
Vana greets her commanding officer, and they exchange salutes. The honor guard remains at the door; Teri stays a couple of meters behind Vana and Lia.
Admiral Lhule offers them drinks, and takes one himself.
"Enjoying a nice fruitful rest, are we?" asks Vana.
"I gather Cartha's got things under control at the other end, so I'm left here mostly putting on shows for the civilians."
"Just one question," says Vana, "Who was responsible for Mutt'n'Jeff?"
"Those two? Well, we had to pick up some local drill teams. I will say that one thing your people have is decent sense of ceremony and discipline, which as you know is why you're in the front line." He laughs.
"We felt that since we were stopping in the neighborhood for a few days we should just pop in and say hello."
"That's nice, that's great. Your ship going to transfer over all the data and everything?"
"I have a full copy of all my data on my report with me. As to what data the corporate members on the ship will divulge, I really have no clue."
"OK. Well, I reckon I'll check with Captain Delaney. He seemed like a pretty nice guy last time round. You still got Rufus on board? Not that I want to put any pressure on him, but I wouldn't mind a chat."
"I don't know if he's available for a chat right now. It's kind of touch and go as regards to his current disposition."
"Yeah, I'd noticed he's pretty flighty. Well, we'll see what comes out of that. In the meantime I'll be glad to accept your report."
Vana hands it over.
"Any off the record comments?" asks the Admiral.
"Ever think about taking a vacation?" says Vana.
"Yeah, I think a lot about taking a vacation," laughs the Admiral. "I think it would be unwise. You no doubt have an opinion on the strategic capabilities of the naval commanders of the old Scorpionis Navy; somebody has to keep things in order."
"It's good to see that somebody's still in charge of things, then."
"Yeah. Admiral Therikka has taken over most of the day-to-day stuff with that, now that we seem to be settled into a strategic holding action, for a while."
"For a while."
"Keeps the Scorpionis people happy, too," he smirks, "I'm sure you'll appreciate that."
"Our current assembly should continue with more of the same?" asks Vana, getting down to the real subject.
"What do you want to do?"
"These people seem to be doing some interesting useful things. They've made good use of our time. Kept us out of the bars."
"That's true. Of course the local brewing economy has gone downhill since you left."
"Not my fault."
"Got sort of boring in one or two of the bars, too."
Vana tries to stick to the subject. "I'd like you to have somebody trustworthy on board that ship."
"It seems to be rather a useful ship. It and it's crew. They're not the usual load of, um... they seem to be able to do what they want with the ship. It looks a bit beat up now. Looks like you've been through quite a fair amount of action?"
"We ran into some bugs and it was an ... interesting time. We swatted them good. We could use repairs, though, definitely use repairs. We took a lot of major heavy hits to our armament."
"Might be some shipyard in Corona that could fix things up. Here we could probably do some work but the facilities are relatively minor. Mostly we're just handling logistical stuff, getting freighters in from Corona and shipping things out on military units."
"I thought I recognized their hand in the traffic control."
"Yeah, the trouble with all these civilian guys is they don't know how to handle real traffic."
"I felt like we were dealing with an automated teller system or something when we came in."
"That's a good comparison, I like that," laughs the Admiral. "I'll have to use that in my next speech to the press. The Corona folks keep expecting us to justify what we're doing."
"Well, S.O.P. is usually 'wait and see', so how do you justify wait and see?"
"It's not quite that bad. Scorpionis has helped slightly in that respect. We've got a couple of new soap operas where they're glorifying what's going on out there. The trouble is that Corona's never really seen any of the action at all. It's working, though."
"You'll probably find when you get into our reports that we managed to run into the old Staru group marines from the victory-fleet. Has somebody set up a repatriation procedure now?"
"We haven't run into that situation much now, not since the other group came out from Staru. The procedure now is that I sign the orders reassigning them to the TradeMain Combined Forces, and assign them appropriately."
"We'll need some orders drawn up. We've got a good working relationship set up between them and the ship's crew. They have been more than simply useful on many occasions -- they've been indispensable. I would prefer if possible to have them reassigned to me. Currently I am still ranking officer among them."
"So, the best thing I think... let's see. How many do you actually have?"
"10. We can get you the names and numbers later."
"I think we have a record of that from the Sir Walter Raleigh. What happened to them, by the way?"
Lia speaks up. "The ship went down in the line of duty, probably a result of damage sustained in battle. Despite the fact that they were designed as a warship, whether they took more fire or weren't as well designed to absorb it they appeared to take considerably more damage than we did."
"When the girls who were running the ship were here with Rufus," says Lhule, "They didn't look like they were as experienced or well trained as most of our people. There is a limit to what high technology can do for you."
"They did pretty well considering how green they were," says Lia.
"Basically they had a catastrophic malfunction after a battle," adds Vana. "No matter how well you maintain a ship, that can always happen."
"So the Imperial ships are not actually invincible," muses Admiral Lhule.
"It was fighting something 25 times its size," says Lia.
"Doing a pretty good accounting of itself at the time," says Vana.
"It got away, and then it blew up afterwards," says Lia. "Which is much better than blowing up in the presence of the enemy warship, that makes it much more difficult to pull out the survivors."
"It seems that the enemy warships like to blow up right next to our ships," says the Admiral.
"They have that tendency," agrees Vana. "They have a severe tendency to ruin your entire day if you get more than two or three of them in the same area of space at a time, too."
"So what do you see as your role?" asks Lhule.
"Currently we've been troubleshooters at large," replies Vana, "Often doing a lot of advance scout work. You'll find a lot of data on that tape concerning the recon work we've done recently, some of which may or may not have made it onto the short formal reports that you receive through other channels."
"You think that it's worth while continuing with these people?"
"Yes. There are strong signs that it would not be wise to leave them unattended in the immediate future."
"In what way? Would you consider them dangerous or merely in need of some real support, or...?"
"In and of themselves they are not dangerous. They appear to be a strong catalyst for events to happen. Where they are, things happen."
"So when are they leaving?"
"As soon as they can get sufficiently fueled up and we can return, probably."
"You have no interest in retiring at the moment?"
"It would not well serve Scorpionis for me to do so."
"TradeMain Foundation," corrects Lhule.
"Yes, sorry, TradeMain Foundation."
"Yes, I spent all those years sitting in front of a soft Corona fleet, wondering if all those things I'd heard about the Scorpionis forces were true, and now I'm in charge of them it's rather nice."
"I wouldn't trade anyone on the ship for ... well, there are one or two."
"Speaking of which, is that Imperial Admiral still on board?"
"Yes, he's still active, still running around."
"Yes, well. Look, there is one favor you could do for me. If the Captain of the ship comes ashore with a delegation, can you make sure the Admiral isn't on it? I mean, the guy is ... like I need to tell you!"
"We'll draw lots. Whoever gets the short straw will go to Sick Bay."
"How about this? How about we form you plus your people plus the Scorpionis marines you have into a new unit? Pick some random number and call it the Nth Expeditionary Force, give it a nice nickname, and take some photos before you leave. You will answer directly to me. I like having people out there who are not caught up in all the fuss and bother."
Vana says to Lia, "Do we dare go back and take nickname suggestions from Varda?"
"If you can pick a number over 130..." says Lhule.
"The 427th Expeditionary Force, the Roachbusters," announces Vana.
"...and we'll have to tidy up the chain of command as well. We'll need to bump you up a rank or two."
Vana groans. "What would that make me now?"
"Maybe Major, Lieutenant Colonel ... and you'll have to pick some of your other marines to fill up the ranks. If you don't mind, what we'd like to do is cast a special medal for your expedition, just a campaign medal thing, and if we can do a bit of a ceremony ... we'll slip the promotions through before that, it'll look better. One of my aides will be contacting you with details of ranks and will rough out the details of the structure."
"You are trying to get me to retire, aren't you? Just one step away from being a full Colonel and then I'd have to retire."
"No you wouldn't, look at me."
"Exactly!" says Vana triumphantly. "I'm never going to be on that side of the desk, thank you."
"We'll set up a special channel, and if you want anything just tell the operator what you want and we'll put you through without all the hassle."
"Make sure that whoever you assign to writing that up knows that we have a retired Army officer among the crew of that ship, and a lot of ex-Navy people, so make it clear that they are advisory roles?"
"We will make it clear that you are reporting directly to me. I'd like to speak to the captain of the ship and maybe define your role a bit better for him."
The team leaves, and returns past the various guards to the roof. On the way, Vana has fun testing how bad the guards really are.
Helen still has the pinnace warmed up and ready. After a bit of banter with Vana, they fly back to the Anastasia. Helen talks to the tower again, mentioning Admiral Lhule's name among the gobbledygook about the widgets. The assigned route back is much more direct.
Vana and Lia discuss the interview. Lhule is clearly not in trouble, but also not in command, either, given the state of the honor guards.
They also discuss the nature of the recent shipboard troubles. They know Jack and Jill are Imperial people, almost certainly IFSS. Whatever, it's clear that the Imperium has factions, and there may be at least two of them on the ship. Lia's guess is that there are at least two Imperial factions on the ship; at the moment they're cooperating, but it's definitely cooperation rather than alliance. The whole ship is rather jumpy. Everybody seems to think the marines are nice and neutral. Vana observes that the Captain thinks they're better than sliced bread. As long as they keep their independence, Lia observes, they can stay out of the politics. They discuss Grand Admiral Sir Bridgehead, and why he might have ended up on this ship.
Once Admiral Lhule's aide contacts Vana, she sorts out promotions in consultation with Lia. The directive that forms the unit requires that Vana will be Lieutenant Colonel. This means that Varda will be a Major, and Lia a Captain. Teri will be promoted to Second Lieutenant, assigned as an aide to Vana. Kara is up to First Sergeant, as Vana feels she should be better educated before getting a commission. The ten ex-Scorpionis marines will retain their current ranks.
Vana requests that the ex-Scorpionis marines that were sent back with the Sir Walter Raleigh should be located and reassigned back to her unit. The request is noted and they promise to work on it.
It will take a total of three days to finish replenishing the air supply. Mich goes outside to check the hull patches, grateful for the breathable air. The gravity is high, however, at 1.27g; Sir Bridgehead will therefore not want to go ashore here.
Mich takes advantage of the comfortable environment to shore up and smooth out some of the repairs. He reckons that if he can buy some spares here, he can bring one of the other missile turrets back into operation. He determines that it would take 180,000Cr and three days. Fostriades approves the expense readily, which rather surprises Mich. This will give them two active missile batteries, doubling their current missile capabilities.
Mich wonders about replenishing missiles; the starport will sell them conventional (not nuclear) missiles. It seems the days of free handouts may be over.
As for Vana's affairs, the medal presentation ceremony is scheduled for three days from the debriefing. The troops she requested are currently on Corona itself. Orders are sent to Corona to reassign them to the 427th Expeditionary Force, and Vana is given the necessary paperwork to take command of them there, if the Anastasia can pick them up. 17 of the original marines will be available there, meaning that just seven of them can't be transferred to the Roachbusters.
Corona would be an extra jump out of the way, but they could make it to Karakus from there in one trip if they filled the bladders for a two-jump voyage over the five parsecs. This would cost them just one week, but Fostriades is not happy about jumping to deep space with the drives in their current state -- he would prefer Corona to Karakus in two regular jumps. It would still save them quite some time over the alternative of having the troops shipped to a planet on their intended route. They discuss route possibilities.
They stock up on food and so on at standard Imperial prices, a pleasant surprise after the cost of the fuel. Fostriades still looks like he'd rather continue with the (free) processed seal blubber and slime they have on board, but this doesn't seem to be popular with the crew. They pay in Protectorate Dollars.
It will take the full three days to replenish air, and they take the
opportunity to flush the system with the good atmosphere here.