(35a) Thirty-Five A


365-1118 : Jump Space (Joloch to Corona)

A year ago today the Anastasia was in the Dulu system, jumping between the Primary and Secondary stars.

This year's New Year's Eve party promises to be a good one...everyone is invited except Jack, Jill, and their shadows (NoName and Joe).

At Avon's instigation, Mich and Chiang Ho put together a bean dip to go with the chips that they picked up with the last food load.  It seems that of the two, Chiang Ho has a better aptitude for cooking.

The bean dip tastes...edible.

Avon gobbles down some bean dip and washes it down with bean juice.  The dip makes him feel rather dizzy.  Alice loves the bean juice, but is not too fond of the bean dip.  Mich considers it to be a waste of beans.

Things are starting to look slightly curious to Avon.  He thinks it would be a good idea to have a game of cards, like the one on Jusk. He is confident that he can, with Alice's help, remember the rules; Chiang Ho reckons he can remember most of them, too.

Avon, Mich, Chiang Ho and Fostriades are chatting when they notice Sir Bridgehead and Helen come in.  They discuss the young lady's past.  She was, of course, picked up as a call girl on Zaibon by the Admiral, and has been with them ever since.  Fostriades says she has publicly said she was a privateer, and has said privately to him that she was a pirate.  Mich remembers tracing at least three of her previous aliases.

Brock and the Captain join them, and they discuss Jack and Jill again.

Brock initiates a lively discussion on Jack and Jill.  Why are mutineers still on this ship?  Why not drop them off somewhere?  Everyone else thinks that would be very dangerous.  Mich thinks they should be killed and the bodies disposed of, but Fostriades wants the information they may have to get back to the Emperor.  Brock finally understands -- if they let Jack and Jill leave the ship, the pair will find them and kill them for knowing too much.  He summarizes: "We keep them on board so that they won't blow up the ship."

What Jack and Jill clearly want is to return to the Imperium. Their preferred destination is Karin / Five Sisters.

"I understand there's good sight-seeing there," says Avon, apparently the only person who realizes that Alice is listening avidly to their discussion.

"Yes," says Fostriades.  "Their charming daughter lives on Karin, she's the one who set us up with that robot ship that would have blown up, that attacked us in orbit.  The whole family obviously works in twisted ways."

Avon looks over at Alice, to see how she's taking this all in.  She seems to be enjoying it immensely, but she is occasionally watching something about a meter over Fostriades' head.  Fostriades agrees that the large chicken staring at him is having a great time.

Avon stares over the Boss's head to see if he can see anything there -- there's slight sparkles in the air like there are everywhere else, but nothing special to Fostriades.

"The Admiral's not as much fun as he used to be," complains Avon.  He's right, Sir Bridgehead has been very quiet recently -- it must be all that work he's doing in Sick Bay.

Avon, who has been drinking bean juice with whisky chasers, is having a great time.  By now, he has finished explaining the rules and starts the game at a "low" 100Cr stake.  Lia is the only marine in the game (despite a dirty look from Vana).  Helen is watching the game, but takes no part in it herself.  Sir Bridgehead is in, though, and plonks himself down in the chair next to Alice -- apparently he thinks she's the only person properly dressed for this party, and has been trying to talk to her all evening.

"This must be a spy ship if there's a high-ranking Admiral on board," observes Alice.

Avon notices that the Admiral seems to be bugging Alice, so he quickly puts on the old party tape.  "I don't want to be an Admiral, call me Ensign!" says Sir Bridgehead in the scene well-known to all.  Sir Bridgehead ignores the tape.

Back to the game: those who playing are Mich, Chiang Ho, Lia, Brock, Avon, Alice, Sir Bridgehead, and Paula (with Mich's money).

The first round of play benefits Chiang Ho, to the tune of about 2000Cr.

To Avon, the cards are not quite like the ones he used on Jusk. The picture cards move a bit, with a beautiful deep view down into the tunnel in the card.  He can, however, distinguish them properly.

Lia can tell the suits apart because they play different tunes.

Chiang Ho must have spent a productive time in the casino, because he is really raking in the money now.

Sir Bridgehead is looking rather irritated.

The Captain quietly asks Linda to try to play a few specific practical jokes with the party.

Linda is sitting at a console, looking like she's playing a computer game; every once in a while the Captain goes over and sees how she's doing.

Linus takes his customary lick of bean juice, but instead of leaving he hangs around by the door watching.  Achilles is asleep, while Zenobia is bouncing around.

Lia drops out of the game.  Alice is enjoying the game, but catching up with Chiang Ho is being a problem.  With Lia out, of course, the rules change...

Chiang Ho seems to have the upper edge on this round, but Alice gets the rule changes right and pulls in all the money.  Alice suggests that Mich and Paula switch positions, and she herself switches with Avon.

Avon wants higher stakes, as he feels he does better then, so they raise the stakes to 1000Cr.  Avon wins this hand easily -- about 15kCr.

They up the stakes again to 5kCr.  Avon suggests using the "odd-stakes" rule, so that there is an opportunity for more than one player to win some on each hand.

Sir Bridgehead is pontificating on the difference between this game and "real" gambling games.

Avon has a little trouble with the odd-stakes rule (even though he suggested it).  The hands have become more interesting now, with a bigger payoff -- Chiang Ho pulls in about 80kCr, while Brock picks up the other 20kCr.  Sir Bridgehead continues to lose.

This is too much for Mich.  He pulls out, but Paula stays in.

Mich suddenly notices he is being followed around by the door lasers.

Sir Bridgehead has an apparent change of luck -- he rakes in the whole pot, every last credit!

Avon glances up at the video screens.  The party tape has finished, and now showing on one screen is Brock's hand, and on the other screen is Chiang Ho's hand.  The Admiral is sitting in the perfect place to see the screens...  Avon pulls Alice aside and points it out to her; what are the standard rules on cheating?  Alice suggests confronting him, preferably with a gun -- at the very least it should embarrass him.

"Look!" says Avon.  "That's your hand, Brock, and that one's Chiang Ho's.  And look who just happens to be sitting where the monitors are in clear view..."

"Sir Bridgehead?" say Mich and Brock in unison.

Sir Bridgehead coughs and splutters.

Avon says slowly, "I don't think that last hand counts."

"Are you sure it was Bridgehead?" says Brock.  "I don't think Bridgehead is that bright."

"What?" exclaims the accused.  "I never noticed anything."

Avon points out the obvious.  "Bridgehead won that hand.  Doesn't that suggest something?"

"What about Linda?" suggests Fostriades.  Linda is no longer playing on the computer, but feeding bean juice to Linus, who for once is being quite sociable.

Avon looks meaningfully at Sir Bridgehead.  "So how long have the monitors had that program on them, Admiral?"

"I've no idea!" says an indignant Sir Bridgehead, "I didn't notice that!"

"Your skills seem to have suddenly improved quite a bit."

"That's just luck!" says Sir Bridgehead.

Chiang Ho suggests they should change positions.  Alice reminds them that this will, of course, change the rules.  Why doesn't the presence of the monitors change the rules?  "Because," explains Alice, "Normally if there were things doing that we would get up and shoot the person who did it."

Everyone thinks this is an admirable idea.

The Admiral is a little pale, and continues to insist he didn't do anything.

"Maybe we should just shoot the monitors," says Brock.

"Listen," says the Captain, "If you guys shoot the monitors, the marines are going to be in here thinking it's a mutiny, and they're going to line us all up against the wall and shoot everybody who's mutinying, which is probably everybody in this room."  He sounds a little drunk.

Avon suggests shutting the monitors off and taking back the last hand.  Sir Bridgehead again protests his innocence, and wants to keep the last hand.

He finds an unlikely supporter in Brock: "You have to keep the hand.  If you were too blind to notice the monitors, you deserve to lose.  That's what gambling is all about. Are you in or not?" (...and that's the difference between the Army and the Navy, one might say...)

"I'm not going to stand around here and be accused of cheating!" says Sir Bridgehead.  He is rapidly convinced of the folly of leaving the game at this stage.

Linda is still having fun with the dogs.  Linus has stopped drinking, but Zenobia has now stepped in to have a sniff.

Mich approaches Linda and chats for a while.  "Are you running any security programs right now?"

"What? Is the Admiral getting embarrassed?"

"No.  The laser tracking system is tracking me."

"Oh!  I was wondering how long it would take you to notice.  You should mention it to the Captain -- tell him what a horrible ship he's maintaining here."

"So you are running this, and it's just to exhibit signs of paranoia in everybody?"

"They're only following you.  Nobody else has noticed."

"OK.  As long as you are running it...  I still don't really like that, but we can play some tricks on the Captain and then you can shut it off."

"They haven't shot Sir Bridgehead yet, have they?"

"No, no-one has shot Sir Bridgehead.  Yet."

Mich goes over to the Captain.  "There's something going awry with the security system here."

"Really?" giggles the Captain, "You don't say!"

"Watch."  Mich drags him around the room, and everywhere they go the lasers follow them.

"When did you notice this happening?" asks the Captain, seriously.

"Oh, about ten minutes ago, right before the monitors showed up the hands."

"You stand there, Mich."  The Captain steps away.  The lasers point at Mich.  "They look OK to me," laughs the Captain.

"OK," says Mich, "I'll sit behind you then."

Mich takes Paula and leaves the party: "This game is too rich for my blood," he says.  He explains quietly to Paula why he is really leaving, and they go down to Engineering.

"What's going on?" Fostriades asks the Captain.  "Do you want to explain?"

"I...uh...I don't think I can explain.  Mich is probably the only one who can give a full explanation."

"If he's just chickening out because of the money..."

"It's because he doesn't want to play with cheaters," says Chiang Ho, staring at the Admiral.

Avon, Chiang Ho, and Sir Bridgehead agree that the videos were probably Mich's doing.

The Captain goes over to Sir Bridgehead, and tries to start a discussion about the brains of people like Jack and Jill in the bodies of his rabbits -- would they still be dangerous?  The Admiral is enthusiastic about the project, and the Captain asks him to run some simulations.

"What?" says Brock.  "No!  There's a difference between putting someone off the ship and turning them into rabbits."

"We need a reasonable belief that he can turn them back if necessary," says Fostriades.

"Well," says the Captain, "We could, like, turn Jack into a rabbit and leave them that way until Jill talks."

The game starts up again.

"What's the stakes this time?" asks Avon.

"Oh, how about 10,000?" says the Admiral.

It is agreed.  Avon gets 60%, and the Admiral pulls in 40%.

"Oh," says Avon, "Well, my apologies, maybe you didn't have anything to do with it."

"Well, thank you," says Sir Bridgehead.  "Obviously there's someone who's trying to embarrass me.  You're the one who keeps showing all the party tapes."

"Yes, but that's in good fun embarrassment.  I wouldn't set you up."

Chiang Ho takes off his shirt to change the rules -- unfortunately, he can't remember HOW this changes the rules.  Neither can Avon -- he asks Alice quietly.

Alice whispers that it's complicated: "Play as if he was a green-eyed woman with purple hair and a large red hat with flowers on the left side."

"So," says Avon, "That would do the one-eyed kings reverse."

"Yes! You've got it!"

Now that Avon is not so sure it was the Admiral who did the monitors, he looks around the room more carefully to see if anything more happens ... monitors, flickering lights, or any other weird stuff.

He sees more weird stuff.

The door just opened, and a shimmering ghost-shaped thing came through.  The door closed behind it, and the door lasers are tracking the thing as it moves through the room.

"Alice," he says, "Did you see that?  Did the door just open and close?"

"I didn't notice."

Avon gets up and walks over to the shimmering ghost-like thing, which is taking some bean dip.  Avon grabs it, but it squirts out either side and forms two ghosts, one either side of him.  They ignore him and return to the bean dip.

Fostriades stares at Avon -- he's acting very strangely.  Why would a gorilla be grabbing at air like that?

Avon starts to pull out a pistol, but thinks better of it and sits down at the game again.  He keeps an eye on the things.  They shoot up in the air and dive into the bean dip.

No-one else saw what Avon apparently did, either, although Brock confirms that the door did indeed open and close.

"There was something there, I'm telling you," says Avon.  "It may not be something normal.  It's in the dip now."

"It's in the dip?" asks the Captain.  "Just a moment."  He goes over to the dip and stirs it.

"Sometimes," says Avon, "When you've been eating the bean juice you see things that aren't exactly the way they are.  So it might mean that someone poisoned the bean dip or something."

The Captain holds out a big spoonful of bean dip and whistles for the dogs.  None of them come.  "You must be right.  Dogs don't want it."

"Here," says Sir Bridgehead, "I can test it!"  He whips out his bioscanner/sniffer.

Fostriades stares at the Admiral and the dip.  What he sees is the Pillsbury doughboy leaning over the bean dip, doing something to it with a tube of icing.  The dip, on the other hand, looks perfectly normal, a fact that Fostriades considers most suspicious.

"It's perfectly all right." announces the doughboy.

It is now close to midnight.  Mich, in Engineering, has planned a surprise -- at the stroke of midnight, the lights in the party room will go out for ten seconds.

The game resumes.  It looks like Chiang Ho is winning handily, when the lights go out!  In the darkness there are sounds of people moving; Sir Bridgehead wails.

The lights come back on.  Avon and Alice are up against the wall.  Fostriades starts to pick himself up from the floor.  Lia gets to her feet and disarms her grenade.  Brock is no longer in the room.

The Admiral is sitting at his place at the gaming table, with a lot of bean dip running down his face; several thousand credits are stuck neatly into the dip on his head.

The Captain calls Vana for a security check and asks where Brock is.  Vana promises to find out.

Avon leaves the room with Alice, heading for his cabin.  He intends to get a weapon.

The Captain tells Linda to bring up Jack and Jill's rooms on the monitors: everything seems normal there.  He then asks her to investigate the cause of the blackout.

Linus snorts and leaves.

"The bean dip ghost did it!" says the Captain.  He looks around for it.  He can't see anything, but the door lasers track something approaching the door, and the door opens and closes.  Nothing's there.

Fostriades, though, saw some silvery ectoplasm ooze out of the bean dip on Sir Bridgehead's hair, and slither across the room -- the door opened for it, it left, and the door closed behind it.

Out in the corridors, Vana walks up to Brock (who just walked out while the lights were off) and makes sure he is OK.  Brock continues to his room.  Back in his cabin, he gets onto the computer and calls an anonymous meeting of all the owners for 10:00 the next morning.  He then goes to sleep.

When Avon returns to his cabin, he picks up his gauss rifle.  He hands a pistol to Alice.  Then, since the computer terminal in his room is shut off, he goes to his gunnery station.  There he tries to find out several things: what the lasers were tracking -- he is sure he saw something, and the door opened and closed; why the lights went out; who was responsible for putting the images on the video screen.  Avon knows he is not a great computer genius, but he sets to work anyway.  Alice is unable to help him.

It looks like the blackout was programmed from Engineering; and about twenty minutes before that, Mich and Paula left the party to go there...

He is not surprised to find he can't work out what the lasers were tracking, but he is a little astonished to find he can't detect any sign of someone putting the images on the video screens.  He thought that would be easy to tell, because he's done a lot of work with the video systems, but he can find absolutely no trace.  That means it's Jack, Jill, Helen, or Linda...

Avon intends to seek out Helen and see if she can help him.  He and Alice therefore return to the party room.

Meanwhile, Sir Bridgehead is desperately trying to comb bean dip out of his hair, putting the credits back on the table and offering them to Chiang Ho, since they're his winnings, apparently.  Aside from that money, no-one seems to have taken anything from the table.