(36) Thirty-Six

001-1119 to 002-1119

001-1119 (cont.) : Jump Space (Joloch to Corona)

The company meeting starts to disperse. Fostriades asks Lia what Scorpionis thinks of psionics -- it turns out that she has no knowledge of psionics at all. Avon asks Alice if she knows anything about psionics, but she has no idea either.

Avon asks to get the computer in his room reactivated. Fostriades agrees this is reasonable, and so now Avon doesn't have to go to the gunnery station every time he wants to access the computer.

Fostriades compares Jack with his daughter, Jack Jr. -- the girl had taken over what she saw as her father's job, which was running the IFSS or at least high up in the IFSS, whereas her father now spends his spare time offing members of the IFSS because they might get in his way.

An interesting observation: the first ever bean juice party was to celebrate the completion of their training at Jack Jr.'s IFSS base on Karin.

Lia has updated Vana on the situation about this psionics stuff, and the extra danger Jack and Jill present.

Avon goes to talk to Sir Bridgehead. He explains his concerns: when they interviewed Jack and Jill, they used a drug which supposedly would not let them lie. Now they know at least one of them has psionic capabilities, can they still be sure that what they told them is reliable?

Sir Bridgehead explains that he used a standard Imperial truth drug, and indeed it should work.

What does that mean, Avon wants to know?

It should work. Sir Bridgehead is pretty certain of this. He presumes it has been tested on psionics, since otherwise it would not be the standard Imperial truth drug, would it? The Navy wouldn't issue it if it didn't work, now, would it? He does emphasize that he has never seen any experimental data to support this, because of course there is no psionics research.

This does not instill confidence in Avon. He goes to tell the Boss and the Captain, as always carrying his gauss rifle. He finds the Captain and expresses his concerns, but Fostriades is elsewhere.

Avon then returns to his stateroom. He gives Alice a gun, and explains that if she sees Jack or Jill, she is to shoot first and ask questions later.

Fostriades has gone searching for psionic helmets. Vana has beaten him to it, however...

Fostriades arrives at the marine stores. He explains to the guard that he is looking for something called a "psionic helmet." Apparently, though, there are no psionic helmets in here, as the guard has no knowledge of such things. Fostriades inquires as to whether the guard has knowledge of certain parts of his own anatomy, and he is assured politely that this is the case.

After the guard checks with Vana, Fostriades and Lia are let into the room. The stores are apparently being searched for something. I wonder what?

Teri is in charge of the detachment in the stores. Fostriades asks her about the psionic helmets. She is somewhat evasive, and suggests contacting Vana.

Lia calls Vana, who says she has some. How many? "Enough for our purposes. Do you want one?" Fostriades wants one, she says. Vana agrees that is sensible, given his rank, abilities, and position. She says that she will see to it that Fostriades, the Captain, Sir Bridgehead, and Mich will get top priority, and she will then see that the right people get the rest. She asks Lia to tell Fostriades that his presence is requested in the Brig.

Fostriades and Lia go to the Brig, where they find Varda and a brace of marines. Varda presents him with a Meal-Ready-to-Eat bag. It contains a psionic helmet. (The original boxes in the stores contain some suitably weighted junk.)

Fostriades returns to his cabin, where he determines that the ship's manifest indicates that there should be eight psionic helmets on board. This worries him -- he can see why Vana was so careful in handing them out. He tries to call the Captain, but he is not available.

Meanwhile, Vana has arrived at the Brig and has taken charge of distributing the helmets.

The Captain arrives, although why he was summoned to the Brig he has no idea. Vana gives him a helmet, and tells him he should wear it for his health and state of mind. She reports that she has seen to it that all essential personnel can have helmets in order to maintain operation of the ship, and that she will ensure that they are distributed.

Several marines arrive in Sick Bay, and tell Sir Bridgehead they are here to escort him to the Brig. He tells them that he will not go with them unless they can present a written order from the Captain. The marines leave without him.

Vana knows Mich too well to ask him to go to the Brig. She sends Varda (with two marines) to Engineering. Varda presents him with a sack, and tells him to "Wear it in health." "Why? Oh, I see. Well, if it's orders, OK."

Linda, as Computer Officer, is essential personnel and therefore also receives a helmet. This now covers enough people to run the ship if necessary: Fostriades, the Captain, Sir Bridgehead, Mich, and Linda. It would be difficult to run it with just five people, but it would be possible.

Helen, as Flight Officer, gets number 6. It is commonly believed that she would be capable of operating the entire ship by herself... but then, Mich and Paula together could run the ship, so who knows? Helen recognizes the helmet immediately, and accepts it without demanding explanations.

Helmet number 7 goes to Varda, as the marine most likely to be willing to take action against any crew or marines without hesitation.

Number 8 is sequestered away as a spare.

Mich examines his helmet. He finds a meter that indicates something, and apparently the unit is in working order. He still has no idea what it is or what it does. It generates a weak EM pattern, and you put it on your head. Perhaps it keeps your head warm? It's sort of like the thing he rigged up to prevent the black box from transmitting, but it's really weak and you put it on your head. The marines are very intent on him wearing it.

Mich calls Fostriades and invites him down into Engineering. When Fostriades arrives, he is also wearing a silly hat. The two of them, with Lia and Paula, take a seat in a corner of Engineering to discuss things. Fostriades explains what happened at the company meeting, and what this hat is supposed to do, and why the two are related.

It again occurs to Fostriades that they only have Brock's word about what happened in the meeting, and it might be worth talking to Rufus. Mich on the other hand needs no convincing -- he has not tried to hide his opinion that Jack and Jill should die.

Mich suggests generating a stronger psi-helmet field to swamp Jack's and Jill's rooms. The electronics are fairly simple, and they think they can put one together from stock parts, although it needs quite a lot of framework to hold it together. That would be hard to do from outside the room, because of interference from the walls.

Avon mentions to the Captain that he thinks they should have another company meeting soon. He also leaves a message for Fostriades that he wants to talk to him.

It is now getting into late afternoon. Everyone goes to their stations in case the ship comes out of jump. It doesn't.

Fostriades and Lia visit Rufus. Fostriades tells him that Brock has explained what happened in the meeting. Despite pumping Rufus will not answer any questions on the meeting, regardless of what Brock has reportedly told them.

Fostriades asks Rufus about his opinion on psionics. Rufus says that he doesn't think there is any out in this area. When Fostriades points out that they are not that far from the Zhodani, Rufus says he is sure there are Zhodani agents around here, but probably not this far out -- he hasn't seen any evidence of it. Rufus's opinion is basically that whatever anyone does with psionics, providing it doesn't affect him, is their own business.

"Supposing it does affect you?" asks Fostriades.

"I'm sure it wouldn't."

"Oh, really?"

"How would it affect me?"

"Supposing someone used it on you?"

"ON me? Reading my mind?"

"Changing your mind."

"That's rubbish. That's awfully rare. Something that can change somebody's mind? Planting suggestions, that sort of thing? That's so rare as to be ridiculous."

"Basically what Brock said is that Jill touched you and you changed you mind," Fostriades continues.

"Rubbish!" says Rufus, then catches himself. "Sorry, I cannot comment on anything that happened in the meeting." He refuses to be drawn further, other than to assure Fostriades that he is in perfect control of his own mind.

"Can you offhand think of any reason," says Fostriades, "Not necessarily connected with the meeting, why Brock would wish to give the impression -- and note that he did not use the word psionics, he said what I have just repeated -- why he would want to give the impression that Jill had psionic abilities?"

"I have no idea," replies Rufus. "Perhaps he wanted to hold something against her that couldn't really be substantiated. A lot of people on this ship don't want to help them."

"I'm not one of them. I am one of the few people on this ship in a position of authority who's still fighting to keep those two people alive. I am doing this because I do believe that they may actually have information that the Emperor really needs to know, and that nobody else can give it to them or get it for him."

"Yes. I think we should help them get back. I don't think that necessarily we should roll over, lay down, and take their orders, but I don't see any harm in helping them get back."

"I don't particularly want to wind up losing my ship and my crew by doing it."

"No, why should you? Anyway, I think you're worrying needlessly. I don't know what Brock has been saying, but I have no evidence of... Let me just say that I would not agree that there is any evidence of psionics."

Fostriades thanks him and leaves.

When he finally returns to his stateroom, Fostriades finds the message from Avon and calls him. Avon comes to see him, and tells him first of all what the doctor said, and secondly...

"Do we know that Jill is really Jack's wife?" asks Avon. "Did Jack Jr. ever mention Jill?"

"No," says Fostriades quietly.

"If Jill has psionic abilities, and she can make people believe things they didn't used to believe, it could be that Jack was a trustworthy fine upstanding Imperial agent thirty years ago."

"Oh, good lord," says Fostriades. "It's a very interesting thought. It really is. On the other hand, it's also possible that... It's not certain, about anything with psionics."

"Well, I guess it's not certain, but it seems the most likely explanation for having someone change their mind so suddenly."

"We weren't there. If we start taking one person's evidence as no longer trustworthy..."

"He's a company member."

"Yes... so's Helen, and I wouldn't necessarily believe everything she says, either."

"Good point," says Avon, "But it's the only evidence we have."

"I will agree," says Fostriades. "We have only Jill's evidence that she is in fact Jack Jr.'s mother, or Jack's genuine original wife."

"I mean Brock is the only observer we have on what happened at the meeting."

Fostriades looks up psionics in the ship's computer. It has much more extensive information than any other computer he's seen before -- The computer tells him: "See also restricted file GAM-90210-IRI. Do you want to see that file now?" He does.

"There is another possible explanation," says Avon. "It's possible that Jill did some sort of secret handshake or something like that to convince Rufus that they were somebody special. Maybe we should talk to Brock some more, see if he can remember exactly what she did."

"Let me just skim this file first," says Fostriades.

Five minutes later, Fostriades is ready. He, Avon, and Lia visit Brock, but he is not in his cabin. Apparently he is in the exercise room on D Deck.

When they get there, they find that Brock is practicing TDS stuff with Chiang Ho. Since their mentors are occupied, they have started working out together, pooling their information.

Fostriades wants Brock to expand more on what he said about Jill. The five of them now go back up to Fostriades' cabin to discuss it.

"She never actually touched him," says Brock. "She got in his face, as you would to hypnotize a person. She talked in a low voice, repeating the same things over and over again, and basically talked him into it."

It didn't seem like she overwhelmed him with the logic of her arguments, say Avon and Fostriades.

"It was not the logic of her arguments that convinced him, no," agrees Brock.

"Worse and worse," says Fostriades. "That does sound very like telepathy."

"I have the feeling," says Brock, "That, well, my guess is that it was very range-limited. She got right in his face. Whether she had to, or not...?"

That seems to satisfy the investigators.

Avon goes to Engineering, where he discusses things with Mich.

Fostriades returns to examining the psionics file. He then looks up Hypnotism. He suddenly realizes what he should have asked Brock, and so he and Lia go to see him again.

Brock opens the door. "I see I've become very popular," he says.

"One quick question," says Fostriades. "When Jill was getting in Rufus' face, and repeating all this stuff to him in a low voice and so forth, what was his reaction before he was convinced? Did he seem puzzled, threatened, intimidated by them?"


"Did he look to be physically uncomfortable?"

"He wasn't very happy. What's your theory?"

"The thing is if she was doing something like hypnosis, he probably wouldn't be objecting or resisting particularly strongly. If she were using psionics, he probably would be. So it was definitely forced on him? I don't think hypnosis would cause such a strong counter reaction."

"Rufus was well aware of what was happening to him, and did not approve. He was rather in shock at the time."

They bid each other good night, and Fostriades and Lia go to report to the Captain.

Fostriades reports: "Rufus seems to be denying that there was anything illicit or improper in any way and about his decision to cooperate with Jack and Jill. Brock is very specifically and very clearly describing what almost certainly appears to be psionics, and has said in a way I believe to be convincing that he believed it was psionics at the time, and unprompted has come up with detail which to my mind indicate the accuracy of his observations. Admittedly I have clarified them by prompting, but his unprompted initial reactions struck me as being consistent at all times. Do you want the engineers to continue getting some kind of psionic shield on the room?"

The Captain thinks that is a good idea. Sir Bridgehead, he says, is working on psionic detection stuff and would like a chance to examine Rufus.

Fostriades continues. "At the moment Rufus is saying he can't talk about it, and is allowing us to infer that he can't talk about it because he says he wouldn't, which is perfectly true. He can't use that excuse to block a physical examination."

Fostriades and Lia return to their cabin again, and Fostriades tries to sleep with his helmet on. It is not at all comfortable. He thinks that Mich's idea of rigging up "psionic mosquito netting" to sleep under would be great. As an insomnia cure, he works out the details -- using paper and pencil because he's not sure he can trust the computer any more.

Avon apologizes to Alice: "If I'd have known it was this much trouble, I'd never have asked you to come along, it's really not usually like this." He leaves a low-priority message for the Captain to call a company meeting.

002-1119 : Jump Space (Joloch to Corona)

Mich starts to work on the mosquito net, but his electronics skills are not up to it. He asks Fostriades to help him.

On the way back to Engineering, they meet Chiang Ho and Vana, and discuss the psionic shield concept. Vana wonders if, with enough power, they could broadcast -- for example, beam it at a cockroach ship to prevent them coordinating their attacks... assuming, as Chiang Ho points out, that their mental processes are even on the same plane.

Mich says that the hive mentality when cockroaches attacked indicates psionics; Jack and Jill have been studying them for many years...?

Vana in particular wonders if this explains why they always escaped from cockroach ships; or even if the reason they were jumped by that large ship right after coming out of jump was that Jack and Jill told them they were coming. Avon thinks this is ridiculous.

Now down in Engineering, Fostriades starts on the netting. It will take him about 6 hours to build each one, what with the fiddly connections and such in the grid. Mich can help by building the framework to support it, but Fostriades does the electronics work himself. Fostriades also puts together some test equipment and procedures.

The resulting net is quite fragile. Mich suggests embedding the wires in mylar or something, but that would take substantially longer to build.

They discuss who to give it to -- Sir Bridgehead is their first choice, but he would probably want to sleep under a two-person version. They finally decide to present it to Varda -- now when she sleeps another of the marines can take over; that way they can run shifts and always have a "safe" active marine.

It is normally hard to please Varda. This is something she might actually appreciate, especially given the traditional attitude of the Scorpionis Navy to Scorpionis Marines. She really doesn't expect decent treatment from anyone on the crew of a ship.

Fostriades and Mich manage to complete a second net just before going to their stations in case the ship comes out of jump today.