(37) Thirty-Seven

002-1119 to 017-1119

002-1119 (cont.) : Corona / Corona / Yonder

Sir Bridgehead decides to transfer secondary medical responsibilities to Helen instead of Brock. He sets up a trace in case Brock tries to access to the medical systems and computer.

At 18:00, the Anastasia lurches out of jump into the Corona system. Corona used to be the capital of the Corona Foundation, and is now sort-of the capital of the TradeMain Foundation -- only "sort-of" because most of the parts of the TMF that were not in the Corona Foundation are now under military control.

They are picking up a lot of traffic in the system, but it seems mostly civilian -- pretty much what they would expect in a major backwater system.

The Anastasia has come out of jump near P5, which is a large gas giant. It is conveniently close to the mainworld -- about 5au. There are a number of other ships refueling at the gas giant, but no apparent regulating authority. The trip to P5 will take 12 hours.

They discuss their route from here. The Admiral suggests their next jump should be Purr, Csarfar, or Garstez -- or they could go straight to Karakus using the fuel bladders. The engineers insist that would be unwise, and want to jump only to star systems -- Mich suggests waiting until they actually arrive and make a decision based on trade or mail possibilities.

This system is where they are to pick up the rest of Vana's marines. Sir Bridgehead is not at all in favor of this, but is prepared to accept it.

Fostriades points out that they are starting to get into serious counter-currents inside the Imperium -- these marines aren't from the Imperium, and their basic loyalty is to their leader and their ship, i.e. the Anastasia.

Sir Bridgehead makes it quite clear that this is exactly his objection -- they aren't Imperial Marines. He is rather concerned about increasing the number of non-Imperials on the ship. He wants as little contact as possible with the outside world, not for their own protection as such, but rather for the protection of the outside world -- the Anastasia should be essentially a quarantine ship. He also feels that the minimum people should go ashore to pick up the marines -- Vana and Varda, perhaps. He has a lot of confidence in Vana and Varda's fortitude, and doesn't think they will be easily influenced. Having said that, though, he is not even convinced that the Imperial psionic shields will be effective.

Mich has prepared a message to send to Professor Farol at Brod. It includes the data from the Sir Walter Raleigh, the changes they made to the control system, a replay of the Sir Walter Raleigh's last moments from the engineering feed, and the specs of Mich's personal project (not complete yet, but he'll have more work done at the next stop). It will be secured by questions about the Anastasia's jump drive which only he should be able to answer, and will also verify to him the source of the message. He will try to send it from this system -- he was planning to send it from Karakus while waiting for the repairs, but events in the last jump have convinced him that he needs to get it off the ship and on its way as soon as possible. He will also include their ETA at Karakus and expected duration of stay (020-1119 to 050-1119).

003-1119 : Corona / Corona / Yonder

At 06:00, refueling starts; it is complete by 12:00 and they head straight for orbit around Corona itself, which is in orbit P4. Despite traveling at the full 4g, it will take about three days to get there -- a little less, with Chiang Ho's skills.

The Captain is very concerned that there may be other people involved in whatever Jack and Jill are involved in, and it is important that they not be allowed to make contact. He does, however, think that the current arrangements are reasonably secure. He also intends to call another company meeting shortly, perhaps during the next jump.

This agrees with Sir Bridgehead's ideas, except that there are some members of the company in which he does not have much confidence.

A rehash of the old "loyalties" question ensues.

005-1119 : Corona / Corona / Yonder

Vana calls ahead to Corona so that her marines will be ready when they arrive. The crew do want to land, as they need to replenish air, so Vana arranges to pick up her troops at the military section of the starport, which is where the Anastasia will be expected to land.

006-1119 : Corona / Corona / Yonder

At 01:00, the Anastasia arrives in orbit around Corona. It is a regular civilian starport, operating in a regular civilian fashion -- not something they've seen for quite some time. They decide not to pick up any trade goods -- they want to spend as little time as possible here. Alice says she could find them some (legal) goods that would yield a pretty good return, but they are not interested.

The Anastasia lands at 02:00, which is 11:00am local time. The local day is 30.8 hours, the gravity is 0.65, and average temperature is 2C. The air is thin and breathable, but a filter mask or small respirator would be required for exposure longer than a few hours.

They would start atmosphere replenishment, but don't want to spend the three days it would take. They take a reluctant decision to pay for life support supplies. Fostriades arranges it; it will take until 22:00 to complete loading.

Alice again suggests picking up some light trade goods, but her offer is again declined.

The marines are ready to go and waiting by the landing bay ... the transfer notice arrived here on 001-1119. They come on board smartly.

Mich checks the jump drive while it's shut down. It looks fine -- the lurch coming out of the last jump was normal for a drive in this condition.

At 22:00, the Anastasia is ready to take off, which they do at full speed. They reach orbit at 22:15, and proceed out to 10d by 23:00. They set a course for a jump point, and head out from the system to 100d. Along the way they encounter a few merchant-type ships, but no-one hails them.

Along the way they plan their next destination. Garstez is their first choice -- what does Alice know about it? It's a system that has no real settlements, and they should be able to pass through with minimum bother.

007-1119 : Corona / Corona / Yonder

At 01:30 the Anastasia jumps for Garstez -- it is a perfect transition this time. They would have been here quicker, but Chiang Ho made a slight mistake in their course which cost them about 15 minutes. Alice pays her passage for this jump at the agreed rate.

They are now in jump, and so the company meeting is scheduled for 13:30. It is thought that they should discuss the whole Jack and Jill situation because of the new things that have come up.

Several psionic mosquito nets have been built: a 2-man version for Sir Bridgehead, and regular ones for everyone else who has a helmet. Fostriades discovered that Sir Bridgehead's is really the maximum feasible size, and to try to scale it up much more than that would present problems -- even that one was difficult.

William Avon has noted that they have strong reasons to believe that Jill, at least, knows psionics. They know about Jack from the letter and Jack Jr., but they know nothing about Jill except what she's told them and what little Jack has told them since he met them. It's possible that Jill is a Zhodani agent or something that influenced Jack.

Sir Bridgehead wants to know what evidence they have that this is in fact really Jack.

There is a lot of circumstantial evidence. The remains of the GCarrier they found were from the Aldrin, Jack's ship, for example. It seems unlikely that he would be anybody but Jack. There was a hidden message in the computer that said the craft was from the Aldrin, and said where the Aldrin was going to jump next. That message was almost certainly put in there by an Imperial computer expert.

Sir Bridgehead points out that someone could have set this up.

Fostriades says that all this was 30 years ago.

Sir Bridgehead says that the cockroaches don't act on the same timescales as they do. He agrees that it is a small possibility that Jack is an impostor, but there does remain some doubt. He does not question that the GCarrier was genuine, but someone could have been substituted after Jack's death, for example.

Under truth drug they did say they were "Jack" and "Jill" and they were prodded for further information -- they did not use last names. (Do Zhodani have last names? Yes, says Helen.)

"Let us assume for the moment, then" says Sir Bridgehead, "That Jack is Jack Sr. It appears that he and his daughter may be working at cross-purposes."

William suggests that maybe they weren't working at cross-purposes 30 years ago, then Jack was turned from the IFSS.

Fostriades admits he does find Jill suspicious.

The Captain suggests that they find Jack Jr. again and, without revealing that they have Jack and Jill on the ship, get her to describe her mother and what her mother's name is. This will give them some confirmation as to whether Jill is who she says she is. Jill has talked about her daughter, but of course could have heard about her from Jack.

Sir Bridgehead says that they should confirm that this Jack (Sr.) is the real one, too, just in case.

There is a brief discussion on their route from Karakus to the Imperium. Mich wants to go via Brod, but most of the others favor going via Lirian, which nets them another 25kCr in passenger fees and also cuts a jump out of the journey -- 5 instead of 6.

The Captain also wants to make sure that the engineers and doctors are doing everything they can to tell whether psionics are in use and whether anyone has been influenced.

Sir Bridgehead thinks he has equipment to detect psionic activity. All he needs are some test subjects... He will try examining Rufus to see if he has been influenced, but of course he has no real baseline.

William is more interested in finding out whether Jack has been influenced.

The Captain also wants to know whether psionic influence continues after the death of the influencer, but they can't find any information on that. It would be easy to test, of course...

Sir Bridgehead examines Rufus, himself, Avon, Fostriades, Lia, and Mich. There is a lot of data -- it will take quite some time to analyze it. He enlists Linda's help with that task.

He also gets Fostriades to help him set up instruments to measure brain activity in the ship to detect psionics.

012-1119 : Jump Space (Corona to Garstez)

The results are in on the examinations -- Linda and Sir Bridgehead believe there are significant differences in Rufus's trace. Even though the doctor now knows what to look for, future tests will still take a long time to analyze.

Linda runs a cross-check of these differences to see if they suggest any type of psionic activity, but there is not enough data to be able to determine this.

Fostriades and Sir Bridgehead have now finished setting up their detection stuff to cover the entire ship, and it reveals nothing unusual. The psionic-helmeted people do not show up on the equipment. An alarm will be triggered for Sir Bridgehead and the Captain if anything is picked up -- it is set up to err on the side of false positives.

014-1119 : Garstez / Corona / Yonder

At 01:30, the Anastasia comes out of jump at Garstez. There are three gas giants and an asteroid belt; the mainworld is a satellite of the innermost gas giant.

Although the transition was smooth, they will need to repair a power conduit to the jump grid in the hull. Mich starts work on it immediately, and the task is completed in just an hour.

They had aimed to come out near the P2 gas giant, as far from the mainworld as possible. Unfortunately, the ship has emerged 2 days further out than they wanted, which is therefore 2 days 7 hours from their intended destination.

The obvious scapegoat is the jump drive, although a navigational error or incorrect system information could have been the culprit. Mich grumbles and spends the next two days checking the drives.

016-1119 : Garstez / Corona / Yonder

At 08:30 the Anastasia enters orbit at the P2 gas giant. Chiang Ho updates their navigational information on the state of the system -- it was definitely slightly inaccurate. At 09:00 he takes the Anastasia into the atmosphere to start refueling operations.

There is very little in this system. There is a beacon on the mainworld indicating the starport. There is a little traffic -- the scan reveals two ships; one is leaving the mainworld, apparently to jump out, while the other is heading for one of the other gas giants, having apparently recently arrived. The latter is traveling at 5g -- a very fast ship clearly in a hurry.

This piques their curiosity -- they try to get some further information on that ship, but it is a long way away. It is not a very large ship, perhaps 1000-2000 tons, perhaps less.

Mich suggests that it might be a mail run, perhaps.

The ship is not running a transponder.

They complete refueling at 14:00, and head immediately to jump. They reach position at 21:00, but will have to wait until 09:00 tomorrow for the fuel to be refined.

017-1119 : Garstez / Corona / Yonder

It is now 05:00. As they wait, they notice that the fast ship has finished refueling and heads out to jump, again at 5g.

There is something about that ship that bothers the Captain, not just that it has no transponder. He isn't quite sure what it is that's odd, it's just something he can't put his finger on.

Sir Bridgehead wants to hail it -- Fostriades wants to leave it alone and jump.

The Captain doesn't want to hail it, as it clearly doesn't want to be hailed. It is not their mission to clean up all the pirates in the area -- they have enough more serious problems. Can Helen shed any light on this? Anyone else?

Sir Bridgehead and Helen come up to the bridge to see if they can help.

Would Imperial battle fleets be running a transponder, wonders Brock. What about Imperial spies?

William Avon, as the ship's Forward Observer, fiddles with the sensors to see if he can get any more detail. He manages to pull up a rather fuzzy enhanced picture of the ship.

It is a needle-configuration ship, perhaps around 2000 tons. The Captain and Helen recognize it immediately.

It's a Zhodani courier.