(40) Forty


017-1119 (cont.) : Garstez / Corona / Yonder

The Captain calls Mich and Fostriades to the Bridge. Sir Bridgehead has found that there has been no sign that the Zhodani ship has noticed the crisis. He then respectfully requests the Captain that court-martial proceedings be brought against Vana -- she has interfered with the duties of an officer. He then hands a printout to the Captain, telling him it contains information he should know. This is a write-up of his rabbit experiments, summarizing the cloning and memory transfer research.

Mich arrives first.

"Was there any particular reason why you blew her up just then?" the Captain asks him.

"Minimize the damage to the rest of the ship."

"OK. Any other reason?"

"No," replies Mich. "That was the last chance."

The Captain turns to Sir Bridgehead. "As for the court-martial, we will begin an investigation of the actual occurrences and based upon the preliminary findings we'll either recommend for or against some kind of action."

"You are referring to Vana's court martial?" asks the Admiral. "What about Mich's?"

"Vana's court-martial will require some investigation; it will take some time before I have enough information to reach a finding."

Fostriades walks in.

The Captain continues, "Mich, you're court-martialled, you're guilty, you're pardoned, OK?"

Fostriades and Sir Bridgehead are shocked. "What?" they exclaim in unison.

The Captain repeats his decision. "I don't care to discuss it much further, unless someone has something they want to..."

Fostriades walks out.

Sir Bridgehead says, "I'm very disgusted about that decision, Captain. Do people just have the right to murder any crew member they choose to and get away with it? What's the policy here?"

"All right, guys, we'll go through the full kangaroo thing. Look. Mich murdered her, right? No doubt about it. He killed her."

"Under orders, yes," says Mich.

"Orders? Whose orders?"

"Captain's orders."

"When did I order you to kill her?"

"You ordered for the suit to be built to take her out."


Sir Bridgehead interrupts, "But that wasn't a license to murder!"

"I was ordered to take her out," says Mich.

"He misunderstood," says the Captain, "He's pardoned."

This does not satisfy Sir Bridgehead.

The Captain obviously considers the matter closed. "I need to speak to you, Admiral, now." The two of them leave to discuss something privately.

The Captain asks Sir Bridgehead, "Is the nature of the telepathic technique practiced by the Zhodani physical or a learned skill."

Sir Bridgehead's opinion is that there must be a physical aptitude that requires training to use.

"Do you have any reason to suspect that it would be possible to impose the brainwaves of one rabbit on the clone of a different one?"

"I have not attempted it. I do not know whether it would work or not. You can do it, but what you would get I am not sure." He explains that he doesn't know how the brainwaves would interact with the brain structure, because the structure does affect the waves.

"Given this information," decides the Captain, "I believe that we will conclude that you have ascertained that with the aid of our advanced medical technology that it is actually possible to restore Jill to her state of health despite the tremendous trauma involved. However, she is perfectly safe at the moment and it's questionable as to the wisdom of restoring her immediately, and therefore we are going to wait. Since it is completely possible for you to restore Jill to her state of health, I see that no murder has occurred, since she is obviously not yet dead since it is completely possible for you to cure her."

"A few points, Captain. Point number one -- because it takes a long period of time to regrow a body, we're talking months here..."

"Yes, you have permission to start on that immediately. You do not have permission to attempt the actual transfer."

"I'd also like to request the Computer Officer's help to compare the brain scan of Jill to those of the other crew members to try to detect differences. Those are the two tasks that I see in the near future."

"Excellent. That sounds like a very good plan."

"The other thing that I don't know is just exactly how the psionics would affect the brain transfer. If you transfer the brain, does the new specimen have psionics if the old one did before? Of course, there's no way to determine that using rabbits... Would you be interested in me doing the experiment where I transfer the brainwaves of one rabbit onto the clone of another rabbit?"

"Yes. It would give us more options in the event that the Zhodani's psionics is shown to be a physical capability."

"But you can understand why I was upset about Vana and the situation in Sick Bay."

"Absolutely. I believe that was an over-reaction on the part of our marines, however I believe we should also understand that our marines are unfamiliar with highly advanced equipment and regard it with a certain amount of fear and suspicion and that this probably accounts for their behavior, and I will talk to their commander about being more reasonable."

"Thank you, Captain."

The Captain and Sir Bridgehead return to the Bridge.

"We do have news," announces Sir Bridgehead. "At some future point in time Jill may be restored to health. We don't know how long that might be, it could be on the order of months."

There is a ripple of astonishment from the crew.

Mich says, "There's no reason to court-martial me."

"Oh, you're still guilty of a rather severe form of assault," says William.

Sir Bridgehead agrees it's just attempted murder.

The Captain strongly suggests to Mich that he start Liaison training, to improve his interpersonal and order-interpreting skills. He also expresses the hope that there will not be a recurrence of this kind of incident.

The Captain then asks Vana about the actual orders that were given to Mich. Well, Vana told Varda, and Varda told another marine, who told Mich. Vana's instructions to Varda are clear, but there is no record of Varda's orders to the marine, nor of that marine's words to Mich (who, of course, was unaware of how many layers the order had passed down).

Sir Bridgehead insists to the Captain that if Jill is restored to health, Mich is not to attempt a similar action.

The Captain suggests Vana and Varda improve their Liaison skill, too. He issues a general order: "Henceforth all summary executions are to be cleared with the Captain, by order of the Captain."

Since (as he puts it) Fostriades has told the Zhodani everything, William feels he is under no compunction to keep Alice in the dark about anything. He returns to his room and monitors things from there.

Sir Bridgehead suggests they should drop the idea of the party and just get out of there. He is over-ruled.

The Captain tells him he will have to remain on the Anastasia: "Jill is severely indisposed and requires your attention."

Sir Bridgehead had no intention of going to the party anyway -- he doesn't engage in suicide missions.

The Captain clarifies to Vana that Sir Bridgehead and Brock are allowed into the Sick Bay, and can use the equipment there. Monitors will be set up outside Sick Bay to detect any psionic activity.

Sir Bridgehead returns to Sick Bay to start work on Jill. When he arrives, he finds a message from Helen asking him to meet her on the pinnace. He then goes back to the pinnace, where he has a private conversation with Helen.
"I think it's time I told you something," says Helen. "The Zhodani might know me, but not by this name. Before I met you I did a few things up on the borders that they were not very pleased about, so if I express a desire not to do something like go on their ship... but I will be flying the pinnace over -- I am Flight Officer, and that's my job."

Sir Bridgehead thinks it is dangerous for her to keep meeting the Zhodani, but she points out that she was in battledress last time, and they didn't recognize her. Sir Bridgehead asks if she was acting in the capacity of the Imperium.

"Not as far as the Zhodani were concerned, no. As to what capacity I was actually acting in at the time, you don't need to know that."

Sir Bridgehead asks her opinion about what Jill said about the Zhodani.

Helen thinks that Jill was awfully paranoid, and that the Zhodani are probably being straightforward. "They could wipe out this ship if they really wanted to."

That's what concerns Sir Bridgehead; if they're sending over the pinnace, and they suddenly decide to get mean, there is no way to get the pinnace back.
If they were going to get mean, they would have got mean already."

"I think we could jump out before they damaged us."

"I wouldn't bet on it."

"You have a lot of respect for their strength," observes Sir Bridgehead.

"Yes, I do. I lost a ship to them. Which, by a long story, is how I ended up at a prospectors' bar on Zaibon."

"Why haven't you told the Captain this?"

"The Captain has guessed a lot of it. I've talked to Fostriades."

"I know it's generally accepted that you were a spy of some type, but nobody seems to know where your allegiance lies."

"Fostriades called it 'privateer.' That's reasonably accurate."

"So you and Fostriades..."

"We had a talk at one point. You might want to scan him on your machine and see if he's psionic," Helen suggests with a smile. "He makes some awfully good guesses."

They discuss the Zhodani for a while. Helen expresses a reservation about going to Karakus -- if they are stopped by a Zhodani ship that sends across boarding officers, they might recognize her which would mean big trouble for her and the ship.

"Do you think that Jill's intentions were honorable, she's just paranoid?" asks Sir Bridgehead.

"I don't know," replies Helen. "She was very good and I didn't trust her. I don't know what her motives were or anything. She seemed dangerous -- a dangerous paranoid megalomaniac." Helen does think, however, that they had the situation under control and it would be all right if Jill made a reappearance.

Sir Bridgehead points out that even if Jill did return, it would be at least two or three months. They would be back in Imperial space by then.

"By the way," says Helen, "My real name is Christabel, as Fostriades called me at that party. That's why we had our talk. That's not the name the Zhodani know me by."

Sir Bridgehead returns to the Sick Bay.

Kara has reported to Vana that Sir Bridgehead had a private conversation with Helen on the pinnace. Vana would like a video log of that, but none of the marines have a sufficient computer skill. She also wants to read what Sir Bridgehead handed to the Captain... Varda will start training intensively in computer skills soon. Vana talks to the Captain privately. She tells him about the tryst between Sir Bridgehead and Helen. What particularly attracted Kara's attention was the way the Admiral was sneaking around.

The Captain visits Helen on the pinnace. "Hi! I just want to know if there are any new explosive devices, or poison gas canisters, or...?"

"No. I've checked the pinnace very thoroughly and it's clean."

"I understand the Doctor's been down here? What's up?"

"Nothing really. We just had a little chat."

"I see. So everything's all right?"


"OK." The Captain leaves again.

Mich checks the jump drives, which remain warmed up ready to go. He finds an item that can improve reliability, but he would have to shut down the drives to do it. The next jump would be safe enough, but he like to have a chance to make the change before too long.

The crew discuss plans in case the Anastasia needs to jump. Sir Bridgehead thinks it would be a very bad idea to go to Karakus -- for one thing, Jill suggested that it may be in Zhodani hands, and if they couldn't jump out, they may be in trouble. They argue for a while, but the controls remain set for Karakus.

William suggests that since Jill's brain is on the computer, they can find out everything she knows. Sir Bridgehead does not seem to think it's that simple -- he explains that although they will be analyzing the brain scan, he's not sure what they can learn from it.

Attending the tea party (as the Captain calls it) are the Captain, Fostriades (with Achilles), Vana, Lia, two other marines (selected for zero-G and hand-to-hand skills), William, Alice, and a keg of bean juice. Helen will fly the pinnace.

Fostriades was on the Aux Bridge, monitoring the power supply to Sick Bay, but the Captain requested he attend the party -- Linda will take over the monitoring while he is away. The emergency backup system in Sick Bay will, however, be able to run all the equipment for 6 hours, which the Captain feels is long enough that Fostriades can leave the ship. The Captain explicitly orders Mich not to tamper with the Sick Bay power supplies, and tells him that if that supply fails, it will be taken as Mich failing in his duties.

The marines are in full formal dress uniform with ceremonial saber and ceremonial 9mm magnum revolver. Vana instructs them that they will probably be expected to relinquish them at the door. Lia and Vana, plus the two more marines will make a full guard of four.

Fostriades wears a dress Tukera uniform over reflec. while William and Alice are dressed up for a night on the town.

The Zhodani did request that they not wear battledress or bring weapons. The entire group will, however, be wired for sound.

Helen flies the pinnace over to the Ste'saja, parks it beside the airlock, and connects the transfer tube.

Everyone but Helen boards the Zhodani ship. Achilles is not completely comfortable but reasonably relaxed. Surprisingly, the marines are not asked to relinquish their weapons; their drill, however, is not exactly precise -- one salute was slightly slow. Vana will no doubt ensure they fix that over the next several days.

None of the Zhodani seem to be armed or armored.

The crew are welcomed on board and taken to the party room, obviously rearranged from its main purpose as a luxurious conference room. There is a buffet and bar.

The Captain hands over the data he had promised, and the bean juice is opened. The Zhodani wait until the Imperials start drinking it before they do. The marines do not drink at all.

Alice mentions to William that the Zhodani seem rather nervous and tense. William approaches one of them and asks if he likes the bean juice -- he finds it interesting. William explains that it's fermented and distilled from beans they found on Faldor: "It tastes pretty good, and it kind of gives the world an interesting... slant."

The Zhodani relaxes and takes a second glass.

William takes another glass too. The air has a distinct sweet fragrance, while the Zhodani all have a halo of fire. (Fostriades smells rose petals, and notices that each Zhodani has a disembodied light bulb above his head.) William and his new friend exchange introductions, and compare Zhodani and Imperial social structure. William, of course, prefers the more organized attitude of his home world to the duplicity and relative anarchy of other Imperial worlds. It seems the two of them share some common ground, although the Zhodani expresses his opinions in phrases that most of the Imperials would consider political rhetoric.

The Captain talks to the Zhodani who led the previous meeting, who asks if all is well on the Anastasia, as they were afraid that they had some sort of an accident.

"We had some misunderstanding relaying orders," explains the Captain, "And as a result we've had to engage in some rather intensive retraining. It's been interesting."

"Well, we did notice some -- presumably -- safety procedures."

"Our marines are very concerned with safety."

Fostriades sees this person's light bulb flickering a bit. After another drink, he can now see the tiny wires that connect the bulb to the head. The Zhodani looks a little confused, but that might just be the bubbles coming out of his ears -- they drift around among the rose petals dropping from the ceiling. The one talking to William has the brightest bulb.

Fostriades talks to the deputy Zhodani from the original meeting, who also says they thought there might have been an accident. Fostriades confirms that there were some incidents, but reassures him that nobody was seriously hurt.

"Actually," says the Captain, "We did have an injury and I believe the person involved considered it serious. Fortunately it was within the capabilities of our doctor."

They discuss shipboard accidents for a while. The Zhodani speculate that the Anastasia had a fire on board, and evacuated the air to put it out. Fostriades says it was related to a suit malfunction. The Captain explains that they had a cascade failure that inadvertently tripped their security systems.

William samples all the food and drink. It is unusual to his taste, although Fostriades appreciates it.

The Captain says, "We've been discussing the relative trade merits of Karakus versus Dorfle. We haven't been through this sector in a while and we were wondering...?"

"I would guess," says the Zhodani leader, "That Karakus is probably not trading at all at the moment." He adds that the Navy has pretty much taken control there, and confirms that Grand Admiral Winchester is there. Other than that, they don't really know much about this area.

"So," says Fostriades, "A civilian trade ship coming into the system would be subject to search and seizure by the military authorities?"

"Search, presumably, and would probably be escorted through without harm. The fleets aren't there to cause any trouble."

William resumes his intercultural discussion, soon to be joined by the rest of the crew. His friend explains that social problems are rare in his society, as the Thought Police do a fine job. The question of whether thinking about killing your mother-in-law is a positive social virtue amuses the crew, but they are not convinced that pre-emptive re-education should precede aberrant behavior. In return, the lack of trust and the punishment-oriented Imperial judicial system seems positively barbaric to the Zhodani. He explains that the Imperial hang-up about psionics being evil has really hampered the social structure of the Imperium. The Captain is of the opinion that if you don't have it, it might as well be evil, but William points out that the information on the ship's computer says that you can be trained in it. The Zhodani bemoans the Imperial tendency to use everything for personal gain, and he says if people who have abilities they could use for society instead of for themselves start to threaten the authority of those in charge, "You ban it, suppress it, execute people. Sounds barbaric to me."

"It was a lot more than just challenging the authority of those in charge," volunteers William, "We're not going to kill anybody. We have a new order on the ship. We're not allowed to kill anybody without the approval of the Captain."

The Zhodani thinks this is major step forward. His lightbulb is dazzling, thinks Fostriades.

The Captain says, "We should have brought one of the Black Things guys with us. Boy, would we have some people you would enjoy. They have these books -- you just look at them, and things happen."

"Yes, we have self-help books, too."

"No, there's like just a picture. And it makes things happen."

"Well, we have a good education system. Those who need the books can read."

"No, no," says William, "We can read too. These are some sort of weird mystical mumbo-jumbo. They have these strange ideas about how it's OK to hit people with a stick but it's not OK to cut people with a knife. I have to admit the logic escapes me. Is it possible with psionics to force someone to do something they don't want to do?"

When the Zhodani admits it's possible, the crew pump him to see if they can find anything about the Jill-Rufus incident, but the most they get out of him is that it is theoretically possible.

Fostriades talks to the leader again, pressing more bean juice on him. "So," he says, "You've ruined the trade prospects of a perfectly reasonably planet?"

"Oh, no," answers the leader. "That system was completely controlled by your expansionist spy service."

"They were perfectly pleasant people. Much more concerned about aliens coming through than expansionism."

"Just being there is expansionism. We are here on a joint exercise, with the permission of the systems we pass through."

"I don't recall the IFSS ever failing to get permission. They appear to be honest allies of most of the systems in the area."

"So how far did they spread their propaganda?"

The Captain responds, "The IFSS appears to take in more than it puts out."

"Imperials always take more than they give."

William says, "Why do you find it so odd that the Imperium would want to help people in the systems in their vicinity to find out whether there were possible threats? Considering where the cockroaches are going, it's close enough to be of interest to the Imperium."

The Captain adds, "Which is more of a nuisance, barbaric Imperials or cockroaches?"

"I would have to reserve judgment there," says the Zhodani.

"Believe me," says William, "Once you've encountered the cockroaches you won't have to reserve judgment any more. There's no discussing or anything with them. Hmmm... hive minds, they could fit in quite well with the Zhodani. If you could possibly break the barrier and get through and communicate... Maybe you could act as intermediaries."

"So you're suggesting that we should get them as allies?"

"I doubt it's possible," says William, "but there are aspects of the Zhodani culture that are more similar to what we think the cockroach culture might be like than to our own."

Fostriades objects, "We have no idea what the cockroach culture is like. None whatever. All we know about them is they can make starmaps."

"All we really know about them is that they can work in concert in large groups stunningly effectively."

"Basically they swarm," says Fostriades, "If you think that the IFSS is an agent of Imperial domination and spreading..."

The Zhodani says, "We've noticed that most primitive races tend to be expansionist."

"Until you meet the cockroaches," insists Fostriades, "The meaning of the word expansionist has not fully entered your vocabulary."

"Anyway," says William, "It's a fascinating idea but I don't know how you'd begin to set up to communicate. As soon as they encounter a ship -- they're rather slow about this -- and recognize that it isn't one of their own, they shoot it. They don't open a communications channel or anything."

The Zhodani admits this is perhaps a little more barbaric than the Imperium.

"Unless you could possibly use psionics to communicate across large amounts of space, I don't know how you could possibly establish communications."

Fostriades adds, "It isn't at all clear that they have any desire to establish communications."

Achilles is not very fond of the leader, although the one who was discussing social systems with William is OK. This leader was the one who insinuated they were pirates at their last meeting, which of course did not endear him to Fostriades.

"So what are your plans?" the leader asks.

"To get the ship fixed," answers William.

Fostriades says, "It sounds like your encouragement of Karakus to re-examine its options has probably rendered most of the important support staff unable to, shall we say, perform the object of support staff?"

"I'm sure the facilities are still there," replies the Zhodani. "Where else would you go out here, by the way, other than Karakus?"

"In the absence of the proper facilities we would have to use whatever we can find. Nowhere in particular."

"So where do you make your major runs out here?"

"Where it feels right. We've mostly been engaged on contract information gathering."

"So, is there much merchant shipping out this way?"

"We haven't really encountered very much, no."

The Captain picks up the conversation. "Not much in the way of competition. It's a pretty good run. A few pirates, not many. A few cockroaches. If the damage to the ship wasn't so heavy, I'd probably say this run was an unqualified success."

The Zhodani agrees that they apparently have been rather heavily damaged.

"Some of those roach ships pack in the armaments, and they're very tenacious. Funny thing is, they don't seem to be after anything in particular."

"So what are you after in particular, when you attack other ships?"

"We don't attack, just usually defend. It's not our habit to start things -- it's not good business." Fostriades agrees. The Captain continues, "Do you know how much a single weapons exchange costs us?"

"Well," the Zhodani observes, "That depends whether you can replenish from the stocks of the ships you capture."

Fostriades smells a piracy accusation: "We don't capture ships. A single volley would essentially wipe out our profit margin for a sequence of runs... but it's extremely bad business practice to get killed."

"You aren't actually in a position to launch much of a volley as it stands."

"How perceptive of you." Of course it is -- his lightbulb is getting stronger and those bubbles from his ears are streaming out rapidly, sometimes even from his nose, too.

The Captain interrupts Fostriades' sarcasm. "Although our engineer at times is truly amazing. He can rig up all sorts of things."

William says "Yes, he can cause explosions where you had no idea it was possible."

The Zhodani is interested. "So he has some secret weapon that can cause explosions?"

The Captain has a disturbed "Are you reading my mind?" look.

Fostriades is getting irritated. "You don't actually have any engineers on your ship?"

"Of course we do," replies the Zhodani.

"Then you're asking a damned stupid question! He's an engineer. He can make things blow up. It's his job!"

"I'm sure our engineers could make our ship blow up, yes. However, in terms of disabling another ship to steal its cargo, I don't think that's something our engineers could do."

There is an outcry among the crew of the Anastasia.

William's voice rises over the babble. "How do you steal the cargo if you blow up the ship?" he asks.

"You just blow up engineering."

"That's a Zhodani technique, is it?"

The Zhodani denies it -- after all, they don't have pirates.

Vana suggests to the Captain that this is not an appropriate subject of conversation right now.

The Zhodani still seems obsessed with something. "You call yourselves the Anastasia?"

"We ARE the Anastasia," insists Fostriades. He explains to the Captain and William that this Zhodani is insinuating again. William points out that his friend has said us that if they want to say something they will come right out and say it, because Zhodani honor would require it, so he's sure they're not insinuating anything they're not saying.

Fostriades announces, "I can say openly and without fear of contradiction that I am not a pirate."

The Zhodani says he isn't, either.

William says, "Perhaps more meaningful to you, I can say I am not a pirate." Unlike Fostriades, Avon is not wearing a psi helmet.

"I believe it," the Zhodani says. "What about this lady here?" He indicates Alice.

The Captain and William explain she's a passenger, and the Captain says it's not polite to question passengers. The Zhodani apologizes.

The Captain says, "Passengers don't get any choice where the ship goes, what it does. She may be a pirate on her off-hours, but not on our ship."

The Zhodani says, "As you say, not much competition."

William adds, "And during the time I've served on this ship we have not engaged in any piracy, and I've been on the ship ever since we found it."

"Where did you find the ship?"

Fostriades answers that it was on Spirelle.

"Ah, yes, you mentioned that last time." He starts looking around the room with an odd expression. His bubbles are slower but larger, and drift around the room in interesting spirals. "So you found this ship and registered it as the Anastasia? Did you find any records on it with it's previous name?"

"We have records. I really don't remember the name, it was thoroughly unmemorable -- that's why we renamed it. Why do you ask?"

"It wouldn't have been the Berlin, would it?"

"It was not the Berlin."

"It was our first thought that your ship might be the Berlin."

The crew think this is interesting. Tell us more, they say. ("Ghost story," mutters Vana.)

The Zhodani needs little encouragement: "The ship vanished. It performed many acts of piracy in the Querion and Cronor areas, close to the border with the Imperium. It disappeared at about the right time for it to spring up again when you found it."

Fostriades and William point out that the Anastasia had been dead for 30 years, or if it hadn't, someone had very carefully and skillfully erased all the records.

"That would not surprise me," says the Zhodani.

Fostriades says they found a lot of records with the ship that would have had to be fabricated. William suggests those might really be the original records -- someone might have found the ship, used it, then returned it. There was also physical evidence -- the way the ship lay on the land, the body they found... particularly since Spirelle is nowhere near the border.

William radios back to Brock to look up the records and see what the ship really was -- he says it was the Kinunir.

"Just a minute," says the Captain, "Let me check with our historical expert." He calls up Helen. "Helen, have you ever heard of a ship called the Berlin?"

Fostriades calls, "Christabel, darling!"

Helen answers the Captain, "I might have heard of it, yes."

"Pirate ship?" asks the Captain.

"I believe it's been called that."

Fostriades mutters, "Imperial pirate ship, eh?"

"What time frame?" asks the Captain. "Any idea where it went to?"

"Oh, I think it vanished," says Helen.

"Did it look anything like ours?"

Fostriades says, "Nothing looks like ours."

William wonders, "Has Helen been at any of the meetings where the Zhodani could see her?" She has, but she's always had a helmet on, in battledress.

The Captain addresses the Zhodani again. "Our expert in such matters tells us that the Berlin did exist but did not have the appearance of our ship."

"We know it existed."

"We actually have a few members of our crew who were at one time active in fighting pirates. This fellow here did a lot of it."

William ("this fellow") says, "Far from here. The Berlin was not one of the ships we had to deal with."

"It wouldn't be," says the Zhodani, "I gather it raided only Zhodani systems."

"Our ship was the Kinunir," Fostriades insists, "And as far as I know it went off course and crashed on its maiden voyage."

The Zhodani stares around in a rather preoccupied manner. William tells him that bean juice does that, and that he can see flames coming out of his head. An interesting effect, William observes.

The Captain says, "So you Zhodani seem to be quite worried about pirate ships."

Fostriades says, "It's curious that one ship would cause such alarm."

"Why are you so worried about this Berlin thing?" asks William. "Why would it cause so much interest if we had been on the Berlin? Did the Berlin do something in particular? Most pirate ships are... annoying. They don't usually draw that much attention of major authorities."

Fostriades points out that if one is a merchant, pirates are rather more than annoying, especially if one's merchant ship is unarmed.

The Zhodani explains, "The Berlin was quite remarkable. The captain was absolutely ruthless."

Really? In what manner?

"The ship took on several squadrons of our navy ships and escaped every time."

The Captain is incredulous.

"Yes, they would jump in..."

"How romantic!" says Fostriades, "I had no idea the Zhodani went in for this form of literature."

"Oh, but it's well documented."

The Captain prompts the Zhodani further. "So they would jump in, then what would happen?"

"They'd pick some target like a passenger liner, steal the cargo and blow up the ship, and when the Navy turned up they'd fight for a while and vanish."

The Captain says, "There were beautiful women involved in it somewhere, right?"

"Bound to have been," says Fostriades. "There always are in pirate stories."

"The Captain was a woman," the Zhodani confirms, "But I don't know of any pictures of her."

"One of these people who believes that cameras steal your soul, then," Fostriades observes. "The gentleman is obviously engaging in sociological speculation."

The Captain wants to hear more. "Was there anything distinguishing about her?" he asks, "Certainly the stories said she had something like flaming red hair, or..."

"She showed no mercy. She blew things up. She always escaped."

"How boring!" Fostriades says. "We could have come up with a better story than that."

William exclaims in frustration, "What are you guys talking about? Come up with a better story? He's talking about a pirate that was raiding their system! What's this flaming red hair stuff?"

The Captain ignores him. "Disappeared with no trace?"

The Zhodani says, "Oh, there was some debris from a clearly faked explosion, last time we heard of the ship."

William suggests that maybe it really blew up.

The Zhodani says, "No, it wouldn't have blown up."

No pirate is impervious, says William.

Fostriades says loudly, "If we're going to descend to the level of the trash vids at least we can get the language right. Pirate ships indeed! That sort."

"Anyway," reiterates William, "Sooner or later they all screw up."

"I think we scared them off," says the Zhodani, "That's why it was so interesting -- they were always out doing strange things and always turned up where you least expected them."

"Sort of like us," says William.

"Exactly!" exclaims the Zhodani, delighted that he has finally got his point across to this bunch of drunken Imperials.

The Captain says, "Now just suppose we had been the Berlin. What would they have done on entering this system if it saw you? What would you have expected of it?"

"Well, it's a long way out. They might well have done exactly what you did."

"In an effort to lure you towards them, of course," William says.

"It just seems so odd to see a ship of about this size showing obvious battle damage but clearly very functional. Our apologies if your ship is indeed not the Berlin, but the coincidences are very interesting."

The Captain asks, "If we should meet Zhodani in the future, what would you recommend as a way of identifying ourselves early on as not the Berlin? We don't want to get shot out of the sky."

William suggests they could paint on the outside of the ship in large letters "WE ARE NOT THE BERLIN."

The Captain is ready to wind down the conversation and leave. He asks, "If we were more interested in learning your advanced culture, and what you have to offer to civilized worlds, what would you recommend?"

The Zhodani suggests a visit -- they could contact the tourist authority at the embassy on Regina, for example.

"Would it be polite to conduct trade while visiting?"

"Trade permits can be arranged."

They discuss the bean juice: the beans are from Faldor, but the juice is an Anastasia original, available only through T.W.I.T.S. The Zhodani would like to trade for the recipe, but that is not for sale. The concept of trading the juice itself, on the other hand, is certainly acceptable.

They exchange good-byes, and the Imperials return to their pinnace.

Back on the boat, the Captain asks Helen about the Berlin. "The Berlin? Absolutely ruthless? Dreaded female captain never caught?"

"Excuse me, I have to disconnect this airlock." Helen spacewalks and unhooks the tube.

When she comes back in, William says, "So I can see why you didn't want to get off the ship. But since they didn't have any photographs I don't suppose it's relevant."

"Passenger liners?" says the Captain.

"Passenger liners?" exclaims Fostriades, "Passenger liners are lousy targets, even I know that!"

The Captain says they were thinking maybe of taking a vacation on Zhodane. Would Helen come with them?

"That depends what sort of vacation you had in mind."

"Fact-finding," says Fostriades. "Information. Trade. Diplomacy. An exchange of cultures."

William suggests, "Perhaps a tour of some of the Zhodani..."

"...prison camps," interrupts Fostriades.

"...medical facilities," finishes William.

The Captain says, "I understand they don't have such a thing as jails."

Helen wants to know why the sudden interest.

The Captain explains, "It was suggested to us that our approach -- and you taught us a lot, Helen, about maneuvering and handling a starship -- bore a great resemblance to a certain ship known as the Berlin."

Fostriades adds, "They had some very complimentary things to say about the Berlin."

"Apparently quite a legend in Zhodani circles," says the Captain.

"So I gather," says Helen.

Fostriades goes on, "Quite literary, almost. Lurid, one might say."


"And its brave captain," adds the Captain.

"A female captain," says William.

"Ruthless, utterly ruthless," says Fostriades. "Didn't know your name was Nancy?"

"Sorry, my name isn't Nancy," says Helen, "I have never used Nancy."

William says, "Well, I know you've used a bunch."

Fostriades is disappointed. "A pity, it suits you so."

William asks, "So how was Nancy, anyway? As an employer."

"What?" says Helen, "Who is this Nancy?"

"The Captain of the Berlin," explains Fostriades, "They kept muttering how she was ruthless, you see. I just sort of assumed it was Nancy."

"That's not the right name?" ask the Captain. "For the captain of the Berlin."

"How would I know," Helen says.

William grills her further: "You already said that you knew about the Berlin. So what was the captain's name?"

"That would be Robin Sherwood."

"We've met her, yes," says Fostriades.

"Excuse me?"

"You traced her down quite accurately, as I recall it."

The Captain mumbles, "Is that, uh...?"

"That's one of the names," says Fostriades. He seems to know what they are talking about.

The Captain says to Helen, "I don't suppose you'll want to be meeting any Zhodani any time soon."

"I would prefer not to."

"Well, they have immense respect for Miss Sherwood. However, I expect the re-education program would be very..."

"On the other hand, were we to want them to jump out of system very suddenly, telling them that we were after all the Berlin might achieve the effect."

"Not at this point," says William. "They are entirely too familiar with what weapons we have, and they know that even if we are the Berlin, we couldn't really fight like that any more anyway."

Fostriades says, "We could, however, run like the Berlin."

"Their description of what the Berlin did is strikingly similar to our tactics in cockroach territory," says William. "So what did happen to the Berlin?" he asks Helen.

"There's no real records of that."

"I didn't ask about records, I asked what happened to the Berlin."

"Who knows?"

"I'm guessing you might."

Fostriades says, "We know she does. Robin Sherwood is one of the things the Captain dredged out in the initial search, including a picture."

"So," says the Captain, "would Robin Sherwood be able to take out the Zhodani ship with the armament we have?"

"Yes," says Helen with confidence.

"How nice," says Fostriades, "What a fortunate thing we have no idea who Robin Sherwood is, because as it happens we want this ship to get back with the information. There wasn't much point in giving it if we don't allow it to get back."

William says, "They do seem to have a nice well-organized society, though."

This alerts the Captain. He cheerfully calls for a psi scan.

"Oh, come on!" exclaims William, "I've always liked well-organized societies."

"Take four days vacation," orders the Captain. "You can catch up on your studies."

"I didn't say I wanted to run off and join the Zhodani, I like having a bit of privacy -- but it must be granted that there are advantages."

"Like I said, four days vacation."

"Oh, very well, Captain. I think you're being quite silly, though."

"Marine number one! Come here. The Zhodani are scum."

Marine number one: "Yes, sir!"

"Marine number two! The Zhodani are scum."

Marine number two: "Yes, sir!"

"Lia! The Zhodani are scum."

Lia: "If you say so, sir."

The Captain seems satisfied. One psi scan will do.

Helen docks the pinnace with the Anastasia. It's a good job at least she isn't drunk...