(44) Forty-Four

051-1119 to 090-1119

051-1119 : Attica / Querion / Spinward Marches

Over the next several days Fostriades negotiates a price for the zuchai crystals. Conveniently, it comes out to 75MCr, exactly the price of the refit. They will use the crystals to pay completely for the refit, spares, supplies and so on. This means that Mich and Fostriades have made enough out of the ship repairs to pay for the ship repairs.

Fostriades has continued meditating on the nature of jump space, based on his experiences in the last misjump. So far, he hasn't discovered anything special. He starts a literature search.

Mich reflects that around here, a ship is more valuable than its cargo.

William gambles some more, losing 10M. Brock joins him, winning a little. Some of the big players are back, although no-one has seen Rudy yet.

060-1119 : Attica / Querion / Spinward Marches

The outside of the hull is done, so Mich, Paula, Fostriades, Lia, William, and Alice go for a night on the town to celebrate.

After an excellent dinner and show, Brock suggests they drop by Joe's Bar for a drink. William orders the obscure drink he gets at the gambling house; they don't have one of those, but he could try some of this beer? Brock has been in here fairly frequently with the marines (who are picking up the language quite well now) -- his drink is poured before he reaches the bar.

Mich asks for the strongest drink they have. He is presented with a shot of something that smells like diesel fuel, but is not really strong by his standards. After a couple of these, and some prompting by Mich, the barman realizes that Mich is with Brock, and produces the strong stuff for him. This actually looks like diesel fuel. Mich sips it at first, and finds it rather stronger than he had expected. "Now that's more like it!" he coughs. It taste is somewhat reminiscent of Everclear with tar dissolved in it.

Fostriades orders ouzo, and is surprised to find they actually have some. He orders some for Lia too.

Brock chats with Mich for a while, about their backgrounds before they entered service. They compare medals, and brag about how they got them.

William recognizes a couple of people who have just walked in. They were hanging around the high-stakes table with Rudy at his first night of gambling. One of them leaves, but the other takes a seat in a booth and watches the group.

Lia doesn't notice. She is getting very drunk on ouzo.

It occurs to William that he should tell Lia about the guy, very subtly of course... he has clearly been drinking more than he realizes, though. "Hey!" he shouts, and nearly knocks Lia off her stool (not a difficult task in her state). He tells her about the guy, and Lia subtly stares directly at him.

Brock calls the bartender over and, in addition to ordering a beer, asks if there is a back door. He is shown the alternate way out.

William tries to make a semi-graceful recovery. He starts towards the guy, saying, "Hi! Haven't I seen you somewhere before?" He is trying to act more drunk than he thinks he is, which is probably about as drunk as he really is. The man recognizes William and greets him warmly. They exchange introductions.

William waves everyone over. "Everybody, this is Mick, he was at that good gambling place I mentioned before."

Mick asks after William's recent luck.

"Oh, not so well... but you know, luck comes and goes. Haven't seen Rudy there in a while."

"Well, that old runt, you won a lot off him."

"If I keep going like last time, he could get it all back."

"Yeah, but I bet you're just playing the patsy though, just trying to sucker him into it. It'd be the right thing to do, too. You know, he throws his weight around a lot, he's not much to do anything about it. He might be around. He drops in here occasionally."

"I haven't seen him here before."

"Well, how long have you been in the trade?"

"We've just been here for a couple of weeks."

"Yeah, but I mean you've been around before, right?"

"No, actually, this is the first time we've been here. We've been all over the place, but it's the first time we've been here."

"Really? So you're moving into new territory then?"

"Well, I don't know if we're even sticking around. It was kind of a spontaneous move to come by here."

"I heard some wild things about you lot. Heard your ship's pretty tough."

"It's not bad. It's pretty solid. We were in kind of bad shape when we got there, though. We'd taken some heavy damage."

"Really. So what were you fighting?"

Lia says, "You'd never believe us."

Mich says, "Big nasty things with pointy teeth."

William says, "Giant insects."

"Yeah, right," says Mick.

Lia says, "I told you you wouldn't believe us." Her accent is getting thicker.

William continues, "Well, they seemed like insects to us."

"Yeah," Mick agrees, "They seem like insects to us occasionally too."

"No," says Lia, "I mean with six legs, wingcases, funny eyes."

Mick asks, "So what brings you out here prowling for things?"

"Our ship," replies William. "It was a surprise to everybody, believe me."

"Why'd you bring them here?"

"No, no, the ship brought us here. No, really!"

"So, when are you planning on leaving?"

"I don't know where we're going from here, not my call, really."

Mich says, "Nobody here knows where we're going next. None of us make the decision. Well, Moneybags only goes where there's money."

"Yes," agrees William, "We go wherever Fostriades says we can get the most money."

"Oh," says Mick to William, "We thought you were the Captain. I mean, you're the guy with the money, right?"

"The Captain is a tightwad. He just sits on his bundle of money. He doesn't do anything interesting. I don't know what he does for fun. He just eats food that's been carefully screened, and counts his money or something."

"Yeah, I knew Captains like that. You had to watch yourself or you'd be out in space, walking home. Sounds pretty tough."

"Oh, we haven't had too much of that, although the Captain did recently lay down a new rule that no-one could be killed without his permission."

"So who do you have to ask before assassinating him? Just a thought... So if you're not in charge, there must be a lot of money on that ship. You must have got some pretty hefty targets."

"Well, I acquired a lot of my money on the side."

"Yeah," laughs Mick. "Uh-huh. Captain know about it? Just asking, just asking..." He pauses. "So you've been fighting some big stuff? How big, I wonder?"

"Oh, I don't know, there was one 50,000 ton ship, but we high-tailed it out of there."

"So you reckon you're pretty hot stuff, eh?"

"No, we didn't try to pick a fight with the 50,000 ton ship, that was really unplanned."

Mich explains, "We were in the wrong place at the wrong time, and they noticed us, so we left."

William says, "We can stand around pretty well against a couple of ships of roughly our own size."

"So where are you going from here?" asks MIck.

"I don't honestly know, and I don't think anybody else does either. I think we'll decide that about when we leave. we usually decide where we're jumping about when it's time to enter the jump coordinates."

"When are you planning on leaving? You've got the repairs mostly done?"

"Oh, we'll be around for a while," says Mich. "We just put a fresh coat of paint on the outside, we have the interior decorating to do. There's plenty of that."

Brock notices that the man who had left earlier has returned, and is hanging about outside the bar with Rudy and a couple of other guys. He scans the bar quickly, but doesn't see anyone else who might be connected. He keeps his eye on the back door.

Brock tells William quietly.

William continues talking to Mick. "Oh, I'm sure we'll be hanging around for a while."

"So, got a good job on that ship, do you?"

"It's a pretty good arrangement. I'm in charge of the weapons."

"Must be quite a shot, then."

"Reasonably competent, we do OK. Kind of a nice arrangement. What you do on the side is your own business. I like it."

"Might be able to earn some more somewhere else. The labor market is open and free."

Mich says, "So, Avon, are you shipping out with another ship?"

"I don't think so," says William, "But I always like to keep my ears open."

Mick adds, "A person with wealth, taste, and skill is always capable of finding a better offer, I reckon."

William says, "It's a pretty good arrangement I've got now. Always variety -- I don't get stuck in a rut. I like that."

"I agree. I don't like to stay on the same ship for too long either."

"This ship goes all over the place."

Mich adds, "Sometimes when you don't want it to."

"Hopefully it won't be doing too much of that any more," says William. "I didn't enjoy that particular bit of variety all that much."

"What was it?" asks Mick.

"Oh, well, we made a really long distance in a really short time. It was not pleasant."

"It wasn't that short," says Mich, "14 days."

"14 days in jump," says William.

"So where are you from?" asks Mick, "Where did you start this?"

"A long ways from here. Very far. Quite a distance spinward and rimward."

"So you don't know the area around here real well?"

"We don't get over here very often," says Mich.

Mick asks him, "When was the last time you were by?"

"I haven't been."

"None of you been here before?"

William clarifies, "None of us who are here. Some of our crew have been here before."

Mich adds, "One of them recommended that we come here, when we had to limp the last bit of our journey. We didn't end up here when we were in jump for 14 days. We popped out somewhere else and decided that this was the best place to get some repairs done, and it was, What's her name? The woman who said we should come here -- Helen. Helen said we ought to come here, it was a good place. She said she had been here before. She said she knew Bill."

"So she knows Bill?" asks Mick. "Personally, like?"

"I don't know their relationship. She just said that Bill was a good person to talk to around here to help us with stuff. He seems to be a nice chap."

Brock notices that Rudy and the people with him have left.

Mich and Brock both agree it's time to leave. They say their good-byes, William saying he'll probably see Mick at the game sometime.

There seems to be some difficulties, though. Mich tries to get up and promptly falls on the floor, muttering something about the grav plates. Lia is leaning heavily on Fostriades' arm, but is (barely) capable of walking. Fostriades is fine. Brock reaches over to help Mich, but falls on him; he manages to pick himself up with a little dignity. Paula, who seems the least drunk despite her heavy drinking, helps Mich up.

They leave the bar and eventually, after some discussion on the route, return to the Anastasia.

Brock tells them that Rudy was outside the bar with a group of people, and he was certain that they were planning something, which is why he bothered to whisper about it to William.

"They probably were planning something," says William.

Fostriades adds, "Once they realized that we knew about it, owing to some people's lack of discretion, maybe they decided it wasn't worth the attempt. Alternatively perhaps they decided to go after the ship instead of just after us."

061-1119 : Attica / Querion / Spinward Marches

Work starts on the interior of the Anastasia.

062-1119 : Attica / Querion / Spinward Marches

Repairs start on interior gunnery station, with William's assistance -- he suggests some improvements and customizations which are incorporated to his satisfaction.

Fostriades decides not to look for trade goods here, something that astonishes the rest of the crew. He explains that he thinks the risk is not worth the potential profit.

A batch of bean juice is ready. It is decided to sell it for 5KCr per 200-litre "keg." Bill takes two. This will be the first time they have actually sold a large quantity of bean juice -- they usually give it away. Here, Mich notes, they are giving away information, and as long as they give information, Bill's happy, and as long as Bill is happy he will tell other people not to mess with them.

Fostriades has been working with Mich to make sure they both understand the new engines. Fostriades tries to relate this to his attempt to understand deep-hyperspace jumps, but all he can come up with is that it will probably all make sense sometime. He extends his search to more obscure journals, but suspects that a good bit of what he is looking for is classified. He wonders if Bill would have anything.

063-1119 : Attica / Querion / Spinward Marches

Fostriades calls Bill's accountant, saying he is looking for certain classified journals. The accountant says he'll get back to him.

064-1119 : Attica / Querion / Spinward Marches

At 01:00 (1pm local), Bill's accountant calls back to say that they don't have the journals Fostriades mentioned, but they have some others that may be of interest -- two on a similar subject for 10MCr apiece. Fostriades wants to trade information (such as where the Zhodani fleets are going) for it, but the accountant says that is a separate matter and they need to get their investment back on these papers.

Fostriades wants to know the titles and authors. They are Zhodani journals concerning advanced jumpspace stuff. Fostriades is totally unfamiliar with Zhodani research, and expresses cautious interest.

Fostriades asks the Captain to authorize the expenditure of 20MCr for technical engineering papers concerning Zhodani jump drive research. The Captain wants to know what the Zhodani know that they don't, and Fostriades says that's what they want to find out. The Captain is skeptical, but eventually approves the deal.

Fostriades calls the accountant back and agrees to pay for the papers. They are delivered promptly, and Mich and Fostriades take one each. There are several papers in each journal. One is distinctly harder to translate than the other.. They start working with the translator to try to get a better understanding.

The Captain wants to see what they've spent so much money on. He can tell it's a technical paper but that's about it.

Fostriades and Mich determine that one of the things the Zhodani have been working on in conjunction with the core expeditions is superjump. As for understanding the journals, that will take time, especially as they have a lot of other work to do right now.

065-1119 : Attica / Querion / Spinward Marches

William goes gambling again. The Captain doesn't understand why William wants to lose 10MCr, and comes up with other ways to waste it, like buying technical journals. Being concerned about William's state of mind, he decides to come along. They are accompanied by Alice, Brock, and Joe.

"The Captain's coming?" grumbles William, "It's like gambling with your mom along." He tries to explain again that he won something like 10MCr from Rudy, and he needs to give him a chance to win it back. What happens if he doesn't? It would be rude... The Captain still does not understand, despite William's best efforts to explain.

Rudy is there tonight.

It seems that William can't lose when Rudy's playing. On the first hand, he wins 5MCr. Rudy suggests to the game at large that the stakes are raised. Five people immediately leave the table, so there's just four players left.

William loses 6MCr on the next four hands. Rudy has been losing them too.

The game gets serious. Both the other players fold on the next hand, leaving just Rudy and William in the game. William's two pair beats Rudy's two pair, and he rakes in 12MCr for this hand alone.

"I think you're doing better at this," says the Captain.

William sighs, "He's led a -- sheltered -- life. Why don't you just sit down?"

"Who are you?" Rudy asks the Captain.

"I'm the Captain, of the merchant cruiser Anastasia. It's not every day that one of my crewmen walks out of the ship with that much money." He turns to William. "Are you supposed to buy drinks for me or something?"

"Drinks are fr... Why, yes, Captain, I'll buy you a drink. I'm in a generous mood." A waitress fetches the Captain a martini.

The next round starts. One of the others has now left, so there are only three players remaining. They raise the ante to 2MCr. William worries about how to lose to Rudy... Rudy raises 3M, and the other player sees him, as does William. The best hand is the third guy's. It seems so very difficult for William to lose to Rudy...

The Captain wanders around, watching the roulette for a while. He calls over a waitress. "Do you get many Zhodani in here?" he asks.

Several patrons spill their drinks.

"No, sir," says the waitress.

"It just seems so natural that if there's an establishment like this near the Zhodani, that they should come by to get rich every once in a while."

The next round of poker starts. William leads off, adding 2M to his 2M ante. The third guy folds. ("Perfect!" thinks William.) Rudy sees his 2M and raises it another 5M. ("A perfect way to get myself killed, though, if my hand actually beats his!" thinks William.) William sees his 5M, but doesn't raise it. The cards are laid down, and Rudy wins.

The Captain walks back to the poker table.

William has achieved his goal of losing to Rudy, but would like to keep playing for a while. If Rudy is going to keep raising the stakes by 5MCr, though, William can't sustain it. He decides to stay in for at least one more hand.

The third man starts the betting, and raises it 2MCr. Rudy sees the 2M, and raises it another 2M. William sees that, and raises it another 2M. The other guy folds. Rudy sees William's bet, and raises it another 2M. William doesn't have another 2M -- he left it back at the ship -- so he calls the butler over, who gives him 5MCr in chips on credit; William sees Rudy's 2MCr. Rudy's hand was not that good -- William rakes in another very large pot.

William thinks to himself that Rudy is very predictable. His bets are too highly correlated with his hand.

"An interesting game," says Rudy, standing up. "I must return to my ship. See you another night, I hope." He turns to Delaney. "Goodnight, ah, Captain."

No-one else seems interested in playing with William, so he goes to the roulette holo and places the 5MCr in chips on a fairly safe bet. He loses it. He pays back the house for the chips, and leaves, a mere 5MCr up for the night.

They return to the Anastasia. As they leave the house, the Captain thinks they are being followed. He mentions this to Joe, but Joe says no-one is following them. The Captain walks in front of the group, just in case.

They arrive at the Anastasia. Even though no-one is skulking around, the Captain still insists they were being followed. He tells Avon that next time he goes gambling, he should take a marine.

William observes that Rudy plays life the way William gambles -- going for the high-risk high-stakes chances.

Mich suggests engaging the jump drive from the docking bay, so they can't be followed, but points out that it is rather safer to travel out to 10 diameters first.

Mich and Fostriades have put together two practical-oriented "classified" papers on the Anastasia's jump drive, as it was when they arrived at Attica. They list the Professor as the lead author, the others being his infamous research student (the one who proved it wouldn't work), and Jill. They can't release them in the Imperium from here -- not even Linda can manage that -- but they will sell them to Bill. After negotiation, they arrange on a price of 10MCr each, for a total of 20MCr (how convenient!). They express an interest in any more papers Bill has, and he suggests they call him the moment before they leave. They see no need to tell the Captain anything about it.

069-1119 : Attica / Querion / Spinward Marches

William goes gambling again. Rudy isn't there, so he keeps his bets low. He loses 2MCr on the night.

071-1119 : Attica / Querion / Spinward Marches

At 05:00 (2am local), the Captain is called. Some of the marines are in the local jail after a fight, and he is asked to bail them out with 2000Cr.

The Captain wants to know certain information, like what the other ship involved was, and whether there were major bodily injuries, or damage to the bar.

Apparently a bunch of students had a go at the marines, and it resulted in a couple of broken legs -- nothing serious.

The Captain is rather surprised that the marines are in jail for defending themselves, but the official says that it's hard to determine who really started it. The students, apparently, are being shipped back to Attica.

Varda accompanies the Captain to the jail. The marines are all in good shape. The Captain questions the marines. He is astonished that they got in a fight with students, and wants to know the details. Varda promises him a full report, but it doesn't shut him up. She is insistent that it will all be in her report, and eventually the Captain gives up.

When they return to the ship, Vana severely restricts marine shore leave for a while.

074-1119 : Attica / Querion / Spinward Marches

William goes gambling again. Rudy is there but not playing. William keeps the stakes low, and eventually loses 1MCr on the evening.

078-1119 : Attica / Querion / Spinward Marches

Another night of gambling -- Rudy is not playing, but tonight William wins 3MCr.

082-1119 : Attica / Querion / Spinward Marches

This evening Rudy is gambling, but he's playing roulette and winning big at it. William wins a mere 2MCr at the poker table.

086-1119 : Attica / Querion / Spinward Marches

This is yet another gambling night. Rudy is there, but again not playing. He greets William politely, and requests that before he the Anastasia leaves he should give him a call and they will have one last game before they leave. Rudy gives William his number. William loses 2MCr this evening.

090-1119 : Attica / Querion / Spinward Marches

The refit of the Anastasia is declared complete at 03:00 (6am local), but Rufus checks the sensors and suggests some changes. They are quickly implemented, and that work is completed by 06:00 (9am local).