(45) Forty-Five

090-1119 to 099-1119

090-1119 (cont.) : Attica / Querion / Spinward Marches

They discuss the potential dangers of the poker game with Rudy, who is, it is decided, Not A Nice Person. There is a possibility that they may need to make a run for it.

Brock asks the engineers about the Anastasia: is she ready to leave? They assure him that once they leave the docking bay, they can be jumping safely in about half an hour.

The Captain calls Vana and checks on the status of the marines. Are they all accounted for? "Yes, Sir," says Vana, and tells Varda to account for them right now. Shore leave is canceled immediately and all marines called back to the ship.

William has an idea -- Bill trades in information, so why not buy information about Rudy from him? It would be good to know what his current disposition is, and what capabilities he has. Does he, for example, have ships in the air at this moment, and what are their capabilities? What sort of ground troops might he have to stop them returning to the ship?

Brock calls Bill, saying he wants information on Rudy because it might be rather important to them. William says they will pay 250kCr for the general information, and later agrees to pay a total of 1MCr (i.e. 750kCr more) for the more specific strength information; he will pay Bill at the gambling house tonight, or if necessary put it in a suitcase and leave it near the exit to their docking bay.

Rudy, Bill says, is rich. William is not on his Favorite People list, but rather on his Respected list. As for the game, if Rudy thought he could jump William and take all his money back, he would; it would not, however, be good etiquette to do this in town. He has undoubtedly already decided his plans regardless of what happens at the poker game. Rudy canceled all shore leave a couple of days ago, and his ship is ready to leave right now. How he came by his ship is not known. It is a 10kt ex-Imperial Navy ship, 4G, Jump-4; it carries 30 ship's troops, with a total crew of around 120; weaponry is a particle accelerator bay, with a bunch of missile, laser, and sandcaster turrets.

They discuss ways in which they could win a battle against this ship. The conclusion is that they don't want to fight it if at all possible, but they can't think of any ways of appeasing Rudy.

Brock points out that Rudy's ship won't leave without him. At some point it will become a race between them to reach their respective ships, and if they could set up a diversion for him. Sir Bridgehead suggests drugging his drink, but this wouldn't be good manners in the gambling establishment.

Mich says, "He's not going to attack us while we're on the ground. He's not going to attack us when we're within one diameter. That means between one diameter and ten diameters is our only vulnerable point. That's a very small distance for us." He says they can do 6G for quite a long time, which would take 44 minutes from ground to 10d, or rather 32 minutes from orbit to 10d. Fostriades suggests that they could probably stand half an hour of combat.

The Captain, who is familiar with Imperial Navy ships, suggests that Rudy's ship is most likely to be one of the ED-11 through ED-15 Escort Destroyer series. [It is actually an ED-14.]

Brock says that running away offends his pride. He'd like to leave some sort of calling card, but something intelligent, not violent.

Mich points out that they could pull 16G for five minutes. The inertial compensators wouldn't cope, but they could strap everyone down.

William says, "Can I just point out one other slender possibility, just off-the-wall thing, is that we could really confuse them by not leaving."

This is very popular. They would have to come up with some legitimate reason, like the Captain being flighty. Brock adds a twist to the plan, that Linda break into Rudy's ship computer to cause some failure when they try to chase them -- something interesting and spectacular, but not too bloody. She is of the opinion that Jill could probably do it better, though she will try.

The Captain suggests turning the old security devices on and letting Rudy take the ship, but he is talked out of that.

When they are ready to leave, it'll be just a matter of firing up the maneuver drive and calling for the doors to open (about 30 seconds). Mich calculates that it would take 21 minutes at 16G to reach 10 diameters. Pushing the engines to 16G for longer than 5 minutes, though, would be rather risky -- not only in engineering terms. Mich says that at 16G for five minutes they should expect crew injuries but no fatalities -- for twenty minutes, though, that's another matter... He suggests pulling 8G all the way, which the inertial compensators should maybe handle. While the others go gambling, he will try to beef up the compensators in critical areas to cope with the projected load.

They get ready to leave for the fateful poker game. William, Alice, Lia (full dress uniform, including the Faberge quick-pin hand grenades), Brock, Joe, and Sir Bridgehead (with his medical kit) will all be going. Only William and Sir Bridgehead will play -- although Alice likes gambling, she says that this game is going to be altogether too serious for her tastes.

Sir Bridgehead says that while they are ashore, they should not call him "Sir" Bridgehead, or "Admiral," just Bridgehead. If a title is really necessary, they can call him Doctor. He is wearing his posh civilian clothes. He intends to project an air of someone who is very stuffy, but with no playing ability.

The Captain insists that someone should be wired for sound, but that will be difficult in the city. Steve Howard and Rufus will work on it. William says that he should definitely not carry anything like that, since he will be playing.

The arrive at the gambling house, where Bridgehead starts his obnoxious novice act on the butler: "Hi there! I thought I'd come along. I heard you had a nice little poker game here! Now, do you all play with one-eyed jacks and twos wild, I'd heard something like that."

"No sir," replies the butler politely, "We play poker here."

"There's, like, a lot of different kinds of poker, right?"

"Not here, sir."

"Do you play draw poker? No? Just tell me what you play."

"You'll pick it up, sir."

"And does two pair beat three of a kind, or the other way around?"

"This way, please, sir." He leads them upstairs.

William pays Bill the 1MCr for the information.

Rudy is here already. He is sitting at a table to himself, lounging back with his feet propped on one of the chairs. The game will be just the three of them tonight, it seems.

Bridgehead walks up to him enthusiastically. "You must be Rudy! Glad to meet you! I'm the ship's doctor, and this butler here, he just would not tell me..."

"I didn't catch your name...?"

"I'm Doctor Bridgehead."

"Ah, the Grand Admiral."

Sir Bridgehead babbles about two pair and so on. Rudy says nothing, and eventually the Admiral tails off.

William says, "It's an interesting crew, don't you think?" He explains how to play poker to Sir Bridgehead: "Take the cards, ante up, and the next time it goes around, you say you see your whatever we said, and raise it by some large amount, and you put that much money in, and next time it comes around you say 'I fold.'"

Sir Bridgehead wants to know what limits raises. It is explained that good manners, sportsmanship, and honor caps the raises here.

Rudy wants to start at 1MCr ante. He makes a crack about a Grand Admiral's pension, what with the budget having to keep going to replace Imperial ships.

The first round starts. They ante up. Sir Bridgehead shows his cards to William (and incidentally Rudy), saying "Is this a good hand?" They explain that he should keep his cards to himself. It was indeed a good hand, so both William and Rudy fold. Sir Bridgehead is delighted.

On the second hand, both Sir Bridgehead and William fold when Rudy raises it 1MCr.

Sir Bridgehead checks. Rudy and William explain to him that this is not good manners here, but he does it anyway.

The game progresses rapidly. William has appalling luck, while even Rudy can't keep up with Sir Bridgehead's cards.

Eventually William has to borrow 5MCr from Sir Bridgehead, and promises to pay him back when they get to Spirelle. Before long he has to drop out of the game.

Sir Bridgehead continues to rake in Rudy's money.

"Well," says Rudy, "This game is getting a little tight for me. Obviously they teach you a lot of things very well in the Imperial Navy. Probably something to do with your time."

Sir Bridgehead says, "I have a lot of spare time as a ship's doctor."

"As a Grand Admiral too, I gather."

Sir Bridgehead says he's had a great time learning this fun game.

"I'm very glad. No doubt we will meet again. You must drop by here again."

"I've really enjoyed meeting you. You seem like a really nice guy, a real proper chap. I can tell that you move in some nice circles."

Rudy looks thoughtful. He says, "What ships have you served on? No, you've never really had command of anything, have you?"

"Well, they wouldn't let me take command because they said I wasn't any good at it. I have been known to cure people pretty well, so if you do get hurt, come to me and I'll help."

At this point Brock steps up to the table and says, "I'm sorry, gentlemen, but the Captain has recalled us to the ship." William borrows another 6M from Sir Bridgehead to pay what he borrowed from the house.

Rudy says, "If you'll excuse me, gentlemen, while you're sorting that out, it was good to see you, but I too must leave now." He hurries out.

The group sorts out their bill with the house, and Sir Bridgehead tips the butler 100Cr.

It was a miserable evening for William -- he did not win a single hand. Sir Bridgehead was a very big winner, at the expense of both Rudy and William.

They hurry back to the Anastasia. On the way, Alice suggests that Sir Bridgehead should visit the gambling houses in Lirian sometime -- they play some great games there, and William could tell him about those.

Meanwhile, Fostriades has called Bill's accountant. He has had some trouble finding more journals, but if they could call back in a couple of months he may have something.

As soon as the gamblers get back on the ship, the Captain calls an immediate launch alert. The crew rush to their stations, and the Anastasia is ready to go the instant the engines are warmed up.

Linda reports that Rudy is ready to go too, but is still hooked up to the network to see if the Anastasia takes off. Linda has made some progress at breaking into his ship, but has had a lot of difficulty getting very far.

At the last second, the Captain aborts the launch -- the crew are told that the Captain has changed his mind, and they should stand down.

Rudy ordered his docking bay opened, but still doesn't disconnect. After waiting about an hour, he shuts the door again without leaving.

Sir Bridgehead is keen to go gambling again. Helen says she thinks it wise to stay on the ship -- she certainly intends to, but she doesn't mind whether anyone else does as long as enough crew remain on board to run the ship.

A day passes...

091-1119 : Attica / Querion / Spinward Marches

Linda has still not managed to get very far into Rudy's ship's computers. She keeps trying.

Brock thinks they should make a showing in town. He is willing to give William some money to spend on it. Sir Bridgehead suggests they could get smaller stakes in the game.

So William, Alice, Sir Bridgehead, Brock, Joe go gambling again. Rudy isn't there, but Mick is on the phone as they walk into the room.

Sir Bridgehead and William join the poker game, running at a mere half a million ante. After ten minutes, Rudy walks in. Both Sir Bridgehead and William have been breaking even.

Rudy approaches them. "Ah, gentlemen! So, your Captain decided not to leave?"

"He's so fickle," says Sir Bridgehead. "You know what happened was he was sleeping. He said 'I want to take a nap.' He's such a spoilsport he wouldn't come out and play poker with us, either. You know, our Captain, he's not all there. He doesn't really have much up there."

"He does OK at Captaining," says William.

"Imperial Navy guy, right?" says Rudy.

"Something like that," says Sir Bridgehead, "We're not really sure. But he had connections, so we thought he'd make a good Captain. He also had a large interest in the ship we're on, so that had something to do with it, too."

Rudy says, "I have an interest in your ship. It's very interesting."

"It's done pretty well by us so far," says William.

"So where'd you pick up this Captain?"

Sir Bridgehead says, "I'd rather not go into it."

"Ah, tricky mission, eh?"

"No, just that I'd rather play poker, personally. I've even been doing pretty well here."

"Well, you people fancy a game?"

Sir Bridgehead is enthusiastic. Rudy insists they start their own game instead of joining the petty one in progress. Sir Bridgehead and William would rather have other people in the game too, but Rudy says it's so much more personal this way.

Rudy asks why they didn't leave. Sir Bridgehead says they should ask the Captain, and William adds that he thinks they needed to check or repair some systems.

"So the ship isn't really that good after all," muses Rudy.

The hand starts. Sir Bridgehead checks. William folds in a sense of sportsmanship. Rudy smiles at Sir Bridgehead and raises him 10M. Sir Bridgehead sees, and Rudy wins. "See, that's what happens when you check," he says.

William rapidly runs out of money again, and drops out quickly. Sir Bridgehead's winning ways continue.

"So when are you planning on leaving?" asks Rudy.

"Whenever the Captain decides," says William.

Rudy starts winning something back from Sir Bridgehead, but is offended when he keeps checking. Rudy says that if Sir Bridgehead keeps checking, there is no further point in continuing the game.

After one more hand, Rudy says he should be getting back to his ship and excuses himself. He has won big tonight, at the expense of William and (especially) Sir Bridgehead.

Sir Bridgehead plays the roulette holo for a while. He loses on two successive flips and gets bored.

They head back to the Anastasia. When they reach the entrance to the dock, Joe reckons it is being watched. No-one approaches them, though.

092-1119 : Attica / Querion / Spinward Marches

The gamblers return on board at 01:00 (midnight local).

Sir Bridgehead tells the Captain that Rudy was interested in a number of things, including where the Captain came from, and especially interested in when they were leaving and why they didn't leave before. Sir Bridgehead says he told Rudy that the Captain was quirky and wanted to take a nap. William explains to the Captain that this time he was trying to win at poker, but it didn't work out that way.

Linda has had problems getting into Rudy's computers, but is confident she still hasn't been caught.

093-1119 : Attica / Querion / Spinward Marches

At 9pm (01:00 local) Brock, Joe, Bridgehead, William, and Alice visit Joe's Bar.

No-one notable is there, so they start to return to the Anastasia by midnight (03:00 Imperial). Sir Bridgehead wants to drop by the gambling establishment, though, and they go there instead.

Sir Bridgehead tips the butler 1000Cr, then joins the poker game. The stakes are 100kCr ante -- none of the big players are there. Sir Bridgehead tries an experiment -- the ante may be low, but there's no house limit, right? There are eight other players in the game. Sir Bridgehead folds on the first four hands. On the fifth, the stakes are up to 400kCr. He sees that and raises it 2M. The other players all fold. Sir Bridgehead gets 1.5MCr and a lot of ugly looks.

They return to the ship.

By 20:00 (6pm local) Linda has had 3 days to try to break into Rudy's ship, but says she can't manage it. With that avenue closing, Brock tells the Captain it's time to launch right now.

The Captain gives the launch order, and commands everyone to take high-G precautions. Chiang Ho eases the ship out of dock, cutting it really close. As soon as they are clear of the doors, Mich cranks the drive output to 8G. Chiang Ho uses every bit of that.

At 20:20, 20 minutes after they took off, another ship hurtles after them from Attica. It is 10kt, and scans indicate it's probably Rudy's ship. They are pulling 12G's, but it's not going to be enough to catch them. [Rudy was severely delayed by problems when launching, and is extremely irritated.]

The Anastasia crew suddenly realize they haven't yet planned where to jump, and have exactly ten minutes to decide and compute it. They decide that they should head towards the Vilis subsector, probably Frenzie which is the subsector capital. To do that, they will cross the 5 parsecs to Quare in two successive jumps, and from there Frenzie is just a Jump-2 away.

Their destination is Deep Space, the same area where they ended their last misjump. At 20:30 the Anastasia reaches 10d, and jumps immediately.

The transition is excessively smooth. Obviously the engineers will spend the jump collecting as much data as possible on the drives, comparing the practice with theory.

099-1119 : Deep Space / Querion / Spinward Marches

At 20:30, after a mere 6-day jump, the Anastasia arrives in deep space. The transitions are so smooth that Mich thinks it would keep the crew happier if they adopt the old Vilani tradition of dimming the lights before they jump, but doing it when they come out, too.

There is no-one here.

As a result of the data they have collected, Mich and Fostriades spend some time tweaking the jump drive.

At 21:30 the Anastasia jumps for Quare / Vilis.

They dim the lights, but there's no need for artificial indications of entering jump -- there's a lurch as one of the new anti-matter units fails, but the others pick up the load smoothly.

Jill is progressing well, but the work will be slow and require much personal attention from Sir Bridgehead.

The translation of the Zhodani journals is still proving difficult.