(1) Dicing with Disease

The Crusader Campaign (323-1122 - 348-1122)

323-1122 : Curmudgeon / Fessor / Foreven

    But that leaves open the issue of where to go next...

    Mich Saginaw is eager to deposit his working antimatter generators into the station at Zett, along with service manuals (but no theoretical information).
    Edward "Shark" Teeth has been idly wondering about building battledress out of black hull material.  Mich assures him that while the hull is pretty strong itself, it gets most of its real strength from the powered structural fields.
    Of course the task they've been undertaking has been following Santanocheev's fleet and trying to find out what it was doing.  Misha Ravanos says what they've all been thinking, which is that they've run into a dead end with that and have pretty much given up.
    Their long term schedule is driven by the meeting with Marquis Marcus Crestworthy at Adabicci on 085-1123 to become a scientific investigation team for the Ancient site on Victoria.  This is where the statue that they scanned came from.  Shark did wonder if the pattern of superheavy atoms in the statue was perhaps a starmap, but it doesn't make any sense trying to interpret it that way.
    Also, they can investigate the data caches that Robert Morris found out about on Goose from "his" acolytes there.  There were four marked, of which they have one.  They know that one is in the Carei system, but the others are more vague in his memory.  One was in Whitestar sector, and the fourth in the Spinward Marches.  Shark asks if they even want to put all the parts together, but it's a question with no answer at present.
    Another thing they'd like to do is visit Faldor to pick up some beans for Mich and Grand Admiral Baron Bridgehead.  That seems rather out of their way at the moment, although it seems likely they'll be passing near there in the future.
    The decision is quickly made to head straight for Zett.  The route will be to 0405 / Fessor, then Plague, Wallneck, Jake, and then Zett.
   Plague of course has been chosen because it's a Red Zone, and this crew never could resist an interdicted system.  The warnings are pretty dire, but to them that just means there must be a great deal to hide.
    First, of course, Mich would really like to make a spectacular exit and jump from the surface.  Some research by a few of the crew shows that there is no recorded incidence of anyone having jumped from the surface and survived -- or at least, if anyone has done it, they haven't come back to report.  Of course, if you're desperate enough to jump from the surface, you might well not be planning on coming back.  As for collateral damage, there is a record of a four story building on Mora being destroyed when a team from the University accidentally jumped their lab.  There has been damage at starports from ships that are thought to have entered some sort of jump field -- it's not extensive damage if there's open space, just the effect of quite a volume of air vanishing.  Still, no-one is reported to have survived any jump from the surface.

    So, with the locals thinking they're going to be checking their references on Attica, Nightshade takes off, heading sedately out to 100 diameters where they plan to jump in totally the opposite direction.

324-1122 : Curmudgeon / Fessor / Foreven

    At 05:00 they jump for the empty area 0405.

329-1122 : 0405 / Fessor / Foreven

    Nightshade arrives out of jump at 17:00.  Callisto's initial scans leave her puzzled, with absolutely no idea where they are.  Shark teases Mich about saying they were going to misjump.  On the other hand, Helia Sarina insists she knows exactly where they are, because the maths says they had to come out in exactly the right place.  It's going to take a while.
    Shark tries to help Callisto out with the sensors.  He finds that it's harder to do than normal, perhaps because Callisto has messed up the inputs from sparkly pink.  Robert tried as well, and now it's three of them who have no idea where they are.
    Helia insists they're exactly where she put them.
    Shark asks the ship to reset the sensors to baseline configuration.  The ship, in turn, asks Mich who refuses because baseline was before all the updates.  The ship tells Shark it's sorry but it can't do that.
    Shark rephrases, asking to reset to the defaults.  Mich approves this time (not that Shark knew the ship was asking him), and it's Callisto who resets them.
    It's been three hours by the time Callisto announces that they are indeed exactly where Helia put them.
    Helia of course has been ready to jump for three hours.  At 20:00 Misha gives the command, and they jump for Plague.

335-1122 : Plague / Fessor / Foreven

    At 08:00 they arrive insystem, in stealth mode with the transponder emulator off.  During jump, Shark has been training in Instruction, with him and Misha and Helia helping Kalida with her zack fighting.  Shark was also planning to teach his captain how to read, but Misha no longer wants to learn now he as a computer to do it for him.
    Mich has been making sure all his paperwork is in order to leave with the antimatter generators -- the principles of operations, not the theory of operations, how to tear it down and reassemble, how to clean it, how to scale it up.  This is the antimatter generator with the correct Jane's enhancements for self-calibration, not the one that blows up.
    Shark has also been working on writing fiction, continuing with his plans to write Akim Gavrolovitch's next novel.

    There are strong beacons in this system, operated by the Yonder Veterans' Network.  There are no other signals, but there are what seems to be normal emissions from the mainworld.  The beacons warn that if they're hearing this they should not be here; if they are here, they should refuel at the gas giant and jump out immediately.
    Not discouraged of course, they potter on in toward the mainworld and its main sequence red star.  Plague itself is a small to mid sized world in the innermost orbit, with the dim secondary red dwarf (and its accompanying gas giant) in the next orbit out.  Beyond that is an asteroid belt, then another gas giant.  The world itself is on average cold but reasonable, the temperature fluctuating a lot with the proximity of the secondary.
    There are lots of radio and video transmissions, regular onworld broadcasts in heavily accented galanglic.
    Callisto and Shark get to work looking for black tech's telltale spatial anomalies.  They find nothing.
    The other goal is to tap into the local systems and find historical records and so on.  This will require them being atmospheric in the same way they do tapping into tightbeam ship transmissions -- suspending Nightshade between two microwave towers.
    Getting into position is easy for Helia, of course, and Robert finds it fairly easy to get into what passes for a global net and get what information is available.

    News from outside systems is practically non-existent here, but there is at least some information about Plague itself.
    The locals know a few things.  They know that all offworlders die here within three days.
    This inspires Shark to check the footballs, but they show nothing outside the ship.
    Autopsies of offworlder victims have not revealed a cause.  They have not been able to find anything despite a vast research effort.  Initial symptoms are vomiting and diarrhea, difficulty breathing, followed by internal hemorrhaging and breakdown of the blood.  It does not affect anyone locally, and there are no recorded instances of it happening to any natives.  That is pretty much all they know.  They have attempted to find an infectious agent -- it is clearly easily transmissible, because everybody gets it -- but they have found absolutely nothing.  Robert stores everything away as he is sure the GrandAm will want to go through it.  All attempts to find it by offworld scientific groups have led to the whole group dying, every time.
    Robert suggests that they might want to leave.  In fact, they might want to go hypersonic on the way out to burn anything off.
    Shark suggests it can be wiped off by the atmosphere of the gas giant and they could do it there.  Of course, they don't have the shields up because of need to intercept transmissions, so the hull was in fact in contact with the atmosphere.  He adds that they might infect the gas giant, but that wouldn't really be their problem.  He then muses that they probably have samples of tech at least 13 here on planet because of the equipment left behind by the dead offworlders, and the government probably has total control of it.
    Mich checks for decontamination procedures for the hull, but there are none.
    Shark then says they could run through the coronasphere of the sun.  He's pretty sure -- and Mich agrees -- that the hull can stand it without the shields up, provided it's a short duration.
    Kalida laughs that they need a planet with alcohol seas.
    Bridgehead very quickly announces it is clearly not bacterial, fungal, or viral.  Unless they're falsifying all their data, which he's pretty sure is not the case.  He'd love to stay here and find out what it really is, but he's alone in that.

    Helia takes them up through the atmosphere to the nearby sun.  Nightshade basks in the outer layers of the star, taking a full day to wander around in the heat.  A full day turns into longer, as Mich is not comfortable if he can't monitor the state of the ship in sparkly pink, and he can't be effective over the whole day.  The ship is very extensively broasted.

336-1122 : Plague / Fessor / Foreven

    Helia flies Nightshade north to cooler regions, and then out to where they can jump for Wallneck.  They do so at 20:00.

342-1122 : Wallneck / Lirian / Foreven

    In stealth mode with the transponder off, they arrive at 08:00.  The mainworld is the warmest place in the system, but is very cold indeed.  This is definitely not a good place to visit for fun.  Nevertheless, this is their best bet at picking up news.
    Navigational beacons welcome them to the Lirian Conglomerate.  This non-industrial poor world is declared to be an unlikely market by Vonish.
    Kalida has been reading the astrogational information, and notes that there's a strong anarchist movement here resisting the Conglomerate.
    Ships in system are of the Lirian Conglomerate, mostly freighters with several warships.  Shark wants them to shadow a warship and check their orders to see if Santanocheev has been out this way.
    This is a fairly routine maneuver at this point for Helia and Robert.  They pick up a cruiser in orbit and do their stuff.
    Encryption for their tech level is better that Robert would have expected, but by now this presents no problems for the expert codebreaker.
    The military is on a heightened but not full alert.  In practical terms in this system it means they're not too concerned, but the military in general is a stage or two above base.  The main issue is a military conflict between the Hinay Protectorate and the Imperium, in a state of war currently at armistice.
    There is news, the most significant of which is the Imperium's Tigress Battle Group, which has fought several battles with the Protectorate.  Finally they have found signs of where the elusive fleet has been.
    There was an initial fight on 081-1122 followed by a more serious battle around 230 to 240-1122.  They came in to Hinay through Sterrit, and left through Sterrit and have gone from the Protectorate.  Each time they came through they fought a battle in the capital of the Protectorate; there was no battle in Sterrit either time.  They came through twice and left.
    Shark wonders why the battle group would have come through the Protectorate and attacked.  There was some news in the Travellers News Service on 108-1122, which would have been after the first battle.  That announced that three Protectorate cruisers and twelve destroyers were lost, along with other naval vessels and fighters.  Shark said they had thought the fleet had gone through and on from there, but in fact seemed to have retreated and come back later.
    There were at Sterrit from 070 to 074, Hinay from 081 to 087 the first time, the second time from 229 to 243, and back through Sterrit from 250 to 254.  There are no other records of their location; they have not been through the Lirian Conglomerate.  In both cases in the capital there was a battle; the first was just a military action that petered out, but the second was much more major and ended with an armistice.
    "Why would the Imperium attack the Hinay Protectorate?" wonders Shark.
    Kalida corrects him, "The battle group, not the Imperium, at least not the one we had left."
    "What could they get out of it?  They retreated both times, with losses no doubt."
    "They stopped fighting and they left," says Bridgehead.
    Shark suggests they should go to Hinay and try to figure out where the battle group went for those days between attacks.  The Protectorate fleet would have scanned the Imperials and have a record of what ships left and what arrived, and they could get that information on their way back through there.  That assumes of course that the Imperials had not successfully hidden their exact strength from the Protectorate.  The group would be jump-4, which leaves several options for routes -- but not that many.
    Robert points out they could have gone to Oasis, to Brod -- where Professor Farol's station used to be -- to Jilty perhaps...  Brod is pretty isolated.
    Shark says that at jump-4 with a fairly fast jump cycle they could cover some distance, and they'd need to repair after the battles.  He adds that Brod was originally a base for the Imperial FarSpace Service, one of the splinter organizations that seem to be caught up in everything.

    There's nothing here, however, to delay them on their way towards Zett.  Next is Jake, and so they pull away from the mainworld and jump at 14:00.

348-1122 : Jake / Lirian / Foreven

    Nightshade arrives insystem at 02:00.  Hopefully they won't kill this agricultural world three days after landing.  This time they'll be coming in openly with transponders on and maltese crosses proudly displayed.  They've been cooped up on the ship for far too long, and it's time for some shore leave.
    Mich and Bridgehead passed through here on Anastasia five years ago.  What Mich remembers mainly about the place is that there are no good bars.
    As usual, Nightshade handles the bureaucracy, passing on the local welcome message which reminds them they're very friendly to traders here.  Finally they might have a chance to move some of their trade goods.