(21) Same As It Ever Was

The Mora Campaign (347-1119 to 017-1120)

This file has yet to be fully edited...

347-1119 : Mora / Mora / Spinward Marches

    Misha Ravanos considers what they've learned so far.  He discusses the matter of Brandon Asu.  They picked him up at the Red Zone.  He was lost in space.  Obviously he set Mich Saginaw up -- so he must have been planning that all along, and was not in fact lost in space.  That leaves three possibilities for the ship he claimed to have arrived on -- 1) he destroyed that ship; 2) that ship never existed; 3) that ship never really disappeared.
    Marquis Marcus Crestworthy, captain of the H.M.S. Third Eye, points out that there had to be a jump-capable ship to deliver Brandon into that system.
    Misha acknowledges the point and continues with his speculation.  The records of the disappearance could have been faked, perhaps?  What if they come across the ship in their travels, would they recognize it?
    Now the transponder would give away the serial number, of course, but as Mich points out military transponders could be programmed to over-ride it.  Perhaps someone replaced the stock transponder in the ship -- but that would be very difficult to do, as it's highly illegal except by specially authorized personnel -- and deliberately hard -- in the Imperium.
    The other thing, as the Marquis points out, is that they do not have antimatter bombs.  Not only that, but they do not have the technology to make them.  Whoever does can probably make a transponder do whatever it wants.
    Misha asks if there's some energy signature or something that can be used to identify it?  Unfortunately there isn't, although if a detailed scan had been done on it before, it could perhaps narrow down the possibilities.  The Rattlesnake was supposedly a Donosev class survey scout, of which there are thousands spread through the Imperium.
    The evidence in the ships boat was consistent with Brandon's story.  Now if they could check the serial number of the ships boat, they could cross-reference it -- given access to a sufficient database, of course -- but it's either still at Gorram, or has been recovered and sold by Marquis Marc's scout friend at Resten.
    Likewise there's no way to make a positive ID of Brandon Asu.  His story checked out at the time, and according to records on Resten, but beyond that they have no more information they could use to identify him.
    Misha points out that they do know one thing -- whoever was after Mich went to a lot of trouble, and has been following him for a long time.  They've probably been hunting him since at least the crash landing on Pimane, if not sooner.
    Helia Sarina wonders if these people were the reason for the crash, but Mich says that he knows exactly why they crashed -- they were travelling through jumpspace faster than he had expected.
    Now the Third Eye was the ship that discovered them -- but then they of course filed a report back here at Mora, although not exactly a well publicized report.
    Mich points out that there were several crew members of the Anastasia that were missing -- no bodies were ever found -- along with the ship's gcarrier and one of the air-rafts.  There was Jill...
    "Jill who?" asks Marc.
    "We don't know," replies Mich.  "Her name was Jill.  She was Jack's wife.  Also missing were Brock, Joe, Vana, Varda, and some of the marines.  Brock, Varda, and Vana were trustworthy.  Less trustworthy were Helen -- who is dead, according to everyone else.  The Grand Am has a grudge against me for that, since she was his girlfriend.  Now if anyone deserved to have a grudge against me, it was Jill.  I decapitated her."
    "So that's the end of that story, we can forget about Jill" says Marc.
    "No, the Grand Am grew her body back."
    "Can we change the channel back?  I'm bored with this movie.  This is fiction, you can't do that."
    "Well, ask the Grand Am.  If I remember right I scooped out her insides with hydrogen fluoride, and he regrew all the internal organs and so on."
    "If any of these people had a grudge against you, wouldn't they just waste you?" asks Misha.
    "That's what I would expect," says Mich.  "But Jill was rather odd.  There were all these plans within plans for her, we didn't know what her allegiance really was.  She was quite controlling.  In fact, the Grand Am would take imprints of people's mental brain patterns, and after being with her for a while their patterns would change.  She affected their minds somehow.  That's why we started wearing psi helmets.  Right, Admiral?"
    "That's right," confirms Grand Admiral Baron Bridgehead.  "People who'd been influenced by her had a different sort of brain scan."
    "Why weren't you influenced by it?" asks Marc.
    "Because we were wearing psi helmets all the time!" laughs Mich.
    "Why did you keep this person on board?" asks Misha.
    "That's why I tried to kill her.  Well, no, I mean I was ordered to by the captain to take her out, and I did.  Finally half the crew were influenced by her to protect her, and the other half weren't, and we had big political battles about it."
    Helia asks, "How did she influence people?  This one of those psionic things?"
    "I believe so," answers Mich.
    Marquis Marc asks Mich what planet she was from.
    "We picked her up on Jax, in Whitestar sector.  That was where we were, and she and Jack were the only inhabitants of this planet that we located.  They claimed that they had crashed there, and we rescued them, and they stayed with us.  They didn't want to leave -- what we were doing was more interesting."

    So, on to current plans.  They are off to Digitis to check out another rumor for the Marquis' research, via Pimane to see if they can find out anything there.
    The Marquis asks Mich if he can come up with anything to determine if it was really an antimatter bomb on Pimane, or something else.
    Mich says that without the Navy's sensor records from the explosion, there's nothing to tell.  Of course the records might be falsified, like they lied about the freighter and the city blowing up -- it wasn't solar flares.  There is a possibility that they just took the Anastasia and have it, and bombed Pimane for the heck of it.
    "Precisely why I want to go there and see if we can prove to ourselves if it was or was not an antimatter explosion," says the Marquis.

    "So who's this Robin Sherwood person?" asks Misha.
    "The pirate!" says Marquis Marc.  "Really neat stuff.  I think that's fiction too."
    "We know who Robin Sherwood was," says Mich.  "She was Helen."
    "I thought you said Helen was dead?  So there's another dead person who isn't dead."
    Edward "Shark" Teeth looks at Sagan.  Neither say a word.
    Misha says, "Is that the only connection, the name?  So Helen died, she was the doctor's girlfriend, and he certainly would have brought her back to life, right?  Did he?  Are you sure?"
    Baron Bridgehead seems to be having an apoplectic fit. "Don't you think I would have if I could?" he stutters.  "You stupid barbarian!"

    Marquis Marc turns to Robert Morris and tells him to look for information.  He wants to know about Robin Sherwood -- a low priority item because there isn't anything to be found.  He also wants serial numbers checked from the ships boat that Brandon was on, and to correlate them with anything available on the Rattlesnake.  The third thing is Jack...

350-1119 : Mora / Mora / Spinward Marches

    A message arrives from Resten.  It's the report from the starport.  As of a week after they left, all the suspicious ships were still in that arm of the docking bay.

    Meanwhile, Robert Morris hacks into the Scout Service computer here, where there's likely to be more information than anywhere they're likely to be for a while.  The ships boat serial numbers and records all check out.  About the Rattlesnake, he finds the name of its owner, where it was released to detached duty, and its service record.  The 150 year old ship had a long service life, but did nothing remarkable.  Everything checks out.
    As for the check on Jack, Robert doesn't even know where to start.  No last name, no service record, nothing to go on at all.

356-1119 : Mora / Mora / Spinward Marches

    Helia has plotted them out a route to Pimane.  She takes her seat at the Pilot / Nav console, and heads the Third Eye out to a jump point.  She takes the ship into jump for Moran.

005-1120 : Carey / Mora / Spinward Marches

    It has been an uneventful trip through Moran to Carey, aside from the constant 6-day jumps of course.  They're making quick progress, only stopping for two days in systems.

    Here they catch up with some Travellers News Service items.  The entries for 333 and 335 indicate increasing local trouble at Ianic -- it sounds like it's well worth avoiding that system.

013-1120 : Pimane / Mora / Spinward Marches

    The Third Eye comes out of jump in the Pimane system.  They immediately pick up broadcasts saying that the system is an Amber Zone, and they are to proceed to the Naval relocation facility in far orbit, where there is the equivalent of a class E starport facility.

    It's decided that they need to refuel first, so they start out by heading towards the nearest gas giant, the one in orbit P3.  Helia plots them a perfect course and flies the ship towards the planet.

    Six hours out, they are hailed.  Robert Morris, comm officer, puts it on.  It's an Imperial Navy ship, telling them to proceed to the relocation facility in far orbit.
    The Marquis jumps in, and tries to talk them into allowing a gas giant refueling, but the Navy will not yield.  Gas giant refueling is off limits until the Amber Zone has been raised.
    There is a brief discussion, and they decide to get to the refueling point as quickly as possible.  Mich cranks the drives up to 4g, and Helia takes full advantage of it.  It will still take four days to get to the temporary starport.
    On the way out, they turn the sensors on the mainworld, and try to get as much information as they can.  Of course, from this distance there won't be much they can tell.  Now a site visit would let them measure the residual radiation and the size of the crater, and see if they suggest antimatter or nuclear effects.
    The Marquis suggests they could achieve this by doing an insystem jump to the planet -- if they could disable the transponder somehow without triggering its safeguards.  Right now there's enough fuel on board the Third Eye to make an insystem jump -- but if they refuel first, they'll be able to do an insystem jump to visit the mainworld, and then jump immediately out of system.  First, though, they'll visit the relocation facility and ask permission -- it does fit in with the Marquis' research, after all.

    So the ship heads off to the official starport... while Robert Morris monitors transmissions in the system.  The Imperial Navy has posted guards at all the gas giants, but there are no ships apparently within the orbit of the innermost gas giant.  There's constant traffic relieving the guard ships, while there are also patrols throughout the system.  The Imperial Navy is monitoring the progress of the Third Eye constantly.
    If they were to do their insystem jump to come out between Pimane and the sun, then the solar emissions would probably hide their ship fairly effectively, particularly if they kept emissions to a minimum by running on as low a power as possible, and so on.
    Mich mentions that on the Anastasia, they could have run the ship for a while on the fuel cells they installed to run the EM Mask -- the fuel cells took up a couple of staterooms, while the EM Mask itself was fitted in an area of the cargo hold.

    There is nothing really to do now until they reach the relocation facility.  Mich and Helia talk about jumpspace and so on, while others continue their training.

017-1120 : Pimane / Mora / Spinward Marches

    It takes several days to reach the personnel relocation facility in far orbit.  The main facility there is the starship Oz, where all the civilians have been relocated.  The facility is really a cluster of ships, arrayed around the Oz, but only that ship is open to civilian traffic.

    "Vonish, Misha, Edward," says the Marquis, "Would you guys like a little bit of R&R time?  And while you're over there see what the locals have found out or noticed?  Does that seem reasonable, gentlemen?"
    It does indeed.  Sagan indicates that sie would like to go too, for his studies of course.

    Robert taps into the starport computers.  Normal traffic only seems to be here -- the regular free trader route seems undisturbed by the relocation.  Of course there is Naval resupply traffic too, but that isn't exactly heavy.

    Helia delights in making a scary approach -- she swoops in much faster than her ship is supposed to be able to stop, and slams it into the docking position with precision and flair.

    The Oz is clearly an Imperial Navy ship, from the hull markings.  It seems to be mostly unarmed.  The Marquis suggests that he and the Grand Am could go over and talk to the officers, or the psychological staff.
    The Grand Am soon finds that he can't get access to the medical facilities here.  The 2nd Lieutenant that he gets through to suggests that this is merely a routine matter, and he might prefer visiting the officers' club instead.

    They make arrangements to refuel the ship.  It's a routine matter, just pipe across a fuel hose.  Despite its classification as an E starport, only refined fuel is available here.

    Misha, Vonish, Helia, Mich, Shark, and Sagan go ashore.  Misha is assigned as Mich's bodyguard.  Robert will remain on board, as will the Marquis and the Grand Admiral.  They'll go off and visit the bars -- and there's also a rudimentary Travellers Aid Society facility here.  All will be equipped with the locator commdots.

    Misha talks the the Marquis before they leave.  He wants to know why all these people are here.  Even if he bought the solar flare story, wouldn't they just have moved these people on to another system?  So they're rebuilding the city, and all these people are waiting for it to be rebuilt?  It does sound suspicious.
    Misha's plan is to wander around the bars and pay money for stories -- eventually the word will get around and he'll pay some real money for real stories.  Marc gives him a flexible budget -- don't spend thousands, and expect to justify his expenses on his return.

    The shore leave party walk into the "starport".  Shark is dressed in Imperial Commando garb, with no insignia but stitch marks where they would have been.
    The group is immediately addressed by a starport official, who tells them that no weapons are permitted here.
    Misha looks around, and notices immediately that there are plain clothes people keeping watch all the time, everywhere.  They are trying very hard to look like they fit in, and to all but the most observant they do fit in very well indeed.  The impression that's trying to be giving is a relaxed, civilian, non-monitored situation -- while the reality is quite the opposite.  There's even the occasional person watching the watchers.

    The Oz has two entertainment areas, each of which contains a bar.  They are both quite similar, and on the seedy end of the scale.  The customers seem to include no uniformed personnel, and no-one off-duty either.  The appearance is of a fully civilian facility.
    Shark heads off to the bar at one end of the ship, while the others go to the other one.

    Shark sits back and watches to see how many groups seem to be in operation.  Unfortunately, as far as he can tell, there are no watchers at all in this bar.  After a few hours here, he'll try again in the other bar...

    Vonish recognizes some of the people here -- regular barflies from the former city of Hope's End.  He introduces Tom, Dick, and Harry to the rest of the shore party.
    Misha checks the watchers.  They seem to be watching everyone, rather than singling anyone out.
    The group settles down to a drink and light conversation.  Vonish makes himself very popular by buying a round.
    Vonish asks, "So, how's life been treating you?"
    "Well, you get paid to hang out in a bar, you know." says Tom.  "That sort of takes the fun out of it in some ways.  They say they're building us a new city, but...  I'm sure they think they're building us a new city, but I'm sure it'll end up worse than the old one.  It's a bit of a mess, isn't it?  I mean, just hauling us all off, and that's it."
    "Yes," says Vonish, "We've heard some scattered details, but nothing really informative.  When you heard that the flares started and everything, and they had to get everyone off ASAP, that must have been pretty chaotic."
    "Well, not that much.  They just came down and said we had 24 hours to pack.  The ones outside the city -- the few that were -- they rounded up.  There may be one or two still there, of course.  They rounded up all the asteroid miners and so on.  They've got all the ships sealed up in a dead parking zone somewhere, and they'll give them all back once this is over."
    "That seems a bit harsh, especially since the flare danger is over."
    "Well, there's nowhere to go, right?"
    "They could still carry on operations.  If they were mining asteroids, they could still continue to do that, and just export their cargo here.
    "Never thought of that."
    "Typical bureaucratic thinking of the highest level."
    "Well, they didn't really tell us much about it.  It's OK.  We just hang out around here and do everything we always used to do.  And the miners, they didn't come into town that often, why would we care when they get back to work?"
    Misha asks, "What are they paying you?"
    "100Cr a week, plus room and board.  It's not a whole lot, but we get room and board, and don't have to do anything.  We get to spend it all here."
    "What about the less than above board lot?" asks Vonish.  "Did they round them all up and lock them away somewhere, are they still in operation, or are they just laying low here and taking the money?"
    "Let's just say there's nothing you can't buy around here, if you know someone.  Just the same as back in the city.  The impies just leave us alone."
    "I'd have expected a bit more attention.  After all, they've invited all those civilians on board their precious navy ships."
    "Not that we ever get to see them.  They're all in another section and we're off in this one."
    "Given all the 'services' that are available in this section, I'm surprised they manage to keep their guys out of it."
    "I figure they're not allowed to come in.  Either that or they're afraid they'll get hurt."
    Mich asks, "So what section do they keep to?"
    "The rest of the ship, wherever that is.  There's no windows in this section, so I don't know where that is.  Maybe they think we're below them."

    Mich knows roughly the layout of this ship.  It's cylindrical, with a command section forward, engineering section aft, connected by a spine.  Below the spine is this section, essentially a cargo area.  It's very similar to the Third Eye, where the people in the module could be set up to have no contact with the main ship.

    Tom continues, "I suppose the big difference really is there's no guns allowed."
    "Yeah, I'd noticed that," says Vonish, "I couldn't even bring my old peacekeeper."
    "Well, whatever.  It works.  Supposedly we'll get them all back when this is over.  But like I said, you can buy anything here if you know where to get it."
    "So how about this explosion that wiped out Hope's End?"
    "One of those solar flare things."
    "Did they have any live footage for you guys to see, or something?"
    "They were all hiding out here with all of us, I guess.  They flares weren't supposed to get out this far.  We get news here, but there's no live feed from the planet."
    "This has got to be one of the dullest spots!  I thought Pimane was dull, but this has got to be the dullest."
    Helia says, "Did you guys hear what's happening on Ianic?"
    "Yeah, we get the news here."

    Vonish continues, "So who else is still here?  Some of them must have left for less boring pastures."
    "No.  As far as I can tell, we're pretty much all still here.  The cost to leave the place hasn't dropped any.  Still the same old ships coming through."
    "You can work out a deal with a captain once in a while."
    "Yeah, but it's much the same as it ever was.  Certainly nobody's making any effort to make it easy for us to leave this place.  I think they just want to make sure that there's somebody to move into this city when they build it.  They've sealed up everyone's personal stuff in storage, and if we withdraw it before we've moved in, we have to pay a fee to get it out.  Anyway, why leave?"
    "It is pretty cushy.  It's just the boredom factor that would get to me."

    Responding to Tom's hints, Helia buys the next round.

    Vonish continues, "So the usual people I presume are the ones who...?  Figures."
    "Business as normal."
    "I'm glad it's someone else's problem.  Which reminds me, what joker got stuck with my job?"
    "Well we didn't actually hire anybody, and now the Navy's handling it.  I guess we'll just have to bring some other new recruit in.  If you know anyone, head 'em out here."
    "I'll keep my eye out.  Of course not too many people want to come to the back end of the universe."
    "Yeah, I'd say we're about an inch downstream of the asshole of the Imperium here."

    Mich asks, "So where do you get the drinks they serve here?  Just the regular old stuff that comes in?  Anybody got some home brew?"
    Tom replies, "I wouldn't, of course, but... same people."
    Vonish turns to Mich.  "If you've got a hankering, we could probably arrange for something," he says.
    "Yeah, I've got a hankering," says Mich.  "I've been drinking this expensive stuff for too long."
    Tom says, "If you're looking for a party, you could find it..."
    Helia asks, "Do they have any fine wine around here?  Mediocre?"
    Tom shakes his head.
    Misha breaks in, "That was a good idea.  Let's find a party."
    Vonish has a pretty good idea of someone to look up, and where he might be found.  The original party animal, "Mr. Toga," is always a good bet for a good time.

    Back on the ship, Marquis Marc asks Robert how much ship and construction activity there is around Pimane.  "You know, the people that are rebuilding the city?"
    "That's what I thought.  I think there's going to be an accident here.  A very tragic accident."
    Robert Morris, at Marc's request, finds out that there are ships on standby here as well as those on active patrol.  He then starts poking around the computers for the orders of the Imperial Navy ships.  He does, of course, hop the attempt through the two other civilian ships here.  The general standing orders are that no ships are to enter within the orbit of the innermost gas giant; any ships in there are to be detained, all personnel detained for questioning, ship temporarily confiscated and searched, everything to be brought back and handled by Imperial Navy Intelligence; any ship outside orbit three is to be directed to the station -- if there is refusal to obey, then use all necessary force to arrest or prevent ships moving further in.  The vast majority of the ships here have not been any closer to the mainworld than the innermost gas giant.  The Oz herself was pulled out of reserves and quickly converted to non-incarceration mode -- it is a prison ship, and can in fact jettison the prison section.  It seems that the Oz is on low alert, while the ships on patrol are on active police action duty.
    Each gas giant has ten SDB's on rotating crew duty; there are 37 Gazelle class close escorts on patrol, intercepting traffic that comes in; six destroyers are on duty ready to respond if required; six courier ships, two of which are jump-6 fast couriers.  There are various supply ships around, and seven Naval space stations surrounding the Oz, handling general personnel and resupply and repair duties.  It's quite a complement of Naval vessels, but there are no capital ships or cruisers, nothing that can stand in the line of battle.  The operation is pretty much capable of shutting down all ship traffic in the system, providing of course a whole bunch don't come in at once.
    On being told this, Marquis Marc realizes that there is little point in asking for permission to visit the mainworld -- based on these orders, he already knows what the answer would be.
    In charge of this operation is Admiral David Timson.

    Misha ponders the fate of the city of Hope's End.  Since they saw a crater on their way by, the city was indeed blown up.  He feels that either the Imperium did it (of course they claim not to, and claim it was done by a weapon they don't have), or whoever did it told the Imperium first, because the Imperium moved everyone out.  So either the Imperium had foreknowledge, or at least the Navy did.  It's certainly something to think about...