Subsection: HMS Cumberland Up Subsection: HMS Cumberland Subsubsection: 9 April 2017 

9 October 2016

There’s an oddity in the ship inspections, specifically of Novaya Europan merchants: it’s not just that their papers are thoroughly in order, it’s that the merchant captain has found the guy with vaccinations not up to date and brought him to the attention of the medics before the boarding party discovers him; or “we found this contraband, would you like us to dispose of it or do you want to”. And this is all the Novaya Europan ships for the last month or so… this is clearly some sort of distraction, but what are they trying to distract from, and why are they being so blatant about it?
There are rumours of financial scandal among the Shadbolt Separatist Party.
While Entwhistle is outside as part of routine damage control training, he spots a number of flat black segmented discs scattered about the hull: about a foot across, less than an inch thick, not entirely regular in shape, very black. It doesn’t seem to be transmitting anything, and there’s no electrical activity. After some discussion, he goes to get it loose; there’s no sign of chemical or nanotech hazard, though it’s very slightly warmer than the hull. Getting a pry-bar under the edge of the shell isn’t too hard; it appears to be holding on with legs, and it tries to curl up when it’s pulled loose, but not very effectively. The others don’t react. There’s a little pitting on the hull armour where it was holding on. Applying gentle laser light makes the thing flatten out on the bottom of its vacuum-sealed box, though after several more shots at higher power it’s dug a few millimetres into the bottom of the box, and it’s very slightly bigger and heavier.
The “lice” do seem to gravitate slowly towards the lit side of the hull, and Entwhistle has no problem removing the others.
The major question in the crew’s minds is whether this is engineered or natural; there’s no sign of manufacture, but biotech could manage that. None of the things has apparently jumped onto the shuttles used for boarding parties. But they would be remarkably hard to spot if they were drifting from one ship to another; active lasers would probably do it, but might be interpreted as an attack.
A party sets up some fake lice where the real ones were, in case anyone’s looking for them. There have been others spotted on other ships, and the captain makes a general announcement to ships entering the system; the next Novaya Europan (an Italian) professes to be shocked, and Keene things he may even be telling the truth.
McRobert suggests electrifying the plating the lice are sitting on, as it would be just before a jump. They hunker down and prepare to leap.
A meeting of the Shadbolt Separatist Party is attacked by reprogrammed industrial robots – basic welders and such like. They don’t do much damage. A “Loyalist Front” claims responsibility; there have been occasional mentions of that name before but this isn’t really a known group.
Various of the crew spend time ashore. This is the sort of world where you’re searched for flammables before they let you off the shuttle.
Promotional shirts from the Separatists turn out to have a local life-form known as the screw-worm hibernating in the packages. The Loyalist Front claims responsibility again. The planetary governor is eventually persuaded to call for emergency measures…
…which is the point at which the weather control satellites start igniting firestorms on the planet’s lowlands, near several of the smaller settlements. The captain orders “Away Boats”: technical teams are put aboard the satellites to disable external communications and reinstall the factory-standard software.
Aboard Satellite 37, everything appears to be in order; McRoberts copies, then purges, the volatile storage, then reloads from master copies. The laser starts to cool down.
External communications drop: there’s jamming going on, and Cumberland is under attack by a number of small craft, which Ryan immediately recognises from the sensor trace as Dymka corvettes, relatively new ships of the Novaya Europan navy, heavily armed and with a stealth hull. Keene gets the satellite pointed in the right direction, and Ryan directs Entwhistle on gunnery and McRobert on sensors. The first shots are clearly unexpected, and knock out the spinal weapon and a fusion plant on one of the corvettes. Cumberland is fighting back too, and Ryan suggests Entwhistle try to aim for the ECM emitters to make everyone’s lives easier – but that would be a distinct challenge with this gunnery setup.
The remaining corvettes are starting to split their fire between Cumberland and 37, but without immediate success: it’s quite a small target. Cumberland has taken a hit to the drive, but is still manoeuvreing. The other weather satellites’ crews are being slower to respond to the situation, and McRobert uses her sample of the exploit code as a base to take control of them and get them to engage targets of the right general parameters in self-directed mode.
The lights go out aboard 37; the satellite’s taken a crippling hit, though the control cabin is mostly intact. The crew get out, on the basis that there’s no point in staying, though they’re probably not a target any more.
The battle has clearly shifted in favour of Cumberland and the satellites, and the corvettes are shot down over the next few tens of minutes, though Cumberland will need some yard time. One of the corvettes self-destructs rather than be captured.
The Novaya Europan consulate issues a press release deploring this theft of its second-line warships, though clearly given the standard of shiphandling this couldn’t have been their own people. Honest. The wreckage of the corvettes suggests they’ve been deliberately sanitised.
The Shadbolt Separatist Party undergoes a certain amount of reshuffling into a more “some day in the future” stance. The Loyalist Front vanishes completely.
It’s not entirely clear where the corvettes came from, though reconstructing records suggests they were stacked in the hold of an Amraphel-registered merchantman which was wrecked as they emerged.
Some medals will be awarded.
 Subsection: HMS Cumberland Up Subsection: HMS Cumberland Subsubsection: 9 April 2017