Subsubsection: 13 May 2018 (You Currently Outnumber Them 8 to 16) Up Subsection: HMS Javelin Subsubsection: 19 August 2018 (Relativity Jumping Up and Down) 

29 July 2018 (Distracted by the Loud Bang)

Javelin is moved to the (hastily-completed) yards of the new naval base for repairs. There will of course be a Board of Inquiry, and Lt Commander Fenton is the local arm of it: questions are sent by courier, she asks them and takes depositions, and the answers are sent back towards headquarters. (“And apparently a civilian in custody was helpful in defeating the boarders…?”) It looks as if the boarding party’s primary goal was crypto key material, though clearly they were trying for other things too.
In an unusual move, both sides’ Boards have foreign observers; nobody is particularly comfortable about that but given deliberate attempts to escalate tension it seems like a sensible move. There’s increased data sharing too, particularly regarding ships crossing the frontier.
Meanwhile, the shuttles are being used for inspections; a couple of small merchantment have been supplied by companies that want to curry favour with the Navy, but they’re not armed (except for the ability to fill the hold with short-range missiles), and traffic through the system is quite restricted.
Patrols have picked up what seem to have been more monitoring probes, of the same general sort as before: the ones that haven’t self-destructed don’t give up much information. The probe that was transmitting during the boarding action was sending in the direction of the portal to Glushko, but none of the ships nearby has anything to justify holding them.
On the surface, the nanohazard team is joined by a xenoarchaeology team – which after Raleigh’s discoveries is actually becoming something of a teachable discipline.
Things are moving along fairly calmly, until the lights go out aboard station and ship. They come back on after a few seconds; a few seconds later the tannoy announces a nuclear detonation in the upper atmosphere, and ship and station have been hit by an electromagnetic pulse.
Findlay tries to get more information with backup sensors (the main sensors are being repaired); the glow is pretty centred on the planet, i.e. directly below the station’s current position in orbit. Ships’ boats are launched to get a better picture; there’s a shuttle coming up from the planet towards the station, no transponder.
Findlay scans from the first boat; it’s hard to pick out much detail next to the shuttle’s antimatter drive flare, but acceleration shows it as nothing like fully loaded, and there are no unexpected emissions (though navigation sensors are running, suggesting that they knew when the pulse was coming). There’s no response to hails, but the shuttle makes turnover, which Morrish calculates as indicating a rendezvous with an RGR merchantman, Qaṣr ʼAbī Dānis. (They’re recovering from the EMP, and happy to talk, claiming that they have no idea what’s going on; should they start to move out of the system? Er, no.)
There’s some scampering by shipyard workers to get off Javelin as she undocks in haste, to clear the batteries and allow room for manoeuvre.
Captain Austen recalls the boats, loads both with Marines, then sends the first to intercept the incoming shuttle and the second to the merchantman.
Morrish in the first boat runs an active scan, and the shuttle changes course – still accelerating, but away out of the ecliptic, not towards any known system objects. He makes a rendezvous (the shuttle tries to dodge a bit, but without success) and the Marines go aboard.
A cloud of black dust spills out as the airlock’s cracked; everyone’s already in vacuum suits. It’s very hot aboard, about 40-50°C, and looks odd; various parts have been removed (by means which aren’t immediately obvious), and some structural bits have been honeycombed. In the middle of the hold is a strange-looking blob, a glistening and organic mass that’s clearly in the process of taking its shape; that shape is difficult to look at, bending in odd directions.
Morrish goes aboard to try to shut down the drive; in the control room, whatever’s occupying the seats (both of them) may have started as human, but is now a single mass, with tendrils stretching into various of the control systems.
The Marines’ laser-reactive webs (on the surfaces of their armour) are reporting that they’ve been compromised. Morrish works out good places to set a charge to knock out the shuttle’s drive by carving off the tail section, and Jansen places it. The shuttle’s left in a solar orbit, and the others return, waiting to see if the nanotech contamination will continue to eat their suits; since they’re all wearing armour, a light plasma wash seems like the best bet.
Meanwhile, aboard the merchantman, the inspection has been going well… maybe too well. Findlay, watching their inspection, gets a thought: that hold B looked remarkably like hold A, and there may be tricks being played with the spin coupler between habitat and hold areas. Smith and Jones start to lean on the captain, who’s either genuinely innocent or a very good actor; the cargo hold they push into seems to be full of reaction drive. As they’re considering how to react, the bay door covering the hold pops open and the air is exhausted very quickly; the naval characters manage to hold on, though the captain doesn’t, and he starts to drift out of the hold.
The suits start to flag radiation warnings; the drive is firing up. The Marines set off to cover the 150-odd metres up the outside of the hull; the captain’s drifting away, and Smith starts to call in his coordinates to Javelin, but he’s going to be caught by the exhaust plume (which is definitely from a modern drive, judging by the increasing thrust); Smith catches him with a flight pack, though he’s unconscious.
Thrust continues to build up to a full gravity, as the team climbs the ship. Javelin is in pursuit. Smith breaks in through the airlock closest to the bridge, knocking off the inner door too and depressurising the habitat section. There’s a barricade of sorts set up on one of the hold access hatches, and a mounted laser; a flash-bang doesn’t do much good, and Keene takes a laser hit to centre mass; his suit goes into preservation mode. The return fire takes down the defenders, including one survivor with locked-up armour from Entwhistle’s microwave projector.
The remaining crew don’t put up much of a fight, and the team gets one more prisoner who’s very happy to cooperate; they shut down the drive, and Keene is taken off and rushed back to Javelin.
The shuttle from the surface is decontaminated by remotely-operated expendable drones; it does put up some resistance. It did indeed come from the dig site, and seems to have been stolen as part of a smash-and-grab, perhaps by local workers. The thing in the hold (what’s left of it) seems to have more mass than it really ought to, and curves in ways that Gretton thinks might be tied to hyperspace physics – at a jump point, space bends and carries matter with it, while here the matter is bending and potentially doing things to space.
Keene is patched together again, and shouldn’t take any long-term harm from it.
The merchantman’s systems have code very similar to what was on the probes, which is at least indicative. The prisoners put up reasonable resistance, but against modern interrogation techniques they spill the name of Kotatsu Rengo – a “charitable organisation” in the SAS that’s regarded as an organised crime body. It has significant interests in arms manufacture, and some government ties… though the SAS has only loose links with Novaya Europa. The EMP burst, though it was generated from the shuttle probably using the antimatter on board, was not part of the plan to grab the shuttle and the nanotech; maybe that was something done by the nanotech infection? This definitely starts to look as though the nanotech mass has some degree of intelligence, and there’s some discussion of quarantine; though there’s no evidence that the ground teams have been compromised.
 Subsubsection: 13 May 2018 (You Currently Outnumber Them 8 to 16) Up Subsection: HMS Javelin Subsubsection: 19 August 2018 (Relativity Jumping Up and Down)