Subsubsection: 19 June 2016 (ROUGHEX on Luna) Up Subsection: Britannia Royal Naval College Subsection: First Postings 

10 July 2016 (cadet cruise)

Since the Lunar mission, Quaid has been volunteering for Naval Gunfire Liaison training. Piper gets himself the nickname of “Crash Piper, Scourge of the Spaceways” after yet another docking accident; traditionally when you get injured in space you die, but he’s happy to break with tradition.
The cadet cruise is taking place board HMS Fortune, a Fearless-class with much of her armament replaced post-war by extra accommodation space. (Just because they have nanotech, that doesn’t mean decks don’t get scrubbed. With really expensive mops.) There is an odd and distinctive smell as they go aboard, something like a swamp that’s recently caught fire, though there’s no obvious cause and the existing crew don’t seem to notice.
The Divisional Officer is Lt Howarth, who’s a “whenwe”: “So there I was, half an AU out, nothing left in the tank but the maker’s name…” He does seem actually to have been a small-craft pilot, though he seems to have trouble explaining how he does things.
The first leg of the cruise is to Victoria, Epsilon Eridani, oldest and most developed of the British colonies. The work pattern is a full shift of shipboard duties, followed by a full shift of training. PO Kemp is one of the more popular instructors, giving lectures on ship security and maintenance from the perspective of someone whose sympathies and training are clearly much more on the intrusion side.
The jump to Victoria is slightly disconcerting for Gretton, Piper and Isomäki: all of a sudden, their senses of direction report that nothing is where it should be. It’s only a brief disorientation, and Piper’s been through it before.
As Fortune passes through Victoria’s extensive asteroid belts, Kemp introduces the Mining Vessels Log, and explains that the asteroid miner is the natural enemy of the Navy: if a Navy ship has been anywhere nearby, she’ll get blamed for anything that goes wrong (drive flares, vapour depositions, wife and children starving), so the Admiralty finds it convenient that all ships should keep a lot of all “unidentified contacts” (which are usually mining vessel sightings), just in case it should be necessary to argue about it later.
Victoria is a fairly earthlike world, temperate but with intense ultra-violet radiation; gravity’s a little lighter than Earth’s. Population is in the tens of millions.
Gretton seeks out a cricket match to watch, and Morrish joins him. Findlay and Keene go out sailing, and in Findlay’s case some compressed-air diving while they’re out. A storm starts to move in, but the rented boat’s navigation system tells them to head back well before it hits. They’ve also met people gathering the local underwater lichen, the most fermentable of the native (as opposed to Earth-introduced) life: the wine is young and enthusiastic, while the “local whisky” is just enthusiastic (though Fleming picks up a bottle for her collection); it seems to be drunk largely through patriotic pride at having a truly native product, and because it’s cheap.
On the last night before returning to the ship, Gretton organises a beach barbecue; he hasn’t had a chance to indulge his hobby of cooking for a while, and there’s a new set of meat, vegetable, condiments and seasonings to try out (most of it’s imported stock from Earth, but there’s been some mutation). Fleming’s wearing so much sunscreen that it’s actually noticeable.
Gretton realises that, even on this alien world, he’s behaving much as he would at home. Findley feels slightly homesick with easy access to the sea.
On the way back out to the jump point, the Away Boats call goes out. An automated distress signal is being received from a small pleasure craft, the Legitimate Business Expense registered out of Mars, and rather beyond the usual range for such vessels. Gretton tries for a basic scan, and doesn’t learn much except that the power plant is off-line; Keene gets them on the comm, and is greeted with “oh, no, it’s you again”; it’s the Yangs, who were last seen on the Moon. “Adrienne, I am never going on holiday with you again.” Apparently the fusion plant shut down suddenly and won’t restart.
Gretton and a Marine cross in suits to evaluate the situation. Life support is in low-power mode, keeping the Yangs’ suits recharged; as Gretton takes off the reactor’s inspection plate, fire explodes out, toasting the front of his armoured suit. With suitable application of fire extinguishers this is suppressed, and he gets a better look at the hack-job somebody has made of the maintenance of this ship. (Adrienne’s brother-in-law operates a yacht brokerage…) Keene considers their legal situation, but as far as he can tell Marisol’s licences seem to be in order; it’s the ship inspection forms that are the problem.
Once he’s able to dig in, Gretton finds various things that have been overheating, one of which was enough for the plant to shut itself down, which would have been fine if the proper non-flammable insulation had been used. Not wanting to trust his suit, he stays on board while Keene manoeuvres the ship’s boat into position for a tow, and they return to Fortune.
There’s some discussion about the Expense, which ends up strapped to the hull so that it can be thoroughly checked over for the eventual prosecution. The Yangs are accommodated in unused quarters (“don’t interrupt anybody, don’t touch anything, if you don’t understand it it’ll probably going to kill you”) and mostly keep to themselves, though Marisol seems to like the experience of being aboard a ship that’s actually maintained.
(The smell, incidentally, turns out to be the captain’s pet, Spot, which seems to be an ambulatory slime-mould colony. He used to be in Deep Survey…)
The Yangs, who have expressed gritted-teeth approval of Spot, and therefore also a Spot-spore for Adrienne, are dropped off at the jump point station, and Fortune proceeds onwards to Concorde, Tau Ceti, which probably wouldn’t have been colonised if it hadn’t been the first habitable world discovered; at 1.7g with lots of light gases in the atmosphere it’s not one of the more popular worlds, though many nations have some presence there. The Royal Navy base is known as “The Rock”, a shifted asteroid that is so far free of monkeys.
Fortune arrives in time for the year’s big solar-yacht race, which Isomäki and Piper are naturally sucked into; they don’t have form here, so the odds on them are decent, and Gretton and Morrish put some small bets on them. Several of the cadets help check over the rented craft, since they’re very weight-critical; Keene spots what he thinks is some redundant structural bracing, but resists the urge to point it out. Gretton reckons things are in generally good shape, but there’s a software oddity: if the auxiliary reaction-mass tank drains very quickly, over a few seconds rather than minutes, it’ll register as full. He calls in Fleming, who takes the code apart; it was entered manually at a dockside terminal, and there’s another bit of code that will cause the quick release of reaction mass in response to a radio signal.
This seems like something that needs ship’s resources; after some thought, Keene talks to Lt Howarth about the situation. He seems concerned, and asks for a written report that he can take to the Captain. Nothing officially happens, but it’s announced that a data feed from the ship’s tactical array might enhance the crew’s enjoyment while watching the race.
During a tricky manoeuvre, the coded signal shows up, buried in the middle of a telemetry packet; it’s hard to tell just which racer it came from, but it seems to be the Spaniard, the German or the Russian.
A day or so later, the Russian takes a jink sideways, which seems point the blame at the Spanish craft; the Russian recovers reasonably well, but is in a solid third place behind Isomäki/Piper and the Spaniard. There’s a near-collision just before the finish, but Isomäki gets across the line fractionally in the lead, and Gretton and Morrish are buying the drinks.
There’s no proof about the signals, but opinions are definitely being formed, locally as well as within the Navy.
On the way back to Earth, in the queue for jump transition, the ship shakes suddenly: it seems like a collision, but Findlay on damage control reckons it was an explosive detonation, perhaps a small missile warhead. There’s no major hazard to life, though the armour plating will need shipyard work. There’s nothing visible on active scan, and the best theory is that this is a target-recognising mine left over from the war. Fragments are gathered, both inside and outside the hull, to try to work out what might have been going on.
Back at L4, BRNC smells strange; they’ve just about got used to Spot. (Having failed to impress the captain, the cadets are not offered spores of their own.)
 Subsubsection: 19 June 2016 (ROUGHEX on Luna) Up Subsection: Britannia Royal Naval College Subsection: First Postings