Subsubsection: 8 April 2018 (Big Lump of Evidence) Up Subsection: HMS Javelin

13 May 2018 (You Currently Outnumber Them 8 to 16)

On the way back in-system, the officers discuss possible implications of, and explanations for, the state of the Aurora (including the idea that every jump might duplicate ships). There’s no suggestion there was anything unusual about the jump; and it doesn’t point in this direction, and the stars aren’t particularly similar. There’s no major commonality in parts between the two ships. The prisoners aren’t causing any trouble, though Konomiko proclaims loudly that she’s very bored.
There are ships queued up for inspection since Javelin has been away, and one of them goes rather wrong – there’s a lurch, and the lights go out on the bridge, and flicker everywhere. The bridge is open to vacuum, and it’s not immediately obvious what’s happened; Captain Austen calls for backup systems, and everyone heads for their damage-control stations.
It slowly becomes apparent that the merchantman isn’t there any more; there’s an expanding cloud of gas where it was. C turret and the point defence ring are out of action, the midships fuel tank is leaking, and the control room and sensors have taken heavy damage. Findlay, leading a damage control party, works on getting the sensors back up.
The damage seems to be lines of melting and vaporisation, consistent with multiple X-ray laser strikes. The sensors are in a bad way, but they’re up enough to spot an array of small targets (2m or so), manoeuvreing to approach Javelin; with a bit more work they can be resolved as twenty or so figures in space armour… which look like Novaya Europan light battlesuits. The Marines are alerted. Findlay tracks the attackers coming in on the new passage to the bridge, and Winthrop-Chase sets up an ambush along the route. Neustadt stays in the wardroom out of the way.
Gretton’s working on the point defence ring as a priority, but bridging broken power and control lines will take a while. PO Gillies evaluates the situation and starts working on C turret, which seems as though it might be bodged together reasonably quickly.
The ambush goes off, taking advantage of a natural chokepoint in the newly-blasted passage; mostly they fire X-ray laser rifles, but Smith uses her sniping dinosaur laser. Counterfire is scattered and largely ineffective. The enemy’s advance team is out of action, and some of them split off to work their way through exposed corridors rather than continuing on the main route, while others go along the outside of the hull.
Konomiko wanders into the wardroom (“I was bored in the cell, so I got out”) and starts chatting with Neustadt.
Winthrop-Chase splits his forces to catch the various enemy groups. C battery is unhappy, but back on line, and Entwhistle overrides the interlocks to engage the group deploying a cutting torch on the hangar door… a breaching charge, actually, judging by the secondary explosion.
There’s a crunch and a bang as the wardroom hatch is torn open by someone in power armour; Neustadt starts to respond, but with a cry of “bored!” Konomiko deploys an improvised device which freezes the armour in place (and knocks out a bunch of other systems in a cone extending through the ship).
The control room assault is also repulsed, and things start to calm down. There’s a sweep for unpleasant surprises, but nothing shows up. A concerted look with the sensors reveals several observation drones, very basic rigs disguised as débris but with camera and laser transmitter on board. With other EOD-trained technicians still working on cleanup, Neustadt advises the drone operator on ways to disarm the (fairly primitive) anti-tamper.
The transmitter’s pointing out near the Glushko jump point; a message is sent to the shore battery to get them to take a look. Neustadt gets lots of pictures, then separates the charge from the electronics.
Gretton has been looking at the suits – and they’re not Novaya Europan. They look very similar, but the designs have been modified in various ways, possibly to reduce the cost of manufacture. At the same time, Neustadt sees that most of the pragmatic improvements (which aren’t in the manual) haven’t been applied.
Captain Austen feels that sending an initial report is urgent, with more material to follow later.
The Marines take charge of the prisoner (several prisoners, in fact, though most of them are badly wounded). Konomiko claims not to know anything about them. The prisoner is ranting something about “freedom for New Berwick-on-Tweed”, which seems not actually to exist; he tries speaking Russian, then when confronted with a Russian-speaker switches to fairly standard International English.
His case as a separatist is unconvincing; he doesn’t sound much like the prisoners who are already on board. Lieutenant Commander Fenton, the inspector, takes over the interrogation. “Ex-pirate, who was paid a large amount of money, and lots of nifty gear, by parties unknown” seems closer to it. They were supposed to take the ship and bring her through the Glushko jump point. But the nuclear demolition charge in each attacker’s suit, on a 12-hour timer, suggests that this was not the actual plan.
Post-action analysis suggests that the other ship blew up before Javelin’s boarding party had got close (perhaps a tactical error). The attackers were probably hiding behind it.
Considering who might want the British and Novaya Europans to be at odds, that’s pretty much everyone: taking up missing trade opportunities, and selling things to combatants at huge markups, are available to many people. Keene feels it’s not a major-power sort of move, but at the same time it’s well-resourced: perhaps a criminal syndicate? An eccentric billionaire?
Over the next few hours, once Morrish and Neustadt have been returned to their respective navies and everyone’s caught up on the news (including giving a fair chunk of classified information to Neustadt, under Austen’s authority as senior officer in system), there’s more consideration of enemy intentions. Neustadt thinks it matches a probing pattern, less looking for a weak spot but trying to see how both navies react in the hope of aiming something at a procedural gap. If the operation is criminal, it’s definitely not being paid for only with the profits from this (relatively newly-settled) world, even if Javelin has made something of an impact on local smuggling.
Gretton theories that perhaps someone is explicitly attempting to start a war, and the plans for recent events tend to support that. But whether it’s an aim or a side effect…
One thing that may make a difference: when the nanohazard specialist team arrives, they express surprise, since while they had been assuming it would be something advanced, they weren’t expecting something of clearly non-human origin.