04 : Vrhad
Down at the floor of the valley, the colony looked much like any other big city for the most part - apart from the black sky above. There were parks on either side of the residential, business and administration areas, and farmland at the extremes of the valley. Sufficient water had been extracted from the rocks to provide a sizeable lake, which was stocked with edible fish and provided boating as a recreation.
Lt. Max Sampar just had to indulge in an afternoon's severe-rated rock climbing in another recreation area to reinforce his image as a dare-devil pilot. One of the locals, a man of about his own age called Qasin Tamar, whom he had met in a tavern, volunteered to show him the more extreme faces.
On a ledge used as a viewpoint and a resting stage, Qasin revealed his real reason for playing host to a visitor. He and a group of like-minded younger colonists were worried about the risk that Osirlanding's board of governors was taking with their lives.
Qasin Tamar's faction felt that the governors were just going to 'take note' of Star Dancer's data on the weak points in the atmosphere containment field as an alternative to acting on it. They knew that the governors felt confident that schemes which had worked in the past would continue to be successful, even on a larger scale. Qasin wanted an outsider's view.
"They're not going to do anything stupid, surely?" Sampar said with a frown. "I mean, if your atmosphere goes, they're dead too."
"The problem is that the containment system is losing efficiency," said Tamar. "And we don't have the first idea how to adjust it. It was there when my people found this place ..."
"That would be Osir, the bloke who made the landing?"
"Correct. That was two hundred local years ago, more or less, and we still don't understand how the system works."
"So it is abandoned alien technology that you found? We were wondering why your people were so coy about it."
"They prefer to let people think we built it because it makes us look more powerful and less of an easy target for someone with ambition and a certain amount of fire-power."
"Which makes perfect sense," Sampar acknowledged.
"One thing we've been doing is study some old records. We believe they contain a solution to our problems with the atmosphere containment system. Of course, the governors don't accept that the information is valid. And as what we're talking about are alleged translations of ancient texts, which were lost decades or more ago. They just write them off as early science fiction stories."
"But you believe them?"
Qasin Tamar gave the local equivalent of a shrug. "They talk about an emergency repair system, which kicks in when a major disaster occurs. Such as a strike by another piece of debris from the cloud Osirlanding is in."
"How often does that happen?"
"From studying craters on Vrhad; that's what the ancients called this place. It means 'largest', which is appropriate for the largest of the local chunks of rock. Anyway, something large hits about once every two or three hundred local years and we must be due for another in the next fifty years. Our Space Guard project is still mapping what's out there so they can be towed out of the way if they move into a dangerous orbit. They've located all the really big stuff and they're going smaller and smaller now."
"Maybe something not too big will hit you in time to solve your current problems."
"Somehow, I don't think the universe works like that."
"That's a view shared by some of my colleagues," laughed Sampar.
"A view shared by my colleagues is that we should simulate a nearby asteroid strike," said Tamar. "In theory, the emergency repair system will go active for the near miss and decide it's not a threat. But it should also notice that things have gone wrong with the system and fix them before it shuts down again."
"Sounds reasonable," nodded Sampar.
"Not to the governors, though. We presented them with our results and they're just sitting on them. Mainly, because they're our ideas, not theirs. It's all politics rather than science. They have to be right and we have to be wrong because they're in charge and we're not."
"So what do you think we can do for you?"
"I understand your captain has given them precise information on where the atmosphere containment field is weakening? If your captain could offer to help solve the problem, that might force them to act. I should think your weapons could match a meteorite strike easily."
"What, you want Star Dancer to shoot at your atmosphere containment field?" Sampar said with a frown. "I can just see our captain doing that."
"A near miss at a safe distance would be just as good."
"Well, yes, that's something our captain would stand for. Okay, I'll ask around when I get back aboard and see what the other experts think."
"Maybe I should suggest we take the easy route up the rest of the face so you get back aboard sooner," said Tamar.
"Oh, no!" laughed Sampar. "We're getting up the hard way or not at all."
Back aboard Star Dancer, Lt. Sampar consulted Lt. Daniel O'Neill, one of the linguists. On his next trip ashore, O'Neill made a point of examining the 'copies of ancient records' which Tamar thought were authentic. He caught up with Max Sampar in Star Dancer's mess hall, where the pilot was discussing their modifications to a rover's defences with Lt. Draxt.
"The translation appears accurate and the information looks quite self-consistent," O'Neill said when he had sketched the background to his mission for Draxt's benefit.
"Which means what?" said Sampar. "That there's no proof the copies are genuine?"
"Quite," said O'Neill.
"Although, creating a completely bogus alien service manual for the atmosphere containment system doesn't make a lot of sense," Sampar added.
The linguist nodded. "Especially in view of the amount of work involved."
"Pity all the original documents have disappeared."
O'Neill shrugged. "That's collectors for you. They have to have things as an end in itself. Even old documents they can't read."
"So anyway," Sampar came back to the point, "in your expert opinion, Dan, the material is more likely to be genuine copies of original documents than not?"
O'Neill nodded. "I'd say the balance of probabilities lies in that direction."
"That's good enough for a Mathie," said Draxt.
"Now, if you'll excuse me," said O'Neill, "I have some notes I want to tidy up. This has been a very interesting exercise."
"Glad you enjoyed it," said Sampar, his sarcasm wasted on the linguist's back. "So what do you reckon to the proposition that there's an emergency repair system, Rol?" he added to Draxt.
"I think it's likely to exist," said Draxt. "I gather the atmosphere containment and gravity generating systems are hundreds of years older than the colony. And there have been some big meteorite strikes nearby within that time frame. The earthquakes from them must have affected the valley area."
"So what do you reckon to the idea of creating an artificial strike?"
"The trick will be to use enough force to trigger it but not enough to damage the colony's atmosphere containment system if the emergency system is a myth. Or if it's failed."
"So if I take the idea to the captain, what do you think she'll say?"
"She'll certainly take it to the governors as a no-lose proposition. If it works, they'll know how to gain access to the repair system in the future. If it doesn't, they're no worse off."
"Maybe you should go down and have a word with Qasin? Look over the hard science they've been able to pull out of the translated documents."
"What, go down there?" Draxt put on a horrified expression and looked down at the deck. "Where that disgusting r'vode stuff comes from?"
"You might even enjoy yourself," laughed Sampar.
One of the mathematicians leaving Star Dancer caused a minor sensation. His colleagues kept asking the computer to locate Lt. Draxt just to hear it say that he was not aboard Star Dancer. After talking to Qasin Tamar and examining the conclusions which he had reached after studying the 'translations', Draxt agreed that everything seemed self-consistent and that creating so much material as a hoax seemed pointless.
Lt. Sampar was on pilot duty. He hauled Draxt into the flight deck area and gave him the chance to fly back to Star Dancer once they had cleared the atmosphere exit point. Draxt brought him up to date with his conclusions on the way.
Sub-Commander Orcand caught up with Draxt as the shore party was leaving the rover hanger. "I understand now why you have been spending an unusual amount of time in the simulators, Mr. Draxt," he remarked. "That was a remarkably smooth landing for someone who doesn't do it regularly."
"I was surprised at how close it was to a simulation," said Draxt. "And I've had this conversation before. As I told Lt. Merrith, it's supposed to be a good idea to know how to fly one in an emergency. But it's just struck me that if there ever was an emergency, I'd probably get killed in the rush to be the heroic emergency pilot."
"That explains why Lt. Sampar was with you on occasions. I didn't know Sub-Lt. Frand was a qualified rover instructor."
"No, but I've found a simulator makes a pretty good recording studio. They have excellent sound-proofing. The universe could end outside and you've never know. And as you yourself told me, Frand has a good singing voice."
"The embellishments to your concerto are proceeding satisfactorily?"
"You'll be able to find out for yourself shortly. Once the distraction of this place we're orbiting is out of the way and I can get my vocalist back on the job."
"I look forward to hearing the work in its full glory," Orcand said as they separated.
"Rilla's talking about laying on a performance for the ship's Music Group," Draxt added. "So I should keep up to date with their postings."
At the end of the ship day, Lt. Sampar decided that his information was as complete as it would ever be. It was time go to the Captain with his proposition, taking Lt. Draxt along for moral support. It was clear to both of them that Star Dancer's weapons could be used to simulate a meteorite strike easily and safely.
Captain Fregath called in her chief science officer for an expert opinion once Sampar had explained their plan. Sub-Commander Andersin nodded through Draxt's explanation, expressing agreement and understanding.
"You don't look at all worried by this, Donna," the captain prompted at the end of the explanation.
"It's all self-consistent and logical, Captain," said Andersin. "The atmosphere containment system uses a system of overlapping and interleaving force fields. They form at the outer edge of the shell and move downwards towards the lower edge as further fields form above them. The nett effect is to keep the atmosphere pushed downwards and contained."
"Only that's not happening too efficiently now?" said the captain.
Andersin shrugged. "The part of the system that manages the interleaving is losing track. The locals have been getting away with just moving the field generators further apart as they expand the amount of valley which they include in the colony. But I'd say the generators only have so much built-in slack before they need to be reprogrammed properly. In fact, the whole system needs to be reinitialized. But the locals have the problem that they don't know which button to press to do that. Or they don't even know where to look to find the button."
"But the emergency repair system should push it automatically? If there is an emergency repair system at all?"
"It certainly makes sense to have an automatic repair system, Captain. When you can have big lumps of rock crashing out of the sky. And to set it so that it surveys the job the field generators have to do and then returns everything to a defined starting point in terms of field strengths and safety margins. Unless someone tells it to exclude specific systems or return to another set of defaults."
"Isn't this system likely to trip if they go too far and suffer a sudden atmosphere containment loss?"
"We don't know that, Captain," said Draxt. "There's also a distinct possibility that if the system's working from defective data on the job required, things will get worse and they'll suffer a very substantial atmosphere loss while the system's trying to sort itself out."
"People could die because of that, Captain," Sampar pointed out. "So it makes sense to try to activate the emergency repair system safely."
The captain asked more questions, testing the theory. She eventually came to the conclusion that Sampar and Draxt's plan was sound. She promised to take it to a routine meeting with the colony's governors in the morning.
"Take it to the governors," Sampar said when he and Draxt were the length of the corridor from the captain's ready room. "Why does that leave me thinking nothing will happen?"
"There's not much more she can do," Draxt pointed out. "She can hardly take arbitrary action over the heads of a community's leaders. Our protocols don't allow it."
"That's going to be a real comfort to Qasin and his pals."
"Do something and you can be blamed for it. So it can often look like doing nothing means no one can blame you for anything. I suppose that's what the governors think."
"Let's get together again mid-morning, okay? When we know what they said to the captain," said Sampar.
"I'm easy to find," said Draxt.
Max Sampar was wearing a thoughtful expression when he found Draxt in Deflector Control at the end of the next morning. "I've just been talking to Qasin," he said in a low voice as he sat down next to the mathematician. "The colony's governors are rubbishing the idea of an emergency repair system existing."
"Sounds like they're going for the 'do nothing' option," said Draxt.
"And they say there's nothing dangerous about their expansion plans."
"Sounds like famous last words."
"And we know for a fact the captain won't authorize use of Star Dancer's weapons without getting a request from the colony first. How long do you think would it take to do the deflector enhancement work on a rover?"
Draxt blinked at the sudden change of subject. "About three hours. That's mainly fitting new hardware. The control programming is ready to be installed when we get authorization. Why, have you talked to Mr. Jones about doing it?"
"Qasin suggested the emergency repair system will come on for an apparent meteorite strike made by a rover instead of Star Dancer's main weapons. Which would mean getting quite close to the surface. You couldn't just launch the rover and do it from orbit. And we'd have to fly the mission without authority," Sampar added.
"Why can't Qasin and his pals 'fly the mission', Max?" Draxt asked with a frown. "They've got their own rovers down there. I've seen them flitting about."
"And you think they give civilians access to the sort of fire-power we have in one of our rovers, Rol?" Sampar said patiently.
"All right, I'm an idiot," Draxt acknowledged. "But what are you going to do when the captain orders you to return to the ship?"
"Become deaf suddenly."
"You're serious about doing this?"
"Hey, Rol, if we don't do it, no one will. And how many casualties do you think they'll suffer on Vrhad if there's a catastrophic atmosphere loss? Ten per cent? Twenty? Ninety?"
"I suppose the consolation is that if we get killed when the ship opens fire, it'll save us the embarrassment of having to stand in front of a firing squad after the court martial," said Draxt.
"You think the captain will fire on us, Rol?"
Draxt shrugged. "I would. You can't let members of the crew stroll off with a rover to blast unauthorized holes in a friendly planetoid. They're going to be shooting to disable at first. But when they find that doesn't work because we've beefed up the deflectors, things are going to get highly confrontational. So it would be a good idea to ask ourselves if we really want to take the risk of getting killed if the modifications don't work in a practical test."
"Are you happy to leave here knowing the idiots running this place are going to kill everyone living here?"
"You don't know they won't see sense over damaging the containment systems before it all goes horribly wrong, Max."
"You're saying non-technical bureaucrats and sense can co-exist?"
"I take your point. But the atmosphere containment system might be clever enough to save them without our help."
"I've got Rover Four booked in for some routine maintenance work." Sampar ignored the inconvenient argument. "We could sneak the modifications in during that. Doing the work is no form of commitment to the mission," he added in response to Draxt's doubtful expression. "We can just say, 'Hey, look what we've done!' And present it as a great leap forward in rover defence technology."
"Except that if we do the work, we're going to be flying the mission, right?"
"Qasin is flying up here this afternoon. He's got copies of documents for Dan O'Neill to study. If we get the work done on R-Four, we could fly the mission when he's finished with O'Neill."
"You mean, do it quick before we lose our nerve?" said Draxt.
"If it works, the colony is safe, if it doesn't, we have a rover with beefed-up defences to offer in mitigation."
"And if we all get killed, none of that will matter to us."
"You can be a bockan pessimist at times, Rol," Sampar complained.
"The universe is not ordered for our convenience," Draxt returned.
05 : Mutiny
Sub-Commander Orcand, the second officer, was Officer of the Watch when one of the bridge technicians reported an unauthorized rover launch. Her voice was full of doubt and apology, as if she couldn't believe her own report.
"Which one?" Orcand asked with a frown.
"It's R-Four, sir," said the technician. "It's booked in for maintenance. Could be a test flight."
"In that case, that would be on record," said Orcand. "Hail them."
"No response, sir," the technician said half a minute later.
"Where is the rover going?"
"Descending toward the planetoid, sir."
"Captain on the bridge," said another of the technicians.
"Who's aboard that rover, Mr. Orcand?" Captain Fregath demanded. As always, she had been listening to the activities on the bridge with half an ear in her ready room.
"I would say Mr. Sampar, Captain," said Orcand. "He tends to treat R-Four as his personal form of transport."
"Mr. Sampar, you will return to the ship at once," the captain ordered, knowing that the rover's crew could hear her.
"I can't do that, Captain." Sampar's tone was apologetic.
"Mr. Sampar, I've worked out what you're going to do. Return to the ship immediately or I will fire on you." The captain pressed a button on the arm of her chair to take Star Dancer to yellow alert without waiting for Sampar's reply.
"This job has to be done, Captain. Sorry."
Duty personnel hurried onto the bridge to take over vacant stations, wondering why the ship was at yellow alert suddenly.
"Weps, fire to disable at Rover Four. Target their drive," the captain ordered.
"Target the drive to disable, aye, sir," said Lt. Howard. "Target is Rover Four. Acquired. Twenty per cent power. Shoot."
"Firing. No effect," the technician at weapons control added in a disbelieving tone.
"Fifty per cent. Shoot," said Howard.
"Firing. No effect, sir."
"Mr. Howard," the captain said in a warning tone.
"We're checking our systems, Captain." Lt. Howard was busy running diagnostic scans at his station.
"Sabotage?" said the captain.
"No, Captain, all systems seem to be functioning within usual parameters," said Howard. "Still checking."
"Do it fast, Mr. Howard," said the captain. "If they get close to the surface, we're in real trouble."
Aboard Rover Four, Lt. Draxt was sitting at a monitor station at the rear of the cabin. He realized at once that the power of Star Dancer's weapons had been increased; which told him what his colleague Pevel Merrith had been working on recently.
"That's heavier than the simulations," Lt. Sampar said with a frown as the rover bucked. "Are the deflectors going to hold?"
"We can take what they're giving us and a lot more for a while," said Draxt. "It all depends how annoyed the Captain gets and the rate of fire she uses. And how good you are at flying the defensive patterns we rehearsed."
"So we're winging it?" said Sampar.
"About that," said Draxt. "Unless you want to call the mission off right now?"
"No, we can't," Qasin Tamar said urgently from the second-pilot's station. The constant battering to the rover had given him a wild look but he seemed determined to go through with their mission.
"Well, that settles that," said Sampar. "We'll just have to grit our teeth. Everybody close up and make sure your harness is tight."
Each of the three men closed and locked the visor of his survival suit and made cosmetic adjustments to the harness web on his seat. They were heading into the unknown.
The second officer became aware that the rover was hailing him and turned up a volume control.
"Draxt to Orcand," said a familiar voice.
"Orcand?" the second officer said in a disbelieving tone.
"I'm sending you a data stream on our deflector performance under fire. Can you confirm you're receiving it?"
Mathematician Draxt seemed remarkably calm in his adverse circumstances, Sub-Commander Orcand noted as he checked his displays. The data stream from the rover was being logged satisfactorily. "Orcand to Draxt, we are receiving your data."
"Good. Draxt, off."
Having nothing else to do at that moment, Second Officer Orcand began to review the data stream. He quickly realized that most of it was encrypted so that the information would be of no immediate use to Star Dancer. Even so, he could see interesting broad detail.
Lt. Howard completed his checks and looked across at the technician at the fire control station.
"All systems functioning normally, sir," he reported.
"Acknowledge," the weapons officer replied. "Full power. Shoot."
"Firing. Still no effect, sir."
"Computer, locate Mr. Draxt," the captain said abruptly.
"Lt. Draxt is not aboard. Lt. Draxt is not authorized to be off the ship," the computer added.
"Weps, I want that rover stopped," said the captain. "Mr. Merrith to the bridge."
"One-oh-five per cent. Shoot."
"Firing. Their deflectors buckled briefly, sir."
"Concentrated fire on their drive."
"No effect, sir."
"What do you mean, no effect?" Lt. Howard sounded outraged.
"The more we hit them, the stronger the deflection effect, sir. You can see that in the deflection corona."
"Yes. Shift the point of aim one beam width. Hit a different area with each burst."
"Weps," the captain said again in her warning tone.
"Working on the problem, Captain," said Lt. Howard.
"Captain?" Lt. Merrith arrived at her command chair.
"See if you can work out why Mr. Draxt's rover is resistant to our disruptors," said the Captain.
"What, after we beefed them up?" Merrith's tone was full of disbelief.
Commander Orcand caught Lt. Merrith's eye and beckoned him to his station. He drew Merrith's attention to the data stream from the rover.
"Encrypted, sir," Merrith almost immediately.
"Yes, I know," Orcand said patiently. "How soon to decrypt it?"
"An hour at the very least, if it's from Rol Draxt," said Merrith. "He's obviously sending it so it won't be lost to us if his deflectors fail but not in a form that's going to let the captain stop him."
"Any ideas on why his deflectors are holding up?"
"It's probably something similar to the ways we've improved the detectors and the disruptors," Merrith decided. "But not something anyone's going to work out in time to stop him."
"Do your best," Orcand said in a tone of resignation.
"Their deflectors are starting to overload, sir," the weapons technician reported.
"Cease firing the instant they do down," said Lt. Howard. "One shot at their drive thereafter if they can still manoeuvre."
"Fire till deflectors go down, one shot at the drive thereafter, aye, sir."
"Warning, the rover is powering its weapons, Captain," said one of the detector technicians.
"Deflectors to maximum," said Sub-Commander Orcand, not believing that Star Dancer was the target.
"Their deflectors are oscillating, sir," the weapons technician reported. "Oh, frak!"
"Target destroyed, Captain," the weapons officer reported.
"What happened?" said the captain.
"The rover fired at something on the ground, Captain. They must have opened a portal in their deflectors on the groundward side. They were heading back toward orbit when their system collapsed. I can see two large fragments in the debris cloud."
"Life signs on both, Captain," one of the technicians reported.
"Can we tractor those pieces aboard before they fall back to the planetoid?" said the captain.
"Working on it, Captain," said Second Engineer Corbin. "Forward section secured."
"Aft section has been secured, sir," said the technician at the adjacent work station.
"Recover them both to Cargo Hold One," said the captain. "Captain to Dr. Percey."
"Medical, aye," said the ship's doctor.
"Take a team to Cargo Hold One to look over our survivors."
"What were they shooting at, Weps?" said the captain.
"No indications of a specific target in the impact area, Captain," said Lt. Howard. "Which is forty-three point two kilometres from the colony."
"No danger to the colony from debris from R-Four, Captain," one of the detector technicians reported.
"Very well. Donna, scan their atmosphere containment field," the captain added to her chief science officer. "Report if you can see any changes."
"You're expecting to see the self-repair system kick in? If it's not mythical?" Sub-Commander Andersin added.
The captain shrugged. "Stranger things have happened at sea. Anything from the colony, Comms?"
"No diplomatic protests yet, Captain," the communications technician reported.
"Perhaps they're waiting to see what happens, like us," said Commander Andersin.
"Possibly," said the captain. "Captain to Medical. Any news on the survivors from the rover?"
"Percey to the Captain," said the doctor, "Mr. Sampar and one of the colonists are bruised but conscious and fairly undamaged. Mr. Draxt is more battered and will need further assessment once we get him out of his survival suit."
"Thank you, Doctor. Captain to Security, post a trooper in the sickbay. Mr. Sampar, Mr. Draxt and their friend from the colony are all under arrest."
"Security, Captain," said the duty security co-ordinator. "One trooper to the sickbay, aye, sir."
"Yes!" said Sub-Commander Andersin. "Mighty machines have gone into action at the colony site, Captain. I wish I knew what they're using as a power source. Looks like their emergency repair system isn't a myth after all."
"Still nothing from the colony, Comms?" said the captain.
"All quiet below, Captain," said the communications technician.
"Maybe they didn't notice all the fun and games," said Lt. Howard.
"Mr. Merrith, what are the odds against everyone down there looking the other way for the last twelve minutes?" said the captain.
"Think of a big number then square it, Captain," said Merrith.
"So much for your improvements to our weapons, Mr. Merrith."
"You'd never have stopped them without my improvements, Captain."
"Agree," murmured Lt. Howard.
"We're getting all this, I hope?" Sub-Commander Andersin said to the technicians at the detector stations.
"We're collecting every scrap of data going, sir," one of them replied.
"Stand down from yellow alert, let's see if we can get back to normal again," said the captain. "Mr. Orcand, you have the bridge again. Conference of all senior officers in one hour. Mr. Merrith, find out what Mr. Draxt did to that rover."
The unexpected activation of the emergency repair system inherited from the civilization which had made the valley habitable produced mixed reactions in the Osirlanding colony. The governors immediately denied that they had ever denied the existence of an emergency repair system while those who shared Qasin Tamar's views began to mutter about the quality of government that the colony was receiving.
By the end of the afternoon of the next day, the New Guard had drummed up enough support to be able to call an emergency session of the colony's parliament and pass a motion of no confidence in the Old Guard. Change was coming to Osirlanding with a rush and in large amounts.
In view of the pace of change in the colony below, Captain Fregath postponed the senior officers' meeting until the early evening. By the time her senior officers reported to the conference room, she had decided that Star Dancer had to stay on at Osirlanding for a decent period, if only to see how things turn out for the colony.
The others nodded agreement when she announced that she wanted to avoid the perception that Star Dancer was running away with its head down after shooting holes in the planetoid.
"With respect, Captain, it was only one hole," Second Officer Orcand pointed out. "And if we can believe the
messages coming to us from the colony, most of the locals seem more than pleased with the effect it produced."
"The sense if not the actual words, Mr. Orcand," said the captain.
"Yes, Captain." Orcand acknowledged her faint smile.
"I've had a request from the colony's government for the return of Mr. Tamar," the captain added. "What's his condition, Doctor?"
"Battered but mobile," said Dr. Percey. "Able to return right away."
"In that case, the party of colony police are to be given our full co-operation. They will be taken to sickbay without delay when they arrive and Mr. Tamar will be surrendered to them with no messing about. Is that quite clear to everyone?"
"Noted, Captain," said Sub-Commander Orcand, who had charge of Star Dancer's security personnel.
"What about our two, Doctor?" the captain added.
"Mr. Sampar is in a similarly mobile shape to Mr. Tamar, Captain. Mr. Draxt will have to stay in sickbay at least overnight to allow further assessment. But he should recover fairly quickly."
"Anyone got any good news?" the captain invited.
"Mr. Merrith has decrypted the data Mr. Draxt sent from the rover," the chief science officer reported. "He's also looking over complete specs for the modifications to the deflectors. Draxt left a message for him on a timed release."
"Do we know what Draxt and Sampar did to their rover yet, Donna?" said the captain.
"I'm still waiting for Mr. Merrith to stop reading things and saying how obvious they are, Captain. But he seems to think that Draxt and Sampar did the actual physical modification work in about two and a half hours. Which suggests it's quite straightforward and we could have the five surviving rovers beefed up to the same level by the end of the day."
"Engineering, can we look into that?" said the captain. "Perhaps at a more realistic pace, allowing for testing?"
"Yes, Captain," said Commander Jones, looking a little relieved.
"What about the data we gathered on the atmosphere containment system, Donna?" said the captain.
"Mr. Merrith looked at it and said, 'Interesting'. And that was it, Captain," said Andersin. "He gave his attention right back to the work Mr. Draxt has done on the Rover deflectors. I don't think anyone's going to get anything out of the atmosphere system in a hurry."
"Very well," said the captain when no one offered other business, "we seem to have got away with this one. We suffered a serious breach of discipline but with some positive work by all of us, I think we can leave this area with a good reputation. Let's all get to work on that."
A rover from the colony arrived bearing five heavily armed police officers and an inspector, who was armed only with an arrest order. He seemed quite surprised when Commander Orcand escorted him and his party directly to the sickbay and surrendered Qasin Tamar without argument. The arresting officer had clearly been expecting a confrontation. He seemed a little disappointed not to have had a good argument with someone.
After he had escorted an unprotesting Tamar to the rover hanger, Sub-Commander Orcand took Lt. Sampar to his quarters, to which he was to be confined for the moment, accompanied by a token security trooper. Sampar was in a thoughtful mood. He had been given to understand that the cost of the lost rover would be stopped out of his pay and he was not sure how seriously to take the threat.
At the end of a busy day, Captain Fregath called her first officer into her ready room for a review session. She set the tone by sitting away from the desk and ordering drinks for both of them.
"This looks serious," Commander Tarn-Verat murmured after he had tasted his drink to judge the strength.
"The thing that worries me most about yesterday's affair, Clivv, is that Mr. Draxt got involved," the captain said thoughtfully. "The unworldly, intellectual Mathie chose to step into the real world and into a situation where he could have got himself
"I'm sure Draxt was confident his deflectors would hold up, Beril. Although, he must have got a shock when he found we'd beefed up our disruptors, too."
"But my point is, I can understand Sampar getting involved. He does have a wild streak and he enjoys taking risks. But Draxt, Clivv? That's got me asking myself if I made a wrong decision somewhere along the line. I've been wondering if I couldn't have pushed the colony's governors more."
Tarn-Verat shrugged. "We offered our advice and they chose not to act on it. All right, we know now that it was the policy of the Old Guard not to believe the self-repair system existed precisely because Tamar and his pals believed in it. As an act of political faith. But we acted in good faith ourselves based on what we knew at the time. And it's not our job to take that sort of decision for them."
"Try telling that to Sampar and Draxt." The captain put on a faint smile then wiped it away. "Another thing I'm concerned about is the gross breach of discipline involved."
"The mood among the crew seems to be that they did something which needed to be done unofficially. In fact, a lot of the crew believe our Desperate Duo were following orders on a 'deniable assets' basis."
"Really?" Captain Fregath put on a surprised expression.
"It explains why they're still alive after we turned the full force of Star Dancer's weapons on their rover."
"What about Mr. Draxt's work on the rover's deflectors?"
Tarn-Verat shrugged again. "A convenient story. Look, we did our best to stop them but we couldn't, style of thing. I think, on the whole, we're still in good shape, Beril. What happened yesterday was a one-off response to extraordinary circumstances."
"Not the first of a series of mutinies, you mean, Clivv? And we have nothing to worry about until the next set of extraordinary circumstances comes along?"
Tarn-Verat echoed the captain's mocking smile. "There is also the point that they acted at the request of a sizeable group on the planetoid. Applying their solution, the locals' solution, rather than imposing one of their own. Mr. Tamar made a point of telling us that simulating the meteorite strike with weapons fire was his idea. And he came to us because his group has no access to powerful enough weapons or explosives."
"And there's the additional point that their artificial meteorite strike was too far from the colony to cause any damage if the self-repair system had been a myth, I suppose."
"And the further point that they were responsible for the destruction of one-sixth of our rover fleet."
"But also responsible for creating a defence system which will make the other five a whole lot safer. I still can't get over the sight of one of our rovers taking everything that Star Dancer could dish out. Especially after our weapons had been beefed up."
"So you're not going to have Sampar and Draxt shot at dawn?" said Tarn-Verat.
"Not quite," laughed the captain. "But they're not going to forget the consequences of their actions in a hurry."