Serron: Is it possible to become addicted to sleeping drugs?
Iki Piki: More likely that she'll develop an immunity.
Serron: How did we manage to deliver a cargo of explosives without blowing ourselves up?
Arawne Space Traffic Control: Legacy, this is Arawne Traffic Control. Thank goodness! We have an emergency rescue situation and you've skewed right into a spot where you can help. We're tracking a life support pod jettisoned by a ship which arrived in the system some hours ago. The ship and the pod are both drifting and neither respond to radio calls. We've sent a rescue vessel to rendezvous with the ship, but the pod is drifting away from the planet and now you're the closest ones available to pick it up. Time is important - there could be injured crew on board. Please set course to intercept the pod and provide assistance.
Paris: Roger, Arawne. We see the pod on our radar. Setting intercept course.
Spanners: What do you think this is? Star Trek?
Paris: I'll try opening hailing frequencies to contact the pod. [Pause.] Nothing.
Iki Piki: That's it. I'm changing out of my red shirt.
Serron: Fine. We've attached our tethers to the cable. We're heading over now.
Iki Piki: The pod is clearly damaged. Looks like blaster shots. See, there, around the docking ring, and on the airlock door.
Paris: Be careful.
Serron: Okay, we're there. I'm looking in the porthole... Oh my god!
Spanners: What is it?!
Spanners, Iki Piki, Paris: Lycroft?!
Paris: Is he okay?
Serron: He's in a vac suit. Looks like the life support in the pod has failed. He's gesturing something.
Iki Piki: Do we have any egg whisks..?
Spanners: You must be misunderstanding him...
Serron: Okay, I've got the airlock open. He's coming out. I'm tethering him to the cable. He's conscious but looks in some pain. We're heading back.
Iki Piki: I wonder if there is anything else worth rescuing in the pod.
Paris: There's the question of whether Lycroft was worth rescuing...
Serron: I'm getting the emergency rations...
Paris: Lycroft! What happened?!
Iki Piki: He has a blaster wound on his leg.
Spanners: Of course, where else?
Iki Piki: Help me get him into the auto-med.
Lycroft: I'm okay, I can move around myself. But whatever you do, don't use the radio.
Paris: Why not? What's going on? How did you end up in a damaged escape pod?
Lycroft: Okay, let me explain. It's a long story...
I arrived on Arawne from Vallauris on 24 September, just in time to see Queen Natasha briefly for an exclusive interview. She told me she doesn't intend marrying Prince Patrick of Inverness; she's only pretending so she can secure more ships for the fleet to retake Rubilith and free her people. After submitting my interview to the ISN office I took a press crew position on one of the warships about to leave for Rubilith. The war fleet arrived at Rubilith on 28 September, and transmitted a surrender request to Viscount Conrad's forces. Conrad refused to surrender, but offered to allow a command ship to land so force commanders could meet with him to negotiate.
Spanners: Oh good grief... tell me they didn't fall for that...
Lycroft: Admiral Henneth Harvey, the Arawne fleet commander, insisted that any negotiations take place in orbit. She invited a small, unarmed shuttle to bring Conrad's representatives to her. Conrad agreed after a while and dispatched a shuttle. Meanwhile, Conrad's own ships - part of the Rubilith Royal Navy now under his command - were taking up defensive positions in orbit, but making no threatening moves.
Paris: Now the Rubilith Republican Navy...
Lycroft: High resolution orbital imaging indicated some riot activity taking place in the cities on Rubilith. Since nothing much was happening in orbit, I decided to try to get down there and cover some real news. I contacted Conrad's people as an independent press representative and requested permission to land, alone. They agreed, so I left the fleet and went down to Rheydt in a small shuttle. An escort guard met me at Rubilith Central Starport in Rheydt. Giving them the slip was easy. I spent the next few days roving the streets of Rheydt, looking for street violence and resistance fighters still loyal to Queen Natasha.
Serron: So, there were resistance leaders on Rubilith?
Serron: And they didn't shoot you on sight?
Serron: I wonder why not? I would have.
Paris: Let him speak.
Lycroft: Anyway, I recorded lots of great news footage and exclusive interviews with the resistance leaders. But I wasn't getting any news on the progress of the peace negotiations. So I went to the Royal Palace and asked to see Viscount Conrad. I figured that was reasonable, as a neutral press representative, but they refused. So I started checking out some of the bars nearby to get information from people working for Conrad. The word on the street was that the negotiations were making some progress but were held up on several important points of contention. Also, several more ships from Inverness had arrived to bolster the blockading fleet, apparently at the request of Prince Patrick to help Queen Natasha.
Then I came up with a brilliant plan. I studied the palace guard routine and figured out a way to get in so I could see Conrad and get an exclusive interview. Early one morning I climbed over the palace wall and inside the building. I went straight to the royal conference hall and waited there in the shadows. That morning Conrad had a meeting with some of his advisors and I overheard them discussing battle plans:
One of the advisors said, "We have Inverness troops now stationed aboard all the hostile ships, except Admiral Harvey's command ship. She's paranoid and won't let any non-Arawnians aboard. We're ready to go except for that."
Conrad said, "You have the media under control?"
The advisor said, "Yes, no news will get out of this system unless we want it to. All hyperspace-capable ships are now under guard, so there'll be no leaks. And we can feed fake news as we please."
Conrad said, "Excellent. General, any suggestions?"
The General said, "We'll have to take out the command ship. A surgical strike, at exactly the same time we take control of the others. All we need to do is disable the hyperdrive. We have plenty of time to lock a laser onto the target. Shouldn't be a problem. Harvey will surrender once she knows every other ship in the fleet is under our command."
Conrad said, "Good. Notify the commanders of the plan. We give the signal at zero-hundred hours tonight."
Well, I decided this plan would have to be stopped so, without any thought for my own safety, I leaped from where I was hiding and bravely attacked Conrad hand-to-hand. Unfortunately his guards overpowered me and dragged me to the dungeons. They destroyed my recording of the conversation too. I was stuck in the dungeon for four days. Then a guard came to give me food and I stabbed him with a sharpened spoon.
Serron: A spoon?
Lycroft: That was nasty. You don't want to know about that bit.
Paris: Okay, go on.
Lycroft: I sneaked out of the palace and went back to the resistance fighters I'd met earlier. They told me Natasha's fleet was now entirely under Conrad's control, allied with all the Inverness ships. Most had landed, and Admiral Harvey and all her troops were in prison. Conrad's own troops were massing and looked like boarding the fleet soon, presumably to go atack Arawne, which would be virtually defenceless with most of its ships in this fleet. All starports and hyperspace-capable ships were under Conrad's control, so getting a message to Arawne and Natasha was impossible.
Naturally, I came up with a brilliantly daring plan. The resistance people helped me stow away on board one of the ships just before the troops boarded three days later. Unfortunately, I forgot just how sick I always get during space travel, so I couldn't single-handedly take control of the ship and stop the rest of the fleet.
Lycroft: So I just stayed hidden and listened to their plans. When the ship skewed back to realspace near Arawne, I decided to take control of the radio and send a warning to Queen Natasha. But those troops were smarter than they looked and captured me before I could reach the radio. They dragged me to the brig. I overheard that the ship had come out of hyperspace before any of the others in the fleet, because of the random hyperspace delay. I'd heard that the plan for this was to run silent and drift, which would give them maybe 12 hours until a rescue vessel approached, by which time they hoped the rest of the fleet would have arrived.
As the guards dragged me past an escape pod I got free and jumped in. They shot at me, hitting my leg here, and damaging the pod's radio, propulsion, and life support systems before I could eject. Presumably they didn't destroy the pod with ship-to-ship fire because they thought I was probably dead anyway, and that would also alert Arawne that something was up.
So we need to warn Arawne and Queen Natasha, but we can't use the radio because if the warship knows I'm still alive they'll shoot us out of the sky. And the rest of the attack fleet could come out of hyperspace any time.
Arawne Space Traffic Control: Roger, Legacy.
Paris: If it's okay with you, we'd like to continue rendering assistance by rendezvousing with the ship now. We should be able to get there before the rescue shuttle.
Arawne Space Traffic Control: Okay Legacy, that would be great. Please go ahead.
Paris: It looks like an Arawne Navy vessel. Can you upload to us plans of the ship, to assist us in any rescue operations?
Arawne Space Traffic Control: Yes, it's the Sparta. We'll see what we can do. Deckplans should be available, but military systems details will be restricted.
Paris: That'd be good, thanks.
Spanners: Scratch Plan B. I don't have the parts we need. I don't think I can get any sort of self propulsion system on that pod in time. And we can't transmit a warning. They'll open fire.
Serron: We can transmit misinformation and because we know the warship is monitoring our transmissions they'll believe us.
Lycroft: You've already told them I'm dead.
Serron: Yes, but we can tell them other things. They only would have seen two of us outside rescuing the pod, and can assume one more on board. We could say there are only three crew on board, and then hide two of us. Conceal our strength. What other misinformation can we spread?
Iki Piki: That we have the plague.
Spanners: We don't actually have to have ebola virus. We could just have a box with the word "Ebola" written on it.
Lycroft: Or we could attack them with hummus. They'll never see it coming.
Iki Piki: Can we hyperspace directly into their shuttle bay?
Paris: Hyperspace is random. We'd probably end up a million kilometres away.
Serron: Whatever plan we end up with, I think the food bot has a role to play.
Spanners: No... We're not using the food bot.
Paris: I know. Send me aboard.
Serron: And once you've seen that there are four hundred space marines on board, they'd have to kill you.
Paris: Not if I play dumb.
Lycroft: You'd have to play very dumb.
Paris: I'm very good at playing dumb. (Mainly because I am.)
Serron: Maybe I could morphazine them all through the air conditioning?
Paris: I have sex appeal.
Spanners: Do you have filter plugs?
Paris: That's a bit of a personal question.
Spanners: For your nostrils. [Silence.] To filter out dangerous gases in the air.
Lycroft: Um, there's a problem with all these plans. If they board us, they're going to want to find a dead Sparrial.
Iki Piki [deadpan]: That's not a problem.
Lycroft: It's a problem for me.
Iki Piki: Wow. This plan has a plus side.
Paris: Look, we just dock with them, and we get on board...
Spanners: What shall we say once we dock?
Iki Piki: "Here are the machine parts you ordered."
Serron: We could say that Prince Patrick has been captured and unless they surrender to us, he'll be killed.
Iki Piki: If I'm going to die, I'd rather not be tortured first.
Serron: Or maybe we could give them Lycroft dead.
Iki Piki: Yes. And one Sparrial looks much like another. [Looking at Serron.]
Serron: Hey, now wait a minute...!
Spanners: Serron, could you mix up some drugs to make Lycroft look dead to a casual inspection?
Spanners: We put him in a vac suit, and say we killed him. That we were sent by Conrad to warn the fleet of his presence, and we were lucky to find him. That will make them trust us.
Paris: And then we ask to be taken to the bridge to see the captain. We'll need something to knock out all the bridge crew.
Serron: I can make a big dose of something that will get them coughing uncontrollably for about fifteen minutes. Stick it in an aerosol. You'll all need filter plugs.
Iki Piki: What about you?
Serron: Three crew they know about, and Lycroft. I'll hide outside the ship in a vac suit, and be ready to storm in if required as surprise back-up.
Spanners: Strangely enough, that makes sense.
Lycroft: I'll take a dose of that gas too, see if I can sneak it into the life support systems and knock all the soldiers out.
Paris: Good idea. We should have a contingency plan too, in case something goes wrong.
Serron: Now how likely is that?
Spanners: We can compose emails warning the Arawne government and Queen Natasha, and set them to be sent automatically...
Serron: The food bot can do it!
Sparta: Legacy, we hear you. Go ahead.
Iki Piki: We were sent by Viscount Conrad to track down the Sparrial and silence him.
Sparta: Who are you?
Iki Piki: Mercenaries, hired by Viscount Conrad on Rubilith to take care of contingencies.
Sparta: How did you know he was in the escape pod?
Iki Piki: We didn't. That was just luck. We came to warn you, and were directed to pick up the escape pod. Since it was on our way to dock with you, we decided to check it out. Ended up saving us the trouble.
Sparta: Why have you docked with us?
Iki Piki: We have another message which Viscount Conrad wanted us to give to you. Only, not over the radio. We'll have to see your captain in person.
Sparta: You came from Rubilith?
Iki Piki: That's right.
Sparta: When did you leave Rubilith?
Iki Piki: [after a moment's silence] About 3:30.
Paris: Three days ago. Soon after the fleet left. We beat most of it here, but it looks like you just beat us.
Sparta: How many of you?
Iki Piki: Three crew. Plus the dead Sparrial.
Sparta: Okay. You can come aboard.
Paris [whispered]: I'm going to start releasing the gas. Stand back.
Spanners: Silent, but deadly.
[Coughing sounds heard over radio links. Sound of stunners being fired.]
Paris: Okay, we have the bridge crew stunned. What shall we do with them now?
Iki Piki: Lie them all down with their heads together, then packing foam their heads together. They'll never get out of that.
Serron: Good. I'm coming in via the Legacy cargo bay. I'll head down to the medical bay and see what sort of drugs they have there. I should be able to mix up a batch of something we can put through the life support to take out the rest of the crew. Spanners, can you guide me there so I don't run into anyone in the corridors?
Spanners: Accessing the internal surveillance grid now. Yep. You're clear as far as deck three at the moment. Stay in touch.
Iki Piki: We should move the marines to one location, so they'll be easier to deal with.
Iki Piki: Wake the captain. We'll force him to record a message telling them to assemble in the shuttle bay. That'd be the only place large enough. Say it's for a mission briefing or something.
Paris: I'd better wander around and stun anyone who hasn't gone to the shuttle bay. Can you see any stragglers on the surveillance screens, Spanners?
Spanners: Just a few people going to the loo.
Paris: Then I'll catch them with their pants down.
Serron: I'm at the medical bay. I should be able to cook up enough knock-out gas to put the lot of them to sleep in the shuttle bay. I'll have them all asleep in half an hour or so.
Lycroft: So I guess I'm not needed down here any more? I'm coming up to the bridge!
Lycroft: Lycroft the Intrepid, reporting from the bridge of the captured warship Sparta, taken over by Viscount Conrad of Rubilith and being used to attack Arawne. Until now, that is. So, captain, what's it like being held prisoner on your own ship?
Captain: Go away!
Lycroft: And here with me now is the Sparrial who single-handedly overcame four hundred marines to secure the capture of the Sparta for its rightful owners, the Arawne Navy. Serron the Magnificent! Serron, tell me, is it hard always being the hero who saves the day?
Serron: You get used to it.
Lycroft: And what is the plan now that you've captured the battleship?
Iki Piki: I don't think we have a plan. I don't think any of us thought we'd get this far.
Spanners: First thing we want to do is warn Arawne and get down to the planet. They can use this ship for defence against the fleet. It'll be here within the next few hours.
Serron: I'm going to check out the mess hall and galley.
Lycroft: Dauntlessly, Serron volunteers for the hazardous duty of ensuring that all parts of the ship are secured!
Arawne Space Traffic Control: We read you, Sparta.
Paris: This is Captain Smith of the Legacy. We have established that the Sparta was captured by a hostile force commanded by Viscount Conrad of Rubilith. We have captured the crew and must relay a warning to the Arawne Government that this is the first ship of a large attack fleet which will be coming out of hyperspace any time now. All of the fleet sent to attack Rubilith was captured there, with the help of ships from Inverness. Inverness is a false ally. We believe Prince Patrick is aware of this plan, and might harm Queen Natasha. Request urgent contact with Queen Natasha and removing her from the company of Prince Patrick.
Arawne Space Traffic Control: Understood, Sparta. Please pilot ship back to low orbit. We'll send up a military shuttle to rendezvous and take command, then you'll be free to undock in Legacy and land.
Arawne Space Traffic Control: Roger, Legacy. We have bad news I'm afraid. We haven't been able to raise Queen Natasha, and it looks like Prince Patrick has secured the top floor of the Planteth Aston Grand Hotel with his personal guards. It looks like he's taken the Queen hostage.
Since we took control of the Sparta, five more ships of the attack fleet have arrived from hyperspace and the battle has begun. Thankfully the few ships left behind in the Arawne fleet were alerted and ready. The bulk of the fleet should arrive probably within the next two hours. Then Arawne could be in real danger.
But we have to leave that up to the navy. Down here we can try to do something to help Queen Natasha. Lycroft has somehow convinced the Arawne police that he could infiltrate Patrick's suite of the hotel. Since Patrick has seen him before he knows who he is and that he's a member of the press, rather than a security agent. They contacted him and he agreed to let Lycroft in as a negotiator. The police have worked to conceal a small canister of knockout gas in the handle of his video camera, and given him some noseplugs. He also has a small holdout laser hidden on him, and is wearing reflec armour under his clothes. Once he sees Natasha he can set off the gas and knock out everyone in the room, then the tactical squad can burst in through the door and secure the situation, getting Natasha out safely.
Lycroft: Here I am, about to enter the suite of Crown Prince Patrick of Inverness, holding Queen Natasha of Rubilith hostage here on the luxuriously appointed penthouse floor of the Planteth Aston Grand Hotel.
[Camera shows suite door opening and armed guards ushering Lycroft in to the room beyond. It is a lavishly decorated suite. Camera pans to show a total of three guards and Prince Patrick. A guard approaches and frisks Lycroft.]
Patrick: We meet again.
Lycroft: I wish it could be under more pleasant circumstances. Where's Queen Natasha?
[Patrick crosses the suite and opens a door, which leads to an elegant bedroom. Natasha is tied up, on the bed. A fourth guard watches over her. She is conscious and alert.]
Natasha: Lycroft! You shouldn't have come here...
Patrick: That's enough, my dear Queen. [He closes the door to the bedroom.]
Lycroft: Prince Patrick, why are you taking this unprecendented action?
Patrick: This entire star system rightfully belongs to us.
[Lycroft activates the stun spray. Patrick and two guards fall unconscious. Lycroft fires his laser at the remaining guard, who falls injured, then passes out from the gas. Lycroft runs over and opens the door to Queen Natasha's room.]
[The guard in the bedroom is alert and fires a laser, hitting Lycroft in the head! Lycroft fires back with his laser, but is shot again, in his good leg. The guard puts on a gas mask as the stun gas enters the bedroom and Natasha falls unconscious. Lycroft shoots his attacker in the body once.]
[An explosion from the first room rocks the floor. Camera pans rapidly to show that the tactical squad has been ambushed by a booby trap. Paris staggers alone through the smoke towards the bedroom door.]
[The guard picks up Queen Natasha's unconscious body and strides towards the balcony.]
[The guard turns. Queen Natasha's body slumps to the floor. Lycroft aims.]
Lycroft: Why are you -
[Lycroft fires in mid sentence, hitting the soldier in the head. He returns fire, hitting Lycroft's reflec armour harmlessly.]
[A stunner shot from Paris from half-way across the other room goes wide of its mark.]
Guard [bleeding from a head wound]: Get back or I'll kill her! [He aims at Natasha.]
[Lycroft tries to shoot but his laser fails. He launches himself in a flying leap towards the guard, grabbing him but then overbalancing and knocking them both over the balcony edge. Camera view shows tumbling of sky, ground, and the floors of the building flashing past as they fall.]
Lycroft: This is Lycroft the Intrepid, signing off...
[Huge crash. Camera video scrambles into static briefly, then solidifies into a still picture of the road, with the horizon at a sixty degree angle.]
[Very slowly, the camera view pans, still tilted, to show a view of a med-team rushing to the scene. Spanners, Serron, and Iki Piki are also seen running towards the camera.]
Lycroft: We got that on video. Right? Tell me we got that...
[Camera drops abruptly, showing an unmoving picture of the sky, with the twenty-storey hotel looming across a corner of the image.]
Medic: He's dead.