Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Cold Pursuit

April 11, m0039, continued

Florence reaches the base entrance a minute or so behind Beta, with Vajra a little way behind her. As their respective radio nodes gain line of sight through the base's Faraday cage, large bursts of information from Beta flow onto the Navy's local ad hoc net.

Florence pauses in the base entrance, and hears a few distant explosions; Beta seems to be meeting resistance, but nothing especially effective. Vajra arrives and passes a surveillance swarm off to ride on her suit, and Dougal brings up a partial map generated from Beta's transmitted observations, with hazards flagged; it seems that the place is infested with those miniature walking bombots. Florence heads in along the path which Beta has effectively cleared of such traps, and she and Vajra pick up a number of open voice transmissions as she goes; they seem to be in Soraya's voice, and to be proclaiming the fleet's defiance in terms of radical separatist rhetoric.

Florence finds Beta paused just before a closed and locked door; its sensors suggest that the human inhabitants of the base are holed up in a room just beyond. It is preparing to make assault, and seeking clearance from its commanding officers; the Europeans suggest that the Navy should take this slowly and try and avoid unnecessary bloodshed, and Jianwei talks the lieutenants into following this line for now.

Vajra's swarm detaches from Florence and enters the base's air ducts, which prove to be conveniently large. The swarm advances carefully to observe the room, which is indeed occupied by several humans (all physiologically female, so far as the observers can tell); Vajra is able to build up a map of the situation, including the location of Soraya Claire. There doesn't seem to be any sign of d'Alembert...

While Jianwei analyses the psychology of the cornered pirates and their likely responses to possible events, Vajra surveys the base's net. It seems to be in exceptionally poor shape, with little sign of a competent management AI, but a brief analysis of traffic finds the physical location of the computer room. A plan begins to come together.

Florence gets into the ventilation duct herself, and plants a full-size radio near the main vent over the room holding the pirates. Getting back out proves a bit harder - the ducts aren't that large - but she manages in the end. Then, she heads for the computer room. When the door opens, two bombots charge her, but she has her UAW out and ready, and sweeps them with rapid fire. She only hits one, but that responds automatically by detonating, spraying the room with fragments; the blast is no problem to someone in body armour at this distance, although some shards hit her armour - and another hits the other bombot, and a fratricide effect removes the threat.

At that moment, Vajra immediately notes a "flicker" in the local net, and guesses that another computer may now be managing it. Most pleasingly, the political speeches stop. Anyway, Florence reaches the microframe computer in this room, and Dougal talks her through the process of powering it down - although they subsequently realise that it had been cut off from the local system until fragments from the bombots destroyed a smaller computer unit that was tapped into the main data trunk "downstream" from the microframe.

Jianwei is now able to begin talking to the pirates, using the loudspeaker on the radio which Florence left in the air ducts, and turns on his full diplomatic charm. They respond by becoming quite cooperative; they realise that the situation is well out of hand, and are willing to surrender given basic guarantees of safety. But d'Alembert isn't there; they believe he may have left by now...

Florence takes the pirates' surrender, while Beta heads to the submersible bay that shows up when it has access to a full plan of the base, letting any remaining bombots expend themselves against its armour.. D'Alembert has indeed departed, in a minisub which can outpace Beta; there's another such minisub available, but its one-person control bay is designed for a humanoid operator.

So Florence rushes to the bay as soon as the pirates are reasonably securely in the hands of the US Navy. Dougal loads an operation skill set program from the minisub's on-board library, and manages a moderately comfortable departure into the open waters of the Boreal Ocean, but has difficulty getting a sonar lock on the fleeing, skulking d'Alembert. Florence thus ends up searching arbitrarily under icebergs. However, the Navy team soon start receiving imagery from SIA satellites, and Beta enters the water and starts using its own sensors. Together, these flush d'Alembert from hiding. He stays ahead of the pursuit for a while, but has to beach and tries to escape on foot. That puts him in reach of hoppers from a local law enforcement station, who are also working with the SIA satellite downloads. Once they have him cornered, Florence - who has also beached her minisub - is able to close in and make the arrest.

Once she has handed him over to the local authorities, Florence rejoins the original group - and notes with some mild irritation that there is no one uninjured who is likely to be susceptible to her charms. She also notes that Soraya is trying, against the odds, to flirt with Jianwei. (It seems that being in an all-female pirate fleet with no males except the politically obsessive and manipulative d'Alembert may have become boring for a self-appointed pirate queen after a while.) Jianwei, though, has other things on his mind; the diplomatic situation is moderately complicated, only partly because of the presence in the arrested group of on Ssu-Li Wong, daughter of a certain mid-ranking Chinese official. Jianwei, though, is well on top of the situation, and soon has everyone doing things his way. Score one for European diplomacy; as the team head for home, they mark this mission down as a success.