"Well, you can stop wondering about where we're being sent," Leo Stottmeister announced two days after the Thimble banquet.
"And why, might that be, O Font of Wisdom?" Ragnhild demanded suspiciously.
"Because I, by a mighty feat of deductive reasoning, have divined the answer." He grinned at the other midshipmen around the commons table. "I just finished helping Commander Wright download all available astro material from Hercules on Nuncio, Celebrant, Pequod, and New Tuscany. And I've got to tell you guys, it isn't all that great."
"Nuncio, eh?" Helen scratched an eyebrow and frowned. "So we're catching the Northern Patrol."
"Looks like," Leo agreed. "And I'm guessing we're going to spend a lot of our time doing survey work." The others looked at him, and he shrugged. " Hercules ' astrogation department has been doing its best to update the various charts, but they really suck. We know about where to find the stars themselves, but we know damn-all about the system astrography, and even some of the grav wave data looks suspect."
"Not too surprising our charts're so bad, I guess," Aikawa said. "Before we found the Lynx Terminus, this wasn't an area we were particularly interested in. I guess I'm just a little surprised the locals don't have better information than you seem to be suggesting."
"Some of them may," Ragnhild said "There have to be at least some decent charts in the hands of local merchant skippers."
"Then why doesn't Hercules already have them?"
"I can think of two possible reasons," Leo suggested. "One, the flagship-" by which he meant "the Admiral," as all his listeners were aware "-hasn't assigned sufficient urgency to running the data down. Or, two, the locals who have the information aren't inclined to share it."
"There's a third possibility," Paulo d'Arezzo said diffidently. All eyes swiveled in his direction, and he smiled faintly. "The Cluster represents a pretty big volume," he pointed out. "It takes a while to get from one star to another, and the locals don't have a lot of dispatch boats. So any information that's moving out there is probably moving aboard regular merchies-which means slowly-and Hercules has to wait until whichever local skipper has the necessary data wanders by Spindle. It could just be a delay in the information loop."
"I suppose that's possible," Leo said after a moment, and Helen wondered if he felt as surprised by his agreement with d'Arezzo as she did. Although, a certain sour honesty made her admit, on the rare occasions when the overly handsome middy deigned to open his mouth, he had a pretty fair track record for making sense.
"Well, whatever the reason, the charts we've got have more holes in them than anything else," Leo continued. "If I were the Captain, I wouldn't trust any of them as far as I could spit. So, like I say, we're going to be spending a lot of our time surveying."
"Borrrrrrrrring," Ragnhild sighed.