Talking to Queen Aisha is agreed to be the next logical step – it’s generally seem as impolite to launch an orbital strike without the consent of local government. However, getting facetime with Her Majesty proves to be more difficult than the crew expects. Legate Washington doesn’t seem especially motivated to arrange a meeting immmediately – after some hemming and hawing he sets up a meeting for two days time. One day after, the crew learns, Commander Tubal will return to the capital for a meeting of Aisha’s military brain trust.
An away team is assembled consisting of Captain Victor Borza, Johnny Five, Lucid Conundrum, Salman Aslakhanov, and Rhoane – intending to intercept Tubal during his trip back to the capital and cajole him to arrange an audience a day early. Rhoane proves most persuasive, and Tubal is impressed enough to board the shuttlecraft for a trip in style back to the capital.
During the trip, Rhoane takes a crack at freeing Tubal from whatever programming has been imposed upon him. Unfortunately, this proves less than successful as Rhoane quickly realizes that any attempts to perceive the alterations to Tubal’s psyche will make him vulnerable to compromise himself.
Rhoane’s agent Phillip, by comparison, proves to be extremely useful in getting the team access to the Queen almost immediately upon their arrival. After a brief introduction with Aisha herself, Captain Borza and Rhoane are admitted to the conference chamber while Johnny Five and Lucid Conundrum wait outside.
It becomes apparent that there are two opposing plans vying for the Queen’s approval. Commander Tubal leads a faction advocating a protracting campaign of pacification and fortification of the Theodosus Ridge, with the end goal of rooting out the Orion forces suspected to be occupying the mountains and securing access to the lanthanide veins within. Others counsel a more restrained approach of containment, reining in the mountain tribes who live in the foothills but not charging directly into the heart of the ridge itself.
Captain Borza throws his weight behind the containment faction, sweetening the pot with promises of Tau Ceti University research assistance to help the government better exploit both the lanthanide deposits and whatever advanced technology the Orions may have in their base. This ultimately sways the Queen, and she opts to forestall confrontation for the time being. Afterwards, Legate Washington takes Captain Borza aside and thanks him for tamping down a situation that threatened to spiral out of control; negotiations ensue, and in the end Captain Borza agrees that TCU’s cut will be 22% of the lanthanide profits and tech extraction proceeds. The agreement is sealed by a (cryptographically sound) handshake, and on his way out Captain Borza gives Legate Washington a warning about the Ghost City – both that it is Denebian enclave and that it hosts some kind of psychically invasive presence which really, Really wants to blow up the Theodosus Ridge.
With Tubal’s programming held in check by Aisha’s authority, the crew of the Hamilton O. Smith makes final preparations to leave. Rhoane thanks Phillip for his loyal service, and sets him up instructions on how to repair and use a hyperlight transmitter from the Bellerophon to stay in contact. Moving forward, Phillip will serve as local fixer and man-on-the-ground for all of TCU’s activities on New Axom.
Breaking orbit, the Captain finally makes the decision that the Ghost City is just too dangerous to leave standing – subsequent TCU researchers will almost certainly follow in the path of poor Dr. Hiroko and be left as little more than brainwashed automatons. He orders to rig a blaster volley to mimic the appearance of the ionic “green fire” weapon that the Orions are suspected of employing. At the appropriate moment, the ship skips a salvo of high-energy particles off the ionosphere and pummels the city. The actual amount of pummeling, interestingly enough, is an order of magnitude greater than the fire controls were set on the ship; Lucid Conundrum confirms that the weapons fire appears to have been augmented by an energetic discharge coming from the Theodosus Ridge. The conflict between the two ancient sites appears to finally be settled as the Ghost City is ground into highly-charged rubble by a localized ion storm overhead.