A Story of the Starblade Battalion

"I got this plasma torch and the guts to use it"


Episode 10 (2180.06.29)
by Shawn Hagen (1997)

http://www.gweep.bc.ca/~hagen/

Starblade Battalion is the Property of R.Talsorian Games.


Opening Credits--Same as before.

Tess hung off the repair scaffolding, banging on the Crossbones' power access panel with a rather large wrench. Good armor, she thought, as the wrench bounced off the panel, making a mess of the paint, but leaving the material unharmed. Almost a minute and a blister later, she released the wrench, letting it tumble down to the floor where it clanged loudly, bouncing three times.

She reached up and grabbed the bar her legs were wrapped around and pulled herself up onto the repair platform.

"Think you got me beat don't you?" she said to the suit. The suit just stood there. "Think I'm going to give up right? Well not this girl. I got a degree in mecha design from Sydney University. I got a years experience on one of the top design teams in all of Bahn/Zai. I got determination and spunk," she told it as she reached behind her. "But most of all, I got this plasma torch and the guts to use it," she told the suit as she lighted it up. Smiling evilly she approached the suit. "Let's party," she said, pulling on a pair of welding goggles.

"Belin," someone called from below.

"What?!" she yelled, looking over the side of the platform. Realizing she had no idea who was down there she pushed the goggles onto her forehead.

"Can't you see I'm busy?"

"What are you going to do with that?" the man below her asked. He was the chief tech in the repair bay.

"A little attitude adjustment," she told him.

"Well thank all the gods and goddesses you're not using explosives any more. Listen, some of the big wigs want to see you in two days time."

"Why?"

"Design questions?"

"Why?"

"Haven't you heard?"

"Heard what?"

"We stole an entire orbital factory and liberated its design team. They are going to be building new suits there."

"What?!"

"Crazy right? Well, I guess they want to pick you brains for all that Bahn/Zai stuff."

"Well, fuck," Tess said softly.

"Two days time, landing pad 6D, 2pm, local time. Be there."

"Got you Chief. Hey, could you do me a favor?"

"What is it?"

"Find out where Juan Varis is for me, will you?"

"Yea, yea," he said. "I'll do what I can."

"Thanks."

"Don't damage that suit too much," he said, walking away.

"I promise," Tess said, her fingers crossed behind her back so the chief could not see them, but the Crossbones could.

She pulled her goggles back into place, then adjusted the flame on the torch so it was as hot as she could get it.

"This won't hurt a bit," she told the suit. "It will hurt a lot."


Juan could barely keep his eyes open. He sat in one of the crash couches, waiting for the Thunder Clap to put down. It had taken them four days to deal with the pirates. Four days of almost constant battle. He was a Factor, he liked his battles to be in board rooms, with hot pots of coffee, served happily by OLs, with long breaks for lunch.

They had dealt with the pirates, made a small colony on Jillia 3 quite grateful, and had made an important gain. While the colony had only twenty thousand people on it, give or take a hundred or two, it had a very efficient and large foundry. The colonists had agreed to supply the Battalion with all the metals it needed.

Frost and all the others would be happy about that. He was too tired to be happy. Had he managed to profit from the operation he might have found the energy for joy, but all he wanted to do then was sleep.

The Thunder Clap jerked hard, starting him from the doze he had almost fallen into. He looked across at Ree and Epiphany. Ree had her head on Epiphany's shoulder, both of them dead to the world. It must be a mecha jock thing, he thought, being able to sleep in a ship that was bouncing them around like the Thunder Clap was.

Emiko and Tern had probably already landed. He envied them. Tern knew how to land a ship so that the passengers could sleep.

There were several more bounces, then one big one as the Cruiser finally touched down with a lot of noise and vibration. Epiphany woke at that point, but only long enough to push Ree away, who did not wake, then fall back asleep. He watched at Ree swung back, her head once again on Epiphany's shoulder.

"I hate them both," he said softly, releasing the restraint harness and getting to his feet. Somewhere, in the Warrens, he had a bed waiting for him. That was more than he could say about the Thunder Clap. No cabin space for him and the rest of his team. Why should there be? They had quarters on the John B.The John B. had left almost as soon as the operation was done, taking Diane off to Solingen where she had something important to take care of.

He walked down a ship's corridor, making polite noises to the crew as he passed by them. They had all been given a few days of leave and everyone planned to take advantage of it. He heard people talking about what they were going to do. He knew what he was going to do. He was going to sleep, and for a long time.

He passed through the mech bay, which was almost filled. Standing near the bay doors was Ree's Manticore. Flanking it was Epiphany's Draken, and Diane's modified Viggen. Then, a little farther from the rest, as if they were embarrassed to be seen with it, was his modified Troubadour.

Ree had actually been angry about his choice in suit. He could have had a Draken, an SAC Zephyr, or even another Manticore--though not modified as hers had been--and he chose a souped up Troub. Juan did not care. He was comfortable with the poky, as Tern put it, suit.

He walked by them after giving them a cursory, glance, then out of the ship, down the ramp, into the less than pleasant smell of Platt City. He actually smiled. The air stunk, but at least it was not recycled. It was too hot, but it was not climate controlled. Everything stretched out around him. Goddess, he thought, it was good to be on a planet.

"Juan," someone yelled from behind him. Juan kept walking. He did not want to stop, to talk to anyone. If he did, he might not get to sleep. "Juan," the person yelled again. It was a woman. He continued walking. "Juan Varis!" the person yelled, much closer. Familiar voice, he thought.

"What?!" he finally turned around. A few meters from him was a slightly surprised-looking Tess Belin.

"I need to talk to you," she said, not put off by his abrupt manner.

"Later. Tomorrow," he told her.

"Tomorrow will be too late I think. I need to talk to you now."

"Listen Miss Belin, my brain stopped working a day ago. I need to get some sleep."

"I'm sorry, Mr. Varis," she told him, "but you dragged me to this stinking dirtball. I think the least you could do it take some responsibility."

Juan stared at her for several seconds. "What do you want?"

"To design a mech," she told him.

"Have fun," he said, turning away.

"No, listen to me," she ran up beside him. "You've heard of Nebula Works right?"

"Yea."

"They stole it," she said as she fell in beside him.

"What?" Juan looked at her. "The Team?" He had heard a little talk that something like that might be in the works.

"The entire factory."

"Pardon?"

"It is somewhere out in that gas cloud," she waved her hand towards the sky. "I'm going up there tomorrow, they want to pick my brain."

"Okay, take into account I'm dead here. Explain it all to me and use simple words."

"They are going to be building suits up there. New ones. Cutting edge. Better, stronger, faster than anything the ODF or the SAC has. I want in on that. I want to build my own suit."

"Okay. Great. Tell them that. See what they say."

"Juan, I'm twenty-four, and I don't have a doctor to add to my name. They are not going to let me do it. I need your help. This is what you do right? Arrange deals?"

"You want me to tell Akira Ryuzaki to just let you design and build your own suit? Come on."

"There could be a lot of money in it."

"Pardon?" Juan said, looking a lot more alert.

"Well, we license my design to the Battalion for the duration of the hostilities. Then afterwards we reclaim it. During the war it will have built up a reputation which will allow us to sell it easily enough. I figure we can net ten figures, at least, in the first six months."

Juan stared at her for a moment. Somewhere in the back of his brain he could feel an excitement building that was almost managing to cut through the fog of exhaustion. "Okay. Let me get three hours sleep and then you'll have my undivided attention."

"Right," Tess smiled and nodded, keeping in step with him.

It was not until Juan unlocked the door of the small room he had then he realized she was still beside him. "What?"

"I figured I'd wait here. I have some work to do anyway," she held up the computer she was carrying so he could see.

"Fine," Juan said, walking over to his bed. He stripped off his outer clothing then fell forward onto the bed.

Tess watched him for a moment, then walked over to him, placing her computer on his desk. She shifted his legs into the bed, then pulled the covers over him. He really was tired, she realized.


Emiko stepped out of the air-conditioned comfort of the John B. and into the heat and stink of a Zanzibar day. Off to the far side of the landing pad she spotted the Thunder Clap.

She slung her carry on bag over her shoulder and walked down the boarding stairs. She had a few days leave in front of her, not that she really felt in need of them, and nothing to do. Tern had chased her off the ship, telling her he had a lot of work to do on it and did not need her, or anyone else, underfoot.

She doubted Ree, Juan or Epiphany would be up to doing anything for the rest of the day, maybe most of the next as well. They had not had a chance to get much rest during all the fighting. It made her feel guilty, what with the work they were doing. As Tern's copilot she had little real work to do.

Taking a small map from her pocket, Emiko studied it. She had a room in the Warrens, where ever they were, that she was sharing with Ree. Trying to find it seemed like a good way to kill a few hours.

She set off across the landing pad, a bounce in her step. As bad as Platt city was, it was nice to have a bit of gravity pulling at her, nice to feel her muscles working. She decided once she found her room she was going to find a place to sit down and work on her computer, give the encryption on that third file a try.


Juan woke up to the smell of something pleasant. It took him a moment to place it. Coffee. Good coffee, at that. Not the tar he made. He opened his eyes and sat up. Sitting at his desk was Tess Belin. It took him a moment to remember that she was supposed to be there.

"Here," Tess said, handing him a cup. "I put a spoonful of that stimulant in there."

"Only a spoonful?" Juan asked as he took a drink. "You're conservative."

"Just had one too many bad nights, wired to my eyeballs."

"I guess that would do it," Juan gulped down half the cup. "I'm going to take a shower," he got out of the bed. "I won't be long."

The rooms that filled the Warrens were mostly prefab. Quickly and cheaply set up. It showed. It was the first time Juan had spent any real length of time in the room. He had paid someone to furnish it beyond the minimal basics knowing he would never have the time or inclination to do it himself.

He had his own tiny bathroom with a tiny shower stall. The only good thing about it was the water, which was clean, didn't smell, beyond the faint tang of chemical purifiers and was hot. It was the first real shower he had managed in several days and he decided to enjoy it.

By the time his toes were beginning to wrinkle, he had washed his hair, shaved and brushed his teeth. While he did not feel terribly alert, he did feel almost human. When he came out of the washroom, wearing a thick robe someone had kindly left in the bathroom, Tess handed him another cup of coffee.

"All right," Juan said, taking a seat on his bed. "Let's talk."

"I want to design and build a suit."

"That I know."

"I'm going to need help to convince them to let me do it."

"That I know."

"I want you to help me."

Juan sipped the coffee, not saying anything for a time. "Miss Belin, let's talk facts here. You were roped into Team Buckaroo because of your skill with a guitar and how well you sing. Your skills as a mecha designer, as I understand it, are nothing great. Your own government thought so much of your talents that they were willing to kill you." Tess was about to say something but Juan held up his hand to forestall her.

"But," he continued, "seven months ago when Team Tsunami tried to snag you away from Buckaroo, Buckaroo pulled out a lot of stops to keep you."

"How do you know that?" Tess asked.

"I know a lot of things," he told her. "I know that there was talk it was about nothing more than they wanted to keep your musical abilities, but I don't believe that. So Miss Belin, what makes you so valuable?"

"Heard of Dr. Ian Gregor?"

"One of Buckaroo's chief designers."

"Right. Buckaroo likes to have these gab sessions. We would sit around and talk, about everything and anything. It was sort of an informal, fun way, to discuss projects. About a week after I joined the team Dr. Gregor stands up and starts talking about this idea he has for the gyro stabilization system for a real big gun, the Manticore's gun. He had been working on the concept for years, but had become stuck. So he tells us what he had done, hoping someone would be able to help him."

"And you did?"

"Not right away, but the next day I had an idea. I told him, he loved it, and it worked."

"Okay," Juan said, nodding.

"Well, that looks to be it, but a week later Dr. Marcus starts laying out a problem she got stuck on and a few hours later I give her her answer. Dr. Marcus started talking to Dr. Gregor and they came up with a crazy theory, they told me this later by the way, and decided to test it. So both come to me with a few things they had been working on but had become stuck. I gave them all their answers within three days."

"So, what did these two Doctors think?"

"Ian said I had the 'Eureka' factor."

"Which means?"

"He thought that my thought patterns were just twisted enough to figure out the place where others got stuck. I'm not good at all the hard work that is necessary for innovation, but the final hill that most people get stuck behind for a time, I find it easy to get over. At least that was what Ian said."

"Interesting," Juan said.

"It gets better," she smiled.

"Do tell."

"Both the doctors decided to mention this to some of their friends. The word got around, very hush-hush. Over the week that followed I did not have any time to myself. Anyone who was stuck wanted to tell me about their pet projects. Some of them were related to work they were doing for Bahn/Zai, others were things they just had been playing around with, often for years.

"I started to get sick of it very quickly. These people were looking at me as if I was some sort of magic answer machine. Some of them were just being lazy and some I did not like. So I just shut up and refused to help them. Oh, I still helped a few people I liked, but the others, I listened to them but never told them anything. The number of people coming to see me dropped off, but I was still talking to one or two designers a month."

"And Bahn/Zai never knew?"

"Would you tell your employers that you can't do your job unless you have someone give you the final answers?"

"Good point."

"What do you think now?"

"I think we might be able to do something. Do you have something amazing that you can show Ryuzaki tomorrow? Something he'll want so bad he can taste it?"

"I've got a few things."

"How about your basic design? Got that done?"

"More or less. It still needs work, but the foundation is there."

"Okay, let's see what we can do," Juan stood up and picked up a clipboard from his desk. Tess watched as he wrote, scratching out things, putting in something new. "Tell me something," he said.

"What?"

"Why didn't you do this work back when you were with Buckaroo?"

"Everyone who ever talked to me would have been all over me if any of their ideas started showing up in my name. I had all this great stuff, but I could not do anything with it as long as I was with Bahn/Zai and if I tried to leave, well, they've got some really stiff, non-disclosure articles in their contracts."

"Thanks," Juan said, writing something else on the paper.

"Are you making a contract?"

"Yes."

"Why?"

"I need it. So, why now?"

"Why build it now? Because the USSA tried to kill me, I guess. Because I want to help stop this war. Because I can get away with it now. We could get sued later, you know."

"This is the sort of thing that could get hung up in court. We'd make them prove that you could not have come up with the concept on your own, that you hadn't already done so by the time these people came to you."

"Hard to prove."

"Exactly. We could tie this up in the courts for years and spend very little money doing so. The fact is we would have the completed technology and they would only have the work almost leading up to it. That would work well in our favor. Here," he handed her the paper.

Tess took it and looked it over. "I Tess Belin, agree to work as the chief designer for name to be deiced later," she paused. "I take it that since the 'name to be deiced later' is in brackets that that is not the actual name of our company?"

"No," Juan said.

"Too bad. It had a certain style," she said, then went back to reading. "for a period of six years for all the standard benefits that my position would usually entail. I also agree to disclose no trade secrets relating to, name to be decided later. Six years?" she looked at him.

"I figure that will be enough."

"I also want some stock."

"How much?"

"As much as you are taking."

"Too much. Tell you what. We'll split what I was planning to take."

"How much would that be?"

"You'd get ten percent."

"Deal."

"Sign it."

Tess took the pen from him and signed it.

"You'll still have to convince Akira to let you do it. I'll get you the chance."

"That's all I need."

"Good, now if you will excuse me, I have work to do," Juan unbelted his robe and dropped it to the floor.

"What?" Tess asked, not bothered by the nude man in front of her.

"I have to get some more investors to make this work."

"I'll leave you to that then," Tess got to her feet. "I'll finish up the work on my basic design in case I have to present it tomorrow."

"Good."


While most of the Warrens were prefab, ugly little rooms, thrown together in every which way, there were some rather pleasant areas. After Emiko had dropped off her stuff in her room she had gone exploring and found one of those places.

It was a lounge/cafe of sorts. A large room, lit by sky lights. The sky lights were a nice touch as they let in sunlight but one could not see any of Platt city through them. The room was full of flowering plants that, with the help of air filters, cut the smell of the city and the buildings. A bright, comfortable place to rest.

Emiko found an empty table, set her computer on it, and went to work.

The encryption protocols on the file were, for all intents and purposes, unbreakable. It was one of the ways the hyperweb was made so secure. Still, nothing was perfect, there were holes that the clever and skilled could use to pry the files open.

She was not sure if it was that Gaian programmers were unimaginative, or if they just carried the recycling philosophy a little too far, but if she had a key to work with, she could usually break a file. It took a little time, and thinking in ways that sometimes gave Emiko headaches, but it worked.

The other alternatives were to steal the key she needed, possible, but not easy, or crack it open the hard way. The hard way involved a hideously powerful computer and a lot of time.

Emiko tried another of the keys she had acquired on the file, waiting to see what happened. She tried another one, and another after that until she had given them all a try. Then she went back and picked the one that looked the most promising and began to work with it. Picking the right one was the hardest part. Emiko had a certain feel for it, built up over years of work.

As she slowly tweaked the program into the shape she wanted, Emiko's thoughts drifted onto other paths.

She wondered what her brother was doing right then. She wondered what he was thinking. Had he told their parents yet? What would they think? She wondered if Alice has gotten her letter yet. She wondered how Takashi was. Home seemed so far away right then.

Summer vacation would be starting in a couple of weeks. She remembered the part time jobs she and Alice would get together, and everything they would spend the money on. She remembered how her mother would always tell her that she should be studying. Emiko smiled, at the thought. Her mother had loved her, as twisted up at that love had been. She expressed it in an odd way, but Emiko had learned to see it for what it was.

Makoto had always tried to arrange some leave during the school holidays, so he could see her. Her father sometimes did that as well. With the war on it was unlikely that either would be back. She wondered if her mother was lonely.

When her eyes focused on the screen again she realized that she was looking at the decrypted file. Smiling slightly, she began to read. As she read, her eyes widened. She could not believe what she was reading. But then again, not so long ago she would not have believed what she now knew for the truth.

She had to show someone this. She would have to find Juan. She looked around the room, wondering if she might find someone who could tell her where he was. That was when she saw Captain Frost standing a few meters from her, watching her.

"I'm sorry," Redding said when he saw her start. "I saw you sitting here but noticed you were busy. What have you found?"

Emiko turned her computer around so the screen was facing him. He walked over and took a seat. Emiko said nothing as he read.

"Well, I wish I could say I find this completely unbelievable," he told her, turning the computer back to face her.

"Would they really do that?"

"Some would."

"It's horrible," she told him.

"It is. Of course I've read some files we stole from Solingen GmbH. They are not much better."

Emiko shut off her computer and closed it up. She ejected the disk and handed it to him.

"Let me get you a cup of tea," he said, getting to his feet.

When Redding came back he had someone with him. It took Emiko a moment to identify the woman. Placide Strazza."

"I hope you don't mind," Redding said, putting the cup of tea in front of Emiko. "The Lieutenant Commander and I have to talk."

Placide nodded at Emiko as she sat down. It was a curt nod and Emiko thought the woman hardly saw her.

"Miss Miya has given us more of the Gaian agenda," Redding said.

"Oh," Placide looked over at Emiko, more interest in her eyes. "What is it this time?"

"Forced labor to build space colonies. I won't belabor the details, but once they have control of the cluster, most crimes will carry a sentence of hard labor."

"Most of the farmers and ranchers will be dragged off first," Emiko said. "as criminals their living conditions will be less than pleasant." She felt a little sick.

"Useful information," Placide told Emiko. "Good work."

"Thank you," Emiko said.

"Have you reviewed those files I sent you?" Placide turned her attention to Redding.

"Yes. It wasn't the SAC, no more than what happened on that asteroid was the fault of the ODF."

"I agree."

"While it is possible that either the circle or the board of directors might have arranged for this, that they would have done it at the same time seems very unlikely."

"Which leaves few possibilities. I identified this man," Placide said as she took out several photos and placed them on the table. "His name was Kevin Dia. ODF infantry. Deserted six months ago."

Emiko leaned over the table to look at the picture. She almost wished she had not. It was a picture of a man with half his head blown off. There were other, similar pictures there. Some were worse.

"The same sort of history on the dead SAC and SCC people the ODF found on that colony."

"What happened?" Emiko asked softly.

Placide looked Emiko as if she was suddenly seeing her again. Redding looked at her and shook her head. "You don't want to know."

"There was a very small colony of about thirty people, homesteaders. Someone killed them all. Brutally," Placide said. "Rape and torture were evident. Same thing in a small belt settlement in Earth's Asteroid belt."

"Both targets had some, very minor, military significance, and the dead attackers were wearing SAC or ODF kit," Redding told her.

"That's horrible," Emiko said.

"This was Midnight Sun," Placide said to Redding. "I'm sure of it. They will thrive in a war time environment. They'll do whatever they can to keep it going."

"I agree with you."

"I don't understand them at all," Emiko said, thinking back to the attack on Waikiki.

"They don't make very much sense," Placide said, looking at Emiko again. She suddenly realized how young the girl was.

"Have you ever asked your father?" Redding asked Emiko.

"Pardon?" Emiko looked at him, wondering what he meant.

"I've known your father for a long time. Some time ago we were having the same kind of discussion as we are now. He told me something then that I have always remembered. I had him write it down at the time and then committed it to memory."

"What was it?" Placide asked before Emiko could.

"It was something a man named Jean Baudrillard wrote in a book called 'Cool Memories' back near the end of the twentieth century. He wrote, 'The day the world ends, no one will be there, just as no one was there when it began. This is a scandal. Such a scandal for the human race that it is indeed capable collectively, out of spite, of hastening the end of the world by all means just so it can enjoy the show.'"

Emiko repeated the words softly to herself, trying to make sense of them. Placide nodded.

"Taken to an extreme, it typifies the Midnight Sun. Less extreme, it explains the mind set of those that took the Earth to the brink."

"My father told you that?" Emiko said after a moment.

"He did," Redding nodded. "I was always surprised by his choice of career at the time. I thought he was destined to be a philosopher myself."

"Yes," Placide said, obviously wanting to change the subject. "We need to talk about some things on both our sides."

"Of course," Redding nodded.

Emiko sat there as they talked, hardly aware of them. She was thinking about her father and how little she really knew about him.


Avatar had his pistol out and pointed at the door before it was fully open.

"I should have knocked," Juan said, smiling at him. He was dressed at his best and seemed completely unconcerned that there was a pistol pointed at his chest.

"You should have," Avatar told him, returning the pistol to its shoulder holster. "Have a seat."

Juan nodded then closed the door behind him. The leader of the Charybdis, and one of the more powerful men in human space, had a rather simple office. Well made, sturdy, but not ostentatious furniture filled the room. There was fine porcelain on the shelves, old books and a claymore was mounted on the wall behind his desk.

"What do you want, Juan," he asked.

"To make you rich," Juan said in his best TV voice as he sat down.

Anyone else, Avatar would have kicked him or her out of his office for wasting his time, with a beating as an object lesson thrown in. Juan could get away with it. "I'm already rich," Avatar turned his attention back to his work. He knew Juan hated it when he was not the center of attention.

"Ground floor deal. New company. We'll be building razor-edge suit designs. Everyone will want them, everyone will need them."

"You have my interest, keep talking," he did not look up from his work.

"Eleventh Hour Industries' top designer, well, so far its only designer, Tess Belin, once of Bahn/Zai, will be building our first entry into the market."

"I like the name, it's catchy," Avatar still did not look up. "Isn't this the same Tess Belin that the USSA was more than willing to feed to the sharks?"

"You remember her? I'm glad."

"This does not inspire me with confidence."

Juan smiled then filled Avatar on everything that Tess had told him. Halfway through his story Avatar's gaze shifted from his work to Juan and never left the man.

"Are you sure of this?" Avatar asked when Juan was finished.

"Sure enough. It sets well with what I already know. And if it all goes over well, we have suit design that is five to ten years ahead of what everyone else is doing. We keep that edge, we take the market."

"What do you want from me?"

"For a percentage of the stock, you provide support for this project."

"What sort of support?"

"Whatever we need. Mostly materials. I'll be arranging to rent space out from Nebula Works."

"You're ensuring that Eleventh Hour Industries stays private?"

"Yes."

"What will I be agreeing to right now?"

"If Tess convinces Akira to let her get to work, you provide support. If she doesn't, there is no deal."

"How much stock do I get?"

"Thirty five percent. I've taken ten and so has Tess."

"You let one of the designers have a say in how the company will be run?"

"I needed her completely with the company. That was the best way to do it.

"You have my support," he told Juan. "Now go get some sleep, you look like shit."

"Thanks," Juan said, getting to his feet. "You won't regret this."

"I'm sure I won't," Avatar said, going back to his work.

Juan smiled. He was back to doing the sort of work he really liked, for a time at least.


"Get up Emi-chan," Ree said, dropping on Emiko's bed. "Wakey-wakey, little Emiko."

"Shut up," Emiko mumbled into her pillow.

"Are you cranky?" Ree teased.

"I just want to sleep."

"Is it that time of month?" Ree asked her.

"I got a pistol under my pillow, Marshall Vichy's orders."

"Get up," Ree said, pulling the covers off Emiko so she could tickle her. Emiko shrieked and bolted up right, knocking Ree to the floor. "Glad to see you are up," Ree said from her place on the floor.

"What can I do for you?" Emiko asked before flopping back onto the bed.

"Get up," Ree said, standing.

Emiko grumbled as she moved so she was sitting on the bed. "I'm up."

"Good," Ree said, climbing on the bed, kneeling behind Emiko. "Now, pretend you are sitting in the cockpit of a mech," Ree said, putting her hands on Emiko's shoulders.

Emiko rolled her eyes. "Okay, I'm in the seat of a mech," she said.

"Pretend harder," Ree said, beginning to massage Emiko's shoulders. "Close your eyes, visualize it all. Now put your hands on the controls," she told her as she dug her thumbs into the muscles of her back. "Hold your hands like they are on the controls, not like your holding a tray. Good, now, go through start up procedures, see everything in your mind, know where everything is," Ree told her as she watched, continuing to work on Emiko's shoulders.

"That's good. Feel the slight vibration as power runs through everything, feel it right in your stomach where it is the strongest. Listen to the sounds, the beeps, everything is coming on line, everything is in the green. Now, walk her towards the launch tube."

Ree talked as she continued to gently rub Emiko's shoulders. She watched as Emiko went through the movements, doing everything as she was supposed to. Ree kept it to normal flying for almost thirty minutes. By that time she was only resting her hands on Emiko's shoulders, speaking softly. Time to change things she decided.

"You got something on your sensors, ten kilometers to your starboard, forty five degrees down from your present center line," she said. Emiko's hands and feet moved through the sequence that, had she been in a mech, would have brought her around on course with the bogey.

Ree sent her into combat, her voice softly telling Emiko what was happening. One suit, then two more, finally three. She could feel Emiko gasping softly, could feel her pulse, hard and fast. She watched as Emiko's hands moved, going through the maneuvers, trying to shake tails and get the other suits in her sights.

"Boom," Ree said. "You're dead."

Emiko gasped as her eyes opened. She took several deep breaths, shaking her head. "What happened?"

"Just a bit of training. It is a trick my father taught me. Of course he never used the massages, nor got as close," Ree said. "You don't need a simulator if you can visualize it."

"Imagine flying?" Emiko's tone held disbelief.

"Hey, it was working pretty well for you Emi-chan. You were breathing pretty heavily, your heart was thumping, I figure the adrenaline was there. Unless it was me that you were getting excited about?"

"How could I not, onnechan?" Emiko said, having learned the best way to deal with Ree's teasing was not to be bothered by it. Or at least not appear to be bothered by it.

"As I thought. Go take a shower, then we'll find Epiphany and go get something to eat."

"Does this visualization thing really work?"

"I'm not the best for nothing," Ree told her.

"I'll admit you are the best," Emiko said, grabbing a towel from the end of her bed. "If only you weren't so conceited."

Ree bounced a pillow off the back of Emiko's head.


Diane stood on one side of the door, looking at Marshall Sharp who stood on the other side. She looked at him and held up five fingers. He shook his head and held up four. Diane tapped the side of her head, made jerking motion with her thumb, then held up five fingers again. Sharp seemed to be looking off at nothing for a moment, then nodded, holding up five fingers.

Diane winked at him. He gave her the finger, then opened and closed his hand three times. Diane nodded then watched as he started counting down, closing his three upraised fingers, one at a time, into a fist. When the last was down he swung around, kicking in the door. Diane crouched down under his kick, her pistol in front of her.

When the door flew open Diane began firing, her .22 pistol making almost no noise. She had a folded clip, plenty of ammunition, and several possible targets. She took three down, hand shots.

"No one move!" Sharp shouted.

The woman who had not been shot sat on the couch, staring across at Diane. "Isn't New Berlin out of your usual jurisdiction Marshall?" she asked.

"Everywhere is my Jurisdiction Miss Mercuri."

"What do you want?"

"A few favors."

"And if I don't feel like giving them to you? Are you going to kill me in cold blood?"

"Perhaps," Diane said.

From the bathroom the last of the bodyguards came out, a weapon ready. Sharp shot him before he could do anything.

"Told you there were five," Diane said.

"There's only four now."

"Extreme measures just to be right. Miss Mercuri, do you mind if we come in?"

"Please do so."

Diane moved to the side before standing up, not about to get in Sharp's line of fire. Sharp moved into the room and pulled the door closed behind him.

"So, what is it you want from me?" Mercuri asked.

"Not too much," Diane said. "Solingen GmbH has hired your people out before to do little jobs that they did not want to dirty their hands with."

"I have no idea what you are talking about. I'm a dealer in precious metals, nothing more."

"Miss Mercuri, you will give me all your files concerning Solingen GmbH's dirty dealings."

"If I refuse?"

"I'll lock you up in Gaol."

"They would never convict me."

"Who said anything about a conviction. If I put you on one of those prison ships, your voice will be lost in all the others claiming to be innocent."

"You wouldn't," she said, paling.

"It is within our rights as Pleiades Marshals to act as judge and jury if need be," Sharp said.

Mercuri looked at the two Marshals. Normally she would think that they were lying, but something in their eyes, something in their bearing, told her that they were serious. It was the war, she realized. It had changed things. The new rules were that much harder.

"I'll give you everything you want, for amnesty," she told them. Solingen would come after her when they found out what she had done, but that was better than Gaol. The prison planet was a hellhole.

"Agreed. Let's go," Diane said. "No one else move."

Mercuri got up from her seat, picking up a computer from the table top and then walked across the room. Diane waved her off to the side, keeping Sharp's field of fire clear, then she searched her. She removed two pistols, a knife, and even found a garrote wire hidden in her hair. Diane then checked over the computer and found a slim razor hidden in it.

"I'm going to cuff your hands in front of you," Diane said. "We can hide them with a coat. Don't make that think you can get away with anything." Diane put the handcuffs on her.

Diane took over watching the three bodyguards as Sharp opened the door and checked the hall way to make sure it was clear. "Okay."

"Let's go Miss Mercuri," Diane said, directing her out of the room.

As soon as they were out they rushed to the elevator waiting for them. Sharp had put a holder on it. Once they were in he pulled the holder free and hit the button for the ground floor.

"This computer has the files we want on it?"

"Yes. They are all encrypted, of course."

"The key?"

"Stored in my head," she told them.

"Clever," Diane said as she put the computer in her bag.

"Thank yo Marshall. What do you expect to gain from this?"

"Whatever we can."

When the doors opened on the lobby they walked out, a relaxed pace. Both the Marshals were looking everywhere without seeming to. Mercuri was relaxed. She knew there was nothing she could do and that it was in the Marshals' interest to keep her safe.

Just as they were approaching the exit a car crashed through the armourglass doors, skidding into the lobby.

Sharp pushed Mercuri towards Diane, pulling a carbine from under his coat. Diane gave Mercuri another shove, putting her behind a thick planter of plascrete. Then she pulled out her .22 and a much larger pistol.

The team in the car were good, they popped smoke right away, filling the lobby up with a thick, but harmless cloud. The cloud did not seem to affect them much, they managed to pin Diane and Sharp down quickly enough.

Diane dashed from cover to cover, letting Sharp cover her as best he could. She wanted to get to Mercuri before the others did. She did not know if they were there to rescue her or to kill her, but she was going to do her best to see neither happened.

She dashed across an open space, making for the planter. She dove to the ground and slid behind the planter.

"I'm guess this is not part of your brilliant plan," Mercuri said, her normally calm demeanor was being strained a little.

"Here," Diane pulled the keys for the cuffs from her pocket.

Mercuri unlocked the cuffs quickly. "Going to give me a gun?"

"Not a chance in hell," Diane told her, keeping her head down. <What do you think?> she sent over her datalink.

<Let's go out the back,>Sharp sent to her.

<What if they are out there as well?>

<Burn that bridge when we come to it.>

<Your call,> Diane told him as she looked around. Air scrubbers had come on to clear the smoke out. Alarms were going off, but the sprinklers had not come on. Smart alarm system, she thought. "We're going to make a run for the back," she told Mercuri.

"Fine."

"Go, I'll be right behind you."

"Take care, Marshall," Mercuri said as she got up and ran across the floor. Diane went after her, moving slower so she could keep an eye on what was happening behind her.

Mercuri was increasing her lead. Not all that surprising. Diane expected her to make a break for it. She was taking a chance on being able to capture her again, but she did not think that Mercuri would go too far ahead, just in case she ran into trouble.

She linked up the Sharp in the kitchen. The hotel staff were all on the floor, hiding under anything substantial. Smart people, Diane thought.

"Where is she?" Sharp asked.

"Just ahead of us, probably hitting the exit right now."

"Let's go."

As soon as they cleared the hotel they came under gunfire. Diane took a graze across her right arm. It was barely a scratch, but it hurt. Sharp returned fire right away, hitting one of the their attackers, making the other keep their head down.

Out on the middle of the street, Mercuri was lying in a pool of blood. Diane was fairly certain what she would find when she got there--there was so much blood after all--but she had to check. Most of the back of Mercuri's head was gone and there was a large hole in her back. Diane did not even check for a pulse.

"Let's go," she called to Sharp, heading down the street.

With Mercuri dead, it did not seem like anyone was too interested in following them. They made it to their car and soon left the hotel behind.

"They must have had her bugged," Sharp said.

"Or one of her bodyguards was a Solingen plant."

"Think you'll be able to get into those files?" he asked her.

"I'll give it to Emiko-kun, she what she can figure out. The police are sending out a report," Diane told him, relaying what had just gotten over her datalink.

"I know. No civilian fatalities. We got about five of them."

"Do you think Solingen will come after us?"

"Not officially."

"Part of me feels like I should turn in my badge."

"Don't listen to that part."

"Thanks."

"You going back to Zanzibar?"

"That was my plan."

"Want some company?"

"Throwing in with us completely?"

"Yea."

"Welcome to the side of the Angels," Diane said.

"Don't kid yourself," Sharp laughed. "None of that bunch you are associating with are angels."

"True," Diane smiled. "But that is what makes them interesting."


"All right Dr. Lars, the HA design will be yours," Akira said, looking across the table at the man.

"Thank you," Dr. Edward Lars said, smiling.

Akira was not too sure of the man, but he had designed the Charybdis' Crossbones and he seemed to know what he was talking about. It was probably more of a personality thing than a question of ability.

"I think that covers the basics. We'll be a little short of manpower for all the teams, but hopefully in time we can fill our numbers out," he told the men and women around the table. They were the best designers that he had, most of them coming for Nebula Works. He had sent some discrete messages to the ex-Nebula Works members that had been head-hunted for Singularity Works. He hoped they would return.

"Are you sure we can build three different models," Dr. Lars asked.

Akira smiled. "We have complete factories on this spinner, and warehouses full of materials. We will not be short there. Our biggest problem will be getting the number of pilots we need to fly them."

"What about time?" Edward asked.

"The work on this spinner was not only about designing suits. There was also interest in coming up with ways to make them faster and cheaper while maintaining quality. We may very well have the most advanced mecha factories anywhere," Dr. Emila Roberts told him.

Edward appeared to think about it for a time, then nodded.

"Now, onto our next order of business. We have a member of one of Bahn/Zai's design teams here. She should be able to help us reverse-engineer the gyro stabilization system from the Manticore, and maybe a few other things. Once we know what she is capable of, we'll decide what team to put her on," he told them as he picked up the phone in front of him. "Send Belin-san in," he told the secretary.

A moment later Tess walked into the room. When Akira saw Juan behind her he had a very uncomfortable feeling. With anyone else he might have moved his hand to his wallet, but Juan had never thought that small.

"Varis-san," he said politely. "We are in a meeting right now. Perhaps you could come back later," he said, hoping he had nothing to do with Tess.

"I'm sorry Ryuzaki-dono," he said, smiling slightly, "but as you wish to talk with Eleventh Hour Industries' chief designer I have to be here to watch out for the interests of the company's stock holders."

"Eleventh Hour Industries?" Akira said, not sure what to think.

"We're still a small company, but we plan to expand rapidly."

It wasn't that Akira did not like Juan, he actually respected him for his skills, but he had mediated the personnel transfer agreements between Nebula and Singularity Works and Akira still felt a little resentful about it. He did not feel like playing Juan's game.

"We won't be needing your services after all, Belin-san," he said. "Shitsurei shimasu (I'm sorry)."

Tess took and EO pad from her pocket, put it on the polished stone table top, and slid it across to Akira. She said nothing.

Against his better judgment, he picked it up. He read the information, tapping the scroll button rapidly. Suddenly he stopped, then hit the reverse scroll button, carefully looking over the information he had only glanced at before. "Have a seat, Belin-san," he said.

Juan pulled out a chair for Tess, then sat beside her. He had the tact not to smile.

"This is not the complete molecular structure," he said, finally looking up at her.

"The rest of it is on this EO pad," she told him, holding up another.

Akira passed the pad he had to Dr. Roberts. As she read it her eyes widened. "We have to have this," she looked at Akira.

"Thank you doctor for weakening our negotiating position," Akira said to her.

"Sorry," Emila said, passing he pad down the table.

It seemed to have a similar effect of everyone who read it.

"What do you want, Varis-san," Akira asked, resigned to it.

"We will license that armour type to the Nebula Works design team, and through them, the Starblade Battalion, for several concessions."

"What are they?"

"To make it short, everything we need to design and build a suit."

"I see," he looked over at Tess. "Belin-san, have you heard of me?"

"Dr. Ryuzaki," she said. "Your work is well known, though we haven't seen anything from you in some time."

"One of the reasons I ended my association with Solingen GmbH," he said softly. "What about Dr. Roberts?"

"Of course. Her work with energy weapon systems is truly brilliant."

"Dr. Johanson,?"

"Yes. I understand what you're saying, but I can do this," she went quiet for a moment, looked over at Juan, some trepidation in her face, then continued. "Here's the rest of the information for that armour," she told him, pushing the second EO pad to him. "I can also supply you with several other innovations and of course I will help you reverse engineer as much of the Bahn/Zai systems as I can. I want a chance, Ryuzaki-san. Just a chance. Look at my design. If you think it is good, then give me the space and the team."

Juan had rolled his eyes up, looking anything but happy. Akira was almost positive that the whole thing had been rehearsed. Even if he refused to let her design her unit, he was sure that he would still get all that she could give. It matched with Juan as well. He was after profit, but he minimized the hurt to others.

"We have three concepts already. A Soldier suit, an Interceptor and an HA. We may decide to on a forth, a Starfighter. Where does your concept fit?"

"Somewhere between a Starfighter and an Interceptor," she told him.

"Are you ready to present?"

"Yes, but if I could get it, I would like some time with a powerful computer system to run some final simulations."

"That can be arranged. In two days you'll present your design. If I think it is worthy, you'll get your chance to build it. I supposed that if I do, the licensing agreement for the things you will be giving us will cover rent and such for the facilities and equipment she will be using?" he looked at Juan.

"That is the basic deal. We've also arranged for an outside supplier for some of our material needs."

"One of your stockholders, no doubt."

"Indeed," Juan nodded.

"Prepare the contracts, I'll look them over."

"Thank you very much," Tess said. "I'll do my best."

Akira looked at her for a moment, then nodded. "I'm sure you will. Good luck.

"Thank you Ryuzaki-san."

"Don't thank me yet. Now, we have some design questions to talk over. Varis-san, you may stay if you wish..."

"I'm not needed any longer," Juan got to his feet. "Thank you," he bowed towards Akira. "And I'm always around if you need something, say, the names of several designers from Cloud Works who have been reprimanded several times in the past for not being to polite too Solingen. Bye," he said, exiting the room.

Tess watched him go, then turned back to the rest of the room. "Is he always that annoying?"

"Yes," Akira said. "It wouldn't be so bad if he was not so likable."


"Are you sure you'll be all right?" Ree asked Emiko.

"Yes onnechan. I'm just going to go back to the Warrens."

"Okay. Well," she looked over at Epiphany. "Let's shop."

Epiphany laughed. "I'll improve your wardrobe. Bye, Emi-san."

"Sayonara," Emiko said, watching them walk off. She then turned and headed back to the Warrens. Platt City did not bother her very much any more, and it left her alone. Marshall Vichy had told her that she no longer looked like a victim.

She moved with a confidence she almost felt, watching the area around her, completely aware of what was happening. When she heard the sound of running behind her she moved smoothly to the side, at the same time she looked over her shoulder. What she saw shocked her.

It was the police officer, the Japanese one, who had arrested her. He was running right at her, there was no doubt about that. The shock of seeing him, the anger on his face, all of that kept her from doing anything that she should have. It was more luck than anything else that she managed to sidestep him. At the last moment, all the lessons Diane had pounded into her head made her stick her foot out, catching him in the shins.

He pitched forward, landing in a pile of trash and dirt. When he pushed himself to his hands and knees and looked over his shoulder at Emiko, the anger in his eyes had changed to hate.

Emiko turned and ran.

After several seconds Ryu pushed himself to his feet and went after the girl. He almost pulled his pistol but changed his mind. He wanted everything to be up close and personal.

He had come to Platt city when he had heard rumors of Juan Varis being there. He had not seen that man but had spotted the Maxil woman. She had led him to Miya.

The girl ahead of him was fast, and adept at avoiding trouble. Running in Platt City was a sure way to attract the wrong attention. He watched, a little admiration making its way through the anger, as she dealt with that attention. It was slowing her down though and he was catching up. Even running, Ryu knew he looked threatening enough to discourage trouble.

Her lead was shrinking. When he got his hands on her... His mind shied away from those thoughts, pushing them far back so he did not have to face them. She would not be alive when he was done. That he was sure of.

Emiko did not look back as she ran. Her attention on what was in front of her, watching for potential problems. What was behind her did not matter, she told herself. Don't look back. Don't look back.

She looked back and saw the man was close to her. She also stumbled on a piece of trash, almost tripping. She caught herself before she could fall and continued running. I told you not to look back! She angrily told herself.

She made a sharp turn into an alley, her feet slipping on the trash there. She fell forward but caught herself with her hands and pushed off, continuing her forward motion and regained her balance. Far away, the palms of her hands stung. She was going to want to get some kind of shot for that.

The alley was fairly small, and cluttered. Her smaller size made it easier to get through. From the sounds behind her the police officer was not having an easy time of it.

When Emiko reached the exit of the alley she turned and skidded to a stop, reaching into her jacket for her pistol. She stopped when she saw an old, corroded, pipe on the ground. She left her pistol in the holster and scooped up the pipe.

Standing to the side of the alley she waited, listening to the sound of the man's passage, waiting.

When he came out of the alley, she swung the pipe with all her strength, right into his stomach. Her folded over around it, then fell to the ground. Emiko swung the pipe around, bringing it down on his shoulders. The metal fragmented and he collapsed to the ground, unmoving.

She dropped the broken pipe, then ran off, leaving him behind.

People on the street watched what happened without saying anything, without doing anything. Platt City was like that. After several seconds a young woman, skinny, her hair greasy and her skin and clothing dirty, approached Ryu's body. She bent down, looking him over, then reached for his watch first, grabbing it and pulling from his wrist.

She had it off when suddenly he grabbed her wrist, pulling her close as he surged to his knees. His hands went around her neck and a moment later the was a loud snap.

He stood, letting her body collapse to the ground. He did not bother to retrieve his watch, but looked around, trying to spot Miya. She was gone.

Ryu plodded down the street, hoping for some sign of her. There was none though. She knew he was after her now. She would be more careful from then on. He was angry, but he knew he would have his chance yet. They would meet again. he was sure of that.

And when they did... Once again, his mind shied away from those thoughts.

Ending Credits - the same as before.


MM-1G-VT (Vichy Type)-INT "Viggen Gun Fighter"

The modifications made to Marshal Vichy's Viggen are simple, though expensive.

The missile systems were pulled, as was the shield and the heat saber - though a Zephyr's combat knife was added - and a second 5M Gauss gun added, no linkage. Both of the 5M's were modified so they could be easily fired with only one hand, as well as the cyclic rate being increased (BV 7) though the amount of ammunition in each clip remained unchanged (26 Brsts). The space where the missile racks were mounted is where extra magazines for the 5Ms are carried. The head cockpit was pulled - though the head can still be used as a very cramped escape pod - and the space used for anti missile ECM (rating 3) suite and a targeting computer (+1).

Juan Varis

Factor, Team Leader (Starblade Battalion)

Description: 180cm, 76kg, 25 years old, short brown hair, dark brown eyes, light brown skin.

Quote: "This way is just as effective and more profitable."

Notes: Juan Varis is a Factor. He lives to make sure that everyone makes a profit - and he does as well. He's friendly, always has a smile, something best described as mischief in his eyes and he is very likable, even though he is arrogant. He has turned out to be a good leader, though he takes setbacks a bit too hard.

He is fairly well known around the cluster, and even on Earth, by certain people. When he was seventeen he made twenty million credits overnight by investing money he really did not have. Fifteen million credits in fines and legal fees later, he was went on to build a forty million credit fortune in six months and then lost it all on one bad deal. A month later he had it all back. Juan has hit bottom several times since then, but he never stays there for long.

Juan is all for independence in the Pleiades - granted it does not interfere with trade; all for expansion - as long as ecosystems aren't destroyed or hurt beyond mending, and completely against the war.

Important Stats and Skills: ATT 7, COOL 7, INT 8, LUCK 9, Wardrobe & Style 6, Persuasion & Fast Talk 8, Human Perception 6, Expert/Economics 6, Datalink, Nanobodies.

Diane Vichy

Mekton Pilot, Special Operative (Ex-(kind of) Marshall, now Starblade Battalion)

Description: 177cm, 78kg, 23 years old, short brown hair, long bangs partially covering left eye, athletic build.

Quote: "Don't move, don't do anything stupid, and you won't die."

Notes: Diane Vichy became the youngest Outback Marshall ever when she was seventeen. She had a long association with the police through her mother, a police officer on one of the Hammersmith spinner colonies, and had watched every John Wayne movie ever made thanks to her father's obsession with old Earth westerns. She 'enjoyed' the highest fatal arrest record of all Marshals.

She's usually quiet and serious, though she has a sense of humor she shows to her friends.

Never too impressed with Solingen GmbH, she had little problem throwing in with the Starblade Battalion. She still considers herself to be a Marshall. After all, her ultimate job was to protect the citizens of the Pleiades.

Important Stats and Skills: BOD 7, COOL 7, REF 8, Interrogation 5, Streetwise 5, Awareness/Notice 6, Shadowing/Avoid Pursuit 5, Teaching 4, Handgun 9, Hand to Hand 7, Zero-G 8, Mecha Gunnery 7, Datalink, Nanobodies, Skinweave. (Note, most guns Diane uses have been smart modified).


Note: Epiphany Clarris was inspired by Aoi-chan from Taihoshichauzo.

Note 2: I'm wondering if I should have some sort of design contest for Starblade's mechs?


"Watashi wa anata no ane, soshite haha, soshite anata."
--Miyu Kyuuketsuki ga Yui ni itta
Shawn Hagen <hagen@brant.net>
<http://www.netroute.n>


On to Chapter 10