Episode 11 (2180.07.02)
by Shawn Hagen (1997)
Starblade Battalion is the Property of R.Talsorian Games.
Music, still Talking Heads, "Life During Wartime" (go put it on right now!)
Emiko's eyes, within them a myriad of tiny points of light. The camera angle is pulled back-she's wearing a simple dress with a flight jacket draped over her shoulders-then swung around her. She standing by a large window, staring out into space. The stars begin to be obscured by explosions, blossoming out in the void. They soon fill the screen.
When they fade we see a slide show of all the worlds with a large human population as the back ground as all the major characters get their quick appearance. Sharp viewers will notice clothing and poses have changed.
Ree's Manticore and Grendel's Harbinger fighting it out in a burning, dark city. They lock their suits 'hands-up' in a battle of pure strength, the ground under the feet of their suits cracking, unable to take the stress. The screen is split diagonally, Grendel's face on one side, Ree's on the other, both looking extremely determined and angry.
Diane and Sharp, guns blazing as they charge through the corridors of some structure somewhere. Diane dives to the ground, a pistol in each hand, firing rapidly at a group of people in ODF combat gear. There is something in Sharp's hand that flashes the dim light of the hallway, and several of the ODF people lose limbs.
Tern on a motorcycle, Emiko behind him, clinging to his waist, screaming down the streets of some city, police bikes behind them, and not catching up by the looks of things. Tern pops the bike up on its rear wheel, jumping over a concrete barrier, putting it between him and the pursuing police officer. He skids the bike around and flips a finger to the police. Emiko pounds on his back.
Juan, tossing the jacket of a very nice three-piece suit behind him, revealing a shoulder holster and the pistol in it, as he walks across a landing field towards the Sloop John B. Behind him, shouting at him, though of course we can't hear it, is a small man-his accountant by the way-screaming at Juan as he waves sheets of paper at his back.
Space, Ree's Manticore and Carly's Zephyr fighting. The Zephyr speeds in, its sword raising sparks from Ree's suit, but doing no real damage. Ree spins her suit around, firing with the gauss pistol, scoring some minor grazes on the other suit, but doing no real damage. The screen is split diagonally, Carly's face on one side, Ree's on the other. Ree is not looking too concerned, Carly is looking angry.
Epiphany in a suit's cockpit, hands jerking the controls around. Her Draken fades in just as she skims the surface of a cruiser, firing missiles at the same time. As she pulls up from the cruiser, leaving it behind we see some explosions running across the surface, though the cruiser looks as if it will survive.
Tess standing in a large bay, a large thruster is on a support structure, and it is making a mess of things as the wash picks up anything loose and throws it around the room. Several other people are making a mad dash towards the exits but Tess stands there, computer in her arms, safety goggles over her eyes, looking quite satisfied.
Captain Blackhand on the bridge of her cruiser, which is looking a little frantic as people are thrown around. Lilith looks fairly calm as she gives a command, bringing her hand down to emphasize her words.
Ryu staring at a picture of Emiko on a computer screen, a pencil in his hand. The pencil snaps a moment before his fist is in the screen. Sam, stands close by, looking a bit distressed.
Another quick flash of all the major characters.
Final scene of the Sloop John B.'s crew, standing in front of the ship, all in civilian clothing. Emiko is in the very front, just behind her, on either side, are Ree and Epiphany, to Ree's right are Diane and Juan. The Epiphany's left is Tern. Behind them all is Sharp.
"So you say he just attacked you," Diane asked Emiko as she entered information on the computer.
"From Japan you say. Certainly far from home."
They were in the Marshals' enclave, Emiko had found Diane there. She had also found Marshall Sharp, who she still found intimidating. Fortunately he had left soon after.
"Ryu Abe," Diane read after a moment as information started coming up. The connection between Earth space and the cluster may have been cut, but the Marshals had a large database concerning both criminals and other legal enforcement agencies. "He's not cop," she said after a moment.
"What is he?"
"Special agent of some sort. He's been all around, most of his file is locked down, definitely trouble."
"What should I do?"
"Well, since you don't know if he is dead, and that this is all personal, from what you have told me, I'd say get ready to deal with him again."
"Is that a subtle way of telling me we have a lesson now?"
"Smart girl, Emiko-kun, but first I want you to take a look at this," she gave Emiko a computer.
"What's special about it?"
"It belonged to a woman named Mercuri. She ran a cartel of mercenaries and assassins, they'd do anything if the price was right. We were pretty sure that Solingen GmbH had hired some of her people in the past to do some rather nasty little jobs. The files on the computer should prove that."
Emiko nodded as she opened the computer up and began working on it. "Well," she said a few seconds later, "major encryption here. Got a key?"
"Sample of an earlier key?"
"No. She kept the key in her head."
"I thought that might be the case."
"This is a hard crack," Emiko said. "Basically impossible unless we get really lucky. I'd need a fairly good idea of how she was setting this up before we would even have a chance."
"It was a try."
"Do you want me to keep working on it?"
"For a while at least. I'll talk to some people I know, maybe we can dig up one of Mercuri's old programmers."
"That could help."
"That's for later. Now we have some training ahead of us."
"Yokatta (great)," Emiko said sarcastically, keeping her voice low.
"I've also found you someone to help you with your sword work."
"Marshall Sharp," she told her as she walked towards the dojo.
Behind her Emiko formed her fingers into the shape of a gun, placed it against the side of her head, and fired the imaginary weapon off.
"Can we get the relay links back up?" Placide asked, looking over the notes on her computer.
"I don't see that being a problem," Redding said. "The Jovian station was, and still it, the main relay point. Once we have it, we have full access to the entire hyperweb network."
"This will have to go through PRCI if we want everyone to get it, which means they will know Shiva was in on it, to a certain extent. That will bring them to Zanzibar," Jesse said. He had only just made the meeting, having recently finished a mission.
"They are already watching Zanzibar," Redding told him. "We'll have to close up operations there soon and move them elsewhere."
"What about here?" Placide waved her hand around, taking in the whole room.
"I seriously doubt that my Uncle would appreciate you setting up quarters in his factory."
"Perhaps another spinner," Redding said. "That can be discussed later though. I don't doubt that we can pull this off, we have the talent, but what we need to decide now is who takes this message to the people."
"You," Jesse said. "You're our exalted leader." He gave Redding one of his cocky grins.
"I'm not sure," Placide said. "Not that you aren't a good choice, but..." she trailed off, trying to think of the right words.
"You're not the sort that can quickly become a hero to the common people," Avatar said as he walked into the room.
"You're late," Redding told him.
"Captain Frost, I have a business to run."
"What about Jesse then," Redding said.
"I'm all for that," Jesse said, smiling broadly. "I'll charm them all."
"You're too much," Placide said. "And don't take that as a compliment. We can't go over the top."
"What we are trying to do is market the Battalion," Avatar said.
"You are the business man here," Placide said to him. "What do you suggest?"
"Youth. Beauty. Sincerity. Compassion. Enough Charisma to do the job, but not so much as not to seem natural. People are going to be a little afraid, if the person telling them also seems a little afraid, but still willing to do what needs to be done, that will give them strength."
"Okay, so where do we find our perfect spokesperson?" Jesse asked. It seemed that he or Redding were the only candidates.
Redding and Placide looked across the table at each other. "Emiko," they said to each other.
"Who?" Jesse asked.
"That girl who brought us those files?" Avatar looked over at Redding.
"Her?" Jesse asked. "I guess she's pretty enough."
"What about her criminal record?" Placide asked Redding.
"That can be of use to us," Avatar said, examining the possibilities. "If we piggyback the data she stole onto the main transmission, which we should do anyway, and she admits to being a thief, but one with morals," he stopped for a moment. "It makes her a victim, chased from home an uncaring system. It will go over well with the Ravagers and all the other outsiders."
"She will lack credibility with the military types," Jesse said.
"True," Redding nodded.
"Are you willing to come out in the open?" Placide asked Jesse. "And you Captain Frost," she looked over at him. "Right now you both still can operate within your organizations. You come out and that changes."
"She's got a point," Redding said.
"I am," Jesse said. "Hell, we will all have to sometime. If the Jagers go for the mass defection I doubt that the ODF is going to be too trusting of any remaining. Even if they don't, some of us have to make a public stand."
Redding nodded. "I think we will both be able to keep our contacts within our groups, even if we are known to have gone rogue."
"So perhaps both of you," Placide said. "I think Mr. Hahn and myself will best serve it we remain within our organizations, for a time at least."
"I think you should seriously consider this girl," Avatar said after a moment. "Oh, you two can make recordings and we'll piggyback them on the main signal, put tags on them that your respective groups will grab immediately, but we need to think big picture. The Rangers and the Jagers and anyone else in the combat arms we can get on our side is incredibly useful, but the militate battle is only part of it."
"What?" Jesse asked.
"If we are going to set up commonwealth we will ultimately need the people to back us," Redding said, seeing the point Avatar was making. "Miss Miya, or someone like her, might very well be the best choice."
"I'd like to meet her first," Jesse said. "All I remember was some girl, kind of hiding behind Juan most of the time. She needs to have some presence."
"I think you'll find she has presence," Redding said. "For now, do we agree we need someone like her to take our message to the people?"
"I think so," Placide said.
"She will do the job well enough," Avatar nodded.
"What the hell," Jesse said. That he was not going to get his moment in the main spotlight was somewhat disappointing, but he understood why it had to be so.
"We'll arrange to talk to her in the next few days then. I'd like the discuss the mission itself, in detail. We need to hammer out all the little things to make sure we get Miss Miya, or whoever will be speaking for us, on that station and talking to all of human occupied space."
Akira walked the halls of the station, passing through warehouses, literally stuffed full of supplies, factories, meeting rooms, through the apartment blocks where he members of Nebula Works and their families lived, and the mecha bays, which were almost empty, but might soon be full, for a time.
The station was fairly quiet, though there was a tension of sorts. Things would begin soon. He could feel it. That was why he couldn't sleep. As I turned out he was not alone.
The station's main computer center was high security, only a few people had clearance. Just outside of the center were several peripheral stations where simulation work could be done. One of the stations was currently in use, the one he had given Tess Belin.
Opening the door, careful not to make any noise, he looked in. She was seated at the main console, working on her design. Akira cleared his throat before walking in.
"Ah," she turned around. "Akira-san. Good evening."
"You're up late," he said.
"I couldn't sleep."
"Are you ready for tomorrow."
"As ready as I can be," she told him, shutting off the screen.
"You really want to do this."
"I really do."
"So I can go on," she said, smiling.
"Can you wait a couple of minutes?"
"I have all night," he told her.
"Back soon," she smiled then ran from the room.
Akira walked over to the work station, but stopped himself before he could turn the screen back on. She would present the design tomorrow. He'd find out then.
She came back in a few minutes, as promised, carrying a guitar case. She opened it and removed the guitar.
"You play?" Akira asked.
"Very well," she told him, taking a seat. She began strumming the strings, her finger moving along the neck. At first it sounded like a warm up to Akira, but it soon changed. Near perfect music filled the room, drifting out into the corridors of the station. She played for almost twenty minutes without saying anything. Finally she stopped, laying her hands across the strings, silencing them.
Akira said nothing for a long time, then finally, "Why are you working with mechs?"
"My father," she told him, putting the guitar aside.
"He was a mechanic. Just a wench jockey. He could fix suits, but that was it. He was good at it, but always wanted more. He wanted to build them. Maybe if he had got the education he might have. At some point, I got caught up in his dream and lost mine."
"I'm not much of a designer, not the greatest mechanic either, but I feel I owe it to my father to try, at least once."
"I'm surprised you say you are not much of a designer. That armour you gave us is quite impressive."
"That wasn't entirely mine," she told him sheepishly.
"Care to explain?"
Tess sighed, then told him the entire story. When she was done she put her guitar back in its case. "I still don't know if I am stealing," she told him.
"I'm not sure if I would call it stealing," he said, thinking about all she had told him. "Then again, the people who did the initial work might think differently."
"There's the problem. Still, desperate times and desperate measures."
"So what about your father?"
"He pushed me into the work with mechs when in other cases I might have followed my music. Still, he was my father. He died a few years ago, told me that he hoped my first suit design would be a real great one. Once I get this suit built, I can go on."
"I'm not sure if that story gives me confidence."
"It should. Not only do I have to design and build a suit, but it has to be one of the best. Anything else, well, I don't think I'll be able to rest."
"You should get some sleep," he told her, standing. "You'll want to be awake for the presentation."
"I will, soon."
"Oyasumi (good night) Belin-san," he told her bowing.
"Good night," Tess said as he walked from the room.
Akira had gone several meters from the room when he heard the music start again, with it,, soft singing. She had just made everything that much harder on him. He felt like she had just dumped her dreams on him.
"Che," he cursed softly. He hoped her suit was truly amazing.
Wiping the perspiration from her forehead, Emiko maneuvered the suit around the ground traffic, then placed the heavy container on top of the first. Ree had volunteered her for what basically amounted to scut work. For the last three hours she and the Troubadour had been moving cargo from one ship to another.
It was hard, boring, repetitive work. She hated it, but had learned that is was best to do what Ree said. Ree could be a real beast when it came to teaching. In a way, even Diane was better.
"Okay, let's park these suits," the loadmaster's voice came over the radio. "Good work everyone, I'm buying."
Emiko smiled slightly as she heard the radio come alive with the other voices of the work crew. If she drank and liked hanging around in the dingy little bars that the Charybdis seemed to prefer, she might be adding her voice to that noise. As it was all she wanted was a shower and a hot dinner.
She backed her suit into it rack, moving a lot slower than the other pilots. It was as Ree said, the set up she was using just could not compare with a datalink. She still did not want a datalink though.
By the time the suit was locked into place, powered down and put into rest mode, the other pilots were leaving the bay. They knew Emiko did not want to go drinking with them.
She pulled herself out of the suit, then sealed the hatch, locking it up tight. She turned, the leapt from the suit's shoulders to the cat walk running just behind it. The jump was a little less than a meter, but with a fall of 17 meters flying by under her, it was still a little scary. It was only a little under a meter though, and she made it easily enough.
"Sumimasen," some one called from off the her side. "Miya-san desu ka (are you Miya)?"
"Hai," Emiko said, turning slightly.
A young man was walking towards her. He looked mostly Japanese, blue hair, a little taller than her, and rather attractive. He looked familiar but Emiko could not place him.
"Wai wa Ryuzaki Jesse da, (I'm Jesse Ryuzaki)" he told her.
"Ah. Shitsurei Shimasu Ryuzaki-sama," Emiko said, bowing deeply. She wondered if 'sama' was respectful enough, but she could not remember his rank.
"Iie, (don't worry about it)" he said, waving her off. "Miya-san, ima, hima? (are you free)"
"Hai," Emiko said. "Naze? (why)"
"Wai wa issho ni, dinar o tabenai? (want to have dinner with me)" he asked her, smiling.
"Atashi?" Emiko put a finger to her nose.
"Hai," he said.
Emiko had no idea what to do. Her own feelings were mixed up with everything Ree had taught her, and other things. In the end she managed to fall back on politeness. "Hai."
"Ikoo (let's go)," he said.
Emiko nodded, then followed after him. She suddenly began to giggle.
"Nanda? (what)" Jesse looked over his shoulder at her.
"Gomen ne, Ryuzaki-sama," she said. "Demo, Ryuzaki-sama no namari wa, chotto bikurishimashita, (I'm sorry, but your dialect surprised me a little)" she told him.
Jesse smiled. "Osaka-ben," he told her, sounding proud.
Emiko looked at him, then began to giggle again.
"Jesse to yondeiru, (call me Jesse)" he told her.
"Hai, Jesse-sama," she said.
A slight improvement, Jesse thought. Still, being polite as she was, Emiko reminded him a little of his grandparents. There was something charming in that though. Placide and Redding may have called this one dead on.
Tess found only Akira in the conference room when she entered. "Where's everyone else?"
"I'm the only one needed to okay the project," he told her.
"And if you say 'no', that's it?"
"I'm afraid so."
"Fine," she walked across the room, moving behind the podium. "I'd like to present Eleventh Hour Industries first design," she pushed the disk she had brought into the drive. "The Arrow 00."
Over the table, an image formed. The holographic suit was presented from the inside out. First the generator, then everything else began to form around it, until the suit was complete. It was a flashy opening, Akira thought.
Basic data began to appear in the air beside the suit. 15 meters tall, forty tones, very high thrust to weight ratio, on par with most interceptors, good range, and a number of other things that Akira noted and wondered if she could pull off.
The suit design was fairly different from what he had seen before. It had a face for one thing. Not quite in human terms, still a face. He doubted there was a cockpit in the head. There was no thruster pack or wing array on the back, the thrust systems seemed to be completely encased within the legs. It was also armed with two rifles, one in each hand.
"Shall we begin?" Tess asked.
"Then let's start with the power plant," she told him, the suit fading out until only the generator remained. "This is a modified Bahn/Zai 23, an, I hope, improved version of the design. It will give the Arrow all the power it needs and more," she told him.
Akira said nothing through the entire presentation, just sat and watched and listened, making a few notes. The suit was definitely cutting edge, and a number of the design features were innovative. He'd have to see if he could work them into the other suits they would be building. Finally Tess finished, the Arrow's image once again complete.
Tess stood at the podium, looking expectant.
"I have a few questions," Akira said. After Tess nodded he continued. "You've done away with the head cockpit. Why?"
"I've never liked that design. A torso cockpit offers more protection."
"There's no linkage between the two rifles."
"Waste of ammunition. One rifle will be enough. The second is back up."
"No melee weapons."
"This unit will best serve if it does not get close to its target. It can ensure that they don't get close to it."
"There is a lot of equipment in there I don't understand. What are you holding back?"
"This is cutting edge," Tess told him. "It is fast, agile, hits hard, tough and will be a joy to fly. It also can do this."
The image of the suit began to change a Akira watched. An odd triangular like section on the back of the suit, he had thought it some sort of armour, swung up and forward, locking into place. It covered the shoulders of the suit. The arms of the suit folded into the body, the rifles locking onto weapon mounts there. The legs shortened, the upper and lower parts coming together, completely encasing the knee joint. He noted that the already powerful engine systems in the legs mated in such a way to increase their overall power. Finally wings swung out from the sides, locking into place.
Akira stared open mouth at the fighter in the holo field. "Baka na," he said softly.
"No," Tess shook her head. "Not impossible. A bit of a design nightmare to implement, but quite possible."
Akira looked at from the Arrow, to Tess, then back to the Arrow. "We want to have the first suits coming off the lines in two months. Can you do that?"
"You can't be sure of that can you."
"A lot of this suit will be new, never seen before, type of stuff. I'll be figuring things out as I build it. The computer simulations tell me it can be done. Of course, that does not mean anything. I'll build it for you."
Akira stared at the suit for a time. The woman in front of him really did not know if she could do it. It was not a time for trying out new things, for experimenting. Proven designs, with innovations like the armour she had supplied, were the way to go. Still, he looked at the suit, feeling something he had not felt in some time, it was a beautiful design. If it could be made to work...
"You have your chance Miss Belin," he told her, getting to his feet. "I'll start sending you the people I can spare for interviews. Good luck."
"I can do it?" Tess wanted to be sure there was no misunderstanding.
"You have two months to build the suit."
"It will be ready."
"I hope so," Akira said, looking at the fighter. It would be something to see.
"It's a clever little design," Jesse said, looking at the rig Emiko used to pilot the suits.
"It gets around the need for a datalink," Emiko told him, picking at the remains of her meal with a fork.
"Useful," Jesse placed it back on the table. "Maxil-san's father is quite the character in a lot of ways."
"Really?" Emiko asked.
Jesse nodded. "How many other fathers would figure out a way to let their twelve year-olds pilot suits?" he asked her.
"Right on that one," he laughed. "She's got lots of experience and is still young. Most of the pilots in the ODF and planetary militias know her, or of her, and most think she is an arrogant prima donna."
"And you?" Emiko asked, not liking that anyone might have something bad to say about Ree. "Oh, she's arrogant, but she might very well be the best, after me of course," Jesse said. Emiko nodded and did not say that she thought he was bragging. "Was there anything you wanted to talk about?" Emiko asked. For the entire meal they had talked about a lot of inconsequential things. Certainly nothing important enough for him to have asked her to dinner over. She was beginning to think that he might be interested in her. Ree had told her what to look for in situations like that, but she had seen none of the signs.
"I just wanted to thank you for the information you have given us, to meet you. You seemed to have made a strong impression on my friends of mine."
"Oh," Emiko said, feeling a little disappointed.
"Well, on that note, I have to be going," he told her. "I'll cover the bill," he got to his feet. "Have a good evening, Emiko-san."
"Goodbye," Emiko said as he walked away. Once he was gone she sighed. He was cute, and fun to be around. After a moment she shook her head. "Baka," she said softly to herself. Gathering up her things she wondered where Ree was.
"You have a way of pushing your luck, flyboy," Akadi said as Jesse walked from the restaurant.
"Me?" Jesse said, his tone innocent.
"First Placide, then that girl. I'm beginning to wonder about you."
"You know you are my only love," he told her, moving close to her.
"I know you talk a good game," she said, smiling. "But you're cute, so I'll let you off."
"Thank you Akadi-sama," he said, bowing low.
"On one condition."
"What would that be?"
"Dinner, dancing and things to be decided later."
"Well, that could be arranged," he smiled at her, holding out his arm.
Akadi took it and they headed down the street. "You know, this could be a really wonderful night if Zanzibar was not such a hole," she told him.
Campbell Hahn took off his glasses and polished them, nodding all the time as the man across from him made his angry tirade. Captain Lester Nigel had had a successful career in the SAC for almost ten years before transferring to the SCC. He was the sort who went out for as long as he could. He and his crew liked to be out on their own, left to their own devices.
He had recently returned from a mission, only to find out that he and his crew were being conscripted into the SAC as scouts, that he would have a Gaian Warden on his ship and an 'advisor' and that his friend Frank Talbot was dead.
He was not pleased.
Campbell listened, nodded, said the right things, and let the man across from him get it all out of his system. Captain Nigel was not the first SCC captain to come to him and Campbell knew he would not be the last. There was a growing feeling of dissatisfaction within in the Rangers. It was reaching danger point. Of course that was what Campbell wanted.
He had sent a few captains like Nigel off to the Battalion, but only the ones who were likely just to desert anyway, destination or no. Lester wouldn't do that. He would need an option first. Campbell could have given him that right then, but he chose not to.
Lester would soon meet with old friends and begin telling them what he thought. Most would agree with him. They would feed off each other's dissatisfaction, amplifying it, making things that much more worse.
It was a dangerous game Campbell was playing. If something did not happen soon the whole thing might explode. He was taking the chance though. The hotter things got by the time the Battalion went public, the greater the chance of the entire Ranger arm going over. Worth taking some chances for that.
"What would you have me do?" Campbell asked when the man across from him finally seemed to be talked out.
"I don't know. Tell them we're not soldiers."
"Tell them we don't want Gaian Wardens sticking their noses in where they don't belong."
"Tell them we just want to do our job and not get shot at or have to shoot anyone."
"Well what did they say?"
"Basically," Campbell put his glasses back on, "they say, that once we have won the war, everything can go back to the way it was. A load of crap really, but that is the bone they have chosen to throw us."
"Can't you do anything?"
"The SCC listens to me, but does not have to act on of my requests. If you remember they were the ones asking for cruisers and other military class weapon systems to defend the Ranger teams. They are getting what they want thanks to this war. Do you think they are going to fight that?"
"So what are we supposed to do?"
"I've considered resigning," Campbell lied. "Then I realized that would help no one."
"So what are you going to do?"
"Wait, do my job as best I can, and see if something comes up."
Lester shook his head as he got to his feet. "Not a wonderful option."
"This is war. We don't get wonderful options."
"I'm not pleased," Auden Dominica said. "We have suffered some serious setbacks. I want to know why."
"They, whoever they are, knew some of our plans," a man sitting beside her said. "Those files that that Miya girl stole certainly had the information they would have needed."
Auden nodded. "Anything relating to the information she stole changes, where it can be changed. Commander Roberts," she looked over at a short man at the far end of the table. "Would you care to tell me why we have not made the gains we thought we would?"
"A number of reasons," he said. "The Colonial's cloaking device for one. The fact that they have a larger and better trained force then we were led to expect. Admiral Dover is not being an aggressive as we might wish. All of those have slowed our progress down. Then there seems to be another group working against both sides. We don't have any real information yet, but acts of sabotage, theft, and other things have occurred that are not tied to the ODF."
Auden said nothing for a time. Everyone at the table waited on her, not willing to speak. "I'll leave the military matters in your hands. If Admiral Dover continues to show the lack of conviction we expect, then perhaps something will have to be done about that," she said. Some of the people in the room seemed uncomfortable with that, but most simple nodded.
"As for this other group," she paused. "We will find out as much as we can about them. Then we will deal with them. I also want the media to take a more negative stance on the Colonies. That massacre in the belt should be pushed harder."
"We're still not entirely sure that it really was the ODF," Commander Roberts said.
"Your point?" she looked across the table at him, her blue eyes locked onto his.
"I understand," he said, looking away.
"Good," Auden said. "Are there any questions?"
When it was obvious that there were none forthcoming she ended the meeting.
"I'm rather disappointed in the way things are going," Albert Knox said, not looking up from the book he was reading. Albert Knox was a big man, tall, heavy build, his dark skin smooth, his short black hair showing traces of gray. His office was much like him. Heavy, solid woods and metals, a little cold.
"We have run into problems," Barnabas Richter said. His casual look was gone, his suit was immaculate.
"The attack on Gamma 4 was a mistake. It cost us some resources, but more importantly it was a blow to morale," Grand Marshall Karl Richter said.
Albert finally looked up at the two men. The cousins were not all that like, yet probably more so than either would like to admit. "Director Richter," he looked directly at Barnabas. "I want you to work on convincing the unaligned worlds to our cause," he said, his voice soft. "Grand Marshall Richter, when the Militias of the currently unaligned worlds join the ODF I'm sure that will help morale. What would help even more is if we were to win an important military victory."
"I understand," Karl said.
"Good," he turned his attention back to his book. "What I am currently concerned with is this third party I keep hearing rumors about. If they exist they could cause all sorts of problems. Find out what you can about that them, then link some unsavory happenings to them."
"I'll get right on it," Barnabas said.
"Fleet intelligence has several possible targets," Karl told him.
"Good. You can go now."
Both men stood and left. When they were gone Albert put his book down. He sat up straight in his chair and started massaging his temples. He was no where as near as confident as he tried to appear. There were too many unknowns, too many dangers, for him not to be worried. While going to war had been considered a possibility, they, the rest of Solingen GmbH's board of directors and major stock holders, had hoped a show of force would be enough to ensure that they would be left alone by Earth.
Perhaps that had been a foolish hope. Even if Earth was willing to let them do as they would on the planets they currently controlled, they would not let the do so on all the others. The Gaians and the Expansionists could not peacefully coexist.
He had to be careful if he hoped to maintain his position. Twenty eight point four percent of Solingen's voting shares gave him a secure position, but not an unassailable one. All it would take were two other major shareholders, such as the Richter family, to put another chairman in place, perhaps even remove him completely from the Board of Directors. Care was necessary.
Things had not gone too bad so far. All they needed was a little time to build up their forces, to do some recruiting. Then they would be able to take more of an offensive stance. With their cloaking device they could put entire fleets around targets before anyone would even know they were there.
Thinking about the cloaking device brought a stab of worry. Nebular Works had given them the Cloaking Device, and now they, and the orbital factory they had been operating out of, were gone. They had told the press it had been an attack by the SAC against a civilian target. Maybe it had been the SAC, but he was not sure.
He thought about Nathan Parker who had stolen a starship with a Shunt Drive and had given it to Earth. It was ultimately his fault that things had come out the way they had. He had caused the war. It would have been best if Earth, and the Gaians, had never got their hands on the Shunt Drive.
Shaking his head he picked up his book. Plans had been put into motion. Now all he could do was wait.
"You've been ordered to cease this investigation of yours," Captain Julia Carmin told her Chief Intelligence officer.
"Why?" Shingo asked her.
"You tell me," she said.
"I want to know what my daughter really did. What she is really guilty of, if anything."
"I understand that, and I don't really care, especially considering you are completing all you official duties, but Admiral Mars does not see it that way."
"Pressure from the top?"
"That's what I think."
"Kuso," Shingo swore.
"If you are going to continue this, no more use of official channels. I know nothing about it and if you are caught, they might court martial you."
"So what have you found out so far?"
"That there is no way my daughter could have been a terrorist of any sort."
"I'm not surprised," Julia laughed. "Your wife wouldn't let her be. How's she holding up?"
"Well enough. She blames herself for what happened with Emiko."
"It's got to be hard on her, especially now with you and Makoto out here."
"She's tough. You want to know about Zanzibar?"
"Give me what you got."
"There is some odd activity on planet right now, beyond the usual odd. We got two USSA agents stationed on Arcadia who have been sending Fleet Intelligence reports. Zanzibar is worth a look."
"Once we finish loading up supplies, Mars is putting us on detached duty, we'll go and scope out the place. Officially we are there to show the colours and make offers of alliance to Avatar Shiva."
"He won't take them."
"I know that. He's got quite the force there and neither of our sides is stupid enough to want to deal with a third front at this time."
"Want me to put together a fact-finding team?"
"That's the plan. Make sure they are all very good."
"Don't tell me my job," Shingo smiled at her. "Platt city is a hellhole."
"I know. And don't think I won't appreciate what you and your team are going through while I'm up, safe in my ship."
"Watch out for the ODF ships while you're safe in yours."
"Haven't you heard? The Rocinante system falls under no laws and is completely open."
"Would that keep you from firing on an ODF ship if you felt the need?"
"No, not really," she told him.
"Bet the ODF feels the same way."
"Damn eco-pirates," Julia said, then laughed. "That reminds me. Do you know of any way to kill a person and make it look like natural causes."
"Daniel Markus the Third."
"I can't kill Daniel. He's one of Makoto's friends from the academy."
"Well, can you think of a way to get him off my back? If I have to listen to one more lecture, I'm going to space him."
"Start quoting Gaian Doctrine like it was scripture, and stop laughing when you say eco-pirates."
"This job used to be a lot more fun, you know."
"Tell me about it."
"What is that thing," Conaly Sharp asked.
"It's a shinai," she told him.
He looked at her for several seconds. Emiko wanted to go and hide.
"Can you kill someone with it?"
Emiko stared at him for a few seconds, not sure what to make of his question. "It is possible," she finally said, her tone carrying a little anger.
"But not as easy as with a real sword," he said, shaking his head. "We don't have time for games here. Diane," he looked over his shoulder at her.
"Ned was on that Samurai kick a couple of years back. Go break into his room and see what he has."
"Breaking and entering, theft," Diane said as she walked away. "I'll probably have to arrest myself."
"Does that thing weight anywhere near as much as a real sword?"
"No," Emiko said.
Conaly shook his head. "Why are you even wasting my time?"
"I'm sorry I actually lived in a safe society," Emiko said, forgetting a little bit of her fear.
"So am I. Well, show me what you can do," he told her.
Emiko scowled at him for a moment, then turned around and began going through her sword moves and kata. Conaly watched her, nodding every now and then. Good balance, nice reflexes, but lacking in strength and skill. Well, the first two he couldn't have given her and the last two he could give her easy enough, thought it was going to take a lot of hard work. He was not sure he was willing to do it. Diane had talked him into helping the girl with her blade work.
"I found these," Diane said a few minutes later as she came back into the dojo. She placed a katana, two wazikashi and two boken on the floor. "The swords are cheap reproductions, no edge."
"They'll do," Conaly walked over to her and picked up one of the boken.
"What do you think?" Diane asked softly.
"If we can get her to stop jumping at shadows she might actually become something."
"Well, you're just the right person to do that, you scary old bastard," she smiled at him.
"Your mother should have put you over her knee more often than she did. Miya!" he turned and shouted.
"Hai!" Emiko said, immediately turning to face him.
"Get over here."
Emiko scrambled to stand in front of him.
"Well, we've had enough of this," he told her, taking the shinai from her grip then tossing it aside. "Here," he pushed the wooden sword towards her with his foot.
Emiko bent down and picked it up. It was made of hard wood, a heavy, solid weapon.
"Okay, lets see what you can do," Conaly raised his sword up in a one handed grip.
Emiko slid back, both hands on the weapons hilt.
Conaly's first attack was so fast she barely had time to react. She blocked the first blow but his second hit her hard in the thigh.
Emiko stopped. "That was an illegal hit," she said.
Conaly stopped as well, staring down at her. "An illegal hit?"
Emiko suddenly flushed, realizing that she was not at a Kendo tournanment.
"There in nothing illegal in a real fight!" he yelled at her, swinging his sword around. Emiko just blocked it. "All body parts are targets," he stabbed his blade forward. Emiko batted it aside but left herself open for a punch to her stomach. "All tactics are fair," he kicked her legs out from under her, dropping her hard onto the floor. "There are no rules!"
Snapping his sword above his head, ready to bring it down, he stopped. Emiko's eyes were full of tears, and she looked like she was only a moment away from sobs, but she had her sword up, the tip pushed into his groin.
"Good," he said, stepping back. "Get up," he said. When Emiko remained on the floor, he yelled it at her. Emiko quickly got to her feet. "There are no rules in a fight," he told her. "Say it."
"There are no rules in a fight," Emiko said.
"Good. You can show compassion after you've won, but not until then. When it is one to one you do whatever it takes to win. Get that katana over there and get to work on those sword drills. Practice some low cuts, like you're planning on cutting them off at the knees."
Emiko nodded and walked over to the swords, moving a little slow.
"I'd tell you that was a bit harsh, but I sound like a hypocrite," Diane said as she moved close to Conaly.
"Think I like beating up children?" he said. "If she ever meets someone over swords I want her coming out of it alive."
"Well, assuming she doesn't quit on you, I think you can ensure it."
"Assuming she doesn't quit," he nodded.
Emiko almost had to crawl back to the Warrens. When she got into her room she carefully removed her clothes. She had a few nasty bruises, but they were not the real problem. All her muscles hurt. She had thought she was in good shape. Marshall Sharp must have been made of twisted wire. She hoped he was feeling at least a fraction of the aches she was.
She wanted a long, hot soak in a bath. Unfortunately all the Warrens offered were showers. Fortunately the water was as hot as she could want it.
Grabbing a towel and a robe from her bed, she went into the tiny bathroom she and Ree had to share.
"Emi-chan," Ree called as she barged into the room. "We've got a party to go to."
"Gomen oneechan," Emiko said. She was seated cross-legged on the bed, working on her computer. "It hurts when I walk."
"Marshal Sharp's sword lesson," Emiko smiled slightly. "Itaiiii."
"Poor Emi-chan," Ree dropped onto the bed beside Emiko. "Want something?"
"I just need a bit a rest. Tomorrow I'll be better, I hope."
"So what is he like?"
"As a teacher?"
"I certainly don't mean as a lover. Remember that."
"Hai, oneechan. As a teacher," Emiko stared up at the ceiling for a moment. "He is very good, but I get the feeling he does not like me. That he would rather not be teaching me."
"Probably your imagination," Ree said, getting to her feet. "Take off your robe and lie on your stomach," Ree told her as she walked over to her bed.
"I got something that will help ease away those pains," Ree said as she looked through one of her bags.
Emiko loosened her robe and lay down on top of her covers. She removed the robe, but arranged so it was draped over her bottom.
When Ree turned around, a white tube in her hand, she smiled. "Emi-chan, I've see your cute little butt before."
"Then you don't need to see it again."
"True, not with the pictures I took. I'm joking," Ree said when Emiko shot an angry stare at her. "Just lie down, and relax."
Ree moved onto the bed and straddled Emiko. She opened the tube and squeezed some of it on her palms, then rubbed them together. "This will probably hurt a little bit at first, but just grin and bear it," Ree said as she massaged the cream into Emiko's shoulders. Emiko groaned as Ree's touch reminded her the intense exercise she had done earlier.
Ree kept working, keeping her touch as gentle as she could. Emiko got quieter and quieter as she continued to work. When she finished she realized that she was asleep.
"Poor Emi-chan," Ree said, pulling the covers over her. "Get some rest, I'll see what I can do about your teacher," she kept her voice quiet. Moving close, she kissed Emiko on the forehead. Then she left.
"Kaa-san," Emiko mumbled softly in her sleep, pulling the covers tighter around her.
Ree found Both Diane and Conaly together in a bar near the Marshal's Enclave. She crossed the room and took a seat beside Diane. "Good evening Marshall."
"Evening Ree," Diane nodded at her. "You know Conaly, don't you?"
"More by reputation than anything else," Ree held her hand out to him. "Kareen Maxil."
"Conaly Sharp," he took her hand. "You've got a reputation yourself."
"Which one?" Ree smiled, releasing his hand.
"I'm more familiar with the pilot. I would not want to go up against you in a mech."
"I'm the best," Ree said.
"So I've heard."
"You're training Emiko," Ree said.
"I asked him to," Diane said.
"You got over those three kids yet?" Ree asked with a tone of disinterest as she signaled to the bartender. She pretend not to notice the way he tensed.
"That was uncalled for," Diane said.
"What?" she looked at Diane then the bartender showed up. "Tequila, a lime and some salt," she told the man.
Diane looked at Ree, not willing to say what she meant.
"I'm not sure I'll ever get over them," Conaly said.
"Well, it's got to be tough losing your students like that."
"Can we drop this?" Diane said.
"I was just asking a question," Ree said, shrugging her shoulders. The bartender placed the things she had asked for in front of her, as well as several slips of paper. She ignored the paper and began to cut up the lime.
"Why?" Conaly asked.
"I've heard, through the rumor mill, that you've never taught any more classes since that day."
"I don't blame you," she put the lime wedges aside and opened the bottle of tequila.
"What is your point, Miss Maxil?"
Ree smiled. "Okay, three kids get killed. You take it hard. Understandable."
"Thank you," he said sarcastically.
"So you don't teach, not willing to see any more of your students die. Not willing to have to deal with the guilt."
"What is it you really want to say?"
Ree looked away from her preparations towards Conaly. "Emiko thinks you don't like her."
"That's not true."
"But you don't like teaching her."
He said nothing for a time, then simply nodded.
"Why didn't you say something?" Diane asked him.
"Because he wants to teach her," Ree said, filling her shot glass. "He wants a chance at redemption, as it were."
Conaly sighed. "You seem to know a lot."
"Good judge of character, some lucky guesses," she told him before licking the back of her left hand. "Emi-chan only knows you as a teacher," she picked up the salt shaker and sprinkled the salt on the back of her hand. "She thinks you don't like her. You ever learn anything from the teachers who didn't like you?"
Ree nodded, then licked the salt from her hand, threw back the tequila and put the lime wedge in her mouth. "So," she said after a moment, "if you want to continue to teach her, you better figure some things out."
Conaly said nothing. He looked deep in thought. Diane looked between him and Ree. Ree picked up one of the folded pieces of paper and opened it. A moment later she started laughing softly.
"What is it?" Diane asked her, deciding Conaly was not going to want to talk for a while.
"Read this," Ree passed her the paper.
Diane took it, read it, then laughed. "Who is he?" she asked.
"The one over there I think," Ree pointed to a man near the back of the room. When he saw Ree look his way he smiled broadly and waved.
"I think I could arrest him for what he has here," Diane said. "You get this a lot?"
"More than I care to think about," Ree said, pouring herself another shot. "You do shots?"
"You're no fun."
"Considering all the wolves stalking you in this bar, I'm surprised you are willing to impair you faculties."
"I'm with the two nastiest Marshals in the Pleiades," Ree told her, then licked the back of her hand. "I'm also trapped."
"The smartest," Ree said.
Emiko showed up early for her lesson with Marshall Sharp. He was not there so she began her sword drills. She still hurt a little, but not enough to slow her down very much.
"Not bad," she heard some time later. Marshall Sharp was standing by the doorway, watching her. "You still need to work on your control a bit."
"Hai," Emiko said, a little surprised at how he was acting.
"Come over here," he said as he sat down by the doorway. Emiko walked over to him then stood a meter from him.
"Sit down," he said. "I'm not going to bite."
Emiko quickly knelt down in front of him, placing the sword beside her.
"I heard you think I don't like you."
Ree no baka, Emiko thought. She wondered if there was anything she could say, but could not think of a thing.
"I'll take your silence as a yes," he said as he reached into his jacket and removed a photo. "Take a look at this."
Emiko reached out and took the photo from him. Marshal Sharp was in it, in front of him, kneeling, were two young women and a young man. All off them were smiling, all wore the official uniform of a Pleiades Marshall. "Who are they?" Emiko asked.
"Ten years ago I was wounded pretty badly. During the time it took to get back up to speed I taught. Those three were students of mine. They became friends," he told her, then looked at her closely for a few seconds. Emiko began to feel uncomfortable. "They were nothing like you at all. They had wanted adventure for their entire lives. They wanted it and they worked hard to get it. No offense," he told her.
Emiko shook her head to show she was not offended. "Where are they now?"
"They are all dead," he said. "I took them with me when I went back into the field. We were going after a group of outlaws in the outback of Hammersmith. Nasty bunch, causing troubles for some settlers. It should have been a cake walk-it means it should have been easy," he said when he saw the confused expression on Emiko's face.
"Naru hodo," Emiko said.
"Yea, right. Well, anyway, things turned out to be a little nastier than anyone had thought. Our intelligence was bad, one of our informants was actually setting us up. It was no place for three green, inexperienced, Marshals. All three died, I made it. The board of inquiry cleared me of all wrong doing. Janet's mother spat on me," he shook his head. "Since that day I've always asked myself if there was something that I should have taught them, or taught them differently, that might have saved their lives.
"So Miss Miya, if you think I don't like you, well the truth is I don't know you. I think in time I probably will like you. If you think I don't like teaching you, well, you got a point, but I also want to teach you, as your older sister Kareen said, I'm looking for a little redemption."
"She's not really my sister," Emiko said.
"She is," he smiled. "You better accept you have a relative in her."
"My mother will not be pleased to find out she has three children now," Emiko said, smiling.
"If you want to learn Miss Miya, I want to teach you. If we both remember what I'm trying to do and why, I think things will go a lot better. Willing to give it a chance?"
Emiko looked at the man across from her. Somehow he did not seem a scary as he had before. Maybe it was knowing he was still mourning for three friends who had died ten years before. "Hai," she said, then smiled slightly. "Sensei."
He shook his head. "Okay, on your feet. Let's see if I can beat all that tournament stuff out of your head and get you fighting for real."
"Hai," Emiko said.
Closing Credits- Same as before
Description: 177cm, 70kg, 23 years old, long blonde hair, green eyes.
Quote: "I'm the best."
Notes: When Ree was twelve she asked her father if she could learn to pilot mechs. Her father, Kent Maxil, found a way for her to do so. Ree has been piloting suits ever since. She was never able to go back; once she had been at the controls of a high-performance machine, she would never again pilot a lower-quality one.
At seventeen she joined Solingen's Militia, soon to form the core of the ODF, where she flew real, military suits for the first time. She was hooked. She won a large number of commendations and was the most decorated pilot in the ODF by the time she shot her CO. Dishonorably discharged, unable to fly military suits any longer, she turned to her second best skill. Sex.
Ree often comes across as arrogant, but the truth is she is just supremely confident and finds false modesty to be disgusting.
While she thinks independence would be good for the colonies, Ree thinks the price Solingen is willing to pay is too high.
Important Stats and Skill: ATT 10, COOL 9, REF 10, EMP 7, Mekton Piloting 10, Seduction 10, Mecha fighting 6, Awareness 5, Datalink, Nanobodies (improved models, higher ability to deal with infectious diseases.)
Description: 180cm, 80kg, 25 years old, long black hair, brown eyes.
Quote: "As long as it is fast, I'll drive it, fly it, or surf it."
Notes: The youngest son of Andre Roarke, and the black sheep of the family, Tern was interested in little that did not involve speed or danger, preferably both, in high doses. By the time he was fifteen he had been arrested several times for racing and other things. He was on a bad course but then his Grandmother died and left her all his fortune.
Soon after he started building the Sloop John B. The work calmed him slightly and the bad end everyone envisioned for him never materialized.
Tern likes living well, and he likes taking chances. He sees himself, or did, as a Gentleman Criminal.
He cares little for politics, and who runs the Cluster matters little to him, but he has no interest in seeing innocents die.
Important Stats and Skills: INT 7, LUCK 8, REF 8, TECH 7, all piloting skills a 5 or better, Starship Design 7, Persuasion and Fast Talk 4, Datalink, Nanobodies, Skinweave.
The Stats for the Sloop John B. are wrong. The smallest craft that can have a Shunt Drive is a Superlight Starship, and the John B. is at Corvette scale. Weight and cost will likely change, if I ever get around to rewriting the stats. Time for another contest. Redesign the Sloop John B. :)
Note 1: If you are kind of wondering what the Arrow 00 looks like, well, its inspiration was the Air Master from Gundam X.
"Watashi wa anata no ane, soshite haha, soshite anata."
--Miyu Kyuuketsuki ga Yui ni itta
Shawn Hagen <firstname.lastname@example.org>