Episode 15 (2180.07.17)
by Shawn Hagen (1997)
Starblade Battalion is the Property of R.Talsorian Games.
Opening Credits--same as before
"I would like to commend you for your quick thinking Lieutenant Maxil," Redding said.
"Thank you sir."
"The man's companions are being questioned as we speak, We'll find out soon enough whether any of them are also Midnight Sun members. What we are concerned with now is ensuring that something like this never happens again."
"As it so happens," Avatar said from where he was sprawled on the couch, "I have quite a bit of information on that organization. It should help in finding any other plants that might exist."
"A good start."
"We'll be more thorough in our background checks from this point on," Finn Calain said. He was once a member of Solingen GmbH security. "We did not expect that the Midnight Sun would be this kind of a threat."
"We should have," Redding told him.
"So," Ree said. "Why try to kill Emi-chan?" She looked over at Emiko--who was trying very hard not to be noticed.
"Because we made her a symbol," Redding said.
"You have become quite the media darling, Miss Miya," Avatar said, staring at Emiko. "The people like you. The Nemyss, it seems, has decided that you could serve his purposes better if you were dead."
"And both the USSA and Solingen will probably want to capture or kill her," Redding said. "We have turned you into a target," Redding looked at Emiko. "My apologies."
"Iie," Emiko said, wishing everyone would stop looking at her.
"What do we do about it?" Finn asked.
"Nothing," Ree said.
"Pardon," Redding looked at her.
"She stays with me and Juan and the rest of us. Who else can protect her better? We still need her as part of our team, and I suspect that Emi-chan wouldn't wish to be locked up in some safe house somewhere."
"What do you have to say about this, Miss Miya?" Redding looked to her.
Emiko hesitated for a moment, then, "I don't like being a target, but that can't be helped now. I would rather stay with Ree and the others."
Redding nodded. "Fine."
"I disagree," Avatar said. "Miss Miya will serve us better kept safe, we will no doubt need to make other announcements."
"I agree, but I will let her do as she wishes."
"She is a member of the Starblade Battalion. A soldier if you will. Soldiers take orders."
"You are also a member of the Battalion," Redding said.
"Touche," Avatar smiled.
"You may both go now," Redding said to Emiko and Ree.
"Thank you sir," Ree stood up and saluted. Emiko sat where she was for a moment, the rose and copied Ree. "Come along, Emi-chan," Ree said as she walked out of the room.
"I still think that putting her out where she can be killed is a mistake," Avatar said, sounding bored.
"If she is the symbol we think, she is of more use where our people can see her. If she dies in the fighting, she becomes a martyr, in a way."
"Possibly. I didn't think you could be so cold."
"People will die in this," Redding said. "We can't help it. She may be one of them."
"If she does die, it behooves us to ensure that it is not by the hand of the Midnight Sun. Shall we make plans for dealing with them?
"What have you done already?" Redding asked, leaning back in his chair.
Akira stepped out of the elevator, behind him his personal secretary was droning on about equipment procurements for each of his teams. Overseeing all the projects was cutting into the time he had to work on his own. The soldier suit was coming along well enough, only a day behind, but that was a day they did not really have.
"Is Belin-san's team still drawing stores from outside?" he asked the woman, interrupting her.
"Yes she is."
"How much has she obtained?"
"I'm not entirely sure," she said sheepishly.
"Not sure?" Akira turned to face her, smiling slightly. "Not like you at all, Val-san."
"Unfortunately I have been rather busy as of late," she told him. "I can't spy as much as you would like me to."
"Spy is a harsh word."
"Obtain information, then."
"Well, I'm sure we'll find out all we need to know soon enough."
They stopped in front of a armoured door at the end of the hall. Akira took a card from his pocket, swiped it through the reader, then entered a six digit code. The red light on the reader flashed to green and the door opened.
Tess had set up in one of the larger workshops. As Akira entered his eyes were immediately drawn to the suit in the middle of the room. It hung a meter off the floor, suspended by several cables. Three of Tess' team were also suspended on cables, working on the suit, making last-minute checks by the looks of things. Akira looked around and spotted Tess.
"Belin-san," he called as he walked towards her. "Are you ready?"
"Of course," she smiled at him, handing the clipboard she had been carrying to Jeremy. "Let's do it," she said to the young man.
"This time it will work," Jeremy said, a big grin on his face. He turned and walked away.
"Sorry," she said, turning her full attention back to Akira. "I'm glad you were able to make it."
"I wouldn't miss this," he told her. "I have heard that you have finally got it to work."
"Are you still on schedule?"
"I think so," she told him. "I had hoped to be farther then this, but I gave myself the extra time. Once this phase is done, everything will move along fast enough."
"I'm glad to hear that."
"How are the other projects going?" Tess asked him.
"Well enough. The soldier suit is a little behind schedule, but we should have a working unit completed in two weeks. Then we'll begin fine tuning it into the final model. The other suits are in similar stages."
"Well, it looks as if I am the slow one here," Tess said.
"Yes," Akira said.
"All set," Jeremy yelled.
"You'll excuse me," Tess said, turning her attention to the suit. The techs working on it had repelled to the floor and cleared the area. The Arrow's frame hung there, alone. "First stage," she called out.
"What is happening?" Akira asked.
"We're activating all the monitors and beginning the power feed. We still have not put a power plant in the suit."
Akira nodded and watched.
"Everything is in the green," a young woman said as she ran up to Tess.
"Second stage," Tess said to the woman. A moment later powerful motors in the ceiling began moving the cables mounts, pulling the cables as far from the Arrow as they could. Several cables were released, spooling back into the winch units.
"All green," the woman said a few seconds later.
"Do it," Tess said.
A shout went up from the far end of the room, then suddenly everything went quiet. A moment later a low pitched squeal started coming from the Arrow and Akira watched as it began to alter its shape. The upper and lower legs came together, encasing the knee joint, the arms began to fold in, the nose section on the back began to move up.
Tess was staring at it, unable to take her eyes off of the wonder in front of her. She was not alone in that. Akira was the only one not keeping all his attention on the Arrow. He was looking between Tess and the mech, the expression on her face as important was what was happening.
Suddenly the Arrow's smooth movement jolted to a halt. For a moment nothing, then the squealing sound came back, soon climbing in pitch to a screaming whine. A moment later the sound broke off as something flew from the suit. Akira barely saw what passed between him and Tess. It was only when he turned around and saw part of the Arrow's frame imbedded in the wall that he knew what had happened.
Tess shook her head. "Shut it down," she called out. She seemed unconcerned about the chunk of metal in the wall behind her.
"Damn," Jeremy said, running up to her. "I thought we had it that time."
"If we try to get more flexibility in the design, we'll see a huge decrease in the structural strength won't we?"
"We've already seen a pretty large decrease. We can't go any lower, not with a combat unit."
"As I thought. We'll have to rebuild the frame with better materials."
"We should have it completed in a few days, I'll scratch up the titanium and the other things we'll need."
"Get to work on it, we'll shift our attention to the engines and the power plant until we have everything."
"Right," Jeremy said, then turned and ran off again.
"I'm sorry," she turned to face Akira. "I thought we had it that time."
Akira looked between her and the fragment of the frame. "Things like this happen," he said, keeping his voice steady. "Inform me when you are ready to try again."
"Let's go Val-san," he said, then noticed his assistant was gone.
"She left somewhere during stage two," Tess said, trying to be of assistance. "She was here for our last attempt and I think she might have been a little nervous."
"Of course. Ganbatte Belin-san," he said as he headed out of the room.
Tess watched him go then turned her attention back to the suit, still stuck, about a quarter of the way through the transformation sequence. "I'll get you to work yet," she told the suit.
The SAC survey ship 'Rabbit' had parked behind the primary moon of Freya 4. The moon masked them from detection by the ships in orbit. Freya 4 was supposed to be a simple agricultural colony with minimal heavy industry. The Rabbit's survey crew had quickly realized that things had changed.
"They're strip mining," Lieutenant Gains told his Captain.
"A number of metals, lot of gold and silver."
"They'll kill that planet," he shook his head. "Military strength?"
"A old cruiser in orbit, a few cargo ships, and minimal forces on the ground. They are dug in though, it will take a lot to shift them."
"We're leaving in five hours. Get all the information you can in that time."
The security ring around Los Angeles was supposed to keep everyone who was in the city, in the city. It was a nice idea but the Ravagers had ways around any security measure the government could think up.
Behind her, the jump jet was being towed into a camouflaged hangar where it would wait until it was needed again. The Nationals had a bunch of stealth aircraft, and a few small subs, scattered throughout LA, ready to take them out any time they decided they wanted to leave.
Grey actually was glad of the SAC presence. It kept her people sharp, and their posts had the best toys.
She crossed the broken stretch of asphalt that had once been a factory's parking lot, heading towards a dull square of light. Around her were her bodyguards, keeping an eye on everything so she did not have to. Of course she kept an eye on everything and them at the same time.
As she got closer to the light she could make out the subway entrance. The thick smog was obscuring everything, taking the hard edges off the city. It was almost attractive. Almost. Grey went down the stairs, hardly slowing, bouncing down the cracked and broken staircase as if it was smooth, even ground.
The area where the ticket gates once stood had been replaced by a wall of cinder blocks with a single opening in it. The opening led to a crude airlock. Once Grey had passed through it she pulled off her respirator and tossed it to one of her guards. The outside air was not deadly, but it could make even the best puke their guts out.
A mixture of gas-powered lanterns and battery-operated lights lit the station. Grey walked through her people, nodding to them as she went. They sat around lanterns, or old camp stoves, cooking meals, cleaning weapons, playing cards, or just sleeping. While they were not as pretty as the SAC types she had met, she would put her people against twice their number without a worry.
On the tracks were several subway cars, the windows covered with metal platting, most of the doors long since welded shut. It served as her office and a meeting place. She nodded to the guards standing on either side of the one entrance, then walked in. The interior was much more lavishly decorated than one might expect. They had found all the good places to loot in the city.
Waiting for her was Thomas Redclaw, the current leader of the Eagle's Claw. He claimed to be related to several great Native North American leaders. With his almost blonde hair and blue eyes Grey was sure he lied, but had never seen any reason to call him on it.
"What do you want Redclaw," she said, circling around him to her desk.
"I want to talk about the announcement," he said.
"What about it?" Grey asked as she reached under her long, black jacket and removed a cut down assault rifle. She noted that Thomas' eyes widened slightly at the sight of it. "Like?" she asked, placing it on the desk. "Frontier Armaments, brand new. Got it from a Charybdis," she winked at him as she dropped into her seat then put her feet on the desk, banging her boot heals against the already scarred desk top.
"That's what I want to talk about. You have come to an agreement with this Starblade Battalion."
"What about the rest of the council?"
"I run the council," she said, taking her feet off the desk. "Have you forgotten that," she leaned forward.
"Do you think that gives you the right to make agreements like this?"
"No," Grey said. "This does," she swept the rifle up pointed it at the man in front of her. "I like you. That only means I won't enjoy killing you, not that much. I'll still kill you. You dead, and a little help from me, Foxfire will take your position. She's much more easy to deal with. What gives me the right is that the Nationals have some heavy duty firepower, even more now that we got a deal with the Charybdis. Want to go up against us?"
"No," he said after a moment. "And that is under normal circumstances. Now, it would be suicide to fight amongst ourselves."
"Smart man," she put the rifle down and tossed her self back in her chair. "Of course a lot of your people are already working for me, which you didn't know," she said, smiling smugly. "I can get the Seventh behind me, but Black Flag is major trouble. You got some friends that way, don't you?"
"I have some contacts, but why should I use them?"
"Believe that broadcast?"
Thomas said nothing for a time, then finally nodded.
"Well, you got the answer. Once the Gaians are finished beating on the colonies, they come after us. I don't really want that, it will be messy and nasty. Probably fatal as well."
"Who are these people?"
"Exactly what they say they are."
"That girl one of yours?"
"Why isn't she with you?"
"Are you saying that she isn't one of mime?"
"Just a question."
"She's watching out for our interests."
"We're going to be on the ground floor of a new government Redclaw," she smiled at him. "We'll get what we want."
"And what is that?"
"I'll tell you once I figure that out. Now, let's get down to business. We have to start taking out military targets, make it harder for the SAC to be badasses."
"Us, against the military?" He did not sound as if he believed it.
"You bet. The Seventh will be useful, but I really want the Black Flag to do it. They'll enjoy it anyway."
"Anything else?" his tone was thick with sarcasm.
"Yea. Find any Midnight Sun, kill them."
Redding had found himself doing more and more administrative tasks as the Battalion began to grow. He was working on setting up a small group of individuals to take it all over for him, but that was still a few days away.
He had set up an office on the Adder spinner and was working seventeen hour days there. The sooner he got everything set up, the sooner he could get back aboard his ship.
"Captain Frost," his assistant said from the doorway. "Miss Mason is still waiting."
"What?" Redding looked up from his work. "Why?"
"She seems insistent on seeing you."
"Isn't there someone else she could talk to?"
"She seems intent on talking with you."
"Tell her I'll see her now, but if I think she is wasting my time with something frivolous, I'll throw her in the brig."
Redding turned his attention back to his work, looking up a short time later when someone entered his office. Caroline Mason was an average woman, though her blue eyes were attractive. Her blonde hair was short and she wore pants with a sports jacket. She had a presence about her that Redding thought probably got her through a lot of situations.
"I hope you won't have to throw me into the brig," she said, smiling.
"We'll see. Have a seat Miss Mason." Redding waited until she had sat. "Now tell me what you want."
"To do my job within your organization."
"We have a press corps already, you should be talking to whoever is in charge of that."
"You have a propaganda corps. Not that that is a bad thing," she said quickly to forestall any argument from Redding. "I'm a reporter. I want to report on your activities. The good and the bad. I got several other people with me who want to do the same thing."
Redding said nothing for a few seconds. "Let me see if I understand this. You want me to give you permission to work within the Battalion, to provide you with protection when you need it, to give you near complete security clearance, just so you can report on our faults?"
"The good and the bad," she said. "That's good for you, if you are everything you say you are. You present too perfect of a front, people will begin to wonder what you are hiding. Show people that you can make mistakes, that you are not perfect, they will be more willing to accept all the positives at face value."
"So you say."
"Captain Frost, I know how people think. I want a good story. You're it. I want the whole truth, not just what you are willing to show. Do you have something to hide?"
"Miss Mason, the Starblade Battalion is outnumbered by both the ODF and the SAC, and we have to meet both. We lack equipment. What we do have, presently, is good morale. If you are ripping into us, how long do you think that will last?"
"I'm not here to tear you down. That is an easy story, and that type of reporting has never interested me. I don't waste time with the little things. Anything I report that might hurt your people's morale will have probably already done so. I can't promise to help you Captain Frost, but letting me do this won't hurt you."
"I've seen your work," Redding said. "It's good. You are well-respected by your peers."
"Thank you," Caroline told him, a little off balance.
"I won't be able to guarantee protection for your news corps all the time. Sometimes you'll have to accept that."
"For now. Talk to my assistant about setting things up. You are dismissed," he told her, then he went back to his work.
Caroline sat in the chair for a moment. She was not used to being treated like that. She got to her feet, wondering if she had convinced him, or if he had been convinced all a long. She realized that she had promised, in a way, to ignore all the little things. Perhaps that was what he had wanted. She was not sure though.
She looked at Redding for a few seconds, wondering if he had just manipulated her. She could not be sure. "I'll want an interview with you," she told him, trying to get things back on a track she was comfortable with.
"Talk to my assistant," Redding said, not looking up at her.
Caroline smiled. That sort of response she was used to.
Four SAC cruisers appeared in what had been empty space only a moment before. The ships were already in a tight formation, already moving on a course that would take them to Freya 4. The battleriders that had been tethered to the cruisers for the shunt.
Behind the force of twelve ships another ship appeared. A commercial shunt carrier. It carried eight landing craft, each nearly the size of the battleriders. The landing craft cut their moorings with the carrier and moved out after the first force. The carrier came about and headed for deep space, far from where the fighting would be.
Julia Carmin sat on the bunk of her cell, back against the wall, one knee pulled up against her chest. She stared at the blank door in front of her, waiting for it to open. She had been waiting for several hours.
When it finally opened she remained where she was, now staring at the woman entering her cell. Short, almost pretty, Lieutenant Commander bars on the shoulders of her dress uniform.
"Captain Carmin, I'm Lieutenant Commander Collins, I'll be defending you."
"Have a seat Lieutenant Commander," Julia indicated the stool in front of her bed.
The woman sat down, placing her briefcase on her lap. "I have to tell you right out, Captain, that your chances are not good."
"You still have the option to change your story. It wouldn't take much to get the charges thrown out. The main problem, if I may speak freely Captain, is that you are flagrantly telling everyone to 'go to hell'. The upper echelon will not stand for that."
"I'm not changing my story. I did what I did. That is it."
"Do you want to die, Captain?"
"I'm ready to die when the time comes, but I would rather put that off. I'm not suicidal, Miss Collins. I'm simply making a stand."
"Could you make that stand elsewhere?"
"You don't want to change your story; you don't want to die; how do you fell about escape?"
"There are some of us that feel that this Starblade Battalion is right. Not many of us really, mostly junior officers who have gotten into a little trouble in the past."
"Junior officers that might have needed a Lieutenant Commander to defend them?"
"Possibly," she said, smiling slightly.
"Well, how very interesting." Julia thought about the offer for a moment. It could be some sort of trap, but she was certain that she was facing the death penalty, no matter what. An escape attempt might make it easier for them to get the death penalty, but that was it. "How?"
"Plans have been made. We might have already left, but decided that we would try to get you out," she told Julia as she opened her briefcase. "In five hours I want you to take this," she removed a small vial from the case and presented it to Julia.
"What is it?" She took the vial. Inside was a small, red pill.
"Derivative of curare. It will kill you in about ten seconds."
"I take it that the death is not permanent?"
"As long as we get the antidote into your system within five minutes there will be no detrimental effects."
"Nice to know. You will grab me while I am being rushed to the sick bay?"
"Something like that."
"It should work. After you have got a hold of me, what then?"
"We get you aboard the ship we have acquired, then we run."
"I like it. Simple and to the point."
"I have to leave now," she got to her feet. "Good luck Captain."
"Take care Miss Collins," Julia said as she hid the vial within her blouse.
The Lieutenant Commander saluted, then turned on her heel and stepped up to the door. She banged on it twice, "I'm coming out."
A moment later the door opened and she left the cell. The door closed right behind her, sealing the cell off again. Julia remained on her bunk, staring at the door. During the vigil she would break off her examination of the door to check her watch, waiting for the time to come.
The SAC attack force came at Freya 4 with the sun to their rear. It served to mask their energy signatures for a time, allowing them to get close to the planet before they were detected. The commander of the task force was surprised to see three cruisers in orbit instead of the one he had been told to expect.
The ODF ships had not received much warning, but they used what little time they had to prepare for battle. The three cruisers engaged their cloaks and disappeared.
The SAC forces broke up into four groups, each cruiser with it's two battle riders. Behind them the landing craft had sped up, splitting up into groups of two, each making for the planet.
When the fighting began it was not the ODF cruisers that started it. Five companies of mecha came from Freya 4's primary moon, moving in quickly. The SAC had split their forces to make it harder for the cloaked cruisers to hit a large group of targets at once. That splitting of their forces put them at a disadvantage in dealing with the small units.
In a very short time, a battlerider had gone up in a ball of plasma, another was disabled, and the SAC cruiser 'Lorrelli'--once commanded by Julia Carmin--was heavily damaged and began leaking atmosphere. The mecha did not stay to admire their work, but sped off towards the next group.
The SAC commander was giving out new orders when two ODF cruisers decloaked off his port bow and opened fire with their starbolts and gauss guns. His ship shook and one of his battleriders disappeared from the screens.
As the SAC ships began to launch their mecha the landing craft were entering the planets upper atmosphere, glowing red in the heat of re-entry.
Julia walked to the door of her cell and gave it a few kicks. "I want to see a doctor," she yelled. She took the pill she had been given, put it in her mouth, then swallowed it. She kicked the door again. "I said I want to see..." she trailed off. Oh my, she thought, a moment before collapsing to the floor.
When one of the SPs looked in, he saw her lying on the floor. After getting another SP to back him up, he entered the cell. He reached down and put his fingers on her neck, searching for a pulse. A moment later he looked over his shoulder. "Get a medical team here, right now."
Julia opened her eyes and tried to sit up. She was stopped by the restraint straps across her chest. It took her a moment to realize she was on a gurney, being pushed through the corridors of the base.
"Relax," someone said. "You were out for three minutes and twenty seconds. We've given you the antidote and you'll be fine."
"Where are we?"
"A minute away from the shuttle bay. Keep quiet for a bit please."
Julia said nothing else as she was pushed along the corridors. Not long afterward she was pushed into an elevator. Once the door was closed the straps around her were released.
"How long till they know I'm gone?" Julia asked as she sat up.
"About twenty minutes," a young man told her. "We messed up the orders a bit. The sick bay that should be getting you was told to stand down as you were being taken to another. The other one does not know that."
"Now what?" She got off the gurney.
"We take a shuttle to the ship we have waiting for us," he handed her a jacket and cap. "Put these on."
Julia quickly pulled the jacket on then put on the cap, pulling the brim down to hide her face. The medical team was stripping off their smocks, tossing them onto the empty gurney. When the exited the elevator several levels down they looked more like a maintenance team.
While Julia expected an alarm to go up any moment, nothing happened. It seemed her saviors did know what they were doing. They entered the shuttle without any problems. As soon as the hatch was closed and secured the engines fired up and the shuttle began to move towards the launch tube.
"Grab a seat," someone said.
Julia sat down and did up her restraint harness. She shifted about to look out one of he portholes. In leaving the base she was throwing away her career. She would have been court martialed as a Captain in the SAC. Now she was a deserter. Was living so important? She did not want to die, but she was not sure if she wanted to live as a fugitive.
She undid her restraint harness and stood up, fighting to keep her feet.
"Captain!" one of them shouted at her.
"Sorry," Julia said, striding towards the hatch.
"What are you doing?"
"Leaving," she reached the door and overrode the lock. They were still in the shuttle bay, and the shuttle was not moving very fast.
"Stop her!" someone shouted.
"You can't leave!"
Julia looked over her shoulder. "Good luck." She stepped out of the shuttle, putting the tip of her boot into one of the ladder depressions outside of the hatch. Clinging tightly to the door frame with one hand, he reached out and grabbed the hatch, swinging it shut. Just before the hatch shut she had to release her hold on the frame. The hatch locked tight as she fell from the shuttle, hitting the flooring.
She bounced then rolled, finally sliding to a stop. She pushed herself up and looked after the departing shuttle. "Good luck," she said once more, then got to her feet.
A number of people were looking at her, but she ignored them. Looking herself over, she was a little surprised that none of her wounds seemed much worse than some abrasions. "Will wonders never cease," she thought, turning around and walking towards the elevators. An SP was approaching her, obviously curious as to why she had chosen to exit a moving shuttle. She was about to turn herself into him, but changed her mind as he got close. Instead she hit him, taking his pistol from him as he collapsed to the floor.
"Sorry," Julia said as she walked by him.
What was she going to do now? she wondered, entering the elevator. Turn herself in? Back where she had begun. Pointless. Escape? She had already had her chance and had chosen not to take it. What to do?
She reached out and hit the button for the fifteenth level. There was only one thing she could think of. It might actually work.
The administration offices did not offer much, but it was one of few places where one could address the entire Gamma 4 complex. Julia ushered in the Master Seaman from the PA room, keeping an eye on the other clerks as well. "As you were," she said, entering the room, closing and locking the door behind her.
Taking a seat at the console she reached out and opened up all the channels. After taking a moment to compose herself she pushed the transmit button.
"Attention all base personnel," she said. "This is Captain Julia Carmin and I have an announcement.
"As some of you might have heard, I have been arrested and charged with, well, with a lot of things. Basically, I chose to let two members of my crew leave, knowing full well that they would probably go over to the Starblade Battalion. Perhaps not the wisest of moves, but I felt it was right.
"I just want it to go on the record, the public record, that I still feel loyal to the SAC. We have to protect the colonies, and if war is the only way to do that, then so be it. I don't advise going over to the Battalion. I advise that we behave in such a manner as to make this group unnecessary. We should be protecting the citizens, of both Earth and the colonies," she said. She could hear pounding on the door behind her. They would be in soon.
"When all is done, there is only one person we have to be able to face, and that is ourselves. Just because we are at war does not make us any less human," she stopped when she heard the door's locking mechanism break. She turned in her chair to face the door.
When the SPs came into the room they saw her holding the pistol, though it was by her side and not pointed at any of them. Julia held up her free hand, ready to surrender. Her eyes widened as one of the SPs brought up his SMG and opened up on her. She jerked back, a look of surprise on her face. She fell back against the chair, her arms flying out, the pistol falling from her hand.
On board the SAC frigate 'Perth' Lieutenant Commander Collins listened to Captain Carmin's message, listened to the sound of gunshots, and knew it was over. The Perth was speeding out of the gravity well, preparing to shunt.
No one paid any attention to the Perth. She was supposed to be on a short, shakedown cruise, but her small test crew had been informed that they were stood down for some last minute work on the ship.
"Skipper," the navigator called to her. "Where to?"
She looked at the man, not sure what he meant for a moment. Then she realized she was in charge. That was not the way it was supposed to have happened. Captain Carmin was supposed to be up there to take command. The truth was--she really did not know what to do.
"Do you know some place where we can hold up for a few days?" she asked. "Yes." "Set a course to one of those places," she told him. "Aye aye." She walked over to the command chair and sat down.
"We have a problem," Captain Frost said, looking at the people gathered in the room.
"Is this a new one or the general problem we have had since the war began," Avatar asked, looking at the nails of his right hand.
"A new one," Redding said, ignoring Shiva's tone. "This is the Freya system." Above the table a representation of the system was projected. Around the system's yellow star, twelve planets orbited. The fourth planet out from the sun was highlighted. "Freya 4, diameter of twelve thousand, five hundred kilometers, breathable atmosphere, point nine five Gs, prize world, discovered by a Ranger team twenty years ago. Currently it has become the latest battle field between Earth and the Colonies."
"Isn't Freya 4 a colony world?" Clarise Mengok--a Ranger--asked.
"Yes, almost seven thousand people. Freya 4 was discovered to be fairly rich in gold and other precious metals. Unfortunately, to some, none of it was easily extracted. It is an old, stable planet, abundant in life. The SCC classified it as protected. It was colonized by farmers. They do a little mining, but are, or were, carefully watched.
"Solingen put an industrial base down there and within days began strip mining. When the SAC found out about it they decided to stop it."
"We have to save the colonists," Lilith said quietly.
"We'll be going into evacuate the colonists from the middle of this little war," Redding said.
"Knew it," Lilith whispered.
"Do the colonists want to be rescued?" Avatar asked.
"We have been contacted by the colonists and they have no wish to remain in the combat zone. Neither the ODF nor the SAC are willing or able to evacuate them. Neither side has targeted them, but there is a problem." The holo projection zoomed in on the Freya 4, the rest of the system dissolving away in the zoom. It continued closing in until it showed the aerial view of a town. "When the ODF forces arrived to protect the industrial base against possible threats, they dug in in these areas." Several locations around the town were highlighted in red. "When the SAC invaded, the colonists retreated to shelters within the main settlement. Unfortunately that puts them right in the middle."
"The ODF couldn't be convinced to move, could they?" Thomas Fallen--once of the Jagers--asked.
"The colonists chose this area to set up their main settlement because it would be very easy to defend in case anything happened. The ODF agreed with them."
"So, we have to go in there and set up a landing zone I take it," Lilith said.
"Yes. We need to secure this location," an area in the settlement was highlighted with green. "After we control it, we get our ships in, load up the colonists, and move them to the other side of the planet, or off planet, whatever they want."
"Are the ODF and SAC just going to sit there and let us?" Ashram Skye asked.
"We will ask them just that," Redding told him. "Perhaps they will. The Settlement is spread out. It is also by going through the settlement that the SAC forces have the easiest way to get at the ODF positions. All we have to do is make a few areas look less attractive to go through. Once we have done that, we should be able to do this easily enough."
"You think," Lilith said.
"What do both sides have?"
"The SAC force originally consisted of four cruisers, from Battlefleet Mars, each with two battleriders. Behind them were eight landing craft, the 3rd Highlanders Brigade, and an air cavalry company. They lost three battleriders, a cruiser, and one of the landing craft. Of the remaining ships in orbit, one of the cruisers has suffered heavy damage, as has one of the battleriders. They are effectively out of the fight. The Highlanders have set up on the planet and are harassing the ODF forces. They are waiting for reinforcements, scheduled to arrive in three days."
"Are the Highlanders infantry?"
"Armoured Infantry. They also have twenty Leopard suits. The only good thing is that the Armour Company sent to support them was lost with the two landing craft."
"And the ODF?"
"As far as we can tell they only have one Cruiser in orbit, but the SAC is worried about other cloaked ships being out there, so they are not attacking. On planet is the 1st Brigade, Solingen's finest. No mecha, but they don't seem to need it. As you might have guessed, they are also awaiting reinforcements. They should see them in two to four days.
"No need to tell you that I want to be out of there by the time the reinforcements arrive."
"I can have Thunder Blade ready to go in about thirteen hours," Lilith said, guessing where Frost was going.
"Storm Blade can be ready by then as well," Ashram told him.
"Nova Blade is not ready for this," Thomas Fallen said.
"Neither is Angel Blade," Clarise added.
"We don't need them to be," Redding told them. "Fire Blade will be part of this, as will Halcyon's 2nd Militia unit. Both Nova and Angel will go to Aldersgate for training, and to keep a military deterrent."
"You'll need ships to move those colonists," Avatar said. "I can give you six freighters, all capable of making planetfall. You will only need four of them for the number of people there. I suspect that will give you a sufficient margin for mistakes."
"Good. While I'll be giving a more detailed briefing later, the basic plan is simple enough. Both the ODF and SAC orbital forces are holding orbit, more or less, over the settlement. Both seem to be trying to ensure that the other won't hit their ground forces from orbit. That gives us a fairly large window from which to make planetfall. We may have to deal with fighters and suits, but I don't see that as being an insurmountable problem.
"Captain Blackhand, the Thunder Clap will remain is orbit with the two cruisers from Aldersgate to protect the freighters. I am going to need your stealth team to go in on point and recce the LZ."
"As long as I keep the rest of my teams with my ship, I will need them."
He nodded. "The rest of us will make planetfall and secure the landing site."
"Just like that?" Ashram said.
"Just like that. Neither side has moved into the settlement yet, and I don't think they will until their reinforcements arrive. Once we are in, we just have to defend a small area. Now, I'm sure you all have a lot of questions, but are there any that need to be answered before we leave?"
"Can we drop some low yield nukes on both sides?" Lilith asked. "The colonists are in shelters, they should be all right."
"No. We don't need any negative publicity."
"Captain," Caroline said, "I want to go with you."
"You'll be with me Miss Mason," Redding said. "Make sure you draw a flak jacket and a pistol, at least. Any other questions?" Redding waited for several seconds. "Then go."
"Watch," Ree said, grabbing the locking clamp and giving it a tug. "Always check this stuff yourself. Having a suit come loose during a drop is about the worst thing that can happen."
"What's it like?" Emiko asked as she moved around to get a better view of what Ree as doing. They were kneeling on the shoulders of her Manticore.
"A drop? Well, you ever been on a roller coaster?"
"Not much like that, but it is similar to that first drop. It's hard to explain. You are just dropping, and completely out of control. All you can do is wait. Now, if your drop shuttle ever develops a problem, and your suit can fly, you get out of the shuttle. It is not as easy as it sounds."
"It doesn't sound easy at all."
"It depends on the shuttle design. Don't worry about it too much," Ree told her. "If something goes wrong there is usually isn't enough time to do anything more than offer up a quick prayer."
"Thank you, oneechan," Emiko said.
"Why are you worried? You won't be on any of the drop shuttles."
"Maybe I'm worried about you and the others."
"Emi-chan loves me," Ree said.
"Only as an older, much older, sister."
"Careful Emi-chan," Ree told her. "I might be forced to put you back in your proper, respectful place."
"Now, seeing as I have shown you how to properly prep a suit for a drop, we can go onto other lessons. Tell me about you and Tern."
"What?" Emiko asked, trying to sound innocent.
"Emi-chan, let's not play stupid. Now tell me. I need to have all the facts if I am going to help you."
"Are you sure you just aren't a voyeur?"
"No, but that is not the point. Have you slept with him yet?"
"Not that surprising considering it is you we are talking about," Ree said, then laughed at the angry stare Emiko was directing at her. "Poor, little Emi-chan. Do you like him?"
"I guess," Emiko said after a moment. "But I like everyone on the team."
"Okay," Ree stared up at the ceiling of the shuttle's bay. "Ever wonder what it would be like to kiss him?"
"Good, we're making progress. Well, you could do worse. From what I've heard, Tern is a good lover, though he is not the type to stay around long. Likes his independence, our Tern does."
"How do you know..." Emiko paused. "How do you know when you are ready?"
"Well, that is a tough one. I suppose when you stop asking yourself if you are ready. Come on Emi-chan, we have a briefing to get to," Ree pushed herself off the Manticore, kicking off towards one of the exits. A few seconds later, Emiko followed her.
Caroline sat in the cramped galley of the Starblade, a display screen on her lap. She liked to see the words when she thought her stories. The structure of the words were important to her, and she liked to add hard formatting to ensure the readers would see it as she meant it to be seen.
The Starblade Battalion is still a mystery to me.
When I came to them I half expected to find out that it was all a sham. That the Battalion was simply a part of the SAC or ODF, created to add to the fog of war. In a very short time I came to realize that that was not the case.
She stopped her work and looked around the. The ship was moving, leaving the spinners behind. Frost's people had managed to cut their estimated time for departure in half. They were very good. Caroline went back to work.
I also thought that what I was really dealing with were power-mongers, taking advantage of the situation to get their own agenda in operation. Of course there are some like that, Avatar Shiva, for one. I suspect he hopes to tweak this new government in ways that will give him more power when it is all done. He has quite the adversary in Captain Redding Frost, though. I can't see Frost giving out any more than he absolutely has to. And even then I think he'll give less than he appears to.
It would appear that the Starblade Battalion is true to its promise. They want to save life, stop the war, and form a new government.
Oh, I know what you are thinking. Caroline, they are just acting, they need to convince people that they are as good as they say. That could be true, I won't deny the possibility, but in acting they will still save lives. I often think there is a fine line between 'acting' and 'being'.
I am aboard the SCCV Starblade, the namesake of the Battalion. We are on our way to Freya 4, a planet that has become a battleground between the ODF and SAC. A planet where the SAC will enforce its eco-protectionist stance, even if they have to damage Freya 4 to do so. Of course, being good Gaians, they will keep that damage to a minimum and tell us that if the expansionists had not been checked they might have caused even more damage.
They are no doubt right about that.
Our, the Battalion's, overall forces are a little smaller than the combined might of the ODF and SAC forces already on or around the planet. When the reinforcements arrive both the SAC and ODF forces will both outnumber the Battalion at something like three to one.
So, are these brave defenders of freedom and life afraid? Of course they are. They would have to be stupid not to be afraid, but they are still going on. Some of them I think are very brave. A few of them I think are, in fact, very stupid.
We quickly gathered up the supplies we needed, loaded up the ships, and left from our secret base--which of course I won't tell the location of. All of us, attempting to evacuate a group of colonists from the middle of a rather deadly conflict. Rather impressive, right?
I watched them as they worked, these people. I listened to them and talked to them. All of them seem to think what they are doing is necessary, but they also have other reasons. Some have no love for the USSA, others feel the same about Solingen, and what I suspect is a growing number dislike both. There are those who wish to see the war over so they can go back to their lives. I think many of the scouts feel this way, to one extent or another. There are some who can't go home until it is over. And a few who are in it for the thrill. They would be the stupid ones I mentioned earlier.
It was during these impromptu interviews that I spotted her. You know, the young woman who so rudely pushed her way into our lives to give us a wake up call. Yes, Emiko Miya, Caroline paused, then opened a new file and added Emiko's name to the list of people she wished to interview.
Yes, that is right. They are sending their perfect spokesperson into a battle where she could get killed. I don't think everyone is happy about that. I suspect that the young woman herself wishes to be with her team, with her friends. She will not let them down and hide in safety. She is like many soldiers in that respect. In the end they will not die for their superiors or their governments, but for their squad.
As an aside, by that, we can expect this war to go on for some time. Soldiers on both sides may not believe in this war, but they will not easily desert their friends. Looking at the recruits the Battalion has drawn to itself, I can tell you that few of them are professional soldiers. Those make up the smallest part of the Battalion's membership. Of course, what the members lack in training, they make up for in heart. They do not doubt their cause. Well, not much at least.
And, sadly, in the situation they are in, they will be getting all the training they could want soon enough. I don't think it will be too long before all the members of the Battalion, all the living members, are well trained soldiers.
As for Miss Miya, well, she could very well be dead by the time this is over. If she is not though, I see her becoming something of a hero to the people of the Battalion. The next time you see her face, it will likely be the face of someone who has faced battle and survived. That is, if you are not seeing her funeral service.
We are going into battle.
Caroline looked at what she had written, then saved it. That would be enough for the time being. She would add more later--reports from the middle of the fighting, with visuals and everything. If she made it out alive, Caroline thought it might be one of her best stories to date. If she made it out alive. That 'if' was a little worrisome.
The Starblade was the first of the expedition's ships to shunt into the Freya system. Then other ships began to appear. Eight other cutters, the three cruisers, the drop shuttles, and the six freighters. The Sloop 'John B.' released its docking clamps, dropping away from the 'Thunder Clap.' It sped out in front of the rest of the force, its engines at full. A few seconds later it faded from view as it brought up its cloak.
On board Emiko was flying, doing her best not to look at Tern for fear of setting him off. The John B. was carrying an advance team--they would secure the landing site for the rest of the ships. To make room for them and their gear, all of the John B.'s furniture had been removed, the cargo bays cleared out. During the operation there had been some damage, the dining room table had been gouged, one of the paintings damaged, the car scratched as well as few other, minor things.
Tern had not been impressed. He had been livid actually. Emiko thought it was just his way of dealing with the fact he was as scared as everyone else, but it did not make him any easier to be around.
"Give me control," he said almost two hours later. Emiko let out a loud sigh. The tension in the cockpit had been getting thick. Tern had broken it. "You scan, passive sensors."
"I know," Emiko said, turning her attention to the scanners.
"Just wanted to be sure."
"Ree says combat drops are hard," Emiko said, hoping to keep the conversation going.
"They are. You go in fast, little room for error. You've got all the problems of re-entry, with the possibility that someone might be shooting at you, and you have to be on the surface like yesterday. They can be a little thrilling though."
"Have you ever done one?"
"No, not a real one. I have done similar in the past."
"Do you think we will be shot at?"
"We lose the cloak when we begin re-entry, but we will still be hard to spot. I'm not worried about anyone shooting at me until will get close to the surface."
"You shouldn't have to worry about that too much," Lieutenant Commander Malerd--the advance team's intelligence officer--told them. "We pass over the SAC lines where they are the thinnest. The ODF does not have much in the way of aircraft. They won't be looking up."
"I'm picking up some transmissions from the ODF and SAC ships that are in orbit," Emiko told him. "I think they are talking to each other."
"Probably asking the other to surrender," Tern said.
"How long till drop," Commander Fairbank asked as he came into the cockpit.
"About two hours," Emiko told him.
"Good," he turned to go back into the aft, then looked over his shoulder. "Sorry about the table," he said to Tern. "I haven't seen a Victorian reproduction of that quality ever."
"It wasn't a reproduction," Tern said, his voice unnaturally even.
"Well," the Commander pushed himself out of the cockpit. "I'm even more sorry."
Tern was quiet for a moment, the shook his head, laughing. "I was thinking of redecorating anyway," he looked at Emiko and smiled.
"Ever thought of traditional Japanese?"
"Low table, paper scrolls, tatami matting?"
"It's a thought."
"I'll hold you to that promise," Tern told her.
"Watashi wa anata no ane, soshite haha, soshite anata."
--Miyu Kyuuketsuki ga Yui ni itta
Shawn Hagen <email@example.com>