Episode 16 (2180.07.19)
by Shawn Hagen (1997)
Starblade Battalion is the Property of R.Talsorian Games.
Opening Credits--same as before
Both the SAC forces and the ODF had detected the incoming fleet at almost the same time. Less than a minute later they were both contacted by someone from the fleet and put into three way communication.
The commanders shared the same incredulous expressions on their faces when their opposite told them what he wanted.
"You must be joking," Captain Arlene Craven--of the ODF cruiser Tailwind--said.
"We are the Starblade battalion and we are here on a mission of mercy," Redding repeated.
"I don't believe it," Captain Jaque Beuchard--of the SAC cruiser Quebec--told Redding.
"It could be a trick," Redding admitted. "Why bother? We have the numbers to successfully crush either side. If you attack us, we will retaliate, and no doubt the other side will join into take advantage of that. Whoever attacks us loses. Think about that. Captain Frost out," he said, cutting the connection.
The two captains looked at each other, seeing their feeling of confusion mirrored in the other's eyes. Jaque cut the connection first.
"Do you think that will work?" Caroline asked Redding.
"It might," he shrugged her shoulders. "I don't think either will attack, but we'll have to be very careful."
"And if they do attack?"
"As I said, the first side to attack loses. The victor will rain fire down on the ground forces of the other side, and will control the planet. We will have failed in our mission, but with only one side controlling the planet, the civilian population will be, for the most part, safe."
"So we could effectively give the planet to one side?"
"I hope that if someone fires on us it will be the ODF," Karyana said from behind them.
"I take it you'd rather see all exploitation of this planet stopped," Caroline turned to face her.
"That is correct," Karyana said.
"And what about the farmers, were they exploiting the planet?"
"In a way."
"So you'd be happy to see them removed?"
"Yes, I suppose I would. Freya 4 is a delicate ecosystem."
"So, for the protection of the ecosystem, you'd prefer to see them removed, even if force was necessary?"
"Yes," Karyana said, then shook her head. "I mean no. I mean that I--"
"No more questions," Caroline said, removing a small display screen from her pocket.
"What do you mean? That wasn't an interview."
"Everything is an interview," Caroline said, not looking up from the screen. "Nothing is off the record. Don't like it, don't talk to me."
Karyana shot a angry and pleading look at Redding who just shrugged his shoulders. She scowled, then turned and walked away, heading for the rear of the craft.
"I know few people who can get on her nerves like that. It is usually the other way around," Redding said.
"You learn a lot of tricks in my business. That was rather scummy journalism really, I usually don't play it that way, but it was interesting." She looked up from the screen. "What about you Captain Frost? What do you think should be done with the farmers?"
"Freya 4 is a delicate and beautiful planet, but, with a little care, it will support a rather large human population, perhaps up to fifty million. I would see them offered help so they could use that little care, with minimum pain and no force. Of course, that is hoping for a lot. There are people who won't care if their profit margin is high enough. Something has to be done to control those people."
"So, something like the USSA was trying to do before, but with a lighter hand?"
"Perhaps. I would prefer something completely new, set up to help both sides get what they want."
Caroline nodded, then looked back to her screen. Redding waited a moment to see if she had any other questions, then turned his full attention to the mission. "Get all the ships on-line, encrypted links, tight beam," he said. "It is time to get to work."
The cloak dropped as soon as the John B. made contact with the atmosphere. With the heat their reentry was creating they would show up on sensors if anyone was looking for them. Tern was not too worried about it. He doubted anyone was looking for them, and he did not plan on being in the area for very long.
They were bouncing around and the ship was beginning to fight him. "Be a good girl," he said softly, increasing his speed. The heat shielding was reaching the upper limits of its tolerances. It was probably making a mess of the paint job, he realized.
It was getting uncomfortably hot in the ship, the cooling units were near failing. Tern kept his eyes on the external temperature monitor, letting the way the ship felt guide everything else. He waited until the indicator was almost touching the red zone before pulling out of the dive. In the cold of the upped atmosphere the heat began to dissipate quickly.
When he looked up her saw that Emiko was grasping the armrests of her chair so tightly her knuckles were white. He looked over his shoulder and saw that Malerd's face was white. "Relax," he said, turning his attention back to the controls. "We're still falling fast, but the worst is over."
Emiko let go of the armrests and turned her attention to the monitors. "I don't think anyone has noticed us," she told him, trying to sound calm.
"Good. Keep me informed."
The John B. continued to drop, at the same time flying towards the settlement. At twenty meters from the ground, Tern leveled his ships flight out, flying NOE for the last sixty kilometers.
"This might get a little rough," he said, looking down at the topographical map. Freya 4 was a world of gently rolling hills, almost completely covered in forest. He dropped down even lower, almost brushing the tree tops.
Suddenly the forest disappeared from under them, replaced by a deep trench. The Solingen miners had been digging out from the settlement site, swaths of destruction. Tern dropped into it, the walls of dirt rising up on either sides of them.
"Its horrible," Emiko said, looking at the uprooted trees lying on the floor of the trench, signs of mudslides and other erosion damage.
"Sure isn't pretty," Tern said. "Hold on," he said, flipping the John B. on its side, slipping between the broken and twisted frame of one of the huge earth-moving machines and the wall of the trench. "Looks likes the SAC has managed to take out the equipment."
"Good," Emiko said.
"Careful," Tern said, smiling. "Your Gaian sensibilities are showing."
"They used to do things like this on Earth. The initial destruction often was minor compared to what would happen afterwards."
"I think the fighting will be worse on this planet."
"I..." Emiko paused an looked down at one of her screens. "We just entered an area of radar coverage."
"No, I don't think so."
"Let's get out of here." Tern flew the John B. out of the trench, keeping the ship at tree top level on the eastern side . "How close are we to the settlement?"
"Get ready for drop," Tern said over the intercom, increasing the John B.'s speed. He watched the screen, looking for the topographic features he had been shown during the briefing. Township 1 was built around a shallow basin, hills all around it. The ODF had set up their defenses on the top of those hills. He would have to keep the ship low to avoid the anti aircraft emplacements.
Most of the forest around the settlement was gone, cleared for farmland. Only enough trees remained for windbreaks and to prevent soil erosion. Tern kept low to the ground, flying between the hills, keeping his ship moving at a dangerous speed. Anything to keep from becoming a target.
Then the hills were gone and his ship was passing over an open, flat area, empty but for the few concrete landing pads the settlers had put down.
"Someone is trying to get a lock on us," Emiko said.
"They won't have any luck," Tern said, increasing his speed. Of course, it was only a matter of time, and not much of it, before someone would try firing blind.
He cut his speed suddenly, turning the thrust vents about, dropping the ship in between several warehouses. They weren't really hard cover, but he would take what he could get. "Everyone out," he said.
All the outer hatches were opened as the advance team exited his ship. The ship was not on the ground, but most of the PAFS they wore were equipped with jump jets. Tern waited, holding his ship steady--all the time expecting to come under fire--as all the team disembarked. Once they were all out of his ship he pushed the throttles all the way to full and the Sloop John B. rocketed straight up.
As he climbed her felt the ship shake slightly. He had taken some hits, but he could tell just by the feel of his craft that they had caused no damage--beyond cosmetic. He climbed ten kilometers into the air, then readjusted the thrust vents and sped off.
"Okay," he said seconds later. "We're in a holding pattern. We have line of site on the settlement. Shift it Emiko, let Mr. Malerd set up the com."
Emiko undid her restraint harness and slid out of her chair, letting Malerd move into it. While she took the seat he had vacated, he was setting up his com system.
"Starlight, Starlight, this is Redline, do you read me, over."
"Redline, this is Starlight. You're coming in fine," Commander Fairbank's voice came over the radio. "We are on ground and we have come under fire by hostile force, over."
"Starlight, do you require assistance? Over."
"Thought you'd never ask, I'm sending you coordinates now. Starlight out."
"Understood. Redline out," he said, then looked over at Tern. "Hit those coordinates."
"Got you," Tern said, bringing up the weapon screens.
The John B.'s main cannon was a small weapon, but then again the ship was not a combat vessel. Still, it was probably the one of biggest guns currently on the planet. He placed his fingers against the holographic screen--the lasers registered the movement--and fired the cannon.
The laser beam blew a large crater into one of the hills. It had not hit very close to any of the ODF positions, but that had not been the intent.
Malerd opened a second com channel. "ODF forces, we are here on a mission of mercy. Do not fire on the forces in the settlement. I repeat, do not fire on the sources in the settlement. If you do not comply we will begin to target your positions." He paused, then, feeling a little uneasy, did what Captain Frost had told him to. "If you force us to fire on you, you will give victory to the SAC forces," he shut the channel down. "I hope that does not provoke them."
"We'll see," Tern said.
"Starlight, starlight, this is Redline, sitrep, over."
"Redline, this is Starlight, they've stopped firing, for now, over."
"It should hold for a little while. Call us if you need anything. Redline out."
"Take care. Starlight out."
Commander Anthony Fairbank used the control buttons in his right gauntlet to control the camera, zooming in on a small building. The settlement was in surprisingly good condition, all things considered. Still, there were a few areas of damage. The small hut was half destroyed.
He played around with the focus, quietly cursing the lack of fine control. The vision systems were automatic, adjusting itself by scanning the pilot's eye with low powered lasers. Anthony had disabled his system when he started wearing glasses. The lenses threw the lasers off slightly and none of the techs had been able to compensate for it.
He reached out his suit's hand, placing it on the shoulder of the suit beside him. "What do you think?"
"Could be a FO post," John Taft said. "Might be nothing."
"Better check it," he said. He reached down with his suit and grasped one of the land lines they had been spooling out. "Carolyn, you there?"
"I'm here boss," she said, sounding cheerful.
"I'm looking at this half-destroyed hut thing. See it?"
"Image coming in clear. I know what you are talking about."
"Send Green to check it out. Tell him no stupidity."
"Will do, boss."
Anthony retained his hold on the land line, waiting.
Not too long afterwards Green's PAFS moved out from cover, crossing open space. The PAFS was small, a Ferret, a little over two and half meters, lightly armoured and armed, but it was fast. He watched as the suit quickly reached the hut, rifle in the lead. Green had spooled out land line as he went. A moment later his voice came over the com.
"Nothing here, now. From the looks of things it was used as a FO, or something, not that long ago. They got it booby trapped."
"What sort," Anthony asked.
"Antipersonnel by the look of it."
"Can you disarm it?"
"Short of tripping it? No."
"Okay, sit tight. Boomshoes, get out there an make that charge safe. Bernie, get your people checking the landing site out. I don't think we have to worry about being shot at, but be careful and move fast. The rest of you, continue with the sweep."
"It looks clear," Anthony told Redding--his radio signal was being relayed to the fleet through the Sloop John B.
"How it the situation with the ODF?"
"They've got some people watching us. I think they are nervous."
"Don't do anything to alarm them."
"I was thinking of sending their commander a bottle of scotch, kind of a peace offering."
"You've got scotch?"
"I'm well prepared."
"It couldn't hurt. Rose out."
"Who was that?" Caroline asked after Redding had cut the connection.
He looked over at his shoulder at her, for a moment considering to tell her to leave him alone. Then he changed his mind. "Anthony Fairbank. He used to be in the SAC, Heavy Infantry. Five years ago he took the core of his team and joined the Rangers, forming a special exploration squad on one of the SCC Carriers. Now he works with us."
"Know why he joined you?"
"You'd have to ask him."
"Another person on my list of people to interview," She paused for a moment. "Captain, aren't you worried about coming under fire when you are on the ground?"
"As long as we don't look like a threat, and remind them that firing on us will likely give the other side victory, I think we will be safe."
"It is Miss Mason, but there are times to take chances. An old fighting force once had a saying that covered this sort of situation. 'He who dares, wins'."
"True. If you refuse to take a chance though, you become paralyzed. I suggest you strap in, Miss Mason, we will be entering the atmosphere soon and the ride is bound to get bumpy."
"Yes sir," she said, realizing the interview was over.
Ree tested the restraints, giving them a pull to make sure that they were secure. She had checked them several times, as well as all the Manticore's systems. It was all nervousness she knew. Combat drops always bothered her. It was being in such a dangerous situation with no control over it.
She finally took a deep breath, let it out through her nose, and forced herself to be still. She had to consider the upcoming mission.
Captain Frost had put her in command of all the groundside mecha. It was like she had told Juan before, she was no longer responsible for herself, but for everyone.
Her forces were not quite what she would wish. Most of the suits were modified civilian versions, with a few Charybdis Crossbones and some military suits. Of her military suits, most of them were Soldier units. That wasn't a bad thing, but she would have liked some more HAs in the mix. Those SAC Leopards were big and nasty and she would have liked to have a stronger deterrent.
"Prepare for drop," the pilot's voice came over her radio.
Ree gave her restraints one last tug, then put her hands on the control. "Into the breech rode the two thousand," she said softly.
Suddenly her stomach was several kilometers above her as the ship dropped into the planet's gravity. Ree closed her eyes for a moment, then opened them, giving her full attention to her monitors. One of her screens was linked into the drop shuttle's sensors. Things looked well enough. The pilot was crazy, but she had expected no less.
She turned on her radio. "Okay, you know your jobs. No mistakes. Apple 1, you and your people ready?"
"We'll be in location before you even get out of your bird," the man commanding Team Apple--part of Storm Blade--said.
"Too slow Apple 1. You should be there now. Ree 1 out."
Apple's leader laughed then signed off. Ree was glad that he could laugh. She had given his team one of the more difficult tasks. He and his team were getting close to the ODF positions, ready to screen the freighters and the cutters when they came down. She hoped the ODF didn't get nervous. No doubt Team Apple was hoping that as well.
Lilith watched at the freighters began to enter the atmosphere. The drop shuttles were probably already on the ground and the cutters a few minutes behind.
"What are our friends doing?" Lilith asked, looking away from the screens.
"They are holding position, talking a lot with their ground side forces. Telling them to stay cool and wait to see what happens."
"You think both sides would have changed their encryption protocols," Lilith said. "Good for us though. Launch all our mechs, tell them to stay close to our ships, but send out some short range patrols, use our military suits. Let's make sure these people know that we can fight if it comes down to it."
"Yes ma'am," her flight controller, Karen Allen--recently given the rank of Lieutenant Commander--said. After giving the commands she turned around. "Captain, think this situation will hold?"
"Yea," Lilith told her. "At least until their reinforcements show up, then all bets are off."
Ree walked her Manticore among the warehouses of the settlement, looking around the area, making sure everyone were where they were supposed to be. So far things had gone well, but she was not going to let her guard down.
She looked over to the landing field, watching as the fourth freighter put down. The ships were crowded in the area, tight together. If they came under attack they could easily lose most of their ships. Ree understood why Frost was doing it that way, but it made her job that much harder.
"Ree 1 to all call signs, sitrep," she said.
"Apple 1, everything is quiet here."
"Orange 1, we're good."
"Peach 1, quiet."
"Tangerine 1, the SAC people have moved those Leopards out where we can see then, think they are making sure we know what the deal is."
"Gold 1, nothing of any interest happening here," the woman in charge of Fire Blades top team said.
"Silver 1, got some infantry trying to move into a flanking position."
"Bronze 1, quiet."
"Zinc 1, nothing."
"Copper 1, nothing."
"Okay, stay cool. Silver 1, move a suit into the path of that infantry, see what they do and get back to me, Ree 1 out." She switched frequencies. "Ree 1 to Rose, all units in place, everything is good."
"Ree 1, Rose currently out of communication, will pass on message," someone told Ree.
"Understood. Ree 1 out." She said, then switched frequencies again. "Anything happening that I should be aware of?"
"The SAC forces are sending out recee teams," Diane said.
"Light stuff, they don't look like the are going to a fight," Conaly added.
"Keep an eye out, and call me if anything comes us. Ree 1 out."
Ree tapped some keys and brought up a map of the area, making a few changes. She zoomed in on the area where the two Marshals were. They were in PAFS rigged for stealth operations. She had sent them deep into the SAC lines, the mission was their sort of specialty.
Everything was going well enough, her people were all in position, and even though they were in a poor defensive situation, she felt they could hold out if it came down to a fight. She shut down the map, then swung her suit around, sending her suit stomping towards Tangerine's location. If the SAC people wanted to trot out their Leopards she might as well show them they were not the only ones with big guns.
"What is it?" Redding asked Anthony.
"Got a problem," Anthony said. The chest carapace of his PAFS opened, revealing him. He was a big man, with thinning gray hair and blue eyes. He freed his arms from the master arms, then got out of the suit. "The shelter we're sitting at, there are only three thousand and nine hundred colonists in it."
"Where are the others?" Redding sighed. They did not need this problem.
"You're going to love this."
"I doubt that."
"About fifteen hundred of these colonists came from Earth. They decided that the SAC would protect them and are in a set of shelters near the SAC lines."
"Let me guess. They have realized that the SAC are not going to be their white knight and now they want help?"
"You got it. Some of them have joined the SAC though, they are not our problem anymore."
"That leaves about another fifteen hundred. Where are they?"
"They have holed up with the Solingen mining technicians, those that didn't join with the ODF."
"Okay, let's get the people we have now out of here. We'll use two freighters. Have you got the numbers on who wants to be evaced off the planet and who wants to be on the other side?"
"Not yet. Not my job Redding."
"I'll send some people then. You get back to patrolling."
"Yes sir," he said, then went back to his PAFS.
Redding turned his back and walked into his ship, wondering how he was going to get all the people off the planet. He had not planned on having to move people over long distances. Trying to move the freighters close would just make the ODF and SAC forces upset, and might force a confrontation.
No easy answers. It was going to take time. He was not sure how much time he had though, not with the other sides' reinforcements on the way.
Emiko balanced several tea and coffee cups on a tray. She pushed through the doors of the meeting room and then began putting people's drinks in front of them. It was not a glamorous job, but it needed to be done, and there was not much else she could do.
They had been on the planet for more than a day and had sent two freighters off. Juan had told her about the problems they were facing, the other colonists that they could not get at easily.
"We can't do both groups at once," Ree told Redding. "We'll leave ourselves right open if we do it."
"You're sure of that?" Redding asked her.
"As sure as I am of anything. Both sides are probing our lines, looking for weaknesses. I won't say they are planning an attack, but I can't say they aren't."
"Accepting Miss Maxil's assessment as being correct, which group do we do first?"
"The ones close to the SAC," Darlan Felix said.
"They've got suits of their own, the ODF doesn't. We march out suits towards the ODF, they are more likely to react badly. The SAC's own suits should give them enough confidence to hold off until we do something provocative. After the ODF has seen what we do near the SAC position, they should not react badly when we approach them."
"Anyone have any problems with that?" Redding asked.
"It's a bit of a crap shoot," Ree said.
"Granted, but I don't see that we have a choice, unless we choose to abandon the remaining colonists."
"Is that an option?" Ashram asked.
"It might be," Redding said. "Another possibility is simply to tell the other settlers they have a day to make it to this location. If they don't, then we leave without them."
"That's cold," Anthony said. "Tactically it is a good idea, but not great PR."
"Agreed, but we have to consider it. It will take at least two days to evacuate both these groups, more time then we wanted to stay here. If we stay beyond tomorrow, we might have to deal with the reinforcements that both sides are sending. Half the reason we have managed to get this far without having to fight with anyone is that we are dealing with officers who would rather play it safe. The reinforcements will bring officers who have no such desires.
"We could suffer very heavy losses if we stay. We cannot afford those losses. So, do we stay, or do we leave?"
"I think we all knew that it might come down to it. We accepted it. I say we stay," Anthony said.
"What he said." That from Ree.
"We came here to help them, might as well see it through," Ashram said.
"Captain Blackhand," Redding turned toward the monitor, "What is your opinion on this?"
"I'm for staying, but I have it fairly easy. If things get really bad, I can run easily enough."
"Remember that Captain. If things get really bad, I want you to escape."
"Well, it seems we're staying," Redding picked up the cup of coffee Emiko had placed in front of him. "We need to make some new plans."
The three suits stepped up on the top of the hill, facing the SAC lines. Rees Manticore was flanked by Diane's dark green Vigen on the right and Epiphany's red and gold Draken. The cannon on Rees Manticore swung into place.
Facing them were half the SAC Leopards, forming a firing line. Each Leopard had its main cannon deployed, locked to the suit's left arms.
Ree had half her force maintaining security back at the landing site. The other half were providing security for the evacuation. She and the others were just keeping the SAC forces honest.
She did not expect that the SAC was going to be dishonest. Redding had cut a deal with the SAC commander which would allow the civilians to be evacuated.
"Hey," someone said over the radio. "Do you think you can kill us all?"
"Youd be surprised," Ree said, tagging the Leopard the transmission was coming from. There was a squelch of static, then nothing. Ree assumed the mans CO had just gave him a talking down to on one of the encrypted channels.
"Lack of discipline," Diane said over a secure channel. "Could work for us if we have to fight."
"Could make us have to fight," Ree said.
"Got a target picked out?"
"I have several."
Emiko was tossed around as she drove the large truck along the broken road. The SAC had made the road impassable. A team of engineers had cleared the more deadly of the obstacles, not that Emiko noticed.
She twisted the steering wheel as the truck bounced through a shallow pit in the road. She stepped on the gas pedal, getting the truck free of the pit and almost going into the ditch on the side of the road.
When she had been given the job of driving one of the evacuation vehicles. The sergeant who had given her the task had not seemed to care about her admission that she could not drive. He had simply grumbled and told her something about it being an automatic transmission and all wheel drive vehicle and not to worry.
She might not have worried, that much, but then he had given her a gyrojet machine gun and told her to be careful. The weapon was sitting on the seat beside her, held fast against the bouncing by a seat belt. Every now and then she would look over at it and get a strange feeling in her stomach. She hoped nothing would happen when she might actually have to use it. She hoped nothing would happen where she might get killed.
The front wheels of the truck dropped into another of the pits and her teeth slammed together painfully. Her mind was thankfully occupied with the task of getting the truck through a series of pits without flipping it over so she did not have time to think about the weapon or what might happen if she were to use it.
She came around a curve and hit her brakes. Ahead of her was another truck. She put her vehicle in park, undid her seat belt, then leaned out the window to see what was happening. Ahead of the truck in front of her were several other vehicles and beyond them she could see the entrance to the shelters. She watched as the vehicles ahead of her were directed to loading points.
The loading points were some distance from the shelters. She had been told that was to ensure the SAC could see that they were only loading civilians and their personal belongings.
The truck ahead of her started to move and she slid back behind the wheel. She followed after the other vehicle. A short time later a man directed her towards a space beside a jeep.
She twisted the wheel and drove towards the jeep. She pulled past it and then put the truck into reverse, backing it in like she had seen the others do. There was suddenly a jolt, and a sound of glass breaking and metal twisting. She stepped on the brake.
"What the hell do you think you're doing?!" someone shouted.
Emiko put the truck in park, shifted over to the passenger side--getting her clothing caught on the weapon in her haste--then looked out the window. The right, rear side of the truck had hit the jeep. The headlight was broken and the front was dented. "Gomen na sai," Emiko said, feeling her face go hot.
She slid back over to the drivers side--once more getting her clothes caught on the weapon--and pulled forward. She gave herself more room and backed up once more without hitting the jeep. She sighed as she shut off the engine.
When she got out of the vehicle she noticed while most of the others were parked neatly, she was in on a rather extreme angle. The driver of the jeep was sitting in the back of his vehicle, laughing. Emiko pretended to ignore him as she walked around to let the tailgate of the truck down.
After pulling herself up into the bed of the truck, she sat on the edge, her legs dangling down, and watched the operation.
There were a lot of vehicles there. They had scavenged every vehicle they could find for this. She suspected that Tern was glad his car had been taken out of the Sloop John B.
The colonists were leaving the shelters, carrying what little they had, and boarding the vehicles. The people in charge were taking special care to make sure families stayed together.
Once a vehicle was loaded it left, heading back the way they had come. Emiko wondered what the trip would be like with all the passengers in the back. She hoped no one would get hurt.
"Hey, Miya, come here," the driver of the jeep called.
Emiko jumped down from the bed of the truck and walked around to the jeep. "What?" she asked, hoping he wasnt going to complain about her hitting his jeep.
"Dont look, but we have some infantry to the east of us, I was just told."
"Why are they there?" Emiko forced herself not to look.
"Probably just watching us. I was told to pass it on to you. Keep your truck between them and you, just in case."
"Right," Emiko nodded, trying to keep from sounding nervous.
"Relax," he told her. "Probably nothing."
Emiko nodded again, then headed back to her truck, doing as she had been told.
After an hour of waiting a group of evacuees were directed towards her truck. Emiko watched as they climbed in, pulling children up, arranging their belongings. The truck was packed by the time everyone was on. It did look not too comfortable. She noticed a woman near the back, perched on the very edge of one of the seat, a small, sleeping child in her arms.
"I think you would be more comfortable up front with me," she said.
"Thank you," she said, handing the child to the man beside her before climbing out. Once she was on the ground she took the child back.
Emiko grabbed the heavy tailgate and lifted it up high enough so that some of the people in the back of the truck could pull it up and lock it.
"Come on," Emiko said, walking towards the front of the truck.
"My name is Jenny Verees," she said.
"Miya Emiko desu," Emiko said, turning to face her. "I met a Marion Verees once," she said as she pulled open the door to remove the machine gun from the seat.
"Yes," Emiko said, moving the weapon so it rested between the two seats.
"Shes my aunt."
"Really?" Emiko turned to face her.
"Sugoi," Emiko said as she stepped away from the door so Jenny could get in. Jenny handed her the child, then climbed into the cab. Emiko gave her back the child. She then walked around the truck and got into the drivers side.
"I haven't thanked you for doing this. I haven't thanked any of you yet," Jenny said as Emiko pulled on her seat belt.
"Youre welcome," Emiko said, feeling a bit uncomfortable with the woman's gratitude. She started the truck up and drove towards the road.
She drove for a time, without saying anything. She was nervous that she was going to make a mistake and hurt all the people in the back of the truck.
"You dont have a lot of driving experience do you," Jenny observed.
"This is the first time I have driven anything," Emiko said, laughing. It came across sounding forced.
"Want me to drive?"
"Would you?" Emiko asked, deciding anyone would be better than her.
"No problem." Emiko stopped the truck and put it in park. She opened the driver's door and got out. On the other side Jenny handed the child down to Emiko. "Take care of Kati for me."
"How old is she?" Emiko asked.
"A little under a year. She was born here, on Freya 4." Jenny got out of the truck and took Kati back. Once Emiko was in the cab she handed her up.
Emiko got Kati arranged on her lap, then pulled on her seat belt then closed the door. Kati was still asleep. Emiko looked down at the girl. She had curly brown hair and the cutest face.
"She's a darling isn't she," Jenny said as she climbed behind the wheel. "Of course all mothers think their children are darlings, I think they have to." She slammed the door closed.
"Is she all right?" Emiko asked. "There are several doctors at the landing zone." She looked over at Jenny.
"Kati's just a tired little girl," she said. "Been a hard few days on her, and everyone else. She just needs a more relaxed environment."
"Don't we all."
"You're the same Emiko Miya who made that broadcast arent you," Jenny said as she put the truck into drive and started down the road.
"Yes," Emiko said, looking at the baby in her arms. She noticed the ride was much smoother even though Jenny was driving faster.
"Its like I'm with a celebrity," she looked over at Emiko and smiled. "Maybe one day I'll be able to tell her that she was held by a famous person."
"I'm not famous," Emiko told her.
"Yet," Jenny said, turning her eyes back to the road. "I know I'm certainly going to say good things about you."
"Youre the one driving the truck."
"Sure, but Im driving it to the only safe way off this planet right now. You drove it towards a bunch of military types."
"If you are from the colonies, why were you with the Earth colonists?" Emiko changed the subject.
"Jenny's father, Fred, whose last name I can barely pronounce and refused to take, came from Earth. A very good man, but naive. I wanted to stay in the settlement, but Fred thought we would be better trusting the SAC."
"Is he in the back?"
"Yes. He wanted to join with SAC when we first arrived, but I told him in no uncertain terms that he was staying put. I should have been that firm when he took us from the settlement. What can you do?" she asked rhetorically.
"I think she's wet," Emiko said.
Jenny looked over at her daughter then back at the road. "Since she's still sleeping and were short of everything, including diapers, I'm going to be a bad mother and let it ride."
"I wonder if there were diapers included in the medical supplies?" Emiko asked as she shifted the baby on her lap.
"One would hope so. Tell me, what does this Starblade Battalion need?"
"Everything," Emiko told her.
"I'm a bit of an engineer, can do some jury-rigging when I have to, and can move a mech about if the need arises."
"You want to join?" Emiko was surprised.
"I think so. Fred might have some reservations about it, but Ill bring him along. If you need a botanist, and who doesnt," she laughed, "Fred's your man."
"I dont know. Im sure someone can tell you once you get onboard a ship."
"I'll definitely ask."
"Aren't you worried about Kati?" Emiko asked. "I mean, if you join, who knows what will happen."
"Emiko, you don't mind if I call you that, do you?"
"Emiko, there are no safe places left, I think. At least none where I want to bring up a child. Freya 4 was supposed to be a big nothing, but there was enough precious metal to bring Solingen's mining people; they brought the ODF and both together brought the SAC. I figure your side is a good place to be. Equal danger I suspect, but at least I'll be on a side that cares."
Emiko said nothing. She was suddenly wondering is coming to save these people might have been more related to good publicity than altruism. It was hard to be sure. She knew that Captain Redding and the others cared, but they also had many different battles to fight and had to win them as they could.
The two women did not say much after that beyond some small talk. Jenny had to turn more of her attention to the road. Kati woke up and began to fuss so Emiko had to spend time keeping the girl quiet.
It took almost an hour to get to the landing zone, but they did, without any problems. Jenny backed the truck smoothly into a line with several others, then shut it down.
"Well Emiko, it has been a pleasure to meet you. And once more, thank you."
"Iie," Emiko shook her head. Kati had begun to cry, obviously beginning to be uncomfortable.
"Let me just come around and get her," Jenny said as she opened the door and got out of the truck.
Emiko undid her seat belt then opened the door. She turned around in her seat so she could hand Kati down to Jenny.
"Oh you are a wet one," Jenny said as she took the child. "Ill get you changed soon." She looked up at Emiko, about to say something, then stopped and smiled. "It looks like Kati isnt the only one in need of a change."
Emiko looked at her, than down at her lap, noticing the wet spot there. She hadnt noticed before, thinking the warmth just from the baby.
"Leaky diaper," Jenny said. "Sorry. Again, thank you." With that she turned about and walked around to the back of the truck to join the others. "Bye Emiko," she said, then was behind the vehicle and Emiko could no longer see her.
Emiko sighed as she reached around and freed the machine gun. If she hurried, she thought as she reached behind the drivers seat for her webbing, she could get back to where her gear was before anyone, including Ree, especially Ree, saw her.
Redding had made the Starblade his command post. Its lack of space had been a problem at times, but he was comfortable on board the ship. He sat on the bridge, reading through the after-action reports.
The operation had gone well. No fighting, no casualties, and another group of colonists moved to safety. They only had one more group to do. As the ODF had watched the operation near the SAC lines, it was likely that they would let everything go through without problems.
He hoped Lieutenant Maxil would not take such an antagonistic stance against the ODF. He understood why she had done it, and even had agreed it was the right way to go about things, but the woman had enjoyed it too much.
Not only was she likely the best pilot in the entire Battalion, perhaps even the war, she was also a very good leader. She understood how to use suits.
Redding shook his head and wondered if skill and arrogance went hand in hand. It probably had something to do with youth. Jesse was like that. He could not remember if he had ever been like that. It was likely, but in his memories he was always a levelheaded man. No doubt Jesse and Ree would look back on their life the same way he did. Assuming they lived to be that old.
Not a good time for such thoughts, he decided, reaching for his coffee mug. The coffee was tepid, and too strong, but he drank it anyway.
Putting the empty cup down he looked over the next report. A number of colonists had offered to join the Battalion. He would take them all, even the ones who had no combat skills. They could be trained, or they could just do what they were good at. Everyone could serve, given a chance.
"Sir," his communications tech called, "We have a problem."
"Thats my line I think," Redding told him. "What is it?"
"The com traffic on the SAC lines has just jumped," he paused, listening for a moment. "The rest of Mars force has just shunted in."
"Theyre early," Redding said. "Admiral Mars will not be happy when he finds out about all this. Tell me anything important that you hear," Redding ordered as he activated his com unit. "This is Rose to Pirate, over."
"This is pirate, over."
"Give me the Captain."
"Blackhand here Rose, you noticed those ships come in?"
"They are SAC. The Carrier is the Ares. Hold as long as you can, but dont stay and fight. That fleet has the newest equipment and well-trained people. Khamul is also not one to do things half way. Rose out." He cut the connection then opened a new channel. "All call signs, all call signs, this is Rose. We have a situation. Everyone to their battle stations, Ill brief you by com. Rose out." He cut that channel. "Well," he looked at his com tech.
"I dont think the Admiral is happy."
"That I guessed. What are his orders?"
"He wants his people to start attacking the ODF, a first wave. The rest of his force will be a second wave."
"Hell probably hit them from the other side, catching the ODF between two forces."
"Theres more," he said, pausing. "Its about us. He wants the ground forces to move through our lines, destroying all our space craft."
"He wants prisoners," Redding said. "Call up the ODF, tell them what is about to happen, it might buy us time," he ordered, then opened up a new channel. "Rose to Ree 1, the SAC forces are coming through soon, I want you on it, over."
"Understood Rose. We've been listening in as well, over."
"Ill be putting the PAFS under your command, use them well. Rose out." Redding switched channels again. They did not have time for a proper evacuation. "All pilots, we will be abandoning the drop shuttles, and all other ships that are not shunt capable and can not be taken with us. The freighter Mayfly will evacuate the last of the colonists. Put down right next to their shelters. The freighter Blue Bayou will move to the fall back point. You will evacuate all our people. Rose out."
Redding sat back in his chair for a moment, then stood up. "Call the remaining colonists," he said. "Tell them that if they get on that ship theyll be coming with us. Give all the cutters orders to lift off, I want them in the air."
Redding turned and walked off his bridge.
"The computer had IDed the ships," Emiko said. "Cavalier fighters."
"First wave, clear the way for the other craft," Tern told her. "How many?"
"They outnumber us." Tern looked to be deep in thought. "Emiko, you handle the ECM. Were going to have to confuse them as much as we can."
"Okay," Emiko said, turning her attention to the controls.
"This is going to be a rough ride," Tern locked the ships cannon in a forward firing mode.
"Ask me if Im surprised," Emiko looked over at him and smiled.
"Ever heard the poem 'High Flight'?"
"Its a good one."
"Does it have a bearing on this?"
"Written by fighter pilot about his joy of flying."
"I guess that relates."
"Time to fling my eager craft through the footloose halls of air."
Ree was not surprised at the SAC's tactics, they were by the book, and proper for the situation. The infantry forces were circling around, obviously planning on hitting the ODF position from each side. The Leopards were coming straight on, a course that would take them straight through the landing zone.
The once crowded space was now fairly empty. All the freighters were gone, as well as the cutters. Only the drop shuttles remained. They sat in the field, empty. Ree felt like they were abandoning the machines that had served them well. Pilots feelings, she decided. Machines were never just machines to her. They had lives of their own.
"Starshine to Ree 1, over."
"Ree 1, what is it? Over."
"They are getting close, you ready? Over."
"Of course. Done any damage? Over."
"Nothing major, scratched a few, over."
"Okay, keep to the plan, Ree 1 out." She changed channels. "Ree 1 to all call signs, they are coming. You know your jobs, do them right, no room for mistakes. Ree 1 out."
The Leopards came into the open area of the landing field much like Ree had expected. SAC battle doctrine, five flights of four mecha. Two pairs, a pilot and his wingman in each pair. Two would move and two would cover. They were advancing fast, the tread and wheel combinations on their feet making it look like they were skating perhaps a little carelessly.
The huge cannons opened up, ripping into the drop shuttles, destroying them. Ten suits were crossing the open area as ten stayed back to provide cover.
It was what Ree had expected, what she had prepared for. She had placed her first attack force in such a way that the advancing Leopards would be between them and the covering Leopards. It worked much like she had expected. Gold and Silver team broke cover, opening up on the advancing mecha with missile weapons.
The advance was halted as Leopards moved into a defensive formation, turning on their attackers. By that time the two teams had moved back into cover. Orange and Peach team were the next attack force, opening up on the advance teams flank. While there were in line of sight of the other units, they had shifted their attention to Gold and Silvers location.
The results were better than Ree had expected. Two of the Leopards went down in the second attack, and several of the others showed damage.
Then the Leopards began to counterattack. The advance team opened up on Gold and Silver's location, the huge guns ripping into the ground, blowing through cover to find their targets. The Leopards in the rear opened up on Orange and Peach's location with the same results.
"Lets go," Ree said, moving her Manticore out, the other suits falling in behind her. She and five other teams charged into the Leopards, a wedge, with her on the point.
All the sniping the PAFS had done and the flanking attacks had lulled the pilots of the Leopards into a false sense of superiority. They expected tricks. They did not expect a frontal assault.
Within seconds the remaining Leopards in the advance group had been torn apart. Of course they had not gone easily. Several of her mechs had blossomed and flamed, hit by the swarm of shells the Leopards could put into the air. Her Manticore stood near front of the line, surrounded by the twisted frames of destroyed suits.
She looked across the field at the remaining 10 Leopards. She knew what they were thinking, could already see them bringing their guns around. Out into the open like that her forces would be torn apart. She pressed a small button on her controls stick.
The ground between her and the Leopards exploded, throwing tons of dirt and rock into the air. There was a huge cloud of dirt and dust filling the air, and even with their ASP packages the Leopard pilots sill had a hard time seeing what was occurring on the field.
When the dirt and dust had settled enough they realized that a number of huge holes had been blown into the field, holes in which their enemys mecha were hiding.
Ree kept her Manticore crouched down in the pit, waiting for the last of her attack waves.
Epiphany showed up right on time. Bringing several suits in, flying NOE, she hit the remaining Leopards from above. That was the cue everyone had been waiting for. They moved out of cover and opened up on the last of the Leopards.
The Leopards fought back, spraying the area with heavy munitions, firing off their missiles, bringing their secondary cannons into play. Ree watched as a nearby suit was cut in half by a burst from the one of the main cannons. The bursts had tore through the ground in front of the unit, cutting down through the dirt and then the suit. Ree fired back, the Leopard was blown apart.
Suddenly it was over. The last of the Leopard suits was on its back, the main cannon still spinning, firing the last of its ammunition into the air.
"All channels, this is Ree 1, report, over," she said.
She listened as each team leader called in their casualty reports. Eleven suits destroyed, six suits down, nine pilots dead and thirteen wounded. For all that she could hear the pride in their voices. They had won. Victory was a powerful balm.
"My team and Apple will hang back to cover your retreat," Ree said. "Get to the freighter and load up. We dont have much time."
Ree watched as the teams slowly formed up and moved out. They were leaving a lot of equipment behind, but none of their dead--at least where there was a body to be found. She knew it stupid to waste time, gathering up the dead, but she didnt stop them. We dont leave our people behind was probably a saying that had gotten a lot of people killed, but it was something to find strength in.
"Okay," Ree said to the people with her. "Interceptors in the air, the rest of us stay on the ground. No one comes up from behind us."
The pilot of the Cavalier cursed the ship ahead of him as it turned sharper than he could, sliding out of his sights again. He could not get a lock on it, the ship had to have one of the best ECM suites he had ever seen, and it was fast. It, and the cutters, had kept him and the other fighters up high, they had not been able to lend support to the groundside battle. The least he wanted to do was get that ship.
Suddenly it stopped dead in the air and he over shot it. He climbed, but the ship matched him, and it was in his six.
He tried to break the tail, but everything he did, the pilot countered. A huge wash of energy passed the port side of his fighter, the superheated air created turbulence that threw his fighter around. He was trying to get control of his craft when another beam hit his fighter dead on, killing him instantly.
Tern pulled up, the John B. passed over the remains of the fighter. "Whats happening?" he asked Emiko.
"The Blue Bayou has just taken off. We are to move to support it."
"See you later," he said to the fighters his sensor suite was showing. He pushed the John B. for maximum thrust and left them far behind.
Lilith grasped the arms of her command chair as her ship shook. One of the SAC cruisers was battering away at them. "Report," she said.
"The Halcyon cruisers have gotten clear and have cloaked."
"Good for them. What about Redding and his bunch?"
"The Blue Bayou will clear the atmosphere in three minutes."
"Anything close to them?"
"Good. Lets get the hell out of here."
"Captain, the cruiser is trying to get a lock on us."
"Hit it with everything we have, then engage the cloak."
Lilith sat back in her chair, watching as the pursuing cruiser took several rail gun rounds to its bow. It slowed down and did not fire again. A moment later the Thunder Clap was gone.
Khamul sat on the bridge of the Ares, listening to the reports that came in. They had claimed the space around Freya 4, had air superiority on the planet and were just mopping up the last of the ODF personnel on the planet.
It had been a costly battle. Both the ODF and the Starblade Battalion had inflicted some losses on his forces. The Battalion's escape galled him. He controlled the best fleet in the SAC, with one of the best crews, and a ragtag, sorry collection of civilians and deserters had shown him up.
He had wanted them. He blamed them for Julia's death. She had been one of his better Captains. If she had been on the Lorrelli, as she should have been, it would not be limping back to base, half its crew dead. So, the Battalion was also responsible for the deaths of everyone on that ship, and everyone they had directly killed.
That they had saved all the civilians on the planet meant little to him. He had a grudge to settle with them. The ODF was his first concern though. He would deal with the Battalion whenever the situation presented itself. He would make them hurt.
Emiko floated in the John B.s large salon. The empty salon. She was barely awake, but she could not sleep. She was too worried about what had happened to everyone else.
Once they cleared Freya 4s atmosphere, and had seen the Blue Bayou and the other ships cloak, Tern had fired the John Bs thrusters for a long time, building up speed to the point where no one was going to catch them. Tern had told her he liked the cloak, but he was not going to use it when he could run the old fashioned way.
Now they coasted, no longer accelerating, out of the planets gravity well.
"How are you?" Tern asked, floating into the room.
"Im sure everyone will be all right," he told her, moving so he was right below her--or above her, depending on one's point of view.
"I know, but I'm still worried," she said, looking at him. He had a shadow of beard on his normally clean shaven jaw. His clothes were rumpled and he was a little dirty, much like she was.
Tern moved himself toward her, very slowly, and lightly brushed her lips with his. It could barely be called a kiss, but in zero gravity Emiko didnt expect much force.
"Why did you do that?" Emiko asked him, wondering why he smelled so good.
"Because you looked like you needed it. Because you're cute. Because it is a good way to start a seduction."
"Oh," Emiko said.
"Showering in zero G is kind of interesting. Showering in zero G with someone else is unique. Care to join me?"
"Not yet," Emiko told him.
"You're missing a treat," he told her.
"I'm sure I'll survive."
"I'll save you some hot water," he told her, pushing off against the ceiling, floating towards the aft.
"Ree-oneechan, tasukute, (help me)" Emiko said softly, laughing.
Ending Credits--the same as before.
Description: 179cm, 79kg, 23 years old, long, wavy, strawberry blonde hair, brown eyes, beautiful and feminine.
Quote: "It doesnt really bother me."
Notes: Epiphany is an odd case. She is a very beautiful man. While that statement may sound odd, it sums the woman up nicely. There is very little about her (beyond a Y chromosome and few physical characteristics) that is masculine. She is a very kind person and is very hard, if not impossible, to insult.
She was a native of Solingen, and became friends with Ree while they were both in basic training. She is a good pilot and has a spotless military record, or did up till the point she deserted.
Epiphany doesnt have too many political views. She is concerned about people being hurt, so she is not impressed with either the USSA or Solingen.
Important Stats and Skills: ATT 9, EMP 10, INT 8, REF 8, Personal Grooming 7, Wardrobe & Style 8, Social 6, Mecha Piloting 6, Mecha Missiles 8. Data Link.
Personal Armoured Fighting Suits: These are small, 2.5 meters to 3.5 meters, suits. They are used in a variety of rolls, infantry, security, starship boarding and others. While there are many types and manufacturers, they all tend to share a number of common design features. Most carry their weapons in hands, or is some cases external hardpoints due to the lack of interior space in which to mount weapons.
"Watashi wa anata no ane, soshite haha, soshite anata."
--Miyu Kyuuketsuki ga Yui ni itta
Shawn Hagen <firstname.lastname@example.org>
On to Chapter 17