Episode 17 (2180.07.26)
by Shawn Hagen (1997)
Starblade Battalion is the Property of R.Talsorian Games.
Opening Credits--same as before
Auden's long stride pulled the material of her skirt tight with each step. It was only the confining nature of the garment that allowed her to maintain a calm facade. If it were any looser she would be moving too fast.
"Things are going fairly well," Commander Roberts said to her.
"Things are not going well," she told him. "We currently have what could be best described as parity with the ODF. That is not what we wanted. We also have to deal with the Starblade Battalion." Her voice was remarkably even.
"New ships, mechs and other materials are being built daily. We are also working on getting the new recruitment plan okayed."
"And will not the Colonials do similar?"
"Yes, but we will still outnumber them."
"And they will still have their cloaking device Commander," she said, her voice carrying a hint of ice. "I would think that Admiral Dover might have taken a much more aggressive stance all things considered."
"As would Admiral Romanov."
"Then perhaps the two Admirals should talk, Commander. Good day Commander," she told him, ending the meeting.
Commander Roberts stopped and watched her walk off. He hoped that Admiral Romanov might have some luck convincing Dover to do what was needed.
Auden lost a little of her control once she got back into her lab, her sanctuary. She closed her door harder than needed, making it bang loudly.
"Auden-san?" Takako looked up from the computer she was working at.
"I'm sorry Takako-sempai," Auden said. "Things are not perfect right now."
"Of course," Auden said, backing up her files then standing. "This is a hard time. Is there anything I can do to help?"
"Could you convince Admiral Dover to take a more aggressive stance?" Auden asked, smiling.
"Joanna-san has strong opinions, and a slightly romantic vision of the colonists. Still, there are ways," Takako tapped a fingernail against the computer.
Auden was a little surprised. "You could do it?"
"I make no promises Auden-san, but, perhaps."
"You never cease to surprise me, sempai."
"Iie," Takako shook her head. "Now, I've been looking at that data you brought back from your last expedition to the cluster and noted some interesting things. Would you like to see them, Auden-san?" she asked, turning the computer's monitor so Auden could see it.
Around the table were seated the stockholders of the Solingen Corporation. Albert Knox sat at the head of the table, the position of the Chairman.
"Gentlemen, ladies, we have problems. These problems are not insurmountable, but we are going to have to cooperate if we hope to deal with them. Now is the time to put aside our personal vendettas," he looked pointedly at Barnabas Richter. "Now, we have a proposal on the table to increase our fleet size. This will be costly of course, but most of the senior ODF personnel think we need it."
"Can we afford that cost?" Barnabas asked.
"Of course," Albert said dismissively.
"The Grand Marshal has not expressed a need for more ships," Laura Donsen said.
"There is a very simple reason for that," Albert said. "I own a rather large percentage of Gravesend Shipwrights. This will increase my power. As we all know, the Richter family has always wanted one of their sons or daughters as Chairman of Solingen."
"Every major stockholder wants the position of Chairman," Barnabas said. "There is a conflict of interest here."
"That may be so," Albert said. "But, it does not change the fact that we need those ships. I am calling for a vote. Now."
"Secret ballot?" Dave Hinlin asked.
"If that is what you wish. The question is, do we provide the funds to build these ships. My vote is so," he said, entering some commands on the key board in front of him, voting all his shares on the yes side.
The rest of the board voted, keeping their votes secret. Seventy six percent of the shares were voted yes. Albert looked over at Barnabas and the few others, letting them know he knew how they had voted.
"We build them," Albert said. "To deal with the accusations of there being a conflict of interest here, any profit I make from this operation will be reinvested directly into Solingen."
There were a few nods from the table, most of the other members deciding he was handling the situation properly. Barnabas looked a little uncomfortable. Albert looked over at him and smiled for a moment.
"The next order of business I wish to consider is this Starblade Battalion. They are a problem. What do we know about them?"
"We have records on the visible members, Jesse Ryuzaki, Redding Frost and Emiko Miya. There are a number of people we suspect of being part of the Battalion, but investigations are still undergoing," Laura said.
"I want to defang them, if possible. We will offer to support the Starblade Battalion, as an aid society, like the old Red Cross. They must put aside their political objectives, but they can still act to protect the citizens of the Cluster and Earth space, if that is what they truly wish to do. Make that offer public knowledge. We will also offer this Miss Miya a rather large fee to join us. That offer we will keep quiet."
"Do you really think that she would?" Barnabas asked.
"No, but if she does, then so much the better for us. What is important is that it will take suspicion away from us if the young woman were to meet with an unpleasant end."
"What about some of our plans for the USSA?" Richard Mandela asked, sounding a little uncomfortable.
"I am not prepared to discuss those," he stressed 'those', "plans at this time, if ever, Mr. Mandela. Do not bring it up again," Albert's tone was hard. "Is there anything else we need to discuss?"
"I believe we have covered all the points on the agenda," Laura said.
"Is there any new business anyone wishes to bring up at this time?" Albert said.
No one said anything.
"Then I close this meeting."
Carly Donaldson brought her Zephyr around, slashing her saber deep into the side of the Draken, almost taking its right arm off. She fired her thrusters, snapping her suit around, slashing at the Draken again, cutting the barrel of its weapon away.
As she took the suit apart she was thinking of the Manticore, and the pilot. She kept seeing the pilot's face, a beautiful face with an arrogant smile. She wanted so much to wipe that smile away. Her saber's tip cut a shallow line into the other unit's back.
She was about to finish off the ODF suit when an alarm sounded. She had been locked onto, missiles were on the way.
Her reactions were automatic. She grabbed hold of the other suit and swung around it, putting it between her and the incoming missiles. She boosted away from the other suit, spinning around, readying her phalanx system.
The Draken was blown apart by missiles, fired by another ODF unit. Carly smiled ever so slightly at it, but she did not spend too much time appreciating the irony. Several of the missiles had avoided the Draken and were coming at her.
She triggered the antimissile system, the phalanx gun opened up on the missiles, the counter missiles fired, and Carly watched as the incoming munitions exploded.
Spinning about, she opened up her thrusters, heading off towards another part of the battle, looking for Manticores. Her Zephyr had undergone several modifications that had improved it, but she knew that the woman was very good. She needed direct experience now, and as much as she could get.
The gymnasium was filled with students, standing in orderly lines, arranged by year and class. Alice stood in a line of third year girls, wondering what was happening. The assembly had been a surprise to everyone, including the teachers--Alice suspected. She wondered what was up. It was certainly something important.
Nakamura-kyoto sensei (vice principal) walked up the stairs onto the stage. The students grew quiet. He turned to face them. "Rei," he said. All the students bowed. He turned and walked off the stage.
Next Oyama-kocho sensei (principal) came onto the stage. He turned and bowed to the students. All of the students bowed to him, there bows much deeper than his. He then moved behind the podium.
"Today will be a special day for many of you. This morning I was contacted by the Tokyo Board of Education and told that Dover-kaigungensei(Admiral of the fleet) has introduced a new plan to help ensure we can protect the planets of our system, and all the planets of the galaxy. It is a bold program, one that puts the future in the hands of the youth, those who will live in that future.
"As of today, those of you who are seventeen years or older, will be able to serve with the SAC, if you so choose."
A buzz of noise rose up from the students as many whispered to their neighbors about what it meant. The noise dropped off suddenly with a stare from the kocho sensei.
"Some of you have been preparing for this, and now your day has come. A great fleet is being built to ensure that we can protect the fragile ecosystem of our planet and all planets."
He went on, talking about how they would be playing an important part in the coming battles and in shaping the future. Alice was hardly listening to him. She was thinking about how many of her friends might be leaving, about how many that might die.
She looked over her shoulder, spotting Yuki and her friends. She had expected to see fear on Yuki's face--now that she was close to going off to war--but there wasn't. There was something about her expression, something that made her think that perhaps she was actually looking forward to it.
She turned away from Yuki, staring up at the stage, but not really seeing the kocho sensei. She thought back on everything Yuki had said. She thought back about everything that Emiko had told her about Yuki. Yuki wanted to go into space now, she wanted to find Emiko. It was the only thing that made sense.
Yuki had always needed to be better than Emiko, for some strange reason. She saw that clearly. Now, the only way she could be better than Emiko was to try to find her, find her and somehow beat her.
Marion sat behind her desk, working on her books, or trying to. Earlier that day the ODF had announced a massive recruitment drive. Soon after she had learned how little she really knew of her neighbors. The population of their little community was going to drop by more than a quarter soon. And it was not just the young men and women, but older people she had thought were settled.
They were looking for adventure, she realized. Life on Solingen had grown a little too easy for many of the people. Marion wondered how many of them truly knew what they were going to? How many of her friends were going to lose children to this? How many of her friends would she lose to it?
The war was growing, more and more people were being pulled into it. Marion did not know how many lives would be lost before it was all over, but she knew it would be too many.
Somewhere along the way the colonists had given up on something important. They had given too much power to Solingen, given the huge corporation too much trust. Many had bought into the story that Earth, the USSA, was their enemy. Even those that did not completely accept it were still more likely to do nothing as opposed to going against Solingen.
She wondered if the Starblade Battalion was going to be able stop the war, as they had said they would. It seemed everyday the two warring sides were getting stronger and more determined to destroy each other.
Could such a small group stop such a powerful force?
She did not know.
The 'Kiki' was a small SAC ship, a fast corvette, stripped of most of its weapons, carrying some of the best sensors designs the SAC could provide. It was Shingo's first command, and he was more than a little proud.
His office was cramped. He had removed the desk, putting a kotatsu in its place. He liked the low table, it reminded him of home, and it made the room seem a little larger. Holographic projections filled the air with screens. Moving through the room could be a little disorientating at times, but once one was seated, the information was presented in a very effective manner.
"Redding Frost was the first to reach Ranoxis after the battle," Shingo said. "What about this Jesse Ryuzaki?"
"Mr. Ryuzaki's Jager group was present at the Battle of the Northern Rings, very likely involved in the fighting," Lieutenant Commander Jackie Oscar told him.
"So that is likely when they first met," Shingo plucked his squeeze cup from the air, then sipped some of the green tea. "It is also likely that it was at this time they planned this Battalion. Agreed?"
"It does seem very likely, but it may have been later."
"I don't think so. Considering what we know of the Battalion, what they have managed, I think they have been preparing for some time. I think that these two men came to an agreement soon after meeting."
"That is an interesting question," Shingo released his squeeze cup, leaving it floating.
"From what I have been able to find out about both these men, and I admit that is not much when it comes to Mr. Ryuzaki, I can't see either committing treason."
"I don't think either of them think they are committing treason," he told her. "They have done it for reasons that they feel are very important." As he said that he was thinking about Julia and how she had died. No one knew what the end effect of her actions was going to be. "Perhaps they just talked."
"Talked about what?"
"What one side said, what the other side said, and where the truth really was."
"No matter Lieutenant. We still have many questions that need to be answered. Hopefully some of them will be found on Arcadia. You are dismissed."
"Yes sir," she said, getting to her feet, saluting him. Shingo returned it, then watched as she left his office.
He wondered about the woman who had been assigned as his first officer. She was a competent officer and operative, and he had no trouble working with her. Still, he was almost certain that she was a plant of sorts, someone to keep an eye on him.
If so, it wasn't that surprising, considering who his daughter was.
"Well, this is interesting," Caroline Mason said.
"It's more than interesting," Cobalt told her. "What we have here is a setup, designed to make sure the cluster thinks of the SAC as monsters."
"I'd say it works," Caroline said, tossing one of the photos aside, looking at the next.
"We already have our people putting together stories on this, we don't need you to," Redding told her.
"I didn't say I wouldn't write about this," she told him. "This is going to be hard to counter."
"I realize that."
"I'll do what I can. Now, can I ask you a few questions?"
"If you wish."
"I'll be going," Cobalt said, getting to her feet.
"Good work. Get some rest," Redding said as she left. "Now, your questions?" He shifted his attention to Caroline.
"ODF, Solingen really, has made an offer. What are your thoughts on that."
"The Starblade Battalion is political Miss Mason. We formed with a number of goals. Removing the Solingen Board of Directors and the Gaian Inner Circle were two of those."
"If you accepted their offer you could save more lives."
"In the short run, yes. The war would continue though, with no one to put on the brakes, as it were. We'll save more lives by stopping this war. I hope that people will realize what Solingen is really trying to do and not judge us by their subtle attempt at character assassination."
"How will you handle it?"
"I've already sent them a reply telling them I cannot take them up on their offer, but anytime we are trying to save civilians we will welcome their aid."
"Probably not going to make them happy."
"Making Solingen happy is the last of my desires."
"Has a similar offer been made by the USSA yet?"
"No, but I expect one to come."
"And you'll turn that down as well."
"So, basically, the most important thing the Battalion has to do is remove the two governments and replace them with its own?"
"I wish I could say no, but in a way, your assessment is correct."
"In what way."
"In that as long as we have two governments like the USSA and the Solingen Board of Directors in power, war in inevitable. In a way we are accepting short term pain for long term gain. That won't mean much to all the people who are hurt and killed in this war, but it will mean a lot to all those that are spared the horror of this war. We will do our best and save all those we can. Both the Circle and Solingen are the guilty ones."
"I see. Thank you Captain." She got to her feet. "I'll have several stories ready for release in about twenty hours. I hope you will be able to distribute them."
"Things have been arranged."
"Will you want to read them first?"
"I have too many jobs to be a censor as well. An intelligence officer will look them over to make sure there is nothing there to compromise our security, but other than that, we will not change them."
"Even if they are negative?"
"I'll speak with you later, I hope."
"Good bye Miss Mason."
She nodded, then left.
Redding shook his head and picked up the report that Cobalt had written. He agreed with her assessment, the Midnight Sun was likely behind it all. The Battalion had a number of reasons for wanting to stop the war. That terrorists wanted it to keep going was just one more reason to do so.
Be seen, she had been told. So Emiko had made sure she was seen. There had been an increase in the population on board the Adder spinner. The storage toroid had become a residential area, which was a problem. The life support equipment had never been intended to support a large population. A lot of work was being done to improve the situation.
Emiko had attached herself to the Thunder Clap's doctor--Andrew Rolson. She worked with him, doing what he called a health inspection crawl.
The 'crawl' part turned out to be a fairly literal description of the work as Emiko found herself crawling into the duct work of the station, taking readings.
"Why exactly are we doing this?" Emiko asked as Andrew boosted her up to another of the ducts.
"You never lived in a colony," he said.
"I lived in the Tokyo Geo-front. It was kind of like a colony."
"The Zeniths and the situation in Tokyo are rather different than the situation in a colony."
"How?" Emiko used a key tool to open the grate covering the duct opening.
"These colonies are completely enclosed," he boosted her a little higher so she could pull herself into the duct.
Emiko didn't bother continuing the conversation, doubting either would hear the other. She pulled a small scanner from in her jacket pocket and held it out in front of her, pulling herself further and further into the duct. It was a tight squeeze, her jacket just adding bulk, but the thick material was also protecting her from raised rivets and other things that would tear her skin if it was unprotected.
She crawled a few meters, then stopped, looking down at the scanner. She had no idea what it was scanning for, Andrew had not given her a very useful explanation, but she knew what the colour codes meant. When a red field began blinking in the upper right corner of the screen she reached into her pocket and removed a tracer. The tracer was pasted to the ceiling of the duct, activated, and Emiko was done.
She pushed herself back out of the duct and felt Andrew grabbing her feet. A few seconds later she was completely out of the duct, the Doctor lowering her to the floor.
"So they are completely enclosed?" Emiko said, taking a handkerchief from her pocket. "There would be a greater danger from disease I guess," she wiped the dust from her face.
"Right. The danger is lessened by having several different air-moving systems, it slows down the rate as which an airborne disease would spread. There are also the filters, which in this toroid are not very good."
"So that is what I am checking?"
"I introduced a trace chemical into the main junction point for this system. Whenever the scanner picks up the trace, it tells us where there are problems."
"Oh. Is there any danger now?" She put the handkerchief back in her pocket.
"From a disease? Perhaps, but I'm not worried about it just yet. Most of the population is pretty healthy right now. As long as we do the work now, everything should be fine. Come on, we have several more openings to check." He walked away.
Emiko followed after him, hoping they would be done soon. The work might be important, but it was unpleasant as well. She noticed several members of a maintenance crew looking at her, talking amongst themselves. She caught just enough to be certain that they were talking about her.
"So, how do you enjoy being a celebrity of sorts?" Andrew asked.
"Self-conscious," Emiko said, wondering how she looked after a few hours of crawling into duct work. "Also, some of them, I think they want me to be something I'm not."
"What?" Andrew stopped and turned to face her.
"Why do you want to know?" Emiko asked, keeping her tone even. She did not want him to think she was bothered by the question, though she was.
"Human behavior interest me. Also, I think you would like to talk about it. My job on the Thunder Clap has required me to play a number of roles, health-wise."
Emiko shifted the bag she was carrying higher up onto her shoulder as she thought about it. "People are talking about me, the things I have had to do. No one seems to realize that the only reason I did most of it was that I had no other choice and I was more afraid of the alternative. They think I'm some sort of hero. Others look at me like some sort of, I don't know, good luck charm. Some want to sleep with me, some want to mother me, and some want to be my friend without really knowing me." Emiko slumped back against the wall, suddenly feeling tired. "It's not easy."
"Well, part of your problem is you feel responsible for many of the people being here. In a way that is true. You did do a very nice job of stating the Battalion's case, but your responsibility is minor at best. The main thing is that you like this attention, and feel guilty about it, and are torturing yourself."
"Uso," Emiko said.
"It's not true."
"Are you sure?"
Emiko said nothing for a moment, then pushed herself away from the wall. "I don't know."
"Give it some thought," he told her. "Come along, we have more work to do."
Emiko watched as the doctor walked away from her, then she followed him. That she was enjoying the attention was ridiculous.
Emiko left Andrew after they had examined the last of the ducts. She still had other things to do, Ree had scheduled another lesson, and after that there was more zero-g training with Marshal Vichy. While most everyone was getting to rest after the events at Freya 4, she was as busy as always.
After asking around she found Ree in the refinery toroid. She was standing on one of the catwalks, below her the opening to one of the blast furnaces. Ree leaned on the railing, smoking a cigar, staring down at the cold mouth of the furnace.
"Oneechan," Emiko called out, walking towards her.
Ree looked over at her, then took the cigar from her mouth. "Emi-chan. You're looking a little mussed."
"I've been working," Emiko said as she stopped beside Ree. "I didn't know you smoked."
"My mess was old-fashioned. Port and cigars were the order of the day. Port makes me sick to this day, but cigars," she put it back in her mouth, then a moment later blew out a cloud of smoke. "Nice thing about nanobodies is you don't have to worry about cancer, not that I smoke much." She tapped the cigar against the railing, the ash falling into the blast furnace. "Want one?"
"No thank you."
"Sure? I got a box of them. One of the colonists from Freya 4 gave them to me. Hand rolled, the leaf grown from Cuban seed."
"Is that important?"
"Don't know," Ree said, then took a drag on the cigar. "He said it as if I should care."
"We have a lesson soon."
"I know, but not for another twenty minutes. I can't believe that you tracked me down just because you wanted to start early, so spill it Emi-chan."
"Tell your older, wiser, and much prettier sister what you're upset about."
"Tern," Emiko said.
"Ah, Mr. Roarke. Slept with him yet?"
"It isn't because you don't know about the mechanics, is it? If that is the case, I have some vids that should..."
Ree laughed, then took another puff of her cigar. "Emi-chan, you are too easy. If you would only stop getting so upset you wouldn't encourage me so. Okay, so you know where everything goes, as it were. What is it that is bothering you?"
"I'm still not sure."
Ree looked at Emiko for a short while, then dropped her cigar to the catwalk floor and crushed it out with her foot.
"Should you be doing that?" Emiko asked, looking down at the mangled cigar.
"Cleaning bot whips along this thing every twenty minutes or so. This will give it something to do. Now, to your problem. You want to be in love, don't you?"
"Yes," Emiko said. "Shouldn't I love the person I have sex with?"
"That is one view on it. Personally my main criteria are that I have to respect them, and they have to show the signs of being a good lover. I have not had sex with everyone I have loved, and I have loved few of the people I have had sex with."
"But you were..."
"A prostitute? A tainted dove? A lady of the evening? Yes I was, and I was very good," she winked at Emiko. "Even so, I only chose to have sex with people who met my criteria, and yes, I had a choice in the matter. Now, I suspect you respect Tern, and as I mentioned, he has a good reputation when it comes to being in bed. So, if it were me, I'd probably sleep with him. It's not me, though."
"How can you tell if someone loves you?" Emiko asked.
"I don't think he loves you," Ree said. "Not his style. So, the question is more along the lines of 'do you love him' isn't it?"
"Can't tell you. As trite as this is, only you can answer that."
"But, I can help you in another way," Ree reached into her pocket and removed a small cylinder.
Ree removed the cap from the cylinder, then sprayed breath freshener into her mouth. "I'm going to teach you about kissing."
"Relax Emi-chan," Ree said, shoving the cylinder back into her pocket, "this will be mostly theoretical. Now, first thing, if someone puts enough attention into kissing, they'll probably put enough attention into everything else. That is an important point." She placed her hands on Emiko's shoulders. "If someone is grabbing your behind or trying to undo your bra while kissing you, they are not giving the attention that a kiss deserves.
"Now, the best kisser I knew never let his hands drop below my shoulders, and I swear he must have known shiatsu or something, because," she slid her hands up Emiko's shoulders, under her hair, her fingers gently pressing into Emiko's neck.
Emiko let out a small gasp.
"See what I mean," Ree said, taking her hands away from Emiko and moving a step back. "Makes you go weak in the knees, doesn't it?"
"Hai," Emiko said.
"He kept that up from a minute or two, just staring into my eyes, not saying anything. Then, when he began to kiss me he started with feather-like brushes, my lips, my eyes, my neck, a little nibble to the ear lobe, and then all over again, with a little more pressure to my lips," Ree leaned back against the railing and sighed loudly. "He was very good," she said, a dreamy expression on her face. She did not say anything for several seconds.
"Oneechan?" Emiko looked at her.
"What? Oh. Anyway, remember that, and don't forget, it goes for you as well. Give a lot of attention to everything you do. And now, you can give a lot of attention to the piloting I'm going to teach you," she said as she straightened. "Let's go Emi-chan, we've got things to learn."
Auden examined the reports she had received. Miss Mason's report, as well as several others, were annoying--they certainly glorified the Battalion. Redding seemed to be holding things together well, saying all the right things, taking the right stance. If she had known he was that good, she might have tried to recruit him into the Inner Circle.
On the positive side was the explanation of the true events at Meridian 2. That had been covered up when it had been discovered. A necessity. SAC induction included training to prevent such things--recruits were forced to study all the times in the past when soldiers had followed orders unquestioningly. Finding out that SAC personnel had butchered a civilian population would have been a blow to morale.
The Midnight Sun was going to be a problem. Her predecessor had hoped with the improving conditions that the Terrorist group's supply of recruits would be cut off and it would disappear in time. She had been willing to go along with that at the time. Now she was regretting the path of inaction.
The activities of the terrorists would not have been a concern, but for the Battalion's manipulation of it. If the terrorists want the war to go on then everyone else should want to stop it. It was a very convincing argument. She expected that it would be tossed back at the high-ranking members of the USSA. They would have to prepare arguments.
Auden tapped her fingers against her desk top. She wondered if she might not hang the blame not on the Midnight Sun, but on the Battalion instead. The Battalion faking Midnight Sun attacks, hoping to get the population on their side.
It was not the kind of charge she wanted anyone to make out loud, on the record, but perhaps spread as a rumour, just something to get people thinking along lines that could be useful to her later. She made a note of it and turned her attention to other parts of the reports.
Solingen's offer to support the Battalion as an aid organization was very clever, but she was not at all surprised by the answer that Redding gave to it. She would have to make a similar offer, just to appease certain people, but she knew that Redding would not accept it anymore than he had accepted it from Solingen.
Their offer towards Emiko was rather interesting. The girl would make an interesting spokesperson. Very valuable. If Shingo and Makoto could be recruited into looking for her... Both of them were basically on detached duties, information-finding missions. Shingo was already looking for her, no matter what his given mission might be. Makoto, with a little prodding, could be sent on a similar path.
Something for Takako to work on. Takako was proving to be quite valuable. Her work, especially with Admiral Dover, had advanced their plans farther than Auden had hoped for. She wondered how things might have gone if Takako had followed a different path. Perhaps they would not be in the situation they were in.
She shook her head, clearing the thoughts from her mind. She was head of the Circle, both for the good and ill. There was work to be done and she was the one to do it.
Certain things about the office made Shingo suspect that much of the furniture had been recently replaced. He had read the files--the ones he could access--on the man across from him. Ryu Abe, certainly not a police officer, at least not any longer. Shingo was not entirely sure what he was, other than a blunt instrument for someone high up in the government.
He and his partner had been on site, as it were, the longest. They had dug up a lot of information, a number of things that Shingo knew would be quite useful to him and his team. Now that the real work was out of the way he could take care of some personal matters.
"Your research is certainly exemplary," Shingo said.
"Thank you Captain."
"Been a while since we last met. You are far from home."
"As are you."
"I have a question for you Abe-san. Why did you frame my daughter?"
"I don't know what you are talking about," Ryu said, his voice tight.
"Is that so? You were the ranking officer during the initial investigation."
"I had a job to do Miya-san. I did it. Do you have a problem with that?"
"Yes," Shingo leaned forward. "I have a problem with that."
Ryu stared at the officer across from him. He looked like a recruiting poster in his work dress. Something about him got under Ryu's skin. He did not like him. "Then perhaps you would like to go somewhere and talk about it, in private. Someplace where we can take off our jackets."
"Perhaps you know of such a place," Shingo said, getting to his feet.
"I think I know a quiet area for a private conversation," Ryu also stood.
Ryu nodded, then circled around his desk, walking towards the door. Shingo was right behind him.
Lieutenant Commander Oscar stood outside of the opulent building, waiting for Captain Miya. She took an oxygen cylinder from her jacket pocket and brought it to her mouth, taking a deep breath. She felt better immediately.
Lousy world, she thought, looking about at the huge canopy that surrounded her. Such a thin atmosphere, it was not a proper place for humans. Aldersgate had a standard atmosphere, but they would not be going there. The planet had closed itself to all ODF and SAC ships after it had declared for the Battalion.
Shifting the cuff of her jacket back, she checked her watch. The Captain was late. He had told her to meet him at the brothel where the Maxil woman had worked. There was a chance that they might find something that would help track her down. It was a bit of a long shot, but they were already on the planet.
She waited, taking another hit from the cylinder. As she was putting it back into her pocket she caught sight of Captain Miya, walking towards her. As he got closer she noticed some bruising on his face, a black eye, some seal strips across his lip, and that his right hand was bandaged.
"Sir," she called out, walking towards him. "Are you all right?"
"I'm fine Lieutenant, I just fell down some stairs. Have you entered the building yet?"
"No sir, I was waiting for you."
"Good, let's go then. We have a lot of work to do."
"Yes sir," she said, wondering who he had fought with.
Sam entered the office, feeling up. Things had settled into a comfortable pattern and he was getting used to Arcadia's thin atmosphere. When he saw Ryu standing by the window, his good mood disappeared.
"What happened?" he asked, looking at all the bruising on Ryu's face, his left arm in a sling, and the blood on his shirt.
"Fell down some stairs, dislocated my arm," Ryu said, moving towards Sam, limping slightly.
"Prove it," Ryu snapped. "We need to find that Miya girl. We need to find her first."
"I meant soon. She's dangerous. Give me all you got."
Sam knew better than to argue. He told Ryu everything that he had discovered.
Juan had fallen back into old habits. Information was another form of currency, and the more he had, the better. New ships, new people always caught his attention. The one that had come in ten minutes ago had sent him running towards the docking bay the cutter was coming into.
As he got closer he began to hear shouts. The shouting did not really surprise him. The one voice, raised above the others, asking to see Jesse, was familiar. Juan smiled as he sprinted the rest of the distance.
"I need to talk to Jesse," a man said, loudly. He was tall, and thin, with wild, unkempt, brown hair. His clothing fit him badly, the entire effect reminded Juan of a scarecrow. He was surrounded by several security officers.
"I'm sure you do," Master Petty Officer Klark said. Juan remembered the man and his officious nature. He did not look happy.
"I do. This is important. Who are you?"
"Annoying," Juan said as he approached the group. "MPO Klark, this is Steven Wright, a good friend of Commander Ryuzaki and myself. I vouch for him. You can stop bothering him now."
"Juan!" Steven said, looking over the heads of the other men. "Where's Jesse?"
"Not around right now. He might be back in a few days, hard to say. His work keeps him busy."
"Oh," he said, seeming to calm down a little. Then he shifted his gaze back to Klark. "Why didn't you tell me that right away?" He did not wait for an answer, but pushed through the security people and walked up to Juan. "How are you?"
"I'm all right. Come on, I'll find you a place to crash."
Juan turned and left, Steven followed after him. Klark glowered at their backs, then spun on his heel and stomped off to his office.
"After I got back to settled space I started hearing about all the weird stuff going on, and the war," Steven said as he followed Jesse.
"When was the last time you slept?"
"A week ago."
"You are going to crash very hard one of these days. Total burnout."
"Not me, I'm a professional. Anyway, I wasn't sure what to do when I began to hear some rumors about Jesse having gone rogue and started his own side. Figured if he was for something, I might as well be. Took a while to track him down, but I asked the right people. He's not here?"
"No. So, how did the mission go? Ten months, a new record for you."
"I wanted to do a year, but my cutter took a bit of beating in an asteroid field."
"Find anything interesting?"
"Some nice planets, one of them had a number of really interesting plants on it. Oh, that reminds me," he stopped and began searching through his jacket pockets. He finally pulled out a small vial. "I synthesized this. Very nice. Want to try?"
"Okay," he put the vial back in his pocket.
"Find anything valuable, heavy metals or such?"
"There was one system way out there, kind of like Loki, could be valuable."
"Sounds interesting," Juan started walking again. "Anything else?"
"I found the Alincourt family."
"What?" Juan stopped suddenly and spun around.
Steven almost walked into him. He would have tripped, but Juan reached out to steady him. "What??"
"You said you found the Alincourts?"
"Yea. They set up in this lousy system, not real prize planets, but it's got nice G class, around a 7 or an 8. Big old O-Neil colony, couple of orbital factories, security almost fried me when I came in. Nice bunch."
"You're not joking here? This wasn't some pharmaceutical induced vision, like the rabbits, was it?"
"Hey, the rabbits were real. I just don't know where they went. And the stuff I was using on this trip was minor, no side effects. It was the Alincourts."
"Do you have the coordinates?"
"Of course I do. I keep excellent records of all my missions," he said, sounding hurt.
"Give them to me, that will be my return."
"I would have thought you'd want the Loki like place."
"Screw that, now come on," Juan grabbed Steven's arm and started pulling him. "We got work to do, and no one else finds out about this, do you understand me?"
"Yea, but what about Jesse?"
"Him you can tell, but no one else."
Steven shook his head as he followed after Juan. The man was way too jumpy.
"The Alincourts?" Diane said. "You're kidding."
"Steven seemed pretty sure."
"Mr. Wright is not what I would consider a useful witness."
"I admit, he spends a lot of his time out of his skull, but he has only been wrong once before."
"How do you know this is not the second time?"
"Because the first time he claimed to have found a planet of intelligent rabbits. The Alincourts aren't wild enough to be a drug induced vision."
"Who is this guy?" Ree asked.
"He's a Jager of sorts, goes into the way out, where no one else has been, or is likely to go for another hundred years. Finds all kinds of useful things. A small group of investors fund his missions."
"He's a drug dealer," Diane said.
"He is not a drug dealer," Juan said. "He is a brilliant biochemist who has synthesized a number of drugs, and he likes to share."
"Fine. He is still untrustworthy."
"It won't hurt to go an check out his story," Juan said. "I've already got permission for us to leave."
"It's a wild goose chase," Diane said. "But let's assume that it is not. What is the point?"
"An O-Neil colony, some orbital factories, and a dislike of Solingen. What more do we need?"
"Who are these 'Alincourts'?" Emiko asked.
"Cluster folk lore," Conaly said. "The Alincourts were old money, transferred a lot of their fortune into gold and things like that before everything went bad on Earth. They helped fund the building of the Longrider, they wanted to get out of Earth space like all the others. Once they got here the family patriarch, man named Philip, started to quarrel with Solingen's board.
"After about a year of that Philip traded his shares in Solingen and other things for a few ships stuffed full of supplies. Then he took his family and left. Swore to build a financial Empire that would be able to take on Solingen. No one has seen them since."
"There have been stories," Ree said, "people claiming to have run into members of the family, seen weird ships and the like."
"And now Steven has found them."
"We don't know that," Diane said.
"Okay," Juan nodded. "We don't know that. There is one way to find out. Now, I could order you all just to shut up and get ready, but I don't want to do that."
"Why?" Tern asked.
"At least one of you will go to Lilith and when she finds out what I'm really up to she'll be more than a little upset."
Diane laughed. "Always working a scam of some sort aren't you. Tell you what, I'll go along with this, but if there is nothing there, then you come clean on what happened on Hammersmith."
"Fine," Juan said. "Anyone else?" He looked around.
"What's in it for you?" Conaly asked. "Why keep it secret?"
"I'd like to make a few deals before anyone else can. Of course my primary concern will be getting support for the Battalion. Now, I want to go in the next hour, so let's get to work, unless anyone else has any concerns." Juan waited a moment. "Okay then, let's go."
"You want to be a pilot?" the man behind the desk said, looking up from his computer screen to the young woman in front of him.
"Yes," Yuki said.
"It is where I feel I can be of the greatest service to the USSA."
"Such a posting will likely put you into combat sooner than any other choice. You do realize that?"
"I considered the possible outcomes of my choice," she told him.
"Well, there is no reason to turn down your request, though there is no guarantee that you'll actually become a pilot. You'll have to get through basic training first, then flight school. Both are being accelerated due to time constraints, that will only make them that much harder."
"I understand," Yuki told him.
"You'll receive your joining instructions in a few hours. You'll probably be leaving in a few days. I suggest you take care of all your personal matters now."
Yuki nodded, then got to her feet. "I will make it," she told the man, then turned and walked out of his office.
Tauutus gazed at the ten people kneeling in front of him. Ten of his loyal followers. He was stuck by the sudden thought that maybe they might not be as loyal as he thought. The Battalion had revealed one of his deceptions, perhaps they would reveal more. How had they known? Might he have a traitor in his ranks?
He put aside that thought, not willing to accept it. He had worked hard to ensure the loyalty of his followers, to ferret out those who thought to infiltrate his organization. He would not doubt the ten in front of him. He would not doubt any of his followers. Let all those that see him realize that no fears or doubts gripped him. Let them feel the fear. Nothing would stop him, or his dream.
He moved forward, stepping close to the kneeling line of supplicants. He reached out, placing a hand on the head of the man in front of him.
"Are you afraid to die?" he murmured.
"No my Nemyss," the man whispered.
"Will you mourn those that die by your hand?"
"No my Nemyss."
"Because all deaths are proper. All must die. Humanity must end. Humanity must end gloriously. It is my destiny to be a part of that."
Tauutus stepped back, sweeping his gaze over all of them, locking eyes with each of them a few moments.
"Ten thousand Earthers and USSA loyalists are being moved out of the Asgard system in two days. You will destroy the freighters that are carrying these people. I want them all dead.
"When the SAC escort sees you do this, they will come after you, entering the area of space the director of Asgard has denied them to enter. When they enter, I suspect that Asgard will have no choice to retaliate. It will be up to you to do your best to ensure that a battle ensues."
"Yes Nemyss," the group's leader said.
He watched as the group got to their feet. They moved as fast as they could, though there was something pained to their movements. He had left them kneeling on the stone floor for a very long time. They said nothing, hiding their pains as best they could. There stoicism gladdened him.
He watched as they filed out of the huge cathedral. They were soon lost in the darkness of the cavern, but he could hear the scuff of their shoes against the floor. After a time that faded as well.
He turned to look at the holographic projections of the planets that orbited above the altar. Many people had died in the last few months, but not as many as he had hoped. He wanted the fires of war burning throughout the galaxy. He wanted unprecedented death. He needed the war to be his.
The Starblade Battalion was a major stumbling block. They worked to stop the war while he worked to fan the flames. They saw through his plots, and made them public. They saved the civilians who he would see dead. They gathered support that he might have otherwise harvested. The despair he needed would be slow in coming, if ever.
They were dangerous.
The sad thing was there was little thing he could do about it. His attempts to destroy them while they were small had failed. He had begun too late. His attempts to kill that girl had also come to naught.
Something had to be done. Something grand. Something that would drive both sides into a killing frenzy, a place where atrocities would be commonplace.
He perched himself upon the altar top, staring out into the darkness.
Ending Credits--Same as before
Description: 170cm, 75kg, 45 years old, short black hair, brown eyes, having a calm and quiet demeanor.
Quote: "We still haven't got all the answers yet."
Notes: Shingo's quiet demeanor hides a brilliant intelligence operative. In his career he has done everything from spending weeks just listening to com transmissions out of the cluster to fire fights with terrorists. He is well respected by those he has worked with and has many friends. Shingo enjoys his life but regrets the fact he was often not home for his wife and children.
He has thrown himself into his latest task for a number of reasons; finding Emiko being the primary one. While his loyalty to the SAC and USSA has survived intact, he is trying to find out who in the government was responsible for turning his daughter into a fugitive.
Important Stats, Skills and Tech: COOL 8, INT 8, REF 8, Interrogation 7, Intimidate 6, Persuasion & Fast Talk 7, Human Perception 7, Awareness/Notice 8, Handgun 6, HtH 9. Datalink, Nanobodies, Boosterware.
Description: 167cm, 71kg, 44 years old, long black hair, brown eyes, proud, but perhaps a little sad.
Quote: "There are solutions, we just have to find them, and be willing to use them."
Notes: Few students at Sydney University impressed their professors as much as Takako did during her early studies and later work. Many were surprised when she married and seemed to put it all behind her.
As it turned out she had not put it all behind her, but moved it off to the side, always keeping a watch on things out of the corner of her eye. She knows many of the people in power in the USSA and has always been there to help people, a number of them now hold considerable power.
Important Stats, Skills and Tech: COOL 8, INT 10, TECH 8, Intimidate 7, Human Perception 8, Social 6, Expert Biology 9, Expert Botany 8, Expert Genetics 7, Expert Ecology 8, Programming 5, Datalink.
Description: 173cm, 77kg, 22 years old, short brown hair, blue eyes, intense and brash.
Quote: "Let's light 'em up."
Notes: Just after finishing flight school, Carly attracted the attention of Garion Balemore who had Carly transferred to the newly formed Team Tsunami as one of the test pilots for the new Zephyr. While Carly enjoyed the work, she truly wanted to fly combat. Soon after the work was finished with the Zephyr she transferred to a combat unit.
Carly still has many friends within Team Tsunami and they ensure her suit is always on the cutting edge. They have recently learned of Carly's obsession with beating another pilot and are looking at ways to modify the Zephyr to allow her to do so.
Important Stats, Skills and Tech: LUCK 7, REF 8, Leadership 4, Mecha Piloting 6, Mecha Melee 8. Datalink.
GA (Ground Assault) suits serve roles very similar to tanks. They are designed to take ground, to smash through defenses and destroy enemy installations. The SAC's previous GA was the "Rhino", a design produced by Bhan/Zhai.
When the SAC approached Bhan/Zhai the company was unable to offer anything more than a few minor improvements to the basic Rhino. It was at this time that the Martian company, Power Solutions, put forth a bid. Power Solutions, a successful company that had been building constructions suits, wanted to branch out.
They won the contract and began work on the Leopard.
They built an entirely new frame for it, twenty meters tall, designed to hold all the weapons and armour the unit would need. It's main weapon was a six barreled auto cannon, capable of putting out enough ammunition is a single burst to tear any three suits apart.
One of the problems with the Rhino, and all of the heavier suits, was lack of speed. After giving it some thought, Power Solutions used a wheel/tread system placed on the feet. Jokes about roller skating aside, the system was perfect. With an overcharged power plant the Leopard had a ground speed comparable to much lighter suits.
After it was pointed out that the main cannon's external mounting made it vulnerable to attack, a second, smaller, cannon was placed in the right arm. At this point a gunner's station was added to the suit so that there were two cockpits in the torso. The gunner enters through a hatch in the back of the suit and sit above and behind the pilot. In an emergency both pilot and gunner enter the head cockpit, a tight squeeze, and eject.
Like the Bhan/Zhai suits the arms, legs, head, power plant and weapon, mount for the main gun have quick change mounts. The power plant can be ejected in an emergency, as can the ammunition for the main cannon.
The initial design was all climate, being protect against both desert and arctic conditions. When Admiral Mars received the first shipment of Leopards for his ground forces he had his tech seal the suits against vacuum, then trained the pilots to move out onto the surface of his carrier, becoming gun emplacements, perfect for dealing with in coming fighters.
After that all Leopards were protected against space.
So far the Leopard has only been in one really battle, and that was on Freya 4. While some people are worried about the suits, analysts have pointed out that the suits did very well, considered they did not have air or artillery support. Variants: None to date. Power Solutions has designed a reentry pack that fits on the storage compartment and has successfully dropped the suit from low orbit to the surface of Mars.
Game Stats: The Leopard has a ground MA 0f 6, with a MV of -6, and weighs in at 74.7 tones. It uses Heavy striker sensors with an ASP. It has an overcharged power plant and protection against space, arctic and desert. Its wheels and treads are Medium Weight, with damage split on each foot at 3/3 and 6/6 respectively. All of its servos are Light Heavy but for the head which is Medium Weight. The Torso has Medium Heavy armour on it, while the rest is covered by Light Heavy armour. Its hands are 4 point weapons that are handy. It had 10 L.Hunter Missiles (licensed by Bhan/Zhai) mounted in a weapon mount on the right shoulder. It also uses the KKCM system, mounted in the torso, with 20 shots. Its phalanx gun is mounted in the head (1 point damage) with 20 shots and a BV of 7. The Main cannon is mounted on a weapon mount on the left shoulder. It is stored on the back, but swings up, locking onto a weapon mount on the left arm as well as the hand. It does 8 Damage and has a burst value of 6. Enough ammunition is stored in the torso for 30 bursts. This block of ammo can be ejected. The secondary cannon is mounted in the right arm, does 4 points of damage and carries 20 shots. There is a cockpit in the head with eject pod as well as two cockpits in the torso (armoured). It has two list wires, and anti-theft system, 2 sets of spot lights on the head, a storage compartment in the torso, and seven QCMs. It all costs 347.75 CPs.
"Watashi wa anata no ane, soshite haha, soshite anata."
--Miyu Kyuuketsuki ga Yui ni itta
Shawn Hagen <firstname.lastname@example.org>
On to Chapter 18