Episode 20 (2180.08.06)
by Shawn Hagen (1997)
Starblade Battalion is the Property of R.Talsorian Games.
Opening Credits--same as before
"What we're doing...," Richard Mandela began.
"Is unpleasant, I know," Albert interrupted him. "We have been over it before. It is necessary. The vote has passed Mr. Mandela. We are going to do it."
"He has a point," Laura Donsen said. "I admit, this plan may work, but it may not. The price is high."
"The price is nostalgia." Albert waved his hand. "A nostalgia that has been holding us all back for a very long time. In the end, what we do is to the benefit of all."
"It could back fire," Jenny Perris said.
"It could Miss Perris. Primus could go supernova, it might rain toads, and Tauutus Shabatai might win the Biko Prize for peace. Coulds, mights and maybes have no place here. The facts are what are important. We have voted. We have reached a decision. Mr. Richter, you will take this news to the Planetary Board of Directors, so they know what is happening."
Barnabas looked up, he looked a little surprised. "Yes, of course," he said.
"This meeting is over," Albert got to his feet. He turned to leave, then turned back. "I know this is not easy, but, in two weeks, the war will either be over, or it won't. If it isn't, are we in that much worse of a position?"
No one said anything. Albert nodded, then left the board room.
The Martian city was the largest on planet, its growth helped by the orbital elevator. Almost directly above them was the moon of Deimos, the end point of the cable.
"You ready," she turned towards Laura Knife.
"We're ready," the woman said, not even looking at Grey.
"Don't die too easily."
Laura turned her cold stare on Grey. It was hardly softened by the breathing mask she wore. Grey met it and smiled. Black Flag warriors were bad, but she didn't really care. "We will do as you wish."
"Good girl," Grey said, still smiling.
"You push your luck Redmond."
"I need you to tell me that? Go, meet your timings. We need a hole in their defenses."
"You'll have it," she said. Laura pushed herself down the ridge until she was below. At the bottom she got to her feet, then ran off to where the rest of her people were waiting. The dark brown and red of the woman's thick clothing blended in with the terrain. Grey soon lost sight of her.
Turning back towards the military out post, she looked it over once more. Everything looked as it should be, the shuttles on the fields were all fueled up and ready to go. She smiled as she pushed herself down the ridge. Laura had to get to her people, she had to get to hers.
"I don't care," Grey told her second in command.
"We can't trust Black Flag."
"Sure we can. We can trust them to charge in and kill those soldiers."
"They are undisciplined."
"And we aren't?" Grey laughed. "Laura will meet her timings. She will hit where we need her to hit. We got about ten minutes before they go a little crazy and then who knows what will happen."
"They creep me out."
"We all are going to die," Grey told him. "The Black Flag are just in a rush to make sure it is on their terms. You've got to respect them for that," she turned her attention to her assault rifle. The weapon was the same one she had been given during to operation on the relay station. She was rather pleased with the way the weapon performed. Good sized round, good magazine capacity, high rate of fire and it never jammed.
"We're coming up on the time," one of her men told her.
"Okay," Grey slung her rifle. "Let's get everyone ready. When it happens we go in fast and hard, no prisoners. When we reach Deimos everyone goes for their target, no sightseeing, no souvenir collecting."
"No surrender, no retreat. Got it?"
"Got it," he said, then moved off to pass the word.
Grey turned back to the base. "You people are going to go ballistic when you hear about this. That will make my day."
"The Deimos base was attacked by a small force..." Admiral Dover began.
"Small force? Small force? Have you read the same reports I have?"
"Sir, they were a small force. They were just very good."
"You're telling me a bunch of outsiders are better trained than SAC personnel."
"It appears to be that way."
"That is ridiculous."
"No, it isn't. A group of fifty, identified as members of the Black Flag group, hit the ground base. They formed a diversion for a second group of about a hundred that hijacked some of our high speed shuttles. Those made it to Deimos. And before you ask, they made it because they had all the codes, they knew what to say."
"Why didn't the ground side forces inform Deimos?"
"They were jammed at first, and then they were dead."
"All of them."
"There were five hundred people there."
"Ten to one odds, and Black Flag won. They all died, but I don't think they cared."
"They are psychotic," Romanov said. "They are monsters!"
"Perhaps they are, but they are also very effective warriors. We should not forget that, ever. The group that landed on Deimos went in fast and hard. They knew the layout and had a plan that was executed flawlessly."
"What exactly did they do? The reports I have received so far have been fragmentary and sometimes contradictory."
"Their targets were three ships, docked at external locks, located fairly close together. They broke into three groups, taking what I am sure were pre-planned routes to the ships. It was not the straightest, but it allowed them to do the most damage. They killed whoever got in their way, and planted explosives as they went. We still do not have a complete list of wounded, fatalities, or the damage done to property. I expect one to be completed in several hours."
"And the ships?"
"One was a cruiser, the other two were cargo ships. The cruiser was recently completed, waiting on pressurization and the completion of crew decks before it was manned. They went in in vac-suits, had all the codes, and just took her. The cargo ships were destined for the front. They were loaded with personal weapons, medical supplies, and a number of other things."
"How could this happen?" he demanded.
"Where they got the codes and the plans, I don't know. We are looking for inside people at this time. As for the rest, we rotated most of our experienced personnel to front line combat roles in and out of the system. The people in Deimos were green and they were expecting a straight on attack. They were outclassed."
"Admiral, I expect you to take full responsibility for this."
"No sir, I will not."
"Sir, the transfer orders came from you and the others on the military council. I objected when you gave them and was over ruled. My objections are on file. I am not the guilty party here."
Shive stared across the desk at the SAC's commander. She was not the woman he had thought when he had appointed her to the position of C in C. For one thing she did not see the colonists as the threat they were. For another she was not as easily intimidated as he would have hoped. "What are you saying?" he asked, keeping his voice even.
"Admiral Romanov, I will not be stepping down, nor will I give you an excuse to remove me. I do not feel there is anyone else qualified to replace me at this time."
"You have a high opinion of yourself."
"Not at all sir. I am only stating a fact. In all matters, including making sure that our people are protected to the best of our ability, I am the best out of anyone else you might appoint."
"Are you suggesting we do not care about our soldiers."
"Do you mean the rest of the council or is that a royal 'we' sir?"
"You are putting yourself in a very dangerous position Admiral."
"I am aware of that Admiral. I will give you a full report when I have it."
It took Shive a moment to realize he had just been dismissed. It was all he could do not to fly into an explosive rage. As it was he stood, stiffly, all the time staring down at Joanna. "You have not heard the last of this Admiral. Your position is not as secure as you might think. The military council will be meeting in a few hours to discuss your performance."
"Yes sir," she said, the barest hint of contempt in her voice.
Shive turned on his heel and strode from her office.
"One cruiser, and two full cargo ships, delivered, as promised!" Grey yelled out, staring across the cavern at Jiron Sembawang. "And Deimos is in a state of chaos."
"You have performed admirably Grey," he told her as he floated across the cavern.
"Fucking right," she laughed, lifting a bottle. "Now, I need to get my people in a deep hole before the SAC starts trying to destroy my network, and you have to get these ships out of here," she twisted the cap off the bottle. "But first we are getting stupid."
"Perhaps we don't have time to get stupid."
Grey took a long pull at the bottle, then stuck her thumb in the neck to keep the liquid in. "There is always time to celebrate Jiron. Now, are you going to join us, or just watch?"
"Well, if I can't talk good sense into you," he pointed his toe, letting it drag along the floor. "I'll join you," he said as he slid to a stop beside her.
"Good on ya," Grey said, handing him the bottle.
"What is it you wish to speak about Frauline Dominica.
"A private joke."
"I do not understand."
"That is why it is private," he told her.
Auden looked the man behind the desk over. She did not understand Campbell Hahn as she had Frank. Frank had been a friend from University, she had known him well. The man that had replaced him was an unknown. She had discovered that he was more political than Frank had ever been. He had skillfully countered her attempts to get rid of him. She was sure she could beat him, if given time. "I wish to speak about the Rangers."
"Please, have a seat."
She sat down. "I've been looking over the records, dated before the defection of many of the Rangers. I have noted some interesting things."
"There were a number of crews that were needed for various missions, missions in which their skills would have proven an asset, and yet these crews were unavailable. Off on other missions, by your orders."
"That is my job Miss Dominca. I send Ranger teams out to discover new systems. It is the entire point of our organization. Have you read our charter?"
"Do not patronize me Mr. Hahn, it is more dangerous than you can know. It would be very bad to fall out of my good graces."
"As Frank found out."
"Those reports were fraudulent. Mr. Talbot was killed by the ODF."
"Of course, I forgot."
"The reports made during the dates leading up to the defections are also of interest. You sent a number of units out, units that had a certain free wheeling attitude. Units one might expect to go over to this Starblade Battalion."
"Units whose personnel posed a direct threat to the discipline of other Ranger units and indeed members of the SAC. Admiral Romanov personally requested I do something about it. I did what was the best. I sent those teams out to work, away from the others. I could not have predicted the appearance of the Battalion."
"And yet there were some people you kept in system, where they could affect others."
"I could not send all the Rangers out into the back of beyond. We needed them for military missions."
"Yes we did," Auden said, her voice near a whisper. "And yet we have very few Rangers serving in any capacity for the SAC. They have either defected, or are out on some long term mission that won't bring them back for months, at least."
"I'd say it was more than that. I might use the word treasonous."
"I might use the word psychotic," Campbell smiled. "Why is the Spokesperson of the Gaian faction speaking to me about this. Surely it is a matter for the SCC to be pursuing. After all, you are just a scientist with no real political power."
"Perhaps I am just warning the protègè of my old friend of the dangers he may be facing."
"Your concern touches me deeply. You can be sure I'll respect the memory of my friend, and do all I can to ensure that his murderers are dealt with as they should be."
Auden nodded. "If you think you can manage it."
"You'd be surprised Frauline Dominica."
She stared at him for a moment, then got to her feet. "I apologize for taking up your valuable time."
"Not at all."
Auden watched him for several seconds more, then turned and walked from his office.
Campbell smiled at her back, wondering what exactly her game was. She suspected, but knew nothing, could prove nothing. If she could, she would not have gone through all that. She probably wanted to scare him into doing something stupid.
He could use that. Keep her people busy and learn something of her operations. His only worry was that she might get angry enough to do something stupid. Then he would have real problems.
"Shizoku!" Someone bellowed.
She pushed herself back from her desk, standing quickly. She grabbed her beret as she turned, and was putting if on her head as she ran from the small room she occupied, out into the hallway, and then into the common room at a run.
"Sir!" she snapped to attention as soon as the saw the Chief Warrant.
"Shizoko, you will report to class room number three, now."
"Why are you still here?!" he bellowed.
"Hai!" she shouted, sprinting from the barracks.
A short time later she stood in front of the door of class room three. She took a moment to check her work dress, making sure her beret was on right. Straightening her shoulders, she opened the door, stepping into the room, saluting. "Cadet Shizoku, reporting as told," she said.
"At ease cadet," the school commander, Captain Barcus, said. "These people here," he indicated a woman and two men, "are interested in interviewing you, a look at one of the young people who have volunteered to serve in the SAC in these troubled times. Cadet Shizoku, this is Miss Yin Fhat."
"Ma'am," Shizoko said.
"Please, call me Lee," she said, standing.
"Cadet, return to your barracks once the interview is over. Miss Yin Fhat, I'll leave her to you," he nodded to the woman, then turned and walked to the door. Yuki snapped to attention and saluted as he left.
"Please, Yuki, may I call you that? Have a seat."
Yuki nodded as she took a seat. Lee sat down across from her. The two men began to set up recording equipment.
"What is all this about?" Yuki asked.
"People are interested in the war, and those people fighting it. You, and those like you, have generated quite a bit of interest, and not a little debate."
"Debate?" Yuki said after a moment.
"It has been a very long time since people as young as you have been involved in fighting, in any official army. Many are saying that you should not be allowed to enter such a dangerous situation."
"They are wrong."
She turned to look at one of the men. "We ready to go?"
"All set," he said.
She nodded. "Just relax," she told Yuki. "Today I am talking to Cadet Shizoku Yuki, recently a resident of Tokyo, and an ordinary high school student. Now she is in training to become a mekton pilot. Shizoku-san, there are many who feel people as young as you should not be training to become soldiers. What is your opinion on that?"
Yuki was a little taken aback, but quickly regained her balance. "They are wrong Yin Fhat-san."
"I see. Why do you think that?"
"We are not children, we are not youths, or teenagers. We are a generation that has benefited greatly from our parents' great sacrifices to save this planet. We have been taught that we must not only save Earth, but all planets where life flourishes. We are only doing what our parents have done. They fought in their ways, we have to fight in our ways. It is only right."
"But there has to be another way for you to fight? Becoming soldiers, put in positions where you might die, that can't be the best answer?"
"I don't think we can say it is the best or the worse," Yuki told her. "It just is."
"But you have your whole life ahead of you."
"The age of enlistment before the war was only a year older. Why does a year make such a big difference?"
"Some people are worried that the age requirement might be lowered even more."
"I can understand that."
"But you still think it is right that you were allowed to enlist?"
"Yes. This war is too important. Even if there is no danger to Earth system itself, there are still all the planets that the colonies might harm. That cannot be allowed to happen. People have to stop thinking of us as children who are being forced to fight a war. We made this choice ourselves. I find it insulting that people think my choice was forced, or foolish."
"Do you think other young people should make the same choice as you?"
"It will have to be their choice. I do not think any less of my friends who chose not to join."
"What if you have to go into combat?"
"I'll be scared, I'm sure. But I hope that I will not let my fear keep me from doing what has to be done."
"Thank you. Now, you were an acquaintance of Emiko Miya, you were interviewed a few times concerning her earlier this year. I am curious as to what you think of the Starblade Battalion?"
"I never really liked Miya-san," Yuki told her. "She was lazy and did not care about much beyond herself, but that has nothing to do with my thoughts about the Starblade Battalion. I do not believe anything that was presented in that broadcast. I think they are nothing more than a covert branch of the ODF."
"A lot of people think that, why do you?"
"If they were really concerned about protecting civilians then they would be aiding the SAC. The colonies will destroy all the planets they come across, whether they mean to or not. They don't understand the delicate balance like we on Earth do. The amount of planets we can live on is finite. Eventually, there will be no where for the human race to live. We'll die out."
"So you're saying that they will save a small number of people now, but will condemn all to die later?"
"Yes, that is what I think."
"And you think the Battalion must know this as well?"
"Yes. It is obvious. So, they must be part of the ODF. They are trying to confuse us."
"Thank you. Now, to move on, could you tell me about the training? We have heard that it is very hard."
Yuki began telling her about her training and the difficulty facing her instructors in shortening the instruction programs yet teaching everything they had to.
"She knows what she is doing, but she wants to do too much. She can't control her team and as a result the design is beginning to get very fat."
"I've seen the bills, but, as long as Shiva-san is paying for it, I can only sit back and watch. Still, she had given us everything she has promised."
"Perhaps. She still has to deliver on the suit. I think her Arrow could prove to be a very valuable commodity, if it is done right."
"Have you been having any luck in getting that done?"
"A little. Just when I came here, she was with you and a few of the others a lot. What were you doing?"
"Oh. We were just presenting a few ideas to her about improving the speed and quality and cost of our production lines. Things we had all been talking about for years but weren't sure how to implement. She helped a lot. We think we might be able to cut construction time in half, perhaps even a bit faster, and we suspect to see a twenty to thirty percent drop in the cost of each suit."
"You people are no better than those idiots at Bahn/Zai," she said angrily.
"Pardon?" Akira asked, a little taken aback.
"Belin-san once had it in her to be a very good designer."
"She doesn't think so."
"Not any longer. Those fools at Buckaroo," she spat the word, "hired her for the worst of reasons. And then they decided to exploit one of her gifts. Instead of training her so she could realize her own dreams, they forced her to complete others. And now you are doing the same."
"I never thought of it like that."
"No," she said angrily. "No," she said in a softer tone. "I suspect no one did. She is just a resource to be exploited. Half the time I want to throttle her for being such a spoiled little brat, and the other half I feel sorry for her."
"Don't feel to sorry for her. I suspect you don't know the whole story."
Reiko looked at Akira for a moment, then shrugged her shoulders. "How are the other suit designs going?" she asked, changing the subject.
"Well enough," he said. "We expect the soldier and interceptor models to be ready for testing by the middle of the month. Lars-hakase informs me that the tests on the Myrmidon are going well, and they are overhauling the Crossbones line to handle the construction of the suit. The new line will be using a number of the new innovations that Belin-san gave us," he said, sounding a little guilty. "When it is up to speed, we expect to produce one suit every other day, perhaps even once day if we get enough trained personnel there."
"So, we should start seeing new suits entering our forces by the end of this month."
"If things more or less follow plan."
"Let's hope they do."
"Have you recovered from the move?" Akira asked her.
"More or less," she paused. "Do you remember when the Alincourts left?"
"I was twenty two when they took off. It was big news. Of course I remember."
"I was thirteen. I thought they were so romantic and brave. Then later, when I was about twenty, I thought they were stupid. Now, I'm not so sure. I am impressed though."
"I know what you mean. When I saw that cylinder, and all the factories, that they alone could build it is almost impossible to believe," Akira said.
Reiko nodded. "Well, let's see what Belin-san and her gang are up to," she said, stopping in front of the door to the Arrow workshops. She ran her key card through the slot, then tapped in a code on the key pad.
When the door opened they were presented with a rather odd site. Almost all of the team was skating-that was the best description-in the center of the bay.
"This would be a throttle time?" Akira asked Reiko.
"Oh yes," Reiko nodded, then strode across the room. "What are you doing?!"
Tess looked up from where she was, then ran forward a short distance, then stopped running. Instead of stopping, she slid across the floor-it had a silver cast to it-then jerked to a stop, stumbled forward, and almost fell, caught herself, and stood almost directly in front of Reiko. "Dr. Mako, so good to see you. I was worried you had fallen out of an airlock," she smiled.
"Could you tell me what you are doing?"
"Testing out an innovation."
"Care to explain Belin-san?" Akira asked.
"Dr. Ryuzaki, I told you that one of the problems we had was the time it took the suit to transform."
"Well, after giving it some thought, we decided that we needed to reduce the friction of all the parts that had contact."
"So you've developed a non stick coating," Akira said.
"Exactly. Thanks to our brilliant chemist Miss Jonas," she turned to look behind her just in time to see Kelly Jonas hitting the floor. "Brilliant and well bruised."
"How much does it reduce the coefficient of friction by?" Reiko asked.
"Ninety six, maybe ninety eight percent."
"Impressive," Akira said.
"Belin-san, get suit one taken apart and this compound applied to the parts in question. Have that stuff taken off the floor."
"You are acting like a group of children," Reiko said softly. "We have real work to do. Are you going to do it or do I take over this project completely?"
Tess looked over at Akira, but he only looked apologetic. "Fine," she said in crisply.
"We have a meeting in two hours, we have to talk. The entire team."
"Good," Reiko said.
Tess spun about. "Jeremy, grab four people and get suit one set up with this stuff. Kelly, Lance, get that floor cleaned up."
"What?" Kelly asked. "This stuff was designed so it would not come off."
"Then get a couple of sanders and take it off like that. The rest of you, I want those second set of engines ready for tomorrow. We also have a meeting in two hours, I'll expect everyone to be there. If anyone needs me I'll be in my office," she said. Tess waited until she was sure everyone understood, then turned around and walked towards her office.
"You'd have a fight on your hands if you want to take over," Akira said softly.
"Someone has to push her to do her job."
"Take care," Akira said as he turned about. "Bit of a dangerous game."
"Worth the risks if it works."
"Jeremy, how far did you get?"
"Just started, we should have it finished about three hours after this meeting ends."
"Good. The engines?"
"Almost ready. We should be able to install them tomorrow."
"Good. Now, Dr. Mako has some concerns she would like to bring up. I turn the meeting over to her."
Reiko stood. "Thank you Belin-san. We are behind schedule, and if we do not improve our speed, we will miss our deadline."
"We've completed the difficult work," Tess told her. "I believe we will be able to meet the deadline, if we are willing to work a little faster. Perhaps you have some suggestions."
"I have a number. I can provide you with a complete report whenever you want. Basically, we need to use the members of the team more effectively."
"Are you saying we are not doing our job well enough?" Jeremy demanded.
"And what would you know. You only recently arrived, after we had completed the most difficult of the work." There were some nods from the others who felt the same way.
"I suspect you might have been finished the design by now had you been better organized."
"You have no right..."
"Enough," Tess interrupted him. "I have been thinking along similar lines myself for a short time. We might be able to improve our efficiency if we arranged work crews in a more efficient manner. Dr. Mako, you have the most experience with these things, I'll be happy to look at your plan, later. Is there anything else?"
"Yes," she said. "Quite a bit. Lyons-san," she turned towards Jeremy. "Have I told you how much I admire your weapon design?"
"No," Jeremy said, sounding a little confused.
"It is brilliant, and the ammunition you designed for it, quite effective. It is perhaps one of the best gauss rifle designs that has ever been produced," she paused. "and it is a dinosaur."
"Perhaps you haven't looked at the Myrmidon. Since it was unveiled everyone has been getting the specs for the Roberts plasma rifle, working on incorporating it into their suits. Why haven't we."
"My rifle does more damage," Jeremy stated.
"Admittedly, it does deliver approximately forty percent more damage, but your weapon feeds off a limited supply of ammo."
"The energy weapon design is still untested."
"Lyons-san, that is a very odd defense coming from a man working on a suit that is completely new and untested. Roberts-hakase has had one of those cannons firing for three hours straight before it broke down, and a minor break down at that. I consider that quite tested."
"The suit design calls for a kinetic weapon, we have discussed this before and..."
"Jeremy," Tess interrupted him. "An energy weapon is a better choice," she held up her hand to forestall him before he could say anything else. "And yet your gauss rifle is a very powerful weapon, and with the ammunition you designed for it, that rifle could be very useful to pilots. And yet as Dr. Mako says, limited ammunition may be a problem. I want you to put aside your other work, Dr. Mako can handle your tasks for a time. Talk to Dr. Roberts, see what you can do, and get us a new weapon system. We will still produce your rifle, say, one in ten, or twenty, of the others. It will allow the pilots to have a bit of a choice for different missions that might call for different armament."
Jeremy did not look completely happy, but after a moment he nodded. "I'll get right on it."
"Good. Dr. Mako, is there anything else you'd like to discuss?"
"Not at the time being," she said, looking a little surprised.
"Excellent. This meeting is over. Get to work."
Everyone one stood and started moving towards the doors, except for Reiko. "Dr. Mako, would you please remain a moment," Tess said as she got to her feet. "I'll be back in a second." She turned and walked out of the room.
In the hall, Tess hung back from the main group of people, waiting until they began to break up, each heading off to their place of work. When Jeremy was alone she rushed up to his side.
"I'm sorry about this," she told him.
"You should be."
"Your rifle was the designed for the Arrow. It was beautiful."
"Then why are you chucking it?"
"Because, I keep seeing a pilot, in my mind, running out of ammunition, with enemy still around her. I started building this suit for myself, but people are going to fly it, and now, I have to think of them. For our war, for our situation, an energy based weapon is the way to go. The Lyon's Gauss Rifle is the weapon I'll always think of when I think of the Arrow, but for now, we go with energy."
Jeremy said nothing for a time. "You will make sure that we make a few of them?"
"I like them too much. We blew through four armoured back drops and almost breached the hull of this thing. One of those rifles could tear a Manticore apart. I want a few of them out there."
"Okay. I'll get you the new design."
"Thanks Jeremy," she said, then turned and ran back the way she had come.
A short time later she entered the meeting room. Reiko was still sitting there. "Sorry to take so long Doctor."
"What is it you wish to speak about?"
"I think you have a question," Tess smiled slightly.
"You knew what I was going to say, and you used it."
"I was sure you were going to fight me over this."
"I was planning on it," Tess sat down. "When I got into my office I was furious at you. I started looking through my notes just for something to do, something to calm myself down. It was then I noticed that the Arrow as I had originally envisioned her, was not quite the design I was working on. I got too excited over it. Whenever someone made a suggestion, I was all too happy to go along with it. I wanted too much."
"So you let me pull everything back on track?"
"In a way. I suspect Jeremy will be busy for three or four days. In that time you are in control of the project. You have that time to set everything up as you like. When he comes back, he is my deputy again, and I'll be back on the scene. I'll of course listen to any advice you want to give me."
"What are you going to be doing over the next three or four days."
"Just a little work. I have to deal with some problems," Tess got to her feet. "I'll will see you later, Dr. Mako."
"Belin-san," Reiko called to her. "Why exactly are you doing this. What made you change your mind, really?"
Tess looked back at her for a moment. "I just remembered some history."
"It doesn't really matter. Let's just say I feel like it is time to redress an old injustice." She walked out of the room.
"Hen na ko (weird girl)," Reiko said as she stood.
"Hold it steady," he ordered. "How close are we?"
"Two kilometers, closing rapidly," the young man at the sensors said.
"Call out when we are at one hundred meters. Emiko, when he does, you swing us around, keep under that ship, and keep port side directed at her, got it?"
"Got it," Emiko said, her voice cracking.
Tern smiled as he looked around the bridge. Captain Frost had wanted to know how well the Rubys would handle as a combat vessel. War games had been an obvious choice. So, one Ruby, commanded by Tern and his crew, against the SAC frigate that had joined them. He stared at the ship displayed on his screen. A big, boxy ship, carrying a lot of weapons for her size. Warship all the way.
His ship's weapons were low powered, targeting lasers, each representing a weapon that the ships might carry.
"We just took another hit," the man at damage control said. "Deck seven, sections C to F have lost pressure."
"As long as we can still move," Tern said.
"One hundred meters!"
Emiko swung the ship around, keeping its port side-the only side that still had working weapons-pointed at the bottom of the Perth. She hit the thruster controls, increasing the ships speed as she slid it under the frigate. Alarms went off, warning them of a potential collision. Emiko ignored them, just holding course, keeping the ship in the narrow cone that was out of the Perth's arc of fire.
"All weapons, fire," Tern said, grasping the arms of the captain's chair.
It was rather anti-climatic, what, with the targeting lasers barely illuminating the hull of the other ship. Still, each hit was being recorded by the Perth's computer. That computer was sending chopped reports to them, what their sensors would pick up.
"Report," Tern said.
"They have suffered several massive hull breaches, we're picking up an energy build up. I think something is about to blow."
"Get us out of here Emiko."
"Hai," Emiko said, moving farther from the Perth, increasing the ship's speed.
"Several minor explosions detected on the Enemy vessel," the sensor op said. "They're leaking atmosphere," he paused. "They just exploded."
"Yes!" Tern said. "What about us?"
"We're not going to explode," the crewman at damage control told him, "but we aren't going to fight again, and unless we get rescued in the next two hours, we are going to have to abandon ship."
"Reset the computer, let's get this back to the docking bay. I'm sure Captain Frost has all the information he needs. Emiko, drive."
"What the hell did you think you were doing?" Dawn Collins demanded, grabbing a handhold to stop her flight.
Tern smiled at the ex SAC commander. "Would you mean that last maneuver that allowed me to take out your ship?"
"Do you know how close we came to colliding?"
"Not as close as you think," Tern said. "You weren't interested in hitting me, so I was pretty sure you would be working to keep your distance."
"You are dangerous," she told him, then spun around, kicking off.
"A little," Tern said, following after her.
Dawn entered the meeting room first, Tern a few seconds behind her. Inside Captain Frost was waiting for them.
"Congratulations Mr. Roarke, perhaps one of the most dangerous maneuvers I have ever seen."
"Thank you Captain," Tern said.
"Care to explain it?"
"Lieutenant Commander Collins, what do you think the Rubys main strength is?" Tern asked her.
"Speed and agility," she said.
"Thank you." He turned towards Redding. "I had to use the ship's strengths, especially after the Perth hit me like it did. I was not aware cloaking was allowed."
"It was not disallowed," Redding said.
"I see. Well, my fault then. I was not really made to command ships. I have to use desperate measures."
"Fair enough. Miss Collins?"
"Properly armed, it could prove to be an effective combat ship. Still, I'm not really an experienced commander."
"Neither is Mr. Roarke."
"Thank you. In a standard fight against either an SAC or ODF cruiser, I strongly suspect that a Ruby would be in a lot of trouble. The nice thing is that the with a Ruby, you don't have to make it a standard fight."
"I'd agree with that assessment."
Redding nodded after a moment. "You did a good job. Get some rest."
"Yes sir," Dawn said.
Tern nodded, smiling.
"Mr. Roarke, a moment please."
"Yes?" Tern turned around as Dawn left the room.
"Who was piloting your ship?"
"You let her perform that maneuver?"
"Yes. She's pretty good."
"I question your judgment," he told him. "I think I can promise that you'll never see a command."
"I wasn't looking for one."
"Where is Miss Miya?"
"Not sure. After we docked she had a chance to think about what she had done. She said something about feeling sick and left, fast. I suspect she has learnt the joys of throwing up in a zero-G toilet."
"And this does not alarm you at all?"
"If she had been sick while flying under the Perth I would have worried."
Tern nodded then left the room.
Redding turned about to stare out the large porthole. He had been kept very busy over the past few days, getting everything set up, deciding how to allocate all his new resources. He also had to deal with the Alincourts, a rather eccentric bunch who were hard to work with. The war was also heating up.
All those things he could deal with, with a lot of hard work, but it was hardly insurmountable. His main problem were people like Tern. Incredibly talented individuals that he needed, and yet could not completely trust to do what was needed. That was perhaps one of his largest worries. Everything else could be dealt with but that.
He shook his head. Nothing he could really do about it, other than hope for the best. He did not like hoping for the best.
Eventually something would jump out at her, and then the exercise would begin in earnest. Until then, it was just waiting. She did not really mind that. It was nice just to sit and do nothing. She still felt a little strange when she thought of the piloting she had done earlier that day. The two ships had passed close. Things could have become very dangerous.
They had not though, part of her thought, she almost wanted to sing it. She had piloted a starship, in a combat exercise, and had performed a difficult maneuver. Her feelings were a strange mixture of fear and excitement. She could still remember when her piloting lessons had started, how she had almost dreaded them. Now she looked forward to them. She was not entirely sure when it had happened.
She was changing. She was not sure if she was happy about that. She was not sure if it was...
The sensors beeped loudly as they detected something, Emiko had the engines opened fully, throwing the suit through evasive maneuvers, rocketing towards the newcomers. The computer had identified them, two standard Draken and one in command armour, probably the recon version.
Her interceptor was not up to fighting all three, but that was not the point of the exercise. She pulled back, releasing a cloud of missiles at the three suits. As she thrusted backwards she opened up on the recon suit, spraying it with fire until it came apart.
The other two suits had managed to get some hits on her, but the damage was minor. Emiko spun about and showed them the glow of her thrusters as she ran. She had to get back to the starting point to complete the mission.
Her scanners showed the other two suits following after her. They were too slow to catch up to her and every second she saw them falling back farther and farther. Emiko altered her course slightly, watching as they matched her.
It appeared the mission had a slight edge to it. She looked at her screen. There was a small moon nearby, low gravity, mountainous terrain, lots of deep valleys and caves. Just the place for a fast, maneuverable suit to set up some ambushes.
Emiko changed course, heading for the moon. It looked like an alteration that Ree had made, a new test. Far be it from her to upset Ree's plans, she thought, speeding towards the moon.
"Heard you had a busy day," Ree said.
"Nani?" Emiko looked up at Ree.
"Piloting the big ships now I hear."
"Tern just asked me to be his pilot when he put his crew together."
"Playing it close," Ree smiled. "Maybe I'm beginning to have a bad influence on you."
Emiko smiled and turned her attention back to her computer.
"What's all this?" Ree asked, looking at several pieces of luggage piled near the door.
"Tern is clearing out the John B. for some work. That's all the stuff we had stored in the ship."
"I suppose he didn't like us using his ship as sort of an extended closet," she said as she looked through the bags. "Is this yours?"
Emiko looked up. Ree was holding a battered looking bag. "Yes. My school stuff and things like that. I lost my briefcase early on, but that I held onto. It's seen a lot," she smiled.
Ree put the bag on her bed and opened it, curious what Emiko might have kept. There was a bit of everything in it, sort of like an oversized purse she decided. "Is this your school uniform?" Ree asked, holding a blazer up.
"Yes," Emiko said. "I don't know why I still have it."
"We all keep little things with us," Ree said, removing the skirt from the bag. "This looks really cute."
"I guess it was." Emiko sat up and watched Ree.
Ree pulled out the rest of it, the blouse, tie, shoes and socks. "What's this?" she asked, holding up a yellow tube as long as her hand. She popped the cap off. "Deodorant?"
"Our socks had to be a certain height. That ensured that they didn't fall down."
"You glued your socks to your legs??"
"That's kind of crazy."
"Not really. Underwear inspection was kind of crazy."
"Perhaps," Emiko smiled.
"And I thought my school was a bit strict." Ree looked through the bag to see if there was anything else she had missed. She spotted a small display unit and pulled it out. "What's this?"
"Mind if I look?"
Ree turned it on, then used the direction keys to scroll through the pictures stored there. A lot of pictures of Emiko, with other girls. In most of the pictures they were wearing their uniforms. "Why didn't you hike up your skirt like the others?"
"I was never interested in looking sexy."
"Thank you ever so much, oneechan," she said sarcastically.
"Who's the pretty girl with the red hair?"
"Arisu, er, Alice Minazuki."
"Ever sleep with her?"
"Honest question. Think you could introduce me to her sometime?"
Emiko stared hard at Ree. "I think she is a little too young for you."
"Ouch," Ree said, laughing. "You sound a little defensive. Perhaps there is a reason you are trying to keep me away from her. Perhaps you are a little jealous."
Emiko laughed after a moment. "I'd not know how to handle it when my older sister seduced my best friend."
"That is a tough one," Ree told her. "Here," she held up the blazer. "Try this on."
"Put it on. I want to see what you look like."
"Because I have a thing for girls in uniform Why do you think I joined the ODF?" Ree laughed. "Come on. You'll look cute."
Emiko shook her head, then smiled as she began to undress.
She reached over at picked up the blouse first. Spending all that time stuffed in the bag had not done much for the garment which was wrinkled and a little dirty. She pulled it on then did up the buttons. She noticed that it hung loser around her stomach than she remembered. She grabbed the skirt and stepped into it.
She pulled it up her legs, fastened it, then reached for her jacket. She stopped when she noticed the skirt had slid down to her hips. "Kore wa awanai (it doesn't fit)," she said.
"No problem," Ree laughed, guessing what Emiko had meant. "We can pin it tight."
"Awanai wa," Emiko said, her voice a bit louder, a touch of panic adding a quaver.
"Emi-chan?" Ree looked over at Emiko.
"Awanai dai yo." There were tears in her eyes. "Sukaato wa, mou awanai (it doesn't fit anymore). Atashi wa kaeta (I've changed)" she was crying.
"Emi-chan," Ree said, crossing the small space, putting her hands on Emiko's shoulders.
"Awanai," Emiko said, sounding lost."
"Emiko!" Ree said sharply, giving the young woman a shake.
Emiko looked up at Ree, blinking several times. "It can never be the same."
"Sit down," Ree said, directing her towards the bed. Once Emiko had sat, she knelt and undid the clasps on the skirt, then slid it off Emiko.
"I'm going to show you a trick I learned in the brothel," she said, standing.
"Don't worry Emi-chan," she walked over to the bags and looked through several, finally removing a small case. "Here," she said, handing Emiko a handkerchief. She picked up the skirt, put it across her lap, then opened the case, revealing a well stocked sewing kit.
"There was this man," Ree began as she held up the skirt, looking it over. "Liked to talk, that was about it. He had a twist on it, though. Liked for the girl he was talking to be sewing. So I had to learn.
"He complained a lot," Ree said as she removed a needle and some thread. "About his job, about his kids, and about his wife. Not a proper housekeeper was his wife." Ree stopped talking as she threaded the needle.
"I'm still not sure what he was looking for, I suspect a mother-type figure. I suspect he had a very old fashioned mother. He was a bit sad, but harmless, and he paid well." Ree started taking in Emiko's skirt.
Emiko watched, Ree's soft voice calming her slightly. She wiped at her nose.
"Always brought in some clothing of his that needed mending. I am pretty sure he'd rip it just before he got there. Ripped his clothes, then a woman sews it up for him and he poured out his heart. I always wanted to just tell him to shut up and take life like an adult," Ree laughed. "That would have been cruel though, and bad for business.
"At some point I actually began to like it, sewing. Simple, no brainer stuff, and it gave me a simple sense of satisfaction. Mind you, I'd rather be smoking an enemy suit, but at the time it was a half decent alternative."
Ree said nothing more as she continued sewing, putting in tiny stitches into the waist band. Emiko watched her, wondering exactly what Ree was doing, beyond the sewing.
"Here," Ree said a few minutes later, holding the skirt towards Emiko. Emiko took it but did nothing. "What? Do you expect me to dress you as well?" She smiled.
Emiko shook her head, then stood up and put the skirt on. When she fastened it that time it did not slide down.
"Good," Ree said, reaching for the blazer. "Can't do much with this, but I'll get rid of a little slack," she removed a new spool of thread from her kit.
Emiko sat down, still not sure of her feelings. The clothes had only made her realize something, they were not important. Why was Ree wasting time with them?
"The sewing guy was pretty tame compared to some others. We had a lot of talkers, I'm sure they could have saved a huge amount of money by just going to a psychiatrist." Ree laughed. "Though I'm not sure they could have gotten a psychiatrist to wear a lace teddy.
Some time later, Ree held the blazer up, scrutinizing it, then nodded. She placed it aside and reached for Emiko's tie. "Stand up." Emiko got to her feet and Ree put the tie around her neck and began to tie it. "People change, fact of life. It's just hard to deal with when you don't realize it and all of it sneaks up on you at once." She fastened the tie in a Windsor knot, pulling it tight. "But I've always found, if you are willing to work at it," she picked the blazer up from the bed and moved behind Emiko, "the old things can be made to fit again. Give me a hand."
Emiko let Ree put the jacket on her. Then Ree moved out in front of her. "Of course, just because it fits you again, doesn't mean it is the same. And the trick to learn, to save yourself a lot of pain, is to learn when it is not worth it to try to get things to fit again. After all, I could probably alter your elementary school uniform to fit you, but would you want to wear it?" She smiled and turned Emiko about, letting her look into the mirror.
Emiko looked at herself for almost a minute. "It looks good," she said softly.
"Of course it does," Ree released her shoulders then walked back to her bed, packing up the sewing kit. "I think we'll forego the socks and sock glue this time," she said as she moved everything off her bed. "You look tired," she flipped the covers over. "Let's get some sleep."
Emiko turned and saw that Ree was patting her bed.
"Oneechan..." Emiko began nervously.
"Don't be stupid Emi-chan, I'm not trying to initiate sex. Keep your clothes on, I'll be keeping mine on after all. Let me tell you, there are times when just sleeping with someone, and only sleeping, can help. It reminds you that you are not alone."
Emiko smiled as she took off her blazer and let it fall. She got into the narrow bed, moving far over to one side. "Won't it be a little uncomfortable, sleeping with our clothes on?"
"I'll admit," Ree said as she turned off the light, "it is easier if you are drunk, but when you are drunk there is more chance of the clothes coming off, and that is not the point of the exercise." She got into the bed, then pulled the covers over the both of them. "Get some sleep Emi-chan, you probably haven't gotten a good nights sleep in a few weeks."
"Hai, oneechan," Emiko said, turning her face into Ree's shoulder, feeling the warmth of her. It reminded her of when she was younger, and scared, and how she would sometimes spend the night with her mother.
All he could hope was that after he handled the business that had just come up, he might get some sleep.
The man waiting in his office was wearing an ODF uniform. As soon as Redding entered he stood, saluting.
"As you were," Redding told him, walking behind his desk. "Don't waste time with ceremony. Just give it to me."
"Yes sir. Captain, I was sent here by Lieutenant Commander Strazza. She was unable to come herself but thought you should hear what she had found out as soon as possible. She believes that the Board of Directors are up to something big, but she is not sure what."
"Does she have any information?"
"Only one thing, and that was why she sent me out as soon as she found out. Two hundred nuclear weapons were moved out of the secure armoury. They are high yield weapons with multiple warheads. She suspects they plan to hit a planet, but she does not know which one."
"That's all she knows?"
"Yes sir. She told me to apologize that she had no more."
"What she has is more than enough," he sighed. "Get some rest. Dismissed."
"Yes sir," he said, saluting.
Redding watched him go. It looked like his well deserved sleep was going to be denied him for at least a few more hours. He reached for his phone, then tapped in a number.
"Tell Captain Blackhand I want to see her and Mr. Varris in my office as soon as they can get here." He hung up the phone. "Gods," he pressed the heels of his hands into his eyes. "I'm tired."
Closing Credits -- Song: 'Too Late to be Good' by the Tuesday Girls.
We are presented with a window (we can see some light reflected off the top of it, so know there is glass, or some transparent material) there. Ree is sitting on some sort of window bench, her legs stretched out half the length of the bench. Emiko has her elbows propped up on the bench, her chin resting on her hands, near Ree's feet.
The two are talking, though we can't hear what they are saying--Ree is combing her hair. The conversation seems friendly enough. The window could be that of a building, or a ship in space, it is hard to be certain of anything.
This continues until all the credits roll, then everything fades to black.
"Watashi wa anata no ane, soshite haha, soshite anata."
--Miyu Kyuuketsuki ga Yui ni itta
Shawn Hagen <email@example.com>
On to Chapter 20