Episode 22 (2180.08.11)
by Shawn Hagen (1997)
Starblade Battalion is the Property of R.Talsorian Games.
Opening Credits - Same as before.
Redding looked through the information that Juan had given him. The reports were sketch at best, no information on timings, or places. Just the fact that two ODF missile carriers were going to blanket Earth with nuclear weapons.
"I can't believe this," Redding said. "It has to be misdirection."
"I don't think so," Diane said. "The way Richard was acting, some other things I have checked, it fits."
Juan nodded. "I think they are going to do this."
Redding leaned back in his chair, turning his head to look out the window of Marion's attic. He could not believe that they would actually attack Earth. There was no point to it. "Why?"
"I think they hope it will end the war. Break their spirits."
"The only way this sort of tactic can work is if you use it to utterly destroy your enemy, or if your enemy is near giving up anyway." He shook his head and turned to look at Juan and Diane. "If you hit Earth you do not harm the SAC's ability to make war. You do not make it impossible for them to get recruits. There are the people in the orbital colonies, the moon, and on Mars still, and they will want to fight after that. There is no way the SAC is near surrendering."
"You might be wrong." Juan told him.
"I am not wrong," Redding said. "If this were to happen, it is likely I would leave the a Battalion to return to the SCC, and then the SAC. I could not let it go. I suspect I would not be alone."
Diane nodded. "The war would escalate. The SAC would never stop, and the ODF could not after that. There is no way we could stand against it."
"This makes no sense," Juan said. "We must be missing something."
"We are," Diane said. "We're missing who is really behind this."
"Who benefits from this?"
"No one," Juan said.
"Wrong," Diane told him. "This would give the Midnight Sun exactly the sort of environment they need."
"Solingen couldn't be Midnight Sun," Redding said.
"But they, the Sun, might own a piece of it," Juan told him.
"Solingen stock does not really trade. Their are several families that control close to eighty six percent of the stock. They have members sitting on the board of directors. The remaining stock is owned by a lot of people, usually each has maybe half a percent. These people usually chose one of the members to proxy vote their shares."
"How much would someone have to own to affect the board?" Redding asked.
"Hard to say. Sometimes, the votes are very close, a fraction of a percent. Three or four percent given to one person might make a difference. Used correctly, it would be possible to make things go your way, in time."
"Can we prove this?"
"Fine, something to worry about later. What I need to know is when."
"I don't know," Juan said. "From what information I have been able to gather, three days at least."
"How sure are you?"
"As sure as I can be, which is not as sure as I'd like."
"Then we don't have much time. We'll have to stop them."
"What if we inform the SAC?" Diane asked.
"They might be able to stop it, if they know where the ships are going to shunt to. If they have time to recharge, they can cloak, then approach Earth."
"And that's assuming that the missiles carriers are not shunted in by something else," Diane told him.
"Unless we can give the SAC exact information, telling them would do nothing but cause panic. We'll have to destroy the ships here," he paused. "That will only buy us time until they do it again."
"No," Juan said. "You don't understand the way the ODF and Solingen interact do you?"
"Not completely, no."
"Solingen does all it can to control nuclear weapons. There is too much danger of them being used by terrorists and extremists. While the can't keep outside factions from building them, though they try, they do all they can to make sure none of theirs are ever used against them."
"So the board of directors of Solingen GmbH control the ODF's nuclear stockpile?"
"They control the ODF, but they take specific interest in the nuclear weapons. If you just want to move the nuclear scuttling charge from a decommissioned ship to another, they have to know about it and give their okay. In cases like that it is usually just pencil whipped through. To free up a large amount of those weapons will require a vote."
"And you don't think they will vote to do so?"
"It was close last time. I don't think any of them really wanted to do it. If they have to, they won't okay the use of those nuclear weapons."
"How can you be sure?"
"I can't, yet. In a short time, twenty four hours at the most, I can make sure some of the stock that voted yes to this will vote no to redistributing those weapons."
Redding looked at Juan for a moment. "We have to destroy those weapons. Do everything you can to make sure we are not put in this position again."
Juan nodded. "Don't worry."
"I am worried. I need information."
"Roger Lionel," Diane said. "He was in the ODF, reasonably high up. Right now he serves on the Thunder Clap."
"I'll get in touch with Captain Blackhand."
"Ask her to send the Clayton twins as well."
Redding nodded. "I'll also get in touch with Lieutenant Commander Strazza, she might have some other information."
Emiko leaned against the car in the John B.'s cargo hold. At her feet were several open tool boxes. A few steps away from her was an open access hatch. She took a step forward, looking down the shaft. "Tern?" she called.
"What?" he said, his voice echoing slightly in the maintenance shaft.
"What's up with the car?"
"Hand me the magdriver, it's the long thing with the blue handle."
Emiko moved back to the kits and picked out the tool Tern had described. She went back to the hatch, then knelt down and handed the magdriver down. Tern took it then gave her another tool.
"The car," he said, turning his attention back to the shunt drive. "Is a 1960ish Ford Mustang."
"Not a real one. A reproduction. I dug up a set of plans several years ago and had it built. Almost all the parts are tank grown. Of course it is not a prefect reproduction, uses hydrogen instead of gas, and the control system is much more intelligent, but it is close. Get me the scanner with the black casing."
Emiko went back to the tool kits then returned with the scanner. She handed it down to Tern. "Why have it built?"
"So I could race it," he said, taking the scanner and giving her he magdriver.
"A bunch of friends. We all had a bit too much money, a bit too much time. We found old, twentieth century car designs, had them built, then raced them. Of course it has been a while since I last raced it."
"A friend of mine, Winston, drove his car off a cliff during a race. After that, well, it didn't seem so fun any longer. We all just sort of stopped."
"Don't sound so sad," Tern stood up, only his head and shoulders above the level of the floor. "It was a long time ago." He placed the scanner on the floor. "Now kiss me."
Emiko lay down on the floor, propping her head up on her hands so their faces were at the same level. Tern kissed her, holding her head in his hands. After a while he broke contact. "I have to make sure everything here is fine. Once I get it done we'll head back to the others. Get me the Gale Keys, they are in a small, gray box in the red kit."
"Right away," Emiko said, getting to her feet.
"This is the asteroid 'Calleon', currently in a rather eccentric and long orbit about Gravesend," Roger said to the people assembled around the table. Above the table a holographic representation of the asteroid was projected. "It serves as a docking bay and resupply base to the ODF ships. There are about three thousand people there and since the war started I believe they have added about another thousand security people."
"How do we get close to it?" Redding asked.
"You don't. There are a field of Probability Anchors around the asteroid, pulled along with it in its orbit, which ensures you can't shunt very close. You also have several thousand smart mines to contend with. If you go in cloaked, you might get through, assuming you didn't hit one."
"How do they operate?"
"Tags ships based on their designs and their IFF codes. If you are not cleared, boom. If they are, they do not detonate, and they also go on safe in case the ship bumps into them."
"There has to be times when they bring other ships in," Diane said.
"True. If you are within one hundred meters of a cleared ship, then you fall under the escort protocol and are safe."
"Tern could hang a hundred meters off a ship's stern," Juan said.
"There are no mines within a two kilometer radius of the asteroid, for a margin of safety. If he could get that close, then he would be able to close easily enough, assuming he did not get tagged by the sensors."
"Tell me about the missile carriers," Redding told Roger.
"The 'Kirin' is an old cruiser, a big ship, rebuilt as a missile carrier. Second line support, usually carries long range missiles. The missile bays are located in the center of the ship. The 'Cheetah' is a Wotan class cruiser, a missile bay bolted to the keel of the ship."
"I suspect that it would be difficult to reach the missile bays in the 'Kirin'?"
"Very," Roger nodded.
"Easier, but not easy. If you are planning to put a team in the bay, I would try it with the Cheetah. There are ten missile hatches, not at all easy to get into. There are two air lock hatches, to the rear of the bay. That's the way I would go in, if I could get around the security."
"Well?" Redding turned to look at the Clayton twins.
"I think we could circumnavigate it," John said.
"Assuming they haven't learned any new tricks."
"What's the layout?" Redding looked again at Roger.
"The asteroid is thirty eight kilometers at its longest point. Thirteen kilometers wide. They have tunneled into it, putting their warehouses in deep. Every square kilometer of the asteroid has a dedicated sensor suite, located at the highest point in the area. There are also ten manned surface posts, I don't think they will be a problem."
"How good are the sensor suites?"
"Good, but overtaxed. If you know where the suite is, and stick to dead ground, you can avoid detection."
"Ships simply dock on the surface, or in berths dug out of the rock. There are several caves, mostly artificial, that are used for some ships. The Cheetah is docked in such a cave. I suspect it is to keep it out of sight, no one will care about the Kirin. The area around the Cheetah is pretty flat, but I think there is a way to get there, undetected."
"Will there be guards in the cave?"
"Normally, no. In this case, I can't tell you."
"How close is the Kirin to the Cheetah?"
"How many?" Redding looked over at John and Jim.
"Say two of the warheads, perhaps three, just to be sure," Jim told him.
"Not that that will be easy," John added.
"The nukes are well protected, you could fire a bazooka at one and it wouldn't go off."
"But you would destroy it."
"Which doesn't help us."
"The safeties are hard to get around."
"Just cracking the case is dangerous."
"How so?" Redding asked.
"You screw up with those things, they blow one of the shaped charges," Jim said.
"And that will blow the other shaped charges, but the plutonium will not reach critical mass."
"It will be scattered all thought the bay though, so if the explosion doesn't kill you, the plutonium might."
"All in all, I would rather leave them alone."
"Which is not an option. Can you detonate them?"
"If we had the codes."
"Or we get luckier than we deserve."
"Where are the codes?"
"They might be in the ship's computer, but that is not likely," Roger told him. "Most of the time both the captain and the first officer carry the arming codes with them. The other place they will be is in the asteroid's computer, highly secure."
"If you have those codes, will you be able to detonate three of those warheads?" Redding asked John.
"Then we need to get you into that ship, and we need to get those codes out of that computer."
"We already have a rough plan for getting into the cruiser," Diane said. "To get into the base, we will either need a very large force, or a very small one."
"We can't manage a very large force, not anytime soon."
"Then Marshal Sharp and myself can get into the base. We will need someone good with computers with us."
"Emiko," Juan said.
"Perhaps," Diane told him. "Perhaps not." She looked over at the Clayton twins. "Is there anyone you know capable of cracking the security around that computer?"
"Maybe," Jim said.
"Couple of techs on the Thunder Clap are pretty good."
"Get in touch with them."
"Is there any reason you are against Miss Miya going on this mission?" Redding asked Diane.
"I'm not against her going on this mission, she might choose not to."
"Very well. We have plans to make. Mr. Lionel, if you will give us the complete layout of the base."
On returning to the farm, Emiko realized she had missed something. Diane did not give her any time to find out what was going on, she just dragged Emiko off. As she followed Diane through the house, she noted several newcomers, many talking in hushed tones, looking over plans.
Diane led her into the bedroom Emiko was using, then closed the door. "We need to talk," she said, closing the door.
"Okay," Emiko said.
"We've recently discovered that the ODF is planning on hitting the Earth with a large nuclear attack."
"We are going to stop them," Diane told her. "I'll explain everything soon enough. What you need to know it that we need a computer's security cracked. I know you can do it, that is not the question here. What I need to know is if you can kill."
"This will not be as smooth an operation as we would like. It is very likely, no, it is guaranteed that we will have to fight. If you go with us, you will have to shoot people. If you can't do it, then you won't come."
Emiko said nothing for a time. She considered what Diane had told her. She thought about Earth. She wondered if there was anyone else who might be able to break the security.
"Why are you sure we will have to fight?"
"We are going into a military base. We have to get the information out of a computer within minutes of reaching it. What does that tell you?"
"It will be loud and that we will have to fight."
"Right. Now, what is your answer?"
"If I have to, I will."
Diane stared at her for a time. "Good enough. You're with me and Marshal Sharp. Come on," she opened the door. "I'll bring you up to speed."
"This will be fun," Tern said, looking over the holographic display. "Tell me about these mines," he looked over at Roger.
"Pretty standard smart mine. They have a simple movement system, less to chase down targets and more to move back into position if they bounce off the hull of a friendly ship."
"Ever been any accidents?"
"So, I have to follow within a hundred meters?"
"That will be fun."
"I thought you did this sort of thing just for a lark," Jim said, looking up from his tool kit.
"A kilometer off the port bow of a carrier is one thing, following a hundred meters behind a ship is completely another."
"They won't be able to see you will they?" Roger asked.
"Not on sensors, but at a hundred meters, I'm visible to the naked eye."
"So we go in cloaked," John said, looking over a scanner.
"Maybe. I don't think we will have the time to shunt there and then recharge so we can cloak." He looked at Roger. "How do these mines work?"
"What do you mean?"
"How close do you have to be before one blows?"
"Two hundred meters."
"What if a meteorite floats through there?"
"The mines usually can figure out what is a ship and what isn't. They've blown up a few rocks though."
Tern nodded. "What sort of density?"
"Depends, the mines drift a lot. On average, one mine for ever three hundred cubic meters of space."
"That's a lot of space to use."
"You're not thinking of trying to fly through that field?"
"You must be joking."
"I either have to run within a hundred meters of another ship, or I have to try to run it. Both options are bad. I am just trying to decide which is worse."
"We don't have time to make up a new plan. We leave in an hour."
"I'll decide when I get there."
"Wait, I don't like this."
"You could find another pilot."
"That might not be a bad idea."
"I'd trust Tern before I trust anyone else," Jim said.
"He's our best chance," John added.
"This is crazy," Roger said.
"Of course it is," Tern shut off the holoprojector. "So is the Battalion."
"This is a Frontier Armaments R2 SMG. The top mounted magazine," Diane slotted the helical magazine into place, "holds three hundred rounds. This is the safety," she indicated the lever. "Safe, single shot, full auto. Remember, controlled bursts."
"Controlled bursts," Emiko said. "I'll remember."
"Good. This is loaded with a cocktail..."
"Mix of ammunition. I alternate armour piercing and mushrooming rounds, every fifth round is a tracer. This will make a mess of hard or soft targets."
"A mess," Emiko looked a little pale.
"You can still opt to stay behind."
"I'm going," Emiko said, her tone firm.
"This will be your main weapon. These are a standard G-Pistol and automatic." She handed Emiko the weapons. "Keep this revolver hidden, back up weapon," she placed a small revolver on the table in front of Emiko. "This is a second back up, because you can never have too many," she held up a two shot derringer.
"A lot of weapons."
"Not really. Is that armour comfortable?"
Emiko looked down at the armour she was wearing, a little surprised. She had forgotten she was wearing it. "Yes, very."
"Good. You've got full coverage but you will suffer a very small decrease physical actions. Fortunately I've trained you hard, so you should be all right. You've got good protection, but don't count on it. Remember everything you've learned, do your best not to be in a situation where you will be hit. No armour is perfect."
"Good. Get all your gear stored. We go in ten minutes." Diane walked from the room.
Emiko sat down, then turned her attention to all the weapons she had. Shaking her head she went to work on the locks on the armour covering her right leg. She removed the boot then strapped the derringer to her lower leg.
The armour fit well over the weapon, and she was hardly aware of it once she had the leg covering back in place.
She used Velcro to attach the automatic pistol to the armour over her right thigh. More Velcro fixed two extra magazines for her SMG to her left thigh, the G-pistol to the small of her back, and the hold out revolver to her outside of her lower, right leg.
Standing up, she noticed how heavy everything was, but it did not interfere with her movement. Over the months she had become stronger, lean muscles covering her now slim frame. Another change. She was not only covered with weapons, but thanks to Diane, she had become one.
"Busy?" Conaly said, starting Emiko from her thoughts.
"No, just finished getting ready."
Conaly walked into the room. He wore armour of a similar design to the suit Emiko wore. She noted he was carrying many more weapons than she had. He was also carrying a bundle in his arms. "I picked you up something," he told her. "There were a lot of people on the Longrider, a lot of people," he said, his voice taking a far off quality for a moment. "At least one of those people was sword master." He placed the bundle on the table. "She's taken on apprentices, taught her skills to others."
He unwrapped the bundle, revealing two swords. A katana and wazikashi. They were in wooden sheaths, and lacked tsuba-hand guards. "I decided you needed real weapons."
Emiko reached down and picked up the katana. She grasped it, one hand at the top of the sheath, one hand on the pommel. She drew the sword so about ten centimeters of the blade was showing. "They're beautiful," she said, staring at the gleaming metal, the intricate designs on the blade, the edge. While such weapons were still made in Japan, for them to have a sharpened edge was illegal.
"They are functional," Conaly said. "Some of her best work I think. Take the wazikashi with you, the katana would just get in your way."
"Wakatta," Emiko said softly, pushing the katana back into her sheath.
Emiko placed the katana down and picked up the wazikashi. She tucked it under her arm, then grabbed a sheet of Velcro, then the battlepack that held her computer, reloads for the weapons she carried and a few other things. She slung the bag over her shoulder as she followed after him.
The Sloop John B. drifted through space, powered down, silent, unseen. Tern sat in the cockpit, waiting.
"Is it cold in here?" Roger asked.
"No," Tern told him. "We haven't lost that much heat."
"It feels cold."
"It's in your head."
"The air smells stale."
"The carbon dioxide levels are still quite low. Don't worry."
"We're floating towards a mine field, that you plan to fly though, and you tell me not to worry."
"Why not cloak?"
"Because if I cloak, it will be several hours before we can shunt. Also, the Shunt Drive can't generate a cloak right now, we're rigged to overcome the probability anchors."
"Just a trick those clever boys from Nebula Works came up with. Trust me."
"I don't have much choice do I."
"No," Tern smiled.
"You really think you can do this don't you?"
"I really do."
"I hope what everyone says is true."
"Of course..." Tern stopped, looking at a light that had lit up on his panel. "They're in place. Make sure you are strapped down," he called back. "We're going in."
Roger took a deep breath, than crossed himself.
"Good," Tern said as he brought the thrusters on line.
"Just glad you are giving us a little extra help."
It took Roger a moment to realize what Tern meant. "Maybe not. Sometimes you don't want God paying attention to you. She can be nasty at times."
"But we're in the right," Tern said. "Has to count for something. Hold tight."
The Sloop John B.'s thrusters lit up for several seconds, the ship accelerating up to its top speed. Tern kept the burn to a minimum. Though his thrusters were stealthy as well, there was always the chance that something might be picked up.
As he approached the mine field he took note of the ships on patrol, and their projected courses. He adjusted his course slightly, then fired off his braking thrusters, cutting his speed. A short time later they entered the perimeter of the mine field.
Tern watched his sensor display, the mines were tagged in a bright red, the other ships and craft in a bright orange. Nothing else really mattered. He changed his course to avoid a patrol of suits, then he had to cut his speed sharply, spinning the ship about, giving his thrusters a little fuel. He passed by a mine at two hundred and ten meters.
"You know, that two hundred meters is just a round number," Roger said.
"I wouldn't worry. From what I understand about those sensors, I would have to hit one of those mines before it would go off."
"Yet you are going out of your way to avoid getting too close."
"Do I look stupid?"
"No, but I think you're enjoying this."
"That could be."
"That's been said before."
"I'm not surprised."
Tern smiled as he spun the Sloop John B. around, avoiding a cluster of mines, then he came about sharply, avoiding getting too close to another ship. He increased the ship's speed slightly, making for an open space.
"That mine is too close," Roger said.
"Don't worry, we'll make it."
"It's not drifting off fast enough."
Tern waited, then fired off a micro burst of his braking thrusters. The ship's velocity was cut sharply. The mine drifted out of range just as the John B. passed out of the field. "Told you," Tern said. "I'll get in as close as I can, get ready to go."
Roger looked at Tern for a moment, then began to release his restraint harness. "I can't believe you did that."
"Believe it," Tern told him.
The team that put down on the surface of Calleon consisted of the Calytons, Roger, and two soldiers. Roger led them through the dead ground, moving slowly, doing his best to avoid the sensors. He also had to avoid the security personnel out on the surface of the asteroid, but the asteroid was fairly big, and the patrols could only cover so much of it.
After almost an hour they had reached the cave where the Cheetah was docked. Roger sent one of the soldiers on ahead to check out the cave. He had the rest of them take cover in a deep crater.
The man he had sent ahead came back to report.
"There are two guards in the cave, standing post on either side. They are under cover."
"Can we get around them?"
"I don't think so. I did notice a crevice in the rock about fifty meters back from the opening."
"Can we get through it?"
"Go check it out, and be careful. I don't think they would give us that sort of opening."
"Understood," the young man said, then moved off again. He returned after a few minutes.
"There is an alarm system about a meter in," he told Roger.
"Can you deal with it?"
Roger turned towards Jim and placed his hand on his shoulder. "We have a problem."
"There is a way in, but they've got an alarm."
"Do you think it is a set up?" John asked-he had put a hand on his brother's suit.
"It would fit. Simple alarm first, then things get more complex. It might not even lead into the cave."
"And it might," Jim said.
"You two will have to deal with anything we find. It is your call."
"Is there another way in?"
"Not without a fight I suspect."
"Then let's see what these Alarms are like," John said.
Laura Donsen entered her apartment, shutting the door behind her. She turned about, the housekeeping computer brought the lights up. She almost screamed when she saw someone sitting in her living room. She forced the panic down once she realized who it was.
"Well Mr. Varris, this is a surprise. Usually we meet in my office," she said, keeping here voice calm. It would not do to let him know how he had startled her.
"I thought that we should talk in private, I didn't think you would mind that I let myself in," Juan told her, standing. "I've made us some drinks. You do still like martinis?" he asked, walking towards the liquor cabinet.
"I'm glad to hear that." He picked up two glasses then turned to face her. "They are very dry."
"I'm surprised, all that skill, and you didn't become a bartender."
"I worked as a bartender once," he told her as he crossed the room. "For a month, during one of my down periods." He handed her one of the glasses. "The pay wasn't very good, but the tips made all the difference."
She took the glass, then took a small sip. "Excellent. So Mr. Varris, what do you want to talk about."
"Call me Juan."
"So, this is personal?" she asked, arching an eyebrow.
"Of course Laura. What is more personal than blackmail?"
Her composure cracked, for a moment, but she knew it was enough for Juan. "Blackmail?" she asked, trying to keep her tone innocent.
"I'm loathe to use it," Juan took a drink of his martini. "I mean, it worries people. They wonder if they will ever be free. They get desperate. Sometimes they do something unfortunate. Kill themselves, go public, kill the person blackmailing them."
"Yes, that is a problem," she let the threat hang in the air.
"But sometimes you have to take a chance, when you really want something."
"What is it you want Juan."
"To protect Earth."
"How could you..." she blurted out, then forced her mouth shut.
"Know about your plan? I know everything," he smiled at her. "Now, I suspect that you will need to free up a large number of weapons in the near future if you want to carry out this plan."
"What are you talking about?"
"Not important. You'll know soon enough. When the time comes to vote, you vote no. Do that, and no one finds out Mr. Donsen's death was anything but an accident."
She stared at him for a moment. "You are taking a chance here Juan," she smiled slightly seeing a way to gain the upper hand. "I now know something important. I know a number of important things."
"Yes. I expect you'll keep quiet though. You see, I've given you something to use against me. We now are in a stalemate. I don't think you'll do anything, shall we say rash? now."
"I'm in a position to ruin your plan, whatever it is, and I suspect I know. I think that is quite valuable."
"It is. For that reason I poisoned your drink."
"Oh, nothing dangerous. You'll just sleep, for about twelve hours," he reached out and took the drink from her hand. "It should be taking effect right now."
"People keep saying that. I think I might be offended. Good night Laura."
"I will get you," she said, suddenly falling to her knees. "I'll make you regret this."
"I'm sure you will," he said, putting the glasses aside. "At least you will try. What do you say I put you to bed."
Laura's head rolled on her neck and her eyes glazed over. She said nothing else. Juan moved around behind her, grabbed her under the arms, and then began to drag her back towards the bedroom. "Suddenly I'm reminded of University," Juan said to himself.
Roger was a little surprised at how easily the twins dealt with the security. They had found all the alarms and traps in the side passage, disarming them rapidly as they went. Then they had bypassed the security of the airlock, opening the hatch up, giving them all easy access to the missile bay.
He stood by one of the lowest missile racks, watching as one unpacked their tools and the other ran his hands over the warhead casing.
"This will open real nice," Jim said, taking his gloved hands from the smooth material. "We're going to need the codes soon," he told Roger.
"I'll send the signal," Roger told him. "You," he said to one of the soldiers. "Take up position over there," he pointed to the far end, near the elevators. "You," he looked at the other. "Get up high, cover us all."
Both men moved off quickly, going where they were told. Roger watched for a moment, then opened a pocket on the outside of his suit. He brought out a small transmitter and activated it. It sent out its signal for a moment, then stopped. He waited several seconds then repeated the procedure. "They should be moving now."
"Good," John said standing, a wrench in his hand. "Ready to operate?" He looked over at Jim.
"Remember the good old days when we were just boosting suits?"
"And mom said we would never go anywhere."
The loading bay was crowded with off loaded cargo, stacked haphazardly around the room. It had recently come in with a shuttle and had yet to be moved to a proper cargo bay.
The side of one of the larger cargo containers shook, then fell out, hitting the floor with a soft, whooshing sound. Diane stepped out, her needle pistol in her right hand, an automatic pistol in her left. She looked around, then moved forward. Conaly followed her, a carbine in his hands, scanning the bay, seeing everything. Emiko brought up the rear, holding her SMG, trying to match Conaly's way of moving.
All three wore armour, their helmets on. The dark armour blended in well with the shadows between the many crates and boxes. They moved quietly, quickly, soon clearing the loading bay.
As Diane stepped out of the bay she came face to face with two men. Unarmed soldiers. She shot them both before they could react, the darts delivering the powerful tranquilizer. As they fell she was looking around, looking for other targets. When she saw they were clear she signaled to Conaly, then continued.
As Emiko stepped over the unconscious men, she wished she could have used a tranquilizer weapon. The darts could not penetrate armour, and Diane had told her with some people it took several seconds for the drug to take effect. That could be deadly.
A short time later they exited the centrifuge section they had been in, entering the very low G environment of the asteroid's interior. Diane stopped them, taking a moment to check out the map they had been given of the asteroid. After a few seconds she had them moving again, kicking off down the long hallway, flying towards the end. She stayed close to the wall, ready to change her vector if she had to.
Several hundred meters down Diane brought herself to a stop. Just ahead of the small group was a branching of tunnels, five branches all together. Diane once again checked her maps, then moved forward, making sure the area was clear. She motioned to Conaly, pointing to the corridor above their heads.
Conaly crouched down, then sprung up, entering the corridor. Several seconds later he stuck his head down and motioned for Emiko to follow.
Emiko sprung from the floor. She passed Conaly, then stopped herself just above him, keeping a watch on the corridor ahead. A moment later Diane passed by her, moving along the corridor. Emiko experienced a strange shift in perception she had almost gotten use to. She had a new floor, and was now moving along a corridor instead of heading up.
They were all so empty. She had been told that the Asteroid had been set up with the future in mind. It was going to be a major base one day, rumor had it that it even had a shunt drive. At the present it was mostly empty, not yet fully staffed.
It took them several minutes to reach the next centrifuge area. Along the way they encountered several people. Diane tranqed them all. The unconscious bodies were hidden. As they descended in the elevator, Emiko felt gravity begin to pull on her once again.
When the doors opened Diane went out fast and low. Conaly covered her. The two techs they faced went down quickly, one managing a short, strangled cry before she collapsed.
<Think someone heard that?> Diane asked Conaly.
<We'll find out soon enough I suspect.>
<True. Let's go.> Diane moved off, Conaly and Emiko following her. A few seconds later she stopped. She motioned for Conaly and Emiko to wait, then went forward. She came back quickly. <Trouble.>
<Guards, coming this way, they look a bit wary and are wearing soft armour,> she told him, putting her needle gun away.
<Had to happen eventually.>
<Emiko,> Diane sent. <Go back the way we came, you know the layout. Circle around. We'll keep everyone busy.>
"Wakatta," Emiko said into her radio. She turned and ran.
Conaly pulled a smoke grenade from his battlepack, then looked at Diane. <Ready?>
<Yea. I don't like this.>
<We're soldiers now.>
Diane nodded, turning to face the direction the guards would come from.
Emiko sprinted down the corridors, her feet slipping slightly as she took the corners. The node she wanted was close. She hoped she would not run into anyone before she reached the room where the workstation was.
Alarms started going off, lights flashing. The two Marshals had obviously gone to work. She increased her speed, ahead of her she could see the door. She slid to a stop-almost falling--in front of the door. She was reaching onto her battlepack for a pick when the door opened.
A young woman was standing in the doorway, a surprised look on her face. Emiko didn't let her own surprise keep her from acting. Emiko thrust the barrel of her SMG into the woman's stomach, folding the ODF tech in half. She pushed the woman, forcing her back into the room.
As the woman stumbled back, Emiko reached out and slapped the door control, sealing it. The woman was just beginning to straighten herself when Emiko turned her attention back to her. She swung the SMG up, catching the woman in the bottom of her jaw. Emiko ignored the sound of breaking bone, tried not to pay too much attention to the blood, or the broken teeth.
The woman fell over backward, her head banging against the desk top of the workstation. She lay on the floor, unmoving. Emiko knelt down, looking the woman over. She hesitantly reached forward, placing her fingers against the woman's neck, but she could feel nothing through the gloves she wore.
After pulling the gloves off, she returned her hand to the woman's throat. She could feel a pulse. Sighing, she turned the woman on her side, then stood and looked at the computer. After a moment Emiko removed her helmet, putting it aside.
The computer was on. Not only was it on, but the woman had not logged off. Emiko thanked all the kami for such good fortune, then pulled her battlepack free and opened it fully.
She removed a tool kit and in a short time had the covering off and the leads she needed separated out from the others wires. Returning to her bag, she began to remove components for her computer, putting them together, hooking them into the asteroid's system.
When it was done, Emiko checked over her work, then stood back for a second. She took a deep breath. "Okay, let's see if this works."
Taking a seat, she began to map out the system. She needed to know the farthest edges of the system, its outer perimeter. That took two minutes. Two long minutes. That done, she began lay down the charges, small packages of viruses, powerful viruses, dangerous and illegal. She had used the Black program that had hit her computer on the station at Gamma 4 as the template for those viruses.
A minute and the perimeter charges were set up. Too much time, Emiko thought, for a moment listening to the alarms that were still sounding. She could not have much time left. She reached down into her battlepack, bringing out a headset, the same sort Ree had given her so she could pilot suits.
Not her usual way of hacking, but she was going to need control, and speed, more than she cold manage on her own. She set it on her head, made sure the connections were right, then entered he arming command.
"Only one chance," she said quietly. Then she activated the charges. Thousands of packets of viruses activated and began to destroy the system. They started on the very edge of the system where Emiko had placed them. Then they began to move in. A cascading curtain of destruction.
Emiko was in there, within the viruses themselves, her search programs shielded against the destructive programs. She rode the wave, watching, in a way, as it destroyed the system, tearing through every security program the computer had.
Suddenly the data she wanted was there, wide open, about to be corrupted beyond reconstruction. Under her control, the search program leapt forward, throwing a shield around the data, protecting it from the destruction that followed.
Emiko pulled the data back, moving it into the safety of her system. "Yatta!" she said, smiling.
It took her several minutes to sort through the data, find what she needed, find the key she needed to break the encryption. Around her the lights flickered, the alarms would wail, then fall silent, change to something else. The central computer was gone, she had crashed it. It would take some time before the asteroid's personnel would bring up the secondary computers. It gave them all a window of opportunity.
Finally she had it. The codes needed to arm the nuclear weapons. She froze as she realized just what she had. Her fingers poised over the keys of her computer, unable to act. Then it passed and she entered the commands. Her computer chirped as it transmitted the data. It chirped again, and a third time, then there was a soft beeping signal. They had received the data.
Quickly, she packed up her computer gear, sealed up the main pouch, then attached the battlepack to her armour.
"We got the codes, or some codes," Jim told John.
"Once I get this one set up we can enter them," Jim told his brother as he removed the casing from the core of the weapon. "Hello Mr. Plutonium."
"Now it's time to be careful."
"No kidding." He picked up the wirecutters from where they rested beside the casing. "I say after we finish up here we take a long vacation."
"We certainly deserve one." Jim moved in closer, helping his brother finish disarming the security charge.
"That's what I was thinking. I think that does it. Now, we just have to enter the codes."
"Here," Jim said, handing an E/O pad to John. "Find the codes for this one, I'll do the other, whoever finishes first gets the third one." He looked at his watch. "Say we set the timers for 18:25?"
John finished first, then turned his attention to the last of the weapons, linking a computer into it. He looked over the E/O pad, matching the weapon's serial number with the proper code. He entered the code, arming the weapon.
While John did that, Jim finished with his bomb. He did what he could to hide their work. After that, he removed a small signaling device, activating it. Now Diane and the others would know that the bombs would be going off in an hour, or sooner.
John stood. "Finished. Time to go."
Jim motioned to Roger. Roger moved quickly towards them. "Ready?" he asked.
"They go up in an hour, or sooner if we blow it by remote."
Roger looked at his watch. "Time to go." He turned and waved to the two security people. Once they were all together he sent one of the men ahead while the rest of them stayed together.
As they approached the airlock, John turned around, a small box in his hand. He pressed a button on it. It chirped twice, then beeped.
"What's was that?" Roger asked.
"Just activated a couple of extra features on those weapons. They cannot be disarmed now."
"Put a seismic trigger on it. You just get within three meters of it and it will probably blow," Jim told him.
"As well as several other triggers," John said.
"Everything is ready to go."
"No all we have to do is get out of here alive," Roger said.
Conaly looked down at the gyrojet rifle in his hand. He had taken it off one of the ODF soldiers when he had run out of ammunition for his own. It was not really to his liking, but it would suffice. He turned towards Diane, about to suggest they move on. He stopped when he saw the look on her face.
"You look out of it," he said.
"What? Sorry. Just wondering if Rooster would have done this."
"It's not important. I just don't feel much like a Marshal anymore."
"I know the feeling. It is necessary though."
She nodded. "Let's go."
Diane pushed herself away from the wall, then started walking down the hallway. They were in another centrifuge section, near the mekton bay that was their ultimate target. The alarms were still going off, lights flickered, sometimes a door would open for no reason. Emiko had told them she was going to crash the computer. That had been helping them, the base personnel could not use the interior sensors to find them. She assumed that was why no one had arranged serious opposition.
Ahead of her she saw motion. She dove to the right, both her pistols held out in front of her, waiting. Conaly shifted to the other side of the corridor, bringing the rifle up to his shoulder.
The squad of soldiers came into sight, no longer hidden by the curve of centrifuge. Neither of the Marshals fired. They waited, waited until the men facing them brought their weapons up. Perhaps they even waited, letting one of them fire first. It was hard to be certain. It did not really matter. The ODF soldiers were cut down, by Diane's precise shots, by the exploding micro missiles that Conaly put amidst them. In seconds it was over.
Diane waited a moment, then stood, ejecting the spent clips from her pistols. She reloaded quickly, then set off down the corridor. She walked through the dead and wounded men and women, taking a moment to look at each of them, at their faces. Conaly stopped for a moment, taking some ammunition off one of the men before continuing on.
A short time later they were out of the centrifuge, heading down the long corridor that would take them to the bay where the suits they needed were.
"What are we going to do if Emiko isn't there?" Conaly asked, bringing up the young woman for the first time since they had left her.
"I don't know," she said. "I just hope she is." She did not say the other things she was thinking, other worries.
They were getting closer to the mekton bay, the heavy doors that separated sections of the asteroid's interior would soon be in sight. She was beginning to feel a little nervous, or perhaps a little anxious. She grabbed a handhold, slowing her flight slightly. Looking over at Conaly, she could see he was looking a little concerned as well.
Both of them trusted their feelings. Too often it had saved their lives. Diane was not sure what it was. Perhaps a sound that her subconscious had picked up. Perhaps a scent. Maybe she just understood how people thought, what good defensive positions were.
When Diane saw that the door was partly open she stopped and looked at Conaly. "Another computer glitch?"
"I don't think so. Neither do you."
She nodded. "I'll send out an Eyespy," she told him, shifting her battlepack off so she could get the surveillance drone out. Conaly remained where he was, keeping watch.
A minute later the drone was flying down the corridor. Diane had to give a lot of concentration to the task, the drone had not been designed for to maneuver in micro and no gravity situations. She moved it forward slowly, reversing the fans to slow the drone. The audio sensors picked up sound of talking.
"A group is waiting. I think they know about our last dustup," she said softly.
"Not sure yet. Going to move the drone a bit closer."
A few seconds later the drone nudged forward, its camera just peeking around the door. Diane saw the soldiers there. Thirty of them.
"We've got thirty people there. They have cover, and weapons."
"What do you think?"
"Keep a watch," he told her. "I want to check something." <Emiko, where are you?> he sent.
There was nothing. He waited several seconds, beginning to feel worried, then, "I'm in the bay," she told him.
<The suit bay?>
<Can you get to entrance 2?>
"I think so. There were a lot of people in here, but they have left. There's only a few techs left here."
<That SMG of yours, do you have any ammunition left?>
"I just reloaded it," she told him. There was something in her tone that made it evident she was uncomfortable about that.
<Listen to me. I want you to move to Entrance 2. There are a group of men waiting in the temporary cargo storage area. I know that for sure. There might be others before that. If there are, you are not to engage them. Move back into hiding and we'll think of something else. If there are not, move as close as you can get without being seen. When you are in position, call me.>
"Hai," Emiko said.
<Go.> He turned to look at Diane.
"Can't be sure, but they don't look like people who have back up. They are in communication with their superiors. From the sound of things, I don't think they will be reinforced with any great speed once we hit them.
"Good. Emiko should be in position soon."
Diane nodded, fairly certain of what he was planning.
A short time later Emiko sent them a message, she was in place.
<Good,> Conaly sent. <Here's what you will do. When I tell you, you fire into the cargo area. Don't leave cover, just stick that weapon out and hose the area down. You don't have to hit anything. Keep it up for ten seconds, then move into cover as fast as you can. Do you understand?>
"Yes," she said.
<Good. Wait until I tell you.> He looked at Diane. "Ready?"
"Yes," she told him, taking her G-rifle from off her back.
Conaly pushed himself down the corridor, moving to the side so that the half closed door would shield him from the men waiting in that room. Diane came up behind him. When they got close to the door he looked back at her. She nodded. <Now,> he sent.
A moment later they heard the sound of the SMG. It had a high rate of fire, they did not hear individual shots so much as one, long, loud rumble. Diane counted quietly to herself. When she reached nine She kicked off the wall, hoping that Emiko was not counting slower than her.
She reached the opening a moment after the sound of Emiko's fire stopped. Her feet hit the wall, she bent her knees, absorbing the force. Inside the room all the soldiers were looking towards where the fire had come from.
Diane did not blame them. With all the rounds that had just come at them, they probably thought a small squad was about to show up. She brought her rifle up, fired off four rounds, then kicked back.
She had set the timers on each of the missiles, one of the benefits of being smart linked to them. When they were all in the center of the room they exploded. Diane felt the force of the blast wash over her.
<Go!> Conaly sent, kicking off towards the door. Diane followed him, leaving the rifle, pulling out her pistols. On the threshold of the door she spun about, putting her back towards Conaly. They passed through the room, back to back, shooting anything that moved.
Conaly reached the hallway the led to the bay first. He reached out, grabbing Diane, spinning her about, and thrusting her down the hall. He followed after her.
They found Emiko waiting close by, her weapon ready.
"Good to see you alive," Diane said. "Now let's go."
Conaly followed both of them. He pulled out a signaling device and activated it.
When Roger got the signal from the Marshals he sent out a call to the Sloop John B. Tern came in fast, bringing his ship down very close to them. The small group crossed the short distance between them and the ship, boarding it. As soon as they were in, Tern left the surface, moving quickly away from where the sensors might have picked him up. He set course for the other side of the asteroid.
Conaly slid into the cockpit of the Viggen, quickly strapping himself into the seat. From his battlepack he removed a small scanner, passing it over the controls. A moment later a green light lit up. As he held the scanner steady a set of low power lasers burnt an X into the console.
He shut the scanner off, tossed it aside, then removed a overload rod from the battlepack. He held the rod over the X, then pressed a button on the end. The tip began to glow with heat, after a few seconds it was nearly white hot.
He pushed it down into the console, watching a set of lights on the end of the rod. When a green light flashed he stopped pushing and twisted the upper handle.
Conaly turned his face away from the shower of sparks that resulted. A moment later the suit began to come to life around him. He had burnt out the security system, as well as half of the com suite and the targeting controls. Not the best way to steal a suit, but it was fast.
Diane was already moving towards the huge elevators that would move them out into space-Emiko was in the head cockpit of the suit. Conaly followed her, noting that the people in the bay were finally beginning to take notice of what was happening. They were to late to do anything.
Once they were outside of the asteroid, it did not take them long to join up with Tern. Then they passed through the mine field. The suit's IFF transmitters, which were thankfully still working, protected them all.
"We'll be shunting soon," Roger said, looking at his watch.
John nodded, then removed the remote he had used before.
"Who presses it?" Jim asked.
"Rock, paper, scissors?" John suggested.
The other people in the ship's salon watched as the twins spent almost a minute trying to outthink the other. Finally Jim won, his scissors beating John's paper.
"Have fun." John gave the remote to Jim.
He waited for several minutes. Twenty seconds before Tern activated the ship's shunt drive-the two Viggens were clinging to the side of the ship-he pressed the button.
The three nuclear weapons in the bay of the cheetah went up. The ship ceased to exist. The cave it was berthed in held out a little longer, but that longer time was hardly noticeable. The blast spread out across the surface of the asteroid. It destroyed ships as it passed.
Considering the size of the asteroid, the blast did little real damage. It did do what is was supposed to. The Kirin's armour held out against the blast for almost a second, but then it was gone. The interior of the ship was ripped apart in the blink of the eye.
Then the blast was spent, the energy dissipating out into space.
There was a celebratory mood onboard the Thunderclap. It was not a riotous party mood, but the people did feel that they had succeeded.
Diane was not caught up in it. She was still thinking about what she had done. She was also thinking about Emiko. She looked over the girl's gear. Her armour had taken some hits, small chips and cracks in the material. She had take a few hits. Stupid girl, she thought.
She had used most of the SMG's ammunition. Not too surprising. It was a good weapon to use when you wanted people to keep their heads down while you ran. The automatic had also seen some use. Obviously she had wanted some more precise fire.
Diane sighed softly, placing the weapons aside. She hoped Emiko was all right. She could not really help her, the girl would have to deal with it herself.
"Marshal Vichy," one of the Charybdis called to her.
"We got a message from Juan. He wants you and Emiko to meet him on Solingen as soon as possible."
"Really?" Diane said, feeling a little surprised. "Well, I guess I better go. Can we get transport?"
"We have a small shuttle waiting. We're going to have to leave soon. You'll have to arrange some way to get back on your own, but that shouldn't be too difficult."
"Well, let's go."
Closing Credits - Same as before.
"We're here in the Engineering section of the USS Enterprise.
We have replaced the fine Dilithium crystals they usually use
with folgers crystals. Let's see what happens.
Shawn Hagen <firstname.lastname@example.org>
On to Chapter 23