A Story of the Starblade Battalion

"I really could have done without this."

Episode 23 (2180.08.13)
by Shawn Hagen (1997)


Starblade Battalion is the Property of R.Talsorian Games.Games.

Opening Credits - Same as before.

Albert Knox looked over the reports that had come in. The nuclear weapons that had been marked for the strike on Earth were destroyed, along with about twelve ships, and some minor damage to the asteroid.

Valuable materials had been destroyed, lives had been lost, and plans made by the board of directors had been thwarted. He doubted it would be possible to free up the weapons that they needed to attack Earth, the other members of the board would not allow it, not this time.

It would make him look weak in some ways, undermine his position. It might lead some of the other members to try to wrest his seat from him.

He was going to have to deal with the Battalion, and he did not doubt they had been behind the raid. He was going to have to end their threat. There were other things he would have to do to strengthen his position. There were many who wanted it.

That thought led him to Barnabas Richter. It was strange that the Richter family had put him on the board to vote their shares. He had been serving successfully on the board of planetary directors. Why move him.

He leaned back in his chair, happy to have something else to occupy his thoughts. He had thought that Barnabas was going to challenge Rydecker for the position. Perhaps that was the problem. The Richter family were smart, they knew the games as well as anyone else. Fighting within the board at this time would help no one, perhaps it would even harm those in power.

An offer of power, not the president of the board, but chairman of Solingen might have been enough to make him shift his desires. Or, it might be a feint, make him look one way while the real attack came from another direction.

Albert smiled. He enjoyed a challenge. The times were dangerous on many levels, but in a way that just made things more interesting.

"Come in," Juan said as he opened the door of his apartment.

"So, why did you want us here?" Diane asked as she entered the apartment.

"I've made a number of interesting discoveries."

"In relation to the things that have been happening?" she asked as she walked into the living room. Behind her Emiko took off her shoes before entering the apartment proper.

"Yes," Juan told her as he closed the door. "We can talk, no listening devices."

"So what exactly is it?"

"Come with me, it will be better if I show you."

They followed Juan into his office. His computer was running. He sat down in front of the computer and placed his right hand on the half-globe. The computer's screen changed as he entered several commands. "This is a listing of the stockholders in Solingen, who owns how much."

"Okay," Diane said, looking at the names and the percentage they owned. Only people or groups who owned one percent or more were directly listed. Anyone who owned less than that was grouped together with no names given.

"Now, take a look at this, these are the voting results in relation to some plan twelve years ago." On the screen the names came up again, showing how they had voted and the percentage. Juan had used a bar graph to illustrate the information. The bars were colour coded, a different colour for each of the stockholders.

"I don't get it," Diane said.

Juan looked over at Emiko.

"I don't understand either."

"Nothing to understand yet. Now, according to the bylaws of Solingen GmbH, to be one the board of directors requires that you control four percent or more of the voting shares. If you control less than that, you can vote your shares as you choose, but the process if rather difficult. As a result almost everyone of those minor holders simply choose someone on the board to proxy vote their shares."

"Are those shares important?" Emiko asked.

"Vital. Often, with the way loyalties are split amongst the board, it comes down to half a percent one way or another. You scrape up a percent worth of proxy votes, you can often turn things in your favour. Several board members often spend a lot of time getting what support they can. Now, let me just mark out the proxy shares." Bands of pink were added to all the other bands. In some cases they were so thin it was hard to even see them.

"Aren't the result of votes secret?" Diane asked.

"In theory. Many times the board members tag their votes so everyone knows who voted for what. They are making a statement. Once you have a few of those you can figure out who owns what shares. Now, this was twelve years ago. Let's move forward in time." On the screen, more of the illustrations flashed, the date above them. Emiko and Diane watched, wondering what point Juan was trying to make.

"Wait," Emiko said after a moment. "That large section of pink, what does that mean?"

"It means that Albert Knox is proxy voting around seven percent of the stock."

"Seven percent?" Diane said. "Is that possible?"

"Possibly, once in a while, but not consistently, which is what he has achieved over the past ten years. That is interesting, but not as interesting as the pattern which emerges. Watch, these are records of how voting went, starting ten years ago, moving forward." The screen displayed more of the illustrations, in all of them the royal blue bar that represented Albert's stock was paired with the large pink bar. "Now, this is about six month into the deal. The board was considering using force to deal with a small SAC task force that was being a little annoying. Mr. Knox voted against it, as did the votes he controlled by proxy. Now, this is the result of a vote a day later."

The illustration showed Albert's stock alone, the large pink section was instead paired with a dark green bar. "That's the stock controlled by the Richter family. That seven percent continues to be voted by the Richter family for five weeks. This was not good for Mr. Knox."

"They punished him," Diane said.

"Exactly. Now, after five weeks, the shares were back under Knox's control, and remained that way for five months, until a vote concerning a very large and very obvious military build up. Knox voted against it, and the next day those shares were voting with the Richter's again."

"So what is going on here?" Diane asked him.

"Knox is your best bet to control Solingen. He controls the largest chunk of it. He and he alone. No families or consortiums or investment groups. Get him on your side, and Solingen does what you want. Easier said than done though.

"He's a crafty man, one who uses people and is not used, but he has a flaw. He wants power. A large chunk of voting power, just given to him, he'd find it hard to resist. Still, he's not easily used, you can see by how often he votes contrary to what the other person wants. It took them a while to get him to come into line with what they wanted."

"What did they want?" Emiko asked.

"War between Earth and the colonies. You can tell by what sort of votes they came to disagreement over with Knox. I'm sure he was willing to fight this war, if it came down to it, but I suspect he would have rather avoided it. Faraday just provided a spark for this war, sooner than most would have wanted it. Without this group, whomever they are, pushing for it, barring an incident such as Faraday, it would have been ten years before things came to blows.

"In ten years the colonies would be that much stronger, have that much more support arranged, and I think Earth would have been less likely to go to war."

"The Midnight Sun is behind it," Diane said.

"Likely. Had Knox not resisted them so much in the first place, a war situation would have been reached a few years ago."

"So why did Knox-san change his way of voting?" Emiko asked.

"He's a tough man, but even he has his limits. He probably could not have afforded to loose that seven percent. He had let himself be backed into a corner. I bet you he's not forgiven himself for it either."

"That doesn't help the people on Earth who would have died," Emiko said.

"I'm not saying he's innocent, just thinking out loud about his motives."

"So, the Midnight Sun has a way of controlling Solingen. I assume you have a way to stop this?" Diane asked Juan.

"That's why I had Emiko come along. We need to find the owner of this stock and remove them from the picture."

"Sounds vaguely illegal," Diane said.

"More than vaguely."

"Wait," Emiko interrupted. "If they have a way to exert some control over the Solingen Board of Directors, what about the Gaian Inner Circle?"

Diane looked at Juan. Juan shrugged his shoulder. "I never gave it much thought. I'm not sure how they could do it, from what we know about the circle. Still, it might be something worth looking into. Later though. Right now I need you to hunt down the owner of that stock." Juan stood up, leaving the chair for Emiko. "This is your specialty."

Emiko crossed the room, then took a seat at the computer.

The center of the room was brightly illuminated. So brightly it put the edges into dark shadow. Pipes and conduits covered much of the ceiling, the floor was plain concrete, a little damp.

Ryu stood on the boundary of the shadow. In the shadow, barely discernible, were man shaped figures. Ryu stepped into the darkness, grabbing one of the figures, pulling him out into the light. The man was tall, looking to be middle aged. His face was marked by scars, one of them pulled his lip up so it looked as if he was sneering. His hands were cuffed behind him.

"I won't tell you anything," he said to Ryu, the hate he felt clearly indicated by his tone. "I'll see you dead first. You don't realize the mistake you have made."

Ryu stared at him for a moment. "The Charybdis do not frighten me. I know you will not tell me anything. That is your purpose here. You keep quiet, and I kill you."

One hand bunched in the collar of the man's ship suit, Ryu's other drew out a log knife. He stabbed it forward into the man's abdomen, low, just above his crotch. The man managed not to scream, but he could not contain a grunt.

Shifting his hand from the man's collar to his belt, Ryu pushed him over backwards, holding him up so his head was low. The man, with a knife in his abdomen, and his hands cuffed behind him, could do nothing.

Ryu put his hand back on the knife and began pushing it down, towards the man's head. With the blood pooling in his head, he was less likely to die right away. Ryu continued pushing the knife, the thick smell of the blood and shit seeming not to affect him. The man tried not to scream, tried to hold it in, but when Ryu began to slowly saw the serrated edge of the knife into the man's ribs, then he began to scream.

The man finally stopped screaming when Ryu had the blade half way up his rib cage. He continued cutting for a minute more, then, satisfied the man was indeed dead, he released the man's body, letting him drop, the knife still in his chest.

Wiping his hands on his shirt, Ryu turned around, looking into the dark shadow. He stepped forward, there was a click, then another, then the sound of a scuffle. A woman, dressed similarly to the man, was pushed out into the light. She stumbled over the body of the man and almost fell. By the time she had her feet steadily under her, Ryu was beside her. He grabbed her and pulled her close.

She was a young woman, probably in her mid twenties. A ball gag was in her mouth, the straps that went behind her head were pulled so tight that Ryu could see them press deeply into the flesh of her face.

"Tell me what I want to know and I won't hurt you," he said.

She simply stared anger at him.

"Will you tell me?"

Nothing from her. Ryu slapped her hard enough that her head snapped around. He bunched both hands in the material around her neck and gave her a shake. "Will you tell me?" His voice was perfectly calm. "I don't want to hurt you, but I will."

Again she did not respond and again he slapped her. He repeated the process five more times before he got a muffled response from her, probably a curse he guessed. He looked at her, noting the saliva and blood that was running out of her mouth from around the gag. "Will you tell me what I want to know. All you have to say is yes."

Again, a muffled reply.

"Why must you make it so hard on yourself?" he asked her, his voice taking on a kind tone. Then he pushed her back and punched her. She fell backward, ending up in the puddle of blood from the first man.

"Tell me something," Ryu said, walking to stand above her. "Tell me anything intelligible and I'll stop this."

It sounded like she screamed at him. The saliva and blood around her mouth bubbled.

Ryu shook his head then kicked her, snapping two ribs.

He was methodical in his work, keeping her in pain, on the edge of blacking out, but not letting her pass that threshold. Of course he knew there were limits to the woman's stamina, but he was ready for that. When she passed out he took a zinger from his pocket and gave her a cocktail shot of stimulants and trauma drugs.

"Are you going to tell me something?" he asked her as he straightened, putting the zinger back in his pocket.

Her soft reply was muffled.

"I wish you would not make me do this," he told her, then drove his foot down onto her kneecap. The sound of bone breaking was loud in the room.

He kept her alive for almost an hour more before she finally expired. He guessed it was a mix of massive internal bleeding, shock, and perhaps pure willpower.

He turned away from her body and walked towards the final figure. That one had been making noise, trying to break his bonds since Ryu had started on the woman. Ryu released the bracket that held him to the wall then dragged the young man out into the light. He had a wild, disheveled look about him. His ship suit was stained around the crotch, a sign of his fear.

Ryu forced him to look at the two bodies, then pulled him up straight and tore a strip of silver duct tape from his mouth.

"You bastard!" he screamed, his eyes full of tears.

Ryu hit him in the stomach, folding him over. "listen to me," Ryu said, pulling the young man up straight. "I'm going to kill you. I have to. We are at war. We are both soldiers. You would kill me if I did not kill you." His voice was calm, there was no anger in it.

"I wouldn't," he cried.

Ryu slapped him. "Don't lie. Now, you are going to die. You're two friends showed you how hard one can die, and if you make me, I'll kill you in a much slower and painful way. I'd rather not do that, but if I have to I will. Tell me everything I need to know and you will die quick, without pain."

He stared at Ryu for a moment, then suddenly he fell forward, his strength gone. Ryu held him up. Crying, he began to talk, telling Ryu all he needed to know.

"Nearly done?" Diane asked.

"Almost. Emiko got most of the work done. Now I just have to run these search routines she made up." Juan looked over at Emiko. She was sitting up against the wall, asleep. Her hair fell forward, partially covering her face. "What's up with her?"

"Not my place to say," Diane told him.

"So, what's up with you?"

Diane looked at him for a moment, then turned away. "Illegal entry. Break and enter. Trespassing. Assault with deadly weapons." She waved a hand. "Grand theft."

"Well," Juan said, not sure what to say. Then he smiled. "If you want, I can give you a reference for my lawyer. She is the best."

Diane turned to look at him. She smiled. "Blow Torch Belinda?"

"Don't call her Blow Torch to her face."

"Maybe I'll take you up one the offer."

"Good. Now, let's see what is going on," he told her, turning his attention back to his computer.

His name was Klark Myers. He was nondescript man who lived in a nondescript apartment in the city of New Berlin. He was making himself a cup of tea when he heard a knock at his door. Putting the kettle aside, he turned and walked from the small kitchenette and into the entry hall. He opened the door, coming face to face with a young woman. She looked familiar, but he was not quite sure why.

"Excuse me sir," she said. "I here collecting donations for the ODF war fund."


"We are collecting money in order to help support the ODF. I am aware that you pay taxes so are already supporting the ODF, but we are hoping people will be willing to put forth other funds. Your donation is completely tax deductible."

"I see. How would I make this donation?"

"Well, the way we prefer is for you to simply transfer your funds," she held out a small finance pad.

"I guess I could spare some money for such an important cause," he reached out for the finance pad.

Suddenly someone grabbed him from behind, pulling him back quickly. Something went over his eyes and a ball like object was forced into his mouth. It all happened so fast he did not fight. By the time he thought to fight he could not. He could not call out as the ball in his mouth had grown in size, gagging him.

He felt someone scratching hard at his forehead, heard his door close. The hand scratching at his forehead began to pull the false skin up.

"Midnight Sun," a voice said.

Nothing he could do about it, he realized. He had hoped to serve longer, but what he had done was enough. It was time to go.

"Damn," Diane said, the monitor on the gag had begun to beep. "He's dying." She pulled a zinger from her pocket and gave him a shot.

"Anything?" Juan asked from behind her.

"No, he's still going. It's always like this."

"Some sort of cybernetic poison system."

"That is what we think. We have not yet found a way to counter it, and there is nothing there on autopsy. We figure that the system is taken apart by nanites even as the person is dying." She shook her head.

"Come on Emiko," Juan said. "Let' go see what we can find out."

Emiko looked at the dead body laid out on the floor in front of her, then up at Juan. She nodded.

"I'll put the body in the bathroom," Diane said as she grasped the corpse under the armpits and dragged it off.

Emiko followed Juan through the apartment until they found a computer in the bedroom. Emiko took a seat in front of the computer, then reached into her bag and began removing the components of her hacking computer. Once she had everything set up she went to work.

"I'm going to have to take a look around," Emiko said a few minutes later.

"Need to get a feeling for Mr. Myers?"

She nodded. "It might help me figure out his passwords."

"How long do you think it will take?"

"An hour. Maybe three. It isn't an incredibly secure system, but the set up is a mess." She got to her feet and began to walk around the bedroom, looking at things. Juan took a seat on the bed. A short time later Diane looked in, told Juan she'd watch out front, then left.

Emiko spent twenty minutes looking through the apartment, then returned to the computer and went to work. It took her a little more than two hours to completely peel the system.

"Okay, I think I have it figured out," she told Juan.

"Tell me what you think." He moved close to her. Diane-who had returned when she realized nothing was going to happen-also moved closer.

"The stock is scattered, all over the place. While Myers-san owns, owned, all of it, he did not let it show. He controlled it all from here."

"Can you centralize it?"

"Yes," Emiko said.

"Do it."

Emiko nodded. A few seconds later she looked up. "It's done."

"Likely someone has noticed that. We have to work fast. Transfer all the funds from Solingen Central Bank, account number SC17392BB22, authorization code 'Aphrodite', to Mr. Myers account. The purpose of which is for the purchase of stock."

"Done," Emiko said.

"Okay, now, you'll have to enter the Solingen GmbH central records computer. Just use Mr. Myers codes."

Emiko went to work. A short time later she was in. "Now what."

"Transfer of stock title. Mr. Myers stock is now owned by Emiko Miya."

Emiko had half the information entered when she suddenly realized what he was doing. "What?"

"We don't have time. Just do it."

Emiko looked at him, then went back to work. Once she had given it her name, more information was requested. Her date of birth, place of birth, parents names, family members names, chronological listing of residence. The more information she gave it, the more information the system produced on its own. All she had to do was confirm it. Finally she was finished and just had to enter a series of pass codes.

"Done," Emiko said.

"Good. Wipe that computer's memory and let's go."

Emiko did as she was told then gathered up her things, putting them into the bag. Once she had everything packed away she followed Diane and Juan from the apartment.

They made their way to the parking lot, got into their car, then left.

"Why did you give it to me," Emiko asked Juan.

"Because if I had given it to myself Marshal Sharp would have had to arrest me for theft."

"I would have too," Diane said.

"Plus, the fact that you have it will scare the hell out of them."

"They'll just take it away from me."

"You'd think that wouldn't you. Then can't though. You own it legally, no matter how you got it. You got a great deal as well. You paid fractions of a penny on the dollar, as they used to say. You own it, by the corporate by laws they can't take it from you. They can't even exclude you from board meetings, thought I don't advise you to go to one. They can't deny you information either."

"They have to tell me what they are doing?"

"If you request it."

"That's insane."

"Every one of the major players who set up Solingen GmbH were terribly afraid one of the their co-founders would do them dirty. They protected themselves by simply saying that if you owned stock you always owned it and no one could hide information to you. I bet they never thought that it would come back and bite them."

"But it was stolen," Diane felt the need to point out.

"Do you think Solingen will want to go public with the fact that the Midnight Sun had control over that much of their stock? If they try to bring the criminal courts into this, that will come out."

"What am I supposed to do with seven point two percent of Solingen stock?" Emiko asked.

"Anything you want. Your net worth has increased by quite significant amount. For now though you will help us keep up on what Solingen is planning and voting your stock to aide the Battalion."

"What if they change their corporate laws?" Diane asked.

"Never do it. Once a precedent is set up it is bad news. They'll do all they can to roadblock Emiko, but they cannot just cut her out of the loop."

"I really could have done without this," Emiko said.

"Tough," Juan smiled.

The mines of Mars were well known throughout human settled space. Huge shafts, dug deep into the red soil. From the main shaft of these mines, hundreds of secondary shafts, perpendicular to the main shaft, branched off.

On other planets, like Earth, such mines would have caused incredible damage to the ecology. Mars was not like Earth. The dead, dry ecology hardly noticed the effects of the mines.

Maria Chang-the General Administrator of Bradbury city-lead Carter Jones through the upper shafts of the largest mine near her city. The upper levels were given over to such tours. While the rock was still rich in minerals, the rock at the lower levels was even richer.

The two of them walked along the mine shaft, talking shop. Both Luna and Mars lived by their mines and both of them had learned all they could of mining.

Carter looked around, noting that none of the other people with them were that close. "Got any opinions on the Battalion," he asked her.

"A few."


"Better than I have about certain other organizations."

"Feel like helping."

"Depends. I don't want to put my people in danger."

"I don't think that will happen. I've talked to a few people and it seems the Battalion might be in need of materials. Metals and such."

"I see. How do we move it?"


"Makes sense," she smiled. "This is a big risk. Are you doing it because it is right or because you are pissed off about what they did to Tess?"

"Good question."

"Got a good answer?"

"Maybe both."

She shook her head. "I'm in. This Inner Circle I hear about worries me a little, or perhaps a lot. I still deal with the rabid, fanatical Gaians that make our lives so enjoyable. Damaging the ecology of Mars," she snorted. "Next time I hear that I'm kicking them out, naked, into the ecology of Mars."

"You always say that," Carter laughed.

"Perhaps this time I'll actually do it."

"Perhaps you will. Can you have a load ready to go in about a week?"

"How much?"

"Twenty thousand tons of high grade hull quality metal."

She laughed. "I could probably loose thirty."

"We only have space for twenty."

"You'll have it."


"What do you plan to do if you get caught?"

"I have a number of defense and escape plans worked out. I've also arrange some ways to help you as well."

"Kind of you."

"I always look out for my friends."

While Thunder Blade had went off to deal with a minor problem, Team 6, which was missing almost half of its members anyway, returned to the Alincourt Shoal.

Soon after the Sloop John B. had docked, the remaining members of Team 6 were head hunted into various jobs that needed to be done.

Ree found herself in the Nebula Works spinner, approaching the workshops that Tess Belin's design team occupied. The entire workshop section was a high security agency and Ree had an escort with her. The woman opened the secure doors and led Ree though the corridors.

They finally reached Tess' main workshop, the woman opened the door to the large room, stepping aside so Ree could enter first. Ree entered, noting all the work that was going on. In the middle of the room was the suit, a fast, dangerous looking design. Ree had heard a lot of rumors about it, but she was not sure if she should believe them.

When she looked away from the suit in the middle of the room she saw there were three other suits, in different stages of assembly around the room. It took her a moment to spot Tess. The woman was talking with two people, a younger man and an older woman. Ree set off across the room, towards them.

Tess saw her coming, said something to the people she had been talking to, then turned and walked towards Ree. They met in the middle of the room, standing under the Arrow.

"I'm glad you could come Miss Maxil," Tess said.

"No problem, call me Ree."

"Then call me Tess."

"So, what is it you want Tess?"

"I need a test pilot. I need someone to push the Arrow as hard as it can be pushed, to shake out all the problems, to find out just what it can do. For that, I need the best."

Ree smiled and looked up at the Arrow. "I'll do it."

Tess smiled. "Then let's talk."

Epiphany looked over the data that she had been given. The man across from her was looking a little uncomfortable, trying not to be obvious in the fact he was staring at her. Epiphany was used to such things, she could guess what he was thinking. He was trying to decide if she was really a man.

She had been dealing with such people for a long time and it no longer really bothered her, well, not too much.

"Light Wing, what type of suits do they have?" she asked him.

"What? Oh, sorry. They are using modified civilian suits. When the front line teams start to get the new suits, their military suits will be rotated back here. At least that's the plan."

Epiphany nodded as she made a few notes. "Ree, you owe me," she said softly.

"Pardon ma'am?"

"Nothing," Epiphany smiled at him. She watched as a number of emotions quickly crossed his face, joy, discomfort, others. She felt a little sorry for him. "I was just hoping the Lieutenant Maxil is enjoying herself while I do her work. Why haven't Mr. Gentry's teams been assigned to security?"

"Well," he said, sounding uncomfortable. "I tried to tell him and..."

"I see."

"Honest ma'am, I did try."

"I'm sure you did." Epiphany sighed. "Take these notes and see that everything is implemented," she told him, handing him an E/O pad. "After that get me a report on our supply situation as it relates to fighters and suits."

"Yes ma'am."

"Dismissed," Epiphany told him. She smiled slightly as she watched how fast he left. Then she shook her head and stood. There was still a lot of work to do.

She smoothed out her skirt, then grabbed her flight jacket from a hook on her door. The Battalion had yet to adopt any sort of uniform, but amongst the pilots a common flight jacket was emerging.

It was cut in the age old design, made from ankadillo hide, and very comfortable due to the lining, some sort of silk like material. On the left sleeve was the Starblade Battalion Patch, the design stolen from Captain Redding's ship marker. On the right were the separate Blade patches. Thunder Blades was a picture of Zeus, the Greek god of thunder. Below that was the team patch. In Epiphany's case that was a patch with just a six on it. While Ree was not impressed with the name, Epiphany liked it.

She pulled on the jacket and left the small office she had been assigned and went off in search of Commander Gentry.

Finding him took a little work. He was not in his office, nor was he with his men-who were working on their suits. She finally fond him in one of the bars that had sprung up on the spinner since it had become occupied.

The 'Clear Floor' was literally named. The floor was perfectly transparent, below the patrons feet was space. The rotation of the toroid gave those who could deal it a panoramic view of the system.

Epiphany stepped off the raised walkway onto the floor and walked to where Dom Gentry was seated. He was a large man, over two meters, a chest like a barrel. She had heard it said that he could barely fit into his suit's cockpit. She had also heard he had a propensity for violence.

"Commander Gentry," she said as she closed on his table.

He looked up at her, a hint of a smile on his face. "Miss Clarris," he said, stress 'Miss' slightly. "I wonder," he paused. "Do you think the pilots who occasionally set up underneath this bar, using those oh so powerful military grade sensor suites to look up women's skirts are disappointed or shocked when you come in here?"

Epiphany smiled. As an insult it hardly rated, she had heard much worse. "I'd say neither. Do you mind if I join you?"

"Please. Would you like something to drink?" He raised his hand to attract the attention of a waiter.

"Just water. I'm on duty."

"So am I. A glass of water for the lady," he told the waiter. "Now, what is it you want?" he asked her.

"I need your teams for system security."

"Do you now? That will be rather hard, seeing as my teams will be forming Red Blade in short order. Our main ship is being tested right now."

"I've had to cancel those orders."

"Pardon?" His tone took on a slight edge.

"We need to have this area of space secured more than we need to have a new blade. It has fallen on me to arrange security when it comes to suits."

"We're not a bunch of, sit around on our asses, security pilots."

Epiphany said nothing for a moment. She stared at him and sipped at the water the waiter had brought. "You are now."

He stood up suddenly, upsetting his drink. "Do you think I have to take this from some okama swish?" He looked ready to do violence.

Epiphany took another sip of her water, then looked up at him, smiling. "My orders come directly from Captain Redding, as well as others. I have carefully considered this and chosen the best option." She got to her feet. "If you have a problem you can go up the chain of command and state your complaint."

"Or maybe I can deal with it right now," he told her, leaning across the table, putting his face directly in front of hers.

"Perhaps," Epiphany said, seeming unfazed by the implied threat of violence. "That won't change anything though."

"It will make me feel better."

"Then by all means."

He stared at her for several seconds, something expectant in his eyes. She simple met his stare, unblinking.

Dom dropped back into his seat. "How long?"

"Two months, at the most. After that you will be able to form your Blade."

"You guarantee that?"

"As long as they follow my plan, and it they don't, then perhaps you won't be put on security at all."

"Good enough," he said. He looked at his drink, noticing it had spilled.

"I'll leave you now," she told him, turning and walking towards the exit. She was just near the stairs when she turned around. "Oh, Commander," she called out.

"What?" he looked away from the waiter he was talking to.

"You're cute when you are angry." That said she turned around and started up the stairs.

Dom stared at her back as she left the bar. Without looking at the waiter he said, "Wipe that smile off your face or I'll rip it off."

The waiter quickly stopped smiling.

In the prison warrens of Goal the heat was oppressive. The surface temperature of the planet was 110 degrees Celsius. While huge banks of heat exchangers cooled the warrens, they caverns were still hot and humid. The air was stale, and there was a constant sound of dripping water.

The prisoners worked as little as they had to, though the task of staying alive demanded almost constant attention. They slept much of the time, the heat sapping energy from them. Few of them had any hope of ever being released, their sentences much too long. Most hoped that escape might be possible, but few truly believed it.

Escaping the warrens would only get them to the surface of the planet. The heat and the carbon-dioxide atmosphere would kill them soon enough. Huge surface turrets kept any unauthorized ship far from the complex. No, escape was impossible, but it was the only hope that many of them had to keep them going.

When the low banging sound began to sound throughout the corridors and cells it had an immediate effect. Prisoners stopped what they were doing, woke up, all of them simply listening for a moment.

A ship was coming in.

Many of them began to make their way towards the huge assembly hall at the entrance of the prison complex. They had no idea what was going to happen but anything was better than the monotony of their normal existence.

Colonel Chronus DeViers exited the airlock, stepping into what was called the reception area of the prison. It was a clean, comfortable area, mostly empty, with a few pieces of furniture. The reception area was used only a little. As comfortable as it was, most of the people who came to Goal, who were not prisoners, preferred to spend time on their ships.

"Are we ready?" he called out.

"Sir," one of his Sergeants came up to him. "We're ready to go."

"Then let's begin," he said, walking across the room towards the huge, heavy door that separated the reception area from the prison. A group of NCO's were gathered around the door stations, using the cameras within the prison to see what was going on.

"Around a thousand have gathered in the assembly hall," the Sergeant told him.

"Let them know we are coming," DeViers said, moving so he could see one of the screens.

Inside the assembly hall a set of flashing lights came on. The prisoners began moving back, beyond an area of floor marked with a red and white field, three meters wide. Armoured panels slid back, the barrels of heavy machine guns slid out of the walls.

"Open the door," he ordered.

The door, actually three separate gates, opened slowly, each gate opening completely before the next one opened. Chronus suppressed a smile. The door opened slowly, but it could close instantly. Whoever had designed it had been very melodramatic.

When the door was completely open the NCO's began moving in, first a security detail, then the others followed, carrying wall units, shower units and other things.

Chronus watched the prisoners on the screen, watched their reactions to what was happening. They would be curious. What they were seeing was unprecedented. He took control of one of the cameras, panning it across the faces. On some he saw a look of hope. He made note of those faces.

"Sir," the Sergeant called. "We're ready."

"Good," he strode forward, passing through the doorway into the prison. There was a breeze at his back, positive pressure was maintained in the reception area. He guessed it was to keep the smell out. Once he was in the prison, the small flow of air made little difference. The air stank with the scent of unwashed bodies, and other things. He steeled himself to it and walked forward.

He passed by the wall units that had been set up, and the soldiers, finally stopping just behind the security line. He looked the prisoners over, seeing them at close range. They were dirty. Some showed obvious hurts. Some looked like they were near starving. A small part of him felt a little pity for them, but he pushed that down. Prisoners in Goal had no rights.

A low screech sounded as the PA system came on. The prisoners looked around, unsure of what was going on. Chronus gave them a few seconds to wonder before speaking.

"I am Colonel DeViers of the ODF," his voice came from the speakers around the room. "I am here to make a simple offer. Your freedom for your service." He stopped and gave what he had said a chance to sink it.

"What do you mean..." a man called out as he stepped forward, into the red and white field. Several machine guns swung about, tracking him. He jumped back immediately, knocking some of the people behind him over.

"The ODF is at war. We need bodies," Chronus continued. "We need soldiers. Shock troops. Cannon fodder. What I offer you is death. A clean death though. Not spending the rest of your life, rotting away in these tunnels. A chance to be clean, and well fed, and to regain a bit of your dignity. For the few of you who might survive this, you will have your freedom.

"Those of you who would like to leave this place, who can be useful to us, will be inducted into the ODF, you will become part of the Chain Fleet. Those of you who have no interest in freedom, you may go now." He looked at all of the people in the front row, then turned and walked back the way he had come, crossing half the distance before stopping. The Security people went with him.

A group of soldiers brought forth several tables, chairs, computers, and other things. He took a seat behind one, several other officers moved in, taking seats behind the other tables. He looked across the room at them.

"We will shut off the sentry guns in a moment," he called out, his voice no longer amplified by the PA, but carrying through the hall none the less. "You will approach in groups of five, no more. You will approach when you are told. If you are to be soldiers, than you must have discipline. If you do not have discipline you will be useless to us. Five, no more."

He nodded to the Sergeant. A moment later the guns retracted into their storage cavities, the heavy doors closing over them. The flashing lights went out.

"First group," the Sergeant bellowed.

Much as had been expected, a large group of prisoners surged across the space, trying to be the first. The security detail opened up on them, killing several, forcing them back over the line. When it was over only five prisoners stood on the side of the band the soldiers were on.

"I suggest you organize yourself so this does not happen again," Chronus said, then to the five on his side of the red and white field. "Approach."

They looked at each other, then back at the mass of prisoners behind them, and the bodies lying on the ground. Then they moved slowly forward.

A young man came to stand in front Chronus. He was tall, and thin, though through the rips of his clothing Chronus could see wiry muscles. He was dirty and smelled, but he did not let his distaste show. "ID," Chronus said.

The man put out his right arm, showing the bar code that had been Tattooed onto his forearm. Chronus waved a scanner over it. Information began to come up on his computer.

"Edward Lis," he said, looking at the young man.

"Ya," he said.

"Yes sir," Chronus snapped.

"Yes sir!"

"Six homicides."

"Yes sir."

For a moment Chronus regarded the man, then entered a few commands concerning his disposition. Shock troop. He expected most of the prisoners to be set up a suicide troops. "Corporal," Chronus said.

"Yes sir!" one of the Corporals moved forward.

"Take Private Lis to get looked at, then move him onto transport three."

"Yes sir! This way!" he shouted at Edward.

Edward hesitated. The Corporal took a baton from his belt and hit Edward across the shoulders. "I said this way maggot," he screamed at him.

Edward quickly moved off.

Chronus waited while the other officers finished off their work. Three more were sent on, one was sent back. Chronus watched the man walk slowly back towards the other prisoners. He walked like a broken man. To give them hope, then snatch it away. Again, Chronus felt pity well up in him. His job was not easy.

He looked to the Sergeant.

"Next group!" the Sergeant bellowed.

This time only five crossed. They had some discipline, Chronus noted.

They did two more groups, this time all of them being accepted. Looking at the results the Colonel was pleased to note three of their new recruits actually had useful skills.

When the next group approached the process was repeated. Chronus ran his scanner over the man's arm and then read the information the came up on the screen.

He looked up at the man, then over at one of the men on the security team and nodded. The Soldier brought up his rifle and shot the prisoner. Chronus watched as the man stumbled backward, then fell.

The hall had gone quiet.

"There are some crimes that we will not overlook," he said.

As he watched the group of prisoners he noted several moved away, heading back into the warrens. He looked back to his computer, taking note of the people that they were getting. A short time later the Sergeant called for the next group of prisoners. Chronus only looked up when he heard someone come to a stop in front of him.

He looked up, a little surprised to see a woman in front of him. She was average height, perhaps even pretty, though it was hard to tell with all the dirt on her.

"ID," he said.

She held out her arm, he scanned the tattoo.

"Magadine Coral?"

"Yes sir. Sir I prefer Visin, it is my maiden name."

"You cut up your husband."

"Yes sir. Into little pieces sir."


"Someone had to sir," she sad matter of factly.

He looked at her record, and up at her again. For a woman to survive as well as she had in the prison complex said something about her.

"Corporal," he called.

"Yes sir," another Corporal came to his side.

"Take her to transport one."

"Yes sir. Come along," he said to Magadine.

She did not need to be told twice, but set off right away.

Chronus watched her go, smiling slightly. He hoped there were more like her.

He turned back to his work. They had a lot of prisoners to process before it would be done.

Colonel DeViers sat in the cramped office aboard his ship. Standing in front of him was Magadine Coral, or Visin as she preferred to be called. She was clean, the hair on her head shaven off, she wore an ODF uniform, though is was a dark red instead of dark blue.

She had been standing their for several minutes, not saying anything. He looked between her and the computer monitor on his desk. He took a box from one of his desk drawers and placed on the desk. "Open that," he said.

She reached forward and opened the box. Inside were a set of captain pins, with the same chain design that marked all the patches on her uniform. There was also a thick bracelet of a black, plastic like material.

"I am prepared to give you command of a cruiser."

"Permission to ask a question sir?" she said.

Chronus smiled. She was smart and played the game well. "Granted."

"Why me sir?"

"You have command experience, albeit on a civilian ship. You also have a number of other useful skills. Do you wish this command?"

"Yes sir."

"Good, then put that bracelet on. Before you do though, let me tell you how it functions. One you put it on, it will seal. It will take a lot to remove that once it is on. When you put it on you will feel a sting. That will be the injection of nanites into your blood. The will form a connection between the bracelet and the pain centers of your brain. You can be given pain on demand. The bracelet also controls the process. If it is ever removed, you will feel pain, with no chance of relief. It is a way to control you."

She reached down a picked up the bracelet. "Will everyone be getting these?"

"No. Only those we chose to be upper command staff. The rest get a collar, much thicker and obvious. It works the same way, but it also contains a rather powerful explosive charge."

"You said if we survive we will be given our freedom. How likely is that?"

"For most? Not very likely. For you and those like you, maybe ten percent."

"Are you really this desperate sir?"

He smiled. "No, not yet. We need soldiers and have been given permission to use aggressive measures. This way is less disturbing to the citizens than press gangs."

She put the bracelet around her left wrist then closed it.

"Sit down Captain Visin while I tell you what your duties will be."

Tauutus wanted to rage, he wanted to scream, he wanted to flip the black slab that was the altar over, he wanted to kill. He did not do any of that though. He did not let his anger show. That would be a weakness, one he could not afford to show. One that he would not show. His plans may have been thwarted. His control over the Board of Solingen taken away from him. Years of work gone. Be that as it may he would not be stopped.

He had other plans.

"Grendel," he said, turning to face the kneeling man. A slight tenseness in his voice the only sign of his anger.

"Yes my Nemyss," he said, his voice breathy.

He reached out and put a hand on the man's head. "You have served me well where others have failed. I wish I could reward you by giving you your death, but there is still need of you."

"I understand my Nemyss. I live by your will and I die by your will."

"Yes," Tauutus smiled slightly, sliding his hand down, around his face, cupping his chin in the palm of his hand. "You are the greatest of my servants. To you I give the most important of tasks. You understand what I wish you to do now?"

"Yes my Nemyss," his voice a tight whisper.

"Then go Grendel. Go, and do my will."

"Yes my Nemyss," he said, getting to his feet. He bowed deeply, then moved backward, bobbing his head low as he disappeared into the darkness.

Once he was gone Tauutus turned back towards the altar. The Starblade Battalion might slow him, but that was all they would do. He would realize his goals, not matter what stood in his way. He smiled as he reached out towards the holographic display, putting his hand over the representation of the Earth. He closed his hand into a fist, the holograph winked out.

When he opened his hand the holograph came back. He looked at it, and the other planets. One day, they would not come back. He was certain of that.

"Charming place," Placide said.

"The atmosphere grows on you," Juan told her, waving his hand to indicate the bar.

"As does the mold," Diane said.

"Well, no place is perfect," Juan shrugged his shoulders.

"I've been asked to give you all congratulations on your work. Personally I think Redding is to generous with his praise."

"No one appreciates us heroes," Juan said, looking sad.

"What is the ODF doing?" Diane asked her.

"Looking for moles."

"Any danger."

"Not yet. Are you sure you just want to sit on this information?"

"It will have more of an impact if released at the right time." Juan told her.

"And when will the right time be?"

"Now that's a good question."

Placide shook her head. "You and the Marshall are to return to home base, Miss Miya," she turned to look at Emiko. "You are wanted on Organon."

"Why?" Emiko asked.

"Something to do with public relations," she told her. "I'm sure it will all be explained in time. Transport has been arranged for all of you," she put an EO pad on the table. "This debriefing is over."

"Watch your tail," Juan said. "If they are looking for a mole things will get a bit more dangerous."

"Do you think I don't understand this mission Mr. Varris?"

He shrugged his shoulders. "Never hurts to be reminded."

Placide snorted as she got to her feet. "You have your orders. Good luck," she turned and walked away.

"She's as fun as always," Juan said after a moment.

"Wouldn't know," Diane said a she picked up the EO pad. "As she said, we have our orders."

Ending Credits - Same as before.

Notes: J.G.R. Kingston pointed out to me that the weapons of the mechs I have provided stats for have too short of a range compared to the SBB mechs, which all seem to have 12 range for all their main weapon systems.

So, I'll eventually get around to increasing the range of those weapons, probably increasing it to 125% will do it. That will of course increase the price.

Also, I've set up a homepage for this stuff. http://www.netroute.nSBB

"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 <hagen@brant.net>

On to Chapter 24