Episode 27 (2180.09.03)
by Shawn Hagen (1998)
Starblade Battalion is the Property of R.Talsorian Games.
Opening Credits, as before.
"What were the casualties like?" Redding asked.
"We're still not entirely sure," Jesse said. "When we left the death count was six thousand, two hundred and forty five, with about the same number in wounded. The relief team Solingen sent expects to find more bodies before it is all over."
"Too many. What about your forces?"
"Twenty dead, thirty six wounded. Equipment losses were minor for the most part."
"What about the Midnight Sun? Your report was incomplete."
"I'm still not sure of everything. I had the Perth hit the area where they were exiting, it took out most of their forces, but, I suspect a smaller force went out another way."
"What about Taplin Chemical?"
"There entire cavern is toxic. It will be months before it is safe again. We got a look in it, a lot of damage, but we don't know what the Midnight Sun was doing there. No one from Taplin was willing to talk. From what little we were able to uncover it looks like it was a smash and grab mission. We just aren't sure what they were grabbing. I'm not sure the Taplin people know what was taken."
"I'm worried about this."
"So am I."
"Unfortunately worrying about it does nothing. We will prepare and pass the news on and hope that will be enough."
"It is thin, but thin is what we have to work with. What does Miss Mason have?"
"A nice looking story, puts us in a positive light, makes the Midnight Sun look really bad, not that that is hard, and doesn't say anything positive about anyone else."
"Good. We'll get that out when we can." Redding picked up several chips from his desk. "I want you to take a look at these. They are combat reports on our new equipment and a list of the estimated capabilities of each Blade. We need to put together something a bit tighter, still fluid, but better organised."
"Looking to standardise the set up?" Jesse took the chips.
"More or less."
"Okay, I'll figure it all out, the combat side. Anything else up?"
"Well," Jesse stood. "I'll be off then."
Redding nodded and watched him leave. Once Jesse was gone Redding picked up an EO pad and read the Alincourt's proposal for a carrier.
"I am sorry my Nemyss, I failed you," Grendel said, bowing his head low.
"You did not fail me," Tauutus told him. "You completed your mission and brought what we needed. That is all that mattered. Now go and rest, I will require your services soon enough."
"Yes my Nemyss," Grendel said, almost gushing. He got to his feet, but remained bowed over as he backed out of the circle light.
Tauutus watched him got for a moment, then turned about. He had lied a little. The losses had mattered, they were staggering. It had cost the Midnight Sun a huge amount of its funds to purchase the suits, the drones, and everything else. Loosing all of it would hurt the organisation's ability to mount operations for some time to come. With those operations they might have been able to ensure the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people. At Deon they had only managed to kill about ten thousand. Hardly worth it really.
He turned to look at the ten cylinders set upon the altar. They did not look very impressive. That was ironic considering how important they were, what they would allow him to do. He had traded the possibility to kill hundreds of thousands for a chance at millions and millions.
He smiled as he reached out to run his hand along the smooth material of one of the cylinders, his eyes passing over the alphanumeric characters.
His smiled faded. There was still the problem of the Starblade Battalion. Every day they grew stronger, became better at playing the game, and exerted more and more influence. He did not know how to destroy them, yet, but he had an idea on how to slow them down.
He would have to call in a few favours.
Captain Visin stood behind her helmsman-a woman also from Goal. To her port was the battleship 'Hour Glass', Colonel DeViers ship. Her cruiser, an older ship, the 'Manacle' was pacing the battleship, set to cover the larger ship. The Chain Gang was patrolling the Loki System, looking for an SAC battlegroup that had been causing trouble in the system.
"Miss Hollin, report," she called out.
"Unknown ship still running."
"Has it increased its lead?"
"They are playing with us. Put me through to Colonel DeViers," she said, looking over at her communications officer.
"Patch it to my chair," Magadine said, pulling herself towards her chair.
"Captain, the Colonel is on line."
Magadine nodded as she took a seat in her command chair. Colonel DeViers' face filled the small screen on the chair's arm.
"You wished to speak with me Miss Visin?"
"Colonel, that ship ahead of us is leading us into a trap."
"I want to see what this trap is. I plan to spring it. I congratulate you on realising what was happening and for brining it to my attention. My faith in you was well justified."
"Sir..." Magadine began, then paused.
"Nothing. We will be ready."
"Very good Captain," he told her, then cut the connection.
"What was that about," Hilda Greene-her first officer-asked. She had moved up beside the command chair.
Magadine looked Hilda for a moment. The woman had not been of Goal, though she was a criminal. "I would like to warn you about the danger of listening into conversations," she said softly.
Hilda smiled, as if she thought Magadine was joking, then when she saw that her Captain was being serious she stopped. "I'm sorry Captain."
Magadine nodded, wondering if she was being to sensitive about it. She felt a certain disdain towards those who had not been on goal, but it was not wise to show it. She needed the loyalty of all her crew. "Good. As for your question. it looks like the Colonel is testing us." She kept her tone soft.
"None of the Chain Gang cruisers carry mektons, and the battleship only has a small complement. We have no suit support."
"So why chase after a ship that might have suits?"
"A test. Smart money will be to break and run if we run into that battlegroup, but the Colonel has already given his orders."
"Sounds like a bad deal."
Magadine nodded. "Sounds bad, but the Colonel is not stupid. Even if he cared nothing for our lives, these ships still cost money to refit, and that battleship is a very expensive piece of kit. He's planning something."
"What if he is just crazy?"
"Then we die. I'm not worried about it though. Ever wonder why we have a air controller?" she asked, looking over at Anthony Gardine-one of the few males aboard the ship.
"So you don't think he is crazy."
"We'll find out soon enough."
The chase continued for several minutes without anything changing. The ship they were following was approaching the Near Loki Belt. The nebular gas that made up the belt was hot enough to obscure sensors. Anything could be hiding in that belt.
"Target ship slowing," Jessica Hollin called out.
"Tell me when you get a positive ID on it," Magadine told her.
More time passed as they began to catch up with the fleeing ship.
"I have ID on the ship," Jessica said. "SAC Cruiser, Master Class."
Magadine looked down at her orders screen. "Keep following it," she said. "Have all weapon crews ready."
They were closing on the enemy cruiser, it was only a few minutes out of their range now, but it was almost in the ring. Once inside they would loose it, but Magadine did not think it was planning on loosing them.
A minute later her thoughts were confirmed when Jessica called out, "Cruiser coming about."
"Watch the belt," Magadine ordered. "If that cruiser comes into range, fire on it."
"I've got some activity at the belt," Jessica said.
"Cruiser will be in range in four minutes ten seconds," Tabitha Atkins-the weapons officer-called out.
"Tell me what is happening at the belt."
"Two more ships moving out, no, five more."
"Give me an ID."
"Gas is still obscuring the sensors. I'm working on it."
"The Cruiser is launching suits and fighters. Two of the new ships are Master class cruisers as well, the other three are battleriders. They are all launching suits. Suits from the first cruiser will be in range of our guns in one minute twenty seconds. We will be in range of their weapons in two minutes."
Magadine looked at her orders screen once again, noting nothing had changed. "Keep on this course. Fire on the suits with the starbolts when they enter range, I want to confuse them."
"Captain, we won't be able to stop those suits from getting through," Tabitha said.
"We'll see won't we."
Magadine sat in her chair, doing her best to look calm, but she was getting worried. It only took a few suits to disable a ship, if that ship did not have a screen of its own suits. They would not stand much of a chance once those units got in range.
"Captain!" Jessica called out. "The 'Cage' is breaking off, making a run."
"Ignore them," Magadine said.
"Captain, we can't stand against them," her helmsman said.
"We will, if I say we will," she said, looking at her orders screen again. Still no change.
"But we'll die!"
"And we die if we run. Don't think that the Colonel will not open all the airlocks on this ship if we disobey him. Or maybe he'll just blow your heads off with your collars. We have our orders."
"Opening up on suits with both starbolts," Tabitha said.
"Something happening behind us," Jessica said. "Ships decloaking."
"What are they?"
"High speed transports. They are launching suits."
Magadine looked down at her order board, noting the changes. She smiled. "Mr. Gardine, be prepared to act as controller for C company, they will be in radio communications soon. Miss Atkins, ignore the suits, concentrate all fire on that cruiser. Miss Price, evasive manoeuvres, get us close to that cruiser and be prepared to break away on my orders."
She received a number of affirmations as her bridge crew went to work. She sat back in her chair, watching everything, waiting to see what would happen when battle was joined.
The battle did not last long. Neither side was too intent on the battle. The SAC had hoped to trap the Chain Gang fleet, while Colonel DeViers was more interested in seeing how well his force would do.
The SAC cruiser that had led the Chain Gang into the trap took heavy damage, but escaped, screened by the other ships, and the entire force managed to retreat back into the belt where they were lost to sensors.
Of the Chain Gang, the Manacle took a few hits, but the damage was minor. The Hour Glass had been the main target, but the ship's thick armour and size had protected it.
Chronus had ordered his ships pulled back, the high speed transports were kept in the middle of the fleet, protected by their armed brethren. A number of suits still patrolled space around the ships.
The Colonel sat in his office, writing out his report of the battle. There was a knock on his door.
"Enter," the Colonel said, not looking up.
"Sir," someone said. "I have brought Mr. Johansen to see you as you ordered."
"Good," he said, looking up. In front of him two of his security people held a third man between them. Chronus looked at him for a time. "Mr. Johansen, would you like to tell me why you chose to run?"
"Colonel," Johansen licked his lips. "You see, I thought..."
"You thought you were going to die."
"Well, did I not tell you that you would probably die when I took you off Goal?"
"Yes sir, but..."
"Did you think I was lying?"
"No sir, but..."
"So you knew the details of your release, but you were basically unwilling to accept them."
"They why did you run. Your leaving put my force in danger. I am not happy about that."
"Sir, I was scared."
"You shouldn't have been." Chronus picked a small control unit on his desk and pressed a button on it.
Johansen screamed, every muscle in his body contracted with such violence that he bit the end of his tongue off. The two security people could not hold him and let him go. He hung in the air, thrashing around, screaming.
Chronus watched for a moment, then pressed the button again. Johansen suddenly relaxed, curled up, crying. A few bubbles of blood floated in the air.
"Send some one in here to clean up," Chronus ordered, looking back to his work. "Take Mr. Johansen to his ship and space him, make sure his crew watches Snap that bracelet off before you toss him in the airlock. He is guilty of cowardice in the face of the enemy."
Johansen did not say anything, he was still crying. It was possible he did not even know what was coming. The two security men saluted then grasped Johansen and dragged him out of the office.
Takako leaned over the view piece of the microscope, examining the sample. She looked up and leaned over to enter some information into the computer. She waited for the computer to give her the results, then looked back in the view piece.
"What it is so interesting Takako-sempai?"
"Nani?" Takako asked, looking up. She brushed a lock of hair back behind her ear as she looked over at Auden. "Just some new bacteria."
"What's so interesting about these bacteria?" she asked, walking across the lab.
"They are a new strain, designed to go after a number of toxic chemicals and waste oil. It was sent to you for approval. The Science Council wishes to use it for reclamation of a number of sites. Since you were busy I thought I would take a look at it."
"What do you think?"
"It is an excellent design, but I am a little worried about possible mutation and what it might do."
Auden nodded as she picked up an EO pad, taking a look at it. "GeneticTech. They do good work." She scrolled through the information. She nodded after a moment. "I don't think you have to worry about mutation."
"You never know. He was not perfect."
Auden smiled. "Most people I know would be proud to have a family like yours, but you seemed more embarrassed about it Sempai."
"Perhaps it is just my heritage."
"I have received some news about Emiko-chan."
"Oh," Takako said. "What has she done now?"
"Acquired a reasonable part of Solingen GmbH."
"It seems to have shaken up the company. We could make use of that. Every time something like this comes up I find myself wishing she was with us."
"Don't be ridiculous Auden-san," Takako said, her tone coming close to being dismissive. "She is being used in this. Emiko-chan could have never done something like that, she spent her entire life not trying hard at anything."
"Takako-sempai, I think you think too little of your daughter. I've read the reports and while it is obvious she has had help, it is also obvious that she has proven quite resourceful. She is truly your daughter."
"Thank you for saying so, but I don't think it is true."
Auden shook her head. "I think you underestimate her, but I won't argue with you over the point sempai. What I would like you to do is prepare a message, asking for her to come home. We'll get it out, hopefully she will see it."
"I don't think it will work," Takako said, a contemplative look on her face. "But, if I do put such a message out, and we leak it to the press, and if she does not come back, as I think she won't, we might be able to claim that the Battalion is holding her against her will."
Auden said nothing for a moment, then she smiled. "That is brilliant."
"I would not say brilliant, but, it may work. It can't hurt. Who knows, maybe Emiko-chan will come home. On the off chance she does, I'd rather you don't try to make her a spokesperson. Better that she put all that behind her."
"We'll decide if that point comes, for now, the message is what we should be worried about. Would you like some help? I can send you some speech writers."
"No," Takako shook her head. "I will be able to do this myself. Thank you for the offer Auden-san. Now, about this bacteria, there are a few more tests I'd like to run before okaying it, with you authorisation of course."
"I'll help you," Auden said, taking off her jacket. "This is just like old times."
"The cargo ships have cleared the atmosphere," the sensor tech called out.
"Launch our suits, I want those ships taken," Admiral Mars ordered.
"The ODF ships are also launching their suits. The cruisers have moved into position to block us from the cargo ships"
"Maintain interval between ships, be prepared to deal with the possibility of cloaked ships," the Admiral said.
"Contact in two minutes."
"Order the interceptors to break through those lines, I want those cargo ships dealt with."
Carly listened to the orders from the carrier then switched frequencies. <Okay, form up on me, we'll punch through the that upper quadrant, it will bring us closer to those transports. Light them up,> she sent. She opened the thrusters on her suit, the modified Zephyr leaping forward, the three other Zephyrs following close.
The suits cut through the edges of Faraday's upper atmosphere, using the planet to mask them. Carly looked down at the planet, the cause of everything. She could see little of the planet below her through the clouds but she had been told that the destruction caused by nukes used to level the forests was quite evident even from space.
She growled, gripping the controls of her suit tighter. The expansionists had to be stopped.
<Hit them fast, don't give them a chance to figure out what happened.>
Carly led the attack on the ODF suits, going in fast, her suit's sword lashing out, leaving crippled suits in her wake. The rest of flight followed behind her, cleaning up and covering her rear. Carly's wingman fell back with the other two suits, unable to keep up with her. From where he was he did his best to watch her back, though she did not really need the help.
Much like she had planned, they had made it through the line of ODF suits. Ahead of them were the ODF cruisers and beyond them the transports loaded up with crystalchime trees.
<Evasive manoeuvres, don't bother trying to engage the cruisers, we hit those transports. Cripple them if possible, destroy them if you have to,> Carly ordered.
Carly flew through the remains of several suits, some ODF, some SAC. The battle had ended quickly once the transports had cleared the area. The ODF forces had fallen back in an orderly fashion and fought an effective counter battle as they retreated.
While both sides had lost a number of suits, none of the larger ships had been seriously damaged in the battle, except for two of the transports. One of those had been destroyed, and another crippled.
She wished they had managed to do more damage to the ODF ships. The remains of battlefleet Kinkade still littered the system, so much junk. They had to be avenged, but so far the ODF had not lost nearly as many ships. The cloaking device gave them a huge advantage.
Her suit spun about, heading off in a new direction, flying another leg of the search pattern. There might yet be survivors out there, and they had to be found. SAC members rescued, and any ODF people brought in for interrogation.
Philip Alincourt had given up his mansion on the cylinder, not that he had ever used it. It had been converted to a hospital. It was thought that patients would get well faster in a more pleasant setting.
Ree had been placed in a room on the second floor, her huge windows looked out over a small pond. The room was full of flowers, bundles of vat grown roses, daffodils, tulips and many others. There were also a large number of prettily wrapped small and large packages.
Juan sat at the foot of Ree's bed, opening one of those boxes. "One forgets how many admirers you must have," he said as he tore the paper away. "It is only when you are stuck in one place they can find you. Hey look, chocolates."
"Enjoy," Ree told him, shifting around slightly. Her left arm was encased in a rather uncomfortable cast of steel and plastic and it was hard to find a position where the nylon straps did not dig into her neck. "So, how did the battle go? No one here tells me anything."
"We basically won," Diane said, trimming a rose with her boot knife. "Civilian casualties were too high."
"What about us?"
"Some casualties, no one we knew, except for you." Diane put the trimmed rose in a vase then picked up another flower.
"So, how you doing? Chocolate?" Juan asked her, holding the box towards her.
"No, and I'm doing all right. The doctors fixed everything up, they tell me I'll be up and around in a week or so, good as always. They had to do a major patch job on the lung, and reattach the arm. They even got the reconstructive surgeon to fix up my breast."
"Really," Juan put the box of chocolates aside. He moved forward, looking as if he planned to pull open her top to take a look.
Ree slapped his hand away with her good hand. "I don't show my breasts to just anyone, unless they pay first."
"You can take the girl out of the brothel," Juan said, smiling.
"You are so clever," Ree said sarcastically.
"You sound very well," Tern said from the other side of the room where he was looking through a pile of gifts. "Did you know someone filled this teddy bead with massage oils?" He held up the small stuffed animal.
"No, but ask me if I am surprised."
"Hey, can I have some of these oranges?" Tern asked her, picking up a mesh bag full of fruit.
"No. Fresh fruit is as good as gold. If you are hungry help Juan pig down that chocolate."
"Hey!" Juan said around a mouthful of chocolate.
Ree pushed her nose up with her finger and snorted at Juan.
"That's so attractive," Juan told her.
"Have a caramel swirl." Juan tossed a chocolate at Ree.
Ree caught it. "I hate caramel," she told him, then tossed it back. "So, where is everyone else. I finally am allowed to have visitors and then only one interesting person shows up. Thank you Marshal."
"Why is she picking on us?" Tern asked Juan.
"Some woman thing I'm sure. Want a caramel swirl?"
"Sure," Tern said.
"Marshal Sharp is teaching right now, he'll probably be by later," Diane said, putting another flower in the vase.
"That's a very nice arrangement," Ree told her.
"Thank you," Diane said, sounding a little uncomfortable. She pushed the vase away and knelt down to slide the knife back into its boot sheath.
"Guess what Epiphany is doing," Juan said.
"Finishing up your work in fact."
"She's flying my Arrow?!"
"Yes, and doing a good job at it as well. Oh, she's not as skilful as you, but she's not such a hotshot."
"Well great. So she gets to fly the atmosphere tests while I'm stuck in a bed. Life is so unfair." Ree sighed. "So what is Emi-chan doing?"
"Helping with the testing."
"They have her redoing your tests when they make changes to the suit to make sure that everything is still good," Juan told her. "Since you took the time to show her how to fly the Arrow she was one of the few pilots who could fly it right off."
"Emiko's not a pilot."
"She is now. She went under the needle."
"She got a data link?"
"My Emiko? Cute girl, kind of helpless?"
"I don't believe it."
"Believe it," Tern said, a slight edge in his voice.
"From what we have been able to piece together, and she has not said very much, she was there to see your fight with that Harbinger," Diane told her.
"She's lucky she wasn't killed."
"True. She was the first person to reach your suit, the medical teams found her there, she almost shot one of them as I understand it. After you were taken off she went to Dr. Rolson and got set up. I suspect she did not want to just watch the next time."
"I'll be damned. She likes me, she really likes me," Ree laughed.
"It's not that funny," Tern said. "I'm amazed that Emiko did this. She's got a phobia about nanotech and cybernetics."
"Just afraid of things going haywire."
"That never happens," Diane said.
"Of course it doesn't, but some people think it will."
"Poor Emi-chan," Ree said.
"She'll be fine," Juan said. "She's pretty strong."
"She's been acting odd though," Tern said.
"Are you worried?" Ree asked him.
"Of course I'm worried. She's my friend, and more."
"Sure, use the fact that you are sleeping with her," Ree said. "I understand though," she said more serious.
"It's not just the data link," Diane said.
"What then?" Tern asked her.
"She's had to kill, several times now."
"A good point," Juan said.
"She'll have to deal with it," Diane told him.
Ree groaned theatrically. "I'm going to have to help my poor little sister again."
"How do you plan to do that?" Juan asked her.
"I don't know just yet, but I got a few ideas."
Emiko piloted the hopper back into the cylinder docking bay, automatically replying to the controller. In short order the hopper was locked into place and she was exiting the vehicle. As she got out she used her tongue to press up behind her top left, rear most molar. That was the switch to turn off the data link.
There was not any physical switch there. Dr. Rolson had told her that it was the action that formed a trigger to turn the link on and off. During the first few days she had been turning it on and off almost constantly. She had made herself stop that.
She left the hangar bay, taking an elevator to the transport level. From there she took one of the electric rail carts, letting it take her to her home.
Emiko was not giving much thought to what she was doing. She was very tired-she had been sleeping poorly-and was just going, like she was on auto pilot.
Finally she reached her room. She opened the door, planning on just going in and collapsing on her bed. She stopped in the doorway. Ree was sitting on her bed. She was pale, and there were dark circles under her eyes. She did not look well.
"Ree-Oneesan," Emiko said slowly, her mind was still sluggish.
"Emi-chan." Ree smiled. "Aren't you coming in?"
"Oh," Emiko said, stepping into the room and closing the door. "Should you be here? You look..." she trailed off.
"Like I should be laid up in a hospital bed. Well, I should, so don't let my doctors know or they will restrain me. Now come here and sit down."
Emiko walked slowly across the room. She settled carefully on her bed, not wanting to jar Ree.
"I hear you are not doing well," Ree said.
"Genki da, genki," Emiko said, trying to sound enthusiastic.
"You don't look very well," Ree said. "You look as bad as I feel, but I have an excuse."
"I'm all right," Emiko reaffirmed. "I just have been working very hard."
"I hear you watched my fight with that Harbinger. Pretty cool, right?"
"Yea," Emiko said softly, with no real conviction.
"I won, didn't I?"
"I think the other pilot got away unhurt. I shot at him, but..." Emiko trailed off
"You didn't kill him? It doesn't matter. You killed some others didn't you?"
Emiko said nothing. She stared down in her lap.
She nodded. "I had to," she said.
"I know Emi-chan." Ree reached out and put an arm over Emiko's shoulder. "There was this instructor I had in flight school, tall woman, Nordic features, scariest woman I ever met I think. She was into Voudoun, kind of a priestess type. Maybe that was why she was so scary, good pilot though. Anyway, one day she called me into her office and she said to me, 'Child, you got the look..'," Ree began in a strange accent, then she shook her head. "I can't do it, I think she spent years practising that accent."
"A religion, old one to. Don't see it in the cluster too often. Anyway, she said to me, 'Child, you got the look of one who is going to know death very well. He'll be close to you girl, really close. That can be a heavy burden. You are going to have a lot of dead behind you and that is a powerful force to contend with.'. Now, at the time, I thought she was a bit crazy, or drunk, or maybe both, but like I said, I was a little afraid of her, so I asked her what I should do."
"What did she say?" Emiko asked, curious in spite of herself.
"She looked at me for a time, it was kind of creepy, then she said, 'Everyday, remember everyone you have killed and tell them you are sorry you had to kill them. Remember them, give them that.'." Ree paused and said nothing for a time. "I thought she was crazy at the time, but then I gave it some thought, later. She had a point.
"She told me to say I was sorry I had to kill them. That could mean I was sorry I killed them. I was sorry about the situation that led me to kill them. I was sorry they were on the other side. Sorry they had been so stupid that they basically forced me to kill them. Sorry that political differences got between us when we might have been able to have a drink and a laugh any other time. Of course it could also mean, sorry I killed you, it was easier than not killing you. Not an easy thing to admit, but important.
"Remembering them was important. Some people believe you are not truly dead until you are forgotten. So in apologising to them I remember them. Maybe the entire thing is pointless, but, it makes me feel better. Maybe she had a point." Ree said nothing for a while. "Emi-chan, go into my room. There's a valise under my bed. Bring it to me."
Emiko looked at Ree for a moment, then got to her feet and went to Ree's room, passing through the bathroom they shared. She got down on her hands and knees, looking under the bed. There were a few bags under there and Emiko had to shift them about to find the valise. She pulled it out from under the bed.
She looked at the dark leather, brushing her hand across it. Emiko had seen it a number of times. It was one of the few things she had seen Ree always take with her, though she had not given it much thought. After all, she herself had carried her school bag and everything in it from Earth to where she was now. She stood up and went back to her room.
"Good, give it to me," Ree said, reaching out with her good arm.
Emiko handed it to her then took a seat beside her.
Ree worked the valise between her knees then opened the bag up. "First battle I was in, bunch of pirates causing trouble in the Loki System. We were sent in to clear them up. They were armed with industrial suits converted for combat." Ree pulled a flat picture from the valise. She handed it to Emiko.
Emiko took it. It was a picture of a woman. She was almost pretty.
"That was the one pilot I killed in that fight. Blew her cockpit right open. We pulled the suits in for the intelligence boys. I got her IDed. Her name was Kylene Gare, found out a little about her. Not a nice woman, but not a horrible woman either. I couldn't really say she deserved to die, but I had killed her. I got a picture of her and I would say I was sorry, like I had been told."
Ree removed the rest of the valise's contents and put them on the bed. There were more flat pictures, but there were more illustrations. Ree fanned them out so more would show.
"Where I could get pictures, I did. When I couldn't I just drew a picture, not that I'm much of an artist, just trying to picture the person who had died." She pulled a picture from the pile and handed it to Emiko.
Emiko took it, turning it so she could see it. The picture was not very good, though Ree had got the proportions right. It was of a young man. Emiko flipped it over. On the back was written, 'Good close in fighter, that was about it. Flew a beat up military suit. Pirate. Died in the Primus belt. 2178.11.22.'
"Sometimes I would get a ship or something, so I wasn't sure about who might have died, so I drew these group pictures." She handed Emiko another picture.
The picture Ree had drawn looked a little like a school photo. People standing in line, another line behind the first, raised higher, as if they were standing on a bench. A third line of people were behind the second, again higher. There was the hint of faces, but only that.
"Doesn't it hurt?" Emiko asked softly.
"Yes," Ree said. "That's okay. It is supposed to hurt. It is important to feel Emi-chan. I've met a few who stopped feeling. They are dead and they just don't know it. Pack all this up for me." Ree gave Emiko the valise.
"But, how do you live with it?" Emiko asked as she began to gather up all the pages.
"You just do. It's not that hard, as long as you don't lie to yourself about it. When you get right down to it, most of the time, you kill others because you don't want to die. It's greed for life."
Emiko finished packing the rest of the pictures up. She did not say anything.
"Don't dwell on the death too much Emi-chan. Don't forget them, but don't dwell on them. By remembering them you are doing all you have to for them. Don't let them get a hold on you."
"I better sneak back to the hospital," Ree got to her feet, for a moment a pained expression crossed her face, but she forced it away.
"Let me help you," Emiko said, quickly getting to her feet.
"I'm fine Emi-chan. Put that valise back under my bed."
Emiko looked at Ree for a moment, wondering if she should insist. Then she nodded and went back to Ree's room, putting the valise back under the bed. When she returned to her room Ree was gone.
For a moment Emiko thought she should go out and chase after Ree, perhaps even call the hospital. She did not though. Ree was strong, she would not take kindly to being treated that way.
She sat down on her bed, thinking about the valise under Ree's bed, about the collection of dead there. It did not seem like the wise thing to do. She thought she should just forget the people she had killed, that was the smarter thing to do. Of course that was what she had been trying to do and it did not seem to work.
Emiko got to her feet and walked over to her desk. She took a seat behind it and turned on her computer. For a time she stared at the empty screen, wondering what she was going to do. Finally she reached out and put her fingers on the keys-she had yet to use the data link for the computer and did not think she ever would. She began to type.
On the screen appeared, 'A young man. Handled micro gravity well. Made a few mistakes. Died on the Calleon Asteroid. 2180.08.13'.
Strong winds whipped at Emiko's hair, pulling it from hair clips so it fell in front of the lenses of her respirator. She brushed it back as she walked across the flat surface of the pit mine. Looking around, her Gaian sensibilities were offended by the huge pit mine and the way the Alincourts used the planet.
Of course the cold, rocky planet's ecosystem, what little it had, was not adversely affected by the mining of the huge, robotic platforms.
"Are you ready?" she called to Epiphany, her voice muffled by the respirator.
Epiphany did not respond for a moment, then said, "Why aren't you using your data link?" she said, raising her voice so Emiko could hear over the wind.
"I don't want to."
"Fine. Yes, I'm ready. As ready as I can be."
"All the tests were good."
"That was everything tested separately, together, we won't know how the entire thing will hold together until after I do it."
"Control is ready to go, Ree-oneechan is up there as an advisor."
"Good. Ground crew ready?"
"In the air."
"Good. Take this," Epiphany said as she took off her parka. She hardly needed it, her vacc suit was warm enough.
"Thanks," Epiphany smiled, not that Emiko could see it, then turned and walked towards the kneeling Arrow.
Emiko watched her then turned around and walked back towards the command post.
Epiphany slid into her seat, then pulled on the restraints, making sure they were tight. She grasped the controls, and brought the suit's thrusters up.
<Epiphany here, I'm ready to go,> she sent.
<We're showing green across the board up here, what about you?> That was from Ree.
<Fine here,> Epiphany sent.
<All green.> That from the Jeremy who was in charge of the group post.
<Chase 1 and 2, are you ready?> Epiphany asked.
<Ready.> Chase 2.
<As soon as you are.> Chase 1.
<Let's do this.> Epiphany increased the power to the thrusters, the Arrow lifted into the air. <Shifting to fighter from.> The suit shifted forms in air, it rocked unsteadily for a moment, slightly awkward in the moment of transition. It was for only a moment, hardly noticeable. The fighter shot off, flying close to the earth.
<Chase 1, in position.> The Vogel moved into position on the Arrow's port side.
Epiphany waited for a few seconds. <Where's Chase 2?>
<I'm coming, excuse me for not wanting to fly that fast that low.>
<You'll have to excuse Chase 2, he's a wimp.> Chase 1 told her.
<Chase 2, in position.> The second Vogel took its place on the Arrow's starboard side.
<I don't want you to bring the boosters on line until after you've maxed out the engines,> Tess sent.
<Understood. I'm still green across the board.>
<No problems that we can see,> Jeremy sent.
<No problems,> Tess told her.
<I'm starting to climb.> Epiphany started a shallow ascent, increasing the angle until the Arrow was at sixty degrees. <Engine power output at eight percent.>
<You're still looking good,> Jeremy sent.
<We know that, but how is the plane?> That came from Ree. <The Arrow looks good.>
<Nothing out of place.> Chase 2.
<You're holding together.> Chase 1.
<Power output at ninety percent, increasing angle of climb to eighty percent. It all looks good.>
<Keep the reports coming, It's your show,> Tess told her.
Epiphany pulled the throttles back, and increased the angle of climb. The Arrow was almost standing on its tail, she had kicked in the afterburners, and the engines were putting out their maximum thrust. The plane was beginning to shake a little.
<I'm ready,> Epiphany sent. She was glad for the data link, she would have had a hard time talking. The force of the engines was pushing her into seat.
<The Arrow looks good,> Chase 1.
<It's shaking a little,> Chase 2.
<Everything is fine,> Epiphany sent.
<You're creeping into the yellow,> Jeremy told her.
<Still well within tolerances. Prepping boosters.>
A set of safety covers were blown off the rear section of the Arrow. Epiphany waited for a moment, then activated the boosters. <Engage.>
The solid fuel, rocket engines lit up, providing huge amounts of thrust. Epiphany was pushed further back into her seat. She began to have a little trouble breathing. The Arrow's shaking increased and Epiphany had to work to keep the Arrow balanced on top of the explosive force she was riding into space.
There were more reports, but Epiphany was hardly listening to them. Her attention, that which she could spare, was on the altimeter.
It all happened so suddenly, one moment she was in the thin layers of the upper atmosphere, the next she was in space. The rocket boosters were still burning, still driving the Arrow forward. Epiphany shut them down then ejected to rest of the fuel, leaving the booster sockets empty.
<It worked,> Epiphany said.
It was a while before anyone got back to her. She assumed that everyone was too busy offering congratulations to each other. Epiphany was just happy to drift in space.
<Any problems,> Tess sent.
<It all looks good,> Epiphany told her.
<What to the Chasers think?>
<The plane looks fine.> Chase 1
<The paint looks a little blackened around the sockets, but that's it.> Chase 2.
<Okay, take her back to the planet's surface and we'll do it again.>
<Understood,> Epiphany sent, bringing the Arrow around. She was not worried about the re-entry, she had done that a number of times.
Tess played guitar, running through scales. She felt a little rusty. She sat, cross legged, atop an Arrow-it was in fighter form.
She heard someone walking across the floor, but did not look up.
"So your done?" Akira's voice.
"Yes," she said, still playing.
"Now what will you do?"
"Present it tomorrow, then bow gracefully out of the design business."
"You're sure of that?"
Tess looked up from her guitar. She noticed that Dr. Mako stood beside him. "I'll still provide advice when needed."
"You do have a gift," Reiko said. "You just need more work."
"Thanks, but I know where my future lies."
Akira nodded. "Good job," he said to Tess. "Let's go," he told Reiko.
Reiko looked between him and Tess for a moment, then followed Akira out.
"She could be a good designer," Reiko said once they had exited the bay.
"She could. She wants to be a musician. I don't think she is making the wrong choice."
"And you still get to pick her brain."
"Why are you taking this so personally?"
Reiko said nothing. Then she shrugged her shoulders and walked away.
"Good evening Grand Marshal," the shadowy figure said.
Karl Richter started, taken by surprise. He had his pistol out in a moment. "Who are you?"
"Just a messenger," the figure said. The desk lamp was turned on, casting a dim light throughout the room. The man sitting behind Karl's desk was a slim man. On his forehead was a Midnight Sun tattoo.
Karl kept his pistol trained on the man.
"Grand Marshal, I have been sent to give you something," the man said, seeming unconcerned about the pistol pointed at him. He put his hand on a thick envelope resting on the desk. "All the records of your," he paused, "shall we say youthful indiscretion?"
"What's the price," Karl asked, knowing what was in the envelope.
"Nothing you won't be willing to pay. Don't you think Zanzibar is a threat to the Colonies?"
"A threat that should be dealt with." The man got to his feet.
"Good," he moved around the desk. "Oh, I was told to point out to you than as long as an assassin is willing to die, there is very little you can do. Good bye Grand Marshal." He pushed by Karl. "I'll let myself out as I came in. No one will see me."
Karl stood there for a moment, then put his weapon away. He walked over to his desk and picked up the envelope. An attack on Zanzibar. All things considered a very minor price to pay for what was in the envelope.
He had have to come up with a reason to order the attack, but that would not be too difficult. There were a number of people who would be happy with the order.
Tess understood showmanship. She had staged a large number of concerts, in her head mostly, a few on computer. She had been planning the Arrow's presentation almost since the day she had been given the okay on the project.
Two of the Arrows stood off to the side-one in suit form, one in plane mode--scaffolding was set up around them allowing people to get a good look at both. Waiters and waitresses, civilians, went through the crowd with trays of drinks. Swaths of cloth had been carefully hung to hide the equipment in the room, making it look more like a hall of sorts rather than the construction bay it was.
Tess smiled at Akira who frowned slightly, obviously not to sure about the entire thing. She saw Captain Frost and Jesse Ryuzaki standing off by themselves, talking about who knew what. She thought that Jesse was enjoying himself, but it looked like Redding was not impressed. She caught sight or Ree-her arm in a sling-Tern and Emiko talking to some people. Some of the Alincourts stood around one of the Arrows, having a loud and animated conversation. Juan was off in a corner, by himself. He caught her eye then raised his glass in a silent toast. She smiled back at him
Everyone was there, waiting to see the craft they had heard so much about.
Tess walked through the room, smiling, nodding to people, but saying little and putting off enquiries with a 'you'll find out soon enough'. She had dressed well for the occasion, a black cocktail dress. She liked the classics.
The middle of the room was not anywhere near as crowded as the rest of the room. The yellow and black hazard lines on the floor probably accounted for that. Tess moved to the centre of the field. A command via her data link ended the music. Conversations stopped and people began to turn and look at her.
"Good evening ladies and gentlemen, shareholders, command staff. Today I am going to show you the next generation of mekton suit. A design that has multiple configurations and will be able to convert between them to maximise its performance capabilities. I present the Arrow." She lifted her hand to indicate the two Arrows in the room.
Another command from her data link and a klaxon sounded, yellow lights began to flash. A number of people looked down, realising they were standing on a inner airlock hatch. They quickly moved back.
Tess remained where she was when the hatch began to open. She waited a moment, then stepped between the opening doors. A few people gasped, but she did not fall four meters to the surface of the inner door. Instead her foot came down on a sheet of armour glass. The doors slid fully back, a soft booming filling the room as they stopped. The klaxon went silent and the flashing lights stopped.
People looked over the edge, below the glass was open space. A number moved back. Few people could escape the sense of vertigo when staring out into forever. Tess hoped they appreciated the view. It had taken her close to two hours to circumvent all the safeties so she could have both inner and outer door open that the same time. At least the Alincourts had been more than willing to help her put the armour glass in.
"Static displays being ultimately boring, I thought I'd give you a look at the Arrow in action." She looked down.
A spot of light out in space began to grow, approaching them. A number of people had moved out onto the glass, and a few of them went back when they saw the object growing as it came closer. Out of the corner of her eye she saw Tern and Ree pulling Emiko out onto the glass.
The object had resolved itself into a plane shape, and soon after that everyone who stood on the armour glass could see it was an Arrow. An Arrow approaching a relatively fragile piece of armour glass that was all that stood between them an vacuum. She heard a nervous laugh.
Tess watched at the Arrow came closer and closer. She had hoped that it would put its nose into the airlock, stopping maybe a meter from the glass. Ree had said she could do it, but Epiphany had not been willing to try that.
The Arrow stopped well short of the glass, flipping over, presenting its ventral surface to the spectators as it matched the rotation of the ring. More laughter, a relieved sound. Below them the Arrow began to spin slowly, giving the people on the glass an all around view.
More people began to move out on the glass, wanting to see it. Tess hid a smile. So far it was going exactly how she had planned.
"Nice show," Ree said, moving up beside Tess. "I just hope this glass doesn't crack with all this weight on it." Her voice was just a little louder then it needed to be. Of course people heard, and began to move back. There was something near panic in the air.
"You are a cruel person," Tess said under her breath. Then she looked up from the Arrow below her. "I'm sure you would all like to see the Arrow transform," she said loudly, distracting everyone from fears of the glass.
On cue, the Arrow shifted forms, becoming a suit. The suit matched the ring's rotation as the plane had.
"In suit form only the interceptors and fighters used by the SAC and ODF are faster than it. When it switches to plane form there is nothing that can catch it currently in either the ODF or the SAC's collective arsenals.
"Primary weapons are a pair of laser cannon." The weapons folded out from their storage position, pointing up at the collective audience. They have range and penetration comparable to the weapons used by the ODF and SAC, and, being energy based, basically have unlimited ammunition.
"The head houses the same laser pod used by other suits, and counter missiles are stored in the shoulders. Recently we have added what has been dubbed the 'hot hand'. The left hand can be heated to the point where it will easily cut through armour. An efficient, close in weapon with a certain surprise value, for a time.
"In plane form." The Arrow shifted to plane form again. "Missiles can be mounted on the wings. Unfortunately they can not be carried in suit form. We are working on it.
"Add to that the ability to make planet fall, and to boost itself out of a planet's atmosphere, an extended range and a very efficient ECM suite, this suit will give the Battalion a hard hitting, fast and versatile unit.
"Now, if you have any questions, just ask any member of the design staff and they will be able to help you. If you'll excuse me, I have some matters to take care of, but I will be back soon." Tess began threading through the crowd again, heading towards her office. She accepted congratulations she was offered and put off any questions until later.
She found Dr. Mako and Dr. Ryuzaki waiting for her in her office.
"Congratulations Belin-san," he said.
"Thank you. Of course all of the team deserves to be congratulated, especially Dr. Mako."
"I'm sure they do. I noticed on the information sheets you provided, no where is the price mentioned."
"It isn't. Of course I have seen the price tag on this unit."
"It is a little high," Tess admitted.
"It is obscene."
"I wouldn't say obscene."
"Trust me Belin-san, I have been in this business for some time. Obscene is the word."
"You're probably right," Tess said as she walked over to her desk and picked up an EO pad. That is probably why I designed the Arrow 01." She tossed him the pad.
"01?" he asked as he caught the pad.
"Based on the 00 frame, which has already been completely tested, minus the big ticket items. Similar in most of the important respects, but for price."
Akira looked at her, then the pad. After a minute he looked back to her. "This price is accurate?"
"So that is what you were doing," Reiko said.
"I took what you said to heart."
Akira passed the EO pad to Reiko. "I'll need to show this to the other senior designers, and to the upper ranks, but I suspect that they will okay it. Seeing as most of our military people want to fly an Arrow it is not likely they will say 'no'. So far we have agreed to produce suits in a four, three, two and two ratio. Four soldiers, three heavy armours, two interceptors and two of our soon to be unveiled fighters. We will add one Arrow 01 to that since the Arrow should be able to functions as both fighter and Interceptor, so it will round out numbers up. Will that be satisfactory Belin-san?"
"Then, barring and complications, you have taken your suit from concept to production. Congratulations."
"Thank you Dr. Ryuzaki." Tess beamed.
Closing credits, 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 28