Episode 29 (2180.10.09)
by Shawn Hagen (1998)
Starblade Battalion is the Property of R.Talsorian Games.
Opening Credits - You know, I want to write a new set of opening credits, but I just can't find a song. Anyone out there got any ideas?
Personal Log: ADM. Redding Frost, Commander of Starblade Battalion. September 10, 2180
It has been almost a month since the battle in the Rocinante system. We have been busy since then, rebuilding, and training. Morale is high at this point, though most of the Battalion knows that our victory was due to a number of circumstances that we will not see again. If we have to fight a large force of the ODF or SAC again, I don't think we will do as well.
Things have been quiet lately, no major offensives by either the SAC or ODF, though both have been involved in small skirmishes. Activity around Faraday remains fairly high. The Colonial powers are making a point by sending missions to harvest the trees and Earth is doing all it can to stop it.
The first of the Ruby cruisers was completed a yesterday. Captain Blackhand claimed it, and I was not about to say no, not after the way she destroyed the Thunder Clap. The second one will be finished by in a week or so. The new suits have also begun to appear in numbers among the Battalion teams. The lines have been running at full speed for nearly a month now and they don't look like they are slowing down.
Of course for all that, we still are outgunned. The ODF have recently finished building a new carrier which was given to General Rogers as a reward for her performance at Rocinante. She deserves it, though from our point of view I would have preferred a less effective General to receive it.
Earth has not been idle either. They have put together a new Battlegroup as a training fleet. It will be helping to defend Earth space, which means the ships that had been doing that can move into the war.
While things have been quiet I do not think the situation will remain that way.
Emiko traced her fingers along Tern's ribs, he was so thin. Tern, hands behind his head, was staring up at the ceiling, a far off look in his eyes. Emiko shifted around, turning on her side, propping her head up on her hand, looking down at Tern.
She felt a stab of what she could only assume was jealousy but she forced it down. She had been told what Tern was like, and she had accepted it. He loved his ship, well, not really. He loved where his ship might take him. He was a free spirit and there was nothing she could do, even if she wanted to, to change that.
"Tell me about it," Emiko said.
"There is this system, somewhere, with a very faint primary," he began without preamble. "I think the Jagers might have been there. Maybe, but I doubt they stayed. Sparse place. Third planet out is this huge gas giant, about Jupiter's size, but it's also got a ring. Really beautiful.
"At the time I was just out there, wandering, looking for things no one else had seen before. The interior of that gas giant qualified.
"It was amazing, there were these huge storms within it, electrical discharges that lit everything up and caused these micro explosions in the gasses. It was a starlit sky, but every time you got different constellations. I went as deep as I could, until the pressure got to much for John B., then I headed out."
"Sounds beautiful," Emiko said.
"It was, very."
"Have you ever gone back?"
"No. I've been there. No need to go twice. There are a lot of other gas giants out there that I can take a look at."
"Is there any place that has drawn you back?"
"Not yet, but I keep looking."
Emiko said nothing and Tern continued to stare up at the ceiling. Little wonder he does not need to go back, Emiko thought, he's can see it any time he wants.
"What do you think will happen next?" Emiko asked.
"Don't know. Eventually Earth or the Colonies will feel strong enough to make a major push. Then things are bound to get nasty."
"I wonder what we will do?" Emiko asked softly.
"Who knows," Tern said. "For now we slow them down and hope that someone gets some sense."
"I feel like we should be doing something."
"We are doing something. I've got some rather large rips in my ship's armour right now that prove it."
"I mean things like we were first involved in."
"Blowing up supply dumps is important too."
"How do you like the Arrows?"
"I don't really have much to compare them with," Emiko said. "I guess I like them."
"If I wasn't flying the John B. I'd take an Arrow in a second."
"I guess I don't have the same love of flying as you or Ree."
"Few people do."
"What will you do when it is all over?"
Tern did not answer for a time. He just stared up at the ceiling. "I guess I will do what I have always done. It suits me. There will always be new things to see, and always a new thrill around the corner." He smiled. "What about you?"
"I don't know," Emiko told him.
"I'm sure you will figure it out."
Emiko nodded. She would figure it out, but what she did know was that she did not have a place in Tern's life when the war was over.
She had known that from the start though, Ree had told her. It did not really mater, she decided, moving closer to Tern. For the time being they were together and that was what mattered.
"Hard to port," Lilith said. "Track that drone."
"Yes captain," Wyvren Hall-her weapons officer-said.
"Fire when you got a lock."
"Locked," Wyvren said. "Firing." The ships three laser cannons fired on the drone, punching a hole through its thick armour touching off the cheap powerplant the drones used.
"Juliet, avoid that cloud."
"Yes captain," Juliet said, rolling the ship to its starboard.
"Mr. Donner, what do you think of our new ship?"
"It will do Captain," he XO told her.
"Yes it will. Mr. Alincourt," she turned towards Daniel. "What else do you need to do to my ship?"
Daniel smiled. "A few little things, and we have to put the name on it and engrave the plaque for the bridge. I take it this will be the 'Thunder Clap 2'?"
"No," Lilith shook her head. "The Thunder Clap is gone. This is the 'Despair'."
"An odd name."
"Maybe," Liltih said as she moved to sit in her command chair. "Juliet, bring us around and take the Despair back the construction cradle."
Lilith looked around her new bridge, pleased with the layout. The Alincourts had begun using Tess' 'fish bowl' cockpit design in their ships. She looked around her, seeing the faint outlines of her new ship and space all around her. Free floating holographic screens appeared where needed to provide the crew with all the information they needed.
Her command chair was on the end of an articulated arm that could move it anywhere in the bridge. The crew stations were all set lower than that the deck, putting each member in a well of sorts. She could move her chair in close to any of them if she needed to. She was still not used to the set up, but Lilith could see the value in it.
The entire ship was cutting edge. Its armour was made of a cheaper version of Tess' wonder armour, the energy weapons were based on Dr. Robert's work and its engines had been upgraded using design features from the Arrow.
Internal space had decreased, the Alincourts had added more bracing to support the armour, make it stronger, and give it the capability to make planet fall. Even so, there was much more space in the ship than Lilith would have thought. Her cabin and those of the senior officers were quite large. After that the cabins were holding twice the people the Alincourts had designed them to hold, not that anyone complained. The ship builders were quite generous with cabin space.
The exterior of the ships had undergone a number of changes, causing some upset to Joseph Alincourt who felt they spoiled the lines completely. The tail section, which Lilith had been told was originally supposed to give the impression of a sail, remained, though radically changed. Added were two similar sections, one hundred and twenty degrees on each side of the tail. All of them housed directional thrusters but they primarily served as mounts for the three laser cannons that were the ship's main weapons.
All three of the weapons could track separately or in synchronisity, allowing for a great amount of flexibility when it came to firing arcs. Under the ship a weapons bay had been mounted which held the ships single rail cannon. Interior cargo bays had been converted over to torpedo bays and a number of small, anti-mech weapons had been scattered across the hull's surface.
Lilith looked over at Daniel. While many of the elder Alincourts were not terribly pleased over the warships they were converting their Rubies into, the younger generation seemed much more enthused. Daniel, and few others, had been working on the new Rubies almost non stop since it was decided to build them.
Maybe the Alincourts had not planned to get involved in warship design, but they now were, and Lilith was impressed by the work they did.
"Approaching cradle," Juliet called out.
"Do we have clearance?" Lilith asked her communications officer.
"Yes Captain," Ursula Hanson said.
"Take us in."
Lilith said nothing as Juliet brought her ship in. Her pilot spun the Despair about on its vertical axis so it was drifting backwards into the cradle. Careful, short bursts of directional thrusters aligned the ship with the docking area. Juliet let it drift for several seconds before firing of a very short burst of the main engines, stopping the ship completely within fifteen meters between the stern that the docking clamps.
"An excellent job," Lilith said, and it was. She had known pilots to bring a ship into only a few meters of docking clamps, some who would do it in centimetres. Juliet could do that as well, but she saved her best flying for when she needed it, liked it was something to be saved. Lilith respected that.
"Thank you Captain."
"Mr. Alincourt," Lilith turned towards Daniel. "The ship is yours to finish what needs to be done. Mr. Donner, I want a minimal crew on this ship, the rest of the crew is on leave until further notice, which could come any time. Set up the crew rotations." She got out of her command chair.
Lilith nodded then left the bridge.
Epiphany looked over her reports, making a few notes. After the attack on Zanzibar she had had the security work dumped on her again. Ree had come up with an excuse why she could not do it and had then pointed out that Epiphany already had all the relevant experience. One day she would get her revenge, but not for a while.
After salvaging and cannibalising the more damaged ones for parts, the Battalion had added three Kreighund Battleriders to its ships rosters. Of course without a shunt drive they were useless for most operations so they had been converted to system defence boats.
They had also salvaged a number of suits that, once added to the battalion's stores, had changed things again. It all meant that she had spent a lot of time reworking the defence plans to take advantage of all their new kit.
The work was almost done, at which point she would turn it over to her replacement and forget about it. She hoped.
She looked up at the knock at her office door.
"Come in," she said.
The door was pushed open and Captain Dom Gentry entered her office. "Got all the reports done, thought I'd drop them off now," he said.
"Thank you very much Captain."
"Not a problem," he put the EO pad on her desk. "Actually, I should be thanking you."
"You played straight with me. Had us do security for as long a necessary than cut us loose, just like you said."
"You will be much more use commanding a blade."
"Yea," he smiled broadly. "That's where Red Blade will shine. You know, since you pulled us into security our original ship, a Standard Ruby went to Core Blade."
"Oh, don't be sorry. Because of that we are getting a Ruby Cruiser."
"Thanks. Of course we'll be waiting a week or two for it. That pirate witch got the first one, and for what? Just blowing her ship up."
"While it was embedded in the nose of a carrier."
"Anyway, that more or less finishes up my work."
"Right," Dom turned away and walked to the door. He stopped and turned back towards her. "I was wondering, would you like to have dinner?" he said it fast.
"What?" Epiphany asked, a little surprised.
"Dinner, tonight, with me. I'm a half decent cook when push comes to shove." Dom looked uncomfortable.
"Dinner sounds nice," Epiphany told him. She and the Captain had been working together for a time and she had come to like him. Obviously the feelings were shared. Of course there could be trouble in the future, but she could handle that. She always had.
"Good," he nodded. "Then I'll be going."
"Oh," he laughed, it sounded a little forced. "Twenty hundred hours. My quarters."
"Should I bring anything?"
"No, that won't be necessary."
"Then I'll see you then."
"Right," he nodded again, then left her office so fast that it was like he was fleeing.
There goes a confused man, Epiphany thought. She had seen it before, and accepted it. Things might work out, they might not. She would find out in time.
The centre of Armstrong City was its domed crater. Capped by a dome of nano constructed diamond laminate, the entire crater was pressurised. Terrace like structures had been carved into the walls, each separate ring joined to the others by shallow ramps.
Tess walked along the pathway that led around the third terrace. She wore a pair of sunglasses and a hat in way of a disguise. It was not much but no one was really looking for her. Her vacation, which as how she chose to look at it as opposed to being AWOL, had so far been rather enjoyable. Seeing Carter had been the best part of course, but there were other things, such as walking the promenades of Armstrong City and being away from the workshops, that also played a part.
She was looking at a table covered with small souvenirs when a beeping came from her jacket pocket. Tess reached into the pocket, removed the small beeper, then shut it off. After putting it back she took a small vial from her other pocket, shook two pills from it, and swallowed them.
The pills were a calcium supplement, and steroid like compound and a few other things. They were supposed to help offset any loss of bone or muscle mass she might experience during her time in a low gravity environment.
Everyone on Luna took them, popping any number of pills, following the dictates of their beepers, into which they had to feed a little of their blood everyday. Still, it was better than the alternative.
Long termers used both the pills and muscle builders. It was always a little disturbing during her first little while on the Moon, or places like it. The slight twitching in the people, it made her think they had small insects under their skin. She had become used to it though and did not give it much thought now.
After capping the vial of pills, she returned it to her pocket and moved close to the table again. She considered buying one or two of the souvenirs as peace offerings when she returned but she could not see it working. Sorry I basically left without permission, but here's a moon hat. She laughed thinking about it and moved away from the table.
Ahead of her she saw a young child leaping along, in high bounds in the low gravity. In all likelihood not a native to the Moon. It was not that the Lunnites did not have fun with the low gravity, they just did it in such a way as to not endanger anyone else. Even as she was thinking about it she saw one of the ever present members of the Lunar police approach the parents of the child to give them a strict warning.
Tess did not have to worry about the low gravity. Not only did she have experience in similar environments, the shoes she wore had a magnet in the toe and an on/off switch in the heel. She passed the couple, hearing the officer tell them of the dangers on the moon and how certain behaviour was not tolerated.
Soon Tess was beyond the conversation, looking for the tunnel that would take her back to Carter's quarters.
"Tess," Carter called out as he entered his quarters.
"In the kitchen," he heard her call.
"Dear lord," Carter said.
"I heard that."
"I'm a much better cook these days," Tess said, walking out of the kitchen, wiping her hands on a dish towel.
"Glad to hear it."
"The trick is keeping everything simple. Less to mess up that way."
Carter smiled at her. "Sounds like a good trick."
"Come on, dinner is ready."
Later, after a simple but good meal, and after some very enjoyable love making, Tess and Carter lay in his bed.
"Sorry I've been so busy the last few days," Carter told her.
"Running this place can't be easy."
"Current situations make it that much harder."
"I should stay here, help you."
"I'd like nothing more, but keeping you secret is fairly easy for a week or so, but after that, someone is going to figure things out."
"I'll hide under your bed," Tess suggested brightly.
"What a brilliant plan."
"I've been meaning to ask you why you came."
"I needed a vacation."
"Is that everything?"
"I'm also avoiding someone."
"And who would that be."
"Doctor Emila Roberts. She's a major," Tess paused. "Well, she's not my favourite person."
"Well, first of all, she finished her suit design before I did, which wasn't so bad, but then they put her in charge of the fighter project."
"Okay, a little professional jealousy?"
"No, that's not it. You see, she finished her fighter in record time by simply stealing the fighter form of my suit."
"This is your magic, transforming suit, right?"
Tess pounded him on the chest. "Wait till you see it."
"I guess I will," he said, rubbing at his chest. "So she stole your design."
"Basically. Oh, she made a number of little changes to it, improving its performance as a fighter, but it still is my design." Well, basically mine, Tess amended in her head.
"So, is she going to get in trouble for stealing your work?"
"She's too clever for that. She claims that this fighter will confuse the enemy because they will think it is my 'magic, transforming suit'." She hit Carter again.
"Hey, what was that for?"
"Just because. She also said that we could use the lines and parts we already have for the fighter, thus saving money and time. It's all for the greater good."
"If I say it makes sense, will you hit me again?"
"Shocking! This Doctor is a terrible person. Have you killed her yet?"
"You're pushing it."
"I was not happy about her taking my suit, but that was not the main problem."
"The main problem was?"
"She wanted to work with me."
"And this is bad because?"
"Dr. Roberts has a reputation as being a woman who likes to be in charge," Tess paused. "of everything."
"She's very dominant."
"So you were worried about being dominated?"
"Maybe. She's got a very intense personality and it puts most people quickly I their place, but some people, I think she takes a more personal interest in."
"So you're scared of the big, bad woman?" He laughed.
"Sure, you can think its funny."
"So you left."
"The need for a vacation."
"And they accepted that?"
"Well, I sent in the request, then I got a lift with some Charybdis heading this way."
"So you don't actually have permission to be here."
"Well, not really."
Emiko placed her tea cup on the low console that ran around the tall cylinder that housed the Alincourt's main computer. She folded a seat out from under the console then took a seat. Several holographic screens came up around her, displaying a variety of information. Emiko ran her hands over the console, activating the basic manual controls. She then refined it, setting up everything the way she wanted.
Once everything was set up she took a drink of tea, then went to work.
With access the Alincourt's computer cracking the encryption codes on the files she had stolen had become that much easier. With all that computing power behind her the files were cracking in a relatively short time.
Of course with everything else she had to do, finding the time to work on the files had not been easy. Now she had all but one cracked.
The others had just expanded on what they already knew, more detailed plans for the 'Peaceful Annexation of the colonies for protection of Native Ecosystems'. Not pleasant reading in some cases. She had sent those to Admiral Redding, and no doubt he had decided what to do with them. She had not heard anything about them though, so she guessed that he was holding them.
Getting to the last one had taken more time than she had thought. She had been kept very busy, especially by Ree who felt that now she had a datalink it was time she had started learning to fly for real.
Then there were all kinds of other things keeping her from the work. Today was free though.
As she began the work she began to feel a little anxious and was not sure why. She wondered if there was something else she should be doing, some little task she had forgotten. Emiko wondered if she was just looking for a reason to put the work off. Why would she do that though? Maybe because the files had been what had brought her to the Battalion in the first place.
It meant the end of something once she cracked the last one.
Emiko shook her head, trying to fling the thoughts out of her head. She had work to do.
Time passed, her tea cup was empty, the last mouthful had been cold she remembered. Data was still flashing across the screen and she was working better than she had in a long time. She wondered how much better she might be if she used the datalink, but she refused to. She had to use it to pilot suits, she accepted that, but she did not have to use it for anything else.
She began crossing her legs, realising that she had to go to the bathroom. Well, that could wait. She felt close.
More time passed that Emiko was getting ready to put everything on hold when the screens suddenly cleared and information began printing across them.
"Yatta," Emiko said. She then got up and walked quickly to the closest bathroom.
When she returned all the information had printed out. It turned out to be a list of names, a little information about each person. After reading the first few names she suddenly realised the was reading a list of the members of the Inner Circle.
They had been looking for something like this, so she had heard. Now they had it. She was smiling as she read through the list, then the smile was gone. She leaned back, away from the screen, not at all sure what to do.
Suddenly she was sure about why she had been so anxious. It had nothing to do with finishing the work, it had been fear.
She stared at the screen for a long time, not sure what to do. Finally she reached forward and began entering commands.
Redding had managed, with some effort, to cut his administrative work down, leaving him more time for the work that interested him. That day he was on the bridge of the second of the Ruby Cruisers, commanding it through its first test flight. The ship was still several days away from being finished, most of the interior was not pressurised, resulting in the need of skinsuits and vac-suits for the crew.
There were other things that had not been completed, but the ship was mobile, and it needed to be given a test run. When Redding had heard that he had put himself in command of the test run, stepping on a few toes doing it, and gathered up his crew. It had been nice to get out, and the Ruby cruisers were indeed a nice ship. He was a little envious of Captain Blackhand's Despair.
"Cap...Admiral Frost," his communications officer called. "Lieutenant Miya is requesting permission to come aboard, her fighter is off our port side. She wishes to speak to you."
"Permission granted, tell her I'll meet her in the suit bay," Redding said. "Continue with the test." He left the bridge, with a little regret, and made his way down to the suit bay.
The Ruby Cruiser's mecha bay was in the lower part of the ship, about midships. Three launch tubes ran from the bay towards the front of the ship, a little like torpedo tubes. It made for fast launching, but recovery was through hatches on the ports and starboard sides of the ship. Such a system made recovering suits during combat a dangerous manoeuvre as it provided an opening right into the ship.
Redding had been told that they were working on putting three recovery tubes in the stern of the ships, between the engines, which would allow for combat recovery. Of course the pilot would be flying directly at the engines which was bound to make things challenging.
Redding found Emiko in the bay, overseeing the storage of her Arrow. He remembered one time, not more than a year ago, he had been playing cards with Shingo. He had shown his pictures of his family, being rather proud of them. Looking at Emiko, confidently taking charge of a military craft, wearing a skinsuit that was really too tight, he had a hard time seeing the young girl that he had seen in that picture.
She turned about and saw him standing on a walkway. "Admiral," she said-the radio in her suit transmitting her voice--saluting. "Sorry to disturb you."
"Don't worry about it," he told her. "Come along, I'd rather talk in one of the pressurised sections."
"Yes sir," she said as she kicked off the floor followed after him.
Redding led her into a group of cabins. Once he was sure there was an atmosphere he took off his vac-suit helmet. "That's better," he said. "Now, what did you want to tell me."
Emiko had removed her helmet as well. She opened a valise she had been carrying and handed him an EO pad. "I just finished breaking the encryption on this," she said. "It's a list of the members of the Gaian Inner Circle."
Redding raised his eyebrows as he took it. Emiko watched as he quickly scrolled down the names, reading them quickly. Something close to relief came into his posture, but Emiko was not sure why. Was there someone he expected to be on the list that wasn't?
"Thank you for bringing this to me," he said. "You should know, we already have this list, an agent on Mars got it for us."
Emiko was not sure what she felt at that moment, but it hurt.
"This is of course of great use, it allows us to verify the list we have."
"I'm glad it helped," Emiko said. It felt like there was something stuck in her throat that she had to force to words around.
"It must have been hard for you to leave your mother's name on this list."
Emiko could not say anything. What she had done, betraying her mother, it had been so hard, and in the end so pointless.
"We're still discussing how to handle this," Redding told her. "While we are discussing the possibility of assassination," he watched as Emiko stiffened. "I'm against it," he said that quickly, wanting to take as much of the weight of her decision off her. "No matter what we do, I'll do everything in my power to make sure your mother is not harmed."
Emiko nodded, still not feeling much better.
Redding decided it would be best if he left her alone. He grabbed his helmet and put it on. He looked at Emiko for a moment, then walked towards the temporary airlock.
"Admiral," Emiko called from behind him. "What about Dominca-san?"
Redding did not stop, did not look back at her. "She will not be that lucky I fear."
"Lyons-san," Akira called out as he walked into the bay. "Do you know if..." He stopped. Jeremy and several of the other members of Tess' team were working on a dragon. Not a real dragon, but a mechanical one.
"Yes," Jeremy called from where he stood by a head bigger than him.
"What is that?"
"An Alincourt prototype. They have a number of one of a kinds kicking around. We thought, seeing as we had the time, we would dig up a few and bang them back into shape."
"I see. Speaking of your free time, would you know if Belin-san has returned?"
"Not that I know," Jeremy said. I would have thought when she gets back she'd go straight to you."
"You would think that wouldn't you." Akira shook his head, then looked at the dragon mech. "Tell me about this."
"Well, it's big, and the wings work, so it can fly, but not that fast. Look," he walked back along the body until her was standing near a wing. "You see, they've put these pop out thrusters here, well the casings for them. We're going to put a set of Arrow engines in these." He stopped and looked over at Akira. "If we get permission to use them of course."
"Of course," Akira smiled tightly.
"Give it some weapons, some other things, it will make an interesting unit."
"Do you think you'll find anyone who wants to fly it?"
Jeremy smiled. "We've already got several pilots who want it."
Akira said nothing for a moment. "Carry on then. Best that you keep out of trouble. Talk to Dr. Mako about anything you need on this project."
"And if Belin-san does show up, make sure she knows I want to see her."
Akira nodded and stalked away.
Carly looked over the orders, not quite sure she believed them. "I'm being transferred to a training unit?" She looked over at her Commander.
"Why, what have I done wrong?"
"You have done nothing wrong," Lieutenant Commander Ios laughed. "In fact it is just the opposite. You're so good they want you for training. It comes with a promotion once you arrive."
"I'm a combat pilot," she snapped.
"I'm aware of that," he said, his voice a little cold. "That is why you'll be teaching young pilots to fly combat. You have a great responsibility, it is a great honour as well."
"But I can't leave."
"Are you perhaps worried about your vendetta with that other pilot?"
Carly said nothing.
"You have your orders Lieutenant. You leave tomorrow, be ready."
"Yes sir," Carly snapped. As she stormed from his office she promised herself she would get back in combat as soon as she could. And while she was training those students, she would make them the best she could. No one would find reason to fault her.
Fifteen Arrows shot over the surface of the planet, following the lead craft, Ree's. Ree had been running the informal training sessions since the battle at Rocinante. The Arrows had a lot of potential and it was up to her to define that potential.
At first only Epiphany, Diane-Diane had then opted out, thinking the entire thing pointless one-upmanship--and Emiko had been with her, playing a variation of follow the leader. As the Arrow 01s began to come off the lines more people had joined them. This sort of training interested her more than trying to train civilian pilots to fly combat. Emiko had been an exception, but then again Emiko was very cute and a lot of fun to be around.
She opened a tight channel to Epiphany's suit, encrypted it, then sent, <So, what's this I hear about you and a certain Captain?>
<How did you find out?>
<Don't worry.> Ree rolled her craft over, flying it upside down over the planet's surface. <My sources are very discreet. I'm probably one of the few that know.>
<It should stay that way. The Captain would be most distressed if this were to become public knowledge.>
<Why do you think I encrypted this signal?> Ahead of her was one of the Alincourt's robotic mining platforms, working at extracting the mineral wealth from the planet's crust.
<I'd rather not talk about it.>
<Come on Epiphany. I love this sort of gossip.> Ree pointed her Arrow at the gap between the platform and the ground. It did not look as if it was in the process of digging so the blades would be out of the way.
<It's none of your business,> Epiphany sent as she followed Ree under the platform, maybe not even noticing it.
Ree checked her sensors. Jesse followed her, as well as a few others. She noted that Emiko flew over the platform, with a few others. Well, she still did not have the confidence she needed yet. Ree was sure she could tease her into it.
<I'd say it is my business.>
<Of course you,> she stressed 'you', <would say that.>
<So the good Captain is all worried about the fact he's attracted to you. Where have I seen this before.>
<Well you can't blame him, and the others, can you?>
<Yes,> Ree sent as she snapped the Arrow up, climbing straight up. <I can indeed blame them for being so small minded.>
<You know, not everyone is so cavalier about their relationships as you.>
<Oh, very good. A counter attack. At least I don't get hung up on stupid things.>
<It's not a stupid thing. He's not the kind of man who can just accept this sort of thing.>
<Well, find one who can, or make your decision.>
<You always say that.>
<And so I should.> Ree's Arrow looped over on its back and began falling.
<It's my decision.>
<So make it.> Ree shifted the Arrow to suit form. <You got three choices. Make one instead of putting it off.>
<It's my life isn't it Ree?>
<So get on with it.>
<I'll think about it.>
<Do that. I want your wardrobe if you go male.> Ree's suit hit the ground and she began running across the rocky landscape, the metal feet of her suit ripping into the surface.
<So that's the real reason,> Epiphany sent.
<No, just a possible side benefit.>
Tess was curled up in one of the largest chairs in Carter's quarters. She was playing her guitar, an instrument she had left there long ago. Carter had told her she was claiming her territory. She had told him that if she was claiming territory she would have left an earring or lingerie-which she had indeed done.
Every few minutes she would pick up an EO pad and make a few entries before going back to the instrument. It had been a while since she had been able to devote so much time to playing. Carter was late, probably busy with some business or another. She wished she could help him, but staying was out of the question. A few more days and she would have to leave, returning to the Battalion and no doubt getting in trouble. Well, she had accepted that when she had chosen to leave.
She played the song again and again, making changes, listening for the best combination. She was getting close when the door opened.
"Welcome back," Tess looked up. Carter was standing in the doorway, a strange look on his face. "What?"
"You have to leave, now. Get packed." He told her as he closed the door.
"You get ready, I'll talk."
Tess put the guitar aside and got out of the chair. She walked towards the bedroom, Carter behind her.
"It happened about three hours ago," he began. "The ODF launched an attack on Saturn."
"What?" Tess turned to face him. "There are no military targets around Saturn. Just the ring cities."
"That's what they hit."
"Hurry up and get packed. The government is ordering a major security crackdown. You have to get out of here."
Tess nodded and moved quickly, gathering up her belonging and packing them.
"They are still not completely sure what happened, but as things stand they say that an ODF ship, maybe more than one, hit city 2, Tyche. It did a lot of damage, but did not destroy it. Then the ship circled the planet towards number 1, Bragi. They hit it with a nuclear missile. There is nothing left. At the same time number 3, Brigit was subject to a chemical attack. As far as anyone knows everyone inside it is dead."
"By the goddess," Tess breathed.
"No one is sure why they attacked, but the higher ups are worried that it is the start of something. In a day Earth space will be buttoned up as tight as it can get. If you don't leave soon...."
"I understand," Tess finished packing. She had not brought much.
"Come on. There's a group of smugglers taking a load of metals back to the Battalion. I've got them waiting for you." He held out his hand.
"Let's go," Ree said, taking his hand.
Carter smiled, but it was weak. Then he hurried towards the door, Tess following.
As the beat up cargo ship took off from the moon Tess pressed herself up to one of the small portholes, looking down at he moon's surface. She was running again, in a way. It all felt so familiar.
After a time she moved away from the porthole and took a seat. There was not much she could do. The crew did not need any help.
She remembered the look in Carter's eyes as they said goodbye. There had been fear there. That scared her more than anything else.
Admiral Dover's office was filled with people. Captains, Commodores, a Commander, all of them telling her what she needed to know. The attack on Saturn was confusing them all, they did not understand it and they had to.
"Admiral," her aide said as she came into the room. "Admiral Romanov wishes to speak with you."
"Tell the Admiral I'm a little busy."
"Ma'am, he says it is urgent."
Joanna looked at the young woman. She looked a little scared. What had Shive said to her.
"Keep up the work. I'll be back soon," she told the people in her office. Then she left the room. "I'll be in conference room 2," she said to her aide.
Admiral Romanov was waiting for her. He did not look happy.
"This way Admiral," she said, leading him out of the office and into the hallway. Shortly thereafter they were in the conference room. She closed the door and turned to face the Admiral.
"What is it?"
"Saturn was attacked."
"I'm aware of it."
"Do you know why it was attacked?"
"No. That is what we are trying to find out."
"I'll tell you why it was attacked! Your soft attitude towards the colonies have made them brave! They are willing to waltz into our system and attack targets of no tactical value just to show they can do it!"
"Admiral, with all due respect that is plain stupid."
"I will not be talked to in that way!"
"I'm sorry Admiral, but I am in charge of the SAC. I respect your opinions and they will be considered. Now I am busy."
"It's not that simple. I have started proceedings to have you removed. The death of all those civilians can not be swept under the rug."
"I had no intentions of doing so."
"It doesn't matter. In a week, two at most, you will be gone. Do yourself a favour, resign, you'll get an honourable discharge."
"I am not going to make this easy for you Admiral. I'll fight you every step of the way. 'I'll say goodbye now, I have work to do." She turned her back on him, pulled open the doors and stormed down the hallway.
"This is not over!" Romanov yelled at her back.
Campbell straightened his jacket as he stood outside the door. He turned towards the secretary and winked. She smiled back at him. He pushed to door opened and walked into Andalana Mbutu's office. "Miss Mbutu," he said, nodding at her. "Frauline Dominca," he said, showing no surprise at her presence.
Auden stared at him, for a moment her control slipping and Campbell saw something dangerous in her eyes. He smiled at her.
"Please have a seat Mr. Hahn," Andalana said.
Campbell sat, then waited for Andalana to say what she had to say.
"Mr. Campbell, Miss Dominca has brought a number of things to my attention regarding a number of orders you have given in the past."
"She had approached me with her concerns," Campbell said. "While I am equally distressed about the defection among the Rangers, I was following orders that came through you, from the SAC. I sent you a number of messages protesting those orders if you will remember."
"Yes, that is true," Andalana said. She looked over at Dominica.
"What if Mr. Campbell had prior knowledge of the Starblade Battalion."
"Sounds like you are fronting a conspiracy theory," Campbell said. "If we are going to talk about conspiracy theories, I have a very good one." He met Auden's stare.
"Mr. Campbell, I am sorry to have called you here, but Miss Dominica did present some interesting points. After what happened at Saturn I can not ignore something like this."
"I understand," he said.
"How do you answer these charges?"
"As I have told Frauline Dominica in the past, I am but a loyal servant of Earth, trying to do justice to my unfortunate predecessor. Perhaps the Frualine's real problem is she does not feel that I am doing that. She and Frank were friends."
"That is ridiculous," Auden said in a calm tone.
"Funny, that's what I thought when you came to me with your theory."
"Enough of this," Andalana said. "Miss Dominica, unless you can provide proof to me I will not act. Mr. Campbell, I hope this will not interfere with your job, but I can not forget these accusations. I am going to have to conduct an investigation."
"Of course. I will help you in every way I can."
"Thank you. Miss Dominica," she turned towards Auden. "I would like the thank you for brining this to my attention and ask that you stay out of my department's business."
Auden's eyes narrowed for a moment, barely perceptible, then she smiled and nodded. "Of course Miss Mbutu."
"Good. I hope this is satisfactory to both of you. If you'll excuse me, I have work to do."
"I'm sorry I had to bother you," Auden said as she got to her feet.
"I'm sorry she had to bother you as well."
Andalana almost smiled at that, but forced it down. She watched as the two left her office. Having to set up an internal investigation was not something she wanted to do, but she had no choice.
"You are playing a dangerous game," Auden said once they had left the office.
"One wonders why the spokesperson of the Gaian movement has taken it into her head to accuse me of such crimes?"
"I am a patriot."
"I'm not surprised." He bowed slightly and clicked his heels together. "Good day Frauline, until we meet again." Campbell turned on his heel and walked away.
Auden watched his retreating back, frowning ever so slightly. That man was beginning to truly annoy her.
Closing Credits - As before.
One problem with staying long times in space was the subsequent loss of muscle and calcium from bones, leaving people weak and with brittle bones.
The first attempt to counter this affect was with centrifuges and the spinning of entire colonies to produce and artificial gravity. It was quite a successful solution, but hard to implement in every situation.
Planetoids, like Luna, had a gravity, though a weak one. Setting up centrifuge like structure in such an environment was difficult at best. And then there were the asteroids, with their micro-gravity.
While a number of various solutions came and went, the Muscle Builders, introduced in 2140.
People who will be spending a long time in micro gravity are injected with a set of nanites that move into the muscle tissue of the patient and build a large number of sites that will, once active, cause small contractions of all muscles in the body, according to a programmed schedule.
A second set of nanites, very similar to Nanobodies, are in charge of restoring calcium to bones.
With the Muscle Builders (which is somewhat of a misnomer, perhaps better to call them muscle maintainers) and the medication, available in a number of tasty flavours, one need not worry about the long term effects of living in Micro gravity. The medication is a mixture of synthetic steroids and a number of vitamins, including calcium, of course. The ZG Vits, as they are called by some, have ended up on the street and are often used by body builders and the like to put on muscle mass.
When on ZG Vits users carry a small beeper with them. Every night they feed a little sample of their blood into the unit which analyses it and sets up the medication pattern for the next day. Of course over time many people get tired of it all. Most set the beeper to an average pattern, some do away with it all together. This is not a huge problem, but the Vits can cause problems if too many are taken (building up of calcium on the walls of arteries and veins) and taking too little results in some loss of muscle mass and calcium from bones.
People with this enhancement are easy to pick out as they show these little twitches as the muscle fibre contracts in its programmed pattern. The makers of the Muscle Builders claim that this side effect, as it were, is perfectly harmless. Other say that for those doing very fine work the muscle builders may prove a detriment.
Another effect is that the users muscles become very well defined in time even though muscle mass does not increase very much.
While one would think that every sailor on a space craft would be using the Muscle builders, that is not so. The SAC ships tend to have centrifuge living quarters which, spinning usually at 1.2 or 1.3 Gs help to offset the effects of working in Zero-G.
ODF ships, while lacking centrifuges, are capable of making planet fall. This tends to put the ship's crew into a gravity often enough to help maintain health.
There is also the fact that the small twitches can be a problem in gunnery, repair work, and piloting. For the most part both the SAC and ODF maintain a policy of banning Muscle Builders.
Also, the ODF and SAC both push exercise and make it part of the training day. Civilians could do this as well of course, but many people lack willpower and exercise plans fall to the wayside. Soldiers do not have that luxury, not with a bullet headed drill sergeant (Master Seaman) screaming at them.
It is of course possible to use muscle builders while in gravity. The effect is rather impressive with the subject putting on large amounts of muscle mass in a very short time. In fact such a modification has become somewhat popular on Earth as of late and a few fashion designers have started putting out fashions that bare skin and accentuate the muscle.
Use of Vits is not necessary if one is in gravity, but many people do anyway just to speed up the process. This can result in very large, extremely well defined muscles, but also has led to varying degrees of loss of flexibility.
To date there have been no recorded problems with Muscle Builders. There have been a few incidents where it is suspected that they may have played a role in vehicle crashes, but nothing has been proven.
Some doctors have come up with possible problems that might be seen.
The sites follow a specific program that stimulates muscle in a set pattern designed to keep twitches as small as possible. If something were to go wrong with the program it is possible that they might cause very large reactions, causing whole limbs to move out of control of the subject.
Another possibly along the same lines is contractions in opposing muscle groups, causing damage.
Whether these are real threats or not they have kept a large number of people from getting them when they might have otherwise.
The Muscle Builders cost 3000 credits, the same as the nanobodies. It costs 200 credits to have them removed. A year's supply of the Vits is 600 credits if bought from a licensed pharmacist. On the street that price triples, at least.
If used in a micro gravity situation they keep the character from loosing muscles mass (strength) and bone mass (body). That's it.
If used in a gravity situation the character will quickly put on muscle mass. Every month their Strength will go up by one point, to a maximum of ten. Every two points of Strength they get increases their Body by 1. When their strength reaches ten their body stops increasing. So, if a character with a 5 Strength and Body gets Muscle Builders after five months their Strength will be 10 and their body 7.
One problem with this is that it lowers the characters flexibility. Every time their Body goes up by one, lower the character's Reflexes by 1. It is possible to offset this reduction in Reflexes by performing a daily regiment of stretching exercises. Of course if the character had the willpower to maintain a daily exercise program they would not need the Muscle Builders in the first place.
If you are interested in a very good look at how nanotechnology might be used I would point you at Neal Stephenson's 'The Diamond Age', which inspired the Muscle Builders. I wish I could write like him.
I'd like to thank Angel Herreros for sending me just a whole whack of cool stuff, stats for various Battalion suits and neat equipment and such. I hope to have it all up on my SBB info homepage in the next week or so.
I'm always happy to see stuff like this.
Ree's Theme Song - Boom Town Rats 'Mary of the 4th Form'
Tern - Anything by the Beach Boys
Juan - Lawyers, Guns and Money (maybe)
Emiko - Talking Heads 'And she was'
Lilith - Glenn Frey 'Smugglers Blues'
I should make a list of Seiyu for the characters.
When the cities were first put into the Rings of Saturn the backers and the planers, in a surprising show of good sense, chose not to name them, deciding to wait until the cities earned their names, as it were. At first they were simply known as Ring City, 1, 2, or 3.
After several years, City two choose the name of Tyche, the Greek goddess of good fortune. The preponderance of casinos in this city made it a good choice for a name, and so set the naming protocol for the other two.
Six months afterwards City one named itself Bragi, the Norse god of poetry and song. This was seen fitting as city two had become something of the entertainment centre of Saturn.
It was almost two years after this before City three chose its name. Some people suggest they had always had the name in mind but had to arrange things so they could use it. The city was named Brigit, a Celtic goddess of poetry. Unlike Bragi, Brigit set itself up as an artist enclave.
While the differences between the ring cities are often subtle (all the cities have Casinos, all have entertainment, all have artist types in residence) they are there.
"We're here in the Engineering Section of the Starship Enterprise
where we have replaced the fine dilithium crystals they usually
use with Folgers crystals. Let's see what happens."
Shawn Hagen <email@example.com>
On to Chapter 30