Episode 3 (2180.05.08)
by Shawn Hagen (all around rapscoundrel and ner-do-well.) (1997)
Starblade Battalion is the Property of R.Talsorian Games.
Music: Life During Wartime (Talking Heads)
Open on the area around the Ranoxis system. We see the SAC Fleet Carrier Macadoneia and several cruisers. Suddenly a group of ODF ships appear out of nowhere on the flank of the SAC fleet. They open up with their spinal rail guns, ripping into the SAC ships. During the battle the Macadoneia is holed several times and explodes, a plasma fireball filling the screen. When the fireball fades the screen is filled with a shot of Earth.
While the back ground changes, each planet with a significant human population being shown, in the foreground we get a look at all the characters who play a major part in the story (exactly who they would all be I won't know till the end, but trust me, they are there). First we get a close up of their faces, then they are pulled back so we can see their entire form before they are obscured by the next. It's all pretty fast.
Next we see a Midnight Sun Harbinger as it blasts its way into a city and begins to lay waste to everything around it.
A space battle between the ODF and the SAC, it is a chaotic scene, with ships and HAs flying all over the place, a large number of units being destroyed.
A shot of Emiko's face, she is looking wistful, many lights are reflected in her eyes. The camera pulls back, then swings around so it is behind her. We see she is standing on a roof, looking out over Tokyo.
Juan standing in a large room, it looks like a board room. He has a confident smile on his face as he speaks to a group of men and women. Through the window we see huge trees.
A woman with short brown hair, her left eye partially covered by the bangs, stands in the rain in a forest clearing. Several men stand around her. She has a rifle in one hand, a pistol in the other. On of the others moves and suddenly she is spinning, firing both weapons, hitting her opponents.
A very attractive woman with long blonde hair and green eyes sits in a HA pilot seat. She is jerking the controls around, being thrown against the straps, her hair flying around her in zero-G. The HA she is in fades in, a dark blue Manticore with silver trim. The Manticore spins, the huge gauss cannon tearing several SAC suits to pieces.
A handsome man with long black hair sits in a ships cockpit, hands flying across the controls, being thrown against the restraining straps of his seat. His ship fades in, a streamlined, leaf shaped ship that is moving in a way a ship that size has no right to do as it evades the attacks of HAs.
The Harbinger and a dark blue Manticore with silver trim are fighting in the middle of a city. They are punching at each other, each hit tearing armour from the other unit.
The woman with the short brown hair grabs Emiko, pushing her into cover before turning around, a rifle in each hand, firing rapidly at something off the screen.
Emiko working at a keyboard, Juan, the Manticore pilot, the ship pilot and the woman with the short brown hair are looking over her shoulder at the data on the screen.
With the song reaching its end we have the characters flash across the screen again, ending with all of them standing together in a group shot.
The bright light was coming through the window. Still early morning, the sun had risen enough to shine right through. With that window and the skylight the room was well lit most of the day. Pushing the covers off her, she swung her legs out of the bed and then stood, the night shirt she was wearing falling down to the middle of her thighs. She felt a little dizzy due to the damage to her inner ear. She did not worry, every day she got a little better.
She crossed the room and looked out the window. A few small robots moved through the large, almost two square kilometers, garden the was behind the house. She opened the window, feeling a little daring when she did so. Not that there was any reason for her to feel that way. Solingen's atmosphere, while a little thin, was perfectly fine. It was incredibly clean. Mankind had only been on the planet for thirty eight years and had been using clean technologies since they had come.
She took in a deep breath, the air was scented by the garden, a field of roses were planted just below the window. While most of the garden was given over to the vegetables Marion had also added a lot of flowers.
Marion Verees owned the farm. Over five thousand square kilometers of land. Such ownership was illegal on Earth. It was supposedly illegal on the Solingen, or was until they had declared themselves a Confederation, exempt from the laws of the Gaian controlled Earth.
In the few days she had been a guest of Marion, and her family, she had come to know the woman fairly well. Emiko liked her. She was smart and strong, but very kind. It was a kindness that Emiko had known her own mother had, but could never fully show due to her embarrassment.
She had also found out that Marion, as well as many of the other people she had met since coming to the Pleiades, were not happy about the way the Gaians tried to enforce their edicts on the colonies. That had not surprised Emiko. What had surprised her was that the people were not very impressed with Solingen and its behavior.
Emiko was not sure why she had been surprised. After all, she had not been completely happy about how the Gaians were running things on Earth. It was a sign that she had fallen victim to the propaganda she had been exposed to, no matter what she might have thought. Now, her ideas were beginning to change.
Walking away from the window she opened the wardrobe and began removing clothing. Most of it belonged to Marion's eldest daughter, Leisha. Marion told her that Leisha had left a year before to join the ODF. The woman did not seem entirely happy about that. Of course even with Leisha gone there were still seven other children there.
That was one of the reasons that had put Emiko there. Who was going to notice another person in the Verees house?
She left the clothing on her bed then went into the washroom to take a shower.
She had been in the shower for several minutes when she heard a knocking at her door. Emiko shut the water off, grabbed a towel which she wrapped around herself, then left the bathroom, walking toward the door of her room.
Marion was standing on the other side, her red hair pulled back into a bun, her clothing a little dirty, dirt stained. It was likely that she had been up and working for several hours already.
"Morning," Marion said, smiling.
"Ohayo," Emiko bowed slightly.
"Get dressed, we'll go out for a ride. I'll be down by the stables. Oh, bring a hat," she said, then walked away.
Emiko closed the door then returned to the bathroom to finish drying off. She wondered what Marion meant by a ride? She couldn't mean horses. Then again, she did say the stables. Emiko had never ridden before and was not quite sure about it. Still, Marion was not the kind of person that one said no to.
A few minutes lateroafter a stop in the kitchen for a quick breakfastoshe was crossing the thick lawn, stepping onto the stone tile path, walking over to the stables. The ground around the house was very neat, and well maintained. Robots and one HA did most of the work on the farm. Marion kept the lawn for herself.
"Emi!" she heard Kathy call.
"Kathy-san, Ohayo," Emiko called to the young girl. One of Marion's adopted daughters. She was a small girl, with dark skin and long blonde hair. Not very attractive but very friendly.
"Listen," Kathy ran up to her. "I'm busy right now, but tonight there's a party over at the Gilson's tonight. You'll have to come. Talk to you later," Kathy said, then ran off.
"Jaa," Emiko called, watching at Kathy ran off. Emiko like her, but talking to her was never easy. She talked so fast and was always moving.
A party, Emiko thought, continuing to the stable. It sounded fun, but she was not sure she really wanted to go. Daichi and Sam, Marion's eldest sons had been going out of their way to try to get her attention. They had even got into a fight over her. Emiko really did not like the reminders that she was that desirable.
"Have you ever ridden before?" Marion asked, snapping Emiko out of her thoughts.
"No," Emiko told her, surprised that she was at the stables.
"Well, Gray here is pretty harmless. I taught some of the kids on ride on her."
"Yokatta," Emiko said. A harmless horse was just what she wanted.
Marion gave her a quick lesson on riding, some tips and then they set off at an easy walk. After about twenty minutes Emiko had the horse figured out, for the most part. If she kept her attention on maintaining her balance, and let the horse do as it wanted, which was to follow Marion's horse, everything would be fine.
Once that was done, she turned her attention to the land around her. It was really beautiful. A sharp contrast to the Earth. The air was clean. The planets ozone layer was intact, making the light from the system star safe. She could not think of it as `the Sun'. The Sun was too much a part of Earth to her, though living in the Tokyo Geofront she had not seen it all that much.
She looked out over all the fields, each one was bordered by a line of trees. There were a lot of trees on the farm. Some in odd places. They were around the fields, in the fields, something in large copses. When she had asked about them Caroline, another of Marion's daughter, biological, had told her it was to help prevent soil erosion. The farms were so big, and the farming technology so advanced, they could afford to give up land to trees.
It was another sign that the colonists were not the destroyers of ecosystems that the Gaians claimed they were. At least not all of them. She wondered what the war was really about. She knew that most of the people she knew from Earth did not want it, except perhaps for her mother. The people she had met in the Pleiades did not want it.
Yet they had a war and she was not sure why. She was not surprised that there was more to it all than showed on the surface. The time she had spent getting information for Takashi had shown her that. It seemed there were always webs of intrigue below more webs of intrigue. She had been pretty good at untangling them, but this one was hard.
"Do you know what I think is kind of sad?" Marion asked.
Emiko looked up at her, hoping the woman had not been talking for a time. Emiko would have been very rude if she had been ignoring her host. "What?" she asked.
"I think that the Verees' ownership of this farm ends with me."
"Why?" Emiko asked. The farm was very successful, she knew that. She had even heard Marion talking about buying another two thousand square kilometers.
"I have two brothers you know. Both left the farm by the time they were eighteen, heading off into the unknown, wanting to see what the other planets might offer. They are both working with a Jager team way out in `Never Never'," she laughed. "They were the children of a pioneer. Our father left Earth to find something new. They are just like him. I am like him too. But I loved this farm just a little more than I loved the idea of going someplace new."
"My children, whether adopted or not, are just like that too. None of them really love this place. You've seen how I have to keep on them to be sure that they do their chores?"
"It is home for them, but they don't want to run it. So, unless I adopt another farmer, and Andy has made it clear we are not adopting any more children, this place ends with me."
"That's sad," Emiko said.
"It is. A little. The Gaians are worried that we will over populate these planets. Most of our kids don't want to stay on one planet. They want to go off and find new ones. Do their parents one better. They want to be on the edge of the frontier. And of course the Gaians get mad about that too. Say we are negatively affecting too many ecosystems. Hard to win with them," she laughed.
"My mother really hates you colonists," Emiko said. "She thinks you are all a bunch of dangerous expansionist, looking to gut the cluster just for monetary gain."
"No. Oh, I suspect that some worthless worlds, if you are willing to accept any world is worthless, might be destroyed for monetary gain, but not all of them."
"There are some very unscrupulous types out there that only care about money, but they are few and far between. The SAC managed to get some of them, but I think they were too busy hassling people like me to really make that much of a difference."
Emiko said nothing, agreeing with Marion, but not about to attack the SAC. She still felt some loyalty to it, if only for her father and brother.
"Do you see those orange poles?" Marion asked as they crested a hill and looked down on one of the fields.
Emiko saw what she meant. A river ran through the middle of the field, on either side of it were orange poles, about one every thirty meters. "What are they?"
"They remove chemicals from the soil before it can get into the river. I don't use a lot of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, but I have to use a few."
"That's very responsible."
Marion nodded. "I can also reuse a lot of the chemicals in some cases. And you Gaians think we are a bunch of wasteful types."
"Not this one, not anymore."
"The units are expensive. To be sure I'd need about three times the numbers I have right now. I can't quite afford that. The ones I have now almost bankrupted me, but the Wardens wanted to see them," she shrugged her shoulders. "I can't help thinking that for what the SAC spent to build a unit of HAs, it probably could have bought me all the units I needed."
"They have been very stupid," Emiko said.
"Of course they aren't alone in that."
"Why did you adopt so many children?" Emiko asked.
"I've just been curious."
"I always wanted a real big family. Of course, having children takes a lot out of you and I was never stupid. Three seemed a good number. Of When some friends died in one of the belt mining operations, Andy and I ended up taking in their child. Since then, well, the frontier is still dangerous and there are a lot of orphans."
"Almost everyone I know on Earth is an only child."
"Earth is in sad shape. They do need less population, not more. Another reason this war is so stupid. There will be no more immigration. Anyone from Earth who immigrated in the last four months is being viewed with suspicion," she sighed. "I heard there have been a few lynchings."
"I guess us Earthers are not very popular here."
"With some. I personally feel that most of them are all right, and you," she looked back at Emiko. "You I would adopt if I could."
"Thank you," Emiko said. She was feeling a little better. She was enjoying herself.
"Here," Marion said, pulling her horse to a stop below the branches of a large tree. Gray stopped just beside the other horse without being directed to. Marion got off her horse.
Emiko got off Gray, moving carefully. The horse seemed fairly high up and she did not want to fall. By the time she had gotten off Marion had walked out from under the tree and into the field. Emiko followed after her.
"I have to check the soil PH and some other things," she told Emiko. "Want to help me?"
"Ii," Emiko said.
"Here," Marion handed Emiko a bag. Emiko took it. "This is the scanner," Marion said, taking the device from a bag similar to the one she had given Emiko. "Easy to use, it has already been calibrated. You take a hand full of soil," she bent down and scooped up some of the soil, "and put the sensor close to it," she said, demonstrating. "If there is a problem it will tell you. In that case take one of the markers from the bag and place it where you got the soil," she showed Emiko one of the red sticks. "Easy."
"How should I do this?"
"Go to the far end of this field, walk along the rows, take a sample about every thirty meters or so. Work your way towards the center. We'll meet there."
"Wakatta," Emiko said, heading off to the far end of the field.
Marion smiled and headed off to where she would start.
Emiko bent down at the beginning of the first row and scooped up a handful of soil and tested it. She dropped it, straightened, and walked down the row about thirty meters before repeating the action.
While a little tired, Emiko did not mind the work. The soil had a rich smell to it that she found pleasant and it was nice to be doing something. She suspected that a few of the robots could have done the work faster and more efficiently. That Marion wanted to do it herself was not to surprising though. As she had told Emiko she loved the farm.
Some time later she found Marion sitting in the middle of one of the rows. "Are we done?" Emiko asked.
"Yes," she said. "Any problems?"
"I put down three markers."
"I'll send a couple of robots down to put things right later," she said as she stood. "Let's go and have some lunch."
Emiko's stomach growled when she said lunch. Emiko felt her face get a little hot. She had been eating a lot since she had got there. She suspected that it was the nanobodies in her.
Marion smiled then walked back towards the horses.
Lunch, as it turned out, was a picnic. She took it out of the saddlebags, laying everything on a blanket she had laid down. She had also brought water and for them to wash their hands.
Emiko looked out over the field, feeling good. She could not remember ever having done work she had found so satisfying. She did not think she would be willing to make a life of it, but she could see why Marion liked it.
"Yes," Marion said, not looking at Emiko, but out at the field.
"What am I going to do?"
"What do you want to do?"
"I like it here but,"
"But you want to be doing something. You are not sure what it is, but you know you should be doing it."
"I'm not surprised," she turned to look at Emiko and smiled. "You remind be so much of Leisha. You have your eyes on other horizons. How did you last so long on Earth?"
"Didn't you find it all so confining? Weren't there times you just wanted to go somewhere. To run until you were so tired that you couldn't run any farther? To be able to just drop where you were, lay back, and stare up at the sky?"
Emiko said nothing for a time. She thought back to Tokyo. Of spending entire days on the trains, using her student pass to just travel around the entire city. So much traveling yet in the end she was always back where she started. "There were times like that, but I didn't know what I wanted to do."
"Now you do."
"As bad as things are, at least you got your wings out of this."
"Your free to fly now."
"I never thought of it like that."
"There are no endings Emiko, just new beginnings. Had enough to eat?"
Emiko nodded. While she still felt a little hungry, she had already made quite a dent in the food and did not want to look like a pig.
"Help me pack everything away and then we'll go," Marion said as she got to her feet. Emiko stood and began to clean up the mess. In a short time they had everything back in the saddle bags and were back on the horses.
Marion did not head back towards the house. She followed the river, heading into a forested area. They rode along the trail that ran beside the river, heading upstream. Emiko did not say anything, just concentrated on keeping her balance and wondering where Marion was taking her.
They came around a bend in the river into a clearing. There was a man there, seated on he side of the river they were on, fishing.
"Juan, good afternoon," Marion called.
"Afternoon," he said, looking over at Marion, smiling.
"Any luck?" Marion asked as she pulled her horse to a halt then got off.
"Very little. The trout still haven't had much success and the local fish, in addition to tasting bad, seem very adept at snapping my line."
Juan was a man of average height, thin, short brown hair, dark eyes and his skin was a very light shade of brown. Emiko looked at him from up on Gray's back and decided he was somewhat handsome.
"So," Marion took a seat beside him. "Tell me the news."
"Born is very sorry about the damage his herds did to your fields and is willing to offer forty head as compensation."
"He also says he needs to get to that river about twice a year."
"I will not have him driving those damn cattle through my fields twice a year."
"He's has to. His herd has gotten too big. He needs more water. He has watering rights at the river."
"That doesn't give him the right to trample me fields."
"He knows. This is what we worked out. He'll make a corridor though your fields to drive the cattle through, line the side with stun wire to keep them from damaging your fields."
"We're talking about a corridor about fifteen meters wide and four kilometers long."
"Yes. He'll let you use that much land where your two properties border. He will also pay ten head a year and one every time he uses the corridor, provided you invite him to the barbecue."
"You are a piece of work," Marion asked. "Okay. I agree. Now what about my crops?"
"I've already sold sixty percent of your next harvest to the ODF at three times the price you set as the base. Now, seeing how things are, and I don't want to be branded a war profiteer, we'll say I only got twice for figuring out my commission. I figure you'll want to stockpile a little, the rest we sell to the usual clients at a little over your base price."
"Sounds good. You have all the papers?"
"I'll drop by your place later to give them to you. Now, shall we get down to business?"
"Emiko," Marion turned to look at her. "Please come and join us."
Emiko, who had gotten off Gray, walked toward them, then sat down beside Marion.
"Emiko Miya, this is Juan Varis. Juan, this is our terrorist."
"Please to meet you Miss Miya," he said, offering his hand.
"Yoroshiku ne," Emiko said.
"So," Juan said, letting go of her hand. "You are the one they are making a big stink about."
"I guess," Emiko said, not quite sure what he meant.
"They've put a quiet price on your head. Not too much, but enough to show they are serious. Then want you dead."
Emiko shrugged her shoulders. She knew that.
"You told me there was something you could do," Marion said.
"Well, I've been hearing things over the last little while. As it turns out, we aren't the only people who don't want this war."
"No big surprise," Marion said.
"Yes, but some of these people are thinking that maybe they can stop it."
"No. Now, if this is for real, which I think it is, and the deal doesn't fall through, which it might considering some of the personalities involved, then I can think of no better place for Miss Miya."
"Why?" Emiko asked.
"Well, they could probably use your skills for one thing, and, sitting within a military organization offers some protection."
"So what exactly are we talking about here?" Marion asked.
"Rogue players from both sides, bunch of people on the outside, a real interesting mix. As far as I can tell, they want to do this to save lives."
"Sounds good," Marion said. "Trust your sources?"
"What would I do?" Emiko asked.
"Same thing you did on Earth mostly, but to both Solingen and the USSA."
"How dangerous is this?" Marion asked.
"Very. It is a war we'll be trying to stop."
"You said `we'll'."
"Of course I did. I'm going in on this as well. War is bad for business after all. Oh, a lot of short term profits to be made, but I'm in it for the long haul."
"I'm not sure about this," Emiko said.
"You could stay here," Marion said. "Wait for it to be over."
"She could. A lot of people are going to be hurt in this though. You could be of help in minimizing that number. As I understand it, you know your way around a computer, and you made it this far. That speaks highly for you," he looked at Emiko.
Emiko said nothing, she just looked down in the water and tried to remember why she had started helping Takashi. There had been a number of reasons. The thrill. A chance to do something her mother would not approve of. To help Takashi, who she had had a crush on. Somewhere there had also been the desire to be of some use.
Juan was right. A lot of people were going to get hurt in the war.
"Do you think I could really help?" Emiko asked him.
"I think you could."
"Then, I think," she paused and considered what she was about to do. "I'd like to find out more."
"Good," he smiled. "Not committing yourself until you know the full deal. We'll leave tomorrow."
"Where are you going?" Marion asked him.
"You're taking her there?!"
"It is where things are happening."
Emiko looked at Juan then over at Marion. She had heard about Zanzibar before, and that it was a bad place, but she had always thought that the stories were exaggerated. Looking at Marion she was beginning to rethink that.
"You better take care of her," Marion warned.
"I think she can take care of herself."
Marion nodded, but did not look completely convinced. "I'll thank you not to mention this to any of my children. Daichi and Sam would probably run off with you if they even suspected."
"This is still somewhat of a secret Marion. I'm not about to announce it to everyone."
"I'm not concerned with everyone. I'm worried about my two headstrong sons."
"You have my word that it goes not farther than this."
"Good," Marion nodded. "I'll leave you to your fishing then. I'll see you tonight for dinner," she got to her feet.
"Do you mind if I stay?" Emiko asked.
"Do you think you can get back on your own?"
"I'll bring her back," Juan said.
"I'll see you back at the house then," Marion said, then walked to her horse.
Emiko waited until she had ridden off before turning her attention back to Juan. "Do you mind if I ask you a few questions?"
"Go ahead. I can't promise to answer them all."
"Who are these people you are talking about?"
"Just some people who want to stop a war. They'll recruit who they can, build up a small army, then do whatever they can to minimize the suffering."
"And why are you going to help them?"
Juan pulled his line from the water, then laid the pole aside. "I'm a businessman, a Factor. Short term there are huge profits to be made in this war, in gutting planets, but short term does not interest me. That does not mean I don't plan of profiting from this, I will. Still, I'd rather make my profit in trying to help people than from their suffering. I'm doing it partly because it is the right thing to do and partly because it gets me in on the ground floor of something that could be quite lucrative. What about you?"
"I guess part of it is to help people. Maybe a little of it is revenge, but mostly," she paused for a few seconds. "Mostly I want to be able to go home."
"There might be easier ways to clear your name."
"Maybe," Emiko said.
"Too bad. Do you write?"
"Do you write?"
"Not really. Why?"
"Your story, it might interest a number of people, sometime in the future. Marketed right if could be quite profitable."
"Are you serious?"
"I'm always serious about profit."
"I don't think I'd like the hold my life up for people to see. Plus, so far, all it's been is me running and being scared."
"I think that is the definition of an adventure," Juan said.
There was a knock on her door. "Ready," she heard Juan call.
"Yea," Emiko said, pulling the bag off her bed, then walking to the door. Juan was waiting on the other side, wearing a suit. Emiko thought it looked very good on him. She changed her assessment of him from somewhat handsome to handsome.
"We'll be taking a helicopter to a landing field about six hundred kilometers away. It will take us about a day and half to get to Zanzibar."
"Well, let's get going then."
Juan nodded and smiled, then turned and walked down the hall. Emiko looked back in the room, realizing that she was going to miss it, then followed after Juan.
They found Marion down in the kitchen, sitting at the table. The household robot was at the stove, making breakfast.
"Everyone still asleep?" Emiko asked.
"Everyone was up late last night," Marion said, holding out a cup of coffee towards Juan. "John Gilson is not much of a farmer but he knows how to throw a party."
"He also knows to let his robots handle most of the work, which is why he is a profitable farmer," Juan said, taking the cup.
"He'll regret that one day," Marion told him.
"You always say that," Juan told her.
"Will you say goodbye for me to everyone? I left some notes up in the room," Emiko said as she picked up a small loaf of fresh bread and ripped it in half.
"I will. Sit down."
Emiko sat down and began eating. Juan sat beside her and drank his coffee.
"When do you think you will be back?" Marion asked Juan.
"Not really sure."
"Got any advice?"
"You still holding that Solingen Stock?"
"I think it will continue to raise for the next few weeks but when this war starts to bog down. which it probably will, that or the SAC will smash right through our lines, it will start falling. Keep an eye on the war and the market. Sell when it feels right. After that, invest in precious metals."
"Until this war is over and done with it is hard to say which companies will still be operating. I'd stay away from them. Precious metals are the way to go."
"Chancy. If the USSA were to win, I don't think they would give much respect to any deeds you held."
"Andy is thinking of buying his ship."
"Nice piece of kit. A Shunt capable ship is always useful. It will be costly though."
"Arranging a loan?"
"No. Buying it right out, with cash."
"Well, it seems Andy has managed to arrange things well enough."
"He does manage."
"Tell me, could you and the other use some insurance."
"As in the type of insurance that blows large holes into things?"
"Is there any other kind?"
"And what would the premiums be like?"
"Say ten percent of the profits for the next six years."
"Who would we be dealing with?"
"Standard types. They are clean though and so are the goods," he reached into his jacket pocket and removed an eyes only pad. "This is the contact information. I've already paid for it all."
She took the pad. "Could we work out a rental agreement instead?"
"Renting military class weapons, what an idea," he said sarcastically.
"It was a try."
"Are you ready to go?" he asked Emiko.
Emiko held up a hand as she finished chewing the food in her mouth then swallowed. "Okay," she said, getting to her feet.
"Take care of yourself," Marion said as she got to her feet as well. She placed her hands on Emiko's shoulders. "You are always welcome back."
"Thank you Verees-sama. Gomeiwaku, sumimasen," she stepped back so she could bow deeply.
"It was no trouble," Marion told her. "Now get out of here, I can see that Juan wants to be gone."
Emiko nodded and followed after Juan. She turned around after leaving the house and waved once before leaving.
Marion watched her go then went back to the kitchen. She was going to have to call her neighbors soon and tell them about the deal she had made. Some were not going to be happy. Ten percent was not a small number. It was Juan though, and he had a soft spot in his heart for them. It was likely that he was letting them have the weapons at cost. They would be doing well.
"So you are an arms dealer," Emiko said as she walked towards the helicopter.
"No," Juan said. "I am an everything dealer, except drugs and a few other bad things."
"Aren't guns bad things?" Emiko asked.
"In the hands of Marion and her friends? No," he told her as he opened one of the cockpit doors. "They will hide them away and if they ever pull them out, you know that things have gone really bad. I have never sold so much as a bullet to anyone I thought might actually do anything stupid with it. Of course, I've been wrong a few times." He pulled himself into the helicopter.
Emiko got in on the other side. "I don't quite understand what you do."
"Here," he handed her a set of headphones as he deactivated the security lockout. "Let me get us up first, then we'll talk."
Emiko put the headphones on and then waited. Juan quickly ran through the preflight and then started the engine. In a short time they were in the air, flying over the land.
"Okay," he said. "Basically I take care of problems. I go into a situation, find out what both sides want, and then do my best to satisfy both. I try to make sure that the final arrangement is mutually beneficial and lucrative. Mainly I work with information. I make it my business to know who wants what and who has what and then bring them together, for a percentage of the profits of course."
"What about yesterday with Verees-san and Born-san?"
"Just a bit of negotiation. Marion was angry that Born ran his cattle through her crops, but she understood why he did it. Born was upset that he had to do it, but had no choice. Both wanted a compromise but neither wanted to give into the other. They would have in a few days if I had not been there, probably reached the same agreement, thought there might have been some bad feelings on both sides. I was sort of a buffer in that case."
"You do this a lot?"
"Not with farmers and ranchers. Marion and all the others are friends though. Most of my clients are on the company size."
"I am beginning to think you do a little of everything."
"That is basically it. I go where the money is, to one extent or another. I try to line my pockets, my clients' pockets and keep everyone happy as much as possible. I've moderated deals between Solingen and Gravesend, helped hammer out water rights, and all sort of other things. Factors tend to go where they are needed, fix things, then leave."
"So, you are trying to fix this war?"
"In a way. I'm just going where I'm needed. If things turn out well, these people are going to need someone like me around."
Emiko smiled after a moment. Juan was a rather interesting person. She still was not sure what his job was, but she thought that she might figure it out sometime in the future.
The ship was a bit of a mess inside, cargo stacked in the ship's corridors, everything covered with a layer of grunge. Emiko dragged her fingertip along one wall, and looked at the gray material that was on her glove and the clean area on the wall.
Things improved in the crew area. Things were a bit cleaner and there was less cargo. They were shown to a small cabin and told not to leave.
"Pleasant people," Emiko said, pulling herself onto the bunk. A meter away Juan was floating, sitting cross legged.
"They are a little rough, but you can trust them, if you pay them enough," he smiled. "Get some rest. The journey will more boring than anything else."
"What is Zanzibar like? I mean, I've heard stories, but really?"
"Lousy place. No law. Ugly. Still, it has its charms. There is always a lot of money to be made there if you are smart. Also, it has sort of a feeling to it. Hard to explain, but it is almost addictive. I know a lot of people who keep going back, even with all the problems."
"Is that where we will meet these people you are talking about?"
"Who are they."
Juan reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a bug scanner. He turned it on, looked over the reading then pressed a switch on it. "The man for the USSA is named Captain Frost. SCC Ranger, good reputation, knows what he is doing. I haven't heard anyone who counts say anything bad against him. From the Pleiades is a Jager, Ryuzaki. I've met him personally. Good pilot, good Jager, brave, not too much I can say that is bad about him. Somehow, I'm not sure exactly how, these two met and decided that they were going to stop the war. Got to give them credits for guts."
"How do you know all that?"
"I deal ultimately in information. It pays to know everything you can."
"So these two, Frost and Ryuzaki-san are setting this up?"
"Is there anyone else?"
"I suspect they have set things up for quite the alliance, but I don't know for sure. That is one of the things we are going to find out."
"They sound very brave," Emiko said after a while.
"They are. Hard to turn your back on everything you have been loyal to your entire life and find a new way."
"So we have to wait till we get to Zanzibar before we find out exactly what is happening."
"Basically. Stay here, I'm going to talk to some people," Juan slowly uncrossed his legs then pushed himself towards the doors.
Emiko watched him go then reached for her bag. She opened it and took out her computer. It had been a long time since she had last tried to crack the files. If she was going to offer anything to this group that was forming, she had better see what was on the rest of the files.
As she went to work she thought about the two men that Juan had told her about. Two men, on opposite sides of a war, who had decided to stop it.
She hoped that she would get a chance to meet them both. They sounded interesting.
It was Zanzibar's hot season. That meant it was around fifty degrees Celsius. That temperature and the open sewers, all the trash, were not a good combination.
"I think I am going to throw up," Emiko said.
"Save some," Juan said. "In a couple of minutes were are entering a really bad area."
"Thank you," Emiko said, taking a few deep breaths, which as a mistake. She leaned over and began coughing, almost loosing her breakfast.
"This place really is a hell hole," Juan said, waiting for Emiko to get over it.
"I can't believe that anyone would choose to come here for a meeting."
"It wasn't really a matter of choice. There is Shiva for one thing, and this is the only truly neutral place you'll find," he said a he started walking again.
"Avatar Shiva. He more or less runs Zanzibar. Dangerous man, but useful."
"What does he do?"
"Runs the Charybdis."
"Business man and smuggler."
"So pirates, ODF and SAC," Emiko said. "Who else?" she asked with the air of someone not expecting an answer.
"The Ravagers I think."
"I really did not want to know."
"Heads up," Juan said, grabbing Emiko and pulling her off to the side.
"Nanda?" Emiko asked, a little put off that he had just grabbed her.
"Always give way to certain people," he said, indicating three men walking down the street.
There was nothing particularly special about any of them except for the tattoos on their foreheads. A tattoo of a black sun.
"Midnight Sun?" Emiko asked. "What are they doing here?"
"No laws in Zanzibar," Juan said as he watched the three men pass. "They basically are out in the open. I give them a wide berth. Members of a suicide death cult are a dangerous lot."
"What sort of place is this?" Emiko demanded.
"Zanzibar," Juan said as if that explained it all. "Come on."
Emiko followed after him, deciding that the place could not get much more worse. A short time later they rounded a corner, the wind was blowing in their faces and Emiko threw up.
"Told you," Juan said.
"Zanzibar dai kirai," Emiko said a moment before throwing up once more.
Emiko watched him go for a moment, then walked after him. They were in one of the better area's of Platt city. There was still an overpowering stench from the rest of the city, but the area they were in was clean. She watched as Juan moved farther and farther ahead of her. She was not going to run.
They had been wandering around the city for almost two hours, Juan trying to find someone. Emiko's clothing was soaked with sweat, and it smelled, she smelled.
She finally caught up with Juan who was with a young woman. She was pretty, slim, shoulder length blonde hair and blue eyes.
"He's with Shiva and Strazza," the woman said to Juan. She stressed the second name.
"Placide? No wonder you aren't with them."
"Shut up Juan!" she snapped at him.
"Sorry," he said. "Oh," he looked at Emiko. "This is Emiko Miya."
"Dozo yoroshiku," Emiko said, bowing.
"Emiko, this is Akadi Kafe."
"Nice to meet you," the woman said.
"Emiko is wanted on Earth as a terrorist," Juan said. "She's actually just a thief."
Emiko gave him a hard look. "Hacker," Emiko said.
"I guess there is a difference."
"So what is she doing here?"
"Well, there are some of us who don't care much for what the USSA is up to, and neither are these people quite thrilled with Solingen."
"Tell me something new," Akadi said.
"Well, the people on Earth decided to send her to the Pleiades so that she wouldn't be killed. I think we would have just sat on her had things not went as they did."
"I notice you said `we'."
Juan shrugged his shoulders. "What can I say. Everyone has to take a stand. So, where is Jesse at?"
"Right now I am not sure. In about an hour, landing pad 8, out near Shiva's enclave."
"You're not going?"
"I got things that have to be done."
"I'll see you later then."
"Wait one. What's your angle on this. Where the profit?"
"Not sure yet, but there has to be some somewhere."
"And if there isn't?"
"Then I end up doing this only because I thought it was right."
"People might actually think you are decent."
"Then I better find a way to make some money. Bye Akadi," he waved then walked off.
"See you later Juan. Nice to meet you Emiko."
"Kochira koso," Emiko bowed then turned and followed after Juan.
"Is she a friend?" Emiko asked Juan.
"More like a friend of a friend. She's an ODF Jager. Or she was."
"Well, if she is here, that means she has switched her loyalties."
"Well, we got an hour to kill. Let's find a place to eat and sit for a while."
"I'm not very hungry," Emiko said. She hardly wanted to think of eating, let alone do it.
"Well, something to drink then. Come on, I know a nice little place close by."
Emiko followed after him, wondering if there was such a thing as `a nice place' in Platt city.
She watched Juan as he moved pass a few people who were obviously guards, then moved close to the three that seemed to form the core of the group. He spent most of his time talking to the two men. After a few minutes he moved away from them and waved her over to him.
"What's happening?" she asked.
"They are waiting. Now we are waiting."
"Who are they?"
"The one with the blue hair is Jesse Ryuzaki. He ultimately represents the ODF, in a way. That woman, with the brown hair, is Placide Strazza. Jesse's boss in a way. She leads the Jagers, not that they are to happy about that. Military to the core. The man with the long black hair, Avatar Shiva. Leader of the Charybdis, owner of Zanzibar for all intents and purposes."
"Seems like a slightly odd mix."
"You haven't seen anything yet Emiko-chan," he said, smiling.
"So, what were you talking about?"
"Just told Jesse that I was interested in his new company," Juan smiled, "and thought I'd like to join. I tried to get Shiva to invest in this water purification plant."
"Shiva had a lot of money. He's always looking for investments, or he was. I think this war has him a bit edgy."
"Who are we waiting for?"
"Them," Juan pointed up into the sky. Emiko looked up and saw a ship descending. She shaded her eyes with her hand so she could see it a little better.
"I guess these are the SCC types."
A few minutes later the cutter had put down on the landing field. Not long after it had landed the boarding ramp was open and several people were walking down it, towards Jesse and the others.
"The tall one, graying black hair," Juan said, "that's Redding Frost. He has a good reputation, and I think in the end he's the main force behind all this. The woman beside him with the facial tattoos, is Grey Redmond. She leads the Ravager Council on Earth. I don't know too much about her, but what I do know suggests she is best given a wide berth."
Emiko nodded, watching the people. They had moved closer so they could hear what was said.
"So you are Frost," Shiva said. "The author of all our troubles?"
"I didn't start this mess," Frost said evenly. Emiko was impressed how cool he looked, considering all the pirates, Shiva's pirates, that were around.
"But you intend to end it, ah Captain?" Shiva said, the tone of his voice changed slightly. "You are more than you would appear; it seems. I think you would make a worthy adversary."
"I prefer ally, Shiva, but the choice is yours."
Emiko wondered if the alliance was in danger of collapsing before it even began. From the looks on some of the others' faces she was not alone in that worry.
A man rushed up, pushing by Emiko, making straight for Shiva. Emiko could not hear what the man said to Shiva, but suddenly Shiva tensed. "On my own territory!?" he yelled. "How dare they," he said, turning his full attention the man who had brought him the news. "Scramble the Crossbones Wing," he snapped. "I want the battlesite secured and the interlopers taken! Now!"
Shiva turned back to Frost. "We have received word that your friend Talbot has been attacked; I have launched my forces to aid him, but we may already be too late."
"We have to go there," Frost said.
"I have a cruiser standing by," Shiva said.
Frost nodded. "Let's go."
Shiva turned and headed off, everyone falling in behind him. Emiko saw Jesse and Redding move close together. It was obvious they were talking, but she could not hear what they said. Juan grabbed her arm and pulled her along after them.
"Where are we going?" Emiko asked.
"It is with them that the interesting things will be happening."
"But shouldn't we ask?"
"If I asked someone might say no."
"If you don't someone might shoot you."
"Me? Never. Beat maybe."
"Great," Emiko said as he led her towards the pirate cruiser.
Things were happening around her, she heard people talking, Juan kept her informed. They found the cutter, or its remains, scattered over an area sixteen square kilometers. There was only one survivor of the ship. Juan came and got her, dragging her to the med lab, or just outside of it, with a large group of other people.
"The man in there is named Campbell Hahn," Juan told her. "He was Talbot's Chief Executive Officer."
"Is he going to live?"
"We'll know soon."
Emiko moved closer and found a space small enough for her to peak through the door.
"What happened?" Redding asked the man on the table. A woman in the green uniform of Gaian Warden was working on the man. She shot Captain Frost an angry look, probably not happy he was in her way.
"The bastards jumped us," the man coughed and groaned. "Six of them. They were waiting along our flight path and opened up on the cutter as soon as we came out of the `box'. I was in the `head' when it happened; I cut the Zephyr loose to engage and they tore me and my suit apart."
"Who were they?" Frost asked. "Who sent them?"
"They were unmarked Galliards," he coughed again. "They had specialized mounts though, had to be for eco-science gear, special equipment. Warden equipment. It had to be Dominica's doing."
"No," Redding said. "I refuse to believe that Auden would be a part of it."
"Auden Dominica?" Emiko asked softly, looking up at Juan.
"You know her?"
"She's one of my mother's best friends."
Emiko turned her attention back to the conversation going on in the med lab. She had missed some of it. Jesse was talking. "Do you think the USSA suspects?"
"I doubt it," Campbell wheezed. "Otherwise they would have just sent a cruiser to arrest us. No, this was an assassination, pure and simple."
"Shut up and let me save his life," the woman in the Warden uniform snapped. "Wait out in the hall or he won't be the only one that needs my services.
With the door to the med lab closed and no way to see what was happening, people began to drift away. Juan followed after the main group and Emiko followed after him. They left the rotating living section and headed for the flight deck. It was one of the larger spaces on the ship.
Emiko floated into the area behind Juan. Her time in space had given her greater ability to function in zero-G but she still liked to move no faster than a walk.
Placide stood in the middle of the deck, looking over at the battered head of the Galliard that they had found Campbell in. "You risked your lives to do this," she said, looking over at Jesse and Redding. "All of you. My opposite number is dead because he chose to stand against this nightmare," she said, and then looked directly at Jesse. "Can I do anything less?"
Grey shrugged her shoulders. "I'm already in. We don't have a choice," she said, then looked at Shiva.
"As associates, I would feel some responsibility to join you," he said slowly to Grey. "But to blazes with that! This is personal. Count me in," he said, the turned to look at Redding.
Redding looked over at Jesse, Emiko saw Jesse smile.
"Let's get on with it," Jesse said.
"Well," Juan said to her. "It has truly begun."
Juan seemed hopeful. He had come in a while before for a cup of coffee and to tell her that the organization had a name. The Starblade Battalion. Redding Frost seemed to be the choice to lead it.
She looked down at the computer screen, then blinked as the stream of incoherent data suddenly began to take on order. After a few seconds she found herself staring at a list of names.
After reading the first few she got up and went in search of Juan.
Emiko stood in the middle of the room, feeling nervous. The men and women there were staring at her, as if trying to figure out who she was. Juan was by the door. He had told her to do all the talking.
"So," Redding said, "you are the terrorist we were hearing so much about before we left. I don't think your father is too happy about this."
"I'm not really a terrorist," she said.
"I'd keep her away from Karyana," Jesse said.
"Yes," Redding nodded.
"Not a terrorist," Shiva said. "But still a criminal," Shiva said.
"As we all are just for being here," Placide said. "Sit down Miss Miya, there is no reason to stand.
Emiko took a seat and took opened her computer. "I stole some data from a rather secure computer site," Emiko said. "There were a number of encrypted files. When I decrypted the first I found out it was a Gaian plan for an ecostate in the colonies."
"We know about that," Redding said.
Emiko nodded. "I just got into the second file and I found a list of names. Your friend, Talbot-san, was on it. I recognized a few other names as well, people who had died a few weeks before I left Earth."
"Let's see it," Jesse said.
Emiko handed him a disk. He gave it to Shiva who slotted it into a projector. A moment later that list was being shown on one of the walls.
"Two of those people died in the days before I left," Redding said.
"An assassination list," Jesse said.
"People the inner circle want dead."
"If they want them dead, we want them alive," Grey said.
"It looks like we have a mission," Redding said.
"Sir," Juan stepped forward. "I can put together a team and have them on Earth in five days."
Redding looked over at Jesse. Jesse nodded.
"Okay, that's one team."
"Get me back to Earth and I'll get my people on it," Grey said.
"We have to find out why the inner circle wants these people dead. Once we know that we can decide if we are going to have to leave them where they are and protect them or if we can pull them out to safety," Redding said.
"Juan," Jesse looked over at the man.
"Give me a few hours, I'll put together dossiers on all of them. Then I have to go."
"What is your real interest in making the journey to Earth?" Shiva asked.
"Tess Belin," he said.
"Who is she?" Shiva asked, looking up at the list.
"Designer in Team Bukaroo. That is not why they have targeted her though. She is involved with Carter Jones. I suspect the Gaians want to send a message. That is one reason to keep her alive. The other, well, I suspect you'll need to build your own weapon systems sooner or later. If that is the case, this would be a good woman to have on your team."
"How do you know all that?" Redding asked him.
"Trade secret," Juan told him.
"Mr. Varis has a talent for knowing things," Jesse told him. "I've never known him to be wrong."
"Stop, you're making me blush," Juan smiled.
"Very well," Redding said. "Mr. Varis, prepare those dossiers then put your team together. By the time you leave Miss Redmond"
"Grey should be able to tell you where to rendezvous with her people."
"Yes sir," Juan said.
"Miss Miya, you will continue to work on those files."
"Sir, I want her on my team," Juan said.
Redding looked at Juan for a moment, then nodded.
"I'll provide you with a copy of the files Captain Frost," Emiko said.
"Good. You have your orders," he told them.
Emiko stood and left the room with Juan.
"Well," Redding said. "It seems our numbers are growing."
"They'll have to grow a lot more if we are to stand a chance," Shiva told him.
"All in good time," the Captain said. "Now, we were discussing supply issues were we not?"
"We can crack open some old warehouses and get you weapons and stuff," Grey told him.
"Good," Redding nodded.
Music: Stay by Lisa Loeb
Emiko is walking along a city street, probably just after sunset. There are people all around her, but they are all sort of fuzzy. It is hard to tell where the city might be, it could in fact be anywhere. This runs through the entire closing credits, with other scenes breaking the flow.
Juan sitting on the banks of a river. A computer is on his lap, beside him is a fishing pole, lying there, forgotten, the line trailing in the water.
The woman with the short brown hair and the penchant for guns, sitting on a parked motorcycle. She is wearing dark sunglasses and drinking a cola. Behind her is a small town.
The Manticore pilot, standing on a maintenance platform, working on her HA. She is just wearing a T-shirt and shorts, her hair in a ponytail. She looks quite happy.
The ship's pilot, driving along a lake shore road in a red convertible. He is having no problem driving the twist road at speed and looks quite relaxed.
Ends with Emiko turning to face the camera and smiling as everything fades to black.
"Watashi wa anata no ane, soshite haha, soshite anata."
--Miyu Kyuuketsuki ga Yui ni itta
Shawn Hagen <firstname.lastname@example.org>
On to Chapter 4