Episode 32 (2180.10.24)
by Shawn Hagen (1998)
Starblade Battalion is the Property of R.Talsorian Games.
Opening Titles - As Before.
The water in the glass rippled slightly from the force from a far off explosion-the USSA was not taking the Ravager actions of late very well. Grey looked at it for a moment, they were getting closer. She picked up the glass and finished the water off. Best that she not worry about it.
She was about to go back to her work, a thousand and one things that she had to do to help run the war. Not much glamour or fun in it, but a necessary. And idiots like Gerard actually wanted the job. The door at the far end of the subway car opened. Grey looked up, her hand going to the shotgun suspended under her desk. Standing in the doorway was Thomas Redclaw.
"What does Eagle's Claw want?" Grey asked, squeezing the trigger slightly. The 10 gauge shotgun was loaded with rifled slug and she had no doubt it would make a mess of that man if he tried anything.
"I want to talk about that Miya girl," he said, walking towards her. "You told me she was one of yours. Now I figured you just said that to make everyone feel better, but still, she probably knows things, and now the Gaians got her. I'm worried."
"You think she will squeal," Grey said, releasing her grip on the shotgun.
"I think that is a possibility. We've thrown in with the Battalion, mainly because of you. Fine. Now a high up member can be influenced by the Gaians. That's a bad deal."
"You think?" Grey asked.
"Don't joke around here."
Grey smiled at him as she pushed a pile of hard copy flimsies around on her desk. After a moment she found what she was looking for. "Here," she held out the sheet towards Thomas. "That's a transcript of the two interrogation sessions to date that Miss Miya has been subject to."
Thomas reached out and took it, pulled the thin plastic tight, then read it. "Is this a joke?"
"Her name, rank, and an apology for not having a serial number?"
"I think she's seen a few too many old war movies."
"I don't get it. She should have said more than this by now."
"Maybe if they could drug her up or use a little pain. They can't though. There are several reporters who are following her story and if she were to turn up one day with a scratch on her nose the press would go insane. The Gaians have even assigned several bodyguards to her, just in case. I have a ghost trailing her as well just to make sure everyone stays honest. Are your worries relieved?"
"I guess," he said, sounding a little confused. "I don't get it. I really don't."
"It's all about politics and public opinion so of course it is confusing. Don't let it worry your pretty little head."
Thomas gave her a hard stare. After a moment he said, "You going to be evacuating this place soon?"
"What? And leave LA? This is where everything happens."
"Well, if you decide to leave, my people can give you some help."
"Just don't get us all killed."
Diane held the pistol up, staring up its barrel. "It's just showing its age," she said.
"Repairable?" Conaly asked her.
"Maybe. You might be better just getting a new one."
"That one has been lucky for me."
"Buy a rabbits foot," she put the weapon on the table.
"I'll think about it."
"I'll need to dig up some parts, give me a day or two."
Diane said nothing for a time, she was looking at the marred table surface, deep in thought.
"I'm getting more than a little tired of the Midnight Sun," Diane finally said.
"Trying to stop this damn war is hard enough without the Midnight Sun getting in our face every other step."
"A lot of people have tried to take them on. No one has succeeded."
"We aren't just anyone. Right now, with Emiko gone and Tern dead, our team has basically disintegrated. We need something to do. Getting rid of Midnight Sun would be a good thing. Plus, ultimately we can lay Tern's death and Emiko's leaving on them. I want to take them out."
He nodded. "Got any ideas?"
"A few. Juan knows the people we need, we have all the skills we need."
"We'll need technical support."
"We can get the Clayton brothers for that."
"Sounds like you have it all worked out."
"The starting moves at least. I'm going to find Juan." She got to her feet.
"He's in the Clear Floor."
"Going to get my pistol fixed in time?"
"It will be ready by the time you need luck."
Exactly why Juan had made the bar at the Clear Floor his office was not something Diane knew. As she walked into the room she saw him, sitting at the bar, a computer in front of him, the bar top scattered with various printouts. He was talking to a young woman. A moment later the woman got to her feet and walked towards the exit.
Diane passed her on her way to the bar. She thought that the woman might be one of the Charybdis. She walked over to the bar and took a seat beside Juan. "Busy?"
"Not so much that I can't talk," Juan said, picking up a printout. "Want something to drink?"
"It's happy hour somewhere," he told her and then signalled the bartender.
"What are you doing?"
"Making money. Making a lot of money."
"You don't sound too happy about it," Diane remarked, looking Juan over.
"That's because I'm not," he said, taking the glass the bartender brought him. "Cheers." He took a long drink of the soft brown liquid. Juan sucked air through his teeth and put the glass on the bar top. "This sort of work, buying, selling, trading, it's all so easy. There is no soul to it."
"So why do it?"
"The Battalion needs money, I can get it for them. Not much else I can do right now."
"Doing anything illegal?"
"All of it. How else do you think I make so much money?"
"That why you got the Charybdis involved?"
"Shiva takes a three percent cut, his people do all my courier work. I figure he's made a fair sized fortune off this by now."
"Want to do something else?"
"What do you have in mind Marshal?" he asked as he picked up the glass.
"I don't like the Midnight Sun."
"You and almost everyone else."
"They are making the situation with this war worse."
Juan drank some more of the whisky, then gently placed the glass down. "That I know. We can also trace a number of our personal problems to them."
"I want to shut them down."
"You're not the first."
"But I'll be the first with myself, you, Conaly and a few others."
"Sounds interesting. Got a plan?"
"This is where I'll need you. We're going to follow the money, as it were."
"That could work," he nodded. "Got any ideas?"
"That's why I have come to you."
Juan picked up his glass and finished off the rest of his drink. "I finished that letter to Tern's father."
"Hit him with both barrels?"
"Maybe just one barrel. Told him that I felt sorry for him for not really knowing his son."
"We'll trace the weapons, the big ticket stuff."
"Who do we go after?"
"I've got some ideas, but I'd rather peg it down. I know who we can talk to."
"Give me three hours to shut this operation down, and another hour to get ready. Arrange transport, the John B. if we can get it."
"Shouldn't be a problem."
"We won't need Ree or Epiphany yet, but send a message to Thunder Blade so they are ready. Got any idea for a hacker? We might need one."
"The Clayton twins."
"Good. Might as well mention it to them."
"I'll get on it." Diane got to her feet.
Juan nodded and turned back towards his work. There was a lot for him to do. Diane said nothing more, she just turned and walked away. She did not doubt that Juan was feeling the same excitement as she was, that something was about to happen. He hid it as well as she did though.
The John B., fully repaired and waiting, rested in the docking clamps. The ship had not been assigned to anyone, though many people would have liked it. The two surviving members of Tern's 'harem', Veronica and Susan, awaited them. Juan tossed his duffel over his shoulder as he started up the boarding ramp. Behind him was Diane and behind her was Conaly. Susan and Veronica let the three of them enter before they followed.
The two women were there as part of the crew, but they were not part of the team. It was not that Diane or the others were purposefully snubbing them. They were not part of the team. That was all there was to it.
"Where are we going?" Susan asked.
"Zanzibar," Juan told her.
She nodded and headed up to the bridge.
"Why Zanzibar?" Diane asked.
"Remember Witness Rembrant?"
"He should be able to tell me what I need to know."
"He doesn't have any reason to be friendly towards us."
"I know. But I have an offer he probably won't be able to say no to."
The ship shook slightly as it was moved out of the docking berth towards the exit shaft. "You hope," Diane said.
"I know," Juan smiled.
Ree cut sharply to her left, spinning her suit about, avoiding the Nachtmaren's rather impressive fire. The new ODF suit was quite a deadly unit, but the Arrow easily outmanoeuvred the big suit. She returned fire, watching as the plasma burned deep gouges into the armour, though they had not yet punched through.
Tough suit, Ree though, avoiding another blast of fire.
Then the Nachtmaren and two other ODF suits were torn apart in a blast from one of the new Myrmidon cannons. The cannon was impressive, though horribly expensive. Ree shifted her suit into fighter form, moving quickly to an area that was mostly clear of fighting. It was too bad, she thought, that the new cannons were so expensive, they could really be of great value.
Once she was out of the hot areas she began calling up her commanders, getting a feel for how the battle was going. Lilith had put her in charge of Thunder Blade's suits. Things had been going their way since the battle began.
Epiphany's Arrow moved into a position on her port side. <Looks like it is almost over,> Epiphany sent.
<If they stay much longer they are going to lose that cruiser.>
<It's beginning to fall back now.>
<Smart move. Now let's see what Lilith does.>
<The Perth is moving to harry.>
Ree smiled. <And if they move to react,> she paused. <There it is, left themselves right open to those two Myrmidons.>
A moment later a section of the cruiser exploded out.
<It will be over soon,> Epiphany said.
<Let's go and help with clean up,> Ree said.
"All right, we've won this one," Ree told her flight commanders. "The ODF has gone running off, for now. The Captain thinks they won't come back. Punishing one little colony for siding with the USSA is not a major priority. Still, we'll stay around here for a day or two, just to be sure."
"What will we be doing?"
"The Captain wants two flights on standby at all times, just in case. You can use these patrols for training, but don't push your people too hard. If the enemy shows I want everyone ready."
"Any idea where we are heading next?"
"No. Any other questions?" There were none. "Dismissed then." Ree gathered up her EO pads and a few other things and joined in the press of people leaving the room.
She headed to her cabin first to drop off her stuff and change into shorts and a T-shirt. After that she made her way to one of the exercise rooms.
Since the ships was not accelerating the internal centrifuges were running at one and a half gravities. Ree entered the centrifuge through the hub entrance, then took an elevator down to the interior surface.
The exercise room was busy, but not crowded. Most of the crew were still busy with repairs. That was one of the nice things about being a pilot, no one expected you to fix your own equipment. Of course Ree took a particular interest in how her suit was repaired, the few times it needed to be repaired.
Most of the equipment in the exercise room was compact, much of it folding up into the walls, floor or ceiling. Ree pulled a stair walker from its compartment, set the tension levels, then went to work.
She had been there for nearly thirty minutes when someone went to work on the walker beside her. She was not paying any attention to this newcomer until she heard her speak.
"Everything is set up like you requested," Epiphany said.
Ree turned towards her, seeing her friend her in exercise clothing. As much the fashion plate as ever, though her shorts were a little loose. "Good to hear it. So now we just wait until something happens."
"Now we just wait," Epiphany nodded.
Ree wondered if there had been something a little sad about the way Epiphany had said that. "You've been down for the last little while. I mean, we all have had reason to be down, but is there something else?"
"Come on," Ree said, picking up her pace a little. "You'll tell me eventually. You always tell me eventually."
"Not entirely true."
"Well, let's have it be true this time."
"Did I ever tell you why I did this?" Epiphany stopped for a moment to indicate her body and clothes.
"Every now and then. I came up with some theories."
"Some inheritance in your family only passes down through the female line."
"Tribute to a dead sister?"
"You're a pervert?"
"Perhaps, but probably not."
"Well then spill it."
"This body, other than a few small things, is all natural."
"Really? No chemical help, no nano reconstruction?"
"Wow," Ree said. "That's a body I know some would kill for. Not me of course, but some."
"True now, but when your nine it can be a bit of a problem. Not that I ever was really bothered," Epiphany said as she began to increase her pace, matching Ree. "The teasing I ignored easily enough. There were always a few who wanted to get physical about it, but my older sister had taught me this great jab, reverse punch, uppercut combination that handled that easily enough."
"So what was the problem?" Ree wiped the perspiration from her forehead.
Epiphany said nothing for a time, she stared at the wall in front of her. "Ever heard people say something like, 'oh, you're so cute, you should have been a girl.'?"
"I got that a lot. It wasn't cruel, but it always made me feel like I was in some way flawed."
"That must have been unpleasant."
"It was. When I was thirteen, and it became fairly obvious that puberty was not going to do much more than give me acne..."
"I hated acne," Ree said.
"Nice to hear you weren't perfect."
"I'm close. So puberty was not going to solver your problems."
Epiphany nodded. "So I was thirteen, staring in a new school, and I decided there was only one thing to do."
"I think I can guess, but tell me anyway."
"I went to my sister and asked her if I could borrow some of her clothes."
"Well, I don't think many greeting cards companies make a card for that."
"No," Epiphany smiled. "But my sister was willing to go along with it."
"Did it solve your problems?"
"Yes. Teasing I was used to and it stopped when I ignored it. I had picked up a few more combinations from my sister that helped me deal with the bullies, and very few people told me that I should have been a girl after that."
"A happy ending."
"In a way."
"So, this is a problem with Dom," Ree said.
"Yes. At the funeral, and the other things, I could have used some help, some support, but," she paused. "He just couldn't give me that."
Ree sighed and then began to slow down. "I could just be flip and tell you to dump him, but that's no real answer. You've got a tough problem, but you'll have to make a choice here."
"I know," Epiphany said. "Tell me, you seem overly interested in everyone else's relationships these days, what about yours?"
"After the brothel I decided it was time to relax, work on some platonic relationships. I haven't had what I would call a strictly platonic relationship since I was about twelve."
"If Dad had known half the things I was up to in the cockpit of that beat up suit he would have lost it completely."
"I see," Epiphany said. "So, how is it going?"
"I don't know. I keep wondering how a lot of these platonic friends might kiss."
"No one realises how much you suffer do they?" Epiphany asked, putting more than a little sarcasm into her tone.
"No they don't," Ree said, ignoring the sarcasm. She stepped off the walker. "Fortunately people of my elevated station are able to deal with that." She folded the walker back into the wall.
"So, how are you doing Mr. Rembrant," Juan asked as he entered the room.
"It could be worse," Witness said from where he was siting on a couch. "The pirates treat me fairly well, and the quarters are comfortable, for a prison."
"Good to hear it," Juan crossed the room and took a seat across from Witness. "I need some information."
"Good for you."
"Why so bitter?"
"Don't be cute!" he said, anger in his tone. "You took everything I had for your Battalion. I'm broke and I still have a prison term to face when this is over. Why should I give you any help?"
"I might be able to arrange things so you won't be facing a prison term, and it might be arranged to put you in a position to rebuild your fortune when this is all over."
Witness said nothing for a time, then looked up at Juan. "What do you want to know?"
"I want to shut down the Midnight Sun."
"Good luck," he snorted.
"You'd be surprised. Tell me what I want to know."
"My dealings with them were few and far between, and most of the time I did not know who I was dealing with. I can't help you."
"Tell me who deals with them enough to know what I need to know. Someone supplied the Sun with a bunch of Starmaxes, some ships, set them up with a good mercenary company, PAFS based. Got any ideas?"
"You don't ask for much do you?" His tone was bitter.
"I can't afford to play it nice these days."
"Give me some details on what you'll do for me?"
"When you come up for trial it will be pointed out that you were quite helpful in a number of investigations and that the sentence should be lenient. It will also be mentioned that you, of your free will, made a rather substantial donation to the coffers of the Battalion. It will reflect well on you."
"Only if your Battalion wins."
"Then you should be interested in seeing that we do win, right?"
"What about the financial deal?"
"A lump sum payment which will be about five to ten percent of everything you gave the Battalion. That and a couple of contracts that will give you a good place to build on."
"Better than some would think you deserve. Heard about what happened to the Saturn Ring cities?"
"That was a Midnight Sun operation, in case you did not know. One of the cities was taken out with a nuke, or a few. Probably yours."
"I didn't know."
"I'm sure that you did not. Won't make a difference if it gets out. All the dead, that big chunk taken out of Saturn's ring, not good."
"How long are you going to hold this over my head?"
"Until the end of the war at the latest. After that it will not matter much."
"You'll want to talk to Mirabelle."
"Don't use that name in front of her."
"Rumour has it that she picked up a large number of the Maxes a while ago. She has deals with a number of the best mercenary companies. She also would not care who she sold it to."
"Any other ideas?"
"A few, but Mirabelle is the most likely. If that lead dead ends, come back to me."
"I will." Juan got to his feet. "Anything I can do for you?"
"I could use some good cigarettes."
"I'll arrange it," Juan said as he walked out of the room.
To the south of Platt city, beyond the last low building, moving up into the foothills that ringed the city on its south and east sides, was a bunker like set up. Even in a city of criminals and outcasts like Platt, there were still people who wanted to be farther out. The Club was for those people.
That was what it was known as, the Club. Heavy slabs of reinforced concrete, half buried, forming a warren of corridors and rooms where certain people went to do business, or to hide in comfort, or some just to say they had been there.
Through one of those dark corridors Juan and Diane walked. Juan wore a three piece suit of navy blue with a white shirt, black tie and a pair of black oxfords with a mirror like shine. He carried a briefcase with him. The Brass fittings caught the little light and sparkled in the dark.
Diane was dressed in a black cocktail dress over which she wore a long, leather duster that went down to her ankles. High heels would have made the outfit, but she wore a pair of flats. Practical footwear. The dark sunglasses she wore hid her eyes and where she might be looking.
They exited the corridor and entered the main pit. It was a large space, crowded with people. Most of them were slummers, looking for a little exciting action. There was a band playing, loud, hard music. A number of the patrons were hooked into the Club's datanet, feeling the emotions that went along with the music. They were a mostly quiet mass of people, eyes closed, swaying to the music.
Juan was not interested in them. His quarry occupied a table near the walls. A dark corner. Made private by a group of bodyguards. As he approached one of the bodyguards moved to intercept.
"My name is Juan Varris," he said over the sound of the music. "I've come to talk to her."
The man said nothing, just stood there. Juan waited. He was certain the man was in a datalink conversation with the others. After almost a minute the man stood aside so Juan and Diane could pass.
That they were not searched did not surprise Juan. He had a certain reputation, as with all Factors. Mirabelle would not be worried about him. He hesitated for a moment as he thought about that, and what what he was doing meant.
No help for it, he told himself, continuing on.
He tossed the briefcase onto the table, negligently, then dropped down in the seat closest to Mirabelle. Diane sat with her back to the bodyguards, opposite to Mirabelle.
"Mr. Varris, what can I do for you?"
"I'm looking to buy certain hard to get items," he said, shifting into the lingo of places like that.
"There are a lot of hard to get items," she told him.
"Suits, similar gear."
"That can be expensive."
"I can pay."
"What type of suits."
"Military. News says you have some Starmaxes."
"News is wrong," she said.
Juan nodded, playing along. While he was certain she did not have any Starmaxes, he knew she had had some. "Other options?"
"With the war on, things get confused. Certain shipments and parts of certain shipments can become lost, for a price."
"Smaller weapons systems?"
"If you are willing to wait, and can pay for it."
"How about information?"
"Everything you know about the Midnight sun, contacts, drop points, anything of use."
Mirabelle said nothing for the longest time, she simply stared at Juan. "If that is a joke, it is not funny."
"No joke. I'm going after the Midnight Sun, and as one of their primary suppliers I figure you have the information I need."
"You better leave now Mr. Varris."
"Not quite that simple," he smiled and looked at Diane.
Diane slowly removed a slim wallet from her jacket. She put it on the table, and gave it a push. It slid to a stop in front of Mirabelle. She picked it up, flipped it open and looked at the contents.
"Well Marshal Vichy," Mirabelle said as she flipped it shut. "It's very dangerous to believe your own press." She threw it back to Diane with a flick of her wrist.
Diane lifted her hand and closed her fingers on the wallet as it passed by. "I don't," Diane said, returning the wallet to her coat.
"You both can leave now."
"No," Diane said, shaking her head.
"Idiots," Mirabelle said, raising her hand to signal her people. Her hand was half way up with Juan hit her with the taser.
At the same time Diane kicked her chair back, her hands going into her jacket, pulling forth a pair of pistols. As she was falling backwards she opened fire on the bodyguards behind her, taking out several before her chair hit the ground. Diane flipped herself over, somersaulting over onto her feet-not the most dignified action while wearing a cocktail dress.
After hoping forward slightly, to make sure her feet were off the tails of her coat, she twisted around, standing. She had been shot at a few times, but the rushed shots had missed, except for one that had grazed her shoulder, most of the forced turned by the kevlar weave of her jacket.
Diane began firing, watching as the bodyguards jerked and fell as they were hit. On the inside lenses of her glasses a wealth of information was presented to her. It was confusing, but she had learned to ignore what was not necessary. Small cameras in the arms of the glasses let her keep tabs on what was behind her and the tactical computer tagged potential threats.
She spun about, spiralling out from where she had started, still firing. People fell, unable to shoot back. The action on the pistol in her left hand locked back, the breech empty. She still had a few rounds left in the pistol in her right hand.
The dance floor was almost quiet. The band had stopped playing, lights had started coming on. The smell of cordite was thick in the air around Diane, as was a dissipating cloud of smoke. She looked around herself, watching for threats. Fifteen bodies lay sprawled on the floor, probably dead. She could see the look of shock on many faces. The slummers had obviously not expected something like that.
Behind her Juan had opened the briefcase and from the foam padding he removed flechette gun. It looked like a big, slab side automatic, with a extension on the barrel-like a sound suppresser-that was as long as the pistol itself. In front of the trigger guard was a drum magazine.
Juan tossed it towards Diane. She let the empty pistol in her left hand drop and caught the flechette gun. She had to fumble for it a little since she was not looking directly at it. A woman took that for inattentiveness and pulled a pistol from her jacket.
Diane snapped the flechette gun up and fired a burst of diamond laminate coated darts into the woman. The cracks of the darts breaking the sound barrier were terribly loud in the club. The woman jerked back, falling into the crowd behind her. The panic started then.
Juan had pulled the second flechette gun from the briefcase, then had stood, pulling Mirabelle up with him. He dragged her from out around the table, then shifted her about to a better position.
"Get going," Diane told him, not looking at him.
"Right," Juan said, heading for the corridor they had entered through. Behind him he heard the crack of Diane's gun.
Two of the Club's security people came running out of the corridor that Juan was approaching. They began to bring their weapons up, Juan had his ready faster. The two men caught a spray of darts, the laminate covered projectiles cutting through the armour they wore.
Juan pulled Mirabelle's limp form over the two dead bodies and entered the corridor.
"You'll never make it," Mirabelle said softly. The effects of the shock were fading, slowly.
"Won't I?" Juan asked.
"You may have taken out my bodyguards, but that is bad for you. The Club's guards don't care if I'm alive, they will just want you to be dead."
"That is worrisome I guess."
"Give it up. Dump me, you might make it."
"No," Juan said good naturedly.
"You idiot," she said, then fell silent.
Juan dragged Mirabelle along, keeping his attention on what was ahead of him. He did not worry about what might come from behind, that was Diane's job. He had a little trouble with a set of stairs, he almost dropped the woman he was carrying. She did not make it any easier, every minute she gained more control over her body and she was making Juan's task that much harder.
"You're not even near one of the exits," she told Juan once he had dragged her up the stairs.
"Thank you. Have you ever worked at an information desk?"
"I can't believe that such incredible idiots managed to get me. It's embarrassing."
"My heart bleeds for you."
"That won't be the only thing bleeding."
Juan was about to say something when his right foot slipped out from under him. He managed to keep from falling, but only at the cost of letting Mirabelle go. She did not managed to keep her feet and ended up hitting he floor.
"Damn it," she snapped. "You clumsy bastard." She began to push herself up, or at least tried. Her arms were still not doing what she wanted them to and there was something slippery on the floor. "What is this?" she said, looking at her hands.
"Blood," Juan said, pulling her to her feet.
"We were a lot more ready than you thought."
"Juan, get over here," Marshal Sharp called.
"I'm on my way," he dragged Mirabelle down the hall to a doorway were Conaly was standing.
"Get in there and wait for us," Conaly told him.
"Take care," Juan said as he dragged Mirabelle into the room.
Conaly closed the door, leaving Juan alone in the room, but for Mirabelle and several dead bodies.
"Sorry the accommodations are not more pleasant," Juan said as he pushed Mirabelle onto the top of the table. "We won't be here long." He moved her hands behind her back and handcuffed her. "Now, this is a good time for you to keep quiet," he told her as he rolled her over onto her back. "So no taking." He put a piece of tape over her mouth. "Any questions."
Mirabelle yelled something but the tape muffled it.
"Good." He turned away from her and began looking through the duffel bag that Conaly had left.
Diane had been backing up since she had left the main room. She kept an eye on what was happening behind her with her glasses but she was more concerned with what was going on in front of her. It would be another minute or two before anyone thought to circle around a hit her from behind and there was still a lot of confusion over what had happened. The Club's security was still trying to make sense of everything.
Deciding she had a little time Diane stopped and found a little cover. She ejected the almost empty clip from her pistol and put a new one in its place. She did not have many weapons on her, but if things began to bog down she was sure that finding new weapons would not present much of a problem.
The sound of footfalls made her look up. She lifted both weapons and held them in front of her as she began backing up. Several people, moving fast, probably not expecting an attack. She looked behind herself to check out possible cover, then got ready.
When they came into sight she opened up on them, cutting into the first few before they even knew what was going on. She did not give them much time to react, just to run for cover.
Diane ducked into cover herself, tucking her pistol under her arm. She thrust a hand into her coat pocket and pulled out a handful of marble sized, grey spheres. She tossed them down the hallway, listening to them as they bounced and rolled across the floor. Someone began firing towards her, but she had already moved back into cover.
She checked the pocket to make sure that she had none of the spheres left, then unclipped a signaller from insider her jacket. After firing a burst of darts down the hall to keep her opponents sitting tight, she pressed the button on the signaller. It beeped once, then again. The weapons were armed.
Diane moved out of cover at a run, weaving back and forth as she ran down the corridor, away from the people behind her. Bullets zipped by her, and one or two hit her, but the impacts were not solid enough to penetrate her armour. One of them might have broken a rib though.
A few seconds later she heard a series of small explosions as her pursuers stepped on her mines. While not incredibly powerful, anyone who stepped on one would not be walking until they got some medical attention. She heard no sounds of pursuit.
Her glasses gave her warning a moment before she saw Conaly, so she did not shoot him. She stopped in front of him, taking note of the blood on his clothing. He was holding his whip sword.
"Got people behind me," he told her.
"Me too. Juan ready to go?"
"He's waiting with the package."
Diane nodded and Conaly turned around. They walked off down the corridor, shoulder to shoulder. From that point on Diane handled the threats at range while Conaly took care of anyone who got close.
By that time a number of the slummers were beginning to panic, and having been denied exit until everything was settled, were running all over the place. A man came running out of a corridor and was almost skewered by Conaly who retracted the blade at the last second to avoid injuring the man.
He grabbed him by the collar and thrust him to the ground. "Stay there."
They not only had to deal with Club security, but also a number of criminals. Some of them might have recognised either or both of the Marshals and were looking to get even, some might have just been stupid. Either way Diane and Conaly dealt with them.
They got into another fight just outside the door to the room where Juan was waiting for them.
Conaly pushed into the room, leaving Diane to cover them. The cracks from her rail gun were loud and blended together in a sound not unlike thunder.
"You ready to go?" Conaly called to Juan.
"Everything is set up," he told Conaly, stepping away from the wall. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a signaller similar to the one Diane had used earlier.
"Diane, we're leaving!"
Diane rolled into the room and pulled the door shut behind her. "We got about twenty seconds."
"More than enough time," Juan said, grabbing Mirabelle up off the floor and flinging her towards the far wall. He followed a sedate pace. "Fire in the hole," he said, pressing the button on the detonator.
Behind him the carefully placed shaped charges went off, blowing a large hole in the wall.
Mirabelle had fallen forward onto her knees, still not sure what was going on. Then she had heard the explosion and had spun around to see what had happened.
The large hole that had been blown into the wall did not surprise her as much as the ship, hovering just outside it did. How could they have gotten a ship that close? Why was it so quiet?
Diane levered her to her feet and ripped the tape from her mouth.
"Ow!" Mirabelle snapped.
"Let's go." Diane forced to woman forward, walking her toward the ship. Juan had gone out first and was watching the area for problems. Conaly remained behind just long enough to plant a spoilsport charge on the door, then he left as well.
It did not take them long to get aboard the Sloop John B., and once they were on the ship, it spun around and rocketed away from the Club.
"Do you recognise him?" Diane indicated a man standing on the corner across for the Marshal Enclave.
Conaly looked at the screen for a moment. "No. Think he was at the Club?"
"Probably. I can't believe they are so upset about this. You would have thought they'd see it coming."
"They thought that the Club was in some way safe territory. I guess we broke a rule of conduct."
"Looks like they are planning on evening the score," Diane pointed at two other monitors showing more people watching the Enclave.
"I know that one," Conaly pointed at the centre screen. "See the one in the grey jacket? Her name is Kelly McKelly, she deals in quiet killings, very good with a knife."
"Want to go an arrest her?"
"Later. Going out there right now might be a bad idea."
Diane nodded. "We'll let them cut their numbers dealing with the building's defences first."
"That's what I was thinking."
"Think Juan will get any information out of her?"
"We should be in there. I mean we've cut things pretty close as it is, broken a few laws, but we did not have a choice. Leaving a prisoner in a civilian's hands, that's something we have a choice about."
"You should trust him."
"Juan? He's not exactly the most law abiding person there is."
Conaly almost smiled. "Do you know much about Factors?"
"They play hard and loose with most laws, but for the most part they are a decent bunch."
Conaly nodded. "They deal with everyone, and they don't judge. They don't take sides. Everyone trusts them, until they judge. Then that is it. There are few old Factors."
"Are you saying that he's broken the unwritten law?"
"Figures. He would have to do something noble."
"And you'll probably never get a chance to arrest him now."
"That's two of them who have gotten beyond my reach," Diane said softly.
Juan sat across from Mirabelle, simply staring at her, saying nothing. She stared back, also maintaining her silence. They had been like that for almost an hour.
"Tell me everything you know about the Midnight Sun," Juan said, breaking the silence.
"Go to hell."
"Unless you can give me a more productive answer than that we are going to be here a long time."
"If you want to sit here while we both rot, fine."
Juan pulled a briefcase out from under the table they sat at. He set it on front of him, popped the catches and opened it. After removing several EO pads he closed the case and put it back at his feet.
"Take a look at these," he said, sliding them across the table to her.
Mirabelle's hands were cuffed in front of her, but she had no problem picking up each pad and taking a look at it. "What's this supposed to mean? There is nothing about me here."
"No, but there is enough to convict a large number of people in the Cluster. If you don't start being more co-operative I'm going to let the Marshals take a look at those EO pads. Within ten minutes of the last person being brought in you'll be kicked free."
"You cold bastard."
"I take it you see the possible repercussions of such an action then."
She was silent for a time, thinking about her options. "If I roll over on the Sun, you'll protect me?"
"That can be arranged. To be truthful though, once we get through with the Sun, they are not likely to be much of a threat to anyone for a lone time."
"You're not that good."
"That's what you thought earlier today as well. Look where it got you."
"What do you want to know."
"All your contacts, meeting places, drop points, what you sold them, who else deals with them, everything."
She nodded, then looked at Juan. "You're out of the loop now you know."
"You are going to miss it. That's the one thing that gives me joy, that you will spend the rest of your life miserable, looking for that thrill you will never find again. You dealt with Willy Black right?"
"What of it?"
"He deals in the slave trade you know."
"I know. I wasn't buying and slaves."
"Medicine wasn't it? Some little colony needed some wide spectrum stuff, right away. You went right to Willy, you cut the deal. Great feeling that, doing what no one else can. Knowing that without you things would have gone much differently. That's gone."
"Nothing lasts forever. Now start talking. You want to make me feel like crap, you can do it at another time."
"How did it go?" Diane asked when Juan entered the common room.
"Well enough, we've got a list of names to start working on. Did I hear gunshots earlier?"
"Some troublemakers tried to get some revenge. They did not get very far. Marshal Sharp is out tracking a few down."
"Good for him."
"Trust what she told you?"
"How did you get her to talk?"
"I see. We got a call from Shiva."
"What did he have to say?"
"Reminded me that one of the reasons that he allowed this Enclave to be set up was that we promised not to do what we just did."
"Tell him it was Battalion business?"
"He knew that, unofficially. Officially he says he is rethinking our lease agreement."
"You lease this place?"
"How else do you think we could have gotten it?"
"Well, well, learn something new everyday. Ready to begin this investigation?"
"Soon as Marshal Sharp gets back."
"Since this is more your speciality, how long do you think it will take?"
"If we can actually do it, say one or two months."
"One or two months?"
"This is not a fast business. We're going to have to put a lot of people and places under surveillance, check out a large number of leads. One to two months assumes we get lucky, and if we don't have anything solid after that time I don't think we ever will."
"Then we are going to have to make our own luck."
"Maybe you can buy some," she told him, smiling.
"I've done it before."
Andre Roarke's office was dark but for the lights illuminating all his models and pictures. They were very soft lights, and they did not do much to cut the darkness. Andre sat at his desk, a flimsy in his hand, a letter. He could no longer read the words on it, it was too dark for that. He did not need to see them though, he had memorised the words.
His son was dead.
His irresponsible, lazy son was gone.
The letter did not go into too many details, it gave away nothing. Andre recognised the style. He had written a few himself. Certain things had to stay secret, giving away too much could jeopardise other lives. He had always wondered what the people who received his letters had felt about that, about not knowing everything. Now he knew.
Of course Andre, being who he was, new more than most people, and he was able to put things together.
His son, the man who had never taken responsibility had joined a force that was going to stop the war, that had saved countless lives. Juan Varris had been right, he had never really known his son.
Andre sighed loudly. How was he going to tell Tern's mother, the rest of the family? How was he going to say that Tern had died, fighting for what looked to be a lost yet oh so noble cause?
Suddenly he thought of Julia. Julia on the front lines. Tern had been right, she was good, but not good enough for it be guaranteed that she would survive the war. He did not want to lose another of his children.
He folded the letter, placing it on his desk, using a great deal of strength to get the creases as sharp as he could. He ran his thumb along each crease several times, hard, gritting his teeth as he did so.
Finally he placed it into his jacket pocket. As he stood he suddenly felt old, all his years settled on his back.
"How am I going to tell his mother," he asked himself softly.
Joanna looked around her bare apartment. She had packed almost everything up, getting ready to leave. She did not know what she was going to do. Retired military personnel usually could find work in the weapon's industry, but she was not going to be much of a positive factor now. She could always write a book, it was not like she was hurting for money. An admiral's pension was always generous.
Perhaps it was time to think about becoming a colonist, after the war was over, assuming one could still be a colonist. Or maybe she should just get herself a cutter and head out past beyond the beyond and lose herself. That had a pleasing feel to it.
She was brought out of her thoughts by the chime of her doorbell. She sealed the box she was packing then turned and walked to her door. She stopped by the door, checking the security monitor. There were two men in SAC fleet police uniforms standing outside of her door.
She unlocked the door and opened it. "Yes?"
"Miss Dover, you are wanted at headquarters," the one on the left said.
"We were not informed."
"I see. Who gave you these orders?"
"We are not a liberty to say."
"Well, send someone I know, then we'll talk," she said as she began to close the door.
"Miss Dover, you are under arrest," the one on the right said.
"Pardon?" she was not sure she had heard right.
"We are placing you under arrest."
"What are the charges?"
"Mutiny, among others."
"I can't believe this," she said angrily. "Fine." She grabbed her jacket from the rack. "Let's go. I want to meet the idiot who dares to say that." She pushed between them, turned, and pulled her door shut. She could not believe that someone was trying to bring her up on charges of mutiny, or any charges. She was going to rip into someone over this.
She looked at the two men who were staring at her, not moving. "Snap to," she ordered. She was pleased to note both came to attention. She might have resigned but she still had the voice and the bearing. "Let's go."
They escorted her from the building, though it looked more like she was leading them. Parked outside of her building was a luxury fancar. It was black, with SAC fleet police markings on the door.
One of the men opened the doors and started the engine with a remote. She was helped into the back of the car, then the door was closed. Joanna settled angrily into the back seat. She could not believe that she was being treated like this. Someone was up to something. It was probably Romanov, trying to bounce Kent out of command so he could put his own man in. It would be just like him.
The car had been moving for a few minutes when Joanna came out of her fog of anger and looked around. They were not going towards headquarters. She reached over and tried the door. It was locked. She tried to make a link call, but something was jamming her.
How could I have been so stupid? She asked herself. They had made her angry, assumed she would not look past the uniforms. They had been right. Who where they though?
"Where are you taking me?" she demanded.
One of the men turned around to face her, then he did something and a clear sheet rose up between the passenger and driver's sections.
Joanna moved forward and slammed her fist against it. "Where are you taking me?"
The two men did not seem to hear her, and all her pounding did nothing but make her hand hurt.
She returned to her seat and waited. When they stopped, she would get a chance when they stopped. Of course she could not be sure of that. She looked around the compartment, pulling at the seats, trying to find some way out. There were none. The car had been well designed.
They left the Sydney Zenith, passing through one of the atmosphere locks. The car sped through the broken streets of what was left of the original city. Then they passed through the mostly abandoned suburbs, and out into the rural areas. In the distance she could see a line of huge towers that were cleaning the atmosphere and the soil.
Finally the car came to a stop in the shadow beneath one of the huge towers, shielded from the road by a wall of raised earth.
The two men got out, moving around the car, neither too close to it, or each other. Joanna noted that they had both had pistols. The remote was used to open the door again.
"Please exit the car," the closest one called to her.
Joanna looked around. "No," she said, sliding deeper into the car. "I'll make sure you have to at least clean the upholstery."
The two men looked at each other from a moment then the one who had spoken looked back to her and lifted his pistol.
When she heard the gunshot ring out she closed her eyes, but there was no pain. Then she heard another, and a few more. She opened her eyes. Both of the men were lying on the ground, quite possibly dead.
She climbed out of the car and looked around, wondering what had just happened. Perhaps they had shot each other?
"Are you all right?" someone asked from right behind her.
She spun around. Behind her stood a man. He was thin, painfully so to her eyes, and his head was shaven. The skin of his face was dark and weathered. He wore a tight, black body suit that she recognised as a Cami-Sneak. "Who..." she began.
"Both of them are dead," someone else called.
Joanna turned about. Standing near one of the men was another man, looking very similar to the first, though a little younger. She turned back to the first. "Who are you?"
"Name's Klin," he smiled broadly. "Ravager. We've been keeping an eye on you since you resigned. Thought something like this might happen. This is Nat," he said, indicating the younger man who had come up to them.
"Why are you watching me," she demanded, then softened her tone. "I should thank you of course for saving my life, but I would like to know what is going on."
"To put it simply. We think you can be of use to us. You've seen what the government is up to. They sent these two men to kill you, just to be sure you did not cause anymore trouble. Odds are that you are thinking that it might be time to do something about it," Klin told her.
Joanna did not like making snap decisions, but to her credit she could. She looked at the two dead bodies, and the two Ravagers who had saved her. "I won't betray Earth and I won't give you any information."
Klin nodded. "We would never ask you to betray Earth and we probably already have any information you could give us. We better get you out of here, someone will coming looking for these two sooner or later." He looked over at Nat. "Stay here, watch and see who comes."
"Got ya," Nat said as he pulled the hood of his Cami-sneak over his head. The material began shifting in colours as the chameleon field came on. When he moved there was a slight blurring that indicated where he was.
"Let's go," Klin said. "We've got transport close by to get you back home. I'll fill you in on the details on the way back."
Joanna nodded and followed after the man.
Ending Credits - As Before.
These stealth suits are a rather expensive item, being constructed completely in Microgravity factories by nano-machines. The chameleon polymer that covers the suit needs a certain amount of flexibility in the surface it is applied to and so far no one has found a way to apply it to hard armours.
The suit not only has the chameleon properties (Cloaking-Basic) but prevents heat from leaking out. The heat is funnelled out of the suit through the soles. Usually the ground will absorb the heat. That fact allows people who know what they are looking for to use the spot of warm ground to find out where the suit is, or more often where it has been. The footprints of the wearer can also be tracked easier.
Cami-sneaks are a little like skin suits, they tend to be fitted closely to the wearer and only people with very similar builds can share them.
Currently there is a lot of research (by a research branch of Seven Sisters in the cluster and by Illiom Inc. in Earth space) to develop a Cami-sneak that will be undetectable to ground radar systems.
The majority of people on Earth, the colonies and Mars are Vegetarians. This is not so much due to beliefs about the rights of animals and health concerns (though of course those reasons are present) but due to the fact that meat is terribly expensive.
On Earth, Mars, the moon and the colonies, arable land is at a premium. The land required to graze one cow can be more effectively used to grow fruits or vegetables.
Of course, everyone likes a good hamburger, and sashimi without fish, well, there is no vegetable sashimi. Fortunately for all concerned the wonderful soy bean came to the rescue. Shaped, dyed and artificially flavoured, soy (and a few other substitutes) have allowed the people of Earth et.al. to enjoy a satisfactory meat and fish substitute.
Some of the greatest Vegetarian Chefs in all of Human Space are based in Earth space. The 'Bountiful Harvest' restaurant in the Sydney Zenith (where Auden Dominca is a well known and valued customer) is recognised by everyone as one of the best places to eat, period. This is due to its master Chef, Andre Nakamura and the establishments owner, Subtle Canard.
Of course real meat is not unknown on Earth. Because of the cost it tends to be a providence of the rich. Even so meat dishes tend to have small amounts of thinly sliced meats mixed with vegetables. One steak might feed twenty people.
Trade with the colonies has brought a source of cheap meat to the Earth et.al. One of the biggest imports, until the start of the war, was fish from the bountiful oceans of Waikiki. Of course the Gaians, worried that high demand from Earth may result in damage to the far off planets' eco-systems has placed high tariffs on all imported food stuff to keep demand down.
Eating in the colonies is rather different, thought there is a rather high percentage of vegetarians in the Cluster-mostly the older people who lived on Earth.
Ranchers and huge, open, unspoiled places have given the Cluster as much meat as they want.
A number of chefs have begun to gain prominence in the Cluster for there creative use of the Native plant and Animal life from the cluster. The most well known restaurant in the Cluster is the 'Tree Trunk' located on, not surprisingly, Arcadia. The chief chef, Kamberlin Brass, is considered an artist of culinary creations and the owner, Ursual Canard-Subtle's younger sister in fact-maintains an air of dignity in the restaurant.
One is likely to find the cuisine of the Cluster to be a bit more innovative and spicy-in the figurative sense-while the cuisine on and around Earth is more subdued but showing more skill.
Michael Gilson sent me this information on the new Plasma Cannon that is being mounted on some of the Myrmidons. Plasma cannon WA +1(same as Myrmidons gauss cannon) range 18 (increase of 4, equal to Manticore!) damage 20 Kills!!! (Can destroy any suit except Myrmidon, Manticore, and Harbinger with a single hit!) Infinite shots, located in torso weapons mounts. Notes: 2 turn warm up time, i.e. fires every third turn, wide angle beam - hex. Cost 30cp x 1(range) x 1(WA) x 1(shots) x .7(warm up) x 2(wide angle) = 42 spaces. - 19 spaces @ .5cp/space = 23 spaces @50.5 cp raises Myrmidon weight to 79.5 tons, but doesn't effect performance.
And some new Music from the 'Second Unit Music Director' (his own title) Keko.
And, if you ever give the Dragon to Emiko, you could think of
using as the character theme for Yuki, "Ride the Dragon", Manowar
"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 <firstname.lastname@example.org>
On to Chapter 33