Episode 37 (2181.01.09)
by Shawn Hagen (1998)
Starblade Battalion is the Property of R.Talsorian Games.
Opening Titles - As Before
Cerebus Force dropped out of Shunt as close they could to Athanaeum. One of the newer Task Forces in the ODF, it was an assault squadron. Four cruisers that were based around the battleship Cerebus. On the bridge of the Cerebus was the newly promoted General Justin Malokov. Son of Alexi Malokov.
Like his father he was handsome, individualistic and a self made man. Unlike his father he was a very competent commander.
Justin sat at his command station, listening to his people report in. He stared at a representation of Athanaeum, considering his orders. His mission was a fairly simple. They were to see if they could convince some of the neutral colonies-though how neutral they really were was a question on everyone's mind-into joining the Confederation. Barring that he was to find out just how prepared the Colony was if it came to a fight.
Justin hoped that simply moving into the planet's orbit, and perhaps firing on some un-populated target would be enough. There was not much else to fire upon on Athanaeum anyway.
"General, a number of ships have just dropped their cloaks and are moving towards us," his sensor op called out.
"What are they?"
"Four are Battalion Cruisers," he said, using the ODF designation for the Ruby Cruisers and the standard Rubies. "Three are unknown ships, one is a Wotan and there are a number of smaller ships with them."
Justin considered the approaching force. Four enemy cruisers that were still an unknown. Three ships that were probably refitted civilian ships and a Wotan. That gave his enemy two to one odds. He also did not know if they had any other ships, in hiding, that could join the fray.
"They are launching suits. All ships moving into attack formations. Three minutes to optimum firing range."
It was obvious that Athanaeum was prepared to defend itself, and what's more had the resources to do so. "Order all ships to retreat," Justin said calmly.
The bridge crew showed signs of surprise, but did as they were ordered. The ships of Cerebus Force swung around, beginning their retreat. Thrusters lit up brightly as the ships began to accelerate away.
"The enemy ships are increasing speed and following us," The sensor op said.
"Increase speed. How long till we can shunt?"
"Four hours, thirty five minutes, twenty seconds," the navigator said.
"Sir," his first officer said, keeping his voice low. "Why aren't we fighting?"
Justin looked at the man for a moment, considered telling him not to question orders, then changed his mind. "The purpose of this mission was not to fight," he said quietly. "It was to test Athanaeum and their willingness to fight. We can't afford to get into any battles with these independent colonies right now. We have found out that they have ships, and the will to use them."
"We could beat them," the young man said. Most of Justin's crew was young, as was Justin himself.
"Perhaps. We still do not know the full capabilities of all those ships. They on the other hand know what our Wotan's can do. We have completed our mission, as ordered, now we return to base. There will be plenty of chances to fight in the coming weeks, but against the SAC, who are the real danger."
"I understand," he said, nodding. "I just don't like running from a fight."
On board the Blood, Dom watched as the ODF task force continued to retreat. If he had wanted to, the Blood and the other Ruby cruiser could have caught them, and hurt them bad. That was not his mission though. He was there to scare the ODF off so that the Battalion did not have to dedicate valuable resources to protecting the colonies.
From the looks of things everything was going as planned. The ODF was not going to waste valuable resources to fight the independent colonies when the SAC was on their back door. He had to give Frost credit, he knew how these things worked.
"Are they in range yet?" he called out to his gunner.
"Good. Open up on them. Let's just remind them that we're here."
A tremor ran through the Cerebus, very faint. Justin looked around. "What was that?" "One of the ships just fired at us. They hit us in the stern. Engineering reports little damage." "They are firing again!" "Evasive actions," Justin ordered calmly. With the ships of Cerebus force making their course more erratic, at the cost of fuel, they were no longer in danger of being hit.
"They are still firing at us."
"Trying to make us nervous," Justin said. "Throwing a lot of fire at us, just to let us know that they can."
"It looks like they are spoiling for a fight."
"Well, if they want to do this, we will as well. All guns in rear arcs, open fire."
"They're beginning to fire back."
"It is about time," Dom said. "Evasive actions, continue the chase."
Eventually the ships of Cerebus Force managed to put enough distance between them and the other ships that all firing stopped. Dom had his ships break off and head back towards Athanaeum.
About the same time as Cerebus Force shunted out of the system, the other ships brought up their cloaks. Thus hidden the Ruby Cruisers and one of the Rubies along with several of the small ships began moving off on a different vector from the ships returning to Athanaeum.
Dom sat in his command chair, not saying anything. So far they were convincing the ODF that they did not want to get into a fight with any of the independent colonies. The bluff was working now, but he wondered how long it would hold up?
They had reached the warehouse, or hanger, or whatever it was nearly twenty four hours after leaving Sydney. Along the way they had switched vehicles, leaving the limousine behind and continuing in a truck. Emiko had been quite glad when they head reached their destination. The suspension on the truck and the condition of the roads had left a lot to be desired.
"What is this?" she asked Chas.
"This," the woman looked at the beat up, old building. "This is an ugly place."
"It's an ugly place where our next vehicle is."
"Come on," Chas said, walking towards the building.
Emiko followed Chas into the structure. In the middle of the building was a large object, draped with camouflage nets, poles of some sort had been used to break up the silhouette so it was impossible to tell what it was.
There were a number of other people there, working at removing the nets from the object. The poles came out and were tossed to the side. As they began to pull the nets off Emiko could recognise it. A cutter.
"It looks new," Emiko said as she saw more and more of the hull exposed.
"It is. We stole it from the yards just after they finished building it."
"You stole it? How?"
"Never ask a magician to explain their tricks. It is impolite."
Chas laughed. "Let's just say that the USSA still hasn't figure out just how scared of the Ravagers they should be. You can fly one of these things can't you?"
"Well, I suppose."
"Don't you have a pilot?"
"Well, we do, but he's not really a plot per-se. He's more of a dedicated simulator gamer."
"Come on, let's get you on board so you can do one of those pre-flight check thingies."
"You even sound like a pilot."
The ship was indeed knew, much of it still wrapped in protective coverings. The bridge was fairly clear of the coverings, though it was a bit of a mess. Emiko took a few minutes to clean it up, bundling everything up into a tight ball of plastic and other things. "Get rid of this please," Emiko said, handing it to Chas.
Chas took it and left the bridge.
Emiko sat down in the pilot's chair and looked over the controls. She was familiar with the controls in general, though she had never flown such a ship before. There was a lot of new technology in the ship, but it was not quite as cutting edge as what the Battalion had.
She brought battery power online to begin with, then turned on her datalink and went to work. She ran through the entire list, making sure everything was right. She ran a second check on the powerplant before bringing that on line.
A slight vibration ran through the ship as the fusion generators came up to full power. She rant another check to make sure everything was fine.
By the time she was finished the nets had all been pulled away from the ship and everyone was aboard. The bridge had filled up, all the stations being manned. She saw Chas at the communications stations. In the co-pilot station was a man, older by Emiko by several years. She guessed he was the simulator gamer.
"We ready to go?" Chas asked.
"Okay. I'm going to get us clearance for launch. Control will tell you what course to follow."
"We're getting clearance?"
"Of course. We might get shot down if we don't. Now be quiet."
Emiko listened, over datalink, as Chas contacted Sydney Flight control and requested permission to launch. It was quickly given and the flight course was transmitted to Emiko.
She took a moment to study it, then brought the thrusters up. Outside them the dust and dirt was whipped around. filling the structure with a blinding cloud. Emiko ignored it, she was using instruments.
The cutter rose into the air smoothly. It cleared the building, rising into the open air. Emiko held it there for a moment, balanced on pillars of thrust while she checked the course again. The ship's bow lifted and swung around. Then the thrusters flared and the ship rocketed into the air.
Emiko wondered what might happen when they cleared the atmosphere. She found out soon enough once they were given permission to carry on with the rest of their mission. Emiko was about to ask Chas what she was supposed to do when a new flight plan was transmitted to the ship. She set the ship on the course given then looked over the maps.
It looked like they were heading into the asteroid belt.
"Now what?" Emiko asked several minutes later.
"Now," Chas said. "We wait until we arrive."
The flight was uneventful. Emiko used short thruster burns to get them moving at the desired speed. After that the ship just drifted along.
A few hours before they reached the belt Chas gave Emiko a new course heading. Emiko altered the ship's course, noting that they would be passing through the belt. As they got closer she took complete control of the ship.
The corridor they were flying through was one if the cleared areas, mostly empty. Clear as it was, she still had to be on constant look out for rocks of all sizes, and then she had to avoid them. It was not one of the most difficult piloting tasks, but it was the first time Emiko had ever flown in such a cluttered, chaotic area.
She had been taught well though, and they made it through without a scrape.
Chas gave her another course once they were on the far side of the belt. Emiko did not ask questions, she just piloted the ship.
"I got them," Chas said a few hours later.
"What?" Emiko asked as she returned to the bridge.
"The rest of them. Cut speed, we'll be rendezvousing with the other ships soon."
Emiko took a look at the sensor picture. There did not seem to be any ships. She looked at Chas.
"Well, it's not like they are going to be obvious about it. They masquerading as asteroids."
"How do you know they are not real asteroids?"
"Well, they are at the end point of our current course, and see this arrangement?" She indicated the line of two large object and a smaller. "That's a signal."
"Oh," Emiko said, then went to the pilot's station and began to slow their forward velocity.
They travelled for another hour and it was not until they were almost on top of the other ships that Emiko was able to identify them. There was a Ruby Cruiser, a Ruby and a frigate of the same class as the Perth.
Chas was in communications with the other ship and soon sent the docking information to Emiko. Emiko nudged the ship onto the required course and slowed their velocity even more. The hulls of the ship made a gentle contact, a soft thumping sound was heard throughout the cutter.
"We're locked in, docking complete," Emiko said.
"You're wanted on the bridge," Chas told her.
"What about you?"
"I'm staying here. Don't worry, we're getting a new pilot. If I were you I'd rush. The captain does not like to be kept waiting."
Emiko got out of her chair, pushing herself above it. "Thank you for all the help." She bowed awkwardly.
"No problem. Now get out of here."
Emiko used her foot to push off of the chair she had just been sitting in. She grasped the door frame and swung herself off the bridge. Quickly she made her way to the airlock, cycled it open and worked the controls to complete the transfer. Inner door cutter closed, outer hatch cutter open. Outer hatch cruiser open, close outer hatch cutter. Close outer hatch cruiser, open inner door cruiser.
Waiting for her on the other side of the door were a man and a woman. "Come with us," the woman said.
Emiko did as she was told, following them to the bridge.
The bridges-as well as other important areas--of the Ruby Cruisers were reached through a short tunnel like arrangement. Standing that the entrance to the tunnel were several guards. Emiko passed through them and into the tunnel. Along the walls were a number of anti-personnel weapons. Anyone who boarded a Ruby Cruiser was going to have a hard time taking any of the important parts of the ship.
Another set of guards stood outside of the doors to the bridge. Emiko passed through them and stepped onto the bridge. For a moment she was a little disorientated, the gold fish bowl design made her feel like she had stepped out into space.
"Ah, if it isn't my favourite pet," Grey called out from the command chair. "Come here."
Emiko looked towards the Ravager leader and, as before, felt intimidated by the woman. She moved towards her, deciding not to keep her waiting.
"Thank you for helping me," Emiko said.
"Shut up," Grey said good naturedly. "As I understand it you've flown these things."
"Well, the Rubies and..."
"Good. Everyone has a job on this ship, it was either pilot or my Cabin Girl for you. Ratboy!" she yelled.
"Yes?" the man at the piloting station stood. He was wearing a vac-suit
"Get over here."
Ratboy kicked away from his station and came to a stop in front of Grey. He was a little clumsy in the micro gravity. "What is it?"
"Ratboy, you've never flown something this big right?" Grey asked him.
"Yea, like I told you. I'm just a shuttle jockey."
"Well it's a good thing that we have an experienced warship pilot here. Emiko my pet, you are now the pilot of the 'Screaming Fit'. Congratulations."
"What am I supposed to do?" Ratboy asked.
"Good question," Grey said as she pushed herself from her chair and placed her hands on his shoulders. "You would make a lousy Cabin Boy. I guess you'll have to be a corpse." Grey hooked her foot into her command chair to root herself. As the same time she violently twisted Ratboy's head about. The snap of his neck sounded through the bridge. She let go of his body. "Excellent corpse. I think you have found your calling."
Emiko was staring at the body floating in the middle of the bridge and at Grey.
"Packing up and moving gave me a good chance to clean house," Grey said to her. "Just doing a bit of last minute dusting."
That got a number of laughs from the rest of the crew. Grey smiled. "Someone get him out of here, and put the helmet on his vac-suit, just in case the neck seal doesn't hold the mess inside." There were more laughs. Grey sat in her command chair, taking it all in. Emiko thought she was like some queen, ruling absolutely with violence. "Take your station Emiko," she ordered.
Emiko did as she was told. It was not so much she was worried that Grey might hurt her, it was more that she did not want Grey's attention focused on her. It did not look too healthy.
She took a seat at the pilot's station, shivering slightly as she felt Ratboy's body heat still clinging to the surface of the chair. The first thing she did was strap herself in, then she placed her hands on the link points. The lit up slightly as the controls came alive and information began to rush into her mind.
It took her only a few moments to reconfigure the controls. Around her holographic battle screens lit up, presenting her with a personal gold fish bowl as well as information screens. After taking a moment to make sure everything was as she wanted it she closed down the screens.
She looked over her shoulder at Grey and nodded. Grey smiled. "Are we ready to go?" she asked.
"All stations and ships reporting in that they are ready," Grey's first officer, Quick, told her.
"Great. We'll be heading out, clearing the gravity well and shunting. Emiko, you've got the course?"
"Good. Move out. We're in the lead."
Emiko swung the ship around with a few, short blasts from the starboard, directional thrusters. The ships bow came around, pointing out into space. She stopped the movement, then lit up the main thruster array. The ship began to move, building up speed.
"Have we been noticed yet?" Grey asked.
"No." the communications officer told her.
"They are bound to spot us eventually. Tell me when they do."
They continued on, moving away from the asteroid belt. The three larger ships, and several smaller, moved in a rough formation. Emiko knew that they would be in trouble if they were attacked, things were not well ordered. She doubted that there was any possibility of an attack though, not before they reached the shunt point. Space was big, and the SAC could only patrol so much of it.
Emiko sat at her station, doing very little. Once the course was set, all she had to do was maintain it, well, make sure the computer did so, and watch for problems. Such straight line flying was fairly dull, but she still had to pay attention. Anything could happen. That was the nature of space travel.
"We've got an SAC patrol hailing us," the communications officer said. "They want to know who we are and are ordering us to come about."
"As if that will happen," Grey said. "Can they catch us?"
"Any other patrol that might be able to cause us grief?"
"Well then, tell them to go and fuck themselves," she laughed.
While the fact that an SAC patrol was chasing after them made things a little more exciting for a while, everything became dull soon enough. The patrol was too far away from them to be any kind of threat. Emiko and the other pilots held their course and waited until they could shunt.
The SAC ships were still some distance away when the Ravager ships shunted, leaving Earth space behind.
"She has left the city," Auden told Takako as she entered the lab.
"Are you sure?"
"Look at this," she held a display pad out of Takako. In the picture displayed on the pad was a woman, sitting on another woman's lap. She wore a wig, and contacts, but Takako recognised her daughter immediately.
"Didn't they recognise her?"
"Perhaps they should have, but she had all the proper ID. The guard who passed them through said that she does not pay much attention to prostitutes."
"Your daughter had a licence. A clever cover really."
"Any idea where she is now?"
"None. They tried to track the car she was in, but have not found it. She could be anywhere on Earth, or beyond it." Takako smiled.
"You respect her, don't you?"
"She reminds me of you Sempai. She sticks to her convictions. You have to respect her. Aren't you proud of her?"
"I can't be proud of her. What she is doing is wrong. I have to take some of the blame though."
"You are being too hard on yourself, and her."
Takako sighed. "You don't understand. Raising her was my responsibility, and obviously I failed."
"Auden-san," Takako's voice was just a little sharp.
"I'm sorry Sempai. I've just always been fond of your daughter."
"I know Auden-san, but Emiko is my responsibility. This should have never happened."
Auden wanted to say something, but decided not to. Having never had children she did not feel like she should be telling Takako about her daughter.
The ships shunted into an open area of space. Distant stars were bright, but none were close. Emiko looked around the bridge, seeing the vast openness of space about her. There was a ship close by, though she might not have seen it if the computer had not enhanced the visual. It was another Ruby cruiser, but Emiko did not know which one it was.
Under Grey's orders the ships slowed, and then stopped some distance away from the other ship. Grey turned command of the other ships over to the other cruiser, which caused some upset among her people and it took her almost ten minutes of threats to get the transfer of command to go over.
The other ships began to move into a new formation, a defensively sound one. Grey remained on the bridge, but ordered the ship's crew to stand down. Some of the bridge crew left, Emiko did not. She remained where she was for lack of anything else to do.
Grey remained on top of everything, reminding her various sub commanders who was really in charge. When the crew on the frigate did not want to allow a sub craft from the other cruiser to dock, it was Grey who changed their minds. When the Captain of the Ruby said he was going to take his ship back to Earth space Grey forced him to change his mind. Whenever the Ravagers began to chafe under the military discipline, it was Grey who made things happen.
That she did it over the com system made it more impressive..
After about thirty minutes, things seemed to have finally calmed down. For a while. Grey got out of her seat. "Quick, you have the bridge. If anything comes up, call me."
"Right," Quick said.
"You," she said, looking over at Emiko. "Come with me."
Emiko followed her out of the bridge, floating along behind her. The two of them moved through the ship's corridors, using the handles to speed themselves along. While there were people movers set in the wall at waist height, Grey eschewed them. She seemed to like flying along, near the corridor's roof, making sudden changes in direction.
While neither of them were native to microgravity environments, both handled themselves well. Grey grasped a handle and was yanked to a sudden stop near the entrance to one of the rotating sections. Emiko, taken by surprise, flipped herself over and hit the wall with her feet, bending her knees to absorb the impact.
"Good reflexes," Grey said as she opened the hatch to the section.
They entered through the hub, then moved into the deck itself. Grey led her down to one of the sick bays. She opened the door then stood aside so Emiko could enter first. Emiko did so and Grey followed behind her.
"Always smart to send people in front of you," Grey said.
Emiko realised that she had just been set up as a target, had there been any danger in the room. She stopped, and Grey gave her a quick push that sent her into the room. She almost tripped.
The sick bay looked like it had never been used. All of the equipment was still covered in plastic. Grey walked over to one of the examination table and tore the plastic from it. She wadded it into a ball and tossed it away. Turning, she jumped up onto the table, sitting upon it. Her legs dangled.
"Thought I'd let you in on the basics of what are going on," Grey told her.
"Thank you," Emiko said, not knowing what else to say. Grey, as always, intimidated her by her very presence. When she was actually talking to her it got worse.
"Right now we are just going to sit tight while some basic reorganisation stuff takes place. Plus we have to wait for the shunt drives to recharge. At that point the Screaming Fit will go on to the Shoal, and that where we will drop you off, unless of course you want to stay on board as my pilot and Cabin Girl."
"No thank you," Emiko said, doing her best to sound very polite.
Grey laughed. "Your loss. Of course this crew is going to be a little rough, so maybe your staying would be a bad idea."
"What? Aren't you going to rise to that? You are supposed to say that you would have no problem here, maybe hit me, or at least try, for suggesting it. That's what a Ravager would do."
"I'm not a very good Ravager I guess."
"I probably should have given you the full beating way back when. Unimportant though. Care to tell me why you are being so skittish?"
"Nervous. You are acting like I am planning on killing you or something. Hell, even if I was, you'd probably give me a bit of a fight. You have a couple of Marshals working with you, so I've heard."
"That's not it," Emiko said.
"Then what is it? I mean, you're beginning to make me nervous. I'm thinking you are part of a plan to assassinate me or something."
"I'm not," Emiko said, realising how stupid the denial would sound. "And I don't know why."
Grey said nothing for a moment, then she began to laugh.
Emiko watched her for several seconds and when it looked like Grey was not about to stop she began to get mad. "What?!"
After several seconds Grey began to get her laughter under control. "It's nothing," she paused for more laughter. "It's just that I figured you out."
"You. Why you seem so nervous. You are intimidated by women with presence."
"No I'm not," Emiko said.
"You are. Not surprising I guess. You are going to have to work on that. It leaves you wide open."
"No it doesn't, and I'm not."
Grey smiled, then reached over and did something to the table she was sitting on. The table lowered until her feet touched the ground. She spread her knees and patted the surface between her legs. "Sit down," she said.
Emiko stared at her for a moment, then walked over and took a seat where Grey had indicated. Her back was up against Grey's chest and she felt Grey's arms come around her shoulders, encircling her.
"Leaves you wide open," Grey said softly into her ear. "Right now, with some work, I could have you, and you know it. Perhaps you want it as well. Do you have a mother complex?"
"Shitsurei da(that's rude)!" Emiko snapped, as she tried to pull away, but Grey just held her tighter and crossed one of her legs over Emiko's thighs, holding her there.
"You don't survive long in the Ravagers unless you learn a thing or two about judging people. You don't lead long unless you are an expert. I've been watching you, finding out about you, since I first met you. You have intrigued me my pet," Grey blew gently into Emiko's ear. "You're a survivor, and I appreciate that, and yet you're soft. An interesting mix, one I'm not sure I understand."
"Let me go," Emiko said.
"I look at you and I think, 'here's a girl that has lived under a strong mother's shadow all her life, done exactly what she has been told, and yet manages to defy that mother and survive where other people would die'. You have to admit that's an interesting thing. Why do you have the strength sometimes and yet not others? Or perhaps you always have the strength and choose not to use it. Easier to do what your mother tells you, as long as it more or less matches what you want to do. Sound about right?"
"Maybe," Emiko said.
"Which leads us to the question, why are you letting me hold you like this unless it more or less matches what you want to do?"
"You're stronger than me," Emiko said. "Recently I watched you kill a man. I'm not sure fighting you is the wise thing to do."
"If you want to leave, you just need to stand up and walk away," Grey told her.
Grey removed her leg from over Emiko's thighs and Emiko felt the grip of her arms become loose. She sat there for a moment. "Do you really think I'm intimidated by strong women?" Emiko asked.
"What can I do?"
"If possible, change it. If not, always realise that it is a weakness and be prepared."
Emiko nodded and said nothing.
"You know, you are not trying to leave," Grey said after a minute.
"No, I'm not."
The Screaming Fit had shunted into Alincourt space and not long afterwards had docked with one of the stations.
Emiko stood with Grey, outside of the airlock, waiting for the boarding tube to pressurise.
Grey looked at Emiko for a few seconds. "If you're ever in the neighbourhood, as it were, feel free to drop by."
"I will," Emiko said. "It was fun."
"That was the point."
The status light changed from red to green and the airlock door opened. "Good luck," Emiko said.
"I don't need luck. Keep your cool." Grey turned, grabbed and handhold and sent herself flying down the corridor.
Emiko remained where she was for a moment, then sighed as she pushed herself through the airlock. The first thing she noticed when she entered the boarding tube was that it was cold. Her breath misted in front of her. The hull metal was cold to the touch and as Emiko grasped one of the handles outside of the airlock she wished she had worn a pair of gloves.
Placing her feet against the hull, she kicked herself off, flying down the boarding tube. On the other end she grabbed another handle to stop her flight, then swung herself into the station's airlock.
She almost hit a group of people waiting just inside the station. She recognised a few of them. Intelligence officers. From what Grey had told her it was likely that the Intel officers were going to check on everyone, make sure there were no security problems. After seeing how Grey dealt with problems Emiko doubted that they would find any.
Most of them recognised her as well, not surprisingly. They looked a little confused, obviously not having expected her to come off the Screaming Fit.
"Is the Admiral around," she asked one of the women she knew.
"Yea. I think so."
"I'll be off then," Emiko told her.
"Good bye," Emiko said, bowing slightly. Then she was off, swinging herself along the handles, speeding away.
It did not take her long to reach the launch bay. The hoppers were docked there, waiting. She floated by several before finding one that was not claimed. After she had pulled the recharge cable from the power socket, she climbed inside and sealed the hatch. Removing the cable had brought the hopper's batteries on line. Emiko ran a quick pre-flight check, then began moving the ship away from the others.
Once clear she used the directional thrusters, on minimum power, to move it to the launch tubes. The hopper slid into the tube, then the tube sealed behind her. It took nearly a minute for the tube to be de-pressurise, then the space side hatch opened.
Emiko called control, advising them she was about to launch and asking for clearance. It took longer than normal, and she was informed that her clearance codes were out of date. She was also welcomed back.
She launched the hopper, moving onto the course she had been given. Emiko took a long route towards the Nebula Works spinner. She passed by the space docks, noting that there were very few ships left there. The carrier remained, but it looked near completion. It was a very beautiful design, made up of gentle curves. Underneath it was the weapon pod, still being built. The Alincourts had been right, the weapon pod, almost as long as the ship, really did detract from the ship.
After her short tour, she swung the hopper around, heading towards the spinner. Docking went quickly, the small hopper easily flying into the large bay. She brought the hopper into a small berth, cutting her speed so in the end the hopper gently bumped the padding. The clamps locked down on the shuttle, locking it in place.
She got out, took a moment to plug the recharging cable into the ship, then headed off to one of spoke points.
A short time later she was entering the outer suite of Redding's office.
"He's waiting for you," an Aide told her almost as soon as she came in.
Emiko nodded and walked to the office door. She knocked.
"Come," she heard Redding's voice from inside the office.
Emiko opened the door and walked in. "Admiral," she said.
"Miss Miya, did I not order you to return to Earth?"
"While I did not actually say it, it was assumed that you would stay there."
"So perhaps you might tell me why you have returned."
Emiko said nothing for a few seconds. There were a number of good reasons, but there was one that was important to her. "I deserve to be here."
"That may be true. There was a reason I had you leave."
"I've dealt with that, I think. I gave an interview before I left."
"Saying you had left by your own choice?"
"People might believe that. They might not."
Redding shook his head. "I doubt it really will make a difference now. Sit down."
Emiko walked over to one of the chairs and took a seat.
"I was hoping you might get a chance at a fairly normal life," he said to her.
"I know," Emiko nodded, looking down at the floor. "It's too late for that now."
"I guess it is."
"There's another reason I came back."
"I think there might be a Midnight Sun connection to the Inner Circle."
Emiko looked up. "I'm not sure of course, but it seems likely."
"Tell me everything. Start from the beginning."
"I guess I started thinking of this when we were dealing with that man who controlled the Solingen shares for the Midnight Sun."
"Emiko nodded. "That was him. I was wondering if the Midnight Sun might have also managed to get some control of the Inner Circle. I began looking into it. When I got back to Earth I had more resources to work with.
"After a little bit of research I was fairly certain that there were no members of the Midnight Sun within the Inner Circle, or even close to it. Nothing seemed to suggest such a state. Then I began to consider members who might be, in various way, supporting the Midnight Sun, while not being actual members nor sharing the Terrorist goal."
"They would see the terrorist as predator I suppose?"
Emiko nodded. "That's what I was thinking."
"Who might do such a thing."
"The obvious suspect is Auden-san, but I discarded that line of investigation early on."
"It's hard to explain. I think she has a certain code of honour that would not allow her to do so."
"Maybe. Who else?"
"My mother," Emiko said.
"What did you finally decide?"
"My mother hates terrorists too much to use them. She does not care much for anyone who steps out of a certain, expected path of behaviour."
"Are you sure she is not involved?"
Emiko looked at him, something close to anger flashed across her face for a moment. "You don't think I can betray her again?"
Redding shook his head. "I'm sorry. If you say she is not involved, that is good enough for me."
"I'm sorry," Emiko looked down at the floor. "I should not have said that. I did a thorough investigation before deciding she was not involved. I should have said that right away."
"I understand. Who else?"
"There were several other possibilities, but I eventually decided it was Doctor Harvey Melan."
"The chairman if Bahn/Zai's board of directors?"
"He is certainly in a powerful enough position. Why him."
"Doctor Melan is very old, over hundred I believe."
"So it is said. They say he lives in one of the Bahn/Zai space colonies to take advantage of a lighter gravity."
Emiko nodded. "A lot of records were lost during the end of the wars in the later part of the twenty first century, and the EEG's formation. I was not able to find much about Doctor Melan's earlier years, most of it just does not exist anymore. I did discover some papers he had written near the turn of the century. They were all locked down with high security tags."
"Do you know who locked them down?"
Emiko shook her head. "It might have been anyone, even Doctor Melan himself."
"Perhaps we can find out later. What was special about these papers?"
"Well, even then you could see he was a strong supporter of the Gaian movement. I suspect that some of his views might have seemed excessive to those he worked with. He actually suggested that the wars that had decimated Earth's population were a good thing, or would have been had they not been so destructive to the environment. "His view at the time seemed to be something, like a predator, was needed to keep human population in control. He did not like the concept of a disease, as that had the potential of destroying the entire population. Large scale, military actions were too damaging to the planet. He thought some sort of predator, genetically engineered, might do the job.
"He was very young at the time, and I suspect that his youth was colouring his ideas."
"Any later papers?"
"Many, though he was not so obvious about it. Still, he always supported ideas that would control the human population, and yet, he wanted to keep genetic variance and health of the species high."
"So, he wants high rate of breeding, but low population. Sounds like a predator prey relationship in the making." Redding tapped his fingers on his desk top. "So this is why you suspect him?"
"After I decided he was the most likely candidate I began to look into his records and those of Bahn/Zai. I found out there were a number of suspicious transfers of equipment, personnel and money that were linked to him. Unfortunately, with all the high security and confidential work Bahn/Zai does, it may just be normal business."
"Do you know we destroyed a major Midnight Sun base and equipment depot?"
Emiko shook her head.
"Not surprising. We have been keeping it quiet, though Miss Mason is nearly going insane over that." Redding smiled. "We had expected to find mech construction factories there, but there were none."
"That lends support to Doctor Melan helping them."
"Or the factories could be anywhere. Still, it is worth looking into. Do you have a record of your research?"
"Yes," Emiko said as she reached into her jacket. She brought forth an EO pad. "It's all on there, encrypted. The password is 8T33Y1FF9."
"Could you give that to me one more time?"
Redding nodded. "All right, got it." he put the EO pad aside and got to his feel. "Well then Lieutenant, let me be the first to welcome you back."
"Thank you sir," Emiko said as she got to her feet.
"I'm sure you know where you are needed. Good luck."
"Yes sir." Emiko recognised a dismissal when she heard one. She left the office, closing the door behind her.
Emiko was planning on taking a hopper to the Cylinder when she was grabbed gently from behind. "Welcome back," Epiphany said into her ear.
"Epiphany-san," Emiko said as she turned around. "Thank you."
"You look well," Epiphany said looking her over. That jacket is not the right colour for your eyes."
Emiko smiled. "You look good too." There was something different about Epiphany, but she was not quite sure what it was. Still, she did look very good, and happy. "I just got back."
"So I heard. Came with the Ravagers."
"Must have been fun."
"It was a little scary at times, but there were certain parts that were enjoyable." Emiko's eyes got a faraway look.
"Nani?" Emiko asked, then a flush spread across her face.
"Are you all right?" Epiphany asked as she placed a hand across Emiko's forehead and another across her own. "Maybe you need a rest?" Epiphany removed her hand.
"I'm fine," Emiko said. "What about everyone else? Are they still here?"
"Yes. Juan is doing whatever he does. The Marshals are teaching and helping to run security. Ree and myself are teaching."
"Where is Ree-oneesan?"
"She's putting a number of pilots through their paces. Arrow drivers for the carrier."
"Is she close by?"
"On the other side of the planet, running them through dog fighting drills if I remember right."
"Can I get a suit?"
"Going to surprise her?"
"Come on, I think we can find you something."
Emiko was a little surprised to find the Arrow she had been flying simply sitting in one of he launch bays. She was even more surprised when she found several notes from Ree pasted onto it. All of them promised a horrible death to anyone foolish enough to try claiming that Arrow.
"I guess she knew I was coming back," Emiko said as she pulled one of the notes off.
"Hoping is a better choice of words I think," Epiphany said as she helped Emiko remove the threats from Ree.
Once they had the notices removed Epiphany gave Emiko a crash course on the new clearance codes. Emiko thanked her, then crawled underneath her Arrow and opened the cockpit. It was, as always, a bit of a squeeze, as Emiko pulled herself into the cockpit. After strapping herself in she brought the plane to life around her. The fishbowl came on line, giving Emiko a perfect view of the entire bay.
She brought the engines up slowly, gently moving the plane away from its storage area, swinging it around to the elevator. As she was doing that she was also getting launch clearance from control. Epiphany had moved over to the elevator controls and was cycling the airlock.
Finally the plane was positioned over the elevator. The floor dropped down, taking the Arrow with it. Once she was low enough the upper hatch slid shut, sealing the airlock. She waited while the airlock de-pressurised. When it had the lower hatch opened and the elevator continued descending, taking the Arrow out into space.
Emiko waited until the Ring's rotation brought her to the best place to launch from, then she brought the thrusters up.
The Arrow leapt forward, moving away from the ring, accelerating all the time. Emiko made the course adjustments that were needed to bring the Arrow around the planet, then sat back and waited.
"I don't know who taught you to fly," Ree called out over her com as she dropped into another student's six, "but they did you a disservice." She got a lock on the other Arrow and opened up with the plasma cannons--set to training level. Her computer informed her that her target had just been destroyed.
"You have manoeuvrability, use it." So saying Ree broke an attempted lock on her and flipped her Arrow out of the way. Along the way she shifted into suit form and opened up on her would be attacker. "As things stand those ODF and SAC pilots will stomp all over you. You've got to react faster."
Ree swung her Arrow about and fired a burst towards another suit. "Good," she said as the suit's pilot managed to evade. "but you got to think a few moves ahead." Ree lectured as the suit moved directly into a burst from her second weapon.
"I'm not saying you are all useless." Her Arrow shifted back to fighter mode. "But you could all certainly stand to be a lot better."
Ree watched as her students tried to catch her. She had made the exercise a bit harder, not allowing them to communicate with each other. She suspected even if she had, they would not be doing much better.
It was not that they were bad pilots, in fact all of them were quite good, but none of them were really used to the Arrows. They were either treating it as a fighter or a suit and not using it to its best potential. She had hoped that they would figure it out themselves, but she suspected that she was going to have to tell them.
Her computer chimed for her attention. Someone had gotten a lock on her. She threw the Arrow into a set of evasive manoeuvres and let her computer take care of breaking the lock. Her attacker surprised her though. The lock was not broken and ECCM was keeping her ECM from doing its job.
Now that's not right, Ree thought as she snapped the Arrow about, flying directly at her attacker. She watched as the other Arrow flipped away, shifting to suit form and firing at her. Ree evaded the attack and returned her own. Even as she was doing so she realised who the other pilot was. She never forgot a flying style.
<Emiko,> Ree sent on a private channel. <What are you doing back here?>
<I heard you were torturing students and felt you needed to be taught a lesson.>
<And you are the one to teach me?>
<Looks like it.>
<My dear Emi-chan, you obviously have forgotten who is the best.>
Emiko lasted an entire ten seconds before Ree ended it. For those ten seconds everyone was treated to an amazing display of flying on Ree's part. Emiko's flying had been good, but she had just been completely outclassed.
"Still, you did better than these people," Ree broadcast as she flew past Emiko's Arrow to chase after another of her students. "Remember people, you have two forms to play with. Use each of them to their best advantage.
"Now, since you can't get me, you can try to get Emi-chan. She won't be returning fire and will just be a fast moving target."
In her cockpit Emiko reset her Arrow and shifted over the fighter form. <Thanks a lot Oneechan,> Emiko sent to Ree.
<It's a good exercise for you. We'll see how sloppy you have become.>
Ryu sat at his desk, taking care of the work he had to do. Soon he hoped to be out in Cluster again, doing what he lived for. While the Miya girl might have moved beyond his reach, for now, there were so many others he could still get.
He wrote his reports, most of them full of lies. His superiors knew what he really did, but it would not do to put any of that down. Cleverly crafted lies that kept it all looking very clean.
The door to his office opened. Sam came in. "I've got some reports for you," Sam said, his voice carefully neutral. The two of them had come to truly dislike each other since coming to the cluster.
"leave them on the desk," Ryu said gruffly. "Then get out."
Sam tossed them onto the desk. "Wouldn't want to stay any longer then necessary."
Ryu did not raise to the taunt and Sam left the office. After several minutes of other things he finally turned to the reports Sam had brought. He picked up one of the data rods and slotted it into his desk top computer, as he placed his other hand on the connection point. Fairly standard stuff, some information on troop movements.
The next one was similar, but was concerned with the darker aspects of his job. A few people that his superiors thought should not be around. While most of them were from the Colonies, a few were SAC officers.
It was the third one that got his attention. Along with a number of reports of minor importance, tucked in between something about an increase in Ravager activity and the latest ships to be commissioned by the SAC was a report about the girl. She had disappeared, likely had left Earth.
Ryu got up from behind his desk. He was certain that she would have returned to the Battalion. That meant she was his again.
It did not take long for Ryu to get ready. He had to pass all of his work off, which should have been easy, but Sam Colt had outright refused to help him. Ryu had instead been forced to intimidate several junior members of the staff to do it.
Sam was really beginning to bother him. Quiet hatred was something he could over look, but actively working against him was not. He promised to deal with Sam, but that would be for later. Something to cap off what was going to be a pleasurable experience. He did not doubt that he would find Emiko Miya.
He was heading out of the building where his office was located, into the thin atmosphere of Arcadia when he heard someone call his name. "Abe-san."
Ryu stopped and turned slowly. Standing there was Shingo Miya.
"Can I help you Captain?" he said coldly.
"Yes. You can come with me. I've been reassigned to Earth. I'm taking you with me."
"Under what authority?"
"The Authority of several Admirals. You are going back to Earth. You have a nice, quiet desk job waiting for you."
"Why are you even bothering?" Ryu uttered a short laugh. "Take me back to Earth, I'll be back here in a few days. You can't stop the inevitable."
"You think? I'm sorry Abe-san, but your friends in high places, they are becoming nervous about you." Shingo took a few steps closer. "A year or two from now they do not want to have to deal with war crime allegations. Your methods have become too extreme for them. They have washed their hands of you."
"Liar!" Ryu snapped.
"No, I'm not lying. This is it for you."
"They need me."
"People like you are easily found. Easily manipulated. And when you are no longer useful, easily disposed of."
"Then maybe it is time I resigned and went my own way."
Shingo said nothing for a time. "If that is what you wish. You'll turn over your weapon and ID. We'll arrange transport back to Earth."
"A civilian, in a war zone? No, we would be remiss if we did not make sure you made it safely home. Please," Shingo held out his hand. "Your weapon."
Ryu's eyes were filled with anger and hate. "You want it, take it." His hand went under his coat, grabbing the butt of the pistol. He yanked it out, bringing it around to point at Shingo. The sound of a gunshot rung out. People in the area turned to look, or dove for cover.
Shingo stared at Ryu, unmoving. Blood splattered on the ground between them. A look of surprise passed across his face. The pistol dropped from his fingers. He looked at Shingo, then slowly moved his head towards the direction of the shot. Sam stood there, his pistol held in front of him.
"Why?" he asked.
"I don't like you," Sam said.
Ryu looked down at the wound in his side, the blood running down, staining his clothes red. Then he began to laugh, throwing his head back. After several seconds he stopped and lowered he head. He looked between Sam and Shingo. "I'm not finished yet."
His left hand went under his coat to the second pistol he kept, his right hand to the small of his back where he kept a third in his waistband. Sam was already firing, but Shingo just stood there, looking at him.
Ryu had both pistols out. He was bringing one to bear on Shingo, the other on Sam when suddenly he felt something pressed into his forehead.
"Aho," Shingo said, his tone even and calm. Then he pulled the trigger.
The round tore into Ryu's head, a small engine within it started it tumbling, converted the kinetic energy into heat. It did not have enough power to penetrate the inside of Ryu's skull. Instead it bounced around, ripping through more brain tissue.
Ryu remained on his feet for a moment. The small hole in his forehead hardly seemed large enough to be of any significance. A small trail of blood ran down his face, along the bridge of his nose. It gathered at the tip of his nose, held there for a moment, then dropped. As it hit the ground a fine, red mist exploded from Ryu's ears, and from his nose. Tears of blood were forced out of his tear ducts.
His body began to sway. Shingo reached out and gave him the gentlest of pushes. Ryu fell over backwards onto the stairs that led up to the building.
Sam walked up, putting his pistol back into its holster. Security people, both those of the city's police and SAC MPs were rushing onto the scene. Sam looked down at the body for a moment, then looked around. "It's over," he called out. "This is a matter of internal security." He looked over at one of the police officers. "I'll make sure that a full report is sent to your commanding officers." He looked over at one of ranking MPs. "I'll talk to the colonel about this, for now," he pushed at Ryu's body with his foot. "Get him out of here."
In a short time the crowd that had gathered was dispersing. The police who remained were keeping people moving, the MPs had taken Ryu's body away.
Sam looked over at Shingo. "I'm basically in command here. If you are wondering, my report will say you acted in self defence."
"Thank you," Shingo told him.
"I'd also like you to know that your daughter need fear nothing from me."
Shingo smiled at Sam. "Again, thank you Colt-san. Do you need me for anything?"
"Then I have to be going."
"Good luck sir."
"And you as well." Shingo turned and walked down the stairs.
Karl Richter closed his eyes tight, hoping the ease the pain that was building behind his eyes. It was a futile hope. Keeping his eyes closed he listened to the members of his staff talk. The big topic was the actions of the independent colonies. No one was happy about the show of strength that had been shown. His people were wondering whether to consider the colonies a full threat and what they might do about it.
He opened his eyes and looked around, not saying anything. He just let them talk.
Albert's threat still hung over his head, waiting until they needed a scapegoat. Part of him wondered why he cared at all. He was doomed anyway. His last hope, the peace talks, had fallen through. The USSA, or some part of it, had not wanted peace. They had destroyed their only hope.
Looking about him Karl suddenly realised why he cared. There were lives that depended on him. If they had to fight, he would do what he could to protect his people's lives.
Karl slammed the flat of his hand down against the table. Everyone's eyes turned to him. "You are assuming that the independent colonies each have a very large military force. That may be possible, but I doubt it. All our probing attacks came at different times, more than enough time between them for ships to be moved around, ready to meet our attacks."
"But that would assume that they knew of our plans," a young commander said.
"Yes. It does. And that is the thing I want looked into." He got to his feet. "That can be dealt with after this meeting. What I want to talk about is Faraday. It is likely that the SAC will hit there, in force, sooner or later. Now, are we ready for that?"
Wishing I was There by Natalie Imbruglia, Phil Thornalley, Campsie
A photograph of modern day Tokyo, the Ginza to be precise. A cell with a drawing of Emiko walking with Alice and some of her other friends is on top of it. Movement is suggested as the pictures are drawn larger, making it look like they are all approaching. Its a smooth cut. Then Emiko's face alone fills most of the frame, the Ginza behind her, as the lyrics start.
Juan, leaning up against one of the pillars (there are pillars aren't there?) in front of the US Federal Reserve building. A close up on his face.
Ree, sitting on the edge of a cockpit on a Harrier on board a carrier at sea. The English Flag marks the plane. We get a close up on her face, she is wearing mirrored aviator glasses. Next shot she had removed the glasses and is smiling off at something outside of the photo.
Diane, wearing the work dress of the RCMP, sitting on the bonnet of a car with RCMP marking. Close up on her face.
Conaly, standing in a rain forest, wearing a long coat, a heavy backpack and carrying a lever action rifle. On the close up he is squinting slightly.
Epiphany, on the cat walk at a fashion show. Several rapid of her walking along the raised stage, like individual photographs. The close up shows her smiling, happy.
Tauutus, in dark clothing, walking through Calcutta. He is smiling.
Auden, in front of a building at Oxford.
Takako walking in Shinjuku in a three piece suit looking very professional.
Shingo in the uniform of the GSDF.
Redding sitting at the controls of a space shuttle.
Jesse at the controls of a deep sea diving vessel.
Others passing in rapid succession, it is too hard to see where the photos show.
Rapid shots of Emiko and the others again, blurring together. Then it stops. A picture of Emiko, Tern, Ree, Diane, Conaly and Epiphany, standing in front of the Meiji Shrine, dressed in New Years clothing. The pictures holds, and as the song fades, so does it.
"Watashi wa anata no ane, soshite haha, soshite anata."
--Miyu Kyuuketsuki ga Yui ni itta
Shawn Hagen <firstname.lastname@example.org>
On to Chapter 38