Episode 39 (2181.01.26)
by Shawn Hagen (1998)
Starblade Battalion is the Property of R.Talsorian Games.
Opening Titles - As Before
Faraday had become a symbol of the war. It was why the Colonial Forces had taken it, even though it was really not important to their war effort. It was why they expected the SAC to come and contest them for the planet.
The ODF forces had been digging in and strengthening their position since the day they had put down on the planet. Every day they had expected the SAC fleets to shunt in and the greatest battle of the war to begin.
Every day that went by without the SAC showing up heightened the tensions of the personnel stationed on and around Faraday. They knew the SAC was building up their strength. New ships, new fleets, more power. It was like a hammer over their heads.
When the SAC fleets finally shunted in it was almost a relief. The waiting had finally ended. It was time for a fight.
Battlefleet Marindar, strengthened by the addition of two more cruisers and several frigates, led the attack. Supporting it was Battlefleet Napelli. Gina Napelli had only recently taken command of her new Carrier, the 'Rudra'. Scatted throughout both fleets were elements of the newly created Battlegroup Hudson. Commodore Natasha Hudson commanded six of the newly built Calabim cruisers. Almost half her personnel were recent graduates from the Academy.
It was a huge number of ships, moving in a formation that took the ODF's cloaking tactics into account. Mecha were scrambled as soon as the ships arrived, as were battleriders and other sub craft. The ships moved towards Faraday, firing on probability anchors and other defence satellites.
ODF ships began to drop their cloaks as they moved in. Several battleriders took the brunt of the initial attack, though the cruisers and carriers also took some hits. Space was filled the flashes of plasma, and the bright, transient light of explosions.
The ODF ships were outnumbered, but were using their cloaks to the best effect. They also expected reinforcements to start arriving.
The Hour Glass, the Manacle and the Cage, with their attendant ship, dropped the cloaks at the last instant, flying into the midst of Battlefleet Napelli. Chronus had given his orders, they were going to stop the advance.
Then his ships had run right into a storm of fire. In seconds the Cage and one of the attendant ships exploded. The Hour Glass' armour held up well, but he knew the ship had still taken some serious damage. The Manacle was still there, and still on course with the carrier. That was something.
Magadine held tight to the arms of her command chair. The Rudra was filling her screens, getting closer and closer. The Manacle shook as it took another hit, but the ship kept going. She could not help but feel proud. She was not disappointed with her choice. Serving aboard the Manacle was much better than rotting in Goal, and at least she was doing something of value.
"Engines ahead full," she called out, holding onto her chair.
The acceleration pushed her back and the sudden deceleration as the ship hit the carrier threw her forward. The reinforced bow cut through the Rudra's hull, pushing deep into the carrier's bow.
In the bow decks the shock troops were revived. The worst of the criminals, kept in stasis, were woken with a cocktail of combat drugs and stimulants. Five percent would be killed by the treatment, but the rest were in the grip of powerful drugs, pushed into a near psychotic state.
They moved towards the boarding hatches, in light armour and carrying their weapons, ready to fight.
Natasha watched as another ship dropped its cloak off to the side. "Bring her about, tight. Main batteries on that cruiser," she called out. The 'Max' swung about, the plasma cannon firing on the ODF ship.
"Ma'am, we've been requested to move to support Battlefleet Napelli," her coms officer called.
"Have the 'Justin' and the 'Luke' move to support Napelli, the rest of the ships will hold their positions and keep fighting." The Max shook from a hit. "Target that cruiser with guns one and three, let's see how they handle that."
Two of the Max's huge gauss cannons were brought into play. A moment later the Cruiser was fatally holed from starboard to port. Explosions began to ripple across its bow and then it exploded.
"Right, swing us around, let's go help Napelli."
The fighting went on with Malachi Force and Infinity Force joining the battle. The SAC ships continued to push forward, destroying probability anchors as they went. The ODF, having faced similar tactics before, did all they could to slow them down.
They were further confused by four other SAC ships that were not directly involved in the battle. They were large ships, but hard to see, and the sensors were having the same difficulties as the human eye.
A few times the ships came under fire, but plasma and gauss projectiles seemed to pass through the ships, having little effect.
It was a flight of ODF mektons that discovered the purpose of the ships. They evaded the SAC suits and got in close to see through the rents in the hulls. What they saw were more suits, secured to a network of interior supports.
The suits within the ship, Leopards, opened up on the ODF units, firing from within. The ODF suits, after taking losses, had to fall back.
It was obvious to the ODF that the ships were assault craft of some sort, but what type they did not know. It was certain that the ships were not designed for re-entry. That left moving into orbit and off loading the suits that way. If so the operations was going to take a long time and the ships and suits would be very vulnerable.
For the time the ODF was willing to leave them alone. Reinforcements would soon be arriving, the ships could be dealt with then. Also, they would be coming into range of the planet based guns.
Newly promoted to Colonel, Cassidy Li had gone from commanding a squad of Leopards to a company. Li Li was, like all the other suits, strapped to the interior frame of the assault craft. Cassidy sat in her Leopard, a cat's cradle in her hands. It was all she could do. Her company was located near the centre of the ship, too deep within it to be able to fire outside.
The landing craft-which was a misnomer in that it would never really land-was mostly an empty shell. The Leopards, a number of fighters and assorted drop modules, were all strapped to the network of supports that made up most of the interior.
There was a lot of empty space within the landing craft. Most of the attacks on the ship had done little real damage. They had just passed through, perhaps hitting a suit, or something else. Other than that, they might as well have been nothing.
"Getting close," Sergeant Nim said. She had been saying it off and on for almost twenty minutes.
"Uh huh," Cassidy replied, pulling the string into a new shape.
The suit shook violently and the string between her fingers got tangled up. Cassidy pulled it from her hands and shoved it into her jacket pocket. "That was big."
"Another ship firing on us?" Beth asked.
"I think that was from one of those planetary guns we heard about."
"Trying to avoid the gun. That means we are going to bail at speed."
"Can we do it?"
"We'll find out."
The landing craft shook once more before they reached the disembarking point.
<This is red star to red team, prepare for drop, prepare for drop. Red star over,> Cassidy sent.
As the outer armour cover was blown off the interior was filled with light from the star. The Leopards near the outer surface climbed up and leapt into space. As they did the outer part of the network was blown free allowing the next group of leopards to take to space. As well as the leopards were the fighters and the drop modules.
The fighters were simply atmosphere craft, sealed for their short time in space. Like the Leopards they had been equipped with re-entry packs. The drop modules held support personnel and equipment. They were in the most unfortunate position, being unable to defend themselves in any way.
The layers of the landing craft continued to break away, until the central core was open. The last of the units cut free of the landing craft's remains. The cloud of metal served a number of purposes. It was a little like a mine field, offering no end of problems to the ODF suits and fighters as they tried to get close. It also burned very bright when it hit the atmosphere, creating a screen of sorts.
As the leopards and fighters neared the atmosphere they activated their re-entry packs, the foam, ablative heat shield deploying around them.
Cassidy pulled her restraint straps tight then relaxed, as much as she could. She had performed a combat drop before, knew what to expect, it made it a little easier. More than half her company did not. More than half her company were recent graduates, shaked and baked recruits. They had yet to see combat, this was going to be their first. It would be messy enough normally, but Cassidy knew that she was not in a normal situation.
There was nothing she could do about it though, nothing but ensure as many of her people as possible survived.
The fighters were the first to break from their heat shields, once in the atmosphere the pilots' jobs began. They had to follow the Leopards down, make sure they were not intercepted by ODF units. It was a job made more difficult due to Faraday's atmospheric conditions. The vast amount of electrical charge in the air made sensors of questionable value, and even though shielded a lightning strike still might put a fighter down.
For longer than they had hoped the Leopards and support modules descended unopposed. That could only last so long.
When the ODF fighters showed up their SAC counterparts were waiting for them. In moment explosions, like fireworks, began to blossom in the sky.
The Leopards, once they had cut loose of the remains of their heat shields, did not use parachutes to slow their drop. The lessons they had learned on the last drop had shown that parachutes were not the right choice. Instead each of the Leopard's lower legs were encased in a booster pack.
They descended to Faraday's surface on lances of flame. If ODF fighters approached they could cut the thrust to drop quicker, or even climb.
Cassidy's suit touched down, sinking into the dirt. She cut the booster units loose and stepped the Leopard out of the hole its landing had made. They had landed in one of the areas that had been hit by the ODF aerial bombardment. All around her were trees, knocked over by the force of the blast.
Of course that made the suits the tallest objects in the area and the most likely target for lightning strikes. The suits had been newly shielded against the lighting, but even so it was disconcerting to be a lightning rod.
She ordered her people to fall in and move out. She and the other three Leopards in her squad formed up and began moving across the broken trees. The other squads in her company were also there. It was good that all of them had made it down, but in a way the drop was the easy part.
"Okay, I've got the basic attack plans already worked out," Jesse said as he came into Redding's office. "Of course there are a few things we have to work out, but we can have several ships in Faraday space in an hour. We can get the rest of the ships there in ten hours."
"I want the entire Battalion on two hours notice to move," Redding said.
"I want you to organise the Battalion so that it is ready to move in two hours. All of it."
"That will take at least a day." Jesse was not sure if he understood what Redding was asking for.
"We can get the entire Battalion, in small groups, to Faraday within ten hours."
"We are not going to Faraday."
"We are not going to Faraday."
"I don't want to be disrespectful or anything, but there is a large battle building around Faraday right now. Isn't this what we formed for?"
"Is there any civilian population on Faraday?" Redding smiled.
"Okay, it is not exactly what we formed for, but eventually that fight is going to end, and one side will have won. What do we do then?"
"Have a seat."
Jesse said nothing for a moment, then took a seat in front of Redding's desk.
"In many respects we have done what we wished to. We have kept both sides from escalating this war to such a point where billions might die. That could still happen of course, but if we are careful we will be able to prevent it. Furthermore, while Faraday is a powerful symbol, the SAC are not going to waste their resources on a symbol. It is against Gaian philosophy."
"It sure looks like they are spending the resources on this symbol. Last reports said the SAC had put a sizeable force on the planet."
"They are not going to fight for Faraday, but they want the ODF to think that they are."
"Do you know this for a fact?"
"Then you are taking a big chance."
"What would you have us do were we to go to Faraday?"
"Release the information we have gathered, see if we can force them to realise how pointless and stupid this entire war is. And then we whack whoever still wants to fight."
Redding laughed softly. "It could work, but Faraday is not the place it will work at. If I am wrong, and the final battle takes place there, then we can move in afterwards. We might very well have the force of arms to force the winners to concede to our demands."
"There are a few problems I see with that. Whoever wins, no matter what sort of damage they take, they will still probably outnumber us. While we may have kept civilian casualties down there will still be a lot of soldiers who die. Forcing them to concede to our demands will probably cause more problems later."
Redding nodded. "The final battle will not take place at Faraday," Redding stated. "It is too wasteful for the SAC. They will take it to Solingen in all likelihood. Baring that they will start with the other colonies, slowly cutting off Solingen. That would be wasteful as well. The easiest way is to claim Solingen and end it that way."
"Taking Solingen will not be easy. They've fortified it, and the system."
"One of the reasons to go there. It would not be expected. We can keep arguing this, but I will not change my mind. Think of it this way, we are trying to stop an avalanche and all we have is a small wall. We need a place where that small wall can do its job. Faraday is not it. To be truthful, there might be no place where it will work."
"You do not sound optimistic."
"I've been thinking about this since we first came together. I've considered the entire thing, and there is no easy way to stop it."
"So what do we do?"
"We wait for the two sides to get in position where our wall will make a difference. When they get there, we have to be there as well. That's why I want us on two hours notice to move."
Jesse nodded. "Okay." He got to his feet and smiled. "You are in charge after all."
"Don't remind me."
"We'll be at two hours notice in less than a day."
Jesse waited a moment to see if Redding was going to elaborate on his plans, but he said nothing. Jesse turned and left.
After five hours Jesse had his initial work done. For a number of reasons not all of their ships were stationed at the shoal. He had had to send out courier ships to inform the rest of the Battalion of the new orders. He had another set of courier ships ready to shunt off the moment the orders came.
When he had been a Jager he had never given much thought to the time it took the shunt drives to recharge, after all, what was three or four hours. Since working in a military situation he had come to see that time delay in a whole new light.
None of the battalion ships could shunt, or activate their cloaks, until the orders came to move.
He leaned back in his chair, sighing. He hated sitting around, doing nothing. He straightened and picked up the latest report from the Faraday. The battle was still going on. The SAC had brought in Battlegroup Ayukawa, another new fleet made up of the Calabim cruisers. He wondered just how many new ships the SAC had built. When the war was over would they recycle them?
The ODF had sent in Amaterasu force, with its four new cruisers.
For the time being the fighting between the big ships had all but stopped. The SAC mecha were searching out and destroying all the probability anchors they could find. The ODF suits were doing all they could to stop them.
There was a lot of fighting going down on the surface as well. Reports from the planet were very sketchy though so he did not know the full extent of it.
Thinking about the mecha combat reminded him of something. He pushed back from his desk and got to his feet. He had time before reports started coming back from all the other ships. He could afford to run some personal errands.
He left his office and headed to the assembly lines.
The factories within the spinner had been operating at peak efficiency almost since the spinner had come the Alincourt space. As Jesse walked onto the factory floor he pulled a pair ear protectors on. It was very busy, and very loud. Two suits were near completion and a group of techs were going over the units for a final check.
Jesse walked over to Jeremy Lyons, waiting until he was free. <Jeremy, let's talk,> Jesse sent.
<Jesse? What is it?>
<Come, let's go some where a little quieter where we can talk in private.>
<Well, I'm a little busy right now. Could it wait till later?>
Jesse reached out and put his hand on Jeremy's shoulder and squeezed. <Now would be better.>
Jeremy looked a little uncomfortable and nodded. <Now is fine.>
<Good.> Jesse turned about. <Come on.> He did not look to see if Jeremy was following him as he walked off the factory floor. Jesse had spent a lot of time in the spinner when he was younger, as had Jeremy. As a boy Jesse had controlled the younger population, including Jeremy. Old habits died hard.
"So what is it?" Jeremy asked once they were out of the factory.
"That mech you and your team are banging together, the Dragon, finished it yet?"
"A few days ago actually."
"Been assigned to anyone?"
"Well, there has been some requests. We were thinking of setting up a lottery in the next few days."
"A lottery? Could work. Very fair. Very fair indeed. Tell me, has anyone who outranks me asked for it?"
"Well, there is only one person who outranks you, really, all things considered."
"So, has the Admiral asked for it?"
"Good." Jesse nodded. "It's mine then."
"I'm claiming the Dragon. RHIP."
"Rank Hath Its Privileges." Jesse turned and walked away. "Come along, I need you to give me a rundown on this suit, and the security codes so I can change them."
Jeremy watched Jesse walked away. After a moment he sighed and followed after him.
For its initial shakedown cruise Redding had commanded the Starblade. After that he had given command over to his first officer while he went back to all the other work he had to do.
The Starblade's crew was being run through a number of drills, familiarising them with the ship and its functions.
The mecha crews were also getting use to the ship, making a large number of takeoffs and landings.
In the bow wings which had been turned over to the Arrows and the Arrow fighters, Ree was setting things up with Epiphany and the crew chief.
"How long will it take to refuel a unit," Ree asked as they walked across the bay.
"Four or five minutes," the crew chief said.
"Four or five minutes?" Ree turned to look at the man. "Too long." She looked over her display pad, calling up information on the ship. "We'll depressurise both bays, the crews can work in vac-suits. That should cut it down to a minute."
"My people aren't going to like all that time in vac-suits."
"Tell them my pilots will be in the same situation. Plus you won't have to worry about explosive decompression if you get hit."
"I think we should set up the port hangar for refuelling and rearming, and use the starboard wing for repairs," Epiphany said.
"Not a bad idea. What do you think Chief? We put your speed people in the port bay and the others in the starboard."
"The starboard bay might get busy, all those fighters and suits in there, getting fixed up."
"If we are lucky," Ree said. "I'm worried about there being too few craft getting repaired. If we are lucky and you are busy with repairs, deal with it as best you can."
"I think that is it," she looked over her display pad again. "Epiphany, your people ready?"
"They will be."
"Good. Chief, those stores we ordered here yet?"
"About half. I don't know if we will get more than that. Everyone is hurting."
"See what you can do. If either of you need me, don't be afraid to give a shout."
"Will do," the Chief said.
"I think I have things under control," Epiphany told her.
"Good," Ree said as she walked off.
Ree had split her command with Epiphany. She had her people and suits in the port bay, Epiphany had set up in the starboard. She did not make Marcy's mistake, her command staff was equally split, just in case. Of course that would not help if the entire ship was destroyed, but nothing was perfect.
She crossed into the port bay, looking about at the Arrows and the Arrow fighters stored there. Pilots and technicians floated about bay, involved in various tasks. Everyone knew their jobs and they were doing them.
She found Emiko floating beside her Arrow, its access panels opened, working on it. Ree pushed herself across the space, using the Arrow's wing to stop herself. "What are you up to?"
Emiko looked up from her work. "Ree-oneechan," she said, smiling. "Just some preventive maintenance."
"I thought you might be making some modifications."
"I don't think I am qualified."
"You should learn. It helps to be able to tweak your suit so it works better for you."
"I like how it works now."
"Trust me, once you've been flying long enough you learn no suit performs exactly as you want it to. A little tweak here or a big modification there can make all the difference."
"I guess I haven't been flying long enough."
"You know we're on two hours notice to move don't you?"
"We could be going into a combat situation, a big one, any time now. Are you ready for that?"
Emiko said nothing for a moment. Then she nodded. "I'm ready."
"You better be," Ree said. Emiko was not sure if she had ever heard Ree sound so serious before.
"Good. I've got hundreds of other things to take care of now. Stay on you toes," Ree said as she pushed herself away. "Thing could get pretty crazy at any moment." She grasped a handhold and used it to speed herself away.
Emiko watched Ree go, then turned back to the open access hatch. Little improvements, she thought. Well, maybe. She took a probe from the tool kit she had and pushed it inside her suit. A moment later a shock ran through her and there was a spark and a crack as she burnt out one of the relays.
Emiko flexed her slightly numb hand, trying to work the feeling back into it. "Maybe not."
Cassidy opened the hatch of her Leopard and pulled herself part way out. It was dangerous as their might be enemy around, and that she might be outside when her suit got hit by lightning. She needed a breath of fresh air though.
Around her suit, and the others, were the remains of one of the ODF planetary guns. There were also burning tanks, crashed aircraft, and the wrecks of suits, some Leopards in the mix. She looked at her watch. Not much longer now, she thought. Soon things would be getting very difficult.
She slid back into the suit and closed the hatch. A moment later she was back in the cockpit, strapping herself in.
"What do we do now?" Beth asked her.
"Track down one of the support modules, get reloaded and repaired. After that, it will depend on orders."
"How long till the second drop force comes in?"
"Not too long," Cassidy lied. Then she opened up a channel to the rest of her company and gave them their orders.
In space around Faraday the SAC ships were moving. Their tactics were confusing the ODF as they watched the other ships fall back with their suits. It was almost as if they were retreating, but Allandra, who was currently in command, did not think they were retreating, not with all the effort they had gone through to get their forces on the planet, in destroying the Probability Anchors and the defence satellites.
The space they were opening, the space they had just cleared, a perfect place to shunt in a new force, fresh and ready to renew the battle. It made sense.
"Order all forces to hold position, no pursuit," she ordered. If the SAC wanted to try that she would be waiting for them. She had half of Amaterasu force, a few cruisers from Infinity force and all of Pegasus force cloaked and ready to strike. The hour Glass and another battle ship were at the front of her defence line, ready to break any advance.
She was as ready as she could be, and still she was worried. It was the way the SAC ships were behaving. They were pulling back much farther than she had thought. Could they be making space for that many ships.
She looked around the bridge, noting the empty places. She had lost several of her bridge crew in the early engagements of the battle. Her left arm was in a sling, her own injury.
"General," the man on sensors called. "The SAC battleriders are beginning to dock with their tender craft."
"It's what I am seeing."
"Are they leaving?" someone asked.
"Why would they leave?" Allandra asked herself. "They haven't suffered that great of a loss. What are they playing at?"
"One of their ships just shunted."
"Wide scan," Allandra ordered. "Make sure they don't show up behind us." That would make sense. Shunt the one force behind them while the new force came in front of them.
"No sign of it, and other ships are going as well."
"Where are they going?" She slammed her first against the arm of her chair. "They can't be giving up."
"General, the last of the ships have shunted out. They are gone."
"They can't go. They have forces still on planet." She shook her head. "Send a cutter to Solingen, make sure they have complete records of what has happened. Get all the Generals on the com, conference call, I'll take it in my office," she gave those orders as she was leaving the bridge. "Henderson, you're in charge."
Cassidy stood by her kneeling Leopard, leaning against the armoured leg. Around her lightning cracked, but the Leopards were no longer the tallest object in the area. She and another company had found the same support module. Along with the leopards were a number of aircraft, and a battalion of PAFS.
All of them were getting new ordinance, fuel and repairs. Half her company was on sentry duty, the other half was getting some rest. She did not expect to spend more than a few hours at the current location.
As she stood there, picking at a package of rations, the Lieutenant in charge of the support module approached her. "Colonel," he said hesitantly.
"What is it Lieutenant?" she asked as she pushed the rations into her jacket pocket.
"Well, when we were all coming in we dropped a lot of relay satellites, to keep in touch with the fleet."
"Well, we just lost contact."
"Probably the enemy jamming us. I doubt the ODF has managed to prevail."
"Well, yes, but we also have some sensor satellites up there, and we can't seem to find any sign of the fleet."
Cassidy did her best to look concerned. "This is very strange, but we don't know what happened yet. Lieutenant I want you to keep quiet about this. We don't want to start a panic over what is probably nothing but a glitch, or an ODF trick."
"Yes ma'am," he said, looking relieved. Now he had orders and knew what to do. "I'll get back to work now, with your permission."
"Dismissed," she said.
She watched him turn and walk away and wondered if he'd survive long enough to feel betrayed. She looked around at all the people there. So many of them were so young. She had lost three suits and five people already. She was going to loose more before it was all over.
Sitting heavily on the ground she prayed that when it was over their sacrifice was going to have meant something.
Admiral Mars had come to Primus space once before in the name of the war. He was there again, his fleet shunting in. He did not plan on ever doing it again.
With his battlefleet was Battlefleet Escher, strengthened by the addition of three new Master Class cruisers and Battlefleet Collins, with its Legend II, the Azrael and five cruisers.
This time their target was not Solingen, but Salamanca and its moon Anduril.
As soon as they shunted in bays on many of the ships opened. Thousands of small missiles swarmed out, like hornets from a broken nest. At first their flights were chaotic, with little order or reason. Then, as the missiles detected the emissions of Probability Anchors and communicated their intended target to the other missiles, their flight paths grew more orderly. In only a minute the missiles had found their targets, orientated them selves, fired off a long burn, then shut down.
Thousands of missiles were on their way towards the probability anchors, each one basically undetectable.
That was only the opening, and in may ways, least important move. Even as the missiles were launching mecha were also launching, setting up defensive screens about their parent ships.
There were a few ODF ships in the area, but not that many. They did not last long, the huge batteries of the Azrael made short work of them.
The Ares and its attendant ships turned their fire onto Anduril. The desert moon had been fortified with a few large guns and missiles batteries. Admiral Escher had her people chasing down the defensive satellites, though not to destroy them. The boarding tactics that had made her famous, or infamous, adapted well to snagging satellites and reprogramming them.
Twenty minutes after they had shunted in they controlled the space around Salamanca, their fleets in orbit around the planet and its moon.
That taken care of, the cutters began their descent towards the planet's surface.
"Please have a seat," Miki Vels said to Admiral Mars.
"Thank you," Khamul said, sitting down.
Salamanca had been taken without any real effort. It was a tourist planet after all. Solingen had seen little reason to fortify it. As soon as Miki had seen the SAC cutters coming down, and had known that high above her were several SAC fleets, she had given up.
"So, you wish to talk to me?"
"I'm a busy man Director Vels, so I'll make this quick. I have no desire to harm you, the people you serve, or to harm these townships. We have taken those places on planet that we need, none of which are anywhere near Waikiki. To put this simply, leave us alone, we'll leave you alone. I'm going to have to ask that you respect the entire planet as a no fly zone, and anyone getting close to the places on planet where we have set up will be treated as hostile."
"I understand. I have no intentions of putting my people in danger."
"I'm glad to hear that." If you wish to speak with me again, I'm sure you can get in contact with my ship."
"Good day Director Vels." Khamul nodded then left the room.
Miki sighed and wondered if she should start organising an underground of sorts to attack the SAC forces. She decided against it. She suspected that things were going to end sooner rather than later and she did not wish to put her people in danger, as she had said. Also, she felt very little loyalty to Solingen, and trusted the Battalion would live up to its promises.
Magadine was a little concerned about being called into Colonel DeViers presence. She suspected things were going to change and was worried about what might happen to her crew and herself.
Still, there was nothing to be done about it.
She opened the door to the Colonel's office and pulled herself in. "Captain Visin reporting," she said.
Chronus looked up at her. "What condition is the Manacle in?"
"I'm sorry to report that the ship is barely space worthy. The engines are gone and we no longer have a shunt drive."
He nodded. "These things happen. Captain our orders have been changed."
"It seems the SAC were just making a feint, one that we fell for. As that fleet was shunting away from here, another force shunted into the Primus system and has taken Salamanca."
"The ODF is gathering to deal with this. The Chain Gang has been disbanded."
"I see," she said, wondering if now was when she was to be killed.
"Hold out your wrist, the one with the manacle."
Magadine could not help but shake slightly as she did so. She wondered if he was going to activate the pain mode.
Chronus reached towards the manacle, a small tool in his hand. He pressed the device against the manacle. There was a click, and a short stabbing pain before the manacle fell off. "Congratulations Captain. You are free. You are also being reassigned to the Malachi. General Allandra needs a new first officer and I told her that you were the one. She's leaving in an hour, that should give you enough time. Go back to your ship." He put the tool on the desk on front of her. "Free anyone you think deserves it and take them with you to the Malachi."
Magadine reached out for the tool, the key. "What about the rest of my crew?"
"They will be dealt with."
"How?" she asked, her tone more demanding than she would have liked.
Chronus smiled. "They won't be killed, if that is what you are worried about. "Those I feel can be trusted will be assigned to other ships, most to this one probably. The others will be sent down to Faraday to help with the continuing defence."
Magadine looked a little embarrassed. "Thank you sir."
"You're welcome. Now go. You have less than an hour to be on the Malachi."
"Yes sir," she said as she got to her feet.
The ODF ships came into the Primus system, shunting in so Solingen was between them and the SAC ships. ODF ships were coming from everywhere, the newly built ships from Gravesend, some of them still not complete, came as well. The ODF was leaving the cluster undefended for the most part, but that did not matter. The SAC was making its play, they had chosen the battlefield, and that battlefield was going to be Solingen.
As soon as the ships were able to they brought up their cloaks. It was their advantage, their main advantage. More SAC ships were shunting in, their numbers growing and growing. It was obvious where the SAC's main advantage lay.
"You wished to speak with me?" Grand Marshal Karl Richter asked as he came into Albert's office.
"Can you tell me why the SAC have taken Salamanca?"
"Because the Solingen Board ordered me to take Faraday and be prepared to hold it. Because the board also decided that Salamanca was not important enough to warrant that much protection. Basically, it is your fault." Karl smiled.
"I do not like your tone," Albert said, something hard in his voice.
"And I don't care. You can't do anything to me at this point, not if you want any chance of victory. If we are victorious there is nothing you can do to me, I'll be a hero. If we lose, well, I don't think you will be in much of a position to do anything to me. Do you understand?" Albert was still smiling.
"What are you doing?" Albert asked, currently defeated.
"I have planetary defences standing by, defence satellites are ready, and the fleet is moving into position. I don't want to attack just yet and so I'm setting my forces up to meet the SAC's advance. If the SAC chooses to sit there, then I'll go on the offensive. Any other questions?"
"What is the SAC doing?"
"Right now," a frown crossed Karl's face. "I'm not sure. They have been destroying probability anchors, missiles of some sort I guess, and they have been setting up defensives around Salamanca. Every hour they have more ships. It is strange though."
"They don't seem concerned about the possibility of attack by cloaked ships."
"Then that is their biggest mistake isn't it. Could we attack Earth, force them to withdraw?"
"The Battalion Gambit?" Karl smiled again. "No. It would not work. They've kept a lot of ships in Earth space. We'd have to send half of our total forces to make that work, and if we sent that many..."
"I understand. Carry on."
"Yes sir," Karl said. "Oh, if you wish to do this again, talk to my aide. I'm very busy."
Albert watched as the Grand Marshal left his office. He clenched his fists slightly. The Grand Marshal was going to learn that even heroes might be dealt with.
Still, there was something in what the man had said. Albert thought about it for a time then reached for his phone. Best to make sure that he had contingency plans in place.
Cassidy listened as the Lieutenant gave her an update on the situation. Now the ODF ships were leaving. Well, that was good news. The ODF forces on planet no longer had any support either, but they had had a month to dig in.
Rumours were already moving through the ranks. People were saying that they had been abandoned by the SAC. Abandoned to die.
Cassidy wondered what she would do next. She felt that she should just take her people to some place safe. They could wait until the SAC ships arrived again, to pick them up. That would let her people know that they were on their own for sure though. Hiding was no guarantee of safety anyway. The ODF forces would come looking for them. The battle for the planet was not over.
Her best option, which said something about the situation, was to push forward, to attack. It was what they were best suited for.
Cassidy called her squad commanders together, getting them running to her location. Best to get their minds on other things.
"Listen up," she said, not giving them time to ask any questions. "We'll be launching at attack on a bunker two hundred kilometres from here. We'll have air support and the PAFS will be coming with us. Make sure your people are ready to go, then get back here in," she looked at her watch. "twenty minutes." She looked up from her watch at the people around her. "Why are you still here!"
She smiled slightly as she watched them scatter, running off to complete their tasks. She had not talked to them about what had happened in space. She was not going to talk to them about it. They would think she was lying if she denied it, and it would crush them if she confirmed it so she ignored it. Hopefully they would choose to do so as well.
"So, what's the word?" Jesse asked.
Redding handed him and EO pad. "This has all the information about where I want the various ships. We go in three hours."
"I thought you wanted two hours?"
"If I needed it. As it is we have time. Neither side plans to start this, they want the other side to come to them."
"I've been wondering about that," Jesse said as he looked at the pad. "That puts the SAC at a huge disadvantage, they are just asking the ODF to move their cloaked ships into position and attack them."
Redding nodded. "So it would seem. Since we both know SAC command is not that stupid, they obviously have a plan."
"Know what it is?"
"Perhaps. We'll see when we get there."
"Looks like you were right about Faraday."
"Attacking Solingen is the least wasteful way to do this. The USSA has used their population to give them the numbers they need. They are going to force Solingen to use all their forces in one battle."
"Was building all those ship's environmentally friendly?"
"I'm sure they plan to recycle them, or refit them to serve some other purpose. It is still wasteful."
"Hypocrites," Jesse said, smiling. "Think that this choke point will allow us to stop the avalanche?"
"We'll see. How long will it take you to implement that?" Redding looked at the EO pad in Jesse's hands.
"Say, thirty minutes. I'll have to keep on it, but that is easy enough."
"In one hour I am holding a final briefing on the Starblade, I'll inform everyone else I want there."
"I'll be there."
The main conference room on the Starblade was located in one of the rotating decks. Redding had most of his senior staff at the main table, the rest of the people there were seated in chairs that lined the walls. He looked around at all of them, trying to gauge their reactions to the plans he had just laid out. "This is not going to be easy, but we never thought that it would be."
No one said anything.
"You all know your duties, I don't need to tell you anything else other than good luck."
Jesse got to his feet. "You've heard the Admiral. You are dismissed. Get to work."
Everyone started getting to their feet, pushing chairs back, gathering up their notes. A few stopped to talk to each other, but most were moving quickly. They had jobs to do and not much time to do them.
"You're almost sounding like real military," Placide said to Jesse.
"No need to be cruel," Jesse said.
"Think this is going to work?"
"It has to," Redding said, coming up to them. "We don't have any other options."
"But what if it completely fails and there is nothing we can do?"
Redding said nothing for a time. "I don't really know. I don't want to consider it, but if my plan can't work, then we retreat and I'll step down in favour of someone else who can find a way to do what has to be done."
Jesse laughed. "I've been betting on you since this began. I don't think there is anyone else."
"Then it better work."
The three of them stood there for a moment, saying nothing. As if by some silent cue they all turned away and went off to the many things they still had to do.
"Well this is going to be fun," Ree said to Epiphany and Emiko as they walked from the conference room.
"I think it will work," Epiphany said, looking over her notes.
"We don't have enough suits," Emiko said, looking over the notes she had taken for Ree.
"Well no kidding," Ree said, smiling. "We don't have enough anything. So we are going to adapt, improvise and overcome, or die trying."
"I'd rather avoid the dying part," Epiphany said.
"Wouldn't we all."
"Epiphany," they heard from behind them. All three turned to see Dom standing behind them.
"Dom?" Epiphany said.
"Got a minute."
"She's got several," Ree said, giving Epiphany a push towards Dom. "See you in the launch bays. Come on Emi-chan." She walked off, Emiko following her.
"What do you think that is about?" Emiko asked Ree.
"If it was me I'd be hoping for some high intensity sex, but who knows."
"Maybe he is going to ask her to marry him."
"Don't be stupid Emi-chan. That would be so clich82, and Dom, for all his other faults, does not do clich82. Furthermore, who actually gets married these days? And that young? No, he probably just wants to say goodbye, just in case, you know."
Emiko nodded. "It would be romantic," she said quietly.
"Perhaps in a sort of lowest common denominator way," Ree told her.
"Yo, Miya!" they heard from behind them. Both turned to find Grey Redmond striding up to them. "Wild plan eh? I figure we'll get waxed, pretty bad, bit it's got some style. I've admired Red's style since the day I first met him you know. If you got to go, go with style, eh?"
Emiko looked around at some of the other people in the corridor. A few looked uncomfortable at Grey's words. "I'm not sure you should be talking like that."
"Oh?" Grey leaned in close to Emiko. "You should not tell me what to do." She smiled broadly and tapped her finger on the end of Emiko's nose. "I don't take criticism well. Don't play well with others." She leaned closer. "Usually."
Emiko blushed slightly.
"By the way, I've got a lot of my people on Earth ready to instigate riots on Earth when Redding makes his play. Pretty wild right? Well, got to go," Grey said as she straightened. "Got to put some fear into my crew to make sure they don't mutiny. She turned and walked away. "Into the valley of death rode the two thousand," she called out loudly as she went.
"What was that about?" Ree asked.
"The 'Charge of the Light Brigade'," Emiko said hopefully.
"Very funny," Ree said, grabbing Emiko and pushing her back into a washroom. "Okay, something is weird here, so spill it."
"I don't know what you are talking about," Emiko said.
"Liar." Ree smiled. "Talk, or I'll do something terribly embarrassing to you."
"Well," Emiko said, caving in. "When we were on her ship, when I was coming back, we were talking and stuff."
"Define stuff," Ree smiled.
"Well, we kissed, and then we kissed again..."
"Annnnnnd?" Ree asked.
"She pushed me away and told me that I was no challenge."
Ree looked at Emiko for a moment, then she began to laugh.
"And then she showed me how to cheat at several different card games."
Ree laughed for a few seconds more. "Okay, so why the blush works out there?"
"Well, I kind of liked the kissing, even though I'm not sure I like Grey," she said softly, as if worried Grey might somehow hear.
Ree nodded. "It's always the dangerous ones, I could tell some stories." She shook her head. "No time for that now. Come on." She headed out of the bathroom. They were in the corridor, heading towards the hub elevator when Ree turned to face Emiko again. "When we get finished I'll teach you a few things you can do with a deck of playing cards that you have never imagined."
Emiko blushed slightly causing Ree to laugh again.
"Oneechan no baka," Emiko said softly.
"What is it?" Epiphany asked Dom. He had brought her to an empty cabin.
"This is going to be a tough fight."
"And I've been thinking about stuff."
Epiphany smiled. "Stuff is good. We've all been thinking about stuff."
"Well, I've been thinking about a lot of stuff, you know." He paused. "We've had a lot of fun, haven't we?"
"Since we first met."
"Yea," Dom said, looking a little uncomfortable. "I wanted to tell you that I love you."
"Well you could have told me then," he laughed. "No one is ever going to believe this."
"I know. Tell me, would you mind marrying me?"
"I know it's clich82 and everything, and normally I would not have done this, but, what the hell."
"Really?" He seemed a little surprised.
"I would not joke about anything that involved me getting to wear a wedding dress. I know the prefect designer."
Epiphany moved up close to him, put her arms about him and kissed him. He kissed her back.
Three hours after Redding had given his orders to Jesse the many blades of the Battalion were cruising out of the Alincourt System. In their lead was the Starblade, the beautiful ship moving with speed and grace.
Many people knew that it might be the last time that they left the Starblade Shoal, that they might never see it again. They were leaving the Alincourts with less than they had when the Battalion first came to them.
All of the Rubies were going along as supply and EWACS ships, the Alincourt's stores were almost completely drained, and a number of the younger Alincourts were part of the Starblade's crew.
In every way the Alincourts had entrusted their very future to the Battalion.
Those thoughts and many others were going through Redding's head as he sat in the bridge of his ship. He looked his bridge crew over. Many were from his cutter, a crew he knew and trusted, but not all. So many of them seemed so young. He looked at Josephine Alincourt who sat at the Engineering station, a constant reminder of everything the Alincourts had given up.
Of course they were not the only ones.
Redding shook his head, then adjusted his chair, moving it up and towards the crew stations so everyone could see him. "Prepare to shunt," he ordered.
A moment later the Starblade was gone. The other ship's of the fleet began shunting at almost the same time. In only seconds all were gone.
Ending Credits - as before
If you wish to take a look at the Starblade, the Diamond Class carrier, then click on or go over to http://grebas.freeservers.com/diamond.html to see what Angel has done with it.
And here are more designs from Angel
After reading Episode 38... well, how could I tell? I liked the Shinobis, but I liked still more to design it. You know, there AREN'T rules for multiple burst-mode weapons, like the Shinobi's minigun.
I had to do it with a Morph Portfolio and two diferent guns -which, BTW, was not too a big hassle, since I included the plasma gun on the portfolio, but until I came with this answer... :)
So, domo arigato for providing me with such a uncommon design challenge. ^-^ <bow> I hope you like it.
Game Stats for all PAFs:
Weight 2.3 Tn, Height 200 cm, Cost 154,180 Credits MV -0, Walking MA 70 mpt, Fligth MA 8, 154,2 CP
All servos LW (10/20/15/15 Hits)), all armor Striker (SP 20 Hits).
Stealth, Supercharged Powerplant, Heavy Hidraulics (x0,6 total cost multiplier)
Note: This is the Starblade Battalion version. Other forces substitude a 40mm girojet (30H, WA +2, range 21, 4 shots of BR ammo) for plasma rifle
On Episode 38 we see another PAFS, the Shinoby, a spy unit, even smaller than the Ferret but with at least the same armor and surprisingly strong for a unit not classified as a front line combat suit. Its known armament includes a hand-held 3-barreled 10mm minigun, able of both full auto and single fire modes, a under-barrel plasma gun, able of sustained fire but which had to be primed, and tear gas launchers, and it is known to have lots of sensors, remote drones, a better-than-average onboard computer and several remote surveillance drones. This unit is known as fligth-capable, but also to have a really meager fuel suply.
Also we see the Maistiff, a "typical" basic Soldier PAFS, on its Heavy SWAT configuration. Thusly equiped, the Soldier PAFS (seen on the SBB web site) retains its all-purpose Minigun, but drops its hand-held ArmorBuster, laser targeter and secondary grenades in favor of a mammoth SPAS 3 shotgun (yes, a 3-gauge autoshotgun!(*) 40H, WA +0, range 6, 60 shots of Scatershot ammo, choosen over another weapons since its shots will (hopefully) not penetrate space stations outer walls) and a 25-shots smoke and tear gas grenade launcher ("25H", WA +0, range 4, 21 Hits, BR 1, Smoke). (It retains its heavy anti-Mek missiles, just in case). New cost 155,143 Credits, 155.1 CP
(*) For the uninitiated, shotgun gauges are measured by the number of lead balls of the weapon's barrel diameter needed to make a certain weigth; thus, a 3-gauge shots pellets four times the size of a 12-gauge, or 16 (not 4) times more same-sized ones -and we all know how MUCHO damage a 12-gauge does...
"Watashi wa anata no ane, soshite haha, soshite anata."
--Miyu Kyuuketsuki ga Yui ni itta
Shawn Hagen <email@example.com>
On to Chapter 40