A Story of the Starblade Battalion

'This war, very unprofitable.'

Episode 40 (2181.01.28)
by Shawn Hagen (1998)


Starblade Battalion is the Property of R.Talsorian Games.

Opening Titles - As Before

Redding had brought the Battalion into the Primus system some distance out from the Solingen, using the distance to mask his force. The ships of the Battalion had begun to move in, bringing up their cloaks when they could, then moving in faster, or as fast as the cloak would allow.

At first this gave the Battalion a strung out structure, with the cloaked ships far ahead, but as hours past the Battalion's structure moved into what Redding had ordered, in theory. The problem with cloaked ships is that no one could be quite sure where they might be.

The Celeste, as well as few cutters, remained uncloaked. The Celeste had moved forward slightly and was acting as a forward observer. It transmitted the information it gathered back towards the other ships of the Battalion. Thus Redding and the other commanders had a very good view of what was happening.

"Why are they just sitting there?" Jesse asked. The SAC ships continued to orbit Salamanca, and more ships showed up every hour. "What, do they want to have every ship they have there?"

"No, about seventy percent of their fleet. They are close to it," Redding said.

Jesse stared at him for a moment. "You know something. You've known since this began. Tell me."

Redding smiled. "I suspected something," he corrected. "I've known for a very short time." Redding took an EO pad from a web pocket in his chair and downloaded some information into it. He gave it a gentle push towards Jesse.

Jesse was moving towards Redding, and he snagged the EO pad from the air. As he looked at the contents he dropped a foot to the floor, letting it slow then stop him. "What is it? A mine? A grenade? Some sort of new weapon?"

"I was not to sure when I first saw it myself," Redding told him. "It's about the size of your fist, and if you were to grab it," Redding mimed the action. "It would probably blow your fingers off, and emit enough energy to give you severe second degree burns, and perhaps a few third degree."

"Ouch, but it is certainly not that powerful. Proximity trigger, gravity trigger, energy trigger." He looked up a Redding. "They're trying to find cloaked ships?"

Redding nodded. "While not powerful, it produces a large amount of light, on the visible spectrum, and also on other spectrums, like radio. It is, for space, a very noisy device."

Jesse smiled in spite of himself. "That is very good."

"It was a shot gun approach really. They have no idea how the cloak works, so they've just done everything they could in hopes of tagging incoming ships."

"Does it work?"

"Surprisingly well. When I received these plans, I talked to your uncle about them. We made a few and tested them. Exactly how he is not sure, but fifty percent of the time one of these things will cause a ship's cloak to drop. Even if it doesn't, there has still been a very obvious signal that a ship is in the area."

"The ODF has no idea what they are getting into." Jesse shook his head. "I almost want to warn them. We agreed not play favourites though. Have they deployed them?"

"Yes." He reached for a display pad. "They have dense coverage all around Salamanca." He showed Jesse a representation of the planet and the mine field.

"How do they lay them?"

"Light weight suit, very subtle. It compensates for movement so the mine is stationary when laid. The mines themselves are very hard to spot, nearly impossible."

Jesse thought about it for a moment. "If the ODF sends in some small scouting missions, they will pick this up with minimum loss."

"Think they will?"

"No. Why bother. The SAC is not bothering to hide anything. That must be driving some of them insane. It's almost like they are being mocked."

"It is a good plan on the SAC's part."

"How long till the ODF gets tired waiting and makes the first move?" Jesse asked.

"A few hours. Like you said, the SAC's presence is an insult. They have the cloak. Attack is the obvious choice."

"I think they will send in a lighting strike, hit a few ships, then turn and run."

"If the SAC follows, they move right into an ambush."

Jesse nodded. "But it won't work like they think. They fly right into the mines and get shot apart by the SAC."

"And if the ODF is not quick enough to realise what happened someone else might go in there, planning on avenging their comrades."

"Once it is obvious that the trick is not going to work again do you think that the SAC will go on the offensive?"

Redding nodded. "They'll shoot mines and lay them on their path of advance, but it won't be as effective as a static field. Then the cloak will make a difference."

"And a very messy battle begins, and we see if your plan works."

Redding said nothing. He just nodded.

"It's the waiting," Ree said as she looked at the fan of cards in her hand. She pushed them into the thin stack and pulled them close to her chest. "It grates on you after a time."

"What can you do?" Epiphany asked.

"Go insane," Ree said. "Where are we?"

"The Marshal tossed a thousand into the pot, Emiko called and raised three thousand," Epiphany said.

"Well." Ree picked up some chips and tossed them onto the table. "Call."

"A pair," Epiphany said.

"Nothing," Diane said, letting her cards drop.

"Pair of aces," Tess said.

"A flush," Emiko said, laying the cards on the table.

"Damn," Ree tossed her cards down. She looked at Emiko. "Didn't you say that Grey taught you how to cheat?"

"Oneechan!" Emiko said, sounding properly scandalised.

"Yea, I guess you don't have the gust to cheat." She reached out for the deck and gathered the cards. "Okay, seven card draw, five down." She began to deal. "Ante up."

As the other four women tossed their chips onto the table Ree dealt out the cards.

"You know," Diane said as she looked at her cards. "I think these crew decks are a little nicer than those elsewhere on the ship."

"They are," Tess said. "The Alincourts fell in love with my Arrow, and designed these forward hangars with Arrows and the Arrow fighters in mind. They also, unconsciously I suspect, made these crew decks just a little nicer."

"That might explain why the pilots using the midship hangars don't like us," Epiphany said.

"They would not like us no matter what. We are flying the best rides ever made." Ree finished dealing and put the cards down in front of her. She tossed a card in. "Marshal," she looked over at Diane.

"You know," Diane looked at her cards. "You could stand to be a little less arrogant."

"And you are the poster child for humility," Ree said.

Diane said nothing. She tossed a chip into a pot. "Two cards," she said, taking two cards from those in her hand and placing them beside the deck.

"Looking for another queen perhaps," Ree said, looking at the queen that was showing in Diane's hand.

"Give me three," Tess said as she tossed a chip into the pot. She placed her three cards with Diane's discards. "Still, it is not good sense to pamper one part of your crew. Not that anyone else has reason to complain,

"I'm sure that they will figure it out when then build the rest in the series." Ree gave Tess her two cards.

"What is the deal again, if we live?"

"If we live we divide all the winnings by ten thousand." Ree told her.

"Oh. Well, I'll see the thousand, and raise ten thousand." She tossed her chips into the pot. "And one card."

"The lady takes a card with a pair of fives showing," Ree said as she handed Epiphany her card.

Emiko stared at her hand for a moment, not doing anything.

"You've got an ace and a king showing Emi-chan, going to do anything?"

"I'm thinking," Emiko said.

"Well, we'll be here for a while."

Emiko looked at Ree and smiled. "I'll see the thousand, the raise, and another raise for ten thousand."

"I'm out." Diane folded.

"Me too." Tess said.

Epiphany looked at her cards, bit her lip, but said nothing.

Ree looked at Emiko. "Give me your hands."


"Give me you hands."

Emiko put her cards down and held her hands out towards Ree. Ree looked into the sleeve of Emiko's flight jacket, making Emiko sigh loudly. Tess laughed.

"Okay," Ree said. "I'll match and take two cards." She tossed her chips in, as did Epiphany. "Now let's see what you got."

"Full house, aces over kings," Emiko lay her cards down.

"Damn," Ree tossed her cards down. "You're too lucky."

"Wait one," Epiphany said, smiling.

"No?" Ree looked at her.

"Four of a kind."

"You bitch," Ree laughed.

Epiphany only smiled as she pulled the chips towards herself.

"She always does that," Ree said. "Plays pretty constant, then gets a good hand and waits for idiots like us," she looked at Emiko, "to raise it up so she can clip us. If we all die then you will have quite the fortune

"Don't you think that is a little morbid?" Tess asked.

"It's a lot morbid," Ree told her. "But you have to face it. Kind of like a bushido thing."

"I think I'm going to get some rest." Diane got to her feet. "We could get the word at any time."

"She's probably right," Ree said.

"I'll clean up," Emiko told them as she gathered the cards towards her.

"Probably going to remove all those extra aces you slipped into the deck." Ree leaned back in her chair.

"Yes oneechan," Emiko said.

"I'm going to head down and talk to the Chief, make sure we are ready to roll when this starts." Tess got to her feet.

"Come on Epiphany, let's go make the rounds, make sure our people have got their crap together. Emiko, count the chips and we'll settle up when we get back."

"Haiiiii," Emiko said.

The group broke up, leaving Emiko alone in the lounge. She gathered everything loose up and put it away in drawers. When the decks stopped rotating anything loose was going to start flying around, which was always a bad thing. She checked the furniture to make sure it was locked down, and locked it down where needed.

She walked over to a couch and sat down. After a moment she removed a small pendant on a chain from within her jacket and held it up to her eyes. She reached out and tapped it, activating the holo-generator within the small crystal.

Around the crystal holographs began to form, of friends and family. She watched as they flickered past in a pre-programmed sequence.

The ball bounced off the floor, hit the wall, and bounced back across the room where Juan caught it. He threw it again, watching as it hit floor, then wall, then came back to him.

He was bored.

The time had come when the subtlety and style of his line of work was no longer needed. Now it was time for brute force, and a lot of it. Not his kind of thing at all. He threw the ball again. That left him a few options in the coming battle. One was to sit in the lounge, though once the crew decks stopped spinning he'd have to strap himself down, and wait it out there.

A rather boring option.

Another was to take a suit out, perhaps one of the Draken 2s, and join the fight. Not an option he particularly relished. He was an adequate pilot, but adequate was not what was needed.

He could find some other job on the ship, something to keep himself busy and contribute. That could be almost as boring at his first option and as dangerous as his second.

Given a choice the second option was slightly more attractive.

"Juan," he head someone call.

"Yes," Juan looked over his shoulder and saw Conaly entering the room. "What is it?"

"You got a message," he said, sounding a little puzzled.


"Came in from the Celeste, though it looks like it has been bouncing around for a day or two. Addressed to you, and encrypted." Conaly held out an EO pad.

"Really," Juan said, reaching out to take it. "This sounds interesting." He looked over the information. "It's for me all right, they used one of my personal codes to encrypt it." he entered his key and began reading. "Well."


"It's from Albert Knox. He wishes to speak with me about a business proposition."


"He wants to speak with me, as soon as possible."


"He doesn't say."

"So, what will you do?"

"If I can, as soon as the ship drops its cloak, I'll take a shuttle and head down to Solingen."

"That might be a little dangerous, there's a war going on out there."

"He gave me some access codes, and I can get in touch with him. I should be able to get to the surface before the big fireworks start."

"So you are going?"

"Of course. This could be interesting. And I can probably do more good down there then I can up here."

Conaly nodded. "I'm going with you."


"You'll need someone to watch your back."

"True. Well, I'm off the speak with the Admiral, just to make sure he has no objections." Juan stuck the ball into his jacket pocket and got to his feet.

"Why do you think he wants to see you?" Conaly asked as he followed Juan from the room.

"Maybe he wants to cut some sort of deal. Ask for the Battalion's help."

"I don't think that seems likely."

"That' the one thing I've learned about Albert Knox, he doesn't follow the same rules as everyone else."

When the ODF cruiser 'Oak'-part of Botany force-hit the perimeter of the SAC minefield everyone knew. The flashes of light, the bursts of static, and after the third one detonated, the ship coming out of cloak, made that certain.

The Captain of the Oak had a few seconds to wonder what was happening before the three starbolts of an SAC Master class tore into the ship. The ship went up in a ball of plasma.

The Captain of the 'Pine' had more time to work with once his cloak dropped and was ordering the cruiser to come about when the blast of a Legend 2's spinal mounted starbolt launcher shredded the cruiser.

These attacks by the SAC were ripping huge holes in their mine defence, but the ODF did not know enough to take advantage of the openings.

The Botany was came under fire from three Battelriders, but its captain was quicker than her commanders had been and had her ship moving away from the killing field.

As she watched on her screens the Larch took several hits, but also managed to limp away.

"Send a message to the fleets. They are not to approach the SAC ships."

"Yes ma'ma," her com tech called out.

Redding watched as the two cruisers managed to escape from the SAC's trap. It appeared as if the ODF was not about to try that again, at least not yet. Not as much damage as they might have hoped the inflict, but that was two cruisers destroyed and two damaged in the opening moves while the SAC had not taken any losses.

"What happened?" Karl demanded.

"I'm not sure," General Gorda told him. "I've spoken with Colonel Asonav and she assured me she followed her orders exactly."

"Do you have any reason to think she did not?"

"No sir, but she might have made a mistake."

That every ship in her command might have made the same mistake was not something Karl thought likely, but he did not say anything. "Could the SAC have found a way to defeat our cloak?"

"I don't know. I sent some cutters to get a closer look and see what they might find out."

"Good. I also want you to move some missile carriers up towards the SAC. Let's let them know we have other options of attack open."

"Yes sir."

The ODF missiles carriers released their payloads some distance from the SAC ships. Most of the weapons would be intercepted before they could reach their targets, but it was a statement of sorts. The SAC's reaction was being watched closely by several cutters that had been dispatched to the area to monitor the enemy ships as well as attempting to discover how their cloak was being defeated.

The SAC reacted, as might be expected, by deploying a number of interceptors to deal with the incoming missiles. What they had not counted on was a number of Viggens that were moving along with the missiles.

Using surprise to their advantage the Viggens hit the Zephyrs hard and fast, taking out almost a quarter of their number in the first volley. The Zephyrs rallied returned fire, inflicting losses almost as great on the Viggens. As they were doing that a number of missiles got by them, forcing the Zephyrs to turn and chase the weapons. The Viggens took advantage of that and hit the SAC suits from the rear.

While the Zephyrs were able to destroy most of the incoming missiles, they took much greater losses.

Many of the missiles that got by the SAC suits were effectively neutralised when they passed through the minefield. While the small explosives did not have enough power to actually damage the missiles, the burst of static, and small force was enough to throw the missiles wildly off target.

A few, a little more than one percent of the total, did cause some damage to the SAC ships, but not a single ship was lost due to the attack.

The ODF did get some valuable information from the attack. The small detonations of the mines were picked up by the ships sent to scout the area. With that information they were able to ascertain what was happening.

General Gorda suggested that they destroy the minefield. Grand Marshal Richter ordered him to simply fall back and wait for the SAC to move out of their protective field. It was then that the ships would be vulnerable to the ODF cloak.

Cassidy Li sat in the cockpit of her Leopard, looking at the screens and the devastation around her.

They had won the battle, but at a great cost. Almost half of her company was dead. Not far from where her suit stood another Leopard lay, a twisted wreck of metal entwined with the remains of some ODF suit. Close behind her was one of the SAC jets, buried past its wings by the force of the crash. The wrecks of several ODF Landganger's were still burning, adding to the thick black smoke that hung above the battle sight.

She looked at her watch, noting the time and date. She had not been privy to the SAC's plans, but she had been told enough. It would be another day, at least, before they might expect rescue by the SAC. It would depend upon how fast they could take Solingen and force the colonies to surrender.

Cassidy wondered what might happen if the colonies chose to fight on even if Solingen were taken. They might never see rescue.

Dying on this planet was not what she wanted. Of course it was not what any of them had wanted. She would not run from that possibility. To do so would be an insult to all those who had already died.

She turned on her com system. They would have to find another support module before they could go onto the next fight.

"Sir," the lieutenant said as she opened his office door. "Something is happening."

Redding got out of his chair, pulling himself over his desk. "What?"

"Movement in the SAC lines."

About time, Redding thought. "Let's go," he said to the young woman as he approached her.

Redding moved out in front and ignored the people movers for faster flight down the corridors. It was against his own regulations, but he doubted anyone would be in the corridors. He quickly reached the bridge.

"Sir," he heard someone say.

"What's happening?" he asked, moving towards his command chair.

"The SAC have begun to move. They are still within their minefield though."

Redding looked towards the display above him. As he had been told, the SAC was doing something. It was hard to tell what it was at first, but after a few seconds he was certain of their intent.

In a very neat, ordered way, the separate fleets began moving out, cutting through the minefield, unconcerned with the tiny explosions going off around them. The formation was perfect, wide spaced, with battleriders, cutters and suits forming a picket line of sorts. While the formation would make it hard for one ship to defend another, it would protect them for surprise attacks by the ODF. It would take two or three ODF fleets to hit every ship in an SAC fleet at once.

The first out were the ships of Battlegroup Hudson. While they had taken damage in the fighting for Faraday, they had all been repaired at Gamma 4. Now the Calabim cruisers were moving out, the point of the attack.

Redding could not see it, but he was positive that the Calbims were launching thousands of those tiny mines along their path of advance as well as scattering them around them. It would be in no way as effective as a static field, but it would help.

"Put the crew on full alert," Redding ordered. Another group of ships were moving out in a precise fashion that Redding could not help but admire. It was Admiral Mars' influence, he was sure of that.

He watched for several minutes as the SAC ships moved out of Salamanca's orbit. They would probably leave a few ships behind, just to secure their fallback point. He was watching to largest fleet movement ever, he was certain of that. Soon he'd be watching the largest space battle that there had ever been.

"Admiral, the Celeste is transmitting," the com tech called.

Redding nodded and said nothing. The message was a layered burst, the information compressed into tiny packets. In the packets were a number of stories by Caroline Mason, a name well known in the Cluster, and fairly well known in Earth Space. Stories about the Midnight Sun connection between both the Solingen board of directors and the Gaian Inner Circle. There were also stories about the Battalion's battles with the terrorists.

It was a mix of information. It had been chosen to make people think about the war they were involved in. It would, hopefully, make people ask why they were fighting. Toping it off was a request that the soldiers stop fighting. A set of co-ordinates were given where the ships and suits of those who chose not to fight a wrong war could go. The Battalion would protect them from retribution if they did so.

Redding was certain it would all get through. He had all the frequencies used by the two sides, as well as their encryption protocols and attention tags. The message was also very short, so no one would have time to block it.

"Do you think it will work?" Caroline asked as she moved close to Redding's command chair. She kept her voice soft.

"That is the question of the day, is it not."

"I take it that that means you do not know."

"The SAC teaches its people to consider their orders, to question those that seem wrong if necessary. Given that, I think it is quite possible that they will listen. Whether they will choose to desert is where my concerns lay."

"What about all those new recruits?"

"We'll see. On the same line, what about the ODF?"

"You don't sound completely sure."

"How could any of us be sure about what will happen. No battle plan lasts contact with the enemy, so they say."

"Yet you do not seem concerned."

"I don't think either side would have wished for a battle like this. They are putting everything they have into this. The Battalion managed to force this encounter through everything we did. If my plan does not work, one side will win, but whoever winds will be diminished. The SAC will not be able to exert its control over the Colonies as they planed. The ODF, if they win, will not be able to protect Solingen's expansionist program. Whoever wins will still have to negotiate. With the other side, and with us."

"The people on Solingen?"

"I have no plans to sacrifice them," Redding said flatly. "I did not bring my fleet here just to watch. If the SAC is victorious they'll have to go through us if they plan on firing on or landing forces on the planet."

"And all the soldiers?"

"Are why I hope this plan works."

Battlegroup Hudson was the most obvious target of attack. It was the point group, five cruisers-one had been lost on the attack on Faraday--moving quick. Off to the ships' port side the four cruisers of Pegasus force dropped their cloaks and opened fire on the SAC ships.

The Pegasus' huge starbolts tore into the Justin, ripping through its armour. The Calabim shook and an explosion blossomed from its stern section as one of the huge thruster arrays went up.

The 'Kirin's' fire was less effective. The 'Matthew' shook under the barrage, but other than the holes punched into its armour there was little other obvious damage.

The 'Manticore', having moved in close, opened up with both its starbolts and a large spread of torpedoes on the Luke. The Luke however managed to roll out of the way so the starbolts were only glancing hits. The Luke's interceptor screen moved to take care of the incoming torpedoes.

The 'Hypogriff', the last of the Pegasus fleet, opened up on the Hudson. Unfortunately the Hudson not only managed to evade its fire, but return it as well.

The opening volley of the first battle off, it looked likely that the ships of Battlegroup Hudson would come about to deal with the ships of Pegasus Force. Then, on the opposite side from where Pegasus appeared, a ship from Antioch Force suddenly decloaked. It had hit one of the mines that the SAC ships had been firing off into space.

Seeing the danger she was in Natasha ordered evasive manoeuvres for her ships and split them to deal with both of the ODF threats. Behind her the ships of Battlegroup Landopov were moving up to support them.

"We have to hit them harder," General Gorda said.

"If we do so we will only loose ships," Grand Marshal Richter told him. "We will give them a fight on the way in, make them work for it, but not at the costs of our ships or men. When they get in range we can used the defence platforms and planetary based guns."

"If they don't work the SAC will be right on top of Solingen and we will be in a poor position to stop them."

"And if you go after them now, and enough of our ships have their cloaks broken before they can get in range we will be in an even worse situation if the defence platforms do not perform."

"I don't like it."

"General, the SAC are not aware of our defence platforms. When they get in range they will move right into a hail of fire that will cost them greatly. Then we will have ships decloak and hit them from the side and from below. That will be a three way crossfire."

"It's a good plan," Gorda admitted. "But we are taking a huge chance."

"He who dares wins," Karl said, quoting some old piece of military doctrine.

"I hope so."

Battlefleet Naguma was near the middle of the SAC strike force. The fleet had been so placed to make the best use of the powerful sensors and expert sensor operators. The Megiddo had been outfitted with a number of new, experimental sensor systems in hopes that they might find a way to detect cloaked ships.

Protecting the sensor ships were the ships of Battlefleet Collins. It was not a situation that pleased August Collins.

He was a hawk. A protègè of Admiral Romanov, a man who was looking He had the Azrael, a Legend II, a carrier that outshone even the Legend's impressive combat capabilities. He had five of the Calabim cruisers, ships designed for one purpose only. His desire was to be at the point, letting his ships crash through whatever the ODF chose to throw at him.

"Admiral," one of the communications techs called. "Admiral Naguma wishes to speak with you."

"Put him through," August said. "Admiral, what is it?" He asked, turning his attention to the screen on his command chair.

"I've been considering the information that the Starblade Battalion has sent us."

"It must be nice to have so much time on your hands," August said sarcastically.

"My fleet will be pulling out. We will not fight this battle."


"I think I have made myself clear."

"You will not be pulling out. We have our orders."

"Considering where those orders have ultimately come from I do not give them much value."

"If you try to leave I will have my ships fire upon you. Don't believe what the Battalion has said. You will not be protected."

"We'll see," Boris said, cutting the communication.

"Sir, there is some activity occurring with Battlefleet Naguma," the com tech told Redding.

"I suspected Boris would be one of the first," Redding told Caroline. "What is it?" he called to the com tech.

"Admiral Naguma wants to leave, and Admiral Collins is threatening to fire on any ships that desert."

Redding raised himself from his chair. "Prepare to drop cloak. I want the main cannon to target the Azrael. Launch our mecha as soon as we drop the cloak."

"Sir, the Megiddo is breaking formation. The Azrael is coming about. It looks like they are bringing their main cannon to bear."


The sudden appearance of the Starblade did not go unnoticed, though few involved in the battle might have really cared. It was a great distance away from the battle, and it was only one ship.

Then the main cannon fired.

The distance was incredible, well out of range of any weapon possessed small explosions appearing on the blasts periphery as small ships and suits were caught too close.

And then the lance hit the Azrael, cutting through the ship, port to starboard, the beam continuing through, travelling even farther before the energy began to dissipate.

The Azrael began to roll. It had lost power. A few, small secondary explosions blossomed on it's surface, but that was all.

Redding stood on his bridge, watching as it took place. "I want a wide broadcast." Redding said.

"Yes sir," the com tech said. "You have it."

"I will state again for those of you who might not be aware of it. The Battalion will protect any ship that chooses not to fight. I believe we have shown that we have to power to do so." Redding looked over at the com tech and nodded.

"I've shut it down sir."

"Good." Redding returned to his seat. "Let's see how they react to that."

Even as the forces of the ODF and SAC were moving into battle, making all the preparations, there was still time for rumours.

The appearance of the unknown ship and its impossible attack was the main topic. It was a Starblade ship, and they had over ten of them. It was an alien ship, the opening moves on an invasion. It was the Battalion, allied with Aliens. Those and more rumours spread throughout the ship.

Unfortunately for the commanders they had no facts with which to crush the rumours.

Khamul Mars looked at the ship that had appeared some distance away from his ships. Frost's ship. How could they have built something like that? Where were they getting support? He had heard the rumours that the Battalion had more of those ship, just waiting to bring them out. It was impossible of course, but then again, just one ship should have been impossible.

He did not have enough information to be sure of anything, but for the time being he was willing to simply continue on. The Battalion, so they said, would only attack to defend ships that were trying to leave the battle. It that were true then he had little to worry about, not until more of his ships decided to leave.

Nils Gorda reached much the same conclusion as Admiral Mars had reached. In fact, as he saw it, it was a benefit to him. He did not think it likely that any of his people would choose to desert, so he had nothing to worry about. On the other hand, considering what he knew of the SAC and their training methods, more SAC desertions were likely.

Not only would the SAC lose those ships, but they might also lose those ships that tried to stop the deserters. He did not see how he could loose.

He was not completely confident though. What would happen after the battle was over? Would the Battalion go after the winner? What if the Battalion decided to side with the SAC?

For a moment he considered sending some of his ships to deal with the Battalion, but only for a moment. He just did not have enough ships to do that. He would have to, loathe as he was to do so, trust that the Battalion would live up to its promises.

As soon as the Starblade dropped it's cloak its mecha began to launch.

The Arrows in their fighter form and the Arrow fighters leapt from the bays, speeding off towards the ships of Battlefleet Naguma. Other suits were launching from the other mecha bays, but most would be staying close to the Starblade for its protection. Those that were moving off to help in protecting the SAC ships would not arrive until long after the Arrows did.

There was one exception to that. Jesse's Dragon sped off after the Arrows and the fighters. His suit was not as fast, but it was faster than most. He might arrive a little late for the fight, but not too late.

At the same time the mecha were launching a small shuttle launched from the Starblade. Inside Juan piloted it, moving it slowly away from the larger ship. Once clear he turned it towards Solingen and brought the thrusters up to full. The acceleration pushed him and Conaly back into their seats.

August Collins had to exert every ounce of self control he possessed not to vent his anger. He had to fight to stay calm. He wanted to scream, to shake his fists and curse whatever power had led to the situation he was in.

His ship, his beautiful Azrael had been rendered impotent. He could only wait while repair teams tried to bring the ship back to life. Even if they succeeded the powerful, spinal mounted starbolt had been cut in half by the blast that had pierced his ship. It would take a full dry dock facility to put that right.

Power started to come on around the bridge as the repair crews started reconnecting the power conduits. August moved over to the sensor station and looked over the man's shoulder. "Where's the Megiddo?" he asked.

"There sir."

"All of its related ships went with it?"

"Yes sir."

"Damn them." he kept his voice controlled. He considered sending his cruisers after Naguma, but that would leave the Azrael undefended while repairs were being made. He also suspected that would just result in his ships being fired upon by that ship.

He moved away from the sensor station, considering his options. He'd have to send mecha after the deserting ship. He doubted the ship could hit a target that small. How many mecha though? He could not afford to loose that many. "Tell the 'Sarphiel' and the 'Miriael' to each provide half their mecha complement to go after the Megiddo and those ships which have chosen to desert with it." He looked at his flight controller.

"Yes sir."

"I also want the Wyverns launched. Tell Commander Donaldson that her people will be responsible for taking those ships out." That was the angle he had been looking for. He had gone out of his way to get the Wyverns, the few that there were, stationed on his ship. And Carly Donaldson was a woman after his own heart. She was looking for a fight as well.

The ships of Battlefleet Naguma had put some distance between themselves and the ships of Battlefleet Collins. While Boris no longer was worried about the possibility of attack from any of the ships, especially after Redding's impressive demonstration, he knew it was not over.

He was not surprised when his sensor op told him that a number of mecha were approaching from the direction of Collins' ships. A mix of fighters and suits, almost a hundred. He had more suits, but not by an overwhelming number. His fleet was never supposed to get directly involved in battle. His mecha were supposed to have provided close support.

"Order our half pilots to intercept the incoming targets, the other half will remain close to their ships and provide a defence screen."

His flight controller was giving out the orders when his communications officer called to him. "Sir, we're getting a message for you."

"Let me have it."

"Patching it through."

"This is Admiral Naguma," he said.

"Admiral, this is Commander Maxil of the Starblade Battalion. We've been sent to give you a hand if you need it. Do you need it?"

"We have suits approaching us from Battlefleet Collins. I think that qualifies."

"How long till they close on you?"

He looked over at his sensor op. The man sent the information to the Admiral. "Twelve minutes."

"It will be cutting it a little close, but we can do it. I suggest you keep all your suits close to you. We'll intercept the incoming units, but if we have your suits in the mix things will get confusing."

Boris said nothing for a moment. "Agreed. All our suits will stay close and form a screen for us." He looked over as his flight controller to make sure the new orders were carried out.

"Good. We'll be there soon. Hold tight."

He cut the connection and leaned back in his chair. He did not like handing over his defence to others, but he had not liked the fact that he was going to order his pilots to fire on other SAC units. It looked like he was dependant on the Battalion.

<Okay people,> Ree sent. <Full burn, we've got a deadline.> She opened the engines up fully and felt the force push her into the padding of her seat.

Around her the other pilots did the same, the Arrows and Arrow fighters leaping forward. On their wings were strapped fuel pods. They looked ugly, and they made the Arrows handle very poorly, but they needed the fuel. They'd also be jettisoning them before they met up with the enemy, so the loss of performance really did not matter.

Ree had nearly eighty Arrows, and the same number of fighters with her. It was a large force, and a fast one. It had been given to her to protect any ships that took the Battalion up on its offer. The Starblade could handle other ships, but not the suits. That was Ree's job.

She had accepted it gladly. A mix up like that was the sort of fight she had always dreamed of.

Ree was not the only one speeding towards the suits from Collins.

Emanuel Johansen had been promoted to Major after the battle at Ranoxis. He had been given a company to command, based off the Infinity. His star was on the rise.

He was probably throwing it all away though. He had turned command over to his 2IC and left his people behind. As he saw it he had no choice in the matter. From sensor feeds he was receiving from one of the ships he could see the suits that had left that new ship. He recognised them as the transforming craft he had fought at Ranoxis. Somehow he Knew Maxil was there.

It was impossible to be a pilot in the ODF without feeling Kareen Maxil's presence, like it was hanging over you. Emanuel could not remember all the times he had heard her name. Other pilots, his instructors, people who had just heard of her, they all spoke of with an almost reverence. Emanuel could understand that. He had fought her, and he knew she was the best. Still, in the type of battle they were fighting, even the best might die.

He hoped that he might be the one that would shoot her down, but he did not think he would be that lucky. He wanted a rematch though, and perhaps he might damage her suit a little, exhaust her just that little bit more. All he knew for certain that Kareen Maxil had to die. She was too good to be allowed to live.

His uniquely modified Nachtmaren lit its booster units up and sped off towards where a battle was going to take place.

The SAC suits were nearing the ships of Battlefleet Naguma when they were suddenly blinded. The Starblade had turned its powerful ECM suites onto the approaching suit, beaming a confusing mix of signals at the suits.

A few of the SAC suits, the Wyverns among them, had ECCM and were able to cancel out enough of the ECM's effects to see what was going on. What they saw was over a hundred, fast moving fighters homing in on them.

A moment before the world blew up around them the Starblade cut its ECM, not wanting to effect its own units. It was of little value to the SAC, but it did allow a number of pilots to see their death coming at them.

The Arrows and the Arrow fighters went in hot, they blew their fuel pods even as they fired off a spread of missiles. The Arrows sent all of their wing mounted missiles off in the opening moves of the battle. The pilots of the Arrow fighters were more conservative, they did not have to worry about a transformation and what it would do to their missiles.

The missiles ripped into the SAC suits. Many of the incoming missiles were taken out by the suit's anti-missiles measures, but there were so many, and they had been taken by surprise.

The Arrow fighters passed through the SAC units, their plasma cannons chewing into the suits as they went by. They swung around, getting ready to engage the Cavaliers that were coming after them.

The Arrows on the other hand initiated their transformation process, entering the fray up close. With their superior manoeuvrability and weapons the Arrows began to make quick work of the enemy suits.

While the Arrows were easily taking care of most of the SAC units, they were not the top predator in that battle.

The Wyvern's were showing their stuff, forcing Arrow's to run. Any that made the mistake of trying to fight the huge mechs did not last long. In his Wyvern Keene Bird chased after one of the Arrows. He used his boosters to catch up to it, lashing out with one of the huge talons his suit had been graced with. It cut the Arrow's arm off and slashed deep into the Torso. The other talon whipped out and finished the job, cutting down through the suit's head and into the cockpit.

Keene was feeling rather confident when his proximity alert sensors sounded. Something big was approaching, and it was approaching fast. There was a shrilling alarm as his suit registered damage to his port arm. Keene was not sure if he could believe it, but a dragon had just flown by him and had nearly cut his suit's arm off with a wing.

Jesse swung the Dragon around, a tight, punishing turn. He had got the big, ugly suit's attention, now it was time to finish it off.

He hit it from behind, the talons on the Dragon's legs ripping into the armour, getting a good hold on it. The head whipped forward and bit into the mounting for one of the big shoulder guns. The teeth sheared through the mount, cutting the cannon free of the Wyvern.

The other pilot was fighting back of course, swinging those huge talons around in an attempt to hit him. They just did not have the range of motion in the shoulder units to allow it to reach behind itself. Jesse's preach was about as safe as it could be.

Still, he best keep the pilot busy. The tail of his dragon swung around, the blade on the end of it buried itself deep into one of the Wyvern's thruster pods. Again his head swung about, snapping the second cannon from the suit, at the same time the Dragon's claws were ripping deeper into the suit.

Keene was not sure if what was happening was real. It did not seem as if it could be real. One moment he was the top predator in the conflict, then a dragon was ripping his Wyvern to pieces. He had lost both of the Wyvern's cannons and any moment it seemed that the thing would tear through the armour on the back of his suit and start on the softer, interior. As he was part of that softer interior Keene was more than a little worried.

He had to get that thing off his back. Had to move it somewhere so that he could actually fire at it. He opened the throttle up full, at the same time throwing the Wyvern through a series of jerky manoeuvres. The dragon could not hold on forever. He hoped.

Then suddenly the suit's performance changed and he knew that the dragon was gone. He brought the suit about, arming the missiles. The bastard was going to pay.

Jesse was taken surprise by the Wyvern's actions. He tried to dig his claws deeper into the suit's armour in an attempt to hold on. Then the claws began to slip. He tried to wrap the tail around the suit, but did not have time. The Dragon was thrown off the other suit.

He quickly stabilised his suit, shifting it about to face the Wyvern. He was about to open up with the plasma cannon when he heard the shrill tone that told him that missiles had been locked onto him.

The Dragon went evasive, as the same time the phalanx gun opened up, spraying the area. The incoming missiles exploded as the spray of ammunition tore into them. Between the two suits a cloud of explosions blossomed.

Jesse's suit's sensors were able to pierce the cloud of hot gasses, so he cold still see the Wyvern. Unfortunately the laser painter could not cut through those same gasses. He swung the Dragon around, looking to clear the cloud.

He could feel his suit shake slightly as the Wyvern's machine guns opened up on the Dragon. While they shook the suit, they could not pierce the armour, nor could they even scratch it.

As soon as the Dragon's head was clear of the gasses Jesse activated the laser painter, marking the Wyvern's torso area. A moment later a blast of plasma ripped from the Dragon's mouth, looking like the fiery breath of its namesake.

Keene had been disappointed by the failure of his missiles to hit, but they were of some value. He watched as the Battalion mech began to move above the cloud of gasses from the missiles. He guessed that it could not see through the gasses like he could. Well, so much the better for him. He opened up with the trio of machine guns the Wyvern was fitted with.

While he was certain he was hitting the enemy suit, it did not seem that it was making a difference. He kept firing though, certain that he could crack that armour.

Then suddenly a blast of fiery breath came from the head of the dragon, tearing into his suit. It cut through the armour of his suit and deep into the interior. One of his missile packs exploded within his suit, the blast ripping the left arm of his suit off from the inside.

He was not spared from the blast. The air within his cockpit became hot enough to make breathing uncomfortable. There was a discharge of electricity within the cockpit as well, some of those discharges grounded through him.

Keene grasped the controls hard, gritting his teeth. That had hurt. He was planning on making that other pilot pay. He still could fight. It was a brave sentiment, but it did not save him from the second blast of plasma.

Jesse swung the Dragon around as the Wyvern exploded. He was more than a little impressed by the hardiness of the Wyvern. To be able to take a blast of the plasma cannon and still survive was very impressive.

Impressive or not, he was fairly certain that his Dragon was vastly superior. Or maybe he was just the superior pilot. Jesse smiled as he went looking for another Wyvern. Best that he deal with them.

Ree dove at the Manticore in fighter form, the plasma cannons hitting repeatedly. She rolled the fighter as it went in, making it very difficult suit," Ree said to herself.

She passed just underneath the HA, still moving quickly. Ree shifted the Arrow into its suit form, swinging the suit about hard and fast. She opened up on the Manticore's rear armour. The plasma ripped into the armour, and then through.

The SAC suit tried to come around, but it never got the chance. Ree did not watch it explode. She shifted back into fighter mode and was speeding off, looking for another target. She was also thinking about finding Emiko and making sure she was still alive.

Her thoughts were suddenly interrupted by something she caught sight of in her peripheral vision-one of the reasons she liked the goldfish bowl. She snapped the fighter up, opening the engines up fully, avoiding a burst of fire. Surprisingly the thing she had managed to follow her. Her computer had identified the attacker as a Wyvern, the new mystery suit from the SAC. It was rumoured to even be more rare than the Arrow.

She shifted modes, spun around and opened fire on the Wyvern. As the same time she cut her suit's speed. The Wyvern flew past her past her, unable to match her manoeuvrability. Ree shifted back into fighter mode and chased after the other suit, hanging on its tail.

While she was certain she was hitting the other suit with at least half the time it did not seem to be having any effect. The other suit suddenly sped up, surpassing the speed of the Arrow, moving out of her range.

As she watched the other suit come around she realised that she had seen that flying style before. She identified the pilot a moment before Carly called her.

"You'll not win this time," Carly told her over the open channel.

"You think?" Ree said as she watched the Wyvern coming at her. "How long will that speed last?" She turned her Arrow around and ran.

"Long enough to chase you down!" Carly yelled.

"Then let's play. I want to see if you are any better this time."

Carly watched as she closed on the Arrow. She targeted both cannons on the other craft, watching as the indicators for the heavy cannons changed from red to green. Fully charged and ready to go.

The targeting circles shot across her screen as she tried to get a lock on the other fighter. The two green circles slowly crawled towards the middle of the screen, then overlapped, changing from green to red. She pressed the triggers.

Impossibly the Arrow suddenly jerked out of the way, breaking the lock. Both cannons missed.

"That the best you have?" Ree asked.

"Damn you!" Carly snapped.

"And I haven't even bothered activating my ECM. That bucket have any countermeasures on it?"

At that moment the sensor image of the Arrow went fuzzy as it started broadcasting its ECM screen. Carly growled as she tried to figure out what to do. While Kitbash had seen fit to give the Wyvern some ECM gear to increase its survivability, they had not given it any ECCM. It was not that surprising really, neither the SAC of ODF made much use of ECM.

She closed on the Arrow, opening up with her suit's machine guns, simply spraying in hopes of having an effect. Unfortunately nothing seemed to happen.

She's gotten better, Ree thought as she did her best to avoid the blast of machine gun fire. After a few unfortunate hits she realised that the weapon was incapable of hurting Tess' armour. Well, that certainly helped her.

She spun the Arrow about a hundred and eighty degrees while continuing to fly backwards in the direction she had been going. Holding the trigger down for both her plasma cannons she peppered the Wyvern as it tried to catch up.

As she had expected Carly gave up on the machine guns and switched to another attack. As she expected a group of missiles climbed from the Wyvern, speeding towards her. She jammed them and let her laser pod handle some, and she avoided any that were left. She did that all in an automatic way, watching the Wyvern. As she expected the big shoulder cannons were moving to track her.

She tossed the Arrow to the side, shifting modes and avoiding the incoming rounds.

Carly cursed. How could she have missed. That woman was not a pilot, she was some sort of monster. No, Carly told herself. She is just a pilot, like me. I can beat her.

She cut the boosters for a moment and swung the Wyvern around, pointing it at the Arrow. A blast of the boosters rocketed her forward, allowing her to close on the Arrow in only a moment. She raised the huge talons of her suit, ready to bring them down on that damn suit.

Ree watched the Wyvern coming at her. She smiled slightly, the plasma cannon in her right hand folding back against her arm. Her Arrow reached over its shoulder, grasping a handle there. A recent addition. Once again Tess had come through with a new toy for the craft.

She waited till the last moment, then pulled the handle free. From the emitter a blade of plasma erupted.

Twisting slightly to avoid one of the talons she slashed at the other with the plasma sword, cutting part of it from the Wyvern before it could hit her. She moved in even closer, her sword leading, but the Wyvern managed to evade her.

Carly had no idea what had just happened. One moment she had been certain of her victory, then suddenly half of the talon on her right hand was gone. She stared at the Arrow, and the strange device it held. It looked like some kind of energy sword. She was struck by the thought that it was very unfair.

Unfair or not, she could not change it. Getting in close was no longer a safe option.

"Damn her," Carly said.

The two suits continued to fight, neither gaining any real advantage. Ree managed to hit the Wyvern a number of times, but the armour continued to hold. Carly kept trying to hit the Arrow with her main cannons, but it kept evading her.

Ree was considering how best to end it when she caught sight of something approaching fast. At first she thought that it might be one of the SAC suits, perhaps even another Wyvern, but a moment later she realised that it was neither.

It was an ODF unit, one of their Nachtmarens. Wonderful Ree thought, wondering why the ODF had felt the need to get involved.

"Maxil, it's time to finish our duel," she heard.

Ree was a little surprised, but only a little. She had almost been expecting it. Emanuel Johansen, looking for vengeance.

She dodged an attack that Carly launched, and slipped by a spread of missiles that Emanuel had fired.

"I don't think you two have met," Ree said, splitting her fire between the Wyvern and Nachtmaren as she flipped the Arrow feet over head. "Carly Donaldson, I want you to meet Emanuel Johansen. It seems that both of you want to kill me. You might want to work together, it might increase your chances."

"I don't need any help." Carly said, firing her cannons again.

"Neither do I." Emanuel opened up on Ree with his suit's main gun.

Ree avoided Carly's fire, but some of Emanuel's burst caught her suits foot. No real damage, but a hit non the less. She shifted the Arrow into fighter form and sped away. "Catch me if you can," she called out.

Carly took off after Ree, using her boosters. Emanuel watched as the two suits rocket away, leaving him behind. "Come back here," he yelled as he went after them.

Ree let Carly chase her. She did not quite feel like fighting both her and Emanuel. She could, but she had a much better idea. It was a game of sort. Carly would get close, then Ree would lose her, making a tight turn. Carly continued to chase after her, probably not even aware of where she was going.

I wonder if I can actually get this to work? Ree asked herself as she kept checking her sensors. She was fairly certain that Carly would behave as expected, but Emanuel might surprise her. Perhaps he would have an attack of good judgement.

Then she spotted him, trying to catch up to her. "Emanuel, Emanuel," she shook her head. "I would have thought that Marcy would teach you better. Oh well."

The Arrow cut sharply to its port, the Wyvern overshot it, unable to come around as tight. Ree flew straight, opening her engines right up, her ECM suites on full. "Catch me if you can," she sang.

Emanuel was wondering how he was ever going to catch the much faster suit when he realised that it was coming right at him. Still out of weapon's range, but on nearly a direct charge towards him.

He smiled and brought his cannon up. When that suit came into range he was going to hit it with everything he had.

Carly got on the Arrow's tail, chasing it. It was obvious that it was running, though she was not sure why. Perhaps some of her earlier fire had managed to damage it. She smiled at that thought. Well, that suit would not outrun her. In a straight line race she was certain to catch it.

She watched as the targeting circles tracked across her screen as the two shoulder cannons tracked the fleeing fighter. If you think you can get out of my range you are in for a big surprise, Carly thought.

She was not giving much attention to what was going on around her, her sensors were still being jammed by Ree. It did not matter though. She was certain she would hit this time. One hit was all she needed, The huge cannons would rip thorough that suit no matter how tough its armour was.

Emanuel watched as the Arrow came closer and closer to him. Obviously Ree was to worried about the huge suit on her tail to be giving much attention to what was going on in front of her. It looked like even the legendary Kareen Maxil was capable of making a mistake.

Carly watched as the targeting circle began to move towards each other. In a moment she would have a lock on the Arrow and then it would be over.

She smiled as her thumb hovered over the trigger. This time she was going to win.

I don't believe that I am doing this, Ree thought as she looked from the two screens she had brought up in front of her. One showed the view directly in front of her. It showed her Emanuel's suit. The other showed what was behind her. Carly's suit.

The timings she was working under were very fine. She did not have any margin of error. She was even putting herself into a certain amount of danger. It was one of the costs of saying one was the best. Every now and again you have to prove it.

The Wyvern closed the distance, and she was now in range of those big guns. She did not expect Carly to fire though. She would wait until she got into optimum range in hopes of offsetting the effects of the jamming.

She was still speeding towards Emanuel, who was in turn speeding towards her. Good boy, she thought.

Both suits were getting closer and closer to her at every moment. Ree took deep breaths to keep herself centred. She was running contingency plans in case her little gambit did not work. It always paid to be prepared.

Her computer beeped at her, telling her that she was in optimum range chance, then she snapped the fighter up.

Even as Carly drove her thumb down on the trigger the Arrow suddenly snapped up, climbing out of the way of the two high velocity rounds that had been speeding toward it.

"How can she do that?!"

Emanuel's eyes were focused on the Arrow. When it suddenly climbed he followed it with his eyes. As a result he was never aware of the two incoming rounds. They hit with incredible force, each travelling at over five times the speed of most gauss projectiles. They tore through his suit's armour, then the suit's interior, including him.

He had a moments pain before his suit exploded.

Carly stared at the fireball that had been the Nachtmaren only a moment before. "I can't believe it," she said softly.

"Pretty damn impressive," Ree called to her. "That was amazing, even for me. Still want to play."

"This is not a game!" Carly shouted as she searched space for Ree's Arrow.

"It has been, to me."

"Damn you."

"I think I might just let you go. You're more of a ally to me than an enemy. I bet you I can get you to do some more tricks."

"Where are you!?"

"Behind you."

Carly felt the Wyvern shake and a moment later the Arrow flew over her, diving down below her line of flight. She quickly re-orientated the Wyvern and followed after the Arrow.

Ree watched as the Wyvern came after her. Those boosters had some staying power it seemed. She had hoped the simply lead it around until the suit ran low on fuel then stranding it in space. It had a certain feel to it that Ree found amusing.

It looked like it was not to be.

"So, tell me. Do you really want me to take this serious?" she asked.

"This is serious!"

"To you maybe." Ree made a high speed course change and watched as the Wyvern overshot again. "You're getting pretty good. So good that I think this time I'm going to have to kill you. If you just go away, I'll let you live." Ree's voice had lost it's light tone.

"Don't do me any favours," Carly yelled.

"You're choice." Ree flipped the Arrow backwards, pointing it towards Carly. She sped towards the other suit, spiralling in towards the Wyvern, her guns firing at their maximum rate. It was like every shot found a rent in the armour from earlier combat, the punched through, tearing into the internal systems.

Carly was thrown about by the massive amount of fire she was under. She tried everything she could to get clear, but nothing seemed to work. She fired back, but the Arrow was never where she expected it. The cannons just missed. It was as if it slid between every missile she had fired. The machine guns were completely useless.

Carly was left with only one choice. She was going to have to run.

She turned her Wyvern about, knowing that she had more speed than the Arrow. Then the impossible happened. A tight burst of fire from the Arrow ripped into the booster pods. Alarms sounded, telling her what she had already guessed. Running was no longer and option.

"You weren't thinking of leaving were you?" Ree's voice seemed to mock her.

"Damn you!" Carly turned her suit about to face the incoming Arrow. If she was going to die, it would not be alone.

Ree watched as the Wyvern turned to face her, lifting its arms-the right one was no longer much of a threat-ready for her charge. It looked like Carly was planning on some sort of suicide manoeuvre. Well, Ree respected her drive.

She was only twenty meters from the other suit when she shifted the Arrow to its suit mode. Under her control the Arrow spun about, feet leading. The guns swung back into storage mode as Ree took up the plasma sword again. A blast of her thrusters, directed towards the Wyvern, cut her speed.

The sudden deceleration must have messed up the other pilot's plans for its huge arms closed on nothing by space. Ree followed them in, her suit's feet slamming against the arms, pressing them tight against the Wyvern's body, trapping them.

In both of her suit's hands she held the plasma sword. She drove if forward, between her suit's feet. It passed through the arms, then through the chest armour, and finally into the chest. Ree held it there for a few seconds, then she blasted away from the wounded suit.

A moment later it exploded.

Carly sat slumped over the controls of her escape vehicle. It had been blown out the back of the suit, less than a meter separating it from the energy blade that had pierced her suit. She had lost yet another suit.

She tired to convince herself that she was alive still. That had to mean something. It did not help much.

Then her proximity alarms went off. She looked up at her screen and found herself staring into the barrel of a very large looking plasma gun.

Ree had almost lost the small escape vehicle that had ejected from the Wyvern. She moved her Arrow up close, then placed the barrel of her plasma gun almost on it.

"What was that you said about not doing you any favours?" Ree asked.

For a moment there was nothing, then, "Well, fire."

"Hardly sporting. Why don't you get another suit?"

"Cause you'll just destroy that one as well," Carly said bitterly

"There is that. I should kill you. You are getting better each time. If I did that though, it suggests that I think you might one day beat me. And me to kill you." The barrel of the plasma gun glowed with its priming charge. "I won't, because I'm the best." Ree shifted her aim and fired on a Zephyr that had been approaching. "Good luck," she said.

Ree pulled back from the escape vehicle, then turned her Arrow about, shifted over to fighter mode and headed back to the main fight. Carly was no longer a concern to her.

The Arrows' arrival had proven the be the salvation to Battlefleet Naguma. They took out most of the suits that had been in pursuit and the few that had made it through were met by the Naguma's suits.

One of the cruisers had taken some damage as one of the Wyverns had broken through. Before it could destroy the ship Jesse's Dragon had arrived on scene to deal with it.

Once mop up was complete Ree ordered the Arrows back to the Starblade

"How many have we lost?" Ree asked Epiphany.

"Twelve Arrows, seven fighters."

"Damn," Ree said. "We can't afford to loose any. Oh well. Emi-chan, how did you do?" She looked towards Emiko's Arrow which was flying beside hers.

"All right I guess."

"Good to hear it. Hopefully you will continue to do all right."

When Amaterasu Force dropped its cloaks General Vickers thought he had the upper hand. He had a number of new cruisers with him, as well as one of the battleships.

His confidence was shaken by the way the SAC battlefleet, Cipotek, turned things around on him. The carrier and its cruisers, as well as their battleriders were moving through evasive manoeuvres almost as soon as the ODF ships appeared.

There were some collisions as a result, and one of the SAC battleriders ended up exploding as it crashed into the battleship. The SAC were certainly taking damage from their actions, but a collision also damaged the ODF ships.

Now that the surprise had been used, and not to any great effect, it was a fairly standard fight. General Vickers realised that he was in trouble and, regretfully, ordered his ships to begin to fall back.

Juan and Conaly were shown through the corridors of the New Plymouth Zenith by a group of guards. The guards were not there to watch them as much as they were for protection. Outside the Solingen building the city was in panic. The streets had been clogged with people trying to escape the city. News that the SAC fleets' arrival had obviously spread throughout the planet. About half the population wanted to be out of the Zeniths. They were after all obvious targets.

The guards stopped outside of Albert's office suite. Juan and Conaly went in by themselves. As soon as they stepped in a secretary was there to escort them to Albert's office. She opened the doors for them and then let them go on by themselves. As soon as they were in she closed the doors.

Albert Knox stood up behind his desk. "Mr. Varris, I'm so glad you could come. Marshal Sharp," he sounded a little surprised. "What a pleasant surprise. You've probably had a rough trip. Please, sit down." He moved out from behind his desk. "Can I get you something to drink?"

"Water, with a lemon twist," Juan said as he settled himself in a comfortable chair in front of Albert's desk.

"Nothing for me," Conaly said. He remained standing.

Albert walked the to wet bar and prepared the drinks. He returned to his desk and handed one of them to Juan. He took a sip from his, then sat down on his desk. "How was your trip?"

"A bit tense." Juan took a drink from his glass. "Fortunately there was no fighting around us, so no one fired on us. A warning shot across our bow once, just pre-battle jitters I'm sure."

"Well, I'm glad you made it safely. I was beginning to get worried you might not show at all."

"Why did you call me here?" Juan asked.

"I'm very impressed with your Battalion."

"It's not mine. I'm just a cog."

"Please Mr. Varris. Once I started taking a close look at this Battalion and putting some things together I could see your handiwork quite clearly."

"So I was an indispensable cog."

"You know, I spent a long time wondering when you would make that bit of information public."

"Your connection to a terrorist organisation," Conaly said.

"Yes. Though I was not aware that the Midnight Sun had managed to accomplish such a thing."

"I'm sure."

"It is true Marshal. It could have been anyone controlling that block of shares."

"Would anyone want to start a war?"

"The Gaians would. They were looking for this fight. I would have preferred to put it off for another year or so, give us time to built our forces up. We're suffering for that now."

"Okay, we'll accept that you did not know that the Midnight Sun was pulling your chain, for now. What did you want to see me about?"

"I'm glad that you believe me, for now. I do not think so many other people will be so generous."

"The courts will ultimately decide," Conaly said.

"I hope not." Albert tossed back the contents of his glass. "That would be most inconvenient. They might have to find me guilty, no matter what the truth is. Everyone wants to find someone useful to place the blame on. Usually I am on the side that places the blame rather than has it placed on them. I find it a rather uncomfortable position."

"You have my condolences," Juan said.

"Yes," Albert smiled. "I'm sure I do. Which is why I want your help."


"I think that you, and the Marshal here, have it in your power to make sure that I am left alone. No official inquiries, no one hunting me, no charges laid against me in absentia. Nothing."

Conaly snorted.

"Why would we do that?" Juan asked.

"Because Mr. Varris, you need my help."

"You are deluding yourself."

"Am I? I'll admit that your play on this is clever, but do you really think that both sides will lay down their arms, as it were, just because you asked them to? Just because it is right? No Mr. Varris, you know as well as I do that this battle will continue, and one side will win. I'll admit that the Battalion will have lived up to its promises, but it won't be a clean end. Odds are that we will be back here in twenty years or so. You do what I ask, we'll end it much cleaner."

Juan said nothing for a time. "What is your offer?" Albert smiled and got off his desk. "It is a simple proposition Mr. Varris." He walked around behind his desk and opened one of his drawers. "This is just a hardcopy of the contract, we'll of course get it in the computer soon enough." He held up a sheaf of papers. "It's all fairly straightforward." He put the contract on the desk and slid it to Juan.

Juan picked it up and flipped through a few pages. "Care to summarise?"

"In simplest of terms, I'm giving you proxy control of my voting block,


"You will have complete control of my shares in Solingen for a period of fifty years. After that time, I have ten years in which to reclaim those shares. If I fail to do so, ownership reverts to you or your designated heir. Simple."

"You're giving me control of Solingen?"

"Yes. With that block your young friend owns, you should be able to bully the rest of the board into doing whatever it is you want. I need not tell you that with control of Solingen will come control of the ODF."

"And you go free," Conaly said.

"That is the deal."

"And in fifty years you can return and pick up where you left off. More than enough time for people to forget."

"That is my plan."

Conaly looked at Juan. "I don't like it, but I see the value. You'll have to make the final decision."

"You'll back me up on it?" Juan asked the Marshal.

Conaly nodded.

Juan looked at Albert. "I'd like to see you get what you deserve."

"I'm sure you would, but you have other things to be concerned about."

For a time Juan said nothing. He flipped through the pages, reading through the legalese. No surprises, no tricks. "There is only one reason I will agree to this."

Albert said nothing. He did not even look curious.

"And you won't even bother to thank her will you?"

"There is no room for personal feelings in this Mr. Varris."

"You have a deal Mr. Knox."

"Good." He moved from behind the desk. "My lawyers and a few witnesses will be here soon, we'll make it all binding, In about half an hour you should be able to call the board of directors together, if you so wish."

"What will you do then?"

"Oh, I've been preparing to run since this all began. I'll be long gone

"How cowardly of you."

"Mr. Varris, if you do not learn to control those feeling of yours the rest of the board will eat you for lunch. You'll find yourself in a very uncomfortable position when all their attention is turned towards you."

"Thank you for your advice," Juan said coolly.

"You are welcome." Albert paused. "Tell me, might you let me in on one thing?"

"What is that?"

"This." Albert waved his hand. Over his desk appeared a projection of the Starblade. "How did you manage this?"

Juan smiled. "The Alincourts."

Albert actually looked surprised and was at a lost of words for a few seconds. "Well, another of my mistakes it seems. I was sure they would all die."

"Kind of ironic isn't it?" Juan was still smiling.

"Perhaps that is the word for it. Be careful of that smugness Mr. Varris. It might cost you."

Admiral Benjamin Xjiang was the second SAC commander to take the Battalion up on its offer. He had contacted Redding beforehand to ensure that he would have the support he needed.

When his carrier and cruisers started moving out of the line the Battalion was there. The Arrows arrived, ready to deal with any suits, and the Starblade had its main gun ready for any ships that might try to stop them.

By that time the fighting between the ODF and SAC had been going of for some time. The SAC was still not near Solingen, but they were closing.

It was a confusing combat for the Battalion pilots, they had to deal with direct attacks against the ships of Xjiang by the SAC in retaliation and by the ODF because they were SAC ships.

The Starblade's huge gun fired several times during the combat. Most of the ships hit were destroyed by a single blast of the cannon. The few that were not were so damaged as to be no longer capable of combat.

On the edge of the battle Emiko flew her Arrow, being careful. She was a thinking pilot. She looked for opportunities that would be of a greater use over all. It was not very glamorous flying, more often than not she simply helped other pilots get the kills. She was good at it though. She could find the best places to be, and do the right thing.

She spotted a Manticore making a run towards one of the battleriders from Xjiang. Emiko rolled her Arrow over and went after it. She went in quickly, opening up on it from behind with the plasma guns. As it began to turn she shifted into suit mode, sliding around it, still firing. At close range the plasma ripped through the armour and into the suit.

Emiko kept up her fire, aiming at the extremities of the suit. A few seconds later one of the legs exploded and the Manticore began to drift. Emiko shifted back to fighter mode and climbed out of the fight, leaving the damaged suit behind.

She moved to the edge of the battle once again, looking for something that she could do. As she looked about, she found herself thinking about what Grey had told her. Would the news of the Midnight Sun involvement in the Inner Circle have reached Earth yet? Would the Ravagers be promoting riots and violence like she had said they would? What was going to happen to the people in the circle?

A shrill alarm went off shaking Emiko from her thoughts. She looked up and saw a Galliard bearing down at her. Before she could react the suit exploded, another kill added to Ree's total.

<What's the matter,> Ree sent her. <Are your sensors down or something?>

<No. I just got distracted.>

<Well if you keep getting distracted you are going to be dead. Come on, we have to deal with some problems.>

Emiko followed after Ree. She did her best to put all concerns other than the battle she was in out of her mind.

The SAC continued forward, their advance was slowed by the ODF attacks, but never stopped, even for a moment. Battlegroup Hudson continued forward, not letting themselves be stopped. All the cruisers had been damaged to one extent or another, but they kept moving forward.

The Battlegroup had been joined by two cruisers, giving them the needed force to crash through whatever tried to stop them. To that point.

General Henker shunted his entire force into the middle of Hudson. No one could have expected it, not so close to the planet, not with such tight co-ordinates. One of Medusa Force's cutters ended up halfway into the hull of the Matthew. The cutter was destroyed as it occupied the same space as the cruiser. Matthew had a large section of its port side torn out in the explosions that resulted.

The ships of Medusa Force had entered in a very precise formation, each one with its main weapon system-the quad starbolts in the case of the cruisers-pointed at one of the ODF ships. The commanders of the ships were just beginning to shout evasive orders when the ODF ships opened up on them.

One of the Master class cruisers that had joined Hudson exploded, starbolts had torn its superstructure apart.

The Matthew shook as the starbolts ripped through it. For a moment it appeared as if nothing would happen, then the cruiser exploded.

The other ships of Hudson force took the first barrage well enough. The Calabim were a very hardy ship, though they were certainly showing the damage. The second Master class that had joined them had been very lucky in that only its underhull was destroyed.

This time the SAC advance was truly halted as a battle between the two fleets began. The light from the ship's huge guns lit up space, and mecha raced among the ships.

Juan sat at the head of the Board of Director's table, Marshal Sharp was standing a little behind him. Juan drank cappuccino from china cup, his feet up on the table.

"Sir," one of the pages said. "The rest of the board are outside, they want in."

Juan finished off his cappuccino. "Well, let them in." He placed the cup on the table and removed his feet from it.

The doors opened and the rest of the board came in. Juan watched them, seeing looks of confusion on some faces, anger on others, a mix on most. They were confused and off balance. Juan knew he should feel guilty about what he was going to do, but he did not.

"What is this all about?" Barnabas Richter demanded.

"Where is Albert?" Laura Donsen asked.

"Mr. Knox has chosen to take a little vacation. For the time he plans to be gone he has given me complete control of his shares. I sent all of you a copy of the contract, so I believe you have all the information you need. Please, sit down. We have business to take care of."

"What business?" Barnabas asked.

"Why, voting on the new chairman of the board of course. As Mr. Knox has chosen to retire, for the time being, we have no chairman. Sit."

The rest of the board of directors milled around for a bit, but finally they all took their seats. None were happy with the turn events had taken.

"Well," Juan said, looking about the room. "I'd like to nominate myself

"You?" Laura said.

"Yes. I have all my shares, all of Miss Miya's, and I am the best choice you have. All of you are tainted with that unfortunate Midnight Sun connection. I am not. Also, though I hate to mention it, I have dirt on all of you." He smiled. "So, who is for me, and who is siding with the Midnight Sun?"

"You can't say that!" Richard Mandela said.

"I just did. No, it might not be true, but that's not what the press is going to think. You don't have any choice. Sad eh? Now, we don't have much time, let's just do this by a raise of hands. All in favour of me saving this corporation and making all of us a lot of money, raise your hand." Juan put his hand up.

For a moment nothing happened, the other member's of the board looked at each other, as if trying to decided what to do. Then Laura raised her hand. The rest followed. As Juan had said, they did not have any choice.

"Good," Juan got to his feet. "Now, first things first." He walked over to the wet bar and poured himself a fresh cup of cappuccino. "This war, very unprofitable. I've been looking over your books and you have eaten a very large hole into Solingen's surplus. We also have the SAC breathing down our necks, getting ready to bomb our cities, just to make their displeasure known."

Juan turned back to face them all. He took a drink from his cup. "You do of course realise, assuming that the company even exists after all that happens, we will bankrupt ourselves paying reparations for all this."

"You seem to be assuming that we will lose." Harold London said.

"Lose, win, it hardly matters. Even if we win, we will be in a very poor condition. I know the capabilities of the planet based guns. I know about the defence platforms. I also know that the SAC has a lot of ships. We might win this battle, at the cost of almost the entire ODF, but the SAC still has other ships. They may be willing to leave Earth not completely defended if they don't have to worry about retaliation by the ODF. You can also be sure the Battalion is not going to attack Earth space again just to save your butts.

"I am going to end this war. We are going to deal with the USSA. We might not be able to rape planets for a quick buck, but so what? There is much more money in sustained development when you get right down to it."

"You seem to have thought this out," Laura said.

"I have." Juan looked over to the page. The page nodded and opened the doors. Several other pages walked into the room. They began to place folders in front of each board member. "The folders in front of you contain a twenty year plan that, as promised, will make all of you richer, and will keep the USSA happy.

"Now, I'll let you read through all that while I go to work. As Chairman of the Board I will take over the war effort. Since you all voted me into this position I'm sure you will have no complaints about how I handle things over the next few days."

"So we're just supposed to let you do as you wish?" Barnabas asked.

"Yes. Any other stupid questions?" He looked about the room as he finished his cappuccino. "Good. Ladies, gentlemen, I have work to do. Support me and you will come out of this very well, better than you might have expected otherwise." Juan put his cup down, then looked them over again, his gaze hard. "Better than you deserved."

He watched as uncomfortable looks pass across the faces of all the board members.

"I'm glad we understand each other. Good day." Juan turned and walked towards the doors. Conaly followed him. One of the pages opened the door and Juan and the Marshal passed through.

"He can't do that!" Barnabas almost jumped to his feet.

"He just did," Laura said.

"Well, we have to do something. Get rid of him."

"Don't be a fool," Richard said, looking through the folder. "He is right. Without him we are in a very poor position. He will also clean up our reputation."

"He wants to end the war," Harold said.

"So?" Richard looked up at him. "He is right. We are losing a huge amount of money on this."

"He will give us over to the Battalion!"

"Can we stop him?" Laura asked him. "After all, he does control the largest voting share. We would all have to work against him to stop him. If we do that, as he said, it makes us look like the bad guys. He has us over a barrel. For now."

"For now?"

"In a few years the public will begin to forget. At that time we can present a unified front to slap Mr. Varris down and show him just who runs this corporation. He's an arrogant little upstart. But he knows the rules and for now they favour him. It won't be that way forever."

Ending Credits - as before.

Angel sent me some corrections for some of his previous designs:

"On the stats I sent you of the PAFS, there were two errata, a typo and a basic geometry mistake; the Shinobi lacked the weight (2.3 Tn) and if you make the gauge's balls 'n' times larger, you have 'n to the cube', not quadrate, smaller balls."

I also got some more music suggestions from Keko:

"So I give you the last two songs I'll send to you, and for the first time I send you a music for an episode not yet made:"


"Watashi wa anata no ane, soshite haha, soshite anata."
--Miyu Kyuuketsuki ga Yui ni itta
Shawn Hagen <hagen@brant.net>

On to Chapter 41