Episode 6 (2180.06.01)
by Shawn Hagen (all around rapscoundrel and ner-do-well.) (1997)
Starblade Battalion is the Property of R.Talsorian Games.
"Here," Shingo Miya said, handing the pilot a cup of coffee.
"Thank you Commander," she said, taking the squeeze cup. She had a number of minor injuries and a warming blanket was draped around her shoulders.
"Okay, first, you up to this?"
"I'll be fine," she said.
"You're a tough one Lieutenant," he said. "Leave me floating in a disabled HA for fourteen hours and I'd be anything but fine."
"Done similar," Carly said, putting the straw in her mouth, giving the cup a squeeze.
"Okay, you and your team were sent to intercept an unknown bogey. What were you told?"
"There was a probably a ship, but it was basically invisible. They did have something on screen, the assumed it was the stolen HA."
"Did they tell you what it was?"
"Manticore, modified model. That was about it. I thought we could handle it."
"You were flying interceptors."
"One HA. We had the odds, we still had speed and maneuverability, even though that thing was faster and more agile than the other's I've seen. We should have had it."
"Why didn't you?"
"The pilot," she put the straw in her mouth and took another drink. "You know, we, pilots, all like to bullshit, say we are the best, but that pilot was incredible."
"Lieutenant Donaldson, could you have done anything to ensure that your team survived?"
"A couple of Galliards, maybe one of two Manticores of our own, and a lot of luck. You are not hanging this on me."
"Okay," Shingo smiled. "I'm not here to hang anyone. Normally I'd say you might be looking at a court martial, but with this war no one is going to court marshal a pilot. What about that ship?"
"We didn't see anything. The Manticore appeared out of no where. That ship, we assumed, was blocking spotting radar and other sensors. If the Manticore was close to that ship, then kicked off of it, that would explain it. If so, it was close to us, about two kilometers."
"Quite the ship then."
"I was more impressed with the Manticore."
"Understandable. Have you ever seen this woman before?" Shingo picked up a remote and turned the screen on.
"Never saw her before," Carly said. "Who is she?"
"She is the person who stole the Manticore. Assuming they did not change pilots, she's the one you fought with."
"Do you know who she is?"
"Dirty Tricks does not know everything."
"I'd like to meet her again, and then I'd like to shove a gauss rifle into her cockpit and blow the hell out of her."
"Understandable. I have no other questions for you Lieutenant, you may leave now. Get some rest."
"Thank you sir," she got to her feet, saluted, then left the room.
Shingo watched her go, then turned his attention to the screen once more, flipping through pictures taken from the security cameras at the labs.
A woman that they had identified as a Pleiades Marshall, a man that they had yet to identify, and Emiko. He looked at the picture of his daughter. Her hair was longer, and she had undergone some plastic surgery, but he had recognized her the moment he saw her.
He wondered what his daughter was doing with such a group. He was also wondering about the Belin woman. They were making claims about her similar to the ones they had made about Emiko.
About Emiko, he could almost accept. Almost. The Belin woman though, she was a member of a top design team and only two weeks before had passed a security check. Her he was not so sure of. The doubt about her of course led to doubts about the charges against Emiko.
He shook his head and shut the screen off. If he was going to try to find out what had happened with his daughter and do all his other work, he was going to be very busy.
"I do not like this girl," Ryu said.
"She's not Midnight Sun," Sam said. "She is something, though."
"What about the people with her?"
"Still running checks on all of them. We got an ID on this one," he indicated one of the pictures. "Marshal Diane Vichy. Nothing bad about her to be found."
"So why had she thrown in with Miya?"
"I suspect that a Pleiades Marshall does not care what Gaians think. It was a mistake putting all those charges against her. That will come back and haunt us I think."
"What you or I think is not important," Ryu said. "That girl is a threat."
"She was a threat. Odds are she has shared the information she stole. Now she's a no one."
"Your letting this become personal."
"I don't care," Ryu almost growled.
"Fine. What do you want to do now?"
"Follow up the only lead we have. I'm going to the Pleiades."
"How are you going to get that okayed?"
"Already did. On-site specialist. You're coming with me."
"Wonderful," Sam shook his head.
"Do you have a problem with this?"
"Yes, but there is nothing I can do about it, is there? I agreed to do a lot of things, but I do not like being an assassin."
"You are helping to maintain the security of the USSA."
"How? By killing a girl?"
"By removing a threat posed by a person who would destroy all that we would have worked for."
"Keep telling yourself that, Ryu. Maybe it will ease your conscience when you pull the trigger."
"Is the line secure?" Tess asked.
"It's secure," the woman told her.
"I'll leave you alone," she said, leaving the room.
Tess typed in the access code then waited. Almost a minute later the call was answered. "This better be good," Carter said.
"I always like to think I am."
"Tess," he looked at her face on his monitor. "Well, I'd ask how you are, but I suspect lousy."
"That obvious," she smiled, looking at his image on the monitor. He was good looking, though nothing special, and she thought his flattop haircut was a bit stupid, but she cared for him so much that just looking at the image on the screen hurt.
"Those charges against you are fake, no one believes them, at least know one who knows you well. Of course they have been well supported. They've slid away from the terrorist angle and now have you working for the other side. You are a traitor who stole a very expensive weapon system."
"What do you think?"
"I think the little officious bastard who showed up here a few hours ago and suggested I might be able to help you if I were to take another posting is lucky he is not breathing vacuum right now. Listen Tess, to cut right to the matter, I can't help you, as much as I want to. I can't give you asylum or hide you or anything. What I can do is go into hiding with you. I got a ship packed up and can leave within ten minutes. Say the word."
"Carter," she smiled and shook her head. "That would be giving them just what they want, maybe even better. I want you to stay there and annoy them."
"And what about you Tess? I won't just abandon you."
"You won't be abandoning me. I've met some people who are helping me."
"From the Pleiades? The ODF?"
"Yes and no. They aren't with anyone. I'd like to say more, but I can't."
"What will you do?"
"I've been talking to some people Carter, and I'm sure they are telling the truth. I'm going to help stop this war."
"They want to stop it before too many people get hurt, get killed. I know it sounds kind of crazy, but it's true."
"Tess, that is crazy. What's more it is suicidal. If you need help, I can send some people your way. They can get you somewhere safe. I can start working on getting you cleared."
"Carter, a lot of people will die. Do you know what this war is for?" "A lot of bad reasons. You don't just stop a war though. Hell, half of the SAC has been gearing up for this for some time, looking for a real enemy."
"I know, so do they. But they are going to try. I want to help them."
"This is my fault isn't it?"
"No. You just followed your beliefs. That's why I love you. It's neither of our faults that some nuts in the government are willing to kill me to get at you."
"Did I ever tell you that one of the reasons I love you is that you are so understanding, to the point of naivete?"
"No. Is that supposed to be a compliment?"
"Of sorts. You are set on this aren't you?"
"One hundred percent, mostly."
"Damn," he shook his head. "I don't know what to say beyond, keep your head down, and your ass. Don't volunteer for anything."
"Sound advice. I don't have much time. I've arranged for a message to get to you. It will come through odd channels, so it may take some time to get there. I've explained everything I could."
"I want to come with you."
"Like I said, that will give them want they want."
"I don't give a damn."
"I do. This is too important."
"Thanks Tess, make me feel like scum."
"When this is over, we can be together."
"That is not much compensation."
"It is the best I can offer. I don't want to be away from you either. What other choice do we have. They tried to kill me. I don't feel to forgiving," she smiled. "Isn't that sort of sad? Part of the reason I'm doing this is just for revenge. Now I feel like scum."
"You don't have any reason to. You're right. I can be of more use staying here. I hate it, but you're right."
"We'll be together again."
"Then I'll be waiting. Take care of yourself."
"Take your own advice."
"I'm a desk jockey. I'm perfectly safe."
"So you say. Good bye Carter. See you as soon as I can."
"Good bye Tess. Love you," he cut the connection.
Tess sat back in her chair, smiling slightly. His haircut was so stupid, she thought, then she wiped a tear from her eye. She was going to miss him so much, stupid haircut and all.
"Can you get this through?" Emiko asked as she gave an envelope to one of the Ravagers.
"Tokyo," she said, looking at the address. "Sure, no problem."
Emiko nodded then kicked off towards the Sloop John B.. Free fall was an interesting place, most of its inhabitants were pretty free wheeling. Vagabond City, where the Starblade Battalion-through its Ravager allies-was building up a fairly large base of operations, was a slum. A zero G slum no less. A slum that Emiko kind of liked. It was, in a very odd way, one of the ultimate places to shop. Ree had taken her to a small place that sold designer clothing, weapons, and cannon ammunition.
She wouldn't like to wander about it alone, but with someone else there, it was kind of fun.
"Ready to go?" Tern called to her as she floated towards the open hatch.
"Ready," she grabbed his hand and let him pull her in.
"Do me a favor?"
"Make sure no one messes up the place. I'm carrying twice my regular passenger load here and at least one of the idiots is a slob."
"Yes sir," she saluted smartly, keeping one hand on a handhold.
"Good," he turned and pushed off, floating towards the cockpit. Emiko turned around and sealed the hatch.
When she entered the galley she found several people there. They were playing cards around the dining table. She nodded to Juan, then pushed off, landing beside a large man smoking a cigar. "Sorry, no smoking," she told him. taking the cigar from his mouth before he could stop her.
"What?" he demanded. "This ships air filters should be more than up to handling a little cigar smoke."
"That may be true, but you might drop ashes on the rug," she said as she stubbed the cigar out in a vacuum ashtray. "The smoke is not good for the pictures, and it is just unpleasant. You did notice the no smoking signs didn't you?" she indicated one.
"This is crazy," the man turned to Juan. "Who is she, the stewardess?"
"She's an assassain," Juan said, not looking up from his cards. "One of the best in the Pleiades."
"Nope. I'd listen to her."
"I guess I can do without cigars for the rest of the trip," he said, sounding a little nervous. "No offense, Miss."
"Thank you," Emiko said, then turned around and pushed off the back of his chair, heading towards her cabin.
For all of Tern's complaining, well, not quite complaining Emiko admitted, the trip back to the Pleiades was comfortable enough. The ship had space to spare and even with 16 people it was not that cramped.
They dropped most of them off at a small spinner station, basically out in the middle of no where. After that they went to Zanzibar where they put there rest into the care of a group of Charybdis. Emiko said good bye to Tess at the point. She had Tess had become friends during the journey.
From there they continued on to Libertatia, a small, mobile, asteroid base. Emiko stood just behind Tern in the cockpit, watching as they approached the asteroid.
It was not huge, as asteroids went, at almost seven hundred meters across, according the data the sensors were providing. There was a rotating living section, partially buried in the rock of the asteroid, an a number of sensor antenna and the like scattered across the surface. Tern was in conversation with the asteroid's bridge, getting landing clearance. Diane was at the co-pilots station, Juan was sitting behind her, using the radio to talk to someone else. Ree had earlier space-walked to her Manticore.
"Okay," Tern said, "understood, coming in. Ree, you can blow off now, they got a mech bay open for you.
"Got ya," Ree said. A moment later the ship shook slightly as the Manticore pushed off. Emiko watched it fly to a point of light on the asteroid.
A short time later they were entering a large bay. Emiko saw three ships that looked to be three times the size of the John B., as well as a number of Cutters. Tern moved them slowly to a docking cradle, dropping his ship gently into it. Robotic arms slipped out and locked the ship down.
"Okay," Juan stood. "Let's go and see what is what."
The conference room, like much of the interior, had been cut out of the asteroid. The tools that had been used in the job had left the walls smooth, and almost polished. Along with the conduits, heating units, air scrubbers and cable that were visible throughout the base, there were also several projectors on the ceiling and a lot of lights. The room could have easily held about forty people but at present there were only seven people there. Emiko had been introduced to Jiron Sembawang, who was in charge of the base, and Lilith Blackhand, one of Shiva's first officers. To Emiko it was obvious that Diane and Lilith knew each other and the relationship, while not unfriendly, was a little frosty.
Jiron was a thin, wiry man, with dark skin and dark, curly hair. A flat broad nose, and a mouth suited for smiling, he made up for in charm what he lacked in looks. Lilith was tall, with pale skin and long, black hair. She was a rather plain woman, with a stern look about her. Emiko thought she was the type of woman who would take trouble from no one.
"Now that we've got all the pleasantries out of the way," Jiron said. "Let's get down to business. First of all, good work on Earth. This is Libertatia, our field command post. Since you have been gone we have organized, as much as we can. As you Know Captain Frost is our commander. Our field commander is Jesse Ryuzaki. After that things get a little less clear," he smiled. "We've broken down into units called Blades, makes sense right? These units have a mixture of personnel, each Blade is made up of around four to five teams, each team has several people in it, and some HAs."
"What are we doing right now?" Juan asked
"Getting ready, procuring supplies, gathering allies, mounting a few missions to slow down the war. We've already had teams quietly sabotage a number of probability anchors on both sides, making them spend more time working on their defenses. We also found out that the Board of Directors has a hit list of their own. We've been doing much like you were on Earth."
"So where do we fit into this?"
"You're mine," Lilith said. "I command Thunder Blade, five teams, you'll sort of make my sixth, but I'm not counting you as one. Based on your team, right now I think you'll work better as an independent unit. Your stores requests go through me and I'll expect you to keep me informed of your actions. This situation could change any time. I'll expect you to bring all your people to combat ready status."
"Understood," Juan said.
"What are you planning right now?" Jiron asked.
"A few days rest. All right if we stay here?"
"We've got the space. The swimming pool is still being cleaned and the tennis courts are in bad shape though," he smiled.
"I'm sure we'll survive," Juan told him.
"I think that is everything that we need to discuss right now," Jiron said, looking over at Lilith.
"Yea. I want to talk to you," she looked at Juan. "We've got some things to hash out."
"Come on then. I've got some things for you on my ship," she said as she got out of her chair. Juan followed after her.
"We're pretty laid-back right now," Jiron told the rest of them. "Still trying to figure out hat sort of rank system to use and all that. Still, this is a military base, so play it cool."
"Got ya," Ree said. "I need some work done on my HA. Permission to use your facilities and stores?"
"Want to you want to do?"
"Give it a new paint job."
"Thanks sir," Ree told him as she got out of her chair and kicked herself across the room. "See you later."
"I'll be going as well," Jiron said as he followed after Ree.
"You know Blackhand well?" Tern asked Diane.
"Well? No, not really. We've crossed paths a few times. As a smuggler goes, she not bad. We've shot at each other once, but that was professional."
"If you shot at her, why is she still alive?"
"Because I wanted her to stay alive," Diane told him.
"I'm going to the living quarters. All this zero-G is getting to me," Emiko said as she stood up.
"I'll go with you," Tern also got to his feet. "Marshal?"
"I got other things to look into first. I'll see you later."
"These are the basics," Lilith said as she handed Juan several disks. "Numbers, the who's and where's and stuff. That should give you a pretty good picture of how things are going." They were seated in the small office of her Cruiser, the ?Thunder Clap'.
"What has been happening lately around here? I've heard rumors, but I want facts."
"Ryuzaki said you would. That red disk is a list of current events. Give me an outline of what you might be planning."
"Right now, resource procurement. It is a specialty of mine, and my team will handle that well. As we get combat ready, as you have asked, we'll probably move into other missions. I'll have us ready for whatever you need as soon as I can."
"Good. What do you need right now?"
"Some fuel, small arms, ammunition, basics. What is the money situation like?"
"Bad. Our funds are very limited."
"Looks like I'll be financing my operations for the next little while then," Juan shrugged his shoulders. "Where are the top dogs right now?"
"Good question. We get messages from either Frost or Ryuzaki almost daily, but I couldn't say where they were. Heard Frost went of to make some friends by saving a planets ecosystem. Ryuzaki, could be anywhere right now."
"Any plans to set up a tighter structure?"
"Not right now. We don't really need it and it might actually be a hindrance."
"Catch as catch can," Juan said.
"We do what looks good and worry about it later."
"That's about it."
"Easy system to work in."
"Don't screw up."
"I try not to. I need to get a message to Shiva."
"Not terribly so."
"Give it to me."
"There's a convoy of freighters destined for Gamma 5, slated to arrive on the 10th of this month. It leaves its Earth Space escort behind when it shunts. Has to make a stop at the Halcyon system first to pick up some crew and a new escort. Fast attack at the right time and place," he took a small disk from his jacket and held it up, "could take it all."
"I'll see that he gets it," she reached out and took the disk from him. "You want to be on it?"
"This will be a combat mission. Not my team's style right now."
"Okay. If it looks good, we'll nab it."
"My ten percent commission can be paid in war bonds."
"It is what I usually charge."
"You are a piece of work, you know."
"So I've been told," he smiled at her.
"If they don't give you a Blade of your own, I'll probably make you my second in command sooner or later."
Ree looked up at the Manticore resting in its maintenance frame. She and the techs had stripped of the SAC colours from it, gave it a new primer coat, then they had painted it up in her colours. Dark, dark blue, with silver highlights.
"Main coat will be dry in about twenty minutes," the crew chief told her. "We'll put a protective coat on it then. Want anything else?"
"Six kill markers."
"Have to see proof first. Regulations and such."
"Let's crack out the cockpit recorder."
"Can do. Anything else?"
"Put, "The Ultimate Persuader' on the cannon. Bright red letters."
"Let's go see the records."
The dining hall was deserted. Only a few of the machines remained on, keeping coffee and tea hot, a few pots of soup and a warmer for the bread. Emiko sat at one of the tables, her computer in front of her. She had all her text books on disk, a gift from her mother. Studying gave her something to do.
Every few minutes she would stretch slightly, trying to relieve some of the strain on her shoulders. The living quarters were rotating at close to 1.2 Gs. She had been told the increased gravity helped offset muscle atrophy as most people worked in low gravity. That was fine, but her bra straps were digging into her shoulders a little more than usual-not that that they dug into her shoulders all that much in normal gravity-and the extra weight just seemed odd.
"Emiko-kun," Diane called as she came into the galley. "What are you doing?"
"Studying," Emiko said, looking over at the woman.
"I need it for the University Entrance Exams," she said, realizing how lame that was. University seemed such a far off thing now.
"I see," Diane stopped beside her. "Where's your sidearm?"
"In the cabin, on the ship. I think."
"I'm pretty sure."
"Tell you what. Go and get it. Then meet me back here."
"Because I'm going to teach you how to keep yourself alive," she said. "Now go."
It took Emiko longer to find the weapon than she had thought. She had shoved it into one of the cabinets in her cabin, then had forgotten. When she got to the dining hall she found Diane waiting for her, looking a little upset. There were several briefcases on the table she sat at.
"What took you so long?"
"I forgot where I put it."
Diane shook her head "Okay, get over here. Let's see it."
Emiko took the heavy automatic pistol from the holster, then placed the holster on the table.
"How does that feel?"
"Pardon?" Emiko asked.
"How does it feel?"
"A bit heavy."
"Then why do you have it?"
"It was given to me," Emiko told her, wondering what point she was trying to make.
Diane reached over and took the pistol from her. "On safe, magazine loaded, no round in the chamber, that's all good," she said as she looked the weapon over. "At least you know the basics. Now, what you need is a weapon that feels good," Diane started opening the briefcases. Inside were pistols.
"Normally," Diane took out one of the pistols. "You start with rifles, but a rifle is not the most useful weapon for you at this point. You'll learn them though, trust me on that. Here," she gave Emiko the pistol. "What do you think?"
Emiko made sure it was on safe, then bounced it in her hand. "Not as heavy."
"Okay, so the weight is good. What about the rest? How does it feel?"
"I don't like how this safety is placed," she said after a moment.
"What about this one," Diane handed her another pistol.
"It's," Emiko thought about at as she held it. "A little unbalanced."
"Here, try this," she gave Emiko another weapon.
Emiko took it, then nodded after a moment. "Good, I guess."
"Okay," Diane put the other pistols back in the briefcases and closed them. "Not a bad choice. And old nine millimeter. Ammunition can be a bit hard to find at times, but that is not a big concern. We'll start with that, then work on the rest."
"Every other pistol," she indicated the briefcase. "Don't get too comfortable with one weapon. We'll start with the basics. You know how to strip that and clean it?"
"No," Emiko said.
"You'll learn. After that we'll move onto basic repairs. Now, first thing, make that weapon safe."
Emiko nodded, ejected the magazine, then worked the action back and forth.
"Ree, nice paint job," Juan said, floating across the bay towards her.
"I like it."
"Why only six kill markers?" he asked as he grabbed the railing of the maintenance bay stopping his flight. "You had, what, something like ten from the old days?"
"Not counting those."
"Ah," he nodded. "Listen, I can fly these things," he looked up at the HA, "but I'm no great pilot. Diane could also use some pointers. All Tern needs is a little gunnery instruction, and someone from here will give him some help with that."
"So I'm supposed to whip you into HA pilots," Ree smiled. "Can do. What will you teach me?"
"Any other woman I might make some sexually charged comment, but you could teach me in that area as well."
"I'm not a teacher, I'm a doer. I think Diane has started teaching Emiko how to shoot. If you want, I'm sure she could show you a thing or two."
"I'll keep that in mind. Anything else?"
"Can you teach Emiko to fly?"
"She going to get a datalink?"
"Not likely. Not soon."
"I can rig something together, but she could never go into combat until she goes under the needle."
"She may eventually, and if she does she could use the head start."
"I'll do what I can," Ree said. "I might even be able to make her a good as me."
"Two Maxils? Hell, two of you could take on both sides by yourselves."
"Suck up," Ree said.
"I always try to stay on the good side of people who will be teaching me to fly combat."
"Make sure Tern shows her how to fly that ship."
"He's my next stop on the list of teachers. How are you when it comes to spacecraft?"
"I can handle them in combat, if it comes down to that."
"I think you'll be spending more time in the cockpit of an HA. What do you think of your new toy by the way?"
"He's a hot little monster. I think his previous owners are going to miss him."
"Take care of it. You won't get another."
"I kind of figured as much. Tess told me that the flight units on this thing cost about three times the price of the original suit to build."
"Don't expect any replacement parts."
Emiko opened the door to quarters she had been assigned, walked to her bed, then flopped forward onto it. She was tired and her left shoulder hurt. "Learn to shoot in zero-G and the rest comes easier," she said, trying to imitate Diane's voice. What a load of crap. All she had done was fail to hit the target most of the time and once bounce herself off a wall.
She was conscious of the pistol she was wearing. Diane had told her that she was to keep one on herself, or within arm's distance for the duration of their operations.
"Emi-chan," she heard Ree call as she opened the door. "What are you doing?"
"Sleeping," Emiko said.
"No time for that, get up," Ree walked over and dropped onto Emiko's bed.
"I'm going to teach you how to fly an HA. Aren't you happy?"
"No," Emiko mumbled softly.
"Come on, get up," Ree reached over and ran her fingers under Emiko's arms causing her to yelp and pull her arms in tight.
"Can't this wait?" Emiko turned over to look at Ree.
"No. We're at war."
Emiko sighed, then sat up. "How can I fly an HA without a datalink, which I am not going to get?"
"Trust me Emi-chan. I was driving HAs at twelve. There are ways around everything."
"What is all this," Emiko asked from the seat of the beat up Troubadour Ree had borrowed.
"Something my daddy cooked up for me when I wanted to learn how to drive these things," Ree told her, leaning over the seat to adjust the screen. "It's all kind of old tech, from back in the days when they were cutting off parts of people's bodies and replacing them with metal. The mess of sensors on your head, and that computer hanging around your neck, work together to do a very bad job of what the datalinks do."
"Now, let's get this straight right now. This set up is terrible. Don't ever think of going into combat using it. You could be in my Manticore, your enemy could be in a half dead, old style construction suit with a couple of machine guns bolted on and they would probably win, no matter how good you are."
"So why even bother with this?"
"Basic, non-combat piloting might be of use. Also, if you ever change your mind, learning with this sort of handicap will make you so much better when you remove it."
"I've heard that sort of reasoning before."
"Whatever. Now, let's run through the start up procedures, after we have this thing purring, you'll walk around the bay a few times. After that, I'll let you fly it around the asteroid."
"Imagine, some people would actually think this is fun," Emiko said, following the procedures that Ree had taught her.
"Shut up Emi-chan and do it. I'm a great teacher but I've been told I have little patience."
Emiko nodded as she continued her work. All things considered, she'd rather be asleep.
"So, what did you want to talk about?" Lilith asked as Juan and Diane took their seats.
"Midnight Sun, and a few other things," Juan told her.
"Ah, so you heard about Telluria."
"Yes," Diane said.
"There is also the fact that the Nemyss continuing his noise about the death of an entire planet," Juan told her.
"Well, no one is happy about them. What do you want to do?"
"Three part plan."
"Okay, give it to me."
"I'm going to find out what the Midnight Sun is planning so it can be stopped. I'm going to shut down one of their major suppliers. I'm going to bring a lot of resources into the battalion."
"Well shit, why don't you just end the war right now?"
"My hat's big, but even so, I can only pull so many rabbits out of it."
"What he is saying," Diane said. "Is that he can do this, but don't get greedy."
"I like being greedy. Tell me, just how do you plan to do this all?"
"Diane and myself are off to have a conversation with the person who supplies the Midnight Sun with a lot of their gear."
"Fuck," she shook her head. "Avatar told me to watch you."
"We'll be gone for a few days. Can you lend us one of those cutters?"
"You can have this ship if you want it."
"No, just the cutter will be fine."
"I'll arrange it."
"Thanks boss," Juan got to his feet. Diane got out of her chair as well.
"Bring in even half of what you promised and you won't need to thank me."
"I'll bring it all in," Juan said as he went to the door. "And maybe a little more."
"Stop bragging," Diane said as she snatched a handful of his jacket and pulled him from the office.
Lilith wondered if he would actually accomplish all he said. If so, she wondered if there was a way for her to take credit for some of it.
The Proteus Colonization spinner had changed over the years. Initially built to supply the forces that would be required to take the Planet Telluria, it had slowly become a business center of sorts. A number of companies, while having business in the system, did not want to put their system offices on 'Dinoworld'.
Among the larger companies, like Solingen GmbH, PRCI and Frontier Armaments, there were also a large number of smaller corporations and businesses operating there. ?Rembrant's Construction' was one of these smaller corporations.
Witness Rembrant did not look up from his computer screen when someone knocked on his door. He was not seeing anyone that day, they could knock as long as they wanted. As he expected, the knocking stopped soon after it started. What he did not expect was the sound of his door opening.
"What the hell," he looked up and found himself looking at Juan Varis. "Juan?"
"Good to see you looking so well, Witness," Juan said, walking into the room, taking a seat in front of his desk. "Business good?"
"I can't complain. What is this about Juan?"
"What, no bullshitting? Not going to invite me to lunch? Oh well, if you want to get right down to brass tacks, I'm willing to play. Listen, you got twenty Draken knockoffs in a warehouse on Rubicon. I want them."
"Is this a joke?"
"No, what I'll offer for them is though."
"Juan, I think you are confused."
"Witness, please. You control something like twenty percent of the illegal arms shipment that goes on in the Pleiades. Pretty impressive for a poor boy from the belt. You also supply the Midnight Sun."
"Now that is a dangerous lie to spread."
"Witness, let's not jerk each other around here. My business partner would not like it."
"Marshall Diane Vichy," Diane said from the door. She was holding a pistol in her hand. "We've already cut you off, Mr. Rembrant," Diane said as she entered the room, pulling the door closed. "Please don't make us use violence."
"Marshall, you of all people should know what you are doing is illegal."
"Witness," Juan said. "Have you ever known me not to be able to back up something?" Juan took an eyes only pad from his jacket and tossed it at Witness. It hit him hard in the chest and then fell into his lap. Witness stared angrily at Juan then picked up the pad. His face suddenly paled.
"I could kill you right now for that," Diane said.
"Juan, you got to believe me. I didn't know they were Midnight Sun when I started to deal with them."
"Then why did you continue?"
"They would have killed me if I stopped, if I went to the authorities."
"So you continued to take their money and help them kill people," Juan shook his head. "Witness, you are an idiot."
"They would have killed me."
"And Diane will kill you now, unless you are willing to work with us."
"What is it you want? Money? Weapons?"
"I want it all Witness. I want everything you have."
"Everything. We'll start with all the weapons you have. I'll offer you karmic balance. You have been responsible for a lot of deaths, now you will be responsible for saving a lot of lives. You should be paying me for such a deal."
"You want me to give you all the weapons I have?"
"Yes. Everything else, from the crates of bolts in the corner there, to those shuttles you got sitting on that landing field in Organon, we'll pay you for it, ten percent the market price, before the war, in war bonds."
"Wait! Ten percent. That is crazy."
"Witness, I can't give you full price. I'm on a shoestring here. Of course, you can refuse to help us, which is fine. I got a hacker who can peel your system and give it all to me anyway. It will take a few days, but I don't have to pay you anything. Then I can take the ten percent that I was going to give you, and pocket it."
"No you can't," Diane said.
"Damn," Juan snapped his fingers. "I forgot she was here," he looked at Witness and shrugged his shoulders. "So, you can get something out of all this, or you can get nothing."
"And I'll kill you." Diane said.
"Wow," Juan looked between Diane and Witness. "Does she know how to negotiate or does she know how to negotiate?"
"Mr. Rembrant, for what you have done, I should kill you. If you do as Juan asks, I will consider a good portion of your punishment dealt with. When the war is over you'll spend a few years in prison, under other charges, and I'll keep you out of Goal."
"So I lose almost everything, and then have to go to prison?"
"Either that or die."
"You're no better than criminals yourself."
"No," Diane shook her head. "The only reason I am being so lenient with you is that there are pressing concerns that are of greater importance than you."
"So Witness, going to play with us?"
"I don't have much of a choice."
"Good. I knew you would come over. Now before you start giving me the run down on your empire, the passcodes to your accounts, the deeds to your properties, I must tell you, I don't know everything about your set up. I do know some things, though. So you will have to ask yourself, if you choose to lie, what happens if you are lying about something I know about?"
"I understand," he said, not sounding happy about it.
"One more thing Witness."
"What, my first born?"
"No. I want to know everything you know about Midnight Sun, everything you have sold them."
"If that sort of information gets out they'll know I talked. They'll kill me. I won't..."
Whatever else he was going to say was lost as Diane put several bullets into his desk top. The .22 rounds were subsonic, the pistol had silencer, there was little noise. Witness looked at the bullet holes marring his desk.
"Fact is, Witness, as much as I abhor doing business like this, we'll kill you if you don't tell us what we want to know. Midnight Sun is fanatic, but we are better. As long as we want you alive, it won't matter if they want you dead. We want you dead though, and there is no one who can protect you."
"I'll give you complete files," Witness said, sounding broken.
"Good," Juan smiled. "So, let's get to work."
"What are we going to do with a Skiing Villa on Solingen?" Diane asked as she looked through the files they had received from Witness.
"Go skiing," Juan shrugged his shoulders. "I just took everything he had, it didn't have to be of any use to the war effort. Hell, they can give it to the first soldier who wins the Starblade Cross of Valor or something," he laughed as he picked up a squeeze cup.
"What the hell are you drinking anyway?"
"Rye and coke. Want some?"
"Sure," she reached over and took the cup.
"He gave them six ten-kiloton nukes."
"I'm not sure I can keep him alive after this."
"If you break your word every now and then no one is going to think any less of you," Juan told her, reaching for the cup.
"You would have no problem killing him after promising to keep him alive?"
"Actually executing him? That would be a problem. Breaking my word, to him? I could live with that."
"So as long as the person is bad, you don't feel the need to honour you word?"
"Sometimes. And defining bad is a hard thing to do. If Witness had actually cared about a cause, and cared about more than money, I might have a higher opinion of him. As it is, he's a greedy asshole who never gave much thought to the people he helped to kill."
"Keep that sort of talk up, I might actually think you are a half-decent person," Diane said as she took the squeeze cup from him.
"So I'm growing on you," he smiled and looked down at his screen. "Wait a second."
"Witness has been selling these people weapons for almost eight years. Yet two weeks ago he sold them a bunch of underwater welding equipment, some heavy construction gear, a few Troubadours, and a bunch of other crap like that."
"Maybe they want to equip the Troubs into weapon platforms or something."
"Don't quite see it."
"Wait, did you say underwater welding gear?"
"Yea. Some other stuff like that as well."
"Makes sense. They could take out the entire colony with only a little work. We'll have to inform Solingen."
"Wait on that."
"Solingen will go after this with a heavy hand. They'll give it away, Midnight Sun will abort."
"There's more value in taking out a portion of their people."
"Juan, this would be a major operation."
"We can get the people for this."
"It is right in Solingen's backyard."
"We can deal with that."
"What is this really about?"
"You know Miki Vels?"
"Colony Manager of Waikiki. What about her?"
"She's pretty popular, and a moderate. I know her fairly well."
"If we saved the place, she could be convinced to let everyone know it was us, once we went public. Good publicity."
"And if we screwed up?"
"I wouldn't go to her till after the fact."
"You are a bastard."
"I know its harsh, but think about it. We announce, and Miki tells everyone that we were the ones that saved Waikiki. The ODF and SAC are too busy with their war to help the people. That is the image it will generate for us."
"It's a great idea Juan, but what if we screw up?"
"We won't screw up."
"And how are you so sure of that?"
"You'll kill me if we do. With that sort of incentive, you know I'll make this work."
"I wish you weren't right about this."
"Tell me about it. I'd much rather drop this all in Solingen's lap and take care of something easy. It's too valuable an opportunity to pass up."
"All right, but I'm bringing in some other Marshals for this one. We'll do this right."
"As long as they can be trusted."
"Juan, you say the stupidest things sometimes."
"I love you too."
"Think you can get Lilith to go for this?"
"She'll jump on it."
"And the others?"
"We shall see."
Ending Credits-same as before.
"Watashi wa anata no ane, soshite haha, soshite anata."
--Miyu Kyuuketsuki ga Yui ni itta
Shawn Hagen <firstname.lastname@example.org>