Episode 8 (2180.06.15)
by Shawn Hagen (1997)
Starblade Battalion is the Property of R.Talsorian Games.
"Arisu-san, sayonara," Keiko called out as she and the others left the school.
"Ja," Alice said, waving to them. She took off her shoes and put them in the shoe locker, removing her outdoor shoes at the same time. She dropped them into the large genkan, then stepped down, sliding her feet into her waiting shoes. After kicking them against the floor to get them fully on, she walked out of the school.
The rest of her friends were heading off to one of the malls. A few days ago Yamoto Miko, an idol singer, had appeared at her concert sporting a SAC flight jacket. Now it seemed they were going to be the fashion. Keiko and the others were hoping the malls had gotten them in.
Alice would have gone, but she had some other things to take care of. As she was walking towards the gate she spotted Yuki and a few other girls. Yuki no longer spent time with Alice and the others, mainly because Alice refused to talk to her.
Alice was sure the Emiko was innocent. Some of the others were not so sure, but Yuki had no doubts about her guilt. If that was not bad enough, she had actually lied to the reporters, painting a very unflattering picture of Emiko. It was petty and vindictive and Alice had made it quite clear that she wanted nothing more to do with Yuki.
If Yuki cared, she did not show it. She had found something new to occupy her time. The military.
Alice was not quite sure how it started, but an idea had began filtering through the high schools that any third year student who was interested could enlist in the SAC for the duration of the war, receiving credit and being allowed to write their university entrance examinations after the war was over.
It was not official policy, yet, but the concept had gone over very well with many. Yuki was one of those.
Every day she and several other girls, all sporting short, practical, shoulder-length haircuts, went to one of the community centers where simple classes in military protocol were given by overzealous teachers.
Alice wondered what some of them might do if they really had the chance to enlist. Right now, with it being only a possibility, it was an acceptable distraction from school and the pressures of being a third-year student. She really could not see Yuki in the military.
She watched as Yuki and the others rounded the school gate, soon gone. Alice followed, but turned to opposite way at the gate, walking to the station. The trip home was a little lonely. Every day it reminded her how much she missed Emiko. Emiko had probably never realized that Alice thought of her as her best friend. Now she was gone and Alice had no idea where she was, or even if she was still alive.
Under a cloud of unpleasant thoughts, she shuffled from the station to home.
No one was there when she got to her apartment, not that she had expected anyone to be. Her parents were still at work and there was no one else. She envied Emiko for her older brother. Being an only child seemed so lonely at times. She often wondered about life in the Pleiades where people sometimes had three or even four children.
Slipping out of her shoes, she stepped out of the genkan and up into the apartment. She turned around to check the mail slot and was surprised to find something there. Hard copy letters were something of a novelty. She was even more surprised to find it was addressed to her.
She held it for a moment, wondering it if might be possible. It would be like her. She tore it open and found it was indeed from Emiko.
After running into her small room, Alice shut the door and then locked it. She felt a little ridiculous, there was no one home and it was not like anyone would see the letter, but she was nervous.
Flopping down onto her bed, she began to read.
Emiko was annoyingly vague about what she was up to, where she was and who she was with. She spent most of her time in the letter working her way around giving any such information. As bad as that was, Alice did not mind. Her friend was alive and safe and that was all that really mattered.
Unfortunately Emiko had given Alice no way to get in contact with her. Alice wished she could talk to Emiko, if only through the exchange of letters. She reread it a few times just to make sure she was not missing anything, then put the letter back in the envelope and hid it in one of her books.
Takashi read the report about the attacks on Ironsun and Gravesend and the retaliatory strike on Gamma 4. From the SAC accounts they had done a lot of damage to Ironsun and had taken almost none at Gamma 4. Takashi knew enough history to be wary of any such statements. He also had several sources who had given him a clearer picture of what had happened.
Neither side had come out well from those attacks. The loss in life had been too high on both sides. The first real battles of the war.
While that information interested Takashi, he was more concerned with the goings on on Earth. A number of strange disappearances, kidnappings and deaths had occurred all over the planet. The authorities were not saying much, other than it was under investigation and in many of the cases they were laying blame on agents from the Pleiades.
It sounded plausible, but closer looks at things, with the help from his sources, made a lot of the kidnappings look more like rescues.
Some rumors had come his way that suggested that a third group had joined the war. No one he knew was quite sure what to make of it or what this alleged third group's agenda might be. He had heard that the Ravagers were up to something, possibly involved in whatever it was that was happening. If that was true he might be getting a clearer picture soon.
Takashi turned to his computer and looked through the list of missing or dead. They were a varied lot, nothing that really tied them all together. There were some small groupings though that peaked his interest. Journalists, and not just any journalists, but the ones who were controversial. The ones that took what might be considered anti-USSA stances. Or pro-Pleiades.
There might be a story there, he decided. A dangerous one to look into of course, but maybe all the more important for that. He might very well end up on the list he was looking at if he was not careful. It was, as far as he was concerned, part of the job though. He also felt a little guilty about what had happened to Emiko and felt it would be wrong for him to back away from a little danger.
I wonder where she is? he thought, turning in his chair. He had been told that she was sent to the Pleiades and was now likely living with some family out on some farm, perfectly safe.
"Just what exactly happened on Waikiki?" Barnabas Richter asked the man beside him.
"We're still not sure," Paul King said as he handed Barnabas a five iron.
"That is not an answer I want," he said, taking the golf club and looking down at the ball.
Barnabas was the Director of Solingen, part of the Planetary Board of Directors. He was also in Solingen's pocket as it were. He had spent years helping them build up the power they needed and now, with things coming to fruition, he did not need independent groups operating in the cluster. Solingen's board of directors did not want it.
"I'm sorry," Paul said.
"Why haven't we been able to claim the glory for this?"
"Whoever did it released some facts to the press. If we tried to say the ODF saved Waikiki, we would be quickly caught in an embarrassing lie."
Barnabas lifted his club, then swung it down. He sliced the ball into the woods a hundred meters away. "Find out who was behind it," he said, thrusting his club at Paul. "And soon. We have enough trouble with Earth, we do not need any more."
"Yes sir," Paul said.
"If you don't pull up, we are both going to die," Ree said calmly from where she sat in the head cockpit. In the combat cockpit, Emiko was trying to keep the Manticore from impacting on the asteroid that was filling the screen. "Left foot pedal, full throttle and sharp to port," Ree told her.
Emiko followed the directions she had been given, the Manticore slowly beginning to climb away from the chunk of rock.
"This would be easier if you had a datalink," Ree told her. Emiko did not reply. "Skim the surface of the rock," Ree told her. "Keep everything steady, Get as close as you can."
Emiko fought the urge to close her eyes as she twisted the Manticore around and flew over the surface of the asteroid, keeping the flight steady. Finally she was clear and could move away from the chunk of rock.
"Well," Ree said. "You were about fifteen meters above the surface at all times. Your control is there, now we need to work on your guts."
"Four meters from the surface is what you should be trying to do."
"It's too close," Emiko said. The terrain is not even."
"Emi-chan, picture this. You got three suits on your tail, ahead of you is a ship, one of theirs. You make straight for it, then skim it a meter above its surface. The suits on your tail are wary about firing at you when you are so close to their ship. They are hesitating. You spin around and open fire on them. You'll get one for sure. maybe two if your good. Then you hit your thrusters and leave the ship behind with only one suit following you. Or maybe the suit you are following drops close to one of your ships, so you keep right behind it where you can fire at it safely. Fifteen meters does you no good."
"So, I should try again?" Emiko said, knowing that was what Ree was going to tell her.
"Yes. And faster this time."
"You're getting better," Ree told her as they worked on the Manticore.
"Doesn't feel like it."
"You are. Against a veteran pilot you'd be in a lot of trouble, but a cadet, you'd do all right, maybe."
"Well, seeing as I am not ever going to go into combat, I am not to worried."
"You never know. I've booked you an hour in the simulator tonight."
"I'll be there," Emiko finished checking the power system and closed up the hatch. "Mind if I go?"
"Diane got you next?"
"Yes. Karate, followed by her watching me swing a shinai around for about an hour."
"So, is this all we are going to do? Practice?" Emiko asked. She did not think that was a bad idea.
"I think that is what Juan wants us to do. As for how long we will be able to do it..." she shrugged her shoulders.
"Mata ne, oneechan," Emiko said as she climbed down the maintenance frame.
"Bye," Ree said, turning back to her work.
Ryu sat in the cramped passenger section of the SAC cutter. Across from him Sam was talking to one of the crew, the ship's navigator. She was a pretty young woman with a friendly demeanor. Ryu hardly gave her any thought.
The stop over in Gamma 4 had been very short, but not as short as Ryu would have preferred. They had arrived a day after the battle and things had been a mess. Everyone had been busy with repairs and other work and no had time to answer their questions. Finally they had found an Intelligence officer who had been able to give Ryu the information he needed.
Arcadia was his next stop. There he'd set up a field post to work out of. The Inner Circle wanted him to find out as much as he could, to discover any weakness he could, any way he could. They did not care about Miya Emiko any longer. It was as Sam said, she was no longer a threat as she had no doubt shared the information she had stolen. In fact, everyone was sure she had, the raid to get Belin proved that.
Still, as long as he did his job, anything else he did was his own business. They did not care about the Miya girl any longer. That was fine with him. They would not care when he killed her.
Sam was right. It had become personal, for a number of reasons. The girl, and whoever helped her, had outsmarted him, embarrassed him, and slipped through his fingers several times. He wanted her for that. She had also, by stealing that information, made it quite clear that she was against the USSA and the Gaians. After all that had been done to save the planet, and the people, anyone who put themselves opposite to them were no better than terrorists.
The claim that the girl was Midnight Sun was true in spirit, if not in fact, as far as Ryu was concerned.
He had felt that way for a long time. It was something that had been building up almost from the day he had come back in from the outside. The day he had given up what he had thought was freedom for security. It had been building for a long time, almost thirty years. Now all of that was focused on Miya. She had become a symbol to him.
He leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes, thinking what he would do to her when he caught up to her.
Redding Frost looked over the many reports that covered his desk. He had returned to Libertatia to find that much had been happening in his short absence. The Battalion was growing, not as fast as they would have wanted, but faster than they had hoped. Their equipment stores were in better shape than they had thought they could be, they had made some new, possibly useful, friends and plans were well underway to do so much more.
He looked over the reports that Lilith Blackhand had sent him on her new team then he looked up at the man sitting across from him. "You are very good at your job."
"I try," Juan said, smiling slightly.
"Jesse has a high opinion of you."
"He'd doesn't like to admit it."
"He says you have a knack for knowing everything worth knowing. Shiva says much the same, but less politely."
"I've known both for a while."
"Tell me, what do you know about the SAC?"
"A little bit of this, a little bit of that."
"Your question was not very precise, sir."
"True," Redding smiled for the first time. "Do you know that three years ago the SAC started stockpiling equipment, ammunition, even money, as certain places around the cluster, obviously preparing for something like this?"
"No," Juan said simply. "Why, when a shunt cargo ship can get supplies anywhere, anywhen?"
"Always a chance normal supply lines might be cut. A little bit of redundancy is always useful."
"So you don't know everything," Redding said after a moment's silence.
"I never claimed I did. Personally I don't trust anyone who claims to know everything. I trust someone who actually does even less."
"Jesse was right," Redding chuckled. "You are as hard to dislike as you are hard to like."
"Do you know where these stockpiles are, Captain?"
"No, that I don't know," Redding's tone was somber. "I do know where to find that information."
"This is why you wanted to see me?"
"I want you to go to Gamma 4 and get that information. Then we will raid those stockpiles."
"Which will increase our stores and deny the SAC of materials they may very well need," Juan nodded. "The only problem is getting the information."
"Your team is up to it," Redding said in a way the brooked no argument.
Juan smiled, wondering if he really believed that or just wanted Juan to think he did. "Even if we aren't, we'll do it."
"I'll need all the information you have," Juan said.
"Here," Redding slid a disk across his desk. It bounced over a pen and both pen and disk floated into the air. Juan reached out and grabbed the disk. He let the pen fly by.
"Once I have the information, how are we going to get everything?"
"As long as you keep it quiet, we'll have all the time in the world. Shiva should be able to supply us with the men and ships for this. It is his area of specialization."
"I'm sure he will enjoy it."
"How is your team coming along?"
"Well enough. Combat-wise we are all right, except for Emiko, and she's coming along."
"Watch out for Miss Miya, I know her father."
"She will be all right. As all right as anyone can be in a war. Is there anything else, sir?"
"Just to congratulate you on all the good work you have done."
"Thank you Captain," Juan got to his feet. "With your permission."
"Go. Get to work."
"Thank you," Juan saluted cockily, then left the office.
Redding turned his attention back to his reports once Juan was gone, but he did not turn his thoughts from him. A capable man, Jesse was right about that one, but he was not perfect. Redding wondered if he knew that and just hid it well or if he really thought he was untouchable. Redding hoped it was the former, for his team's sake.
The Sloop John B. cut deeper into the atmosphere, the heat shielding on its nose beginning to glow a dull red. Inside, Tern watched as Emiko worked on bringing the ship in.
"I think re-entry is the hardest thing you can do," he said, leaning back in his seat, hands behind his head, every now and then glancing over at Emiko. While he maintained an air of relaxed indifference, he was completely aware of what she was doing.
"Hai," Emiko said.
"Oh, combat and storms and all that are tough too, but re-entry, that is something else all together. I guess it is the 'one shot at it' feeling."
"Hai," Emiko said, no longer paying attention to what he said. The craft was behaving oddly as it cut into the atmosphere and she was trying to remember everything she had been taught. It was ridiculous, she had not even been flying for a month, she had a grand total of sixty three hours flight time, and more than half of that in a simulator, and now she was trying to perform re-entry.
Tern watched her. She was not doing too bad, though he suspected he was going to have to replace some of the heat shielding earlier than he had planned to and two of the cooling units had blown. "Hold tight," he said. changing the tone of his voice to make sure she heard. "It will get a bit rough. Just ride it through, maintain your angle of attack and wait."
"I understand," Emiko said.
She was ready when it got rough and she did as she had been taught, keeping the re-entry angle steady and waiting for the thickening atmosphere to slow her to safe speeds.
"Pull up," Tern said, "bring up the thrust units, begin to level the flight out, keep a tight hold on those controls. We're dropping right into a storm by the way."
"Arigato," Emiko said sarcastically as she began to level the ship out.
"Don't worry about the lightening, though it will be impressive. Worry about the winds. Watch the computer and the sensor read-outs. Feel the storm out and don't fight it unless you have to."
"How would this be in a smaller craft?"
"A lot worse. Being sixty meters and one hundred and seventy five tones with enough thrust helps a lot. Actually, you could power right through this storm if you wanted."
"Why don't I do that that then?"
"Because you won't always be in a ship that can do that."
"Naruhodo," Emiko nodded.
As they went deeper the winds became worse. Emiko did her best not to fight them but use them, or, slide through them instead of battering at them. Tern watched her, making the occasional comment.
A kilometer up, Tern told her to simply fly right for the landing field. Once the thrusters were fully up the flight was a lot easier. The wind still battered at them, but the ship was not overly effected by that. Emiko watched the topographic map, looking for the features that marked the landing point. After a minute, she saw them.
She circled the valley twice. Moving lower and lower. Once she was in the valley itself--shielded from some of the wind--she shifted to VTOL and dropped the ship gently towards the valley floor.
"You might want to put down the landing gear," Tern said.
Emiko felt her face grow hot as she reached forward and put the landing gear down.
"Not bad," Tern said once they were safely on the ground. "Too slow though. From the time we hit atmosphere till the time we put down took over thirty minutes. You should be able to do it in fifteen, maybe ten. You also need to get a feel for this. You rely too much on your instruments. That will come with time, though. Congratulations Emiko, you have successfully completed a re-entry."
"Thank you," Emiko said.
"Let's go out and find the others."
A few minutes later, after they had put on some warm clothing and filter masks, they left the ship, stepping out into the cold air of Kimble 6. The main star, Kimble, was a blue star, putting out harsh radiation. All the planets near to it were uninhabitable. The sixth was a small world, shielded from the primary by distance.
Kimble 6 was a cold, dry world whipped by constant storms and tectonically unstable. Still, an attempt had been made to set up a mining colony several years before. After a year it had been decided that running the operation was too expensive. The company had pulled out, leaving a lot of equipment behind. Tern had told Emiko that it had been cheaper to abandon it.
The mines had turned out to be an excellent plane for a temporary (very temporary as far as everyone was concerned) base of operations. It was fairly close to Gamma 4 and a few other important locations.
Tern led her towards a bright light ahead the marked the mine entrance. Once they were in the wind died down quite a bit. The deeper they went, the warmer it became. Emiko could still see her breath, but after the outside it seemed much better down there.
A short time later they found Juan waiting for them.
"How she do?" Juan asked.
"We're here aren't we?" Tern said.
"Are you two ready?"
"Fine," Emiko said.
"Got anything to eat?" Tern asked.
"We'll find something," Juan said, then turned and walked away.
"So, what's the deal," Tern followed Juan, Emiko a step behind him.
"We've got everything set up. Captain Frost got us an SAC cutter to use. It's clean."
"So, I'm your pilot flunky?"
"So all I have to do is fly?"
"Sounds easy enough."
"What am I doing?" Emiko asked.
"You're my aide."
"So who are you?"
"Commander Dennis Graham. Fleet Intelligence, on a fact-finding junket."
Emiko nodded. It sounded good, and if they had the paperwork there was no reason why it should not work.
Juan led them thought a heat lock into a small room carved out of the rock. It was furnished simply with a few folding chairs, some bunks and a table. Emiko took off her jacket then pulled the filter mask free, noting no one else wore them. Ree was there, as was Diane, Captain Blackhand and a some others, probably Charybdis.
"Take a seat," Juan said. "We'll make this quick," he picked up the holoprojector's remote.
Everyone sat, except for Tern who walked over to the table to get some coffee and something to eat.
"Gamma 4's main orbital facility is a cylinder colony, eight kilometers long, one and a half diameter. No transparent panels to let in sunlight, it is enclosed and armoured," he told them. The projector painted a picture in the air with light. They've got living quarters in there, a park, entertainment section and the few factories. Basically it serves as the R? center for SAC out here.
A moment later a lattice work formed around the cylinder. "A hundred meters out from the colony's surface is a frame. It is covered with antimech weapons and a few antiship guns. Most of this is used for docking of ships. It is easy and fast. The colony is equipped with a sublight drive and a shunt drive. The ODF is understandably worried about this thing showing up on their door step as it were.
"Currently," he continued, "there are ten battle riders, mostly older models, permanently assigned to it. Before the attack there was fifteen. They are building what can only be called battleships as another tether craft, but they are not scheduled to be completed for at least another four months.
"Beside it is an orbital factory where they do zero-G work," the cylinder seemed to shrink then a second structure was painted near it. It was a series of globe modules joined by tubes. "Nothing special really, it took some heavy hits during the battle and is has been abandoned until it can be repaired.
"The main base, where they do most of their building, is located on Gamma 4," the two orbital constructs shrunk even more before a quarter of a planet was added. It was a ball of gray rock, no signs of oceans, a sky empty of clouds, no green on the planet. "What can I say. An ugly, well defended place where they are building ships and mechs. The ODF got a cruiser into the atmosphere and dumped a lot of ordinance on it. Took out a few factories, destroyed a number of ships, including a carrier that were being built. Huge mess down there right now.
"We won't be going ground side. We can find everything we want in the cylinder. Basically we shunt in, dock, give them our cover story, and walk in."
"What exactly is our cover story?" Emiko asked.
"With the unexpected effectiveness of the ODF's forces, Earth has sent me to examine the cylinder to see if it might be retrofitted to handle combat better. The commander, General Karl Mass, has been requesting such action for over three years now. He'll be overjoyed to see us and will let us do whatever we damn well please."
"We have all the paperwork?"
"I wouldn't be trying this if we didn't."
Emiko nodded. "I'll be handling the computers?"
"Of course. What do you think time-wise?"
"I'm familiar with the SAC's systems, but even so, a few hours, at least. I think we are looking at about nine or ten hours."
"You have four."
"What if I can't get it in four?"
"We abort and leave."
"No pressure," Emiko said softly.
"I take it Tern will sit tight in the cutter, keeping the engine running," Ree said. "What about me?"
"You'll be sitting in your Manticore, keeping the engine running. The techs are giving it a more SAC paint job right now."
"I hate their colour scheme," Ree said.
"It will attract less attention that way."
"Just make sure you paint it back afterwards."
"I'll be with you I take it," Diane said.
"You got it."
"What will you be doing?" Diane looked over at Lilith.
"Hopefully nothing. I'll bring my cruiser in and stay cloaked and close just in case you get in more trouble than you can handle. Me uncloaking anywhere near that base is very unlikely by the way. I'd much rather you send the information to me and then I run and you die."
"Makes sense. Afterwards?"
"We rendezvous at Libertatia and share out the information. Then we head off to plunder the stockpiles."
"When do we go?" Emiko asked.
"About six hours. It will be another eight hours before we get to the cylinder."
"Do we have an exact plan once we get on board or is this a make it up as we go?" Ree asked.
"A make it up as we go. My itinerary only gives me eight hours aboard. I'm sure I can get at least four hours alone, but when those four hours will be I don't know. I also don't know what sort of clearance I'll be able to weasel out of General Mass. Until I get on ground, I can't be sure of anything."
"Great," Ree shook her head. "Contingency plans?"
"Run like hell if things go bad."
"I like that."
"This cutter, standard issue?" Tern asked.
"The engines have been tweaked to give you a little more speed," Lilith told him. "Watch them though, I've been told they can be temperamental."
"I've never blown an engine," Tern said.
"Any other questions?" Juan asked. When no one had any he said, "Okay, let's get to work."
Emiko watched as they closed on the cylinder colony. She had moved into the head of the Manticore to get the best view. Ree was still in the cutter, asleep. Even since they had shunted into the area Emiko had been feeling nervous. No one else seemed to be bothered and everything had cleared.
"Emiko-kun, get in here," she heard Diane call.
Emiko took a deep breath and climbed over the chair and then back out the airlock, into the ship. Her jacket was just where she left it, floating in the air. She grabbed it as she went by, floating into the small galley deck. After Tern's ship she found the cutter to be very cramped.
Juan and Diane were there, both wearing SAC dress uniforms. Juan had added some gray to his hair and some padding under his clothing. It made him look a little older, enough to justify his rank as a commander.
"Are you ready?" he asked Emiko.
"Yes sir," she said, pulling on her jacket.
"Good to hear it."
Emiko floated over to the a set of shelves and unstrapped a briefcase. She opened it up and looked through it, making sure her computer was ready to go. There were also some tools and a small submachine gun in there that Diane had pressed on her.
Emiko watched Diane and Juan for a moment, then tried to copy their calm appearance. She was wearing the right clothes, she had all the ID she needed and she knew what to do. Acting like an aide was not very hard. No one was going to take any special notice of her. Telling herself that forced some of the worry away, but not all of it. She hoped the small sense of unease she felt would just help her stay sharp instead of making her look nervous.
They docked on the lattice work with all the other ships. Less than a minute later a transport suit locked onto their ship, mating its chest airlock with their starboard one.
"Time to go," Juan said, pulling on his cap.
The transport suit was an odd looking mech. It had a large, barrel like chest, with short legs and thin arms. The pilot rode up in the head and passengers were carried in the chest compartment. Inside the suit they found a Lieutenant Commander waiting for them.
"Sir," he saluted Juan. "I'm Lieutenant Commander Carlson."
Juan returned it, then smiled. "At ease. This thing is too cramped for doing drill. Carlson, this is my Aide, Ensign Yamoto," he indicated Emiko, "and my security specialist, Lieutenant Bias," he said, looking at Diane.
"Pleased to meet you both," he nodded at them.
"Let's go," Juan said, taking a seat.
"Yes sir," Carlson reached over and toggled the intercom unit. "Henderson, take us in."
A moment later the suit cut free of the cutter, moving back from it, then spinning around, flying through the lattice work, heading for the colony's surface. It moved along the surface until it reached one of the locks, then matched its speed to he cylinder's spin so it appeared to be hovering a meter above the gate.
When the gate opened the suit's arms grabbed handholds, then swung its legs down into foot holds. A moment later it had pulled itself into the colony and the gate closed. The pilot stood the suit, then moved forward to another gate. That gate opened once the airlock had pressurized and the pilot stepped into a large docking bay. There were several suits like the one he flew there.
Inside Juan and the others waited for the jerking to stop. Once it did the Lieutenant Commander undid his restraint harness and walked to the hatch, opening it. A set of boarding stairs had been wheeled up to the suit and locked into place. He stood aside to let Juan disembark first, then followed after him, Diane and then Emiko behind him.
With no ceremony, they were led from the bay, up to the street level of the colony. There a car took them to the administration offices. Juan left Emiko and Diane behind as he was shown into Captain Mass' office.
"Sir," Juan said, saluting before he entered the office.
"At ease," Commander, the Captain said as he stood up from behind his desk. "James, would you leave us," he said to the Lieutenant Commander.
"Sir," he saluted, then left, closing the door behind him.
"Have a seat Commander," he indicated the seat in front of his desk.
"Thank you sir," Juan said as he sat.
"I know you have limited time here," Karl said as he took his seat. "So let's get down to facts. I want this cylinder's defensive and offensive capabilities beefed up. With the shunt drive, it is obviously the best way to move large amounts of materials around. It could become a dreadnought for all of our operations in this cluster."
"Yes, we are aware of your desires. I must admit I was impressed with your design for a non-shunt battleship."
"Shunt drives are expensive," he said. "Those ships will carry more armament than any other craft in our fleet and yet cost less than a cruiser. With a moveable base like this to support them, they could easily become the most effective ship in our fleet."
"I have read all your proposals," Juan lied. "And I think most of them are quite well thought out, but at this point in time, budgetary concerns make many hesitant to initiate such a costly venture."
Karl slammed his hand against his desk. "Just like them," he said. "They are worried about money because they have to build up their forces with this war here. I can understand that, but three years ago, when I started making the requests, they had the funds. Now they need this, but they cant afford to do anything."
"That sums it up," Juan said. "Still, there are some who do think we need this structure to take a more offensive role in the upcoming hostilities. That is why I am here."
"I must say I am glad you are here, but I am not happy about your limited time frame. You need more than eight hours to do this."
"I agree, but eight hours is all I have, Captain. I'll do my best to ensure that the most thorough report is presented."
"Good man," Karl said. "You better begin now. I'll have James show you around."
"Thank you sir," Juan said. Having James as a tour guide was not his idea of the best way to handle things. He'd make do. "If I may?"
"By all means," Karl stood and Juan quickly got to his feel, moving away from the chair.
"Thank you sir," Juan saluted.
"Dismissed," Karl said.
Juan turned and walked to the door, opening it. On the threshold he turned and saluted again, then left.
Karl nodded, feeling good. The commander looked like he knew what he was doing, and he thought right. The cylinder, properly set up, could become the greatest warcraft ever.
"How secure is the main computer?" Juan asked James after they had finished touring the one of the barracks.
"Barring a direct assault on the building it is in, gaining unauthorized access in impossible. Would you like to see it?" James asked him. He had been told to make sure the Commander saw everything he wanted to.
"Do we have time?" he looked back at Emiko.
"I'm not sure sir," she said, looking at her watch. "You still want to talk to the engineers."
"We'll have time," James told him. Some of the engineers had different opinions than the Captain did. The less time the Commander spent with them the better.
"Okay," Juan nodded, "lead on."
The cylinder's main computer was located in a unremarkable building near the main administration offices. As James lead them though it he told them that the main computer was completely secure, and was not even connected to the hyperweb at all. He finally brought them into the room where the computer was housed.
It was a large space, full of programmers and analysts, doing their jobs. No one really paid much attention to the visitors. Juan looked politely interested in what was being pointed out, Emiko and Diane looked bored.
The calm in the room was broken on their way out. Emiko bumped into a man and was knocked back, almost pushing a work station off a desk. Her briefcase went flying from her hands.
"I got it," Diane said, louder than she needed to as she moved quickly across the room, grabbing the briefcase. She was off balance though and almost fell. Her wild movements as she tried to maintain her balance attracted everyone's attention. Finally she got her feet firmly under her.
"Are you finished Lieutenant," Juan asked her frostily.
"Sorry sir," she said.
"And what about you Ensign?" he turned to look at Emiko.
"Sorry sir," she said, pushing herself our from behind a piece equipment. "I'm," she stopped suddenly. "Itai!"
"What is it Ensign?"
"I think I sprained my ankle, sir."
Juan shook his head. "I don't have time for this," he said softly. "Is there a sick bay or something close by where my aide can get her ankle looked at?" he asked.
"There is one in the building," the man Emiko had run into said. "I can take her there."
"Fine. Ensign, meet us in front of the administration building half an hour before we are to leave," he said to. "Lieutenant Commander, we still have some things to see."
Diane came back to hand Emiko her briefcase then went after Juan and James.
The programmer took her to the building's infirmary then left her there in the doctor's care. The doctor looked at her ankle and told her he did not think it was sprained. When he examined her foot she told him it hurt a little when he moved it. He used an ultrasound to rule out a fracture, then told her it was probably nothing but decided to put ice on it.
"Leave that on until it feels better," he said. "When you are ready to go, tell me and I'll have some one escort you out."
"Thank you sir," Emiko said. "Would it be all right if I stayed here for a while?" she asked him. "I have some work to do and nowhere to be for about four hours."
"Go ahead," he told her, smiling.
He left her alone in the examining room, telling her it was not likely anyone would bother her for a few hours. Emiko took her computer from her bag and turned it on. The transmitter she had placed on the computer under the cover of her fall was working perfectly.
Smiling, she went to work.
Emiko blinked, not sure of what to make of the data on her screen. It took her a moment to realize she was looking at an old style Black program. She quickly isolated it before it damaged more of her software, then purged her systems and loaded uncorrupted copies from her backup files. A secondary computer kept the connection open while she had been working so she was still in.
Everything taken care of she realized the full extent of what had happened. A Black Virus had been worked into the computer's security system, and a very nasty one. It was a throwback to another time. Had she been directly hooked up to the computer through a datalink, she'd be dead. Her fingers were shaking slightly.
She took her fingers from the keyboard and hugged herself. That felt as if had come too close.
A minute later she went back to work, sliding by the trigger for the Black Virus and working her way deeper and deeper into the system.
Several minutes later, ten minutes before her time limit was to come up, she found what she was looking for. A few seconds later it was all copied and stored in her files. She shut off her computer and returned it to her briefcase.
The transmitter she had placed on the computer would stop transmitting and burn itself out in a few minutes. Assuming no one decided to take a close look at the back of any of the computers it was possible it would never be found.
She stood and walked towards the door of the examination room. Just before opening the door she remembered to limp slightly.
Emiko was waiting in front of the administration building when the car carrying Juan and Diane pulled up. Juan thanked the Lieutenant Commander, made all the polite noises then told him they would be leaving. He asked James ]to apologize to the Captain for him as he would not be able to properly say goodbye.
Once they had finished saluting and the Lieutenant Commander had gone back into the building, Emiko walked up to Juan and saluted.
"So Ensign, how is your ankle?"
"Still a little sore, but functional."
"Good. Any other problems?"
"None at all, sir."
"Let's go then," he said, getting back into the car. Emiko got in the front beside the driver.
Diane and Juan talked about the tour, discussing the merits of the Captain's plan and the costs. The driver looked bored. Emiko said nothing.
A few minutes later the driver dropped them off close to the mech bay then asked if they needed an escort. Emiko told him that would not be needed and he left.
Emiko followed after Juan and Diane as they headed under the streets, taking the walkways that would lead to the bay they wanted. Emiko took more time to look around, noting the other bays they passed through. Many had mechs or fighters in them, though few of the bays were full.
Juan and Diane had gotten a little farther in front of her, her faked limp was slowing her down a little. She began to move faster to catch up. Ahead of her she saw them move to the side of the walkway so a group to three men could pass by. They were Wardens, Emiko realized, recognizing the uniforms. There was nothing odd in that. Wardens had always worked closely with the SAC, now they worked even closer. There was something about them that she thought was familiar.
The one near the back of the group moved to walk beside the other two. Emiko began to run, giving up the pretense of the limp, her hand slid into her jacket. The one that had moved from the back looked up. Maybe because of the sound of running, maybe for some other reason. His eyes widened, then he was reaching for his sidearm.
Emiko got to him before he could open the holster flap, slamming into him, actually knocking him back a little. She had her pistol out, the barrel jammed into the bottom of his jaw. She looked up at him and smiled uncertainly. "Konichiwa oniichan."
"Emiko??" he stared down at his sister, trying to make sense of what was happening.
"Don't move," one of the other Wardens said, he had his pistol pointed at the back of Emiko's head.
"I suggest that you don't move," Diane said, standing close by, a pistol in each hand.
"I can't believe this," Juan said, leaning against the railing, head in hands.
"Emioko-chan, nani o shiteru (what are you doing?)," Makoto demanded.
"Doing my best to keep you from killing me," Emiko told him. "Don't tell mom about this."
"I think we have a bit of a standoff here," the warden holding the gun on Emiko said.
"Not at all," Diane said, shooting both the Wardens with her dart gun. The one holding the gun on Emiko looked at the dart sticking out of the back of his wrist, then fell forward, unconscious.
"Oniichan, gomen na sai," Emiko said, stepping back from him.
Diane shot him, putting a dart in his shoulder. Emiko tried to catch him as he fell forward, but she ended up falling herself.
"Itai," she said from under her brother.
"You all right?" Diane asked as she rolled Makoto off Emiko and helped her to her feet.
"Come on, they'll be out for about an hour."
"This is really bad," Juan said, starting off.
"Sorry," Emiko said.
"Couldn't be helped. They'll know why we were here though," he said. "This mission is shot to hell," he stopped suddenly. "Unless..."
"Unless what?" Diane asked.
"What if we were here for some other reason?" Juan stared moving again, lengthening his pace.
"Just like sabotage."
"The shunt drive."
"That I'm not sure of."
"Could Ree do it?" Emiko asked.
"Now there is an idea."
Ree stood in the middle of the galley, pulling the baggy skin suit on. Once it was on, she pressed the seal button on the wrist. The suit's memory fibers constricted, pulling the suit in so tight that it left little to the imagination. That was just the way Ree liked it.
It was dark blue, with silver highlights. It was also marked with ODF insignia. She had not worn the suit since the day she had last flown for the ODF. She would have to get a new suit made, she thought, pulling a roll of duct tape from her bag. Tearing a few strips off the roll, she quickly covered the insignia with the black tape.
She grabbed her recycler lung and her flight jacket and made her way forward. Diane had sent her a scrambled link message telling her what they wanted her to do. It was going to be fun.
Even before the starboard airlock sealed Juan was running towards the forward hatch. The hatch was closed, Ree had already sealed it and descended into the combat cockpit. He pressed the intercom button. "Ree,"
"Yea?" Ree asked calmly.
"We'll be heading out slow at first, it will give you time to catch up. The best way to get to the shunt drive is to go through the ports for their sublight drive. That will put you in engineering."
"One shot into the shunt drive should do it. Don't do anything fancy, in and out, get it done."
"Isn't that how you have sex?"
"Ree, no jokes."
"Relax Juan, I am the best. I'm cutting loose as soon as Tern gets us a kilometer away from the base."
"Good hunting," he told her.
Ree watched as the base dropped away from them, at least that was how it looked to her. She watched the range finder, then popped the locks, hitting her thrusters, leaving the cutter behind. She slid through the lattice work easily, then swung around, heading for the rear of the cylinder.
There were five thrust ports arranged in a circular pattern on the rear of the cylinder. Any of them would do. All of them were covered by an armoured cap. The Manticore's huge cannon swung up and locked into place even as she was flying at the starboard-most port. Two bursts were enough to tear the cap into lace and the Manticore just ripped through it.
Ree wondered how long it might take them to fire up the engines, filling the tube she was moving through with plasma. After a second she stopped worrying about it as there was nothing she could do to stop it.
She reached the central reaction chamber and blew a hole into it, passing out of it, into engineering.
The shunt drive was right there, just waiting for her. She hovered ten meters above the floor, the thruster wash from her HA causing the unfortunate engineers more problems that they did not need.
Ree opened fire, one burst into the huge drive, then she flew backwards, through the hole she had made only seconds before. Ten seconds later she was out of the cylinder, making her way towards her rendezvous with the cutter.
Command and control did not know what to do. The earlier attack by the ODF had made things a little chaotic. They were still not even sure what had happened. They had too many reports coming in, few that agreed on anything.
It took them nearly twenty minutes to piece everything together. Twenty minutes during which a faster than normal cutter had been running, getting clear of the gravity well. If they did not catch it in an hour it would be gone.
Fighters and interceptors were launched.
Ree slid her Manticore through the Cavalier's fire then tore one of the fighters wings off. Holding the wing up like a shield, she rode out another fighter's fire then opened up on it with the gauss pistol. She watched as it spun out of control.
"Ree, how you holding up," Juan asked.
"Minor damage, the pistol is almost empty and my missile racks. Other than that, everything is fine. How long till we can shunt?"
"Three minutes. Can you hold out?"
"No problem," she told him, looking at her sensors. "I got a Zephyr coming in that will be here in about thirty seconds, but I can handle it."
"Get back here as soon as you can. Diane is sitting in the gunnery chair. Anything you lead back is not a problem."
"I won't be leading anything back."
Ree waited for the Zephyr to get up close. Se was not surprised when it launched its swarm missiles. She corkscrewed in towards it, opening up with her phalanx gun. The tight loops threw the missiles off, made her hard to hit target, but got her where she wanted to be.
The other pilot as gone though, climbing high, firing down at her. Ree twisted her suit out of the way. The other pilot was good.
Carly had been putting her new Zephyr through its paces, getting used to how it behaved when everything went crazy at the cylinder. When she heard the reports she had decided to go after the cutter and suit.
She really did not think that she would catch it in time to be of any help, there were a lot of other units going after it, but it was another good test. There was another reason though. The suit that had hit the cylinder had been a Manticore.
By the time she was closing the Manticore had already taken out two Galliards, three Cavaliers, had crippled a battle rider and three other interceptors had fallen to it. That spoke of an incredible pilot.
When she saw the Manticore avoid her missiles she had no doubt about it. That was the woman who had taken her and her team out.
She climbed as soon as she was sure. Firing down at the Manticore. It avoided her fire and returned it with the pistol, making her dodge. She was amazed at how fast the other pilot had managed to put her back on the defensive.
Spinning around, she dropped in behind the other suit, firing at it. She managed a few grazing shots, chipping the armour, but nothing that did serious damage. A movement she had been watching for came suddenly. She climbed rapidly as the Manticore spun around. She had given up the tail but had avoided the blast of fire from the pistol.
She dove at it, pulling the saber free from her suit's mounts. Breaking protocol she turned on her radio. "This time you're dead."
As Ree fired off her thrusters, barely avoiding the sword stroke of the Zephyr she realized she had faced the other pilot before. She had broken the tail at just the right time, and there was the radio transmission that she had made. This fight was personal.
Ree couldn't have been happier. That animosity, that personal touch, she had always thought that was what made combat flying so romantic. You made enemies in a way no other person in combat could.
So the pilot knew some of her techniques. Fine. Ree had many more.
She kept the other suit in front of her at all times, jerking the Manticore around hard to do it. She never got a clear shot at it, but she never intended to. She knew the other pilot would come to her soon enough. The other suit was armed with a sword and shield. It was a close-in fighter and she knew the pilot would get mad.
Carly tried to get in behind the suit, tried to get on its tail again. It wasn't letting her. It could not hit her, but she couldn't hit it either. She could just picture the other pilot, smiling, maybe laughing. She had fought several other fights, her suit was a little beat up, and still Carly could not end the fight.
She kicked her suits thrusters on full, rocketing towards the other suit. At the last moment she twisted her suit around, flying right over the Manticore, dropping her sword to cut across its shoulder. It was not a deep cut, but it was a successful attack.
She climbed fast, avoiding another burst from its pistol. Now she had her, Carly thought. She swung her suit around and charged the other again. She twisted her suit around again, sliding around its lower port side. She managed to get more force behind her blow that time and cut deep into the leg.
You're mine, Carly thought as she dove below it, avoiding its fire.
Ree ignored the alarms going off in her suit. She was smiling. It had taken her a little while to understand what the other pilot was doing, how she was doing it, but she knew.
She kept up the same tactics as before, jerking around, keeping the other pilot in front of her. She kept it up to the moment before the other suit was going to slide around her, then she stopped moving and reached out, grabbing the other unit's heat saber.
The Zephyr was jerked to a sudden stop, obviously the pilot had not been ready for that. The Manticore's fingers were damaged, but still operable. Ree kept a tight hold on the heat saber as she lashed out with the suit's other hand, crushing the Zephyr's head, getting a tight grip on its shoulders. Smiling, she released her suit's the hold on the saber, moving the massive hand up to the other suit's arm.
Carly was beginning to panic. The other suit had countered her attack so quickly she was still not sure what happened. She had lost all her sensors with the head and was basically blind but for some torso mounted cameras. She was desperately trying to reach the rifle with her suit's free hand when alarms started sounding. A moment later the Zephyr's right arm was torn from the socket.
As if to add insult to injury, the Manticore maintained its hold on her suit's shoulder while laying into the Zephyr with its own arm.
For a moment Carly thought she was dead. Alarms began going off, a crack in the cockpit appeared, atmosphere began to leak out, her controls began to short out. Then it was over. It took her a moment to realize that the other suit had simply let her go and was flying off. She worked her controls, trying to get her suit to do something, but nothing responded.
Then the other suit turned around, the huge cannon swinging up, locking into place.
Ree lined the other suit up in her sights and gently squeezed the trigger. She suddenly shifted her aim down, blowing off its lower leg instead. She did not want that other woman dead. At least not like that. Spinning her suit about, she headed back to the cutter. Juan would be wanting to shunt soon. According to her scanners there were several ships closing in on them. She turned her radio on, setting up a tight beam to the other suit. "Hope they don't make you pay for the repairs."
Childish, Ree thought as she cut the connection, but fun.
Ending Credits: Same as before.
Colony Transport (CTs) were designed to handle the rotation of colonies, be they cylinders or ring colonies. A CT can easily dock with a moving lock, allowing much faster transport between colonies and ships.
The Star Bus is a fairly simple and cheap craft, designed to do one thing and do it well. It is an odd looking mech, with its huge chest, small head, thin legs and spindly arms. It is maneuverable enough to do the job.
The pilot rides in the head, there is space in the chest cockpit for up to fourteen people, though it is a little tight, and its back pack unit can hold 2 tones of cargo if needed. It also has a damage control package included, should anything go wrong. A spot light mounted on its head completes the package. The design team did think of putting an antitheft lock on it before someone pointed out no one would want to steal it.
There are several other versions of this suit, including an ambulance and a fire-fighting unit.
Statistical subtraction -2 to cool (this represents the fact it is hard to feel cool flying around in the mech version of Mr. Potato Head=99.)
Team Tsunami put forth a number of variants on the standard 8B. The DRL (dueler) was one of those that is currently undergoing field testing.
The modifications are simple. The assault and attack missiles were pulled, as well as the knife. These were replaced with a light weight, though expensive, sword (6K AP) and shield (5SP). This variant also boasted and ACE system (+33%), developed form stolen plans of the ODF's Vogel fighter. While not quite the system that the Vogel has, it is an improvement on the 8B.
While the 8B DLR can still function as a standard interceptor, it is also a deadly in-close unit, using superior speed and maneuverability to hit its opponent then get away.
Only ten units have been constructed to date. If the design proves effective, more may be built at a ratio of one DLR for every four interceptors.
"Watashi wa anata no ane, soshite haha, soshite anata."
--Miyu Kyuuketsuki ga Yui ni itta
Shawn Hagen <email@example.com>