Episode 9 (2180.06.19)
by Shawn Hagen (1997)
Starblade Battalion is the Property of R.Talsorian Games.
Makoto sat on his bed, staring at a picture of Emiko. He wondered how his little sister had become involved in whatever she had become involved in. He had not believed the Midnight Sun story, but knew she must have done something wrong.
He rubbed his hand under his chin, remembering the feeling of her pistol pressed under his jaw. He had never expected anything like that from Emiko. She was so harmless. The girl in the picture, smiling, holding onto his arm, was not the same girl he had met a few days before. The changes to her face, the weight she had lost, they had been part of it, but only a small part. It was something in her eyes, something sad that had never been there before.
He let the picture drop then fell back onto his bed, looking up at the ceiling. What had Emiko been doing?
Captain Mass knew why they had come there. He had a Shunt Drive that would no longer function and he knew that it would be a long time before it was replaced. Sabotage by the ODF, that's what he was calling it. Makoto was not so certain.
He remembered Emiko when she had been ten, a slightly chubby little girl with bright eyes. A girl who always smiled, even when their mother was being a little cold. He remembered her calling to him that one day, asking him to come into her room. He remembered her computer and what she showed him, what she could do. He remembered telling her that it was wrong, that she should never do so again.
She had looked so sad. He had been a little cruel to her, but he had known it was for the best. It had been very important that he make her understand what she was doing was theft.
It had been a long time since he had thought about that. He had been sure Emiko would never do such a thing again. Still, there were little things, things he had ignored over the past seven years, that suggested his warning had not been effective as it should have been.
She had been good when she was ten. What would her skills be like now?
Captain Mass was sure that they had come to destroy his precious shunt drive and nothing else. Makoto had talked to Lieutenant Commander Carlson about what Emiko and the others had done. It did not really sound like they had come to destroy the shunt drive. In fact, to Makoto, the shunt drive's destruction seemed almost like an afterthought.
His sister had spent a few hours in the computer building, alone.
Sitting up he decided it was time to talk to some people. Captain Mass did not want to hear any other theories. He knew exactly why Emiko and the others had come and that was the only acceptable answer. It was proof the cylinder could become a mighty weapons system, and the ODF knew it.
Makoto was going to have to go over his head. He was going to have to talk to the base commander down on Gamma 4. The only good thing was that Admiral Murakami was a good friend of his father's. That would make the meeting easier to set up and if he was wrong, Captain Mass would never know.
"What do you have?" Ryu asked Sam as the younger man came into his office.
They had set up their headquarters in a large office in the main government building. The Planetary Director of Arcadia, Fred Douglas, had been quite generous in helping them set up. He took great pains to prove that he was firmly on the USSA's side. Neither Ryu nor Sam liked him much.
"The woman, the one that stole the Manticore, her name is Kareen Maxil, twenty three years old, worked in a rather exclusive brothel a couple of kilometers away for almost a year."
"She's a prostitute?"
"Was. Before that though, she was a combat pilot. Quite a good one according to the rumors. She left her militia group three years ago, no one was quite sure why. Now it seems likely she joined the ODF at that time."
"I managed to talk to a few people who think that a girl matching Miya-san's description might have been with her and a man named Juan Varis. This Juan Varis has a very long history, nothing criminal really, but he seems very well known."
"Does anyone know where they are now?"
"No one who is talking."
"Take a look at this," Ryu tossed a picture on his desk.
Sam picked it up. It was a picture of a handsome man with long black hair. "Who's this?"
"His name is Tern Roarke. He's the pilot of that black ship. Been arrested before, but never convicted. Interestingly enough, that Marshall, Diane Vichy, was the one who brought him in."
"She's also arrested Mr. Varis," Sam said. "Odd group our Miya-san has gotten herself involved with."
"Let's see if we can find any of these people. Once we found them, we'll find Miya."
"More importantly we'll find out useful information about what is going on," Sam said, thinking it important to remind Ryu what they were there for.
"Of course," Ryu said softly.
Sam didn't really believe him, but as long as Ryu was willing to keep up the pretense he saw no reason to say anything else.
Grendel knelt before Tauutus, waiting for the Nemyss to speak. It had been several days since the failed attack on Waikiki. This was the first time he had been able to meet the Nemyss face to face since that day. He was terribly afraid that his actions had angered his leader.
"Do you wish to make up for your error?" Tauutus asked softly.
"Anything Nemyss," he bowed his head to the floor.
"Find a small colony. Kill everyone there. Make it look like the Earth was behind it. Do the same to some small settlement in Earth Space, make it look like the ODF was behind it. I want everything to be particularly gruesome."
"Yes Nemyss," he said, his head still on the floor.
Grendel quickly straightened and left the room, moving backwards, bowing on his way out. It might have looked ridiculous but the man had the grace to make it look anything but. Tauutus watched him the entire way.
Jesse sat on the deck around his uncle's house, watching his uncle as he worked in his garden. The old man knelt in front of a small bush, a pair of clippers in his hand. He had not moved for nearly ten minutes.
"I have spoken with the others about your proposal," Akira said as he sipped a small branch off the tree. He said it as if it was of no great import.
"Go over well?" Jesse asked. His tone and manner suggested indifference.
"It may work."
"I'm still not sure of your change in the plans," Jesse said.
"It is a good idea."
"An entire colony though," Jesse smiled as he shook his head. "From Juan I would expect that, from you, it was a bit of a surprise."
"Juan-kun is a foolish young man who takes chances for fun. I am a wise elder who knows what needs to be done."
"Soo ka," Jesse said, his tone expressing disbelief.
"All right," Akira turned to face Jesse, smiling, "I also think this will be amusing."
"I can get you a team to do this," Jesse said. "They'll be here in a few hours."
"Anyone I know?"
Jesse shook his head. "They're good though."
"I hope they are. It is only an entire factory we wish to steal."
Kicking off from one of the higher railings, Juan sailed across the mecha bay. He turned in the air, pointing his feet at Ree's Manticore, hitting it in the chest with his feet. He flexed his knees, absorbing the force, bringing himself to a stop.
"Watch the paint job," Ree yelled from down by the unit's feet.
Juan turned around so his head was pointing down at the floor, then pulled himself down the suit. "What's the news?" he asked Ree, flipping himself over, landing on his feet beside her.
"About the Manticore?"
"We patched everything back together well enough, though no one is quite sure where we will get new missiles for it. It is at about ninety-nine percent."
"That will drop each time it gets repaired."
"I know," Ree smiled fondly as she let her gaze run up the Manticore. "When he's down to ninety, I'll retire him."
"How about Emiko?"
"Give her another month and, if she gets a datalink, she'll make a pretty hot pilot. Of course the chances of her getting a datalink are like, nil. You on the other hand need a lot more work on high-speed maneuvering."
"I'll work on it," he told her.
"Good. How long till we reach the target area?"
"How long till the shuttle carrier shows up?"
"Twenty four hours."
"So, we have twelve hours to scope everything out."
"Tight timings, but we'll figure it out."
"You're getting pretty chummy with Lilith."
"Just making a comment."
"We have to work together."
"I make no judgments," Ree smiled.
"You're a romantic at heart. Unfortunately I don't see a relationship blooming between me and Captain Blackhand."
"Too bad. We need something to gossip about."
"Sorry I can't be of help."
"Juan, how long before we stop fooling around with these little pissy missions and get into real combat?"
Juan looked at her, then up at all the kill markers on her Manticore, then back at her. "Pardon?"
"No, I'm serious. We're going to have to go head to head with the ODF and the SAC eventually right? Any idea when that might be."
"Feeling a little bloodthirsty are we?"
"No, that's not it. I just want to know."
"No one has any set plans as far as I know. Yes, without doubt we are going to find ourselves in a big fight sooner or later, but no one wants to rush it. Except you."
"I don't want to rush it," she told him. "Look at it this way, when everything goes down, who is likely to be commanding a number of mechs, if not a whole wing?"
"Good point," he said.
"That's not a fun game. One to one, or one to several, is dangerous, but, well, it is only me I have to worry about. When we start going after big targets and they put me in command of a lot of people, well, things change."
"I understand. I'll give you as much advance warning as I can."
"A bunch of SAC missiles."
"Well, as it turns out, we are heading to a SAC equipment stockpile right now. You know, I just might be able to do something."
"You're the greatest, Juan."
"I have my moments. I'll see you later," he told her.
"Later Juan," she said to his back.
His next stop was the Sloop John B. which was clamped under the Thunder Clap. Juan banged on the hatch then pulled it open and floated down the boarding tube into the other ship.
"Tern," he called out.
"Juan, in here," he heard from the galley.
Tern, and several of the Thunder Clap's crew were sitting around the table, playing cards.
"I see you're busy," Juan said.
"Tough life. Want in?"
"No, not right now. I just came to ask you of you were ready and it there was anything you needed?"
"Everything is fine here," he said. "John B. is ready to go."
"You know, I always thought that was a stupid name," one of the women at the table said. "Why name your ship that?"
"Same reason I have a red convertible in the cargo hold back there," he jerked his thumb towards the aft section.
"Tern has what might be called an odd interest in a certain part of Earth's history," Juan told her.
"It was the pinnacle of civilization," Tern said.
"To some," Juan nodded. "Your die-hard Gaian won't say too much good about those times."
"Die-hard Gaians should learn to relax. They should have some fun, maybe eat a burger then throw the wrapping on the ground or something," Tern said.
"Can't you be killed for that?" one of the men asked, not looking up from his cards.
"If looks could kill," Juan said. "Littering is not a capital offense on Earth."
"Yet," Tern said.
"Yet," Juan nodded.
"Hey, Varis, I hear tell that the SAC stashed money as well as gear," one of the younger Charybdis said. He was a very young man, trying to prove he was an adult. Juan did not like him much as he obviously thought being an adult meant being obnoxious.
"So we've heard."
"Well, some of us were thinking that maybe it is bonus time, if you know what I mean," he laughed.
"What would you do with that money, buy some new toys?" Juan asked, feeling a little nasty. The older pirates all laughed at that.
"Do you think you're funny?" the young man asked angrily. Juan had hit him right where he was sensitive.
"At times," Juan told him.
"Maybe you'd like to discuss this in private," the young man stood up, putting his hand on the hilt of the knife he wore on his belt. His cards were floating off into the air.
"Sit down," and older woman beside him said, grabbing his belt and yanking him hard back onto his chair. "Not only could Juan kill you, but he's probably already thought of how to make a profit by doing so."
"He's calling me a kid!" he said angrily, trying to break the woman's hold on him.
"And you are acting so adult right now," the woman said, shaking her head. "Sorry Juan, Timmy here can be a bit annoying. Good pilot though."
"Tim," he said, giving up his struggles. He angrily reached for his floating cards.
"We'll be reaching the drop zone about twelve hours from now," Juan told Tern. "Be ready to go."
"I'll be ready," Tern told him.
"Good luck," Juan said, the headed back the way he had come.
Finding Diane took a little more work then finding the other two had. After asking around her headed for one of the many cargo holds the pirate cruiser boasted. There he found Diane giving Emiko a zero-G combat lesson.
"Diane, got a moment?" he called out from the hatchway.
"Give me a minute," she said, never taking her eyes from Emiko.
Juan stayed in the hatchway and watched. Diane had taken up position in the middle of the room, her feet firmly on the floor. Her hands were held up in front of her if a fighting position. Emiko had her back to a wall, hands splayed out against the wall.
Emiko's movement was very sudden, one moment against the wall, the next, she was flying across the room. Juan saw her mistake right away, he knew Diane did as well.
Diane bent her knees, then pushed up hard, twisting around, hitting the roof with her feet. Emiko found herself a little too high in he air and was unable to reach the floor to change her course. She was on a straight line until she hit the opposite wall. Juan watched as she managed to turn herself around, just in time to block Diane who had kicked off the ceiling.
Even though she managed to block the kick, she was still driven out of the air, slamming hard into the floor. Juan winced in sympathy for her. Diane was not an easy teacher and she did not like it when her students made a mistake more than once. From the looks of things Emiko had made that mistake before.
Diane kicked back up, twisting around, landing on the ceiling. She crouched there, looking down at Emiko. Juan watched as Emiko slowly got to her feet. There were several globes of blood floating by her. It looked as if she had a split lip. No, Diane was not an easy teacher.
"If you can't change your course, you are dead," Diane said.
Emiko looked up at her, wiped the blood from her chin with the back of her hand, then suddenly was moving again. Juan was impressed with how fast Emiko could move. She hit the ceiling just behind Diane, swinging out her leg. Diane blocked it and both of them were floating apart. Diane kicked out, hitting the ceiling, propelling herself back to the floor. Emiko hit the far wall, bending her legs to absorb the force.
Juan watched as Emiko kicked off, launching herself at Diane. She had made the same mistake again, not getting close enough to the ceiling to use it to alter her course. Diane kicked off the floor, ready to hit her hard again.
Then Emiko kicked off her shoe. Juan couldn't help but smile. Kicking off her shoe moved her close enough to the ceiling for her to control her flight. She stopped herself, then drove her foot out, right into Diane's stomach.
Of course, Diane had seen it coming and blocked most of it. She pushed away from Emiko, hitting the floor a bit awkwardly. She barely side stepped Emiko as the young woman landed hard on the floor where Diane had just been. They stood only a few centimeters apart from each other.
Diane snapped out an open hand, pushing Emiko away from her. Both of them floated across the room, away from each other.
"Better," Diane said. "You're finally figuring this out. Fix that lip and clean yourself up," she told her. "Okay Juan, what did you want to talk about?" she asked as she floated directly at him.
"Just wanted to know if you were ready to go."
"Good," Juan looked around Diane at Emiko. She had a first aid kit in her hands and was going through it. "How's she doing?"
"Well enough," Diane told him. "She handles standard zero-G movement like she was born to it, good reflexes. Fighting though, she needs a lot of work."
"Don't we all."
"If she keeps it up for a year or two, she could be very good."
"What about in gravity?"
"A little better."
"Try not to kill her," Juan said, turning in the hatchway.
"It's not my intent to hurt her," Diane said simply.
Juan left them, having taken care of his people. They were ready to go when the time came.
He went to the bridge next, finding Lilith sitting in her command chair. It was fairly quiet there, every one manning their stations, saying nothing.
"Captain," Juan said.
"What is it Juan," Lilith asked, turning around to face him.
"You said you wanted to talk to me later. I figured now is later enough."
"Right. Sorry. Come on to my office. Layfyer, you have the bridge," she said as she got out of her chair and floated over to Juan. Juan stepped aside to let her leave the bridge first then followed after her.
She led him to her office. Once she unlocked the door she jumped up and pushed off the wall, floating over her desk before pulling herself down into her seat. Juan simply walked to his seat and sat down.
"Have you given my proposal any thought?"
"To be your second in command?"
"I'm not sure if you need me. Donner is doing a fine job as it is."
"I don't mean right now," she said.
"Then what do you mean?"
"Right now Thunder Blade is rather rag tag, of course so are all the other blades. We're hoping to get more people and more equipment sooner or later, hopefully sooner. I've been giving it some thought. Assuming that things work out I'd like to make this blade a fast, hard hitting unit. I'll need to add another cruiser, and possibly some battleriders if I can swing that. Either way, if that happens, I'd like you to take command of the second cruiser."
"I'm not sure I am the captain type."
"We'll get you a good first officer to help you with the things you are not sure of, but I think you would make and excellent Captain. You got the guts to do the job."
"How about we wait until you are actually close to getting that cruiser before we worry about this."
"I'd like to know now. I won't hold you to anything that you decide now, but I want to get an idea."
Juan sat quietly for a time, considering the offer. He had not expected to be in such a situation when he had linked up with the Battalion, it wasn't his specialty. "I don't think so," he told her.
"You're sure of that?"
"You know, I almost believe the rumors that you are afraid of success."
Juan laughed. "I like them too. They aren't true."
"Then why aren't you running a major corporation, or sitting on the planetary board of directors?"
"Because I choose not to. I'm successful, I gross almost the same as any of the board of directors, and net more because I only declare about thirty percent of my income. I'm happy. I enjoy my work. You see commanding a cruiser as success, I don't. I can do more with a small team than I could do with a ship. I'd hamper myself."
Lilith nodded after a few seconds. "Your call. Mind if I ask you about one of the other rumors floating around about you?"
"If it is the one about the planet of gold I supposedly found I have no comment."
"No, not that one."
"Ask. I don't promise to answer."
"Is it true that your father owns Solingen?"
"Ah, that one. That is one of the less known ones."
"Is it true?"
"My mother was involved with Albert Knox during the right time frame, and she was monogamous, as far as I know. He is known to own thirty percent of Solingen stock, and assuming no one else has more, that would make him, more or less, the owner," Juan shrugged his shoulders. "He might have given me half of my genetic material, but I could never think of him as my father."
"You never felt like finding out?"
"Not really. I met him once a few years back. There is a man who everyone would consider a success, and yet he is not happy. He helped to start a war, hoping it would make him happy. It won't."
"You don't like him?"
"I don't really care about him. Call it indifference. Mind if I ask you a question?"
"Go for it."
"How did you hook up with Shiva?"
"I killed one of his commanders ten years ago."
"More impact than a resume, I guess."
"I was fourteen and the man in question tried to rape me. I'm still not sure what happened, but when everything was clear again, he was a bloody mess. Sometime later, Shiva finds out that someone had turned one of his higher ups into hamburger. He found me, quite the detective when he wants to be our Shiva, and after slapping me around a little, got my story. Then he was just going to leave. He told me it had been a fair kill."
"What did you do?"
"I tried to kill him. He dealt with me hard and fast. You know," Lilith said, staring into space, "I'll always remember what he said then. 'You've got a lot of hate in your eyes. With that much hate, I can't ignore you.' Then he picked me and dragged me off. That's how I joined up with him."
"Still hate him?"
"No," she shook her head. "That faded in a day or two. Had he left me I might still hate him, but he's a smart man. Deals with problems before they can become problems whenever he can."
"I like the way he does business, even if it is a bit too cutthroat for me. Anything else?"
"No, that's it."
"I'm going to get some sleep then." Juan got up from his chair.
"Pleasant dreams," she said as he left.
The Rangers had come to the Vahn system first. They had not even bothered to do a walk about, the system had looked so unpromising. The Jagers had given the system a more thorough inspection several months after the Ranger team had left. It had been a huge waste of time.
Only one planet, Vahn 4 offered any hope of colonization, and even so its carbon dioxide levels were too high. The plant life also proved a problem as all most all of it produced a pollen that caused severe, and sometimes fatal allergic reactions in humans.
So the system had been abandoned and forgotten about, which was probably one of the reasons why the SAC had put a stockpile there. The other reason was that the planet was in a strategic location.
Juan was seated in the cockpit of the Sloop John B., waiting as the Thunder Clap approached the planet under cloak.
"Juan, we have problems," Lilith's voice came over the skin to skin intercom.
"An ODF cruiser and a shuttle carrier in orbit around Vahn 4."
"We picked them up on passive scanners a minute ago."
"Think they are here for the same reason as us?"
"No idea. Listen, I'm going to take us behind 4's biggest moon and drop the Thunder Clap onto the surface. They'll never know we are here. We'll let you go in first to check everything out, that is if Tern thinks he can sneak that piece of junk past them."
Juan looked over at Tern who was giving the intercom the finger. "Tern says it won't be a problem."
"Then do it."
Slipping past the cruiser in orbit had not been a problem. It had never know the Sloop John B. was there. Once through the atmosphere they started picking up signals from whoever was on the ground. Tern put the John B. down a kilometer from their position without them noticing.
An hour later Juan and Diane were on the rim of a valley, looking down at the ODF operation. There were several shuttles and a cruiser down in the valley.
Diane put her hand on Juan's shoulder. "What do you think they are doing?" she asked him. The skin to skin com in their vac-suits kept the conversation private.
"It looks like they are stockpiling equipment," Juan said, disbelief in his tone.
Diane laughed. "Makes sense."
"Pardon?" Juan asked her, using the visual enhancers in his vac-suits visor to scan the area.
"The SAC sets up here because they know no one will ever come here and this is a great location to re-supply at during an advance. The ODF sets up here because they know that no one will ever come here and it is a great place to re-supply at if they are falling back."
"Looked at that way..." Juan said.
"How long do you think they are going to be here?"
"I think they are just finishing up. I'd say they will be gone in four or five hours."
"So, are we going to help ourselves to their stuff as well?"
"Of course," Juan said. "I don't play favorites."
An hour after the ODF cruisers had left orbit, the Sloop John B. was docked with the Thunder Clap.
"I hope you didn't bring me any flowers," Lilith said, standing over the boarding tube as Juan climbed up into the ship.
"We used burn clean protocols," Juan told her. "Tern even bounced us back into the atmosphere for a bit of a skip just to make sure."
"Good. Fatal allergic reactions are not fun. What's the story."
"The ODF have kindly decided to donate to the Battalion's stores."
"You mean they were setting up a stockpile as well?"
"I guess after the pasting they took at Gamma 4 they decided things might not be as easy as they thought. I see no problems down there."
"Fine. Soon as those cruisers and the shuttle carrier shunt, we'll get to work."
"Don't you love it when the karma flows your way?" Juan asked, smiling at her.
The shuttle carrier arrived on time, but Lilith held the shuttles back until both sites had been cleared. Having to check two sites out for booby traps or other problems took more time. By the time the first shuttles put down, two to each site, they were eleven hours behind schedule. It did not really matter though as they had all the time they needed.
The SAC site showed planning. They had shored up a natural cave system, expanded it, and shielded it. The ODF site was just a series of natural caverns.
Juan stood a hundred meters from the entrance to the SAC site, watching as crews began to bring the equipment out. Their vac-suits looked bulky due to the ablative foam that had been sprayed on them. They would all be burnt clean in their airlocks to ensure no pollen got in the ship. Necessary precaution. It did not really slow them down very much.
Juan smiled as he saw a Galliard in command armour walk from the cavern. They were doing very well.
"Juan, the Captain wants to speak to you," one of Lilith's people called over the com.
"Be right there," Juan said, walking towards one of the shuttles. He did not go aboard, just plugged his vac-suit's com into the shuttle's. "Juan here, over."
"Juan, we've got to scrub this mission. Get those shuttles out of there, plant charges, and blow everything to hell."
"Two SAC cruisers, each with a battlerider just shunted in. They'll be joining the party in about two hours."
"Have they spotted you yet?"
"No, not yet."
"Okay, so you cloak, take them by surprise. You just have to do some minor damage, enough to give us time to load all this stuff up."
"Juan, I'm not going to fight. I'm going to run in twenty minutes, hopefully get them to come after me and give the shuttle carrier a clean escape route. You got ten minutes to load those shuttles up with anything you can, then they are blasting off. Get as many suits as you can."
"We can't just leave this stuff."
"We're not. We're going to blow it up. Get to work. Tell Tern he is running too, tell him to make all the noise he can, tweak those ECM suites so they think there is a bigger ship out there. Move."
"Juan, forget it! This is not a suggestion. This is an order. Now do it. Blackhand out," she cut the transmission.
Juan stood there for a moment. He disconnected his suit from the shuttle. He looked at the entrance to the SAC stockpile and swore. Then he fired up his suit's radio and began relaying Lilith's orders.
While the shuttle carrier kept the planet between it and the SAC forces, running out of the gravity well, the Thunder Clap and the John B. came around the planet, running in opposite directions. Tern was putting out a lot of noise, making his ship look bigger, to sensors at least, than it really was. They probably thought he was a cruiser.
One cruiser was still on course with Vahn 4 while a battlerider was chasing after the John B. and a the other battlerider with its cruiser was on the Thunder Clap's tail.
Juan sat behind Tern in the cockpit, slamming his fist into this upper thigh. They had blown both stockpiles just before they left. All that equipment gone. It had been such a perfect plan. It should have worked. "We should have killed those damn Wardens," he said out loud. He heard a soft gasp and looked over at Emiko. Damn, he thought. Stupid thing to say. "I'm sorry Emiko, it's just that we lost it all."
"So we lost it," Diane said from where she was working the ECM. "The important thing is both the ODF and SAC are short materials they need to wage this war."
As are we, Juan thought. Then he shook his head and reached over to turn the skin to skin intercom on. "Ree, you sure you want to do this?"
"We might as well. All I need is one good shot. They still haven't launched their mechs yet."
"Once I fire up my engines to full, we'll leave the battlerider and anything it launches behind. This isn't some poky cutter."
"Okay Ree, your show then."
Ree stood her Manticore on top of the John B.. The suit's feet were locked down into the clamps, the cannon was swung forward, ready to fire. She held her finger over the trigger, waiting.
In a way, she wanted that battlerider. She wanted a ship kill. They had not counted the battlerider she had disabled at Gamma 4, still operable after repairs they had told her. The ship behind them was getting closer and closer, not quite in weapons range. Just before it would get range on the John B. Tern would disappear of their screens, swinging back to give her a shot at the ship.
If the battlerider ran, Tern was not going after. She'd only get her chance if they continued on, trying to find the ship they had been following. She kind of hoped they would run, as much as she would like to see a ship silhouette on her suit. Destroying the battlerider denied its use to the SAC. That was what they were supposed to be doing after all.
That line of reasoning did not make the thoughts of the men and women who would die any easier. She remembered what she had said to Emiko not so long ago. Welcome to the war.
When the target they had been following disappeared the commander of the battlerider slowed his ships speed down and ordered the launch of his mecha. They moved forward, trying to find the target again.
It took them totally by surprise when Ree opened fire on their starboard side from less that five kilometers away.
The John B. came in fast, turning hard a kilometer from the ship, running at full speed. Ree got off two bursts at the ship. She might have managed a third, but there was little need. She could see small explosions ripping through the ship's engine section, it would not be long until a larger explosion followed.
Letting the cannon swing around into its storage position, she knelt the Manticore down, sliding its hands into the clamps.
She didn't think she would mention that kill to the techs.
Juan was sitting on the landing gear of the Sloop John B., watching as the shuttles were off loaded, the few supplies they had acquired being moved into Charybdis warehouses. SAC ships had shown up at all the supply dumps, spoiling their raids. Fortunately they had not lost any ships, a few suits and some people though. Thunder Blade had come out with no losses.
Lilith told him that the mission was a complete success. He was of a different opinion.
"You Juan Varis?" Some one asked him.
Juan looked up, a young woman was standing a few meters from him. "Whose asking?"
"Epiphany Clarris." She was attractive, a little on the tall side, long, wavy, strawberry blonde hair, brown eyes, and a great sense of fashion.
"Epiphany," he looked at her, smiling.
"Tell me about it. Took me forever to learn how to spell it. Always envious of the kids named Bob."
"Well Epiphany Clarris, what do you want?"
"Two things. I've been assigned to you, I'm a pilot, and Captain Frost wants to see you."
"You've been assigned to me?"
"Well, I'm in the army now," Juan said.
"Whatever. This our ship?" she asked, looking at the John B.
"Yes and no. We operate off the Thunder Clap, but this is our insertion ship when we are on the sly."
"Nice design, really pretty."
"Pretty? I suppose. Where is Captain Frost?"
"In the Warrens."
"Thanks," Juan jumped off the landing gear. "Find Marshall Vichy, or Tern Roarke, they'll fill you in on what you need to know."
"Thank you, Mr. Varis."
"Call me Juan," he told her as he walked away from the ship.
Juan waved over his shoulder, but did not look back.
Zanzibar had become the main base of the Battalion, mainly because it had the space and the structures they needed. There was talk of changing that, setting up in a quieter locale. It was still talk though.
The Warrens had been several Charybdis warehouses a month before. Now they were barracks and office space. Juan got lost once in the maze like interior. He had been there only two weeks ago and the place had been deserted. Now, while still obviously not near capacity, there were a lot of people wandering around.
He stopped outside of Captain Frost's door, then knocked.
"Come in," he heard from the other side of the door.
Juan pushed it open. Redding was seated behind a desk, working on a computer. The desk top was obscured by a small mound of printer paper.
"You wanted to see me?"
"Yes I did. Have seat, I just want to finish this. Do you know how many dissatisfied members of the SAC there are?"
"Six thousand, five hundred and thirty two," Juan answered, even though he knew the question had been retorical.
"What?" Redding looked up at him.
"Just a joke."
Redding shook his head. "There are a lot. We're trying to find as many who will be sympathetic to our cause. Quite a bit of work. I'd rather be alone of a new planet," he said the last softly, giving all his attention to his computer for a moment. "Done." He turned to look at Juan. "Mr. Varis, I'd like to thank you for all your hard work. If we had commendations, I'd make sure you were up for one."
"We failed," Juan said.
"Far from it. We accomplished the mission objectives. That you wanted to tweak the noses of the SAC, and the ODF as it turned out, by stealing their equipment and using it against them is understandable, but was not important. To put it plainly Mr. Varis, stop moping. Are you a thief or a soldier."
"Depends who you talk to," Juan said, managing a smile.
"You can't win every time. Sometimes you have to settle for surviving."
Juan nodded after a moment.
"In about three hours Thunderblade will be going to deal with some pirates the ODF and SAC are too busy to squash."
"You may go now."
Juan stood and walked to the door. He turned around and looked back at Redding who was working at the computer again. "Sir, I still don't like losing."
"I never said you had to like it," Redding said, not looking up.
Juan smiled wider, then shook his head and left the room, closing the door behind him.
"Captain Maxil," someone called.
Ree, Diane and Emiko looked up from the weapons they had been cleaning. Epiphany was running towards him.
"Epiphany?" Ree stood up. "What are you doing here?"
"The same as you, I would think. I'm also looking for a Marshall Vichy."
"You found her," Diane said. "What can I do for you?"
"Juan told me to find you. I've been assigned to your team."
"You?" Ree said, then laughed. "Why are you here?"
"You know me, I just fall into these sort of things."
"Got a ride?"
"My Draken followed me when I deserted. Damnedest thing."
"Tell me everyone else deserted as well."
"No such luck. General London still has most of his force."
"Too bad," Ree said. "Let me make the introductions. This is Epiphany Clarris, one time Lieutenant in Infinity Force. She's not the best dogfighter around, but she is good at high speed, pinpoint attacks. Epiphany, this is Marshall Diane Vichy. The Marshall is good at shooting people."
"Pleased to meet you," Diane held out her hand to Epiphany.
"Thank you," Epiphany shook her hand. "I've heard about you. It is an honour."
"And this is Emiko Miya, pretty useless all around in any combat situation, but we're working on that. You'll have to show her some of your tricks, and maybe something about flying as well."
Epiphany laughed and Emiko might have blushed, but it was hard to be certain. "Please to meet you," Epiphany held out her hand.
"Kochira koso (I should be saying that)," Emiko took her hand.
"Epiphany, mind if I tell them?" Ree asked.
Epiphany flushed slightly and turned her eyes down. "I guess it has to come out."
"Interesting choice of words. Epiphany is actually a man."
"Uso!" Emiko said, looking at the woman across from her.
"You're kidding," Diane said.
"She's not," Epiphany said. "I hope you don't think any less of me."
"Ah, who cares," Diane said.
"What about you Emi-chan," Ree asked. "Your prudish manners going to cause problems?"
"I'm not a prude, oneechan," Emiko said. "It's a bit strange, but I don't mind."
"Mentioned it to Juan yet?" Ree asked Epiphany.
"Not yet. Should I?"
"Oh, I'm sure he and Tern can find out on their own."
"That's cruel," Emiko said.
"I'm sure Juan and Tern will survive, Emi-chan."
"No, that's not it. It's cruel to Epiphany-san."
Epiphany smiled at Emiko. "It's all right," she told Emiko.
"It's an old joke, Emi-chan. One of these days Epiphany will make a choice, but until then, we might as well have a bit of fun with it."
"What do you mean make a choice?" Diane asked.
"Whether to toss aside her dresses and stuff or to make the changes that are deeper than just her clothing," Ree put her arm across Epiphany's shoulders. "After all, with the nanotech available, sex changes are pretty easy."
"I think you're being cruel again," Emiko said.
"Emi-chan is your 'too nice to be believed' type of girl," Ree told Epiphany. "I'm sure one day we will cure her of that."
"Ree is not being cruel, Emiko," Epiphany said. "She's just being herself," she gave Emiko a wicked smile.
"I guess that is true."
"See Emiko, this cute weirdo can take care of herself. Grab a seat," Ree said, directing Epiphany to one of the empty chairs. "Show the Marshall you know your way around a weapon and you'll have her respect."
Diane smiled. "Where did you buy that skirt?"
"Little shop in Kabush on Organon. The silk comes from the cocoons of one of the insects. The dye is also insect based."
"I'll have to keep an eye out," Diane said
"Want a drink?" Admiral Murakami asked Makoto.
"No thank you," Makoto told him.
"You were right on about what that blow up was really about."
"We still did not manage to save the stockpiles."
"True, but we kept most of the supplies from falling into ODF hands."
"Sir, I don't think it was ODF. On Vahn 4 there were the remains of an ODF equipment dump as well as ours."
The Admiral said nothing for a time. "Until we are positive, we say ODF."
"The last thing we need to do is publicly admit there it a organization out there that seems to want to hit the ODF and the SAC. It would be bad for morale. Hard enemy to fight, one that is going to be your ally fifty percent of the time."
"I see," Makoto said, and he did. He knew what the Admiral really meant.
"Good man. I've been thinking of assigning you a small group, just a cruiser and a couple of battle riders. We need someone to keep the bastards in the ODF from plundering worlds, destroying ecosystems."
"Thank you sir," Makoto said.
"Don't thank me yet, it hasn't come through, and if it does, well, you earned it."
"Thank you again. Sir," he said, standing. "If I may?"
"One more thing."
"Emiko-san, is she going to be a problem for you?"
Makoto said nothing for a time. "Maybe."
"Fair answer. Dismissed."
Makoto saluted smartly, then left the room.
Grendel gripped the asteroid miner by the collar of his vac-suit. He was a young man, more of a boy really. Grendel said nothing as he pushed his blade into the man's gut. He stared into his eyes almost for a minute before twisting the blade to break the muscle lock. He pushed the body away from him, watching it float off.
"Are we done?" Grendel turned to look at a man in ODF battle gear.
"They are all dead."
"Good," he grabbed the rifle the man he had just killed had been using. "Are you ready?"
"I am ready," the man said.
Grendel nodded and shot him in the forehead. The heavy round tore half of his skull off, effectively removing the Midnight Sun tattoo. Grendel tossed the rifle aside, kicking off. He floated by the dead man, looking at the expression in his remaining eye. The man had once been a member of the ODF, not so long ago. The Nemyss would be pleased with the way things had gone. Grendel did not doubt that blame would be placed on the shoulders of the ODF.
The bloody massacre was the sort of thing that made for good press. It scared people and the same time it made them angry and gave them a target for that anger.
Grendel did not look back as he floated out of the cave.
Ending Credits--same as before
Description: 175cm, 72kg, 25 years old, black hair, brown eyes.
Quote: "It may be embarrassing, but it is the truth."
Notes: Takashi was pretty average for most of his life. It only after graduation from university and going to work for the Tokyo Shinbun that things started to change for him. He realized that the news often saw changes between the gathering and the reporting. He could see the reason for thins, but he did not like it. He did not like it so much that he went out of his way to find all the embarrassing things and report them. It made him some enemies, but his column is very popular.
This got him involved with a number of similar minded people.
He follows the Gaian philosophy, and thinks that the colonies do need to be watched, just in case, but is against the war.
A fairly handsome young man, with a friendly, unflappable demeanor.
Important Stats and Skills: ATT 7, COOL 9, EMP 8, Persuasion & Fast Talk 7, Interview 8, Awareness/Notice 6, Write 7, Shadowing/Avoid Pursuit 6. Data Link.
Description: 180cm, 83kg, 31 years old, short brown hair, blue eyes.
Quote: "Let's stay calm and make sure no one gets hurt."
Notes: Sam's career as a Gaian Warden was short, but very successful. So successful that he was head hunted into a special branch of the Gaian enforcement. It was his skills that got him the job. He is not really a fanatic, even though he believes in the Gaian philosophy. He knows it is not perfect, but it is necessary to protect not only Earth but all the other ecosystems that man kind has and will come into contact with.
He was partnered with Ryu in hopes that Sam's cooler demeanor might help balance out Ryu. If did not work, but they made a very good team non the less.
Important Stats and Skills: INT 7, LUCK 7, REF 8, Intimidate 7, Streetwise 6, Expert Botany 6, Survival 6,Mecha Piloting 7. Data Link, Cyberoptics, skinweave.
Description: 196cm, 88kg, 33 years old, blonde hair.
Quote: "I think we're going to do it this way."
Notes: What Match's real name is, no one really knows. He could be any number of the people who left the Zeniths for the outside. He moved into, then out of then back into society regularly. When he was outside he grew to feel disdain with the people who lived out there, like scavengers, and he admired the Gaians who were trying to put it right. When he was inside, he would grow dissatisfied with the constraints that were imposed upon him and envious of the freedom the outsiders had. The fourth time he had come back in he realized he had two choices. Move to the Pleiades, or try to changes things. Not wanting to leave Earth, he took the later option.
Important Stats and Skill: BOD 9, INT 7, MA 9, REF 8, Intimidate 7, Resist Torture/Drugs 7, Awareness/Notice 7, Disguise 6, Survival 7, Handgun 6, Stealth 6, Datalink, Cyberoptics, Cyberaudio, Nanobodies, Subdermal Disguise.
Subdermal Disguise: Nanites under the skin can lighten or darken the skin, create scars, tattoos and other things. The particulars of each change are kept in bio-plastic circuit chips, similar to the chipware chips. Very simple changes, like skin colour, do not require chips. This option also effects eye, but not hair colour. MTS: Basic Cloaking (chameleon) Average bod of 6 X (1.0+0.15+0.5 [for live metal]) 1.98cp
Secure and quiet transmissions have always been required by all militaries. The ODF, SAC, and others use a variety of methods. Encrypted signals, tight beam transmissions and others. Skin to Skin is a very effective and very cheap method of ensuring that units could communicate without giving themselves away.
The paints (usually) of all mecha, or whatever is using the skin to skin com, is made conductive. The com system is connected to a point on the unit in question. If one suit, or whatever, makes physical contact with another, they are able to communicate over a simple, and private, intercom.
There is a circuit breaker between the paint contact and the radio so any damaging level of energy never makes it to the com system, though once the circuit breaker is blown it had to be replaced before the system will work again.
There is no cost for this system and it takes up no spaces.
"Watashi wa anata no ane, soshite haha, soshite anata."
--Miyu Kyuuketsuki ga Yui ni itta
Shawn Hagen <email@example.com>