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With a lever big enough I can move the world{BattleTech CYOA]

Discussion in 'Creative Writing' started by MageOhki, Nov 10, 2018.

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  1. Czlyydwr Llrngwl

    Czlyydwr Llrngwl "Sell ya a door Learn gull" Czly/Celly for short.

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    Heist movies never go according to plan, though. Kiki at least should know this, even if everyone else is too in-character.
     
  2. MageOhki

    MageOhki Making the rounds.

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    Cabbit looks shifty eyed, whistling innocently....



    (Side note: Let's just say, this is 80's style. Hit the ground running! And...)


    Possible near future scene:

    Hanse eyed the young woman before him. "If you're right, Kikyo, how important would you say the Argo is? And what would you do in my shoes?"
     
  3. Czlyydwr Llrngwl

    Czlyydwr Llrngwl "Sell ya a door Learn gull" Czly/Celly for short.

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    Heist movies seem to have been more of a 60s and 70s thing actually, aside from A Fish Called Wanda. Well, there's The Muppet Caper in 1981, too... but then I suppose that makes it the perfect material to be taken over the top in an 80s show's tribute episode. Of course, from the perspective of 30XX, what's a decade either way? :D

    Edit: It's been a few hours, but I don't have much to add to this besides that it's very 80s for something released last year, and the "Don't tell me what you can't do, baby, show me what you can do and do more" refrain seems to fit the message of the fic rather well.



    non-embedded link
     
    Last edited: Dec 5, 2018
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  4. MageOhki

    MageOhki Making the rounds.

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    ... Czly... that's .. yeah. 80's.
     
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  5. Starfox5

    Starfox5 Experienced.

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    Very nice story so far. Love the wild characters and colourful past, which I hope will keep cropping up.
     
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  6. Silverbullet

    Silverbullet I trust you know where the happy button is?

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    Sargeant Alexander Armstrong, Punching his way into Samurai mechs has been in his family FOR GENERATIONS!
     
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  7. Omni

    Omni Know what you're doing yet?

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    I wonder if he has a Hot Sister called Olivia?
     
  8. MageOhki

    MageOhki Making the rounds.

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    /me gives two cookies. One to Silver Bullet, one to Omni.

    Thank you all for reading, too.
     
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  9. Silverbullet

    Silverbullet I trust you know where the happy button is?

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    Actually if you have the good Sergeant as Jump Infantry this could be his method of anti-mech combat. Especially if he has a pneumatic spike gauntlet to use as a breaching tool.
     
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  10. Omni

    Omni Know what you're doing yet?

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    Or a Rocket Fist on a Chain!
     
  11. MageOhki

    MageOhki Making the rounds.

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    Alas, he is acutally a *Marine* Space cerfted, too!
     
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  12. kaazmiz

    kaazmiz Waiting for an Issekai Adventure

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    I get a feeling that the original Kiko, after hearing those "demands" swimming out of the royal, would just have everyone board the dropships and lift off.
    Not leave the system mind you, but make a silly impulsive statement that she does not appreciate being ordered around... then still show up for diner.

    There are a lot of shortened names of places or polities in this chapter. Would it be a problem to attach some explanations to them, as I am not a BT fan?
     
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  13. Threadmarks: Chapter 2.2
    MageOhki

    MageOhki Making the rounds.

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    Edited chapter two follows.
    And a bit later than planned but at least done here's part 2 of Chapter 2.

    “Keep it simple, keep it easy.” Ichigo advised again as we walked out, which triggered something in me.

    I paused for a moment, and turned to look at him with a sweet smile. “Dear brother… my unit, my people, and I do believe I have more experience in public speaking than you do.” I paused again, stomping on the panic at not having a script to work off of, and continued smiling. “I do think you believe you are in charge.” My smile dropped. “Correct that belief. These are my people, my responsibility, not yours. I have to inform them of who am I, what I intend, and convince them that they should stay under a 20 year old who’s rep is ‘party girl actress’, not a halfway decent battlefield commander or one with the potential to be such.”

    I resumed walking, and threw over my shoulder. “Me. Not you. You might be assigned to join me, or be part of this unit, yes, but you will never be the one who the buck stops for here. You made your choices, live with them. I did.” I threw my hair back and strode to the podium, leaving dead silence behind me, and feeling a bit lighter. Apparently I had some anger towards Ichigo’s choices in life. Something to work on, but... Time to give a speech.

    Stepping up to the mic, seeing the cameras zooming in on me behind the gathered personnel, which a quick count showed well over 500 people, I knew it was showtime. Time to convince people who had no good reason to trust my abilities. Drawing a deep breath, I started and leaned slightly into the microphone. An impish thought took me, and for a brief second, I examined it. And then ran with it.

    “Hello, everyone. I’m Kiyko Onishi. I’m not an actress portraying your new commander, I am the owner and commander today. This wasn’t what I planned on. This wasn’t what you planned on, this wasn’t what my father planned on, clearly. But that’s the universe for you.” Looking around at the reactions, I nodded once and continued on.

    “I didn't know much about my father, except he was competent and did his best to meet his responsibilities. I didn’t know that he was putting together a mercenary regiment. I didn’t know he was going to leave it to me, or I’d have studied a few other areas than the engineering program I just finished, magna cum laude, I might add.” Sipping at a glass of water, I took the moment to gather my thoughts.

    “What I do know is he was an excellent leader, an excellent judge of character, and someone who had the ability to pick those who’d be best for the jobs he had in mind. He was also a explorer, both of space and history. The proof is literally in front of me and behind me.” I waved at the Colossus that was behind me, then at the senior people of the unit.

    “I also know that the primary purpose of a mercenary unit can be summed up as ‘Make the other sorry son of a bitch die for his nation or contract.’ I also know that I can learn to truly command a unit, and do well. Otherwise, Father would not have sent you to me, he had other children, and of course his heir to his title. I know I can fight a battlemech, and even have some training to do so. I know, given time, I can do what my father wanted. Which is to command you. Lead you. Fight with you. He sent you to me, because he could no longer meet his responsibility towards you. He entrusted me with that, and I will not let you down. I will not break up what he started. I will not fail in the trust he left me.”

    Leaning forward even more, I grew more intense. “What I need from you, is your decision. Do you want me to lead you. Do you want to stay in the unit. Do you trust me to rise to what you need me to be? And I need that answer by tomorrow afternoon. Time waits for no one, and as always, vultures gather. Again, I am Kikyo Onishi, your new commander and leader. And I will lead us well. Which means I will listen, I will learn, and I will care. Which means I have a lot of learning to do, and a lot of work to do, to get up to speed.”

    I stepped back and nodded once. “Dismissed.” Murmurs rose as the people clumped together to talk to each other, and I turned to the closer group. Father’s senior people who survived, and of course my family and friends.

    “Nice speech.” Sved spoke in a soft rumble as I approached. “I’ve told the senior officers to assemble, but this is Evie Cook, our chief technician.”

    A weathered dirty blond looked over my clothing, tsking. “No cooling suit, even walking on a tarmac?”

    “Bun Bun runs very cool.” I smiled.

    “He’s an Archer, that’d have to be a modified one… How much training do you have?” Evie asked.

    “About 3 to 4 months instruction by mercs, plus since I got Bun Bun an half hour to hour a day sim practice.” I shrugged. “My conservator was quite pointed that I… ah, how did she put it? Ah! ‘Did not need to use a Battlemech, even if she owned it, since an actress or fusion engineer had no place…’” I sighed. “So…”

    Evie thought for a moment. “I see. I’ll get several techs to look her over. She’s not standard, that’s for sure. Too smooth for a rookie.”

    “He.” I shook my head.

    “Ah.” The tech shrugged. “No matter. He was moving too smooth to be anything less than fine tuned, either you had very good techs, are much better than you indicate or…” Before she could finish a rough voice broke in.

    “She’s fluff. Hasn’t even thought about fighting a day in her life, Evie. And she couldn’t have moved the mech, she’s not been trained to do so.” A bearded giant of a man strode forward, looking like a wall of muscle. He glared down at me, and I shot him a look, itching to just show him. “We should have been sent to Baron Azula, not her.” Before I could shoot back at him, Gry rumbled.

    “We weren’t, because he is, in order, first a shit commander, second a traitor to the Archon, third so politically naive he actually believes the crap Lestrange is peddling. Kikyo at least isn’t stupid, has been used to direction so if needs be we can shape her, which you are good at, and is also very much a person who looks after her own. Or so the very expensive private detectives her father hired indicated.” He smiled. “Among other things, some of which was easy to find out.”

    “Azula isn’t that bad…” Uri started, only to be looked at by a still young looking blonde who walked up.

    “Uri, he is, and he blames it on his subordinates. Or do you not remember how I came to the Count’s attention?” As Uri paused for a moment, she turned to me. “Hey, I’m a fan of your movies… not as bad as Armstrong, but who is?” She winked. “Jaroslava, one of your mechwarriors.”

    I nodded, smiling at her, then turning to Uri. “I see.” My smile grew sharp and Ichigo started muttering under his breath. “Care to put your pride where your mouth is?”

    “What?”

    “Here, now, unarmed, first to be knocked out.” I smiled innocently at him. “It’s not like you have anything to fear, is it?”

    Uri looked up and down. “You have no training, girl…” He paused. “And this isn’t a movie set.”

    I looked at Gry. “You said Father made a file on me…” He nodded. “Did Uri read it?”

    “He did.” I blinked at the response

    “Give my lawyer the detectives’ names, we want that money back.” I nodded, and turned to Uri, who was considering me as he looked up and down my frame, noting that for all the softness of my curves, there was muscle and tone backing it up, plus his expression was saying something about me bothered him.

    “Bah. She’s just fluff. Movie fluff.” He stripped off his jacket, and settled into a boxing stance.

    “Call it.” I looked at Gry, who nodded, as I stepped roughly ten feet away from him and settled into a watchful stance.

    “No lethal blows, no crippling.” Gry waited til we both nodded, but before he could speak the starting words, Jaroslava broke in.

    “You all know she actually does all her own fight scenes, right?” The blonde grinned, as she looked at the giant.

    Gry shook his head. “Go.”

    I let my ki flow, and hit the watchful state that all good practitioners needed as Uri advanced, careful to keep his guard up, and watching my hands.

    As his fist darted in, I flowed down, and into a kick, aiming for his side, to disable him as fast as possible, but for a man of his size, he was quick, though my kick did stagger him enough that my follow through jump kick caught his jaw, knocking him to one side, and as I came down, I spun again in another kick.

    This one connected firmly on his temple, and down he went.

    “Good thing you used the side of your foot.” Gry said mildly.

    A redheaded woman, with a bag with a red cross on it dropped next to the fallen giant. “Next time you feel the need to beat sense into Uri, ma’am, make sure he’s wearing headgear.” A pause, as she checked his eyes. “And don’t kick him in the temple. He’s got a mild concussion I suspect.”

    I shrugged, but before I could respond, a man spoke. “Flashy, but I recognize the style from another lady I saw fight, when I was still a believer in the crap sold in the Combine.” I looked at an half asian man. “I’m Tokutomi Kartodirdjo, your father saved me from being killed by ISF, when I thought flying starships for the DCA was not a good idea anymore. Cumin here,” He jerked a thumb at a swarthy redheaded man, “is my boss, and runs the Fleet.” I nodded at both men, who had the classic pale look of spacers.

    “My mother taught me, and I learned some from here and there, as well.” I smiled.

    “Uh-huh. I’m not asking any more questions.” He shrugged and leaned against the podium.

    “Urg..” Uri groaned as the doctor put smelling salts under his nose…

    “What were you doing?” The redhead’s voice was calm.

    “Showing some fluff she wasn’t on a movie set… why am I on the ground?”

    “Yeah, you have a mild concussion, because she kicked your ass.” The Doctor stated amused. “And she made it look easy.

    “... oh.”

    Ichigo broke in. “Thank you, sincerely on agreeing to being her kicking bag today. She needed to blow off steam. And I was getting the feeling it was time for another of our… ah, spars. I rather not replace another cup this week, thank you very much.”

    Uri with a bit of help eyed me blearly. “Okay.” He winced at the sunlight. “So, you’re not totally fluff.” He paused, rubbing his side. “And kick like a cornered rabbit. I should know better.” He straightened, and shook his head. “Okay, okay. I deserved that. But will you listen to what we have to say?”

    “Of course.” I shrugged. “I’d be a fool not to listen to those who know what they’re doing in their fields.”

    “Good… good… now I’m going to go get an ice pack.” He staggered off, followed by a few others.

    “Huh.” I shook myself. “Okay, I do need to see Gry, Cumin and Evie, I think, plus whoever’s in charge of the dropships… and the rest can go get information on what our people want to do?” I looked around at everyone, some I just met, some who hadn’t been introduced. Several nods responded to my statement. “Right, let’s get going. The clock’s ticking, we’re not a proven by law unit yet, and the Federated Suns, specifically the First Prince, is eying his checkbook, and wondering how much the courts will say he has to pay to get our stuff.” I clapped my hands. “Go, go… I have dinner with him tomorrow, and I want to give him an answer that means we stay together and keep most, if not all our stuff.” Several smiles, several nods.

    Gry nodded at the three I mentioned, and to the others, backed me up. “Get to it, people, she’s right, time’s a ticking.”

    As the rest scattered, I looked at the two remaining who Gry had waved at. “Ma’am, this is Tim Nichols, our overall dropship commander, he flies a Mammoth.” The weathered spacer nodded at me, and he was of a cut my inner Kikyo found tasty, slim, ripped and a bit salt and pepper with piercing black eyes. His wave at the younger Indian looking woman, who spoke.

    “I’m Meheitav’el Mari, I fly a Vengeance, and acting overall combat dropship CO.” Her smooth alto was soft. She had the look Ichigo and fellow pilots did, though the metal peeking out of her jumpsuit’s leg said why she wasn’t in a cockpit. She noticed my glance. “Bad ejection from a Sparrowhawk. As your brother can tell you, it’s not healthy taking one of those up against the Snakes.”

    “Lucky they didn’t shoot you while you were *out* of your Sparrowhawk.” Ichigo mildly noted.

    “They tried. Is why I have a new leg. Nowhere good as the older model, alas.” She shrugged. “Was bumming around for a bit, your sister’s father picked me up to run the ships, since I had some experience in covering assault ops, both from a command deck and an fighter.”

    Ichigo’s eyebrow rose a bit, but he nodded.

    “Right.” Clapping my hands together, I drew the five’s attention to me. “Issues. Evie, as Chief Technician, you’re also handling supplies?” She nodded. “What’s the major issue we have to solve right now.”

    Evie raised her eyebrow as to ask where did I figure there was one. “Food, well, coffee and food, plus Diesel. We’re virtually out of the former two, except the jumpships having two months worth each, and we’re out of gas for our ICE. Which do I prioritize, and do you have any good sources?”

    “Coffee, then food. Don’t worry about fuel for the ICE, hydrogen though… And” I turned to look at Rayanne who nodded. “Rayanne can help there.”

    “No fuel? Not for our tanks?” Gry asked mildly, a clear question, as if he was questioning my thinking.

    I grinned, looking at Aiko who was bouncing in glee, based off one of our discussions on how stupid logistics were in the 31st century. “Nope. Well, low priority, as with a bit of luck, we’ll replace all engines with fuel cells.

    Evie’s eyebrows drew together as she narrowed her eyes, while Gry and Uri who had walked back in were about to speak.

    It was Mari who spoke up first. “Aren’t those just for civilian use? Not reliable enough? Cranky? Short ranged?”

    I shook my head, a few loose bangs flying around. “Don’t our industrial mechs have them? As for reliability, they’re pretty solid. I’m thinking of not having to tote around two types of fuel.”

    “She’s right. They’re as reliable as the ICE’s we got, and I’ll admit, not having to tote Diesel, just water or hydrogen around would simplify things a bit, and water’s easy to get. Yeah, we’d take a range hit, but the cells, offhand, are lighter, so we might be able to make up the range by bigger tanks.” She paused, then nodded. “Risk of explosions due to the hydrogen instead of Diesel, but realistically, tanks burn easy anyways.”

    Gry’s eyes narrowed, and a slight smile crossed his face. “And the fact no one uses them for military?”

    Evie shrugged slightly. “NIH? Laziness? Annoyance at having to reequip? Scarborough Tried with the J-Edgar, DCMS wasn’t buying, which also likely threw off people. Of course, since you had to add heat sinks to the poor hover, in that case, to keep it’s weapon load, it did suck.”

    Uri snorted. “And the others?” Evie shrugged.

    “Don’t ballistics and missiles not need cooling on tanks?” I raised an eyebrow at Evie. “And well…” I shrugged. “Less fuel types, and one that requires processing our reactors can do…” I paused, and nodded once. “I figure since the SLDF didn’t use them at all for military use, most people missed the boat, and well… ‘If the SLDF didn’t do it…’”

    A snort there was shared. I grinned. “Exactly. Evie, is it possible?”

    “Sure.” She looked at the others. “It’d require people, and money to buy the cells, and time, of course.”

    Several more people walked up. “Hey. I’m Meta Jinks. I run your infantry” The short and weathered black woman waved a hand at the man that stepped next to her. ”Albert here, Albert Shelton, “ a classic English looking man nodded. “Is your tanker boss.”

    A Half Japanese woman eyed me, her gray hair speaking to her age, though the small number of wrinkles indicated she wasn’t too old. “I’m Micte Messana, your fighter boss. Hydrogen? Why?”

    “I’d be curious, myself.” Albert spoke up in a New Avalon accent himself.

    Evie raised her eyebrows at me. I nodded.

    “Replace all our ICE’s with Fuel cells.” I saw a bit of puzzlement finally breaking through on my words, so I expanded. “Hydrogen burning engines, not fusion reactors.” I sighed. “Okay, simple? You take hydrogen gas, oxygen, run it through an electrical setup, out comes water and electricity. And as any person who has studied fusion engineering or worked on reactors, or had ‘Emergency fueling 101 of your mech’ knows, crackers, or the device used to break hydrogen and oxygen apart from water, is built into every fusion reactor just about.” I grinned. “Or Fusion Design 101 lied to me.”

    Albert narrowed his eyes. “That’d help, but Hydrogen is explosive… but.” He shrugged. “I doubt it’s much more of a risk than Diesel, in some cases. Why hasn’t more people done this?” Evie answered him in an aside, quietly.

    “Any other pressing issues tech or supply wise that has to be handled now?” I raised an eyebrow as Evie finished.

    “Yes.” Evie raised an eyebrow. “‘Fusion Design 101 lying to you’?”

    “Magna Cum Laude, Capitol City University, Fusion Engineering.” I smiled sweetly. I shrugged at the slight looks of amusement and questions. “I figured it’d be cheaper to maintain Bun Bun, if I could do a lot of the work myself. And acting degrees are for posers. If I’m going to spend money on a degree, I’m getting a degree that pays well in a career that I can have as backup.”

    Evie grinned. “Smart.” Several nods ran around at that.

    I looked at her. “Anything else?” She shook her head and waved at Cummin.

    “Fuel for the jump and dropships, and all fusion reactors are done, Ma’am, and while I’d want to set up a rotation for liberty, I can handle that, though would like to know how long we’ll be here.” The swarthy jumpship officer nodded. “I expect a bit while recruiting.” I nodded at that.

    “Okay. I’ll get you that info as fast as possible.” I nodded and turned to look at the others.

    Gry pointed at Albert.

    “I’d appreciate some range time and exercise time for my crews, considering you’re going to sideline their vehicles, but, it’s not critical. And I’ll add to Gry’s request for more people, as I expect he’ll do.” I nodded at the officer that Ichigo was staring at.

    “I understand, and in fact, if at all possible, schedule in field exercises for all units. I’ll see about renting some training grounds.” I looked at everyone who nodded. “Give me… well, give me and Rayanne,” The named woman sighed, put upon, though I didn’t miss the cash register sounds in her mind. “2 days?” I looked at everyone, who nodded again.

    Gry looked around at everyone else who shook their head, leaving it to him. I raised an eyebrow.

    He smiled. “As you can guess, we need to register our new name with the MRB, “

    The Mercenary Review Board, aka Comstar’s attempt to control the mercs was the rating and bonding agency for the mercenary units and the houses. “And of course, get you registered with the Mercenary Guild.” The Guild was for the mercenaries themselves. It did what the MRB did for units, but for individual mercenaries. I nodded.

    “And start recruiting as fast as possible?” I smiled innocently. He grinned back.

    “You understand. As you, yourself pointed out, the First Prince knows, and well, why make it easy for him?” Gry’s slight smile was shared by most, though Albert and Ichigo looked a bit bothered.

    “Can’t say that’s a bad idea.” I paused. “Right, I have dinner with him scheduled tomorrow, do we have a uniform yet?” Gry shook his head, and I grinned. “That I can take care of shortly.” Gry’s eyebrow rose at that statement.

    “Professionalism. Not only should we have a uniform, it helps with recruiting and with morale, so our people know we’re a unit. Not a cast together bunch headed mostly in one direction. And...” I smiled at Ichigo. “Prince Davion will understand the message of me in a uniform that’s registered with the Guild and MRB means.”

    Uri relaxed slightly at that, and several more nods. I looked around, and noted that no one seemed to want to press the issue, though Jinks and Uri were trading looks. Finally Uri himself spoke. “No insult to the First Prince intended, but you need a security detail. Putting aside the threat that LOKI provides, your half brother was very angry, and well… can’t argue he’s capable of doing some dumb things.”

    Ichigo interrupted. “Got a call in to a person who owes me a favor, for a good detail, or at least a solid line on one.” Uri looked stubborn til Jenks herself spoke up.

    “I’ll detail Armstrong’s squad for short term, until your line comes though, though I’d want to verify their skills.” She shook her head. “It’s not just LOKI, or an idiot…” She mildly glared at Uri, who raised his hand in a manner indicating between the two to drop it. “Or even other national actors I’m concerned about. Let’s… say lostech finders have had a bad habit of ending up dead. By ‘unknown’ actors.” Her voice dripped sarcasm.

    Ichigo nodded. “Works for me.”

    I looked around, a bit annoyed. “If you’re all finished making decisions for me…”

    Gry interrupted. “Ma’am, Meta’s in charge of security. Let her do her job… and Uri is the person I had slated to actually act as somewhat of a mentor.”

    I blushed slightly. “Oh.” I paused and nodded once. “Good leaders find people and let them do their jobs.” I shook my head.

    “Exactly.” He looked around and nodded. “I’ll go with you to see the uniform idea, and then we can go deal with the Board and Guild.” He raised an eyebrow at that, seeing if I’d challenge him. Since I agreed with him, I simply nodded. “REST of you, get to work. Bed down the people in the warehouses, so they can spread out, and start uncrating the equipment.” Everyone nodded and with various salutes, departed.

    Evie had remained behind for a moment. “Can I have Bun Bun’s override? So we can get him into a bay?”

    I shook my head. “A friend, who’s also a tech has it, Debora Hickey. She’s next to him.” Evie nodded with this, and moved off to where Bun Bun was waiting.

    Gry turned to look at me. “We also have to discuss organization ma’am… and ranks.”

    I pulled out a chip from my valley and handed it to him. “My thinking on targeting recruiting, Table of Organization, Table of Equipment, and rank structure, Brigadier, if I may be so bold…”

    His eyebrows hit his hairline.

    “I didn’t sleep much last night.”

    Pulling out a clunky datapad, my mind screamed. Fuck you futurists of the 80’s. Unlike the sleekness of a Kindle or Ipad of the other world me would know, this looked like something you’d see in Star Trek, the original series for that. Did explain why his side cargo pocket on his trousers bulgeled, though. Putting the chip in, he used the controls to tab throughout the document I had spent several hours creating. By the time he finished a fast scan though, I’d have sworn his eyebrows hit the back of his neck.

    Finally he looked at me. “Remarkably complete and has some things that, unless you leaned on your brother, it shouldn’t. Most units don’t organise support that deeply.” Ichigo raised an eyebrow, and was passed the datapad. “But workable, very workable. I note the uniform design, though I only saw it in monochrome. Will do for a dress or semi formal one.”

    “We really do need to form the Command unit as fast as we can, I believe.” I nodded. “That’ll make any other issue moot, with courts or unit, if there’s a solid combined arms regiment with support to build around…” I trailed off.

    “Agreed. I’d not say that it’d completely constrain anyone, but the Suns, like the Commonwealth, is a nation of laws. That’s before the Review Board, and it’s master Comstar gets involved.” He nodded. “And outside the advanced technology, Davion wouldn’t have a leg to stand on, if there is a unit. I have a car arranged, let’s pick up Armstrong and his squad, and get to the offices, if you’re meeting with Davion tomorrow.”

    I grinned. “Let’s.”

    Guifier’s Clothier, Avalon City, New Avalon, Early Afternoon, Jan 2nd, 3015,

    “Kiki, Kiki, Kiki.” The man shook his head sorrowfully. “You never write, you never call, unless you need something. A man would think you don’t love him anymore…”

    I rolled my eyes. “Didn’t we talk New Year’s eve?” I grinned taking the sting out.

    He put his hand to his heart, “But that was business! Not pleasure!”

    “Uh-huh, and you staying for most of the party?” I just shook my head.

    He grinned. “Well, so many…”

    “Right, pretty pretty boys you call men.” I singsonged. His laughter rang.

    Ichigo and Gry were just looking at each other, sighing. Richard, the proprietor of the shop finally stopped pulling my chain, and turned to look at the two gentlemen. “Does your brother need a new dress uniform, Kikyo? And this gentleman a tuxedo for an event?” He walked around the two men. Ichigo just snickered at Gry’s uneasiness.

    “No, and stop the ham.” I mentally marked my XO’s discomfort, and wondered was it the frank appraisal, or Rich’s usual routine with customers who didn’t know him very well. “How is your wife… and five children.”

    “Six. And you well know how Lisa is, since she catered your party for New Year’s” He answered absently. Gry’s head snapped around.

    “Yes, Richard’s a fan of the classic style, where in New York City in the 80’s all the fashion designers were gay.” I rolled my eyes. “It’s all a clever trick to get young women to strip and let him feel them up, even though he’s dedicated to his wife.”

    “But it works.” Richard protested. “And I can’t say I don’t love my job!”

    “Ah… It’s not the flamboyant act. It’s I thought we were here for uniforms, a tux? Really?” Gry finally spoke, bemused. He shook his head. “I’ve seen worse. You should see Mira butch it up when she’s of the mind.”

    Richard turned to me. “Uniforms? You?”

    I shrugged my shoulders. “Hanse Davion wants to ah… acquire my inheritance from my father.” I tapped my lips with a finger and nodded once. “It’s mostly equipment, but with a solid core to form a merc unit, right now… combined arms regiment, give or take?”

    “With lift, lots of lift, yes, ma’am.” Gry nodded.

    “But there’s enough equipment easily for a division.” I nodded. “And some of it… well. I can’t blame the Prince for wanting it. But there’s implicit.. Duty involved.”

    “Uh-huh.” Richard looked long and hard for a moment. “I’m not quite sure I buy that. You spent too much getting that gift from his parents fitted right.” He shrugged a bit though. “However, do you have sketches of the uniform?” He accepted a chip from me, and put it into a reader on his counter.

    The holo fuzzed a bit, til Richard thumped the display, then it steadied. I grinned. “So?”

    “Kikyo, dear…” He shook his head as he pulled up a display and went to work, adjusting, redrawing some lines, checking layers. “Do you have preference for color… ah, I see. Hmm, delineated by branch of service, nice touch…. Oh, Kiki, kiki, kiki. You didn’t talk to Ichigo, did you?”
    “Oh?” I tilted my head.

    “Turtleneck pullover of a soft wool blend for summer? And this fabric choice. Gah! You’ve driven mechs before, Kikyo, you know how hot they get.” Richard looked at me slightly amused. Gry’s wince could be heard.

    “Oh… I wasn’t thinking Summer.” Richard and Ichigo both shot me a look that said ‘Clearly.’ Gry snickered a bit.

    Richard returned to the display and nodded once. “But workable. Very much so. While I don’t get many commissions for merc units, I’m aware the better ones do… the fly by nights or small ones… don’t.” He paused. “With these modifications, it’ll present the image you want, yes. More breathable fabric, and a light pullover with a turtleneck collar for summer will generally do, though you have a notation, this is duty, not combat or work uniform. For a dress variant, may I suggest adding a cape?” He sketched one on, and let it show, with four images in the holo. Two male, two female, one without, one with cape, and the caped ones wearing a slim rapier next to it.

    Gry leaned forward, and Richard looked at me. “My XO.” Richard leaned back to let Gry study the images. First, starting from the bottom were cavalry, or shin high boots, female version having a two to three inch heel, then for males, baggy black trousers, tucked into the boots, the female uniform with a straight a-line skirt with it’s hemline at just below the knee. A single-breasted space jacket with a black stripe along a sealing strip, which attached to a over the right shoulder strap which held the rank of the wearer covered the torso and waist, clinched by a belt with a Houou,my family crest or kamon as I thought of it.

    “Silver piping for enlisted along the sealing, rank bars the same for enlisted, gold for officer, their pips in gold as well.” Richard commented sotto voice. “Branch color is the turtleneck, strap and name plate, except for mechwarriors, where the name’s in white, since their branch color is black. Space personnel use a red color for the jacket, not black. I removed the cuff band, no need for it, not really.”

    “Cycle the colors, show the work uniform.” Gry commanded mildly, and Richard put it into words.

    “No taste for the work uniforms, none at all, Kikyo.” Richard shook his head sorrowfully. The technician and medical jumpsuits had their shoulders and to their breast line in their branch color, with rank pins at the same place they’d be on the duty uniform, while the rest tended to have fatigues of the late 20th century US Army, also called BDU’s, with branch color for their name, and rank in dull white or yellow depending on enlisted or officer at their right collar. To the self from the 20th century, I recognized the Star trek uniform, modified of course. The capes on the ‘dress’ versions only went to the waist, and were the same color of the jacket. They attached to the uniform at carefully hidden clasps at the collarbone points, and had a braided rope in branch color connecting the two clasps

    “I have to admit, I like the touch of the leather jacket, Richard for flight crew” Ichigo spoke up after that image had shown, a soft leather jacket in the style called bomber, with a strap for rank and rank.

    “That was Kikyo's idea, I just adjusted it slightly.” Richard looked at Ichigo’s jacket pointedly. “I wonder where she got the idea.”

    “Yep.” Ichigo’s amusement could be heard in his word.

    “It’ll do. It’ll do very well.” Gry pronounced. “It’s professional, yet conveys a image, and works to unify the unit. And the shoulder patches are a nice touch, left shoulder for the overall flash, right for the regimental flash, if we end up being multi regimental, that is”

    “Dear Kikyo forgot one thing.” Richard returned to his keyboard, and typed in a few commands. “May I suggest a Beret of this style? It’s called American, with the regimental flash on it, except for senior senior officers, who wear the overall crest?”

    I paused, grinning. My inner old self demanded this. I really wanted now the Black Beret back. “In branch color?”

    Gry tilted his head one way, then the other. “And rank pins on it, as well, over the flash, and we’re good. Perfect. At least outside actual field work, then we’d want helmets, but for garrison or day uniforms, much less formals, yes. How long for one for the boss, one for me? Do provide the capes. And I gather providing full pattern for mass production is a non issue?”

    “Oh… yes.” He grinned. “I don’t do mass production, m’boy. But patterns for shops that do? Yes. There’s been several times, studios needed uniforms of a ‘design’, and came to me for the pattern.” Gry nodded at Richard. “As for how long… Hmm. I’d have to fit you, that’d take … call it an hour for that. Berets, Trousers, the pullover? Half hour per person, I have those or can quickly put one together, it’s a stock pattern. Patches… I can send the design to a shop that’ll have them here in 2 hours. Jacket’s the pain,and Kikyo’s skirt.” He pulled the holo up and looked closer. “Bomber Jacket, I’d have to order, at least the dye job on it, that’ll take time, I don’t do that. Cape’s trivial. It’s the jacket. Call it… hour at most to sketch it… say two to make it at most.” He paused. “A skirt for Kikyo isn’t a real problem, it’s putting in the mag strip at the stripe so she can move if needs be.”

    “I see.” Gry turned to me and nodded.

    “Okay… 3 hours, then?” I sighed. “Your normal account?”

    “Oh, yes, invoice will be delivered, with the pattern.” He grinned knowing why I sighed. He was the best on planet, but charged as such. Richard turned to Gry. “And as for you, I’ll let Melissa put her hands all over you. Not my thing, you understand.” He winked.

    Gry dryly replied. “And having a woman run her hands over me, does happen to be a thing of mine, so we’re both pleased.”

    “Excellent!” Richard turned to look at Ichigo who simply shook his head.

    “But while we wait, Richard, can I use your phone?” Richard nodded at Ichigo, who walked behind the counter.

    I watched as Gry got measured, and slowly drifted over to the counter, listening to Ichigo’s second call.

    “Hey, Morgan, this is Ichigo.” He nodded at the response he got. “Right, right, you said you owed me one. Collecting on it.” He grinned at the response. “Well, this is easy. Need at least a good name for a bodyguard, highly professional. Someone who can put in a full detail.” He nodded at the response. “Kikyo, you met her once, picked up a merc unit as inheritance.” The snicker that escaped him from the response had my eyebrow climbing. After he caught himself. “So, I need a name or some. Got any?”

    Ichigo blinked at the response. “Really? Seriously? Who?” His expression went blank on the response. “I got to hear this. When?” He tilted his head. “Well, you know of Guifier’s?” He nodded at the response. “So… Cheerful Hopes, half hour?” He grinned. “Yeah, I’ll buy the first, least I can do. I got to hear this, Morgan. See you.”

    Hanging up the phone, he raised his voice. “We lucked out, it appears the guy I was owed a major favor not only is at loose ends right now, but is willing to personally consider the detail role.”

    “Who?” Gry’s voice raised.

    “Major Morgan Blackhand.” Ichigo grinned. “Kiki met him… what, five years ago?” I nodded, a cigar smoking stubble faced man appearing in my memories, who had said he owed Ichy big.

    “... what does he do?” Gry didn’t move an inch, but was curious.

    “Can’t say, though he wears DMI patches.” Ichigo’s voice rose in a challenge.

    Gry’s silence said he understood.

    I tilted my head. “Okay, why would he be willing to do it himself?” I tilted my head the other way. “And he’s a Rabid Fox, I’d bet.” Ichigo’s wince confirmed what I said. “Again, why?”

    “He’ll tell you, when he tells me, but apparently.. Well, black ops stink for a reason.”

    Gry’s voice dryly responded. “You’d be shocked at how many mercs have done them before becoming a merc, and been covered with the aftereffects.”

    Ichigo and I paused. Finally I sighed. “It’s likely less than I expect, Gry. Much less.”

    Gry paused at that. “That’s a story there, Ma’am… that’s a story on how you are that cynical.”

    “And one you might never know.” Ichigo responded before I could, only to grimace as my fist impacted his waist.

    Don’t answer for me. Even if right.” I turned to Gry and raised my voice. “Not today at the very least, Gry, not today.”

    “Ah.” The pause indicated several things. “Everyone has secrets, Ma’am, mercs more than most, and a past. As long as it doesn’t come back to bite, in the end… no one cares.”

    I grinned. “That’s the plan. That’s the plan. To have the past stay the past.”

    Cheerful Hopes, Capital City, New Avalon, Mid afternoon.

    Stepping through the doors, my eyes casually swept the bar, comparing it to several other times I had been in it. I froze when my mind came up with a mismatch, and said that at least a dozen people were too fit and too observant to be the normal bar crowd. Gry had stopped when I did, only to follow me as I had recognized the man we were to meet, who had a quirked eyebrow as Ichigo hadn’t broken stride. Shortly we were at his table.

    “Major Blackhand, I presume.” I said dryly. “And your friends.” He smirked, looking at Ichigo who blinked and scanned the room, with Gry nodding behind me, understanding why I had frozen slightly.

    “Good instincts.” His gravelly voice was approving. “More than your brother.” He waved at a chair, and I dropped my Silver Ice Weasel fur coat in the chair next to him.

    “I’m wondering at times how he survived on the Kuritan Front, yes.” I dryly commented, shooting him a glare. “Or other times.” Ichigo didn’t say a word, knowing that he was in trouble for several things though he wasn’t sure what. “I’m surprised. When did Cheerful Hopes become… Frothy Fox, I think it is?”

    Morgan grinned around his cigar. “You’re right there. Got a few drinks on order, hope your XO doesn’t mind, but got him a Timbuktu Dark.” Gry nodded his thanks.

    “So.” I looked at Gry who raised an eyebrow, indicating this was my job. Turning back to Morgan, I steepled my fingers together. “Why are you willing to quit MI6?” MI6, or Military Intelligence, Section 6 of the Department of Military Intelligence, was the Davion’s version of the SAS or Delta, the best of the best, the most qualified operators for direct action missions, and used in the most critical situations. They had earned the name Rabid Foxes and it wasn’t a compliment, not when first used for them.

    Morgan snorted at that. “Willing? No. But I’m not accepting a return to leading a troop, instead of my company, or being kicked out of MI6, for some asshole not telling me the details, and expecting me to slaughter an orphanage.” My eyebrows rose at that.

    “We’re the Federated Suns. We’re not supposed to do that.” I paused, nodding once. “Though I’m realistic enough to know you might have to, but…”

    Morgan sipped his beer and before he could speak, the somewhat rattled waitress had arrived. He waited til she was again out of earshot, and I had sipped at the Cuba Libre that was placed in front of me.

    “Well. Good to see you’re not total fluff.” He paused, and shrugged. “Let’s say this. I wasn’t given the information needed to make the on site call I had to, and I made one that was not acceptable to command, however, I made it based on the information I had.” He shrugged. “I’ll say if I had the information I was supposed to have, or at least more, I’d likely have made a different choice, or at the very least, be more sanguine about the situation, but, in this case, someone’s covering their ass and I don’t like it. Fuck ‘em.”

    His look at me was challenging.

    Ichigo was about to speak only to have my eyes boring into his. “Hush, brother.” Turning back to Morgan, I smiled sweetly. “Why didn’t you bring your case to Yvonne or the First Prince? Neither would be… unsympathetic to the situation. Nor would they blame you for following policy without reason to override that you knew. I wouldn’t.”

    Morgan blew out a breath. “Because, in a way, it’s not worth it.” He shook his head. “What, you think all our ops are Real Tales of…” He snorted, mentioning a off and on again holovid supposedly dramazing the Rabid Foxes.

    I shook my head in them. “I act, yes, but unlike enough of my well, fellows in that field, I’m quite aware that if any television show including news is even 25% accurate, much less ah, dramatizations, I’d be honestly shocked.” I twirled a finger. “Even if I do plan to shoot a reality show using the Heavy Cav, I’m not going to try that hard to make it realistic.” Morgan laughed out loud at that.

    “I like your sense.” He leaned forward. “I don’t have a problem with at least a short term gig til shit hits the fan again, and I get my company back… Let’s talk numbers.”

    “I don’t want you for just a bodyguard.” I nodded. Internally squealing, I was gloating. Gloating. An elite operator? Who was an officer and at least 10 year veteran of such? Oh, yes.

    Morgan took a puff and blew out the smoke. “Oh?”

    “Having you, just as a bodyguard, or leader of such, or hell, just leading the recon elements for a multi regimental force, is a waste.” I nodded seriously. “So… how’d you feel about putting together and leading a Direct Action unit? At least company, though I’d prefer at least a battalion.” I heard Gry’s sharp intake of breath. He was right to be shocked. Very few mercenary commands could boast of operators, and maybe only a dozen could boast of a company. Battalion? Maybe 3 or 4 at best.

    “You think big. Time scale.” Morgan’s grin was infectious.

    “Depends. I figure at worst you could put together a company ready for operations of a limited nature in 6 months, no less. Full Battalion, with a bit of luck, and this does require you recruiting only no longer working operators, and those still mostly qualified… I’d expect nothing less than a year. Three if we had to train them.” I leaned back at him.

    Morgan’s eyes narrowed. “Good and mostly accurate thinking there. Costly though.”

    I smiled innocently. “I asked around and thought about it. If anything, your people have to be, no, are better trained before they step on the field than anyone else. So… first your people have to be proven, then go through training as intense as flight school, SERE, and space operations, then add in more training on top of that. At the least. That takes time.” I titled my head at him. “Am I wrong?”

    He blew the cigar smoke and I sniffed appreciatively. “No, you’re not, though I think you’re underestimating how hard the training is. And the cost.”

    “If we have to train operators, if 1 in 4 make it, and you don’t kill or cripple for life one in ten, during the training, I’d be pleasantly surprised.” I answered coldly, and hiding the pleasure of the shocked expression crossing Morgan’s face. “And it’s worth every penny afterwards.” I paused, face tight as I bit out the next. “And it’d save countless of not just of your operators, but the line personnel. Worth it in the long run.”

    “Well.. huh.” He took a long drag of his cigar, finally stubbing it out. “You’ve got a clear idea at least on what it’d take.” He looked thoughtful. “Well. I can see some potential here. Still, numbers?”

    I slipped a piece of paper out of hiding, and slipped it over to him, after circling the top number. His eyebrows rose slightly. “Pay as an o-5 top flight Mechwarrior with bonuses, I see.”

    “And the authority to go with it, if we go full bore.” I nodded. “I don’t stint.”

    He nodded. “And what does Sved here think of this brainstorm of yours.”

    Gry looked a bit uncomfortable. “I’m not sure.” He turned to look at me, with a sigh. “You realize, if we do this, we’re going to be heavily marked, and we’ll have to bring Blackhand in on most everything? I’d suggest even more than you’re bringing me in.”

    I nodded. Morgan grinned more. Gry just shook his head. “I’m torn. I like the idea, on one point, it’d allow us to really charge, on the other… well. Dirty business.”

    Morgan snorted, and I barely held back from joining him. “We’re in a dirty business, period. What it takes so we come home and spend our paychecks is good.” I paused, turning to look at Morgan. “Not that that means slaughtering orphanages. Ever. Nothing could be worth that. If it is, we’ll find a different way.”

    Gry looked somewhat uncomfortable. “I really think this is a case of where the past may be needed to know, Ma’am, stuff that wasn’t…” I held up my hand.

    “When I’m sure I can trust you. Or are you willing to undergo babblejuice?” I raised my eyebrow. “I’ve already made a mistake in trusting one person.” I didn’t look at the said person.

    Gry’s eyebrows rose slightly. “I… see.” He didn’t answer the question, and I left it at that.

    “Which raises a question, are you, at least for limited questioning?” Morgan’s eyebrow’s hit his pompadour.

    “Huh.” He paused and lit another cigar, drawing it. When it was properly drawing again, he grinned once again. “Limited, and agreed on questions before, with someone who has a clue of what they’re doing? Sure. It’ll be fun. It’s been a while since me and my team have had fun juicing each other.”

    “I’m afraid I’ll not be able to let your boys juice you, but I’m sure we can both come to an agreement on who. At least. Maybe a pair, one each?” Morgan grinned.

    “I see we understand each other. Almost tempted to get you to agree to some juicing.” I raised my eyebrows.

    “It includes memory enhancement, doesn’t it?” I tilted my head. He nodded, curious where I was going. “Then I just might have to agree to such. I do hope you can find a qualified interrogator.”

    “That’s not a problem. As for the company you want. Got checks handy?” Morgan stood up, waving at a woman.

    I raised my eyes. “On me, no. Gettable in a couple hours, yes.” The Why was unsaid.

    Morgan smiled. “Eh, paperwork can wait.” He turned to the vaguely hispanic woman that had stepped up, observing me. Her shock of white hair over her eye contrasted with the tight black braid quite elegantly. Her trench coat covered a tight fitting pair of trousers and a black blouse, as well as the weapons I knew she had on her. “Ma’am, this is Captain Rios, called Rogue. I’ll have her handle your close in with a squad.”

    “Ma’am.” Her eyebrow rose in a question at Blackhand.

    “Well, you did say the company would follow me, and I said only if I could make sure you all weren’t going to be screwed by it. Meet our new employer who wants a Direct Action company.” The woman’s eyebrow was joined by another. “For her mercenary command.” Captain Rios turned to scan me, and finally in a soft soprano spoke.

    “... I… see. Sir, before we depart the Service, may I suggest something?” Her tone was frosty.

    “Strangle an MI2 profiler?” His smile already indicated that he had that thought. “Ahead of you, there. I’ll go collect the rest to see if they were serious, but for now, I’d want you and your squad on close.” Rogue nodded at her superior.

    I thought of protesting, but shelved it. Morgan was right, more than he knew, actually, and more importantly, best not piss off the man who’d be responsible for my personal safety and my unit’s most critical missions. But… “You know Guifier’s, right?” I received a nod. “Well, we’ll be there waiting for two uniforms, and fitting the Captain’s, though her rank will be higher I think…” I trailed off. “As well as her squad’s…”

    Rios developed a slight smile. “And dare I hope when Solo finds us, his?”

    “Hey!” I returned her smile at Morgan’s exclamation.

    “I do what to see what’s under his trenchcoat and pullover, yes, I do…”

    Rios smiled a bit more. “I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. At least looking.”

    “... I may need to rethink this.” Morgan muttered. “At least putting you two together.”

    I tilted my head, and smiled innocently, looking at my watch. “Well, we need to go, several meetings to do, dropping you off to have a uniform tailored, along with a few of your people…” I paused as he seemed to wilt a bit, then muttered under my breath. “Seems like old times, like Ranger school to me. Always running.” I wasn’t sure, but Morgan’s eyes seemed to narrow slightly at the last.

    Dropship Xanadu, Avalon Spaceport, Avalon City, New Avalon, Late Evening.

    I rolled my eyes, as Rios directed her platoon throughout Xanadu. I understood what she was doing, but as it stood, if anyone got in, we were screwed anyways. I quirked an eyebrow at Morgan who just grinned.

    “We’ll deal with full security once we get a full crew for her, Ma’am.” the stubble faced man smiled around his cigar. “For now, let Rios soothe her paranoia. She’s good at this.”

    I snrked. “And she didn’t really like the fact she’s good looking enough to be a pinup herself, and that I drafted her.”

    Morgan shrugged. “Her beer money thanks you though.”

    I rolled my eyes. “Uh-huh.” I nodded as Rios waved that it was clear.

    Shortly, the senior staff was assembled in a convenient nook of the park deck. Morgan grinned as Rios swept the area for bugs.

    “Now that institutional paranoia is satisfied, can we handle business? I hope everyone’s read the brief and unit organization.” I raised an eyebrow

    Gry nodded, but looked around, finally ending up on Morgan, after sorting though Cummin, Evie, Mari, Tim, Micte, Albert and Arwan. “You’re first, Blackhand.”

    He nodded. “My impression? You’re going nuts. Merc units do not and I need to repeat this, do not have the need or want for the support elements you want. Unless you’re really serious about having a multi regimental combat team size, or at the least a old SLDF division, Boss. Which I’d question how’d you afford the people and hell, just finding the gear. Much less transport.

    Several nods. I responded after a moment to see how others reacted, but that was the general view. “For the money, I don’t intend to give Hanse Davion, one damned thing. He’ll pay.” I grinned. “As for acquiring the equipment…” I sighed. “Look again at Deep support. Evie?”

    “It’s… oh, hell.” She nodded. “We can’t buy the equipment finished? We buy the frames, the parts, and do it ourselves. Commodore, how many contacts do you know that could source even full ASF frames? Or …”

    “That’s workable.” Cummin nodded at Evie. “Very much so. Time consuming, so unless you get a favorable contract from Davion… we’re going to have to scrounge our asses off to make it viable. But it is.

    I nodded. “And once up and running, well, I’m sure the Dragoons or Light Horse make money providing that to smaller units.”

    Gry nodded. “As well as their host nation units. Clever, very clever. That just leaves transport. Assuming we can get money out of Davion.”

    I nodded. “That… honestly, likely will take a *lot* of time to make work. Unless any of you have a list of sites Father forgot to tell me that had a pile of dropships.”

    Gry shook his head. “Only thing I knew about was a lead on where the Argo crashed.” He raised an eyebrow.

    “The Star League concept for a heavy support and forward base with a grav deck?” I quirked an eyebrow.

    “That be it.” He was mildly impressed. I shrugged.

    “One visiting lecturer commented on her drive and reactor from what little Gainax has of the plans.” I shrugged. “Stuck in the mind.”

    Evie nodded. “Understandable.” She paused. “Now, the big issue. Hiring. You mentioned recruiting posters and like?”

    I grinned. “Why do you think the film crew ran around shooting stills? Of just about anything we let them?”

    “And that’s why Rayanne isn’t here.” Gry nodded. “She’s with the ad exec to put the campaign together. Are you serious about the docu-drama idea?”

    “Money, money, money. Every extra shilling counts!” I smiled innocently. I sobered. “If people want out because of it, we can let them go, if they just don’t want to be on TV, that’s doable.”

    Evie shook her head. “I don’t have a problem, and so far not many of my people even have raised it.” She looked around with a slight challenge. “If nothing else, long term, it might pay out, if young kids see how techs are critical, might get more into science and engineering, much less actual techs.”

    Gry nodded. Blackhand raised an hand. “My only issue is operational security, and keeping our operators, outside… well, maybe your bodyguard platoon, say?” He raised a eyebrow at me. I nodded understanding. “Outside the camera lens, or at the very least we get to edit shit and ‘shop it so our people aren’t marked.”

    “Understood, agreed, and I’m mildly surprised to see you letting any on camera.” I shot back.

    “Rogue abuse.” Several snickers were done in response. Evie stopped the laughing for a moment, and nodded once.

    “Only other issue *I* have, honestly, is how and why you want that many medics. One medically, at least paramedic level trained per squad?” She shot me a look. “That’s beyond excessive. Only Canopus does that. And…” I held up my head, reenforcing the command with a look.

    “Our people will have the best treatment and care we can get them. Putting aside having more people in a unit able to do medical duties, basic, at least, is a good thing for morale and internal capabilities, here’s a question for you.” I looked at Morgan with a smile. “How likely will people be to start shit with us on planet, if we’re treating their kid’s fevers or broken bones? Fixing their teeth? Helping their parents with heart issues?” I raised an sculpted eyebrow. I turned to look at Mari and Gry. “Same with our engineers. If we build roads, repair buildings, string power lines…” I trailed off.

    Gry nodded. “That helps, as I’m sure Blackhand would agree Hearts and minds is an important bit. But it also leads to garrison work of recently conquered worlds, which… well. I didn’t do it as a merc, but there’s times… and that’s Marik space, not Draconic held.”

    I nodded. “We’ll just have to be careful til we’re sure we can handle it. Though… I’d not be fond of being on recently liberated worlds from the Combine, I’d not trust the ISF not to bury cells to try to kill us.”

    Morgan snorted. “I’d trust them.” He paused and shifted his cigar. “To do exactly that, and try to set it up to blame us for other things.”

    Various nods at that. I continued and added. “But between those two reasons, that’s my thinking.”

    Evie thought about it. “Canopians have high retention rates in their units, maybe that’s a reason. Worth a try at least.”

    Gry shrugged. “It’ll help with infantry and armor recruiting, they’re always a pain, since a lot of people consider them unimportant. As for the specialist combat arms… make that part of the deal with Hanse. Getting them otherwise… difficult.” Before I could respond, a knock, and hatch opening interrupted us.

    Kelia stepped in with Rayanne following her. “Hey.” Trailing behind her was a man I had met several times before. De'Ath Bredon. Handsome in a sleek way, and with an great sense of humor, he had done a lot of work on various ad campaigns for my movies and other activities. He had an eye to targeting military as well, but had never really gotten noticed by the executives of various firms for bigger and better things. A tad just into middle age, he had taken his ‘failure’ to go beyond mid level manager with grace.

    “Yo, Kikyo.” The man smiled. “Got some test pictures and text to try out for the posters you wanted. Wasn’t too difficult.” He laid out the posters he had in mind, and put pages on the table.

    Gry scanned through the papers, and put one aside. “This, this will work for pros.” Morgan looked at it, quirked an eyebrow and nodded.

    “Should do… now let’s see the bait.” He grinned.

    It was hilarious, I mean come on. I know I look damn good, better than most in fact and i know that my personal presence and ability to command attention was why I was so successful as an actress. But here, my athletic figure hinted at a more obvious hourglass, breasts emphasized to look bigger than they actually were, and airbrushing to make my hair look redder, my eyes more emerald and my skin more porcelain. It was a fantasy, but this fantasy would make money, and send people into the unit.

    Gry snorted. “Uniform in front of the troops, cooling suit with Rios next to her holding the rifle up, and the one where she leans forward at the table. Tasteful, but still *not* unprofessional.”

    I tilted my head. “Keep some of the others, might run them as limited prints. The shot of Rios and Morgan working out is nice, Scythe boy.”

    Evie grinned. “I like the one of me and a few of my minions disassembling that tank. Might work for targeted recruiting.”

    “Yeah, my thought. The more cheesecake ones, like Gry boarding his Highlander, nah, whoever shot those didn’t get the message.” He paused. “So as I must, I’ll snip those for personal or limited sales. ALong with several ah… ‘action’ shots.”

    I nodded. “I like the one where it’s a wide view of the unit in front of my speech. Whoever did the overlay of the uniforms…”

    “Can’t clip her yet, she’s new but she’s got talent, Kikyo.” He sobered.

    I wagged my finger. “No reaping! You’re paid to immortalize, not cut people short!” I grinned at him.

    He grinned back. “So… that’s why I’m not allowed at parties anymore. Tsk.”

    I shook my head sorrowfully. “No, that’s because you make too many bad jokes.” I grinned, then turned serious. “That’s enough?”

    “Those three, and the Text, yes.” He returned to serious mode. “I can have a set ready to run to the Guild and other places in … call it a half hour for the final three to be proofed then an hour to run off 100 each?” He raised an eyebrow.

    “Works!” I grinned. “Gry?”

    “When they’re ready, I’ll send Uri to the Guild to post them and register recruiting, and to the MRB to also include it in our package and register everything. I’ll go around a few bars and post as well.” Gry nodded, looking at Uri who had trailed behind the ad executive.

    “Outstanding, I don’t want to be a grim and ruin people’s drinking, as people accuse me of…” De’Ath was grinning as he spoke. “Anyways, let me go and handle this.” He nodded.

    I toyed with the idea of inviting him back after he was done with that for a talk and a possible private recruitment session, but I squashed it, at least in front of my minions.
     
    Last edited: Feb 19, 2020
  14. Lightwhispers

    Lightwhispers Getting out there.

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    A touch of Wimsey here?

    I like, but I need a reread for more commentary...
     
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  15. Redacted

    Redacted No

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    Would a "Finally" be in bad taste? :p

    Although I did recently wonder if I missed an alert. Ah well, at least that meant I didn't have reread everything just now :)
     
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  16. StillReflections

    StillReflections Getting sticky.

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    Ah, this was nice, I'm glad to see this is still kicking after all.
     
  17. MageOhki

    MageOhki Making the rounds.

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    No, but I had RL hit, and hit hard, and then I had to wait for certain things to happen.... So, yes, Not bad taste.
     
  18. Prince Charon

    Prince Charon Just zis guy, you know?

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    Well, it was a wait, but it was worth waiting for, so thank you for sharing it with us.
     
  19. Bluesnowman

    Bluesnowman Getting sticky.

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    • Don't necro. This is against Rule 7.
    Awesome story so far, one of the best starts to a BT yet.
     
  20. Threadmarks: Update
    MageOhki

    MageOhki Making the rounds.

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    I apologize to all readers, but I *do* have news (and is it nerco'ing your *own* thread, anyways?)

    First and Foremost: As soon as I feel up to it Lever 1 and 2 will be edited for some retcrons and shifting of tone. I haven't gotten to it yet, becasue in the last 22 days:

    Lever 3 went from 4.5kw to 30ishKW
    Lever 4 completed (18 or so KW)
    Lever 5 completed at about the same as above
    Lever 6 at 20kw and done.

    >> I *really* need to edit don't I?
     
  21. The Unicorn

    The Unicorn Versed in the lewd.

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    Great news, looking forward to seeing the new chapters, however for the revised chapters 1 & 2, I'd appreciate it if you didn't replace the old chapter but instead put the old versions in Spoilers or something and post the new versions separately.

    And now I'm off to reread the chapters (and save them in case you don't agree).
     
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  22. MageOhki

    MageOhki Making the rounds.

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    I was wondering what to do. Your suggestion may be the best, though honeslty, the *major* retcon (and this is why I hit a wall I think) was... I was a *bit* too exessive on one concept, and am going to shift it (For hints: I really should have reread House Davion (the orginal!) and paid attention to the fact a *Countess* was a *mistress*, which is more along the lines of what I was thinking, instead of the more ah, overt aspect possibility of Kikyo's needs/desires)

    Oh, and with some points from Psychosama, including some renders, he re inspired me.

    Let's just say Kinky-merged is going to be thrown a complete surprise.
    ....
    ....
    Edit: VERTDAMMED SPELLCHECKERS.
    KIKYO-Merged.

    (though it *IS* funny)
     
    Last edited: Feb 15, 2020
  23. Czlyydwr Llrngwl

    Czlyydwr Llrngwl "Sell ya a door Learn gull" Czly/Celly for short.

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    Edit for tone shift? Not too much, I hope! Being "the fun BT SI" is, like, Kiki's unique thing! Not that Valles and Axyl's were bad or not fun to read, but they're both more serious characters, while your gal is perhaps easygoing to a fault even after getting her mind blown and merged like a hash table by retrofuturistic psychadelic drugs.

    e: And I concur on the "post new chapters on their own" front, as it also makes things much easier to deal with scraping it as an epub with Calibre.
     
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  24. Threadmarks: Chapter 2 (Forget it, I suck at titles.)
    MageOhki

    MageOhki Making the rounds.

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    Note: This is the edited version of Chapter 2. Enjoy. Chapter 3 and 4 to follow sometime tonight.
    Right. Grab your smartgun, put on the mirrorshades, hit the radio to produce 80's hair band tunes, 'casue we're going 80's

    And
    for those of you say it's nice she's not Hanse worshipping or throwing her stuff at his feet... She's on New Avalon, what is a poor fox to do when a henhouse comes to him?

    ... Besides get the eggs, of course.

    With a lever big enough I can move the world

    Chapter 2

    A Battletech FanFiction
    By
    Andrew “MageOhki” Norris.

    See Chapter 1 for disclaimers and other information
    With this version I would like to thank Drakensis for kitbitzing and Editing, JG/Joe Gunnarson (Of Whateley fame) for the same, Minako/Scratx for kibitizing, and Case/Fosfor for the same as Minako. Y'all made this go a LOT faster than the first two, thank you. Psyckosama deserves an especial shoutout for helping reinspire, some basic visualizaiton and idea throwing.

    Find your footing.

    When dealing with those who are powerful, sly and cunning, much less rulers of interstellar policies of great size, be bold, is not always a good strategy. But the timid don’t win.

    Bluffing and lying work, but sooner or later, your bluffs will be called, and your lies will be exposed. Be prepared to cover them. Better yet, only do it when you have to… and still have a plan B.

    There are three things you can always trust to screw you over. A person’s greed, a mule’s stubbornness, and your own inability to recognize when you’re over your head.

    Be careful with trusting people, even family. Even if they have loyalty to you, a question you must ask is… who else are they loyal to?

    Letting anyone into your heart is a risk, you might get it broken. But being alone is so much worse.

    From the journals and notes of Kikyo Onishi, New Avalon Press, 3291 AD, as part of the “Century of Chaos: The Movers and Shakers.” series.

    New Avalon Capital Spaceport, Morning, January 2nd, 3015


    As we strode out of the warehouse that was an impromptu hanger, I listened to the chatter of my passengers.

    “Huh. Much better than the last time I rode with you.” Kelia muttered. “These mechs are something else.”

    Ichigo was paying attention to what I was doing. “She’s using mostly automated programs, and pretty much letting Bun Bun’s computers do the work. Smart.”

    I rolled my eyes, as we stepped out into the sunlight, and Debora quickly veered to the side. “Where are we going.”

    “Loaded with a local waypoint map?” Ichigo asked, and got my nod, as I pulled up the map he was referring to. “Waypoint Bravo-3, Waypoint Bravo-5, Delta -3, then Echo-7. Let the computers do the work.”

    Punching those in, I took my feet off the pedals, and kept light hands on the joysticks, as autopilot engaged. Even current mechs could do this safely, given the nature of a Dropship spaceport, Bun Bun just did it as if he had a veteran at the controls. I had already transmitted our course to the Ground Traffic control center. Didn’t want to get vaporized by a dropship, after all.

    A Dropship port is a fairly big place, so going to where we were supposed to go took a fair bit of time. Before we could get to the last waypoint, Two Battlemechs painted in the Heavy Guards colors stepped in front of us, and a transmission rattled over my speakers.

    “Halt and state your business.” The male voice was professional and to the point.

    I halted Bun Bun, and before I could reach my radio’s frequency settings, Bun Bun had already set the radio to transmit on the correct frequency.

    “Kikyo Onishi, to watch arrival of several dropships which are now mine.” I would have added more, but Ichigo’s hand cut me off.

    “Captain Onishi here, why has the Heavy Guards been deployed?” Ichigo’s tone was curious. “The dropships were expected, after all.”

    “Wait one.” Within a moment, a third mech, another Archer had stepped around the buildings, and stopped in front of us. The Archer then proceed to lean down and let a pair of uniformed soldiers climb aboard a hand, which was then raised, and the Archer stepped forward, bringing the hand to where the soldiers could look into the cockpit, as I opened the hatch.

    The female of the pair was holding a video camera, and Ichigo waved at it. “Kunoichi, why are there three women in the cockpit, besides you?”

    I spun my head to look at Ichigo, while Aiko did the same, mouthing ‘Kunoichi’?

    “One is the owner of this mech, and the dropships arriving, my sister.. The youngest is my youngest sister, Aiko, and the other is a friend, Kelia Harper.” Ichigo’s tone was a bit frosty

    “Aaa, see you didn’t tell them your call sign, then. I wonder why.” The voice sounded amused. “Must be a good friend, considering…”

    “Virgin, respectfully, shut up.” Ichigo shot back. “Kikyo has a right to see her property, does she not?”

    The Mechwarrior call signed Virgin responded, still amused. “Ayep. What’s the loadout status?”

    “No ammo.”

    “Safe the lasers, and you’re good to proceed.” The voice was now more serious.

    I did so, and Ichigo nodded. “Done, sir, now again, may I ask why my unit seems to be out in force?”

    “Besides the fact we have enough military dropships to fully carry us and a bit more landing?” The tone was asking ‘Are you stupid?’ “Classified. Miss Onishi, your waypoints are Echo-7, Gamma-3, Hotel-5, you will be met by someone at Hotel-5.”

    My smart ass mode engaged. “Understood, ah, I didn’t get your name, just your call sign… which if you want fixed is possible, you know…”

    A moment of silence as several snickers were heard from other units on the net. “Major Zibler, Miss Onishi, and I’m married.”

    “Aaaa. Must be a story.” I plugged in the waypoints, and nodded at the receipt. “Good to go.”

    “Understood.” The three mechs stepped aside, and I let Bun Bun’s autopilot engage.

    As Bun Bun strode forward at a sedate 20 kph, Aiko finally asked. “Kunoichi?” Her voice was delighted. “Wouldn’t that be Kiki’s or my nickname?”

    “Callsigns aren’t flattering.” Kelia responded, still amused. “Though I’ll admit those two were epic.” Ichigo’s jaw was a bit tense.

    I shot back, amused as well. “Could be worse, Ichigo could be Virgin instead.”

    “That one I’ve got to hear.” Kelia nodded. Ichigo sighed.

    “Can we drop it?” Three feminine eyes looked at each other.

    “For now.” “Only until I want you to do something.” “Oh, I’ll be kind.”

    Ichigo just shook his head. “Yuk it up. At least I’m not Zibler.”

    “And how did he get that?” Kelia responded.

    “Idiot on his first night partying at Albion stated he would only have sex on his wedding night. A friend of his shot back. ‘So forever a virgin you will remain!’ It stuck.” Ichigo grinned.

    Aiko snickered. “And Kunoichi?”

    Ichigo rolled his eyes. “Was given that because Mom was a single mother, and I’m pretty decent at being stealthy.” He paused, and nodded once. “‘So, Subaltern Onishi, what you’re saying is your family is a Kunoichi family?’”

    I sighed. Aiko signed and nodded. “Not so bad, then, I guess.”

    “Ayup.” Ichigo settled back a bit.

    Before any of us could continue harassing the poor man, we saw a Battlemaster, with a collection of other mechs turn and look at us. Along it’s left side were two stripes running heightwise, one red, one white, while the rest of the ‘Mech’s metal was in Davion Blue, with sunbursts and swords on the Shoulders. All the mechs except my white and grey Bun Bun were in variants of that pattern, which confirmed they were the Heavy Guards.

    Ichigo had stiffened, then sighed. “Well, that explains why the Heavy’s here.”

    I didn’t turn to look, but I know he felt my question, and he answered it. “I’d be very unsurprised, Kiki, if that’s not the First Prince himself.”

    “Oh.” I concentrated on being very inoffensive. “Oh. You think he’s…”

    Ichigo’s shrug was felt by all of us. “Partly here to gawk, partly here to likely start sounding you out about getting all that stuff, would be my bet.”

    I would have commented, but the Battlemaster had waved, then pointed at a spot next to the assault class mech. I understood what that meant.

    “I’m pretty sure they radio’ed ahead.” I said dryly. “I suspect he wants to raid the henhouse early on.”

    Ichigo’s look I felt though the seat.

    “Hey, the family symbol is a Fox.” I shot back as I carefully and slowly moved Bun Bun next to the Battlemaster, so our shoulders would be less than a meter apart, as we overlooked the spaceport.

    “Uh-huh. Pop the top so we can climb out and see.” Aiko called out, and I obliged. Shortly, the two other women were out and sitting on Bun Bun’s shoulders, having moved carefully, while Ichigo unfolded the Rumble seat to watch.

    I flipped a camera to watch the Battlemaster, while the main view was on the spaceport, and Ichigo told me the channel to listen for Flight control.

    Shortly, Flight control’s channel grew frantic, and we had the awe-inspiring sight of dropship after dropship landing. Most impressive were the Colossi and the Mammoths, respectively the largest ever military dropship, and the largest planetary capable cargo dropship.

    Seventy dropships. That was well beyond two billion C-bills in hardware, capable of transporting over a hundred and fifty thousand tons of cargo, over two Regimental Combat teams, just about, the largest formations in combat currently comprised of nine plus regiments of front line combat troops, split among battlemechs, tanks and infantry. What was in them would easily equip at least one of the RCT’s. My displays presented which dropship was which, likely force composition, and other detailed analysis. I was totally impressed with the data flowing across the screens.

    I was distracted from watching the last aerodyne shaped dropship taxi to join the rest of the flotilla, as well as the data streaming through my Heads Up Display, by the Battlemaster turning to face one of the mechs. I was irresistibly reminded of an argument going on, even though I couldn’t hear anything, it was just the body language the mechs were displaying. Shortly, the Battlemaster’s language turned satisfied, and the Victor’s was a bit rejected, but the Victor held out a hand near where I suspected the hatch was.

    “Miss Onishi.” The radio crackled, and the unfamiliar male voice on it continued. “Please do not move, you have someone who wishes to talk to you.” The voice put action to words, as a man stepped onto the hand, only wearing a cooling vest, very short shorts and a pair of boots, accompanied by a pistol on his leg and a knife in his boot, stepped onto the hand.

    Shortly a voice called out after the Victor had put itself in front of me, and raised the hand to the hatch. “Can I drop in?” Ichigo’s stiffening wasn’t needed to tell me who it was, though part of me was going “Shatner?”

    “Of course, Your Highness.” I responded before Ichigo could.

    I looked up and discovered three things. A: Hanse Davion really was a James Kirk expy. B: He also had the same bare chest thing going Kirk did. C: Kikyo really liked the look and vibe, who knew she was fond of older and more powerful males.

    With a thump Hanse Davion arrived into Bun Bun’s cockpit. “Captain, Miss Onishi.”

    “Sir.” “Your Highness.” He waved off our attempts to stand, and respectively salute or bow, and looked around.

    “... This is not a standard Archer, a 2R, I believe, that’s in it’s documentation.” He didn’t sound accusing or threatening, just amused.

    I thought for a moment, and shrugged. “Nope. Didn’t really know about it, ‘til I fired it
    up.” Pausing for a moment, I grinned at the look on his face. Complete incomprension. “Couldn’t, the conservator was being… restrictive on more than just liquid assets.”

    “Excuse me?” Hanse’s tone wasn’t just the polite inquiry of a gentleman, he was honestly curious to what I was implying, instead of not using a Battlemech, as his mind couldn’t wrap around anyone with one not learning all about it or using it.

    “When Ichigo was assigned to the Guards, and assigned off planet, while I was emancipated, I still needed by law a conservator.” Hanse nodded, understanding, and I continued. “She was quite… strict on the limitations, and I quote, what does an actress need with a Battlemech, but no judge would sign off on selling property, so…”

    “I.. see.” He turned to look at Ichigo. “And pray tell, Captain, why was this not handled?”

    Ichigo shot me a look. “Sire, I was not informed, for my sister tends to believe she can do anything.”

    “Ah…” Hanse leaned against the cockpit wall. “Then this should be at least less unpleasant than I hoped. I do intend to try to gain what you inherited.” He paused looking at me. “For fair value, of course, of course. While there are legal means to rend it from you, mind you, considering some of the dropships… I much rather not have to go through the process. Not only would it be dimly looked upon… it likely would be more expensive.”

    I nodded. Squishing an internal voice that demanded certain considerations of a more intimate nature in lieu of cash, I instead asked… “Exactly what do you want?”

    “The jumpship and military dropships to start, honestly. Would you like a Duchy?” Hanse smiled roguishly. “All things considered, I’m going to try very hard to make sure that Monolith doesn’t leave New Avalon without being in AFFS colours. And I am prepared to make strenuous efforts and legal at that to keep the Colossi in the same state. I’m stunned they got here, in fact.”

    I nodded at that. “I’m afraid some of your goals will be difficult to attain. But first I have to see what the people with them, my father’s people, now my people, want.” I shrugged. “I’m responsible for them, so…”

    “I see.” Hanse leaned back and looked at me, his eyes piercing. “I do see indeed. I’m quite prepared to sweeten the dealmaking, you realize.”

    “Perhaps. But, I’m not going to make any decisions ‘til I know exactly what the people want, and what I have to work with.” I spread my hands, taking a deep breath, noting the quick flicker of Hanse’s eyes to my valley. “Even then, I do have a few plans of my own.”

    Hasne’s eyes bored in. “Elaborate.” His tone brooked no disobedience.

    “Well, I’ve been given a few places that might be interesting to visit…” I trailed off, letting him fill in the blanks.

    “Your father was a bit of a treasure hunter, I believe, as so proven, in fact… Ah, he sent a list of places he couldn’t visit?” His question was more of a statement.

    I simply smiled, letting him draw the conclusions. His eyes narrowed, finally he spoke. “I’m inclined to slightly disbelieve that, but reports did say a courier with a secure box arrived to his lawyers here, and all things considered… But details.”

    “Well, some information has come to light that the Star League depots and repair centers in Epsilon Eridani aren’t as gone as we thought.” I shrugged slightly. “From what I’ve been given, there’s two worth investigating. One that might have a dropship in it, another that seems to be a major repair and refit center for the ground forces. No idea what’s in there, though I suspect a lot of automated tooling and repair bays, from what I can gather. Or at least bits of them.”

    “And?” Hanse wasn’t satisfied.

    “Let’s say this. I’m pretty sure that Minoru’s decision to personally lead the looting of Helm wasn’t based on bad intel. I have some suspicions, but there’s some easily verifiable facts that'll make it fairly easy to prove if I’m on the right track. Plus, I figured out the perfect cover to loot it, and get away clean.” I smiled at that.

    Hanse’s raised eyebrow was matched by Ichigo’s facepalm, but I obliged his question.

    “Well, I am a Fedrat, and wouldn’t it be natural to make a movie about yet another Weeaboo actroity?”

    Hanse’s expression was a prize. You could see him just blanking for a moment, then going “Weeaboo?”

    “Wannabe Imperial Japanese maniac.” Ichigo’s voice dryly answered the question.

    Hanse for a long moment was quiet. “Weeaboo. Weeaboo. I like that.” He smiles. “Almost as much as I like the idea of stealing Helm from underneath Janos, without a clue on his part.” Pausing. “But is it worth it to me to risk a serious bird in the hand?”

    I paused for a moment. “Information on exactly what Major Keeler hid away is iffy, anywhere from a regiment to at least six regiments of mechs, plus equivalents in other areas, and spare parts, of course. Plus possibly ah… special weapons.” Hanse’s eyebrow was still cocked slightly indicating he wasn’t convinced. I sighed, finally agreeing to reveal my trump card. “Some, some information has come to light that indicates he saw where we, as in the Successor states were going, and the likely result. And he took steps to at least prevent the loss of knowledge. Not saying that he got his hands on Prometheus, but some hints are that he did his best to recreate it. But not verifiable, and it’s just a … likely suspicion”

    Hanse went still. Finally, after a long moment, he thought about it. “I’ll want to see your logic on the possibility of the cache being there. I’m almost tempted to say damn the cost, and get to the cache now. Just the possibility of a put together Prometheus...” He paused again. “No, I am tempted. Explain your logic on why you think Major Keeler did so.”

    “He’s an engineer. He fought the Liberation wars, and saw what happened to the Terrans, and the SLDF. He also likely studied history, and well… Doesn’t take much to draw conclusions.” I paused, “And if you’re already in a pessimistic mood…”

    “I would say that’s a thin reed.” Hanse pondered. “A thin reed indeed.”

    I nodded. “And our relations as I understand it with the Free World league are fairly profitable and not worth ah… disturbing over a slim possibility. And considering that we have a decent shot at getting away with the cache cleanly, without ...”

    “There is that.” Hanse shrugged. “While our relations are generally good, as you pointed out with the Free World League, we, as in the Federated suns have occasionally undertaken raids, some recently against them, and if I was even halfway convinced that the information you say was there, I’d go myself with your brother covering my troops.”

    He carefully studied me. “As it stands, I’m not sure I believe you at all. I will think on this. I do think you’re not telling me everything, and I know you’re trying to convince me of what you want to do. The question I have, is it what you are telling me, or is it a cover up.”

    I thought for a moment. “True to the first.” I paused. “On the second, I can say it’s my goal, but again…”

    “Quite.” He thought for a moment, then nodded. “I can see the idea you got about Helm, given your brother’s article on it. I will want to see some more data on the location.” He paused again. “As for allowing you to acquire it in the method, I’m of two minds of it. Epsilon Eridani can be collected by my people, if you give the information. While part of me, truly wishes to be about this as fast and as powerfully as possible, your brother’s loyalty, and your mother’s service to the realm, has also earned you a fair bit of leeway.” My confusion at the last showed clearly.

    His raised eyebrow at Ichigo and a shake of the head that answered the question. He then turned to me, and nodded once. “Your mother was Order of Five Pillars.” The Order of the Five Pillars was one of the two security services of the Draconis Combine, the most hated rival of the Federated Suns, and tied for the worst Successor state, in my view.

    “She defected, blowing open a century long spy ring, plus several others, and secrets. I thought you knew.” He shrugged. “Ian offered her a barony, she turned it down.” He turned to Ichigo who wasn’t looking happy. “She has every right to know. Considering what the Order was doing, and your family line, Captain, she has to know, as it’s DMI’s view she was killed by an ISF agent.”

    Ichigo’s expression was stone. “Sire. I… was trying to think on how to …”

    Hanse’s raised hand cut him off. “Understandable.” He turned back to me. “Even if I go along with this, I will insist on conditions, as you are my subject, and by tradition and law, owe me fealty. But House Davion has avoided compelling service. I do not want to be the first to do so.”

    I was still rattled by everything, and my mouth ran away with me. “Well, if you ordered me to your bed, Sire, I don’t think I’d consider that a hardship. In fact, I’d consider it very fun.”

    The strangled sound from my brother really wanted me to have a camera, but Hanse’s response even caught me off guard. “That’d be the third date, I’m afraid. Not the first.”

    I just gaped, completely taken aback. He grinned, then sobered. “I assume your mouth ran away with you, of course, mind you, as that was quite gauche of you. And unlike your usual behavior, from what I understand. I’ll chalk it up to the revelation I just laid on you.” He turned to my gaping brother who was choking. “Breathe, man, breathe. It’s not the first, nor the last offer I’ve received, though to be fair, it’s one of the most direct.”

    Ichigo finally caught his breath, his face still completely shocked. “Kikyo. Seriously. Are you insane? You don’t say that!”

    I winced slightly. “I apologize, Sire. It was… more than gauche, all things considered. What are the conditions?”

    Hanse thought shortly. “NAIS and DMI technical personnel go through the ships and
    mechs for anything of interest. Ethier buy it direct or loan it to the NAIS. The Colossus, the Excaliburs, the Vengeances and oh, those Titans and the Monolith are leased to the AFFS, with indemnity bonds if lost.” He thought for a moment. “I provide any and all needed personnel, of course to fill out the unit. Though I’d like to know exactly what are you thinking unit wise.”

    He held up his hand. “Your youngest sister remains, not only is the NAIS the best place to grow such a mind, NAIS itself would benefit. And of course, one of you will accept the Barony that your mother refused.”

    Ichigo broke in. “Sire, I’d not recommend the majority of the unit being AFFS or former AFFS, that’ll make it obvious that we’re a cover to anyone with a brain.”

    Hanse paused, nodded. “At least a fair amount, mind you. Your sister…”

    “I understand and agree, Sire. Minders are a good idea.” Ichigo smiles at me.

    I opened my mouth, but before I could say anything Hanse smiles as well. “And you’ll be one of them Captain, who better?”

    Ichigo nods. “Can I assume this won’t affect my career?” Hanse nods.

    “Personal detailing by the First Prince always looks good on a young officer resume.” Hanse nodded for a moment, then added. “While I’d suggest that you don’t command the unit direct, Kikyo, it’s also a tradition the owner does. I’ll look around for a very competent XO, in that case.”

    I thought for a moment. “Right now, unit wise, I’m eyeing a Brigade type formation, though in reality it’d be an Alliance wing. One regiment of ASF, one of mechs, one of armor, one of infantry, supported by a battalion of ADA, arty, MP, Engineers, and logistical support elements. With the amount of mechs supposedly there, I might have two. Always wondered why the 1st Cav wasn’t that, it’d fit so nicely with the DLC doctrine.”

    Hanse paused, and thought about it. “Viable.” He finally stated. “And you can try the idea out for us, if it DOES work, well, more Armored Cav is never a bad idea.”

    I nodded. “As for the ships, no. Stripping them of Royal technology? Yes. But if this is to work, more transport is better. It also makes us less tied visibility to you, though if Aiko remains, that’s your assurance we’ll come back, at least for a while. Any mech or vehicle that is SLDF late Regular or Royal, unless it’s already a personal ride, I have no problems selling, or more precisely exchanging for other mechs.”

    I tapped my chin. “It’s going to be difficult enough convincing Marik to agree to at least headquarter a full brigade, much less two on Helm, without them thinking we’re Davion pet mercs. This isn’t to say I intend to keep all the dropships, putting aside from what information I had, they had to skeleton crew a fair chunk of them to get them here.”

    Hanse pondered. “And for dropships you don’t intend to keep?”

    “Sell them, though my initial thinking is trade them to either the Lyrans or Marik for an additional jumpship or two. I won’t sell the heavier units, since they simplify transport.”

    “I understand that logic, which is why I’m not inclined to pass up a chance to simplify my own shipping issues.” Hanse smiled a bit crookedly at that.

    “I’m not disinclined to write a contract where if the unit folds, the AFFS has absolute first refusal to buy the jumpships and heavier dropships, verified by Comstar as little as I trust them.” I shrugged slightly. “Similar to a lien.” I shrugged. “This is also contingent on of course the people in the unit being inclined to go along with me. And…”

    I pondered a moment as The Fox just looked at me, a bit impassive. “After the Marik contract, the FS has first refusal on the unit’s services?” I paused for a moment. “Oh, and we do the Eridani hit for you, or as part. Even without the planned sales, I’m pretty sure as is, at best, I’d still have open lift, so…”

    “That would help a tad, in justifying it, yes.” Hanse looked through the open hatch for a moment, then back at me. “Which ones are you considering selling?”

    “Unions, Buccaneers, Danais for sure, possibly others, though keeping the Mammoths and Mules is on my list.” I could tell I hadn’t sold Hanse on the idea. “But, remember, there’s possibly that Colossus in the Severon Mountains… while I want it…”

    “I would argue a bird in the hand is better than two in the bush, young lady.” Hanse smiled, to take the sting out of it. “But your object is to attain additional jumpships, is it not?”

    “By and large, yes, and keep my landing transport to a decent amount. It’d also be a reassurance I’d be tempted to not stay.” Hanse nodded at that. “I’m seriously resistant on the idea of losing my heaviest dropships. Putting aside my own personal preferences, they make the number of jumpships less, meaning I can free up lift. Unless you want to back a hit on Tortuga, and capturing all their jumpships…” I snorted.

    Ichigo twitched slightly. Hasne’s eyebrow rose, then lowered, as he clearly pondered that.

    “That… has potential. That does have potential as a viable idea.” Hanse leaned back. “Removing their jumpships, or even a fair fraction would be a serious help, yes.”

    Ichigo thought for a second. “Sire… would it be possible to get OWA backing on this? Perhaps a wing of their famed Nightmares to support the hit on the jumpships.” He nodded once, looking at me. “It’d also help recruiting. And when were you going to tell him about other sites?”

    Hanse’s eyebrow was raised at the last. I looked at my brother. “I’m not sure of other sites, brother dear.” My voice was a bit venom filled with the last, then I nodded. “Plus, I’m not sure how to get to the Rim World hidden base, yet that Father assured was there.”

    “A Rim World hidden base? One of the ones they used to support the Uprising?”

    I nodded. “That’s what the information says.”

    “Where.”

    “Outside Lyran space, sadly.” Hanse nodded at the last, putting it aside.

    “I agree on the OWA idea, and to be honest, while MIIO has some information on the Domains, it wouldn’t surprise me if the Outworlders have more, just from captured data over the years. I hadn’t considered asking.” He nodded once, clearly making a mental note. “They’ll want some considerations for the pirate stomp, mind you, but I’m sure they’ll go along with it. As for the hidden Uprising support base, as well as any other you have a strong feeling about… Well. I think we have a way to get what we both want.”

    I understood. I had screwed up, severely. Hanse was in the driver’s seat now, and he wanted what I knew about other lostech sites. I wasn’t going to give him all, but enough to whet his appetite.

    “Castle Brian on Illyria, a crashed Argo class dropship that was making deliveries to Castle Brians in what’s now the Reach, another Colossus on Phecda, but I think that’s buried, another Castle Brian on Clinton, and last but not least, New Dallas.” I ticked off what I could recall. “Those are what I know of for sure, though Illyria is a maybe, while New Dallas is big trouble, if not done just right.” I nodded once. “And I’ll appreciate you not asking how I know all of those. Until I can prove what I know, that’s why I didn’t want to tell you more. Plus… well, I see a possibility that’ll upend the board we’re all on. There are more, but I’d really need to dig through and prove them, or are so risky that I’d not do it without warship support.”

    Hanse nodded at the last. “And what is this possibility you see?”

    “An alliance.” I realized I was about to butterfly away one upcoming event.

    Hanse snorted. “With Janos? Not likely. No offense to the Periphery states, the only one worth the effort hates us, for admittedly good reason. Who? Katrina? What’d she gain by that?”

    “The strongest military combined with the strongest economy.” Ichigo said slowly, realizing it. Hanse stopped and thought about it.

    “We would have interests in common, and it’s an open debate if Tamar or Sandoval hates the Dragon more…” Hanse thought about it. “And all things being equal… Our relations with the Lyrans are while not the best, admittedly, nowhere near the worst.”

    I nodded. “And she’s a soldier, and is after reforming her military.”

    Hanse was clearly deep in thought. “How would this come about, you think?”

    I shrugged helplessly. “It’s just my read of the Archon. See seems dislinced to expend her daughter’s life on endless war. If anyone knows the cost of this war, it’s her. No offense, Sire, but while you have fought, and fought well, she led Infantry. She’d be searching for a way to change the nature of the game, I would suspect. And you have to admit, no one’s considered it… or if they have, they didn’t try.” I shuddered. Being an infantryman in this period was not a safe occupation, even for the military.

    “... I would contest, but I understand and grant you, that she knows what infantry suffers better than I do. Something to consider, something to consider indeed. And you’re right, it at least has the virtue of something different.” Hanse was clearly intrigued by the proposal. “And as your brother points out, we have what she lacks, and she has what we lack…” He had been derailed by the vistas that opened up. After a long moment he shook his head and returned to reality.

    “As much as I would consider it, I’d need more than just your view of her, to even remotely consider it, Kikyo. But I can at the least look into it.” He nodded. “And well, let’s say this. Bring me Helm, and it’s even half of what you think it is, and I’ll have room to approach her, without her approaching me. Togruta is a prize to help, admittedly, though I’d prefer if we squish the den. Taking its jumpships though would help for a while.”

    I shook my head. “Not without my unit being at full strength, Sire, and in a way, we’d
    need to put boots on the ground long term to hold it. Otherwise...”

    Hanse nodded. “Well. Even removing a clutch of jumpships from their custody would be enough, I think.”

    I nodded. “It won’t be fast, I’ll need to recruit up to at least some strength, I think we should also try as hard as hell to take as many dropships as we can.” Hanse nodded at that. “Unless we can find an occupation force for a long time, we’re out of very many good options.”

    He nodded. “I’ll think on that.” He pauses. “However.” He flashed a rogue’s grin. “You need to see if you can even put together the unit, and have my people go over the equipment.” He nods once, unclasping his vest as Ichigo had just stuck his head out to look around, and leans slightly forward. “How about this, we seriously conduct negotiations at dinner, say… tomorrow evening?”

    I nodded, swallowing to get moisture back in my mouth. Hanse kept in shape during this period.

    “Outstanding!” He straightened, and nodded once. “I’ll have my Guards collect you, say around 5? For a private dinner? Do bring a preliminary TOO for Onishi’s Armored Cavalry.”

    “Yes, Your Highness.” Really, what else could I say.

    “Captain, help me to the other ‘Mech.” Hanse’s tone was of an order, which Ichigo hurried to obey.

    After the Victor started to step away, Ichigo waved at the two girls, who started back. He turned to me. “And you… what were you thinking agreeing to a private dinner? He’s going to try to seduce you into signing everything away to him, even with the information, or to giving him specific details.”

    I glared back at Ichigo. “My life, my choices. And I’m not that foolish.”

    “Uh, huh. We need to meet your people.” Ichigo made it clear he wasn’t happy and that future discussions would happen. However, as Aiko and Kelia dropped in, I started moving Bun Bun towards the dropships, reaching for the responsibility, and my mind thinking though the unit.

    ***

    The nature of space travel and the size of the interstellar economy at its peak, not what it has fallen to, was brought home, as I walked through the grounded dropships of the dropship port. All of mine were put at the farthest possible location from Avalon City, which meant from where I watched them land was a good forty kilometer hike, and I hadn’t watched them land from the other edge.

    Given traffic rules and laws for the port, it took slightly more than an hour before I could get to the dropships, and I had to shake my head. By the time Bun Bun had reached the first of my ships, my father’s people had managed to set up a basic security cordon.

    Said Security cordon included several mechs which made it quite clear that I’d have to stop, and I found a perfect place to do so, as I saw Ryanne plus the film crew I had arranged. Shrugging, I turned to my passengers. “Looks like it’s time to dismount, and do things.”

    Ichigo leaned forward to look out the cockpit, and nodded. “Yep.” Aiko and Kelia had
    already undogged the hatch and tossed out the rope ladder that was in a locker.

    “Fun.” Kelia commented as Aiko was already out of the cockpit, as she tested the ladder. “I’m beginning to see why Mechwarriors are fit.” Before I could shoot back a response, she was already climbing out, and Ichigo was watching her do so.

    “Enjoying the view, brother?” I snarked as I noticed where his eyes were.

    Ichigo’s tone was amused. “Oh, of course. I am a fighter pilot.” He grabbed the rope and began to haul himself out, and as a parting shot stated. “So, let’s see if you’re still in shape, bet you can’t beat my time down!”

    I watched as he scurried down, and grinned. One thing about a movie I had done, was the consultants, actual mechwarriors, had not only taught me the basics of driving a mech, but explained a few tricks. Fishing out a pair of gloves from my jumpsuit, I put them on, and waited ‘til Ichigo had hit the ground.

    As I looked down from the lip of the cockpit, I grinned, and shouted down at Ichigo. “Let’s see about that time.” With that, I grabbed the rope ladder, and proceed to rappel down, bouncing all the way, while I treated the rope ladder as straight rope.

    “... Okkkaaay.” Ichigo paused as I grinned at him. “I should have known you were saving that trick… Learned it on a set?”

    I nodded, noting Aiko’s facepalm. Kelia had just smiled at Ichigo, as she patted him on his arm.

    Before I could ask Aiko, Ryanne had stomped over. “Can you tell these neanderthals, I’m your lawyer, and that they’re to let me in…. Why the film crew?”

    I nodded at her, and smiled. “Well, might as well get started with the ‘Real Lives of Mercenaries’, no? Even if it doesn’t go anywhere, introducing myself and explaining things to them, would be a good idea to have on film, anyways.”

    Ryanne nodded. “Fine, let’s get this going.” Before either of us could move, a towering blonde mustached man, with a single lock of blond hair to keep him from being totally bald walked over. I glanced over his muscular frame, clearly shown by no shirt, metal gauntlets and baggy pants, and an errant mental thought crossed my mind, clearly Kikyo!original’s thinking, wondering about if his stamina matched up.

    “Are you really Kikyo Onishi? The star of ‘Freedom’s Price?’” I didn’t wince, but mentioning that B movie I had starred in, simply for the money, though I had to admit, the on site consultants were good and we had tried to make more of it than the script had planned, but there was only so much that could be done.

    “I am. Not my personal best, I’ll admit, but…” I trailed off.

    “Oh, wow, I loved you in that film! You were so good as an insurgent stealing mechs from the Kuritans!” My mind reminded myself of how some were acquired, and an impish part of me suggested I reenact those scenes with the good man in front of me. “Can you sign my copy of the movie’s poster?”

    “Sure… in a bit?” I smiled impishly. “Why are you on New Avalon?”

    “We’re here to meet the new owner of Fuji’s Mercenaries.” The man nodded. “Though I don’t know who it is, every time I ask, I just get laughed at.” He paused, facepalming. Removing his hand, he continued on. “Forgive me, Miss Onishi, I’m Alexander Armstrong, one of the platoon sergeants for the Infantry. Can I ask why you’re here?”

    My impish side couldn’t resist the opening father’s people had given me. “I’m Fuji’s recognized daughter, Sergeant.” I waited as he blinked. Blinked again.

    “Oh. Err...” I could see the thoughts running through his head. After a quiet minute, he stopped, and then nodded once. “Of course, Ma’am. I’m sorry for delaying…”

    I held up a hand, smiling at him. “You didn’t, and I’ll be by your quarters to sign the poster anyways. Always nice to meet a fan.” My smile shifted to an impish grin, at the slight look of worry that crossed his eyes. “Don’t worry, I’m not going to inspect quarters today, I believe. And I’m quite aware that posters of me sell well. Not ashamed of it.” His relief was visible, as he started to lead us to the guards.

    “And who is this lovely blonde next to you… and the people behind them?” Alexander’s inquiry wasn’t pro forma, but honestly curious.

    “My lawyer, Ryanne Darwin, and a film crew to record my introductory address to the Unit.” I paused. “Fuji’s Mercenaries? Really? Father couldn’t have thought of a better name?”

    Armstrong shrugged. “It is a holding name, to get us here, I was told. The new owner…” He trailed off, and blushed slightly. “Sorry, you, are to actually give us our official name. Any ideas?”

    I would swear the sparkles as he puppy eyed me would blind anyone. But, I indulged his curiosity. “I’m thinking Kiki’s Heavy Cavalry.”

    “... Use Onishi, I’d suggest. Sounds more professional.” Darwin interrupted. “That is if you’ve lost your mind.”

    I shot her a look. “I still need to address the unit and find what they want to do.” I nodded at Alexander. “It’s only proper.”

    Alexander was spared answering, as we reached the gate, where an older, weatherbeaten man was waiting. “Colonel Sved, I present to you Miss Kikyo Onishi, her guests, her lawyer, a Ryanne Darwin, and a film crew.”

    His bass voice matched his body, a very Viking warrior look, though his accent made Ichigo’s eyes narrow. “I accept the responsibility, Sergeant. Return to your post.” He turned to look at me, scanning up and down my body, eyes narrowing slightly at something, then looking over the rest of the group. “Ma’am, what are your intentions for our people?”

    I nodded at him. “First, to address them, and film it so our people on the jumpships and those with other duties may see it. This address will be to lay out what is going on, and what I would like to have happen. I will simply ask, does the unit wish to stay together as a mercenary unit, and have me as owner and commander, with competent seconds, or disband and move on. I do have a few things we could be doing, as a unit. Then I will meet with our senior officers who are on planet, and discuss House Davion’s interest in our equipment.”

    He studied me for a long moment. “Understood. I should warn you a few of the mechs
    and ASF have been earmarked for people in the unit. Only a few, four mechs and one tank. Oh, and a recommendation from your lord father, that you take one of the mechs. I do advise you, if we do try to make the unit a success, we keep the dropships, we’ll need them.”

    I thought about it for a moment, then nodded. “That shouldn’t be a problem on the mechs or the tank. As for Father’s suggestion, without good reason, I’ll stick with Bun Bun.” I smiled innocently. “He’s quite deceptive.” The Colonel’s eyes swept over the Archer in the background.

    “Archers are not uncommon command mechs, no. And I’ll take your word for his deceptive qualities. The dropships?”

    I shook my head. “We aren’t going to be able to keep the technology, if they are Royal. House Davion would be arguably criminally negligent not to get their hands on that many samples to reverse engineer. The actual dropships, on the other hand… oh, you better believe I’ll do my best to keep them. I counted how many we have, vs. how many rings we have. I did not like that math.” My voice had dropped slightly on that last.

    A grim chuckle rumbled out of his chest. Turning, he lead us slightly deeper into the landing zone. “That’s sadly the way the universe is, Ma’am. We’re lucky to have as many jumpships as we do now. I think only the Dragoons have enough interstellar lift to completely transport themselves.”

    “I understand that. Doesn’t mean I have to like it.” I shook my head.

    “Corporal!” Sved pointed at one man. “Spread the word, unit assembly at the First Colossus in a half hour.” With that, the pointed out young man rabbited away to spread the word. “Apologies, I believe it’s best to get the address done as soon as possible.” I nodded at that, and he continued. “And no, you don’t. Just deal with it. Which is why keeping our Colossi and others is important, Ma’am, as I see you understand.”

    I didn’t respond to that, as we kept walking towards a towering dropship, the aforementioned Colossus. “Are the ships named yet, Colonel?” I idly asked.

    “Not names that we gave them, Ma’am.” He shook his head. “Your lord father had made it clear that we were to wait ‘til we were ready, or you were in charge to do so.”

    “Ah.” I paused. “I take it you’ve been with him a while.”

    “Aye, before you were even a lustful thought in his head.” Sved smiled a bit at that, clearly testing the waters of my reaction.

    “I can believe that.” I thought for a second. “So, he’s been assembling this for a while, then?”

    “The last few years, yes. He wasn’t the most fond of Alessandro, shall we say? Not that anyone could blame him, but… it lead to some rash choices, which he decided to undo.” His eyebrow rose slightly to question did I understand what wasn’t being said.

    “No one can blame him for not trusting Alessandro’s abilities, no, given all things… And well, who wouldn’t want to make a fresh start with a new, and more competent Archon, considering the climate in Skye. Not sure he picked the right way to do it, but…” I trailed off.

    “Quite so. It is where we’re at.” As we walked closer to the ship, he quietly asked. “I take it you are taking responsibility for us? As your lord father wished?”

    “If you’ll have me, that is, and we can come to agreements.” I looked at the people gathering. “I didn’t quite expect this level of responsibility, but… Needs must.”

    The Colonel didn’t say a word for a long moment. “Aye, they do. And calling Summer a devil is apt. He has his claws into your older brother by Lord Fuji. All I can say about that situation on New Kyoto, is at least your niece, the Lord’s heir, isn’t against you, but… she couldn’t be responsible for us, and we would have drawn too much attention to her at this critical time.”

    “Oh?” My tone indicated idle curiosity, nothing more.

    His tone answered the question in the same way. “She’s 17, m’lady. And has a regent assigned by Katrina. Though she has seen some of your movies, and wants to meet you herself, I was lead to understand.”

    “Ah.” My response indicated I understood all the messages that the Colonel, who just smiled at the answer, was trying to pass. “Well, that won’t be immediately, I’m afraid to say.”

    He just nodded, as we boarded the dropship, my family and friends following a minute later. Ichigo had been silent during our discussion.

    The Colonel turned to face me fully, and nodded once. “I’ll go to seeing that the unit is ready for your speech and send Armstrong to get you when it’s time. With your permission, of course?”

    I knew the question he asked wasn’t a question. “Of course.” I watched as he left, then turned to Ichigo.

    “You’re quiet.” I quirked an eyebrow at my more military inclined brother.

    “Was studying the people and the equipment.” Ichigo hadn’t turned to face me, but was looking at a Battlemech. Finally, he turned to face me. “I’m getting the impression the Colonel expected you to keep the unit together. I know you found out yesterday, but did you…” I cut him off.

    “No.” I paused. “I noted that myself, Itchy.” For a moment I thought on how to put it as we both watched Aiko and Kelia look at the various mechs in the bay. The filming crew had already gone out to set up to tape the address. After a moment I nodded.

    “My suspicion is that the Colonel knows about the find outside the Lyran Commonwealth. And well..” I raised an eyebrow.

    “A merc unit with some loyalty would be a smart play, and you’d want to have a security force once that stuff was brought home.” Ichigo nodded. “It’s also helpful he’s from Rasalhague, meaning no love for the DC, and wouldn’t mind a stronger FS, leaning as proof that the find is factory related, as your father stated.”

    I tilted my head at Ichigo. “And why you didn’t go MIIO is clear. It’s likely you’re right about his loyalties. But… please, O5P, much less ISF would be more than willing to insert listeners into a merc unit.” Listeners was the slang term for friendly people who simply passed on information to actual case agents of an intelligence or security organization, an example would be an accountant inside a business, who’d report odd funding or odd spending on a project to his friends in the intel agency. In Battletech, given the nature of any decently sized mercenary unit, a lot of their recruits came from national armies, making it easy for intelligence agencies to gather information that way.

    Ichigo simply rolled his eyes. “While still possible, Kiki, unlikely, as handing this over to the Weeaboos would set him up for life. That’s why I don’t think so.”

    “Trust, but verify, and agreed.” I tapped my hip slightly. “As well as something we need to remember.” Ichigo got the point as he nodded. “But…”

    “Yeah. Decided what you’ll say?” The raised eyebrow was clearly questioning my sanity at this, but not denying the benefits.

    “The truth. Has the novelty of being rarely done. As for more, Adlib it.” I shrugged. “It’s not like I haven’t watched speeches of military personnel before.”

    “Who hasn’t?” Ichigo agreed. “Not a bad plan, but keep it short and simple.” Aiko had wandered up and snorted at that.

    “She couldn’t keep it simple if she tried. Nor short.” Aiko’s innocent smile wasn’t believed by either of us as Ichigo and I looked at her.

    “Ha. Ha. Ha.” I paused, and nodded once. “And we need to plot some ideas. Did you bring an IS map?” I had asked Ichigo if he could get an 2760 or so era map, listing systems, planets and moons.

    “Yep. Standard reader format. Why?” Ichigo’s eyebrow rose.

    “Plotting how we do this.” Aiko grinned. “What path, time, the works.”

    I turned to my little sister and shook my head. “Not we. It’s highly unlikely Prince Davion is going to let you off planet until he’s sure of our loyalty. And by sure… I mean sure, which means bringing home prizes he can’t deny.”

    Aiko opened her mouth, only to have Ichigo’s stare shut it. After a moment, she sighed. “I’ll figure…”

    A snort from the sole male in the bay ended her thought. “Good luck outfoxing the Fox, Aiko. Kiki hasn’t done it yet, he’s reserving judgement.” Ichigo shook his head. “And we’re not even sure the Prince’s going to agree. And to be honest, I’m torn about the ideas. Part of me wants to do it, simply for the good we’d do for the Suns, the other part of me wants to just give all the info to the Prince, and keep both of you out of the line of fire. So expecting me to disagree with my liege, on something that keeps you safe…”

    And means I’m a hostage.” Aiko shot back. “And what do you mean that the Prince hasn’t agreed?”

    “Yes. But since we don’t plan to betray our birth nation… “ I trailed off. “Low risk, and you can get the best education that the Suns can buy. If, as Ichigo says, Prince Davion agrees to let us go. Aiko, even if we give him all the advanced technology, or enough of it, these are Colossus class Dropships, Excalibur class too. Not to mention the Vengeances and Titans.”

    Ichigo picked up my statement. “To be deadly blunt, the three Excaliburs can carry a third of an RCT into battle, the Colossus, assuming stock, could, with say…” His pause was clearly to do a bit of math, “one Vengeance and… call it three Triumphs…” He nodded, sasified, and continued. “Carry an entire RCT into battle, Achy. He’d be a fool to pass it up. The FSN is desperately short of transport. Just the Colossuses and Excaliburs alone represents roughly a 1% increase in the FSN’s combat dropship lift. That’s not mentioning the Monolith, the 6 Overlords, or the rest.”

    I picked up from Ichigo’s pause. “And 180 mechs, 120 ASF, 500 plus combat AFV, means he could build at least one more RCT, or Two, with some add ons. At a very cheap price. Ichigo knows more, but I’m pretty sure we’re barely keeping up with losses…”

    “Pretty much.” Ichigo nods. “It’d be more likely used to bring other units up to strength, most units are lucky if they’re at 90% of mechs, ASF and combat vees.”

    Aiko looked at both of us. “We’re Federated Suns citizens, he can’t just take it.”

    Ichigo nodded. “Not quite true, but politically, you’re correct.” Ichigo sighed. “He’s an absolute monarch, Aiko. The High Council really doesn’t exist.”

    I interrupted. “And while the nobles and other wealthy members of the Suns would throw three types of bitchfits if he just seized it, if he paid fair value, or went through the courts, using some previous laws, he’d get away with it. The Suns seized jumpships in the First Succession war, Aiko. And while yes, they paid rental and eventually compensation for losses…”

    “We’re still paying a bit, from the military’s budget.” Ichigo responded. “And as a unit with maybe 10% of our strength in personnel compared to equipment… The courts would side.”

    Aiko looked at both of us. “Why? Why would he do theft at …”

    “Because it’s good for the Suns. It means a stronger military. If one actress gets cash instead of hardware, no one would care, figuring a twenty-year-old wild party girl couldn’t use the equipment anywhere near as good as the AFFS could.” Kelia broke in.

    I nodded. “And in a way, without what we know, he’s right.” I paused and nodded once. “This isn’t to say what I know from…” I shrugged, careful to imply what happened, but not say it. “Says he’d do it lightly, nor that he’d like it. And what he said to me in Bun Bun indicates the same… but his personal ethics and morality have to be put aside for The Federated Suns. That’s the meaning of the oaths he took. To be the Devil himself if needs must.

    Ichigo nodded. “Doesn’t mean he’s not a good man, just…” He sighed. “The truth is, the higher up you get, the more honor and integrity, and morality have to be put aside for duty.

    “I’m not saying I won’t work with him. I was born here, my ‘other’ memories indicate that he’d be one of the better First Princes, and he’s about as good as a man can be in his position, but he’s in the same boat as Katrina, who would dearly love to burn Loki to the ground, but can’t. Because she needs them, as amoral, reckless, and frankly disgusting they are, they’re a tool she needs to keep normal Lyrans safe.” I nodded once, and Ichigo picked up for me.

    “House Davion does a decent job, generally. House Steiner, not too bad either, but that’s about it in this period. Well, not counting the Periphery states, but...” He shrugged. “I’m loyal to him, but I’m not blind to his faults, nor that he can’t live up to the ideal we have of him and his house. That he tries to do the best he can, is enough, in this flawed universe.”

    I looked her in the eyes, and tried to convey how deadly serious this was. “This does not mean we can’t make it better. I’ve been given a big enough lever, and I will find the fulcrum to move worlds.” I smiled. “For the better.

    “But that means we have to work with what we have now.” Ichigo nodded at me. “And that means recognizing flaws and the facts as they are. And that at times, levers get stepped on. Which we don’t want for you.”

    Aiko looked at us both, trying to think of some argument that would counter what we had said and implied. Finally she sighed.

    “I guess.” She blew out a breath. “You’ll get this done fast… right? And safely?”

    Ichigo looked at me and I looked back at him, and we both turned. “We’re not leaving yet, Achy.” Ichigo smiled. “And Well… I’m pretty good, so I’ll make sure Ferret here doesn’t get over her head.” I hit him for the ferret crack, but before I could respond to his crack Aiko commented sourly.

    “And who’ll keep you from getting over his head, Kunoichi…?

    “Me.” Kelia grinned. “I’ve been there, so I have a good idea on how to get out.” She tapped her lips. “And these two maniacs need a minder, older, wiser, more cynical…”

    “Hey, wait a second.” “I’m the same age as you, Kelia!” I and Ichigo responded.

    “Ma’am? We’re ready.” Armstrong stomped up, interrupting and being clear that he hadn’t listened in.

    “Saved by the bell, I do believe.” Kelia grinned as I shot her a dirty look.

    “Keep it simple, keep it easy.” Ichigo advised again as we walked out, which triggered something in me.

    I paused for a moment, and turned to look at him with a sweet smile. “Dear brother… my unit, my people, and I do believe I have more experience in public speaking than you do.” I paused again, stomping on the panic at not having a script to work off of, and continued smiling. “I do think you believe you are in charge.” My smile dropped. “Correct that belief. These are my people, my responsibility, not yours. I have to inform them of who am I, what I intend, and convince them that they should stay under a twenty year old who’s rep is ‘party girl actress’, not a halfway decent battlefield commander or one with the potential to be such.”

    I resumed walking, and threw over my shoulder. “Me. Not you. You might be assigned to join me, or be part of this unit, yes, but you will never be the one who the buck stops for here. You made your choices, live with them. I did.” I threw my hair back and strode to the podium, leaving dead silence behind me, and feeling a bit lighter. Apparently I had some anger towards Ichigo’s choices in life. Something to work on, but... Time to give a speech.

    Stepping up to the mic, seeing the cameras zooming in on me behind the gathered personnel, which a quick count showed well over 500 people, I knew it was showtime. Time to convince people who had no good reason to trust my abilities. Drawing a deep breath, I started and leaned slightly into the microphone. An impish thought took me, and for a brief second, I examined it. And then ran with it.

    “Hello, everyone. I’m Kiyko Onishi. I’m not an actress portraying your new commander, I am the owner and commander today. This wasn’t what I planned on. This wasn’t what you planned on, this wasn’t what my father planned on, clearly. But that’s the universe for you.” Looking around at the reactions, I nodded once and continued on.

    “I didn't know much about my father, except he was competent and did his best to meet his responsibilities. I didn’t know that he was putting together a mercenary regiment. I didn’t know he was going to leave it to me, or I’d have studied a few other areas than the engineering program I just finished, magna cum laude, I might add.” Sipping at a glass of water, I took the moment to gather my thoughts.

    “What I do know is he was an excellent leader, an excellent judge of character, and someone who had the ability to pick those who’d be best for the jobs he had in mind. He was also an explorer, both of space and history. The proof is literally in front of me and behind me.” I waved at the Colossus that was behind me, then at the senior people of the unit.

    “I also know that the primary purpose of a mercenary unit can be summed up as ‘Make the other sorry son of a bitch die for his nation or contract.’ I also know that I can learn to truly command a unit, and do well. Otherwise, Father would not have sent you to me, he had other children, and of course his heir to his title. I know I can fight a battlemech, and even have some training to do so. I know, given time, I can do what my father wanted. Which is to command you. Lead you. Fight with you. He sent you to me, because he could no longer meet his responsibility towards you. He entrusted me with that, and I will not let you down. I will not break up what he started. I will not fail in the trust he left me.”

    Leaning forward even more, I grew more intense. “What I need from you, is your decision. Do you want me to lead you. Do you want to stay in the unit. Do you trust me to rise to what you need me to be? And I need that answer by tomorrow afternoon. Time waits for no one, and as always, vultures gather. Again, I am Kikyo Onishi, your new commander and leader. And I will lead us well. Which means I will listen, I will learn, and I will care. Which means I have a lot of learning to do, and a lot of work to do, to get up to speed.”

    I stepped back and nodded once. “Dismissed.” Murmurs rose as the people clumped together to talk to each other, and I turned to the closer group. Father’s senior people who survived, and of course my family and friends.

    “Nice speech.” Sved spoke in a soft rumble as I approached. “I’ve told the senior officers to assemble, but this is Evie Cook, our chief technician.”

    A weathered dirty blond looked over my clothing, tsking. “No cooling suit, even walking on a tarmac?”

    “Bun Bun runs very cool.” I smiled.

    “He’s an Archer, that’d have to be a modified one… How much training do you have?” Evie asked.

    “About three to four months instruction by mercs, plus since I got Bun Bun a half hour to hour a day sim practice.” I shrugged. “My conservator was quite pointed that I… ah, how did she put it? Ah! ‘Did not need to use a Battlemech, even if she owned it, since an actress or fusion engineer had no place…’” I sighed. “So…”

    Evie thought for a moment. “I see. I’ll get several techs to look her over. She’s not standard, that’s for sure. Too smooth for a rookie.”

    “He.” I shook my head.

    “Ah.” The tech shrugged. “No matter. He was moving too smooth to be anything less than fine-tuned, either you had very good techs, are much better than you indicate or…” Before she could finish a rough voice broke in.

    “She’s fluff. Hasn’t even thought about fighting a day in her life, Evie. And she couldn’t have moved the ‘Mech, she’s not been trained to do so.” A bearded giant of a man strode forward, looking like a wall of muscle. He glared down at me, and I shot him a look, itching to just show him. “We should have been sent to Baron Azula, not her.” Before I could shoot back at him, Gry rumbled.

    “We weren’t, because he is, in order, first an shit commander, second a traitor to the Archon, third so politically naive he actually believes the crap Lestrange is peddling. Kikyo at least isn’t stupid, has been used to direction so if needs be we can shape her, which you are good at, and is also very much a person who looks after her own. Or so the very expensive private detectives her father hired indicated.” He smiled. “Among other things, some of which was easy to find out.”

    “Azula isn’t that bad…” Uri started, only to be looked at by a still young looking blonde who walked up.

    “Uri, he is, and he blames it on his subordinates. Or do you not remember how I came to the Count’s attention?” As Uri paused for a moment, she turned to me. “Hey, I’m a fan of your movies… not as bad as Armstrong, but who is?” She winked. “Jaroslava, one of your mechwarriors.”

    I nodded, smiling at her, then turning to Uri. “I see.” My smile grew sharp and Ichigo started muttering under his breath. “Care to put your pride where your mouth is?”

    “What?”

    “Here, now, unarmed, first to be knocked out.” I smiled innocently at him. “It’s not like you have anything to fear, is it?”

    Uri looked up and down. “You have no training, girl…” He paused. “And this isn’t a movie set.”

    I looked at Gry. “You said Father made a file on me…” He nodded. “Did Uri read it?”

    “He did.” I blinked at the response

    “Give my lawyer the detectives’ names, we want that money back.” I nodded, and turned to Uri, who was considering me as he looked up and down my frame, noting that for all the softness of my curves, there was muscle and tone backing it up, plus his expression was saying something about me bothered him.

    “Bah. She’s just fluff. Movie fluff.” He stripped off his jacket, and settled into a boxing stance.

    “Call it.” I looked at Gry, who nodded, as I stepped roughly ten feet away from him and settled into a watchful stance.

    “No lethal blows, no crippling.” Gry waited 'til we both nodded, but before he could speak the starting words, Jaroslava broke in.

    “You all know she actually does all her own fight scenes, right?” The blonde grinned, as she looked at the giant.

    Gry shook his head. “Go.”

    I let my ki flow, and hit the watchful state that all good practitioners needed as Uri avadanced, careful to keep his guard up, and watching my hands.

    As his fist darted in, I flowed down, and into a kick, aiming for his side, to disable him as fast as possible, but for a man of his size, he was quick, though my kick did stagger him enough that my follow through jump kick caught his jaw, knocking him to one side, and as I came down, I spun again in another kick.

    This one connected firmly on his temple, and down he went.

    “Good thing you used the side of your foot.” Gry said mildly.

    A redheaded woman, with a bag with a red cross on it dropped next to the fallen giant. “Next time you feel the need to beat sense into Uri, ma’am, make sure he’s wearing headgear.” A pause, as she checked his eyes. “And don’t kick him in the temple. He’s got a mild concussion I suspect.”

    I shrugged, but before I could respond, a man spoke. “Flashy, but I recognize the style from another lady I saw fight, when I was still a believer in the crap sold in the Combine.” I looked at a half-asian man. “I’m Tokutomi Kartodirdjo, your father saved me from being killed by ISF, when I thought flying starships for the DCA was not a good idea anymore. Cumin here,” He jerked a thumb at a swarthy redheaded man, “is my boss, and runs the Fleet.” I nodded at both men, who had the classic pale look of spacers.

    “My mother taught me, and I learned some from here and there, as well.” I smiled.

    “Uh-huh. I’m not asking any more questions.” He shrugged and leaned against the podium.

    “Urg..” Uri groaned as the doctor put smelling salts under his nose…

    “What were you doing?” The redhead’s voice was calm.

    “Showing some fluff she wasn’t on a movie set… why am I on the ground?”

    “Yeah, you have a mild concussion, because she kicked your ass.” The Doctor stated amused. “And she made it look easy.

    “... oh.”

    Ichigo broke in. “Thank you, sincerely on agreeing to being her kicking bag today. She needed to blow off steam. And I was getting the feeling it was time for another of our… ah, spars. I rather not replace another cup this week, thank you very much.”

    Uri with a bit of help eyed me blearly. “Okay.” He winced at the sunlight. “So, you’re not totally fluff.” He paused, rubbing his side. “And kick like a cornered rabbit. I should know better.” He straightened, and shook his head. “Okay, okay. I deserved that. But will you listen to what we have to say?”

    “Of course.” I shrugged. “I’d be a fool not to listen to those who know what they’re doing in their fields.”

    “Good… good… now I’m going to go get an ice pack.” He staggered off, followed by a few.

    “Huh.” I shook myself. “Okay, I do need to see Gry, Cumin and Evie, I think, plus whoever’s in charge of the dropships… and the rest can go get information on what our people want to do?” I looked around at everyone, some I just met, some who hadn’t been introduced. Several nods responded to my statement. “Right, let’s get going. The clock’s ticking, we’re not a proven-by-law unit yet, and the Federated Suns, specifically the First Prince, is eyeing his checkbook, and wondering how much the courts will say he has to pay to get our stuff.” I clapped my hands. “Go, go… I have dinner with him tomorrow, and I want to give him an answer that means we stay together and keep most, if not all our stuff.” Several smiles, several nods.

    Gry nodded at the three I mentioned, and to the others, backed me up. “Get to it, people, she’s right, time’s a ticking.”

    As the rest scattered, I looked at the two remaining who Gry had waved at. “Ma’am, this is Tim Nichols, our overall dropship commander, he flies a Mammoth.” The weathered spacer nodded at me, and he was of a cut my inner Kikyo found tasty, slim, ripped and a bit salt and pepper with piercing black eyes. His wave at the younger Indian looking woman, who spoke.

    “I’m Meheitav’el Mari, I fly a Vengeance, and acting overall combat dropship CO.” Her smooth alto was soft. She had the look Ichigo and fellow pilots did, though the metal peeking out of her jumpsuit’s leg said why she wasn’t in a cockpit. She noticed my glance. “Bad ejection from a Sparrowhawk. As your brother can tell you, it’s not healthy taking one of those up against the Snakes.”

    “Lucky they didn’t shoot you while you were out of your Sparrowhawk.” Ichigo mildly noted.

    “They tried. Is why I have a new leg. Nowhere good as the older model, alas.” She shrugged. “Was bumming around for a bit, your sister’s father picked me up to run the ships, since I had some experience in covering assault ops, both from a command deck and a fighter.”

    Ichigo’s eyebrow rose a bit, but he nodded.

    “Right.” Clapping my hands together, I drew the five’s attention to me. “Issues. Evie, as Chief Technician, you’re also handling supplies?” She nodded. “What’s the major issue we have to solve right now.”

    Evie raised her eyebrow as to ask where did I figure there was one. “Food, well, coffee and food, plus diesel. We’re virtually out of the former two, except the jumpships having two months worth each, and we’re out of gas for our ICE. Which do I prioritize, and do you have any good sources?”

    “Coffee, then food. Don’t worry about fuel for the ICE, hydrogen though… And,” I turned to look at Rayanne who nodded. “Rayanne can help there.”

    “No fuel? Not for our tanks?” Gry asked mildly, a clear question, as if he was questioning my thinking.

    I grinned, looking at Aiko who was bouncing in glee, based off one of our discussions on how stupid logistics were in the 31st century. “Nope. Well, low priority, as with a bit of luck, we’ll replace all engines with fuel cells.

    Evie’s eyebrows drew together as she narrowed her eyes, while Gry and Uri who had walked back in were about to speak.

    It was Mari who spoke up first. “Aren’t those just for civilian use? Not reliable enough? Cranky? Short ranged?”

    I shook my head, a few loose bangs flying around. “Don’t our industrial mechs have them? As for reliability, they’re pretty solid. I’m thinking of not having to tote around two types of fuel.”

    “She’s right. They’re as reliable as the ICE’s we got, and I’ll admit, not having to tote Diesel, just water or hydrogen around would simplify things a bit, and water’s easy to get. Yeah, we’d take a range hit, but the cells, offhand, are lighter, so we might be able to make up the range by bigger tanks.” She paused, then nodded. “Risk of explosions due to the hydrogen instead of diesel, but realistically, tanks burn easy anyways.”

    Gry’s eyes narrowed, and a slight smile crossed his face. “And the fact no one uses them for military?”

    Evie shrugged slightly. “NIH? Laziness? Annoyance at having to reequip? Scarborough tried with the J-Edgar, DCMS wasn’t buying, which also likely threw off people. Of course, since you had to add heat sinks to the poor hover, in that case, to keep it’s weapon load, it did suck.”

    Uri snorted. “And the others?” Evie shrugged.

    “Don’t ballistics and missiles not need cooling on tanks?” I raised an eyebrow at Evie. “And well…” I shrugged. “Less fuel types, and one that requires processing our reactors can do…” I paused, and nodded once. “I figure since the SLDF didn’t use them at all for military use, most people missed the boat, and well… ‘If the SLDF didn’t do it…’”

    A snort there was shared. I grinned. “Exactly. Evie, is it possible?”

    “Sure.” She looked at the others. “It’d require people, and money to buy the cells, and time, of course.”

    Several more people walked up. “Hey. I’m Meta Jinks. I run your infantry” The short and weathered black woman waved a hand at the man that stepped next to her. ”Albert here, Albert Shelton, “ a classic English looking man nodded. “Is your tanker boss.”

    A Half Japanese woman eyed me, her gray hair speaking to her age, though the small number of wrinkles indicated she wasn’t too old. “I’m Micte Messana, your fighter boss. Hydrogen? Why?”

    “I’d be curious, myself.” Albert spoke up in a New Avalon accent himself.

    Evie raised her eyebrows at me. I nodded.

    “Replace all our ICE’s with Fuel cells.” I saw a bit of puzzlement finally breaking through on my words, so I expanded. “Hydrogen burning engines, not fusion reactors.” I sighed. “Okay, simple? You take hydrogen gas, oxygen, run it through an electrical setup, out comes water and electricity. And as any person who has studied fusion engineering or worked on reactors, or had ‘Emergency fueling 101 of your mech’ knows, crackers, or the device used to break hydrogen and oxygen apart from water, is built into every fusion reactor just about.” I grinned. “Or Fusion Design 101 lied to me.”

    Albert narrowed his eyes. “That’d help, but hydrogen is explosive… but.” He shrugged. “I doubt it’s much more of a risk than diesel, in some cases. Why hasn’t more people done this?” Evie answered him in an aside, quietly.

    “Any other pressing issues tech or supply wise that has to be handled now?” I raised an eyebrow as Evie finished.

    “Yes.” Evie raised an eyebrow. “‘Fusion Design 101 lying to you’?”

    “Magna Cum Laude, Capitol City University, Fusion Engineering.” I smiled sweetly. I shrugged at the slight looks of amusement and questions. “I figured it’d be cheaper to maintain Bun Bun, if I could do a lot of the work myself. And acting degrees are for posers. If I’m going to spend money on a degree, I’m getting a degree that pays well in a career that I can have as backup.”

    Evie grinned. “Smart.” Several nods ran around at that.

    I looked at her. “Anything else?” She shook her head and waved at Cummin.

    “Fuel for the jump and dropships, and all fusion reactors are done, Ma’am, and while I’d want to set up a rotation for liberty, I can handle that, though would like to know how long we’ll be here.” The swarthy jumpship officer nodded. “I expect a bit while recruiting.” I nodded at that.

    “Okay. I’ll get you that info as fast as possible.” I nodded and turned to look at the others.

    Gry pointed at Albert.

    “I’d appreciate some range time and exercise time for my crews, considering you’re going to sideline their vehicles, but it’s not critical. And I’ll add to Gry’s request for more people, as I expect he’ll do.” I nodded at the officer that Ichigo was staring at.

    “I understand, and in fact, if at all possible, schedule in field exercises for all units. I’ll see about renting some training grounds.” I looked at everyone who nodded. “Give me… well, give me and Rayanne,” The named woman sighed, put upon, though I didn’t miss the cash register sounds in her mind. “Two days?” I looked at everyone, who nodded again.

    Gry looked around at everyone else who shook their head, leaving it to him. I raised an eyebrow.

    He smiled. “As you can guess, we need to register our new name with the MRB, “

    The Mercenary Review Board, aka Comstar’s attempt to control the mercs was the rating and bonding agency for the mercenary units and the houses. “And of course, get you registered with the Mercenary Guild.” The Guild was for the mercenaries themselves. It did what the MRB did for units, but for individual mercenaries. I nodded.

    “And start recruiting as fast as possible?” I smiled innocently. He grinned back.

    “You understand. As you, yourself pointed out, the First Prince knows, and well, why make it easy for him?” Gry’s slight smile was shared by most, though Albert and Ichigo looked a bit bothered.

    “Can’t say that’s a bad idea.” I paused. “Right, I have dinner with him scheduled tomorrow, do we have a uniform yet?” Gry shook his head, and I grinned. “That I can take care of shortly.” Gry’s eyebrow rose at that statement.

    “Professionalism. Not only should we have a uniform, it helps with recruiting and with morale, so our people know we’re a unit. Not a cast together bunch headed mostly in one direction. And...” I smiled at Ichigo. “Prince Davion will understand the message of me in a uniform that’s registered with the Guild and MRB means.”

    Uri relaxed slightly at that, and several more nods. I looked around, and noted that no one seemed to want to press the issue, though Jinks and Uri were trading looks. Finally Uri himself spoke. “No insult to the First Prince intended, but you need a security detail. Putting aside the threat that Loki provides, your half brother was very angry, and well… can’t argue he’s capable of doing some dumb things.”

    Ichigo interrupted. “Got a call in to a person who owes me a favor, for a good detail, or at least a solid line on one.” Uri looked stubborn 'til Jenks herself spoke up.

    “I’ll detail Armstrong’s squad for short term, until your line comes though, though I’d want to verify their skills.” She shook her head. “It’s not just LOKI, or an idiot…” She mildly glared at Uri, who raised his hand in a manner indicating between the two to drop it. “Or even other national actors I’m concerned about. Let’s… say lostech finders have had a bad habit of ending up dead. By ‘unknown’ actors.” Her voice dripped sarcasm.

    Ichigo nodded. “Works for me.”

    I looked around, a bit annoyed. “If you’re all finished making decisions for me…”

    Gry interrupted. “Ma’am, Meta’s in charge of security. Let her do her job… and Uri is the person I had slated to actually act as somewhat of a mentor.”

    I blushed slightly. “Oh.” I paused and nodded once. “Good leaders find people and let them do their jobs.” I shook my head.

    “Exactly.” He looked around and nodded. “I’ll go with you to see the uniform idea, and then we can go deal with the Board and Guild.” He raised an eyebrow at that, seeing if I’d challenge him. Since I agreed with him, I simply nodded. “REST of you, get to work. Bed down the people in the warehouses, so they can spread out, and start uncrating the equipment.” Everyone nodded and with various salutes, departed.

    Evie had remained behind for a moment. “Can I have Bun Bun’s override? So we can get him into a bay?”

    I shook my head. “A friend, who’s also a tech has it, Debora Hickey. She’s next to him.” Evie nodded with this, and moved off to where Bun Bun was waiting.

    Gry turned to look at me. “We also have to discuss organization ma’am… and ranks.”

    I pulled out a chip from my valley and handed it to him. “My thinking on targeting recruiting, Table of Organization, Table of Equipment, and rank structure, Brigadier, if I may be so bold…”

    His eyebrows hit his hairline.

    “I didn’t sleep much last night.”

    Pulling out a clunky datapad, my mind screamed. Fuck you futurists of the 80’s. Unlike the sleekness of a Kindle or Ipad of the other world me would know, this looked like something you’d see in Star Trek, the original series for that. Did explain why his side cargo pocket on his trousers bulgeled, though. Putting the chip in, he used the controls to tab throughout the document I had spent several hours creating. By the time he finished a fast scan though, I’d have sworn his eyebrows hit the back of his neck.

    Finally he looked at me. “Remarkably complete and has some things that, unless you leaned on your brother, it shouldn’t. Most units don’t organise support that deeply.” Ichigo raised an eyebrow, and was passed the datapad. “But workable, very workable. I note the uniform design, though I only saw it in monochrome. Will do for a dress or semi formal one.”

    “We really do need to form the Command unit as fast as we can, I believe.” I nodded. “That’ll make any other issue moot, with courts or unit, if there’s a solid combined arms regiment with support to build around…” I trailed off.

    “Agreed. I’d not say that it’d completely constrain anyone, but the Suns, like the Commonwealth, is a nation of laws. That’s before the Review Board, and it’s master Comstar gets involved.” He nodded. “And outside the advanced technology, Davion wouldn’t have a leg to stand on, if there is a unit. I have a car arranged, let’s pick up Armstrong and his squad, and get to the offices, if you’re meeting with Davion tomorrow.”

    I grinned. “Let’s.”


    Guifier’s Clothier, Avalon City, New Avalon, Early Afternoon, Jan 2nd, 3015,


    “Kiki, Kiki, Kiki.” The man shook his head sorrowfully. “You never write, you never call, unless you need something. A man would think you don’t love him anymore…”

    I rolled my eyes. “Didn’t we talk New Year’s eve?” I grinned taking the sting out.

    He put his hand to his heart, “But that was business! Not pleasure!”

    “Uh-huh, and you staying for most of the party?” I just shook my head.

    He grinned. “Well, so many…”

    “Right, pretty pretty boys you call men.” I singsonged. His laughter rang.

    Ichigo and Gry were just looking at each other, sighing. Richard, the proprietor of the shop finally stopped pulling my chain, and turned to look at the two gentlemen. “Does your brother need a new dress uniform, Kikyo? And this gentleman a tuxedo for an event?” He walked around the two men. Ichigo just snickered at Gry’s uneasiness.

    “No, and stop the ham.” I mentally marked my XO’s discomfort, and wondered was it the frank appraisal, or Rich’s usual routine with customers who didn’t know him very well. “How is your wife… and five children.”

    “Six. And you well know how Lisa is, since she catered your party for New Year’s” He answered absently. Gry’s head snapped around.

    “Yes, Richard’s a fan of the classic style, where in New York City in the 80’s all the fashion designers were gay.” I rolled my eyes. “It’s all a clever trick to get young women to strip and let him feel them up, even though he’s dedicated to his wife.”

    “But it works.” Richard protested. “And I can’t say I don’t love my job!”

    “Ah… It’s not the flamboyant act. It’s I thought we were here for uniforms, a tux? Really?” Gry finally spoke, bemused. He shook his head. “I’ve seen worse. You should see Mira butch it up when she’s of the mind.”

    Richard turned to me. “Uniforms? You?”

    I shrugged my shoulders. “Hanse Davion wants to ah… acquire my inheritance from my father.” I tapped my lips with a finger and nodded once. “It’s mostly equipment, but with a solid core to form a merc unit, right now… combined arms regiment, give or take?”

    “With lift, lots of lift, yes, ma’am.” Gry nodded.

    “But there’s enough equipment easily for a division.” I nodded. “And some of it… well. I can’t blame the Prince for wanting it. But there’s implicit.. Duty involved.”

    “Uh-huh.” Richard looked long and hard for a moment. “I’m not quite sure I buy that. You spent too much getting that gift from his parents fitted right.” He shrugged a bit though. “However, do you have sketches of the uniform?” He accepted a chip from me, and put it into a reader on his counter.

    The holo fuzzed a bit, 'til Richard thumped the display, then it steadied. I grinned. “So?”

    “Kikyo, dear…” He shook his head as he pulled up a display and went to work, adjusting, redrawing some lines, checking layers. “Do you have preference for color… ah, I see. Hmm, delineated by branch of service, nice touch…. Oh, Kiki, kiki, kiki. You didn’t talk to Ichigo, did you?”

    “Oh?” I tilted my head.

    “Turtleneck pullover of a soft wool blend for summer? And this fabric choice. Gah! You’ve driven mechs before, Kikyo, you know how hot they get.” Richard looked at me slightly amused. Gry’s wince could be heard.

    “Oh… I wasn’t thinking summer.” Richard and Ichigo both shot me a look that said ‘Clearly.’ Gry snickered a bit.

    Richard returned to the display and nodded once. “But workable. Very much so. While I don’t get many commissions for merc units, I’m aware the better ones do… the fly by nights or small ones… don’t.” He paused. “With these modifications, it’ll present the image you want, yes. More breathable fabric, and a light pullover with a turtleneck collar for summer will generally do, though you have a notation, this is duty, not combat or work uniform. For a dress variant, may I suggest adding a cape?” He sketched one on, and let it show, with four images in the holo. Two male, two female, one without, one with cape, and the caped ones wearing a slim rapier next to it.

    Gry leaned forward, and Richard looked at me. “My XO.” Richard leaned back to let Gry study the images. First, starting from the bottom were cavalry, or shin high boots, female version having a two to three inch heel, then for males, baggy black trousers, tucked into the boots, the female uniform with a straight a-line skirt with it’s hemline at just below the knee. A single-breasted space jacket with a black stripe along a sealing strip, which attached to a over the right shoulder strap which held the rank of the wearer covered the torso and waist, clinched by a belt with a Houou,my family crest or kamon as I thought of it.

    “Silver piping for enlisted along the sealing, rank bars the same for enlisted, gold for officer, their pips in gold as well.” Richard commented sotto voice. “Branch color is the turtleneck, strap and name plate, except for mechwarriors, where the name’s in white, since their branch color is black. Space personnel use a red color for the jacket, not black. I removed the cuff band, no need for it, not really.”

    “Cycle the colors, show the work uniform.” Gry commanded mildly, and Richard put it into words.

    “No taste for the work uniforms, none at all, Kikyo.” Richard shook his head sorrowfully. The technician and medical jumpsuits had their shoulders and to their breast line in their branch color, with rank pins at the same place they’d be on the duty uniform, while the rest tended to have fatigues of the late 20th century US Army, also called BDU’s, with branch color for their name, and rank in dull white or yellow depending on enlisted or officer at their right collar. To the self from the 20th century, I recognized the Star trek uniform, modified of course. The capes on the ‘dress’ versions only went to the waist, and were the same color of the jacket. They attached to the uniform at carefully hidden clasps at the collarbone points, and had a braided rope in branch color connecting the two clasps

    “I have to admit, I like the touch of the leather jacket, Richard for flight crew” Ichigo spoke up after that image had shown, a soft leather jacket in the style called bomber, with a strap for rank and rank.

    “That was Kikyo's idea, I just adjusted it slightly.” Richard looked at Ichigo’s jacket pointedly. “I wonder where she got the idea.”

    “Yep.” Ichigo’s amusement could be heard in his word.

    “It’ll do. It’ll do very well.” Gry pronounced. “It’s professional, yet conveys a image, and works to unify the unit. And the shoulder patches are a nice touch, left shoulder for the overall flash, right for the regimental flash, if we end up being multi regimental, that is”

    “Dear Kikyo forgot one thing.” Richard returned to his keyboard, and typed in a few commands. “May I suggest a beret of this style? It’s called American, with the regimental flash on it, except for senior officers, who wear the overall crest?”

    I paused, grinning. My inner old self demanded this. I really wanted now the Black Beret back. “In branch color?”

    Gry tilted his head one way, then the other. “And rank pins on it, as well, over the flash, and we’re good. Perfect. At least outside actual field work, then we’d want helmets, but for garrison or day uniforms, much less formals, yes. How long for one for the boss, one for me? Do provide the capes. And I gather providing full pattern for mass production is a non issue?”

    “Oh… yes.” He grinned. “I don’t do mass production, m’boy. But patterns for shops that do? Yes. There’s been several times, studios needed uniforms of a ‘design’, and came to me for the pattern.” Gry nodded at Richard. “As for how long… Hmm. I’d have to fit you, that’d take … call it an hour for that. Berets, Trousers, the pullover? Half hour per person, I have those or can quickly put one together, it’s a stock pattern. Patches… I can send the design to a shop that’ll have them here in 2 hours. Jacket’s the pain,and Kikyo’s skirt.” He pulled the holo up and looked closer. “Bomber Jacket, I’d have to order, at least the dye job on it, that’ll take time, I don’t do that. Cape’s trivial. It’s the jacket. Call it… hour at most to sketch it… say two to make it at most.” He paused. “A skirt for Kikyo isn’t a real problem, it’s putting in the mag strip at the stripe so she can move if needs be.”

    “I see.” Gry turned to me and nodded.

    “Okay… three hours, then?” I sighed. “Your normal account?”

    “Oh, yes, invoice will be delivered, with the pattern.” He grinned knowing why I sighed. He was the best on planet, but charged as such. Richard turned to Gry. “And as for you, I’ll let Melissa put her hands all over you. Not my thing, you understand.” He winked.

    Gry dryly replied. “And having a woman run her hands over me, does happen to be a thing of mine, so we’re both pleased.”

    “Excellent!” Richard turned to look at Ichigo who simply shook his head.

    “But while we wait, Richard, can I use your phone?” Richard nodded at Ichigo, who walked behind the counter.

    I watched as Gry got measured, and slowly drifted over to the counter, listening to Ichigo’s second call.

    “Hey, Morgan, this is Ichigo.” He nodded at the response he got. “Right, right, you said you owed me one. Collecting on it.” He grinned at the response. “Well, this is easy. Need at least a good name for a bodyguard, highly professional. Someone who can put in a full detail.” He nodded at the response. “Kikyo, you met her once, picked up a merc unit as inheritance.” The snicker that escaped him from the response had my eyebrow climbing. After he caught himself. “So, I need a name or some. Got any?”

    Ichigo blinked at the response. “Really? Seriously? Who?” His expression went blank on the response. “I got to hear this. When?” He tilted his head. “Well, you know of Guifier’s?” He nodded at the response. “So… Cheerful Hopes, half-hour?” He grinned. “Yeah, I’ll buy the first, least I can do. I got to hear this, Morgan. See you.”

    Hanging up the phone, he raised his voice. “We lucked out, it appears the guy I was owed a major favor not only is at loose ends right now, but is willing to personally consider the detail role.”

    “Who?” Gry’s voice raised.

    “Major Morgan Blackhand.” Ichigo grinned. “Kiki met him… what, five years ago?” I nodded, a cigar smoking stubble faced man appearing in my memories, who had said he owed Ichy big.

    “... what does he do?” Gry didn’t move an inch, but was curious.

    “Can’t say, though he wears DMI patches.” Ichigo’s voice rose in a challenge.

    Gry’s silence said he understood.

    I tilted my head. “Okay, why would he be willing to do it himself?” I tilted my head the other way. “And he’s a Rabid Fox, I’d bet.” Ichigo’s wince confirmed what I said. “Again, why?”

    “He’ll tell you, when he tells me, but apparently.. Well, black ops stink for a reason.”

    Gry’s voice dryly responded. “You’d be shocked at how many mercs have done them before becoming a merc, and been covered with the aftereffects.”

    Ichigo and I paused. Finally I sighed. “It’s likely less than I expect, Gry. Much less.”

    Gry paused at that. “That’s a story there, Ma’am… that’s a story on how you are that cynical.”

    “And one you might never know.” Ichigo responded before I could, only to grimace as my fist impacted his waist.

    Don’t answer for me. Even if right.” I turned to Gry and raised my voice. “Not today at the very least, Gry, not today.”

    “Ah.” The pause indicated several things. “Everyone has secrets, Ma’am, mercs more than most, and a past. As long as it doesn’t come back to bite, in the end… no one cares.”

    I grinned. “That’s the plan. That’s the plan. To have the past stay the past.”



    Cheerful Hopes, Capital City, New Avalon, Mid afternoon.
    Stepping through the doors, my eyes casually swept the bar, comparing it to several other times I had been in it. I froze when my mind came up with a mismatch, and said that at least a dozen people were too fit and too observant to be the normal bar crowd. Gry had stopped when I did, only to follow me as I had recognized the man we were to meet, who had a quirked eyebrow as Ichigo hadn’t broken stride. Shortly we were at his table.

    “Major Blackhand, I presume.” I said dryly. “And your friends.” He smirked, looking at Ichigo who blinked and scanned the room, with Gry nodding behind me, understanding why I had frozen slightly.

    “Good instincts.” His gravelly voice was approving. “More than your brother.” He waved at a chair, and I dropped my silver ice weasel fur coat in the chair next to him.

    “I’m wondering at times how he survived on the Kuritan Front, yes.” I dryly commented, shooting him a glare. “Or other times.” Ichigo didn’t say a word, knowing that he was in trouble for several things though he wasn’t sure what. “I’m surprised. When did Cheerful Hopes become… Frothy Fox, I think it is?”

    Morgan grinned around his cigar. “You’re right there. Got a few drinks on order, hope your XO doesn’t mind, but got him a Timbuktu Dark.” Gry nodded his thanks.

    “So.” I looked at Gry who raised an eyebrow, indicating this was my job. Turning back to Morgan, I steepled my fingers together. “Why are you willing to quit MI6?” MI6, or Military Intelligence, Section 6 of the Department of MIlitary Intelligence, was the Davion’s version of the SAS or Delta, the best of the best, the most qualified operators for direct action missions, and used in the most critical situations. They had earned the name Rabid Foxes and it wasn’t a compliment, not when first used for them.

    Morgan snorted at that. “Willing? No. But I’m not accepting a return to leading a troop, instead of my company, or being kicked out of MI6, for some asshole not telling me the details, and expecting me to slaughter an orphanage.” My eyebrows rose at that.

    “We’re the Federated Suns. We’re not supposed to do that.” I paused, nodding once. “Though I’m realistic enough to know you might have to, but…”

    Morgan sipped his beer and before he could speak, the somewhat rattled waitress had arrived. He waited 'til she was again out of earshot, and I had sipped at the Cuba Libre that was placed in front of me.

    “Well. Good to see you’re not total fluff.” He paused, and shrugged. “Let’s say this. I wasn’t given the information needed to make the on site call I had to, and I made one that was not acceptable to command, however, I made it based on the information I had.” He shrugged. “I’ll say if I had the information I was supposed to have, or at least more, I’d likely have made a different choice, or at the very least, be more sanguine about the situation, but, in this case, someone’s covering their ass and I don’t like it. Fuck ‘em.”

    His look at me was challenging.

    Ichigo was about to speak only to have my eyes boring into his. “Hush, brother.” Turning back to Morgan, I smiled sweetly. “Why didn’t you bring your case to Yvonne or the First Prince? Neither would be… unsympathetic to the situation. Nor would they blame you for following policy without reason to override that you knew. I wouldn’t.”

    Morgan blew out a breath. “Because, in a way, it’s not worth it.” He shook his head. “What, you think all our ops are Real Tales of…” He snorted, mentioning an off and on again holovid supposedly dramazing the Rabid Foxes.

    I shook my head in them. “I act, yes, but unlike enough of my well, fellows in that field, I’m quite aware that if any television show including news is even 25% accurate, much less ah, dramatizations, I’d be honestly shocked.” I twirled a finger. “Even if I do plan to shoot a reality show using the Heavy Cav, I’m not going to try that hard to make it realistic.” Morgan laughed out loud at that.

    “I like your sense.” He leaned forward. “I don’t have a problem with at least a short term gig 'til shit hits the fan again, and I get my company back… Let’s talk numbers.”

    “I don’t want you for just a bodyguard.” I nodded. Internally squealing, I was gloating. Gloating. An elite operator? Who was an officer and at least ten year veteran of such? Oh, yes.

    Morgan took a puff and blew out the smoke. “Oh?”

    “Having you, just as a bodyguard, or leader of such, or hell, just leading the recon elements for a multi regimental force, is a waste.” I nodded seriously. “So… how’d you feel about putting together and leading a Direct Action unit? At least company, though I’d prefer at least a battalion.” I heard Gry’s sharp intake of breath. He was right to be shocked. Very few mercenary commands could boast of operators, and maybe only a dozen could boast of a company. Battalion? Maybe three or four at best.

    “You think big. Timescale?” Morgan’s grin was infectious.

    “Depends. I figure at worst you could put together a company ready for operations of a limited nature in six months, no less. Full Battalion, with a bit of luck, and this does require you recruiting only no longer working operators, and those still mostly qualified… I’d expect nothing less than a year. Three if we had to train them.” I leaned back at him.

    Morgan’s eyes narrowed. “Good and mostly accurate thinking there. Costly though.”

    I smiled innocently. “I asked around and thought about it. If anything, your people have to be, no, are better trained before they step on the field than anyone else. So… first your people have to be proven, then go through training as intense as flight school, SERE, and space operations, then add in more training on top of that. At the least. That takes time.” I tilted my head at him. “Am I wrong?”

    He blew the cigar smoke and I sniffed appreciatively. “No, you’re not, though I think you’re underestimating how hard the training is. And the cost.”

    “If we have to train operators, if one in four make it, and you don’t kill or cripple for life one in ten, during the training, I’d be pleasantly surprised.” I answered coldly, and hiding the pleasure of the shocked expression crossing Morgan’s face. “And it’s worth every penny afterwards.” I paused, face tight as I bit out the next. “And it’d save countless of not just of your operators, but the line personnel. Worth it in the long run.”

    “Well.. huh.” He took a long drag of his cigar, finally stubbing it out. “You’ve got a clear idea at least on what it’d take.” He looked thoughtful. “Well. I can see some potential here. Still, numbers?”

    I slipped a piece of paper out of hiding, and slipped it over to him, after circling the top number. His eyebrows rose slightly. “Pay as an O-5 top flight Mechwarrior with bonuses, I see.”

    “And the authority to go with it, if we go full bore.” I nodded. “I don’t stint.”

    He nodded. “And what does Sved here think of this brainstorm of yours.”

    Gry looked a bit uncomfortable. “I’m not sure.” He turned to look at me, with a sigh. “You realize, if we do this, we’re going to be heavily marked, and we’ll have to bring Blackhand in on most everything? I’d suggest even more than you’re bringing me in.”

    I nodded. Morgan grinned more. Gry just shook his head. “I’m torn. I like the idea, on one point, it’d allow us to really charge, on the other… well. Dirty business.”

    Morgan snorted, and I barely held back from joining him. “We’re in a dirty business, period. What it takes so we come home and spend our paychecks is good.” I paused, turning to look at Morgan. “Not that that means slaughtering orphanages. Ever. Nothing could be worth that. If it is, we’ll find a different way.”

    Gry looked somewhat uncomfortable. “I really think this is a case of where the past may be needed to know, Ma’am, stuff that wasn’t…” I held up my hand.

    “When I’m sure I can trust you. Or are you willing to undergo babblejuice?” I raised my eyebrow. “I’ve already made a mistake in trusting one person.” I didn’t look at the said person.

    Gry’s eyebrows rose slightly. “I… see.” He didn’t answer the question, and I left it at that.

    “Which raises a question, are you, at least for limited questioning?” Morgan’s eyebrow’s hit his pompadour.

    “Huh.” He paused and lit another cigar, drawing it. When it was properly drawing again, he grinned once again. “Limited, and agreed on questions before, with someone who has a clue of what they’re doing? Sure. It’ll be fun. It’s been a while since me and my team have had fun juicing each other.”

    “I’m afraid I’ll not be able to let your boys juice you, but I’m sure we can both come to an agreement on who. At least. Maybe a pair, one each?” Morgan grinned.

    “I see we understand each other. Almost tempted to get you to agree to some juicing.” I raised my eyebrows.

    “It includes memory enhancement, doesn’t it?” I tilted my head. He nodded, curious where I was going. “Then I just might have to agree to such. I do hope you can find a qualified interrogator.”

    “That’s not a problem. As for the company you want. Got checks handy?” Morgan stood up, waving at a woman.

    I raised my eyes. “On me, no. Gettable in a couple hours, yes.” The Why was unsaid.

    Morgan smiled. “Eh, paperwork can wait.” He turned to the vaguely hispanic woman that had stepped up, observing me. Her shock of white hair over her eye contrasted with the tight black braid quite elegantly. Her trench coat covered a tight fitting pair of trousers and a black blouse, as well as the weapons I knew she had on her. “Ma’am, this is Captain Rios, called Rogue. I’ll have her handle your close in with a squad.”

    “Ma’am.” Her eyebrow rose in a question at Blackhand.

    “Well, you did say the company would follow me, and I said only if I could make sure you all weren’t going to be screwed by it. Meet our new employer who wants a Direct Action company.” The woman’s eyebrow was joined by another. “For her mercenary command.” Captain Rios turned to scan me, and finally in a soft soprano spoke.

    “... I… see. Sir, before we depart the Service, may I suggest something?” Her tone was frosty.

    “Strangle an MI2 profiler?” His smile already indicated that he had that thought. “Ahead of you, there. I’ll go collect the rest to see if they were serious, but for now, I’d want you and your squad on close.” Rogue nodded at her superior.

    I thought of protesting, but shelved it. Morgan was right, more than he knew, actually, and more importantly, best not piss off the man who’d be responsible for my personal safety and my unit’s most critical missions. But… “You know Guifier’s, right?” I received a nod. “Well, we’ll be there waiting for two uniforms, and fitting the Captain’s, though her rank will be higher I think…” I trailed off. “As well as her squad’s…”

    Rios developed a slight smile. “And dare I hope when Solo finds us, his?”

    “Hey!” I returned her smile at Morgan’s exclamation.

    “I do what to see what’s under his trenchcoat and pullover, yes, I do…”

    Rios smiled a bit more. “I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. At least looking.”

    “... I may need to rethink this.” Morgan muttered. “At least putting you two together.”

    I tilted my head, and smiled innocently, looking at my watch. “Well, we need to go, several meetings to do, dropping you off to have a uniform tailored, along with a few of your people…” I paused as he seemed to wilt a bit, then muttered under my breath. “Seems like old times, like Ranger school to me. Always running.” I wasn’t sure, but Morgan’s eyes seemed to narrow slightly at the last.



    Dropship Xanadu, Avalon Spaceport, Avalon City, New Avalon, Late Evening.

    I rolled my eyes, as Rios directed her platoon throughout Xanadu. I understood what she was doing, but as it stood, if anyone got in, we were screwed anyways. I quirked an eyebrow at Morgan who just grinned.

    “We’ll deal with full security once we get a full crew for her, Ma’am.” the stubble faced man smiled around his cigar. “For now, let Rios soothe her paranoia. She’s good at this.”

    I snrked. “And she didn’t really like the fact she’s good looking enough to be a pinup herself, and that I drafted her.”

    Morgan shrugged. “Her beer money thanks you though.”

    I rolled my eyes. “Uh-huh.” I nodded as Rios waved that it was clear.

    Shortly, the senior staff was assembled in a convenient nook of the park deck. Morgan grinned as Rios swept the area for bugs.

    “Now that institutional paranoia is satisfied, can we handle business? I hope everyone’s read the brief and unit organization.” I raised an eyebrow

    Gry nodded, but looked around, finally ending up on Morgan, after sorting though Cummin, Evie, Mari, Tim, Micte, Albert and Arwan. “You’re first, Blackhand.”

    He nodded. “My impression? You’re going nuts. Merc units do not and I need to repeat this, do not have the need or want for the support elements you want. Unless you’re really serious about having a multi regimental combat team size, or at the least an old SLDF division, Boss. Which I’d question how’d you afford the people and hell, just finding the gear. Much less transport.

    Several nods. I responded after a moment to see how others reacted, but that was the general view. “For the money, I don’t intend to give Hanse Davion, one damned thing. He’ll pay.” I grinned. “As for acquiring the equipment…” I sighed. “Look again at Deep support. Evie?”

    “It’s… oh, hell.” She nodded. “We can’t buy the equipment finished? We buy the frames, the parts, and do it ourselves. Commodore, how many contacts do you know that could source even full ASF frames? Or …”

    “That’s workable.” Cummin nodded at Evie. “Very much so. Time consuming, so unless you get a favorable contract from Davion… we’re going to have to scrounge our asses off to make it viable. But it is.

    I nodded. “And once up and running, well, I’m sure the Dragoons or Light Horse make money providing that to smaller units.”

    Gry nodded. “As well as their host nation units. Clever, very clever. That just leaves transport. Assuming we can get money out of Davion.”

    I nodded. “That… honestly, likely will take a *lot* of time to make work. Unless any of you have a list of sites Father forgot to tell me that had a pile of dropships.”

    Gry shook his head. “Only thing I knew about was a lead on where the Argo crashed.” He raised an eyebrow.

    “The Star League concept for a heavy support and forward base with a grav deck?” I quirked an eyebrow.

    “That be it.” He was mildly impressed. I shrugged.

    “One visiting lecturer commented on her drive and reactor from what little Galax has of the plans.” I shrugged. “Stuck in the mind.”

    Evie nodded. “Understandable.” She paused. “Now, the big issue. Hiring. You mentioned recruiting posters and like?”

    I grinned. “Why do you think the film crew ran around shooting stills? Of just about anything we let them?”

    “And that’s why Rayanne isn’t here.” Gry nodded. “She’s with the ad exec to put the campaign together. Are you serious about the docu-drama idea?”

    “Money, money, money. Every extra shilling counts!” I smiled innocently. I sobered. “If people want out because of it, we can let them go, if they just don’t want to be on TV, that’s doable.”

    Evie shook her head. “I don’t have a problem, and so far not many of my people even have raised it.” She looked around with a slight challenge. “If nothing else, long term, it might pay out, if young kids see how techs are critical, might get more into science and engineering, much less actual techs.”

    Gry nodded. Blackhand raised a hand. “My only issue is operational security, and keeping our operators, outside… well, maybe your bodyguard platoon, say?” He raised an eyebrow at me. I nodded understanding. “Outside the camera lens, or at the very least we get to edit shit and ‘shop it so our people aren’t marked.”

    “Understood, agreed, and I’m mildly surprised to see you letting any on camera.” I shot back.

    “Rouge abuse.” Several snickers were done in response. Evie stopped the laughing for a moment, and nodded once.

    “Only other issue I have, honestly, is how and why you want that many medics. 1 medically, at least paramedic level trained per squad?” She shot me a look. “That’s beyond excessive. Only Canopus does that. And…” I held up my head, reenforcing the command with a look.

    “Our people will have the best treatment and care we can get them. Putting aside having more people in a unit able to do medical duties, basic, at least, is a good thing for morale and internal capabilities, here’s a question for you.” I looked at Morgan with a smile. “How likely will people be to start shit with us on planet, if we’re treating their kid’s fevers or broken bones? Fixing their teeth? Helping their parents with heart issues?” I raised a sculpted eyebrow. I turned to look at Mari and Gry. “Same with our engineers. If we build roads, repair buildings, string power lines…” I trailed off.

    Gry nodded. “That helps, as I’m sure Blackhand would agree Hearts and minds is an important bit. But it also leads to garrison work of recently conquered worlds, which… well. I didn’t do it as a merc, but there’s times… and that’s Marik space, not Draconic held.”

    I nodded. “We’ll just have to be careful 'til we’re sure we can handle it. Though… I’d not be fond of being on recently liberated worlds from the Combine, I’d not trust the ISF not to bury cells to try to kill us.”

    Morgan snorted. “I’d trust them.” He paused and shifted his cigar. “To do exactly that, and try to set it up to blame us for other things.”

    Various nods at that. I continued and added. “But between those two reasons, that’s my thinking.”

    Evie thought about it. “Canopians have high retention rates in their units, maybe that’s a reason. Worth a try at least.”

    Gry shrugged. “It’ll help with infantry and armor recruiting, they’re always a pain, since a lot of people consider them unimportant. As for the specialist combat arms… make that part of the deal with Hanse. Getting them otherwise… difficult.” Before I could respond, a knock, and hatch opening interrupted us.

    Keilia stepped in with Rayanne following her. “Hey.” Trailing behind her was a man I had met several times before. De'Ath Bredon. Handsome in a sleek way, and with a great sense of humor, he had done a lot of work on various ad campaigns for my movies and other activities. He had an eye to targeting military as well, but had never really gotten noticed by the executives of various firms for bigger and better things. A tad just into middle age, he had taken his ‘failure’ to go beyond mid level manager with grace.

    “Yo, Kikyo.” The man smiled. “Got some test pictures and text to try out for the posters you wanted. Wasn’t too difficult.” He laid out the posters he had in mind, and put pages on the table.

    Gry scanned through the papers, and put one aside. “This, this will work for pros.” Morgan looked at it, quirked an eyebrow and nodded.

    “Should do… now let’s see the bait.” He grinned.

    It was hilarious, I mean come on. I know I look damn good, better than most in fact and I know that my personal presence and ability to command attention was why I was so successful as an actress. But here, my athletic figure hinted at a more obvious hourglass, breasts emphasized to look bigger than they actually were, and airbrushing to make my hair look redder, my eyes more emerald and my skin more porcelain. It was a fantasy, but this fantasy would make money, and send people into the unit.

    Gry snorted. “Uniform in front of the troops, cooling suit with Rios next to her holding the rifle up, and the one where she leans forward at the table. Tasteful, but still not unprofessional.”

    I tilted my head. “Keep some of the others, might run them as limited prints. The shot of Rios and Morgan working out is nice, Scythe boy.”

    Evie grinned. “I like the one of me and a few of my minions disassembling that tank. Might work for targeted recruiting.”

    “Yeah, my thought. The more cheesecake ones, like Gry boarding his Highlander, nah, whoever shot those didn’t get the message.” He paused. “So as I must, I’ll snip those for personal or limited sales. Along with several ah… ‘action’ shots.”

    I nodded. “I like the one where it’s a wide view of the unit in front of my speech. Whoever did the overlay of the uniforms…”

    “Can’t clip her yet, she’s new but she’s got talent, Kikyo.” He sobered.

    I wagged my finger. “No reaping! You’re paid to immortalize, not cut people short!” I grinned at him.

    He grinned back. “So… that’s why I’m not allowed at parties anymore. Tsk.”

    I shook my head sorrowfully. “No, that’s because you make too many bad jokes.” I grinned, then turned serious. “That’s enough?”

    “Those three, and the text, yes.” He returned to serious mode. “I can have a set ready to run to the Guild and other places in … call it a half hour for the final three to be proofed then an hour to run off 100 each?” He raised an eyebrow.

    “Works!” I grinned. “Gry?”

    “When they’re ready, I’ll send Uri to the Guild to post them and register recruiting, and to the MRB to also include it in our package and register everything. I’ll go around a few bars and post as well.” Gry nodded, looking at Uri who had trailed behind the ad executive.

    “Outstanding, I don’t want to be a grim and ruin people’s drinking, as people accuse me of…” De’Ath was grinning as he spoke. “Anyways, let me go and handle this.” He nodded.

    I toyed with the idea of inviting him back after he was done with that for a talk and a possible private recruitment session, but I squashed it, at least in front of my minions.
     
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  25. Threadmarks: Chapter 3
    MageOhki

    MageOhki Making the rounds.

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    I did say Chapter 3 would follow, did I not?
    Question: DOES ANYONE KNOW HOW TO #@*$(#@$#@%#@%&#$@(%&*#$@(*$@ Easily convert Word or GDoc (either, GDoc is *easier* but Word's not a big issue) to Xenoforge posts? Mutter...

    With a lever big enough I can move the world

    A Battletech FanFiction

    By

    Andrew “MageOhki” Norris.

    Chapter 3


    See Chapter 1 for disclaimers and other information
    I would like to thank Drakensis for kibitzing and Editing, JG/Joe Gunnarson (Of Whateley fame) for the same, Minako/Scratx for kibitizing, and Case/Fosfor for the same as Minako. Y'all made this go a LOT faster than the first two, thank you. Psyckosama deserves a special shoutout for helping reinspire, some basic visualization and idea throwing.

    Select your fulcrum

    Never forget, people who seem to have the edge on you, have weaknesses of their own, and often are aware of them. This helps to counter your weaknesses. Knowing about them is even better.

    Duty, as in what you perceive it to be, is often what others do not think your duty is. Be clear on what you see your duty as. Also, be sure to have them be clear on what their duty is.

    Always double check the small details. They might be costly if you don’t.

    Friends are precious. Friends who know what you’re going through are even more precious. Friends suffering along with you, golden. And last but not least, friends who’ll tell you to your face you’re doing it wrong, and why… Keep them alive.

    As noted before, first impressions matter. One problem is, sometimes that first impression has already been done.

    From the journals and notes of Kikyo Onishi, New Avalon Press, 3291 AD, as part of the “Century of Chaos: The Movers and Shakers.” series.

    ***

    Dropship Xanadu, Avalon Spaceport, Avalon City, New Avalon, early Morning.
    1/3/2015


    One oddity about spacecraft, is that there are hatches everywhere possible. In retrospect this is obvious why, it’s a chance to save some of the crew. However… it does lead to funny situations.

    “OW” and a thump was heard as I opened my hatch on my stateroom. Funny, that wasn’t supposed to happen. Stepping out I closed the hatch and looked at the man on the floor.

    “Hello, Major.” I commented as he was pinching his nose shut. My smile was playful. I, thanks to my memories of 20th century Terra, had a good idea what he was up to, but was waiting for confirmation. It was a good thing Aiko was being taken to her tutors by one of my new minions.

    “Whud the hell ure you doing ub?” I didn’t giggle, though it was a near run thing, as he continued. “You’re subbosed to be sleebing!”

    He was staring accusingly at me, and I schooled my face and voice before he could see the humor I had at this situation. “Well, Major Ferro, it’s like this. I exercise and practice every day. I slacked off the last three days, but that needs to stop.”

    I could see that statement processing though his head. I’ll concede privately, most starlets, including Keira, didn’t work out that much as teenagers or like, and that hadn’t changed. But, Kikyo did all her own stunts, and was a trained martial artist. As well didn’t like to diet or count calories, so she exercised. Between a thousand years of sports medicine improvement, and, to be honest, tailored genetics, remaining fit while being shapely as she was, was only an hour a day’s work. Keeping her art at a decent level only added an half hour to that time.

    Uri took a deep breath, and shook himself, clearing his nose. I made a slight moue as some blood flicked onto the bulkheads. “Right…” He gathered himself. “Well, let’s see what you do, then. I’ll see today if it’s up to snuff.”

    His eyes flicked across my frame, noting the leotard, the legwarmers, and the well worn sneakers I was wearing, plus a bag slung over my shoulder. Kikyo, for all her ferret on pixie sticks nature at times, had a well worn routine that I was following.

    “Do you like what you see?” I teased. Uri’s shrug was a bit odd.

    “Nice packaging, but is it serious workout wear?” His eyes were challenging, as he was in a muscle shirt, combat boots, and fatigue trousers. Kikyo’s part approved of the display.

    I shrugged. “It’s what I’m used to.” Before I could finish, Rios’ voice broke in.

    “We’ll get her used to regular workout wear later, Ferro.” She was in a similar set of clothing as he was, except she was wearing load bearing gear, and had a rifle slung across her back. “We’ll be escorting you on your runs from now on, Ma’am. The rest of the squad is waiting.”

    I nodded and waved at her to lead the way, as I expected she wanted. Uri fell behind me, lost in thought. A quick glance at him indicated he was troubled. “Problems, Major?”

    He waited a few moments as we walked through the ship. “... I was going to say no, but yeah. You actually have a mech certification from a reliable testing agency, your shoes say you put in exercise at least running, anyways, and you’re more up to speed on military matters than any civilian should be. Even one who paid attention to her family in.” His tone was challenging. “Makes no sense for an actress.”

    Rios’s suppressed giggle indicated she was really amused by the statement. I pretended not to notice. “I could say that your views of an actress need adjustment, possibly, though I’m forced to admit that I know many you’d be right about.” I shrugged. “I, from a young age studied the martial arts, do my own stunts, a lot of them, and I paid good money to a expert how to keep my shape while keeping good tone and flexibility.”

    “That doesn’t answer the rest.” He said a bit challengingly. I noted Rios listening in as well.

    I smiled a bit mysteriously. “Some things I’ll leave a mystery, Major.” I paused. “At least for now.”

    Uri didn’t say anything, as we reached the hatch leading to the outside, but he was dissatisfied. Rios might have been as well, but I couldn’t tell.

    “Well.” She spoke as she turned to face me, her face impassive. “We have a course laid out, and we’ll let you set the pace. How long do you want to run for?”

    I looked at my watch, and set a timer on it. “Once I push go on the timer, til it beeps. 40 minutes or so. And I tend to keep a steady pace.”

    Rios nodded. “Right. Let us get used to it for a bit, then we’ll put you in the center of us. When you’re ready?” She stepped next to me, with Uri and the rest of her squad falling in.

    “Go!” I grinned, having already stretched and warmed up, though Rios had one of her minions take my bag.

    As we ran, I set a 4 minute a kilometer pace, within minutes, Rios’ people had matched it and surrounded us in a casual manner, as if this was a light workout, while Uri gamely kept up for the first while.

    By the seventh kilometer, he was gasping, and finally staggered to the side. I and the rest stopped, and I looked at him.

    “Problems?” I asked sweetly.

    “... how many was that?” He gasped out as I got a bottle of water out of my bag, which I passed to him.

    After a quick glance at my watch. “Seven kilometers.” I took the chance to have some water myself, while I was able to still go, I *was* thirsty.

    “... I do five, and not that hard…” He grumbled.

    “Three more to go!” I looked at Rios who nodded, as we left him behind.

    “Mean, ma’am.” I nodded at Rios’ dry comment, not even sounding like she was out of breath. “Now, if I was to be to you… I’d set the pace.”

    “... No… I don’t think so.” I said in a slightly out of breath tone. “Consider that an order.”

    She just laughed.

    ***

    We had slotted neatly into the rest of the unit, who Uri lead though 20 minutes (apparently Rios had raido’ed ahead when I told her the morning plans) of the traditional caltenstics the military used. I felt vaguely unsatisfied by missing a few exercises I did normally, but I figured I’d catch them before a shower, or adjust my routines to the unit’s. One thing I noted during the PT, was the wide mix of outfits everyone was wearing, and mentally noting to fix that. Stopping at the Xanadu, I noticed Uri’s gasping, as he caught his breath.

    “Can’t…” Uri took a deep breath of air. “Say you’re out of shape at least.” Finally he nodded. “Right. What next?”

    I nodded. “Well, tonight I have that… dinner.” implying many things, not all of them good. “With the First Prince. Have Gry meet me in my quarters in the Xanadu in 45 minutes, and all the other senior officers in an hour?” I quirked an eyebrow.

    Uri and Rios nodded, indicating to me my idea was good. I really wanted to know why the unit wasn’t set up to have Gry commanding, his record outside one blemish, which was as much a political disaster as a military one, was outstanding. The rest weren’t quite as good, but any would be competent to command the multi regimental force I had inherited, while I learned the trade if I was so inclined.

    “While you’re all doing that, I’ll go get cleaned up.” I put actions to words, Rios’ squad following me, as I heard a snicker and a muttered comment from Uri.

    “Won’t be able to do that in the field, and battle stinks, might as well get used to it.” His comment I well knew, but I didn’t want him to know that yet.

    Kikyo’s cabin, Dropship Xanadu, New Avalon Spaceport, New Avalon, Morning

    I noticed Gry helping himself to a cup of admittedly fine coffee from my carafe on my desk, as I stepped out of the bathing area.

    “Hope you don’t mind if I got started a bit early.” His rumbling voice implied a bit of a challenge as he continued. “I have a feeling you want to ask a few very off the record questions.”

    “First, no, I don’t, I invited you, and yes, I wanted you to be at least at ease. Second, only one. Why not a more realistic arrangement. You’re very competent, at least the Guild says so, Evie could run the unit, Micte easily, even Albert. Meta could, if infantry ran commands anyways, still would be less of a problem than me. I’m a starlet, ran for a long time by the Maus, a true Mausketter, and once free, started the usual path, though I got a few good movies in.”

    The Price of Glory was very good, I’ll agree. Very realistic. What did you do, get mercs and ex Davion boys to write the script as you directed it?” Gry was referring to the only movie I directed, one that was while not the smash everyone hoped for, oddly popular with mercs and AFFS personnel.

    “I had some help in writing the script, yes.” I shrugged. “Now… the question?” I poured myself a cup of coffee, sipping, then adding a bit of creamer and sugar. “I better get used to black coffee.”

    “Eh, some do, some don’t. Meta can’t, as you pointed out, Infantry. Evie’s a tech, at heart, doesn't want the paperwork and the number of times I had to stop her from personally picking up a wrench… Well. Not viable. Albert… agreed, except the man has no head for finance beyond his paycheck. Micte?” He smiled a bit twisted. “She’d be taken for a ride by any sob story, without someone checking her.” Gry shrugged. “As for me… well, I suspect you read about Midale.” I nodded.

    “And? That was nearly thirty-five years ago. And all things being equal… the Guild had nice comments.” I quirked my eyebrow. A raid on a Davion world hired by a Lord Warden of the Taurian Concordat, Gry’s combined arms battalion, had gotten off the planet with four working mechs and a platoon of various personnel, and their Fortress. It was exceptionally bad intelligence, and a setup by the local Warden, to raise more paranoia about the Davions, who were actually rotating a unit for rest and refit.

    “I could say several things.” He shrugged, and looked me in the eye. “I know I’m good. I’ll even admit, I’m not that young headstrong man anymore, but… I thought I knew the score, even suspected we were being used as a political chip. But looking a man in the eye, and trusting him? And then losing my family because of his backstabbing ways?” He shook his head. “I can’t do that again. You’re a bit more apt with people, I believe. And I can warn you. I did for your father for many years, I even warned him about the trap we were walking into. He didn’t believe it, and the Blackheart’s last deal caught him.”

    I furrowed my eyebrows. The Blackhearts were the nickname of the Star League Defense Force Special Operations units. “Um… explain?”

    He rolled his eyes. “Your father confirmed as we left the base we had found, there was a message from an SLDF officer.” He shrugged. “Gloating how we took the bait and how those who would steal the League's secrets got what they deserved. Or so your father said.”

    “Ah.” I understood and knew it was quite likely true, all things equal. “... Okay. I can’t realistically command this unit, not at this size. I can be the face, I can learn the trade under you, but I need an actual field commander, who knows his way. You do.”

    Gry nodded. “I did it for your father, it’s not a problem to do it for you, though I won’t last forever, and would like to retire sooner or later.” He smiled a bit crookedly, the salt and pepper in his beard seeming more salt than pepper.

    “So, what you’re saying is learn fast?” I smiled crookedly myself. “I do.”

    “Good.” With that he stood. “I’ll just excuse myself for a few minutes.”

    I prepared to get ready for the meeting, by pulling out the new uniform I had gotten, while gathering up copies of a proposed reorganization for the unit’s personnel and what I thought we could reasonably shoot for from Hanse Davion. As well as informing them that until Gry thought I was ready, the same situation as under my father would continue.

    Outside Dropship Xanadu, Early Evening.

    I walked up as Gry looked at the recovery vehicle carrying a mech and another couple of trucks arrived. “Gry?”

    “Morgan said a friend called, asking if he knew of a merc unit they could drop a teenager with his own mech off at, that would be good for the kid. Grew up in one, the unit got wiped on Mallory’s World. Kid’s a bit shell shocked, but made it off, and well, eventually got here on the AFFS’s dime, and with spare parts and his mech. Morgan…” He watched as the skeleton of a mech was unloaded, with missing armor plates, weapons and some missing myomer bundles. That would explain the massive crates being unloaded next to the putative mech. “Looks like a Hunchback. We can use him.”

    I nodded. “It’s some added weight to us being a going concern I suppose, should we go meet him?” I received a nod, and shortly we were in front of a gawking teenager who finally noticed us.

    "Zak White, where's the boss?" The kid looked around the dropships... "Niccceee... are we going to keep it?"

    "I am the boss." I paused. "Zac... as in Zackary?" I asked a bit bemused. The universe couldn't be that evil, right?

    “Damn, eye candy to work for. Shame. And yeah. Can we get this hire on done?” The thin scruffy looking teenager raked his eyes over my body. I didn’t preen, because… if I was right…

    “Are you ever going to write more Yume? I mean Neji has to have blue balls now.” I smirk. Gry twiched in confusion at that statement.

    "Of course you're the prettiest goddamn tart around. How is that I build my mech with hard work, sweat and tears and you just get a mercenary company again? 1 out of 10, would not peruse this Isekai again." Zac facepalmed.

    I grinned. “You’re hired, Case. We’ll get your mech repaired.” I pause and sober. “By any chance, did you run across a grumpy Texan?”

    Zac’s stormy grey eyes went cold as he responded. "And since when is universe this kind to me? No, I didn't. I'm also not doing your fucking paperwork."

    I nodded sadly at him. “On the first, no universe is that kind to either of us. And uh… um, you know the laws here pretty well, right?” I sighed, hoping since he was here, another friend was, but that was foolish. Count myself lucky.

    "I could recite laws as dealing with mercenary activity in my sleep. Neural plasticity of a child is a wonderful thing when you have overbearingly pacifistic parents and a lot of time to read." Zac rolled his eyes. “Why?”

    “I have dinner with the First Prince tonight, he wants everything here.” I smile. “Perhaps that’s why I’m the rich tart?”

    Zac just sighed. “He wants your stuff, doesn’t he?”

    “Yes…” I tilt my head.

    “You are registered, right?” Zac looked around. “Otherwise… you have a huge problem.”

    I turn to Gry, who’s smiling. “What does he mean by Registered, Gry?”

    Gry nodded. “Registered with the MRB.” The MRB, or Mercenary Review board was in a lot of way the Merc companies trade union against the Great Houses. Comstar ran it, and therefore it shouldn’t be trusted fully, but it usually worked to protect the merc commands from Great House greed and stupidity. If you were fee paying, of course.

    Zac looked at the Viking next to me with an intent look. “How long, any contracts?” he inquired.

    “Have paid the fees for a year. No contracts. Kikyo took over effective yesterday.” Gry apparently knew what Zac was after, while I didn’t, not really. I didn’t know everything about the universe, and the mercs weren’t an interest of mine on the nuts and bolts.

    “Hmm.” Zac’s eyes narrowed, some of the manic energy he seemed to be vibrating with dissipating as he thought. “Seeing your dues paid, is easy. The question is, were you in abeyance, as in not actively recruiting when possible, unless at full strength?”

    “Was at full strength for six months, then had a major incident killing a fair bit of us, and the previous owner. Less than a month after that, in transit to new owner, for nearly four months. Did a bit of recruiting after the incident, but didn’t have time to get enough mostly trustworthy bodies.” Gry graveled out, understanding Zac’s question.

    Zac looked heavenward. “Well… shit. Four months?” He shook his head. “Better get me registered and hired.. Now, I’d say. Would depend on how asshole the toasterboys want to be. Then you got ninety days to prove the unit, tart.” He looked at me. “And I don’t know about you, furball, but I want to get rich.” Pause. “And kill Kuritans, by stomping on them in Redline. Oh, and fuck FanPro and CATLabs. Can’t forget that.” He paused. “And get hot clanner bondswomen. Oh, yeah. Really want that.”

    Gry froze at the last line, and I just facepalmed. “Goddammit, Case. Just… Goddammit. I hadn’t told them yet.” I felt Gry’s and Morgan’s look as he walked up.

    “Told us what?” Morgan grinned around his cigar.

    Zac blinked. “Oh. Ooops?”

    I just sighed between my hands. “Shut up, sign the nice paperwork, and don’t leave the cantonment, you… you… POLE.

    “Well… I was asked to destress his ass. I can see he really needs it. Suggestions on how to do that inside the catantoment, boss?” Morgan was still grinning.

    I looked heavenward finally. “Stuff him in Xanadu, get someone to inventory his stuff, and start working on Redline, raid the bar in the room next to mine, and… I’ll make some calls to see if a few starlets want to thank a Kuritan killer.” I shot Morgan an icy look. “No debriefing til I explain. I had good reasons not to without proof.”

    The named Pole just grinned. “Dammit, I really should make mistakes like that more often. Booze and women? Shit yeah!”

    “Ah… I’ll get right on that.” Morgan grinned. He turned to grab the teenager. “You’ll fit in just fine. Johnny told me a few things about you, Kid.” Case instantly freezes as the grizzled veteran steered him away.

    “I assume I will learn some of these things, Ma’am?” Gry’s voice is formal.

    I nod. “Just… when I have a moment.”

    “That I can understand. But make one soon.” His tone doesn’t brook disrespect.

    “I…” I pause, part of me wanted to simply dump all this on Hanse Davion, and enjoy the wealth. The other part of me… knew I had a lever. And wanted to use it. “I will. We can do a lot of good.”

    Gry didn’t answer that, but his eyebrow rose at the conviction in my voice.

    I paused. “Come with me. I not only need to get started on getting the Starlets, but need to pick his brain as he pickles it.” With that, my heels began to click on the cermacrete.

    “Oh?” He asked.

    “To see exactly what to extort out of Hanse Davion.” I didn’t resist the impish thought. “Besides him and a bed, of course.”

    A mildly reproving tone entered my XO’s voice. “Besides that, yes.”


    ***

    About thirty minutes later, I walked into the lounge aboard Xanadu where Morgan had stashed Zackery. “So, here’s the story. You’re going to say you were at Mara, killing snakes galore, and the starlets I called will eat it up. This is New Avalon, saying you are fresh off Mara, fighting the Snakes, is always a good way to start successful pickup attempts. The three will eat it up. Who knows, there is a cabin for you here.”

    The scruffy teenager looked at me puzzled. “Uh, Cabbit? I was there, Mara that is. Fucking snakes have been raiding hard for the last fuck… year?” He shakes his head. “Johnny’s Samurai got wiped intentionally by a Dieron regular unit, in a raid, then they pushed it though. I fought there… what, nine months, before that asshole Ziber said the contract was completed, even though it wasn’t, and MRB backed him up, since the AFFS was paying in full, with bonus…” He shrugs, exhausted. “At least they gave me a ride here.”

    I stared. Mara had been intense raiding for a good eleven months, now, and now I knew why. Of course the DCMS would take insult to a new merc unit not of the Combine calling itself Samurai.

    “Right. Well. That’ll help. Wow the girls with your tales.” I nod. “They’ll be here in about a half hour.”

    “Hopefully I won’t be too drunk… hey, they are over eighteen, right?” Case asked.

    “Yes.” I answered distractedly, as I was pulling out papers from a briefcase.

    Case shivered as he made warding signs against the papers. “I signed, I signed, Gry has them!” He paused, eyes quirking. “Okay, what are those?”

    “Our inventory.” I finish unloading it. “I wanted to take a glance at it before I go to Hanse. Apparently my father was a pack rat to make Army supply officers look well… uncaring of what they have.”

    “US Army?” Case blinked. “Your stories…”

    “Yep.” I smile, noting Morgan’s slight twitch.

    “Huh. Well. Not my problem!” Case put words to action by a long pull on a Timbuktu dark he had been nursing. “So, you get all gussied up, knowing Hanse won’t let your cleavage influence his bargaining, and be a pretty little starlet, and don’t sell us out for too much.”

    I roll my eyes. “Gry, Evie, Cummin, and a few others are coming to at least hammer out what we should accept, but start to offer. You got a brain, you can say.”

    Case snorted but before he could finish, Morgan broke in. “We really need to have that talk. There is no way an Outworders mechajock should hear stories about the United States Army supply officers from a New Avalon Maus product. Period. Not when Zackary White has never been on New Avalon.”

    Case giggled at my sigh. “Oh, sure. Doesn’t mean we haven’t met, at least virtually before.” He grins. “You explain why I’m a teenager again, and you’re a sexpot as usual!” He caroled, slamming the rest of the beer back, while opening another one.

    “Wait for the others, Brigadier.” I ordered, a crisp tone in my voice. “We’ll only do this lonce.” Morgan raised an eyebrow, but didn’t say anything. “You did sweep this room, correct?”

    Morgan’s eyebrow raised even higher, but he nodded. “Short of literally tearing it apart, yes. And honestly, the bugs that’d need that aren’t the most reliable anyways.” He shrugs. “We’re as secure as we can be, outside maybe the Den.”

    “Good” I pulled my own Timbuktu Dark and popped the top off with a bottle opener. “This will not be fun.”

    “Ha! For me, it will be!” Case cackled as Morgan and I waited for the rest.

    We didn’t have to wait that long but Case had proven his liver was still as tough as it was as a Pole, as he was on his second six pack. The others filed in, and took seats, as well as beers themselves.

    Case looked around, grinning. “Your Show~~~~” Apparently Case could sing very well, as he caroled that line, and I sighed.

    “Thank you.” I didn’t manage to keep the venom out of my voice, but sighed again, and continued on. “This is going to sound crazy. But, I’ll concede that I didn’t intend to tell you at all, at least for a bit, until I could get proof. Asshole there…” Case grinned wider as he toasted me, on the other hand… “Well, is proof.”

    “Damned fine Snake killing, future Clan killing, and general badass intending to get rich and have my own Canopus Pleasure caravan! Proof. Get it right, carrot eater.” He opened his ninth bottle, only to have Morgan shove a pita in his mouth.

    “Eat, kid. You can’t chug like that without food, and not get wrecked.” He tsked, then turned to me as Case grumbled but ate.

    I took a deep breath, noting Uri’s and Albert’s reactions to such, and Morgan’s grin, and Case’s disinterest, and started. “You see… it’s like this…” I gave an explanation, similar to the one I gave Ichigo and Aiko, leaving out certain things, such as Melange. “... I know it’s a lot to believe… but…”

    Case shrugged. “It’s all true. Hell, fifteen years ago, I woke up a squalling brat, after being hit by a truck. By the time I was able to figure out where the hell I was, I was three, and cursing at the top of my lungs. Why not Solaris, dammit!”

    I stared. “Seriously. Isekai’ed, for real?” I couldn’t keep the giggles out of my voice.

    “Ha. Ha.” Case responded deadpan.

    The rest, including Rogue, aka Rios, my newest shadow, were quiet for a long moment. Finally Morgan looked at her and nodded.

    “Welp.” He lit a cigar. “That actually, mind you, explains some things. Not saying you’re right, but… hey, what’s his name Cameron, John, Jonthan?” He gets a nod at the last from a rolling eye Rios, and continues on. “Thanks, Rogue for confirming his name, anyways, the guy did have visions of what happened. Might not be what you say… but..” He holds out his hands widely. “I’ve seen enough strange shit not to discount it, anyways.”

    “And the fact I know similar stuff, remember being a Pole who did customer support?” Case sniffs, on his third pita. “That doesn’t change things?”

    Rios snorted slightly. “Case, I think that’ll stick, short for Head Case… we already knew something was very weird about you, your brain is weird, or so AFFS docs sent us. As for Ferret?” She snorted again. “It actually explains some things. Am I saying she’s right? No. But it might be how her brain handed a reincarnation event… Though I have a bet on what triggered the revelations of memory.”

    I stare at the female operator. “Uh…”

    “I’m a buddist, I can believe it.” She shrugged. “Expected to see proof? Now… different story, but it’s as good of an explanation as any. And she was smart enough to wait to tell us ‘til she had proof we couldn’t just wave away. Case’s good for that.”

    Gry was silent, the others in the room looking at him. Finally he nodded once. “You said you knew of the Argo from a game there, one you didn’t play, but you read up on it.”

    “Yes?” I was curious to where this was going, as well as Case, who leaned forward.

    “Where is it?” Gry’s challenge was clear.

    “Aylus, Alyis… No, Axylus, that’s it!” I snap my fingers. Case groans.

    “Some things never change, you managed to screw it up in speech. Not your spellchecker!” He leans back. “Yeah, crashed there during the Uprising. Has a SLDF Black site map. Gotta avoid uploading anything from Artu we don’t double check with elite programmers, ‘hough.” He takes yet another pull of his beer.

    Gry turns to me, his eyebrow still raised in silent question.

    “Not sure, but Artu is a Castle Brian location, and has a virus called Lourca, I think in it. Fucks the shit out of computers, and bluntly? My bet is that’s where they started counter SDS research.” I shrug, as Case reacts

    “Locura, dammit, carrot eater.” The teen grumbles, but is ignored by everyone.

    Gry thinks for a long moment. “There is no way you could know that. Only the Aranos and your father did. He told me to use it as a test… to see if you had the same lust for change he did.”

    I raise an eyebrow. “The Argo itself is nice, it’s the SLDF Black Map, I want. And we’re gonna get it. That will change things, if we’re good about it. Shame Hanse got told about it, thanks to my brother.” I sigh. “But as House Lords go, he’s the best around in this period.”

    Albert shrugged. “If Gry’s willing to accept this, I’m game still. And I happen to think the Archon isn’t that bad…”

    I shake my head. “Let’s say this, she is fit for her office, both good and bad. But being willing to sell your daughter for Davion troops…”

    Case laughed evilly. “Germans, what can you do?” He shrugged and looked at Gry. “Good enough?”

    “Good enough to go with.” He turns to Morgan. “Babble juice?”

    Morgan sighs. “I got a source on some, yes, but what we need is a solid team of debriefers and interrogators to plumb their memory. Which means DMI.”

    Case groans, and I wince. “I rather not give Hanse Davion everything, Morgan, I’d like something to use with him.”

    Morgan raises an eyebrow. “You implied the universe would get better, then go to shit as bad or worse and stay that way. And you implied it’d hit the FS hard. I might be out, but I’m still a Rabid Fox. Not going to let my future brothers get fucked.”

    I nodded at that. “I’ll.. think about it. We might be able to work around it. But… I have to ask. Anyone not in, or at least willing to consider this?”

    While Evie’s face was a study, the rest all pointed to Gry, who simply nodded. “Ma’am, how it happened… I don’t know, don’t want to know, maybe it was what Rogue said. Maybe it’s what you saw. Souls are the same, though, and you’re clearly out to move the worlds. Let’s see what the levers are.” While this didn’t completely set Evie at ease, the rest shrugged and made it clear they were going along with Gry, for now.

    Evie just looked around, finally resting her eyes on Gry. “.... This isn’t science. No one’s proven shit. Johnthan could have just been a good analysis of trends, and no one knows what the hell happened on Mallory’s world. No one who is talking, at least. You can’t all be going along with this!”

    Micte shrugged, her new leather bomber jacket creaking. “It’s more we’re going along with Gry, Evie. And the Count wasn’t all tightly wrapped either as you well know.”

    “But…” Evie tried again to be cut off by Albert.

    “Gry supports her. Gry always had the right clue. Far as I’m concerned, unless she proves unfit, she can be as crazy as she wants.” The Tanker shrugged. “Bouncing around in cans tends to make you focus on immediate things, y’know.”

    Rouge breaks in before Evie can try to rally more support. “Two, no three things. Gry basically confirmed he had a test for Ferret, and she passed when she should not have been able to. Second, I had a little talk with Deborah, the tech who reactivated Bun Bun. Kikyo’s presets and what Bun Bun read were way off. You’re a mech tech. You tell me. Third? I have a feeling the fact Zack Winter was deadheaded here under a different name was to protect him from the AFFS medical.”

    Case raised an eyebrow. “Oh? Why would they want me? Hot Nurses…”

    “Your brain is, and I quote, weird. As in none of the neurologists have seen anything quite like it.” Rogue shrugged. “I think they wanted you as a lab rat.”

    “... no thank you, I’ll take the Trifecta, please.” Case grins.

    Rogue doesn’t roll her eyes at Morgan’s snicker, but finishes speaking to Evie. “One? Agreed. I’d support you. Two, with other information? I’ve gone up against DEST, Morgan has. I’m still trying to figure out how a platoon of Rabids missed seeing a DEST commando walk past them. When it was on film.

    Evie turned to look at me. She ran her right hand through her hair, and finally asked. “Right. Before I even consider it, I did see in Bun Bun’s logs the mismatch. But, I want some more proof. Gry gets that much at least, me waiting for the proof. Most competent techs keep a copy of initial scans. Who did yours?”

    Case snickers. I shrug. “Katherine Steiner of the Dragoons.” I pause, turn to look at Case. “Wait a…”

    “MOTHERFUCKER.” Case leaps up. “MOTHERFUCKING TRASHBORN SCUMSUCKING…”

    “Case!” I shot. He turns and looks at me. “She isn’t canon.

    Case blinks. “... I remember that name from somewhere, though…”

    “... not sure, I think I do.. Besides the fact she and ‘Tasha were the consultants on a movie I did where I first learned how to pilot.” I shrug. “Can’t recall where.

    Case grumbles, then has an idea. “Why don’t you send her a letter, inviting her to join us?”

    I tilt my head, vaguely recalling a blonde woman’s joking comment. I smile. “You know… that might work. That just might.” Turning to Evie. “Would that help?”

    “It would.” Evie sighed. “Dammit. The Count was crazy, but he never claimed to be reborn, just had a knack of knowing where to go.” She shakes her head. “I’ll give you some time. Or another way to prove it.”

    Case stands up, scruffiness on display as his battered leather jacket creaks, and I idly note the word Samurai on the back. “How about this. We get the Argo. We get the map. We get Artu, you see the crazy killer program, and know for a fact there’s no way we could have known about both? That good enough?” His face was in Evie’s, cold grey eyes boring into hers.

    “Ah…” She was a bit flustered as she stepped back.

    “Aye, it would more than be enough, I’d say.” Gry rumbles, looking at Evie. “Wouldn’t you?”

    She looks at everyone else, and drops her head. “... the one sane woman again, you guys?”

    Meta snerks at her. “Someone’s got to do it. None of us qualify.” She pauses, nods once. “Canon?”

    “Err, you did hear me say that..” I started.

    Meta rolled her eyes. “That this is a fictional universe, yes, yes. I’m more curious about the ‘isn’t canon’.”

    Case broke in, after sitting back down. “Canon means ‘from official published materials’ or similar.” He shrugs. “Miss Steiner isn’t.”

    Uri shoots back: “Then wouldn’t that mean some of the knowledge you claim to have is wrong?”

    “Could be, could be. The big stuff? No. I doubt it, most of the fan made stuff generally followed the canon for background, at least until the change of the non canon character.” Case started on his eleventh beer, and another plate of nachos. “Some? Sure. Depends what is what. From our memories, of ‘here’, it doesn’t seem that there’s much change, though.” Meta nodded at that and waved the rest of us on, silencing the others.

    I sigh. Standing up, I turn to Gry, nodding at him. “Right, time to set up the fulcrum for the first lever we need to grab. To see what additional levers we have.”

    Gry blinks, then starts to slowly smile. “Hanse Davion.”

    “Hanse Davion.” I smile back. “WIth a bit of luck, we can even get him to pay us for this.”

    Case snickers, as he grabs a plate of Nachos out of the dumbwaiter. “The best way to do things! I knew you had it in you! Make sure you take him for every penny.”

    “Are we going to tell him?” Morgan waved his hand, indicating about what.

    I pause for a moment, part of me giggling, and saying yes, the other part… “I… don’t know for sure. Not yet. Not without a solid bona fide.” I shake my head. “Otherwise…”

    Morgan’s jaw is set, and for a long moment I wonder what’s though his head. “But… once we get those bona fides?”

    “Yes.” With that, Morgan nods, and turns to the others.

    “Let’s get this on the road, then. Put our heads together and see what we can take the Prince for.” His smile around his cigar was a bit vicious.

    Evie groused. “Aren’t you loyal to the Suns?”

    “Eh, I’d like to see a Fox get outfoxed once or twice. And this is a safe way, though my money is on the Fox.” He grins back. “But we don’t have to make it easy for him, he’d be insulted.

    I facepalm slightly, but join in the discussion, and eventually, just before Case’s soon to be new starlet friends arrive, we have a basic offer to give to the Prince. With that, I stretch. “Okay, I better go get ready.” I turn to look at Case. “Behave, these aren’t bad people.”

    “You know me.” Case waves another nacho at me.

    Morgan rolls his eyes, and steals a beer. “I’ll make sure of that. Rest of us got things to do, no?” His eyes sweep around, backed up by Gry’s looking at everyone, implying that no one was to talk, and it was time for business for everyone. Nods answered back, and Gry saluted me.

    “With your permission?”

    “Dismissed.” I responded crisply.


    En route to Palace Davion, New Avalon, Evening.

    We had been sent a limo and two cars from Palace Davion to take my party to the Palace for the dinner Hanse Davion had requested. My eyes raked over Morgan Blackhand and Sofia Rios, both in their dress uniform variants. Both wore the single breasted wrap around jacket tunic, black, piped in gold, with their names on their left breast, their belts buckled by a Hou-ou in a circle. Their rank tabs showed Brigadier and Major respectively, while the patch at the top of the upper right arm had the unit’s symbol, name and motto on it. Left arm was currently bare, but a flash was planned for that side as well. I was pleased with how the “Lead the Way” looked under the Hou-ou. Richard had charged well for it. That was where the similarities ended.

    Rios had the mid-shin high cavalry boots with three-inch heels, while Morgan had flat heeled male versions of those, and Rios was wearing an A-line, just above the knee, skirt, while Morgan’s baggy trousers hid his legs. The other major difference was the color of their pullover under the Jacket matching the rank stripe color. Morgan’s was in white, while Rios’ was in dark green, symbolizing Command and Special Operations respectively.

    Both of them had their black berets tucked into their belt. Finally finishing this off was a half cape to the waist, with a rapier at their hips. I was wearing the same as Rios, just with Command white instead, and I winced at the money it had cost to get all this ready on time.

    I looked over Rayanne in her professional suit skirt outfit, as well as Mari in the Midnight blue variant meant for the naval personnel which included the ASF pilots, but with Command white accents. In the second vehicle, was Uri, in Mechwarrior gold, and Cummin, making up the last of my party, besides the half platoon strong security detail, which was why Morgan was here, he’d get them through, or so he had claimed.

    Rayanne looked at me. “Remember, don’t give up the store. Hanse’s reputed to be charming and able to use the same tricks you do to twist a young noble around.” I rolled my eyes. “I still think you should sell out, but in the end… I’m your lawyer, not your conservator. Baroness Shieldmaiden…” Rios winced at that name… “Oh, you know of her?”

    “I do. I had the joy of being a Sergeant under her, while she was a regimental commander. My sympathies, Ma’am.” Rios’ tone implied a lot.

    “... Same to you.” I responded after a moment. Turning back to Rayanne. “I’m not of the mood to screw those my birth father left behind, nor am I of a mood just to give him everything and sit back like a good little girl.” Pausing once more, I nodded sharply. “I can, and I will make a difference. I’ve been to worlds where they’re recovering from the battles, and Kentares, and even a system where the Liaos killed the planet. I rather not see more of those that I can prevent, neh?”

    The Blonde lawyer sighed, and leaned forward. “Kikyo. This is a bad idea.” She shook her head. “It’s just asking to die young, not doing anything. You have a career and enough young nobles on a string to live a life of luxury where you want. You don’t have to do this to prove you’re more than fluff. A fusion engineering degree is enough proof you do have a brain, and if you feel guilty about that, do a four year tour in the AFFS, they’d love to have you as PIO.” Morgan and Rios snickered at the last, implying that love might be too mild of a term.

    “I know. I have reasons.” I rolled my eyes. “Unless you signed up, didn’t you say you flew Boomerangs for a while?” I asked idly. “You won’t get to know why til it’s done.”

    Rayanne’s eyes narrowed. “Really.”

    “Really.” Before the lawyer could reply, we had pulled up to the gates of Palace Davion. Morgan handled the basic pass though, and shortly we were on our way. After a while, Rayanne looked up from her reviewing of the papers we had brought with us.

    “I think you’re going too high to start…” Rayanne muttered, looking back down at the two page printout of what was on offer, and what we expected. “This is going to get him tempted to just seize.”

    I shook my head. “It’s a first offer, not quite insulting, but clearly not meant to be taken seriously.” I grinned. “The inclusion of an option to shift the tonnage to drop or jumpships makes that clear, after all.” I shrug again. “With you helping Evie to sell the stuff that we both agreed that Hanse wouldn’t want to dicker over, and that we had absolutely no good use for? Money isn’t an issue I’m worried about. My late father was a packrat to end packrats. What the hell he was thinking I’d not know.”

    “... Let’s hope he sees it the same.” Rayanne would have said more, but we were at the gates to the fairyland palace countless generations of Davions had called home.

    Rios held us all back, ‘til one squad had squared off against their 1st Davion counterparts, who were clearly unsettled. “Oh, good, they did get the message.” the redheaded woman mentioned. “Okay, let’s go, Ferret last.”

    I stepped out last, as Rios had instructed only to see Morgan and a Lt. Colonel of Infantry argue.

    “Look, I’m still on the books as safe, so is the rest of the detail. The paperwork hasn’t fully gone through, but it’s all ricky tick.” Morgan sighed. “If you think I’m letting my principal go around unarmed and uncovered, you don’t remember me.”

    “Oh, I do Solo.” The officer looked back. “And while technically, you’re right. This is the Palace. The Prince is in residence. You no longer work for him. Try that again.”

    I put my hand on Morgan’s arm. “Let me try.” I looked the Colonel up and down. “Colonel… Fenton?” He nodded. “Why don’t you split the knot? I’m sure it’s regulations and rules you are following, that you can’t just discard.” He nodded a slight smile at my reasonableness. “But there should be someone who could, no? I am invited, and I can assure you the First Prince would be most dismayed if I chose to leave because reasonable security concerns couldn’t be managed for both sides.”

    Morgan twitched slightly, but stayed silent. Fenton nodded reluctantly. He stepped back, and used his radio to contact someone, but I couldn’t hear who, or what he got in response. After a minute, almost to the second, he blinked, and nodded once, sharply and then stepped forward.

    “It has been authorized.” Morgan shot the Colonel a look. “Against several people’s better judgement, but it has been. However… no armed guards or weapons inside the dining room.” He paused. “Well, your rapiers aren’t considered weapons, for this purpose, at least.”

    “That’s just gauche. And it ruins the taste of food.” I nod seriously. “How do you deal with the taste of gunpowder in the caviar after all?” The Colonel and Morgan both choked off laughs at my whimsical tone. “But in more seriousness, thank you Colonel.”

    “You are welcome.” He stepped aside and the two guards at the large doors opened them for us to troop though.

    A majordomo in Davion colors awaited us. “This way, General, guests. The First Prince and his companions are expecting you.” I didn’t rubberneck as we walked through the Palace, I had been there once or twice before, once recently, for a pre Christmas party, nor did Morgan or Rios, or even Rayanne. Gry did flick his eyes a bit, but was clearly not unused to seeing this level of display. The others kept admirable composure, but clearly wanted to do a bit of rubbernecking. The Davions had spared no effort in making the Palace both a display of tasteful wealth and class, as well as a centerpiece for the Suns’ artistic expression.

    I watched, slightly amused by the reluctance of the two Rabid Foxes that were going in with me, to unclip their pistols, but they did, and handed them to various members of the squad we brought with us, who peeled off to join their equals from the 1st Davion providing guards for the First Prince. When done, the Major Domo opened the door, and began to announce us, in order of rank.

    “General Onishi of the Onishi Heavy Cavalry.” I walked in with that, and the rest followed as their names and ranks were called out, though I barely managed to keep moving without interruption when Rios of all people was called Honorable, meaning from a noble family. I’d have to get that from her.

    Hanse stood up, also in AFFS dress uniform, his eyes raking my uniform, with a slight quirk to his lips. He got the message.

    “Well, just in time, to make introductions.” Of course Hanse would not be so gauche as to imply we were late. “I’ve heard your people’s names, though two are familiar to me from elsewhere… I’d congratulate you on your poaching, but that’d imply I approve.” His tone turned a bit serious at the last, but a slight smile countered it.

    He went around the table, introducing people, starting with a grandmotherly lady, his Champion, Yvonne Davion; then moving onto a cousin of his, and his minster for the Crucis March, Melinda Davion; the minster for Ways and Means, Joan Davion; his Field Marshal for Logistics, Nelitha Green-Davion; Marshal Ran Felsner, commander of the Heavy Guards; and finally a Dr. Colonel B. Banzai. I, somehow kept from staring as a clone of Peter Weller bowed his head in greetings. The sheer amount of Davion Red hair on display, on the other hand didn’t phase me.

    I stomped on a very bad thought. Asking Dr. Banzai to wear powered armor would be very inappropriate at this dinner, but I couldn’t and didn’t try to resist a play on an old joke. “My, the number of redheads at this table now must make people wondering if a soul stealer convention is happening.” Blank faces crossed most except Nelitha, who snickered drawing all the other redheads attention.

    “Oh, an old prespace Joke. British, actually, I believe, about the Irish who supposedly had no soul, and each freckle represented a soul they had stolen. Something about them being Catholic, or so I believe.” She waved her hand amused.

    “Pretty much what I learned, yes.” I took the seat the staff held out for me. “And well, I suppose according to Liao or Kuritan propaganda…”

    Hanse grins. “Oh, yes.” He shakes his head as the rest are settled. “While I’m sure that the Kuritans at least don’t know the root of the joke, the Liaos might actually.” He shrugs, as the first course is brought out. “I’d like to just have a free flowing discussion of various things, then after dinner is finished, we can truly discuss what we’re here for. I hope no one minds?”

    To no one’s surprise, I do believe, no one had any disagreements, or at least didn’t voice any. After all it’s rude to go against your host’s wishes for a pleasant meal, and that goes double when he is a Prince.

    “I do have one question I’d like answered first, Hanse.” Yvonne’s tone was slightly repoving. “Brigadier, I believe, Blackhand? Why have you put in your papers and accepted a position with the young lady? I’m most curious to know, as you took your entire company with you.”

    Morgan waved his hand. “Your Grace…” He was cut off by Hanse.

    “Regimental Mess rules, I’m afraid, or we’d be here all night calling each other by long winded titles or ranks.” He shook his head. “Doesn’t aid in the digestion, I’ve found.”

    “As you say.” Morgan inclined his head. Turning back to Yvonne he grinned roughsily. “As with Hanse’s clear desire, I’ll tell you later, Yvonne. It isn’t quite pleasant dinner conversation.”

    Yvonne’s eyes narrowed, then she nodded sharply once. “I will hold you to that, Morgan.”

    With that, conversation flowed. Hanse was interested on how long Gry and the others had been with my father, and some details that they were willing to share of his more fun treasure hunts, while Yvonne and Joan picked everyone’s mind, including mine, of worlds we had seen. They were very interested in the off planet shoots I had done. Others had a free flowing discussion as well. It was amazingly pleasant, and showed Hanse at his most disarming. I was quite aware of what he was up to, but knew the original Kikyo wouldn’t be.

    As coffee and wine was served after a dessert that both sets of memories agreed was as sinful and decadent as any ever tasted, Hanse grinned a bit. “As we all know, you’ve done what’s commonly called Mechploitation movies.” He snickered. “I’m sure that it wouldn’t surprise any of us here that the genre is a guilty pleasure of many a mechwarrior, and I’d dare say most of the males.”

    Yvonne broke in, slightly reproving. “Especially when they are the ones that feature young female mechwarriors, no?”

    I shrugged modestly. “It pays the bills, yes. And far be it from me to deny that at least one set of posters makes the rounds of barracks.”

    Hanse and Ran laughed, admitting the truth. Young men hadn’t changed in eons, after all, and a symbol of what they were fighting for, would always be in the barracks. Well, most of them, at least.

    “True, true. I’m sure if I did a snap inspection of the 1st Guards, I’d find one at least.” Hanse tilted his coffee cup at me, while I returned the gesture with my wine glass. I smiled inwardly. I had taken wine, mostly to keep Hanse off balance. Kikyo’s tolerance was high, and so was mine, but it might play into what Hanse expected, so… worth the effort.

    Ran had leaned forward, his eyes intense. “What impressed me about your latest one, The Price of Glory? Wasn’t how typical of the genre it is. I’ll admit, as a young and not so young mechwarrior, one of the reasons for the pleasure is poking fun at the mistakes in the movies.” He smiles, at my smile to that. “I’m sure you’re quite aware of how accurate the vast majority are.”

    “As in not?” I grinned. “What I think you’re asking, is why are the reviews and what I suspect you noticed, The Price of Glory? different from the typical one?” He nodded with a slight smile, as well as Hanse’s smile, who had asked that same question at the last party I had attended here, to my sudden recollection. Oh… my. I managed to keep that thought out of my head, but paused for a second, setting myself to answer without indicating I’ve done this before to at least one person here.

    Ran’s eyes locked onto my face, as I spoke, with a slight smile. “Roger Coleman, Baron of New Vancouver on Macintosh, agreed with my ranting about yet another badly directed one. He challenged me to personally direct it, and I called in a few favors with a few small merc commands…” I spread my hands. “This doesn’t count the fact that the first time I did a mechwarrior movie, I had instruction from Natasha Kerensky and Katherine Steiner of the Dragoons, after all.”

    “And as of course, while it didn’t get much critical acclaim, it’s done very well financially, to no one’s surprise. The baron has a knack for never losing money, after all.” Joan snorted slightly. “But it does explain that, doesn’t it, Ran?” The Marshall nodded. Before we could pick up other topics Hanse tapped his water glass, a clear chime.

    “I’m afraid as pleasant as the discussions have been, it’s time for the distasteful parts of this evening. Where I try to loot as much as I can, while I suspect Rayanne and Kikyo attempt to do the same to me.” He grinned, taking the sting out. “I don’t suppose you have a list of what you’re willing to sell outright, with your initial offer handy, do you?”

    “By chance, I do, actually.” I smiled, and pulled out a set of folded papers from my jacket’s flap and passed it to him. He opened it and read both pages carefully, his eyebrows raising higher than they did at the list on the first page, at the 2nd page, where the actual initial bid was. He passed it to Yvonne, who snorted after reading it, then it went to Joan who didn’t even twitch.

    “I.. see.” Hanse leaned forward slightly, smiling with a hint of mischief. “I do hope that’s an opening offer, not a hard and fast line. I’d be disappointed, since it’d lack the opening for vigorous negotiations ”

    I smiled back. “Nothing is absolute, at this point, of course.” I spread my hands. “I’d be curious to see what you intend.”

    “Well then. Shall we get to it?” With his question, I and Rayanne prepared and opened battle figuratively speaking. He wasn’t joking about vigorous, with all but Ran of his guests piping in to adjust the terms, while I and Rayanne carried most of the work on our side, Gry and even Uri made pointed comments about already privately owned equipment, and several other points. We even covered some details about the hunt for the Argo and other possible Lostech sites, except for the explicit one that my father had left, but in several hours we came to a at least acceptable agreement in principle.

    “I’d want to verify this list, and several other things, but I do believe we have an initial agreement, at least.” Hanse leaned back, sipping a glass of wine. “A bit pricey, but not quite extreme. Stocks, Cash, replacement tonnage or like for what we acquire now, and a split in principal for the rest, to be finalized when the mission for the Argo goes.” He looks around, and notes the disappointed look on Joan’s face. “Now, now, the tax free bit, to the second order disturbment, is fair.” He grinned. “At least I talked her out of jumpships, now.”

    “That wasn’t a serious bid, Hanse.” Joan groused. “She knows as well as we do how short the AFFS is. She used that as leverage.” She was busy neatly writing a finalized agreement, as she spoke.

    Out of my people, only Gry seemed anything but a bit stunned. They knew what we had, and the Davion side didn’t fully, so they knew the amount of money, stocks, and equipment that’d be changing hands shortly. So did I, and I somehow managed to keep my glee out of my expression, tripling my value in one day? Yes, please. Though I’d lose a fair chunk as my people would get paid.

    As Joan finished the agreement, and passed it to Hanse and me, for initial signing, and notarization, Hanse was quiet. As Rayanne verified it was what we agreed on, I initialed, and signed, with Gry wintessing. Hanse signed, Ran witnessing, and Joan notarizing. Hanse nodded once, and tilted his now full wine glass at me.

    “This was actually harder than I thought, and I didn’t get everything I wanted.” He grins. “I’m not too disappointed, mind you, and I thought the offer of marriage was a nice touch, too.”

    “You weren’t serious.” I crinkled my nose. “Plus, Davions tend to marry for love, I’d not want you to break that streak.”

    “I see, I see.” He sipped his wine. “I will say this, I came out far better than my worst case, and to be even more honest, better than my middle case. I do want the jumpers, but I can accept just hiring the unit, to get use of them. The AFFS has done similar before.” He smiled. “And you?”

    “I didn’t get my ultimate goals, admittedly.” I shrug. Having been told that Hanse thought he got away cheaply, even though he didn’t have to find a planet for me, or heavy equipment, stung. I thought asking for major stocks in the companies he’d be fixing up was a good thing. Then again… I don’t think he really realized how much he would be looking over. “Though I got more than I thought I would.”

    “Then, honestly? I think we have a good deal. If both sides think they came off well..” he spread his hand. “I know you weren’t raised Lyran, but Uri, isn’t that the definition of a good deal?”

    The Major, who had been quiet, nodded once. “Yes, sir.”

    “Excellent!” He grinned. “I think we should all take our retirement for the night and meet bright and early at Xanadu, to begin this process, don’t you?” He received several nods. “Normally, I’d not attend, but the sheer range? Certainly. At least internally.” He smiled. “I think… Nathlia, Yvonne and myself, initially.” He looked at the two who nodded. “Joan, I assume you can send an accountant who's Sword One?” He received a nod. “Now, Mendlina, you have research to do. So.” He clapped his hands. “I bid you all a good night, and a pleasant morning tomorrow.” He grinned. “I still haven’t decided if I am going to ennoble you, yet, Kikyo, I’ll sleep on it.” I almost protested, but his smile stopped me. Before I could voice any thought at that statement, Joan broke in dryly.

    “As for the privately owned mechs, that are lostech, do try to keep it fairly low numbers, and the ink at least dry before we get there, please?”

    Snickers broke out at that as we all took our leave with that statement.


    Dropship Xanadu primary boarding Ramp, New Avalon Dropship Port, Early Morning, 1/4/3015

    One thing Kikyo, the original Kikyo learned well from her mother was the fact that she, Aiko, and Ichigo were genies. Like her mother, the genepack bred 100% true in females, males not so much. Putting aside why the Kuritans developed it, the pack had some fun edges, such as no hangovers, high tolerance and resistance to drugs and diseases, and most importantly, the ability to easily function on only four hours of sleep a night indefinitely. The Kuritans paid good money to a Canopian renegade, I figured.

    Unlike Evie or Gry, the former much more content with me when the final deal was laid out, including the fact Hanse would pay us top rate to go treasure hunting, not to mention the loot we got out of him. But both named people were the first of the senior staff who had joined me in a massive party. Outside Case, who was snickering at them, everyone else except Rios, who hadn’t indulged at all, or me, with my gene pack, they were suffering. I had mastered my immense annoyance at waking up alone, and while the rest dealt with the morning, I had taken care of one of the gene pack’s designed ‘flaws’, at least in my eyes. Toys were useful, since everyone at the party was my employee or bodyguard, after all. Not to mention I was more choosy and less likely to indulge than the original Kikyo was, after all.

    “You know, I did try to tell you to go to bed, Evie.” I commented cheerfully. “Not to mention to drink plenty of water.”

    Evie’s sharp retort of a raised finger as she winced at my voice and the dawn, told me all I needed to know.

    A soft, slightly pained rumbled responded for both of them. “Aye, you did but go easy on her. We haven’t had much to celebrate after all, and you announcing that a fair amount would be split among us, helped. I don’t recommend too much, mind you, we need the funds, as reserve if nothing else.” Gry’s rumble trailed off, as the 1st Davion Guards and their Prince arrived.

    “I wasn’t planning on too much, first let’s see if he recovers from the shock. We didn’t show him amounts.” I smiled. It’s always fun springing an ambush on someone. While Hanse believed, and with Case’s bitching, during the party, that he had scored a great deal, I had mentioned I tripled our net worth without giving up a single jumpship. There was a reason for that. As I noted earlier, my father was a pack rat to end pack rats. If it was working, and technological? He picked it up. Even items no one sane could use or even parts no one, period could use.

    “That’s a good point.” Case smiles. “Ever see a First Prince choke on his coffee? We’re going to, I think.” He started cackling as two Davion guardsmen walked up, looking at him.

    “He’s just imagining the fun to be had this morning. Has the First Prince had breakfast yet?” I inquired. “We haven’t.” I noticed Gry turning slightly green and Evie grey at the thought of breakfast, and so did Hanse Davion, walking up.

    “... did they celebrate?” He tilted his head. “I know the deal was decent, but I didn’t think that they would consider it that good…”

    I grinned. “May I offer you breakfast? And a complete inventory?”

    The redheaded prince paused. His tilted head froze for a second, then he facepalmed. “I didn’t ask how many items, did I?”

    “Nooooooope.” I popped the p, as Rios showed the guards. “Come, look at the complete inventory over a meal.”

    Hanse watched as the cackling teenager was led off by a hungover Morgan, while his people nodded that Xanadu was secure enough for them. “I’m not sure I should, but what’s the harm.”

    Gry was very careful to cover his rumble as Nathlia and Yvonne Davion walked up accompanied by Ran Feltser and Ardan Sortek. “Famous last words, your highness, famous last words.”

    Hanse spoke once a passing dropship was by. “I decided to get a start on the Argo mission by inviting Ran and Ardan Sortek, a friend…”

    I paused. Out of all the men in the Federated Suns, Ardan Sortek was that rare person. Loyal, moral, ethical, honest, and unafraid. It’s hard to say if any one man could be the moral conscience of an entire interstellar realm, but he acted as such later on for Hanse. Before, thankfully, I could gush at him, I saw someone. “It is a high pleasure to meet you Colonel, but I need to talk to my brother. Please excuse me.” I bowed slightly, as Hanse just nodded.

    “We’ll just take advantage of your cooks, then, shall we?” The last was directed at the four with him. “And I suppose that my guards are included, are they not?”

    “Of course!” I responded as I hurried off.

    “Kikyo.” Ichigo stopped as I hurried up to him. “... not too bad in the uniform, but it’s the wrong one…” I held up my hand.

    “You will do three things today, some of which will continue until I release it. Period.” My jade green eyes bored into his. “You will not give Hanse Davion or any other any information I gave you. You will not discuss what we discussed earlier about the memories. Last but not least, you will not undercut me. Do you understand?” My tone brooked no disobedience. I didn’t lay out what I’d do, because I wanted him to think about it. Having a regiment of trained killers at your back did give one options, though killing my brother in blood, this universe was never on the table.

    Ichigo’s jaw clenched, but his tone was moderate. “I do hope you intend to not make me a traitor to my oaths, and that you will give them to the Suns.”

    “That was always the plan, it’s how to use it for humanity’s benefit, that I want to control. I have no doubt that Hanse is the best of the House lords currently, but even he is still a House Lord, and still prone to vendetta and missing the tree for the forest.” I paused. “And to a Davion, often everything looks like it needs a dose of autocannon fire.”

    “He’s not that…” Ichigo paused. “Okay, he has a temper, but he controls it.” I shook my head.

    “We discussed Operation Rat, and I pointed out the failings. You agreed to them.” Ichigo winced at my elegantly upraised eyebrow.

    “... We’ll talk about it later.” He finally said. “But, as long as I have your assurances you will come clean… I’ll hold my tongue easily for today, and if you show me a decent plan, until you want.” He ran his hand through his hair. “I don’t like it, and I don’t think it’s a good idea considering my oaths… but you’re not asking me to break them, precisely. Just… let you handle the information, correct?”

    I nodded. “That’s the plan.” His eyebrow rose, then lowered.

    “Right. I’ll go keep Aiko company. Maybe see what her tutors are up to.” Ichigo strode off, stiff from our conversation.

    I looked at his back, and sighed. I didn’t like that conversation, but it had to be had. Ichigo had proven that, like me, he took his oaths seriously, and might put them over his family. I couldn’t argue he would be wrong, in this case, to do so… But the good that could be done? The levers I could pull? I smiled. Operation Rat, the 3028 invasion of the Capellan Confederation, was the most successful operation in four Succession wars, but even putting aside Sun-Tzu being a designer's favorite, or the desire to balance factions, was a strategic mistake, on a lot of levels. A rarity for Hanse, but it ended up costing the Suns dearly.

    This time? Oh, no. The Suns would not be taken to the cleaners by the unholy abortion of North Korea and Imperial China, at the same time the Imperal Weeaboos gutted them. New Avalon wouldn’t fall. And I wasn’t sure which part of me was most insistent.

    Meal Lounge, Dropship Xanadu, Morning.

    I walked in as Hanse was chatting with Rios, while the others were having an Irish breakfast. I could indulge in a proper breakfast, and did from the buffet laid out.

    “So… ready to see?” I smiled innocently, as Case perked up.

    Hanse looked down at his half eaten plate, then at the folders I was holding. Three of them, copies, one each for the three major decision makers here. “Why not.” Hanse finally decided. “I can read and eat, too. Very nice for a serving line, good cooks. And your ship is lovely. Overdone, but… It’s a Princess.”

    Xanadu was a gift, and came as is.” I shrugged. “At least it didn’t come with a Numenor Dire Wolf puppy.” I shivered. Only one of the massive wolves of Numenor had ever been tamed enough not to eat or try to a human. Contrary to what Ichigo and some of my personnel might thing, I wasn’t that crazy to think I could get the second one.

    “... Duchess Numenor was an interesting person.” Hanse smiled. He held his hand out. “Let’s see how badly you tricked me.” He took the sting out of the words with a roguish grin. Two other folders went to the head of AFFS Logistics, and of course, the Prince’s Champion.

    Hanse flipped though, stopping at one page as he took a sip of coffee, only to be still drinking as he hit the bottom line. The spray of coffee onto my face, caused Case to cackle madly, while I couldn’t help but snicker. “Was that page three, or page seven?”

    Yvonne and Nathlia had done the smart thing apparently, and let Hanse read and eat. They managed to master their curiosity long enough for Hanse to recover his breath, and just shake his head. “Page three.” he finally responded, taking a sip of water to finish clearing his throat.

    Gry rumbled amused. “Ahh, the XLFE engines.”

    “Yes. Well into enough to reverse engineer them, maybe even figure out how to make them.” He smiles cooly. “Well worth it.”

    I and Case shared a look, and the teenager of us looked at it. “Oh, just wait. Kikyo! Twenty pounds on him having a heart attack.”

    “... I won’t take that bet. Not this year.” I pause, at Hanse’s raised eyebrow, and smile. “Cackle like a loon, putting you to shame, 100.”

    “Done!” Case turns to Hanse. “Get to reading, Prince! I got pounds to win!”

    Yvonne stirred about to lay into Case, but a raised hand stopped her. “Let him have his fun. I would too in his shoes, I do believe.”

    Everyone waited, as Hanse carefully worked his way through his meal and second cup of coffee, slowly going though, stopping before he hit page seven. Putting aside his clean plate, and now empty coffee cup, with a grin, as to indicate he had learned, he flipped to page seven. Reading it, his eyebrows rose. Rose higher. Rose to where I would have sworn they had gone past his hairline, but that was impossible.

    Bwahahahahahahahahahahahaha.” Hanse’s cackling was awesome.

    “Told you.” I walked over to Case. “My pounds, please?” Hanse’s eyes indicated to at least me and Yvonne he was partly playing this up, as well as using it to cover his shock.

    Yvonne stared, flipping to the page in question and reading it in question. She simply stared at it, trying to comprehend what it was saying. Finally, she spoke loud enough to be heard over Hanse’s maniacal laughter. “If you hadn’t already come to terms, the terms now would be: Hanse with my Atlas at his back, and a laser pointed at it, you in a white dress. Tomorrow.” She paused and suddenly in a sharp tone spoke. “Everyone who isn’t cleared by me, personally, or didn’t personally verify this…” She looked at Gry who pointed at everyone but Case of the unit, and she nodded in response. “Out. Now. This means everyone. Including you, Major Rios, and all guards.

    I turn after waving Case’s slightly annoyed expression at having no cash, muttering to him. “De nada.” I quirk an eyebrow. “And how would you get me down that aisle, Champion?”

    “I’m sure Ardan could be counted on for a bit of work in that case.” She paused, looking at Case. “And why aren’t you leaving, son?”

    Case’s expression grew cold as he shot back. “I’m cleared by the carrot eater.” His thumb jerked at me, and I nodded.

    “I trust no one in the unit more, to be honest.” I shrugged, but Ardan spoke before Yvonne could speak. She shot a glare at the scruffy mechwarrior that promised he’d not die if this leaked. Case just mimed zipped lips with a grin.

    “... I would be?” Ardan’s expression was completely confused.

    Yvonne waited ‘til the door was closed, and Morgan personally sealed it, after double-checking for bugs. She finally spoke. “Yes. Let’s just say, just this page alone, is the answer to at least a dozen corporations' most heartfelt prayers, and the CEO’s would literally sell their souls. As would Nelitha.” She looked. “Or how would you and your people like at least 300 battlemchs and ASF a month, as a rough guess, Nathlia… to distribute?” She shook her head. “Melinda would know more for sure, but even what I know, makes this page alone worth twice, at the very least the deal.”

    Ardan huhed. “I… don’t know Hanse, Miss Onishi, I’d have to say that’s mighty tempting. I wouldn’t, of course, but… I can see why it’d be considered.”

    I blew out a breath. I really didn’t want to get married yet, and Hanse had a bride waiting for him. Now… just to make sure his children weren’t total screw ups. “So can I, to be honest.” I shrugged.

    “... But that does raise a point.” Hanse leaned back. “I know we both agreed to the deal, and your people thought it was good… but honestly… this is changing everything. I thought it was maybe a few bays, at most to fix one of Wangker’s lines for their Corsairs, still priceless, I admit, but …”

    Hanse’s eyes grew distant. “This changes everything if we can get it in place. We will finally have the ability to build new units and sustain them through heavy combat. Win the Succession Wars?” He shook his head. “Unlikely.” But he smiled. “Make sure that the Federated Suns are the strongest ever, and finally push the Kuritans back beyond the old Star League borders for good?” His smile grew cold. “Oh… yes, that we will do.”

    Yvonne’s and everyone else’s smiles, including mine, I must admit, were just as cold. Hanse shook himself. “Are you sure that you don’t want a ring? That was on the table, and I am thinking it’s not a bad thing.”

    I paused, part of me, the original Kikyo, leaping up and down going ‘yes yes yes’. The other part of me, and the merged shook her head. “I don’t think it’s a big enough dowry, to be honest. Some would, but… not me.”

    Hanse leaned back. “I’m tempted to ask what you would consider big enough. Part of me worries you can find it. The other part wants to be surprised.” He grins. Standing up, he nods once. “First, we’re going to need to verify it, and I want to look at some of the mechs and armored fighting vehicles that I might be getting. Second, you are not going to talk me out of an idea I had while getting ready for bed last night. I insist.”

    I nod. “Sire.” I speak seriously, looking at Morgan. “I cannot stress enough, that whoever you have do the verification undergoes interrogation to prove their loyalty.” Hanse’s eyebrow rose, but he didn’t interrupt. “Make sure, besides the usual actors, they check for loyalty and willingness to talk to Comstar. Or ROM.” Hanse and Yvonne go still at the last.

    “I would ask how you learned about something we only suspect, but I believe the answer would be your father.” Yvonne sighed. “You suspect them of being willing to destroy this material?”

    My eyes became harder than the stone they so resembled. “Suspect? No. Know? Yes.” I paused. “Please don’t ask how. But I’ll say the Adept who came to inquire about me selling to them was a tip off, and not only that, insulting to boot.”

    Hanse’s eyebrow clearly wanted to ask ‘How insulting’?

    “Two billion for everything, except the jumpships and two billion for those. And of course the knowledge I had done Blake’s will in preserving lost treasures of the Star League.” I explained dryly. “At least the Lyran Ambassador was more polite about it, and offered to beat any deal you made, plus a duchy.”

    “They would, wouldn’t they?” Hanse clearly referred to the Lyrans, but sobered up. “I see your point about Comstar. Yvonne?”

    “It will be done, but I want the idea you told me on the way here done now.” She nodded sharply. “It will be much easier to secure them there, plus an odd orbit for her Vengeances and Behemoths.”

    “Agreed.” Hanse takes a breath and nods once. “I seem to recall one of your Maus Corporation movies, being at Winterfell.” My eyebrows knitted as I went through my memories.

    “Yess…” I finally said. The movie was a tween summer camp movie, formula, and all that. Didn’t do badly, though, but I continued on. “Bit run down, seemed like a dying resort area in the winter, though there is some possibility for cool summer activities, if I recall the area right, somewhat similar to the Tahoe area of California, on Terra…”

    His eyebrow rose at the latter, but he continued on. “The last baron died two years ago, leaving the barony to House Davion. I can just make you the baroness. There’s the bonus of it also not being heavily populated, with if not standoffish people, those who don’t easily care for interlopers nor those who threaten the Suns.” Yvonne nodded at that. “We were evaluating it for testing areas for research and development, that’s why we know the latter. Putting you as Baroness, and your unit there?” He grins. “Solves a lot of problems. It does have a dropport big enough for your unit…” He pauses. “Barely.”

    Gry thought. “We can move in three hours, if our dropships are topped off. I’ve already assigned crew to Xanadu, via Admiral Ahmad, so we’re good to go there. All our equipment except Bun Bun and a few vehicles are on the dropships, so no loading there.” He looks up. “We’re just waiting on some food, and we’re good to go.”

    I shrugged. “All my belongings are on Xanadu except Summer Breeze, and I suppose that can be shipped to me.”

    Hanse’s eyebrow quirked. “Summer Breeze?”

    “My boat.”

    Hanse grins. “Aaah. I see. Yes.” He shakes his head, and nods at Yvonne. “I presume you’re ready to contact Aerospace control?”

    “Now. We’ll provide food, and have it delivered in an hour after you land. Load the ships, I want this done. All your people here?”

    Gry’s eyebrow rose, but he nodded. Standing he nodded at me. “With your permission, I’ll see to it. Forty-five minutes, and I presume the port has fuel there?”

    “It does. Or I’ll have it brought in.” Hanse nods. He too stands. “Let’s go. Yvonne?”

    I felt blown away by the speed. Battletech was supposed to be sloth speed. Not this hurricane, but I too stood, and spoke to Gry. “You have it, General.”

    “Thank you, General, I’ll get going. See you at Winterfell.”

    “You too.”


    Dropship Xanadu, Bridge, Winterfell Dropship Port, Barony of Winterfell, New Avalon, Evening.

    Hanse winced as we walked though what was the Baronial estate. “I don’t recall it being this bad.”

    “According to the records you gave me, it’s been ten years. At least the tram from Lake Fell is still in great shape as well as the docks. It looks like Summer Breeze has a nice home.” I smiled. Kikyo-original adored that ship. Not only was it a fun way to entertain those who wanted a bit more discreet location, it was a way to get away and not be bothered. Also useful for some filming, but not often. Xanadu was actually rigged to lift a yacht slightly bigger and store it, and then return it to water, but Hanse and Yvonne were having MIIO tear the ship apart making sure it was clean of anything, and in good working order.

    “Don’t worry, it’ll only be a week.” He grins. “And it’s not boating weather here.” I nod, shivering slightly in my fur coat. I was a city girl, and while New Avalon, the city, wasn’t located on the equator, it was fairly temperate, even in Winter. New Scotland, even on the south-east shore of Loch Arthur, wasn’t. This was when the locals made the majority of their money, bringing in the silver ice weasel fur that adorned noble women’s bodies during winter. Like my coat. Which was helping, but the manor had clearly not been maintained at all, and while built well, a few bad blizzards had damaged areas while trees and branches had done in many windows, allowing snow here and there. Most of the manor had been stripped of belongings, though some furnishings still remained here and there.

    Finally we came across a room with a fireplace, and drop covered couches. Even better, Hanse’s eyes alight on a stack of firewood. My eye could tell it was likely there from before the manor was shut down, but it was still good. I watched amused as he tried to build a fire, finally commenting.

    “You might want to check the flue before you light it, otherwise…” I couldn’t help but grin.

    Hanse blinked, and facepalmed, but one of his guardsmen snickered, and moved to actually both clear the flue, and build a good fire. Hanse looked a bit bemused at it, but let the guard do so.

    “Thank you, Sergeant. I am at no risk, but the rest of the manor should be checked out.”

    “Sire.” The sergeant saluted, and closed the doors behind him and his squad, though I was certain that at least a pair stayed to guard the door.

    He clapped his hands, and moved to pull off several covers, and sat down in a lounge. “Sinfully comfortable. You should try one.”

    I paused, and shook my head. “Anyone tell you you are a tease?”

    “That and a troll, yes.” He grinned. “I’m not oblivious, I recognize the natural setup, a script writer couldn’t write it better.” He dropped into what was an expression of exaggerated lust, and said in a cheesy tone. “You’re shivering, why don’t you sit with me and we’ll find a way to warm up.” He held the expression for a second, and burst out laughing at my bemused expression. “I did say not until the third date, and I’d daresay we haven’t had three of those.”

    I thought about arguing, but he was the Prince, and in fiction he won more far more than he lost, though when he lost, he lost hard. “As you say.” I sat in the chair across from him. “I suppose you have something you want to discuss?”

    “I do. First, how long do you think you could have an all up combined arms regiment ready to go? As well as at least a company of Marines, and one of Morgan’s platoons?” Hanse quirked an eyebrow.

    “To my satisfaction?” I thought. “Three to six months. Major holes were blown in my father’s people. Even at six months I’d be leery of taking them into pitched sustained battle.” I shrugged. “That’s of course if I left a serious cadre behind to keep expanding. “

    “Interesting. From what my people say, you have enough to put together the size I asked now. You deny this?” His eyebrows rose in channel.

    “The people? Yes. And a bit more, though I did point out leaving behind a cadre, did I not?” He nodded. “It’s not the numbers, it’s the time to shake a unit down. You know this.”

    “And you shouldn’t.” His eyes bored into me. “I asked Ichigo, and he stated you showed little interest in military matters to him.”

    I didn’t wince at a slip up I had just made, but I had a cover. “At the time Lt. Steiner was more than just an instructor on how to pilot a mech, she gave bits and pieces on other things… and I’m sure you can ask Marie, your sister how much she wanted to learn from her brothers.”

    He paused and nodded at the last. “Or us from her, I suppose. Fair enough. But.” He leaned back, the fires casting shadows on his face, and making his eyes entrancingly alight. “You have secrets and aren’t as you should be. This intrigues me.”

    “All women have secrets, Your highness.” I couldn’t bring myself to call him Sire. That was nobility and royalty, and I still was part American. “Sometimes we share them… sometimes we don’t. Only time will tell if I will, with you. Or what price you’ll need to pay.”

    “I… see.” He paused. “Do they threaten the Suns?”

    “In the wrong hands… they could, admittedly.” I shrugged. Being honest was something that was worth its weight in gold, and in this case, the only way to go. Hanse wasn’t the Fox for nothing, after all, and I couldn’t put past lie detection as one of his many talents. “But I assure you that my hands aren’t the wrong ones, for I want to use them to the Sun’s benefits. You are, without a doubt, if not the best current living House lord, tied with Katrina and Avellar, and maybe the current Calderon. I’d put you ahead of the Archon, and the Calderon, but it’s hard generally to beat the Avellars, in a lot of ways, it’s a shame they have so little to work with.”

    “High praise, I suspect.” He leaned forward. “I’d contest it, but I’m flattered, though considering my competition…”

    “Damned by faint praise comes to mind, agreed.” I shook my head. “Didn’t you found the NAIS for medical purposes first and foremost?”

    “Yes.”

    “Outside the Avallars, who’d do that? Discount the Canopians, as that’s their big claim to fame outside their honey pots. Which really, from what I know, they sell to the highest bidder, too.” I raised an eyebrow.

    “... I would say anyone would, but we both know that’s a lie, since my intent is to make it’s gains known to all the Suns, and even others.” He shook his head. “Thank you.”

    I wagged a finger. “It doesn’t mean you don’t have some vices, and some of your virtues are vices in themselves, Prince. But it does mean you are at least trying to be worthy of being a good steward to your people. That’s rare enough.”

    “... I would argue, but history would prove you right.” Hanse smiled grimly. “Answer me truly. Will you ever tell me them?”

    “... I cannot say yes for sure. But I can say I would want to, at least some of them. All?” I shrug. “Some are not mine to share. Some are ones that are best left where they came from. Some are immaterial, in fact. But those that are useful? I want to.”

    Hanse studied me for a long moment. It grew warm enough, for me to remove my coat, and I did. Finally he broke the silence. “I’ll hold you to that. And I hope you find the proof I suspect you want before you tell me some.”

    I nod. “So do I.” I didn’t try to deny it. He was right. Without proof, more than just Case, more than just maybe Lt. Steiner of the Dragoons, and that was a guess, I couldn’t. Too much required me to be footloose and fancy free, or at least not in a straightjacket.

    “Well. I will help you staff your unit, but I want you moving by February 1st. My current plan is to have your combined arms regiment, a training battalion formed of Albion graduates, and one task force of the Guards, under Ran Felster’s command go pirate hunting, and ‘disappear’. In reality…”

    “Go get the Argo.” He nodded at my response. “... Doable, barely. May I suggest an addition?”

    His eyebrow rose. “Oh?”

    “Team Banzai. They’re supposedly good, and have high technical ability. May be useful, no?” I raised my eye in challenge.

    “Concede.” He thought about it for a moment, then nodded. “Doable. If they agree.”

    “I’d like to also take an aerospace regiment along, out of my people.” I raised an eyebrow in challenge.

    “Easily done.”

    “Last but not least, I have a few leads and if they pan out, I’d like your help to get them here. Some from the Outwordlers.”

    “Trying to poach one or two of their Flying Nightmares? If it’s practical…” He agreed.

    “And…” I trailed off.

    His eyes narrowed. “And?”

    “Well, Katherine did joke that she’d offer me a place in the Dragoons if I got tired of acting. Given the odds of Anton not trying something as stupid as that governor did on the Light Horse, I’d like to give her a heads up and possible home if it all…” I spread my hands apart.

    “I… see. You think Anton would be that … insane?” Hanse shook his head. “I find that hard to credit.”

    I thought on how to put that I didn’t think, I knew. Vesar was a viper. As well as ROM. And wanted the Dragoons broken. But… Ah. “Would you trust a man who turned his hand against his brother, his nephew against the nephew’s father? And one who is losing?”

    “... I wouldn’t, no, your point is taken. Samuel Johnson had a quote I believe,” he replied finally.

    “Trust me, Sir, when a man knows he’ll be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.” I responded.

    “Exactly. Write your letter to her, and I’ll see it gets to her as soon as possible.” He nodded finally.

    “Thank you.” I smiled. I looked around and sighed. “Anything else?”

    “Not at this moment, but I would suggest you think about agreeing to exchange some of that tonnage and cash for dropships and maybe even jumpships from me.” Hanse shrugged. “I’ve reconsidered, and that might be the most effective way to handle it.” He looked upwards, studying teh flickers on the ceiling. “The tonnage will be far more than I’d like to give up, at least in ‘Mechs and vehicles for a while, unless you want to spread it out over a near decade. Even with the likely improvements to industry.” He shook his head. “I am pondering a deal, that would lessen the sting of this arrangement, so don’t trouble yourself on that.”

    I nodded. “Still..”

    He waved his hand. “It is only a thought, at this point. A lot will depend on actual situations.”

    I didn’t pout, I was more than willing to make that deal, depending on the tonnage required. But again. Patience, Kikyo, Patience. “Of course.”

    “Excellent.” He stood, putting his greatcoat back on. I stood as well, as he strode over, picking up and holding out my coat to slip into. “I do believe we should return to the dropport.”

    I nodded, smiling ruefully. “I think it’ll be a bit before this place is livable, yes.”

    Winterfell Dropship Port, Barony of Winterfell, Late Evening.

    As Hanse departed towards his waiting transportation, I turned to the annoyed Infantry Brigadier, and the amused Operator next to her.

    “Oookay… what’s the problem.” I tilted my head.

    “We have an unauthorized person going over our vehicles, and Morgan and Evie don’t care.” Meta sounded irritated. “And they won’t tell me why.”

    I turn to Morgan, raising an eyebrow. “And you will tell me, no?”

    “Dr. Banzai.” Morgan grinned, to a slight confusion on Jinks’ face.

    I sigh. “He’s authorized, or if he’s not, that’s more the paperwork hasn’t caught up to us yet.” I pause. “Or been done, to be fair. But it will be. He’s arguably the best man to look at the medical gear, mind you, outside of Terra and the Belt.”

    Morgan nodded. “That’s a fact. I might have been called the best Rabid Fox, able to solo companies, but he’s on another level when it comes to tech, and isn’t far behind when you talk about neuroscience.”

    Meta sighed. “Okay, can you talk to him, and remind that man it’s impolite to go onto another’s cantonment without being invited? Not done.”

    I nod, and look at Morgan, who pulls a radio. “This is Solo. Where is Banzai.”

    “Colossus 3, sir, at Bun Bun’s bay.” the reply was immediate. “He’d also like to see Winter.”

    Morgan tilts his head at me, and I nod at the question. “Boss says get him. Make it happen.” With that, he waves me on to a waiting car.

    One thing to understand about Dropship ports. They’re big. Winterfell's was always a small one, and more auxiliary for the other ports on New Avalon and given the current traffic, only saw one or two dropships a day normally, at best. Still, it could park all my landable dropships, with a bit of juggling, and still have room for a few more. That made the port huge by any 21st century person’s view.

    To someone like Morgan, who was used to New Avalon’s main port or other major worlds, Winterfell’s port was easily the clone of Missoula’s international airport, compared to New Avalon’s JFK. Which neatly explained his next comment as the sedan we were in parked next to a Colossus class Dropship.

    “That was faster than I thought.” Morgan got out, sweeping the area, and waving me out.

    “Small port.” I agreed, though thinking that it seemed long to the merged me.

    “Ah.. and there’s Zack.” Morgan grinned as the teenager walked up, and shivered.

    “It’s cold!” He was grinning. “I love it!”

    “You’re shivering.” Morgan’s deadpan was evident.

    Case tilted his head. “I fought mostly in the tropics for a year, then spent time on a dropship on top of that. And where I grew up wasn’t that cold either. I’ll get used to it.” He grinned. “And… Banzai wants to meet me?” He punched the air. “YES!”

    I rolled my eyes. “Let’s not keep the good doctor waiting.” We were led up by a spacer named Neda, who was quiet, and studying us three as if we were chicks about to starve or freeze. As she finished leading us, and pointed at Bun Bun, where I saw someone looking into his cockpit, she commented softly. “Young people should dress for the weather, and you, boy, need to eat more.” Before either of us could comment, she had disappeared

    I strode over to the lift next to Bun Bun, and Redline, Case’s half disassembled Hunchback was in the bay next to him. Before Morgan or Case could get in, I punched it up, and if this wasn’t Evie or Deb, or a tech they personally authorized from my unit, I was going to kill a bitch.

    As I reached the platform to get to Bun Bun’s cockpit, I pulled out a pistol I had kept, and cocked it. Stepping out, the pistol was in a two handed grip and pointed down, but ready to bring into battery. “You have three seconds to explain who you are and why you are in my mech’s cockpit. One…”

    The head snapped up and Peter Weller’s clone looked at me. “I was just seeing if there was anything unexpected about Bun Bun’s neurological interface.” That didn’t get the pistol taken away from him, and he raised an eyebrow as he continued. “Cook asked me to. My reputation, you see…”

    “And why did she?” I safed the pistol, and put it back in it’s hostler. “And going around poking in my battlemech, without being authorized by me, Colonel Banzai, makes me a bit paranoid. While I concede you’re unlikely to do harm to Bun Bun, not all I can say the same about.”

    He paused for a second and then nodded. “I’d say properly cautious, and I apologize.” His relaxed expression hadn’t changed at all, and he leaned back against the railing of the platform. “She told me about your original baseline being different radically according to Bun Bun, and she wanted to see if Bun Bun’s SLDF electronics could explain it. Or your neurohelmet. While I haven’t seen either in such excellent condition before, I have seen and examined similar before, and I can say that they’re not at fault.”

    I raised an eyebrow, since I got the sense he was curious.

    “And as well, her comment about Mr. Winter’s unusual neurology, or so she’d was told.” His eyebrow went up. “You do know neurological damage can cause change in brain patterns.”

    I rolled my eyes. “I do, yes.” I paused. “I take it you’d like to examine me and Case, then, using one of the MASHes we have?”

    “You are correct, and since a quick look shows it’s a full up Royal setup, I’ll be able to do a lot. We are setting up one at NAIS, but it’s half broken, and barely able to do about half what that one can do.” His eagerness to see what the setup could do, was obvious in a restrained and relaxed way.

    “And…” I tilted my head.

    “I don’t know why Miss Cook wants to see, but if you’re having issues, and Case is as well, it’s better to know now, so treatment if needed can be arranged.” He spreads his hands. “It’s something to get ahead of.”

    “And if there’s no treatment?” My eyes narrowed.

    He paused, his face still neutral. He looked up, and nodded once. “Then you’ll know, and can make decisions. I would, and we both have major responsibilities don’t we?”

    I paused. While I was sure I was fine, he didn’t know that, and who knew what Case’s brain was like. “Okay.”

    “Excellent.” He strode over to the lift, expecting me to follow, and I did. Shortly we were at the ground, and Case was clearly annoyed with Evie, who was glaring back at him.

    “Cabbit! She wants me to get a brain scan!” His rant was building and I could guess how it could go, so I cut it off.

    “It’s done by Dr. Banzai.” I was amused on how fast Case’s head snapped to the doctor, and a manic light entered his head.

    “Oh. FOR SCIENCE! then.” I, Morgan and Evie stared at him. How did he manage to make his statement sound like that?

    “Proper attitude, young man, let’s be about this.” Dr. Banzai had a faint smile, as he ushered us along. “I believe Miss. Cook has prepared one of your MASH units for this. Evie nodded.

    “She’s ready, yes. Bet you’ve never had a full medical workup done with the best Hardware the Terries ever built.” She grinned. “Might as well get that out of the way, too, no?”

    Case started to protest, only to be cut off by Evie. “It’s in your contract, and the General’s getting it too.”

    Case’s head tilted for a moment. “Hot nurses?”

    Evie’s facepalm was joined by my and Morgan’s snickers and Banzai’s amused curling of his lips.

    “Sorry, no, just me and Dr. Kirkup.” Case’s head turned to me and I nodded. That was the redheaded doctor who treated Uri after I put him on the ground.

    “CMO of the outfit, Case. She’s at least a redhead.”

    “With NEEDLES.” Case shivered. “I better get candy.”

    Evie snorted and responded to that, as we stepped outside the dropship. “Are you sure you’re a decorated and honored Marksman of Marksman?” Evie was referring to the Mechwarrior term for Ace, Marksman. Just like Ace of Aces, Marksman of Marksmen meant Case had attained 25 kills or more in battle. I reconsidered the scruffy mechwarrior in front of me.

    “Twenty five? In less than a year?” I said quietly. There were mechwarriors who could go their entire lives without that many. In fact, out of my unit, only Uri and Gry could claim more than ten kills, and only Gry could claim the twenty-five, while only two of my pilots had hit Ace of Aces.

    “Twenty-nine, and would have been thirty, if that last snake didn’t trip his mech.” Case shrugged.

    “Impressive, though…” Dr. Banzai frowned. “Have you talked to a psychiatrist? You may be suffering from battle stress, you realize.”

    “Duh.” Case snorted. “I’m not stupid, and I’m pretty sure I need some serious downtime. You don’t go through what I went through without having the shakes.”

    Evie and Dr. Banzai’s eyes narrowed jointly, while Morgan nodded as we arrived at the MASH.

    For those of you expecting a tent, or a prefab building, the Star League had that beat. They had a tractor trailer type arrangement that collapsed into a convenient driving unit, and could expand into a full function, small, mind you, but still full function trauma center able to handle nearly a dozen patients in surgery at a time. It also only took a few hours to set up, or break down for transport. And the SLDF didn’t stint. It was accurate to say that this was the best trauma center at least equipment wise, off Terra. Even New Avalon’s new one at the new university that Hanse was founding, wasn’t as good, simply because some of the electronics just didn’t exist anymore. At least outside the Sol System.

    Dr. Banzai finally responded as we reached the door of the expanded MASH. “That’s a remarkably mature attitude to have, Mr. Winter. I honestly didn’t expect it.”

    Case just grinned. “I’m full of surprises.” Dr. Banzai nodded at that, and shortly we were undressing in the heated MASH, to be fully examined.

    Case went first, while I waited in a gown. It took longer than I reasonably expected to get though each step, and my memories of even New Avalon treatment indicated it was. Partly because of the sheer amount of tests that were being run, some of which I had never heard of, partly becasue of…

    “Hey! This is awesome.” a voice shot out. “I get to see my brain in 3-D. Awesome! How in hell does this work, I can see DNA in the cells...” Case. He had pestered Banzai with hordes of questions, since Banzai chose to run him through the routine tests first, while patiently answering his questions with me and Dr. Kirkup following, then handing the nervous system on me himself.

    Finally it was my turn in the tube that in a lot of ways reminded me of a Star Trek medical bed. Dr. Banzai hadn’t even twitched at my nude body, after he stated it was required for the tube. I made a mental note to ask Dr. Kirkup if it really was.

    The medical scanner literally could examine a patient at levels I knew 21st century doctors, or even doctors in New Avalon would simply kill for. Finally, a near clone of my neuro helmet was placed on my head, and a series of questions were asked. I answered as best as I could, and a basic neuro helm test was run finally, with me moving a little toy robot around with my mind. I didn’t keep the glee fully off my face, but Dr. Banzai and Dr. Kirkup didn’t say a word.

    Finally, a good hour past midnight, that was two hours of waiting, and Case semi-nodding off, but snapping awake, Dr. Banzai hummed, walking into the waiting room, as he had two sheafs of paper with him. I and Case shook our heads about being told separately. Case was half dead on his feet, as I found out he hadn’t slept yet.

    “First. Basic medical status, Patient Zackary Winter. Slightly malnourished, otherwise outside the brain, in remarkably good health outside that. All indicators of physical capability high, reflexes, flexibility, hand eye coordination, responsiveness, all well into the ninety nine percentile range. Neurological activity consistent with similar level of ability in intelligence and other areas which the brain has dominance over. Above human normals in all but vision, which is near to human ideal. High likelihood of genetic alterations done in biological ansector’s past.” He paused and nodded

    “Patient Kikyo Onishi. Good health consistent with decent diet and exercise. Physical ability outside pure lifting capability also in the ninety nine percentile range, lifting capability above average but within general human maximums. As with Patient Winters, high mental capability, also within the ninety nine percentile. Sensory response on hearing, taste and smell also within that percentile.” He paused. “Unusual flexibility in all joints, and tongue, unusual shape and function of certain sweat organs, unusual chemical makeup of bodily fluids testable. Unusual shape of exocrine glands in general. Abnormal hormonal levels, though they appear to be normal for Patient Onishi. Finally, clear signs of genetic modification, in biological past on biological ancestors. Believed associated with several of the above conditions.”

    Case’s tired laughter answered that line. “Of course. Not like most people back in the Star League didn’t play that way.” Dr. Banzai nodded. “And of course, the cabbit is a genie meant to be a sexpot, I bet. Kuritans!”

    I shrugged. I knew I was a genie, but the precise specifics of what I was supposed to be was not told to me. I now had some guesses, though, and I’d put money on Case’s snark being right.
    “Possibly.” Dr. Banzai’s neutral and deadpan tone squished the tired scruffy teenager’s words, as he continued.

    “Finally, neurological.” He paused for a moment and clearly thought on how to say what he wanted. Finally, he just did.

    “Patient Winters shows very abnormal neurological development, one that would be expected in a person three times his age. Further, his brain retains a beyond human maximum plasticity for his age, as well as several abnormal structures, which at this time, the function of which are unknown. Last but not least, he shows abnormalities consistent with post traumatic stress as well as extreme feedback from neurohelm use in combat when his mech was damaged. However both conditions are well below what would be expected with his reported history of combat, and there are indications that they are recovering. His neural connectivity is above recorded records, his ability to pass the neuro helm capability test is also beyond reasonable expectations. However the patient is showing clear signs of sleep deprivation.”

    Case snickered. “I’m still alive, I’ll get better. I got a mech to fix, and no time to do it, while I deal with the Cabbit’s insanity. And you’ll see for SCIENCE!” a nod at Dr. Kirkup had an injector at Case’s neck before he could react, and an indignant “Hey!” was the last thing Case said as he passed out.

    “Now, Patient Onishi shows similar abnormal neurological development, with signs that the majority of the development was very recent. She shows abnormal development in areas unusual to humans previously examined, but not similar to Patient Winters. Indications of short term neurological trauma associated with psychoactive use present, though fading. Neural plasticity extremely high, but not above recorded human capability at patient’s biological age, but close. As with Patient Winters, neural connectivity is high, though not quite beyond known human maximum capability. Neuro helm capability is similar. Indications both conditions are a recent affect.”

    My eyebrows had risen and risen during this. Finally, I asked. “Summarize.”

    “Patient Winter is an exceptional mechwarrior or pilot. Quite possibly the best ever, with some oddities to his brain to possibly explain it. He’ll learn excessively fast, has the knowledge and personality of someone three times his biological age, and while has growths that are abnormal, are not a health risk nor seem to be doing him any harm. I’ve seen hints of similar in another patient.” Dr. Banzai nodded.

    He looked at me. “As for you, you learn exceptionally fast as well, have the ability to easily function on half the normal sleep requirements, are also an exceptional mechwarrior or pilot, though you won’t be the most extreme example, unlike Patient Winter, but well into the top 1% when fully trained. I have seen your abnormal structures and development before in captured and dead DEST commandos, which leads me to consider I might discuss with you some more supposedly mystical rumors about DEST.” His eyes bore into mine.

    “You’re biologically prone to having mental issues relating to socialibty, impulse and inhibition control. and all your bodily excretions seem to have a psychoactive effect, that you aren’t immune to, but mild. I would have to do more study to see if it’s addictive.” He flipped through the printouts, and nodded once. “While I would write Patient Winters development off as a unusuality, yours confirms his, and again, shows biological and mental age differences of an extreme nature. I am very curious to ask why.” As he put down the paperwork, he looked at Dr. Kirkup. “This is of course, medically privileged, and will be treated as such. I do not see any long term mental issues, outside the ones discussed above for either patient, and in a physical sense, they at this time are healthy, though follow up is recommended.”

    I couldn’t help but ask. “Dr. Banzai, Dr. Kirkup, do you have explanations for the mental and physical age difference?”

    Dr, Kirkup snorted. “The few I could come up with, the other markers aren’t there. Moving your brain into a new body? Yeah, no. Both of you have records long enough with proof of birth to deny extreme longevity with associated slow aging. Rejuvenation? Possible, but I’d have no idea, and Dr. Banzai is pretty sure that too would leave markers we’d see.”

    Dr. Banzai’s bland tone confirmed that. “As I said, I’m very curious to see if you have a reason we haven’t considered. While there may be ones we haven’t, I’m honestly puzzled by this. Everything else, I have some idea, well, with the exception of Case’s unusual structures, though I suspect they’re related to his ability to be a Mechwarrior. The extreme plasticity of Patient Winters, and the severe mismatch of both your mental ages and biological ages, however, I have no explanation, and genetic editing wouldn’t explain this. Other signs would be present and they are not, and your records I have been assured are valid, which excludes the possibility I had considered. The other possibility I have, is more religious than scientific, so, I won’t consider it at this time.”

    “I do, but I don’t know you well enough, and you take Prince Davion’s pound, sir. As well as discussing the religious aspects… until you are willing, there is no point in talking, I suppose. ” I paused. “However, I do authorize you to tell the mental age aspects to Evie.” I shrug. “I might tell you later, though.”

    He simply looks at me as Dr. Kirkup nods and departs to talk to Evie. “I will hold you to that.” He puts the papers back into a pair of folders, and places them in a briefcase. “This is for Dr. Kirkup to file where she wants. I’d like to study your equipment some more, as well as discuss the potential for the rumored abilities of the DEST commandos I have encountered, and I expect Prince Davion to return in a few days, at worst, so I’ll do so, if I have your permission?”

    “You do, Doctor.” He nodded his thanks, and departed the waiting room himself. Turning to look at the sleeping body next to me, I sighed. “Okay, Pole, time to dump ass in bed.”

    Kikyo’s Cabin, Dropship Xanadu, Winterfell Dropship Port, Very Early Morning

    I played the message from Ichigo, after Aiko’s, again. Ichigo’s voice sounded clear and unpressured, but what it said severely irritated me.

    “Achy? I’m going to be on space watch for the next two weeks, with the Heavy Guard Aero wing, so it’s constant alert for me. I’ll be at the ready barracks, or in vacuum.” He paused, and continued on after a moment. “Marshal Felsner was kind enough to inform me, to inform you that the Prince’s Champion had made arrangements for Aiko, while we were occupied by our duties.” I seethed as Ichigo’s voice continued. “I was surprised that they moved her into the Palace. Then I realized…”

    He had trailed off, his tone still bland, but I could imagine the frustration in his expression. “Well. The Davions do look after their people, and those who give them prizes. And, well, with them ennobling both of us… we more than qualify to get some special attention, I suppose. I got to go, but I wanted you to know Aiko’s fine. And yes, I signed off on it, in your stead.” I seethed at the latter. Ichigo technically could do that, but… I took a deep breath, and stopped and deleted the recording.

    I picked up a brush, and began angrily brushing my unbound hair, using this to think this though. Would Hanse do this? Part of me wanted to say no. He had other options to compel loyalty, and he knew it. It wouldn’t be his first choice. I hoped. Otherwise I misread him both in fiction and in reality badly, and that spoke volumes of the hell I could consign the universe to.

    Yvonne Davion, on the other hand? Perhaps. In fact, she was DMI for a long time, and despised the Haseks, to the point of screwing with their supplies, which put the Fusiliers at risk of increased deaths. She was quite able to be ruthless, and sell Hanse on the need for it. And as she knew the Prince all his life, she could push buttons, and make it seem to Hanse, that he was doing me a favor, and voila.

    My question was how did she sell it to the Prince, to be fair, if she did, or did she do it and present it as a fait accompli and stated it was for ‘security’. I stopped brushing for a second, hoping that the grandmotherly woman honestly did have security as part of her reason, not just what did I tell my sister and her lever against me. But I couldn’t be sure.

    “I give you my word, whoever ordered this, you owe me a debt. And I will collect.” I drew blood with my fingernails as I hissed the oath. Someone would rue the day they chose to try to use my sister as hostage. With that, I took a deep breath, and started dictating a letter for a certain Clanner. It needed to get to New Delos fast.
     
    Last edited: Mar 15, 2020
  26. Threadmarks: Interlude Block 1
    MageOhki

    MageOhki Making the rounds.

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    And think! I still have at least 50+K sitting waiting!

    With a lever big enough I can move the world

    A Battletech FanFiction

    By

    Andrew “MageOhki” Norris.

    Interlude 1

    Butterflies flap.

    One thing you do need to remember, things don’t happen in a vacuum. Even if you don’t intend other effects, what you do affects others. What others do affects you. Always something to remember. The trick is to remember it, and plan the affects. Not easy.


    From the journals and notes of Kikyo Onishi, New Avalon Press, 3291 AD, as part of the “Century of Chaos: The Movers and Shakers.” series.


    Hanse’s Private Office, New Avalon, Morning, Jan 5th, 3015

    Hanse’s eyes were cold, yet he was smiling as he studied the list that he had. Joan, his chief bean counter as he joked, to her dismay, she preferred tax collector, had stared over the list.

    “We can’t afford all of this, Hanse, not at the deal you made. It’s not the money.” She shook her head, her graying red hair shifting. “Seventy or more Royal or last generation Royal mechs, thirty or so ASF, 200 plus combat vehicles, nearly 500 support vehicles, just the tonnage off the dropships and the nearly 100 kilotons of spare parts?”

    Over 2700 last-generation Royal Command mech bays or their equivalents.” Hanse breathed. “We’ll have to replace them, but those computers and robotics. Worth every pound.”

    Joan nodded. One of Ways and Means’ unofficial tasks was keeping an eye on how much the companies who still had semi working or not working automated factory lines would pay for even one of those bays. The computers alone could be used by just about every industrialist in the Suns, outside Challenger, perhaps. The other bits? Corean and Wangker’s CEO would sell their souls for a dozen.

    “I checked with Melinda last night, but my off the cuff guess of at least an additional 300 mechs a month, or ASF, or armored vehicles, is the floor we can expect. Adding in Gainax?” She paused. “The problem is, really, we can’t afford the tonnage, if we cut the number of spare parts we’re willing to take, even if she’s reasonable about the delivery schedule. Not and pay her, not and buy the majority of that production, even at discounted rates, over our normal ones.” She paused. “Are you sure you don’t want a shotgun marriage?”

    “An unwilling wife is worse than no wife.” Hanse dismissed. “It’d not be a shotgun on my part, I assure you.”

    Joan sighed. “We can’t do it. Not with a preliminary request.”

    “I know.” Hanse drummed his fingers. “But… We could cut the High Council’s booze budget?”

    Joan snorted. “Do you want to lose your head? And it’d not make enough of a difference. The issue is the sheer amount of projects we have. Delay NAIS?”

    Hanse shook his head. “Not acceptable, not with those MASH units, those are last-generation SLDF Royal MASHes, with basically a complete Terran trauma ward and small hospital in each one, fit to treat the First Lord. With the books from Halstead station, Dana’s legacy is secure. We need more money, is what you’re saying. Can we raise bonds?”

    “I really rather not. It’d leak why.” She shook her head. “Not until we’re ready.”

    Hanse paused. “She did say she’s willing to take jumpships, right?”

    Joan winced. “Robbing Peter to pay Paul? The FSN will whine at losing their budget to her.”

    He waved his hand. “Not only will they get over it, I think when Galax starts producing more dropships, they’ll be happy. And run this through your head. I offer Janos a bite at our production, at FS prices, he offers us a bite at his jumpship production, he’s bleeding mechs and men like nothing else, but not jumpships.”

    Joan’s eyes narrowed as she ran through the numbers. She suddenly smiled. “It’ll work, if he bites, and we let the LC as well buy at slightly higher rates…” She trailed off. “And we charge the companies who get the bay parts, the difference? I’ll have to run the numbers, and it’d help if you can get some of the tonnage back, as well as some of the cash. But it’s workable.” She still winced. “See if you can delay the delivery of the rest of the hardware, too, Nal will be happier, and you’ll only have one part of the AFFS muttering dark things, Hanse.”

    Hanse nodded agreeing. “I could run the offer of marriage again, it might work this time…” Joan just shook her head.

    “None of us meant it seriously, though it’d solve a few problems. Oh, well, I’ll just make the shillings cry.”

    Hanse’s tone became cold and focused. “And what those tears will buy is the vengeance long delayed on Luthien. Joan, make no mistake. We now can win, given time.”

    “Yes. But will we have it?”

    Colonel Wolf’s office, New Delos, Mid afternoon, Jan 7th, 3015

    Jamie Wolf, Colonel of the Wolf’s Dragoons, arguably the best and largest of the mercenary commands of the Inner sphere looked up at the knock at his door. “Come in Captain Steiner.”

    The door opened and a woman in Dragoon uniform whom could be best described as the Archon’s twin entered, closing the door behind her and stood to attention. “Colonel, came in as soon as I heard.”

    “Please, have a seat, Captain… we have much to talk about,” he said.

    “Yes, sir,” the statuesque blonde replied to mister Connery, as she liked to refer to him in jest and sat before him.

    Jamie steepled his hands together and looked at his most promising officer. “You do remember that starlet you mentored back in… ‘09, I believe? A Kikyo Onishi?”

    Katherine pondered for a moment before nodding. “A talented would-be mechwarrior if she devoted her time and attention to learning the trade. Yes, I recall, me and ‘Tasha had a lot of fun consulting for her movie. Did she take my offer and apply for a position in the Dragoons?”

    Jamie smiled a bit crookedly. “Yes, I remember ‘Tasha’s comments about her.” His smile dimmed a bit, but was still present. “Alas, no, and if yours and ‘Tasha’s praise was even half accurate, and not saying it wasn’t accurate, Captain.” He grinned at that last. “It is a true shame. We can use talent like that.” He shook his head.

    Continuing on, he nodded once. “Did you happen to catch yesterday’s Around the Sphere? The entertainment section?”

    Katherine’s mind flashed back to what she’d done the day before - helping cover Natasha’s paperwork as the CO of Red Black Battalion so she could go on a date with Joshua without worrying about late work - and she knew she’d completely missed that show. Not that she really cared all that much about it, but sometimes it was nice to decompress by laughing at mindless fun.

    “I’m afraid not, sir. I was busy shuffling papers around.”

    Jamie smiled. “And not your own, or the Dragoon’s logistics, or Blackwell’s reports and requests, I suspect.” He raised a hand and shook his head. “No, don’t answer that. I’m quite aware of what Joshua and ‘Tasha were up to yesterday.” He sobered. “But if you had, you’d have caught a three day old report from New Avalon, which I have more details from Wolfnet on. It seems your potential protege inherited Count New Osaka’s people and all the equipment he found.” His eyes grew a bit sharp.

    “And Wolfnet has some explaining to do on exactly how did they miss the amount of equipment the good Count acquired. While the show didn’t go into details, it seems Miss Onishi is the proud owner of a mercenary command with over seventy dropships, nine jumpships, and at least two full brigades of equipment. Some of it confirmed LosTech.” He shook his head. “Everyone knew the man was a treasure hunter, and his ‘mercenary’ command was just his guards and fellow Lostech hunters, but he managed to blindside everyone with what he had squirreled away.”

    Tossing an envelope on the desk to slide near Katherine, Jamie finished. “And she reached out to you, with this letter. Via Hanse Davion, delivered by MIIO. The agent states that he decoded it correctly, but…”

    Katherine stared at Connery for a moment, processing what he’d just said. That level of firepower was unheard of in the Inner Sphere for a mere treasure hunter, alright. Hell, even Snord hadn’t found a tenth of that haul and he’d been given several coordinates to check out based on what data they had in the Wolf Core. She took the letter and read it, wondering just what else was going to drop on her lap now.

    She could already imagine the headaches coming her way.

    To Captain Steiner of the Wolf Dragoons.

    I hope this letter finds you in good health in your dangerous profession, and with your even for your profession, risky contract. I was amiss in not sending you congratulations on your promotion, and I apologize, and congratulate you on your abilities being recognized by the foremost commander of mercenaries in the Inner Sphere.

    However, as you may have learned in this time, I have come into a not so small inheritance from my biological father, and while his parents, my grandparent’s sixteenth birthday gift would be quite appros to taking you up on your offer, I think you’d like Bun Bun, he loves carrots, though I’ve gained an appreciation for them recently, myself… Ahem, I digress. My father’s last gift to me is very unsuited for taking you up on your offer you made at the end of the filming of ‘Saving Sherwood.’, but I find myself in need of a trusted elder voice in yours, now our profession.

    I cannot imagine that you are at all content in your service with the Dragoons, considering all things. Then again, perhaps you are. Mayhap you could explain how, to me, since it is unlikely I will be able to avoid similar situations, but how can you trust a man who betrayed Kin, who caused a son to betray his father, who betrayed his oaths to his liege and nation, and who is losing, and must be growing desperate? How can you trust your dependents unguarded by your own pack, to such a man?

    I would not, for I would easily foresee him taking my dependents hostage, and given what you told me about Colonel Wolf? I do not see them surviving such an outcome. If I am wrong, and you do worry about this, perhaps you would feel happier in a unit that would listen to such worries, and that the commander in name, at least, for now, will listen and learn, and has many questions to ask of an elder.

    However, time grows short if I wish this to get to you in a timely manner. I’d ask ‘Tasha, since we all know scarlets have to stick together, but I’ve always felt your blonde hair was hiding something, and that must be the real red roots you have.

    With fond memories,

    Kikyo.

    “I’ve read it myself. Someone else fully agrees with you about Anton.” Jamie’s voice rumbled. “Are you discontent?”

    She had no idea what to think of the letter as she read it. Some pieces of it tickled in the back of her head, some long ago memories that she should never have had but for the grace of God, but the whole letter? What in the hell was she looking at?

    “Sir… Jaime, I’m trying to figure out what this is. I… look, I made no secret I think Anton’s the wrong horse and he doesn’t feel all that stable in the head… and you know the story I got from the Eridani Light Horse and why they have a unit twenty-four-seven dedicated towards protecting their dependents and why it is considered their highest honor to doing so. My best guess here? MIIO’s picked up on something and they’re using Onishi as the vehicle to bring it to us. Why Onishi in particular?... I don’t know.”

    Why did she feel like the carrots and the color references were important? Wait a moment, she thought...

    “Jaime, when did she inherit the whole thing? And how fast do you think this letter could’ve arrived?”

    “The paperwork naming her sole owner took effect with the MRB on January 1st, this year, her twentieth birthday. The equipment arrived the next day, and the transfer was formalized at the start of business, on New Avalon, on the 3rd. Given Wolfnet believes that Hanse was there to see the ships land..” He shrugged. “Considering he used a MIIO agent as courier, and it would not surprise me if the message went out that night, or at worst, the night of the 4th.” He paused. “You did remark on her intelligence, if I recall. As well as she picking your brain on investment advice.”

    Her brain spun at a thousand miles an hour. Things weren’t adding up and the itch in the back of her head was if anything growing. How could inheriting the whole pile be somehow tied to sending out the warning? Was it a coincidence? God worked in mysterious ways, she knew, but this was… odd.

    “Yeah… Frankly? I think I need to have a chat with Miss Onishi. I’m not discontent with the Dragoons, just our current contract… particularly our employer. But you know this, Jaime. We do have friends in the AFFS from our time back in their employ so I can see them warning us, it’s just… Miss Onishi and her inheritance at the same time seem to be an incredible coincidence.”

    Not to mention Hanse Davion possibly being involved. She pondered for a second before speaking up again, “Are we going to act on her warning?”

    Jamie looked at Katherine. “I knew you weren’t discontent with the Dragoons. I will be honest, I am surprised you haven’t called me into a Trial of Grievance, given your opinion of the situation.” He paused, leaning back. “Let me say this. I’m going to do several things at once, that solves several problems, as well as take into consideration this and your warnings about the… Captain General.” Jamie’s voice grew dry on the last two words.

    Shaking his head, he soldiered on. “I set a message to Kerlin by the previous chain we had set up a while ago, again, at your suggestion, and I got a reply two days ago. While your efforts to convince him to effectively set up Blackwell as our providers and suppliers has borne fruit, to the point that we had to keep them from producing as many mechs as they are capable of, Kerlin has stated he is sending more tooling to expand our efforts, as well as additional mechs, people and equipment.”

    “That’s good… I assume they’ll be headed towards New Valencia?”

    “That’s what the plan is, I’m not quite sure when the new personnel and equipment will arrive, but yes. So.” He leans back. “We’re going to solve three problems at once if you’re agreeable.”

    “Go ahead, Jaime. I’m listening.”

    “First, the dependents will be leaving within twenty-four hours, I’ve arranged, and am just waiting on confirmation of an express route to New Valencia.” He smiled. “If it works out as planned, they’ll arrive on the 30th.” He leaned back. “Second, to guard them, as well as cut our footprint in this, I’m sending all excess personnel, Hephaestus, which is already disassembled, and Red Black. Plus, hired the Black Aces to guard it and make sure it arrives in the Federated Suns. This will include Joshua, who’ll be taking some of your assistants that you’ve trained up, to help with our logistics, as well as other aspects of Blackwell.” He paused, seemingly waiting on the statuesque blonde in front of him.

    That sounded like a solid plan, she thought. Get the dependents out of the way, have Red Black provide security… oh, he said three things, didn’t he?

    “Not wasting any time whatsoever, Jaime, I see. Our employer might wonder if we’re going to bail on him, though. We best not give him any more excuses… and if he gives us reason to bail, we should. But if I’m not wrong that will be more your problem than mine? If I go with Red Black I’ll probably be at New Valencia by the time Anton reacts. But you said three things and named only two… is this going to be about Miss Onishi? We do owe her for the warning, I believe.”

    And, Katherine realised, there were also the questions of where the damn hardware came from. She’d had a lot of time to look at the locations marked on Clan Wolf’s maps and there were quite a few locations that had been marked as secret from their host nations - like the depot on Galtor III - which was likely the reason why so long from the fall of the Star League the business of LosTech prospecting still paid.

    “Not to mention,” she added, “that so much hardware must’ve come from somewhere.”

    She looked at Connery, waiting for him to drop the likely bombshell she was already expecting - why else would he have made a dramatic pause ?

    His slight smile indicated he caught onto her catching onto his game. “Pity. I was hoping you would ask what’s the third thing.” He leaned forward. “Officially. And I do mean Officially, your complaints about this contract have been noted by more than just the senior staff and are causing dissension. This will not go on your record with the Guild, and it pains me to lose one of my most critical officers, and the Dragoons will always have a place for you. Isn’t it fortunate that a prospective slot for an officer of your talents opened up in a new and upcoming unit of a large size.” He paused, quirking an eyebrow.

    “I see,” Katherine noted as her mind looked over what Connery was saying. “Officially, an honorable discharge from the Dragoons due to irreconcilable differences in opinion regarding the current contract. Unofficially, I’m being spun out to join Onishi’s and find out if there’s anything nefarious about her and discharge the debt the Dragoons owe her by handing her one of our best officers? Am I summing it up correctly?”

    “There is no debt, at least yet.” He shook his head. “While I concede if Anton does do something.. Unwise, shall we say?” He nodded at that, and moved on. “We will be in a position to withstand it, with no risk, and then, I would concede a debt is owed.” He leaned back and looked upwards. “I want to know what the hell was found, how much is it going to affect the Inner Sphere, and if the actress’ father left any more sites for her. She gets to get trained by honestly, the person I think should be commanding this mission, and this force.”

    He nods again. “Finally, your mustering out bonus will including a fair bit of Blackwell’s stock, as we, as in the Dragoons, officially own it. That will give you a reason to keep in close contact with Blackwell, and though them, us. This also gives you the ability to keep an eye on them that I can’t, and as well, if needed, order spare parts for your mech.”

    “Point, he hasn’t stabbed us in the back yet,” Katherine conceded. “I understand what you’re aiming for and I thank you for your high praise, Jaime. I really do. I see the logic for the Blackwell connection, too… I get to keep the Marauder? It’s Red Black’s.”

    Jamie snickered. “Actually, I filed the paperwork years ago for all officers, at the least, to have ownership of their mech of the time, with specific caveats. This is the Inner Sphere, for one, and not unusual. Even the Great Father owned his own mech, after all. I also thought in a worse case situation, the officers could at least find their own way, via their mechs back to Clan space if so inclined.” He shook his head. “Otherwise, those who hold technical liens on the Dragoons, such as our contract holders, could seize the mechs.”

    Katherine facepalmed. “And I missed that, somehow. Help me, I’m buried in paperwork,” the blonde said melodramatically before straightening up again. “No downgrading, then? Not like we have the time to do that before shipping out if we’re doing it this rushed.”

    He shook his head. “Two reasons, one: It’s an edge that’ll keep you alive at least once. Second: It’s known we have bits of lostech, and you’re one of the senior officers, therefore it’d be odd if yours did not have any.” He paused. “Before you go, can you answer a question I’ve been noodling, since I saw the equipment Kerlin’s sending?”

    “Always, Jaime,” Katherine responded. “What’s he sending that you have questions about?”

    “Two more stations, one a modified Alliance like ours, but more configured to machine tooling, and second, a Hughes class mobile station. At least a half dozen Behemoths filled with factory tooling. I have a complete list here or there, your replacement in logistics is going to have kittens reading this, if he’s half as twitchy about stuff as you are.”

    The blonde almost choked and took several seconds to compose herself.

    “Subtlety is the fist of an Atlas, it seems. I can only guess that Kerlin’s decided to go all in on ensuring we can produce anything we might ever need now or in the future, up to and including Clan-grade hardware or Jumpships… although I doubt he intends us to produce anything that the Inner Sphere isn’t capable of producing, naturally. There’s also the added benefit that… depending on what we’re getting we may actually be entirely able to sustain the Dragoons merely from the profits of Blackwell bolstered by what Kerlin’s sending. Certainly, if we’re getting a station capable of building jumpships, the premium we could get for those alone?... Boy, we might need to keep half the Dragoons at New Valencia just to ensure it’s a hard target against anyone aiming to remove that capability from us and, by proxy, House Davion.”

    The Steiner paused for a moment before adding, “If he’s got more in mind than that it belongs to the sphere of speculation and I would have to start guessing at our Khan’s motivations at that point, which I am rather loathe to do right now.”

    “I don’t blame you. But in this case, start guessing. I hate surprises, and without at least a thought of what he’s thinking from someone else, I have to speculate on my own, and I don't like what I’m thinking.”

    Katherine pondered for a moment, debating whether she should voice some of her thoughts or not… but it seemed that Jaime was already coming around to the same conclusion she had been getting to.

    “The size of the Dragoons by themselves, for a mere recon mission, was already on the… shall we say, large size? Including the stuff we left behind, there was no way it wasn’t going to make waves no matter how much or how little damage the Inner Sphere had taken. Given some of the… lack of forethought about what kind of units were actually knowingly available here, it’s a good question where some of the mistakes made were actually mistakes. I don’t like saying this, but I think we’ve always been intended to be a backhanded warning. And now Kerlin may be doubling down on it and wants us to prepare. If the Grand Council isn’t letting go of the issue of whether to invade the Inner Sphere or not, we may not have the time to spare… the question here is, thus, whether we go along exclusively with the intent of the mission handed to us by the Grand Council or whether we align with what seems to be the implicit intent of our Khan.”

    She paused for effect for a moment before adding, “It’s not like we have to report back to the Grand Council that we’ve likely got the biggest industrial complex in the Inner Sphere working for us.”

    “And considering our reports go though Kerlin… I doubt he’d tell them even if we did send the information..” He pondered for a long moment. “Katherine, I want to be clear, you are saying he wants us to counter the invasion of the Crusaders. By not only fighting them, but by building the Inner sphere up?”

    “What the Inner Sphere lacks isn’t competent soldiers or leadership. We’ve had fights like New Aragon that proved this. They lack the material to fight with. We produce more Timber Wolves in Strana Mechty than the entire Federated Suns’ combined mech output. If we build up their production capacity and close the technological gap to, say, late SLDF Royal technology level? They won’t even need us to beat back the Crusaders. Frankly, I find it rather abhorrent that the Crusaders want to come here and attack everyone. Isn’t that what the Great Father wanted our ancestors not to do? What was the point of the Exodus if we come back and use the very weapons the Great Father took away to burn everything to the ground?”

    Jamie closed his eyes for a long moment. “‘Tasha can’t know about this, not yet. Joshua suspects the same as I and you, though I was hoping, your … relative newness to our clan would give you a different impression. We are Wardens, and we were weeded very hard to be such. I figured that out myself. What the Great Father feared did happen to a great extent, but the House Lords thankfully stopped themselves. But this? He is asking us to betray the Clans. And for what? I will be honest. I’m fond of Hanse Davion, I know the common people are generally unconcerned with what their leaders are doing, or generally support it, but how many nobles are worth their titles? How many of them have even proven their valor, much less competence to lead? How many of them are held back from the madness of the First and Second Succession wars, by fear that if they don’t hold back, there won’t be anything to gloat over? And I will be honest, several of the more ardent crusaders would unleash the horrors that the Inner sphere fears, from experience, because they’d say the Inner sphere deserves it for betrayal or simply in truth, pique that they don’t fight the same way.”

    Katherine began speaking shortly after Jaime stopped.

    “If we want to look at betrayals, bringing the weapons we’ve forged in the Homeworlds to bear down on the Inner Sphere is itself a betrayal of all of our ancestors who sacrificed their livelihoods and even their lives to get the SLDF out of the hands of the Great Houses. The Clans have no understanding of what the people of the Inner Sphere are like, nor the Great Houses themselves. They ate the propaganda all of us are given from the Creche onwards, not knowing better… I won’t pretend all the Great Houses are nice and good or even most. I won’t pretend all the people of the Inner Sphere are saints. But in the end, people are people. I can name half a dozen Khans who aren’t worth a damn. And God help me, far too many Warriors, even Bloodnamed, are such utter assholes I wouldn’t want to help them up if they slipped on a banana peel short of being ordered to doing so. And I might still call a Trial of Refusal over that in regards to some.”

    Katherine paused for a moment, breathing in, before resuming. “People are people, but the Clans will destroy the social fabric of the Inner Sphere and then wreck everything far more thoroughly than the Great Father was afraid might happen. Civilians resisting occupation? Burn it all down, kill them all. Jesus Christ, Jaime. It’s nightmare fuel. There’s stories from the Tanites enough and I know a lot of misinformation around, but there was a resistance movement and some excesses were made. That alone gave Clan Cloud Cobra an inkling of what might be required… or at least I think it did. I recall there were arguments over the significance of the events there vis a vis the Crusader movement and it did chill them somewhat. I’d expect Cloud Cobra to at least not be in any delusions about the bidding towards a potential invasion of the Inner Sphere. Of course, they’re just one of seventeen and for good reasons the Khans didn’t want to make it all public. Airing dirty laundry and all that and the people involved were duly punished so...”

    She sighed. “Frankly, even my best guesses are only guesses. My suggestion would be to build up Blackwell with what our Khan sent us, avoid any obvious LosTech and make a profit while possibly even expanding the Dragoons. Hire out to continue the mission while keeping a beefed up garrison on New Valencia. And if supplying the AFFS breaks the balance of the powers in the Inner Sphere, at whose cost does it come? The Confederation we’ve seen from the inside and I’m far from impressed. The Combine? They started the Succession Wars, Jaime. They deserve the punishment of losing badly. Give Hanse all his toys and he’ll mete out justice that is long overdue.”

    “In the end, though, whatever we do it is best we do while giving Kerlin as much plausible deniability as possible in order to protect Clan Wolf. Any building up of factories and such we do should be limited to Blackwell for the time being… and if he later on gives us an overt order to prepare the Inner Sphere for an invasion that we all know is only a matter of time at this rate? Well, we’d have the springboard ready for that moment.”

    The blonde then stopped, waiting to see Jaime’s reaction fully knowing that she’d just voiced things that would’ve gotten her most likely executed in the Homeworlds. But this was the Inner Sphere and they were all Wardens here.

    He smiled. “I know Hanse. The Davions have had a track record of if not being the best family, at least the least assholic of them. And they don’t take families prisoners.” He nodded once. “Star Captain Katherine Steiner. Attend to your Galaxy Commander’s Orders and Desires.”

    Her reaction was near instant and picture perfect as she stood up to attention. “Yes, Galaxy Commander?”

    “As the SLDF was the Protectors of the Star League, and of Humanity, so are the Clans. I have found that the Crusaders are the same rot, as the House Lords were, and they too will allow in an Usurper. The SLDF was a brotherhood of warriors and soldiers meant to defend, not destroy. We are their heirs. You will report on what the Grand Council specifically asked for, while embedded in Onishi’s unit. If I recall correctly, that is the political state, the military state, and the industrial state as we arrived, and their ability to affect the Clans, or defy the Clans in restoring the Star League. We were given those orders as of 3005. I note a glaring exception. Don’t you?”

    His tone was grave, but a fire was in his eyes as he thundered on.

    “As for what you will do besides that in Onishi’s unit. You will shape her to fight the rotten ones. To inspire others to do so. To do what the SLDF has always meant to do. Defend Humanity. From itself, it needs be. As I will shape the Dragoons. And if I fall, you shall bring Onishi to the Dragoons, and take her and her unit under the Dragoon’s banner, as it shall be yours. Do you accept this mission?”

    She couldn’t help but feel her heart fluttering in joy as she understood the order. “Sir, yes Sir!”

    She couldn’t quite keep the grin off her face, either.

    “Dismissed.” Jamie stood and saluted with that word.

    Saluting back, Katherine soon found herself heading back to her quarters with a skip, happy that things were headed in a much better direction than they’d been going less than twenty-four hours earlier. Despite her annoyance of the predictability of the timeline being thrown out of the airlock the very fact that the Dragoon dependents were being removed from the line of fire, combined with her new assignment, were worth far more than any predictability she could’ve kept.

    Which, truth be told, her very presence and subtle influence in the Dragoons had been eroding in any case.

    Her mind couldn’t help but come back to that little itch in the back of her head, though. Why did her mind keep going back to the carrots? She’d gotten the impression Onishi was fishing for something if it was not a mere fanciful rambling and damned if she wasn’t feeling like she should be picking up on it.

    So, what was she missing? Carrots, Bun Bun… no, Bun Bun wasn’t it. Carrots. Inheritance. Scarlet… she mentioned the color as well. Carrots are orange, though, why would scarlet be…

    The pieces clicked into position and she stopped cold in surprise.

    “... Drew?”




    Primus’s Office, Hilton Head, North America, Terra, Evening, Jan 8th, 3015.

    Julian Tiepolo, Primus of ComStar, the most powerful man in the Inner sphere, or so he believed, watched as Tojo Jarlath, his acting head of ROM, the best intelligence service in the Inner Sphere, since they controlled all communications and had lots of people who thought well of them. Tojo was the acting head, as Vesar Kristofur was handling Anton and the Dragoons.

    “So, you asked to see me, Precentor Jarlath?” Julian rose and poured both of them a cup of a tea that the Primus preferred, and one he knew Tojo wasn’t fond of.

    “I did, Primus.” Tojo took a sip of the tea, and set it aside, to present an image of someone not wishing to waste his superiors time. “I have new information on a few issues you wished to be kept abreast on.”

    Julian sat back, and leaned in his chair, crossing his fingers below his chin. “Oh?”

    “Yes, sir.” Tojo clearly gathered his thoughts, and then dived right into the matters.

    “First, the New Osaka situation, has had several updates. As you know, our adept was sent to acquire the material the count sent to his recognized child.. It was believed that Hanse Davion or others could acquire it from her easily, for a ducal title and likely no more than several billion C-bills.” Julian nodded at the recap as his acting head of intelligence continued on.

    “He was not successful, and I have included a recording of why, as the young actress recorded it, and sent it to Precentor New Avalon. I have to admit, I too would have laughed in the adept’s face.”

    Julian’s eyebrows rose. “Summarize, please. I have a feeling this is both amusing and something that an adept will regret.”

    “In short? Our estimates were the equipment was four to eight billion cbills in value. Since we did not have a clear accounting, our adept offered two billion initially, and of course, the thanks of Comstar and Blake. She laughed in the Adept’s face, and in essence, said ‘I understand lowballing, please, I have had contract disputes, and negotiations, but insulting? No thank you.’”

    “... a third of the value, without other considerations?” Tiepolo blinked. “Did we not authorized at least four billion, plus a scholarship for both of the Onishi daughters to a Terran University, or serious backing and distribution for the elder’s films” His tone was bemused.

    “We did, with other considerations, as well, of course.” He nodded. “Needless to say…”

    Julian rubbed his chin. “Indeed. I suppose the adept will justify this as we did instruct him to try to save as much money as possible.”

    The bland expression on Tojo’s face didn’t change. “As you say, but that’s immaterial now, and we realistically didn’t count on getting the majority of the material, after all.”

    Julian nodded. “True, true. So?”

    “The Lyran ambassador made an offer, and it was rejected, but from what we have intercepted, it was a pleasant exchange, and in general, the young lady pointed out she was a Davion subject, therefore…” Jarlath’s slight shrug indicated no surprise there. “And Hanse Davion made his move, though we don’t know the specifics of the deal made, though it appears two baronies were accepted, and before we could infiltrate people into the cantonment, to see what he had acquired, they were moved, and MIIO and DMI are placing a firm guard around the new Heavy Cavalry.”

    “... I see. Well, he will either attempt to reverse engineer how it was made, or he’ll use it to be thrown at his enemies. If the latter, well. Problem solved soon enough. If the former, well, you are tasked to infiltrate NAIS, are you not? See to it that other projects are also… handled.”

    “Of course, and Miss Onishi? It is believed that her father passed along other locations.”

    “Just keep an eye on her. At this time, well. Lostech hunters end up badly, generally, see her father, and well, not very many are successful, so I doubt it’ll be a problem.”

    Tojo nodded. “As you say. The other matter, Vesar’s efforts with the Dragoons and Anton.”

    Julian leaned forward. “Tell me.”

    “I’m afraid the Dragoons are preparing to at least decamp rapidly when Anton fails. It’s only a matter of time before Janos closes his fist on New Delos’ neck.” Julian nodded in response. “However, it appears to be another year at least, and with a bit of luck, the remains of the Dragoons will be able to escort him to Sian, and well.” Julian nodded. He had no faith in the plan to have Anton as the Captain General, but it was a nice try. The backup of forcing the Dragoons to do a supply run and follow them to see where they were from, and if some of the ideas were right, was the goal Julian held out hope for.

    “Why do you say this?” Julian sipped his tea, finally.

    “As of this morning, our time, Dragoon dependents, the Red Black departed New Delos, on a prearranged express route to New Valencia. He also sent a fair bit of his excess personnel, as well. His statement to Anton, was he wanted to be prepared for any situation, and this would allow him to free up the personnel he had guarding them. Plausible, but given the friction between Colonel Wolf and Marik?” Tojo simply stated, then continued. “While again, plausible on its face, it is known that Captain Steiner has been pointing out the Sendai clause and why it exists.”

    “Ah, and Wolf chose not to risk it?” Julian smiled. “If I remember right from a previous briefing, he has a combined arms regiment plus at least one addtional infantry regiment, officially Blackwell’s security, but considering that he expanded the camp he built to include Blackwell on New Valencia…”

    “Exactly.”

    Julian shrugged philosophically. “It would have been nice to have Wolf’s dependents as hostages, but in the end, our object was more to just force him to make a supply run at the least. I see no reason to worry about this.”

    “You don’t wish to have an interception arranged?” Tojo’s eyebrow rose slightly. “Even with their guards and the additional ASF forces he hired, it shouldn't..” He was cut off by a raised hand.

    “Too much risk of it going wrong, and too much risk of it pointing at us, Tojo, plus, people would question who’d attack dependents like that. Further, as you implied, the chain has been set up, and it would be fast. I suspect an interception would be difficult as it stands, and would too easily point at us.” Julian leaned back in his chair. “As well as this might give us a chance to break Blackwell’s security.”

    Tojo nodded at the Primus’ thoughts. Blackwell’s security since the Dragoons had entered into a partnership, then outright bought it, had been fiendishly difficult to penetrate.
    “By your wish, then. Those are the only two matters of immediate importance, that I thought you would want to know right now.”

    “And I did, yes.” Julian stood with a smile, to walk Tojo out. Pausing for a moment, as he saw a news report of a student protest at one of Terra’s Universities, he had a sudden thought.

    “I might have a solution for Miss Onishi, actually, and one that I think would benefit her and her sister.” Julian smiled a bit crookedly.

    Tojo’s expression became attentive. “Sir?”

    “Why, isn’t the young Aiko Onishi a rare genius? It would be a shame if she couldn’t attend the best universities in the Sphere, and we know the young actress spared no effort or expense to get the best she could for her sister.”

    Tojo bowed. “While it is policy to recruit the brightest, when possible, and I think we placed an offer in front of the elder, I believe we can do much with this. I will see to it.”

    “Excellent.” Julian smiled. He did so love when he could do several things to solve a problem that would greatly benefit Comstar. Another genius for Comstar, and a lever on the possible LosTech hunter whose father had a clear success? Well done.

    Katrina’s Office, Triad, Thrakad, Lyran Commonwealth, late local evening, Jan 8th 3015

    Katrina Stenier, the ruler of the richest realm, studied her spymaster. “So, not only do we not have a complete idea what Count New Osaka left for his child, she’s flat out refused to sell it to us, or even tell us what we missed out on.”

    “Accurate.” Simon sighed.

    “This on top of your idea to have the Count trip a trap, on a lostech site I knew about, was in a way more successful than you thought. While it did kill him, and some of his most loyal, it killed nearly two thousand others.” Katrina’s tone was mild, but a bit disapproving. “Who’s only sin was working for a potential traitor.”

    “I would say a confirmed traitor. Those dropships and mechs alone…” Simon defended himself, only to be cut off by a snort.

    “Then would you call my husband one?” Katrina’s tone was dry, and indicated a line he was walking very close to, to the experienced spymaster.

    “Ah, no. I meant just the lostech, and of course, not letting us examine or buy it first, only. Your husband did none of that.” Simon conceded her point.

    Katrina sighed. “At least we didn’t strain any potential relationship, if the girl does convert the remains of her father’s people into a true unit, and we can hire it.”

    Simon brightened at that. “Well said. Her reason for denying us the chance to make a serious bid, was she was a Davion girl, born and raised, so the First Prince had to have a fair shot.”

    Katrina snorted. “She’d be right, too, in a way.” The graceful shrug indicated no great distress. “A couple of dropships, and maybe a regiment in mechs, is no great benefit to the Federated Suns, but the tech in them is. But, either he’ll try to reverse engineer how it was made, or use it against his enemies, including the Dragon. If the first, we buy or steal it from him, if the second? Well, less snakes. Either way.”

    “I’d say the first is more preferable, and honestly, our read of him, more likely. But, even if he goes for a military victory to secure his rule… well. The Dragon is the biggest threat, though Tikonov has been a major target of the Suns for centuries. If he takes it, he improves his industry, and builds bigger forces. As you say, either way we win.”

    “Exactly. While not ideal, a token effort and accepting the defeat keeps him from thinking of us badly. I could argue in court that I should have had first refusal, and it’s quite likely that ComStar would have backed us up, but I suspect if I had done that, Comstar would have… arranged for issues.”

    “We still don’t know the full extent of their activities, and I disagree there, I think they’d be neutral, and simply shrug. As you say, it’s not a great amount of hardware, and even if you think they are playing a game to keep us all at our throats, for their own protection…”

    Katrina smiled. “It would neatly explain some of their actions in the past, that we know about, as well as things suspected, but the more paranoid theories? Oh, please. Comstar likes being the masters of Terra, and interstellar communications. Let’s admit it, that gives the Primus the equal rank with the rest of us. Now, if one of us won.” She snorted at that. “The great game for the empty throne on Terra, he’d no longer have that rank or seat. Easily enough.”

    “I would argue, but all things being considered, I doubt you’re wrong. If they truly wished to rule humanity, they’d have done more actions, and we’d have had proof of it by now.”

    Katrina nodded. “Well, we can put the Onishi affair to bed, I suppose.” She snorted at that line, considering the information she had read about the girl. “I almost wonder if she’s keeping the unit to have a harem.”

    Simon had to smile as well. “We will be attempting to insert agents, of course, as she recruits up to her capabilities, and we have a few potential males who from profile would tickle her fancy.”

    Katrina had to snicker at that. “Approved. Come to think of it, you don’t need my approval for that type of mission, under the strictest reading of the law, but well. Better safe than sorry.”

    “As she is a noble’s daughter, yes.” Simon nodded. “Anyways, I doubt she was left any more places to explore, if she was, given profile, the ships would have already been en route, is our view in LIC.”

    Katrina shrugged. “She’s an actress, she knows a bit about waiting around, I suppose, and listens well to directors, so…”

    Simon considered that. “Well, either way. It’s late, and I think you want to be with Melissa.”

    “Oh, yes.” Katrina smiled. “Have a good night, Simon.”

    “You as well, Archon.”


    Hanse’s private Office, Fox’s Den, New Avalon, Late Night, Jan 9th, 3015

    Hanse studied his brandy in the sniffer, as Yvonne and Ardan walked in, Ardan pouring himself and Yvonne a brandy. After they settled, he smiled.

    “Well. Tomorrow will be fun, I have to go back and renegotiate a deal.” His rueful tone drew a laugh out of Ardan, who was departing for his unit tomorrow, and a snort from Yvonne.

    “She’ll take what we offer.” Her tone sounded sure of that.

    Hanse shook his head. “Yvonne, we’ve talked about that. We’re doing her a favor by hosting Aiko. We are not going to use the girl as a lever against her sister.” His tone was slightly disapproving.

    “Then why host her?” Yvonne shot back.

    Ardan turned to Yvonne but before he could say something, Hanse raised his hand.

    “Because not all are as moral as Ardan, or even I. I agree that Michael would use the young genius, and he’d be the nicest about it. Others?” He shook his head. “But no, we don’t need the lever. And as Ardan would say…” Hanse smiled at his friend. “We are better than that. And we are. Or in this case, at least not as desperate as all that. She has shown a willingness to work and deal with us fairly and has shown no disloyalty.”

    Ardan still looked a bit angry, until Hanse raised his hand. “I’m sorry Ardan, but I can’t tell you why I can’t really blame Yvonne for thinking as she is. And in fact…”

    “Ah.” Ardan looked into his half drunk brandy. “Then I’ll just finish this up, and sleep. Ship’s leaving early anyways.” He put words to action, and stood up.

    “I’m sorry, and I’d love nothing better to bring you in on this fully, but.” Hanse shrugged helplessly. “There is the old saw about how to keep a secret, no?”

    “Just don’t let the need to keep that secret keep you from doing the right thing, Hanse. Ian would be so disappointed.” Ardan nodded after saying that, and departed the room.

    Yvonne snorted. “And what’s the right thing? We need what she has. The right thing is getting by any cost. I don’t think Ardan understands that.”

    “Even if he knew the extent…” Hanse reproved. “I have no doubt he’d be of the same mindset. What worth the crown, if you lose your soul?” His eyes stared in the fireplace, and a slight smile crossed his lips.

    “Humph.” Yvonne crossed her legs, and continued on. “However, I still think we should accept no less than 20% of the ships we’re offering her as tonnage swaps. And they should be used.”

    Hanse shook his head. “As you know, I received a very favorable reply to the suggestion I made Janos. He buys some of our production, at our official rates, he allows us to buy a Monolith and a pair of Merchants at his price. He wants details and how much and how long, but in principal we have a basic agreement.”

    “As we had with that girl.” Yvonne looked at her nephew and Prince. “Now we have to go back, hand on knee, to change it.”

    “She will.” Hanse was assured.

    “At what price, she’ll sense the desperation and drive harder than you want.” Yvonne snorted suddenly. “Joan and Melinda still think the idea of a autocannon wedding was the best.”

    “She refused.” Hanse smiled crookedly. “Outright.”

    Yvonne glared at the fire. “And how that shocked all the profilers.”

    Hanse nodded, still amused. “Oh, yes. They keep forgetting she’s an actress.” He paused, and grew more serious. “Though I agree, the speed and decisiveness, for someone who hit on me in her battlemech’s cockpit, was a bit of a surprise.” He grinned again. “No counteroffer of a night of wild passion.”

    Yvonne snorted. “So, if you’re interested in that, why didn’t you collect her when trying that fireplace stunt?”

    Hanse grinned ruefully again. “Partly because I wanted to see what she’d do. A bit of a surprise she didn’t make a move, she’s very much, or so the profile says, want, take, care about the price later… type of girl.” He paused again, nodding once. “The profile was wrong anyways. I know you noticed how she observed and ‘was’ at the dinner.”

    “She is a martial artist, Hanse, and trained by her mother.” Yvonne mentioned idly. “But, I see your point, there’s a difference in training by a parent and only done as such for a possibly useful skill, and what she showed. When you compare her to Rios or Blackhand, it’s almost like she was one of them. A Rabid Fox, and elite out of them. Not quite the same, a bit of blowing the rust off that state, or still learning it fully, but not one she should have.

    “Yes. And a much more delightful dinner guest than I expected, as well as more educated. And more self assured.” Hanse grew thoughtful. “It’s almost as if… Ah. An old soul in a young body.”

    Yvonne’s snort caught what he didn’t say. “You didn’t say what every under-thirty member of the AFFS who isn’t outright gay would say. ‘A young hot hardbody.’. ‘With a Mech.’ ‘And a bar.’”

    Hanse snickered, at Yvonne’s implication. “Well, they do say what a mechwarrior wants is a hot nymphomaniac with her daddy owning a bar, or herself, after all.”

    Yvonne sobered a bit. “You’re interested in her.”

    Hanse’s eyebrow raised. “Of course, she’s far more of a puzzle than she should be.”

    Yvonne’s eyes looked over her glasses. “Not that way, and you know what I meant.”

    “Well. Perhaps. But, not now, though I’ll be fair, and if she did accept the marriage I’d be unlikely to have to think of Avalon.” He crookedly grinned at that, one of Joan’s suggestions before the dinner.

    Yvonne’s snort answered that witticism.

    “Still. Her reputation isn’t the best, and well… politics.” Hanse shook his head. The Davions had generally married for love, by and large, and even when politics was the main factor, they ended up in love, more often than not. It didn’t change that Kikyo at best was a wild child, and only a commoner, with no martial glory or riches, well until now, to justify it.

    “Of course.” Yvonne shrugged. “Well, Hanse, I’m not as young as I used to be, and I need to be up early to set up the processes we need to have done so we can make use of what we’re buying as fast as possible.”

    Hanse stood up, and walked to her. Kissing her cheek, he smiled. “I’ll just stay up a few longer, running things through my head, Auntie.”

    “You see that it stays a few.” Yvonne’s smile took the sting out of her words, and she turned and walked out the door, as Hanse settled back into his chair.

    “I didn’t say this, Auntie, but it’s an exotic combination, her looks as well as how she is as a person. Perhaps… eh, it’ll be just a passing fancy. I’ve had those before. I can’t be lucky twice.” His fist closed around the sniffer, causing it to creak, as he remembered his previous luck in love… and how it ended. “But, I should thank her. She’s given me… no, she’s given the Suns, if we use it right, the ability to avenge all our dead.” He stood up putting the cracked sniffer down. “Maybe I will indulge her.” He grinned, bad mood banked, as he walked out of the office.
     
  27. Redacted

    Redacted No

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    Nice, isn't quite a crossover with Tale of two Kats, but utilizes elements.
     
  28. .IronSun.

    .IronSun. Verified Mouth Breather

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    IT LIVES!
     
  29. Scratx

    Scratx Getting sticky.

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    Yep, it uses the character as she likely would've turned out had she not been kidnapped to Tharkad. It still amuses me that 2Kat went so off the rails from my original thoughts of how it would go from the moment I realised that Katherine was popping up in such a way that for observers unaware of where Katrina really was it was highly plausible that Katherine was Katrina.

    The original idea was, after all, for Katherine to go along with the Dragoons' until 3020, by which point Kerlin's orders would allow her far more freedom of action.

    NO REGRETS. :D
     
  30. Pancor

    Pancor Know what you're doing yet?

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    Oh Hanse. Looking at the timestamps, she's had 5 days to stew over you taking her sister for 'protection'. I highly doubt that you're going to have as pleasant of a time renegotiating as you thing.

    Amusing tos how the other powers are reacting to the Intel they're missing about the true scale of the haul, though I forsee things getting tense if it ever comes out exactly how her father ended up tripping that trap.
     
    Prince Charon likes this.
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