Subject: [PMFFML] [FFML-R] [Fanfic][R1/2][Fusion] Battletech: The Saotome Gambit Part 30 [1 of 2]
From: Jamie and Bridget Wilde
Date: 3/27/2001, 4:01 AM
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     "There isn't going to be any deal," a haggard voice snarled over 
the Combine tac-net channel.


     Happousai, Tarou, and Kodachi turned to see a BattleMaster standing 
at the edge of the woods, a crushed recon lance Stinger dangling limply 
by the neck in its massive left fist. The Cameron Star of the Star League 
Defense Force was painted upon its charred and muddy hull, and the double-
barreled PPC in its right hand glinted with wordless malice as a ray of 
sunlight broke through the cloud bank to illuminate the dreaded assault 
'mech. 
     Steam and wisps of smoke swirled from the Black Rose battlemech as 
Ryouga tossed it to the ground before him with a heavy thud.
     "Who do you think you are?!" Kodachi demanded of him.
     "...Ryouga..." Tarou grunted to himself.
     Happousai was stunned. The lost boy was alive!? It wasn't possible! 
Not even someone as thick-headed as Ryouga could have survived a collapsing 
building! 
     "Ryouga! How did you...?"
     "There isn't going to be any deal," Ryouga intoned once more, the 
BattleMaster shaking with rage that translated from his mind to the machine 
it controlled. "Because *I* have the Library Core now... If you kill me, you 
destroy it."
     "Ryouga," Tarou said calmly, surprised and dismayed to see his former 
comrade. He had expected to in the course of the fighting, but even expecting 
it had not prepared him for this encounter. "I'm warning you right now not to 
do anything rash... Now what exactly do you want?"

     "I'm here to kill you, Tarou," Ryouga said quietly into the microphone. 
The fearsome BattleMaster raised its PPC as he took in the sight of the many 
Black Rose 'mechs that watched him with dread. A low and urgent tone sounded 
in his ears as the six-rack SRM launcher acquired its first target, and the 
hot smell of his cockpit filled his nostrils with its acrid fragrance. "I'm 
here to kill every last one of you..."

___________________________________________________________________________     
           J. Austin Wilde and Fission Park Press proudly present:

                     BATTLETECH: THE SAOTOME GAMBIT
                              PART THIRTY

                           by J. Austin Wilde
                     Super Critical Reactor Axe Man,
                           Fission Park Press
                          wildeman@gci-net.com
                 http://www.gci-net.com/users/w/wildeman/


            The characters and situations of Ranma 1/2 are the 
               creation and property of Rumiko Takahashi and 
              Shogakukan/KITTY/Viz Video. Battletech and its 
             related materials are the property of FASA, inc.
               No infringement of copyright is intended nor 
              should be inferred by this work of fanfiction.
___________________________________________________________________________


                              Chapter One
     
                      The Ruins of Ryuugenzawa City
                            15:10 Local Time



     The thunderclap report of a Particle Projection Cannon filled the 
cool damp air as Ryouga opened fire. The bolt of lightning slammed into 
Happousai's Locust even as the flight of six short range missiles burst 
from his launcher and into Tarou's Hunchback. Both 'mechs reeled from the 
hits, with Happousai's Locust bursting into flames and tumbling to the 
muddy ground as motes of fire coruscated from its spindly, flailing legs. 
Happousai's yelp of surprise and alarm was cut short in a squawk of static. 
The Hunchback caught most of the volley square in the turret-shaped head, 
blasting away the armor in orange clouds of flame.
     Kodachi shrieked at Ryouga as he charged at her, the four laser 
projectors in the BattleMaster's torso flaying the armor of her black 
Marauder in white hot streams of yellow-green light. She answered his 
salvo with a double PPC blast of her own, the thunderbolts crisscrossing 
with the laser beams in a cat's cradle of annihilation that made the air 
shiver and tremble between the two battlemechs.
     Ryouga felt the bolts cutting into his torso armor through his 
neurohelmet link with the battlemech. The armor was thick, as thick as 
any 'mech short of an Atlas, and he knew it would hold up against the 
continued onslaught of Kodachi's Marauder - at least long enough for him 
to rip her apart limb from limb. The BattleMaster dropped its shoulder 
for a collision with her as she realized too late that he wasn't going 
to stop. 
     The impact sent her Marauder staggering backwards, the derringer 
forearm weapon pods turning mad circles in the air as the Black Rose 
fought to control her machine. She toppled over onto the ground, knocking 
down several tall trees as she fell. Ryouga pivoted the 85 ton BattleMaster 
smartly as the rest of her troops shook off the mesmerizing carnage he had 
inflicted in just a few seconds, and began to bear down on him. Their 
beams and bolts buzzed chaotically around him as he took careful aim with 
his own weapons, consumed with a cold fury that meant the deaths of anyone 
foolish enough to stand their ground against him.
     He was firing every weapon in lethal salvos at his enemies, expertly 
maneuvering his monstrous battlemech with the determination to bring his 
next target to bear and then destroy it. Black Rose 'mechs staggered and 
fell under his onslaught, and a haze fell over the wooded battlefield from 
the tremendous heat released from the weapons and pouring from his heat 
sinks. The Black Rose forces, mostly Federated Shiratori mercenaries 
recruited to Kodachi's banner with the promise of easy wealth and fame, 
began to break and run under the barrage of the lone BattleMaster and its 
homicidal pilot. 
     Ryouga pursued them, his mind lost in the moment, wanting only to 
annihilate his enemies before they could hurt anyone else today. Only one 
'mech stood its ground, a Black Rose Grasshopper whose laser arrays were 
steaming with heat from wild, panicked fire.
     The BattleMaster's metalshod fist crushed the weakened torso armor of 
the Grasshopper as it tried to cover the retreat of its fellows. The arm 
sank into the enemy 'mech up to the elbow as Ryouga felt his battlemech's 
hand grasp the fiery fusion heart of the 70 ton Grasshopper, and with a 
savage snarl that carried over his external speakers to the entire forest 
clearing, he ripped the reactor from its mounts in a spray of liquid 
nitrogen coolant and plasma flame. The reactor fused itself into a lifeless 
grey lump of steaming metal in the BattleMaster's hand as Ryouga held it up 
for the fleeing Black Rose 'mechs to see.
     He turned slowly to face Tarou, who had righted his battlemech next 
to the burning hulk of Happousai's Locust. Ryouga grinned ferally at the 
handiwork of his PPC. The last time he had shot Happousai with it, on 
Capra, the bolt had just missed hitting the center of mass and all of the 
battlemechs' vital internals. This time, his aim had been true, and the 
Locust was all but obliterated.
     Tarou was in better shape, but only just. The Hunchback's head had 
been blasted wide open by his missiles, and he could see his former friend 
and companion through the blackened rents and streamers of smoke. The rest 
of the 'mech was hardly touched, however, and the Tomodzuru autocannon was 
aimed right at him.
     "Damn you," Tarou said to him, his voice wracked with pain, and taut 
and drawn with smoke inhalation. 
     "Is that all that you have to say to me, Tarou!?" Ryouga returned. 
"'Damn you?'"
     "We could have worked something out," Tarou replied with a cough, the 
Hunchback moving slowly to circle the BattleMaster. Ryouga rotated to follow 
the 'mech, not trusting his one-time friend for a moment. "Happousai was 
my enemy too, or have you forgotten that?"
     "You were ready to cut a deal with him!" Ryouga shot back.
     Tarou laughed bitterly. "Do you think for one moment that I would 
have honored a deal with that inhuman piece of shit?"
     "I guess you're right," Ryouga said evenly. "But then, you didn't keep 
your promise to Akane either."
     The Hunchback tensed for a moment - a mental flinch translated through 
Tarou's neurohelmet to his battlemech. Ryouga noted the reaction with a 
scornful grunt.
     "That's right," Tarou admitted at length. "I've always looked out for 
Number One, Ryouga. I've never hidden that fact about me from you."
     "There was time when you were my friend, Tarou," Ryouga returned, his 
voice losing some of its scorn for a softer, regretful tone. "We may not 
have seen eye to eye on things, but we always looked out for each other on 
the battlefield. Were you looking out for 'Number One' then, too?"
     Tarou was silent for a moment before responding. "What do you think, 
Ryouga?"
     The BattleMaster, its hull blackened and trailing wisps of smoke from 
its savaged armor plating, wavered for a moment.
     "I want to believe that there was a time when you actually cared about 
someone other than yourself and your petty revenge," Ryouga replied.
     "Don't talk to me about petty revenge!" Tarou snorted. "You were ready 
to tear Saotome's head off over a stupid bread feud when we ran into him on 
Capra! How long did you nurse that grudge, Ryouga? Seven years?"
     "I got over it!" Ryouga snarled back, his fingers tensing on the weapon 
release triggers the way he knew Tarou's must have been. "I've made my peace 
with Ranma, and worked to make the Expedition a success! You sold us out the 
first chance you got! You broke your promise to Akane, and by bringing the 
Black Rose to Ryuugenzawa, you've hurt and threatened people I care about!"
     He almost expected Tarou to fire in that moment, and with his weapons 
aimed at the Hunchback's head, the exchange would have been instantly fatal 
to both of them. Instead, the Hunchback lowered its arms and stood silent 
before him.
     "It doesn't have to end like this, Ryouga," Tarou said quietly.
     "If you and Kodachi leave this planet, it won't," he returned.
     "We can still make a deal," Tarou pressed. "You need us to fight off 
the Commonwealth. If we join forces, we can still escape the system with 
the Library Core. Think about it, Ryouga."
     Ryouga wanted to squeeze the triggers, but his fingers wouldn't move 
that last millimeter.
     He did not see that Kodachi's Marauder had risen to its cloven-hoofed 
feet behind him, the forearm weapon pods poised to strike him down in twin 
bolts of particle beam fire.
     Tarou, however, did.
     "Aim for the legs!" he cried, throwing his Hunchback clear as Ryouga 
realized too late that Kodachi was behind him. "We need that Library Core 
intact!"
     The bolts slammed into the backs of the BattleMaster's thighs. The 
armor held, but the double impact sent him staggering forward, the aft-
mounted medium lasers of his 'mech firing wildly at her in return. He 
twisted as he stumbled forward, bringing his own PPC to bear on Tarou, 
as more bolts of particle beam fire struck him in the back.
     His guns fired at Tarou, striking the Hunchback square in the chest 
and just low of his intended target - the head. Then he was toppling over 
to fall face-first onto the ground. He fought his controls as he tried 
to roll upright and continue the struggle, all with Kodachi cackling 
maniacally in his headset.
     "What's the matter, dear?" she chortled with mock-sweetness. The 
Marauder loomed over him as he rolled onto his back, the twin weapon 
pods aimed low at his battlemech's torso and the vital gyroscope mount 
that maintained his stability. "Did we fall down?"
     "Give us the Library Core," Tarou added. "It's all we want. When we 
get it, we'll lift off and never visit this mudball again."
     "Speak for yourself, lover," Kodachi snorted. "As long as I'm here, 
I want to kill Akane Tendo."
     "Never," Ryouga spat before Tarou could rebutt his Combine mistress. 
"You'll have to kill me."
     "If necessary," Tarou returned.
     "Let's be done with this," Kodachi sniffed. "He's caused more damage 
to my regiment than I care to think about." She dropped one of her weapon 
pods down at the BattleMaster's bulbous cockpit canopy until it was 
touching the clear polycarbonate armor, the medium laser mounted just 
beneath the PPC emitter aimed squarely at Ryouga's lower cockpit seat. She 
could burn through the canopy and fry him without risking harm to the 
armored strongbox in the other seat.
     "Don't you touch him!" a girl's voice cried out over the tac-net. 
The voice was followed by the staccatto crackle of a heavy pulselaser, 
and brilliant flashes of coherent light slamming into the hull of 
Kodachi's Marauder.
     The Black Rose pivoted on her heels to face Ranma in her Super Phoenix 
Hawk LAM.
     "Do I know you?" Kodachi asked her, her voice dripping with menace.
     "That's Saotome!" Tarou cried. "Kill him!"
     "Ranma Saotome?" Kodachi asked incredulously. The voice she heard 
over the radio sounded nothing like the man who had defied her attempt 
to kill Akane Tendo on the planet Capra. "Are you joking, my love? THAT'S 
Ranma Saotome?"
     "It's him!" Tarou confirmed. "Trust me!"
     Ranma goosed her jets, her LAM leaping into the air as Kodachi 
hesitated. She soared overhead to land behind the Black Rose, and hammered 
her once more with pulselaser fire from her engine/weapon pod. Tarou let 
fly with a wild shot from his autocannon, the depleted uranium dart clipping 
a chunk of armor off the pod before sailing on uselessly downrange.
     "You okay, Ryouga!?" Ranma asked worriedly while hosing pulselaser 
fire back at Tarou.
     "Leave Tarou to me, Ranma!" Ryouga snarled, drawing his BattleMaster 
up to its full height, and stomping towards the misshapen battlemech while 
it was busy fending off Ranma's barrage. 
     "No argument, man," Ranma returned. "Good to see you're still alive."
     Kodachi interrupted them with a long burst from her autocannon, the 
shells howling around Ranma's Super Phoenix Hawk as she juked and dodged 
wildly to avoid them. As she gained altitude in Airmech Mode, she saw that 
the rest of Kodachi's forces were rallying near the burning ruins of the 
colony town, and were starting their return to the fight.
     "We've got more company on the way," she cautioned Ryouga.
     Ryouga didn't respond, because he was busy attacking Tarou. The 
Hunchback bobbed and weaved to avoid his blasts meant for the battlemech's 
vulnerable head, and in turn Tarou was handicapped by the need to cripple 
his foe without risking the destruction of the library core. The two 'mechs 
spiralled around each other, firing madly as they went. 
     "It ends here, Tarou!" he barked.
     "I've worked too hard for this to let you stop me!" Tarou returned 
fiercely. A shell from his autocannon slammed into the BattleMaster's knee, 
blasting apart the armor and damaging the actuator. The assault 'mech 
staggered with the hit, but not before the final missile volley from its 
six-rack SRM launcher slammed home into the Hunchback's torso.
     Both battlemechs went down, obscured by smoke and flames. Ranma cried 
out Ryouga's name, and was answered only by another burst of autocannon 
fire from Kodachi. The shells spanged off her armor, gouging craters in 
the precious ferro-fibrous plating that protected her, and haloing her in 
a nimbus of golden sparks.
     "That's about enough outta you, sister!" she yelled at Kodachi, and 
put her LAM into a power dive. Kodachi raised her derringer weapon pods 
to blow her away with a double PPC barrage, only to lose an arm at the 
elbow joint as the Super Phoenix Hawk swooped overhead, grabbing the limb, 
and ripping it out of its ball-and-socket connection.
     "How dare you!?" Kodachi shrieked indignantly at Ranma. "Assaulting 
the Black Rose of the Furinkan Combine?! Such impertinence!"
     The Phoenix Hawk LAM cast the severed limb aside as it banked for 
another pass.
     "Yeah, what do you think I was gonna do, lady? Let you shoot me?"
     Kodachi was wroth, and it showed in her voice. "It's the least you 
can do, peasant!"
     "Man," Ranma snorted. "You sound just like your idiot brother."
     Kodachi gasped in disgust at the idea. "You horrible creature!" she 
cried angrily. "To think that I once desired you!"
     Ranma tried to suppress a cold shiver at the notion that Kodachi 
wanted her. It was too sick to think about. 
     The Black Rose fired another long burst at Ranma with her autocannon, 
which succeeded only in chewing up the forest around the agile LAM as it 
boosted clear.
     "Hold still, you!" she cried impatiently. "At least try to die with 
some dignity and grace!"
     Ranma gave her a wet raspberry over the tac-net as she raced away 
from the battle in the hopes of drawing the Black Rose away from Ryouga 
and Tarou. The BattleMaster didn't look like it was up to a two-on-one 
confrontation. She did not see how the two combatants had knocked each 
other over as she fled with Kodachi in hot pursuit.



                           *       *       *

 

     "Hold on, Sayuri," Yuka begged her friend, who was growing paler by 
the moment.
     The thump of heavy battlemech feet made her look up with a mixture of 
hope and dread. A Centurion burst through the trees, its heavy autocannon 
probing for the enemy. When she saw that it was Doctor Tofu and not an 
enemy, Yuka waved and yelled frantically for its attention.
     Tofu dismounted at once with his medical kit and a portable cutting 
torch in hand. A Victor stomped into the small clearing formed by the 
crashlanding Phoenix Hawk LAM, and took up the job of protecting them while 
Tofu went to work.
     He blanched at the sight of what had happened, and understood the 
need for the cutting tools.
     "How bad is it, Doctor Tofu?" Kasumi called over the external speakers.
     "I might need your help, Kasumi," he replied.
     "I'll be right there."
     Yuka hovered over the doctor as he checked Sayuri's vital signs and 
pronounced her condition as grave. He dug into his kit for the bags of 
whole blood and his transfusion apparatus, knowing that he needed to 
replace her blood volume now before any attempts could be made to cut 
her free. More than the whole blood though, he needed lots of blood 
plasma for Sayuri to keep her pressure up, a commodity he did not possess. 
There were other concerns, for the shard of metal had clearly pierced her 
left lung, and she risked aspirating blood into the uninjured right lung 
if he could not drain it and repair the damage.
     "One step at a time," he told himself. If he didn't stabilize Sayuri, 
and soon, none of his other concerns would matter. "Set up that cutting 
torch," he ordered Yuka, more to keep her out of his way while he did his 
work than anything else. Kasumi's gasp of horror at the grisly sight of 
Sayuri's injuries was his first indication that she was there. The fear 
that he would seize up when Sayuri needed him most gripped him, but to his 
surprise he found that with something urgent to occupy his mind, he could 
function normally.
     "I need you to elevate this for me, please," he told the woman of 
his dreams, and handed her the bag of precious type-B whole blood.
     "Of course, Doctor Tofu," Kasumi replied coolly. "Do you think you 
can save her?"
     Tofu caught the worried look in Yuka's eyes and nodded. "I haven't 
lost a patient on this expedition, and I don't plan on starting now."
     The transfusion started, he began assessing the situation. The best 
way to release her from the piece of metal that impaled her was to cut it 
from both ends and remove her from the cockpit with the rest still inside. 
He didn't have the facilities to try and remove all of it safely in the 
field.
     "Start about five centimeters back from the point of penetration," 
Tofu advised Yuka. "The metal will act as a heat sink for the torch, but 
under the circumstances, it should work in our favor. Any cauterization 
caused by it will slow the bleeding until I can get her to Sickbay on 
the _Palomino._"
     "I don't know if I can do this," Yuka said uneasily. 
     "Then hold this," Tofu told her impatiently, taking the bag of whole 
blood that drained into Sayuri's vein from Kasumi and handing it to her. 
"Kasumi, I need you to steady Sayuri while I make the cut."
     "Of course, Doctor," she replied quietly. The crush of heavy 
battlemech feet made the ground tremble slightly, and she wondered if 
she was really serving them better by standing here, and not in her 
Victor.
     It was awkward having to work in such a narrow space as the gap in 
the canopy afforded, and he wasn't the most experienced hand with a 
cutting torch. He struck the flame and edged carefully into the cockpit 
as Sayuri emitted a low gasp of pain. He drew the plasma torch over the 
section of wing as quickly as he dared, trying to vaporize as much metal 
as possible without dribbling molten drops of it onto the girl's legs and 
torso. He was mostly successful, and the pressure suit's ablative lining 
helped with the rest, but she was probably going to have a few small 
burn scars when all was said and done. Her tiny hisses of pain through 
her unconsciousness were enough to tell him that.
     When he was through with the first section, he wrenched at the canopy, 
shoving it clear and giving him more room to work with. The section of 
wingtip that had penetrated through her body and into the seat came free, 
and Sayuri pitched forward. The section that had penetrated her back was 
much shorter than he had feared, and Tofu decided to leave well enough 
alone.
     "Let's get her out," he said to the two women, and lifted Sayri 
gently out of her cockpit seat.
     "Which 'mech should we transport her in?" Kasumi asked.
     "Yours, I think," Tofu replied. He turned to Yuka. "Ever pilot a 
battlemech before?"
     Yuka rubbed at her temple, relieved that her friend was no longer 
pinned into her wrecked fighter. "Once. I wasn't very good at it."
     "Consider this a second chance," the doctor told her. "The neurohelmet 
is in the cockpit." 
     Yuka nodded reluctantly, and started for the Centurion. Tofu, holding 
Sayuri in his arms as Kasumi took back the blood transfusion, gave her a 
gentle look.
     "I don't want to lose anyone, Kasumi," he said quietly as they walked 
carefully towards the Victor. "But I know it might be too much to hope."
     "I know, Doctor," she replied, thinking about the suffering she had 
witnessed on Oni. "All we can do is try, and I admire you for not giving 
up on anyone."
     He blushed at this, and tried not to drop his precious charge in his 
delirium. It was difficult, because hearing such a thing from Kasumi made 
his heart leap in his chest.



                           *       *       *



     "Ranma! Where the heck do you think you're going?!" a certain Tomboy 
cried out over the tac-net as Ranma's Phoenix Hawk LAM evaded Kodachi's 
weapon fire.
     "Why are you asking me such dumb questions?" she retorted. 
     "Akane Tendo?!" Kodachi shrilled before Ranma's fiancee could muster 
up a scream. "Is that really you?"
     Akane's face appeared abruptly on the Black Rose's display. She was 
wrathful and grim, a combination that the Combine princess found quite 
unsettling. "It's me, Kodachi. I'm three hundred meters north of you right 
now, so if you want to finish what we started on Port Said, I'd be happy 
to oblige you."
     "Done and done!" Kodachi cried happily in spite of her misgivings. 
"May we fight in all fairness!" 
     "Oh no!" Akane shot back. "I'm not falling for that again."
     "Why, you detestable little trollop, whatever do you mean?" Kodachi 
said, her voice dripping with malice.
     "You know what I'm talking about, you crazy witch!" Akane cried 
angrily. "For every crime you've perpetrated on the people of the 
Confederation, I'm going to pay it back with interest, and I'm going 
to do it in spite of your dirty tricks!"
     "You and what army, harridan!" Kodachi trilled.
     "I don't need an army, Kodachi. Remember what I did to you on Port 
Said!" Akane pointed out gleefully. "You couldn't retreat fast enough 
from me!"
     "How dare you accuse the Black Rose of cowardice!?"
     "It's easy: I just tell it like it happened!"
     Kodachi let out a strangled gasp of rage and frustration, and then 
abandoned her pursuit of Ranma to attack Akane.
     Ranma watched the two close with each other at full speed. "And 
people say the two of *us* bicker?" she remarked to herself.


     Akane was ready when Kodachi's Marauder bore down on her. As the black 
battlemech cleared a row of trees that separated them, she let her enemy 
have it with both Donal PPCs. The weapon arms spat forth twin arcs of blue-
white lightning that tore into the Marauder's leg armor. She corrected for 
her low aim as her father positioned his Warhammer for a shot of his own 
against the Black Rose, and Ukyou triggered her Hatchetman's jump jets to 
attack from behind.
     "Kodachi's mine," she growled to them. "Help Ranma and Ryouga!"
     "If you insist, hon'," Ukyou replied, and maneuvered in mid jump to 
put her closer to the dueling BattleMaster and Hunchback. Soun moved past 
the two combatants at a distance, followed by a wary Genma Saotome in his 
battle-scarred Orion.
     "Your confidence amuses me," Kodachi chuckled, and returned fire with 
her autocannon, blazing streams of armor piercing shells that spanged off 
the Warhammer's torso in flurries of red and gold sparks. "Though it is 
completely without merit."
     "I beat you once," Akane returned. "I'll do it again."
     "A fluke," Kodachi sniffed. She slowed her advance to bring her 
remaining PPC to bear. "I shall defeat you with only one arm!"
     The PPC fired, and the thunderbolt crashed into the Warhammer as Akane 
triggered her six-rack SRM launcher. Fingers of electricity crackled from 
the impact point of the particle beam, reaching out to caress the stubby 
missiles as they sprang from their tubes. The missiles began to explode 
right in front of the Warhammer, engulfing it in a fireball.
     Kodachi shrieked laughter at her sudden windfall, and charged in to 
attack in the confusion. As the fireball blackened into a column of oily 
smoke, the long armored tube of a Donal PPC appeared, clouting the Marauder 
across the snout-like cockpit with a resounding impact.
     "Wicked strumpet!" Kodachi cried indignantly, reaching up underneath 
her neurohelmet to rub her temple, sore after getting rattled in her 
cockpit. Akane's Warhammer stepped through the smoke with the other arm 
coming up to deal a second blow. "You cheated, making me think that you 
had exploded so conveniently!"
     The Black Rose turned it aside with the stump of her Marauder's 
right arm, and followed through with a backhanded bitch-slap across 
the Warhammer's cockpit visor with her remaining derringer arm. The 
Warhammer reeled from the blow, but its low center of gravity kept it 
from toppling over. Kodachi then hammered away at point blank range 
with her Whirlwind autocannon, one of the few weapons she could use 
effectively this close. Then, receiving a sudden flash of inspiration, 
she shifted her fire into the trees behind the Warhammer, cutting them 
down and sending them crashing into the battlemech.
     The Warhammer staggered under the hits of ancient hardwood trees, 
and was engulfed in their green foliage. The gun-barrel PPC arms swiped 
madly at the branches in an attempt to clear them away from her blinded 
sensors, but lacking actual hands, the task was less than successful. 
Kodachi blasted her with her remaining PPC while she struggled, chortling 
over the external PA with her victory.
     "Now who's the cheat!?" Akane snarled accusingly. She wiped at the 
thin line of blood that trickled from her lip where she had bitten down 
on it with the force of Kodachi's slap. As she moved, the weight of the 
trees dragged them off her hull, and finally cleared her view.
     She began to backpedal, moving under a hail of 90mm shells and 
the assault of Kodachi's maniacal laughter, to give herself an effective 
field of fire with her twin gun clusters. She raked the Marauder with 
laser and machinegun fire, tearing into the two turbine-driven cooling 
pods on either side of the battlemech's cannon. The intakes caught a 
stream of fire that disintegrated the thinly armored intake screens and 
then proceeded to blast apart the turbines.
     The Marauder twitched spasmodically at her hit, nearly falling to 
its knees. Akane fired the six-rack SRM launcher once more, and without 
a particle beam bolt to interfere with her shot, was rewarded with the 
sight of all six missiles hitting. The black Marauder's steeply-sloped 
armor made the hits less than effective, however, as most of the 
explosive force was spread out along the long curved sweep of the 
battlemech's flanks. Head-on fire at the torso wasn't going to work; 
she needed to hit it from an oblique angle at the every least, and 
directly from the sides at best.
     At least her gun clusters had been effective. She could see the 
expanding waves of heat mirage coming from Kodachi's radiators, and knew 
that without the turbine fans blowing tons of air across them, her ability 
to dissipate heat was going to be greatly diminished. Hopefully, she'd 
think twice about firing her remaining PPC.
     "Where do you think you're going?" Kodachi demanded in a shaky voice 
as Akane moved her Warhammer away in a flanking attempt. "Running away 
already, are we?" Her autocannon pivoted on its mast-like mount to continue 
spraying the Warhammer with fire.
     To hear fear creeping into the Black Rose's voice made Akane's heart 
swell. Kodachi had done so much damage to the Confederation in the past, 
ended so many innocent lives, and terrorized entire planets. Now she was 
alone, fighting to the death in a battlemech that was half-crippled. Now 
the debts she had accrued against the Confederation would be repaid.
     "I don't have to explain myself to the likes of you," Akane retorted, 
and let Kodachi have it with both Donal PPCs. The twin thunderbolts gushed 
from the tube-like weapon arms with deafening reports, and dashed against 
the Marauder's broad expanse of torso flank. The chattering of the 
autocannon stopped abruptly, followed immediately by the stacatto flashes 
of ammunition cooking off within the weapon's magazine. The force of the 
blast ripped the intact left arm off at the shoulder joint, venting 
catastrophically from the torn armor, and flinging blobs of bright green 
tracers in lazy arcs into the remaining trees.
     The Marauder toppled over and crashed in a twisted heap. Long plumes 
of black smoke poured from the carbonized hole in the torso armor, and 
small fires burned within. Akane brought her Warhammer up to inspect her 
fallen enemy, and noted with satisfaction that the Marauder remained as 
silent and still as death. 
     She sank into her ejector seat with a long, drawn-out, and weary 
sigh. This was the ending that should have happened on Port Said six 
months ago. Kodachi Kuno, the Black Rose of the Furinkan Combine, was 
defeated.



                           *       *       *



     "I'd watch those damaged knees if I were you," Tarou observed 
sardonically as he maneuvered through dense woods to evade Ryouga's 
particle beam riposte. "They'll be the death of you."
     Ryouga knew it without needing a reminder from his enemy. The 
actuator damage his 'mech had suffered was slowing him down. He was at 
full throttle and only managing cruise speed in his pursuit. Another 
good hit would tear off a leg, which he was sure was what Tarou had in 
mind. He was as obsessed with the library core as Happousai had been.
     He also knew that Tarou was almost out of shells for his Tomodzuru 
autocannon, and that when they were expended, he would be down to a pair 
of medium lasers for his armament. Ryouga still had his formidable array 
of lasers, plus his PPC. That came out to a significant advantage in a 
fight.
     Getting Tarou to use those last two or three shots without being hit 
was the challenge.
     The battered Hunchback turned around the copse of trees to come back 
at him. He responded with all four of his medium lasers, the beams crackling 
through the air at the battlemech, and cutting four black swaths through 
the torso. Sparks flashed from the rents in Tarou's armor, and for a moment 
Ryouga thought he had set off the autocannon's ammunition.
     The depleted uranium dart that crashed into his torso was proof enough 
that he hadn't. The impact staggered his 'mech, and spoiled his aim with 
the hand held PPC. His armor was practically gone over his right torso, the 
last hit gouging a crater in the thick plating with a diameter big enough 
for a man to stand inside.
     How many of those do you have left, Tarou? he wondered angrily. The 
patient and loving work Akari had invested in his Battlemaster was being 
destroyed by that terrible weapon, and he wasn't going to stand for it.
     "I'm going to finish this, Tarou!" he cried. "Now, stand and fight 
it out, Monster-boy!"
     "Be reasonable and eject!" Tarou returned. "Or if you're so eager to 
die, at least eject your rear seat and spare the library core!"
     "I'd rather see it destroyed than have you or Kodachi get your hands 
on it!"
     Ryouga put his 'mech into a charge, intent on running down the 
Hunchback that he out-massed by thirty-five tons. Tarou stopped short and 
fired another shot from his autocannon that crashed into the center of the 
BattleMaster's torso. Armor spalled off in waves, and curled up into steel 
shavings at the red hot edges of the crater, but the plating was at its 
thickest there, and it held - barely.
     "You're forcing me to kill you, Ryouga!" Tarou answered, hosing laser 
fire at the BattleMaster's legs. "I've tried to avoid that so far, but you 
leave me no choice!"
     Ryouga triggered his lasers again, the beams slicing apart an arm 
in clouds of ionized gas. "I won't allow you to profit from your betrayal!"
     He could see the Hunchback tense for another autocannon shot and knew 
that he wouldn't reach it in time to ram. One more hit from that thing would 
be enough to destroy him, and if Tarou's aim was true, he would lose a leg, 
and his enemy would win.
     The shot did not come, nor did he hear Tarou's scream of frustration 
over the din of his own war cry. The BattleMaster crashed into the smaller 
Hunchback, forcing it up into the air as its massive limbs grappled. Still 
yelling his lungs out, Ryouga wrenched the Hunchback up over his battlemech's 
head before throwing it down with all his might. The BattleMaster's myomer 
bundles groaned in protest over the load as he exerted them to their very 
limits. 
     The Hunchback hit the ground with a crash, bits of metal and clods of 
dirt flying from the huge divot it made. Ryouga spun his BattleMaster around, 
kicking the fallen 'mech with a full power blow. The Hunchback's right arm 
was torn away from the elbow joint, leaving it completely defenseless to his 
attacks. 
     He laid into Tarou with everything he had; punches, kicks, stomps, 
and more. Sparks flew from his battlemech's hands as they smashed apart 
armor, foamed aluminum skeletal components, and magnetic-piston actuators. 
He continued pounding on the Hunchback in a rage, long after it had ceased 
to be a battlemech; it was now nothing more than an ugly, formless lump of 
steel and composites that smoldered and leaked nameless fluids from the 
folds and rents.
     "Ryouga!" Ukyou called to him. "That's enough already!"
     He didn't hear her as she again called to him to stop. It took a 
mechanized hand on his cocked fist to get his attention.
     "You got him," she said quietly. "Trust me on this one, honey."
     His throat was raw from screaming, and it took him a moment to find 
his voice. It unnerved him to think that he had become so mindless and 
insane in a battle, even one on which so much depended.
     "Okay," he panted finally. "You're right." 
     He turned to see the Warhammers of Akane and her father, Commander 
Saotome's Orion, and Ranma's Super Phoenix Hawk LAM standing in a line, 
watching him worriedly.
     "Are you okay, Ryouga?" Akane asked.
     "Yeah," he gushed. He did not want Akane to see him like this, not 
like some wild animal that needed to put down for its own good. "I'm all 
right... Wha-What about the rest of Kodachi's troops?"
     "Makin' a run for it," Ranma replied. "It seems you scare the piss 
outta them, Ryouga." The Super Phoenix Hawk's head inclined in Akane's 
direction. "And with the cavalry coming like it did, they totally lost 
their nerve."
     "Great," Ryouga huffed wearily. "What now?"
     "Musk Dynasty forces are approaching the _Palomino's_ position," 
Akane replied. "There's no chance of us getting back there in time to 
stop them, even if we had the numbers to do it, but I just spoke with 
Captain Grant, and he says they're ready to lift off."
     "So we headin' to the bunker then?" Ranma asked her. She was all 
for leaving the planet as soon as possible.
     "Just as soon as we link up with Kasumi and Doctor Tofu," she 
confirmed. "I only hope Sayuri can hold on a little longer."
     "Let's move out," Soun said to them. "We can't stay here."
     Akane's Warhammer set a PPC arm against Ranma's Super Phoenix 
Hawk LAM as the rest agreed and turned northwest. "Stay with me on 
the ground for awhile, Ranma," she said to him.
     The battlemech cocked its head at her, aping the gesture Ranma 
made within her cockpit.
     "What for? You'll need an eye in the sky if you want to avoid 
those Musk jokers."
     The Warhammer emitted a puff of steam from its heat sinks, an 
autonomous heat dumping function that was utterly coincidental with 
Akane's mood shift. Ranma's 'mech edged away nervously from her 
anyway. 
     "I just wanted to see you," Akane said to her through clenched 
teeth. "You worry me half to death with your wandering off and not 
reporting in, then you take on a force ten times your own without 
so much as a simple request for help, then you... Oh, nevermind."
     "All right already," Ranma replied. "I'll stick around for a 
few minutes if it'll make you feel better. Jeez..."
     The two 'mechs began walking together, leaving Ryouga behind. 
The fanged mechwarrior took one last look at the ruins of Pansuto 
Tarou's Hunchback, and tried to forget the years they had been 
comrades. Though those days had been anything but idyllic, they 
represented a simpler time that was now forever lost to him. 
     "Goodbye, Tarou," he said to the pile of burnt scrap.
     "Coming, Ryouga?" Akane asked him over the radio.
     He nodded his head, looked over his shoulder at the armored 
strongbox that contained the library core, and let out a sigh. 
     "On my way," he replied.



                              Chapter Two

                         The DropShip _Palomino_
                            15:18 Local Time



     "Kick the tires and light the fires!" Grant yelled to his crew while 
stepping onto the Flight Deck with his pressure suit helmet under his arm. 
"We've got less than ten minutes before this position gets overrun." He 
wanted to give Lady Akane and the others more time to return, but the Musk 
Dynasty wasn't allowing it.
     "Commencing reactor start-up," the Co-Pilot declared, punching in the 
commands to his board. The DropShip's computer acknowledged the command 
with an automated warning over the ship's 1MC intercom circuit. "Ignition 
in five... four... three... two... one... mark!"
     The lights flickered for a moment. Displays shifted and danced on 
the Flight Deck as vital systems prepared themselves automatically for 
activation.
     "The reactor is online. Fusion plant power indications stable and 
ranging within normal variances," the Co-Pilot announced. "Port cooling 
loop pressure holding steady. Shifting the power distribution system to 
a normal full-power line up."
     "Main Engine sequence start," the Pilot added. The massive engine 
turbines in the Port Atmospheric Manuevering Engine began to spool up with 
a deep drone well aft of the cockpit. The DropShip shifted slightly on its 
landing gear, as if anticipating its coming leap into the sky. "Main Engine 
induction pressure rising. Main Engine low induction pressure alarm clear."
     Captain Grant nodded coolly for them and then turned back to face Tad 
and the two Gunner's Mates.
     "Status of weapons and sensors?" he asked them.
     "Fire Control is green. All weapon mounts indicate ready."
     Petty Officer Howard gave him a 'thumbs up.' "All active and passive 
arrays are green. Request permission to radiate with active radar."
     "Hold off on the active radar," Grant cautioned him. "I want to make 
certain we can get off the ground before I advertise our presence. With Yuka 
and Sayuri down, we have no air support."
     "Main Engines ready for lift-off," the Pilot announced a moment later.
     "Good," Grant rumbled. "Inform Lady Akane that we are lifting off, 
and that we will meet her and the rest of Red Lance at the secondary 
rendezvous point."
     "Aye aye, sir," the Co-Pilot acknowledged.
     "Take us up," Grant ordered.
     The Pilot throttled up, and with a roar of fusion heated turbojets, 
the _Palomino_ began to rise into the air. A cheer went up as the Pilot 
rotated the ship ninety degrees to put it on the proper heading, and then 
began edging forward slowly so as not to overtax the engines.
     "Quiet!" Grant barked. "We're not out of this yet! Tad, you keep your 
sensors peeled for the bad guys. We know they're close."
     Tad was already hunched over his displays as the DropShip picked up 
speed.
     "Aye sir, scanning now... Captain, I'm picking up ground based search 
radar, Garrett-type air defense sets." He bit his lip nervously as he 
punched in several command functions into the sensory gear. "Bearing 
two-two-six, relative; range is real damn close, sir!"
     "How close?" Grant demanded. "I want specifics!"
     Autocannon tracers lit into them as he asked, and the DropShip 
trembled as they bit into the thick portside armor. 
     "Eight hundred meters!" Tad replied. "Enemy battlemechs bearing 
two-two-six, relative; range eight hundred meters!"
     "Increase speed!" Grant ordered the Pilot. "Return fire!" 
     The *whooosh* of the port-side LRM-20 rack was quickly followed by 
the crackle of the twin heavy laser and point defense medium laser turrets. 
It was a relatively small amount of firepower, but with luck, sufficient 
to the task of harassing the enemy and denying them an easy shot.
     The _Palomino_ began to shake again as more autocannon fire struck 
the ship. Then two particle beam cannon bolts slammed into the aft section, 
sounding alarms on the Flight Deck. The gunner on the port side returned 
fire with all he had, and yet he did nothing to stop the onslaught.
     "There's a whole battalion down there," he shrieked, still firing 
his weapons as fast as the systems would permit. 
     "Pressure's dropping in the port coolant loop!" the Co-Pilot added. 
An alarm wailed as he spoke. "Port Loop Low Pressure Alarm!"
     "I'm losing thrust in the manuevering engines," the Pilot intoned. 
"Switching to HEPLAR drive; hang on!"
     The DropShip's plasma drive ignited with a roar, and the sudden 
increase in thrust threw off the Musk Dynasty aim, giving them a few 
blessed seconds of relief. The _Palomino_ careened just above the verdant 
Ryuugenzawa forest, trailing lines of smoke from its wounds as it sought 
escape. 
     "Damage report!" Grant ordered, watching as the Engineering repeater 
display began hemorrhaging red light.
     Akari's quavering voice answered for the Engineer. "We have a leak 
in the port loop!" she said over the intercom. "We're compensating by 
injecting fresh coolant from the cryogenic plant, but once we run out 
of liquid nitrogen..."
     "How long?" Grant asked bitterly.
     "Ten minutes at present rate of consumption, sir. Probably less 
than that if the leak rate increases with pipe erosion through the 
source of the leak."
     "Keep the pressure above the safety shutdown point," Grant ordered. 
"Strike that!" he amended. "I order you to take the Reactor Protection 
System console to Battleshort!"
     "Take the RPS console to Battleshort, aye," Akari replied. The 
Battleshort Mode would disable all of the fusion plant's automated 
safety shut-down commands. Grant intended to run the reactor into 
the ground if necessary to escape the Musk Dynasty. "Flight Deck, 
Engineering; the RPS console is set to Battleshort."
     Grant acknowledged Akari's report and turned to his Pilot. "Keep us 
in the air," he told him. "Plot a course for the Orochi bunker. We can 
get that far at least, and then have the _Tautog's_ shuttles pick us up 
from there."
     "I'll keep us in the air," the Pilot returned. "But I don't like the 
idea of abandoning ship."
     "Neither do I," Grant said tersely. "But we've got to keep our options 
open."



                           *       *       *

                    Musk Dynasty Headquarters Company
                          Ian Cameron Starport
                            15:22 Local Time



     "<That was unexpected,>" Mechwarrior General Herb said to himself as 
the _Palomino_ escaped. There had been no reports of Black Rose DropShips 
within the bounds of the starport.
     "<Track them,>" he ordered his operations section. "<Dispatch a lance 
of fighters to destroy that ship at once.>" 
     The thought occured to him that the ship might in fact belong to the 
Confederation, that they had in fact survived the Orochi. It made the case 
for Shampoo's survival that much more compelling, and made him wonder again 
where Mousse had run off to. Lime and Mint had thus far failed to find him.
     "<A change in plans,>" he told his Operations Officer. "<Have the 
fighters tail the DropShip at a distance, but do not have them engage. If 
the ship should land for any reason, I want its location reported to me 
immediately.>"
     "<At once, my lord General,>" the officer replied.
     The matter settled, he returned his attention to the starport. He wasn't 
impressed. The place looked as if it had been mauled a very long time ago. If 
there was anything of value here, he would need a lot of uninterrupted time 
to search for it.
     As his 'mechs cleared the ruined hulk of an ancient Leopard class DropShip, 
he spied several battlemechs standing in a line, their arms at their sides, and 
their systems apparently quiescent. One of them, a Centurion, had been heavily 
and recently damaged. The others; a Wasp, another Centurion, and two Catapults, 
looked pristine in their SLDF livery.
     "<Hold your fire,>" he ordered his troops. "<Approach with caution, but 
I want those 'mechs captured intact.>" 
     We must have frightened the DropShip off with our advance, he realized. 
These Confederation fools obviously know where this world's treasures can be 
found.
     An officer with a hulking bear-like frame and yellow ursine eyes 
appeared on his display, interrupting his train of thought.
     "<My lord General, our scouts have located a pitched battle twenty 
kilometers south of our position between Black Rose forces and an unknown 
third party. They are requesting further instruction.>"
     Herb considered this. The third party in question most likely belonged 
to the Confederation. He needed knowledgable prisoners if he was going to 
make his search for lostech more efficient.
     "<Have them remain out of sight, but in contact with the battle. They 
are not to engage. If they are attacked, they are to withdraw while keeping 
me informed of the enemy's positions,>" he declared. "<Order Fox and Serpent 
Companies to turn south and engage the Black Rose's troops. Any other 'mechs 
encountered are to be captured with their mechwarriors alive. The remaining 
companies will stay here and secure the starport.>"
     "<At once, my lord General!>"
     He turned his Grand Dragon on its heels, and headed back towards his 
personal DropShip. He would wait there for any prisoners that were captured, 
or for news of the Confederation DropShip's destination. The planet was by 
all rights his now, all that was left was the extermination of Kodachi Kuno's 
rag-tag regiment, and the final disposition of Mousse and Shampoo. Tatewaki's 
fleet was surely headed inexorably towards their deaths at the hands of the 
Orochi, and he wanted to be close to his sources of information for the battle 
in orbit to confirm this.



                             SLDFS _Coronet_
                            15:23 Local Time



     "Engineering, report status of restoring main power," Captain Hinako 
Ninomiya ordered. They had been dead in space for over half an hour since 
they had successfully fired their Main Gun to destroy an Orochi satellite, 
an act which had quenched their fusion reactor in the process. A back-up 
fission plant was to have come on to provide emergency power, but it too 
had inexplicably failed.
     Lieutenant Fulton, Hinako's Assistant Engineer from the _Dragonfly,_ 
and currently Chief Engineer of the _Coronet,_ answered her over the 
intercom system.
     "Ma'am, we think we've got the problem isolated to a logic controller 
in the power distribution system," Fulton replied. His face was damp with 
sweat, as the engineering crew was operating without the luxury of the 
ventilation system to conserve the cruiser's emergency batteries. "It's 
holding up both powerplants on a switchgear fault, making their controllers 
believe that the main distribution switchgear is grounded, and keeping them 
offline."
     "What does all that mean in terms of time to restore power?" she asked 
him. Engineers tended to speak as if everyone within earshot understood their 
arcane jargon, and it had been a long time since she had attended the basic 
engineering courses required of prospective starship commanders.
     "If we swap the controller out with a spare, factor in time to 
load the program from the archives, and everything actually works as 
advertised, I'd say we can start up the fusion plant within forty-five 
minutes."
     Hinako slapped her forehead with the palm of her hand. A look from 
Captain Hauptmann at the Fire Control station confirmed her misgivings. 
"Fulton, we don't *have* forty-five minutes. There are six troop carrier 
shuttles on their way to take this ship as a prize."
     Fulton grimaced at the news. "I don't know what to tell you, ma'am. 
This process is pretty straightforward. There really aren't any corners 
to cut, but we'll do our best."
     Hinako sighed wearily and signed off. Captain Hauptmann waved her over 
to the Fire Control station. Passive sensor data was displayed for them, 
showing the six Furinkan Combine ships on an intercept course.
     "ETA is nineteen minutes," Hauptmann declared. "If we don't get our 
drives back before then, we're in trouble."
     "That's probably not going to happen," Hinako told him flatly. She had 
been against firing the Main Gun, but not for the reasons she now regretted.
"What are our options?"
     "The _Tautog_ is having its own problems right now, so we can't expect 
any help from them in the near future. Olivera says they are at bare minimum 
combat capability, and their current orbit has them drifting over the 
planetary horizon in ten minutes. They won't come back around for another 
two hours and twenty-five minutes."
     Hinako had to agree that this was not good. "What can we do from our 
end?"
     Hauptmann pointed at the fire control panels. "The primary gun batteries 
won't fire without main power, but we have our secondary turrets. Those can 
operate off the emergency battery, and if we use the lasers sparingly, we 
shouldn't drain too much juice."
     Hinako considered it. "It's probably more than enough firepower to 
stop those shuttles," she replied. "But what then?"
     Hauptmann cocked his head at her. "It buys us time to get this crate 
back to full capacity. I don't want to be anywhere near when the Orochi 
Network and the Combine fleet go at it hammer and tongs." He shrugged. "If 
you have a better idea, Captain Ninomiya, I'm all ears."
     A smile lit up Hinako's face.
     "Something just came to me," she said. "I'll need everyone you can 
spare to meet me in the shuttle bay."
     Hauptmann looked at her questioningly. "What exactly do you mean by 
'everyone I can spare'?"
     "The absolute bare minimum to navigate. One person at the sensors. 
One person at fire control. The minimum watchstanders in Engineering. The 
Chief of the Watch can handle commo from his station."
     "What for?"
     Hinako crossed her arms over her breasts. "You'll have to trust me 
on this, Captain Hauptmann."



                           *       *       *



     "Captain Hauptmann," the Chief of the Watch called out. "The Furinkan 
Combine boarding party demands that we surrender our vessel at once."
     Hauptmann punched the intercom for the shuttle bay staging area. "Our 
guests are about to arrive, Captain Ninomiya. Are you ready for them?"
     "You betcha!" a child's voice chirped back in reply.
     Hauptmann shook his head gravely and turned to the Chief of the Watch. 
"Tell them that we surrender. Open the shuttle bay doors to receive them."
     The Chief of the Watch did so. "Aye, Captain. Shuttle Bay doors 
indicate open."
     "This had better work..." Hauptmann muttered.



                           *       *       *



     "Spread out," the Furinkan Combine Marine sergeant barked to his men 
in the Shuttle Bay. "Don't bunch up! We don't know what kind of welcome 
we're going to get on the other side of that door."
     The other five shuttles started to disgorge their troops, until there 
were sixty heavily armed and armored Marines waiting to charge through the 
airtight door and into the interior of the ship. They were armed with 
machete-like short swords, two-meter long boarding pikes, nailguns, and 
laser pistols for close combat within a fragile starship. They didn't 
expect much resistance from the crew, but that would be of small condolence 
to anyone who ended up dead.
     When the airtight door suddenly slid open with a hiss, the Marines 
were ready with every weapon they had. They were not ready, however, for 
the sight of an eight-year-old girl in the ill-fitting uniform of a 
Confederation Navy Captain.
     "Hello everybody!" the girl cried happily to them.
     "What is this, sarge?" one of the Marines hissed to the sergeant. 
"Some kinda joke?"
     The sergeant gave a noncommital grunt. "It's the lieutenant's problem 
now. Keep your heater on the door and your eyes peeled."
     "Is everyone here?" the girl asked them, skipping up to the center 
of their ranks.
     The Combine Marine lieutenant stepped forward to greet Hinako with 
a look of reproach. "Look here, little girl. I don't know what your 
parents think they'll accomplish by sending you to us, but it won't 
work." He raised his voice to the open airtight door. "I demand to speak 
to the master of this vessel at once, that I may accept his formal 
surrender!"
     Hinako tugged at his armored hand.
     "I'm right here," she pouted.
     He brushed her off. "Go away, little girl." He affected an irritated 
look for his sergeant. "Sergeant, take this child to the shuttle at once."
     "Hey!" Hinako cried shrilly. "I'm NOT a little girl! I'm the Captain 
of this ship! One of them, anyway..."
     The lieutenant looked to the open airtight door, feeling that there 
was something wrong about this situation. Something horribly wrong. What 
kind of barbarians would send a child into the ranks of their enemy if they 
intended to resist?
     It came to him as a Marine scooped up Hinako and carried her screaming 
towards a shuttle. They were planning on resisting, and this was their way 
of ensuring that she didn't get hurt. Clever bastards...
     "Sergeant, have the first squad advance through the door," he ordered. 
"They have premission to fire without warning."
     Hinako's wailing ceased abruptly, followed by the sound of something 
heavy hitting the deck of the shuttle. In the tension of the moment, all 
the lieutenant noticed was that the child's crying had mercifully stopped.
     "Yes sir," the sergeant grunted. "First Squad up!"
     "Hello boys," a sultry voice called to them from the shuttles.
     The Marines turned as one to see Hinako Ninomiya in her two-sizes 
too short miniskirt and extra-tight red turtleneck uniform sweater. Jaws 
dropped appreciatively as she raised a fifty-yen coin between two fingers 
and leveled it at them with a smile and a wink.
     "Surprise!"



                           *       *       *



     "Captain Hauptmann, Captain Ninomiya reports that the Shuttle Bay is 
secure, and that the prisoners are in custody," the Chief of the Watch 
declared proudly.
     Hauptmann and his Helmsman traded looks. Neither had much faith in 
Hinako's plan, but they were happy in this instance to be proven wrong. 
"Ask the Captain what she plans to do next."
     The Chief of the Watch relayed the question.
     "She says that depends on the outcome of the battle between the Orochi 
and the Combine fleet."