PHASE II : THE TYR ARC ( 10 of 28 )

: “ Gejagter unter Jägern ("THE HUNTED AMONG THE HUNTERS")


Level 5
Temple of Kuan Yin
Fortress Home, Laifen
03, Feb 2681

The air was sharp with tension and the smell of incense. Tendrils of incense floated about in air, with their cloying scent of cloves, frankincense and myrrh. The statue of Kuan Yin, the benign Chinese goddess of mercy stood silent guard over the people gathered in the room on her raised stone pedestal, surrounded by offerings of fruits, flowers and little wishes, written in yellow paper with red ink. The temple itself was carved of stone, from the mountain itself, and then layered in solid marble, brought from Terra.

Shafts of light bisected the carved stone floors in regular lines. Though normally open for worshippers from the Families, this private temple now served as an ad hoc boardroom. The yellow robed priests that chanted their litanies of praise were now absent. Outside, TISD agents guarded the massive wooden doors, with their quaint carvings of the twin Chinese door guards, protectors of places of worship in the mortal realm.

Placed before Kuan Yin, in an ill fitting and out of place position, was a massive wooden table, with the rampant stallion symbol of the corporation before it, along with the corresponding members of the Board. It was not often that the Board met so often in the space of a few days. Recent events however necessitated that. The temple to Kuan Yin was the largest room that was secure enough in the Fortress for a board meeting. It was proving inconvenient, at best, to constantly meet back at the Corporate Tower.

They were all not pleased. After Lady Schala’s address and going through TISDs’ reports, they had authorized a massive defensive operation to solidify their holdings across space, in addition to evacuating all branches close to or near the invasion swath. Dozens of the Corp’s Homeguard pilots and soldiers had already fallen to defend corporate lives and property. More would fall soon. The cost of that was bad enough. That aside, it was a mixed bag of news.

The invasion had literally jacked up sales of fighters, weapons and munitions nearly two fold as latent quartermasters in the governments realized just how much ammunition and materiel could be expended in simply a few days of fighting. Though soldiers at the front still had supplies, all of the governments were stripping their inner system logistics bare to supply them, while purchasing more from defense manufacturers. The Corp was making billions. However, share prices for the Corp, as well as commodities, had fallen drastically, as with any major conflict. That was not the concern however for the Board.

The matter at hand, to all concerned, was Admiral Erin Hanton of the Union 1st Fleet. She had actually threatened Tanfen personnel, and even Lord John himself, before hijacking the entire Sutari branch fleet to evacuate a bunch of non-combatants. That news had only just come in via hyperlink from one of TISD’s numerous knowbots that constantly monitored data traffic. TISD was nothing if not efficient with bringing interesting tidbits to the Families’ attention.

“This is bordering on stupidity. Are you saying those imbeciles in the Union Navy actually hijacked our fleet from Sutari branch?” a Tan put forth, thumping the table for emphasis. Gathered around him was a full complement of the Lai’s, unlike last time. They were all not pleased at the recent turn of events. Not pleased would be putting it mildly. If President Cale of the Union was in the Boardroom, every single Tanfenner there would have been lining up to turn him into kibble.

Sue stood up. “Apparently, we have underestimated Admiral Hanton’s willingness to use Martial Law.”

“In Kuan Yin’s name… Martial Law!?!”

“Is what they are doing legal at all? This is short of piracy!”

“Does that sanctimonious fool know of nothing except brute force? What of Lord John?”

“Unfortunately, milady, it is, in all rights under Martial Law, perfectly legal.”

“Then what efforts have been done to curb this, or to get our assets returned,” and the Gan emphasized the next statement, “in working order!?”

One of Tanfen’s attack lawyers, Origin Villiers stood up to answer that. “We have protested this to the Senate, via our lobby groups and associates inside the system, but so far, President Cale and the whole accursed Senate seem determined to use Tanfen assets as a means to evacuate the civilian population.”

“Have we tried putting on the pressure?”

Sue answered that. “We have considered putting several strongly worded suggestions that certain trade concessions may fall through if they do not comply, but TBRAD has advised that would be most unwise.”

“What of our strategic assets in the Union Fleet?”

“Lord John knows the repercussions, and when, if they are to be used,” Sue added. “I do not believe that it is worth it, though. He knows the risks as well as I do. The Union would crush us if we ever opposed them directly.”

“In other words, we can’t threaten them, we don’t have the firepower to force them, and we can’t persuade them. Great. Bloody gwailo! They do not even understand the concept of property ownership!”

“There is little we can do with this incident. The AOYOI order places it firmly in the local CEO’s hands. As you all know, he has several options at his disposal, but I trust to his judgment to maintain corporate assets and face. We have already sent the 360th, and that is all we can do for now, without jeopardizing our other operations. President Cale assures me that this incident was unfortunate, and temporary. After the civilian population has been evacuated to Masa, they will return control back to us,” said the President firmly.

The President leaned forward, hands steepled. “The sooner we have this business accomplished, the faster we can get Sutari Sector Fleet back. I have a personal assurance from the President Cale that he will compensate us for all ‘physical’ property damaged or lost during this… 'loan’ period. In addition, he has promised a guaranteed tender, in relation to a recent favor paid by the Gans to the Macdonald family, for a guaranteed production run for all Halsey-class corvettes produced in the Union for an indeterminate amount of time.”

The others simply looked at the situation and nodded. There really wasn’t much to be done. And Cale had dangled enough of a carrot for the Corp to reconsider their options, and not come out fists swinging and lawyers screaming. The President simply gave a sharp nod, and motioned for the Board to move onto other matters. There were other important matters at hand to settle.

Notably the all out assault Porhen Industries was making, in full defiance of what Union Internal Security had explicitly forbidden. All along both the financial front and the front lines, Porhen corporate raiders and PSC troops had begun to attack Tanfen.

After what seemed like a matter of only a few minutes, all pressing business pertaining to the corporation was over. They all knew what to do. And Heaven and Hell be damned if they’d let the bloody Porhenners or obnoxious admirals take anything without a fight.

“This meeting is adjourned for now, ladies and gentlemen. TISD will inform you all of any changes pertaining to our plans, and my secretary will inform you should there be the requirement for another board meeting.”

The Board members dispersed, each hurrying to tend to pressing business of their own. A few of the Lai’s hung back, talking in low tones. The rest simply left with their Honour Guards for the launch pads on the upper floors.

However, one woman was interrupted on her way. The Walking Steel sergeant genuflected, his royal blue beret giving him a rakish cast to his features. “Pardon me, milady Keiko, the guest you requested has arrived at the Estates. I did not wish to interrupt you during the Board meeting.”

Keiko gave a nod of acknowledgement, her long dress swishing in the breeze from one of the long gothic styled windows carved into the walls of the fortress’ exposed rock faces; carved right out of the monolithic granite expanse. “Thank you, Sergeant, for your consideration and promptness in bringing me this news. Come.”

“Aye, milady.”

She went up to the landing pads, the Sergeant a respectful distance behind her.


Outer Balcony
Level 6
Fortress Home

“Bel, you sure the 360th is enough for this?” Hon asked as he looked out the balcony, at the rolling highlands below.

Today, like almost every other day on Laifen, it was misty. Roils of mist curled around the valleys and the tops of the mountains, like a white blanket. The undulating grass covered the land to the horizon in a carpet of green. The rough brown crags of the mountains farther south were the only contrast in the landscape, their massive cliffs forming dark moss grown crags and shadows. The wind was blowing strongly, and it seemed to be getting stronger. Below him, he could see members of the Board, each boarding their own personal shuttles and transports, with waves of shuttles flying about, waiting for their turn to land.

Hon shifted his foot, and felt the dampness and the cold on the solid rock below him. It even went through his boots. Damned Laifen weather - he’d get rheumatism from it one day. He heard that if the Sanitation Department did not scrape the slime and moss off the Fortress every few months, the Home would have turned into a giant damned mushroom.

Bellamy stood by, his hands on the balcony and took in the distant city, its multi-colored lights still glinting in broad daylight. The city never slept. From the heights of the Corporate Tower down to the lowest sub-level. It was business, day or night.

Both of them were on the balcony, taking in the air. They had spent so long pent up underneath the Fortress that one more minute of reprocessed air and they’d go mad. Nothing like a breath of Laifen air to invigorate the lungs, though Hon claimed that it’d be the end of him one day. Behind them, just out of view were six bodyguards, and Megan Bellamy. Megan didn’t much like the cold, or the weather, and her jumpsuit didn’t exactly insulate her, so she spent her time alternating between standing at attention, and trying to jog in place. Her uncle sometimes didn't make sense. And Hon was plain nuts when it came to this health thing. The two men on the balcony however didn’t pay a damn at her apparent discomfort.

“Hon, this isn’t groundside. All we need to do is just grab our people and run for it. We aren’t holding ground or defending anything.” The 360th had been sent to the Masa System several days ago and were now en route to reinforce the Militia there, though their primary objective was to first ensure that Sutari was evacuated first.

“If it's that easy, why send that wonder girl of yours?”

“Her? She volunteered, in fact, she said she wanted to go. Seeing that the Wing is recuperating, and that she had no responsibilities, I okayed it.”

“Always did wonder why she never ended up in TAARD and ended up in your branch instead, Bel. My opinion of lasses like her is that they’re more trouble than they’re worth, but this ones got it comin’. I haven’t met a lot of people who can ace a doctorate in Nano-whatever robotics, and still manage to be a decent pilot to boot, but flunk Grand Strategy 101 twice in a row.”

Hon raised an eyebrow. He had always thought this particular pilot was either an idiot savant, or an intelligent and skilled pilot who’d lost more than a few marbles. Either way, she was a double edged sword.

“People have their faults, Hon.”

“I hope you’re right sendin’ her, Bel, and that it's not going to get the rest of our boys killed by accident.”

“You worry too much. She’s in the Avenger Wing, remember? She’s one of our best.”

“Don’t say I didn’t warn you, Bel. You’re getting too soft in your old age.”

“I haven’t been wrong yet, Hon. Don’t worry.”

“I hope so, Bel. I hope so.”

Elsewhere, other battles were being fought, not all of them physical.


Outer perimeter
Tanfen Nano-Chip Research Facility A-982
Aeritos mountain

A HG trooper let off a burst from his HV-SMG, tracers and high velocity rounds flew off in streams of brilliant light, lighting up the darkness of the night. The cluster of shots hit a light powered armor trooper, judging from the peppering of the shots, and the light from the tracers. The light suit seemed to stagger, before kneeling and falling down, its operator dead. The red indicator lights on its visor dimmed before massive rents in its armored hide gushed forth geysers of blood from its human pilot.

Unfortunately, as with anything from Porhen, there was always more than one. Its two surviving team mates saw the flight path of the tracers, and then let loose their arm mounted 20mm gatling guns, tearing up snow, turf and flesh as they scythed massive crescent shaped swaths of ballistic death in the snow. Their whirling barrels and bright muzzles seemed like monstrous dragons in the dark conditions surrounding the facility. Several Homeguard troopers screamed as they were torn in half from the incredible firepower.

The sergeant cursed as he threw a smoke grenade at them. The howling arctic winds would ensure only a few seconds of distraction, at most before the wind blew the smoke cloud away.

"Fall back! Fall back to the base!"

He cocked his T-818 and let off a SABOT round in the general direction of the Porhen advance. He saw a crimson flash, and heard screams amid the howling of the wind. Something got hit. Probably a Snow-Trak APC. The survivors breathed hard as they attempted to cross the white bare ground, now dotted with crimson and melted here and there with the scars of battle, explosives and ruined powered armor units that caused craters in the white sanctity of the snowy coldness.

The Porhenners had gotten wind of the retreat, and begun advancing, screaming roars over the howling of the wind and firing wildly. A few HG stragglers were hit, making them stagger then fall dead, painting the snow around them a bright red. Plumes of blood flew in the air to splatter the virgin white of the ground before freezing instantly in the bitter cold.

The sergeant stayed back, throwing a fused proximity grenade at their advance before shooting a few fragmentation rounds to keep them honest. He heard a dull whump and shrieks. Probably a few Sekuritat bastards got hit. It had seemed quiet for the last few days, until rumors from the top said something big was going down in Dakota and Tyr. Whatever it was, the Porhenners were taking advantage of it, launching a massive assault with what seemed like four companies of PSC.

His other men were beginning to break. No man could stand by, and watch metallic behemoths scythe down almost a dozen of their comrades and not break. Their powered armor support got taken out early in the raid, courtesy of a suicide Porhen sapper squad; the mad buggers simply strapped on explosives and charged. Over two dozen of them had simply grappled with the small squad the base had for defensive purposes, before igniting their C-8 demo packs, killing themselves and the pilots. Though the pilots had engaged their chainfists and their light gatling guns, there were simply too many. Porhen Industries had more lives to waste. And they couldn't care less either.

This was more than a raid, this was a full blown assault. They wanted to hurt the Corp bad, and taking out this facility would have hurt its profit margins immensely. The Tanfenners had to hold. Until reinforcements came to relieve the siege. Reinforcements should have arrived by now. A-982 was deep in what was Corp territory. Yet, where the hell were the reinforcements?

The sergeant had no choice, he had to seal off the base, perhaps dooming the stragglers that could not make it in to die of the cold, or the ravening Porhen hordes. Deep inside the base, sealed behind armored doors and automated turrets, he hoped he could hold out against the superior force. There was no other choice, he had to hold. Or go down fighting. He had reached the door, winding him. He breathed hard as he begun waving the last few survivors of the garrison into the base. One. Two. More. Two more stragglers came in, one holding the other, who seemed to be leaking a trail of crimson all over the ground.

Behind them, he could see the shoulder spotlights of those accursed Porhen powered armor suits. He tried waving and gesturing at them to hurry, to no avail. The roaring wind drowned his cries to his men. They never even heard the metallic roar as a gatling gun shredded both of them into confetti. There would be no other survivors. The sergeant back pedaled back into the door and slammed it shut, hearing heavy servos and hydraulics slam the four feet thick platolum blastdoor shut.

"Where are those damned reinforcements!?!" he roared to a deaf god. He heard a dull banging on the door. That would keep them out for a few hours at least, though additional reinforcements would have a difficult time coming in, with the Porhenners holding the shielded airfield. “For the Credit, the Corp and the President they say,” he snorted as he tiredly slung his rifle and begun coordinating the desperate defenses against the coming tide. So much for that.


The Pit
New Laifen Stock and Commodity Exchange

“Milord, Makaris Sendirian Berhad and the Molinaro Chemicals have begun dumping their products on the market below ours just five minutes ago,” said the exec as he handed a hardcopy report to an elder man. It went without saying that those two were shell companies for Porhen concerns. If they dumped their goods cheap on the market, it would ruin Tanfen’s own.

“If it’s a war the Porhenners want, then war it is!” He turned towards a nearby broker. “Sell all Tanfen Border Worlds owned shares in Korporat Arms, Askar Munitions and Soldadu Foods at the lowest price possible. Sell everything!”

“But, milord?”

He smiled grimly and adjusted his tie. “Do it and watch.”

The stock index board flashed as over ten billion credits of stock were sold for only at a fraction of the price. KA, AM and SF were all Porhen owned subsidiaries with significant Tanfen investment through front companies. Relatively stable, these companies normally had a good return on investment with several hundred credits per lot. Until now.

The index board showing KA first showed the price at 1.5 Andorran Marks before literally crashing to .025 per share. The stock market was like a living entity. Any sign of weakness, whether real or implied could cause people to abandon a dying company in droves. And this was happening now. KA’s total value dropped from three billion credits down to eighty million in a matter of seconds. AM and SF followed soon after as private shareholders saw Tanfen drop down the shares by the ton. Sensing weakness, they to begun selling their shares at rock bottom prices in haste. He watched until the prices kept dropping and dropping. The Porhen bastards wouldn't be enjoying this. This was real Corp war, settled on the Stock Room floor.

“Now, buy everything back at any price!”

The broker grinned. “Aye, milord.”

In a matter of minutes, the Corp literally bought enough stock to have majority ownership. KA, AM and SF were now under Tanfen ownership. It all happened in fifteen minutes. Combat offered its own version of adrenaline. This was something far better.

The Porhenners retaliated by offering a ten minute trading offer in their own shares in surviving companies, jacking up their own share prices by several million. Tanfen bettered the offer with preference shares at discount. The Porhen’s retaliated by dumping even more Tanfen shares on the open market to attempt to dilute their financial value. The elder executive felt a bead of sweat dripping from his forehead. Though Tanfen was massive, there were finite limits to what they, or Porhen can do. It had started all of a sudden. Normally both stayed well enough away from each other, occasionally sniping at each other, or grabbing a choice company or commodity. The other corps had an inkling of their rivalry, and generally knew enough to stay very well away from a fight with both of them.

In the next five minutes though, it was all out war. Every single dirty trick in the business manual, and a few more besides. Dumping, delaying shipments, bribes, everything. He made a few calls to Tanfen affiliated banking corporations to ensure additional liquid assets. This was going to be a blitzkrieg, if there was ever going to be one. It was best to be prepared.


He turned his attention back to the massive screen as he attempted to fend off another Porhen assault on the Corp.


Lady Keiko Gan’s stateroom
The Gan Estates
New Maynah

The stateroom was large, and done with the oak and redwood the Gan’s favored woods. A log fire burned merrily in the corner, underneath a massive mantelpiece overhung with family mementos. A set of plush over stuffed leather chairs along with a recliner surrounded the fireplace. Set in the walls were rows and rows of books. The real thing, with leather spines and actual print. Alongside them, seemingly out of sync were neatly kept rows of compact discs. One of the few concessions in the room to modern technology.

In one of the seats a man sat, taking his ease. He was garbed in a suit, with no visible affiliation. However, it could be seen he was a soldier. Taut sinews like steel cords could be seen in his hands and the smoothness of his actions suggested military training.

The man ran his hands through his short cropped hair. The licking flames cast harsh shadows over his face, highlighting high cheekbones and an aquiline nose. Yet, the mans eyes beheld a depth deeper than the deepest ocean. He looked young, but his eyes seemed to belong to a man thrice his apparent age.

He turned at the sound of the door opening. He set down his sixth glass of sherry, then with mock aplomb, knelt before the room’s entrant. “Milady Keiko. Greetings.”

Keiko’s first response was to curtsey and spit out one of those accursed formulaic replies before she stopped herself halfway. “Oh, please. No formalities.”

She turned to the Walking Steel trooper and Constance, waiting just outside the door. “Please, leave me for now.” There were murmured acknowledgements before they all disappeared, closing the doors to her stateroom shut with a quiet clap.

Constance turned to look at the Steel sergeant. “Just who is milady’s guest? He looks like a ruffian.”

The man gave a shrug. “I don’t know. He seems vaguely familiar, though. Either way, it is none of our business."

When the doors were shut, Keiko motioned for him to sit back down. She then dropped her mask of nobility, relaxing her shoulders and her stance.

“It's been a long time, Keiko,” the man said.

Keiko nodded and reached for the decanter. She poured herself a glass and then motioned for the man to do the same. They both clinked glasses and took a sip before continuing.

“It has, brother. It’s been a long time. I hope your journey was pleasant.” Her brother normally wished to absent himself from Corp politics, and lived away from the Homeworlds. Keiko had pulled a lot of strings to get her brother to pay a visit.

Her brother gave a shrug. “As always, the Corp has high standards in everything it does. The shuttle ride was smooth, Sister, as was the service and the pilots. Bel must be keeping them in top shape with all his screaming, right?”

She smirked. “Sort of - things haven’t changed much in that sense. The Lais are all over the place, pulling strings in the background. Daddy and the clans been pretty much in the thick of business and we’ve been doing well for ourselves. Except for a few recent…problems” She took another sip of sherry.

“Speaking of which, have you met Daddy yet?”

The man gave shook his head. “I don’t think all these years have cooled down our differences yet, Keiko. And I don’t think I want to be on Laifen. Not now, anyway.”

“You do realize he already knows you’re here.”

“TISD’s always has been efficient. But all the same, when both of us are ready.”

Bad start. Keiko shifted the topic. “Are the accommodations for Emi and Lisette alright? I can ask Constance to get a bigger room if you’d like.”

Her brother shook his head. “They’ll be fine.”

“Would you like something to eat or drink? Nantio still makes those wonderful chicken chops. The ones with those golden bread crumbs. Interested?” Keiko knew her brother was a devotee of fried food. Chicken chops done right were the second obsession he had after Emi, his wife of some eight years. But business first.

“Perhaps later, Keiko. You still remember what…”

Keiko leaned back, and then slung off her shoes with an expertly aimed shot into the shoe rack by the door, honed with years of practise in her youth, along with more than a few shattered pictures (she blamed it on the cat), a few house pets struck senseless (supposedly Tom had the gall to slam into the picture frame at full tilt) and once, by accident, the President himself, her father, by accident when he entered the door. (That had really buggered things, daddy was a bit inflexible when a high velocity projectile slammed right into the family jewels.)

“Ahh, much better. You won’t believe how tight those damned things are, brother. But they’re the only thing that looks good with this dress.” Her brother could only give a smile of amusement. Some things never changed. Even after all these years, and the fact that Keiko Gan herself was now grownup and a contributing member of the Corp. Keiko still had bad habits

“Does your hubby know you’re still in the shoe artillery slinging business?”

“Of course, brother dear. I always did hate walking all the way to the shoe rack. I just avoid doing it when Takeru or the kids are around.”

She then continued on her original tangent. Keiko gave a look of mock seriousness while wagging her finger. “I remember many things, like that time you strung up that Porhen flag right up in the red light district back when we were stationed at Akanataris sector on our business practicals.”

That had really pissed the Porhens off to no end. The identity of the perpetrator was still unknown though Porhen offered a hundred thousand Andorran Mark reward for the miscreant. The bounty was still there, according to the newsfeeds.

“Oh God, you still remember that?”

“How about the time when…”

He held his hand up in a halting gesture. The foibles of youth always did look amusing after you’ve grown enough to appreciate them. “That’s enough Keiko. You’ve proven that point.”

“How are Emi and Lisette?”

“She’s fine Keiko. Just fine, though she's been complaining how I like to leave a mess all over the place… Lisette is a fast learner, she may even take after me. How’s Takeru?”

“Oh, he’s gentle and thoughtful, and very caring. He seems to have this sixth sense. Everytime I was distressed, he was there for me. The times are good - I’m lucky, though the work at TPRO is hard - have you ever tried negotiating with a bunch of corpers from Aerodyne Industries? They don’t seem to understand good manners, or etiquette. They kept beating around the bush and sidestepping the issue.”

“Figures - I never was good at PR anyway.” He leaned forward in the chair. “Speaking of which, how's Maximilian? I’ve heard good things about him.”

Keiko gave a smile, half worried, half pleased that such good news had reached even her brother, who by all accounts was difficult to reach. She had sent a discreetly worded message via one of his dead letter drop e-mail accounts, instead of via TISD to arrange this meeting. Her brother had his own reasons for leaving the Corp, and after certain events, he had earned it. She didn’t know where he, or Emi lived, but it was fine that way. Bigbrother could be reached, if she so chose it.

He leaned forward even further, elbows on his armrests while his hands were crossed in a retrospective way. “I’ve noticed that same weird look on Emi when I talk about Lisette. Is this a universal woman thing or what?”

“You won’t understand.”

He gave a derisive snort. “Like I would - women...” he reiterated.

He leaned back. Formalities and general ‘remember the old days’ sequence were done. Now to the heart of the matter at hand.

“So, what have you asked me here for, sis?”

“I need your help. I need someone to get Max away from the fighting. I fear for his safety.”

“I think the Loyalists can handle a job like this, Keiko. You’re worrying too much. Max is a grown boy. In fact, as I recall, he’s actually passed the Laifen Academy and taken a tour with the Steel. Quite impressive in my opinion.”

She stood up, wringing her hands in worry and playing with her signet ring as she strode over to the window overlooking the capital.

“Brother, I have full confidence in Lieutenant Richard and his squad, but as Lady Schala mentioned, Max is now in the path of an invasion. Even our Loyalists may be in trouble. I have read the reports from ISD and EVE, Kian. It seems these aliens are unstoppable.”

“As I recall, the Board sent the entire 360th Homeguards to Masa so they could reinforce Sutari branch, Keiko. Not to mention that the entire 3rd Confed Fleet and the Union First Fleet are in Tyr.”

He may have technically retired, but old habits died hard. He still kept his ear on the ground for news, and EVE provided quiet, discreet reports now and again.

“Kian, you know the capabilities of our Homeguard well enough. They cannot stand against this invader, even if we equip them with the best from our armories.”

The man nodded. The Tanfen Homeguard were more security and defensive troops than anything else. Not good when facing an invader. The 360th was a veteran company, with several tours of duty in the Gemini belt and the Archipelago. Their Colonel was more than capable, but again, the Guard was using outdated equipment. That would have counted little in a fight with insurgents, Porhenners or raiders. But in a fight of this magnitude, it would be a difficult, if not futile struggle.

Keiko added quietly. “Also, I have just received word from Sue that the Confederates and the Union have hijacked the sector fleet leaving Sutari branch. The board is divided into what to do. Some say we should help, others say it is a clear violation of the Corporate Charter. But the fact remains, Max, and the entire fleet is in danger. I know what I’m asking for is selfish, brother, but I am a worried mother”

He stood up and walked to her side, gazing at the view. No matter how many times he denied it, Laifen was still a beautiful jewel. The way the light dimly reflected off the towers reaching high into the distance, how the lights gleamed from the capital, the flitting of ships back and forth like fireflies from orbit and back.

“Kian, you understand that these reinforcements are all meant for the big picture. The primary objective of the 360th is to reinforce Lord John’s group once they reach Masa, and ensure that our assets and personnel there can be evacuated safely. Max is only a small part of it. I can’t simply go in front of daddy and ask for special privilege. That would be a loss of face for everyone, including Max.”

That was true. Among the Tans, asking for help was a sign of weakness. It wasn’t that bad with the Gans, but it was a faux pas where they both came from. Making it public knowledge in Tanfen circles that Max was still being babysat by his mother would ruin his reputation for years to come. It was a bit of a quandary. She was worried sick, but had no way to ensure his safety.

Kian knew that Loyalist Marines were more than capable in combat, but they did sometimes lack creativity for non-violent situations. Things a freelancer would know, like when to run for it. A concept entirely lacking in the Loyalist doctrine. He knew because he had been one of them years ago, before he went freelance. Father had never forgiven him for that. But that was another story for another time.

“I can’t go through official Corp channels now - Takeru has been busy of late with urgent business, and our Homeguards and Loyalist Marines have been on full alert with the onset of this alien invasion. We have nothing left to spare even if father agrees.“

“I’ll understand if you can’t help, Kian - but please, I really need it, as a mother, and as a sister. Will you go to Max and make sure he doesn’t come to harm? I have no one else to ask for help, in this time of need.”

He gave a smug grin, “I can’t say no now, can I?”

Keiko nodded and called for a Walking Steel sergeant. “Get him whatever he wants, upgrades, weapons, anything on my account. Break out our stores at Fortress Home.”

He tossed a datapad in the troopers direction. The trooper caught it like a snake, with the minimum amount of movement necessary to intercept and catch it. “That’s the list. My standard one. It should do for an op like this.”

“Aye, milady.” The sergeant genuflected before leaving as quietly as he came.

“Kian, thank you from me and Takeru. Thank you.”

“It's nothing. Make sure Emi and the kids aren’t in trouble while I’m gone.”

Keiko nodded. “I’ll ask Sue to watch over them.”

He shook his head. “No. I don’t want TISD in on this. Can I trust you to use the Walking Steel?”

She nodded. “Would Corporal Riggs and his squad be sufficient?”

He nodded. Riggs was a bit staid, but a good man. “That’ll do.”

“Kian, I’ve arranged for my personal corvette with Gan IFFs to take you to where the 360th will be gathering with the rest of our reinforcements. My personal seal will allow you to take what you need to help get Max out. Every few jumps, please check up with Tanfennet. I’ll post all the intelligence I can get on that private posting board we used as kids. Remember that?”

“Not a problem, sis. Now, where are those damned chicken chops?”

She grinned, “You can have all the chicken chops on New Maynah, Brother. I’ll call the cook.”


Command Galaxy Kaikuhur
Tyr System
About The Same Time

“Explain this,” Lord John Tan said, and he tapped the readout with his fingers for emphasis “You are telling me we cannot escape if we go back to

He gazed at the holomap before him, showing the combined fleet, and all of the Corp’s sector fleet - on the way back to the battle zone, and perhaps on the way back to certain death.

Caruno stood behind him, to his right The command deck was silent, save for the silent dull thrum of the engines, and the low susurrus of voices as technicians and officers carried out John’s bidding. Outside, the Homeguard’s fighters followed like silent shadows in the darkness of space. Every few hours, the fighters were switched around and reloaded and refueled by docking on to several of the Corp’s transports. Like an intricate dance, the smaller fighters followed their much larger transport brethren as they made the ponderous journey back to Tyr VII.

“Milord, the problem is that we simply can’t do what they are asking for, with what we have. We stripped Sutari branch of all fuel and oxygen reserves to prep the fleet for the evacuation. What we had was already carefully rationed out - we had just enough to jump past Masa to reach Tanfen Kohlingen. If we double back to Sutari now, we won’t have enough oxygen, and fuel jump out again.”

“Is there any other way to ensure we can leave the system?”

Caruno shook his head. “Not short of cannibalizing some forty percent of the fleet, mostly the super heavy freighters, by stripping them of fuel and oxygen to feed the remaining personnel shuttles, light freighters and corvettes.”

“That course is unacceptable - the financial loss of that would be too great, something I doubt the Board would approve of.”

“Aye, milord. But how are we to survive, then? Those barbarians hold us literally hostage, and are leading us back towards certain death.”

Lord John’s eyes narrowed as he regarded the map of the sector, running through his mind all the possible options.

“Milord John, the Queen of Tarots has always provided the final option. It may provide us a chance to escape. Do you wish it to be so?”

He turned around to look at Caruno, his face grim. Caruno did not advertise it to all and sundry, but a select few knew he was the TISD representative for Sutari.

“No. I gave my word, reluctant though it was. In any event, ensure that the Melissa is always fully fueled, with full oxy reserves and with as many fighters as its docking locks can hold. Scavenge from the light freighters without personnel for your needs.”


He turned back to study the readouts and walked over to a terminal, punching in several calculations. And he did it again. And again. Caruno simply stood silently while John confirmed it for himself. Every single reply to his calculations had him either abandoning almost half of the Sector Fleet to flee to Kohlingen, or having none of them arriving there at all. Assuming they survived the coming fracas. Add the fact that even if they reached Sutari branch to evacuate the civilians, the added weight and cargo would deplete their reserves even further, and situation looked grim indeed.

Not to mention the fact that some of the super freighters on which the Union were relying on for personnel transport were not made to carry people in the first place. All they had were decompressed hulls and enough shielding to prevent cargo from getting smashed in a collision, but that was about it. Homo sapiens, as a species could only survive in a strict median of temperatures and atmospheric conditions. A Tanfen cargo hold meant for carrying non-living merchandise was clearly not among them. John simply nodded in grim amusement.

“What of siphoning fuel and oxygen supplies from our 'hosts?'”

“That ‘could’ be done, milord, but the fuel grade is incompatible. Even if we had the right clamps, they are using military grade fuel. Our power plants cannot use it, without risk of shutdown. As for oxygen, I have already checked with their Chief Quartermaster. They only have enough to sustain the fleet, not enough to maintain additional refugees.”

John paced the deck. His measured paces sounding like a metallic drum. “Do we even in theory have enough space to hold all these additional ‘passengers?’”

“Technically... yes, milord. The calculations we have factored in, based on the the refugees taking priority over our other assets, involves spacing no small part of our cargo manifest, and then using up our remaining oxy reserves to fill those empty holds with enough oxygen to last them until Masa. That is, if the rest of us are willing to choke to death.”

“Options, Caruno?”

“None that I can see, milord. Perhaps we should call a meeting to discuss this?”

He turned around to regard Caruno with a raised eyebrow. “Let the problem be solved by our hosts, by dropping it in their laps, eh, Caruno?”

Caruno gave a deeper smile. “Aye, milord. Just what I was thinking. They should have a use, other than cannon fodder, after all.”

“Excellent. Inform our beloved Admiral we require a meeting, and bring Maximilian along. He might as well have a head start on learning the Family business.”

“Aye, milord.”


Command Galaxy Starry Memory
C Deck
Tyr System

As far as military matters were concerned, Lt. Kyra Kaslowski (supposedly a member of the Border Worlds Marine Corps, currently a rather heavily armed babysitter) found things rather quiescent. Her CO had prepped her up for a close in fight. She had had visions of Tanfen soldiers who were hyped up to the gills, making the Marines fight for every inch they took.

Strangely enough, the three Command Galaxys had been taken without a fight. Though she did not have extensive intelligence on Tanfen’s military assets, she did notice something. The troopers assigned to protect Lord Maximilian wore different fatigues, and seemed much better trained than the average Homeguard troopers. She had worked with the Homeguard before, on a few wargame maneuvers, before she shifted out as part of the BWS Valeria’s Marine detachment. Generally they were competent enough not to be labeled "weekend warriors," and not so good as to be labeled hardasses. Careers soldiers in short, but nowhere near as tough as the Marines. These troopers, though, bore close watching.

Though the Tanfenners had been disarmed, she still kept her guard up, and her rifle close by; safetied of course. She sat on C deck, the so called command deck on board the Galaxy, watching over Max. Her four other men were scattered around the room, conveniently keeping the Tanfenners in a crossfire.

The three bodyguards Max had hovered protectively about him, their keen eyes taking in their uninvited guests. Namely her and her platoon. Her adjutant had her other squad down in the lower decks, keeping an eye on the engine room and the ship's armory. One of the bodyguards before her, a male, was tall and well muscled with an easy smile when talking to Max. He kept a straight face whenever he looked at her, though.

The other two were shorter. One of them had a network of fine scars across her arms and had a cynical look about her. As if her outlook on life was like eating a sour lemon. She seemed to have Andorran origins, with her Germanic accent. The last woman had looks a model would have committed murder to own. She wore her pale blonde hair long, in a ponytail. She never smiled at all during her time here, and she hardly ever spoke.

Max stood regarding the holomap, showing the combined fleet going back to Tyr. He talked in low tones with a ship officer, and his own men, though when they made eye contact, he made a smile. She smiled back. All in all, he made a pretty dashing figure. He was neat. That uniform of his caught in all the right places. His eyes did look sharp, but dreamy. She couldn’t help but admire his...

All of a sudden, he finished talking with the officer, and turned to walk over in her direction. “Pardon me...”

“Wha... what?”

He smiled again. “Pardon me,” he repeated again, “Miss...?”

“Lieutenant, if you don't mind. Lieutenant Kyra Kaslowski,” she said sharply, kicking herself for letting her thoughts drift. Likable or not, dreamy eyes or not, Maximillian Gan needed just as much careful watching as his guards did.

“Lieutenant Kaslowksi, I am going on a short trip. I assume you would care to follow me,” he gave a grin, “to make sure I don’t run away?”

“Sure, why not? Whereabouts are you going?”

“The medical frigate Melissa.”

Kyra nodded. That seemed harmless enough, and Lord John was still under guard. It wouldn’t hurt to make sure someone kept an eye on Lord Max as well.

Max gestured to Richard. “Prepare another seat on the shuttle, we have an extra guest.”

Richard gave a short bow, an “Aye, milord,” and went off to the docking collar to inform the pilot.

She stood up, and handed her rifle to her squadmate. It wouldn’t do to carry rifles on a medical frigate, of all things. “Keep things under control around here, Hindson.”

“Aye, aye, ma’am,” said the private as he saluted while slinging her rifle around his other shoulder.

Max left the deck via the stairwell, walking down towards the underbelly of the ship where a shuttle was waiting. “So, tell me, Lieutenant, would the Admiral keep her word that she will let us leave freely after evacuating the civilians?”

Kyra snorted. “Of course. She's a woman of her word. What’d you think we are, pirates or something?”

Max grinned as he noted her accent. “You’re from the Regalis Prime colony, right? Off Landreich?”

She opened her eyes a little wider in surprise. “How’d you know that?”

Max laughed. “Your accent, Miss Kyra. I was trained to recognize foreign accents, close enough to approximate where they came from. And I recognized yours. Only those from Regalis roll their words together like that,” he added. “It also helped that I lived there for about a year, doing my business practicals there.”

Of course, he kept to himself the knowledge that based on her manner and accent, she would have most probably come from a working class family. That also meant that she was a soldier of well above average skills. Even in the relatively egalitarian Border Worlds Union, people from working class backgrounds rarely became officers. That course TPRO dumped on him when he was a child finally was beginning to pay off.

“Really? Whereabouts in Regalis?”

“The north district.”

‘That’s where I came from, strange coincidence.”

They passed by a tech that saluted Max. He smiled back and returned the gesture.

“What else do you know, Mister Gan?”

They had almost reached the shuttle. Richard waved at Max as he looked up from the open airlock.

Max gave a mournful look. “Not much. I’m new to the business after all.”


“The family business, administrating and expanding the corporation. We’re here.”

The ride in the the shuttle was quiet, and uneventful. As soon as she boarded the frigate, she saw more of the same type of soldiers Max had as bodyguards. The medical frigate had no Union soldiers on board, neither had it been boarded at any time. Admiral Hanton was expedient, but she wasn’t ruthless. Only a snake would have held a ship full of non-combatants, and wounded ones at that, hostage.

Those bodyguards were even more alert. They registered her presence and Max's at the same time, and kept their fingers on the triggers of their Archers and heavy ion rifles. One of those soldiers walked up to Max. She stayed behind, to his right. Richard to his left.

The soldier genuflected before asking Max, “Milord, your reason for boarding the Melissa?” and he gave a marked gesture of suspicion at Kyra, “with this… outsider?” His HV-SMG idly moved in her direction.

“I am here to see the state of our wounded, sergeant. Lieutenant Kaslowski is here to ensure I don’t run away,” he said with a smile. The Sergeant relaxed a bit, though he still kept one eye on Kyra. The sergeant then gave a short bark of laughter. “Aye, milord. Aye. But what of her weapons?” He indicated the laser pistol she carried and the combat knife.

Max turned towards Kyra. “You won’t cause trouble, would you?”

Kyra snorted. “Course not. On a ship full of wounded? And while heavily outgunned? I'm a Marine, not a Drakhai,” she said, rolling her eyes.

“I vouch for her, Sergeant.”

The man nodded and lowered his HV-SMG. He waved his hand for the other soldiers to stand down. Though they lowered their arms, they still gazed at her warily. Couldn’t blame them, she thought.

“And where is Lady Elayne?”

The Sergeant gestured upwards. “Up on A deck, milord. We have four of our men keeping watch.”

“Thank you, Sergeant.”

“Good day to you, milord.”

Max gestured at her to follow him. Richard followed close behind, though he exchanged a grin with the soldier guarding the airlock. It seems that all these soldiers wearing the same uniform knew each other personally. On the way there, Max visited the wards, pausing at each for a few minutes. He seemed relatively recognizable to the Tanfenners, earning a salute, a nod or if possible, a bow or curtsey wherever he went.

She just stood back and watched as Maximilian walked among the Corp dependents, talking quietly with some, giving back pats of encouragement, and where necessary, called for additional aid or offered help. Assistance to locate relatives, food, water or simply encouragement. She saw him sit next to a woman carrying a young baby and talk. The woman let him hold her baby as he talked on. Interesting. He may be young, but the guy was a regular politician.

As they headed up to A deck via the lift, she expressed a thought, “Pretty smooth PR for a kid. I’m impressed.”

He gave a shrug, “I do it because I care, these people are members of Tanfen. We take care of our own.”

“Oh? I thought the bottom line was profit first?”

Max gave a smile, “Oh, and I’d guess you get that from the media? Especially certain parties who would claim that we’re all a bunch of religious fanatics or something? Profiteering, militaristic maniacs with more guns than sense?”

Kyra grinned. “More than a bit, especially that great big holo-transmission I caught a few years back, when Absinthe cut off ties with the Corp because they thought you were all wacko.”

“I was a kid then, but I heard from the elders that Deek Reyes pretty much hated Tanfen, hence that smear campaign. In fact, I heard that person was single-handedly responsible for most of the anti-corp propaganda on the Matrix nowadays. That increased his market share and impeded some of our defense contracts, but nothing major. Sooner or later, he’ll trip on his own noose. But to answer your question - yes. Mainly profit first, but there are exceptions.”

“Oh? And helping innocent civilians isn't one of those exceptions?”

Max leaned forward. “That was not my decision. Bear in mind that three great Families rule Tanfen. Each of them, including my Family, have different ways to do things. Lord John assumed that the Union navy would be en route soon. We did not know how serious the threat was, and the primary objective was to evacuate our assets first. I would have tried to evacuate the civilians though...”

“Why would you do that?”

Max shrugged. “The way I was brought up, I guess. I just don’t feel right to leave people when I could have helped them. I don’t think about profit, or PR as you call it. You just do what you feel right.”

“Commendable. It's a moot point now though, Maximilian.”

As they talked, they reached Lady Elayne’s ward. In front of it, stood two more soldiers. These wore full body armor, and each carried heavy machine pistols, "Archers," as the Tanfenners called them, and reg blades. After a few pleasantries, and a guarded look at her, the soldiers let Max and Richard pass by, though they forbade her to enter the ward. Fair enough. She leaned back against the wall as Richard and Max entered it. The door closed shut with a hiss, and she was left in the corridor to regard the two impassive soldiers who resumed guard.

Max waited for the door to close before he approached his aunt. She looked well, despite the trip and the stress involved, though it seemed that he came at a bad time. She seemed to be resting. The Family physician approached him, and gestured for him to go to a corner to speak.

“Pardon, milord. Milady Elayne is resting right now, it is best you visit another time.”

“That is fine. When will the child be born then, Dr...” He looked down at the ID tag. “Anshaz?”

The doctor smiled as she adjusted her headband, with an integrated lamp and magnifier. “There was a false labor earlier, milord. There have been a few complications, since this is her first, but we expect the child to be born at most, within a few days.”

“Is that...” he heard a beep from his comlink. Max frantically jammed his thumb down on the silent button to quell its incessant beeping. Some damned things never changed even after three hundred hears of technological evolution. He took a look at the voice mail. Lord John had demanded his presence on board the Valeria. Uh oh. Aunt Elayne seemed to stir at the sound of the beeping noise, though, and the physician was beginning to give him a sour look. He’ll drop in later perhaps. He left quietly, before his aunt woke up.

Once outside, Max gave a wince and bit out, “Its ‘chow you yee’ this time.”

Richard gave a grin at the Chinese catchphrase. Roughly translated, it meant "Fried cuttlefish," but among the Chinese and Tanfen community, it was a collective word for being in deep shit.

“You haven’t exactly done anything wrong yet, Max,” Richard returned.

“We’ll find out soon enough though. Prep the shuttle for a trip to the Valeria.”

“Aye, milord.”