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 Post subject: Running with the Pride
PostPosted: Fri Apr 13, 2007 2:09 am 
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Commanding General
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Joined: Sat Aug 09, 2003 10:05 pm
Posts: 1471
Location: Kingdom of Hawaii
The passenger shuttles slowly drove along the snow-covered trail. Snowflakes swirled angrily in the fading light and heavy clouds clung to the black ridges. The passengers on the shuttles were mostly teenagers and younger children, although, many of the teens carried firearms and peered nervously through barred windows. A small girl with short, blonde hair huddled in her seat, clutching a doll in a kozak uniform.
The lead shuttle stopped suddenly, silhouetted by energy flashes. The roar of multiple explosions echoed into the drawing darkness. Lasers cut though the shuttle’s thin shell, sending white-hot molten metal in all directions. Fires broke out and screaming children struggled to open the shuttle’s windows and scrambled onto the blowing snow.
The older teens, armed with automatic rifles, piled out of the second shuttle’s doors and vainly emptied their clips into the hulking battlemech that straddled the trail in front of the crippled lead shuttle.
The little blonde girl hugged her doll close and hid on the floor under the seat. Lasers tore holes in the second shuttle, setting a half dozen fires and the girl screamed, “Uncle Mohammed!” Then all was lost in black smoke, everything but the fading screams.



Galaport, Galatea, January 25, 3039, 0315 Hours

The Azami teen sat up in his bed, gasping for breath, beads of cold sweat on his brow. His wide eyes looked about, the surrounding snow faded into the simple bedroom in his flat. He shook his head and rubbed the sleep from his eyes. The clock on the nightstand indicated a quarter past three. “Nikki,” he whispered.
Mohammed As`Zaman Bey had graduated from the Sun Tzu School of Combat, trained with the Fourth Arkab Legion Reserve, endured a long salvage operation in the Periphery, battled pirates, returned to the Inner Sphere, and now hired by a mercenary unit on Galatea –a decent resume for someone just over eighteen years old. Standing at just over 1.6 meters tall, the Azami youth had honey-brown skin and black, wavy hair. His dark brown eyes were alert yet mild and introspective.
The teen stood up and pulled a robe over his slim form. He heard the distant rumbling of traffic, far heavier than usual at this hour and opened the window in order to see. The highway was over a kilometer away but As`Zaman could easily make out the line of transport vehicles carrying battlemechs on their way to the spaceport. “On this planet, this sort of thing must happen often,” he mused. He closed the window and returned to bed.


1200 Hours

Mohammed Bey stifled a yawn as he sat at a holoterminal at the Galaport Municipal Library. He selected and copied data onto his pocket-sized compad.
An icon indicating a call from Colonel Valborg flashed on his compad screen. “As`Zaman, good day, sir.”
“Hello, Mohammed Bey,” replied Valborg. “Some of my staff officers would like to meet you –could you stop in for a few minutes this afternoon?”
“The young man glanced at the clock on the wall. “Of course, sir –I’ll head over to your offices right now.”
“Err, could you also wear some kind of conventional military uniform?” The Colonel’s voiced sounded uncomfortable at voicing the question.
As`Zaman frowned at the officer’s request, “I’ll have to return to my flat first –would something like a DCMS uniform be acceptable?”
Valborg breathed a sigh of relief, “Yes! That would be fine.”


1415 hours

Mohammed Bey had just finished his dinner and held up some papers he pulled from his printer, “Ali, I have my orders –I’ll be leaving tonight.”
“Orders my Bey?” Ali was confused. “Should I prepare the Mongoose for shipment?”
As`Zaman shook his head, “I’m not taking the Mongoose anywhere.” He handed the printout to his servant.
“Hometown recruiter, Master?” wondered the servant.
Mohammed Bey nodded, “That is correct, Ali.” He connected his compad once more and began looking up transport schedules. “It looks like my first mission is to go home to Dabih.”
Ali bowed, “I shall prepare your luggage, Master.”
The Azami teen slipped the top of his gambas off, “I’m going to take a shower –summon a taxi when you are finished.”
“Master, do you mean I am staying here?” Ali appeared to be concerned.
As`Zaman paused before he stepped into the bath, “Yes, you have to care for my Mongoose while I am away.” He thought for a few seconds, “Don’t worry about me.”


Galaport Starport, 1445 Hours

The taxi halted outside the spacious building, which housed the Kerensky Pride administration office. Mohammed Bey stepped from the vehicle and paused to speak to the driver, “Wait for me, I’ll be out in a moment.” He looked to his servant, “Wait here, Ali.”
The day was unusually windy and there was a lot of dust blowing so he decided to find a washroom to clean up before meeting the Kerensky Pride’s officers.
The teen found a door marked “Offiziere” and opened it. The washroom was simple and he washed his hands and face in one of the sinks. He noted a pile of cotton hand towels and by some whim, he took the time to fold them and place the towels in a neat stack at one end of the faux marble counter. In accordance to Colonel Valborg’s request, he wore a simple, DCMS-cut uniform without patches or insignia. The youth chuckled and wondered if the older officer would notice the elephant-hide boots. He straightened the bright red fez he liked to wear when he heard voices outside the washroom.
The door to the washroom opened and a man dressed in green slacks and a gray pullover entered. As`Zaman snapped to attention. Another man in a Free Worlds League vehicle officer’s jumpsuit followed the first.
“Lieutenant Berne, what have we here?” asked the one in the gray pullover.
Mohammed Bey remained at attention and replied, “I was hired by Colonel Valborg this week, sahib!”
The other officer looked to his friend and sighed with relief, “Walter, I’d say it’s about bloody time we got some amenities here.” He walked over to use the urinal. “What’s your name, son?”
“Mohammed Bey, sahib.” The teen handed each officer a clean towel after they both washed their hands.
“Welcome to the Pride, Mohammed,” said the first officer with a friendly nod. He handed the teen several coins, “Here you are.”
“May Allah go with you, sahib,” said the youth, with a bow. He looked at the coins on his palm and smiled before slipping them into his pocket.

“You want me to be a hometown recruiter?” The teen sat in Colonel Valborg’s office and did not attempt to conceal his disappointment.
Colonel Valborg smiled, “Yes! That is a very good question! Well, I need more people like you –with battlemechs, if possible.”
Mohammed Bey shook his head; instead of commanding a lance, he would be traveling home and piloting a desk for the next couple of months. He slipped the credit stick the Colonel gave him into his pocket, “Very well, I’ll be back by April.” He stood up and saluted.
Valborg stood up and shook the young man’s hand, “Before you leave, my boy, I want you to meet a few people –rather, they really want to meet you.” The Colonel led Mohammed Bey down a corridor to where they met a woman in charcoal-gray slacks and matching coat. She carried a small courier case slung over one shoulder and gripped a pair of soft leather gloves in her left hand.
“Celine, this is Lieutenant As`Zaman, he’s just signed up with us,” said Colonel Valborg. “Lieutenant, this is Captain Kagemori –one of our better mechwarriors.”
Mohammed Bey bowed, noting the woman’s Eurasian features, common in the Draconis Combine. “I am pleased to meet you, Captain.”
Kagemori returned the teen’s bow, “Welcome to the Kerensky Pride.”
“Please, let’s go into conference room,” Valborg opened the heavy, wood-paneled door.

As`Zaman followed the officers through the heavy door and stepped into the large conference room. The first thing he noticed was the large picture windows that overlooked the spaceport. He could see the active taxiways and runways, the distant landing pads and rows upon rows of hangars. He wondered to himself how anything could be accomplished in a room with so many distractions. He noticed that there were couches and chairs near the windows as well as a long table with refreshments and a coffee dispenser.
The teen saw the large conference table, empty chairs, and several officers in the room still milling around, talking and preparing refreshments.
“The Lieutenant doesn’t have much time, could everyone please be seated so we can begin?” The Colonel motioned to a chair opposite the head of the table, “Have a seat, Lieutenant.”
The officers in the room quickly took their seats and Mohammed Bey saw that his new commander followed DCMS protocols –to Valborg’s right sat man with graying hair in the place of honor, while Captain Kagemori sat to his left, indicating that she the next in line. This made sense as the colonel was born and raised in Rasalhague while the district was under Combine protection.
“All of you, it gives me pleasure to welcome the latest addition to our unit, Lieutenant Mohammed As`Zaman Bey,” announced Colonel Valborg.
“He’s an officer? He looks kind of young,” commented one of the men Mohammed Bey recognized from the officer’s washroom. “How old are you?”
“Eighteen years old, sir,” responded the teen.
The gray-haired man at Valborg’s right held up a hand, “Lieutenant As`Zaman, I am Captain Warren Fong. Welcome to the unit.”
“Thank you, sir.”
Captain Fong continued, “I would like to ask from which of the Successor Houses you come from?”
“I am from the Confederation of Azami Worlds, sir,” responded the youth. That particular response caused some activity and whispers among the officers at the table.
Captain Kagemori leaned forward on the table and asked, “Where are you from?”
As`Zaman replied, “I was born on Dabih, one of the Confederation of Azami Worlds, located near our Draconis Combine allies.”
“I have never heard of such a Confederation,” commented Kagemori.
Mohammed Bey shrugged, remaining respectfully silent instead of voicing the response at the tip of his tongue.
“We should leave that discussion for another time,” said Volborg. “Tell us, Lieutenant, what is your specialty?”
“I pilot a battlemech, sir,” answered the teen. This response drew nearly as much reaction as his previous.
“Oh, A mechwarrior, are you?” asked one of the men the teen met in the washroom. “I am Lieutenant Walter Youngblood.” He stood up to look Mohammed Bey over, “So, what kind of battlemech do you have?”
As`Zaman smiled, “I pilot a Mongoose.”
“Ah! I’ve never heard of such a machine!” exclaimed Lieutenant Berne, the man in the Free Worlds League uniform.
“I’ve seen it,” said Colonel Volborg. “The Mongoose is a rare Star League design and I have assigned the Lieutenant to find more mechwarriors from among the Azami.” The collection of officers nodded in thoughtful unison.


1510 Hours

The teen ran to the waiting taxi, the wind increased since that afternoon, blowing clouds of fine dust through the city. “To the passenger terminal, please.”
The driver nodded, “Yes, sir.”
As`Zaman brushed some of the dust from his elephant-hide tunic. He pulled a roll of Lyran paper currency from his pocket and handed them to Ali. “Here, take this. I have already paid the rent for our apartments for the next six months –I want you to live comfortably until I return.”
The teenaged servant took the money and tucked it away, “Thank you Master, you are far too generous.”
“If you need anything else, especially to care for my Mongoose, I have credit at the Kahman office,” said Mohammed Bey. “I have already cleared access for you.”
“Yes my Bey,” replied Ali.
The Azami mechwarrior looked through his window as the taxi maneuvered through the streets of the housing quarter. “I am surprised how inexpensive the apartments are here,” commented the teen.
“It is a crowded and dirty area,” muttered Ali under his breath. “You deserve better –why did you leave the hotel?”
As`Zaman tilted his head, “The Athena was over an hour’s drive from the office in the best traffic.” His raised a brow, “The mechwarriors here must have chronic back problems –look at the number of massage parlors in this area.”


1630 Hours

Ali helped the porter load his master’s luggage onto a cart and bowed, “You are all ready, my Bey.”
Mohammed Bey bowed, “You take care of my battlemech, Ali. I should be back in April or May.” He handed his servant a tiny memory chip, “Please go to the nearest ComStar office and have these messages sent out.”
“Yes Master,” replied Ali. He placed the chip in his pocket. “I shall be heading to the battlemech hangars to take care of your Mongoose; I shall send these messages out first.”
“Allah protect you,” said As`Zaman.
Ali bowed once more, “Allah protect you, Master.”


2330 Hours

One of the shuttle’s attendants touched Mohammed Bey’s shoulder, “Sir, we have docked with the jumpship Pamir.” She smiled as the teen opened his eyes. “You may disembark now.” The teen had fallen asleep before the shuttle taxied to the runway.
“Thank you,” muttered As`Zaman. He rubbed his eyes and stretched before he removed his seat belt. Most of the passengers stood waiting for the doors to open. “I’m in no hurry just to stand in line.” He remained in his seat until the aisle cleared.
The attendant nodded, “That makes sense. You must travel often.”
“Yes, I do,” replied the teen. He stood up and pulled his kozak coat over his shoulders, taking time to peer through the window, “I have accommodations on the dropship Bohemian.” He showed her his boarding pass. “Which of the attached craft is it?”
“Your luggage shall be delivered to your room, sir,” said the attendant. “I believe the Bohemian is that large one.” She pressed her finger against the clear surface. The doorway to the jumpship opened, “Ah, there you are.”
The Azami teen bowed, “Thank you very much, you have been very considerate.”

Traversing the Pamir was very simple –there were few other passengers roaming the halls and through the large viewing windows, Mohammed Bey could see cargo containers transferred from a number of small shuttles to the huge, ovoid dropships attached to the Pamir’s hull. The teen encountered a crewman, “Pardon me, could you direct me to the dropship Hecate’s Laugh.”
The crewman bowed, “Of course, sir.” He pointed to an intersection. “Head down that corridor, make a left, follow the orange line to airlock number six.”
“You have saved me a lot of guesswork,” commented the teen. He bowed, “Thank you very much.”

Leila Tanaka brushed her long, midnight blue hair as the dryer blew warm air over her silky tresses. She had been aboard the Hecate’s Laugh for over sixty hours. Tanaka waited as the jumpship Pamir took on another dropship followed by what seemed to be endless deliveries of cargo and passengers. “I could have spent another day or two planetside instead of cooped up in my stateroom.” She shrugged, “I just would have gone shopping for more clothes.”
A soft chime indicated somebody at her door. Leila adjusted her bathrobe and frowned, “What now?” She peered at the small panel on the bulkhead next to the door and her jaw dropped. “Mohammed!” She slapped the access button, the door slid open and the Combine woman pounced on the teen, her arms embracing him in a hug.
As`Zaman blushed at the show of affection and said in a bland tone, “It’s only been two days.”
Tanaka punched the Azami youth’s shoulder, “It’s been almost three and this is a surprise –I thought you signed up with a mercenary unit.” She grasped the teen’s belt and pulled him into her room, “You’re going to have to tell me all about it.”
Mohammed Bey sat at the small desk in the cramped room while Tanaka sat on her bunk. “My new commander gave me my first assignment…” The young man went on to tell her about how impressed his new commander was in the youth’s Mongoose and the kind of training he and his fellow cadets had received.
“What’s your new commander like?” asked Leila. She went back to brushing her hair while Mohammed Bey related his story.
The teen laughed, “If I didn’t know, I would never have guessed Colonel Valborg was a mercenary –he was a fishmonger until he inherited a Jenner from a distant aunt.”
Tanaka laughed, “Oh no!” She shook her head, “Are you joking?”
“Not at all,” As`Zaman continued, “Valborg never considered a military career until after he inherited his battlemech. The funny thing is he operates his unit as if he were a shopkeeper –which may be a good thing.” His face became serious, “Leila, have you noticed the large number of military equipment traveling along the border?”
The Combine woman tilted her head, “Come to think of it, I have noticed some, as well as a lot of activity around the rented battlemech bays –do you think there is something going on?”
The teen nodded, “I woke up early this morning and did some research among the various hiring agencies –many of the higher-rated units have been signed up by both the Federated Suns and the Lyran Commonwealth.”
Leila paused for a moment to think about the information. “Do you think it may have something to do with the movement along the border?”
“It makes sense but I don’t have data from the FedSuns border.” As`Zaman powered up his compad, “The Draconis Combine closed its offices on Galatea years ago but they have to have agents keeping track of the various mercenary units and hiring patterns.”
“One has to assume that but I see you are assembling your own data, aren’t you?” The Asian woman put her brush away and leaned over to peer at the teen’s compad. “Aren’t those jumpship schedules?”
Mohammed Bey smiled, “They are. Over the next few months, several major transport companies shall be involved in shuttling literally hundreds of mercenary-owned dropships from Galatea.”
Leila sat back on her bunk and pondered what he told her. “Isn’t that normal?”
“Fortunately, Galatea Aerospace keeps meticulous records of travel in and out of this system and they are public, if you are willing to donate the time for research,” replied the teen. “The traffic we are experiencing now is only a slight increase –many of the mercenary contracts go active in March and a few have some travel to their staging areas. The records I have found appear to show a major increase of departing dropship and jumpship traffic prior to significant military operations.”
“Significant military operations, do you mean planetary assaults?” Tanaka was relaxed before their discussion, now she was very animated. “How far back did you research?”
As`Zaman enlarged the holographic display, “It took me a few hours but I managed to copy data from the last hundred and fifty years. The patterns are clear and I would say there was something major about to occur but I am not sure exactly where.”
“What more information would you need?”
“Put it this way, I could say that a dozen or so large mercenary units shall be transferred to the Draconis Combine border –they might be part of a large operation or may just be replacing regular units being drawn off to another front. What I have are just a couple of pieces to a far larger puzzle –I’d need information from at least a hundred transport companies, the traffic flow patterns of other borders and the disposition of various regiments.”
Tanaka frowned, “So you cannot determine what systems are going to be attacked?”
“I have insufficient data but I plan to gather more on the way to Rasalhague,” responded Mohammed Bey. He looked at the clock on the desk, “Are you hungry? I could use something to eat before I get some rest.” He shut down his compad.


0030 hours

“…then they asked me a series of unnecessary questions that were already answered if they bothered to take a few seconds to glance at the briefing materials,” said Mohammed Bey. He sat at a small table and sipped his tea along with Leila Tanaka and her newly hired battlemech technician, Anya Chernyakhovsky.
“Whew, it sounds like your new unit really needs your help,” commented Tanaka. “It makes me look forward to belonging to a House unit.”
As`Zaman shrugged, “At first glance, it appears the Kerensky Pride is made up of people that could not qualify to serve in a House unit.” He chuckled, “The meeting in the conference room kind of confirmed it –it was obvious that Captain Kagemori had little or no formal military training.”
“So they need both battlemech pilots and technicians?” asked Chernyakhovsky, she had paid little interest in the youth’s story until then.
As`Zaman laughed, “I’d say they need a little bit of everything –did I tell you that the old man, Captain Fong, commanded four Long Tom artillery pieces?”
Leila shook her head, “No, not yet.”
“He counts each as a separate battery, for some odd reason,” recounted the teen. “Anyway, Captain Fong wore an old Capellan military jumpsuit with the House patch removed –I could make out the faded material surrounding the triangular area.”
“It sounds like the unit is made up of mostly Capellans,” added Tanaka. “Don’t you find that odd?”
The teen grinned, “Not at all, most of the mechwarrors are dispossessed and probably work for food.”
Leila covered her mouth and stifled a laugh, “You are so mean!”
Anya shook her head, “I have to agree with my Bey, we in the Free Worlds League know how the Capellans abuse their own people so I don’t consider an amateur commander hiring from the bottom of the barrel odd at all.” She looked at Mohammed Bey, “What I find odd is why an overqualified, young noble with his own battlemech would bother looking at such a shoddy unit, let alone join it.”
The teen held up his hand, “Yes, yes, I know I could have signed up to a top quality mercenary regiment but then I would have been just another mechwarrior among hundreds. With a small, growing unit, I have the opportunity to make more of a name for myself instead of the unit’s name or its reputation defining my role –do you understand now?”
“I see your point,” replied Tanaka. “It makes sense coming from you –You’re the kind who would never join Wolf’s Dragoons or a Sword of Light regiment.”


Kahman Mercantile, Galaport Office, January 26, 3039, 0900 Hours

Aliyyah Waryaghar adjusted her veil before entering the waiting room. The young Azami woman looked around the room and saw the chairs, low table, coffee urn, pastries and pile of trade magazines.
“May I help you?” Shab`ha peeked over the counter from her seat. She sat in front of her terminal as she did six days a week.
Waryaghar bowed slightly, “Ah, the blessings of Allah upon you!” She approached the counter, “Perhaps you could help me, I am looking for somebody.”
Shab`ha stood up, “Of course, who are you looking for?” It was then she noticed that the visitor wore the traditional deep blue robes of a Berber woman, with only her eyes exposed.
“I am seeking Mohammed As`Zaman Bey –it is concerning a matter of great importance.”
Shab`ha started, “Didn’t you know? The young Bey joined a mercenary unit and left Galatea yesterday afternoon.”

_________________
[i]And Allah turned back the unbelievers in their rage; they did not obtain any advantage, and Allah sufficed the believers in fighting; and Allah is Strong, Mighty.[/i] from The Koran, 33rd Sura- The Clans


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PostPosted: Wed Jun 27, 2007 10:03 am 
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Commanding General
Commanding General

Joined: Sat Aug 09, 2003 10:05 pm
Posts: 1471
Location: Kingdom of Hawaii
“Our jumpship had to make more than one jump from deep space –that required the batteries be recharged by using the fusion engines. We needed to top off our water tanks when we got to Von Strang’s World. Ever cautious, the Friherr tried to contact somebody planetside for clearance and there was no response. What could we do? We set down beside a fog-enshrouded lake; the crew set up the pumps and ran out the hoses…”

Von Strang’s World, May 27, 3038, 1500 Hours

“Thank you for your invitation, your Excellency,” Mohammed Bey bowed to the Baron von Strang, the ruler of the world that bore his family’s name. The Azami teen looked at the tall, gaunt nobleman dressed in the formal regalia of an officer in the ancient Rim Worlds Republic military and recalled the Amaris Dragoons uniform he bought on Nashira. Both of the teens wore their formal Sun-Tzu Academy uniforms, although Tanaka wore the daisho –paired long and short samurai swords while As`Zaman chose to wear a curved falchion with a two-handed hilt set with ivory and gleaming gemstones.
“Indeed, worthy Bey,” said the Baron with a slight nod. “We seldom ever have guests, especially those of noble blood –you are quite welcome.” His gloved hand motioned to the train of horse-drawn carriages that waited for the Baron’s guests. “The journey to Amaris City is about two hours –we had best make our way.”
As`Zaman offered his hand to assist Leila Tanaka board their carriage, “Allow me.”
“Always so polite,” commented the Draconis Combine woman as she climbed the carriage’s folding steps.
The Azami teen smiled and bowed, he looked at the horse-mounted escort and noted that at a closer glance, the neat embroidered uniforms were somewhat worn and faded, as if many years old. When he entered the carriage, he noticed that the seats and interior were clean but with a detectable musty scent. A finger swiped along an upper corner revealed a wad of dust accumulated over decades. “I guess this carriage doesn’t get much use.”
The ride over poorly maintained, overgrown dirt roads through many kilometers of heavy woods and sparse, tilled fields was uneventful. Mohammed Bey watched the bleak countryside for half an hour before he closed his eyes and took a nap. Tanaka pulled the minicomp from her pocket and used it to take a few images, including one of her traveling companion while he slept.
As`Zaman slowly opened his eyes. He felt Tanaka touching his shoulder and he rubbed his eyes, “Alright, I’m awake, Leila.”
“We’re almost there,” said Tanaka. “Man, this place is a dump.”
The young man peered out the curtained window and got his first glimpse of Amaris City. To call the almost medieval walled town a city was a bit of an exaggeration –the collection of primitive buildings and dwellings that surrounded the hill upon which Baron von Strang’s keep stood probably did not have a population of more than fifteen thousand. There were sparse slums surrounding the outside of the wall but Mohammed Bey could not see a single human –it was as if the populace was in hiding.
“The people here must be very shy,” As`Zaman commented. “It looks like Von Strang’s world is definite evidence that the Periphery is where technology goes to die.”
“You may be jumping to conclusions, Mohammed,” Leila replied. “This is definitely no Botany Bay but many communities across the known universe have chosen to ban pollution-producing vehicles, fuels and other practices that harm the environment.”
“By the way large swaths of forest have been stripped of trees and the appearance of at least one chimney on every building, I would say that Amaris City would be considered pre-industrial,” the teen observed. “Look at the gray haze over the town.”
“Okay, I’ll give you that one…” conceded the young woman. She looked out the other window, “This place reminds me of one of those holovids set in medieval Europe.”
As`Zaman nodded, “The town is walled –is that to keep enemies out or the populace in?”
The young woman chuckled, “Our escorts only wear sabers so I suppose there isn’t much outside of the wall to be afraid of.” Leila sat back on the soft cushioned seat, “I’m starving –what do you think they’ll be serving for dinner?”
“By the look of this place, I’d say some form of domesticated animal,” he guessed. “They would have hard bread and some vegetables, most likely preserved since the current weather seems too cold for fresh produce.” He counted his fingers, “Soup, salad, main course, one or two side dishes, a dessert and some manner of wine, tea, coffee or other drink, although from what I’ve seen so far, beer would be my first guess for a local product.”
“You seem pretty confident,” Tanaka said. It sometimes annoyed her when he spoke with such authority –it bothered her even more when he was right.
The teen shrugged, “The Baron is a noble –he may be provincial but he is obliged to impress another noble. That makes it all a matter of pride.”

The line of carriages clattered along the wide main cobblestone street that passed through the town center. The few people encountered scattered to avoid the path of trotting horses and rumbling vehicles, they would gape for a moment before bowing, their heads humbly bent down until the riders had passed. Mohammed Bey tried to gauge the attitude of the people as they passed but the faces he saw looked devoid of emotion.
“The people seem polite,” As`Zaman said. “They certainly aren’t cheering nor are they chasing us with pitchforks.” He commented, “Homespun clothes –I have doubts that there are any factories on this world.” The teen shook his head, “Not one motorized vehicle in sight –I bet the last one was scrapped centuries ago.”
The ride up the winding road to Baron von Strang’s keep gave As`Zaman the opportunity to view the town dubbed “Amaris City” out of stubborn loyalty by the von Strang line, although the name Amaris fit in a cruel and ironic way. Amaris was the treacherous Emperor who destroyed the Terran Hegemony and nearly reduced the Inner Sphere to a new Dark Age. Through the haze caused by thousands of smoking chimneys the teen could barely discern the shingled rooftops of countless primitive buildings and houses.
The guests gathered in the courtyard at the foot of a large, marble stairs that led up to the heavy wooden doors of the keep.
After they disembarked from their carriage, Leila and Mohammed Bey joined Kapten Britt Anderssen and Sergeant Ingve Nykvist. The sergeant wore his Rasalhague military uniform, which resembled the Draconis Combine uniform in pattern, fashioned from blue-gray material. The kapten wore a flowing gown of sky-blue fabric with intricate embroidery in gold thread. Her long, blonde tresses braided and festooned with gold filigree, she was the very image of a Viking princess.
“It is a pity the Overste declined the invitation,” Nykvist said. Despite how primitive the town may have been, the Baron’s keep was indeed an impressive structure.
Anderssen smiled, “Our Friherr is a soldier first –he has always been uncomfortable in protocol situations and sends representatives, such as myself, in his stead.”


1900 Hours

The guests sat at a long, candlelit dining table, a staff of uniformed, bland-faced servants diligently removed empty plates and brought each serving with mechanical efficiency.
Baron Stepan von Strang presided at the head of the sumptuous feast; the gaunt nobleman asked his guests about the current state of the Houses of the Inner Sphere and cautiously responded to inquiries about his own holdings. In addition to the visitors from the dropship Blood Ember the baron’s guests included Lord Boris Rostov, a burly and dour man with holdings to the south of Amaris City and Doctor Anton Saranoff, whose educated discourse helped the evening pass with lively and interesting exchanges.
“Your Excellency,” Mohammed Bey began, “I was wondering about what kind of trade you might have between your system and those with the Inner Sphere, if any. What do you have in the manner of export goods?”
Before von Strang responded, Saranoff volunteered to answer, “If you must know, this world is self-sufficient and produces all that we need.” He smiled and raised his crystal wine glass in salute to the Baron, “Our subjects are simple people with few demands for excessive consumer goods.”
“I see,” As`Zaman said, with a nod, “my uncle Ahmed’s family engages in trade as well as salvage so please bear with me if I look for possible business opportunities.”
Von Strang graciously bowed his head, “It is perfectly understandable, Mohammed Bey.” He looked at Dr. Saranoff, “Our young guest was generous enough to present me with a gift of ten kilograms of fine, roasted coffee beans –we shall enjoy some of it during dessert.”
“Fresh coffee?” Lord Rostov licked his lips. “This is an unexpected treat.” He motioned for a servant to remove the plate before him.
“This salvage expedition for which you are traveling so far,” von Strang inquired, “where did you say you were headed?”
“Haven’t I mentioned it?” Mohammed Bey motioned for a servant to remove his empty plate. “A system called Midgard, I believe.” He waved off a servant offering to fill the empty glass at his setting with beer then looked across the table to Tanaka and winked.
Dr. Saranoff suddenly glanced over to von Strang for a moment. The baron merely nodded.
“Ah, I believe that there was some major fighting in that system,” von Strang commented. “The soldiers of Emperor Amaris the Liberator wiped out a small contingent of rebels there.”
“Is that so?” Kapten Anderssen’s interest was piqued. “Would your Excellency have any information about the action?”
Saranoff shook his head, “Unfortunately, milady, most records of that incident disappeared long ago.” He smiled, “I would be happy to let you peruse the archives if you wish.”
Anderssen’s face brightened, “Would you do that, Doctor? I will be very grateful.”
“Of course,” Dr. Saranoff replied with a nod. He closed his eyes and sniffed the air, “Ah, the welcome aroma of fresh coffee…” The guests at the table turned to see the double doors from the kitchen swing open and a servant carrying a silver tray with a smoking samovar strode into the dining room with stately grace.
“You are as sharp as ever, Herr Doktor,” von Strang commented. The servants poured steaming coffee from the samovar’s tap into large porcelain mugs. Mohammed Bey was used to a thicker brew served in a tiny, palm-sized cup –he self-consciously dumped several heaping spoonfuls of golden sugar crystals and a generous amount of heavy cream into his coffee and stirred it, careful not to spill the contents. Leila put a hand over her lips to hide her laugh –she preferred her coffee plain and waited for her brew to cool.
Lord Boris turned his full attention to his own mug of hot brew, sprinkling a sparing amount of sugar into the tall mug, holding the container under his nose and inhaling the scent as if the act of drinking coffee were a rare experience.
Saranoff meticulously measured each teaspoon of sugar and used his soup spoon to measure three portions of cream which he added to his coffee and gracefully stirred the hot beverage with surgical skill.
“These archives,” As`Zaman said as he looked over his mug, “how soon could we get to see them?”
“I am afraid the soonest would be tomorrow,” Saranoff replied. “My keep is several kilometers from the city and I don’t plan to leave until dawn.”
The baron sipped his coffee and raised an eyebrow, “Does that mean you will be providing rooms for our guests at your manor near the Republic Gate?”
“Yes, your Excellency,” the doctor responded. “I was going to make the offer to our honored guests after dessert.” He looked over to Kapten Anderssen and bowed his head, “Please accept my humble offer –you won’t find an inn or hotel in the entire city as comfortable as my manor and as the baron is aware, I am always ready to receive guests.”
The Rasalhague woman was caught off guard, “Uhm, why, of course, Dr. Saranoff, we cannot possibly refuse such generosity.”
Lord Boris sipped his coffee and made a face, as if he had tasted something bitter. “How long did our guests say they would be visiting?” He seemed to direct the question at Tanaka, who sat across the table.
“A week to ten days,” replied Leila. “It depends on how smoothly the Blood Ember’s operations are executed.”
“Of course you have communication with your dropship, should anything unusual happen,” said the doctor. He took a long sip of his coffee and smiled.
“Communications? Yes, of course,” Tanaka replied. She wondered why such a question would even be asked.


Doctor Saranoff’s Mansion, 2130 Hours

The elderly butler casually poured a bucket hot water into the large, marble tub while Mohammed Bey calmly watched. A succession of uniformed servants brought the pails of steaming water into the private room so that the young Azami nobleman could enjoy a hot bath. When As`Zaman mentioned piping hot water into the mansion the same way they had cold water, the butler merely smiled and nodded and attentively executed his task.
As`Zaman pulled the thick cloth robe around his shoulders –the night turned cold and dense clouds gathered in the skies. “Great, it looks like it’s going to rain.” He noted the cast iron stove beside the canopied bed and the nearby bin filled with split logs. “Unbelievable.”
Leila stuck her head through the door, “Ooh, nice room!” The Draconis Combine woman stepped into As`Zaman’s suite and found a chair. She too, wore a bathrobe and comfortable indoor shoes. “I see you’re waiting for your bath as well.”
“Yes, I am presently enjoying the rustic ambience that our host has thoughtfully provided,” Mohammed Bey said.
Tanaka covered her mouth when she laughed, “That’s very subtle.”
“Well, I’m going to be less subtle and ask you to leave,” Mohammed Bey told her. “I know taking baths with other people is common on Luthien but I prefer my privacy.” He bowed to Leila and motioned to the door.
“I can take a hint,” Tanaka said. She stuck out her tongue at the Azami youth before she bowed, “You’re no fun.”
As`Zaman shrugged, “Yes, of course –I’m simply a horrid human being and the angels weep for me.” He watched Leila as she left his suite and closed the door behind her.
“My Lord, your bath is ready,” one of the servants announced. He led the other four servants from the room, “If my Lord requires anything, you may summon a servant by pulling on the damask streamer beside the door.”
The teen bowed, “Very well, thank you very much.” He stepped into the bath and touched the steaming water with his fingertips. “Perfect.” He looked over the ornate shelf beside the tub of ivory enamel and opened a jar of bath salts, “Very fancy –I’m sure Leila will enjoy all this pampering.”

Mohammed Bey opened one eye. The Azami teenager had been asleep for an undetermined amount of time –he could see only darkness through the shuttered window to his right and on his left, something or someone moving in the darkness near the open door to his bedroom. Instinctively, As`Zaman slid from under the covers and ducked beside the window, taking up his sheathed falchion as he pressed himself into the dark corner. There was an intruder in his room. The soft, thick rug muffled any footfalls the stranger may have made and it rendered Mohammed Bey’s bare feet totally silent. He took a slow, deep breath and waited for the intruder to feel his way through the darkness to the now empty bed. As the shape bent over the side of the bed to examine what he assumed to be a sleeping teen, As`Zaman stepped from the shadows, his sheathed falchion swung in a wide arc and clipped the intruder’s left temple. The stranger staggered toward the door, gasping in pain.
The Azami teen leaped onto the soft bed and rolled behind the moaning figure, ready to take another swing. “Don’t move!” he hissed, wary that the intruder might not be alone. Despite the darkness, Mohammed Bey could discern that the intruder wore the uniform of one of his host’s butlers. “Man, I knew this was too good to be true.” The servant lunged at the teen, who easily dodged to one side, his heavy sheathed blade flashed in a wide circle and sent the attacker spinning to collide with the wall and collapse in a heap. From the doorway another servant opened the hood of a lantern and momentarily blinded the youth. As`Zaman squinted and stepped back, falchion raised to parry any attacks as his eyes grew accustomed to the sudden light. He saw a small device on the floor that the first servant had dropped –it was a crude, compact autoinjector, probably the most modern example of technology he had seen on this planet. The second servant lunged the same way the first had –he too had an autoinjection device in his hand. Fortunately, the small device was designed to administer small doses of medicine to a willing or unconscious individual and wasn’t an efficient weapon. The young mechwarrior also noted that the man he faced wasn’t much of a fighter so he pulled the curved blade free of its ornate sheath.
“I suggest you drop that device,” As`Zaman warned, “because I am very good with this weapon and I can tell that you are no warrior.” He dropped the empty sheath and gripped the long hilt with both hands and hefted the heavy blade over his head, “You have five seconds before I kill you.”
The servant froze and sank to his knees, “Mercy, my Lord!” He tossed the device to Mohammed Bey’s feet. “Please, do not harm me –I was commanded by my master!”
The teen nodded and shouldered his falchion, “Doctor Saranoff had you do this?” The other servant moaned and began to rise, As`Zaman motioned to him, “Tend to him. Tell me what is in those injectors.”
The servant looked his partner over, helped him to a sitting position and leaned him against the wall, the first sported a bruise just above his temple, beginning to discolor. The second servant looked up, “Those things,” he indicated the devices. “They have a strong sedative.”
“You have done this before,” Mohammed Bey suddenly realized. “What is Saranoff planning?”
“Our master,” the servant replied, “he…he likes to question strangers.” As`Zaman could sense that the servant was not comfortable with the cross examination –especially not from a young man with a two-handed war falchion. “Tie your partner up –use the cord from the drapes.” After tying up the other servant, As`Zaman hastily dressed and collected the palm injectors.
“You guys relax.” He pocketed the injectors as well as the additional charges of sedative and antidote the servants carried and chuckled to himself as he headed to the hall door.
He locked the room and headed along the ornate hallway to Tanaka’s suite. As the teen approached he noted that the door to Leila’s room was ajar. He stepped up to the door and listened for a moment. His brow knotted when he heard voices from further in the suite –they had already gotten to Tanaka. He slipped into the room and secured the door behind him before he drew his falchion and pushed the boudoir door open. Tanaka’s bedroom was lit; Leila was unconscious on her bed, wrapped in the thick bedclothes as if readied for carrying. The two male servants were busily perusing Tanaka’s luggage with their backs to the door and didn’t notice Mohammed Bey standing in the doorway, sword ready.
When one of the servants held up a pair of Tanaka’s underwear the teen decided it was time to end their party. “Definitely not your color.” He grinned as the two intruders jumped and recoiled when they realized that he had caught them by surprise. “I know you have palm injectors –you can go ahead and give each other a shot.” The servants looked at each other nervously and complied.
It took just over two minutes for the servants to finally collapse from the sitting position as he guarded them. Mohammed Bey prodded them with his blade and satisfied, proceeded to administer the antidote to his friend. As he waited for Leila to regain consciousness, he heard somebody test the suite’s door. The young Azami noble extinguished the lights in the room and stood beside the bedroom door, falchion in hand. When somebody knocked at the hall door, As`Zaman strode to the entrance and opened it, blade drawn back over his shoulder for a strike. “Oh, it’s you, Kapten.”
Britt Anderssen and Sergeant Nykvist stood warily in the hallway; the Kapten hefted a brass candle holder that showed signs of violent wear. Britt nodded, “It is good to see you safe, Mohammed Bey –a small group of servants tried to…”
As`Zaman pulled the two mechwarriors into the suite, “Yes, yes, I already know.” He quickly glanced down either side of the door before closing it, “Tanaka is unconscious, I have two servants tied up in my room, two more drugged here.” He took a deep breath. “I’ve managed to question one of the servants and it appears that our host likes to interrogate his rare guests.”
“I’ll personally cut that leering swine’s throat!” Anderssen swore. She had barely managed to fight off the two men who snuck into her room. Nykvist had already subdued the pair of intruders who attempted to drug him when he burst into Britt’s room to lend her aid.
“Listen, I only saw two men who might pass as guards in this mansion,” Mohammed Bey said. “Kapten, you and the Sergeant have to get back to the Blood Ember –I shall not leave without Tanaka.”
Andersson shook her head, “You risk too much if you are captured.” She insisted, “You have to leave her.”
“I have given her an antidote,” As`Zaman replied. “She will regain consciousness soon, I’m sure of it –we’ll be right behind you.”
“She’ll just slow you down,” said Britt. “Are you sure?”
“Just go,” the teen declared firmly. “I’m not leaving my friend.”


Dropship Hecate’s Laugh, January 26, 3039, 0330 Hours

Mohammed Bey sat back in his chair, took a puff from his pipe and looked at the chronometer display on his compad, “Ah, look at the time –I should get some rest.”
“Oh, you aren’t finished with your story,” Anya Chernyakhovsky looked disappointed. “You have to tell me how it ends!”
“Do you really want to hear how it ends?” As`Zaman stood up and stretched. Tanaka had gone to her stateroom before he started his story, hours ago. He was feeling very cavalier. “Why don’t you come to my room and I’ll finish it.” He grasped a padded handhold and offered Anya his hand.
The young battlemech technician blushed, took the offered hand and smiled, “Alright.” She stood up and steadied herself, they were still in zero-gravity, waiting for their jumpship to leave the system after it took on dropships and loads of cargo.
Anya was twenty years old and had no illusions –the young man was cute and had a way with words. Spending the night in a first-class stateroom would be like frosting on a cake –it beat her cramped economy cabin and had a full-sized private shower. All she had to do is figure out As`Zaman’s relationship with her current employer, Leila Tanaka. The two seemed like good friends but on a professional level. It wasn’t strictly professional since Tanaka had all sorts of expensive gifts that Mohammed Bey had given her over time. If they were really close, Leila would be spending the night in Mohammed’s room instead of a lowly tech. She shrugged mentally, Tanaka only had nice things to say about the Azami teen when she asked about him and made no indication that she had any kind of claim on him so… It would be much easier to apologize afterward.
They floated through the maze of passageways through the Pamir and into the Bohemian, the dropship on which Mohammed Bey had booked passage. As she followed the teen along the curved hall to As`Zaman’s stateroom, Chernyakovsky wondered if she just might earn a few expensive gifts for herself. At least she wouldn’t be bored.

_________________
[i]And Allah turned back the unbelievers in their rage; they did not obtain any advantage, and Allah sufficed the believers in fighting; and Allah is Strong, Mighty.[/i] from The Koran, 33rd Sura- The Clans


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PostPosted: Wed Aug 01, 2007 11:31 am 
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Commanding General
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Joined: Sat Aug 09, 2003 10:05 pm
Posts: 1471
Location: Kingdom of Hawaii
Von Strang’s World, May 28, 3038, 0300 Hours

The couple dashed along the twilit cobblestone streets and stopped at the mouth of a narrow alleyway.
“Can you hear them?” Leila Tanaka checked the ammo clip in her semiautomatic pistol before sliding it back into the grip. She had two full clips in her belt pouch and the one clip in her pistol had five rounds remaining.
Mohammed As`Zaman Bey held up a hand, “Yes, they are about half a kilometer behind us.” He hefted his wide-bladed falchion and glanced at the black streaks of blood that stained the polished metal, “It’s a good thing the palace guards didn’t carry anything heavier than pistols.” The teen looked up and squinted at the stars, “We have to leave Amaris City –I believe there is some form of jamming equipment deployed since I can’t contact our dropship.”
“We should have listened to the Overste’s warning,” muttered Leila. “That Dr. Saranoff guy is a raving lunatic.”
Mohammed Bey chuckled, “He seemed so relaxed and cultured at dinner…” The Azami youth grasped Tanaka’s free hand and whispered, “We have to keep moving.” They crept silently through the alleyway and emerged onto another twisting cobblestone street.
“I have to catch my breath for a moment,” Leila said. She sat on a wooden bench while As`Zaman kept watch. They had been invited to dinner by the reclusive Baron von Strang while their dropship, the Blood Ember, was grounded less than ten kilometers away, filling its tanks with water. After dinner, one of the Baron’s friends, a Doctor Saranoff, offered to take in the visitors and allow them access to his archives. Everything seemed normal until Saranoff’s servants snuck into the guestrooms and attempted to subdue the visitors. Unable to reason with the crazed noble, the two teenagers literally cut their way past several guards and made their way down the twisting road that led from the baronial keep to the surrounding town.
The streets of Amaris City were clear –only the Baron’s guards patrolled the unlit collection of small buildings at night and so far, the pair of teens managed to elude the bands of three or four guardsmen whose jackbooted feet marched over the cobbles.
“There’s a five-meter wall surrounding this place,” whispered Tanaka, “how are we going to get over it?”
As`Zaman sniffed, “I’ll worry about that when I reach the wall.” He pulled Leila into the shadows and hissed, “There’s a patrol just around the corner.”
“What do you want to do?”
Mohammed Bey tilted his head and whispered, “There is another patrol approaching from the keep.” He motioned to the blades tucked under her sash, “I suggest we dispatch the closer group quietly.”
The couple surprised the patrol and in seconds, four bloody bodies lay on the cold cobblestones; Tanaka wiped her katana on the thick wool of one of the dead guards’ coats. “Could you at least take the chocolates out of your holster and replace it with one of their pistols?”
As`Zaman frowned, “Why bother? I’m not a good shot, these weapons are antiques and if I put my chocolate bars in my pockets they’ll be ruined.” He dragged one limp body into an alleyway and wiped his hands.
The Draconis Combine woman rolled her eyes, “We should get out of here –in case we were heard.” They continued unopposed and reached the wall.
“If you asked me,” mused the Azami teen, “I would say that this wall was designed to keep people or something out.” He walked up one of the many flights of stairs that led up to the top of the wall.
“That doesn’t make any sense,” commented Leila, who followed closely behind. “I would say the people here were like prisoners but the way these stairs are placed, somebody could leave if they wanted.”
The stairs led to a covered portion of the wall that encircled Amaris City. As`Zaman looked to the left and right, “All clear on the wall.” He could see the three-meter wide walkway and the crenellated stone ramparts that faced the heavy woods that surrounded the wall. “Very odd…” He drew his portable compad from his tunic pocket and activated it. “I’m still being jammed.” He walked to the battlements and looked down, “Smooth outer wall –I was right.” The teen searched for a way down but could not find one. “I think I saw a clothesline strung up across an alley.”
Shouts and whistles sounded.
“They found the patrol,” Tanaka commented. She peered around nervously, “They seem to be following but in no hurry to catch us.”
As`Zaman nodded, “I have to agree –the patrol we encountered was most likely just a coincidence.” He looked out over the shingled rooftops. “They seemed oblivious about us, lacking even rudimentary communication equipment –I have seen low-tech communities but the great number of darkened windows here isn’t because the people here turn in early, I believe this town lacks a general power grid.”

Jumpship Pamir, February 9, 3039, 1200 Hours

“Are you still telling her that ridiculous story?” Leila sounded more irritated than usual. She wandered into the Pamir’s grav deck dining area and found Anya and Mohammed Bey where she left them hours earlier after having breakfast.
As`Zaman paused to light his pipe, looked up at his friend and leaned back in his chair, “Oh, she knows I’m just making it up.” He leaned across the table and pretended to whisper, “By the way, we never went to Von Strang’s World.” He sat back once more and gave Tanaka a wink.
Chernyakovsky giggled and nodded, “Once he started talking about vampires, I knew it couldn’t be true -Carrying chocolates instead of a pistol!” The young woman laughed and idly stirred her drink, “Mohammed has such an imagination –he should be a trivid writer.”
Tanaka changed the subject, “I’ve heard that we should be jumping in a few hours –it’s about time.” She sat down, drew a cigarette from a silver case and held it between her slim fingers, “A light?”
The Azami teen dug a hand into his coat pocket and pulled out a lighter. He held the glowing element under the tip of Leila’s cigarette and she took a series of short puffs.
“Thanks.”
Mohammed Bey winked and powered up his compad, “According to the schedule, we shall be jumping to Skye then Unukalhai then Ryde, making up our waiting time here by taking charges in Skye and Ryde.” He looked up at Anya, “And we part company when we reach the Rasalhague system of Orestes.”
“Did you say Orestes? I’ve heard a little about that world,” Leila said. She suddenly dropped her annoyed disposition and put a hand on As`Zaman’s shoulder, “Please say we’re visiting the planet for a couple of days!”
Anya chimed in, “Yes, please! I’d love to do some shopping.” She flashed her best smile at him and batted her eyelids.
Mohammed Bey pretended to concentrate on the jump schedules on his compad display and replied with a noncommittal “I’ll think about it.”
The two women hugged the Azami teen, knowing that a “maybe” response from him invariably meant “yes.”


Orestes, February 24, 3039, 1430 Hours

The gleaming limousine glided to a halt before the majestic building with glossy ceramic-tiled walls and ornate, etched windows. The elderly doorman, in his embroidered uniform with polished brass buttons, opened the passenger door with a gloved hand and stood at attention as the first passenger, a slender woman in a flowing silk dress and white furs, a veil over her face concealed her features and covered her hair. Another slim woman, slightly taller and wearing a clinging bolero jacket and calf-length skirt made from the hide of an ocean-going reptile, the scales reflected scintillating prismatic patterns as she moved. The women paused on the curb and waited for the third member of their party, a young man in a leather overcoat with a tall fleece cap on his head. He emerged from the limousine’s passenger compartment with the demeanor of a Babylonian king. Flanked by the two young ladies, the young man strode through the double doors while the driver directed the porters in collecting several articles of luggage and shopping bags. The doorman stood aside and held his salute until the parade of guests and porters entered the building.
“Welcome to the Hotel Gothenburg,” the desk clerk said in a friendly voice. He wore the elegant, formal attire demanded of a five-star rated hotel.
“You have reservations under As`Zaman, Sherif of Barheilabad,” responded the teen. His usual, calm voice was more businesslike, it was similar to his “battle voice”, but without the rapid, staccato pace.
At first glance, the clerk saw an expensively-dressed young man. At the tone of his voice, the man at the front desk scanned his display for the data, “Yes, my lord! Two rooms for you and two guests.” He pushed a button and a bellhop pushing a sturdy brass cart responded. “Please show His Lordship and his guests to their rooms.” He handed the Head Porter the set of keychips and bowed to As`Zaman and the two veiled women in his entourage, “If there is anything you may require, please feel free to contact our desk, my lord.”
Mohammed Bey nodded in silent acknowledgement as he followed the train of porters and bellhops.

“The ladies are assigned rooms 2507 and 2509,” As`Zaman instructed the Head Porter.
“Yes, my lord,” replied the senior baggage carrier. His stride and overall bearing became crisper and resembled the snappy motions of a drill team soldier after he saw the young lord tip each bellhop what appeared to be a day’s wages in wads of crisp Rasalhague currency. The Head Porter made a mental note to give the guest his card with an assurance that if he needed anything, it would be provided without delay.

“After I take a shower, I’m going to rest for a while,” Mohammed Bey said. His compad linked with the planet’s satellite communication net and he spoke with Tanaka as he set the temperature for his bath. “Dinner -Time?” He suddenly shifted to the clipped dialect of Azami Battle Language. Like many old languages of Terra, the ancient Amazighen tongue could be described as possessing elegant rhetoric, almost poetic. The aboriginal North Africans were always described as a warlike race, which resisted every foreign incursion for millennia. Amazighen warriors developed a shortened version of their everyday spoken language so it could be used as in short and efficient military commands. This battle language survived among the various tribes that made up the Azami people who left Terra and settled in several systems.
“Uhm, one nine zero zero…” Leila said. She sat in her suite’s brightly lit bathroom, organizing her three dozen or so containers, bottles and applicators used for her makeup, lotions and perfume.
“Good, As`Zaman out.”

One of the handful of bellhops let out a low whistle as he counted out the tip he received. He stepped into the lift along with his fellow employees and smiled as they joked about their plans concerning their sudden windfall.
“Man, I am going to get good and drunk tonight!”
“Did any of you check the register? I’m gonna be sure I’m on duty when he checks out.”
“Were those two his wives? Geez, I’m still drooling!”
The Head Porter shook his head and chuckled, “You get a guest like that once in your career –twice if you’re lucky.” He kissed the roll of paper money the guest handed him and tucked it into his pocket before returning to his station.
When the lift reached the lobby, one of the bellhops pulled a compad from his pocket and began a data search. “I’m going on break for a few minutes –I have to make a call.” After the bell desk waved him off, he stopped at the front desk and took a quick peek at the guest register before he ducked into a communications booth and completed analyzing the data on his display. Satisfied that his information was accurate, he connected his compad to the satellite network, took a quick look around to see if anyone was observing him, and whispered into the microphone. “This is Reitz, listen to me, I just sent you some data –you get it? Yes, he’s here, just checked in and should be here for a week. Yes, I’ll try to gather more data to see what kind of plans he has. Has the price on his head changed? Great!” He powered down his compad and returned to the bell desk, a much happier man.


Erinyes City, Orestes Ronin Ninja Academy, 1600 Hours

Andreas Olofsson yawned and took a swig of his multivitamin energy shake. He sat at the Orestes Ronin Ninja Academy’s welcome desk and watched the fifth episode of the “Lightning Feet of Justice” tri-vid series for the umpteenth time. Olofsson wore the Academy’s distinctive black uniform with red satin lining with his name clearly stitched over his left breast pocket and across his broad shoulders in red satin as well. Of the planet’s dozen or so ninja academies, Erinyes City was home to five of them –this particular academy being the largest as it had a very popular children’s training program.
“Andreas!”
Olofsson gulped down a mouthful of shrimp flavored chips and pulled his feet off the reception desk. “What is it, Arne?”
From one of the offices, the portly Arne Borgstrom, the academy’s deputy sensei and 25th level black belt, waddled down the hall waving several pages fresh off his printer. “Finally, our proud dojo has received its first official ninja mission!”
Arne sprang to his feet and almost dropped his energy shake. “A real ninja mission –are you sure? I mean, the last mission we received entailed washing several dozen ground vehicles over a weekend. This had better be the real thing.”
“It is! I just downloaded it from the NinjaNet,” Borgstrom said. “It seems on of our nobles has put out an open contract on some rogue assassin –some foreign guy. One of the Rasalhague Ninja Federation operatives managed to track him down!”
Olofsson scratched his chin, “Wait a minute –if it was advertised on the NinjaNet, there’s going to be half a dozen academies going after the guy, right?”
Arne made a face, “As if Viking Ninjutsu Dojo or the Space Assassin Guild could compete with us.” He laughed, “At least our Academy has a complete set of all the original Rasalhague Ninjistu Federation lesson tri-vids, not pirated copies.”
“Well, Deputy Sensei, do I rally our shadow warriors for the briefing?” Olofsson sat at his terminal and began going over the academy’s membership roster.
“Yes but make sure they have their dues paid up and have signed wavers,” the deputy Sensei reminded. “And only those eighteen or older –you know the hassle with parental permission and I’m not in the mood for all that paperwork.”


Erinyes City, Grand Dragon Celestial Ninjutsu Dojo, 1600 Hours

The darkened halls of the teak-lined dojo were as silent as the wisps of incense smoke that rose from the burning joss sticks at the corner altar. On the practice floor of smooth pinewood, twenty black-clad figures, arrayed in four lines of five, stood at attention as their kneeling Sensei read from a sheet of paper by candle light. Behind him, on the bare, white wall, a slightly blurry projected image appeared of a young man standing at the local spaceport’s Customs station. “He is in his late teen to early twenties, stands between one point six-five to one point seven meters, weighs between fifty-five and sixty kilograms, slim build, swarthy skin, brown eyes, black hair…” The Sensei looked up at his students, “He is known to be skilled at the use of the Viking war sword.” The middle-aged Richard Bildt’s eyes scanned the assembly, of the many schools of ninjutsu; his was the only serious dojo on Orestes. “Each team leader shall receive a briefing packet with all the data we’ve collected so far –make sure your compads are set to receive transmissions at all times..” He bowed slightly, “Are there any questions?”
One student bowed, “Sensei, I realize that this is our honorable dojo’s first serious mission and of over a hundred students, I see that only a handful have been chosen with representing our dojo…” He paused to form the question in his mind before speaking. “That means we are being paid… isn’t that right, Sensei?”
Blindt smiled and nodded, his ice-blue eyes seemed to flash in the flickering candle light. “Indeed, Ninja Granbom, the reward for success is over a hundred thousand in Rasalhague currency.” He paused as his low whistles and murmurs of astonishment swept through the gathering. “Even more, our dojo would gain the honor and glory in vanquishing an enemy –one skilled as a warrior and assassin.”


Orestes System, February 25, 0400 Hours

Aboard a packet shuttle inbound to Orestes, Aliyyah Waryaghar studied the data her state-of-art compad displayed. “The fool makes no attempt to hide his identity.” She easily tracked her quarry, the truant Mohammed As`Zaman Bey, rumored to have deserted the Azami to pursue a career as a mercenary. The young woman traveled wearing the long, body-covering tan abaya with a gray burqa that covered her features. Even her hands were sheathed in delicate cotton gloves. She traced the expenditures As`Zaman made through his Bank of Barheilabad credit chip and shook her head, “Designer stores, hotel rooms, five-star restaurants…he lives like a Grand Sultan!” Her compad tapped into the Orestes comsat system and a symbol appeared on the upper right-hand corner of her screen, indicating that a reference to her quarry had turned up. She accessed the information and gasped, “Why is Mohammed Bey listed by the Rasalhague Ninja Federation?” Waryaghar activated her translation program and studied the announcements listed on NinjaNet. “By Allah, those idiots are hunting him as well!” Unable to do anything until her shuttle landed, Aliyyah scanned over the dozen or so sites and forums that discussed the sizable reward offered for the capture and delivery one Mohammed As`Zaman Bey. The Azami woman wondered how this pampered, genteel noble could be mistaken for a dangerous assassin. She opened the dossier file on Mohammed Bey and went over it once more. “Between the ages of eight and twelve, Mohammed’s primary tutor was Zoltán Farkas, All Andurien Sabre Champion from 3011 to 3015.” She pondered over the information for a moment. “Farkas was released from employment for unspecified reasons.” This was something she had missed when she first perused As`Zaman’s dossier. “I’m going to have to go over this stuff more carefully –obviously there’s more to him than meets the eye.”


Hotel Gothenburg, 1830 Hours

Leila Tanaka sat before the large mirror in her bath and brushed her long, silken tresses. She still dyed her waist-length dark blue as she did since that vacation in New Anaheim, so long ago when she and Mohammed Bey attended the Sun Tzu School of combat. Tanaka’s face had the delicate, classical Japanese features one could describe as elfin.
“Anya,” Leila called to her battlemech technician.
Chernyakovsky walked into the room, “Yes, my Lady?” Anya wore a form-fitting silk brocade gown purchased earlier that afternoon; she was getting ready for dinner as well.
Leila turned around, “What color lipstick should I wear, the Mediterranean Coral or the Nebula Mauve?” She held up a pair of tubes and showed them to Anya. “What do you think?”
The technician blinked, “Um, alright…” She looked at the tubes and stepped back. “I’m not sure.”
“Which one do you think Mohammed will prefer?” Tanaka’s eyes searched the dozens of cosmetic containers that cluttered the black marble countertop. She sighed and looked at her reflection in the mirror. “I really want to look me best tonight –it seems like months since he’s kissed me.”
“Uh, my Lady…” Anya fidgeted as she searched for the right words. “You’ve been traveling with him all this time and he hasn’t told you what he prefers?”
Tanaka shook her head, “No, for an Azami he’s very easygoing –I would have thought he’d be far stricter when dealing with women. Instead, he behaves like an indulgent brother.”
“Don’t you have any idea why he’s like that with you?” Anya caught herself too late and wondered if Leila would suspect that she had a different relationship with the Azami teen.
The Combine woman turned her head slightly and looked over her shoulder at Anya. “Why do you say that?”
Chernyakovsky giggled nervously, “Oh… you know, you being a fellow mechwarrior and all. I’m just a servant in his eyes.”
“Oh!” Tanaka straightened in her chair. “I never looked at in that way.” She suddenly began to feel jealous of her tech. “Come to think of it, he does seem to flirt with you, telling you his silly stories and like to… Hey, is there something I should know?”
The tech began to blush, “Oh, no, my Lady!” Anya decided to steer the conversation in another direction. “You asked what kind of lipstick Mohammed liked,” she began. “Didn’t you notice that he really doesn’t like makeup?”
“What?” Leila started at that revelation. She looked at her massive collection of powders, paints and perfumes that covered the counter in front of her. “He never said anything.” All of a sudden, she felt very embarrassed.
“Mohammed has so much respect for you,” Anya said. “You like to use makeup and you spend a lot of time making yourself look beautiful –he appreciates that especially if it makes you happy.”
Tanaka became quiet and introspective for a moment and a wave of guilt caused a tear to well in her eyes. She looked down, “I’ve taken our friendship for granted…”
Anya was relieved that she had deflected her boss’ attention away from the relationship that she had with the Azami teen –it would be very hard to explain and could make her own relationship with Tanaka uncomfortable or cost her a job…
Leila looked at the time, “Please call Mohammed and inform him that we will be delayed.” She stood up, entered the walk-in closet, and opened the trunk that contained the clothing she rarely used. “I’m going to make it up to him.” She called to Anya, “Could you refill my cigarette case for me? I have to dig out something very special.”
“One more thing, my Lady,” Chernyakovsky told her. “He hates cigarettes.”
“Whaaaat?!”


1945 Hours

Mohammed Bey finished his crystal serving dish of crème brûlée and set the silver dessert spoon down. He looked across the table to Leila, “It’s a shame that Anya didn’t feel well tonight –perhaps we should order something for her.”
Tanaka shook her head, “you know, I offered to do just that when I was about to leave but Anya told me not to bother –she’ll be sleeping all night anyway.”
“All the same,” As`Zaman said. “Please let her know that her company was missed.” He smiled at Leila and saw that her face looked different tonight but he wasn’t exactly certain why. The teen also noticed that his friend paid a lot more attention to what he had to say, with more engaged responses than usual. They talked about what they did over the past couple of years, their last months of school and their adventures in the Periphery –all of that would come to an end in a few days when they finally went their separate ways. The evening’s discussion was a bittersweet, nostalgic look at everything they had done together since they first met.
Mohammed Bey fought off the feeling of sadness when he thought of their parting –this was very different compared to their graduation and he didn’t know why. He could only remind himself that severed paths were something every mechwarrior expects, whether due to transfers or casualties. Tanaka was on her way to Luthien and owning a battlemech would guarantee her a position with a DCMS unit as well as a one step promotion.
“Do you know what?”
The question brought As`Zaman back from his momentary reverie. “Yes, Leila?”
“I would really love to do some sightseeing this evening,” she told him. “This city is so beautiful, especially at night.” She reached across the table and touched his hand. “Please?” She smiled when he nodded. “You’ve always been so good to me.”


2015 Hours

“The target and a woman in a long fur coat just left the hotel in a limousine,” whispered Olofsson. He started his slightly beat-up ground car and pulled out of the parking area from where he observed the hotel. “I am in pursuit,” he hissed.
“Andre, why are you whispering? We are in a car, you know,” commented Deputy Sensei Borgstrom. “Don’t lose him.” He sat back in the passenger seat, a compad on his lap. He looked at a street map overlay as they followed their quarry. Squeezed uncomfortably into the groundcar’s rear seat were three other members of the Orestes Ronin Ninja Academy. Two of the ninja had their noses buried in official lesson books published by the Rasalhague Ninjistu Federation. The third ninja concentrated on his portable gaming device –he wore a hearing device so nobody would get annoyed by the music or sound effects from his game.
“They just had dinner,” Andreas said. The comment was unnecessary as everyone in the car was aware of that fact. “It looks like they’re heading for the Gunnar Spire.” He slowed the groundcar when he saw the limousine pull in front of the tall, majestic building of enamel and crystal. “They’re getting out.”

At just over one and a half kilometers from base to its viewing platform, the Gunnar Spire was the tallest structure in Erinyes City. Four high-speed express lifts propelled visitors up and down the tapered structure from the thirtieth floor to the dome complex that capped the spire that sometimes looked down upon passing clouds.
The tourist traffic was sparse that evening and only a handful of people strolled along the outer ring of the fifty-meter wide dome. Gift shops and small kiosks formed a maze in the dome’s center and many of them had already closed for the night.
Among the dome’s tourists, Mohammed Bey slowly walked along the outer ring, Leila gripped his arm and as they paused to look out over the city, she rested her head on his shoulder.
The couple turned to continue along the ring but stopped when their path was blocked by a pair of men in matching black costumes with bright red trim and cloth hoods that covered the upper parts of their heads.
“Hold it right there, Mohammed As`Zaman Bey,” one of the men declared.
The Azami teen frowned and with a quick glance at the huge window section, determined that the path behind them was blocked as well. He stepped in front of Tanaka and eyed the man who spoke, “What may I do for you?” He noted that two of the men carried straight-bladed ninjato strapped to their backs while another wore a pair of sai in a faux leather case that hung from the thin belt around his plump waist. It was then that Mohammed Bey noticed that the men he faced had names embroidered above the breast pocket of their costumes.
“There is a bounty for your capture,” said the one with “Arne” over his pocket. “It is best for you to come along quietly.”
As`Zaman whispered to Leila, “Keep your back to the window.” He took a step toward the one doing all the talking. “What are you clowns going to do if I refuse?”
“Uh…we’ll take you by force,” Arne replied. He shifted his stance and the others did the same. “Don’t act so tough! We are five to one and there are more of us on the way.” He nodded to the three men who blocked the path behind the couple and one of them advanced.
Mohammed Bey spun on his heel and sprang at the lead man, who raised his arm to grasp the sword hilt that protruded over his right shoulder. The teen shot out his arm and the heel of his palm struck the ninja a span below the solar plexus. When the man doubled over, As`Zaman grabbed the man’s sword by the sheath and pulled the weapon free from its strap.
Taken by surprise, the remaining four stood stunned and watched the teen slap their fellow ninja on the side of his head with his own sheathed sword, sending him reeling to collapse beside a closed kiosk.
As`Zaman drew the sword free of its sheath and looked at the blade. “Rostfrei… This blade’s made by Lyrans, the hamon is acid etched –I hope he didn’t drop a lot of cash for this hunk of metal.” He wedged the blade in a gap in the railing that ran along the windows and snapped the blade on two. The ninja laying on the floor moaned even louder as the teen tossed the grip in his direction. The Azami shouldered the empty sheath and regarded the remaining four. “Next?”
A nearby lift arrived and several more men in ninja costumes stepped into the dome.

_________________
[i]And Allah turned back the unbelievers in their rage; they did not obtain any advantage, and Allah sufficed the believers in fighting; and Allah is Strong, Mighty.[/i] from The Koran, 33rd Sura- The Clans


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PostPosted: Tue Aug 14, 2007 4:09 am 
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Commanding General
Commanding General

Joined: Sat Aug 09, 2003 10:05 pm
Posts: 1471
Location: Kingdom of Hawaii
Hotel Gothenburg, Erinyes City, Orestes System, February 25, 2015 Hours

“I am sorry, madam, he does not answer –he may not be in his room,” the desk clerk said, apologetically. “I could take a message and deliver it for you.” He looked up from his terminal to the guest who stood at the reservation desk.
The veiled woman shook her head, “That isn’t necessary.” She gave a curt bow and gracefully turned toward the hotel entrance then paused, as if in thought. The young woman turned to face the clerk once more, “Have you any vacant rooms?”
The clerk smiled, “Yes madam, of course!”


Gunnar Spire Dome, 2020 Hours

The ornate lift’s doors opened and six men in black ninja costumes emerged. They took a few seconds to orient themselves and headed through the kiosks to find a standoff between four of their fellows and a defiant pair of foreigners who stood with their backs to the curved bronze railing that separated sightseers from the clear crystal dome that capped the spire. One of the foreigners was a man in his teens wearing an overcoat of exotic, gray leather. The other was an Asian woman in her late teens, wearing a long, white, fur coat that reached the floor. With a nod of their sensei, the ten formed a semicircle around the two and drew their weapons. An eleventh ninja sat quietly on the floor beside a kiosk, glumly looking at the sections of a broken sword.
“Before I exercise my right to hurt anyone seriously, perhaps somebody should tell me what this is about,” Mohammed Bey rested the empty ninja-to sheath on his shoulder. Out of the corner of his vision he saw one of the men in ninja costume move suddenly. He turned slightly in time to watch two metal shapes bounce off the right side of his chest and rattle to the floor. On the floor he saw a pair of shuriken, star-shaped throwing objects primarily used for distraction and often mistaken for weapons. If the points were honed sharp and the thrower skilled, a shuriken might cause a minor wound to exposed skin but they lacked the mass for any serious concern. The youth’s coat was tailored from the treated hide of a young elephant.
As`Zaman frowned and spoke with a voice laden with contempt, “This is becoming tedious –your toys are a waste of your money and my time.” He looked at the one that he had seen giving commands via hand motions. “I shall allow you one last chance to explain this.”
One of the men, with “Sensei Borgstrom” embroidered in red thread over his left breast pocket, stepped forward and cleared his throat. “We are warriors of the Orestes Ronin Ninja Academy and we have taken a mission to capture you.” He struck a pose with his ninja-to at the ready.
Leila Tanaka, who had been silent as she crouched behind As`Zaman whispered into the teen’s ear, “Capture you? Are they crazy?”
Mohammed Bey nodded slightly to Leila, “This could be for any reason and I do have my own suspicions. It is all too obvious that these fellows are amateurs.” He looked Borgstrom in the eye, “Evidently somebody wants me taken captive. Who would that be and why?” The teen was curious but not overly.
The sensei shuffled uncomfortably, “I’m not certain exactly who put out the contract but we know you are an assassin.”
“Who dares accuse me, Mohammed As`Zaman Bey, of being an assassin?” he took a step forward and shook the empty sheath at Borgstrom, his voice now threatening. “I am the Sherif of the Barheilabad Rif, a hereditary sovereign and Master Duelist –I do not skulk in the shadows to waylay the unwary, nor do I need anyone’s aid to defeat a worthy opponent.” He sneered, “Have any of you actually attacked and intentionally wounded or killed another human with a weapon?”
Several of the black-clad men stepped back, muttering. “Sensei, what do we do?” Some of them lowered their weapons and sheathed them –until now their hobby was only a game they played among friends. They knew that the average noble in the Inner Sphere received far more combat training as a child than any commoner could glean in a lifetime. While at first glance the teen appeared outnumbered and outclassed, the opposite was true –it was obvious the strange youth knew it as well.
“Master Duelist?” Arne Borgstrom gasped under his breath –he never used his blade against anything other than the occasional melon at public demonstrations.
Confronting an assassin, a man who makes a living by attacking and killing unaware victims, was one thing but a Duelist was a man trained to fight other nobles face to face, weapon to weapon. He looked at the youth who held the empty sheath like a club and a sudden chill traveled along his spine. The sensei understood the gesture –a challenge to the noble teen was an insult that none in his academy had the right or social status to issue and a noble would never honor such a challenge as he would with an equal. Borgstrom realized that the survival of every man in the dome depended on how he extracted them from the situation. Despite the dome’s cool temperature, he perspired profusely.
Tanaka anxiously watched the tense standoff and whispered, “What are you going to do?”
“My dear Leila, should they make the fatal error of carrying out their challenge with me,” As`Zaman stated calmly, “I may kill one or two of them in a very ugly and painful manner to underscore their lapse in judgment.” He smiled, “Or I may do the lot of them in as a warning to others.”
“They’re not warriors,” Leila said. “They’re just a bunch of stupid guys pretending to be ninjas. They don’t know what they’re doing!” There was a plea in her voice.
“They have dared to call me an assassin,” Mohammed Bey replied. “Their ignorance aside, it is the same as calling me a coward to my face –they are not nobles so none of them merit the semblance of honorable treatment.”
Leila saw the teen’s features relax and she realized that As`Zaman considered the lives of these men forfeit. A shiver went up her spine –she didn’t want to be a part of this. As a commoner who lived as a noble due to her friend’s whim, she saw both lifestyles and could not divorce her sympathy for commoners. Her friend Mohammed looked upon these commoners as little more than troublesome insects. He wouldn’t bother using a weapon to kill them –a sheath would do. Tanaka pushed that horrific image from her mind and tried to find ways to end this nightmare. Her fingers moved to unbutton her full-length fur coat.

Hotel Gothenburg, Room 1803

Aliyyah Waryaghar lay on the bed in her private suite. The Azami woman could not believe how comfortable the massive mattress was. “Finally, after cramped economy-class closets on obsolete dropships with communal baths and restrooms, I get a real room and a real bath all to myself.” She closed her eyes for a moment, even though she had slept for days waiting for the jump and on the shuttle ride from the jump point. No, she wasn’t tired physically but tracking that truant lord was beginning to get to her.
The lure of a hot bath prompted her to shed her clothing, she was certain that nothing could possibly happen while she allowed herself this brief luxury. Right now, she would suspend her search for a leisurely soak in a marble tub.

Grand Dragon Celestial Ninjutsu Dojo

“Raven Team, report,” Sensei Richard Bildt stood observing the communications team as they coordinated the movement of the five two-man teams tasked with locating their target. Bildt was a tall man in his mid 40’s, healthy and able to command the respect of his students.
“Panther Team has nothing at the Gothenburg at this time,” announced one of the men seated before a holovid monitor. He wore the same mottled gray urban camouflage uniform that the other members of the dojo wore.
“According to Mako Team, ninja activity has been reported at the Gunnar Spire,” another man at the console said.
Bildt leaned over, his attention focused, “Ninja activity? Be more specific!”
The man nodded and relayed the message to the team, “One moment sensei.” He waited for the reply, turned to face Bindt and chuckled, “Several men in Ronin Ninja Academy uniforms were seen assembling around the Spire’s lobby.”
The ninjutsu master bowed his head, “No, no, no…” He didn’t care about what those amateurs were up to.
“They’ve been arriving via municipal buses in twos and threes,” added the other man. He shook his head, “A half dozen of them have been seen hanging around the video arcade around the corner from the Gothenburg’s front entrance.” He slapped the desk and laughed, “They were seen arguing with a pack of idiots from the Dökkálfar Rogue Warrior Guild.”

Gunnar Spire…

Six members of the Ronin Ninja Academy dashed from the municipal bus terminal through the building’s plush lobby. The elderly security guard stood up at his desk, straightened his thick bifocal glasses and shook a finger at the black-clad team as they ran past his station. “Hey, no running you!”
The ninja who reached the lift doors first slapped the “up” button then leaned against the wall as he gasped for breath as the others caught up with him. “Man, we are late –I hope we haven’t missed anything.”

Adrenochrome Arcade…

Amid the eardrum-rending techno-thrash beat and retina-burning prismatic strobe lights, two opposing camps squared off in a clear area surrounded by gaming pods and holographic consoles.
“We Dökkálfar rule the night!” a teenaged boy dressed in flowing black robes and artificial pointed ears taunted a small group of teens wearing black ninja costumes. His friends wore similar outfits.
“Not even!”
“Ninjas are so phony!
“…and you guys are what, elves?”
A teen with his face covered with pale cosmetics peered into the game room, “Yeah, vampires rule!”
The ninjas and elves retorted, “Shut up!”
The clerk at the counter rolled his eyes –this crap happened every time these groups met. “Will you guys cut it out, already? Don’t make me call the manager.” The two factions retreated to separate areas in the arcade, cowed by the clerk’s threat. “That’s better –getting banned from this place is nothing to be proud of,” he scolded. “Where will you hang out then, eh?”


Gunnar Spire Dome, 2030 Hours

The Azami teen waited while the semicircle of Swedish ninjas discussed how they could extricate themselves from their current predicament and still save face. Mohammed Bey’s command of the Swedish language allowed him to understand most of the group’s discussion, which included begging for mercy to waiting for him to turn his back. It seemed the risk of death or injury was countered by the possibilities of wealth and prestige.
As`Zaman shifted his stance slightly and sized up the group’s leader. Borgstrom was tall and hefty, his bulk covered by his black satin uniform with red trim and embroidery. The leader wore his straight-bladed ninja-to strapped across his back in the ridiculous manner popular in low-budget holovids. Overall, the Azami teen was certain Borgstrom was out of shape and held his rank by subscribing to lesson holovids.
Sensing that their discussion was merely stalling for time, Mohammed Bey took a step toward the sensei and was about to demand a decision when a gasp of surprise went up from among the surrounding group. As`Zaman heard the faint whisper of something falling to the floor behind him. He looked at the wide eyes of the men around him before slowly turning to see what had so shocked the ninjas.
Leila stood adjusting what appeared to be a set of cat ears on her head. The young Combine woman had let her long fur coat slide from her shoulders to the floor to reveal that she wore a skin-tight one-piece bathing suit with a cat tail attached to the base of the spine. The ensemble, which included a pair of thigh-high boots, matched the shimmering blue of her hair. For a moment, Mohammed Bey was transported back to a more carefree time that seemed like centuries ago.
Tanaka gave her head a toss to shake out her hip-length blue tresses before she bowed deeply. “Please, Lord Mohammed, I humbly beg of you to accept my apology for any transgressions committed by these people against you.” She clasped her hands together in supplication. “Please, my lord.”
“What the…” recovering from his initial surprise, As`Zaman looked over his shoulder and addressed Borgstrom, “My associate begs for your lives. Lojtnant Tanaka may not be of noble birth but she earned her daisho at the Sun Tzu School of Combat.” He whispered to Leila, “This is not required of you and I do not ask it.”
Again the black-clad men murmured in confusion and looked vainly to their leader for guidance.
Tanaka lowered herself to her knees and bowed again, her head touching the floor. “Please accept my humblest apology.”
Mohammed Bey turned his back to Tanaka and regarded the black-clad strangers, “You must decide –Now!” He pointed the sheath toward Borgstrom and the light of death was in his eyes.
The sensei stepped back, mouth gaping, “I... I...” He coughed and fumbled at his belt for his inhaler.
Olofsson sheepishly raised a hand then pointed at Leila, “I want to be on her side...” He looked around and half the others began to nod in agreement.
“Yeah, she's cool!” another man chimed in.
“I think I have to go to the men's room for a few minutes...”
The ninja leader still had the inhaler between his lips when he waved a hand, “Uhhh, fine, whatever...” He leaned on a stone column, fighting to catch his breath. “Ronin Ninja Academy... Let us meet at our training hall for a debriefing...”
As`Zaman eyed them as they meekly retreated to one of the lifts. He looked at Tanaka, who smiled up at him. The teen offered her his hand and placed her fur coat over her slim shoulders once Leila got to her feet. It was then he noticed half the ninjas hanging back and watching. “Lojtnant Tanaka, you are to escort your friends to their hall and keep them out of trouble -you may take the limousine.” It didn’t take him long to guess what she originally had in mind. “Take whatever time you require to…adjust their attitudes.”
“Yes, my Bey.” Tanaka bowed once more and turned to leave. Just before she stepped away As`Zaman called to her.
“Leila...”
She stopped and turned to look at her friend, “Yes, my Bey?”
He looked into her eyes and whispered, “You haven’t smoked a cigarette all day and I see you aren't wearing lipstick this evening.” Before she could answer, he pressed his lips against hers.

Hotel Gothenburg, Room 1803

In a comfortable bathrobe and soft, dry slippers, Waryaghar powered up her compad and opened the wireless links to search for Mohammed As`Zaman Bey's whereabouts. His latest credit trail was hours cold –a limousine rental and dinner for two. The Azami woman shook her head as she looked over the NinjaNet forums and sifted through all the messages, many silly and speculative, that referred to As`Zaman. The most up to date reference was a sighting at the Gunnar Spire. She looked at the time and decided to get dressed before the trail got colder. Peering out the window, she could see small snowflakes swirling in the wind.

Hotel Gothenburg...A Side Alleyway

A pair of men in mottled gray ninja uniforms huddled within view of the main entrance and shivered in the darkness. They had been thrown out of the hotel's warm lobby for loitering.
“If I don't see the guy in five minutes, I'm going home!” warned one of them.
The man's partner leaned over and growled, “You volunteered for this duty -I told you they wouldn't just let us sit around their lobby dressed as we are.”
“How was I supposed to know that?” the first asked. “Half the places in this town have no problem with us dressed like this when we have our annual convention -man, if I get sick and miss a day of work, my boss will be very angry.”
“If you get sick, you get sick, what's the problem?”
“Right, I'll just say, 'Sorry I’m sick, I was in an alley all night dressed as a ninja.'”
“Hey, you knew the job was dangerous...”
“Just shut up, all right?” He looked at his watch, “Four more minutes.”

Gunnar Spire Dome

The lift slowed before it reached the top floor. The Ronin Ninja Academy team leader, Torell Pehrson, turned around to give his five underlings one last briefing. “The last report I received said that our target was cornered and about to be taken.” There was a simultaneous moan of disappointment from the team members. “I know we're most likely too late to see any action but make sure you're ready anyway -and Sassa, you stay behind the rest of us.”
The shorter figure in the back of the group nodded, she nervously adjusted her mask and glasses, “Yes, sir.” This was her first mission other than sitting at the Ronin Ninja Academy recruiting table at the local mall.
Pehrson nodded and turned to face to double doors as they slid open.
Standing in the entrance was a short foreigner, dressed in a long, gray leather coat, a fur cap on his head. In one hand, he gripped an empty ninja-to sheath.
“What did I just tell you?” the foreigner appeared to be irritated over something.
“It’s him!” Pehrson's arm went up to grasp the hilt of the sword strapped across his back then he doubled over, the empty sheath jabbed just under his solar plexus. In a split second, the team leader lay sprawled on the cold floor, in a fetal position, dry heaving.
As`Zaman pulled the next ninja out of the lift, “Get out of my way!” The man raised his hands and offered no resistance; he gladly jumped from the lift and retreated several meters away. Four more cleared out of the lift with little more persuading than a tap or two with the empty sheath. The Azami teen jabbed the button indicating the spire's lobby and out of the corner of one eye discovered that one of the ninjas remained, cowering in the corner of the spacious lift as the doors closed.
“You do realize that you should have cleared out when you had the chance,” As`Zaman said, although he noted that this last ninja as unarmed and made no attempt to move. He could see wide, blue eyes through a pair of wire-framed glasses with thick lenses.
“Please don't hurt me sir,” said the ninja in a tiny, childlike voice.
The anger that had gripped the teen cooled rapidly and he held out his free hand, “Young lady, if you don't plan to kill me or otherwise interfere with my time, I should have no quarrel with you...” He read the first name on her uniform, “Astrid, is it?” He noted that her last name was Borgstrom.
The young woman nodded, “Yes, although everyone calls me 'Sassa' -that's my nickname.” She let the stranger pull her to her feet and shyly looked down.
Mohammed Bey smiled and bowed, “It is an immense pleasure to meet you, Milady Astrid.” He gently took her hand and touched the back of her palm with his lips.
“Ooh, my...” She was glad she wore her ninja mask because she knew her face was flushed.
The teen turned to face the doorway, “Perhaps you could tell me why so many people want to ruin my brief stay here?”
“Your stay?” She didn't have all the details but remembered to pull her notepad from her tunic, “Oh, it's all over the NinjaNet -let me show you.”
“We don't have time to look over all the information at the present,” As`Zaman said. He tapped one of the buttons that would take them to one of the parking levels. “Milady Astrid, have you eaten yet?”
“Pardon me?” She still couldn't believe what was happening.
Mohammed Bey faced her, “Listen Astrid, I came here to relax and if I could impose on you, I would like you to be my guide, is that alright?” He smiled and waited for her answer.
“Yes sir.”
The doors opened into an enclosed concrete parking area, “If I remember correctly, there's another lift down the hall that should take us to the subway.”
“That's correct, Mister...” she gasped as he took her hand and pulled her from the lift. She fell into step with him as he led her down a hallway.
“I am Mohammed Mazigh Hajj ben Maruf As`Zaman Bey, Sherif of the Barheilabad Rif, Imam of the Algedi Council, for the blood of the Prophet is in me and I am an instrument of Allah's will.”
“All that?” she struggled to keep up with the teen and had to lean against him to catch her breath as they waited for the lift to the subway level. “So, um, what do I call you?”
As`Zaman laughed, “I am all that and more!” He guided her into the next lift down. “You may call me 'My Bey' or 'My Lord' -whichever makes you more comfortable.” He bowed, “And I shall call you 'Lady Astrid' since ‘Sassa’ is more a child’s name –if that is alright with you, of course.” He paused, thoughtfully, “You wouldn't happen to be related to the Sensei Borgstrom I met in the dome, would you?”
“Oh, yes, he's my cousin,” Astrid replied. She suddenly became concerned. “You didn't hurt him, did you?”
“When you have time, I suggest you give your cousin a call to tell him you are fine and in the best of care,” Mohammed Bey said. He stepped out of the lift and walked over to a wall covered with train schedules. “We do have to get you some proper attire if you wish to accompany me –have you any favorite places to shop?”

Grand Dragon Celestial Ninjutsu Dojo

“What do you mean they left their post?” Sensei Richard Bildt pounded the console with his fist. “Tell them they're disobeying orders.”
“Sensei, it's below freezing already and it looks like it will get colder,” explained one of the men. “I have doubts that our target will just be wandering around outside.”
“I see,” muttered the sensei. “Only the toughest and most dedicated of my dojo will hunt him down and take him in.” He turned to the man monitoring communications, “Anyone willing to go home is free to do so -provided he turns in his uniform as well.” He walked towards his office, thinking of what he would require this evening, “First, thermal underwear...”


Gunnar Spire Lobby, 2045 Hours

The freezing wind swept up the fallen snow and the flying crystals stung like shards of flying glass. Aliyyah Waryaghar was glad she wore her full-body covering burqa with face mesh as she entered the tall building. Anxious to get her bearings, she walked over to a desk where an elderly man in a security uniform sat, reading a newspaper.
“Pardon me, sir,” she began. “Have there been any unusual occurrences this evening?”
The guard looked up from his paper, “Unusual? Heh, nothing unusual happened tonight.” He resumed his reading.
“Ah, thank you sir,” Aliyyah said. “This may sound silly but I heard that there were people dressed as ninja seen here earlier.”
The guard looked up from his paper once more and made a face.
“That does sound silly, come to think of it -I'm sorry for bothering you,” she bowed and turned away.
“Hold it there, young miss,” the old guard said. “I said there was nothing unusual.” He looked at his watch, “We get guys dressed as ninjas in here all the time, always running around, no matter how many times I tell them to walk.”
Waryaghar spun around, “You're kidding me.”
“Shoot, it must have been ten years ago,” the guard told her. “Ninja schools, ninja holovids, ninja conventions, ninja this, ninja that -you'd figure the fad would have died out by now.” He shook his head in disgust.
“Among the people coming in and out tonight, was there a foreigner among them?”
The old man thought for a moment, “You know, they all wear masks.”
Aliyyah shook her head, “This one wouldn't wear a mask -about so tall...”
“Wait a minute, you know, a group of ninjas from the Ronin Academy just left and a pretty lady in a white fur coat wearing cat ears was with them -she was definitely Kuritan.”
“Cat ears?”
The guard shrugged, “Go figure.”
“No, that isn't who I'm looking for,” she told him.
“Yup, she was some looker -she got into a big limousine with them,” he said. “And that blue hair!”
The Azami woman started, “Did you say blue hair?”
“Oh, yeah, her hair was definitely blue.”
She dug her compad from her purse, “You said Ronin Academy, right?” She called up the city information exchange. “Orestes Ronin Ninja Academy... Is this the correct address?”
“That should be right, they're good kids,” answered the security guard. “The place should be open, although I heard the weather might be rough tonight.”
“I need a taxi...”


Idáhl Mall, 2100 Hours

Astrid Borgstrom emerged from the dressing room and shyly stood in front of the stranger who brought her into this trendy fashion store, Boutiki Viki, which featured modern adaptations of ancient Viking clothing.
“Stop right there and turn around,” As`Zaman ordered. “Is that comfortable? Do you want a wider belt?” Two clerks at the boutique stood ready to bring the youthful foreigner anything he demanded -especially after he let them check his credit chip.
“It feels good, sir,” she answered. “This belt is fine.”
“How about the shoes? We'll be going out to dance later,” he said. The teen turned to one of the help, “You there, she'll need earrings, bracelets, and a brooch as well as something for her hair.” He looked at Astrid's blond hair in an elbow-length braid. “Make certain the jewelry is solid gold -no plating, is that clear?”
“Yes sir!” The clerk bowed and hurried to bring a sampling of what they had in stock.
The young woman ran her fingers over the fine material of her clinging gown and matching cloak, “You don't have to do this, my lord.” She blushed, “And I'm afraid that I'm not a very good dancer.”
“Nonsense, I do what I wish and if you require remedial dancing lessons, you may thank your lucky stars,” Mohammed Bey told her. “I also teach lovely young ladies how to dance.” He jumped to his feet when the clerk returned with a small display case of replica Viking baubles cast in gold. “Here we are -this one, this one...” He pointed at a necklace, “This one matches these earrings, do you like it?”
Astrid nodded meekly and returned to the dressing room to try on another dress.
Another boutique employee arrived and showed As`Zaman a pair of tall boots with long, spike heels.
“Oh, no, no, no!” he shook his head. “Those are certainly not dancing shoes.” He waved the girl away and then sat down to wait for Astrid to return.
The teen broke out his compad and accessed the NinjaNet to peruse the latest information on ninja movements. He smiled when he read the recall order that Borgstrom sent out to his people, the same order was repeated among other groups, although the forums buzzed with all manners of speculation and rumors. The teen’s curiosity was piqued by an announcement on the Ronin Ninja Academy’s site and he let out a hearty laugh when he saw a newly-posted image of the mysterious “Blue Neko Woman.”
Astrid emerged from the dressing room wearing a more contemporary designed, form-fitting gown that showed off her shapely figure. The young woman blushed as she wasn’t used to such revealing attire.
As`Zaman powered down his compad, stood up and looked at his guest. “Perfect.”

_________________
[i]And Allah turned back the unbelievers in their rage; they did not obtain any advantage, and Allah sufficed the believers in fighting; and Allah is Strong, Mighty.[/i] from The Koran, 33rd Sura- The Clans


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PostPosted: Fri Nov 21, 2008 3:20 pm 
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Joined: Sat Aug 09, 2003 10:05 pm
Posts: 1471
Location: Kingdom of Hawaii
Orestes Ronin Ninja Academy, February 25, 2130 Hours

About two dozen males, ranging from mid teens to men in their thirties gathered around the “surprise guest” announced via the school’s alert channels. The Academy was an old warehouse converted into a partial gymnasium and martial arts supply store.
Leila Tanaka found herself a sudden celebrity, surrounded by a rapt audience who listened to her as she related her many adventures in the Periphery, especially those stories in which she and her friend fought bands of pirates while serving with a renowned noble from Rasalhague, Overste Friherre Ulfgar Bödvar. She recited one of the poems written by Mohammed Bey:

“Hear now this saga; As the lampwicks burn low,
In the hall of Tyr; Fill the horn to the brim;
Beneath eternal stars; Near Rasalhague’s frontier,
Assembled warriors bold; For Bödvar’s noble feast,
So flowed the golden mead; Heaped meat and bread,
To satisfy each guest; Display the Friherre’s wealth;
Then Ulfgar-Lord summoned; Before his ancient throne,
The wizened seer-woman; Wrinkled as the oak,
To cast the yellowed bones; Carved with mystic runes;

Beside the stalwart Friherre; At his mighty blade-arm,
Sat the trusted Kapten; Long gold braids gleaming,
Her eyes fierce in battle; Now fixed beyond the Veil,
As each rune-tile fell; Her silver voice revealed,
To the onlooking throng; The meaning of each rune;
Beside the valiant chieftain; At his brawny shield-arm,
Sat the loyal skald; Lyre across his lap,
His eyes calm and mild; His voice like silver,
The runes thus displayed; He read the story there,
The future yet unseen; Beyond the ken of men;

Upon the floor of stone; The rune-tiles told their tale,
‘Who then volunteers?’ Asked the wizened crone,
Nykvist was the first; His blade sworn to his lord,
The Kapten also rose; Her gaze cold and proud,
Lyre in his arms; Lindholm took his place,
He spake unto the hall; ‘You will need a skald.’
Hardy men stepped forth; Drengs and soldiers brave,
The Friherre’s kinsman; Magnusson the Ambitious,
Altmark the Star-faring; A skilled leader of men,
Ready for travel; Torkelson the Landless,
Amnegard the Vengeful; Who lost his family,
A slayer of Ronin; Halsten the One-eyed,
Frieberg the Mirthful; A longtime Fyrdar,
Lastly to join them; Svanberg the Quiet;

About the great hall; the stern gaze of Ulfgar,
‘Are there no others?’ The War Lord so asked,
Riven in peace-time; The Friherre’s proud army,
To farm and family; To hearth and homestead,
No call for sword-work; The war-cries forgotten,
Only a handful; Heeded his call;
Forth from the throng; The Dragon’s fierce daughter,
Tanaka Blue-Tresses; Eager for battle,
With the young woman; the old merchant’s kinsman,
A son of the desert; As`Zaman the Scholar;

So asked the Friherre; Ulfgar the chieftain,
Of the Spaewoman; ‘What says our seer?’
Old withered fingers; Turned mystic runes,
With weirding vision; Beheld storm of weapons,
The clash of steel giants; The feasting of ravens;

So starts the saga; The star-spanning journey,
Witnessed and written; By Allah’s own servant,
In Bödvar’s war-band; The thirteenth mechwarrior.”


Outside the hall among the shadows, a hooded figure crouched near a window. There was a fingernail-sized chip attached to a pane of the icy glass. A hair-thin wire led to the skulker’s sleeve and terminated at the earpiece that relayed every word spoken in the crowded hall. With a dismissive shake of her head, Aliyyah Waryaghar peeled the sensitive chip microphone from the pane, retracted the wire and stowed it all in a tiny pocket hidden in the cuff of her left sleeve. Unable to corner and question the Draconis Combine woman with blue hair without witnesses, the Azami woman concluded this current lead in her search as a dead end. A sudden gust of wind reminded her of the worsening weather and she considered returning to the hotel.


Los Gauchos

The quartet was decent. A pianist, a bandoneon, a violinist and a bass viol were the bare minimum for a tango orchestra. The snow outside fell thickly and the near-empty restaurant reflected how unattractive the cold weather had become to potential customers.
A lone couple glided on the dance floor. The lights turned low, what had begun as a tentative lesson was now a command performance for the handful of wait help and other employees who impatiently waited to close the restaurant.
When the band signaled to take one last break, the young couple returned to their table.
“I have to powder my nose,” Astrid said. She smiled when Mohammed Bey nodded and made subtle motion with a hand.

As`Zaman watched as his guest walked away and down a hall. Out of the corner of his eye, the Azami teen thought he saw something move. He turned to glance out a window and saw countless heavy snowflakes swirling in the fiercely blowing wind. He stood up from his seat and strode over to the thick glass pane and attempted to peer out over the city below. Through the dense obscuration Mohammed Bey could see the shape of somebody crouching in the shadows of the terrace. The teen pressed his palms against the cold glass and strained his eyes to make out the darkened form. The weather seemed to grow worse as he watched, as if the very clouds dipped to encase the upper floors of the building.
In the gathering gloom, the figure in the shadows revealed a pallid face with sunken eyes and blue lips that mouthed “Uncle Mohammad,” before the image was lost among the tossing snow and dense cloud.
“Nikki…” the young mechwarrior muttered under his breath. He tried to open the door but it was locked. Again his eyes searched beyond the window, again the deathly face emerged from the gloom.
Burnt, scarred fingers touched the frosty pane, “You are to scourge the wayward servants of Usmanu…” The voice seemed far off and Mohammed Bey knew that the howling winds would have drowned out anyone shouting from the other side of the sealed window. Anyone human.

“My lord?”
As`Zaman’s eyes refocused and blinked several times. He was in a cold sweat and felt Miss Borgstrom’s hand on his shoulder. Mohammed Bey seemed transfixed. He stared through the glass without answering.
“Are you alright?” Astrid was worried. She couldn’t see anything beyond the frost-streaked pane. “What are you looking at?”
As`Zaman slowly pulled his hands from the glass and took a breath. “It is nothing,” he whispered. “We must leave.”


Hotel Gothenburg, Room 2507

Anya Chernyakovsky stood in front of the bathroom mirror and leisurely brushed her long, light brown hair as the conical jets arrayed above her channeled heated air toward her, drying her flowing tresses. Her slim figure wrapped in a soft burgundy towel, the young technician had decided to avoid the foul weather and stay in her room that evening. She had ordered a satisfying dinner and was happy to relax in her room that evening, although she hoped that Mohammed Bey would pay her a visit, if only to add another chapter to his whimsical tale about visiting the semi-mythical and infamous Von Strang’s World.

The door to the fire escape stairway slowly opened and through the portal a black clad figure slowly crept down the carpeted hallway in a slow pantomime of exaggerated stealth. His well tailored ninja uniform bore the distinctive embroidered patch of the Grand Dragon Celestial Ninjutsu Dojo on his left breast.
After he took a quick, wary glance over his shoulder, he halted in front of a door with brass numbers reading 2507 and fumbled with the matching black utility belt that girdled his waist. As many of the other plush hotels, the Gothenburg used the latest electronic passkey technology for its guests but every door still had the archaic mechanical key slot in the event of a power outage or other malfunction of the electric system. Normally only the hotel’s management would have access to the sets of keys that would open the guests’ rooms but for the right price and enough, discrete inquiry, almost anyone could pose as a student locksmith, obtain a set of generic pattern keys or a set of “quality tools” used to bypass mechanical locks. This particular would-be burglar unrolled a small, cloth packet that contained numerous sheathed metal implements designed to defeat the internal mechanisms that secured the door he desired to open. With smooth motions indicative of practiced routine, the gloved fingers selected a pair of delicate metal picks and he crouched while he probed the keyhole and after a few seconds, turned the picks. He smiled under his mask as he gingerly pulled the portal open then stepped into the room.

The roar of the heated air jets was more than enough to drown out normal conversation. That being the case, Chernyakovsky certainly didn’t hear the door of her suite open or close, the intruder making cautious and deliberate movements saw that the door’s closing was but a faint click.
The sound emitted by the air jets immediately drew the black-clad burglar’s attention- he knew that he could catch the guest unawares and if it was not his target, he could extract was information he needed to locate the foreigner he sought. With an inner smirk he noted that the room’s occupant had left the tri-vid tuned to a local news channel. He paused to examine the pair of woman’s shoes and indoor slippers partially tucked beneath the large bed.

Confident about his abilities and level of training, the urban ninja, with deft efficiency stowed his lock pick kit in its belt pouch and from another pouch pulled a pair of long, synthetic, flexible clamps, similar to those commonly used to gather small power cables or seal the liners used in trash receptacles. Of course, the intruder would not use those locking clamps in so mundane a manner as gathering cables but to temporarily and efficiently bind the wrists and if need be, the ankles of a prisoner.
Convinced that the sound of the air jets and the tri-vid would easily mask any sound of his movement, he took a breath and strode into the bathroom.

Anya held her breath as she stood motionless inside the cramped closet and watched the intruder’s shadow through the narrow wooden slats of the delicate closet door. Moments before, she had finished brushing her hair and when she was about to turn the air jets off, she noticed the back of the black-clad stranger as he stopped to examine her shoes by the bed. The young woman clutched her wooden hairbrush tightly while the unwelcome visitor slowly passed the closet.

The once self-assured ninja stepped into the bath and expected to find a lone female preening herself before the large, brightly lit mirror. Eyes narrow, he concluded that his target must still be soaking in the tub, which was concealed behind an ornate, synthetic curtain. With a triumphant motion, he tore the curtain aside. “Ha!”
Suddenly, the room seemed to spin and a mysterious pain at the back of his head was punctuated with white flashes. The intruder twirled around uncontrollably and through blurred eyes, he glimpsed an angry young woman wrapped in a burgundy towel swinging a heavy wooden hairbrush as if it were a short sword.
He blinked and now he was on the floor, eyes rolling, pain throbbing from more areas than he could determine. He saw dainty, well-manicured feet, a heel moving toward his face then darkness.


Hotel Gothenburg, Front Desk

The night manager shivered when the main entrance swung open and a blast of freezing wind blasted through the ornate portal. The lone porter at the bellhop station cursed under his breath, slowly stood up, and watched the doorway.
If it wasn’t for the metal traveling case he carried, an onlooker would have mistaken the man who pushed his way through the double doors for a bear. His thick, wool coat covered broad, muscled shoulders and the mittens he wore added to his bulk.

The porter wasted no time in wheeling a brass cart over to the guest. “Welcome to Hotel Gothenburg- please allow me to take your luggage.” The guest was certainly a big man. He wasn’t the tallest guest he’d ever seen but the porter could make out the trunk-like legs and brawny arm that easily hefted the metal-sheathed case with misleading ease. The brass cart seemed to groan as the strange guest placed his luggage upon it.
It was then the porter looked into the guest’s eyes. The guest’s eyes were like shards of blue ice that burned with a disconcerting gaze, as if he were a feral beast. Those eyes sent a shiver down the porter’s spine that caused him to shake his luggage cart despite its ponderous load. The metal-sheathed case looked like a portable safe and weighed no less than a hundred kilograms.
“Thank you.” The guest strode with an unusual grace to where the manager nervously waited with the guestbook and pen ready.
“G-good evening sir,” the manager muttered.
“I have reservations,” the guest told him. “Colonel Kane.”
The clerk nodded, “Yes, here they are.”
The Colonel paid for his room and took the keychip. Before he turned to leave, Kane asked, “I am looking for an associate- Mohammed As`Zaman Bey.” His voice was deep, almost a rumble. His rugged face was framed by long, red hair pulled back into a braid that fell to the middle of his back. A short, close-cropped beard covered his chin
“Yes, he has checked in but I know that he is out at the moment,” the manager replied. “Would you like to leave a message for him?”
The guest held up a hand, “That will not be necessary.”


Orestes Ronin Ninja Academy, 2200 Hours

Borgstrom shook his head, making his jowls wobble. “No, he’s definitely not one of ours- He’s a member of that elitist bunch of bullies from across town.” He made a grimace of disgust. “All they care about is winning trophies.”
“The storm is getting worse and my communication unit having a hard time maintaining a clear signal.” Leila’s eyes narrowed, “When my Bey finds out about this…”
The ninja master bit his lip and despite the environmental controls set above recommended levels, he felt a sudden wave of cold.

Hotel Gothenburg, Room 2507

Chernyakovsky examined her prisoner’s bonds one more time before she returned to her bedroom. Bored, she sat on the bed, reached over to the nightstand and used the remote to activate the holovid. The machine happened to be tuned to the local news channel.
“…which indicates that the blizzard shall intensify over the next five hours- Please remain indoors if at all possible.” The announcer didn’t bother to look at the camera as he read the report in a bland voice. “Due to the severe weather there are no sports scores so we shall continue on to the next segment, a documentary on the recent rise in missing persons.”

A knock on the door prompted Anna to use the remote once more to power down the room’s holovid before she sprang to her feet and headed to the hall. She smirked as she passed the helpless ninja and stopped suddenly when she realized that the door to her room was open and that a stranger stood in the doorway, calmly appraising the surroundings.
“Young lady, you seem to be doing well for yourself.” The stranger paused, “Where are my manners?” He bowed slightly, “Allow me to introduce myself –I am Colonel Kane and I am looking for Mohammed As`Zaman Bey.”
Chernyakovsky noted how the man’s hulking form filled the entrance to her suite. “Er, my Bey isn’t here- he has gone out for the evening.” She saw that Kane carried a long, leathern case hanging from his right shoulder on a sling. “Would you like me to deliver a message?” The man seemed polite but that did nothing to allay her apprehension.
The stranger smirked, “That isn’t necessary- would you know when the illustrious bey shall return?”
“I really don’t- do you mind if I ask a question?” Anna stepped out of the hall and pointed at her prisoner. “Do you know who this is?” The bound man moaned softly, his mouth covered with utility tape and one eye swollen and discolored.
The colonel peered past the technician and chuckled, “No, I’m working alone this evening- Is he supposed to be a ninja?”
Chernyakovsky shrugged, “I am not certain- I didn’t bother to question him for details.”

Colonel Kane stood deep in thought for a while, his icy gaze upon the bound man. “Would you mind if I ask him a few questions?” He smiled coldly when the semiconscious man’s eyes suddenly snapped open and stared in his direction. The colonel slipped the leather bound case from his shoulder and set it down beside the open door.
The urban ninja struggled at his bonds, eyes wide with fear as the towering stranger approached him.


Runebergsgatan

“The weather is interfering with my comm.” Mohammed Bey squinted as he looked up through the haze and densely falling snow. Disappointed in the failure of his expensive electronic equipment, he returned the compad to his coat’s internal pocket and turned to guest. “Miss Borgstrom, it appears that I’ll have to return to the hotel’s desk so they can summon a taxi for us.” The couple stood by the curb in front of the building where the Argentine restaurant they had visited was located. The ongoing blizzard not only kept customers away but many businesses chose to close early as the storm blew in.

Astrid Borgstrom nodded, “That’s fine, my Bey.” She tugged at her thick wool coat, “I can wait out here, maybe I can flag down a taxi if one passes by.”
As`Zaman nodded, “That makes sense, if you manage to flag one down, have him wait and come in to get me.”
The young woman smiled and nodded, “That will be fine.” She watched as the Azami teen entered the hotel and pulled her own communicator from her purse. She noted that her signal strength was marginal but stronger because her unit was locally tuned as opposed to the generically tuned travel units. She pressed a series of buttons and held the device to her ear. “Roxanne? It’s Astrid- you’ll never guess what I’ve been doing this evening!”


Hotel Gothenburg, Room 2507

“This man is useless.” Colonel Kane stood up and turned to face Chernyakovsky. “He was just another would-be bounty hunter following a false lead.”
The young Slavic woman sat on the edge of her bed and used the remote to power down the holovid player. “What do you mean?”
The mercenary commander strode across the room to retrieve his leather case and opened the door to leave. He paused, “Världherr Wallenburg refuses to accept the validity and result of the vendetta that claimed his son- Much to the detriment of his career and family fortune, Wallenburg has foolishly stepped outside of tradition and the law in his pursuit of revenge.” Colonel Kane stepped into the hall and closed the door.
Anya shook her head in disbelief. She got up from her bed to test the lock on the door. Satisfied that the room was secure, she decided to inspect her prisoner once more before she rested.


Hotel Gothenburg...A Side Alleyway

Sensei Richard Bildt, Master of the Grand Dragon Celestial Ninjutsu Dojo, paced angrily outside the entrance to the hotel’s parking garage. The ninjutsu instructor had lost contact with the advanced class student who volunteered to sneak him into the building. Impatient and furious that nothing was going as planned and his students had let him down, Bildt decided to find his own way to the target. Certain that nobody was watching, the middle-aged ninja padded through the accumulating snow into the parking structure and searched for access to the hotel proper. He breathed a sigh of relief when he found an access door to a stairway and chuckled to himself at the ease with which he picked the simple lock.

Hotel Gothenburg, Front Desk

Patrick Frid covered his mouth to conceal a yawn. Even though he just relieved the previous shift’s crew he was still tired and bored. To his relief, the heater under his desk was gradually thawing out his feet and he could feel his toes once more. He almost jumped out of his shoes when the main entrance suddenly opened with a burst of frigid wind and swirling snow.
Aliyyah Waryaghar gasped as she pushed her way into the hotel’s lobby. The Azami woman could not believe how much the temperature had fallen over the last few hours and was relieved that the hotel kept their lobby at a decent temperature. She paused to shake the snow from her voluminous robes and readjust her veil before she approached the desk.

The clerk relaxed as he observed the foreign guest. He placed the holographic game of solitaire with which he had been occupying himself aside and brought up the list of available rooms. “Good evening, how may I help you?” He bowed slightly and smiled.
Aliyyah returned the bow, “Could you tell me if Mohammed As`Zaman Bey has returned yet?”
The clerk’s fingers floated over the data images and found the guest’s information. “Unfortunately, there is no indication at all- Would you like to leave a message?”
“That isn’t necessary,” Waryaghar said. “Thank you very much.” She bowed and turned toward the lift.


Runebergsgatan

Mohammed Bey stepped out onto the sidewalk and looked for Miss Borgstrom. “Odd, it has only been five minutes.” He saw a taxi across the street, its driver on the sidewalk buying a newspaper from a vending machine. “Excuse me…” As he crossed the street, he noticed the fresh tracks of a vehicle that passed in front of the area where Astrid was waiting. He turned to look down the street and thought he could make out the faint tail lights of a vehicle in the distance.
“Eh?” The taxi driver was a gray-haired Swede with a sparse beard.
The Azami teen shouted across the street, “Did you see a young lady standing here a moment ago?”
The elderly man shook his head, “Young lady? Ah, no…”
“What about a taxi or other vehicle?” As`Zaman heard a faint electronic tone from somewhere close by. He looked down and noted the deep, wide tracks- No taxi made them. He noticed a flashing light at the base of the curb, from under a layer of snow. He brushed aside the snow and found Borgstrom’s personal communicator.

“No, no taxi…” the driver replied. “It was a lorry of some sort that left as I arrived.”
The teen pushed a button on the communicator and held it to his ear, “Hello?”
He heard a woman’s voice, “Oh! I was talking to Astrid a moment ago but the call was cut off.”
From a dark corner beside the hotel’s entrance Mohammed Bey heard a child’s voice. A pained voice that sounded more like a croak, “She has been taken by Usmanu’s children…”
The teen closed his eyes. “No…” He didn’t want to see the grotesque image that he had seen earlier that evening. “Leave me be, Allah curse you.”
“Uncle Mohammed, why do you forsake me?” The voice sounded plaintive yet had a tone edged with cruelty- a child’s voice soured by the cynicism of age.
“You are not Nikki!” As`Zaman declared. “How dare you assume the guise of a departed child?” He kept his eyes shut- he had no desire to see that youthful face ravaged by decay and death.
The harsh, insinuating voice continued, “My Bey, your uncle Yugerten is dead and his duties are now yours.”

“Hello? Are you still there?” The woman’s voice was faint because As`Zaman no longer held the device to his ear.
“Is something wrong?” The cabbie across the street stood beside his vehicle, ready to leave.
“Yes, something is wrong,” replied the teen. “My friend has been kidnapped.” He pounded across the snow-covered avenue and opened the taxi’s passenger door. “Drive that way, fast.” He thought for a moment. “We have to catch the lorry you saw earlier.” He held the communication device to his ear. “I’m sorry but it appears that Miss Borgstrom may have been taken against her will.” He looked up as the taxi began to glide along the street. “Call the police; I am in pursuit, heading north along Runebergsgatan.”

“I think I see it up ahead,” the driver said. “With this snow, I don’t know if I can catch that lorry.” He looked at his passenger through the rear view mirror and activated the meter. The small passenger vehicle moved along the wide stretch of snow-covered road and slowly gained speed.
“Do the best you can to keep it in sight- all we have to do is see where it is going.” Mohammed Bey could barely make out the tail lights of the vehicle they followed. He thought about what the apparition said about his uncle. Yugerten was considered “gifted” among his relatives, an ancient tribal euphemism for madness. Because of this As`Zaman didn’t really know his uncle since they took pains to keep Yugerten away from the younger members of the family. From what the teen could remember his uncle usually sat quietly in a corner, eyes half-closed, often muttering under his breath. The Azami youth’s heart began to race- With what unseen beings had his uncle been conversing? He shook his head and pushed the thought from his mind.

_________________
[i]And Allah turned back the unbelievers in their rage; they did not obtain any advantage, and Allah sufficed the believers in fighting; and Allah is Strong, Mighty.[/i] from The Koran, 33rd Sura- The Clans


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PostPosted: Sun Jan 18, 2009 2:26 pm 
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Lieutenant General
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Joined: Sun Jan 20, 2002 8:00 pm
Posts: 529
Thanks for the story. Von Strang's World has always been a place that I wished got more attention. Good stuff.


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PostPosted: Thu Nov 26, 2009 11:24 am 
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Joined: Sat Aug 09, 2003 10:05 pm
Posts: 1471
Location: Kingdom of Hawaii
Erinyes City
Orestes System
Free Rasalhague Republic
February 25, 2205 Hours


The small vehicle pushed through the snow piling along the streets while its electric motors whined in protest. In the passenger compartment, Mohammed Bey leaned forward against the clear partition that separated him from the driver and he tried to see through the windshield obscured by frost. The heavily falling snow joined the windblown flakes that swirled off of the growing white mounds that accumulated in the darkened streets.
“I can barely make out the lorry’s tail lamps, sir!” The driver hunched over the steering wheel, his squinting eyes straining to see.
“Do your best to keep them in sight,” As`Zaman said. He tapped his earpiece and grumbled aloud, “My link doesn’t seem to be working.”
The driver chuckled, “You haven’t been through one of our storms, have you?” He fought with the steering wheel as the light vehicle skidded; a sudden gust of wind pushed it sideways and the tiny ground car slewed over the snow-covered road. “The density of precipitation as well as dry static mess up transmissions for dozens of kilometers around- even hardwire and power may get interrupted.”
“Great,” the teen commented as he checked the glowing screen on his device. “The signal appears to be oscillating in strength, mostly weak to nil.”
“Hey, it looks like they’re slowing down to turn,” the driver announced. Suddenly thrilled with the chase, he added power to the already straining motors that sped them down the long boulevard.

Hotel Gothenburg, Room 2507

“I’d like to have a word with this Colonel Kane,” the detective sergeant said aloud to nobody in particular. He stepped aside as the medics wheeled the unconscious man out of the suite. “And why the heck was that idiot dressed as a ninja?”
Anya Chernyakovsky shrugged, more out of annoyance than concern. She sat on a chair and watched the detective and two police officers as they inspected the room. Things would have been much easier if the would-be ninja was able to answer questions but for some reason, after Colonel Kane questioned him, the young man seemed to be asleep but could not be woken. Odd indeed… The burly stranger didn’t have time to slip the burglar something… Perhaps it was an injection… All of this commotion was beginning to irritate her.
Despite the fact that the room’s environmental settings were below normal the acting hotel manager used a handkerchief to mop the perspiration from his high forehead. “This is unspeakable!” The squirrelly man wrung his hands nervously. “If it ever got out that a hotel employee was breaking into rooms it would be a scandal!”
“I’ll try to keep a lid on this but I need all the information you have on this employee including his home address,” the detective said. “I also need to look at this Colonel Kane’s suite.”
The manager dipped his head profusely, “Of course, anything to cooperate!”
Under her breath Chernyakovsky growled in annoyance, “Just leave so I can get some sleep!”

Room 1803

Aliyyah Waryaghar bundled herself as best as possible before she left the warm comfort of her hotel suite. After a short rest she resumed her search for Mohammed Bey, utilizing her compact datapad linked to the city’s communications network. Waryaghar was thankful her data connection didn’t depend on the general transmitted links. The severe weather interfered with remote data connections and the equipment she utilized was designed to be durable as opposed to sensitivity.
The software on the Azami woman’s small device was specially designed to track a specific person via that person’s data trail. In Mohammed Bey’s case he left a very clear trail of credit purchases which indicated that he was making no effort to conceal his movement.
The Sisterhood had assigned Waryaghar on this mission with orders to apprehend the young noble and escort him back to one of the Azami Confederation Worlds. She balked at first but it was her first assignment and the target was just another young noble shirking his obligations to his people. Or was he? There was a lot of confusing data about her target, mostly wild claims by various martial arts clubs accusing her target of being an assassin but none of it matched any of the data provided by the Sisterhood. Who were the odd people offering money for As`Zaman’s head? What kind of world was this that had dozens of crazy teens pretending to be holovid assassins? These questions only made Aliyyah angry. Nothing here made any sense.
At least the data she managed to accumulate wasn’t so confusing. This evening none of his purchasing patterns showed anything but a wayward noble splurging on clothes, jewelry and entertainment for a foreign woman. “Degenerate!” she muttered as she checked her map display one last time and stepped into the lift that would take her to the ground floor.

Fire Escape, 25th Floor

Sensei Richard Bildt, Grand Master of the Grand Dragon Celestial Ninjutsu Dojo scowled when he saw one of his students unconscious, strapped to a stretcher and wheeled to an open lift. There were several policemen in the hallway so freeing the student was out of the question. He growled under his breath, his mind racing- how was he going to turn the disaster created by his underlings into a victory? The last thing he needed was to be caught dressed in his ninja uniform. He quietly closed the fire escape door and made his way back to where he parked his vehicle.
As the Sensei stalked through the parking garage he tapped his commlink, “Dragon Base, this is Grand Master.”
“Dragon Base, go ahead Grand Master.”
Bildt was glad the dojo’s communications network was connected by underground cables. “What is the status of the deployed teams?”
“Uh…” there was a brief pause. “Word got out about what happened to Burt…”
The Sensei closed his eyes- he knew what was coming.
“Uh, it seems the guys got cold feet, the weather and all…”
“Just go home,” he snapped. “None of you losers have what it takes to be a real ninja- I’ll finish this mission on my own.” He angrily shut off his commlink and stormed toward his parked vehicle.
“Excuse me,” a man’s voice emerged from the shadows, as did a uniformed police officer along with a gray-haired man clad in a thick, wool overcoat. Bildt stopped in his tracks when he saw the badge flash from the open wallet. “I’d like to ask you a few questions.”

Orestes Ronin Ninja Academy

Leila Tanaka stormed out of the office. “Hey, Borgstrom!”
The head ninjutsu instructor jumped when he heard his name called. “Yes!” He turned to face the Draconis Combine woman. “Is there something wrong?”
“My commlink isn’t working.” Tanaka appeared irritated.
The portly Swede dipped his head, “Oh, the weather sometimes does that here.” He pointed to a terminal. “Try the line there.”
Leila sniffed, walked across the room and accessed the communications terminal. She noticed the time and looked over to her host, “After this call I have to head back to the hotel- It’s getting late and the weather looks bad.”


Hotel Gothenburg, 2210 Hours

Colonel Kane’s icy blue eyes scanned through the darkness and falling snow. He suddenly pressed against the alley wall as a police patrol vehicle drove past. The burly man clutched the heavy metal-sheathed case by its thick leather straps, hefted the near hundred-kilogram burden onto his shoulder with a low grunt and peered around the corner. The long street was now void of traffic, the blizzard and the late hour had driven the usual traffic of tourists and local pedestrians to their hotel rooms or home or to places that offered far more shelter from the bitter cold.
“If I were a ridiculously wealthy and irresponsible teenager, where would I go?” he mused. Most of the bars had closed but he doubted any devout Azami would find such a place attractive. He trudged along the sidewalk and the thick layer of snow crunched under his boots. The mercenary brushed some of the snow from his close-cropped red beard, light from a handheld screen illuminated his face. “A women’s boutique, Argentine café…it looks like he’s out on a date.” His gloved hand tapped the glowing screen, “The boutique is closed and the café might be closed by the time I get there…might be.” He studied the map on his Pomegranate Zettapro, probably the most powerful and correspondingly expensive datacomm devices available on the open market, at least in the larger cities in select Commonwealth systems. Despite the inclement weather his datacomm easily picked up weak transmissions that normal market devices could not. He slipped the Zettapro into a pocket and started along the snow-blanketed sidewalk toward his target’s last known position- perhaps he might find an employee who could provide information about this strange teenager.

Room 2507

Leila Tanaka was worried. “And he didn’t tell you anything?”
“Nothing,” Anya replied. She was about to go to sleep when Leila knocked at her door. She rubbed her eyes. The investigators had left minutes earlier; they removed the still-unconscious burglar on a stretcher. She sat on her bed while her employer relaxed in a chair across the room. “Lieutenant Tanaka, what are you wearing under your coat?”
The Combine woman’s eyes went wide. “Oh, er, nothing special.”
Chernyakovsky decided to leave Tanaka be as they were both exhausted. She could guess what her employer might have planned for the evening by the blue stockings and something of which she caught but only a fleeting glimpse. It looked like a cat’s tail.
“Perhaps we should contact the authorities,” suggested the young, Slavic woman.
Tanaka shook her head, “This is Mohammed Bey we are talking about, not just another truant teen.” She wanted to sound more convincing but she was worried despite her words. “I know he’s just wandering around, checking out the sights- he’ll be back when he gets bored.” She glanced at the digital time readout on the holovid player. “Anya, just get some rest, I’m sure he’ll be joining us for breakfast.” Leila stood up and walked to the door, “I’ll see you in the morning.” The Draconis Combine woman stepped into the brightly lit hallway and continued to her room.

Parking Garage

Ninjutsu Grand Master Richard Bildt was furious. Not only did his spineless students creep away from their assigned stations during an operation but one forgot all of his training and got caught in the act, beaten senseless by a mere female tourist and hauled away, still unconscious, to a hospital by the local police.
To top off all of the betrayals committed that evening he was forced to endure the humiliation of being questioned by a detective who dared to scold him as if he were a petty thief discovered with his hand in the till. “I could have snapped their fat necks before any of them could react,” he muttered while the motor of his personal vehicle stuttered to life. He would now have to be careful- His mind raced, could he apprehend this foreign noble and collect the bounty while avoiding legal entanglements? He had no problem telling the police that the student they found in the hotel had acted alone and that his own presence was a mere coincidence despite his being dressed in his ninjutsu uniform.
He gave a smug chuckle- The detective’s boring lecture included a complaint of an incident at the Gunnar Spire Dome. The sensei in turn dismissed the report as just another exaggeration by foreign tourists. The city had at least a half dozen ninjutsu schools and several more clubs- he could hardly be blamed for the antics of unidentified vandals in costume.


Plantation Sanhaja
New Dzayer Region
Dabih
Draconis Combine
June, 3030


The instructor sipped red wine as he observed the two boys as they assailed each other with bated sabers. He stifled a chuckle at his aggressive young protégé, who savagely struck his opponent numerous times. The middle aged man pulled a saber from the rack which held various swords and separated the youthful combatants with a powerful stroke that beat both blades aside.
“That’s enough, young lord,” the instructor said. He set his glass down and dismissed the servant, “You may go now.”The servant bowed, removed his mask, placed his saber in the rack and retreated out of the exercise room.
Ten-year-old Mohammed Bey removed his own fencing mask, “Why did you stop us, Maestro Zoltan? I was giving him a thrashing.”
“If you merely needed exercise, young lord, I would let you beat your servants all day,” the instructor said. “It is my job to teach you how to fight as a noble.” He retrieved a mesh-covered mask from the wall and slipped it over his head. “Since your father’s bodyguards are too efficient at killing, I must teach you personally.” He firmly grasped the hilt of his saber and assumed the ‘ready’ stance. “En garde!”
The young Azami lord smiled, slipped the mask over his head and immediately sprang upon the middle aged Hungarian. Steel rang and sparks flew as they attacked and parried the other’s blows.


Erinyes City
Orestes System
Free Rasalhague Republic
February 25, 2215 Hours


Darkness…Cold…
“Get up, Mohammed!” The voice seemed distant. It was Nikki’s voice but that could not be. Nikki was dead. “Get up!”
“Am I asleep?” Mohammed Bey could hear his own thoughts through the darkness. The teen was disoriented and nauseous.
“There isn’t much time,” insisted the youthful voice. “You have to get up.”
As`Zaman felt cold…and pain. It was the pain that slowly dispersed the thick clouds that obscured his befuddled senses. He lay on his side, his face and hands were numb with intense cold. He tasted blood in his mouth and realized that his eyes were still closed. He tried to recall something…something he had to do. The image of Nikki’s face faded in and out of his mind. It was the innocent, young face he had grown to love so long ago on a world of constant winter and cold, the face of a little girl brutally killed by pirates bent on annihilating a small, reclusive settlement for some obscure reason. He groaned as the youthful face began to discolor and decay.
“This is not the time to be weak!” the voice of the dead girl shouted inside his head.
The snow continued to fall but the wind abated. A crumpled vehicle lay near one corner of the intersection, its fragile frame ripped open after it tumbled due to taking the turn at too high a speed. White flakes began to cover the two still forms lying on the street.

Hotel Gothenburg, Room 2505

Leila couldn’t sleep. Something in the back of her mind kept telling her that something wasn’t right and Mohammed Bey was somehow in trouble. She tried using the terminal in her room but As`Zaman did not or could not respond which made her even more worried.
“I can’t just sit around doing nothing,” she told herself. The Draconis Combine woman glanced at the shimmering neko costume with which she hoped to use to seduce Mohammed. “It’s definitely too cold to wear that silly thing.” Suddenly energized, Tanaka picked out an insulated undergarment and an ensemble of fashionable clothing in which she had hoped to parade about while on a skiing vacation. From the closet she pulled a coat she had just bought and tossed it onto the large bed then she selected a pair of cold-weather boots. As she passed the bathroom she glanced at the clutter of cosmetics that covered the counter in front of the vanity mirror and chuckled- There’d be no need for those tonight.
“Okay, Mohammed, I’ll find you.”


Mohammed Bey opened an eye. He used a gloved hand to brush the snow away from his face and noticed that he was lying on his side and there was snow everywhere. His entire body seemed to hurt. Numb fingers fumbled with coat buttons- He carried an autoinjector normally used by battlemech pilots and it contained several doses of pain killers, stimulants and antitoxins. Normally the autoinjector was linked to a health monitor and the doses administered as determined by the monitor’s settings and the physical condition of the wearer. His shaking fingers clutched the compact device and he pressed the autoinjector against his thigh, knowing the needles would easily penetrate the fabric and insulation.
“Not so fast, young man.”
As`Zaman paused at the sound of the calm, male voice. At first he thought that it was the taxi driver but he tilted his head slightly to see the pair of boots just a few meters away. The light from the street lamps were dimmed by falling snow and the Azami teen was still somewhat disoriented. He rolled onto his back so he could see the face of the man who addressed him. “I’m just going to…“
“Yes, but tagging yourself with Crash and Burn causes a different set of problems,” said the stranger. He knelt beside the teen, leaned over and placed a hand on Mohammed Bey’s shoulder, “It is time to get up, young Bey. There is work we have to do.”
The teen felt the cold, pain and numbness gradually vanish as he slowly sat up. He still tasted blood in his mouth and his tongue slid over his teeth. “I think I chipped a tooth.”
The middle-aged man who knelt beside him smiled and shook his head, “I can’t help you there, Mohammed Bey.” His eyes gleamed in the flickering light and his face was pleasant and friendly. “Allow me to help you up.”
“How did you…” As`Zaman still felt disoriented as he rose to his feet, the stranger at his elbow. He caught sight of the driver still sprawled in the snow. “No…”
“I was too late,” said the stranger. “It was written.” He brushed the snow from the teen’s coat, his steady voice reciting instructions. “The ones who you are looking for are not far.” He pointed down the street and indicated a lorry on its side. “The people you were pursuing didn’t make the turn either.”
Mohammed Bey stumbled to the driver’s side and examined him. “He isn’t breathing.” He felt the chill run through his body once more and felt guilty- He had dragged this poor man into his problem and now he was dead. The young noble drew his compad free of his coat pocket and tried to select the frequency for emergency services. He gave the little device a shake. “I’ve had this silly little thing for years- I’m replacing it as soon as possible!” He looked over to the lorry on its side and through the pulsing in his skull remembered something. “Miss Borgstrom!” He stood up, his legs still numb and unsteady and slowly walked the dozen or so meters from where the taxi had rolled over and broken apart to the overturned lorry.
As`Zaman discovered a pair of bodies. One was the driver and the other a passenger whose body was left in the rear compartment. Neither body possessed any form of identification. He knew them by their swarthy skin and facial features, which alarmed him- They both were unmistakably Hausa, one of the North African peoples who adopted the Azami form of Islam and joined them on their migration from Terra over five centuries earlier.
There were several sets of footprints and the snowfall slowly filled these. He could also recognize the prints left by the low-soled shoes that he had purchased for Miss Borgstrom. With much relief he could not only determine that not only was she alive but, by the way the snow was disturbed, the young lady also put up a struggle as her captors pulled her along.
The falling snow was gradually obscuring the trail. From what he could discern there were four kidnappers and Astrid Borgstrom heading along the sidewalk but he couldn’t make out what kind of buildings lay ahead. All he could do was follow their trail and see where it led. Before he began following the trail he cast about, looking for the man who was talking to him earlier and who had helped him to his feet. He ran a hand over his face and wondered if we had imagined it. He shoved that idea from his mind and began to run on unsteady legs along the sidewalk.

“Yes, thank you and good night,” said Colonel Kane. He managed to reach Los Gauchos just before the manager locked the doors. His target had left less than an hour before with a well-dressed, pretty young lady. “It would be ironic if he simply returned to the hotel while I trudged through the snow and cold to get here.” He stepped into the lift and pushed the button that indicated the ground floor. “He’s got an expensive suite there- I wonder…”
Before Kane stepped out of the building he noticed the flashing lights of police vehicles. He halted by the door and peered through the frost-coated glass. One hand yanked the Pomegranate Zettapro out and he set the device to monitor frequency traffic. Once he isolated the local police transmissions he stepped back into the shadows and listened to the radio chatter through his earpiece. After he took a few minutes to piece together several radio conversations he shook his head. “Well, this complicates things…” The screen displayed an intersection about two kilometers away where two vehicles and a pair of bodies were found. The colonel returned the Zettapro to his coat’s inner pocket and found the building’s delivery entrance where he could depart unobserved.

It took longer than expected to summon a taxi. Most of the trip from the dojo back to the center of town was uneventful. The taxi slowed.
Aliyyah Waryaghar sat in the passenger seat of the taxi and leaned forward, “What is wrong?” she asked the driver. There were three police cars sitting outside of the building she wanted to enter. She saw another taxi and its driver talking to police officers swaddled in cold weather gear.
“I don’t know what’s going on here but a taxi from another company got into an accident somewhere up the road- that’s what the other cabbies are talking about,” he replied. “Funny, they can’t find the driver.”
The Azami woman thought for a moment, “Please wait here, I shall return in a few minutes.” She exited the vehicle and carefully walked to the building’s entrance. She could see a sign indicating that Los Gauchos, the last place where her tracking program indicated that her quarry, As`Zaman, had paid a bill here less than an hour before, had already closed. Her mind sifted through all the information she had accumulated but it all seemed rather random and she was at a loss at making any sense of the teen’s actions.


Arne Borgstrom adjusted the wool scarf around his neck. The heater in the ground car’s back seat wheezed anemically and barely kept the passengers comfortable.
“Jan, could you possibly increase the heat back here? I’m freezing!” Despite his bulky form and thick overcoat, Borgstrom shivered.
The driver tapped the control panel. “I’m sorry, Arne, it’s cranked up to its maximum setting.” The Rasalhague teen took a quick glance at his friend through the rear view mirror. “Have you been able to get through to Astrid yet?”
Borgstrom fumbled for his comm. unit. “Let me try again. She left a message that she may be out late.” He tapped the display and selected a grimacing cartoon face.
“Well?” The other teen who sat next to the driver leaned over and peered over the seat.
Arne shook his head, “Come on, answer!”


The trail was relatively fresh. Colonel Kane could make out four adult males and an unwilling female. One additional set of tracks, several minutes behind the first group, appeared to be left by a pair of handmade boots, more designed for riding than strolling along a city street.
“Those corpses were Hausa.” Kane whispered to himself, “Well, Mohammed Bey, what manner of intrigue have we here?” The taxi and lorry were several blocks behind him. The burly mercenary stuck to the shadows, his long strides carrying him away from the distant flashing lights and mystified police. They’d not notice the tracks leading away from the scene of the accident before the snowfall and clumsy constables totally obscured all traces of their passing.


A slight vibration in his coat pocket caused Mohammed Bey to halt momentarily. He dug into the pocket, withdrew the delicate magenta communicator that he had found dropped in the snow beside the curb and held it to his ear. “As`Zaman.”
“Uh…uh…I’m trying to call Astrid Borgstrom.” Arne stammered. He hadn’t expected a stranger to answer. “Who is this?” He covered his other ear so he could hear clearly over the sound of the speeding ground car.
The Azami teen felt a wave pain and suspected that he had a concussion. Leaning against a gray stone building, he caught his breath and noted that the tracks he followed led to what appeared to be some kind of restaurant or coffee house. The windows were dark. “Is this Miss Borgstrom’s brother?” He peered through the frosted glass and could see a door outlined by traces of light.
Despite talking on a small hand communicator, Borgstrom nodded, “Yes, yes…where is she?” He leaned forward in the seat, eager to learn the answer.
“Kidnapped…taken by Hausa unbelievers.” As`Zaman replied. He recalled the warning muttered by Nikki’s apparition. “They are savages who have returned to their pagan beliefs.” He looked about for something to use to break the window beside the door to gain entrance. “I’m following them.”
“Kidnapped?” Arne clutched at his chest- His mother would surely get upset if she heard about this. “Where are you now?” It may have been cold in the back seat of Jan’s vehicle but the Rasalhagher began to perspire.
Mohammed Bey looked up at the sign over the darkened windows. “Four Winds…” He cast about and across the street saw a better landmark. “It is a restaurant across the plaza from Riksbanken Rasalhague.”


The taxi slowly passed the scene of the accident. A police officer directed traffic around the wrecked passenger vehicle and hazard lamps placed along the street blazed with intermittent flashes.
“What happened here?” Aliyya could see a pair of covered bodies in the snow.
The driver shook his head, “It wasn’t a collision- It looks like both of them took the turn too quickly.” He looked over the scene. “The other taxi drivers have been saying things…”
“Oh?”
The driver nodded. “The only bodies they’ve found were from the lorry.” He thought for a moment. “The driver and the passenger from the wrecked taxi are missing.”
The Azami woman frowned. “Really?”
“Yeah, that’s very odd. According to the dispatcher, the missing driver mentioned that the passenger looked like a rich Azami.”
“What?” Waryaghar practically jumped out of the passenger seat. “Stop here, I have to get out!” She tossed a Rasalhague note at the driver, worth more than double the fare. “Keep it!”


“Tanaka here.” The woman from the Draconis Combine wasn’t expecting a call and could not recognize the code on the communicator’s display. It was Arne Borgstrom and he seemed upset.
“Chu-i Tanaka, your friend answered my sister’s comm….” He seemed out of breath and Leila could tell that she was riding in a speeding vehicle.
“W-what?” She was somewhat confused by Arne’s message.
“M-mohammed! He said Astrid was kidnapped!”
Jan looked at his friend through the rear-view mirror. “Arne, you have to relax- Tell her we’re heading to the hotel.”
Borgstrom nodded. “Tanaka-san, we’re just a minute away from the Gothenburg.” He leaned back in the seat and took a deep breath through his inhaler.
Leila stepped from the lift. “Very well, I shall be waiting for you at the entrance.”


Aliyya Waryaghar slowly circled around the perimeter cordoned off by the police. Too many people had been scrambling around the ruined taxi and the lorry, destroying all traces of what tracks the taxi driver or any others who may have been involved in the accidents or first on the scene may have left. In the darkness she noted the uneven pattern of snowfall along the sidewalk that led away to the East. She had made certain that her circuit of the scene took into account any other pedestrians. Only one other obscured trail departed from the area- A solo pedestrian who headed westward. The Azami woman concluded that As`Zaman had headed in other the direction, along with a handful of others.
Satisfied, the Azami woman adjusted her robe and followed the snow-obscured tracks. Once she was satisfied that she was far enough from the crash site she began to run as fast as she could without losing sight of the path she traced.


As`Zaman emerged from the alleyway next to the building. There was a chain link fence barring passage but he could see that there might be another way for those he had tracked to the restaurant to escape. There wasn’t anything he could find in the alley that he could use as a tool to open the door. He examined his leather gloves and decided that they would be adequate in protecting his fist.
Determined, Mohammed Bey took a stance and drew back his left arm to strike.
“Mohammed As`Zaman Bey, I have been looking for you.”
The teen spun around, something he subsequently regretted as it made his head spin as well. He recognized the deep voice and he leaned against the wall. “Colonel Kane...what…may..I do for you?”

_________________
[i]And Allah turned back the unbelievers in their rage; they did not obtain any advantage, and Allah sufficed the believers in fighting; and Allah is Strong, Mighty.[/i] from The Koran, 33rd Sura- The Clans


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PostPosted: Mon Mar 01, 2010 8:14 am 
Offline
Commanding General
Commanding General

Joined: Sat Aug 09, 2003 10:05 pm
Posts: 1471
Location: Kingdom of Hawaii
The name of the system is Orestes as is the name of the system’s only populated world.
According to Greek mythology Orestes was a prince born into the ancient Greek house of Atreus. The great warrior king of Mycenae, Agamemnon, was his father and his mother was Clytemnestra, the daughter of Leda the Queen of Sparta, said to be fathered by Zeus along with her sister, Helen.

To make a rather long and tangled story short, Helen, ascended to Sparta’s throne and married Agamemnon’s brother, Menelaus. Helen was kidnapped by a visiting prince named Paris and taken to Troy. King Menelaus was only a king because his wife Helen was Queen of Sparta. Menelaus couldn’t hold his throne without Helen so for that, and a variety of other reasons, Menelaus wanted Helen back.
Because he offended the goddess Artemis, Agamemnon had to sacrifice his daughter Iphigenia to gain favorable winds to sail to Troy.
Ten years passed; Clytemnestra took on a lover, Agamemnon and Co. trashed the city-state of Troy and Agamemnon brought Trojan Princess Cassandra back to Mycenae as a trophy. Clytemnestra, who was still steamed over the sacrifice of one of her daughters, was probably even angrier about her husband’s new mistress and with more than just a little help from her lover, killed both Agamemnon and Cassandra.

Orestes had been staying with friends because his mother wanted him dead for some reason. He snuck home and killed his mother and her lover as a good, faithful son should.
While Clytemnestra wasn’t given much grief over slaughtering Agamemnon, Orestes incurred divine wrath for killing his mother. The vengeful spirits sent to torment Orestes were called Erinyes- Furies.
The name of the planetary capital of the planet Orestes is Erinyes.

As a planet, Orestes is very much like Terra. Unlike Terra, Orestes regularly endures fierce storms that blast in from its polar regions. In meteorological terms, upper wind currents shift their usual lateral patterns and direct cold air to normally temperate regions and often create sudden drops in temperature. If there are masses of humidity in the path, the sudden change of temperature could also induce precipitation over a swath of area for durations of several hours to several days.
Sometimes this precipitation is carried aloft for hundreds, often thousands of kilometers and deposited when the current shifts in speed and or direction. In addition to the sudden and often drastic changes of environmental conditions the storms brought in by these shifting atmospheric currents also interfere with communications and power transmissions.


Erinyes City
Orestes System
Free Rasalhague Republic
February 25, 2230 Hours

The compact groundcar slowed as it approached the Hotel Gothenburg main entrance. Jan Björling squinted and used his hand to wipe away the condensation from the vehicle’s windscreen. “Arne, the snow seems to be letting up but I don’t think the blizzard’s over.”
“Just keep the heaters running at the maximum setting, Jan.” The aspiring ninja master put the respirator to his lips and inhaled. The stress of hearing about his sister being kidnapped was almost unbearable. He wiped the passenger door window with a handkerchief and strained to see if Leila Tanaka waited for them. A shadow appeared at the frosted glass door and when the portal opened, Borgstrom heaved a sigh of relief as Tanaka stepped out of the building. He pushed the passenger door open. “Tanaka-san!”

Aliyyah Waryaghar fumed as she stumbled over the snow-covered sidewalk- The sisterhood certainly didn’t prepare her for this sort of thing. The snow wasn’t falling as densely as it had an hour or so ago but the young Azami woman still shivered despite the thick clothing she wore. Her current mission tested her tracking abilities on all levels- Fortunately, following a set of tracks in the snow in a blizzard was little different than tracking someone in the sand during a sandstorm.
Waryaghar’s mission was supposed to be very simple- Find the wayward nobleman, remind him of his obligations to his people and if necessary, escort him home. The target’s dossier was typical- He was a fairly wealthy scholar and academy graduate. If were like most spoiled noblemen, he was engaging in a hedonistic vacation before finally settling down to his duties as a nobleman.
There were many elements of this common practice with which the sisterhood strongly disapproved. The greatest risk was that the young nobleman would value his freedom enough to abandon his home and family. Others might return with a foreign wife- maybe an unbeliever.
Just thinking about how an extravagant noble like As`Zaman wasted his life made her furious.

Colonel Kane wasn’t very tall; at just over 1.8 meters he still towered over Mohammed Bey and with his muscled bulk, probably outweighed the slim Azami teen thrice over. Even in the dim light the teen could discern the red whiskers of the larger man’s close-cropped beard.
“Young man, you have been rather difficult to find.” The colonel’s voice was a deep rumble.
As`Zaman really wasn’t in the mood for conversation but at least the mercenary was a familiar face. “I am on vacation, seeing the sights.” He rubbed his eyes. “At the moment I am looking for my date- She appears to have been kidnapped.”
“What did you say?” The burly mercenary shifted the burden slung on his shoulder. “So, you were following these tracks.” He glanced back at the trail obscured by his own tracks and falling snow.
Mohammed Bey again tried the door. “They took her in here.” He leaned against the door. “I tried to find another way in.”
“Let me have a try.” Kane walked up to the door and touched the lock. “This one is fairly common.”
The teen backed away from the door, still somewhat wary of the mercenary. “Have you something to open it?”
Kane paused. “Mohammed Bey, do you know anything about the people you are following?” He slipped a slim metal device from his coat and waited for a reply.

“Over one and a half millennia ago the Hausa people converted to Islam but some of them retained their devil-worshipping cult.” replied the Azami noble. “Without the oversight of their Fulbe leaders some Hausa cannot resist reverting to their pagan roots.” He looked into Kane’s icy blue eyes. “They are among the worst of pagans because their rituals include human sacrifice.”
The mercenary commander slid the tip of the metal pick into the lock. “I see you have been doing your homework.” He twisted the latch with a gloved hand and the door swung open. “How many of them do you think are in there?”
“Only Allah knows- I am unaware of this world’s demographics.” As`Zaman looked at Kane and weighed the risks of trusting the stranger. “Thank you for your help so far.” He stepped through the doorway. “You are not obligated to assist me.” He bowed slightly but didn’t waste any more time in dismissing the larger man.
Kane watched the youth as he entered the darkened restaurant and smiled. “I’m going along just to see what you’re going to do.”

The Grand Master Richard Bildt could not believe the sudden turn of luck- After the detectives released him he returned to his own small vehicle and decided to return to his dojo. As he drove out of the parking structure, he took one last chance at locating his target by halting his groundcar on the street and taking a few minutes to observe the hotel’s entrance. He found a section of the building’s marble façade that provided shelter against the blowing wind and snow as well as offered shadows in which he could hide. The ninjutsu instructor’s eyes narrowed when he recognized the vehicle pause before the hotel’s entrance.
“That groundcar belongs to one of those amateurs from Ronin Dojo.” He fought the urge to rush out of his concealment and chase them off when the passenger door opened and he saw the pasty face of one of the Ronin Dojo teachers appear. His eyes grew wide when the Japanese woman emerged from the hotel- This one, dressed in expensive furs, was certainly the woman mentioned in the dossier concerning his target.
Bildt finally had cause to smile. “All I have to do is follow her.” He dashed to his waiting vehicle.


2245 Hours


Astrid Borgstrom tried to remain calm. In her mind she tried to piece together the chain of events that had occurred over the past half hour or so. She remembered standing on the sidewalk after leaving Los Gauchos, she was about to call her brother, then suddenly yanked off her feet by a pair of strong arms and tossed into the back of a moving lorry. The rest is confusion. A cloth bag covered her head while several surly, foreign men laughed as they lashed her wrists together with a cord.
She was pushed roughly to the floor, pleading and crying. She couldn’t recall how much time had passed but she remembered hearing the men shouting angrily and pounding at the wall that separated them from the driver’s compartment. At the time she could tell by the sound of the straining engine that the vehicle was traveling very fast. It was not long before she felt herself being tossed up from the wooden flooring. She did scream and her voice mixed with the half-dozen or so male voices as their bodies were flung about like so many dolls.
Disoriented, unable to see, her limbs sore and her wrists still bound, Borgstrom tried stand but could only stumble over what she could only guess were a pair of her captors. She could feel cold air and attempted to crawl out of the rear of the overturned lorry but again she was grasped by strong hands and despite her feeble struggles she was dragged from the vehicle and over pavement and onto a snow-covered walk by at least four of her kidnappers.

Had she thought about it, she would have resisted less and memorized how many steps it had taken to whatever building they entered. Despite the cloth bag over her head, she could hear what went on around her and could tell that the room they had entered was well illuminated and heated. Her captors gave her little time to rest. At least one of the men was injured as he moved with some pain. She herself was bruised here and there but fortunately nothing was broken. They let her sit for a few minutes while they conferred in a language that she found impossible to place- I certainly wasn’t European. Again one of her captors forced to onto her feet and pulled her through a hallway, across a floor with an odd synthetic covering, possibly a kitchen and through another door out into the cold once more. Her heart sank when she heard the low rumble of a lorry’s motor starting in the distance.

Despite his insulated clothing Mohammed Bey felt cold. He wasn’t shivering but his time outside the following the tracks to the darkened restaurant was enough for the cold to penetrate his elephant hide coat. Although the entrance and dining area was dark there was enough dim illumination to traverse the room without tripping on the furniture.
Colonel Kane strode behind the stealthy teen with panther-like grace. The mercenary had no problem at all following the cautious youth despite the lick of illumination.

As`Zaman stopped outside the door to the kitchen. He felt a hand on his shoulder.
“Perhaps we should be ready for trouble.” whispered Kane. He gently placed his burden on the floor and worked its arcane system of locks. The burly soldier opened a panel and Mohammed Bey could make out the container’s thick walls and shiny metallic contents. Kane reached into the container with his left hand and with incredible ease from its depths pulled a meter-long blade. “I have more, do you want one?”
The Azami teen could recognize Kane’s sword as a basic, straight-bladed, double-edged European design of keen, mirror-polished steel. The plain crossbar was of darker steel, perhaps an exotic alloy. He shook his head. “These animals do not deserve the honor.” The youth motioned for silence as he listened at the door.
The colonel rolled his eyes at the reply. “Have it your way, my Bey.”
“This…” Mohammed Bey stepped over to a shelf display and grasped the handle of a large, cast iron skillet. He hefted the cooking implement and shouldered it.
The mercenary blinked and shook his head. He guessed that the skillet must have weighed at least five kilograms. Kane gripped the hilt of his blade and rested the gleaming weapon on his shoulder.

“He’s in there.” Aliyyah Waryaghar stood just outside the restaurant and peered through the window at the two shadows moving toward the far side of the room. “Who is that with him?” She fumbled with her portable data link- The bitter cold was getting to her. Numbed fingers searched through files on the palm-sized display. There was no record of any bodyguards traveling with this young nobleman so this new male was a mystery.
Waryaghar looked through the frosted pane once more. She could make out the two silhouettes against the brilliant light of an open door. “Is that a sword?” She waited a few seconds after the room went dark once more. “They didn’t even lock the door behind them.”
The Azami woman closed the door behind her and crouched on one knee. Even in the darkness she could recognize the geometric pattern of the restaurant’s carpet. She looked at the symbols painted along the walls. “These are devil worshippers! What is this youth up to- Does he mean to face the unbelievers alone?” She dug into her robes and drew out a small, curved blade. “He is going to get himself killed.” She tried to formulate a plan but too many things were changing too fast. Now the man she followed was off hunting pagans. It would not have been so bad but these pagans engaged in human sacrifice and would put up a fight.

“What’s going on up ahead?” Leila Tanaka leaned forward over the driver’s seat, hoping to get a better look.
Jan slowed the groundcar. “It looks like a traffic accident up ahead- There’s an ambulance and a large towing vehicle.” He steered around the police cars and emergency vehicles at a snail’s pace. “Where did he say he was?”
Arne checked his datapad. “He said that foreign café across from the main bank.”
“Right.” Jan eyed the crumpled wreckage of the taxi as his groundcar slowly glided through the intersection. A pair of uniformed police officers directed what few vehicles dared the foul weather. Björling gripped the wheel and noted with some irritation that the only other vehicle on the street was following his- And it drove uncomfortably close.

Tanaka rubbed her gloved hands together. “Does it always get this cold?”
“Not always,” Borgstrom replied. “The air currents will suddenly shift several times a year but only four or five times will the shift blow in from the poles and bring this weather with it.” He tapped on the back of the driver’s headrest, “Jan, we need more heat back here for our guest.” He sat back in his seat and turned to Leila, “Do you have any idea why your friend didn’t want us to call the police?”
“No idea.” Tanaka shook her head. “I know he’s got to have a really good reason.” In truth, she had no idea why the Azami teen just didn’t allow the local authorities to handle the problem.

“That looks like the place up ahead.” Jan slowed the vehicle. “I don’t see the guy.”
The Draconis Combine woman strained to see through the windscreen. “Maybe he went in there.”
Jan steered past the restaurant and searched for somewhere to park. “Arne, can you see if that sign allows parking?”
Borgstrom couldn’t make out the frost-covered sign and dreaded opening his window. “Try further up the street.” His plump fingers selected his sister’s number on his comm. device. “Come on, answer.”
“It looks like that car is following us,” remarked the teen driver. He adjusted the mirror attached to the upper portion of the windshield. “Yes, he is slowing down. There’s no way I could not have spotted him- What is he thinking?”

“Where are they going?” Ninjutsu Grand Master Bildt steered his electric-powered vehicle over the snow-covered street. The vehicle had four independent motors, one powering each tire, which not only made the vehicle virtually silent in operation when compared to more popular petrol-fueled models but gave the sedan superior traction over various road conditions.
He recognized the foreign woman described in the announcement that started the evening’s strange course of occurrences.
This As`Zaman fellow was said to be a dangerous assassin and a sizable reward was offered for his apprehension. Since the reward wasn’t publicized through governmental channels, Bildt surmised that it was most likely offered by a noble family or rich industrialist. The fact that his target was described as a mere teenager made the anonymous contract all the more attractive. How good a warrior could this foreigner possibly be?

The middle-aged Swede’s heart almost skipped a beat when he saw the groundcar that he trailed pause in front of a restaurant. He slowed and watched the vehicle intently, questions racing through his mind. Who is that Asian woman? Why are those idiots from Ronin Dojo with her? What was the importance of that foreign restaurant?
He took a quick glance over to the sign over the café that read, Restaurant Daura.
“Daura?” Bildt halted his vehicle, powered up his expensive datapad and accessed the municipal library to find information on that foreign word.


Alkalawa
Hausaland, West Africa
Terra
October, 1808


Concentrated musket fire had driven the pagan defenders from the mud walls of Gobir’s capital city and thousands of the faithful, some clad only in rags, carried crude ladders and used them to scale the large circle of stone and wattle that surrounded the largest bastion of the Hausa unbelievers.
The army that encircled Alkalawa was primarily composed of Fulbe tribesmen- nomads who had settled among the Hausa people centuries earlier. Rif and Tuareg horsemen assembled in loose packs, waiting for the footmen to open one of the city gates. Most of the infantry were native Hausa- loyal converts to Islam who had fled the towns and villages that had degenerated over the years.
The ruling Hausa families had been Muslim in name only and many had reverted to their ancient ways- They turned a blind eye to the resurgence of the old, pagan practices and to support their decadent living, they burdened the people with high taxes and tariffs on trade. Daughters disappeared from farms and travelers would be found murdered- slain in pagan sacrificial rites.

Upon a distant hill a white pavilion faced the doomed city. The leader of the Jihad did not sit on a carven throne from which he could gloat at the deaths of thousands of degenerate unbelievers. Shaikh Usman Ibn Fuduye, Imam and Amir al-Muminin (Leader of the Faithful), knelt in prayer. He wore the simple white robe of a pilgrim and a plain, hand woven taqiya skullcap. The swarthy fingers of his right hand held onto the beads of his misbaha and counted the repetitions of his prayers.
A Tuareg, clad from head to foot in dark gray, entered the shelter, knelt and pressed his forehead to the ornate carpet. “Amir, the wall has been scaled and our men have opened the main gates to our army.”

The elder Imam opened his eyes. “I hear the din of battle, the sound of muskets, the exultant shouts of the faithful.” He placed the string of beads on the short table at his side. “I feel the ground shaking- Our horsemen ride through the breach.”
The nomad stood up. “Amir, shall you join the battle?” He looked out of the large tent and could see several columns of black smoke rising from the distant city. The thatch rooftops burned furiously. The flames and smoke obscured the black domes of the palace.
The Shaikh slowly rose to his feet, using the thick tent pole to support himself. His dark eyes looked out over the tall grass and fallow fields. He could see the dark columns of riders as they filed through the distant gates. “No.” He shook his head. “I am no warrior- The ones who fight would be distracted with my presence, concerned for my safety.”

“Yes, my Amir.” The Tuareg bowed. “Are there further orders for my commander?”
The leader bowed his head. “You wish to know my orders concerning the prisoners.”
“Yes, my Amir.” The nomad warrior shuffled nervously and avoided looking the holy man in the eye.
From behind a partition came a low, calm voice. “No prisoners.”
The nomad started then looked to the Amir.
“No prisoners.” Shaikh Usman whispered. He closed his eyes. “No prisoners.”
The Tuareg warrior gave a grim smile and bowed. “I shall inform Shaikh As`Zaman.”

Alkalawa was in flames. The capital was less a city than an expanded village surrounded by slums made up of hundreds of small mud huts. Most of these huts were topped with layers of dry palm fronds and these easily caught fire. One portion of Alkalawa burned out of control.
The sturdy wooden palisade designed to ward off raiders now trapped the city’s terrified inhabitants. The shouts of men and the screams of women and children rose into the clear blue sky. Most of the fighting was reduced to small knots of struggling men who strove blade to blade, the battle occasionally punctuated by the bark of a musket.
Through the wider streets rode horse-mounted Tuaregs in blue-gray and Rif warriors in robes of white. Along the street that led to the King Yunfa’s pavilion trotted a column of Rif horsemen who wielded flowing banners of various colors, each bearing a passage from the Koran. At the head of this column of riders rode their leader, Imam Shaikh Anazâr ben Usem As`Zaman, spiritual leader of the Rif contingent.

The pavilion of King Yunfa was a large, domed hut with an extended covered area where Yunfa held his court. Three wide streets intersected the wide plaza that once served as an open market. The debris of shattered stalls, tables and displays lay trampled under the hooves of warhorses and the boots and sandals of soldiers.
Wailing women and crying children were corralled like animals while the surviving men of the town knelt in a mass, surrounded by grimly jubilant victors.

Ringed by wary guards was Yunfa, his limbs bound and mouth gagged. He lay rolled up in a heavy rug, surrounded by over a dozen sobbing concubines and a like number of “priestesses” –men who in the Hausa pagan tradition garbed themselves as women and engaged in vile abominations.
A Tuareg rider maneuvered his horse through the packed town square and dismounted. He bowed before a conferring group of officers. “My Lords, I bring word from the pavilion of Amir Usman.” He knelt and pressed his forehead to the dust.
“Approach us, Bahanga,” responded a Tuareg officer. He motioned with a braided leather horsewhip. “What tidings? The commanders have been discussing how we should divide the prisoners among us.”

The messenger exhaled deeply- The news he carried would not be welcome. “Exalted Lords! The Leader of the Faithful has commanded that there be no prisoners!”
After a brief moment of general consternation, Imam As`Zaman calmed his fellow officers. “This is the decree from a messenger of Allah!” He dipped his head to each of the commanders. “Indeed, many of us believed that we would return with unbelievers in tow when we returned to the slave markets on the coast.” He looked over to the doomed prisoners. “Allah knows that the looting here has been sparse and we shall have to make up for it on our way home.” The Imam motioned for the other commanders, “Draw nigh, my brothers.” When he was confident that nobody outside of the circle could hear, he continued, “Bind the prisoners and lead them to separate corners within the palisade- they will believe that they are bound for the slave markets.”



Erinyes City
Orestes System
Free Rasalhague Republic


Mohammed Bey squinted as his eyes adjusted to the light. The door he opened led to a portion of the restaurant’s kitchen area. The kitchen was lit but the teen couldn’t see anyone there. He made quick evaluation of his surroundings. There was one door that was clearly marked as an exit. There was a hall with two doors and what looked like a bend at its far end. In the kitchen area near the walk-in freezer there was another door.
Colonel Kane stepped through the door and stood ready beside the Azami youth. He whispered, “There must be stairs or a lift as this building has two upper floors and a basement.”
The teen nodded. “Agreed- We should check the hall first.” He started down the hall and paused. “The lights are on, someone has to be here.”

The mercenary officer gave a quick “thumbs up” and waited for the youth to lead the way. He would have preferred to take the lead but was interested in observing the young nobleman. He smiled, willing to follow but prepared to jump in should the circumstance require it.
As`Zaman halted by the first door and listened for a moment. Satisfied, he moved on to the next door and listened there as well.
“Do you hear that?” Colonel Kane stood near the entrance to the kitchen area. “I hear a motor idling outside.” He motioned toward the restaurant’s back door.
The teen shook his head. “Are you certain? I can’t hear a thing.” He was about to say something else when he saw the older mercenary step into the kitchen and out of his sight. He scurried along the hallway to the kitchen and peered through the doorway. Kane was already at the rear entrance, at the small window.

“There is a lorry out there.” He drew back from the window. “Two men- they are coming this way.” He stepped to one side, sword drawn back and ready to strike. “Get over here, young lord.”
As`Zaman moved up and took his place on the opposite side of the portal.
“Let the first one in, I’ll attack the second one and draw attention.” He waited for the young Azami to nod. “You hit the first one as soon as he turns to face me.”
“What about the lorry?”
Kane shrugged. “I suppose we take out these two first then rush the vehicle.”
“What if they see us and try to escape?”
“Fine, do you have a better plan?”
The teen shook his head and drew the skillet back for a swing.

The sedan squeezed past the waiting lorry. At the wheel of the smaller vehicle, Richard Bildt congratulated himself for his stroke of genius. Not only had he avoided observation by a rival ninjutsu school but he was about to apprehend his quarry by secretly entering the foreign restaurant’s back door. He steered his sedan to the right and found a place to park near a large refuse container.

“I think he drove around back.” Arne Borgstrom checked the digital time display on his personal communicator. “Why doesn’t he call?”
Tanaka examined her own communicator, “Mohammed’s an intuitive tactician- You have to trust in his judgment.” She looked at the large window, hoping to see some sign from her friend. “I’ve always trusted him.”

The door that separated the restaurant’s dining room from the kitchen yielded slowly to her touch. She paused at the sound struggle. Through the thin crack in the doorway she saw brief movement before the lights were extinguished. The Azami woman took advantage of the sudden darkness and slipped through the door.

At a crouch next to a wall, the young woman peered into the kitchen area and felt a cold breeze. In the dim light Waryaghar could make out two bodies on the kitchen floor. The rear entrance was wide open and occasional snowflakes fluttered through the opening. Through that opening she saw the lorry slowly move through the alley. Despite the snow and shadows she saw a pair of dark shapes climbing aboard the large vehicle as it disappeared into the night.

_________________
[i]And Allah turned back the unbelievers in their rage; they did not obtain any advantage, and Allah sufficed the believers in fighting; and Allah is Strong, Mighty.[/i] from The Koran, 33rd Sura- The Clans


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PostPosted: Sun Apr 11, 2010 1:12 pm 
Offline
Captain
Captain

Joined: Sat Jan 26, 2002 8:00 pm
Posts: 300
Location: Texas! Nope, Arkansas now.
Pretty good reading. I look forward to the next installment.

_________________
Lyran-ism: You have two cows. One starts a business and becomes insanely rich. The other buys rank in your military and subsequently loses three assault regiments and two worlds to a band of pirates in Locusts.


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PostPosted: Sun Dec 28, 2014 3:46 am 
Offline
Commanding General
Commanding General

Joined: Sat Aug 09, 2003 10:05 pm
Posts: 1471
Location: Kingdom of Hawaii
Erinyes City
Orestes System
Free Rasalhague Republic
February 25, 2300 Hours


From inside the darkened Hausa restaurant, Aliyyah Waryaghar observed the small passenger vehicle as it maneuvered through the darkness into the narrow alley to halt next to the large refuse container. The young woman slid into the shadows and relied on the stealth techniques she had learned from the Binat Lilitu, the secret, holy order of women who guided Azami society from the shadows. Her right hand gripped the short blade and her body tensed as the sedan’s door opened. The dome light illuminated the vehicle’s driver and Waryaghar started. The vehicle’s driver was dressed as a Minakuchi holovid Ninja, and what little exposed pale skin revealed that he was obviously a Caucasian. Despite the dim light she could make out the embroidery in red thread that spelled out “Ninjutsu Grand Master Richard Bildt” on the left side of his chest. She returned her blade to its sheath, reached for the iron skillet that rested on a nearby counter and hefted it. It was heavy and she smiled to herself.
The Azami woman shook her head as she watched the man in the ninja costume slam the vehicle’s door and walk up to the restaurant’s rear entrance as if he were making a bread delivery.
Richard Bildt, Grand Master of the Grand Dragon Celestial Ninjutsu Dojo, smiled with glee as he approached the open alleyway door. There was no need for him to fumble with lock picks and other tools to enter the darkened restaurant, where he believed his quarry hid. It was a foreign establishment and the martial arts instructor believed that it was run by people in league with this Mohammed Bey person –A known assassin with a price on his head. He stepped through the open portal and waited for a moment for his eyes to adjust to the darkness before he continued further. He took a deep breath and cautiously made his way into the building. He barely took three steps before he tripped over one of the bodies sprawled on the floor and lost his balance. Waryaghar saw her chance and sprang forward as the would-be ninja was on his hands and knees. The skillet connected with the man’s head with a dull ring and he dropped to the floor as if sledgehammered. The Azami woman stood over her target ready to take another swing and carefully kicked him with her right foot. Satisfied that he was unconscious, she tugged the keys from his pocket and headed out the back door.
Richard Bildt moaned, rubbed the bump on his head and through the intense pain imagined that he heard his groundcar driving away.
The lorry trundled along the snow-covered roadway and the falling snow swirled in its wake. Mohammed Bey clung to the lorry’s canvas-covered frame despite his cold-numbed fingers and looked over to Colonel Kane with a raised eyebrow. The Colonel held up his free hand then motioned to the gap which formed when the canvas flap rippled in the cold wind. The Azami teen nodded and slipped into the back of the cargo area and rolled into a crouch, his arms ready to fend off any attack. The youth could only see blackness, despite it being dark outside. Mohammed Bey realized that outside, he had the light of the city reflected off the clouds and the occasional street lamp, all of which supplied sufficient illumination for vision. After remaining motionless for a few seconds Mohammed Bey could make out several shapes with him, reclining, seated or crouching on the wood-plank covered bed. The shapes appeared to be swathed in blankets against the cold some of the shapes seemed to be huddled together near one corner near the lorry’s cab.
Colonel Kane rolled onto the wooden planks and sprang to a crouch, his blade ready in his large fist. He motioned to Mohammed Bey, indicating that he should remain still. The teen wondered how the Lyran officer’s eyes adjusted to the darkness so quickly but shrugged it off; perhaps he just closed his eyes before entering the lorry. The Lyran held up two fingers, indicating that he made out a pair of hostiles in the compartment and he sprang across the floor, his blade in a wide arc which landed cleanly on one of the figures, who was clearly oblivious to the attack. The blade flashed once more and a second figure tumbled to the planks and flopped about for a few seconds. The other figures scarcely moved and Mohammed Bey moved to the closest and pulled at the blanket, which uncovered a young woman’s head, which was gagged and blindfolded, her wrists likewise bound.
“Be silent,” whispered the Azami teen as he removed the bonds. “We are here to rescue you.” He massaged the captive’s cold fingers in order to aid circulation and watched as Colonel Kane searched the two bodies.
“I have to tend to the others,” said As`Zaman. He moved over to the next captive.

“I don’t see him,” muttered Arne Borgstrom. “Try calling him.” He sat in the small ground car that idled outside of the front door of the Hausa restaurant.
Leila Tanaka activated her personal communicator and said, “Mohammed.”

Mohammed Bey felt his communicator hum and dug into his coat pocket and looked at the communicator’s screen, “Tanaka, where are you?” He had to grasp part of the compartment’s frame to steady himself. “We’re in a lorry heading North, I believe.” He listened for a moment. “Yes, Miss Borgstrom is here and unharmed, although at least two of the kidnappers are in the driver’s compartment and unaware that we boarded the lorry.” He paused to listen for a moment, “Colonel Kane, by some coincidence, he showed up not long after I arrived at the restaurant.”
Tanaka looked over to Arne, “Astrid is safe, and Mohammed’s with her but the kidnappers are still driving the lorry, headed north.”
“Got it,” said Jan Björling. He applied power to the groundcar’s motors and it accelerated over the snow-covered street. “Bjorn, navigate.”
“Right,” He was already running a finger over the screen of his datapad. “The storm is interfering with satellite comm and the metro repeater system sucks, as usual.” He slid his fingers over his personal communicator and tapped out a message. “I’m letting the guys know what’s going on.”
“Heading north,” Björling steered his vehicle around the building and it headed along the wide stretch of road. “If we continue in this direction we’ll leave the city and the fog’s getting thicker.”

Adrenochrome Arcade…

Amid the eardrum-rending techno-thrash beat and retina-burning prismatic strobe lights, several of the teens in various costumes pulled the personal comm units from their belt clips to read the message they just received.
Tomas Reinfeld, resplendent in his Dökkálfar costume, with pointed ears, nudged the teen next to him, “Hey, Ninja Bjorn needs help –and expects a fight so he says to bring weapons!”
In his black tuxedo and cape, Gustav Wallner forwarded the message to his friends and responded to Bjorn, requesting directions and updates. “Who else is going? I have to stop at my parents’ place to get my stuff!”

0015 Hours

Aliya Waryaghar pushed the small groundcar to its pitiful excuse for maximum speed, barely topping eighty kilometers an hour. Nonetheless, she could make out the lorry’s taillights through the blowing snow as it struggled ahead of her.
She trailed behind the lorry, her vehicles headlights off to conceal her approach and followed it as it turned off the main highway an onto a winding road that led to a wide valley, that concealed the presence of a Union-class dropship, most of its lights doused to prevent detection. “Smugglers,” she said aloud to herself, she was very familiar with the profession. There were four cargo lorries parked near the base of the ramp with a dozen or so men loading boxes taken from the dropship, carrying them down its ramp onto the vehicles.
“It looks like we’re approaching the ramp of a small spheroid dropship,” whispered Kane, “Be ready for a fight.” He looked at the five young women huddled around the Azami teen, “You ladies keep prone in the back here until it’s over.”
Mohammed Bey held up a small knife and a pair of wallets, “This is all I found on the bodies, I’ll do my best with it.”
Kane opened his case and reached into it with a muscular arm. His large fist pulled out a gleaming sword with a broad, curved blade.
“That’s a shamshir!” exclaimed As`Zaman, with awe in his voice. He eagerly took the ornate, ivory grip and hefted it, “Thank you!”
The lorry jerked to a halt and the Lyran colonel whispered, “You have to give it back when you’re done with it.” He smiled and his icy blues eyes gleamed in the shadows.
The two Mechwarriors crouched near the covered rear of the lorry and heard the sound of several pairs of feet approaching. Mohammed Bey held his breath and gripped the shamshir’s hilt.
Thankful of the near silence of her vehicle’s electric motor, Wargyahar lined up with the ramp and could see a dozen men around the lorry; at least two of them carried pistols. She stomped on the accelerator as one of the men pulled the canvas flap open.
The closest man to the rear of the lorry spun away, clutching a torn throat.
“Insha’Allah!” Aa`Zaman hurled himself from the lorry, his body launched at one of the kidnapers, his blade raked across the body of his target as his foot touched the metal floor. A brief scream and a spray of blood heralded the death of a pagan Hausa.
Kane grinned savagely as his hefty two-edged blade cleaved another man from shoulder to groin.
One of the Hausa leveled his pistol and tried to find a clear shot through the pack of stunned men. He looked over his sights and took aim at the red-haired giant just as the speeding groundcar plowed into the group of Hausa on one side of the parked lorry, sending them sprawling.
Three pistol shots rang out and Mohammed Bey staggered in pain. The teen turned to face the man who fired upon him and charged, his blade raised to strike. Arm and pistol spun in the air as the Hausa fell back. One of the men slammed his fist into a large, red button and a klaxon screamed, red lights flashed.
“It looks like a dropship,” shouted Arne Borgstrom, “there are lights blinking and I hear an alarm of some kind.
Leila rolled her window open and said, “That’s a security breach alarm –Something’s happening.”
Arne noticed a line of vehicle headlights in his rear view mirror, “It looks like we have some company!”
Wargyahar kicked the door of the vehicle open and sprang out, a short, curved blade in each hand. She slit the throats of two of the nearest Hausa struggling to stand. The remaining kidnapers seized whatever tools and implements they could use as weapons and attempted to stand together and retreat towards the stairs that led to the bridge.
More crewmen swarmed toward the hold from the upper level, Mohammed Bey counted almost twenty, and each of them carried pipes, spanners, chains and other improvised weapons. It was then he caught a glimpse of Wargyahar, surrounded by a handful of Hausa, her eyes blazing, teeth bared, swirling in a graceful dance of death a her twin blades sent bleeding men sprawling. He climbed over the lorry’s hood and launched himself at the men that tried to strike at her.
Kane’s sword weaved a scarlet pattern of destruction as he fought off the men at the foot of the stairs. Every swing brought a man down, body sundered and bleeding.
“Woman, who are you?” shouted Mohammed Bey as he fought off the pagans.
Wargyahar pressed her back against his, “Aliyya Wargyahar of Binat Lilitu, I am here to take you home.”
“I’m already on my way home!” he slashed and lay open the arm of a Hausa. “…And why is a member of the marriage-brokers here?”
The Azami woman parried an attack and gutted one of her assailants, “What? I heard you became a mercenary!” She scowled at him, “the Binat does more than arrange marriages.”
“I am a mercenary –My first assignment is on Dabih!” he replied, and blocked an attack with his hilt, then killed the attacker with a backhand strike. “Don’t tell me you’ve been following me since Galatea.”
“Yes, and I’ve caught you, you frivolous libertine!” she planted the point of her blade in the eye of one of her opponents.

Outside the dropship, the Hausa smugglers put down the boxes they carried and milled about until they spotted the approaching vehicles.
Jan Björling turned off the trail that led to the dropship’s ramp and halted his groundcar next to a stand of trees. The others opened the doors and exited the vehicle just as the other vehicles arrived and stopped nearby.
“Hey, guys from the Ronin Dojo are here!” said Arne Borgstrom. He opend the boot of the groundcar and pulled out a katana. “Miss Tanaka, I have one for you, too.”
Leila drew the katana from its scabbard and tossed the empty scabbard aside, she looked up and saw that it had begun to snow.
The seven other vehicles disgorged a collection of Scandinavian teenagers, wearing a collection of costume; Ninjas, vampires, elves, medieval warriors, robe-clad wizards, and Vikings, a dozen in all.
Arne Borgstrom drew his blade and raised it above his head, “Those are the bad guys, get them!” The costumed crowd stormed clumsily across the ankle-deep snow.
The Hausa outside the dropship remained stunned for a moment and watched the strange assembly close. A handful of them gained their wits and ran to their vehicles and grabbed items to use as weapons.
Gustav Wallner dashed up to the closest Hausa, his cape flapping behind him, lunged with his rapier and ran him through. The swarthy man screamed and grasped at the blade that transfixed him.
One of the teens, in a brown wool robe, waved his staff, dipped a hand into the canvas bag at his side and flung fluorescent tennis balls at the smugglers. “Lightning bolt! Lightning bolt! Lightning bolt!” The Hausa were confused for a moment then figured they could ignore the tennis balls.
Leila Tanaka parried a steel pipe and slashed at her opponent and gashed his arm.
Arne Borgstrom swung his blade at his lanky enemy, who easily dodged his attacks. Borgstrom wasn’t in good shape and was soon wheezing and gasping for breath. A fist struck the side of his flabby face and Borgstrom staggered, dazed. He felt the sword being tugged from his grip and began to panic; he could see the black man heft his katana and grin, arm drawn back to strike. Arne suddenly saw his short pathetic life flash before him.
Sparks flew as the katana’s blade rang off the iron rim of a round shield. Borgstrom, who had flung his arms up to fend off the blade, saw a muscular arm holding the center grip of a wide circular shield, and the large man in black iron ringmail who let out a deep roar as he punched the Hausa in the face with the metal boss, and sent the African sprawling in the snow. Arne wondered who the man was; he certainly wasn’t one of the costumed teens from the Adrenochrome, and his costume was the most authentic he had ever seen.
Tomas Reinfeld twirled his graceful, curved sword as he fended off a Hausa wielding a heavy spanner. Two other black-skinned men dashed up to engage him and he suddenly realized the threat of being surrounded. He consider retreating for a moment when something whistled past his left ear and one of the Hausa stopped in his tracks, an arrow, buried to the fletching, protruded from the man’s chest. Reinfeld spun around and glimpsed a slim woman in a white, flowing robe, her long, gold hair drifting in the wind, gripping a slender bow and sending barbed shafts winging through the falling snowflakes.
Tanaka struck a Hausa down, his scarlet blood steamed in the deepening snow. She ran over to assist one of the teen ninja, who was barely holding his own against his heavier opponent. She maneuvered to the black man’s blind spot and hamstrung him with a quick slash. The teen drove his blade home and grimaced as the blood spurted over his hands. The closest enemy vanquished, Leila took time to look over the battle. The smugglers had retreated to small knots of resistance as the tide turned, the three men in Viking costumes showed an expertise at blade combat she had never before witnessed, as if they were seasoned veterans. The wind had picked up and the air seemed to grow colder as the rate of falling snow increased. It was then she noticed the beating of wings, of large birds in flight. Despite the fog and darkness, Tanaka could make out movement above their heads. They were huge, black birds.
The last of the Hausa attempted to break for the lorries and the ramp but were chased down and finished off by a concerted effort of the teens and the strange men, who only laughed, sheathed their weapons and turned away.
The Vikings started for the woodline and Borgstrom chased after them, “Who are you? Thank you for your help.”
One stopped and placed a large hand on Arne’s shoulder, “Homeward.” It was in an old dialect Borgstrom barely understood. He watched them walk into the fog and saw a tall man in gray robes awaiting them; his wide-brimmed hat concealed his face. Arne felt the hair in the back of his neck bristle, and he dropped to his knees.

As`Zaman knocked two attacks aside. “That’s hardly fair, why do you judge me?” He lunged; dropped one Hausa and the last one retreated through an open door. “This way!” He started to give chase and paused as the whole dropship shook, its fusion-powered engine engaged.
“We are lifting off!” Wargyahar knelt at the body of one of the Hausa and use his shirt to wipe the gore from her blades and fingers, then recoiled in horror as Colonel Kane stepped from around the lorry.
“My Bey, are you alright?” He was dripping with blackened blood; his arms were soaked to the shoulders in gore, steaming in the cold air.
The Azami teen rubbed his chest, “I’m sure I have some bruises, but my coat stopped the bullets, as designed.” He gestured toward the open door with the shamshir, “One of the kafir ran that way.”
“Is that elephant hide?” asked Wargyahar.
Mohammed Bey thumped his ribs with his knuckles. “Indeed, I killed the beast myself.”
“Monster!” she snorted in contempt.
As`Zaman rolled his eyes, “Typical.”
The Lyran mercenary shouldered his blade and led the way through the portal, followed by the two teens. As`Zaman paused for a moment and turned on his heel. He bounded to the rear of the lorry and drew aside the canvas. A scream was suddenly cut short and Mohammed Bey was certain the colonel had found the refugee.
“Hey, there!” he called, “It seems the fighting is over.” His eyes adjusted to the darkness of the cargo area and he could discern movement.
“My Bey, are you injured?” inquired Astrid, concern upon her face.
Mohammed Bey made a brief dismissive gesture, “Trifle bruises, my lady, nothing more. These flecks of blood are those of the vile brigands, who lie unlamented, their cursed souls are coursing to the fire eternal.” He offered a hand, “Come, this craft is in motion and we must find secure accommodations.” He motioned to the other women, “Ladies, I shall escort you to safety.” He helped the women down from the bed of the lorry.

Leila Tanaka saw the dropship’s ramp draw up and close, “Everybody! We have to get out of here, the dropship is about to lift off!” The costumed crowd scrambled back to their vehicles. “The drive plume is about half a kilometer, pull back to the valley’s entrance.” She fell into step with Borgstrom and Björling.
“I saw him!” declared Arne, “The All-Father, he was watching us fight!” His eyes seemed to shine with a strange light.

Colonel Kane opened a locker and pulled on a heap of cargo netting, “Get over to those pallets, those cabinets should have sheets of padding, spread them out and be seated.” He attached one corner of the netting to a tie-down cleat next to a cargo pallet. “When we leave atmosphere and gravity, we have to make sure everything is properly tied down and we are secured as well.”
As`Zaman nodded, “Yes, Colonel.” He opened a compartment that contained large sheets of padded cloth and threw them over the pallet that the Lyran indicated. He placed some folded sheets for comfort, then motioned for the women to be seated, “Come, take a place here, there aren’t safety harnesses so the cargo net will have to substitute.” He tried to find more, “That’s all for this compartment.” He looked to the door, “Herr Colonel, did you lock the entrance?”
Kane pulled a rope taught, “Yes, I even changed the access code, just in case.” He draped the netting over the seated women, “Once we leave atmosphere, maneuvers may be rough –We don’t know if they are planning to meet a jumpship or just relocating to another hidden landing zone because they’ve been found.”
The Azami teen took a place beside Astrid Borgstrom and took hold of her hand; He sat up and looked to the other women, “Ladies, please allow me to introduce Astrid Borgstrom and Colonel Kane, I am Mohammed As`Zaman Bey.”
One of the women looked over to him, “Helga Riklund, I am pleased to meet you.”
“Emma Arnholm, thank you for saving us.”
“Kirsten Forssmed, so very pleased to meet you.”
“How pleased I am to meet you, I am Ericka Skövde,” said the last.
Mohammed Bey looked at the Azami woman and nodded.
"Aliyyah Waryaghar."

“I told you he was really nice!” added Borgstrom.

The dropship vibrated violently and the roar of the drive deafened the people in the cargo hold. The lights flickered and the hold went dark for a moment before the dim travel lights glowed. Mohammed Bey closed his eyes and tried to relax and close out the noise.
The dropship shuddered as it climbed through the turbulence of the storm and burned furiously above the black clouds, its frame and bulkheads creaked due to the decreasing atmospheric pressure and stress of acceleration.
“We are leaving the atmosphere!” announced Colonel Kane.

Leila Tanaka stood with Arne Borgstrom and Jan Björling, they had halted the groundcar near the highway and watched the dropship rise into the dense layers of clouds. There were the other people in costumes standing by their own vehicles as well.
“What do we do now?” she asked. In the valley, she could see several columns of smoke rising from the burning lorries and the crater caused by the dropship’s plume.
“Hey, the police are coming!” somebody shouted. Sure enough, in the distance, flashing blue lights and the wail of sirens heralded the approach of a number of police cars.
“Why do I have a feeling that they’ll have a difficult time believing us?” asked Leila. Arne and Jan laughed at the idea of ninjas, elves, vampires and Vikings being questioned at the police station.
Tanaka laughed as well, until she remembered that under her fur coat she was wearing a rather revealing neko costume. “Oh, damn it all!”

_________________
[i]And Allah turned back the unbelievers in their rage; they did not obtain any advantage, and Allah sufficed the believers in fighting; and Allah is Strong, Mighty.[/i] from The Koran, 33rd Sura- The Clans


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PostPosted: Fri Apr 27, 2018 5:04 am 
Offline
Commanding General
Commanding General

Joined: Sat Aug 09, 2003 10:05 pm
Posts: 1471
Location: Kingdom of Hawaii
Orbital Region
Orestes System
Free Rasalhague Republic
February 26, 0100 Hours


Aliyyah Waryaghar felt the sudden press of gravity as the dropship accelerated. She closed her eyes and relaxed her slim form, which rested on a cargo pallet cushioned with padding, hidden under protective sheets and secured with strong netting. Her mission on behalf of the Binat Lilitu certainly didn't prepare her for this.
Among the Azami, the Binat Lilitu was a semi-secret sisterhood tasked with maintaining the genealogical records of the various noble lines and advising those noble families on issues concerning marriage contracts. If one should ask about the history of the sisterhood, most Azami would shrug -They have always been around since the earliest of days. Waryaghar was one of many operatives for the sisterhood. At an early age, her family sent her to the Binat Lilitu to be a member of their organization. Waryaghar's particular duties would be described as a kind of detective; Her primary task was to locate Mohammed As'Zaman Bey and after finding him, return him to the Azami Confederation one way or another, hopefully through persuasion.

Mohammed Bey lay on his stomach and tried to relax during the high powered liftoff. He could feel the tight grip of Astrid Borgstrom's hand in his. The young Rasalhague woman insisted in sharing his pallet and the Azami youth couldn't refuse. The dropship's thrusters caused the vessel to vibrate but its insulation served adequately to reduce the noise of the array of fusion-driven engines to a muffled roar. Some military dropships required hearing protection for everybody but bridge personnel, fortunately this civilian model was built with considerations for crew and passenger comfort. The cargo padding was hastily spread over the pallets but the layers of padding help reduce the vibration caused by the dropship's powerful thrusters.
His eyes accustomed to the dimmed lighting, As'Zaman looked at Colonel Kane and saw that the mercenary was gazing at his watch. The young man could only assume that the Colonel was trying to determine the duration of the burn in order to calculate their movement.
The Colonel looked up from his watch, “We are heading into space, not to another landing site.”

Erinyes City

The precinct sergeant shook his head. “Okay, you kids, I have all of your statements and the Watch Captain says you may all go, since nobody has pressed charges or even issued a complaint.”
“But what about our friends on that dropship?” Leila Tanaka inquired.
The policeman frowned, “Regional ATC confirmed that an unauthorized space vehicle may have landed and departed without clearance or even identification.” He shrugged helplessly. “Sorry, they are out of our reach and jurisdiction.”
Tanaka's eyes narrowed, “Seriously?”
“Oh, you...” replied the sergeant, “we haven't confirmed your bizarre story, young lady.” He made a slight sneer, “The blackout has prevented us from calling some of the people you listed as references but we do have some people that are coincidentally reported as missing.”
“Coincidentally.” The Combine woman had to roll her eyes.
The sergeant turned to address the gathered teens, “And you kids, the next time to mess with smugglers, let the police handle it.” He put his hands on his hips, “You are just lucky none of you got seriously hurt, so we're gonna let the deal with you carrying your toy weapons around in public slide for once.”
There was a concerted chuckle among the teens.
“Miss Tanaka, let's get out of here,” said Arne Borgstrom, “we have done all we could, for now.”

Orestes Space

“What?” Mohammed Bey whispered, “Unless we're headed to a pirate point, it will take a month to reach a jumpship.”
Colonel Kane nodded, “Considering the burn, I'm guessing this vessel is heading to the asteroid belt.”
The Azami youth frowned, “That would still be a week. We'll need to secure some food and facilities, under the noses of this vessel's crew.”
“While I was attempting to breach the ship's security, I noted that the bridge was on complete lock down. Given time, I could get into the bridge but it would mean another fight.” He looked at his wristwatch, “One week, eh?”

Ronin Dojo
Erinyes City
0200 Hours


“Are you sure?”
Arne Borgstrom was adamant, “I saw what I saw, you read the statements from the others!” He tore off the top of his ninja uniform. “The gods of our people watched over us, sent their warriors to aid us.” He scornfully flung the shirt to the floor, “I am ashamed that I abandoned my people and heritage.”
Jan Björling removed his own shirt and tossed it upon the pile, “Me too. I'm putting my ninja gear up for auction as soon as I get home.”
Leila turned around when the two men began to kick off their trousers.

Orestes Space

“The lights are off in the adjoining bay, which means we'll know if anybody tries to enter that area because they'll need to turn the lights on to get around the debris.” said Mohammed Bey.
“Stay in this cubicle,” announced Colonel Kane, “the lorry in the bay was not secured for travel and if this ship changes its vector, that three tonne vehicle could tumble about like a toy in a large box due to the lack of gravity.”
Waryaghar added, “Just keep that door locked and secure,” she continued, we have plenty of rations in the survival pods, and I've shown the ones who have never traveled in space how to use the restroom facilities and crew showers.”
“Thank you, Aliyyah,” replied Emma Arnholm, “I wish I could be more helpful.”
Mohammed Bey nodded, “Colonel?”
“The young Lord and I have discussed what we have to do,” said the mercenary, “I'm working on taking the bridge but defeating the security will take time.”
“Can you do it?” asked Ericka Skövde.
Colonel Kane nodded, “I assure you, I've faced worse challenges,” he continued, “I have made up a watch list, so we will take turns sleeping and guarding the door. I've shared it with Lord Mohammed who will be awake while I'm asleep.” The Colonel raised his finger, “If anything happens, let Lord Mohammed or me know immediately, is that understood?” He waited for the group to nod. “Good.”


Erinyes City
0230 Hours


Borgstrom slouched over his holographic terminal and swiftly selected a succession of floating icons that glowed then slowly faded. He wore a loose pair of sweatpants, a gray undershirt and a hooded jacket. Satisfied with his work, he turned to Jan and Leila, who had also changed into more suitable clothing for the weather. “All done, Ronin Dojo is no more.”
“What did you change it to?” asked Björling, with keen interest.
Arne shook his head, “I have to think about it.” He rubbed the stubble on his chin, “I will have to go through the sagas to find a suitable name for our new school.”
“A school?” inquired Tanaka.
“Yes! A school for our people to relearn all the lost arts of our valuable culture,” replied Borgstrom, “For too long our people have grown soft, spoiled by civilized living and foreign influences.”
Tanaka made a face.
“No offense, Lieutenant,” he answered, “while I have grown to respect your warrior culture, I have to confess that it does not suit my people -We have our own warrior heritage, long abandoned, and we are in sore need of a renewal if our people are to survive.”
“Of course.” replied Leila, with a slight bow, “I sincerely hope for your success.”


Orestes Space

“Alright, I have prepared a file with our names, our condition, contact information of relatives, our possible destination and estimated position, give or take a few degrees of deviation and I shall attempt to transmit it through the Orestes satellite communications net by tapping into this ship's long-range communications. Vocal communications would be too easy to intercept so a tiny file sent out as as microburst should succeed in letting somebody on the planet via multiple addressees,” Mohammed Bey announced in a well-rehearsed speech.
“So, that's why you were gathering that information,” said Astrid, “you should have explained earlier.”
The Azami soldier nodded, “I thought about that but I needed to confirm that it was possible...I didn't want to get your hopes up.” He looked at his holotablet, “I have just received a confirmation -The message is on its way.”


Erinyes City
0300 Hours


“No way!” Arne pressed his personal comm against his ear, “That's wonderful, but what do we do now?”
Jan's communicator sounded as well and he answered it too. Tanaka's comm made a soft chirp, indicating that a message had arrived.
“Thank goodness!” she exclaimed, “I knew he'd figure something out!” She felt like dancing and turned to the others, “When we were in the deep Periphery he captured a dropship, I'm sure that's what he's planning right now.”
“He captured a dropship?” Jan's jaw dropped, then his attention returned to his comm, “No, I wasn't talking to you...nevermind.”
Borgstrom was still seated at his terminal, “Have you seen the news?” He looked at his friends, “The message that Lord Mohammed sent to several people has been published worldwide,” he laughed, “people are wondering why the planetary defense forces have done nothing to save them.”
“They'd never catch up to them,” added Björling, “if they could find them, that is.” He put his comm in his jacket pocket, “I'm putting money on that crazy Azami.”
Leila nodded, “Yup, he doesn't look it but he can be aggressive when he wants to be.”
Arne's eyes went wide, “He's with my sister!”
“No! Lord Mohammed is an officer and a gentleman!” replied Tanaka, “Except for the fact that your sister is on a dropship piloted by murderous, kidnapping smugglers, she has the ideal escort.” She turned to look out a window, “Just wait and you will see.”


Asteroid Belt
Orestes System
Free Rasalhague Republic
February 28, 1200 Hours


Mohammed Bey and Colonel Kane held a brief conference in one corner of the cargo compartment. “Colonel, my calculations show that a pirate point near the asteroid belt is very unlikely.” Both men gripped onto ropes that had been strung across the cargo compartment so the passengers could move across the room despite the changes in gravity due to the vessel’s unexpected maneuvers.
“I have to agree,” replied the mercenary, “If they aren't going to rendezvous with a jumpship, why come out to this remote area?”
The Azami teen paused in thought, “I'll have to ponder that question...perhaps there's a base nearby?”
“No, this operations doesn't look like they could support a base.” answered Kane.
As'Zaman whispered, “The ladies that were kidnapped told me that there have been mysterious disappearances over the years, often during bad weather, and when victims were alone.”
“Yes, they disappear, but where do they go?” wondered the Colonel aloud, “slaves would turn up, even when taken out to the Periphery.”
The teen leaned close, “These are pagan Hausa, the people they capture are worse off than slaves, they would be condemned to die upon the sacrificial altars to their dark gods.”
The burly mercenary shook his head, “We'll have to ask them after we take over the bridge.”
“When?”
“Get some rest, be ready in six hours.”

“So, Captain,” Waryaghar asked, “what is the Colonel's plan?”
“We shall breach the bridge's security and take it by force in about six hours,” answered Mohammed Bey, “You are welcome to join us, if you like but under no obligation to fight.”
“They are demon worshipers and my enemies too,” she replied, “I also have to get you home safely.”
“I really don't need your help,” said the teen, “I take a short vacation, and you womenfolk all panic.”
“It wasn't my idea to chase you down,” Aliyyah explained, “I am here because of my orders.”
Mohammed Bey placed his palm over his eyes, “You could have just asked.”
The Azami woman replied with an exasperated growl, which drew a stifled chuckle from As’Zaman.
He motioned to the others and they carefully pulled themselves along the ropes to the corner where Mohammed stood, his hands grasping the rope secured to the pallet where sheets of canvas and cargo nets were fashioned into simple sleeping bags, secured to the pallets to prevent them from drifting should the dropship make sudden direction changes. He whispered the plan to them and concluded by telling them that he planned to get some sleep. Astrid Borgstrom helped him into the canvas tube that served as a sleeping bag and climbed into the adjoining tube. The others followed suit and despite the general air of anxiety, they were all asleep within the hour.

1800 Hours

Mohammed Bey’s eyes opened when he felt a hand touch his shoulder. The lights in the compartment were dimmed. Colonel Kane whispered, “Change of plans, we’re drifting and some of the crew are in the primary bay, trying to secure the lorry.”
“How long?” asked the young Azami.
“About an hour and a half,” replied the mercenary officer, “They tried to force the door but I was able to override their attempts.”
“Good job, Colonel,” Mohammed Bey replied, “do you think we could rush them?”
The Colonel shook his head, “They appear to be armed with a pistol and a rifle,” He tapped As’Zaman’s thick, leather coat, “this may stop pistol rounds but the rifle will have no problem poking holes through it and you.”
Mohammed Bey nodded, “Indeed, what if we managed to override more of the other systems, such as the lights?” He held up a finger, “That should give us a slight edge.”
The mercenary nodded, “I can do that while you try to get access to the cameras.”

_________________
[i]And Allah turned back the unbelievers in their rage; they did not obtain any advantage, and Allah sufficed the believers in fighting; and Allah is Strong, Mighty.[/i] from The Koran, 33rd Sura- The Clans


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PostPosted: Fri Apr 27, 2018 5:16 am 
Offline
Commanding General
Commanding General

Joined: Sat Aug 09, 2003 10:05 pm
Posts: 1471
Location: Kingdom of Hawaii
1830 Hours

As’Zaman crouched next to the open panel that allowed him to connect his holopad to the vessel’s data cables and tap into the dropship’s camera circuits. He paused while viewing the activity in the adjoining bay. The Hausa in the bay appeared to be arguing and the one that Mohammed guessed was the dropship’s Captain seemed very angry and agitated. He managed to switch to cameras in other positions and looked over to Colonel Kane, “Sir,” he hissed, “it looks like they’re going to try to cut their way into our compartment with a plasma torch.”
The mercenary nodded in acknowledgement, “That means we have about fifteen minutes before they cut through the doors,” he announced. “I suggest that the ladies retreat to the lavatory and secure the door.”
“My Lord,” Astrid approached Mohammed Bey, “what’s happening? Something is different with the gravity.”
“Yes, I see you noticed it as well,” replied the Azami teen. “Vessels traveling through space can only generate gravity through some form of motion -For dropships, it is through constant acceleration, while certain jumpships have rotating rings that use centrifugal force to simulate gravity.”
“So... What’s happening?”
Uh, sorry about the physics lesson,” replied As`Zaman, he suddenly noticed that the other women were listening to his explanation. “What you have noticed is that this vessel is gradually slowing down, which means the gravity generated by the thrusters is reduced and soon we shall be in a state of weightlessness.” He took a breath, “Since most of you are not familiar with space travel, the Colonel and I have been preparing this compartment for that possibility, such as the secured padding and ropes strung between the pallets and the adjoining crew facilities.”
Borgstrom nodded, “Thank you, my Lord, for all the work you have done for our safety and comfort.”
Mohammed Bey smiled, “If you ladies will please cooperate, move to the crew facilities and secure the door.” He bowed and motioned to the connecting room, “Colonel Kane, Miss Waryaghar and I shall have some work to do soon.”
The Rasalhague woman threw her arms around As`Zaman, almost causing him to lose his balance, “Please stay safe!”

2100 Hours

“I can’t believe they are taking so long to cut that door open,” grumbled the Colonel.
Mohammed Bey chuckled, “Heh, among the Azami, the Hausa are notoriously lazy and stupid,” he continued, “I’m amazed they are capable of operating this dropship.”
Kane rolled his eyes over the comment, which reflected the ancient, stratified society of the Azami, where the descendants of Berber and Fulbe tribes occupied the upper echelons and the Hausa were merely conquered slaves, even after thousands of years.
As`Zaman intently monitored the images on his holopad. He had tapped into the camera feeds from various locations around the dropship and occasionally switched from one feed to another. “It is apparent that the man using the cutter is not an engineer.” He stifled a laugh, “the lack of gravity isn’t helping, either.”
“Point taken,” replied the mercenary. “The captain shouting in his ear is giving us more time, too.”
“The hand of Allah shall smite them without mercy,” whispered Alyyah, who gripped the hilts of her curved daggers nervously.
“Miss Waryaghar, once the portal opens, please advance behind me,” instructed the Azami teen, “I shall shield you from bullets so you make close with the unbelievers.” He placed a hand on her shoulder, “May Allah protect you.”
“May Allah protect us all.”

2330 Hours

Colonel Kane crouched, his legs were bent and his body leaned forward, ready to spring through the doors. He gripped a long, heavy blade in his left hand and used his bulky backpack as a shield. His steel-blue eyes gleamed with a malevolent light that caused the two Azami teens to shudder; This man reveled in the prospect of battle.
Mohammed Bey assumed the tense stance of a runner, calculating a sudden leap under zero gravity conditions. His right hand held a fine, ancient shamshir of Persian design, the blade was expertly forged with the layers of alloyed metals forming a gray pattern along the blade resembling wood grain. The sword was light, deeply curved, razor sharp and designed for very close combat against opponents with light armor. In his left hand, he held a chemical fire extinguisher with a length of rope tied to form a handle. He believed that the thick metal container should block or deflect oncoming projectiles, or at least reduce their kinetic impact…
As the doors slowly slid open, Waryaghar drew her twin blades and waited for Mohammed Bey and Kane to make their move. She flinched as two shots rang out then kicked herself from the pallet and followed As`Zaman into the dimly illuminated bay.
There was an ear-piercing scream as Kane’s sword cleaved through the right shoulder of the man holding the rifle. The first bullet had harmlessly struck his backpack and the gunman lost his balance and tumbled backward helplessly. The mercenary floated over his screaming victim and his feet struck the side of the lorry while his body rotated with another swing.
The Azami teen felt the first pistol bullet ricochet off his makeshift shield as he collided with the dropship’s tall and lanky captain. He hooked the man’s shoulder with the cannister, pressed his curved sword against the Hausa’s chest and drew the length of the blade in a long cut that sliced through ballistic vest, uniform, skin, muscle and bone. The captain managed a weak croak as he doubled over, his hands seemed to vainly attempt to staunch the sudden explosion of blood that floated in the air.
Aliyyah’s leap carried her behind Mohammed Bey and she almost crashed into him when he engaged the dropship captain. She spotted a crewman armed with a large, heavy spanner to As`Zaman’s right so she hooked the pommel of her left hand dagger over his shoulder and changed her vector toward the crewman. She could see by the look on the man’s face that he had no zero-gravity combat training, which was something in which she specialized. Waryaghar easily parried her opponent’s swing with her left dagger and raked his arm with the keen edge of the blade gripped in her hand. The howl was satisfying, as was the way the man clumsily tried to turn and flee, his legs pumping futilely as he hovered five centimeters above the floor. Shoes with magnetic soles are only effective as long as the wearer doesn’t make sudden physical maneuvers, such as shifting weight...or hand to hand combat.

To an outside observer, zero gravity hand to hand combat would look like a graceful dance. Since energy is lost with every movement, the combatants must either grapple with their opponents and push their weapons into them, find a surface to brace and strike, or through physical contortions, apply speed and their body mass to the striking point. A combatant that fires a ballistic weapon under weightless conditions risks losing balance or may even be pushed backwards, spinning uncontrollably.

The last two crewmen had seen more than enough, released the tools they wielded and turned to flee to the stairs which led to the bridge. Mohammed Bey hooked a leg around one of the lorry’s side mirrors and twisted his torso, his arm arcing and sending the fire extinguisher spinning through the air and striking one of the men in the shoulder, causing him to lose balance and spin awkwardly. Kane braced his feet on the side of the lorry and launched himself over the other man’s head and grasped the railing at the top of the stairs; He held his bloodstained blade over his head and declared, “None shall pass!”
The two crewmen bowed their heads and wept, hands raised in surrender.

0000 Hours

Kane stood over the five prisoners, who were bound and blindfolded. Mohammed Bey rolled the dead in padded cargo blankets and placed them under some netting in the back of the lorry. Two of the prisoners from the dropship’s bridge, who were convinced to surrender by the Azami teen, who promised their safety. Waryaghar helped the women, who were unfamiliar with the gravity conditions, up the stairway to the bridge, where they could travel in comfort.
“Do I have to ask if you could pilot this thing?” queried As’Zaman.
The Colonel chuckled, “I can get us back to Orestes,” He carefully slid his sword back into his pack, “If you want, I can give you an official lesson, since I am also a certified instructor.”
Before Mohammed bey could answer, the dropship suddenly lurched and shook violently for a few seconds. “Wha- Did we hit an asteroid?”
Kane turned and launched himself towards the top of the stairs, “Get to the bridge…Now!”
“What about the prisoners?” the Azami teen could hear panicked screams from the bridge.
The Steiner officer bellowed, “Leave them!”

0015 Hours

Aliyya and Mohammed Bey did their best to calm the women from Orestes and prepare them for travel. Colonel Kane sat at the pilot’s console and took control of the dropship. “It appears another craft has docked with ours.”
“Out here, in the middle of nowhere?” asked As`Zaman.
Waryaghar answered, “They must be the people who take the kidnaped women to be sold as slaves.”
Kane nodded and tapped the controls for the external cameras, “I don’t recognize the vessel at all.” His eyes narrowed. “Captain As`Zaman, secure the door to the bridge and stand guard- They may not like the fact that we have cut off their source of slaves.”
Mohammed Bey snapped to attention and slung the rifle they took from the crew. “Yes, sir!” he wore magnetic-soled boots and carefully walked over to the doors that protected the bridge and sealed them. “Doors secured, sir!” He looked to the passengers, “Ladies, please be silent, the Colonel and I pledge to return you home, no matter what happens.”
The Lyran motioned to AsZaman, “Please take the copilot’s seat, Captain.” His voice was calm and under control, as an experienced commander of many battles.

0030 Hours

There was the sound of machinery and rumbling that caused faint vibrations in the bridge.
“What’s happening?” Although belted in a seat, she nervously grasped her blades.
Kane eyed the screens on his console and muttered to himself before replying, “They have accessed the outer doors to the cargo bay and have opened them.” He turned to As`Zaman and handed him a set of earphones, “Put these on.” Kane also donned a pair over his ears and cut the external speakers.
Mohammed Bey watched the internal cameras within the cargo bay and saw the bound prisoners struggle at the ropes and could hear their terrified screams. He could hear the Colonel muttering something under his breath, it sounded like a prayer, in an ancient language he could barely understand.

0800 Hours

The dropship was moving once more, heading on its way back to Orestes. Mohammed Bey sat in the copilot’s seat while Colonel Kane took a short break. Aliyya Waryaghar quietly approached the console and took a seat beside As`Zaman.
She whispered, “Why did the Colonel brief us to say that the kidnapers were all killed and spaced? That makes no sense; They were carried off by slavers, right?”
It took a while for the Azami teen to reply. He just stared at the console before turning his head. It was then the Azami woman saw the haggard look on his face, as if he hadn’t slept in days.
“The Colonel took care to destroy all of the evidence of what happened after we left Orestes, in fact, we are taking a circuitous route in order to prevent anybody from retracing our course.”
“What? Do you think he’s covering up for the slavers?”
Mohammed Bey wearily shook his head, “I managed to connect my holopad to the camera feeds and saved everything. I’ll show you why later.”

Erinyes City Spaceport
Orestes System
Free Rasalhague Republic
March 3, 1100 Hours


“Are you sure you can’t stay longer?” Astrid Borgstrom clung onto As`Zaman’s arm as if her life depended on it, “My parents would love to have you over for dinner!”
“I’m sorry, but I have already caused you too much trouble already,” explained the teen.
“What trouble? You’re a hero and everybody wants to meet you!” She rested her head on his shoulder.
That was the problem, everybody wanted to meet him. He just wanted to get some rest and head back home to Dabih. “Please excuse me, my bodyguards are getting ready to fight again.” He gently stripped Astrid’s arm from his and stepped between Aliyyah and Leila, “I thought you agreed to get along.”
“That snake woman was trying to change your seating in order to be alone with you,” accused Waryaghar.
“He doesn’t want to sit next to you! Haven’t you figured that out yet?” Tanaka sneered.
Mohammed Bey held up his hands, “I agreed to have you sit on either side of my seat…and that’s final!” He stepped back a pace, “Don’t make me slip away like Colonel Kane, I could lose both of you if I wanted to,” he warned, “after all, I just acquired a dropship.”
“You wouldn’t dare!” muttered Aliyyah.
“I thought we were friends,” Leila whined.
“Try me,” said As`Zaman in a light voice, “I could stay here and marry Miss Borgstrom.” He walked over to Astrid and took her arm, “I could use a chocolate shake.”

1400 Hours

The shuttle to the waiting jumpship cruised silently. Mohammed Bey had kicked off his boots and relaxed in his seat. Leila Tanaka had taken a restroom break and left him and Aliyyah alone for a while.
“Now that we are alone, let me show you this,” whispered As`Zaman. He placed his small holopad between them and started the video feed from the cargo bay. The sound was turned off but she could see the crewmen vainly struggling at their ropes before billowing clouds of green smoke obscured the screen for a moment before something covered the view.
“Did the slavers intentionally block the camera?” asked Waryaghar.
Mohammed Bey shook his head, “Keep watching.”
The screen was black for a few seconds, then the blurry obscuration moved aside, as if someone had been standing in front of the camera, unaware of its presence. It was then Aliyyah’s eyes went wide, and she knew she would never forget what she saw. She then realized why Colonel Kane turned off the external speakers and why the sound on the holopad was off as well. The crew’s screaming was that of doomed souls, especially by men who were wrapped by huge tentacles and dragged into the vessel of unknown origin that was docked to their dropship.

_________________
[i]And Allah turned back the unbelievers in their rage; they did not obtain any advantage, and Allah sufficed the believers in fighting; and Allah is Strong, Mighty.[/i] from The Koran, 33rd Sura- The Clans


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