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The Tales of the Black Knight

Enter the Black Knight


Landing Pad, Planet Manhattan, 14:23 hours.

A man steps out of an eagle, walking towards a large building made out of Duracrete. The building is largely dedicated to office space, with some suites in the upper floors leased to wealthy businessmen. In the street level floors, there are a couple of restaurants, a gift shop, and an upscale bar. It is to this last local that the man strides.

Bars are the where most high level business meetings occur in
Manhattan...in all of Sirius for that matter. Not because there were no meeting rooms or secure telecommunications equipment available. Each business had plenty. But face-to-face meetings required neutral territory. Not just for leverage in negotiation, but so that nothing unfortunate happened to any of the participants.

This wouldn't exactly be a "face to face" meeting, though all participants would be present in the same room. It wasn't exactly neutral territory either. Base and System Services very quietly owned the company that owned the building.

"[bass] Manhattan Central Comm to The Black Knight" sang a melodic voice in his helmet. "Do you want your Eagle kept on standby or moved to the standard storage location." "You can have it parked for me Corrina. I plan to stay a while. Thanks much." Corrina was more than a switchboard operator or a pretty face. She had the tactical readouts for all of Sirius in front of her and could hack a rep faster than you could say "Corsair." "Roger that on parking Eagle. Enjoy your stay Knight."

Much like Corrina, his suit of armor had hidden capabilities. Styled in a modern interpretation of a medieval suit of armor, it is an intelligence center, sensor array, weapons center, and self-contained breathing apparatus. It's impervious to all light arms and some heavy arms. The armor was made of a light super-strong material polished to reflect directed energy weapons. It was more a dark silver than black, but "The Dark Silver Knight" didn't quite roll off the tongue. All in all it cost three times the price of the ship being parked, and was worth every penny.

For beyond the technology, the suit gave him anonymity. Known only as "The Black Knight," any attack against those close to him was utterly impossible. Most assumed that the suit was a life support system--that he required it to live. The story went that he suffered moral injures fighting the Red Hessians in Omega-5, fighting against incredible odds and returning victorious but wounded. It was a story that he didn't deny, though it was only partially true.

The suit was a product of such a battle. Having defeated 15 Sabres in a Centurion, he found the ships life support system damaged, and was limping home to
Cadiz. An asteroid cracked the canopy, and now what little air was left was bleeding out into space. He activated the dock cycle, and sealed himself in the cargo bay, where more air was present.

By the time he docked, there was nothing but vacuum in the cockpit. The instant the docking bay pressurized, the canopy collapsed under the pressure. In the story told about him, these things caused the mortal injuries that tied him to the suit. In reality, the suit started as merely a backup oxygen system. A year of waiting for parts for his Cent gave him the time to tweak the design--a design he was continually improving.

But in the end, it was the visage of "The Black Knight" that protected him the most. The Red Hessians had taken care of most who knew his old public self--save for the few close people he wished to protect. He had flown under a pseudonym even then, and his true identity was known only to a very few.

It was, in many ways, a lonely life--he was separated from those he cared about much of the time. But Sirius was a dangerous place, and the path he walked was a better compromise than most experienced.

It was this anonymity, this imposing visage, which came in so handy in meetings such as this.

Gallagher's Bar and Grill, Planet Manhattan, 14:30 hours.

Gallagher's is an upscale, brass rail tavern, with a bartender to match. James Gallagher was tall and angular. The creases in his tux could cut durasteel, and were almost as sharp as the ones in his face. He would be considered imposing if it weren't for his disarming smile, and his way of tossing a bottle and telling a story. And if you had a story, he was the best listener in Sirius.

To survive 25 years in Bretonian Intelligence, you need these skills.

He tells people he's a retired freelancer, and that's almost true. That was his cover for most of his career, from infiltrating the Mollies to assisting the Corsairs in Omega 5. It was a well-guarded secret that the Bretonian government didn't want either side--the Corsairs or the Red Hessians--winning in Omega 5. That war kept two major threats on its boarder largely neutralized. The
Rhineland government was in a similar position. if either side took Omega 5, they would have the perfect raiding base. So if the Corsairs started to lose, there was James Gallagher with fresh supplies "smuggled" or "pirated" from Bretonia. And of course he was willing to fight--for the standard bounties. The Rhineland government took care of the Red Hessians in similar fashion.

It was during this time that he met up with The Black Knight. They'd saved each others lives on numerous occasions, and in fact Gallagher provided some of the gizmos for the suit. He was one of the few members of the Knights inner circle who knew him. The Knight reconized him for what he was, but made no mention of it--he understood the dangerous line Jim walked.

In the bar at
Cadiz, Jim always would say how he'd like to be a bartender when he retired. The Knight figured he meant on Baden-Baden or Curaco, but he said Manhattan. "Nothing interesting ever happens on vacation planets! I need to be in the mix!" Jim explained. As [bass] expanded to Manhattan, the first business planned was the bar, and Knight went straight to James Gallagher. He presented the ownership of the bar to Jim; with only the request that he keep his eyes and ears open for [bass]. "A man with your experience knows how important info is for any operation." James laughed, knowing he had been discovered. He knew that his secrets were as safe with the Knight as the Knight's were with him.

It is into this bar that the Knight strode for what promised to be a routine meeting. The two friends showed no recognition beyond a bartender/regular customer relationship. But then, the other participants in the meeting still believed they were at a neutral site.

Gallagher's Bar and Grill, Planet Manhattan, 14:31 hours.

The Knight approached two men in expensive suits. One he knew well, the other by reputation. Both were senators in the liberty government. The first was Jack Rutherford, senator for the
Texas system that [bass] called home. He was a 6'4" wall of a man with a bear claw handshake and quick wit. He wasn't wearing his signature white cowboy hat, which didn't bode well for the meeting. Jack looked way to pensive for a simple discussion on the progress of Operation Liberty. But then, few of these meetings followed the written agenda. What was on the real agenda for this one?

The other man was William Monk, senator from
New York. Tall, but slight of stature, Monk was only recently elected, promising to shore up Liberty's economic situation. He was an heir to a fortune of some sort, and if the reports were true he was a typical spoiled aristocrat, who expected his way.

This was shaping up to be another good cop/bad cop meeting-fourth one this month.

"Knight! How the hell are ya?" Jack had a down to earth style typical of his
Houston upbringing. "You remember Bill Monk, don't ya?" "William" Monk interjected. Oh great, thought the knight. Another self important son-of-a..."How is Op Liberty going Knight?" Jack was desperately trying to keep a positive mood going in the conversation--it was too early for that. What was coming?

"It's going great, Jack. After a few weeks of resistance, attacks on light fighters and transports has dropped off to nothing. There are so many clans supporting it that..." "That’s just fine" interjected Monk. "But I would like to turn the attention to the types of ships your clan is flying, Mr. Knight."

Mr. Knight? "Yes. We fly a mix of VHF's. What of it?" "My constituents wonder why liberty is not defended by liberty produced fighters." "What are you talking about. Since Jack and I arranged for CTE to build the new plant in
Houston, Half of the new Eagles are produced there. My own is serial number one from the plant!" Surely this dude isn't suggesting I fly a defender or some such thing, the Knight thought. "Yes! but you still had to buy it clear out at Freeport 9 didn't you! None of that profit comes back into Liberty society!" Monk exclaimed. Sure thought the knight: none of the sales tax either. And for the record, his eagle was a gift from the president of CTE for helping get the plant setup. "As I recall it was your bill that keep the Eagles from being sold in Liberty. Something about having them readily available posing a threat to liberty security. I'd be more than happy for you to repeal it. [bass] would be thrilled to purchase it's ships closer to home."

"Knight," Jack interjected, "I think what Bill is trying to say is.." "WILLIAM!!!" Monk shouted. "I'll tell you what I'm trying to say! I have legislation on the table REQUIREING liberty based companies to buy liberty-based equipment! Unless you're willing to close up shop in
Texas, I'd better see some defenders in the sky!" Monk was fuming, and Jack was white as ghost.

The man in the suit laughed. "Ok. Let's settle down and face some facts--number 1, the defender sucks. They're cheap, and if you've got a lot of 'em you'll do fine in a battle. But you'll lose a lot in the process. I don't like losing pilots. The patriot is quick enough to get away,but not enough to take a VHF except in the hands of a VERY good pilot. And not with ALL liberty produced weapons, which is your next demand I'm guessing."

Monk started to open his mouth but Knight held up a hand. "Ah! Let me finish. Number 2: If you'll notice, the threats that YOUR navy has been unable to tame have come from other VHFs. Those ships are what are going to dominate your skies. Either learn how to build 'em, or learn how to lose." Jack was looking at his shoes, and Monk was about to blow a blood vessel. "Oh and Monk, should you want to give up the billions in tax revenue [bass] brings in every year, just say the word, Houston has the best Margaritas, but Freeport 2 has the best Ale this side of New Berlin. Good talking to you Jack." The Knight shook Jack's hand and walked away. "Good luck, Mr. Knight." Monk called out. “It’s a dangerous world out there. I hope nothing happens to you before we meet again."

Again, the Knight laughed. "You need more practice veiling your threats, Bill. And don't worry, I'm aware of the dangers of this world, and I don't count on luck to keep me alive." With that the Knight stepped into the elevator at the back of the bar.

"He has no IDEA who he's dealing with" spat Monk, as he stormed out of the bar. Just before he left he yelled back to Jack. "And a lot of help YOU were!" He stepped into a waiting limousine and sped off.

Jack shook his head, and called out "Hey Gallagher. I need a whiskey on the rocks. Make it a double." Gallagher shook his head as he poured the elixir. Some people just had to learn the hard way he guessed.

Senator William Monk's Limousine - 14:50pm

Monk took a sip of Bretonian Scotch and hit the button for his limo's communicator. His personal secretary appeared on the screen. "
Elizabeth, get me my contact in the -]TDF[-." It was an ironic turn of phrase, for the truth was he was really their contact in the Liberty Senate.

Moments later the screen lit up with the face of a middle aged officer of the -]TDF[-. "Mr. Monk. How was your meeting," he asked calmly. "Did it go as you had expected?" "Go as I had EXPECTED? IT WENT TO HELL IN A HANDCART! THAT'S WHERE IT WENT! THAT ARROGANT TIN MAN THINKS HE HAS AN ANSWER FOR EVERYTHING! HOW DARE HE FLAUNT MY POWER, MY INFLUENCE..." Monk began to become apoplectic with rage. "Calm yourself Mr. Monk," the officer soothed. "This was the expected result. As the Black Knight is known to say, 'He moves for no man.'" "Well I shall NOT tolerate having my influence this sector trampled by some walking reject from a GARBAGE CAN FACTORY!" Monk exploded. The officer was clearly loosing patience with his contact's attitude.

"Your influence, Mr. Monk? You're having delusions of grandeur. OUR funds and OUR influence got you elected, and any influence you may experience in your position is OURS. It is OUR influence--the influence of the -]TDF[- --that we wish to expand in
Liberty. Do I make myself clear?" Monk blanched. "Crystal clear," he said far more calmly. "What is the plan now?" "Now, with the help of an item we obtained from our new ally, we keep an eye our friend Mr. Knight. Some Hessians we hired will plant the object--unless they succeed in the mission for which they THINK they're hired--which I find rather unlikely."

"New ally?" asked Monk. "Yes. You'll find out in the news soon enough. Are you aware of the [G3NOCIDE]'s claim on the Bering System?" "Yes. A new clan who's leader has a history with [bass]. Pretty commonplace challenge," Monk responded. "Well, it's about to get less commonplace. You see as of tomorrow, the -]TDF[- will be their ally." The officer smiled. "Once Mr. Knight and his compatriots are no longer welcome aboard
Freeport 2, I think he'll find your suggestions...more palatable?"

Monk's eyes were wide open. "And if they don't?"

Now it was the officer's turn to shake his head. "Well then, we'll just have to help Plazma and his clan [G3NOCIDE] sweep them from Liberty Space."

[bass] Manhattan Command Center - 14:49pm

Just before the screens went blank, Corrina counted 6 figures on the infrared surveillance system. And the Knight was on his way to say hello.

Six figures dressed in the black garb of the Red Hessians.

Corrina closed her eyes to focus, and push back the worry. This should be the fun part of the job--danger was everywhere in Sirius, and if you didn't get used to it you'd never function. But it was more difficult when the person walking into that danger not only saved your life, but built a new one for you.

The Knight had met Corrina about 7 years ago. He was flying his first Eagle--he traded in the Centurion that he had almost been killed in. The repairs were well done, but were so extensive that he doubted the ship had the same structural integrity as before. The eagle seemed to fit his style of flying, and could mount the mysterious Nomad weapons which gave the VHF's such an advantage in battle. The problem was you had to hunt nomads to get them, which led him to Omicron Gamma.

Flying through the green space swamp of radiation, gas and debris that surrounded the jump hole that lead to the system only known as "The Southern Unknown," 13 ships appeared on his scanner. Twelve Hammerheads and one Centurion. "Bounty Hunters." he muttered under his breath. Most thought of the Bounty Hunters as being on the law-abiding side of the spectrum--vigilantes on the side of good. And some were for that matter. But none of them hung out in Omicron Gamma. The ones in Gamma were all ex-criminals who knew they could get a ransom from almost just about all the Sirius governments for proof of a Corsair kill.

The dirtiest of them waited here for a young corsair going through initiation.

There wasn't much he could do to even the odds at 5k, but as came in, closing the gap with full cruise engines it became obvious that this Corsair’s skill was more than a match for the attackers. Even without shields, the corsair dropped them one after another. The Cent had taken some damage from radiation and gunfire but looked ok otherwise.

Then they appeared.

Eight nomads were closing fast. The Knight--wearing the suit for the first time--hailed the Centurion. "Hit your cruise engines! They can't disrupt them, and they can't catch up!" Then, a voice came over his com; a mix of courage, youth, determination, and beauty. "My cruise engines are out! I'll have to fight!"

The Knight was almost in gun range when she took out the first of the Nomads, and went into evasive action to dodge the second. Knight popped him with long burst form his guns, and tried to put himself between the aliens and the wounded fighter.

Four engaged him, and two went around.

By the time he had killed his group of targets, she had knocked out one of hers, but the last had taken off both her wings and gutted her starboard engine.

Her ship was burning in several places.

The Knight looped around, and blasted the last one amidships. It erupted with a burst of blue light.

He tried to hail her but there was no answer. He swooped in and cut his engines. Both her engines appeared to be out, the ship was bleeding all sorts of gases everywhere. Luckily though, here cargo hold doors were blown open.

"Well, I guess this suit gets it's first real test!"

The knight positioned his ship beneath hers, and went into the airlock with an rescue helmet with a 5 minute supply of air. His suit would protect him in space, but hers might not me in good enough condition. He cycled the air out of his bay, and, using the thrusters built into the suit, flew into space.

Both her engines were burning, but he had 15 seconds of shield power built into the suit, using a power pack that the corsairs had developed from artifact technology. The engineer could be proud, because now the knight used it to fly through the fire to her airlock.

There wasn't much pressure in her cabin when he entered, and he knew he couldn't take her back the way he came. The scene was eerily reminiscent of the cockpit of his own Centurion that time in Omega-5, and it sent a chill through his spine. One of her control panels had been blown up by a nomad blast, and she was unconscious--barley alive.

He quickly cleaned the broken glass out of her visor, removed her ruined helmet, and positioned the rescue helmet. Activating the helmet, he aimed his left arm at the cracked canopy. A blaster snapped out of the left gauntlet, and blasted the canopy to smithereens. The remaining air pressure kept the glass off of them as it spilled out into space.

He unbuckled her and carried her back to his Eagle.

Once she was situated in the Eagle's emergency life support system, he blasted her cargo bay open the rest of the way, and beamed in her artifacts. She'd need them to prove she'd passed the test. He didn't notice until later he'd also beamed in four Nomad cannons for his eagle.

He hit the cruise, and radioed
Crete. "I have a corsair out here. She had just completed her initiation by killing twelve Bounty hunters, and got jumped by eight nomads. She needs medical attention desperately. Have it ready when I land." Some minutes later, he received a reply. "This is Manuel Renato De Silva. Vice Commander of the Corsair Navy. Permission to land is denied."

"What!??!" the Knight exclaimed. "Are you DAFT? This extraordinary young woman has survived 12 hammerheads and 8 nomads without shields, and you're going to let her DIE?"

"You must return her to the cloud." the commander droned. "It is our way. She must return unaided to
Crete, no matter what circumstances befall her. That is the tradition. Fate has not chosen her to be a Corsair. I am with her parents, and they concur with the decision. "


"No I don't unknown pilot. But I will be dispatching a wing of ships to ensure that you follow our instructions."

You do that. The Knight thought. Unknown pilot...they didn't know who he was. Advantage Knight. He turned his ship hard right and headed for the Omicron Theta Jump hole.

At 2k from the Jump hole, he picked up not one, but three wings of Titans rushing towards the jump point. "Not close enough my friends." They were just entering gun range when he vanished from their sight.

Two jumps later, he was at the Gas Miner Naha in Sigma 13. All those stations have advanced gear for trauma and radiation treatment. Despite her Corsair ancestry, the base commander wasn't the type of man to let a girl die.

It took the docs two weeks to get her stabilized, and the Knight hung around. He considered running some missions to boost his rep with the base, but felt his presence at here side kept the doctors more "focused."

Once she could travel, he took her at best speed to
Manhattan. In Liberty they wouldn't care as much where she came from, and there was a community of ex-corsairs there--fed up with the idiocy of things like the initiation rites, and the battles with the Outcasts. She could get quality care there, and the Knight had more than enough cash to pay for it. She woke up while they were in cruise mode passing New Tokyo,. "Where am I?” she mumbled. He got out of the pilots seat to check her. She gasped when she saw him--too weak to scream--and he remembered the suit. Immediately he removed his helmet. Don't be afraid! I rescued you from your ship, and we're on our way to get you more medical attention." "My… artifacts..." she whispered slowly. "I have them in the hold. They're fine. And you're safe. Just relax." She smiled, and closed her eyes.

The knight returned to his chair and frowned. How was he supposed to break it to her that her people--her own parents--considered her dead? How could he help her get over the chilling fact that she was no longer welcome in her world?

By inducting her into a new one, he decided. "Fate has not chosen her to be a Corsair..." The Knight didn't believe in Fate. But he did believe that God guided you places for reasons--even if you made your living with violence much of the time. If they Corsairs wanted to believe that Fate sent the Bounty Hunters and Fate sent the Nomads, then they could just as well assume that Fate sent the Knight as far as he was concerned.

The Knight thought he had a pretty good feel of when God sent him a task. His current task was to make sure this girl had a life. It was just as well that she had seen his face. This was going to take more than battle skills--it's hard to counsel someone behind a mask. He would have to trust her. And if it led to his undoing...he laughed. "Then the Corsairs can blame that on Fate too!"

He took her to
Mercy Hospital in Manhattan. Surgeons worked on her body, and counselors helped her make the adjustments from Corsair to Liberty society--and to help her deal with her loss. The Knight counseled her as well. "You come from a harsh way of life," he told her. "You can let the injustice consume you, and grow bitter. Or," he said, "you can use the skills and inner strength you developed to thrive in a much different environment. The Corsairs think their way is right because it's their way--and God help anyone who disagrees. Now you are free from their structure. You are free to find your way--a better way."

"Will you help me, or am I alone?" She asked, without much emotion in her voice. "Corinna, I didn't go through the effort of dragging you out of that burning wreck to leave you to fend for yourself alone. You can always come to me for help."

When she recovered, he set her up in a prestigious boarding school. Almost all the schools had a community of ex-Corsairs, since so many who left the Corsairs ranks became successful traders. They found a better life outside of
Crete, and Corinna began to understand that she could too.

The Knight kept up with her, checking on her frequently, and talking her through the adjustments she had to make.

He became sort of a crazy old uncle to the girl, though he had but 12 years on her himself.

He felt a lot older.

Seven years later, surgery had healed her physical wounds, and time and education had almost healed the emotional ones. There were still one or two minor scars on her neck, but they weren't noticeable. And over the one scar on her upper arm she had tattooed the image of one of the artifacts she had brought back with her that day. It wasn't a technologically useful artifact, but the experts told her that it was believed to be a Nomad symbol of strength.

Quite fitting.

Seven years later, she was in a new community--the [bass] community. She had advanced degrees both in computer science and political science. With an eye on being a diplomat someday, she requested training in intelligence gathering, espionage, and diplomacy from the [bass] experts on such matters. Though still quite young, she had proven so capable she now one of the few people the Knight felt comfortable to team with--and he did so whenever he was in

Elevator to Ship Storage levels - 14:50pm

"Someone's knocked out the surveillance cameras on Sub-Level 17." Corrina stated through the Knight's headphones. "That is along your normal path to the command center." Rule one of avoiding an assassination attempt is never go home the same way twice. However, there were some advantages to advertising your way home--if you weren't afraid of confronting your attackers. First of all, you know the territory--could control it to some extent. Second, you knew where to expect the attack. And third, taking a different way home became much more effective, since you were expected somewhere else. The Knight could have simply gone up in the same elevator, but [bass] Intel had gone through a great deal of effort to spread the rumor that the passage to The Black Knight's "underground hideout" was hidden on Sub-Level 17 of the building. He'd hate to waste their effort and disappoint his attackers.

"I hear you Corrina. How many did you count before they jammed the signals?" "Six. No innocents in the way either. The guards are all on other levels.” She paused. “I wish you wouldn't treat this like such a game! Just press the damn up button!" Corrina hated the way he walked into traps. "I'm taking it very seriously, Cor," The Knight tried to sooth; "It's the traps that you don't see that can get you. Besides, I'd like to know what kind of muscle this Monk character has at his disposal." No innocents about...hmm...haven't used the Gatling mode on my blasters in a while, he thought as he pressed a few switches on his forearm. "From their outfits they looked like Red Hessians." Corrina Responded. "Do be careful, Knight." Two plates opened in the armor of his right arm, to reveal the blaster emitters, which began to spin. "As always, Cor. See you in a few." The elevator doors opened at Sub-Level 17...

Sub-Level 17: 14:51pm

A blaze of light surrounded the Knight. His armor protected him from the blasts, but the elevator took the worst of it. He leaped out as the bottom half of the elevator was sliced away and fell 23 stories.

In sub level 40, a sleeping janitor fell out of his chair as the debris hit the floor with an ear splitting bang and covered him in dust. He was successfully treated that evening for hearing damage and a broken elbow, and was the only innocent civilian hurt in the battle.

The Knight fired his blasters in Gatling mode, creating what appeared to be a solid beam of energy--witnesses have called it the "infinite lance"--and strafed the area from left to right. The bodies of four of his attackers fell in pieces to the floor.

Four down.

From the command center, Corrina switched his view screen to infrared mode, her eyes straining to find the next attack. "Watch for a high explosive or projectile attack." She warned.

The Knight paned left, and saw the tip of an RPG extending from behind the vertical stabilizer of a Titan. As he took aim, the attacker leaned out to fire. The lance struck the warhead dead on. The resulting explosion scattered bits of the attacker all over the Titan he was standing on, and bounced the Titan up and down in its repulsor field.

"Corrina, tell me that isn't the Fridge." "Sorry Knight; that's Epyon's Titan alright." Corrina reported. "Well, it's going to need some fresh paint." "Knight, stay focused. There should still be one out there." "Waiting for me to drop my guard, no doubt." The first two attacks were just to soften him up. What would the last round entail? "Do you see anything here that I'm not seeing?" "No Knight. Don't hang around though. There could be explosives."

"I doubt it. High explosives would detonate these ships and drop the building. That would get the bad guys far too much attention from the Liberty Navy and the LSF--not to mention a dozen or so Freelancer clans. I'm guessing our last friend is waiting for me further along down the bay."

Sub-Level 17: 3:15pm

The destruction of the elevator open the circuit breakers for all the elevators, so the Knight's solitude was assured for a while--save for the last "Hessian" trying to kill him. This last man was unlike the other 5. The others were Hessians recruited to kill the Black Knight, whose exploits in Omega-5 assured that there would always be a steady supply of such men.

Sitting in the cockpit of a Startracker procured just for this job, he watched the Knight's progress down the level. This ship's only duty was to be parked, and to be his cover until the right moment.

This man wore the garb of the Red Hessians, but in reality was Ex-FED. He was the orphaned son of a Rhienland Diamond Trader. Both his parents were killed in a Blood Dragon attack in Honoshu, and vengeance was his early calling. Joining up with the FED was a path to that vengeance--or so he thought. He felt too restricted in that role, with not enough paths for his fury to vent.

Patrolling for cardamine smugglers and terrorists had exposed him to the dark side of life in Kusari, and he was surprised to find he found it somewhat alluring. After a time he saw little difference between the role of cop and criminal--the methods were often quite the same. Criminals throughout history have used this justification, and it was quite effective with this particular criminal. The role of the assassin, which required such skill and seemed to prove so lucrative, especially called to him. So he left the FED, and with spend a good chunk of his inheritance training to kill.

He became an expert in firearms and high explosives, traps and poisons. He knew the strengths and weaknesses of each. From what he knew of his quarry, none of those were going to work here.

Luckily, his time in Kusari had exposed him to another art, which would play on the Knights sense of honor and fairness. These two traits would allow him to get close to his target. The gift from his employer should do the rest. He hefted the item, and was sure there was a tracking device or audio recorder, or something else loaded into it--perhaps a small bomb. He smiled to himself. His employers probably expected him to fail, and in doing so, transfer the device to the Black Knight. The thinking would be he couldn't leave such an item behind.

Well, he intended to surprise his employers, and impress many others. The murder of the Black Knight on his resume should be enough to impress [Assasins]-Devil or =|:BoD:|=
Omaha. He liked the business-like manner and sheer effectiveness of the [Assasins], but the random fury of the =|:BoD:|= was something he could adapt to quite nicely.

The end of the Knight would be only the beginning...

Sub-Level 17: 3:22pm

"Could he have escaped by another route?" Corrina asked. "It's possible he took the stairs. Speaking of which, what about building security. Are they on their way up?" The Knight asked. "No, they're waiting for the lifts to come back online." "Well, it works for me now. I'd hate to see them get caught in a crossfire."

He was almost to the end of the level, with no sign of any...

A heat trace--in the retaining bolts of a cockpit...explosive bolts!

The knight left back as the cockpit windshield blew off a nearby Startracker. A split second later a man in black somersaulted through the opening, and landed ten meters in front of the Knight. A device in his hand sprang to life, and a two meter shaft of green light extended from the handle.

He was holding a corsair plasma cutlass.

Though the Kusari had some of the best sword fighting techniques, their swords were swords in the classic sense--made of steel or something even more durable. Only the Corsaris, using artifact technology, had been able to develop a device to mimic the classic "laser sword" of old science fiction. It was only partially laser based. The laser was used internally to superheat gas taken from the air around it. The superheated gas, or plasma, was shot out at high velocity, and a strong magnetic field kept it contained in the blade. The magnetic field would permeate most materials, allowing the plasma stream to cut once it made contact. The field was repulsed by any other similar field, allowing the bearer of another sword to parry blows.

Of course the Knight carried one.

He could have simply shot the man. But this man was challenging him to a swordfight. He would have disgraced himself by attacking him with a ranged attack. He would be lowering himself to the level of the thugs he had left all over the floor by the elevator.

The Knight heard some select words whispered through his headset. Corrina knew better than to argue for the easy solution, and was more talking to herself. She understood but she didn't have to like it.

The Knight retracted his blasters, and reached for his cutlass. It too had a green blade--the trademark of its maker, Taro Montoya de Sosa. Taro was a bit of a rebel as well. In his youth he had studied Corsair swordsmanship and sword making. He wanted to try new approaches to sword fighting, and traveled to various Kusari systems to learn from the masters. Convincing them to help out a Corsair was an even greater feat than surviving the trip through Kusari space in a Legionairre. In addition to being charming, intelligent and likable, he also presented his professors with one of his green bladed cutlasses. One professor presented it to his government to reverse engineer--with little success after decades of work. The others kept them as treasures, and agreed to train Taro. Taro became the premier swordfighter in the border worlds, and his swords matched his skill.

The Knight was his apprentice.

His reputation from the Omega-5 war with the Hessians allowed him access to Taro, and the two became fast friends, of similar temperament. Taro often referred to him as one of his best students.

Although taro was open minded enough to train a son of
Liberty, he doubted he would do the same with a Red Hessian. Who was this man, and how did he get his sword?

These are questions for later, the Knight decided. As he ignited his blade, the light danced on his armor--many who witnessed the Knight with sword ablaze have said "The Green Knight" suits him better. It is when sword fighting that he was truly in his element--even more so than when in the cockpit of an Eagle. He looked as if he were carved from a giant emerald, with the jade blade in front of him. He heard it often enough that he has registered some of his ships in that name.

So the Black Knight becomes the Green Knight, and a hopeful assassin takes his greatest test.

Sub-Level 17: 3:24pm

The last "Hessian" made his move first--an overhead swing aimed at cleaving the knight in two. The Knight parried and countered with a left to right cut. His assailant spun clockwise and blocked. The Knight retreated to check his response. The thug leaped forward with a thrust aimed at the Knight's heart.

Very quickly the Knight analyzed his attacker. Each blow was meant to be the killing blow, he had good skills, but was trying to finish him to quickly. He was using a tremendous amount of energy, putting everything he had into each strike.

It was a long bay. The Knight would simply defend and retreat until his quarry was exhausted. Once he was used up, the Knight's assault would be impossible to defeat.

It was a credit to the attacker that he detected this ploy. He knew too much about the Knight to think him a passive fighter. But rather than measure his attacks, and save his strength, he became more convinced that the Knight must come to a quick end. His attacks became even more arced and extended; his spins and jumps more frantic. As they passed Terminal's Sabre, the attacker accidentally cut the nose off of it--and nearly crushed himself in the process.

The Knight figured he'd see how desperate he could make his attacker, and jet jumped onto the wing of a nearby eagle. The attacker leaped, and swung right to left in another arc. Missing the Knight in the process, but putting a black streak through the name "Evil Monkey" stenciled beneath the canopy, and cutting the starboard nomad gun in half. The Knight somersaulted over him, and continued his retreat.

By now the assassin was sweating and enraged, and rage was something that could be used against an attacker. By now he was no longer expecting a counterattack; he was merely trying to breach the Knight's defenses. When the time came to turn the tables, they turned with one swing of the sword.

The assailant tried another overhead attack, aimed at the Knight's head. This time though, instead of meeting the blade, he sidestepped and brought his blade up--cleanly removing the attacker's arm at the elbow. Before the arm and blade hit the ground, The Knight performed a sidekick to the attacker's chest--restraining himself from using his boot jets for added emphasis. The kick propelled the attacker away from his blade and underneath the wing of Evil Monkey's Eagle.

The Knight stooped down and removed the cutlass from the lifeless hand that held it. The deck plate had already started to melt where the blade had plunged into it. He walked up to his assailant with both blades ignited--and then turned them off. It was time for a chat.

Sub-Level 17: 3:35pm

Beaten--And not by strength or daring, but by patience and cool headedness. He had simply wanted the glory too much, and right now. The green form suddenly went dark again, the blades extinguished. What now?

"Good Fight." The Knight said. "You've got talent, but you need some more patience. Once you get that arm replaced you would do well to find some new teachers." New teachers--as if technique would matter now. No matter how good he got, he'd never get into the clans he wanted to join. This battle would look like a setup; like a choreographed dance designed to make him look like an enemy of the Black Knight. They would never take the risk that he was a plant.

"Now, I'm more than happy to let you walk away from this unpleasant incident," said the Knight, "but I am more than a little curious who sent you." The Knight spoke like someone who'd just finished a quiet game of chess, rather than a life and death struggle. "This sword of yours--quite similar to my own. The craftsman who made it has no affection for the Red Hessians. And had you studied his style of fighting, you would have known patience. So I'm guessing the two of you have never met." Cool logic from the Knight. Somehow it made him angrier. Angry that he seem to be taking this so lightly--taking his skills and burned off arm as if they were academic parts of an argument. The Knight continued: "You need medical help my friend, and I can get it for you. I just need to know who gave you that sword, and who sent you to me." What's this? Is he offering him help? Asking him to change sides? Join this man who just trashed his arm and his dreams?

No. He had other plans. He was laying on his good arm, and with his good arm, he reached a device stowed behind him on his belt.

"I'll tell you after," the assassin said. "After what?" said the Knight, taking a step back. "After I meet you in hell!!!" The assassin then he produced and activated the device.

The shout was just enough of a warning. The Knight threw himself back and turned all suit jets on full power, simultaneously hitting his shield. The explosion vaporized his attacker, and took the wing off Evil Monkey's Eagle. The shockwave caught the Knight 100 meters down the bay. His shield took the brunt of the blow, but the residual blast scorched his suit and sent him tumbling down the bay. He skidded another 200 meters to a halt next to Epyon's Titan.

A voice came over the intercom in his helmet: "Knight come in! Do you read? Knight!" "I'm Ok. Cor. Didn't expect a swordsman like that to kill himself over one loss." The Knight shook out the cobwebs and pulled himself to his feet. "Knight clear the area." Corrina was losing her composure--a rare event. "You're cutting this too close." "I hear you. What's the closest clear floor below me." "No one on sub-22. Why?" "I'll explain later." He answered. As he got moving he passed a Drom with a wing plunged in it's side. The name "Matik" was visible painted on this side of the wing. "That's coming out of my pay," the Knight thought to himself. The Knight jogged to the blown open elevator shaft, and jumped into the abyss.

Sub-Level 22 3:42pm

Five levels down he hit his boot thrusters and zipped up to the level 22 doors. "Pop the door for me for 22 will you Cor?" "What haven't you had enough fun?" Cor remarked? "You can never have too much fun Cor. Besides this should be quiet fun." The doors slid open, and the Knight stepped in. He placed the assassin's sword on the deck plate. He tapped a button on the side of his helmet, and a small scan head extended. "Ok Cor. Do a broad technical scan on this cutlass. I'm guessing it's got either a bomb or a tracking device." The scanner was another "gift from Bretonian intelligence, and was similar to a short range ship's scanner. "Bomb scan is clear...good call Knight. It's got a BN tracker in it. Pretty sophisticated pattern too."

A BN tracker--or "Background NOise" Tracker--emitted a tracking signal that appeared random--it looked like background noise if you didn't know what you were looking for. If you knew the pattern, however, you could track the signal across systems. "Can you capture the pattern, Cor?" "Already done. Care to come in now?" The Knight paused. "Just one more thing. Where is Senator Monk's private ship?" "That's Bay 13, Sub-Level 25. Why?" "Just pop the door on 25 for me." And he jumped back into the shaft.

Sub level 25. 4:01pm

Bay 13 was a high security dock point. It was completely enclosed, and the door was pass coded. Which means nothing if you already have the codes, which Corinna did. By this point the head of security was demanding that his guards get off their duffs and investigate the commotion on sub-level 17, and they were dutifully using the stairs. This left Sub level 25 rather empty. Corrina jammed the monitors on 25 just in case. She wasn't sure what the Knight had planned. With the other outages going on from the damaged sub-level, the signals wouldn't be missed.

The Black Knight felt his contempt level rise as he walked into the bay. "After lecturing me on using an Eagle--made in
TEXAS mind you--this arrogant ass flies a TITAN? Where's his Rhino or Defender?" "The social commentary can wait Knight. What are you planning to do with his ship?" Corrina pressed. "Watch," the Black Knight answered. He drew and ignited his plasma cutlass. He adjusted the beam to a narrow setting, and extended it to 7 meters in length. Then he sliced the cockpit off Monk's Titan.

"10 out of 10 for style, Knight. But what will this accomplish?" Corrina knew that he wasn't just being spiteful. "Cor, you've got the pattern off this BN tracker right?" "Sure," she replied. "I should be able to find it most anywhere in Sirius." "Very good." The Knight said--and looked again at the assassin’s cutlass. Similar to his own, except for the finish, which was sort of a dark brass color--his own matched the suit. Then he looked at the decapitated Titan. There was some space in the area between the power cables for the guns. He tossed the cutlass into that space.

"Now we can keep track of our new friend." The Knight left the bay, and headed for the hidden turbolift to the command center. There was only one shop on
Manhattan that could do a rebuild on a Titan, and the owner was another old friend of [bass]--and ex-corsair. "Cor, tell Paul over at Borderworld Specialties that he's probably going to get a Titan in, and not to clean out the access ways too much." As he approached a seemingly blank wall, Corinna activated the opening sequence. A hidden door opened to reveal a turbolift to the command center. Only someone in the center could open it--there was no local switch. "I'll have someone stop down and explain the situation." The Knight smiled as he stepped into the lift. It would probably be her. She always preferred doing the work to delegating. "Thanks, Cor. See you soon. Knight out."

The Black Knight's Living Quarters, Manhattan, NY System--4 days later, 9:45pm

The NY apartment was situated on the same floor as the [bass] command center. It was similar to the other apartments on the top floor of the building--all of which were inhabited by [bass] command and control operatives. This wasn't the Knight's primary residence, but it was outfitted both for comfort and function. The walls were dominated by large windows, looking out over the city, with the walls done in an eggshell white. The rug was a deep pile hunter green, with matching furniture.

The suit was standing at attention in a suspension field in the corner of the room--repaired, polished and recharged from the last battle. The Knight sat in street clothes at a black desk. On the desk were various monitors and controls that linked him into the [bass] mainframe. He had access to all the information of the command center at his fingertips. Feet up on the desk, he talked with Fleg_Matik, [bass] Leader, on an audio link. Fleg_Matik was at that moment flying his Eagle back to

"Are you sure the sword was one of Plazma's?" Fleg_Matik asked. "Yeah Fleg. Records indicate he always had Taro build his swords in that color. They matched the color of his Eagle." The Knight replied. "Boderworld Specialties fixed Monk's Titan two days ago, and he headed straight for New Tokyo. With the TDF declaring an alliance with G3NOCIDE right after G3NOCIDE challenged us for Bearing, it all hangs together pretty neatly."

"So the TDF want to boost their presence in Libery eh? They should have made their alliance sooner. As it stands, they can't participate in the challenge." Fleg mused. "Of course they could always set up some TDF pilots in G3NOCIDE ships. They have time and cash plenty for that." "Too risky." the Knight answered. "We'd win by default if we were able to prove it. Besides, intel reports indicate they've annexed the TENAtsu Clan, and then they should have enough fighters." 8 on 8 was the limit. The clans agreed to these tournaments of death to prevent the system wide catastrophes an all out war would produce. You just had to remember where the ejection handle was if you needed it, and pray your friends did too.

"I though we were friendly with TENAtsu." Fleggy said. "Yeah we were." replied the Knight. "TDR flew a lot with their Leader, XCalibur. But according to TDR, Plasma made him an offer to merge, and XCal took him up on it. TDR told him he could have merged with us, but XCal didn't know that offer was on the table." "I'll contact him myself and remind him the offer stands." Said Fleg. "What do you suggest we do if the TDF shows up in G3NOCIDE garb for the B4B?" "It doesn't matter. If we stop them from flying this time they'd only wait another few weeks and fight again. I say let that issue hang. The way to handle this battle is to fight whoever shows up to the best of our ability. Right now it looks like we'll have more fighers than we need for B4B. Our intelligence indicates this will surprise them. They're only coming after us because they think we can't field fighters for the challenge--and I think Plazma misses Bearing." Fleggy laughed. "Well, as far as I'm concerned he's welcome to stop at the bar on
Freeport 2, but the system is ours. Do you think it's a mistake to have so many of our fighters flying missions in untagged ships? Perhaps it hides our numbers a bit too well." "No, these kinds of surprises are the kind you like to spring in battle." The Knight replied.

"Speaking of Bearing," Fleggy said I'm coming up on the Jump Gate for it. When are you coming to
Texas?" "First thing in the morning. I've already ordered all our fighters there for war games. We've gotten a lot of offers for help in training our guys--especially since the TDF alliance was announced. Acer, Epyon, Gen_KYA and the rest of the SS, DIAB and the Box all are willing to help and have TDF and G3N on their KOS lists." "That's great." Said Fleggy. "Was Epyon ticked off about the Fridge?"

"At first he was concerned it was damaged, and I told him the only real damage was the Phantoms symbol was blasted off the tail. He laughed and said 'That's kind of fitting.' I asked why and he said never mind. He'd fly it as is for a while as sort of a message from me to any other would be assassins. He said it should clean up pretty well after the first tradelane pass. I offered to have it painted, since it was my shot that blew the warhead, but he said no, he was going to have it done anyway. There's something going on there."

"I'm sure we'll find out soon enough," said Fleggy. "Time to dock. I'll catch you in
Texas." "Have a good one, Fleggy."

=]TDF[= Headquarters- New Tokyo. 11:29am 2 Days after B4B

Officer John Thaddeus Lyons had just about enough of this assignment.

Babysitting and coddling this overbearing, arrogant, self-important yahoo was not the assignment he'd hoped for when the FED merged with the TDF. But a near miss from a ripper mine launched from a Pandora's Box Dromidary had left him without any peripheral vision on his right side, and flight duty was no longer in the cards.

An assignment in the political wing of =]TDF[= covert ops looked like a something that would keep him going until retirement. True, it was a desk job, but the intrigue that it promised should have been more than enough to keep him interested.

The concept of placing a person in a position--or significantly helping them--so that you will have influence is as old as politics itself.
Lyons had chosen Monk personally. He was power hungry and self-involved--ideal qualities for someone that needs to be tempted and used. It turned out he was a bit too perfect. Once he tasted the power he lusted for, he became even more arrogant. This was making him difficult, if not impossible to control.

Senator Monk was starting to get used to screaming. It was his normal mode anymore. "WHAT DO YOU MEAN 'ARMISTICE'? I WANT THE KNIGHT DEAD. I WANT BASS DESTROYED!"
Lyons looked at him placidly. You're wants are not the concern of the =]TDF[=. Our ally G3NOCIDE has had some excellent negotiations with [bass], and they're willing to let bygones be bygones without reparation payments if we leave their systems alone." The Liberty Senator was furious. "You set me up...you had me threaten that metal demon...MY LIFE ISN'T WORTH SPIT." "All hostilities have ceased. I'm sure the Black Knight won't hold a grudge." The lack of concern in the Lyons' Voice only made Monk more furious. "I DEMAND TO TALK TO THE =]TDF[= LEADERSHIP! I DEMAND THE KNIGHT IS DESTROYED NO MATTER WHAT PACT YOU HAVE. I WILL NOT LIVE IN FEAR BECAUSE OF YOUR POLITICS." "Senator Monk," the officer's voice became firmer, "Our allies have made peace with a strong force in liberty. We would have to break an alliance, and attack a neutral clan. Do you think we will do this for your personal whims?"

"Whims, WHIMS! IF I DON'T TALK TO SOMEONE IN THE LEADERSHIP IN THE NEXT FIVE MINUTES I WILL GO TO THE MEDIA, and EXPLAIN the =]TDF[= roll in all of THIS. I am a SENATOR in the LIBERTY GOVERNMENT, AND I WON'T be your FALL GUY. YOU planted that tracking device on him! FIND HIM AND KILL HIM OR I WILL DO WHAT I MUST TO PROTECT MYSELF." Monk was 3 shades of crimson past healthy.

The officer smiled a bit too peacefully, and said, "Senator, I think you're in luck. Most of our commanders are in a closed briefing. You can't go in, but I will bring them your demands immediately." The officer walked through a door to his right.

Beyond that door was not the briefing room for the preeminent leaders of the =]TDF[=. It was the plain but functional office of Officer John Thaddeus Lyons. His sat down at a terminal with some special qualities; one of which was access to the job boards of any system he chose. He could transfer =]TDF[= funds to a holding account in the system, and make the assignment look as if it had come from whoever he wanted.

"Let's see, who should get this assignment...the Rogues out of Dawson should be able to handle it." Hell, Monk couldn't get anywhere in that Titan without the autopilot, let alone fight. He pulled a disk out of his coat pocket--it contained the signature of the tracking signal in the modified cutlass. Once the =]TDF[= had figured out who they were tracking (which didn't take long) the humor of the situation helped sooth the sting of the failure. And now, since this wretched excuse for a person was planning on revealing =]TDF[= secrets, he was well within his authority to use the tracking signal for another purpose.

About 10 minutes later, the officer returned. "Senator Monk." He said. The leadership understands the situation, and have approved a top secret mission. Through secret contacts we will put out an assassination order. Whoever accepts the assignment will be given the tracking signal codes. The will hunt down the ship the ship and destroy it. There will be no record of =]TDF[= involvement, and all your problems will be gone."

"About time!" The senator huffed. "Wait, what reward will you post? I don't want some endless stream of no-names failing over and over to get him." Even when he got what he wanted Monk was demanding. "300K Sir. That should be enough to encourage a couple of the best pilots to work together. I left the identity of the target off the listing--that way the quarry won't be warned of the attack." The irony of the situation almost made this last meeting with William Monk tolerable. "From now on I only want to deal with the =]TDF[= Leadership. I've had enough with lackeys like you!" "Don't worry sir," the officer had to fight back a smile. "In all your future dealings with the =]TDF[=, you'll have their ears directly."

"That's better." Said the senator. "Have my ship prepared. I leave immediately for
New York. I don't want my presence here advertised."

"Not to worry, Sir." said the officer as the senator turned and left. "Oh and Senator!"

"Yes?" Said the testy politician.

"Have a safe flight."

Gallagher's Bar, Three weeks after b4b. 7:45pm

Two freelancers step up to the bar at Gallagher's. They're in standard pilot attire, blending in with the crowd nicely. The names they use today aren't important. We'll call them Fleggy and TBK.

Before they can order Jim hands them two drinks on the House--Whiskey Sours. The two look at each other and Fleggy asks, "Where did you see him, mate?" Whiskey hadn't been seen or heard from in months, after going into semi-retirement. "Sittin' at a table with two [Assasin]s--Devil and Nomad I think. From what I was able to pick up, looks like Whiskey's found a new home." TBK rolled his eyes, shook his head, and took a drink. "Well, Fleggy, looks like those convoy defense contracts are going to be a bit more interesting. I wonder why he didn't call us?" "I don't know, Mate." Fleggy responded. "Why didn't Plazma? I guess once you've left, you don't want to go back, no matter how welcome you'd be. 'specially if you were the leader." Now it was Fleggy's turn to take a sip. "I guess," said TBK, "Still, it's going to be strange shooting at him. He recruited me you know." Fleggy finished his drink and said, "What say you about this phenomenon, Jim?" James Gallagher thought for a moment, and proceeded to tell this story:

"Back when I was a freelancing young lad, before I flew missions out of Cadiz, I was making my money flying with the Corsairs against the Bounty Hunters in Gamma--funny story how I got into that position, but that's another day. At any rate, there was this one Corsair Captain who used to hire me to fly on his wing. I'd fly with him on missions, and escort him in his drom full of artifacts up to the
Hawaii. When he was rich enough for any three men, he retired, and I started working Cadiz."

"Five years later, I was up in Omega-7 on a supply run for Cadiz, and I walked into the bar on the Friestadt Outpost. And whom do I see, in the bar, dressed in a Bounty Hunter outfit, but this Corsair! So I walked up and bought him a drink. And he looked at me and blanched. I held up my hands and said 'Don’t worry, it's cool,’ and got to talking with him. Asking him why he jumped sides. And do you know what reason he gave?" Both men shrugged and shook their heads. "He said, 'It was a deadly game, but it was a game nonetheless. And I wanted to see if I was as good at the game on the other side."

The three men were quiet for a moment, wondering if they would ever follow that path; if they would ever turn on old friends and allies to test their mettle. The game of the mercenary was a deadly one indeed.

"Well," Fleggy said finally, "If he wants to use us as a test for his skills, I say we write up the exam and throw it on his desk!" Fleggy and TBK clinked glasses, finished their drinks, and ordered two more Whiskey Sours.

Freeport 2 - 2:15am - 2 days after B4H

A new Eagle, hot off the production line at CTE's new plant on
Houston, sat in the docking bay at Freeport 2. It was almost ready--needing only a ripper mine launcher to complete its armament. In a private set of quarters near the top of Freeport 2, a suit of armor floated in a suspension field. Most of the denizens of Freeport 2 assumed the owner of the suit sat in his quarters, brooding over the loss of Hudson to the =|:BoD:|=. They were partially correct.

Down in the bar, the Black Knight sat brooding in a corner booth, looking out at the ships docking at the base, and the rocks floating by. He was dressed in a black t-shirt and brown casual slacks. A glass of rum on the rocks sat in front of him; more rocks than rum at this point. Estelle Bauhause was working bar tonight--the bars never closed on the star bases--and he looked over her direction to signal for another rum. Estelle was another retired trader, in her mid fifties, who had run supplies to the ‘Hessians in Omega-5, carried rogue diamonds and Molly gold to wherever it was most profitable, and then spent her later years running artifacts from
Crete to New Berlin. It was during these years she met Cuchulain, then with the now defunct Outlaws, and through him Fleg Matik.

Her story was actually remarkably like James Gallagher, and the Knight wondered if she too were an ex-intelligence agent--probably from Rhienland. The Omega-5 runs especially fit the mold. The tall, blonde, buxom woman was a bit too strong, a bit too fit for her age, and had too much knowledge in fighting arts for him to belive she'd spent all her time in a Dromidary. He'd watched her take down unruly Unioners three at a time--she wouldn't have them messing up her bar! She also was too practiced at the art of intelligence gathering--she knew everything that went on in
Freeport 2. The Knight considered her a great asset.

She too was paid by [bass] to keep her eyes and ears open, but her ties to the Hessians kept the Knight from revealing his identity to her just yet. She knew him as Hober Mallow--one of [bass]'s master traders and one of the trade fleet coordinators. That was a good enough cover, as it explained why he spent so much time with Fleg_Matik.

"You're looking contemplative tonight, Hober," she said as she placed a fresh drink on the table. "Those rocks out there hold that much interest for you?" "Why certainly," he responded. "It's harder to appreciate the subtle beauty of an asteroid field when you're waiting for a pirate to jump out from behind every one of the blasted things." She sat down next to him. "Look, I know everyone is bummed about
Hudson, but don't you get too down on it." She seemed a bit too bright to be simply optimistic. "I've seen that look in your eye before, Estelle. What did you hear?"

"Couple of 'lancers came in last night. Had a few while their ships got repaired. Overheard one of 'em say something like they'd 'have to release
Hudson to go after that system.' and the other said something about 'bigger fish to fry.'"

"Hmm.." the Knight though out loud. "If they release it, and we're quick enough, we might get it back unchallenged. I better tell Fleggy to keep his eye's peeled." Estelle smiled at him. "Not to worry. I have a feeling the Black Knight will take care of it." The Knight felt a chill. "What makes you say that, has he been in?" She held her smile, and said "I think he likes staring at the rocks too. You know I ran supplies and missions for the 'Hessains back a few years ago, over in Omega-5. The Knight ran on the opposite side. I don't think he trusts me cause of that." "I'm sure he holds no grudges." the Knight offered. "It's not like there's a 'good guy' in omega-5. Best place for a merc really."

The smile faded for a bit. "Well, there's more to it than that." She said. "I grew up on
New Berlin during some years when they were trying to make an impression on the government. They parked a Drom full of MOX and H-Fuel in a neighborhood where a lot of my extended family lived." The knight took her hand. "I remember reading about that. You still can't go within a half mile of the place. I'm very sorry." "Oh, I'm over it now--mostly," she said. "But when I was young, I always had a fear of Droms--was always wondering what was in the hold. I guess that's why I became a trader--so I could face the fear. I wouldn't let that ship scare me anymore. It was a great moment when I first flew a Drom out of Mactan. Finally I could control what was in my hold, and if I was attacked I could fight back."

"Makes perfect sense to me." Said the knight, but hearing this much of the story left him curious. "But why then, did you fly for them?" The smile returned. "Why, to keep them busy. They couldn't very well blow up the Rhinelanders and the Corsairs at the same time. Plus the Corsairs wanted to blow us up too--and they seemed a bit more together than the 'Hessians. More of a threat. I figured if I could keep them supplied in O-5, they'd be too busy to blow up my family back home." She looked straight into his eye's and said, "Do tell the Knight about this, or have Fleggy do it. We've got a similar past, and I want him to trust me."

The Knight smiled back, "I'll make sure he knows. I'm sure he'll trust you in the future." Not that he wouldn't double check her story, but it hung together with what he'd guessed about her. "I'm going to take this one back to my room, and contact Fleggy about
Hudson." He paid for his drinks, with a generous tip--as always. The Knight believed in taking care of your barkeeps. As they walked back to the bar, the Knight looked around. He saw no one there, and the base had anti-bugging equipment installed, and he did have a few drinks. "Estelle," he said quietly. "How long have you known?" She laughed and said, " The acting was excellent, but I always sensed that there was more going on. And tonight I could tell it wasn't the rocks that had your attention. That wasn't the stare of a trader--even a good one." The Knight laughed. He should have done his brooding in his room. "I know why you do it though." She said, growing serious. "We couldn't bury my cousins; the whole area covered in MOX...I understand the fear. Your solution is ingenious--and your secret is safe with me." "Well, your courage surpasses mine." The Knight responded. "Since you flew without secrets." Estelle Bauhause laughed out loud, confirming then and there the Knight's 'Rhineland Intelligence' theories. "Well I wouldn't say that," she laughed as she made her way back to the bar.


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