VELVET GLOVE, IRON FIST - Act I - Erich von Shrakenberg


            "What the hell is going on?!" Von Shrakenberg yelled over the energy bursts.

            "They're after me," the lieutenant replied, reaching in his pant leg to pull out his backup sidearm, "and that means that they'll be after you."

            "Who are they?"

            "Men in black. Assassins." Persimmon handed the extra gun over to the captain. "Trust me, they don't want you alive."

            "You meet the weirdest people in spacedock bars," quipped the captain. Eric fired a burst in the general direct of the door, giving himself covering fire as he dove behind another overturned table. He almost slipped in a pool of blood. A stray energy round had nearly decapitated one of the innocent bystanders.

            From his new perch, he could not see the front door, but he could see the back. As Persimmon fired at the front door, a black-suited figure burst through the rear door. The coal-black skinsuit had a darkened face shield and the scarlet emblem of Internal Security over the heart. As the InSec trooper raised his energy rifle and aimed it as Persimmon, Eric's plasma pistol blew a neat hole in that face shield and the head behind it. The next InSec trooper through the back door didn't even get that far. Suddenly, there was no more firing.

            Cautiously peering over his table, Eric saw no fewer than 4 dead blacksuits near the front door. He carefully stood and walked over to Persimmon. "Who are you, really," demanded Eric. "They paid no attention to me, they were after YOU."

            "All I can say is," replied the lieutenant, "try and avoid being on the wrong side of Internal Security."

            "You're a renegade! You're with the resistance!" Eric was staring wide-eyed at his new acquaintance. "What the schiesse are you getting me into?"

            "The resistance?" Persimmon looked perplexed at him. "Commander, get with the program, the resistance is dead."

            "Then what the hell is all this?!"

            "A war to save YOUR life, and the lives of everyone you know. A war to save the Federation." The lieutenant glanced around as frightened civilians started to peer above tables and their hiding places. "Now we MUST leave."

            The two ran out the back door, down the service passage, and into the main square. The areas around major Earth Fleet bases were all the same, filled with the various bars, brothels, and gambling halls that worked so hard to seperate troopers and fleet jockeys from their pay vouchers. Persimmon led Von Shrakenberg to a small flophouse across the alley. "That should have lost any tail on us from that bar," explained Persimmon. "Someone there must have spotted me and called in the Black Suits."

            Once they were in Persimmon's room on the second floor of the flophouse, Eric demanded to know what this was all about.

            "Okay," the lieutenant replied, "do you want the short version or the long version?"

            "Whichever version we have time for, before some more InSec goons come in and arrest me for God knows what!"

            "The short version, then..." Persimmon got up and paced around the room, collecting his thoughts, and finally faced the confused ship captain. "TI Internal Affairs is in... kind of a war with Internal Security."

            "Hate to tell you, Lieutenant," Eric shot back, "but you ARE in a war. I'd  just like to know what it's all about."

            "During the 2nd Civil War and the fall of Harrington Industries, Internal Security lost control of the Federation and the Tech Infantry. With ten years of military rule, our generals finally had the balls enough to kick the last of their slavedrivers out. They managed to restore themselves, supporting several third parties and forming the Minority Coalition."

            "I was wondering where my tax dollars went, but that still doesn't explain why _I_ was getting SHOT AT!" Eric was getting sick of this idiot's droning on about ancient history; get to the point, he thought.

            "With Stephanie Harrington nearly dead, and the corps fighting each other, control of the Fed was left to two groups, us and InSec."

            "I'm still waiting for the bit where I blow up some leech asteroid."

            "I'm getting to that!" Persimmon stressed, almost losing his calm, cool exterior for a moment, "InSec fears that the IA will be able to gain supporters from other groups, and finally be able to eliminate them, once and for all. So they decided to eliminate the potential allies."

            "The Kingdom of Enoch? Why in Chang's name would they ally with you guys?"

            "Because we had already contacted them."

            Thud. Von Shrakenberg's mouth dropped open. "You were..."

            "It didn't start out that way, if that's what you're wondering. That asteroid was a prison, in a sense, for Black Hand vampires who had been captured in Fed territory. Instead of destroying them, Crusader division thought it could use it to destabilize the Enoch government. I guess they were thinking, throw in too many vampires into their kingdom, either they're too busy killing each other off to send more here, or they would kill off the human population so quickly that they'd starve to death."

            "So you hollowed an asteroid  just for that?"

            "No, it was a scientific outpost earlier, got wrecked in the Bug War. Internal Security was so paranoid about it that it never even named the place. Just called it by its coordinates, Asteroid X-023... whatever." The lieutenant smiled, "But the colonel thought we could use it for something else."

            "The colonel?"

            "Commandant of IA, Colonel Delarosa. He thought if we could convince the Black Hand to attack InSec territories, our war could be over sooner than we thought, and without the Technocracy's bitter hand in everything... we could restore the Federation to its former glory."

            "So the IA contacted the Black Hand for their help in exchange for the release of hostages?"

            "That happened two months ago. They agreed, except that they said they had problems of their own."

            "Such as?"

            "They didn't say. However, when our ace card was suddenly destroyed, our hope for ending this war died with it."

            "So why come to me?"

            "I got a message from HQ saying that Enoch was trying to make contact again. In fact, they sent a ship out to restore contact, but it was destroyed." Chills ran down Von Shrakenberg's spine. "Internal Security doesn't want open war with Enoch, that would give too much power to us again; instead, they want to make sure that the kingdom never makes an attempt to help again."

            "Damn," the captain muttered, "but the damage is done, lieutenant. I just get my orders, what do you expect me to do?"

            "InSec is trying to knock out another of our potential allies, Earth Fleet, by keeping them on a tight leash. We'll need your help to eventually break that leash."

            "Great, now I'm a secret agent."

            "You don't have to join us, but now you know our side of the story. They are using you to further their own ends, which is to destroy the magickal nature of our universe, and send us back into another dark ages. With them as the only mages, they would be able to dominate life to their will, one of order... and absolute tyranny." The lieutenant looked out the window. "They're trying to keep track of those that they're not sure where their loyalties lie. In fact, they probably have listening devices on your ship already."

            "Yeah, I'm having that checked out all ready."

            Persimmon glanced down at his chronometer. "We've run out of time. Remember, if they win, freedom will be a forgotten word. Even your thoughts won't be safe." He sighed for a moment and looked toward the door. "You better go first. You should be fine until you reach your ship, as you said, it's me they're after."

            Von Shrakenberg made his way out of the flophouse with relative ease. Walking around in the intense heat of St. Michael's Star was not what one called easy, but he was already sweating, looking from side to side for possible InSec agents. Was it the street vendor? The bum? The teenage girl getting out of the aerolimo? Now he was getting paranoid.

            Finally, he made it to the shuttle transfer station and was soon on his way up to the fleet orbital platform, where the EFS Stornoway was docked. He decided to call ahead to see how Johanna was doing on her work. Moving toward the back of the shuttle and their net interlink station, he clicked in his credit card and dialed the comm channels to hook him up with the fleet registry. Once entering his voice print and password, it was easy work to connect with his ship. Some fresh faced ensign was looking at him on the other side... Ensign Peters, from the missile section, he thought. They were SERIOUSLY on a skeleton crew if HE was running the comm station. "Sir?" Peters asked.

            "Connect me to Commander Ingolfsson, ensign."

            "Yes, sir."

            A fade to the Stornoway's emblem and blue screen finally found his second cousin in the midst of some wiring. Finally her tired face appeared in front of him, exhausted, but triumphant. "Do you have something to report, commander?"

            "Yes, sir." A part of her bubbly self rose to the surface. "I believe I found the problem. I disconnected the little thing a minute or so before you called. I think we can believe this line to be secure."

            "Any clue on who did it?"

            "Well, I think we can be pretty sure that..." All of a sudden, a flash of light sparked across the screen, and suddenly there was static.

            Von Shrakenburg stared at the screen in disbelief. That was a plasma discharge. Nothing else could have made that sound or image. Mein Gott! Someone was firing a revolver on HIS ship. Fear welled up inside him and he found himself screaming to the wordless void. "JOHANNA!!!"




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Text Copyright © 2000 by Marcus Johnston.  All Rights Reserved.