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In CatH Post 89 Clear guides Princess Ptolly to the Jupiterian Embassy on the Cosmic Nullius where they meet with Admiral Ltexi. Ltexi has just been reinstated as admiral for the Jupiterian Republic and is overcome with humility when she finds that Polly is actually the would-be princess of the republic. Polly wants to take a fleet to Earth to conquer it in a political move to have her own daughter, Ltosien, recognised as a 'queen in exile' and, therefore, politically positioned to retake the Jupiterian Republic. Despite Ltosien being reluctant to take on this role, Polly is determined and Ltexi is onboard. Clear, however, criticises them only to be knocked out by Ltexi. When Clear is awakened she, her friends and the ST Clan go after the Jupiterian fleet to Earth. There, while aboard The Unbroken, they are hailed by the incoming Imperial fleet with President Polk himself in command. He has vested all of his political policy on conquering Earth and so he vows to engage the Jupiterians and then conquer the planet for himself instead. While Mabey checks the status of Orbital One as in tact, meaning Alexis Thrain, Clear's friend, is safe for now, Ciel, a Void Ranger and old acquaintance of Clear's, arrives to check what The Unbroken is doing in the area. Just then another fleet is inbound, this time it is The Alliance.

Post

The Jovian Plot

Clear leads the group to the Jupiterian embassy. As they step into the main foyer Clear stops and stares at the room. This is where it had all happened not so long ago, now swept clean. She sees where she had been lying on the ground dying. She looks up and sees where Ambassador Jteff did die.

The two agents of Chronos march into the room and start to admire the décor quizzically. They, like many, are baffled by the presence of stone on such a technologically advanced station. The trees growing within the embassy, creeping through open holes in the ceiling made for them, don't have the same spiritual significance to them as they do to the Jupiterians. Ltexi had explained how trees are culturally significant. A tree represents long lasting life and strength. Many of the trees on Jupiter had been sources of power, whether that was energy or magic or otherwise, and even their ships were simply trees in space. In all her years, Clear realises that she's never actually seen a Jovian spacecraft, despite living so close to them for so long.

Pully nudges Clear gently.

Pully: "You okay, Sir?"

Clear: "Not really. But there's nothing to be done about that."

Pully gives Clear a concerned frown but she clearly concedes the point. Of course Clear isn't okay but there's nothing that can be done to correct that now. It'll take time.

Some Jupiterian guards approach and then, at Clear's request, one of them sets off to find Ltexi while the other guard remains to watch the group. Clear stares at the guard and he stands, keeping his eyes averted from her. She doesn't know if he was on duty that day but if he was she's going to force as much guilt into this stare as she can muster.

It takes a while before Ltexi finally shows. She is wearing a brown, sleeveless tunic but it does have a pair of black shoulder pads. Across her torso is a sash that hangs off of the shoulder and reaches across her chest. On the white sash are a lot of medals and insignias that are obviously military awards and rank marks. Below the tunic she wears a brown sarong that exposes ninety-nine percent of her right leg, flashing what Clear would have considered Ltexi's underwear if Ltexi wasn't always parading around with said garment as outerwear. She has brown boots on to complete this new military uniform and Clear admits that Ltexi looks like a new woman.

Clear: "Should I say congratulations?"

Ltexi: "Damn right you should. After the scientist types went and checked over The Hopeful, saw the records and the, what did you call them?"

Clear: "Living daylights."

Ltexi: "That's the one. So after that it's been established I am who I say I am and I've been reinstated into the admiralty. Of course I'm now also a celebrity, so that's fun."

Clear: "Had any boys throw their underwear at you yet?"

Ltexi: "Not yet, but I'm hoping."

Polly: "Congratulations, Admiral Ltexi. It's good to know there's now a firm hand behind Jupiter's defence."

Ltexi: "That's for sure. I tell you, the soldiers today are completely wet behind the ears. None of them look like they've wrestled a bear in their entire lives."

Clear is pretty sure Ltexi is joking but the punchline gets no chuckles from either of the Jovians and Clear gives Pully a worried, sidelong glance.

Polly: "They've gotten complacent. So many years of peace have dulled their senses. The only people that have dared to attack us are given a free pass, so I'm told."

Polly doesn't look at Clear but the salmitton feels she's just been called out on her position during the last G8 vote.

Ltexi: "Sounds like you're a woman after my own heart. Sorry I only woke up from the freezer a short time ago, I don't know who's who around in this day and age."

Ltexi pushes open the doors to the ambassadorial suite and invites Polly inside. Pully glances into the room but motions out of it with her head.

Pully: "I'll wait out here, Clear. I don't fancy being locked up in a room talking politics for an hour. I'll just loiter here and wait."

Ms Mezz: "I'll go in with you."

Clear shakes her head.

Clear: "I think I can manage by myself, thanks."

Ms Mezz: "But--"

Clear: "I'm paying you to keep me safe, not hover over me all day long. I'd like a little bit of space."

What she doesn't say is that she wants to spend a little bit of time alone with Ltexi and possibly attempt to talk about their relationship. Clear has no idea what Ltexi's plans are without The Hopeless in her life and as much as Clear is determined to see the ship forever in her own possession, she does feel guilty that she has usurped Ltexi so completely.

Clear goes into the room as Polly and Ltexi go in ahead of her. Clear turns on her heel and closes the doors with Ms Mezz staring disapprovingly at her.

Ltexi: "So, what did you say your name was?"

Polly: "I'm Princess Ptolly of Jupiter."

There's a long moment as comprehension finally dawns on both Ltexi and Clear. Clear looks at Polly in surprise but then stares at Ltexi with shock as she flies down to one knee and bows her head.

Ltexi: "Forgive me, your Grace, I had no idea."

Polly: "It's been a very long time since anyone bowed to me..."

Ltexi: "Yes, this republic is not the kind of world I have known."

Polly: "Oh, it's not only that. People stopped bowing to me long before the republic..."

Ltexi: "That's... unimaginable!"

Polly: "I married a human of Earth. My role as claimant was dropped because of that. I still get the title, but none of the perks these days. That and I lived in a country called the United States of America - also a republic with zero respect for monarchy."

Ltexi: "I am... sorry that you had to endure that, your Grace."

The pain in Ltexi's voice sounded so genuine, so concerned. Quite unlike the Ltexi Clear is used to.

Polly: "Don't worry about it. I got used to it. I even kind of prefer it, if I'm being honest. It's nice to have anonymity sometimes. I've had a decent life away from Jupiterian politics. Left it all to my sister until..."

They remain silent for another long moment until Polly finally realises that Ltexi is still on her knee.

Polly: "Come on, rise Admiral Ltexi. I am not the ruler of anyone."

Ltexi gets to her feet but maintains her respectful tone.

Ltexi: "You'll have to forgive me, your Grace. I can't see you as anything but my queen."

Polly: "That's good to know, admiral. But it's not me who you should be loyal to. There is another..."

Clear: "Do you need me to leave?"

Polly & Ltexi: "No."

Clear: "Oookay..."

Polly walks past them both towards the sofa. Clear remembers Jteff sitting there, watching her and she scowling at him. She doesn't like this whole monarchy discussion and wishes he could be here to uphold the freedom and democracy angle against these two. And yet Clear really doesn't care enough to start any kind of debate here. She actually wishes she could leave them to it; she should have rephrased her, apparently too subtle, question. Now it's too late as the three women sit down.

Polly: "I have a daughter."

Ltexi, for the first time, looks dubious.

Ltexi: "She'd be half human then?"

Polly nods but detects her new compatriot's weariness. Clear thinks she sees a momentary flush of agitation in the princess, probably sparked by the feeling that her daughter is being insulted by this stranger. She recovers incredibly quickly;

Polly: "Yes she is half human. But last I checked Jupiter has no one else..."

Ltexi then sounds hopeful;

Ltexi: "Except you!"

Polly: "No. As I said, I'm disinherited because I married an Earther. I am considered an ex-patriot. My daughter, however, is still in line. In all honesty I kept all of this from her because it would never be an issue and I didn't want to muddy the waters. Until... until our home was wiped from the galaxy."

Ltexi: "Does she know now?"

Polly: "Yes she does. I have started to try to push to have her instated as queen of the empire. As you can imagine the republic has been... resistant."

Ltexi: "They don't want to lose their new power I suppose."

Polly: "Exactly. It should be my sister and her lineage on that throne but instead it's fallen to me and my line. Losien is the true heir to Jupiter."

Clear: "Is there a silent t in there somewhere?"

Clear picks at the arm of the sofa. All this political scheming has her bored out of her mind already.

Polly: "There is actually! Ltosien never uses it though. The U.S.A. where she was brought up would never understand our t. They can barely speak their own bloody language."

The two Jovians give a jovial chuckle at the limitations of humans while Clear pouts. She's pretty certain she would struggle with weird silent letters shoved into names and words too.

Ltexi: "So you want to install your daughter as queen but you, I guess, need support, right?"

Polly: "That's right. You, Admiral Ltexi, have become something of a celebrity and your word will carry immense weight. Your support would definitely help. But actually I didn't come here specifically for that. I only learnt of your return when I arrived on the Cosmic Nullius..."

Ltexi: "Then...?"

Polly: "I came to get a fleet."

Ltexi: "Shouldn't be hard to do..."

Polly: "To attack Earth."

Clear's elbow slips from the arm of the sofa as surprise hit her. She writhes to keep her balance.

Ltexi: "That's... bold...."

Polly: "There's logic to my madness, I assure you. First of all, my daughter is in danger right now. She needs rescuing. That's reason enough to arrive at Earth with force in tow. But, as said, there's resistance in the republic to her dominion - so she'd have to be a queen in exile."

Ltexi: "Exiled to Earth I assume?"

Polly: "She is half Earther, so yes. In her name we conquer a portion of the Earth. From there she can amass a powerbase, supporters from all over the empire until we can retake the reins. Being half human from the planet Earth she will have little legal opposition within the Jupiterian government for the conquest of her homeworld."

Clear: "I don't think the other powers will just roll over and let you conquer the Earth."

The two Jovians seem to only now realise that they've let an enemy spy listen into their plans. The two women look at each other before Polly tries some tact.

Polly: "Ambassador Clear. Your name has been all over the Cosmic Nullius after your little speech. I fully understand your reasons. I don't know if I agree completely... but... I wouldn't want the Earth to be destroyed or its people killed just for the sake of our memorial. I do have friends there, my husband's extended family too. But you realise I am not talking of destroying the planet or its people? I'm talking of conquest. The humans of Earth have been nothing but trouble for everyone. They need to be brought into line. Controlled. Guided. Jupiter never conquers other species' lands - but my daughter is human. She has every right to rule those people as well as Jupiterians. And we'll all be better for it."

Clear: "Well..."

Polly: "What does it matter to you who rules the Earth?"

Clear: "I suppose... it doesn't really."

Sensing victory Ltexi smiles at her frenemy and puts a hand on Clear's shoulder.

Ltexi: "You'll still have your job, Clear. Nobody can take Mars away from you. There's a good portion of the fleet under my command. Some captains may not want to defy the current government, but honestly even now the military is still very conservative and I'm sure many would like nothing more than to serve a real, royal leader. I can get you your fleet and we'll head to Earth."

Clear can't help but feel this is the wrong thing to do and yet she can't argue with the fact that it's none of her business who runs the Earth. The planet is nothing but a point of aggravation to her and its people are her oppressors. They won't be dead, they'd just be controlled. Perhaps the Jupiterians, who she has found to be a largely peaceful collective in terms of external powermongering, could actually help keep the humans from blowing up another planet...

And yet...

Clear: "What about your husband?"

Polly: "... what about him?"

Clear: "I don't know him very well but I don't think he would want this..."

Polly: "You're probably right. He's American. They're spoilt, ignorant morons that don't understand the need for a true ruler. But honestly, once he sees his own daughter sitting on the throne and guiding his people to wisdom-- well, he'll sing a different tune then!"

'Clear: "And if he refuses to be 'guided?"

Polly definitely hadn't even factored in her husband and she flounders for a moment.

Polly: "I'll deal with him. He's my problem. Nothing for you to worry about."

Clear: "And what about all the other people that refuse Jupiterian rule? You'll be putting them into camps perhaps?"

From Ltexi's expression Clear knows that she, at least, is seeing Clear's train of speech. Polly, on the other hand, doesn't know Clear all that well.

Polly: "Possibly. They could be corrected. At the very least, kept away. So yes. I hadn't thought on such matters, it'd be left to the governing body after the takeover."

Clear: "Kill those that resist. Round up those that survive and enslave those that lie down before you? You're just as bad as the humans! You--"

Ltexi: "Sorry."

The wind from Clear's gut escapes her mouth. Her eyes bulge and she strains to drag breath. She staggers to her feet and half leans half pushes Ltexi away as the woman had just slammed her fist into Clear's stomach. Ltexi watches Clear, holding her at arm's length. Then Clear manages a gasp and Ltexi attacks Clear again, this time a short, swift punch to the chin that snaps the salmitton's neck back. The world turns black.


Ms Mezz: "We are going to start watching you while you **** from now on..."

Clear's vision wobbles as she struggles to regain her senses. She feels light headed and surprised at her surroundings. It takes her a few seconds to remember what happened. She jolts her head up when she recalls being struck but the sudden motion leaves her feel woozy and she lies back down.

Clear: "Why does this keep happening to me?"

Pully: "Can't believe they decked you."

Clear finds that she's lay on the sofa. At least Ltexi didn't leave her sprawled on the floor.

Ms Mezz: "I should have checked the room before letting her in here. They must have took the rear exit there--"

She points towards a pair of open veranda doors through which a gentle breeze is blowing a beaded curtain.

Pully: "We should've done a lot of things but didn't. Too late now though. Why the hell did they lamp you, Clear?"

Clear: "They're... they're going to attack the Earth."

Pully laughs.

Then she realises Clear's not joking.

Pully: "They can't do that! That's just crazy. Jupiter has hardly ever attacked non-Jupiterians. They just don't do that kind of thing."

Clear: "Apparently Polly's daughter should be queen and because she's half human it means she can be a queen in exile on Earth if she conquers some of it. Or something like that. What the Hell do I know?"

Pully: "Lemme guess, you said something along the lines of 'Hey you conquering swines, why don't you bugger off and leave the scummy humans alone?'. You know, for someone who hates humans you do defend them a lot..."

Clear: "Good point. From now on I'm going to ignore them all. Starting with you."

Ms Mezz helps Clear sit up. After a moment's orientation, Clear is able to get back to her feet. Her stomach hurts, however, as Ltexi's dig has bruised over old bruises from the other day.

Clear: "I don't know how many more beatings my body can take..."

Pully: "Well, we'd better go and tell that Earth ambassador guy that his wife has gone full on Thrawn mode."

Clear gets to her feet.

Clear: "Thrawn mode?"

Pully: "Uh, right yeah. He was an Imperial admiral that was big on conquering. A conquering machine. Huh, which is funny since someone told me they thought he was an android once."

Clear: "Right, right. I know who he was. Okay, let's go tell Ohqeanos..."

Pully: "I hope he doesn't have a heart attack or something."

Ms Mezz: "And what will you do after you've told him?"

The woman crosses her arms with an air of superiority and frustration. Like the school teacher Clear never had. Clear is sure Ms Mezz already expects that Clear is going to volunteer herself to help Earth against the Jupiterians and disapproves, but oddly enough this just makes Clear want to do it even more.

Clear: "I don't know yet."

It's not lying when it's mostly true...


Clear is standing on the bridge of The Unbroken - the CR90 corvette that usually trails after The Hopeful under the control of Lumo. Fortunately Mother has been uploaded to both ships, meaning she is able to communicate with herself (a thought that struck horribly close to Clear when she considered her own experiences with Hope in the Dream Viewer) and ensure a symbiotic relationship between the two ships. Provided that they're in proximity to each other. When separated The Unbroken is on its own. So today The Unbroken has a crew.

Clear is captain with Lumo her 'number one' as he likes to be called. Clear had wanted to call Green her 'number two' but Green became very upset and said it would be very mean. Clear decided it was just another 'Earth thing' that she doesn't understand and moved on.

Aside from Lumo, Pully has the most experience on a warship and she opted to stand over tactical. Clear knows she is supposed to stay in the captain's chair but she has made sure that at least one of the navigational consoles has been left free for her to use. She might be more experienced at flying a starfighter or a shuttlecraft but she's always believed flying a fatter ship must be easier.

Falcon Zac: "We're out of the gravity well of the Cosmic Nullius now, ambassador."

Falcon Zac is sitting at one of the other helm stations, looking far more like a professional soldier than he had done stalking Clear through the promenades of the Cosmic Nullius.

Clear: "Mother, is The Hopeless ready to jump?"

Mother's hard-light projection is being kept on The Unbroken. She stands next to the three command five command chairs. Clear always finds it annoying when Mother forgets to sit down. Despite being an A.I. her hard light body does get tired and stressed but Mother only registers these as 'conditions' and, probably because she's used to The Hopeful having a myriad of problems constantly, she rarely thinks to relieve the physical stress. Clear points at the far right chair and Mother takes the command to sit herself down.

Mother: "The Hopeful is ready to jump at your command."

Clear: "Make sure to synchronise our jumps. Zac, on your mark."

ST Clan Leader: "You do know I'm the leader of the ST Clan, not Falcon Zac?"

The man turns in his seat and leans his arm on the back of the chair.

Clear: "Tell me your name."

ST Clean Leader: "Already told you no."

Clear: "Then I'm not going to talk to you until you do. Zac, jump!"

Falcon Zac smirks.

Falcon Zac: "Sorry boss! We gotta get paid, right?"

ST Clan Leader: "Come on, ambassador. I can't tell you my name for security reasons. Most of the clan don't even know my real name."

Falcon Zac: "Three..."

Clear: "Stow it. In fact I'm going to give you a name."

Falcon Zac: "Two..."

ST Clan Leader: "No, don't do that."

Falcon Zac: "One..."

Clear: "Arseface. Lieutenant Arseface."

ST Clan Leader: "No amount of money is worth this..."

The Unbroken tucks in close to The Hopeful and when the larger vessel tears open space-time to reveal the netherflames of Tartarus, the ST Clan members on the bridge collectively gasp with astonishment. Ms Mezz, who is sitting to Clear's left, seems very ill at ease all of a sudden.

Their first jump takes them straight from the Norma Arm, where the Cosmic Nullius is located, and into the Centaurus Arm. The Cosmic Nullius has a handy-dandy navigation chart that offers the best route from the Cosmic Nullius to each of the primary worlds of the G8, including the Earth. The map's route causes a serve through the Centaurus Arm to avoid a sector of the arm that has been marked 'too dangerous' for travel. A second swerve takes them far away from the inner edge of the Centaurus Arm, which is marked as even more dangerous. Clear grumbles about all this stalling but continues to follow the path anyway. Finally out of the Centaurus Arm and, soon, they're in the Orion Spur, perched just outside of the Sol System.

Clear: "Check sensors and see who has come to play today..."

Mabey is over at the sensor panel.

Mabey: "Jupiterians."

Clear frowns.

Clear: "Yes... how many?"

Mabey: "... many."

Ms Mezz: "Sorry, he's not very talkative. Or cooperative for that matter."

ST Clan Leader: "Mabey, give a full report."

Clear: "Thanks lieutenant Arseface."

ST Clan Leader: "Mabey, be as obstructive as you like."

Ms Mezz: "You two... Mabey. Are there only Jupiterians in the system?"

Mabey: "... warp signatures inbound."

Clear: "The Alliance?"

Mabey: "Yes and no..."

Clear: "What the Hell is that supposed to me--?"

Several Star Destroyers slam into the system, not far from The Unbroken and The Hopeful.

Clear: "Hoooooo buggery."

Green: "Heeeeeeeello and good morning! This is The Unbroken!"

Everyone in the room slowly turns to look at Green. She's standing at the comm station.

Green: "My name is Green! It's nice to hear from you Mr Imperial Man! Do you need something from us? We have lots of cake on board. I don't know where it came from though. Or how old it is. I ate some of it an hour ago and my tummy is really bad now. I probably should have asked about it but there's so much of it! Like mountains of cake! It looked really ni-- oh sorry! I forgot who I was talking to. I like this headset. Your voice is really clear!"

Clear: "Actually... let her talk. Maybe it'll stall them..."

ST Clan Leader: "It's no wonder you're always in trouble if this is the kind of company you keep, ambassador..."

Clear smiles.

Clear: "You don't know Green at all. I guarantee she'll save everyone's life before the day is through."

Green: "Why do you want to speak to my superior officer? Did I do a bad job? I'm sorry I've never used one of these before!"

Mabey: "Imperials are moving further into the system. I don't think they're taking us very seriously..."

Green: "That wasn't a very nice thing to say! I'm doing the best I can! You should be nicer! I can't even speak, did you know that? I have to create plants to speak for me! They vibrate the-- what do you mean you don't believe me!? Are you saying I'm lying!? I'd never do that! Well except that one time I put a spider into Clear's bed--"

Clear: "I knew that was you!"

Green: "AH!"

Ms Mezz: "They don't see us as a threat, that's good for now. But why the heck are the Empire here? Are they really going to defend the Earth?"

Green: "You want to talk to Clear? How do you know her name!? I told you? Oh I guess I did... Who is the president and why does he want Clear? President Spunk?"

Clear winces. Luckily Green doesn't even know what she just said.

Green: "Oh sorry. Clear!"

Clear: "Yes Green?"

Green: "There's a President Spud who wants to talk to you!"

ST Clan Leader: "Maybe we shouldn't talk to him? Just let him go on his way and see what happens between him and the Jupiterians?"

Ms Mezz: "If we don't talk to him we don't know what he's planning to do."

Falcon Zac: "Why would the president be on one of those ships anyway? And why would he want to speak to Clear personally?"

Clear: "I... sort of know him. A bit."

ST Clan Leader: "See? It's the company you keep that gets you into trouble."

Clear: "Green, patch him into the video screen."

Green: "Okay..."

Clear turns to look at Green.

Clear: "Green."

Green: "I'm trying!"

Clear: "Do you know which buttons to press?"

Pully: "Press the little green one. Now the yellow one. And now the white one to confirm. Got there in the end Green."

Green: "Yaaaaaaay!"

She cheers as the image of President Skroob Polk appears on the screen. This is not quite the kind of welcome he's used to hearing and he's taken aback a bit.

S. Polk: "Thank... you..."

Clear shakes her head at Green but turns her attention to the screen. Pole is wearing a grey, three piece suit much like the last one she saw him in. His hair is grey and pulled back over his head and his pencil thin moustache is groomed to perfection. He's in a darkened room but just behind him Clear spots a woman and she's certain the woman isn't an officer.

Her image should appear on his own screen, though she isn't sure if she'll appear as a hologram or as an image on a monitor. She crosses her legs and leans back comfortably. She wants to express an air of nonchalance, even if, inside, she's as nervous as a bucket of eels.

Clear: "President Polk..."

S. Polk: "Captain Clear. It's good to see my favourite agent again."

He holds a sarcastic tone but the ST Clan members around her all perk at that designation. Ms Mezz is even writing notes down into a datapad.

Clear: "I was never your agent--"

S. Polk: "I assigned you to the Mirare Station to find out information for me and you did it. That sounds like an agent to me. It's just a shame you went and got the station blown up..."

Clear: "You wanted me to get you the princess. That's what you were really after all along. Access to Earth. So what are you doing here now?"

S. Polk: "News from the Cosmic Nullius spread very, very fast. Especially when there's a fleet of Jupiterian ships bound for the Earth."

Clear: "You're actually going to help them conquer the Earth?"

S. Polk: "No! Why would I do that!?"

Clear: "Oh... so you'll help us stop them?"

S. Polk: "Help you? You and your one ship? Yes, I will stop the Jupiterians. And then I will conquer the Earth myself."

Clear: "Oh...."

S. Polk: "I can't let them beat me to it. My name rests on this enterprise. I will see it done. We can't let any aliens control a human world."

He then seems to remember he's speaking to one.

S. Polk: "Not that aliens don't have their uses, of course..."

Clear: "Just great..."

S. Polk: "I know you can be a positive asset, captain. So I'll make you this offer once. Join me now and you'll be richly rewarded. I would personally see to it that your homeworld, Mars, is restored and you can be made governor of it. Maybe even governor of the Earth itself. I do need someone competent in control..."

ST Clan Leader: "That is quite an offer..."

He seems to be taken in by the offer but Clear is dubious. Even if all of that is true and Polk would deliver on the promise, Clear doesn't want to rule a planet. Nevermind rule two of them. She doesn't even want to be ambassador. When pitching your offers, you need to know who you're truly dealing with in Clear's experience. And Polk doesn't know her at all.

Clear: "How about you shove your offer up your--"

The screen goes blank.

Falcon Zac: "Didn't even say goodbye. How rude."

Green: "He was really rude!"

Mabey: "They're still headed towards the Earth."

Pully: "It's not like we're a threat here all by ourselves."

The star destroyers are backed up by smaller corvettes that circle around the larger capital ships. Amongst the star destroyers is what Clear has heard called a super star destroyer - such an original designation. It's a ship that lokks like an extra long, extra massive star destroyer. She assumes this must be Polk's personal vessel.

As though reading her mind, Mabey speaks;

Mabey: "The super star destroyer is called Spaceball One..."

There's a momentary silence as everyone comprehends why the ship has such a ridiculous name but Clear realises that she's run into "The Jolly Wanker" and "The Ah! My Love" before now so "Spaceball One" seems right at home amongst the freaks of the galaxy. The ship itself, however, is huge as it stands as the largest ship she's seen beside The Hopeful. The Hopeful is still double its size, but a ship that is even half a country's length is a rather large thing.

Clear: "Well then, we wait."

ST Clan Leader: "Good. The longer we're out here, away from any fighting, the longer you're safe. And the longer you're safe, the longer we're all doing our jobs."

Clear: "Yeah well, if I'm paying you the least you can do is crew my ship, right? How much am I paying you all anyway?"

ST Clan Leader: "Mega spacebucks, I can tell you that much!"

He grins broadly. He's a human, like most of the ST Clan, and quite tall. He has broad shoulders and a very muscular frame. To accentuate those muscles, he wears a tight, grey vest. Over it he has an open denim jacket coloured bright red with several, also open, faster belts down it. He has loose, beige cargo pants and thick boots. To Clear he looks like everything she'd ever imagined a roguish mercenary would look like. Definitely not worth the money.

By contrast Mabey, over at the sensor station, is short and quite fat. He has a set of red tinted goggles on his face that make his features appear even more pudgy than they actually are. Otherwise he has a long black trench coat on, which helps to mask some of the excess weight. Under the trench coat are so many belt buckles that Clear thinks he might have just come from a bondage session.

Clear has to concede that the ST Clan are certainly diverse in appearance, if not species. She doesn't know much about their history or other adventures outside of her own and doesn't bother to ask. She learnt from Ms Mezz that the clan was founded in the earlier years of the rebellion against the Empire and started by actively raiding their mines and trade centres. When the Alliance was established, the clan became a mercenary unit that hired itself out to small time businesses or worlds that were unable to get adequate military support from the republic government. This, however, wasn't paying the bills so they went to the Cosmic Nullius to try to get better funding where they did a few odd escort jobs until Lieutenant Randy of the Alliance, and friend to Falcon Zac, gave them Clear. And now Clear is stuck with them.

At least, she thinks, if it comes down to it she can hide behind them in a gunfight.

Mabey: "They're approaching Mars now and slowing down."

Clear: "The Jupiterians?"

Mabey: "They're already around the Earth."

Clear taps her finger on the arm of the chair as she thinks.

Clear: "I need to know about a station around Earth. It's called Orbital One."

Mabey doesn't bother to confirm that he's going to check.

ST Clan Leader: "Spaceball One, Orbital One. What's with these one names? Should we call this Unbroken One? Where's Spaceball Two or Orbital Two?"

Clear: "I always thought it was a human thing. I'm surprised you're not ST Clan One, frankly."

ST Clan Leader: "Uh..."

Falcon Zac: "Actually he is ST One! Haha!"

ST Clan Leader: "Pay cut for you ST Four."

Despite the idle threat, Falcon Zac quietly chuckles.

Ms Mezz stands up from her seat, looking concerned and irritated.

Ms Mezz: "Doesn't Earth have its own defences? Where's its fleet?"

Clear: "They do and don't. I know it doesn't have any kind of official fleet or anything like that. There might be some people willing to fight though. Don't ask me who they are or where they are. Mostly they rely on major installations I think. I know they did have a spacefleet once. They used it to attack Mars. But I guess it was too expensive to maintain. Only ships I regularly see from Earth are cargo ships taking stuff to and from Saffron 5 on Mars."

Ms Mezz: "Aren't they going to use these installations then? There's almost no fighting going on. Until the Imperials get there anyway..."

Clear: "Maybe they went down to the planet? Or they knew the Empire was on the way and they're getting ready for that? I don't know why the Earth isn't fighting back. The only installation I even know of is on its moon and it was shut down years ago. I think it's still there but you only ever get tourists going to Luna these days."

ST Clan Leader: "And this gets on the G8?"

Clear: "I think Earth has more luck than anything. Plus they seem to have a knack for getting themselves involved in everything going on."

Ms Mezz: "Probably the case. Still. It bothers me that the world is just left so wide open."

Ciel: "Probably not as wide open as you'd think."

Everyone on the bridge leaps to their feet with weapons in hand at the sudden intrusive voice. Clear holds her hands up to try and calm everyone down when she realises who has decided to grace them with her presence.

Clear: "Relax! Relax! She just a senile, old pensioner that has apparently forgotten how pissed off with her I am."

Ciel: "I am certainly not a pensioner. I'm still employed!"

Green: "Are you Clear's friend?"

Ciel: "I am!"

Clear: "She's not!"

Ciel: "I was in a meeting with the other Void Rangers about the fleet orbiting Earth when, lo, I saw my old friend Clear arrive in the system! This ship is a much better fit for you than that stupid old thing you fly about the universe. I went over there looking for you and had a piece of the ceiling fall off and nearly kill me."

Clear: "Ships know when someone shouldn't be trusted..."

Ciel rolls her eyes and walks across the bridge, checking out the other people present. She looks surprised.

Ciel: "I never knew you had so many friends, Clear!"

Green: "I'm her friend!"

ST Clan Leader: "The ambassador is like an adorable kitten. An adorable kitten with... spikes. And is poisonous."

Clear: "You're a moron. Why am I paying you again?"

Ciel: "Paying to have friends? Clear..."

Green: "She doesn't pay me!"

Pully: "You're really not helping her, Green."

Clear: "They're not my friends--"

Falcon Zac: "Now I'm hurt!"

Mabey: "Me too."

Clear briefly casts a stupefied glance over at Mabey before continuing;

Clear: "I pay them to protect me. More importantly, what the bloody Hell're you doing here? Shouldn't you be off murdering people in the Deep Void?"

ST Clan Leader: "I think I'll make 'it's the company you keep, ambassador' as my new catchphrase."

Ms Mezz: "Beginning to see your point, Leader."

Ciel: "Void Rangers have been called to protect the Earth for a while. It's all very political but there's a few of us here to help defend the planet from outside forces!"

Clear shakes her head with surprise.

Clear: "I can't believe you're actually here though. I honestly didn't think I'd ever see you again."

Ciel smiles, creating hundreds of extra wrinkles on her wizened face.

Ciel: "Missed me did you!?"

Clear: "Missed you like I'd miss gut rot!"

Ciel: "Well that's fine. I won't stay long. I just wanted to know why you're even here. Are these fleets friends of yours?"

Clear: "Not even close."

Ciel: "Good! Oh. It seems like some more are coming..."

Clear: "What do you--?"

Mabey: "There's a new fleet inbound. Alliance."

Clear: "What about Orbital One, Mabey?"

Mabey: "The station is there. No problems so far."

Green: "Is Dr Alexis on the station, Clear?"

Clear: "She is."

Pully: "Then I think I know what our first job should be."

Clear: "I agree. Zac, lay in a course for Orbital One."

ST Clan Leader: "You know that's actually my job?"

Clear: "Sorry. Lieutenant Arseface--"

Ciel: "That's an interesting name, young man."

ST Clan Leader: "Not my name..."

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