"You say you've flown before?"
Sparrow nodded. "Yes, briefly."
Kevin frowned slightly. "Combat missions?"
"One," Sparrow agreed.
"And you'd like to help out if we get in trouble?"
Sparrow shuffled his feet slightly. "I don't like fighting. The power to
someone... scares me." He took a deep breath. "But, if anyone get's hit,
like to go out and try and get them."
Kevin stared. "Sparrow. Do you honestly mean to tell me that you're
REQUESTING mid-firefight pickup? That's insane."
"Can I do it?"
"It's not easy. And I don't think the Straussians would be to happy if
got yourself killed en route to a possible ally."
Sparrow shrugged again. "I want to help. And I've done it before."
"One mission, and it was pickup."
"I'll think about it. We're taking it easy, so it probably won't come
The _Gillette_ had been, in an earlier life, a small destroyer. A few
years, and many modifications later it was a top of the line, custom
fighter-carrier. It was capable of holding up to 50 fighters, but there
only 18 Razors at the moment. The rest of the space would be used, Anson
said, for cargo. Or they might rent it out to businesses who needed
shipped in the Razors' general heading. ("We're not always fast," Anson
joked, "But we don't charge much, and, barring a war or two, it'll
Apparently, the roster of the Razors was in a constant state of flux.
would sign on for a mission or two, sometimes they'd help just to pay
passage to a different world. Because of this, there had been, at times,
few as 8 pilots, or as many as 34.
Sparrow asked why they had all the extra space, then, if they didn't use
Well, they replied, we didn't build the ship. Just got it dirt cheap,
Arctic fixed it up.
However, the core group almost never changed. Kevin Richards was the
commander - hence the name "Richard's Razors." He had a penchant for
things simple, and was a brilliant tactician. (Kevin admitted that
sometimes eluded him.)
Madeline Winson - Maddie, or Maddie1 when in the retreat - was the
member of the Razors. She was, in her own words, "Somewhere between 50
tomorrow." She wasn't beautiful, and probably had never been. Maddie had
forged in the crucible of combat, and every centimeter of her angular
radiated a hard military life. She smoked, gambled, and cussed with the
of them. (Well, she tried. Most of the other Razors gave Maddie a wide
when she had been drinking a bit.)
Anson Remele, on the other hand, was the youngest. Enthusiastic,
and not just a little hyperactive at times, Anson was the de facto
cheerleader of the mercs. He took on the position of showing Sparrow
everything there was to show about the Razors, a duty he met with firm
enthusiasm. ("You'll see everything aboard the _Gillette_" the Razors
"Even if it kills you.")
Kerri Wendingham was slightly enigmatic to Sparrow. She wasn't
beautiful, but had such charisma that one couldn't help but be attracted
her. Sparrow tried a few subtle advances, but quickly desisted when he
discovered she wasn't interested in him. He wondered why until he saw
Arctic Kalahan scared Sparrow. The man, young, lean, and handsome, was
first person that the diplomat had ever met who couldn't be read.
tried, but Arctic wouldn't open up. He revealed nothing, not a single
escaped. When he spoke, the air chilled, and blood ran cold. When he
about Arctic, the other Razors regarded Sparrow solemly. They told him a
statistics, and that was all. Oddly enough, that fit the man's character
lack of it) incredibly well. Anything beyond pure numbers, and Sparrow
have laughed at what they told him. Arctic also served as the chief
technician of the Razors; many special modifications had been done by
each of the fighters, and, by the Razors' words, he'd been over half the
_Gillette_ as well. (Sparrow tried to figure out what it was that Kerri
in Arctic, but the answer eluded him.)
Michael Barnebes was a strange one. He'd been part of a militant
order until he was captured by the Razors. He constantly talked about
would "escape and get revenge on the hethenous mercenaries... some day"
it was something that endeared him to the other mercs. He also
about how much mecha's sucked for space combat, but he lovingly tended
stark white battlesuit. Sparrow liked to talk to the man, his views of
politics, economics, and social standings were superb, even if they did
a religious bias. (It was strange, but soon after arriving on the
Michael, far from being critical, became John's staunchest supporter.)
Alex Dawson was the commander of the _Gillette_. He still flew fighter
missions on occasion, but an injury to his left leg had made piloting
difficult. His stern presence aboard the bridge left not question as to
was in charge, except when Kevin or Maddie (the Razors' number two) was
Kaneda Watase was a quiet Japanese man who was sometimes regarded as the
pilot of the Razors. However, he never infringed on the authority of his
commanders, staying in the background and doing his duty to the best of
Marcus Wu was the chief gunner on the _Gillette_. It was a little
think that the small asian man would command the powerful railguns of
destroyer. He kept his cool in combat, however, and had impeccible aim.
had a fighter (as did Alex) but did not use it very often, as his
skills were mediocre at best.
The other Razors were temporary hanger-ons. With the group for a few
missions. "I don't ask for much," Kevin had said, "Just follow orders
fight well if it comes to that."
"What do you do if there isn't anyone willing to hire you?" Sparrow
Anson shrugged, "We'll pirate if necessarry, or land somewhere and do a
"Pirate?" Sparrow was surprised.
"Selectively. We don't hit the 'good people.'" Sparrow wanted to ask
but it was apparent that Anson didn't concern himself with that. Leave
to the adults to think about the morality.
"Well, here's the first planet, Sparrow. Ready to do your stuff?" The
_Gillette_ was in geosynch orbit above Rastaman. The world was an odd
combination of deserts and freshwater oceans. There was quite a bit of
civilaztion on the coasts, but virtually nothing anywhere else.
"That's due to massive terriforming," Kerri explained. "They've got a
machines under the surface that pump up the water table so they can
"Isn't there a better way."
"They could move."
"People don't like change. Moving to a different planet's a pretty big
"True. But it takes more money than Rastaman has to get newer, better
"Hmm..." Sparrow answered vaguely, lost in thought.
"Shall we go?" Kevin asked, startling Sparrow with a tap on the
"Hmm? Oh, yeah. Sure."
"You didn't study much about the Rastas," Kevin commented as they flew
to the surface.
Sparrow shrugged. "I don't really need to. You'd be surprised what you
pick up talking to people, and what I'm trying to do is work with what
Rastas want, not what I want them to do."
"What's that process called?" Kerri asked.
"Diplomacy, by most names."
"Not going to bang a book in front of them?"
Sparrow shook his head. "It doesn't work."
He met with the rulers of the planet, and asked for a couple of days
Rastaman and enjoying the culture before they got down to business.
at the interest that Sparrow showed, the agreed, and even offered to
him with an escort. Sparrow declined, but did take the offer for
transportation to various cities.
After two days of "vacationing" Sparrow met with the King, Queen, and
"How'd you do that?" Kerri asked as they ascended from Rastaman.
this sort of thing take weeks to hash out? You talked with them for
Sparrow smiled, but said nothing. Kerri kept egging him on, but Kevin
stop to that.
"I think he's got a few tricks to his trade that he's not going to let
Same as you and me."
"But we were with him the entire time! What was it that he said?"
"Not said, Kerri," Sparrow told her. "It's what I did. I had the
ready to support Strauss on day one."
"What did you do?"
"I asked to see their planet. I was telling them that I was interested
what they had for themselves, not what they could give to me."
"And why did you turn down the escort?"
"Two reasons. One, if they had insisted, they probably would have been
something. Two, I wanted to see the planet with my own eyes. You asked
didn't do research. I did, but I did it in those two days."
Kevin nodded, understanding. "Find out what they're like, then use that
Sparrow shook his head. "No. I use it and what I know to their
it such a way that it benefits me."
"Rather impartial for a Diplomat, aren't you?"
"Where I come from..." Sparrow sighed as a wave of nostalgia came over
"Where I come from, diplomats are trained to be moderate. We serve as
mediators in disputes."
Six weeks and four stops later, Sparrow had a perfect record at getting
support for the Jerry and the Straussians. None of the planets were
to commit much, but the support was their.
"Why so weak?" Michael asked, "You should go in and demand heaven.
"I probably could," Sparrow answered, smiling. "But I'm keeping it low
for a reason. So far the empire either doesn't know about what I'm
it doesn't care enough to take an action. We're not asking rebellion,
"Still damn stupid, in my opinion."
Then the message from Jerry came. The Empire was about to take Blucher,
the Imperial Guard was en route to the system. Jerry wanted as much
as he could muster, ASAP.
He also told Sparrow to get away, if possiple, were the Straussians to
"Morbid," Alex said. "Better get a few messages out, tho."
Sparrow crumpled up the paper, and sent out messages to each of the
they'd visited. Three replied, saying that they'd send some of their
One of those explained that they were also hiring some mercenaries to
bolster the Straussian force.
The other two didn't give any indication as to whether or not they
Sparrow entered a kind of funk. "It's taking too long," he said over
"You're doing all you can," Anson encouraged him, but Sparrow shook his
"No, I'm not. I'm taking the safe and easy route, and it's not getting
"Well what else can you do?" Kerri asked.
That brought Sparrow up short. "What else can I do?" he mused.
"Nothing, that's what. Just keep working at what you're doing, unless
want to go fight."
Suddenly, Sparrow laughed, and shook his head. "I can do quite a bit.
the Imperial Guard like?"
"What?" Kerri, confused, just looked at him.
"Mean bunch of son-o-bitches," Maddie told him. "They don't lose much.
never faced them, and I don't think we want to."
"I have." All conversation at the table stopped, and everyone looked
"I've fought them." He looked at the food on his plate. "They died, I
They're very good, however. And they don't mind engaging in brutality."
said the words in the same, frozen tone. He could have been talking
cooking chicken, and it would not have made a difference.
"What do they do, exactly?" Sparrow asked, still grinning.
"Support the Empire's war machine where needed," Kevin said.
Sparrow nodded. "So, if there were something big, they'd be there,
"Right." Kevin shrugged. "Right now, Strauss is big to them."
everyone again, Sparrow got up, his chair tilted over, but by the
time it crashed to the floor, he was out the door.
"Here!" Sparrow thrust the paper under Kevin's nose. "This is where
Kevin looked at the readout of the planet. "Vinaman? But that's
loyal to the Empire."
Sparrow, flushed, nodded. "Right. It's also a major industry planet...
the capital of a sector. It covers 17 systems."
Sparrow smiled, but it was a predatory smile. "I've been reading a bit."
truth, he hadn't left the ship library in two days. "We're going to give
Imperial Guard something else to worry about.