SPACE PIRATE CAPTAIN MACTAGGART

EPISODE 53: THE BATTLE OF SANTA GRANADA (PART 1)

Written by Craig Black, Jake Elmer and Jordann William Edwards

It is the 16th century. From all over Europe, great ships are sailing west to conquer the New World, and the Americas. The men are eager to seek their fortune, and to find new adventures in new lands. They long to cross uncharted seas, discover unknown countries, and find secret gold on a mountain trail high in the Andes. They dream of following the path of the setting sun that leads to El Dorado, and The Mysterious Cities of Gold...

Wait, what?

SHIT! This happens every time! Someone take this script away, and get me the proper one! I don't know, you can't get the service these days...Ah, is that it? Good. Now, let's not fuck this up, shall we? Here we go...

The year is 3011 A.D. Across the Galaxy, all is quiet. Too quiet. Even though the Fourth Galactic War has recently hit its ten year mark, very little fighting is still taking place in any of the conflict's theatres. That's not to say that fighting has ceased altogether, of course. It's just that what little conflict remains is taking place in parts of the Galaxy that nobody's even heard of.

Of the War's three main players, one has been particularly quiet these past few months. Little has been heard of the Midori Empire, or its Princess, in that time. Nobody knows exactly what the Princess is doing or planning, except that as a result, her forces have abruptly stopped intruding into the other factions' territories. Needless to say, those factions would have appreciated this courtesy, if they'd had the time.

As for the Stellar Federation and the Independent Coalition, things have been a little more active between them. Despite the conflict having gradually waned over the past couple of years, both factions are reluctant to call a total ceasefire and sign an armistice (the opinion being that whoever comes forward first will effectively be surrendering themselves, thereby losing the War). However, while the Coalition has simply stopped bothering to turn up to battle, the Federation has recently been planning several campaigns to gain the upper hand and finally rise victorious.

And what of the famous Captain Jaws MacTaggart, who's found herself caught up in the War virtually from the day it started? Well, she's had a comparatively quiet time over these same past months, but as we begin one last weekly look into the lives of the crew of the pirate cruiser Stellar Typhoon, we'll soon find the peace about to be shattered irrevocably by the actions of both Jaws and her rivals...

The story begins, not with Jaws as you might expect, but with Commander Barratt of the Oshan Akuma. To be more precise, the story begins as the Oshan Akuma sits in orbit around the planet Earth, awaiting its next instructions. Both Commander Barratt and Captain Mandarin were stood on the bridge, waiting to receive their orders. They still had a few precious minutes to themselves, and Mandarin wasn't keen to let them slip by in total silence, so she decided to try and spark up a conversation. Try, being the operative word.

"So, Commander Barratt, what do you think Carlson's got lined up for us this time?"

"Hmm..." Barratt replied noncommittally. He wasn't in the mood to talk right now, but Mandarin failed to realize this, and she continued nonetheless.

"Probably the same as usual, I suppose. Could be protecting some isolated trade route, or enforcing another blockade. Or providing assistance to some other poor sods...As long as it's not that bloody bunch from around Oprel..."

"I don't know, Captain Mandarin..." Barratt muttered again, clearly wanting Mandarin to shut up.

"It might even be another attack on those rebels. We haven't heard anything out of them for a while, have we...?"

"I said I don't know!" Barratt hissed, and at last, Mandarin subsided, "I don't know what Commander Carlson wants us to do this time! Whatever it is, though, I damn well hope it's better than what we've had recently!"

"Say what you will about our last job, Commander, but Anxebiza isn't as bad as most other dump worlds! For one thing, it's certainly cleaner..."

"I don't care how clean it was, Mandarin! It was still a dump world, and I think it's beneath me to have to keep a watchful eye over such a planet! And Anxebiza had a perfectly good frigate or two to hand already...!"

"Had two perfectly good frigates, Commander. The Cumberland was banged up in the lunar shipyard, and the Zeballos got called away to deal with some bullshit in the Darwin System."

"So they said!" Barratt murmured darkly, "Darwin's not even our territory! If you ask me, the Zeballos must have had some agenda or other of its own...!" Barratt would have no doubt had more to say on this idea, but it was at that moment that the message he was waiting for came up on his view screen. Both Barratt and Mandarin stood to attention, as the message was swiftly replaced by the shaded face of Commander Carlson. He looked stoically at them both, before breaking into a smirk.

"Good morning, Commander Barratt. I trust the day finds you well?"

"As well as it can, seeing as we're a good five hundred miles above..." Barratt glanced out of the window, to see which portion of Earth they were floating above, "...The Socialist Autonomous Province of Vojvodina, it would appear..."

"Well, as long as you're fully alert and at least partly sober, you could be floating about Svalbard, for all I care. Now, listen closely. I've got something interesting for you today..."

"Alright, Carlson, go ahead. I'm all ears..."

"In that case, pay attention..." So Carlson began to explain the mission, his image interspersed with various slides, maps and diagrams as he talked, "Now, as you'll no doubt be aware, we have had a neutrality agreement with the Independent Coalition, preventing us from laying a finger on certain worlds straddling our shared border..."

"Yes, young Captain Mandarin here is always taking me to task for launching attacks on rebels who decide to set up camp on those worlds!"

"Well, as it happens, her days of throwing the book at you are numbered. As part of our latest campaign, the President has allowed us to basically screw the agreement, and try to claim what is rightfully ours once more. In other words, the Federation shall be invading and taking control of all those worlds labelled under that agreement."

"What?" Mandarin asked incredulously, "Are you sure about that, Commander? The President might have given us her blessing, but I can't see the Prime Minister of the Coalition sharing her sentiments...!"

"There you go again, Captain! You were always the cautious pessimist, weren't you? I don't give a shit what the Prime Minister thinks, and if you have any sense, you won't either!"

"Hmph!"

"Anyway, Barratt, as you might have guessed, I want you to take command one of the flotillas taking part in this campaign. You will be working with three other commanding officers. Here are their details..." The profile portraits and specifications of the officers in question appeared on the screen, and are reproduced thus forth for the benefit of clarity:

The first officer was one Captain Sabrya Green, commander of the fighter carrier Savanna-La-Mar. A black vixen, single, barely a few years older than Mandarin, and a native of Mariar, a small tropical planet somewhere in the tail-end of Federation space. She had cold yellow eyes, and a generally moody fur complexion. Even from the brief glimpse Barratt caught of her mug-shot, she was clearly a force to be reckoned with.

The second officer was Commander Lisa Holness, of the frigate Loch Tarbert. This raccoon, forty-five, married, was from the shipyard planet of Govan. Thus there was a Scottish-Scandinavian air about her, a fact betrayed somewhat by her pale yellowish fur, blue eyes, and bright, slinky red hair.

The third and final officer was Captain Stratford MacDowell, of the destroyer Lake St Clair. He was a dog (of some sort, but Barratt couldn't work out what breed), about Barratt's age, obviously married once (but never again), and if his credentials were to be believed, he was once a proud resident of the planet Procyon VI (but there was nothing about where he currently lived). From his mug-shot, he looked to be a very solemn individual, with fading brown eyes and greying hair which showed signs of having once shared Commander Holness' vibrant red.

All three officers wore, with subtle variations between them, Military Police officers' uniforms, more or less identical to each other and to Barratt's own outfit. Both Barratt and Mandarin took a couple of minutes to study the officers' credentials, before Commander Carlson returned to the screen.

"I'm sure you'll be able to find out more about them in due course, but let it be known just now that they've been picked out for this mission as among the best in their field. The success of this mission depends on their competence, as well as yours."

"Yes, yes, that's all very well and good, Carlson," Barratt replied, "But what exactly is our mission?"

"Well, after you've rendezvoused with the rest of the flotilla at the NE Sector HQ, you'll progress along to the end of the border, and begin preparing the systems in that area for recapture by the Federation. You know, kicking out any sitting tenants, silencing any belligerent enemy forces, setting up base camps, that sort of thing."

"Okay, fair enough. Do you want us to start in a specific system, then?"

"There's nothing in this here battle plan that requires you to tackle each system in a particular order, but there is one that's listed here as a special case. I suppose it wouldn't hurt if you started with that one..."

"I'll take it. What's the place called?"

"Santa Granada..." Carlson replied, in an almost menacing tone. Barratt suddenly felt a chill in his spine, for no reason. He recognised the name from somewhere, but he just couldn't place his finger on it. He said nothing, though, and simply nodded in reply as Carlson carried on, "It's a little tropical planet, right on the end of the border. Pretty quiet place, two moons, lot of oceans, and absolutely devoid of people. At least, devoid of any people worth noting. Can't understand why it's a special case, but it should be pretty easy. Especially for someone of your standing, Barratt..."

"Alright, Carlson. No need for the insults. When do we set off?"

"Well, right now, I guess. You're expected at Sector HQ no later than 1700 Standard tonight, so you should have plenty of time to get there."

"Well, we'll do that, then. I suppose I'll be seeing you, Carlson, eh?" Barratt went to end the call, but Carlson stopped him.

"Ah, just one more thing, Commander..." He paused impressively, "The President's asked me to warn you that, since this mission is as simple as they come, there will be dire consequences for you, should you fail...!" Barratt saw all too clearly what Carlson meant, especially as he made a cutting gesture across his throat before ending the call.

"Right, uh...We'd better get going, Captain Mandarin. You know what to do..."

"Yes, Commander..." Mandarin replied, and after tapping a code into the view screen, she called down the microphone mounted on it, "Attention, all personnel! Setting course for Stellar Federation NE Sector Block HQ, Nightingale System, Sector NE01! Current time is 1030, Greenwich Mean Time. Estimated time of arrival at Nightingale is 1450 Standard. Our present alert state is Condition Black! Preparing to jump into light-speed!"

"Alright, Mandarin, don't overdo it!" Barratt muttered dryly, as he helped steer the Oshan Akuma into position. Then he braced himself, and gave the command, "Make the jump!"

"Yes, Commander!" Mandarin slammed down the control in question, and was immediately thrown backwards, as the Oshan Akuma suddenly jumped into light-speed. It would take a good six hours or so to reach the Nightingale System at this speed, and both Barratt and Mandarin knew that they'd need that time to plan their current mission. So as soon as they'd recovered from the hyperspace jump, they set to work, little knowing exactly what they were about to get themselves into...

At that moment, on the planet Santa Granada itself, Captain Jaws MacTaggart was in the middle of what had turned out to be an intensive morning's workout. She normally spent most of the year travelling around deep space in the Stellar Typhoon, only staying at her secret base on Santa Granada for, at most, one month at a time. However, her stays planet-side were becoming an increasing rarity, and so she made certain to make the most of them whenever they turned up.

At the moment, her main interest was keeping fit. Obviously it was necessary for someone with as dangerous a profession as Jaws', and the Stellar Typhoon was big enough that a few lengths back and forth would usually suffice. However, the simple running wasn't enough anymore. Over the past few months, Jaws had had several narrow escapes, most of which she'd attributed to her less than perfect state of fitness, and she'd resolved to do something about it.

That was how, on this particular morning, Jaws came to have spent the past few hours working out in her island base's gym, which had been a holdover from when the base had first been built as a potential training camp for the Independent Coalition. She'd already done one twenty-five kilometre run, a hundred and thirty sit-ups, a hundred press-ups, and fifty star-jumps, and all that was before breakfast.

Having managed to calm herself down long enough to have breakfast, she then carried on with the rest of that morning's program: Thirty minutes' jump rope, a hundred squats, another hundred lunges, thirty crunches, another hour with the various weights, culminating in another twenty-five kilometre run.

After she'd finished her run, Jaws went to get cleaned up and changed, having done her workout in a sports bra, yoga shorts and trainers. She was exhausted, and was looking forward to having a good rest before taking the Stellar Typhoon out on a test flight that evening. After getting washed and changed, Jaws headed out of the changing room, and bumped into Leslie.

"Good workout, Captain?"

"Getting better, Leslie. I managed to burn off seventy-five more calories than I did yesterday. If I keep up this regime I've got going on, I'll be able to take on anything and anyone!"

"That's good to hear. Only, mind you don't push yourself too hard, Captain. Otherwise, you might end up straining something at the worst possible moment!"

"Oh, don't you worry. I've been taking extra care of myself. And that's not all...!" Jaws parted her jacket to reveal that she was wearing a jewel-studded belt around her waist, "See this belt? It was given to me nearly twenty-five years ago by one of my opposite numbers onboard the Oshan Akuma. I've mostly worn it for decoration, but I've managed to slim down so much recently that this is the first time I've ever actually had to use it!"

"Well, that's certainly an achievement! I won't say what I think that says about you, but it's good to see at least some results! Unlike some people I'd care to mention...!" Leslie had just spotted Blackmask heading towards the changing rooms, clearly looking the worse for wear. The fact was that having felt the positive effects of her fitness regime, Jaws had insisted that the rest of her crew ought to reap those benefits too. With varying degrees of success, she'd managed to convince everyone to have a go, and likewise everyone had succeeded to various degrees as well. Needless to say, however, Blackmask had been the least successful convert.

"Alright, let me guess," Jaws said dryly, "Couldn't even manage the weights, huh?"

"What?" Blackmask gasped incredulously, "Of course...I could...handle...the weights! It's just that...Well, don't you think...this is all...a bit much?"

"Well, a bit much for someone like you, evidently. Come on! This isn't just some excuse for the writer to include a scene with a lot of women in sports bras. There is a benefit to all this! It's the chance to get ourselves working at full capacity, so that we'll be able to take on whatever challenge comes our way, whenever it comes!"

"Call it what you like, Captain, but I'm finished! As soon as I've gotten changed, I'm going back to bed until tonight's test flight!" And with that, Blackmask stormed into the changing room, leaving Jaws and Leslie on their own once more.

"Okay, suit yourself...So, Leslie. Is the Stellar Typhoon ready for that test flight?"

"She will be by tonight, Captain," Leslie replied, "Kyoko and Alasdair are already working on it as we speak."

"Perfect. With any luck, the test flight will go well, and then we'll be ready for tomorrow's training exercises. Now, what was tomorrow's plan, again?"

"Ah, I've got it all written down here," Leslie produced a clipboard, and started to read from it, "Obviously, we'll start with the atmospheric takeoff, and then practice flying within the atmosphere of a planet. Then we'll practice an emergency water landing, followed by a takeoff from water. That'll give us a chance to test out those steel pontoons we got when we were laid up at Drewry."

"Oh, I'm looking forward to using those! The inflatable ones were alright, I guess, but they were a real pain in the ass to operate. And more than susceptible to getting punctured by cats' claws...!" Jaws grimaced, remembering the unfortunate accident that'd occurred a couple of years previously, when such a puncture had resulted from such a cat's claw.

"...Then we'll see how she does in orbit, and break for lunch," Leslie finished, "Before carrying on with the deep space tests."

"Well, with a plan like that, what could possibly go wrong?"

"Probably best not to tempt it, Captain. Now, I didn't get a chance to do my workout this morning, so I'll just be off to get changed and do that."

"Alright, you go ahead. I'm going to see how Kyoko and Alasdair are getting on. You know where they are right now?"

"They're onboard the Typhoon, giving her engines a check-over."

"Great. See you tonight, Leslie!"

"You as well, Captain!"

With that, Jaws headed off to the large hangar where the Stellar Typhoon was kept, while Leslie went into the changing rooms, to change out of her regular outfit and begin her day's fitness program. As they went their separate ways, both Jaws and Leslie couldn't help dwelling on what had been said immediately prior: While the possibility was as remote as it could be, was it indeed likely that something could go wrong tomorrow? And if it was, then what could possibly go wrong?

A few minutes later, Jaws had arrived in the vast hangar that held the Stellar Typhoon. If the ship itself was pretty big, then its special hangar was positively enormous. Back when the Independent Coalition had attempted to stake its claim on Santa Granada many years ago, this hangar had been among the many amenities built as part of the base now occupied by Jaws and her crew. It'd originally been built to house small battlecruisers, which would help serve as the Coalition's front line of defence against the Stellar Federation in these parts. Sadly, political and strategic circumstances had meant that the base had been swiftly decommissioned less than a few years after it was built.

However, a good seventy or so years later, the planet had had the good fortune to have been crash-landed on by the Stellar Typhoon, relatively early in Jaws MacTaggart's fledging career as a space pirate. And here the ship had stayed for well over a month-in this very hangar, in fact-while Jaws and her crew had worked to get it space-worthy again. By the time they'd been able to leave, Jaws had taken quite a liking to the planet, and with a bit of help, she was able to commission it as her secret base of operations.

That was nearly five years ago, now, and yet it always felt like so much longer. Considering how little Jaws had actually used the base to store the Typhoon, it still felt very much like a second home to her. Even as she looked around now, she could make out various members of her ground crew running about on the balconies and catwalks that lined the hangar.

No time to dwell on all that, though. Jaws had a job to do, so she went up to one of the catwalks connecting the Typhoon with its hangar, and carefully made her way inside the ship.

Jaws eventually found Kyoko and Alasdair up on the bridge of the Typhoon, carrying out some routine maintenance to all the various consoles and computers. When Jaws arrived, they'd had an access panel opened up so they could get a proper look at the innards of the ship's computer, and they were muttering to each other as they tried solving some unknown issue.

"Alright, so this solenoid connects to these relays...And those green wires connect that to this terminal..."

"Whit abit these blue wires?"

"Ah, now those hook up to the speakers on either side. Only, you'll need these striped blue and yellow wires to complete the circuits..."

"Aye, ay course. Er, shoods Ah earth these while aam at it?"

"Sure, go ahead. It's those brown wires down there..." It was at that moment that Jaws decided to make herself known...by viciously banging on the side of the computer.

"Hello?" Jaws called, "Anyone in there?" Sure enough, Kyoko jumped in shock, and Alasdair banged his head, having had his head actually inside the terminal. With much swearing-from both of them-they extracted themselves from the terminal and stood up to face Jaws.

"Ah, ohayo gozaimasu, Captain-basan..." Kyoko muttered, "What do you want?"

"Well, I was just curious to see what you two were up to this morning, is all..."

"As it happens, we've been trying to fix up some of the old circuits in the computer's vocal synthesiser. In fact, I reckon we're just about done. Just need to solder up this last wire..." Kyoko briefly ducked down inside the terminal, and soldered the wire in question.

"So, the computer should have a voice again?"

"Aye, several voices, in fact," Alasdair replied, "We got thes unit a while back. Comes wi' thes huge book ay codes, which ye can enter intae th' unit tae gie it any voice ye want..." Alasdair pulled out the book in question, along with the control dial for the synthesiser, "We've got some pre-sets loaded intae it awreddy, Captain. Ye got any voice in mind?"

"Well, I think I'd like to stay with the voice we've already had these past few months, but I guess it wouldn't hurt to hear some of the pre-sets..."

"Awrite, suit yersel'..." Then Alasdair started to flick through some of the pre-set voices he'd programmed into the control dial. His choices were interesting, to say the least:

"...And here they come now. Look at them all...Idiots!" The computer's speakers flared into life with the first voice, before switching to the second one, "Everything's made of paper! The whole kitchen's made of paper!" *Zzzt!* "Now then, now then...Number 30, Blue Peter, Mike Oldfield, Legs & Co..." *Zzzt!* "Man, if only you could have seen the bobble-hats on her...!" *Zzzt!* "The name's Bond...Damien Bond..." *Zzzt!* "It's just like Butlins...! Thomas had a headache..." *Zzzt!* "And welcome back to Pick Of The Pops, with me, Tony Blackburn..." *Zzzt!*

"Weel, whit dae ye think ay 'at, Captain?"

"Yeah, definitely keep the voice we've been using. I can handle most of those people up to a certain point, and certainly not during a crisis!"

"Awrite. Soothing Japanese voice it is, 'en..." Alasdair looked for the relevant code, and tapped it into the control dial. After a few seconds, the computer's speakers gasped into life again, and mumbled a few standard sentences in its usual Japanese accent, before going back to sleep again, "Sae, did ye need anything else frae either ay us, Captain?"

"Well, I just wanted to check whether everything would be ready in time for tonight's test flight."

"Oh, don't worry about that, Captain-basan," Kyoko replied, "Everything's under control. I assure you, we'll have everything sewn up long before we take off!"

"Good. I knew I could rely on you two!"

"Och, incidentally, Captain..." Alasdair added, "See yon belt? When did ye get 'at?"

"Oh, this?" Jaws showed them her jewel-studded belt, "Twenty-five years I've had this, and this is only the second time I've ever actually needed it! I told you all that intensive training wasn't for nothing!"

"A didna doubt ye for a second, Captain..."

"Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go and rest up in my quarters. Recover from this morning's training, you understand. Call me when it's time for our test flight, and not a moment sooner or later!"

"Sure, Captain. Hae a good sleep...!"

With that, Jaws left Kyoko and Alasdair to their work, and began to make her way along the Stellar Typhoon, to her private quarters right at the back. Ordinarily, this long walk would have felt long to Jaws, but after all the hard exercise she'd been doing that morning, it was more like a drop in the ocean that day.

When Jaws finally reached her quarters, she found herself so tired that she had to do nothing else but slump down onto her bed, still fully clothed. She had managed to recover from her morning's training, but even this simple five minute commute had left her feeling exhausted, and loathe to do anything but just lay atop her bed...

Needless to say, that didn't last more than a few minutes, and Jaws decided that perhaps it wasn't such a good way to regain her energy. So she reluctantly peeled herself off the bed, and walked over to the large drinks cabinet at one side of her quarters. After spending a few minutes perusing the drinks on offer, Jaws went with a Canadian pinot noir that she'd picked up on one of her previous visits to Abby Clapton. Then she took the bottle and a glass, and carried them into her ensuite bathroom.

Jaws' bathroom was a sight to behold all its own. For a start, it was almost as big as one of the Stellar Typhoon's normal crew cabins, if not bigger. It had the normal things you'd expect, like a toilet, bath, shower cubicle, sink, that sort of thing, but because the room was so big, they were very much spread out. At one end were the toilet and sink, at the other was the shower cubicle, and right in the middle was the large Jacuzzi bathtub. Jaws might have been a pragmatic, practical soul, but she knew when she needed a bit of luxury sometimes.

Jaws put the wine and glass down on a shelf built into the side of the bathtub, and then started to run herself a nice hot bath. Then, once she had enough water, she stripped herself off and settled down into the deep, hot water. After waiting a few minutes to adjust to the sudden increase in temperature, Jaws took the bottle of wine, poured herself a glass, and took a gentle sip of it. Then she slowly settled herself back deeper into the water and relaxed.

So that was how Jaws spent most of the rest of that day. She was in a good state of mind, body and soul. Life was good, and as far as she was concerned, things could only get better...

Couldn't they?

That evening, everyone was up on the bridge of the Stellar Typhoon, ready to carry out the test flight they'd all been preparing for all day. Everyone had assumed their respective positions: Jaws was in her command chair; Leslie was sat at the Navigations Console; Blackmask had manned the Weapons Console; Kyoko was at the Communications Console; and Alasdair was manning the Engineering Console. At that moment, Jaws was going over the health and safety information. At least, she was supposed to be.

"Good evening, ladies and gentlemen," She said, putting on her best air stewardess voice, "This is your Captain speaking. Welcome to Flight Number...1...From here to somewhere else and back. We'll be flying tonight at an average height of fifty feet, with a possible increase to a hundred feet if we come across anything big. Your co-pilot tonight will be this thermos of coffee. Our in-flight movie will be Vertigo, and if you think that's in poor taste, you should try the food...!"

"Alright, Captain, don't milk it..." Leslie said at last.

"Sorry, got carried away..." Jaws said sheepishly, "Er...Right, then. We'd better make a start, shall we? Commence pre-flight checks. How are the main systems?"

"Sub-light power is okay." responded Leslie.

"All weapons systems are good!" added Blackmask.

"Electric systems okay..." said Kyoko.

"Temperature an' pressure systems ur normal." added Alasdair.

"Communications are condition green..."

"Okay," said Jaws, "Commence main engine sequence."

"Firing engines now, Captain..." said Leslie, as the engines roared into life. A few more minutes went by while the engines warmed up, and then Jaws called through to the ground crew.

"Open hangar doors! Launch now!" And Jaws took hold of the controls, and slowly lifted the Typhoon up and out of the hangar, as the doors slowly opened. The Typhoon rose slowly into the setting evening sun. The islands looked very pretty at this time of day, but everybody was too busy to be sightseeing. They had to make sure everything was functioning properly, and sure enough, everything seemed to be in order.

But as the Stellar Typhoon shot off towards the setting sun, nobody, least of all Jaws herself, could have foreseen that less than a day from now, things would happen that would change her relationship with Santa Granada forever. Up to now, very few other people had even heard of the planet, much less settled down on it, but all that was set to change irrevocably...

A little while later, on that very same evening, such changes were being discussed and planned in one of a number of vast space stations orbiting the planet Nightingale. The Oshan Akuma had finally arrived there a few hours earlier, without much incident, and Commander Barratt was now waiting for his fellow officers to join him. For these were the Headquarters for the NE Sector Block, the nerve centre for all the Stellar Federation's operations in this part of the Galaxy.

The best way to describe the station itself would be that it was like a gigantic medicinal capsule, laid on its side, with various bits and pieces stuck all around it. Some of these bits were communications equipment and surveillance blocks; other pieces were administrative offices and recreational areas; some parts were accommodation for those thousands of people who actually lived within the station; others were hangars, docks and shipyards; everything else was dedicated to the defence and smooth running of the region.

As for Commander Barratt, he was stood in one of the large cabinet rooms normally used by the people who actually governed the Sector Block. Since the NE Block was made up of almost a hundred sectors, that meant almost a hundred governors, and needless to say, Barratt found that he had plenty of room to carry out his business that night.

Barratt wasn't alone, obviously. Over the past couple of hours, he'd been receiving not only the three commanding officers who'd be under his control for this mission, but also their subordinate officers, and most of the other relevant personnel. Eventually, everyone with a crucial part to play was present, and so Barratt could begin his briefing. Captain Mandarin stood close by, working a slide projector.

"Now, this mission is of paramount importance to the Federation, so listen closely. You're all here tonight, because you've been chosen for this mission on the basis of your skill and experience. Pay attention, now..." Barratt stood aside, so that his audience could see the projections as they came up, "Our primary target is the planet Santa Granada, along with the star system it gives its name to. It's located right on the border, at the far end-or near end, in this case-and according to my superiors, it's been listed as a special case for quite some time. I don't know that much about the place myself, but fortunately, my subordinate officer happens to have done a bit more research, for once. Captain Mandarin, if you will..."

"Thank you, Commander..." Mandarin replied, as she took Barratt's place beside the screen, "Now, the planet itself isn't all too remarkable. It's an ocean world, with two moons...there's very little land, and most of what is there is mostly made up of island clusters. As far as we know, most of this land is volcanic in nature, but past records indicate that at least some of the remaining land is taken up by jungles. Needless to say, the climate on such a planet is bound to be tropical..."

"Alright, Mandarin, don't overdo the sales pitch!" Barratt hissed from the side, but Mandarin paid no heed; she was far too invested in her own lecture.

"...Anyway, this planet was once the territory of the Federation. We staked our claim on it back in 2814 A.D, but for some reason, the place went untouched until well over a century later. During the Second Galactic War, we set up a number of military installations along most of the equatorial islands, with a view to using the planet as a front line for invasion of the Independent Coalition's territory. By a strange coincidence, they had the same idea, and built some of their bases on the islands we'd not bothered with. Neither faction knew the other was there, until someone fired a stray shot during training, and tipped the enemy off to their presence!"

"Get to the juicy shit, Captain...!"

"...So, sure enough, the Coalition comes along and drives the Federation out...And then the Federation comes back with half the fleet and kicks out the Coalition! Anyway, the War ended in 2945, and both sides were made to sign an agreement that all the star systems straddling this physical border were to become neutral territory, and that nobody was to try and stick their interfering noses around there again...!"

"...That was nearly seventy years ago, of course," Barratt interrupted, "And now, this is where we come in! We're going to bury that agreement in the dust, and claim Santa Granada as Federation territory, as we should have done all those years ago! Our task is to prepare the planet for more permanent re-settlement, by reoccupying those military installations, kicking out any sitting tenants, dealing with any enemy forces, and making sure nothing else can get in again. You know, that sort of thing..."

"...Of course, such a mission never comes easy, and as Commander Barratt says, you've all been brought together tonight because you each possess a specific set of skills that are crucial to our success at Santa Granada..."

"Now, because this is such a crucial mission, we can't afford for anyone to fuck things up, just because they didn't know some important fact or other. So if any of you have any questions, perhaps now would be the best time to let them out...!" For a few seconds, nobody answered or raised their hand, "Come on, somebody must have something! Ah, yes, Captain Green?"

"You mention something about removing sitting tenants, Commander Barratt," Green replied, in a thick Caribbean accent, "And that would imply that the planet is indeed home to intelligent life...Is that the case?"

"Not as far as we're led to understand, Captain. At least, nobody worth mentioning..."

"There'd better not be, Barratt. You know our current policies regarding settlement of pre-colonized worlds. If Santa Granada is inhabited, it could mean disaster for the whole mission, regardless of whether all previous objectives had been achieved or not. I don't know what the penalty for failure is in your sector, but to the people of Mariar, failure is death!" And as if to emphasise her point, Green held up a clenched fist, with several rings on it.

"Uh...yeah..." Barratt suddenly felt uncomfortable, but he pressed on, "I assure you, Captain, nothing of that sort can happen on this mission, especially not with me in charge! Now, next question, please! Commander Holness?" But Green wasn't going to let Barratt get away that easily, and she spoke up again before Holness could ask her question.

"...And just suppose we do find some indigenous life living on Santa Granada, hmm? What should we do then, Barratt? For centuries, my people have suffered from ruthless exploitation under Federation rule, and it's always been my vision to prevent such evil being committed against future generations. If you decided to simply press on with whatever your plans were, Commander, it could have dire results for all of us, further down the line..."

"Captain Green, it is highly unlikely that there'll be any indigenous life on the planet. End of discussion. Now, I believe Commander Holness had a question...?"

"Thank you, Commander," Holness replied, in what Barratt would later discover was a Finn-Swede infused Scottish accent, "If we can ignore personal pride and historical politics for a second, I think everyone here shares my curiosity to know exactly what course of action will be taken once our flotilla actually reaches Santa Granada!"

"Ah, now, that's a much better question, Commander Holness! This plan is so simple, even an idiot could have come up with it!" Barratt eyed Mandarin knowingly, "To start with, the Savanna-La-Mar will settle into a low orbit around the planet, and its fighter squadrons will disperse across the planet, scouting out the areas selected for re-settlement. If they don't come up with anything untoward, the remaining three ships will settle into a guarding position around the planet, and their ancillary craft will transport equipment and personnel down to the surface to begin the next stage of the plan in earnest."

"And what will we do if those squadrons do pick anything up?"

"Well, uh...Either one of the capital ships will descend and destroy the thing in question, or..." Barratt eyed Green nervously, "...Or a contingency plan will be drawn up which will allow us to continue the operation without causing any undue harm..." That seemed to satisfy Green, so Barratt continued, "That's only the broad strokes, obviously. You'll all know your specific duties in due course. Now, Captain MacDowell, you haven't said anything since you arrived. I don't suppose you have any questions?"

"Yes, I do!" MacDowell replied, his voice immediately indicating an air of respectability, "This mission of yours, to reclaim the planet Santa Granada in the name of the Stellar Federation...?"

"Yes, so?"

"Well, it's just that I distinctly remember taking part in exactly such a mission during the early stages of the Third Galactic War. And I can tell you for a fact, Commander Barratt, that that particular mission ending in nothing short of a disaster! I'd be most grateful to hear your assurance that this mission won't end in the same way, and that we will be successful, for once...!"

"Yes, Captain MacDowell...I have every confidence that history won't repeat itself this time around! As long as you lot all have me in charge of you, I assure you that nothing, absolutely nothing, will go wrong! Military technology has improved significantly in the thirty or so years since you undertook this mission, and I have it in good faith that whatever technical faults caused your failure then will have been ironed out to ensure our success now!"

"If you insist, Commander..."

"Now, if nobody else has anything else to say..." Barratt began, but he never got to finish his sentence, as Captain Green suddenly cut him off.

"Oh, sure, just tell us that we won't fail! You insist and insist that our success is inevitable, but that is the true sign of incompetence! Face it, Commander, you're afraid of failure!"

"Captain Green, as I have explained to you multiple times..."

"...You deny yourself the notion that you're going to lose whatever battle we end up in, and you fail to draw up a contingency plan well beforehand! As far as you're concerned, there's no Plan B until Plan A becomes a total loss!"

"You'll be a total loss if you don't shut up!" Commander Holness snapped, "Barratt's got the floor, and he's perfectly entitled to make use of it!"

"Ah, so you agree with him that there's no chance of failure?" Green snapped back, "You enjoy his delusions of success, do you? I could just as easily have taken on this mission on my own!"

"Now who's deluded? You'd never manage it, even with god knows how many fighter squadrons you have onboard that wreck you call a fighter carrier!"

"Whose ship are you calling a wreck?! I'd say it's the only one out of the four here tonight whose crew hasn't screwed up a perfectly simple mission!"

"And what's that supposed to mean?"

"You know full well, and MacDowell here will back me up on this, won't you?"

"No comment..." MacDowell replied bitterly, "And I refuse to condemn anyone sitting in this room tonight without a good reason! Everyone here has their strengths and weaknesses, but I'll be damned if I'm going to use anyone's weaknesses against them! Wouldn't you agree, Commander Barratt?"

"Yes, thank you!" Barratt hissed in reply, "It's heartening to know that someone has a bit of sense around here! Now, as I was trying to say before..."

"We're wasted on you, Barratt!" Green hissed again, "We've heard about all your past failures! And all because you just can't let one woman go..." *BANG!* Green suddenly went dead silent, as Barratt pulled out a pistol and fired it up at the ceiling.

"Whose brains do I have to blow out so that I can get the fuck on with this briefing?!" He snapped, shifting his aim around the room, "I've already used this pistol to deal with four officers under my command, and I can easily make it five!" The whole room went silent, and Barratt stuffed his pistol back into its holster, "Thank you very much...I was about to draw this briefing to a close. You may return to your own craft, and await my further instructions!"

With that, the tense atmosphere loosened up somewhat, and with a hint of relief and satisfaction, everyone started to make their way out of the conference room. Barratt and Mandarin stayed behind, and when everyone else had left, Barratt quietly took Mandarin aside, to talk to her in confidence.

"Listen, Captain Mandarin. Between you and me, I'm really not looking forward to working with that bunch of idiots! Just because they've got the same authority as me, they think they can use it to their advantage..."

"You're right, Commander Barratt," Mandarin replied, "I'm especially not liking the look of that Captain Green! The way she goes on, anyone would think she was in charge of this flotilla!"

"I reckon that's what she thinks as well! Her commanding officers probably lied to her so she'd take the job! God, you wouldn't think a woman of her age could get under your skin like that...!"

"Well, I'm just about her age, and I don't get under your skin, do I?"

"No, you're alright," Barratt muttered sarcastically, "You at least have your incompetence as an excuse! Look, whatever happens, you answer to me only, whatever Green or the others say!"

"Very good, Commander..."

"...And if you do a good enough job, I may be able to convince Commander Carlson to save you until last, when one of that bunch inevitably fucks everything up!"

Mandarin gulped, but said nothing as she followed Barratt out of the conference room, and along to where they'd docked the Oshan Akuma a few hours previously. Considering her past experiences with missions into neutral territory, she'd already been less than pleased about being roped into this mission. Needless to say, then, the prospect of working alongside some of the most vitriolic and self-centred Federation officers she'd met in a long time didn't meet with much approval. Mandarin didn't say so, however, for it was obvious to her that Barratt was having his own doubts about his mission.

Sure enough, Commander Barratt was feeling worried as well. He knew and appreciated that Commander Carlson was trying to help him by having him take command of these three officers, but he couldn't help but think about the old adage of too many cooks spoiling the broth. And if their behaviour in the conference room had been anything to go by, Barratt was totally convinced that instead of a flotilla, what he had under his command were the ingredients needed for total disaster...

The next day dawned bright and early back on Santa Granada itself. The sun was out, air was cool, the sea was calm, most of the volcanic islands had calmed down for a change, and there was a light, easy breeze blowing across the planet. It seemed like just the sort of day for a military training exercise...

Or at least it would have been, had the emergency alarm not suddenly shattered the peace an hour or so before the Stellar Typhoon was due to take off. Luckily, Jaws and the crew had all been onboard at the time, carrying out the usual preliminary checks, and so it was in a very short space of time that she managed to make her way onto the bridge.

"Alright, computer," Jaws demanded, "What the bloody hell is going on?!"

"Enemy craft detected, Captain-sensei!" The computer replied, "Entering the atmosphere from a southerly direction! Visual contact imminent!"

"Shit! And we're at least an hour too early to safely take off! Computer, see what you can do to speed up the process! We've got to be airborne before that craft gets here!"

"Er, before those craft get here, Captain-sensei..."

"WHAT?!"

"I'm on it, Captain-sensei!" So both Jaws and the computer started trying to figure out a way for the Stellar Typhoon to launch sooner. It was as they were doing this that the rest of the crew finally caught up with Jaws.

"Ah! There you are! To your stations! We've got to take off pronto!"

"What's going on, Captain?" Leslie asked.

"Enemy craft coming in from the south, and from the sound of things, there's more than one!"

"Is it the Federation?"

"Well, it's bound to be, isn't it? I mean, the Independent Coalition clearly doesn't give a shit about us being here...And neither does most of the Federation, thinking about it. It's just Commander Barratt who comes after us these days!"

"You're right, Captain. He's the only one who actually bothers trying to hunt us down!"

"So it's bound to be him now, at least!" Jaws got up and thumped the side of the computer's cabinet, "What the hell's taking you so long, computer?!"

"Oh, I finished a few seconds ago," The computer replied, "I just didn't want to interrupt your conversation...!"

"Well, get us the hell up, quickly!"

"Hai, Captain-sensei! Commencing ignition sequence! Opening launch doors...!"

As it turned out, even though Jaws' surveillance equipment had picked up the approaching enemy craft, the enemy craft hadn't yet picked up Jaws' base. High above, and getting closer, was one of the fighter squadrons dispatched from the Savanna-La-Mar to scout the planet for anything that might jeopardise Commander Barratt's mission. The fighters themselves were of the standard Federation design, albeit one which had been adapted for use in tropical environments like Mariar, or Santa Granada.

On this occasion, however, the squadron was being led not by one of Captain Green's officers, but by Captain Mandarin in her own command fighter. She'd insisted on taking charge of this squadron, having had the feeling of potentially coming across something big in the process. Unfortunately for her, she hadn't accounted for the language barrier between her and the other pilots, and she was just about to realize this the hard way.

"Kingston Leader!" Captain Green's voice came through Mandarin's headset, "Turn to port, steer to Two-Three-Zero, and return to base! Over!"

"Kingston Leader, received and understood! Out!" Mandarin then turned her attention to her squadron, "Kingston Leader to all pilots! Turn to port, and steer to Two-Three-Zero!" However, her orders fell on deaf ears, as a couple of the pilots happened to spot something down below.

"Pirat! Pirat! Desann la!" One of the pilots cried out.

"Mwen pa wè yo, ki kote?" Another pilot asked in response.

"Sou bò gòch la!" Most of the pilots looked, to see not only Jaws' secret base, but also the Stellar Typhoon lifting up out of its hangar.

"Ah, mwen wè yo! Mwen pral apre yo!"

"Mwen vini avèk ou!" This was where Mandarin fell victim to the language barrier, as she couldn't understand a single word the other pilots were saying, let alone realize what was getting them so worked up.

"Look, just shut up with that...Jamaican lark! Turn to port, and steer to Two-Three-Zero, you hear me?!"

"Repeat, please!" A third pilot called out, in extremely broken English.

"I'll say it again...Two...Three...Zero!"

"Repeat please..."

"Oh, for fuck's sake..." Mandarin hissed through gritted teeth, and then shouted out, "TWO! THREE! ZERO!" But as loud as she shouted, more and more pilots started asking her to repeat her order, until virtually the entire squadron was at it, "Just shut the fuck up, the lot of you, and follow me! Unless you're all blind as well as..." It was only then that Mandarin finally saw what was happening: While she'd been distracted repeating her orders continuously, the rest of the squadron had banked down towards the Stellar Typhoon behind her back, "Oh, god!" Mandarin had no choice but to follow them, and try and regain her command.

It was only when she finally caught up with the squadron that Mandarin finally saw what had caused their sudden act of blind disobedience: There was one of the former Independent Coalition bases she'd been assigned to scout out for, and there, rising up from the base, and being swarmed by her squadron of fighters, was the Stellar Typhoon. Suddenly, Mandarin realized that her premonition of being onto a winner had come true after all. She had to report this, and she attempted to do so.

"Oshan Akuma, this is Kingston Leader! Are you receiving me? You'll never guess what we've just found! Over...!"

"Kingston Leader, this is Oshan Akuma!" Commander Barratt's voice replied, "I'm not copying you, Captain Mandarin! Over...!"

"Commander Barratt, we've just found out where Captain MacTaggart's been hiding from us this whole time! My squadron's just caught the Stellar Typhoon trying to take off from this old Coalition outpost! Over!"

"Mandarin, I couldn't hear a word of that! There's too much interference! You'll have to return to base and tell me what you've found then! Oshan Akuma, out!"

"Interference?" Mandarin didn't know what Barratt was on about; the line was perfectly clear. However, she soon realized that it was all the excited chatter from the rest of her squadron that was clouding the line, "Kingston Leader to all pilots! Can you guys be quiet for a few seconds? I've just received an urgent communication, and I can't hear a bloody word of it for all your chit-chat! Over...!" Once again, though, Mandarin's orders were to no avail. The other pilots were all trying to take down the Stellar Typhoon before it could make it into the cover of the clouds above.

" Vini non, ou nèg! Nou se sou yon gayan reyèl isit la!"

"Jis panse, lè nou rive lakay, sa a pral yon bon vire pou mesye yo sou patwouy nan òbital!"

" Sa ap anseye yo! Kingston 6! Ou se sou yo ka resevwa yon Tòpiyè moute dèyè a!"

"I said be quiet!" Mandarin snapped, "SHUT UP!" Again, nobody was listening, "SILENCE, IN JAMACIAN!"

Meanwhile, back onboard the Stellar Typhoon, Jaws and her crew were having a difficult time trying to swat away the squadron of fighters. As a result of the design's modification for tropical use, these fighters were much more nimble than standard, and much harder to pin down long enough to hit them, let alone destroy them. Needless to say, everyone was having a hard go of it, especially Jaws.

"Damn it!" Jaws snapped, "Those bastards out there are relentless!"

"There looks to be about...I'd say twenty, Captain, and a command fighter!" Leslie called.

"Twenty?! What mad bastard sends out twenty fighters, let alone twenty and a command fighter, to somewhere as isolated as here?!"

"Well, Commander Barratt, evidently. That's definitely one of his command fighters supervising the operation!"

"Yes, but what about those fighters, Leslie? I don't recognise any of them at all! They're not the standard ones, like the Oshan Akuma has..."

"Well, wherever they've come from, we've got to make sure they can't report back where we are! Keep on firing!" So everyone tried to shoot down the fighters, but they only just managed to scratch one or two of them. After going at this for about five minutes, Leslie suddenly had an idea.

"Wait a minute! I've got it!"

"What is it, Leslie?"

"These fighters all swarm around us, right? So why don't we just retreat somewhere away from the base, and lead them away at the same time? We might just be able to take more of them down if we have a bit more room!"

"Well, it's worth a shot, Leslie...Very well! Hold tight!" So Jaws grabbed the steering column, and pulled it as far back as it would go. The Stellar Typhoon banked sharply upwards, and began to ascend further into the clouds. Sure enough, the whole squadron of fighters, still circling around, followed it as it went up.

Leslie's plan might have been a good one, but it did have one serious drawback: While the Oshan Akuma had indeed made a sudden appearance on Santa Granada, it wasn't the only ship to have done so by any means. As the Stellar Typhoon climbed out of the clouds and further into the lower atmosphere, Jaws realized with increasing horror that the Akuma had company: Flanking it on either side were the Loch Tarbert and the Lake St Clair, while some way above and behind was the Savanna-La-Mar. It was obvious that all four ships had been waiting there for some time, and Jaws had only one thing to say:

"Well...Shit!"

"Captain?" Leslie asked nervously, "Next course of action?"

"What else, Leslie? RUN FOR IT!"

"Yes, Captain!"

With that, the Stellar Typhoon banked sharply to port, and sped off as fast as it would go, away from the Federation flotilla. Jaws wasn't sure what was going on, or how Commander Barratt had managed to find her out, but she was certain of one thing: It was definitely no longer safe for her to hang around here anymore...

Meanwhile, on the bridge of the Oshan Akuma, Commander Barratt was equally surprised to have seen Jaws. For once, he hadn't set out with the intention of locating and capturing her, and so he hadn't come up with any plan of action for when they did come face to face. However, he knew that if he tried to pursue her now, he'd run the risk of jeopardising his current mission. Lieutenant McMurdo didn't share his sentiments, though.

"Commander? Hadn't we better go after Captain MacTaggart? I mean, six years we've spent hot on her tail, and this is the closest we've gotten to her in ages..."

"Lieutenant, just shut up. We'll let her go this once, but she'll be back...!"

"I don't understand, Commander Barratt..."

"Of course you don't! I'll explain later, but in the meantime..." Barratt grabbed his microphone, and called through to Captain Mandarin, "Oshan Akuma to Kingston Leader. Return to base immediately! Over!"

"Kingston Leader to Oshan Akuma. Received and understood, Commander Barratt! But see when I get back, I'll be wanting words with these skittish little bastards that Captain Green calls pilots! Over!"

"You just watch your mouth, Mandarin! You already saw what happened when Commander Holness took the piss out of Green. I don't think she'd let you off so easily! Over..."

"Yeah, sure. Just make arrangements for me to head over to the Savanna-La-Mar for a few minutes, just to let them know what's what. Over...!"

"Fine, I'll see what I can do, Mandarin. Oshan Akuma, out!" Barratt put down his microphone, and smirked to himself, "Yes...I'll see what I can do, alright! That Captain MacTaggart will have to come back this way sooner or later, and when she does, I'll see what I can do to her!" Barratt chuckled for a bit, and the chuckle turned into a light laugh, which got louder and more maniacal, until finally he was shrieking with delight...

"Er, Commander? You've still got your mic on!"

"Huh? Ah, damn it! You heard nothing, understand, Mandarin?! Nothing!" And with that, Barratt hastily turned off his microphone, and nothing more was said or done...

And that was that, for now. Captain Jaws MacTaggart had been unexpectedly caught out on her own turf, and there was no way she could stand up to the Oshan Akuma, let alone its three new companions. She wouldn't be able to return to her base, and she knew all too well that if Commander Barratt had his way, she'd be trapped on Santa Granada for quite some time.

Would Jaws and her crew manage to get the Stellar Federation off their doorstep? What lengths would they go to in doing so? What lengths would Commander Barratt go to ensure his own success? Would Jaws be able to summon help, and how long would it take getting to such an isolated planet? And if Jaws' workout sessions hadn't been simply an excuse for gratuitous shots of women in sports bras, then what purpose would they serve in the story?

The answers to all these questions and others, of course, is that that's another story altogether...

TO BE CONTINUED...