Tanya banked her Eagle into a tight starboard turn, fired off two countermeasures and mid-turn killed her engines. As her Eagle spun clockwise, she aimed her rack of Skyblasts at two torpedoes and sprayed them at the slow-moving ordnance. The stream of glowing yellow bolts punctured the night sky and slammed home into the two shells, forcing them to explode.

She engaged her thrusters at full-burn and smiled menacingly when she saw what she hoped to see; the exploding torps had created a cloud of dust, metal and flame and through it burst the shimmering image of a cloaked fighter!

"Travis, I have one in my sights. Engaging!" she yelled over the comm. Her radar indicated Travis was nearby, above and to her rear. She fired another burst from her Skyblasts and still with her thrusters powered her fighter as fast as it would allow. Shards of metal, space rocks and other debris bounced off her Brigandine shield and just before Tanya could centre the craft in her sights, the shimmering fighter engaged it's cloaking device and disappeared.

"Frack!" she swore. "Travis, I lost him. Can you see it?"

"No, babe. I can't see it anywhere. That's the third time now, these guys are good," Travis replied, zigzagging his ship in case anyone happened to 'sight' him.

Tanya nodded, her helmet bobbing once on Travis' HUD.

"Agreed. Whoever these people are they know how to fly. Each time we've managed to catch a visual of them, they're able to evade any incoming fire until their cloaking device is functional again," she said.

A burst of laser fire pounded Tanya's ship. She wrestled with the controls and pulled her nose down into a sharp dive towards the Hawaii, then swiftly pulled up again as another burst of lasers burned the space beneath her ship harmlessly. She span her Eagle into a roll and manoeuvred it between some large antennae protruding from the Hawaii. As a large dish passed by her cockpit, Tanya spoke again, more brightly this time.

"Travis. Since we've been out here, no more torps have hit the House fleets, right?" she asked.

"Right. Not a single one," he replied proudly.

"So if these asteroid shunters want to complete their mission and get the fleets to attack each other, we're in their way, right?" she asked again.

"Yeah, I guess so. Where are you going with this, babe?" countered Travis. He banked his Eagle into an S-turn then killed his engines drifting into a full spin.

"At some point, these fighters will have to come after us. And when they do, we should lead them to the Hawaii. Their guns will help us," Tanya suggested. Before the ex-bounty hunter could reply, Tanya yelled over the comm. again. "Two more torps, at the Exeter!"

Travis punched his thrusters to maximum power and felt his body lean into his seat. He fired his Skyblasts at the torps and screamed a battle cry as he closed the distance. The exploding torps rocked his ship as he flew through the blast radius and grinned once he checked his rear visuals and saw only dust remained.

"Two less torps, Evelyn," he said, mockingly accenting her alias. For now, Tanya was still posing as her alter ego, Evelyn O'Callaghan, Security Director of the Daumann Corporation.

"Shut up, Travis," replied Tanya curtly. "And pay attention. Those fighters will be running out of torps soon and if they want them to land they'll need to take us out."

As though predicted, a line of laser fire raked her shields. Tanya glanced up and saw a cloaked fighter shimmering in the dark Sirius night slicing towards her ship; it had the body shape of an Outcast Sabre.

"On me!" she yelled and thrust her Eagle forwards once more. Her on-board computer blared a missile-lock warning and before she could react her shield was at thirty percent as the missile detonated. She pulled her Eagle into a tight turn and for a few seconds she gained a respite from the heavy fire, allowing her shields to recharge a little. The shimmering, partly-cloaked Sabre was following her turn but being slightly heavier found it hard to gain a bearing on her ship.

Tanya hit the brakes on her ship; sending her Eagle into a sudden halt, forward thrusters bursting into life. She waited for the Sabre to overtake her, then powered her rearward thrusters into life again and found herself behind the Sabre. Tanya unloaded a volley of three missiles quickly, hoping to keep the Sabre off-balance. The missiles exploded and Tanya took her chance. She fired her Skyblasts in a long, continued burst ignoring her power meter, which was slowly winding down. The powerful photon blasts pounded into the enemy ship and fragments of hull began to come away. Tanya held the trigger down and smiled when the Sabre seemed to slow down and move sluggishly. She fired one more missile at the damaged ship and pulled her own Eagle away. Moments later, an explosion from under her ship verified her target was destroyed and it disappeared from her radar.

"Nice job, Ms O'Callaghan," said a new voice over the comm. It was Marshal Carshalton.

"I hope he was the best the enemy have to offer," said Tanya doubtfully. She banked her ship into a gentle turn. "What news do you have, Marshal?" she asked anxiously.

"Good and bad, I'm afraid. I'll start with the good. It seems as though no further torpedoes have hit the massed armadas around the Hawaii. Both you and Carter have done well, so far."

"The bad?" she asked. Tanya dreaded to think.

"Several frigate sized vessels along with fighter escorts are approaching galactic east of the Hawaii. It seems that they went through the Sigma-17 jump hole and somehow avoided any scans at Atka," said the Marshal. "They're not ours."

Tanya's mind raced. The rebel factions had never before deployed anything other than their very heavy fighters and wondered whom these ships were affiliated to.

"I'll check them out," said Travis. "Marshal, get those greenhorn hunters into space to back-up," he hesitated. "Evelyn. I'll set a waypoint east and verify if these new ships are friendly."

Without waiting for a reply, Travis swiftly set a new waypoint on his nav-map and engaged the auto-pilot.

"Good luck, Travis," said Tanya. "Come back in one piece."

"Sure, any piece in particular?" he joked.

"Why don't you both get a room?" asked an exasperated Marshal. "Travis, the instant you find out who these people are inform us on the Hawaii. Don't be a hero. Evelyn, once you take out a few a ships I doubt any others will have the appetite for more. Get inside the Hawaii and re-arm. We may need you again later. I'll have my boys join you in space. Over and out."

Tanya liked Carshalton. He was the no-nonsense commander of any wing you wanted to fly for. The one who knew their business, knew when to attack and more importantly, knew when to consider other options.

"Affirmative. How did the Admiral take the news?" she asked.

"Badly. He said something I couldn't repeat over the comms, but he's ordered several wings of Falcons on standby."

She banked her ship and waited for the other two pilots to join her space.

It was going to be a long day.

Travis relaxed in his cockpit as the autopilot carried his Eagle to the next waypoint. He checked the computer and concluded it would be at least an hour before he made contact with any other vessels. The ex-bounty hunter raised a boot and leaned it over a console casually, then flipped up the visor to his helm and lit a cigar.

He opened a private channel to Tanya and slowly drew on the cigar as the faint outgoing call beep echoed from the console speaker softly. The line connected with a burst of static at first, then he heard Tanya's surprised voice.

"Travis?"

"Yeah. It's me babe. We're on a scrambled channel. Hope that's okay with you," he said quickly.

Tanya laughed genuinely, the throaty sound firing his blood.

"So you can whisper sweet nothings to me?" she replied. Travis ignored her jibe.

"Kill anymore cloaked ships?"

"Yes. Three more. Though we lost one of the greenhorns."

Travis could almost sense her shrug.

"Hey. I wanted to talk to you."

"I guessed that, hotshot. What about?" asked Tanya.

"About that Daumann whelp. Y'know. Moneybags."

Tanya didn't immediately reply.

"What about him?"

"Do you love him?" Tanya laughed again, much to Travis' annoyance. He swallowed down a pique of anger, though when he next spoke his voice was still tense. "Well?"

"Surely you're not jealous, flyboy?" she teased. "I mean, you can have anyone you want! Your rugged good looks, the charm, the great physique, so you continually tell me. Money too. What else could a woman want?"

Travis grumbled something under his breath that Tanya couldn't hear.

"Why do you want to know anyway?" she asked. "Rutger is a nice guy. He treats me well. With respect. More than I can say for you," replied Tanya.

"Oh. So first name terms now is it? Rutger?"

"Yes. Rutger. He's wealthy, but he's humble with it." She heard Travis grumble something incoherent. "Oh. And did I mention he hasn't tried to kill me yet?"

Tanya knew that last comment would hurt him, but it needed saying. Of all the people in Sirius that Tanya had met, Rutger had been the purest of them all. She would do everything in her power to defend that, in the hope that other people would follow in his steps. The ex-bounty hunter didn't reply for a long while, clearly turning over their conversation in his mind. Travis frowned deep in thought.

At last Tanya broke the silence.

"Travis. You mean a lot to me, you know that," she began. Travis' heart leapt but before he could say anything Tanya spoke again. "But you are the closest thing to family I have. Before our training I can't remember anything, of my family, my friends, my life. Just vague recollections and visions that come and go like smoke. Faces. Voices. Surely you know how that feels?"

"Yeah. I get the same," he replied softly.

"You're truly like a brother to me. And deep down, you know it too," said Tanya. "We're of the same blood. We know only how to kill, not how to love. You left the programme early, so you're more," she hesitated. "Human. You have a soul. And I'm trying to discover mine."

Travis couldn't reply. A lump had welled in his throat so large it rendered him capable of only a grunt. He knew he'd never met anyone like Tanya and never would. Her imagined her bright, green eyes, the warm smile that caught his attention months back on the Hawaii when he first saw her in the Orbital Spa ready room. He remembered her laugh, her voice, everything about her made him want her.

He glanced down at his console and frowned again as he saw several large blips appear on the radar. A soft beeping that became louder forced him into action and Travis snapped down the visor to his helmet and brought his feet down onto the pedals firmly.

"Travis, what's that noise?" asked Tanya. "Is that your radar?"

"Yeah, babe. I'm getting close. Give me a moment and I'll be in visual range," he replied. Travis flipped switches, hit buttons and reconfigured settings on his console and control stick in a flurry of movement. "By the floes of Tahoe, what the hell is that?!" whispered Travis. "I'm sending you a visual feed. Get it patched to Carshalton. Send it to everyone!" shouted the ex-bounty hunter urgently.

Tanya waited for the feed to come through, there was a slight delay given how far away, Travis was now.

A series of alarms came over the comm., Tanya recognised several missile locks and shouted over her comm. to check if Travis was okay.

"Tanya! Get out of there! Leave the Hawaii now...!" shouted Travis over the comm.

Then static.

Silence.

"Travis?" whispered Tanya.

She punched buttons on her console and as the image began to form amidst the grey, flickering static she shivered.

It was a ship, a huge, glowing monolith cruising through the Sirius night. The colourings and shape were unmistakeable, everyone in Sirius had seen the footage the terrorist group known as The Order flooded information networks with several years ago. Surrounding the ship like a cloud of angry hornets were dozens of smaller glowing shapes.

Someone had summoned them to the Luxury Liner Hawaii.

The Nomads had returned to Sirius.

Tanya landed her Eagle on the Hawaii recklessly at breakneck speed, cruising to within ten metres of the docking port before activating her auto-pilot.

She had yelled over her comm to both Carshalton and Admiral Day, informing them of the imminent danger the Hawaii was in. Both men responded with quick scorn, though changed their views once she uploaded Travis' last communication, a scan showing an incoming Nomad battle group.

On returning to her cabin, Tanya checked her personal mail and found a message from Admiral Day. She read it, smiled as they outlined their plans for defence, then swiftly stripped off her jumpsuit and almost leapt into the shower. The young woman closed her eyes and steadied herself on the glass panels with her hands, before leaning her head back to allow the spray of hot water to flow over her face. Her blonde hair lay between her shoulder blades and created several rivulets of water down her back and she stood motionless for a few minutes.

"Rest is a weapon," she said to herself finally, then pushed a button slowing the jet of water down. As the water slowly ebbed, Tanya stepped out of the shower and wrapped herself with a towel. She frowned as she stubbed her toe against the lower frame of the cubicle, slowly padded her way back to the main quarters of her cabin to dry her hair.

"Calm is a weapon," she said out loud. She removed the towel and reached up with her arms as far as they would go, then brought them down to touch her feet. Slowly but firmly, Tanya began a series of patterns and exercises designed to relax her mind and prepare her body for what was to come.

When she finished, Tanya dressed swiftly and walked over to a counter and poured some water into a glass. Invigorated, the young woman ran through several scenarios in her mind.

It would take at least four hours before the battleship travelling at the speed her computer calculated would reach the Hawaii. Unless the fighter escort were sent forwards early, an unlikely outcome given the heavy fighter presence aboard the Hawaii, the Hawaii and the House forces remaining would have sufficient time to re-arm and prepare to defend this part of Sirius.

Tanya knew her destiny lay elsewhere.

Somehow, Governor Mason was involved and the origin of the plan to destabilise the colonies no longer lay the door of the Outcasts. Everyone had been used. Everyone had been a pawn in a much, greater game and though it appalled her as she understood how intricate and deep the tendrils of the plan touched, Tanya knew that she too was a part of it.

The terrorist bombings. The assassinations of key ministers. Mason setting up a team of specially trained House assassins to perform the work that no House would accept responsibility for, but he silently led. The luring of three House armadas to a location where war could blossom. The Outcasts unwittingly providing a network of infiltration and subterfuge. The curbing of Kusari hunters from the north of Sirius and the re-focus of their efforts against the Corsairs to the south.

Everything fell into place.

"Knowledge is a weapon," she said to herself once again.

The terminal beeped again and Tanya saw a message from Rutger. She almost moved over to the desk to read the message but instead, paused, then turned the power off and watched the screen fade to black.

Tanya knew that to succeed in the toughest trial she would ever encounter, there was no room for love.

She would need to forget all her experiences following her soul's re-awakening.

Evelyn O'Callaghan was but a painted mask. Tanya Williams, the innocent daughter of a wealthy Cambridge, assigned to fly with Orbital Spa was gone. Now there was only Tanya. The unstoppable House assassin.

Her eyes grew bleak as she studied an interior map of the Hawaii, then strode over to a cabinet that she opened. She withdrew a large, black holdall that she dumped into her bed and unzipped it. She buckled a gun belt to her waist and slammed two blasters into each holster by her thighs. A bandolier laced with various canisters and magazines quickly followed over her shoulder. Two razor-sharp daggers were slipped into hidden sheaths inside the lining of her boots. She produced a bulky rifle the size of a classic shotgun that she checked over then slung over another shoulder. The last item was brought out from the bag slowly, almost reverently.

An object about the length of an adult man's arm, wrapped in dark cloth. Tanya gently unwrapped the cloth and smiled as the lights of her cabin reflected off an enamel scabbarded sword. She slowly, very slowly drew the weapon by it's golden hilt and gasped as the blade of the sword seemed to shine. Inscriptions written in Kusari were etched into the blade near the hilt, two ancient-style dragons forged into the hilt guarded the wielder's hand and the pommel, a third dragon carried a bright, green jade stone in its mouth. Tanya nodded as a memory cut into her vision, Lord Akamoto giving her the weapon, smiling, bowing, a gift to a family friend.

Tanya blinked, then slammed the sword back into it's slightly curved home and tied it across her back.

"Be the weapon," she said out loud in a cold voice bereft of emotion, then stepped out into the corridor.

And the doors hissed closed.

(cont'd)