Disclaimer: Exosquad belongs to DIC and related producers, it is not mine. Notes: the story picks up shortly after where "The Space Between Us" left off.

"You Can Still be Free" by Karen

'So far so good, ' Maggie Weston thought, activating the controls on her exo-skeleton with a press of a button and releasing some but not all of the thrust from her engines slowing her descent through the storm the upper atmosphere of Titan.

Considering the turmoil, confusion, and fear running rampant throughout the inhabitated planets of the Sol System it did not come as much of a surprise that the Space Pirates under the iron control of the Simbacca valued thier privacy as much as they did.

However to Maggie's way of thinking, even out here on the fringe, either convieniently avoiding the war with the Neo-Sapiens, their need for security and even perhaps feeling superior by staying above the fray, struck her as borderline obssessiveness.

Both Maggie and her companion, Alec Deleon were met by a small contigent of pirate vessels whose pilots indicated politely but firmly to follow their course and speed exactly upon descent to the moon's surface. Flanking her move for move, she caught Alec's eye through the face plating of his own distinctive yellowish-green exo-suit.

They had known each other a long time and without any words spoken understood both the tacit acknowledgement and the implied threat'; they would both bo the alert for any unexpected threats or surprises, both of which Simbacca was more than capable of.

Simbacca, more than any other space pirate embodied the arrogance, iron displince and the utter disregard he held the rest of the solar system's population, as beneath his notice. In other words, people who could not be like him and his followers.

All of that had been made quite clear in Captain J.T Marsh's pre-mission briefing, but it helped Maggie focus on the task at hand.

Upon landing their various space craft, Maggie and Alec were subjected to a brief search, but allowed to keep their side arms, and Maggie whispered over her shoulder that either that was an oversight or the fact that the legendary arrogance of the pirates and superior numbers made them overly confident that it wouldn't make much of a difference in the

grand scheme of things.

In reply to her whispered remark Alec said, "Most likely it's a mixture of both scenarios, but remember we're not here to fight, but to make a delivery and perhaps negoitate a mutual agression pact, but that's les of a sure bet."

Alec shrugged his slender but supple shoulders, "All the same, Maggie, I feel better having my weapon with me."

Maggie nodded. "Me, too." And added. "I realize that J.T already tried this but I think the pirates need a reminder all the same."

"I just hope that they are in a recriocal mood," Alec whispered. "Did you remember to bring the package along?"

"I've got it," Maggie replied. "Don't worry."

"If it's all the same to you, Sir," Alec smiled. "I'll stop worrying once the confounded package is delivered and we're safely away from here."

"I hear that," Maggie returned his smile.

"Let's go," one of their escorts said gruffly, indicating with a gloved hand the direction down lower into the interior of the network of carved-out underground tunnels in the naturally occurring bedrock of the Titan's rocky surface.

The underground convention hall that served as both meeting place and communal center for the space pirates was packed that evening. This deep beneath the surface of the Titan's the light from the distant sun could not been seen.

However, on the surface, reflected light from the planet Saturn's ring of ice, space dust filtered down through fissures in the rock.

The pirates had more than made up for the lack of decent natural illumination and had lit the place that walking into from the semi-darkness of the connecting tunnels into a big open space filled with light caused both Maggie and Alec and their escorts to blink several times to adjust their eyes to the change.

To all sides the place resembled one of the Old-Earth stadiums, and almost the entirety of the seats were packed with space pirates, and it was loud: the acoustics such that only a portion of their conversations carried to where the newcomers stood.

Simbacca was there in the midst of it, big, out-shouting even the rowdiest of his followers, his disttinctive mane of iron-gray hair tied up in a braid and dangling down the middle of his back.

"Well, well," Simbacca boomed, "What brings two members of the pride

of Able Squad to my door?"

Maggie stepped forward with Alec flanking here, their escorts had gone to join the others in the crowd, so they were forced to cross an empty space between the entrance and over to where the pirate leader stood in the middle alone. Both understood without being told that this was only the first of a series of tests.

Maggie bowed, realizing that pirate or not, Simbacca had not attained his position of power by being stupid or making technical mistakes. He also knew J.T. Marsh, knew how he thought, how he fought, and he would have checked out the duty roster of their squad before their arrival.

Backwards as some in the inner planets thought them, the pirates

did not share the common misconception that looked down on women as being somehow inferior to men. That kind of thinking was one the key reasons for the uprisng by the Neo-sapiens, led by Phaeton, and the cause of the current war.

"Lithuaniant Commander Maggie Weston and Liutenant Alce Deleon."

"To what do I owe the honor of your visit?" asked Simbacca with a toothy smile.

"It's a social call," she replied, and we would have called ahead first but we wanted it to be a surprise."

"Surprise," Alec echoed with a tremmelous smile.

"Well," Simbacca replied. "I do like those who go to such great lengths to find me, but normally I would much rather prefer to be the one doing the surprising. Still there's been no harm done."

"And if there had been," Maggie asked.

"The pair of you would have been vaporized space dust the moment you entered Saturn's ring of moons."

"We understand," Maggie replied. "Still it would be a shame."

"As much as I like dancing around the central topic," Simbacca said, "time is of the essence, so let us get straight to the point. Why are you here?"

Maggie turned on her heel and faced the upper left section of the viewing stands, the notion of being a huge stadium still very much on her mind before she turned back around to face Simbacca.

"To answer your question, our mission is to present you with a gift to the united space pirate clans, a gesture of good will from our people to yours."

"A good-will gesture, yes, but what then?"

Alec replied. "We really hate to give up something for nothing."

Meanwhile Maggie reached into a pocket of her uniform flight suit and removed the small square package that was the gift to the pirate captain. The outer layer was nothing that remarkable, but what it contained was. She just hoped it that it would be worth it.

Simbacca glanced at her, wondering what the pair were stalling for.

Odd as it was, this stunt, and he naturally assumed the scheme had had its origin with Captain J.T. Marsh, was a front, but he wanted it to be genuine.

As much as he might have wished otherwise, in the back of his mind Simbacca knew that the even the might of the united space pirates and their natural and technical defenses would not count for much once Phaeton and his massive armies of Neo-Sapiens

carved a destructive swath through the inner planets ant the armies of the Exo-Fleet; it was only a matter of time before they too were going to be swept up into the war raging in the Sol System.

An alliance was not completely out of the question, he just wondered why Marsh had not come in person, but instead had sent two junior officers, all the same, Simbacca felt that he had the situation well under control, and by tacitly accepting their offer, Marsh would

then owe him.

While he waited for the woman Maggie Weston to reply, he quickly mentally tallied the pros and cons, and concluded that it would definitely work out in his favor.

Maggie handed the sealed package to the pirate leader, who accepted it with a tight smile.

He opened it, one layer at a time, careful not to tear it. Once the object inside had been revealed even Simbacca had to admit that he was impressed. It was a cylindrical block of a rare form of crystal isotope, its unique faceted matrices giving it the ability to store almost unlimited amounts of data, or if handled correctly and modified, enough to keep his own exo-suit charged for up to sixteen hours without landing and refueling.

It was a bribe and a mark of respect at the same time. Aloud he turned to both officers, and said. "You have yourselves a deal."

Upon seeing the puzzled but gratified look in their eyes Simbacca chuckled, "Don't look at me that way, my friends. After all remember what I said about surprises? I prefer to be the one making them. And one more thing before you go," he smiled, a predatory but not unfriendly one, "take the following message back to your Captain Marsh."

"Which is," Maggie asked. "If you might indulge an old man's whimsy for a moment, i believe one of your Old Earth presidents said it best: "The price of freedom is eternal vigilance."' Simbacca smiled again, and then reached out with his free hand to clasp Maggie's arm. "In other words, tell Marsh that we have a deal, hmm?"

Maggie returned the gesture. "You have my word on it." Thank you."

"No, thank 'you.' Simbacca replied and then asked. "And what about him?" Simbacca asked, nodding in Alec Deleon's direction.

"What she said," Alec replied. "Count on it."

"I will. You have my leave to return to your fleet."

"Let's go, Alec," Maggie replied and they were then escorted out of the stadium back through the underground tunnels and where their exo-suits were waiting.

Once more at the helm of the space suits and away from Titan , Alec radioed Maggie and confirmed that none of their systems had been tampered with while they had met with the pirate leader. "Do you think he'll keep his word?" he asked.

"He's a devious and ruthless, and ambitious, but in his own twisted way Simbacaa's values his honor, so yes, I believe that he will."