Chapter 1- The Wrong Kind of Trouble

Lieutenant Lance Cooper always hated formal gatherings at the best of times. And a Federation Peace Conference to discuss the plight of Sai villages on the Frontier ranked highly on his list of 'I'd rather be stuck in a Brood nest baked in barbecue sauce than…….'

But unfortunately the Chancellor demanded that a representative of the Echelon military be present. And since Huntsman and Vantage were busy hunting around abandoned Echelon bases full of dormant and occasionally rampant security systems Coop was assigned the worst job of all- posing for the Politicians and the Sai.

He stood out in the cold bite of the night air, the harsh call of their crafts engines resonating on the wind as it embraced the safety of the air. He sheepishly adjusted the collar of his dress uniform, his bodyguard and friend Jonas noted the habit. "Don't be nervous sir, Sai can smell fear"

The craft they had arrived on swooped back into the sky, disappearing among the darkened clouds hanging precariously above them, leaving them on the landing pad- exposed and with no chance of retreat. But while the Echelon representatives had arrived via metallic dropships the Sai utilized enormous beasts they called Rift Worms as transport. Coop was certainly amused at the dumbstruck look on the technicians face as they attempted to wrangle in the mighty beast, only to be forced back several steps as the creature attempted to close its mighty jaw around their extended arm.

Their expertise residing around metallic craft meant that no one among them knew exactly what to do with a 30ft flying lizard, much less where to put the fuel pump. But a gentle pat on the creature's side from the Sai pilot seemed to sooth the rampant beast, encouraging the attendants to keep their distance lest the creature turn rabid once again.

Coop noticed the two Sai representatives disembark from their mighty transport- each gliding gracefully to the deck, their loose robes and bizarre head tails dragging lazily behind them as they fell. They touched the deck- their appendages fluttering delicately and finally settling as they slowed.

Coop and Jonas couldn't help but notice the elegant and surprisingly sparse attire the Sai decided to adorn, the fabric leaving their toned stomachs exposed and leaving little else to imagination. Coop watched with eager interest as the two Sai talked between them.

"I wouldn't bother if I were you" Jonas's words snapped him out of his day dream. "That's Sable. The guys back at base call her the Black Widow- she kills the guy after she mates. And it's not always in that order."

Coop was suddenly strangely intrigued and unsurprisingly disturbed. "And what about her little friend?"

Jonas shrugged his shoulders in defeat. "Never seen her before".

Coop and Jonas continued to watch the two of them- their conversation ending as the two Sai stepped towards the Conference Centre they finally seemed to have taken notice of Coop and Jonas. The younger Sai Jonas knew nothing about smiled at Coop as she walked- and Coop returned the compliment.

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Eona and Sable glided through the air on the back of their proud war beast- puncturing through the clouds and evading the other air traffic in the area with graceful ease. Eventually they came in sight of their target- the Peace Conference Centre within the rebuilt city centre. While Eona was dazzled by the buildings beauty and delighted to have been chosen to represent Meridian and the Sai at this summit Sable however was far more sceptical, expecting Anti Aircraft batteries to emerge from the statues and open fire upon them as soon as they were in range. When such a threat failed to materialize Sable felt a depressing chill course through her at the prospect she would have to endure this engagement with her unbridled powers held in place only by Eona's soothing voice.

She brought the mighty war beast down onto the landing pad- the beast hovering on invisible limbs over the metallic pad. Sable noticed the Echelon technicians as they approached- hefting computer terminals and fuel lines as was their rehearsed procedure. But upon seeing the gigantic, mutant beast they instantly froze- none of them exactly sure on what to do.

The bravest among them stepped forward- attempting to touch the skin of the beast in an effort to demonstrate its harmlessness. However the beast thrust out with its mighty jaw, attempting sever the technicians arm from the remainder of him. Unfortunately he was fast enough to evade their beast's attack- a tragic shame.

Sable patted the palm of her hand against the side of the beast- settling its raging heart. The creature finally calmed- lowering itself down to the deck to allow it's passengers to disembark onto the deck. Eona gracefully slid down the side of the creature, landing with the elegant ease of a premiere performer. Sable however simply leapt from the creature's saddle and, utilizing her powers, landed with an impact that was sure to shock and awe the rabble of technicians watching her. "I still don't understand why we have to be here"

Eona sighed lightly- brushing her tunic, allowing the mild cresses to smooth. "We are here to convene with the Echelon leaders about helping the rural Sai territories in the Frontier that neither of us can effectively assist alone"

Sable sneered "Why do we bother humouring these Echelon dogs any longer? Soon the Sai flag shall be flying against the blood stained sky across the whole Frontier. We shall not require the Echelon then"

"It saddens me to hear that- you still lust for the path of war" Eona could feel the tint of despair taking firm root in her speech.

"It is the only thing these brutish Echelon understand" Sable growled.

Sable suddenly realized something. Though she had spent the most recent years of her life progressing the ranks of the Sai military to become one of their most powerful and feared Neophytes, the majority of her 29 years had been spent grovelling through the destroyed city streets in a vain attempt to scrape together enough food to survive. The only way to survive in those conditions was living off whatever you could find or raid from the Echelon patrols that passed through the area. Spending her childhood listening for the rhythmic crunch of their boots against the rubble or the gentle whine of the engines of their Prowlers as they drove had given her a sixth sense for noticing even the smallest changes to her surrounding's- as well as when she was being watched. "Don't look now" she lowered her voice to a whisper.

"What?" Eona turned to see what Sable was referring to.

Sable lashed a hand to Eona's shoulder, drawing her back to face Sable. "I said don't look" Sable growled- growing up in the temple Eona had neglected to learn even the faintest skills taught outside of the Temple training.

"That Echelon Commander keeps staring at us" Sables eyes watched their blind spots- weary of potential ambush sites around them. "Come on- we need to get inside, amongst our own" Sable pushed Eona along with her- drawing the two of them towards the door.

Eona took the opportunity to finally identify the source of Sable's anxiety- a young Echelon commander with wispy bright red hair was watching the two of them with keen interest and bewilderment, and had most likely been doing so since they touched the deck. Eona returned the innocent smile.

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The peace talks being over didn't mean that Coop's suffering was. After the talks a 'Meet and Greet' bash was being held to allow the representatives to talk informally amongst themselves while sampling the tastes of their combined delicacy's.

Coop had decided to sample the bar while watching the tense conservations between the Echelon and Sai representatives slowly dwindle down to its nub. Coop took another swig of the bright blue liquid sitting in his glass, feeling the cool burn running down his throat as the potent cocktail removed another chunk of time off his life expectancy.

Jonas relaxed, leaning against the bar for support, basking in the warm glow of the glances of the female Echelon and Sai representatives alike as they passed the bar. Coop however could not relax- his thoughts continued to drift back to the two Sai he had witnessed on the landing pad. And when he suddenly noticed them from amongst the sea of individuals his curiosity was suddenly enflamed ten fold. He gulped down the last remains of his drink- sliding down from his stool only to have his legs give out from under him. He braced against the bar for support, Jonas lurching forward to catch him.

But Coop brushed aside his friend's assistance, finally summoning enough strength to stand under his own power he proceeded to disturb as many dancing couples as was necessary in his determined effort to finally reach the two of them. Jonas trailed behind him, attempting to divert him away before he made an even greater fool of himself. "What are you doing Coop?"

"I just wanna speak to dose Say we serwd on the lading pad" his words slowly became more and more slurred as the concentrated elixir took an even greater hold over his body.

"I can just see this going badly" Jonas mused.

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"Oh no" Sable sighed.

Eona quickly discovered the reason for Sable's sudden stifled shock, watching as Coop brushed aside another pair of dancers as he stumbled uneasily towards them, another well dressed Echelon trailing in his wake, offering stumbled apologies to those he disturbed. The bright haired trooper finally came face to face with Eona and Sable. "Hey, yaw da Sai I daw on the pad. I'm Cooop" He held out a shaking hand.

To her credit Eona accepted it- despite Coop's clumsy approach. "Glad to meet you. I'm Eona and this is-" She was ready to introduce her partner but Sable was able to beat her to it.

"I'm Sable" She extended her hand reluctantly. Coop burst out laughing at the extended appendage. "Hey, you're the Back Idow I eard about"

Sable was certainly perplexed, struggling to make sense of this idiot's insane ramblings, but ensured that her confusion did not appear on her face. But still he continued.

"Peerhaps you would likke to dance?" Coop asked Eona.

A small tint of red emerged over Eona's pale skin "I'm afraid I'm not much of a dancer"

"I could show you" And at those final words his entire body finally gave from underneath him, his knees collapsing underneath him. Jonas was ready to catch Coop on his descent- pulling him back onto his feet.

"Come on" Jonas hefted him onto his shoulder.

The Sai were left perplexed by the encounter. "Now you why we shouldn't trust the Echelon"

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Coop could feel a sharp pain coursing through his mind- any attempt at movement only succeeded in intensifying the pain a dozen times over. He fought back the pain enough to finally open his eyes, moments later having to close them again as a bright light pierced the dark veil that had once consumed him. "Uggh" he elicited a stunted groan in response to the new stimulant overpowering his senses.

"Well good morning merry sunshine" he recognised the voice- Jonas.

Coop managed to stumble out a response. "Where am I?"

"You're room- I dragged you back here after you got plastered at the bar"

Coop chuckled lightly. "Sounds a lot like me" He attempted to wrangle himself upright, collapsing back amongst the tangled sheets when his strength surrendered to the force of gravity once again. "I didn't do anything stupid last night did I?"