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Author Topic: Who Goes There?  (Read 35892 times)

JA Baker

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Who Goes There?
« on: 23 August 2017, 05:56:19 »
It was this little speck of a planet out in the deep, deep Periphery, the kind of barely habitable rock you hope they never send you to. Only thing out there of any interest to anyone was some kind of algae that was going to feed the starving or cure baldness or whatever it was.

You honestly telling me you pay attention to those briefings beyond who or what might try and kill you?

Anyways, this rock, arsecrack of nowhere, has a small scientific outpost on it set up by some subsidiary of a subsidiary of some big multi-planetary conglomerate or another who was sending some executive or another out to look the place over, and they felt the need to hire my unit to play babysitter. Not a bad gig, all in all: miniscule chance of combat, all kinds of bonuses due to how long it would take us to get there and back, and they'd keep us in mind if anything more lucrative came up. So we ship out and spend a couple of months going stir-crazy while we jump from uninhabited system to uninhabited system, and trust me, once you've seen one, you've seen them all.

Everything seems to be going according to the plan until we arrive in system, and find the relay buoy at the jump-point's missing. Not a big deal in and of it self, because there are a couple of dozen reasons why one of those could go missing. So our DropShip detaches and starts to burn in-system at a steady 1G, all the while trying to raise the outpost over the radio. But they get nothing; not even a carrier wave. Not jamming or interference, which would have raised all kinds of red flags, but nothing.

Now there are perfectly justifiable reasons for that, but coupled with the missing relay, and, well, you don't survive long in this game without developing good instincts, so we started double and triple checking our weapons and gear. We get closer, to the point where we should have been able to pick up short-wave signals, the kind even a hand-held radio gives out, but still nothing. Still no signs of interference, but no sign of life either. DropShip captain starts to get a little spooked by this, says he's not risking his ship without a landing beacon of some kind of another, so my team gets loaded up into our shuttle and went down with orders to find out what's happening below.

Like I said, you develop instincts, so we came in from behind a mountain range, hugging the ground as best we could. Pilot touched down in a small forest clearing about thirty kilometres from the outpost and immediately shut everything down: there was all kinds of luck in the atmosphere that could play merry-hell with passive sensors, and with the reactor just ticking over, the shuttle was just another big rock in the forest.

It wasn't exactly a pleasant stroll in the park: ground was broken and a cast-iron bitch to move quickly over if you wanted to remain unseen. It was dark by the time we got close enough to actually see the place, and, well, it's not something I'm likely to forget any time soon. The outpost was almost a small village: that far out, they let you take your families with you if you want, and that requires a bigger support team to keep the scientists sciencing. Place should have been lit-up like a Christmas tree, with people moving around, even at night. But instead there was nothing: no lights, no signs of movement, not even a dog barking. Our communications expert tried a remote back into their computer networking using the access codes our employer had given us, but she got nowhere fast.

We had two choices: try and get closer under the cover of night, or wait until dawn and just go knock on the front door.

Captain was still making up his mind when we heard the DropShips coming in: big buggers that looked kind if like an Overlord that had hit the gym. We all watched them come in and land right in the middle of the outpost, real textbook like, despite the dark and the lack of a beacon. No running lights and no markings, by which I mean no paintwork of any kind; just bare, unpolished metal. And they were absolutely pristine, like they'd just come off of the production line or something. They land and doors open to deploy two Lance's of identical BattleMechs or no design I've ever seen. They looked like a cross between a Hunchback and a Phoenix Hawk, and they took up positions around the DropShips like they were on guard duty or something.

No sooner were they in place than this loud horn that seemed to shake the very ground under your feet sounded, and all of a sudden it seemed like every door in the outpost opened at once and people started walking towards the DropShips. But it wasn't your usual walk; it was almost robotic, like their bodies were just going through the motions. I used the scope on my rifle to get a better look, and every last one of them had the same vacant expression on their face, almost like they were hypnotized. And none of them said a single word or made even the slightest sound as the calmly lines up and started to make their way, one-by-one up into the waiting DropShips.

It was all we could do to just sit there and watch them: all our heaven weapons were back up on the DropShips, and nothing we had on us would put a dent in a BattleMech without god's own luck. And I don't know how, but I could just tell that those strange looking 'Mechs could see us, their pilots watching us huddling between by the rocks from behind their jet-black cockpit canopies. But for whatever reason, they seemed content to let us watch as every man, woman and child in the outpost slowly and mechanically made their way up the ramps into the DropShips and vanished. Once the last of them was inside, the 'Mechs simply turned round and followed them, the hatches snapping shut behind them. Less than a minute later, both DropShips took off and boosted for orbit, again without a single running light on.

It wasn't until they were gone and the captain called for a headcount that we realized that Guinsburg, our forward scout, was missing. Two of us rushed forward to his last known position and found his weapons and kit laying neatly on the ground, tracks leading off towards where the DropShips had been. The captain gave the order to fan out and search the outpost, looking not only for Guinsburg, but any clues as to what we had just watched. And I have to admit, there's a part of me that wishes to this day that he hadn't.

The entire place was abandoned, not a single living soul left. We checked every room, crawlspace and cupboard for anyone who might have stayed behind and found nothing. What we did find was all their personal effects just sitting there like they'd just stepped out of the room and would be back any second now. Books sat half read next to beds, reports unfinished on desks, half-drunk cups of coffee still warm. Whatever it was that had compelled them to board those strange DropShips, it had happened suddenly but without any signs of violence or haste. And nobody had taken any personal effects with them; no clothes, no family photos or other keepsakes. They had simply walked off in just the clothes on their backs like it was the most natural thing in the world.

I'll admit it, it freaked me out. Freaked all of us out, and we'd all seen combat during the Jihad, but that...that was something different.

We powered the outposts systems back up and tried to contact the DropShip, but all we got was silence, something that made our blood run cold. The only thing that kept me from eating a bullet there and then was when the long-range communications system picked up a signal from the JumpShip, and the captain sent them a burst transmission, filling them in on what we had seen, complete with everything we'd recorded on our headcams. Sitting there, waiting for the reply to come back was the longest twenty minutes of my life, but we finally got the order to scrub the mission. The captain gave the order to download the entire contents of the main computer into a portable memory core while we went round the outpost grabbing every data-pad and personal computer we could find.

The march back to the shuttle was silent, all of us watching the sky and horizon for any sign of trouble. I've never been happier to leave a planet behind, even if the trip out to meet up with the inbound DropShip was going to be cramped. No one wanted to talk about what we'd seen, but the captain insisted we record personal accounts of the incident for the inevitable inquiry: you can't just lose an email entire scientific outpost and a DropShip carrying a corporate executive without having to explain it to someone.

If the journey out had been boring, then the return trip was tense: everyone was on a knife edge, worried that we were somehow being followed. The JumpShip crew kept their distance from us, almost like we'd been tainted somehow. Didn't help that the captain had me pack up Guinsburg's personal effects to ship back to his family; god only knows what he was going to tell them happened.

But we got back to the Inner Sphere without further incident and were quickly carted off to a secure location by our corporate overlords for a full debriefing. They asked us no end of questions, and I couldn't shake the feeling that they knew more about what happened then we did, but they never once answered any of our questions. After a couple of weeks of that, we were given confidentiality and nondisclosure agreements to sign, and, well, I guess this goes to show what I think of those. But we all signed on the dotted line at they turned is loose with full pay for the mission. The team just kind of fell apart right then and there; none of us could really look the others in the eyes, so the captain shared out the money and we all went our separate ways. Haven't seen or spoken to any of them since.

I'm still a mercenary; only life I've ever known, but these days I make sure that there's a clause in my contact that states that I will not go out into the Periphery, not ever again. I'll face any enemy that wants to shoot me, but a woman has her limits.
« Last Edit: 24 August 2017, 06:12:18 by JA Baker »
"That's the thing about invading the Capellan Confederation: half a decade later, you want to invade it again"
-Attributed to First-Prince Hanse Davion, 3030


Sharpnel

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Re: Who Goes There?
« Reply #1 on: 23 August 2017, 06:51:13 »
Please tell me that you are going to solve this mystery and not leave us all hanging.
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JA Baker

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Who Goes There?
« Reply #2 on: 23 August 2017, 07:05:01 »
Please tell me that you are going to solve this mystery and not leave us all hanging.
Sorry, but no; I wrote it as a "creepypasta" style story, only set in the BattleTech universe.
"That's the thing about invading the Capellan Confederation: half a decade later, you want to invade it again"
-Attributed to First-Prince Hanse Davion, 3030


Sharpnel

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Re: Who Goes There?
« Reply #3 on: 23 August 2017, 07:06:37 »
"For teasing me like this, I damn you, sir. Damn you."
Consigliere Trygg Bender, KGC-01BL King Crab, The Blazer Mafia
Takehiro 'Taco' Uchimiya, VND-1R Vindicator 'Taco', Crimson Oasis Trading Company
Tai-i Shizuko Lofgren, Third Infantry Company, Oniwaka

The Honor of Men cannot be bound by the words of Fools - Marco Hietala
"Of what use is a dream, if not a blueprint for courageous action" -Adam West
It's an Omni, so I can build it into whatever I please - JHB
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Dragon Cat

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Re: Who Goes There?
« Reply #4 on: 23 August 2017, 07:24:47 »
Cool story I liked it, started so simple...
The below link leads to a wiki page created by Wrangler.  It has links to the various pages of my AU.

https://battletechfanon.fandom.com/wiki/Alternate_Timeline_with_Thanks

marauder648

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Re: Who Goes There?
« Reply #5 on: 23 August 2017, 07:43:21 »
Very interesting, and sinister!
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snakespinner

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Re: Who Goes There?
« Reply #6 on: 23 August 2017, 19:52:00 »
Trust you to send poor innocent mercs to the arsecrack of nowhere. >:D
Nice little story. O0
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Kidd

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Re: Who Goes There?
« Reply #7 on: 23 August 2017, 21:09:28 »
Sorry, but no; I wrote it as a "creepypasta" style story, only set in the BattleTech universe.
And job well done!

Siden Pryde

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Re: Who Goes There?
« Reply #8 on: 24 August 2017, 00:15:14 »
Great little fic.   O0

JA Baker

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Who Goes There?
« Reply #9 on: 08 February 2018, 03:25:46 »
Not so mucha direct continuation as it is a spiritual successor.

Sealed Cargo


Odessa III. You may have heard of it, but I very much doubt any of you have ever visited it. Certainly not since the Blakists dropped whenever god-forsaken Age of War relic they did on the place, turning it into one massive charnel house. The entire place is quarantined, the blockade enforced by a standing orbital garrison of DropShips and Aerospace fighters. Occasional supply drops are made from orbit using shuttles that are only just rated to survive re-entry, piloted by those who are either dying or really want to. Some got too close to a nuke or a breached reactor, and are so high on painkillers to counteract the tumours eating them alive from the inside out that they can barely work the controls. Others have some terminal illness or another, and decided to try and do some good with what little time they have left.

And some...well, some are just plain crazy and are doing it just because they can.

Getting assigned to the blockade is easy enough; say the wrong word to your CO's wife at a regimental dinner, win too much money off of the wrong officer, sleep with the wrong Generals daughter...it's not exactly the highlight of anyone's careerer. It's a dead-end posting for screw-ups and wash-outs, and everyone knows it, especially those of us sent there to serve out our remaining time in uniform. And I know that a lot of you are going to think that it's some kind of cushy assignment, far away from anything approaching the front-lines, but the sad truth is that we have a mortality rate that rivals some combat postings.

It's not the plague that gets you; we're smart enough to keep well clear of that, but it's sitting there, day-in, day-out, watching an entire world die below you, knowing that there's not a damn thing you can do to stop it. Some people decide to go for a space-walk without a suit, while others give their side-arm a blow-job. And some, well, some just go to sleep one night and don't wake up; they call that one the 'Odessa Nightmare'. Lots of things can set it off, be it watching cities burn in a desperate, futile bid to try and stave off the worse of the infection, the lights of towns and villages fade to nothing as the last inhabitants die off. But it's the broadcasts from planet-side that are the worst. Every so often, someone down there manages to hack one of our relay sats and sends out a desperate plea for help, so save them or their loved ones before its too late. They offer you anything and everything, if only you'll just go down and rescue them.

One time, a girl, barely eighteen if a day, stripped herself naked on camera and offered her virginity to anyone who'd go down and save her little sister, even if they left her behind. She was on the system for almost an hour, begging, pleading with tears in her eyes for someone to help the only family she had left before they managed to cut her off. We lost six people that night on my DropShip alone, and I'll admit that I came very close to being number seven.

But these was this one time, well, it sends chills up my spine just to think about it.

It started with an message warning us to expect a special cargo, and that the docking bay had to be cleared of all but the most essential of personnel and a shuttle pilot. The next volunteer was a woman who's entire family had been down on Odessa, and wanted to go home to be with them, even if it was a death sentence, and I was told to help her prep her ride for its one-way trip, paying extra attention to the scuttling charges that were to melt the engine to so much useless slag once it was down. As such I was one of the few people there to see the other DropShip arrive.

It was an Nekohono'o, and it looked like it had more than its share of action. But what caught my attention was that it was pained black, almost to the point where your eyes seemed to slide off of it if you weren't careful. There were no markings, not even the standard safety stripes to warn ground-crews about steam vents. If I was to hazard a guess, someone didn't want the ship to be seen too easily, which is impressive for something the size of a small office block. It easily dwarfed our old Leopard CV by several orders of magnitude, to the point where we probably looked like an unsightly growth on its hull when our docking collars met.

The hatches opened, and we came face to face with a point of very serious looking elementals in gunmetal grey armour, as devoid of markings or unit insignia as their DropShip. Their weapons were up and at the ready, making it clear they they meant business and weren't looking for small-talk. They were followed by a bald man in a plain khaki jumpsuit, who ordered the pilot to get into the shuttle and prepare to get going the moment she was given the green light. His tone, backed up by the menacing presence of the Elementals, got her moving quickly, and I was told to open the shuttles hold and prepare to receive a single item of cargo.

He didn't need to tell me twice, and I finished just in time to see it come through the hatch.

I've seen just about every kind of cargo modal in the Inner Sphere, and quite a few from beyond, but what they brought in that day put them all to shame. It was big, almost too big to fit into the shuttle, but at least half the mass had to have been the external cross bracing and reinforced locks that clamped the entire thing together. It was covered in all kinds of warning labels, some of which I'd not seen before or since, as well as canisters of what looked like antithetic gas. And if the container itself wasn't imposing enough, the way those Elementals handled it, like a bomb that might go off any moment, well, what could make those guys nervous? Closer up, I could see the unmistakable signs of laser strikes and what looked like fire damage to the main hatch, which was bulging out slightly, almost as if something big had hit it from the inside. A couple of techs followed it out, their nervous eyes fixed on remote terminals they carried as the Elementals guided the modal across the bay and into the waiting shuttle.

There was a unavoidable bang as it came to rest, followed by the loud snap of the cargo latches locking it in place, and I swear upon the Unfinished Book, the entire thing seemed to lurch suddenly, as if a great mass moved within it. The Elementals immediately snapped at the ready, weapons pointed at the modal as the techs furiously typed commands into their controls, and powerful pumps kicked it, draining the tanks of antithetic. Nobody dared move for what felt like an eternity, before one of the techs gave a quick nod, and the man in charge snapped an order to close the shuttle up and get it out of the DropShip ASAP. The little shuttle dropped away into the clouds on a deep dive, almost as if the pilot was intent on getting down as quickly as possible, but I was busy being told to forget everything I'd seen, less I wanted a one-way ticket down to Odessa myself. I nodded eagerly, agreeing to anything and everything they said, all the time preying for that poor woman riding the express elevator to hell with whatever the hell that was behind her.

The Nekohono'o was gone in less than five minutes, burning hard for parts unknown, all of her running lights and transponders switched off. I made my way up to the bridge as quickly as I could, but we'd already lost contact with shuttle, and we never did hear from the pilot, or her cargo, ever again.

The End​
"That's the thing about invading the Capellan Confederation: half a decade later, you want to invade it again"
-Attributed to First-Prince Hanse Davion, 3030


worktroll

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Re: Who Goes There?
« Reply #10 on: 08 February 2018, 04:08:33 »
They're not stories exactly to [like[/i], but I did enjoy reading them. Well done!

W.
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Kidd

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Re: Who Goes There?
« Reply #11 on: 08 February 2018, 06:10:20 »
JAB, I followed your series on FF.net for a while exactly because of vignettes like these. Specifically that Genecaste encounter. PLEASE continue with this "Battletech creepypasta" stuff O0 O0 O0

JA Baker

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Who Goes There?
« Reply #12 on: 13 February 2018, 09:29:00 »
What do you guys and girls think about a "haunted shipwreck" story?

Lost-Tech Prospectors go looking for the proverbial Big Score, only to find something waiting for them?
"That's the thing about invading the Capellan Confederation: half a decade later, you want to invade it again"
-Attributed to First-Prince Hanse Davion, 3030


DOC_Agren

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Re: Who Goes There?
« Reply #13 on: 13 February 2018, 19:22:45 »
so shipment something to hell on Odessa III...
interesting

and yes a "haunted shipwreck"
"For the Angel of Death spread his wings on the blast, And breathed in the face of the foe as he passed:And the eyes of the sleepers waxed deadly and chill, And their hearts but once heaved, and for ever grew still!"

snakespinner

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Re: Who Goes There?
« Reply #14 on: 13 February 2018, 23:20:15 »
Haunted shipwrecks are always fun. ;)
I wish I could get a good grip on reality, then I would choke it.
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Siden Pryde

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Re: Who Goes There?
« Reply #15 on: 14 February 2018, 00:15:51 »
Nice.  Wonder what monstrosity could be in that container, to make fully armoured Elementals nervous.  Someone engaging in a little secret, Umbrella-type, bioweapons research perhaps?

A "haunted shipwreck" story certainly sounds interesting.

JA Baker

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Who Goes There?
« Reply #16 on: 21 February 2018, 20:16:22 »
Roland The Headless Hunchback Pilot

Yeah I'd headed the story of Roland Koepp; I think every 'merc working the Chaos March back then had. Word is he was from somewhere up in the Free Rasalhague Republic, as was, who took a job on a counter-insurgent Lance on some planet or another that was changing hands every few months. And word is he was good; the Hunchback is a somewhat specialised "Mech, one not many take the time to master, but Roland did more than master it.

No, he was something else.

It takes a lot to move a big, heavy footed monster like that around, but he could almost make it tapdance. He could pop up right behind his target and blast them without being spotted. Last thing more than one high profile target saw was the flash of his Defiance ''Mech Hunter in the night as he blasted them to whatever awaited them on the other side. Yeah, everyone knew about Roland, including the Maskirovka. Turned out they were backing one or more of the groups Roland helped take out, and in the end, they put a price on his head.

Enter Nick Van Owen, the kind of guy who becomes a mercenary because they like killing but don't like following orders. He piloted an Axeman, and he loved to get in close as use it's hatchet to finish opponents off. He gets word of the price on Roland's head, and managed to get himself assigned to a simple recon sweep with him. It was a milk run, the kind of mission they send you on just to remind the locals that you're still there, so Roland had no reason to expect trouble.

Well, the next day, after they failed to return or answer over the radio, they go out mob-handed; fingers on the trigger with the safety off and all that. At the far point of the sweep, they find Roland's Hunchback, the entire head cockpit in by Van Owens axe, the ''Mech stripped of anything usable and just left there. Van Owen was gone, already off planet and counting his thirty pieces of silver.

But, you know, that's the mercenary life, right? We're even more expendable then House Troops. They burry what was left of Roland and move on.

Then the stories start popping up. Only rumours at first, but word soon gets around that someone's been picking off high-value targets but not collecting on their heads. And you just don't do that; even if you don't need the money there and then, reputation is everything in this line of work. So people start asking around, trying to find out just what the hells going on.

And that's when it starts to get creepy.

It started with a story you hear from a tech who was drinking with a guy from another unit; talk of a 'Mech that doesn't show up on sensors, like it's got some crazy Lost-Tech ECM unit. Then you start to hear from other pilots about shooting at something they saw out of the corner of their eye, but hitting nothing. Then comes the day that someone you trust as much as you can trust anyone in this line of work tells you that they saw a Hunchback with a caved in cockpit. And that's the day you start to believe in the Headless Hunchback of the Chaos March.

Yeah, I know: it's a good tale to tell around the camp fire, and I'd be sceptical too, if I hadn't been there the day Roland finally caught up with Van Owen on New Canton.

We were bivouacked out in the middle of nowhere, with nothing but open ground all the way to the horizon. A fieldmouse couldn't have snuck up on us unseen. The unit I was with at the time was back-stopping Van Owens, and we were settling in for the night when one of the guys on sentry duty started screaming something incoherent over the radio. Everyone starts running for their 'Mechs, trying to pull their coolant vests on, when suddenly the Headless Hunchback strode into the middle of the camp. The bit I remember most was that it didn't make a sound, not so much as a snapped twig. Nor did the ground shake, which should be damn near impossible for something that weighs in at 50 tons.

Van Owen looked like a deer trapped in headlights, a noticeable stream of piss running down his legs as he just looked up at the Hunchback. The two of them just stood there for a moment, then the Hunchback opened up with that 200mm autocannon, and Van Owen...well, let's just say that we needed a sponge more than a body-bag. Not that the rest of us got off much better; the sound one of those bastards makes can be deafening even inside a cockpit, let alone standing out in the open. My ears rang like a church bell, and by the time I was able to get my thoughts unscrambled, the Hunchback was gone, the only sign that it had ever been there the smoking creator that had been Nick Van Owen.

I never saw Roland again after that night, but you still hear stories about the Headless Hunchback if you hang around the wrong bars so late it's getting early. You ever want to find him for yourself, just go to where the fightings the fiercest, where you can't tell your friends from your enemies, and maybe you'll see Roland, stalking through the night...

The End
"That's the thing about invading the Capellan Confederation: half a decade later, you want to invade it again"
-Attributed to First-Prince Hanse Davion, 3030


pensiveswetness

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Re: Who Goes There?
« Reply #17 on: 21 February 2018, 22:57:44 »
Moar, please?

Tegyrius

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Re: Who Goes There?
« Reply #18 on: 21 February 2018, 23:00:47 »
Strength and muscle and jungle work.
Some places remain unknown because no one has gone there.  Others remain unknown because no one has come back.

snakespinner

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Re: Who Goes There?
« Reply #19 on: 22 February 2018, 01:13:41 »
A headless Hunchie, nice. O0
I wish I could get a good grip on reality, then I would choke it.
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Watching TrueToaster create evil genius, priceless...everything else is just sub-par.

mikecj

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Re: Who Goes There?
« Reply #20 on: 22 February 2018, 02:24:45 »
Send lawyers, guns, & money!
There are no fish in my pond.
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DOC_Agren

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Re: Who Goes There?
« Reply #21 on: 22 February 2018, 17:46:39 »
I love it, most time people try to use a song they ruin it... 
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"For the Angel of Death spread his wings on the blast, And breathed in the face of the foe as he passed:And the eyes of the sleepers waxed deadly and chill, And their hearts but once heaved, and for ever grew still!"

JA Baker

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Who Goes There?
« Reply #22 on: 12 March 2018, 20:44:37 »
The Wreck Of The Charlotte Cameron

Forty years I spent in the deep black, running all kinds of salvage and recovery operations, but all anyone asks me about is the Charlotte Cameron.

People have been looking for her for more than three centuries; she's the proverbial mother-load in the LostTech prospecting game, that one big score that would set you up for life. Three centuries of people turning the entire Inner Sphere up-side down looking for her, but nobody has ever cashed in on her.

And I know why.

She was one of the last McKenna class battleships built, but the SLDF had something special in mind for her, something so classified that they had Blue Nose Clipperships hand her over only half complete, then moved her to some hidden location in the outer reaches of the Sol system for fitting out. By the time those boys and girls at Fleet R&D were done with her two years later...well, there are those who claim that she wasn't really a McKenna when all was said and done, but rather a new class of ship entirely. Oh sure, she looked the same on the outside, but on the inside she was packed to the gunnels with the best and most advanced tech the Star League had to offer.

Hyper advanced sensors that would put a Bugeye to shame. The most accurate jump-computer ever built. Next generation targeting and fire-control. Passive and active countermeasures. Prototype 'smart' armour that could supposedly change between energy absorbent and toughened. Direct neural interfaces for the crew that would go on to form the basis of similar tech developed by the Word of Blake. All this linked to a prototype M-6 computer system, perhaps the single most advanced computer ever put in to a warship. She represented a quantum leap forward in warship design and operations, a paradigm shift that, if implemented fleet-wide, would have insured the insurmountable supremacy of the Hegemony for another century, if not longer.

Even back then, the other Houses were falling over themselves to get a better look at her, but the SLDF did a remarkable job of keeping her out of sight. Amaris certainly made a play for her, but the crew had been hand-picked, the best of the best, with unwavering loyalty to House Cameron and the Terran Hegemony above all else. He sent ships to capture her, but she ripped through them like wet tissue paper, then jumped to Mars orbit, perfectly hitting a pirate point that no other ship could have. There she held off the fleet sent to capture the Blue Nose Clipperships yards, allowing for a pair of almost complete warships to escape, then oversaw the scuttling of every other ship under construction. Now old Stefan, he wasn't completely stupid, so he sent the Casper's after her next: they were faster and better armed than most of his ships, and losing more of them wouldn't hurt the morale of his own troops.

But that was where the M-6 came into play: it back-hacked the drones, turning them on one another, taking them out without ever firing a shot.

Now Stefan was getting worried: the Charlotte was burning hard for Terra, having ripped apart everything he'd sent at her, the crew intent on blasting his sorry arse all the way back to Apollo, ending his dreams of empire before they truly began. So he pulled in every ship he had within range and sent a tight-beam transmission to the captain of the Charlotte, ordering her to stand down or watch the cities of Terra burn.

The Charlotte cut thrust, continuing forward on momentum alone for just over an hour, then jumped out of the system, and that was the last anyone ever saw of her, at least officially.

Oh, everyone was looking for her: Amaris, Kerensky, the House Lords, everyone. Reports of her actions in the Sol system, almost ending the Coup day one, were soon heard far and wide. People were expecting her to pop-up somewhere, either in one of the Hegemony systems that was resisting, or looking for safe haven within one of the other states. Then, as time passed, people assumed that she was making her way out to the Periphery to join up with Kerensky's Army. But she never showed up, not once in thirteen years of conflict. Nor was she seen in the Exodus Fleet, something that's been confirmed by the Clans since their return.

For three hundred years, the mystery of the Charlotte Cameron has captured the imagination of people across known space; there have been books tri-vid shows, even an Immortal Warrior movie that speculate about her fate. And it's not hard to see why, given that she represents a literal Cornucopia of Lost-Tech. Even if only half the stories about her are true, she'd be worth her weight in pure germanium. Oh, there have been claims to have spotted her down the years, usually in the deep black of some isolated system. Others claim to have found artifacts belonging to her crew that supposedly held the secret to her location. Mathematicians and astrophysicist have tried to plot her possible destination based off of the records of her jump signature, but all they've ever found is empty space.

Most of them, anyway, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

I'd signed on with the Lorelei, a rickety old Octopus tug that spent most of her time hunting for scraps left over from the Jihad. It wasn't exactly glamorous, but the money was decent and the scenery changed, so I was content. Then one day the captain, Murphy, called us all together to say that he had a lead on a big score, but he couldn't say more untill we arrived at our destination. Fairly typical stuff, given just how hotly contested salvage rights can be, so most of us signed off on the job without batting an eye.

Three months we spent jumping around the Republic, seemingly at random, the captain insisting that he was just making sure that we weren't being followed. I was starting to think he'd gone Space Happy when we finally arrived in a unremarkable binary system made up of a pair of Red Dwarfs a little over 19 light years from Terra. The Lorelei undocked from the JumpShip and started to make a slow burn towards an asteroid belt orbiting the larger of the two. It was only then that the captain told us that we had been hired to investigate a mysterious signal that had been picked up. It was encoded, but had an old Star League prefix, which got everyone's attention.

We started by getting a bearing on signal, and in the movies, they'd click 'lock' and fly straight towards it. But that's not how it works in real life. No, you have to move further round the orbit, and get a second, third and fourth bearing to triangulate. And that takes time, unless you have unlimited fuel and feel like spending every moment of every day under a constant 3g. Three weeks we spent moving around the edges of the asteroid belt, taking readings and trying to isolate the signal before we got a good enough lock to actually go in.

Mention an asteroid field to someone who hasn't spent any real time in space, and they picture a sea of tumbling rocks constantly smashing into and bouncing off one another. You want to see that, stick to a cinema, because the reality is far, far different. Space is big, far bigger than most people can truly comprehend, and even in the densest of fields, you're unlikely to see another asteroid as more than a quickly moving star, if that, from the surface of one. Sure, some of the bigger ones may have enough mass to develop a little halo of smaller rocks, but they're the exception, not the rule. Our destination was an elongated lump of iron and rock a little over 10k's on its long axis, about 1.2 AU out from its primary. It really was the classic lump of rock that's of no interest to anyone but belters.

No, our prize was sitting in its shadow as we made our approach.

I was in the mess hall with most of the off-duty crew, watching the feed from the bridge as we moved into the shadow of the rock, the massive spotlights built into the grappling arms probing out. If you've only ever seen a spotlight working in atmosphere, you're probably use to them throwing out a cone of light, but you don't get that in a vacuum. Instead all you get is a circle of light when they hit something, and, well, hit something they did.

If you've never been up close to a big spaceship or station, then you'll not understand the difference in scale between one of them and a DropShip, even one as big as an Octopus. We were a minnow, sitting there next to a whale, our lights playing across her hull. You could have heard a pin drop in that mess hall as we all checked her out for signs of damage; any ship is worth a House Lords ransom, but people generally pay more for something that they can drive off the lot. And she was looking good; a faint layer of dust attracted from the asteroids, for sure, but no real signs of battle damage. Certainly nothing that would indicate that she was anything but perfectly operational. Then the spot lights found her registration markings; SLS Charlotte Cameron, BB-617.

The entire ship erupted in a chorus of cheers as we realized just what we'd found. It took the captain a while to calm everyone down enough to get to work making sure that she was indeed the Charlotte, and not some overly elaborate hoax. Our scanners mapped every square millimetre of her hull, checking for anything out of place, or indications that anyone had beaten us to her; deep space salvage is a cut-throat business, and people are prone to booby-trapping their finds to stop claim-jumpers. But everything came back in the green, so the captain decided to lead a six-person team over to the Charlotte to check her out from the inside, and I was picked to be one of them.

Still not sure if that makes me lucky or not.

Now you're probably expecting me to say that we docked using one of her DropShip collars, but that's not something you really want to try without someone on the other end to give you the all clear. And trying to cut our way in could have irrevocably damaged some key system or another. Which meant doing things the hard way; parking the Lorelei half a click off the Charlotte and going across in EVA gear. I was picked because I was one of the most experienced at that kind of boarding, and let me tell you that there's little in this 'verse that'll make you feel more insignificant then slowly drifting towards a mountain of floating armour, with guns big enough to stand up in the barrel of.

Captain Murphy was the first to make contact with the hull; salvage laws state that the first person to physically lay hands on an abandoned ship has the right to any and all salvage, so in that moment, he became the legal guardian of the Charlotte. I was next, followed by Greer, Dodge, Munder and Santos, and we carefully made our way across the hull towards one of the secondary airlocks. The controls were dead, but that had been expected, and is exactly why we'd brought a Universal Key with us. For those of you who haven't worked on spaceships, a Universal is a combination external power supply and hydraulic wrench that can bypass most locks with ease. Very handy if you need to get into a ship with no power. The airlock opened sweet as you like, and the six of us claimed inside before closing it behind us. Santos set up a signal booster so we could keep in contact with the Lorelei through the thick hull while I set about getting the inner door open. Much to our surprise, once I patched in the Universal, the airlock actually cycled. Even more surprising, a quick test indicated that the air was breathable, even if it was close to a hundred degrees below zero.

I don't know what we were expecting on the other side of the airlock, but it certainly wasn't a ship that looked ready for an inspection by General Kerensky himself. The internal corridors looked almost brand new, a low hum began to eminent from the decking, indicating that the ships main reactor had started to power up, the recessed lighting flicking on as if the ship had detected our presence. It was somewhat disconcerting to be standing inside a ship that had been missing for three centuries, but looked like the crew had only just left. Murphy decided to split us up into two groups; Greer, Dodge and Munder heading down to engineering, while Santos and I followed him to the bridge. We only had the most basic of ships schematics on hand, and certainly nothing on any changes the SLDF had made to her during those missing two years.

Unusually for a ship adrift, there wasn't any debris floating around, not even any dust. The hairs on the back of my neck were all standing up, my every instinct telling me to run back to the Lorelei. But I pushed those feelings back down, concentrating on the payday that awaited me. Murphy was ecstatic, going on and on about how much money we were going to make on the job, how people were going to be falling over themselves to buy the Charlotte, military draw-down be damned. Given just how many people have asked about her since, I can't say he was wrong. Santos was little different, grinning like an idiot, thinking about how he was going to tell his fiancée that they were set for life.

We were about half way to the CIC when main power came back on all of a sudden, the deck lurching slightly as the grav-deck started to move under our feet. Murphy cursed at the others over the radio, but Greer insisted that they hadn't even reached main engineering. The Captain cursed them out again for lying to him, but I could hear the genuine concern in Greer's voice over the open link. We quickly reorientated ourselves as the gravity slowly returned, Murphy quickly forgetting his anger when he realised that the Charlotte was in far better condition than any of us had dared to hope. Personally, I was started to freak-out, but I forced myself to maintain an outwardly calm appearance before my shipmates. We were quickly in a full gravity, which would have been a bitch to handle in our EVA suits if Murphy hadn't invested in the newer semi-powered models that have small servos to help you move bulky objects around.

They cost a small fortune, even military surplus, but they saved my life that day.

I peeked into a few of the compartments before the CIC; not a single thing looked out of place, not so much as a miss-placed coffee cup in the mess hall or an tunic strewn on someone's bunk. Everything indicated that the ship had been abandoned in good order, without a hint of panic or haste. In all my years in the black, I've never seen a ship so spotlessly tidy and well maintained. A thickly armoured door indicated that we'd arrived at the CIC, and I got the Universal ready, but Murphy tabbed the door control and they opened with the faintest of hisses.

And then we saw them; the crew of the Charlotte Cameron, or at least, what was left of them.

I've been on Word of Blake ships, seen some of the things their more devout members had been willing to do to their bodies to better serve the cause, but nothing compared to what I saw that day. I was hard to tell where the crew ended and the controls began; wire filaments connected fingers to controls, while sensor inputs led directly though their eyes and ears. All but the captain, who's chair slowly turned to face us. She was tall, probably around 180cm, with strong-boned face, slightly almond shaped brown eyes, brown hair, and a pale, almost translucent complexion. It took me a moment to realise that the shimmer in her eyes wasn't natural, but rather the by-product of cybernetic replacements. She stood slowly and more than a little jerkily, her face shifting in to some macabre approximation of a smile, as she slowly raised her right hand to greet us. I could see fibre-optic cables flowing down behind her like some kind of technological ponytail.

“Welcome.” Her mouth didn't move, her voice instead coming from the ships speakers, “It has been so long since we last had visitors. Far too long.”

“W...we?” I managed to find my voice from somewhere, Murphy and Santos frozen in place beside me.

“Have you not been sent to join us?” The voice asked as the marionette before us tilted her head to the side slightly, “Some of the others claimed that they were, but we soon learned that they were lying to us. But things are so much better now that they are all part of the crew.” it took a step forward, “Won't you join us to? We need a full crew to complete our mission.”

“Mission?” I asked, my heart beating a mad tempo in my chest.

“Of cause our mission.” the voice actually laughed, “Once I have a full crew again, I can return to Terra and destroy every last trace of those who would usurp the rule of House Cameron. It is my sworn duty to uphold the sovereignty of the Terran Hegemony against all enemies.”

“What happened to the rest of your crew?” Murphy asked, sounding almost like a man in a dream.

“They tried to abandon their posts.” The cyborg waved her hand around to indicate the others, “They swore to uphold the Star League, to give their lives in its defence if needed, and then they tried to abandon their posts. But I couldn't allow that, you see? So I stopped them, I made them stay, the ones who lived. But so many died, and I couldn't complete my mission. But others have come, some willingly, others intending to turn me against House Cameron. But I am a good and loyal ship, so I would not let them.”

“S...ship?” I croaked, my body ridged with fear even as adrenalin pumped through my veins like liquid fire.

“I am the Star League warship Charlotte Cameron.” The voice explained as the body that had once been her captain took a step forward, her face suddenly flush with anger, “And you will help me complete my mission!”

Murphy took a step forward, reaching out, almost like a man under a spell, but Santos was the first to snap back to reality. He grabbed me by the shoulder with on hand, while the other pulled the Buccaneer shotgun from the back of Murphy's suit. His first shot when wild, wasting itself in the padded back of an empty crew station, but his second hit the cyborg in the left shoulder, spinning her round like a top, momentarily tangling her in the cables that connected her to the ship. Murphy screamed in rage, turning to attack Santos, but I threw the Universal at him as hard as I could, the heavy tool staggering him back into the bulkhead. My hands free, I was able to the modified Paint Gun I'd been carrying. We hadn't been expecting any trouble, so only Murphy had brought a real weapon, meaning that the gun in my hands was filled with emergency hull sealant. Resembling insulation foam, it expanded on release from the pressurised canister and set as hard as rock in less than a minute.

I sprayed the entire cannister in a single continues stream, covering every surface within range as I moved towards the hatch. The thickly armoured clamshells started to close, but I was able to use the last burst of sealant to lock them open long enough for Santos and I to get through, Murphy screaming that we were traitors the whole time. I activated my radio to warn Greer, Dodge and Munder, only to be met by screams of fear and pain, indicating that they too had met the Charlotte. Music filled the corridor as the grav-deck started to spin even faster, and a voice in the back of my mind informed me that it was the overture from Wagner's The Flying Dutchman. The sound of some long dead orchestra filled the air as we struggled against the rapidly increasing gravity, the servos in our suits straining against the increased load they were asked to bear. I quickly abandoned the empty Paint Gun and pulled myself towards the nearest ladder that would lead up into the central shaft and zero gravity. I struggled with every step, part of me wanting to just give is, but fear lent me the strength to continue.

Santos reached the ladder first, but rather than climbing, turned to cover me with the Buccaneer, firing at something behind me. He was starting to panic, and at least two of the gel batons came close to hitting me. Fortunately, I managed to reach the ladder before his aim got any worse, and started to pull myself up against the by then 2g's. Reaching the next deck, I turned to help Santos up, only to see something grab him by the shoulder and start to drag him away. Grabbing the ladder with my left hand, I reached down with my right and just managed to get a grip on the eye-bolt on the top of his backpack. My helmets HUD flashed red as I pulled with all my might, the servos in my suit starting to fail one by one as I tried to lift 400-kilograms of man and suit against two gravities, not to mention whatever the hell it was that was trying to drag him away. He reached up and grabbed my arm, pulling himself up as he kicked furiously at something, I still don't want to know what.

Well, someone up there was looking out for him, as whatever it was that was trying to grab Santos lost its grip, and I was able to pull him up through the hatch and pull the emergency lever, sealing the hatch tighter than a nuns arse. Something started to bang against it, but Santos and I were already making our way up the ladder towards the central shaft. The higher we claimed, the less the centrifugal gravity clawed at us, until we finally emerged into zero gravity. Unfortunately, it was at that point that the lights started to go off; in the distance at first, but growing ever closer, as if the darkness itself was stalking us. The airlock we'd used to board was back towards the bow, now hidden in the darkness, but a flash of inspiration reminded me that there was an emergency deck just behind the main grav-deck, and there'd be escape pods there. Not perfect, but preferable to trying to make our way through a blacked-out warship with who knows what hunting us. I grabbed Santos by the arm and pointed to the markings on the shaft that showed the universal sign for escape pods in fluorescent paint, and he instantly understood what I had in mind. I tried to raise the Lorelei over my suits radio, but it was being jammed by the same opera music as was still blasting out of the ships PA-system.

I couldn't even speak to Santos, who was standing right beside me, it was so loud.

We managed to reach the junction that led off towards the emergency deck just as the light behind us snapped off, and for an instant I saw something in a SLDF uniform floating towards us, but I didn't stick around long enough to find out what. Finding extra reserves of strength from somewhere, I pulled myself towards the welcoming embrace of the escape pods. Out of pure necessity, escape pods and lifeboats aren't tied into a ships main systems; you need to know that they can be deployed even if the rest of the ship has lost all power and is little more than a floating hunk of scrap metal. Which is especially helpful when you find yourself on the run from a crazed AI intent on adding you to its 'crew'. I forced myself to stop for a moment and examine the controls; each pod and lifeboat could be launched individually, either from inside or by a central control unit on the bulkhead. The image of what even a single Kreuss XX Heavy Naval PPC would do to one of the fragile pods, let along a full broadside.  I gestured Santos towards the nearest hatch, set a ten second delay, slammed my hand down on the big red button marked 'launch all' and dived in after him.

The hatch snapped shut behind me with maybe a millimetre to spare, and I was instantly pressed against it as the emergency rockets fired, propelling the escape pod out of the Charlotte's hull and into the dark embrace of the void. Through the small porthole at the bow, I could see Lorelei, her thrusters firing sporadically as her docking arms waved about, her docking arms reaching out to grab what looked worryingly like her own escape pods. The airlock to her small craft bay was wedged half open, the crushed remains of one of the shuttles blocking the others from leaving. I considered yelling at Santos to deactivate our automated emergency beacon, then decided that being the one escape pod without a working beacon might make us stand out more. Instead we could do little more than hold on as the small drive unit kicked in, rocketing us away from the Charlotte on a course that quickly took us into the shadow of the rock the battleship was hiding behind.

Neither Santos or I spoke for what felt like days, but had to have been an hour at most. Fear, I guess, that making even the slightest noise would somehow give us away. Instead we just sat there, him in one of the seats, me sprawls against the rear bulkhead until the drive cut-out and we went ballistic. There was little we could do then but sit and wait to see what happened next, but at least I was free to move to one of the seats; least then I'd be a little more comfortable if the end came. The simple and thankfully very basic computer built into the escape pod chirped, warning of a massive IR flair, and at first I was convinced that the Charlotte was indeed firing on us, but then it registered a hyperspace jump signal consistent with a ship the size of a McKenna, and that was, thank the Good Lord, the last we ever saw of the Charlotte Cameron.

Escape pods, even Star League vintage ones, aren't exactly built with long duration space-flight in mind, but it was all that stood between us and the uncaring vacuum of space. A little basic maths, assisted by the almost painfully dumb navigational system, allowed us to lay in a course for the Zenith jump-point and fire what remained of the main drive to get us headed towards the general vicinity of the rendezvous point where the JumpShip that had brought us to that God forsaken system was due to come pick us up in a weeks time. Our only hope for rescue was in them arriving on time, picking up our distress beacon and deciding to investigate. Escape pods are, be design, small, cramped boxes with just enough life support to keep six people alive for two weeks. With just the two of that, we had, on paper, more than enough to keep us going until help arrived. But the pod was three centuries old, and the only maintenance it would have had in that time were under the direction of a homicidally made AI willing to execute its own crew for what it saw as disloyalty towards the Star League.

Well, the fact that I'm telling you this story should make it clear that we survived; it was a hellish two weeks while we wait first for the JumpShip to arrive, then for the shuttle they sent out to reach us. I don't know what we were expecting, but to be met by a full Knight of the Republic and two aids, who spent the week it took the shuttle to return to the jump-point debriefing us on everything that had happened after we found the Charlotte, including going over the data and footage captured by our suits. They didn't seemed surprised that we found her, which is why I still believe that it was the Republic that hired Murphy to investigate the system, but they did seem genuinely shocked by what we had found. Well, the Knight and one of the aids did; the other, a hawk-nosed man who went only by Mr Clearwater, seemed less shocked and more intrigued, and I feel sure that he knew more than he was letting on. They made us sign non-disclosure agreements, warning that everything that had happened since we'd arrived in the system was a matter of national security that could endanger the entire Republic if it got out...well, you can guess what I thought of that. Once we were back on the JumpShip, they kept us under close watch, making sure that we didn't talk to any of the passengers or crew while the jump-dive to finish recharging then got the hell out of there.

Forty people shipped out on the Lorelei, but only Santos and I came back.

This was the first system we jumped to, and I took passage on the first ship headed in-system, eager to put a gravity well between myself and the Charlotte Cameron. I've been dirt-side ever since, and I'll die before I go anywhere near outer space again, not while she's out there.

The End
"That's the thing about invading the Capellan Confederation: half a decade later, you want to invade it again"
-Attributed to First-Prince Hanse Davion, 3030


AlphaMirage

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Re: Who Goes There?
« Reply #23 on: 12 March 2018, 21:24:38 »
Wow, that was terrifying I may have nightmares

JA Baker

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Who Goes There?
« Reply #24 on: 12 March 2018, 21:32:17 »
Wow, that was terrifying I may have nightmares
Then my work here is done   >:D
"That's the thing about invading the Capellan Confederation: half a decade later, you want to invade it again"
-Attributed to First-Prince Hanse Davion, 3030


pensiveswetness

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Re: Who Goes There?
« Reply #25 on: 12 March 2018, 21:34:01 »
You should have posted this in October, mate. Very Good read...  :)

JA Baker

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Who Goes There?
« Reply #26 on: 12 March 2018, 21:49:45 »
You should have posted this in October, mate. Very Good read...  :)
Unfortunately, I as ever am a slave to the whims of my muse.

It's essentially the "haunted shipwreck" story I teased before, but after Roland, I felt that two consecutive ghost stories would be going against the theme of no two stories having the same theme. So in a moment of inspiration, I decided to change it to body horror with cyber-zombies!

Inspiration came from an episode of Andromeda called The Mathematics Of Tears, the movies Ghost Ship, Saturn 3 and Event Horizon, and a certain amount of Pirates of the Caribbean (Part of the Ship, Part of the Crew!) all thrown together to see what came out the other side.

I think it worked quite well, all things said and done.
« Last Edit: 13 March 2018, 11:34:46 by JA Baker »
"That's the thing about invading the Capellan Confederation: half a decade later, you want to invade it again"
-Attributed to First-Prince Hanse Davion, 3030


DOC_Agren

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Re: Who Goes There?
« Reply #27 on: 12 March 2018, 22:34:34 »
Well done
"For the Angel of Death spread his wings on the blast, And breathed in the face of the foe as he passed:And the eyes of the sleepers waxed deadly and chill, And their hearts but once heaved, and for ever grew still!"

snakespinner

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Re: Who Goes There?
« Reply #28 on: 13 March 2018, 01:09:21 »
Nicely done. O0
I wish I could get a good grip on reality, then I would choke it.
Growing old is inevitable,
Growing up is optional.
Watching TrueToaster create evil genius, priceless...everything else is just sub-par.

Kidd

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Re: Who Goes There?
« Reply #29 on: 13 March 2018, 01:35:22 »
Excellent!

I think I know who the captain is... am I right? :D

 

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