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Author Topic: Who Goes There?  (Read 39036 times)

JA Baker

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Who Goes There?
« Reply #420 on: 29 September 2020, 11:27:04 »
An idea I've been toying with for years

All Along The Watchtower

It's somewhat liberating, not knowing your own past. Lot of people think there's something sad about being abandoned as a child, never knowing who your parents were, where they came from. Can't say I've ever felt that. Far from it, actually: no family means nothing to try to live up to, or possibly embarrass through failure.

I was just another scrawny little girl, with flame red hair and green-grey eyes, all elbows and knees, far too wild for all the couples who came to Our Lady of the Sacred Heart looking to adopt. A few did express an interest, but one made the mistake of letting slip exactly what they had in mind for me. He left handcuffed to a stretcher, my knife still embedded in his left thigh, just below his groin, his 'wife' spilling her guts to the police. Probably because I'd threatened to literally spill her guts if she didn't.

I was eleven at the time.

After that, they stopped putting my name forward for consideration. I was seen as too wild, too aggressive for the good people of... You know, I can't even remember the name of the planet I grew up on. How crazy is that?

By the time I turned sixteen, it became clear that I wasn't going to be taking holy orders, so I left the Sacred Heart of my own choice. One of the nuns, Sister Lucy... well, she'd had a rough start in life too, and was probably the only one there who actually liked me. Not saying that I was mistreated or anything, but I was, at best, tolerated by most of the order. But Sister Lucy always had my back, always stood up for me when the truancy officers or the police came calling. She realised what I was planning, and that there was no real way to stop me, so she handed me a small box, hugged me and sent me off with God's blessings.

Where I was going, God had no business, but I appreciated the roll of used bills and the push dagger she'd probably lifted from the box of confiscated items in the main office.

I used the knife for the first time two days later: some pimp thought he'd 'encourage' me to turn tricks for him down by the spaceport. Well, he didn't see my uppercut coming, and certainly didn't notice the razor sharp blade sticking out between my middle and ring fingers. I relived him of his billfold and jacket, and left him to bleed-out in the alleyway. My first kill, but I don't think anyone would call it anything but self-defence. Certainly wasn't going to be my last.

Now, life on the streets isn't easy, and I had no intention of making a living on my back. Not for any moral reasons or anything, just that you're less likely to be caught up in a dragnet if you have an, at least on paper, honest job. Thankfully, one of the things they did teach us at Sacred Heart was not to shy away from hard work, and I managed to get a job sweeping the floor and running errands at a warehouse down by the docks. The hours were long and the pay lousy, but it gave me a legitimate reason to be around the ships coming and going. Even then, I had no intention of sticking around on a world where half the cops already knew my name and face, but getting legitimate passage on a ship headed anywhere else wasn't easy, or cheap. That left me with just one option: find a ship willing to offer passage, no questions asked.

Just walking around, asking people if they'll give you a ride off world is a easy way to find a very bad time, so I played it smart. Took my time. A hustle here, a hustle there, helping people find buyers for all kinds of contraband heading in or out. Managed to build up some cash and a few good contacts along the way. Also helped me move up in my legitimate job, and by the time I turned eighteen, I even had my IndustrialMech license.

And that opened all kinds of doors.

See, the local Militia had a base adjacent to the spaceport, in case they had to respond in a hurry. A cargo master I'd done a few trades with let slip that he knew of a mercenary unit stationed just over the boarder that was always on the look-out for cheap BattleMechs, cash in hand and no questions asked. All they needed was someone with the brains and balls to sneak into the base, jump into a 'Mech and walk on out like they owned the place. Pilots ran regular sweeps of the spaceport, so nobody would think anything of it until a conveniently timed venting of steam from a certain DropShips heat exchanger provided all the cover needed to stroll up the ramp and into the cargo bay just before they boosted for orbit. Now, I ain't no fool: Grand Theft BattleMech can earn you some serious prison time... or a very short stay, if they decide that it ends with you dancing the hemp-fandango. Still, it'd get me off planet with enough cash in hand to get started somewhere else with fresh, clean identity papers.

Fortunate favours the bold, or so they say, and I was desperate enough to be very bold.

Dipping into my meagre savings, I managed to procure a set of Militia tech coveralls and what I was assured was a Neurohelmet Codebreaker, a piece of tech that could get me shot just for having it on my person. There was no way of testing it before show-time, so I had little choice but to trust that my contact wasn't trying to offload some junk components in a box.

Packing what few possessions I didn't want to leave behind into an old duffle, I boxed the rest of my meagre possessions up and arranged for them to be sent to Sister Lucy, figuring that they may be of some use to someone else down the line. I used my work pass to get into the spaceport, then left it, along with my other ID, in a store room, where I acquired a cleaning trolley. With my short hair hidden under a cap that I pulled down low to hide my face, I started out towards the Militia barracks.

It's often said that, so long as you look and act the part, nobody's likely to question what you're doing somewhere. And just another lowly Astech on their way to clean up somebody else's mess is so ubiquitous around anywhere big and heavy machinery is used that they're practically invisible. One would hope that a sentry on a military base would be at least be smart enough to ask for some form of ID, but I was just waved through without a second glance. Maybe it was because we were a quite little planet with nothing of value even for the people across the boarder to consider worth stealing, or maybe fortunate really was on my side.

Who knows? And, above all, who cares?

There were four 'Mechs in the hanger: two Wasps, a Javelin and a Valkyrie. The Valkyrie was undoubtedly the big prize, but also likely to draw the most attention, where as the Wasps were a fairly common sight around the spaceport. Making sure nobody was in sight, I stashed the cleaning trolley behind a shipping container, and grabbing my duffle, I hurried up the gantry to the cockpit hatch. Now, there is a whole world of difference between piloting a clapped-out, bound for the scrapheap LoaderMech and even the most basic of BattleMechs. Fortunately, all I had to do was walk the damn thing half way across the spaceport and up into the waiting DropShip. I certainly wasn't planning on getting into a battle.

Fortunately, the Wasp was booked into the base computer for diagnostics, so opening the hatch was easy. Dropping my bag behind the command couch, I dropped into the cramped cockpit. Now, unlike most BattleMechs, so-called 'BugMechs' like the Wasp don't have a traditional command couch: they're too small for that. Instead they have something closer to a motorcycle like arrangement, is the best I can describe it, where you basically stand up, with a padded saddle supporting your weight while you strap into a glorified backboard. It's far from comfortable, and I certainly wouldn't want to have to use the jump-jets: it would have been extremely uncomfortable to say the least.

Plugging in the Codebreaker, I let it do its job while I did my best to familiarise myself with the controls. I'd spent a few evenings at a local entertainment centre that had gaming pods, essentially stripped-down simulators of the type MechWarriors train on. They have only a fraction of the capabilities of a proper, military grade units, certainly nothing like the customisation you'd need to get used to a specific design. But, could with my training and experience with the LoaderMechs, I was hoping that I could at least fake it 'till I made it. Unfortunately, one thing I couldn't fake was radioing the control tower to try and pretend I was just another Militia pilot going out on patrol. I had no way of discovering what codewords and call-signs they used, let alone impersonating the voice of the Wasp's assigned pilot, even if I had known who it was.

The Codebreaker bleeped, indicating that it had found a brainwave pattern it thought the Mech's security system would accept. This was a risk, as there was no way of knowing for sure without slipping on the helmet and seeing what happened. If everything worked as advertised, I'd be good to go, but if not...

Powering up the Wasp, I felt a tingling sensation across my entire head, but no sharp pain and flashing warning lights. I started running through as much of the start-up process as I could remember from the basic handbook I'd found at the local library, an ancient book that looked old enough to have been printed during the last Succession War. In was almost done when I saw a flashing light on the communications system, indicating that someone was trying to open a direct link, and it wasn't over a Militia channel. Unsure if it might be my contact on the waiting DropShip, I opened the channel, but remained silent.

"You got guts, kid, I'll give you that." an unfamiliar voice chucked, "Now, if you do everything I say, maybe, just maybe, you'll live though this little adventure."

I kept silent, suddenly feeling very exposed, despite the fact that I was sitting in twenty-tons of death and destruction.

"Look, I've made this channel as secure as I can, but it pays to be cautious, so from here on out, I'll refer to you as... Joker." the voice continued, "You can call me Thief, which should confuse anyone listening in."

I leaned forward as best I could, looking for any sign that I'd been discovered.

"Listen up, Joker, because we ain't got time for me to be repeating myself." the vice hissed, "You need to move your as quickly, and do everything I say. Just because I'm looking out for you doesn't mean that I'm putting my ass on the line."

"Okay, Thief." I replied softly as I finished powering up the Wasp, "How do I get out of the Hanger without setting off every alarm on the planet?"

"Damn it kid, you telling me you haven't thought that far ahead? Calling you Joker was supposed to be, well, a joke, not prophetic!"

"I was planning on playing it by ear."

"I should have ****** known... Okay, listen up. The moment you step out of the hanger, the Control Tower is going to try and contact you. Do you know how to use the arm manipulators?"

"The gloves? Yeah: my old LoaderMech used a similar system."

"Good. Well, soon as the tower tries to raise you, I need you to tilt your Mech's head back to look up at it, then use your left arm to point at your head. That's pretty much the universal sign for a radio being stuck in revive only. They'll probably tell you to head for the maintenance depot on the far side of the main landing field."

I slowly walked the Wasp out into the open, and sure enough, the control tower challenged me the moment I stepped into view. With no better plan, I followed Thief's advice, and very much to my surprise, it worked just as he'd said it would. Cleared by the controller, who sounded like he had the weight of the world on his shoulders, I started to make my way across the expanse of ferro-concrete towards the waiting DropShip, a distance that felt like it could be messed in light-years.

"Slow and steady, Joker, slow and steady." my mysterious benefactor advised, "You've got to at least look like you now what you doing."

"I'd be more inclined to believe you if I knew who you really are." I respond through gritted teeth, the simple act of walking the scout 'Mech without falling over taking most of my concentration, "How do I know you're not leading me into a trap"

"Well, I'm glad you're not completely stupid!" the voice laughed, "If it makes you feel any better, I'm here because Lucy was worried about you. Worried enough, she did the one thing she swore she'd never do, and reached out to me."

"You know Sister Lucy?" I asked, the shock almost making me stumble, before I quickly recovered.

"I knew her back when she was just Lucy, before she got a terminal case of Religion." Thief explained, "Back when we... Well, shit. Back when the two of us worked for your father."

I stopped dead in my tracks: nobody had ever mentioned either of my birth parents as any more than an abstract before. Sister Lucy had certainly given no indication that she knew anything about them.

"I know that that's a lot to just dump on you kid, but you need to keep moving before someone gets suspicious!" the voice goaded me into action once more.

"You know my father?" I asked, my mouth suddenly dry, and not just because of the adrenaline coursing through my body.

"I knew him about as well as anyone could claim to, back then. Not saying he's dead, just... Well, he's not the same man he used to be." Thief sounded strangely thoughtful, "I know this ain't exactly the time for deep, personal revaluations, but I've already broken a dozen or so promises, so if there's anything you want to know, now's the time to ask."

"Why... why was I given..." I swallowed down bile, "Why did they abandon me?"

"Shit kid, if nothing else, trust me when I say that that was an act of kindness! Neither of your parents were exactly the 'settle down and start a family' type. Your mother, who would kill me if she even suspected I was telling this, had her own reasons for handing you off to your father after you were born. Hate to break any dreams you had about being the long lost heir to the Cameron dynasty or anything stupid, but truth is, you're the result of a one-night-stand none of us saw coming and a faulty contraceptive implant."

I could feel a rage I had never experienced before building up inside me at his words.

"Suck it down, kid: you ain't the only one who's here by accident. About half the people in the galaxy weren't planned, by my guessing." Thief spoke softly, "I ain't telling you all this to hurt you, but because I feel that you have a right to know the truth, that's all. No, you weren't planned: your parents were MechWarriors, mercenaries, and that's not a life that encourages long term thinking. So yeah, you were unplanned, unexpected, and I'm sorry to say this, but unwanted too. That's the hand the universe has dealt you, but what you choose to do with it is completely up to you."

"So, what does this make you?" I asked, moving off again, "My fairy godfather?"

"Shit, you are definitely you daddy's kid!" Thief chuckled, "Let's just say that, when your father retired, I took on certain... responsibilities. Responsibilities that keep me busy, or I would have been here sooner. We handed you over to Lucy to look after because, despite everything I just said, you're still family. Now, we're not exactly the dictionary definition of family, but we look out for our own, and that meant keeping you safe, least 'till you were old enough to make your own mistakes. And believe me, if I wasn't watching your back, you' d be dead or in handcuffs by now."

I kept going, trying to process what I'd been told. Yeah, as I little kid, I used to lay in bed, imagining the day when my parents would arrive and take me away to some dream home where we'd live happily ever after. But that's not how life works, not in a universe where there's no shortage of orphans. So, the idea that I was nothing more than the unwanted byproduct of a drunken fumble wasn't exactly unexpected, given just how many kids at Sacred Heart had the same sad back-story. But that didn't mean that having it confirmed wasn't like a punch in the gut, emotionally speaking.

Still, it helped explain just why Sister Lucy always had my back, and oddly, I actually felt closer too her than I had before.

"Okay, Joker, you need to hold it right the hell there!" Thief's voice cut into my self-reflection.

I stopped the Wasp, and looked round to see the imposing bulk of an Overlord to my left. The main cargo hatch had just cracked open, and I could see a Thunderbolt standing at the top of the ramp. Now this wasn't some patchwork Militia hand-me-down like my stolen ride, but rather a pristine, damn-near factory fresh machine, the badge of of a front-line Regiment painted high on its chest. Soon as the ramp hit the ground, it started out, followed by a line of other heavy 'Mechs, all much bigger and more heavily armed than any Wasp.

"****** salute!" Thief snapped in my ear, and I found my right hand coming up, the gloves I wore translating the action to the Wasps own arm.

The Thunderbolt strode past, followed by an entire company of BattleMechs, each more than capable of swatting my Wasp like its namesake. But instead they marched past in perfect formation, the last in line, an immaculate Hunchback, turning and giving me the slightest of nods in return.

"Well, that was close." Thief laughed, the relief in his voice almost palpable, "I was worried there for a moment that I was going to have to get involved directly."

Soon as they were out of sight, and it was clear that no more were leaving the DropShip just yet, I started off again, picking a rout that got me out from under the Overlords guns as quickly as possible. If I wasn't ready to fight another 'Mech, I sure as shit wasn't ready to tangle with that kind of firepower. Fortunately, it wasn't long before I saw the DropShip I was headed for, the cargo hatch open and ready, even as steam rose from the preheating engines.

"I guess this is where I sign-off." Thief spoke for one last time, "I'd say 'don't do anything I wouldn't', but that doesn't exactly mean very much."

"Wait!" I hesitated, "You've got to tell me their names!"

"Knowing their names won't bring you nothing but hurt, kid. Trust me." Thief sounded hesitant, "On your left."

I looked to my left, just in time to see the menacing shape of a Marauder in two-tone green paint, symbols of various House Bills painted all over it, before it stepped back into the shadows of a large building.

"See you star side, Joker." the radio crackled with interference, then went silent.

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


Cannonshop

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Re: Who Goes There?
« Reply #421 on: 29 September 2020, 11:34:32 »
nice, I'd like to see her adventures continued.  :)
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eriktheviking

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Re: Who Goes There?
« Reply #422 on: 29 September 2020, 12:35:48 »
A two tone green with House money Marauder - The Bounty Hunter?

Sir Chaos

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Re: Who Goes There?
« Reply #423 on: 29 September 2020, 12:42:50 »
So "Thief" is the active Bounty Hunter. The narrator´s father is the previous Bounty Hunter. Well, either that, or the Hunchback pilot is "Thief", and the active Bounty Hunter is her father.

And I´m going to go out on a limb and declare that her mother is Natasha Kerensky.
« Last Edit: 29 September 2020, 12:44:55 by Sir Chaos »
"Artillery adds dignity to what would otherwise be a vulgar brawl."
-Frederick the Great

"Ultima Ratio Regis" ("The Last Resort of the King")
- Inscription on cannon barrel, 18th century

JA Baker

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Re: Who Goes There?
« Reply #424 on: 29 September 2020, 12:46:24 »
So "Thief" is the active Bounty Hunter. The narrator´s father is the previous Bounty Hunter. Well, either that, or the Hunchback pilot is "Thief", and the active Bounty Hunter is her father.

And I´m going to go out on a limb and declare that her mother is Natasha Kerensky.
Yes, yes, no and yes
« Last Edit: 29 September 2020, 12:54:24 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


PsihoKekec

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Re: Who Goes There?
« Reply #425 on: 29 September 2020, 12:57:07 »
Now that's one hell of a legacy to live up to.
Shoot first, laugh later.

JA Baker

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Re: Who Goes There?
« Reply #426 on: 29 September 2020, 13:35:35 »
Now that's one hell of a legacy to live up to.
Luckily for her, she's only aware of half of it.
nice, I'd like to see her adventures continued.  :)
I actually like the character I created for her, so if any other stories take place in the right era (just before the Clan invasion), she may well make an appearance.
"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


Artifex

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Re: Who Goes There?
« Reply #427 on: 29 September 2020, 14:43:59 »
Welp, wowzers. Nastya as a mother ... Holymoly.  :o

SulliMike23

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Re: Who Goes There?
« Reply #428 on: 29 September 2020, 17:09:34 »
Well hot damn...after going over who could possibly be this girl's parents, I just didn't put two and two together. But if she knew who here mother REALLY was, I'm sure she would want NOTHING to do with where she came from.

JA Baker

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Who Goes There?
« Reply #429 on: 04 October 2020, 09:22:22 »
No matter where you go, there you are...

The Sound Of Silence

You see them surprisingly often, out in the Deep Periphery, often on worlds where the ability to read, write and do complex maths are considered luxuries. Just look around for the man or woman dressed in a simple charcoal grey tunic and black trousers, often standing behind and to one side of someone of great power and authority, by local standards, at least. That's them: the Silent Order.

They're not all silent, obviously: would be pretty hard to do their jobs if they were. No, Novices, the lowest rank made up of initiates who haven't taken their vows yet, hand any verbal communications needed, and it's not uncommon to see at least one Novice acting as an intermediary for a senior member of the Order.

But, I hear you ask, who exactly are the Silent Order? And what makes them so special?

Well, leaving aside the fact that they don't talk, they seem to be everywhere. Nobody seems to be exactly sure where their base or homeworld is, or even if they have one, but they're certainly spread out across hundreds of light years of the spinward Periphery, just out past JàrnFòlk territory. Settled worlds are far more common than most people even in the close Periphery might think, but, for the most part, they do tend to fall into the stereotypical 'scratching a living off of a barely habitable rock' type. These are the kind of thing places where it's often considered more important to pass on practical, survival based skills over more cerebral endeavours. But, the people living out there are still smart enough to know that someone has to keep the records, know how to fix or maintain, to them, irreplaceable technologies.

And that is where the Silent Order comes in: they can read and write, often in several languages, do more complicated maths. Some members can provide medical services beyond shaking bones and applying leaches (and yeah, I've been to worlds where they actually do that), provide architectural services, perform geological surveys and run machine-shops and garages. All for nothing more than room and board.

Oh, and a complete dependence upon them for these services.

So, that's where they have you by the balls, because suddenly, they're the only ones who can read your law books, can interpret some ancient encyclopedia or almanac, work some piece of machinery that your entire settlement is dependant on. So, I hear you asking, this is how they exercise control over these worlds? Playing the Grand Vizier? The true power behind the throne?

Well, no. Or, at least, not so overtly.

Let me try and explain it from a different angle here. There's a planet, two jumps out from Hofn, called Chattooga, although God only knows why. Odd name aside, Chattooga is actually a pretty decent place to live. The colony was originally founded back during the glory days of the Star League, but the people who founded it were smart. See, pretty much everyone else who was settling worlds out in the Deep Periphery back then took it for granted that the Star League was eternal, that they'd always be able to send for anything they needed and couldn't produce locally. Why ruin your worlds idealistic environment with heavy industry and all that comes with it, when you can just have the finished products delivered by DropShip?

Well, the people behind Chattooga weren't that gullible. I'm not saying that they saw the fall of the Star League and all the shit that followed coming, but they certainly saw the value in being able to support a certain standard of living through purely domestic means. And they didn't just bring flashy new tech with them. No, they brought everything you needed to build the tools that you needed to build the tools that you used to make the machinery that made that new equipment. Everything from a coal powered forge to a microchip factory was shipped out to Chattooga and assembled by a population who saw the value in ensuring that their childrens children's children would be able to keep everything working.

Oh, and weapons. Like, a crazy amount of weapons. Everything from bows and swords up to a battalion of BattleMechs, complete with all the means to maintain, repair or rearm them. Pirates visit Chattooga, but they do so under a Flag of truce, to trade openly to in keeping with the local laws. Chattooga may not be looking to build an empire, but they're experts in what the Davion's like to call 'soft power'. Being the only place for three hundred light-years that can manufacture most things does that for a world. It's not anything like the kind of developed world you'd find in the Inner Sphere, but it's certainly on a par with anything you'd see in the bigger Periphery states.

Even the Silent Order treads softly around Chattooga.

And that's how I had my first real encounter with the Silent Orders. I was with a unit that was contracted by Interstellar Expeditions to escorts some office drone, Eilerson, who needed to go out and finalise an agreement with... look, some of the people IE do business with aren't exactly on the side of the angles, okay? That far out, you need to be willing to get your hands dirty if you want to get anything done. Sometimes that means shaking hands and making nice with scum. And I say that as someone who was rejected by the MRCB, which should give you some idea of the kinds of people you have to rub shoulders with that far out.

Fortunately, we shipped out with the JàrnFòlk, so we didn't have to worry about being killed in our sleep and our bodies dumped out the airlock. I really like the Fòlk; they're people of their word, and if they do try and kill you, it'll be face to face, and you'll be in a position to defend yourself. But, you get on their good side, something I was very careful to do, they'll have your back, come what may. And if they've given you their word that they'll transport you to a destination, they'll do everything in their power to get you there, safe and sound.

Anyway, we reached Chattooga without incident, thankfully, and spent a couple of days keeping Eilerson out of trouble before our contacts in the Silent Order arrived. We went down to the docks to meet their ship, some beefed-up Overlord variant I'd never seen before. Much to my surprise, the ship was completely free of any markings of any kind. Wasn't even painted, but rather bare metal, with just carbon scoring from numerous re-entries. Even more surprising was the fact that they'd somehow gotten permission from the locals to deploy a pair of BattleMechs to stand sentry. And these were ugly looking buggers, I tell you: looked like someone had taken the basic frame of a Hunchback, taken off the head, arms and autocannon housing, and replaced them with the head, arms and back-mounted jump-jets from a older model Phoenix Hawk. And like the DropShip, they were bare, unpainted metal

Didn't look patchwork, but they didn't look like anything that's stepped off any production line I've ever heard of.

Two figures emerged next, an older looking man with close cropped grey hair, and a much younger woman with shoulder length honey y-blood locks that looked to have one hell of a body underneath her tunic. I mentally cursed the fact that the Silent Order are also known for taking vows of chastity, as I would have very much liked the opportunity to get to know her better. It soon became obvious that she was the Novice tasked with acting as the voice of her superior, and, well that's something you really have to see for yourself. In similar situations in the Inner Sphere, you'd expect the man to use some kind of sign language to communicate with her, but they seemed to be able to hold entire conversations, including some very complex concepts, with just a look and some very stubble body language.

It was impressive, in a way.

The Silent Order had agreed to act as an independent intermediary between Interstellar Expeditions and the, shall we say, independent party, they were trying to make a deal with. Apparently they'd stumbled across what looked to be an old SLDF bunker complex, but it had withstood all their attempts to breach it, so they'd reached out to IE to make a deal. Needles to say, our employer was more than interested in finding out what might be inside, but mounting a full expedition so far out required assurances that they wouldn't be walking into a trap, which in turn meant bring in the Silent Order, who even the other party was respectful of.

Fortunately, I didn't have to sit in on all of the negotiations: IE consider Chattooga a relatively 'safe' world, meaning that two guards are deemed acceptable most of the time. Which was nice, as I had a chance to stretch my legs after months in transit and do some exploring of my own.

Okay, so here comes the travelogue part.

Now, a lot of plants go with something unoriginal for the name of their capital: 'Landing', 'Firstdown' or 'Planet Name City', because apparently humanity left our imagination back on Terra. Chattooga instead went with Roanoke, which nestles at the foot of the aptly named Blue Ridge Mountains. Outside of the more built-up business and administrative districts, it's a city of long, wide streets with low buildings and plentiful public spaces. I was able to spend a few pleasant afternoons wandering local shops, sampling a few bars. And yes, later in the evening I completed my tour by hitting up several of the brothels around the spaceport.

Like I said: months in transit, and the JàrnFòlk are somewhat, reserved, about who they share their bunks with.

A man has needs, is what I'm saying.

Anyways, we reach the end of the negotiations: Eilerson and our contacts seem happy, the Silent Order seem... silent, and we head back to the Inner Sphere.

All done with, right?

No. Couple of months later, and I hear from a contact within IE that the expedition was lost without a trace, the people they were working alongside too. The JàrnFòlk agreed to go looking for them, but found nothing but a base camp that looked like the team had just stepped out for lunch, leaving all their equipment and personnel effects behind. IE declared it a total loss and paid out on the life insurance policies.

Ten years go by, and I find myself back on Chattooga for, well, I had my reasons. I was making my way down a side street, and I see a couple of members of the Silent Order across the road. I did a quick double-take, stopping dead in my tracks, because there, showing no sign that they recognised me, were Eilerson and the leader of the pirates he'd been negotiating with. Both dressed as members of the Silent Order, neither one saying a word...

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


mikecj

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Re: Who Goes There?
« Reply #430 on: 04 October 2020, 10:33:28 »
Nice!
There are no fish in my pond.
"First, one brief announcement. I just want to mention, for those who have asked, that absolutely nothing what so ever happened today in sector 83x9x12. I repeat, nothing happened. Please remain calm." Susan Ivanova
"Solve a man's problems with violence, help him for a day. Teach a man to solve his problems with violence, help him for a lifetime." - Belkar Bitterleaf
Romo Lampkin could have gotten Stefan Amaris off with a warning.

paulobrito

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Re: Who Goes There?
« Reply #431 on: 04 October 2020, 11:03:23 »
Another good one.

PsihoKekec

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Re: Who Goes There?
« Reply #432 on: 04 October 2020, 14:42:05 »
I didn't make the connection when reading, but it was pointed out at the SB thread that roided-up Overlord and Hunchback/Phoenix Hawk lovechild tie in into the very first story. And since there the scientific outpost was targeted and here IE expedition was, it seems like the Silent Order is targeting groups with larger number of smarter/educated people for some kind of en masse brainwashing conversion. And they have some kind of deal with the Croatan Chattooga
Shoot first, laugh later.

Sir Chaos

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Re: Who Goes There?
« Reply #433 on: 04 October 2020, 14:53:52 »
I didn't make the connection when reading, but it was pointed out at the SB thread that roided-up Overlord and Hunchback/Phoenix Hawk lovechild tie in into the very first story. And since there the scientific outpost was targeted and here IE expedition was, it seems like the Silent Order is targeting groups with larger number of smarter/educated people for some kind of en masse brainwashing conversion. And they have some kind of deal with the Croatan Chattooga

SB thread?
"Artillery adds dignity to what would otherwise be a vulgar brawl."
-Frederick the Great

"Ultima Ratio Regis" ("The Last Resort of the King")
- Inscription on cannon barrel, 18th century

JA Baker

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Re: Who Goes There?
« Reply #434 on: 04 October 2020, 15:55:56 »
SB thread?
I also post these over at SpaceBattles.com, under the username Starbug
"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


Artifex

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Re: Who Goes There?
« Reply #435 on: 04 October 2020, 16:38:07 »
Welp ... expanding the order by indoctrination is a good means of keeping the creepy up by the millions...  ???

JA Baker

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Who Goes There?
« Reply #436 on: 08 October 2020, 11:16:16 »
This is what happens when I watch old war movies...

Hold Until Relieved

We were on mopping up duty at the tail end of the Jihad, running Blakist stragglers to ground. Terra had been liberated, but there was still a concern that some of the senior commanders might try and sneak away during the confusion, and we'd be right back where we started at some point in the future. They'd already shown just how far they were willing to go, and nobody wanted any remaining cells to get their hands on any weapons caches that might have been missed. Hence why they dug up some old maps and start digging around systems that may have been deliberately kept off the maps that ComStar had been so kind to provide during their long period of ****** over the rest of the Inner Sphere to further their own agenda. LV-4047 was one such world: it had been surveyed back in the early 2200's, shortly before the start of what would become known as the Outer Reaches Rebellion, and had supposedly never been revisited.

We'd visited a dozen such systems and found little more than a few old Pathfinder beacons, but we treated every one like we were jumping into hell itself.

So, you can imagine our surprise when we almost jumped on top of the remains of a derelict ship floating at the nadir jump-point. After making sure that it wasn't pointing weapons at us, and identifying it as the remains of a Potemkin class transport that looked to have suffered a drive failure, we sent a shuttle over to try and recover the flight recorder. They managed to identify it as the SLS Light Brigade, and a check of the records provided by our Snow Raven friends indicated that it had been listed as missing, presumed lost with all hands in 2765, at the hight of the Reunification Wars. That didn't mean shit, as more than a few ships supposedly lost during that conflict had turned up again during the Jihad, so we were hands off cocks and on with socks as we moved in system towards the only habitable planet.

Well, we soon picked up faint, highly encrypted communications from the planet, and signs of a few primitive satellites in orbit, mostly clustered around a ramshackle space station that looked to have been formed around a pair of Confederate class DropShips, linked nose-to-nose by way of their docking collars. Years of experience and the best technology the coalition had access to allowed us to keep out of sight while we scanned the planet from orbit.

To say we were confused by what we saw would be the mother and father of all understatements.

DropShips, around twenty of them, all different types, sat clustered around the shore of a large lake, two of them actually semi-submerged in the water. It was clear, even from orbit, that none of them had flown for a very, very long time, given how several of them had openings in their hulls, with cables and raised walkways connecting them. And not just with each other, but with a number of stone and wood buildings of various sizes. More buildings lay scattered around, connected by a crude network of roads, but it was clear, once night fell, that only those closest to the grounded DropShips had electricity. It didn't take long to work out that the two ships actually in the lake were using the water to synthesise reactant mass, then acting as crude but effective power stations for what could only be called the settlement.

More roads, little more than tracks formed from compacted earth, led off in several directions, leading to a number of farms that seemed to be cultivating local plants and animals, the further out to what looked to be an ongoing logging operation and even a primitive mine. A few of thee even seemed to have their own small-scale power sources, sensors indicating active fusion reactors, which seemed oddly out of place with the far more rustic aesthetic on display.

And everywhere, and I do mean everywhere, there was a Cameron Star. Painted on the side of the DropShips, hanging from flagpoles and even arranged on the ground in massive stone glyphs visible from low orbit. Someone really wanted any new arrivals to know who they claimed allegiance to.

Well, sitting in orbit could only tell us so much, so the order was given for recon teams to be sent down by shuttle, and I found myself assigned to one. We landed a night's march from the main settlement, setting up shop amid a rocky outcrop atop a low hill. It was cold and damp, but at least we were out of the wind for the most part. We were all experienced, veterans of a dozen campaigns before and during the Jihad, so we set to work without orders needing to be given, digging in and setting up a hide under cover of night. I was assigned first watch, so I got to observe the town I guess you'd call it, coming to life.

The general population were dressed in basic clothes, but there seemed to be a variety of styles on display, some almost painful to look at. Everyone seemed to have some kind of job, but moved abut freely, welcoming friends and family alike. There was a distinct lack of motorised transport, with only a few ancient looking but seemingly well maintained ground vehicles in evidence. What little mass transit I could see seemed to be limited to coaches drawn by some kind of domesticated native species that filled the same niche as a Terran horse, all be it larger and with six legs, not four.

What surprised me most was the number of armed troops that seemed to be about, dressed in crude replicas of SLDF field uniforms, but armed with what looked like Mauser 960 rifles, all be it with the integrated grenade launcher removed. From what I could tell, the settlement seemed to have a sizeable Militia or standing security force, but nothing we had seen indicated that there was another, hostile power on the planet, or that there was so aggressive native species that required such extensive precautions to face.

The next night, two of us attempted to get a closer look at the outlying buildings, but we soon encountered crude but effective alarms that kept us at a distance. We did, however, manage to place a number of surveillance probes, before pulling back without being discovered. Listening in on the locals, we soon discovered that they use a very formal version of Star League Standard English. Not full-on Clanner talk, but certainly far more precise than most people used, almost as if they'd learned it from old recordings. This got us thinking that maybe we'd stumbled upon some kind of Cargo Cult world.

Oh, sure, they exist all right: planet gets cut off for a few centuries, tech level drops through the floor and places like Terra become mythical. Then someone fails to make an emergency landing, and suddenly they discover a cornucopia of goods and equipment the likes of which they've only heard about in stories passed down generation to generation. Next thing you know, they're painting crude replicas of any markings they can find on rocks and trees, hoping that the Sky Gods will deliver another bounty. Hell, back at the start of my career, we were hunting for the remains of a pirate band that had made the mistake of targeting an outpost that had been under the protection of a mercenary company led by a woman who only went by the name of Joker, and got wrecked for their troubles. We tracked them down to some long forgotten SLDF base, on some equally long forgotten world, were they had the locals convinced that their one functioning 'Mech, a Panther, was actually a god, with the ability to cast lightning about.

I took great pleasure in seeing said 'god' killed by a Gauss slug through its head.

None of this meant that there weren't any Blakists hiding on the planet: they're tricky bastards, and more than one unit was decimated during the Jihad due to a hidden agent slipping behind the lines and doing untold damage before being put down. Assuming, of course, that they didn't manage to slip away in the confusion. This left us with two options: we could try and infiltrate the settlement by stealth and do some investigating, or we could land such overwhelming force that they had no choice but to surrender.

Decisions went quite literally all of up to Colonel Fraser in orbit, who decided to go with Option 2, and we got to watch the locals reaction to seeing the advance fighter wing passing overhead. Where as some people might have scattered in fear and confusion, the locals reacted with practiced ease, with the majority of people making their way to obviously prepared bunkers, while the rest assembled in orderly lines outside several of the DropShips. They'd march in one door civilians, then come out the other uniformed troops, complete with a scattering of support weapons. Then we were surprised when another DropShip, a battle scared Lion, opened up and a lance of factory fresh looking Beagle scout tanks emerged, followed closely by a line of eight Gabriel reconnaissance vehicles. Then a second Lion opened up and a companies worth of hover APC's emerged, their engines belching smoke, but moving smoothly to the mustering ground where the gathered Militia quickly started boarding. Other troops took up defensive positions around town, setting up their heavier weapons in obviously preselected and prepared positions to provide maximum fields of fire, while also allowing for mutual support. Companies broke down into individual platoons and even fire teams, everyone taking their assigned post with an almost professional calm.

Hell, I've seen line units that weren't nearly as smooth!

Well, didn't take us long to realise that they were performing a textbook example of an SLDF deployment, and this got reported back up the line, so a decision was made to hold off on rolling an entire Battalion of 'Mech's right into the middle of town, and instead they formed upon the next ridge over from ours in parade formation, and sent out a standard ID challenge over an open frequency. We were lucky enough to be within range of the responses.

"This is acting Lieutenant General Constance DeWalt of the 6th Mechanised Infantry Brigade, Star League Defence Force." a commanding voice crackled out over the radio, "Our ancestors were stranded on this planet when their transport suffered a catastrophic miss-jump. They ordered their descendants to hold this planet in the name of House Cameron and the Star League until relived."

"This is Major John Howard, Coalition Forces... I guess we're the closest things to the SLDF you're likely to find." the XO responded moving his Cyclops forward half a step forward, "General DeWalt, I relive you. Welcome back to the galaxy."

The End
« Last Edit: 08 October 2020, 11:45:21 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


PsihoKekec

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Re: Who Goes There?
« Reply #437 on: 08 October 2020, 12:40:58 »
Welcome back to the galaxy, you missed nothing you wouldn't want to miss.

Quote
mercenary company led by a woman who only went by the name of Joker
Talk about nature over (lack of) nurture.
Shoot first, laugh later.

Cannonshop

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Re: Who Goes There?
« Reply #438 on: 08 October 2020, 12:51:00 »
6 MID!!!
The core rules for interacting with me:

1.) I am not a moderator, game developer, member of Cryptic staff, relative of any members of cryptic staff, not close friends with anyone involved with the game, not a distributor of product, not an employee, employer, professional reviewer, or member of any powerful conspiracies.  What I think is my own and has no impact on the Battletech franchise in any way, shape, or form.

2) If you don't like something I've said, refer to rule 1.  If you do, god help you poor soul, you're screwed up.

Starfox5

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Re: Who Goes There?
« Reply #439 on: 08 October 2020, 13:00:01 »
6 MID!!!

I didn't get that reference. What is special about the 6th?

JA Baker

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Re: Who Goes There?
« Reply #440 on: 08 October 2020, 13:06:23 »
I didn't get that reference. What is special about the 6th?
Nothing intentional on my part: I named it after the 6th Airborne Division, which was responsible for capturing, and holding until relived, Pegasus Bridge on D-Day.
"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


Cannonshop

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Re: Who Goes There?
« Reply #441 on: 08 October 2020, 13:14:53 »
I didn't get that reference. What is special about the 6th?

I was baiting the crowd. (like that trick where you point at nothing and go "ooh!" and see what people will imagine you're seeing._)
The core rules for interacting with me:

1.) I am not a moderator, game developer, member of Cryptic staff, relative of any members of cryptic staff, not close friends with anyone involved with the game, not a distributor of product, not an employee, employer, professional reviewer, or member of any powerful conspiracies.  What I think is my own and has no impact on the Battletech franchise in any way, shape, or form.

2) If you don't like something I've said, refer to rule 1.  If you do, god help you poor soul, you're screwed up.

SulliMike23

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Re: Who Goes There?
« Reply #442 on: 08 October 2020, 16:14:26 »
They held until relieved. But at least we now know what happened to Joker.

JA Baker

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Re: Who Goes There?
« Reply #443 on: 08 October 2020, 18:45:41 »
But at least we now know what happened to Joker.
"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


JA Baker

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Who Goes There?
« Reply #444 on: 11 October 2020, 12:56:14 »
Let's see what happens when we mix genres...

Run Silent, Run Deep

For all their many, many failings, I personally think that the worst thing about the Word of Blake was their complete lack of a sense of humour.

Okay, so we were technically poking our noses in somewhere we shouldn't have been, but that's just how The Game is played. They do it to us, we do it to them, and both sides pretend that nothing is happening, while trying their damnedest to stop each other. We're all adults, all know what's awaiting us if we get caught with our hands in the proverbial cookie jar: spies may get exchanged, but spy-ships get blown out of space.

I don't know where they found the Chiroptera, or how they managed to get her working again, as it's not like you can buy parts for a Nightwing from your average chandler. But she was a good ship, with probably the smallest jump-signature of anything this size of a Bug-Eye. Oh sure, she smelled like old socks, the grav-deck had a tendency to rattle something awful and they'd stripped out all the weapons to fit LF batteries, meaning that we had the defensive options of a potato. But, given our job was to not be seen, I guess they figured that declawing us might stop us thinking with our balls not our brains.

Yeah, and I'm the long-lost heir to the Cameron dynasty!

So, we were in this system that didn't have a name, but rather a alphanumeric designation, about fifty light years "below" the plane of the galactic ecliptic. Nowhere near as many main sequence stars there, so far fewer habitable planets. That means that most people, even militaries, kind of forget it's there, because they're Dirtyfeet who can't help but think in two dimensions. But us Rockjacks, we embrace the void, and see it for how it truly is.

Which does make you wonder how the Robes found that system...

Well, it wasn't much of a system: an A-type dwarf with a single "Super Saturn", which is to say a large gas giant with an extensive ring system, and not much else. The Robes had set up shop on a moon that would have been a dwarf planet anywhere else, certainly big enough to have a natural gravity strong enough for Dirtyfeet to feel comfortable. Our mission was to observe from a safe distance, maybe lob a probe or two on ballistic trajectories to see if they could pick anything up. The entire mission was to be run "silent", with everything shut down, even the running lights and emergency transponder. With all the baffles engaged and the reactor barely ticking over, we had the electromagnetic signatures of a wristwatch, which should have been more than enough to keep us safe.

But that would make this a pretty damn boring story now, wouldn't it?

No, unfortunately we had some high-and-mighty from HQ ridding shotgun on the mission, questioning everything the Captain said or did. I couldn't tell if he was a has-been who'd lost his touch, or a never-was who believed everything in the training manual, but he could barely use a microgravity toilet without getting himself sucked out into space. Man was nothing but a waste of reaction mass, but he had mission command authority, so we had to bow and scrape and act like he was gods own gift to space ops. He was hunting for glory, something anyone worth half a hump would tell you is not only pointless in our line of work, but downright suicidal.

Well, we jump in deep within the shadow of the planet, and thankfully the Robes hadn't seen fit to set up a proper picket, so seemingly undetected. Original plan was to poke our nose out round the edge of the planet just enough to get a good look on the passives, then just slip back and jump out. Simple.

But, as the old maxim goes, no plan survives first contact with the enemy, especially when said enemy is a supposed ally.

I had the weapons station, which meant I was responsible for keeping an eye on the threat detector, given our offensive options were reduced to hurling obscenities over the radio. But it did mean that I had a ringside seat for the showdown between the captain and our jerk-off of a mission commander. See, he had all these crazy ideas about getting a closer look, running a ballistic orbit around the gas giant and trying to look like just another rock. And the captain, God bless her, shot down every single one of them, one after the other, pointing out that it put the ship and crew in unnecessary danger on what was supposed to be a sneak-and-peek. And, mission commander or not, she was still the captain, second only to God Almighty himself when under way.

Then he goes an escalated to the nuclear option: either she agreed to his harebrained scheme, or he'd make sure that the entire crew was beached at the bottom of a gravity well.

I think, had he just threatened her, she would have held her ground. But by threatening her crew, mostly Rockjacks like her, some of whom had it on our records that we had such crippling terraphobia that we were permanently excused shore-side duty... she didn't really have much of a choice. The only thing she could do, was minimise the risk of detection, which meant doing something somewhat bizarre and extremely risky. So, she called the XO to the helm and gave the order for everyone to suit-up.

It was time to go diving.

For those who don't know, which I'm going to assume is most of you, ring diving is an old Belter trick from pre-diaspora days, although it may be more appropriate to call it a form of collective insanity. See, you need a planet with a ring system dense enough to hide in, but not so dense that you wreck the ship bouncing into rocks and ice. But, if you know what your doing, you simply vanish into the debris. Having everyone put their suits on had two advantages: first and most obviously, it meant that we were ready in case of a hull breach, but it also meant that we could vent the atmosphere, bringing the ships temperature down to something closer to the ring fragments. On paper, well, the entire thing is still crazy as they come, but Rockjacks don't think like Dirtyfeet, and it was worth the look on the mission commanders face when he realised exactly what the captain had in mind. Of cause, by that point, it was too late for him to back-down without looking like the fool he was, so he had little choice but to suit up and strap in.

I've always found something comforting about being in a space suite, with just the gentle hiss of the air circulation system for company. Unfortunately, when you're not only on-duty, but at what was laughably called Battle Stations on a ship without any weapons, you need to be tied in to not only the general ComNet, but the audio output from your station. Thankfully, everyone was keeping quiet as we watched the XO do his thing, and my screen was clear, so I got to sit back and watch.

Looking at a Nightwing like the Chiroptera, most people assume that the bridge is towards the bow, but that's actually the main recreation room. The bridge is much further back and higher "up", between the communications array and the jump-sail rigging arms. The captain kept the blast screen on the main viewport open long enough for us to see the ice and dust particles start to rise up, attracted to the static charge that had built-up on the ships hull. It is somewhat mesmerising to watch the streams dance around the ship, slowly coating the hull, making us look like just another fragment, at least to the untrained eye.

But, all good things must come to an end: an unshielded viewport is just asking for trouble.

Okay, we were we're technically trying to do a full dive: without even short-range LIDAR, it's tantamount to suicide, but rather getting as close to the "surface" of the ring as possible, so we'd be hidden in the haze. But it still takes a steady hand to keep 100,000-tons of starship level less than a kilometer above chunks of rock and ice that would crush us like an empty beer can if we hit them. That's why the captain had the EX at the helm: he was the only one on the entire crew to ever successfully pull-off a ring dive before, and had liquid helium for blood he was so cool under pressure.

So we coasted along on momentum, XO using the RCS thrusters to make the bare minimum of course corrections needed, when all of a sudden my scope lights up with a possible contact. I dial in every passive sensor we had, including one of the cameras built into the hull, trying to get a fix.

"Con, Weapons: we have a possible contact bearing 031.2, positive 022.7." I reported, doing my best to sound far calmer than I actually felt, "Looks like we caught the edge of someone's search radar."

"Cut thrust!" the captain snapped, "Check the baffles!"

"Baffles clear." the crewman at the engineering station, a kid on his first mission called Dobson, responded, "Our EM signature is within 1% of minimum."

"Okay, everyone, nice and calm." the captain reassured us, "Ain't nobody here but us rocks."

It felt like the eyes of the entire crew were on me as I worked my station, trying to get more information on the unknown. Eventually, the computer was able to put together a composite image, and ran it against our records for a possible match.

"Warbook identifies the contact as a Lola class destroyer, with 67% certainty." I leaned as far forward as I could, turning the contrast up to maximum, "Could be a Lola II, but at this range and angle of deflection, I can't get a good enough look to know for sure."

I don't think anyone on the bridge was breathing as we listened to the warble of the threat detector growing louder and quicker, every external camera that had a line of sight tracking the faint point of light that marked the destroyer as it made its way along its orbit of the gas giant. Even if we'd still had weapons, a destroyer, any destroyer, would have been more than a match for a Nightwing in its prime, and the Chiroptera was starting to show her age back when she was originally mothballed.

I wasn't sure which was louder: the threat detector or my heart-beat.

Eventually, after what felt like an eon, the contact moved off, the pulsing of the threat detector growing less frequent and eventually fading away.

"Game faces, people!" the captain ordered, "If they consider this place important enough to have guard dog out front, then there's probably other defences. I want everyone on the lookout for active and passive sensors, mines and anything else their twisted little minds came up with."

She didn't have to tell us twice, and what little chatter there had been was silenced as we all went back to work.

The trick to ring diving is moving slow enough that you don't leave a wake in the dust that makes up most of the ring. Sure, your in a vacuum, so you don't need to worry about turbulence in the traditional sense of the word, but we were still a 300-meter long lump of metal moving close enough to the ring that we'd attracted a faint halo. Fortunately, we were close enough that it was all but invisible unless you were looking from just the right, or I guess, wrong, angle. Even so, the captain gave the order to cut speed, slowing us down even further.

Speed is relative: what may on paper sound like a ridiculously high number to someone who's spent most of their life at the bottom of a gravity well, in a constant atmosphere, is a snails pace when you're in the outer black. Even with the base speed we'd built up, we were mainly reliant on our slow orbit of the nameless gas giant to bring the moon into range for a closer look. And that meant two days in suits, pissing into a tube rather than a head, drinking enriched fluids that contain everything you need to keep the human body running, but taste like damp ass. And that's to say nothing of the fact that you can't exactly shower in a vacuum suit, so yeah, you become acutely aware of your personal hygiene at a time like that. Rockjacks, we train ourselves to put up with it, even if we don't like it, but Mr High-and-Mighty Mission Commander Sir is the worst Dirtyfoot I have ever shipped-out with, and bitched pretty much the entire time.

And, unfortunately, we couldn't cut him from the link; safety protocols and all.

During this time, we had another three encounters with the tin-can on guard duty, allowing us to plot a rough patrol rout for it. Seemed to be swinging around several of the Inner moons, letting their gravity do the hard work. And that's a Rockjack trick, not something you'd expect to see from a Dirtyfoot, least of all a Robe. Sol may be home to the oldest and best established Rockjack community; the original Beltas, but they've never been the type to sign up with any Dirtyfoot. Not the Alliance, the Hegemony, the Camerons, certainly not the Fat Man, and nobody since. Even by Rockjack standards, Beltas keep to themselves, but whoever was driving that Lola, they thought like one of us, and that was a scary thought.

Every so often, the threat detector would sing out, and we'd do our best impression of a hunk of rock as it glided by.

When I was a kid, I read a book about how people used to navigate underwater with nothing more than a map and a stopwatch. In many ways, they were the ancestors of Rockjacks, spending their lives in pressurised metal tubes, deep under water. And sometimes they'd be doing something similar to what we were, and would likewise find themselves having to hide from patrol ships with orders to shoot first and ask questions later. Major difference was, they had the ability to shoot back, while we didn't.

Day three, and we finally got close enough to start observing the moon that was so important to the Robes. I didn't get the chance to look for myself; that close to a hostile base, my 'verse consisted of the threat detector and little else, but from what I overheard, it looked like they'd covered it in massive antennas and receiving dishes, for what purpose was lost on us. We tried deploying the towed array, but it disturbed the dust too much, so the captain ordered it stowed less it gave us away. The XO managed to get us close to the moons orbital velocity, allowing us to keep it under investigation for longer.

And that's when the waste matter impacted on the atmospheric recycler.

Our esteemed Mission Commander decided that he was going to power up the active sensors, convinced that the EM interference from the gas giant would hide it. Had he thought to ask anyone before using his override codes, we could have told him just how bad an idea that was, but he was still smarting from being taken down a notch by the captain, and felt the need to reassert dominance over the crew. So he set the main array for a ten second burst, then locked the system so that it couldn't be deactivated short of physically pulling the circuit breakers.

I'm not sure who must have been more surprised: us or the Robes, because it must have lit up every alarm in the system like a Chrismukkah tree!

And then there was all the shouting and screaming and the flailing of arms, which is never a good thing in microgravity, followed by the Captain drawing her side-arm and almost shooting the Mission Commander where he sat. And I tell you this for nothing, not one of us would have said a word. Not one single syllable. Damn fool may as well have set the ships self-destruct countdown, as the threat detector all but exploded as we started to get hit by active sweeps from about a dozen different locations, including our friends in the patrolling destroyer.

Oh, have I mentioned that the most offensive option we had was to invite them to eat something cooked in our gally?

Year, we were screwed six ways from Sunday, so the Captain gave the only order she could, and told the XO to take us into the ring. And I hope you remember the part where I said just how suicidally crazy that was without active sensors, because we were effectively running blind into an avalanche! The ship shook and rattled as we struck chunks of rock and ice as big as an aerospace fighter, all of us praying under our breath that, if we hit anything too big or solid, it would at least be quick and painless.

Except for the Mission Commander, because ****** that guy!

Well, it worked, after a fashion: the Robes knew we were out there, but couldn't get a lock on us because of all the debris. Only, we couldn't stay in there for two long without having to power up the main reactor, and you can bet that the had every single neutrino detector in the system pointed in our general direction. The only option we had was to try and open up enough of a gap between us and the Robes that we could make a run for a jump-point. Unfortunately, that was evidently obvious to the other side, and we picked up traces of DropShips heading for the obvious pirate points, meaning that there wasn't going to be an easy way out of this. Obviously, they'd gotten a good enough look at us to realise that we were jump-capable, and weren't looking to be picked-up by someone else.

I guess my grandma was right: the only easy day is yesterday.

We were deep into the ring when we detected the first detonation on passives. See, unlike normal space, a dense ring like the one we were in has just enough material in it to allow for shock wave propagation. Not very strong or long-lasting shock waves, but shock waves none the less. This meant that they were blind firing capital grade autocannons into the rings, the shells set to detonate a certain time after being fired. It's an old trick, almost as old as ring diving itself, intended to either expose the ship you're hunting, or rattling them enough that they try and rabbit. It was a good plan, and in their place, I would have done exactly the same thing. Which only made me wonder just who was running that Destroyer, that they knew all our ticks?

Well, hopefully they didn't know all our tricks, because the Captain gave the order to turn one of ST-46 shuttles into a Cry-Baby. Essentially a massive EM transmitter, the ships primitive autopilot was programmed to perform a series of random course adjustments intended to make tracking its point of origin impossible, then make a high-G burn for a transient jump-point in the shadow of one of the moons, hopefully drawing enough fire and attention for us to make our escape. The shuttle was launched, and we had little choice but to sit and wait, listening in silence to the near constant warbling of the threat detector and the impact of ice and rock upon the hull. To call nerve-wracking would have been an understatement, and I could hear my crew-mates over the open link: some were praying to a variety of gods and goddesses, others sobbing, a few even saying goodbye to their loved ones. We all face death in our own way, and don't question how others do-so. As a life-long atheist, I didn't really have much to do but sit there, intently watching my screen, and hope that I had left the universe a better place for my being.

They say that there are no atheists in a foxhole, but vocabulary aside, I managed to remain one thus-far.

I wasn't hard to pick-up the Cry-Baby on the passives once it went loud... unfortunately, it soon became clear that it wasn't fooling the Robes quite as well as we'd hoped. Oh, sure, they destroyed it after a few minutes, but they probably sent fighters to run it down, while the destroyer kept on blasting holes in the ring like it was going out of fashion. XO did his best to plot a course that avoided the biggest fragments, and avoid making any obvious disturbances, but a 300-meter long, 100,000-ton starship handles like one would expect, especially when you're limited to the docking thrusters.

Suffice to say, the old girl was going to have to spend some time in dock getting all the dents and gashes buffed out if we ever got back to base.

Time seemed to drag on, minutes feeling like hours, hours like days, as we sat there, barely breathing, never knowing if the next shot might be the Golden BB. Even a glancing blow could cause catastrophic damage, possibly even cripple the ship and leave us drifting. As I said before, the rules are different for spy-ships, which is why our scuttling charge was in the megaton range, and supposedly guaranteed to turn the Chiroptera and everyone on board into a rapidly expanding cloud of radioactive particles in less than the blink of an eye. And yes, we technically could have loaded it onto a shuttle and sent it hurtling towards the destroyer hunting us, but leaving aside how that would have been a massive escalation in what was still a cold war, shuttles make for crap missiles, especially against something that can shoot back. Far better keep it with us and go out in a flash than be taken alive by the Robes, after all.

Well, it came time to start thinking about using it when we detected a number of detonations directly ahead: the Robes had apparently gotten bored, and decided to blow a hole clean through the ring. With so much forward momentum, we had no chance of stopping in time, and everyone held their breath as we emerged from the ring into open space, almost directly below the destroyer... only it was very suddenly preoccupied by the...

You see and hear things in space, okay? That old quote about there being stranger things than science can explain? Yeah, that's true. You sit around a spacers bar, and you eventually hear tall tales of ghost ships, inexplicably abandoned colonies, mysterious phenomenon and alien beasts as yet unknown. And like any right minded person, you think they're bullshit, until that day you run into something that you can't explain logically.

It was big: part we could see was easily a kilometer long, and at least a hundred metres across. It's skin, if you can call it that, looked like it was made up of some kind of crystalline material that looked to all the world like the same rock and ice chunks we'd been dodging for almost four days by that point. I couldn't make out any eyes, but it certainly had a mouth, with massive teeth that were crushing the hull of the stricken Lola like an empty beer can.

Then we saw them, smaller, but only in comparison, one with what looked like a fresh scar along its back.

We didn't stick around to find out what was happening, or who would win, but it certainly looked like the Destroyer's back was broken as we burned hell-bent for leather for the nearest pirate point. Even the Robes seemed to forget about us, the DropShips they had deployed to hunt us moving to try and help their stricken command ship.

And we made it, by the skin of our teeth trough a thirty second jump-point only ten meters wider than the ship was long. We reported back everything we'd seen, the entire crew lodging complaints against our illustrious Mission Commander. But I think command was more interested in the footage taken by our hull cameras.

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


paulobrito

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Re: Who Goes There?
« Reply #445 on: 11 October 2020, 13:44:39 »
The Robes wounded one of the babies? No surprise the mother turns furious. Nice space monster, btw.

PsihoKekec

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Re: Who Goes There?
« Reply #446 on: 11 October 2020, 16:30:02 »
I guess the local Blakists didn't know their backyard all that well.
Shoot first, laugh later.

JA Baker

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Re: Who Goes There?
« Reply #447 on: 12 October 2020, 06:20:27 »
I guess the local Blakists didn't know their backyard all that well.
Or, maybe they did, and set up a base in the system in the hope of studying and eventually weaponising them...


Or not. As ever, I leave the fine details up to the reader.
"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


JA Baker

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Who Goes There?
« Reply #448 on: 12 October 2020, 13:45:11 »
Let's see what happens when Cannonshop and I put our heads together
(aside from a sound like a bunch of a coconuts)


The Far Shore

How far out do you think the Periphery goes?

The Joradian Cluster, one of the most far-flung astronomical features to be depicted on maps, is almost 1,900 light years from Terra. Beyond that, Perdition's Flames are generally agreed to be the most distant object anyone has ever visited and come back, in body if not mind.

So, less than two 2,000 light-years, which isn't all that bad, considering the 30 light-year safe limit on a KF jump. The further out you go, the more scattered and isolated the colonise and outpost become, the less frequent, and less reliable the JumpShips are. If you keep going, you eventually reach a point where you're alone amid the outer darkness, with nothing to keep you company but the light of distant suns.

It's quite out there, beyond the reach of radios and even HPG's, the kind of quiet that the Inner Sphere hasn't known for centuries. Gives you time to think, reflect upon some of your life choices, all be it mostly the ones that led you to be so far out.

But, if you can hold your nerve and steel your heart, and keep going, something truly remarkable starts to happen.

You find more worlds, more colonies. Sure, one or two are the result of freak hyperspace accidents, like Idrium supposedly sits at the far end of, but then you start to hear things things that don't tally with our understanding of history.

Because, if you go far enough in the right direction, you start to discover that we're not only not the only nations out here, not just little two-to-twelve world 'baby empires'. Big empires.

Federated Suns big, Free Worlds League big.

And they never heard of Terra, or Sol, or the Star League.

Well, not until the first contacts were made they hadn't.

The first thing you have to do, if you go this way, is forget everything you ever assumed about...well...everything. Starting with 'The local language is not in your library'.

Because it genuinely isn't. Some of the languages might sound like they're derived from languages you know, but forget that right now, because that's just a result of how the human upper palate is shaped and the ranges of both your hearing, and the average human voice-box.

Fun fact: There are some things that just seem to evolve the same way, when you have human societies with technology. The dominant language is called... something I've never been able to pronounce, and it's like English in that it's a context based language with loan words from everywhere they've had contact.

Like English, it's a bitch to learn, and they'll learn your language, before you learn theirs. But that only gets you so far: without a common frame of reference, you're reduced to talking like a pair of toddlers.

Just think for a moment about just how much of day-to-day conversation is reliant on a shared context? You describe a building as Marik Revival, a piece of music as Stiener Neoclassical, or a painting as Kurita Conceptual. You may describe someone as 'Honourable as a Davion' or 'Sneaky as a Liao', but how do you explain that to someone with no frame of reference?

Thinks maths would be any easier? After all, 1+1=2, no matter where you're from, but how do you communicate units of measurement? What's a Day? Is it how long it takes Terra to rotate? Your homeworld? Theirs? Same goes for distance and weight.

Okay, okay, okay, I'm getting bogged down in details, when you want the proverbial "Big Picture": are they human?

Yes, but that's not as simple as it sounds.

See, there's evidence, in our mitochondrial DNA and theirs, that our ancestors crossed paths at some point ten thousand or so years, but not that they originated in the same place. This is only helped by the fact that they apparently have fossil evidence to back-up evolving... Well, elsewhere. Their name for it doesn't translate too clearly into any of our languages.

So, yeah, that's all kinds of out of my wheelhouse. I'm a Pathfinder, not a... a... Shit, I don't even know the word for what I ain't, but I ain't it!

So, we have two seemingly independent branches of homo sapiens, apparently evolving on worlds thousands of light years apart, and the last time our ancestors met, we were, according to the official history of the human race, still using stone tools. Again, I have no damn idea how that works, I just know that apparently our ancient ancestors went from painting on cave walls, to interstellar flight, then back to throwing rocks at each other, leaving no evidence behind.

There are theories; there always are, ranging from the absurd to the theoretically possible.

One of the most absurd, but popular among those "in the know", is the old classic: aliens. Now, I don't hold to this personally, as in the over one million square light years of explored space, we've never stumbled upon anything more advanced than a primitives using stone tools themselves. Certainly no trace of some advanced race capable of taking our ancestors across the stars to make the beast with two backs with our distant relatives, only to send them back home again.

Next we have another old classic conspiracy theory, Atlantis! Or whatever random legend of an ancient and advanced civilisation that predates recorded history, only to be lost without a trace. And in all honesty, I think this one is even less likely than the aliens: any society even close to developing spaceflight, let alone FTL travel, would have left an unavailable mark on Terra that would have been fund by now, even if it was just traces of refined metals and advanced alloys. But then there are legends of museums keeping hidden collections of artifacts that they can't explain, like microchips embedded in a lump of coal.

And if you believe that, then I have a bridge I'm looking to sell.

No, in my mind, the most likely theory that I've seen put forward actually has something approaching evidence to back it up: someone went to make a hyperspace jump, and rolled the worst case of snake-eyes in history, propelling them not only across thousands of light-years, something that has been proven to be possible, but also back in time. This at least has some credence to it, if you believe the stories, and given just how little we truly know about just how hyperspace works.

Technology wise, they're easily on a par with us, broadly speaking: less advanced in materials science and engineering, but so far beyond us in life science's that it isn't even close. Look at me; how old would you say I am? 50? 60? Maybe 70 standard years, with good genes and a healthy lifestyle? Well, thanks to a little time in one of their hospitals, I'm more than twice that. Life expectancy for them is around three hundred. They've even found cures for the so-called 'incurables', or at least, the closest equivalents to them. It's complicated.

Now, here's the rub: can they interbreed? according to the high school biology, separated populations result in speciation over time. Different characteristics, which should make these people a different sub-species of humans...

Only...

They aren't. All the plumbing works and they don't have any extra organs, or anything. They interbreed with 'our' humans just fine. How would I know that?

You asked me once where your mother went. Well, with the Star League coming apart at the seams, I think it's time you met the rest of the family...

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


eriktheviking

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Re: Who Goes There?
« Reply #449 on: 12 October 2020, 14:35:51 »
That tickled my funny bone.

 :thumbsup: