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BattleTech Player Boards => Fan Fiction => Topic started by: JA Baker on 23 August 2017, 05:56:19

Title: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker 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.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: Sharpnel on 23 August 2017, 06:51:13
Please tell me that you are going to solve this mystery and not leave us all hanging.
Title: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker 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.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: Sharpnel on 23 August 2017, 07:06:37
"For teasing me like this, I damn you, sir. Damn you."
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: Dragon Cat on 23 August 2017, 07:24:47
Cool story I liked it, started so simple...
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: marauder648 on 23 August 2017, 07:43:21
Very interesting, and sinister!
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: snakespinner on 23 August 2017, 19:52:00
Trust you to send poor innocent mercs to the arsecrack of nowhere. >:D
Nice little story. O0
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: Kidd 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!
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: Siden Pryde on 24 August 2017, 00:15:14
Great little fic.   O0
Title: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker 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​
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: worktroll on 08 February 2018, 04:08:33
They're not stories exactly to [like[/i], but I did enjoy reading them. Well done!

W.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: Kidd 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
Title: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker 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?
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: DOC_Agren on 13 February 2018, 19:22:45
so shipment something to hell on Odessa III...
interesting

and yes a "haunted shipwreck"
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: snakespinner on 13 February 2018, 23:20:15
Haunted shipwrecks are always fun. ;)
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: Siden Pryde 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.
Title: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker 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
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: pensiveswetness on 21 February 2018, 22:57:44
Moar, please?
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: Tegyrius on 21 February 2018, 23:00:47
Strength and muscle and jungle work.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: snakespinner on 22 February 2018, 01:13:41
A headless Hunchie, nice. O0
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: mikecj on 22 February 2018, 02:24:45
Send lawyers, guns, & money!
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: DOC_Agren on 22 February 2018, 17:46:39
I love it, most time people try to use a song they ruin it... 
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mx2UpGG4JEU (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mx2UpGG4JEU)
MORE PLEASE
Title: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker 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
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: AlphaMirage on 12 March 2018, 21:24:38
Wow, that was terrifying I may have nightmares
Title: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker on 12 March 2018, 21:32:17
Wow, that was terrifying I may have nightmares
Then my work here is done   >:D
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: pensiveswetness on 12 March 2018, 21:34:01
You should have posted this in October, mate. Very Good read...  :)
Title: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker 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.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: DOC_Agren on 12 March 2018, 22:34:34
Well done
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: snakespinner on 13 March 2018, 01:09:21
Nicely done. O0
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: Kidd on 13 March 2018, 01:35:22
Excellent!

I think I know who the captain is... am I right? :D
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: marauder648 on 13 March 2018, 03:23:04
Wow! That story gave me shivers!

Why can I also imagine the 'Captain' speaking like Kubo's Aunties and sounding like them too.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fy2hkVnXYcg
Title: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker on 13 March 2018, 06:05:31
I think I know who the captain is... am I right? :D
If you're thinking Honor Harrington, then yes, she was the basis for the captain's description.

Why can I also imagine the 'Captain' speaking like Kubo's Aunties and sounding like them too.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fy2hkVnXYcg
That's actually rather close to what I had in mind when I wrote the dialogue.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: Kidd on 13 March 2018, 09:22:53
If you're thinking Honor Harrington, then yes, she was the basis for the captain's description.
Haha yes!

Great job sir. Looking forward to more.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: marauder648 on 13 March 2018, 09:53:21
Now I'm wondering if the Time Machine esque 'calling dropships' that hypnotized the people are actually part of the Charlotte Cameron's story. 
Title: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker on 13 March 2018, 10:09:08
Now I'm wondering if the Time Machine esque 'calling dropships' that hypnotized the people are actually part of the Charlotte Cameron's story.
That certainly wasn't my intention, but if it works for you...
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: Taron Storm on 14 March 2018, 15:34:02
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.
Also has some elements of 'Virus' with Jamie Lee curtis. Well done.
Title: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker on 14 March 2018, 15:57:34
Also has some elements of 'Virus' with Jamie Lee curtis. Well done.
I don't think I've seen that one.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: Siden Pryde on 14 March 2018, 20:46:54
Nice.  Ship-lady is all sorts of creepy and scary.  O0
Title: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker on 14 March 2018, 20:54:28
Nice.  Ship-lady is all sorts of creepy and scary.  O0
Part of me thinks that I should have gone further with her and the rest of the 'crew'; really cranked it up to eleven. But unfortunately I've never been a big fan of horror of the non-phycological kind, prefering movies like Shutter Island and Perfect Blue over Saw or Night Of The Living Dead. I guess that's why the first story was more of a mystery then anything else.

I have no idea where to go next with these.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: marauder648 on 15 March 2018, 10:00:19
Perhaps an extension of the madly advanced testbeds a 'ghost' Mech, a prototype Exterminator esque Mech with VDNI that somehow kept going after the death of its pilot. Well Ghost, or Predator :P
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: Kidd on 15 March 2018, 11:13:43
I have no idea where to go next with these.
Just carry on. Copypasta/horror tropes with a Battletech twist.
Title: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker on 28 April 2019, 17:28:45
Lucky No.7

MechWarriors are, by nature, fairly superstitious.

Many have their own little routines that they go through during start up. Or they have a lucky charm that they always hand from the corner of their main viewscreen. Or they've had the same cooling vest since basic training that they refuse to get rid of because it brings them luck. But they can be equally superstitious when it comes to things they consider bad-luck, such as a particular type of BattleMech, or having an odd number of rounds loaded into their autocannon.

Or a 'Mech that's killed almost a dozen pilots.

Enter the THG-10E Thug Assault Mech with the call-sigh Shamrock-7, due to the only identification markings it had being a four-leaf clover and the number seven. Or as she's better known among the Draconis March Militia, Unlucky No.7. No one seemed quite sure exactly how Shamrock-7 had ended up on Raman, the most widely accepted theory being she it had been left behind by the Snakes when they pulled out in 2818, probably in the hope of killing a few extra Davion pilots.

Oh, yeah; Shamrock-7 is a killer.

Far back as records go, every pilot assigned to Shamrock-7 has died, and in pretty much every conceivable way; faulty environmental controls suffocating the pilot before the Techs could break open the cockpit after the release catches stuck, electrocuted by by malfunctioning neurohelmet that passed every safety test before and after the accident, poisoning by coolant vapours seeping into the cockpit, and my personal favourite; ejector-seat rockets firing with cockpit escape hatch securely closed.

They needed to hose the cockpit out after that one.

Long story short, by the time 3039 rolled around, no one wanted to go anywhere near Shamrock-7, let alone pilot her. They wouldn't even scrap her for parts, because when they tried, pilots refused to go near their 'Mech's out of fear that the curse had been carried over. So she was placed in storage in an otherwise unused bunker at the back of an isolate fire-base out in the sticks where nobody senior enough to kick up a fuss had to worry about her. But she was still officially listed on our TO&E, so some poor sod had to run basic maintenance on her, and that job fell to me; Assistant-Technician 3rd class and professional screw-up, Cassidy Sinéad Murphy. I think that the Quartermaster found it funny, giving a woman with the most Irish sounding name in history, yet looked like she'd stepped right out of a DCMS recruitment poster, the job of looking after an old Drac 'Mech with a name like Shamrock-7.

So I was tasked with keeping her in perfect running condition, which is kind of hard to do when you're so far down the pecking order when it comes to parts and equipment that it's often easier to 'borrow' what you need than it is to wait for your requisitions to go through. And as no one in their right mind want to be in the same building as Shamrock-7, I had to do pretty much everything myself, so I spent more than the usual amount of time around the harbinger of death. And in situations like that, well, boredom sets in after a few hours tinkering with a fire-control system you know is never going to be used, and like a lot of Tech's, especially AsTech's, I started out wanting to be a MechWarrior, until I flunked out of training for punching a superior ******.

Not my fault he had a very punchable face and the personality to match.

So yeah, I started running a few extra tests, making sure that, should hell actually freeze over, Shamrock-7 was ready to rock-and-roll. I took a strange kind of pride in getting her combat ready, even if I knew for a fact that nobody was readying to paperwork I submitted. I also started spending some of my off-duty time around the simulators, grabbing as much time as I could. The system was old, prone to flake out on you and the command couch smelt of old feet, but after a year, I managed to get myself simulator-rated on a Thug.

I know, I know; there's a whole world of difference between a simulator and the real thing, but it wasn't like they were going to let me pilot an actual BattleMech, especially given that Shamrock-7 was the only Thug on the entire planet. But I was able to get my file updated to include the fact that I was technically rated to at least move Shamrock-7 around the fire-base if asked. Not that I ever actually expected to do anything like that. Hell, the only time I'd ever brought her up to full power was by remote while I hid outside with the big, thick blast door closed.

But, you know, the universe had other ideas.

You're unlikely to find Raman in any books about the War of '39; we were never officially invaded, more of a raid in force to keep our Militia from redeploying elsewhere. But even a combined arms battalion of second-rate DCMS troops were more than enough to rip our main force a new one when they managed to catch them with their pants down. Caught us all with our pants down, truth be told. Even our quiet little half-forgotten fire-base got strafed by a couple of aerospace fighters that took out the radio hut and the CO before anyone realised what was going on. Two more runs took out what minimal fixed defences we had and the main generator, leaving us with nothing but what we could squeeze out of the backup and the local civilian grid. The XO managed to get his head on straight and organise what was left of our forces into a defensive line anchored on his battered old Rifleman, managing to scare off the fighters by filling the air with bulk of his autocannon ammo.

Then word came down over the general channel that we'd kicked the hornets nest, and a full lance of BattleMechs with armour support had been seen headed our way. It's kind of amazing just how quickly news like that focuses the mind. We'd all grown up on stories, handed down generation to generation, about what life had been like under Combine rule, and none of us were keen to experience it for themselves. Especially not a pretty young AsTech who'd probably remind them a little too much of the girl they left behind. No, I was fully in the 'save the last bullet for yourself' camp, but I also knew something that the Snakes didn't; that Shamrock-7 was ready to go, presuming someone had the guts to climb into the cockpit.

Well, better to go down swinging, right?

There's an old adage among Tech's that, in confusion, there is profit, and there's plenty of confusion in a fire-base that's expecting to be attacked by a superior force in the near future. As such nobody paid much attention to another helping hand collecting a couple of crates of SRM's from the ammo dump and vanish into the gathering dark. I held my breath while starting up the ammo loader, each click and bump taking at least a year off of my life. And all the while I was waiting to hear the sound of weapons fire from outside. Yes, the bunker had nice, thick walls. And yes, it was pretty obvious from the outside that it was the equivalent of a junk drawer, even with the 'abandon all hope, all ye who enter here' graffiti on the doors. But that was no guarantee that the raiders weren't going to huff and puff and blow my house down.

I'd finally finished loading the SRM's and topping up the coolant when the alarms started to sound, followed by the muffled whoosh of LRM fire. What was more worrying was the screech of the return fire, which sounded a lot louder and seem to be directed right at me. I know it wasn't, but that's how it felt at the time. The entire bunker shook, dust and I don't want to think what else raining down from the ceiling as I stripped off my coveralls and squeezed into the old, often repaired cooling vest I'd managed to snag and grabbed the neurohelmet that hadn't been used in decades. Climbing the ladder to the cockpit, I could help but feel the entire building shake as I herd the crump-crump-crump of exploding munitions just outside the door. The Thug lurched suddenly, straining against the maintenance restraints, and I felt sure that Shamrock-7 was about to claim another victim. But it rocked back, the violence of the movement almost sending me crashing to the ground.

Cursing under my breath, I scurried up the last few meters of the ladder until I reached the cockpit and hit the quick release. It opened with a hiss, indicating that the over-pressure system was operating, and I quickly clambered inside. Just in time, as it happened, as something exploded outside with enough force to shake the very foundations of the bunker, and the hatch snapped shut right behind me; half a second slower, and I would have lost a foot to Unlucky No.7. Falling head-first into the command couch, I cursed like a spacer on ground-side as I re-arranged myself and then started to connect my cooling vest and neurohelmet. Sure, I'd spent time in a simulator, and the basics are the same, but nothing quite replicates the feel of an actual BattleMech coming to life below you; it's something you feel through the seat of your pants, a deep rumble, throbbing that envelops you.

SYSTEMS ONLINE.” the 'Mech's synthesised electronic voice echoed through the cockpit, “COMMAND CODE AUTHENTICATION REQUIRED.

“Authorization code 'shut up and do what I tell you!'.” I snapped back, glad for once that they'd let me pick my own command authorization code.

COMMAND CODE ACCEPTED.” The computer responded, the various screens and instrument panels flicking to life around me, “ALL SYSTEMS NOW AT YOUR DISPOSAL.

I snapped the eight point safety hardness into place and took a firm grip on the twin controls sticks, the Thug jerking upright as my own sense of balance, transmitted by the thousands of sensors built into the neurohelmet and the numerous pads attached to my body took over. A lot of people have this crazy idea that a MechWarrior becomes one with their machine, but I've always found it to be  more like wearing a really big coat...that just happens to be covered in armour and weapons.

The flip of a switch disconnected all the umbilical that connected Shamrock-7 to the maintenance bay, and a second started the ancient, worn bunker doors opening. They shuddered, the screech of metal scraping against metal reaching me in the cockpit even over the sounds of battle outside. They ground to a halt less than a quarter of the way open, the ancient electric motor dying with a cloud of smoke and a shower of sparks. I unleashed a string of curses that would have one my ancestors proud; there was no way that something as big and bulky as a Thug was getting through that doorway, and that meant that I'd have to get...creative.

A quick look at the range-finder told me that the doors were inside the minimum range of the twin PPC's, and I didn't feel like disabling the safeties if I could possible avoid it. SRM's have no minimum range, but I wasn't about to risk setting off an explosion in a confined space that could be housing who knows what, which left the 'Mech's two massive 'hands' as my only real option. Taking a tentative step forward, I felt Shamrock-7 move under me, and let me tell you, that's another thing that the simulators never get right. Eighty tons of metal and myomer lurched forwards like a drunk as I struggled to regain control. The 'Mech fell forward, its left shoulder hitting the door with a crash that must have been heard half way around the world. The door itself held for about half a second, then there was an ear piercing screech as the ancient bolts started to give way, threatening to send Shamrock-7, and yours truly, sprawling onto the parade ground outside.

I think Chapter One of the MechWarriors handbook starts “never find your face-first on an active battleground.”

Gripping the controls for all they were worth, I managed to steady the Thug, getting its feet back under me even as the door gave way and crashed to the ground. Days later, the clean-up crews would find I took out a squad of Snake infantry, but I apparently can't claim them on my kill-card, as it was classed as an 'Act of God' as opposed to an intentional act on my part. It had the unfortunate side effect of announcing my presence on the field of battle, drawing the attention of a pair of Panthers that had been playing whack-a-mole with our own infantry, and they responded by firing blind into the bunker. Still slightly unsteady on my feet, I almost landed on my arse as two PPC bolts and half a dozen SRM's hit Shamrock-7's chest just below the low-slung cockpit. Armour flaked off in dinner plate sized pieces, and the heat levels in the cockpit spiked, but none of the alarms sounded, indicating that the Thug had taken the hit without suffering any lasting, and more importantly, critical, damage.

The outline of one of the Panthers appeared in my HUD, and I instinctively dropped the cross-hairs over it. The targeting radical pulsed yellow for a moment, then turned green, indicating a good lock even as the far lighter Mech started to back up. I don't remember pulling the triggers, but Shamrock-7 spat forth man-made lightning from its arms, the glare nothing short of blinding in the confines of the old bunker. One missed wide, but the second connected with the Panther's left arm, neatly severing it at the elbow, the sudden loss of the lower limb making the smaller Mech stagger, dropping it right back into my cross-hairs.

The tone of a missile lock sang in my ear, and eight SRM's leapt forth from my Mech's shoulders without my fingers moving a milometer.

Explosions peppered the Panther from waist to head, obviously catching the pilot by surprise as the scout fell backwards, crashing into the next bunker down. The wall cracked but held, the second Panther moving to cover their lance-mate as it struggled to right itself, huge rents in their armour testament to the damage Shamrock-7 had done. The capacitor lights flashed green, indicating that both of my PPC's had re-charged, and I quickly shifted the targeting radical to the new target. And again the weapons fired without any input from my part even as Shamrock-7 started to lurch forward again, stepping out of the bunker into the chaos outside.

The second Panther was far less fortunate than the first; both PPC bolts converged on its head, which simply ceased to exist as the twin lances of man-made lightning washed over it like the wrath of the Good Lord Himself. The Snake 'Mech stood stock still for a moment, smoke and sparks emanating from the glowing stump that had been its neck, then it fell like a puppet with the strings cut, landing in a undignified heap on the ground. Seeing their friend killed before them, the first Panther raised their right arm, bringing their own PPC in line with my cockpit.

I froze. I'm not shamed to admit that; I froze up like the half-trained idiot that I was, just waiting for the world to turn white before I found myself before St Peter and the Pearly Gates.

Shamrock-7, however, didn't freeze.

Stepping forward, the Thug swung its huge left arm round, knocking the Panther's arm out of the way even as it fire, the PPC discharging harmlessly into the night sky. Then the Thug's right arm came round, the battle fist clenched as it smashed into the far lighter machines head one, twice, three times. Mettle smashed into metal, the hideous sound of armour and structural members giving way until the cockpit gave way and the Thug's hand came back.

To this day, I choose to believe that the red stains I saw covering Shamrock-7's fist were hydraulic fluid.

It's safe to say that the Drac's weren't expecting the face an Assault 'Mech at out little fire base, and my sudden appearance on the battlefield, along with the speed and savagery with which Shamrock-7 had eliminated half of their BattleMech support had their armour and infantry in disarray.

TARGETS ELIMINATED, CASSIDY MURPHY.” the voice of Shamrock-7's computer announced with what could only be described as a smug tone, “PLEASE DESIGNATE NEXT TARGET.

I froze again, but this time for a far different reason.

Anyone who's spent much time around advanced equipment, especially anything dating back to the Star League, knows how people just love to add voice synthesizers to everything. Often it's little more than an advanced operating system programmed to react to pre-set voice commands, much like the voice-print authentication used for BattleMech security. But this...this felt like something far more advanced.

I AWAIT ORDERS, CASSIDY MURPHY.Shamrock-7 sounded almost impatient.

“The Dracs!” I found myself shouting, “Target any DCMS units!”

ORDERS RECEIVED AND UNDERSTOOD.” I flinched as the computer all but chuckled, “ENGAGING THE...DRACS.

I don't care what anyone says; I had little to nothing to do with what followed. Shamrock-7 stalked the Fire Base, unleashing death and destruction upon the raiders, whicle I could do little but watch from the confines of the cockpit. I've been told that the Thug moved like a veteran MechWarrior was at the controls, but after a while my hands fell from the joysticks, the 'Mech more than happy to fght on its own. I tried to remember everything I could about the 'Mech's computer and the pilot interface system; nothing had seemed at all out of the ordinary, with even the operating system being SLDF issue.

Then it hit me; the Thug was a Terran Hegemony design, and they'd put a lot of time and money into AI research, the M-5 'Caspar' drone WarShips being perhaps the most infamous example. But there had always been stories about plans to build entire armies of drone BattleMech's that could fight without human intervention. And given how nobody seemed to know just where Shamrock-7 had come from... I didn't want to finish that thought.

I was brought rudely back to reality as a flight of LRM's slammed into Shamrock-7's left arm, shattering armour plates that were then pulverised by a burst of autocannon fire. The Thug stopped and turned to face it's attacker; a Dragon heavy BattleMech and most likely the Snake commander. I felt my ride crouch low even as the weapons locked on, and I braced myself for what was to follow.

A wave of heat struck my with near physical force as Shamrock-7 unleashed a full Alpha-Strike against the Dragon, filling the air with smoke and lightning. Everything hit the Dragon; the PPC's gouging huge rents in its centre and left torso while the SRM's peppered it's right arm and left leg. The lighter 'Mech staggered under the onslaught, but its pilot maintained control, keeping it on its feet and unleashing another blast of autocannon fire that stitched a series of impact craters from my left hip to right shoulder, only narrowly missing the cockpit. This was followed by an emerald lance from its left arm mounted medium laser that did little more than scorch the paint on Shamrock-7's left forearm.

AT LAST, A TRUE WARRIOR.” the Mech's computer hissed excitedly, “I WILL ENJOY THIS.

Stepping to the right, Shamrock-7 unleashed another flight of SRM's, the PPC's still charging, forcing the Dragon to pause to take the hit before turning to track with its most powerful weapons. A second volley of LRM's missed wide, but the Combine pilot walked their autocannon fire into my left hip, stripping away most of the protection there. Shamrock-7 replied with a one-two barrage from its PPC's, stripping away the armour protecting the other 'Mech's left shoulder and eating into the internals. Myomer strands melted and snapped, the arm hanging lip at the Dragon's side as its artificial muscles were severed, only the internal structure keeping it attached. Shamrock-7 kept moving to the right, forcing the Dragon to keep turning in order to bring its remaining weapons to bear on the larger 'Mech.

I hadn't had time to fully load the missile bins, and Shamrock-7 fired the last of them into the Dragon, finally ripping its battered left arm free, followed by yet another one-two punch from the PPC's. The cockpit was an inferno by that point, but I could just about make out the first glow from within the chest of the Dragon that indicated that the remaining LRM ammo had started to cook-off. They exploded like the devils own firecrackers, flames billowing out of the open missile ports and through rents blasted in the armour. The heavy 'Mech almost seemed to dance as the fire reached the ammo bin for the autocannon and it likewise detonated, sending the right arm spiralling off into the night. At least one of the explosions must have damaged the shielding for the reactor, as the Dragon suddenly went into emergency shut-down, the pilot hitting the chicken-switch and blasting off into the night sky, riding a pillar of smoke and flame that served as his rides funeral pyre.

YESSSS!Shamrock-7 growled, “VICTORY IS MINE!” the Mech seemed to shudder, and I suddenly found the controls responding again, “I THANK YOU, CASSIDY MURPHY: I ENJOYED THIS.

“You're...you're welcome?” I stuttered, relived to once again be the master of my own destiny even as I listened to the shouts of triumph announcing the retreat of the remaining Combine forces from the Fire Base. I quickly started the shut-down sequence, locking Shamrock-7 in place as I struggled to come up with a way of explaining what had happened.

I went with the truth, what with it being the easiest to remember, but no one seemed willing to believe me. Instead I found myself transferred to the capital, promoted to full MechWarrior, permanently assigned to Shamrock-7, as I was apparently the only one willing to pilot it. And it's kept quiet ever since that night, acting like a good little BattleMech and not hurting anyone. But every time I have to strap myself in, I can't help but feel that it's just waiting to be set free again the next time someone attacks Raman.

The End?
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: Siden Pryde on 28 April 2019, 22:21:48
Nice.  Was not sure where the "killer mech" bit was going at first, but I like the direction this tale went.  Guess Shamrock-7 just needed the right touch.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: snakespinner on 29 April 2019, 00:48:36
Shamrock-7 just needed the Murphy touch. :D
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: Kidd on 29 April 2019, 01:00:53
Ah, the good ol' sentient war machine short. Nice!

But I want to be more creeped out. Would you kindly, JAB...?
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: DOC_Agren on 03 May 2019, 21:03:19
 :thumbsup:wasn't what I expected...
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: cklammer on 05 May 2019, 12:21:00
Very nice.  8)
Title: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker on 06 May 2019, 19:07:08
Two new stories in the works: one based upon a classic 80's sci-fi movie, another on something that reportedly happened out in Afghanistan.
Title: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker on 07 May 2019, 19:46:12
This instalment is based upon an incident that reportedly happened in Afghanistan around ten years ago

Free Fire

Sometimes, when you're out in the field, you see things that, well, the Brass doesn't like you talking about.

I'm not talking about stumbling onto some experimental prototype or covert operation, but rather something they don't want to admit happened because there's nothing in the regulations to explain it. Times like that, you're encouraging to get creative with your after-action reports, find something that fits the events but is a bit more palatable to HighCom. Not that every soldier has experienced something odd, just that you hear stories.

Stories like this one.

My battalion had been shifted to the Periphery boarder to work back up to fighting strength after the end of the Fourth Succession War. We'd given as good as we got against the Combine, but needed time to integrate the replacements into our existing unit structure before we were ready to go back on the line. So they had us out there on the edge of the Greater Darkness, passing on our experience to the local militia units. Now I know that a lot of regulars like to rag on 'weekend warriors', but those men and women are ready to fight to protect their homes the same as the rest of us, so I tend to be willing to cut them a little slack if they're not exactly up to Nagelring standards.

This one operation came up on, well, I don't want to say anything that might help identify anyone else who was there, so let's just say 'a planet on the Periphery boarder, far enough away from the League that we didn't have to worry about them paying us a surprise visit' and leave it at that. Bandits were using a series of deep valley's in a mountain range to strike out at isolated communities, grabbing food, parts and anything else they thought they could sell on the black market. We didn't have anywhere near enough troops to garrison every town, village and hamlet in the area without stripping the rest of the planet clean, and the bandits seemed well enough connected to know which towns were more trouble than they were worth.

So instead the Kommandant comes up with what was actually a pretty decent idea: a lance of Regulars and two of local Militia were to go out into the valley's orbital recon had indicated the bandits used to move from their hidden camps deep in the mountains and catch them before they reached open country. We were given rather open ended orders, allowing us to deploy as we saw fit, so I split my lance into two sections: I took one of the veteran enlisted pilots with me and six of the militia pilots, while my Sergeant and the FNG took the remaining two locals to act as our fire-support. They had the Sergeants Orion, the Rookies Crusader and a pair of militia Dervishs, meaning that they could put down a decent missile barrage to cover us if needed. That unfortunately left my two detachment with just my Rifleman, a Shadow Hawk and a Griffin for a big punch, the rest of the unit consisting of nothing bigger than a Valkyrie, being mostly Stingers and Wasps. We had a single Locust, which I deployed half a click ahead of us, covered in all the camouflage netting we could scrape together, its pot had orders to keep her head down and not fire unless fired upon first.

We pulled off a couple of successful ambushs like this, only taking light damage from a few bandit 'Mechs that looked like they'd been pulled from the local junk yard when we were told to move to a different valley, as the bandits were getting wise.

And that's when it all started to come undone.

Couple of the local pilots came to me, unofficially, and said it was a bad idea to move to that particular valley: it had a bad reputation amongst the local population, who avoided it unless absolutely necessary. People had gone missing there, never to be seen again, and sometimes even the search parties got lost and needed rescue. There were also reports of equipment malfunctioning, giving conflicting readings or just shutting down and refusing to work full-stop. All in all, the locals considered it a bad place, somewhere best avoided. Some even went as far as to say it was cursed, that evil spirits roamed there.

Now I'm not one to take such talk at face value, but there was something about the way the two of them sounded, the look of genuine fear in their eyes, that made me do a little digging.

At first the locals didn't want to talk, claiming it was all just campfire stories, but they all seemed on edge, so I kept asking. Eventually a local sherif invited me for a drink one night and told me that a lot of the stories were true, and that nobody was willing to venture into the valley, especially at night, if they could possibly avoid it. And again, I wasn't going to accept talk of evil spirits, but you sometimes encounter areas where the local weather or geology can conspire to mess with your equipment. And even with new parts, there was the possibility that even our front-line BattleMechs might be susceptible to whatever was causing trouble in the valley.

So I contacted the Kommandant and requested that we move the option to somewhere else, siting reports of equipment malfunction in the valley. But he shot down the idea, so in we went.

The militia were a little skittish, but sitting in the command couch of a BattleMech tends to steady the nerves somewhat. And following the standard plan, the Locust found a hiding place further down the valley while my unit dug in behind a low ridge line, the fire-support lance setting up on a flat area up one side of the valley. Everyone was in position, their 'Mech's hunkered down and on standby to minimise the chance of the bandits spotting us before it was too late. Which meant that we were reliant on passive sensors, which can be twitchy at the best of times, and soon started to give conflicting reports, so we shut them down and switched to night-vision only.

There's not really much to do when you're just waiting for someone who may or may not appear out in the middle of nowhere, especially in the middle of the night. You can't sleep, because you need to be ready to go in an instant, and you can't read a book or listen to music in case you miss something. All you can do is keep checking your 'Mechs systems while keeping one eye on the HUD. There's a lot of truth to the old saying that life in the army is 99% boredom and 1% abject terror, and it can start to play tricks on you after a moment.

Unsurprisingly, it was my fellow regular who first sounded the alarm over the hardwire connecting our 'Mech's, and I set my main screen to cycle through the various passive sensors. Magscan found nothing, nore did seismic or neutrino, but night-vision clearly showed eight objects moving up the far end of the valley in single file. They were too far out to make out any details, but they were certainly big enough to be BattleMechs.

I switched to the channel linking me to the pilot out in the Locust, asking if she'd been able to make out any details, maybe let us know what we were facing. But she insisted that she couldn't see anything, and I didn't want her to risk giving her position away by moving. So instead I powered up my Rifleman and went active with her Garret D2j, still one of the best sensor suites ever produced. It meant taking a risk, because there's just no way to hide that much EM output going down-range, but the 'bandits' didn't seem to notice at all. Which meant that they were either asleep at the controls, or unconcerned that someone was trying to get a targeting lock on them.

But nothing appeared on my screen.

I contacted my Sergeant, and he confirmed that they had the unknowns on visual but nothing else. This was starting to concern me, because you hear all kinds of stories about people digging up caches of lost Star League tech, so there's always the risk of coming up against someone with some unexpected edge. But that would have required that every single one of them had lost-tech ECM, and that kind of find would be worth more than they could possibly hope to get by raiding farm towns.

I was still trying to work out what was going on when the emerald flash of a medium laser slashed through the night from somewhere on my left: one of the militia pilots had panicked and fired by accident.

With the elements of surprising lost, I ordered weapons free, dropping my crosshairs over the leading target and opening up with both autocannons. Soon everyone was letting rip with everything they had, lighting up the night with a barrage of lasers, missiles and autocannons. The Griffin to my right fired its PPC, spending a bolt of man-made lightning down range as the support lance unleashed more than eighty missiles at once. The air was filled with the crack and fizz of weapons fire, everyone doing their best to hit the flickering forms on their screens. I could see tracers bouncing off rocks that were then pulverised by missiles or PPC blasts, trees and bushes exploding or bursting into flames as lasers speared them. It was hell, pure and simple, but not so much as a mouse-fart came back the other way.

After what felt like an hour, but my mission clock said was only a couple of minutes, I gave the order to advance towards the 'enemy', and my double lance began leapfrogging forward in pairs, one 'Mech covering the other in turn. The support lance followed suit, working their way along the side of the valley, laying down a sporadic barrage of missiles and laser fire. We reached the point where the Locust had been hidden, and it added its limited firepower to our own.

Still nothing in return, even as the flickering images on the night-vision started to move away.

Then I realised something: our weapons fire seemed to be passing through them without meeting even the slightest resistance. And they weren't walking, but rather floating maybe half a meter above the ground. I cycled through all my active and passive sensors again, even resorting to using the standard issue MK.1 eyeballs the Good Lord saw fit to issue me with, but only the night-vision showed anything. I gave the order to hold fire, and the night grew strangely quite, with only the popping of hot metal and the faint roar of the countless fires we had started. Certainly not what should have been the rumbling of almost a company of BattleMechs moving off at the quick-march.

I called for a quick roll-call, and once everyone reported in, I asked if anyone had taken any hits. The radio was deathly quite, everyone waiting for someone else to speak up.

"Leutnant," my Sergeant asked somewhat hesitately, "what the hell did we just shoot at?"

That was the same question the Kommandant asked when we reported in a little after dawn, having not once found a single trace of the 'bandits' we had opened up on. I did my best to put into wards everything I'd seen, but he just looked at me like I'd grown a second head or something. Even after the others backed up my story and the techs had gone over our battleroms, there just wasn't anything concrete to put in our report.

The Kommandant ended up calling the entire incident a 'nighttime live-fire exercise', praising the militia for how well they had executed the battle plan. Then he ordered us to set up an ambush in a different valley almost a hundred kilometers away, and told us never to mention what we had seen in any official reports or documents.

It's been almost ten years now, and I still don't know what we saw that night... and I'm not sure I really want to. But it certainly wasn't some group of bandits with lost-tech ECM gear, that's for sure.

The End
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: Kidd on 07 May 2019, 22:11:03
Verrrrry nice!
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: snakespinner on 08 May 2019, 02:18:23
Interesting, they must have been smoking the good stuff. :beer:
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: Dragon Cat on 08 May 2019, 05:50:59
Great story
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: shadowdancer on 08 May 2019, 16:39:52
Great story. Have had something like that happen to me. The unexplainable is out there.
Title: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker on 08 May 2019, 16:55:39
Great story. Have had something like that happen to me. The unexplainable is out there.
It's basically an adaptation of a YouTube video I watched:
https://youtu.be/Y7RcOIxNCXk
Took me about two days to convert it over to BattleTech, most of which was trying to come up with equivalent locations, units and jargon.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: Elmoth on 22 May 2019, 07:46:52
Great thread! Thanks for sharing it. I enjoyed those stories. For me the top 3 are special cargo, who goes there? and Lucky 7, but all were great.

Cheers,
Xavi
Title: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker on 30 June 2019, 21:24:31
The Kraken Wakes

I'm a structural engineer by trade, not a writer, so I hope you can forgive me if the account that follows is somewhat rough around the edges.

As in said, I'm a structural engineer, specialising in habits designed to survive in, shall we say, 'adverse environments'? Which is shorthand for anywhere a human can't survive unassisted, for one reason or another. And it's an interesting job, or at least I've always thought so: there's no end to the challenges that can face a project when someone sets their mind upon setting up shop somewhere humans were never supposed to go. And while the Star League may have had the wherewithal to terraform most places considered worth living, there are still a few that would have been beyond even their almost magical abilities.

Case in point was LV-416, or Typhonus, as it had been so dramatically named. And I can't say I blame whoever did name it: it is an evil looking world, an ice giant such a dark shade of black that looking at it felt like looking into a singularity. There were occasional streaks of crimson red, indicating storms so massive that they could have swollowed most habitable worlds whole. Arcs of lightning, long enough to cross continents and with powerful enough to vaporise cities in an instant play across the upper cloud bands. It has three near Terran sized moons, Orthrus, Cerberus and Hydra, but is was so deep within their primaries radiation belt that they're little more than lumps of radioactive rock, constantly erupting and melting due to gravitational stress on their cores.

Typhonus is as close to hell as you're likely to find in this galaxy and still be counted among the living.

What is it with survay crews anyway? Did every single one of them take a class in ancient mythology or something? Lord knows how many explored systems in the Inner Sphere, let alone beyond, and every single one of them seems to have at least one world, moon of rock named after some god or demon orbiting it.

Wait... where was I?

Oh, Typhonus, right.

So, thing is, despite the way it may look to the naked eye, a big-arse planet like that has all kinds of interesting things going on: chemical reactions under extreme heat and pressure can result in all sorts of useful end products. I remember one planet, somewhere out near the Draconis Rift, where they used to send down specially built shuttles to scoop up crystals from the upper atmosphere that could be used in weapons grade lasers. Lot of money in something like that, and the Star League was more than willing to speculate to accumulate, and that was what brought us to Typhonus in the first place.

You see, under enough pressure, gas can start to act like a liquid, even to the point where an object of the right shape can, for want of a better word, float on it. And Typhonus has gas and pressure to spare, meaning that there was a layer not too far down where it was almost like a liquid...not like a sea or anything...it's kind of hard to explain without getting too technical. Let's just say that the Star League was advanced enough that they could build a gas-mining rig that could sit quite happily in the atmosphere of a world like Typhonus, and we'd been hired to see if there was anything worth salvaging. There was no way we could recover the entire rig: we had no idea how they'd gotten it into position in the first place, but there was an untold treasure in LostTech to be found inside, provided we could get to it safely. Which is why I was brought in to make sure that they didn't accidentally cut into something they shouldn't and send the entire things down into the depths, salvage crew and all.

Now a planet like Typhonus has its own jump-points, so we were able to get in at least a little closer, even if the JumpShip was too far out to actually help with the recovery operation. So we went in with three DropShips: an old Mule called the Sacagawea that acted as a sort of mother-ship for the other two, a pair of heavily modified Condors named Lewis and Clark. I was assigned to the Lewis, along with the bulk of the support team, while the primary task of fixing the location of the rig and ensuring it was safe to land on with given to the Clark.

And you can't just dive into the atmosphere of something that big like normal: that's an easy way to get your ship and crew crushed. No, big planet like Typhonus, you need to take it nice and slow, just slide on gently down that gravity well all smooth like. I'm sure any pilot worth their damn could probably tell you just how hard it actually is, but I'm not a pilot, but I am the one telling this story.

So the Clark goes in first, and softly-softly like, with the Lewis sitting up in high orbit, trying to keep track of her through all the radiation and atmospheric interference. We knew the approximate location of the rig from the initial survey, but things as small as a city block tend to get tossed around in the atmosphere of an ice giant. So the crew of the Clark had to take these wide, sweeping passes over the area, looking for any sign on the prize. Two days we sat up there, arses clenched tight enough to crack walnuts, watching her through the clouds as best we could, before they finally gave word that they'd picked up the rig on long-range scanners.

Unfortunately, she'd drifted into a the outermost edge of a storm, so they had to move quickly to try and pull her clear. And even with the massively oversized engines on the Clark, that's no small task. They had me running all kinds of numbers, trying to work out the best places to set down so that the strain of her main engines didn't rip the rig in two. So you can bet I double, triple and quadruple checked my work, because I didn't want to be responsible for the mission going FUBAR before it had really started.

Well, thank the good lord that my maths was right, and the Clark was able to move the rig away from the storm. With that little headache taken care of, the Lewis came in on the far side of the rig, keeping it from becoming unbalanced. Given the size and mass of the rig, it's not like a few extra thousand tons of DropShip was going to do that, but why take the risk?

Now, you can't use a standard environment suit somewhere like Typhonus: between the heat, the pressure and the radiation, well, you might as well go out bare arse naked. No, you need top-of-the-line, state-of-the-art hostile environment gear, the sort of thing that costs more than a suit of battle armour. It's like walking around inside a miniature BattleMech, and about as agile, but it's not a time to worry about setting a fashion trend. No, you strap yourself into that big, ugly, bright orange son-of-a-bitch and prey they didn't skimp on the pre-mission maintenance.

Those suits, well, they're not the most comfortable thing to wear at the best of times, and struggling across the deck of a constantly moving gas-mining rig in the upper atmosphere of an ice giant isn't the best of times. The radios are effectively useless; nowhere near strong enough to punch through all the interference, so you're stuck on receive only. And that means that all you can hear is the clang of your feat on the deck, the hum of the life-support system and the rasping of your own breath. Even with the servos, you still have to really put your back into it, so you're drenched in sweat in no time. And you can't see shit in a soup-like atmosphere, so you're reliant on your HUD, which is crowded with all sorts of gages and readouts at the best of times. Best you can do is follow the yellow arrow that points you towards a beacon some poor sod had to go plant. And thankfully, that poor sod had been on the Clark.

I don't think I've ever been so happy to see a pressure-hull in my entire life.

Those environment suits only have so much life support, and it's almost impossible to do anything too precise in one, so the first job was to patch and repressurise at least part of the rig so we could get a better look at what we had to work with. Two of the crew had dragged a micro-fusion power cell across from one of the ships, and that was enough to power most of our equipment, so we quickly set about finding the rents and tears in the habitation block. Thankfully, the designers had built it to act as an emergency refuge in the event of an emergency, so it was even more heavily built than the other pressurised sections of the rig, and it wasn't long before we were able to get it sealed off. With that done, it was mainly a case of tracking down and patching micro-leaks and keeping an eye out for any signs of stress: nobody wanted to be outside of their suit if the hull was to suddenly rupture. That was my job, and I double then triple checked everything before giving the order to repressurise.

The hull moaned and groaned like a dockside whore, but it held, a testament to the quality of the workmanship that went into building it in the first place.

With a breathable atmosphere, we could lose the environmental suits and work a lot quicker, even if it took us two whole days to make sure everything was decontaminated. We managed to set up a makeshift living area, so we could take our brakes without having to go all the way back to one of the DropShips, a couple of the crew even deciding to sleep there. I wasn't completely sold on the idea, but I did like concept of not having to make the treck back to the Lewis just to grab some bunk-time. Everyone was still keenly aware just where we were and all that could go wrong, but after a while the human mind tends to adapt pretty well.

If only we'd know what was going to happen...

I was inspecting one of the lower levels, trying to restore at least partial power to the rest of the rig, when Parker, a crewmember assigned to work with me because you don't want to be alone when shit goes sideways, started freaking out, saying she'd seen something moving outside a nearby porthole. I assured her that is was probably just ice crystals playing with her mind, or at most, some part of the rig that had come loose in the long centuries since it had been abandoned and now dangling, but she didn't seem too convinced. So I made my way over to the porthole and pressed the visor of my environment suit up against it, craning my neck to try and get a better look, but I couldn't see anything but the swirling clouds.

Next day I was asked to go with Brett, the other structural engineer, to look at the what had been the landing control tower. Or rather, what was left of it. According to the schematics we'd found, it should have been a five story high tube with a bubble of 10cm thick transparent aluminium on the top, but it had broken off about half way, leaving a stump of twisted, jagged metal behind. Now I've seen damn near every kind of damage metal can suffer, from corrosion to battle damage to metal-eating bacteria, so I know metal that's been twisted and torn when I see it.

Few more days went by, most of which were spent replacing or repairing external lights. Which was odd, because most looked like they'd been deliberately smashed, while the main electrical board... we'll, somebody had taken a literal fire-axe to it, the broken-off head of which was still embedded within it. I was tasked with helping to repair it, even though it wasn't my field of expertise, so I was inside, away from the windows when the lights came back on, but apparently it was quite the sight to see.

Next week was pretty standard for a salvage operation: sorting out what's was worth saving and could be safely and easily removed. Computers, especially the processors, are always a good choice, given how small and light they are, and even broken or damaged ones tend to be worth a fair bit. After that it's any data storage devices, with even the smallest scrap of recoverable data often worth the cost of a DropShip. Places like N.A.I.S. just buy it all in bulk, no questions asked, so it's always at or near the top of any grab-list. Then you get, well, anything you can sell to LostTech collectors.

But that's when we discovered why the rig had been abandoned in the first place.

It started with the lights, out in the clouds. At first we thought it was just lightning, but the colours were wrong: too red/orange for lightning, even in an atmosphere like Typhonus. Then people started claiming to have seen something outside, just like Parker had. The boss accused them of drinking on the job, not something you wanted under the circumstances, but they were all sober as a judge on Sunday. Then Dallas, one of the crew chiefs, went missing while working outside. Brett and Ash, who'd been working with him, insisted that they only turned their backs for a moment, then there was a tug on the safety line, and when they looked back, he was gone.

We were all experienced salvage workers, hardly green to the dangers of the job: you don't last long in that line of work without gaining a somewhat fatalistic outlook on like, an acceptance that, when your number is up, it's up. We'd all had close calls, and known people who caught the bought the farm. But something about how Dallas was just gone set everyone on edge, and in a high-stress environment, that's not something you want happening. So Kane, the boss, decided to pull back to the Sacagawea for some down-time and a rethink, give everyone a little time to decompress. So we started to pack up everything we'd already gathered together, stealing it up in containers that could protect it from the atmosphere as we carried it back to the DropShips.

That's why I was fortunate enough to be in my environment suit when it happened.

Metal can make some funny sounds when it's under stress: some are as benign as an old house creaking in the middle of the night, but an experienced ear knows to listen out for the telltale sounds of something about to go monumentally, catastrophically wrong. Unfortunately, I only just had the time to scream out a warning before the pressure hull ruptured, bulkhead crumpling like an empty beer-can. Had the rig been in perfect, or even serviceable condition, emergency hatches would have slammed shut, but we'd had to cut through most of them, so there wasn't really anything between the rupture point and the poor bastards who weren't in their environment suits. Which was, unfortunately, about half the work crew.

They died, and not quickly or painlessly. I won't go into details, but it wasn't good, and I still sometimes see their faces in my dreams, on the nights I wake in a cold sweat.

They were dead, but those of us still alive had to get back to the DropShips in one piece. Fortunately, within the habitation block, our radios could actually work, so the order was given to bug-out, and we started to make our way towards the now pointless airlock. Entire place was shaking and rattling like it was fit to come apart at the seems, so you can bet we hauled arse as fast as we could, even in an environment suit. There was this one bit, where there was a gantry over what had been a water tank at some point, and, well, let's just say that Ash and Kane didn't make it further than that. Everyone was starting to panic by that point, and with Kane gone, there wasn't a clear chain of command, and it all went to hell in a hand-basket, with people fighting to get through hatchways.

I felt something grab my arm, and I looked round to see Parker, gesturing as best she could towards a side-door. The two of us had become reasonably close, all things considered, and she seemed to be holding it together a little better than most of the others, so I decided to trust her. The corridor she led me down was narrow, almost too tight in places, but it allowed us to bypass some of the chock-points, and the fights to get through them. I never found out who got to the airlock first, or who they had to climb over to do so, but both the inner and outer hatches had been jammed open, allowing us to get outside quickly.

Parker was busy attaching a safety line between our suits, so I was the first to see it.

Bioluminescence is a crazy thing: it can make something from your worst nightmare seem like the most beautiful thing you can imagine. I don't know what it was, or if there was more than one, but it seemed almost as big as the rig and made of tentacles the size of a BattleMech and pulsating lights the same colour as the running lights on the rig. At least three of those tentacles had been wrapped around the habitation block, which had been been the most brightly illuminated part of the rig, and were busy tearing it apart. Others were gripping various parts of the rig, pushing and pulling at it.

There was a bright flash as the Clark switched on all its external lights, including the massive floodlights built into its wings. They were no doubt hoping to guide survivors to safety, but it got the attention of whatever it was that was destroying thep rig. Parker went ridged with shock as a brightly flashing tentacle, so thick we could have stood on each others shoulders and still not been ble to see over the top, snaked passed us so close it felt like we could have reached out and touched it. It was pulsing bright, vibrant colours, and it whipped round like a rattlesnake, almost flipping the Clark before enveloping the DropShip. The pilot must have panicked, because even through the soup of an atmosphere, I could see the main engine flair, but the creature had it, and started to squeeze.

I looked away, almost dragging Parker behind me: I didn't need to see what was going to happen. I'd seen enough death that day.

The Lewis had been landed a hundred metres away from the habitation block, but under the circumstances, it felt like a hundred kilometres. Every step I took, I could feel the deck bucking and twisting beneath my feet. I stumbled more than once, but thankfully Parker was always there to help. Every step, I expected to be squashed like an ant by one of those tentacles as they swayed around about us, filling the sky with strange, otherworldly patterns of light and shadow. We had no idea of knowing if the Lewis was still there, or if it had taken off, or suffered the same fate as the Clark. But we had no other choice but to keep going.

Eventually, the reassuring bulk of the Lewis came into sight: all of her external lights, save one marking her port airlock, had been switched off, and we staggered towards it. Maybe I should have looked around, seen if any of the others were following behind us, but I was running on pure adrenaline and primal terror at that point. So instead I summoned up what reserves of strength I had left and pulled myself through the hatch. Soon as I had a grip on the first handhold, I turned and grabbed Parker, pulling her in behind me ever as the untire universe seemed to start spinning around me.

It wasn't until later that I was told that the rig had finally given up and started to come apart entirely, sending the Lewis tumbling over the side. All I knew was that Parker was dangling, her legs out of the airlock as the hatch started to close. Even the thick metal of her environment suit wouldn't have protected her from being crushed, but I had seen too much death already that day. I don't know how I did it, because even the servos in the suit shouldn't have been able to, but somehow I lifted Parker up until her feet were just inside the airlock. And not a moment too soon, as it snapped shit beneath her.

Next thing we knew, we were being flung against the bulkhead s the main drive kicked in, the ships spinning around until her nose was pointed star-side, then that massive kick in the pants as the pilot pushed though the gate, engaging maximum power, sending us rocketing away from the rig like a bat out of hell.

It was a while before anyone decided to check on us: they had more questions than answers, and if it wasn't for the mission recorders built into our suits, I don't think they would have believed a word we said. As it was, we were the only two survivors from the habitation block, and with the Clark gone... well, the mission was a damn near total failure. We joined back up with the Sacagawea then boosted for the jump-point and the waiting JumpShip, the rest of the crew looking at us like we were cursed or something.

Been almost ten years since that day, and while I'm still a structural engineer, I keep my feet firmly on solid ground these days.

The End
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: shadowdancer on 01 July 2019, 00:02:46
Great story. Thanks.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: Kidd on 01 July 2019, 01:12:03
"Hello, beastie!"
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: snakespinner on 01 July 2019, 01:28:43
Welcome to my nightmare. :thumbsup:
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: mikecj on 01 July 2019, 22:24:56
Well written!
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: DOC_Agren on 02 July 2019, 17:04:53
 :clap: :clap: :clap:
Title: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker on 05 August 2019, 21:39:47
I hope you all enjoy this one, because it's been a cast-iron bitch to write...

The Most Dangerous Game

Most people think that the Jihad ended in 3081, when Stone's forces took Terra. But the sad truth is, all these years later, there are still Blakist holdouts spread out across known space, and still people hunting them down.

I was part of one such unit; the 106th Reconnaissance Battalion, aka the Stray Dogs. We were a small, close knit team, all veterans of the Jihad, 100% battle hardened life takers and heart breakers. We'd been through hell and come out the other side, having stolen the Devil's lunch money on the way. We thought that we were invincible, that there was nothing that the universe could throw at us that we couldn't handle.

How wrong we were.

We were sent to New Dallas, which is about as close as you can get to hell as you can get. Between the damage done during the Fall of the Star League, then the early Succession Wars and the subsequent breakdown of the atmospheric processors, it's a hot, choking radioactive mess of ruined cities being slowly reclaimed by the native wildlife. A few species descendent from plants and animals brought in from off-world can still be found, but they've adapted to survive, and aren't the same any more. Especially the ****** house cats.

Someone up in Intel had apparently uncovered evidence that the Blakists had been using New Dallas as a plant-sized training ground for some of their Manei Domini units, and as such it was decided to send in our unit to have a look around and report back anything interesting. We'd gone up against the Dommies more than once, so we went in locked, clocked and loaded for something a damn sight nastier than bear. Only problem was that they pulled our C/O at the last minute and lumbered us with Leutnant Colfia. Now, there are two kinds of officers in this 'verse; killin' officers and murderin' officers. Killin' officers are poor old buggers that get you killed by mistake. Murderin' officers are mad, bad, old buggers that get you killed on purpose - for a country, for a religion, maybe even for a flag. And it was well known that Leutnant Colfia wanted to be Hauptmann Colfia as soon as possible, regardless of how many poor sods she had to get killed to get there. As such, she took risks, only never with her own life, but she also go missions done, which is why the brass loved her and put up with the disproportionately high number of losses units under her command tended to take.

She was, in short, a completely self-serving bitch, and no one who survived serving under her was likely to shed a tear if she stepped on a landmine and was turned into human confetti.

Good thing about a unit like the 106th is they let you choose your own kit, meaning that we were decked out in the most eclectic assortment of battle armour you're ever likely to see. I'd long ago settled on the G13 variant of the Tornado power-amour, preferably the smaller silhouette and the stopping power of the 'David' Light Gauss Rifle. I wasn't a sniper, but I had achieved the Designated Marksman award back in the FWLM before everything went to shit. And as back up, I had a little something Tai-i Shirogane had given me when we got word he was being replaced with Leutnent Colfia. And no, I have no idea how someone who started out in the DCMS got their hands on an experimental Lyran weapon like an Adjudicator.

Now, not many of you are likely to have even heard of an Adjudicator, let alone seen one, so let me explain just what makes it so special.

You see, back before the Clan Invasion, nobody outside of ComStar had seen combat Battle Armour for centuries, so the appearance of Elementals... well, let's just say that a lot of people needed a lot of clean underwear afterwards. The concept of highly mobile, jump-capable infantry that could shug-off hits from 'Mech grade weapons was a complete Out Of Context Problem for a while, and R&D teams were throwing everything at the wall to see what sticks. And the Adjudicator is the end result of one such project that was ultimately scrapped in favour of GyroJet pistols and the like. If you want to imagine what an Adjudicator looks like, take the biggest, 'I'm overcompensating for something' hand-cannon you can think of, then make it about half as big again. Only rather than bullets better suited for demolishing a wall, it's loaded with these little metal containers of chemicals, and the firing pin is actually a tiny little laser. So, when you pull the trigger, that little laser fires into the rear of the chemicals, which in turn give you a much more powerful chemical laser out a barrel that's really just there to help you aim. And belive me, you want to be sure of what you're shooting at when you fire a weapon I've personally seen burn a hole through a 'Mechs cockpit visor.

Downside is that it generates a lot of heat, so you need something with a fair bit of bulk to act as a rudimentary heatsink, and each pull of the trigger is worth about 1,000 C-Bills a go, so it's not the cheapest weapon on the market. On the upside, it's damn near silent, has no recoil, and looks intimidating enough to make a lot of people back down when they see it hanging on your hip. Shirogane said I might need something on hand for any unexpected happen. And given our line of work involved actively seeking out the unexpected, it was a reassuring friend to have at my side.

Standard operating procedure would have seen us get dropped off in a heavy APC or IFV a few kilometers from the primary target and then advance as we saw fit, but Leutnant Colfia vetoed that in favour of a nighttime HALO drop into the ruins of a nearby city, just so she could log another combat drop. HALO jumps can be difficult at the best of times, but trying to coordinate one while wearing heavily modified battle armour and jumping into an inhospitable atmosphere... we were only lucky we didn't lose anyone right off the bat. I was lucky enough to come down in a wide street, but a couple of the others had to make their way down from the tops of buildings that hadn't been maintained in centuries.

We were scattered across half the city, and it took us hours to join back up together, by which point is was starting to get light, so we had no choice but to call it quits for the day and find somewhere to hold up. Fortunately, they sent along a couple of Broncos, little walking drones that can carry all sorts of equipment that you can't really strap to a suit of battle armour, including a small inflatable habitat module just big enough for half of us to sleep in outside of our armour. It's a bitch of a job to set up right, especially as you need to make sure that the decontamination unit is working properly, but at least you can get a few hours shut-eye and a bit of hot food down your neck. Those on watch had to make do with hooking their suits up to the other Bronco, letting it supply them with power, air and water so as not to drain their suits systems.

Soon as darkness fell, we set out towards the Blakist base: a massive domed structure our recon satellites had picked up about ten kilometers outside the city. It wasn't easy going, as with between the fighting, lack of maintenance and exposure to a worsening environment, the roads were at times impassable, and we often had to take long detours around fallen buildings. I was walking scout, so I had the misfortune of being the first to fine evidence of what the Blakists had been up to. Biological material doesn't last long after death: bacteria, carrion eaters and the elements quickly break down everything, even bones given time, but what I found was fresh enough to still be identified as having been human.

But only just.

There's an unspoken rule that you're respectful of any remains you find, because you never know when you're going to be the one someone else finds. It's an age-old tradition amongst soldiers, something that takes a lot to override. So you can probably imagine, even if you'd rather not, that there wasn't much left to find. But even then, it was clear that they hadn't died quickly or cleanly, with some of them having been strung up on the rubble and left to suffocate when their air supply ran out. One had been in what looked like Elemental armour, and a quick checking of their Codex bracelet indicated that its late wearer had once been a Point Commander of Clan Smoke Jaguar, which was crazy because they'd been destroyed almost twenty years before. Other bodies were in uniforms that indicated a ragtag collection of Mercenary units and even a couple of ComsGuards, with no indication of how they'd ended up on New Dallas. People started accusing Leutnant Colfia of withholding information about previous missions to the planet, accusations she strongly denied, and I found myself believing her, much to my own surprise. So we cut them down, buried them as best we could, and moved on.

Despite the hell New Dallas had been through in the bast, we started to find evidence of more recent combat: scorching not warn clean by the passage of time, places where exposed metal had been damaged, leaving patches not yet fully tarnished by rust and corrosion. But we'd been expecting as much, given we were looking for a recently active trading base, so we didn't think much of it until we came across the burnout husk of a Bolla Stealth Tank by the side of the road. Two of its wheels had been blown off, while someone had taken the time to arrange the severed heads of all three crewmembers on top of the turret. All evidence indicated that the vehicle had been travailing away from the Blakist base at high speed when it had been disabled, causing it to crash into the remains of what had once been a tenament building of some kind.

Soon we found more vehicles, military and civilian, scattered along the road, each and every one rendered inoperative, their passengers killed, bodies strewn around. Most had simply been left where they lay, others... we found some kind of bus or similar transport, each seat filled by a decapitated body, their heads arranged in a geometric pattern in the middle of the road.

Now, we'd all seen enough horrors during the Jihad to earn a Section-8 discharge if we'd asked for one, but I tell you, New Dallas was something else.

Eventually, we reached a low rise that looked out over the base we'd been sent to investigate: it had been built as a giant dome, separated into four equal quadrants with a central control tower rising out of the middle, making it look to all the world like a kids spinning top. Something had evidently exploded inside one of the quadrants, the structure bent and twisted outwards like burst seed pod, and our passive sensors were picking up no signs of heat or power from within. Normally, we'd have dug in and observed the base for a day or two, but the truth was, we were all getting a little bit jumpy, so when Leutnant Colfia suggested that we head straight in, we all agreed.

We moved in, standard two-by-two cover formation, the heavier suits keeping watch over the perimeter while our electronics expert hooked up a power-cell to one of the air-locks and ran a remote bypass. Fortunately, even the Blakists aren't stupid enough to forego standard safety protocols, so the default S&R code had the lock cycle, allowing us entry.

We soon wished that it hadn't.

I don't know if any of you have ever seen the aftermath of close-quarters combat, but it isn't pretty: few buildings are designed to withstand military grade weapons being fired inside them, and the Blakist base was no exception. The floor, walls and ceiling were pitted and scorched by laser and projectile fire, while some sections had obviously been ground-zero for explosions, given the way the metal was all torn and twisted. Someone had thrown a hell of a party, and hadn't hung around to clean up afterwards, that's for sure.

You probably have this mental image of us advising down a long, corridor with some hand-help scanner out front. Well, I hate to tell you this, but that only happens in the TriVids. Sure, motion trackers like that exist, but they're too easily spoofed to be of any real use in an active combat situation, so we were reliant on Mk.1 eyeballs. We made our way into the base, taking advantage of what cover there was, checking rooms and side corridors as we went, eyes on a swivel, always checking the corners.

Always check the corners when you first enter a room, or it'll eat you alive.

The place had been trashed: desks flipped over, paperwork and broken data-slates scattered on the floor, signs that several fires had raged without anyone trying to stop them. It certainly didn't look like we'd be finding much useful information unless the main control room was in better shape, so we made our way deeper into the dome. There wasn't enough of us to do a proper sweep, but we'd never been intended to be more than the proverbial canary down the mine, checking to see if it was safe to send in the REMF's. The damage only seemed to get worse the deeper we went, but the crazy thing was, we didn't find any bodies, not so much as a severed finger or missing ear. Place looked like a ****** carnel house, but not so much as a speck of blood to be seen. That was enough to make the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end, and even through their suits, I could tell the others felt the same.

Reaching the core we were surprised to discover that it still had a breathable atmosphere: the entire structure was compartmentalised in case of a breach, but with no power and all the damage we'd seen, we'd kind of assumed that the entire place was open to the elements, but we quickly set up an ad-hoc airlock and decontamination unit using the parts from the inflatable habitat. Lot of us weren't happy with that, but Leutnant Colfia pulled rank, and she wasn't in the mood to pole opinions.

Inside the core was in better shape: there was damage, but there were also signs that someone had done their best to patch up the worst of it and generally clean house. It was piss-poor in comparison to what a proper damage control party would do, but it was our first indication that someone had survived whatever had happened. Even though all the tests we could run indicated that the air was good, no one opted to pop the seal on their suits and take a deep breath: Blakists have a history of cooking up all kind of nasty surprises that standard tests can't detect, and we'd all seen the results first hand. But the closer we got to where we assumed that the control room was, the more... homely the pace seemed to be. Someone had, badly, painted the walls a soft shade of pastel green, and had evidently converted some of the offices into living space.

Now you can't exactly be light footed in military grade battle armour: even the most advanced suits still sound like a charging elephant on metal flooring, and even Leutnant Colfia wasn't crazy enough to try and order us to dismount and proceed on foot, so there was no point in playing coy.

"Hello?" amplified by her suits external speakers, the Leutnants voice echoed down the long, dark corridors.

We all stood, weapons at the ready but doing our best not to look too much like a team of highly trained and experienced commandos sent to make sure that the base was out of commission, one way or the other. A couple of us had been issued less-lethal weapons during the latter stages of the Jihad and never quite got around to handing them back, so we had them out rather than our regular extremely-lethal loads. I had a military grade tazer that I'd once used to stop a charging Elemental dead in their tracks.

"Hello?" the Leutnant called again.

There was the sound of something hitting the floor in the distance, and everyone got their game faces on as a faint glow appeared in a side corridor about twenty meters ahead of where I was standing. I tapped the transmit button on my radio, letting the Leutnant know that we had contact without having to actually speak, and she turned to look where I was pointing with my tazer. The light grew, then a pale face with unkempt mousey brown hair appeared around the corner, an emergency lamp held in a shaking hand.

What she saw was a dozen suits of heavily armed battle armour, and quite understandable took off like a frightened jackalope.

I was moving even before the Leutnant gave the order, but even under ideal circumstances, I was nowhere near as fast as someone not wearing 400kg of armour and electronics. Add to that I had no idea of the layout of the base, and I was effectively running blind. The only advantage I had was the inferred view my HUD gave me let me easily track the lamp she was carrying as she bounced off walls and round corners until she slipped through a half-closed door into what looked to be some kind of storeroom. The door mechanism had been jammed to the point where even the enhanced strength of my power armour couldn't budge it. I didn't know if I had the time to cut through or wait for one of the others to catch up with a more powerful rig, so I powered down my armour and hit the quick release latch, offering up a silent prayer that the air was as safe as our sensors insisted. Stripped down to the light fatigues I wore under the armour, I eyed the Adjudicator for a moment, then clipped it to back of my belt before grabbing the tazer, being sure to make sure that it was on one of the lower settings. I had to squeeze to get through the door, and was surprised at what I saw on the other side.

Someone had obviously spent a lot of time turning it into a refuge of sorts: the heavy shelving had been pushed to one side, making room for a small bed and an assortment of boxes that looked like they contained emergency rations. A small folding table had been set up in one corner, a scattering of personal effects laid out on top, including what looked like a family photo in a cheap frame. The sound of movement made me turn slowly, the flashlight in my hand settling over the woman as she huddled in the far corner, holding what looked like a scalpel out towards me defensively. Judging by the way her arm was shaking, she was more of a danger to herself than me.

"Hi." I did my best to sound nonthreatening as I switched the light from a sharp beam to a softly glowing orb, "My name's Billi. I'm not here to hurt you."

Her only response was to try and make herself look as small as possible, her eyes wide with terror.

"Can I sit?" I crouched down, trying to get a better look at her: she looked to be in her early to mid twenties, dressed in what looked like they had once been surgical scrubs that hung loosely on her slender frame, making her look like a kid playing dress-up in her parents clothing. There was a bandage on her left arm that looked reasonably fresh and professionally applied, and she looked and smelled surprisingly clean for someone who'd been living like a rat for god only knew how long. That said, I could practically smell the adrenaline pumping through her system.

She shifted, and I spotted a thin silver necklace round her neck, a tiny silver sword with a sapphire in the hilt hanging from it.

You'd run into them occasionally: true believers so indoctrinated to the cause that they simply can't accept that they were wrong, yet still good people. They tended to come from the Sol system or other worlds that had been under Blakist control long enough for kids to spend their entire lives growing up under it and reaching enlistment age. They'd fight like the devil himself, but not because of any malicious intent, but because they honestly think they're doing you a favour. Only good thing is that they tend to be less of a problem once captured, less prone to trying something stupid that just gets people killed, even as they assure you, with all the sincerity in the galaxy, that the Word of Blake will surely triumph over the forces of evil. I'm honestly not sure if that makes them any better to deal with than the foaming-at-the-mouth lunatics, truth be told.

I sat myself down across from her, far enough away to be out of easy slashing range.

"Ok, so I'm not going to lie to you or talk down to you like you're a kid or something." I took a deep breath, "Your side lost the war: we've taken Terra and the fighting is all but over now. There's only a few mop-up operations on planet like this left."

She looked at me, and I could tell she was trying to work out if I was telling the truth or not.

"Now, the good news is that we're not here to hurt you, like I said before." I did my best to sound reassuring, "Truth is, after we saw the state of this place, we thought everyone was dead..."

"They are dead." her voice was soft but hollow, with what sounded like a Rasalhaguian accent, "Everyone."

"OK." I nodded, finding no reason to disbelieve her after everything we'd seen outside, "What happened?"

She hesitated, the memory obviously not a pleasant one, but was about to answer when a massive, armoured hand grabbed the door and started to bend it open.

The woman bolted towards an open air vent quick as you like, but I'd been ready, and dived towards her, wrapping my arms around hers, pinning hers to her side even as she struggled to get free. She kicked and screamed and struggled, trying desperately to get away, but I'd been well trained in unarmed combat, and knew how best to restrain her without doing any permanent damage.

The door fully opened at last, the imposing bulk of a suit of Elemental armour appeared in the opening, and I recognised it as belonging to Órla Kabrinski, a Ghost Bear on detached duty to the 106th. She gave me an apologetic look, before stepping back to make room for Leutnant Colfia's IS Standard suit, the faceplate still closed.

"Report, Trooper." She ordered briskly.

"Making friends and influencing people, Sir." I managed a smile even as the survivor snapped her head back, earning me what I immediately knew was going to be a black-eye.

The Leutnant stepped aside, allowing Hudson, our medic, to step through the doorway. Like me, he'd taken off his power armour and had an inoculation gun in hand. Grabbing my new friend, he pressed the gun against her arm and pulled the trigger, flooding her system with a powerful tranquilliser. The young woman struggled against it, but it was designed to calm down combat troops high on adrenaline and combat stimulates, and it wasn't long before her struggling lessened and she eventually stopped fighting. I helped Hudson mover over to the bed and give her a quick medical check-up: aside from minor malnutrition and vitamin-D deficiency, no doubt from living in a metal box on a dust shrouded world, eating nothing but emergency rations for who knows how long. The bandage on her arm covered a nasty gash that was starting to heal, and showed signs of having been treated with standard broad-spectrum antibiotics.

We also found a laminated ID badge with her photo on.

"Carla Hentschel, nurse from the base medical staff." I handed the badge to the Leutnant, who quickly and quietly checked it against our records of wanted Blakists.

Lot of bad people did some very bad things before and during the Jihad, and all too many of them had slipped through the net when the tide turned against them. One of our jobs was to keep an eye out for anyone trying to lay low and avoid their due date with the hangman. But evidently Hentschel wasn't one of them, as the Leutnant simply nodded and pocketed the ID. Grabbing a bag I found discarded on the floor, I gathered up the handful of personal effects I could see: Blakist or not, they might be the only links to her old life left, and there was no way of knowing if we'd be able to swing back that way before we left.

TBC
Title: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker on 05 August 2019, 21:40:44
Cont.

We made our way to the main control room with a semi-lucid Hentschel in tow, only to find it almost completely destroyed by fire, the floor, walls and ceiling covered in soot, broken glass everywhere. Fortunately, the adjoining commanders office was in slightly better shape, and Leutnant Colfia, who was also our computer expert, set about trying to get the desk terminal back up and running. The rest of us started going through what physical files we could find, but it soon became clear that the fire had been started by incendiary charges built into the filing cabinets, no doubt intended to destroy the contents on command. However, not all of the files had been rigged to burn, and those that weren't had been kept in a cabinet that had been designed to withstand fire. Amongst the surviving documents were some of the personal files, and I prickly dug out Hentschels, confirming that she was nothing more than a nurse assigned to the base infirmary, with the lowest level of security clearance needed to be assigned to the base. She was, in short, a nobody, someone who'd survived whatever the hell had killed everyone else and wrecked most of the base through sheer luck.

People like to think that an organisation like the Word of Blake is full of irredeemable evil, mustache twiddling fiends dressed all in black, the kind of obviously evil demon in human form who can be easily spotted. But the truth is, the overwhelming majority of their membership was just ordinary people, the kind you pass in the street every day without a second look. Hentschel was nothing more than a qualified nurse who'd happened to be assigned to this particular base, when she just as easily could have been working in some random hospital in Terra. She wasn't necessarily evil or complicit in the crimes the Blakists committed... she was just a young woman with a job. Unfortunately, wars tend to chew up people like her, and spit out whatever was left, and there was no way of knowing if there was anything left on Terra for her to go home to.

I made a quick scan of the file: Intel was going to want to debrief her later, and it would give them a place to start.

"Stop your grinning and drop your linen." Leutnent Colfia announced, "I'm into what's left of their system."

Aside from the two assigned to guard the door, and Hudson, who was keeping an eye on Hentschel, we all gathered around the former base commanders desk as best we could as the display screen flickered to life. It was filled with static for a moment as the badly damaged system struggled to run corrupted data.

"...day 19." A man's voice announced, and the image cleared to show a man in a lab-coat, looking all the world like your typical scientist, "Testing continues on the latest batch of volunteers from Manei Domini program. We lost Subject-9 today: his body rejected the first round of genetic manipulation, indicating a previously undetected medical condition that our preliminary tests failed to pick up on. I have submitted a revised list for the next phase. Blakes Will Be Done."

"Day 103." The video skipped ahead, "As per my last report to Precentor Kernoff, we have move ahead to Phase Two ahead of schedule. Subjects-14 and 21 have proved to failures, the more extreme genetic modifications resulting in their DNA unravelling. We were forced to euthanize them. Blakes Peace Be Upon Them."

"...236." the image skipped again, the scientist looking agitated, "Of the first batch of Subjects, only Subject-5 remains, the rest having either died due to some unforseen fault in their augmentation process, or as in the case of Subject-2, self-termination upon realising just how much of them had been changed. I had hoped that by selecting from those who'd already volunteered for the Manie Domini programme, we would be able to screen out those with too great an attachment to their physical form, but it seems that the Blessed Blake is using this opportunity to test both our resolve and our wisdom. His Will Be Done."

"Day 300. The second batch of volunteers arrived today, two choosing self-termination after being introduced to Subject-5. We may have to limit his interaction with new subjects in the future, at least until they have a chance to come to terms with what exactly is being asked of them."

"... 7." the video skipped again, and Scientist Guy seemed angry about something, "We lost Subjects-29 and 34 during a training exercise in the Jungle Training habitat, both killed by Subject-5. I personally debriefed him afterwards, and he showed no remorse over their deaths, which is itself to an issue, but it's the reasoning he gave: 29 and 34 had been assigned to his team for the exercise, and he said that they were 'slowing him down', seeming to believe that that was all the justification needed. I know that what we are doing here is all part of the Blessed Blakes plan, but I sometimes feel that he is testing me personally."

"Day 327." now he looked almost ill, "As per Precentor Kernoffs orders, we are moving ahead with Phase Three: to implantation of a prototype C3 based wireless networking node into the most promising group of Subjects. I pushed for the Alpha-node to be given to Subject-42, but I was overruled, and it will instead be given to Subject-5." he paused and looked intently at the camera, "I wish to go on the record as stating my objections to this decision in the strongest possible way. Subject-5 remains on the boarderline for acceptable behaviour, even with increasing doses of mood stabilisers and sessions with our best psychologists. I can not shake the feeling that maybe we went too far, removed too much of what made him human. I prey to Blake that I am wrong."

"...331." He looked surprisingly happy as the next fragmented video started to play, "All participants in the C3 experiment have survived surgery and are recovering. Even Subject-5 has shown remarkable improvement in both his general mental health and personal interactions with the medical staff. We have no way of knowing if this is some lingering side effects from the anaesthetic or an unexpected effect of the connection he now has with the rest of his team, but an improvement it is none the less. Truly, Blake smiles upon the work we are doing here."

"... 47. At the insistence of Precentor St. Jamais, we conducted a live-fire exercise in the ruins of Caddo City. Against my better judgement, I agreed to allow the use of so-called 'Bondsman', Elemental warriors formally of Clan Smoke Jaguar, as the opposition force. They seemed eager for the chance to face an enemy in battle, preferring the opportunity to 'die in battle as warriors'. Well, they got their wish." the scientist looked pale, finding it hard to make eye-contact with the camera, "I understand that we face great opposition to our appointed tasks, that there are those who will, in their ignorance, struggle against being brought into the Light, but still... They didn't just kill the Elementals: they tortured them to death for nothing more than the thrill of seeing the life slowly drain from their eyes. I... I understand that extreme measures may be necessary, but how can we save humanity if we resort to such barbarism?"

The screen was filled with static, indicating a mass of corrupted data, then the words 'Final Entry' appeared, and we all leaned in closer.

"I don't know why I'm making this entry: Blakes will be done, and the nuclear failsafe will destroy the data core and everything else in this accursed place." The scientist looked almost mad, his normally pristine lab coat covered in soot and blood, "Well, we did what were were told: expanded the number of subjects tied into the C3 net... Blake save us, we did exactly what Subject-5 wanted..." static played across the screen for a moment, "He took control of the other test subjects... turned them I to little more than extentions of his own twisted mind. He then turned on us! Killed the medical team and had his subordinates begin turning them into...into spare parts to further enhance themselves. I gave the order to blow the dome, but it was too late: they'd already been upgraded to survive in inhospitable atmospheres. The security team.. " he shuddered as the sound of weapons fire could be heard in the background, "I've ordered the support staff to evaluate to a waiting DropShip, but I don't know if we can hold them off long enough. If they... If they get off planet... Blake help us, all we wanted to do was protect people from war..."

There was an explosion, and he looked up at something off-screen, his eyes going suddenly wide with terror as what little colour remaining drained from his face. His hand shot up, pressing a hold-out laser pistol to the underside of his chin. He said something that the microphone failed to pick-up, then fired a bolt of coherent light up through his brains. The popular view of a laser weapon from movies and TriVids is a flash of light, a small burn-mark, and the victim falling down dead, nice and clean.

Reality isn't anywhere near as nice, and we got to see his eyes start to bulge out as all the liquid inside his skull was suddenly superheated before the screen thankfully went dark. We all looked up, and sure enough, there was a single burn mark in the ceiling above the desk, but no sign of the body.

"Pack it up." Leutnent Colfia's voice was cold and detached, "We're leaving."

For once, nobody questioned her order, and we set about collecting the surviving files and getting back into our suits. I helped Hudson get Hentschel into an emergency environment suite from one of the emergency kits: it wasn't much more than a pressure suit and a oxygen tank, but it would keep her alive until the shuttle could pick us up. The young nurses was still dazed from the tranquillisers, but with it enough to be more of a help than a hindrance, and she was even able to clutch the bag holding her personal effects.

It was at that point that the fecal matter hit the environmental control unit, as the old saying goes.

First clue we got that something was wrong was when we lost the signal to the Broncos, then the alarms on our suits started screaming that the atmosphere was becoming tainted. Fortunately, everyone was already in their suits at the time, so it was just a case of snapping shut faceplates and hitting the over-pressure switch to purge anything nasty. Then came the unmistakable rattle of a Bearhunter Superheavy Autocannon as Connor, our resident Ghost Bear, opened up on something in the corridor outside. That first quick burst was followed by a second, drawn out barrage as he jerked his weapon around, evidently trying to get a solid lock onto something moving fast. Then came the whoomp-bang of a grenade launcher, and the room shook.

One thing you learn when fighting the Blakists is that the best defence is a strong offence, so we charged out of the room, forming a perimeter in the wide hallway beyond. We'd expect to face Manei Domini, but what we found would have given even those freaks nightmares.

They'd been human, once, possibly more than one in some cases, but they'd been taken apart and put back together with what looked like the contents of the local scrapyard. Metal and flesh met in ways the Good Lord never intended, creating abominations with more arms, legs and even eyes then were normal. Some had weapons grafted onto their bodies: hands replaced with blades, lasers where eyes should have been. They seemed to be coming from somewhere deeper in the base, and it was very obvious that they weren't interested in a cup of coffee and a chat.

Someone gave the order to open fire, and we lit them up with everything at our disposal: the flash of lasers and man-pack PPC's blind us even as our visors struggled to compensate. I shouldered my gauss rifle and fired into the centre mass of something, I don't know what, punching a fist sized hole right through it. I followed this up with a second shot to what I think was its chest, then a third through the head, just like they thought us in basic. Thankfully it went down, but for every one we killed, two more seemed to take their place. I saw Hudson go down, some kind of barbed spear through his chest, then watched wide-eyed as his body was pulled away by means of a cable attached to the other end.

Evidently Subject-5 was looking for fresh parts.

All semblance of a organised defence were soon lost: sometimes a single shot was all that was needed to put one of them down, sometimes it was like our weapons fire just bounced off them. Only our heaviest of weapons seemed to be able to guarantee a kill, and we had all to few of those. Even the heavy flamers seemed to do little more than turn them into flailing torches that rushed our lines, trying to set us on fire before the damage overcame their inhuman desire to kill. I don't know who broke first, but it soon spread. I grabbed Hentschel by the arm, dropping my by then empty rifle and drawing the Adjudicator. I gave one last loom over my shoulder: Leutnent Colfia was standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Órla and Connor, the three holding the line as the rest of us ran for our lives.

There aren't many things in my life I'm ashamed of: you don't last long in this line of work without becoming cynical as hell, but I'll admit that I regret every bad word I ever said or thought about Leutnent Colfia.

The automapping system in my suit already had the way-point marker set, making sure I didn't get lost, and while the Tornado may not be the fastest thing on the battlefield, in close confines, it's quicker and more agile than most. Hentschel did slow me down a little, but it never occurred to me to let her go, and the sight of what was following us seemed to have cut through the dug induced haze that had enveloped her. Up ahead, I saw something that looked for all the world like a giant scorpion come crashing down out of the ceiling, and I brought the Adjudicator up and fired almost on reflex. A bolt of sapphire blue light connected the two of us for an instant, and a dark hole appeared on one of its arms. I fired again, adjusting my aim, this time burning through one of its legs. Myomer snapped and burned, but even the loss of a leg didn't seem to slow it down as it turned to face us with a disturbingly human looking face.

I fired four more times and the face was a blackened, burnt-out mess, the cybernetic creature little more than dead metal.

Another cyborg, this one almost human looking, except for the two long scythe like blades where its hands should have been stood waiting by the impromptu airlock, and I fired the last two shots from the Adjudicator through its chest, dropping it like a puppet with the strings cut. I dropped the pistol back into the holster: I hadn't the inclination to stop and reload any time soon. Through the airlock and we were back out into the blasted remains of the base, my comslink filled with the screaming of my teammates as they fell, one by one, to the Blakists. Some of you might say that I should have gone back, should have tried to help them, but to hell with you all! I've faced death enough times that it no longer holds much fear for me, but I'd be damned before I became part of that sick, twisted army of half-human puppets.

We were quickly outside, and I activated my suites emergency beacon, preying to a God I was no longer so sure existed that the shuttle got to us first. Dragging Hentschel behind me, I just chose a direction at random and ran as hard and asop fast as my suit would allow me. I felt her stumble and fall, and almost instinctively threw her over one shoulder in a crude fireman's lift.

I think, if I had to put I to words why I felt such a need to save her life, it was because I needed to see some good come out of the hell that was New Dallas. Blakist or not, she was still an innocent, and there are all too few of those left in this galaxy.

A new icon appeared on my HUD, indicating that the shuttle was coming down hard and fast, the rendezvous set for just under a klick away. The thought of impending rescue lent my legs fresh strength, and I stumbled on as fast as I could. We reached the extraction point just as the shuttle was setting down, and the hatch was barely open before I all but fell through it, dropping Hentschel unceremoniously onto the deck. I yelled at a startled crewman to close the hatch and tell the pilot to burn hard for orbit, but they'd been expecting a full team, not one crazy woman and a stranger in an emergency suit.

In the end I drew the still empty Adjudicator and waved it at the man: he had no way of knowing that it wasn't loaded, and slammed his hand down on the close button and told the pilot to red-line the engine. I could feel the g-forces pushing down on me, almost crushing me, but every second took us further and further away from New Dallas.

Docking with the waiting DropShip, I turned myself over to the waiting intelligence officer, handing over my weapon and the mission data recorder from my suit. I spent the better part of a week locked in a cabin while they waited for someone else from the mission to activate their be on, but in the end, they were forced to accept my version of events, especially as it was supported by the MDR. We were ordered out-system by someone very high up, and arrived back at the JumpShip just in time to see an honest-to-God warship arrive in system, apparently with orders to burn the entire continent down to the bedrock.

I never found out if they did follow through, or if they were dumb enough to try and send another team down, but it's been almost ten years and the Inner Sphere hasn't been taken over by crazed cyborgs, so I guess we're doing alright.

The End
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: Siden Pryde on 06 August 2019, 17:54:04
 :thumbsup: Another great addition.  I imagine lots of SpecOps and merc groups ran into little pockets of Wobbies here and there, if not quite as horrifying as this one.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: Kidd on 06 August 2019, 21:52:48
Me see Sharpe reference, me like!
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: kelgar04 on 06 August 2019, 23:39:51
Burn the continent down to bedrock then making it so it glows in the dark is the single most rational response imaginable.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: Sir Chaos on 07 August 2019, 05:04:06
Burn the continent down to bedrock then making it so it glows in the dark is the single most rational response imaginable.

Indeed. This is one of those times where "nuke the place from orbit" doesn´t quite cut it any more.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker on 07 August 2019, 05:41:05
Me see Sharpe reference, me like!
I can't remember putting them in, but it's one of my favourite shows, so it's a strong possibility that I did so subconsciously.

EDIT: hang on, yes, that was a Harper quote I used towards the beginning. Congratulations on being the first to spot it
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: PsihoKekec on 07 August 2019, 05:58:55
I just hope the warship got the right continent.
I was kind of expecting the last minute twist, with the nurse turning out to be Subject-5, considering how it kept changing from he to she in scientist's narration I thought it is capable of changing apperance.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker on 07 August 2019, 07:57:08
I just hope the warship got the right continent.
I was kind of expecting the last minute twist, with the nurse turning out to be Subject-5, considering how it kept changing from he to she in scientist's narration I thought it is capable of changing apperance.
Yes, there was an early draft where it turned out that the nurse was Subject-5; it was going to tie back into Sealed Cargo, but I changed my mind. Keep having to go back and correct missed pronouns
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: DOC_Agren on 07 August 2019, 19:55:38
Burn the continent down to bedrock then making it so it glows in the dark is the single most rational response imaginable.
what do you mean, not enough...  this time u need to crack the planet to be sure you get them all
Title: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker on 13 August 2019, 21:14:40
OK, so this one is going to be a bit different from the rest...

Fair Fight

There's this story, a kind of urban legend, that's popular among MechWarriors across the Inner Sphere and beyond. There's countless variations, but the basic facts are always the same.

So there's this planet, usually agreed to be in Capellan space, that gets attacked: some people say it was the Fed Sun's, some the Leaguers, a few even the Terrans Hegemony, doesn't matter. But this world is home to an order of Buddhists Monks who live in a temple atop this hill overlooking the capital, which puts them slap-bang in the middle of the raiders line of advance. Everyone tells them to get the hell out of there, but they're not having any of it: their faith is resolute and their spirits strong enough to defend their holy temple from any attack.

A scout for the raiders turns up and sees that the temple is s till occupied, so they likewise advise them to get with running away. And again, they're told that the monks aren't moving, and anyone who threatens their temple will pay the price. Well, the scout isn't getting paid to hang around, so they take off, giving the monks one last worning.

Now I get honour and defending your home and all: it's why I joined the military in the first place, but there's a very thick line between honour and stupidity.

So anyways, along comes the main force of the raiders: couple of companies worth of BattleMechs, all planning on making a straight line to the capital, regardless of who or what is in their way, and the head monk is waiting out front for them, head bowed, summoning up his Chi or whatever. He waits until the lead 'Mech, a BattleMaster in the version I first heard, is just in front of him. He suddenly drops his robes off his shoulders and charges forward, one fist pulled back ready to strike. He let's out a banshee like roar and let's fly with his fist, putting everything he has, mind, body and spirit into it... and promptly breaks every single bone in his hand.

Every. Single. One.

Even those little ones in his fingers.

Shatters them.

The 'Mech? Doesn't even notice him as it continues on through the temple.

Moral of this story? Don't try and punch a BattleMech, I guess.

But I'm a aerospace pilot, so I seldom have to worry about crazy people trying to punch me while I zip around overhead. And I told you this story not only to get a cheap laugh out of you, but to better set the scene for what I'm about to tell you, which I can assure you is 100%, cross my heart and hope to be dispossessed, really did happen. It dates back to when I had a gig with the Explorer Corps, and we were making a stop off at Cyclops Station.

For those of you who've never been there, Cyclops Station is something else. Originally a Potemkin class transport called the SLS Cyclops, she was abandoned when she suffered one of those nasty little 'hiccups' during a jump that left half the crew dead and the KF-core a half-molten mess of titanium and germanium. They probably intend to go back and salvage her, but then the Star League fell and everything went to hell in a hand-basket. So instead she was picked almost clean by pirates and scavengers until she fell under the control of a surprisingly enterprising Pirate King who had the bright idea of turning her into a space station. He spent years and every single credit he'd earned doing it, but in the end he'd turned a derelict ship into one of the few relatively safe Free-Ports in that part of the Periphery. Lot of people make use of Cyclops Station as a way point headed into or out of the Inner Sphere, and that canny Pirates descendents get 10% of all the business done, right off the top.

The Explorer Corps stumbled upon it back around 3040 or so, and have kept a low-key presence there ever since. We were waiting for our jump-drive to recharge, so the boss lady decided to give us a few days Liberty, least those of us she felt she could trust on Cyclops Station. Thankfully, I was one such aerojock, which is how I found myself in a small bar on one of the gravdecks, sipping something they claimed was whisky and I wasn't in the mood to question. It was a relatively quiet place by local standards, which is why a couple of members of a Clan Diamond Shark trade delegation decided to stop by.

Now, don't get me wrong: I have no more desire to live under the jack-booted foot of the Clans any more than the next freedom loving Lyran, but the Sharks are actually kind of decent people. Still walk around like their shit don't smell, but you can actually sit down and do business with them. You can spot a Shark trade envoy easily enough: just look for someone dressed in a conservative but well-made suit, with either a lapel pin or signet ring bearing the Clan's insignia. Also helps that they tend to be accompanied by a couple of warriors, usually Elementals, especially if they're looking to make a statement. And very little makes a statement like two-and-a-half of muscle and belligerent intent.

Well, this Shark was a sterne looking woman sat at a table with some guy dressed in the ubiquitous jumpsuit of a spacer, unsurprisingly devoid of any unit patch or rank insignia. He'd evidently been drinking harder and longer than she had, gagging by the somewhat glazed expression on his face and the way his hand was creeping closer to her knee. I gave him about fice centimeters before it was removed, possibly permanently, by one of the two warrior cast members riding shotgun on the merchant. The first was a striking woman, skin as black as night with a faint fuzz of copper coloured hair. I know enough about Clan insignia to tell she was a MechWarrior, a Star Captain by the gold and green shoulder patches on her field uniform. And she was all business, keen eyes constantly scanning the room, her back against the wall so nobody could sneak up behind her.

Honestly, I was kind of impressed.

Her companion, on the other hand... look, every military in human history has a few examples of people who have no right being in uniform and the knuckle-dragger sat on the other side of the merchant was a prime example. He was clearly an Elemental, and a big one at that, his battle-scared head shaved bald. But if it wasn't for his ill-fitting uniform, I might have mistaken him for a pirate: while the other two Clanners sat up straight with near textbook posture, he was slumped back in a chair that was only just big enough to hold him. There was also a look about him, almost like a wild animal that knew with absolute certainty that he was the single deadliest person in the room, if not the station. Cyclops Station has very strict rules about bringing weapons on board, and I doubted anything on the acceptable list of would so much as slow him down.

I found my checking how close the nearest exit was.

Truth is, I wasn't paying them much attention: I was more interested in finishing my drink before I had to get back to the waiting shuttle, so I didn't notice that the 'waitress' serving their table was dressed in ill-fitting clothes and was lacking even the faintest hint of makeup. I did, however, notice the Bondcord on her right wrist, and the somewhat sullen look in her eyes. She placed four glasses down on the table and took half a step back, only to let out a surprised shriek as the Elemental grabbed her and pulled her down onto his lap. He lent in close and whispered something into her ear that made her eyes go wide and what little colour there had been drain from her face, which only made the Elemental laugh.

What can I say? It's a rough, unforgiving universe, especially that far from 'Civilisation', and I wasn't about to get my neck snapped for a total stranger.

"I do not believe that the young lady is seeking your attention." a strong voice called out from across the bar, which suddenly became very quiet.

If the Elemental heard, he made no sign.

"I would ask that you remove your hand from her shoulder and apologise for whatever it is you said to her." the voice called out again, and this time I was able to zero in on who said it.

It was a tall man, at least by non Elemental standards, dressed in a grey tunic with some kind of cape sling over his shoulders, the clasp of which was fashioned like a coat of arms. But hey, the Periphery is home to countless worlds, each with their own idea of what's fashionable. He had piercing blue eyes and greying hair, but he held himself with an aura of authority and nobility that you don't expect to find somewhere like Cyclops Station. His companion was a younger man, dressed the same, but sitting back in his chair, a stein of beer in his hands, an amused expression on his face.

"FREEBIRTH!" The Elemental hissed as he stood, something that took a while, given how tall he was. He stalked over to the other table, looming over the older man like an advancing glacier, "She is my Bondswoman, taken in battle, and I will say and do to her as I wish."

If he'd been looking to intimidate the Good Samaritan, he failed, as the man stood, his expression calm and composed.

"You are a warrior, a man of honour, or at least you claim to be." the old man locked eyes with the Clanner, "Tell me, is this how an honourable man treats a defenceless young woman where you come from?"

The Elemental sneered in response, drawing back a fist the size of a sledgehammer, ready to strike.

"Giddion." the Star Captains voice sounded like a crack of thunder in the silent bar, the unspoken order behind the name breaking through her subordinates rage and making him relax slightly.

"So, you consider yourself a man of honour?" the sarcasm dripping from his voice was almost palpable, "Care to prove it in a Circle of Equals?"

"Ah, one of your Trials of Possession?" a faint smile flickered across the shorter man's face, "And the stakes?"

"Her freedom." the Elemental clocked his head towards the startled young woman, the looked at his opponent with a killers eyes, "Your life."

"I believe that the phrase is 'Bargained Well And Done'." the Good Samaritan took off his Cape, folded it and laid it across the back of his chair, before gesturing towards an open area where, on occasion, live music might be performed, "Shall we?"

Bar patrons moved out of the way, but only so they could get a better view of the free entertainment, while the barman started taking bets. If I haven't made it clear by now, Cylops Station isn't your usual port, and the kind of people who gather there tend to have a somewhat fatalistic outlook on life, knowing full well that it is often short and violent. The Good Samaritan reached the stage area first, turning to wait for the Elemental who was approaching like a malevolent storm. He eventually reached the open area and smiled.

"We call upon all those present to bear witness to what follows." he announced, holding his arms wide open, "One battle has started, let none interfere until honour is satisfied."

"Seyla." the Star Captain and the Merchant spoke as one.

The older man simply nodded, standing with his hands clasped behind his back.

With a roar that seemed to shake the bulkheads, the Elemental charged forward, his right fist swinging round like a wrecking-ball. The Good Samaritan simply lent back and to the side, allowing it to sail past him without so much as rustling his hair. The Elemental staggered to a halt, seemingly surprised to have missed his target, only to find the other man standing behind him. Clenching his fists together, the Elemental spun around, clearly intending to take the other man's head clean off his shoulders, only for his opponent to drop down and reverse direction, once again popping back up behind his far larger opponent.

And that was how the fight went on: the Elemental telegraphing strikes that would probably kill if they ever actually connected, and the Good Samaritan simply not being where his opponent expected him to be, moving with a fluid grace at odds with his apparent age. The longer the fight went on, the angrier and sloppier the Elemental became. I have to admit, I found myself impressed with the older man's technique: all he had to do was wait until the neanderthal he was fighting committed to a strike, and simply move somewhere else. It was a skill any soldier in their right mind could appreciate, and out of the corner of my eye, I could see that he had impressed the Star Captain, if not her subordinate.

"Savashri!" the Elemental spat, showing no sign of tiring, "Fight me, you dishonorable Surat!"

In response, the Good Samaritan waited until his opponent swung another wild punch, then finally struck back. His hands moved almost too fast for my eyes to follow, but I saw him jab the bigger man three time; twice in the upper arm, once in the shoulder. The moves were measured and precise, and the result was instantaneous.

The Elementals arm suddenly dropped to his side, limp and non-responsive. He looked at it in utter bewilderment for a moment, shaking his shoulder to try and get it to respond. But it just hung there, uselessly. He let out a mighty roar as he swung his other arm round, but the Good Samaritan simply ducked under it and came up the other side, striking at that arm as he had the first, leaving it to hang just as lifeless.

"The paralysis is only temporary." he stood before the confused Elemental like a school teacher addressing a particularly unruly pupil, "It should wear off in an hour or so. But I believe I have won this contest, and as such, the young woman's freedom."

The room was silent, save for the omnipresent hum of the air circulation system and the distant chatter of voices out in the corridor. Nobody knew what to think: they had expected to see an Elemental do what he had been bred for, not see an older and far smaller man make a mockery of him with little to no apparent effort. The universe just didn't work that way, not in real life. But we had all seen it with our own, mostly two, eyes, and there was no debating who had won the fight.

The Elemental disagreed with that last part.

Swaying back, he rocketed his head forward, intending to crash it into his enemy like a hammer blow from the gods... only to find himself instead encouraging the Good Samaritans hand coming the other way, his outstretched finger jabbing the Clanner almost dainty on the temple. The Elemental staggered back, more out of shock than anything, his disbelief quickly turning to fresh rage as he realised that his opponent had turned his back and was walking away.

"Get back here!" he demanded, not seeming to notice the faint trickle of blood that was starting to run down his head from his nose and ears, "We are not finished yet!"

"The fight is over." the Good Samaritan paused, a sad expression on his face, "You are already dead."

The Elemental looked confused for a moment, then suddenly fell forward like a tree, landing with enough force to shake the entire bar.

There was a moment of silence, then the room exploded with noise as people started to argue about what happened. But the Good Samaritan ignored them all as he walked over to the table where the two remaining Diamond Sharks and their suddenly very sober companion were sitting. He looked at the Star Captain, who simply nodded her head.

"My dear." the man held out his hand to the visually shocked and confused Bondswoman, "If you would like to join us, we'll get that bracelet off of you, then see what we can do about getting you home safely."

I tell you, it was the damnedest thing I have ever see.

The End

Cyclops Station is something I came up with more than ten years ago and decided would make the perfect setting for this snippet. Feel free to make use of in campaigns if you wish: just remember to give credit where due. Stats can be found here on the forum.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: Kidd on 14 August 2019, 12:12:06
Beautiful  :clap:

The legendary dim mak is bread and butter in Chinese fantasy but still relatively rare in Western media. Always nice to see it pop up in all sorts of places.
Title: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker on 14 August 2019, 14:15:48
Beautiful  :clap:

The legendary dim mak is bread and butter in Chinese fantasy but still relatively rare in Western media. Always nice to see it pop up in all sorts of places.
Giddion found himself facing a master of the Hokuto Shinken, but didn't realise it before it was too late
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: Kidd on 14 August 2019, 14:32:40
Giddion found himself facing a master of the Hokuto Shinken, but didn't realise it before it was too late
N-nani?!?!?!

I was so engrossed I didn't even catch that. Nice!
Title: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker on 14 August 2019, 16:57:03
N-nani?!?!?!

I was so engrossed I didn't even catch that. Nice!
It was that or the Five Point Palm Exploding Heart Technique, and I've been a North Star fan for almost twenty years...
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: wolfcannon on 14 August 2019, 17:08:00
thought i recognized the "your already dead!" statement.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: mikecj on 14 August 2019, 22:53:29
Ah, I thought it was Chiun, Master of Shinanju.
Title: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker on 15 August 2019, 12:58:33
Ah, I thought it was Chiun, Master of Shinanju.
I deliberately made it as generic as I could to avoid making it a crossover, with the inspiration for how the Good Samaritan looked and spoke actually coming from an episode of Babylon 5 (the one where the crazy guy thought he was King Arthur). The idea was to make it somewhat believable, right up until he did the whole "touch of death", and then leave it up to the reader as to just how he pulled it off.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: DOC_Agren on 15 August 2019, 13:55:29
Ah, I thought it was Chiun, Master of Shinanju.
and I was thinking the line continuing down though Remo's lineage as Chiun's went rogue.. as I recall
Title: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker on 18 August 2019, 06:42:28
Divine Intervention

Never shall innocent blood be shed, yet the blood of the wicked shall flow like a river.
The Three shall spread their blackened wings and be the vengeful, striking hammer of God

Everyone sent into Machen Pass knew we were being sent to die.

The 3rd Benjamin Regulars were rolling up the valley like an express Maglev, and the only chance we had to stop them before the capital was to slow them down long enough for the rest of the Militia to regroup and dig-in. Unfortunately that meant leaving a mix bag of 'Mech's, armour and infantry to hold the only pass leading out of the North end of the wide valley for as long as possible. But we knew that it was a one-way mission, we knew what was being asked of us, and no-one backed down: this is Kentares IV, and we know the Mercy of the Dragon.

Some of us wrote letters to our famalies, other prayed, got drunk or found someone willing to have one last roll in the sack with. I personally spent every last credit I had on a genuine, real beef stake, figuring that I should at least have a decent last meal. It cost almost a months wages, but by God and all his angles, I've never eaten anything half as good.

Dawn found us on the firing line, the rest of the militia having pulled out under the cover of darkness. I know in all the TriVids, this would be the part where someone stands up and gives a rousing speech about Honour, Duty and the House Davion, but real life isn't like that. We knew what was being asked of us, and we all knew that we'd die where we stood. My family may have emigrated to Kentares after the Massacre, but it was my home, and I'd spent my entire life being told the story of what happened back in the First Succession War. I have a sister and two nephews in the capital, and I would be damned if I let any Drac bastard get anywhere near them while there was still breath in my body. Technically I was the gunner on a Schrek, an old, second-line model that had long ago had its PPC's and fusion reactor stripped out and replaced with a trio of AC/5's and a stinking old ICE that had a nasty habit of backfiring. Not that it was likely to happen that day, given that the sappers had dug a pit for the Schrek to be driven into, then covered the lower hull with earth and rocks, turning it into an ad-hoc turret.

Technically, they'd left the rear hatch clear, and I had a rifle and pack ready to go, but nobody actually expected me to make use of them, and I'd handed the ammo over to a couple of ground-pounders. They'd be able to make better use of it than I ever would. I looked up at the maxim some long forgotten tanker had etched into the armour just above the gunsight:

Out of fuel, become a fortress. Out of ammo, become a bunker. Out of time, become a hero.

Well, there was nothing but heroes in Machen Pass that day.

The sappers had rigged the pass with every smoke charge they could lay their hands on or build from scratch in time, filling the valley with a thick, artificial fog that played hell with visuals and thermal sensors, forcing the Snakes to get in close, close enough that even our outdated, ill-maintained weapons could kill them if we got the chance. It mean't we couldn't see shit, but a network of hard-lines had been rigged up, at least allowing the forward observation posts to give us a warning before they got over-run. Not that any died easy: every fox-hole had an inferno-SRM, heavy machine-gun or morter, with satchel charges and sticky-bombs at the ready.

HQ may have sent us to our deaths, but they at least made sure we could make the bastards pay for every step they took into the pass.

It was a little after dawn when the first reports of Drac scouts started to filter in: I guess they didn't like the idea of trying to force the pass in the dark. Snipers took out their infantry, forcing them to send in battle armour and IFV's, which started to take fire from the heavier weapons, so they had no choice but to send in the BattleMechs. It was nothing short of a nightmare, being stuck alone in that Schrek, listening to my comrades dying, knowing that any moment, it might be my turn. My entire world consisted of the gunsight, the joystick in my right hand and the radio, everything else fading away. I wasn't a young man who'd joined the militia because he was stupid enough to think women might be impressed by the uniform. I wasn't some random cubicle monkey who spent his 9-to-5 filling out shipping invoices. No, I was nothing but a fire-control system.

It didn't take long for the fighting to reach me: an already damaged off-white Panther stumbled out of the smoke, its pilot evidently disorientated. I quickly rotated the Schrek's turret until the targeting radical pulsed gold and pulled the primary trigger, sending three streams of 90mm death screaming into it. Armour flaked and fell as it staggered backwards, knocked off balance by the force of the attack. But I followed it without needing to even think about it, keeping the crosshairs over the centre torso as best I could, but between muzzle lift and the Panther stepping into a shell crater, it started to fall backwards.

All three streams of autocannon shells connected with the 'Mech' s head, ripping through it, and the pilot inside.

I had no time to contemplate my first kill, as a Galleon support tank rumbled into view on my left flank, its medium laser bitting into the armour on my turret as I struggled to bring my weapons back round. Unfortunately, the Galleon wasn't staying put, but rather continued to move forward, managing to keep ahead of my guns even as it continued to pump megajoules of laser energy into my already weakened armour. Then a pair of infantryman appeared, one lobbing a pair of satchel charges into the tanks tracks, the other one giving it a one-two hit from a shoulder-launched SRM. The satchel charges lifted the right side of the Galleon off the ground, and I saw sections of track and bogies flying free, then the SRM's exploded just short of the front armour, spraying the already damaged vehicle with burning napalm. It wasn't enough to totally kill the light tank, but it was enough to keep the crew occupied burning the ground-pounders down with their twin small lasers while I finished bring my autocannons round.

The Schrek's guns barked, and depleted uranium tipped death tore through the Galleon, gutting it in less than a minute.

I didn't have time to revell in my victory, as an entire squad of Raiden battle armour came leaping out of the smoke. They were too fast and too agile for me to track, as the moment I thought I had one in my sights, it would suddenly change direction whole its companions picked away at my rapidly demonising armour with thier small lasers. I felt sure that my time was running out, so I resorted to simply spraying out as many shells as I could in the hopes of hitting something purely by law of averages.

But then it started: an Arrow IV struck the ground amid the Snakes, tossing them through the air like a child discarding unwanted toys. They landed in broken heaps, a few moving slightly as their injured pilots struggled to regain their footing. But more missiles came, a seeing unending barrage, the force of the explosions clearing the smoke, revealing the battlefield. Only a handful of the Militia units remained in fighting condition, surrounded on all sides by the advance guard of the 3rd Benjamin Regulars. Only the artillery missiles fell with unnerving accuracy, every one finding a 'Mech, tank or infantry squad to decimate. I saw a bone-white Atlas stagger as it took a direct hit to the shoulder, blowing an arm clear off, followed by two more than simply shattered its body, the head flying high on a pillar of smoke and flame as the pilot ejected. Others were less lucky, with the inexplicable rain of death striking cockpits or setting off ammunition explosions that gutted 'Mechs and vehicles like.

I turned my turret around to find a trio of truly ancient looking Archer's in the blood red of the Draconis March Militia standing in a line, half hidden by the remaining smoke. Each was covered in the scars of battle, one missing both arms, yet they continued to unleash death and destruction upon the invaders. And the Snakes had nothing that could touch them at such a range, forcing them pull back out of the pass or face utter obliteration. I fired the last of my autocannon rounds into their backs as they retreated into the smoke.

When I looked back, the Archer's were gone, the only sign they had ever been there the dead and broken Draconians they left strewn across the pass.

Those of us who survived pulled back to the extraction point, surprised by just how many of us there were. Then the radio sprung to life with word that the 10th Lyran Guards were burning hard for the planet, having learned of the Combine raid while passing through the system. The unexpected arrival of an entire RCT had the 3rd Benjamin in full retreat, looking to get off planet before they were caught dirt-side.

We reported what had happened in Machen Pass, all of us looking to thank the three Archer pilots who'd saved our arses, only for HQ to insist that there were no Arrow IV equipped BattleMechs on the planet, and certainly no Archer's of the type we described. Indeed, a check of Militia records showed that none had served on the planet since the First Succession War, the last three being destroyed while fighting to hold the Combine in Machen Pass...

The End
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: cklammer on 18 August 2019, 07:44:31
Very well done  :thumbsup:
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: Kidd on 18 August 2019, 07:58:24
And shepherds we shall be, for thee my Lord, for thee...
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: Intermittent_Coherence on 18 August 2019, 08:32:07
And yea though I walk through the vallley of death, I shall fear no Dracs, for I have Archers with Arrow IVs behind me. :D
Title: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker on 18 August 2019, 08:50:22
And shepherds we shall be, for thee my Lord, for thee...
First person to get the reference  :thumbsup:
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: Sharpnel on 18 August 2019, 09:40:57
First person to get the reference  :thumbsup:
It was a great movie. The 2nd one notsomuch
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: snakespinner on 19 August 2019, 03:05:04
Arrow IV's always bring a tear to my eye.
Great story. :thumbsup:
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: DOC_Agren on 19 August 2019, 16:25:07
Got to love those old "Ghost" Soldiers who still remember their jobs and and shooting skills all these years later
Title: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker on 21 August 2019, 20:01:45
The format of this may come across as odd if you haven't ready the Interstellar Players source books

And a shout-out to Tex of the Black Pants Legion, whose video on the Amaris Coup inspired this story


Upon A Pale Horse

Those of you who have been following me for a while know that rumour and hearsay are my stock and trade, but that I never publish anything that I haven't at least been able to independently verify with a secondary source, but, well, there are exceptions to every rule.

I think we all know the story of the original Royal Boack Watch Regiment: they were, without a doubt, the single most elite unit in the old SLDF. They were the best trained, best equipped and best led soldiers in human history, each and every one a graduate of the almost legendary Gunslinger Program, unmatched in all of explored space. Even the Clans, with their centuries of selective breading and technology advancement have trouble coming close to same standards as the Black Watch. They were the Royal Bodyguards of House Cameron, tasked with defending the First Lord and their family against any and all who might seek to do them ill, and despite his best planning, they came close to ending the Usurpers coup even as it started.

Even after Fortress Cameron was hit by multiple nuclear weapons, two Lance's of the Black Watch held up the 4th Amaris Dragoons as they attempted to link up with the Usurper in Unity City, fighting so hard they he had to resort to sacrificing his own troops to hold them in place while a tactical nuclear device was used to finally wipe them out. And even then, survivors managed to escape and form the Ghost of the Black Watch Guerrilla movement that plagued Amaris until the day he died.

But I'd bet my last C-Bill that many of you don't know the legend of the Four Horseman.

Nobody knows just who the Horseman were. It's not even known if they were members of the Black Watch, but they certainly seem to have had access to highly advanced Star League technology, including the Chameleon Light Polarization Shield and the Null Signature System, effectively rendering their BattleMechs invisible. And they used this advantage to cut a bloody swathe through Amaris' forces, both on Terras and across the Hegemony.

The first recorded action by the Horseman took place on Terras, when the depleted 4th Amaris Dragoons were trying to rebuild their strength after their battle with the Black Watch. They'd taken over a SLDF training range on Baffin Island, and had spread out by battalion to engage a variety of holographic targets. Two days into the exercise, a snowstorm cut off the command company, forcing them into the Baffin Mountains. It was there that they came under attack by an unknown enemy that quickly dispatched the bodyguard lance before hunting down and destroying the other 'Mech's one by one. The radio waves were filled with desperate calls for help, confused voices trying to identify the attackers or even just where they were. The rest of the 4th Dragoons rushed to the last reported location of the command company. But by the time they get there, all they find is the broken, burning remains of twelve heavy and assault class BattleMechs, each one the funeral pyre of its pilot. A massive land, air, sea and space search was launched to try and find the attackers, but they don't find so much as a spent shell casing or drop of coolant.

Assuming that it must have been local partisans, a company from the Greenhaven Gestapo was sent in to "make an example" of a small town.

They never arrived: the same mysterious force ambushed them within sight of the town, taking down each of the Mercenaries with a single shot to the cockpit. It was this battle, if you could call it that, the only one known to leave living witnesses, that gave birth to the legend of the Four Horsemen, as the witnesses claimed that the ambush had been carried out by just four assault class BattleMechs.

A snow white
Highlander, a blood red Cyclops, a jet-black Thug and a bone white Atlas II.

Stories soon began to spread, first across Terras, then to the rest of the Hegemony. Convoys ambushed, fire bases while out, senior field commanders killed. It got so bad than many of Amaris's senior advisors refused to leave the apparent safety of Unity City or stayed in orbit, turtles up on board DropShip. People were actively mocking the Usurper, and the harder he tried to crack down, the worse things got. Units sent out to commit reprisals were slaughtered wholesale, carefully laid traps turned into bloodbaths for the units laying in wait. Nothing he did could uncover the identity of the Four Horsemen, let alone locate their base of operations or how they managed to move around seemingly at random.

Then they struck Luna, destroying a number of DropShip loading Helium-3, followed by attacks on Mars and Titan. Everywhere the Horsemen went, the story was the same: they appeared out of nowhere, attacked a specific target, then vanished into nothingness. They became the boogieman for the occupation forces, the monsters hidden under your bunk, ready to strike in the middle of the night.

There's no way that every attack accredited to the Horseman was actually them: in just one day, they supposedly hit New Earth, Outreach, Epsilon Indi and Ko, a feat physically impossible, assuming that you believe that they were actually physical BattleMechs, and not the vengeful wraiths that many started to believe. Over the fourteen years of the Star League Civil War, the Horsemen were accredited with over two thousand confirmed kills on planets all across the Terran Hegemony. And not a single confirmed recording of one of their attacks survived, with less than one hundred people living to tell of one of their attacks, none of them intended targets.

The last confirmed sighting of the Four Horsemen was on Terra during Operation Liberation. The Second Legion of Fire had taken up position inside one of the Arcologys that made up the Greater Tokyo Area. They used the civilian population as human shields, snipping at SLDF forces as they attempted to re-take the city. Unwilling to risk the massive collateral damage of a direct assault, the SLDF commander on the ground was looking over options when reports started to come in of weapons fire being heard coming from within the Arcology.

Fearing that the mercenaries had started killing their hostages, the SLDF troops prepared to launch a full on assault, only to be shocked when a Legion of Fire
Phoenix Hawk emerged from the underground parking complex, running full speed towards the Star League lines. The pilot screamed over every frequency that they surrendered, only for a single gauss rifle round to emerge from within the smoke-filled Arcology, decapitating the fleeing BattleMech, killing its pilot instantly. For the merest of moments, the smoke cleared enough to show the right arm, upper torso and head of a stark white Highlander, before it vanished from sight.

The single gun-camera recording of this incident remains the only direct evidence that the Four Horsemen ever existed.

Upon entering the Arcology, the SLDF forces found the Second Legion of Fire slaughtered, yet no sign of just who, or what, had almost effortlessly killed two battalions of battle-hardened troops. Officially, it was put down to infighting between those who wanted to surrender and those who wanted to go down fighting, but there were few who believed this version of events.

Since that day, there has never been a recorded sighting of the Horsemen or their distinctive 'Mechs. Nor is there any indication that they rejoined the victorious SLDF.

At least, that's the
official story.
-Starling

The End
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: DOC_Agren on 21 August 2019, 23:50:22
 :thumbsup:
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: snakespinner on 22 August 2019, 00:57:19
Another great story.
Are they still there waiting for someone. :beer:
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: Kidd on 22 August 2019, 14:49:43
Tell it in your own voice, JAB, you don't need Starling to tell it for you :thumbsup:
Title: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker on 22 August 2019, 15:24:02
Tell it in your own voice, JAB, you don't need Starling to tell it for you :thumbsup:
In my head, it was recanted in a gruff, profanity laden, whiskey soaked Texan accent, something far removed from my own "Queens English".

But I don't want these to sound like they're all coming from the same person, so different voices are a must.
Title: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker on 28 August 2019, 11:33:15
Making use of a unit I created years back as part of a joke. And colourful language, because, well, pirates.​

Off The Edge Of The Map


Yeah, I'm a pirate.

What? You expect me to make some excuses?

Look, you took the time and effort to track me down here, so you know who I am and what I did. So, yeah, I'm a pirate, or at least I was before too many years in space behind inadequate and poorly maintained radiation shielding caught up with me. And judging by the way the docs keep pumping me full of the good stuff, I ain't got much time left before I'm face-to-face with Old Scratch, so it's not like you'll be putting me on trial, and believe me, killing me would be doing me a favour.

I signed up with Calico Jack Rackham about three months after he was elected leader of his crew, after old Walker D. Plank was killed on a raid. And that's something that a lot of people don't understand about some pirate crews: we ellect our Captain from among the members. Everyone has a vote, and everyone is free to put their name forward, no reprisals. All open and fair, like. Not every outfit operates like that, but ours did. You get five minutes to state your case, then someone neutral, usually the cook or the doc, calls a vote. Whoever gets the most votes is the new Captain, and that's the end of it. Sure, people try and 'contest the count', but that's seen as going against the will of the crew, so it's not exactly good for your health, if you catch my drift. But Calico Jack was an old-hand by that point, so nobody actually stood against him, and the crew accepted his leadership without question.

Well, almost everyone: I wasn't there when Revy Two-Hands quit, but they were still repairing the damage to the Lady Luck when I arrived.

What happened? Well, I only heard this second hand, but apparently someone back in the Combine got in touch, said they could get her a pardon, a chance to visit her husbands grave, if she'd tell them everything she knew about some corrupt officers. She took the deal, but the bounty ISF had on her couldn't be lifted until she'd testified, and a couple of the less honourable members of the crew figured that if she wasn't one of them any more, they might as well try and collect on it. Suffice to say, it ended badly for them, and Calico told her not to let the sun go down with her still on planet.

But you didn't come all this way to talk about the inner workings of a defunct pirate band. No, you want to know what happened out there. You want to know just how Calico's Cutthroats met their end, don't ya?

Well, we'd come to the conclusion that the Chaos March was getting a little too hot for our liking. I know that the old adage is 'in confusion, there is profit', but it was getting to the point where we were more likely to be caught in the crossfire of better armed opponents, so we decided to ship-out for the Deep Periphery. Calico had a lead on some kind of mining operation that the JàrnFòlk had supposedly set-up between Hamar and Alfrk. Some desolate little mud-ball that didn't even have a name, but was apparently rich in... look, all I know is that it was apparently worth spending the better part of a year getting to, assuming that we could get our hands on it and find a buyer.

And I tell ya, if you think space travel can drive you crazy, try it with a crew who's most of the way there in the first place. It was only the fact that Calico had made his wife, Pollyanna, Master-At-Arms, that kept us from killing each other. Now, there was a woman you didn't want to get one the wrong side of, even out of that blood-red suit of Sylph battle armour she'd pulled off of a dead Diamond Shark, so it wasn't too hard for her to keep us in line.

We were getting close to going at each other, 'Pretty Polly' be damned, when we arrived in system. It was a fairly typical F-type main-sequence star with four planets, the outer two being a gas and ice giant respectively, but it was the second planet, circling on the inner edge of the habitable zone, that was our prize. Now Calico had done his homework, or, at least, paid someone to do it for him, so we had a pretty good idea what we were getting into. The planet was hot and dry with a lot of tectonic activity that brought a lot of rare elements to the surface. The JàrnFòlk had set up an open mine at the end of a steep-sided box canyon, digging into the side of the mountain for all that lovely mineral wealth. But the local geography and weather meant that they couldn't land DropShips too close to the mind, and instead had to ship out the ore to a makeshift spaceport some distance away.

And that meant that there were regular convoys of ore just waiting to be scooped up!

Not that they weren't ready for trouble: each convoy had an escort, but nothing we couldn't deal with: the JàrnFòlk may fight like the devil himself hand-to-hand or in space, but in BattleMechs? Not their natural habitat. Word was they had a company of light and medium 'Mechs, but never sent more than a single lance out on escort duty. Certainly nothing a company of heavies with a couple of assaults couldn't handle.

The Lady Luck set down in a maze of canyons that were probably ranging rivers in the wet season, but it was the hight of summer, so they were as dry as a nuns gusset. And it was deep enough to hide a Union like the Lady, meaning that the JàrnFòlk had no way of knowing we where there unless they literally stumbled over us. Did make it a little interesting finding our way out to the ambush point, but that's all part of the life. And, again, Calico had done his homework: we knew the rout the convoy would be taking and roughly when it was due, so we had time to slip into position but didn't have to spend too long sitting there with our thumbs up our arses. Calico sent Polly off to keep an eye on the mine, then shadow the convoy, make sure there weren't any unpleasant surprises waiting for us when we sprung our unpleasant surprise.

And looking back, that should have been our first clue that something wasn't right.

I've seen pretty much every kind of active and passive defence known to man, torn through or bypassed most of 'um, one time or another, but what those JàrnFòlk had set up was something different. Most obvious was the wall: big enough to bide a small DropShip behind, and made out of what passed for trees on that god forsaken rock. Big ones they were, too, thick and hard enough to stop even a medium laser, but they'd collected enough to completly enclose the end of the canyon with a big gate in the middle. They had weapons emplacements along the top: not true turrets, but enough to protect the crews from a fair bit. Then there were massive wooden stakes, effectively entire trees, buried at a 45-degree angle and the exposed ends sharpened to a point that looked like they could impale a BattleMech. Certainly not the kind of defences you'd normally expect, even that far out into the outer darkness. The wall was topped by a geometric dome made of wood, cable and netting, each joint crowned by another spike. It wasn't camouflaged, but it was obviously intended to keep someone, or something, out.

Well, the convoy moved out on time, but at a far slower pace than we expected. They seemed to be hugging a low ridge line that would eventually bring them to where we were waiting, but it wasn't the fastest or the most direct rout, not by a long shot. And they were putting out enough active sensors to spot an honest man in government and chatting away on unencrypted radios, but it was clear from what little we could translate that they weren't looking for us, or pirates in general, just... there was this word they kept using, something in Japanese, but with Two-Hands gone, none of us spoke it well enough to translate it.

Anyway, we got ready as they got closer: soon as they passed a predetermined point, we'd burst out on them, guns blazing... which actually worked better than expected, because they straight up surrendered immediately. As in, didn't fire a single shot in defence. Instead, they laid down their weapons and begged us not to shoot.

Well, that's not exactly true: they pleaded with us not to make so much noise.

Now, while we were happy to have gotten the prize without so much as a paper-cut, something about just how easily we'd one had their hairs on the back of my neck standing on end, and I could tell that Calico felt the same, because he ordered us to keep our guns trained on the JàrnFòlk while Polly inspected the bootie. And sure enough, it was exactly what we'd been expecting. More of it, in fact. Enough to keep the Cutthroats going for at least a year, even after giving everyone their cut. And the JàrnFòlk, well, they just wanted us to take it and go, quietly.

But the way they kept asking us to keep the noise down was getting to some of the others, and one, a real nasty piece of work who went by Reinhardt, he decided to 'show them who was in charge', so he raised the arms on his JagerMech and let rip a long burst with all four autocannons. Couple of the others followed suit, taking the opportunity to blow off a little steam by shooting at the sky. Spent she'll casings clattered to the ground in heaps while the air boiled with the heat of discharging lasers. Me? I was watching the JàrnFòlk, and they were watching the skies, but not out of fear of the display my companions were putting on. Backing up my Orion, I looked over to Calico: his BattleMaster hadn't moved, and I didn't know him well enough to work out what was going on in his head.

That's when the first red blip appeared on my radar plot: High up but diving down fast. I tried to get a better lock, but my tracking system just wasn't up to the task. I shouted a warning over the company wide frequency, but nobody was listening, even as I moved into a defensive stance, and more red blips started to appear, converging on our location. But the JàrnFòlk were paying attention, and had started to scatter, looking for what cover they could find, even as the first distant roar echoed over the sound of weapons fire. I looked up to see something approaching, and snapped off a quick shot from my large laser, missing by a country mile.

It, however, didn't miss.

Flame enveloped Reinhardts JagerMech from head to toe, the shock staggering him back even as he was hit by the downdraft of his attacker passing overhead. I got a glimpse of green and black, and then it was gone. Panic and confusion exploded among the Cutthroats, Calico screaming over the radio, trying to issue orders amid the chaos. Then something swooped down, knocking over a JàrnFòlk Commando, sending it crashing to the ground with massive rents in its rear armour.

They call it the 'Mad Minute', but there's no real hard rules about how long it can last, even if the mad part is selling it lightly. It happens when a group of soldiers find themselves surrounded and under attack. Training goes out the window as adrenaline and instinct kick in, and you fill the air with as much firepower as you can in a desperate bid to kill the enemy before they kill you. Even elite House troops can fall victim to it, so you can imagine how easy it was for a bunch of strung-out pirates to loose any sense of cohesion and just go nuts. Nobody was really looking who or what they were shooting at, and there was a fair bit of not-so-friendly fire, my own 'Mech taking a couple of hits. I saw a Warhammer rip itself apart as a burst of flame enveloped it and set of the ammo for its SRM Launcher, and a Crusader stagger around, writhed in flames, obviously on the point of shut-down due to excessive heat.

Then one of them landed, and I suddenly realised what the JàrnFòlk had been squawking about, that word in Japanese that none of us understood.

Doragon.

Or, if you prefer, dragon.

Yeah, roll your eyes as much as you like: just another crazy old spacer high off his tits on pain medication to combat the cancer eating his body from the inside out, spinning a yarn for gullible dirt-siders. But think on this; someone a lot higher up the chain of command for whoever you work for sent you all the way out here to the arse-crack of the universe to talk to me. Someone knows, or at least suspects, what I saw out there and wanted to hear my side straight from the Archons mouth, before it's too late. That someone believes in dragons.

So yeah, it was a dragon. Or at least as close to one as I've ever heard of. It must have been a good twenty meters long, end to end, and about half of that was tail. It was hunched over slightly, wings folded back. God, it was an ugly beastie, no denying it: all green and grey scales, head topped with a spiked crest. But the yes, ye gods, the eyes on it! Ever look at a bird or prey? Or a big predator of any kind? They got a way of looking at you, like they're already planning on how they're going to cut you open to get to the good bits inside? That's how that demon looked at me: like it was ready to rip my 'Mech apart and eat me alive.

So, perhaps you can understand why I gave it a long blast from my autocannon: the KaliYama may be an older design, but they're almost legendary for their reliability, and 150mm HE rounds can still ruin anyone's day if your aim is good. Well, that close my aim didn't have to be good, and I traced a line of hits from its gut to left shoulder. But sure as I'm sitting here before you now, I may as well have fired a kids BB gun at it. The Good Lord himself only knows what that bastards scales were made of, but they shrugged off most of the hits with no apparent damage. It was only the last one from the burst, the only one that actually hit the shoulder, that seemed to do any real damage. And even then, I only seemed to piss it off.

It clocked its head back, opened wide and belched forth a fireball that struck my Orion just below the cockpit, sending all the heat gages instantly into the red. Don't ask me how it did it, but it did and it damn near killed me: only the CASE system I'd used my cut from the last job I pulled to pay for saved me, but at the cost of turning my LRM launcher to so much molten slag and terminally jamming the autocannons feed, leaving me with just a twitchy SRM-4 and my lasers, none of which I dared use with the heat gages all buried in the deep red. I was one dead pirate.

It was Calico Jack himself who saved me: back when he'd founded the band, old Captain Plank had come across this infamously crazy Cappelan arms dealer named Boris "the Blade" Yurinov selling knock-off 'Mech scale swords on the black market. While far from Snake build quality, they were functional, and Plank insisted that every 'Mech under his command capable of doing so carried one. That were real pig-stickers, to be sure, but they scared the shit out of most people, especially when you had someone like Two-Hands living up to her name and dual wielding them. The practice had somewhat fallen out of favour since Planks death, but Calico's BattleMaster still had its sword.

The dragon, and I'm going to keep calling it that, no matter how many times you roll your eyes, the dragon must have heard him coming, because it started to turn towards him. That meant that his first swing only grazed its arm, but the follow up blast from his lasers and machin-guns made it ****** its head to the right, opening up its neck. The angle was wrong for another sword swipe, so Calico decided to pistol whip it with his PPC, and sevon tons of blut force trauma is still seven tons of blunt force trauma. That the dragon definitely felt, and it went down, letting out an ear piercing roar on pain. Calico looked ready to finish the job with the sword when, well...

The creatures we'd been fighting, if you can call flailing about like a bunch of drunks fighting, we about as big as a Zues, but what turned up next? Well, I'd bet anything you'd care to mention that it was their mother, come to see what her kids were up to.

It was big; so big the ground shook when it landed. I had to fight to keep my 'Mech upright, but I could see the broken remains of a blood-red suit of Sylph battle armour clutched in one hand, the evil looking talons punched right through it. Calico only just had time to look up in surprise before it let him have it right in the face. And this flame was white hot, almost like a blowtorch, and it melted the head right off his BattleMaster, quick as you like. Then the ready ammo in the SRM launcher went up, blowing the entire left arm, sword and all, clean off as the rest of the 'Masters ammo started to cook-off. The engine must have gone into emergency shut down, as it toppled over backwards and lay still on the ground.

And that was the end of James "Calico Jack" Rackham.

I hit the chicken switch and rode my command couch out of there, managing to angle myself away from the action, putting as much distance as possible between myself and the last stand of Calico's Cutthroats. Parafoil deployed clean, and I was able to coaxs another kilometer out if it before I touched down, but evidently the dragons were more interested in playing with the still firing 'Mechs, because they didn't seem to notice me at all. I grabbed my survival kit and started back towards the Lady Luck, only to encounter a JàrnFòlk scout on a hover bike heading back the other way. Probably not realising I was a pirate, they stopped, no doubt to ask what had happened. What they got was two centre of mass and another through the head before they'd even had a chance to say a word. I grabbed their goggles and dust mask before hightailing it out of there.

Pitty, really: she was a bit of a looker.

I managed to find my way back to the Lady just before dusk, a couple of the others trailing in later, mostly like me in vehicles they'd taken from the JàrnFòlk. Not one of our 'Mechs made it back. With Calico and Polly dead, that put the DropShips captain in charge, and he gave the order to burn hard for orbit, turning our fusion drive on that god forsaken rock and never looking back.

That was fifteen years ago, and the devil take my soul, I'm thankful for every day that puts it further in the past.

The End
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: DOC_Agren on 28 August 2019, 22:25:49
Revy Two Hand if she had been there the battle would have gone the other way
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: Kidd on 29 August 2019, 09:41:28
Battletech beasties don't get enough canon love...
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: Sir Chaos on 29 August 2019, 09:45:08
Do not meddle in the affairs of dragons, for you are crunchy, and go well with ketchup.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: TigerTiger74 on 30 August 2019, 06:18:48
There are Dinosaur analogues on Caph and Hunter's Paradise, Branth's are used as riding animals similar to Dragons that can damage Light Mechs, and there are probably more so your dragon story is not that far-fetched.
Title: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker on 02 September 2019, 17:13:48
With special thanks to Giovanni Blasini for reasons that will become clear to those who know his work.

The Last Spartan

They called it Task Force Leonidas, and to the history books, it's a small footnote in the grander story of Operation LIBERATION.

You see, the old Star League Defense Force loved their tech: they had to have the best, the newest, the shiniest toys available. Didn't matter if it was a combat knife or a battleship, they were obsessed with showing off just how powerful the Terran Hegemony. And nothing showed just how big your package was like warships. BattleMechs and infantry may take a planet, but it was warships that got them there and made sure nobody rained on their parade. And the Star League had the biggest fleet of the best ships humanity has ever known. They played by Stiener Rules: you brought a Corvette, they'd bring a Cruiser. You bring a Cruiser, they'd bring a Battleship.

In fact, their entire naval doctrine can be summed up with just four words: kill it with battleships.

The Star League Defense Force had the money, the manpower and the will to simply drown their opponents with massive firepower. Not to say that they were a blunt instrument, but when you own a hammer worthy of Thor, it's real tempting to look at every problem like it's a nail. But even they had their limits. Space is kind of big, after all, and a flotilla of warships guarding System A aren't covering System B. And if you spread them out too thinly, you risk being defeated piecemeal by an enemy able to gather sufficient forces to overcome each individual detachment one at a time. The old 'death by a thousand cuts' problem. The Star League decided they needed something new, something that would tip the balance of power back in their favour. They wanted to make the idea of invading the Hegemony simply unthinkable, something that would allow them to redeploy their massive fleet in such a way that nobody within a thousand light years of Terras would dream of defying the will of House Cameron.

Because while the other Great Houses of the Star League thought they were playing chess, House Cameron was playing Paradox-Billiards-Vostroyan-Roulette-Fourth Dimensional-Hypercube-Chess-Strip Poker the entire time.

The Star League had the ability to alter the rotational velocity of planets and weld continents together, and while all the hospitals and schools they built across the Inner Sphere and Periphery may have been good PR, they were the velvet glove that hid a fist forged from a neutron star. And when they put all that brain power into killing something, that something tended to end up very, very dead. Enter the M-5 "Caspar" Capital Drone, an AI controlled warship the size of a destroyer but packing enough highly concentrated death to ruin anyone's day. With no need to stock food, supplies, or provide crew quarters, the ships were upgraded to include a weapons suite more common to a battlecruiser. As the ships were not hindered by human limitations, they could outmaneuver the manned vessels they were designed to attack. Using the advanced computers provided by Nirasaki Computers Collective and control systems from Ulsop Robotics, the Caspars could out-fight any manned ship in space. The concept was that a star system protected by Caspars as part of an integrated Space Defense System would be, to all intents and purposes, immune to the threat of invasion.

Caspars did not need to eat, drink or sleep. So long as they were kept supplied and maintained by their equally automated command stations, they could operate round the clock. A Caspar couldn't be bargained with. It couldn't be reasoned with. It didn't feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And it absolutely would not stop, ever, until you were an expanding cloud of debris. It was a suit of armour that the Star League was going to put around the entire Hegemony, the ultimate defence against any imaginable attack from without.

Unfortunately, when that attack finally came, it came from within.

One of the first things that rat-bastard Amaris did was take full control of the Space Defense System of every Hegemony world that had one. Entire fleets of Cameron loyalist warships were lost, like bears set upon by wolves. It didn't matter how many drones it took to take down a warship, because they were far cheaper and easier to replace. Only the Charlotte Cameron was able to put up a real fight, but that's a story for another time. So now this ultimately defense was in the hands of a mad man. The Caspars didn't know any better, least, most of them didn't.

There are stories, okay, about a few experimental models that were effectively self aware, who tried to fight back against the Usurper. Most died under the guns of their less intelligent kin, while the others... we'll, they say one pointed itself at the Andromeda galaxy, burned all its fuel to reach near relativistic speed and shut itself down. The rest just vanished into the out darkness. But, again, a story for another time.

There's an old hypothetical question: what happens when an immovable object finds itself in the path of an unstoppable force?

Because if the Caspars were the ultimate defence, then the Star League Defense Force was the ultimate weapon, a giant creature made of armour and weapons, born from your darkest nightmares. Aleksandr Kerensky was a man driven by the sure and certain knowledge that the universe would be better off without Stefan Amaris around to use up perfectly good oxygen. His army was willing to follow him into the gates of hell if so ordered, and that's what going up against the Caspars was like. The drones didn't understand politics, couldn't comprehend that their orders were coming from a power mad murder. All they knew was that they had been told that the incoming SLDF forces were the enemy, and that meant only one thing: kill them with fire. Every system protected by Caspars became a meat-grinder, with dozens of ships and thousands of people lost just to reach orbit. It was a fight even the SLDF could not win, so Kerensky had his best minds work on finding a way to defeat the drones without having to throw bodies at them.

And they did, sort of. They found a way to jam the long-range communications links between the individual drones and their command nodes. Cut off, these drones could often be ignored as they just sat there, waiting for orders that would never come. Unfortunately, this only worked on long-range communications, meaning that Caspars closer to the nodes would still fight, and the Sol system had been seeded with control nodes, meaning that, when the time finally came to liberate Terra, most of the 250 drones protecting it would be active. But Terra had to fall; the Usurper had to die for his crimes, and that meant sending the Star League Defense Force into the jaws of death.

And that brings us back to Task Force Leonidas.

Kerensky assembled a flotilla of forty warships, led by the captured Stefan Amaris class battleship SLS Chieftain, and gave them the task of gutting the fleet of Caspars defending Sol. It was a suicide mission, a fact that wasn't kept from the crews, but even then, less than thirty members of the eight thousand men and women serving aboard those ships opted to back out of the mission when Kerensky gave them the choice. These people knew full well what was being asked of them, but they also knew that every day Amaris was left in charge of the Hegemony meant thousands more dead civilians. They were soldiers; they had sworn to give their lives if necessary in defence of the Star League and everything it stood for. And when the time came to fulfil their oaths, they would not be found wanting.

While the rest of Kerenskys massive armada attacked the main jump-points, the ships of Task Force Leonidas jumped into the L1 point between Sol and Mars, instantly drawing the attention of the Caspars in the area. Fearing that this was the prelude to an attack on Mars, Amaris ordered more and more drones in, but he didn't give them time to build up sufficient force to deal with the Task Force. Instead he sent them in as they arrived, meaning that many went in alone, while others attacked in twos and threes. The ships of Task Force Leonidas ripped these first few drones apart with overwhelming firepower for three hours, until thirty Caspers arrived at once.

That's when the gloves came off.

Nuclear fire enveloped the first wave of the Caspars as the ships of Task Force Leonidas unleashed a barrage of missiles in the 250-650 kiloton range. Sixteen drones were destroyed outright, with more crippled or badly damaged. The planners had expected the drones to break off at this, but it only spurred the Caspers on, as to their simple AI minds, Task Force Leonidas had just made itself the single biggest threat in the entire system. Singling out the ships that had fired the nukes, they doubled-down, going into what, had they been crewed by humans, could only be called a frenzy. Star League ships started to fall under the withering fire, and that brings us to the subject of this story.

The SLS Jervis Bay was a Congress class frigate that had seen almost two centuries of service, mostly escorting supply convoys around the Inner Sphere. But the fighting to retake the Hegemony had taken its toll on the Jervis Bay, and she had suffered severe damage to her interplanetary drive in the fighting above New Earth. Indeed, there was some debate as to whether or not she'd even be able to make the jump with the rest of the flotilla. But her engineers patched the damage as best they could, the crew petitioning General Kerensky for a spot on the mission: knowing that their ship would likely be scrapped once the war was over, they wapnted to give her the chance to go out in a blaze of glory.

But fate is a fickle mistress, and had other plans for the Jervis Bay.

The jump into the Sol system had crippled the frigates drive. Knowing that retreat was not an option, the crew of the Jervis Bay decided that they would sell their lives dearly, and set about destroying every single Caspar that came within range. For two days, the crew of the Jervis Bay and the rest of Task Force Leonidas fought like their namesake, destroying or crippling over a hundred Caspars before the last ship, the cruiser Sovetskii Soyuz, was finally destroyed.

But the fate of the Jervis Bay remains... contested.

The official after-action report by the Star League Defense Force states that it suffered damage to its reactor shielding, inflicting lethal radiation doses on the crew. They were ordered to pull out of the fighting, but instead on remaining on station, those not killed outright taking massive doses of pain killers and combat stimulates to remain functional. Then damage to the Chieftain crippled its starboard point-defences, a potentially catastrophic opening that the Caspars pounced on. All guns firing definitely, the crew of the Jervis Bay redlined their already damaged engines in a bid to cut off the drones and buy the flagship time to effect repairs. It was a desperate move, as it caused a fresh surge of radiation to envelope the ship, killing most of the surviving engineering crew as they mand their posts to the last. Her hull torn and venting atmosphere, the Jervis Bay threw itself at the enemy.

And then something happened.

Officially, the Jervis Bay was destroyed when her reactor finally lost containment, the resulting explosion destroying a nearby Casper and badly damaging two more, while leaving no wreckage of the frigate. However, long-range sensor records indicate that the IR flair that preceded the disappearance of the frigate was closer to what one would expect from a catastrophic miss-jump, leaving many to speculate that the damaged reactor sent a power surge through the damaged jump-core, triggering it. Many who subscribe to this theory believe that the Jervis Bay was destroyed by the resulting energy release.

And that was the end of Task Force Leonidas: with the remaining Caspars delt with, General Kerensky sent ships to recover the pitifully few lifeboats and escape pods to be found, and the twisted, broken remains of the flotilla and the drones they had given their lives to destroy were left to settle into a solar orbit, a tomb for those who did their duty until the very end. No attempts were made to salvage the wrecks before the Exodus, and they quickly faded from common knowledge. That was until around twenty years later, when an enterpriseing group of Belters decided to see if there was anything worth recovering from the hulks. Now, many might consider this akin to grave robbing, but let's not forget that three centuries of war have left their mark on the known galaxy, and battlefield salvage is part of everyday life. At least the Belters were more interested in simple survival rather than killing.

Well, next thing anybody knows, they're sending out a distress signal, yelling that an unknown warship suddenly jumped-in and started firing on them. ComStar, who by that time, had taken control of the Sol system, dispatched a rescue mission, expecting to find nothing more than a few idiots who'd hit some debris and panicked. What they found was a crew of experienced spacers in a ship that showed signs of having taken damage from capital grade weapons. Fearing that one of the Successor States was making a secret play for Terra, ComStar deployed the CSV Alacrity, one of the few active warships in their possession at the time. The Vincent class corvette approached the Task Force Leonidas debris field with the crew at battlestations, only to be surprised by an unidentified Congress class frigate suddenly jumping in, firing upon them without making any attempts to communicate. The Alacrity made use of its superior acceleration to break contact, and the unknown warship seemingly jumped back out again.

Twice more the corvette would approach the wrecked ships, but no matter the angle they chose, the Congress would appear and open fire.

After this, modified Mark 39 Voidseeker Attack Drones were deployed, broadcasting various IFF transponder codes, but no matter what, the Congress always appeared and destroyed them. Long-range observations of the frigate showed that it taken massive damage, but showed clear signs of operating under human control. One drone was able to survive long enough to take a close-up image of the hull, from which the ships registration number could be seen: F40. A search of surviving records identified it as the Jervis Bay.

All subsequent attempts to contact the Jervis Bay, including by former Star League officers who knew the crew, failed. Any attempt to approach the Task Force Leonidas wrecks invited immediate attack from the frigate. All attempts to discover just how the shop was able to jump in and out so frequently failed, as did trying to plot where it was between appearances. In the end, ComStar simply deployed navigation bouys to make the area as a serious hazard to navigation and left. The Jervis Bay would not be sighted again for almost three centuries, until the Word of Blake, having recently wrested control of Terra from their former brothers, sent an expedition to inspect the wrecks. The Belters living in the system tried to warn them off, worried that they'd awaken the 'Last Spartan' as they called it.

The Word ignored them, and lost five ships with all hands.

More ships were sent, including warships from their small but growing fleet: they were all attacked relentlessly until destroyed or driven off, the Jervis Bay seemingly taking no damage. Countless theories have been put forth since the first encounter with the Jervis Bay as to what exactly happened to the ship, and how it is able to appear and disappear seemigly at will, always when someone approaches the ships of Task Force Leonidas. Scientists have speculated that the power surge caused the jump-drive to create a window in spacetime, and that the Jervis Bay and her crew are forever living out their last, glorious charge in defence of their long dead comrades. They have plenty of big words and charts to back up their theories, but the Belters have a far simpler answer.

They say that the Last Spartan is standing eternal vigial of the grave of Task Force Leonidas, and will strike down any who seek to desecrate their tomb.

The End
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: Ajax_Wolf on 02 September 2019, 19:41:20
Nice, one should know better than screw with the graves of the honored dead.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: Kidd on 02 September 2019, 21:54:53
If you think about it, that's pretty scary. A graveyard guarded by ghosts... on Warship scales.

"Steiner Rules" - is this a thing? It needs to be a thing!
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: snakespinner on 02 September 2019, 22:42:27
Jervis Bay was the name of the armed merchantman sunk by Admiral Scheer.
Interesting choice of names. :thumbsup:
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker on 03 September 2019, 12:08:30
"Steiner Rules" - is this a thing? It needs to be a thing!
https://youtu.be/xPZ6eaL3S2E
Jervis Bay was the name of the armed merchantman sunk by Admiral Scheer.
Interesting choice of names. :thumbsup:
Seemed appropriate
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: nerd on 03 September 2019, 19:13:51
Jervis Bay was the name of the armed merchantman sunk by Admiral Scheer.
Interesting choice of names. :thumbsup:
Agreed. I was wondering if you'd reference her, and the pennant number confirmed it.
Title: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker on 04 September 2019, 07:51:47
Agreed. I was wondering if you'd reference her, and the pennant number confirmed it.
The name, and pennant number, were very deliberate choices. I was actually finding it hard to settle on a name for the ship, toying with Spartan, John Spartan (as a Demolition Man reference), Kratos (at one point the Belters called her the "Ghost of Sparta") or some other ancient Greek reference.

But then someone mentioned "pulling a Jervis Bay" in a BattleTech related thread on another forum, and it then came down to that or Glowworm. In the end, Jervis Bay won out. I will admit that finding the pennant number was a bit of a task.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: Giovanni Blasini on 05 September 2019, 23:08:33
Seems like a good choice though, in the end.
Title: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker on 12 September 2019, 20:47:00
With thanks to Chris O'Farrell and gladiusone for letting me play with some of their toys ;)

Incubus

Don't be surprised if you've never heard of Port Moresby: it's arguably the Outworld Alliances best kept secret.

You see, back in the day, the Star League found themselves in desperate need of a secure shipyard closer to the action than the Hermegony boarders, but didn't exactly trust any of the other member states not to try and get a look at all the advanced tech Royal units had if they used one of their shipyards. So they set up a number of hidden anchorages around the edge of the Inner Sphere, little boltholes their ships could go to if needed. The biggest was supposedly somewhere within the Federated Sun's, but there's no evidence that it still exists.

Port Moresby was created, to put it bluntly, by wedging a damaged Newgrange class yardship of the same name into a planetoid big enough to have a semblance of gravity, but not enough to cause a hindrance to JumpShip and Warship repairs. The facility was further expanded upon by excavating much of the planetoid, hollowing out a number of large chambers to act as cargo bays, machine shops, crew facilities and even extensive hydroponics. They even found room for a couple of counter-rotating grav-decks, allowing the crew to at least spend some time is something approaching normal gravity. There was space for massive weapons emplacements dotted around the surface, mostly hidden inside craters and crevices, but they'd been stripped decades before the Alliance Military Corps took control of the station, and wouldn't be replaced until after we joined with the Ravens.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

I was nineteen when I first shipped out to Port Moresby: straight out of basic training, my head still filled with dreams of becoming a hot-rod rocket god of precision and strength, tear-assing across the cosmos and hunting for heaven. Well, my first six weeks pealing and washing vegetables in the galley put a stop to that. Not everyone is born to be gods own gift to the AMC. No, some of us are born to be small cogs in a far bigger machine, but that's not to say we're any less important. And after six months of doing what I was told and keeping my mouth shut, I was able to get myself transferred to the quartermasters office as a very junior supply clerk. Still unlikely to impress the ladies, but at least it was less mind-numbing.

Back then, Port Moresby was really just a massive logistics hub for the entire Ramora Province, and as such the Quatermasters office was always over-worked and under-staffed, so I often found myself trying to do three things at once. Almost half the station had been closed off due to lack of money and personnel needed to keep it up and running, and most of what was left was just warehousing dedicated to making sure that any ship to pull in to dock could be resupplied and back out again before anyone tracking our fleet movements was able to work out where we were. And believe me, we had no end of briefings about just how much the Davions or Kurita or ComStar would just love to get their hands on an extra shipyard, even one as barley functional as Port Moresby. The only outsiders we did on occasion see were a small group of JàrnFòlk who seemed to have their own reasons for straying so far from home. They were a good source of information and hard to find luxury goods, so as long as they kept their mouths shut about where they were going, HQ back on Alpheratz was willing to look the other way.

The store rooms were massive, and by that I mean big enough to hold a DropShip with room to spare. Most of the heavy lifting was carried out by these crazy but utterly irreplaceable Harvester Ant IndustrialMechs that had been almost completly rebuilt to operate as LoaderMechs in microgravity, the combines replaced with basic manipulators and the engines with power cells. Last thing you want is something belching out God knows what in a closed environment like a space station. But there was still a labyrinth of smaller store rooms and cargo bays dedicated to handling smaller items, and more often then not, that meant the careful application of brute force. And I do mean careful: just because you're in microgravity doesn't mean that something suddenly possesses only a fraction of its mass.

After all, there's a reason why Sir Isaac Newton's name is still known, and on occasions cursed, over a thousand years after his death.

So anyways: big place, lots of dark rooms and nowhere near enough people. Pretty much like every other depot I've seen since signing up. And like everywhere else I've served, the old timers like to haze the fresh meat. This is a universal fact, as much a law as anything Sir Isaac ever came up with, and no amount of regulations will change that. But over time, you start to grow a thicker skin, become a little more cynical, and it stops getting to you, until the datly you find yourself doing it to someone else. But Port Moresby was a little different: there they outright tell you during your orientation briefing that some of the things you'll hear stories about actually did happen. Stories like someone opening a sealed hatch to try and take a short-cut and finding themselves trying to breathe vacuum on the other side. Because, like I said, it's a really big place and we only just had enough maintenance staff to keep the basics running.

Long story short, assume that any warning signs, even those written by hand, are there for a good reason.

Yes, even the one that says "beware of the Leopard".

Don't ask.

Anyways, I'd been on Port Moresby for about two years when I was sent to retrieve something or another from one of the more distant store rooms. I double checked to make sure that it wasn't another 'glass hammer' gag, and set out on the long and boring treck through the identical passageways until I reached the indicated room. Turning on the lights, I was happily surprised to discover that only half of them had stopped working, so I didn't have to use the flashlight clipped to my belt to find my way around. I synced my noteputer with the manifest and made my way to the appropriate shelf. Only what I was looking for wasn't there. The box was there, sure, but it was empty. Now this isn't exactly uncommon anywhere: someone takes something and either forgets to put it back or puts it in the wrong place, so I checked a few of the other boxes to see if it had simply been misplaced, but came up with nothing. Procedure for a situation like that was to call up the Quatermaster's office and see if there was a possible replacement somewhere else, but the stations intercom system was in about as good a shape at the rest of it, so that meant backtracking a fair bit.

Now, back when it had been a Star League outpost, they'd had a couple of hundred little drones scuttling about, doing the kind of basic repair work that even a green AsTech could be trusted not to completly FUBAR, but the station had been abandoned for about two centuries before the AMC stumbled upon it, and nobody had been around to do any maintenance on the maintenance drones. By the time we took up residence, there was just one drone left operational in the entire station, and, well...

Nobody really understands his programming, and a few little oddities have sprung up, resulting in what could be considered a personality. He, and yes, we all refer to it as a 'he', tends to be a bit skittish around people he doesn't know and prefers to be left alone to do his job without interference. He's basically a mascot for Port Moresby, with someone, no one will admit to who, even painting a caricature of him on the hatch of the maintenance bay he uses to recharge. Anyone who suggests taking him apart to look under the hood finds themselves on the first ship headed to the nastiest posting the chief engineer can think of, and they rend to be very imaginative.

It was while searching for a working intercom that I stumbled upon the little guy: he was hanging in the middle of a wide passageway, slowly spinning, its little tracks whirring helplessly. I thought it was kind of odd, as he had little magnets built into his tracks that usually kept him firmly in place, so it was hard to imagine a situation where he'd become so helpless. Now pretty much none of you reading this are going to have encountered any thing nearly as advanced as that little bot, so if you want to imagine the way he looked at me with those two big camera eyes of his, imagine a kitten stuck up a tree and you're in the same general area. It's hard to describe just how emotive he could be, given that the most he could do was make little bleeps to warn you of his presence, but it was clear he was desperate for help. So, bracing myself against one wall, I waited until he was pointed the right direction, then gave him a push. He impacted the far wall with a clang, then rocked back and forth on his tracks a few times to make sure that the magnets had a good grip, then bleeped appreciatively at me.

"Just be more careful in future." I warned him with a smile, "I may not be there to rescue you next time."

He responded with a series of musical notes, then headed off down the hall, happily trundling along what was generally considered to be a wall as it he was talking a stroll in the park.

Eventually finding a working intercom, I called up my supervisor and told him about the missing equipment. I then took a step back from the speaker as he cursed the air blue like only a veteran spacer can, before he finally informed me that the only alternative was on the far side of the station, so he'd send someone else to go get it. Which meant I could clock-off half an hour early, which was nice because it was date night with one of the LoaderMech jockeys, and it gave me time to hit the shower before changing.

But you didn't come here to hear about how I met my wife, now did you?

Well, it turned out that Port Moresby had a long history of equipment and supplies going missing. Not exactly unheard of, I know, but a station like that is pretty much a closed environment, with none of the usual opportunities for an enterprising individual or group to sell off some inventory to make a little extra cash on the side. Any large organisation has long ago accepted such losses, and just worked towards keeping them down to a reasonable level. That's not to say that anyone caught with their hands in the proverbial cookie jar wasn't beaten around the head with a hardback copy of the Uniform Code of Military Justice until they saw more stars than there are in the Alliance.

But, by all rights, Port Moresby should have seen less 'shrinkage' than most bases, but we were actually slightly above average. Now base command and HQ tended to put this down to a combination of bad records keeping and the base just being too damn big for us to keep track of everything. But nobody wanted to send more people out to help us, because that would increase the risk of some foreign power locating the station. Which was kind of crazy, as almost no one serving there knew where it was.

Oh, you want to talk about crazy? I got hit-on by this drunk Mercenary once, and he bragged about how he'd had jump-jets mounted on the arms of his 'Mech so he could perform 'rocket punches'. Guy was a complete lunatic, and even if I wasn't a lesbian, there was no way in hell I would have gone home with him that night. Seem to recall I hooked up with the barmaid that night. Oh, to be young, free and single again...

Please don't tell my wife I said that.

So, anyways, things had a habit of going missing, or not being where you left them, and there wasn't enough people around to account for a lot of it. And that's where the stories go started. Not a lot to do somewhere like Port Moresby; limited recreational activities and a bar that strictly enforced your quota... well, not much else to do off duty but stand around a pool table and talk. The station had no HPG at the time, another thing the Ravens would eventually bring with them, so it was a bit difficult to talk sports, and everyone knew everyone, so trying to brag about your love life could easily backfire on you. So that left... stories.

Kind of like the one I'm telling you now.

They'd start off like you'd expect: something you heard from a guy who'd heard it from some DropShip pilot who's brother was a MechWarrior who'd been there. Tall tails to tell in the small hours while you tried to make your last drink of the evening last until dawn. And I'm sure you've heard plenty, but not about Port Moresby. Because, with such a small crew, chances are you know the person the story was about and could ask them to confirm or deny it. That means they tend to be a little closer to the mark. Now, a lot of these stories were about people doing something stupid, or some bit of LostTech not working as expected, but there were a few that were, different. As I've said, most of the station was closed off, unused and unexplored, but there was always a few brave or foolish people who'd use their downtime to go exploring. Some did it for the novel experience, some looking for LostTech to sell, others because it got them away from everyone else for a little 'private time', if you catch my drift.

So my friend Tex starts talking about this time his roommate Lenny talked him into checking out what the station schematics said was quarters for visiting crew. The idea was that maybe they left something of value behind when they left that they could sell when they next got leave. Now while the higher ups didn't exactly approve of these little treasure hunts, they knew that there was no way to stop them short of placing Marines at every access point, and our detachment was far too small for that. So instead they insisted that anyone going hunting had to take a second person with them, and inform the duty commander exactly where they were planning to go. That way at least any search party would have an idea where to look for the bodies.

So Tex and Lenny grab a couple of flashlights, a box of glow-sticks to mark their path, and head off into the great unknown. And it wasn't easy going; even the little maintenance drone never went that far out, so they had to work their way around obstructions and jammed hatches. Eventually, they find what looked like an old mess-hall, but floating above every seat is on of the glow-sticks they'd left behind them. It took them hours to find their way back, actually bumping into the search party that had been sent looking for them, who'd been smart enough to use florescent paint on the walls to mark their progress. They make fun of Tex and Lenny, insisting that they must have somehow stirred up the air so that the glow-sticks followed them... right up until they reach the last hatch before the inhabited part of the station, when the glow-sticks and all neatly stacked in a pile before it.

My story?

OK, so say what you like, but this really happened. I was making my way along a corridor leading to the docking bay when I saw someone coming the other way. I had my head in a shipping manifest so I didn't look up properly, just glanced up enough to see a power-blue jacket with far more navy blue braid than I have even now, so I side-stepped into a hatch way and quickly threw up a salute as they passed. It wasn't until a minute or two later that I realised that the uniform they'd been wearing wasn't AMC issue, and we had no visiting ships in at the time. I spun round, but the officer had vanished. I reported the encounter to my CPO, but he shook his head and told me to forget about it.

Without a second thought, I do just that, until one day when I'm doing inventory of one of store rooms. It was real drudge work, but the boss-man made sure that everyone had to do it at some point, and my unlucky number had come up. So I'm in this store room with my noteputer, counting boxes of footpowder or whatever the hell it was; I was kind of running on automatic pilot by that point, when I happened to glance up and see a face watching me from the other side of the racking. I felt my blood run cold as I looked into a pair of eyes that were never supposed to be part of a human face: big, far bigger even than one of those souped-up aerospace pilots the Clans produce. No, these eyes took up almost a quarter of the face, and were completely black, as if there was nothing but iris. Then there was the nose, or rather the lack there of, leaving just two vertical slits between those massive eyes and a mouth that looked far too small.

We looked at each other for what felt like an eternity but couldn't have been more than a few seconds, then it hissed like a snake and suddenly vanished towards the ceiling.

I'm not ashamed to say that I bolted for the hatch like a scolded rat, the sound of whatever it was scrambling across the shelving behind me. It's not easy to run fast in microgravity, but I set a new personal record that day, moving as if the devil himself was on my heals, which for all I knew, he was. Boxes tumbled from the top of the racking, falling almost comically slowly before bursting open on the deck. I didn't even think of looking back, my own personal universe consisting of just the open hatch and the all too slowly shrinking distance between the safety it represented and myself.

Something that felt uncomfortably sharp tugged at my shoulder, and I dived through the hatch, kicking it closed as hard as I could. It snapped shut, the automatic locking mechanism engaging with a reassuring click.

I laid on the deck, trying to get my heart back down out of my throat and into my chest while I sucked down huge lung fulls of air. Then there was a worrying bleep as the someone, or something, started to unlock the hatch from the other side. Pushing off with my hand, I back-peddled across the hall until my back was pressed against the other side. My heart once again pounding, I could do nothing but sit there, frozen in terror as the hatch slowly started to unlock.

A loud whirring sound came from my right, but my eyes were fixed on the hatch. I was surprised, but happily so, when the little maintenance drone rumbled up to the hatch and produced a wielding probe from one of its small arms and pressed it against the lock controls. Sparks of electricity erupted from the control panel, and the failsafe triggered, fusing the lock firmly in place.

The drone turned to look at me.

"Just be more careful in future." I heard my own voice coming from the little speaker built into its 'head', "I may not be there to rescue you next time."

The End
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: PsihoKekec on 13 September 2019, 01:34:07
Ah, the little maintainance drone that could.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: Kidd on 13 September 2019, 09:40:56
Quote
Eventually, they find what looked like an old mess-hall, but floating above every seat is on of the glow-sticks they'd left behind them. It took them hours to find their way back, actually bumping into the search party that had been sent looking for them, who'd been smart enough to use florescent paint on the walls to mark their progress. They make fun of Tex and Lenny, insisting that they must have somehow stirred up the air so that the glow-sticks followed them... right up until they reach the last hatch before the inhabited part of the station, when the glow-sticks and all neatly stacked in a pile before it.
Oh that's nice. That's real nice. That's a classic campfire singalong right there.

Quote
"Just be more careful in future." I heard my own voice coming from the little speaker built into its 'head', "I may not be there to rescue you next time."
Awww! <3
Title: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker on 03 October 2019, 21:04:00
Depending on how you take it, this might actually offend some. I assure you that no offence was intended, and I've rewritten parts of it that even I found... questionable, but you can't please all the people all the time.

Bad Moon Rising

You ask the average person on the street about Mercenaries, and the chances are they'll think of one of the more famous units: the Light Horse, the Dragoons, the Hounds or the Highlanders. And that's what centuries of books and TriVids have told the great unwashed the average Merc is.

But let me throw a few numbers at you.

40% of all Mercenary units are destroyed or dissolved within their first six mothers of operation, and 60% of those who survive will never make it past their first year. So, out of every 100 units founded, only 36, little over a third, will see their second year. Some will be destroyed on the battlefield, absorbed by larger units, become House units after falling into the trap of Company Stores, or otherwise fail to secure a well paying enough contract to pay the bills. And while I've never commanded more than a Lance, I can tell you that the paperwork even a company of BattleMechs and their attendant support staff can generate could crush an Atlas. Wages have to be paid, so do taxes, rent, food bills, insurance and JumpShip fees. Ammunition and spare parts have to be sourced, along with people to run maintenance, as even without seeing combat, the average BattleMech can need upwards of 60-hours of maintenance per week. More if it's a particularly old or troublesome model. The average mercenary commander is less Jamie Wolf and more a stressed-out cubicle drone up to their eyeballs in spreadsheets and invoices.

Just one bad job, one mission where you rolled snake-eyes, and you can find your whole world spiralling out of control.

So, when someone offers you a nice, fat contact to play hired muscle for some Lord with more money than sense, it's not surprising that the 'average' mercenary would be on it like a drowning man reaching for a life-vest. That's what happened to the unit I was with, and forgive me if I don't mention any names, as some of the people involved have deep pockets and no qualms about silencing someone they seam to have dishonored them or their families.

We were in the Draconis Combine, not long after ComStar took the Clans out to the proverbial woodshed for an arse whooping on Tukayyid. Our unit, two companies of 'Mech and a third company of mixed armour and infantry for support, had been assaulted by the Smoke Jaguars after our previous CO had thought it a great idea to take a job on Wolcott, and led us into a woodchipper of a battle on a subcontracted raid. He at least had the good crace to get his head blown off, leaving the XO to pull the survivors out of the fire and back to the DropShip. All in, we lost an entire company of 'Mecha, destroyed or so badly damaged that they were little more than walking scrap, but that was nothing compared to the physiological impact of being tossed around like toys in the hands of children throwing a temper tantrums.

We'd been little more than a live-fire exercise for the Jaguars, and that left us with an unfortunate desire to make someone, anyone, hurt like we'd been.

That led us to taking a job with the Lord of a planet, neither of which will be, for reasons already stated, named. He effectively wanted a little extra weight to throw around, but his official bodyguard unit had been stripped away to replace losses on the front lines. So, despite the Combines longstanding hatred of Mercenaries, he went looking for some hired muscle. We were apparently big enough to look impressive before the hoi-polloi, and desperate enough to get our hands dirty if he ordered it, and after what we'd been through, we were more than willing to take his money just so he could act like he had a big swinging dick. And the going was pretty good for the first year or so: some people find garrison duty far from the front lines dull, but those people have seldom gone up against the Smoke Jaguars. We took the opportunity to rest up, repair and refit our surviving 'Mechs and vehicles, and replace losses both material and personnel wise. Not that we were sat on our arses the entire time, mind, as our new benefactor liked to show us off like a prize hunting dog, having us form an honour guard every time anyone of any importance popped-by.

But, see, the Little Lord didn't actually control the entire planet.

That's not exactly unheard of across the Inner Sphere: lot of planets are home to land-holds and grants that are both technically and legally outside of the planetary rulers domain. Sometimes they're held by a prestigious Mercenary unit or some highly decorated old warrior. Others are the private fiefdom of some business interest or another. All that matters is that there was about 20% of the planet that was outside of his control, and that vexed him. And looking at it as an outsider, I could understand why, as the land in question was some prime real estate, with plenty of natural resources going untapped. Certainly would have boosted his yearly income an noticeable amount.

But the problem was, getting control of that extra bit of land was easier said than done.

See, back during the diaspora, the first people to settle the planet in question had been a lose coalition of peoples whose ancestors had this long history of being kicked off the land they lived on by other people. But humanities exodus to the stars would, they hoped, finally give them a place to call their own that nobody would take from them. And when they found themselves part of the newly formed Draconis Combine, they'd petitioned Shiro Kurita himself to try and protect their claim. So he'd sent people to survey the planet, and they came back and said that the people living there were only using 20% of its avaliable land. And so, in a very un-Kurita like decision, Old Shiro decreed that the land they were currently using was their in perpetuity, and signed an official treaty to that effect and everything. Given that this was signed by the very founder of the Combine, no Coordinator since has felt the need to counter-act it. After all, 80% of a planet is still an awful lot of land.

Now of cause there are ways around annoying little things like laws and treaties, often bloody ways, but the Planets HPG happened to be located within that 20%, so simply 'disappearing' the people wasn't an option. Nor was making them sign over the rights with a gun to their heads, as the planets HPG station was in the all-important 20%, and they were watching. The Lord tried to get them to move closer to his estate, but they fed him some obvious BS about geophysics and stellar alignment, so that was a no-go. What that left us with was essentially acting like massive dicks in the hopes that they'd eventually get the message and sign over the land for about a quarter of what it was worth on the open market, which was what all our esteemed employer was willing to pay.

"So," I hear you ask, "how exactly does one go about convincing a people with the law and government on their side to sign over their ancestral land for a fraction of what it's worth?"

Well, I'd be lying if I said I'm glad you asked, because I'm not exactly proud of what we had to do.

See, despite the land being under their domain, planetary defence was still the perogative of the DCMS, and with most of them up on the Clan boarder, that meant that it was a certain understrength mercenary unit who got the job. As such, we had the right to perform security patrols and conduct training exercises with the local militia wherever and whenever we wanted. And when your boss tells you to take all of your BattleMechs and tanks and APC's and conduct a mock attack across some farm land that just so happens to be just days away from harvest... you take all of your BattleMechs and tanks and APC's and go ruin some poor bastards entire years work. Then you conduct a week-long live-fire training exercise that cuts off the only access to a town, leaving them dangerously short on supplies. And then you do a couple of dozen other things to make life as difficult as you possibly can for the people you're trying to influence, all while making sure that you're just inside the letter of the law.

ComStar can watch. ComStar can give you dirty looks. But ComStar can't bring it up with the MRCB as you're only fulfilling your contract.

Perfectly leagl and completely immoral, so perfect for "mercenaries", so far as the Combine is concerned.

Well, after about a year of trying to act like the biggest bunch of jerks outside of the Clans, and we'd gotten exactly nowhere. Which wasn't exactly making our employer happy, and it's a universal constant that shit rolls down hill. So he starts to make our lives difficult: pay started arriving late or in less than the agreed upon amounts. Again, all done within the terms of our contract, if you actually go read the fine print. Then supplies are delayed, support staff reassigned, lines of credit with local businesses cut short. All designed to make it clear that he was not happy with our apparent lack of progress in getting him his land. And desperate as we were, we knuckled down and redoubled our efforts, a few members of the unit getting dangerously close to crossing the line and giving ComStar grounds to call in the MRCB.

I'd like to state, for the record, that I personally never did anything illegal. Just so we're clear.

So we step up our nuisance operations: run security sweeps and customs inspections where none were needed, churn up some more farm land with our 'Mecha and vehicles, generally act like the house guests from hell. And they just sit there and take it. I guess that, after all their various ancestors had been through, people sticking to the letter of the law like us were exactly what I said, a nuisance.

But then the inevitable happened: a couple of our ground-pounders got a little out of hand, some locals objected, and when the dust settled, we had twenty locals dead, twice that in the hospital, and ComStar crawling up our arses. The CO did the only thing she could, and cut those responsible loose, let the local law enforcement deal with them. Didn't have to: our contract gave us means, immunity and jurisdiction, and our employer was more than willing to sign off on what happened being the result of local criminals trying to interfere with legitimate operations. Only thing is, the MRCB isn't stupid, and ComStar had all the evidence they'd need to have us stripped of our accreditation. That happens, and you've got a choice between signing a on with someone looking for a unit willing to do whatever's asked of them, or head out into the Periphery and see how things work out for you there.

Neither of those appealed to us, so cops got their pound of flesh.

But now it was personal: regardless of the circumstances, the locals had cost us some of our own, and our blood was up. Some of us tried to keep a level head on our shoulders, but it's all too easy to get drawn into pushing back. So we stopped playing nice, stopped actively stopped trying to cause collateral damage and instead set about inflicting as much as possible. And it's really easy to cause damage, even in the lightest of BattleMechs, given how easy it can be to "accidentally" step on or knock over a car, or even a house. Oh, sure, there's insurance for that sort of thing, but it can take a long time for the paperwork to go through.

Unfortunately, we weren't making many friends among the locals, even those who didn't live on the all-important 20%. Word gets around when you have a reputation for trashing peoples places, and soon some local businesses stopped wanting to have anything to do with us. Bars stopped serving us, shops closed or jacked up their prices when they saw us coming, people crossed to the other side of the road rather than pass you on the street. You can start to feel real lonely real quick, times like that.

It was pretty clear that things were getting close to boiling over, so there was a understandable amount of relief when one of the local leaders called for a sit-down meeting. ComStar provided us with a neutral location, and we acted as "escorts" for the Lords representatives. Thankfully, things started off okay: about twenty or so people, all sat around a table, talking. The locals made it clear that, after thousands of years of being pushed off their various ancestral lands, they weren't going to be moved on again, while the boss' rep makes it clear that he wanted access to the mineral wealth they were sitting on.

And this was when things got.. weird.

One of the locals leans back in his chair, closes his eyes and says something in a language that nobody on our side of the table understands, but silenced everyone on his side. And not just silenced: some of them looked damn right worried at whatever he said, like he'd just admitted to farting in the Coordinators face or something. Then, without opening his eyes, he starts to spin this yarn about how humanity wasn't the only thing to leave Terra during the diaspora. Other things, ancient, nameless things, had followed them to the stars. One such thing was on that planet, and it was only by keeping out of its way that the people were able to live in peace. But if the Lord got his way, there'd be a price to pay.

Now, I've been from one side of the Inner Sphere to the other, and I've seen some truly crazy shit on planets that you wouldn't see anywhere else, but I had never seen anything remotely like what he talked about.

Anyways, it soon became clear that we weren't going to be coming to an agreement any time soon, so we called it quits for the night. As we're getting ready to leave, one of the locals came up to me and, in hushed tones, warned me against taking the same route back that night: said something cryptic about a bad moon rising. I thanked her for her advice, assuming that some of the less patient locals were planning a little ambush. Well, we had a lance of BattleMechs and a company of tanks and IFV'S, when all the locals had was civilian vehicles and small-arms. Certainly not a fair fight, even if they'd had the element of surprise on their side.

I spread the word to keep eyes open and weapons hot as we started back to base, passing through a wide, forested pass between the HPG station and the Lords palace. It was a beautiful landscape, but the locals seemed to avoid it at night, preferring to take longer routes through the mountains than the more direct highway. Fortunately, it was massively reinforced to support even BattleMechs on the march, so I had the two Wolfhounds out front, my Centurion in the middle with the representatives limo, and our Valkyrie bringing up the rear, with the vehicles spread out around the VIP.

Everything was goind smooth as silk until we were about halfway through the pass, and I even I was starting to think that we were on a Snipe Hunt, when the wind suddenly picked up, thick clouds rolling in out of nowhere to blot out what little natural light there was. Not that it meant much, as I could easily switch over to inferred, night instantly turning into a mass of blue, red and orange. I warned everyone to keep sharp, but the wind was starting to pick up to the point where I had to really start concentrating on keeping myself upright. Last thing I needed was to fall over and crush the people I was supposed to be protecting, so against my better judgement, I gave the order to spread out a little more, giving everyone more room to manoeuvre.

We kept on moving through the pass, our pace reduced to a near crawl as we struggled with the wind that seemed to be coming from every direction, making it increasingly hard to keep balanced. I was actually glad that we hadn't brought any of the bigger 'Mech, as despite their increased tonnage, they tended to be even more susceptible to high winds due to their increased cross-section. The radio was filled with chatter about the wind, how it was stirring up dust and debris to the point where it was hard to see two meters in front. Even by combining night-vision, inferred and magnascan, I felt link a drunk stumbling around in the dark.

Then my Centurion lurched forward suddenly, almost as if I'd taken a hit to the left shoulder. I quickly compensated, cursing the fool who'd chosen the rout without first checking the weather forecast, even if it was, you know, me. Then one of the tanks reported being knocked almost back to front by something that felt and sounded more like being kicked by an Atlas than the wind. I could feel the hairs on the back of my neck standing up, and you don't last long as a mercenary without developing good survival instincts. And right then and there, they were screaming at me to get the hell out of there. But it wasn't like I could just leave the Bosses rep sitting there all alone, so I swallowed down the bile that was starting to rise up my throat and ordered the convoy to pull over and hunker down, deciding it was safer to sit out the storm than to try and risk pushing forwards. The others happily agreed, the tanks and IFV's forming a close circle around the limo, packed in tight enough to provide mutual support against the wind. Us 'Mech Jocks had to settle for crouching down in a small drainage ditch that provided at least some protection from the elements.

I don't know if you've been alone in a confined space during a storm, but it isn't as much fan as you may think. Most BattleMechs are designed for function over form, with only a passing thought towards pilot comfort. And my old Centurion had seen more that her fair share of action down the years, so what creature comforts there had been were long gone. All I could do was grab a can of self-heating coffee and try to keep warm. Not that the storm seemed willing to help, as if anything, it seemed to be getting worse, having gotten to the point where we couldn't even pick up the steady pulse of the navigation beacon from the HPG station, the wind was kicking up so much static interference. Which was odd, because I couldn't see any rain, let alone lighting, and it takes a hell of a lot to drown out a beacon that's traceable from high orbit.

But that wind though, it just kept getting worse and worse and worse, unlike anything I've ever seen. Even crouched down with the left arm out to support me, my Centurion was getting pushed around like you wouldn't believe. Hell, I've done combat drops into a contested LZ that were less bumpy. And there was something about how it seemed to be coming from every direction at once, almost as if we were inside a tornado. Only we were in the wrong part of the planet for those, which is one of the reasons why the HPG had been built so close by.

Then it happened: a voice over the radio, screaming that someone was trying to open the hatch on their tank. That set everyone off, snapping us out of the semi-relaxed state we'd allowed ourselves to drift into. Seasons and weapons went active, searching for any signs of hostiles, but absolutely nothing could be seen. Yet even over the noise of the wind and the interference, I could hear the sound of the hatch unlocking then being ripped open, followed by the high pitch whine of a discharging laser pistol and the terrified screams of someone staring death in the face. Confused voiced filled the radio, asking if anyone knew what had happened while I tried desperately to identify which of our tanks had been attacked.

Any ideas I had about rallying the others to form a coherent defence ended when my Centurion was lifted up into the air and sent flying across the road and into the trees beyond. It landed exactly like you'd expect 50-tons of metal and myomer to, which is to say, badly. Despite my head ringing like a bell on Christmas morning, I managed to get it up into a seated position in time to see the Valkyrie open up, sending 10 LRM's corkscrewing off in almost every direction. One flew over my right shoulder, only just missing my cockpit, and exploded upon hitting something behind me.

That was the signal for all hell to break lose, with people firing seemingly at random.

I don't know if you've ever seen a unit simply loose their collective shit, but let me tell you, it ain't pretty. Weeks of pent-up stress and strain let go like a coiled spring, filling the night with smoke and flame. Nobody was aiming, not really, and I saw more than a little friendly fire, even as I struggled to get my com system back up and running. Then I saw a Packrat get picked up as if by some invisible hand and slammed down hard on top of a SRM Carrier. The explosion went on and on and on as the missiles cooked-off like firecrackers, leaving no hope of survivors. One of the Wolfhounds stumbled through the explosion, arms flailing as if its pilot was trying to fight against something they couldn't see. Whatever it was ripped the cockpit open, the flash of the pilots discharging sidearm clearly visible six times, followed by a seventh as they appear to take their own life.

Now, in the years since, a lot of what I remember about that night has been put down to the concussion I'd suffered when my 'Mech went down, but despite what they try and tell me, I know what I saw. I saw battle hardened mercenaries, people I had seen hold open the jaws of death to escape a trap set by the Smoke Jaguars, people who'd long ago accepted that they weren't going to see old age, fight like cornered rats against an enemy they couldn't see. A few tried to pull a fighting retreat, backing up the highway, putting down covering fire, only to be pulled apart one by one, their dying screams echoing across the radio.

I don't remember passing out; I think that's kind of the point, but I do remember being pulled from the wreck of my Centurion a little after dawn the next day. The rescue team was entirely made up of locals, led by the woman who'd tried to warn me against taking the highway the night before. The trail of carnage was spread out across almost two kilometres, with the bunt-out, broken wrecks of the escort strewn seemingly at random. The only vehicle missing had been the limo carrying the representative, which had taken off like a rat out of a trap soon as the shooting started, not stopping before it reached the apparent safety of the HPG station.

They were the only other survivors.

Accusations flew back and forth between us, our employer and the locals, everyone trying to blame everyone else, with me stuck in the middle. I was questioned, interrogated and called a lier, but ComStar recovered the Battle ROM from my 'Mech, among other, less fortunate units, and what they were able to recover supported my recollection, even if nobody could officially explain exactly what happened. In the end, it was put down to a freak electrical storm making our equipment report hostiles where there was none. Friendly fire did the rest.

Officially.

Unofficially? Well, we never took that highway again at night, and the Lord dropped his plans to grab that extra land.

Far as I'm concerned, the locals can keep it: they at least know to keep the hell away from whatever it is lurking out there.

The End
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: Kidd on 03 October 2019, 21:48:50
That's pretty good.

What's offensive about it?
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: drakensis on 04 October 2019, 02:29:55
Quote
40% of all Mercenary units are destroyed or dissolved within their first six mothers of operation, and 60% of those who survive will never make it past their first year. So, out of every 100 units founded, only 36, little over a third, will see their second year.

You have the numbers wrong. If 40% don't last 6 months and 60% of the remainder don't last a year, then that's 100-40= 60, 60-(60%=36)=24

So either 24% see the second year, or alter it to 40% don't last 6 months and 40% of the remainder don't last a year.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker on 04 October 2019, 06:09:25
What's offensive about it?
Before I went back and edited it, it was straying into  "wise old native people, living in harmony with the spirits of the land, know things that the White Man has forgotten", which is a somewhat racist and overused trope at the best of times.

You have the numbers wrong. If 40% don't last 6 months and 60% of the remainder don't last a year, then that's 100-40= 60, 60-(60%=36)=24

So either 24% see the second year, or alter it to 40% don't last 6 months and 40% of the remainder don't last a year.
Well, all I can say is that, when I first did the maths, I came up with 36.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: Dave Talley on 05 October 2019, 23:02:04



  Because while the other Great Houses of the Star League thought they were playing chess, House Cameron was playing Paradox-Billiards-Vostroyan-Roulette-Fourth Dimensional-Hypercube-Chess-Strip Poker the entire time.
JA Baker

i think i have a new sig ;-)
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: DOC_Agren on 06 October 2019, 21:43:35
Well done another interesting story
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker on 07 October 2019, 04:27:04


  Because while the other Great Houses of the Star League thought they were playing chess, House Cameron was playing Paradox-Billiards-Vostroyan-Roulette-Fourth Dimensional-Hypercube-Chess-Strip Poker the entire time.
JA Baker

i think i have a new sig ;-)
I've heard it's just a silly kids card game  8)


WARNING: NSFW audio
https://youtu.be/7g-ydhg10UE
Title: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker on 24 October 2019, 16:53:25
I was going to save this for Halloween, but I've never been a patient man...

Ships In The Night

Nobody is exactly sure just how many JumpShips there are, playing their trade between the stars of the Inner Sphere and beyond.

The Great shipyards of Star League and Periphery nations churned out a near unending stream of ships of every size and design, from the humble Scout to the Monolith, a class that certainly lives up to its name. Many were customised and adapted to fit the individual needs and tastes of their owners, resulting in an unknown number of sub-classes and variants too numerous to mention. Even with the Age of War, the Fall of the Star League and the resulting Succession Wars, with their widespread destruction, could only partly deplete their numbers.

Every Successor State possess a House Fleet of ships resurved for government and military use, the latter at times misidentified as warships. Next you have the massive shipping cartels and transtellars, each with their own retainer of ships to carry cargo and passengers securely between the stars. Then comes ComStar, with perhaps the single largest fleet not under the direct control of one of the Great Houses. Even some of the larger and more successful Mercenary units have been known to own and opperat their own JumpShips, allowing them far more freedom than those reliant on their employers, but they are by far the exception rather than the rule. And, last but not least, the independents, owner-operators who go where the cargo takes them, often owing allegiance to no flag or Lord. Combined, they represent by far the largest proportion of ships known to operate in the Inner Sphere.

And all these ships together, how many do you think there are? Ten thousand? Twenty? A hundred?

Well, as I said, nobody is exactly sure. Flags of convenience are common, and it's not unheard of for a ship to leave System A under one name, and arrive in System B, across the boarder, under a completely different name, depending on how the political winds are blowing at the time. Because while wars come and go, trade is eternal, even among supposed enemies.

If the Succession Wars have tought the House Lords anything, it's that it's often best to let the other side hold a system for ten years than risk them relocating a key factory or lab somewhere further from the boarder. And if that means turning a blind eye as an independent merchant delivers much needed supplies, even at a time of war, well, that's just part of the Great Game.

Now, not every ship visits every system: that's just impossible. Most stick to the major trade routes, like the Golden Triangle, between New Avalon, New Syrtis and Robinson, the Northwest Passage, that skirts the Periphery boarder of the Lyran Commonwealth, both of which connect to the Main Line, which links New Avalon, Terra and Tharkad, or the newer Silk Road that stitches together the Capellan Confederation, the Taurian Concordat and the Magistracy of Canopus. From the trade hubs serviced by these great highways through the stars branch off hundreds if not thousands of smaller routes that connect smaller regional hubs that in turn connect to almost every inhabited planet in the known galaxy. Some of the more isolated Periphery worlds may go a year or more between seeing a passing ship, but the more important world's of the Inner Sphere may have multiple ships laying at anchor, recharging their drives at any given time.

Now, some of these ships carry dedicated DropShip along predetermined routs, but these tend to be government ships or those under the flag of the major cartels. An independent ships is more likely to arrive in system and then broadcast their next destination or two, advertising any available docking collars they may have. If a DropShip is looking to go that way, they can try and negotiate a price, something that tends to be pretty standard in the more regularly visited worlds, but can be a bit more open to negotiation the further out you go.

"But," I hear you ask, "What's that got to do with anything?"

Well, aside from giving you a basic understanding of how interstellar trade works, I'm trying to get across the fact that getting a DropShip from Point A to Point B is a lot more like standing at the side of the road and sticking your thumb out than you might first imagine.

Now, I'm a lifer: I was born in space, have lived in space, and God willing, I'll die in space. Ain't nothing a planet's got that I want any part of: unpredictable atmospherics, hostile wildlife and all kinds of nasty bugs that you have to stand in line at the spaceport to get inoculations for? No thank you! Give me a good grav-deck and environmental controls any day. And in my life, I've been from one side of the Inner Sphere to the other, and a few places beyond. I've seen the Seven Sisters of the Pleiades Cluster and the crossed the Draconis Rift. I've been to Rim Collective and the Outworlds Alliance. And, once, I found myself hitching a ride on a genuine ghost ship.

Oh, I thought that that would get your attention all right.

It was twenty years back, and I was working as cargo master on a truly ancient Union, the sort of ship that's held together by duck-tape and good intentions, running cargo out of... honestly, I forget where we were. All those systems kind of blur together after a while, but I'm pretty sure it was somewhere in the Free Worlds League. We had a cargo hold full of agricultural equipment to deliver, but were find it hard to make any headway: our destination was somewhat off the regular trade routes, and we didn't have the cash to charter an JumpShip for just one ship. So we were stuck looking for someone heading in the general direction that we could pay to take a detour.

Well, after about a month of sitting in some backwater system, the kind of place that's lucky to see a ship pass through a handful of times a year, cursing our luck, we were at the point of having to forfeit part of our pay when traffic control picked up the signature of an incoming ship. Well, the skipper gave orders to make ready to boost, and we managed to get set in time to see a immaculate Tramp with bright running lights appear in a blinding flash of light. Now, when you're dealing with an unknown ship, the first thing you do is make sure you're ready to burn hard in the opposite direction, 'case they turn out to be hostile. Then and only then do you squark your transponder to identify yourself. So we sent out our ident code and asked which way they were headed, and if they had an open slot. And, if I'm honest, by that point we would have taken a ride anywhere.

Few minutes later we got a reply: MV Phantom, running empty, next stop a system twenty five light year away that still had a recharge station, meaning we were likely to find someone heading our way.

Well, the captain didn't waste any time asking for a price to take us along with her while she deployed her sail and started to charge her engine. It was pretty clear that we were in a tight spot, and the JumpShip could have really gouged us, but instead she offered us what amounted to a peppercorn price. Given we were unlikely to see another ship any time soon, we agreed and burned as hard as the skipper was willing to risk it on a ship that had been old back when the Star League was still around. She shook, rattled and protested all the way out to the Zenith jump-point, but we managed to get there just as the Phantom finished charging and started to pull her sail in.

We docked, expecting the crew to be waiting to take payment, but her captain just told us to keep hold of it until we reached the other end.

It was a smooth jump, as these things go, and we found ourselves on the outer edge of the Nadir jump point, an hour or so out from the station at a steady 1g burn for a zero-zero intercept. Our skipper again asked how his counterpart on the Phantom wanted paying, but she just laughed and told him to keep the money, and have a drink at the station bar on 'Big Jo'.

Not wanting to look a gift house in the mouth, we detached and headed out for the recharge station, expecting to see the Phantom deploying her jump sail behind us, but instead she jumped out again as soon as we cleared the safety margin, which was unexpected to say the least, as damn few Tramps have Lithium-Fusion batteries, and certainly not ones you'd expect to find that far off a main trade rout. We had to wait a day or so while before we could dock with the station, using the time to put out feelers for any ships heading towards where our cargo was due, but eventually we managed to get to the bar, and the skipper puts down a hundred C-Bill note and tells the barman that our first round was on Big Jo.

Well, I tell you, you could have heard a pin drop in that little bar, and I ain't ever seen so many faces go so deathly pale at once.

Barman laied out a line of glasses and produced a bottle of whisky that looked like it cost damn near more than a hundred C-Bills, and asks the name of the shop that brought us in.

"Why, the Phantom." our old skipper explained, somewhat confused.

Well, the barman started to pour our drinks, and the while he did that, he started to speak.

About twenty years before, there'd been some kind of environmental desaster on a nearby planet, and they'd had to evacuate as many people as they could. Every JumpShip in the area had taken part, including the Phantom, under one Captain Josephine 'Big Jo' McSweeney. She'd been a bear of a woman from Caledonia, almost two metres tall and built like a BattleMech with flame red hair, but while she took no bull, she was known to be a good, honest captain many were proud to serve under. The rescue mission was rather slap-drash, with ships jumping as and when they could, and the Phantom had just arrived to help when a ship loaded up with children suffered one of those 'one in a million' accidents and arrived too close to the Phantom. The feedback from the jump blew pretty much every safety on both ships, sending the newcomer drifting towards the Phantom when her station-keeping thrusters miss-fired.

Big Jo reacted instantly, firing the Phantoms own thrusters to get out of the way, but that's when things went from bad to worse, as Tramp was now on collision course with the recharge station. With not enough time to correct, she ordered all hands to abandon ship, staying behind to manually disengage the docking clamps on one of the DropShips when they locked up. Then, drawing power directly from the ships reactor, Big Jo deliberately overloaded the Phantoms jump-drives, intentionally causing a miss-jump that saved the station.

Well, that was the last anyone saw of Big Jo and the Phantom , until a year later, on the first anniversary of the accident, a DropShip arrived at the station, having been given a ride by the a JumpShip that wanted no payment, save they raise a glass in their name at the station bar.

Ever since, from time to time, a DropShip would arrive at the station, having been given a ride by Big Jo and the Phantom, and every last one would find themselves raising a glass in her memory, and the memory of all those lives she saved that day.

The End

Credit and respect due to the great Red Sovine, whose song, Phantom 309, inspired this story
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: ThePW on 25 October 2019, 01:39:12
One Ping Only.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: Kidd on 25 October 2019, 03:10:22
Oh yeah that's the stuff (urban) legends are made of
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: Hairbear541 on 25 October 2019, 20:56:38
red sovines the saga of the phantom 309 , a truckers saga .
i doubt many caught this ?
Title: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker on 26 October 2019, 07:28:04
red sovines the saga of the phantom 309 , a truckers saga .
i doubt many caught this ?
A few did, other places I've been posting these snippets
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: Kidd on 26 October 2019, 08:53:48
red sovines the saga of the phantom 309 , a truckers saga .

He mentioned it, at the end

I had a quick listen on Youtube
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: DOC_Agren on 26 October 2019, 21:31:05
 :clap:

you did justice to Red Sovine song
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: Hairbear541 on 26 October 2019, 22:12:53
i have to say i really liked the updated bt version myself . almost a flying dutchman or mary celeste crossover with one of the classic trucking sagas . keep up the good writing there JA .
Title: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker on 11 November 2019, 19:07:30
Time to go a little American Gods

The Man In Black

I work for Defiance Industries on Hesperus II.

Not anything impressive sounding, like CEO or senior test pilot. No, I run one of the massive forges that turns raw metal ore into armour plates and 'Mech chassis. Most people have no idea just how big the foundries at a place like that are, and believe me, I do mean big: standing in the middle, even without the smoke and the glow of molten steel and titanium and the constant moving of machines the size of a house, you'd be hard pressed to see the walls. Not that you're ever likely to get the chance, as not only do they hate shutting down the forges for anything but the most important of maintenance, but you need a pretty high security clearance to get anywhere near them.

And I will admit that I have always enjoyed the idea that a bunch of working stiffs have a higher security clearance than most military types.

No, big foundries like Defiance Industries run around the clock, seven days a week, 52 weeks of the year. Doesn't matter if it's Christmas, the Archon's birthday or your kids piano recital, the flames never go out and the hammers never stop. It's loud, hot and dirty work, but it keeps food on the table, a roof over your head and the barbarians from the gates, so I always took a certain amount of pride in doing my small part to help defend the Commonwealth.

Places like Defiance run three shifts a day, eight hours each, and you soon get to know everyone on your shift by sight. Which is probably for the best, as what with the noise and the safety gear you have to wear, you can't near a damn thing unless someone is literally shouting right into your ear. Sure, we had radios built into our ear protectors, but they never worked right. Fortunately, everyone knew what their job was, and you quickly fall into a routine.

First time I saw him, I assumed that some Higher Up had gotten lost and somehow made it past all the warning signs and checkpoints, but by the time I was able to stop what I was doing long enough to enquire, he was gone. Nobody reported any unfortunate accidents, so I assumed that he'd gotten out without falling into a vat of molten titanium or something equally deadly. I put him out of my mind and simply went back to work, same as it ever was.

The second time... now, the second time I saw him was different. I was getting ready to hit the showers at the end of a particularly long and tiresome shift, when I saw him walking through a hallway. His stride was long and purposeful, yet he seemed to pass unnoticed by everyone else, which seemed odd, as it was shift-change, so the hall was filled almost to capacity with people heading to or from their work stations. Yet nobody looked at the stranger in his immaculate black suit, shit and tie, shoes you could see your reflection in and a pair of black sunglasses on, which were even more out of place. I turned to ask a friend if he was seeing what I was seeing, but when I turned back, the stranger was gone.

Third time... the third time was, thankfully, the last time.

I was on the late shift, and while the forges run around the clock, the 'graveyard shift' tends to be smaller because they hate having to pay unsociable hours rates. As such I was alone, working one of the smelters at the far end of the secondary foundry. Thankfully that meant being sat at a bank of consoles that had been built during the time of the Star League and could pretty much run themselves with minimal oversight. So that left me sitting in a soundproof and air conditioned observation bay, drinking coffee and listening to the radio while the computers took the strain.

Everything was going great: the smelter was running like a dream and they were covering the Skye Sentinels verses Coventry Cavaliers game, a match I had 50-kroner on (Go Sentinels!). I just happened to look up to see the stranger standing on one of the supports above the smelter, arms out wide, an oddly serene look on his face. Well, my coffee cup dropped from my hand and smashed on the floor as I ran for the hatch, convinced that I was mere moments away from watching someone kill themselves. It's not something that's talked about much, but people get killed or hurt in places like that all the time: you're lucky if you can go a year without seeing something horrible happen.

There's an emergency stop button by the door that's supposed to shut everything down in under sixty seconds, but nothing happened as I slammed my hand down upon it. I hit it again and again, but still nothing. Not so much as a bleep from the computer. Throwing open the hatch, I ran out onto the gantry, trying to figure out the best way to get to the man.

"Glorious, isn't it?" he asked, his oddly accented voice somehow carrying clearly above the roar of the machines, "So much raw potential? So many different ways it can molded into weapons and armour?"

"I don't think you're supposed to be here, Sir." I did my best to sound calm and reassuring, "Why don't you come back over here and we can..."

The blaring of a loud klaxon cut me off, one one of the massive smelting cups rumbled across the room on massive tracks, stopping just behind the man before unleashing a flood white-hot molten metal. I looked away, not wanting to watch him die, as quick and painless as it would probably be. But instead I heard his voice, cool and calm, reciting what sounded like a blessing in a language unlike any I had ever heard before. I looked back, and saw him standing with his arms out, his hands buried in the flowing metal. But, in defiance of all logic, instead of instantly setting his entire body ablaze, it didn't seem to as much as singe his suit. Rather, it flowed through his open fingers like a cool mountain waterfall.

"What...How..." I stuttered, unable, unwilling, to believe what my own two eyes were telling me, "Who are you?"

"Who am I? I have been known by oh so many names: Ares! Mars! Tyr! Bast! Horus! Bandua! Teutates! Chiyou! Kartikeya! Hadúr! Bishamonten! Belus! Mixcoatl! 'Oro! Kū! Maru! Resheph! Svetovid! Kyzaghan!" he flung his arms out, the furnaces seeming to spark on command, "I am War, the first and greatest of human endeavours, born of rage and spite and greed. I am the arm that swings the sword and draws the bow, the feeling of adulation you feel when you kill someone who was trying to kill you! I am the stories of honour and glory that statesman and leaders weave for their followers to drive them into a killing frenzy. I am the all consuming hatred that you feel for your fellow man simply because they live under a different flag and speak with a different voice. I am ten thousand years of spilt blood and shed tears, the wailing of mothers for lost sons, children for missing parents. I am the cut and the thrust, the attack and defence. In the beginning it was all so small, but now? Now you have taken me to the stars! And look how they run red with your blood, a endless sacrifice in my name, the last, despite words of the dying endless prayers offered up to my glory! Yes, I am War, who rides upon a white horse and on whose head sits the crown of conquest. I am humanities finest creation and one, true God!"

He took his glasses off and looked me in the eye... or, rather, he would have had his eyes been nothing more than dark, empty voids of pure darkness.

"This great place is my temple, a city dedicated to my worship." He smiled like a predator stalking its prey, "And you... you are one of my chosen priests! You, who run the forges and foundries that fuel this endless, glorious war! You, who's every days labour keeps the blood flowing and the flames burning. Oh, to you, my friend, I give my deepest thanks."

He bowed, deeply and extravagantly, then a shower of sparks from the forge seemed to envelope him, and he was gone.

I don't remember the rest of that shift. I was told later that I somehow exceeded my quota by a considerable amount. But I wasn't truly listening. No, it was a long, long time before I was really back in my right mind after that night.

Twenty years have passed since that night, and I haven't seen him since, even though I still work the foundries and forges, all be it now as a senior supervisor. But I can still feel him, when the fires are burning hottest and management is demanding we work harder to meet higher quotas. He's still there, in the smoke and shadows, basking in our endless, unknowing worship.

The End
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: mikecj on 11 November 2019, 19:31:56
Nice.  Thanks for sharing.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: Daryk on 11 November 2019, 20:13:57
I daresay that's the best one yet!  :thumbsup:
Title: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker on 11 November 2019, 20:16:51
I daresay that's the best one yet!  :thumbsup:
I honestly think it's one of the weakest.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: Daryk on 11 November 2019, 20:29:06
Less scary on an individual level maybe, but by far the best comment on the human condition overall...  8)
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: Esskatze on 13 November 2019, 02:51:23
I honestly think it's one of the weakest.

It certainly had the least amount of spelling errors, that is for sure. Other than that, it was okay.
Title: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker on 08 December 2019, 20:35:04
And now for something completely different...

Beyond The Sea

There's an old saying that the future you get from Terra, the less things make sense.

I'm not sure if I agree with that on face value, but I can tell you that, the further out you go, the less important concepts like law, decency and morality seem to apply. You want to do something illegal, unethical or outright crazy, you head out into the deep, deep Periphery, where there no one to look over your shoulder. That's were you can buy a world from a local warlord for a lance of broken down BattleMechs that even the most desperate, dispossessed Inner Sphere Mercenary would turn down as walking death traps. Life is cheap out there, and at times, short and violent.

I'd like to say that it wasn't always that way, that the time of the Star League, with all its wondrous technology and massive armies dragged humanity kicking and screaming into the light of civilisation.

I'd like to say a lot of things, but the universe doesn't work that way.

No, for all the rose-tinted huge of nostalgia, the Star League had its dark side, and like everyone else, the deepest of the Deep Periphery is where they hid it. Working for Interstellar Expeditions, you hear about a lot of such places, officially or unofficially, and some of the things I've heard about... well, best not to dwell on those.

The story I want to tell you today, well, it's not really as bad as most. More of an enigma than anything else, really.

We'd been based out of IE Outpost #22, on the far side of the Perseus-Cepherus Cloud, for about five years when we stumbled upon this planet orbiting six days out from a K0V type star. What got our attention was the fact that our long-range scans picked up a faint beacon from a crippled Scout class JumpShip at the L1 point between the planet and its small moon. Looked like someone had tried for a pirate-point and rolled snake-eyes, turning the ship into a twisted wreck that wasn't going anywhere ever again. So our two DropShip, the Union class Lulu Belle and the Mule class Tangerine were sent in for a closer look.

Now, thankfully I'm a VTOL pilot, not trained in EVA, so I wasn't one of the poor SOB's sent across to investigate the Scout, so I didn't have to hack my way through the frozen remains of the passengers and crew to pull what little we could from the ships computer. What they managed to find indicated that she'd been registered to a Hegemony based transtellar called the Masrani Corporation, based out of New Earth. It also indicated that they had set up a research outpost on the planet below, and, well, that's exactly the kind of information we were looking for.

We deployed a mapping and communications satellite into orbit, scanning the surface for any signs of man-made structures, and on the second sweep, got a hit: an atoll near the planets equator showed clear signs of habitation, with what looked like a Jumbo sitting half submerged in the water just off an overgrown landing pad. There were hints of habitation on other islands, but none within about a thousand kilometres of the outpost, so we put them on the back-burner for the time being: our mission was to locate lost outposts and recover anything of value, not make friends with every single lost colony that only knew about the wider universe from the history books.

Nobody liked the idea of trying to land on an overgrown pad, especially without first making sure that it hadn't been undermined by the local plant life, so instead they selected a rocky islet some twenty kilometers away that looked sturdy enough to handle the Lulu Belle, at least for a while. And let me tell you, it was a pretty intense landing: Captain had one hand hoovering over the abort button the entire time, ready to send us all rocketing back to orbit the moment something went wrong. Like, say, the islet crumbling beneath 3,600-tons of DropShip. Fortunately, the ground held, and the environmental checks all came back green, and we set about unloading one of the Peregrine transport VTOL's.

Which in turn meant that my lazy arse had to get in gear.

I don't know if you've ever spent any time flying relatively low over open water, but it can get almost hypnotic after a while. There's something about the blue of the sea and the sky and tries to lull you to sleep. Or at least it does when you don't have some jack-off of a supervisor talking constantly about what he wants you to do when you land. Now I get it's key to make sure everyone knows their job, but it wasn't our first trip to the fair: we were all experienced, and knew exactly what was expected of us. But at least the son of a bitch kept us awake.

Now, while we may have had the civilian variant of the Peregrine, it still had the same rough-field capacity as the military model, which was perfect given what we found: pretty every square metre of open space was covered in some kind of thick, mangrove like vegetation that was starting to burry some of the smaller buildings. Despite this, it was still possible to make out the basic outline of the base, with a large, central control building over looking the small dock that jutted out into the lagoon. This was in turn surrounded by a number of smaller, auxiliary buildings and the open, reinforced expanse of the landing pad. A closer look seemed to indicate that the stricken Jumbo had been sitting quite happily until the encroaching vegetation had blocked a drainage culvert, resulting in the ground beneath it being slowly undermined by water until it gave way. The weight of the DropShip had obviously been too much for the thick, ferrocreat slab to hold, and it had in turn given way, toppling the abandoned craft into the lagoon.

Clearing enough of the thick, intertwined foliage away for the second VTOL to bring in the equipment needed to make it safe for one of the DropShips to land was hard, back-breaking work, especially under such a hit, tropical sun, but that's what they pay us for. Or, rather, they pay the others for, as I was pretty much immediately sent back for more help and equipment. What can I say? Having a pair of wings on my uniform is a heavy burden, but one I shoulder gladly.

Two days of hard work, during which we ate field rations and slept in pop-up tents, and we had enough of the landing pad cleared that the engineer could assess it to make sure it was safe to bring in the Lulu Belle. And while she wasn't in the military configuration, she did have two Rock Hound ProspectorMechs, which made clearing the rest of the encroaching jungle far easier. And I know that a lot of people, especially military Mech Jocks, look down on the Rock Hound, calling it a "jack-of-all-trades, but master-of-none", but when you've only got limited cargo space and don't know what you're walking into, it's a very useful piece of equipment to have on hand.

Although, under the circumstances, a Rock Otter would have been handy.

Well, with the Lulu Belle in place, we could start trying to cut our way into the main building. Whatever power system the Masrani Corporation had used to power the base had evidently stopped working centuries previously, but like all sensible people, they'd installed a two-way tap that not only allowed a visiting DropShip to draw power for the main grid while planet-side, but in an emergency, could draw power from said DropShip to at least run basic systems. Say what you want about the Star League; and believe me, there's a lot of evils you can lay at their feet, they knew how to build something to last. So once we'd uncovered the tap and run out a cable almost as thick around as a grown adult, all it took was a couple of flicked switches and the base started to come back to life. About half the lights fittings blew out instantly, but enough remained intact to allow us to find our way around without too much trouble. Fortunately, the building seemed to be relatively intact, with only the odd broken window to let in the elements, meaning that everything was just as it had been left... which made it clear from the mess we found that the original owners had left in something of a hurry.

I've seen more than a few abandoned colonies and outposts in my years with IE: sometimes, they look like the previous occupants just stepped out to grab a coffee and a smoke... others look like a battlefield. But I'd never before seen one that looked like a strange mix of the two. The building itself was in remarkable good shape given it had gone so long with no one looking after it, but the interior was a mess. Hard-copy files were scattered across the floor, desks and chairs were upturned, keyboards put through computer monitors, data-drives and optical disks burned to slag.

I've seen planetary invasions that left less of a mess.

Unfortunately, even under ideal conditions, paper only lasts so long, and the scattered files crumbled to dust as soon as we tried to pick them up. With the main computer not only erased, but every single bite of memory written over with zeros, it wasn't looking good for our chances of discovering just what they'd been up to, least not with the time and resources we had to hand. Then someone found a wall safe hidden in one of the offices; big old fashioned job, all mechanical, no computer to hack. Crazy as it sounds, they're still arguable the best option for keeping your information, well, safe.

Now Interstellar Expeditions isn't exactly the Wilderness Explorers. We're Lost-Tech hunters, and that means sometimes not asking too many questions about just how and where someone acquired certain skills or experience. With that in mind, it shouldn't be too surprising that we had an experienced safe-cracker on the crew, even if he was, technically, a gally hand. Fortunately, if there's one thing he knows better than Salisbury steak, it's how to pick just about any lock known to man.

The safe-cracking came before the cooking, which he learned in a Taurian prison, serving time for the former.

We showed Max the safe, and he looked like he'd just met an old friend for the first time in years, before opening a bag containing what, to the rest of us looked like completely random bits and pieces. I won't go into the details of what he did, but half an hour later, the safe was open and Max had earned himself a nice little bonus. What we found inside the safe wasn't of any immediate help: along with a few holographs of some long-dead family and a decent looking watch, it held a solid-state memory core, the Lost-Tech kind that's supposedly readable up to a thousand years, or so they claim, but can still fit into your pocket. Even on its own, it was probably worth the cost of our little detour, but a quick check showed that it was encrypted. We didn't have a cryptographer with us, but they did have someone back at Outpost #22, so it was locked away in the Lulu Bells safe for the time being.

Unfortunately, this didn't help us discover just what a big transtellar had been up to out there, and with all the records useless, we had to do it the hard way. Which it why I found myself assigned to a team tasked with going room-to-room in the basement, looking for any clues as to just what had going on, and why it had been abandoned in such a hurry. Now, as I've made clear, I'm a rotor-head, not a scientist, and one room full of damaged lab equipment looks pretty much the same as any other to my untrained eyes, and it was clear that I was mainly there to help keep the actual scientists out of trouble. Indeed, more than once I had to stop them from tripping over debris or electrocuting themselves on a damaged but live light switch. For all the brains they have, they certainly lack field experience.

Take Angus Broomly, one of my bunk-mates on the Lulu Belle: probably the best computer techs working out of Outpost #22, but prone to getting lost, even on a DropShip. I'd asked him once why he'd signed up for the expedition, and he explained that he needed at least six months of field experience before he was considered eligible for a promotion he wanted. Man was a wizard in the lab, but a gold brick in the field, and I have to wonder just what Head Office was thinking. But, between Angus and an equally scatter-brained botanist from somewhere in Lyran space named Linda Ngo, they managed to work out that the Masrani team had been studying the local sea-life to see if there was anything of value to be found.

Only, that didn't sit right: the base was too big, to lavish, for a simple biological survey, especially as the Star League built dedicated DropShips that could do the job just as well and for a fraction of the cost. No, you didn't built an obviously permanent base so far out into the outer darkness unless you'd already found something of value, or you were hiding something. Something you didn't want any visitors to stumble upon.

Two days into the search, one of the teams found a hard-copy map of the facility that had, thankfully, been laminated. It indicated that the atoll was actually the top of a long extinct volcano that had blown its wad some time long before humans first came this way, leaving a deceptively deep abyss in the centre. And, for whatever reason, the Masrani expedition had built a underwater facility a couple of hundred metres down, connect to the surface by way of a pressurised elevator shaft. It took us another day to find the hidden door that lead to the surface entrance, hidden below the jetty that jutted out into the lagoon, and we were disappointed to discover that the cables had been severed. An examination of the remains indicated that someone had used what looked like mining charges to completely wreck the system, leaving the two big, freight elevators to drop. There was an emergency stairwell wrapping around the outside of the central shaft, but it showed signs of damage, not all of it due to lack of maintenance.

Someone evidently really wanted to keep what was down there, well, down there.

Given I have a natural head for heights, I was given the job of abseiling down the shaft, along with Trinny, one of the Lulu Belles bridge crew who liked to go rock-climbing in her free time. Now, some people might baulk at the idea of being suspended over a couple of hundred metres of darkness by a cable no thicker than their thumb, but those people have never seen myomer ropes used to tie down a BattleMech on the back of a Prime Mover. And while the cables we had weren't nearly that strong, they were tested to half a ton, certainly more than enough for a single person and anything they might be able to salvage on their own.

We lowered ourselves slowly, checking out the stairwell for any serious damage as we went, the hope being that it would prove to be passable, allowing for much easier access to the underwater section of the base. Fortunately, while several sections showed signs of fire damage, it had been built as an emergency escape route, so was designed to take that kind of punishment and remain serviceable. Unfortunately, about 50-metres down, we came to a section that had been blown apart, probably by another mining charge, leaving a gap of about ten meters with no stairs, the a large area fouled with wreckage.

Not long after that, we found the first of the two elevator cars... or rather, what was left of it. The room was almost completely missing, and the walls were warped and buckled, which was the only thing keeping it from dropping lower, as someone had wrecked the emergency breaks, something that's not easy to do, even deliberately. At first glance, it looked like someone had used it to deliver the charge that wrecked the stairwell, the remains dropping until they jammed in place. To my untrained eye, I'd say that the plan had been to breach the shaft wall and flood it with sea water, only either they hadn't enough explosives to hand, or it had been stronger than they expected, the force of the blast being directed up and down rather than out.

We reported in what we found, then carefully made our way around the wrecked elevator and further down. While there was still signs of damage further down, there was nothing that looked impassable, and we were soon so far down that even the powerful lights that had been set up at the top of the shaft were little more than a faint glow directly above. Fortunately, we'd come prepared with bags of chemical glow sticks, each one rated for a full 24-hours, and we started cracking and tossing them onto the regular landings as a easy way to keep track of how far down we were. Trinny took a dozen or so and just dropped them down, confirming that the bottom of the shaft was at least relatively dry.

Try and remember that we were well over a hundred meters below sea level, and while the fact that the shaft wasn't completely flooded seemed to indicate that at least part of the submerged section was still pressurised, it was still nice to have it confirmed. After a short debate, Trinny won the honour of being the first to touch down, while I hung a few meters up, my hand holding the remote emergency recall device that could send us rocketing right back to the top of the shaft if pressed. Fortunately, there was no indication that it was needed, and we were given permission to try and open the doors.

Once, before whatever the hell had happened happened, they'd been pressure doors, a last line of defence against the ocean should the area beyond become compromised, but by the looks like, the second elevator had hit the bottom of the shaft at some speed, blowing at least one door partly off its hinges. We tossed a couple of glow-sticks through the opening, then crawled through after.

The corridor beyond showed the same signs of damage as we'd seen on the surface, all be it without the scattered papers all over the place. More labs, some in slightly better shape, but it almost looked like someone had beaten us to the prize, as a lot of the smaller, more easily transported gear was gone. Oh, sure, the big equipment was sitting there, but anything that one or two people could move on their own was gone. We found what looked like a break room or galley, and all of the crockery and cutlery was gone, down to the very last spoon. A maintenance room had likewise been picked clean of tools and supplies, even some of the shelving, by the look of the indentation in the floor.

Then we found the remains of a security room... I've never been in the military, but I known the signs of weapons fire when I see it, and someone or something had put up a hell of a fight, judging by the scorch marks and bullet holes we found. And, just like the other rooms, all of the weapons, ammo and chargers were missing. Far too systematic to have been done in a hurry, but at the same time, all of the heavy lab equipment, every last piece a potential cornucopia of Lost Tech, was left. Which was crazy, because I've seen people fight and even kill over a Star League vintage calculator, on the off chance that it may contain a single microchip that could be used to repair some damaged piece of equipment. Even if they were completely non-functional, they'd be worth a small fortune to collectors and companies trying to recreate Lost Tech.

I was still trying to wrap my head around the situation when Trinny tugged on my shoulder, drawing my attention to where her flashlight was pointed at the deck: a small puddle of water, no bigger than a foot, sat there. A second, maybe thirty centimeters behind, and slightly to one side. Another beyond that, then another and another.

Neither of us had any real weapons on us: with no signs of habitation or dangerous, hostile wildlife, it had been deemed actually safer to leave weapons locked up back on the ship, less someone doing something stupid and get themselves or someone else hurt. I did, however, have a small pry-bar hanging from my belt, and it quickly found its way into my hand, its cold weight somewhat reassuring. Without a word, we followed the apparent footprints until they stopped outside a locked hatch. The sign indicated that it was a moon-pool, pressurised to keep the water out. A side hatch led to an observation bay, and I stepped through just in time to see something vanish into the water, but there was too little light to make anything out. I turned to ask Trinny if she'd seen it, but she was busy trying to get the compression chamber open, and I felt it prudent to keep my mouth shut.

Last thing I wanted was a reputation as a man who sees things.

I did my best to put the whole incident out of my mind over the next couple of days, convincing myself that it was just my imagination running wild. Certainly helped that I had to spend most of my time helping to move lab equipment from the submerged part of the base up the elevator shaft. I had no idea just what most of it was; I can tell you what every component of a VTOL is and what it does, but my eyes start to glaze over when I hear words like DNA Sequencer, Gene Splicer or Retroviruses Programmer. All I knew was that it was all Lost Tech, and had been expensive and rear even when it was new, meaning it was probably worth more than a JumpShip these days. It was clear that, whatever Masrani had been up to out here, it was on the bleeding edge of what even the Star League had been capable of. We still had no idea just what that was, and probably wouldn't until we could get the recovered data core decrypted, but we were already healthily in the black as far as the expedition was concerned. Certainly enough that everyone could expect a bonus when we reported back.

Eventually, the boss decided that we deserved a day off, and told everyone to stand down. Most of the equipment had been recovered, and there was talk of trying to get through the airlock to see what lay beyond. But it was securely locked from the inside, and just cutting our way through risked depressurising the entire complex and having the ocean come rushing in. Which, I presume, would have been a Very Bad Thing.

And so it was that I found myself dozing under something akin to a palm-tree on a sheltered bit of sand overlooking the lagoon. I'm not sure if anyone had worked out what the local season was; we didn't have a climatologist on the expedition, but the weather was pleasantly warm, a soft ocean breeze taking the edge of the stars soft, orange light. And that's one thing I love about space travel: how every star seems to give off a unique light, almost like a fingerprint. I know some people say that the human eye is incapable of telling the difference between two stars of broadly the same type, but I know for a fact that I can.

So I'm there, just lazily looking out over the water, when I noticed something odd about one of the rocks in the water just off the shore. For one thing, the silvery-white seaweed covering its top looked wrong, and second, it had eyes. Eyes that were watching me intently from just above the waterline.

Now I've been to more worlds than most since starting with Interstellar Expeditions, and I've seen more than a few life forms that you've probably never heard of, some that are considered sentient if not sapient, and believe me, you can tell when you're being looked at by thinking, reasoning eyes.

I scrambled for my data-pad, desperate to get a picture, but by the time I turned back, the strange head was gone, leaving not even a ripple.

Not sure exactly what I had seen, I tracked down one of the biologists and asked him if they'd found anything on the planets native sea-life, but nothing he mentioned seemed to match what I thought I had seen. Putting it down to the heat, I went back to work the next day, helping to explore more of the underwater facility. And, if I'm being honest, I kind of wish I hadn't, as the next chamber we found was some kind of medical lab, an unpleasant cross between an operating theatre and a morgue. It was painfully clear that, whatever the long dead scientists had been working on, it involved something roughly human size and shape.

Like I said at the beginning, the further you get from Terra, the further you get from morality, and I had some very bad ideas about just what they'd been up to. Thankfully, all of the records were beyond recovery, and little of the surviving equipment was worth the fuel to take it back to base. And, much like in the rest of the complex, a lot of the smaller equipment was simply missing, including most of the surgical tools.

I was really starting to get a bad feeling about the entire place, and looking around, I could tell I wasn't the only one. We'd seen planets wracked by war, natural disaster and just straight up apathy, but something about that place...something bad had happened there, something not right. You could feel it hanging in the air like a fart in a spacesuit, something that you just know was going to cling to you long after you left. Not everyone felt that way, some were just thinking about the money, but it was clear that we weren't going to spend any longer there than we had to.

Let someone else come back, if it was deemed worth it.

Few days later, I found myself sitting on the same patch of sand, looking out over the lagoon, and I had the distinct feeling that someone was watching me. Shielding my eye from the sun with my hands, I scanned the water, looking for the same strange head that I had seen the previous week, but there was no sign of anything. Turning round, I almost fell backwards into the water when I saw a small data-pad propped up against the tree next to my jacket. It certainly wasn't mine, and by the look of it, it was old, possibly Star League vintage. Certainly not something a member of our expedition would just leave laying around.

Tentatively picking it up, I was shocked to discover that, not only was it functional, but that it contained two files. The first seemed to be a schematic of the underwater lab complex with a number of red icons highlighted...the second a simple text file documenting the bases "scuttling charges", intended to destroy the entire facility in the event of an security breach. The little pad bleeped, and a timer appeared on the screen, counting down from 15 minutes, the numbers glowing red.

Dropping the pad, I grabbed my radio and yelled out a warning to evacuate the lab.

I bet that, right now, a lot of you reading this are expecting me to say that I had to come up with some clever story to explain just when everyone should suddenly drop tools and run like hell, but then you've probably never been on an expedition like that. Because, when you're off the edge of the map, dealing with equipment and buildings that haven't been used or maintained in hundreds of years, if someone tells you that there's something wrong, you run like the devil himself is on your tail. Far better to treat every false alarm like it's the real deal and go back later to finish what you'd been working on, then to die because some long abandoned wall collapsed on top of you.

Sure, Lost Tech hunting can be a profitable line of work, but you got to be alive to spend it.

And, sure, if I sent everyone running for the surface and nothing happened, the boss would chew my arse until Max could use it to make hamburgers, but that was a risk I was willing to take. Other voices filled the radio, ordering everyone to drop whatever they were doing and get top-side, and I loomed down for the data-pad, only it was gone, taking with it the only hard evidence I had for just why I called the alert in. There was a splash behind me, and I spun around in time to see ripples expanding out from where someone, or something, had jumped into the lagoon.

Well, with no other option, I ran as fast as I could back to the surface complex. I found a certain amount of confusion as people ran about, unsure just what was happening. Fortunately, my warning had been heeded, and I could see a hive of activity around the small, nondescript building that housed the elevator shaft leading to the lab far below. Forcing my way through the confusion, I made my way to the top of the shaft just in time to see the last of the salvage crew being winched up. The expedition commander stood to one side, overseeing the operation, and upon seeing I had arrived, he turned to me as if to ask just what the hell I was talking about.

His question died on his lips, however, as a deep rumbling sound came from the bottom of the shaft, the very ground beneath our feet shaking and bucking like a DropShip boosting for orbit. I grabbed the hand rail and wrapped one arm around it, the other taking hold of a crewman who'd been in danger of falling back down the shaft. People started screaming, struggling towards the exit even as the shaking stopped, the rumbling having been replaced with a deep roaring sound.

I risked a glance over the side of the shaft, my eyes going wide with terror as I saw a boiling cauldron of water rushing up towards me as the ocean sort to finally reclaim its lost territory. I found myself gripped with the sudden and overwhelming desire to be elsewhere, and pushed the man I had saved towards the door, following the others to the hoped for safety of the outside.

The roaring only grew louder, until it became almost deafening and a massive spout of water erupted within the squat building, ripping its roof of and sending it tumbling through the air to land on the shore of the lagoon. Saltwater spray drenched those of us unfortunate enough to be closest, and after a few minutes to ensure everyone was accounted for and there had been no serious injuries, we slowly ventured back towards the ruined building.

Probably not surprising to hear that the elevator shaft was filled, almost all the way up, with water from the lagoon, the lab below cut off without access to specialist equipment we simply didn't have. The boss was furious, convinced that there had still been some hidden trove of invaluable Lost Tech hidden below, but his anger was tempered by the knowledge that nobody had been hurt or killed. I certainly had some explaining to do, but without the data-pad to back me up, it was a hard sell. Fortunately, I did have the irrefutable evidence that something had suddenly and completely destroyed the hidden lab, and in the end he had no choice but to accept me at my word, mumbling something about how HQ was going to think we were both going space crazy when they read his report.

With everything of value stripped from the surface complex and the wrecked Jumbo, we boosted back for orbit. We didn't have the necessary staff on hand to try contacting any of the other settlements we'd seen, as none showed any signs of advanced technology or even the most basic of technology that anyone in the Inner Sphere or ever near Periphery would take for granted. Instead we simply logged the system for possible future investigation be a specialist team, then moved on. Space is big, and there are plenty more secrets to uncover.

Oh, and the data-core we found in the safe? Some long-dead executives porn stash. Turned out to be worth a fair bit on its own...

The End
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: Daryk on 08 December 2019, 21:01:11
Of course it was a porn stash...  ^-^
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: snakespinner on 08 December 2019, 22:18:41
Wondered where i had left my porn stash. :thumbsup:
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: PsihoKekec on 09 December 2019, 03:14:43
Vintage porn is profitable business.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: Kidd on 09 December 2019, 06:05:09
I bet Lostech porn must be pretty mind-blowing.
Title: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker on 14 December 2019, 19:05:07
Warning: stronger than usual language and discussion of events that might offend. Consider this your only warning.

The Lost And The Damned

Transcript of interview with Prisoner 74656, September 4th, 3081
[Redacted] maximum security facility, [Redacted].

Please state your name for the record.

Artie Claremont

Your full, legal name, please.

Artemus Quentin Claremont III, which just goes to prove that three generations of my family had shit taste in names.

Can you confirm that you served as a member of the Death Commandos from 3050 to 3063?

Yeah, yeah I did.

Why did you leave?

I had a disagreement with a superior officer. After which, it was suggested that I, shall we say, "travelled for my health"?

This was the incident on Wei?

If you know I was on Wei, then you known what happened.

For our records, if you would.

We were ordered to kill the planets leaders, one by one. Fine. No problem with that: I was a loyal servant of the Chancellor, and they were his enemies. So we track this one woman down, some government minister or something, only she's not alone. Got her daughter with her. Kids maybe fourteen years old, has no idea why a bunch of armed men dressed all in black are pointing guns at them. Our orders were to kill the minister, but said nothing about any family. CO decides that he's going to "get creative", as he put it. Ordered two of the men to hold the minister in place, and informed her that he was going to make her watch while he raped then murdered her daughter before she died.

And you objected?

I pulled my sidearm and put two rounds through the son-of-a-bitch's head is what I did!

Why?

What kind of ******-up question is that? I was a Death Commando, and I wouldn't have thought twice about just killing the kid if so ordered, but I would have made it quick and painless, something they did actually teach us how to do. But what that bastard had planned? Look, I've done things, okay? Things that, maybe, looking back, I ain't too proud of. Things that have earned me a date with the hangman, now you guys finally tracked me down... But I ain't no rapist, and I never hurt no kids.

Even on Halcyon?

[chuckle] Shit, this is about Halcyon? How long did it take you guys to dig that little secret up?

Tell me about Halcyon.

What's to know? It's a planet, much like any other...

We both know that's not true, Sao-wei Claremont..

It's Mister Claremont, if you're not going to call me Artie. I ain't been in no uniform for a long, long time.

Very well, Mr Claremont. Why don't you tell us the truth about Halcyon?

It's off the maps, right? And it's not one of those "Hidden Five" that everyone's been turning the galaxy inside out to try and find. If I knew anything about those, I would have mentioned it by now. Probably the only thing that would save me from a long drop with a sudden stop at the end. No, Halcyon is... ever wonder why, of all the planets humanity has discovered since the Pathfinder first set out, all those lush, Terra-like worlds, not one has had anything approaching our level? No Little Green Men? Not even an ape banging two rocks together?

I can't say it's something I've ever given any thought to.

Well, you find Halcyon, find what happened there, and you'll have the answer.

And Halcyon was your first mission after you joined the Word of Blake?

I never joined the Word! I may have worked for the crazy bastards, but given the nature of my departure from the Commandos, it's not like I had much choice. Not all of us have big Mercenary units willing to welcome us with open arms, and my choices was the Word... or go cap-in-hand to House Davion. And even after all that happened, I still have some honour left. So yeah, I took the Words money and did their dirty work for them, least until it became clear that everything was going to shit. Then I left, tried to hide among the refugees fleeing... you want to know a secret?

Why else do you think I'm here?

The Jihad? All that death and destruction? Complete and utter cluster-******! Never supposed to happen! Oh, sure, the Blakists built up their secret armies and their cyborgs and their weapons of mass bullshit, but that was all intended to finish up the job started by Opposition Bulldog. Kick the rest of the Clans out of the Inner Sphere and back to where they came. Show them the true price of invading the Inner Sphere. The Word was ecstatic when the Second Star League was formed: it was the perfect opportunity to show off all their new toys to the Great Houses. Only the Dragoons had to go pick a fight with them, and given their origin, the Blakists got spooked. Thought that the Clans were onto them. And so they panicked, which coupled with the Star League falling apart, yet again...well, we all saw how well they took that.

You're saying that the Jihad was an... accident?

An overreaction, certainly.

And how does this tie into Halcyon?

Because the Word wasn't the only group with skeletons in their closest.

Please, explain.

Story I heard was that the Word of Blake didn't know anything about Halcyon until some REMF back on Terra was digging through an old Hegemony archive. Real old stuff, highly encrypted: sort of stuff that can take years to make anything of any use. One day, they stumbled upon a reference to a mission to destroy a JumpShip, kill everyone on-board, after they'd breached the quarantine around Halcyon. Well, that was enough to get people interested, because anything that the Star League was willing to go that far to protect was probably worth knowing about. So, another year or so of data-mining, and they discover that it wasn't a Star League operation, but rather purely in-house Hegemony Armed Forces. As in, it was something they wanted kept really off-the-books, even from the SLDF.

Well, as you can probably imagine, that got a lot more people interested, and I doubt anyone in the galaxy is as good at getting information out of a computer than the Word of Blake, when they set their minds to it. So they dig up every data cache, every isolated server and back-up of a back-up they can find, and they start to piece together some information. Not a lot, as much was lost during the Amaris Uprising and all the chaos that followed. He didn't get to everyone at once, and some of those he missed followed protocol and trashed the records as best they could to keep it from falling into his hands. And, eventually, they managed to piece together at least something: Halcyon was the codename of a system kept off all official charts, even the classified ones that listed hidden bases and research outposts.

And you're certain it wasn't one of the Hidden Five?

Oh, Halcyon was hidden, but not for the reasons you might be thinking.

Continue.

Well, once they had an idea what and where Halcyon was, they needed to send someone to go have a look. Someone who can think on their feet, handle most situations and is preferable expendable. Well, that's as good a description of where I found myself as any, so I was assigned to a small group of hired guns sent to go stick our heads into the gave to see if anyone was home. Depending on what, or rather if, we reported back, they'd consider a follow-up mission.

And what did you find?

...you don't want to know.

Yes, I do, Mr Claremont.

You don't think that some secrets are best left just that? That some things are just best left unknown?

If there's a chance that elements of Word of Blake may have escaped to Halcyon, we need to know what to expect if we go there. And, to the best of our knowledge, you are the only known living person who's ever gone there

Then that information should die with me. Trust me: knowing the truth will bring you nothing good.

None the less, I must insist.

Ok, fine: on your head be it. But I want you, and your superiors at [REDACTED] to remember that I warned you.

Halcyon orbits a star. No idea what type it was: big yellow ball of nuclear fire. Fist thing we noticed was an abandoned station, looked like it had taken a hit from a swarm of micro-meteorites that ripped the guts out of it. Couple of old early model drones floating around just outside. From what I could overhear, it looked to have been some kind of prototype for the SDS system the Star League developed, but it was completely dead. Anyway, system had six planets: three rocks, a gas giant and two ice giants. First two of the rocks were too close, just hot lumps of nothing. But the third one was in the sweet-spot for habitable worlds, so that's where we headed.

Next big surprise was in orbit: load of old satellites. Mostly observation, but a few equipped with orbit-to-ground kinetic impactor, still in the launch rails. That got a lot of people interested, because you don't install that kind of hardware over a planet without very good reason. With that it mind, we mapped the planet from high orbit, well above the satellites, less we set off some kind of automatic defence protocol. Couple of places looked like they'd been hit by KKV's in the past, but nothing more recent than a few hundred years. Some careful testing later, and it was concluded that the satellites were as inert as the space station, and by then we'd located what looked to be the ruins of a small city.

So Halcyon was inhabited.

...no. Least, not anymore.

They sent us in first, after running every test they knew for biological and chemical agents in the atmosphere and finding nothing. So a shuttle dropped us off on the outskirts of the 'city', relaying everything was saw to the DropShip in orbit.

I've seen enough battlefields to know one by sight, even if the local plant life was doing a good job of covering it up. Buildings, some blown to pieces, others crumbling due to the elements, stood silently all around us. I could tell immediately that something was wrong about them, but it was one of the others, crazy woman named Limbu, who pointed it out: the dimensions were all wrong.

How were they wrong, exactly?

The doorways were too tall and narrow, for one. I don't care where you are, what planet you come from, but a door is a door, after all. All roughly the same size and width. It's one of those universal standards we picked up long before we left Terra. But on Halcyon... they were different. But other than that, it wasn't much different from some of the more isolated worlds I've been to, places where technology has regressed a little further. No signs of any vehicles on the streets, and that did feel a little odd, but nothing too out of the ordinary.

So Halcyon was a failed colony?

...no.

Mr Claremont?

It was in the middle of a... it wasn't a square, but it seemed to serve the same purpose. Big slab of armour plate, three meters or so high, maybe twenty centimetres thick. Must have weight two tonnes. Someone had evidently placed it there on purpose.

And what purpose was that?

It was a memorial. Someone had taken the time to carve a message into the face or it, just in case anyone had the misfortune of ever stumbling across it.

Can you remember what it said?

I wish I could forget.

On this spot, July 22nd, 2318, the last known member of the Halaconian species was executed, under the authority of Director-General James McKenna, as per Special Order 4119 and in accordance with the Clear Horizon Directive.

I've never heard of any such order or directive.

No, you haven't, because the Hegemony kept it a secret, as had the Terran Alliance before them. Every time they found a world fit for human habitation but already taken... they made it so it wasn't. The Halaconians had been on the verge of an industrial revolution when they were discovered, probably the most advanced of any race who had the misfortune to find itself in our way. That made it all the harder to wipe them out, necessitating the satellites in orbit, ready to drop a Rod-from-God on a any who made themselves known.

God only know how many times they did it, how many worlds we now call home were built in the bodies of those we slaughtered to take them. And the Alliance and the Hegemony kept it all quiet, even from the Star League. Because, can you imagine what would happen if the truth got out?

...and you're not worried now?

I'm dead, either way, and I did warn you that the truth wouldn't bring you any happiness.

And why should we believe you, Mr Claremont? For all I know, this could be a ploy to get your sentence reduced to life in a mental asylum.

You go find Halcyon, and then you'll see for yourself just how crazy I am.

ADDENDUM

Prisoner 74656 was found dead in his cell, September 5th, 3081. Cause of death ruled to be suicide by strangulation on rope made from bedsheet by prison doctors. No evidence of outside interference found.

CLOSED DOOR Protocol confirmed success: quarantine of Halcyon system restored.


The End
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: Korzon77 on 14 December 2019, 19:38:16
Sadly, very in character for the humans of hte alliance and later hegemony.

Well Written.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: mikecj on 15 December 2019, 14:38:15
Very nice. 
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: PsihoKekec on 15 December 2019, 17:26:47
Humanity never changes
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: TigerTiger74 on 16 December 2019, 05:46:33
Stein's Folly in The Sword and the Dagger, has the Swamp People that could be the missed survivors of a Clear Horizon Directive.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker on 16 December 2019, 08:17:56
Stein's Folly in The Sword and the Dagger, has the Swamp People that could be the missed survivors of a Clear Horizon Directive.
Sword and The Dagger also has Ardan Sortek "flying" his BattleMech during an orbital drop.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: TigerTiger74 on 16 December 2019, 09:31:03
Lets face it, that is not the only book that has cannonicity or continuity errors, however small.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: nerd on 17 December 2019, 13:22:51
Messed up, but believable.

The only problem is I'm disinclined to believe in ancient conspiracies willing to kill, but that's my background for you. The juicy secrets tend to spill out.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: PsihoKekec on 17 December 2019, 14:58:59
Especially when you build monuments to the actions of the said conspiracies.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: Vehrec on 17 December 2019, 16:04:14
How about another one where you have the massive cover-up of a SLDF expedition that ran smack into a Stellaris style Fallen Empire?  Say, the Keepers of Knowledge and their lovely throneworld of Font of Knowledge?  Far too many apes, let's have an Angel.
Title: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker on 17 December 2019, 20:40:15
Especially when you build monuments to the actions of the said conspiracies.
I have actually explained that elsewhere:

The Hegemony eradicated the Halaconians, because that's what they did if they stumbled upon a less advanced race. Only then they realise that they can't "discover" Halcyon and open it up for colonisation. Too much evidence of previous habitation: even ignoring the ruins, there'd be trace elements in the air, water and soil, evidence of animal domestication and selective breeding, metals mined and processed into alloys, land cleared for agriculture. Civilisation leaves an unmistakable imprint on a planet.

Eventually, someone was going to stumble upon evidence of what happened, and you can't keep killing people without the rest of society noticing and wanting to know why.

So with nothing else to do, they set up observation satellites in orbit, ready to drop fire on any natives that may have hidden themselves away and avoided the Genocide, set up an automated picket at the jump-points and moved on. The manorial was, most likely, unofficial and never sanctioned by anyone back on Terra.
Title: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker on 10 January 2020, 06:13:19
I'm going to be making use of a few random ideas that just don't fit anywhere else, so it may come across as a little more disjointed than usual

Uroboros

It's been a long time since Galatea held the title of the Mercenary's Star, but while Outreach, with its mighty Hiring Halls and proving grounds may have stolen its crown, it's still a world of secrets and mysteries.

Walk down the right, or depending on your point of view, wrong, street in Galatea City, and you'll find yourself rubbing shoulders with disgraced nobles, masterless samaria, smugglers, spies and wonderers from across the explored galaxy and a fair bit of beyond. You know the right, or again, wrong, people, and can meet the price, you can by anything on Galatea: slaves, drugs, Lostech, information, weapons, identity papers, stolen goods, black-market software, rare minerals and star charts to places that shouldn't exist. It can be a dangerous place, ready to eat you alive if you don't keep your eyes open and always check the corners on entertaining a room.

Let the Dragoons have Outreach and all the 'respectable' trade, but give me good old Galatea any day.

It's also a good place to get lost, given just how many people are looking to keep their own heads down and avoid doing anything to make the usually happily complacent authorities look their way. You want to get by on Galatea? Learn not to look too closely at what's going on around you and leave you sense of morality at the Drop-Port. The further you get from the government center, the more 'colourful' Galatea becomes.

One of my old haunts on Galatea was a place called the Blue Griffin, a Lyran style place built into the remains of an old Leopard class DropShip that made its final, spectacular landing some time during the First Succession War. Legend has it that the Mercenaries who owned it sold it, along with the remains of their last BattleMech, the eponymous blue painted Griffin. Some local bought the ship and 'Mech as essentially scrap, selling what was worth salvaging, only to find that the hull itself was too expensive to move and too difficult to cut up where it was. So, like any sensible person, upon finding himself in possession of a large, armoured box in the middle of nowhere, he had the Mech bays converted into a pub, paved the dirt track leading up to it and waited for the money to come rolling in. It's still owned and operated by his family, and it still has the cockpit of that very same Griffin mounted on a plinth out front. It may not be the most popular or even best pub on the planet, but the foods decent, the drinks aren't watered down, and they have plenty of exits should you find yourself in need of one.

I was there to meet Spencer: no idea if that was his first or last name, even if it was his actual name, but it was all he answered to, and had managed to snag a table in the corner to await his arrival. Spencer was an information broker who specialised in knowing what the big corporations were up to, and had sent word that he had a tip I might find financially beneficial. He'd never passed on false information before, so I was willing to skip the card game I'd been invited to so I could hear what he had to say.

Actually that part worked out in my favour, as the Bounty Hunter crashed the game, shooting the place up to grab one of the other players. Not saying I lost any friends, but a couple of the freshly made corpses had owed me money before he shuffled them off their mortal coils.

Que sera, sera.

Spencer was waiting for me at one of the corner tables, thankfully far enough away from the band playing what I've been told is called 'Rasalhague Death Slam', but sounds more like a waste disposal system trying to eat a cat to me. Spencer is a long, tall streak of nothing with closely cropped blond hair and a pair of thick glasses, making him look like a hick from some nowhere planet that's even lost laser corrective surgery. But I've known him long enough to learn that he's got perfect 20-20 vision, and that those 'glasses' are actually pretty impressive examples of Lostech. I made the mistake once of asking him to explain them to me, and got a two hour lecture about 'augmented reality', 'facial recognition' and 'holistic algorithms' that made my eyes glaze over. He could probably sell them to NAIS, ComStar or Cranston Snord for a Archon's Ransom, but he told me that no amount of money can replace what amounts to eyes in the back of your head.

Probably the smartest thing I've ever heard him say, which given the fact that he's one of the smartest people I've ever met, is saying something.

I signaled for the barman to get me my usual, then slipped into the seat across from Spencer.

"Glad you could make it." He looked usually fidgety, constantly checking the exits, which put me on the defensive.

"You made it sound important." I kept one on him, the other on the room.

"Got some stock information that might be... financially beneficial." this surprised me, as investment advice wasn't something he was known for, "Big contract going to be signed, but prices still low."

"Sounds almost too good to be true." I observed, thanking the waitress as she brought my drink over, "Which, in my experience, means it usually is."

"No, this is rock-solid." Spencer insisted, "Look, I'm going all-in myself, everything I have... only, to buy the amount of stock needed..."

"You need more money." it was a statement of fact, not a question, and I got up to leave.

"Frost Aviation of Argyle." Spencer grabbed my arm, "Nock Heavy Engineering is going to be buying them out, lock, stock and barrel."

I sat back down: Frost Aviation of Argyle is well known as a manufacturer of high performance, low production air and aerospace craft. Toys for idiots with more money than sense who liked to play at being fighter pilots without actually having to sign-up. They've produced quite a few record holders for both straight-line speed and agility, but never had the capital to really expand. In comparison, Nock Heavy Engineering Incorporated, based on New Avalon, is one of the largest manufacturers of industrial machinery in the Federated Suns. Mostly construction and mining Mechs, but they had fingers in a lot of pies, and word was they were looking into trying their hand at military contracts, beyond just support and supply. Putting weapons and armour on some of the toys Frost was producing certainly had the potential to produce a good interceptor.

"We're a long way from New Avalon." I pointed out, my interest piqued, but still waiting for the proverbial other shoe to drop, "If they're planning on a buy-out, why aren't Nock making a move to buy up every available share as it is?"

"Because..." Spencer lent in closer, lowering his voice, "Because the idea hasn't occurred to them yet."

I sat back, looking at him, trying to work out what mad scheme he had bubbling away behind those thick lenses. It's not unusual for people in our line of work to be a little... odd. You spend enough time right out on the fringe of society, even in the middle of the Inner Sphere, and it can take its tole on even the strongest mind. Spencer had always had his little quirks; hell, we all do, myself included, but I'd always assumed that he was keeping it together better than most.

"Look," he took a deep breath, obviously sensing my unease, "I don't expect you to believe me without evidence, and I'm willing to provide it, but before I do, I want you to remember all of the information I've sold you, especially over the last year or so. Have I ever knowingly passed on bad info?"

"No." I admitted freely. In fact, the whole reason I'd missed the ill fated card game was because how reliable he was.

"Right." he nodded, glad to see that I was still listening and not edging towards the door, "Well, the same source that put me onto this has been providing me with most of what I've been selling this last year. And everything, and I mean everything, they've given me has proved to be on the up-and-up."

I mulled it over in my head: Spencer certainly had been batting above average recently, and unless it was some amazing long-con, I couldn't see any angle he could be playing. Plus, he knew me well enough to know that I would simply but a laser bolt through his head if he tried to screw me over. And if he was right, if a Megacorp like Nock was going to go after a comparative start-up like Frost, then buying up as many shares as we could in advance could earn us a tidy little windfall.

"I'm not saying I'm in, but, if I were, what's the play?" I asked, keeping my voice neutral.

"Okay, so I got word of this new arrival in system: some third son of a minor Lord from who cares where." Spencer started to explain, "Word is he had a little trouble understanding that 'no means no', but Mummy and Daddy paid to keep it all quiet. Until they bought him a place at a military academy, and he tried it on one of the other cadets. Well, after she broke his arm, his jaw and his nose, there was an investigation, and his parents couldn't make this one go away, because the young lady in question is the daughter of a Duke. So Golden Boy is told to get gone and stay gone, completely cut off from the family and banished from his homeworld."

"Let me guess: he's burned through what money he had and is looking to sell some shares in Frost Aviation?" it wasn't the first time I'd heard a similar story.

"Among some other things." Spencer nodded, "But he wants to sell it all in one go, and even at below market price..."

"You haven't got the cash to hand to buy it yourself." I finished for him, "That part's easily confirmed, but what about the rest?"

"I can take you to meat my informant," Spencer's brow knotted, "but I need you to... keep an open mind."

Unfortunately, it was at this point that a group dressed in black leather appeared in the bar. I saw Spencer glance at them, then quickly at the band, and turned my head to get a better look. It was clear right from the get-go that they were Yakuza enforcers, not something you'd expect to find on a Lyran world so far from the border, but as I said, Galatea is kind of odd like that. The bands drummer, a mountain of a man with long blond hair who looked every centimetre the stereotypical 'Neo-Viking' Rasalhaguer, saw them too, and stood up. He ripped open his shirt to reveal a massive, and quite well done, tattoo depicting the Free Rasalhague emblem.

"Lo, there do I see my father." he proclaimed loudly in a voice so heavily accented that it probably could have deflected a PPC bolt, "Lo, there do I see my mother and my sisters and my brothers!"

"Lo, there do I see the line of my people, back to the beginning." the lead singer, if you could call the noises she'd been making singing, joined him, "Lo, they do call to me."

"They bid me take my place among them, in the halls of Valhalla, where the brave may live forever." the rest of the band joined in, and I found that my body had decided to leave the bar while my mind was still taking it all in, Spencer right behind me, "Nor shall we mourn but rejoice for those that have died the Glorious Death!"

It was at this point that a massive, double headed axe was drawn from somewhere and sent flying across the room, catching one of the Yakuza right in the chest, killing him instantly. The momentum of the impact sent him flying across the room, only stopping when he hit the bar, knocking into the local Chapter of the Sons of the Suns motorcycle gang, spilling their drinks. Realising that the night had reached the almost inevitable bar brawl, the waitress dived over the bar while the barman pulled down the armoured shutter with one hand, reaching for the sawed-off shotgun that hung under the bar with the other.

All in all, another Tuesday night at the Blue Griffin.

Spencer tapped me on the shoulder and pointed to where a nondescript ground car was parked, indicating that our plans were still on, despite the riot breaking out back in the bar. We drove for about half an hour down a few side roads until we arrived at an overgrown parking lot. It took a moment for my eyes to adjust to the dark, but I soon made out a large, weather worn sign welcoming me to Wonder World, the Happiest Place in the Inner Sphere!

Yeah, so, back towards the end of the second Succession War, some corporation noticed that people weren't attacking Galatea as often as they were other worlds. Turns out that Mercenaries don't take kindly to people trashing the closest thing they have to a home, so it was kind of unofficially declared off limits for the most part. With this in mind, some bright spark had the idea of turning it into a resort world, where people from all over the Inner Sphere could come an relax in relative safety. Hotels were built, massive resorts planned, and yes, even one of the largest amusement parks off of Terra built. Everyone was ready to greet the masses, and their money, only no one turned up.

Turns out that, with near apocalyptic wars breaking out all over the place, not many people had the inclination to travel a few hundred light years to ride a roller-coaster. A few mercs between contracts and the local population kept the place going for a while, but it soon went bankrupt and was closed. Since then its become home to an odd community, even by local standards: people who fell through the cracks between the cracks, or are looking to hide from other people on Galatea. It's a world unto itself, with even the local police flat out refusing to go in there without military back-up.

So, of course, I wasn't at all surprised when Spencer led me through the open gate into the world beyond.

I'll admit that, despite the fact that knowing more than the next man or woman is my stock and trade, I had never been inside Wonder World before. I hadn't been avoiding the place, it just never came up. I suddenly realised that I didn't have any idea where Spencer lived, and started to wonder if he was taking me back to his home.

We'd been walking for a while, past the remains of long abandoned rides and buildings that had been re-purposed into ad-hoc accommodation by the people who called the park home, when Spencer suddenly stopped and tilted his head slightly. Following suit, I could just about hear a faint 'clip-clop' heading our way through the darkness. I instinctively reached for my hold-out laser, but Spencer gave me a 'be cool' look, and I figured that I'd followed him that far down the rabbit hole, I may as well see where it led.

And that was how I met The Leutnant, something of a local legend that I'd heard stories about, but had always considered to be something of an urban myth. Word was he'd actually been a Kommandant in the LCAF, before some unspecified incident had rattled his screws loose, earning him a medical discharge. Somehow he'd found his way to Galatea, and had taken to 'patrolling' the planet on horseback, armed with, and I kid you not, an authentic cavalry saber and a compound crossbow. For some unknown reason, he had this habit of wearing a Leutnants field uniform, devoid of any name or unit insignia, hence why he was simply known as The Leutnant. He came riding into view atop a very expensive looking grey horse, but he evidently recognised Spencer, as he simply nodded and kept on his way.

I blinked as, a moment later, a scruffy looking man in BDU's came following behind, riding atop a dented ATV, a Imperator 2894A1 SMG slung across his back. He likewise nodded at us, then continued on behind the horse, the two men quietly disappearing into the darkness.

"He follows The Leutnant everywhere." Spencer explained, noting my confusion, "He says it's out of morbid curiosity, but a lot of people recon he's been assigned to keep an eye on him by the LCAF."

With that, he led the way a little deeper into the park, until we came across what had once been some kind of Fun House, but was now evidently just a regular house. Spencer knocked on the door in a complicated fashion, and an ancient looking intercom sparked to life.

"Yes?" a tinny voice asked.

"It's Spencer." The information broker announced, "I brought the guy I was telling you about. The possible investor."

"Investor?" the voice sounded confused, "OH, yes! We've had that conversation, haven't we."

I shot my companion a look that said more that words could possibly convay, but he held up a hand to silence me.

"Yes, Meg, we have." he continued, "Can we come in?"

"Of course! Of course!" the voice proclaimed excitedly, "You know I always leave the door unlocked when I'm expecting you!"

Much to my surprise, the door was indeed unlocked, and upon stepping through, I was somewhat surprised to discover that, if it hadn't been, we would have needed an BattleMech to get through all the locks, bars and reenactments that had been added to the inside. Spencer led me down a dimly lit corridor with a deliberately unstable floor into what we evidently the parlour, where an elderly woman was just pouring tea.

"Milk and two sugars." she held out a cup to Spencer, the offered a second to me, "No milk and a dash of brandy."

I was impressed: very few people knew how I liked my tea, and Spencer wasn't one of them.

"Sit! Sit!" the woman gestured to a pair of threadbare armchairs, "Let Megan look at you both!"

While she was looking at me, I took the opportunity to look at her: I've often found that you can tell a lot about someone by the image they choose to present to the world, often more than they ever intended. It's all about looking for what isn't there. But with 'Megan' ... she was pretty much your stereotypical 'crazy old lady': unkempt greying hair, dishevelled clothing and crooked teeth, needing only a dozen or so cats to really complete the look.

"So," she asked with the sort of cheery smile that only those with a tentative at best connection with reality have, "what can Megan do for you today?"

"Spencer says that you know something that's going to happen in the future." I decided to cut the bullshit, "Something that even the people involved don't know they're going to do."

"No, Megan doesn't know these things." she shook her head, "But Molly knows."

"Molly?" I asked, probably more sarcastically than I intended.

"Molly was... is, Megan's twin sister." Spencer explained.

"Identical twin sister!" the old woman injected as she rummaged through a small box that seemed to contain truly random junk.

"Her identical twin sister." Spencer corrected himself, "She was on a JumpShip that... we'll, let's say it didn't exactly end up where it was supposed to."

I felt a headache coming on, and pinched the bridge of my nose.

Yeah, we've all heard the tall tails of JumpShips that run afoul of some random negative space wedgie or something, and are propelled to the far corners of the galaxy. Couple of them actually happened, truth be told, but I've met enough people trying to sell me 'genuine relics' of such an event to know when someone is trying to offload a bill of sale. Such accidents are so astronomically rare, and seldom leaves anything that could even remotely be called a survivor, that they're effectively a statistical non-event.

Throwing in an identical twin was a nice touch, I'll give them that.

"I think I should..." I started to stand up.

"4412-976-442-Beta-9." Megan didn't even look up from the box she was rummaging through, "Code-word Rudbeckia."

I sat back down. No one, and I mean no one, else alive in the entire galaxy had any right knowing that. Every trace of my old life had been systematically whipped from existence, my true identity known only to two senior agents in Lohengrin, and myself. Unfortunately, my two handlers we killed by the kind of unfortunate accident that had all the hallmarks of an internal power-play, leaving me twisting in the wind before I decided to go into business for myself. It certainly wasn't anything I would ever consider telling another living soul.

"How..." I managed to stutter, my complete and utter shock overriding a lifetime of training and experience, stopping me from putting a laser bolt through her head, followed by one through Spencers.

"You tell Molly, Molly tell Megan." the old woman smiled, like it was the simplest answer in the world, "She say you know nothing else would convince you Megan tell truth. Megan not so sure, but Molly knows best."

"...I don't know anyone named Molly." I shook my head.

"Yeah,it's... complicated." Spencer looked thoughtful for a moment, "See, Megan and Molly always had this... connection. A way of... knowing things that the other had learned."

"Molly says you look better with grey hair." Megan commented, seemingly only half paying attention to our conversation.

"Yeah, see, that accident with Molly's ship?" Spencer winced, "It turns out that it stayed in the exact same place... just sixty years into the future, but that was twenty years ago, so from our prospective, she's... forty years or so into the future."

I looked at Spencer for a moment: any other day, and I would have called it all obvious bullshit and walked. But there was simply no way, no possible way, that Megan could have known my old service number or code-word. Like I said, the only other two people who had known them were dead, and they certainly weren't written down anywhere or on any computer system. The only way, the only possible way, for someone to learn them, was for me to tell them. But why would I? It served no purpose, other than to possible paint a target on my back.

But, and this is a big but, if I was going to send a message back in time...it was something that only I know, and something I'd know I'd take notice of.

"Molly says you found her after the accident: helped her." Megan continued, "Molly says you good man, despite what you may want others to think."

"Megan reached out to me," Spencer add, "she knew that I know you."

"Molly explained everything." Megan continued, cutting him off like she'd completely forgotten he was there, which may have been true, "You knew to help her because Megan tell you about accident before happen. You ready with ship before bad men arrive."

"Bad Men?" I asked, the back of my right hand itching like it always does when I know I'm going to be killing people in the future.

"Yes: bad men, in robes." the old woman nodded, excitedly, "They take ship and crew away, but you save Molly. You tell Molly you know Megan, Megan send you to help, so Molly help you. Megan help you."

I read this book once, while I was on a long journey and we were waiting for the KF drive to recharge. It had this guy go back in time and hook up with some random woman. Then, when he goes back to his own time, he discovers a photo of his grandfather... only its him. The woman who he'd knocked boots with had been his own grandmother. I called it somewhat sick, but the story called it a causal loops: he was always going to travel back in time and screw his grandmother, because otherwise he wouldn't be born.

"Please tell me that this doesn't end with me sleeping with my own grandmother?" I asked.

"No! No!" Megan shook her head, "Time loop, yes. But not like that."

"You will, one day, help Molly because Megan helps you now." Spencer stepped back in, "And Megan will help you now because you will one day help Molly."

"Yes! Yes!" Megan nodded excitedly, "Snake eats own tail."

I sat back in my chair, the pieces finally starting to fall into place before my eyes: in order for me to be in a position to help her sister in the future, Megan was using the knowledge she somehow gained from her twin to help me, and the reason why I would help Molly in the future was exactly because Megan stepped in to help me now. It still sounded completely crazy, but it did explain just how Megan knew something that she couldn't possibly learn without me telling her, indirectly or not. And I had a mission again, something that had been missing from my life for far too long. Something to truly give my life meaning.

As I said, Galatea is a world of secrets and mysteries, and I had just stumbled into the middle of the greatest one of all.

"Well then, Megan, Molly; I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship." I sat forward with a smile, "Tell me more about Frost Aviation..."

The End

Frost Aviation and Nock Heavy Engineering are companies I created to help add flavour text to custom BattleMech/Aerospace Fighter designs.

Lt. Crossbow and his long suffering, somewhat bewildered subordinate (who's permission I have to base a character on) are based on real, actual people who served in the British Army. Their antics are the stuff of legend on the SpaceBattles forum, and the inspiration for many, many military regulations. And possibly a couple of arrest warrants.

The visual inspiration for the character Spencer is my friend, who's last name actually is Spencer. And yes, he probably is the smartest person I know.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: nerd on 10 January 2020, 12:39:11
Nice to use your fan companies, and often the real world can give you some high weirdness.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: PsihoKekec on 10 January 2020, 13:48:00
Quote
And that was how I met The Leutnant, something of a local legend that I'd heard stories about, but had always considered to be something of an urban myth. Word was he'd actually been a Kommandant in the LCAF, before some unspecified incident had rattled his screws loose, earning him a medical discharge. Somehow he'd found his way to Galatea, and had taken to 'patrolling' the planet on horseback, armed with, and I kid you not, an authentic cavalry saber and a compound crossbow. For some unknown reason, he had this habit of wearing a Leutnants field uniform, devoid of any name or unit insignia, hence why he was simply known as The Leutnant. He came riding into view atop a very expensive looking grey horse, but he evidently recognised Spencer, as he simply nodded and kept on his way.

I blinked as, a moment later, a scruffy looking man in BDU's came following behind, riding atop a dented ATV, a Imperator 2894A1 SMG slung across his back. He likewise nodded at us, then continued on behind the horse, the two men quietly disappearing into the darkness.

My first thought was some version of Don Kihot and Sancho Pansa, not Lt. Crossbow and lackofgravitas.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker on 10 January 2020, 14:24:33
My first thought was some version of Don Kihot and Sancho Pansa, not Lt. Crossbow and lackofgravitas.
Lack got a kick out of the idea  8)
Title: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker on 19 January 2020, 13:42:22
And now we find out if I can write comedy worth a damn

Forbidden History


Why am I recording this again?

Posterity?

You really think that those pompous, egotistical pricks are going to leave two bricks piled one atop the other when they're done?

Okay! Okay! I'll record the damn message. But leave this bit in at the beginning: I want those smug jack-off's to know what I
really think about them.

Hello. For those of you who've been living under a rock for the past couple of decades, my name is Aleksandr Sergeyevich Kerensky, and I was, until just a few days ago, Commanding General of the Star League Defense Force, Regent and Protector of the Star League. These are positions I held for some twenty years, first under the reign of Richard Cameron, then during the so-called Star League Civil War.

And why the hell do they call them Civil Wars? War isn't civil. Least, not if you're doing it right. War is pretty much a knife fight in a dirt-floored bar. And if they get you down, you best get back up again. You don't win wars by being nice, certainly not by being 'civil'. No, you win them by being the one left standing at the end. Here's everything I know about war: Somebody wins, somebody loses, and nothing is ever the same again.

And war is coming, try as hard as they might to hide the fact.

The Camerons are all dead... because we, because I failed them. Anyone who could lay claim to the throne is either so deep in hiding or so distant that they don't even realise it. And I fear that, without them, so is the Hegemony. And without the Hegemony, there is no Star League. All because those preening, egotistical moyka svolochey can't seen beyond their own petty concerns!

Robert Steiner is old before his time. I don't know how or why, but I don't think he's long for this world. When he dies, the Commonwealth could easily slip into civil war again. He's too weak to run his own realm, let alone the Star League.

Minoru Kurita is a bloody minded psychopath who thinks of himself as some kind of warriors-poet, like the Samaria his house model themselves on. Well, I've read my history, and let me tell you that the Samaria were just as heavy-handed as any Coordinator, but they didn't have BattleMechs to impose their will with. He'd drown the Inner Sphere with blood, and, if anything, his son is even worse.

John Davion... okay, he's actually not as bad as the rest, even if that is damming with faint praise. Still, he had the chance to do the right thing, to stand up to Amaris, and did nothing. As much as I may like and admire the man, I can't forgive him that.

Barbara Liao, two-faced bitch that she is, took our money and support to rebuild her military into something that would be more than a speed-bump for the Suns, then told us to go suck a lemon when we asked for help. I trust her about as far as I could throw my BattleMech.

Last, and definitely least, Kenyon Marik is a complete and utter [FILE CORRUPTED], and I'd be doing the Inner Sphere in general and the Free Worlds League in particular a favour if I [FILE CORRUPTED] his yobannye [FILE CORRUPTED] with a rusty [FILE CORRUPTED] until it broke! He is, without a doubt, the worst of the lot, and the very last person who should be sitting on the First Lords throne.

Was I wrong? Should I have taken the throne?

The military would have backed me: after everything we've been through, they'd follow me through the gates of hell itself, and I love each and every one of them for it, but they would have been wrong. I'm a soldier, and an old one at that. Growing up, I never intend to join the SLDF, but rather sort the life of a scholar. But when I say just what kind of people, And I use the word "people" very loosely here, we're joining the army... We'll, let's just say that many of them would have happily bent the knee to Amaris when called to, if it meant that they received power and prestige.

Not knocking people who grow up wanting to be MechWarriors, but maybe better psychological screening is in order?

My sons? Oh, they're good boys... Men, really. Nicholas is a fine MechWarrior, and has the making of a good field commander, but he'd be out of his depth with anything more than a regiment. Not that you can tell him that. Andery is almost the exact opposite: he's a decent enough pilot, but afar better people person. He's just too much of an introvert, too keen to keep in his brothers shadow, for his own good. He'd make a fine statesman.

But the Council Lords would never accept it: our blood isn't Blue enough for their liking. They often forget that the history books show their tales of their own family nobity and devine right to rule to be utter bullshit. Deep down inside, they're as mortal as the rest of us. But that arrogance is what doomed Richard...

I loved him, you know? Simon had been a good man, and an even better friend, and when I learned that he had named me as his sons Regent in his Will, well, I cried. Not ashamed to admit that. He left me the task of protecting his son, his legacy, until he was ready to assume the mantle of First Lord. And I, the great General, the fearless warrior who had known only victory... I failed. I failed to raise a boy to become the man his father would have wanted him to be. Now, I know that there are those who claim that Richard was never going to be a great First Lord, or even a good one, but it was still my duty to try. To show him that the first duty of any leader is to those they lead. I failed to teach him that, just as I fear I failed to teach my own sons.

I, Aleksandr Sergeyevich Kerensky, am a failure.

Now, I know that a lot of people watching this will be saying "but he defeated Amaris and reclaimed Terra! How could he possibly consider himself a failure?" Well, ask yourself this: what kind of short-sighted, easily duped fool would allow a power-mad psychopath like Amaris get within a lightyear of the First Lord to begin with? I was Regent! Sword Protector of House Cameron and everything they stood for. As Commanding General of the Star League Defense Force, I saw the reports of what the Rim Worlds Republic was doing: they way they were working their own people to death to build up their military. But I was a good soldier, and I followed orders and let them.

How many time in human history have the guilty claimed "I was only following orders" as an excuse for their actions or inactions?

I'm Russian, and we have a long memory; far longer than most, and I've been to St Petersburg and Volgograd, seen the monuments to what men who were "only following orders" are capable of. It's the final refuge of the coward and the sadistic. Only idiots, or those just looking for an excuse follow orders blindly. A true soldier, a good soldier, thinks for themselves and tries to imagine the consequences of following a bad order. I should have done that: I should have refused to allow the units garrisoning the Hegemony to be stripped away, leaving only Republican troops in their place. I should have refused to persecute a war I knew to be unjust.

But I believe in the Star League, in House Cameron, and everything they supposedly stood for. I knew that we were right because we were the Star League, the very best and brightest humanity has ever known. And if we had to carry the torch of knowledge and reason in one hand, and the sword in the other... we'll, it was all for the Greater Good. Well, a fat lot of good we did in the end.

How many are dead because of the war? How many worlds blackened with ash and fallout? How much knowledge has been lost?

I once read that wisdom and knowledge are the greatest gift we can offer our children: a chance to learn from our mistakes and maybe avoid making them again. But I was so fixated on stopping Amaris, on my personal sense of honor, that I never once stopped to ask if I was doing the right thing.

No, no I don't regret fighting to end the reign of a madman, a tyrant, but there are times when I look back at all the things we did, and ask if the ends truly justified the means? If I truly had no other choice but to push as hard and relentlessly as I did? Some of the units under my command were just deviated, one taking 300% casualties. Do you understand what that means? Every single member of that division, volunteers all, as killed, replaced, killed again, replaced and killed for a third time. And they followed me because they thought that I knew what I was doing, that I had a plan.

And now... and now, I'm going to betray them all: I'm taking what is left on the army I once commanded, those still loyal to the ideals of the Star League, their families, and I am turning my back on the rest of humanity. I am an old man, and I am tired of war. Tired of all the killing and the pain. And, most of all, I'm tired of sending young men and women to their deaths for a course I no longer believe in.

The Star League, the dream so many tried so hard to make a reality, is dead. It died because, in the end, we are only human, and perhaps Utopia is forever beyond our reach. So I will take my army, my fleets, take the best and the brightest humanity has left to offer, and I will simply walk away. And maybe, just maybe, in doing so, I will rob the fire of at least some fuel.

If you are hearing this recording, then, well, I have no way of knowing if I succeed or not. I have no way of knowing if the flame of civilisation still burns like a candle in the night, or if it has been extinguished for good. I am no prophet, no fortune-teller. Right now, I am a tired old man who's had a little too much to drink, and has convinced his friend to hold a microphone.

And so to you, whoever you are, I say this: we did our best... I did my best, but it was not a task we were up to. I only hope that, in our failure, we didn't damn you all.

This is General Aleksandr Kerensky, saying goodnight... and good luck

The End
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: mikecj on 19 January 2020, 15:44:57
Nice, thank you.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: Siden Pryde on 24 January 2020, 11:10:39
Wow.  A look behind the legend to the man inside.  :thumbsup: Very well done.
Title: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker on 06 April 2020, 19:04:08
Another kind of mystery

The House Always Wins

Being dispossessed sucks arse.

Not so bad if you're a regular soldier: none of the big Houses like having trained, experienced MechWarriors sitting around, doing nothing, so there's usually a replacement 'Mech that can be shaken loose from the Quatermaster. Same goes for some of the bigger Mercenary units, even a handful of the more successful pirate gangs: a MechWarrior without a Mech is a gold-brick, and is better off back making money, by fair means or foul.

But then... but then you get fools like me.

Some call us D.P.I.'s. Supposedly means 'Damn Proud Independents', but without a 'Mech, it may as well stand for 'Depressed, Pointless and Impotent'. There's always a few of us hanging around the Hiring Halls, ready to fill open spots left by the dead or otherwise departed so a unit can mean quota for a contract. Some are headhunters, ringers brought in to give someone a nasty surprise come weapons-free, but most of us are just owner-operators who just aren't natural joiners. We'll sign on for a mission, do what's expected of us, then be gone soon the dust settles. It's not a life that encourages lasting relationships, but you still need a reputation as someone who won't cut-and-run when the dice come up snake-eyes.

I was fortunate enough to have such a reputation: I may jot play well with others, but if I said I had your back in a firefight, then I did. I was a Medium 'Mech pilot by choice; preferably a Wolverine, but I can turn my hand to a Griffin, Shadow Hawk or Centurion if needed. Lot of people overlook mediums in favour of heavies and assaults, but a good pilot can be just as deadly mo matter what they ride. In our business, reputation is everything, and my rep was real good. Unfortunately, reputations aren't LRM proof, and I'd had my last ride, an old 6R that had been cobbled together from half a dozen less fortunate machines, shot out from underneath me, and that's how I found myself down-and-out on Circinus.

Now, don't get me wrong: I may be willing to bend a few rules if the money's right, and, well, war crimes are often a matter of prospective, but I ain't no pirate, so I wasn't looking to join the Black Warriors any time soon. Unfortunately, the unit I'd been working with didn't feel the need to carry my sorry arse all the way back to Galatea, so they kick me off ship when they landed to stock up on consumables. The CO had made it abundantly clear that I could have stayed, had I opened my legs for him, but it's only my skills as a pilot that are for sale, so I grabbed my duffle and walked away.

There are plenty of ways to make an honest buck, even somewhere like Circinus, and I was almost solvent enough to buy passage back into the Inner Sphere, where I'd have a better chance of finding a unit with a spare 'Mech to sign-on with, when I got word about the Big Game. Hell, every dispossessed 'Mech Jock within a hundred light-years heard the news. Some Lostech prospectors hit pay-dirt out the Aurigan Reach way, found a downed SLDF DropShip that hadn't been picked-clean in the last few centuries. Some local broker was handling the liquidation of their haul, and had decided to have a little fun with the last item.

See, the broker owned a casino, and Circinus is the kind of world where you can bet with anything, on anything. No matter what, if there's someone willing to give you odds, you can get a piece of the action. So they'd set up a winner-takes-all poker tournament: entry fees went to the house, but the winner walked away with a fully operational WVR-7H Wolverine II. Just reading the specifications alone was enough to make me hot under the collar, let alone the idea of just what I could do with something like that. I quickly counted up my funds, and worked out that I just about had enough to cover the entry fee, so long as I didn't feel like eating that week. But it had taken me six months to build up that much, and I didn't much feel like spending another half a year sitting on my arse, gathering dust and rust.

"Interesting proposition, yes?" a soft, almost musical voice behind me caught my attention, and I spun round, one hand instinctively reaching for my side-arm.

Even now, looking back after so many years, the memory of seeing her for the first time still takes my breath away. I've always had an equal opportunities view on who I invited into my bunk, but that's not to say that I don't have standards. And yet, I knew that she could have just beckoned with a finger and I would have been naked in a heartbeat. She was tall and slender, but it was clear that she wasn't without strength, given the toned look of her arms through the long, flowing sage green dress she wore. It was tied at her waist with a golden belt, showing off her perfect hourglass figure, topped with a sea-green shawl. Her flowing hair was the colour of spun copper, and cascaded down from behind a golden headband. But it was her eyes, her beautiful, emerald green eyes that really drew me in.

It took me a moment to even register that she was even there, she looked so out of place.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that people in the Periphery can't look good, but she was the kind of easy, classical beauty that should have been on the arm of some high-born noble in the Confederation or the Combine. Somewhere like Circinus? I don't think that even the hight-paid escorts looked half as good as her.

I stood there, jaw slightly agape, mind completely blank, untill she laughed and nodded towards the billboard announcing the tournament.

"Quite the prize, yes?" she asked, eyes almost glowing.

"...yes." I managed, trying to get myself back to normal, "Hell of a risk, though."

"Do you play?" she asked, stepping forward so she was standing beside me, close enough that I could feel the warmth radiating from her body, "Poker, I mean."

"I've been known to." I turned slowly and deliberately, not wanting to trip over my own feet, "Certainly never for such high stakes."

"And yet, here you are: a dispossessed MechWarrior, presented with the opportunity to win a new BattleMech." she didn't even turn to look at me, "And a 'Royal' one at that: Ultra AC5, Medium Pulse Laser, SRM-6 with Artemis IV Fire Control System, Endo Steel structure, Ferro-Fibrous armor, double heat sinks and Cellular Ammunition Storage."

"You know your 'Mech' s." I felt my hand moving back towards my side-arm, "And apparently you know me..."

"I make it my business to know everyone of interest." she smiled, as much with her eyes as her lips, "And you are quite interesting."

"You work for the casino?" I asked, wondering if she was some kind of ringer, employed to draw in the big fish.

"Not exactly." She gave me a look at made me feel seven different kinds of unusual, "Let's just say that we're in the same line of business."

"If you don't mind me asking..." I started, but she cut me off.

"I think you should enter the tournament." she sounded amazingly confident, "Nothing ventured, nothing gained, after all."

"I only gamble with my life." I countered.

"Excellent!" she smiled, and I felt like a rabbit that suddenly found itself face-to-face with a hungry fox, "Then it's a bet."

"Excuse me?" I blinked, confused.

"You will enter competition: If you win, I will arrange transport for you and your new BattleMech back to the Inner Sphere." She turned to face me, still smiling sweetly, "I can even put you in contact with some people who'd be willing to pay good money just to spend some time looking it over."

"And if I lose?" I asked, my mouth suddenly very dry, but oddly excited at the same time.

"Then you work for me." her eyes seemed to flash brightly, and I told myself it was just the reflected headlights of a passing car, "I have use for someone with your particular set of skills."

She offered her hand to seal the deal.

I'd certainly been offered worst contracts in the past, but something told me that this was something different. Something about her had every instinct I had as a MechWarrior telling me to run for the hills, that she was dangerous in a way I simply couldn't comprehend. You don't get far in my line of work without learning to trust your instincts, but I somehow found myself reaching out and shaking her hand.

A shock ran up my arm, almost as if I'd been electrocuted, but she showed no signs of discomfort at all.

"Excellent." with that she turned and walked away, "I'll see you at the tournament."

I never even asked her name.

Now, Circinus isn't the kind of place w here you back out on a deal, and the locals considered a handshake as good as a signed contract. Sure, if she'd held a gun to my head, I may have been able to claim I'd been coerced into the bet, but that was a no-go. I had no choice but to make my way to the casino, pay in pretty much every last dime I had, and see my name flash up onto the board of registered players.

Not everyone in the tournament was a MechWarrior, or even military: any Lostech 'Mech, especially a working SLDF 'Royal' one, is worth more than its weight in gold. Certainly more than the cost of entry, so a lot of people were throwing their proverbial hats into the ring. I didn't recognise any of the names, but from the way people around me were talking, it sounded like a 'Who's Who' of the local card-sharks and professional gamblers. Certainly the kind of people I'd never want to face across a table under normal circumstances.

One name in particular did catch my eye: Lady J.

Circinus ain't the kind of world where people go in for titles, and if you're from the Inner Sphere, it probably wouldn't be best to advertise the possibility that someone back home may be willing to pay to see you safely returned, or even stabbed in the kidney and left to bleed-out in some alley. And it wasn't the kind of name a professional gambler would pick: they go for stupid names like 'One-eyed Jack', 'Billy the Duce' or 'Steamboat Sam', trying too hard to invoke a romantic image of a time that probably never really existed.

The casino itself certainly helped re-enforce that stereotype, with piped piano music, waitresses in skimpy, sequined outfits and dealers in shirts, bow ties and straps around their arms to show they had nothing up their sleeves. Under normal circumstances, it wasn't the kind of place I'd be seen dead in... which is probably a bad choice of words, given the number of very obvious and very heavily armed security guards keeping an eye on not just the players, but the crowd of spectators as well.

The manager, the man behind the whole circus, announced the rules before the start: Lyran Hold-'Em, Aces High, no buying extra chips and the dealers word was final. Anyone cought cheating would be forcibly ejected from the establishment, forfeiting anything left from their stake. I felt the need to say 'We Who Are About To Die Salute You', or something equal stupid, but I held my tongue.

First round saw me up against another dispossessed 'Merc, two members of the Black Warriors and a couple of locals just trying their luck. I played it safe at first, keeping my bets as low as I could get away with while trying to get a read on the other players: poker is a popular game to play while waiting for a JumpShip to recharge, and like most people who make their living on the go, I'd played more than a few hands, so I at least had a good grasp of the basics, and knew what to look for to try and differentiate between a fake tell and a real one. The other 'Merc was easy. He was just a kid looking to make a name for himself in the hopes of getting a spot in a unit that was more than one step-removed from pirates. The two local pilots were probably ringers sent to try and win the 'Mech for their unit, but one of the civilians was a decent gambler, certainly the one to look out fore.

We were four hands in when the other 'Merc goes all-in. It was clearly a desperate move, as he'd been bleeding chips all game, but it was something we had no choice but to anti-up or walk away. The two Black Warriors followed suit, raising the pot even higher, forcing the other two locals to do the same. All eyes fell on me, knowing that I had little choice but to do the same or walk away with nothing. I only had a pair of sevens, and I still wasn't sure on their tells, but it wasn't like I had another choice.

I went all in, and we laid our cards down: 'Merc boy had a flush, one of the Black Warriors had two pairs, sixes over twos, while the others had nothing of any consequences. Then the dealer turned over the hole cards, ending with a pair of sevens.

Four of a kind. Pot was mine.

We had half an hour to piss and grab a coffee, so something stronger, from a dedicated bar, then got our assigned seating for the next round, and that's when I saw her again. She was dressed in what was either the same dress, or one just like it, and her eyes were as cold as ice as she took her seat at a table across the room. I glanced up at the big screen that listed who was playing where, and realised that she was the mysterious Lady J.

Well, that just made things interesting.

Second round, I was up against a bunch of locals... to this day I have no idea how they got through the first round. Pretty clear that they were just in it for the thrill, although Lord knows where they got that kind of money to burn. They were too busy trash-talking each other and playing grab-ass with the waitresses to concentrate on the game, so it was easy enough for even someone of my skills to take them down. I advanced to the next round with enough extra time to take full advantage of the free buffet.

Rounds three and four were pretty much like the first, with me managing close wins. A couple people on other tables decided to take their chances, pulling the old "Do you know who I am?" when the dealer decided against them. It was kind of entertaining to watch two men with military grade stun-guns escort them to the floor, then use their heads to open the doors on the way out.

We had an hours break between rounds four and five, so I grabbed a shower in a room provided by the casino. I was only half surprised to see Lady J waiting for me when I went to get dressed again.

"Enjoying yourself, so far?" she asked as she stood with her back to me, looking out the window at the city beyond.

"I've had worse days." I dropped the towel that had been wrapped around me, watching to see if she took the opportunity to check out my reflection: I may have a few scars, but you don't see many overweight MechWarriors. Spending a significant amount of your time in a metal sauna has some advantages, and I'm not above admitting that I look good naked.

I felt somewhat disappointed when she ignored the free show.

"You're doing good, but the the wheat has been separated from the chaff." She didn't even move her head as I finished drying off and started to get dressed, "Now the real game begins."

"What's your angle?" I asked as I pulled my tank-top over my head, "You're not a MechWarrior, you don't strike me as the kind of 'suit' to be bankrolling a unit, and you're to well dressed for a pirate."

"I'm all about the thrill of the chase." She finally turned and smiled, "The feeling you get when the coin is in the air, the clatter of the wheel as it spins, the rattle of the thrown dice. You're only really alive when you're on the edge."

"Then why me?" I asked, "What does someone like you want with someone like me?"

"That's for me to know, and you to wonder about." she shot me a shark's smile, "I'll see you in the final round."

"Assuming we both make it that far."

"Oh, don't worry: we will." with that she turned and strode purposely out of the room, "I'm already looking forward to it."

I'll admit, if her intention was to put me off my game, it worked: I made mistakes in the next round, almost crashing out, before pulling a narrow Ace over King High-card win. I mentally slapped myself a few times, forcing myself to concentrate on the people I was actually competing against, not 'Lady J'. By round six, almost all of the casual thrill seekers had been cut, the number of tables shrinking noticeably. I was starting to find myself more and more playing against the hard-core gamblers, the kind of people who regularly wager more on a single hand then I'd see in a good year as a 'Merc.

There were still a few more MechWarriors, scattered here and there: as I said, you have a lot of down-time between missions, and cards are a universal way of making it pass quickly. But even they were obviously out of my league, if not for the fact that I couldn't seem to get a bad hand. Never anything that made winning a sure thing, but nothing that would make me fold immediately. I managed another close win, making it through to the seventh and penultimate round, and by then I was the only pilot at a table of dedicated gamblers.

It was then that my unusual good luck went into overdrive: dealer delt me a Royal Flush, followed by two Straight Flushes and a Full House. I took a quick glance over at the other table, where Lady J was sitting, trying to work out if she'd somehow gotten to the dealers. It would have been a hell of a risk, given how permanently the management would deal with something like that, but I wasn't sure I could put anything above her by that point. She obviously wanted to face me in the final round...

I was so fixated on trying to work out what her angle was that I almost missed the commotion on my own table: one of the other players accused the dealer of dealing from the bottom of the deck, and pulled a small, hold-out laser from a hiding place inside their hat. His first shot went wide, hitting one of the ornate pillars, and he was correcting his aim when the first security guard fired, hitting him in the chest. He was obviously wearing some kind of armour under his expensive looking shirt, and he only grunted as the bullet struck him. He fired again, but the dealer was already dropping to the floor behind the table, so the second bolt hit one of the spectators, killing him instantly.

All hell broke lose, with people screaming as they tried to get out of the way, knocking into each other in the chaos. I had the good sense to duck down under the table, finding myself huddled down next to the dealer as the security guard fired again, his aim being shaken by a passing guest, and they ended up blowing a hole in the ceiling. This did, however, get the attention of the enraged gambler, and they shifted their aim. But by then a second guard was in action, and blew the fools head clean off his shoulders.

And throughout it all, Lady J had remained in her seat, cool as a Kuritan's Heart.

It took while for security to regain control of the panicking crowd, so the management announced that the final round would be postponed until the next day, with all remaining players being given free rooms for the night. Two of the others decided that the competition was too heated for their liking and bowed out, but I was hardly in a position to do the same. So I found myself back in the same room as before, still riding high on the adrenaline rush, when there was a knock on the door.

I opened it to find Lady J standing on the other side.

Yes, she spent the night. No, I won't go into details. Some people might like regaling others with tales of their romantic exploits, but I'm not that kind of girl. I will say that it was a thoroughly enjoyable way to burn off that excess energy, and that she was gone by the time I woke the next morning, leaving only the lingering scent of her intoxicating perfume behind.

I don't know if she was looking to confuse me before the final round, or if, like me, she was looking for a chance to confirm she was still alive after a close call, but I felt surprisingly calm and relaxed as we settled down for what was sure to be a game to remember, win or lose. The number of chips in play was staggering, even with most of the smaller ones exchanged for higher denominations. A regular 6R is a little under five-million C-Bills, fresh from the factory, but we were playing for almost four times that amount. I guess it's true what they say, that the House Always Wins, because they were looking at one hell of a payday when all was said and done.

We sat there, like a bunch of long-tailed cats in a room full of rocking chairs, as my old grandma used to say, carefully eyeing each other for any sign of weakness. This wasn't a game any more, but rather a battle of skills, nerve and luck. And while I had my own share of all three, it wasn't my battlefield of choice.

The dealer cut the deck, and battle began.

Like before, I got good cards. Not great, but enough to keep me in the game while the others were eliminated one by one. There were no more theatrics, no more silliness. Everyone knew the odds and had accepted them. To have gotten to the final round was no mean feat, and certainly worth a few drinks after. Hand after hand, the piles of chips ebbed and flowed, until I found myself sitting across from Lady J.

"Told you we'd meet again." she smiled in a way part of me hoped was sweetly, "Feel like making it interesting?"

"I have a feeling that life's interesting enough as it is." I smiled back, straining to control every last millimeter of my body.

"Oh, but this is where it gets fun." she winked, "How about we raise the stakes of our little side-bet?"

"Considering that you still haven't told me exactly what I stand to lose..."

"I know: doesn't not knowing just set you on fire?"

I hate to admit it, but she was right: while I wasn't stupid, I was a bit of an adrenaline junkie, and not knowing exactly what I'd agreed to was like a smoldering flame in the pit of my stomach, a fire that was growing with every heart-beat. Whoever, whatever, she was, she was slowly drawing me like a fish on a line. Part of me wanted to lose, to find out she how far she'd take me... but if I'd wanted to be a kept woman, I'd had plenty of offers in the past. I was too much of a free spirit to ever allow myself to be tied down to anyone or anywhere, regardless of how intoxicating they were.

"I like the bet the way it is." I shook my head.

"Your loss." she pushed all her chips forward without even looking at her cards, "All in."

An audible gasp went around the room: she had slightly more chips than I did, meaning that I had to match her move or fold. And I knew, deep down, that she'd just keep doing the same while I slowly lost chips to the Big and Small Blinds until she won. I didn't know much about her, but I knew that much for sure. This was her big power play, that ultimate thrill she'd been chasing: to risk it all on a handful of cards she'd never even glanced at.

Ice ran through my body, making me shiver despite myself. I couldn't help but think that she'd somehow, in some way, been behind my streak of good luck, that I was only sitting there at that table, because she wanted it that way. And her eyes... damn her eyes! So deep I felt like I would drown in them. The rest of the room seemed to fade away into the background, leaving just the two of us and the table. She somehow seemed larger than life, as if I was only seeing the smallest part of something far bigger, far stranger, than she had any right to be...

"Call." I pushed my own stack of chips forward, snapping myself out of the trance-like state she'd put me into.

The room fell deathly silent, all eyes except mine and Lady J's on the massive pile of chips in the middle of the table. Sure, some of the bigger worlds in the Inner Sphere, twenty million in chips might not be much, but on Circinus? I doubt anyone there had ever seen that much money in one place at one time.

The dealer slowly turned over the cards: Queen of Hearts, Two of Clubs, Ten of Hearts, Two of Diamonds, Jack of Hearts and Ten of Spades.

Slowly and deliberately, Lady J turned her cards over one at a time: Eight of Hearts, then the Nine of Hearts.

A Straight Flush, Queen High.

All eyes turned to me, or rather, my cards.

My pulse was pounding in my head so loudly I thought my chest would explode. My mouth was so dry I felt my tongue stick to my lower jaw. Everything, and I mean everything, came down to the two cards that lay before me.

I reached out, slowly, almost hesitantly. Part of me didn't want to turn them over, didn't want the game to end. The rest of my life was just moments away. I would leave that table the proud owner of a new BattleMech, or whatever it was Lady J had in mind for me. And to this day, I couldn't tell you which outcome excited me more.

Time slowed to a crawl as I reached out. The seasons changed, the stars span around over head, empires rose and fell as I felt the edge of the cards against my finger tips. The breath left my body as I looked up to lock eyes with Lady J, and tossed the cards into the air.

They span in the air, somehow in slow motion, but also too fast to see what they where. They fell to the table, bounced, knocked into each other, then landed, face up.

King of Hearts. Ace of Hearts.

A Royal Flush.

Reality snapped back like an elastic band that had been pulled out to the very point of breaking, then let go. I felt like I was outside myself, watching events unfold from somewhere else. The crowd went wild, whooping and cheering like wild men, the owner of the casino coming over to shake my hand. We posed for photographs as he handed me the registration documents for the Wolverine, then there was an endless line of people wanting to shake my hand.

I felt one of them place something in my hand, and I looked up in time to see Lady J backing away into the sea of people. She paused just long enough to blow me a kiss, and then, as quickly and mysteriously as she had come into my life, she was gone.

But she was good to her word: the card she'd palmed me held the details of a DropShip heading into the Free Worlds League, as well as contact details for someone at Gibson Federated BattleMechs. All I had to was tell them that 'Lady J' had sent me, and they booked me an express trip to Gibson and a fat paycheck for letting them go over the Wolverine with a fine-toothed comb. But even they couldn't tell me just who my mysterious benefactor was, just that they'd learned to listen when her name, apparently one of many she used, was invoked.

It's been more than twenty years now, and I still can't stop thinking about her.

The End
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: PsihoKekec on 07 April 2020, 01:50:01
Is Lady J a relativ of the Man in Black?
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker on 07 April 2020, 04:22:32
Is Lady J a relativ of the Man in Black?
That all depends upon how you choose to interpret what happened  8)
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: Giovanni Blasini on 08 April 2020, 14:34:35
Leanansidhe?  Does Harry Dresden know what his fairy godmother is up to these days?
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: HFC05 on 26 April 2020, 15:18:29
Wow, there is a bunch of fantastic short stories in this thread. Very well done.
Title: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker on 22 May 2020, 08:21:22
Okay, so I have two "chapters" in the works: Urban Legends and Dead Worlds.

Thematically, they're very different works. Urban Legends will be my first story from a Clan prospective (something I was challenged with over an FanFiction.net) and takes place during the initial Clan invasion, while Dead Worlds is sent in the late 3020's/early 3030's, somewhere around the FedSun/Combine boarder.

I have both relatively fully planned out in my head, but trying to write both at the same time is beyond me. So, I'm going to give everyone here seven days to decide which one gets my full, undivided attention first. Go to the poll and vote.

That is all.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: PsihoKekec on 22 May 2020, 14:09:00
I vote for Dead Worlds, Clanners can wait.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: ThePW on 22 May 2020, 15:12:07
I vote for Dead Worlds, Clanners can wait.
I voted for Urban Legends. Dead worlds, by their nature of how they died, can wait (hopefully).

or do both and win/win/play in traffic!
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: Sir Chaos on 22 May 2020, 15:17:01
I voted for Urban Legends. Dead worlds, by their nature of how they died, can wait (hopefully).

or do both and win/win/play in traffic!

Usually I would say "the dead worlds will stay dead, so no hurries", but this is Who Goes There, so all bets are off.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: Daryk on 22 May 2020, 16:48:54
Dead Worlds for me, but I suspect you knew that if you've seen just about any of my other posts around here...
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: shadowdancer on 22 May 2020, 22:27:41
Dead Worlds. Dead worlds. Dead Worlds. Does that count as 3 votes?
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker on 23 May 2020, 08:48:06
Dead Worlds. Dead worlds. Dead Worlds. Does that count as 3 votes?
Given it's loosing 4-2, no.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: Daryk on 23 May 2020, 09:26:23
Oh... it's a separate thread.. off to vote...
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: Daryk on 23 May 2020, 09:27:49
Uh... doesn't seem to be on this forum?  ???
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker on 23 May 2020, 09:42:06
Uh... doesn't seem to be on this forum?  ???
Top of the page
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: Daryk on 23 May 2020, 10:16:54
Ah.. didn't realize you could add a poll to an already existing thread... thanks!  4-3 now...
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker on 23 May 2020, 10:21:03
I'm going to continue working on both, bit by bit, for the time being, but once the poll closes, we have a winner.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: Daryk on 23 May 2020, 10:39:02
Makes sense... I'll definitely be back for Dead Worlds when you do finish it.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker on 23 May 2020, 11:01:30
Makes sense... I'll definitely be back for Dead Worlds when you do finish it.
I certainly hope that every one will enjoy them both
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: Daryk on 23 May 2020, 11:32:48
It's not your fault I'm no clan fan.  Best of luck with both projects!  :thumbsup:
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: DOC_Agren on 23 May 2020, 17:04:02
Okay, so I have two "chapters" in the works: Urban Legends and Dead Worlds.

Thematically, they're very different works. Urban Legends will be my first story from a Clan prospective (something I was challenged with over an FanFiction.net) and takes place during the initial Clan invasion, while Dead Worlds is sent in the late 3020's/early 3030's, somewhere around the FedSun/Combine boarder.

I have both relatively fully planned out in my head, but trying to write both at the same time is beyond me. So, I'm going to give everyone here seven days to decide which one gets my full, undivided attention first. Go to the poll and vote.

That is all.
I think seeing your take on an clanner should be interesting
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker on 23 May 2020, 19:29:43
I think seeing your take on an clanner should be interesting
Writing without using contractions is so tiresome  xp
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: Daryk on 23 May 2020, 19:31:43
Just one of many reasons I don't like 'em…  ^-^
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: ThePW on 23 May 2020, 23:37:22
Writing without using contractions is so tiresome  xp

but that's the point of them NOT using contractions: Their speech isn't supposed to be complex. Its blunt, simple and generally short. They don't have time to waste on grandiose complex verbiage... at least I think so.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker on 24 May 2020, 05:55:39
but that's the point of them NOT using contractions: Their speech isn't supposed to be complex. Its blunt, simple and generally short. They don't have time to waste on grandiose complex verbiage... at least I think so.
And yet they contract words all the damn time!
Batchall
Aff
Neg
Powless
Quiaff
Quineg
Ristar
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: Sir Chaos on 24 May 2020, 07:13:43
And yet they contract words all the damn time!
Batchall
Aff
Neg
Powless
Quiaff
Quineg
Ristar

Glaring hypocrisy is the most hallowed of all Clan traditions.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: SulliMike23 on 24 May 2020, 12:21:43
Still, I wonder if you'll have a Clanner tell his story of encountering something...unnatural.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker on 24 May 2020, 13:39:06
Still, I wonder if you'll have a Clanner tell his story of encountering something...unnatural.
Would I be adding it to this collection if they weren't?

Also, if anyone wants to take part, the PoV character hasn't been named yet, so suggestions for a Clan Jade Falcon mechwarrior are welcome.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: Cannonshop on 24 May 2020, 20:56:12
Would I be adding it to this collection if they weren't?

Also, if anyone wants to take part, the PoV character hasn't been named yet, so suggestions for a Clan Jade Falcon mechwarrior are welcome.

suggested names? heheheh...

everyone wants a Pryde or a Malthus, a Hazen or something prominent from the Khartoon or the novel lines.

I'm no different, but to me, it seems most fitting for a Falcon running into the weird shit to be named "Pershaw".

or maybe a Buhallin.

hm...

Female Pershaw, male Buhallin. (seems to break with the standard patterns a bit).

Ileana Pershaw.

David Buhallin.

there you go, two names to reject!
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker on 25 May 2020, 05:52:48
suggested names? heheheh...

everyone wants a Pryde or a Malthus, a Hazen or something prominent from the Khartoon or the novel lines.

I'm no different, but to me, it seems most fitting for a Falcon running into the weird shit to be named "Pershaw".

or maybe a Buhallin.

hm...

Female Pershaw, male Buhallin. (seems to break with the standard patterns a bit).

Ileana Pershaw.

David Buhallin.

there you go, two names to reject!
Was actually thinking about them not having a Bloodname just yet, and getting a shot at earning one as a result of the events depicting ("You kept your head when shit got crazy: we need your DNA in the gene pool").

There is, however, a Star Captain Garth Von Jankmon, and having to type out his full name all the time is yet another reason why I don't write for Clanners all that much.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: Sharpnel on 25 May 2020, 07:42:47
Digging deep and looking among the original founding Bloodnames and propose the following: Vikram Shambag (male) and Astrid Qwabe (female)
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker on 25 May 2020, 18:44:42
David Buhallin.
I'm using this for a secondary character.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: DOC_Agren on 26 May 2020, 16:54:06
Glaring hypocrisy is the most hallowed of all Clan traditions.
 
 ;D ;D ;D ;D ;D ;D ;D ;D ;D :thumbsup: :thumbsup:  I tried to keep a straight face but  ;D ;D :D :D
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker on 26 May 2020, 17:56:23
 
 ;D ;D ;D ;D ;D ;D ;D ;D ;D :thumbsup: :thumbsup:  I tried to keep a straight face but  ;D ;D :D :D
It's funny because it's true
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker on 29 May 2020, 08:50:07
The fans have spoken: looks like we're heading for Clanner Town next
Title: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker on 29 May 2020, 14:59:09
Someone wanted a story from the prospective of the Clans, and this idea popped into my head.

Also, I don't usually write Clanners, unless their the antagonist, so characterisation may be a little off.


Urban Legend


Goat Path. A horrid name for a truly horrid world.

I have no idea why anyone would want to settle such a desolate and unyielding world: just trying to grow enough food to live off of is, I have been told, nearly impossible. Nor does it possess any natural resources that can not be just as easily found on countless other, more hospitable worlds. But, for whatever reason, it was colonised, and as such, we could not simply ignore it as we undertook our Great Crusade upon the Inner Sphere.

My Cluster was one of the first to make planet-fall, just ahead of the Steel Vipers. We found only a token garrison of second-line Mercenaries and local Militia; certainly no threat to warriors of Clan Jade Falcon. But they refused our batchall, and then ignored the rules of honourable combat by concentrating fire and trying to hide in the planets capital. We had come as liberators, and having to half destroy a city to weed out the last remnants of the Militia caused no end of collateral damage.

Strange words, you may think, for a Crusader such as myself, but even I can appreciate that resources needed to rebuild a city could be of better use elsewhere, and dead workers produce nothing.

We had arrived expecting to face our enemies in open combat, to test ourselves against them in the crucible of war, only to be denied time and time again. It is no surprise that we let our anger get the better of us, especially when we discovered that the BattleMech that had been giving us so much trouble was but an UrbanMech, a unit even the lowest of solahma would consider beneath them. Finally having it cornered, Star Captain Garth Von Jankmon took it upon himself to punish the Inner Sphere pilot.

First, he disabled the UrbanMechs autocannon, then used the imposing bulk of his Summoner to slowly force it backwards towards a river that ran through the middle of the city. The pilot tried to surrender, pleading for mercy, stating that their ejection system had been disabled by battle damage. But the Star Captain was not listening, instead slowly burning the armour from the UrbanMech, forcing it to stumble backwards until it toppled into the fast-flowing waters. It tumbled over and over, eventually getting stuck against a half-submerged rock midstream. With its armour ruined, its internal spaces stated to fill with water, slowly dragging it deeper into the water.

The pilot was trapped, and slowly drowning is no death for a warrior, even Inner Sphere militia, and I targeted the cockpit, asking permission to fire, ending their suffering.

Garth Von Jankmon refused, stating that the UrbanMech was his opponent, and he would not allow anyone under his command to break zellbrigen by targeting an opponent he was in combat with. It was foolish, pure rage on his part: the unnamed pilot of the UrbanMech had challenged his dominance of the world, and he wanted to not only punish them, but to make a statement should anyone else wish to challenge him. So he made us stand on the riverbank and watch as the helpless pilot slowly sank into the water, the radio filled with at first cries for help, then a string of curses aimed at Clan Jade Falcon in general, our Trinary in particular, and Star Captain Garth Von Jankmon by name. I have never heard such cold anger, such certainty of righteous indignation, as I heard in that woman's voice.

The final sound was the report of a single gunshot echoing around the strike machines cockpit, then silence as it finally vanished from sight.

Our Star Colonel, a towering Elemental, was less than happy with Garth Von Jankmon's actions, and challenged him to a Circle of Equals, where she beat him into a bloody pulp, before having our Trinary assigned to garrison Goat Path as the rest of the Cluster moved on to the next target. None of us were happy with this news, but none more so than Garth Von Jankmon, who made it his personal mission in life to make the people of Goat Path suffer for his dishonour. He cracked down on any dissent harshly, handing out collective punishments where a single example would have been more appropriate. Do not get me wrong, I am no Warden, but even I can see that a warrior can only stand on solid ground. And our Star Captains actions were making our position increasingly unstable. We were trying to educate the population as to how to adapt to life as members of Clan Jade Falcon, to lift them up above the level the Inner Sphere had sunk to since the fall of the Star League. Only then can they become full, productive members of the Clan.

There were a few minor incidents at first: work-slows and minor civil disobedience that could easily be handled by the solahma troops assigned to act as paramilitary police. But no, the Star Captain insisted on sending out a point of Elementals to break up a peaceful demonstration by force. He then went on to insist that they did so augmented, with life ammunition rather than less-lethal alternatives. It very quickly descended into a massacre, with the unarmed protesters no match for the Elementals, and they scattered through the streets of the planetary capital, leaving the dead and dying in their wake. Garth Von Jankmon gave the order to pursue, grinning as he watched the feed from the Point Commanders armour.

I was about to challenge him to a Circle of Equals myself, when suddenly and without warning, one of the Elementals was killed, their armour ripped asunder by an unknown and unseen enemy. The rest of the Point reacted with the speed and precision one would expect of a Jade Falcon, backtracking the weapons fire and seeking out any hidden foe with the laser-like keenness of our namesake. I called up a map to a secondary screen, quickly locating the street they were on: the enemy seemed to be down a blind alleyway, which ended in a narrow passageway that would have been impassable to anyone but unarmoured infantry. It was, in short, the perfect kill-box for the SRM equipped Elementals, and they quickly unleashed everything they had, filling the shadows with flame and shrapnel. The ground beneath their feet shook, as did the buildings that surrounded the alleyway, the explosions echoing out across the city like a rolling thunder. Garth Von Jankmon grinned like a Wolf whose just learned to count without using their fingers as the smoke and flame filled the main screen.

But that smile died on his lips as a burst of autocannon fire answered back, decapitating one of the Elementals instantly. The remaining three fired their second volley of SRM's, then dropped their spent launchers and advanced, lasers and machineguns at the ready. The Point Commander moved forward centimetre by centimeter, a bolt of azure laser fire shattering brickwork just above her head. The other two surviving members of the point took the opportunity to fire long, rolling bursts of machinegun fire into the alleyway, their shots hitting nothing but masonry.

Using hand gestures, the Point Commander ordered one of her subordinates to jump onto the roof an an abandoned warehouse that made up one side of the alleyway and try and get a look at who and what they were facing. It was a smart move, as even a Wolf will be sure of their prey before attacking: they leave that foolishness to the Smoke Jaguars. With the other survivors providing covering fire, they managed to make it to the roof and glanced down, only to report that the alleyway was empty, aside from burning debris.

Garth Von Jankmon was enraged, ordering the rest of the Trinary and the solahma troops out to secure the city. He personally led the search for the unseen attacker, even as members of the technical cast surveyed the site of the battle. Despite the obvious damage done to the two dead Elementals and the surrounding buildings, they found no spent ammunition or shell casings. They were, however, able to determine that the primary weapon used seemed to be a Class-10 autocannon firing 150mm shells. They were not, however, able to explain just how a vehicle or BattleMech capable of carrying such a weapon could slip in and out of the alleyway without being seen, especially given how narrow the only other entrance was.

For two days we searched the city and the surrounding area, looking for any clues as to who or what had attacked the Elementals, but all we had to show for it at the end was two dead warriors and two broken suits of power armour.

Our esteemed Star Captain grew vindictive, convinced that the people of Goat Path were conspiring against him, and his already harsh rule grew tyrannical. He imposed a dusk-to-dawn curfew on all but the most essential of workers, cutting food, water and power rations for everyone else. Houses were searched completely at random, protests met with a rifle butt to the face, or pistol to the back of the head. Such tactics may have their place, but even a blind man could have seen that the people were as much in the dark as we were. No matter what we offered or threatened, nobody came forward with anything useful.

Two weeks later, and one of our MechWarriors, Karl, was on patrol near our base when he reported taking fire from an unseen enemy. Despite being a fledgling, he remained calm, even as we could hear the alarms and warnings his BattleMechs computer was giving out over the open radio. The rest of his Star raced to support him, even as the rest of us raced to the hangers, neurohelmets in hand. I was starting up my Mad Dog when I heard the radio suddenly go quiet. We raced out to the scene of the ambush, only to find the burning remains of Karl's Kit Fox in the middle of am open field. His Star had already spread out, looking for any signs of his attacker, but they found not a single blade of grass out of place. Certainly no trace of anything capable of bringing down a warrior of the Clans.

Again the technicians examined the scene, and again they found no trace of the weapon used, but determined that it was the work of a Class-10 Autocannon in the 150mm range.

Unfortunately, this seemed to tip Garth Von Jankmon into full paranoia: he became convinced that there was a conspiracy to keep him from obtaining glory on the front lines. He had been a ristar, having won his Bloodname at a young age, and on his first attempt. To find himself relegated to garrison duty on a world so far from the fighting... I truly believe that it broke something inside him.

As one of his senior subordinates, I was given the task of investigating just what was happening, and I immediately contacted the Watch, seeking information on any possible new weapon or equipment that would allow an enemy to strike unseen and leave no trace but carnage. In return I received some briefing documents about Null Signature Systems and Chameleon Light Polarization Shields, but this was, as they say in the Inner Sphere, lost technology that had been incredibly rare even during the time of the Star League. Even among the Clans, only a few working examples existed, and only then as curiosities for the Scientists and Technicians to wonder at.

No, if the Successor Lords had access to such technology, they wouldn't be using it to pick-off seemingly random warriors on a world far from the front, but trying to strike at our leaders on the front lines, deployed as part of a dezgra headhunter unit. Nor could they explain the lack of physical evidence, as even if the unseen attacker or attackers were using ceaseless ammunition, there should have been traces of the shells found. But, despite extensive searches of both locations, not a single piece of shrapnel had been found. One technician, a rugged looking man by the name of Mac, had said it was like the rounds had impacted, then just melted away.

A third attack saw a squad of solahma infantry on a security sweep annihilated, but one managed to report over the radio before being killed that their attacker was a BattleMech, but interference garbled the transmission as they were about to identify it. Garth Von Jankmon ordered every available unit to the area, having ordered our technicians to repair and refit some of the damaged Inner Sphere vehicles and BattleMechs recovered from the field of battle as isorla during the invasion, assigning them to solahma pilots and crews to booster our numbers. While far from parity with even a second-line unit, they added an extra pair of binaries to our numbers, allowing us to search a much wider area.

The unforgiving nature of the terrain required the use of primarily hover vehicles, and the majority of the solahma force was equipped with light, fast moving tanks such as the uninspired but functional Pegasus. Sweeping far and wide, they relished the opportunity to serve their Clan once again, and their eagerness and zeal could easily have been mistaken for that of cadet given their first taste of combat. More than once, I had to remind them that they were venturing too far ahead of my star, earning chuckles from MechWarrior Dusa, joking about how I sounded more like a Falconer than a Star Commander.

I swear, if she was not sibkin, I would have seen her in a circle of equals, true though her words may have been.

But the solahma did pull back, meaning that they were still within visual range when the lead vehicle exploded, the ammunition for the SRM launcher detonating with such ferocity that the turret was sent rocketing high into the air. The other vehicles scattered, age having not dulled the reflexes of their crews too much, as their turrets turned to search for the enemy. A volley of autocannon fire ripped into the side of another tank, but the pilot was able to pull the vehicle into a tight turn, getting clear before it managed to claw its way through the armour. My active and passive sensors showed nothing, no sign of the enemy, but one of the solahma tanks had obvious managed to back-track the origin of the weapons fire, sending a flight of missiles into a thick clump of trees that had found purchase amid the sharp crevices that dotted the landscape.

Zellbrigen having long been forgotten, I followed up their attack with two flights of LRM's and a fully spread of lasers, sending the heat levels in my cockpit shooting up. The small grove exploded as the missiles ripped them apart, smoke and flame filling the air. The surviving tanks and the rest of my Star added their own weapons fire to the cauldron of destruction, massive chunks of rock being pulverised to dust every second.

Despite all logic, a fresh burst of autocannon fire answered back, followed by the azure flash of a small calibre laser. They tore the turret off of one of the Pegasus', the pilot fighting to keep the suddenly unbalanced vehicle under control as they sort what little cover there was. I gave the order to keep up the barrage, even as I worked to fully encircle the enemy, not wanting them to slip away yet again. Every time I heard the tone indicating that my LRM launchers had reloaded, I sent them hurling towards the start still unseen enemy, my lasers likewise firing as fast as they charge, heat levels be damned!

Through it all, I could hear Garth Von Jankmon on the radio, demanding updates and conformation that we had killed the enemy that had been stalking us, seemingly with impunity. I tried filling him in, even as a Hover APC filled with solahma infantry burst into flames, the troops inside spilling out of the shattered hull, their bodies covered in flames. Dusa turned her machineguns on them, giving them a clean death over the relatively slow agony of burning.

Then, as soon as it had started, the attack was over: no more burst of autocannon fire or bolts of laser light emerged to taunt us. For the briefest of moments, through the smoke and flame, I thought I saw the outline of a squat BattleMech slowly turning away. But, just as quickly as it had appeared, it was gone.

It should be of no surprise that Garth Von Jankmon was less than happy with my report on the incident. He was unconcerned with our losses; he viewed the solahma as little more than munitions to be expended as needed, but our continued inability to bring the enemy to battle and at least identify them only worsened his paranoia. He began to look upon some of his fellow MechWarriors as if we were involved in the plot he felt sure was conspiring against him, keeping his own council and only informing us of his plans when absolutely necessary. He did take note when I mentioned seeing what appeared to be a BattleMech through the smoke and flame, and spent hours going over the gun-camera footage of the engagement, going so far as to bring in technicians drawn from what had been a local news channel to try an enhance the video.

It was, I fully admit, one of the smarter things he did, and something I would not have thought of myself.

Unfortunately, they found no conclusive evidence beyond a few suggestive shadows, but it was enough to at least deflect some of the Star Captains anger, and I was allowed to continue as a Star Commander. Others were not so lucky, as the attacks continued, claiming the lives of several MechWarriors and more of our solahma support unit. Our losses reached the point where even Garth Von Jankmon was forced to acquiesce to allowing some of the solahma to test for the right to regain the position as front line warriors. I was fortunate to find myself commanding David Buhallin, a former Star Captain and falconer, assigning to my star to replace a warrior reassigned to Garth Von Jankmon's star. While almost twice my age, David Buhallin brought with him a degree of experience and, dare I say it without sounding like a Nova Cat, wisdom, and I found myself relying on him more and more often.

Indeed, I was with David Buhallin when I finally found myself face to face with our elusive foe.

It was twilight, an the two of us were making a security sweep of the outlying guard posts around the former Militia base that we had taken for our own, his refitted Centurion keeping pace with my Mad Dog. Garth Von Jankmon had insisted that all such patrols be carried out by at least two MechWarriors in a bid to ensure that we would not miss anyone trying to ambush us. We were just creating a low rise, and I was about to challenge the guard post, when I heard David Buhallin utter a string of curses over the open channel. Looking up from my communications screen, I saw the outpost in flames, the coastal flash of ammunition cooking off amid the gathering dark. Back-lit perfectly by the flames was the low, hunched form of an UrbanMech.

I issued a challenge over every frequency, switching my weapons from stand-by to read without needing to even think about it. I saw the right arm of the Centurion beside my rise up, tracking the target even as the old warrior at the controls pulled away to the left, opening up the distance between us so we could catch it in a crossfire if needed. The torso of the UrbanMech slowly turned to face me, and I felt like I had walked into a ice storm.

Even in the steadily growing shadows, I could see where the lighter machine had be riddled with weapons fire, its armour stripped away to reveal massive rents in its internal structure. From these gaping wounds, water poured in unending torrents, almost making it look like it was bleeding.

I dropped my cross-hairs over the image on my HUD, but it refused to confirm a targeting lock. Inferred, mag-scan, neutrino detector; all my instruments showed nothing. Putting my trust in my own skill and training, I fired anyway, lasers momentarily turning night into day, followed by the thunderous roar of my LRM launchers sending 40 missiles down-range. David Buhallin joined is, adding two score of missiles and a long, rolling burst of autocannon fire that sounded like ripping canvas.

On my honour, I watched my lasers track up to and clean through the UrbanMech, followed by the wave of missiles and autocannon fire. I watched as they went straight through it as if it was nothing more than a hologram. I then watched, unable to do anything, as the UrbanMech fired a single volley of autocannon fire in response, blowing the head clean off of David Buhallin's Centurion, finally allowing him to die a warriors death.

It turned to face me, and I found myself frozen, unable to do anything more than await the end. But, instead of firing, it seemed to ripple, like a reflection on water, then slowly fade from sight.

I spent the next week in a cell while I was subjected to a battery of tests, both physical and physiological. I was made to recount the events surrounding the destruction of the guard post and the death of David Buhallin again and again, even agreeing to submit to chemical interrogation to ensure what I was say was the truth. Meanwhile, my Mad Dog and the remains of the Centurion were also subject to the strictest possible scrutiny possible with the equipment and personnel to hand. The gun-camera footage was checked and rechecked, looking for any hint that it could have been tampered with. But nothing was found, and eventually, Garth Von Jankmon had to release me. It was only then that I learned that two more attacks had taken place, claiming the lives of two MechWarriors and over a dozen of the solahma troops.

I did my best to compose a report for the Watch, trying to put into words events that I had no words to describe. In the end, I simply sent them the transcript of one of my interrogations and the gun-camera recordings. It took them another week to respond, during which no one ventured out of the base, even the solahma keeping themselves confined to the fortified barracks by the main spaceport. No further attacks were made, but it was becoming increasingly clear that we were losing control of the planet, a fact that chipped away at Garth Von Jankmon's already tenuous grip on reality.

He was at the point of ordering the remaining garrison out at gunpoint when we received our orders: remain on lock-down and await the arrival of a specialist, who was being sent under the personal authority of Khan Elias Crichell and Loremaster Kael Pershaw. To have arguably the two most powerful members of out Clan taking a personal interest in our situation was both reassuring and worrying, as it was clear that our actions, and inactions, were being observed at the highest levels.

Another month was spent hunkered down with the garrison complex, nobody daring to venture out. Some may view it as cowardly, unbecoming of warriors of Clan Jade Falcon, but I ask those people this: where is the honor in dying under the guns of an enemy you can neither see nor hit? Is it not far better to avoid wasteful combat and preserve the resources of the Clan for future battles?

Eventually, we received word that a ship had arrived at a pirate point just a days journey from Goat Path, and that a DropShip bearing the promised specialist was inbound. Garth Von Jankmon, who did not look or smell like he had shaved or showed in a month had us ready and alert, our BattleMechs ready to form an honor guard for what he felt sure was a high ranking officer. I only wish I had seen his face when the ramp lowered an a solitary Shadow Cat with the markings of Clan Cloud Cobra stepped out.

The pilot, a slender woman who looked so young I would have mistaken her for a cadet, identified herself as MechWarrior Stephanie, of the Josian Cloister. Her letters of introduction and authority identified her as an apparent expert in certain unexplained phenomenon and occurrence, something that certainly seemed to cover our situation. The first thing she asked for was to examine the site of the first incident, taking only a acolyte from the local HPG station as her guide, stating that she did not want to draw any unnecessary attention. And poor functionary, apparently a native of some distant world within the Free Worlds League, was understandably jumpy, sure that at any moment the UrbanMech would appear and kill them.

But their expedition went went unmolested, and Stephanie allowed the Acolyte to return to the HPG station with her thanks.

Next she asked to see what physical evidence we had, which was limited to the broken remains of the various BattleMechs, vehicles and power armour suits that the UrbanMech had destroyed. She spent hours explaining them in ways that even our senior technicians found difficult to follow, their inability to explain what was going on only enraging Garth Von Jankmon further. But, as she was operating under the direct authority of the Khan and Loremaster, there was nothing he could do but allow her to go about her business.

Dusa came to me, concerned about the Star Captains state of mind, and I promised her that I would step up and relive him of command if needed.

Eventually, as the only known survivor of a direct encounter with the UrbanMech, MechWarrior Stephanie asked to speak with me. She had taken over an unused office that had belonged to some functionary in what had been the Militia headquarters, and I found myself sitting across from her.

"Star Commander Astrid." She smiled, her slightly odd accent only helping to set her apart, despite the fact that she wore only a MechWarriors duty uniform, with only the shoulder patches to single her out, "Tell me about the battle for the capital, during the initial invasion."

"The invasion?" I blinked, confused by her question, "You are investigating the... UrbanMech that has been attacking our garrison, Quiaff?"

"Aff, but I have reason to believe that the two are connected." the Cloud Cobra poured two cups of what passed for coffee locally, "What do you know about my... position, amongst the Watch?"

"I had assumed that you are an independent investigator: you are not Jade Falcon, and indeed, your Clan is not a part of the invasion, so I thought that you had been sent to offer an impartial report on... whatever has been happening."

"That is only partly true, and I apologise if you think I have been misleading you." Stephanie sat, perfectly composed, in her chair, "There have always been things that we have had trouble explaining, scientifically: places, events, objects, even individuals, that sit outside of our understanding of how the universe is supposed to work. One of the lesser known duties of the Watch is to investigate these... oddities, as best we can, and determine if they are a threat to the Clans."

"And you believe that there is one of these, oddities, here on Goat Path?"

"Oh, you tell me: a seemingly second-line BattleMech that even most Inner Sphere pilots would look down upon has been systematically eliminating your entire trinary and your supporting solahma detachment, all while taking no damage and leaving no physical evidence besides the wreckage of its victims. Does that sound like something usual to you, Star Commander Astrid of House Qwabe?"

"Neg... Neg, it does not." I admitted, unable to meet her gaze, "I have no fear of death: I will do my duty for the Clans, come what may, but this... How does one fight an enemy, when your weapons seemingly pass right through it?"

"Finally, someone is asking the right questions." Stephanie smiled softly, "You are a good person, Star Commander. Even if I had not listened to people talking about you, I would have known that from your report on the invasion. And it is that goodness that saved your life."

"I do not understand."

"It is often said that the path to true wisdom starts with admitting that you know nothing." the Cloud Cobra smiled coyly, "The Militia UrbanMech that you faced in the city, the one your Star Captain forced into the river: you asked permission to destroy the cockpit. Why?"

"It was the honourable thing to do: the pilot knew she had no chance of defeating us, yet she still faced our entire Trianary. She should have been taken as a Bondswoman, possibly even given the chance to serve as a warrior again, if she proved herself worthy. Instead..."

"Instead, Garth Von Jankmon's left her to drown, forcing you all to watch. Why did he do that, do you think? And your true opinion on the matter, please."

"Star Captain... Garth Von..." I hesitated, but weeks of living on a knifes edge finally broke through my resolve not to let an outsider see my Clans internal issues, "He is a sadist and a thug. He hides behind honour and duty to excuse his own weakness, sending others out to face danger while he remains safely behind. I do not know how he managed to obtain his Bloodname, and if I ever meet his sponsor, I will challenge them to a Circle of Equals and take extreme pleasure in beating them senseless."

"Yes, I had come to the same conclusion on my own, and my report to your Khan will say as." Stephanie nodded, "People like Garth Von Jankmon have their place, but like all tools, you need the right one for the right job."

"What is going on, then?" I asked.

"Now that is an interesting question." Stephanie stood, "Come: let us talk with your Star Captain."

Garth Von Jankmon was not happy to see us. In fact, he was outright hostile, only stopping short of activity insulting Stephanie, despite her position as an official representative of both the Khan Elias Crichell and Loremaster Kael Pershaw. She ignored his obvious hostility and sat in one of the chairs across from his desk, gesturing for me to take the other.

"I shall get straight to the point." she looked him dead in the eye, her voice calm and level, "You have a wraith problem."

"A what?" the Star Captain snapped.

"A form of ghost or malevolent spirit, in this case the result of a curse placed upon yourself and your command due to your actions during the invasion of this planet." Stephanie remained completely deadpan, without a hint of emotion, almost as if she was a falconer instructing a cadet on some matter-of-fact subject, "I would, if possible, like to examine any surviving records pertaining to the pilot of the UrbanMech you forced into the river: she was obviously far from a normal individual if her spirit is capable of maintaining such an impressive physical presence after her death."

"Do you take me for a fool, Cloud Cobra?" Garth Von Jankmon stood, leaning across his desk, fists clenched so tightly his knuckles turned white, "I do not know what kind of game you think you are playing, but I am a Star Captain of Clan Jade Falcon, and I will not..."

"You are relieved of your command." Stephanie produced a verigraph chip and inserted it into the reader built into the desk. It scanned Garth Von Jankmon's DNA from where his hands were pressed against the screen, and an official order, bearing the signatures of both the Khan and Loremaster appeared, "You will remain confined to quarters until further notice."

Garth Von Jankmon looked like he was about to say something, but Stephanie raised a hand to silence him.

"The order has been automatically logged on your system: all of your access and authorisation codes have been nullified." She rose to her feet, staring him down with a strength of will I would never have suspected of her, "There may be a chance for you to regain what honour you have left. Only time, and fate, will tell."

I was surprised, happily so, when he refrained from attacking her: given his deteriorated mental state, I had half expected him to lunge across the desk and attempt to strangle her with his bare hands. Instead he slowly slumped into his chair, an oddly relieved look on his face, as if a great weight had been lifted off of his shoulders.

TBC
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker on 29 May 2020, 14:59:48
Cont

Unfortunately, that weight then descended upon me: as the senior officer left on Goat Path, I found myself thrust into the position of garrison commander. Not that I had much left to command, as the slow attrition of the UrbanMech, this wraith, as Stephanie had called it, had reduced our numbers to a binary of MechWarriors and Elementals, maybe two dozen solahma troops and the scattered elements of what preexisting local law enforcement had agreed to continue to operate under our laws. We controlled the former Militia base and the spaceport for sure, but it was clear that the rest of the planet was slipping into, if not open rebellion, civil disobedience. This only increased once word got out that Garth Von Jankmon was no longer in command.

There is an old Terran proverb; uneasy lies the head that wears a crown, and my head felt decidedly uneasy.

A week passed, during which I did my best to perform the duties of a garrison commander, only having to face two Trials of Position by warriors who thought they could do a better job. Other than that, things seemed to reach some kind of equilibrium, with the local population realising that they were only enjoying a respite before the work of bringing them fully into Clan Jade Falcon continued. Making a very open fact of the number of recovered BattleMechs and vehicles I had the technicians restore to working order helped. But, despite the relatively calm atmosphere, there was an underlying current of uncertainty: we remained secure in our base, unwilling to risk encountering the Wraith until Stephanie had come up with a plan for dealing with it once and for all.

In the end, the answer presented itself.

I was getting ready to spend some time in the sparing ring, looking forward to burning off all the excess energy that I had built up, spending days sat behind a desk, going over reports from the security detachments, when the general alarm sounded. I raced to the command centre, still dressed in my PT kit, dodging past people heading to their own assigned stations.

"Situation report!" I ordered as I stepped through the doorway.

"It... It is here, Star Commander." the young technician at the main console pointed at the main display screen.

The UrbanMech stood in the middle of the road, maybe a kilometre away from the main gate. I instantly recognised it as the same one that had killed David Buhallin, MechWarrior Karl and the rest. Its armour was still torn and twisted, far more water than was physically possible continuing to pour out through the rents.

"Founder preserve us..." I heard a soft voice behind me, and turned to see Stephanie had entered the room, and was maybe a step behind me, "It is read about such things in reports, but it is quite another to see one with your own eyes."

"Aff, that it is." I nodded, "Is there anything we can do? Besides allow it to use what is left of our Trinary for target practice?"

"We give it what it wants." There was a strangely neutral expression on the Cloud Cobras face, "Have Garth Von Jankmon report to the Mech-Bay. I will meet him there."

I gave the order to summon the disgraced Star Captain, then followed the strange MechWarrior to the cavernous hanger, where her Shadow Cat stood between my Mad Dog and Garth Von Jankmon's Summoner. He arrived soon after, flanked by a pair of Elementals, who Stephanie quickly dismissed.

"Ask not for whom the bells tolls, Garth Von Jankmon, for it tolls for thee." Stephanie nodded towards the gantry that led to his OmniMech, "It is time for you to face the Demon of your own making; perhaps a chance to regain your honour."

He only grunted, before quickly making his way towards the cockpit.

"I will go with him: I need to see the end of this with my own eyes." Stephanie turned to face me, "You may stay behind, if you wish."

"I am a warrior of Clan Jade Falcon: I do not like hiding from the enemy." I shook my head, "Even the immaterial ones."

The three of us climbed into and activated our OmniMechs in silence, only speaking to the somewhat confused technician assigned to traffic control. Garth Von Jankmon led us out of the hanger, followed by MechWarrior Stephanie and myself. The normally busy parade ground was empty, but I could see members of various casts watching from windows and doorways as we made our way out. The massive gate rolled slowly open, and I will admit that I half expected a burst of autocannon fire to come bursting through the moment the UrbanMech was in sight. But, instead, it seemed content to just watch us from afar as we made our way out, Stephanie moving to the left, while I took the right flank, forming a standard triangular formation with Garth Von Jankmon at the fore.

All the while, the UrbanMech remained motionless, water continuing to cascade from its ruined frame.

"Well, freebirth?" Garth Von Jankmon called out over every radio channel and the external speakers built into his Summoner, "Here I am!"

The UrbanMech remained as motionless as a mountain.

"is this not what you wanted? Am I not the one who killed you?" the Star Captain half laughed, "After all this, are you too afraid to respond? Was I right? Are you truly no warrior worthy of the..."

Whatever he intended to say next was lost to time, as the small laser that made up the left arm fired just once. Against all logic and understanding, it tore through the armour and protection of the Summoners cockpit, vaporising Garth Von Jankmon in an instant. The OminMech rocked back and forth a few times, and for a moment, I felt sure it would fall, but somehow it remained standing.

I looked at the UrbanMech, my hands only lightly grasping the controls, waiting to see what it would do next.

Time seemed to slow to a crawl, then I noticed that I was able to see the treeline through the UrbanMech, as if it was slowly fading from sight. It was slow at first, but it soon became clear that the mysterious BattleMech was starting to just fade away into nothingness. Eventually, the only proof that remained to prove it had ever been there was the decapitated Summoner, smoke rising from the crematorium that was its cockpit.

It exists now, only in my memories.

The End
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: PsihoKekec on 29 May 2020, 15:28:24
Was that the father or the mother of the more famous ER Small Laser of Doom?
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker on 29 May 2020, 16:08:56
Was that the father or the mother of the more famous ER Small Laser of Doom?
Let's just say that the Wraith rolled a double-six  8)
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: Sir Chaos on 29 May 2020, 16:33:01
Let's just say that the Wraith rolled a double-six  8)

Floating crits?
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: croaker on 29 May 2020, 21:09:30
Urban legend. You should be ashamed of yourself. :)
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker on 30 May 2020, 06:02:30
Urban legend. You should be ashamed of yourself. :)
What can I say? I had the basic idea, was trying to come up with a title, and the two just meshed  ::)
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: mikecj on 30 May 2020, 18:11:43
 :thumbsup:  Nicely written as usual!
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: nerd on 31 May 2020, 00:05:06
Good stuff. It's not perfect, but if TPTB ever went supernatural, this would fit.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker on 31 May 2020, 05:29:50
Good stuff. It's not perfect, but if TPTB ever went supernatural, this would fit.
Canon skirts the supernatural: Phantom Mech abilities, vision quests, Victors near-death experience, but they always stop short of pulling the trigger, always have an out. And I can understand that, as BattleTech is a relatively 'hard' sci-fi setting, all things considered.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: Artifex on 31 May 2020, 08:27:16
This is an awesome collection of short stories. Especially Urban Legends was a really good one!  :thumbsup:
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: SulliMike23 on 31 May 2020, 14:58:14
Ghost stories, gotta love 'em.
Title: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker on 04 June 2020, 17:40:44
Yet again, thanks to Cannonshop for letting me play with one of his ideas.

Also, despite the best efforts of my highs school teachers, I can't speak a word of French beyond saying "hello" (my German isn't much better), so I've had to rely on Google translate. I apologise in advance if the grammar is off.

Voices In The Dark

There are some things that one simply does not expect to happen in space. Not many, as one of the first things you learn growing up on a belter colony like I did, is that pretty much anything is possible in the unforgiving blackness of space.

That being said, I'm not above admitting that I almost shat my jumpsuit when I heard a rhythmic, and very obviously deliberate, tapping on the outer airlock door just after we jumped into... well, let's just say it was somewhere we officially shouldn't have been, certainly not with a cargo-hold full of the best small arms that the Lyran Commonwealth could strip the serial numbers off of and hand out to people who wanted out from under the jackbooted heel of the Draconis Combine.

Cargo like that can make anyone jumpy, especially given that the preferred method of dealing with people caught red-handed with that kind of haul involves finding out just how long it takes to suffocate in a vacuum.

The tapping repeated, and a shadow moved across the small viewport built into the outer airlock. It wasn't the main hatch, but rather a secondary intended to allow EVA crews ready access to one of the jump-sail rigging arms, and it was only by chance that I had even been in the area, trying to track down a slow pressure leak in the ventilation system. Gathering my wits as best I could, I pulled myself over to the airlock and looked through the window in the inner hatch. I couldn't see very much, except a gloved hand, waving at me.

I should have reported it to someone, but truth be told, I was in something of a daze: we'd just jumped almost a full thirty ight-years, into what was supposed to be an uninhabited system. We weren't even supposed to meet our contact for another two jumps, so there shouldn't have been a single living being in the entire system, outside of our ship.

And yet, there they were, signalling that they wanted in.

I wasn't sure what to do: they didn't seem overly hostile, and if they had been DCMS or ISF, they would have simply blown the lock and stormed in, guns blazing. And pirates tend to be more direct, more interested in getting you to surrender any valuables without risking damage to either ship. And there hadn't been enough time since we'd jumped in for anyone on the crew to make their way around the outside of the ship from another lock.

Looking back, there was about a hundred things I should have done: informed chief engineer, or the duty officer, or at least someone a little more experienced. But I was still very much a wet-behind-the-ears nugget on their first trip out-system, ears still ringing from all the lessons I'd been given during my apprenticeship back home. And one of the first things they teach you is that, unless there is a clear and direct danger to ship or crew, you never leave someone outside. Especially if you have no idea as to the condition of their suit or how much power or oxygen they have left. Far better to have them inside an airlock and answering questions than outside and choking to death.

Making sure that the inner lock was not only secure, but deadlocked, I decompressed the chamber and cycled the outer door.

The suit was odd. And, I mean, really odd: it was the colour of old canvas and covered in brass fittings that I couldn't identify even to this day. The helmet was also unusual, almost anachronistic, looking like it should have been adorning some fairy-tale Knight rather than a spacer. The visor was a thin strip of wine-red glass that gave it an almost evil look. But they certainly seemed to know what they were doing, judging by the way they swung into the hatch by way of the grab bar, shifting their weight so their feet hit the deck. They bent their knees to absorb as much of the impact as possible while the magnetic plates in their boots activated, holding them in place. They tugged one a line, and a small, airtight duffle followed them through the open hatch.

A gloved hand reached out to pull down the lever that closed the hatch and activated the pumps to restore the air.

The light on the display panel turned from red to green, indicating a stable, breathable atmosphere, but they pulled a chemical test strip from a pouch on their suit to double check. It's an old spacer habit, especially if you don't know the ship or the crew: some unscrupulous people rig the readouts or add something to the air to incapacitate visitors for...a variety of reasons. Evidently our air was up to scratch, and they released the pressure valve on the suit, visibly relaxing as it equalised. Reaching up, they uncoupled the helmet before lifting it off, and that when I got my first good look at her.

Her skin was black. And I mean as black as space, far darker than anyone I've seen before or since, and it was topped by a thin covering of wiry hair the color of spun copper. In contrast, her teeth were a perfect white, complimenting her amber eyes perfectly.

"Merci, mon bon monsieur." she looked at me with a bright smile, her almost mystical voice muffled by the thick door between us, "Vous ne savez pas à quel point je suis heureux de vous avoir trouvé."

"I'm sorry I don't speak..." I blinked, realising that I don't have the faintest clue what langue she was speaking, "Do you speak English? German?"

"I speak English." She nodded, her accent still strong, "You are Lyran, non?"

"Yes." I nodded, "I'm sorry, but, who the ****** are you? And what are you doing outside our ship in an uninhabited system?"

"That may be, how you say, long story?" she chuckled, "Do you mind if I take my suit off? It has been too long."

I nodded, and she started to pull the suit off, revealing a pretty standard looking jumpsuit beneath that wasn't that different from my own, only devoid of any name patch, department or rank insignia or anything else that may have given a clue as to her origins.

"My name is Beatrix Wren, and I am, much like you, a spacer." she unsealed the bag that had been tethered to her suit and pulled out a bottle of, I presumed, water, from which she took a long drink, "As for what I am doing here... I guess you could say I hitched a ride?"

"Where... How... When..." I struggled to find the words.

"One question at a time, s'il vous plaît." she bid me to slow down, "I can answer many, but not necessarily all, of your questions, in time. I only ask that you try to keep an open mind."

"Okay." I nodded slowly, "Let's start with how you got here?"

"The truth is that I am not exactly sure just where here even is." she shrugged, taking another drink of water, "I was... elsewhere, before I stumbled upon your ship. And I must thank you again for letting me inside: I do not think my suit could have held out until the next jump."

"I can't help but notice that you didn't actually answer my question."

"This is true." Beatrix nodded, "Perhaps I would be more open if you would tell me your name? I am, after all, sitting in an airlock that you could open the outer hatch of without warning, and my suit is floating around the room in pieces right now. I think it is safe to say that you have the upper hand."

"Billy. My name is Billy Olson."

"So then, Sweet William, do you know what hull surfing is?"

"Yeah, it's something crazy people do: you go EVA during a jump. If you're lucky, you experience a riot of colours and sounds, because the human mind simply isn't equipped to process the experience, then arrive at your destination. If you're Unlucky, you misjudge the KF field boundary and your atoms get spread across thirty light-years of space."

"And if you have Transit Disorientation Syndrome?"

"If you have TDS and you try and hull surf, you run the risk of suffering a psychotic episode. Some claim they see visions of past lives or..."

"Or what?"

"They hear the Choir."

"Yes, the Choir."

"What has that got to do with anything?"

"Mon Dieu, you have heard them!"

"What?" I protested, perhaps too forcefully, "No!"

"You have TDS, and you hear them, even from inside a ship?" Beatrix moved over to the inner door, pressing her face up against the small porthole to get a better look, "I hear them too, but only from outside. Please, Billy, listen to me: you can never tell anyone, understand? There are people, bad people, who look for those who can hear the Choir, hunt them. I do not know why, only that my father could hear them, and that is why they came for my family when I was just a child."

"Why?" I took a step back, confused, "Why would anyone want to find people with TDS?"

"Again, I do not know for sure, but once, I hear two of them talking: they think that we are gifted, that there is something special about us..." her expression changed, becoming downcast, "I think perhaps they are right."

"Gifted?" I laughed at the very notion, "Not the word I would use."

"If you hear the Choir, then you can see the pattern. If you can see the pattern, you can navigate them, calculate jumps that nobody else can, putting ships in places nobody expects. That is an ability people will do anything to control. But, if you listen to the Choir, not just hear it, if you can learn their song... then you can do something remarkable."

"What?" I asked, my mouth suddenly dryer than I'd ever felt it in my shirt life.

"Hyperspace isn't just... nothingness. It's a whole other reality, one we were never suppose to explore. Our universe casts shadows upon it: that's why you can't jump near a gravity well, unless you can pinpoint a null zone, where the local bodies cancel each other out."

"Like a pirate point?"

"Pirate point? Yes, I suppose that that is a good a name as any. But, you see, there's a structure to hyperspace...not exactly stars or planets, but there are places where you can become stuck. Somebody found one of these places, and then they found a way to deliberately stop half way through a jump, staying inside hyperspace."

"That's impossible!" I gasped.

"Impossible, you say?" Beatrix shook her head, "Non, not impossible, Sweet William. I have spent the last ten years of my life, held prisoner in such a place. It was only by chance that I was outside, repairing something, they did not tell me what, when I saw the pattern change. I saw this ship passing through, and I jumped. I had no idea what was going to happen, but anything was better than staying there."

"Even if I believed you, which is asking a lot, what now?"

"I run. They will be looking for me, even if just to confirm I died, so I run." she seemed resigned to the fact, "When this ship jumps next, I will surf the hull, listening to the Choir, looking for another shift in the pattern. If I am lucky, I will find another ship, then another and another. I will keep going until I find a place that has never heard of the Terran Hegemony, has never seen the Cameron Star, and then, maybe, I will stop." she looked at me, a strange half smile on her lips, "Or, who knows? Maybe I will just drift off into the void."

To this day, I don't know if she was crazy or telling the truth, but I kept her secret from the rest of the crew. I let her sleep in an empty store room, smuggled her what food, water and other supplies I had. Then, before our next jump, I helped her back into her suit and said goodbye.

I still think of her, every time I hear the Choir, and I wonder if she's still out there, somewhere, looking for patterns in the chaos.

The End
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: Daryk on 04 June 2020, 17:52:35
That one seems era agnostic... much appreciated!  :thumbsup:
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker on 04 June 2020, 18:34:46
That one seems era agnostic... much appreciated!  :thumbsup:
It was going to be set during the Succession Wars, with ComStar as the "bad guys", then later with the Word of Blake, but in the end, I decided to make the Star League the villain of the piece, all be in vaguely
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: Artifex on 04 June 2020, 19:07:41
Nice stuff that last one, could even happen in the 32nd Century... :D
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: qc mech3 on 04 June 2020, 22:37:21
Just change ''heureux'' for ''heureuse'' and your french will be perfect.

A really good story there and it goes with something from Interstellar Players 2 also.  :thumbsup: :thumbsup:
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: PsihoKekec on 05 June 2020, 02:52:57
Am I the only one who thought of hull surfing as the next big thing for andrealin junkies of BTverse?
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: Daryk on 05 June 2020, 04:14:28
That and/or Personal Re-entry Units (PRUs) from StratOps…  ^-^
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: Cannonshop on 05 June 2020, 12:01:47
In the Ngoverse of "The Administrator" it IS an adrenaline junkie activity in some subcultures.  (In particular, Belter, Rockjack, some Bandit Caste, and Stateless Spacers ('The Folk').)  it's also a bit of a ritual and rite of passage among those subcultures.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: PsihoKekec on 05 June 2020, 12:43:17
So it's all good fun, until the wrong people hear you say: ''The Choir sings to us.''
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: SulliMike23 on 05 June 2020, 14:50:23
She almost sounds like the Pilgrims from Wing Commander.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker on 05 June 2020, 15:48:46
So it's all good fun, until the wrong people hear you say: ''The Choir sings to us.''
I don't think Cannonshop's even gone in that direction: most I've seen is someone being reassigned to navigation school.
She almost sounds like the Pilgrims from Wing Commander.
Posable influence on a subconscious level: I am one of the few people who actually enjoyed the Wing Commander movie, and have it on DVD.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: shadowdancer on 05 June 2020, 18:53:22
Dead Worlds.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker on 05 June 2020, 18:55:51
Dead Worlds.
Don't worry: I have about half of that one done: just need to pull the rug out from under the PoV and the resulting fallout. Just trying to decide exactly how 'bad' to make it.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker on 20 June 2020, 18:24:59
Dead Worlds

Planets fall off the maps for all kinds of reasons. Terraforming fails, or doesn't take right. Maybe some Lostech equipment they were reliant on breaks and can't be replaced. Or some natural resource that made colonisation worthwhile in the first place dries up. Natural disasters like a super volcano or asteroid impact may just wipe one out overnight. Others are inhabited, but just not worth keeping on the bigger maps, and eventually are forgotten by all but the locals. Then, there are the worlds that got removed because some idiot back during the Age of War or the first couple of Succession Wars decided to play with something they shouldn't have. Plenty of plants out there that are too hot to visit, even today because of some bioweapon that got out of control.

Even the Cappie's, at their craziest, know that sometimes the juice just isn't worth the squeeze.

Still, there are a lot of forgotten worlds out there, colonies and outposts that were, for whatever reason, just abandoned. And, where there's abandoned equipment, there's salvage-hunters looking for their next big score. We go out, looking for the forgotten places, and pick over the bones of the long dead for anything worth taking. You're probably conjuring up some overly romantic image of some lone treasure hunter, testing their wits and resourcefulness against the elements. And yes, such people exist.

They're called idiots.

I don't think there's any possible treasure you could recover by hand that's worth the cost of mounting an expedition somewhere worth visiting. Despite what some people might call us, and trust me, I've heard them all, we're professionals. We go in with heavy equipment and take our time. Nobody wants to hack some pieces of equipment apart, only to discover when they get home that they've left an important part behind. I'll give you an example: we found a computer terminal, built into the bulkhead of a crashed DropShip once. And we cut the entire damn bulkhead out and shipped it back in one piece. Turned out to be worth twice as much because we didn't damage anything, and the buyer could see how it connected to other systems. Sure, independent collectors and museums might buy random, broken junk. But the real money to be made is selling functional, or at least, intact, equipment to NAIS or the big multiplanetary corporations. They're the ones with the deepest pockets at the end of the day.

How deep? Let's just say that Hanse Davion's little science project has made me a very wealthy man, and leave it at that.

Now, you never know exactly what you're going to find when you go off the map: besides the aforementioned reasons, the Star League had a habit of using backwater worlds to test some crazy ideas of tech. Ever see a fusion array designed to change the rotational velocity of an entire planet? I have. I've also seen the remains of orbital elevators, static tethers and solar shields that once turned hot-house worlds into paradises. Even visited an old fuel processing rig where the locals blow of steam by running jerry-rigged aerospace fighters around improvised race courses. Lot of places just aren't worth the map-makers ink, is what I'm saying.

Anyways, we get a tip: merchant Captain we know was doing a spot of cross-border trade, the kind of job where you have two transponder codes, two sets of registration documents, and the local authorities look the other way so long as you don't try and bring in anything too illegal. Lot of trade goes on like that, even during declared wars. The economy is just to interconnected to do otherwise. But, on one particular run, our contact decided to get a little lost in a way that just so happened to avoid a tole station, and spent a week recharging his drive in a supposedly uninhabited system. Only she picks up all kinds of noise over the long-wave. Nothing out of the ordinary, but a lot of repeating, automated signals that indicated that something had been going on in-system. She kept her head-down, not wanting to announce her unscheduled visit, and left as soon as she was able.

But she logged the system, and information like that can be worth a lot more than just running contraband.

We paid for exclusive rights to the data, and she knew well enough to keep up her end of the deal, less she get a reputation for double-dealing, something you can't shake off. But that's not so say we played it stupid: we left sealed files with a lawyer, only to be opened if we failed to return or make contact by a set date. That way, at least, they'd know where to look for us. We also went in leaded for bear, with two Mules, a Union and a Leopard CV. Now, that may sound like a lot of firepower to you, but I very much doubt you've even come face-to-pitchfork with a group of angry, inbred farmers who don't want you poking around their planet. I have, so trust me when I say that having even a half-dilapidated BattleMech to call on for support can be all kinds of reassuring.

The Leopard went first, fighters scouting ahead of our little fleet, as we headed towards the only planet in the habitable zone. Oddly, it was actually an Ice Giant, but it had a couple of moons big enough to have a decent gravity and atmosphere, and one of they seemed to be the source of the automated transmissions. It became stronger as we got closer, and we managed to identify it as an maintenance beacon for a Storm Inhibitor array.

Jack and Pot!

Talk about Lost Technology: those things are like finding an honest man on Atreus! Even in pieces, they'd probably pay for the mission on their own, even if the planet was bust. But, even back during the heyday of the Star League, nobody would invest that kind of infrastructure on a planet without good reason, so we soon got to work scanning the surface.

It was a fairly typical borderline Inhabitable world: lot more open water than most, which meant big storms, hence the need for the Storm Inhibitors in orbit. Much of the land was made up of long chains of volcanic islands, no doubt the result of tidal stress from the Ice Giant. But that was good news, as anyone willing to pay for Storm Inhibitors would likely splash out on Seismic Regulators as well, and they're even rarer. It was starting to look like a literal motherland of Lostech just sitting there. But we didn't just jump in both feet first. No, that's an easy way to get yourself dead. There had to be a reason why the planet was not only abandoned, but in such a way that nobody came back for the orbital infrastructure.

Doesn't matter how hot a planet might get, you always pick the orbitals clean on the way out.

First thing we did was send out an EVA team to snag one of the satellites and pull it into the Union for a look over. It took the engineers a while to reboot the system, but even after centuries without maintenance, the computer memory was still active, which just goes to show that they really built to last back then. We were able to discern that they'd been put in place by the Kanemitsu Corporation, an old Hegemony interstellar based out of New Earth that had, according to the information we had to hand, been wiped out during the fall of the Star League. Which was good news for us, as it meant that there was nobody left around to try and contest our salvage claims.

With the Leopard and one of the Mules collecting as many of the Storm Inhibitors as they could find, the other two DropShips headed down to the surface, zeroing in on what looked to be the ground station for the array. Even from orbit, it was clear that someone had put some work into developing the local real-estate. Nature, after all, doesn't do straight lines, and it takes a little more than three centuries for a jungle to reclaim even a small spaceport.

That said, it had certainly been given a headstart.

I've seen enough battlefields, fresh and ancient, to know one when I see one. Bullet holes, laser scorching, missile creators, they're pretty much universal. And, if there's one thing the last... forever has show, it's that humanity is really good at trying to wipe itself out. But that's why a smart Lostech prospector has at least a passing knowledge of ATO training and procedures, less they get turned into pink mist by some centuries old munitions with a hair trigger. Also another good reason why we carried actual BattleMechs with us, as they're among the few things built to take that kind of punishment and keep going.

Took us the better part of a week just to make that spaceport safe: there were spent munitions and IED's everywhere. Someone had fought a pitched battle there, throwing everything up to and including the kitchen sink into the fight. And that's not hyperbole: someone had actually ripped a sink off of the wall in one building and smashed some poor bastards head in with it. I ain't never seen anything quite like it before or since. It was kind of, well, wired, as if they'd been performing a fighting retreat back through the spaceport towards one of the landing pads. It was empty now, but it had obviously once held a DropShip that had been their ticket off-world. The ground around it was littered with the broken, burnt-out remains of countless cars and other ground vehicles, like they'd grabbed everything they could and driven right up to the waiting ship, then taken off without bothering to clear the blast radius. And, given how much energy even the smallest of DropShip put out when boosting for orbit... not even an Atlas is built to withstand that.

It was also clear that not everyone had gotten off-world. There were bodies everywhere, and I mean everywhere. Hundreds of not thousands of them were laid out across the ferocreat of the spaceport and outside the buildings, their flesh long picked clean by local wildlife, allowing the sun to bleach their bones. Even after hundreds of years, it was clear that they had not died easy, with most showing signs of multiple injuries, from stab wounds to later burns and explosive dismemberment. Surviving clothing showed that some had been set on fire before they died, but stranger than that was the fact that, based upon the blood stains, it looked like they'd kept moving even after taking what should have been instantly fatal, certainly incapacitating wounds.

Others, inside or atop of the ruined buildings, showed clear signs of having taken their own lives, often by a self-inflicted shot to the head.

Lostech prospecting isn't a job for the fait hearted: you quite often see where people, entire families if not communities, died. I've see the mass graves and ruined worlds left by the first two Succession Wars. I've even been to places scorched clean of life, not even bacteria, by the madness of the Age of War. You either get used to it, or you find another line of work, but that world was something else.

We just didn't know at the time just how bad it truly was.

Once we had gone over the spaceport for anything worth salvaging, which wasn't a lot, given the hot, humid environment, we started looking for whatever the base was built to support. There were three roads leading out from the perimeter: one led to what was obviously intended to be a civilian settlement of some kind, with the remains of prefabricated buildings and the basic outline of a standard grid-pattern of streets laid out, a mostly faded sign informing us that it was the future sight of Delta City. Another road led to a geothermal power station that was actually still running, using water from a nearby river and an underground maga pocket to generate enough electricity to keep itself running. However, it was clear that someone had tried to disable if not outright destroy the place, with large sections of the building having been blow apart with explosives. It was only the durability of the equipment that had kept it intact and functional after centuries without even the most basic of maintenance. What they had done was cut the power leading back to the spaceport, the abandoned construction site and the third location.

Yes: the third location, at the far end of the road that the attackers had come down.

It was no surprise that we were somewhat hesitant to go that way. But, unfortunately, we weren't there for sightseeing, so we started to clear the overgrown road. It was shattered in places where even more explosives had been used to try and stop something or someone, including a couple of places where entire hillsides had been brought down, burying the road completely. That was when we had to call up our WorkerMechs to get it cleared enough to get through. All the time, we found more bodies, more evidence of a bitter, rearguard action being fought all the way back to the spaceport.

Eventually we reached the end of the road: a rusted metal fence laying at the entrance of what had probably once been a lava tube, but had long ago been converted into an underground bunker complex. And it was an impressive bit of work, to the point where we had to wonder if it had been the handy-work of the Star League Corps of Engineers rather than just some independent company. We found the wrecks of a couple of light BattleMechs, primitive Wasps, by the looks like, just outside the entrance, and tagged them for recovery later. In all honesty, we didn't hold much hope for them: God only knows how many years exposed to the elements had taken their tole, but I'd seen worse down at Discount Dan's on Solaris VII.

The real prize was the bunker itself.

Even without a connection to the main power grid, the controls on the big blast doors were active, indicating that it at the very least had an independent backup of some kind that was still functioning. We had no way of knowing what kind of access code it might want, or what kind of failsafes might have been in place, but the system was ancient, and one of the skills you tend to aquire as a Lostech hunter is hacking. Our crew was fortunate enough to have one of the best, a brilliant young woman who turned down a position teaching at NAIS because it wasn't exciting enough.

Took her an hour of careful, methodical work, but she eventually got the door open. There was a hiss as the pressure equalised, then a series of clicks as lights started to turn on for the first time since a Cameron sat on the First Lords throne. The tunnel led inwards for about a hundred metres, then gave way to a horizontal shaft that, at some point, had held an elevator. But it was gone, somewhere far below, so we had to make use of the emergency stairs built into the side of the shaft. It was a long, boring trek down: there were no landings, no access doors or signs of anything other than a shaft descending downwards. About a hundred metres down, the lights gave out, some showing signs of weapons fire, but that's hardly unexpected in our line of work.

Eventually, we reached the bottom of the shaft, finding the large, flat elevator platform sitting there, seemingly undamaged. The Boss Lady gave order for a couple of the engineers to check it out, to see if it could easily be made operational. The rest of us were put into small teams and told to go exploring, try and find something that would explain just what Kanemitsu had been up to. And the place was massive, the hallways and many of the doors easily big enough to accommodate a small BattleMech, or at least a UtilityMech of some kind. Easily big enough to get lost in, but we were increasingly hopeful, as nobody, not even the Star League, would go to all the effort of setting up private colony like that without good reason.

So we split up into smaller teams, each taking one of the main tunnels. Just as we moved out, we got word from topside that a massive storm was fast approaching the island, no doubt something that the Inhibitor Array had been intended to stop. It wasn't likely to interfere with our exploration of the bunker, but it could make getting anything we found worth saving back to the DropShips. With that in mind, the Boss sent word for them to send a Prime Mover on up the road to the entrance, so it would be on standby should we need it.

My team was assigned one of the side tunnels, and we made our way down the winding path cut by the old lava tube. Every so often, we'd find the reminders of past habitation: dropped files, discarded equipment, even what looked like the remains of an impromptu barricade, complete with the mummified remains of two security guards. Something had obviously overrun their position, something not afraid of combat shotguns and laser pistols, judging by the empty weapons, spent shell casings and drained power packs scattered around the ground. More bodies lay beyond, many showing signs of multiple gunshot wounds, two missing most of their heads.

"Some kind of riot?" one of the others half asked, half suggested.

"Some kind of something." I knelt down to examine one of the bodies: a faded name badge bore the name Dr Alex Isaacs.

"Door." One of the others pointed a flashlight further down the tunnel, "Big one."

Well, that was an understatement: I've seen bank vaults with smaller doors. It must have been a good five meters thick, held in place by massive bolts as thick as my torso. Something had torn it off of the tracks, though, leaving it open just enough for us to squeeze through one at a time.

The chamber beyond was, well, vast doesn't do it justice. If the top was opened up, we probably could have landed all of our DropShips inside with plenty of room to spare. It was shaped like a flattened sphere, the outer walls of which was covered in dull green glass panels, almost like mirrors, all pointed towards the centre. And, standing there, was a tower like structure, accessible by a number of walkways spread out around the chamber. The walkway directly in front of the door had been ripped apart by a massive explosion, leaving a twisted mass of bent and burned girders hanging over a drop several hundred metres deep. Fortunately, there was a circular walkway around the outer wall, so we split into two teams, one headed each way, in the hopes of locating a viable way towards the centre.

I was told to hang back at the door to act as a relay, as something about the way the chamber was constructed blocked all radio signals in and out, meaning that the only way to keep in contact with the rest of the expedition.

"Central to Team Three." by radio squawked, as if on command, "Sitrep?"

"This is Team Three: we've found a large chamber that's interfering with radio signals." I reported in, "Rest of team are inside."

"Team Three, hold location." the Boss sounded unusually tense, "Any markings around the outside of the chamber?"

"Some." I looked at the writing, "Hang on: my Japanese is a little rusty." I carefully and slowly read the katakanas, "Something about 'primary containment' and a string of numbers..."

"PULL BACK, NOW!" she shouted so loud, I probably could have heard her, even without the radio, "GET THEM OUT OF THERE! GET OUT!"

I quickly ducked into the vaulted chamber, just in time to see one of the teams reach the central column, and the glass chamber at its top. I grabbed my radio, and was about to pass on the order to retreat, when they looked inside.

Looking back, even all these years later, and I still find it hard to explain exactly what happened, in part due to the distance between where I stood and the centre of the chamber. I've been told by those who've gone over the footage recovered from my helmet-cam that they all seemed to stand perfectly still for a moment, as if they were transfixed by something...and then all hell broke lose

One, Dominique, let out a loud, mournful scream, turned and leaped over the railing, plunging to her death hundreds of meters below, screaming all the way. Two more tried to gouge their own eyes out, blood and I don't want to imagine what pouring down their faces. But the last three... they simply turned and started to slowly walk towards the second team. The second group had stopped maybe fifty meters from the centre of the room, only the team leader slowly advancing.

They grabbed her and started pulling her towards the glass sphere in the middle, ignoring her orders to stop and her struggling to get free. Two more of her team rushed forward, one drawing a wrench and brandishing it like a club. But the remaining member of the first team reacted with almost inhuman speed, turning round and grabbing him by the throat so quickly he dropped his weapon in surprise. He was probably even more surprised when he was flung bodily towards the centre of the room, landing just in front of the glass. He looked up, froze for a moment, then slowly stood and started walking back towards his team mates.

"Pull back, now!" I ordered over the radio, "Get out of there!"

But by then, it was too late: the two groups had met, and all hell was breaking lose. More members of the second team were grabbed and dragged to the glass chamber, then silently joined their attackers. One of the resisting members drew a stun-stick, something I've been on the unfortunate receiving end of more than once while on shore leave, and jabbed the lease of the first team centre mass. Through the sights of my rifle, I could see arks of electricity plover her chest, but she kept moving as if it was nothing. And by moving, I mean she grabbed the man's arm, snapped bent it back double with an crack that was audible even where I was standing, then grabbed his head and spun it round she he was looking back the way he'd came.

My finger pulled the trigger before I even realised they'd started to move, putting a burst of three rounds into her left shoulder. They may not have been the biggest rounds, and soft lead, but they still all but tore her shoulder off, but she didn't even seem to notice. Oh, shure, her body rocked with the impact and her arm hung limp at her side, but her face remained expressionless. One of the surviving member of the second team managed to get their side arm free, and put three rounds through the chest of one of the... I don't know what to call them, even to this day, but their former team mates. 3mm high-velocity explosive rounds, well, they can do a lot of damage to someone only wearing the lightest of body armour, and they tore the guys guts open real good, but they only seemed to stagger him. And, unfortunately, the gun was a TK Enforcer, a notoriously unreliable piece of crap, so it predictably jammed after the third round.

A pulsating glow started to build in the middle of the chamber, and I didn't even think before diving back through the open hatch. Even then, the pulse of light was so bright I saw blotches floating in my vision after. I tentatively looked back into the chamber, and everyone had stopped moving: they just stood there, still as statues, for what felt like a lifetime. Then, as one, they all turned to look at me.

Or maybe they were just looking at the chamber door. It's not like I hung around to find out.

That base was a maze of passages and chambers, and in my blind flight, I soon got turned around and lost. I eventually stopped in a junction, trying to make sense of the signs on the walls, but they were all in Japanese. Then the sound of gunfire echoed down the passageway to my left, and I tentatively made my way towards it. I came to a corner, and carefully peeking round it, I saw three members of another team fighting a staggered retreat, taking it in turns to move towards me whilst the other two covered them. Chasing them, if you could call the slow but relentless pace they set, was the rest of my team, and a few others I recognised from one of the other search parties. Most showed signs of injury, but seemed completely oblivious to all but the most catastrophic of damage.

I saw one take two round to the chest, effectively shredding his heart and lungs, and he simply sank to the floor like a puppet with the strings cut.

The furthest of the three defenders waited a little too long before pulling back, and a young looking woman with a glazed expression on her face grabbed him. Taking hold of his head, she forced him to look directly into her eyes. He froze for a second, then his body went limp, and he turned to face one of his teammates, who was shouting at him to move. And move he did; he raised his gun and put two rounds through the other man's head before joining the slow advance towards us.

TBC
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker on 20 June 2020, 18:27:47
I managed to get the attention of the third member of the team, and I realised that it was Stephanie, one of my room-mates, and we started running down the passageway together, the others following behind at a slow but inevitable pase.

"What. The. ******?" Stephanie asked, struggling to reload her gun as I searched for any clue as to where the exit was.

"I have no ****** idea!" I shock my head, "We found a chamber, the others went to investigate, and all hell broke lose inside. I'm the only one who got away."

"Yeah, well, shit has officially gone sideways, that's for sure!" Stephanie pointed to a marking on the wall, "Next left."

We rounded the corner, then hit the ground, a burst of gunfire going over our heads.

"****** it, Beck!" I heard the bosses voice call out over the ringing in my ears, "What have I told you about being sure of your target before firing?"

"Sorry." A respectful voice responded, then repeated louder, "Sorry!"

"****** arsehole!" Stephanie spat as she scrambled to her feat, all but dragging me behind her, "As if this day wasn't bad enough already..."

"Cut the bitching." the Boss orders, "Report."

"Somethings got the others acting all crazy." I ducked behind a impromptu barricade, "Whatever it was in that chamber, it affected the rest of my team: had them either killing each other, or... I don't know, doing something to them to make them act the same."

"Yeah, then they found my team." Stephanie added, "We're the only two left."

"That tallies with what we were able to recover from the main computer." the Boss nodded, glumly, "Whatever they were experimenting on here, they lost control and it... Infected, for want of a better word, more than half the base before they bugged out."

"What kind of bullshit makes people just flat out ignore getting shot?" I asked, panic starting to give way to anger.

"The kind that any army would pay a First Lords ransom for." Stephanie replied, deadpan, "Orders, boss?"

A loud klaxon sounded, cutting off any reply, and one of the techs looked up from what looked like some kind of Lostech portable terminal.

"Power grids going down." he typed a few commands, "Something about cryogenic pods..."

"We are leaving, now." the boss stood, rifle raised, and calmly head-shot the first of the 'infected' to round the corner, "We're not equipped or trained to deal with this kind of shit. Bug-out, people!"

I'd like to say that we staged an ordered retreat, calmly and efficiently making our way back to the entrance. I'd like to say that we made it out without taking any more casualties, that it was an uneventful drive back to the DropShips.

I'd like to say a lot of things, but you're paying for the truth, warts and all.

It was a rout, every man and woman for themselves. People tripped, and the person behind ran straight over them. I managed to keep to one wall, out of the way, at least to an extent, but even then, I had to shove back at a couple of people who grabbed at me to try and get past.

Do I know who?

No. No idea.

I don't know who it was or if they made it out. There are just some things you don't talk about. But it was them or me, and I'm still here, aren't I?

By the time I got back to the entrance shaft, the elevator was already starting to move, powered by a portable generator brought down from up-top. I managed to jump on just in time, then heard a cry for help. Turning, I saw two hands gripping the edge of the platform as it started to rise. Rushing to the edge, I saw Stephanie hanging on with everything she had, someone in some kind of bodysuit dangling from her left ankle. Stephanie was strong, for sure, but even she couldn't hold on indefinitely, so I grabbed her hands and tried to pull her up, even as the man holding onto her leg started to claw his way up her body.

"Not like this!" Stephanie looked at me, pure terror in her eyes, "Not like this..."

I didn't think: I just acted.

Back then, I always carried a small vibroblade on my belt; you'd be surprised just how often they prove useful when scouting abandoned buildings or crashed DropShips, and as luck would have it, it was still there. I thumbed the activation switch, then hit the override, so it would keep running, even without a hand on the hilt, then I dropped it.

I don't know if you've ever seen what a vibroblade can do to organic matter, like, say, the top of someone's head, but it sure as shit ain't pretty. Let's just say that it buried itself to the hilt in his skull, cooking what brains he had left like a pot-roast. His body went limp, and he fell to the side of the shaft, then slid down the angled floor until he vanished in the darkness below.

Pulling Stephanie up, I glanced down, and saw the infected making their way up the stairs on either side of the shaft, like a slowly rising tide.

Well, we made it to the top first, but it was push and go towards the end: either through damage or lack of maintenance, the lift was really struggling towards the end, actually giving out half a metre from the top. From there it was a mad scramble up into the tunnel, then a dash out into the open. We tried to close the door behind us, but with main power off-line, it wasn't moving, and we didn't have anything big enough to try and force it, not in the time we had. Instead we climbed into what vehicles looked the fastest, and started back along the road towards the spaceport, yelling over the radio for the ships to get ready to take-off immediately.

It was a nerve-racking drive, I can tell you: between the damage done during the last evacuation, and the jungles work towards reclaiming its lost territory, there was no end to the bumps, dips and general obstructions we had to go round, over, under or straight through. And that's before you take into consideration the fact that our vehicles had been chosen for their ruggedness and durability, not speed or comfort. Even with a full five-point harness, I felt like I was going to be thrown out of my seat almost constantly.

It wasn't a long drive, but if you weren't driving, it was too long. Situations like that, you start looking round, seeing which faces are missing, the ones you know aren't in the other vehicles. You start to wonder what happened to them: we're they dead, or... worse. I've been on expeditions that have lost people before and since, be it accidents, environmental hazards or hostile wildlife, but that planet... God forgive me, I never even once thought about going back for the ones we left behind.

None of us did.

We got back to the spaceport and drove directly onto the waiting DropShips, the Boss giving the order to boost for orbit immediately, declaring it an emergency situation.

And I can tell you, that was a very uncomfortable ride: pulling a full 2G's in a unpadded seat, sitting in a vehicle that hasn't been properly secured. We slid about that cargo deck, knocking over crates and boxes, never knowing if the next thing we hit would hit back. Then, soon as the drive is cut, the vehicle continues on on pure inertia, hitting the bulkhead with the sickening screach of deforming metal.

Deckhands had to cut us all, all the time the ships captain is demanding an explication. I don't know what the Boss told him, but I saw the colour drain from his face, and he hurriedly gave orders to set course for the waiting JumpShip, giving word for the other DropShips to follow.

We reported what had happened as soon as we reached an inhabited system. Not that they believed us at first, until we showed them the footage from our mission recorders. Then suddenly everyone from the local militia up to the planetary Lord and some nameless woman who just screamed ComStar wanted to go over every single detail of the mission and what we'd seen. They didn't tell us much, but a few words and phrases like "sterilisation protocol" and "day zero event" were exchanged just inside earshot.

We were paid handsomely for the recovered Storm Inhibitors and everything else we'd managed to recover, and I do mean everything, given the fact that they strip-searched us to make sure we weren't holding out on them. Then they purged the navigation banks from our ships, pulled the memory cores and replaced them with brand new ones, confiscated everything we hand on the system, physical and digital, then let us go... with a warning not to tell anyone about what we saw.

Well, that was then, and this is now, and you want me to tell you if I think that the Word of Blake got hold of whatever it was that the Kanemitsu Corporation had been working on? I honestly don't know, but I'd like to think that even they're not that crazy. Some things are just best left dead and buried.

The End

This was going to be a a standard zombie story, then I started reading up on some SCP files...
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: Daryk on 20 June 2020, 19:38:51
Another well done story!  :thumbsup:
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: ThePW on 20 June 2020, 22:47:08
what are SCP files? What I googled didn't seem like what you mean...

excellent romp, regardless.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: Ajax_Wolf on 21 June 2020, 00:02:57
what are SCP files? What I googled didn't seem like what you mean...

excellent romp, regardless.

Standard Creepy Pasta?
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: PsihoKekec on 21 June 2020, 03:31:33
Secure-Contain-Protect (http://www.scp-wiki.net/)

It's collection of stories on fictional SCP Foundation, protecting humanity from various abnormalities, with thousands of files and stories.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: SulliMike23 on 22 June 2020, 10:18:15
So...Zombies?
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: jonen c on 22 June 2020, 11:59:50
Vorse. Vampires.

(Hypnotic gaze controlling horde of minions.)
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker on 22 June 2020, 18:37:19
So...Zombies?
Vorse. Vampires.

(Hypnotic gaze controlling horde of minions.)

Zombies, vampires, cured teapot; take your pick
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: mikecj on 22 June 2020, 21:04:58
Nice!  As usual, a great setup, building tensions, and then boom!

Thanks
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: TigerTiger74 on 23 June 2020, 08:59:03
Love the ROBOCOP references!!!
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker on 23 June 2020, 19:58:40
Love the ROBOCOP references!!!
Finally someone gets them! Okay, so maybe using the third film for inspiration wasn't the best idea.

Still waiting for someone to spot the Resident Evil easter egg...
Title: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker on 30 June 2020, 19:39:04
With special thanks to Thors_Alumni, for the unintentional inspiration

The Honour Of The Regiment

The Fenshire Silver. I don't expect many of you have heard of it, so for the sake of those who haven't, allow me to educate you.

The Royal Fenshire Dragoons was a Terran Hegemony unit that could trace its lineage back to the British Isles of pre-diaspora Terra. Back then, they were simply the Fenshire Regiment, an infantry formation that served in the first two World Wars, and countless other smaller conflicts in the service of their homeland before being amalgamated with other units. This hardly sets them apart from countless other units, some of which are still in existence, in one form or another, to this day.

What makes them special is a possibly unique aspect of their regimental history: the long and complex path taken by their Regimental Silver.

For those of you not so versed in ancient military traditions, the regimental silver collection was considered by some to represent the honour of a unit, with special pieces being added to commemorate battle honours or other significant moments in their history. The Fenshire Regiment had the misfortune of having almost their entire collection stolen during a raid while stationed in a relatively lawless part of their empire, and it would pass through the hands of several nations, until a chance encounter during the Second World War saw a mission launched to recover the missing pieces, therefore restoring the regiments honour.

The decades that followed the end of the Second World War would see a downturn in the fortunes of the British Empire, and as their territory shrunk, so did their need for such a large army, and the Fenshire Regiment was eventually reduced to a single battalion, and eventually folded into another unit. The regimental silver, along with the regiments colours and other paraphernalia, was carefully packed away and placed in storage at a museum that found itself with a far larger collection then it could ever hope to put on public display.

Fast forward several centuries, and the ascendent Terran Alliance found itself in need of an expanded military in order to adequately garrison the myriad of world's it now controlled. In order to try an add some legitimacy to these new units, the Alliance gave many of them the names and legacies of a number of previous formations, one such example being the Fenshire Regiment, which was reborn as the Fenshire Dragoons, a mechanised infantry unit, in 2236, at the beginning of what would become known as the Outer Reaches Rebellion.

The Fenshire Dragoons would be one of the few units remaining outside of the 30-light year limit set by the Demarcation Decoration, and they found their base on Towne besieged by local forces seeking to take possession of the base and the equipment held there. The entrenched Dragoons would hold out for six months before eventually managing to find a JumpShip willing to take the survivors and their dependents across the boarder into Alliance space. They left countless spoiler charges behind, making sure that their enemies gained nothing of any military value.

And, it goes without saying, they took their regimental silver with them.

Embittered by their experiences, the Fenshire Dragoons would be one first units to throw their support behind Admiral James McKenna during his campaign to take control of the Alliance in the wake of the Zoli Affair. This loyalty to the new regime would later be rewarded by the regiment being awarded the 'Royal' designation, finally making them the Royal Fenshire Dragoons in 2351. The Dragoons would remain a mechanised infantry unit, even after the development of the BattleMech, maintaining a strong pride in their long 'history' of service. Equipped with light, mobile units, they would often be deployed as scouts, harassing the enemies flanks, earning them several additional battle honours during the Hidden Wars and the later Reunification Wars.

However, it is a different war that would birth the legend of the Fenshire Silver.

Call it the Amaris Civil War, the Amaris Crisis, the Amaris-Kerensky Civil War, the Star League Civil War, or the Amaris Coup, one of the first act of the Usurper was to strike at all remaining THAF and SLDF garrisons remaining in the Hegemony at the time. The Royal Fenshire Dragoons had been relocated to New Florence, the First and Second battalions being sent to the Periphery in support of General Kerensky's campaigns, while the Third remained behind to help form and train a Fourth, reserve battalion intended to act as a ready reserve for losses. A regiment of Rim Worlds Republic backed mercenaries, McGregor's Marauders, had already arrived to take over regular garrison duties, and indeed had set up their base inside the Dragoons own base.

According to surviving contemporary reports, relations between the two units had been nothing but cordial, with the command staff of the Marauders being invited to the Dragoons Christmas Ball in 2766, where their commander, Colonel Marcus McGregor, was shown the by then extensive collection of regimental silver. McGregor commented that it would be nice if his own command was able to aquire such a collection, stating that it would be far easier to simply take the Dragoons once they left.

This was, apparently, seen as a joke at the time.

What followed became known locally as the Night of the Long Knives: having traded duty shifts with members of Dragoons, the Marauders managed to easily take control of the bases command centre, guard house, motor pool and armoury. Happy that they had the upper hand, McGregor acted upon the orders given to him by Amaris, and ordered his troops to slaughter the Dragoons on base, while teams sort out those elsewhere. Officers and enlisted alike were dragged from their beds and butchered, often in front of their families, many of whom suffered the same fate. In a little over six hours, 400 people lost their lives, less than a dozen members of the Dragoons on New Florence surviving by vanishing into the general population. One of McGregor's first acts after the massacre was to appropriate the regimental silver, only a single item, claimed by many to be the same ashtray that had alluded the raiders almost eight centuries prior, evading his grasp.

But more on
that later.

While the surviving battalions of the Royal Fenshire Dragoons would go on to fight during the rest of the conflict, it is the story of the stolen silver that we're interested in. The haul would remain with McGregor for less than a year, before a night of drunken gambling would see it lost to the commander of a Rim Worlds unit, only days before McGregor was killed in a training accident. The Rim Worlds Republic Regiment would take it with them to Towne, then Van Diemen. There the unit was completly destroyed by vengeful SLDF forces in September of 2772. The silver, however, was not recovered, as it had been stolen by an officer in the FWRA and used in a bid to buy protection from the local government. The silver was taken, then the officer was handed over to the SLDF and executed for crimes committed during the occupation.

The fate of the silver during the First Succession War is somewhat hazy, mainly due to the lack of surviving records from that time, but by 2838 it had come into the possession of the planetary Lord, only to be taken by the Capellan Confederation when they captured the world, destroying several League regiments in the process. It would spend several decades travelling around the Confederation, somehow always remain intact, until it was captured by the Federated Suns on Woodstock in 3030, crushing the Capellen garrison.

However, by this point, the legend of the Fenshire Silver had started to grow, and it was moved around between several units before eventually being "Gifted" to the 3rd Lyran Guards shortly before the start of the War of 3039. In a show of pure bravado, the 3rd would take the silver with them during the invasion of Vega, the commander stating that he wanted to be sure of "finding decent cutlery when we get there".

It is a historical fact that the Fenshire Silver had been on display in the briefing room where the commander of the 3rd was killed by a DEST planted bomb shortly before the world was retaken by the Draconis Combine. During the hurried evacuation, the silver was left behind by the 3rd,and was captured by the 14th Legion of Vega as spoils of war.

For the next ten years, it seemed that the supposed curse placed upon the Fenshire Silver had been broken... until March of 3050, when Clan Smoke Jaguar attacked the world of Turtle Bay and effectively destroyed the 14th Legion of Vega, the few survivors being folded into the 16th. Upon exploring the former DCMS headquarters, the Smoke Jaguars were surprised to discover a collection of silver bearing the crest of a SLDF unit, and took it as a sign that their invasion of the Inner Sphere was destined to succeed. Galaxy Commander Cordera Perez ordered ordered the silver to be sent to Khan Lincoln Osis, who would show it off to the assembled Council of Khan's shortly before the Battle of Tukayyid.

After the defeat at Tukayyid, the Fenshire Silver would be sent back to the Clan Homewolds, eventually ending up on Kirin. There it would remain until 3057, when Operation Bulldog and Taskforce Serpent would see the destruction of Clan Smoke Jaguar by the Second Star League. In the scrabble to take former Smoke Jaguar holdings, Clan Hell's Horses would retake complete control of Kirin, and possession of the Fenshire Silver.

Here, however, is where the missing ashtray comes back into the story.

According to the Hell's Horses Rememberance, the ashtray had been saved by a loyal member of the Royal Fenshire Dragoons named Leslie Murphy , who would go on to join an anti-Amaris resistance group on New Florence. This soldier would survive the war, and go on to join the Exodus, eventually becoming a founding member of Clan Hell's Horses. The ashtray, the only surviving relic of the Royal Fenshire Dragoons to survive as part of the Clans, had been in their possession ever since. Upon discovering that they had uncovered the rest of the regimental collection, the Horses immediately had it shipped to Niles, where it was reunited with the long absent ashtray.

It is perhaps interesting to note that, since that day, there have been no further reported defeats or disasters linked to the Fenshire Silver, and many now believe that the curse has finally been broken, how the collection is whole again.

Me? Let's just say that there are more things in heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy
.
-Starling

The End
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: ThePW on 02 July 2020, 00:43:51
*claps*  :)
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: Cannonshop on 02 July 2020, 06:52:30
applause!
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: TigerTiger74 on 02 July 2020, 11:10:59
Is the first part of The Honour Of The Regiment based on a COMMANDO story? because i think i have read something similar.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: PsihoKekec on 02 July 2020, 12:54:28
It is, it's based on discussion on the SB.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker on 02 July 2020, 13:24:23
Is the first part of The Honour Of The Regiment based on a COMMANDO story? because i think i have read something similar.
It is, it's based on discussion on the SB.
Yes and yes

EDIT: allow me to explain for those who may be interested.

There's a thread over on the SpaceBattles forum we we've been collecting some of the more... colourful, stories certain members have shared about their time in the British Army. It's the same thread that helped birth the legend of Lt Crossbow, who's already made an appearance in a previous instalment. The discussion there reminded me of an old comic book series (actually still in production, IIRC) called Commando, which I used to collect as a kid.

Specifically, this story:
(https://www.picclickimg.com/d/l400/pict/273834350660_/COMIC-Vintage-Commando-War-Stories-In-Pictures.jpg)
Although I think my copy was a later reprint. Probably still have it somewhere.

Anyway, I recounted the story, and it started a further discussion that spawned this latest instalment.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: SulliMike23 on 02 July 2020, 15:26:50
Now that was an interesting story. The fact that a regiment's silver collection had been cursed ever since it was stolen. Only to find it's way back to it's original owners within the Clans a few centuries later.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: qc mech3 on 02 July 2020, 15:36:28
A funny followup would be with the scorpions having a go at it.  xp xp
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: TigerTiger74 on 03 July 2020, 10:18:02
I knew I'd read it.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: mikecj on 03 July 2020, 17:54:51
That was fun, thanks.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: cklammer on 05 July 2020, 06:59:22
"Phantom Mech" silverware ... 8) ... nicely done, Sir.

And, yes, some follow-up with Clan GS involved is more than likely ... I pity the unlucky Seeker ...
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: Artifex on 05 July 2020, 11:36:36
Well now, what a story assigned to regimental honors! :thumbsup:
Title: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker on 05 July 2020, 20:53:24
Beyond The Beyond

Benny's the name, JumpShips the Game!

Yep, I'm the owner and operator of the Persephone, the best ship this side of Taurus, and I can get you from Point A to Point B with the absolute minimum of fuss and interference. I know all the local warlords, major and minor pirate bands and every customs and enforcement agent within a thousand light-years. I don't care what your cargo is, where or how you got it, where you're taking it or what you intend to do with it once you get there. Hell, we never even have to talk for the entire journey! If you want to keep your airlock closed and forgo partaking the amenities offered by the Persephone, then that's all right by me.

You pay me to fly, not to care.

I've been out beyond Orion's Bow, out past the Perseus-Cepherus Cloud Complex and seen the far side of the Dark Expanse. Hell, I've even been... well, client confidentiality requires that I keep some of my exploits... less well know, shall we say?

So, Friend, where you looking to go?

Idrium? Sorry, Friend, but I only go to planets that actually exist...

No, it's not a matter of money... Okay, so that's a lot of money there... Look, like I said, I only go to planets that actually exist. I don't go chasing myths and legends.

Oh, yeah, sure I've heard the Legend of Idrium: some planet out so far even the Star League didn't know about it, right?

What exactly did I hear? Oh, so you want details? Well, my memory is somewhat hazy...

Okay, so suddenly my memory's better. Jesus, you don't have to pull a gun on a guy, okay?

Okay, so, you want story time? You get story time.

The Deep Periphery, a cover-all term for anywhere out beyond the so-called 'lesser states' like the Concordat, the Magistracy, places like that that could have a reasonable claim to being functioning nations with strong central governments. Past them, you get the lesser proto-states, the bandit Kingdoms and a scathing of independent worlds here and there. Star League had big plans to expand out into the Deep, especially the Terran Hegemony, which was completely surrounded by the other Great Houses, but history had other ideas. But that's not to say that people didn't go out there, perhaps further than most realise?

How far have I gone? I spent some time with the JàrnFòlk when I was young and foolish, went to some pretty deep places. Since then...

Look, like I said, there are some people I've worked for who'd look poorly upon me if I said anything, and no amount of putting a gun in my face will change that. They have a long reach, which is only matched by their long memories, and I don't want to be on their shit list if I can avoid it, understood?

Good. Okay. Now we're all friends again, let me continue our little fairy tail.

Nobody really knows just how far out humanity has spread. It's a big galaxy, after all, and even at its hight, we'd only mapped a fraction of its size. And that's only taking into account the people who wanted someone to know where to forward their mail. History is full of groups, big and small, who wanted to find somewhere new, somewhere they could be left alone, for one reason or another. Some were fleeing persecution of one kind or another, others just wanted to be left alone, without any government looking over their shoulder.

Some of these people were dumb enough to think that a few dozen light-years would do the job, and, well, the history books are full of what happened to them.

But some... some just picked a direction at random and kept going until they couldn't go any further. Lot of people died trying to find their own personal Promised Land. Stars are littered with countless failed colonies, wrecked ships and worlds where people have been reduced to little more than savages living a hunter-gatherer existence, with no idea that there's other worlds out there.

Further out you go, the fewer examples you find; space is, after all, a massive expense going out in three dimensions, around a thousand light years thick in our little corner of the Orion Arm, even if most people still think of it as a two dimensional plain. So it's only logical that the further you get from Terra, the more spread out humanity would become.

Think of it like a shotgun blast: all the pellets begin in roughly the same area, but the further you get from that point of origin, the more spread out they become.

Yeah, I thought you'd like that analogy.

So, space big, people go out far. We all following? Good.

Now, some of these groups that wanted to get off the grid, as it were, they were smart. They took their time, gathered their resources, and planned. They made sure they had everything they could possibly need when they go to wherever it is they ended up, because there'd be no turning back. So they built massive stores of equipment, knowledge, supplies and spare parts. Some of these expeditions had a couple of dozen JumpShips, with enough defensive armament that no pirate would even think of looking their way.

Couple even managed to snag old, decommissioned warships, if you believe the stories.

Do I? Can't say I've seen anything to prove it one way or another.

So, these people, they go out, and not necessarily in a straight line. They know the general idea of where they're going, based on astronomical surveys and the like, but they're really going off the edge of the map, into 'Here Be Dragons' territory. Some of them were probably the first humans to visit some systems, maybe even the last. They reach all those far-flung colonies and outposts, the far reaches of explored space, and then they keep going, out beyond where even the most diehard of prospectors dare travel. After all, you get too far out, and even a simple malfunction can be a death sentence, as you can't exactly call for a tow back to the shipyard.

And that's not counting all the things that can kill you once you arrive at your eventual destination: storms, heat, mud, disease carrying flies and mosquitoes, or whatever the local equivalent is, radiation, toxic chemicals in the air, land and water, volcanos, tsunamis, landslides, sinkholes, earthquakes...And we haven't even started on the things that want to eat you alive. Humanity evolved on Terra, and everything from our DNA to our immune system and digestive tracks evolved to handle that one world. Plenty of seemingly perfect plants, even here in the Inner Sphere, that have been left alone because something simple would kill any would be colonists.

Sure, the Star League could fix a few things, but not everything, and nobody wants to spend their lives in a hazmat suite.

So, let's assume that you reach an inhabitable planet without something breaking and leaving you to die a slow, lingering death in the cold emptiness of Space. And let's also assume that there's nothing on this new world, this other Eden, that will kill you simply because it can. Well, you're still not out of the woods, not by a long-shot. Because setting up a viable colony is hard work, far harder than most people realise.

Back in the early days of the diaspora, you'd get these little groups, sometimes just a couple of families, who'd charter a ship to drop them off on some recently charted planet. These idiots thought that they were going to go tame the New Frontier, armed with just their own two hands and a few basic tools. Well, tool is certainly the word I'd use, but not for their equipment. You need a viable population base to last more than a generation or two, especially if you want to maintain at least a basic level of technology and knowledge, because tools break or wear out, and you need other tools and resources to fix them.

Do you know how to smelt iron to get steel? I sure as hell don't! Wouldn't even know where to begin.

Then you've got specialist skills like medicine, weaving, pottery, real basic stuff that people living on your average Inner Sphere world wouldn't even think of. You want to build a colony out in the deepest of the deep, you got to make sure you have people who know how to build the most basic infrastructure from the ground up, because, eventually, you'll run out of whatever supplies you brought with you, and you'll need to be self sufficient by then. And that means more than knowing how to hunt and fish: it means knowing how to weave a net and carve a bow.

And that's before we get into ensuring that you have a deep enough gene-pool to avoid it becoming a stagnant pound.

No, colonisation that far away from any support structure is hard work. Why else do you think that the biggest Periphery realms are so close to the Inner Sphere? Only the best equipped, best prepared and luckiest expeditions even had a chance of making it all the way out there, so it's no wonder that so few succeeded.

So, Idrium. The subject of our story.

Legend has it that they're one of the the lucky ones: they found a world that wasn't actively trying to kill them, with plentiful and readily available natural resources. They set up shop, start building their new home away from home. Even send the occasional ship back to more well travelled space for anything new or difficult to produce. They also, again, according to the stories, pick up a scattering of extra colonists, often those whose ships have broken down or failed to find a world that met their needs. Years pass; decades, even, and Idrium goes from a city-state with scattered farms to an actually functioning world with limited orbital infrastructure.

Turns out that JumpShips make for decent space stations, so long as you don't mind them never going anywhere ever again.

And then, well, there's the bit that makes Idrium stand out from all the other stories of lost colonies out in the black.

I'm a qualified navigator, on top of being a Merchant Guild certified captain, so I know a little more than most about hyperspace theory, but I doubt even Kearny and Fuchida themselves could explain exactly what's supposedly going on out there. Hyperspace is, well, weird, and you get the occasional oddity that just defies our understanding. Best way I can put it is imagine a sprinkler: one point of origin, but dozens of outlets.

Now, run that in reverse, and you have hyperspace around Idrium.

We've all heard stories about jumps that go wrong: ships turning up in the wrong place, even the wrong time, often with the cargo and crew, well, it's best not to imagine what they can end up looking like. Whatever it is that Idrium is at the epicentre of is a little gentler than that, but it reaches out across nobody knows how far, pulling in ships like a whirlpool. More than one ship has set out to go from point A to point B, only to find themselves somewhere in the vicinity of Idrium. Some have tried to make it home, but most look at just how far they have to travel, alone, and decided to stay.

So, Idrium survives. Thrives, even. A second planet in the system is borderline habitable, certainly within their capabilities, so a second colony is founded. More ships arrive, population grows, and they start to look at other nearby systems, finding a scattering of new worlds worth settling. Idrium becomes an economic and political hub for a small but booming corner of the galaxy.

Success like that is bound to get someone's attention, and it isn't long before people start thinking that maybe Idrium should submit to their dominion. Especially incase someone figures out how to successfully navigate the hyperspace anomaly it sits at the heart of. The ability to rapidly redeploy troops across the entire Inner Sphere? Well, wars have started for far less.

But fate intercedes, and a war does start...a war that would bring the entire Star League crashing down upon itself. Suddenly, all thoughts of marching off into the far unknown in search of a system that may or may not be strategically important at some indeterminate point in the future fall by the wayside. Idrium, realising that they've dodged the proverbial bullet, turn turtle: from now on, anyone who arrives unannounced has to stay. On top of that, stories are spread that the colony has fallen victim to some unforseen calamity: everyone's dead, no point in coming out to look for yourself.

But then they get word that the Star League has fallen, Kerensky and his followers pissing-off in pretty much the opposite direction, and everyone who's left is gearing up to throw down over whatever is left.

Oh dear. How sad. Never mind.

The distant light of civilisation flickers and falters, the way-stations between the Inner Sphere and the truly deepest of the Deep Periphery fall silent one by one. Eventually, Idrium itself, never exactly widely known, falls from common knowledge, reduced to a footnote in a few dusty old texts about hyperspace anomalies. But they're still out there, and every so often, another ship falls down the rabbit hole, and finds itself there.

Davion ships, Steiner ships, Kuritan ships... who knows, maybe even a few ships from Kerensky's fleet. Idrium is the junk-draw of the galaxy, the grate at the end of the universes storm-drain that collects all the cosmic flotsam and jetsam that comes their way. And if one world is going to be sitting on a pile of Lostech, it's Idrium. Who knows just what they might have.

I'd sit back down if I was you, friend: you look a little lightheaded.

No, the drinks aren't that strong here. Least, not until you have them put a little extra in one.

Oh,don't get all upset, nobody's going to hurt you. We just want to have a talk about what you think you know about Idrium.

Am I from Idrium? Why would you think something foolish like that?

No, you go to sleep, and we'll talk later, okay?

Yes, may the Peace of Blake be with you.

The End
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: PsihoKekec on 06 July 2020, 01:47:30
So Iridium counterinteligence service making sure WoBies don't turn them into one of their boltholes?

You know at first I imagined Benny as that ****** from the Mummy, turned car salesman, but then I imagined him as certain battery sergeant major, weird how mental picture changes.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: Artifex on 06 July 2020, 04:12:02
Well, that was sure well handled by Benny to keep that WoBBie in check. :-)
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: Daryk on 06 July 2020, 06:12:02
Another excellent and timeless story!  :thumbsup:
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: Giovanni Blasini on 06 July 2020, 22:34:01
Just had a good time getting caught up. Just one question: which SCP was the inspiration for that story?
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker on 07 July 2020, 05:33:24
Just had a good time getting caught up. Just one question: which SCP was the inspiration for that story?
It wasn't any specific SCP, but more the concept of people trying to manipulate something they didn't understand and could never control.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: SulliMike23 on 08 July 2020, 15:37:19
Nicely handled. Sounds like Iridium is the BTech equivalent of Wakanda.
Title: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker on 13 July 2020, 17:42:36
I predict that most of you are going to get the inspiration for this wrong. The correct answer will be at the end.

Last Stand

We were on...God, I can't even remember the name of the damn planet!

We'd started up on Thule, helping to train the locals to defend themselves against pirates when the Clans hit us like fright train. When the Ghost Bears landed, we had a reinforced company; by the time we managed to get to the DropShip and pull out, we had a single Lance and a handful of pilots who'd managed to get away after punching out.

Everything went to shit after that. Nobody had expected anything like that to come knocking, least, not anyone this side of Outreach. Traitorous wankers. So we found ourselves swept up in a general retreat, getting plugged into other units to fill holes and try and hold ground. But every time we tried to hold a planet, the Bears or the Wolves would come and wreck our plans, and the lucky ones would drag what was left of the defenders back onto the DropShip and pull back to the next system.

Don't get me wrong: we fought as hard as we could, made the bastards pay for every step they took, but we were out-gunned, out-classed and out-manoeuvred at every turn. And we weren't even line units, but rather a grab-bag of mercenaries, militia and even a few bandits that had come running in from the Periphery like their tails were on fire. We all got swept up and given the choice between being left behind on whatever world they found us, or effectively signing up with the KungsArmé "for the duration". I was an owner-operator, and it had be made clear that they'd simply take my 'Mech and give it to someone else, so I didn't really have much choice: I took my forty Krona and followed orders, even if I didn't understand a word of that crazy mixture of Japanese, German and something else the locals used.

And so it went, planet to planet, ignominious defeat after inhomogeneous defeat. I stopped paying attention to the little details, like the name of the unit I was, on paper at least, assigned to, who my Lance mates were, the name of the planet we were dropping on. It would all change by the end, as they pushed us back, world by world, as inevitable and unstoppable as the coming dawn. You'd see someone at breakfast, and by lunch they were gone, either dead, missing or taken prisoner...Oh, I'm sorry: Bondsman. Wouldn't want to offend anyone, now would we?

So, you get jaded, learn not to make too many close friends, and live out of a duffle bag you could stow in your cockpit, because they couldn't even guarantee what ships would be left to pick up any survivors. It was no life to live, but it was pretty clear that we were seen as more than expendable, least in comparison to regular units. We were bodies to throw at the enemy in a desperate bid to buy time, cause a distraction, do something.

Case in point, the bridge.

Like I said, I can't remember the name of the planet we were on, let alone where on it we were running for our lives through. All I remember is the one bridge that spanned a wide, deep valley with a fast-flowing river at the bottom. Valley was over a kilometre wide, walls far to steep to climb down, and this bridge was the only crossing for something like a hundred kilometres in either direction. Only reason they hadn't blown it yet was because we were escorting some VIP or another to the supposed safety of the mountains beyond. Wolves were on us like their namesakes, hounding us the entire way, nipping at our heals. It was clear to all of us that they were playing with us, as they had more than enough firepower to bring us down, but apparently they didn't want to risk the VIP getting hurt, so they tried to grind us down until the Mobile HQ had no choice but to surrender.

Or we made them surrender in a bid to save our own skins. And don't think we didn't consider it.

Well, we come to this bridge: really impressive looking, probably Star League era work. Two rail line ran across it, but it was rated to hold BattleMechs, even if we did do a number on the tracks as we crossed over, one after the other. We had practically no ammo left, and those that did have any were guarding it jealously, which meant that me and my old Javelin were shit out of luck. To make matters worse, the PPC blast that had taken the left arm off at the shoulder had fried all the active and passive sensors, leaving my reliant on the Mk.1 Eyeballs that the Good Lord had seen fit to issue me with.

What's that got to do with anything?

Well, when you're riding a half crippled, literally and figuratively unarmed 'Mech you won't hand over to the refit crews because you know you'll never see her again, you don't exactly get the best assignments. Hence, I found myself playing Tail-End Charlie, standing guard at the edge of the forest that stopped about half a klick shy of the bridge. And let me tell you, there's nothing quite like the feeling of being left out to dry with a full trinary of Wolves hunting you, especially when it's highly likely that the first sign of them is when your personal view of the universe goes white, and you find yourself shaking hands with Saint Peter.

Much to my surprise, it wasn't a horde of screaming Clanners I saw making it way along the forest trail, but a badly damaged Axman. And I do mean badly: half the armour looked to have been hastily replaced, the metal unpainted but covered in soot and scorch marks where it wasn't torn or half melted. Smoke rose from the wreckage of the autocannon, and it's left arm hung limply at its side. It was so badly burnt and busted up, that it wasn't even possible to tell at a glance which unit it had once belonged to, and my IFF was shot to hell and back.

Honestly, if it wasn't for the fact that the Clanners despise physical attacks, I probably would have called it in as an enemy scout.

The Axman stopped, maybe a hundred metres away, the pilot obviously surveying the bridge and the valley below. It the turned to look at me, and gestured towards the bridge with its still functioning arm, the hatchet that gave it its name almost gleaming in the late afternoon sun. Well, I didn't need telling twice, and coaxing as much speed as I could out of my Javelin, I made my way across the bridge to the supposed safety of the far bank, then turned to watch the Axman cross behind me. Only it stopped half way, turned... and waited.

Not that it had long to wait, as maybe two minutes later, a Fenris appeared at the tree line, followed closely by a Koshi, a pair of Pumas and five of those Elementals they use as infantry. Not exactly a standard unit, but it's hard to think about the enemies TO&E when you're running for your life.

I was a good kilometre away, and not even Clan weapons can hit quite that far out, not with any accuracy, anyway, but the Axman was just within the extreme range of some of their weapons. But, while any sensible pilot would order everyone to just dog-pile the enemy, a Clanner's got to prove that their honour out honours the honourable honour of their honourable comrade, so the Koshi advanced first.

Everyone knows the story of Kai Allard-Liao and his defence of the Great Gash on Twycross, and I'm not trying to take anything away from what he did, because it was absolutely amazing and worthy of praise, but I do wish more people knew the story of the Axman that held that bridge.

The Koshi advanced, tentatively at first. Even back then, we could still hurt the Clanners, given the opportunity, and this particular Wolf wasn't going to just rush into close range with a 'Mech known for its devastating close-range punch. But it soon became apparent that the Axman was down to just it's namesake hatchet for defence, even it if was apparently ignoring the damage it was taking from the lighter' Mech.

Instead, the Axman simply raised its remaining remaining weapon high.

I don't know if they were deliberately trying to provoke them or not, but it worked: the Koshi sprinted forward, evidently trying to get in close to finish their adversary off quickly. For its part, the Axman stood its ground, only adjusting its stance a little to hold its weapon at the ready. Any sensible pilot would have kept the range open, especially give the fact that the Axman was completely exposed with nowhere to go but forwards or back. But nothing stops a Clanner from thinking straight quite like questioning their honour, so it just charged right on in, eventually getting too close.

The hatchet fell once, severing the Koshi's right arm, then swung again, crippling one of its legs. It tried to fight back, but few Clanners are any good up-close; their tech advantage encourages them to keep the range open, which also allows their more advanced targeting and tracking systems to work at their optimum level. You get in close enough, and the scales start to shift in your favour. Only problem is surviving long enough to actually get in close.

The Axman archived this by goading the Wolf in, taunting it by its defiance.

What happened next is something I know I'll remember for the rest of my life: the Axman kicked the Koshi. And I don't mean like a kick to the shin or something. No, leaning back, it razed its right foot to damn near 90-degrees and hit the smaller, unbalanced 'Mechs square in the chest. The Koshi stumbled backwards, the pilot obviously as shocked as I was... only I wasn't standing on a narrow bridge, several hundred meters above a fast-flowing river. They tried to take a step back, only to discover that there wasn't as much bridge behind them as they first thought.

Gravity did the rest.

The Koshi fell, the pilot having the sense to hit the chicken-switch and ride their command couch out of the valley, arcing up an back over the forest as the parachute started to deploy.

This caused the Elementals to come bounding in, firing their SRM's as the let throughout the air. But they were still too far out, and even their advanced targeting systems have their limits, as the rockets corkscrewed off at random, most falling into the river far below. The Axman ignored them, until they got into range. The hatchet swung right to left, cutting an Elemental clean into, then a backhand sent a second tumbling helplessly into the river. The third was crushed when a massive foot came crashing down upon it, leaving just two than survived to latch onto the Axman's already damaged torso.

My ears rang as the flat of the blade was slammed into the Axman's chest one... twice... three times, and the mangled remains of the Elementals fell to the tracks.

I guess that the Wolves decided "to hell with honour!", because all three of the surviving scouts opened up, unleashing a torrent of particle streams towards the Axman, which responded by sprinting towards them, hatchet at the ready.

No, I didn't stay to watch. Partly out of fear of being on the receiving end of their anger once they got across the bridge... and partly because I didn't want to see the bravest MechWarrior I had ever seen die. So I turned and pushed my throttle as hard as I dared, making my way along the winding mountain pass towards the waiting DropShip. I made it safely: the Wolves never caught up with us, that unknown, unnamed, but not forgotten pilot buying us the time we needed to get off planet.

I don't know if the Clans understand the concept of fear, but I like to think that that Axman taught it to at least a few of them.

The End

Yes, Skurge stood alone at Gjallerbru, but that is most likely inspired by the legend of an unknown Viking warrior, who held off the entire English army at the Battle of Stamford Bridge, slaying forty of them with his axe before he fell.

That was my
true inspiration.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: nerd on 13 July 2020, 23:25:28
Nice. Also, Horatius at the bridge would be another inspiration for a solitary MechWarrior against the odds.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: Siden Pryde on 13 July 2020, 23:48:02
Nice.  :thumbsup: That Axman pilot needs to be a "Notable Pilot" in a TRO.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: PsihoKekec on 14 July 2020, 01:34:28
Solitary axe armed Rhalsaguian mech guarding a bridge against more numerous foe? However given the set up, I doubt the fatal blow came from underneath the bridge this time.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker on 14 July 2020, 11:34:26
However given the set up, I doubt the fatal blow came from underneath the bridge this time.
I don't know: float an Urbi down the river and fire straight-up...
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: PsihoKekec on 14 July 2020, 15:44:19
Pilot must be of English heritage though, they have a talent for such slayings (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Boroughbridge).
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker on 14 July 2020, 16:27:13
Pilot must be of English heritage though, they have a talent for such slayings (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Boroughbridge).
But you agree that an Urbi is the equivalent of a half-barrel?
Title: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker on 14 July 2020, 17:17:33
Something a little different than most of the others

Atomic Annie

The Department of Special Projects and Resources.

But you your last kroner you haven't heard of us. Few people have, and that's kind of by design.

We're buried deep, deep into the labyrinthine bureaucracy of the LCAF, to the point that I doubt many people would know where to look. And I'm not saying that we're in the "what the Archon doesn't know won't hurt them" camp, but rather well, despite the rather cloak and dagger sounding name, we deal with... things that don't really fit anywhere else. We're a junk-draw for the military, collecting all the stray projects and personnel that don't really fit anywhere else, but are too potentially useful to throw away.

If you really want to find one of our offices, look towards the back of a major military bases. Really far back, past the shooting range, the motor-pool, the sewage reclamation plant and the wooded area where young officers with a little too much blue blood in their balls go to screw agreeable young women, and you'll find a collection of small, nondescript buildings.

That's us.

In many ways, we're a clearing house, a place to try and see if something or someone has any possible use before they're officially decided surpluses to requirements. But we also play home to a few people who, well, they're useful, but you need to know how to handle them.

We had this one guy, Eddie. Complete ****** to everyone, just seemed to rub every one the wrong way, and didn't seem to care. Kind of guy who'd kill the morale of a unit buy walking in the door, the kind voted "most likely to be killed by 'friendly fire'" in basic. Nobody liked Eddie, and under most circumstances, he would have been booted out of the army so fast his head would spin. But he had a gift: show him a page of numbers, devoid of any context, and he'd see any discrepancies, same as you or I would read a kids book. Savant, I believe the word is. No sign of any developmental disorders, just a natural gift to see order in apparent chaos. So, Eddie found a home at the DSPR, and was occasionally loaned out to the Quartermaster Corps or the JAG when they needed someone to make sense of something they couldn't decipher. He was definitely what we'd call a 'Resource', and a surprisingly useful one at that.

My specific job was 'Asset Management', which is a posh way of saying that I was tasked with keeping tabs on some of the more... unpredictable people assigned to the DSPR.

Case in point, Annie, last name official redacted to the point where even the Leutnant-Kaptain claimed not to know for sure. Office gossip was that she was the illegitimate daughter of some planetary Duke from some planet you've probably never heard of, who was sent away to try and avoid a scandal. And Annie was smart, as in, off-the-freaking-charts smart. Unfortunately, she knew it and took every opportunity to prove it. She was also a kleptomaniac and a pyromaniac, meaning that she'd often steal seemingly innocuous things, then use them to assemble bombs or incendiary devices for little more than shits and giggles.

Lohegrin and Loki had both made plays for Annie, but while her father was doing his best to pretend she didn't exist, he did apparently have someone keeping an eye on her, and they had enough clout to keep LIC away from her. But, after the last in a long string of run-in with the law, Annie had been given a choice between prison or the military, and chose to sign-up.

It didn't take all that long for her file to fall into our laps, with orders to find some way to put her once-in-a-generation intellect and natural gift for making things go Boom! to good, or at least productive, use.

And this is where I came in: all the psych reports said she desperately wanted some kind of family, so I was assigned to be her 'big brother', and to try and keep her more destructive tenancies, if not contained, at least focused. As such they sent us to The Farm, an old ranch in the back-ass of beyond on... yeah, I'm not telling you that. Place was massive, around 10,000 square kilometres, mostly grass and shrub, but there was a low mountain range that cus across one corner. Nearest 'town' was a five hour drive, each way, and that was little more than a few shops, a gas station and a pub. You wanted anything more cosmopolitan, you needed to hop a shuttle for a sub-orbital to the nearest city, far side of the mountains, near the coast.

In short, it was the perfect place for a juvenile delinquent to indulge her every mischievous impulse without drawing any unwanted attention.

Annie loved it! She had a dozen or so laboratories, set up in old barns and storehouses, where she could concoct all kinds of surprises. Everything she did was carefully monitored and recorded, the ingredients and processes she used to turn everyday items in to potentially deadly IED's being passed on to, well, it was best not to ask. Occasionally we'd receive a request for her input on a specific problem, something that needed to be removed from the universe with the minimum amount of fuss and in a manner that could in no way be traced back to the Commonwealth. Annie loved these little problems, almost as much as she loved the gifts from, well, places no Lyran citizen ever officially went, that she was sent in gratitude for her assistance.

I swear, her bedroom was a diplomatic incident waiting to happen, should the wrong person ever see it.

Most of my time was spent making sure she looked after herself: Annie had the habit of getting so fixated on a problem that the rest of the world just faded into the background. I'd have to remind her to eat, sleep and even bathe on occasion, but the truth is, I actually liked the job. For all her tendencies to look down at you when you asked her to explain something that was sooooo obvious to her, and try and set fire to my hair if I wasn't careful, she was actually a somewhat lonely, insecure little girl once you got past her defences.

Once a month, we'd go into the city so she could spend at least a little time being a teenager; she was only fifteen when she was sent to us, so I dutifully followed her around shops as she looked at clothing, makeup and countless other little things that seemed to be important to her. And I made sure everything was paid for, LCAF and LIC having set aside a significant expense account to keep her entertained and out of trouble.

So we'd shop, eat junk food and maybe go see a movie, trying our best to act like we couldn't see the close protection detail assigned to keep an eye on her. I knew that they had orders to kill her if it looked like she was in danger of capture, and I'm sure she'd worked it out, but it wasn't something we'd ever discussed. A big part of my job was, after all, protecting Annie from the wider universe as much as it was protecting it from her, and it was something that I took seriously.

Annie was an attractive young lady, speaking subjectively, with her long blind hair and blue eyes a stark contrast to her otherwise obviously Asian heritage. Not Japanese, thankfully, that much was clear, but it was unmistakable that a significant number of her ancestors originated in the Southeast Asian sector of Old Terra. This made her stand-out amongst the predominantly European looking locals, and gained more than a little attention from the local teenage population. My mission brief was to keep her safe, stable and productive, so I made sure she got a contraceptive implant and had access to condoms, then provided a shoulder to cry on if a young man she'd been interested in never called the very carefully routed and monitored phone we gave her.

Not exactly what I joined the military for, but I still like to think of it as protecting and serving the people of the Commonwealth.

And yes, part of that included keeping Annie from indulging in her more... homicidal impulses. More than one young man will live out their lives never knowing that I saved them from being turned into a rapidly expanding cloud of pink mist with a well-timed mug of coco and a cinnamon bun. I did, however, ensure that, should any of them ever find themselves in uniform, they'd find themselves assigned more than the expected amount of unpleasant duties.

So, one day, just after she turned eighteen, Annie comes to me with a very worrying smile on her face. Tells me she's working on something... special, something she wants to keep off the books until she's sure it'll work. This was enough to sound alarm bells from there to Tharkad, but she'd been behaving herself, so I agreed to temporarily disable the monitoring equipment in one of the outlying labs. I did keep an eye on the equipment and supplies she requested, but it was nothing out of the ordinary: some household cleaning products, a few tools that could be found in almost any workshop across the Inner Sphere, and a catering size tin of instant coffee.

That had me worried: Annie and caffeine were a bad combination, but she promised me that it was an ingredient in her 'project', not for drinking.

Two months go by, and Headquarters were starting to ask questions, but Annie eventually announced that she was ready for a test.

Now, The Farm was chosen because it was big and isolated enough that the 'locals' probably wouldn't even notice the occasional explosion, planned or otherwise, but Annie still insisted that we find the most isolated corner we could, and have all non-essential staff take the weekend off. We were used to indulging her little idiosyncrasies by then, so we cleared out everyone but the security staff, then took a little VTOL out to an old, long abandoned gravel pit that Annie decided would suit her needs. I watched as she placed a package, no larger than a backpack, in the middle of the pit, connecting it by hard-wire to a receiver on the lip. Then we made our way to a hidden bunker about twenty kilometres away, landed the VTOL, and gave the standby order.

Grinning like a maniac, Annie pressed the detonator.

Even twenty kilometres away, and in a re-enforced bunker, I was thrown from my feet by the shock-wave as it rippled out from the gravel pit. Pulling myself to my feet, I looked out to see the unmistakable sight of a mushroom cloud rising up high into the air. Terrified, I looked at the small collection of sensors built into the Bunker, and while they showed both the seismic and atmospheric shock waves, as well as the thermal pulse, there was zero fallout and no detectable EMP.

"Just 15 kilotons? Far below my projections." Annie stood, looking over her notebook, "Next time, we use the Expresso grade beans."

The End
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: Cannonshop on 14 July 2020, 17:23:10
hahahahahahahahhaahahhaahahahhaha!!

Annie is so CUTE!!
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker on 14 July 2020, 17:52:51
hahahahahahahahhaahahhaahahahhaha!!

Annie is so CUTE!!
Thought you'd like her  ^-^
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: georgiaboy on 14 July 2020, 18:26:33
Hmmm, back in the day


5 lb tin can of Navy Coffee, would get a ride on a KC135 to the North Pole or futher.


2 5 lb Tin's got me, would get a ride on a FB-111


was offered a nuke for a 25 lb Tin.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker on 14 July 2020, 18:42:17
was offered a nuke for a 25 lb Tin.
Sounds like a fair trade to me...
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: wolfcannon on 15 July 2020, 00:57:56
Mein Gott!!!!
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: PsihoKekec on 15 July 2020, 01:38:26
When you mentioned coffe I got the mental picture of Agatha (from Girl Genius) drinking it for the first time. Well this was a bit more destructive.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: Sir Chaos on 15 July 2020, 03:54:58
When you mentioned coffe I got the mental picture of Agatha (from Girl Genius) drinking it for the first time. Well this was a bit more destructive.

I was wondering if Annie is Agatha´s reincarnation or something.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: Artifex on 15 July 2020, 04:15:52
Hmm, sounds to me that Annie would be an excellent companion for Liz Ngo from Cannonshops universe.  >:D
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker on 15 July 2020, 04:37:28
Hmm, sounds to me that Annie would be an excellent companion for Liz Ngo from Cannonshops universe.  >:D
Annie is essentially a less depressing Liz with the serial number filed off, right down to the hints that she's an illegitimate member of the Ngo family. I didn't ask Cannonshop (I usually seek permission to play with other peoples toys), because I wanted it to be a surprise.

He seems to be happy with the results.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: Cannonshop on 15 July 2020, 10:45:30
Annie is essentially a less depressing Liz with the serial number filed off, right down to the hints that she's an illegitimate member of the Ngo family. I didn't ask Cannonshop (I usually seek permission to play with other peoples toys), because I wanted it to be a surprise.

He seems to be happy with the results.

Permission Granted.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: georgiaboy on 15 July 2020, 11:49:44
And with Liz's Father being away in service and estranged from his Wife, he most likely Dipped his Wick several times when the crew parties got out of hand. With his rank and noble stature, the other woman may have been of similar class and wanted the child hidden to lessen the  chance of a scandal.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker on 15 July 2020, 12:34:40
Permission Granted.
It's often easier to ask forgiveness than it is to get permission.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: cklammer on 18 July 2020, 13:39:19
It is all in the ingredients ...  >:D
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: nerd on 18 July 2020, 14:45:28
That one got me to laugh.

Quote
"Just 15 kilotons? Far below my projections." Annie stood, looking over her notebook, "Next time, we use the Expresso grade beans."
Comedic gold.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: croaker on 18 July 2020, 19:55:45
Something a little different than most of the others

Atomic Annie

"Just 15 kilotons? Far below my projections." Annie stood, looking over her notebook, "Next time, we use the Expresso grade beans."

The End

"Next time... decaf."
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker on 18 July 2020, 20:04:04
"Next time... decaf."
You deliberately aiming for a damp squib?
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: jonen c on 18 July 2020, 20:27:43
You deliberately aiming for a damp squib?
Nae, gonna try and make it collapse into degenerate matter.

Gonna need an offworld test site, don't tool around with exotic states of matter on an inhabited planet you want to stay inhabitable.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker on 22 July 2020, 17:45:14
Credit to Kargan3033 for the kernel of this particular plot-bunny

Genius Loci

What do you mean, my accent's wrong?

I don't sound...?

O Dduw annwyl! Never try that ever again!

What's wrong? Well, for one thing, that's the worst attempt at a Metis accent I've ever heard. Second, I'm from Triton, you ass! And yeah, there's a difference. How you like if I call you a Pomang, Tumang?

You alls think Metis is all there is to the outer system: yous stop caring once you past Titan. Well, big news, Mr ComStar Man: there probably more of us than there is of yous, but you never find us all. No inyalowda ever find a Belta that no want be found. No, you think Belt and beyond, you think Metis, and we let you. Metis think they speak fo alls beltalowda, and wes let them, because wes no wants to speak to yous. But receive this: Metis was settled by Afrikaans, and Triton by the Welsh, boyo. Deall fi?

So yeah, I can speak Terran Standard just fine, and if it's a choice between that, and your attempt at 'Belta Talk', which, by the way, would get you shived in the spine and left to bleed-out on Metis, I'll stick to your language, to pochuye ke?

Okay, so now we've gotten that out of the way, you wanted to know what I was doing, floating around in an old escape pod?

Short answer? Neptune Mothball Yards.

Cameron never picked it clean, the Fat Man never picked it clean, Big General never picked it clean, and you Robes haven't picked it clean. Lotta ships still out there, full of all kinds of useful parts, just waiting to be found, if you know where to look. And I'm not talking anything obvious, like weapons, jump-cores or transit drives. No, those got taken long, long time ago. But inyalowda not think like Belta, not see what we see. You look at all those ships, and you see stripped down hulks, not even worth sending to the breakers yards.

But Belta? We see CO2 scrubbers, water purification systems, airlock seals, fiberoptic cables, hull plating and a hundred other possibilities. All things you think easier and cheaper to build new, with your factories at the bottom of a gravity well. But, to someone born out here? More than worth a little hard-work to recover. So, you stake a claim, make sure you stay away from the Last Spartan, grab your tool-kit and go exploring.

Six of us went poking for parts on the Shinano, old Hegemony carrier, as was. She had been in better condition than most, having been overlooked by previous salvage operations. Still, she was a big ship, even after colliding with another ship, the Sulaco, at some point. But that happens a lot, now nobody is keeping an eye on them. More than once, we've had to launch an emergency mission to prevent a Kessler Cascade from turning Neptune into a no-go zone. More than one ship's been 'nudged' into a decaying orbit; far better they burn-up than rain down upon us.

So we latch on, list long as your arm of parts wanted, either use or trade. Breaching easy, if you know how, and we split into two teams of three. None us green, but all Belta know, safety first, especially on ship you don't know. Especially on derelict. My team, led by Boss Man, we head for the CIC, looking for terminals we can strip out, use on transports, replace parts you won't sell us unless we tell you how many ships we have, and where they are.

You Dirtyfoots all the same, expecting Beltas to follow your rules, bow and scrape, and all the rest. But do you ever bother to learn our customs? Certainly not you, who thinks they speak Belta because they visited a brothel just of Metis docks one time. So, tell me: why should we trust you, when you can't be bothered to know us?

CIC already picked, so we head for Damage Control, always good place to look, when we got a call from the other team, wanting to know if any of us were out their way, down in the primary power distribution room. We responded that no, we weren't, and they then asked if anyone else was working the claim.

Most people don't cary what you'd call a 'weapon' in the traditional sense while on salvage ops, but one thing you learn fast in space is that quite often the definition of what is and isn't a weapon is more a matter of intent. We were all carrying tools that could kill, especially in a vacuum, so we weren't exactly unarmed. But still, there are rules, even when it comes to dealing with claim-jumpers: sometimes, maybe not everyone get the news, or think you talking 'bout different ship. More than one ship have same or similar names, so honest mistake can and do happen. So, before you start busting someone's faceplate with a pry-bar, you try and confirm their intentions, ya read me?

Synnwyr cyffredin yn unig ydyw.

But, you can't just go stumbling around a derelict looking for someone, especially if you don't even know where to start. So Boss Man sets his radio to all-frequency, and sends out a standard greeting/challenge to anyone within range.

Nothing. Just the ethereal sound of Neptune, just letting you know she's still there.

Boss Man, he figured that the others just got spooked by shadows: trying to get around on an unfamiliar ship, well, even the most experienced mind can play tricks on you. Also, it's not exactly unheard-of for junk to go floating around. Once say an old jumpsuit, floating along a corridor because of the faintest puff of air. It's enough to make you fill your reclamation pouch with the lights on and somewhere you know. But on a derelict? You'd be surprised at what you can think you've seen.

So we get to Damage Control, and the place is a mess.

And I'm not talking about "someone did a piss-poor job removing components" kind of mess. No, this wasn't the work of a rational mind. Someone, or something, had literally ripped the consoles apart, then slammed them into other equipment. Glass and broken components hung in the air in a, we'll, it was almost beautiful, truth be told. Certainly wasn't battle damage, and no salvage crew worth a damn would leave a mess like that. Too much risk of damaging equipment that you might want to go back for another time, and that's not to mention the risk of snagging something and getting a suit puncher. No, even the greenest of dirtyfoot salvage crews would do a better job.

Other team calls back: power distribution room had likewise been trashed, only this time, there's what looked like carbon scorching from laser fire.

Now, you're probably expecting me to say we turned and ran, but that's inyalowda thinking. Beltalowda knows from birth that life not fair, that they most likely die young, and not quick or clean. Cymaint yw bywyd. We no frighten so easy, we no panic: Boss Man asks how old it look. Not easy thing to tell, in vacuum, but there are ways, if you know what to look for. Word come back it looks old, so they told to move on to environmental control.

We move on to the cargo hold; not expecting to find anything beyond some control panels. Cameron always like the best toys, so even secondary systems are better than most can dream of, and a computer built to hold and organise cargo manifests is always useful.

But that's when we find it: DropShuttle, worst shape I've ever seen anything that wasn't laying at the bottom of an impact crater. Thing looked like it had been for a pass through the clouds of Venus, then landed in the middle of an Io volcano. Never fly again, that for sure, going by the structural damage. Weird thing was, there were no markings, even on the parts that didn't look like they'd taken a vacation in hell. And I mean nothing: no registration number, no rescue directions, nothing. It was just plain, unpainted metal. Certainly got our attention, as even pirates, and yeah, we get them in the Belt too, keep at least some markings. Only people who don't are you dirtyfeet, when you don't want anyone knowing what you're doing. And even then, you at least paint it something innocuous, like drab olive or pure white.

Nobody goes for unpainted metal. Nobody.

Well, we had to have a look, see what the big deal was, right?

Main airlock was a bust: frame was bent and twisted, actually melted in places, either by heat or corrosives. Same went for the secondary and emergency hatches, but someone had taken a cutting torch to the flight-deck window. Not an easy job, given what they're made of, but nothing's indestructible. Enough time, heat and power, and you can cut through anything. Inside looked worse than Damage Control, if that's possible. Looked like there'd been a fire, and a bad one at that. No spacer, even a dirtyfoot, wants to face fire in zero-g, where it moves like a liquid, following the airflow. That's why Beltas always respond to reports of a ship on fire: nobody should die that way.

Well, things weren't looking good for us by that point: somebody had evidently vented a not inconsiderable amount of frustration on the Shinano, and it didn't look like we'd find any easy pickings that day. So, Boss decides to call it quits, head back home and rethink everything. Come back later with a bigger, better equipped team.

Only, when we try to raise the others on the radio, nothing. Not even Radio Neptune. No big deal: metal blocks radio waves pretty well, so we pulled up the deck-plan and worked out the quickest way to environmental control, figuring that we may as well help the others on the way out.

Path takes us past the power distribution room, and Boss decided to have a look for himself. Room was untouched. Pristine. Looked ready for a visit by some dirtyfoot Admiral. No wrecked equipment, and certainly no laser burns. We double checked the compartment number, then have a look either side, just in case the others got confused. Still no damage, and our schematic clearly had the right compartment listed.

It was about then that we started to realise that something wasn't right.

Somewhat apprehensively, we continued on to environmental by the most obvious rout, but saw no sign of the other team. More attempts to contact them over the radio yielded the same result as before. And I ain't afraid to admit that, by that point, even I was starting to get a little rattled, so I was more than happy when the Boss gave word to pull back to the airlock we breached, to see if the others were there.

We backtracked our rout precisely, only this time, when we pass power destitution, it was as ripped apart as we'd been told, complete with laser burns. And there was no way in this 'verse that anyone could do that kind of damage in the time between our first visit and our return. We checked the compartment numbers again, and like before, they matched our plans.

Now, I know what you're thinking: stupid Beltas got turned around, can't read a deck-plan. Don't try and deny it, ffrind, it's written all over your face. You must be crap at cards.

Well, I tell you this: I completed my apprenticeship at just 15 standards, and have spent more than ten years working more ships and stations than you've probably seen. Beltalowda learn to read from operations manuals, to count from pressure gages and flow monitors. I could navigate a ship before I could walk, so don't you try and tell me we just got lost like some saesneg fresh off the boat from down-well. So, Boss gives the word: Double-time, and we didn't need telling twice. But, even a Belta can only move so fast in a vacuum, especially with just his suite lights to navigate by. I tell you, those passageways started to feel real tight real quickly, os daliwch fy drifft. About half way back to the airlock, we find a jammed hatch. No big deal: just pop the access panel, cut the hydraulic lines and make with the pry-bar.

Spacer 101.

Only, when we open it, we find the others, about ready to claw their way out through the bulkheads. We ask, "Beth yw'r uffern?", and they claimed that they'd been stuck there since just after we split up. Never even made it to power destitution, certainly never as far as environmental, and, on top of that, haven't been able to reach anyone over the radio. Boss asks about their earlier reports, and they just look at him blankly.

Yeah, kind of like you're looking at me now.

None of us wanted to remain on the ship much past that, all things being as they were, so we all start moving, quick as we can. Only, the ship, she not helping none. Hatches that had been open on the way in were now locked, while corridors we'd tagged on the way in seemed to lead in the wrong direction, take us to places we'd been, or should have been on a whole other deck. Even Boss Man starting to sound scared, especially after we found ourselves back in the cargo bay. Well, it was then that someone, I didn't catch who, had a bright idea: open one of the cargo hatches and make our way back to the waiting transport along the hull. Which was actually a decent plan, until we realised something we hadn't the last time we'd been there.

That old DropShuttle we'd found before? The one that looked like the Devil's piñata? That was our DropShuttle, only there weren't no sign of the two crew-members we'd left behind to keep an eye on it.

We lost our shit. I'll admit it: only so much someone can be expected to take before they crack like a poorly maintained pressure seal. We'd all been growing increasingly on-edge for a while, and that was more than enough to trip us over the edge. It was every man for himself, and I'd spotted a row of escape pods just the other side of the hatch. Thankfully, they were still there when I went back. I yelled to the others, struggling to be heard over the screaming and the recriminations, then I jumped into the first one and hit the chicken switch, praying that it would still work.

And, well, I'm here, right?

Only, from what you said, I'm maybe the only one who made it out alive. So now, if you don't mind, I'll be heading home, letting the families of the others know what happened. The... I got a cosine who's bosun on a freighter. He can probably get me as far as Rochegelée, and then I'll see what I can do from there. Because I want to put as many lightyears between myself and the Shinano as possible.

You want my advice? Send over a few thruster pods and drop her into Neptune, before whatever's over there starts to spread.

The End
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: Giovanni Blasini on 22 July 2020, 18:22:30
Time shenanigans and Event Horizon shenanigans? Yikes.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: PsihoKekec on 23 July 2020, 01:27:21
That reminds of that SCP derilict ship where time and space are... relative.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: DOC_Agren on 25 July 2020, 17:38:10
Okay I was a little behind...

Urban Legend was interesting, having clanners haunted and hunted down by a Ghost Urbie

Like your take on Cannonshop Hullsurfers

Dead World - Zombie super infection, and that kids is why "crawling around old failed colony is rough"
    Reminded me of a Tcar RPG my buddy Randy RIP ran years ago, the run away from the horde to the lander was interesting.  And like your guys we had someone ask what allow them to ignore being shot.

The Honour Of The Regiment -  saved by an ashtray  :-)

Beyond The Beyond - Iridium it's the catch all of hyperdrive oops?

Last Stand - gee that story sound familur from history...  Well done, so who got him from below?

Atomic Annie -  LOL damm coffee as a NUKE!!!  And for a second I was sure a Ngo was going to showup for her, after all she family.

Genius Loci - Interesting..  the ship is haunted by something that crossed over the Event Horizon ..  Who cares.. but it needs to be deepsunk somewhere



Title: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker on 26 July 2020, 16:10:29
Not the first person to suggest this: I think that the "theory" is even canon, but this is my take on it

...From A Certain Point Of View

Please state your name for the record.

Fang Singh.

Occupation?

School teacher.

And before that?

I was an Adept of the Word of Blake.

Designation?

Ghost Beta Singh.

You were a Manei Domini?

Would I be chained up like this if I wasn't?

A fair point. Why were you working as a school teacher?

Good a job as any.

It just seems... unusual, for someone of your background.

War's over, right? Got to make a living somehow.

That's unusually, rational, for a Manei Domini.

What? Expecting me to be all frothing at the mouth and promising doom upon you?

Truthfully? Yes.

Sorry, but I'm just not that kind of cyborg. I was recruited because I was loyal to the cause and yet able to blend in easily. Hence why I only had the most basic of enhancements...

Cybernetic Eye, left: inferred vision. Cybernetic Ear, right: signal pickup. Secondary power supply of unknown type, embedded in your liver...

Liver is vat-grown, power pack put in place before implantation. Thankfully, they managed to cover up the scar pretty well, so I can still get away with a two-piece.

...monomolecular blade, hidden in right hand between the middle and ring fingers. Electromagnetic deployment/retraction system.

A lady can never be too careful, you know?

How exactly did you end up joining the Word in the first place? You don't come across like the more typical member...

The crazy, mouth frothing kind, you mean? Hate to tell you this, but any organisation over a certain size is going to have a few crazies: it's just the law of averages. The Order just made the mistake of putting some of them into leadership positions. But, for the most part, it was people like me. I'm nothing special: I grew up in the St Ives Compact, as was, and it was an odd place to be a kid. Not quite Capellan, but not exactly the Commonwealth, either. Kind of a toe in each, if you understand my meaning. Living like that give you a certain prospective on life. I had more freedom than I would have if we'd still been a part of the Confederation, and I could appreciate the advantages that gave me.

But, at the same time, there was a constant reminder that we only existed because our Steiner-Davion patrons allowed it. Almost prophetic, in away.

So, there I am, a school kid living under the constant threat of having my liberties taken away, when they start teaching us about The Clans. How, just beyond a line on a map, there was this horde of fanatical warriors just waiting for the opportunity to enslave everyone. And they were way worse than even the Confederation, because at lest the Capellans see you as human. But the Clans? Anyone not 'Trueborn' is little more than livestock to them. The Warrior cast tells you where to live, what job you must do, even who you can start a family with. And, if one of their little overzealous slap-fights gets out of hand and you find yourself caught in the crossfire... Well, that's just your bad luck.

As a kid, that terrified me: ComStar had grown everything they had at the Clans and nearly stopped them. What hope did the Compact have? And that's when someone handed me a leaflet.

The Word of Blake?

Yep.

When you're someone like I was, just another number on the census, it's easy to feel... insignificant. But the Word... the Word offered us the chance to not only be a part of something greater, but to change the face of the Inner Sphere through sheer force of will. It was that kind of dedication, not to self, nation or even the Order itself, that they were looking for in diplomatic espionage.

Excuse me?

Diplomatic Espionage. That was my specialty within the Manei Domini. I was never intended to see the front lines; there were plenty of people more suited to that kind of work, and I guess someone higher up didn't want to be too reliant on ROM. Also, my aptitude tests showed that I was better suited to a more subtle mission. Some forged papers here, a little hacking there, and I was bale to slip into pretty much any social gathering necessary. I've listened to rabble-rouses in vacant lots and rub shoulders with some of the most powerful people in the entire Inner Sphere, and not one of them ever guessed who I really was.

Truth is, I'm actually impressed that you caught me. I didn't think that SIS had it in them.

What makes you think that we're SIS?

Because I'm sitting here, taking with you. Maskirovka or LIC would be dissecting me to try and find out how my implants work, while ISF or MIIO would simply shoot me and dump the body in a shallow, unmarked grave. SAFE is too fractured to be any threat, and the Watch is overly reliant on drugs to get information. That leaves SIS, which makes you... what, a Grey Knight?

Not exactly.

But you are SIS?

Does it matter?

Not really: just wondering how much you, and your superiors, think you know.

In what way?

You think that being a Manei Domini makes me some kind of maniac, a religious zealot willing to let a cabal of mad scientists cut out my humanity. You think that I've got the blood of countless innocents on my hands, and that you're doing the universe a favour by black-bagging me off the streets. But you're overlooking one very important fact.

Which is?

I didn't resist. Not in the slightest. I realised immediately that it was a professional snatch job, and I did exactly as I was told and didn't hurt anyone. And, given you've just listened my enhancements, you must have some idea of what I'm capable of.

Okay, so assuming you're right, why didn't you resist?

Because you're going to let me go back to teaching literature, and pretend like this never happened.

And why would we do that? You've admitted that you were a member of the Word of Blake, a Manei Domini...

In all the time you've been watching me before today, have I committed any crimes? Do you have any evidence that I committed any crimes not covered by the general amnesty?

No...

Then you have no valid, legal reason to hold me. Unless you want to admit that my detention is illegal.

...

Exactly. I'm not a maniac, or a zealot, and, if anything, that makes me more dangerous to your superiors. Because I sound and act rationally, people would be more inclined to listen to what I say, rather than dismiss it out of hand. So, if I was to stand up in public and say that, in the end, that the Word of Blake won...

Bullshit!

Ah, is that a hint of hesitation I sense creeping into your voice there? The faintest doubt taking root?

In what way, exactly, did the Word of Blake win? Your armies were defeated, your leaders killed or captured, and Terra was liberated...

Do you even know what the reasoning behind everything the Order did was? All of the Shadow Divisions, the new weapons, even Manei Domini like myself?

To take over the Inner Sphere and...

No.

Excuse me?

We never wanted to take over the Inner Sphere... Okay, maybe some of the fringe elements did, but that was never our overall goal. We saw ourselves as a guiding light, a shield against the inhumanity of the Clans, and the sword needed to push them back once and for all. That's why they had all the troops and ships and everything ready in '67. We were hoping that the Star League would grant us membership, and we wanted to be ready to show them everything. We wanted to show them that they didn't have to live in fear of the Clans any more, that we could push them all back out into the Periphery, even destroy them, like they had the Smoke Jaguars, if needed.

But then, just as the Star League started to fall apart, the Wolf Dragoons attacked us. They fired the first shot, not us, and all because they didn't like what we were doing in the Protectorate. And you know what we were doing that angered them so? Building schools, hospitals, roads. Trying to undo three centuries of war.

Hell, we saved Paladin Victor's life during his little family squabble.

I don't follow.

When he went to secure Coventry in '63, his sister sent a warship, the Arthur Steiner-Davion, to intercept him. Only, we sent one of our own ships, the Immortal Spirit, to clear the way for him. Wasn't exactly my field, but I heard it was because certain people thought he was too important to the future of the Inner Sphere to risk him getting killed so easily.

Then how do you explain everything that happened?

I can't. Not really my area of expertise. I can make an educated guess, if you'd like.

Please do.

This is just me speculating, but I'd say somebody panicked. Maybe it was the AMC attack on Mars, or the Star League falling apart, or maybe someone got out of the wrong side of bed that morning. Whatever the reason, somebody overreacted, and things just snowballed from there. I'm sorry I can't give you a full breakdown of the inner workings of the Order, but agents like me were kept in the dark for the most part: operational security and all.

Anyway, I left as soon as it became apparent that the lunatics were running the asylum.

That doesn't explain why you think that the Word of Blake won the war.

Remember what I said about our true goals?

The Inner Sphere is at peace, probably the best peace it's ever known. Everyone's too exhausted to fight, even the Clans, so everyone has to take stock and rebuild.

Peace, stability and security. Everything that we wanted. And with one of our own in charge, none the less.

Bullshit! No, I'm sorry, but Bullshit! Exarch Stone is...

A mystery, supposedly even to himself. He just appeared right out of nowhere, in a prison camp on Kittery, pulled together a rag-tag coalition, and miraculously managed to defeat the Order, where everyone else failed. Then he goes all Peace, Bread & Land, and suddenly everyone, even the Clans, are falling over themselves to turn their swords into ploughshares, because we ain't gonna study war no more.

I swear, if one of my students handed in a story with a plot like that, I'd fail them on the spot.

You think there's more to it than that?

I think that anyone who believes the official story without question is seriously disconnected from reality. All I know is that pretty much everything that the Order wanted has been achieved, and nobody's asking too many questions about the man behind it all.

Not that I'm complaining; I actually like living in the Republic, I'm just not completely sold on the miraculous, mythical Devlin Stone. Be real interested to see if he had any enhancements.

The End
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: Cannonshop on 26 July 2020, 16:26:38
NICE.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker on 26 July 2020, 16:36:54
NICE.
Well, I'd been bitching about how paper-thin a faction WoB was, with no real characterisation beyond "Evil for da lolz!", and decided I should maybe put my money where my mouth was.

Because what I've always loved about BattleTech is how everyone is some shade of grey.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: Sharpnel on 26 July 2020, 16:44:43
Agreed.

NICE.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: DOC_Agren on 26 July 2020, 18:10:57
Quote
Not the first person to suggest this: I think that the "theory" is even canon, but this is my take on it

...From A Certain Point Of View

JABaker that is my theory and you have explained it much better then I ever could.  I assumed that Lear is his WOB Handler..

Thanks you   :thumbsup:
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: nerd on 26 July 2020, 18:45:35
Sounds good. She could have been an Old ComStar ROM operative. Fanatically loyal to the Word, but not frothingly so.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker on 26 July 2020, 19:53:16
Sounds good. She could have been an Old ComStar ROM operative. Fanatically loyal to the Word, but not frothingly so.
I suppose she's like the guy in Price of Glory: a true believer who's also not blind to the failures of the Order to live up to its own high standards. And I honestly think that a lot of people within the Word were like that. No organisation made up of just genocidal maniacs and psychopaths could get as far as they did before the Jihad started.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: SulliMike23 on 26 July 2020, 21:21:14
Interesting take on that. But it does put that into question, were all members of the Order just fanatics? Or did they simply join because they knew that their Jihad would bring peace to the Inner Sphere one way or another? Which makes me wonder the same about Amaris' bunch. I know that most of his high-ranking commanders were just maniacal and fascist as he was, but what about others? Did every soldier from the Rim Worlds Republic commit the atrocities Amaris ordered them to, or did some actually disobey these orders and no one even bothered to come forward with that? Or did they join his cause to see the collapse of the Star League? Either way, it does bring up some valid questions on some of the conflicts within the Inner Sphere.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: PsihoKekec on 27 July 2020, 01:56:54
Well, for many who joined either Comstar or WoB, the order was their escape from poverty of the world (Periphery or many worlds within IS) or opression (CC and DC) and such they were appreciative of it's fake message of uplifting the humanity.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: Giovanni Blasini on 27 July 2020, 04:37:04
Well, for many who joined either Comstar or WoB, the order was their escape from poverty of the world (Periphery or many worlds within IS) or opression (CC and DC) and such they were appreciative of it's fake message of uplifting the humanity.

Was it really a fake message, though?  Or did both sides believe that the only long term way to uplift humanity was to do it under their auspices, after the fires of war had been thoroughly exhausted.

Even Holy Shroud could be seen through that lens: if the Successor States start to rebuild too quickly, then the end result would be an increase in the overall level of carnage.  Hell, Hanse Davion even proved them right in a way, in the Fourth Succession War.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: PsihoKekec on 27 July 2020, 08:53:27
They needed to crash the humanity first, this why generation after generation of adepts knowingly or unknowingly worked towards this goal, the uplifting of humanity never started, so their propaganda was a lie.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: HFC05 on 28 July 2020, 17:42:41
That was fantastic.
Title: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker on 31 July 2020, 16:05:08
Recommend putting on the Cowboy Bebop OST for this one. Specifically Digging My Potato, for atmosphere.

Down At The Crossroads

It was getting late, the second sun dipping towards the distant mountains, casting long, deep shadows across the open grassland. It was a pretty good place to meet up for a hand-off, with clear lines of sight off almost to the horizon in every direction. Certainly no way to sneak up on someone without being spotted, targeted and lit up like a Canopus whorehouse on pay-day.

Probably why Dink chose the place, but then again, maybe not. After all, he wasn't known for being the sharpest knife in the draw.

Local summer was just starting to give way to autumn, so it was still pleasantly warm, with just a hit of winter on the cool breeze wafting down off the mountains. Anywhere else in known space, and Hera would have been considered prime real estate, probably grabbed by some minor noble as a private retreat. But we were the ass-crack, so far off the beaten track that you couldn't even see it from here. Which made it all kinds of appealing to people looking to get lost. This, unfortunately, brought with it its own problems, as more than one, we'd found ourselves playing host to people who'd previously been on opposite sides in a conflict.

Hence the Compact, a series of rules that all newcomers agreed to abide by on pain of exile, enforced by an informal group of Lawkeeps, myself included.

It wasn't exactly hard work: we had maybe a a few hundred thousand people, on a planet that could probably sustain a couple of billion. But being so isolated kept immigration down, allowing everyone plenty of room to breath.

The closest thing we had to a capital, to a city of any kind, was Firstdown. Hardly original, I know, but to played host to our only spaceport, and it was usually where a Lawkeep would meet with someone looking to either join one of our scattered communities, our maybe found their own. As such, I was a little surprised when Dink reached out to me on behalf of a new arrival. Not too big of a surprise, as one of his main jobs was acting as a go-between, setting up meetings between people fresh off the boat and local authorities s they are, explaining customs and, if needed, acting as an interpreter. Dink may not be too smart, but he's a people person and has an ear for languages, which made him useful to have around.

Which is why, when he asked me to meet him and his latest client out at a crossroads in the middle of nowhere, I'd agreed.

Not to say I wasn't taking any chances: leaving aside the heavy GyroJet on my right hip, the somewhat battered looking Rotunda I'd arrived in was actually in pretty good shape. At least, the weapons systems were ready to go and the armour wasn't patched together, like most military vehicles on Hera. We're somewhere people go to get away from fighting, after all. Pushing my old campaign hat back slightly, I looked down the road leading to Firstdown to the south, wondering what was keeping Dink and his new BFF?

The soft, mournful sound of an harmonica made my head snap round to the east, my right hand instinctively dropping to my holster. But I managed to stop myself just shy of drawing, when I saw the origin of the sound emerging from the gathering dusk. They were tall, their hight only enhanced by their slender build, hidden though it was beneath a old cloak and broad rimmed straw hat. A pack was slung across their back, a seemingly random assortment of items hanging from various straps and buckles, while their hands held the invisible harmonica in front of their still hidden face.

Something about the hauntingly melancholy tune they were planning was oddly familiar, but I couldn't place it.

They stopped just shy of the crossroads, holding the last note of the tune for a moment, then stopped. Hands still holding the harmonics in front of their mouth, they looked up for the first time, a single amber eye almost glowing in the dying light.

Suddenly I remembered where I'd heard the tune before: it had been in a bar over in Serenity Township, an couple of hours drive back down the way they'd came. I'd been catching up with another Lawkeep, and we'd been swapping 'war stories' for about an hour when I realised that the room had gone unusually quite. That had every hair on the back of my neck standing on end, but my colleague had assured me that it was all okay. And that's when I'd first heard it, a tune that seemed to cut to my very soul, speaking to me in a way that didn't need words. The room seemed to grow deathly quite, as if every ear was straining to hear every last note that came from the small, dimly lit stage in the corner. There she stood, half hidden in the shadows, hair the colour of spun copper pulled back into a loose ponytail that cascaded down over one shoulder. There had been nothing remarkable about the old shirt and denims she wore, and they certainly didn't do anything for her figure, but it was the damn music, and how she played it, that was so captivating.

Lot of people from a lot of places on Hera, so our culture is rather scatter-shot to say the least, but something about that melody just reached into my soul.

She finished playing, and I suddenly realised that I'd been holding my breath, not wanting to make even the slightest sound, and she turned to look out across the room.

Modern medicine and a good doctor can work minor miracles, and it was clear that she'd received the attention of the best of both... but there's only so much even the best can do. It was painful obvious that she'd been too close to either a fire of a laser blast, given the discolouration of her skin, as well as the lack of a left eye, ear and about a third of her hair. I've seen worse, a testament to just how good the surgeons had been, but Hera isn't exactly known for cosmetic surgery, so the chances were, she'd be stuck looking like that for the rest of her life.

"They say she's got other scars, not than anyone's had the chance to find out." my friend whispered in my ear, "Last guy who tried ended up looking worse than she does."

Back in the here-and-now, I found myself locking eyes with her, before she turned away, walking over to a makeshift shelter someone had put up by the side of the road. It wasn't much more than four walls, an open door and a roof, but it was better than getting rained on while waiting for someone to thumb a lift off. Placing her pack down in the doorway, she sat on a rough bench outside and started to play a soft melody on her harmonica.

The sound of grinding gears and a backfiring engine drew my attention back to the south, just in time to see Dink's much abused old truck rumble into view, the tired engine protesting. So, yeah, you can add bad driver and worse mechanic to the list of Dink's failures. I just leaned back against my car, arms crossed, and waited for it up pull up in a loud of dust and smoke, spluttering and coughing until it finally gave out with a wheezing hiss that spoke of significant time in the workshop in its near future.

The drivers door opened, and Dink stepped out into the evening air, a big, toothy grin framed by an unkempt beard. A shorter, nondescript man in what looked like a uniform that had had all of its badges and other identifying markings quickly removed stepped out of the passenger door, his rat-like eyes constantly darting about. He looked at me, then the woman still playing her harmonica, then back to me.

"Dink." I nodded in greeting, "This your client?"

"This is him." Dink sounded as unnecessarily cheerful as ever, "Mr Smith, meet Lawkeep Qu."

"Mr Smith." I nodded, ignoring the obviously made-up name. Seriously, has nobody any originality anymore?

"I'm to understand that you can get me to safety?" Smith managed to look down at me, despite being a good 5cm shorter.

And the accent. Unmistakable: Terran. Often emulated, but never quite matched. Not exactly unheard of on Hera, but not exactly common, either. Especially not now.

"I can see you to where you're going." I nodded, his obvious distain like water off a ducks back, "After that? So long as you keep to the Compact, ain't nothing to fear."

"With what I've been asked to pay, I'd expected more preferential treatment." Smith actually sneered at me. I didn't think that was something people actually did, "I have... enemies. Enemies who would very much like to see me dead."

"We don't allow Bounty Hunters on Hera." I assured him, "And, upon signing the Compact, anonymity is assured. We don't care what you did before you arrived, only what you do going forward."

"Very well." Smith seemed more resigned to the fact than genuinely happy.

He reached into the truck to get something from a bag, but my attention was drawn to the lady at the shelter: her previously tuneless melody had changed, and I felt a chill running down my spine. Smith obviously felt it too, as he suddenly stood rigidly strait, slowly turning to face her. I don't know if he'd intended to say something, because he didn't get a chance to say anything: the harmonica hit a particularly high note, and held it for a moment, and Smith slumped back against the side of the truck, a red stain over his heart.

The woman stood slowly, lifting her pack over one shoulder, then started to walk towards Smith, whose body was already starting to shut-down. She continued to play her tune until she was standing over him.

"Nemo me impune lacessit." she looked down at him, her voice strangely soft, yet her accent likewise unmistakably Terran, "It's a good death, General Peterson, far better than you deserve."

With that, she turned to walk away from the now clearly very dead man, but stopped and looked at Dink and I over one shoulder.

"House Cameron thanks you for your service."

With that, she returned her harmonica to her lips and walked off into the night.

"...the ******?" Dink managed to sound both surprised, scared and indignant at the same time, which was quite the achievement, "You just gonna let her walk off like that?"

"Yeah." I nodded, looking down at the body, "I kinda think I am."

"But... The ****** Compact!" Dink complained, waving wildly in the general direction of where the woman had dissatisfied off into the darkness, "You can't just let her..."

"Wake up and smell the coffee, Dink!" I snapped at him, "You know damn well who 'Smith' was, which means even you should be able to guess who she" I gestured off into the same direction, "was, who she works for. And if you know that, then you know damn well that, Compact or not, they wouldn't just sit there and smile while he was walking around. And considering that, if they sent just one message off-world, we'd have an entire army dropping down upon us, I think we got off lightly. Unless you want people looking a little closer at just who live here, 'Dink'? You ain't the only one with a price on your head if you ever leave here."

"...shit." Dink muttered after the cogs had stopped turning, "Well what do we do with the body?"

"We grab a couple of shovels out the back of your truck, and we start digging." I suggested, unbuttoning my jacket, "And, if anyone asks, Mr Smith just walked off into the mountains to get some solitude. And we sure as shit didn't hear nothing about House Cameron, got it?"

The End
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: wolfcannon on 01 August 2020, 01:09:54
interesting, set before the fall of the SL?
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: croaker on 01 August 2020, 01:32:25
Probably. The only solid time cue we have is the use of a Rotunda scout car, which was constructed from 2725-2775 or so.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: PsihoKekec on 01 August 2020, 03:51:22
The harmonica tune, is it the one from the Once Upon The a Time in the West?
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: Intermittent_Coherence on 01 August 2020, 05:55:58
Probably. The only solid time cue we have is the use of a Rotunda scout car, which was constructed from 2725-2775 or so.
One of the products of the thought process that went, "I have a sports car, what if I soup it up with a fusion plant and advanced armor plating?"

It's in the Periphery though, so either sold as surplus or changed hands repeatedly.

Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker on 01 August 2020, 06:43:06
interesting, set before the fall of the SL?
Probably. The only solid time cue we have is the use of a Rotunda scout car, which was constructed from 2725-2775 or so.
One of the products of the thought process that went, "I have a sports car, what if I soup it up with a fusion plant and advanced armor plating?"

It's in the Periphery though, so either sold as surplus or changed hands repeatedly.
There are clues, if you know where to look.

The harmonica tune, is it the one from the Once Upon The a Time in the West?
I was thinking it'd be some more specific to the woman playing it, or who she serves, but I left it intentionally vague so that readers can plug-and-play whatever they think most suitable.
Title: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker on 07 August 2020, 06:58:09
Let's see what happens when I mix history and urban legends...

Mad Jack

There's an old saying: legends never die.

And it's true. After all, you can kill an individual, but it's almost impossible to kill the memory of the. And sure, plenty of people have tried throughout history, through one means or another. But, try as you might, there's always someone who remembers. Perhaps the most infamous example was the attempt by Stefan Amaris to completely erase House Cameron from the face of the galaxy. It is widely believed that he failed, that some unknown relatives of the First Lord were taken off-world by loyal forces, their eventual fates unknown.

But one... one refused to leave Terra. Refused to run and hide like a hunted animal. Refused to cower before the assembled might of the self-proclaimed Amaris Empire.

One, instead, chose to fight back.

John 'Jack' Aloysius McKenzie-Cameron was not your typical member of the Cameron Dynasty: the youngest of three sons, he was born to a minor cadet branch of the Royal Family in the Highlands of Ross-shire, Scotland. His father had been a Civil Engineer, his mother a School Inspector, and distant family connections aside, there was little to distinguish him from his peers. Excelling at sports, Jack would spend much of his free time hiking and fishing in the mountains and glens near his home. Many expected that he would seek the life of a Park Ranger or Gamekeeper, but instead, two days after his eighteenth birthday, Jack enlisted in the Hegemony Armed Forces.

Unlike most young recruits, Jack had no interest in becoming a MechWarrior, instead joining the infantry. While he attempted to his his lineage, it was soon uncovered, and he was sent to Sandhurst Royal Military College. More than a little annoyed at what he saw as unwanted and unwarranted preferential treatment, Jack attempted to have himself expelled on a number of occasions. However, once it became clear that this would not be allowed, he dedicated himself to proving that he was more than capable of earning his place through hard work and dedication. He would go on to graduate second in his class, something that even the only person to surpass him believed to be a calculated act on Jack's part, as her was certainly more than capable of taking the top spot.

First Lord Simon Cameron himself gave the commencement speech for the graduation, and shock Jack's hand, the only time that the two distant relatives are known to have met in person.

Several attempts were made to assign Jack to various staff or diplomatic postings, where his family name would be considered, useful. However, each of there had to be abandoned after a series of carefully planed and meticulously carried out 'incidents' on his part. These include, but are not limited to, the theft of John Davions BattleMech during a brief stint as assistant military attaché on New Avalon. Eventually, HAF High Command relented, and gave Jack the posting he wanted: joining a front line jump-infantry regiment assigned to the Fifty-sixth Royal Jump Infantry Division.

As soon as he was eligible, Jack applied for the little known infantry course that made up part of the prestigious Gunslinger Programme at the Military Academy of Aphros on Venus. This time, Jack did not hold back, and set several records that would stand until the fall of the Star League. Graduating top of his class, by a wide margin, Jack applied to join the elite Special Armed Services, the legendary Blackhearts, the SLDF's elite anti-terrorism organization. When asked why, he said it sounded 'dangerous', and therefore, 'fun'.

Despite passing the selection, impressing his instructors with his willingness to never ask another to do something he was unwilling to do himself, once again his connection to the distant First Lord, by this time, Simons son, Richard, came back to haunt him. Offered a teaching position with the SAS, Jack was told that he would never see active deployment: with the death of Simon Cameron, High Command had issued a directive that no member of House Cameron, no matter how distant, would be allowed to see active service until Richard came of age. This edict had been intended to protect the core of the Royal Family, but had been worded such that even Jack was caught up in it.

Jack requested, and was granted, a leave of service while he contemplated what to do with his life.

It was by this twist of fate that he avoided the strike that killed the rest of the McKenzie-Cameron line when the family landhold was overrun by forces loyal to Stefan Amaris. In the confusion and resulting fire, it was erroneously reported that Jack was among the dead, and the Usurper thought nothing more of it. But Jack was very much alive, and, after seeing the chard remains of his family where they had been left, he became very, very angry. Drawing a knife, he cut the palm of his left hand and swore a blood oath over the remains of his family that he would have vengeance upon Stefan Amaris. And that is where the official history ends: John Aloysius McKenzie-Cameron was declared dead, little more than another name to add to all the other victim of the insatiable greed of the Usurper.

But, where one story ends, another begins...

That said, I do hope you'll indulge me if I inject a history lesson here. Trust me, it will all make sense in due time.

London, 1837. A world so removed from our own that it would appear almost alien to us, over a thousand years later. Terra was just reaching the end of the first Industrial Revolution, reliant on steam, water and when all else failed, raw muscle power to drive the engine of progress. It would be almost seventy years before the first powered flight by a heavier than air craft, more than a century before humanity made its first timid steps into the wider universe. It was a very different time, with the mysticism of the past giving way to the dawning of the age of technology. But old superstitions die hard, so when people encounter something outside of their understanding, well, they fall back on what they know.

So, when stories started to circulate of a mysterious figure appearing out of the night to attack seemingly random victims across the city, it wasn't long before they were proclaimed to be a demon. More attacks followed, including one that saw an armed soldier standing sentry attacked by a grotesque figure with sharp claws and glowing red eyes, who was reportedly capable of inhuman feats of agility. Thus was born the legend of Spring-Heeled Jack, the Terror of London. Sightings would continue for almost seventy years, stretching the length and breath of the British Isles, with far too many witnesses to be discredited as simply mass hysteria.

But what, I hear you ask, has this got to do with a lone SLDF infantryman?

Well, six months into the new regime, the police chief for the city of Edinburgh was found dead, shot through the neck by an arrow. Upon examination, it was discovered that the name Bethany McKenzie-Cameron had been etched into the shaft. A search of local records showed only one match: the six year old daughter of Robert and Meredith McKenzie-Cameron, and the youngest niece of of Jack McKenzie-Cameron. It is important to note that the victim had been a vocal supporter of Amaris, eagerly using the emergency powers handed to him to rule his city in an iron grip.

More bodies followed, and at each scene, the name of a member of the McKenzie-Cameron family was found etched into an arrow, a knife or a bullet. Perhaps the most gruesome was the trou de loup, or wolf pit, that was dug on a stretch of forest trail often used by members of a Rim Worlds Army garrison. That trap was expertly set, designed only to trigger when a significant weight was placed upon it, allowing it to ensnare no less than six MechWarriors. Not only was the bottom of the pit lined with sharpened wooden spikes, but they had smeared with human excrement, meaning that those who survived being impaled found themselves facing the increased risk of infection. Inscribed on each spike were the remaining names of the McKenzie-Cameron family.

The attacks contained, all seemingly at random, with the names of other dead members of the Cameron dynasty found near every body. However, by this point, the placing of names had become public knowledge, and it is very likely that at least some of the killings were the work of copycats, inspired by the original. And indeed, a number of people were arrested and executed for the killings, even when there was overwhelming proof that they could not have been responsible for all of them.

But, if that was all there was to it, why did I bring up some story from a thousand years ago?

Because it wasn't long before a new terror started to stalk the cites and towns of Europe.

Most of Terra was still under curfew, with security patrols, made up of RWA paramilitaries and local recruits, enforcing harsh penalties on those who they caught out without a pass. The city of Copenhagen had become notorious for the harshness of its local police under the new regime, but all this would change when a mysterious assailant began to attack patrols. At first, it was assumed to be little more than local criminal elements testing the waters, or random citizens striking back against their oppressors.

That was until the night of December 26th, 2767, the first anniversary of the coup.

Several members of the local garrison had been out drinking, celebrating Amaris' rise to power, when a dark figure appeared in the street before them. The lone survivor described a tall, slender form, dressed in what looked to be some kind of customised battle dress. Their face was hidden behind a featureless mask that left only two glowing red eyes to be seen. It was upon them before they had a chance to react, a massive sword cutting though uniforms and flesh with equal ease. Some tried to run, others fight back, but all fell to the strange attacker. The only thing stopping the unknown attacker from finishing the job was the sudden appearance of a police VTOL, its powerful searchlight illuminating the bloody scene.

The masked figure looked up, then vanished into the night.

More attacks followed, leaving more dead troops and security forces in their wake. The unknown attacker, always described the same by the few survivors, seemed to be able to move abut Europe at will, striking seemingly random targets. Attempts to track or trap the mysterious attacker failed, but an investigation into their possible identity did bear some fruit.

A study of the few images of the attacker showed that they seemed to be using a customised variant of the type of sneak suite favoured by SLDF special forces. The mask, with its distinctive red eyes, was identified as a prototype multi-spectrum visor, believed to have been destroyed in a fire that gutted the Marconi Electronics factory not long after the coup. It also became clear that the individual was equipped with a MELCO 'Black Kite' jump pack, an extremely rare and expensive piece of equipment development exclusively for the SAS, due to its unique and still unmatched 'whisper' mode, that made it almost silent during operation.

The biggest clue, however, came from the sword they carried: a traditional Scottish claymore style, with an intricate pommel, into which was set a crest made up of a blue shield with a golden stag in its centre. This was quickly identified as being a crest associated with Clan McKenzie, and a search was made of surviving records to try and identify anyone linked with both the Clan and the SAS.

A single name came up: Captain John Aloysius McKenzie-Cameron, DECEASED.

Despite the best efforts of the security forces, this fact soon became public knowledge, and interest in the case exploded. By then it was almost three years since the destruction of the McKenzie-Cameron landhold, making it impossible to confirm if Jack had been among those killed there. A hurried inventory of supply depots and caches found vast amounts of weaponry and equipment missing, with no way of knowing just how much he may have gotten hold of. An examination of Jacks service record made it clear that he was a nightmare for security forces: more than capable of living off the land, on top of his existing skills and expertise, he had been trained in multiple forms of asymmetrical warfare. His time at Aphros had left him an expert in several forms of armed and unarmed combat, while his time training was the SAS meant he knew every strategy and tactic that might be used against him. He knew all their moves and counters ahead of time, was fluent in six languages and had a face and body that was, to be blunt, perfectly average.

Jack was a true worst case scenario for any security force: trained to the highest standards, fanatically motivated and, with his family and comrades all dead, with no apparent weakness to exploit. In utter desperation, they released his name to the public, trying to paint him as a dangerous lunatic, driven mad by the 'unfortunate and completely accidentally' death of his family. They tried their best to portray him as a rabid dog that needed to be put down for the good of everyone. They even went so far as to name him 'Mad Jack', in a bid to drum up public support for their hunt for him. It goes without saying that, by this point, they'd already burned through whatever goodwill they may have had with the general public. Years of living under an oppressive military dictatorship that insisted that every waking moment, every drop of sweat and every breath be dedicated to the cause of elevating and protecting the greater glory of Stefan Amaris. The authorities were trying to sell a bill of goods that no one was interested in. Instead, with every attack, every murdered Rim Worlder, and every failure to catch him, the legend of Mad Jack grew.

Especially after someone with a knowledge of history drew the comparison between him and the historic Spring-Heeled Jack.

Now he was more than a man out for revenge, more than perhaps the last member of the family that had for generations defined what the Hegemony, what the Star League, had stood for. No, now he was far, far more than that: he was now Mad Jack, an unstoppable, unkillable force of terror. A nemesis brought forth by the worst excesses of the oppressive, occupying Rim Worlds Army and their mercenary thugs. People would talk, in hushed voices, of the latest crackdown, that latest atrocity, and then call upon Mad Jack to see justice done. He may never have become as well-known as the Ghosts of the Black Watch or as wide ranging as the Four Horseman, but for those assigned to subjugate Europe, it was the seemingly omnipresent threat of Mad Jack that kept them awake at night.

But, the best as they say, is yet to come, with the Last Stand of Mad Jack.

In a desperate bid to end Mad Jack's campaign of terror, and under direct orders from Amaris himself, the leader of the task force assigned to hunt him down decided to create a trap, and bait it with something even Jack couldn't ignore. He had his troops roll up to Castle Leod, for almost two thousand years the seat of Clan McKenzie, distant kin of the McKenzie-Camerons. There they assembled every member of the Clan they could lay their hands on, totalling some 250 men, women and children. Then, they threatened to shoot them all if Jack didn't surrender himself.

It was a desperate move, and it was one Jack had seen coming: it was right out of the RWA playbook on counter-insurgency operations. So he sent them an invitation; he told them exactly where he was, and told them to come get him, if they 'thought they were hard enough'. The location he gave them was Nuclear Command Bunker No. K553/44FS, an ancient military complex outside the long abandoned town of Auchnacluchnie on the East Coast of Scotland. Originally built during the decades of tension between the Western and Eastern power-blocks of the twentieth and early twenty first century, it had been expanded, rebuilt and renovated several times before finally being mothballed by the Terran Hegemony in the twenty sixth century. It was, however, exactly the kind of isolated, fortified position that someone with Jack's upbringing and training would look for.

The security forces took no chances: they brought in a battalion sized force of specialists in counterinsurgency operations, including several members of the RWA's elite clandestine warfare division. There battle hardened and highly skilled troops were backed up by a full battalion of armoured vehicles and a company of light and medium BattleMechs especially chosen for their counter infantry capabilities. Every civilian within 100km was forcibly removed and a warship tasked to provide overwatch for the operation. The bunker complex was hardened against anything short of a direct, high-yield nuclear strike, but the authorities wanted Jack taken alive. They wanted him to stand trial and be found guilty of his crimes. They wanted the public to see that nobody could stand up to the unmatched might of the Amaris Empire.

But, most of all, they wanted to be sure that he really was dead this time, and that meant putting their hands on the body.

Jack, it goes with saying, had other ideas.

Despite his undeniable flair for the dramatic, Jack was detail orientated, always planning his attacks out in great detail, leaving no variable to chance. He had chosen the Auchnacluchnie bunker complex carefully, having weighed up all of the pros and cons. He knew the layout like the back of his hand, knew every possible entry point and avenue of approach. He had always planed for the day that Amaris' forces would track him home, would come looking for him.

The first clue that he wasn't going to go gentle into the good night was when a treeline vanished in a flash of light, and several hundred tons of wood came crashing down on the scouting BattleMechs. Those that weren't crushed immediately found themselves knocked over or otherwise incapacitated, just as the infantry stumbled into a minefield. Armour was brought up to cut a safe path through the mines, forcing them closer even as the surviving 'Mechs struggled to free themselves. Improvised defences made up of tripwires and motion activated sentry guns caused even more damage, but onwards the assault team pushed, determined that this time, there would be no escape for Mad Jack.

Reaching the main entrance to the bunker complex, they checked their gear and prepared to breach.

The resulting explosion was visible from orbit. It lit up the night sky and rattled windows as far away as Inverness. By the time the dust settled and a recon flight was able to get through the smoke, Auchnacluchnie had become a small bay, the shattered remains of the bunker complex having collapsed in upon themselves. Turns out, when you give someone with the training, creativity and access to military grade explosives Jack had time and motivation, they can build a really, really big bomb. It goes without saying that the RWA losses were total, seriously harming their counterinsurgency operations across a dozen worlds for years to come.

As for the hostages at Castle Leod? Turns out someone snuck into the castle through a secret passage, incapacitated the guards and rescued them all.

In an uncharacteristically intelligent move, the local garrison commander declared the operation successfully, claiming that Mad Jack had set off the bunkers self destruct to avoid capture, taking the Brave men and women of the assault force with him. No further reprisals against Clan McKenzie were made, and the file on Mad Jack was closed?

But, what really happened to him?

No body was ever recovered, but at the same time, no further attacks attributed to Mad Jack were reported for the remainder of the occupation. No surviving records indicate that he rejoined the SLDF during or after the liberation. Certainly, General Kerensky would have used a living member of the Cameron dynasty, no matter how distant, as a point to rally the rest of the Star League around. But even the surviving copies of his journals taken from Clan archives make no reference to any surviving members of the Royal Family.

There is however some evidence that an Aloysius McKenzie booked passage on a ship heading away from Terra, never to be seen or heard from ever again...
-Starling


The End
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: PsihoKekec on 07 August 2020, 07:41:53
Was Jack Churchill one of John's ancestors?
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker on 07 August 2020, 08:02:04
Was Jack Churchill one of John's ancestors?
It's a possibility  8)
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: Cannonshop on 07 August 2020, 11:42:02
another excellent tale.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: SulliMike23 on 07 August 2020, 12:45:52
A one-man army against the Usurper. I like it!
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: georgiaboy on 07 August 2020, 14:04:09
Only thing that would have made this better, would have been if he had gotten The Fat One, or come very close...


Also made me thing of the Original Don Pendleton, William Johnstone adventure series books.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: DOC_Agren on 07 August 2020, 20:17:52
the could have been turned into a great series   :thumbsup:
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: mikecj on 08 August 2020, 09:27:50
Nice!  Thanks.
Title: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker on 10 August 2020, 11:19:18
And again we try something different.

Follow The Money

Twenty-Four Quadrillion Dollars. That's the number twenty-four, followed by fifteen zeroes. With a dollar sign in front.

Sounds like a big number, right?

$24,000,000,000,000,000.

Still can't get your head around it?

Well, that was, conservatively, the estimated combined net-worth of House Cameron when Stephen Amaris decided to remove them from the equation, permanently. And that's before we consider exchange rates between Star League dollars and anything in use today, or inflation.

It took six generations, over two centuries, to accumulate that wealth. Six generations of investments, speculations, acquisitions and deals. All resulting in a bank balance that would put some nation-states to shame. And it wasn't all just cash money: the Camerons certainly had that to spare, but the vast bulk of their fortune came in less tangible assets. It was no secret that they owned vast tracks of land across the entire Inner Sphere, including countless residential and commercial buildings, farms, mines and ranches. They held shares in innumerable businesses, mostly through blind-trusts and holding companies, with so many cut-outs that untangling the web of trust funds and numbered bank accounts would take a lifetime. And yes, they owned artworks and antiques and all of the other entrapments of having enough money to just buy a small nation, but, in the grand scheme of things, all of the vaults and safety deposit boxes accounted for only a fraction of their wealth.

Sure, they spent a lot of money every year: even leaving aside their living expenses that weren't covered by the Hegemony government, they were patrons of hundreds of charities and foundations, funding everything from schools to hospitals and symphony orchestras. They endowed universities and research centres across the Inner Sphere, on top of countless smaller, more personal gifts and donations. But, even with all this taken into consideration, it was only a fraction of their income, and their wealth only grew with each passing year.

So, how much was left when General Kerensky liberated Terra?

Zero. Zilch. Nowt. Nothing. Bupkis. Nada. Diddly-squat. Nought.

The single biggest accumulation of personal wealth in all of human history... vanished.

Kerensky looked for it, certainly, as did Jarome Blake and countless others over the past couple of centuries. Most people assume that Amaris stole it, hid it away or spent it on the massive defensive projects and Wunderwaffe's that so fixated him during his brief tenure as self-proclaimed Emperor of the Star League. But, even then, much of the Cameron fortune had been spread out among the various nations of the Star League, outside of his direct control. And the House Lords didn't take it: they kept their hands off of it just incase a surviving member of the Royal Family was found, and by the time it became clear that no claimant was forthcoming, the money had already vanished.

All in all, it believed that Stephen Amaris was able to get his hands on and liquidate half the Cameron fortune, spending it all on projects that were destroyed during his war against Kerensky, or the first two Succession Wars. But that still leaves twelve quadrillion dollars unaccounted for, and thus was born one of the greatest mysteries of our time: what became of the Cameron Fortune?

Oh, people have spent their entire lives, and not an inconsiderable sum of money, looking for it down the years. Expeditions have been launched to abandoned colonies, distant Periphery bases and every major and minor financial hub in the known galaxy, but each and every one of them has ended up chasing their own tails.

So, what does any of this have to do with me?

Well, allow me to introduce myself: my name is Michael Ali, but as we are all friends here, you can call me Mickey if you like. I was born on the planet Goito, in what was then the Free Rasalhague Republic, and attended Gonzaga University, where I achieved my CPA, before moving on to become a CRFAC. Or, to put it another way, I am a freelance forensic accountant. I was fortunate enough to be away from home on business when Clan Ghost Bear invaded, and have spent the years since plying my trade across several worlds and nations. I have worked for individuals, companies, nobles, nations and even mercenaries on occasions, and have managed to build up a reputation as a dogged, and discreet, investigator.

And yet, I was somewhat surprised when I was invited to Hachiman to meet with Chandasekhar Kudita, old 'Uncle Chandy' himself. And, while he was every bit the gracious host someone of his standing and reputation would expect, he very quickly got down to business. One of his agents, he never gave any details as to who or where, had uncovered previously unknown information concerning the missing Cameron Fortune, and he wanted me of all people to see where it led. I don't think he was interested in the money itself; he was, after all, probably the richest man in the Combine at the time, arguably one of the ten richest people in the entire Inner Sphere, and already had more money than he could spend in a dozen lifetimes. No, if pressed he was more interested in who had taken control of the fortune, and to what ends where they using it?

Accountants are not, by nature, adventurous people. We generally prefer everything neat and tidy. Ordered, if you will. But, the chance to perhaps unravel the greatest financial mystery in human history? Well, I would have been a fool to turn him down, so I headed to the obvious place to start... Sian.

Okay, admit it: you all thought I was going to sat Tharkad, weren't you? Well, that's a little too obvious. Yes, House Steiner may well be known as the richest family in the Inner Sphere, but Alliance banking regulations are notoriously byzantine, and all but impenetrable to an outsider. No, Sian is where you go if you need to launder vast sums of money, no questions asked. Everyone, and I do mean everyone, makes use of House Liao's Chinese Laundry, with the Celestial Wisdom getting their 1% off the top. I know that 1% may not sound like much, but there isn't so much a river of dirty money flowing through Sian as there is an ocean. All those 1%'s really add up after a while, and it probably does more to keep the Confederation afloat than all of Sun-Tzu's reforms put together. Hell, even the Davions make use of Sian banks to avoid any unfortunate questions about where some of their money comes from.

War may be hell, but business is business, after all.

Well, the archives on Sian allowed me to pick up the trail of Lady Kodi Rosario, personal financial advisor to Simon Cameron before his death, and one of the people holding Richards purse strings. I was able to track one of her lesser known aliases, and link her to a director of the New Earth Trading Company who'd been visiting Sian on, shall we say, personal business, when the shit hit the fan back on Terra. Rosario gave him control over a number of blind accounts before she vanished, never to be seen again. Now, most people would think that this was an obvious double bluff: that the handover was an obvious fake, meaning that it was actually legitimate, and that Rosario was trying to set herself up as the obvious target before going on the run.

Well, that's why I'm the forensic accountant, not you.

No, the correct answer is that neither of them were the true bag-man, or bag-woman, in this particular heist. It was all just a shell game, write large: you think you're following where the ball is hidden, but it's already off the table. Rosario was just too damn obvious, too obvious to even be "hiding in plain sight". No, she was loyally doing her duty to House Cameron, running interference, and probably paying with her life. Same goes for the NETC executive, who was scoped up by Amaris' goon squad the moment he let his guard down. Surviving records indicate that he lasted two days before his heart gave out, and he gave them nothing of any use. People don't go through all that just for money, even enough money to gold-plate an entire star system. Which can only mean one thing: they were operating under the orders of someone they were willing to die for, and not die easily.

Insert your favourite "lost Cameron heir" conspiracy theory here. Doesn't really matter, because none of them are true.

So, why did I go to Sian if it was obviously a fake-out? Well, firstly, I've always wanted to go there, and this way I got someone else to pick up the tab, but mostly because it was the nearest of two possibilities, so I was on to Stewart.

If Sian is where the great and good, or at least rich and powerful, hide their ill-gotten gains, Stewart is where the criminal elements of the galaxy send their dirty laundry. Money comes in from all corners of the Inner Sphere, all the classic vices: theft, murder, extortion, prostitution, drugs, protection rackets, numbers games, backstreet bookmakers and pirates. And the banks on Stewart spread it out, send it out through countless investment funds, holding companies and credit brokers. Money made through selling drugs on New Avalon funds the building of a factory making consumer electronics on Atreus. People are usually too busy to ask where all this money is coming from, and the banks, or cause, have everything covered at their end. But, the truth is, nobody asks, because the entire economy of the Inner Sphere and much of the near Periphery is built on ensuring that money, no matter the source, keeps flowing.

Nobody ever wants to see how the sausage is made.

So, if you needed to hide vast sums of money, and Sian is just too obvious, Stewart is the next best place to start. And, thanks to Uncle Chandy, I had a name: Benedict Lamoureux. And oh boy, is that a big name for anyone in my profession. Lamoureux was essentially the evil twin of a forensic accountant, as while it is our job to find order in chaos, to uncover that which others had hidden, he made his name sowing chaos and generally muddying the waters. He was so good, in fact, that he became known by the alias Schrödinger's Cat, as it was said he could make the same money appear to be in two different places at once. It took the Hegemony more than ten years to find, arrest and convict Lamoureux, and even they admitted that they had probably only scratched the surface of what he had done. He had been imprisoned in an Ultra-Max prison on Epsilon Eridani at the time of the coup, and he simply vanished two days later.

It had long been assumed that some accomplice had used the resulting chaos to break him out, or that he had been recruited to work for Amaris. But, the newly uncovered records showed that his release had actually been the work of Rosario, who had evidently entrusted him with the task of hiding what he could of the Cameron family fortune, probably in the hopes that someone survived and would be able to reclaim it at a later date. I'm sure that the opportunity to pull off the single greatest act of financial misdirection in human history probably appealed to Lamoureux's ego, as he apparently accepted without reservation.

So, we have a planet full of shady bankers, a high functioning sociopath with about twelve quadrillion dollars to play with and a galaxy exploding into war.

Want to bet what Lamoureux invested in?

Anyone who said the arms industry, go to the back of the class: you're obviously not paying attention. No, Lamoureux was smart and he was thinking long-term. Nobody knew just how long the war was going to last, and just how much of the Hegemony was going to be left standing when it was all said and done. It's also clear that he was following instructions from someone, through probably not Rosario, who had to know that he'd days were numbered, and that there was the risk she'd crack under questioning. She was a banker, after all, and that's not a job that tends to include training in resisting torture for prolonged periods of time. No, someone was pulling the strings, someone who managed to cover their tracks pretty well. The only reason we even know they existed was because of the effects they had on others.

Think about a rock, submerged in a fast flowing river. You can't see it, but you can see the affect it has on the water.

You could spend a lifetime trying to track down every fund, every investment and project Lamureux poured money into. Not all paid dividends, for sure, but he could afford to lose billions, trillions, if it meant hiding where it had all come from. Some of the choices he made were obviously intended to fail, the economic equivalent of a smoke screen, but he was damn good at his job, as the surviving records I was able to access indicated that he actually made money rather than lost it.

But now we have to face the proverbial Elephant In The Room: even after Kerensky had Amaris put up against a wall and shot, no confirmed claimant to the Cameron throne came forward. Oh, sure, hundreds, thousands, of people have claimed that they are the rightful heir to the First Lords throne have come forward over the centuries. Most hare crazy, a few misinformed, many grifter and a few jokers. But each of the Successor States, not to mention ComStar and the Clans, have the Cameron family DNA profile on record, and nobody has ever passed the test.

Or have they?

See, after the war, Lamureux suddenly changed tactics: he started making long-term investments. Investments that could take decades, even centuries, to pay-off. He wasn't looking to hide the Cameron fortune, so much as to ensure that it would be there for centuries to come, a self replenishing fountain of money that would never run dry. All traces of Lamureux vanished about the time that the House Lords started their little game of "you and who's army?", but by then he'd put in place a framework flexible yet durable enough to not only survive the Succession Wars, but thrive amid the chaos.

To quote the original Sun-Tzu, in the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity.

So, the fund grows. Oh, sure, it takes a few hit, usually when something it had invested in took a hit from a NBC attack, but it was dispersed and diverse enough to always be able to not only survive, but provide the means to rebuild.

Enter everyone's favourite band of robes freaks, ComStar. And no, not the open, secular ComStar we know and love today. We're talking ComStar from the good old days, the bad old days, the all-or-nothing days, when they'd happily engage in a little extrajudicial violence to maintain their monopoly on technology. They made moves, attempted to seize the fund, only to suddenly back off and keep their distance. Almost as if they uncovered something they were afraid of. Just what could frighten ComStar like that and didn't go by names like Smoke Jaguar and Jade Falcon, I don't know, and don't care to.

I'm an accountant: I don't do brave.

The money is still out there. It's still nowhere near the same level it once was, but it's there, and all evidence is that someone is siphoning off the excess, but who and why? Again, I don't want to know. They cowered ComStar at the hight of their power, and have connections everywhere. So, I sent my report to Hachiman, and got the hell out of dodge. I don't know what he's going to do with the information I gave him: everything I found indicated that Mars was the centre of the Web, but I have no intention of digging any deeper.

Who knows; maybe Uncle Chandy knows someone willing to go all the way to the bottom of the rabbit hole, just to see what's waiting for them there?

The End
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: paulobrito on 10 August 2020, 12:09:10
Very, very nice.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: PsihoKekec on 10 August 2020, 13:17:06
Quote
Accountants are not, by nature, adventurous people.
But there comes a phase in every accountant's life when he wants to become a lion tamer. It's usually a short lived phase. Usually.

It's lamentable though that we will never see a CIS style show about forensic accountants. Well, actually it isn't.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: georgiaboy on 10 August 2020, 13:18:37
Uuuuugghhhhh


Another Cliff, I was on cruise control on my bike, going along so nicely, then the Cliff. Hope this road gets a bridge and keeps going. I hear their is this nice bar at the END.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker on 10 August 2020, 14:40:13
Uuuuugghhhhh


Another Cliff, I was on cruise control on my bike, going along so nicely, then the Cliff. Hope this road gets a bridge and keeps going. I hear their is this nice bar at the END.
You want to know how it ends? In fire.

Mickey reports to Uncle Chandy, who leaks the information to the AMC, who make a run on Mars, and everything goes Dr Strangelove
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: georgiaboy on 10 August 2020, 15:18:54
But,, I like How I Learned to Like the Bomb!, Slim Pickens was great in that Drama.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: ChaserGrey on 10 August 2020, 15:47:54
Late to the party here, because I've been commenting mostly on FF.net. But this is fantastic. I look forward to every new chapter. Looking back, it's hard to pick favorites, but I keep coming back to "Sealed Cargo," "The Wreck of the Charlotte Cameron," "The Most Dangerous Game," and "Incubus," I suppose because more than other stories they seem like something that could happen in the BattleTech universe. After all, who knows what experiments the Star League or the Word of Blake might have gotten up to? "Sealed Cargo" is a brilliant example of how a story that tells less can be more horrifying than one that tells more. And "Incubus" seems to take some pages from the Gene-Caste, which I thought were a criminally underutilized idea.

I'm also a fan of "Urban Legend" and "From a Certain Point of View," because they give us real-sounding voices from people who have gotten short shrift in the fiction. I love talking with a sane Manei Dominei, and a Clan warrior who isn't a Galaxy Commander or Khan.

But far and away I think my favorite is "On A Pale Horse," because I still have trouble believing it's not canon. You got the voice from the Jihad books perfectly, and spun such a great web of history, myth, and rumor. The best part is that it could have really happened, if you just assume that the Horsemen's myth took on a life of its own and they really only committed a fraction of the attacks they were credited with.  And just when we're about to dismiss the whole thing as another fairy tale...you dropped in that there's that one clip of gun camera footage, showing the white Highlander.  Brrr.

But of course, the Zevon fan in me will always love "Roland the Headless Hunchback Pilot."

Regarding your latest installment: it rocked, and as a fan of The Blood (even though I know they'll never, ever be canon) I of course had my own ideas about where all those C-Bills were going. Jaime did start out as a Clanner after all, and so did some of the older Dragoons, plus the Bondsmen they took.  Just what did give them such a hard-on for Mars all of a sudden?

My only criticism is that I can't see the Cameron fortune coming through that close to intact- I'd have expected them to invest most of it in the Hegemony, and per Liberation of Terra the Hegemony was pretty much a parking lot even before Big Daddy Alex K said "we out." Of course, even if we're just talking about what could be turned into cash quickly when the coup went down, you're probably still in the low trillions of SL dollars, at least.

Great story, please keep writing!
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker on 12 August 2020, 13:26:21
It's lamentable though that we will never see a CIS style show about forensic accountants.
There's always The Accountant.

But,, I like How I Learned to Like the Bomb!, Slim Pickens was great in that Drama.
There's a quote about film making (and storytelling in general), often attributed to the high-functioning sociopath that was Stanley Kubrick, that goes something like this:
"Confront a man with a crisis in the office, and you have a thriller. Confront him at home, and you have a drama. Confront him on the toilet, and you have a comedy.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: Sharpnel on 12 August 2020, 13:34:15
There's always The Accountant.

without the murder and assassinations
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: Cannonshop on 12 August 2020, 13:43:02
another excellent one.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: mikecj on 12 August 2020, 19:48:06
Thank you, well plotted and paced.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker on 13 August 2020, 06:40:15
With thanks again to Kargan3033 for suggesting the setting.
But, with that said, time to really turn it up to 11...


Hall Of Mirrors

The War of '39. That's when it happened.

My DEST team was sent to Exeter in support of the Ryuken-go after ISF discovered that the honorless Davion dogs had set up a secret research outpost there, an offshoot of the New Avalon Institute of Science. Our mission was to locate the laboratory, kill the staff and recover what we could for the glory of the Dragon! Moral was high, especially as we were going into battle alongside Kanrei Theodore Kurita himself. We would strike the unsuspecting Davions like a hail of arrows, cutting them down without mercy.

It may only have been a raid, not a full invasion, but that did not mean that we could not teach them the error of their ways, punish them for attacking the Combine.

Unfortunately, while the initial attack proved successful, it soon became clear that the laboratory we were seeking was protected by an MI6 team, the accursed 'Rabid Foxes'. While they lack honour, even I have to admit that they are skilled and highly motivated warriors, certainly not an enemy to be taken lightly. At first, they refused to meet us in honourable combat, instead engaging in a series of hit-and-fade attacks that forced us to spread our already limited numbers securing our rear.

And, while that was infuriating enough, their attacks seemed, to be blunt, impossible: they would appear, seemingly out of nowhere, attack their target than vanish. Then, while we were still responding to the first attack, they'd hit another target, hundreds of kilometres away. Even using a DropShip to make sub-orbital flights, we had no way of keeping up with them. At first, we assumed that there were simply more of them than we had been led to believe, but it soon became apparent that we were dealing with a single team, all be it one able to move around the planet seemingly at will. However, fortune favours the prepared mind, and a battlefield observation satellite we had placed in orbit detected fain traces of massive energy spike coming from a mountain range that contained a number of long abandoned mines. Each spike clearly synchronised with the attacks, but made no sense, as they seemed closer to the IR spike associated with a hyperspace jump.

Still, it was the only lead we had, so the Sho-sa split the team in two, leaving half to provide additional security to the Kanrei, while the other half followed him into the mines to investigate.

Unfortunately, there were a lot of mines, so we ended up fanning out and taking one each, with orders to avoid contact and report back any finds so a proper assault could be planned. Which is how I found myself slowly making my way deeper into an old bauxite mine. I know that someone crawling through air vents is somewhat clichéd, given how most actual air vents are far, far too small for a grown adult to squeeze into, but with a lot of mines, 'air vents' are actually secondary tunnels intended to act as emergency escape routs in an emergency, so I actually had plenty of room.

I was nearly at the point of giving and moving on to the next mine, when I heard the sound of distant voices, speaking with the unmistakable sound of Davion accents. I could not make out exactly what they were saying at first, but it guided me closer, until I was crouched below an open air-vent built into a blast-proof door.

"...in three hours." a clip voice, unmistakably military, carried from the other side, "Will it be ready by then?"

"Please, Captain, this is a delicate scientific experiment!" a second, softer voice complained, "It can not be expected to operate like... Like... Like some kind of bus!"

"Doctor Tywhite, the Federated Sun's has seen fit to fund your work, to provide you not only with this laboratory, but with my team to at as security. Don't you think that a little cooperation on your part isn't too much to ask? Especially as we're trying to defend this world from the bloody snakes?"

"My dear Captain, if I can prove that my prototype not only works, but is stable and reliable, we could deploy the entire First Davion Guards into the Coordinators throne room on Luthien, without them knowing any happened until after we had raised the Starburst over the Black Pearl once and for all! I am just as much a patriot as you are, Captain: I just use my head as something more than a blunt instrument."

I felt my blood run cold: there's nothing unusual about soldiers talking like that, I've said similar things about New Avalon and Tharkad enough times, but there was something about the certainty in his voice that shook me to my very core.

Moving as silently as possible, I lifted my head until I could just peek through the grill into the room beyond. It was very obvious that it was a makeshift lab, with equipment piled up on old shipping cases and hastily assembled tables. Power and fiberoptic cables snaked everywhere, connecting computers and equipment I had no idea the name or purpose of. But what grabbed my attention was what could only be described as a giant snowflake of pure energy, suspended in the air above a circle of equipment laid out in the middle of the chamber. It seemed to be made up of thousands and thousands of rotating shards, each one a fractal that had smaller and smaller versions of itself along every edge. It glimmered and glowed as it shifted, almost like sunlight on spilt oil, filling the room with an ever changing riot of colour and shadow.

As I watched, mesmerised, two figures in combat gear stepped through, pulling off their masks to reveal a pair of Kyōkenbyō no inu, coming to attention before who I assumed was the Captain.

"Mission accomplished sir." one of the two spoke with a wide grin, "Dracks won't know what hit them, next time they go to use that bridge."

"Outstanding work. Truly outstanding." the officer returned the salute, "Go get some rack time..."

He turned to say something to the timed looking man in a dishevelled looking lab coat, when something rolled out of the vortex. Everyone turned to dive for cover, but then it... It didn't explode, but rather emitted a high pitched noise that seemed to go right through me. I suddenly found myself unable to move, not even blink, yet still fully conscious and aware of everything going on around me.

What came through the portal next... they had the form of men, but they were more metal than flesh. One had the entire left side of its body replaced, with two grasping claws where his hand should have been. He examined the room, his remaining human eye cold and unfeeling as he almost casually lifted one of the Rabid Foxes and placed their frozen form against the far wall. Next came what may have once been a woman, although her entire body seemed to be covered in what looked like liquid metal, she walked up to one of the computers, the fingers on her right hand turning into cables that snaked out until they found open ports.

The third, looked more human, but if anything, that made him somehow more intimidating. The right side of his face bore the mark of extensive reconstructive surgery, his left hand covered in what looked to be part of a deep purple body suit that covered him from the neck down, overwhich he wore a long brown coat, the shoulder of which bore a strange insignia: Sigma over the symbol for infinity. Upon his face he wore a pair of glasses with deep red lenses, completely hiding his eyes, yet I couldn't shake the feeling that he was looking right at me.

"Game faces, everyone: we're dangerously close to collapsing the quantum wavefront as it is, and I for one would rather not have to sit through another of the Bosses little three hour lectures on cognitive causality." he spoke with a combination of authority and mirth, "She still hasn't forgiven Apollyon for that time he got drunk and decided to go back and kill Stefan Amaris as a child. Took her decades, subjective, to iron out all those ripples and get history back on track."

Two more figures appeared, quickly collecting pieces of equipment and carrying it back through the portal.

"My dear Dr Tywhite, it is a true honor to meet you." the leader walked over to the frozen scientist and offered his hand, only to suddenly shake his head, "Sorry: force of habit. But don't worry about the paralysis, it's only temporary. Another hour or so and you'll be back to normal." be stepped back to examine the lab in its entirety, "It is quite impressive, that you came so far with so little. But, unfortunately, humanity isn't ready for your work. Not yet. We... the group we represent, well, we've run the simulations, and if your work was to get out, there's a 98.7% of a war more deviating than the First Succession War breaking out within two years. It's just too much of a game changer, it leaves the other Houses no choice but to attack with everything they have before we... No, that's the old me talking, before you can stop them." He walked up to the scientist and placed a hand upon his shoulder. "Now I have some good news and some bad news. Good news is, that future isn't going to come to pass. Bad news is, that's because it turns out that there is a microscopic manufacturing error in one of the power cells you used, and it's going to explode in... Well, about two minutes from now, utterly destroying your lab and, I'm afraid, everyone in it."

I felt a sudden sense of relief that this terrifying new technology would no longer be used against the Combine, but also saddened that I would not be able to report what I had found.

"But, the lady who runs our little operation has decided that, as history says you die today, there's nothing wrong with us coming back, and, well, I hate to be blunt, but forcibly recruiting you." he gave a faint smile at that, "Oh, don't worry too much, Doctor. I actually think you'll enjoy working with us. Most of our equipment is based upon your notes: it took decades to find anyone smart enough to make sense of them, but the Master has always been good at finding the right person for the job, and the Boss is, without a doubt, the smartest person I've ever met. I think you'll... I won't say like, because she's a hard-nosed bitch, but I think you'll understand what she says a lot more often than the rest of us." with that, he lifted the scientist up and over his shoulder like he was a duffle bag, "Oh, and you can call me Lucifer. I know, I know, but we don't get to chose our own names when we're reborn.

He started to head back towards the portal, when the creature that was half metal stopped and gestured toward the door I was hiding behind with its remaining human arm.

"What about that one?" it asked with a deep, rumbling voice.

"The survivor?" the man who called himself Lucifer turned his head to an unnatural degree to look right at me, "Someone needs to report what happened here, otherwise the Boss will never look at our new friend here's notes."

They stepped through the portal, and moments later, the power cell exploded, and that was the last thing I ever saw.

I woke days later, strapped down to a hospital bed in a Davion military base: the raid had been successfully, and the Kanrei had ordered the withdrawal. Unfortunately, my team mates had been unable to reach me before the local security forces had arrived in numbers too great to risk direct contact with, so I was left behind. I do not fault them, as I am but a tool to be used, and discarded, as needed. It did mean, however, that I spent days being questioned by my captors about what had happened in the lab: they assumed that I had been responsible for the explosion, and my telling them the truth only confused them even more.

They did confirm, however, that the damage done to my eyes was permanent, that I was blind, and would never see again.

Eventually, a man came to see me. He offered no name or rank, but I could tell that he terrified the guards and doctors simply by his presence. He asked a few questions, listened to what I had to say, then ordered that I be turned over to ComStar, who were handling the repatriation of the more seriously injured prisoners. I guess they decided that nobody would have use for a blind Commando.

Well, that was then, and this is now. You may call me...Ulysses.

The End
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: wolfcannon on 13 August 2020, 09:19:29
wth  :o
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker on 13 August 2020, 13:31:49
wth  :o
As I said: up to 11
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: PsihoKekec on 13 August 2020, 14:25:04
Master and his inner circle are guardians of time?
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker on 13 August 2020, 15:11:24
Master and his inner circle are guardians of time?
That would seem to be the implication...
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: ChaserGrey on 13 August 2020, 16:11:11
F’ing awesome.  Boss needs to be Sarah McEvedy.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: DOC_Agren on 13 August 2020, 21:26:17
great so WOB have a time police unit?
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: Sharpnel on 14 August 2020, 01:33:59
It's not WoB, it's the ... TOG!
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker on 14 August 2020, 08:07:40
It's not WoB, it's the ... TOG!
Okay, you're going to have to explain TOG to me
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: georgiaboy on 14 August 2020, 08:27:25
Several different games/books.


The one I remember and associate TOG with is


Terran Overlord Government


of FASA's Centurion game universe.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: Sharpnel on 14 August 2020, 12:53:31
Several different games/books.


The one I remember and associate TOG with is


Terran Overlord Government


of FASA's Centurion game universe.

You are correct! Here's your cookie. White Chocolate Chip Macadamia, of course.
Title: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker on 14 August 2020, 14:52:25
And now I deliberately fly directly in the face of Canon, something I have tried to avoid, but it's too good an idea to pass up

Jonah

Oh, a visitor?

Forgive me; it's been... well, a long, long time since I last saw someone who wasn't a guard. They keep me in solitary confinement, you see? Most I usually see are a couple of guards when they take me to the yard for exercise, or come in and rip my cell apart, "looking for contraband", or so they claim.

Why don't I believe them? Lady, this prison doesn't officially exist. It's built on an airless rock in an uninhabited system that's only visited by military traffic. This is the deepest of deep holes, somewhere where the squeaky clean Republic of the Sphere can keep all the prisoners it doesn't want to admit it has. The inmates here are here because we're too dangerous, one way or another, to have in even a regular prison, and too potentially useful to just kill.

Me, for example: former assistant to the Chief of Naval Operations for the Word of Blake.

Oh, I was completely loyal to the Order and its stated goals, but I'm also a realist, which is why I was taken alive. And why I've never told the nice people with the electrodes and the buckets of water everything I know.

Yeah, they torture us here: we're all legally dead, held in a prison that doesn't exist, so they can do what they damn well please.

So, what brings you all the way here from Terra?

Project Jonah? Well, I figured it was only matter of time before someone came asking about that. And no, you won't need to call in the guards with the rubber sticks to "encourage" me to talk. It's actually an interesting story to tell.

I don't know who first came up with the idea, but I do know that they'd been planning something similar for a long, long time. Like, based on some of the files I saw, before the Clan invasion. No, I have no idea how they knew about it, but apparently someone in pre-schism ComStar had an inkling. But the original plans were more... traditional, shall we say? Go in, take control of the ship, and use it as a massive kinetic impactor, take out the capital. No, it wasn't until we started reactivating the old yardships that the plans crystallised into Project Jonah: to go in and steal the Prinz Eugen from right under the nose of the Clans.

What? Yes, I know what the history books say, but I also know that history is written by the victors, and the last thing they want is to admit that someone waltzed into the supposedly most secure system in Clan space, pulled their collective pants down, and committed an act of Grand Theft Battleship. I don't know where they got another Texas from, but the one the Cloud Cobras destroyed over Tanis was not the Prinz Eugen.

Anyway...to call it audacious would be an understatement. You don't just walk in and take 1.5-million tons of Battleship, not even one that's been converted into a prison. And that's leaving aside the fact that no yardship built could supposedly jump while holding something that size. But, well, someone did some maths, and a stripped-down hulk of a Newgrange, the SLS Medway, was selected for the mission. And no, she never appeared in any lists of our ships: this was completely off-the-books, blackest of the black-ops planning. I only know because they needed the CNO to provide Pocket Warships for escorts and marines for the boarding action.

I wasn't on a mission: I was staff, not operations, but I did get to see the mission reports, including hull camera footage from the ships that took part.

I have no idea where they found the navigator for the mission, because they were either certifiable insane or a genius. They jumped the Medway through a temporary null point only twenty meters wider than the ship was long, caused by the interactions of Strana Mechty, its two moons and the systems primary, a pointed that only lasted for thirty seconds. Must have surprised the crap out of the defence staff, because it took them longer than anticipated to even get the alert fighters in the air. And that's another thing: they had no standing CAP, over their CAPITAL, where most of their leaders were assembled. I've heard of pride going before a fall, but we could have taken out pretty much every Khan and saKhan still in the Kerensky Cluster with just a single strike, and there would have been nothing they could do but bend over, stick their heads between their legs and kiss their arses goodbye.

Well, while they were still running around like headless chickens, the Medway deployed her DropShips and fighters, and started burning hard for the Prinz Eugen.

Oh, I would have loved to have seen the look on their faces when that big bastard came bearing down on them, the repair bay opening up like the mouth of some giant sea monster. And yeah, that's where the mission got its name, if you hadn't already guessed. Fighters staffed the Prinz Eugen, disabling the few weapons it had left, then left to help the pocket warships dead with the fights and DropShips that were finally responding. We'd expected to find at least one other warship in orbit, but aside from the McKenna's Pride, nothing.

Again: worst rear-echelon security EVER.

Couple of people had championed trying to board and steal the Pride as well, or, at least, putting half a dozen nukes into it as the Medway passed, but the CNO vetoed it. Said there's sticking you head into the tigers cage, and then there's kicking him in the balls while you do it. I think he had a point.

I don't know exactly how they did it: you're not supposed to try and dock any ship with a yardship while one of them is pulling 1.5G's of acceleration. Certainly took a helmsman with balls the size of Mamoths, but somehow they just scooped the Eugen up without even chipping the paint. Old girl must have rung like a bell, but they were able to secure the hatch and connect the umbilicals while moving towards the second pirate point.

And that's how I know that the navigator was bat-shit insane, or blessed by God, because they plotted a jump in a moving ship, something that has never, to the best of my knowledge, ever been done before. Fighters and Droppers performed combat redockings with seconds on the clock, even as the marines were cutting their way into the Prinz Eugen. And then, just like that, they were gone. Less than an hour in system, beginning to end. Pure lunacy, and that's why it worked.

But that... that's where my knowledge of the mission ends. I know that the pocket warships and marines were returned, and they confirmed that the Prinz Eugen was taken relatively intact, but we certainly never saw her or the Medway ever again. Caused a lot of arguments among the brass, but whoever it was that was behind the mission, they had enough pull that word came down from the very top, from the Master himself, to let it drop.

So yeah, that was the end of Project Jonah: we got some exciting footage and an insight into just what's possible with a pirate point, and someone else got themselves a free Texas and a yardship, courtesy of the Word of Blake.

The End
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: PsihoKekec on 14 August 2020, 15:10:26
The same people who hold the Cameron trust fund?
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: Cannonshop on 14 August 2020, 15:11:44
Duh, Belters, obviously.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker on 14 August 2020, 15:14:36
The same people who hold the Cameron trust fund?
Possibly...
Duh, Belters, obviously.
You know anyone else that crazy?
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: Sir Chaos on 14 August 2020, 15:15:43
Possibly...You know anyone else that crazy?

Kowloon Coast Guard. 30 second window sounds like pretty standard for them.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: ChaserGrey on 14 August 2020, 15:16:32
Really interesting. And like the man said, balls the size of a Colossus.  But what I can't figure out is why. If you have a navigator who can put you into a virtually-nonexistent pirate point and then take you out while under thrust near Strana Mechty, why are you using it to steal a hulked battleship instead of decapitating every Clan at once by nuking Katyusha?
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: Cannonshop on 14 August 2020, 15:18:17
Really interesting. And like the man said, balls the size of a Colossus.  But what I can't figure out is why. If you have a navigator who can put you into a virtually-nonexistent pirate point and then take you out while under thrust near Strana Mechty, why are you using it to steal a hulked battleship instead of decapitating every Clan at once by nuking Katyusha?

Because Grand Theft isn't Mass Murder.  You have to kind of put yourself in the mind of the most likely suspects-most of whom would have a hard time dealing with the moral implications of actually committing genocide.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: Sir Chaos on 14 August 2020, 15:19:54
Because Grand Theft isn't Mass Murder.  You have to kind of put yourself in the mind of the most likely suspects-most of whom would have a hard time dealing with the moral implications of actually committing genocide.

Any suspect would be cooperating with the Word of Blake, though. That sort of limits my expectations for their willingness to consider moral implications.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: ChaserGrey on 14 August 2020, 15:20:10
Because Grand Theft isn't Mass Murder.  You have to kind of put yourself in the mind of the most likely suspects-most of whom would have a hard time dealing with the moral implications of actually committing genocide.

Yeah, but...this guy said he worked for Word of Blake and got orders from the Master. Wasn't the entire point of the Manei Dominei to genocide the Clans?  Or are we looking at distinctions between the MD and regular WoB?

EDIT: And as for the incredibly, impossibly accurate navigator, well...let's reach back a few chapters. Maybe that's the kind of thing you can do when you're listening to the Choir.  ;D
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker on 14 August 2020, 15:45:19
... Or, maybe someone wanted to epically troll the Clans?
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: georgiaboy on 14 August 2020, 16:06:53
Maybe, it was not Grand Theft.


Maybe, it was a repossession job by those who were betrayed by the Exodus.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: DOC_Agren on 14 August 2020, 18:21:37
I bet the Nav was either an ex KCG or a Belter or 1 hell of a TDS suffer.. 
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: ChaserGrey on 15 August 2020, 15:27:30
Maybe, it was not Grand Theft.


Maybe, it was a repossession job by those who were betrayed by the Exodus.

Those who break faith with the Unity shall have their shit stolen in darkness?

I like it.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: Sir Chaos on 15 August 2020, 15:40:18
Maybe, it was not Grand Theft.


Maybe, it was a repossession job by those who were betrayed by the Exodus.

But why the Prinz Eugen? Why not the McKenna´s Pride?

The Prinz Eugen was a prison ship. There´s the possibility they were after someone who was imprisoned on it.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker on 15 August 2020, 15:57:55
But why the Prinz Eugen? Why not the McKenna´s Pride?

The Prinz Eugen was a prison ship. There´s the possibility they were after someone who was imprisoned on it.
Making a statement: the Prinz Eugen led the first rebellion against the rule of the Kerensky's, one that had grounds to question the point of continuing on after years in space, and it was put down, hard. Taking that particular ship sends a message.

That and the McKenna´s Pride is probably kept in fighting trim, with all of its weapons still in place, possibly loaded and maned. The Prinz Eugen is, as you said, a prison hulk, and was probably mostly disarmed in case there was a riot and the prisoners took command.

It was ultimately the easier of the two to grab.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: PsihoKekec on 15 August 2020, 17:09:53
I reckon it wouldn't end well for Medway if Mckenna's Pride fired a broadside while within.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker on 15 August 2020, 18:41:43
I reckon it wouldn't end well for Medway if Mckenna's Pride fired a broadside while within.
Especially if it pulled the McKenna's famous party trick, and fired a double broadside in one direction.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: nerd on 16 August 2020, 00:01:07
It sounds not unlike the Doolittle Raid. Cause a little phsyical damage, but mostly morale damage. Having the Clans recalculate their homeworld defenses should be enough.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: ChaserGrey on 17 August 2020, 03:46:36
McKenna’s Pride had a ceremonial crew drawn from all the Clans, and her weapons presumably worked just fine during her little trip to New Kent in 3075.  And yes, having a ship fire a broadside from inside a YardShip is probably not going to end well.
Title: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker on 19 August 2020, 15:45:27
Blame this one on georgiaboy and my overactive imagination

All The Empty Places

"May the Gods always stand between you and harm in all the empty places you must walk."
18th Dynasty Egyptian Blessing

Land's End. It's a nice planet, but not exactly where I expected to spend the rest of my days, sticking out into the Periphery like the Combines appendix.

So, how exactly did a former trauma surgeon with the Physicians of the Dragon end up on this gods forgotten rock? Well, a little thing called a Section 8 Discharge, which, if you don't know, means I was judged mentally unfit for service. Why, exactly? Because I told them why I didn't want to leave after my unit finished training and equipping the local militia. Told them why I never wanted to make another hyperspace jump, that I'd rather put a gun to my head and pull the trigger.

Because I told them what I saw, in that mad space between spaces.

No, I don't suffer from Transit Disorientation Syndrome. In fact, I have never felt any headaches, mild disorientation, vertigo, nausea or diarrhea after a jump.

Most people see nothing when they experience a jump: the human mind just isn't designed to experience moving through another dimension. We can't process what our senses are telling us, almost like someone asking you to describe what the sound of purple tastes like. There aren't words for it. Others see a riot of sound and colours, some going so far as to describe it as the ultimate trip, akin to taking strong hallucinogenics. Others claim to experience... Visions, for want of a better word. They claim they glimpse the past, the future, or how things might be if they'd made other choices, took a risk when they plaid it safe.

Some claim they her singing, a phenomenon known as The Choir.

I never experienced any of that: from my very first jump, on my way to attend medical school, I saw shapes, fractals, moving in space. At first, I put it down to my overactive imagination trying to make sense of the incomprehensible, but as I made more and more jumps in the service of the Dragon, these visions became more and more vivid, until I could make out recognisable forms in the chaos. They seemed vague at first, almost as if I was looking at a child's first attempts at art, but over time, they began to take shape, becoming almost human like. I was fascinated by the experience, and I read every text I could find on the physiological effects of FTL travel on the human mind, trying to find a rational, logical explanation for what I saw.

Looking back... Maybe it would have been better if I'd just ignored them?

But no, I became obsessed with them, to an extent. Every time I had reason to make a jump, I would prepare myself mentally to try and take in as much as I could, convinced that I would be able to find order in the chaos and prove something, I wasn't sure what exactly, abut our perception of hyperspace. I'd have a small voice recorder and a pencil and paper with me, so I could take notes and make sketches immediately after. I did this for years, never once telling anyone about my obsession, out of fear of how they might react. Yes, there have been reforms, and doctors aren't looked down upon as much as they once where, and there is some equality of the sexes, but I was still seen as "just a woman" doing "women's work" by many.

As time passed, I started to notice two distinct aspects of what I was seeing: I was making out immobile forms that roughly matched where other people were sitting around the cabins, and other, more nebulous forms moving around them. I considered several options, ranging from the purely scientific, such as body heat or the natural electromagnetic field generated by the human body, to the more mystical, such as Chi or other metaphysical explanations. At a loss, I started to, secretly, observe the people around me after a jump. It took a long time, but fortunately, the regiment I was assigned to at the time was being relocated from the Davion front up to the boarder of the then only recently formed Free Rasalhague Republic, a long journey with dozens of jumps. As time passed, I noticed that those with the second forms around them during the jump seemed to take it harder, needing longer to recover from the experience, while those without them seemed fine.

I also noticed that the forms, previously little more than floating masses of... ever mis-tune a TV? Gotten nothing but a hissing jumble of black and white static? Well, that's kind of what they looked like, only made up of colours that don't exist in our world, and we don't have names for. Only, the longer I observed them, the more defined they seemed to become. They say that hyperspace jumps are effectively instantaneous, that they're over before you're mind can even register what's happening, and many believe that this may be a major contributing factor to TDS. But, subjectively, well, some people claim to have experienced entire lifetimes in that moment between here and there. At the risk of repeating myself, we're just not designed to experience hyperspace: it exists outside of the laws of physics that we evolved under. Well, personally, jumps seemed to take several minutes, subjective. Although, obviously, I had no way to measure it.

But, in the end, it was the long and winding road to Land's End that changed everything.

As I said, we'd been assigned to train up the local militia after a number of pirate raids, but it was considered low priority, so we didn't exactly have a Command Circuit set up for us. In the end, it took us maybe twice as long as a direct, straight line would have, as we made use of existing trade routs, piggybacking on any JumpShip heading in the right direction with open docking collars. While incredibly tedious, this did give me time to observe more and more jumps. And, with each and every one, the shapes became more and more distinct, the hazy interference slowly giving way to solid shapes.

Solid, humanoid shapes.

I don't know if I was becoming more atune to the chaos, or if my imagination was getting better at filling in the blanks, but I started to make out vaguely human looking forms, moving around the cabin during the jumps. But it wasn't fluid motion; no, it was stilted, jerking, like a cheap holographic display trying to run a high resolution recording. They seemed to be leaning over people, pressing their hands, or what passes for hands, against their heads. Whenever they did this, I could see the shape of the person fade slightly, and the mysterious form become... more real, for want of a better word. More defined.

But the last jump... Oh dear God, the last jump...

It's been more than twenty years, and there are still nights when I wake scream, drenched in ice cold sweat, over what I saw that last time... The reason why I will never make another jump in my life.

They'd become almost lifelike by that point, dark shadows in the form of men, moving around the cabin during the jumps. I had kept quite as, one by one, they took something from the others, left them... less than they had been before. And I had kept quite as I watched my friends and colleagues suffer, too caught up in my little experiment, to even think about saying something. Well, I'd been playing Capellan Roulette, and finally found the chamber with the bullet, because that time... that time they finally came for me. They moved across the room towards me, like a child's first attempt at stop-motion animation, shifting and jerking as they grew closer over what felt like an eternity. I couldn't move, couldn't scream or anything, but just sit there and watch as they came closer.

For the first time, I could see their faces... oh god, I feel sick just thinking about their faces. They were long, pale, a crude imitation of humanity, with flat noses that were little more than two slits over a thin, lip-less mouth. But their eyes, saints preserve me! They didn't have eyes! And I don't mean that there was just nothing there, but rather their eyesockets were empty, dark abyss's that just went on for ever and ever and ever with no end in sight. And still I could see them looking right through me, as if they could see whatever it was within me that they wanted to take... like they had taken it from all the others, and who knows how many before!

Their long fingers reached out for me, like lengthening shadows, unstoppable and inescapable!

I don't remember what happened next: I was told I came out of the other side of the jump screaming and thrashing about in my seat so violently that they had to sedate me.

They asked, of course, what had set me off, and I tried to play it off as an abnormally bad episode of TDS. They seemed to accept that, even though I had no history of similar experiences. And I tried to put it all behind me: I threw myself into my work, doing my duty as a loyal servant of the Coordinator, but every day that drew us closer to leaving, closer to another jump, felt like the ticking of a clock counting down to my doom. So I went to my CO, told him what I'd seen, showed him all my notes, my years of work and observations. He thought I was joking, until I told him that I would not allow myself to go through another jump, that I would rather die. I turned down offers of tranquillisers, even sedation, therapy, everything. There isn't anything or anyone in this universe that could make me leave it.

So, that's how I got my Section 8, and watched my old unit board the DropShips and leave, knowing just what was wait for them, in that place between places.

The End
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: DOC_Agren on 29 August 2020, 17:06:20
Interesting time the BT Community gets some Gellar Field (https://warhammer40k.fandom.com/wiki/Gellar_Field) units up and running
Title: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker on 30 August 2020, 11:48:52
Are You Watching Closely?

I met Cacy back in basic: she'd been living on the streets since she was thirteen, husting to keep mind and body together. And no, she wasn't selling her body, even if she could have gotten a First Princess ransom for it.

No, Cacy's game was slight of hand: Three Card Monty, High Draw Wins, bending spoons, or even simple pickpocketing, she must have had the fastest hands in the Crucis March. Unfortunately, her legs weren't as fast as her hands, and that's how, shortly after she turned eighteen, a judge gave her a choice that would ultimately change her life forever: prison, or the military. Cacy, thinking it was three square a day and a roof over your head was the same either way, went with the one that would actually pay her, and maybe let her relocate somewhere that she wasn't so well known, so she took the second option.

Her service entrance exams showed a far above average intelligence, as well as excellent eye-hand coordination and an eye for detail. They also showed a staggering disregard for authority, something she would go on to display all throughout basic. If the Drill Sergeant left an opening for a witty comeback? There was Cacy. If there was an opportunity to embarrass someone higher-up, which was basically everyone, there was Cacy. She was a one-woman war on military discipline, who only avoided being sent directly to jail, do not collect £200, because she actually was unmatched behind a sensor screen. With rediscovered technology starting to trickle down from NAIS, the military needed people like Cacy, who seemed to instinctively know how to get the best out of it.

That's not to say there weren't consequences for her actions, and she spent plenty of time peeling vegetables, washing dishes and running extra PT.

So yeah, basic training was interesting, to say the least. Lot of time getting shouted at by NCO's, lot of time plotting my revenge on Cacy, only for her to somehow turn everything on its head. She was something else, I tell you: just when you thought you had a lead on what she was planning, she'd pull the rug right out from under you and leave you sitting there on your arse, wondering just what the hell happened. And she'd just stand there, all innocent like, and give you this little salute with her index and middle fingers. What made it worse was, she'd never say how she pulled so many pranks without once getting caught in the act. Oh, everyone knew she was the one who put powdered dye in Lt Havershaw's shower head, but even CID could never actually prove anything, leaving the Leftenant to walk around for a week, her hair and skin a soft baby-blue, before they figured out how to remove it safely, with no way to seek retribution.

Everyone, and I do mean everyone, tried to get Cacy to talk, but she'd just smile and insist that "A magician never reveals their secrets."

Cacy was never going to be a MechWarrior: even if she'd passed the aptitude test, there was no way that anyone would trust her alone with something worth that much, out of legitimate fear that she'd go AWOL and hock it, first chance she got. And given her natural talent behind a sensor suite, that left armour, the often overlooked middle child of the AFFC. Mech-Jocks get all the best toys, and even infantry gets delt a better hand these days, but armour lacks the sexiness of the former, and the adaptability of the latter.

We somehow mad it through basic, finding ourselves commissioned as Privates in the AFFC, ad shipped clear across the Inner Sphere to the outer-reaches of the Lyran half of the Realm. Of course, this was put in motion long before Kerensky's fan club came knocking and everyone was waiting for the proverbial bell to ring on Round Five of the Succession Wars, the only question being if it would be a rematch between Hanse and Teddy-K down in the Draconis March region, or if they'd pass the grudge match down to their kids, and let Victor and Hohiro tear strips off of each other up near Rasalhague.

And who knows how that might have worked out?

Well, we never even reached our intended destination: when the Clans started chewing through units like Stefan Amaris at an all-you-can-eat buffet and grill, they started feeding troops into whatever unit needed them before being flung back into the meat grinder. We found ourselves rerouted about a dozen times, sometimes arriving in a system to find new orders awaiting us, then to get entirely different orders just before we jumped out. Eventually, we found ourselves on Black Earth, supposedly to meet up with a unit coming back off the front lines, having been assaulted by the Jade Falcons... I honestly wasn't listening. I was too busy regretting my life choices and doing my best to blow through what passed for my savings account in record time.

If I was going to see my life flash before my eyes, I wanted to be sure it wouldn't be boring.

We ended up missing the big show: someone higher up had arranged for a few of us lowly tankers to be set up in vehicles that had been stripped of parts to keep more combat ready units in service. As such, Cacy and I found ourselves under the command of Sergeant Ming, a truly terrifying woman with an alarming fascination for large knives, turtle up inside an old Skulker scout tank, half buried just behind the treeline on a hillside overlooking the spaceport. With pretty much everything powered down, and about two tons of scrim netting covering us, we were pretty much invisible from a distance.

Our orders were laughable in both their simplicity and their ludicrousness: we were to observe the immanent invasion, and, should the hastily organised defences fail, continue to monitor the occupation. We had a buried hard-line link to a hidden burst transmitter that was apparently aimed at some point in the outer system where a LIC JumpShip would periodically make an appearance. We were to keep observing and reporting, never engaging the enemy unless they found us, until our supplies ran out. Then we were to do our best to blend in with the civilian population and await the glorious return of the vengeful AFFC!

It was bullshit, and we knew it: HighCom needed someone to feed them information, and we were skilled enough to get the job done, but ultimately expendable.

So, we sat huddled in our cramped little improvised bunker, and watched through field glasses and passive sensors as the Falcons toyed with the Seventeenth Skye Rangers, allowing their pilots to get into their fighters so they died in the air rather than on the ground, then hit the ground forces like a freight train. It took us longer to write-up and encode the report than it took the spaceport to fall. We managed to pick-up scattered radio traffic, military and civilian, filling us in on what the Grave Walkers were up to, but mostly we just watched the cleanup crews at the spaceport.

Two weeks go buy of the three of us just sitting there, watching the Jade Falcons assert their control of the planet, listening in on what communications we could, and generally trying not to kill each other. And let me tell you, even without a driver, a Skulker isn't exactly a roomy vehicle to spend all your time in. We certainly could have gone outside, but Sergeant Ming was very insistent that we staid inside, keeping our heads down. I was genuinely considering murder-suicide when a group of rather large people in battle armour arrived to discuss the wonderful opportunities that awaited us as Bondsman of Clan Jade Falcon.

And yes, apparently Bondsman is a unisex term, providing that equality of the sexes is still some way off.

Well, the Clans think even less of tankers than the Inner Sphere, which is somewhat ironic, when you think about is. As such, we weren't lumped in with the MechWarriors they'd captured, but instead assigned to the technical cast, told to make ourselves useful driving utility vehicles around the spaceport. Sergeant Ming was constantly going on about how it was our sworn duty to resist, to do everything in our power to slow the Jade Falcons advance through the Commonwealth. I asked her exactly how my delivering a shipment of self-sealing stem bolts and reverse ratcheting routers to the local power plant was an act of treason, and she just gave me a dirty look. Through this all, I could tell that Cacy was up to something: there was no way that someone with a subversive streak a kilometre wide could so suddenly and happily adapt to the Clan way of doing things. It was like expecting a Liao not to stab you in back just to see if their knife was sharp.

No, she was up to something, and I couldn't tell if I wanted to be near her when it finally went down or not: something told me that the Falcons would be even less appreciative of her pranks.

Two months into our new lives as chattel, Cacy comes walking up to me with a worrying smile on her face and asks me to walk with her. Out of a sense of morbid curiosity, I agree, and the two of us made our way out to the docking bay, where an angry looking Ming was waiting for us next to the battered old Bulldog truck I used to make my deliveries.

This was when Cacy started her show: she held up her hands to show they were empty, then, suddenly, the key for the truck, which I had seen my overseer lock away inside a safe, appeared in one. She handed it to me and suggested that we should go for a drive. I looked at Ming, who had an intrigued look on her face, and she told me to get in the truck. While I was getting sorted, Cacy walked over to the big, roll-down door to the dock, and slowly raised her hands up. Without so much as a creak, the heavy old door rose up out of the way, allowing the cold night air to drift in. I started the truck, but instead of the usual rattle and groan on an abused engine long overdue a complete teardown and rebuild, it purred like a newborn kitten. Even the normally temperamental clutch sounded smooth as silk as I put it into drive.

Cacy jumped up onto the running board and slapped the roof, indicating that we should get going. Slowly and with some trepidation, I started the truck forward, easing out into the moonlit yard. The docks door closed silently behind us, as I carefully edged around a pile of shipping containers that had been left outside. Evidently, the Falcons had no concept of basic security, because the gate leading out of the shipping offices into the highway had been left open. Anywhere else in the Inner Sphere, and there would have been armed guards on duty round the clock, but there? Nothing. Even the CCTV was obviously disabled, meaning just anyone could walk in, or out, at will. The roads were silent, the entire city still under strict, shoot-first-and-don't-even-pretend-to-ask-questions curfew, as Cacy directed us onto the main road leading towards the spaceport. Even during the day, I would have been stopped at least three times by second-line troops, checking my ID, orders and the contents of the truck, but we drove past the board looking sentries without so much as a glance.

In fact, if anything, it was almost as if they never saw us.

This feeling was only amplified when I had to hit the breaks suddenly when a 'Mech, ambled across an intersection ahead of us. Now, this could have been the usual sense of smug self-importance that most MechWarriors have, or something more unique to the Clans and their way of looking down on the lower casts, but you'd expect at least a look, or a shouted insult over the external speakers. But no, we were again totally ignored. Cacy glared at me, warning me to be careful, as it was taking all her concentration as it was. To this day I have no idea what she was talking about, but Ming just grunted and told me to keep an eye out in future.

Reaching the spaceport proper seemed to signify the end of our good luck: that gate was not only closed, but guarded by an entire squad of Elementals in full combat armour. I may not have been a member of the Clans for long, but one of the first things you learn if, for all their usually jovial good humour, Elementals are not people you want to get on the bad side of. They'd think nothing of riddling our commandeered truck with enough bullets that you could use it as a tea strainer. I stopped the truck just short of the very clearly painted line on the road, and Cacy jumped down, walking forward with a casual smile on her face.

I couldn't hear exactly what she said, but she evidently had the guards attention, the five of them gathering around to hear her speak. A couple of them looked down the street, before their apparent leader nodded to Cacy and they took off in a series of long, loping bounds, assisted by their jump-packs. Seemingly without a care in the world, Cacy opened the gate and waved us through, relocking it after us. Now it was Ming's turn to ask what was going on, but Cacy just shrugged and said something about internal Clan politics and people not being careful about who might be listening when they talked.

Well, like a lot of places, once we were through the front gate, people just assumed that we were authorised to be there, an illusion only strengthened by Cacy acting with supreme confidence as we made our way across to one of the smaller, civilian terminals. There we saw a truly ancient looking Leopard class DropShip that had very obviously been disarmed and converted over to cargo haulage. Cacy directed us into an open hatch, then into a waiting cargo bay. I stopped the truck, and latches snapped shut over the wheels, holding it securely in place. Shadows moved in the darkness, and as they stepped into the light, I recognised them as other Bondsman, mostly from the Seventeenth, captured during the invasion. Ming looked at them and asked what they were all doing there, to which their apparent leader, a former Hauptmann, told us that their entire barracks had been ordered to help load cargo, only none had arrived.

Ming and I looked at Cacy, who was grinning like the proverbial cat that got the cream, but she simply bid us to follow her.

Making our way up to the small flight deck, where we found the pilot, going over some kind of pre-flight checks. Cacy put a hand on his should then snapped her fingers, and his head slumped forward, almost as if he'd suddenly fallen into a deep sleep while still standing. Leaning in, Cacy started to whisper into his ear, placing what looked like a CD-ROM into his hands. Stepping back, she snapped her fingers again and the pilot came sharply to attention, actually saluted her, then quickly got to work starting up the DropShips transit drive. We all found somewhere to strap ourselves in, with some difficulty, as a Leopard has a crew of nine, and there has to be closer to twenty of us. The pilot slipped the CD into the flight computer and started to talk over the radio with air traffic control. I didn't catch exactly what he said, but we were soon hurtling down the runway and lifting off up into the air.

I still don't know how Cacy pulled it off, but apparently the flight-plan she'd arranged made it look like we were delving supplies and collecting ore from a mining camp on an airless moon in the outer system. Of course, no such mine actually existed, but had been created by he devious imagination as an excuse to head out that way without being run down and blown out of the sky by angry aerospace pilots. It did, however, get us to the general area of the LIC spy ship we'd been reporting to before being captured. The Hauptmann was able to send out a short-ranged transmission that convinced them that we were indeed friendly, and they picked us up before jumping back out of the system.

What followed was months of debriefings and questioning, by a seemingly endless parade of identically dressed and nameless officials. Eventually, we were all given some minor medals and shipped off to New units. All except Cacy, who vanished seemingly into thin air. Nobody seemed to be exactly sure what happened to her, or t the very least, wasn't willing to talk.

Years later, and I was on Coventry, awaiting a flight out to my next posting, when a gaggle of men and women who couldn't have done more to identify themselves as military intelligence if they'd been leading a parade, complete with elephants and acrobats, lions, snakes and monkeys. I watched them with only vague interest, until I saw her there, right in the middle: Cacy, still smiling that easy smile. We locked eyes for the briefest of moments, and she gave me that same lazy salute, and the, just like that, she was gone.

The End
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: Ttw1 on 30 August 2020, 12:14:55
Well, it looks like Cacy truly was a magican.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: Cannonshop on 30 August 2020, 12:33:49
She's a damned magical woman.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: PsihoKekec on 30 August 2020, 13:27:12
This reminds me of an X-Files episode about MIA Vietnam veteran, who wen concentrating, could become a virtual blind spot for anyone looking for him.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: georgiaboy on 30 August 2020, 14:40:32
Her attitude reminds me of the Intel spooks that road my sub.


I can understand their carefree attitude somewhat, since they have kill orders on them at all times if we are boarded.


I am just glad i never have to stand the security watch for them, and maybe have to carryout that KO.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: nerd on 30 August 2020, 14:52:54
Another good one. Almost not supernatural here.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker on 30 August 2020, 14:59:26
Another good one. Almost not supernatural here.
I deliberately left it open for the reader to make up their own mind about exactly what happened.

You can be a rationalist, and say it was all slight-of-hand, neuro-linguistic programming and just outright abusing the system and your opponents preconceptions to get your desired results. Or you can be a fantasist, and accept that Cacy really could perform magic and hypnotise people.

It's giving that out, that way to "explain it all away" that makes it fit with canon better.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: ThePW on 30 August 2020, 21:06:32
Her attitude reminds me of the Intel spooks that road my sub.


I can understand their carefree attitude somewhat, since they have kill orders on them at all times if we are boarded.


I am just glad i never have to stand the security watch for them, and maybe have to carryout that KO.
I'm trying to fathom the circumstances that you need to capture a nuclear-powered submarine (Boomer or otherwise)... excellent story.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: SulliMike23 on 31 August 2020, 18:23:31
Sounds like Cacy was a really good escape artist. I don't think any normal person would've gotten away from the Jade Falcons that easily!
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker on 31 August 2020, 18:33:50
I'm trying to fathom the circumstances that you need to capture a nuclear-powered submarine (Boomer or otherwise).
Never seen The Spy Who Loved Me?
Title: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker on 01 September 2020, 08:31:34
I know Cannonshop got here first, but I'm not letting the idea drop that easily.

And yeah, this one gets dark...


The Long Road

You know, it's kind of funny, in a "I laugh so I don't have to cry", how everyone seems to look back upon the Star League as some kind of Golden Age for humanity, like it was all unicorns and rainbows.

Well, trust me, because I was actually there: it was nothing of the sort.

How old am I? Well, I was born in 2717, and convicted of "treason" in 2745. But, back then, they had a much broader sense of what constituted treason than we do today. And, in my defence, I didn't know she was married at the time, and certainly not to who she was married to. But yeah, I was thrown in prison; life without parole, all for giving some stuff-shirt's wife a bit of what she wasn't getting at home. Which apparently got his blue blood so boiling mad that he got me thrown in a cell on trumped-up charges.

Like I said: far from a Golden Age.

2751, I'm informed that I'd "volunteered" for some kind of medical experiment that, if successful, and I survived, might actually make me eligible for parole. At some unspecified point in the future. Maybe. If I played nice. So I get shunted around between about six different prisons on four different worlds, before I eventually find myself on a transport heading out the the very definition of the middle of nowhere. And I'm not joking about that: we found ourselves on a space station that had been constructed in the interstellar void, hidden so that nobody might accidentally stumble upon it trying to take a shortcut between arsecrack and nowhere. And it was a big station, easily on a par with any of the old O'Neill Cylinders they built in orbit of places like Terra or Mars. Huge place, with hundreds of prisoners like myself, about twice as many guards, and a couple of dozen mad scientists.

First... year or so, I was there, it was very much like being in regular prison: I slept in my cell, ate in the cafeteria, did whatever work they gave me, and tried not to drop my soap in the shower. Every so often, someone would be called away, and that was the last we saw of them. New prisoners would be brought in to replace the old, but you soon learned not to make any close friends. Not when we were all living on borrowed time. They didn't exactly tell us what they were researching at the time, and we represented a pretty broad cross-section of humanity, so we were left pretty much in the dark. But, whatever it was, they had apparently gotten the support of some very senior people, people with very deep pockets, given how much it must have all cost to set up, let alone run.

My number came up some time around June 2752; they didn't exactly give us calendars, so keeping an exact track of the date was more guesswork than anything. Two of the guards led me into a part of the station I'd never seen before, an area no prisoners had ever come back from. A tall, grey haired woman in a lab coat welcomed me to Project Methuselah, although I didn't get the reference at the time. I was strapped down on an examination table, and a pair of lab techs started running pretty standard tests on me, while the doctor went about preparing something that I couldn't see. As she worked, the doctor started to explain how they'd had some promising results, and that I was to be the control test, to see if they'd made a genuine breakthrough, or if there was some as yet unidentified x-factor in the original test subject.

She then pressed an inoculation gun to my arm and warned me that it was really going to hurt.

Well, she undersold it. I don't have the words to describe the pain I went through. I mean, I should have passed out at some point, but... I don't know if it was just too intense or if there was something in the injections they gave me. But no, I was awake and in undesirable agony while every strand of DNA in every cell in my body was ripped apart and rewritten. I learned, much later, that several of the earlier test subjects died from the pain, either their hearts giving out of their brains suffering multiple strokes at once. Others... well, the word "liquefied" was used more than once. Every nerve, every cell, every fiber of my being, burned for two weeks while they continued to run their tests.

Oddly, coming down from the pain was almost worse: they flushed my body, replacing every drop of blood with synthetics, a wonderful piece of LosTech. Imagine the worst hangover you've ever had, and then forget about it, because it was absolutely nothing like that. I came back to what was left of my sense maybe a month after it all started, having lost close to 15kg in weight, my hair having gone permanently stark white.

Yes, I dye my hair. Get over it.

The doctor came back in, all smiles, and explained that the procedure had been an apparent success, in that I had survived, but only time would tell if it had truly worked. She started to run a fresh battery of tests on me, checking things like reflexes, memory and countless other things. And, in-between drawing blood and listening to my breathing, she started to explain to me exactly what I had gotten myself into,what Project Methuselah actually was: nothing short of the search for human immortality.

Yes, I probably had a very similar reaction at the time, but history has proven her right.

She explained that the pain I had experienced had been the result of targeted retrovirus rewriting my DNA, preventing my telomeres from degrade when my cells reproduced. This was, they hoped, the key to biological immortality for humans. Or, at least, those with the money and connections to get the treatment. Eternity was going to be a First Class ticket, the likes of you and I need not apply. Least, those of us who didn't find themselves her unsuspecting Guinea pigs. They were using prisoners, especially those unlikely to be missed by anyone, because, well, the tests had a dangerously high mortality rate, with the side effects of some of the experiments... I guess there were things even the Star League balked at.

At least, in public that is.

I let her talk, because it wasn't like I had much choice, and I was eager to find out exactly what I had been subjected to. She explained how I was part of a sub-project named Hydra, one of half a dozen different ways they were looking to tackle the problem, and that, if my tests came back clean, I would be released into the medical wing of the station with the other test subjects. Sounded nice, until I got there and discovered exactly why nobody ever returned from the experiments.

Turned out, having my hair turn white was one of the milder side effects of the various experiments they were performing. They had people whose bodies had turned into one, giant cancerous tumor, people who'd had their brains cut into to see if they could have their minds uploaded into a computer, people who'd had parts of their bodies cut off and replaced with vat-grown clones, or cybernetics. It was a horror show, but all the scientists seemed strangely distant, as if they'd had their empathy removed, leaving only their fascination with the results. I had to watch as people were dragged off, screaming, only to come back... different. I don't know who approved the experiments, but they should have been thrown out of an airlock.

One of the... the only bright point was Penny. She was young, far too young to have been through all she had, certainly not what had been done to her even before she arrived. But, like the rest of us there, she was selected because she was easily disappeared, and not some crazy lunatic who'd be an endless problem if they did end up immortal. Penny had caught the eye of some rich and powerful scumbags son, who didn't even pretend to care that she was uninterested in his advances. After he'd... indulged himself, at the cost of her innocence, she'd tried to go to the authorities. Unfortunately for her, the police of her homeworld were firmly in the pocket of the father of her attacker, so instead of finding justice, she was handed over to him. He'd offered her money, more money than she'd ever make in her lifetime, and a fresh start somewhere else, but she'd stood her ground, demanded that his son face the consequences of his actions.

They say that Lady Justice is blind, but the truth is, she's paid to look the other way.

Penny didn't even get a show-trial, but instead was simply thrown into the deepest, darkness hole her attackers father could find and left to rot. I have no idea if he'd had a hand in her being selected for the experiments, but it certainly made sure she was permanently removed from the equation. It turned out that she was the other survivor of the Hydra experiments, and like me she only had minimal side effects, so she'd dedicated herself to trying to make some of the others more comfortable. There we were, in a man made hell, breathing recycled air and drinking our own, all be it recycled, piss, and Penny was still finding ways to look on the bright side. I did my best to help, but the truth is I was far more caught up in a whole "woe is me" cycle to be of any real good to anyone. I'd made peace with spending the rest of my life in prison, but the thought of ending up like some of the other people there, it broke me.

Two months after my treatment ended, Penny and I were called in to see the doctor responsible, who seemed positively giddy with excitement: it seemed our regular blood and tissue samples showed signs of having accepted the treatment, and now only time would tell.

Ten years. Ten ****** years, we spent in that place, being poked and prodded on a daily basis. The only way we were even able to keep track of the passage of time was because they were repetitive and predictable when it came to what they fed us. It was on an unending seven day cycle, so it was just a case of tracking how many times they'd given us egg noodles in tomato sauce and called it spaghetti bolognese. Well, five hundred and twenty scratches on the wall of my cell told us ten years had passed. In that time, dozens more prisoners had been subjected to variants of the Hydra treatment, some more "successful" than others, as the scientists sort to refine the treatment into something their masters would actually agree to undergo.

And no, neither Penny or I seemed to age a day in that time, something that only encouraged our captors.

The two of us had grown close during the years of our imprisonment, and I don't mean in a physical or romantic way. Penny was more like the kid sister I never had: I taught her to play Pai Sho, she tried to teach me to draw, and we did our best to make some of the other test subjects comfortable in their last days. It soon became clear that most of the other projects had been discontinued, with more and more people being subject to some variation or another of Hydra. Some were... there was a kid, Ian, said he was seven years old. He'd lost his parents in a house fire, leaving him with no known family, and he'd entered the foster system. Well, I guess some thing calling itself human wanted to know just how young someone could be and still have Hydra work, because they arranged for Ian to be transferred to the station, and had the doctors perform the procedure on him.

And it apparently worked, because they seemed convinced that he'd never physically age past seven.

That broke something inside Penny, something that the rape and everything that had happened since hadn't been able to touch. Her eyes lost that spark that tells you someone is alive and not just living, and she became more and more withdrawn, hiding away inside herself. I tried my best to reach her, to bring her back, but I couldn't breach the emotional walls she'd put up.

Shortly there after, they started Phase Two: we no longer aged, something they seemed to be close to perfecting, but could we still die?

Well, the medical staff, with their district lack of empathy, decided that the best way to find out was to test it on us, and that's where it all ended. Penny and I were called in to see the chief medical officer, a woman who had visibly aged, having decided against undergoing Hydra herself. She sat across a table from us and thanked us for all our help over the years, then drew a Needler Pistol and fired it point-blank into Penny's chest.

I screamed in pain, almost as if I had been the one to be shot, as Penny slumped to the floor, a bloody mess where most of her torso had been. In an instant, I was at her side, trying to figure out how to help her, but she just looked up at me, and for the briefest of moments, the light returned to her eyes, and then she was gone.

"Pity." the doctor looked down at the remains of what had been the only thing keeping me sane, "But what's the point of never ageing, if you can still die?"

I don't remember what happened next. One of the other test subjects told me later that I killed the doctor and two guards, starting a general riot. Years of anger, pain and torment bubbled up to the surface, and everyone just went crazy, breaking everything they could get their hands on. None of us had been violent prisoners, so they hadn't felt the need to arm the guards beyond clubs and stunners, but it's amazing what a human is capable of when they're backed into a corner. The riot spread, prisoners improvising weapons, raiding the kitchen and medical wing for anything sharp. There had been a small Jumpships docked at the station, delivering supplies, and we managed to force our way on board, "convincing" the crew to take us... somewhere, a system one of the other test subjects knew, where there was a Rockjack community we could vanish into.

Oh, the authorities were looking for us, but we'd been unpersoned, all our records removed, so it wasn't like they could put up wanted posters with our names and faces on. And space is big, full of people who are, for one reason or another, looking to escape their past. So we scattered, knowing that staying together was far more of a risk. It is far easier to vanish into a crowd when you're alone, and after so many years together, I think we all wanted some fresh faces to look at.

I can't speak for any of the others, but I certainly never thought about trying to go public: I'd lost any and all faith I may have had in the system, so I kept my head down and kept moving. The chaos of the civil war that erupted not long after helped, as there was a sea of humanity trying to find a new, safer place to live, and it wasn't like anyone was really able to keep an acute record of names and faces. I never settled, not for long: people eventually notice that you're not looking any older after a few years, a decade at most, and I didn't want to risk ending up in another science lab.

And that's pretty much how I've spent the last few centuries. I find a world, find a job, earn some money, and be ready to walk away from it all in a heartbeat. I've had a few relationships, but never married, and a side effect of Hydra has left me sterile, so no kids. That's probably a blessing, as I have no idea if what they did to me would be passed on or not, and I'd rather not take the chance, either way. No parent should have to burry their own children, and I've come to see my apparent immortality as a curse, not a blessing. And I have never told anyone the truth, not until today.

Why am I here, telling you all this?

Well, when you're completely, truly outside of the system, you often hear things. Things like, someone uncovered some files concerning Project Methuselah. And yes, I did notice your reaction when I mentioned that name; you must really suck at cards with a poker face like that. So I hear that someone is digging into things best left buried, may even try to restart the experiments, and, well, that's not something I can allow.

I know, I know: you're only doing it with the very best of intentions. I guess Stone is starting to show his age, cryogenics or not, but trust me, nothing you can learn from those files can save him, or the Republic. Maybe you should have done a better job building a nation that could survive losing its charismatic leader. Oh, and don't bother with the panic button: your guards are... otherwise detained. I've had almost four centuries of practice, so I know how to get into and out of places. I also know exactly what you can find on the Black Market if you know the right questions to ask. As such the explosives I've placed are Terran by manufacturer, so people will suspect an internal power-play.

You should thank me, really: humanity isn't ready for immortality.

The End
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: wolfcannon on 01 September 2020, 08:49:12
holy shat   :o
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: Cannonshop on 01 September 2020, 09:26:20
I like him.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker on 01 September 2020, 09:29:07
I like him.
...you like anyone with a friend called Penny who died in tragic circumstances
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: Artifex on 01 September 2020, 09:41:11
Nice job on that last one JA Baker.  :thumbsup:
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: ThePW on 01 September 2020, 12:14:45
*claps*
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: PsihoKekec on 01 September 2020, 13:49:47
Some things should stay buried and if needed, have some additional soil thrown onto them.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: SulliMike23 on 01 September 2020, 14:33:12
Sounds almost like a combination of Highlander and Code Geass here.
Title: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker on 06 September 2020, 19:57:02
To Reach The Unreachable Star

Spacers, and I mean the hardcore, born in vacuum and have a legitimate phobia of going planet-side, call it Perdition's Flames.

It's a binary system, far side of the Joradian Cluster, meaning that it is quite literally off the maps, so far anti-spinward you have to wonder exactly who found it, and what they were doing out there. Officially it's called some long alphanumeric code, but we're stick with Perdition's Flames, if it's all the same with you. And yeah, it's so far out, you'd have to be crazy to try and reach it.. and downright certifiable to try and reach the one habitable planet.

See, the reason for the colourful name is, well, it's a graveyard of lost ships. Some kind of almost unnavigable gravitational anomaly surrounds the system, reaching a good twenty light-years out. And sure, you're probably thinking "then just jump in from outside: KF drives have a thirty light-year range, after all." Well, congratulations: you've just added another wreck to the collection. No, according to those who claim to have been there, you need to follow The Path, a safe rout hidden in the ramblings of a long-dead pathfinder who was the first to reach the system and make it back alive. Journey apparently drove him mad as Maxie Liao, because he'd spend the remainder of his life in a padded cell, writing on the walls about the things he'd seen.

The Terran Hegemony thought he'd just gone space crazy: pathfinders tend to be a little bit on the loopy side, even by spacer standards, what with being willing to make jumps into the true unknown, on ships that tend to dance on the edge of what is and isn't possible, and to do so alone, with no crew to help if things went wrong. They don't make people like that anymore, or, if they do, nobody in their right mind would give them control of a potentially irreplaceable JumpShip. The pilot, Joachim was his name, died without ever giving a clear answer of just how he got there, and what he saw, and, well, people just love a good mystery.

So began the centuries long challenge to break Joachim's code and reach the heart of Pedetion's Flames.

And that's also how the graveyard started to form: from the twisted, broken wrecks of all those who tried to find a shortcut, or zigged when they should have zagged. Because everyone who could, sent expeditions to the system, to try and discover what secrets it held. The Terran Hegemony, the Star League, the Rim Worlds Republic, the Lyran Commonwealth, ComStar and the Word of Blake. In the six centuries since it was first mapped, no less than twenty-seven major expeditions have been sent to Pedetion's Flames, with countless smaller ones. Some of the more recent attempts have done little more than try and scavenge what they could from the previous missions, looking for valuable LosTech. But, all too often, they've done little but add to the drifting sea of wrecked starships.

Some people claim that there are... people, living on some of the wrecks, where gravity or intent has brought multiple ships together into drifting reefs of twisted metal. They talk of patchwork jump-sails and brightly burning lights, inviting in weary travellers looking for the chance to rest as they make their attempt to reach the centre of the labyrinth. None of them talk of these people ever leaving again, their ships becoming little more than the latest addition to the graveyard. There is some disagreement as to exactly what happened to those fools who rush in where angels fear to tread: some say they're eaten alive, their skin used to fashion clothes, while others say that they're used, willingly or otherwise, to add fresh blood to an otherwise shallow and stagnant gene pool.

Side tangent, but funny story: something similar happened with this guy I knew, Dug. He worked on a recharge station on the edge of the Combine, and met this JàrnFòlk girl. She was short, cute in an elfin kind of way, and the two of them spent several nights together, testing the structural integrity of Dug's bunk. Year later, her ship come back that way, and she's got this newborn kid; a daughter with her mother's nose, and Dug's jet black hair. Well, ship leave, and Dug's nowhere to be seen, leaving just a note explaining that the heart wants what the heart wants.

Anyway, you wanted to know about the supposed safe rout?

Well, Joachim was bug-shit crazy by the end, so everything was in code. First clue he left talked about the "The Black Goat with a Thousand Young", which is generally taken to relate to a dark nebula on the edge of the anomaly. Then he talks about a system of "Lapis & Gold", which seems to be another binary system, the one made up of an O-type giant and a far smaller G-type main sequence stars. Third jump is where most sane people stop, because you have to hit the sweet spot between two singularities, which is far easier said than done. After that, you have to plot and hit a shifting pirate point between an ice giant, Nibia, and it's moons, before jumping into the Joradian Cluster, to the edge of an area known as the Antares Maelstrom. Last, and by no means least, you have to get past the "Blinking Cyclops", a rapidly spinning Pulsar, without getting flash fried by a jet of electromagnetic radiation.

I have no ****** idea what Joachim was on, but it must have been some good shit!

So, assuming you managed to get past all that, congratulations, because you're officially into the unknown. Seriously, nobody knows for sure what you'll find. Long-range observations, and the highly corrupted remains of Joachim's flight recorder, indicate that there's a planetary system orbiting the larger of the two stars that make up Pedetions Flames, with one world in the outer reaches of the habitable zone. So, you know, pack a coat and gloves.

And now the 64,000 C-Bill question: what's waiting for the down there?

I don't know. Joachim never made planet-fall: pathfinder ships were rarely, if ever, equipped with shuttles for planetary surveys. We know that he made a fly-by, probably scanned the surface, but the data was just gone. And I mean physically gone, like he removed the hard drives and threw them out of the airlock. We don't even ow for sure if it was the strain of finding the safer rout, what he found at the end, or getting back was what drove him crazy. And nobody who's made it that far since then has ever come back. Most we've gotten was a garbled light-speed transmission, with someone rambling in ancient Latin.

There are, of course, theories. There always are.

You can probably tell from the description of the "safe" rout that it reads like an A-to-Z of astronomical phenomenon you want to avoid while trying to chart a safe course. The odds of so many rare and poorly understood objects being in such close proximity is, well, astronomical. So much so that some have even gone so far as to suggest that it is far from a natural occurrence. And no, not even the Star League was capable of engineering something like that. And as such it becomes a question of exactly who or what could create such a perfect storm of navigational anomalies?

And, perhaps more importantly, why?

There is something inside Perdition's Flames, something that either needs to be kept hidden, or locked away. Something capable of driving someone with the ability to withstand being lightyears from the nearest human being for extended periods of time, someone capable of plotting jump-points through long-range observations, completely and irrevocably mad.

So, like I said, I don't know what's waiting for you there. But I wish you the best of luck, and I'll say something nice about you at the memorial ceremony.

The End
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: Cannonshop on 06 September 2020, 20:33:51
do love me them Space stories.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: PsihoKekec on 07 September 2020, 01:44:05
Why does humanity have this overriding need to poke Cthulu in his vacation resort, the ''Do not disturb'' signs are there because he doesn't want to be disturbed you know.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: Artifex on 07 September 2020, 03:19:16
Well they do want to have the answer to the ages-old question "Why not?"  ;D
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: cklammer on 07 September 2020, 12:47:58
There is this by red button emergency put cut-off-button in computer centers, power rooms, manufacturing machinery having a sign similar to this:

DO NOT PUSH UNLESS IN CASE OF EMERGENCY!

 Guess what, happens ... takes about 12 minutes to 12 months depending on the type of person having access ....

 Anyway: you have a of writing which captivates after the first three words read ... very nice I am saying.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: Sir Chaos on 07 September 2020, 12:51:43
There is this by red button emergency put cut-off-button in computer centers, power rooms, manufacturing machinery having a sign similar to this:

DO NOT PUSH UNLESS IN CASE OF EMERGENCY!

 Guess what, happens ... takes about 12 minutes to 12 months depending on the type of person having access ....

 Anyway: you have a of writing which captivates after the first three words read ... very nice I am saying.

Terry Pratchett put it best: "If you put a button somewhere, and hang a sign next to it that says ´do not push button - may cause end of the world´, the paint wouldn´t have time to dry before someone pushed the button."
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: DOC_Agren on 07 September 2020, 17:07:54
Why does humanity have this overriding need to poke Cthulu in his vacation resort, the ''Do not disturb'' signs are there because he doesn't want to be disturbed you know.
Well in his defense, you know those signs were not completely clear that it was a place not to disturb...
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker on 08 September 2020, 05:49:12
For Cannonshop, who likes space stories

A Light In The Darkness

The Pathfinder Corps were a breed apart.

Ancient and long forgotten history to most of humanity, to those of us who've spent our entire lives plying the sea of stars, they're, well, part of our mythology.

See, back in the early days, hyperspace travel was still seen as dangerous and unpredictable. And in many ways it was, because they were still working out the bugs, developing many systems and processes that we take somewhat for granted these days. It wasn't unheard of for ships to vanish, explode or suffer catastrophic miss-jumps with those early, cobbled together drives. Even today, we're still learning from Kearny and Fuchida, still uncovering secrets.

But the Pathfinders didn't have time for all that: the wider universe had finally been opened, and they wanted to get out there and explore, be the first humans to bask in the light of distant suns and see strange new worlds with their own eyes. And the then recently formed Terran Alliance needed people willing to strap themselves into untested, barely understood early JumpShips and venture into the far unknown. Thus the Pathfinder Corps was founded, to find and train those men and women willing to risk it all in the bid to be the first to chart the new frontier.

And let me tell you, it wasn't an easy life: those primitive JumpShips were little more than a small pressurised can strapped to the side of a jury-rigged KF drive. Lot of Pathfinders flew solo, to save on supplies so they could stay out longer, go further. They'd be assigned an area to explore, then given a list of dates and systems where, hopefully, a resupply ship would be waiting. There they'd hand off their survey data in exchange for food, fuel and any running repairs they needed, then head out again.

Many Pathfinders died, alone in the cold, unforgiving void. Pressure seals ruptured, reactors overloaded, jump-drives fractured, solar flairs fried systems. They all knew the risk going in, and not one of them balked at the thought of what might happen if things went wrong, if they found themselves stranded, alone, in an uninhabited, unmapped, system, with no way to call for help. To be a Pathfinder was to not only accept death, but to challenge him, to test themselves against the universe itself in the ultimate battle of wills. And, if a lost ship was discovered, tradition dictated that, once the logs were recovered, it was to be placed in a wide solar orbit, a lonely tomb for the brave explorer whoo had made the ultimate sacrifice in the pursuit of knowledge.

Some say that Pathfinders were crazy, but I prefer to think of them as exactly what we needed at the time.

Well, times change. Jump-drives are safer, more reliable, and comparatively cheaper to build. Eventually, the Pathfinder Corps was disbanded, deemed no longer needed, and the stories of the brave men and women who first dared to stride the stars became just that, stories. Time passed, and those stories became legends, and legends eventually become myths. But the stories are still told.

We were two jumps out of... somewhere I'm never going to admit to being, trying to chart a safe rout round a Kurita blockades. We'd picked up three DropShips loaded with Nova Cat civilians fleeing the vengeful DCMS, trying to get to safety with their Spirit Cat kin in the Free World's League. Unfortunately, keeping one step ahead of the Dragon meant playing somewhat fast and loose with the safeties, and eventually Lady Luck went and ran out on us. A power surge from a capacitor that I'd told the owners needed replacing a dozen times fried our navigation computer, the backups too, leaving us dead in space with no way of plotting a jump. To add to our troubles, we'd been keeping to uninhabited systems, "off the map", as it where, so the odds of someone passing by before we ran out of food, water or air, were slim.

It was late into the night shift, and I was the only one on duty on the bridge when I picked up a faint signal on the very edge of sensor range. It was so far out, and so faint, I couldn't get more than a transponder number, so I had no way of knowing if it was friendly, neutral or the bastards we were running from, but I didn't have much to loose. Besides, there a certain unwritten rules that all true Spacers live by, and one is that you always respond to a ship in distress, regardless of the circumstances, mostly because you never know when you might find yourself on the wrong end of an SOS.

"Mayday. Mayday. Mayday. This is the merchant ship Antelope." I called out over every frequency the old radio could reach, "We've suffered a catastrophic failure of our navigational systems and require assistance reaching safe harbour."

Then I sat and waited: light-speed is a bitch like that.

Eventually, after what felt like a lifetime, I got a response. It was faint, transmitting on one of the lesser known secondary channels, and in Morse Code. Yes, it's been well over a thousand years, but any Spacer worth their displacement still knows Morse Code. It has become something of a back-channel, a way to talk to people who you technically shouldn't be without drawing the attention of, well, people who wouldn't understand that those of us born in the void have different opinion when it comes to things like nations or allegiances. We tend to look at another Spacer and see someone who, like us, spends their life battling the true enemy: the uncaring void itself. In comparison to that, something like a flag or a line on a map can seem... petty.

Spacers gossip: what stations have what spare parts in stock, what worlds to avoid if you don't want to have your ship commandeer by a House Unit looking to quickly relocate, ships than have gone missing, things like that. Through the rise and fall of the Star League, four Succession Wars, the Clan Invasion (and yes, even Clan Spacers like to chat), the Jihad and the current insanity, the old Bush Telegraph has remained in operation.

I jotted down the response quickly, and it didn't take me long to realise that they were jump coordinates. I had no way of checking them, but it wasn't like we had much choice in the matter. So I quickly sent back a thank you by the same method, then roused the crew to make a jump as soon as possible. We jumped, and found ourselves in another uninhabited system. And, yet again, on the very edge of sensor range, was a faint transponder. We didn't even need to ask, as we started picking up a faint series of dots and dashes as soon as the emergence pulse faded away. Another set of jump coordinates, again from an unknown sender. Six times we did this, and six times we found a different transponder code hanging on the edge of detection range, and six times we were given a new set of jump coordinates. We could have been jumping in circles for all we knew, but it was enough to give us hope.

The seventh jump took us to the Nadia point of the Avellaneda system, where we found ourselves greeted by a very surprised Sea Fox picket. After convincing them who we were, and who we carried, they agreed to allow the DropShips to head in-system, and sent over a repair crew to get our navigational computer repaired. I chatted with the techs as we worked, and they asked about the strange ships that had helped us along our way. I handed their leader a copy of our logs, where we had made a note of every transponder code, hoping that one day we'd be in a position to thank them in person.

Her face when ghostly white, as she handed the log back to me: turned out she was something of a history buff, and recognised the transponder prefixs. They weren't JumpShips or DropShips, but rather navigational beacons, the kind put on derelicts to help avoid collision. More importantly, that specific prefix was one of the oldest ever used, and identified the resting place of a Pathfinder who had given their life in the line of duty.

The End
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: Artifex on 08 September 2020, 06:03:08
I loved this! :smitten:
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: PsihoKekec on 08 September 2020, 06:56:37
Still guiding from beyond the grave.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker on 08 September 2020, 07:40:38
Still guiding from beyond the grave.
"Viam Monstrate Ad Astra."
-motto of the Pathfinder Corps
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: Cannonshop on 08 September 2020, 09:18:34
VERY beautiful.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: nerd on 08 September 2020, 21:59:26
Also good clues for Traveller Scouts.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: mikecj on 08 September 2020, 22:12:29
Nice!!
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker on 12 September 2020, 12:56:54
Okay, so I yet again have multiple stories in the works, but can't decide which to finish next, so let's have another vote:

Hunting Party, Jihad era horror/suspense. 50% complete.

Red In Tooth And Claw, post-Jihad mystery. 50% complete. Arguably the one I have the best idea how to end it.

The Improbable Life And Possible Death Of Alexandra Stephanie Hayes, I'm not even going to pretend thia one fits into canon, but it's a mystery story. 10% complete.

What you guys think?
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: Cannonshop on 12 September 2020, 12:59:18
Okay, so I yet again have multiple stories in the works, but can't decide which to finish next, so let's have another vote:

Hunting Party, Jihad era horror/suspense. 50% complete.

Red In Tooth And Claw, post-Jihad mystery. 50% complete. Arguably the one I have the best idea how to end it.

The Improbable Life And Possible Death Of Alexandra Stephanie Hayes, I'm not even going to pretend thia one fits into canon, but it's a mystery story. 10% complete.

What you guys think?

YES??

Okay, more seriously...

Red in tooth and claw sounds nice, you've got your best flow going with it too-you know how it ends.  After that, go with 'most complete' (not necessarily most words done, but the ones you know how to close.)
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: PsihoKekec on 12 September 2020, 14:04:50
Quote
Red In Tooth And Claw, post-Jihad mystery. 50% complete. Arguably the one I have the best idea how to end it.

Best to go with the muse.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: cklammer on 12 September 2020, 14:07:22
Do what you feel is best and trust your own jedgement: I am waiting with bated breath!  :thumbsup:
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: georgiaboy on 12 September 2020, 14:46:41
Work on one.
Work on all.
Work on where your Muse leads.


My muse is still in the padded room cause of the different colored feel good candy that the VA gives me.
Title: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker on 12 September 2020, 17:44:54
You ask, I write

Red In Tooth And Claw

You would have to have been blind, drunk, of blind drunk, not to see the emergence wave. A normal, controlled hyperspace jump is already an impressive event, on any part of the electromagnetic spectrum, but a catastrophic miss-jump is like that is several orders of magnitudes more impressive. And we were out there, actively looking for ships coming down the old Exodus Road, keeping an eye out for any word from the "Home Clans", still back in the Kerensky Cluster and Pentagon Worlds.

The ship was, well, it was a twisted, broken pile of scrap when we reached it. Hyperspace jumps require the careful manipulation of almost unimaginable energies, which, misdirected, can and will tear even the strongest of ships asunder. And, unfortunately for her crew, a Carrack class transport is only a warship by the loosest of definitions. IFF identified her as the Solar Blaze, last reported under the control of Clan Coyote, but an examination of the wreck indicated that she'd been carrying members of several Clans. All had been members of the scientist, merchant and technician casts; not a single warrior among them.

Unusually, the ships computers hadn't been encrypted, which after years of fighting the Blakists, did seem a little unusual. But it soon became clear that it had been a deliberate act on her crews part, as they wanted whoever they encountered full and unrestricted access to their records. Well, we set up a standalone system and started the deep dive into their records. While the main computer had been somewhat mangled in the miss-jump, they had several back-ups that were in better shape, and by piecing them together, we were able to get an idea of what had happened.

It seemed that someone within the Scientist cast had wanted to create the ultimate warriors, to go far beyond what their genetic manipulation and eugenics programs had created. They wanted stronger, faster and more resilient soldiers, ready for a second run on Terra, and they managed to get the approval of their Khan to explore possibilities. The records indicated that they found a hidden cache of genetic legacies that had belonged to Clan Smoke Jaguar before their annihilation. Using these as a template, they sort to enhance their genetic structure with DNA from various animals: Crocodile DNA to gain enhanced resistance to CO2, Ghost Bear DNA for added resistance to the cold, and Wolf DNA for improved visual acuity. This last addition seemed to have triggered something, something hidden in the junk DNA, the genetic leftovers of a million generations of adaptation and mutation.

Whatever it was, it seemed to unlock something unexpected within the test subjects, something long forgotten, and perhaps best left so.

But the scientists had no way of knowing that they were prising the lid off of Pandora's Box: they just saw a great leap forward, an unassailable edge for their Clan over all others. So they doubled-down, manipulating the DNA, creating a retrovirus in the hopes of being able to enhance their existing Touman. And according to the fractured records we recovered, they had every reason to believe that they were on the right track. The first sibko created from the altered genes seemed to be successful: the cadets were stronger, faster, more aggressive, but unusually for Clanners, seemed more inclined towards working as a team, with an obvious leader, a young woman named Selene, emerging. They passed the usual training with almost no drop-outs, the ones who did evidently choosing to join the Scientist cast, going to work on the same project that had created them.

A salvaged memo from the lead scientist indicated that they'd made several remarkable advances, and had opened up possible new avenues to explore.

The remaining cadets all passed their Trials, each one earning at least a Star Commanders rank, except Selene, who achieved Star Captain. Oddly, they intentionally allowed the trials to descend into melee, working together to bring down their opponent's, making sure that each was accredited at least two kills. It seems that the Khan was impressed with the results, and not only allowed the program to continue, but to be expanded, with multiple sibkos being created from the modified genes. While the basic bloodlines remained Smoke Jaguar, the warriors were assigned to various units within the Coyote Touman.

Problem was, these new warriors didn't exactly play by Clan rules: they worked as a unit, teaming up to take down bigger opponents. Other Warriors complained, and each was met in a Circle of Equals and handed their heads, once quite literally, if the photos provided were to be believed. But they got results, and ultimately, that's all that matters in the grand scheme of things, even in Clan space. And, as more and more of the new, "enhanced" sibkos graduated, the Coyotes found themselves with an undeniable edge over the others. They had warriors who didn't think and act like a bunch of honour obsessed egomaniacs, but rather like soldiers willing to put the mission and the Clan first.

By this point, Selene had achieved the rank of Star Colonel, and had been gifted with the Bloodname of Moon, from which her genetic template had been taken. As such, it was Star Colonel Selene Moon of the newly formed 182nd Striker Cluster who was called before the Grand Council to testify as to her origins. Even under oath, on her honour as a warrior, she said nothing about the altered DNA that had been used to create her and her sibkin, instead insisting that she was simply the result of recovered Smoke Jaguar genetic legacies. The other Clans protested: the Coyotes had accessed the repository without the knowledge nor the permission of the Council, and they demanded that the recovered legacies be shared amongst the rest of them.

If only they had known what was to follow...

Selene Moon refused, stating that they would not allow their "Pack" to be split up and treated as something to be shared around by outsiders. She challenged the entire Council to a Trial of Refusal against their ruling, and one by one killed every single warrior sent against her. Her tactics were viscous, even for someone born of Smoke Jaguar stock, and surprised even the Coyotes. But, by then, it was too late: an entire generation of new warriors were testing out, each one loyal to Selene Moon before all others. They violently attacked all who attempted to separate them, to send them to other units. Even battle hardened Elementals struggled to subdue them, as they fought as one, overcoming their opponents with strength of numbers.

Then... it got worse. Many of the warriors who had been attacked started to show unusual changes in character, becoming more and more aligned with those they had been sent to subdue. Soon, Selene Moon had an army, ready to fight, kill and die at her command. And that was when the wash-outs who had become scientists struck, releasing a modified retro virus that spread through bodily fluids, infecting all those it came across with the same genetic alterations as the new warriors. The virus spread like wildfire, and soon it was estimated that the entire population of Kirin had been...changed.

Selene Moon was declared Khan of Clan Coyote without even a superficial trial, something that was protested by the other Clans. More trials were fought, all won by Khan Selene Moon and her handpicked trinary of fellow 'enhanced' warriors.

As the ascendant Coyotes became stronger and stronger, the other Clans plotted and conspired against them in secret. Unfortunately for them, the... I don't know what you'd call it, but whatever it was that made people suddenly unquestionably loyal to Selene Moon above all others, had spread further than anyone thought possible. Delios, Priori and Tamaron were covertly attacked with the same retrovirus that had been used on Kirin, and soon they too were under the sway of Clan Coyote. Soon, it became clear that the Free Guilds were falling under the sway of Selene Moon, many already calling for her to be made ilKhan.

This was apparently the proverbial straw that broke the camels back: feeling increasingly threatened by the seemingly unstoppable Coyotes, the other Clans struck hard and fast, even going so far as to resort to the kind of indiscriminate orbital bombardment and use of weapons of mass destruction that had brought about the Ares Conventions in the first place. Unfortunately for them, the infiltration of their respective Toumans and Watches was so deep that not only did the Coyotes learn of the impending attack long before it happened, but was in many cases able to subvert missions, redirecting them against other opposition targets instead.

Thus began a Second Wars of Reaving, pitting Khan Selene Moon's Coyotes and their subverted agents against pretty much everyone else in Clan Space.

That war was apparently biblical in nature, with several worlds rendered permanently uninhabitable. While the other Clans continued with their strict adherence to the Old Wars, bidding before battle and only engaging in one-on-one combat, the Coyotes descended upon their foes like their namesakes. Their individual warriors, even their Khan, seemed to possess no fear of death, and would willingly and without hesitation, throw themselves at the enemy to ensure victory. The only thing that seemed to matter to them was the survival of the Clan, or Pack as they increasingly rendered to it as. Every prisoner they took, every lower cast member that fell under their control, was exposed to the retrovirus. Every victory only swelled their ranks, pushing the other Clans to even more desperate tactics.

It was then that a small group of scientists, merchants and technicians decided that the only hope for survival was to escape down the Exodus Road, and seek the aid of their Abjured brethren.

Taking control of the Solar Blaze from a shipyard where it had been undergoing refit and repair, they jumped out of the Kerensky Cluster, keeping off of the main shipping routs, hot-loading their jump-drive and generally playing as fast and loose with their safeties as was physically possible. They almost made it, to, getting within a single jump of our outer pickets when disaster struck.

See, in order to prove their story, they had brought with them a member of the Merchant Cast who had been infected with the retrovirus. He had been kept in strict isolation throughout the voyage, but somehow he managed to infect one of his guards, making them open his cell. They then started infecting more and more of the crew, until they were discovered, and a vicious battle started. The fighting crippled one of their two DropShips, the twisted remains of which had still been attached to its docking collar when we fond the Solar Blaze, but they evidently triggered an attempted super-jump, which resulted in the deaths of everyone on board, and the effective destruction of the ship.

However, there was no sign of the second DropShips, and the remains recovered did not account for all those supposedly on board.

Rechecking the ships navigation database, we were able to deduce that they had stopped in a system known to the visited by a number of small pirate bands who operate in the area, and possessed at least one habitable plant. And reports indicate that the local pirate bands seem to be unusually well organised of late...

The End
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: Cannonshop on 12 September 2020, 18:31:31
heahahahahah.  NICE.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: PsihoKekec on 13 September 2020, 03:32:03
All of the sudden Manei Domini don't seem so bad anymore.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: ChaserGrey on 13 September 2020, 04:52:23
Really liked this one, and the last.  Honestly, I would have expected somebody in the Clans to have tried this stunt by now.  I liked the Coyote connection, implying this was one of Etienne%u2019s little science projects gone horribly wrong (right?).

Edit: Now that I think about it, wouldn%u2019t it be perfect karmic justice if he%u2019d accidentally created the ultimate Clan Warrior?
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker on 13 September 2020, 05:40:45
Really liked this one, and the last.  Honestly, I would have expected somebody in the Clans to have tried this stunt by now.  I liked the Coyote connection, implying this was one of Etienne%u2019s little science projects gone horribly wrong (right?).

Edit: Now that I think about it, wouldn%u2019t it be perfect karmic justice if he%u2019d accidentally created the ultimate Clan Warrior?
I didn't intend it to be the work of any one specific person, more an... unfortunate accident, where they unintentionally activated dormant DNA strands. The references to crocodile and Ghost Bear DNA are based upon my somewhat hazy memory of the Mars Trilogy, where people had crocodile and polar bear DNA added to themselves to better survive on a mid-terraforming Mars.

The wolf DNA... you can blame Cannonshop for that. I read his "Werewolves in BattleTech" story, and decided to give it my own, slightly more grounded take. So the added DNA awoke something that had been dormant in the human genome for centuries, creating something akin to a not-quite werewolf, where they have the pack mentally and natural deference to an Alpha (Selene Moon), but none of the more... Lycanthropic aspects. Certainly none of the supernatural elements.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: Intermittent_Coherence on 13 September 2020, 07:04:37
Yeah... they just infect those they bite.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: Cannonshop on 13 September 2020, 12:40:27
I didn't intend it to be the work of any one specific person, more an... unfortunate accident, where they unintentionally activated dormant DNA strands. The references to crocodile and Ghost Bear DNA are based upon my somewhat hazy memory of the Mars Trilogy, where people had crocodile and polar bear DNA added to themselves to better survive on a mid-terraforming Mars.

The wolf DNA... you can blame Cannonshop for that. I read his "Werewolves in BattleTech" story, and decided to give it my own, slightly more grounded take. So the added DNA awoke something that had been dormant in the human genome for centuries, creating something akin to a not-quite werewolf, where they have the pack mentally and natural deference to an Alpha (Selene Moon), but none of the more... Lycanthropic aspects. Certainly none of the supernatural elements.
DEFINITELY more grounded, but then, I was playing on two backyards with mine, while you went on ahead and used elements to make something original.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: Artifex on 13 September 2020, 13:14:08
Well, with this Selene Moon stuff ... dire tidings for the rest of the IS should they go about heading towards there ... although ... the did, didn't they?  ???
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: ChaserGrey on 13 September 2020, 14:44:36
Interesting, I was sure I'd found evidence of this being a Society plot gone off the rails! The story's so delightfully dark and twisty that way.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker on 13 September 2020, 14:49:05
Interesting, I was sure I'd found evidence of this being a Society plot gone off the rails! The story's so delightfully dark and twisty that way.
I considered it, and it very well could have started out as one, but I don't have access to the relevant source books to really write something definitively Society in nature. So I just left it vague enough for you the readers to fill in the blanks.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: Dave Talley on 13 September 2020, 15:39:45
Yeah... they just infect those they bite.
[/quote

It's also via liquids, so unless the salvagers took extreme care,
they probably have been exposed also 😂
Title: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker on 15 September 2020, 19:56:43
And now, in a change to our scheduled programming...

A Slowboat To Nowhere

Space is big.

No, seriously, it's big. Really, really big. Really too big for most people to truly comprehend. So big, that even with the development of the Kearny-Fuchida Drive, it can take months, if not years, to get from Point A to Point B. Unless you're rich or connected enough to have a Command Circuit set up, and that's kind of cheating.

But, before all that, there were the Slowboat colonies: massive, multi-generation starships built around the largest fusion drives ever created. Some of the most famous examples were New London, Paraiso and Terrelibre, better known as Ross 248. Others were lost, their eventual fate unknown even to this day. They're an interesting anecdote from the early days of the diaspora, something to look back on in wonder and a certain amount of amusement.

But, what if I told you that, if you know the right, you can actually visit an inhabited, functioning Slowboat that's still in flight to this day?

It isn't easy. Even finding someone who's heard of it, let alone will admit they've heard of it, and know its course, actually getting there is easier said than done.

Okay, backstory time.

Few people have ever seen an actual O'Neill Cylinder in person: they are relatively fragile things, reliant on technologies that can only be manufactured at a scant handful of locations, mostly within Sol itself. Unfortunately, most were lost during the Amaris Uprising and the subsequent First and Second Succession Wars... well, it was like taking a sledge hammer to your mother's prized china. But, for all that structural fragility, they can be surprisingly robust systems. Properly managed, they can operate with only the bare minimum of outside assistance.


Callingwood Station started out as a fairly typical Island Three type O'Neill cylinder, originally constructed in orbit of Luna. As with many of the earlier space habits, the plan was to build it closer to the resources of the Luna mines of the Luna colonies, then boost it into its intended orbit with detachable fusion boosters. However, these were the days of the Terran Alliance, and people had started to look to the stars as a possible means of escape. As such they arranged for a number of alterations to be made to the Callingwood, and for additional equipment and supplies to be delivered. Then they arranged for the colony to be made as self sufficient as possible, knowing that it could be centuries before they found a world suitable for settling on. Additional, subtle alterations were made, each one explained away as testing a new system or design that, if successful, be added to later stations.

Then came loading the station, setting up the massive 20km long, 8km diameter rings with everything the colonists might need. Farms were created and stocked, as well as a number of small lakes, connected by a network of canals. How they managed to keep everything in place before the rings started spinning is, well, it's often said that we've lost so much, we don't even have the words to describe it anymore. Last, but by no means least, came the colonists, people dedicated to a journey that they knew might not be completed for generations.

Eventually, the day came, and the colonists strapped themselves in as the oversized boosters fired, freeing the station from Luna orbit. So far, nothing out of the ordinary, until they fell away and were replaced by a second set of boosters, then a third. One all of the boosters had been used up and discarded, a massive solar sail was deployed, while the ion drive originally intended for station-keeping, powered up, slowly building up more and more speed. The other Slowboats, often built into captured asteroids, had massive, purpose built fusion drives that allowed them to accelerate long and hard, reaching a higher fraction of the speed of light. But
Callingwood, with its repurposed design, was reduced to a far more sedate short acceleration and long drift.

Of course, the reaction on Terra and Luna was nothing short of pandemonium, with people struggling to work out just what had happened, even as Collingwood Station, and its quarter of a million inhabitants, disappeared off into the outer system, slowly bringing their habitation rings up to speed and settling in for their new lives. Hurried radio messages from Terra demanded that they stop, to turn around and return to Luna orbit. But that just goes to show that most people don't understand what Newton was saying all those centuries ago.


Callingwood Station was on the move, and the only way stop it, was to hit it with something bigger than itself.

Years passed. Decades. And eventually
, Callingwood Station drifted from memory, even as it drafted out into the interstellar medium, her crew deploying a crude ram scoop to fuel the ion drive. Eventually, it managed to reach 0.1C, a respectable speed for anything man made, and her passengers and crew settled into their new lives. Contact with Terra, always sporadic at best, eventually ceased, and they became truly alone.

But, not everyone forgot about
Callingwood: spacers remember their past, and the legend of the rogue colony became a popular story, their equivalent of Atlantis or El Dorado. Several studies attempted to plot her possible location, but this was made deliberately difficult by the crew of the station periodically firing their RCS thrusters to make seemingly random course adjustments. There was occasional talk of sending out ships to find it, once the KF-drive was developed, especially after other Slowboat ships were found, but with no habitable system within the Callingwoods last known vector, there was no obvious place to start.

Then, around the end of the Third Succession War, someone had a brainwave: what if they weren't headed towards a known, or at least at the time of departure, suspected system? What if they crew of the
Callingwood had simply picked a direction and just went, trusting fate to deliver them from whatever they were looking to escape back on Terra?

With this in mind, a few independent ships agreed to make stops along her last known course, to see if they could pick up any trace of her. It took years of jumping into the interstellar void, but eventually they started to pick up very faint traces of her ion drive, which lit up the electromagnetic spectrum like a flair. Taking readings and triangulating, they gained a rough idea, and eventually a dedicated mission was sent out of Metis to try and determine the fate of
Callingwood Station.

I don't know what they expected to find, but it probably wasn't a functioning city in space, still costing alone, almost nine centuries after launching. Of cause, locating the station was the easy part, but given the speed it was moving at,some 30,000kps, meant that any window of meaningful communication was almost non-existent. But the spacers weren't easily put-off, and started adapting an old DropShip for the task. Stripping out everything that wasn't 100% needed, they replaced everything else with massive fuel tanks and oversized engines. Then they had to find a crew crazy enough to undergo 6g acceleration for an extended period of time, even with the best LosTech drugs that the Belters had access to. But, they eventually had a ship and a crew that could, on paper, reach a speed sufficient to remain within radio range of the
Callingwood for long enough to actually hold a conversation.

They must have been mad to try, but in 3022, the DropShip
Telemachus was released ahead of the Callingwood, and started to burn hard.

I can't even begin to imagine how brutal it must have been, enduring massive, unending acceleration for days at a time, your body pumped full of a cocktail of drugs and artificial hormones intended to keep you alive and functioning under such conditions. In and of itself, it was one for the history books, but as fast as they went, the Callingwood was soon racing up behind.

A full transcript of the conversation between the Telemachus and the Callingwood has never been released, but it has been made clear that the inhabitants of the station are alive, and have managed to maintain a reasonably comfortable standard of living, all things considered. Vast quantities of data were exchanged in highly compressed burst transmissions, as the massive station caught up with and then quickly outpaced the far smaller DropShip. No attempt was made to try and dock: they relative speeds would have made any attempt nothing short of catastrophic for both vessels. Eventually, the Callingwood passed out of range, and the Telemachus began to decelerate ahead of turn around.

Two more missions were flown, before the
Telemachus was declared unsafe and scrapped. Further fly-by's have apparently taken place, but due to the extreme cost, and the stress on both ships and crew, they are extremely rare. Still, if you know the right people, have deep enough pockets and pass the medical, you too can see the last of the Slowboats for yourself.

Personally, I can think of easier and cheaper ways to get a thrill.

-Starling

The End
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: wolfcannon on 15 September 2020, 20:20:23
interesting
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: nerd on 15 September 2020, 22:06:03
Makes you want to get a disarmed Noruff, and affix enough droptanks.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: Cannonshop on 15 September 2020, 23:25:34
Callingwood: When you've had enough, and you want OUT!
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: PsihoKekec on 16 September 2020, 01:37:56
Callingwood: When you've had enough, and you want OUT!

I want out
To live my life alone
I want out
Leave me be
I want out
To do things on my own
I want out
To live my life and to be free

Also nice use of Douglas Adams quote.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: Artifex on 16 September 2020, 03:26:32
Surely there must've been some cases of claustrophobia and all other issues related to that one in the beginning of Callingwoods life...  8)
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker on 16 September 2020, 05:48:44
To ensure randomness, I asked someone to pick a place name completely at random, with no knowledge of how it was going to be used in the story. Callingwood is what they came up with.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: DOC_Agren on 16 September 2020, 13:51:53
a breakaway colony still on the move   :thumbsup:
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: georgiaboy on 16 September 2020, 14:00:15
Or think of it as a Run-away car.


"I CAN'T STOP"
"NO BRAKES!"

Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker on 16 September 2020, 19:51:07
Or think of it as a Run-away car.


"I CAN'T STOP"
"NO BRAKES!"
Yeah, it would take them another thousand years to slow down, even if they could
Title: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker on 20 September 2020, 17:18:37
Okay, let's go off the deep-end and see what happens...

Nuzhat al-mushtāq fi'khtirāq al-āfāq

The Spacers Guild is old. As in, pre-Hegemony old.

It was actually started by the Terran Alliance, before even the Deimos Project got off the ground, as a way of training and certifying crews from all over Terran under one, uniform system. And, somehow, it has managed to survive the Age of War, the Rise and Fall of the Star League and Four Succession Wars. Oh, sure, it's no longer the same single, unified body it once was, but once you get your Guild certification, you can find a job anywhere in explored space. Not all Spaces are Guild members: militaries usually have a bar on our joining, out of fear of where our true loyalties may lay, and anyone with a head for mathematics can learn to plot a jump. We just tend to be better and quicker, making us popular with merchants and independents.

And, like a lot of old and venerable organisations, it has its secrets.

See, the Guild isn't as centralised as it used to be, back in the day: the proverbial wheels coming off of civilisation will do that to any organisation not called ComStar, apparently. So the Guild fractured, but the splinters managed to remain on friendly terms, for the most part, resulting in the Twelve Grand Masters, the heads of the various Houses that make up the Guild. And because I know you're going to ask, they are as follows:

House Voidwalker, House Shadowkeeper, House Blue Star, House Odysseus, House Charlemagne, House Bligh, House Rosewater, House Kangnido, House Heyerdahl, House Joseon, House Starstrider and House Hightower. No, I have no idea where those name came from. I'm not sure anyone does anymore.

How do I know all this? Because I did my apprenticeship under House Heyerdahl, earning my silver sextons at twenty-four, reaching Master Navigator by thirty-seven, which is pretty impressive. That meant that I had to meet my House Master, and I think she took a liking to me: said I reminded her of herself at my age. No, she wasn't grooming me to be her successor or anything, because even back then, it was clear that I didn't have a head for the politics of running a Guild House. But we'd meet up in the backroom of some bar on a recharge station, drink like we didn't want to see tomorrow and play Koi-Koi.

And so came one fateful night, as the old saying goes. It was at that point where late becomes early, and we had several bottles of... something exceptionally strong scattered around the table as she talked me into yet another hand. It was just the two of us, her usual minders having been convinced to wait outside so we could get down to some "girl talk" in private. Truth was, we were both near paralytic, taking turns to trash-talk my, at the time very recently, ex-husband. We'd reached one of the quiet moments, where we didn't have any new insults to throw at him, and this odd expression comes over her.

So she starts to talk, and what she says has me feeing real sober real quick.

She tells me that there are actually thirteen Guild Houses, not twelve, and that the Grand Master of this unknown House is actually the Grand High Master of the entire Guild. They're the one everyone else secretly answers to. Tells me to keep an eye out for ships with green jump-sails, how there was far more to the Diaspora than we're told, how there are other nations, hidden, kept off the maps. Then she looked around, as if she was making sure that we were alone, that no one was watching us, in an otherwise empty room.

"They've been hiding for so long. So, so long. Afraid of us, afraid that we'd remember, that they took to the stars ahead of us. But some of us... some of us remember, we keep the secrets, keep faith in the Old Ways... we remember what happened the last time we met, we remember the wars..."

She didn't exactly say much after that: just mild sobbing between shot-gunning a bottle of something better suited to cleaning DropShip engines, and I soon joined her. She never mentioned it again, and I never let on that she'd said anything out of the ordinary. A Grand Master is privy to all kinds of secrets, some of which they're required to kill to keep from all but their designated successor. And given that I was nowhere near being in the running for that, I kept my head down and played dumb.

Problem is, it's kind of hard to forget something you shouldn't know, because you're constantly reminded of what you're trying to forget. And I certainly couldn't forget the odd combination of fear and sadness that I'd seen in her eyes as she'd rambled on, something odd considering the power she wielded as head of a Guild House. Anything that could frighten her was something I didn't want to face, but at the same time, became obsessed with.

So, how do you go about digging into a secret that's only now by a handful of people in the entire universe? A secret so well guarded that they'll slit your throat without hesitation if they even suspect you know it?

Carefully, obviously. Fortunately, like any society, the Guild has its outsiders and troublemakers, the proverbial Black Sheep in our otherwise happy little family. Not exactly the kind of people I was used to socialising with, but needs must and all, so I set about making some disreputable friends. It wasn't easy, given my by then well known position as the Masters drinking buddy, but I guess some of them liked the idea of corrupting someone so high up. It still wasn't easy, or safe, and more than once I had to use my trusty knife to defend myself. See, sometimes people get expelled from the Guild for breaking the more serious rules, while others carry a grudge because their application was rejected. Either way, there are plenty of arseholes out there willing to spill blood as a way of getting over hurt feelings.

The Guild knows this, and not only makes sure that everyone can defend themselves, but is more than willing to be proactive in dealing with such threats.

Two years into my little sojourn into the dark underbelly of the Guild, and I'd finally gotten a lead on someone who claimed they had some of the answers I was looking for. They told me to visit a certain recharge station, one kept off non-Guild charts, in a system that had been depopulated during the early days of the First Succession War. There are a handful of such places, some better known than others: just because a planet dies doesn't change the location of the star it orbits, and you'd be surprised just how many 'dead' systems are still on the trade routs. This particular recharge station had been abandoned, only to be reactivated and repaired, at great expense, by the Guild to serve as a safe harbour in an age when JumpShips would considered little more than target practice by the Successor States. Times may have changed, but we still maintain a number of such anchorages, just in case.

And, as it's off the grid, Guild law applies.

We arrived to find three other ships already in position, one taking a charge from the station. The other two had deployed their jump-sails. Green jump-sails. I felt the hairs on the back of my neck stand-up when I remembered my mentors cryptic words: green sails meant that they belonged to the mysterious Thirteenth House. As such it was with some trepidation that I took a shuttle over to the station, still not exactly sure who or what I was looking for. The station is big, and not exactly standard design, an indication of just how old it is, as it evidently predates the ubiquitous Olympus class. It had two massive counter-rotating gravity decks, one for command and crew habitation, the other...

Okay, so we've all spent time in and around spaceport, despite how much some of us might hate going dirt-side, so we've also seen the more interesting backstreets you tend to find around them. The kind of places that are narrow, with big neon signs advertising everything from "authentic" Canopian food, to brothels and other, equally unsavoury destructions designed to separate a spacer from their accumulated back-pay. Well, that's what the second grav-deck looked like: if it wasn't for the curvature of the floor, I would have sworn I was planetside. Fortunately, being a Guild station, I didn't have to worry about having my pocket picked or getting shived in the back should I decide to indulge my more carnal desires. Eventually, I found the bar I was looking for, the Four Leaf Clover, thanks to the massive glowing shamrock outside. Getting myself a glass of something claiming to be whisky, I started to take in the room.

Didn't take me long to spot them: the bar was small and packed, but everyone seemed to be giving them as wide a berth as possible.

There were five of them, clustered around a table in the back. Two were big, and I do mean big; big enough to give even one of those Elementals pause for thought. One had an exceptionally crude looking sword, which looked more like an oversized meat cleaver, strapped to their side, while the other was holding a long metal staff that looked fit to serve as the replacement leg on a BattleMech. They were stood behind a woman who looked unnaturally tall and thin, what exposed skin she had on display so pale it looked almost translucent. While her two companions, very obviously bodyguards, were dressed head to toe in black, complete with helmets with wraparound visors, she wore a long, flowing green and amber dress, with a matching headdress that left only her eyes exposed. If it wasn't for the plunging neckline of the dress, and the slit that exposed an almost painfully slender looking leg, it would have been easy to mistake her for a man.

The two across the table from here were short, even in comparison to someone like me, but stocky, obviously well muscled. They were dressed in cut-down coveralls, with big leather tool-belts around their waists and welding goggles on their heads. Both had scraggy, unkempt beards that looked like they'd been burnt around the edges more than once.

Even from a distance, it was obvious that some kind of negotiation was taking place, and I found a seat where I could observe them without being too obvious.

In my defence, I'm a navigator, not some private detective or secret agent. I know nothing about how to watch someone without looking like you're watching them, or how to keep an eye out for someone watching you in return. As such, I completely failed to notice the man who'd gotten right behind me until I felt the muzzle of what felt like an AC/20 pressed into my ribs, just as the negotiations seemed to end, and the two short-stacks left.

I was "invited" to join the mysterious woman at the table, and felt it was best not to turn down the other. After all, every second they're not actually killing you is another second you've got to convince them why you should be allowed to keep breathing.

"So, you're the trouble maker Alana has told me so much about." the woman's voice was like honey being dripped into my ears, "I was staring to wonder if she'd been too cryptic."

"It...it was a set-up?" I asked, my throat dry despite all the whisky I'd been drinking.

"More of a test." the woman clocked her head to one side, and I get the distinct impression that she was smiling behind her mask, "We needed to see if you had it in you to find out the truth for yourself, no matter how far down the rabbit hole it took you."

"And what truth is that?"

"That the universe is far more mysterious and full of wonders than you've ever dreamed."

With that, she pulled at the fabric sounding her head, and it quickly and silently slid down onto the table.

First to be exposed was her narrow, angular nose, followed by a mouth filled with perfect, almost painfully white teeth, and a sharp, pointed jaw. But that was nothing in comparison to what followed, as the scarf continued to unravel, allowing hair the colour of spun gold to fall across her shoulders down down her back. A simply shake of her head, and her long, delicate, and above all, pointed ears, came into view.

"Now then, young-one," she looked at me with eyes like frosted glass, "let us discuss the future."

So yeah, that's how I became a member of House Evergreen. And now, my young apprentice, let me give you some advice: do not meddle in the affairs of Elves, for they are patient and meticulous in their plotting.

The End
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: DOC_Agren on 20 September 2020, 23:20:15
Space Elves?
Bodyguards Orks???

Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: Cannonshop on 20 September 2020, 23:31:46
Evergreen...so... Winter Court?
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: Ajax_Wolf on 21 September 2020, 00:48:03
Space Elves?
Bodyguards Orks???
And Dwarves, oh my.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker on 21 September 2020, 11:08:32
Evergreen...so... Winter Court?
Or just a random word I picked that apparently means something to people who've read more than... okay, Discworld aside, I've read like... two "fantasy" novels? Something like that?

Things like this are why people keep accusing me of being a better writer than I actually am.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: georgiaboy on 21 September 2020, 12:29:02
"Evergreen"


The color of their sails.


Probably the color of their water borne ship sails, and the color of the light sails of their solar sail boats.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: Sir Chaos on 21 September 2020, 12:55:50
What does the title of the story mean? It´s Arabic, isn´t it?
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker on 21 September 2020, 12:57:49
"Evergreen"


The color of their sails.


Probably the color of their water borne ship sails, and the color of the light sails of their solar sail boats.
Elves = trees =????

What does the title of the story mean? It´s Arabic, isn´t it?
Yes: the book of pleasant journeys into faraway lands

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tabula_Rogeriana
Title: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker on 21 September 2020, 18:48:36
Let's get Meta...and very, very dark.
Also, sorry if certain people find any of this personally insulting: it's certainly not intended as such.


The Truth

Oh, and why did they send you to see me?

Cocky? What exactly does a psychologist have to do to be considered "cocky"?

Really? Well, yeah, that'll do it. So, the Head Head-Shrinker sent you all the way down here, to where they keep those of us deemed too crazy for prison, and too dangerous for a normal mad-house. Well, it's nice to see a new face, at least. I don't know if you noticed, but the guards and orderlies are all a bit... checked out?

Yes, it's painfully obvious, and makes them horrible conversationalists. Sometimes, I wonder if I talk to myself so much just to have an intelligent conversation.

Sorry: the meds they have me on really do a number on the old sense of humour. I'm not quite the sparkling whit I once was. Medical chart is right there if you want to... Why yes, it is a rather large dosage. Makes you wonder what I'd be like without it?

Oh, they showed you the photos? Even the one with the nuns? Yes, not exactly my best work, but I was working against the clock at the time. The Coalition was closing in on Terra, and the Word was still convinced I was working for them, when I was actually using them.

So, here I am, locked away in a place that doesn't officially exist, which is the perfect place for someone they claim they executed for, well, I did kill an awful lot of people, didn't I?

And they've sent you down here to ask why? Why did I kill so many people that I was deemed a one-man war-crime, a plague upon humanity, the Butcher of New Bealton? And yes, I was the one who released that wonderfully effective little bio-weapon on Odessa III. I don't know exactly where they dug that little relic up from: it was something particularly nasty from the Age of War, and a true work of art.

I just wish it hadn't presented so quickly: it really could have done some real damage if it had had the opportunity to spread.

No, no I don't feel any remorse for what I've done. I'm sure you know that I was declared utterly and irrevocable insane at my trial? Even the prosecution couldn't say how many people I've killed, but when you take Odessa into consideration, it has to be in the billions, doesn't it. So yes, I am officially the single most prolific mass murder in all of human history.

Hitler? Stalin? Amaris? Bush league in comparison. And it wasn't like they actually killed all that many people directly. No, when the history books write about me, if they haven't already, I'm sure they'll try and explain away what I did. Try and find some explanation they think they can understand. But you... you've been sent down here to learn the truth.

Are you sure? Last person I told, well, she's in one of the rooms upstairs, drooling into her straight-jacket. People don't like hearing the truth, no matter what they say or think of my own mental state. Because, truth is, I may be the only truly sane person in the entire universe.

Oh I know every crazy person thinks that! I have doctorates in history and psychology, thank you very much. I know that, on paper and out of context, my actions must seem, well, evil is the most common term batted around. Certainly was at my quote—unquote trial. Yes, the hand gestures are important and necessary. But, that's what your here for, isn't it?

Context always has been, and always will be, king, after all.

So, the Truth? The reason why I went from mild mannered academic to the most hated man since Stefan Amaris, with the blood of an entire world on my hands?

Reality. Is. Fiction.

Okay, roll your eyes and write me off as just another kook if you want. You know where the door is: don't let it hit you in the arse on the way out. Go tell your boss that I'm just another "life is but a dream" madman and see how far that gets you. No, you were sent down here to get a look under the hood at how my mind actually works, probably to see if you had the mental fortitude to survive.

Still here? Okay then, let us begin, as is tradition, at the beginning.

As I said, I am a student of both history and psychology, meaning that I look at the thought processes behind the actions of historical figures. I try to get inside their heads, just as you are trying to get inside mine, and try and see history through their eyes. Only problem is, it just doesn't work, not after a certain point around the late 20th century. People suddenly stop thinking and acting like people, and start acting like characters in a book. Their motivations, their drives, stop making sense, unless you presume that some random and inexplicable plague gave the entire human race a permanent case of the Stupids. Leaders, generals, entire nations, start making decisions that just do not make sense.

And it's not just people: the numbers stop making sense.

Take a world. Any random world in the Inner Sphere. Let's say it's got a population of a billion. Nice, round number. How big a military should that would be able to support? A couple of militia Regiment? Maybe a line unit? What if I told you that there were nation states on pre-Diaspora Terra that fielded armies that would put some Successor States to shame? Okay, maybe only the old St Ives Compact or Rasalhague, but my point still stands. By economy of scale, somewhere like the Federated Sun's or Lyran Commonwealth should have militaries several orders of magnitude larger than they've ever had. Some goes for the economy: even underdeveloped world's should be a net boon to their nations GDP, not a drain upon it.

It's almost like our entire economy was created by someone who only had a layman's understanding of how such things really work, and plucked numbers out of the air.

So, we have people acting like characters in a cheap paperback, an economy and military that makes no sense when you actually take a step back and look at the damn numbers, and a series of events that seem almost perfectly geared towards ensuring a near constant state of war throughout the last thousand years. That's not something that happens naturally. Nations don't just wake up one day and collectively decide to go to war on their neighbours.

Real people don't act like that.

But I guess that's the problem: we're not real people. We're figments of someone's imagination. Someone who, for whatever reason, wanted to establish a very specific set of circumstances leading up to where we are now. That's the realisation I came to in a moment of perfect clarity. I saw all the lies and deception and contrivances just fall away, leaving only the truth, in all its horrible glory.

And what else is a man to do, when he discovers that, not only is he not the master of his own destiny, but little more than a nameless, faceless background character in someone else's story? A number on a spreadsheet, doomed to be nothing more than a statistic in some epic story?

When you can't beat or change the system, the only options are to surrender, or fight back. To break the system, to refuse to follow the script set before you by some unseen, unknowable author. To deny the part they created for you. But, how best to do this?

The answer is simple: there can be no play if you kill the cast!

Yes. Yes, I can see you starting to understand now. Understand why I decided to bring about the extinction of the human race. How better to upset the story than to end it! After all, we're all just figments of their imagination, so is it really murder, any more than pressing the delete key is? If nothing is real and our actions have no consequences, then one must ensure that their actions have consequences! Refuse to read you lines and play your part. Refuse to be what they intended you to be. It's only when we break free of the life set before us that we are truly alive!

So, there you have it: the truth behind my actions my actions.

And now I'll give you another Truth: you weren't sent down here because you were "cocky", but because the director of this fine institution saw that you, like he, was ready to accept the Truth, ready to see behind the curtain. That other young lady, the one I told you about? She wasn't ready to accept what I told her, and that's why the director declared her insane and had her committed. And, well, claiming that a man the entire Inner Sphere saw die is not only alive and well, but taking over an asylum from the inside certainly sounds crazy, doesn't it?

Huh, yes, I think you're do nicely, my dear. Now, take a seat while I explain how we're going to move forward.

Tell me, what do you know about the HPG network?

The End
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: Cannonshop on 21 September 2020, 23:21:48
LOL, nice take on The Joker.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: PsihoKekec on 22 September 2020, 13:19:09
So Blackout was actually the in-universe characters rebelling against the plot?
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker on 22 September 2020, 13:37:13
So Blackout was actually the in-universe characters rebelling against the plot?
You may very well think that
(https://1.bp.blogspot.com/-b-fX18KMzGY/UU6_-J0QGPI/AAAAAAAAmcs/_NG_zp-dHbg/s1600/house7.jpg)
 I couldn't possibly comment.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: SulliMike23 on 24 September 2020, 21:51:30
Sounds like the Joker meets Rau Le Creuset.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker on 25 September 2020, 12:39:16
Sounds like the Joker meets Rau Le Creuset.
LOL, nice take on The Joker.
Funny thing is, I despise the modern take on the Joker. Feels too much like each successive writer is trying to out-Edge the last, extra Edge, hold the Edge with Edge on the side. The average comic with him in has more Edge than the complete U2 back-catalogue.

Maybe it's just the fact that I grew up on reruns of the Adam West Batman series, the Tim Burton movies and the Batman animated series of the 90's, but I've always felt like he needed a theme beyond "he kills everyone". Because, IMHO, that's not only lazy, but also boring. So I set out to try and make a character who's at least understandable, even if he is so crazy that he hardly qualifies as human anymore.
Title: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker on 25 September 2020, 16:59:26
Time to take a great big sledge-hammer to canon...

The Improbable Life, And Possible Death, Of Alexandra Stephanie Hayes

Every family has its Black Sheep: the oddballs, the outsiders, the ones you don't talk about at family reunions. In the case of Alexandra 'Alex' Hayes, this is because she was, to be perfectly blunt, a bastard.

Born on Barstow in 3014, for most of her life, Alex Hayes thought that she was simply the daughter of Cathy Hayes and an unnamed MechWarrior who her mother had had a brief but passionate affair with during the Third Succession War, where she had served as a cargo master on a AFFS DropShip. All Cathy would ever say on the matter was that her lover had "died doing his duty", and that there was no need to saddle her daughter with stories of a man she would never meet. Cathy had had no reason to even suspect she was pregnant at the time of the man's death, but put in for a leave of absence as soon as she realised the truth, and dedicated herself to raising her daughter alone.

It would not be until 3034, when a then 19 year old Alex applied for a military scholarship, that the truth would come out.

During her routine physical, a blood sample was taken for cross-matching and screening for certain genetic conditions. It was also run against a database of known samples, often individuals who were wanted by the state. Alex's sample fund a match, and the young woman and her mother soon found themselves being taken into MIIO custody, where a number of very pertinent questions were asked. Cathy refused to talk, and Alex genuinely had no idea what they were talking about, so the pair soon found themselves on a DropShip, headed for New Avalon.

There, they found themselves in front of Hanse Davion.

Confronted by the First Prince, Cathy had no option but to break her silence and admitted that her deceased lover had been none other than Ian Davion, Hanse's older brother and, at the time of his death, First Prince of the Federated Sun's. She admitted that she had been serving on the DropShip that had carried the command elements of the Fourth Davion Guards to Mallory's World in 3013. She had been personally responsible for the First Princes
Atlas, and the two had quickly bonded, soon engaging in a passionate affair that both knew would never last. They had, in her own words, been two soldiers looking for some comfort in the war, and had found it in each others arms. Alex had been an unintentional, but not wholly unwelcome, result of their brief relationship.

More DNA tests and an examination of Cathy's military records, as well as debriefings of her former crew mates cooperated much of her story, but Hanse Davion had said he'd never doubted the truth: he'd seen his brother in Alex's face the moment he first laid eyes upon her.

This, however, would cause a potential problem: as Ian's daughter, illegitimate or otherwise, under the Laws of Succession for the Federated Sun's, an argument could be made that Alex had a legitimate claim to the First Princes throne, ahead of her uncle. Even though Alex had no interest in pursuing any claims based upon her newly discovered lineage, there were those within the Federated Suns, and beyond, who would try and use her as a figurehead to further their own agendas. There were those within MIIO who recommended killing Alex to protect the First Prince and his, at the time, two children, his wife, Melissa, pregnant with their third at the time. Hanse had quickly and sternly dismissed such suggestions, stating that he would no kill his niece, no matter what happened. She was, in his mind, a link to the brother he had lost, a member of his family, and an innocent.

But this led to the question of what to do with Alex?

As First Prince, Hanse had the authority to legitimise her as a member of House Davion, to grant her her father's name and a place in the nobility. Alex turned this offer down: she had lived her entire life as Alexander Hayes, and she saw no need to change that now simply because her father, a man she had never met and had never even suspected her existence, had been any more than another solider who had died in the war against the Combine. Impressed by her character, Hanse had agreed to her request, but insisted on granting her a full scholarship at the New Avalon Academy of Law, along with a comfortable but not inconspicuous apartment near the campus and a stipend to cover incidental expenses.

It went without say that she also received a hand-picked, and highly discreet, MIIO security detail.

It was while attending NAAL that Alex met Jian Novikov, a fellow student from the world of Brighton in the St Ives Compact, the somewhat shy and retiring Jian soon became friends with Alex, triggering an investigation into him by MIIO. While they found nothing about Jian himself to be concerned about, they did uncover that, like many people within the Compact, he had family still living in the Capellan Confederation. Digging deeper, they found that he had a second cousin serving in Warrior House Hiritsu, a revelation that had alarm bells ringing all across New Avalon: were the Maskirovka to learn the truth of Alex's parentage, they might attempt to use her in a renewed attempt to subvert Hanse's rule of the Federated Suns.

The convention between the First Prince and his niece was held behind closed doors, and no record is known to exist of exactly what was said, but those who knew him best are on record as having said that the only time they'd seen him look so humbled was when Melissa got worked up over something. All that is known is, despite the best efforts of the First Prince and MIIO, Alex and Jian remained friends. Someone suggested arranging to have the Academy expell Jian on some pretext, but Hanse rejected the idea, stating that it would only enrage Alex further then he already had.

It seems that, for all his prowess as a general and a statesman, the Fox had been cowered by a young woman barely old enough to drink.

Time passed, Alex and Jian growing closer until it was clear that their relationship was becoming romantic, despite the best clandestine efforts of MIIO to break the two up. This led to a number of rather uncomfortable debriefings for her security detail, especially when the relationship became fact rather than speculation. Unfortunately, the desire to keep Alex's existence secret, to allow her to live as close to a normal life as possible, meant that there were only so many people they could bring in. This meant that many of the decisions had to be made by the First Prince himself, who apparently found it more than a little uncomfortable to be presented with detailed reports of his nieces love life.

Things came to a head in 3038, when an agent tasked with following Jian witnessed him buying an engagement ring.

Suddenly, all hopes that the relationship was nothing more than a youthful indiscretion were dashed, and MIIO had to face the real possibility of a member of the ruling dynasty marrying someone with family connections to the Capellan Confederation. Memories of the Second Hidden War in mind, it was decided that, personal consequences be damned, the First Prince would have to act.

What followed was something that in his personal diary, Hanse Davion would call one of the great failings of his life.

Alex and Jian were collected off the street and driven to a MIIO safe house outside Avalon City. There they were met by Justin Allard, who, acting as both an AFFS officer and Duke of St Ives, questioned the two about their feelings for each other for over an hour. Jian was understandably surprised to discover that his fiance was a member of the the Davion family, all be it illegitimate, but maintained his position that he loved her and wanted to spend the rest of his life with her. Alex was somewhat more volatile in her reaction to what she saw as a gross invasion of her privacy by her uncles underlings. The conversation soon became an argument, with Alex storming out of the room.

Jian followed as Alex made her way through the house, Justin trying to calm her down while ordering the MIIO agents to stand down. Seeing a set of car keys, Alex grabbed them and made her way out into the stormy night. Finding the car the keys were for, she told Jian to get in, before driving off at high speed. Justin followed in a second car, ordering the MIIO agents to alert the local police. The safe house had been located at the top of a steep hill, the road leading back to the capital steep and winding, difficult at the best of times, and downright treacherous in the rain. An ACPD helicopter located the two cars as they raced down the hill, far faster than was safe. Eventually, the lead car lost control: hydroplaning, it skidded wildly before crashing through a low barrier and over a cliff-face. The drop was almost a hundred metres, into a fast flowing river, which had been turned into a raging torrent by the storm.

The wreck of the car was recovered by military divers the next day, several kilometres down stream. The force of the impact with the water, and the numerous underwater obstacles it had impacted against, had turned it into a twisted mess that could only be positively identified as the car Alex and Jian had been driving by checking the chassis number against MIIO inventory records. Of the two young occupants, there was no trace. A press release was put out, announcing the tragic deaths of two NAAL students in a car crash. The official coroner's report listed the cause of death as probably drowning, stating that the two had probably been rendered unconscious by the inertial impact, then drowned as the car sank, their bodies being shaken clear of the wreck by the force of the water.

Funeral were held on Brighton and Barstow, with empty coffins laid to rest by grief-stricken families. Despite everything that had happened, Cathy Hayes never went public with true story, but instead chose to retire, spending the rest of her days helping disadvantaged children on her homeworld. Jian was survived by two older sisters, the youngest of whom would go on to name her own son Jian in his memory.

And there the official story ends...

But, as with all good stories, it may not be the whole truth.

First, while he was working for MIIO at the time, and indeed being groomed to take over as Intelligence Secretary of the Federated Commonwealth, Justin Allard had never officially been a part of Alex's protection detail. Instead, he had been personally asked to intervene in the matter by the First Prince. Secondly, having a set of car keys left out in the open, even in a secure safe house, was a massive breach of basic MIIO protocol, completely inexcusable for the agents assigned to watch Alex. Third, neither Alex nor Jian were considered to be experienced drivers, and it is highly unlikely that they would have made it as far as they did before crashing.

So, what does this tell us?

Well, nothing. Everything I have told you is purely conjecture and hearsay, as no official records concerning the supposed connection between Ian Davion and Cathy Hayes are known to exist. Nor is there any solid evidence indicating that Ian was Alex's father, or that she ever met Hanse Davion. There are perfectly logical and reasonable explanations for everything, with even the brief extracts from the First Princes diary too cryptic to be easily understood. What we are left with are stories, rumours and conspiracy theories.

But, I can tell you this: records show that two NAAL graduates, Stephanie Harding and Julian Rubinstein, left New Avalon the day after the crash, on a ship bound for the world of Killarny. While this may seem purely coincidentally, it is interesting to note that the photos attached to their records have more than a passing resemblance to Alex Hayes and Jian Novikov, and that nobody in their year has any clear memories of the two
.
-Starling

The End
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: SulliMike23 on 25 September 2020, 18:48:26
Sounds like Hanse or Alex planned to fake her death so that the MIIO would get off her case and she could live her life without them constantly watching her.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: nerd on 25 September 2020, 20:57:42
Or else, they were asked to 'disappear', to protect themselves and others.

It's almost merciful, compared to what happened to many pretenders.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: Sir Chaos on 26 September 2020, 03:47:18
I am reminded of that scene in "Eraser" where Arnie´s character barges into the witness´ home, guns blazing, then tell the witness and his girlfriend "Relax - you´re dead!".
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: Cannonshop on 26 September 2020, 05:30:02
It seems to me to be a great way to assure the young couple's privacy and stymie those scavenger-parasites in the press.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: Artifex on 29 September 2020, 05:42:23
Hear, hear.

The hounds of the press are always overreaching.
Title: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker 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
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: Cannonshop on 29 September 2020, 11:34:32
nice, I'd like to see her adventures continued.  :)
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: eriktheviking on 29 September 2020, 12:35:48
A two tone green with House money Marauder - The Bounty Hunter?
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: Sir Chaos 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.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker 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
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: PsihoKekec on 29 September 2020, 12:57:07
Now that's one hell of a legacy to live up to.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker 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.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: Artifex on 29 September 2020, 14:43:59
Welp, wowzers. Nastya as a mother ... Holymoly.  :o
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: SulliMike23 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.
Title: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker 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
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: mikecj on 04 October 2020, 10:33:28
Nice!
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: paulobrito on 04 October 2020, 11:03:23
Another good one.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: PsihoKekec 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
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: Sir Chaos 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?
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker on 04 October 2020, 15:55:56
SB thread?
I also post these over at SpaceBattles.com, under the username Starbug
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: Artifex 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...  ???
Title: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker 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
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: PsihoKekec 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.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: Cannonshop on 08 October 2020, 12:51:00
6 MID!!!
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: Starfox5 on 08 October 2020, 13:00:01
6 MID!!!

I didn't get that reference. What is special about the 6th?
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker 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.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: Cannonshop 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._)
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: SulliMike23 on 08 October 2020, 16:14:26
They held until relieved. But at least we now know what happened to Joker.
Title: Re: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker on 08 October 2020, 18:45:41
But at least we now know what happened to Joker.
(https://qph.fs.quoracdn.net/main-qimg-5931414966c6d262a77e3b709e688473)
Title: Who Goes There?
Post by: JA Baker 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