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Author Topic: Who Goes There?  (Read 45961 times)

JA Baker

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Who Goes There?
« Reply #120 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
"That's the thing about invading the Capellan Confederation: half a decade later, you want to invade it again"
-Attributed to First-Prince Hanse Davion, 3030


Kidd

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Re: Who Goes There?
« Reply #121 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

DOC_Agren

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Re: Who Goes There?
« Reply #122 on: 26 October 2019, 21:31:05 »
 :clap:

you did justice to Red Sovine song
"For the Angel of Death spread his wings on the blast, And breathed in the face of the foe as he passed:And the eyes of the sleepers waxed deadly and chill, And their hearts but once heaved, and for ever grew still!"

Hairbear541

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Re: Who Goes There?
« Reply #123 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 .

JA Baker

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Who Goes There?
« Reply #124 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
« Last Edit: 12 November 2019, 06:49:04 by JA Baker »
"That's the thing about invading the Capellan Confederation: half a decade later, you want to invade it again"
-Attributed to First-Prince Hanse Davion, 3030


mikecj

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Re: Who Goes There?
« Reply #125 on: 11 November 2019, 19:31:56 »
Nice.  Thanks for sharing.
There are no fish in my pond.
"First, one brief announcement. I just want to mention, for those who have asked, that absolutely nothing what so ever happened today in sector 83x9x12. I repeat, nothing happened. Please remain calm." Susan Ivanova
"Solve a man's problems with violence, help him for a day. Teach a man to solve his problems with violence, help him for a lifetime." - Belkar Bitterleaf
Romo Lampkin could have gotten Stefan Amaris off with a warning.

Daryk

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Re: Who Goes There?
« Reply #126 on: 11 November 2019, 20:13:57 »
I daresay that's the best one yet!  :thumbsup:

JA Baker

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Who Goes There?
« Reply #127 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.
"That's the thing about invading the Capellan Confederation: half a decade later, you want to invade it again"
-Attributed to First-Prince Hanse Davion, 3030


Daryk

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Re: Who Goes There?
« Reply #128 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)

Esskatze

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Re: Who Goes There?
« Reply #129 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.

JA Baker

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Who Goes There?
« Reply #130 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
"That's the thing about invading the Capellan Confederation: half a decade later, you want to invade it again"
-Attributed to First-Prince Hanse Davion, 3030


Daryk

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Re: Who Goes There?
« Reply #131 on: 08 December 2019, 21:01:11 »
Of course it was a porn stash...  ^-^

snakespinner

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Re: Who Goes There?
« Reply #132 on: 08 December 2019, 22:18:41 »
Wondered where i had left my porn stash. :thumbsup:
I wish I could get a good grip on reality, then I would choke it.
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PsihoKekec

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Re: Who Goes There?
« Reply #133 on: 09 December 2019, 03:14:43 »
Vintage porn is profitable business.
Shoot first, laugh later.

Kidd

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Re: Who Goes There?
« Reply #134 on: 09 December 2019, 06:05:09 »
I bet Lostech porn must be pretty mind-blowing.

JA Baker

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Who Goes There?
« Reply #135 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
« Last Edit: 14 December 2019, 21:39:53 by JA Baker »
"That's the thing about invading the Capellan Confederation: half a decade later, you want to invade it again"
-Attributed to First-Prince Hanse Davion, 3030


Korzon77

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Re: Who Goes There?
« Reply #136 on: 14 December 2019, 19:38:16 »
Sadly, very in character for the humans of hte alliance and later hegemony.

Well Written.

mikecj

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Re: Who Goes There?
« Reply #137 on: 15 December 2019, 14:38:15 »
Very nice. 
There are no fish in my pond.
"First, one brief announcement. I just want to mention, for those who have asked, that absolutely nothing what so ever happened today in sector 83x9x12. I repeat, nothing happened. Please remain calm." Susan Ivanova
"Solve a man's problems with violence, help him for a day. Teach a man to solve his problems with violence, help him for a lifetime." - Belkar Bitterleaf
Romo Lampkin could have gotten Stefan Amaris off with a warning.

PsihoKekec

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Re: Who Goes There?
« Reply #138 on: 15 December 2019, 17:26:47 »
Humanity never changes
Shoot first, laugh later.

TigerTiger74

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Re: Who Goes There?
« Reply #139 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.

JA Baker

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Re: Who Goes There?
« Reply #140 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.
"That's the thing about invading the Capellan Confederation: half a decade later, you want to invade it again"
-Attributed to First-Prince Hanse Davion, 3030


TigerTiger74

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Re: Who Goes There?
« Reply #141 on: 16 December 2019, 09:31:03 »
Lets face it, that is not the only book that has cannonicity or continuity errors, however small.

nerd

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Re: Who Goes There?
« Reply #142 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.
M. T. Thompson
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Member of the AFFS High Command

PsihoKekec

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Re: Who Goes There?
« Reply #143 on: 17 December 2019, 14:58:59 »
Especially when you build monuments to the actions of the said conspiracies.
Shoot first, laugh later.

Vehrec

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Re: Who Goes There?
« Reply #144 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.
*Insert support for fashionable faction of the week here*

JA Baker

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Who Goes There?
« Reply #145 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.
"That's the thing about invading the Capellan Confederation: half a decade later, you want to invade it again"
-Attributed to First-Prince Hanse Davion, 3030


JA Baker

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Who Goes There?
« Reply #146 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.
"That's the thing about invading the Capellan Confederation: half a decade later, you want to invade it again"
-Attributed to First-Prince Hanse Davion, 3030


nerd

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Re: Who Goes There?
« Reply #147 on: 10 January 2020, 12:39:11 »
Nice to use your fan companies, and often the real world can give you some high weirdness.
M. T. Thompson
Don of the Starslayer Mafia
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PsihoKekec

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Re: Who Goes There?
« Reply #148 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.
Shoot first, laugh later.

JA Baker

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Re: Who Goes There?
« Reply #149 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)
"That's the thing about invading the Capellan Confederation: half a decade later, you want to invade it again"
-Attributed to First-Prince Hanse Davion, 3030


 

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