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Author Topic: Who Goes There?  (Read 39037 times)

georgiaboy

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Re: Who Goes There?
« Reply #450 on: 12 October 2020, 16:01:33 »
Your Time/Jump travelers would have to be a Colonization Ship the size of a Potempkin or if a standard jumpship with one passenger dropship, you would need a genesplicer to clean the embryo's of bad genes for the small gene pool.
Sure they back slid in tech. Even a Big Colony Fleet could back slide cause of not able to keep the tech running. But still, you either need a big gene pool or a small gene pool with tech backup for a while. Maybe carry iron wombs with and carry the tykes to teenage years and have some means of teaching them when they come out.
"Constructive critism is never a bad comment"
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"By all means marry. If you get a good wife, you'll be happy. If you get a bad one, you'll become a philosopher."
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PsihoKekec

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Re: Who Goes There?
« Reply #451 on: 12 October 2020, 16:12:43 »
About technological backslide, it probably happened. If these intrepid colonists jumped far enough in time, they could lose most of their knowledge, forget their roots and develop the technology to rival that of Inner Sphere.
Or the first colonists decided that since they were so far away from home they might as well get a completely fresh start an not teach the new generations about where they came from.
Shoot first, laugh later.

JA Baker

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Re: Who Goes There?
« Reply #452 on: 12 October 2020, 16:26:09 »
Your Time/Jump travelers would have to be a Colonization Ship the size of a Potempkin or if a standard jumpship with one passenger dropship, you would need a genesplicer to clean the embryo's of bad genes for the small gene pool.
Sure they back slid in tech. Even a Big Colony Fleet could back slide cause of not able to keep the tech running. But still, you either need a big gene pool or a small gene pool with tech backup for a while. Maybe carry iron wombs with and carry the tykes to teenage years and have some means of teaching them when they come out.
About technological backslide, it probably happened. If these intrepid colonists jumped far enough in time, they could lose most of their knowledge, forget their roots and develop the technology to rival that of Inner Sphere.
Or the first colonists decided that since they were so far away from home they might as well get a completely fresh start an not teach the new generations about where they came from.
...you do understand that the miss-jump hypothesis is to explain how our ancestors and theirs met, right? Not where they came from?
"That's the thing about invading the Capellan Confederation: half a decade later, you want to invade it again"
-Attributed to First-Prince Hanse Davion, 3030


Artifex

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Re: Who Goes There?
« Reply #453 on: 12 October 2020, 16:54:40 »
Damn it JA, you've got always the most amazing shorts on BT I've seen so far. :thumbsup:

cklammer

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Re: Who Goes There?
« Reply #454 on: 15 October 2020, 15:26:39 »
50 amazing shorts: all of them well written, all of them entertaining and all of them gripping with tension!

Amazing! :thumbsup:

JA Baker

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Who Goes There?
« Reply #455 on: 18 October 2020, 08:19:21 »
All this has happened before, and will happen again...

No Fate

I was there when it happened, in the briefing room of the Invisible Truth, as they planed the final assault on Terra.

You won't find my name in any of the history books: I was a young ComTech, simply an aid to an aid of someone more important, but I was still there when we all heard Star Colonel John Lassenerra cry out in surprise. Like everyone else, I looked round, and through the sea of people present, I saw it hanging in the air. I don't know if you've seen the unedited recordings of the meeting, the ones that suspiciously cut-out just as Stone was listing the units assigned to liberate Mars, but if you didn't... I've never really been able to describe it in a way that does it justice.

The first thing any of us saw was the light: a bright but warm golden glow that seemed to hang in the air above the table. Then it... the only way I can describe it it is as if it fractured, with what looked like glowing shards of glass splitting off and rotating around the centre, accompanied by a sound I can only describe as slowly shattering glass. It hung in the air, everyone too surprised to do anything more than just watch.

Then he emerged, or perhaps it would be more accurate to say he fell through the light, landing with a sickening thud in the middle of the table. His uniform was burnt and torn in places, but it was still possible to see an insignia made up of the the Infinity symbol, over which was the Ancient Greek letter Sigma. Moving slowly, and with obvious difficulty, he looked up, seemingly scanning the room, and I got a look at his face. He was obviously of Japanese decent, but his face bore a number of deep scars that had only been partially healed. But his eyes! They weren't his original eyes, anyone could see that: they looked to be made out of glass, and multifaceted, like those of an insect. He looked around the room until he saw Stone, then smiled faintly.

"Still time..." he rasped, reaching out with his one remains arm, a CD-ROM clutched between his fingers, "It's a trap! Waiting for you! We thought we were doing the right thing, you see." he dropped the bloody disc in front of Stone, "Forgive us..."

With that, he slumped forward, dead, and the light flashed out.

To say the room erupted into chaos would be an understatement. You have to remember that, not that long ago, a lot of people in that room had been trying to kill each other. It was only the perceived greater threat of the Word of Blake that had forced them to stop shooting and start talking. Everyone was shouting, pointing fingers and hurling accusations. Well, almost everyone: Stone was living up to his name, standing there, an island of calm in a sea of chaos. He slowly picked up the disk and examined it for a moment, before finally speaking.

"Can some one find us a stand-alone system, please?"

The room fell oddly quite, then Galen Cox stepped forward, holding a small terminal that was clearly labelled as being isolated from the ships network. Stone thanked him, placed the disc into the slot, and hit play. There was a click, and the small holo-projector came to life.

First there was an image of Terra from orbit, and it soon became clear that we were watching a recording from a Blakist fighter as it manoeuvred into position for an attack run. Stars spun around, a massive debris field filling much of the projection, the burning, out-of-control remains of a dozen DropShips burning up as they tumbled through the upper atmosphere. The image focused on the Invisible Truth, or rather what remained of it, the proud ships back having obviously been broken by the same damage that had ripped a gaping hole in her starboard side. The fighter accelerated forward, a pair of missiles shooting forth from under the wings. One was shot down by the remaining point-defences, but the other struck the crippled Battle Cruiser, and it was enveloped by a flash of pure, white light.

The image changed, now showing a bird's-eye view of a battlefield, countless burning 'Mech's and vehicles scattered around. Only a one-armed Black Hawk-KU seemed to be still operational, all be it gimped by a badly damaged leg. As we watched, it straighted itself up, firing at something outside of the field of view, only to be struck by an overwhelming amount of return fire from multiple directions and falling apart as it lost structural integrity.

A third and final image appeared, this time a figure, their face hidden in the shadow of a black robe.

"Hello, Devlin. If you are watching this, Ulysses was successful. Please treat whatever is left of him with respect: he was a good man, perhaps far better than we deserved." a surprisingly young, and very female, voice came from the terminal, "If my calculations are correct, and let's be honest, they usually are, then at least two of the people in the room with you will be able to identify who I am, or should I say, who I was. Yes, Robert, it really is me. No, I didn't die in that car bombing, although you came closer than most. Instead I was, recruited, by Thomas Marik, the real Thomas Marik, to head up a special unit within the Word of Blake. He not only offered me unlimited resources, but he also saved me from the supposedly incurable disease that was slowly but surely killing me. Although, if you could see under this robe, you might say that the cure was worse than the disease."

"But I didn't set this all up just to catch up on old times. No. See, none of us fully understood exactly what Thomas had planned: we couldn't see just how far he was willing to go, how far he would go, if not stopped. We were all taken in by his promises of a brave new world, one free of war and want, that all the unspeakable things he talked us into would, in the end, be worth it. He lied, Devlin, to everyone. Maybe even to himself. There was no golden dawn at the end of the storm: only more blood and suffering. His plans were not those of any sane man, and, if not stopped... I could say that I'm sending you this message in the hope of saving what remains of my soul, but we both know that, if there is any justice in this universe, then I am bound for hell. But I'll go gladly if you send that bastard along to keep me company on the way."

"You'll find everything you need to out manoeuvre the forces defending Sol on this disc. It won't be easy, but I promise you, it must be done, and you're the only one who can do it."

The recording stopped, and Stone turned to Duke Kelswa-Steiner.

"Yeah, that was her: I'd recognise that self-righteous, constantly condescending voice anywhere." the Free Skye leader nodded, "I thought we we'd been rid of the bitch almost ten years now, but she always did have an annoying nack for cheating the odds."

"I guess even her luck finally ran out." Stone gestured to an aid, "Have the body autopsied, full DNA analysis: see if we can find out who he was, before... all this."

Everything kind of went into high-gear after that: the body was taken away to the medical bay, even the most basic of examinations confirming that it was a Manei Domini, all be it one with minimal augmentation beyond the obvious replacement eyes. A check of his DNA against records came back with a surprising match for a DEST commando who disappeared at the end of the War of '39. He was blinded in an explosion on the world of Exeter, and captured by the AFFS, but their records claimed he had been handed over to ComStar to be repatriated during a routine exchange of wounded PoW's. But the DCMS records said that ComStar informed them that he died of wounds received in the explosion that had taken his eyes, and he had been cremated, and his ashes returned to his family.

Pre-schism ComStar being duplicitous pricks. Shocking, I know.

Examination of the data on the disk showed it not only contained detailed plans for the defence of the Sol system, including full unit TO&E breakdowns, but also a record of how those units were used to utterly crush everything we sent at them. It's somewhat chilling to see your own name listed among the casualties of a battle that hasn't happened yet.

Fortunately, with the information provided by the disc, they were able to plan around the defences, and, as history shows, liberate the cradle of humanity from the Blakists. Everyone in the room was sworn to secrecy, while scientists and spies alike tried to uncover exactly what had happened, and how. I never learned who the woman in the hologram was, and I sincerely doubt that 'Queen Bitch of the Bucklands' was more than an honorific title, even if I did hear several Lyran officers use it in reference to her. And that was arguably one of the more polite terms used to describe her, but the others lose something in the translation from German to English.

We won the war, at least, we did this time around. But, if someone can change history once, what's to stop them doing it a second time?

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


mikecj

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Re: Who Goes There?
« Reply #456 on: 18 October 2020, 11:47:47 »
he'll be back!

Nice, thank you for sharing.

In the first line, I thought it was a Molari reference... I was there- from the B5 telemovie.
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.

JA Baker

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Re: Who Goes There?
« Reply #457 on: 18 October 2020, 12:15:57 »
In the first line, I thought it was a Molari reference... I was there- from the B5 telemovie.
That was certainly an inspiration
"That's the thing about invading the Capellan Confederation: half a decade later, you want to invade it again"
-Attributed to First-Prince Hanse Davion, 3030


PsihoKekec

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Re: Who Goes There?
« Reply #458 on: 18 October 2020, 13:11:25 »
Talk about save scumming.

Interestingly, the event that cost Ulysses his eyes was 40 years ago, but for those that carried it out, it might have been just a few years ago, I could see him telling his story to a newbie, just befor departing for this final assignment.
Shoot first, laugh later.

JA Baker

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Who Goes There?
« Reply #459 on: 31 October 2020, 07:04:42 »
Yet again, thanks to Cannonshop and Giovanni Blasini
Happy Halloween


Legacy

Dr Sarah Farkas, at your service. I am an archaeologist by profession and, well, some would say a thief by inclination.

I received my doctorate from the University of Dormuth on Marik, but I knew right away that the last thing I wanted was a lifetime in academia, so I decided that fieldwork was where my future lay. Unfortunately, upon the death of my parents, I found myself saddled with a massive debt that they had been keeping from me.

Turned out that my good-for-nothing brother, Joseph, had convinced them to mortgage their home, and co-sign massive loans, to fund the formation of his Mercenary unit. This is the same brother who was rejected by the local Militia for being too incompetent to even be relied upon to act as a meat-shield for someone else. Their very first mission, he walked his unit into an ambush, then got shot in the back when he tried to turn-tail and run. My parents managed to get the loans deferred; apparently it's a somewhat common occurrence, to the point that many banks have contingencies in place, but that meant that, as their only surviving next of kid, it was all dumped on me.

Thanks a lot, Joseph: I wished they'd recovered enough of you to bury so I at least had the opportunity to piss on your grave!

So I looked into joining Interstellar Expeditions, but they had already hired so many archaeologist that their pay and benefits package wouldn't even come close to covering the interest in what I owed, let alone the debt itself. And that was assuming that I didn't mind living in a cardboard box and eating out of a dumpster. I looked into teaching, but without any real experience, I was again met with meagre pay offers from third-string colleges and school.

In desperation, I found myself agreeing to work with some salvage hunters, helping sort through some Star League era relics they'd found to see if there was anything they'd overlooked. It was the kind of work I would have looked down my nose at when I was still a student, but I kept the proverbial wolves from the door. Unfortunately, it didn't do much for my professional reputation, and I soon found myself blacklisted by pretty much everyone.

So, with nothing left to loose, I double downed, and took part in a few expeditions to abandoned colonies and outposts. Actually getting my hands dirty in the field paid more, but often required that I ignore my professional ethics. More than once, I had to bite my tongue about how some recovered artifact belonged in a museum, because a private collector was willing to pay more. But at least I didn't have to worry about debt collectors knocking on the door for a while.

Then came the day that changed everything, when someone did come knocking at my door.

My first thought was that I was having some crazy dream about being a child again, because he towered over me. I'm not the tallest of women, but I'm certainly above average, or so I've been told. But the man standing in the hallway outside my apartment was more than a good head and shoulders over me, to the point where I had to crane my neck in order to look at his face. It was rugged, with a faint scar running across his brow. He was dressed in a black jumpsuit that did nothing to hide his impressive physique, with a belt, the buckle of which took me a moment to identify.

Clan Goliath Scorpion.

Well, the obvious question of what the hell a Clanner, and obviously an Elemental at that, was doing at my door surprised me, especially as, last time I checked, the League was still a considerable distance from Tukayyid.

"Dr Sarah Farkas, Quiaff?" his voice was deep but friendly, his accent oddly fitting for the League in general, but not for Stewart, "Star Captain Alan Shaffer. May I come in?"

I was so taken aback by his politeness that I instinctively stepped aside and waved him inside, before quickly ducking past him so I could try and hide the worst of the mess in the combination living room/kitchen. Thankfully, he seemed unconcerned, and after quickly assessing the structural integrity of my furniture, chose to remain standing.

"Sorry if I seem a little confused, but it's rather... unusual to see... one of your people here in the League." I stood across from him, switching the coffee machine on, "Especially as, and I'll admit I'm not as up-to-date on these things as some, but... You're a Goliath Scorpion, yes?"

"Aff." He nodded, seemingly unphased by my constant use of contractions.

"Right, and your Clan wasn't one of the original invaders, right?"

"Neg, we were not."

"Okay, so how, and perhaps more importantly, why are you here, exactly?"

"I was able to arrange transport on a Clan Diamond Shark merchant vessel as far as Tukayyid. From there, I was able to negotiate safe passage from ComStar as a diplomatic envoy." he explained, as if he was describing his daily commute to work, "As to the why, well, that it twofold. I am what my people call a Seeker, which broadly similar to your own profession. And it is this path in life that has led me to your door. May I speak bluntly?"

"I didn't know you Clanners knew any other way." I smiled.

"I have permission to launch an archaeological exhibition to the planet Helm, but only under the condition that I... obtain the services you a native of the Free Worlds League to act as my guide." he continued, "Through ComStar, I have attempted to engage the services of several experts, but all have refused my offers, many sighting that they do jot wish to have their professional reputation tarnished by being seen to work with..."

"A Clanner?"

"Exactly. However, one of them did at least seem interested in what I thought I may find, and gave me your name and address, stating that, and forgive me, but this is a direct quote, you would do anything if the price was right."

"Obviously one of my former professors, but I won't ask you to name names." I shrugged, having long ago gotten used to some of the things I had been called behind my back, or even to my face, "I take it they also told you why my services are for hire?"

"I was told that you owed a significant amount of money, through no fault of your own. Fortunately, my Clan provided me with, funding, to support my quest, and I believe that we can come to an...arrangement."

"This must be strange for you, if what little I've heard about your culture is true: having to actually ask a civilian for their help, and offer financial compensation?"

"It is... unusual, I admit. But one should always be open to new experiences." the Elemental nodded, thoughtfully, "Normally, I would have brought retainers, drawn from the lower casts of my own Clan, but it was felt that this might, complicate, interactions in the Inner Sphere."

"No slavery under the Cameron Star, I believe the saying was. We may have forgotten much these last three centuries, but that one has endured, for the most part, here in the League." I nodded, "So, what exactly do you expect to find on Helm? You have to know that the SLDF cache was discovered, and unfortunately destroyed, back in '28. Countless expeditions have been launched since to try and uncover anything that remains, but when an entire sea is returned to the surface..."

"I would rather not share any details until we have reached an agreement for your services. I have been informed that the trade in Star League artifacts is both lucrative and highly competitive, possibly to the point where someone may be inclined to try and reach my goal ahead of me."

"You don't want anyone jumping your claim. Smart man." I reached into a cupboard and pulled out two glasses and a bottle of whisky. It was only a domestic brand, but it was still a good, solid single malt that I kept on hand for special occasions, "This is some what old fashioned, and I doubt it would hold up in court, but right now, it's the best I can do."

I poured two generous glasses, handed one to Shaffer, and we downed the contents in one go, the rich, smoky liquid burning its way down my throat to sit in my stomach like a ball of fire.

"Congratulations, Star Captain Alan Shaffer of Clan Goliath Scorpion: you just hired yourself an archaeologist."

And that was how, a week later, I found myself on a DropShip headed for the Zenith jump-point. Despite Minoru Kurita's best efforts, Helm remains a net exporter of food and agricultural goods, including to Stewart, meaning that there was a near constant stream of ships connecting the two worlds. Our ride was a truly ancient Jumbo class cargo hauler that had, in defiance of all logic and sense, been named the Flight Of Fancy by her owner. Well, I can assure you that there was nothing fancy about the passenger accommodation, even if we had opted for a larger 'Second Class' cabin, due to the fact that my employer wouldn't have fitted into one of the Steerage class bunks.

Having swept the cabin with a Star League vintage bug-scanner, Shaffer explained his 'quest' to me: the Clans had detailed records of SLDF bases, supply dumps and marshaling yards across the Inner Sphere and beyond. The vast majority of these had been picked clean during the war against Amaris and a preparations for the Exodus, most of those that remained in the ensuing Succession Wars, but there was some evidence that some remained. And, as the self-proclaimed inheritors of the SLDF, the Clans felt that the contents of these caches rightfully belonged to them. The Wolf Dragoons had investigated many such locations during their grand tour of the Inner Sphere, recovering what they could from some, but all too often finding them empty.

Helm, however, was something of an anomaly: everyone knew that it had been destroyed when the self-destruct failsafe had been activated, but a careful examination of the records indicated that there had been a secondary facility hidden beneath the first one, somewhere within the vast chamber that had contained the Yehudan Sea. Unfortunately, the files were fragmented, much having been lost as loyal SLDF personnel sort to destroy what they could before the Amaris and his thugs could twist it towards their own ends. All Shaffer could say for sure was that Major Edwin Keeler, the officer credited with hiding the cache that had contained what would become known as the Helm Memory Core, had been hand picked by the highest levels of the SLDF to carry out the assignment. And even someone like myself, who had never even worn a uniform for Halloween, could comprehend that it wasn't common for the chiefs of staff to personally pick the commander of a seemingly minor supply depot.

Whatever else he may have been, he was no mere supply clerk, that was for sure.

So, most of the journey was spent reading up on what was known of the Helm cache site: everything from Grayson Carlyles deposition before the Mercenary Review Board to the texts written on the subject since and even a guidebook to the area published by some local merchants trying to entice tourists to visit the otherwise unremarkable world. We even watched that documentary Duncan Fisher did during one of his rare sober periods. Shaffer added to these maps drawn up by the Star League Corps of Engineering and the Quartermaster Command, depicting the area before and after the base was built. In my travels, I have seen many wonders performed by the Star League, from the broken remains of a prototype orbital elevator to self contained terraforming machines the size of an office block. I even once got to study the remains of a seismic regulator that had held two continents together. But nothing I had seen truly matched the sheer audacity of hiding an entire sea in an artificial cave network, on the off-chance that you may want to turn it into the galaxies biggest toilet, and flush an entire base down the drain!

But it was clear that that was exactly what they had done with the Yehudan Sea, which was now a popular tourist attraction in its own right.

Our arrival on Helm proved to be... problematic. As someone who travels for a living, I always made sure that my vaccinations were up-to-date, as were their records in my travel documents. But Shaffer, despite his insistence that he was likewise in full compliance with the medical requirements for visiting Helm, had no recognised way to prove it. As such we were forced to spend three days in medical isolation while a priority HPG message was sent all the way to Tukayyid, where a representative of the Clans was able to provide the necessary information for the Star Captain to be issued temporary documents and allowed into the general population.

Unfortunately, this was three days of listening to him go on and on and on about how much better things will be once the Clans 'liberate' Terra and restore the Star League. But, you now, I'm from the Free Worlds League, and there's no shortage of people going on about how things will be different, 'come the Glorious Revolution!' and all that round here. The only thing missing from his little speech was a list of who would be first up against the wall once the firing squads were formed, although I think that the customs staff on Helm made his list.

Fortunately, once we were free to go about our business, he did seem to calm down, so I put his unfortunate little temper tantrum down to the unforseen and completely unnecessary delay caused by a minor bureaucratic power trip.

Renting a car big and sturdy enough to handle an Elemental, we loaded up our supplies and hit the road. Nature is highly resilient, and had covered much of the deviation wrought by the events of 3028, even if there were still occasional traces where the landscape had been shaken by the titanic forces unleashed. And the further we got from possible prying ears, the more open Shaffer became about not only the expedition, but the story behind it. Sitting by a camp fire our second night on the road, he told me of the difficulties he'd had convincing his superiors that the information he'd uncovered was worth going to all the trouble of arranging travel from the distant Clan homeworlds to Tukayyid. It had taken him even longer to arrange the finances for his journey once he left the Occupation Zone. Oh, sure, there was God only knows how much hard cash sitting in banks on conquered worlds behind the Truce Line, but systems had been put in place to make sure that every single one of their serial numbers had been declared invalid.

My eyes somewhat glazed over as he tried to explain just how his contacts within the Merchant Cast had managed to arrange sufficient usable currency, and I was somewhat relieved when he invited me to 'couple' with him.

Say what you will about the Clans and their idea of a 'perfect' society, they at least recognise that, sometimes, you just need to get laid, no strings attached. Given I'd not had any company in the bedroom for some time, and he was attractive in a rugged kind of way, I had no issue in joining him in his sleeping bag. I won't go into too many details, but yes, ladies, everything on an Elemental is, shall we say, built to scale? And while he may not have been the most imaginative partner I've ever had, he made up for it in other ways.

The next day saw us standing on the edge of a cliff overlooking a small and otherwise unremarkable cove on the coast of the Yehudan Sea. A careful examination of the documents Shaffer had brought with him pointed towards a small cave half way down the rock-face. That meant breaking out the climbing gear, using a winch fitted to the front of our rented car to lower the bulk of our equipment down once I had confirmed that the cave did indeed show signs of having been worked on with tools in the distant past.

You learn a lot of skills in the salvage game, and fortunately caving was one I had acquired. I'm no expert, but I'm at least proficient enough no not be a burden. But, even if I had been, I doubt Shaffer would have noticed: his genetically engineered physique more than evident as he carried what must have been close to his own bodyweight in equipment and supplies. I may be no soldier, but I got a good idea of just why Elementals are so feared and respected on the battlefield just by watching him. And it was just as well that he was happy playing pack mule, because the cave system was seemingly endless, with multiple branches, some of which ended in ferocreat walls that made it obvious that someone had done some remodeling work in the past. Fortunately, a good sense to direction and a seemingly endless supply of glow-sticks saved us from getting lost, and we chose to camp out in a large natural cavern.

One downside to field work, beyond the lack of adequate showers and toilets, is the menu. Food and water tend to be heavy, so most expeditions that have to carry everything on foot go for simple ration bricks. They have the look, texture and taste of cardboard, but they contain all the protein, vitamins and minerals you need to keep going. Some of the more expensive ones even contain immunization supplements, for when you're really off-the-grid. Fortunately, spices are light, and with a little imagination... they still taste like cardboard, only now cardboard covered in paprika.

Our second day in the cave started pretty much like the first, up until we found the remains of a twisted metal plaque, inscribed with his insignia of the SLDF's VII Corps, 8th Army, the first real clue that we were on the right track. Going deeper, we found more examples of where the natural cave network had been turned into a more navigable network of tunnels, all be it eroded by the passage of time and the elements. Mid afternoon saw us reach a massive cavern, so big that even the powerful, 40,000 lumens military grade flashlight Shaffer had brought with him couldn't reach the other side. What was most interesting, however, was the staircase descending down into the darkness below, cut into the very rock-face itself.

We decided it was best to set up base camp at the top of the stairs, getting everything we could set up before making our decent the next day. I took the opportunity to use some of the toys Shaffer had brought with him, mainly an portable echolocation device, to try and get a reading on the size of the cavern.

"You ever read Jules Verne?" I asked as I looked over the results.

"I take it you mean Journey to the Center of the Earth?" he asked, "I was always more a fan of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Seas, but yes, I have read it."

"Well, Star Captain Nemo, if it wasn't for an inpatient Precentor, we'd probably need the Nautilus if we wanted to go any further." I handed him the scanner, "I think we've found where Major Keeler hid the Yehudan Sea."

"By The Founder!" the hulking Elemental looked at the display, then rooted around in his pack, before drawing a flare-gun. Checking to see that it was loaded with the correct shell, he fired it off into the void.

There was a whoosh, followed by a loud crack that echoed off the cavern walls either side off us, then the star shell burst into life, so bright it temporarily blinded me.

"Maybe a warning next time?" I suggested, blinking until the spots faded from before my eyes, and then looked out, "Mother of God..."

My estimates of the caverns size must have been off by at least one order of magnitude, as even the flare, capable of illuminating an entire battlefield, failed to reach the far side. What it did reveal were massive supports, each easily fifty meters across, still holding up the unimaginable weight of the mountains above us. Into each one was carved the eight-pointed uneven Cameron Star, and the insignia of the Star League Corps of Engineers. Of all the examples of Star League mega-engineering I'd ever seen... nothing else even came close. You could have built an entire city, multiple cities!, within the cavern, and still had room to spare.

I've heard it said that, since the fall of the Star League and the collective insanity that were the Succession Wars, we've lost so much knowledge, that we don't even have the names of what we don't know. It's a popular opinion amongst my profession, but it's not every day that it's made so blatantly clear.

"There it is!" Shaffer shouted excitedly, pointing towards a large, dome-like structure built into the floor of the cavern, a massive Cameron Star and the insignias of the Nirasaki Computers Collective and Ulsop Robotics clearly visible, even from well over a kilometer away, "PROSPERO."

What followed was me asking a lot of questions and trying to hold back the need to push him over the edge and into the cavern below when it became clear that he'd been holding out on me.

It all started with Admiral Noriko Murakami, one of the brains behind the final evolution of the Space Defence System into the weapon that would cause so much death and destruction during the Amaris Uprising. Her grand plan had been to completely remove the human element from the network, to create a system that would function comfortably automatically. Project PROSPERO had intended to forge the perfect defence: one that did not get tiered, or detracted, or have a bad day, one that could not be bribed or blackmailed, or otherwise subverted. Such a project had been undertaken amidst the upmost security, on a strict need-to-know basis, and tested in locations where security was 100% guaranteed. Helm, with its super-secret, not even known to the High Council weapons cache, was the perfect place, and a massive bunker complex had been built under the hidden bunker complex.

I swear, I'm not sure what was more impressive: that they'd managed to build such a complex, or that they'd managed to do so, twice, without anyone noticing.

The records held by the Clans, that Shaffer had made it his life's work to delve into, had been incomplete, so he'd had no idea if PROSPERO had gotten off the design board, let alone gotten as far as the prototype stage. Oh, sure, there had been a few side projects, the SLS Charlotte Cameron arguably being the most infamous, but for centuries, it had been believed that the final iteration had been stillborn. There was still the very real possibility that we were looking at an empty shell, still patiently awaiting the arrival of the teams of engineers and scientists who had died centuries past. Not that Shaffer seemed to be concerned by the possibility: apparently, proving that PROSPERO had been ore than just a thought exercise was more than a enough for him to be able to return to his people in triumph.

It was hard to sleep that night, and not just because I yet again shared Shaffer's sleeping bag. No, even after he'd drifted of to sleep, I couldn't help but think about what we might find the next day. Even if it was just an empty shell, the simple fact that I'd helped find it would go a long way towards repairing my professional reputation. Coupled with finally being able to clear my debts, it might be just enough to get me back on to my original career path. And who knew, maybe a college or university somewhere might like the idea of hiring someone with a dark and sordid past? Everyone knows that there's no substitute for actual field work, after all, and I'd at least have a few colourful stories to keep the students from nodding off in class.

TBC
"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 #460 on: 31 October 2020, 07:05:36 »
Continued

Somehow, I managed to get at least some sleep, which coupled with several cups of strong coffee and a military grade prep-pill, got me somewhat functional the next morning.

Setting secure anchors, we secured ourselves and our equipment with myomer ropes that had the duel advantage of being both incredibly strong and very light for their size, and started down the stairs to the cavern floor below. Shaffer fired off another star shell, this time giving me ample warning, proving us with ample lighting. Which was for the best, as it was soon obvious that no one had been that way for a very, very long time. The steps, once cut as smooth as polished marble, had been pitted and worn by centuries of submerged in sea water, requiring our full attention to navigate safely in places.

Upon reaching the bottom, I checked the marker on the cables, and was shocked to discover that we'd descended almost a kilometer, and I felt a sinking feeling in my stomach at the thought of having to climb back up again. It was clear that we'd found some kind of emergency exit, but with the destruction of the main complex, the chances of finding a less taxing route back to the surface were as close to zero as to be none existent.

Another two kilometres, this time thankfully on mostly level ground, saw us to the edge of the dome, although mushroom might have been a more acute description, up close. It towered up above our heads at least five stories, before jutting out a good ten meters, then curving back over. And, standing in what you could call its shadow, it became obvious just how massive a structure it truly was. It was, unfortunately, also completely devoid of features, which given it had been intended to sit under a kilometre of water, was at least somewhat understandable. We had blasting charges with us, sure, but nobody with two braincells to rub together would try using them without first knowing just how thick the walls were, and perhaps more importantly, what was on the other side.

"So...left or right?" I asked, looking up at Shaffer.

"I honestly could not say." he shrugged, "We could walk around the entire circumference in one direction, only to discover the only opening is just out of sight the other way."

"I don't think any of our sounding equipment will be of much use. If it was built to survive, what, a hundred atmospheres of water? Maybe more? I doubt anything we'd be able to carry down here without help would be able to see through all that."

"True." The Elemental looked from side to side, then at the ground beneath our feet, "Left: there is more evidence of ware that way."

We walked in silence, every twenty meters, like clockwork, Shaffer would crack, shake and drop another glow-stick to mark our passing. With the star she'll having long burnt out, the warm chemical glow cast erie shadows across the stalagmites. I looked around for any further sign of, well, anything, but were it not for the massive structure to our right, it would have been easy to image that no human had ever set foot in the cave. Shaffer was just dropping a fourth glow-stick when a massive hatch, built into the side of the dome, came into view.

We hurried over to it, shocked to discover that the control panel still had power.

"How can it still be operational?" I asked, "The base above is gravel..."

"The Star League built this place to survive direct orbital bombardment." my companion explained, pulling a small, leather bound notebook from inside his jacket, "Now, let us see about opening it."

It took some time. Shaffer's research had uncovered a number of high-level access codes, including some apparently belonging to Alexander Kerensky himself. But, apparently even the Commanding General of the entire Star League Defence Force himself wasn't allowed to just stroll into Project PROSPERO on a whim, Lord Protector of the Star League or not. It took no less than six access codes, each belonging to members of the highest levels of the Hegemony military and civilian government, before the computer even offered to unlock the hatch.

Now, as you can probably imagine, it was a big door. And I don't mean just in hight and width. It must have been a good five meters thick, maybe more, made out of a solid piece of metal that, according to Shaffer, resemble the same Ferro-Aluminum Armor used on warships. But, given that it needed to withstand the crushing pressure of a kilometer of water for an indefinite amount of time, I guess they didn't want to skimp on the budget. And it didn't swing open or anything like that. No, it gave out a groan like a god with a hangover, shuddered so hard I almost fell over, and then with an ear piercing screech, it slowly moved outward on four massive screws, each on easily a meter in diameter. Oddly enough, once it had actually started moving, most of the noise and shaking stopped, the ancient system running almost smoothly.

Beyond the hatch was what could only be described as a massive airlock, complete with a second massive door at the far end. The chamber was massive, easily big enough for a good sized flatbed truck to drive into with room to spare, but aside from a second computer terminal built into the far wall, it was completely empty. Oh, sure, there were warning signs and hash markings where the door would sit when retracted, but other than that, it was just a big, empty void.

Shaffer seemed giddy as a kid on Christmas morning as we jogged to the Inner door. Or, rather, I jogged to keep up with his long strides that just ate up the distance. He carefully entered the same six security codes, and a number of bright warning lights started to flash, a recorded vice warning everyone to stand clear of the door. The Inner hatch slowly closed behind us, but I certainly gave no thought of trying to stop it, or running back outside. Much like Shaffer, I wanted, no, I needed, to see what was on the other side of the inner door.

Oddly enough, the hallway beyond the door wouldn't have looked out of place in any large government building. The walls were painted the same dull grey/white, the floors covered in a layer of textured plastic that's hard wearing but offers just enough traction to make walking comfortable. The recessed lighting was on, but we had no way of knowing if it was on before we entered, or if we triggered it by opening the lock. A small, fortified security station stood directly opposite the airlock, everything perfectly squared away in accordance with SLDF regulations, right down to the impressive number of weapons still in their racks. A pair of electric carts sat in an alcove, and a quick check showed that, not only were they fully charged, but apparently in perfect working order. We chose the larger of the two, a six-wheeled model that looked better suited to handling someone of Shaffer's size. A sign on the wall, written in clear Star League Standard English, gave directions from a number of locations within the dome, and we decided that the central control room was probably our best bet.

It was a quiet drive, the silence only broken by the humming of the carts electric motor. We passed a number of side corridors, but few doors, indicating that much of the complex was hidden away from easy access. Which, if Shaffer was right, made perfect sense: you didn't want some lost janitor taking a wrong turn and spilling a bucket of water all over your nice, new supercomputer, now would you? But, everywhere we looked, that was no sign that anyone else had visited since construction was completed. Indeed, it felt eerily like being on the set of a play or movie: that almost antiseptic feel, without the faintest of human touches, made it feel somehow unreal. Everywhere we looked, it was clear that the facility had been built with a sizable staff in mind, all be it with considerable automation in several areas. We passed signs indicating accommodation blocks, mess halls and offices, you nowhere was there any sign that any of them had ever been used.

"I don't get it: place looks intact." I voiced my confusion, "Why did Keeler let Minoru Kurita bombard the planet if he had this place to defend it with?"

"Maybe this facility was completed, but the rest of the Space Defence System was not?" Shaffer suggested, "There is no evidence that any ground-based weapons were ever built, and the only space-based defences were some fighters in the outer asteroid belt."

We lapsed back into silence as we continued as drive, thankful that at least we didn't have to walk, considering how far it seemed to be to the control room.

Eventually we reached a turning, and I stopped the cart suddenly as I saw what was awaiting us: what I had taken to be just another corridor was actually a raised walkway, fully enclosed, and suspended a good hundred metres above what had to be the largest collection of computing power in the entire Free Worlds League. Even the main server farm back at the University of Dormuth had only been a fraction of the size of the chamber below us, which must have been at least a kilometer across. Years of experience had me automatically calculating the cash value of the massive collection of LosTech, and quickly ran out of numbers. In the very middle of the chamber was a tall, tower like structure, which the walkway seemed to be connected to the top of.

Grinning like an idiot, I spurred the cart on, already thinking about how gracious I'd be while accepting the apologies and adoration of all those people who called me little better than a tomb raider!

Eventually we reached the end of the walkway: another airlock like chamber, leading into what was again marked as the central control room. I don't know what I'd been expecting, but it certainly wasn't a nearly featureless circular room, with a raised central area, upon which was set a pedestal. The top of the pedestal was completely empty, except for a single switch, controlled by a removable key on a chain. Hanging from the other end of the chain were a set of SLDF issue dog-tags, with the name Major Edwin Keeler printed upon them. The switch itself only had two settings, a simple standby and active, the key turned to the standby mode.

Without saying a word, Shaffer reached out and turned the key to the active position.

The alarm that sounded was so loud that I clamped my hands over my ears and ducked down in an instinctive attempt to get away from it. Shaffer remained unmoving, as if the ear piercing shrieking was having no effect on him. Then, as suddenly as it had started, the alarm stopped, replaced by a low hum that seemed to come up out of the floor, almost more of a physical sensation than a sound. There was a loud series of snaps all around us, as long dormant systems powers up for the first time in centuries, power finally running through the vast array of servers and memory banks, bringing the full might of Project PROSPERO to life.

Quite literally to life, as a series of hidden holographic emitters powered up, a massive Cameron Star, easily two meters high, appearing in the air before us, only to be replaced by a human face.

It was a fancy anyone who's studied history would recognise, from the big, impressive beard to the receding hairline, 8t was the face of a statesman. Arguably the Statesman: Simon Michael Cameron, 18th Director-General of the Terran Hegemony and 5th First Lord of the Star League.

"By Kerensky's Bones, they actually did it?" Shaffer looked genuinely surprised for the first time since we had arrived on Helm.

"Did what?" I asked, more than a little overwhelmed by the whole things.

"Project PROSPERO, Admiral Noriko Murakami, this was the question she sort to answer: how do you program an AI to be completely loyal, but also able to think and react like a human?" He explained, his eyes wide, "They did the only thing they could: they used a modified Neurohelmet to map the brainwaves of the then First Lord, and used the data provided to form the basis of the AI's personality matrix. It concept was that the resulting AI would be completely loyal to Star League because it would see itself as a member of House Cameron..."

The hologram shifted, almost as if it was waking up, opened it eyes, and screamed.

I'd thought the alarm had been loud, but the scream, equal parts surprise, pain and anguish, hit like a speeding bus, knocking me back off my feat even as the windows in the hatches behind us, fashioned from toughened glass, shattered. Even Shaffer staggered backwards as fresh alarms sounded... or, at least, I assume they did, given all the flashing yellow lights. My ears were still ringing at the time. Red and amber lights flashed out their warning, even as a sound like distant thunder heralded the overload and destruction of utterly priceless and completely irreplaceable computers.

Shaffer grabbed my by the collar of my jacket and dragged me out of the control room, out onto the walkway. The windows, which had previously been clear, now filled with smoke and flame as the very heart of Project PROSPERO ripped itself apart. Ignoring the electric cart, Shaffer lifted me almost effortlessly over one shoulder and started to run about as fast as I drive, back the way we came. Alarms and prerecorded messages warned of fire, instructing everyone to make for the nearest emergency exit. Further alarms warned of failure in the fire containment system, then, most worryingly of all, damage to the main thermoelectric generators.

I'd been wondering just how the complex still had power after all those years, and suddenly it made sense: the mountains above our heads were volcanic in origin, all be it extinct for thousands of years. But, there was still a thin patch in the tectonic plate, and the Star League must have tapped into it to create a geothermal power supply for Project PROSPERO. It was pure genius, really: constant, reliable and completely isolated from the rest of the planet. No wonder it had survived three centuries, and the destruction of the supply cache above it, intact. The downside is that a geothermal plant is essentially a volcano waiting to happen, and with the AI clone of Simon Cameron apparently having the single worst morning in all of human history... the shit had hit the fan and was flying everywhere.

Not that Shaffer seemed to care, or even notice that he was carrying a confused and struggling archaeologist over one shoulder. Instead he continued to run, flat-out, down corridors and through junctions, ignoring the sound of distant explosions and the occasional ground-shaking rumble as the complex started to tear itself apart from the inside out. We reached the airlock far faster than I thought possible, and thank the Unfinished Book, it had apparently been tied into the emergency system, as both the inner and outer hatch were open. Shaffer finally let me down once we were outside, dust and rock already starting to fall from the roof of the cave.

"GET TO DA STAIRS!" he yelled, pushing me forward.

Adrenaline is a hell of a drug, as fear lent my legs speed I didn't know I was capable of. Focusing only on the trail of glow-sticks, I ran faster than I ever have before or since. I pride myself on being in pretty good shape, all things considered, but I ran until my lungs burned and my vision became dim... then I ran some more. Somehow we reached the bottom of the stairs without tripping or stumbling, but that still left us with a near kilometre climb ahead of us, or at least that was what I'd assumed, before Shaffer dragged the ropes to one side, clipped one to the field webbing I worse, and pressed a button on a remote. I suddenly found myself hauled off my feet and dragged up the cliff face, struggling to get myself into a position where I could at least get my legs between myself and the rock, better controlling my unexpected ascent.

Turned out, Shaffer had rigged up portable winch to aid in the recovery of our equipment. Equipment, it so happened, that actually weighed more than me, so the compact electric motor had no trouble dragging my sorry arse up to the ledge while he used a more traditional rapid ascender kit.

In turn, this meant that I reached the top in time to see massive dome that had housed Project PROSPERO start to glow, as if lit by an internal light, then crumple in upon itself. As I watched a wellspring of red-hot magma bubbled up in the middle, the outer edges of the dome collapsing into the centre, until northing was left, I couldn't help but wonder what the hell had happened?

Was the system incomplete? Had the AI been driven mad when, upon activation, it realised that it wasn't the 'real' Simon Cameron, and been driven to suicide? Had it somehow known what had happened to the nation, the family, it had been created to serve and protect? Had the system needed the presence of the Yehudan Sea to act as a massive heat-sink, and shorted out? Or had it been a continuation of the failsafe Keeler had built into the weapons cache, triggered when the system activated?

******, it wasn't like we were ever going to know for sure, one way it another!

"I hate to sound like a materialistic weasel, especially at a time like this," I offered Shaffer a hand up over the lip of the edge, "but I still get paid, right?"

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


Cannonshop

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Re: Who Goes There?
« Reply #461 on: 31 October 2020, 07:08:26 »
Cheers, clapping.
The core rules for interacting with me:

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

Sir Chaos

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Re: Who Goes There?
« Reply #462 on: 31 October 2020, 08:45:59 »
Awesome!
"Artillery adds dignity to what would otherwise be a vulgar brawl."
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paulobrito

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Re: Who Goes There?
« Reply #463 on: 31 October 2020, 08:47:53 »
Real good. But I also want to know - is she get paid?

Starfox5

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Re: Who Goes There?
« Reply #464 on: 31 October 2020, 08:50:07 »
It was an awesome story - but the ending ruined it, in my opinion. "You find the Lost City of Atlantis/the island of surviving Dinosaurs/the proof that aliens visited/etc. but it'll get destroyed in the end" is a predictable and thoroughly worn-out "twist". The story would've been much, much better if the AI would have awakened just fine. How will the Clans react to it? How will the Inner Sphere? ComStar? What other secrets does it know?

So many questions, so many possibilities, sacrificed for the most common, cheapest "Nothing changes, don't worry, this doesn't matter at all" "twist".

JA Baker

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Re: Who Goes There?
« Reply #465 on: 31 October 2020, 08:55:55 »
It was an awesome story - but the ending ruined it, in my opinion. "You find the Lost City of Atlantis/the island of surviving Dinosaurs/the proof that aliens visited/etc. but it'll get destroyed in the end" is a predictable and thoroughly worn-out "twist". The story would've been much, much better if the AI would have awakened just fine. How will the Clans react to it? How will the Inner Sphere? ComStar? What other secrets does it know?

So many questions, so many possibilities, sacrificed for the most common, cheapest "Nothing changes, don't worry, this doesn't matter at all" "twist".
The idea behind these stories is that they could conceivably take place in canon. So, unless the AI took over the Word of Blake and was the one pulling Thomas Mark's strings from the background, it wouldn't really fit.
"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


Starfox5

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Re: Who Goes There?
« Reply #466 on: 31 October 2020, 09:11:44 »
The idea behind these stories is that they could conceivably take place in canon. So, unless the AI took over the Word of Blake and was the one pulling Thomas Mark's strings from the background, it wouldn't really fit.
Too bad - that's a lot of potential wasted then. "Fits into canon" limits stories with such high stakes and potential too much, IMHO.

JA Baker

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Re: Who Goes There?
« Reply #467 on: 31 October 2020, 09:23:33 »
Too bad - that's a lot of potential wasted then. "Fits into canon" limits stories with such high stakes and potential too much, IMHO.
Well, then this series may not be for you. Plenty of other amazing works on this forum that play fast and lose with Canon, often even straight-out ignoring it, but that's not what I'm doing here.
"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


Starfox5

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Re: Who Goes There?
« Reply #468 on: 31 October 2020, 09:35:29 »
Well, then this series may not be for you. Plenty of other amazing works on this forum that play fast and lose with Canon, often even straight-out ignoring it, but that's not what I'm doing here.

Indeed. "Fits into canon" generally works best when it's small stakes - the scrappy company fighting pirates, the Scouting lance dealing with a trap in a canon planetary assault etc. Not so when it's about Galaxy-changing stuff since you already know nothing will come of it, which removes the tension.

paulobrito

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Re: Who Goes There?
« Reply #469 on: 31 October 2020, 09:52:13 »
Indeed. "Fits into canon" generally works best when it's small stakes - the scrappy company fighting pirates, the Scouting lance dealing with a trap in a canon planetary assault etc. Not so when it's about Galaxy-changing stuff since you already know nothing will come of it, which removes the tension.
For things that don't fit in cannon, you get the AU type of stories.

JA Baker

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Who Goes There?
« Reply #470 on: 31 October 2020, 10:11:54 »
For things that don't fit in cannon, you get the AU type of stories.
Which isn't this Anthology: these are the urban legends and campfire stories of the BattleTech universe, the tall tales told at the bar when it's so late it's getting early. The kind of story where you know a guy who served with a guy who heard it from a tech working on the 'Mech of someone involved. Nothing should be taken 100% at face value, which is why I so often leave details vague, so the reader can fill in the blanks with their own imagination.

This is flavour text from a source book, not a novel.
"That's the thing about invading the Capellan Confederation: half a decade later, you want to invade it again"
-Attributed to First-Prince Hanse Davion, 3030


paulobrito

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Re: Who Goes There?
« Reply #471 on: 31 October 2020, 10:41:20 »
BTW, what is the story about the SLS Charlotte Cameron ?

JA Baker

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Re: Who Goes There?
« Reply #472 on: 31 October 2020, 10:51:20 »
BTW, what is the story about the SLS Charlotte Cameron ?
That was a reference to the fourth story in the series, The Wreck Of The Charlotte Cameron.

I often reference previous instalments as Easter Eggs for the eagle-eyed.
"That's the thing about invading the Capellan Confederation: half a decade later, you want to invade it again"
-Attributed to First-Prince Hanse Davion, 3030


Cannonshop

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Re: Who Goes There?
« Reply #473 on: 31 October 2020, 11:07:37 »
That was a reference to the fourth story in the series, The Wreck Of The Charlotte Cameron.

I often reference previous instalments as Easter Eggs for the eagle-eyed.

and I sometimes steal references for MY stuff from here. ;)
The core rules for interacting with me:

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

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

JA Baker

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Re: Who Goes There?
« Reply #474 on: 31 October 2020, 11:11:36 »
and I sometimes steal references for MY stuff from here. ;)
You steal my ideas, I steal your ideas, we both agree that it's not technically plagiarism and the Mods don't have to get involved  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


PsihoKekec

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Re: Who Goes There?
« Reply #475 on: 31 October 2020, 13:17:01 »
Quote
I have seen many wonders performed by the Star League, from the broken remains of a prototype orbital elevator to self contained terraforming machines the size of an office block. I even once got to study the remains of a seismic regulator that had held two continents together.

Did she work on occasions with the outfit from the Dead Worlds?
Shoot first, laugh later.

JA Baker

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Re: Who Goes There?
« Reply #476 on: 31 October 2020, 15:47:47 »
Did she work on occasions with the outfit from the Dead Worlds?
No, they're just big bits of  LosTech
"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 #477 on: 07 November 2020, 12:01:22 »
I'm going much darker with this one, kind of to the edge of my comfort zone, if I'm being honest, so be warned: this may not be for everyone.

Your Ignorance Is Bliss

Officially it's known as a Morality Inspection, or something similar. Unofficially, it's the Killjoy Squad.

Military service isn't necessarily... fun, and since the dawn of time, soldiers have always found ways to entertain themselves. Some read, listen to music or collect keepsakes from the planets they visit. Others engage in the more traditional vices: gambling, drinking, recreational pharmaceuticals and company of questionable moral fiber. Now, no one is going to get all bent out of shape about a barracks card-came or chasing tail at a local bar, but wherever there men and women with money to spend and stress to relive, there will be people willing to provide such services as is required. A blind eye is often turned, so long as there is no impact in the combat readiness of the soldier or their unit, but it can also lead to people engaging in acts that leave them open to... external pressure.

Prostitution may be the oldest profession, but blackmail is a close second.

Hence why every military has a dedicated security unit tasked with ensuring that, while the officers and enlisted ranks have a release for their excess energies, it doesn't get beyond a certain point. And, if they think things might be getting out of hand, in goes the Morality Inspection. Heads get busted, a few unlucky sods get made examples of, and life continues as normal.

However, there are times when either the military police are unable or unwilling to get involved themselves. After all, it's not a job that makes you too popular with the rest of the military, and some people are just too well connected to risk upsetting. Times like that, it's not uncommon for a scratch unit to be formed from any available mercenaries, as, well, it's easy money with a reduced risk of getting shot at. Add to that the chance to introduce some chinless noble to a military grade stun-gun and, well, it can be quite enjoyable.

3051, the so-called 'Year of Peace', saw me on Tamar, my old unit having been taken out behind the proverbial woodshed by Clan Wolf the year before. Given the fact that we'd been very obviously used as little more than ablative armour by some high-and-mighty Social Officer who didn't want to risk getting his 'Mech dirty by actually doing is duty, when word came around that the local AFFC commander was looking for people to serve in a Killjoy Squad, I was one of the first to sign-up.

And that's where I first met Joker.

I'm not surprised if you've not heard of her before: she isn't one to blow her own horn, but even back then, with just a couple of years under her belt, she was already seen as someone to watch in the Merc world. People talk, and she was already being notified for her scary natural ability behind the controls of a 'Mech, but also because the MRCB seemed to be falling over themselves to pretend that someone only wiling to give an obviously assumed name was perfectly normal and above-board. I don't know if she had compromising photos of Jamie Wolf or what, but she's the only person in history to have a near blank official record, and still get a Triple-A rating.

I straight-up asked her why she was signing up for a job like that, when she could have been out there, raiding behind Clan lines or earning some serious money on Solaris-VII, but she just tiled her head to the side and said "You can take the girl away from the Nuns, but you'll never take the Nuns away from the girl."

They let you pick your own choice of weapons for this kind of mission, within reason, and I'd decided on a Buccaneer gel-gun, with my trusty old Serek auto-pistol in reserve. I mean, sure, we were supposed to take people alive, but they might not feel the same about us, you know?

Well, a dozen of us were loaded up into the back of an unmarked truck and driven out to a somewhat rundown part of town. It was mostly warehouses and shipping office, stopping at the end of a narrow alleyway. Getting out, we saw a doorway built into the side of a building that had no place in that part of town. For one, it wasn't covered in graffiti or flyers, but rather was immaculately polished to the pint it almost gleamed in the glow of the street lights. It looked like it should have been inside a bank, or a military base, no the back of what claimed to be a humble shipping company named Lao Che Air Freight.

The lack of any obvious lock or other means of opening it from the outside made it clear that the only way in is if you're invited, and we certainly weren't. There was always the option of going in through the front door, but there was no way of knowing just how to get into the hidden 'Gentleman's Club' without setting off who knows how many alarms. No, the only way in ws through that big slab of metal pretending to be a door, and luckily, we'd brought just the right tool for the job.

It's called, imaginatively enough, 'giving them the finger'.

Myomer really is amazing stuff, and there's no apparent end to the uses it can be put. Take the relatively short length two of us recovered from the back of the truck: it had probably started out life as the finger of a BattleMech, hence the name, but had long ago been stripped out and put to a different use. By adding harnesses to either end, it had become the ultimate skeleton key. While I held it in place with the help of a young lad named Scilicorn, Joker used a bolt-gun intended to affix emergency patches to the hull of a DropShip to secure it to the wall on either side of the doorframe. Then it was just a case of running a power cable back to the truck, and flipping the switch.

A meter of military grade myomer became half a meter in less than a second, ripping the door, frame and all, out of the wall. The massive slab of mettle fell to the ground with a ground-shaking clang, and we got moving.

Joker was the first one through the doorway, her Ceres Arms Crowdbuster sending the two bouncers flying backwards. Anther idiot, I couldn't tell if they were staff or a patron, ran at her, only to take the butt of her weapon to the temple, taking them out of the fight. The rest of us poured in, weapons at the ready, just looking for an excuse to bust heads.

"Ladies and Gentlemen, if I may have your attention please." Joker's commanding voice cut through the shouting, and pretty much everyone stopped what they were doing and turned to look at her, "As duly appointed representatives of the Judge Advocate General's office, and under the authority of Archon Melissa Steiner, we are here to conduct an officially sanctioned Morality Inspection of these premises, its employees and customers." she took a step forward, over one of the still twitching bouncers, and rested her stun-gun over one shoulder, "Any civilians not linked to the military or government service will, of cause, be free to go, so please form an orderly line for identity verification. The Archon thanks you in advance for your cooperation in this matter."

Now, Joker isn't tall by any definition, but her sheer presence seemed to fill the room, the cold, calculating look in her eyes just begging someone to push their luck. And, I'll admit, part of me wanted to see them try, because it's always fun to watch a master artist at work, and Joker's art is kicking arse and taking names.

Unfortunately, nobody was that stupid, desperate or crazy.

Two young, somewhat exotic looking women, with probably a single bikinis worth of clothing between them, did run forward and started talking rapidly in some language I didn't recognise. Now, I'm fluent in Standard English, German and French, passable in Mandarin and can at least order a drink in Japanese, but I couldn't understand a single word they said. But, it was clear from the look on her face, that Joker could, as she nodded along, eyeing one of the better dressed patrons like a bird of prey eyeing its next meal.

"Ngài?" she asked, almost causally.

"Có, người đàn ông béo với nam tính nhỏ!" one of the young women nodded.

Now, the instruction manual for the Crowdbuster is quite famous for just how thick it is, especially if you get the copy printed up especially for the Maskirovka, which goes into quite some detail as to just what will happen if the weapon is directed at certain parts of the human body. Now, I have no idea if Joker ever read that book, or if she was just going on a gut feeling, but without looking, she pointed the stun-gun at the man's crotch, and pulled the trigger. It's quite something, watching a grown man vomit, piss himself and pass out at the same time, but that's exactly what he did. I've taken a glancing hit from a Crowdbuster, all be it in a low setting, and it made me want to die, so, yeah, I don't even want to imagine what he felt like before his brain just shut-down from the pain.

"Watch him." Joker turned to Aung, a man with the build of an Atlas and the temperament of a happy-go-lucky psychopath, "When he wakes, tell him he's under arrest on suspension of kidnapping, human trafficking, slavery and rape. And that's just for starters."

We all stopped what we were doing and looked down at the man: we were Mercenaries, hired killers who's loyalty is for sale, but even we had standard. If the accusations against the man were true, then, well, he was only half a step up from being a pirate, and not a very hight step at that. Getting a blast from a stun-gun in the joy-department was probably the least he deserved. The two women who had spoken up looked shocked that, not only had Joker understood them, but had taken their accusations seriously.

"Get out of my way, you cretin!" a protesting voice heralded the appearance of an older looking man with a bushy white moustache set upon a face that looked like it was set in a permanent scowl. He marched, not walked, up to Joker and looked down at her with obvious contempt, "Are you in charge of this... rabble?"

"Well, I like to think of us as a collective, but I can certainly listen to any complaints that you may have." Joke smiled in a sickly sweet way, and I felt the hairs on the back of my neck rising.

"Well then listen, mercenary," the man sneered, "I don't know who you think you are, not do I can. I am..."

"Leutnant-Colonel Marcus DeWinnter, of the Twenty-sixth Lyran Guards RCT." Joker held up a portable biometric scanner, "Your official photo doesn't do you justice." she looked at the readout on the device, "But this doesn't make sense: it says here that you're tonight's Officer of the Watch..."

"Look here, you jumped-up little cun..." DeWinnter started, then suddenly stopped as Joker took his balls in a vice-like grip.

"You're out of uniform and away from your duty station without permission. An act that, at a time of war, is classed as high treason and punishable by death." her voice remained unchanged, but her eyes were hard enough to cut diamond, "I could blow out what brains you have, here and now, and they'd probably thank me for saving them the cost of a trial."

Joker gave DeWinnter a sharp twist and a yank that had every conscious man in the room wince, and he dropped to his knees, his mouth opening and closing like a landed fish.

"Bag and Tag this waste of a uniform." she strode past him, heading for the managers office, "I've got more important things to do."

Taking a couple of zip-ties, I secured the gasping officers hands and legs, adding a red tag to his restraints indicating that he was to be held for further investigation.

After those displays of... intention, everyone else fell in line relatively quickly. About half the patrons were allowed to leave, all be it without getting dressed first, the rest either being military or high enough up in the civilian government that they really should have known better. Then it was discovered that one of the young ladies, who was apparently working to pay off a leveraged debt owed by her family, was under the legal age of consent. Joker didn't seem to have much problem with the general depravity and kink of the clientele, but when the barman told her that one customer in particular had a thing for, well, the younger the better, Aung and I had the physically restrain her. Didn't want to, but the last thing we needed was a dead body that had a noble title attached to it.

Not before the police had had a chance to investigate, at least.

But, seeing the look on her face, knowing that his life was hanging in the balance in a very literal way, he started talking. In fact, I wasn't sure we'd be able to get him to shut-up, ever again, despite the angry looks he was getting from some of the others. Somewhere in the middle of implicating himself in several crimes, he mentioned a hidden door that led to a secret basement, part of the club only accessible to a select few members. He'd never actually been invited there himself, but he had seen people coming and going, including before our arrival.

Joker walked over to the section of wall he'd indicated, and sure enough, found a pressure switch in the floor that activated a hidden door.

"Scilicorn, Aung, Kelso, you're with me." Joker pointed to the dark staircase, "Rest of you, keep processing. And when the Provosts arrive, send them in after us."

The basement was real old school: genuine wax candles and thick, iron-bound wooden doors. Someone had gone to a lot of time, effort and money to give it that genuine 'evil dungeon' air. Hell, Tamar had been settled for over seven centuries by that point, so who knows: maybe it was as old as it was trying to look. Planet had taken more than a few knocks down the years, entire cities getting leveled in one war or another, so who's to say what originally stood above our heads?

"******..." a hiss from Scilicorn brought me back to reality, and I looked through the doorway he was standing beside, and very quickly wished I hadn't.

I've seen my fare share of death on the battlefield, grown somewhat hardened to it, just to survive, but still... There are quick and clean ways to die, and then there's whatever the hell had taken place in that room. Blood covered the floor, walls, and God help me, even the ceiling. And, as if it couldn't get any worse, there were patches where you could see a layer of dried blood beneath it. And, in the middle of it all, a large table, upon which sat the remains of... someone, who most certainly hadn't died quick or clean.

"Per istam sanctam Unctiónem, et suam piisimam misericórdiam, indúlgeat tibi Dóminus quidquid per visum. Amen." Joker stood over the body of the young woman, a girl, really, and certainly under the age of consent, and closed her eyes for the last time, "Go with God, for he has no place in what we're about to do."

Without a word being spoken, we all put away our less lethal weapons, and drew our very lethal ones. A line had been crossed, and not in a shy way, and we were going to make sure someone paid.

There were other rooms... cells, really, and other... victims. A few, all too few, were still alive, all be it with their minds broken by I don't want to imagine what. Some would curl up in the corner, shrinking away from us as we tried to approach, while others just stood, sat or laid there impassively, already resigned to whatever fate they though awaited them. I've seen PoW camps, even taken part in a raid on a Capellan 'reduction camp' to rescue some idiot who was in the wrong place at the wrong time, but even then, there was some cold, twisted logic behind the brutality I'd seen. But what I saw that night, it wasn't even some sick ****** fetish: it was hurting people for the sake of causing as much pain and suffering as possible before they died.

We encountered the first, I guess Cultist is the word, while we were trying to figure out what to do with the survivors. They were dressed in a long, flowing scarlet robe with a hood, with some kind of mask over their face, that was utterly featureless aside from two slits for eyes. They drew a long, jagged knife from their belt and charged at us without saying a word, only to take a laser bolt between the eyes from Joker, killing them instantly.

"I want survivors: someone has to answer for what's happened here." her voice was almost worryingly calm and passive, "But don't take any chances."

Without further discussion, we continued deeper into the dungeon, weapons always at the ready, checking every corner and crevice as we went. We found rooms filled with truly ancient looking books, alongside the most up-to-date maps of the Inner Sphere you could ask for. Other Chambers had clearly been used for some kind of meeting, while some... it was clear that some of the prisoners had been... abused, before being killed. And based upon what we say, it when we'll beyond the scope of a Morality Inspection. No, this was into I don't know what territory.

We reached the top of a winding circular staircase leading deeper, the sound of distant chanting raising up from the depths. I took the lead, back against the outer wall, pistol pointed down the steps, followed by Joker and Scilicorn, Aung bringing up the rear. The stairs led down quite some way, eventually opened out onto a landing overlooking a massive chamber lit by several large fire pits. A couple of dozen robed figures were standing before some kind of alter, upon which was tied two naked bodies, one male, and female, both very young. Over them stood a figure in a snow-white robe, hands held out high above them.

"Beelzebub, Asmodeus, Baphomet, Lucifer, Loki, Cthulhu, Lilith, Hela." he called out a Succession of names, some of which I half remembered from late-night TdiVid binges between missions, "Blood given to you all!"

"On any other day, this would seem strange." Scilicorn mused, "On any other day, that is."

"Some things never change." Aung spoke, his voice like someone who was gargling with gravel, "Your soul for power and fortune, just sign on the dotted line with your blood."

"Or somebody else's." Joker looked PISSED, "Okay, I want that arsehole alive: he's obviously the one calling the shots. Don't care about the rest..."

"You have come. The witness to the end of time." A knife appeared in the hand of the figure in the white robe, "It's now!"

"Okay, new plan." Joker raised her gun, "Let's just shoot every one who resists."

As one, we erupted from the shadows.

"MORALITY INSPECTION!" I yelled out at the top of my voice, "NOBODY ****** MOVE!"

All hell broke lose.

Some tried to run, others surrender, but enough drew their own knives that it turned into a real shit-show. We were at the top of a flight of stairs, with clear lines of fire, but the moment we started shooting, the mob below us panicked like a flock of headless chickens. I guess facing armed, prepared opponents was a bit different to butchering some terrified kid tied to a table. They'd wanted blood to flow that night, and God as my witness, we made sure it did.

And then...

Afterwards, after the Provosts arrived and pulled us out to be looked over by the medics, they told us that they'd been burning some kind of rare plant, that the smoke had been full of some kind of hallucinogenic drug. That said that the things we was weren't real, that they couldn't have been real. That the wounds we saw inflicted were the result of the knives the Cultists had used as they turned upon one another. And I most certainly didn't see a blue skinned woman, big as a BattleMech and with four arms, appear in the middle of the room and rip the white robed figure limb from limb. That's apparently just the result of the drugs triggering a memory of growing up on Naka Pabni, and I most definitely did not see the Goddess Kali appear before me in all her glory to destroy the evil and protect the innocent.

I mean, yeah, my mother was a Hindu, and I grew up learning about her culture and religion, but I'm most definitely lapsed NACC!

We were all individually debriefed by representatives of the JAG and Mercenary Liaison Office, who told us that the Club had been a cover for a deranged Cult who believed that the Clan Invasion was a sign of the End Times. They wanted to hurry things along by summoning... something, they didn't seem to care what, believing that, by helping to usher in the apocolypse, they'd be rewarded when it was all over. Well, most of them ended up dead, the few survivors would have spent the rest of their lives in prison on a mental hospital if you guys hadn't invaded. I was still in the hospital recovering, but the others?

If you haven't captured them, then I have no idea where they are.

So, yes, Khan Natasha Kerensky, I have met Joker, and to the best of my knowledge, she's very much alive and well, but no, I have no idea where she is.

The End
« Last Edit: 07 November 2020, 20:54:44 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


Cannonshop

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Re: Who Goes There?
« Reply #478 on: 07 November 2020, 12:39:06 »
BRAVO!!!
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Sir Chaos

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Re: Who Goes There?
« Reply #479 on: 07 November 2020, 12:48:59 »
Awesome story.

Could have used more proofreading in places, though. A couple of homophones or near-homophones slipped through.
"Artillery adds dignity to what would otherwise be a vulgar brawl."
-Frederick the Great

"Ultima Ratio Regis" ("The Last Resort of the King")
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