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Author Topic: The Double Deuce II/II-σ [3053]  (Read 24303 times)

Failure16

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Re: The Double Deuce II/II-σ [3053]
« Reply #30 on: 31 March 2018, 17:57:22 »
ECV Full House
Outbound from Campoleone
Cargo Bay
04 November, 1515 GMT

          Adept III-ι Lissea Stoyka, the Foot Platoon leader, continued lounging in her seat for an extra ten seconds longer than she needed to before gathering her booted feet under her and rising slowly to face the rest of the evening.  The commander’s dismissal of the assemblage had opened the floor to a dozen individuals and there were now at least that many conversations going on.  The ward room’s emotional temperature had warmed in the moments since Hops and Captain Mason departed; it was warmer yet with all the hot air being blown out nearly everyone’s flytraps.
          Stoyka glanced over to her right and sniffed in silent amusement.
         “Yeah, Hannah, you’re with me,” she said to the newly-breveted Jump Platoon leader.
          Crowell smiled beatifically and turned to the senior PL.  She had been a non-commissioned officer for years; longer than Lissea herself had been in the ComGuards.  But in all that time, even as she negotiated the ranks towards becoming a senior NCO, officers had been the ones who did Certain Things whilst she did Everything Else.  The change had been subtle, but the effects had been paradigmatic in scope.  Stoyka saw herself reflected in the stocky NCO’s uncompromising bearing.  As the newest junior officer in the Double Deuce—Hell, probably the ComGuards!—Hannah Crowell seemed to be channeling the middle-schooler that had to switch to a new facility halfway through the year.
          Lissea reached over to clap Crowell past her so she could see the officer that had been next to her, and hidden by her bulk regardless.  “Heya, Maurice,” she called out just loud enough to be heard by the intended recipient.  “You roll with me too, right?”
          Adept Druon, the compact, hirsute fellow who led the detachment of combat helos, pursed his lips and shrugged before giving the infantry officer a thumbs-up.  He strode over to her, crabstepping in the narrow footing, though the room was starting to thin out just a bit.  Maurice Druon was most at home whipping his gunship through a forest of ’Mech antennae—or chatting up a pretty girl.  That made him look and feel like peripheral fodder right now.
           She pointedly turned her head until she had Doc Morrison in her direct line of sight, then waited until Morrison’s subconscious registered the gaze.  “Which of your chitlins are we taking, Doc?” she asked, only having to raise her voice a little so he could latch on to the timbre of her words and let his mind fill in the blanks.
          Morrison blinked, clearly distracted, and made a fluttery gesture with his left hand while his right remained on his hip.  “Take, uh, take Carlee, will you?  She’ll be at the infirmary, with the rest of the medics.  And Munter and Aslett, too, though Carlee is senior.”
          Stoyka flashed him a tight-lipped smile in acknowledgment and turned to Crowell and Druon.  Carlee was fine; a combat medic who regularly deployed with the line platoons.  Doc Morrison knew his business alright.  The other pair were relative newbies who normally stuck close to the aid-station.  They would do in a pinch under Carlee’s relative presence and direction. 
           “Okay, we stop by and grab Carlee, Munter, and Aslett on the way to see the kids,” Stoyka said.  “Hannah, I want you to get the non-coms together and marshal the troopers outside their billets.  Maurice, get one of your trustworthy personnel to help square things up from the opposite end of where we start.  I’ll get Top Heravy setting things up from the start-point which is Stack One. 
          “On order, Maurice will take a medic and form a second inspection team.  If I deem that necessary, you’ll start from your end of the line and we’ll work towards the center.  Hannah, you’ll maintain crowd control because I know no one will screw with you, right?”
          Crowell and Druon nodded.  Stoyka wondered if her newly-promoted fellow platoon leader realized that she was being used as a public enforcer precisely because Stoyka didn’t want her in the rooms, raising hell about petty-ante bullshit.  And Druon would be a calming presence to the individual troopers because of his laid-back persona.  This situation, like life, was simply an exercise in connecting the right dots.
          “Good?”
          Crowell consciously moved her hands from the small of her back where she had been standing at a relaxed parade-rest.  She fiddled with them for the briefest of moments before hooking her thumbs into the pockets of her fatigue trousers to keep them occupied.  She was learning, but it would take some time to reformat the senior NCO into a junior officer.
          “Is this a pay-day inspection, or a contraband inspection, ma’am?”
          Stoyka snorted good-naturedly.  “The former; while we are looking for contraband in an absolute sense, we only care about croppies.”
          Druon shifted uneasily.  “And if we find, you know, other stuff…?”
          Stoyka reached over and clapped the flyer on his shoulder.  “Make a decision.  But I’m not in a mood to hear about pointless minutia this early into the voyage, right?”
          Crowell nodded, stone-faced.  She was probably wondering about how the next hour or three would go in her first publically official act as a platoon leader.  Druon smiled faintly and nodded to her.  Stoyka noticed one of the junior MechWarriors, Adept Jenks, standing unattached by the hatchway.
          “Holly,” she said, “You got an assignment?”
          She was relatively new to the Double Deuce, but bright and attentive.  Stoyka hadn’t worked much with her on an interpersonal in the past, but now was as good a time as any to start.
          “Fall in with us, will you?”  Lissea turned to her growing entourage and chuckled to herself; any longer in this damn room and she’d have half the officer corps with her.  “Well, come on, then.  Let’s get this insanity started, shall we?”
*          *          *
         “Sure thing, Top,” Delf Helhake was saying to Acolyte Heravy as he turned around towards the stacked billets.  “But crazy is as crazy does…”
         More quietly, to Tia Spencaire beside him, he continued, “And this is some bughouse bleeding crazy shit if I don’t say so myself.”
         “Which you do,” she murmured out of the side of her mouth as they threaded their way back to Fox-Two’s shipping container.  He fingers toyed with an unlit cigarette for a moment before she put it behind her ear to keep it out of the way.
         The Foot Platoon’s Second Squad was in the Second Tower, so they didn’t have far to walk from where Top Heravy had briefed the squad leaders and their senior troopers.  Unfortunately, it was three levels up, a good ten-plus meters or so.  Tia Spencaire was the type of person that got the job done, no matter the odds, no matter the cost.  But that didn’t mean she particularly enjoyed spending much of her day and most of her night waiting for her sleeping accommodations to come crashing down, crushing her in the process.
         But nobody had asked her, so there it was.
         “Which I do,” the squad leader finally agreed, stopping Spencaire at the ladder before she had placed her booted foot on the bottom step.  “Heya, slow down, eh?”
         She raised an eyebrow while reaching up to take hold of the cigarette and twirl it in her fingers.  “Yeah?”
         “The rest of the kids got anything hidden I need to know about?” Helhake asked pointedly but quietly; they didn’t have much time before the inspectors showed up.  “Or maybe that I don’t, hey?”
         Spencaire shrugged.  “Look, I love those idiots to death and all,” she started, “but the rest of the squad is a bunch of dorks.  I don’t think they’re hiding anything more serious than Mouser’s stash of pogey bait, do you?”
         Helhake started to smile, but the expression came out stillborn before solidifying into a grimace.  “Shitfire,” he breathed.  “Triple-damned Mouser…”
         Spencaire looked momentarily stricken.  “No damn way, Lucky,” she said.  “No damn way they’re looking for that drek.”
         “Hey, you heard Top same as I did,” the squad leader rejoined.  “Question is, what do we do about it now, eh?”
         “Look, Lucky, you don’t even understand,” she said with quiet and only barely restrained urgency.  “They start taking away shit like Mouser’s pogey-bait and we are going to have a real problem on our hands.”  The cigarette had stilled in her fingers.  “I am gonna have a Real Problem.”
         Delf snorted, but caught himself up short when he saw his senior trooper was serious.  “Look, Tia, it can’t be that ba—”
         “You are damned well right it can be ‘that bad’,” she shot back.  “You don’t have to put up with those guys twenty-four-seven.  Not like I do.”
         Helhake looked at her and looked away, then up the ladder towards home.  “Shitfire,” he said.  “Shitfire.”
         Spencaire shook her head and leaned up against the bulkhead to steady her thoughts.  She reached into a pocket, then another and another before she realized that wherever her minitorch was, it wasn’t on her person.  Motherf—
         “How’s it hanging, killers?” someone asked as they passed the two troopers idling at the base of the ladder.  “You ready for some real fun?”
         Spencaire spared a glance away from her personal misery and saw the crew of 006 striding by on some bullshit errand or another.  Her eyes lingered on the driver, Mattis, but only for a second.
         “Jimmy; Mattie,” Helhake said easily, reaching out to shake the hands of the pair as they continued to edge past, but at a considerably slower rate than they had been before.  “We in for it, or what?”
         Both enlisted men smiled, but Parker chuckled softly.  “El-Tee Stoyka will be here any minute, I’d gather, with Crowell looks like.  Sounds like a party to me.”
         The squad leader grinned back toothily.  “Never a dull moment, eh?”
         Mattis reached into his pocket and brought out a cigarette and his lighter.  He sparked it up but took a step towards Spencaire before he lit his own.  Off to the side, Jimmy Parker’s grin took on a different aspect, the way sunrise can warm a glade even before the temperature can change in full truth.
         “No rest for the wicked, killer,” Mattis replied, but he was looking at Spencaire who blinked back at him before they both looked away. 
         “And the righteous don’t need it, right?” Parker continued.  “Well, kids, we’d best be off.  They’re probably ransacking our quarters even now so we can play gopher for one of the officers.  What none of us needs is Asadi or McCann to be pissed at us because we’re off jerking around, huh?”
         “Sure thing,” Helhake said easily as they took their leave.  “If you two bastards find yourselves back in these parts, don’t be ****** about it, yeah?”
         “Roger wilco,” Parker said over his shoulder, pausing a half-step so Mattis could turn on his heel without his delayed departure being overly noticeable.
         Helhake watched them go, Mattis in particular silhouetted against Spencaire’s profile.  She raised the cigarette to her lips and inhaled slowly, luxuriantly.  The tip glinted off her blue eyes while she turned slightly to watch the vehicle crew stride purposefully towards the staff area.
         “Join me when you’re finished, eh, Tia?” he said, turning to mount the ladder in a hurry.  “I got a bad feeling about this.”
Thought I might get a rocket ride when I was a child.          We are the wild youth, 
But it was a lie, that I told myself                                              Chasing visions of our futures.
When I needed something good.                                                One day we'll reveal the truth,
At 17, I had a better dream; now I'm 33, and it isn't me.        That one will die before he gets there.

But I'd think of something better if I could
                           --E. Tonra
--A. Duritz

Snimm

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Re: The Double Deuce II/II-σ [3053]
« Reply #31 on: 02 April 2018, 20:22:40 »
oops wrong thread
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Snimm

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Re: The Double Deuce II/II-σ [3053]
« Reply #32 on: 02 April 2018, 20:24:20 »
     Adept-I Eric Simmons sighed heavily as he plopped his wide but thin frame onto his bunk and ran his weather-roughened fingers through his light brown hair.  He rolled up the sleeves on his green camo shirt – he had little use for anything with any other color scheme - and pulled out his Swiss army knife from the pocket of his pants, preparing to give his go-bag the once-over yet again.  Years in the Explorer Corps had impressed upon him an urgent sense of the need to be prepared as often as possible and the well-worn backpack had plenty of pockets to hide things, not the least of which was his stashes of tobacco.  Whereas most of the unit preferred cigarettes, Simmons had forced himself to get used to leaf and chew, because smoking was a great way to get dead when scouting solo in enemy territory.  He also rationed himself strictly, often flirting with withdrawal sickness.  By the time the DropShip had lifted off Campoleone, he had managed to save up much of his rations hidden in several compacted packets hidden amongst his person, his bag, and the Mongoose at any given time.  It made for great trading material in a pinch, although he was not inclined to engage in such trading while in space; never knew how long you could be spacing, and Simmons didn’t want to have to start relying on the rations, especially in the wake of the crop devil infestation and resulting decreased supply.  The little bushwhackers had climbed into his luggage before, and he had learned to carry it with him more often and check all the hidden stashes for signs of damage that indicated a crab might have found one.  There were two sets of visible stitches on the bag, and a couple sets less so, to evidence his struggles against the forces of nature.

     As his fingers worked over the bag, knife at the ready for a surprise crab attack, his mind ran over the events of the past week, a moment of sadness crossing his heart as memories of serving in the Explorer Corps under Evans rose unbidden to the fore of his consciousness.  The man had been an able commander, teaching him the ropes of scouting work and later in their careers having the wisdom to leave Simmons to his own devices once he was given a mission to fulfill.  Simmons was approachable enough, but he prided himself on being resourceful in the field and disliked being given too many specific instructions on how to accomplish his goals.  He was passing familiar with the footsloggers, understanding their value better than most Mechwarriors due to his covert work in small scouting cabals, but nobody would accuse him of being overly familiar with any one of them.

     He knew he was supposed to leave the go-bag for the general inspection, but Eric Simmons didn’t let anyone but Eric Simmons touch his backpack if he could help it.  Verifying the bag was empty of life forms and that he also had his field binoculars, his Mydron auto-pistol and ammo clips, and multi-purpose tool, he finished his lookie-loo and stood up, pocketed the knife, and slipped his arms once again through the straps of his backpack.  He always traveled this way, as lightly as possible and as close to his person as possible, until his feet were on Terra Firma again – or in this case, Astrokaszy Firma.  He figured he’d better go make sure one of the techs or other MechWarriors hadn’t found one of his hidey-holes in the Mech, or that one of those fragging devils found their way up to the cockpit.  Nothing was sacred to those little terrors, it seemed…
« Last Edit: 03 April 2018, 08:34:42 by Snimm »
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Daryk

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Re: The Double Deuce II/II-σ [3053]
« Reply #33 on: 03 April 2018, 19:21:09 »
As Eric shouldered his pack and opened the door to the tiny stateroom he shared with John Preston, he found himself looking at Adept Hopschnur across the narrow passageway.

"Eric!  Nice of you to make things easy on Sam... he's just finishing up Jim's quarters, and will be with you in a moment," the older Adept said with a pointed glance at the younger man's pack.

It struck Eric that Twilley's stateroom was the other side of Croft and Sharpe's from his own.  Sharpe, of course, was confined to quarters, so it made sense to do it last among the three.

OOC: The billeting is laid out in the spreadsheet, and on the deck plan, though you may have to zoom in to make the text legible...

Tegyrius

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Re: The Double Deuce II/II-σ [3053]
« Reply #34 on: 03 April 2018, 20:45:02 »
Cameron McCann considered the hatch to Halle Asadi's improvised quarters, chuckled at the cautionary note in neatly-penned Arabic, and banged gently on the steel with his left elbow.  The hatch emitted a muffled growl and three footsteps before cracking to reveal the JAG officer's right eye.

"Would you really do that?" Cameron asked, tilting his jaw to indicate the warning.

"Swear to Blake, next person who interrupts," Asadi's tone smoothly shifted as she inhaled, "oh blessed art thou, bearer of the elixir of life, enter and be welcome in my home."  She muscled the hatch open and gestured Cameron in.  The S-2 grinned and obeyed, handing Asadi the spill-resistant mug in his left hand.  A thin contrail followed the movement.

Asadi sipped tentatively and her eyebrows spiked up before she closed her eyes in bliss.  "This is the good stuff."  Her eyes popped open and she regarded Cameron warily.  "This is the good stuff," she repeated with a different inflection.  "This is bribery."  She inspected the ship's crest on the mug.  "Also, this.  This is stolen."

"Yep," Cameron confirmed cheerfully as he moved a noteputer out of the way and folded himself, uninvited, into Asadi's spare chair.  "I think the statute of limitations has expired, though."

Asadi hmphed noncommittally and sank into her own chair behind her desk.  "Don't try to change the subject."

"You're the one who accused me of theft."

"Accused?  You?  I just observed this thing's provenance."  Asadi hefted the mug and sipped again.  "Sounds like you have a guilty conscience."

"You'd be amazed at what I can rationalize away."

"Not really."

Cameron chuckled.  "No, I don't suppose you would."

A companionable silence fell for a moment as the two contemplated their respective mugs.

"So, not that I'm ungrateful..."

"... but we both have homework."  Cameron extracted a data chip from his sleeve pocket.  "Want to compare notes?"

"Hm."  Asadi placed the mug on her work surface and slotted the chip.  "Well, since Terra seems to have failed to assign us a civil affairs officer, I guess that's on us.  Again."

"For certain definitions of 'civil.'"  Cameron paused for effect.  "And certain definitions of--"

"Do not go there."
Some places remain unknown because no one has gone there.  Others remain unknown because no one has come back.

Snimm

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Re: The Double Deuce II/II-σ [3053]
« Reply #35 on: 03 April 2018, 21:17:15 »
OOC:  I guess I have absolutely no idea where I am, actually. :P  Which ship plan should I be looking at?  I'm on the Command Deck of the Manatee?
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Daryk

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Re: The Double Deuce II/II-σ [3053]
« Reply #36 on: 03 April 2018, 21:20:30 »
OOC: Yes, the Command Deck... and you discovered why Hopschnur said HE would supervise the inspections there... :)

Snimm

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Re: The Double Deuce II/II-σ [3053]
« Reply #37 on: 05 April 2018, 12:47:09 »
Grimacing inwardly, Simmons gave Adept Hopschnur a "Yes, sir, can't hardly wait" with poorly disguised sarcasm, and leans up against the bulkhead of his stateroom door. 

Guess someone else was going to touch his backpack this time; it couldn't always be avoided.  The last thing he wanted was the others suspicious of his comings and goings when on reconnaissance; he might not be the friendliest soldier in the unit, but the he didn't want his loyalty to the unit questioned.  He'd put in too many years of blood, sweat, and long field hours.
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Daryk

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Re: The Double Deuce II/II-σ [3053]
« Reply #38 on: 05 April 2018, 18:52:33 »
Sam Walden was quick but thorough with Eric's bag.  With Eric holding it open and rifling through it, he didn't even have to touch it himself.  He was similarly quick with Eric's room, and gave his fellow officers a thumbs up when he was done.  Nodding in response, Hopschnur said, "You may want to give Dennis a hand with White Knuckles, Eric.  I can only imagine what you've got squirreled away in that thing.  Now it you'll excuse us, we have to inspect the last room up here..."

Hopschnur wore a sour look as he faced Sharpe and Croft's quarters.

Snimm

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Re: The Double Deuce II/II-σ [3053]
« Reply #39 on: 06 April 2018, 09:43:15 »
Simmons gave Hops a small smirk behind his back.  "Yes, sir.  I like how you think."

With that, he gave a sloppy, quick salute - Simmons was always less than formal about military formalities - shouldered his bag and made a moderately hasty getaway down the stairwell to the Mech bay level.  He wasn't afraid of authority or anything; he just wanted to find a moment of space and peace in the cockpit of the Mongoose.  Maybe even liberate one of his stashes into his mouth before someone else did.  All this search made for a jumpy tobacco addict...
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Failure16

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Re: The Double Deuce II/II-σ [3053]
« Reply #40 on: 11 April 2018, 22:51:09 »
ECV Full House
Outbound from Campoleone
Cargo Bay
04 November, 1600 GMT

          “Well, it won’t be bad just so long as you got nothing to hide, right?” Acolyte XIV-ι Wilhem Heravy drawled to Acolyte V-ι Joh Harras, the squad leader for J-4.
          Joh grinned expansively in reply, but that only meant he had taken the time to hide whatever it was he wasn’t supposed to have more carefully than usual.  “Hey, Top,” he said with his hands spread before him.  “You know I’m always clean as a whistle!”
          The senior non-com frowned slightly.  That meant the poor bastard next to Harras just got set up unknowingly as a fall-guy.  But while Joh Harras was a bastard alright, he was a right one.  He wouldn’t blue falcon one of his fellow squad leaders, or their troopers by association.
          “Best be getting back to your billet,” Heravy warned at last.  “Inspection team’ll be here any minute…”
          “Roger, roger,” Harras replied.
          But before he could move towards the ladder that served the tower of shipping-containers-turned-living spaces, a different voice boomed out, “And just what, pray tell, are you doing down here instead of standing outside your hole, Acolyte Harras?”
          Harras and Heravy winced in unison, but because of the angle of the speaker to the recipients, the former couldn’t see the gesture.  Heravy could sense the younger man’s spine stiffen, but there were no outward signs of reaction to the barbed interrogative.
          Instead, the squad leader snapped to parade rest—not attention.  “Ah, yes, Adept Crowell?  I was talking with Top here, but we’d just finished up.”
          The newly promoted infantry platoon leader came to a halt a meter from the squad leader, facing him squarely; a caged bear fronting a rangy mountain lion.  “I see that,” she said quietly, turning on her heel to face the billets and blank Joh Harras’s existence out of her immediate universe.  “Top, when you’re done with Acolyte Harras, please have him stand by his billet at the head of his squad.”
          Heravy gave Harras a minuscule gesture with his blue-skinned chin as a form of gentle dismissal and stepped forward to come nearly on-line with the new PL.  Harras winked above lips pursed into a thin line and stepped out of the way, nearly brushing Adept Crowell.  His hands might have fanned out as he rotated away from her on his way to the ladder leading Level Three, Tower Three.
          That out of the way, Crowell stepped back, just missing the departing squad leader, and used her parade ground voice to address the gathered soldiery around and above her.  Most of the enlisted personnel were on the catwalks outside their billets and thus were peering down at her from two, three, or four levels above the deck where she stood arms akimbo.
          “Okay, troopers, I am sure that you have been briefed by your squad leaders.  Let me reiterate that this inspection is to look for an infestation of the pests known as Proserpina Crop Devils.  It is for your own health and safety, so everyone stand easy and let the inspection teams do what they are here to do.  Then you can get on with your regularly scheduled entertainment.  Carry on!”
          Harras raced up the ladder and had turned about face when Heravy’s confident, gravelly voice boomed out, “Group, Atten-SHUN!” as Adept Stoyka and the rest of her inspection team filed into the area.
          He might have been smiling.
Thought I might get a rocket ride when I was a child.          We are the wild youth, 
But it was a lie, that I told myself                                              Chasing visions of our futures.
When I needed something good.                                                One day we'll reveal the truth,
At 17, I had a better dream; now I'm 33, and it isn't me.        That one will die before he gets there.

But I'd think of something better if I could
                           --E. Tonra
--A. Duritz

Failure16

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Re: The Double Deuce II/II-σ [3053]
« Reply #41 on: 11 April 2018, 22:52:31 »
ECV Full House
Outbound from Campoleone
Cargo Bay
04 November, 1610 GMT

          “Are there really bugs in here, Mamá?” Aurelio Gutierrez asked loudly in a way only a four year-old could or would.
          “Sh-sh-sh, mijo,” the boy’s mother, Lula, said in an effort to stem the endless questions that couldn’t be ignored by the small mass of civilians milling around them.
          Marienda Krantzel felt the corners of her mouth twinge upwards because for once it wasn’t her own little girl that was drawing attention to herself.  Little Aimee was sitting on the blanket that the two women had spread out on the deckplates and playing with two of her dolls and the purple dragon who, at the moment, was a bad witch.
          “Well, there had better not be,” huffed a portly, slightly older, gentleman by the name of Gregoire.  “Or else I’ll demand a refund.”
          “Oh, shush yourself, Maximiliano,” his wife Yetta tut-tutted placing her own pudgy hand atop his tweed-covered forearm.  From her tone she was sure of her husband’s winking jocularity without needing to look up from the dog-eared paperback she habitually carried.  “You’ll get everyone all worked up.”
          “But the army lady said they were looking for them!” Aurelio protested.  “She saidso!”
          “Mijo…” Lula said with a thin veneer of restraint.
          Marienda leaned forward into the boy’s sight-line, her hands contorted into claws or pincers.  “And if they find them, Little Leo,” she said, thrusting towards him until he squealed excitedly.  “Then what?”
          The boy ran off laughing, into a circle that encompassed the seating area that the majority of the civilians had occupied in the common area around their living quarters.  In those living quarters were the inspection teams, led by the Personnel Officer, a tiny, thin-featured and dark-skinned woman.  Her husband Jase was in there too—they had asked for volunteers to accompany the inspection teams and of course his hand had shot up first.
          It was just as well, she recognized.  Lord knew they needed a break from each other after being cooped up in their tiny stateroom for days…
          “Thanks,” Lula murmured out of the corner of her mouth.  “I love him to death but sometimes…”
          Marienda nodded at the younger woman, so much younger, that had become her friend over the intervening hours and days since the ship had blasted skywards, spacewards.  “I know the feeling,” she murmured back, tapping her daughter’s rump with the toe of her shoe.
          Aimee giggled, then said, “Stop it, Mommy!”  Her dolls had formed a conga-line behind the dragon—no longer a bad witch, but apparently now a fairy godmother.
          Marienda smiled back.
          Lula clucked her tongue.  “Oh, spare me,” she responded dryly.  “Your little girl is so good—”
          “Oh, she just has you and everyone else fooled,” Marienda replied.  “Spend twenty-four hours with her and you won’t be her biggest fan.”
          “Deal,” Lula rejoined, leaning back to stretch and luxuriate for even two minutes without adolescent interference.
          Aimee’s thin little shoulders had hunched over as she maneuvered her dolls.  Something moved in front of her where it shouldn’t have—
           Marienda had one of her slip-ons in her hands and brought it down like lightning in front of Aimee.  The movement alone startled everyone in the immediate vicinity, but it scared the daylights out of the little girl.  Seeing that her mother’s shoe had just crushed what she was playing with elicited the first burbling cries, however.
          “Oh, good Lord,” Max Gregoire said, leaning over heavily to peer over his glasses at the deck.  “Is that a, you know…?”
          “Heavens me,” Yetta said breathlessly, her fingers by rote trying to find the page she had lost in the sudden commotion.
          Marienda was afraid to look, afraid to contemplate was what crawling towards her daughter.  She leaned down and scooped he little girl up to silence the bawling which by now had drawn everyone’s vague disinterested attention whether they had seen the catalyst or not.
          Lula laid a thin hand across Marienda’s, crossed in front of her daughter as they were, and reached down to the floor.  She came back up with what might once have been some sort of caterpillar or beetle, before it had been completely and irrevocably smashed flat.
          “Yech,” she said good-humoredly.  “Arturo bought some of these for Aurelio before we left.”
          Aimee was still blubbering as the residuals of fear worked their way through her system.  Marienda held her close and mumbled an apology as she tried to make sense of what Lula was saying from beside her.  Around them, the rest of the civilians had gone back to doing whatever it was they were doing before something promised a blissful interlude from their developing boredom.
          “They are little, I don’t know, bugs of some kind,” Lula said, working through her thoughts in the Standard English that was not her birth-tongue.  “But fake, you see?  Toys, only.  They build up a charge from, ah, movement, yes?  Like when Aimee moved the, ah, blanket, yes?”
          Lula handed her friend the squashed toy.  Marienda was no engineer, but she supposed the little toy used—used to use!—some element of piezoelectricity to engender a peristaltic response.  It certainly looked real enough…
          Marienda must have looked sufficiently stricken that Lula reached out surreptitiously and squeezed her hands clasped underneath her quiescent daughter.  Her little boy skidded up to her.  She released her friend to keep him from tumbling headlong into all of them when his feet caught the blanket along the floor.
          “I, I’m so sorry,” Marienda stumbled.  “I didn’t mean to break one of your son’s toys…?”
          Lula waved her concern away.  “No worries, Mari,” she chuckled, then winked conspiratorially.  “I hated those things anyways.”  She turned with practiced focus to Aurelio.  “Now, mijo, where are the rest of these bugs your father gave to you?”
          “Oh, man!” he exclaimed when he saw what had transpired.  Lula snapped her fingers once to regain his attention and center him.  “I, ah, I…I gave Aimee a couple and, I…”
          Lula tilted her head down to look her son in the eyes.  “Did you leave them somewhere, Leo?” she asked sternly.  “Because if you did, they are gone forever, you know.  We can’t get any more.”
          Now it was the four-year-old’s turn to look stricken; Aimee shifted in her mother’s arms, but she had quieted down at least.  “Oh, man!” he repeated.  “Oh, man!  I was playing with them, but I, but I must have left them.”  Tears were beginning to form in the corner of his eyes.  “I didn’t mean to lose them, Mamá!”
          Lula clucked her son reassuringly, hugging him before releasing him.  “Well, I am quite sure someone will find them,” she said generally.  “On a ship this small, where could they go?”
Thought I might get a rocket ride when I was a child.          We are the wild youth, 
But it was a lie, that I told myself                                              Chasing visions of our futures.
When I needed something good.                                                One day we'll reveal the truth,
At 17, I had a better dream; now I'm 33, and it isn't me.        That one will die before he gets there.

But I'd think of something better if I could
                           --E. Tonra
--A. Duritz

Daryk

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Re: The Double Deuce II/II-σ [3053]
« Reply #42 on: 15 April 2018, 08:15:18 »
ECV Full House
Outbound from Campoleone
04-06 November

Aside from mild excitement upon the discovery of a number of insectoid toys among the civilian children, the inspections went smoothly.  No further Crop Devils were found, and the inspectors and techs spent the following day devising a way to inspect the sealed food containers.  That effort consumed the entirety of the 5th of November, but ensured Captain Mason and Adept Hopschnur had as much good news as possible to tell Captain Hong when the ship docked with the fully charged Inside Straight on the 6th.

Unsurprisingly, Captain Hong refused to open the air lock until the infested container was offloaded.  She did, however, concur with the plan to make landfall on Astrokaszy.  The calculations for an appropriate jump point in the Astrokaszy system added several hours to the time spent in zero-g, with all the attendant issues.  More than one parent among the civilians learned the hard way about zero-g bathroom use.

Once the complex calculations were complete, the warning klaxons sounded throughout both ships at the usual intervals of 10 minutes, 5 minutes, 1 minute, 30 seconds, and 10 seconds.  Despite the several briefings provided by the ship's crew, there was still wailing from the civilian quarters, both before and after the docked ships vanished from the Campoleone system.
« Last Edit: 15 April 2018, 08:22:22 by Daryk »

Daryk

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Re: The Double Deuce II/II-σ [3053]
« Reply #43 on: 15 April 2018, 08:28:05 »
ECV Full House
Inbound to Astrokaszy
06 November, 1348 GMT

The jump went smoothly, or as smoothly as they ever do.  The usual percentage of personnel experienced nausea, headaches and all the rest.  Oddly, the infants among the civilians seemed to take it the best.

Seconds after arrival, Hong's expert crew declared the immediate space clear of hostiles, and preparations were made to undock.  The maneuvering alarm sounded, and the Full House was shortly underway again, much to everyone's relief after nearly five hours in zero-g.

Tegyrius

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Re: The Double Deuce II/II-σ [3053]
« Reply #44 on: 15 April 2018, 11:13:24 »
ECV Full House
Inbound to Astrokaszy
08 November, 0901 GMT

The Manatee's galley wasn't the best briefing room Cameron McCann had to work with, but it wasn't the worst, either.  It was also a larger audience than usual, but it would have been impractical (and probably bad for morale) to clear the ship's largest common space for just the officers.  After six days under boost from Campoleone and another two inbound after the jump, the air recyclers were struggling to keep up with the funk of shipboard minimalist hygiene.

The S-2 took a sip from the microgravity beverage bulb (constant 1G thrust be damned, his parents taught him not to contribute to the mess from unexpected drive cut-outs) in his left hand.  Only foreknowledge of the alleged coffee's foulness kept him from flinching.  At least it was strong, which meant the caffeine content was higher than the percentage of machine shop contaminants.  With his right hand, he cued the holoprojector placed on the centermost table.  A planetary system map flickered to life.  Revolving playing cards marked the positions of ECV Full House and ECV Inside Straight and a red arc picked out the DropShip's trajectory.

"Good morning, troopers," he said, pitching his voice to carry.  The assembled adepts and senior acolytes within the projector's sphere of light-scatter turned toward him expectantly.  In the shadows beyond, most of the troops also hushed.  "Welcome to your pre-planetfall briefing.  Depending on what SIGINT we develop between now and landing, there may be an update forthcoming.  All of this intel will be available in electrons.

"We're inbound to Astrokaszy III.  Current ETA is just under three days, and our ride will be recharged before we make planetfall."  Countdown clocks appeared next to both ships' icons.

"Bottom line up front: there’s an HPG compound on-planet, though it's only been there about fifty years.  It's a Class Bravo relay on a ten-day transmission period, located here, in the nominal capital of Shervanis City."  The countdown clocks minimized to the top of the display as the system diagram zoomed down the DropShip's projected course to center on a gray-orange planet with a single pockmarked moon.  A gold pentagonal reticle pulsed around the indicated city.  "However, we will not be landing there because Precentor Astrokaszy, Marika Lomidze, has declared for the Word of Blake."  A red Blakist broadsword joined the reticle, its point stabbing through the icon's center.

"As of last month's force update, the planetary garrison was the III-Omicron 'Saber and Sirocco.'  'Sirocco,' for you grunts, is your vocabulary word of the day.  It's a southeasterly windstorm from the Terran Sahara desert.  The nickname is appropriate because this unit is optimized for the planet's dominant environment.  More on that in a few minutes."

A TO&E sidebar unscrolled beside the planet's image.  "The garrison is so big because the local threat environment is so active.  The Saber's forces of record begin with two 'Mech Level IIs.  Command elements are fast heavies, the rest are mediums or high-end lights."

Saber and Sirocco III-O

Damascenes II-α
Ostroc OST-2Cb
Sentinel STN-3L
Crab CRB-27
Kyudo KY2-D-02
Dervish DV-6M
Thorn THE-N

Heat Lightning II-α
Lancelot LNC25-05
Phoenix Hawk PXH-2
Night Hawk NTK-2S
Mongoose MON-66
Talon TLN-5W
Talon TLN-5W


"Those are backed up by three Level IIs, each split between vehicles and infantry.  Two of those are motorized with recon tank support."  The TO&E began to expand with wireframe icons of 'Mechs and low-slung eight-wheeled armored vehicles.  "On paper, the third is assault boxes with dismounts," another set of slab-sided vehicles materialized, "but the leg guys have bought local horses and have been training as dragoons in the classical sense." 

Fennecs II-ψ
Chevalier
Chevalier
Chevalier-BAP
Motorized Level I
Motorized Level I
Motorized Level I

Dune Rippers II-ψ
Chevalier-Speed
Chevalier-Speed
Chevalier-BAP
Motorized Level I
Motorized Level I
Motorized Level I

Blake's Bulwark II-ψ
Turhan
Turhan
Turhan
Foot* Level I
Foot* Level I
Foot* Level I

"The last element is an air cav recon unit that was recently transferred in.  On paper, they're the garrison's QRF for anything less than 'Mech-scale.  In reality, their mission readiness sucks due to poor airframe maintenance.  However, if they can get their birds working, they are the force most likely to show up to check us out.  I suspect they're running their Ferrets as slicks to have enough lift for all their troops but I don't have confirmation on that."

Speed of Heat II-π
Karnov UR Transport
Ferret Light Scout VTOL
Ferret Light Scout VTOL
Ferret Light Scout VTOL
Jump Level I
Jump Level I


"From reports, it looks like the usual ground patrol is an ad-hoc Level I with two recon 'Mechs, two vehicles, and two infantry platoons in jeeps or on foot at fixed points."  He paused and smiled grimly.  "Of course, we don't know what reinforcements may have arrived.  Consider all of this a baseline.

"Additionally, there are irregular planetary forces.  The ruling class here is descended from a mercenary unit that led re-settlement in the 2890s.  They had a planetary government until the Marians wrecked it in 3035, but since then it's been a low-grade warring states situation.  Typical strength for any given faction is up to a company of 'Mechs, a good number of light and medium tanks, and anywhere up to a battalion of militia infantry.  Most of the heavy equipment is in the hands of nomadic family groups that claim control over the population centers but don't actually like to live in them until they're too old to travel with the herds." 

Over the planetary image, a vid window opened, showing robed figures on horseback riding over dunes alongside a vast herd of shaggy, six-legged beasts with branching antlers.  In the background, a Locust and Javelin strode along, leading a convoy of vehicles with immense low-pressure tires on articulated axles.  "In terms of deployment, the heavier 'Mechs tend to be guard forces for the population centers while the lighter ones are outriders for the nomad groups.  A lot of the hardware is ex-Marian thanks to that poorly-planned adventure in '35 and the consequent Marik intervention."

"What all this means on a tactical level is that the locals are really, really good skirmishers with superior reconnaissance and maneuver skills but lousy command and control."  The vid window shifted to a small-scale battle on the outskirts of a domed town.  The tactical overlay identified it as footage from a Dune Rippers reconnaissance team, shot a year ago.  "What little shock capability they have comes from their 'Mechs, but they use those to hold attention while the infantry moves to flank rather than relying on them to carry the battle.  They don't like to risk their infrastructure in urban fighting, so the local convention is that a town surrenders if its wall is breached.  This means that they're collectively not great with CQB tactics against peer opponents.  They are, however, pretty good at putting down slave revolts, for which they prefer cold steel.  On an individual basis, bladework is pretty much the second local religion for the warrior class - swords for women and men, and knives as fashion statements, even for kids.

"The infrastructure is mainly subsistence level.  The tech profile is a double-Foxtrot - no planetary mega-industry to speak of.  Power generation is wind and solar, water comes from deep wells.  There's a little bit of resource extraction and refining for minerals and fossil fuels.  Minimal electronics or high-energy manufacturing, and most of the city-level industries are military.  Note that this makes our gear rare and precious to the locals.  You know what that means out here.  Outside of the usual folk art, the only exports are gems, a small amount of food to neighboring worlds, and hard-assed nomads willing to sign on as mercenaries if it gets them off-world.

"Being an inhabited world with a small agricultural surplus and no central government means Astrokaszy is also a haven for traders who have trouble coloring within the lines of legal behavior.  It's a transshipment point for arms heading to all the Periphery states on this side of the Sphere, and the tribal rulers are always looking for new ordnance and luxury goods to one-up the neighbors.  That also means the mercenary market is fairly strong... for the region.  The only permanent market is in the capital, where we aren't going, but there are floating bazaars that spring up every time a DropShip makes planetfall elsewhere.  We can expect to need a heavy and obvious security presence around the DropShip when we land.

"By the way - possibly because the planet has some excellent desert if you like desert, or possibly because it's in the middle of nowhere, there is unconfirmed RUMINT that one or more of the Great Houses is using the planet for advanced weapon systems testing.  Occasionally, interesting scraps have shown up in the capital bazaar that have been too advanced to be locally-produced and too new to be Star League relics.  The Com Guard garrison has been pretty diligent about grabbing those to keep them out of," his voice grew sardonic, "the wrong hands.  If there was any follow-on analysis, I couldn't find that compartment."

He ran a hand through hair that was encroaching on non-regulation length.  "There is one other local economic cornerstone that I only mention for the sake of completeness.  That is treasure hunting."  The vid window cleared and the planetary image revolved as a speckling of blue Cameron Stars twinkled across the main land mass.  "Astrokaszy was first colonized during the 2600s but was abandoned after the Exodus because of a plague outbreak.  Natural, not a bioweapon.  There are ruins of League-era settlements and facilities across the planet.  A lot of these are the foundations for the current communities.  They've been stripped to the bare architecture, but people keep coming here because there's a legend of a lost germanium depository guarded by a battalion of Royal Marauders and the immortal Crown Princess of Brunei."  He smirked and shrugged. 

"Allegedly, the Star League established a network of precious metals vaults on-world during the Reunification War in case it needed to infuse the Marik Periphery with ready cash.  I guess the Diplomatic Corps didn't tell the SLDF because the legend says they failed to clean out the vaults before the Exodus.  Now, I said 'allegedly' because the Explorer Corps checked the place out before the HPG went in, and w-- they did a resurvey in '44.  Nothing turned up that was worth the trip's fuel costs, but that hasn't stopped the prospectors.  The locals don't discourage them because they're happy to take trade goods for supplies.  Or just to take your gear off your body.

"That brings me to the human terrain.  Guys in the back, keep your eyes open.  This is how you play nice with the local recreation providers.

"The unit that resettled this place was ethnically Mosiran Muslim and they still dominate the culture.  Most of them speak standard English but they use Arabic and Italian at home.  They are a low-trust society outside the family and tribal group, and 'tribal' identity descends from the mercenary regiment's company identities, so it is very much a martial society.  They're generally nomadic until they have grandchildren, at which point they hand off the roving lifestyle to the younger generations and settle down in whatever town the band controls.  This means every town tends to be run by the tribal elders, who also sit at the top of the economic pyramid... so their compounds can be pretty swank, if not straight-up decadent.  The rest of the town populations are farmers or the tradesfolk who support them.  Direct descendants of the mercs wear red sashes or red sickle lapel pins.

"Big local taboos: because everyone wears eye protection outdoors, naked eye contact is reserved for social intimacy, so look at the other guy's mouth when you're talking to him, no matter how nasty his dental work is.  Alcohol made from anything that grows from a vine or tree is taboo, but fermented grain is acceptable.  Don't go off alone with a member of the warrior class who doesn't have children yet... unless you intend to marry them and stay on-planet, in which case see Adept Asadi for legal counseling after this briefing."  He grinned at the rude gesture Halle flashed him from under her noteputer.  "If you offend one person's honor, you offend their whole family's honor, so do not go getting us into unnecessary fights, especially because those smart-mouthed kids with red sashes are probably related to the local powers that be.  Finally, don't spit on the ground: offering the water of your body is a sign of fealty.  That includes those of you who prefer to ingest your nicotine in solid form - carry your dip bottles with you, you filthy bastards.

"Finally, let's talk planetology for a moment.  You’ll note that the garrison includes no hover assets.  This is because the local sand tends to trash rotors, turbines, fan nacelles, and other precision hardware that spins at high RPMs.  Blower drivers - please take note of that and watch your gauges.  For you rotorheads, you’ll remember I already mentioned the abysmal state of maintenance for their choppers."  He shrugged apologetically.  "Maintainers - all I can say is 'sucks to be you.'  Sorry, guys."

The vid window reopened, this time showing Shervanis City in the grip of a fierce sandstorm.  "Grav and atmo are pretty close to Terran normal and a ballistic calibration data package is available on the ship's computer.  Astrokaszy is arid and windy, with the exception of the polar regions and some valleys on the lee side of mountain ranges.  Daytime highs in the inhabited areas are in the mid-50s to mid-60s, and it doesn't get much below the twenties at night.  High winds occur daily, with the worst hitting during local afternoon.  Planetary life is well-developed, on par with Terra, including several species of megafauna - that's 'big animals' for the grunts - that have no problem stalking and eating humans."

McCann closed the vid window, leaving the planet revolving over the projector.  "At present, the command staff is looking for a suitable settlement at which we can land for resupply and information-gathering.  We'll keep you updated as that develops.  Questions, comments, snide remarks?  Do note that snide remarks will be graded for originality and content..."
Some places remain unknown because no one has gone there.  Others remain unknown because no one has come back.

truetanker

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Re: The Double Deuce II/II-σ [3053]
« Reply #45 on: 07 May 2018, 22:55:38 »
* One of the galley's air duct fans turned on automatically, as such was the design, it's bent fan blade making a small high pitched, but small droning ring sound in the background just as McCann was saying " ...develops.  Questions, comments, snide remarks?  Do note that snide remarks will be graded for originality and content..."

Annoying as it was, it did it's duty of trying to help recycle recycled air. The auto-odor eliminators could only work so fast and they were so ancient, they smelt like they were freshly installed since before man left Terra back in the day. Years of old greases and lubricants hung lightly on the tongue, only to be washed away by stale and old coffee, even if it was a fresh pot. *

TT
( Peanut gallery posting... trying to keep up with the story without messing around to much... )
Khan, Clan Iron Dolphin
Azeroth Pocketverse
That is, if true tanker doesn't beat me to it. He makes truly evil units.Col.Hengist on 31 May 2013
TT, we know you are the master of nasty  O0 ~ Fletch on 22 June 2013
If I'm attacking you, conventional wisom says to bring 3x your force.  I want extra insurance, so I'll bring 4 for every 1 of what you have :D ~ Tai Dai Cultist on 21 April 2016
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Failure16

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Re: The Double Deuce II/II-σ [3053]
« Reply #46 on: 13 May 2018, 09:08:54 »
ECV Full House
Inbound to Astrokaszy
08 November, 0905 GMT

          Adept III-ι Lissea Stoyka shifted in the shadowed silence after McCann opened up the floor to the assembled officers.  The mess-deck was probably the next-largest venue after the cargo hold.  With all of the personnel present, it was quite filled but not as closely confined quarters as another similar spot aboard the cramped ship would have provided.  While a general silence pervaded the galley, a hundred or more bodies packed together provided a susurrus that underlay the thoughts of those gathered.  Rigid and regimented personal hygiene shifts aside, the air in the room was becoming closer with every passing minute even after only half a week in space.
          Seated at the table around her was the newly promoted Crowell and Top Heravy who was as much a part of any O-Group as Hops himself was.  The addition of the bulk of the common troopers made her job easier by virtue of the fact that when she and her squad leaders went over it again in the next few hours or days that it might settle into their minds.
          Speaking of which, Hopschnur would assuredly release an oporder soon enough which would answer most of her questions.  McCann’s briefing had certainly been comprehensive enough that a landfall on the blasted armpit of the Human Sphere that Astrokaszy promised to be was an incipient reality as opposed to simple rumor.
          “Wonder if there’s gonna be any local support, eh?” Heravy murmured out of the side of his mouth.  Hannah Crowell shifted in wordless agreement.
          Stoyka sniffed and raised her hand, clearing her throat as she did so in a conscious effort to draw the S-2’s attention to her.  When he looked her way, she spoke loudly and clearly enough to be heard by the rest of the troopers in the room.
          “Are there any friendly elements on the ground on this one?” she asked. 
          Even as the words left her mouth, she wondered if she should have parsed the thought a bit further, between local tribes that could become auxiliaries and exo-planet regulars—such as they themselves were—that would be amiable for however long they were on planet.  But she had already spoken and couldn’t afford to look like she was dithering in front of the boys and girls in back.  The same went for Crowell next to her…who was about to learn real-quick what it meant to pin those Adept tabs on her collar.
Thought I might get a rocket ride when I was a child.          We are the wild youth, 
But it was a lie, that I told myself                                              Chasing visions of our futures.
When I needed something good.                                                One day we'll reveal the truth,
At 17, I had a better dream; now I'm 33, and it isn't me.        That one will die before he gets there.

But I'd think of something better if I could
                           --E. Tonra
--A. Duritz

Tegyrius

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Re: The Double Deuce II/II-σ [3053]
« Reply #47 on: 15 May 2018, 21:25:21 »
McCann nodded at Stoyka's - Top Heravy's, really - question.  "Officially, no.  There was an Explorer Corps scout on-world but he was reported dead in late April of this year.  The report is oddly incomplete and I may make some discreet inquiries once we're close enough to eliminate the lightspeed lag.  Acolyte Monchienigo, who's traveling with us, is assigned as that scout's replacement.  A good chunk of the cultural and political background material came from the read-ahead packet the acolyte was kind enough to share with me."  And you can place your own bets on how likely Alessandro is to trade our company for the Blakists'.

"As far as the locals go, there are no extant political factions we can call on for support.  The local culture of honor ensures that mercenaries generally stay bought but we don't have a purchase order at this time."

He cued the projector to halt the planet's rotation over the capital.  "Unofficially, it's statistically likely that there are 'unreformed,'" he smiled grimly, "elements within the Blakist garrison.  Blakist SOP is to keep politically-unreliable elements under close watch, so any such personnel will likely be at the HPG compound rather than in the field.  We won't be landing closer than a thousand klicks from there to give ourselves ample stand-off distance in case of any sortie against us.  Therefore, it's unlikely they'll make contact if they do exist.  Still... keep an eye out for requests for help and pass any messages up the chain for evaluation, bearing in mind that any request for our help could be a false flag op."
Some places remain unknown because no one has gone there.  Others remain unknown because no one has come back.

Daryk

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Re: The Double Deuce II/II-σ [3053]
« Reply #48 on: 27 May 2018, 15:11:45 »
ECV Full House
Inbound to Astrokaszy
08-12 November, 3053

With no further questions on offer, the briefing broke up and the unit returned to its shipboard routine of training, maintenance, and more training.  The remaining four days until planet fall ticked down anxiously as the troops steadily burned through their hoarded tobacco stashes.  At least one trooper decided to quit smoking, and auctioned off their stash to the highest bidder.  Hopschnur quickly put an end to that kind of transaction by confiscating the money to "hold in trust" until rations were back to normal, with the rationale that gambling was already enough of a problem.  The trooper in question didn't object, confident they'd eventually see their money, and bolstered by Doc Morrison's encouragement that it was the right thing to do in any case.

Daryk

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Re: The Double Deuce II/II-σ [3053]
« Reply #49 on: 12 June 2018, 14:18:22 »
ECV Full House
Above Astrokaszy
0800 Local Time
12 November, 3053

It had been a long 11 days in space for Adept Hopschnur.  He'd grown so accustomed to Campoleone over the years, he'd almost forgotten how wearing DropShip travel could be.  Almost.  Space travel was like riding a bicycle.  It all came back quickly, but that didn't make the time pass any faster.

For the umpteenth time, he reviewed the landing and debarkation plans he and his staff had hammered out.  Rabigh was one of the seemingly innumerable secondary settlements created as the Crimson Reapers disintegrated over the decades since they fled the Succession Wars for Astrokaszy.  It's proximity to one of the tiny inland seas dotting the planet meant fuel would be relatively easy to come by, and its 1,600 kilometers from Shervanis City would mean plenty of warning should the Word of Blake decide to pay a visit.  And, of course, it was Mr. Monchenigo's destination.  The Explorer Corps scout that preceded him on Astrokaszy had based his operations here, but had met an untimely end some months before.

The tiny local space port was several kilometers outside of the town proper, though calling the dusty patch of ferrocrete a "space port" was a bit of a stretch.  There wasn't even a tower, though the overhead imagery showed the remains of one.  A short strip of ferrocrete ran alongside the single landing pad, though the Ace of Drax wouldn't actually need it for either take off or landing.  The Explorer Corps craft was designed for VTOL operations, after all.

On grounding, Croft and Jenks would debark the Wolverine and Griffin to set up an initial perimeter, while the main cargo door and ramp opened to allow the one convenient Jeep to debark.  The Jeep would set up a defensive position covering both the main cargo ramp and the ramp for the Wolverine's cubicle, where Twilley's tanks would emerge, while the Griffin's door simply closed.  With four heavy combat units on the field, the Ace of Drax would land nearby, but remain buttoned up until contact was established with the locals on short range circuits, or in person.

Sam Walden already had a plan for offloading the minimum amount of cargo to reach the infested container, but that would have to wait until arrangements were made with the locals.  Security was going to be a nightmare.

Tegyrius

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Re: The Double Deuce II/II-σ [3053]
« Reply #50 on: 12 June 2018, 20:50:42 »
The extra 3% of a G the ship's crew had added to the deceleration burn in preparation for planetfall wasn't actually perceptible after the inbound flight, but it still pressed down on Cameron McCann's spine and shoulders.  The intel officer stretched, feeling his vertebrae crackle, then resumed his casual slouch against the railing on the Number One 'Mech bay's maintenance catwalk.  Before him, the unit's Griffin sat, cockpit open, awaiting its pilot.

Unlike most of the rest of the unit, McCann was in civilian attire: battered steel-toed boots, utility pants with microgravity closures on the pockets, and an oil-stained Timbiqui Spirits promotional T-shirt.  A baseball cap bearing the logo of the recently-defunct Luthien Leopards perched atop his non-reg hair.  At his feet, a flight jacket festooned with JumpShip and corporate patches was draped over a well-abused spacer's kit bag.  The down-on-his-luck itinerant astech cover was a familiar legend.  Save for a chance encounter with a recruiter, it might well have been his life path.

Cameron narrowed his eyes and squinted at the 'Mech bay's closed hatch, visualizing the world beyond it.
« Last Edit: 16 June 2018, 19:19:22 by Tegyrius »
Some places remain unknown because no one has gone there.  Others remain unknown because no one has come back.

Daryk

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Re: The Double Deuce II/II-σ [3053]
« Reply #51 on: 13 June 2018, 08:23:41 »
ECV Full House
Above Astrokaszy
0815 Local Time
12 November, 3053

As Cameron squinted at the 'mech bay door, he heard footsteps approaching from behind.

"Ah, there you are Adept!  I see you're planning to do some exploring as well," Alex Monchenigo said.  The Explorer Corps scout was clad in what appeared to be local Astrokazian garb, with loose robes over barely concealed body armor and a blade conspicuously tucked in his belt.  The full beard he'd been working on for the last few months completed the disguise.  "Did the Commander authorize anyone else to roam?" he asked with a raised eyebrow.

Before Cameron could answer, the 1MC blared to life with Captain Mason's voice: "All hands, prepare for atmospheric insertion and planet fall in 15 minutes.  Final maneuvers will include periods of variable and zero gravity as we make our approach.  Security details prepare for debarkation.  All other passengers are to remain in their quarters."

Tegyrius

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Re: The Double Deuce II/II-σ [3053]
« Reply #52 on: 16 June 2018, 19:30:31 »
Cameron turned and offered the scout a fistbump in greeting.  "No rank when we're both in civvies, Mach."  He paused, weighing Monchenigo's question and whether to answer it, and decided jointness was preferable to compartmentalization.  "I'm waiting on--"

He broke off as the 1MC cleared its throat in a crackle of static, cocked his head, and nodded as Captain Mason closed the channel.  "Heh.  I'm waiting on him to make a final decision.  I asked him if I could borrow the infantry squad that's the biggest source of problems with contraband and gambling, on the principle that those are the best recon troops for something like this."  At Monchenigo's raised eyebrow, he expanded: "They know how to find the locals who have connections."

"I can't argue with that," Monchenigo agreed diplomatically, though his expression suggested some reservations he wasn't willing to voice despite McCann's dismissal of rank considerations.  "And if they find trouble?"  Or if I do, went unsaid, given the political environment into which the scout himself was deploying.

McCann flashed him a brief, sharp-edged grin.  "Well, I also asked him to put another squad on standby in case we generated a direct action tasking.  And I asked to borrow Mattis to ramrod it."
Some places remain unknown because no one has gone there.  Others remain unknown because no one has come back.

Daryk

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Re: The Double Deuce II/II-σ [3053]
« Reply #53 on: 16 June 2018, 20:35:00 »
ECV Full House
Above Astrokaszy
0816 Local Time
12 November, 3053

Grimacing at the mention of Mattis' name, Alex replied, "Ah, yes.  I can't think of a better ramrod.  I've heard he drives very... aggressively.  Best of luck with the Commander.  He was hesitant to even allow me to carry on with my duties.  I'll be sure to call if I find out anything useful to you."

Failure16

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Re: The Double Deuce II/II-σ [3053]
« Reply #54 on: 15 July 2018, 13:34:56 »
Chronologically, the following post occurs around the timeframe of Post #48 above, some time after Adept McCann's briefing...

ECV Full House
Inbound to Astrokaszy
Mess Deck
09 November 3053, 2100 GMT

           “Look, don’t be an ****** about it,” one of the infantrymen to the packed table off to Mattis’ left nearly snarled.  “Just deal me the ****** cards, right?”
           It was double-packed, the equivalent of two squads of dismounts.  This, despite the fact that they had managed to remove an adjoining table from its floor-mounting brackets and jammed them together to widen the playing area for the ceaseless game of Campoleonian-variant four-card drax that had probably been going since shortly after liftoff.  Lord knew when and how they managed it, making Mattis sigh, knowing they would hear about it eventually.
           “Bloody two, is it?” another voice replied.  “How ‘bout all four, huh?”
           “I said don’t be an ass about it,” the first voice returned, developing a lowering edge.  “And I ain’t gonna fold outta this damn pot, neither.”
           “No one made you boss, Kheda,” a third voice intoned.
           “Blazes, Del, you want a piece a’this, too, do ya?” Kheda said bitingly.  “Best let Talbas here fight his own battles…”
           So it was Braismith’s Fox-Five this time, Mattis surmised, getting into it with one of Joh Harras’s newbies.  Mattis felt his face ghosting into a smile when he looked over at Parker.  That’s a mistake.
            The squad leaders as a rule stayed out of the messhall after the evening meal was concluded until at least 2200 or so.  The common troopers needed somewhere to decompress en masse.  And the middle management needed a break—and some culpable deniability, one might say.
            “Bloody Hell, Kheda,” another voice interrupted; probably Halperin from Jump-Four.  “He’ll fight his own battles, sure—and then you’ll be havin’ words with the rest of us, see if you don’t.” 
            “Shit, you people really just want to turn this night into something, doncha?” yet another trooper said peevishly.  “Just deal the bastard his damn cards and let’s get this fracking hand sorted before we hit Canopian space, okay, Talbas?”
           Mattis detected movement with his peripheral vision; the speaker tossing something onto the pile in the middle of the table.  The troopers had forgone C-Bills, Campoleonean scrip (useless as it would have been now, but it was mildly better than dried beans) or any other betting medium in favor of cigarettes.  And that made an otherwise innocuous game into something worth, literally, fighting over.
           The gunner sniffed from where he lounged with his feet across the chair catty-corner to his.  That in itself was an anomaly as well as an extravagance worthy of note in the crowded compartment.  Mattis couldn’t tell whether he and Parker were ranker than everyone else, or if he was simply that unfriendly. The thought made him smile outwardly.
           The ship and its complement wasn’t that bad—yet.  Give it another two weeks and let one of the water main junctions go on the fritz so no one could conduct proper personal hygiene.  Then it would be field rules.  The civs would love that one.
            “Gonna be a fun trip, Matty,” Parker said quietly enough that it wouldn’t penetrate the principals involved in the incipient fray.  He had his hands braced behind his neck and his eyes were slitted as he contemplated a nap.
           The driver’s smile became less tiger like, more real.  “No one’s paying us to take it easy, Jimmy,” he replied, but his visual attention was evenly split between the events behind and beside him and the hatchway to the compartment to his front.
           It would have been easier if he had been a Terran iguana, but one had to make do with the gifts God provided…and Steven Mattis had, by God, even if wasn’t the sort of work an angel would own up to.  But that was for another time—
           Mattis felt the muscles in his face loosen, almost assuredly, imperceptibly when a clot of troopers eased their way through the portal.  His back stayed tight, as Kheda and Halperin continued making noises towards each other and the universe in general.  But the reddish-grey fog that was gathering at the edges of his mind started to recede when he saw Tia Spencaire leading the rest of Foot-Two into the compartment.
           Steven lifted his chin just enough to catch Parker’s eye then looked down at the chair his booted feet were resting on and winked.  The gunner stole a quick, nearly invisible look behind him and dropped the boots to the deck.  Mattis caught the team-leader’s eye but he made no overt move to draw attention to himself for the moment.
           Spencaire let his gaze drift over the collection of troopers relaxing in various ways and to degrees in the relatively expansive compartment.  The air-handlers overhead sighed, evening out the dozens of individual and group conversations into a comfortable susurrus.  The deck under-boot trembled slightly as a fuel feed to the main drives chuckled.
          Without managing to look at either of 06’s crewmen, she strode towards the empty seats they had managed to hoard.  The riflemen of her squad followed her without question, spreading out to take the seats flanking Parker.  Spencaire blinked down at Mattis in the split second it took for him to rise unconsciously.
          She sat down in the seat opposite him and he too regained his seat.  His face hurt making him wonder if he was grinning like a schoolboy.  Hell, that didn’t matter, did it?
          “C’mon, then,” Baumann was saying.  “Let’s not take all night, Mousie.”
          “Oh, don’t get your knickers in a twist,” Groumond replied while the third trooper scrabbled in one of his fatigue’s cargo pockets.  “We just got here a minute ago.”
          “Feels like an hour already,” Baumann grumbled, running his hand over his closely-shorn blond hair. 
          He was the biggest trooper in Fox-Two—Hell, in the Double Deuce—but at most times it seemed like his intellect had an inverse relationship to his physical size.  He eyed the package that the rail-thin Mouser brought out of one of his side pockets, then blinked greedily at the next one the other trooper produced.
          “You want some?” Mouser asked, offering him the still-unopened package of Ewie-Chewies.
          “Oh, no, thanks,” Baumann responded sheepishly even as Lasskiy, the next senior-most trooper after Spencaire, reached over and opened the package unasked.  He popped one of the sugary treats in his mouth and appropriated another before tossing the package back to its nominal owner.
        Groumond in turn took hold of the other package and opened it, purposefully letting the contents spill out onto the table amongst them.  Mattis rotated his head laconically at the motion.  It looked like…well, he didn’t have the slightest clue what it looked like, actually.
          In the midst of it, Parker reached down and picked up a tiny sealed bag full of little black-and-white counters. “Eh…?”
          “It’s a game,” Lasskiy said around the spongy confection he was savoring.  He reached over and unfolded a sheet of plasticard into map covered in hexagons and what appeared to be images of craters over half of it.
          “Oh yeah?” the gunner replied, eyeing Mattis sidelong.  “What’s it all about?”
          Groumond produced a pair of six-sided dice from a hip pocket.  “Basically, one side gets a tank—”
          “A special tank,” Mouser interjected.
          “A special tank, right,” Groumond allowed.  “The other sides gets a bunch of conventional units and has to stop it.
        “A tank?” Parker asked with a raised eyebrow.
        “A special tank, okay?” Lasskiy replied, licking the tips of his right index finger and thumb in turn.  “Big; bigger than any ’Mech.”  He paused.  “It’s an old game, right?”
        “Older than chess,” Baumann said suddenly, causing half the table to look at him.
        “Really.”  Parker didn’t sound convinced.  Tanks hadn’t been special for a millennia.  And he didn’t think tanks were older than chess, but Baumann’s primary focus in life was being able to drop a man-sized target on the horizon with his Mauser, not discuss historical evolution of humanity’s leisure pursuits.
        Mattis quirked an eyebrow in Spencaire’s general direction, but she was already rolling her eyes.  The corners of both their mouths twitched upwards in unison.
          “Who knows?” Groumond said after a few moments.  “You want in?”
        Parker shrugged while he reached for a side pocket where he kept his cigarettes.  Coming up empty, he grimaced before breaking out into a beatific smile.  “Sure, killers.  Er, ah, deal me in, right?”
        Mattis felt himself tense a split-second before someone jostled him and his seat from behind.  Spencaire speared a look past him, nearly through him, before forcing herself to look away.  Mattis continued looking at her with renewed interest.  She looked like he felt…she just didn’t have the amount of practice that he did in internalizing and diffusing it.  Of hiding it, at least.
          “Look, you little shit,” Kheda nearly exploded.  “You been dealing me drek-all fer cards al damn night and now you wanna pawn this bullshit off on me?  You gotta be bleeding crazy—”
          “You know what, Kheda,” Halperin said loudly.  “Quit bein’ a bitch about it and piss off, okay?”
          “You better siddown, lawn-dart,” the Foot-Five trooper returned, his voice dangerously low.  “Before I make you—”
          The chairs in the messhall were attached to the tables on swing-arms so they weren’t a potential obstacle or missile when the ship was out of acceleration or during action.  Mattis backed his seat with a slight flex of his knees, causing it to strike the seat of the trooper standing behind him.  That in turn rapped the man hard behind his knees, dropping him heavily back into the chair.
          He’d been primed for a fight though, and he was ready to drive his right elbow into the face of his unseen assailant.  Mattis had merely pivoted at his waist, bringing him around under the curving strike and shoulder to ribcage of Kheda in what looked like a friendly if awkward embrace.  Parker, behind him, was fully on his feet, and so was half the table now facing him.  [/i]Hell, of course they were[/i], he thought blandly.
          “Thought that was you, Special K,” Mattis said loudly—too loudly, probably, but Bloody Hell, all their adrenaline was up, wasn’t it?  “I was just thinking about that time we were rappelling on South Rock…”
          “Screw you, Mattis,” Kheda hissed incredulously, trying to sidestep away from the driver; but to no avail since Mattis had his weight lower and braced up against a hitherto unsuspecting victim.   “What’s that got to do with—”
          “And when your damn carabiner popped open, it was, who?  Hell, Halperin and Yates, I think, right, you two?  That rap-jumped down and nabbed you thirty meters up?  Wasn’t it?” Mattis continued liltingly, before Kheda could say something unrecoverable, like accusing the other players of cheating.
          Kheda looked away and Mattis let him go in stages as the bigger rifleman’s body relaxed over the next two seconds.  He reached toward his waistband and saw several of the troopers facing him tense anew until he withdrew a crumpled cylinder from a pocket.  He offered it to Kheda who regarded it coolly for a heartbeat or two before accepting it with near contrition.
          “Just thinking that it’s good to have friends, right, Kay?” Mattis said, stepping away and behind Kheda in a move only minimally complicated by the twin chairs, but necessary nonetheless if the squaddie decided to change his mind.  “And it’s better to smoke ‘em than play with the damn things.”
          The comment drew some chuckles or even outright laughter from the troopers relaxing over the gulf that was receding between them, more from the release of tension than any inherent humor in the quip.  It was always good to remember the ones you walked away from.
          Steven Mattis turned around with a hint of a smile, but found an empty chair gaping at him.  He felt his face heat up, felt Parker’s eyes on him; felt the rest of Fox-Two either looking at him, or the now empty seat itself.
          He flipped his gunner a quarter wink no one else would be able to recognize and stepped away from the table.  Jamming one hand in a hip pocket of his fatigues so that he didn’t square his shoulders and draw himself unconsciously to his full height, he made his way out of the mess.
          Cursing himself for a bloody fool, a damned show-off, he headed into the packed quarterdeck with its jeep surrounded by shipping crates.  At first, he was going to the ladder-well leading down to the Cargo Bay and likely his quarters.  He paused at the head of the treads, wondering if he could get lost amidst the stacked shipping containers.  Ignoring the unaccustomed despondency, he headed down the ladder.
          His left hand clenched and relaxed rhythmically, resisting as he was the urge to lash out at the side-wall to ease his frustrations.  Maybe if he hadn’t turned around, maybe if he’d just known what to say to Tia Bloody Spencaire instead of grinning like a schoolboy every time he saw her.  Maybe, Hell…maybe what?
          Maybe she’d tell him to shut the Hell up, like she did everyone else in the Double Deuce.  And she was right to do so; no one in their right mind pissed in the water they had to swim in if they had a choice.  Maybe he’d know what to say if—
          He stepped off the last tread and headed off past the conexes immediately to his left.  That was home, but there was no way he was hitting the rack now.  He turned a corner and headed past the jeep parked up against the external bulkhead.  He nearly had to dodge Spencaire, leaned up against the front quarter with her left boot up and her right boot stuck into the aisle to steady her.  He blinked at her, noticing by rote that she was tensed but not startled.  Her body relaxed when she made eye-contact with him and saw who it was she had heard bumbling down the passageway towards her.
          “Hey,” he said dumbly.
          “Hey,” she replied, looking down and away. 
          Her long fingers toyed with an unlit cigarette.   Instead of a pristine one that was waiting to be lit, this was a crushed veteran that had seen better days.  Well, Steven could sympathize.
          Very slowly, he reached down and plucked the cigarette from her fingers and reached up to place it behind her right ear.  They were face to face now and he could feel her warmth emanating across the space still between them.  Moving only his right hand, he scrabbled very briefly in his pocket and withdrew a pair of cigarettes and his lighter.
          Stepping back, he lit both and handed one to her.  She accepted it warily, but without noticeable derision or misgiving.  He moved to her right side, closer to the side of the jeep which he had just rounded blindly, and leaned up against the cool, faded quarter-panel.  Without thinking about it, he eased himself up onto the hood of the vehicle then reached down and helped Spencaire scamper aboard. 
          The lights shining down on them were harsh, broken up more severely by the towering conexes around them.  The divisions between light and dark seemed no less stark than the terminator on an airless moon.  The air smelled like clammy metal, sweating plastic—and the soap that Spencaire had recently used.
          “Aren’t you generous tonight?” she said after a moment.
          “Just with my friends,” he replied with mild irony, not knowing how long she had stayed in the mess.  He didn’t feel the need to tell her about the cartons he and Jimmy Parker had stashed in 006.  It was their truck, after all.  And no one had found it during the inspection, so mum remained the word.
          “Oh, okay,” Spencaire said, not wholly convinced.  “Is that what you are right now, a friend?”
          Mattis took a drag from his cigarette and exhaled slowly through his nostrils, letting the menthol wash over his sinuses.  I am whatever you want me to be, a voice in the back of his mind said, but even that wasn’t the full truth.  Another part of him hated himself for thinking it.
          “Tonight, I’m just a guy,” he returned, not knowing the right answer, and he was sure there was a right answer.  But he couldn’t lie to this woman.   God Help him.
          “Oh?” she challenged, but her voice was soft, almost playful.  But so are tigers and tabiranths.  “Not a regular tough guy?”
          Mattis sniffed diffidently.
          She paused, smoking intently for nearly half a minute.  “I thought you were trying to start a fight with Kheda.”
           “Oh, I can think of better things to do with my time, can’t you?”
          She paused again.  “Not that it would have been uncalled for,” she said as if he hadn’t spoken.  “But then you wouldn’t be here.  Right now.”
          He turned his head to face her, willing his left hand not to reach out and touch her right arm.  Their elbows were already meeting.  The overhead lights limned her perfect features like a gilded statue.
          “Right here, right now,” he repeated.
          Neither of them moved for a long time. 
          But the ship they were on continued its voyage through the black gulf between the stars, towards a future that was infinitely harder, if equally uncertain.
Thought I might get a rocket ride when I was a child.          We are the wild youth, 
But it was a lie, that I told myself                                              Chasing visions of our futures.
When I needed something good.                                                One day we'll reveal the truth,
At 17, I had a better dream; now I'm 33, and it isn't me.        That one will die before he gets there.

But I'd think of something better if I could
                           --E. Tonra
--A. Duritz

Failure16

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Re: The Double Deuce II/II-σ [3053]
« Reply #55 on: 15 July 2018, 13:36:36 »
ECV Full House
Above Astrokaszy
0820 Local Time
12 November, 3053

          The ship rumbled slightly as the bridge crew fired a bank of thrusters to align it with the reentry window.  The deck trembled slightly as the main drive flared momentarily, bringing gravity back to the ship after the gut-wrenching fluctuations of the past few minutes.  Then, for the moment, the ship itself was quiet; silent even.
          A hush had fallen over the ship’s complement as if the crew and passengers were afraid to tempt fate by calling attention to themselves.  Most of the personnel had shipped across the stars enough to accept the risks blithely.  Some, notably a handful of the civilians, had never traveled to another world, let alone aboard a military ship landing on a potentially hostile world.  But even the veterans knew that this wouldn’t be just another landfall…
---          “Kee-rist, but I shoulda pissed when I had the chance.” Parker complained laconically from where he was strapped into 006’s open turret.  His gloved fingers beat out a muffled rhythm on his machine gun’s receiver.
          “Screw it,” Mattis replied, letting his lighter drift upwards from his open right palm; his left remained on the wheel before him, though his shock harness would keep him securely at his station no matter what happened.  “Just go right now.”
          Parker thought about it for a moment.  “I dunno, Matty.  I’d hate for you to have to clean it out…”
          “Hell, I meant out the window,” Mattis replied, snatching the lighter and thumbing towards one of the passenger-side doors.  “In ten mikes, ain’t no one gonna notice shit around here.  You’d have to wash out your own pants, thanks.”
          And ten minutes after that, there might be a whole lot of people that might be messing themselves, but Mattis didn’t bother saying that.  He was eying the squad of jump-troopers that was secured to a series of tie-downs just out of his peripheral vision.  But his mind was on a squad of light troopers somewhere behind him, since they wouldn’t be deploying forwards with the initial security element.  On one of the troopers, at any rate.
          “Huh,” Parker temporized.  “You think things might get real, do you?”
          “Don’t you?” Mattis replied.  “I mean, Asadi didn’t have you double-check our beneficiary forms for nothing, right?”
          “Well, eventually, sure,” Parker shot back.  “I don’t think we’re so slick we’re gonna waltz in and out of this burg without someone getting shot in the face.  But I meant right away.  You know.”
          Matttis shrugged, more of a mental accommodation or conciliation to his friend than a physical gesture that would have been hidden under the double burden of body armor and crash-harness.  “Fair enough,” he allowed.  “Well, I figure that the bridge’ll be able to spot anything too pressing to give us some warning.  But after that…”
---
          “…The big trouble will be in those little disasters they call villages,” Acolyte Joh Harras was saying to his squad.  “A million and one hovels all crammed together—and you just know they’ll expect us t’clear through each one a’them.”
          “You serious, Acolyte?” Talbas asked in a small voice.  “You really think they’d make us do that?”
          Beside him, Halperin chuckled.  The whole squad was secured to deck tie-downs, leaned back against their heavy and bulky jet-packs with the massive bay door stretching up over them like a giant readying itself to strike.  To Talbas’s other side, Yates snorted.  Further down the line, Martin and Stiles regarded their squad-mates blandly whi;le they muttered to each other.
          “Just the ones with bad guys in them, Fish,” Halperin said gently, almost wistfully.  “Of course, that might be close to that million mark, not so, Acolyte?”
          “Just so, Hope,” Harras replied sagely.  “But Talbie, the only thing you gotta remember is that you follow Halperin, and Halperin follows me…”
---
          “So who do we follow?” Leaf Martin asked his partner at the end of Jump-Four’s line.
          “Eh?” Poul Stiles asked.  “Were you saying something?””
          “Oh, come now, do keep up.”
          “Well, in that case, I suppose I’m following you, for a wonder.” 
          Martin made a moue.  “Well, that’s disturbing.”
          “That I’m following you?” Stiles returned, sounding perplexed.
          “No,” Martin replied peevishly.  “That you expect a wonder out of all this.  I mean, I wouldn’t even know where to begin.”
          Stiles was silent for a moment.  “Now that’s disheartening.”
          “You said it, not me,” Martin bristled laconically.
          “Perhaps,” Stiles allowed.  “But you started it, not so?”
          Martin stilled while he regarded the bay door before them.  “Well, it’d be nice to get it over with…”
---
          “Oh, you say that now,” Adept Lissea Stoyka murmured to her companion from where they sat in the midst of the Cargo Bay.  The deck trembled as the drives flared on yet another course correction.  “But you’re not seeing the Big Picture, girl.”
          The 1MC crackled to life:  “ALL HANDS, PREPARE FOR RENTRY.  STARTING INSERTION AND DESCENT IN THREE, TWO, ONE, MARK.”
          The deck began to shudder and weight returned to the passengers and crew aboard the Full House
          Adept Hannah Crowell looked over at the senior platoon leader sidelong.  She had to turn her head slightly so she could see past the rim of her combat helmet.  Both women were in full combat gear, but Crowell was weighed down by the jump-pack that nearly doubled her effective bulk.  Stoyka, by contrast, merely had the weight of her armor and the thin blade of the Intek laser rifle slanting across her plastron to constrain her.
          “Oh, pray tell,” Crowell grunted as the buffeting began to increase.  Rightfully they should have been sitting anywhere but here, but infantrymen—infantry officers—had a habit of taking calculated risks simply because it was a habit.
          Stoyka regarded her levelly, drawing the older but nonetheless junior woman’s gaze.  “Look, Hannah,” she started gently.  “Right now is the best single moment of peace you’re gonna get on this deployment.  May as well enjoy it.”
          Crowell snorted.  “Oh yeah,” she challenged.  “How’s that?”
          Stoyka smiled with a grin that unfolded in stages.  “Ever since we got the FRAGO, then the OpOrder, you’ve been running around like you had to do it all.”
          “And?” Crowell shot back defensively.
          “And you have some of the best squad leaders in the ComGuards to take care of all the bullshit,” Stoyka replied.  “But even so, all that is passed.  Now there is nothing to do but wait it out.”
          Crowell shook her head as if she were trying to clear a fly away.  “You got it wrong, Adept.  There’s always something to do—”
          Stoyka held up her hand in bar.  “Sure—for your non-coms.  There’s always a battery pack to charge, a canteen to fill, a code-word to remember, a battle drill to talk through.  That’s stuff your squad leaders and senior troopers had better damn well be handling—which they are, because you were bossing them directly a couple weeks ago.”
          Crowell looked away and grimaced.  “It’s not that damn simple, ma’am—”
          Stoyka chuckled as warmly as she knew how.  “Oh, Hannah, it’s exactly that simple.  Remember, when you were an NCO, your troopers were looking up to you.  Now, all of your troopers are simply looking to you.”  She paused to drive the point home.  “For everything, all the time.  You have to make it look so easy they don’t even think about it.”
          “So screw it.  Sit back and relax for the few minutes God and the captain gave you.”  Stoyka nudged Crowell conspiratorially.  “Soon enough, you’ll be able to shoot whoever gives you a hard time, right?”
          Crowell sighed and reached over to grip Stoyka’s hand in thanks.  “Sure.  Why…”
---
          “…D’ye think it’s called Astrokaszy?” Baumann asked generally amidst the cluster of Foot-Two’s troopers.
          Someone groaned and Spencaire stared at the trooper blankly.  Acolyte Helhake sighed and paused wiping his Mauser down with a rag that had been in the ComGuards exactly as long as he had.  It might have been blue once, but only he knew for sure. 
          “You know, B-Man, that’s a damn good question.  Maybe once things get settled, you can go ask the Two.”
          The big rifleman regarded his squad leader carefully, wondering which part of the statement to ask about first.  A light went on behind his eyes.  “I thought we were Two.”
          Spencaire forced herself to breathe slowly and not cause her fingers to clench, thus crushing the incipient life out of the cigarette she was twirling between her fingers.  Beside her, Lasskiy shifted to cuff Baumann but Halhake forestalled him with a sharp glance.
          “No, man,” Mouser said around the pretzel-rod he had sticking out of his mouth like a cigar.  “He meant Adept McCann.  You remember.”
          Baumann blinked back at the thin trooper.  “But not now, right?”
          Helhake grinned despite himself.  Spencaire felt the corners of her mouth twist upwards slightly as she imagined the big galoot staggering through the ship to find and corner the S-2.  That would be a sight.
          “No, not right now,” the squad leader said lightly as he returned his attention to his weapon.
          “Hey,” Groumond asked generally.  “Do you think they’ll let us back into our billet after we make landfall?”
          “Why the Hell would you want t’go back in there?” Lasskiy wondered.  “The last two weeks weren’t enough for the time being?”
          Groumond pursed his lips.  “I forgot something, okay?”
          Spencaire turned her head to look him over despite herself.  He had all his gear on, so whatever it was, it didn’t concern her. 
           “All your gear not strapped to you is secured to your bunk in your A- and B-Bags,” she said.   “Who knows when you’ll see that next.”
          For her part, she was glad they were out in the open bay, even as crowded as it was.  Some of the troopers had cursed when they learned they would be spread out in the bay and not strapped into their bunks like the civs were.  Spencaire didn’t know what she would have done if the situation had been reversed.  There was no way she could foresee herself being able to sit in a darkened shipping container while the ship trembled and bucked amidst a fireball of its own creation as it braked from orbit.
          “Yeah,” Mouser said around his third pretzel.  “What’s up with that?  We’re all packed up like we’re leaving and not coming back, hey?”
          “Yeah?” Spencaire challenged while Helhake continued to caress his rifle.  “The Jumping Jacks did the same thing we did, so no one got off easy.”
          “And spent all yesterday packing and repacking our drek,” Groumond snorted.  “And going through inspections, brief-backs, and battle drills…”
          “Settle down,” Spencaire said tiredly.  “The only thing any one knows for sure is  outside that ramp is sand and heat.  Do we have to put up with the hot air inside here too?”
          The ambient noise began to rise as the ship dipped deeper into the atmosphere.  The 1MC crackled out a warning or instruction that the infantry troopers ignored since it didn’t mention them.
          The brief-backs of the OPORD hadn’t taken long at all, since the plan was apparently there was no plan.  Well, that was nothing new to the line doggies.  She might be worried if they knew more about this shithole than they had let on.
          “Well, what about Mattis and Parker, hmm?” Lasskiy asked without looking at her.  “You’d think those two would know.”
          Spencaire felt herself stiffen, felt her fingers threaten to break the thin cylinder she held across her finely-boned knuckles.
          “What?” Lasskiy responded in mild embarrassment to the mild look of Acolyte Helhake.  “I mean, they’re staff monkeys, aren’t they?  I mean, I’m sure they hear things we don’t is all I’m saying.”
           “Mattis and Parker are alright,” Helhake said.  “But they’re just mutts like the rest of us, roger?”
          Spencaire ran her free hand over her auburn hair, tightly pulled back to fit under her helmet.  She wondered what Mattis was doing right then; what he was thinking.  She regarded the cigarette in her right fingers and smiled inside herself.
          Mouser cleared his throat; the sound inside the ship would never reach the screaming thunder like it did in the holos, but he had to speak up to be heard nonetheless.  “Well, anyways…”
---
          “I hope you’re happy,” Marienda Krantzel hissed through gritted lips as the ship bucked and leaped through the thickening atmosphere.  Her arm and shoulder ached because of how she had to contort herself to hold her daughter’s hand.  “You should have let me strap her with us.”
          Jase shifted, but there was a limit to what he could do.  There was enough play for either of them to pop the restraints open, and the ship’s crew had shown them what to do in the hurried preparations for landing.  But he couldn’t sit up without releasing them.
          “Look,” he murmured.  “The sailor said that would be dangerous because the straps wouldn’t fit either of us or her.”  He paused.  “Look, baby, she’s fine.  She’s as tough as they come.  Isn’t that right, sweetie?”  He raised his voice as he addressed his daughter in the bunk opposite their own.
          Marienda bit of a curse in her native tongue.  “Don’t you ‘baby’ me,” she nearly subvocalized.  “Not while our daughter is terrified and I’m strapped into a bed next to you.”
          She could feel Jase shake his head quickly, then again, more slowly. 
          “Fine.  Fine,” Jase replied.  “Just because you’re terrified, don’t take it out on me—or her, okay?”
          Marienda turned her head to stare at her husband; he was turned straight ahead to stare at the ceiling of their cubicle.  She knew that it was her that was terrified; but her little Aimee was scared all the same.  Her tiny hand was an icy claw inside her own.
          “You’re an ******,” Marienda said calmly.  “I’m scared; but I’m no star-trotting hero like you are.”
          Jase snorted and cleared his throat.  “Oh, piss off, Mare.”
          He had shipped aboard DropShips before.  Plenty of times.  But he’d never faced a landfall quite like the one they were hurtling towards now.  Marienda knew that, but she didn’t care.
          “Maybe I’m scared too,” he allowed.  “But I don’t think making an issue out of it is going to help, either.”
          Marienda was scared alright, but more than half of that fear was because if something went wrong, the resulting catastrophe would take her daughter as surely as it took her…
          She felt the tiny hand in hers squeeze firmly; she returned it gratefullly, instinctively.  “Mommy?”
          “Yes, mi princesa?”
          “I’m scared, too,” Aimee admitted.  “But it’s going to be okay.”
          The ship’s damnable intercom opened with a warning and the noise beneath them built to a throaty roar as the thrusters flared for touchdown.
Thought I might get a rocket ride when I was a child.          We are the wild youth, 
But it was a lie, that I told myself                                              Chasing visions of our futures.
When I needed something good.                                                One day we'll reveal the truth,
At 17, I had a better dream; now I'm 33, and it isn't me.        That one will die before he gets there.

But I'd think of something better if I could
                           --E. Tonra
--A. Duritz

Daryk

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Re: The Double Deuce II/II-σ [3053]
« Reply #56 on: 15 July 2018, 15:34:48 »
ECV Full House
Above Astrokaszy
0830-0900 Local Time
12 November, 3053

Those accustomed to interplanetary travel noted the insertion was a little rough.  For those not so accustomed, it felt like the ship could shake apart at any moment, and the scattered cries from the civilian quarters reflected that.  At least all of the cargo stayed where it was strapped this time, unlike the hasty departure from Campoleone.

As soon as the roar of the main thrusters began to die away, the two 'mech bay doors started to rise, quickly revealing the debarking Wolverine and Griffin, followed by Adept Twilley's blowers.  Once they were clear, the doors rapidly cycled closed again.  The bridge of the ship was a beehive of activity, with every crewman strapped to their station.  The weapon turrets on the hull reflected the gunners' search for targets, while others scanned radio traffic and visuals both near and far.  Satisfied, Adept Roepke, the XO, reported, "Captain, no immediate hostiles.  Recommend opening the main cargo bay door."

The deployed MechWarriors and tankers made similar reports over the Double Deuce's command channel as they patrolled around the ship.  Just as Adept Mason was about to give the order, Acolyte Bellini, the Chief Gunner, called out, "Movement! In the tower ruins... looks like... a periscope.  No obvious weapons."

Down in the Deuce's Command Jeep, Adept Hopschnur vectored the 'mechs to provide over watch in preparation for the door to open.  The periscope in question did nothing but swivel back and forth, but another crewman on the bridge noted a transmission from the ruined tower.  It wasn't encrypted, but the Arabic dialect in question bore little resemblance to the Modern Standard taught on Terra.

Satisfied with arrangements for the moment, Mason gave the order, and the main cargo bay door squealed open as the ramp lowered the eight meters to the ground.  The one convenient jeep, carrying Adept Asadi and a full security detail, drove carefully down the ramp as the gunners of 006 and the Command Jeep provided high cover in addition to the rifles of the two squads further back in the bay.

The jeep drove at a moderate pace across the dusty ferrocrete toward the ruined tower, Asadi's voice audible over the jeep's jury rigged loud speaker.  If the machine gun atop the vehicle wasn't intimidating enough, the two BattleMechs not too far away certainly were, and the two hover tanks further out couldn't be ignored either.  From the ship, the troops in the bay could see Asadi dismount behind her security detail, and the bridge was piping the video feed to other key personnel.  Eventually, a tall figure with a red sash emerged from the tower, and negotiations were apparently underway.

Half an hour later, the all clear was given, and the Ace of Drax made her own, somewhat less dramatic approach, touching down 100 meters from the Full House, on the side opposite the ruined tower.  One of the smaller trucks was offloaded to supplement patrols and help stake out the cargo off-load area.  This left just enough room for Mattis to squeeze 006 into the Wolverine's cubicle where its bent frame could be straightened by Acolyte Brzezinski and his team.  Hopschnur's uneasiness kept Twilley's tanks deployed for several hours beyond the original plan, but things seemed to be under control.

Acolyte Monchenigo had accompanied Adept Asadi in the first jeep to make contact, but hung back during the negotiations.  His duties didn't involve the local authorities, at least not if they were executed properly.
« Last Edit: 28 July 2018, 19:57:01 by Daryk »

Tegyrius

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Re: The Double Deuce II/II-σ [3053]
« Reply #57 on: 28 July 2018, 18:46:52 »
Previously...

ECV Full House
Inbound to Astrokaszy
07 November 3053, 1530 hrs


For once, Adept Cameron McCann's hands were empty.  The meeting wasn't one for which anyone was going to desire a written record.

Adept Erik Roepke leaned back in his gimbaled chair and fixed Cameron with an expression not quite a glare.  "Help me understand why I should sign off on this paranoid fantasy."

Cameron tamped down his reflexive urge to roll over and display his belly to a ship's XO ("one step short of God, if God existed," as one of his fathers was fond of saying) and reminded himself that Roepke was (a) younger, (b) not accustomed to thinking in intelligence terms, and (c) only possessed of three more years in grade than himself.  His pulse slowed somewhat.  He carefully did not look to the compartment's third occupant, Adept Karl Hopschnur, for support.

"Because there are multiple indicators of a Blakist agent operating aboard ship."  He raised a hand to halt the outburst building in Roepke's eyes.  "Most likely in the unit, not the crew."

The hand went down and a finger extended.  "First, Adept Thomas' alleged heart attack.  In a man thirty-five years old, in fighting trim as a MechWarrior, with no prior personal or family history of cardiac problems, yes, sir, of course I cracked his medical records.  Respectfully submit patient privacy does not apply in counterintelligence investigations, nor to casualties.  Ample legal precedent for that, sir.  Point being, however, the incident is anomalous in isolation.  Immediately following Demi-Precentor Evans' strikingly similar death, it is statistically improbable.  I'm aware," the medical database was aware, at any rate, "of fourteen toxins usable to induce cardiac arrest without signs detectable by the unit's organic medical capabilities."

A second finger came up.  "Next, we have the infestation.  I did some reading on the Crop Devil life cycle.  A lot of the biology is above me but I did learn that nicotine gives them mild neurological issues.  All the consumable stores containers were loaded side-by and simultaneously.  If there'd been Crop Devils present while we were loading, they'd have infested all of the containers - and, by preference, any container but the one they are in.  That strongly suggests they were introduced after we sealed everything up."

Cameron deployed a third finger.  "Then there's the wrench.  I asked Jimenez exactly which circuit boards it was dropped on.  Those were the new encryption boards for the vehicle and 'Mech radios that we hadn't yet installed because they came in the day after we received our movement orders.  There wasn't significant damage, but if there had been, our only crypto now would be a decade old and subject to compromise.

"Can I give you detailed forensic records and a root cause analysis?  No, sir.  But the pattern is strongly suggestive of deliberate action taken to compromise unit morale and create further security vulnerabilities."

Roepke eyed Cameron speculatively.  "All right.  You have my attention.  Karl, you're backing this?"

"He's convinced me."

"And why shouldn't I assume you're the Blakist plant?  Cui bono, right?" Roepke asked Hopschnur.  His tone was that of a man framing a serious question as a jest to allow the audience to laugh it off if they so chose.

"Because I did his last CI screening," Cameron answered, "and I'm gambling on having done it right."  He shrugged apologetically at Hopschnur.  "Also, once he placed himself in command by killing his two predecessors, further action would have been too risky.  As CO, his presence in either targeted area would have been noted and remarked upon by any member of the unit, and with his position, he wouldn't have needed the Crop Devils or a crypto failure to compromise us."

Roepke massaged his temples.  "All right.  Your shipboard comms tap is approved.  Set it up.  I'll arrange for you to get into the portside avionics bay undisturbed.  This goes no farther than the three of us and the Captain."  He looked up at Cameron.  "You realize this won't do you a damned bit of good if your agent takes leave once we're dirtside and simply makes a local comm call."

"No, sir."  Cameron smiled ferally.  "I have other intercept measures in mind for that..."
Some places remain unknown because no one has gone there.  Others remain unknown because no one has come back.

Daryk

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Re: The Double Deuce II/II-σ [3053]
« Reply #58 on: 28 July 2018, 20:15:33 »
ECV Full House
Above Astrokaszy
1130 Local Time
12 November, 3053

Adept McCann reviewed the logs his tap had generated, but saw no evidence of unauthorized transmissions, just like the previous five days.  If there was indeed a WoB plant aboard ship, they weren't talking to anyone off board.  Log review wasn't particularly rewarding, but at least killed the time until he could debark.  In theory, he was authorized to accompany Adept Asadi on her second trip into town for negotiations with the local authorities.  The first had so far yielded permission to remain at the defunct landing field for as long as necessary to unload the contaminated container.  The locals had deferred negotiations for replacement tobacco rations until "later".  To Cameron, that suggested political implications.

In any case, the open cargo bay doors had allowed the temperature inside the tiny ship to climb.  Most of the civilians had taken refuge on the mess deck, while the majority of the unit was stuck working in the increasing heat.  Acolyte Brzezinski and his techs were busily straightening out 006's frame in the Wolverine's cubicle with assistance from Mattis and Parker, while those that weren't pulling security helped the S4 team move vehicles and cargo containers.  The unit's industrial exoskeletons made things go faster than relying on the ship's overhead crane alone, but that didn't mean it was going "fast".  Quite a bit of expanded metal decking had to be removed from around the stack of cargo containers the infested one was at the bottom of before they could be removed, and that process was at best 30% complete.  Adept Walden's plan was to have the unloading complete by the end of the day.  Only time would tell if that plan survived contact with Astrokaszy...

Failure16

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Re: The Double Deuce II/II-σ [3053]
« Reply #59 on: 13 August 2018, 22:13:45 »
ECV Full House
Landing Field, Rabigh, Astrokaszy
1345 Local Time
12 November, 3053

           “You got the con, Spencaire,” Acolyte Helhake said as he levered himself upright and reached back down to grab his helmet and rifle.
           “We’ll try not to melt in your absence,” she replied without looking up from the focal lens of her Intek laser rifle she was polishing.  She had it shot-gunned open so she could reach its delicate innards, but able to close it and put it back into action within seconds.
           “Roger,” the squad leader said over his shoulder.  “The rest of you kids, be good!”
           He disappeared up the ramp into the ship’s interior, leaving his squad under the ship and its blessed pool of shadow.  Now that things had quieted down, the squad leaders were going to have a pow-wow.  Fox-Two was going to take it damn easy after sweating it out on perimeter–gate guard for the past few hours.  It was Fox–Three’s turn in the hotbox for now, while F2 spent the rest of its duty-window in Ready-Five status.
           Not far from where Spencaire and her troopers were nestled, a team of sailors from the ship manhandled a portable field-emission microscope into place.  Their leader, an adept with a nametag that read Myers, stood off to the side while a senior acolyte bossed them in real truth.  They were in the process of inspecting the bell thruster nozzles a bare two meters over their collective heads.  She didn’t know how long they had been at it, but this seemed like their last one.
           “Better watch out, youse guys.  Got people doin’ real work over he-ah,” the acolyte said liltingly. 
           When Tia glanced upwards, she caught the tail-end of a wink.  She could feel the eyes of half the work crew on her, but she was used to that, even if she could never quite understand it.  She can’t have been the only female infantry trooper they had ever seen—and no one was attractive after sweating out two kilos in an hour. 
           It was telling that her troopers remained quiet at the outset.  It was too hot in all this armor to breathe, let alone talk.  None of them had even looked up initially.
           “Better you guys than us,” Mouser said after a moment.  “Say, whatcha all doing anywho?”
           “Checkin’ these muthas fer stress-fractures, ya know,” the sailor replied proudly.  “Ev’ry landfall, we got the time.”
           “Huh,” Groumond snorted.  “Seems excessive.”
         “Wazzat?” the crewman rejoined incredulously.  “You see one a’these crack fer real on liftoff, you gonna have a real bad day, you betcha.”
           “A real bad day, shit,” Lasskiy chuckled.
           Spencaire folded her weapon back together and seated the retaining pins.  She began to do a functions-check by rote without even being consciously aware of it.  “Probably just a real short day, is all.”
           The sailor looked down at her and looked away.  His detail was finishing up whatever scans they had come to take.  One of the junior members was opening up the container the FEM nestled into.  The adept took the piece of equipment nd started to stow it wordlessly.
           “Well, Senior Trooper,” Groumond started to say.  “I mean, are we lifting off and exploding on a Friday evening, say?  Or a Monday morning?”
           “What’s that got to do with it?” Baumann rumbled obliviously; from him it was a real question.
           Mouser chuckled.  “Well, how bad has the week previously been?” he pressed.  “I mean, if it’s been a drek week, I guess I’ll be pissed if I buy it right at the end.”
           “Well, what if you buy it at the beginning of a great week?” Lasskiy challenged.  “What about that?”
           Mouser pursed his lips in consideration.  “Well, how would I know it was gonna be a great week?”
           Tia Spencaire laid her rifle across her lap and reached down to pick up the worn cigarette from where it had been tucked into her helmet’s padding.  The Explorer Corps crew was beginning to move off.  The senior acolyte spared a sheepish half-glance back in her direction.  She rotated her head to face him squarely, but that was only to draw attention to the fact that she’d had him in her peripheral vision since he’d sidled up to her.
          He looked away suddenly.
           She wondered what Steven was up to, just a few decameters above her head…

***

          “Are you clear?” Acolyte Vaclav Bzerzinksi called out peevishly in the tones of a man all-too used to working beside non-professionals.  “Stand clear!”
          Well, non-professional mechanics, maybe, Mattis thought, smiling inwardly.  Beside him, Parker took an unconscious step back nonetheless.  Mattis’s eyes were on the senior mechanic and not the tie down two-plus meters away that secured 006 to the DropShip’s deck.  The winched straps and chains were already beginning to speak complainingly amongst themselves as the towering presence of the 55-tonne Wolverine leaned back in careful increments.
           “Should we take cover?” Parker asked his partner, eyeing the tie downs suspiciously.
           “Probably,” Mattis agreed, but he didn’t move.  He was too tired, just like the rest of the troopers gathered around the developing drama.  Besides, 006 was his girl; she wasn’t going to kill him just yet.
          Sweat was dripping off all them in literal rivulets.  The band presently involved in straightening the gun-truck’s tortured frame had stripped down to their fatigue trousers, and even those were soaked through.  Few of the troopers spoke, and when they did it was in minimalist grunts and sighs.
          The actinic light of Astrokaszy’s primary filtered in through the open bay door, but it was approaching zenith and the rays of light were not burningly direct.  The air itself was scorching to breathe and there was no breeze to speak of.  The bay smelled of hot metal and hotter sand and rocks, overlaid with wet humanity and the byproducts of heavy machinery at work.
          The bay sounded like just what it was:  an overly large enclosure packed to overflowing with gear, people, and machinery where all of the contents were involved somehow or other in shifting each other from one place to another.  Outside the bay door, it seemed enticingly quiet.  And even blazingly hotter than it was just inside or under the grounded vessel’s ovoid bulk.
          Acolyte Helhake trudged up the ramp and past them.  He nodded tiredly, but neither party bothered saying anything.  He had his helmet dangling by its strap, but all of the rest of his thirty kilos of patrol gear was still in place.  From the look on his face, the climb up the ramp in this heat was enough to murder the need for meaningless banter.
          The tie-downs holding 006 in place shifted infinitesimally when the BattleMech started bodily pulling on it.  Zink gabbled into the hand-held pickup he used in lieu of a proper commo-helmet, or even an ear-bud and boom-mike.  The MechWarrior controlling the Wolverine hunched the machine down a notch and continued pulling straight back.
           “You think it’s gonna work, Mattie?” Parker asked side-long.
           Mattis really wanted a cigarette.  He wanted it more than nearly anything.  But he and Parker both had to be a bit stingy when others were around, since they were officially almost as low as everyone else.  So instead of reaching for one—they were stashed in his tunic and armor off to the side anyways—he clasped his hands together and squeezed. 
           “It had better,” he replied after too long.  He indicated the scene beyond the curve of the open bay door with his chin; the movement made sweat drip toward the deck.  “We got a whole world out there to see, after all.”
           Parker sniffed.  “See new worlds, meet interesting people, and kill them?”
           “You got it, snake,” Mattis replied laconically.  “That’s what the recruiter told me anyways…”
***
          “Want me to shut it up, Tal?” Sonja Engels said, speaking loudly enough to be heard from the driver’s station at the nose of the heavy APC.
          Avram Tal chewed on his lower lip for a moment, lost in thought before he grimaced as if awakening too early.  “Yeah, Engels.  Close the bitch up if you would.”
          No sooner had he spoken the second syllable had the jump squad leader thrown the handle above her head to cause the rear ramp to squeal upwards.  None of the squad leaders were particularly worried about attracting attention now, not with the madhouse of activity the DropShip had become since they made landfall.  And, as during the voyage, the squad leaders having a little professional development time of their own wasn’t beyond the pale.
          As the heavy ramp whined upward to thump solidly closed, the assembled non-coms sighed gratefully and released the catches on their body armor.  Engels had engaged the fusion-bottle to raise the ramp and left it on, so the air-conditioning unit was running.  If this meeting was going to last longer than ten minutes or so, Tal might have left the ramp down and had them tough it out, but, Hell, they had to think.
          “Christ’s Bleeding Wounds,” Delf Helhake groaned as he tried fanning the heavy flaps of his armor.  “What a bloody disaster this landfall is turning out to be.”
          “Hell, buddy,” Sulieman grinned from the bench where he languidly draped.  “You only been here half a day.”
          “You say that like it’s going to get better,” Tuna said from the side, the sarcasm tinged heavily with irony.
          “Or worse,” Jackson said from where he sat near the head of the APC.
          Engels muttered a mild curse as she hunched through the hell-hole, the passageway that accessed the driver’s compartment and the troop-bay past the fusion-bottle and the dorsal turret machinery.  She had her gear on and something or other had managed to snag in the tight space.
          Suilieman looked over at the junior squad leader in puzzlement.  Across the compartment, Braismith grinned toothily.  “Always a day late and a C-Bill short, eh, Jackson?”
          Engels shrugged as she plopped down next to Braismith.  “Short a’something,” she breathed, but Tal cleared his throat, cutting the byplay off before it got out of hand.
          “Okay, killers,” he started.  “We got a few minutes in here while we proof the powerpack, so let’s get down to business.  Anybody got problems with their squads?”
          Harras’s Jump-Four and Pandajharmin’s Foot-Four were on duty outside the ship.  He would get with them separately.  The rest of them were technically all on duty as well, but the two infantry squads in conjunction with the heavy elements could handle anything short of a major catastrophe for the couple of minutes they would need to get out on the ground.
          Helhake snorted.  “Other than all of us dying from heatstroke, I’d say we’re all four-plus.”
          Tal smiled at him.  On the other side of the aisle, Sollie dragged out a crumpled pack of cigarettes and lit one, smiling at it longingly before he lit it.  He took a drag and handed it off to Braismith who took a drag and handed it to Engels.
          “Well,” Sulieman intoned.  “What’s the word on refurbishing our tobacco rations?  We wait much longer and I ain’t promising we can keep the lid on…”
          Tal held his right hand up to forestall the rest of the squad leaders adding their voices to the chorus.  “All I can say about that is I’m sure the adults are doing their best.  Just gotta give ‘em time is all.”
          Engels harrumphed.  “Sure, sure.  They can take all the time they need.  In the meantime, we’ll just pretend everything is just great.”
          Tal nodded, not in agreement with her acerbic remark, but as a method of drawing them along his developing train of thought.  “You’d better,” he said with velvet-shod iron in his otherwise mild tone.  “I hear you professionals are fomenting rebellion and we’ll talk about it in individual cases.”
          The squad leaders chuckled simultaneously in monolithic need to diffuse the tension.  Avie Tal wasn’t generally known for his humor.  He had a certain reputation for being able to deal with problems caused by men and women used to using violence as an institutional framework, however.
          “Say, Acolyte,” Jackson said suddenly.  “What’re we doing here?  I mean, for real; not sitting here on the ship?”
          Engels regarded her fellow almost sourly while she handed back the cigarette to Sulieman.  “Did you miss the last week-plus of transit, Jackson?”
          The junior squad leader furrowed his brow.  “You know what I ****** mean, Engels.”
          She raised an eyebrow in challenge, but Tal cut her off.
          “Simmer down, you two.  So far as operations go, ideally we just sit on our collective asses and get suntans.  Anything pops, we get a call and deal with it.”
          Sulieman and Braismith exchanged glances.  “Okay, fine,” Sollie allowed.  “The grown-ups decided what types of operations we might be expecting at least?  I mean, bloody hell…”
          Tal shrugged.  “You all got the same brief I did—” he started to say.
          “That’s what scares me,” Braismith interjected.
          “—so we all know that security is the name of the game,” he continued unabated.  “That means at the ship and possibly as personal security details for any principals leaving the dropzone.”
          They all knew Joh Harras’s Jump-Four had been told off to work with the Two, and Tuna’s squad had been out with the One since they had landed.  The command group had elected to go with sensor watches to maintain the perimeter; none of the infantry troopers believed that was the best plan, but with only fifty or so shooters on the ground, they wouldn’t be able to do much beyond provide the barest listening and observation posts.
          “Okay,” Engels pressed.  “What about patrols, dismounted or otherwise?”
          “On call,” Tal replied tiredly.  “Just like running LP/OPs, which I am quite sure we will be conducting before local EENT.”
          That drew some muttered curses.  No one had said as much, but none of the assembled squad leaders believed that they wouldn’t be standing watches in real truth once the primary began to set.  Well, that was why they and their troopers were paid the big bucks.  So the sailors and MechWarriors could sleep securely in their racks.
          Tal smiled for real.  “Come on, now, killers.  Let’s lose the sad faces, hey?  We are finally getting paid to do the jobs we’ve been paid to do.”
          Helhake sat up.  “Oh, sure.  You say that now.  But wait until the Word tries to float a probe across the sensor perimeter and then ain’t no one here gonna be joking.”
          “Shit, yeah, Avie,” Sulieman agreed.  “I heard that briefing, same as you.  You think the Wobbers’re gonna sit there pretty as they are without sending someone our way?  They gotta lot of combat-power just sitting in their motor-pool soaking up dust…”
          “And?” Tal challenged levelly.  “If it happens, it happens.  And then we deal with it.  Until then, it’s low-intensity ops.”  He let his eyes drift purposefully around the group, letting them meet his fellows squarely before moving on to the next.  “So take the time now to get your squads worked up.  I want each and every one of us taking whatever down time we do have—and that means even on QRF, or five-minute stand-by, or moving out to sentry-duty, let alone getting ready to jerk off in our racks—to be drilling your boys and girls about what we are doing now, and what we may be doing tomorrow.  Got me?”
          Every one of the squad leaders responded in the affirmative.  Hell, they all knew it, but sometimes even professionals needed to hear it from someone else.  Nothing wrong here.
          Engels stretched her neck from side to side, her blond ruff swaying with the motion.  “Okay, okay.  No problems, there.”  She paused while her mind searched for the words her brain was still trying to formulate.  “But what about the…other issue, eh?  NO one wants to talk about that, I gather.”
          “Sone, we got nothing to back that up…” Braismith said in the tired tones of a man who’d had a conversation too many times before.
          “Except those ProCeeDees, sure, Braismith,” she retorted neatly, waving towards the memory of the cigarette that Helhake had already stubbed out.  “And everything that happened before.  You know.”
          “Well, could the Wobbers have a infil-team on board?” Suilieman asked.  “Sure, why not?”
          “I think the question is why wouldn’t they?” Helhake asked.
          “And what else could they do they haven’t done already?” Jackson continued.
          “At ease,” Tal said cuttingly.  “As Braismith already noted, we have no proof of anything.”
          “Just a series of convenient coincidences,” Engels gibed.
          “Oh, you are right on that score, Sone,” Tal continued mildly.  “And maybe we can talk later about just how much I believe in coincidences,” he added lugubriously.  “But the best we can do is to keep our ears and eyes open.  You see something, you bring it up to me, and I bring it up the chain.  Nobody better start something stupid and public until we all get the word together.  Right?”
          The squad leaders sat silently while they mulled over what he had said.  The air-conditioning unit sighed longingly.  After a time, Helhake cleared his throat.  “Okay, we’ll all play along, no worries.”  He paused again, before speaking wistfully.  “But, you know, Avie, we got a lotta people along on this op, and we barely know half of ‘em…”
          The senior squad leader sat back and steepled his powerful fingers before him.  “I seen worse odds, Delf,” he rejoined before lurching upright.  “Okay, break’s over.  Let’s get back out there and show the other half that we don’t know so well how to get shit done properly, hey?” 
Thought I might get a rocket ride when I was a child.          We are the wild youth, 
But it was a lie, that I told myself                                              Chasing visions of our futures.
When I needed something good.                                                One day we'll reveal the truth,
At 17, I had a better dream; now I'm 33, and it isn't me.        That one will die before he gets there.

But I'd think of something better if I could
                           --E. Tonra
--A. Duritz

 

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