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  1. Last week
  2. The CEO looked like he'd been tossed around by some giant barn cat, but talked like he was negotiating in the boardroom. "I'm terribly sorry about the inconvenience and financial hardship this incident has undoubtedly inflicted on you. I'm sure that the Crayven Corporation can come to an equitable arrangement with you to make you whole again. Have we any unfinished business here?" "Thank you, that's very appreciated," I said. "I'm sure you didn't intend to get kidnapped on my ship, but our margins are pretty thin - cleaning up after surprise visits from merc squads isn't in the budget." Kauffman smiled. "I thought that might be the case." "I see you're all suited up to leave the way you came in, but if you'd like to avoid the floating hogs and the vacuum of space-" "Floating hogs?" William asked quizzically. "Yeah - your employees came in through the airlock of one of our livestock bays. Even mining planets want their pork fried rice, so we bring the pork - and it's not very happy right now. If your ship docks with mine, you can avoid all that." "As interesting as that sounds, I suppose you're right that this isn't the best time for a tour. It looks like some of my rescuers no longer have intact space suits." Kauffman motioned toward the mercenary captain, who was standing nearby. "Charles, which ship has come for me?" "It's the Mendacius, sir," the mercenary said. "They've got this ship in tow." "I think you can let us go now," I said. "I'll let Gretchen know you're friendly. I can guarantee she wouldn't shoot at you, but it'd be inconvenient if she went speeding off. By the way, have any of your people seen Dr. Tao? She was in the mess hall a little while before you all showed up, so she might be unaccounted for." "Wherever she is," Major Hayes interjected, "she needs to be brought back alive, so she can tell us the full extent of what was done to General Kauffman. Are there any other 'passengers' who might have that information?" "The only other scientist was Dr. Wen, and he would have been on shift in this cargo bay," I said. A very muddy looking mercenary who I didn't recognize exclaimed, "Now he's all over the cargo bay!" "In that case, Dr. Tao is our sole source of information," Major Hayes said humorlessly. "Lieutenant Weyland, do you feel up to bringing her in?"
  3. "James...you came," William enthused, a mixture of gratitude and relief in his expression as I knelt down and supported him against my knees while taking an assessment of his health. Aside from his vitals being all over the place, Kauffman looked like he'd been through the wringer. His hair was wildly unkempt, sections of it having been buzzed away entirely for what I can only assume were attempts at biohacking his implants. In some places, the marks of sutures were evident. His face was gaunt, with dark circles under his eyes, and even with the spacesuit in place, I perceived that he'd lost quite a bit of weight. "Well, yeah, you forgot to release my stock options before we went IPO," I joked. "I couldn't let you off the hook that easily." William smiled weakly. "Am I imagining things, or was that Nathan Schmidt who you had on your shoulder? And did he actually just save your life?" the executive asked. "Yes, sir. It's definitely Mister Schmidt. And it does seem that he had impeccable timing, both in terms of when he elected to come back from the nearly-dead and when he decided to intervene on my behalf," I nodded. "The last time I saw Schmidt, he was in the process of destroying the Half Moon. Now, he's working with us?" Kauffman inquired incredulously. "There have been a lot of developments while you were...out of the loop," I explained. "I can promise you a full briefing, but right now, respectfully, we need to get you out of here. Do you feel like you can walk?" "Yes. The stimpatch seems to be working; thank you. I can walk," William confirmed, gingerly rising to his feet with my assistance. "I believe I overtaxed my implants just a bit on that last maneuver." "That last maneuver saved my life, and it was awesome!" Steve Jenkins suddenly exclaimed, releasing Nathan Schmidt from an awkward embrace and ambling over to stand before Kauffman, grinning from ear to ear. "You were all like, 'NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! PEW PEW PEW PEW PEW PEW!' And then the guys were like, 'AHHH, YOU KILLED ME.'" "James, this is Steve Jenkins, my liberator. I'm assuming you've already been introduced. He's a fine solider and expert tactician," William smiled, clapping Jenkins on the shoulder. "He was instrumental in seeing to it that I made it out of that...laboratory...in once piece." Kauffman gestured toward a half-destroyed portable building within the cargo bay that was bedecked with all manner of communication dishes and antennas. "They had you in there?" I asked. "What were they doing?" "Attempting to use a variety of techniques to access my augmentations and, presumably, try to download the information in my mind. They started that after I wouldn't simply tell them about Project Black Eclipse. I'm still not entirely sure how they found out that venture in the first place," William explained, raising an eyebrow and glancing toward Nathan. "I was in and out of consciousness for - well, I'm not sure how long. What is today's date?" "March 3, 3029," I responded. "I was in and out of consciousness for a long time," Kauffman concluded. "Well, we should try to get that laboratory transferred over to our custody for analysis. See what all they might have done to you - and also ascertain how much information they potentially mined," I advised. "Our first priority is to get you off this ship, though. The rest of the team's waiting for us over there." I pointed toward the gathering of Weyland, Maxwell, Harlow, and her crew. "This rescue was only possible because of them as well, and I'm sure that they're anxious to say hello. Let's get you over to them. Steve and Nathan - will you lead the way?" I asked. Schmidt and Jenkins nodded and headed down the ramp ahead of us. As I put Kauffman's arm over my shoulders and assisted him in his strides, I glanced ahead at Nathan. Where the plastiform bandage had previously been present on his back, there was now only exposed flesh, with no sign of the the gaping exit wound that had previously been present. What in the hell is going on there? I thought to myself. I started to make a comment to William, but decided against it for now. Whatever gift it was that Schmidt possessed, speculation about it could wait until we'd disentangled ourselves from the current predicament. ### A few moments later, we rendezvoused with the remainder of Alpha team and the crew. of the Hurry Up Bessie. As we arrived, I waved an incredulous-looking Captain Harlow over to me. "Captain Nikki Harlow - this is William Kauffman - your undocumented passenger. General Kauffman - Captain Harlow is the skipper of the ship you're aboard - the Hurry Up Bessie. She says that she was unaware of what the Capellans were doing in their little shop of horrors back there." "I was unaware," Nikki scowled. "There's no need to speculate about where my loyalties fell in this whole mess. We only took a haulage contract from the Capellans. We don't answer to House Liao." "I'm just relaying the information, not trying to make any assessment of the situation," I answered. "It's a pleasure to meet you, Miss Harlow," William smiled, his polished and charming personality asserting itself despite all that he'd just endured. "Oh, uh - nice to meet you, too, Mister Kauffman. I hope you're doing okay. Better than these guys, at least," Harlow continued, gesturing at the gore surrounding us. William blanched noticeably. "I am, thank you for asking. And I'm terribly sorry about the inconvenience and financial hardship this incident has undoubtedly inflicted on you. I'm sure that the Crayven Corporation can come to an equitable arrangement with you to make you whole again," Kauffman continued, looking toward Captain Harlow expectantly. "Have we any unfinished business here?"
  4. I hated being outnumbered and outgunned. Although the arsenal of weapons carried between Hayes, Weyland, Harlow, Jenkins, and myself provided ample firepower to quell most of the situations we could expect to encounter aboard the freighter at this point, the fact of the matter was, we weren't doing anything that a squad of Capellan soldiers couldn't just as easily handle with far more brutal efficiency than our ragtag group of mismatched and under-qualified commandos could hope to muster. CCAF troops were trained to be cold, calculating, killing machines - infantry in the purest sense - and while I had no doubt that Steve and Nathan were exactly that when behind the controls of BattleMechs, their training as infantrymen was only designed as a fallback in case things went horribly wrong with their war machines. Even I wasn't the young buck I had once been - while I could certainly still hold my own in a brawl, I much preferred the safety and security of being behind the controls of a hundred tons' worth of ferrosteel and high-caliber weaponry to the near-naked feeling of wearing only a combat spacesuit for protection and hoping that the frame of the security robot I was covering behind would prove adequate against any hostile fire I might encounter. The troops we were now facing aboard the Hurry Up Bessie were dropping like flies. Their security robots had been the first to fall. Bereft of the ability to even disengage the safeties on their weapons while facing targets that, to them, registered as friendly, they were quickly cut apart by the combined-arms barrage we threw at them. The infantry holding down the corridor were swiftly felled after that, though they'd managed to inflict a fair amount of damage on the robot I piloted; one of its two machine guns had been wrought free from its mount, and a series of well-placed shots into its left tread had restricted its locomotion. I also bore the scars of several close calls - in addition to the demise of my helmet, I had two nasty flesh wounds on my left bicep from bullets that narrowly missed me, as well as innumerable other cuts and scrapes from shrapnel and various other projectiles. As I strafed the surviving Capellans with the security robot's remaining cannon, I saw Major Hayes ascend the ramp to the cargo hold. Somehow, in the midst of the unfolding mayhem, he'd managed to break through the enemy lines and cross the antechamber with Nathan Schmidt still on his shoulder, taking out a pair of hostile soldiers with nothing more than an oversized hunting knife in the process. A few moments later, as Hayes reached Jenkins and Kauffman, an infantryman attempted to ambush the Major from behind, only to end up being suddenly and unexpectedly shot to death by an abruptly-awake Nathan. The explosion of violence created a distraction for the remaining entrenched forces - one that Bishop and I used to our advantage, taking out the final Capellans just as my security robot's ammunition ran out. A single straggler managed to avoid the final firestorm, but didn't surrender. As he continued to open fire on us, I quickly drew my laser rifle, shoved its output to the maximum setting, and fired off a single burst directly into the soldier's center of mass. The Capellan dropped to the floor like a sack of potatoes, a smoldering hole cored in his chest. I quickly disembarked the robot and floated toward the fallen guard, muttering a halfhearted platitude at his corpse before reaching down and snatching a herbal cigarette from his uniform pocket. It was no Arturo Fuente Opus X, but it smoked. And that's all I gave a crap about at the moment. I plucked his lighter - a heavy, quality construct engraved with the emblem of House Liao - from his shirt pocket, and used it to set the cigarette alight. Inhaling deeply, an intoxicating mix of vapors raced through my respiratory system. I closed my eyes, holding my breath for several seconds, exhaling a blossom of smoke at length as a familiar calm came across my body. I felt my muscles relax, my posture straighten, and a surge of energy as my brain released massive amounts of dopamine into my nervous system. After a moment, I turned toward Bishop and Nikki. "Nice work, both of you. I think it's safe to say that we're rid of our Capellan problem," I smiled grimly. Without replying, the Skinwalker made a pained face and reached down to a sealed pouch on his hip, pulling out a small auto-injector filled with a neon blue fluid. Thumbing the cap off, the Lieutenant plunged the syringe deep into exposed traps at the base of his neck. Closing his eyes, he paused as the concoction took effect. In seconds, it appeared that his energy returned and the pain melted away; Weyland transitioning from deeply concerned and strung out to relaxed and clearheaded. Tossing the auto-injector on a pile of dead soldiers, the hulking veteran turned back toward me, his eyes locking with mine momentarily, carrying with them an expression of guilt. Before I could offer a reply, Harlow spoke. "Not exactly all of the Capellan problems are solved, Captain Maxwell," Harlow advised. "Doctors Wen and Tao are still unaccounted-for. I'm not entirely sure whose side they're on, but they could prove...problematic...if they're still at large and my suspicions are correct." "Damn. One problem runs straight into the next," I replied. I took a long drag from the cigar before tossing the unfinished remains in the direction of the carnage we'd wrought. The cigar somersaulted through the zero-g environment, colliding with several bulkheads and giving off a cascade of sparks. I exhaled heavily, sending smoke rings wafting lazily across the expanse, and shouldered my laser rifle. "Where might they be?"
  5. The Skinwalker slowly lumbered forward towards his fellow teammates who had now formed a protective circle around Kauffman. Major Hayes had look of concern and relief on his face. Nathan looked like dogs shit warmed over...but he was alive and smiling, which made the hulk mercenary crack a smoke as well. Mech warrior Jenkins was joyous to say the least, even covered in brown sewer sludge. Both the ship’s captain and crew member where in a three way conversation with Captain Maxwell about what happens next. Bishop began taken in the scene of bloody carnage that littered most of one deck of the ship. A nagging feeling of depression creeped into the veteran warrior’s mind....the battle was over, done. No more hostiles, weapons fire or sanctioned homicide. There was no one left for him to kill or protect, a warrior without a cause. In this moment sadness and bitterness Bishop caught the corporate CEO looking at him. Kauffman face said it all, wonder, intrigue and fear. Kauffman saw it, the change, maybe he even saw the monster deep down in Bishop’s soul. Every little escaped the man gaze. The Mercenary knew the question would come, some he knew and wanted to hid, others he didn’t know. Only time would tell. Hoisting the bulky light machine gun high up on his hip Bishop gave a respectful node and fake smile. The CEO tiredly waived and smiled back. Wanting to escape the man’s gaze Bishop turned and walked back to the cargo doors to provide rear security for anyone else attempting to intervene in corporate business. Alone to his thoughts the Skinwalker distracted himself by doing a systematics gear and weapons check. He was a walking disaster, his ammo back was down to 40%, his amor was practical melted or smashed to pieces, combat harness was tattered and torn. Checking his forearm mounted suit diagnostics he was pleased to see his EVA suit was not compromised. Next he lifted the suits heavy helmet, checking of damages. It was then he saw himself, in the armored glass visor... face caked in blood and gore, eyes reflecting the Ambient light hi wing him an almost demon like look. His face now heavily sacred from burns, he was completely bald now. “Monster “he whispered to himself. “Yes... yes we are beautiful” responded the beast from the dark corners of his mind. Bishop felt heavy with exhaustion, even his steroid enhanced body felt weak and his enhanced senses dulled . The pain came rushing back now, burn wounds felt as if they had torn open, searing pain in his lungs and rib cage and his synthetic spine screamed in agony. In that moment it was almost to much for him to handle. Without thought the Skinwalker reached down to a sealed pouch on his hip and pulled out a small auto-injector filled with a neon blue fluid. Thumping the cap off Bishop plunged the syringe deep into is exposed traps at the base of his neck. Closing his eyes he waited for the concoction of mild combat stims mixed with pain killers to flood into his system. Second later his power returned and the pain melted away. Now he heard and smelt every detail of the battle space... he was awake now and clear headed. Tossing the auto-injector on a pile of dead soldiers the hulking veteran turned pack to to his team for order. He stopped dead in his tracks....eyes looking with Captain Maxwell holding a look of concern. “Alpha-3 this is a Control” Captain Donovan spoke coolly. “This is Alpha-3, send your traffic Control” growled Bishop. “Status check....medical just observed a concerning spike in your vitals...are you ok?” Responded Donovan “Copy that... must have been a glitch sir” “We understand, we will get a tech on it when you are aboard... job well done Alpha-3” Donovan said. “Thank you sir” Bishop replied... still holding Maxwell’s gaze.
  6. Crash location of Grail Lords Combat Transport (Space) VTOL Somewhere on the Carrigan Continent, Errai II Errai System, Davion Space March 3, 3029 ____________________________________ An elongated azure sphere of charged particles ripped through the forest canopy leaving a stream of ionized atmosphere crackling with energy in its wake. The PPC bolt engulfed several trees and a large rock in a cascading discharge of energy that left the surviving infantry hiding behind them probably defecating themselves a little. A few meters away a paltry amount of return fire was directed towards where the PPC shot had come from, probably more than a little averse to drawing the ire of whoever was firing the weapon. Several seconds later, just long enough for the high energy weapon to recharge, the particle projector cannon unleashed another devestating stream of charged particles which struck the large rock directly this time, vapourizing a sizable portion of it and leaving the rest half molten and glassed. The infantry that had been taking cover there scattered like rabbits with some of them outright fleeing while others scrambled to find cover elsewhere. We arrived at the clearing that had been recently created by our crashed VTOL from the opposite side of most of the fighting, having radioed ahead to ensure the rest of our team didn't mistake us for an enemy squad attempting to flank them. Previously we had managed to disable the jamming equipment that was preventing us from contacting the rest of the Grail Lords and in so doing had also acquired a PoW. With our lines of communication now open, we quickly made our way back to regroup with the rest of our squad back at our crashed VTOL as the enemy units chasing us also found the crash site. The PoW had been quite forthcoming with information so far, including details about who was sponsoring them. He knew they were being supplied by either Cappellans or Kuritans but didn't know which. He did know that whoever it was had recently changed based on the sudden increase in aggressiveness by the gangs leaders and the change with their supplies, or at least someone wanted it to look like their backer had changed. We would have time to further question him later though, for the time being we had more important things to worry about, like getting our VTOL airborne and out of hostile territory in one piece. "Rook-lead, this is Knight squad, we've arrived back at base with the package. We'll secure the package and then join up with you, where do you need us?" asked Sergeant Major Emma over our local comms. "Knight squad, once the package is secured meet up with us on the West side. Knight-4, we can use your Golem on the NW flank immediately," replied Leftenant Isla. "Copy that, Knight-4 is on his way." Without hesitating I broke away to the north from the rest of our team as we entered the clearing, the rest of the team headed further south to secure our PoW in the VTOL. In the clearing I was able to push the exoskeleton to its full speed, which still wasn't overly impressive, and ate up the ground at a reasonable speed. Having checked that the autocannon had a full clip in it, I immediately was able to see where I was needed based purely on the volume of fire being directed at the downed VTOL. I took up position along the northmost flank and unleashed a full burst of suppressing fire into the jagged treeline where most of the incoming fire was originating from, the barrage had the desired effect and easily cut the enemy fire rate in half. "Knight-4, reporting in," I keyed over the comms, "What do you need me to do?" "Perfect timing Knight-4," replied Leftenant Isla, "They've figured out the limit of the VTOL's turret and are staying clear of it and we can't draw a bead on them with our support PPC without leaving the west flank wide open. Time to see if that fancy exosuit is worthwhile, I need you to storm their lines and break them up. Failing that, at least try to draw some fire off us until the rest of Knight squad is able to get here." "Roger that, I'll see what I can do. See any firepower I need to worry about?" "Only small arms and some sporadic light support weapons, that armour should be able to shrug most of it off without trouble." "Good, it's held up well so far, let's see if those NAIS boys got it right on what kind of punishment it can actually take," I half joked as I turned and started plodding the armoured exoskeleton to the north heading straight to where the gunfire was still coming from. As I broke into a run I brought up the semi-portable autocannon and fired off a few intermittent bursts as I approached, moving and firing meant I was anything but accurate but I was counting on the sheer volume of fire, and the fearsome noise of the weapon itself, to keep most of my potential opponents in cover. It worked until I was about halfway to the treeline when someone must have realized what I was up to and noticed the 1/2ton iron monstrosity that was quickly closing on their position. I saw movement towards the left and saw a group of at least 4 men repositioning slightly to bring their weapons to bear on me, they immediately unloaded everything they had and I simply had to trust that the armour would hold. Small arms rounds, and thankfully nothing larger than an SMG, ricocheted off the armour in an absurdly loud cacophony of noise that the limited sound dampening the suit offered could do little against. According to the heads up display, and lack of current injuries, the armour was holding up just fine, the enemy fire was doing little more than scratching shallow gouges into the armour but I didn't want to push my luck. I sent a volley of autocannon fire ripping into the ground and cover near where the men were firing from and enough rounds hit close enough to drive them back into full cover, however no sooner had they stopped firing than another group to my right, and further into the woods, opened fire on me. There was a light machinegun or other lightweight support weapon present amongst this group as I could immediately feel the difference in the weapons fire impacts before the HUD alerted me to minor damage. Turning to face the new threat I reactively raised my left arm to cover my 'face' as a lucky round struck the helmet and cracked the edge of the external camera's lens, several more of the higher calibre rounds impacted across the exoskeleton's chest and leg leaving sizable dents in the exterior of the armour. I returned fire, and in an effort to not be a giant target in the middle of a clearing, I moved towards the treeline again, leaving the less threatening squad of men over to my left. The enemy fire stopped as soon as I entered the treeline, the last few rounds coming from them striking into trees instead of me. I didn't have a solid bead on where they were and even if I did they probably would be moving to a new position already anyhow. Instead I turned back towards the clearing and began racking fire across the obvious positions of the squad still hiding out there. The strafing fire brought down several soldiers as they tried desperately to reposition away from my flanking fire and several more got picked off by Leftenant Isla and the other members of Rook squad that were in firing positions on this side of the dropship. Trusting more and more in the safety of the exoskeleton's armour I maneouvered the Golem along the treeline to get into a better flanking position on the infantry in the open clearing. A blue blast of energy, only partially visible through the heavy trees, indicated where the rest of Rook squad was firing the support PPC from the open cargo bay at the back of our VTOL. The deadly energy forcing another squad of troops out of cover and running madly towards me, most likely thinking they were meeting up with their forces on this side. Instead they were met with a hail of bullets as I emptied the last of the autocannon's magazine into their ranks cutting their numbers by half. Another brace of automatic fire raked across my exoskeleton's back and right side, a few rounds causing notable damage this time but nothing overly concerning and I continued on my methodical march around the edge of the clearing, taking cover behind a large tree only long enough to reload the autocannon slung underneath my right arm. I was not only counting on the armour itself to protect me, but also trying to make it look like I was indifferent to their fire, hoping that the psychological effects of that would prove just as an effective deterrent as my actual armour, another blast of weapons fire from within the woods peppered the Golem, this time more sporadic, and it seemed like my strategy might be working. This time I got a definite bearing on the enemy location and I quickly swivelled around to bring the full force of my support autocannon to bear, squeezing down on the trigger and sending a seemingly unending stream of hot lead pouring down range, the high velocity rounds ripping through what little cover the trees provided and tearing apart whatever they hit. The somewhat limited sensors on the exoskeleton were having trouble with keeping up with the pace of battle in anything except normal visual range and I fought the momentary urge to open the exoskeleton's helmet so I could see and track things with my own eyes. My years as MechWarrior definitely helped out as I was used to relying more on instrumentation than my own senses anytime I fought in a BattleMech. A sudden, nearly blinding, blast of coherent light washed across my HUD from the left and a few warning lights lit up across my status screen. As the sensors recalibrated and I could see clearly again I turned towards the source of laser fire and was able to just barely spot a group of what appeared to be 5 jump capable infantry decked out with laser rifles and in the same set of gang colours as the majority of opponents we had faced today. Thankfully, other than the momentary sensory overload, the Golem was even better equipped at dealing with energy weapons than ballistics, it's armour having a semi-reflective coating and superior heat dissipation similar to regular infantry ablative armour. I charged straight at the squad with the autocannon barking out its resounding buzzsaw sound at my side and amazingly the squad was undeterred and returned intense fire, even as the autocannon rounds literally ripped one of the squad members to pieces. The incoming laser fire bathed the exoskeleton in hotspots of coherent destructive energy, the blasts no doubt slagging signficant portions of the armour just due to the sheer volume of fire. Alarms starting going off as my status indicator on the HUD turned an angry orange but I continued on, I couldn't let them reposition and engage me again on their terms. The squad finally broke as another member was gunned down by my autocannon fire and they scattered attempting to use their jump packs to clear out, unfortunately for them they seemed to have forgotten they were within a relatively dense patch of woods and one member immediately launched himself into a tree and crashed, another managed to recover in time and landed but then ran. The third surviving member was a little slower than the others but also realized he could jump away and instead tried to run, he wasn't fast enough however as I lept over the large fallen tree they had been using as cover. In a single motion upon landing I half swept, half punched the unfortunate soldier with my left arm, the sheer mass of the Golem's arm knocking him flying against a nearby rock, and then fired the autocannon point blank at the stunned soldier. It probably seemed like massive overkill, punching 25 high calibre rounds into a relatively lightly armoured soldiered at point blank range, and it was, but I didn't have a choice, the autocannon was hardwired to fire only in full bursts or suppressive fire which meant a minimum of 25 rounds were spent with every trigger pull. During the final moments of the charge a bevy of ballistics fire had begun impacting me from my right again but it subsided about halfway through the point blank burst fire blast, I could only assume that the brutality of my actions had either stunned the enemy into inaction or sufficiently frightened them into retreating. Turning back towards where the support weapon squad was I just caught sight of a couple men running into the trees, their light machine gun left lying on its side, the barrel still cooling. I advanced on their position just to ensure it was indeed clear and with no other enemies in sight I quickly made my way back towards the edge of the clearing to check if Rook squad needed any further assistance. "Great work Knight-4," radioed Leftenant Isla as I reentered the clearing, "looks like most of them have fled for now. We'll regroup in the cargo hold." "Copy that, thanks Rook-1," I replied, "I had a couple survivors that retreated deeper into the woods as well." Everyone was already gathered in the cargo hold when I got there and as I brought the exoskeleton up the loading ramp almost everyone stopped and stared incredulously at me. Apparently the Golem had taken even more fire than I thought and it looked like it had been through hell and back. There were rivulets of molten ferro-steel running down from countless laser blasts all across the front of the exoskeleton, numerous bullet holes punctuated the entire right side of the suit with several exposing vital internals. Multiple rounds pierced the armoured cargo container on the suit's back, and thankfully the demolitions pack currently stored there was naturally inert while stored. An entire panel of armour was just flat out missing on the left arm and the spotlight mounted on the shoulder sounded like a child's rattle with the number of rounds it had managed to catch. The helmet had a dangerously deep gouge across the top right side of it and the armoured lens covering the cameras/sensors and acting as the 'eyes' was shattered much worse than my cracked vision from inside would imply. In short, the Golem looked more like it had just been in a losing 'mech battle rather than an infantry fight. After everyone quickly got over their initial shock of seeing the state of my armour we reassessed our situation and got an update from our injured engineer, Bill, and our pilot, Luke, who had continued working on the VTOL even during the fire fight. "We had to replace and jury-rig almost the entire port side power system, the lasers are out of service as we had to steal their power relays and couplings to provide enough power to the engine, but only around 40% at best. If we had a little more time I might be able to get one of them functional. We have more than enough power from the fusion engine, the problem is getting the power delivered, it's the power system itself that's fried," continued Bill as he rambled on about the repairs. "Thanks Bill," interrupted Luke, after an exasperated look from Isla, "we need some serious repairs to get everything working again but right now, with the time we've had, she's flyable. I wouldn't want to take her anywhere near combat, but she'll get us home." "Alright, let's not waste any more time, I want everything stowed and ready to go ASAP. Bill, Luke, how long will it take to get her airborne?" asked Leftenant Isla. "I need 5 mins to get the engines warmed up and ready for lift off, providing our attempted repairs hold under load," replied Luke. "It'll hold," stated Bill. "You have half that," Isla said to Luke before turning to everyone else, "Double time people, we're airborne in 3 mins, whether you're ready or not."
  7. Earlier
  8. A visibly shellshocked Major Hayes eased me to the deck as I slowly lowered the firearm. Rotating the handgun in my grip, I offered it back to the Major. "Uhh - keep it for now. Your laser rifle didn't fare as well as you evidently did." Hayes replied. "How did you...?" "My armor must have caught the round and I probably blacked out after that." I answered. The Major quickly shook his head as he moved to kneel beside William Kauffman. "I saw you get shot. That round entered your chest and exited out your back. That was no armor hit. You went down. I thought you were going to die of blood loss if not massive internal organ trauma." "Well, I guess I got lucky." I said. "Thanks for looking out for me and not leaving me for dead. Seriously." "Don't mention it." said the Major. "I want to know what you were doing up in the ceiling on that end of the hallway, though. What kind of stunt you were trying to pull." "I wish I could take credit for trying to do something specatcular. But the truth is, I got disoriented and turned around in the smoke. I never had any intention of being on that side of the corridor. I'm sorry, sir, I was lost. I wish I could give you a better and more exciting answer." "The truth is seldom easy, so thank you for your courage to do the right thing. And anyway, I'm not really the guy who needs convince. He is." said Major Hayes, gesturing at William Kauffman, who, having been eased to a sitting position, gazed up at me. "Oh," I replied, suddenly wordless. "Mister Kauffman - it's good to see you again..." Just then, Steve Jenkins lunched at me, pulling me close into an over-the top hug. "Hey Nate, how are you doing?" "Uhhhh..." I replied.
  9. MEANWHILE...... I wiped a bunch of blood and guts off of my body from where they had all blew back at me when I did the Finishing move on the Capellan soldier. His dead body floated around in the zero grav bouncing off the walls slowly and making all kinds of messes on account of the gigantic hole that was now in him that stopped his life from going on. While Major Hayes took care of William I started looking around at the old and wrecked up inside of the freighter. It made me think of the days back on Kuuzu, back before Archimedes when I was in high school and running with a different crowd... *FLASHBACK* I am 16 years old and it is the middle of the high school year, two Years before I divorced my parents. I'm hanging out with my friends Jimmy Eaton, Chang Dung, and Axl Kevinfraud. During our lunch break we liked to go out back by the dumpsters and watch the skateboarders do a bunch of stunts in the parking lot, sometimes when the lunch ladies would park back there, the boarders would up the Risk and use the lunch ladies windshields as ramps, the trunks and bumpers as skate rails. That was when they would sometimes do the most awesome stunts, like a triple half pipe with an Ollie and a backflip, or a switch trick and a kick flip on one hand while shredding a Figure 8. Today there were like seven skateboarders outside doing all kinds of stunts, it was a good show. "Hey Jimmy, you think I could ever be a pro border like that?" "Not a chance Steve" he said "You have three left feet and no right ones." "Hey you take that back!!" I said "Or you'll end up getting racked in the nads like that guy who just fell over and now he's bleeding out of his shorts!!" "Okay, okay" Said Axel "You don't have to fight with each other. Anyway, you have a after school job it's pretty awesome, you get to be the pool attendant down at the Sake Baths." "No." I said. "Unfortunately I had an accident." "What did you do?" Asked Jimmy with surprise, I guess he was surprised because I was normally a successful Businessman even at my age. "Well....." I said. "I was serving Flaming Mojitos at the Sake Bath and I slipped on a wet towel that some numbnuts had left on the floor and I fell into the Sake Bath with the Mojitos. The next thing I knew the water had lit on fire on account of the Flaming Mojitos falling into the alcohol that people were swimming in and there was a stampede of Screams and yells because a bunch of naked people were running like crazy to get out of the fire." In the background I heard an air ambulance siren, it was pretty ironic. "Oh man." Said Axel. "Did anybody get hurt?" "Only me." I said. "And that wasn't until the next day when I got demoted from the Sake Baths and now I have to work in the Snake Bath." "Remind me never to come over and visit you at work now." Said Jimmy. "I don't want to end up with a snake hanging off my junk." The next thing I knew we heard a bunch of electronic techno smash music and a group of scene kids were showing up on their hoverboards. They looked so awesome. They were wearing glow jackets and VR sunglasses and had those glow tubes you can buy wrapped all over their heads. One of them had a mohawk with a little TV plugged right into the side of his skull with some cables, it had a video of a Hampster running in a wheel on loop. One of them had a actual ancient "boom box" with a tape inside it and headphones on his head with a cord that was like 50 feet long wrapped all over his legs and arms, he also had a hologram guitar and was shredding on it, and the other scene kid was smoking 7 cigarettes all at the same time and they were letting out smoke that was all different colors. All of them were riding in on EXECUTOR brand hover boards which you could hear rumble and fire came out of the back of. "Dude, those guys look like they wrote the book about cool." Said Axl. "Oh man I want to run with the scene kids" Said Jimmy. Dung didn't say anything, he just stared and chewed his Nicorrette gum. He was trying to quit smoking, I was proud of him. "WELL," I Said. "I'm gonna go tell them to let us join the Scene." "Are you crazy Steve? People can't join the Scene just cuz they want to!! You have to be one of the cool kids!" Said Axl. "What are you saying, that you think I'm not cool??" I said. "You're really cool Steve, but you aren't in the Scene." Said Jimmy. "Well hold onto your Underwear cause that's about to change." I Said. Then I Walked over to the Scene kids and said "Hi, I'm Steve Jenkins, you've probably heard of me." "Who?" Said the mohawk kid with the TV set. "I'm Steve Jenkins, I go to school here and I run a Business with Sake Baths." I said, I hoped my uncle wouldn't find out I lied about owning his business. "I want to be join the Scene." The scene kids looked at each other for a minute. "OK, but only if you can get us free Sake, also there's an admission test." "Piece of cake" I said Sternly "I am ready for my test." "OK, you have to do a triple Ollie with a Caballerial and a McTwist, end it with a railslide and you gotta ride crooked grind and end with a fakie." Said mohawk dude. "That's easy!!" I yelled. "You have to do it on my EXECUTOR." He finished. I swallowed hard and felt like I was gonna barf. I had never did a hover board stunt. But I had to be Brave. "No problem!!" I yelled and then I grabbed the Board. I jumped on it and ramped its motor up real high to make it seem more Dangerous. Flames came out of the back of its Tailpipe for like 10 feet and then I let off the brakes, "Haha see you in a minute suckers!!" I Yelled, then the board took off like a bat out of hell and I was out of control!! "AAAAAAAAAaaaaaaaAaaaaaaaAAAAAAAHHHHHHHH!!!" I Screamed,, "GET OUT OF THE WAY!!!" I was going straight at the kids on the skateboards, they jumped out of the way at the last second, but then I saw the most horrible thing, I was flaming straight at the trunk of one of the lunch ladies cars!! "AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!" I Screamed, I didn't know how to steer and all I could see was a license plate that said JUICY coming straight at me too fast to get out of the way!! "I'M GONNA DIE!!!" I Yelled and then the EXECUTOR and me crashed into the trunk with a huge explosion! I hit so hard that I flew through the back windshield of the car and slammed into the steering wheel, then the airbag went off and hit me in the butt and blew me over the driver's seat and into the back seat. I barfed with fear and Embarrassment while the car alarm started going off and the trunk of the car lit on fire. Then one of the Scene kids came over. "You are Disqualified from the Scene." He said. "OK." I garbled and then barfed again in the lunch lady's back seat. ***END FLASHBACK*** I looked around and Nate was back from the dead, I couldn't believe it! I ran over and gave him a manly hug, then I said "Hey Nate, how are you doing?"
  10. "Ammo bins on guns one and two down 50 percent," Bishop reported. "I’m pushing forward." "Copy that," I replied. To say that conditions on the battlefield had become 'chaotic' was a gross understatement. Between Capellan forces fighting alongside uncooperative robots, grenades detonating, and Charles and Bishop using a pair of hijacked battledroids to spray lead at everything that moved, total mayhem reigned supreme. I hastily alternated between monitoring Nathan Schmidt's vitals, providing situation reports to the Mendacious, and defending our ragtag group as best I could as Captains Maxwell, Harlow, and Lieutenant Weyland pushed slowly toward the center of the madness. As opportunity permitted, I blindly fired my weapon at targets of opportunity, unconvinced that the shots would find their marks from my position, but that didn't entirely matter. Shock and awe had become our new defense, and for the moment, it seemed to be working. The Capellan forces didn't know what the hell was going on, and were so confused by the orgy of violence that had unexpectedly broken out before them that they were essentially just shooting at everything that didn't look like it belonged. Suddenly. the scream of Cargo Bay One's heavy access door being raised on rusty cogs caught my attention, and I jerked my head toward the sound just in time to see a pair of Capellan soldiers break from their formation and run toward the aperture, light spilling from within the bay that had a decidedly aquatic shimmer to it. I barely had time to register what it was that I was seeing before a thunderous, fast-moving explosion, accompanied by a cataclysmic boom, lit up the chamber. Tendrils of flame spilled out into the corridor, swallowing the whole of the cargo bay in an orange-white conflagration that, momentarily, looked like the flash from a nuclear blast. The Capellans who looked toward the commotion were quickly taken out by precision shots from Charles, Nikki, and Bishop, rapidly turning the focus of the fight back toward us. "What the fuck was that?" I marveled. "Your guess is as good as mine, Major," Captain Donovan's voice crackled in my headset. "Sensors registered an explosion from the cargo bay. That's all I can tell you." "Lifesigns?" I asked, worried. "Two. Moving in your direction," Donovan advised. "Can you get eyes on them?" "I intend to try," I answered. Gathering up Nathan under one arm, I pushed forward as far as I dared, drawing almost directly behind Captain Maxwell to try to gain a better vantage point. Withdrawing a small set of binoculars from a chest pocket, I activated their viewfinder and gazed toward the hold. As I watched, two Capellans staggered backward out of the smoke and flames, badly charred from the explosion, appearing to pause just outside the cargo bay doors to catch their breath before turning back toward the scene of the blast. No sooner had they done so than I saw two figures in spacesuits emerging from within the billowing smoke. One was short and carried a katana, a laser rifle, and a mishmash of other eclectic weaponry. The other was of average height, lanky, and had a single handgun strapped at hip level. Both spacesuits bore a silver winged insignia on their chest plates. "Holy shit! Jenkins! He did it!" I exclaimed. "Alpha-1 to Alpha team - I have eyes on Alpha-5 and Regent." Hoisting Nathan onto my shoulder, I rose to my feet as Maxwell and Weyland began an aggressive drive straight into the Capellan line, dodging red-hot shell casings as they poured from the ejection ports of the robots' machine guns. We were close enough now that I could see the goings-on in the hold unassisted, and as I craned my neck to try to observe Jenkins and Kauffman, my heart caught in my throat. In the seconds that it had taken me to retrieve Nathan and advance my position, the Capellans had intercepted Steve. William was no where to be seen. "Alpha-1 to Alpha-2; Captain Maxwell, the Capellans have Private Jenkins at knifepoint at the cargo bay entrance. Can you get a shooting solution on them?" I radioed. Though I was directly behind Charles, the noise of the engagement made unassisted vocal communication impractial. "Alpha-1, we're barely hitting anything we mean to hit with these manually-targeted robots. If I try to take out those soldiers, I'm just as likely to hit Steve. I'll do what I can to throw them off their game, though," Maxwell replied, swinging his robot's guns around and blasting the door frame of the cargo bay with a barrage of wildly-targeted rounds. The Capellans holding Steve jumped momentarily before returning their attentions toward him, and I realized that they felt safe in their current situation, which was not a good sign. In fact, one of the Capellans casually pushed up the visor on his combat helmet and lifted Steve off the ground, pushing a large bladed weapon to his throat as a third soldier joined the pair. We didn't have the luxury of trying for lucky shots any longer. I had to act. With Nathan still on my shoulder, I sprinted forward, keeping a low crouch posture and hugging the right-hand wall of the corridor as it branched out in either direction and formed a large antechamber before the cargo bay entrance itself, which sat atop a steeply-inclined ramp. As I ran, I kept one eye on the situation unfolding with Jenkins, while the other was trained on our Capellan assailants. The defending force - what was left of it - paid me no mind, likely because I was just about the only thing that wasn't presently shooting at them, and thus, I represented a more negligible threat in the moment. I was thus able to traverse almost the entire distance between Alpha team's position and the hold's doorway when, abruptly, I heard a piercing, primal scream. Twisting my head toward the source of the noise, I saw the taller spacesuited figure literally come flying out from behind the right-hand side of the cargo doors, lunging directly toward the trio of Capellans who were accosting Steve. William...no! I thought to myself, a sense of dread washing over me. But what happened next was unbelievable. In the space of no more than three seconds, while in flight, Kauffman withdrew the pistol from his hip holster, brought it to bear on the lead soldier, triple-tapped the trigger, swung the gun around, and squeezed off three rounds again, all in a single, fluid movement, immediately dropping both Capellans in a near-simultaneous act of unfathomable marksmanship. Before the third Capellan had time to react, Kauffman shoved Jenkins out of harm's way while simultaneously transferring the weapon to the MechWarrior. Steve immediately dispatched the goon as Kauffman collapsed to the floor. In an instant, I realized what William had done - and the life-threatening condition it had placed him in. I needed to close the distance as quickly as I could - and the only way to reach Kauffman was through the center of the melee. Throwing caution aside, I hurtled across the antechamber, holding Nathan with my right arm, drawing my Bowie knife from its holster with my left hand. Bludgeoning my way past a soldier on my flank with the weapon's hilt, I swung its bladed end around to the right to impale another Capellan mid-charge before he could run me through with a bayonet fixed to the end of his rifle. Ascending the ramp, I called out to Steve. "Jenkins! It's Major Hayes! Are you alright?" Steve opened his mouth to speak, but was abruptly cut off as a thunderous gunshot erupted directly behind me. I flinched, expecting to feel the molten-hot pain of a bullet piercing my back. Instead, I heard the sound of a body impacting a nearby wall. As I turned toward the source of the sound, I bore witness to Nathan Schmidt, still braced on my shoulder, my sidearm drawn and in his hand, smoke rising from its barrel. The limp body of a Capellan soldier drifted slowly past, a trickle of blood trailing from a mortal head injury. Speechless, I stared at Nathan. "Welcome back," I finally said in shock. "You sure know how to make an entrance."
  11. My mouth fell open and I stared at amazement as William came Flying out of no where yelling with a fury I have never heard before. The Chinese guys did not even have a chance to react as William drew the gun that I had thought he didn't know how to use and aimed it at the Lieutenant and dropped him before twisting around in Mid Air and dropping another Capellan before William crashed into me, pushed me out of the way and handed me the Gun. As he fell on the Ground I whipped the gun around and blew the knife Capellan away. Then I fell down on my knees while a massacre happened behind me. "William? Are you OK? What the heck was that??" "I'm fine." Said William "The bigger problem is how we're going to deal with all those guys still out there. We can't just walk out, right??"
  12. The explosion rocked the corridor, sending a small rush of flame and debris through the air. Two more enemy soldiers died in the ammo detention from one of the security bot. Both machine and man marched into the chaos oblivious to the micro battles being waged around them. Like a conductor leading a Orchestra Bishop calmly trailed his avatar designating and engaging targets at will. With each engagement command Bishop’s bot’s dual miniguns buzzed to life. Brrrrrrrrrtrrrr..... Brrrrrrrrt.... streams of hot lead raced out to touch their victims. Sensing movement out of his right eye the Skinwalker reach reacted on pure instinct. With lightning reflexes he unholstered his M&G auto pistol, bringing it up just before the wounded Capellan started his lunge towards the mercenary. The pistol barked on full auto dumping a stream of round into the chest and head of the airborne soldier, killing him instantly. The man’s lifeless body slowly drifted upwards and away from Bishop. “Fuck” growled the Skinwalker. He had gotten sloppy and mentally scolded himself. A blood chilling giggle buzzed at the back of his mind. ”You need me” came the wet voice of the Beast. Screams and gun fire drowned the voice out. Seeing more movement ahead Bishop responded with a calculated risk. Reaching to his combat harness the mercenary unclipped and small cylinder like device and pressed the thump switch. He threw the micro grenade over the shoulder of his security bot towards a nest of Capellans taking cover in a alcove. Being much smaller and less destructive then a stand grenade the micro grenade would do it job without breaching the ships hull. With a little luck the majority of the explosion would be dammed by soft human bodies. The corridor erupted again in a fiery explosion on shrapnel. Three more dead men floated up and two more were wounded terribly. A bust of machine gun fire ripped past Bishop, the last standing security bot was attempting to engage someone behind him. With a quick command on this datapad Bishop engaged the last security bot with his. Both miniguns tracked and locked in a split second. The high pitched buzz saw sound drowned out sounds of war. Three seconds later the last remaining security bot stood lifeless in a pile of slag. The Skinwalker keyed the command channel. “Ammo bins on guns one and two down 50 percent” he said calmly. “I’m pushing forward”.
  13. On the opposite side of the Capellans... Gunfire. Screams. Explosions. The rumble of heavy machinery. I looked toward Steve Jenkins, who'd sealed himself into his spacesuit as the weightless environment around us became thick with fertilizer, and toggled on the short-range communications channel. "Mister Jenkins, it sounds like things have taken an unexpected turn in the corridor. This would appear to be our opportunity," I radioed. "Alright," Steve replied. "Tell me what to do." "We need to do three things in quick succession. First, we need to get into the laboratory and purge the fertilizer out of the interior. Then, we need to open the cargo bay door." "And finally?" Steve asked as I led him into the portable facility. "And finally, as soon as we have an indication that they've started to come inside, we need to arm one of those flashbangs of yours, open the hatch, throw it out there, and then close the hatch again as quickly as possible. It won't do to blow ourselves up in the process," I advised, looking around for an atmosphere regulator station. "Tell me again how you know how to do all this stuff?" Steve asked, positioning himself at the control panel where he'd earlier impersonated the late Doctor Wen. "What exactly is it you do for a living?" I chuckled. "We're a dynamics company. We have our hands in everything from aerospace to microwave ovens. You could say that science is the backbone of what we do." "Yeah, you just don't strike me as the 'blowing shit up' type, no offense," Steve observed. "I kinda figured that knowledge had to have been coming from a different place." "None taken at all, Mister Jenkins. I'm sure you're right; I'm something of an ideas man," I replied. "Ah ha! Here's the valve. I'm purging the atmosphere in here now." I gave the laboratory's atmosphere regulator a solid tug, noting with dismay the amount of struggle I encountered trying to complete such a simple mechanical task. Fortunately, I was able to convince the lever to move to the 'purge' position, and I heard a loud, steady hiss as the air inside the laboratory was drawn out. Once the 'VAC' light illuminated on the panel, I moved the valve to the 'tank' position, allowing the structure to fill with uncontaminated air from its attached oxygen tanks. "Wait, you're putting air back in here? I thought we were purging everything," Steve observed. "Quite right, but it would do no good for us to have an explosive compression the moment we opened a hatch, so I'm re-pressurizing the lab with oxygen from the attached tankage. That way, our own atmosphere is equalized with that of the freighter's, but without the fertilizer. "Ohhh..." Steve nodded. The 'COMP' light illuminated green on the regulator, and I engaged the system's internal reclamation cycle. "I believe we're ready," I advised, moving to stand alongside Jenkins. "Go ahead and raise the door." Steve paused, taking a moment to study the console. Then, with a flourish, he made several uncertain yet bold button presses. A klaxon sounded off in the cargo bay, and the door rumbled open. A wash of blue smoke rolled into the chamber, mixing with the almost fully-liquid atmosphere in a strange display of long, twisting tendrils that looked as though an artist had dropped blobs of ink into a plate of oil. As I predicted, a number of soldiers began backing into the bay, reacting with surprise as they were met with a solid wall of foul-smelling liquid fertilizer. "Now, Mister Jenkins!" I exclaimed. Quickly, Steve dove from his chair and threw open the laboratory's overhead hatch, lobbing the flashbang toward the soldiers and then slamming the hatch. Seconds later, a tremendous detonation ensued. The laboratory was nearly torn from its deck anchors by the force of the blast, and alarm klaxons wailed as the freighter's onboard systems registered the explosion. I turned toward Steve. "Quickly," I advised. "We need to make a break for it before they're able to regain their senses." Steve nodded, drawing a long sword from its sheath. "You should probably get your gun out," he advised. I withdrew the handgun from my spacesuit's holster, examining it for a moment. "How many shots has it got?" I asked. "I reloaded it before I gave it to you, so it should have thirteen. Twelve in the magazine and one in the chamber. Take your finger off the trigger until you're ready to fire," Jenkins instructed, pushing out through the laboratory's hatch into the smoke-filled cargo bay. As I followed behind, I could see that the fertilizer explosion had done its job - surfaces throughout the hold were melted and scorched, and the overhead lights were burned out, leaving us bathed in darkness, save for the illumination that spilled in from the corridor. As we made our way toward the cargo bay door, I could see that the Capellans were fully engaged with an opposing force in the corridor. It appeared that two security robots had gone mad and had turned their guns on the soldiers, who were attempting to mount a defense while simultaneously trying to activate their own automatons, one of which had been blown clean apart by what looked like an internal explosion. "There's quite a few soldiers out there," I whispered across the channel. "Five in the middle, three dead, two hiding behind the left support pillar, and two behind the right. That's nine, and I don't know what became of the troops that were caught in the blast." Suddenly, unexpectedly, I heard a shout behind us, and I instinctively pushed off the deck and tumbled unceremoniously behind a cargo container. As I regained my position, I saw that Steve Jenkins had been beset upon by two very angry, very blasted-looking Capellans. One of the soldiers had completely lost the front half of his armor and uniform shirt, his helmet misshapen and damaged. The other appeared to have fared better, with only half of his tunic missing. Before Steve had a chance to react, the Capellans seized him, one holding a knife to his throat while the other pulled off his spacesuit's helmet. Hearing the shouts, a third Capellan broke away from the formation of troops and began making his way into the cargo bay. "God...damnit!" I exclaimed. I could hear the fear in my own voice. Steve glanced in my direction wild-eyed, no doubt perceiving that he was likely about to be executed by the soldiers. I watched in horror as the third of the contingent, a Lieutenant by the looks of it, approached, shouting commands in Chinese as the subordinates stripped away Steve's loadout of weapons. I looked around, desperate for a chance to notify someone of what was happening so that Steve could be saved. But there was no one else present. It was only me, and if I didn't intervene, the life of the man who'd just saved me would be unceremoniously ended. I was about to do something very, very stupid. But I knew I had to act. Throwing caution to the wind, I tore off my helmet, and dove over the cargo container, screaming bloody murder in an attempt to shock the Capellan troops into redirecting their attention. Simultaneously, with a fleeting thought I activated my entire suite of implants mid-dive, connecting to the mainframe of the Hurry Up Bessie, whose encryption I'd managed to bypass several days ago during a moment of consciousness by compromising a user profile with a low-security password. The world slowed to a crawl, and I took a head count. True to my estimation, there were twelve infantrymen almost on top of us. I didn't have a shooting solution on most of them. However, the Lieutenant and his subordinates were another story. As I sailed through the air, I drew the weapon provided by Steve, aimed it squarely at the Lieutenant, and squeezed off three rounds in his direction. Then, I twisted twisted toward the opposite facing to fire off another three at the soldier holding a knife to Steve's throat. A warning indicator flashed in my field of view, indicating an impending overload of my implants. As normal time rushed back into focus, the two soldiers were cut down by the volleys I'd loosed at them, all six bullets hitting their marks as intended. The final soldier stared in shock as I tumbled to the deck next to Jenkins, shoving him out of harm's way and pressing the handgun into his grip so that he could regain control of the situation. As Steve took the remaining soldier to task, I lay against the deck, perilously close to a shutdown of my nervous system, trying to regain control of my synapses. I hoped that there wouldn't be another opportunity to test just how hard I could push my augments on this outing...
  14. Simultaneously... A flurry of concerned and frenzied shouts, in a language unfamiliar to me, echoed through the corridor as the pressure door slowly rose. I steeled myself, attempting as best I could to shield my physical profile behind the frame of the security robot. Based on our previous encounter with the Capellans, I knew that this time, there would be no talking. No negotiation. There would be only violence. With my free hand, I released the safety on the cover device I'd had cooking in the palm of my hand, casting it forward forcibly with an underhand throw. The grenade tumbled end-over-end in the weightless environment, beginning to discharge thick clouds of deep blue, cordite-scented smoke as it spiraled toward the Capellans, filling the compartment with a heavy, ominous haze. The status indicator to the right of the emergency bulkhad winked from a ruby red to a golden yellow, an indication that the door had reached the halfway mark. "That's it, Captain! Let's do this!" Bishop called out. "Wait!" I exclaimed. "We don't know who's in that crowd. We can't fire indiscriminately until we know for sure that Jenkins and Kauffman aren't being held by them." "With all due respect, sir, if we don't shoot first - " Bishop replied. "Just give me three seconds. That's all I need. Three seconds," I answered, pulling my Hawk Eagle from its holster and quickly bracing it on the security robot's shoulder. Staring down the handgun's sights, I toggled on the night vision mode, the view through the crosshairs flaring into an overexposed green. The enhanced optics allowed me to see through the smoke, providing a thermal image of the opposing force. I was looking for anyone not kitted out up to their eyeballs in combat gear. "Three!" Lieutenant Weyland exclaimed. I strained to see underneath the elevating bulkhead. I saw treads - three sets of them - and seven - make that eight - pairs of feet, more than we'd been led to believe would be there. The treads were obviously security robots. The footwear, and the equipment above it, didn't match anything in our inventory, but I had to be sure. "Two!" Bishop announced. The bulkhead rose past the three-quarters mark. The enemy OpFor came into full view. An octuple force of Capellan soliders, outfit in combat helmets, body armor, and bedecked with weapons that looked like they were decidedly unsafe to operate aboard a spacecraft came into view. I frantically scanned the crowd. No sign of Jenkins or Kauffman. "One!" Weyland cried out. "Hit it," I confirmed. The scream of our commandeered security robots' four machine guns filled the corridor as the bulkhead tucked into the ceiling with a thunderous rumble, the lift indicator flashing to green, casting an eerie pall through the thickening blue smoke. A mass of targeting lasers lanced out from the positions of the entrenched Capellans as they attempted to sight their assailants, a crescendo of weapons fire and muzzle flashes answering our attack, sending myriad bullets from mistargeted shots pingponging off the ship's bulkheads. I pushed the security robot steadily forward, making every effort to attack the Capellans' war machines first, unconvinced that they wouldn't find a way to override the automatons' failsafes and turn them on us. As I did so, a sudden glancing blow from a laser rifle shot cored into the left side of my helmet, splitting it open, narrowly missing my head, and filling the inside of the protective gear with the overpowering smell of burning plastics and components. "Flyboy! Are you alright?" a voice cried out. It was Captain Harlow, advancing toward my position, her words punctuated by a resounding 'boom' of her handgun sending a high-caliber round downrange and the resultant scream of a Capellan receiving it. "Just peachy," I replied, tearing my helmet off and casting it aside. "I think I lost a few hairs off the side of my head, that's all." "Good. I mean, I wouldn't want you to die before I had the chance to send you the bill for the damages," Nikki answered back sarcastically. "It's wonderful to know that you care," I chuckled, regaining control of my security robot's guns and sweeping them across the chest of the nearest Capellan automaton. The shots must have hit something critical - perhaps an ammo bin - for the next thing I knew, triple blossoms of flame erupted from the head and arms of the machine, blowing its center of mass apart and sending several Capellan soldiers diving for cover. At the same time, three more men were cut down as Bishop's robot found its mark in the crowd. We'd drawn first blood. The fight was on.
  15. MEANWHILE..... I Crashed into the floor in my space suit that was all diarrhea water and terribleness and Ripped my helmet off to gag into the deck. Then I looked up and William was standing in front of me. "WHY DID WE DO THAT NOW WE'RE GOING TO DIE OF TOILET DROWNING! I DIDN'T COME HERE TO DIE IN A GIANT SPACE TOILET!" I Screamed. I expected that William would have said something back. I couldn't believe it when instead he just Laughed. A successful businessman, he was laughing at a poop joke. "First of all I have never seen someone get blown away by a plumbing explosion and I hope you're OK, also this isn't poop, it's liquid fertilizer, which makes me wonder where the fire Chemicals are going,but we can still use it." He said. "OK how, I still don't know what your first plan was!" "My first plan was to use the fire foam as Cover." Said William "but since we don't have it this will work. We have to get it really thick in here, so we have to use our space suits to breathe. Then when it's just right we go inside the lab and open the cagro door and when the soldiers come in we throw a flash bang, I see you have one " I looked at William and tried to read his Mind." Then what happens?? " " Fertilizer bomb. " Said William. "OK that's awesome." I said. William was a new kind of Sensei, we were going to be Fine. "Let's get going with that."
  16. Flashes of light Echoes...muffled words A blurry room A loud bang Flying I'm standing atop a skyscraper on Donegal. The city stretches out before me in all directions. It's nighttime, but the sun shines brightly and a warm wind blows noisily. I'm on the bridge of the Half Moon A forest of trees rise on either side. Major Hayes is sitting in the captain's chair. Glaring at me. I'm back on Donegal. The wind blows. I take a step onto the ledge of the skyscraper and look down at the traffic rushing by below. I'm standing in a farmer's field on Sheratan. Alyssa Chase states at me, a look of betrayal on her face. High above the streets of Donegal, I put my arms out to either side and raise my head toward the midnight sun, closing my eyes. I'm at the controls of Charles Maxwell's King Crab. I pivot the pilot's chair around, and there is Charles sitting behind me. He leans forward and studies me, saying nothing. I leap from the skyscraper, my eyes remaining closed. I'm standing in the Takashima, every one of the wreck's computers lit up and chattering away. A man in heavy armor is before me. He turns around, and it's Bishop Weyland. He has a gray, deathly appearance as he mouths the words "you killed us" at me. The streets of Donegal race toward me. I'm standing in a plane of all white light. I can hear my own heart beat. I crash into the pavement. The white plane dissolves into an opulent, curving corridor. I start walking down it, then running. Ahead of me, I see a man in a suit. The pavement and everything around me shatters like glass. I begin to catch up with the mysterious man. His bleach blond hair stands out as I realize that everything else is in black and white. The midnight sun goes supernova. William Kaufman stops in the corridor and turns around to look at me. An expanse of stars is before me. William is now face to face with me. He is so close that I can smell his aftershave. His eerie blue eyes stare into my soul. The stars begin to whip past me as they wink out of existence one by one. William extends his hand. I take hold of it. The enigmatic William speaks. "Iterum vivere amplius!" Everything goes dark.
  17. "Well, fuck," I muttered. The James who led the boarding party raised an eyebrow. "Problem?" "It's locked. Won't be for long, though." I angled the padd so that no one but me could see the screen, and entered my administrator password. "I should be able to override anyone else on this ship." The system accepted my password. I went back to the door controls and tapped the buttons to unlock and open the door. My screen indicated that it was open. The actual door remained closed. "Okay, we do have a problem." "It's not my fault this time, I swear!" the James who frequently broke things on my ship said. He always said that. "Colleen, when those scientists were practicing their English with you, did they happen to say what they're doctors of?" I asked. "Dr. Wen studies biotechnology," Colleen said. "And Dr. Tao does, um, something to do with encryption I think?" I sighed. "It's your lucky day, James, we have another suspect. Think you can get control of our door back for me, and maybe get our 'guests' off the network?" "Uh, Gretchen hasn't given me the permissions for that stuff yet." "Use my account, then. Just don't change anything you don't have to." I handed over the padd, and turned to the boarding party. "Do you people have any high-tech door opening tricks? If our 'guests' helped themselves to our network, I'm not sure how long it will take to clean up their mess." "Ordinarily we would," the Major said, "but for the moment he's out of service." He gestured toward the unconscious guy with the smashed helmet. "Well crap," I said. Then, under my breath, "wish I hadn't shot that guy." Suddenly, all eyes were on me. "Uh, in my defense, he looked like he was about to shoot me." Bishop, the tall scary fellow, locked eyes with me with a particular intensity, almost like he was ready to pounce. I remembered the look Millie Brown had in her eye the day she decided to throw down with the tallest and least pretty girl in our grade, which unfortunately was me. The mercenary unzipped one of his pockets. I instinctively shrank back against the bulkhead. He stepped forward, and his mag boot attached to the floor with a thunk. He grunted. "How about we kick the door down with some of this?" he said, holding out a black rectangular package that said "charge demolition MM12". I exhaled. "Uh, actually, I think I got control of the door back," James said. "Should I-" "No!" I said, a bit too loudly. "Thanks, but I'll take the controls back for now. Let me know when you're ready, Major?" The major's eyes narrowed. He paused in thought for a moment, and then said, "do it."
  18. Near the crash location of Grail Lords Combat Transport (Space) VTOL Somewhere on the Carrigan Continent, Errai II Errai System, Davion Space March 3, 3029 ____________________________________ "Orlex, we've got a problem," called Emma on the comms a moment before a ruby red beam of coherent light blasted through the trees to the North. Without waiting I burst into a sprint moving as fast as the exoskeleton could, closing the distance to the clearing as quickly as possible, "I see that, I'm enroute what have we got Emma?" "A tank, they have a Blake damned tank in there. It's not big, but its still a tank. Don't recognize the model, but can't exactly get a good look at it right now, it obviously knows we're here." "Lovely, I'll see what I can do," I respond just as I reach the edge of the clearing. Pulling up just short of stepping fully into the clearing I quickly locate the tank, and take note of what must be an IR masking camo net that was still half hanging off the comat vehicle. It was small, only slightly larger than a regular Humvee truck, but the relatively large barrel protruding from the turret indicated firepower that was still more than sufficient to end our little mission prematurely. It was probably only a small laser, but that was still enough to turn my entire exoskeleton to slag if I got hit by it. A smaller barrel that protruded on the far side of the main cannon was most likely a coaxial machinegun of some sort and this was confirmed a moment later as the gunner opened fire with it into the treeline along the North side of the clearing where the rest of the team was most likely taking cover. The high calibre rounds ripping through the trees with a deadly whir as the weapons fire rakked across the full width of the clearing. I drew a bead with my underslung autocannon and squeezed the trigger, letting loose with my own barrage of powerful ballistic rounds. While individually the bullets fired from the autocannon had no chance of penetrating the tactical armour of a combat vehicle the sheer volume of fire the support AC was capable could wear down even the toughest of ablative armours, given enough time. ..... Inside the 10-ton mini-tank ..... "What the hell is that?" asked the gunner, as a ringing sound belted across the confined space repeatedly from one side of the vehicle. "I don't know," replied the driver with a hint of worry from deeper within the tank, "there must be more of them than we thought, almost sounds like a support weapon." "Don't worry about it, they can't pierce our armour," stated the commander roughly, "stay focused." The ringing grew louder as multiple rounds continued punching into the vehicle's side, the sound changing slightly as the rounds penetrated deeper and deeper into the relatively thick armour. A sudden warning klaxxon drowned out the sounds of bullet hits as the cramped confines of the cockpit lit up awash with orange warning lights. The gunner starting looking around frantically before scrambling out of his chair towards the turret hatch. "Fuck this, I'm out!" "Get your ass back in your Blake-damned seat son!" yelled the commander, partly to be heard over the klaxxon and partly out of anger, "I'll shoot you myself if you don't." "Fuck you," replied the gunner over his shoulder as he swung open the hatch. The commander bound from his position, an incredibly agile move considering the limited space, and forcibly grabbed hold of the gunner by his leg before yanking him backwards violently. He then grabbed hold of the younger man's belt and threw him roughly back into his seat before smoothly drawing a pistol and aiming it at the gunner's face. "I said sit, the fuck, down." ..... Back outside the tank ..... I was halfway through the magazine of the semi-portable autocannon when the barrel starting glowing red hot with thin wisps of vapour steaming off the rotating steel cylinders. Unexpectedly the hatch on the vehicles turret suddenly popped open and a young man's head half popped out before disappearing quickly back inside. Well that was strange, I thought while I continued to hold down the trigger. Round after round slammed into the rapidly thinning armour on the tank's flank as the turret slowly began rotating towards my position, having stopped firing towards the North shortly before the hatch opened. Before the turret reached me however the sound of high speed ricochetting rounds from the autocannon changed pitch as one by one holes began to appear in the weakened side of the tank, as the magazine ran dry and the multi-barrel autocannon slowly spun down I could count no less than a dozen distinct holes punched through the now severely damaged tank. The turret stopped rotating and smoke began to billow out of the open hatch before a figure slowly emerged with their hands up, it appeared to be the same young man from before. From the North side of the clearing Sergeant Major Emma, and Sergeants Vincent and Melina advanced from their cover on the disabled tank. I took the opportunity to reload the autocannon as Vincent took the young man into custody while Emma and Melina advanced on the only building, more of a small shack, within the clearing which clearly housed the jamming equipment judging from the large pair of radio antenna jutting into the air beside it. Just beyond the building was another vehicular shape shrouded beneath layers of camo netting, as I moved into a firing position on the possible new threat around 7 gang members burst from the side door of the building with their guns blazing. Melina and Emma opened fire with their own weapons as they ran for cover while Vincent dragged our prisoner around to the backside of the tank before opening fire himself. Laser blasts and buckshot pellets saturated the area the gang members were but none found their mark, they did however manage to ensure that the enemies shots were just as erratic. With my teammates now in cover, and my autocannon fully reloaded, I squeezed off a quick burst that sent 25 high velocity rounds ripping through the scattered thugs, cutting two of them down before the rest scrambled away. Two of the enemies rushed towards the covered vehicle but were pulled up short by a steady stream of laser pulses from Emma's Mauser 960, Melina then peppered them with a full burst from her pulse laser rifle wounding both men though their limited armour seemed to absorb most of the attack. The other three enemies at first tried to run for the tank, until they saw the hulking frame of my exoskeleton climbing onto the smoking wreckage, they then made an abrupt turn and ran for a stack of empty cargo crates. My elevated position forced them behind the taller stack of crates and prevented them from having a clean shot at Emma and Melina, who were using the building as cover from the previous two thugs. Clearly these men were not soldiers, just brutes that were used to their sheer size and reputation being enough to make most opponents cower, sadly for them they weren't the big dogs here and intimidation wasn't going to do anything against the hardened DMI agents. A flurry of return fire from the first group of gang members forced Emma and Melina back into cover for a moment but it wasn't enough, most of their shots were going high and Emma stepped out low in a crouch with her Mauser held tight against her shoulder, with a smooth, practiced trigger pull she sent a compact grenade flying towards her targets which exploded in a blinding flash powerful enough to temporarily overcome the Golem's sensors. As the exoskeleton's external cameras came back on a second later I could see in my peripheral vision both Emma and Melina rushing towards the stunned and disoriented enemy who were firing blindly in completely the wrong direction. Turning my attention back to fully focus on the three opponents that were still cowering behind the cargo crates I fired a quick burst of autocannon fire into the crates themselves to keep them suppressed, the rounds piercing into several of the crates and even causing the lids of a couple to break open, their cover would not withstand concentrated fire for any meaningful duration. To their credit they did manage to blind fire a few rounds in my general direction, even managed to land a singular hit, though it did little more than scratch the paint. While all this was happening Vincent had apparently incapacited his charge and was creeping up around the south side of the cargo crates his combat shotgun at the ready. He cleared the last stack of crates and the crack of the shotgun resounded across the clearing as he fired off three precise shots. Two of the thugs must have been dropped instantly as only one backed out from behind the crates, still holding his gun and pointing it in Vincent's general direction. I could hear Vincent demanding the man's surrender over the comm but couldn't hear the gang members response but judging from his body language he was refusing, he then made the fatal mistake of firing his weapon. I heard Vincent's grunt on the comms at the same time that a laser pulse bored through the man's skull from behind, it happened faster than I could react to the point where the man was already dropping to the ground by the time my autocannon starting winding up. Melina walked over to the clearly deceased man and shook her head, "Should have taken the surrender offer, might have come out with a head." Vincent groaned over the comm, and it was clear it wasn't from getting shot as he walked out from behind cargo crates shaking his own head. Melina just shrugged with a beguiling look of innocence on her face. "Alright you two, Vincent where did our prisoner end up?" interupted Emma before Vincent or Melina could say anything more. "He's unconcious behind the tank, don't worry he's not going anywhere." "Good, I'm going to go have a chat with him. Vincent, you and Melina go check out what they have stashed away under that camo netting. Orlex, you're on overwatch, I don't think there's any more enemies here but I'm not taking any chances. Once we know what's under the tarps we'll look at taking out the jamming equipment." A few minutes later Vincent and Melina had uncovered a tracked APC which clearly must have been used to transport the goon squad to this remote location and had secured it. Emma had succeeded in waking the lone survivor and was currently questioning him beside the tank while I continued on overwatch. Another few minutes later, after it had been decided for Vincent to try and appropriate the communications equipment for ourselves instead of just destroying it, we successfully managed to shutdown the jamming signal and Vincent was able to raise Leftenant Isla on the radio. We updated them on our situation, including our new prisoner, and determined it was best if we rejoined them as soon as possible, they had reason to believe the enemy had narrowed down their location a troubling amount and could use the extra firepower as the VTOL was still only partially functional and not yet flyable.
  19. Approximately twenty minutes later... "Well, this would have been a goddamned fair sight easier if our electronics whiz kid wasn't KO'd, but I think we're ready," Bishop announced, slamming the rear access panels of the two still-serviceable security robots. "Here, Cap. This one's yours. Go easy on the controls. It's basically held together with chewing gum and duct tape, neither of which is a metaphor." I nodded, taking one of the two data pads from Bishop. A tendril of cables snaked from its input port, entering the back of the armored platform in a spider web of connections. "How is he, Major?" I asked, glancing toward Hayes, who knelt beside Nathan Schmidt, resting a gentle hand on his prone body to keep him from drifting away in the weightlessness. "Well, he hasn't gotten any worse -- if anything, it seems like his vitals are on the rise. It's the damndest thing. I can't explain it. It's honestly the only reason I haven't called down a medevac yet," the Major replied. "He's still out cold, though, and he feels like he has a high-grade fever, which doesn't make any sense." "Alright - when we go in, I think you should hang back and let me and Bishop go into this meat grinder...er...into this engagement first," I recommended. "That doesn't feel right," the Major replied. "I think I ought to secure Nathan and be on the front line with the two of you. I can't hang behind cover while you're getting shot at." "We're going to need Captain Harlow up with us to override the door, and her crew needs someone to look after them. I suspect that the Capellans are not going to discriminate when they figure out that the crew is no longer on their side," I explained. "You're making one hell of an assumption about whose side we're on, flyboy," Nikki interjected. "So far, both you and the Capellans have taken shots at us." "Point taken, and I'd consider it a kindness if you'd wait to pass judgement on us until we can get you into Cargo Bay One," I chuckled. "In fact, I was about to recommend that the Major take point to cover your crew and Nathan while we're making the frontal assault." "That I can do," Major Hayes nodded. "But I need you to know that when we get to Kauffman, assuming that he's in there, I may have to switch out with one of you guys depending on what condition he's in." "What do you mean?" I asked. Hayes looked slightly aloof as he considered his answer. "William's very selective in whom he places absolute trust," Hayes began, "and for reasons I still can't fully explain, he's identified me as that individual. I'm the only one who knows the full extent of his augmentation and his medical needs. And depending on what they've done to him, I may need to intervene before we can move him." I raised an eyebrow. "You're a doctor?" "No, I'm a soldier. I just happen to know a few parlor tricks when it comes to science and medicine. Enough to satisfy my boss, evidently," the Major answered. "And hopefully enough to help Nathan pull through until we can get the hell out of here. To be honest with you, I'm surprised that we haven't seen hide nor hair of the Capellans since we came back over here." "They can't do much with a blast door in their way," Harlow advised. "I'd be content to leave them there, too, except for the small detail of your man being in there." "Two of our men, actually," I clarified. "We sent Private Jenkins up through the air duct earlier to take out the network repeaters between our location and Cargo Bay One, and then infiltrate it to see if he could locate William. We haven't heard from him, and we can't raise him on the radio, but presumably, he succeeded in both destroying the access points and reaching the cargo bay. The robots suddenly got a lot less accurate with their marksmanship, and he pulled the pin on the EMP device." "He tore up my repeaters?" James, one of the freighter's crew, asked with horror. "That would seem to be the case," Major Hayes offered. "And you are?" James asked. "Hayes, James Hayes, Crayven Corporation," the Major answered. "Oh my god. We have the same first name," James abruptly gushed. "It's like we're the same person." Major Hayes looked quizzically at James for a moment, fumbling for a response. "Not...exactly?" "In that case, I'm sending you the bill for that repair, too," Nikki answered, pointing at the Major. "Because this James doesn't have any money." "Only because you refuse to give me a raise!" James exclaimed. Suddenly, the gravelly baritone of Bishop Weyland interrupted the conversation. "With all due respect, I don't mean to get in the way of anyone's bonding, but we should probably get these things into position and get this party started before the Capellans get the drop on us," the Lieutenant advised. "Assuming you're ready to move out, sir." I nodded. "Agreed. Let's roll." ### Driving the robots down the hall with jury-rigged datapads had proven more challenging than I'd assumed. Bereft of CPUs, the robots were unwieldy and tended to navigate unpredictably, their motivators and balance units no longer communicating with each other. I silently hoped that we'd have better results with the guns when the time came. I rolled my automaton into place directly against the blast door as Bishop did the same. Behind us, Nikki Harlow took up position at an override console tucked behind a sliding utility door built into the ship's bulkhead. Flanking her were Major Hayes, James, and Colleen, taking a defensive posture around Nathan. "You ladies and gents ready?" I asked, arming the robot's weapons. I heard a flurry of weapons being drawn and chambered in response. "We're ready," Major Hayes replied. "Alright," I nodded. "Captain Harlow - if you would, please do your thing."
  20. "No ma’am.... I’m not the hero you wanted.... I’m the monster you needed,” the towering mercenary in the blood-spattered space suit whispered, with a slight smile that didn't reach his eyes. Something about this man was downright unnerving, and that was in addition to having watched him maul an armored soldier to death with a crowbar. "Uh, anyway," I said, "there's a way to make your plan a bit less suicidal. Keep the robots between you and the Capellans, they make great cover. That's what Colleen, James and I did during our, uh, previous engagement. I'll have Gretta transfer control of the door to my padd, and once you've got the bots in formation I'll open up." "That certainly sounds better than diving head first into the laser-powered meat grinder," the mercenary captain said. "What do you think, Bishop?" "The only thing deadlier than a snake in your path, is one hidden in the undergrowth" the hulking mercenary said. I turned to Colleen and silently mouthed, "the fuck?" Colleen shrugged. "I don't suppose those robots have a non-lethal setting?" James asked. "The Capellans would probably appreciate it, and I'd appreciate not having more gore to mop up." "Ugh, same," I sighed. "But somehow I doubt non-lethal is an option with Capellan technology controlled by this guy."
  21. "Hooo Kay! I'll see what I can DUUUUUUUU!" I screamed, copying one of my favorite yells from an ancient "cartoon" I had found from something called "The Internet" which was a hobby from ancient Earth according to Zoodle. Then, I pulled my arm way back and started amping up my zen level as high as I could get it by doing a deadlier and deadlier scream, when my scream hit so much power that it felt like my throat was bleeding and my lips were on fire I did a power drive forward and smashed the sprinkler with the palm of my hand as hard as I possibly could hit it. Suddenly, time slowed down, as I began to remember the last time I had did this martial arts move..... *FLASHBACK* I am 18 years old again and I am on Archimedes. It is the last day of the SohoJitsu tournament and I am in the final exhibition match against Dojo Snake Condor, which was another martial art place from down the street from Sensei Ronald's Power Fists Dojo. I am here to earn my belt by beating Billaim Jameswater who is a kid 2x my size. He is the 4 time champion of the Belt Match. The last 5 seasons he won 4 of the matches, it probably would have been 5x5,but he had got disqualified last year on account of kicking a kid in the balls during the meditation Phase. So this year, he is back and has burning Vengeance to win his belt again. The referee yells sponsor names into the microphone and I turn around to look at Sense Ronald who is having a smoke. " Do you think I am ready for this one, master Ronald?" I ask as my voice is of worry. "Don't call me that or I'll make you do push ups again. You call me Sensei Ronald. I Work for a living." he says. "I'm sorry Sensei Ronald. I won't Dishonor you again." " I know you won't, cuz I'm the one who's here and master Ronald is back in the hospital with food poisoning again, So you get just me and the audience this time. Me and the entire class anyway." Sensei Ronald points and I see the entire martial arts class from our Dojo watching me. I can't believe it. It's all on me to get out there and do some fighting. Suddenly, I felt like I had to barf and go to the bathroom real bad. "Sensei Ronald, do I have time for a bathroom break?" I asked. "No, you're up Next, ignore it, it's probably just the Horse Testosterone I had you drink before we got here." Sensei Ronald says. "OK" I say back, I tried not to sound too desperate. Then the DJ starts announcing us into the Ring. First he announces me in. "IN THIS CORNER, JUNIOR BLACK BELT CANDIDATE STEVEN TYCHOMIDIOS JENKINS FROM POWER FISTS DOJO!" "THAT'S SENSEI RONALDS POWER FISTS DOJO ASSHOLE!!" I hear Sensei Ronald yell as I walk up to the stage, halfway up I stop to barf in someone's baseball hat that is sitting on a table, as I Walk the rest of the way up I drop the hat and wipe my face up with my Sleeve. I go under the rope and walk into the Ring. "AND IN THIS CORNER THE 4 TIME IN A ROW BELT CHAMPION OF THE INNER SPHERE ON ARCHIMEDES BILLIAM JAMESWATER!!" I look over and Billiam Jameswater is coming into the rink. He is like 6 feet tall and has huge muscles and tattoos really long black hair and a goatee. You would not know he was 14 years old. I start to feel weak and faint. "AND NOW I WILL READ THE RULES" the announcer says. Then he starts saying the rules for the next 5 minutes as I get more and more Fazed out. The next thing I know the bell is ringing and the DJ says "DESTROY EACH OTHER!" The match is on and Billiam is coming at me! "AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!" I Scream and I pull my fist back in a Dragon Punch and Billiam runs right into it as I hit! I see Billiam start to come down at it but then I drive my fist back and then forward so fast that my sleeve rips off! But then I....black....out....can't see where I'm punching * END FLASHBACK * ".......AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!" I Shriek and my fist rams into the Sprinkler Head and busts it into a billion pieces, but before I can do anything there was a big explosion of Brown Water that came blowing out all over the place! I was so surprised that I didn't get out of the way in time and the Brown Water blew all over the inside of my helmet! Which was open! I heard a bunch of Frying out noises and saw electricity go flying past my eyes and I got a bunch of the disgusting water in my mouth! It was Septic fluid!! "AAAAAAGGGGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHH!" I Screamed with sobs, the water tasted so bad I didn't know what to do, then I saw the most Awful thing, all of the sprinklers were busting off and putting Brown Water everywhere on account of the no gravity!! "WILLIAM WE HAVE TO GET OUT OF HERE OR WE'RE GONNA GET COVERED IN TURD WATER!!!" I yelled as I tried to get away from the Flood.
  22. Bishop exhaled loudly, taking a moment to think about the tactical situation that confronted them. He could still feel his body tremor, it was radiating through his massive frame. It was the aftershock of the rage fueled violence from minutes ago. The dark truth of it was, he had enjoyed it, every second of it. “Security bots” he growled “Say what?” the female ship’s Captain questioned. Her tone had an underlying distain for now blood soaked mercenary. Almost as if she was annoyed the beast had spoken at all. Ignoring her the Skinwalker turned to the Captain and Major who now locked eyes with him. “The EMP device, it fried their CPU... they come built with a manual override and an emergency power pack. They weren’t heavily damaged. We go back and switch them on, hook up a datapad and manual control them to here. When the door opens we let them do what they do best” said Bishop through clenched teeth...the pain raked is body. The last battle had cost him. Captain Maxwell started to say some thing, but was cutoff by the second female crew member. “What’s the catch?.... there more to this” she said. “I have to stand with them to control the targeting and movement.... they don’t have a CPU. Think of it like a vid game” Bishop responded half distracted by pain. Major Hayes cleared his through, “Bishop, what about other security units... they engage as soon as the door opens” The beast growled in Bishop’s mind, it was growing tired of waiting. “Negative sir... they are programmed not to engage friendly units. It’s a fail safe programmed in from the factory. Our units will auto broadcasts a friendly signal, but I’ll will be controlling their actions. They engage us, but not them.” “Well that’s fresh... coming from the guy who just butchered a bunch of people, real hero I guess” the woman’s voice was just background noice to Skinwalker. He was battling the demon in his spirt. Instinctively Bishop fidgeted with Mother’s neckless. As quickly as it started, it was over. The demon drifted back in the shadows of his mind. “No ma’am.... I’m not the hero you wanted.... I’m the monster you needed”... whispered the Skinwalker. The hulking mercenary didn’t hide the sinister smirk that crossed his blood caked face. Locking eye with his two officers he waited to hear there response to his suicidal idea.
  23. Simultaneously... "Yeah, we're trapped, the only way out is all the guys at the door, unless you can turn invisible that doesn't seem like it's good idea," Steve lamented. Mister Jenkins' radio shenanigans had been both bold and creative, I had to give him credit for that. Unfortunately, the unexpected twist introduced by Doctor Tao relegated creativity to a solid back burner position. It now seemed that boldness was the order of the hour. "Let's have a look around, shall we?" I asked. Jenkins nodded in reply. Together, we made our way out of the pod and into the cargo bay. I was thankful that we were currently operating in a weightless environment. Even under the lightweight locomotion of mag boots alone, I could feel significant atrophy in my muscles, no doubt brought on as a result of having spent what I could only presume were months on end laying prone, strapped to a table, fading in and out of some kind of stasis as Doctor Wen and Doctor Tao attempted an electronic lobotomization of my brain. It seemed decidedly certain that when gravity was finally restored, I would be unable to walk for some time. The cargo bay was a large, vaulted compartment, stacked high on four sides with containers of all shapes and sizes. In the center of the space was the portable laboratory, a long, windowless, rectangular enclosure that, save for a bevy of antennas and receiver dishes on its roof, looked for all the world like a shipping container. A gridlike system of lights was inset into the ceiling, blazing brightly and casting stark white light into every corner of the space. A large, single hydraulic door, emblazoned with the word 'ATMOSPHERE,' was inset into the far wall of the room, next to which was a wash of gore and blood that I presumed to be the late Doctor Wen. On the opposite side of the hold was a larger set of doors, trimmed with black and yellow warning tape, bearing signage that read 'VACUUM.' I gazed toward the ceiling, studying the myriad utility pipes that snaked behind the lighting grid. My eyes traced across an open hatchway in the ceiling; presumably the one through which Steve Jenkins had entered. A small, almost imperceptible shape to the left of it caught my notice. With a subtle thought, I zoomed my vision in on the shape. As my eyes re-focused, I could see that it was a fire suppression nozzle of some kind. "Mister Jenkins - I'd like to take a look at the safety equipment in this bay. Care to join me?" ### Steve and I floated next to the sprinkler head as I examined it, attempting to ascertain whether or not it was pressurized or connected to an alarm system. I saw no evidence of an electronic hookup - by all appearances, the device was an old-style, temperature-activated unit. But I couldn't tell what it contained. There was only one way to know. "Mister Jenkins - I'm afraid I'm in less than ideal physical condition at the moment. Would you be able to forcibly remove the head from this sprinkler?" I asked. "Incidentally - do be careful. I'm not sure what's going to come out of it."
  24. Elsewhere... "You know, your antics are going to cost me a shit load of money," Captain Harlow grumbled as she, Bishop, and I moved down the corridor toward Cargo Bay One, weapons at the ready. Behind us, Major Hayes ferried an unconscious Nathan Schmidt in his arms as the other two civilians, a man named 'James' and a woman named 'Colleen,' brought up the rear. "You'd rather get paid for delivering an abductee into the hands of the Capellans than take the moral high ground?" I asked, my gaze locked straight ahead, senses on high alert. "I'm not talking about that," the captain answered. "In case you hadn't noticed, we've got a cargo bay full of livestock. I was scheduled to unload it at the planet along with the abductee." "Well," I countered, "you still might make that rendezvous." "In case you hadn't noticed," Nikki repeated, "I also now have a cargo bay full of dead government-issue Capellans. I don't think I'm getting paid." We rounded a Y-shaped junction, sweeping and clearing all three points of the intersection before continuing down one of its arteries. "Well, maybe the Crayven Corporation would be willing to cover some of your expenses in appreciation for aiding in the rescue," I speculated. "I wouldn't count on it," Harlow responded, dubiously. "I've seen the pay for humanitarian aid contracts. Peanuts. No one's going to be paying a king's ransom for someone who got snatched up for organ harvesting or whatever." "He's not just any abductee," I explained. "He's William Kauffman, the Crayven Corporation's founder and CEO." "Oh," the captain replied. "Well, in that case..." The distant sound of voices and machinery caught my ear. Simultaneously, Bishop drew to an abrupt halt, silently raising his hand to stop the group. "Captain Maxwell; Captain...uhh - " Bishop began. "Just call me Nikki," Harlow replied. "Nikki - do you hear that?" the Lieutenant asked. Nikki and I nodded quietly in reply. "Do you have crew in any of these sections?" I asked. "Not at the moment," Nikki answered with concern. "This corridor leads directly to Cargo Bay One. That intersection we just crossed through leads to the crew quarters, the mess hall, and the bridge. The Capellans have kept a detachment in rotation in the cargo bay throughout the trip, but I would have expected them to be out here, what with all the commotion you people have been causing. And something else seems off..." Without further comment, Harlow pressed forward with us in tow, leading us down the passageway until we reached a closed hatch. There, she slowly teased the door open, weapon raised in preparation for an ambush, leaning forward to peer into the low light beyond. "Goddamn it..." Nikki whispered. "What is it?" Bishop asked. "They've dropped the emergency bulkhead, and they've got their troops on the other side. We're not getting through this way," Captain Harlow explained. "They're planning something." "What makes you say that?" Major Hayes interjected. "I've had Doctor Wen and Doctor Tao onboard long enough to come to know two things about them. One: they're a couple of assholes," Nikki retorted, dryly. "And two?" I asked. "They're definitely not to be trusted." the captain continued. "Alright," Major Hayes nodded, "I'm open to suggestions. Bishop, you're our strategic operations man. I can only assume those gears in your head are already turning. How do we get past a blast door fortified by - how many Capellans are on board, Captain Harlow?" "I'm estimating they're down to six or seven out of the twenty on board. They've also maintained a number of security robots. I can't be sure, but I think they have eight total of those, divided into two lances. You guys wiped out about half of them." "...fortified by four security robots and seven soldiers with just our group and no backup?" the Major continued. "Well, we could probably just order the bridge to lift the blast door and let us get massacred," I replied with a chuckle. Hayes raised an eyebrow. "Mr. Weyland? Captain Harlow? Thoughts?" the Major asked.
  25. "WELL....." I Said. Then I picked up the gun from the dead science guy that was floating it all over the place. I loaded it and handed it to William. "Sorry about the blood all over it, the guy who it used to belong to died by exploding all over the place, anyway somebody will probably clean him up. You should put that in your pocket right now in case you need." William nodded sternly, all of a sudden one of the radios in the lab started blaring all kinds of yelling in Chinese. A lady's voice came on and was saying "HELLO?? HELLO?? SCIENCE LAB! THIS IS THE OTHER SCIENTIST! DR. WEN RESPOND!," I should probably answer that. I said. "Wait, that's Crazy, what if they don't believe you?" said William. "They will figure out that you invaded and send troops down here." "There's already a billion troops outside the door! it's better if I Try to than if we ignore them and they come busting in here and kill us!" I Yelled. Then I grabbed the radio and started talking. "This is Dr. Wen!" I Said in Chinese. "What do you want?? I am with the Patient!!" "Dr. Wen! This is the other Scientist! Why do you sound different!!?" the lady shouted "I Accidentally zipped my junk up in my pants on the way back from the Toilet!!" I said. "I did not need to know that Dr Wen." The lady scientist intoned. "Anyway you need to get ready to send the troops to the Hall, a bunch of our Troops aren't answering anymore and look Dead. ' " I already put them in the hall! " I Said. " You better lock the cargo bay so they don't Try to Flee in here if they try to have Cowardice." "Thats a good idea Dr Wen, I will order the Control Center to lock the door, only You will be able to let them retreat, also we have sealed the air Vents so no one can climb in." Said the radio. All of the sudden I thought I was going to barf from fear, that was supposed to be our way out! " OK, I have to go interrogate the Prisoner now, Dr Wen out! " Then I hung up on the other scientist. "That seemed like bad news" said William. "Yeah, we're trapped, the only way out is all the guys at the door, unless you can turn invisible that doesn't seem like its a good idea." William looked like he was thinking about it...
  26. Meanwhile... "What are you doing? Get back out there and defend the hall - wait, who are you?" Doctor Wen's voice cried out. The sound of a large blade being drawn from a sheath cut through the laboratory. "Weren't you a lady a minute before?" a higher-pitched, unfamiliar voice asked in a puzzled tone. I raised an eyebrow in equal confusion at the absurdity of the question. "NEVER MIND ABOUT THAT!" Doctor Wen shouted back. Then, a primal scream, followed by the unmistakable sounds of physical combat, pierced the darkness. I flinched against the table's straps, startled by the sudden commotion, although I'd known that something was amiss as soon as the freighter I was aboard had come under attack, our forward momentum unexpectedly stopping, as though we'd been grappled. Now, it seemed we'd been boarded - at least, according to the announcements that the frenzied crew periodically shouted over the vessel's decrepit public address system. And within the last few minutes, the Capellans in the lab had also flown into a panic, shuffling about with great haste, barking what I could only assume were Chinese-spoken orders at the guards stationed outside the laboratory, and intermittently reminding me to stay put on pain of punishment, as though it were possible for me to do anything but lay in place, as I had been indefinitely, helpless to do anything but watch. When the EMP device detonated - I was certain that it was an EMP device, as the entirety of my physical augments were, in an instant, violently and painfully knocked offline - and the world was plunged into black, I suspected that the boarding party must be close. Still, the nature of the melee that was now erupting just a short distance away was unexpected. A loud crash reverberated off the side of the pod, followed by what I was certain was vomiting. A litany of punches and pummeling ensued, punctuated by the blast of a handgun going off, the round striking a computer within the laboratory. Blake's blood, they're close... I thought to myself, trying to formulate some kind of a plan to defend myself, though in my restrained state, there weren't many options for doing so. A sudden explosion thundered through the modular building's frame, accompanied by a heavy smell of cordite. A deadly silence ensured, broken moments later by the voice I'd heard previously. As it called out again, I realized that this time, it was much closer. "HELLO? IS ANYBODY IN HERE?" the speaker asked. After a moment's hesitation, I replied. "Please help me, I'm over here," I answered quietly. I still wasn't sure who or what was present. The EMP effect had done more than simply turn out the lights. My vision, being almost fully bionic, was without function. I was, at least for the moment, blind. After a long pause, the speaker made his presence known again. This time, he was at my bedside. "Are you William Kauffman? I'm Steve Jenkins, and I'm here to save you," he announced, enthusiasm and a smile in his voice. In an instant, my spirits rose. The man's name was familiar from a roster I'd reviewed on Sheratan months ago - Jenkins was a MechWarrior in the employ of Aegis Division. "You've found him, Mister Jenkins - and it's a pleasure to make your acquaintance," I whispered, my voice hoarse from lack of use and what I could only assume was a combination of malnutrition, atrophy, and dehydration. "I was hopeful that the Crayven Corporation would be able to find me. Have you come alone?" Before the MechWarrior could reply, I heard the room's overhead lights begin to buzz. Myriad computers throughout the laboratory roared back to life. "Uh oh, there isn't much time, you better get up fast and put on this space suit," Steve pleaded. I couldn't help but chuckle with amusement. "I would be happy to accommodate your request," I answered, "but for the fact that I am completely restrained - and blind as well. I'll need your assistance to get free. Are you able to cut away the straps holding me to the table?" Steve paused for a moment. "Well," he finally replied, "I'll see what I can do!" Seconds later, I felt a large knife sawing at the restraints. Over the course of the next several minutes, one strap after another popped free. At nearly the exact moment the last encumbrance fell away, my vision gradually began to return as the EMP effect wore off. Slowly...painfully...I sat up, focusing my eyes on my rescuer. Youthful in appearance, he was of average height, bedecked in a Crayven Corporation spacesuit, a tousled head of dark-colored hair beneath his helmet, and a manic grin stretching across his freckle-bedecked complexion from cheek to cheek. Across his back was slung a very prominent sword, and in his outstretched hand he held an emergency vac suit. "Oh, there you are," I mused. Jenkins nodded approvingly. "You got un-blind?" Steve asked with bewilderment. "Yes, I have augmented vision," I replied, "and in the wake of the electromagnetic pulse earlier, I became temporarily impaired. But it seems that the issue is passing quickly, which is good. I'd hate to try to change into one of these spacesuits by myself otherwise." With that, I stepped into the spacesuit, pulling it up and over my tattered dress shirt and slacks, zipping it at the front. "Tell me, how did you get here? Does the return trip involve a hostile atmosphere?" "You could say that," Steve quipped. "But right now, there are a bunch of guards and robots right outside the door, and I'm going to need your creativity so that I can get you out of here." "I'm very grateful that you came to my aid, and if I can help us both safely escape, I will," I nodded. "What did you have in mind?"
  27. As the lights came back up, I found myself amidst a sea of carnage. Debris, corpses, and blood were afloat in the corridor, twisting and undulating in the weightless environment, enveloped in tendrils of smoke. Glancing around, I came to realize that every Capellan in the compartment, without exception, was deceased - and some had passed in truly horrific fashion. Standing before the surviving civilians, awash in battlefield grime and gore, was Lieutenant Weyland, a blood-soaked crowbar clenched tightly in his fist. The instrument was bent at an odd angle, as though Bishop had, through some unfathomable act of strength, stuck something with it under such force that the steel itself had yielded. Ahead of me, Captain Maxwell stood in a tense face-off with Captain Harlow. The pair both had their weapons drawn on one another at point-blank range, a tense negotiation already underway between the pair. I had to hand it to Maxwell - not every mercenary was especially adept at the finer points of diplomacy, let alone crisis de-escalation - but in this case, it certainly seemed as though the MechWarrior was holding his own in the conversation. I cautiously approached, arriving beside Maxwell just as Harlow pointed at a crumpled form behind a cargo crate. In an instant, I recognized the Crayven Corporation-issue spacesuit and its shattered helmet glass. Nathan! "Go ahead and take him. He's not good for much now," the woman responded, gesturing with her firearm at the lifeless body. As Maxwell continued to maneuver through the conversation, I glided over to the fallen Lyran. His skin was already draining of color, his expression a deathly pallor. I quickly pulled my gloves and helmet off, magnetizing my boots to the deck directly alongside the young man, and felt his neck for a pulse. Eventually, I was able to locate one, though it was weak and thready. To my surprise, the youth's skin was quite warm to the touch - feverishly so. "Stay with me, Nathan," I murmured, unclipping what was left of his helmet and moving his hand away from the massive chest wound he bore. The pistol round had punched through the young man's right pectoral muscle, just above his right breast and below the clavicle, ripping through his spacesuit and shredding the fabric layers beneath to tear into his flesh. He was extremely lucky - had he suffered the same injury on the left side of his chest, he'd likely have been killed instantly. As things stood, I wasn't certain how much longer he had, or what his odds of survival were - the fact that the wound had stopped bleeding was a worrying indicator that either Nathan's blood pressure had dropped dangerously low, or that he'd suffered such catastrophic blood loss that there remained little to lose. I rifled through my hip-mounted personal medkit, locating bandages, a stimpack of adrenaline, and a vitals scanner. Flipping the unit on, I moved it over the site of injury. The bullet was larged far too deep inside the Lyran's body for me to attempt to extract it in the field. So I went about doing the next best thing - applying pressure and bandages to the wound, while administering the stimulant in an attempt to boost Nathan's vitals and perhaps rouse him from his unconscious state. "He looks to be in a really bad way, Major," Captain Donovan's voice crackled in my headset. "Do you require evac?" I paused to listen to the conversation between Maxwell and Harlow. It sounded as though the mercenary had actually managed to make inroads with the freighter captain, who'd displayed concern at the news that she and her crew may have been unwitting accessories to an abduction, and who was now agreeing to be shown what we believed to be in the cargo bay. Nice work, Maxwell... "Have a shuttle on standby, Home Plate, but do not launch until my command. Understand?" I replied to the Mendacious. "Understood, Major," Donovan acknowledged. "Captain Maxwell," I called out to Charles, whose head turned toward me in tandem with that of Harlow. "Nathan's alive. I'll be transporting him with us. We need to hurry, though. I don't know how much time he's got left. Lead the way."
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