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  1. Today
  2. One week after the initial expedition into the Takashima... C.S.V. Republic War Room B 3.2 kilometers from D.C.S. Takashima Great Banded Desert, Nirasaki February 7, 3029 ___________________________ Major Hayes and Captain Donovan both stood before the briefing table, the conference room's lights dimming. Around the table, on either side of me, sat Captain McKenzie, Sergeant Miles, Sergeant Ayala, Corporal Clemmons, Corporal Zhang, and Private Madani. I was very surprised to see Donovan planetside. I also noted to myself that the individuals present were the same exact staff that had been involved in our first ingress, save for the late Corporal Jamison. No more, no less. I had little time to think about it. Major Hayes was soon to fill in the blanks. "Ladies and gentlemen - thank you for attending this briefing. I'm sure you're wondering why we've brought this specific team back. I won't bury the lede - it's because this group is the only team outside of a very small inner circle of individuals who are aware of the true nature of our objective - and we're going to need you to return to the Takashima." "You're joking," I blurted. Major Hayes raised an eyebrow. "I like to think I have a sense of humor, Captain, but this particular affair is no laughing matter. Your team failed to retrieve the A.I., and the mystery as to where it's actually located on the ship has deepened." I fell back in my chair, a shellshocked expression on my face. "We spent the last week working to decrypt the copy of the data you brought back. The crew of the Mendacius threw every cipher at it we had on file. It turns out, most of the information on the memory unit was a combination of unencrypted junk, and what we believe to be heavily-encrypted junk, all designed to make us think that we'd successfully downloaded the program, its subroutines, and its database. Either the Kuritans built a failsafe into the software to keep it from being copied, or the A.I. has developed emergent behavior that allows it to wield, among its other parlor tricks, the ability to commit subterfuge," Hayes deadpanned. "So you're saying we got hoodwinked by the computer," Dutch interjected. "Precisely," the Major replied. "However, that's not all we discovered. Captain Donovan here has been kind enough to join us on the surface of this desert paradise to elaborate on that particular detail further. Out of an abundance of caution, we both agreed that what he's about to share with you shouldn't be transmitted over any carrier frequency, no matter how secure. Marcus?" "Thank you, Major," Captain Donovan responded. "While our analysts were combing through the data, which, as Major Hayes has already explained, was largely random bits of code and encrypted nonsense, we happened to notice a pattern within the noise. On closer examination, our analysts discovered that the pattern of code, when strung together, produced an complete, encrypted file. Cracking the encryption on it, we found this message: E C L I P S E S E C O N D A R Y N A V I G A T I O N R E T U R N "At first, it didn't make sense to us. 'Eclipse?' 'Secondary navigation?' 'Return?' But then, we also discovered that two maps had been included in the packet. And all the pieces came together." Donovan clicked a button on his presentation remote, displaying the charts on the room's display. "Now, I know that these images are sideways," Donovan continued. "That's intentional. We've oriented them to the direction that's currently the relative 'up' within the Takashima. Whoever - or whatever - wrote these layouts into the file was courteous enough to indicate a point of ingress into the wreck, along with your final destination - a secondary computer core deep within the derelict, just around the corner from the drive control room." "I'm familiar with the drive control room. We were there before," I remarked. "It's where we found the deck layout that showed us where the bridge and the primary computer core were. We didn't think much of the secondary navigation computer at the time." "Nor should you have," Major Hayes interjected. "It wasn't a target of interest within the original mission's scope." "But it is now," I replied. "Indeed it is," Captain Donovan nodded. "We believe, based on our analysis of the data, that whoever sent us this message wants us to go to the secondary control room if we're to obtain the A.I. It's quite possible, Captain Maxwell, that the rapport you built with the machine is why we've been steered onto this track." "Or we're being steered into a trap, and we're all going to die horribly," Corporal Clemmons quipped. I cast the infantryman a long stare. "Uh, sirs." "Respectfully, he does have a point," Sergeant Miles acknowledged. "How do we know this isn't some kind of elaborate trap? For all we know, we could walk into that control room and get cut to ribbons by lasers, bombs, pirates, or some godforsaken combination of all three." "We don't know that," Major Hayes replied. "It could be a trap. But that's why we're paying you guys the big bucks. We need to find out. Your objectives are to enter the wreck via the secondary access tunnel, which will save you from a considerable amount of climbing and possible exposure to hostiles this time around, traverse the elevator shaft until you arrive at the secondary navigation computer room, gain access into the core, and do whatever you need to do to get a copy of the A.I. onto the storage unit this time." "Alright," I nodded. "So let's assume for the moment that everything's on the level. Maybe I'm getting ahead of the briefing here, but I see what might be a hole in the plan. May I?" I asked, pointing at the slides. Donovan and Hayes nodded. I picked up a spare laser pointer that was resting on the briefing table, and used it to point at the spot marked 'Secondary Access Tunnel' on the map. "The last time we were at the wreck, the 'Main Access Tunnel' was practically getting swallowed by sand. How are we supposed to enter the ship via the secondary access tunnel? If I remember correctly, that's quite a few meters below the surface." I turned the laser pointer off, and looked toward Hayes and Donovan. "It was," Major Hayes replied. "However, this morning, we sent an excavator out to the wreck and had the sand around that section of hull cleared away. The entrance is right where our mysterious benefactor claimed it would be." "That solves that problem," I responded. "What else do we need to know?" Major Hayes glanced toward Captain Donovan. "It's entirely possible that you'll still encounter resistance within the wreck," Donovan explained. "Aegis and Crayven security forces are spread pretty thin right now due to the amount of attrition we took during the initial engagement. Our primary concern has been holding the security perimeter around the crash site. And since we've been monitoring the site from ground and orbit, we haven't seen anyone go into the wreck. But we also haven't seen anyone come out." "And you haven't sent any details into the wreck to secure it?" Dutch McKenzie asked. "No," Major Hayes responded. "Given the nature of what your team encountered, and to help compartmentalize the classified nature of what's actually in that ship, we thought it wouldn't be prudent to risk further attrition or widen the number of people we expose to the information. Your team is fully up to speed concerning what's in there, and you're now prepared to deal with the behavior of the A.I." "Except for the hallucinations, you mean," I replied, bringing up the 800-pound gorilla in the room that I suspected nobody wanted to mention. "Our working theory in that regard is the exceptionally-high levels of EMF activity that we're detecting from the derelict," Donovan advised. "We don't know if they're random bleed-off from systems that are in a pre-failure state, or if it's intentional, but we think that it causes a 'fear cage' effect. Symptoms can include auditory and visual hallucinations, along with feelings of extreme anxiety and dread." "You think that's what made Jamison lose it?" I asked. "Yes," Major Hayes replied, "which brings me to my next point. I want your team to get in, get that A.I., and get the hell out. The risk factors associated with being inside the Takashima, and the fact that we've been sitting on this rock for a week longer than we'd planned, are a recipe for disaster. It's only a matter of time before House Kurita comes sniffing around, wondering why there's so much traffic coming in and out of the Nirasaki system. We need to be well on our way back to Sheratan by the time that happens." "I understand," I nodded. "Good," Hayes answered. "Any questions?" I glanced toward the rest of the team. When no one spoke, I turned back toward the Major. "When do we leave?" "Within the hour," Major Hayes replied. "Suit up. I've got a transport waiting." ### One hour later... D.C.S. Takashima Black Eclipse Discovery Site Great Banded Desert, Nirasaki ___________________________ "Goddamn," I muttered, squinting into the blazing desert sun and shuffling my way down the sandy embankment behind Corporal Clemmons and Sergeant Ayala. "I think it's hotter out here today than it was last week." "At least it's a dry heat," Sergeant Miles quipped, following close behind me as we advanced along the blistered hull of the Takashima toward its now-excavated secondary access tunnel. "Ha! Thank Blake for small favors," Dutch McKenzie added. I glanced at the thermometer projected on the inside of my helmet. WARNING: AMBIENT TEMPERATURE: 49.4444 C, it blared in bright red typeface. I was thankful that I'd once again chosen to don my MechWarrior combat suit; under the current conditions, the ashqua coolant it cycled through its fabric more than made up for the thinner protection it offered in comparison to a more conventional armor kit. Even so, as we drew up alongside the fallen ship's hull, I could still perceive the heat radiating from its ferrosteel frame. Ahead of us, the secondary access hatch stood open, revealing a looming darkness beyond. "Alright, gentlemen, here we go," Sergeant Miles called out to our escorts. In the front of the group, Sergeant Ayala and Corporal Clemmons brought their weapons to the low-ready, activating the barrel-mounted flashlights attached to their rifles, while Corporal Zhang and Private Madani, bringing up the rear, held their weapons at the high-ready. "Let's do it," I radioed to the team, and into the wreck we went. The darkness enveloped us immediately, pressing in from all sides with an ominous, weighty presence that grew more pervasive and more claustrophobic the further away we drew from the sunlight. As we made our way down the tunnel, I wondered if the A.I. knew that we were once again trespassing in what it had defined as its home, and if so, what sort of a response we could anticipate. Eventually, we reached the cargo hold, arriving on a small precipice that allowed us a view over the wreckage-strewn room - the same place where we'd been ambushed upon our first ingress into the Takashima. "Let's hold here for a moment," I advised, stepping up alongside Ayala and Clemmons to gaze down at the floor below us. In the illumination of our infantrymen's flashlights, I could see the carnage of our previous firefight; the bodies of the pirates still present, now slowly decomposing in the harsh desert elements. But something wasn't right. "Hey, Captain, I know I'm just a simple Sergeant, but things don't look right here," Sergeant Miles observed, echoing my thoughts as he came to join me at my side. Squinting into the distance, he clicked on his flashlight, and swept it around the room. "Yeah. They've been moved around. Check out the blood trails," I observed. Miles nodded. I drew my Hawk Eagle pistol, and gazed down its night vision sight, zooming in on one of the closer corpses. In the enhanced view, I could see that the body was covered in a series of deep, parallel slash marks. "Something's been mutilating them." "Not only that," Sergeant Miles added, "but last week, there were eight dead bodies in this room. Now, there are only six. Looks like at least one of them got dragged toward the elevator." I glanced in the direction that the Sergeant indicated. Sure enough, a wide, bloody trail led toward the elevator shaft positioned directly beneath us. "Could there be another razorbeast running around?" Miles asked. "I don't know, but I'm gonna assume this wreck is still occupied," I replied. "Everyone, go weapons hot. Let's get down there and have a closer look before we commit ourselves to the tunnel."
  3. Yesterday
  4. "Takashima, again?" the voice in Dutch's head thought... "Didn't we just pull that weed out?" "Apparently it grew back... sigh..." "Well, this time we plan to go in ready... or so I thought"... , Dutch Smiled. D.C.S. Takashima Ships Interior Great Banded Desert, Nirasaki January 31, 3029 ... Deep inside the bowels of the Black Eclipse we go in... But the voice in my head just kept saying: "try not to stick to the walls..." I try not to let it bother me... but its not my fault, why does it have to be called "the bowels of a ship anyways?". D.C.S. Takashima Deeper in the Takashima's Interior Great Banded Desert, Nirasaki January 31, 3029 Captain Maxwell, "So who brought the ladder?" "Damm", Dutch thought. Turning to get the ladder, "I'm on it Charles." '.. and here I pride myself for having the right tools for the right occasion... ... at least I brought the right hand-cannon for the job, Dutch thought.' as he tapped his trusty sidearm "Dirty Harry".
  5. Last week
  6. Nirasaki a few days after 'Mech combat. Aegis_Division30290116_Mission4_Nirasaki_Post7.cpnx
  7. C.S.V. Republic Aegis Division staging site 3.2 kilometers from D.C.S. Takashima Great Banded Desert, Nirasaki January 31, 3029 ___________________________ A wave of vomit torrented into the holding cell, made even more pronounced by the food slot slamming shut on it as I scrambled backwards to get out of the way of the assault. As the rancid mix of all kinds of liquor and food chunks spilled down, around, and in front of the door, I heard a weird, constipated-like and muffled screaming and yelling. I looked toward the food slot and saw a pair of lips mashed in between the slot door and its frame, and they were wiggling around like their owner was trying to talk. "HEEPP MUH MUH LIPSH UR STHUCK IN TEH FOOH SLOH." the lips said. Slowly, carefully, trying to avoid all the barf, I got closer to the cell door and looked over it. The guy who called himself 'Jenkins' was contorted over sideways with his face up against the cell door. He apparently had trapped his lips in the food slot door, though I couldn't comprehend how that could have happened. I kneeled down and pushed on the food slot door. "AAAAUGH!" the lips screamed. "THAATH HURTH." "Yeah, I bet it does, you're not supposed to slam your mouth in a door." I said. "It feels like the door is jammed." "YOUTH GOTTHA DO THOMETHING TO HEHP MEH." said the mouth. "ANYTHING." "Anything?" I asked. "ANYTHING." came the reply. "Ok, this is probably going to hurt a lot, but, here goes." I said, turning sideways and drawing one of my legs back. "NO WATH WAITH WHAT ARE YOU GONFA DO?" the mouth begged. I delivered a really high-powered kick directly into the tray slot door which caused it to blow open, unfortunately smashing Steve in the face as it released his lips. Jenkins screamed bloody murder and fell into the floor, writhing around in pain. From my vantage point, it looked like his lips were pretty seriously swollen, and he had the words 'Foodservice Slot' reverse-imprinted as a bruise on his forehead. "Sorry about that." I said. "It couldn't be helped."
  8. Simultaneously... D.C.S. Takashima Bridge Great Banded Desert, Nirasaki January 31, 3029 ___________________________ "I am the ship. TAKASHIMA," the A.I. hissed. "I understand," I replied. "Pleasure to meet you." There was no response. Pensively, I watched the storage unit as the transfer continued. In time, the data port's flickering green light changed to a solid blue. Simultaneously, the storage unit lit up solidly in the same shade. Takashima spoke once again. "You want to leave with a Copy of the objective. You, leave. EVACUATE! Immediately!" Behind me, the vestibule's sliding door snapped open, the lights of the computer room flaring to a bright crimson. Carefully, I retrieved the storage cube, returning it to its case and stowing it back in an available cargo pocket. "Thank you," I said, stepping out of the chamber and into the open confines of the bridge. As I exited, the door slammed shut, sealing the room away from us once more. "Captain! Are you alright?" Sergeant Miles asked, concern coloring his tone. "I believe so," I responded, exhaling heavily. "Between the ship's log, and this," I continued, patting the pocket on my left leg, "I think we've got what we came here for. Our 'host' has asked that we now leave." "That's a plan I can get behind," Dutch agreed. Retrieving my weapons and gear pack, I slipped my helmet back on, latching it into place. As its radio re-established communication with the Republic, I opened a channel to Major Hayes. "Eden to Control - mission complete. The objectives have been secured and retrieved. We're heading home." "Roger that, Eden," Hayes replied. "Nice work. We've got a lot to discuss when you get in." "So it would seem," I responded. "We'll see you in a bit. Maxwell out." As our group made their way out of the wreckage of the bridge, a sudden hissing sound began playing across its speakers. The A.I. had a last message for us. "Heading home and do not RETURN!" As if to add a final punctuation to the sentence, the room's deployed turret retracted violently into its alcove, the protective hatch slamming shut with a resounding bang. "I'll try to ensure that we don't," I replied, quietly.
  9. MEANWHILE... I Stumbled down the hallway on the REPUBLIC, completely drunk. I had went to the bar and did about 9 Alchol drinks and also ate some weird stuff that one of the crew said would give you visions, now I was trying to remember where it was I had to go to to get to the brunk room so I could pass out. I couldn't remember if the bunk room was left or if it was right, I just knew that it was somewhere in the circle, but what deck it was, or where I was, my Mind was too fused to remember. Halfway down the hall, I felt this horrible wrenching feeling in my stomach, and I stopped to take a 5-minute puke in an umbrella stand I saw in the hallway. After it was over I sobbed and felt out of breath, wiping barf from the side of my mouth I kept stumbling. I ran into a crew member.....she looked at me accusingly....then I smiled and said "Hey babe, you're a hot number, maybe sometime we can date, I have a 3019 Corvega back on Sheratan that has a back seat, also it smells like the river, so you can get the outdoors benefit even from indoors." But since I was Drunk, it came out sounding like "Blay hlaby you're bluth hawwrwt blumbr GAG GAG BURP 3019 Coblegga hork Sherablan back blorrf." She didn't seem impressed and walked off. Then I went around a corner and saw I was at the Jail cell again, I looked inside and there was the prisoner, he was eating his food. I knocked on the door and he came over to it. "HI WHAT'S YOUR NAME I'M STEVE JENKINS!" I yelled but he couldn't hear me. Then I opened the food slot on the cell door and put my mouth inside, I was about to say words but Suddenly I felt Violently Ill and barfed heavy heaves into the food slot on accident. I tried to slam the food slot but I didn't do it right and somehow, my lips got stuck in it! I did a Closed Mouth scream and waved my arms like a maniac trying to get the prisoner to help me, I was in so much pain I was sure I was going to black out.......
  10. Simultaneously... D.C.S. Takashima Bridge Great Banded Desert, Nirasaki January 31, 3029 ___________________________ I watched in horror as the hatchway slammed closed behind Captain Maxwell. I wasn't sure what had just happened - whether the A.I. was simply allowing only a single person into its inner sanctum, or if the computer had betrayed us and was now in the process of killing Charles. Looking toward the threshold of the door, I realized that the Captain's gear pack, weapons, and helmet were still neatly arranged where he'd left them, which meant that his was both unarmed and out of communication, wherever he was. Turning toward Sergeant Miles, I spoke. "Sergeant, I'm not sure what just happened, but how long do you think we should wait before we try to get in there to make sure Captain Maxwell's okay? Do we have a way to get that hatch open?"
  11. "I am the ship. TAKASHIMA." The green light by the data port changed back to blue, and the data storage unit lit up solidly in the same shade. "You want to leave with a Copy of the objective. You, leave. EVACUATE! Immediately!"
  12. I watched as the data storage unit performed the transfer. The ambient lighting in the chamber seemed to be slowly shifting through the spectrum as though it reflected the analytical thoughts of the entity controlling it. Beyond the point where I stood was another hatch, a heavy door sealed with a series of mag-clamps. I surmised that beyond it was likely the actual computer core, and that this room represented its antechamber. "So...do you have a name?" I asked the computer, partially out of a desire to make small talk, and partially out of genuine curiosity. "Do you have a name?" the computer replied, replaying my voice. "I'm not sure if that was a question, or if you were just imitating me, but if you were asking - it's Charles. Charles Maxwell." "Patient MAXWELL, CHARLES EDWARD," the computer responded, this time playing back MediBot's voice. "You've got him. You? Up until now, we've generally referred to this place as the 'Black Eclipse object.' Don't ask me where William got the name. I honestly haven't got a clue," I mused.
  13. The blink patterns of the various lights shifted gradually and subtly, until they became roughly synchronized, forming concentric bands of light that seemed to move inward towards a central point like the decoration on a carnival ferris wheel. At the center of the blink pattern was a single, rapidly strobing blue light next to a data port. The man walked further into the room, and the chamber's two gun turrets turned to follow his movement. The man glanced up at the guns. "I'm going to take something out of my pocket - no weapons, just a data storage unit. I assume you want me to plug in here?" "Plug in here?" the room's speakers parroted from all directions. "Yes." The man took a translucent cube-shaped device from his hip pocket and plugged it into the port with the strobing light. The port's light changed to solid green, and the storage unit pulsed with a faint blue light.
  14. D.C.S. Takashima Engineering Section Great Banded Desert, Nirasaki January 31, 3029 ___________________________ Sergeant Miles’s skin began to crawl, at the AI’s voice. To be honest, he was mentally struggling with the thought of a computer being able to think and reason. Down deep he felt surprised by this emotion he was feeling. How could he be so conflicted? after all he came from a unit of animalistic killers that had a shape shifting female werewolf that was their spiritual advisor... who the hell was he? To be made nervous by a machine. What made things worst, was it appeared that the mission wasn’t all that it was supposed to be. Did Bishop know? How far up did this deception go? Now they had to deal with a damn computer that allowed feelings and reason to drive it’s reactions.... an alien concept to the mercenary. Furthermore, did Crayven actually think ComStar would sanction this...? Fuck no they wouldn’t. Irian, and by default the Skinwalkers, were in a perpetual bush war with ComStar. The only thing keeping the Interstellar from absolute destruction was that it was at the top of the food chain, and had the C-bills, and Assault Mech sized balls to go toe to toe with ComStar. They also had a pet monster in their basement. Slowly the Sergeant backed into the shadows, from their he silently watched the bizarre scene before him play out.
  15. Hearing my own words played back to me, blended together with those of Major Hayes, the latter of which I'd never heard before, was chilling. Having the A.I. holding those words out in an accusatory fashion was even more so. I glanced back at the team, raising an eyebrow in a questioning manner, before turning back toward the turret to attempt to formulate an answer. "I acknowledge that we were authorized to use force; but we have no intention of doing so at this juncture. You have to understand that we had no idea what we were going to encounter in here. I'm not sure how much of the outside world you can see right now, but it was a bloodbath just getting here. The people who were here before had no intention of letting anyone else take their prize. I lost two good men from this team alone, and almost lost a third, just to be able to stand here and speak with you. Their deaths were senseless...but it gives me a small amount of comfort to know that what they were fighting for was something more than just a set of coordinates," I explained. The A.I. repeated its statement. "I am the ship. I survive HERE. You're, here for information only. Copy that. You want to leave with Copy of the objective." I nodded. "I think I understand. You want to remain here, but you're willing to give us a copy if we'll take it and leave. Did I interpret that correctly?" "Copy that," the A.I. replied, again in my own voice. I had no idea how Major Hayes would respond to receiving copied data, rather than the original mission objective, but it was a start. I also didn't know what the long-term implications would be of us leaving a functional artificial intelligence laying in the desert for some future looter to find; however, at the moment, I felt that the computer had the upper hand. "I would be very grateful to you for the opportunity," I affirmed. With no further comment, the heavy door before me swung open, revealing a short, octagonal hallway beyond. A series of blood-red lights clicked on in sequence, bathing the chamber in crimson light. Slowly, I stepped through the hatch, finding myself surrounded with a series of data ports, flashing computer banks, and a set of removable hard drives with displays indicating that their sectors were blank. As I took in my surroundings, the door suddenly and unexpectedly slammed shut.
  16. "Pretenses, he sent us after an AI..." the speaker said in the voice of the man at the door. Then, "you are to retrieve that objective, objective, authorized to use force," in the voice that had played in another human's headset, followed by "dismantle this place" in the first man's voice. "Want to help you survive. I'm not inside your head. I can't know." The gun turret rotated a few degrees back toward the man's head. "I am the ship. I survive HERE. You're, here for information only. Copy that. You want to leave with Copy of the objective."
  17. D.C.S. Takashima Bridge Great Banded Desert, Nirasaki January 31, 3029 ___________________________ I couldn't believe it. I was attempting to cut a deal with a computer. I'd negotiated a number of agreements in the past, but they had all been with flesh-and-blood entities. This situation was decidedly different. I wasn't sure how deep the machine's consciousness went, but it was, at the very least, an extremely sophisticated chat bot. Nor did I know precisely what motivated it, but it had just dropped a very specific hint. "You want us to leave - I understand that. You've been laying here for over 200 years, undisturbed. And now, all of a sudden, people are coming. They're taking pieces of this place - of you - with them. And that's frustrating, I bet. Painful, even, maybe, hell, I don't know. I'm not inside your head. I can't know," I began. "Vivisection: the process of dissection carried out on a living subject. Generally considered inhumane. Outlawed by Star League conventions during the reign of - " MediBot interrupted. "Thank you," I interjected, a slight tone of annoyance coloring my voice. "But I do know this," I continued, addressing the computer. "Your location is widely-known now. The ship was exposed by the planet's shifting weather patterns. It's a huge landmark on the horizon. You want us to leave - we'll leave. But others will come. Maybe they'll be interested in you. Maybe they won't. But I do know this: they'll want to dismantle this place. Piece by piece. Probably nothing will go out intact. Between that, and the ship being exposed to the elements, your chances of survival out here, on your own, are not good." Silence reigned supreme. "I think you have an opportunity here. Let us take you with us. We're not interested in dissecting you, or putting you in the guts of a spaceship, or anything of that sort. We want to take you back to," I glanced back at the team momentarily, trying to remember my Star League history, "to the Terran Hegemony, where you'd have access to the First Circuit and be able to learn all sorts of information that would benefit the Coordinator. Survival motivates you, right? What motivates me is you. I want to help you survive. If you want me to leave, let me take you with me."
  18. Simultaneously... C.S.V. Republic Aegis Division staging site 3.2 kilometers from D.C.S. Takashima Great Banded Desert, Nirasaki January 31, 3029 ___________________________ "Are you seeing this, Major?" Marcus Donovan's voice crackled in my headset. "Affirmative. It would appear that the security of the objective's been compromised," I murmured into my headset quietly. "Lock the doors up there. We're doing the same down here." "Copy that," Donovan replied. "Hayes to Captain McKenzie," I continued. "Go ahead," Dutch replied. "I know that Captain Maxwell can't hear me right now, so I want you to relay this message to the entire team for me: you are bound by non-disclosure agreement to not discuss what you're seeing right now - or anything that you've learned about this objective - with anyone that I don't explicitly authorize. Your mission parameters remain unchanged. You are to retrieve that objective and return it intact to the Republic. Understood?" "Understood, sir," McKenzie answered. "Good. One other thing: you're authorized to use force if you have to. I hope it doesn't come to that, given that this thing is still running pretty hot, but the option is open if you need to take it." I responded. "Roger that. We'll give a shout if it doesn't look like we're getting anywhere with 'diplomacy,' if that term even applies to computers," Dutch affirmed. "Good deal. Hayes out."
  19. "I am not here for you to see. I understand. You should not be sent here. EVACUATE! immeidately!"
  20. A thousand puzzle pieces suddenly clicked together in my mind. The surveillance camera in the cargo bay. The inexplicable heavily-armed resistance we'd randomly encountered in the middle of the desert. Schmidt's treachery - to the extent that he'd attempted to interdict with his own hired lance. William's over-the-top enthusiasm about recovering what seemed like dodgy, obsolete data at best, and his multi-tiered cloak-and-dagger, no-expenses-spared pursuit of it: all of it made sense now. "He didn't send us after a star map,'" I whispered. "He sent us after an AI..." "AI: Artificial Intelligence. The theory and development of computer systems able to perform tasks that normally require human intelligence, such as visual perception, speech recognition, decision-making, and translation between languages. Also see: neural network. A computer system modeled on the human brain and nervous system," a monotone, high-pitched voice replied from behind me. I turned my head just far enough to see MediBot positioned directly to my right, also looking at the deployed turret. The robot's head snapped toward me. "Patient MAXWELL, CHARLES EDWARD. You are experiencing elevated respiration and pulse rates. Recommendation: sedation. I can provide treatment immediately." "Not now, thanks," I whispered. Then, addressing the ship, I continued. "You're an artificial intelligence. I understand. We didn't know that you were here. We were sent here under...different pretenses. I apologize for failing to knock before we came into your home. It seems that it's you we're here to see."
  21. The gun turret turned a few degrees to the side, no longer pointing directly at the man. "Under your helmet IS your skull. Under your skull is you. You are in your head. I am in the computer room. I am the ship."
  22. A crescendo of firearms being drawn and brought to the ready echoed across the bridge as Sabre team responded to the appearance of the turret. I quickly raised a hand to forestall what I was certain to become firefight. Squinting through the brain fog I continued to feel, I turned toward the turret, and slowly raised my hands. "It's not our intention to hurt you - or anyone - if we can work together to avoid it. We have no interest in the ship itself. We're not like the people who came before us. We're here for information only. If you have a prior claim to this place, I'm prepared to negotiate. Maybe we can help each other." There came no reply. "Look, I'm going to disarm myself to show you that I stand by my words. I'm going to walk you through every part of the process so that there won't be any surprises," I continued. "I'm going to take off my helmet so that I can put my gear on the ground." I released the clamps on my MechWarrior combat helmet, the dry, stale air of the shipwreck rushing across my skin as I did so. Pulling the headgear away, I slowly knelt down and set it on the deck with a free hand. "Cap, are you sure this is a good idea?" a voice behind me asked. I raised a hand once again in response. "Now, look, I'm putting my firearms and these explosives down as well," I advised the disembodied voice, setting my Hawk Eagle, my MP-20 rifle, and my demolitions bandoleer on the ground. Slowly, I rose back to a standing position, my hands outstretched once again. "See? No guns. No tools. If we're fighting, we're not talking. I want to talk. Can you help me understand what you mean when you say that 'you are the ship?'" I'd heard urban legends and ghost stories, but I didn't want to jump to any conclusions...
  23. Additional voice clips were played over the speaker in response, using the intruder's own voice where possible. "I am this ship. you? withdraw. you? MUST EVACUATE IMMEDIATELY." A panel in the wall creaked open, revealing a gun turret. The turret turned to point at the intruder's head.
  24. D.C.S. Takashima Bridge Great Banded Desert, Nirasaki January 31, 3029 ___________________________ The electronic lockpick overloaded with a loud pop and the smell of ozone. Its plastic case, melted, slagged down the front of the door frame, leaving discolored, burnt trails of residue in its wake. A strong, painful headache overcame me, accompanied by a feeling of dread, my vision doubling and growing blurry as whatever malevolent force was at work in the Takashima took hold again. I glanced behind me and noticed the rest of the team also reacting similarly; proof positive that all of us were being affected. Whoever this entity was that we were now dealing with, I was convinced that it might be responsible. "Who are you? The salvagers here before us agreed to withdraw. This ship is supposed to be empty!"
  25. There was a pause, and then the man at the door responded. "I could ask you the same question." Another series of spliced together voices, including some that were panicked and shouting, played over the speaker. "You DO not be LONG here. THIS is my home this is ME." A pulse of electricity surged through the door, and the circuit that powered the lights on the opposite wall. The bulbs strobed, and the odd device connected to the lock sparked. "GET THAT you all OUT OF THE SHIP!"
  26. CVS REPUBLIC I banged and stomped my Dragon into the hangar of the REPUBLIC. It had been a long and Difficult Battle, but we were heroes. We had won the war and now it was time to Celebrate by drinking booze and talking to beautiful women. I climbed out of my Mech and down to the ground, a Technician ran up to me and saluted. "SIR! What services does your Mech need??" I looked Thoughtful for a minute before I intoned back sternly. "It has a dead guy in the Generator, that needs scraped out, also I need a new paint job. Do it in something Red to honor my heritage. Here is how you write my name in Kurita." I Said, then I wrote my name in Kurita and gave it to the Tech. "Oh by the way the Mechs arm fell off during the battle, I expect a more professional repair job next time." Then I left the Mech bay and went to the crew bunks, on my way I stared into the prison cell where they put our prisoner, but it looked like he was asleep or something, I wasn't sure. After I put my Things away I went to the showers to shower. While I showered I thought about how much better this Op had went than when pirates had hit Kuzuu back in the past... *FLASHBACK* I was in my AgroMech defending the vegetable stand when all hell broke loose. These was a massive explosion, and at least a cubic acre of smoke rose into the sky. Then, flames burst from all sides of the facility. Another explosion. This time, the burn flew out all sides of the facility. I had to run. I decided to hold my ground, half a block away. Flames can't go more than 100 feet, right? Wrong. My mech was picked up and threw like a grain of sand in a small child's hand. The moving scorch threw my cockpi-first into a local skyscaper. I crashed through layers of cement and steel, and landed in what used to be a hotel lobby. All that remained now was a few dead visitors, broken chairs, pissed off behind-the-countermen, and screaming visitors. I hastily clicked open the cockpit. It was jammed. I gambled to use the eject seat. Jammed. I was now stuck in a lobby in which I had gashed my way through 4 inches of metal and concrete. Smoke entered my entry hole, and people who remained in the room began choking. I could not do anything now. *END FLASHBACK* I came out of the flashback with all the hot water run out and cold water spraying on my junk. I hollered in pain and got out of the shower, then I went to the ship's bar after I had gotten changed into my off duty clothes to get wrecked.
  27. D.C.S. Takashima Bridge Great Banded Desert, Nirasaki January 31, 3029 ___________________________ "Control to Sabre team - how are you progressing, gentlemen?" "We're a little tied up at the moment!" I exclaimed. With a guttural roar, the Ouanii razorbeast barreled toward us, its hulking form reminiscent of a grizzly bear from Terra, its fur undulating and rippling in the low light. I lunged out of the animal's path of travel, unholstering my Hawk Eagle and whirling around to fire. But it was too late to get off a shot. In a single, fluid movement, the razorbeast grabbed Corporal Clemmons, one of our laser rifle escorts, attempting to maul him. I fired blindly at the animal, struggling to maintain a true aim in the curved corridor in the low-light conditions. The creature, undeterred, let out another ear-shattering roar and slapped at Clemmons, sending him tumbling down our ascent route toward the deck some fifteen feet below. As I reloaded and prepared to fire again, the razorbeast turned around and prepared to attack. Suddenly, Sergeant Ayala, another of our machine gun escorts, appeared out of nowhere and delivered a forceful blow to the animal with the butt of his rifle. This action only seemed to enrage our assailant further, as it drew back one of its beefy paws and swatted the infantryman aside with ease, sending him bouncing off the wall of the extremely tight bridge corridor and flipping head over heels into the depths of the bridge. I backpedaled wildly, holstering my pistol and attempting to draw my much higher-caliber MP-20 rifle. As I backed around the corner of the corridor, heading into the bridge, I felt a shoulder press up against mine, realizing that Dutch McKenzie was now beside me, weapon at the ready. "Heya, Cap," McKenzie quipped, before opening fire on the razorbeast. I nodded and raised my rifle, pulling the trigger and unleashing three powerful bursts of high-caliber rounds at the animal. The creature screamed in rage, rearing up onto its hind legs and towering over us momentarily before staggering backwards and out of sight. A moment later, I heard a heavy, wet thud as the razorbeast, apparently having fallen out of the bridge vestibule, struck the deck below. Running to the ledge where we'd left our climbing gear, Dutch and I peered over the side to see the fallen animal sprawled out on the deck below, motionless. Alongside it lay Corporal Clemmons, writhing in pain. "Good shooting," I gasped at Dutch, trying to catch my breath. "Yeah, you too," he replied. ### "New patients, new patients, what are your symptoms?" MediBot inquired, trundling toward Clemmons and Ayala, who we'd moved into an open alcove within the bridge for triage. "They got attacked by a monster," Sergeant Miles deadpanned, looking toward the downed infantrymen with concern. MediBot halted momentarily, looking toward Miles with an almost quizzical posture. "An Ouanii razorbeast," he clarified. MediBot paused for a moment while accessing its database. "Ouanii razorbeast, attack by. Symptoms include death, lacerations, concussions, trauma. Patients are not deceased. Checklist item number one complete." Having recalled the appropriate medical information, the robot continued its approach toward the soldiers. Meanwhile, I made my way across the bridge to examine a series of lights I'd noted earlier, glowing in the darkness, entirely out of place on a vessel that was, for the most part, without power. "Gentlemen, while we're here, let's see if we can find the ship's log. Remember, that's one of our objectives. The other being, of course, the computer drives with the navigation data to that shipyard that William's after." Stepping around the shattered wreckage of the command center, I approached the lights, realizing, as I did so, that they were the glowing controls of a still-active door lock. "Captain, I've got the log - it was still plugged into the arm of the command chair," Miles called out. "Nice work," I replied. "Let's keep that thing stowed safely until we can get it back to the Republic. Can one of you join me over here for a second? I need an extra set of hands." A moment later, Dutch appeared at my side. "What've you got, sir?" he asked. "Can you hold this light for me?" I responded, passing him my flashlight. "I want to confirm what door this is before I try to open it." As I spoke, I unfurled the map of the Takashima before us. "We don't need the map for that. I can already tell you what that Kuritan signage says," McKenzie answered, pointing toward a badly-faded block of script on the bulkhead. "It says 'HIGH ULTIMATE COMPUTER MIND - ACCESS FOR NO ONE - MAXIMUM LIMITED IN.'" "I'm pretty sure that works out to "Primary computer core - keep out - maximum restricted entry," no?" I replied. "That's a pretty safe bet," Dutch nodded. "Excellent," I quipped, giving the hatch a tug. "As I suspected. Locked. But it looks like the electronic access controls are still working. I bet I could get past them with the Apple-Churchill kit." Unshouldering my backpack, I set about retrieving the electronic lockpick gear, and connecting it to the door controls. As I activated the decryption subroutine, I suddenly heard a sharp, tinny squelch, followed by a chilling series of audio clips, seemingly spliced together from several different recordings of multiple different speakers. Most unsettling of all, one of the recordings was a replay of my own voice. "WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE...?"
  28. C.S.V. Republic Aegis Division staging site 3.2 kilometers from D.C.S. Takashima Great Banded Desert, Nirasaki January 31, 3029 ___________________________ As Nathan dissolved into near-hysterics, I switched off the monitor and ejected the LegalROM, handing it back to Christopher Drake. "Satisfied?" I asked, pivoting in my chair to face the man. "He's waived legal counsel, at least, for the time being," Chris replied, sliding the ROM cartridge back into its sleeve and holding it thoughtfully in his hands. "Aside from the data you mentioned earlier, is there any other advisement I can give you?" "Yes," I nodded. "If you have the bandwidth, anything you can research about what would render a confession inadmissible in a Sheratan court of law would be helpful." "You'll have it first thing tomorrow morning," the adjutant confirmed. "I suggest you let Mister Schmidt settle in for now and get as much sleep as he needs. An exhausted prisoner, despite what you might think, makes for a lousy source of reliable information." "I was paying attention in the interrogation class; I remember," I chuckled. "Alright, thank you. I'll have him taken back to the brig for now. Send the information to my attention when you've got it. I'm going to head back to the CIC and see where we stand with the penetration of the derelict and the salvage operations. Captain Donovan is probably wondering where the hell I've been for so long." "Well, I appreciate you being personally-invested in this particular detainee," Chris nodded. "He's high-risk and the only source of information about what he did with the data after he stole it from the Half Moon. Definitely someone that warrants command-level oversight." "I do what I can," I responded. "Thanks, Chris. Let me know if you need anything else from me." ### The CIC was abuzz with activity as I stepped across its threshold into the confined space. Walking over to the battlefield commander's station, I slipped my headset on, nodding an affirmation to the deck officer that he was relieved. "Angel One, this is Heavy One, checking in," I radioed to the Mendacius. "About time - sir," Captain Donovan joked. "I was beginning to worry that Schmidt had done you in." "No such luck today," I quipped. "Alright, what're we dealing with? Give me the lay of the land. "Well, Sabre team is down a man. We don't know why, but Corporal Jamison wigged out in one of the wreck's hangar bays, fired a bunch of rounds at the walls while screaming a bunch of crazy talk, and then detonated his entire explosives rig in an single go. Maxwell mentioned that he thought there might be some kind of psychotropic characteristic to the place, though we're not really sure what that might be. I suppose that goes without saying, given what we witnessed earlier with the dead body and the writing on the walls," the Captain reported. "Holy shit," I cursed. "Is everyone else okay?" "Mentally, they're shaken, but physically, they're fine. They arrived at the bridge a short while ago and they're climbing up into it now. Your timing was good. They're about to crack open the core, I believe," Donovan responded. "Alright. Thanks for minding the store for me while I was away. I'll take point from here, if you have no objections," I acknowledged. "Please do. We'll continue to transmit sitrep data and run interference from up here," the Captain replied. "Much obliged," I answered back. Taking in a general overview of the salvager compound, I noted that most of its occupiers had finished withdrawing, reducing the need for us to continue to maintain an overwhelming presence on the field. The armor lances, coupled with the ECM abilities that Dexter Friedman's Raven afforded us, would be more than adequate to provide an ongoing detail in the short term. "Control to all Aegis Division BattleMech units - nice job today. You have the green signal to stand down and come on home. That goes for everyone except you, Abaddon - I need your specialized services on station there at the Takashima until Captain Maxwell and team make their exit," I transmitted. "Armor lances, continue to provide a security detail at your respective stations until further notice." A number of acknowledgements crackled in from the various surviving 'Mech and tank units still in the field. The recall orders having been given, I turned my attention to our ingress team aboard the Takashima. "Control to Sabre team - how are you progressing, gentlemen?"
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