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Nathan Schmidt

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Nathan Schmidt last won the day on September 16

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  1. A heavy thunk thunk thunk of booted feet coming up a metal ramp behind me caused me to turn around to find the souurce of the noise. I looked just in time to see 4 Crayven marines stomping up the ramp, two of them had the Capellan guy we left behind in the cargo bay full of pigs in custody, and the other two were escorting a really beat up looking and possibly not fully conscious woman with a slender build and of Asian descent. With them was Bishop Weyland, who though injured badly with a cut and a nasty gunshot wound, was walking purposefully with them like nothing was wrong at all. I nudged Captain Maxwell to turn around and look. "Holy hell Bishop, are you ok? What the heck happened in there?" Maxwell asked as he walked over to the hulking man. I didn't get to hear his answer, though, because all of a sudden, Steve Jenkins popped into my line of sight..."HEYA BATTLE BUDDY!!" Steve squealed gleefully. "We survived another war!" "We sure did, Steve. We sure did." I answered with a nod as I peeled what was left of my spacesuit off. I was glad that the Crayven Corporation was footing the bill for the gear we had used on this latest outing, because my spacesuit was totaled and would probably never see action again. "Hey, listen...." I said as I began to fold the tattered garment up. "You really did an excellent job over there. I'm sorry I missed some of it due to being.........knocked out...for a bit, but from what I heard, you saved William and probably all of us too. Taking out the robots and then the command center made a huge difference for the team. I just wanted you to know that I really appreciate what a fine job you did." Steve stared at me silently with his eyes wide like saucers. After a couple long moments he replied. "Yeah no problem, wanna get drunk now?" he asked. I looked at my watch. "Well, ok, it's 5:15 PM ship's time, so I guess technically we wouldn't be getting day drunk, and after the day I just had, I could use a stiff one. You want to go now or what?" "No, I have to go have hellacious diarrhea and then change my clothes first before I can bar." Said Steve. "Alright...." I said, slightly unnerved by the oversharing of details and the fact that I didn't know if Steve might be implyiing that he was planning to poop his pants. "How about we meet at the bar in 30 minutes? That will give us both time to get cleaned up and stuff." "Woot!" Steve yelled. "See you soon battle buddy!" Then Jenkins went running off with a toilet computer in one hand and a space helmet in the other. I shook my head and smiled. Then I bent over to get my gear. As I did, I felt something rolling around in my shirt, and as I bent over, a totally flattened and mangled-looking bullet fell out of my shirt and onto the deck. I picked it up and stared at it for a second as it sank in that the bullet was covered in blood. It was the bullet that had been intended for me were it not for some weird medical tech from the Star League that had chosen to "adopt" me on Nirasaki. Now, it seemed like nothing would be normal. I looked around and saw that Bishop was following the Crayven Marines to the med bay but Captain Maxwell and Nikki Harlow and her crew were still here. "The extraction team is saying that they found your hurt medic and they're going to bring her on board." The Captain was saying. "I think she will be fine, the Crayven Corporation has some of the best technology around." "Good, hopefully they can spare some." Nikki said back. Just then, the Captain noticed me. "Hi Nathan, this is Nikki Harlow, she's the captain of the freighter. We're working on how to get her taken care of although its a bit outside my pay grade." "Pleasure to meet you, Captain Harlow." I said. "If there's anything I can do to help, let me know." Then I turned toward Maxwell and Nikki. "I guess there's a gathering at the bar tonight to celebrate, are either of you interested in coming to the event?"
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. It all happened in an instant. The first crew member I ran into was a woman I didn't recognize. She certainly wasn't from our crew. I knew this for two reasons. One, she was dressed as a regular civilian, and two, she had a high caliber firearm trained directly on me. In an instant, I realized that I had inadvertently stumbled behind enemy lines, instead of back to my own unit. Scowling at me, the woman said nothing, but gestured at my laser rifle, indicating that I should set it loose. I hesitated for a moment, to which she responded by brandishing the weapon as though she intended to pull the trigger. I realized I had no choice. Slowly, as painstakingly as I could, I started to lower my rifle as instructed, hoping for an opening in which I could raise it back up and perhaps stun a couple of the hostiles long enough to affect an escape. But my luck ran out. Another crew member, who I thought I recognized as 'Nikki Harlow' from the comm transmission, stepped up alongside one of the robots, responding to the first woman's calls for assistance. After a brief exchange, Nikki raised her firearm. There was no hesitation. No conversation. No chance for any reaction. She simply pulled the trigger. A tremendous muzzle flash and an apocalyptic explosion was the last thing I saw as a searing hot pain ripped through my chest, sending me into a backflip in the zero gravity environment. I tasted blood in my mouth, realizing that I was tumbling through the expulsion of fluids of my own chest wound as the inertia from the impact slammed me into a bulkhead. The searing pain from the impact left me unable to draw a breath, to cry out, to do anything but double over, my mag boots the only thing keeping me anchored in place as I floated otherwise helplessly, my vision blurring. I heard another firearm discharge and a metallic, electronic explosion and I thought I caught sight of the butt of my laser rifle spinning past in the void. My last conscious thought was that I needed to keep pressure on the wound, and I clutched at my chest as the color drained away from my vision, my thoughts dissolved into nonsense, and everything began to go blurry. Blood loss...leads to...blood pressure dropping. Blood pressure dropping...leads to cardiac failure. Cardiac failure...to...compartmentalized data...bailamos, let the rhythm take you over, ayyy Macarena...
  5. Klaxons echoed through the ship's corridors and frenzied shouts reverberated off the conduit's thick walls as I dodged and evaded the maelstrom of weapons fire that crashed down around me. The thick blue smoke billowing from the Crayven grenade toss - I wasn't sure who threw it - cast a heavy blanket of blindness between the two sparring forces, muzzle flashes and laser fire flashing through the maelstrom. With the number of shots that were flying wide between both sides, I had a feeling that everyone was firing in the general direction of where each side was, the robots included. My big concern was that the shots coming from the crew and their guards were high-powered rifle rounds and small arms rounds, whereas the majority of what we were throwing at them were laser blasts on high stun and boarding gel batons. We didn't seem to be making much of an impact. I decided to try to get closer to the battle lines and see if I could make a dent in the robotic phalanx that accompanied our assailants. I might not have been a high-end sniper, but I knew a thing or two about electronics. The only trouble was, the smoke was chokingly thick, and the glass of my helmet was shattered. I squinted into the smoke, my eyes burning, and tried to get closer to the robots. As I started in on the Capellan soldiers and their armored escorts, I began to see some of their forms through the haze. I apparently hadn't been seen, since the weapons fire that flew toward me was going over my head rather than through it. Unexpectedly, I heard a metal clatter near my feet, followed by three loud digital beeps. "Oh shit!" I exclaimed. A wayward flashbang had magnetized itself to the deck directly to the right of me. I didn't know who threw it, nor did it really matter, as it detonated fiercely, temporarily blinding me and overwhelming my hearing. I felt my feet go out from under me and I was afloat in the zero gravity, floating through the smoke. As my vision began to recover, I looked around, but all I saw was the blue smoke. Without a working HUD in my combat helmet, afloat in the weightless corridor, I had no sense of direction. I couldn't even tell which direction was down. All I could see and hear was weapons fire. "Alpha...uh..." I stammered into my headset, hoping it was still working. In my dazed state, I couldn't even remember my callsign. "Uh, Rebus to Alpha-1 or 2." I radioed, using another callsign that I reasoned that the team might recognize. There was no response. Then, I realized that my headset was no longer on my ear. It seemed that when I'd been blown off my feet, my headset had exited through the broken visor of my helmet and was no longer present. I was cut off. "Shit...." I muttered. I was cut off. I stretched my arms out to see if I could find a surface. I realized that I was alongside a bulkhead. I took hold of it, moving away from what seemed to be the weapons fire of the aggressors. Even if I couldn't hail the team, I could slowly and carefully make my way toward them, hopefully without being seen by the OpFor. Bit by bit, I edged along the wall until the source of the weapons fire was parallel to me. I pivoted on my heel, and pushed off the bulkhead toward the shapes in the smoke. "Major Hayes! Captain Maxwell!" I called out. "I lost my headset!" "Well, that's really unfortunate for you!" an unfamiliar voice replied. My heart jumped into my throat.
  6. "Looks like we got here too late." Steve said in a mournful tone. Then, the MechWarrior thunked across the deck, knelt down, and laid a greasy rag across the medic's face, along with a tiny string of rosary beads, both of which promptly floated off into the depths of the cargo hold due to the lack of gravity. "I guess it's time to kill some bad guys." Steve added, standing up and unholstering his laser rifle. "She's not dead." Bishop commented in an exasperated tone. "WHAT?? She must be dead! She looks like a dead guy! I know about dead guys!" Steve shouted. I quickly walked over to the victim and knelt down next to her, my survival medic training from the LIC kicking in. I detached my gloves from my spacesuit and clipped them to its frame, then stuck two fingers against an exposed section of the woman's neck to feel for a pulse. I found one present, although it was slow. "You might want to hold off on those funeral rites just yet." I said. Captain Maxwell kneeled down beside me. "Anything you can do?" he asked. "Well, it's kind of hard to do much without a medical kit, unless..." Captain Maxwell must have sense what I was going to say, for the next thing I knew, he had reached across to the other side of the Medics torso and unclipped a portable triage kit from her left hip. "Will this do?" he asked. "Nicely." I said, taking the kit from the Captain, flipping its lid open, and rummaging through it until I found a medical scanner. "Thank you." "Control to Alpha team, be advised we are detecting bio signs closing in on your position, you'll need to get moving soon." Alyssa Chase's voice crackled inside my helmet. "We don't have much time. Try to get her woken up, give her some painkillers, and let her know what her injuries are so that she can stay put and notify her crew." the Captain advised. "I'll do my best. No idea how far out she is. If it's just a concussion, sure. If it's a coma, I don't think we're going to be having much of a conversation." I explained, looking at the scanner. 'Pulse is okay, little slower than it should be. Body is in stress mode, which is understandable. EEG looks...well, I don't really know how to read an EEG other than to tell you that there's brain activity, so that's good. Based on what I'm seeing and what the scanner's telling me, she has a fractured left arm three fractured left ribs, a pretty nasty concussion, and multiple lacerations. Pretty consistent with someone deliberately trying to incapacitate you while also attempting as much as possible not to kill you. All in all, nice job, Bishop. She could have fared a lot worse." I reported. Captain Maxwell looked at me with a raised eyebrow. "That was meant as a compliment. Bishop is showing a lot of restraint." I whispered. "he's really loyal and very dedicated to his job, but his inner self control mechanisms are definitely fighting against him right now. Something happened to him back on Nirasaki, Captain." I readied a cocktail injection of the most powerful painkillers I could find in the kit and a mild stimulant to ease the medic out of her unconsciousness. "Well yeah, he got blown up and then ended up, somehow, in a power armor suit pumping him full of psychoactives while his body was still fundamentally mangled from the aforementioned explosion." Maxwell responded on a private comm channel into my helmet. I flipped a switch to my own radio to respond as I carefully pushed the injection into the medic's arm. "That's exactly my point." I answered back. "In the LIC, they teach you how to recognize when someone who has been held captive has been through an unbelievable psychological ordeal during it. There's telltale signs. And not only is Bishop showing all of them, making him a textbook case, but there are parts of him personality-wise that seem detached from other parts. Like there's two beings in his head. It's not MPD. It's something...else. And he's fighting it. I don't blame him for not mentioning it. He's a new hire with the Crayven Corporation, and that's a really good gig. I can totally understand someone being afraid to jeopardize their new job." "Not only that..." Maxwell added, "but he's also a loyal and dedicated soldier. Thank you for letting me know what you're seeing. I'll try to keep an eye on it. It seems that he lets you see more of him than most of us are allowed to see, so do what you can to look out for him, okay? This isn't an order. It's a personal request. You can feel free to decline it if you like." "Of course, I can do that. I'll try to help him out where I can. Hey, look, seems our patient is coming around." I observsx. Just then, I heard a ton of shouting in the corridor outside of the cargo bay, along with what sounded like troops moving into position. "Shit." Maxwell said. "Seems we're out of time. We are going to get in position next to the doors. Do your thing, and then pack it in. We need to move now." I nodded at the Captain and he and the rest of the team moved off and assumed defensive positions by the door, their weapons at the ready. "Hey there." I said to the fallen medic has her eyes slowly flutter to open, looking up at me. I tried to maintain a calm, neutral tone. "I'm Nathan Schmidt. I'm a medic from that other ship out there. How are you doing?" "Bridget MacConnell. I've had better days. What happened? And, why are you helping me? Am I a prisoner?" the medic asked groggily, trying to get up. "Whoa whoa whoa, relax, you have three fractured left ribs, a fractured left arm, and a bad concussion. Stay put. You ended up on the receiving end of some serious defense and I'm afraid that you're a little banged up. You're not a prisoner. I wanted to stabilize you so that nothing bad would happen to you and you can let your crew know where you are so they can come get you. We are not here for you or your shipmates. We're from the Crayven Corporation and we're here to get one of our own back." I said, quickly packing up the medical kit and handing it to Bridget. "I'm afraid you've got the wrong ship." Bridget said, sleepily, drifting in and out as the painkillers took hold. "This isn't a prisoner transport" "I'm really hoping you're mistaken about that." I answered. "Because then all of this will have been for nothing." "If there's any prisoner in our cargo, the only people who would know about it are the Capellans down in Bay 1. I probably shouldn't have said that." Bridget added. "I blame the drugs. I shouldn't be talking to you. Pirates are all alike." "Don't worry about it, I won't tell. Stay put, and let your crew know where you are. Here, here's your radio. Just, do me a favor? At least wait until we're around the corner before you do that? We're not going to kill anybody on your crew or take any of your crew prisoner. I promise." I said, handing the radio to Bridget and standing up. The medic didn't reply, instead just gazing at me. "Schmidt, let's go!" Major Hayes yelled. "You gave me your real name?" Bridget asked incredulously. "Crazy, huh?" I replied, and sprinted away to meet with the team as Maxwell began to open the cargo bay doors to let Alpha team slip through...
  7. "Name. Give me your name." Major Hayes repeated, standing over the captive while remaining at the ready to pacify him again if need be. "Nǐ jiù xiàng zhèlǐ de féiliào. Nǐ hěn chòu, hěn làn." the Capellan replied defiantly. "What did he say?" Maxwell asked, turning toward Steve Jenkins. Incredibly, Steve had demonstrated a proficiency in Chinese, quickly ascertaining that, while the captive clearly spoke English, the soldier had decided to play a game and pretend to not understand it. Jenkins scrunched up his face. "He said..." "...yes?" "He said, 'You are like the manure here. You stink and you are shit.'" Steve giggled. "He told shit jokes." "And I have no doubt that his comedy routine would be uproariously funny if we weren't also in a deadly combat zone." Major Hayes grumbled, turning to stare directly at the prisoner. "WHAT IS YOUR NAME?" he asked more insistently. “This is Alpha 3.... corridor secure... pre... threat has been subdued.” Bishop's voice suddenly crackled over the radio. Maxwell looked at Hayes, mouthing the words "Pre threat?" incredulously to him. "Mister Schmidt, would you please go check on Bishop, see if he needs any help?" Hayes asked, looking toward me. "Aye sir." I answered, readying my weapon as I bounded quickly across the zero gravity cargo hold. Nearing the now barricaded & closed door, I arrived just in time to see the Skinwalker retreating stealthily into the shadows. "Alpha - 3, this is Alpha-4...what've you got?" I radioed, trying to sound upbeat and not at all worried. In response I heard what sounded like a series of animalistic grunts. "Bishop?" I asked as I got closer. Then I spotted it - a broken, still figure, in a medic's uniform, prone on the ground near where Bishop stood. "Bishop!" I blurted out. "What happened?" The Skinwalker stared me down, gazing with a predatory expression....
  8. "Hi Nate, you look like you need a battle buddy, did you find the boss yet??" Steve asked, flipping his puke-smeared helmet open and grinning at me maniacally. "Uhh, which boss are you referring to? Our boss? Or, something else?" I asked, confused. "There's usually a level boss in battle fights like this. But I dunno where he is. Hey, did you know your space helmet is all busted up and there's blood on your face?" Steve answered. "Yeah, actually, I -" "Man, it smells poopy in here." Steve interrupted again. Before I could try to have any more weird conversation with him, the heavy sounds of weapons fire broke out again in the hold. I had been monitoring on my radio and it had sounded like Captain Maxwell and Major Hayes were tracking the last of the Capellans, and now it seemed that they'd found him or her. "Steve! We need to get over there and help Captain Maxwell and Major Hayes!" I yelled, brandishing my rifle and grabbing the MechWarrior by the shoulder. "Come on, let's go!" Steve and I ran as hard as we could to Pen One, and as we got there, I could hear the sound of laser fire being exchanged with the staccato crack of machine gun fire. I looked up, and saw that the weapon volleys were coming from off the top of the stack, and right as I started to climb the pens, full of crazed, anxious animals, I saw Captain Maxwell descend suddenly from the ceiling, carried on a pillar of flame from his jetpack, disappearing behind top of the stack moments later. A second thereafter I heard an impact accompanied by Captain Maxwell giving a loud "oomph" over the radio. "Captain Maxwell! Major Hayes!" I yelled, forgetting to use call signs in the panic of the moment. "Are you OK?" I motioned for Steve to start climbing up the stack with me. There was another powerful blast of laser fire. "Nice shootin', Tex." Major Hayes quipped. "Thanks, nice of you to stop by." Maxwell chuckled. "I couldn't let you have all the fun, though." "Of course not," the Major laughed. "Come on, let's get this guy secured before he wakes up. I have questions for him." "Alpha 4 to Alpha 1 and 2, do you require assistance? Alpha 5 and I are at your location." I radioed. "Negative, thank you though, Alpha 4. We're coming down with a prisoner." Major Hayes answered. A few minutes later, Captain Maxwell and Major Hayes descended with an unconscious soldier bound with flex cuffs, setting him up against a cage and quickly securing him to it as he started to come around. The man was Asian, with dark hair, and had a stocky build and a military uniform that I recognized as being a Military Police officer in the CCAF. I began to wonder what sort of cargo was on board this ship that required an MP, if it was anything other than the CEO of a corporation that held key information that they wanted. As Major Hayes attended to the details of the slowly-rousing captive, Captain Maxwell walked over to me and Steve. I noticed that he appeared to be limping, and then I saw that one of his two mag boots had been shot to pieces. "Gentlemen, I trust that you are in one piece...more or less?" Maxwell asked, glancing at my smashed helmet and facial cuts. "Either of you need medical attention?" I shook my head no. "I should be fine - other than possibly not being able to go back to the ship that way I came." I replied.
  9. It happened in an instant. One second, we were walking the length of a creepy cargo hold, dodging floating manure, generally not trying to get creeped out. The next second, an explosion of violence ripped through the darkness, a blinding cacaphony and flood of smoke rolling toward us. A hail of bullets whistled past my head, causing me to instinctively shove Bishop out of the path of the barrage as I also dove behind a stack of crates. "Take cover!" Captain Maxwell shouted across the comms. Several blazes of red laser fire illuminated the smoke hanging in the air. I looked around for my teammates, only to find myself alone. I heard a series of clangs like a sword being swung against a hardened target coming from one direction, while the scream of a heavy weapon discharging came from another. The electric-sounding yelp of multiple laser rifle rounds being fired echoed around me, and the huge detonation of a frag grenade going off rippled through the hold. I unslung my laser rifle and looked at the intensity settings. "To hell with stun mode." I muttered, shoving the weapon's power to maximum. At that output level, I would only get a few shots off, but they'd be guaranteed killing blows. I raised the rifle and slowly made my way into the smoke. Suddenly, a silhouette came toward me. "Hold it right there!" I yelled, brandishing the weapon. "Nǐ xūyào tóuxiáng!" came the reply. "I have no idea what you're saying! Drop your weapon!" I commanded. "Wǒ yào chǔsǐ nǐ!" the silhouette screamed. The next thing I knew, a beefy Capellan soldier lunged out of the smoke, a machine pistol in one hand and some kind of bladed weapon in another. I knew that I wouldn't be able to land an effective shot at such a close distance, so I twisted the rifle around and swung it like a baseball bat with all my might. It connected with the Capellan's head, causing him to scream out in pain and drop his pistol, which spiraled off into the smoke without gravity to hold it down. In response, the lumbering man swung the blade hard at me, connecting with the side of my helmet and knocking me against a cargo container face-first with a forceful impact. My helmet glass exploded inward, showering my face with little shards that tore into my skin. I cried out and then turned around, trying not to choke as the smell of manure and the sting of the smoke bit at my senses. The Capellan charged at me again, raising his bladed weapon to strike me. In a frenzied moment, I raised my rifle with one hand and pulled the trigger. An apocalyptic blast of laser fire exited the chamber, coring into the Capellan's torso, the rifle glowing red-hot and emitting a plume of smoke as the discharge happened. The Capellan staggered to a stop, looking at me with a shocked expression on his face before looking down, staring with apparent disbelief at the hole that had just been blown clean through his stomach and out the other side, the wound cauterized by the coherent energy. It looked like he tried to speak, but instead, the man sagged like a rag doll as the life drained out of him, his corpse suspended only by the zero gravity and his mag boots that stayed clamped to the deck. I shuddered at the gory scene as, in the background, Captain Maxwell's voice came over the comms to tell me what I'd already figured out. The Capellans had our number.
  10. "Alright then, Mister Schmidt. If you'd be so kind, please go ahead and facilitate us entrance. Alpha team - go weapons ready." Major Hayes commanded. "On it." I replied, quickly turning toward the airlock door and examining the security countermeasures in place. They were rudimentary and straightforward. A password keypad and an access badge reader. Fooling the system into thinking I had an access badge was actually going to be harder than brute-forcing the keypad, so I went with the latter. Unspooling a small length of data cable from my wrist-mounted computer, I managed to fumble it into the keypad's data port after several tried with my clumsy gloved hand. Then, I fired up a small proxy application which would give a rotating hardware address and a random time delay to every request I made to the keypad. That would prevent the system monitor from figuring out that there was a brute force attack in progress and shutting me out. With those measures in place I launched the attack. At first nothing happened, the numbers and letters just spun on my display. I could hear the sound of my own breathing in my helmet coming in heavy inhalations and exhalations as I watched. Eventually, one character at a time appeared and then turned green in the capture box. After what seemed like forever, a fully realized password was there: BZ2VH I quickly keyed it in, and after watching the airlock cycling its pressure down, the airlock door itself swung open with a surprising amount of force and a bang, I jumped back at the display before realizing that the decompression timing was simply acting up and released the door ahead of when it's atmosphere had finished venting. A typical thing to have happen on old and not so well maintenenced systems. "OK, Major. We're in. The lead is yours." I advised.
  11. A blaze of coherent energy rocketed through the open door of the cargo bay and cored into the aft wall, in an instant sending molten steel slagging down the bulkhead as alarms wailed. I stared wild-eyed at Major Hayes while, behind us, out in the void, blue PPC bolts impacted the Hurry Up Bessie, slowly causing its each of aft weapons to explode in blossoms of orange flame in between recharges that felt like they lasted an eternity. "Go! Go! Go!" Major Hayes' voice crackled in my helmet as the bay's drop light cycled to green and the Major himself flagged his arms at the exit. I took a deep breath and nodded, and then, feeling the Mendacius' gravity slip away as it drew to a halt and began applying reverse thrust to hold the freighter in place, I pushed off the deck and sailed through the open bay doors, into the stars. Glancing behind me, I saw Major Hayes, Captain Maxwell, Lieutenant Weyland, and Private Jenkins also taking flight, each of them assuming a different posture as they acclimated to the new process for the first time outside of the simulator. "Blade your bodies, guys...pretend you're diving down through the water. Arms at your sides. Hold onto those jump pack controls." I transmitted. There was no sarcasm in my voice, no cockiness, no arrogance. I knew that I had to keep it on the level and be a leader, even though I didn't hold any kind of rank and I was basically an inmate out on parole. Their lives, my life, and William's life depended on it. As I saw my charges start to fall into a more uniform formation, I glanced up. The prominent nose of the Mendacius loomed over us, its PPC projector glowing with a built-up charge, the ship oozing a sleek corporate look even in its disguise as a cruise liner. Looking down, I saw the Hurry Up Bessie, and the difference was stark. The hull of the ship looked worn and weathered. A large dent, looking for all the world like an impact crater from a cartoon, sat between Cargo Bay 2 and Cargo Bay 3. Someone had evidently painted horsehoe marks across the dent in an attempt at humor. Glancing toward the ship's registry, I noticed that the name of the ship was also hand-lettered on instead of being professionally applied. Flanking the name, in peeling line art, was a large, cartoony drawing of a mule. A series of fires burned where the ship's aft weapons mounts had been, now obliterated by the Mendacius. "Alpha-4 to Alpha-1...I think you're right. These people aren't military. This ship looks like it's being run on a shoestring budget by a bunch of civilians." I radioed to Major Hayes. "Which begs the question, what is the deal with that military transponder signal?" Captain Maxwell added. "We'll find out soon enough." Major Hayes answered. "The readings from Cargo Bay 1 are really interesting. A lot of activity in there. Remember, we're going to be doing most of this extraction in zero gravity, so whatever's happening, you'll need to keep your bearings." "Oh, joy." Lieutenant Weyland quipped. Before he released the key on his microphone, I swore that I heard a noise somewhere in between a belch and a dry heave. I hoped he wasn't getting spacesick. That would be awful. "Alright, Alpha-4, take us down." the Major ordered. Looking ahead, I saw that we were almost directly overhead the Cargo Bay 2 airlock. I angled my body down slightly, and fired the thrusters on my spacesuit. "Go time, Alpha lance! Light the rockets!" I called out as immediately, I felt a jolt as the thrust propelled me forward at what felt like an unbelievable speed. The distance to target counted down from 800 meters rapidly and the airlock grew in size as it approached. The stars passed in a blur, and at 200 meters, I fired the retro thrusters to slow my approach, coming up on the airlock at no faster than a brisk walk. I let the momentum carry me in, sticking first my feet, then my arms out to stop me as I landed softly against the Hurry Up Bessie's hull. I quickly grabbed a mag clamp from my spacesuit pocket and latched it against the hull to create a handhold, and then turned around to watch the rest of the team as they flew in, bacckdropped by the monolithic hull of the Mendacius....
  12. Meanwhile..... I listened to the exchange between the Mendacius and the Hurry Up Bessie. Hearing Donovan hamming it up, his normal serious and crisp military dialect replaced with an over-the-top, smarmy-sounding game show host-style delivery would have been side-splittingly hilarious if it weren't for the fact that I understood full well that the outcome of our mission relied almost exclusively on the man's ability to keep the ruse going for as long as possible. Fortunately, it seemed as though he had come up with a fairly convincing narrative, which presently was allowing us a scant window of time to ready ourselves for the mission while the Mendacius closed the distance to our target. I glanced around me. Captain Maxwell and Major Hayes were well on their way to having their high-altitude gear ready, while Bishop moved more slowly, deliberately, and painfully as he fought through obviously still-raw battlefield injuries to suit up as he talked with the Major. Meanwhile Steve Jenkins bounced around on one foot, flashing the entire cargo bay as he fought a losing battle against a rubber thong he was attempting to don as apparently, a totally unnecessary component of his space suit. I'd been through the process of donning space combat armor so many times that I'd blazed through today's process and now stood in the cargo bay, looking for opportunities to help. Suddenly, I heard Captain Maxwell let out a frustrated grumbled. I wandered over to his location to see if I could be of assistance, and it was then that I saw his helmet communication unit had been installed upside down. "How in the heck did that happen, sir? I asked. "I have no idea, but it's going to be a real pain in the ass to try to use the thing this way." Charles explained. "I don't suppose you have any whiz bang tech tricks that might fix this situation?" "Actually, I might." I said, pulling my rigging knife and guiding the flat edge up against the communication unit. Once it was in place, I slowly but forcefully gave it a thump. As the comm unit separated from the helmet, save for a series of wires that ran from the device into the the host interface, I accidentally slashed my hand open with the blade. "Shit!" I yelled. "Oh, god, we need to get you some medical attention." Charles observed. "Major Hayes, can you -" "We're fine, Major!" I countered. "Why did you do that? You need to get bandaged, at least." said Charles. "No, really, I'm fine." I said, clamping a free had down on the cut. "Watch this..."
  13. "It is, but you also have to understand that less than a month ago, you were shooting at the people that you were working alongside." Major Hayes answered. "Prior to that, you offlined the flagship of the Crayven Corporation's fleet, got some folks killed in the process, stole data, and caused a major embarrassment for the corporation in front of the Lyrans. Your own government has issued a warrant for your extradition, something that I'm still not sure how we can fight even if we do drop charges against you." I hung my head in shame, my ability to put on my usual cool guy front gone. "I can see that you're definitely throwing out all the stops to make amends for that. You did a remarkable job getting the Republic back online, and I am amazed at what you pulled off on Nirasaki, but as I said, there are those who might feel that your presence introduces an unstable element into a critical situation. We can't screw this up. William is more than just some guy who runs the company. He's the focal point around which this corporation revolves, and he is the sole holder of some of our knowledge. We need to use the most comprehensive, reliable, and expert resources currently at our disposal to bring him back alive. We are working with what we have here, which means that we can't afford to have anything come apart mid-mission." Major Hayes explained. "I understand." I nodded. "I just wanted to help. And I thought that those things that you mentioned - my knowledge of computer systems, my aerial operations training, my proven ability to offline a ship for the benefit of us being able to control the situation, and the fact that I've proven to you that I can be reliable, all would have been points in favor of me coming. The only thing I stand to gain from this specific mission is your trust. Where would I possibly go if I decided to go rogue on this mission? You have the Mendacius here this time and no element of surprise available to me on my part. Even if I did take over that other ship, somehow, I'd never be able to outrun or outgun you. But I wouldn't try to do that, because I want to put my life on the line to get your man back. You saved mine. It''s the least I can do in return." "This isn't going to be a sole decision on my part. Donovan needs convincing as well. What assurance can I give him?" Hayes asked. I thought about my response for a moment. "Put another tracker on me. Send me in with no weapons. Put a remote-controlled cyanide capsule in my body or something, whatever it takes. I'll submit to it." I pleaded. Hayes nodded his head. "I'll talk to Donovan. I'll let you know what he says." the Major replied. "Thanks, Major." I answered. "I promise not to let you down."
  14. "No? No further questions? All right, then this preliminary briefing is concluded. We'll have a more comprehensive operational briefing during our layover in the Caph system. According to our sources, our quarry is going to be jumping to Capolla roughly simultaneously to our own jump to Caph. As the situation evolves, we'll keep you apprised. Dismissed." As the rest of the assembled personnel left the briefing room, I stayed behind in my seat, looking straight ahead at the podium, where Major Hayes and Captain Donovan were conversing. Eventually, Hayes noticed me. "Is there something I can do for you, Mr. Schmidt?" he asked. "Can you and I have a word?" I asked. The Major raised an eyebrow. "Sure, what's on your mind?" I glanced at Captain Donovan. "In private?" Donovan's eyes narrowed. Hayes held a hand up to stop Donovan from saying anything. "Marcus, give us a minute, will you?" Major Hayes asked. Captain Donovan seemed to hesitate for a second or two before walking slowly out of the briefing room. The hatch thunked closed behind him, leaving just me and Hayes together in the room. "Alright, what's going on?" asked Hayes. "Sir, did I do something between Operation: Black Eclipse and now to undermine your trust in me?" I asked pointedly. Major Hayes looked slightly confused. "No, why?" "Because until today, I thought that the stuff......the good stuff, I mean, that I did at Nirasaki meant something. But today, I saw the looks between you and Captain Donovan and your reservations about telling me really important details of the mission. I have risked my life twice for the Crayven Corporation for stuff that wasn't self-serving, and when I got back to the Tana most recently, you thanked me for a job well done and you said you were so impressed with the way I turned things around. You said you would be suspending the charges against me pending William being willing to dismiss them once we rescue him. I thought that meant I had built trust back up with you." Hayes nodded. "And I didn't think or say otherwise, it's just. You have to understand that this is a really, really high-stakes mission. And a few folks are concerned that bringing you along would introduce an unstable element into a critical situation." "You mean that people are worried I'd betray them." I said pointedly.. Major Hayes got really quiet. "In a word, yes." the Major answered. "And I depend on the perspectives of my advisors to plan these missions." I hung my head down in frustration. "Even over your own feelings? What more do I have to do to prove myself to you? You say "trust is earned," but how can I earn your trust if you won't allow me a chance to?" Hayes nodded again. "A fair question." "Is it? Well, here's another." I said. "Why would you not want to take the most qualified skydiver on this ship ....that's me by the way......on a mission to rescue the CEO of your company. Isn't "missing CEO" usually an all-hands on deck type of situation?" Hayes looked like he was considering the words I had spoken...
  15. Steve finished shouting his inquiries at Major Hayes and Captain Donovan. In the stunned silence that followed, I also rose to my feet and addressed the command staff. "Sirs, while I can understand that the Mendacius can use her planetary drives to overtake a conventional DropShip, but how do we plan to keep the ship from continuing on its way and possibly even entering the atmosphere, where the Mendacius can't follow? Also, what class of vessel are we talking about? Do we think it's any threat to us when we're flying close in? What's our plan for unlocking the airlock once we're aboard?" I waited patiently for a response.
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