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James Hayes

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  1. "James...you came," William enthused, a mixture of gratitude and relief in his expression as I knelt down and supported him against my knees while taking an assessment of his health. Aside from his vitals being all over the place, Kauffman looked like he'd been through the wringer. His hair was wildly unkempt, sections of it having been buzzed away entirely for what I can only assume were attempts at biohacking his implants. In some places, the marks of sutures were evident. His face was gaunt, with dark circles under his eyes, and even with the spacesuit in place, I perceived that he'd lost quite a bit of weight. "Well, yeah, you forgot to release my stock options before we went IPO," I joked. "I couldn't let you off the hook that easily." William smiled weakly. "Am I imagining things, or was that Nathan Schmidt who you had on your shoulder? And did he actually just save your life?" the executive asked. "Yes, sir. It's definitely Mister Schmidt. And it does seem that he had impeccable timing, both in terms of when he elected to come back from the nearly-dead and when he decided to intervene on my behalf," I nodded. "The last time I saw Schmidt, he was in the process of destroying the Half Moon. Now, he's working with us?" Kauffman inquired incredulously. "There have been a lot of developments while you were...out of the loop," I explained. "I can promise you a full briefing, but right now, respectfully, we need to get you out of here. Do you feel like you can walk?" "Yes. The stimpatch seems to be working; thank you. I can walk," William confirmed, gingerly rising to his feet with my assistance. "I believe I overtaxed my implants just a bit on that last maneuver." "That last maneuver saved my life, and it was awesome!" Steve Jenkins suddenly exclaimed, releasing Nathan Schmidt from an awkward embrace and ambling over to stand before Kauffman, grinning from ear to ear. "You were all like, 'NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! PEW PEW PEW PEW PEW PEW!' And then the guys were like, 'AHHH, YOU KILLED ME.'" "James, this is Steve Jenkins, my liberator. I'm assuming you've already been introduced. He's a fine solider and expert tactician," William smiled, clapping Jenkins on the shoulder. "He was instrumental in seeing to it that I made it out of that...laboratory...in once piece." Kauffman gestured toward a half-destroyed portable building within the cargo bay that was bedecked with all manner of communication dishes and antennas. "They had you in there?" I asked. "What were they doing?" "Attempting to use a variety of techniques to access my augmentations and, presumably, try to download the information in my mind. They started that after I wouldn't simply tell them about Project Black Eclipse. I'm still not entirely sure how they found out that venture in the first place," William explained, raising an eyebrow and glancing toward Nathan. "I was in and out of consciousness for - well, I'm not sure how long. What is today's date?" "March 3, 3029," I responded. "I was in and out of consciousness for a long time," Kauffman concluded. "Well, we should try to get that laboratory transferred over to our custody for analysis. See what all they might have done to you - and also ascertain how much information they potentially mined," I advised. "Our first priority is to get you off this ship, though. The rest of the team's waiting for us over there." I pointed toward the gathering of Weyland, Maxwell, Harlow, and her crew. "This rescue was only possible because of them as well, and I'm sure that they're anxious to say hello. Let's get you over to them. Steve and Nathan - will you lead the way?" I asked. Schmidt and Jenkins nodded and headed down the ramp ahead of us. As I put Kauffman's arm over my shoulders and assisted him in his strides, I glanced ahead at Nathan. Where the plastiform bandage had previously been present on his back, there was now only exposed flesh, with no sign of the the gaping exit wound that had previously been present. What in the hell is going on there? I thought to myself. I started to make a comment to William, but decided against it for now. Whatever gift it was that Schmidt possessed, speculation about it could wait until we'd disentangled ourselves from the current predicament. ### A few moments later, we rendezvoused with the remainder of Alpha team and the crew. of the Hurry Up Bessie. As we arrived, I waved an incredulous-looking Captain Harlow over to me. "Captain Nikki Harlow - this is William Kauffman - your undocumented passenger. General Kauffman - Captain Harlow is the skipper of the ship you're aboard - the Hurry Up Bessie. She says that she was unaware of what the Capellans were doing in their little shop of horrors back there." "I was unaware," Nikki scowled. "There's no need to speculate about where my loyalties fell in this whole mess. We only took a haulage contract from the Capellans. We don't answer to House Liao." "I'm just relaying the information, not trying to make any assessment of the situation," I answered. "It's a pleasure to meet you, Miss Harlow," William smiled, his polished and charming personality asserting itself despite all that he'd just endured. "Oh, uh - nice to meet you, too, Mister Kauffman. I hope you're doing okay. Better than these guys, at least," Harlow continued, gesturing at the gore surrounding us. William blanched noticeably. "I am, thank you for asking. And I'm terribly sorry about the inconvenience and financial hardship this incident has undoubtedly inflicted on you. I'm sure that the Crayven Corporation can come to an equitable arrangement with you to make you whole again," Kauffman continued, looking toward Captain Harlow expectantly. "Have we any unfinished business here?"
  2. "Ammo bins on guns one and two down 50 percent," Bishop reported. "I’m pushing forward." "Copy that," I replied. To say that conditions on the battlefield had become 'chaotic' was a gross understatement. Between Capellan forces fighting alongside uncooperative robots, grenades detonating, and Charles and Bishop using a pair of hijacked battledroids to spray lead at everything that moved, total mayhem reigned supreme. I hastily alternated between monitoring Nathan Schmidt's vitals, providing situation reports to the Mendacious, and defending our ragtag group as best I could as Captains Maxwell, Harlow, and Lieutenant Weyland pushed slowly toward the center of the madness. As opportunity permitted, I blindly fired my weapon at targets of opportunity, unconvinced that the shots would find their marks from my position, but that didn't entirely matter. Shock and awe had become our new defense, and for the moment, it seemed to be working. The Capellan forces didn't know what the hell was going on, and were so confused by the orgy of violence that had unexpectedly broken out before them that they were essentially just shooting at everything that didn't look like it belonged. Suddenly. the scream of Cargo Bay One's heavy access door being raised on rusty cogs caught my attention, and I jerked my head toward the sound just in time to see a pair of Capellan soldiers break from their formation and run toward the aperture, light spilling from within the bay that had a decidedly aquatic shimmer to it. I barely had time to register what it was that I was seeing before a thunderous, fast-moving explosion, accompanied by a cataclysmic boom, lit up the chamber. Tendrils of flame spilled out into the corridor, swallowing the whole of the cargo bay in an orange-white conflagration that, momentarily, looked like the flash from a nuclear blast. The Capellans who looked toward the commotion were quickly taken out by precision shots from Charles, Nikki, and Bishop, rapidly turning the focus of the fight back toward us. "What the fuck was that?" I marveled. "Your guess is as good as mine, Major," Captain Donovan's voice crackled in my headset. "Sensors registered an explosion from the cargo bay. That's all I can tell you." "Lifesigns?" I asked, worried. "Two. Moving in your direction," Donovan advised. "Can you get eyes on them?" "I intend to try," I answered. Gathering up Nathan under one arm, I pushed forward as far as I dared, drawing almost directly behind Captain Maxwell to try to gain a better vantage point. Withdrawing a small set of binoculars from a chest pocket, I activated their viewfinder and gazed toward the hold. As I watched, two Capellans staggered backward out of the smoke and flames, badly charred from the explosion, appearing to pause just outside the cargo bay doors to catch their breath before turning back toward the scene of the blast. No sooner had they done so than I saw two figures in spacesuits emerging from within the billowing smoke. One was short and carried a katana, a laser rifle, and a mishmash of other eclectic weaponry. The other was of average height, lanky, and had a single handgun strapped at hip level. Both spacesuits bore a silver winged insignia on their chest plates. "Holy shit! Jenkins! He did it!" I exclaimed. "Alpha-1 to Alpha team - I have eyes on Alpha-5 and Regent." Hoisting Nathan onto my shoulder, I rose to my feet as Maxwell and Weyland began an aggressive drive straight into the Capellan line, dodging red-hot shell casings as they poured from the ejection ports of the robots' machine guns. We were close enough now that I could see the goings-on in the hold unassisted, and as I craned my neck to try to observe Jenkins and Kauffman, my heart caught in my throat. In the seconds that it had taken me to retrieve Nathan and advance my position, the Capellans had intercepted Steve. William was no where to be seen. "Alpha-1 to Alpha-2; Captain Maxwell, the Capellans have Private Jenkins at knifepoint at the cargo bay entrance. Can you get a shooting solution on them?" I radioed. Though I was directly behind Charles, the noise of the engagement made unassisted vocal communication impractial. "Alpha-1, we're barely hitting anything we mean to hit with these manually-targeted robots. If I try to take out those soldiers, I'm just as likely to hit Steve. I'll do what I can to throw them off their game, though," Maxwell replied, swinging his robot's guns around and blasting the door frame of the cargo bay with a barrage of wildly-targeted rounds. The Capellans holding Steve jumped momentarily before returning their attentions toward him, and I realized that they felt safe in their current situation, which was not a good sign. In fact, one of the Capellans casually pushed up the visor on his combat helmet and lifted Steve off the ground, pushing a large bladed weapon to his throat as a third soldier joined the pair. We didn't have the luxury of trying for lucky shots any longer. I had to act. With Nathan still on my shoulder, I sprinted forward, keeping a low crouch posture and hugging the right-hand wall of the corridor as it branched out in either direction and formed a large antechamber before the cargo bay entrance itself, which sat atop a steeply-inclined ramp. As I ran, I kept one eye on the situation unfolding with Jenkins, while the other was trained on our Capellan assailants. The defending force - what was left of it - paid me no mind, likely because I was just about the only thing that wasn't presently shooting at them, and thus, I represented a more negligible threat in the moment. I was thus able to traverse almost the entire distance between Alpha team's position and the hold's doorway when, abruptly, I heard a piercing, primal scream. Twisting my head toward the source of the noise, I saw the taller spacesuited figure literally come flying out from behind the right-hand side of the cargo doors, lunging directly toward the trio of Capellans who were accosting Steve. William...no! I thought to myself, a sense of dread washing over me. But what happened next was unbelievable. In the space of no more than three seconds, while in flight, Kauffman withdrew the pistol from his hip holster, brought it to bear on the lead soldier, triple-tapped the trigger, swung the gun around, and squeezed off three rounds again, all in a single, fluid movement, immediately dropping both Capellans in a near-simultaneous act of unfathomable marksmanship. Before the third Capellan had time to react, Kauffman shoved Jenkins out of harm's way while simultaneously transferring the weapon to the MechWarrior. Steve immediately dispatched the goon as Kauffman collapsed to the floor. In an instant, I realized what William had done - and the life-threatening condition it had placed him in. I needed to close the distance as quickly as I could - and the only way to reach Kauffman was through the center of the melee. Throwing caution aside, I hurtled across the antechamber, holding Nathan with my right arm, drawing my Bowie knife from its holster with my left hand. Bludgeoning my way past a soldier on my flank with the weapon's hilt, I swung its bladed end around to the right to impale another Capellan mid-charge before he could run me through with a bayonet fixed to the end of his rifle. Ascending the ramp, I called out to Steve. "Jenkins! It's Major Hayes! Are you alright?" Steve opened his mouth to speak, but was abruptly cut off as a thunderous gunshot erupted directly behind me. I flinched, expecting to feel the molten-hot pain of a bullet piercing my back. Instead, I heard the sound of a body impacting a nearby wall. As I turned toward the source of the sound, I bore witness to Nathan Schmidt, still braced on my shoulder, my sidearm drawn and in his hand, smoke rising from its barrel. The limp body of a Capellan soldier drifted slowly past, a trickle of blood trailing from a mortal head injury. Speechless, I stared at Nathan. "Welcome back," I finally said in shock. "You sure know how to make an entrance."
  3. As the lights came back up, I found myself amidst a sea of carnage. Debris, corpses, and blood were afloat in the corridor, twisting and undulating in the weightless environment, enveloped in tendrils of smoke. Glancing around, I came to realize that every Capellan in the compartment, without exception, was deceased - and some had passed in truly horrific fashion. Standing before the surviving civilians, awash in battlefield grime and gore, was Lieutenant Weyland, a blood-soaked crowbar clenched tightly in his fist. The instrument was bent at an odd angle, as though Bishop had, through some unfathomable act of strength, stuck something with it under such force that the steel itself had yielded. Ahead of me, Captain Maxwell stood in a tense face-off with Captain Harlow. The pair both had their weapons drawn on one another at point-blank range, a tense negotiation already underway between the pair. I had to hand it to Maxwell - not every mercenary was especially adept at the finer points of diplomacy, let alone crisis de-escalation - but in this case, it certainly seemed as though the MechWarrior was holding his own in the conversation. I cautiously approached, arriving beside Maxwell just as Harlow pointed at a crumpled form behind a cargo crate. In an instant, I recognized the Crayven Corporation-issue spacesuit and its shattered helmet glass. Nathan! "Go ahead and take him. He's not good for much now," the woman responded, gesturing with her firearm at the lifeless body. As Maxwell continued to maneuver through the conversation, I glided over to the fallen Lyran. His skin was already draining of color, his expression a deathly pallor. I quickly pulled my gloves and helmet off, magnetizing my boots to the deck directly alongside the young man, and felt his neck for a pulse. Eventually, I was able to locate one, though it was weak and thready. To my surprise, the youth's skin was quite warm to the touch - feverishly so. "Stay with me, Nathan," I murmured, unclipping what was left of his helmet and moving his hand away from the massive chest wound he bore. The pistol round had punched through the young man's right pectoral muscle, just above his right breast and below the clavicle, ripping through his spacesuit and shredding the fabric layers beneath to tear into his flesh. He was extremely lucky - had he suffered the same injury on the left side of his chest, he'd likely have been killed instantly. As things stood, I wasn't certain how much longer he had, or what his odds of survival were - the fact that the wound had stopped bleeding was a worrying indicator that either Nathan's blood pressure had dropped dangerously low, or that he'd suffered such catastrophic blood loss that there remained little to lose. I rifled through my hip-mounted personal medkit, locating bandages, a stimpack of adrenaline, and a vitals scanner. Flipping the unit on, I moved it over the site of injury. The bullet was larged far too deep inside the Lyran's body for me to attempt to extract it in the field. So I went about doing the next best thing - applying pressure and bandages to the wound, while administering the stimulant in an attempt to boost Nathan's vitals and perhaps rouse him from his unconscious state. "He looks to be in a really bad way, Major," Captain Donovan's voice crackled in my headset. "Do you require evac?" I paused to listen to the conversation between Maxwell and Harlow. It sounded as though the mercenary had actually managed to make inroads with the freighter captain, who'd displayed concern at the news that she and her crew may have been unwitting accessories to an abduction, and who was now agreeing to be shown what we believed to be in the cargo bay. Nice work, Maxwell... "Have a shuttle on standby, Home Plate, but do not launch until my command. Understand?" I replied to the Mendacious. "Understood, Major," Donovan acknowledged. "Captain Maxwell," I called out to Charles, whose head turned toward me in tandem with that of Harlow. "Nathan's alive. I'll be transporting him with us. We need to hurry, though. I don't know how much time he's got left. Lead the way."
  4. "Alpha-1, this is Control, you have three additional biosigns headed your way. That's ten bogies total. Recommend you consider withdrawal. Do you require extract?" Warrant Officer Alyssa Chase's voice was nearly drowned out by the scream of weapons fire and the whistle of high-caliber rounds passing mere inches from my head as I threw myself into a recessed doorway for cover and clawed at my comm unit, attempting to increase the volume with one hand while simultaneously continuing to fire into the fray. As bullet after bullet tore into my flak vest, I dove through the now-open clamshell doors into the control room, taking cover behind the nearest console just long enough to prime and throw my last flak grenade back at my pursuers. "Possibly, Control - it may be wise to have a shuttle on hot standby! I'll advise further shortly!" A long delay ensued. I popped out from behind the doorway and sprayed round after round at the assailants, driving two of the soldiers back just long enough for me to take cover in the doorway once more as a crackle came across my headset. "Roger that - be advised, we pulled the schematics of this type of ship, and we found that there's a long service tunnel directly above you at your current position. If you can reach it, you may be able to bypass the corridors entirely and reach Cargo Bay 1. Do you see the access hatch?" I cursed under my breath, and holstered my laser rifle, withdrawing the Buccaneer Boarding Gel gun holstered on my hip. As I armed the weapon, I swiveled out into the line of fire again and quickly fired all five of its rounds indiscriminately into the mass of men and machines that now mounting an extremely aggressive defense against us. Two of the rounds caught a pair of Capellans center of mass, causing both soldiers to be knocked off their feet and sent cartwheeling into opposite bulkheads. "Yeah, I see it," I replied, glancing toward the ceiling and observing the presence of a pair of small, sliding hatch doors marked "SRV-134." A bone-jarring explosion and a blinding white light - trademarks of a flashbang being detonated - threatened to overwhelm me as the Capellan defenders threw a less-than-lethal grenade in our direcction Quickly, I scrambled farther forward, trying desperately to buy enough time to complete the transmission. "Can you get into it?" Chase asked. "Not in our current situation. We'd be sitting ducks if we all decided to stop firing long enough to get into the shaft ." I answered. "However, I do have an idea. Can you packet sniff our current location and advise where these robots are getting their telemetry from?" "Stand by, Major," came the reply. I reloaded the gel gun and sent a new series of projectiles downrange, eliciting a scream from another unfortunate target. "Major, it looks like they're running a massive amount of telemetry back and forth from Cargo Bay 1. I would suspect that they've got some kind of makeshift "command and control" room set up there. If you can disrupt that communication, it may have a deleterious effect on the robots." "Copy. I'll see what we can do." I leaped from behind the doorway, discharging the last of my gel gun rounds into the hostile OpFor and calling to Private Jenkins, next to whom I'd landed. "Private Jenkins! I have an objective for you!"
  5. We were in the middle of an ambush, and all hell had broken loose, along with, by all appearances, several hogs, the hapless animals floating about in the weightlessness as I dodged incoming fire. Though I'd made every effort to stay with the team, the suddenness and ferocity of the Capellan attack had forced us apart to diverse regions of the cargo hold. As explosions of gunfire thundered around me, accompanied by the screams and shouts of combatants, I ran through the smokey haze, charging toward the location where I believed the Capellans to be fortifying. "Alpha-1 to Contro! We're under heavy attack. Alpha-2 counts a minimum of five bogies. Can you confirm?" What felt like an eternity passed as I waited for a response. A hail of bullets pinged into the cargo containers beside me, sending me instinctively into a defensive position, strafing into the fog with a wide sweep of laser fire. "We're only reading three - make that two - humanoid-aligned heat signatures in the hold with you at this time, Major. It looks like your team fairly quickly put down most of them; we are reading thermals consistent with the presence of decedents," Donovan replied, his tone a practiced, eerie calm against the mayhem unfolding. reassuring. "Where are these other two relative to my position?" I asked. "One is approaching Alpha-3, and the other is closing on Captain Maxwell," Donovan responded. "Copy that, Control - Alphas 2 and 3, are you direct on that traffic?" I asked. A pair of affirmations met my response. "I'm already hunting the one closest to me," Weyland's voice added in a low growl. "Alpha-2's prey is closest to the you, Major." "Acknowledged," I replied. "Control, I need a waypoint to Alpha-2 and the heat signature closing on him." As a green dot illuminated on my combat spacesuit's HUD, accompanied by a red dot representing the hostile soldier, I double-checked the beam intensity setting on my laser rifle. Heavy stun. Good, I thought to myself. I want to take this one alive.
  6. The dull roar of oxygen entering the airlock rumbled through my helmet as the room around us equalized its atmosphere to the cargo hold beyond. I glanced toward Maxwell, Weyland, Schmidt, and Jenkins, noting their body language. Even from within their spacesuits, I could tell that they were tense. This sort of mission had the potential for an unbelievable amount of disaster. On an open battlefield, noncombatants were usually a rarity. In an urban environment - which at least some respectable commanders sill avoided in recognition of the Ares Conventions - it tended to be fairly easy to distinguish hostiles from civilians. But boarding a DropShip full of crew we'd never seen, comprised of passengers encompassing an untold number of backgrounds and professions, was a grab bag of possibilities. And the undeniable truth of the matter was, we didn't have a lot to go on. We simply knew that someone, somewhere, was probably holding our CEO hostage aboard this vessel, and those individuals would in all likelihood be hostile toward us. What that meant - whether we had a ship full of armed and angry people on the other side of the airlock waiting for us - or whether we had a compliant crew that would stand down when they realized that they'd been boarded - or maybe even something in between - was a game of Russian roulette about to be decided. I'd been through enough training scenarios to know how quickly things could go wrong in a situation such as this one. And, though they came from a mix of different careers and proficiencies, I had a strong feeling that my brothers-in-arms now present shared my concerns. As the airlock finished pressurizing, and its status indicator flickered erratically to green, I keyed my comm unit to the team channel. "Keep it cool and measured ,Alpha team. I know this is going to be a stressful one. Take a deep breath, and let's go in nice and easy. Key things to keep in mind - if they look scared and unarmed, don't shoot. If they're armed and not surrendering, and you feel that you have to shoot, try to go for something nonlethal. Understood?" I asked. A series of affirmations, some sounding doubtful, met my reply. "One other thing. I also don't expect you to refrain from deadly force if it's clear that your life is in immediate danger. My first responsibility is to your safety, so I want you to exercise good judgement and make the calls that you feel are most appropriate in the moment. If in doubt, there's no shame in calling your target for a second set of eyes. Let's go get William and get out of here." Bringing my laser rifle to the ready, I slapped the door control for the inner airlock. The heavy steel door rumbled aside, revealing the expanse of the cargo bay beyond. A shrill, horrific cacaphony of squeals, screams, and bellows met my ears. As my eyes adjusted to the brighter lighting level, I saw, laid out before me, row after row of transport cages full of distraught, and occasionally angry, hogs. And manure. So much manure - much of it afloat in the weightless environment of the bay. "What the fuck...?" I blurted.
  7. "Fhloston Paradise, this is Nikki Harlow, captain of the freighter Hurry Up Bessie. Please state your intentions.” Marcus Donovan glanced at me incredulously, mouthing the words "Hurry Up Bessie" as he did so. I shrugged, shaking my head. "Hardly a Capellan freighter name," Donovan observed. "Hardly the name I'd expect for a Capellan captain," I replied. "I think we're on to something. Interesting how quickly they spotted us, too. Might be some paranoia happening there." "I agree. And it seems they're on to us, too. I better get them talking. In the mean time, sir, you may want to get suited up as well. I'm going to have the helm close the gap," the Captain acknowledged. I paused momentarily, remembering that I, too, was on deck for this engagement. It had been a while since that was last the case. "Right. The ship is yours. I'll be monitoring via comm link," I acknowledged. "Good luck, sir," Donovan answered as I stepped into the lift. As the doors swished closed and the elevator car began to move laterally down the length of the Mendacius, I felt the ship's gravity suddenly double. The helm was pushing the engines hard, solidly exceeding the vessel's safe speed in an attempt to overtake the freighter. I gripped onto the car's handrail to stabilize myself as I withdrew my comm unit from its cargo pocket and flipped it open, listening in on the ship-to-ship communication. "This is Cruise Director Marcus Donovan of the Fhloston Paradise. One of your crew members entered a raffle for an all-expenses-paid trip on the White Swan Trans-Stellar, Inc. luxury liner of their choice. They won! We're here to deliver the golden certificate personally," Donovan's voice enthused. "Raffle? I don't remember hearing anything about a raffle," Captain Harlow replied, confusion in her voice. A series of muffled, off-mic exchanges followed, during which the name 'James' was mentioned several times. The speaker eventually returned to the comm channel. "Who was the winner?" "Does the name 'James' ring a bell?" Marcus asked, continuing the ruse. "Oh my god. Your intern is going to make us late for the drop-off. Or, later, as the case might be, given the cock-up with the sensors at the jump point..." Nikki's voice continued, a debate beginning to unfold with someone in the background. I hit a button on my comm unit to transmit an intraship message to Captain Donovan only. "Feels like we're pulling nearly two Gs, Marcus. How much longer till we're within NCSS range?" I asked. "About two more minutes. If we do find something, it's going to be nearly eight minutes to grapnel distance. Enough time for you to be ready to go - but also a hell of a long time to keep up this game," Donovan answered. "Keep them talking. Let me know as soon as you've got something conclusive. Get me a spectral analysis of the heat signatures on that ship - I want to know how many bio signs are onboard and whether or not it looks like any of them are being detained. Also, tap into their comm system if you can. Any chatter that gives us an indication of what's going on over there could be useful," I responded. "You got it," Marcus confirmed, the voice of Captain Harlow still audible in the background as she apparently read someone on the other end of the commlink the riot act. With a cheery 'ding,' the lift's doors swished open, revealing the expanse of the forward cargo bay beyond. Nathan Schmidt, Steve Jenkins, Bishop Weyland, and Charles Maxwell stood near the chamber's towering external doors, all four men in various stages of suiting up for the mission ahead. As I approached, Charles and Weyland took notice of me, their postures straightening as they looked in my direction. "Major Hayes; welcome to the party," Captain Maxwell quipped. "Glad to be here. As for you, Lieutenant Weyland...how are you doing? You sure you're feeling up to this?" I asked, gazing at Bishop's countenance, noting that the towering man seemed to be barely suppressing his physical pain. "There's no shame in taking a pass, but I'd be lying if I said we wouldn't greatly benefit from your abilities." As Bishop took in what I'd just said, I quickly began changing into the combat spacesuit that had been laid out for me. Whatever the outcome of my offer was to be, I had a feeling that the mission clock would be starting soon, and it was critical for me to be at the ready...
  8. "Then I volunteer" Jenkins said. "I was an Elite Parachute Combatant on Kentares for King Dresari. Death has no fear of me." I stared blankly at the MechWarrior for several seconds, attempting to process the statement he'd just made. Steve, meanwhile, proceeded to snap to a salute so hard that I heard his knuckles smack against his forehead. "Alright," I finally replied, slowly. "I hope that you, likewise, have no fear of death. Or, even better, a healthy fear of it. We'll take a look at your training crèche." Private Jenkins continued to hold his salute, wordlessly. At length, I returned the salute. "You may be seated, Private," I nodded. "Sir yes, sir, Private Jenkins, returning to seat, sir!" Steve exclaimed, pivoting on his heel, taking two heavy-footed, exaggerated steps toward his chair, pivoting again aggressively, and then sitting down forcefully with a loud 'clank,' a manic grin on his face all the while. I cast an incredulous glance to Donovan before looking back toward Nathan Schmidt, who had quietly risen to his feet and stood at parade rest. "Yes, Mister Schmidt. What can I do for you? How's your face, by the way?" I added. The Lyran had incurred a nasty gash on his face during the paraglide landing on the Takashima, yet it'd miraculously and mysteriously disappeared entirely by the time Nathan made his return to the Tana. Our physicians hadn't been able to explain it. "It's, uh, still gone, sir," Schmidt replied, self-consciously. "Good. Carry on," I advised. "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?" Captain Donovan cast me a concerned look. I returned his gaze with a "we'll talk later" gesture. "Our intelligence indicates we're dealing with a Trojan blockade runner, a favored design for smugglers and n'er-do-wells wanting to transact illicit business while making sure that the ship they're in can hold its own in a firefight. As they're typically upconverted from unarmed civilian models on a one-off basis by their owners, there is no standard armament configuration. It typically carries a crew of 18, with the ability to accommodate an additional six passengers, each with their own cabin. It's also got a 1,550 ton cargo bay with two doors. The ship also has a small craft bay with room for two vessels - again, with two doors." I pulled up a generalized schematic of the class for easier reference, sending the image to the main display." Our plan is to overtake the ship, hooking it by its hardpoints with our grappler launcher. We'll disable its engines, and then have our extraction team perform the space jump. When they are aboard, they will electronically override the cargo doors, then go in guns blazing to find and retrieve William." "Who all is going to be on this team? How do you plan to electronically defeat the security lock out?" I pressed. "Let's hold that question for now. We know what kind of lock this ship class uses, and we have a plan," I answered, glancing back at Donovan, who simply nodded. "Well, can you at least tell me who will be leading this mission?" Schmidt pressed. "I will be," I answered, at length. "The safety and well-being of William Kauffman is principally my charge. I intend to see to it that we get him back in one piece." I paused to let the words sink in before continuing. "Are there any other questions from the floor?"
  9. "Thank you, Captain Donovan," I nodded, turning the presentation remote over in my hand and pressing its 'advance' button. A grainy, aerial photograph of a blighted city block resolved into existence on the briefing screen. "I'm going to cut right to the chase," I continued. "On January 31, 3029, while on a solo hike in the Glendale Nature Preserve on the planet Thorin, William Kauffman, CEO of the Crayven Corporation, was abducted by Maskirovka agents of the Capellan Confederation and taken off-world some 14 days later. We believe that the timing of the incident and the subsequent arrival of their DropShip at Nirasaki was no accident - it's the opinion of our analysts that somehow, the Capellans were tipped off to our planned maneuvers in their space - " I fought to keep myself from instinctively glancing at Nathan Schmidt. "...but instead of launching an immediate counterstrike, they decided to temper their response to capitalize on their newly-captured intelligence asset, while leveraging our military response to clear the path to the Takashima. Had we not evacuated when we did - and left the surprise behind that we did - we would've found ourselves in the unenviable position of repelling a response by the CCAF which we'd have been highly unlikely to defeat." "We believe," Captain Donovan added, "that the Capellans have kept Mr. Kauffman in a medically-induced coma while moving him from system to system to avoid being tracked. Most likely, by now, they've discovered his augments, and are in the process of lobotomizing him - either figuratively or literally - to try to get at the information that he holds about the Black Eclipse project, and more broadly, about the Crayven Corporation." "A medically-induced coma?" Captain Maxwell interjected. "Why? What would that accomplish? And how do we know that's what they did?" "A fair question," I nodded. "What I'm about to share with this group stays in this room. William has a number of technological implants in his body - several of them experimental - which afford him enhanced vision, hearing, reflexes, and cognition. Among those implants is also a communication module that enables him to interface directly with a wide spectrum of computer systems and transmitters. In the event that William is incapacitated, the comm unit should enter a seek mode until it finds any compatible uplink. When it does, it's designed to use its entire power reserve to transmit a low-band, encrypted distress signal to the Crayven Corporation via any channel necessary. William can also manually trigger this distress mode when he is conscious. We have received no such signal." "How do we know that he isn't dead - or that the Capellans haven't simply disabled the implant? The question has to be asked," Maxwell replied. "Given that our mole inside the Confederation assures us that William is still alive, we're assuming that the implant must believe that he is in an uncompromised state. A medically-induced coma would not trigger the device into panic mode. If he were conscious, we're certain he would have signaled - if not immediately, then within a short time after his abduction," Donovan explained. Captain Maxwell raised an eyebrow, nodding slightly. "I know it's an optimistic take on the situation, Captain, but it's the best theory we have right now," I responded. "Continuing on - we have reason to believe that William's abductors are headed toward a Maskirovka stronghold on Epsilon Eridani IV. Our entire floatilla - the Tana, the Republic, and the Mendacius - is only two jumps away from the Epsilon Eridani system, but only the Mendacius is fast enough to also be able to intercept the Capellans before they make planetfall." "Intercept?" a voice from the back of the room asked. "Yes," I replied. "Our plan is to try to overtake the Capellan vessel that's transporting William before it reaches the planet. That's our best chance of retrieving him. We're drawing up a strategic plan for that now. If we can't overtake them, we'll need to send the Tana to the planet's surface with an extraction team. That team will have to breach the holding facility, pacify any resistance encountered, and withdraw to the extraction point before the Capellans can send reinforcements in. Needless to say, a protracted firefight aboard an isolated DropShip, versus in a prison with access to virtually unlimited military backup, is our preferred outcome." "What's the sitrep concerning the prison, if we do have to go that route?" Charles Maxwell inquired. "It's a mostly underground facility built directly below the streets of Dori. Originally constructed as a hardened facility to which the local government could retreat in the event of an invasion, it's equipped with state-of-the-art computer equipment. There are entire areas dedicated to living accommodations, since converted to cell blocks. A central War Room provides oversight of the entire facility, while the old emergency intelligence gathering room is tied into surveillance feeds throughout the city. There is a full armory on site, and, as we understand it, a trained detachment of CCAF soldiers provide foot security," I answered. "We have a shit ton of 'Mechs," the MechWarrior who called himself 'Abaddon" blurted out, his German accent adding a decisive ferocity to the words. "Pardon my French. Why can't we just roll deep into the city and disintegrate the first few floors of the prison?" "Because we can't stage a military invasion of the Tikonov Free Republic. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but Sheratan's part of that territory now. You do want to be able to go home after this gig, right?" I asked. 'Abaddon' nodded, slouching in his seat and crossing his arms over his chest as he stared at the display. "So - to recap: this is a cut and dry operation. William Kauffman is on a DropShip headed for Epsilon Eridani IV. We're going to intercept it, board it, and get him back. Failure is not an option. Questions?" I asked, looking out over assembled staff.
  10. Approximately twenty minutes later... "Control to Rebus," I radioed to Nathan, using one of the limited, short-range, handheld VHF radios we had in our inventory for extreme contingencies such as that which we were facing. "Go ahead, Major, I read you," Nathan replied, cocooned deep within the drop pod, the cargo bay in which it sat still fully pressurized. I couldn't believe the near-lunacy of what were were about to attempt. The malware had put us on an orbit that paralleled the crash site, though at a significantly higher altitude, and had commandeered every communication system aboard the Republic to maintain a tight-beam downlink to a base station somewhere within the wreck of the Takashima. The receiver, in turn, continuously streamed data back to the malware aboard our vessel, which included, it would seem, redundant copies of the infection. In response, our plan to resolve the issue called for us to explosively decompress one of our cargo bays and jettison a space-suited IT specialist overboard in a drop pod intended for a BattleMech. Provided he didn't get incinerated by initial re-entry, and provided that he could successfully paraglide to the wreck site after breaking the sound barrier with his own body, Schmidt would then touch down and use a radio direction finder to locate the source of the signal. In other words, the plan was insane. But it was the best we had. "How are you holding up in there?" I asked, peering through the heavily-reinforced glass window that separated the cargo bay from its observation booth. "About as good as you'd imagine being sealed up in a ceramic egg while wearing an astronaut suit and a probation monitoring anklet all at the same time could make you feel. After that impressive speech I gave you, was the monitoring unit really necessary?" Nathan quipped. "It's just a precaution," I smiled, wryly. Alyssa Chase chuckled and shook her head. "Alright, let's get this show on the road," I continued. "This is not going to be a gentle departure by any measure, so I'm gonna let you count it down. We'll hit the button when you say go." "Awesome, at least that way, I'll have some idea of when I'm going to crap my pants, rather than being taken completely by surprise," the Lyran joked. "Leave the pants-shitting to Mister Jenkins," I replied. "Speaking of which, where the hell did he end up...?" "What's that, Major?" Schmidt asked. "Never mind, it's not important. We're ready on this side. Begin countdown at your discretion," I responded. There came a moment's pause, presumably while Nathan readied himself for the impending chaos. "Ready op," the Lyran's voice replied. "Begin the sequence. Ten...nine...eight...seven..." I hovered my hand over the large, red button on the console labeled 'EMERG JETTISON.' "...six...five...four..." My eyes narrowed as I mentally prepared myself to either send a young man to the planet's surface, or to an agonizing death on the way. "...three...two...one. NOW!" Schmidt exclaimed. "Godspeed, Nathan," I whispered, slamming my palm down on the trigger. The Republic jolted noticeably under a tremendous explosion of exiting atmosphere as the bay's door was blown outward, and the pod, carrying its human cargo, was ripped from the deck and catapulted out into the vacuum of space.
  11. Elsewhere... C.S.V. Republic Low orbit Nirasaki, Draconis Combine February 7, 3029 ___________________________ "Amazing work, Mister Schmidt," I sighed, the tension easing as the Lyran and I registered the successful transition of the Republic into an interstellar flight configuration. "I'll remember you said that," Schmidt replied, his fingers clicking across the keypad of the noteputer. "We're still under thrust. By the looks of it, this thing is trying to put us into a stable orbit. I have no idea why." "Maybe we can use that to our advantage," I answered. "Now that we're not under immediate threat of falling out of the sky, we can turn out attention toward making sure we don't leave this system." "I don't think we stand a chance of getting control of the engines," Nathan retorted. "We didn't even technically get control of the ship just now. We just got lucky that the virus apparently has a fear of drowning." "I get that," I interrupted, stopping Nathan's rant. "But I'm not talking about trying to get control of anything. I'm talking about going down to the engine room and physically disconnecting the drives." "Well, I don't see any reason why we wouldn't be able to do that," Nathan agreed, "especially since the virus doesn't seem to care about any security systems that don't directly protect its program. But then, what's gonna keep us from falling into the atmosphere and getting incinerated when we inevitably start losing altitude?" "We'll only take the interplanetary engines offline. We'll keep the thrusters and RCS online. I feel pretty confident that the virus doesn't want to burn up any more than we do," I explained. "Come on, let's get down there." "I don't know the first thing about engines," Nathan deadpanned. "Well, I guess that means that today, you get to learn," I replied. ### A short while later... With the help of the engineering crew and Nathan Schmidt, we'd been able to make short work of disconnecting the fuel lines which fed the Republic's massive fusion drives. As we'd predicted, the malware made no attempts to stop us; instead, it seemed confused as to the sudden unavailability of the ship's interplanetary engines, attempting to fire them periodically, but having no success in doing so. As a result, the program simply used the vessel's thrusters at regular intervals to keep the ship on a stable altitude and trajectory. "Well, that was fun," I chuckled, wiping grease from my hands and tossing the rag across the zero-gravity environment of the engine bay. Nathan plucked it out of the air, using it to scrub at a spot on his flight suit while casting me a skeptical glance. "I guess," he answered. "Well, if turning wrenches doesn't do it for you, maybe there's something else we can busy you with," a new voice quipped. Floating down the ladder of the bay toward us was Alyssa Chase. "Miss Chase, nice of you to join us. What exactly did you have in mind for Mister Schmidt here?" I inquired. "Sorry for not calling ahead, Major," Alyssa replied. "The comms are still hosed. The bridge crew passed me your summary of the situation with the computers. As I understand it, you're going to have to take the core offline to get the virus extricated." "Yes, that's pretty much accurate, and purging all the malware is going to need to happen quick enough that we can fire the system back up afterward with enough altitude left that we can maintain it with just the thrusters," I agreed. "I'm essentially planning to try to pull off what we did on the Half Moon." Chase nodded. "While that did work, it took you a while - no offense, of course. I'm just a little concerned that you might come in right against the wire if you go at it alone this time." "What'd you have in mind?" I asked, raising an eyebrow. "Well, if Nathan and I assist you, we can get it done three times as fast, and guarantee that we'll have breathing room on the other side," Chase explained. "That sounds like an excellent plan," I nodded. "Mister Schmidt, feel up to more some authorized systems intrusion?"
  12. C.S.V. Republic Aegis Division staging site 3.2 kilometers from D.C.S. Takashima Great Banded Desert, Nirasaki February 7, 3029 ___________________________ My headset elicited deafening squelches and crackles as very nearly every department on the OPCOMM channel simultaneously attempted to sound the alarm about the Republic's unexpected liftoff. The vessel shuddered and listed noticeably, causing Schmidt and I to instinctively grab for the handrails built into the consoles around us. Steve Jenkins, meanwhile, simply screamed. "Clear this channel!" I barked into my headset, keying my priority override toggle. "Hayes to bridge - what in the hell is happening up there?" "I have no idea, sir!" a voice responded. "We didn't do anything - the drives were cold and locked down, and then, on their own, they lit up!" "Goddamnit," I hissed. "Alright, what is our status? Can you abort the liftoff and get us back on the ground?" "We haven't got flight control, sir, and we have a more immediate problem," the bridge replied. "What in Blake's name could be more immediately pressing than involuntary liftoff?" I answered back, nearly yelling to be heard over the scream of the Republic's drives operating at what felt like full output. "Our bay doors are all open, interconnects between the decks aren't sealed, and we're not pressurized, sir - we're going to start losing atmo real soon if we can't get control of the situation." "How long have we got?" I asked, glancing toward Schmidt, who was still clinging to the sides of his terminal, a wild-eyed expression of concern on his face. "We're going to be in orbit in eight minutes, Major, but I anticipate we're going to be unconscious in a little over five," came the chilling reply. "I'll call you back in four," I answered. "In the mean time, keep trying to regain control. Hayes out." I wrestled my way toward Schmidt. "Have you got any idea what caused this?" I shouted, my words almost completely drowned out by the rattles, groans, and creaks of 3,000 tons of DropShip hurtling into orbit. "Quite obviously malware!" Schmidt exclaimed back, gesturing at the compromised computer displays that surrounded us. "I think it's some kind of fractal code virus with adaptive behavior that was able to worm its way around the security protocols and get onto the mainframe! I'd be impressed if our lives weren't literally at its mercy!" "I didn't follow most of that, but I'll take your word for it!" I nodded. "Can you shut it down - or at least get the ship into flight configuration? Even in the atmosphere, flying with all of the holds open is a recipe for disaster!" "Oh, now you trust me?" Schmidt glared. "I have to! If I don't, we all die!"
  13. Meanwhile... C.S.V. Republic Aegis Division staging site 3.2 kilometers from D.C.S. Takashima Great Banded Desert, Nirasaki February 7, 3029 ___________________________ Steve Jenkins suddenly lunged from his chair and, without comment, went running out of the Combat Information Center, hands clenched firmly on his backside. As the hatch slammed in his wake, I looked incredulously toward Schmidt. "What the hell do you suppose that was all about?" I asked, raising an eyebrow. "Don't ask me, I haven't figured that guy out yet," Nathan replied, dryly. "Anyway, we have bigger problems than that." The young Lyran pointed at the display of the noteputer. "Oh?" I asked, moving to look over Schmidt's shoulder. "Yeah. So after your linguistics guy plugged in the translation matrix, I was able to start combing through these files. And, well - I think that what we've got here is a honeypot," Nathan explained. "A 'honeypot?'" I asked. "Yeah," came the reply. "Whatever wrote to this drive filled it with lots of plausible-looking but mostly useless data." "How can you be sure?" I answered back. "There appears to be legible information in the stuff you're pulling up now." "Legible, yes, but it's all nonsense so far," Schmidt fired back, exasperation in his tone. "There's a file labeled as plans for LosTech weaponry that's actually a soup recipe. Here are some spaceship schematics that, on closer inspection, are physically impossible. That sort of thing." "Alright, I catch your drift," I nodded. "Keep looking. We did turn up useful intelligence from this drive previously. I don't want to throw in the towel just yet." "Major," Nathan replied, "it would be helpful if you'd tell me what it was you found before, so that I have some idea of what I'm looking for now." "Keep looking," I deadpanned. "If I think that information becomes relevant, I'll be sure to let you know." Schmidt sighed and turned back toward the computer terminal. A moment later, the door to the Combat Information Center was thrown open, and Steve Jenkins returned. I couldn't be sure, but it looked like the man was soaking wet, his crushed velvet, aubergine-colored suit drenched in brown-tinted water, shoes making loud squishing noises as he approached our station. "Mister Jenkins - what happened?" I asked, noting the smell of sewage beginning to waft from Steve's general direction. "There had been a problem with the bathroom I had used," Jenkins deadpanned. "But I'm back and I have to sit down and talk with the spirits now." Oh god, the smell... "Fine, whatever," I coughed, doing my best to keep from gagging as the pungent odor of whatever ritual sacrifice Steve had carried out in the bathroom registered in my nostrils. I didn't know what sort of health issues the man was afflicted with, but whatever he'd done reeked of the urine of Satan after a heavy portion of asparagus. While Jenkins settled back into his chair, I briskly made my way to the opposite side of the room to clear my sinuses and check in with Sabre team. "Sabre team, report st - " I began. "What in the holy goddamn?" Charles Maxwell's voice cried out in my headset, cutting off my words. "Sabre team - report status!" I exclaimed. A barrage of gunfire met my reply.
  14. Meanwhile, in the Combat Information Center... "Med Bay to Hayes," my comm unit crackled. As I watched the feeds from inside the Takashima play out across several equally-sized squares on the war room's monitors, I tapped my headset's microphone key to respond to the transmission. "This is Hayes - go ahead." "He's clean, Major, and cleared for duty," the voice on the other end of the line answered. 'Very good; have him brought him up," I responded. "Aye, sir," the voice of the medical orderly replied. "Does that mean I can get dressed now?" I heard Schmidt ask as the line went dead. Shaking my head, I turned my attention back to the ingress team, who had made a rather gory and unsettling find upon their return to the wreck. Keying back into Sabre team's audio feed, I heard a conversation playing out that sent chills down my spine. "Hey, Captain - this is not animals. Something's not right here," Sergeant Miles was observing. "One body is dragged off and stashed in a corner; the rest of the bodies look like they were dragged into the elevator shaft." "I absolutely concur," Captain Maxwell replied. "Our mission brief about this planet indicated that the razorbeast was the worst thing we could encounter here, and this looks like a substantially larger amount of damage" "Animals don't play with their food; they consume it," Miles added. "What've you got, gentlemen?" I asked, leaning forward and squinting at the feed. "This," Captain Maxwell answered, pushing his helmet-mounted video camera toward one of the corpses. In the illumination of the MechWarrior's flashlight, several deep, parallel cuts glistened. "Could there be some other type of animal running around?" Corporal Clemmons inquired. "It's definitely a possibility, I suppose," another voice answered. "No," I interjected. "Those cuts aren't consistent with what you would expect from a knife, and they're larger than even what the indigenous species can cause." "Yeah, it's definitely not an animal," Sergeant Miles affirmed. "Get me some close-ups of those cuts," I advised, "and we can run them through the database on the Mendacius. See if there's any kind of known match." "Thank you, sir," Maxwell replied. "We'll send you some images now." As I continued to watch the video stream, I noticed that the team was debating whether or not to enter the elevator shaft into which the trails of gore led. "It's too bad we don't have an ultrasonic detector," Maxwell observed. "It'd definitely help us to ascertain our odds of getting mauled by going in there." Abruptly, something appeared to catch Sergeant Miles' attention, and the team began creeping into the shaft behind him. Just then, the hatch to the Combat Information Center clanked open behind me. I turned to see Nathan Schmidt, dressed in a Crayven Corporation jumpsuit bereft of insignia or identifying marks, flanked by a corporate security officer and...Steve Jenkins. "MechWarrior Jenkins - what are you doing here?" I asked, caught off-guard by the additional visitor. "He insisted on accompanying the prisoner, sir," the security officer explained. "I'm his LEGAL REPRESENTATION," Steve beamed, grinning maniacally over his neck brace. "I'm here to make sure he doesn't get asked any Incriminating Facts." "Uh, I'm not sure what that means," I responded, hesitantly, "but far be it for me to stand in the way of due process. Just don't touch anything, and forget any information you see in here." "Don't worry!" Steve exclaimed. "I've already forgotten like half the things I did today." "Good, good," I replied, warily. "If you and Mister Schmidt will join me over here," I continued, gesturing at an empty command station directly beside my own, "I'll explain the work we need done."
  15. "...you have some degree of talent, to put it mildly, with computer systems," I continued, pursuing the matter gently. "And we have a drive that contains - or seems to contain - encrypted data that we cannot bust - not even with our most powerful algorithms." Nathan shrugged. "Maybe your most powerful just isn't good enough. Or your team is too inexperienced. You can only expect so much from a bunch of hired guns." I scowled. "Son, we have a fully-operational Bug-eye in orbit with a mainframe solely dedicated to busting through any encryption that we throw at it, crewed by the best analysts that money can buy. It's not for lack of trying, I can assure you that." "Alright, so why do you think I'd be any more successful?" the Lyran asked. "Because I was aboard the Half Moon when you sliced through its security systems like they didn't exist. I know you got a full copy of the Black Eclipse memo, turned our own countermeasures against us, and escaped in a fighter that was locked down before we even fully understood what hit us. If you are capable of doing something like that to the flagship of our fleet, than I have no doubt in my mind that you can get through a single file," I deadpanned. Nathan looked like he was giving the matter some thought. "Alright," he finally replied. "But what's in it for me?" "You get to come out of this cell," I answered. "And maybe, just maybe, we reduce the charges against you." Nathan laughed incredulously. "You're going to have to do better than that, Major." "Get me my data, and we'll talk," I replied. After several moments' pause, Schmidt nodded his head. "Alright, fine. Where do we start?" "Med Bay. We get you a clean bill of health, and a change of clothes. Then we get you to work." ### I arrived in Med Bay to find it abuzz with activity, the wounded we'd accumulated over the last week still in various stages of recovery. The Aegis Division mercenary known as 'Jenkins' was also present, wearing an outlandishly oversized neck brace and sporting a forehead bruise that looked for all the world like the typeface on our holding cell doors, though I could not make out what it said. I shook my head incredulously at the sight. As the majority of the human medical staff appeared to be preoccupied, I walked over to MediBot, and brought it out of standby. "Patient: HAYES, JAMES R. What are your symptoms?" the robot prompted. "MediBot, we've been over this: I'm only a 'patient' when I'm admitted here. Otherwise, I'm 'Major' Hayes. Got it?" I asked. The automaton simply blinked a series of status indicators in reply. "Okay, look, I need you to do a quick check-up on Mister Schmidt here," I requested. "Standard panel, no viruses, no broken bones, no malnutrition - that sort of thing. And NO SURGERY. I need him cleared for light clerical duty. Do you understand?" "Affirmative," MediBot replied. "Good. One more thing - if he tries to discuss anything with you apart from his medical condition, or request any kind of system access to you, or even looks funny at any of the electronic devices in this bay, I want you to sedate him and notify one of the medical staff immediately. Got it?" I glanced at Schmidt. "Nothing personal, of course," I smiled.
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