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William Kauffman

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  1. Elsewhere... The monorail tore into the station, its arrival whipping up a whirlwind of loose debris littering the train platform. As it rumbled to a stop, its boarding doors slid open in unison, an electronic voice announcing the name of the stop and the local time. A throng of passengers disembarked as I waited my turn to board. Although I had visited the New Avalon Institute of Science many times in the past, this would be my first time visiting as a test subject. I had recently volunteered to undergo a procedure by which a wireless communications unit would actually be implanted directly into a human brain, wired to the neural pathways that were responsible for hearing and perception in the same way a normal set of human eyes and ears would be. This wasn't a revolutionary process in its own right - similar technology was available to select individuals from intelligence agencies throughout the Inner Sphere - but this would be the first time an upgraded version of the unit, designed to interface with computer systems, would be tested on a live human subject. I was nervous, yet excited. I'd received my first implant - an auditory system - just two months ago, in preparation for an upcoming expedition to the Periphery. I'd been so thrilled with the results of the system that, when I'd heard quiet rumblings that a volunteer was being sought as a guinea pig for the prototype comm package, I'd jumped at the opportunity. The idea of being able to communicate with select machines using only one's mental abilities was tantalizing. I stepped onto the train, and suddenly... *flash* ...found myself standing in an operating theater, the room bathed in a clean white light. A trio of nurses escorted me over to an operating table, while a stalwart doctor hovered in the background, preparing to carry out the ministrations involved in the neurosurgery. "Alright, Mister Kauffman - now, lie back on the table, nice and easy - that's right - good. Now, remember, you're going to be awake for this procedure, but you won't feel a thing, because we're going to give you a local anesthetic. We want to be sure we can talk to you while we're calibrating the interface. Do you have any questions before we begin?" "No, I'm ready," I answered, unable to shake my head, as it was already securely fastened in a medical brace. "Alright, now, you might feel just a little pressure. We're going to make the incision..." The whine of a very high-powered drill cut through the air, and I instinctively squinted as I felt a very dull pressure against my skull. My eyes finally relaxed and opened, tracing along the outlines of hundreds of cracks in... *flash* ...the war-torn ceiling of an Outworlds medical clinic. "Mister Kauffman, I'm really not sure about this," Doctor Morales complained, rolling her chair up alongside the bed as she consulted a data pad displaying a real-time feed of my neural augments. "You already have three implants - including one I've never seen before - I just don't know if your body can handle the stress of having a fourth added to the mix. There's already more metal and silicon in your head than in some robots - and that's not an exaggeration." "I understand, Doctor," I answered, a small smile crossing my face, "but with the three that are in there, my old eyes just can't keep up. You'd actually be helping me by going ahead with the optics enhancement." "That's questionable logic, at best," Morales grumbled, rolling out of my field of view again. The sound of her clipboard clattering onto a spare exam table echoed off the concrete building's aging walls. "Yes, it's going to help you see better, and yes, it's going to help your other already-augmented senses function in better harmony with each other, but you're going to be taxing your body's endurance. And there's no going back on this one, William, you have to understand that. Once I've augmented you, the cybernetics are going to be yours to keep. I don't have the technology to put things back the way they were if you decide you don't like the new look." "I understand, and I'm willing to take that risk," I answered, after some thought. "I'll be careful." "Fine," the doctor sighed. "Be sure that you are extremely careful. Especially around electromagnetic interference. Most implants and most electronics can reboot themselves after being subjected to a pulse wave, and the body can adjust to their absence until they come back online, but in your case, with four power-hungry augments fully integrated into your body's central nervous system - frankly speaking, I'm not sure what would happen to your biological components if everything shut down. You might go into shock." "Let's pray we never have to find out," I smiled. "This is the last one, William. Understood?" "Understood."
  2. Elsewhere... Persephone Forest Glendale Nature Preserve Olympus, Thorin January 31, 3029 ___________________________ My hiking boots thudded softly on the mossy path that wound through the towering, ancient forests of Thorin's northern continent, while the gentle trills and chirps of bird song wafted through the spring air. As I made my way through a section of undergrowth that was thick in ferns and other palm-shaped foliage, I glanced up at the thick overstory that blanketed the woodlands from over a hundred meters above, taking in the rays of golden sunlight that filtered down through the crowns of the trees to spill puddles of warm daylight onto the mottled green and brown hues of the floor below. I took a deep breath, letting a slow, satisfied exhale escape my lips as I simply immersed myself in the natural beauty of the place. It was far removed from the urban megalopolis of New York, where I'd been present up until a few days ago, ushering in the new year as a distinguished guest at the Terran Stock Exchange, where I'd had the distinct pleasure of ringing the opening bell on the first trading day of the year, availing purchases of Crayven Corporation stock to the market for the first time since the rebirth of the company. Our initial public offering had been fantastically successful - within a matter of days, the value of shares in the Crayven Corporation had surged by 212%, rendering our organization flush with new capital by the end of the first week of the year. Following a brief stay on Terra to sightsee and make new business contacts, I'd traveled to Thorin, where I met with a Hauptmann General, and his council, who were principally-responsible for overseeing LIC operations in the Sarna March and its outlying regions. They'd been deeply disturbed by the actions of Schmidt, emphasizing that the operation was not authorized by the Commonwealth. After a profuse apology on behalf of the Lyran government, along with the promise of a full investigation, he'd also reimbursed us for the cost of repairs to the Half Moon, including the replacement of the Slayer with which Nathan had absconded. Though I no longer believed the Lyran Commonwealth to have been responsible for the actions of their operative, in light of the events transpired, I'd subsequently made the decision to institute a company policy forbidding outside intelligence agents from having physical access to sensitive corporate facilities without a thorough background check in advance. Even in the absence of Schmidt's treachery, the policy seemed rational. Finding myself with a brief respite after my meetings, I'd decided to spend today taking a solitary walk in the nearby Persephone forest, which I'd been told was breathtaking example of the immense woodlands for which the world was known. Tomorrow, I'd be traveling to a secretive shipyard in orbit of the world's moon, where I'd conduct an inspection of the Excalibur-class DropShip which the Commonwealth had promised us in exchange for intelligence about our archaeological expeditions. As I rounded a bend in the woodland path, a small creek, bisected by a series of five stepping stones, came into view. The sounds of wildlife were more robust here, with the croaking of frogs, melodies of birdsong, and the rustles, pops, and cracks of various animals moving about the tree trunks especially vibrant. I smiled at the pastoral scene, pausing for a moment to snap a photograph of it, before making my way toward the stepping stones and climbing atop the first one. The water rushed past below, and as I gazed down into it, I could see several small schools of fish undulating past. Performing a short jump onto the second stone, my footsteps echoed in an unusual way, almost as though I heard them twice - once at my present location, and once where I'd just been. Amused by the effect, I stepped forcefully onto the third stone to try to replicate it. To my surprise, the echo which ensued wasn't my footsteps at all - it was the heavy, forceful sound of someone else's footfalls, and as I turned toward its source, I suddenly found myself being thrown violently into the water, a heavy body atop me, pushing my face halfway below the surface of the creek. I thrashed and fought against my assailant, who grabbed a fistful of my sweater and shirt's fabric to haul me out of the water, a booted foot pressed into the backs of my knees to prevent me from standing properly. I twisted against the attacker's grip, hearing my sweater tear in the process, and I was able to turn far enough around to see the individual momentarily - a dark-clad figure in a jet-black biker's helmet of some kind, accompanied by a second individual, similarly-dressed, who stood further back on the shore. "Who are you - what do you want?" I gasped. In response, the person who'd grabbed me drew back a gloved hand, in which was clenched a stun stick. Before I could react, the stick was driven forcefully into the center of my chest, and the world went black...
  3. ____________________________ - Incoming Coded Message -- Command Instruction Follows - - Decode Omega Protocol - ZuluKappa27black: 23rd - - Disseminate by need only - ____________________________ Operation Codename: Black Eclipse Planet: Nirasaki (Draconis Combine) Terrain: Desert Time: Day Mission Type: Objective Raid Payment: 4,210,223.82 C-Bills Salvage Rights: 90% Support Rights: Battle/Full Command Rights: Integrated OVERVIEW: The Crayven Corporation has contracted with Aegis Division and the Skinwalkers to retrieve an object of interest from the wreck of a Star League-era WarShip on the surface of Nirasaki. This exercise will be a combined-arms operation which will be executed in three phases. We expect to encounter extreme resistance on our way to the objective. MISSION BRIEFING: In 2766, Nirasaki Computers Collective, in a partnership with New Age Computers and Maltex, achieved a technological breakthrough: an artificial neural network that was capable of independent thought, communication, and decision-making. Just prior to the outbreak of the Amaris Civil War, the Collective partnered with the DCMS, in a highly-classified venture, to load the neural network into the mainframe of one of their obsolete Cruiser-class WarShips to test the technology under load as a real-world proof of concept. The ship chosen to be the testbed was the D.C.S. Takashima. Regrettably, due to some manner of systems failure onboard - some say it was the out-of-date shipboard technology, others say sabotage, and some even cast blame on the A.I. itself - the Takashima fell from orbit shortly after the program was installed and activated. The ship was rumored to have crashed in one of the equatorial regions of Nirasaki. However, the outbreak of the Amaris Civil War would see the staff of Nirasaki Computers Collective rounded up and taken to Terra, and Nirasaki itself ravaged by the armies of the Rim Worlds Republic. Consequently, a salvage of the vessel was never attempted, and the Takashima was lost to history. In November 3028, the crew of the C.S.V. Mendacius located the wreck of the D.C.S. Takashima on the surface of Nirasaki in the Great Banded Desert, in an inhospitable, isolated region known as the Sabireta Expanse. The site is infested with raiders and looters, who don't know what's actually inside the vessel, but who have fortified the place and have begun to part the ship out for scrap and weapons. To make matters worse, we've gotten word that the Capellans have been sniffing around the border near Nirasaki, so it's possible that they're undertaking a parallel venture. To get to the planet, we plan to exploit a sensor gap in the planetary defense network and insert our forces onto the planet unseen. The C.S.V. Republic, one of our Union-class transports, will make planetfall with the M.V. Tana several kilometres outside of a fortified encampment that the local looters have set up to defend the wreck site. Meanwhile, the C.S.V. Mendacius, in the disguise of a passenger liner, will provide real-time intelligence and telemetry of the operational area from orbit. Once we're on the planet, our objectives will be to eliminate the OpFor and fortify the wreck of the Takashima against incursions while a recovery team penetrates the wreck, neutralizes any hostiles that may be occupying it, and recovers the hard drives from the ship's computer core and the vessel's logs from its bridge. The recovery team will then need to be evacuated from the operational area to the C.S.V. Tana, which will transport the recovered assets to the Mendacius for containment and return to New Earth. The OpFor for this exercise is unknown. The crew of the Mendacius has observed a ragtag, eclectic, and ever-changing grab bag of military hardware; everything from cobbled-together vehicles carrying naval weaponry to the odd Mackie BattleMech. We believe there to be fifty to seventy-five individuals on the site at any given time, to say nothing of how many more may be inside the wreck, so we'll have to treat this as an assault on a fortified installation. In addition to the hostiles at the site, we'll be battling sandy terrain, high temperatures, and potential sandstorms. Good luck. OBJECTIVES: Primary I. Defeat hostile OpFor blocking access to the Takashima II. Secure the wreck site and hold it against aggressors while recovery team makes entry into it III. Neutralize OpFor occupying the interior of the Takashima IV. Recover Takashima computer drives V. Recover Takashima ship's log VI. Evacuate to the Tana and Republic VII. Safely deliver the recovered assets to the Mendacius VIII. The Mendacius must depart Nirasaki intact Secondary I. Eliminate all hostiles in the operational theater to permit salvage operations FRIENDLY FORCE COMPOSITION: HAMMER LANCE: Lieutenant Mara Walsh (KGC-0000 King Crab) Sergeant Alyssa Chase (ON1-K Orion) Lieutenant Marius Lennox (CPLT-C1 Catapult) Corporal Steve Jenkins (DRG-1N Dragon) ANVIL LANCE: Captain Dutch McKenzie (AWS-8Q-OB1 Awesome) Lieutenant Alexander Blackwood (LGB-6Q Longbow) Contract pilot (MAD-3D Marauder) Dexter Friedman (RVN-1X Raven) SABRE LANCE: Commanded by Lieutenant Bishop Weyland 2x Drillson Heavy Hover Tank 1x Condor Heavy Hover Tank 1x Maxim APC + infantry squad + Captain Charles Maxwell VULCAN LANCE: Commanded by Lieutenant Bishop Weyland 1x Drillson Heavy Hover Tank 2x Condor Heavy Hover Tank 1x Maxim APC + infantry squad HEPHAESTUS DETACHMENT: 1x Kestrel VTOL 1x Heavy BattleMech Recovery Vehicle HOSTILE FORCE COMPOSITION: UNKNOWN Planet Details: Nirasaki Star Type: G1V Position in System: 1 Number of Moons: 2 (Nagano, Okinawa) Days to Jump Point: 17 Surface Gravity: 1.10 Atmospheric Pressure: Standard (Breathable) Equatorial Temperature: 37°C Surface Water: 57% Highest Native Life: Mammals Capital: Elusian Population: 2,108,000,000 OVERVIEW: Nirasaki has two continents: Kalifax and Ouanii. Nirasaki's original government structure was nearly unique in the Inner Sphere. Based on the idealist's belief that everyone could live in harmony without a dedicated police force or government, the original colony grouped itself into a series of small communes that were originally going to trade with each other. The problems in this system became clear shortly thereafter, as settlers forced to use a barter system limited economic opportunities with other worlds and infighting among settlers undermined group efforts. Eventually a modest planetary government formed from a coalition of communes on the two largest continents. One of their greatest achievements was the implementation of a basic economy for the world based on "work credits" and a consistent means of valuing goods and services. The coalition government enjoyed strong support from the population as its power was so limited. Based on democratic ideas, the planetary government required only a simple majority for issues that affected interplanetary trade or a large planetary region. It also contained an emergency powers clause for defense against external threats. Other than these efforts and responsibilities, the coalition government had absolutely no power of any sort. This lax form of government kept the power in the hands of the people, and even under the Terran Hegemony the world was left to its own devices. Nirasaki was one of the worlds which had been abandoned by the Terran Alliance following the Outer Reaches Rebellion and the Demarcation Declaration of 2242, but Nirasaki was incorporated into the Terran Hegemony within a century, becoming one of the worlds within the Lone Star Province. During the Star League era several companies attempted to take advantage of the perceived lack of central authority on Nirasaki, but the Nirasakians' insistence on using the work credits system made it nearly impossible for these corporations to succeed. The only notable exception was Nirasaki Computers Collective (NCC), a company organized as a part of the existing Blue Heron Collective. Being familiar with the existing work credit economy and based on Nirasaki, NCC quickly gained a reputation for high-quality computer products. NCC's work was so highly regarded that their programmers created the software used in the Star League's Space Defense Systems. Although the NCC and its programmers were obliterated during the Amaris Civil War, the factories are now owned by Blue Heron Computers. After the fall of the Star League, Nirasaki was claimed by the Draconis Combine. After centuries of being exposed to the Dragon's idea of planetary government and administration, Nirasaki's central government has expanded its power somewhat, overseeing a planetary police force and a militia. ATTACHMENT Audio Recording Speaker: Kauffman, W. Subject: Cruiser-class diagram, D.C.S. Takashima Beginning playback... "Please excuse the dated nature of this image. We pulled it from an SLDF training deck that we found in an archive. We believe, based on our analysis of the crash site and through extrapolation from this diagram, that the bridge is in the area marked by the number 1 on the slide. Entry into the ship will most likely be best-achieved through one of the two cargo hold doors - marked as 2 and 4 on the diagram - or via the landing bay, marked as 3. The ship crashed on its port side, so the orientation of everything in the craft will be offset by ninety degrees from the relative 'down' position. The bridge is also completely submerged in the sand; currently, only entry point 4 is exposed, and that is how the squatters are accessing at least a portion of the vessel." - TRANSMISSION ENDS - ____________________________ Sender: Major James Hayes Encryption Priority: HIGH HPG Relay 163NR95-SIGMA-1849 Received: OP Comp. 2027 Standard Terran Time ____________________________ Operation Black Eclipse - Contract.xlsm BattleTech 1646 - Living Legends, Star League.pdf
  4. Outside of the refrigerator, elsewhere on Sheratan... "ComStar? How could you possibly know that?" Jackson asked. "The sequence of events, and the hilariously-unlikely cause of death," I replied. "Consider: we recovered the artifact on November 11. Coincidentally, we ran into ComStar that same day, and they desperately - aggressively, even - wanted the technology you recovered from the cache. It ended up costing them a 'Mech and a pilot. We transmitted a report about our success back to the corporate headquarters on New Earth later that day. I would expect that ComStar picked up that report when it bounced through the HPG network. Given that they lost contact with the pilot who was supposed to recover the tech, it stands to reason that the next place they would check for information concerning the recovery would be the recipient's end. And ComStar is notorious for 'disappearing' the subjects of their investigations in absurd and often suspect ways. Ergo, ComStar is our likely culprit." "Well, what does it all mean, then?" Jackson asked, in a near panic. "I don't want to get disappeared!" "The way I look at it," I answered, "you're released from your debt, and free to do with the technology as you choose. Though, I wouldn't recommend holding on to it, given the circumstances." "Heck no," Jackson answered. "I'm gonna chuck this thing into the first dumpster I come across." The young man looked down at the memory core in his hands with disgust. "I can't believe this. All of that work, and I've got nothing to show for it. I'm worse off now than I was before I left Sheratan in the beginning." "I don't believe that's so," I replied. "Come on, let's go back to the car. I have a proposal for you." ### I sat, gazing at Jackson, as the sedan made its way back out of the Ivory District, my fingers steepled before me, as I contemplated the offer. The youth looked truly dejected, and I felt a certain obligation to him to reimburse him for the amount of credibility his foray on Gan Singh would earn us with Interstellar Expeditions. Aside from that, it would do no good to have him get assassinated by ComStar. He was, after all, to be our poster child for success. "What was it that Hastings was holding your freedom ransom for again? 500,000 C-Bills?" I inquired. "Yeah," Jackson responded in a sad tone. "Well, then. I'd like to make you whole," I answered. "The Crayven Corporation would like to purchase the ownership and intellectual rights to the Gan Singh memory core from you for 500,000 C-Bills, to be transferred to your account immediately upon acceptance of the offer. In addition," I added, as Jackson's mouth fell agape, "I would like to extend to you an offer of pro bono legal intercession to transfer formal ownership of the deceased Javier Hastings' Centurion, which he left in your possession, to you, so that you can start your career anew." Jackson McKenna stared at me in silent disbelief for a full minute. The next thing I knew, he lunged across the cabin of the car to throw his arms around me in an embrace. ### _____________________________________________________________________________ C R A Y V E N C O R P O R A T I O N Executive Summary - CLASSIFICATION TACIT WHITE: INTERNAL USE ONLY - 16 DECEMBER 3028 _____________________________________________________________________________ CITADEL team - This summary is to provide a status update concerning operations in the region of the Sarna March and the go-to-market strategy for our initial public offering and our proposal to Interstellar Expeditions, targeted for delivery in Q1 3029. Project Black Eclipse is a go. The combined Aegis Division, Crayven Corporation, and Irian assets, operating under the umbrella title of 'Aegis Division,' are staging for deployment from Sheratan to Nirasaki. OPCOM will be the responsibility of Major James Hayes; MIOC will be aboard the Mendacius and directed by Captain Marcus Donovan. First Lieutenant Mara Walsh will serve as Company Commander of the BattleMech assets, while Captain Charles Maxwell and Lieutenant Bishop Weyland command the armor and infantry teams. Penetration of the wreck will be performed by a seven-man squad consisting of Charles Maxwell, Bishop Weyland, and a fire team selected by Weyland. Upon retrieval, the asset of interest is to be removed to the Mendacius for extraction from the Nirasaki system and returned to New Earth for containment and processing. I have dispatched the Mendacius to Nirasaki today, and I have been emphatic in my requirement to Major Hayes that the Aegis Division assets be off-world and in transit to Nirasaki no later than 31 December. I am taking my leave of Sheratan today, accompanied by Hauptmann Albrecht, who has remained in seclusion since our arrival on the planet. My destination is Terra; as you are aware, our initial public offering (IPO) will be on 1 January 3029. I have been invited to ring the bell at the opening of the Terran Stock Exchange to mark the occasion. After I have done so, I will travel to Oneiroi Station, a classified facility in orbit of Thorin. There, I will be meeting with representatives of the Lyran government to discuss the scandal involving their intelligence agent, and to inspect an Excalibur-class vessel they have proposed to convey to the Crayven Corporation in exchange for certain intelligence-sharing arrangements. Once I have concluded my business at Thorin, I will make my return to New Earth to prepare for our proposal to Interstellar Expeditions, our proof-of-concept exercise on Gan Singh having been a success. Attached to this message, you will find the BattleROMs and intelligence recordings of the Gan Singh mission. Please have Productions cut together a demo reel for my approval, and send the first cut to me via HPG at their earliest convenience. I commend the leadership team on an excellent 3028. I look forward to the year ahead. Cordially, William Kauffman _____________________________________________________________________________ End Summary Sender: W. Kauffman Encryption Priority: ULTRA HPG Relay 53EL05-KAPPA-1482 Xmit: MSG Comp. 2233 Standard Terran Time _____________________________________________________________________________
  5. C.S.V. Half Moon Gellen's Heights Spaceport Gellen's Heights, Sheratan December 11, 3028 - 0715 hours _______________________________ Golden sunlight poured in through the twin oblong portholes inset into the thick hide of the Union-class DropShip, casting twin columns of dust-saturated light into the stateroom which had been converted into a cramped but serviceable dual-purposed executive quarters and office space. I sat at my desk, staring at a pair of computer monitors. One interface displayed a continuous scroll of historical information about the Nirasaki Computers Collective - every public record, every employee file, and every bit of project information that had leaked into the public domain in the years following their dissolution. The other replayed a compilation of camera drone videos from the wreck site of the D.C.S. Takashima on a continuous loop. My eyes traced back and forth between the two feeds, trying to divine any bits of intelligence data that hadn't yet been learned from them in the hopes that I could glean additional insight into whatever it was that the organization had been hoping to achieve with their artificial intelligence research - and also, how far they'd gotten with those developments. After several minutes, I realized that I'd been staring into the electronic void without actually processing any information, and I squinted and rubbed at my eyes and temples to try to clear my head. A searing headache began to set in, and I noticed that my interface with the ship was degrading. Fatigue, it seemed, was beginning to win the fight against my physiology. Reaching into the topmost left desk drawer, I withdrew a vial of QwikStim, loaded it into an auto-injector, and dispensed the entire dose into my forearm. After about a minute's time, the pharmaceutical began to take hold, and I felt a clarity of mind and alertness return to my consciousness. No sooner had I done so than the comm unit on my desktop buzzed with a message from the bridge. "Kauffman here; go ahead," I answered. "General, I have Charles Maxwell on the line to speak with you; may I put him through?" the bridge officer asked. "Yes please do," I replied. "Aye, sir - he's coming through now." I heard a momentary blip in the connection as the call routed to my location. I waited for a moment, and then spoke. "This is William Kauffman." "Good morning, General Kauffman, it's Charles Maxwell," the speaker replied. "Charles, it's delightful to hear from you. What can I do for you?" I asked. "I apologize for disturbing you at this early hour, but I thought you'd like to know - after you sent the paperwork over, I discussed the Crayven Corporation contract with my senior staff late yesterday evening at dinner. It's a yes from them," Charles advised. "Nice to be doing business with you." "Wonderful," I smiled. "That's the first piece of good news I've had today. As soon as I have the report in hand from our Strategic Operations Manager, we'll advise you which of your assets we'll want to requisition. I'd ask that you and your team stay local in the interim; the FBO for this undertaking will be here, at the Gellen's Heights Spaceport. As you're already aware, the Crayven Corporation will be managing command rights for this deployment; Major Hayes will be your field command liaison." "Major Hayes? I'm sure he's great, but I guess I assumed that the plan was for you to attend?" "I'll be continuing on to the Commonwealth. I have some business to attend to with the Lyrans concerning the rogue LIC agent," I replied. "Nothing with which you need concern yourself." "Understood. Thank you again, General. I'll look forward to receiving the details of your report."
  6. December 6, 3028 C.S.V. Half Moon In transit to Sheratan _______________________ “That’s a fair question, Lieutenant,” I interjected as the discourse between Weyland and Chase - a small tiff over the ages-old debate about the superiority of 'Mech jocks versus infantry - started to become heated. "In truth, it was rather providential that we came across Jackson when we did." Bishop looked curious. "I happened to be on Galatea for a discrete meeting with Hauptmann Albrecht concerning the Lyran interest in our IPO - and the assets they were interested in contributing to our planned venture - when I quite unexpectedly ran into Mister McKenna in the midst of a bar fight. As it turned out, my intervention on his behalf would lead to us solving a logistical problem we were having with our Interstellar Expeditions proposal." "You broke up a bar fight?" Weyland asked, eagerly. "Yes, and I'm glad that I did. It turned out that Jackson had been on the losing end of a rather foolish gambling debt, and he was poised to ship out to Gan Singh the next morning to chase down unconfirmed rumors of a Star League cache as a means of repaying his creditor. He'd never piloted an actual BattleMech before, but he was expected to perform a hot-drop into the jungle, bushwhack his way to the site, get in, retrieve the object - whatever it was - and then get out before the local authorities caught him. His previous occupation, mind you, was as a cargo handler at the Gellen's Heights spaceport; his hobbies included video gaming and aquarium-tending," I continued. "Whoa. Sounds like someone was trying to get him killed," Bishop marveled. "The condition of the Centurion with which he'd been equipped, coupled with the mercenary outfit that was supposed to deliver him to Gan Singh, would certainly seem to support that theory," I nodded. "But, fortune having seen fit to compel our paths to cross, I saw an opportunity for the Crayven Corporation. Our proposal to Interstellar Expeditions, as you may recall, will be to provide pro bono transport and protection detail to sites of discovery, in exchange for a cut of the findings. But we didn't have a case study where we'd done that before - until we met Jackson. I realized that we would have the perfect model to show them if we could safely transport him to the planet, get him down to the site, guide him through a successful recovery process, and then get him back home unharmed. The fact that he was an entirely green pilot would only add to the credibility of our proposal." "And so that's what you did?" Weyland asked. "Precisely," I acknowledged. "We had the Half Moon on site, and his Centurion was scheduled to be transferred from the Aegis Division mercenaries to the Black Phalanx company the following day, so I simply bought out the second half of his contract. And then, a funny thing happened." "What was that?" "Captain Maxwell, from the aforementioned Aegis Division, contacted our duty officer to advise that he thought we might run into trouble with Black Phalanx on our way out to Gan Singh. He was so strong in his belief that he sent Alyssa Chase over to surreptitiously put a tracking device on their vessel - which was loaded with a remote Locura payload - and to act as an intelligence analyst and software operator during the mission. As it turned out," I mused, "Captain Maxwell's precognition proved accurate. Which is why, by the way, I consider him to be a potential valued operative for our Nirasaki endeavor." "That does help me pull the pieces together around some of what you said in our meeting," Weyland nodded. "So what's the plan for Jackson and his haul once we get to Sheratan?" "We'll make sure that Jackson is able to safely turn the object over to his employer, and from there, I'd like to make an offer to purchase it from its owner," I responded. "It contains some data of interest. And at that point, Jackson will part ways with us and we'll be in a good position to cut together our demo reel for Interstellar Expeditions. I'd very much value your insights into your prior experiences with them when that time comes." "You got it," Bishop replied. I glanced around the bridge, noting that a semblance of normalcy had, at length, returned to its environment. Rising to my feet, I attempted to button and smooth out what was left of my suit jacket. "It would appear that things are well under control here. I believe I should check in with the section chiefs to assess their status. In the interim, please feel free to avail yourself to anyone who might benefit from your areas of expertise. Oh, and Lieutenant - " "Yeah?" Weyland asked. "I owe you a debt of gratitude for your actions today," I added. "I think you'll fit in well here. Thank you." Bishop nodded an affirmation, and I took my leave of the bridge. ### 4 days later... Gellen's Heights Interplanetary Spaceport Gellen's Heights, Sheratan Capellan Confederation December 10, 3028 ___________________________ I felt the tension slowly falling away from my body in tandem with the winding down of the Half Moon's fusion drives as the ship eased onto the ferrocrete of the spaceport. It had been a trying four days - managing damage control, coordinating forensics investigations, and notifying the families of those who'd been lost. In addition to our own internal investigation, I was well aware that the authorities of Sheratan would be wanting a full report into the nature of the incident that had taken place in their space, and it had taken some incredibly-creative documentation to create a disposition that would satisfy their interests while protecting certain corporate secrets - such as Project Black Eclipse. Fortunately, by all appearances, we'd been successful in this regard, and it would now be a matter of turning the disclosure over to the local constabulary. "We're on the ground, General," Deck Officer Pearson reported. "Excellent," I replied, rising from the Captain's chair. Please secure from flight operations and stand down for repair, cargo transfer, and resupply. Inform all crew that they've got five days' leave to spend as they see fit; please set up a rotation for essential personnel so that everyone gets an equal amount of downtime." "Aye, sir."
  7. "Last time I checked, you, this ship, and its crew are corporate assets. I’m not familiar with your ship, sir; if you would, I will follow you to the command center." I admired Bishop's tenacity and his dedication. The Half Moon, already an alien environment to him, had just morphed into a winding, potentially danger-ridden labyrinth which held dark promise of lethal peril; yet the man's first instinct, rather than to wait for orders, was to jump into action to protect me and to see to the well-being of the ship and crew. This type of loyalty was exactly the sort of psychological profile that I'd been looking for, and it seemed that I'd - for the moment, at least - hit a proverbial home run. "You're absolutely correct," I nodded. "I appreciate you maintaining a clarity of mind in this situation. Before we make our way to the bridge, though, there's one thing to note - just because the Half Moon is incapacitated does not mean that it's not active. This ship has been retrofit with internal security systems designed to deliver counter-insurgency measures in the event of a contingency. The systems are automated and have dedicated A.I. Ordinarily, I could shut them down directly via my implants or via a computer terminal. But, with both of those options tabled, we may find ourselves facing some obstacles." "What sort of obstacles would those be?" Bishop asked. I maneuvered us toward the central lift, which I hoped we could use to bypass the bulk of the trouble. "There are security robots - units we purchased from the Free Worlds League - which reside in wall alcoves on this deck and the two above us, two per deck.They don't seem to have activated in our present location, but I would not be surprised if they are making the rounds above us," I began. I mashed the lift's 'call' button and waited. At first, there was no discernible response from the elevator, prompting me to push the 'call' button several more times. It finally illuminated, and the numeric indicators above the unit's doors counted off the car's distance from our level. "I'm going to guess that security robots aren't the only thing employed?" Weyland inquired. "No," I began, squinting in the lift's general direction. It seemed to be moving faster than normal, and actually appeared to be gaining speed as it rose from the 'Mech bay toward us. Cautiously, I floated back a short distance from its doors, a measure which, in hindsight, probably saved my life. Mere seconds after I did so, the elevator shot through our deck's station at an incredible rate of speed, its doors opening to reveal the still-moving car continuing past and colliding with the top of the shaft two decks above. The impact destroyed the lift system, sending metal cables lashing out in all directions, and caused the car to rebound off the top of the shaft. In the sudden absence of its pulleys, the car, still moving under its own kinetic energy in the weightless environment, reversed direction and went hurtling back down the shaft, crashing into the deck six stories below with a terrific explosion of shattering components. Slowly, I approached the still-open doors of the elevator station, and glanced into them. The walls of the lift shaft were alight with malfunctioning supercapacitors, from which bolts of deep blue and ultra-white tendrils of electricity crawled. It slowly dawned on me that, had we boarded the lift, we would have been quite literally cooked alive. Fortune had spared us from an agonizing demise. I turned around, and was met with a shellshocked expression from Bishop. "This option appears to be out of service," I quipped, nonchalantly jabbing a thumb in the direction of the demolished elevator. "We'll need to take the ladders." "Fun. What can we expect from that avenue?" Bishop asked. I floated toward one of the ladderways, which had sealed itself shut with a small set of bulkhead doors. "We've got anti-personnel thresher cannons in the shafts. They use lasers instead of projectiles due to the enclosed spaces and sensitive nature of the equipment in the crawlways. They're sufficiently powered, however, to breach conventional body armor at close range. Some of them are also refit with flamers instead of energy weaponry." I keyed a release code into the faceplate of the control panel inset into the wall alongside the closed hatch and popped it off, revealing a manual override lever. With a forceful tug, I pulled the lever down, overriding the hatch and causing the doors to unseal. Several more pumps of the release handle moved the doors aside enough to allow a man to fit through their opening. "The robots also have access to the ladderways at their customary entry points on each deck, though of course, they can't actually use the ladders," I explained, pivoting back toward Bishop in the weightless environment. "How do you think this funhouse of security is going to react to us?" Bishop asked, giving his rifle another once-over. "Mister Weyland, with a virus such as the Locura loose on the ship, I honestly have no idea. My best guess is that we'll find everything has turned on us, as that's exactly what the virus is built to make its hosts do." "That being the case, I think I'd better go in first," Weyland replied. I nodded. "I'll remain close behind you, then."
  8. Simultaneously... I nodded in acknowledgement as the acrid smell of tobacco chew wafted through the air. "We're working with our extended intelligence network to see if we can obtain a deck schematic of the Cruiser-class. As you can imagine, obtaining anything from Kuritan archives that dates back over 200 years is...challenging. In the mean time, we can provide this..." I clicked a button on my handheld presenter. A new image flashed onto the board room's monitor. "Please excuse the dated nature of this image. We pulled it from an SLDF training deck that we found in an archive. We believe, based on our analysis of the crash site and through extrapolation from this diagram, that the bridge is in the area marked by the number 1 on the slide. Entry into the ship will most likely be best-achieved through one of the two cargo hold doors - marked as 2 and 4 on the diagram - or via the landing bay, marked as 3. The ship crashed on its port side, so the orientation of everything in the craft will be offset by ninety degrees from the relative 'down' position. The bridge is also completely submerged in the sand; currently, only entry point 4 is exposed, and that is how the squatters are accessing at least a portion of the vessel." Bishop raised an eyebrow and scratched at his temple as he scrutinized the image. "Now - onto the other concern you mentioned - the matter of our mole," I continued. "I've asked Captain Donovan to be primary on the investigation, along with his team of analysts, as he's both highly experienced in infiltration affairs and is a neutral party who was not aboard the Half Moon - nor anywhere in range - at the time of the breach. He'll be liaising with Major Hayes here to turn over any evidence his team finds for analysis. I'd also like you to work with Major Hayes - as the principal architect of our venture to the wreck site. I'd like you to prepare a proposed force composition, based on your seasoned insight into this sort of thing, as well as recommended attack vectors and a plan for breaching the wreck once reached. The Major will provide you with anything you need - intelligence, assets, information. We should have this plan in hand by the time we reach Sheratan so that I have a decent idea of what our shopping list looks like." "As far as your involvement with the mole - keep an eye out. If you see something, say something...to Major Hayes only. I want to be sure that we are keeping our communication as compartmentalized as possible - that way, if something gets out, we can skip trace it back to its source." Bishop nodded quietly. I'd dropped a huge responsibility on him, but I wanted to see how the man handled the pressure. I also truly did value his insight. Assault operations were something new to us, and I wasn't about to let my pride stand in the way of admitting what we didn't know. What was that expression again - measure twice, cut once? I turned toward Major Hayes. "Major - as I understand it, the C.S.V. Republic is en route to Sheratan at this time, in the employ of our apparent friend, Captain Maxwell. Please send a message to them for relay to the Tana, but use the Mendacius' transmitter. I don't want to take chances with our mole reading our outbound traffic. Advise the Captain that I'd like to meet with him once they make orbit. You're authorized discretionary spending to get it to them via HPG Class 1." "Consider it done, sir," Hayes replied. "Well, Mister Weyland," he continued, turning to face his new charge, "seems we'll be tag-teaming this one. Where would you like to start?"
  9. I'm back, as is my alter ego, Charles. 😉
  10. Simultaneously... "I can promise you this, Major - I'm a quick learner." Major Hayes allowed himself a quick grin before glancing back at me. Skin response...normal. I appreciated that Bishop wasn't simply full of gusto and bravado. His confidence was very real and very organic. Not the bluster and braggadocio of many guns-for-hire. No - Bishop had clearly developed it from doing. "The story goes, Mister Weyland," I began, leaning back in my chair and folding my hands in my lap, "Nirasaki Computers Collective had managed to achieve a certain technological breakthrough that went beyond simple sentry A.I. As anecdotal aacounts hold, their organization partnered with New Age Computers and Maltex to undertake something truly remarkable - an actual artificial neural network that was capable of independent thought, communication, and decision-making. In 2766, just before the Amaris Civil War, the stories hold that the Collective partnered with the DCMS, in a highly-classified venture, to load the neural network into the mainframe of one of their obsolete Cruiser-class WarShips to test the technology under load as a real-world proof of concept. The ship chosen to be the testbed was the D.C.S. Takashima. Regrettably, due to some manner of systems failure onboard - some say it was the out-of-date shipboard technology, others say sabotage, and some even cast blame on the A.I. itself - the Takashima fell from orbit shortly after the program was installed and activated. "The ship was rumored to have crashed in one of the equatorial regions of Nirasaki. However, the outbreak of the Amaris Civil War would see the staff of Nirasaki Computers Collective rounded up and taken to Terra, and Nirasaki itself ravaged by the armies of the Rim Worlds Republic. Consequently, a salvage of the vessel was never attempted, and the Takashima was lost to history." Bishop leaned forward on his forearms. "Until now, I take it?" "Until now," I smiled. "Thanks to the efforts of Major Hayes, Captain Donovan, and the crew of the Mendacius, we believe we've found the Takashima. The ship is right where it was rumored to have fallen - in a rather inhospitable, isolated desert near the equator. And we intend to recover its mainframe, along with the A.I." "Heavy," Bishop answered. "What's the catch?" I glanced to Major Hayes. "The catch," Hayes replied, "is that we're faced with three - maybe four - complications. The ship is in Draconis Combine territory, which is a hot mess right now. The site is infested with raiders and looters, who don't know what's actually inside the vessel, but who have fortified the place and have begun to part the ship out for scrap and weapons. We've gotten word that the Capellans have been sniffing around the border near Nirasaki, so it's possible that they're undertaking a parallel venture. And," he continued, glancing back at me, "we've obviously got a mole inside the Crayven Corporation, which means we're going to have to think outside the box for this recovery." "Thank you, James," I answered. "Where you come in, Mister Weyland, is concerning your expertise with ground armor and infantry maneuvers. This operation is not something we'll be able to simply accomplish by smashing the opposition with a lance of BattleMechs. We're going to have to somehow get an armor unit, a squad of infantry, an asset recovery vehicle, and a handful of BattleMechs onto Nirasaki. Then, we're going to have to clear their occupiers from the area of the wreck. Following that, we'll need a team to penetrate the derelict, make their way to the computer core, and retrieve the technology. And we'll need to do all of it without Houses Steiner, Kurita, Liao or most of our own internal staff being aware of it." Bishop's expression was one of deep thought. I could tell that his strategic mind was already processing the problem. "Were you to plan this operation, Mister Weyland, how might you proceed?"
  11. Publicity Photo: William Kauffman, Crayven Corporation CEO
  12. 14 days following the incident of November 22, 3028... C.S.V. Half Moon Sheratan, Tikonov Free Republic December 6, 3028 _____________________________ The visual distortion of the jump effect rippled away, and the blue-green orb that was Sheratan resolved into view on the bridge's main viewscreen. Fourteen days had passed since the intrigue during our transit through the Bharat system, when someone - or something - aboard the Half Moon had breached access to our classified archives. Despite a cabin-by-cabin search, and despite ruffling the feathers of all of our passengers, we hadn't been able to turn up any evidence of a culprit. The idea that there was still an infiltrator aboard my ship bothered me significantly. However, with access to Captain Donovan's vessel - and his crew - I hoped we could make some headway. "Jump complete, General," our conn officer reported. "Thank you, Lieutenant," I nodded. "Begin undocking procedure." "Aye sir," came the reply. A moment later, the low, rumbling-thunder sound of the Half Moon's docking clamps reverberated through the ship's decks, followed by the gentle whine of its fusion engines throttling up. "I can see the Mendacius. Right where they're supposed to be. 28 kilometers from here," I advised, my implants giving me a direct external view of the DropShip's surroundings. "Bearing 0-6-0. Helm, set a course." As the navigation officer acknowledged my command, gravity once again overtook the command deck. I unbuckled my harness, and walked over to the communication officer's station. "Shall I try to raise them?" Major Hayes asked, his hands playing across the communications board like a concert pianist. In the days since our...incident...I'd deputized my chief R&D officer as an acting aide-de-camp. Above anyone else aboard the Half Moon, I trusted him the most, and at the moment, he was tasked with both monitoring and intercepting communications. "Yes, but give me a tight-beam to Marcus Donovan only. I want to coordinate with him to make sure that when we dock, nothing...slips through the cracks."
  13. C.S.V. Half Moon System jump point Gan Singh IV - November 22, 3028 _____________________________ "What's this about a rendezvous? I thought we were making planetfall on Sheratan proper, not meeting someone in orbit." Overhearing the conversation, I raised an eyebrow in Hauptmann Albrecht's general direction. "Ja, Herr Schmidt," Albrecht replied, nodding a silent acknowledgement at me that seemed to convey a message of 'I've got this covered.' "We are meeting a Crayven Corporation vessel in orbit of Sheratan to take on a passenger, then landing on Sheratan to deliver the package. Two unrelated things. Verstanden?" "Danke, verstanden," Schmidt replied. "Have you got your seatbelt on?" Albrecht inquired. "I'm getting strapped in now," Schmidt answered. "Good," the Hauptmann acknowledged. "I would not want you to emerge from the jump looking like a dropped sauerbraten. Albrecht out." The Lyran snapped his comm unit shut, and cast me a smile. "He is an inquisitive young man. It will serve him well." "Fortune does favor the bold," I chuckled, pivoting back toward the bridge's sweeping main display and glancing at the JumpShip's status as a warning klaxon sounded. "Looks like it's time." I toggled open a comm channel to the entire ship. "All decks, prepare for FTL jump. All decks, prepare for FTL jump." As I closed the channel, three distinct chimes sounded across the Half Moon's public address system. A low rumble soon followed, and the bow of the bridge began to warp and distort, the effect of the Kearny-Fuchida field cascading aft as it rushed toward me like a wave breaking on the shore. A blinding white flash overtook my field of view, and in an instant, Gan Singh and all its problems were over 25 light-years behind us.
  14. Meanwhile... C.S.V. Half Moon System jump point Gan Singh IV - November 22, 3028 _____________________________ I sat in the darkened confines of my office aboard the Half Moon, feet on my desk, watching the outline of the JumpShip Riptide once again begin to coalesce into view as we drew near to it. The Invader-class vessel gleamed in the perpetual twilight of interstellar space, its glowing hydroponics pods giving the vessel the appearance of an ethereal, bio-luminescent creature suspended in the void. Although I couldn't see them with my organic vision, the Half Moon's sensor downlink illustrated to my mind's eye a bevy of support craft and passenger vessels swarming the larger ship, some coming, some going, all appearing as a mass of fuzzy, ill-defined phantasms to our Union-class vessel's electronics suite. My eyes wandered back to the data pad propped up against my knee; back to the photograph of Bishop Weyland that was attached to his curriculum vitae. There was an ancient adage, attributed to William Shakespeare, that eyes are the windows to the soul. In my years in the corporate world, I'd come to find that observation quite true. You could tell volumes about a person from their eyes, and from those things that lurked behind them. Bishop's eyes held something...haunting. Something almost...tormented. I couldn't put my finger on what it was, but I suspected that, whatever the source, it weighed heavy. My eyes traced down to the 'Employment History' section of the CV. The erratic, on-and-off smattering of odd jobs, milk runs, and garrison stints which followed five years of employment with an organization eerily branded as the 'Skinwalkers.' Irian Technologies... The name seemed to be the punctuation at the end of the man's career, and made the hairs on the back of my neck bristle. What were they doing doing with Interstellar Expeditions? Though Weyland's MRB background check had come up clear, and in fact, carried with it a corporate excellence rating, there remained many murky areas of the man's life journey. Ironically, it was these unanswered questions and the bevy of names and circumstances in the man's background that had drawn me to his dossier in the application pool. Grey more often than not turned out to be a lovely color, and this man was bathed in it. I looked forward to our eventual meeting. Pulling my feet off the desk, I sat up, and punched a button on my desktop comm unit. "Kauffman to bridge." "Bridge; Watch Officer Cheswick - go ahead." "Which of our vessels is closest to Galatea?" There came a pause, accompanied by the tapping of fingers on a keyboard. "That would be the C.S.V. Mendacius, sir. They're currently running corporate intelligence in-system masquerading as a passenger liner," Cheswick confirmed. "Brilliant. I assume we have a tender in the system as well?" I replied. "Yes, sir - the C.S.V. Nomadic is running tender duty to the Mendacius," the bridge officer answered. "Wonderful. I want you to have the Mendacius pick up a Mr. Bishop Weyland from Galatea. I'm sending you his file. Have the Mendacius meet us at Sheratan once he's aboard." Another pause followed my instruction. "Sir - with respect - are you certain that you want this subject to know that we have an operational Bug-Eye?" "He's not a 'subject,' Mr. Cheswick. He's one of us," I answered. With that, I terminated the comm link. Turning toward my computer terminal, I dashed off a note to Bishop before heading to the bridge to oversee the docking operation... ____________________________ - Incoming Coded Message -- Personal Message Follows - - Decode Omega Protocol - SabreEpsilonTango17green: 1st - - DO NOT DISSEMINATE - ____________________________ Mr. Weyland - I greatly appreciate your gracious reply. I've reviewed your C.V. and everything appears to align with the type of candidate we're seeking. As you can imagine, I have many questions, as I'm sure you do also. I'd like to arrange pro bono transport for you and your gear to Sheratan, where your vessel will rendezvous with our executive DropShip. What is your availability for departure? Please send me your current location so that we can ensure our courier is dispatched to the nearest spaceport. Best, William - TRANSMISSION ENDS - ____________________________ Sender: W. Kauffman Encryption Priority: ULTRA HPG Relay 46LR96-DELTA-2720 Received: MSG Comp. 2122 Standard Terran Time ____________________________
  15. A 'new message' indicator begins flashing on @Joker 4-1's communication unit...
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