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The Universe, 3029

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C.S.V. Republic

Final approach
Great Banded Desert, Nirasaki
January 31, 3029
___________________________

The Republic’s massive cargo hold was bathed in crimson red combat lighting that casted an ominous glow over the war fighting machines in the hold. Towering above them stood massive Titans of war. The battle mechs securely locked in to there maintenance gantries for the final decent. They reminded the Mercenary of etched stone guardians one would see in a fantasy film standing in front of a castle. Bishop had a tremendous amount of respect for the avatars and their pilots, they truly were the Kings of the battlefield. 

Strapped in a netted jump seat Bishop’s hulking body shook and raddled with the ships controlled fall from from the heavenly void of space. Reentry was a violent and often  chaotic time for DropShips. The ship was essentially smashing its way through the planets atmosphere, all the while the planet fighting back to repel the foreign invader.  The hold’s air temperature spiked with an irritating heat that caused the Lieutenant to sweat under his Nomex woven tanker jumpsuit. The internal ship’s ozone smelled of grease, diesel ,hot electronics and body odor.  Only the mech warriors in their machines had a reprieve from the building heat and smells. 

Bishop’s ears were under constant assault from the sounds of the ships screaming thrusters, stressing metal and rattling cargo chains. The Lieutenant turreted his head left to look at the hulking female Skinwalkers sitting next to him. Captain Cordoza sat with the upper half of her flight suit pulled down to her waist exposing her upper body to the hostile elemental. She wore a jet black sports bra that covered most of her Skinwalker insignia tattoo that she proudly wore on her chest. The battle harden veteran was the units contracted Kestrel pilot. Most that met her were intimidated by her bodybuilder frame and razor smooth head, the woman’s brooding demeanor accentuated her looks. There was no doubt she was a bird of prey while in the sky.  

Sensing his gaze the Pilot cocked her head and gave Bishop a respectful node. In the dim red lighting Weyland cold see her silver reflective iris’s shine, like shining a light into a animals eyes at night.  The uncommon surgical procedure that altered the iris was usual, and was done for individuals seeking better night vision. This enhancement was actual common amongst the ranks of the Skinwalkers. The woman’s face was partially covered with a black balaclava that had a image of a skeletal, snarling fanged beast with exaggerated K9 incisors. Most found the image disturbing and terrifying. it was meant to be shocking to the soul and conscience. The Lieutenant was unfazed by it, for he had worn one long ago. It was the Skinwalker way, they all wore them into battle. 

Bishop returned the nod, then leaned his had back on his head rest. With excitement racing through his blood, the veteran closed his eyes and waited. He waited for the violent waltz between the planet and the DropShip to end. 

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C.S.V. Republic
Great Banded Desert, Nirasaki
January 31, 3029
___________________________

'Hot landing.' In the warrior vernacular, the term usually conjured up images of being flung from a moving DropShip into the middle of a raging battlefield, white-hot rounds of ammunition, the smokey contrails of missiles, and flashes of coherent energy all lancing past your cockpit glass as you fought to defend yourself on the descent into hell.

That was the imagery that most associated with the term. But the idea of a 'hot landing' could be evocative of other situations as well.

For example, it could evoke the imagery of being strapped into a war machine that was, itself, coccooned in the belly of a much larger craft that was falling toward a planet's surface, with you helpless to do anything but listen as first one round impacted your ship's hull, then a dozen, and then, finally, more than you could count. It could transport you to a distant memory of hearing the gradual roar of combat increasing in intensity as your ferrying DropShip approached its target, the final acknowledgements and platitudes of your lancemates crackling through your headset mere moments before the lurch of planetfall and the din of cargo bay doors crashing open signaled the falling away of your protected environment and hell rushing toward you.

Such was the case now. In a departure from our original mission plan, the overseers of our operation had decided that convoying into the theater of combat was too risky, given the combined elements of sand, weather, and possibility of ambush. Instead, they'd opted for a more direct approach - the Republic and Tana would drop our forces half a kilometer from the fortified outpost built by the raiders and retreat to a less-vulnerable staging area once we'd been unloaded. And so it was that I now found myself white-knuckling the controls of the armored Maxim that had been entrusted to my care, waiting for the moment that hell flooded in. 

I didn't have to wait long. The Republic gave a tremendous heave and reverberating impact as it landed fast and hard on the surface of Nirasaki. Its cargo bay doors tore open, landing ramps smashing to the ground with a terrific cacaphony as the engines of the various vehicles and BattleMechs waiting to disembark roared to life. Daylight flooded into the hold, temporarily overwhelming my vision. As I polarized my headset's visor to compensate, the voice of Major Hayes crackled in my ears. 

"Alright, Sabre and Vulcan lances! You're up! Hit 'em hard!" 

"Okay, Predator," I radioed to Bishop Weyland, parked alongside me in his Condor. "Let's get this done."

I slammed the throttle of the Maxim to full, and it surged forward into the desert, rounds from a lance of Sabaku Kazes and Harassers pummeling our hulls as we threw ourselves into combat.

"Contact! Heavy contacts dead ahead!"

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Black Eclipse Discovery Site
Great Banded Desert, Nirasaki
January 31, 3029
___________________________

As the armor company surged from the hold of the Republic and directly into combat, I steered Captain Maxwell's King Crab, 'Ares,' from its bay and out into the sweltering climate of the desert. It felt unusual to be at the controls of Charles' war machine; typically, only the Captain himself piloted Ares; I had only personally piloted it once before, when I'd first joined the unit as an interim field commander when Maxwell had been critically injured and was hospitalized for an extended period. But the King Crab was a joy to pilot, and bristled with weaponry. Outfit with a pair of AC/20s, an LRM 10 launcher, and a trifecta of Medium Pulse Lasers, Ares personified the Captain's combat style - unstoppable and devastating at any range. I just hoped that it would be enough this time.

With the 'Mech Bay falling away behind me, my BattleMech's heat gauges spiked subtly, an indication of the temperature extremes which held dark promise of lethal peril on the outside of my cockpit canopy. A series of explosions thudded into the sand along my right flank as I steered Ares into a full run, bearing off to the northwest with the elements of Hammer and Anvil lances in close formation around me. Ahead lay the compound which stood between us and the wreck of the Takashima, surrounded by a high, ramshackle wall constructed out of rubble, shipping containers, and what appeared to be sections of the fallen cruiser's hull itself. Lurking on the far side of the barrier, below our line of sight, was a swarm of radar contacts; everything from light gun squads to vehicles to BattleMechs of the heaviest class. Concentrated heavily on the northwestern end of the complex, I knew that there was a high likelihood that the majority of the occupiers would come pouring through the wall like a swarm of angry hornets the moment we punched through it. Mentally, I steeled myself for the carnage that was to come.

A sudden hiss of a very high-powered open comms transmission cut across my headset, followed shortly thereafter by the crisp, military bearing of Major Hayes' voice, broadcasting from the Republic, making an announcement that was evidently intended for the occupiers of the wreck site.

"Attention, salvagers: this is Major James Hayes of the Aegis Division mercenary unit. Our organization has legal salvage claim to the derelict WarShip you're occupying. Your presence constitutes trespassing on private property.  Depart the site now and you will not be harmed, stopped, or questioned. If you do not leave, our security forces are authorized to remove you."

A long interlude of open comm static ensured. Eventually, the sharp squelch of someone in the compound keying a microphone too close to a speaker answered Major Hayes' transmission.

"This is Lenoard. Get bent!"

After a moment's pause, Major Hayes replied on the internal company channel.

"You heard the man. They've opted for oblivion. Do what you have to do."

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Black Eclipse Discovery Site - NW Sector
Great Banded Desert, Nirasaki
January 31, 3029
___________________________

Our lance tore over the dunes that our dropship was hidden behind, cresting the rise just before the scavenger village and raining fire down on the Mechs and vehicles that had fortified it. In the lead in his MAD-4A Marauder II was Black Phalanx's Captain Jack 'Wicked' Whitley, followed second by a TDR-5S Thunderbolt driven by MechWarrior Virginia 'Rocket' Cengic. The third in line was commander Edgar 'Rider' Galloway, at the controls of an HBK-4N Hunchback. I brought up the rear in a JR7-D Jenner. As our lance descended into the Black Eclipse site, I saw what we were up against. As the Aegis dropships, their profiles silhouetted eerily against the brown, dusty sky, lifted off from the battlefield and disappeared into the sky, I saw what looked like eight Aegis Division BattleMechs and around ten tanks barreling straight toward the compound. But the huge Aegis Division charge heading toward us was nothing compared to the hostile OpFor that we were about to smash into - way more than our intelligence had expected. My radar lit up with 33 total pirate contacts. The four of us wouldn't stand a chance in a frontal assault....our only hope was going to be that Aegis provided a bigger distraction than we did.

Suddenly, a ton of obscenities and random shouts cut across my radar as Whitley and Cengic collided with the pirates first. To my frustration,  OpFor didn't seem at all surprised that we were coming in from the side and had bypassed their wall. They simply turned toward us and started shooting, totally ignoring the Aegis forces that were coming in. In a critical misstep, I realized that none of us had judged the height of the wall that stood between the Aegis forces and the pirates. It was totally protecting the salvagers, meaning that they had time to kill us first before turning toward Aegis.

This is not good.

 

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*****************************************************************************************************************************************************************
*** These next few posts take place back in November 3028, due to real life duties (read new baby) I have been remiss in keeping Orlex's story up to date,  ***
*** these posts should bring things back in line with the overall universe timeline. However, this story is still separate from the overall arcing                           ***
*** Aegis and Crayven storylines at this time.                                                                                                                                                                                                   ***
*****************************************************************************************************************************************************************

Previously...

IE Offices
Carosasha, Menkalinan
Menkalinan System, Marik/Liao border
November 28, 3028
____________________________________

The debriefing was moving along slowly, as was expected, with the IE officer often backtracking and getting each of us to recount the same event multiple times to 'make sure they have things straight', if it wasn't for the relative comfort of the room, the refreshments offered and the notable lack of a spotlight in our faces one could have easily mistook the meeting as an interrogation rather than a debrief. That was until an unusual muffled bang was heard from outside the meeting room, at once all 4 mechwarriors turn to each other with a questioning look.

"Was that a gunshot?" asked Joe, voicing the question we all had on our mind.

As we turned back towards the IE officer, who had a somewhat confused look on his face but said dismissively, "That's not possible, no one in here would have discharged a firearm and there's no way we could hear anything from outside in here."

No sooner had he finished speaking than another two muffled pops could be heard rumbling into the office, the second one rolling on in a short staccato.

"That's definitely weapons fire," said Luke as he started to get up, both Irene and I nodding our heads in agreement. Being MechWarriors we were used to hearing various weapons fire in muted tones from within the confines of our cockpits and ballistic fire of any notable calibre all sounded similar enough to recognize.

The look of confusion deepened on the IE officer's face as he tried to comprehend what that could imply, as the four MechWarriors started standing up there was sudden thud that sounded like it came from directly above us in the ceiling. With a crash, that sounded like it was coming from both in front and behind at us at once, a figure smashed through ceiling to land behind the IE officer as the man's confused look quickly changed to shock and surprise before the sound of compressed gas heralded the end of the man's life. The figure that had landed behind the IE officer unleashed a spray of deadly and nearly silent fletchette's from a pistol sized weapon, which I recognized after the fact as a Sea Eagle Needler Pistol, directly into the back of the unfortunate man's head and neck, the small, sharp shards of polymer cleanly slicing through the officer's unprotected flesh and killing him almost instantly. Immediately grateful for having chosen to wear the ballistic plate vest I immediately finishing standing up with a jolt before launching myself forward and over the intervening desk, the size requiring me to plant my feet on top of the desk partway over but allowing me to then leap directly into the attacker, their jerky movements the only thing revealing their surprise since their face was completely covered by a sleek armoured looking helmet. Mid-vault I heard a sickening thud of metal striking a body hard before someone crumpled to the floor behind me, revealing at least one additional attacker, before I collided with the initial assailant and the two of us tumbled to the ground in a mass of sprawling limbs. Landing on top of the other man as we collapsed I managed to maintain my position as we rolled once of the floor before coming up against the bookcase, wrestling myself upright I was able to draw back my left arm and use the extra weight of the prosthetic arm to slam my fist into the faceplate of his helmet. The first blow cracked the visor while the second and third shattered the mirrored faceshield, a fourth drove through the remnants of the visor to strike forcefully into the man's face the sound of breaking bone accompanied the man falling slack beneath me, the impact knocking him unconcious. At some point during the scuffle a shot rang out within the office itself and someone grunted from the far side of the desk, after checking that my attacker wasn't going to be getting up anytime soon I stood up and looked over desk, a quick glance confirmed there was no need to check for vitals on the IE officer. One the far side of the desk Irene had the second assailant locked into a vicious rear naked choke in which the assailant was still trying to aim his submachinegun at Luke, whom it appeared the assailant had just kicked off of himself, before an audible snap rang out and the man's body fell limp his head remaining at an odd angle even after Irene released her grip. Luke moved to check on Joe, who was lying on his side a large welt already appearing on his forehead and a small trickle of blood running down from what appeared to be a hole in his right arm, while Irene wasted no time in liberated the KA-23 Subgun SMG from the dead man. Before Luke could try and rouse Joe the door to the room burst inwards and two more men wearing the same flat green fatigues and black armoured vest as the two men who came in through the ceiling. They also wore the same blacked out armoured visors and carried the same two guns, one with a KA-23 SMG and the other two-handing a Sea Eagle Needler Pistol.

"Take cover!" I yelled as I flipped up the large desk with considerable effort, flipping it over to provide some limited cover in the otherwise open office.

Irene did a surprisingly agile front roll over the top of the desk as I flipped it, managing to land smoothly on the other side and quickly sliding up behind the desk with her newly acquired SMG at the ready while Luke slid sideways along the wall to slip behind the desk just before the new attackers opened fire into our makeshift cover. The needler rounds harmlessly impacted the heavy steel desk but the KA-23 punched hard into the metal desk, visible dents appearing on our side of the table and bringing into question how long it would last. Still covered by the desk Luke was able to reach over and grab the needler pistol from our first attacker while I pulled up the sleeve on my shirt and slid a high capacity, military grade, micro power pack into a semi-hidden receptacle located on the inside of my left upper arm just above the elbow. As the power pack slid into place a faint hum could be heard from within my prosthetic arm as the laser within charged up to full power. With a glance and a nod to each side all three of us popped over or around the desk and opened fire on the two men who were still standing, and apparently reloading, just inside the doorway, they clearly did not expect to have us return fire on them or else they were very poorly trained. Both Luke and Irene emptied the remaining ammo in the clips of their respective guns while I unleashed a quick laser blast towards each opponent from the laser hidden within my prosthetic arm. The men were struck down immediately, the combined fire chewing through what little protection they had and dropping them before they could react. With our immediate threats eliminated we wasted no time in securing the room, Irene and I stripped the attackers of any usable gear, giving the appropriate ammo to Luke or Irene while Luke tended to Joe, who was very groggily starting to come around.

"How's Joe doing?" I asked as I handed the IE officer's sidearm and spare ammo to Luke.

"He'll be alright, I've stopped the bleeding, but I'm sure we won't hear the end of it once he comes to," replied Luke with a smile.

"I'm right here guys, even if it feels like a Blake-damned dropship just landed on my head," said Joe raising a hand to gingerly feel the goose-egg that literally seemed to be growing before our eyes.

"What's our next move?" asked Irene as she came over, having finished searching the bodies for useful items.

"We need to check on the others, I'm more worried about Jess and Mikhala than any poor souls that tried to take on Joel and Kevin," I said as I moved towards the still open door, the palm on my prosthetic left hand splitting open to reveal the barrel of the high powered laser pistol within.

"Roger that, I'll follow your lead Orlex," answered Irene as she glanced back towards Luke and obviously still dazed Joe, "You good with him?"

"Yeah, no worries I've got the young blood here," replied Luke.

"Hey, I'm right here and I'm good to go, I can fight," said Joe woozily as he tried to stand up, his legs immediately gave out beneath him, "...ok, maybe I'll just sit here for another minute."

"You got hit pretty hard Joe, best if we stay here for now. We'll keep an eye on our unconcious friend in the corner there too, just in case," chuckled Luke with a nod towards the assailant I had previously knocked out and left crumpled in the corner by the bookcase.

Without another word Irene and I moved into the hallway, each covering a direction before stepping out into the hallway itself.

"Clear." we both stated almost in unison.

The door to the debrief room directly across from ours was now open and it was quickly apparent that the two additional attackers had come from the room into ours. The sound of a door opening further down the hall caused both Irene and I to turn and bring our weapons to bear, one low and one high, on the currently empty hallway waiting for a target to present itself. A lightly armoured figure appeared, semi-shrouded in the partial darkness, and took a half step out into hallway looking the wrong way, a quick blast of coherent energy from my laser punched a hole clean through the light armour vest he wore and he as slumped forward into the middle of the hallway his partner mistakenly stepped out low to try and find the source of the attack but Irene was ready for him. A quick 10 round burst of ballistic fire from the KA-23 Subgun put down the second enemy soldier, his armour vest doing nothing as each round penetrated the armour with ease. Fairly confident that no more attackers would be coming from any room, except possibly the room that Mikhala and Jess were in, we moved down the hallway quickly in tandem. Once at the other debrief room we tried to see if we could hear anything but it was futile effort with the sound proofing, so Irene and I stacked up on the door and I tried to open the door slowly but it would not budge. Putting my full weight behind the door it slowly started to open but then jammed less than an inch open, with a look at Irene I signalled that I was going to try and bust the door in, she nodded she was ready and I stepped back before slamming my shoulder back into the door with my full weight, this time something behind the door slid and gave way and the door opened abruptly inward causing me to stagger slightly following the door in. Irene followed my stumbling body into the room and a brief tense second passed as recognition passed across her eyes, and thankfully across Mikhala's eyes as well, as I collected my feet back under myself and half stood, raising my arm to the ready as I started to clear the room I saw the Mikhala had me square in her sights, finger on the trigger.

"God damned, Orlex, I nearly shot you dead," she said to break the tension.

"I see that," I replied, noting she still had the gun trained on me, "I'm glad you didn't, but maybe we could aim that gun somewhere else please."

"Sorry," Mikhala said as she lowered the M&G Service Auto Pistol, "things are a little tense. Any chance you have any idea what in Blake's name is going on?"

"Nope, sorry I've got nothing. Was kind of hoping you might have something," I said as I nodded to Jess who currently had one of the opponents, clearly alive, pinned painfully into the floor beneath her, his arm looking like it was dislocated and still being leveraged further, "So I initially came down here to see if you were in need of a rescue, clearly that is not the case. Glad you're both alright."

"Oh we didn't get off scott free," replied Jess with a chuckle as she nodded her head towards her right hip where her pants were partially shredded from apparent needler fire, "I've had worse though, and the poor IE guy didn't make it. I've been taking it out on this fellow though."

"I see, as long as we can question him once we're secure," I answered with a grin, "We've taken out enemies in the other three debreifing rooms, counting ours, if you two are good here Irene and I will go meet up with the others in the waiting room. We can regroup here once everyone is accounted for."

"Sounds good, we'll keep our prisoner here company while you two round up the others. Hopefully we can find out what the hell this is all about," said Mikhala.

Irene and I moved back into the hallway and carefully headed towards the waiting room where the sounds of gunfire could be heard, the sound of the echos sounded like they were exchanging gunfire and not just one sided, which was hopeful. As we rounded the corner into the waiting room itself we could see Kyla hiding behind a heavy planter, the best cover available from the main doors, with an obvious leg wound and Joel and Kevin gunning down what appeared to be the last of four visible enemy combatants. As the last one went down Kevin fell to one knee, a stifled groan indicating something must have made it through his armour. Meanwhile Jim and Joel moved up on opposite sides towards the main hall doors with the obvious intention of closing them but before they could get there another 4 attackers burst into the room from the hallway, stepping over the bodies of what appeared to be IE security guards. Kevin still managed to raise his weapon and open fire on the new targets despite his injuries and Irene and I joined him. Both Kevin and Irene emptied the clips of the KA-23 Subguns they had acquired, spraying a deadly barrage of lead into the open hallway doors while I unloaded the remainder of the power pack in my laser in rapid, short pulses of emerald energy fully opening my prosthetic arm as I did so, the forearm splitting underneath swinging out like wings to vent the excess heat from the fusilade of energy blasts. One of our opponents dropped dead as multiple ballistic rounds tore through his armour while the other three managed to escape back into the hallway weathering the fire surprisingly well despite taking several hits each but nothing lethal. As soon as the men retreated into the hallway Joel and Jim slammed the doors shut and jammed one the SMGs into the loop handles to prevent it from being opened.

A quick conversation to bring everyone up to speed, and a rummage through the corpses for more salvageable gear, and the regrouped Knights headed back towards Mikhala and Jess's debrief room, collecting Luke and Joe along the way. They unfortunately had to kill the unconcious enemy as he pulled a combat knife and tried to leap on them when they looked away for a moment. Back with Mikhala and Jess in their room Jess had gotten their prisoner up and seated in one of the office chairs and then tied him down with some computer cables that they had found in the desk, apparently needing to dislocate the man's other shoulder in the process. Jess had just finished tying him up when everyone arrived and as Mikhala turned to start questioning him Jess cursed and rushed forward trying to pry open is mouth but it was already too late as white foam began leaking out around the corners of his lips, his eyes rolled back into his head and his whole body fell limply to the side.

"Son of bitch!" replied Jess as she finally got his mouth open, the remnant of a tooth falling loose, "Blake-damned suicide pills. These guys are fanatics."

"Alright then, since we can't interrogate one, what do we know?" asked Mikhala to everyone present.

"They are trained and they have good gear," stated Kevin through gritted teeth, his wound clearly bothering him but he wasn't letting it slow him down, "those fatigues I believe are actually IR sneak suits, I've seen similar before but never this livery. If it wasn't for the one guy in the waiting room having a white cobra emblazoned on his chest I'd pass the colouring off as standard military but the green hue is off and I think it's intentional. The concealable ablative/flak vests and flash suppressant helmets are also relatively high end gear. Despite all this these guys seemed almost like rookies, making simple mistakes that a seasoned grunt would never make. Some of that could be attributed to them being overconfident that we wouldn't be able or willing to fight back, but even still I'd be willing to bet these guys were wet behind the ears."

"I would concur about their level of experience, they were slow to respond to new threats and made simple mistakes when trying to clear rooms. Also, it's a rather odd mix of weaponry too, the KA-23 is almost exclusively a Draconis Combine weapon, despite it's good reputation and popularity it's relatively hard to find this far from Kurita space. The needler on the other hand is an extremely rare variant out of the Free World's League, I've seen them before and it's an odd choice for an obviously clandestine OP, despite being an excellent weapon for it, due to its rarity. I'd guess they are either trying to misdirect or else they weren't planning on anyone being left to try and identify them," I added.

"They also appeared to be targetting IE personnel before us, though that could just be coincidence. Hard to say for sure but either IE was the real target here, or else it's another attempt to misdirect. If I had to though, given recent events and the potential fallout from them, I'd say we are actually their target but they wanted to make sure that no one we interacted with, and possibly passed information to, was able to get away with said information. Also since this is an IE facility it would make sense to take out the personnel familiar with it first, leaving us essentially stranded in an 'unknown' environment," said Jess as she moved to join the discussion.

"All excellent points, so it seems that we have a covert ops group of some kind that may or may not be targetting us, Interstellar Expeditions, or both. The group is clearly well supplied but not experienced, that at least gives us bit of an edge, not much but I'll take it," responded Mikhala after listening to our opinions before turning to Jess and continuing, "Any guesses on who this group could be?"

After a moment of consideration Jess shrugged, "I want to say it's the work of ComStar ROM agents, but if it was, we'd be dead right now, or at least some of us would be. These guys are way too inexperienced to be ROM, that being said however, I can see them being a low end mercenary group hired as plausible deniability by ComStar to take us out."

"I was afraid of that," said Mikhala, "so it looks like we probably didn't get away scott free on Myrvoll then, somehow ComStar was able to identify us and now we're on their radar, which is very bad. We'll worry about that later, first we need to get back to the Mjolnir and get off world then we can figure out what to do about ComStar."

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**************************************************************************************************************************************************************
*** These next few posts take place back in November 3028, due to real life duties (read new baby) I have been remiss in keeping Orlex's story up to date, 
*** these posts should bring things back in line with the overall universe timeline. However, this story is still separate from the overall arcing         
*** Aegis and Crayven storylines at this time.                                                                                                               
**************************************************************************************************************************************************************

Previously...

IE Offices
Carosasha, Menkalinan
Menkalinan System, Marik/Liao border
November 28, 3028
____________________________________

With our discussion on who the attackers could be concluded, everyone agreed that our immediate course of action would be to return to the dropship and get off world as soon as possible. At least then there was less of a chance of getting ambushed by seemingly random strangers, planetside, at least right now, everyone was a potential threat. Our current plan was to fight our way to the security offices where we stored our gear upon arrival, assuming that there would be more enemies present once we left the debriefing rooms, and then hopefully our armoured transport would still be waiting for us at the entrance as we originally were told it would. If the transport was unavailable we would have to make our way to the basement and find something suitable from the IE motorcade that, according to a floor listing by the elevators we passed on our way here, was located on sublevel 2.

First we checked to see if the doorway the Baron used to enter and exit the debriefing hall was usable, it was not, the heavy metal frame and doors suggested they were blast doors and they were sealed tight. With that route blocked our group made our way back towards the meeting room we had originally entered from while checking what little gear we had accumulated. Our group of 10 individuals had between us 4 serviceable KA-23 subguns with only 2 clips each, 2 M&G Service Auto pistols with 2 clips each, and 3 Sea Eagle Needler pistols which only had a single clip each. I also had the laser in my prosthetic arm with 3 remaining power cells but all in all, not a lot of ammo considering what we'd seen so far. Thankfully the armour we had been allowed to keep was still in good condition, though not everyone had chosen to wear armour, and only Kyla, Joe, and Kevin were injured, with none being serious. With our gear checked and ready we made our way into the waiting room and towards the set of double doors leading out to the hallway we originally entered from, which was currently be bashed into hard enough to dislodge the damaged KA-23 subgun Jim had previously used to jam the door closed. As the doors burst open our group scattered to take what measly cover we could find in the waiting room and 5 mercs dressed in the same green fatigues as our previous attackers entered the room, 3 of them firing back into the hallway with their backs to us and the other 2 facing into the full barrage of fire we unleashed in the next few seconds. All 5 of our opponents were gunned down in the intial volley of fire as more than 50 rounds of ammunition were sent into the doorway within a mere 10 seconds. Working in teams we approached the downed enemies to recover any usable weapons and to ensure there were no more enemies waiting in the hallway. To our surprise we found 3 IE personnel taking cover in an alcove in the hallway, two office workers and a wounded guard, who quickly agreed to join our group on our way to the security office on the condition that we help them search the offices on the way for more survivors.

"I think most of them got out before things really went sideways, at least I'm hoping so," said Tim, one of the office workers, "but on the off chance that someone is left we have to at least try to help. And with all of you with us we should be much safer if we run into more of these lunatics."

"There is safety in numbers, I would agree," said Mikhala, "but it also makes us a bigger target. We're heading to the security offices anyways so it won't hurt to check the rooms on the way, at the very least it'll ensure the rooms are clear. If there are IE personnel still around, we'll do what we can to help them."

"Thank you," said Chris, the wounded guard, through gritted teeth. His breath was laboured and his left arm was curled up in a makeshift sling, it looked like he had taken a round or two in the chest as well.

"If you can get us to the security offices we should be safe there, unless the entire place is gone to hell in a handbasket that is," he continued, "There's another entrance to the security offices, slightly closer than the main entrance. Up ahead on the left, take that hallway and then the 4th door on the right."

"Thanks," replied Mikhala as Jim moved to help the wounded guard.

One by one we cleared the intervening rooms until we reached the new hallway, we only came across 1 enemy but several bodies, some of which unfortunately were IE personnel. In the first room we cleared in this new hallway we came across 2 more office workers that had managed to barricade themselves in their office and survived the onslaught so far, they quickly joined us once Tim talked to them and we had to take out 4 more of the green fatigue wearing assailants in the hallway. We cleared the rest of the rooms without incident and made our way into the security offices, coming in from the back entrance the place appeared to be abandoned and we easily made it to the secure storage area and was able to recover everyone's gear. With our personal gear back our group moved up through the security offices to the main entrance hoping to find the IE security force that was supposed to be present and hopefully making it to the armoured transport unit. We weren't prepared for what we found at the main entrance though, bodies lay strewn about throughout the lobby, several of which were various IE personnel and also several of the unknown enemy combatants but most surprising was the bodies of the 4 guards wearing full ballistic plate armour. Oddly enough they didn't appear like they were killed taking cover but rather were killed in the open, almost at their posts, a closer look at the lobby revealed why. There were no fewer than 4 spent gas grenades lying amongst the bodies and one of the dead enemies had an umistakable Zeus Heavy Rifle laying near him, it appeared that the insurgents had gassed the heavily armoured guards before gunning them down with heavy fire. This indicated that whoever these enemies were, or whoever hired them, knew what kind of gear they were going up against and came prepared, if ill experienced. That didn't bode well for us if we came across any of these more heavily armed enemies, we did not have the equipment to deal with them properly.

"Hold it right there!" shouted a commanding voice from further in the lobby.

Our group turned, almost as one, from our various spots searching the bodies near the main entrance, to face the source of the voice, half expecting to see more of the enemies. Instead we found ourselves facing another squad of 4 heavily armoured IE guards, all of which had their weapons trained on us.

"Whoa, we're on the same side here," I responded, being the closest member of the Knights to the new IE personnel. Glancing down at the body of one of the enemy assailants I looked back up towards the guards, "I know this probably doesn't look the greatest but we didn't do this."

"Yeah, I'm not interested in your excuses son, you're all coming with us. Put down your weapons nice and slow now," responded the burly guard.

Before things escalated thankfully one of the IE guards that had been accompanying us came out of the security office, where they had been trying to access the office's security systems and see how bad things were, and intervened on our behalf. After several minutes of explaining the armoured guards became amenable to our situation and agreed to allow us to leave using the armoured transport that was apparently still sitting outside, the guards would then escort the IE personnel back through the office to the motorcade in the basement to make their own withdrawal. As our two groups parted ways, heading in opposite directions, a group of at least 12 enemy combatants burst into the lobby from the third entrance and opened fire on both our groups. As both our groups took cover and began to return fire the enemy squad made sure to concentrate fire between us in order to keep our groups separated.

"Get out of here," called the armoured guard from earlier, never did get his name, "We'll hold them until you're aboard that transport."

"Like hell we're leaving you to have all the fun," called back Joel as he fired several rounds into the enemy ranks.

"Suit yourself, but we aren't sticking around forever. You should get out while you can," replied the guard.

"Cover me, I'm going for the transport," called Jim as he moved towards the main entrance. Kevin and Luke nodded confirmation as they opened fire over their cover and dropped a couple more of the enemy soldiers.

Jim ran towards the main entrance keeping as low as possible as the enemy squad fired at him, Kevin and Luke, along with the IE heavy guards and several other members of our group focused fire on the enemy soldiers firing at Jim and forced them into cover allowing Jim to get outside and into the armoured transport. A few moments later and the heavy sound of the transports I.C.E. firing up could be heard rumbling through the front doors of the lobby.

"Alright everyone," called Mikhala, "outisde now! Let's go, our transport is waiting."

Several more concentrated bursts of fire were directed towards the dwindling enemy position, only 6 or 7 soldiers remained now and they looked about ready to break. A few well placed incendiary rounds from my Serrek 7875D auto-pistol, which conveniently lit an enemy on fire, caused the remaining soldiers to fall back and retreat through the door behind them while the IE guards unloaded their SMGs at their retreating forms. Outside Jim honked the transport's horn to indicate everything was ready, in case we somehow missed the loud rumbling of its engine, and our group began to file towards the main doors behind Jess. A massive explosion from outside the building shattered the glass of the entranceway and send shards of dagger-like projectiles flying inwards followed closely by a huge fireball.

"JIM!" Jess screamed before being blown off her feet by the explosion.

Luke, Kevin, Kyla, and Irene were also blown over by the force of the blast and the rest of us tried to shield ourselves as best we could from the heat and flying glass. As the initial shock faded a high pitched ringing began in my ears, a strange break in the silence that until now I didn't realize had fallen across the lobby, a moment later I recognized that I was just momentarily deafened by the blast itself and my hearing should return shortly. I could see some of the others laying on the ground, shattered glass and steel lying everywhere and after a quick check over myself for any new wounds, of which there were only superficial cuts and bruises, I somewhat shakily made my way towards those that had been closest to the blast. I could see Kyla pointing towards the doors and screaming, though I still couldn't hear anything, and saw Mikhala and Joel tending to Jess who appeared to have a shard of metal in her shoulder. I looked out to the road and saw what Kyla was pointing at, the twisted, smoking remains of the transport, still burning and beyond any recognition or hope of survival. Whatever it was that exploded, it made damn sure no one would be walking away from it.

"Son of a bitch!" I said, only realizing on the last word that I was yelling as my hearing came back seemingly all at once.

The crash of sound that suddenly washed over me almost made me wish for the silence of shell shock again, the screaming and groaning of the injured and slow terrible sound of twisted metal slowly sheering itself away as bits of the foyer still crashed down randomly.

"Are you alright?" asked a voice that I couldn't immediately place, until she walked around in front of me and I saw that it was Mikhala.

"Yeah," I replied, holding up my prosthetic arm, "this guy took the worst of the glass for me. You ok?"

"Well enough, we need to regroup and move."

Even in the face of this she somehow remained calm and collected, a trait we all recognized and admired, but she was right we needed to regroup everyone and get out of here. Whatever, or whoever blew up our transport, and Jim along with it, was probably planning on getting us all at once, they would not be pleased if they knew the rest of us survived. Plus, who knew what other surprises they may have had in store for us in the event the we did survive. Having gotten over the majority of the shock, and compartmentalizing the feelings of pain, anger and loss that were threatening to well up inside me, I moved quickly now to assist the others and soon was back in full professional mode, we had a job to do and if we wanted to survive the other stuff would have to wait. I helped Irene finish getting to her feet and then we both collected Kyla, who was virtually in hysterics at this point, while Joel, Mikhala, and Joe helped collect the others that were injured in the blast. The armoured IE guards arrived to help bring us further into the lobby, away from the destroyed entrance and out of sight from the outside.

"Well fuck," I overhead the burly guard from before saying to Mikahala, "if you can move, come with us to the motorcade, there should be enough vehicles down there to evac everyone. Please try to keep up, it doesn't look like these guys are going to stop coming any time soon."

Mikhala nodded, and waved us all forward, directing us to move back further into the building and hopefully eventually to safety. As one we followed the IE guards back into the office building and towards the service elevators, despite our new injuries we weren't slowed a signficant amount and made good time getting to the elevators. With a bit of luck we only ran into the remnants of the squad that had attacked us in the lobby and made short work of them with no trouble to ourselves before we boarded the elevators and descended to the motorcade on sublevel 2.

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**************************************************************************************************************************************************************
*** These next few posts take place back in November 3028, due to real life duties (read new baby) I have been remiss in keeping Orlex's story up to date, 
*** these posts should bring things back in line with the overall universe timeline. However, this story is still separate from the overall arcing         
*** Aegis and Crayven storylines at this time.                                                                                                               
**************************************************************************************************************************************************************

Previously...

IE Offices
Carosasha, Menkalinan
Menkalinan System, Marik/Liao border
November 28, 3028
____________________________________

As we all filed out of the elevators we quickly surveyed the underground garage to find the best suited vehicles to get us back to the spaceport.

"We're taking the armoured SUV at the end there," stated the burly guard, who's name we found out was Ryan, "You're welcome to take any other vehicles here, we can collect them from the spaceport later."

"Sounds good," replied Mikhala.

"We better make a choice quick, I can hear them on the stairs," said Irene as she moved towards a nearby hover car.

"We'll have to split up and take three vehicles, only way to get everyone to fit," said Jess as her and Joel moved to an armoured looking truck.

Without any further prompting our group split up amongst the hovercar, the armoured truck, and another large hovercar just as more of the unknown enemy soldiers busted out of the door leading to the stairs. The last few of us getting into the vehicles fired a couple parting shots towards the enemy causing them to scatter just long enough to get the vehicles moving towards the exit. The IE personnel in the SUV exited first, being the closest to the exit ramp, and peeled away down the back alley as soon as they were clear. Kyla, having recovered from her earlier hysterics, slammed the armoured truck into high gear as she pulled away with Jess and Joel while Irene and Mikhala wound up the hovercars engines to full speed as soon as they could as well and followed Kyla. No sooner had we all made it out onto the small street than a series of armed motorcycles, bearing the same colours as the soldiers from earlier, pulled onto the road from a small alleyway and began closing the distance to us. As we took a hard left to try and escape an armoured car pulled in behind the motorcycles, also sporting the same colours as the bad guys, whoever it was they were definitely not giving up.

"We need to split up," said Mikhala over the comms, it's too easy for them to keep up with us if we stay together."

"Alright," responded Irene.

"See you at the spaceport," called Kyla as she peeled off down the first side street with the armoured truck, two of the motorcycles followed her.

The other two motorcycles went after Irene's hovercar as she slid around the corner of another street before taking off out of view. The armoured car stayed on us as Mikhala picked up a little more speed, having more room on the road now. The steady staccato of gunfire erupted from the armoured car as one of the soldiers leaned out the window and became firing their submachinegun at us, multiple rounds struck low on the rear of the vehicle causing minimal damage but lots of noise. 

"Looks like they aren't going to let us go that easily," I quipped as I rolled down my window, "I'm going to see if I can get them to back off a bit."

Sticking my prosthetic arm out the window I fully opened the arm's enclosed panels and began firing blasts from the internal laser back towards the enemy car. Most of the shots missed but a couple landed on the car itself, doing no real damage but scared the soldier enough to duck back inside for a minute. A second soldier leaned out the window on the opposite side of the car and unleashed another burst of SMG fire, this one shattering the back window of our car. Kevin swore under his breath before posting up in the back seat and returning fire with the KA-23 subgun he had kept from before, squeezing off two full bursts before ducking back down for the limited cover the hovercar provided. Ducking back inside myself I repositioned myself so I could fire out the back window as well and switched the laser from pulse mode to continuous in the hopes I could cut through the armour on the enemy car. Using the backseat as a support I fired the laser at the car again, trying to hold it steady long enough to melt some armour with only limited success. The hovercar helped immensely with being a smooth ride but the evasive actions Mikhala was forced to take meant I could do little more than cut off one of the unarmoured side mirrors. Replacing the now burnt out power cell I switched back to the pulse mode and fired a few more shots as one of the soldiers tried to lean out the side of the car again and got a lucky hit that dropped the enemy.

"I'm out," called Kevin a few blocks later as he tossed the now empty KA-23 down in the backseat, "Down to my laser pistol."

"I've got two mags left in my Serrek," I responded, having switched to the ballistic pistol after expending all but my last power cell for the prosthetic arm laser.

"Mikhala," crackled Irene's voice over the comms, "Don't know about you guys but our friends here aren't giving up, however they seem to be trying real hard to avoid any serious collateral damage."

"I can't say for sure, our buddies seem to firing at will over here, but they definitely aren't going all out with trying to stop us," replied Mikhala.

"Same over here," added Kyla, "they're shooting lots but only energy weapons here, nothing that'll leave a distinguishable trace."

"Good to know, I have an idea then, may sound crazy but might be worth a shot," said Irene, "If they want to try and be stealthy, let's take them to the main road, might give us a chance to blend into the traffic, not that these IE cars are exactly subtle."

"I like it," replied Mikhala, "that might just work. These cars do stand out, but if they're trying to avoid collateral damage joining regular traffic could be the edge we need."

"Hold on," called Mikhala from the front seat as she veered hard to right, the hovercar slipping wildly as its fans fought to maintain the supportive air cushion below the car's lower skirt.

The hovercar recovered from the skid, just in time to avoid slamming into the brick walls of the buildings lining the new street. The armoured car chasing us had to slow down to make the same corner but they managed to do so without completely losing sight of us. A few minutes later, and a couple more sharp corners, and we made it to the main thoroughfare heading to the spaceport, the armoured car keeping pace with us the whole time. We were quickly joined by Irene and Kyla in their respective cars and were even able to keep up a decent speed on the large road, a quick check showed that the motorcycles had stopped chasing them at some point and another look behind and I barely caught a glimpse of the armoured car falling way back and heading to an exit off the main road. Apparently Irene's idea had been right and whoever these guys were they didn't want to risk chasing us in public.

"Good call Irene," said Mikhala on the comms again, "looks like they're breaking off. Everyone keep their heads on a swivel though, I don't trust that they've actually stopped tailing us, until we're back on the Mjolnir we aren't safe."

Surprisingly enough the remainder of the trip to the spaceport was uneventful without even a sighting of our pursuers. We pulled in to the spaceport and only received some questionable glances at the state of our vehicles, no longer trusting any strangers on this planet we didn't bother giving any explanations to anyone and thankfully not even the guards asked us about the damaged cars. With little fanfare the 9 of us disembarked from our vehicles and quickly made our way the waiting dropship, the crew had managed to refuel and resupply the ship while we were gone and thankfully the Mjolnir was ready for take off. As soon as everyone was aboard we closed up the ship and launched as quickly as possible, no one wanted to wait around planetside any longer than we needed to.

"Those Blake-damned bastards, what the hell were they after," said Kyla, more as a statement than actual question. We had gathered on the dropship's bridge and the tension was palpable.

"They think we know something we don't," replied Irene.

"I know that Irene, it was rhetorical," snapped Kyla before relenting, " but the fuckers killed Jim, they blew him the fuck up..."

"We know Kyla, and we'll figure out who they are and make them pay for it, but right now we need to keep it together. We'll mourn Jim once we're safely out system." said Jess carefully. Everyone was on a razor edge but she was right, we weren't safe yet, not until we left the Menkalinan system behind.

"Speaking of, we need to leave the system, we have roughly 9 days to the Nadir jump point, we'll need to figure out where we're going by then," began Mikhala.

"Hold on, 9 days? I thought it only took us under 5 days to get to the jump point, and didn't we come in at the Zenith point?" asked Joe, his wound now patched up.

"Yes, and yes," answered Mikhala, "however, we aren't going to the Zenith, but we're going to make it look like we are. We're heading towards the Zenith on the furthest out path we can, in a day or so, once we're completely clear of normal planetary traffic, we'll turn and burn hard towards the Nadir. With our IE contract now completed we no longer have free access to the Star Cruiser, it wouldn't be wise to use them again anyways, so we need to find another jumpship with an open docking collar to take us out of the system."

"If this is ComStar that's after us, and I believe more and more it is, jumping out of system won't be enough. We don't have the resources to keep off their radar and we'll be hard pressed to find legitimate work without them finding out. Best I can suggest is that we need to get as far from Myrvoll as we can and try to pick up some low key contracts either out near the peripherary or maybe Lyran space," added Jess.

"I think I might be able to help there," I said reluctantly, "in regards to where to go."

"What do you mean?" asked Mikhala, "Don't keep us in suspense here."

"I could reach out to my brother, the DMI agent," I hesitated before responding, "I don't know if it's worth a shot or not but I can try. I don't even know if he'll respond but it's all I got."

"I thought things ended badly between you two?" asked Jess.

"They did, that's why I don't know if he'll respond. But I think, if anyone has the means to oppose ComStar it would be the DMI and House Davion. He won't do it for free, I'm not naive anymore, it'll cost us or more specifically me, but if they can help it may be worth the cost."

"What exactly do we even have to offer that the DMI would be interested in anyways?" asked Luke.

"Well, I'm not entirely sure to be honest, but we can offer the intel from Myrvoll to start with, at the very least I'm sure the DMI would be interested in learning that ComStar has a secret comm base that close to their new border." I answered.

"Well that's something, better than anything I've got at the moment," said Jess, "only problem is, how do we get a message out to this brother of yours? HPGs are obviously controlled by ComStar, anything you send through them they have access to and there's no way they'll let you pass that kind of information on."

"Don't need to, if you can get us into Davion space, even their newly conquered space, I can get a message sent without the HPG network that I know my brother will get, eventually."

"Alright, well it sounds like we have the beginnings of a plan, we got 9 days to iron out the details and then we'll jump on the next trade jumpship heading into Davion space," stated Mikhala as she clamped her hand on my shoulder.

"And then?" asked Kevin.

"We'll go from there, at the very least we'll be able to find some work in Davion space during this war," said Mikhala as she moved to the front of the bridge, "Alright everyone, we have 9 days until we arrive at the jump point, I suggest everyone get patched up and get whatever rest you can. I imagine things will get more interesting before all this is over. Dismissed."

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BACK ON NIRASAKI... 

My Dragon banged out of the dropship and into war. It was really hot outside and I could feel the controls acting Sluggish. There were so many enemies, I had never seen that many, not even back with the Gray DEATH Legion. I didn't know where to start, a bunch of tanks had jumped on Captain Maxwell almost right away and there were like 30 other Hostile Forces coming at us from the wall. I was scared and anxious but I could not drink it away right now, I had to be in the fight. 

I thought about all my battle training and did waking meditation to force my memories into my Mind. Then I pushed into the fight, blasting all kinds of rounds at the wall right behind LT. Walsh to help her bring down the barrier. We had to buy the Captain and LT Bishop time to get in and get the Artifact. I focused all of my concentration on my shots to make them all count, this was the ultimate moment for our team. 

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Black Eclipse Discovery Site
Great Banded Desert, Nirasaki
January 31, 3029
___________________________

The response from the defilers of the holy artifact site was immediate and violent. As the Unclean attempted to mount a defense of their illicit occupation, the hand of Blake compelled Aether, my RVN-1X Raven, to carry me to the center of the battlefield, where I would execute His divine will to jam the sensors of those who would do us harm. A flurry of projectiles whipped past the cockpit glass of my blessed chariot, attempting to smite me and prevent me from doing Blake's work. I paid the onslaught no mind, for though I walked through the valley and the shadow of death, I feared no evil. Blake had decreed that Aether be favored with the ambrosial medium of Guardian electronic countermeasures, and though the Unclean's aims were true, their projectiles could not find me.

I drew upon the appointed position and brought Aether to a halt. After murmuring a number of holy incantations, my hands, guided by Blake, passed over the controls of the ECM suite. I cast forth its power, inducing the sensors of the Unclean within range to an addled state, no doubt vexing and demoralizing our assailants in the process. As I stood my post, I recited a silent prayer, searching for targets of opportunity...

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Black Eclipse Discovery Site
Great Banded Desert, Nirasaki
January 31, 3029
___________________________

The elements of Hammer and Anvil lances swarmed the outer wall of the pirate compound like a horde of predators overwhelming their prey. All manner of green, blue, and red flashes of energy discharges pounded the towering obstacle, along with myriad projectile impacts, causing a section of it to buckle in stages under the assault. Marius Lennox, temporarily in command of my CPLT-C1 Catapult, 'Tyche,' hung back behind the main charge alongside my newly-acquired LGB-7Q Longbow, to leverage the ranged effectiveness of our LRM launchers as we drew beads on the target objective.

As my targeting computer screamed a lock on the intended destination, my radar board lit up with the arrival of four new unknown bogies, making their way into the compound from the northwest, and coming under immediate assault as they did so. Quickly, I toggled a channel open to Marius to confirm what I'd just seen.

"Hey, Mantis, you seeing this? I've got four new tangoes with unknown IFF on a vector into the compound, and they're not being spared the unfriendly reception."

"Yeah, I see it too, what do you make of it?" Lennox replied.

"I don't know. I'm uploading my telemetry data to the Republic. Maybe they can get a fix on who that is. Considering that they're also getting attacked, they might be on our side - comparatively speaking, anyway."

"Roger that. I'm also ready to light this wall up when you are," Marius acknowledged.

"Let's do it," I answered, squeezing the trigger for my missile suites and letting fly a devastating salvo of fifty warheads. Simultaneously, another thirty exited the launchers of Tyche, the two flights of rockets converging on the same trajectory and combining in the air into a single, gigantic plume of glowing smoke as they arced toward their targets. Seconds later, a thunderous series of chain explosions blossomed across the face of the wall, the section that was at the focal point of our attack finally giving way under the siege. As the dust cleared, Hammer and Anvil lances poured through the opening and were thrown into immediate, brutal combat.

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