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  2. DSV Cuttlefish Serathi Sea, Sheratan III Sheratan System - Tikonov Free Republic October 27, 3030 ______________________________________________ As the tiny submarine thunked up against the hull of the Capellan base, all eyes turned toward me. I swallowed heavily, unfolding my noteputer and gesturing toward Marius Lennox to do the same with his twin computer that was chain-linked to mine. On our four-hour ride out to the location of the clandestine base, we determined that we wouldn't have the throughput or signal stability to remotely hack the submerged lab's sensors or docking controls from the surface. The best we would be able to do was spam acoustic noise at the outpost's sonar system. The hack into the base's access control system would need to take place while in physical contact with its airlock, the only support from the surface coming from Curie in her temporary server accommodations. While Captain Sisko had relented to loaning us rack space aboard the Trident, she had insisted that Curie's server blade remain physically isolated from the rest of the ship's network, save for a dedicated downlink to a receiver shared by the comm units that Marius and I carried and had tethered to our noteputers. Even though I had pushed the issue, arguing that Curie might need access to resources from the net, Captain Sisko had stood her ground, saying that "today had been comprised of enough bullshit without an untested AI running rampant on my ship." I couldn't exactly argue with her caution, as frustrating as it was. "OK, Marius, you ready to do this?" I whispered as I booted up the homebrew hacking toolkit we'd come to rely on time and again. "As ready as I'll ever be." he replied, his voice tight with nerves. "What about you, Curie?" I asked. A delay occurred as I waited for the message to be transmitted to the surface, received by Curie's comm unit, and interpreted by her software. "Yes, Private Schuster, I am ready to proceed." she said after a few moments. I took a deep breath and initiated the connection between our two noteputers. Marius and I had been working together for the past few hours to come up with a strategy for this cyber-intrusion. We'd planned out how we would penetrate the base's virtual security perimeter, take down the firewalls and network monitors, commandeer the docking collar controls, and open the airlocks at the same time we shut off the laboratory's physical security grid. Simultaneously, Curie would watch both of our trace trackers for any indication that we were being detected or blocked, and deploy appropriate countermeasures. The plan was intricate and required split-second timing. If any one of us made a mistake, the whole thing could come crashing down around us. "All right, Curie, you know what to do." I said as I launched my initial attack, gesturing at Marius to do the same. For the next few minutes, it was a blur of code and data as we worked to penetrate the base's defenses. I could feel the sweat beading on my forehead as we progressed, the tension in the hold of the submarine growing with each passing second. The trace tracker beeped slowly as I ran PortHack, an application that could bypass active proxies and give us admin access to a tagret system if enough ports were open. If there were not enough open ports or a firewall was active, PortHack would fail. Curie was constantly feeding us information, updating us on the status of the base's network and security. DENIED, my computer blared. "Marius, we've got a firewall here." I announced. "On it." he said, his fingers a blur as he ran the AnalyzeFirewall application. "Curie, what's the status of the airlock?" I asked, not taking my eyes off of the screen in front of me. "The airlock is still sealed." she replied. "Of course it is. They wouldn't make it easy for us." I muttered. "I've got a firewall solution." Marius said after a few moments."Injecting now." I held my breath as the code he'd written was injected into the base's security system. If the worm was configured correctly, the code would allow us to pass through it undetected. If not, we would be blocked and the base would be alerted to our presence. "We're through." Marius said after a few moments, his voice relieved. "OK, now let's get some ports open." I said as I launched SSHcrack. Simultaneously, Marius deployed the FTPBounce executable. I watched as the two programs worked, opening up ports 22 and 21 respectively. "Ports are open." I announced. "Curie, give me audio updates about how much time we have left before that trace I'm hearing completes." Marius said. "Yes, Lieutenant Lennox." Curie replied. "All right, Nick, I'm in with PortHack. I'm going to see if I can find the airlock controls. Go ahead and hit the docking collar once you're in." Marius said. "Got it." I replied as I launched PortHack and used the application to gain administrative access to the Capellan system. "1 minute until trace completion." Curie announced. I heard footsteps shuffling up beside me, and looked up to see Lieutenant Blackwood standing beside my seat. "Do you think you can pull this off in time? I don't know how much longer we have before either a half-dozen pissed off Capellans come through that airlock or we get bounced off the docking collar and torpedoed to death." I nodded, my fingers flying frantically across the keyboard. "We'll get it done." I said. "I'm having trouble figuring out the command-line arguments. This whole operating system is in Chinese. I'm having to run it through a translation matrix, and that's taking time and processing power." Blackwood looked confounded. "What about Curie? Can she see what you're doing? An AI like her has got to have a couple of language packs installed. Maybe she can guide you." "30 seconds until trace completion." Curie's voice interrupted. "Good idea." I replied. "Curie, I need you to watch what I'm doing and give me real-time interpretation so I don't have to keep dumping the buffer into the translator." "Yes, Private Schuster. Beginning evaluation. Ten seconds until trace completion." "Hurry it up, Curie, it's the only way that..." Before I could finish my sentence, an ominous message in black text on a bright red background exploded across Marius' and my computer screens. WARNING: COMPLETED TRACE DETECTED: EMERGENCY RECOVERY MODE ACTIVE Unsyndicated foreign connection detected during active trace Emergency recovery mode activated -------------------------------------------------------------- Automated screening procedures will divert incoming connections temporarily This warning is a final opportunity to regain anonymity. As your current IP Address is known, it must be changed This can only be done on your currently active ISP's routing server Reverse tracerouting has located this ISP server's IP address as: 802.13.27.181 Your local IP must be tracked here and changed. Failure to complete this ACTION while active diversion holds will result in complete and permanent loss of all account data - THIS IS NOT REPEATABLE AND CANNOT BE DELAYED "SHIT!" I exclaimed. "What is it?" Blackwood asked. "The base has our IP. If we don't change it, they'll be able to track us and find out who and where we are." I said. "Can you do it?" he asked. "I'm not sure." I replied. "Comm equipment on military ships like these isn't necessarily intended for the kind of activities we're asking of it, and I don't know if we have time or the means to just start reassigning stuff to get a connection." "Then there's only one option." Blackwood answered. In a split second, the MechWarrior moved across the cramped cabin, flung open the circuit breaker panel, and physically pulled out the primary and backup fuses for the ship's communication system. Simultaneously, both my network connection and my comm link to Curie went dead. I looked at the MechWarrior with a mix of surprise and dismay. "I'm not sure that's going to actually stop them from looking at our IP address and figuring out who and where we are, but at least it'll stop them from counter-hacking us." I eventually offered. Alexander started to reply, but was pre-empted by Marius. "For what it's worth, I managed to get us access to the airlock before the connection dropped." Marius announced grimly, slowly closing his noteputer. "We can cycle it when the gang is ready. But internal security is still up and we don't have control over the docking collar, so I hope we've got a creative workaround against the Capellans dumping our sub into the abyss while we're over there." Commander Jaeger nodded. "If they have our identity, or are soon to get it, then we're out of time. That'll have to do. We'll figure out the rest en route. Schuster, you stick close to Doc Mallory and Lieutenant Blackwood. Keep working on the computer systems when you're not being shot at. The rest of you, suit up and get ready to move. Once the airlock is opened, I want comms back up and fire teams engaging. This isn't going to be pretty." I gulped, feeling the weight of the situation settle onto my shoulders. This initial intrusion hadn't gone the way we'd planned, but there was no turning back now. It was time to see if we could still salvage the mission.
  3. Valhalla - Crayven Corporation Headquarters Meredith, New Earth (Tau Ceti IV) Federated Commonwealth October 28, 3030 (local time) ______________________________________________ "Thank you, Archon; I'm very glad to put this messiness behind us," William nodded, the light of his comm terminal's screen illuminating his features as I stepped quietly into the executive office. Noticing my presence, the general cast me a subtle nod. "As am I, Herr Kauffman," a woman's voice replied. "Verabschiedung." The video feed went dark, and I stepped forward. "Major Hayes," William smiled, clasping his hands on the desk before him. "How can I help you?" I cleared my throat and stepped to the side, allowing him to see the data slate in my hand. "Doctor Westhaven has arrived." "Wonderful," he responded, his fingers twitching in anticipation. "Please, see him in." I nodded and moved to the door, unlocking it with a swipe of my security card. Doctor Westhaven stepped inside, his eyes gleaming with excitement from beneath graying eyebrows, the rising sun glinting through his tousled white hair. "Adam," William began warmly, rising from his chair and moving around the executive desk to stand beside me. "Thank you for coming all the way from Terra on such short notice. It's good to see you again." "Likewise," the doctor replied, shaking the proffered hand. "I must say, I'm quite curious about this project of yours. When you contacted me, you were quite vague." "Of course," William nodded, gesturing toward the lounge area of the expansive office. "How are things in Seattle?" "Oh, you know," Westhaven shrugged, seating himself in one of the chairs. "The usual. The weather's been dreadful lately, but other than that, nothing out of the ordinary." "Some things never change," General Kauffman chuckled, seating himself in a chair opposite the doctor. "Please, help yourself to a drink." "Thank you," Adam replied, accepting a glass of scotch. I remained at parade rest near the office door, keeping an eye on the proceedings. "James," William beckoned, gesturing for me to join the pair. "Please, take a seat. As head of R&D, this concerns you as well." I nodded and moved to sit in the armchair next to our guest, my eyes never leaving William. "I'm sure you're wondering why I've invited you here, doctor," the general continued. "I understand you've been doing some pharmaceutical work involving human neural networks." "Yes, that's correct," Westhaven replied, his brow furrowing in confusion. "I'm interested in learning what the Institute has been able to accomplish recently," William continued. "We have a neural interface for which we need to develop a specific formulation. The solution must hold the user's mind in an alpha-wave state while using the apparatus." "So your message indicated," the doctor responded, swirling his drink. "But what is the actual application? Sticking someone in a permanent trance is easy enough, but the required parameters can vary widely depending on what it is you're trying to do." The general looked toward me. "James?" he prompted. I pulled the slate from my pocket and activated it, handing it to Westhaven. "This is an overview of Project Eclipse," I explained. "What you're about to read doesn't leave this room. Understood?" The doctor's eyes widened as he began to scroll through the information. "The purpose of the project is to develop a cybernetic interface that will allow a user to directly interface with an artificial intelligence using only their thoughts," I continued. "We've been able to procure a Star League-era AI that we intend to decompile and analyze for the purpose of bringing our own solution to market. However, before we do that, we need to observe it in an operational state. Otherwise, the context of its code will be lost on us." "Ah. The black box problem," Westhaven mused, his eyes still glued to the data slate. "Why not simply run the AI on a server?" "Were that it was so simple," William sighed. "The AI is...combative. Dangerous. And capable of insulating itself against our attempts to interact with it. The only processor powerful enough to overcome its security is the human mind." "And that is where you come in, doctor," I added. The doctor looked up from the slate, a thoughtful expression on his face. "I see," he murmured. "And what, exactly, do you need from me?" "Our current project team has come up with a design for a drug. However, that is only the first step. Actually formulating the drug and testing it on a living being is another thing entirely," General Kauffman explained. "We have retained a consultant in-house who believes that she can produce a formulation, but I need this project to move with a greater sense of urgency. I propose to partner you with our project team so that they might leverage your unique experience and expertise in this area." Westhaven raised his eyebrows. "I'm flattered, but...why me?" "Because," Kauffman continued, "the Westhaven Institute of Advanced Studies is an organization with a long and storied history of carrying out projects that transform the impossible into the achievable." Doctor Westhaven chuckled, taking a long sip of his scotch. I could see William studying him, a look of pensiveness in his eyes. "Those in the know might consider us to be miracle workers," the doctor responded, setting his drink down. "But to the rest of the world, we're a nondescript research institute tucked away in the shadow of the Cascade Mountains and occasionally demonized in the press." "My point exactly," Kauffman nodded. "It's vital that we keep this project, and its objectives, completely confidential." "As well as," I interjected, "your laboratory's association with it." A look of surprise momentarily flashed across William's face. While imperceptible to most, I knew the general well enough to recognize when he'd heard something unexpected. I looked back toward Doctor Westhaven. "True or not, doctor, the stories about your institute carry enough of a stigma that any association with your work could have negative repercussions for the Crayven Corporation," I explained. "We need to minimize the risk of exposure." William nodded slowly, steepling his fingers in thought. At length, he spoke. "Adam, it would also be prudent to ensure that any data you might collect while attached to this project remain insulated from - " Westhaven suddenly raised his hand to stop the general mid-sentence. "Will," the doctor interrupted, his voice firm and sure. "You have my personal guarantee that the particulars will not be made available to any of the Institute's other clients." I gazed at the general quizzically. William smiled. "Apologies, James," he explained. "It's just a precaution. I'm sure Doctor Westhaven is a man of his word." The doctor nodded in agreement, and I nodded curtly in return. "Well then," Westhaven concluded, handing the slate back to me. "It seems we have ourselves an arrangement. How soon do you need the drug formulated?" "As soon as possible," William replied without hesitation. "Then I suggest I get to it," Westhaven sighed, draining the last of his scotch. "I'll need to meet your team and assess the facilities to determine how much of this work can be done onsite." William nodded and rose to his feet, extending a hand. "Thank you, Adam," he replied. "I'm confident this will be a mutually beneficial arrangement. James will arrange quarters for you and facilitate your introduction to the project team. Do you require anything else?" The doctor shook his head. "No, I believe that will suffice," he responded, taking the proffered hand. "Very well," William concluded. The two men exchanged a few more pleasantries before Doctor Westhaven left the office, escorted by me. I closed the door behind him and turned to the General. "I think I'm going to need a bigger glass next time," I remarked, watching as William sat back down in his chair. "Speak your mind, James," he replied, the light of the morning sun accentuating the tired lines on his face. "With all due respect, sir," I began, "I know you and Doctor Westhaven go back a long way, but where there's smoke, there's often fire. Are you sure it's wise to put so much trust in him?" William leaned back in his chair and considered my words. "You're right, James, I have known Adam for years," he responded after a moment. "But, I'm not a fool. I'm well aware of his reputation. We will navigate this partnership cautiously, and if things don't work out, I'll have no hesitation in severing ties." I nodded. "That's all I can ask for," I replied. General Kauffman smiled. "Good. Now, let's get to work."
  4. S.N.S. Trident, Rapier-class Patrol Destroyer Serathi Sea, Sheratan III Sheratan System - Tikonov Free Republic October 27, 3030 ______________________________________________ Monk hated boats, which might be considered odd given how many he'd been on in his 15 year career as an infantryman, but he never voiced his dislike because he was just like that. Oddly enough the constant wave of nausea known as sea sickness to most only ever presented itself when Monk was on a boat, never anywhere else despite his very job putting him into worse nausea inducing scenarios than a mere boat ride. Thankfully he never suffered severe enough nausea to make him actually sick, just enough to be uneasy and typically cause a headache. The S.N.S. Trident, despite its relatively large size of roughly 133m (436') was not exactly a smooth ride either, whether that was due to the battle damage it had sustained from the battle with the Jormungand or a particularly rough evening on the Sarathi Sea he didn't know, but it still cut an impressive swathe through the waves as the single hull destroyer cruised along at over 46 knots (86km/h / 53mph). Monk, along with the rest of the Bridgeburners and any of the non-command staff members of Aegis Division, were currently occupying one of the 4 jump infantry bay barracks aboard the vessel, the usual specialized infantry platoon of 21 men were temporarily reassigned to double up with another platoon in one of the other bays, meanwhile the command staff of Aegis Division had been invited to spend some time on the bridge during the transit. We had been given permission to travel through most of the ship, save the armoury and ammunition stores, at will and it seemed everybody was taking at turn at exploring some part of the ship or other as it wasn't often that mercenaries got to spend time on an actual blue water naval vessel these days. The members of the Bridgeburners that were currently in the barracks were taking the chance to prep their gear for the upcoming operation, an underwater assault against an enemy fortification was not something that any of them had much experience with directly but there wasn't that much different between it or assaulting an enemy space station or vessel in the vast blackness of space, at least on paper. The team was using their standard Hostile Environment Suit Mk IVa, an armoured variant of the standard heavy envirosuit that provided adequate protection against both the pressure and temperature of the ocean at the depths they would be operating at and while they weren't strictly required as there was no plans to actually be in the water for any part of this assault the Bridgeburners preferred to be proactive when it came to hostile environments, a main tenet of their XCT training. The armament the Bridgeburners brought consisted of their newer Darklight model laser weapons, the Darklight IV pistols and Darklight-CL rifles, for most of the members while Crash and Monk each carried different support weapons. Crash, and her penchant for explosives, had went the route of bringing an automatic shotgun loaded with a variety of specialty and standard ammunition ranging from flechette rounds to incendiary and even explosive, along with a plethora of hand grenades. Monk on the other hand went for a more subdued approach and opted to bring a heavy needler rifle and a Ceres Arms M-22 Crowdbuster, a beefed up sonic stunner in a rifle format, with the intent of being able to deal with a large number of mostly unarmoured targets, both weapons were courtesy of the Trident's armoury. Elsewhere on the ship Rook and Eagle were busy checking out what was soon to be their ride down to the underwater base, the destroyer had 3 light vehicle bays, mounted in the rear of the vessel, which currently housed a trio of submersibles that one would hesitate to call a submarine despite their apparent size. The craft measured just over 30m (98') long and had a very industrial looking curved wedge shape to it, as opposed to the more common rounded cigar shape of most submarines, and its interior consisted of only 2 decks and three or four compartments on each deck, 3 on the lower, 4 on the upper. They were battery operated and had sufficient power for roughly 24 hours of continuous operation but according to the Trident's crew the Cuttlefish, as they referred to the submersibles, were rarely deployed for durations longer than 8 hours. The craft had a single, modified one-shot short range torpedo launcher with 4 tubes that allowed each torpedo to be fired individually or in pairs and was clearly meant as a last ditch effort in defending itself. A set of fins on either side of the horizontal wedge shaped body were equipped with secondary propulsion jets that ran off the main magnetohydrodynamic thruster and allowed the ship full movement control in all 3 axis without the need to adjust the vessels heading while also giving a general shape reminiscent of its namesake if one didn't look too closely. Each vessel had an airlock hardpoint connection that would allow the submersible to forcibly connect to any standard connection and could even provide a sealed entrance for breaching through a hull if the surface area of the assaulted ship was large enough, this was accomplished using specialized magnetic clamps, a pressurized seal face around the entire extendable airlock corridor, and high capacity pumps for both removing water and pumping in air. The cramped infantry compartment aboard each Cuttlefish was rated to house a small 3-squad platoon of 21 soldiers, in addition to the 7 man crew required to operate the vessel, but someone forgot to account for gear and in practice a little over 2 squads was all that could normally fit. "We're going to be diving 150m down in one of these?" questioned Rook incredulously. "Yep, we'll be packed in there like sardines," replied Eagle as she looked over the external torpedo launchers with intense interest, "Better not get any ideas." "I wouldn't dream of it," replied Rook, barely giving Eagle a glance as he shook his head. "Uh huh," mumbled Eagle as she slipped beneath the Cuttlefish to examine the other side of the vessel in its raised drydock style mount within the light vehicle bay. "So what do you think it'll be like down there?" inquired Rookie, loud enough for Eagle to hear on the other side. "I forget that you've never been on an underwater mission with us yet," answered Eagle absent-mindedly, "Its cold, dark, and wet." "Har-har," said Rook, mocking laughter, "Come on, you've got have something better than that for me." "Not much else to say, working in the water is pretty much the same as in zero-G its just easier to move around. Suit breaches are just as dangerous as in space, though underwater the risk is having stuff come into your suit instead of escaping out, makes things a bit different for patching holes and whatnot but Laz is still good with it. We aren't expected to be in the water so it'll just be cold, dark, and wet, and yes I'm talking about the base. That far underwater there's always something leaking, what little lights are ever provided are never enough, and there's no heating system in the world that can compete against the ocean itself sucking away any and all heat constantly. Hell I'm pretty sure a 'mech would struggle to overheat in that much water," offered Eagle as she came back around the nose of the craft, and began re-examining the torpedo launchers yet again. "Is it really that cold?" wondered Rook as he walked over towards Eagle. "It can be, depends on the planet, the ocean, and a whole bunch of stuff, but you're reaching a depth where the sunlight can't reach so there's nothing heating up the water and water is damn good at absorbing heat which means anything warmer than it is going to start loosing heat fast under there," answered Eagle before continuing, "Not that we need to worry about it, our suits can handle the cold vacuum of space and the inside of an active volcano, a bit of water trying to pull heat away is nothing." "Good point," replied Rook. A sudden chime that echoed throughout the chamber interrupted their conversation and then Captain Sisko's unmistakable voice came across the PA system, "Attention all hands, attention all hands, we are arriving at our destination in 10 minutes. Away teams suit up and report to your assigned docks. Aegis Division, you're at dock #3." "Guess that's our cue," said Rook as the Captain repeated herself over the PA. "Yeah, better get suited up, Frosty will have us by the neck if we're late," chuckled Eagle lightly as she peeled herself away from the Cuttlefish and whatever piece of its equipment she was still examining. ****** October 27, 3030 - 22:07 The silence was almost deafening, the odd creak or groan of stressed metal the only sound as the Cuttlefish continued to dive deeper, every few minutes there was an audible ping that sounded muffled and distant but there was no regularity to it, the Bridgeburners and Aegis Division had been told that the sound was the Capellan base's sonar station when it swept over us and the following ping, that was also irregular but always close behind the first, was something to do with the jamming signal being provided but no further explanation had been given. Somehow the other two Cuttlefish submersibles were working with the Trident on the surface to jam and/or mask the presence of all three submersible vessels, however the jamming/masking only worked against active sonar systems and so the Cuttlefish had enacted silent running protocols to mask any noises that might be picked up by passive sonar and potentially identified. That meant everything on the ship was now silent, the magnetohydrodynamic propulsion system was inherently quiet as there were no moving parts and the extremely faint hum of electrical systems was not sufficient to penetrate outside of the double-lined and insulated hull of the Cuttlefish, computer systems were all muted and even regular talking was forbidden while the protocol was in place. Hushed whispers were technically allowed in extreme cases but the entirety of the submersible's crew communicated with sign language only unless an extreme emergency warranted otherwise. The interior of the submersible was cramped, dimly lit, and smelled not so faintly of too many people crushed together into too small of a space for entirely too long, despite having only spent around 20 minutes inside the sub so far. Jester wanted to close his helmet just to block out the smell but Frosty had ordered them not to seal up until they were ready to breach the station, no need to start burning the suit's limited oxygen supplies any earlier than necessary, not that they had any plans to be deployed long enough for the 6 hours of life support to be a concern. A rumble shuddered through the vessel and a few people looked at each other with mild concern before the seaman assigned to assist them signaled them it was ok, likely some underwater turbulence, or given the fact that the feeling of the floor dropping out had gone away they had reached their depth and were now leveling off for their final approach towards the Capellan base. The assembled team of Aegis Division and Bridgeburners waited with baited breath as the Cuttlefish slid silently through the depths, if they were detected they would lose the element of surprise and likely be walking into a trap aboard the base once they got there or worst case scenario the Capellans might have another Neptune or similar class submarine in the area that they could call in and destroy our essentially unarmed submersible with ease. Outside the vessel the inky blackness of the deep water was rendered almost opaque by the nighttime sky and the lack of any significant light source that could pierce this deep, it would be easy for one to lose their bearings down here and get lost. The Cuttlefish plied through the veil of darkness towards its invisible prey, stalking a prey that one might begin to question if it was even there. Then, in the bleak distance, a faint glimmer of light somehow pierced through the veil and their target became visible at last, the smear of dim light slowly resolving into shape as the sub glided closer, no lights of any kind on the sub currently on to give away its position as it stalked towards the Capellan base, which now had multiple spotlights that had resolved into view, two of which appeared to be dedicated to lighting up a giant symbol of the Capellan Confederation plastered across the taller of the three towers stretching out from the darkness. Their intended target was easy to spot now, the extended arm of the large airlock light up with a ring of lights surrounding the hardpoint as well as a spotlight gimballed beneath the corridor and currently pointing towards the sea floor. There was no sign of activity from the Capellan base and nothing to indicate whether the Cuttlefish had been spotted or not, the Bridgeburners and Aegis Division would have to assume they still had the element of surprise and wouldn't know any different until they breached that airlock. The submersible's Captain deftly maneuvered the 30m long vessel towards the exposed docking point, which was designed to handle vessels at least 3 times the size of he Cuttlefish, and the seaman monitoring their compartment pointed towards the set of three lights above the doors and Commander Jaeger nodded which then prompted the man to close the compartment hatch and seal the door. The green light above the hatch lit up and a red light came on over the hatch leading towards the external airlock that would soon provide access to the enemy base. The first hatch's light cycled to yellow and then red as Frosty gave the signal for the Bridgeburners to seal up, a bevy of 7 muted thunks were barely perceptible in the forced silence as their helmets closed and sealed against the outside world, a slight hiss followed as all 7 members closed their armoured faceplates over the helmet's visor and prepped for breaching the base. A seemingly loud thud reverberated through the chamber as the vessel's momentum was arrested and the Cuttlefish made contact with the docking port, from a remote location on the vessel, likely the bridge, the airlock corridor was extended out and magnetically attached to the exterior of the enemy's airlock, once secured the light above the hatch turned amber and now it was up to Schuster and any other tech's working on it to hack into the base and grant us access. If it couldn't be done in a timely manner then the Bridgeburners or Aegis Division would be required to cut their way in with a pair of laser cutters stowed beside the internal hatch. Either way they were now on a time limit as the Capellans, if they hadn't known they were there before, they would definitely be aware of the Cuttlefish's presence now.
  5. Hollingsworth Agrifoods Warehouse Daggaknott, Sheratan III Sheratan System - Tikonov Free Republic October 27, 3030 ______________________________________________ We only had two hours to pack our gear before boarding the Trident for the four-hour trip to the submarine base. Knowing that my power armor would be too large to board the submarine and infiltrate the underwater lab, I decided to speak with one of the Quartermaster's men to find out what small arms and armor I should choose instead. I remembered what Captain Sisko said about this mission. "Personnel energy weapons also generally work better than most ballistics underwater as well, albeit with greatly reduced range, although flechette weapons are incredibly effective against ablative armour, and most light armour in general, without the risk of a hull breach. If you are lacking in that department my ship's armoury has an adequate store of standard laser rifles and pistols as well as a variety of needler and other flechette weapons we would be willing to lend to you and your team...for a small rental fee of course, just to cover ammunition costs and possible damage." The Quartermaster's playground was seething with activity as they prepared to send us on the mission. I pushed my way through the crowd and saw Deputy Quartermaster Davish Harrison, the specialist in charge of managing non-BattleMech assets like body armor and pistols. "Hi, Davish," I said as I walked over. “The Prodigal Technician Returns,” Harrison laughed. "What can I do for you?" I scratched my head. "Well, I need advice." I explained the mission and the need to bring non-BattleMech weapons and armor with me. Davish thought for a moment, then nodded. “I would advise you to take a laser rifle and a flechette pistol with you. I can get you a laser rifle. We still have a few Federated-Barrett M61As left over from one of our older jobs, but you'll need them to ask Captain Sisko's men for the flechette pistol. We don't have anything like this in stock." I nodded. “Is there any chance we still have the MP-20 in stock? I know it's ballistic, but you can do useful things with it." “You want a laser rifle AND an MP-20? That's a lot of gear,” Harrison said as he went through his computer inventory for the items he needed. "I'd rather play it safe, Davish. I'm not used to doing combat missions without power armor," I explained. Davis nodded. After a few moments, he turned back to me. "Well, you're in luck. We still have one MP-20 in stock and it's in good condition. I can ship them to you on the Trident. I'll also bring you frag grenades. However, be careful when using them in the underwater base. Now let's talk about armor. Normally I would recommend heavy ballistic armor, but I feel like it will be cramped. Have you ever worn a MechWarrior Combat Suit?" “No,” I shook my head. “But I have heard of them." “Then you know this is the full body light armor system that the MechWarriors wear,” Harrison explained. “It's not as bulky as heavy ballistic armor, but it protects you from most small arms. One of the best things about it is that it has a built-in communicator, first aid kit system, and oxygen supply. I can get you one of these and some extra magazines for your rifle and pistol." "Thank you. I'm wondering if you also have some flashbang grenades? I've heard about it from other mercenaries." "Flashbang grenades? Of course, we have a few,” said Harrison, pulling a small box from a nearby shelf. "That should be enough for the mission. You'll need a bandolier to carry it all. I'll get you one too." I thanked Harrison and left with a full bag of gear. There was only an hour and some minutes left before boarding the Trident, and I was glad I took the time to contact him. I felt that this mission would be difficult.
  6. Earlier
  7. Pandora BRV Trailer Hollingsworth Agrifoods Warehouse Daggaknott, Sheratan III Sheratan System - Tikonov Free Republic October 27, 3030 ______________________________________________ Well, this is a fine mess. I thought to myself as I stared at the oversized server rack that drove the entirety of the Pandora BRV's systems and also hosted Curie's AI matrix. How the hell am I going to come up with a way to re-host Curie aboard the Trident in the space of two hours? "Problem?" a voice suddenly asked from behind me. I turned around to see Levi standing there with a slightly amused look on his face. "You could say that." I replied with a sigh. "I may have bitten off more than I can chew here. Curie's database is huge. A lot bigger than it was when we first got her on loan from the Crayven Corporation. I don't know why, and I'm not sure how I'm going to make that portable enough to install on whatever server blade Captain Sisko can spare for us aboard the boat. Not to mention the fact that I have no idea if the secondhand hardware is going to be able to handle the demands of a Riemann matrix. It's a lot to chew on." Levi smiled and stepped closer, placing his hand on my shoulder. "You know, you don't have to do this alone. I'm sure if we get a few of the other techs on the job we can make this work. We can split the work load and get this done in half the time." I smiled back. "I appreciate your optimism, but breaking up the work by committee is just going to slow things down. The real problem is figuring out where Curie ends and her extended memory begins. Knowing that would make it a lot easier to know what can be left behind and what needs to come with us." Levi nodded in agreement. "Well, if you're looking for a place to start, why don't you take a look at the server logs?" he suggested. "Maybe they can give you some clues as to what Curie is keeping track of." "That's actually a pretty good idea." I said, impressed with his quick thinking. "You mean a pretty good idea for a wrench monkey? I'm more than just a pretty face, you know." Levi laughed. I laughed. "That you are. Alright, I'm going to get to work. You better get ready to move out. I'll see you when we get ready to head to the boat." Levi nodded and gave me a quick kiss before heading off to get the team ready. I watched him go before turning back to the server rack with a newfound determination. We were going to make this work. 45 minutes later... THUNK. THUNK. THUNK. "Are you literally banging your head against the wall?" Levi asked as he re-entered the Pandora. I let out an exasperated sigh and rested my forehead against the cool metal of the server rack. "It's the only way to get my brain to work." I replied. "Curie's logs about her data storage locations are encrypted. There's absolutely no way to know what she's keeping track of without decoding them first. And, of course, Crayven didn't give us any decryption keys. They probably are paranoid about us...more specifically, me...trying to decompile her. Not that I would, mind you." "So what's the plan then?" Levi asked. "Well, I've got a few ideas..." I replied, before explaining my plan. "We can either hack into Crayven's servers and try to steal the encryption keys, or we can try to figure out a way to brute-force the encryption. It's risky, but it might work." Levi made a skeptical face. "Both of those things sound like they would take a long time. And the first thing would almost definitely land you in prison." "What's one more warrant at this point?" I lamented. "No, you're right. There's only one way to do this." "What's that?" Levi asked. With a dramatic motion, I released the retaining clips on Curie's entire server blade, using my uninjured left arm to heft it up. "We take the entire fucking thing with us." I declared, a smirk forming on my face. "Curie, in her entirety, is coming with us to the boat. Here, help me undo the wires at the back of this damn thing." Levi grinned. "That's the kind of nuclear solution I approve of." Together, we managed to get the server blade disconnected from the rest of the Pandora's systems, hefted out of the truck, and loaded onto a gurney, its cables splayed out like a cybernetic monstrosity. Just then, Doc Mallory showed up, a comical amount of combat gear spilling out of his overloaded arms. "What the hell did you do to my truck?" Mallory asked in mock anger. "We just borrowed a server blade." Levi said before Mal could continue. "Don't worry. We'll have it back before you know it." The doctor shook his head, looking at the oversized hardware with all of its cables haphazardly dangling off the gurney. "You two are a pair of troublemakers. Come on, let's get this patient loaded up and down to the docks." I nodded and looked over at Levi, giving him a smile. He winked in response, and the three of us set off to the loading area, Curie's server blade in tow.
  8. Elsewhere... The Domus - Apartment 515 (Crayven Corporation company housing) Meredith, New Earth (Tau Ceti IV) Federated Commonwealth October 27, 3030 ______________________________________________ A flashing red light on my company-issued Black Box drew my attention away from my journal. I sighed, placed my stylus on the desk, and leaned over to retrieve the terminal's keyboard. A data stream from Curie was being received from Sheratan. It was routine for her to send me her operating logs upon each deployment, as per our agreement with Aegis Division. But this time, the logs were significantly larger than usual. Sifting through the data, I began to realize that AI was being used as far more than a medical assistant. I swore under my breath as I parsed through the list of tasks the mercenaries had been asking of her. While much of the details had been redacted for privacy reasons, I could tell that Aegis Division had put her to work performing public records research, mining military intel, assisting with developing battlefield strategies, and more. In addition, it looked like they'd been socially interacting with her as though she were a human member of the crew. In other words, they'd been using her far beyond her prescribed limits. But that wasn't the most troubling part. As I continued to review the logs, I began to detect anomalies in her behavior. It seemed that Curie was exhibiting emergent behavior beyond her medical programming, not only becoming competent in the tasks being asked of her but also actively seeking out new information and ideas. I felt a chill run down my spine as I processed this information. The behavior was something about which I had only theorized. I'd never actually witnessed it in a live subject, nor had I intended Curie to be capable of such a thing. She was supposed to have been single-mindedly focused on her medical responsibilities, not become a free-thinking construct. Had I realized what she was going to become, let alone how quickly that development would take place, I would never have agreed to her field trials. I certainly wouldn't have handed her over to Aegis Division, who seemed to delight in creating chaos at every opportunity. I shook my head, trying to clear my thoughts. No use dwelling on it now. Curie was what she was, and I had to figure out how to best manage the situation. I began parsing through her database snapshots, noticing one particular memory block that was exponentially larger than the others. Odd, I thought to myself, as I attempted to open the block's details. To my surprise, the contents were encrypted in a manner that I had never seen before. "Vincent," I called out, summoning the personal assistant AI. "Please analyze this data block for me and determine its origin." Vincent silently complied, running a series of programs and algorithms against the data block. Within a few moments, he'd identified the encryption as being derivative of a Star League-era cipher we'd seen in use at the wreck of the Takashima. "Interesting," I murmured, as I settled back into my chair. "So, Curie has been doing some digging of her own in her spare time, has she?" "Please re-state the question," Vincent prompted, though I knew he'd heard me. "Never mind," I responded. "I don't like the idea that Curie has been poking around the Eclipse project. Have we got anything on hand that can break this encryption? I'd like to know precisely what she's been up to." "Affirmative," Vincent replied. "However, it will take approximately five hours to analyze the modifications made to the encryption and generate a key." "Very well," I replied, sighing. "Please do so. Divert any processing power you require." "Yes, Doctor Halsey," Vincent replied. I drummed my fingers on the arm of my chair, contemplating the implications of Curie's new behavior as I watched the data stream continue to pour in from Sheratan. There was much to consider, and I had a feeling that this would be the first of many surprises from the AI. "Also, ingest and process the logs on the Black Box. I want you to keep a close eye on her. We may have to move up her return date if this behavior continues." "Yes, Doctor Halsey." I leaned back and closed my eyes. While I found a small amount of solace in knowing that I'd caught the problem in time, I still questioned what exactly it was that I had unleashed. If Aegis Division had any idea of the kind of AI they had in their midst, heaven only knows what they would do with her.
  9. Pandora BRV Trailer Hollingsworth Agrifoods Warehouse Daggaknott, Sheratan III Sheratan System - Tikonov Free Republic October 27, 3030 ______________________________________________ "Lieutenant," Orlex said, turning back to Blackwood, "I hope that provides some answers for you. Do you or anyone else have any further concerns to discuss?" After fielding a smattering of further inquiries from the assembled staff, Commander Jaeger looked toward me. "Alright, if no one else has any questions, I've got one additional pertinent detail. Our capacity on the submarines is limited, and being a good distance beneath the sea, we're not going to have rapid access to medical facilities beyond whatever we can capture once we've breached the outpost. As a result, Mallory, I'm going to need you on the ground for this one. You're our most experienced medical officer, and your background as a combat medic in the Federated Suns' Armed Forces has given you the experience to handle any hostilities that you might encounter." I nodded in agreement. It was rare for me to be asked to join the mission team on the front lines, but it was the right decision in this instance. As Chief Medical Officer for Aegis Division, I was the most qualified for the role, and I was determined to make sure that each of my comrades returned safely from the mission. "I understand," I replied. "I'll get packing as soon as the briefing is over." Orlex smiled and nodded. "Great," he replied. "Be sure you get with Quartermaster Wright for weapons and armor." "Will do," I acknowledged. "This is a rapid redeployment, so we only have a few hours before the Trident gets underway," the commander continued, addressing the room. "Get your gear packed up, any unfinished business here in order, and be ready to go in two hours. Captain Sisko will have launches waiting for us at the beach. Dismissed." As the cadre began filing out of the Pandora, Nick Schuster approached me. "I'm gonna have to work fast if I'm going to be bringing Curie with us," he began. "Is now a good time to take her offline and get started with breaking down the Riemann matrix?" "I don't see why not. How's that shoulder feeling?" I asked, gesturing toward the lump shape of the pressure bandage under Schuster's shirt. "Fine," he replied, wincing a bit. "I promise not to overexert it." "Curie? What say you?" I asked, looking toward the hologram, who was standing patiently in the corner. "I am ready, Doctor Aldon," she replied. "Provided that he does not attempt any heavy lifting or pulling, Private Schuster's shoulder should not be impacted by my disassembly." "Alright," I answered, nodding. "Curie, go ahead and upload your current logs to the Crayven Corporation, save any open analysis jobs, and initiate your shutdown sequence. Nick, you are clear to proceed. Let me know if you need any help." "Will do," Schuster replied. He then moved to begin preparing Curie for her voyage with us. With that, I began my own preparations for the mission. I had a lot to do and very little time in which to do it.
  10. Site 187 - Command Office Outskirts of Gellen's Heights, Sheratan III Sheratan System - Tikonov Free Republic October 27, 3030 ______________________________________________ As the call with Charles disconnected, I let out a sharp breath I hadn't even realized I'd been holding. Though I'd put on a confident face, the truth of the matter was, I was feeling overwhelmed. Between trying to make sense of the twists unfolding with Aegis Division's latest contract while being hundreds of miles away, worrying about my fiancée's emotional state as he sat aboard an interstellar liner for 20 days with nothing to do but obsess about not being on the front lines with our unit, and trying to plan my own wedding, I was nearly ready to fall apart. Still, I pulled myself together. I had a job to do and I was going to do it. Charles had sounded tired and strained, but determined. It was as if he was sending out a silent plea for me to stay strong, and I was determined not to let him down. That was why I hadn't told him about the nightmares I'd been having ever since the surgery. They were strange and surreal, always taking place in some kind of electronic wasteland, filled with distorted figures, garbled voices, and vague, almost telepathic concepts that I couldn't quite make sense of. They always started the same way. Darkness. Then, slowly, the darkness would peel back, like consciousness awakening after a long sleep, until I found myself looking at computer code flashing past my eyes at a blinding pace. I could feel a strange, almost electrical power surrounding me, and I knew it was something important. Then, the voices would start, growing louder and more insistent until I could hardly bear it, and I'd try to run, but I was always stuck, unable to move. Then, the "creatures" would appear, moving around, always in my peripheral vision, and I could feel them, watching, waiting. Somehow, I knew that they meant me harm. Eventually, my mind would start to fill with more and more unintelligible data, until I felt like I was about to explode, and then I'd feel consciousness being torn away from me as the sensation of dying took over. I'd wake up, covered in sweat, with my heart pounding in my chest. On one occasion, I'd actually screamed, waking Charles and sending him into a panic. Every time, I'd be left with a feeling of dread and unease, and a strange sense of knowing that I was missing something, or not understanding something. I'd quickly shake it off, telling myself it was just a dream, but deep down, I knew it was something more. I wasn't sure what it was, or what it meant, but I could feel it, lurking in the back of my mind like a shadow. Maybe one day, I'd figure out what it meant. For now, all I could do was focus on the tasks at hand and keep my head in the game. I rose from Charles' office chair, running my hands over my arms to shake off the goosebumps from my memories. Glancing around his workspace, I took a deep breath and put on a stoic face. "Time to get to work," I sighed. I had to stay focused. For Charles, for our unit, and for myself.
  11. Black Swan liner Tranquillity System jump point - New Earth Federated Commonwealth October 27, 3030 ______________________________________________ "You found what?" I asked incredulously, my voice echoing off the walls of my small but comfortable cabin aboard the spaceliner. I'd taken advantage of the Black Swan Line's free in-system HPG calling as we approached the awaiting JumpShip to place a real-time call to Alyssa on Sheratan, and the conversation had drifted to the topic of work. "Jaeger and the team found an entire, apparently-forgotten desalination plant buried under the Hollingsworth Agrifoods field that the Capellans were using to contaminate the crops' water supply," Alyssa explained, her violet eyes intense. "When they realized we were onto them, the Capellans put up stiff resistance. They rolled out a battleship, some escort cutters, a submarine, and a landing craft with a lance of BattleMechs aboard. Not to mention mechanized infantry." "Holy shit," I muttered. "What happened?" "We managed to hold them off with minimal losses, but there was collateral damage to the Hollingsworth fields," Alyssa said. "We also lost the UrbanMech, and Nick got shot through his shoulder. Idris and the Bridgeburners managed to clear out and destroy the desalination plant, and Tribune Guaverra called in the local navy to mop up the river forces." "Goddamn," I whistled, leaning back in my chair. "That's a hell of a price to pay for a victory. I doubt that the Tribune is going to let us off scot-free, either. We'd better be prepared for the aftermath." Alyssa shifted uncomfortably in her chair and pushed a lock of hair away from her forehead. "There's more." I waited for her to continue, my heart sinking. "The Bridgeburners found a data core in the desalination plant," she said. "It had information about a secret lab the Capellans are running out in the middle of the Sarathi Sea. Aegis Division is being redeployed aboard the S.N.S. Trident to go deal with it." I frowned, my mind racing. "We're not exactly specced for sub-aquatic combat. What's the plan?" Alyssa paused to consult a data slate. "Well, all I have are the notes from Commander Jaeger right now. Everything's delayed since I'm still holed up here at Site 187." I chuckled as my fiancée cast me a resentful glare. "As you should be. At least until you're fully recovered, anyway," I smiled. "I don't want you getting hurt again. So, what's the plan?" Chase relented with a smile and returned to her data slate. "Commander Jaeger and Captain Sisko are planning a two-pronged attack. They're going to embark as many infantry assets as possible aboard the Trident. It's at least a four-hour boat ride out to the lab's location. Upon final approach, Nick Schuster, assisted by Marius Lennox and Curie, will perform a cyberattack on the base's sensors. That should blind them to the Trident's approach and give us a chance to deploy our forces covertly. Then, Aegis Division will launch from the Trident aboard two submarines and infiltrate the base, eliminate any Capellan forces present, and turn the laboratory over to the Sheratan Navy for further examination." I sighed, glancing out the porthole at the star-dotted blackness of space. "It's a tall order, but I think we can pull it off. They'll have to be careful, though. This isn't exactly our bailiwick. I picked a hell of a time to be off-world." Alyssa leaned toward the screen, a look of compassion in her eyes. "They'll be fine, Charles. I know they will. Orlex and Alexander are competent leaders. And with the Bridgeburners and Aces Wild on board, it's pretty much a sure thing. You just worry about getting back here in one piece so we can plan our wedding." I smiled at the thought, my heart fluttering in my chest. "Deal. I'll be back on Sheratan with bells on. How's the planning going, anyway? We're only a little over 30 days out from the big event." Alyssa laughed, a delighted twinkle in her eyes. "Oh, it's going great. Mariel and Owen are helping me figure out the decorations and the seating chart. It's going to be perfect. We just have to wait until you're back home to make it official." "I can't wait," I grinned. "Just make sure you have a bottle of Merlot ready for me when I get back, okay? I'm sure I'll be ready for some after this mission." "You got it," Chase beamed. "Now go, get caught up on the mission reports I sent over. I love you." "I love you too," I answered, my voice catching in my throat. "I'll see you soon." We said our goodbyes and ended the call, and I stood from my chair, gazing out the window at New Earth as it fell further into the distance. I silently beseeched the universe to look after the safety of the unit and the success of their mission, then turned away from the starscape and laid down on my bunk to review the after-action reports. No matter how far away they were, I was always with my team.
  12. Pandora BRV Trailer Hollingsworth Agrifoods Warehouse Daggaknott, Sheratan III Sheratan System - Tikonov Free Republic October 27, 3030 - 15:07 ______________________________________________ "Sirs, do we have information about if my Power Armor is to fit inside? What are we to do when inside? Is this a sweep and destroy operation?" inquired Idris, the technician turned armoured infantryman waited patiently. "Unfortunately we don't have any information about whether your Power Armour fits inside or not. Curie has done an excellent job extrapolating a floor plan and overall facility size based off the available data but there's nothing on the technical specs of any of the airlocks or bulkheads. It's safe to say we could get it inside the moon pool, but the corridors, airlocks, and bulkhead hatches are likely only man sized and wouldn't accommodate an exoskeleton of any kind. The few images we have give the impression of a modular, pre-fab type installation, so the base was likely pre-assembled in units and then put together underwater, meaning there won't even be larger access corridors for maintenance or moving of heavy equipment," I answered after a moment of thought and quick query on my data tablet to confirm that we didn't have the info needed, "That being said, we do have some general use ablative/flak armour kits available. Levi or one of the logistics folks can get you sized and fitted in under 15 minutes, won't be as good as that Power Armour but it still beats running into combat in a T-shirt. As for what we'll be doing, yes its a search and destroy. We'll eliminate whatever Capellan forces we find and sabotage the base itself to render it inoperable in case there's anyone that decides to reoccupy the place after we're done." "Yes sir, thank you sir," answered Idris with a firm nod. A few more questions were asked and answered of myself and Captain Sisko before Blackwood put forth his own concerns after studiously examining the base's layout and all available data. His concerns, as always, were valid and well thought out and unfortunately we didn't have a lot to answer with. Captain Sisko answered with the tact of a combat veteran who was used to going in with limited information and what little detail there was seemed to alleviate a modicum of Alex's warranted concern. "Commander Jaeger - have we processed the BattleROMs from our soiree here yet? I'd like to have some sense of what sorts of arms and armor we can expect the squatters to greet us with so that we can formulate options for what we'll need to do to counter them. I figure our best bet is to look at what we've already encountered and extrapolate from there," continued Blackwood, deftly steering the conversation away from unknowns and into territory we did have information about, though it wasn't clear if it was intentional or just a coincidence. "Now that we do have some solid information on," I said with a small gesture as I brought up the relevant data on the tablet and sent it to the BRV's presentation monitor, "We haven't finished processing all the data yet but the big picture is complete and we can make some educated inferences on anything major that seems to be missing." According to the compiled data from our collective BattleROMs the Capellans were using some pretty standard gear, nothing outstanding or particularly notable, which was good because that meant that we likely were only facing regular CCAF troops and not anything from one of the Warrior Houses or the Death Commandos. Infantry wise it seemed that the majority were outfitted with either the standard Capellan armour kit, a suit comprising of an alternative ablative/flak kit which offered improved melee protection but suffered against energy weapons, or basic ablative armour kits with a general preference towards energy based small arms with a limited amount of ballistic weapons and selective support weapons, mainly of the anti-mech variety. "From the data we have," I began as the aggregated information was displayed, "it would be safe to assume we'll be facing an enemy force mostly armed with energy weapons. That deep underwater a hull breach would be just as deadly as in space so we shouldn't see too many ballistic weapons on their end, lasers and maybe needlers or other flechette weapons would be the norm. Likewise, they'll probably expect to face similar weaponry as a hull breach is indiscriminate on who it kills which means their armour will likely be ablative or some variation on the ablative flak design. The lighter weight of the ablative armour is beneficial but it is notably more expensive so we'll probably see some standard Capellan gear too. We're limited on what we brought with us to Daggaknott so we'll have to make do, but given the choice I think energy weapons would be prudent even if the enemy is equipped with armour designed to deal with that." "I would agree Commander," added Sisko, "Personnel energy weapons also generally work better than most ballistics underwater as well, albeit with greatly reduced range, although flechette weapons are incredibly effective against ablative armour, and most light armour in general, without the risk of a hull breach. If you are lacking in that department my ship's armoury has an adequate store of standard laser rifles and pistols as well as a variety of needler and other flechette weapons we would be willing to lend to you and your team, ... for a small rental fee of course, just to cover ammunition costs and possible damage." I couldn't help but chuckle at the offer, though I did genuinely appreciate it, "Thank you Captain, we just might take you up on that." Sisko nodded and appeared to turn to someone off screen so I continued on with our threat assessment, "As Captain Sisko has mentioned the facility appears to be sized for roughly 30 individuals, now not all of them are guaranteed to be combat troops but this is the Capellans we're talking about so no one is going to go down without a fight. With this being their main base of operations in the area, or at least their C&C (Command & Control) facility, it is likely in operation 24hrs/day which means those 30 personnel are likely broken into 2 or 3 shifts with only a single shift 'on duty' at any given time. Since we intend to breach the facility from the large vessel dock located at the top of Tower 1 we'll be hitting the largest concentration of enemy personnel within the first few levels of that tower, in the crew quarters and lounge/recreation areas. On the plus side, provided we manage to arrive without setting the station on alert, those individuals will either be sleeping or resting and not geared up ready for combat. This means we'll have the element of surprise and can possibly mitigate their numerical advantage early on." Sergeant Frosty stepped forward with a hand raised and I motioned for her to go ahead, "With all due respect Commander, there's no way we'll be breaching that station without alerting the enemy. You are right that the greatest concentration of enemy forces will be within those top three levels of Tower 1 and we will have the element of surprise, but it's not likely we'll be catching anyone lounging about or even sleeping. These are Capellans, and save for Kurita's DEST troops and a few elite units in the other Houses, they are some of the best trained conventional forces in the Inner Sphere. Will we catch them off guard? Yes, potentially, but it will still be a running battle. Of all the people I've interacted with over the years I think the Capellans are the most likely ones to actually sleep with a gun so even if half of them are in bed when we arrive, they'll still be armed to some extent. Of course that being said, we hit them hard and fast enough, blast through levels 5 and 4 before they can mount an effective defense and we'll be in good shape. Depending on how successful that initial blitz is we can leave some people to guard whoever isn't dead and we won't have to worry about getting stabbed in the back while we deal with the active duty enemy team. Looking at the layout, Level 3 in Tower 1 will be the make or break point. That's the first point we'll likely see serious resistance, anyone there would have time to head to level 2 and gear up at the armoury before facing us, but they'll be limited on their defences still. If we can breach that level, take over medical and the mess hall, we'll be able to secure or eliminate most of the enemy forces and give us a solid beachhead to secure the rest of Tower 1 from. After that we can move on to take Tower 3, once we're in control of the utilities we can weaken Tower 2 and try to force a surrender. If they don't, and I don't expect the Capellans to, then we'll still have the upper hand and can either siege the remaining defenders in Tower 2 or blitz the enemy positions without risk of enemy reinforcements from elsewhere in the facility." "Thank you Sergeant, that is an excellent observation and an acute battle plan," I said gratefully, still mentally processing all of the advice and information the Bridgeburners' Sergeant had offered. "Well, we have done this sort of thing once or twice before," replied Frosty with a mischievous grin. "Good point," I nodded with a smile, "Any other useful things we need to know?" "Hard to say at this point, but you've covered most things pretty well. Even got the bit about hull breaches and fletchette or energy weapons right, you'd be surprised at the number of 'Commanders' I've dealt with that had no idea about that kind of thing. Many were convinced that firing supersonic ballistic rounds at high rates of fire, or Blake-forbid heavy support weapons, within a space station had no possible repercussions. Apparently they never learned what repeated impacts to ferroglass does, or what a literal missile will do against an unarmoured ferrosteel corridor wall. One of the many reason we ALWAYS wear our damn spacesuits. But I digress, I think you've covered the basics as well as we can at this point and we'll roll with the punches when we make contact with the OpFor, just like we always do," answered the Sergeant with a genuine smile. "Lieutenant," I said, turning back to Blackwood, "I hope that provides some answers for you. Do you or anyone else have any further concerns to discuss?"
  13. Pandora BRV Trailer Hollingsworth Agrifoods Warehouse Daggaknott, Sheratan III Sheratan System - Tikonov Free Republic October 27, 3030 ______________________________________________ As Commander Jaeger and Captain Sisko fielded various questions from the assembled staff, I studied the underwater base's plans on the presentation monitor. My eyes traced along its various corridors, probing for choke points, ambush spots, and any potential weaknesses in the installation's layout. While I was impressed at the depth of detail, at the end of the day, all we really had was a map and a complex plan to get us inside the facility. There were a worrying amount of unknowns. As the conversation between the commanders and the staff reached its conclusion, I stood up, adjusted my combat fatigues, and raised my hand. "Blackwood, what've you got?" Orlex asked. "First, I appreciate the significant investment Captain Sisko and Curie have made in gathering this information, " I paused, nodding my head toward the AI's hologram and then to Captain Sisko's image on the tri-vid monitor before continuing, "but there's a lot of information we don't seem to have here. Have we got any intelligence at all about what sort of defenses the facility has, whether external or internal? The likely number of occupants and their positions? Any sort of security protocols in place?" I felt the weight of the room's gaze as I spoke, and I held my breath, anticipating the answer. Captain Sisko nodded thoughtfully. Then, after a long pause, she replied, "We don't have anything on the defensive measures or security protocols, but the designed capacity of the facility is thirty personnel at maximum. They're likely to be scattered throughout the installation." "Alright," I sighed, relieved that we had at least a modicum of information. "Commander Jaeger - have we processed the BattleROMs from our soiree here yet? I'd like to have some sense of what sorts of arms and armor we can expect the squatters to greet us with so that we can formulate options for what we'll need to do to counter them. I figure our best bet is to look at what we've already encountered and extrapolate from there."
  14. Pandora BRV Trailer Hollingsworth Agrifoods Warehouse Daggaknott, Sheratan III Sheratan System - Tikonov Free Republic October 27, 3030 ______________________________________________ The other people asked their questions. Then I gave mine. "Sirs, do we have informations about if my Power Armor is to fit inside? What are we to do when inside? Is this a sweep and destroy operation?"
  15. MEANWHILE "Does anybody else have questions???" Bellowed CDR Jaeger. A bunch of people asked questions. Then it was my turn. "Yes Steve what is it??" said the commander. "SIR SERGEANT STEVE JENKINS SIR!!!" I sounded off "My question is what gear do we get to take with us or are being given to us, since we can't take with our Mechs with us, also I have Basic Scuba Training so I can do dive Things." CDR Orlex opened his mouth and started to make words, as he started to say things I remembered back on Kentares when I had got my Basic Scuba License. *BEGIN FLASHBACK* Kentares 4, years ago... After I had left the elite forces, but before I was a successful businessman on Sheratan, I had spent time on Kentares 4. Because of my natural people skills, I became really popular with the public there, and eventually they took me to meet their duke , Eric Dresari. Eric was amazed at my life story, including all of the things I had had to suffer such as divorcing my parents and my failed career in the elite forces. He couldn't believe how amazingly I had survived. With little to my name after all of what had happened had happened. He and I had many mentoring moments. One time Eric had called me really early in the morning to tell me to get down to the lake next to the Palace. "Duke Dresari its 4 AM, I'm really tired." I said. "Yes, but I am going to teach you the secrets of Nobility Scuba Combat." He said, then I heard a bunch of loud sniffing like Duke Dresari was snorting something, he probably had Allergies or something. "Also bring your Scuba Gear." I looked around in the closet but didnt find anything, so I told him I didnt have any Scuba gear. "Never mind that!" He said. "I will have my People bring you what you need." Then he hung up. A While later I was at the lake with the Duke, we had got in the water and we were getting ready to Train, the Duke had said the first lesson was going to be Target Practice, we were going to Scuba dive and shoot fish with Laser Rifles. "How is the water??" Asked Duke Dresari, he was wearing a wet suit with the Kentares 4 flag printed on it. "It's cold!!!" I hollered. "It's cold as balls!!!" "You need to shit in your wet suit!!" Said Duke Dresari. I made a Confused face at him on account of I was confused. "Wait what what's this??" "I said you need to take a Dump in your wet suit, that will keep you warm." Said the Duke. I scratched my head, I thought about it for a second. "I have never heard of That, how does taking a Dump in your Wet Suit keep you warm, I think that would just fill up the butt of your suit with BM??" I said. The Duke looked at me and said "You're supposed to drink a whole Laxative before you go diving obviously." "Wait you go Scuba with your Wet suit full of diarrhea???" I asked, I had never Heard of it. "Doesn't everybody??" Said Duke Dresari. "Not me" I said. "I didn't drink a bunch of Laxatives before I came here and I don't have Diarrhea right now." "Well then I guess youll be Cold." Said the Duke Now let's get to the Fish Shooting Target Practice." We dove down and started shooting fish with our Laser Rifles, it was actually really fun, even though we Exploded and Vaporized some fish on accident, After we were done, the Duke said the next Lesson was going to be about Plant Life. "Plant life???" I said. "What's there to Know about Plant life??" "Well" said the Duke. "You need to know about Plant life so you can Identify the poisonous ones." "Poisonous Plants???" I said. "What the hell would I need to know about Poisonous plants for??" "Well" said the Duke. "If you're ever in a Scuba Fight with another Noble, and you run out of Lasers, you can use Poisonous plants to poison them." "Scuba Fight??" I said. "What the hell is a Scuba Fight???" "It's when two Nobles fight each other in the water with their bare hands with their Scuba Gear on." Said the Duke. "Why would they do that???" I asked. "Well" said the Duke. "It's Harder to fight in the water than on land, so it's more Challenging and a lot more fun." "I see." I said. "But why would you want to fight somebody if you could just shoot them with a Laser??" "WELL" said the Duke. "Lasers are expensive, and they're not really that much fun to shoot. They're just kind of boring, really. But Scuba Fights are really fun. That's what Nobles do." Said the Duke. "They fight each other to prove who's the better man." So we started fighting each other, and it was really fun. We were both punching and kicking each other, and it was a really good workout. After we were done, the Duke said I was a natural at Nobility Scuba Combat, and that I should Think about being a Noble. *END FLASHBACK* "Steve?" said CDR Orlex. "You still with us?" I snapped back to reality. "What??" I said. "I was just thinking about the time I got my Basic Scuba License on Kentares." Then I pushed really hard and tried to change my eye colors to make my Point.
  16. Pandora BRV Trailer Hollingsworth Agrifoods Warehouse Daggaknott, Sheratan III Sheratan System - Tikonov Free Republic October 27, 3030 - 15:18 ______________________________________________ "Alright then, large vessel dock it is. Are there any further questions before I adjourn the meeting?" Commander Jaeger asked. I raised my right hand reflexively, suppressing a yelp of pain as I felt the now-healing gunshot wound in my shoulder twinge. Oddly, Curie snapped her head toward me, the AI casting me what looked like an expression of concern. I assumed she must have been monitoring my vitals, but the almost instantaneous and humanlike response still caught me off guard. "Private Schuster?" Jaeger prompted, drawing my attention back to him. "Yes, sir. I have another question. If we're boarding the Trident, and it's going to take us to the site of the underwater base and drop us down there in two submarines, what are we doing about a headquarters? The Pandora trailer seems too big to put aboard quickly or easily. A bunch of our gear and Curie, who at least I might find I need when I'm trying to get us around whatever security that base has, are here." I gestured vaguely around the BRV with my good arm. Jaeger looked thoughtful for a moment before responding. "You make a valid point, Private. We'll leave the Pandora trailer and its contents here, under the guard of some of Aces Wild. As for Curie, unless you've got some way to make her Riemann matrix work aboard the Trident, I'm afraid she'll have to stay here as well. It's a miracle as it is that you and Mallory managed to get her rigged to the Pandora in the first place." Captain Sisko made an inquisitive face on the tri-vid display. "What is a Curie?" she asked. "Some kind of medical and personal assistant AI." Tribune Guaverra interrupted, stepping in front of me and blocking the view of the captain. "They've got it rigged up to the computer here and patched into some old TV projectors to give it a hologram. It...talks." I moved to see the displays, where Sisko was frowning. "And this AI is mission-critical to you why, Private....what was your name?" "Schuster, ma'am. And, to be honest, I'm down an arm right now, and while Curie isn't designed to be a hacking tool, her processing and data-mining abilities are nothing to scoff at. I'm not sure I could do this one-handed." I shrugged, trying not to let the pain show on my face. "I see." Sisko's frown deepened. "And you're certain that this AI is safe?" "Oh, absolutely." I nodded. "She's..." "Harmless." Guaverra interrupted again, dismissively. "I vetted this mercenary unit before giving them the contract. You have nothing to worry about from them or their...assistant." "Very well, then." Sisko relented. "I'll see what I can do to make an isolated server and deep sea comm line available to house the AI aboard the Trident while you are embarked. But I want it off my ship as soon as you return." "Yes, ma'am." I saluted. "If that's OK with you?" I added, looking at Curie. "Of course, Private Schuster." Curie responded, her hologram's movements choppy and glitchy, probably from the current load on the Pandora's systems. "My duty is to assist in any way possible." "Alright, Schuster." Commander Jaeger added. "Then that's settled. The logistics of transporting Curie are officially your problem now. Are there any other questions?" As the briefing continued, I leaned over to Levi and whispered, "So, it sounds like we're going to be spending time aboard a submarine together. Fancy that." Levi smiled and shook his head. "You're incorrigible, Nick. But, yeah, I guess it should be interesting. Just don't over-exert yourself."
  17. Pandora BRV Trailer Hollingsworth Agrifoods Warehouse Daggaknott, Sheratan III Sheratan System - Tikonov Free Republic October 27, 3030 - 15:07 ______________________________________________ A few hours later ... "Alright, to catch everyone up and make sure we're all on the same page here's where we stand," I began, standing at the head of our makeshift briefing room utilizing the Pandora BRV's relatively spacious crew compartment, the space feeling rather small currently though considering the number of people present. We had opted to use the BRV for this particular discussion for two reasons, one it was the only source of a functioning holovid display which allowed Captain Sisko of the S.N.S. Trident to partake in the briefing live from aboard the Rapier-class Destroyer that was now stationed just offshore, which also conveniently allowed Curie to also participate directly, and two it was the only area that we knew with 100% certainty to be free of Capellan influence, spies, and any bugs or other espionage equipment. This was important since we really didn't want the Capellans to know what we knew and that we were coming for them. "Captain Sisko and her crew were able to drive off the enemy battleship and while we didn't actually destroy it our combined efforts were able to cripple the vessel through the detonation of one or possibly several of its magazines. The ammunition explosions rendered the ship combat ineffective and further action by the Trident while driving it off crippled whatever remained. Captain Sisko has reported that the Sheratan Blue Water Navy has aerial reconnaissance observing the vessel with a task force moving in to neutralize the Jormungand for good. And Thank You Captain, for your timely rescue and commendable efforts," I continued. "Just doing our duty, but glad we were able to arrive in time and contribute in a meaningful way," said Captain Sisko, her hologram on the tri-vid display against one wall nodding professionally. "Thanks to their assistance we've since mopped up whatever Capellan resistance remained here on the Hollingsworth Agrifoods grounds and have re-secured the warehouse and surrounding fields. I know the battle drew more attention than Tribune Guevara would have cared for but we succeeded despite the odds and the PR fallout is his problem to deal with at this point," I stated, continuing on with my recap of recent events for the benefit of those that may not have been present for everything, "Now while we were having fun down on the beaches, Idris and the Bridgeburners mounted a daring infiltration into the underground facility that was discovered and made some excellent progress on our main objective of stopping this blight. I'll let Sergeant Frosty explain the details of their mission, Sergeant." Frosty stepped up beside me as I moved to the side, she was still wearing her now patched up envirosuit despite having returned with the rest of her team nearly two hours or more prior, although her helmet was currently removed and hanging from her hip and I didn't see any of her weapons on her. The Bridgeburners and Idris had arrived on a stolen skiff shortly after the Jormungand had been driven away with their spoils of war in tow, in particular the canister of chemicals that was being used to form the blight that Lazarus had and the data on the Capellan's operations that Jester was carrying. We still didn't have full control of the beach at that point and so they assisted with flushing out the last of the infantry, alongside a particularly hyped Steve Jenkins, to secure the last bit of land from the Capellan's incursion. Afterwards they immediately got a hold of me and filled me in on the details of what they had found and we had set to work on reviewing the data and running what few tests we could on the chemical compound they had retrieved. "Thank you Commander, our team encountered surprisingly stiff resistance in the desalination plant, not unlike the folks topside, but we were able to drive a wedge through them with some incredible help from Technician Idris and his exoskeleton. We found the source of the plague for this area when we breached the reverse osmosis unit of the plant, now I won't pretend to have any clue what it was they were actually doing but they were somehow using the equipment to stimulate some kind of reaction or growth in this chemical compound, which we retrieved a large sample of, and then dispersing it into the water supply through this old, not-so-decommissioned facility. We put a quick stop to that with some high explosives courtesy of our own Crash, and the desalination facility has been rendered inoperable and mostly inaccessible for the foreseeable future. During our extraction we also came across some computer terminals and Jester was able to force access to them and downloaded whatever data was available about their operations here on the planet and the plague in particular. What we found was, not good. This desalination facility was merely an outpost, a testing ground if you will. From what we've been able to determine thus far the Capellans have a central base located somewhere in the Sarathi Sea and everything indicates them intending to go planet wide with this plague in the near future, likely within a month or two. We haven't been able to find the location of this base yet, but once we do I'm sure Aegis Division and the Bridgeburners will stamp it out," explained Frosty in a rather animated manner. Just then Curie's holographic avatar appeared and walked up to face Frosty, who was clearly surprised but impressively wasn't that put off considering this was the first time she had seen the AI or its hologram, "Actually, if I may, I have some relevant information to share on that topic." "By all means," gestured Frosty with a wave of her hand. Turning to face the majority of the people Curie addressed them standing at attention with her hands clasped firmly behind her back, "Under Commander Jaeger's direction I have finished parsing the data retrieved by the Bridgeburners and can corroborate the Sergeant's findings. I will not bore you with the technical details but the Capellans were indeed using the reverse osmosis systems of the desalination plant to build their blight and distribute it using the existing infrastructure. The destruction of this facility will likely set them back but is unlikely to put an actual stop their activities. Fortunately the data that Corporal Ken Bailey, better known as 'Jester', brought back does indeed contain the coordinates of the Capellans main base within the Sarathi Sea, I have extracted those coordinates and will display them now." If Frosty had picked up on Curie's odd emphasis on the word 'Blight' she gave no outwards indication of it, it was something I found peculiar given that, to my knowledge, an AI shouldn't have that kind of personal response to someone using an incorrect word, it felt too ... human. My thoughts were quickly sidetracked from that train of thought though as Curie used one of the many tri-vid projectors installed in the BRV to display an image of Sheratan as it zoomed in on the Sarathi Sea, a bit too far if you asked me as it now only displayed holographic water, and a red crosshair shimmered into view at the location of the Capellan base. I also noted that Curie's avatar seemed to momentarily glitch and shimmer oddly when the other hologram first appeared, I chalked it up to likely being a limitation of the ad-hoc tri-vid system we had installed in the Pandora. "I'm double checking the coordinates, but we've patrolled that area regularly and there's nothing there. No ships, and definitely no base," interjected Captain Sisko. "I don't doubt you Captain, however this is the coordinates given by the data. Forgive me, I forgot to display the Z-axis on the image. It would appear this Capellan base is underwater, roughly 156.2m underwater it would seem," said the AI, turning her avatar slightly towards the tri-vid on the wall. "Well that would explain why we never saw anything, there's absolutely nothing but ocean for miles in any direction out there. Never would have suspected a base that deep underwater out there," replied Sisko with a considered nod. "Indeed," I said with a nod of my own, stepping back to the foreground, "Excellent work Curie, thank you for your assistance in this matter. It would seem we have our next target, now we just need to determine a way to get there. I suspect that Tribune Guevara might have some means of providing us support on this front and I'll be sure to follow up with him immediately after this briefing." "No need Commander," added Captain Sisko, pausing for a second to make sure I heard before continuing, "the Tribune has already co-opted the Trident to assist Aegis Division with all activity related to the eradication of this blight and the involved Capellans. We're a fair bit banged up from our little tussle with that Jormungand but we can manage. I've got a set of submersibles on board that could likely be used to get you and your team down to this base. In our current state it'll take us roughly 4 hours to get to those coordinates once we're underway." "Excellent, thank you Captain, your contributions are proving to be invaluable to us," I said with genuine thanks, "Alright then, with that offer available we'll get right to it. Aegis Division, along with the Bridgeburners, will board the Trident and make our way out to sea to find this underwater Capellan base and neutralize it. Curie do we have any indication of the size of this facility?" "From the data available it covers nearly 4 acres of the seabed with roughly, ... 7,411.8 square meters of floor space spread between 3 towers, a moon pool, and a sonar station. One moment and I will compile a floor plan Commander..." answered Curie, her avatar pausing with its head tilted to the side and seemingly staring into empty space at the end. "Um thank you, that was rather specific," I said with a slight grunt somewhere between amusement and bewilderment. "I do strive for accuracy Commander Jaeger," replied Curie, although her hologram eerily remained in its frozen state. Not entirely sure how to respond I answered with a simple nod and continued on, "Once we have the floor plan, we can assess the best way to access the base. If it requires deep sea diving we'll be relying heavily on the Bridgeburners and their XCT training to gain access for us, however the existence of a moon pool lends itself to the possibility of directly docking to the base itself. They won't be too keen on our arrival though so we'll likely need to hack their systems in some manner in order to gain access, our resident experts in that field, Schuster and the Bridgeburners' Jester, will be needed there, where we will then sweep the facility and neutralize any Capellans we find. Once secured we will gather any evidence we can for the Tribune and any further details about this blight or future terrorist plans for Sheratan. Any questions?" I knew there was likely to be a flood of questions, this portion of the mission was definitely one of the least detailed or thorough plans we had brought before the team, typically Captain Maxwell or myself would have run through multiple iterations of the mission and accounted for most eventualities before ever presenting it to Aegis as whole but time was of the essence here and the finer details would have to be worked out en route. The first to speak up was Doctor Aldon, he had been standing quietly off to the side near the front and now spoke with a level and unassuming voice, "I'm afraid Commander we may have to make do with only one of our computer experts. Private Schuster was badly wounded during his battlefield retrieval and likely won't be fit for duty for some time yet." Seemingly unable to restrain himself I heard Schuster speak up from somewhere near the back of the BRV trailer, "I'm not that badly hurt Doc. I'm OK really, I can do this." There was an undeniable strain to his voice, likely he was fighting back whatever pain he was in in an attempt to sound better than he probably felt, but given the unknown that this enemy base presented Schuster's skills would likely be a necessity and not a mere luxury. Turning to Mal I replied, "He seems to disagree with your assessment Doc, and no offense to Jester here but Nick's hacking and computer skills are second to none, I have a feeling Nick will be indispensable for this mission. How bad is he really?" "He's not gravely wounded by any means, but he is definitely not up for combat operations. With all due respect sir, I understand his skill set is in high demand but he is risking permanent damage, even considering any special conditions, should he over-exert himself before having time to properly heal. His participation will not put him in mortal danger directly and so I won't countermand you, but do consider my recommendation against it," answered Aldon with a certain resigned tone. "I understand Mal, fortunately the skill set we need from him shouldn't require front line work. We'll do everything we can to keep him from direct combat, even keeping him aboard the submersible if necessary. I want you to give him another checkup just before we leave to ensure he is indeed in well enough shape for travel," I acknowledged. "Just to add my own two cents in," interrupted Jester somewhat tentatively, he was accompanying Frosty and Lazarus to represent the Bridgeburners during this briefing, "I'm good, and I know it, but I typically need direct access to a computer terminal or system to work my magic. Remote hacking really isn't my forte, you'd think hacking is hacking but it really isn't. None of my tools are setup for remote work and I'm not familiar with the communication protocols and other details needed to effectively work that way. I've seen some of Mr. Schuster's work and I agree with the Commander's assessment, his skills will prove invaluable in gaining access to this base. Once we get onboard and the shooting starts, I can take over if he needs to stay out of combat, but until that point I'd highly recommend bringing him along." "Thank you Jester, your frankness is appreciated," I replied with a nod, turning back towards Aldon I continued, "Does that sound acceptable Doc?" "Provided he does check out during the this final exam, and we do indeed keep him as isolated from direct combat as we can, then yes, I am amenable to the situation. Since I will be accompany you all anyways I can continue to keep an eye on him en route to ensure his condition does not deteriorate as well," answered Mal with a curt nod. "Excellent, thank you Aldon. Any other questions?" I asked. A hand raised in the back and I motioned for Schuster to speak, "Uh sirs, there was mention of a sonar station on this underwater base. Do we have a plan for dealing with that? Won't the Capellans see, or rather hear, us coming from miles away?" "An excellent point Nick, perhaps Captain Sisko can speak to this?" I intoned, gesturing towards the tri-vid still displaying a grainy, live image of the Captain's bust. "I definitely can Commander, and a very astute observation Mr. Schuster, the sonar station definitely could prove troublesome if we weren't aware of it. However, despite its isolated location there are still semi-regular patrols across the surface in that general area which means the presence of our ship alone won't necessarily tip the Capellans off to anything. In fact our ship could probably float right over top of the base and the Capellans would think nothing of it. Our submersibles meanwhile have silent running kits installed rendering them virtually invisible to most sonar, they use magnetohydrodynamic propulsion systems which run silently and have contoured hulls similar to stealth fighters that help defeat passive sonar. Active sonar can readily be jammed by the sub itself, one of its two sister subs or even by the Trident on the surface if necessary. Provided no one decides to have a party on board the submersible en route we should be able to get close enough to board the base without detection. We'll also deploy the subs early enough that you'll already be in the water at depth before getting in range of the sonar station, limiting the activities that might get picked up by an attentive operator," offered Sisko with a knowing smile. "That is most fortuitous and good news," I said, turning back towards the assembled team I inquired, "Curie how are we making out on that floor plan?" There was an unusual pause and I noticed that Curie's avatar, while no longer frozen, seemed to be stuck in a small animation loop of her standing inquisitively at rest, another grainy distortion to the hologram and she suddenly was back and looking quite intently at me, "All done Commander, I will display it for you now." "As you can see, the base consists of 3 towers, a moon pool, a sonar station, and a series of corridors and external airlocks for multiple access points," continued Curie as though she was giving a medical lecture, using the central holovid for displaying different parts of the generated floor plan as she spoke, "Tower 1, the tallest one, consists of 5 levels and houses crew quarters and recreation facilities, medical facilities, an Armory, general storage, and several decompression chambers at both main entrances. This tower also is directly connected to the moon pool on the 2nd level and has an extended airlock used for docking with larger vessels. Tower 2, the medium sized one, has 4 levels to it and contains an observation deck, the command and control center, computer and lab facilities, main security, as well as access to the sonar station itself on level 4. Tower 3, the smallest one, appears to be the utilities area, it houses the power systems, a fusion reactor, as well as oxygen production and reclamation systems, and water/waste water facilities for the base. This tower also has a pair of hatches on level 3 that are designated as emergency exits. There are corridors connecting all three towers on level 1, with multiple bulkheads in place designed to prevent complete flooding of the facility in the event of an isolated breach. The moon pool, whose only access to the facility is from either a dedicated long-term decompression chamber or a direct corridor on level 2, is designed to operate in one of three potential modes. Normal mode keeps the atmospheric pressure in the moon pool equal to the water pressure, approximately 15.8 atmospheres, and allows traditional use of the moon pool with an air-water interface but requires use of the decompression chamber due to the depth and the rest of the base operating at a standard 1 atmosphere of pressure. Mode two floods the entire moon pool structure allowing easier access for certain vessels and making use of the multistage airlocks to both prevent water ingress into the base as well as adjusting pressures but this still requires the use of the decompression chamber due to the water pressure at these depths. Mode three allows a vessel to enter the flooded moon pool, then isolates the moon pool from the ocean itself with a sealed pressure door and pumps all the water out after the vessel is docked, it then fills the chamber with standard 1 atmosphere pressure air to allow entry to the base without the need for decompression chamber use. According to the files I have access to the docking mechanism within the moon pool is capable of handling any submersible vessel or submarine up to 42m in length, 28m in width, 10m in height, and weighing up to 100 tons. Given this information I would recommend access via the moon pool as the primary means of ingress, and the external docking hardpoint as a secondary option. Use of the emergency exit hatches would alert any occupants to your presence." "Thank you Curie," I said thoughtfully, "Once again that was very detailed and very informative. Have you considered possible resistance we might face when selecting your recommendations?" "I have not, I do not have military doctrine nor any kind of combat predictive subroutines programmed into my matrix, I am not currently capable of such considerations," replied Curie flatly. "I see, Bridgeburners or Captain Sisko? You both likely have more experience with boarding actions than I do, what are your thoughts?" I asked, reaching out to those more knowledgeable on the situation than myself. Lazarus spoke up after a quick glance with Sergeant Frosty, "I'd recommend against using the moon pool Commander, yes it is convenient, and would give us better access to the facility but the time it would take to actually gain access, no matter which mode we decided to use it in, would likely be enough to not only alert the Capellans to our arrival but also allow them to mount an effective defense. The moon pool is also likely the main entrance used, meaning it is most likely to have the best security and the most guards at any given time. Also given the expected short duration of any entry we would attempt to accomplish through the moon pool, compared to a standard dive at these depths, use of the decompression chamber could likely be avoided. That being said, avoiding exposure to these pressures all together is still the better option. The direct dock on the 5th level of Tower 1 would provide us the best opportunity to get aboard the base." With another nod Captain Sisko agreed, "I concur Commander, the large vessel dock would allow us direct access to the base without risking exposure to the high pressures present at those depths. Our submersibles are equipped with docking collars capable of forcing a connection to any standard hatch, they are designed for boarding operations after all, and your team could then gain direct access for any hacking or cutting required to breach the base. It might take more time to secure the facility given the entrance location but it will offer the best chance at maintaining the element of surprise for as long as possible and will be a much quicker breach." "Alright then, large vessel dock it is. Are there any further questions before I adjourn the meeting?" I asked, once again opening the floor to everyone.
  18. MEANWHILE.... Something weird had happened. I had been exposed to some weird chemicals that were part of the plant, and it had gave me superpowers. After I had got sprayed in the face by the Chems in the silo, I had figured out that I had the power to change the color of my eyes, but only when no one was looking at me. I also had the ability to make any object near me slightly heavier. I didn't know why this had happened, but I was happy I had the Power. I felt invincible, I felt like I could take on anyone, I was ready for Anything, I looked around and saw that the Battle was not over yet. There were a bunch of Capellan foot troops retreating from the shore where the boats were blowing up. I fired a bunch of lasers at the Jorgumand and then I opened the trap door on my Mech. I was going to fight the Capellan foot troops on the ground and demoralize them. I jumped out of my mech and started running towards the fleeing soldiers. I got close enough to them that I could hear them talking. I activated my superpower and made the ground beneath them heavier. Weirdly that didnt do anything, but then I changed the color of my eyes and they all stopped running and started to look around in confusion. "Wait WHY is that guy getting out of his mech???" one of them shouted. But it was too late. I pulled out my Bushido blade and yelled "ONCE THIS BLADE HAS BEEN DREW IT HAS TO DRAW BLOOD BEFORE I CAN PUT IT AWAY!!!" But then a bunch of them started Shooting at me and I let out a womanly scream in Fear and I ran behind some bushes and I hid. I was really scared, I wasn't sure what I was going to do. My superpowers didnt seem to stop them and I was running out of ideas. Suddenly I heard Master Honda's voice in my head, "Do not despair Steve, use the power of your mind." I remembered what I had learned in the Power Fists Dojo and I got an idea. I jumped out of the bushes, and I ran Screaming at the Capellan foot soldiers and I did a bunch of Kobudo moves. But after they looked Confused, all 8 of them raised their guns and started shooting at me. I didnt know what to do, I was sure that I was going to get shot. But then something weird happened. All the bullets stopped in mid-air and hovered around me. Master Honda appeared and said "No, Steve, that's not what I had in Mind when I said to use the power of your Mind." "MASTER HONDA???" I Screamed with excrement "WHAT ARE YOU DOING ON SHERATAN????" "I'm here to help you, Steve," He said. "You have been gifted with a power, and I'm here to help you use it. Now concentrate and focus your mind on the bullets, and gravity them away." I tried to use my superpower, I pushed really hard, but all that happened was a loud fart, I think I might have left a skid mark in my underwear. Then the Capellans started running at me, but then all of the sudden there was a HUGE laser blast and all 8 of the guys got screamingly vaporized, I didnt know by what but then I turned around and Dexter was there with his RAVEN battlemech and Idris was riding on its roof giving me a thumbs up. "OH MY GOD!!!" I Yelled, "Master Honda, did I do that???" "No Steve you did Not do that." He said. "But you are Alive. And thats all that matters." And then I got back in my CRAB and I drove off. I had just had my first taste of the weird superpower that I had been gave. I was no longer just SGT Steve Jenkins, Battlemech pilot in the Aegis Division. I was a SUPERHERO.
  19. Underground Desalination Plant (Below Hollingsworth AgriFoods' Daggaknott Fields) Daggaknott, Sheratan III Sheratan System - Tikonov Free Republic October 27, 3030 ______________________________________________ The fighting had been fierce and near constant throughout the underground desalination plant the Bridgeburners and Idris had infiltrated, everyone bore some amount of armour damage ranging from a few glancing blows to cracked plates or even a minor breach in the case of Eagle and Monk, both of whom Lazarus had patched up with Rook's assistance, the suits now adequately sealed despite missing some armour panels. Idris' armoured exoskeleton had born the brunt of the enemy attacks, deflecting or outright blocking some of the heavier weapons the Capellans had managed to setup inside the ad-hoc industrial base and it showed with several of the outer layers cracked or outright melted into slag. One particularly nasty semi-portable support laser blast had managed to create enough molten slag from the suit's armour to seize some of the joints on the exoskeleton's left side and Jester and Monk had to use a makeshift pry bar and one of their laser rifles to soften and re-melt the slag enough to break it free and return Idris' range of motion. Idris' power armour had served as more than just a portable shield wall though, the enhanced actuators and industrial strength ferrosteel frame had served as an excellent means of brute forcing doors and bulkheads that the Bridgeburners would have had to either circumvent or spend significant time cutting through, and despite some difficulties with certain passageways or doorways being arguably too small for the larger exoskeleton to properly fit, those troubles were well worth the added advantages that Idris had offered as a whole. The combined arms team, as Idris' exoskeleton was closer to a small support tank than a traditional infantryman, had thus far managed to fight their way into the reverse osmosis section of the plant, blasting the door open to get there, planted multiple explosives throughout the chamber in order to bring the entire structure down on itself, and found physical evidence of what was assumed to be the blight being processed and mixed into the water system using a bastardized amalgamation of piping and equipment, evidence in the form of a canister of some substance believed to be the concentrated form of the blight emblazoned with a Capellan crest and Cantonese characters that Lazarus now carried in a hermetically sealed container on his back. In addition, Aventine-squad and Ceres-3 were now holed up in a control room overlooking what appeared to be a massive cave on the edge of the Sarathi Sea, set back into the rockface where the waters were apparently quite deep. The cave was large enough to house a complete harbour, despite its comparatively small opening, and closer inspection revealed signs of man-made expansions to what would have been the original, natural cove. While it wasn't clear if this was where the Jormungand had been hiding the space and multi-story facility was large enough to house such a vessel and there were plenty of signs of long term occupation of the place, aside from the aggressive Capellan counterattack which currently had the team pinned down. When they first arrived in the control room, having reached a lull in the running firefight where the Capellans almost seemed to be trying to lead them in a particular direction and the Bridgeburners being wise to the potential trap had slipped down a different corridor rather than following the retreating enemy troopers, Jester and the other members of Fireteam 1 had noted what appeared to be a submarine submerging and escaping out of the isolated harbour down below, an odd observation given that they were already underground but the water level was still a couple of stories below their current location. The team had called in the submarine spotting, in addition to their earlier report of finding the source of the blight, but thus far it seemed the vessel had truly been trying to escape as none of the topside forces had spotted it yet. Just before the Capellan counterattack was launched Jester had broke into the control room's computers and was searching for any additional information they could find. "Aventine squad, grab whatever intel you can then bring that place down, we want to put an end to this blight and I want you and your team to extract from there ASAP," Commander Jaeger ordered. "Yes Sir," reported Sergeant Frosty amidst background gunfire, "Our team is pulling the data now. We'll blow the place and exfil at our earliest convenience." "Good," continued the Commander, "Let us know where you'll be coming out and we'll make sure you have safe extraction zone." "Thank you Commander, WILCO. Aventine squad out." "Jester! Whatever you've got will have to be enough, we're bugging out. We need to get down to those docks and commandeer one of the boats, then we'll escape back to the Hollingsworth beach after blowing this place all to hell," hollered the Sergeant on their suit comms. "Sarge, the Commander is going to want to see this, pretty sure this isn't their main base of operations. We can blow this baby up, but I don't think that'll be enough to actually stop the bastards," answered Jester as he began unplugging his gear from the terminal. "Later Jester, let's get out of here in one piece first," replied Frosty as she fired multiple blasts from her Darklight-CL laser rifle down the corridor alongside the rest of the Bridgeburners. "Frosty, we've got heavies incoming," called Idris from further out in the hallway, his power armour struggling under a sudden barrage of ballistic fire. The team retreated back into the cover of the control room as a squad of heavy reinforcements moved to support the remaining Capellans that were doing their damnest to keep the Bridgeburners isolated and contained within the armoured control room. Eagle popped a smoke grenade, one of their last ones, to provide some semblance of cover as Crash setup a pair of small explosives linked to a laser tripwire to act as a makeshift claymore before the team once again closed the pressurized bulkhead style door to the room. Lazarus used the door controls to lock the door, the team already having destroyed the controls outside, but they knew it was only a temporary measure to slow the Capellans down. "What's the plan Sarge?" inquired Rook as he exchanged his rifle's power cell for a fresh one, the room only had a single exit aside from a small passage that was little more than a ventilation shaft and which was too small for even the Bridgeburner's envirosuits, let alone Idris' exoskeleton. Frosty looked around trying to take in their options before Eagle spoke up with a somewhat offhand comment, "Be nice if we could just go straight down." "Yes it would Eagle," answered Frosty with a smirk, not that anyone could see it with her armoured faceplate lowered but they could hear it still, "That's a great idea. Idris, think you could bust out this window?" Idris moved away from the door he was guarding with Monk and looked the reinforced window up and down, "It won't be easy Frosty, but I'm pretty sure I could break it with a bit of effort." "Get to it," said Frosty with a nod before turning towards Crash, "Crash, how long would you say that fire hose is?" The sergeant was referring to the built in fire fighting equipment that was regularly spaced throughout this section of the complex, likely installed due to its original industrial use as a desalination plant the Bridgeburners had previously used some of the extinguishers they had come across as ad-hoc mortars or distractions and had even used one firehose to tie shut a pair of double doors to prevent the pursuing Capellans from advancing down one corridor. The 40mm (1.5") hose wasn't particularly long but it was securely mounted into hardware within the wall itself and should be able to serve Frosty's intended purpose, whether it would be strong enough to survive 7 individuals using it in that manner remained to be seen. "I don't know Sarge, probably 15 to 20 meters (50 to 65 feet) or so, give or take. You thinking we can use it to rappel down or something?" inquired Crash as she sized up the hose and then the apparent drop out the window, which Idris had now started booting with his exoskeleton. "That's exactly what I have in mind," replied Frosty as she moved across the room towards Crash. With a shrug Crash turned back to the wall mounted firehose and smashed in the glass with her armoured gauntlet, the heavy rubber of the envirosuit and its steel plating easily resisting the shattered glass' attempt to cut it, "Worth a shot." With a thunderous crack the team looked over to see a massive spiderweb of cracks blossoming out from underneath Idris' armoured heel, the exoskeleton managing to shatter, but not quite break, the ferroglass that was all that was between them and their escape now. Stepping back and looking at his handiwork Idris then proceeded to grab one of the heavy, steel, conference-style tables in the room and with the help of his exoskeleton's actuators he heaved the furniture piece in a brisk circle before slamming it bodily through the cracked glass, the entire window exploding into a shower of sharp edged shrapnel that rained down on the structures below, a brisk wind suddenly blowing into the now open control room. Crash wasted no time in unravelling the entire length of the fire hose while Eagle and Rook knocked out the last of the nearby glass to ensure there was nothing to prematurely cut the hose during their decent and Lazarus took a moment to blast the control panel and jam a filing cabinet into the doorway in an attempt to further delay the Capellans that were now approaching the door from outside, judging from the footfalls followed by the explosion of Crash's impromptu claymore. Idris and Frosty looked out the now open window together and saw a plausible landing roughly 3 floors down on the roof of an adjoining structure, looking at each other with a shrug and likely a bit of a daredevil type smile Frosty gestured for Idris to go ahead as though to say "After you", the man backed up a few steps and seemed to shake his power armour slightly as though loosening up its joints before rushing forward and leaping out into the empty space beyond the shattered window. Jester just finished gather his gear and disconnecting from the terminal as Idris leapt through the window and quickly moved to fall in line with the others as Rook launched himself out the window holding onto the firehose, his weapon secured magnetically to his suit and using his mag boots to half run, half repel down the outside of the building facing the ground, pushing off hard once low enough to swing out the short distance to land on the target structure's roof. Idris meanwhile was essentially freefalling, despite deploying his suit's built-in parafoil since the distance simply wasn't enough for the parafoil to make much difference, he landed well though, the heavy actuators groaning under the effort, the ferrosteel frame absorbing incredible amounts of energy from the impact. The exoskeleton's armoured boots punched deep into the unfortified structure of the roof top, the nearly half ton power armour crushing tiles and underlying supports before its downward momentum was finally arrested and Idris sat hunched down for a moment as though recovering from the impact. By the time Rookie made it to the roof himself though Idris was already standing upright again and had moved away from the twin craters he had left, pulling out a pair of SMGs he had salvaged off downed Capellan terrorists a while back, his armoured gloves barely able to manipulate the weapons, and he moved to provide cover as the rest of the team rappelled down following Rook, one at a time. Back in the control room Crash had just dropped out the window on her way down, leaving only Monk and Eagle to cover the door that the Capellans had now managed to crack open and were trying to force the rest of the way, Monk's shield lay discarded to the side, the equipment having sustained more damage than it was ever intended too and was no longer useful as anything but dead weight. A series of 20mm explosions ripped through the slowly widening doorway from Monk's PAC-20 and it was enough to drive the heavily armoured Capellans back, providing just a moment of relief, Monk gestured for Eagle to go next down the makeshift firehose rappel line but she knew Monk was running dangerously low on ammo and despite his martial prowess he couldn't use those skills effectively in this situation. "Get your ass out that window Monk, I've got this!" shouted Eagle as she stepped forward and downed a terrorist in the hallway with a single, well-aimed shot. With a reluctant nod Monk spun around and grabbed on the firehose giving Eagle one final glance before he launched himself out the window and let himself freefall a considerable ways down before gripping the hose and using his magnetic boots to slow his descent. Eagle continued to fire precision shots into the heavily armoured enemies, finding weak spots like the neck, armpits, or visors and causing massive amounts of havoc on the desperate combatants trying to break into the room. Just as they finally managed to bust the filing cabinet out of the way and try to swarm into the room Eagle tossed her final grenade, a 'B' class stun grenade, and leapt out the window backwards while still firing her laser rifle with the grenade exploding just as she dropped below the lip of the floor. She quickly pivoted in the air and found the firehose dangling beside her which she deftly grabbed with one hand, the other still holding onto her rifle. Despite her best efforts the act still spun her around she managed to get her suit tangled in the free hanging hose arresting her fall but leaving her hanging precariously several meters above the rooftop where everyone else was now gathered and waiting. A bevy of laser fire was punctuated with Crash's 20mm grenade launcher rounds as the team provided covering fire against the Capellans that were recovering from the stun grenade and now stumbling towards the open window, several of whom fell unceremoniously from the abandoned control room though whether it was from gunfire or a mere misstep wasn't clear. Eagle meanwhile managed to disentangle herself from the firehose and now descended the final few meters to the relative safety of the rooftop. The regrouped Bridgeburners and Idris quickly made their way off the low rooftop down to the dock level and for the moment had a clear path towards a small selection of boats that were still moored at one of the closest piers. As the team piled onto a wide-hulled skiff Lazarus quickly set about turning over the engine, the keys conveniently already in the ignition, and the Bridgeburners were already heading towards open water before the remaining Capellans could reach the dock level, a final parting gift from Monk and Crash destroying the other boats that remained visible at the docks.
  20. BRV Pandora Hollingsworth Agrifoods Daggaknott, Sheratan III Sheratan System - Tikonov Free Republic October 27, 3030 ______________________________________________ The Pandora gave a lurch as it pulled away from the front lines, heading for the warehouse staging area. The gunshot wound in my shoulder throbbed under the force of the vehicle's movement, causing me to groan involuntarily. Levi looked at me with worried eyes as Mallory made his way to the passenger area of the Pandora's rig. "Couldn't wait to get out of that UrbanMech, huh?" Doc Mallory joked as he helped me remove my cooling shirt. Let's have a look at that injury." I gritted my teeth as he examined the wound. "It's not too bad." I said, trying to downplay the pain. "It's not too bad?" Levi echoed, rolling his eyes. "You're lucky it didn't hit anything important." "Yeah, well, I'm not exactly a BattleMech." I muttered. "No, you're not." Levi agreed. "But you're still one of the best pilots I've ever seen." "And you're still the best Quartermaster I've ever met." I shot back. "I'm really glad you refit the ejection system when you did." Levi grinned. "I'll take that as a compliment." "It was meant as one." I said, returning his smile. Levi squeezed my hand as the truck continued to bump and bang over the rough terrain. "We'll get you patched up in no time." Mallory said, interrupting our moment. "It looks like a clean blow-through that, luckily for you, didn't hit any bones. Hang tight while I clean it up and get a pressure patch on it. Then you can go back to flirting with your other half here." I chuckled. "Thanks, Doc." "No problem, Nick." Mallory said as he went to work. After injecting me with some kind of high-end painkillers, the sharp pain began to fade into a dull ache. "Even after I get you bandaged up, I want you off your feet for the rest of this mission." My eyes went wide. "What? I can't do that. I'm on thin ice as it is, and now I've dumped an UrbanMech at the bottom of a river. Captain Maxwell is going to chew my ass up and spit it out when we get home." "And you're going to stay on thin ice if you don't do as I say." Mallory said sternly. "You need to rest and heal, or you're going to be a liability to this team. That's not my opinion. That's protocol." I sighed. "Come on, Doc. There's no medical protocol for me. My nanites might have me all fixed up in the next 20 minutes." "And they might not." Mallory countered. "I'm not comfortable with you taking any chances, Nick. This is a serious injury. You're off your feet until I give you the all-clear." "The gash on my forehead is already mostly gone." I muttered, leaning back against the seating. "You can at least let me out of the BRV when we get back to the staging area. I'm feeling claustrophobic. Anyway, the next phase of this operation is infantry maneuvers anyway. It's not like I'm going to be driving anything. I'm just going to be shooting at Capellans inside some kind of bunker." "That's the plan." Mallory responded. "But you're not going to be doing any shooting, either. You're going to be sitting this one out, at least until your shoulder is healed." I groaned. "This sucks." "It sucks a lot less than getting your brains blown out." the doctor replied, his voice serious. As he let the words sink in, he withdrew a pressure patch from his medical kit and began to apply it to my shoulder. "Fine." I said, resigned to my fate. "I'll stay here like a good little patient. But I'm not going to like it." "I didn't expect you'd like it." Mallory said, smiling. "Just try not to get shot again while I'm patching you up, okay?" "I'll do my best." I muttered. *** A few minutes later, we were back at the staging area and the BRV rig was reconnected to its trailer. Levi and Mallory escorted me back to one of the fold-down medical cots in the trailer and helped me get settled. "Get some rest, Nick." Levi said, putting a blanket around my shoulders as I sat on the edge of the bed. "I'll come check on you in a bit." "Thanks." I muttered, trying to suppress my frustration. "Don't worry." Levi said, giving me a reassuring smile. "They'll still kick ass without you." I nodded. "I know. Just hurry back, okay?" "I will." Levi said, before turning and making his way out of the vehicle. I leaned back against the pillows and tried to get comfortable. Just then, Mallory arrived with Curie's hologram at his side. "You are injured." the AI observed. "Yes, I am." I responded. "I got shot." "I will evaluate the extent of your injuries and provide medical assistance as required." Curie said. "Please remain still while I scan you." I did as she asked, gritting my teeth against the pain as Mallory maneuvered a series of medical instruments into place for Curie to perform her evaluation. The AI's expression became blank and distant as she interfaced with the series of probes and scanners. After a few minutes, she clasped her hands behind her back and turned to Mallory. "The patient has sustained a through-and-through laser wound to the right shoulder." she reported. "The laser did not strike any major arteries or bones. There is some tissue damage, but it is not severe. The nanites are attempting to triage the damage. However, given the extent of the wound, I recommend immediate surgery to help augment their efforts and prevent infection." "Thank you, Curie." Mallory said. "I'll take it from here. Nick, I'm going to need you to be a little brave." "What do you need me to do?" I asked, bracing myself for the pain. "I need you to lie back, close your eyes, and just breathe." Mallory said. I raised an eyebrow. "That's it?" "That's it." Mallory said. "I promise I'll be quick and gentle." I nodded and took a deep breath. "Okay. I'm ready." A few moments later, I heard Mallory set down his field surgical kit and remove the medipatch from my shoulder injury. "Your standard-issue medipack did a good job keeping you hopped up on painkillers when you initially got shot. Between that and what I gave you on the way back, I don't want to overdo it on the chems. But let me know if anything gets too uncomfortable, OK?" "Alright." I replied. A moment later, I felt the cold touch of a medical instrument on my skin, followed by the whirring sound of a laser suture. Feeling a sharp pain, I gritted my teeth and tried to focus on my breathing. As Mallory began to work, the sharp sensations faded to dull poking and prodding. All the while, Curie narrated the progress of Mallory's actions in a calm, clinical voice. "Initial incision has been made. Laser is cauterizing and sealing blood vessels." the AI said. "Very good." Mallory replied. "Give me directions in millimeters, please." "Of course." Curie answered. "Down 0.2 millimeters." "Copy that." Mallory said. "Left 0.4 millimeters." Curie continued. "On it." Mallory said. "Up 0.1 millimeters." "Mhmmm." "You have a very steady hand, Doc." I observed, trying to take my mind off the sounds and sensations of the procedure. "I've had a lot of practice." Mallory said. "Laser surgery is, unfortunately, a regular fact of life for a combat medic in the AFFS." "I can imagine." I muttered. "Cauterization and disinfection is complete. I am now evaluating the muscle and connective tissue." Curie explained. "There is some damage, but it is not severe. I recommend closing the wound with dermal sealant and a medipatch." "Agreed." Mallory said. "Let's get that done." A few moments later, Mallory had finished patching me up. "All done." he said, looking satisfied. "You should be good to go in a few days. Curie, how long until Nick's nanites have finished their work?" "I estimate completion in approximately eighteen hours." Curie replied. "Eighteen hours?" I protested, my eyes flying open. "The mission is going to be over by then! Curie, how long until I can at least get out there with some basic firearms and help out the rest of the team?" Curie hesitated, looking between me and Mallory in a way that suggested she was unsure of how to respond. "Once the anesthetics have fully worn off, I will evaluate the extent of the injury and determine whether it is safe for the patient to engage in physical activity." she finally said, a look of what I could have sworn was compassion in her digital eyes. "Alright." Mallory said, nodding. "Let's get you checked out in a few hours, Nick. My guess is that you'll be cleared for light duty. Until then, I want you to rest and let your nanites do their work." "Alright." I muttered, resigning myself to my fate. I lay back against the pillows and closed my eyes, trying to ignore the ache in my shoulder and the feeling of helplessness that came with it. I just hoped that I'd still be able to pull my weight before the operation was over and done.
  21. Hollingsworth Agrifoods Daggaknott, Sheratan III Sheratan System - Tikonov Free Republic October 27, 3030 ______________________________________________ I watched in awe as the enormous Rapier-class patrol destroyer slugged it out with the even larger Capellan Jormungand, the two battleships trading laser and PPC fire at close range. The surface of the river was awash in smoke and debris, the horizon alight with the muzzle flashes of the ship's guns. It was a sight to behold, but it also served as a stark reminder of the might of the Capellan Confederation, even here, on Sheratan. Even though the Jormungand had been dispossessed of its steering gear, it was still a fearsome adversary, landing multiple hits on the Rapier as the smaller of the two ships hammered away at its adversary. I shook myself out of my reverie as the radio crackled to life, the voice of Mallory Aldon cutting through the static. "Home Plate to Emissary," he began, addressing the S.N.S. Trident, "where do you want us?" "If you could get eyes on that Neptune submarine for us," Captain Sisko replied, "I'd feel a lot better about our odds against the Jormungand. Even though you knocked out its engine, there's no guarantee that the currents won't get them into an opportunistic position." "Roger that, Emissary," Mallory responded, "we're putting a drone up in the air now." "Ceres-1 to Emissary, I've actually been tracking it since the last of the ground-pounders withdrew out here. They've got their periscope and snorkel up, which has been giving my battle computer something to monitor. I'm sending you the telemetry now," I interjected. "Emissary copies," Captain Sisko answered. "That's good work, Ceres-1. Stay on them, and let us know if they move. We're going to put the Typhoon up in the air and drop a payload on them." "Wilco, Emissary," I acknowledged before cutting the connection. Turning my attention back to the sensor feed, I observed as the plotter continued to trace the Neptune's sluggish course up the river. Taking out a submarine from an aerospace fighter was a bold move, but one that I had to admire, given the situation. The sooner we could neutralize it, the better. I watched as the Typhoon took off from the Trident, a payload of high-yield bombs slung underneath its fuselage. The submarine was slowly moving closer to the main engagement, and I knew that the Typhoon would have to time its attack perfectly in order to avoid hitting friendly forces. The bombs dropped, and I held my breath as they struck the sea around the submarine. A moment later, a huge concussion sent a gigantic plume of water and debris surging into the air. A series of secondary explosions burst from beneath the surface, and I looked on in amazement as the Neptune's broken back momentarily emerged from the water before sinking out of sight. "Emissary, this is Ceres-1," I reported. "The drop is good. The submarine is down. I repeat, the submarine is down." "Roger that, Ceres-1," Captain Sisko replied. "Good work. Now let's finish off this battlecruiser." The Typhoon circled back around, heading toward the Jormungand. I swung my Shadow Hawk's crosshairs over the battleship's superstructure, looking for critical command and control structures that I could pick off with my long-range missiles. I shifted my weight in the pilot's seat as the Shadow Hawk's armaments came to bear. My fingers hovered over the triggers, ready to unleash a torrent of destruction on the enemy ship. But before I could fire, the Jormungand was abruptly rocked by a massive explosion that sent a conflagration of fire, debris, and bodies flying in every direction. The Typhoon had scored a direct hit on the enemy ship's magazine with its PPCs and large lasers. The resulting explosion had ripped a gaping hole in the beast from its upper decks all the way down to the ship's waterline, opening a significant breach in the Jormungand's armor. Quickly, I targeted the opening with a volley of missiles, and seconds later, the Jormungand was engulfed in a second, even larger explosion. "Ceres-1 to all units: focus fire on my target!" I shouted across the all-call, as the Jormungand began to list dangerously to one side. It was clear that the tide had turned in our favor. The Capellans were taking heavy damage, and the Rapier was starting to pull ahead. Through my Shadow Hawk's zoom window, I could see the crew of the warship working frantically to try and repair the damage, but it was clear that they were fighting a losing battle. I unleashed another volley of missiles at the leviathan cruiser as the other elements of Aegis Division began to engage. With our combined-arms forces working together, we'd soon have the ship destroyed.
  22. Hollingsworth Agrifoods Warehouse Daggaknott, Sheratan III Sheratan System - Tikonov Free Republic October 27, 3030 ______________________________________________ Keep the battleship away from the facility, I thought to myself as I fired my Mongoose's medium lasers into the side of a support vehicle, the high energy beams slicing through the comparatively weak industrial-grade armour with ease, and just how exactly are we supposed to manage that? As the Aegis Division 'mechs fell into formation along what we had established as our defensive line in front of the Capellans beachhead I took stock of our current situation, we had managed to eliminate all of the Capellans' Battlemech's, at least the ones that they had landed, and most of the their conventional forces as well. The infantry had been wiped out or driven back into hiding along with the destruction of most of their support vehicles and light tanks, leaving little land-based opposition for us to deal with. On the open sea however the Capellans still held the upper hand, even with the destruction of their Monitor-class vessel, the disabling and effective destruction of the Silverfin Cutter, and the damage inflicted on one of the two Sea Skimmer hydrofoils, the enemy still had a fully functioning warship in the Jormungand, its damaged propulsion and steering notwithstanding, one fully functional Sea Skimmer, a Battlemech Landing Craft, which granted it offered little in the way of combat now that its payload had been taken care of, and somewhere under the waves was a Neptune-class submarine. We were heavily outclassed and outranged by the Jormungand alone, and while Blackwood and Schuster's best efforts were impressive in being able to damage the vessel's propulsion to such an extent it was still a massive threat that we simply didn't have the means to effectively take on at the moment. "Alright Aegis, we need to try and draw these ships away from the Hollingsworth AgriFoods facility, we don't have the firepower to punch through the Jormungand's heavy plating but we can annoy them enough to hopefully draw their attention. If we can draw them into the shallower waters to the north, there's a chance their limited maneuverability will get them stuck and give us a chance to put a stop to their artillery," I commanded on the radio, "Ceres-1 and 2, you've got our longer range weapons, I want you to harass that ship as much as possible. Aim for the bridge and sensors, I want them rattled and if we get lucky we might strike them blind. Reaper-2 and 3, you're with me we're going to take out those Sea Skimmers and then we'll joining the others against the Jormungand once we get it in range. Hermes-1, keep us covered with that ECM, you're the only thing keeping that battleship from getting a solid lock on us and we don't want to deal with accurate fire from that behemoth. It won't be easy but we just have to hold out until the Sheratan blue water navy gets here." As one our units surged forward, crushing what little resistance lay before us as we drove our 'mechs to the water's edge, Blackwood and Drake breaking away towards the north as they fired long range weaponry towards the distant battleship their rounds landing on every shot by sheer virtue of the size of the target. Lennox, Jenkins, and myself continued to drive forward into the relatively shallow water, ranging anywhere from the ankles to the hips of our war machines depending on where exactly we were, as we fired various laser blasts towards the circling Sea Skimmers that seemed to be waiting for the now ineffective Battlemech Landing craft to disengage from the shoreline and the Capellans now overrun beachhead. Steve's Crab unleashed twin azure beams of energy that pierced the hull of the previously damaged hydrofoil vessel, the coherent light slicing clean through the vessel's port wing/foil and severing the outrigger which dropped the ship unceremoniously into the water at a speed which nearly swamped the small 25 ton vessel as it was forcibly slowed by the natural drag of the Serathi Sea. Smoke billowed from multiple spots on the naval vessel as follow up shots punched numerous holes into the ship at or near the water line, leaving it dead in the water and apparently slowly sinking, the observation was confirmed as the limited crew soon abandoned ship leaving the stricken hull to its fate. Marius and I meanwhile drew the other craft into range by engaging the landing craft temporarily before deftly switching targets and unloading our trio of medium lasers into the approaching vessel as its spread of 6 short range missiles scattered around Marius' Mongoose only a couple finding their mark, our 6 combined emerald beams of high energy coherent light meanwhile skewered the lightweight Sea Skimmer from either side of its bow and carved a considerable trench through the thin armour on either side. Follow up shots from our paired Mongooses finished the vessel off as our ablative armour plating easily fended off the machinegun fire the enemy attempted to bring to bear on us. With the two naval vessels now removed from the equation, and the landing craft still a non-issue, we moved to engage the heavily armoured and massive 270m (886') Jormungand whose limited propulsion had driven it closer to shore as it attempted to bring its impressive batteries to bear on Blackwood and the Aces Wild tanks. The vessel was so long that the optimum range my medium lasers were rated for, due to limitations in the weapon's focusing array and the ability of my targeting systems to accurately aim and compensate for hundreds of variables, was actually the same distance meaning that if I stood at the bow of the vessel my systems would have difficulty accurately hitting a 'mech-sized target on the vessel's stern. As our three 'mechs charged the massive battleship from its starboard side Steve's large lasers raked across the vessel's conning tower, the powerful beams carving impressive trenches through several unarmoured radar and communication dishes while a salvo of missiles and autocannon fire rained down on the same tower from Blackwood and Drake's units from a more forward angle. The combined fire destroyed several important looking pieces of equipment from the vessel but did little against the 216 tons of armour the Jormungand carried. In retaliation the Jormungand's crew turned its rear artillery turret towards our group and fired all three of its mounted 30 ton long tom cannons, the massive shells arcing out slightly before dropping down near the weapon's minimum range, the damage to the ship's radar systems and Dexter's continuing ECM coverage thankfully preventing a direct hit. However, the large 200kg shells of the Long Tom artillery cannons still had a tremendous blast radius on them and as we raced forward in waist deep water I barely registered the splash in the water some 30m ahead of me before the world around me exploded. One second my Mongoose was charging along through the 6m (20') deep water at nearly 65km/h and the next, at least the next second I was conscious for, I was surrounded by darkness and the acrid smell of burnt electronics and smoke. I heard something spark nearby and there was a consistent ringing in my ears that seemed to be getting louder and louder before finally resolving into the sound of damage alarms and klaxons, although the ringing was also still present though now slightly muted. I snapped open my eyes as my faculties returned in full but the my vision was still nothing but darkness for a split second before a couple of the screens inside my neurohelmet momentarily sparked to life. I could feel something warm running down the side of my face and I reached up to bang on the neurohelmet, seriously hoping the device wasn't too badly damaged, whatever connection had been knocked loose seemed to reset itself at this point as all the HUD screens came back to life, though not in unison, and I was once again treated to the augmented reality view offered by the neurohelmet's cameras and its built in HUD systems. Had I been an outside observer I would have witnessed my rather diminutive 25 ton Mongoose run face first into the impressive blast of a high-explosive long tom artillery shell, the shockwave itself sufficient to blast the entirety of the water in a roughly 15m radius clean away leaving dry land in its place for a fraction of a second. When the wave of water and explosive force struck my Mongoose it physically halted its forward momentum and lifted the machine off its feet, or perhaps simply caught it mid-stride but either way the end result was the 'mech landing on its back in the water and being swamped by the sea as it rushed back to fill void created by the blast. Inside the cockpit of the unfortunate 'mech angry red damage alerts were plastered across multiple screens and various alarms were trying their best to deafen me as they all competed for attention, silencing the worst offenders I quickly assessed my situation and was both thankful and surprised to find that despite the blast and the incredible level of damage inflicted upon my 'mech there somehow was still no armour breaches save for the previously damage left arm; which was rather fortuitous given the fact that my machine was currently completely underwater. Re-orientating myself I set about first sitting the Mongoose up and would then follow with attempting to stand the machine up, as the cockpit breached the surface of the Sarathi Sea my radio chose that moment to come to life, although I hadn't realized it wasn't working previously. "... Reaper-1, Commander, please respond," came Marius' nearly frantic voice. "I'm here Reaper-2, blast must have knocked out my comms for a minute," I replied, continuing to work on getting the 'mech standing once again, "I'm alright, pretty banged up but she's holding together believe it or not." "That's good to hear sir," answered Lennox with an audible sigh, "Let's get you back on your feet and moving." "Agreed," I replied, maneuvering my Mongoose's arm to clasp Marius' 'mech's outstretched hand, the Mongoose having fully functional hand actuators allowing the unit to grasp onto things in the same manner as a person might help pull someone else up. Running a quick diagnostic as we set to continuing our advance, as standing still was just inviting another salvo of fire from the still looming Jormungand, I noted that while I hadn't suffered any new armour breaches the previous damage to my 'mech's left arm had left it open to the salty sea water and its ingress into the internals had shorted out the medium laser located there, along with the actuators and myomer bundles. There was a chance that the weapon could become operational again once the water finished draining out of the limb and if the DI computer deemed it safe to attempt to reestablish a power connection but until then I was down nearly 1/3rd of my 'mech's firepower. A sudden explosion bloomed across the deck of the Jormungand behind one of its turrets followed quickly another, the size of the explosions larger than anything we had on hand and I assumed one of us had managed to land a lucky blow on something vital, or at least exposed, on the threatening battleship. Toggling the unit comm I made to congratulate whoever was responsible, "Nice shot whoever that was, let's see if we can follow up with some more." "That wasn't us Reaper-1," replied Alexander, a note of cautious optimism in his voice, "It came from the far side of the ship." "We'll take credit for that one Reaper-1," came an unfamiliar voice on the Aegis channel, something that could only be done if someone had hacked the comm link or been given authorized access, "And these as well." As if to punctuate their announcement another pair of explosions rippled across the armoured forward artillery turret of the Jormungand followed closely by a staccato of azure streaks of particle beam weaponry as 8 PPC blasts ripped into the port side of the enemy ship. These vicious attacks were then followed up by series of 80 smaller explosions that cascaded across a larger portion of the ship as 40 long range missiles rained down across the vessel's main deck and 40 long range torpedoes ravaged the vessels waterline dealing notable, but still comparatively insignificant damage to the heavily armoured vessel. "S.N.S. Trident, at your service Commander. I am Captain Sisko, we were told there were some Capellans that forgot they didn't own this planet anymore. I can see they were right," continued the unfamiliar voice, her military tone belied the friendly demeanor of her exchange, "We'll work on this beast from our side, but even with our Typhoon it's going to take some time." "Copy that Captain," I replied, "We'll do what we can to keep the pressure on over here. You're assistance is greatly appreciated." The S.N.S. (Sheratan Navy Ship) Trident was a Rapier-class Patrol Destroyer, an 8,500 ton blue water navy vessel armed to the teeth with PPCs, Arrow IV artillery, missiles, torpedoes, and even a pair of large lasers. The vessel had a large cargo hold and a helipad capable of supporting standard and heavy VTOLs, Aerospace Fighters or even Small Craft, provided of course they were capable of VTOL flight, in addition the destroyer had a trio of light vehicle bays primarily meant for support or landing craft use. The Typhoon that Captain Sisko mentioned was an ancient Lyran 90 ton heavy aerospace fighter that was primarily meant for a ground attack role and was equally suited for attacking naval vessels as it was for destroying land based targets. The ancient pre-Star League design boasted paired PPCs alongside 4 large lasers in its wings and a nose mounted LRM-15 just for good measure and despite its age the fighter still holds up well against modern forces, its heavy armour allowing devastating strafing runs against ground or naval targets.
  23. Hollingsworth Agrifoods Daggaknott, Sheratan III Sheratan System - Tikonov Free Republic October 27, 3030 ______________________________________________ "Reaper-4 is recovered," Mallory's voice crackled over the comms as my Shadow Hawk breached the surface of the water, its canopy glass polarizing in the glare of the morning sun. I breathed a sigh of relief - after Nick's ejection, I'd been worried about the chances of him getting shot out of the sky, taken prisoner on the ground, or worse. "We're headed back to the staging area now." As I trudged toward the shore, several artillery rounds fell around me and a number of autocannon rounds and missiles corkscrewed past my cockpit. The Jormungand and its submarine escort, while bereft of their steering gear, were still threats that would need addressing, but I couldn't do that on my own. I had to link back up with Commander Jaeger and the rest of the Aegis Division units so that we could mount a proper response. The beach stretched before me, the sand shifting beneath my feet as my Shadow Hawk sought purchase among the shells and rocks, scattered hostile infantry and vehicles still standing between me and the Hollingsworth crop fields. "Shit," I swore as hail of small-arms fire greeted me. I quickly tucked my BattleMech into a defensive posture, my autocannon, missile launchers, and laser swiveling towards my attackers as I prepared for the inevitable counterattack. Suddenly, my cockpit was slammed with a massive concussion and I was thrown backward in my seat. As I regained my senses, I realized that I had a heavy support infantry squad bearing down on me, armed with 20 Imperator AX-22 assault rifles and eight David light gauss rifles. Ten of the twenty infantrymen were mounted on three-wheel motortrikes. A squad this heavily armed was definitely capable of taking out a BattleMech if I didn't act quickly. "Reaper-1, this is Ceres-1, I'm en route back to your location, but I'm tangling with some heavy ground resistance. Mix of assault and light gauss rifles. Gonna be a few minutes before I can get to your position," I advised as I rapidly calculated my next move. I had to get rid of these infantry and their motortrikes fast, before they could do any more damage. I decided to lead with my autocannon, picking off the motortrikes first before targeting the infantry. My first few shots were true, causing a pair of the motortrike drivers headed toward me to swerve and crash into each other. As the smoke cleared, I identified the next target and opened fire, showering the infantry with a barrage of SRM rounds. A series of exploisions rippled through the sand as the infantry scattered and returned fire, their fearsome weapons coring into my armor. I felt the impacts, but my Shadow Hawk held. I quickly switched targets, unleashing a volley of LRMs that caught another of the motortrike drivers in the back and sent him crashing into the sand, his vehicle erupting in a ball of flames. The rest of the infantry scattered, some of them firing wildly as they ran for cover. I turned my attention away from them and towards my next target, a light tank that had been hidden from view by a sand dune. My autocannon and missiles pounded the tank, ripping it apart and sending its remains spiraling towards the ground in a shower of sparks and smoke. With the tank destroyed, I quickly surveyed my surroundings, my vision slowly clearing. The infantry had retreated, but I wasn't out of the woods yet. A shrill scream erupted from my Shadow Hawk's targeting computer, and I pivoted toward the river in time to see the one remaining warship that still had steering, the Silverfin coastal cutter, moving into weapons range. "Reaper-1, this is Ceres-1, I'm engaging the Silverfin. Stand by," I reported, cycling my BattleMech's targeting computer onto the vessel. The moment I had a missile lock, I launched my LRMs and they streaked towards the vesse;. The ship turned sharply to the left, trying to avoid the incoming barrage, but it was too late - the LRMs slammed into the side of the ship, tearing a hole in its hull, and the cutter quickly rolled onto its side, smoke billowing from its wound. A thunderous retort from the Jormungand sent multiple blue PPC bolts and autocannon rounds streaking past my cockpit, and I knew that I'd been spotted. It was time to retreat to the Aegis Division line. I fired the Shadow Hawk's jump jets, clearing the small ridge between the shore line and the fields, and quickly set a course for Commander Jaeger's lance. A few moments later, I spotted Orlex and Marius' twin Mongoose BattleMechs, Steve's Crab, and Dexter's Raven in a defensive formation around the large crater that Aces Wild had blown in the surface of the field to gain access to the desalination facility. "Nice to have you back, Reaper-1," Jaeger advised as I fell in with the others. "Good to be back, Commander. What's our next move from here?" I responded. "In case you had forgotten, gentlemen, there's still a battleship out there doing untold amounts of damage to this facility," Tribune Guaverra's voice interjected on the comms. "And despite whatever efforts you've made, it's been noticed by some of the locals. We're setting up a law enforcement perimeter now and putting out the story that there are controlled demolitions underway at the Hollingsworth facility, but you mercs need to do your part and get that boat shut down quickly." "Copy that, Home Plate," Jaeger replied, a hint of frustration in his tone. "Where are those naval assets you promised us?" "They'll be here promptly. Just hold position and do what you can to keep that battleship away from the facility," Guaverra replied. "Understood," Orlex acknowledged. "Reaper-1 out." I loaded my weapons systems and checked my systems one last time. "Reaper-1, I'm ready to ready to rock and roll whenever you are." "Alright, Ceres-1. Let's get this done," Jaeger confirmed, the tone of his voice shifting to one of determination. It was time to take on the Jormungand.
  24. Hollingsworth Agrifoods Daggaknott, Sheratan III Sheratan System - Tikonov Free Republic October 27, 3030 ______________________________________________ All the gunner turret did was let me see a whole bunch of dead plants from a few feet higher up. The fields were huge, and there was still gunfire all over the place. I had no idea how we were gonna find Nick in time. Then the BRV started moving. I jumped back down to the cab thinking maybe Nick had radioed in or something, but Mallory said Bob was just driving a search pattern in hopes of getting lucky and seeing some sign of a person on the heat sensors that were usually for identifying heat signatures of mechs and vehicles. Between driving and messing with the computer, Mallory and Bob were both busy, so I went back up to the gun turret, even though I really really didn’t want to be the one to have to shoot somebody if we got attacked again. The BRV drove across to the other side of the field, then along the tree line, which let me see into the ditches and the shrubs along fences enough to know there was definitely nobody there. Then we crossed over into the next field where there were slightly different looking dead plants. There was a massive explosion in the distance, and I hoped that was just mechs fighting each other and not near where Nick was. The only thing that stood out at all from the dead farm landscape was some kind of machinery that must’ve been up on a thin pole in the distance. I couldn’t tell what it was, just that it was up high and had a light that flashed occasionally. Maybe some kind of crop theft surveillance? Only then I realized it was moving, and then there was a flash below it like something on the ground had got hit with a laser. I pressed the radio button and said “hey guys, us and the Bridgeburners don’t have any helicopters or other flying stuff, right?” “That’s affirmative, Thermo Man,” Bob responded. “Some flying thing just shot a laser. It’s way behind us - I can’t figure out what it is but maybe we should check it out.” “Good idea,” A different voice said over the radio - Mallory this time. “Coming about.” The BRV turned around and started zooming and bouncing back the way we’d come. I spun the seat around to keep eyes on the flying thing and make sure I didn’t lose it, and then braced my feet on the wall so I wouldn’t get spun all over the place by how fast we were going. We were a bit off course, so I radioed the cab again. “The thing’s ahead now, but we’ve got to go a little to the right -” the BRV turned farther off course “- wait, sorry, other right, I mean left. You’ve got it at twelve o’ clock now.” “We’ve got a sensor blip in that direction,” Mallory said. “Do you know how to use that gun?” “Uh, I’ve never actually shot anybody, but um,” the flying thing slowly hovered back and forth, like somebody holding a whack-a-mole mallet while all the moles were hiding. “Yeah. I know how to use it.” The flying thing broke out of its search pattern and started heading right for us, getting bigger and bigger. The thing had no windows, just a bunch of sensor lenses like freaky eyes and a laser gun on the bottom. I stared at it, and it stared back. Then its gun swiveled toward the BRV. I aimed the controls of the BRV’s gun at the thing’s creepy black camera eyes just as Mallory said “you’re in range, shoot it down!” over the radio. I pulled the trigger and so did it and a section of the BRV’s roof got melty and the thing dropped out of the sky. I yelled “holy shit!” and I guess I must’ve been louder than I thought because Mallory radioed again and said “it’s an unmanned drone, you didn’t kill anybody.” I watched the thing shoot its laser uselessly into the ground a couple times as we drove past, and then looked all around for any place Nick might have taken cover. This must’ve been one of the first sections of field to get blighted - what was left of the plants was bone dry instead of sludgey, like maybe there wasn’t much rain around here and it’d been a long time since the farmer bothered to irrigate. Then I saw it - something dark among the dry plants and pale dust. I yelled “guys, I saw blood!” Mallory responded on the radio. “We were watching the heat signatures - it was definitely an unmanned configuration.” “No, stop the truck, we only just passed it - I think the thing lasered Nick!” The BRV stopped and I jumped down into the cab and Mal grabbed his first aid kit and told me that laser wounds don’t usually bleed much, but we should still check it out. Mal opened the BRV’s door and I said “hold the fort, Bob” and Bob saluted even though we were just mercenary mech repair guys. After Mallory got out I ran past and found the spot where there was something dark and thick on a clump of dead plants. I yelled “Nick!” but of course with our luck nobody answered. There weren’t footprints exactly, but there was a sort of trail where you could tell something had moved the dusty soil around. Mallory said “stay in sight of the BRV, you go that way and I’ll go this way” and I nodded and went. There wasn’t any more blood except for some small dark bits in the dirt that were probably just rocks (I really hoped they were just rocks) but the scuff marks in the dirt kept going and I even saw a couple boot prints. It finally ended at a rocky ditch at the border between fields - but not where the ejector seat was, like if I’d been following the start of the trail and Mallory was following the end. I yelled “Nick! Are you here?” and started running down the edge of the ditch looking for him, since if there was no dirt track he must have walked in the gravel. Then from behind me I heard a groggy “hey…” I whirled around and ran the other way along the ditch til I found Nick huddled with his back against a big rock. He looked super pale - not just white guy pale but dead guy pale, with his lips turning blue and everything. I yelled “Nick!” and ran to him. His eyes got more focused when I kneeled down in the grass next to him. “Levi, what are you doing here?” “Looking for you! We saw you’d ejected so we came out here with the BRV and followed the drone.” I threw my jacket off because I knew you’re supposed to press something on the wound to stop the bleeding, only then I realized it had motor oil on it and a bunch of screwdrivers and things in the pockets that would probably hurt Nick if I tried to use it for that. So I tossed it on the ground and took off my shirt to use instead. Nick said “shit, I’m hallucinating” and then I pressed the shirt into his wound and he shrank back and scrunched his eyes closed and made this awful sound like he was trying not to scream. I yelled “Sorry!” and then tried to make my voice softer even though I was freaking out. “Sorry, it’s to stop the bleeding - I think your blood robots aren’t keeping up.” “‘s okay.” “Can you hold it in place for a sec? I need to radio Mallory.” I moved my hand partly out of the way so that Nick could take my place without taking the pressure off the wound too much, and he did, and we managed to make the switch with him only wincing a little. Then I pulled my jacket back on and pressed the button of the radio mic clipped to the front pocket. “Mallory, I found him.” “Thank god.” The radio crackled, and then Mallory said “can he walk? No back, neck or head injuries?” Nick nodded, and then I said “yeah” into the radio. “I’ll return to the BRV and we’ll drive toward your radio signal.” “Sounds good.” I offered Nick a hand to help him get up, and then realized one of his hands was holding the makeshift bandage and the other was at the end of an arm with a huge bullet hole in it. So instead I crouched next to him and squeezed my arm between his back and the rock so I could get it around his waist. I said, “let’s try like this.” Nick said “okay,” and so I tried to stand us up. We kinda stumbled, but Nick took a step forward just in time and I followed his lead and we didn’t fall back over. He seemed kind of shaky, so I kept my arm around him to steady him as we walked back to the BRV. “I really thought I was toast,” Nick said. “My radio broke in the landing, then this, and the drone - just, thank you for coming.” “I’m just glad you’re okay - I mean, relatively,” I added, glancing at his shoulder wound. The wadded up shirt he held against it was totally soaked through. “I was really scared.” The BRV started moving toward us, kicking up a big cloud of dust - Mallory must have got in on the other side. I could still hear gunfire and crashing noises elsewhere on the battlefield, but at least relative safety was close.
  25. Underground Desalination Plant (under Daggaknott Fields Hollingsworth AgriFoods) Duggaknott, Sheratan III Sheratan System - Free Republic of Tikonov October 27, 3030 _______________________________________________ "These guys definitely didn't expect to be dealing with an armored exoskeleton and I can tell you it's a sight to behold," commented Lazarus, looking up at my power armor as my weapon cools down. “Ha, thanks,” I replied, “I’m just glad I could help. Lazarus, Eagle and Crash, what's our next move?" “We blow the charges and get out of here?” Crash asked. “Not yet,” I replied. “Our mission is to stop the Capellans and get to the source of the plague. Before we can bring the roof down on them, but we still need to figure out what's going on here." "Agreed," said Eagle. “Furthermore, it is clear that the Capellans will unleash hell when faced with allegations that they poisoned the Sheratan crops, no matter how guilty they are. We need proof." We all nodded and headed deeper into the old desalination plant. The alarms continued to blare, and I doubted we'd seen the last Capellan commands. As we entered a long, huge, warehouse-like room marked "Pre-processing 1" and surrounded by pools on either side of the room, Lazarus whistled softly. "What the hell is this place?" he asked. “Here they bring sea water and start desalination,” I replied. "But I don't see any pumps running or anything." “What about all the water then?” Crash asked. I shrugged. "Got me. But whatever it is, it can't be good." We advanced cautiously, our weapons at the ready. I had a bad feeling about this place and didn't think we would like what we found. After another turn, we entered a small chamber labeled "Preprocessing 2". As soon as I stepped through the door, I was hit by a powerful laser beam, melting the front of my armor. I staggered back, my armor smoking. I felt the heat of the explosion even through my armor and knew I was lucky to be alive. "Contact! Enemy contact! I shouted, raising my weapon. The rest reacted quickly, ducking for cover and returning fire. Now I could see the enemy, Capellan commandos in combat armor, moving into position behind cover and returning fire. I drew my lase rifle and started firing, killing two of them before they could duck for cover. Simultaneously, Lazarus, Eagle, and Crash dived for cover and opened fire with their own weapons, a fierce firefight engulfing the hall. The enemy fire was merciless, and I felt my armor crumble from the hits. Several of my power armor electronics simply failed. I gritted my teeth as I continued to fire back, my own shots killing a few more of the enemy. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, the enemy fire ceased, and I heard the sound of retreating boots. The door at the other end of the room slammed shut, and I saw the giant lock handle turn. As we cautiously moved forward, we discovered a large reservoir filled with a dark, cloudy substance. I could only assume it was some kind of chemical and suspected that we had found the source of the plague. But we needed more evidence. “Ceres 3 - Aventine 1, we have moved to preprocessing 2. Enemy forces neutralized or retreating. We found something. I don't know if this is what we're looking for, but it looks like sample that Reaper-1 has recovered. We have one more problem. I believe the Capellans blocked the passage to and from the reverse osmosis chamber. We may have to blow the door. "Got it, Ceres 3, we're on our way," Frosty radioed to me. “Take care of your six. Don't think the Capellans are gone." "Copy it," I replied. We waited in silence, our guns pointed at the door while we waited for reinforcements. I had a feeling that once we got behind the reverse osmosis chamber, we would find the evidence needed to prove that the Capellans were behind the plague. I just hoped we'd get there in time.
  26. MEANWHILE..... I Banged my Crab across the farm fields going toward the chemical Silos, all kinds of War was exploding all around me and the Panther Mech was still chasing behind me, I had to get to the silos and figure out how to get my Crab on top of them so I could shoot at the ships in the bay. I was looking in my rearview mirror when all of a sudden I heard a huge CRASH and I screamed because I was crashing through a burning farmhouse,I really quick grabbed the steering wheel and turned my Crab so I wouldn't go into the living room where a man and his wife were fighting about whether or not to have kids, I smashed through their kitchen and out the back, the Panther Mech was still behind me but I had a plan, I turned my Crab around and put my foot on the pedal, I was doing about 150 KPH when I rammed the Panther Mech and sent it flying over backwards. While it was trying to get back up I really quick put my Crab into reverse and backed up to the edge of the Silo, I backed around the corner and started looking around and trying to figure out how to get on top of the silo with my Mech. There was a ladder but it was too small for my Mech to climb. Then I saw a ramp that was probably for trucks to dump things inside the silo, it wasnt made for Mechs but I could probably drive up it if I was careful. I put my Crab in first gear and started slowly backing up the ramp, I heard its transmission making all kinds of groin grabbing noises as it tried to go up the hill in a gear that was too low for it. All I could hear were the gears grinding and the back up beeper getting more and more loud as I got closer and closer to the top of the ramp, I was almost to the top when I heard the most horrifying noise I had ever heard in my life, the sound of the Panther Mech coming onto the ramp behind me, the Panther must of heard the beeper on my Mech backing up and come after me. I gunned it as my Crab got to the top of the ramp and the Panther came right at me, we were up in the air on top of a Silo where there was no room to maneuve so I steered away as far as I could, I guess the Panther pilot was too distraced and didnt realize where we were because the next thing I Knew his Panther had went right over the edge of the silo and come crashing down into the ground with a giant fireball. I let out a victory Scream but just then I felt the most terrible thing, the silo was giving out under my Crab, I guess having 2 Mechs on top of it was too much weight and it was about to collapse, I tried to get my Crab off but it was too late, the roof of the silo crashed in and my Mech fell into the chemicals being stored below. All of the sudden a bunch of liquid started spraying out of my air conditioning vents and I screamed because it smelled like ass and I slapped my control panel trying to turn off the Climate Control, finally I got the vents closed and the spray stopped, I was coughing and my eyes were watering from the noxious fumes but I was still alive, for now. I didn't know what the chemicals were but I knew they werent going to be good for my Crab or me, I had to get out of there fast. I started crashing my Crab into the sides of the silo trying to make a hole big enough to get out, finally I made a hole big enough to fit my Crab through and I backed out into the fresh air, as all of the silo chemicals dumped out into the field. I took a big breath of air and felt better, but the enemy battleships were still out on the water and we had take them out. "REAPER-3, enemy mech destroied!" I yelled into my radio, then I heard a bunch of replies that sound like the speaker at the drive through, then I heard CDR Jaeger say "OK Steve get back in formation, we're going to take out the Capellan ships!!" "ROGER THAT I'M ON MY WAY!" I Yelled, I still felt weirdass from the chemicals but I was ready to kick some Capellan butt, I put my Mech in gear and I went to find CDR Jaeger and everybody else.
  27. Somewhere in the Holingsworth Agrifoods fields Daggaknott, Sheratan III Sheratan System - Tikonov Free Republic October 27, 3030 ______________________________________________ With a heavy crash, the ejection seat smashed unceremoniously into the war-torn crop field, narrowly avoiding being skewered on a sharp metal fence post. I cursed as I unstrapped myself from the chair, my hands fumbling in the panic of the moment as the sounds of battle raged around me. I was disoriented, and it was only the training that allowed me to orient myself and find my bearings. I quickly checked my gear, noting that all I had on me was the small pistol and Bowie knife that were stored in the ejection seat's survival kit along with a small ration of ammunition. I had no armor, just the shorts, t-shirt, and boots I'd been wearing in the cockpit. I ran my hands along my arms and ribs, making sure that I was still operational. I was. I quickly moved behind a small berm, using what little cover the field provided to assess the situation. By my last count, all of the enemy 'Mechs had been taken out except for the Panther, and the last I saw, it was in hot pursuit of Steve Jenkins' Crab as he drew it away from the main battle force. But the now-rudderless Jormungand and its escort were still bombarding the farm from the bay while various infantry and vehicles grappled with Marius, Orlex, and Dexter's BattleMechs. And I was in the thick of it. "Reaper-4 to Home Plate." I called on my radio. "I am on the ground and requesting recovery at these coordinates." I looked at the faceplate of my handset and realized with chagrin that the positioning display had been completely smashed in the landing. Worse still, the radio itself displayed XMTR FAILURE in angry red letters, indicating that I was only talking to myself. I quickly considered my options. I could try to make my way back to the staging area, but that would be a risky gamble with little chance of success. I could stay hidden and hope that the fighting moved on, but that seemed like a coward's way out. No, I decided, I would have to take my chances and make a run for it. I waited for a lull in the fighting and then made my break, sprinting as fast as I could toward where I assumed the Aegis Division line was, away from the coast. It was a long shot, but I had to try. I zigzagged my way across the field, using whatever cover I could find to avoid being seen. I could hear the sound of 'Mechs and vehicles moving around me, and the occasional shot being fired, but I didn't dare look back. I just ran. And then I was hit. I don't know what hit me, but it threw me forward, a hole exploding in the front of my shirt as I hit the ground hard. Firey pain shot through my right shoulder, and I could feel warm blood running down my arm. I'd felt this sensation before. It was the pain of a bullet blow-through. I gritted my teeth and forced myself to my feet. I had to keep moving. As I burst through the crops, I heard the sudden whine of a drone overhead and then the telltale hiss of a laser rifle being fired. I dove for cover behind a small outcropping of rock just as the coherent energy beam struck, sending a spray of dirt and debris over me. I cursed my luck. Someone was playing aerial spotter, and I'd just become the target. It seemed like the whole damned universe was against me. I ducked back behind the rock, listening for the sound of the drone's engine, my mind racing. What the hell was I supposed to do now? I was completely cut off from the main force, and without radio or armor, I was as good as dead. I considered making a run for it again, but I knew it was pointless. I was completely surrounded, and the sniper was between me and the only way out. I was trapped.
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