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Three days later...

C.V. Hurry Up Bessie
Ozymandias Station 
Vega System, Draconis Combine 
May 30, 3029 
______________________________

Orlex Jaeger, Alyssa Chase, Steve Jenkins, and I sat around the table in the darkened market display room aboard the Hurry Up Bessie, comparing notes and reviewing an expansive schematic of Ozymandias Station that spilled across the chamber's triple displays.

We'd been pleasantly surprised by the amount of leg work that Malice had done in the months leading up to our arrival in the Vega system. During his unwitting stay aboard the yardship, Malice and several of his cohorts had managed to scout out nearly ninety percent of the Ozymandias docking facilities, making technical notes, observing shift rotations, and recording intricate details of security measures in use. With the amount of intelligence the pirates had managed to gather, I was, at first, surprised that Malice and crew hadn't been able to remove the impounded vessel on their own. But the pirate clarified that he wasn't a "computer guy," nor were any of his brothers-in-arms; the sole buccaneer who had been technologically-proficient was one of the unfortunate souls carted off by the Kuritan authorities.

While Alyssa pored over a series of photographs that depicted the various alarm panels, bay controls, and counter intrusion-systems protecting the impound dock, I pivoted in my chair to look toward Orlex and Steve. As I did so, my noteputer chirped and displayed a message balloon from the Obsidian Dawn.

CPT. MAXWELL LT. WEYLAND OUT OF SURGERY & IN RECOVERY // PER YOUR REQUEST PT TO XFER TO HURRY UP BESSIE FOR OUTPATIENT REHAB // TO ARRIVE BY COURIER +2 HOURS // READE, DR. H.

I pushed a button on the unit to acknowledge the message and looked across the table at the Lieutenant and Sergeant.

"Alright, as I understand it, Bishop is supposed to be back aboard in around 2 hours. How are you gents looking with your plan of attack? Have we hammered out an action plan for taking out those docking clamps while simultaneously making enough of a scene elsewhere that the dockmaster and his guys will be suitably distracted?"

"Well," Orlex began, "I wasn't imagining that we'd be trying to get a Triumph-class DropShip out of impound, but I think I may have a plan..."

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C.V. Hurry Up Bessie
Ozymandias Station
Vega System, Draconis Combine
May 30, 3029
____________________________________

"Well," I began, "I wasn't imagining that we'd be trying to get a Triumph-class DropShip out of impound, but I think I may have a plan..."

I tapped in a few short commands on the console and one of the large displays in the market room flickered black for a second before pulling up a diagram of a Triumph-class DropShip with key points identified.

705000830_Triumph(RWRSValhalla-Vegaedit).thumb.png.bd234bfc9702c585c7c7f428950fe68c.png

"This is a representation of Malice's ship, the RWRS Valhalla, a Triumph-class aerodyne dropship currently being held in impound aboard Ozymandias Station. I say representation since Malice declined to share any details about his vessel beyond its class but we can probably safely assume it's been modified if it is indeed his main vessel. So we can ignore the weapon details as those are the base model, however the rest of the information may be useful," I continued, using a holo cursor to identify the points of interest as I spoke, "As you can see there is a standard docking collar on the dorsal side of the craft located just behind the bridge, this is currently connected to the Ozymandias' docking system and presumably locked down since the vessel is impounded. However, that is not the only means of entry onto the Valhalla, both port and starboard sides have large cargo bay doors with external access with a third door somewhat hidden on the aft portion of the ship with access to the infantry platoon bay. I doubt the pirates have 4 platoons of foot infantry so it's anyone's guess what this cargo bay is used for now. Malice and his crew should be able to access their vessel from one of these three doors and once inside can make their way to the bridge, since it's their ship they should be familiar with the layout and it doesn't concern us much."

"What's up with the RWRS prefix, that's the really old Rim Worlds Republic isn't it?" inquired Steve, "I thought they were long gone, like way back over 250 some years ago or more."

"They are long gone Steve," answered Charles, "I'm guessing the belt pirates either couldn't be bothered to change the name, or they like that having that name would mess with just about every Inner Sphere power."

"Huh, I suppose getting raided by a 'ghost' ship would probably freak out most people," chuckled Steve.

"And considering all the rumours surrounding the demise of the Rim Worlds Republic most people would probably dismiss initial reports of a Rim Worlds Navy ship preying on traders," I added before continuing, "The Valhalla's engines will be shutdown and one of the first priorities should be to get them booted up and running, the main power plant should still be running in low power mode providing basic system power and life support. This means firing up the engines should just be a matter of regaining system control and firing up the fuel pumps. Alyssa if you can hack the impound computers you should be able to disrupt the lockouts that are keeping the ship grounded, better yet if we can get that docking collar disconnected it'll cut the ship out of their system entirely. That leaves the impound docking clamps, according to Malice there are four of them located roughly where it shows on the diagram. These are huge armoured manipulators powered by BattleMech-grade myomer with hydraulic backups, the clamps themselves are electromagnetic and meant to hold the ship in place during repairs. Or in our case to prevent the ship from leaving, or at least making it leave behind some significant chunks of its hull if it does manage to take-off."

"That brings me to my part of this endeavour, there's a control room overlooking this section of the dock which has manual controls for the repair arms/impound clamps. If we can gain access to it then we should be able to manually move the arms out of the way once we release the clamps. Problem is the clamp controls appear to be locked out and require administrator access, I didn't think that would be a problem, but I'll let Alyssa explain," I said as I sat back.

"Orlex is right, typically admin access would be relatively easy but for whatever reason the controls for the impound arms and clamps are located on an isolated network, I won't be able to access it while I'm working on the rest of the system. I'd have to physically be present in that control room to tie into that network and then I don't know how long it would take to actually crack into the system. You'd need the specific administrator access card to unlock the controls in a timely fashion, or if you could fool the system into thinking there was an emergency or failure of some kind it would automatically unlock the controls," Alyssa explained.

"So that's what I'm going to do, I'm going break stuff. I need to physically get onto the ship and out to the where the impound clamps are, once there I can initiate a manual override on the clamps and with a little help from a cutting torch I can sever the myomer bundles, or at least damage them enough that the system thinks there is a failure. That will unlock the manual controls and we can still move the manipulators with the hydraulic backup systems," I said as everyone turned their attention back to me.

"As for a distraction," I continued, "I was thinking we could discretely upload a virus that could mess with the automated repairs and the docking collars in either the military docking zone or that secluded section that appears to be for Yakuza owned ships. It wouldn't have to be anything major but a few minor collisions or fresh armour getting stripped off and tossed into space would probably be enough to give our dockmaster friend a bad day. Well either that or if Steve Jenkins can pull off one those insane 'coincidences' I've heard about, something about a rumoured special book? I haven't seen one yet but I've heard rumours and from the sounds of it they can be quite distracting."

Steve just gave a huge smile and nodded, "Yep! That they are, though it might be dangerous on a space station, I don't really know what I'll get."

"Alright, so let's do a quick recap then just to make sure we're all together," replied Charles, "Alyssa will bring down or circumvent the surveillance systems near our docked vessel while we use a virus or Jenkins' natural aptitude to cause a suitable distraction. Malice and I, will then convince any remaining dockhands or other personnel why they need to let us get into one of the cargo bays onboard the Valhalla. With any luck there won't be many people left and we'll be able to get Malice's crew onboard without issue as well. Meanwhile Orlex will be making his way to the docking clamps and manually disabling each one while Alyssa works on deactivating the docking collar and any system lockouts the station has on the Valhalla's computer systems. Once the computer systems are clear Malice should be able to fire up his engines and pilot his ship clear of the station after the docking clamps are removed. Alyssa will wipe the impound system of any records of the Valhalla or forge an official release, whichever is easier, and then we clear out before anyone catches on."

"Sounds about right to me sir," I said nodding, the plan itself was simple enough, even if certain components were rather complex in their own right, hopefully things went according to plan.

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“Escape the Wilderness”

Ozymandias Station 

Vega System, Draconis Combine 

May 30, 3029
____________________________________

Nathan, Gretchen and I stepped through the door of the lift and onto an old-fashioned train platform. Dust, dirt and prairie grass stretched far into the distance to either side of us, literally rising up to meet the horizon. A warm breeze carried the scents of fresh hay, horses and pine trees, or perhaps pine air freshener. In spite of the apparent wind, the sparse clouds were completely motionless against the sky, which itself was painted a slightly too-perfect shade of blue and wasn’t quite high enough above the ground to be convincing. The train station’s main signboard displayed a column of Japanese characters, which a smaller sign next to it translated as “Escape the Wilderness”.

 

Gretchen touched one of the train station’s window sills, as though checking whether the wood and flaking paint were real. The window itself was dark and opaque, probably painted black on the reverse side.

 

“Huh,” Nathan said, taking in the scene.

 

I gestured at a paved path with horseshoe prints embossed in the concrete. “I think we’re supposed to go this way.”

 

The path twisted around a grove of trees - a mix of small dogwoods, stunted pines of the type you’d expect to see painted on rice paper, and much larger “fir” trees that appeared to be repurposed christmas decorations. On the other side was a cluster of ramshackle wooden buildings laid out on either side of a dusty road. The signage was all in Japanese, aside from a first aid building, and a convenience store which advertised “trail rations” and “flask of drink” in multiple languages. The view through the windows of the remaining buildings seemed to indicate a clothing shop (with mostly costumes inside), a tavern, a gift shop and a noodle house. 

 

There were also a few illustrated signs pointing to things that weren’t on the main drag. One depicted a pale, thin woman floating out of the chimney of a rundown shack as though she was smoke; I guessed it might be advertising a haunted house. Another had a picture of a fat man sitting in a cut-off half of a barrel as it floated down a river.

 

At the end of the cluster of buildings was a paddock where tacked up horses, ponies and mules were hitched to the fence. A middle-aged woman with a bored expression sat on a stool in the shade of the building next door, sipping tea from a plastic cup. As we approached, she waved at us and pointed to a sign that listed prices for guided “horse adventures”.

 

“Ready to hit the trail?” I asked my crewmates.

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Obsidian Dawn

Bioengineering lab 4

In orbit of Ozymandias Station
Vega System, Draconis Combine 
May 24, 3029 
______________________________ 

“ Lieutenant....Lieutenant..can you hear me? It’s time to wake up.” Came a male voice. 

The voice was distant and soft, like a far way whisper in the wind. Bishop’s mind was a hazy fog from the narcotics and anesthesia. Trying as hard as he could the Skinwalker blinked several times allowing the bright lights of the recovery room in. 

“Visual and audio are online...patient is do well. Vitals are within norm doctor” 

Instinctively Bishop tried to sit up on his bed.  His body didn’t move... arms and legs were not responding to his mental commands. He started to thrash his torso as panic set in. He’s eyesight was still adjusting to the intense light.  The beast deep in his mind howled or was he growling... it didn’t matter. Is first instinct was to lash out and kill the closes person. 

“Easy Lieutenant....Easy calm down. We thought this would happen.... we haven’t powered up your arguments. Give me full visuals, full power” said the calm male voice. 

Like a light switch Bishops eyes adjusted, focused and cleared. There standing around him where medical staff dressed in scrubs and mirrored glass. This vision was so incredibly intense that he had to close his and slow his breathing. It was like he was seeing the world in high definition, colors textures were brighter and defined. 

“Good Bishop, your vitals are dropping, just relax and stay calm”. Bishop now recognized Doctor Morales’s voice. 

“I can’t move” growled the Skinwalker. 

“Yes, that will change here in a few seconds” came a new voice, Doctor Reade 

As promised by the Doctor Morales Bishop felt is limbs twitch, he also became aware that he had little to no feeling over most of his body. His skin felt numb. Slowly he collapsed both hands into a fist this relaxed them. They felt unusually powerful, then he wiggled his toes and rolled his ankles. Same feeling, all of his joint felt smooth yet strong. 

“Ok Bishop, sit-up and stand” said Doctor Reade now moving into Bishops view. 

Slowly the mercenary sat up, immediately Bishop felt heavy but also power full. It was almost as if he was wearing an invisible weighted blanket over his body. Sliding off the bed his bare feet hit the floor with a heavy Thunk, then he slowly straighten to his full hight. Something was off in his mind, at first his brain had trouble processing what he was seeing. Standing in a circle around him the medical staff stood silently watching him. Only Doctor Reade displayed any facial expression....one of admiration.... like a master craftsman admiring his work. 

Then it hit him like a LRM salvo, he was looking down on his watchers.  The Skinwalker now towered over all the of medical personnel.  Bishop began looking over his body, which was now covered in a medical gown. As his eye traced over himself, the mercenary heard the faint electronic whine of his eyes moving. 

“Ah! See....he’s becoming self aware, a beautiful site!” Exclaimed Doctor Reade. 

The room was filled with a soft murmur of whispering voices.  At that moment, Bishop could care less, he felt as if he was in a dream like state as he study his physique.  Catching movement out of the corner of his eye the Mercenary turreted his head left. A massive stainless steel mirror was rolled into place a few meters away from him. Without warning Doctor Morales appeared at Bishop’s side and grabbed the back of his of his surgical gown and pulled. In an instant the Skinwalker stood completely nude in front of everyone. His world stopped, soft red glowing eyes locked on the thing that stood in the mirror starring back at him. 

“Ladies and gentlemen... I give to you the son of Mars.... the Roman good of War!” Doctor Reade proclaimed with a madness in his eyes. The eyes of a man who was proud of his work. The crowed of medical staff applauded vigorously. 

Bishops mind raced, he was a now the monster of men’s dreams.... a leviathan from the deep.  His body looked as though it was chiseled from a flesh colored slab of Star League Amor. He looked like a bodybuilder, where human muscle showed through paper thin skin, now myomer bundles showed. Every fiber of synthetic myomer showed with massive protruding veins. He also observed that is skin was a patchwork of cauterized lines racing over most of his body. An old Terran horror movie came to his mind, Frankenstein. 

Doctor Reade circled Bisho like a shark swimming around a lone man in the water. 

“ Lieutenant Weyland....this is your post op briefing. As you are now keenly aware, my associates and have made some changes to your physique. We added considerable mass to your existing bone material. We have replaced most of you large muscle groups with myomer bundles, the result is an overall mass increase.... approximately 20 percent. Now...in order to support the mass and capabilities of the implants we had to increase your supporting muscle groups size and strength... we did this by injecting human growth hormone as well as vat grown muscle tissue. We also had to add reinforcement to your skeletal support system... by means of plating. We had to insure that your skeletal system could support the your new capabilities. I also added supplemental power supple, this will reduce the unfortunate side effects of the implants.  As promised Lieutenant... I have made you bigger, stronger and faster. You will be able to movie four times your body mass, have the endurance of a long distance runner with your mass increase and the reflexes better then a aerospace fighter.” 

Bishop thought for a long moment, still starring into the mirror. 

“What now?” He whispered. 

Doctor Reade smiled,

“Your training begins today. As we speak, a shuttle has been sent to your vessel. It contains medical equipment, datapads with information and a training regiment. We also add food supplies. You have to consume approximately three times more food in order to keep up with the energy demands of the implants, they will draw a considerable amount energy from you. You will also be required to write a quarterly report on your augmentation to include after action reports during combat. These of course will be forwarded through Doctor Kauffman. You will spend the next few months learning your strengths and fine tuning your implant responses. Again... refer to the datapads.  Any questions?”

 

“No” growled the Skinwalker. 

 

“Perfect! Doctor Morales will get you dressed and give you last minute instructions as you are in route to your vessel. It’s been a pleasure working with you Lieutenant... we are excited to see the data that you will provide use...so please stay alive in your future endeavors... you are worth allot to use”. Doctor Reade said with a smile. 

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With a heavy, pronounced "thunk," the S-7A-class bus called Scarab eased its significant girth down onto the deck of Bessie's main cargo hold, powerful electromagnet couplers engaging to secure the vessel to the deckplates. A moment later, the thunderous rumble of atmosphere rushing into the chamber gave way to a dull, grating klaxon and the popping sound of the hold's hatch unlocking. I glanced toward "Doc" Mallory Aldon, a temp that Charles had picked up aboard Ozymandias Station two days prior. The hire had been fast-tracked after an encounter between Steve Jenkins and the Medibot had gone particularly sideways following our evening of debauchery at the Screaming Dragon. While I wasn't privy to the specific circumstances of the incident, Charles had alluded to a tonsillectomy being a decidedly inappropriate treatment for an ailment that Steve had described as an "atomic wedgie," and at that point, I'd asked Maxwell to spare me further details. Now, Medibot had been relegated to Nathan Schmidt's lab assistant, and our temporary CMO had become a tall, lanky, bespectacled thirtysomething whose physical appearance resembled an exaggerated parody of William Kauffman's own physique. He came complete with a background as a combat medic and a penchant for wearing lab coats that resembled cowboy dusters. 

Clearly, "irreverent" was just how we did things.

"Look, Mal, I'm going to level with you. I don't know what's going to be getting off that shuttle, so I just want you to be prepared to roll with whatever personality we end up facing," I warned. I had very little insight into what actually had been done to Bishop during his time aboard the Obsidian Dawn, but the process that Charles had described was...brutal.

"Did you just call me 'Mal?'" Aldon asked, turning a bemused gaze toward me and pushing his glasses back up the bridge of his nose as we floated into the cargo bay. The Hurry Up Bessie, drydocked for maintenance at the yardship, was temporarily without gravity - an ideal scenario for receiving a patient on the mend from a total-body upgrade.

"Uh...yeah...I guess? But...more importantly, did you hear what I just said?" I pressed.

"Yeah. 'Be prepared for personality roulette.'  See? I was listening," the medic replied. "Also, more importantly, based on his prior trauma - both physical and psychological - I kinda figured there was going to be a chance of shenanigans. I came prepared."

In a single movement, Mal pulled a sheaf of holovids and a small vial from his coat pocket, flashed them in the air, and then tucked them away again. "Hold on," I interjected, drawing to a halt outside the shuttle's airlock and locking my mag boots to the deck grating. "You can't seriously be planning to treat him with Man-TLE?"

"Well, why not?" Mal grinned. "What's wrong with some vids and psychedelics?"

"Well, for one, it's bullshit, and two, those things are super-addictive. He could come out even more manic than he went in if you're not really careful," I admonished, giving the airlock hatch a tug as its cycle light flickered to green. "Why are you smiling at me?"

"You're pretty good at this triage business," the medic beamed. "You wanna help me with his rehab?"

"Oh, hell no. This show's all yours," I responded with a laugh. "I'm just here to make sure you don't get mauled."

Just then, to my astonishment, the hulking form of Lieutenant Weyland appeared within the airlock. He appeared to be walking under his own power.

"Bishop?" I gasped.

"Wow. He's big," Mal gasped.

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Ozymandias Station
Vega System, Draconis Combine
May 30, 3029
____________________________________

"Phantom to Mirage - Ghost and I are inside the perimeter," I whispered into the radio as Malice and I peered out from behind a tall stack of haphazardly-arranged miscellaneous engine components. After traversing a myriad and twisting series of corridors, utility conduits, and access hatches, Malice and I had arrived on the controlled-access side of the impound docks, behind the dockmaster's office and security checkpoints, tantalizingly close to the impounded vessels. From our position, I could see that the ships were actually moored within huge pressurized compartment, rather than in the vacuum of space. While this fact theoretically made access to the ships more straightforward, it also meant that we were without the convenience of the choke points and strategic delays that airlock tunnels between stations and ships tended to provide. If an internal security force spotted us illegally boarding a vessel and swarmed our location, we'd have no way to keep them off the ship.

"Mirage to Phantom - copy that," Orlex replied, his voice backdropped by shuffling and mechanical noises. "Wraith and I are still in transit to the overhead objective. The plan is still for us to try to get directly down to the ship via the docking umbilicals. But it's a lot tighter in here than the schematics indicated. What are you seeing down there?"

"Too many dock workers, patrols, and service technicians for us to be able to make any moves without everyone executing their parts simultaneously," I replied, whispering. "We're going to have minutes, if that, to get the objective out of here before the shit hits the fan and we get ganked. So we're going to need to pull these moves in tandem. You two shimmy down the utility conduit to the pier, slip aboard, and start doing your thing as we discussed in the briefing. When Dionysus starts creating a scene out in the dockmaster's lobby, Ghost and I will stroll over to the pier and make our way to join you at the objective as though we're a pair of buyers that've been let in by the dockmaster. I'm hoping that Dionysus will be able to keep said dockmaster occupied long enough that he won't answer his radio until we're aboard and shoving off."

Malice suddenly cut into the radio traffic.

"This is Ghost,"  Malice suddenly interjected. "What is your status, Dionysus? Are you in position? You need to be ready to execute when Mirage says go!"

Pensively, I peered through a set of field glasses at the thick, treelike bundle of service umbilicals descending from the ceiling to the moored vessels below, hoping to catch a glimpse of Orlex and Alyssa as they stealthily made their descent...

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Impound Docks
Ozymandias Station
Vega System, Draconis Combine
May 30, 3029
____________________________________

I shuffled along through the narrow maintenance tunnel, the schematics we'd had access to showed this a relatively large corridor that one could easily crawl through on their knees. In actual fact it was barely large enough for me to crawl on my elbows, at least with the lack of gravity it meant I could pull myself along at a reasonable pace but thank Blake I wasn't claustrophobic. A few paces behind me followed Alyssa, her lithe form having much less difficulty navigating the confined space of the maintenance tunnel. We reached the end of this particular tunnel which, according to the schematic, opened up into a central shaft of the docking umbilical currently attached to the docking collar aboard the Valhalla. Near the bottom of the treelike bundle of cables, hoses, and wires, which wrapped around an open framework and created this central shaft, was a cylindrical enclosed space which acted as both a coupler and provided access to the ship's airlock. Once there we could discretely access the Valhalla's docking collar with the docking umbilical itself concealing us from the Impound Dock's cameras and sensors.

I sliding out into the relatively open docking arm shaft and quietly said, "Oh man am I glad to be out of there."

"I'll second that," replied Alyssa as she slipped out of the tunnel and also stretched, "Alright, let's see what we're working with here."

I followed Alyssa down the retractable docking umbilical's central shaft which was large enough we could slip past each other with ease, and which also reached from the docking arm itself down to the vessel and the cylindrical coupler, the zero-G environment meant we could easily make our way down to the large coupler and the Valhalla's airlock without the need of our magboots. Once there she deftly removed the control panel cover, tied in her notputer to the circuit board beneath and began typing away commands before pausing and turning to me, "Alright, I can disable the Impound's electronic lock on the Valhalla's docking collar but the second I open this airlock the Impound's control board will be alerted. I can scramble that signal but I can't do both at the same time."

"What about a manual override? On the airlock itself I mean. Would that still trip the electronic alarm?" I asked as I began to examine the airlock to find the panel that should be covering the manual override.

"Yes it would, but I should be able to bypass the electronic sensor so that it doesn't know the door is open."

"Let's do that, I found the manual override, let me know when you're ready," I said as I opened the manual override cover and primed the switch.

"Ready," replied Alyssa after a moment of switching wires and more typing on her notputer.

I pumped the manual override lever and threw the switch as the airlock cracked open with a slight groan, I continued to pump the lever and the manual hydraulics in the door slowly opened the airlock the rest of the way, maintaining leverage was difficult in the weightless confines of the docking umbilical even with my magboots attached to the decking.

"That's good, I can slip in here now," said Alyssa as the door passed the halfway point, "Once the airlock is closed again pull this wire here and reinsert it over here, that'll put the controls back to normal and they'll be none the wiser if anyone is actually looking."

"Alright, good luck in there. Stay in touch," I said as Alyssa slipped into the relative darkness of the Valhalla, I could just see some basic running lights through the far door of the airlock.

"Mirage to Phantom, Wraith has been successfully inserted, proceeding to secondary insertion," I radioed to Charles.

Copy that Mirage, keep us informed."

Once she was inside I flipped the switch on the manual override again and the airlock's doors automatically closed as the hydraulic pressure was released. I switched the wires back around as Alyssa had instructed and then reinstalled the control panel cover before making my own way outside the coupler, being sure to keep the large docking umbilical between myself and the Impound dock control center. My own mission required me to reach the outside of the vessel so I could get access to the maintenance panels on the Impound docking clamps, and the relatively large docking umbilical would actually provide excellent cover from the security cameras, at least until I had to get out to the individual clamps. I attached my magboots to the Valhalla's upper hull and hunkered down in the shadow of the umbilical cables and waited, I wasn't sure how long it would take Alyssa to reach the bridge, or other suitable console onboard the Valhalla, and get tied into the computer systems but I knew once she did we would have to move quickly.

A few minutes later the radio beeped quietly in my ear, "This is Wraith, I've reached the bridge. Power is on, though just barely, I'm going to attempt to breach the system with the Engineering console."

"This is Mirage, I'm in position. Wraith, what's your status?" I radioed after a few more minutes of radio silence.

"I'm tying in now," replied Alyssa, the faint clicks of a mechanical keypad could be just heard in the background as she paused, "Alright, I'm good. On your mark I'll hit the cameras, we'll have 5 minutes tops before they notice."

"Copy that Wraith," came Charles' hushed voice over the radio, "Ghost and I are ready to go. Dionysus, what's your status?"

More radio silence, that wasn't a good sign, I opened the comm again, "Dionysus, if you're listening we are good to go. Just give us a sign."

Suddenly over the comm and what surprisingly sounded like the station's loudspeaker came a familiar voice, "LEEERRRRRRROOOOOOOYYYYYYYYY!...." before somebody cut it off.

"That's it, that's our sign. Operation is a GO," I called over our private comms.

"Alright, and... cameras are down, timer's running boys, better make the best of it." came Chase's voice over the radio.

With the cameras out I launched myself towards the first docking clamp, keeping the docking umbilical between me and the control center still in case anyone was still watching. I glanced to the side and noted several of the dockhands and patrols moving towards the entrance to the Impound Dock as a cacaophony of sound washed over me from that direction, what it was that Jenkins was doing out there it was certainly making lots of noise.

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Meanwhile...

Escape the Wilderness
Ozymandias Station
Vega System, Draconis Combine
May 30, 3029

____________________________________

I stared at the sign depicting the pale, thin woman floating out of the chimney. The illustrated figure was super-stylized with a face like a painting I had once seen called "The Scream." I leaned in closer to look at it better. Suddenly, two old red light bulbs where its eyes were supposed to be flicked on and a tinny scream came out of the sign. I jumped backwards and looked around in paranoia and embarrassment.

"Ready to hit the trail?" Nikki asked as we drew near the farm. We passed a picture of a fat man sitting in a cut-off half of a barrel as it floated down a river.

"Uh, are you sure we don't want to be fat barrel men for the day?" I laughed half-jokingly.

"It you wanted fat men in barrels, you should have gone with Steve to the 'Bushido Baths.' We're here to ride. Which one do you want?" asked Nikki. 

I stared at the row of 4 legged animals parked at the fence.

"I think I'll take that one over there." I said, pointing at a smaller horse with funny ears and a bristle brush mane that was chewing aggressively on the fence. "I've never ridden before. I want to start easy." 

"That one is a donkey." the old lady with the plastic cup said as she walked over to us. As she got closer, the strong smell of tequila made me realize that the "tea" in her cup was probably from Long Island.

"I mean, that's pretty much the same thing, right?" 

"Yeah, pretty much." the lady said, suddenly spitting some tobacco on the ground. "You need gear, too?" 

"Um, sure, set me up with whatever accessories they normally come with," I said hesitantly, looking back and forth between Nikki and Gretchen. 

"Coming right up, what about the rest of you?" the lady asked. 

###

Some time later, we were all aboard our animals. For whatever reason, mine was bucking and kicking and braying a lot. I was starting to think that the animal's name of "Mazoku" meant something unfortunate. 

"OK then. How do I make it go?" I asked as the horse bounced me around a bunch. My riding helmet fell down in front of my eyes as I spoke. Mazoku made a loud screeching and bellowing noise that kinda sounded like a possessed gorilla crossed with a rusty fence at the same time. "I think this one might not like me."

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MEANWHILE... 

The mission Captain Maxwell had gave me was to provide a Distraction. The dock master was the big Guard of all of the ships, especially the ones that had got locked down. You couldn't Get on the docks unmless the dock master gave you his Aauthority. But we were going to go without authority because we had to steal the ship. Luckily I had been an Entertainer back on SOLARIS, I knew how to Wow a crowd, my Battles were always the spectacle. So I was prepared. I went into the little Lobby where we had came on board the station a few days ago and looked for the dockmaster's window. Finally I found it, and I walked over and pressed my face up against the glass and Stared in to see if I could see the dockmaster. He was asleep in his chair, He was kind of slumped over and looked like an old angry baby with some Drool or something going down the side of his face, because he was really old, I hoped he had not died on the job. That would be so sad.

So then I got out an Air Horn and put it up against the Glass and pushed the button. The air horn made a Huge blast and made the Glass shake. The dock master woke up Screaming and let a huge fear fart and almost fell off his Chair!! 

"What the Hell???" He screamed "What is wrong with you, why didn't you just push the Doorbell???" 

"BECAUSE, I Didn't want to make you think that your Boss was here and caught you Asleep on the job." I said, then I put the air horn away. "NEVER MIND THAT!!" Shouted the dock master. "WHAT DO YOU WANT??" 

"WELL, I want to talk to you about ships for Sale and if they have Extended Warranties." I said, them the dock master made a face. "Excuse me, I might of had an Accident when you were making Air Horns at me, you will have to Wait" said the dock master, then he jumped up from his chair and ran out the front door of his office and across the lobby and into the Bathroom. I ran over and grabbed the Door to his office before it was Closed and went inside. Then I sat down at the dock master's desk, the chair smelled like Ass and I gagged a little. 

"Dionysus, what's your status? Dionysus, if you're listening we are good to go. Just give us a sign ." came my radio. OH SHIT, I have to do a Distraction now but the dock master is in the Bathroom!! 

I looked around and saw a huge control panel in front of me. There were all kinds of Buttons and a microphone. I started pushing Random buttons and I heard mechanical Noises and some Alarms, I didn't know what I had did but it didn't seem really Distracting. But then I had an idea!! I grabbed the microphone and and pushed all of its buttons at the same time. 

"LEEERRRRRRROOOOOOOYYYYYYYYY...." I Shouted into the Microphone, but then a Huge hand came down and slapped the microphone out of the way. It was the Dock Master!! 

"WHAT ARE YOU DOING IN NY CHAIR???" He screamed. Oh no, I thought, this can only mean Battle....... 

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Meanwhile...

RWRS Valhalla
Impound Docks - Ozymandias Station
Vega System, Draconis Combine
May 30, 3029
____________________________________

The bridge door slammed closed behind me as I secured it, hoping to buy some extra time if the station's crew ended up boarding before we could cast off. A scant few indicator lights glowed dimly in the shadows of the ship's hold, providing a minimal level of illumination by which I was able to orient myself and allow my eyes to adjust to the environment. I was alone, aboard a pirate vessel held within the bowels of a Star League-era yardship, preparing to help an outlaw we'd just met three days ago steal the craft out of its impound slip. The plan was deeply insane. But I understood why Charles thought it was a worthwhile venture, even if I wasn't about to let him know that. We were going to be traveling into territory where not only were the Lyrans and Kuritans throwing down, but also, the locals were known to have perpetual cases of violent and sticky fingers. An ally among those locals could be a key differentiator between getting in and out out of the Oberon Confederation safely and getting sold off into some godforsaken form of compulsory servitude on a backworld planet.

In other words, it was a good call. But still deeply insane.

Clicking on a small flashlight strapped to my epaulet, I floated down the vertical corridor toward the junction that would provide me access to the Valhalla's landing gear and mooring clamps. On a vessel of this size and configuration, the docking systems would be on a dedicated deck - one which I hoped would be open. While we were able to observe the measures that the dockmaster had taken to impound the ship from the outside, there had been no way to make the same advance assessment from an internal perspective. As I moved, I glanced around, taking in the surroundings of the ship. I had never been aboard a pirate vessel before, and I was genuinely surprised at its cleanliness and upkeep. I'd had a preconceived notion that a marauder's ship would be messy, unmaintained, and held together with the barest of measures, but the Valhalla, while showing obvious signs of age, was clearly under the care of a master who cared for her. The walls were largely free of rust; the signage, printed in both English and Japanese, bore fresh paint, and the equipment lockers, though obviously having been raided by the authorities, appeared to be otherwise orderly and well-stocked.

As a criminal operation went, this was a professional outfit.

The passageway that I was in had placards indicating that I'd descended to deck 6 of 13. The shaft appeared to run the entire length of the vessel, with intersections at each level that enabled access to the rest of the ship. The layout made sense for a troop transport - cargo logistics and maintaining rapid movement between levels without depending on lifts was crucial for rapid strike operations. As luck would have it, the emergency doors that would normally be used to seal off each deck in the event of a disaster or a boarding operation had all been opened by the port authorities, enabling me to quickly arrive at the shaft's terminus. On my arrival, I looked around for an identifying sign, hoping to confirm that I was where I needed to be. In quick order, I located a placard that read "Avionics Control."

Paydirt...

"Wraith to Mirage - I've found the gearbox. Initiating Phase 2," I whispered over the radio.

"Copy that - Mirage to Phantom and Ghost - as you're able, you should start heading toward the ship. Things are about to start happening in quick succession," Orlex replied.

"Roger that, Mirage - we're rolling," Maxwell responded. In the background, I heard what sounded like a combination of carnival music, fire alarms, and the occasional shout coming over the station's P.A. system. Whatever Jenkins had done, it was colorful.

Initiating a simultaneous manual override on six docking clamps - three on either side of the vessel at evenly-spaced intervals along a 129-meter length - was going to be daunting. There was no way that I was going to be able to cut each clamp's myomer bundle in a timely fashion, nor was I confident that I'd have the majority of the manual overrides complete before the port authority took notice of my actions, so instead, I'd come prepared with a half-dozen command-detonated mines set to low yield to make the job easier. I just hoped that I had enough time to get them in position.

"Holy shit," I suddenly heard Malice exclaim over the comm, "I think your man Jenkins must have hit something in the control room. Those Yakuza ships aren't supposed to be free of their moorings with nobody at the helm."

Okay, that's going to buy me the time I need... I thought with a chuckle. Floating toward a central podium in the hold, I anchored myself to the deck with my mag boots and connected my wrist-mounted noteputer to the machine's interface. Bringing up the ComStar slicing software, I was able to rapidly log into the Valhalla's LAN and locate the docking clamp controls. As I'd expected, the Kuritans had locked out access to the mooring systems, but that would only be a temporary setback. Opening a command-line window, I loaded the Locura software we'd deployed against Black Phalanx last year, on a mission that now felt as though it took place ages ago.

avtp_lan:\>sudo -i && bash locura.sh

LOCURA 4.32 NE (Neutered Edition)

Welcome, Administrator. What would you like to do?

shell:\>inject ss:avionics_mooring_ctl cmd:disable:set(active=false) -nodelete -infect

WORKING...

SUBSYSTEM "AVIONICS MOORING CONTROL" SET TO "INACTIVE" STATUS - REACTIVATION DISABLED - LOCURA BACKDOOR INSTALLED

What would you like to do?

shell:\>inject ss:avionics_remote_cnc cmd:disable:set(active=false) -nodelete -infect

SUBSYSTEM "AVIONICS REMOTE COMMAND AND CONTROL" SET TO "INACTIVE" STATUS - REACTIVATION DISABLED - LOCURA BACKDOOR INSTALLED

What would you like to do?

shell:\>inject ss:avionics_ldg_gear && ss:avionics_moor_clmps cmd:maintenance_access:set(unlocked)

SUBSYSTEMS "AVIONICS LANDING GEAR" AND "AVIONICS MOORING CLAMPS" SET TO "MAINTENANCE ACCESS: UNLOCKED"

What would you like to do?

shell:\>exit

A series of bangs, six in total, echoed through the lengthy hold as the maintenance covers protecting the internals of the mooring clamps unlocked and flipped open. Another myriad of bangs indicated that the housings for the landing gear had also opened, though if all went according to plan, we wouldn't need to access those units. Disconnecting my noteputer, I sailed across the hold to the first exposed docking clamp, retrieving a mine from my pack and slipping it into the tightly-bundled myomer inside the maintenance panel. Then, I sprung off the deck and crossed the hold five additional times to repeat the process with the remaining hardware. Once all of the explosives were in place, I retreated to the junction outside of the avionics control bay, sealing the access hatches behind me. The action I was about to take would totally destroy the six mooring clamps, but at least Malice would be able to fly the Valhalla out of the station under her own power.

"Wraith to all units - I'm cutting the cord now," I advised the team. Then, taking a deep breath, I pushed the detonator button. A deafening series of simultaneous explosions tore through the avionics bay, and the Valhalla's emergency klaxons began sounding. The concussive force of the explosion blew through the ship's atmosphere conduits, buffeting me with displaced air as it rolled outward. Pushing my way back into the avionics bay, I coughed as I inadvertently took in a mouthful of smoke. Approaching the closest mooring clamp, I noted with satisfaction that the myomer bundle had been reduced to a melted pile of slag.

"Wraith to Mirage: I've cut the cord. You're clear to proceed with Phase 3," I reported. "I'm headed back to the bridge to see what I can start bringing online."

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