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"Nice shooting, Lieutenant! Alright! That's it! Let's go!" I exclaimed, holding the escape pod's hatch open and waving at Steve, Orlex, and Alyssa, who floated across the bridge as quickly as their arms could pull them. Worry was beginning to overtake me as the aperture of the space station drew nearer and nearer. I knew that we had a only few seconds, at best, to board the pod and initiate the ejection sequence before the station's crew would begin locking down the spacelanes. If we ejected outside of the blast doors, our chances of escaping the authorities unnoticed would become slim to none. I counted off the second sas, one at a time, the trio dove down the ladder into the cramped lifeboat.

"I think that's all of us," Chase quipped, as, bringing up the rear, the Lyran started to descend into the escape pod. I began to follow when, suddenly, Malice strode over to the ladder and grabbed my shoulder.

"Hold it, Maxwell," the pirate growled.

I should have guessed... I thought to myself, turning to face the man, who held a look of smug satisfaction on his face. 

"Crackerjack job," Malice remarked. "My thanks to your entire crew. We're in your debt. Consider this payment. Save it for a rainy day." The burly man pressed a data core into the palm of my hand. "And now...with all due respect...get your ass off my ship before it's too late."

I returned the friendly barb with a wry grin. "Gladly. Be safe out there."

Dropping into the escape pod, I quickly threw on my four-point harness, and took a quick headcount, Malice securing the hatch overhead.

"Alright, here we go....in three...two...one!" I announced, yanking the small craft's ejection handle. With a terrific blast, the pod rocketed out of the bridge deck, the lower hull of Ozymandias Station drawing near at a blinding pace as I watched on the pod's tiny situation display. Quickly, I fired the vessel's retro rockets, slowing our inertia enough to take manual control of the ship's thrusters. As I pulled back on the stick, the pod yawed sharply upward, affording us a momentary view of the Valhalla's substantial form slipping between the station's towering doors moments before they closed, a trail of jettisoned escape pods, garbage, and unidentified equipment floating in its wake.

"How are we looking, Alyssa? Got those doors open yet?" I asked.

"I did just now, actually. Hurry Up Bessie is ready to receive us at Cargo Bay One," Chase acknowledged.

"Excellent," I replied, maneuvering the ship down and toward our vessel's berth. In moments, the hulking superstructure of the merchant vessel came into view, and I directed the pod in through the open service doors. The interior of Bessie quickly enveloped us, and as soon as we hit the deck, Alyssa used the remote command software to close and pressurize the bay.

"Okay, everyone -we don't have much time. We need to lose this pod before the authorities realize that it's missing," I advised. Orlex, Alyssa, and Chase nodded affirmations and disembarked while I remained behind to affix a remaining pair of command-detonated mines to the inside of the tiny vessel. Then, sprinting quickly through the Bessie's airlock vestibule and sealing the bay, I accessed a nearby panel and hit the emergency jettison switch. The cargo bay gave a loud "boom" as its doors burst open and the entirety of its atmosphere was sucked out into space, carrying the escape pod in its wake. Moments later, the small craft detonated violently off our bow.

"There. Now they'll just assume that the pod had some kind of awful engine failure and won't be too compelled to investigate," I explained, closing the cargo doors again and giving high-fives to the three assembled mercenaries. "Nice work. That wasn't so bad, now was it?"

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Site 187 7.5 kilometers from the Gellen's Heights spaceport Gellen's Heights, Sheratan III March 11, 3029 ______________________________________________________ The sunlight poured in thr

This Schuster fellow had decent questions. Good head on his shoulders. I was curious to these answers as well.    Luckily Luke had provided additional explosives,  no doubt stolen from Johnn

I did a yelling barf into the wishing well pond in the Hydroponics Bay and then I stared, sometimes cross eyed as the fish inside the pond swam up and ate my chunks of barf. It had been a long and har

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Six hours later...

C.V. Hurry Up Bessie
Ozymandias Station - Work Dock 37
Vega System, Draconis Combine
May 30, 3029
____________________________________

A rhythmic clunk-clunk-clunk accompanied my footfalls as I wound my way down the corridors of the Hurry Up Bessie in search of stateroom 18. So far, I'd managed to find the hydroponics bay, a crew lounge, a second crew lounge, the mess hall, and a number of lifts in various states of disrepair, but until now, I hadn't been introduced to the crew quarters aboard the vessel. Tracking down the accommodations had been challenging, as right after I'd been brought aboard, Captain Maxwell and a fair number of senior staff had disembarked for some kind of a side job, and the ship's personnel were largely taking leave over on the station. My visit to Bishop Weyland would be a useful exercise both because I hadn't yet moved my personal belongings aboard, and because it would give me a good idea of the route I'd need to take in the event my new charge had some sort of medical emergency.

As I wandered aimlessly, I scrolled through the man's records. I hadn't been aware of his employment status with the Crayven Corporation - nor did I know precisely who they were or what they did. Captain Maxwell had been very cursory in his post-hire briefing, only telling me that there wasn't a full-time medic aboard the ship and that I might need to help facilitate someone's recovery from surgery. The extent to which I knew of Bishop's medical history had come from the Captain himself - that he'd been grievously injured in a combat operation some time prior and that a person or persons unknown had patched him up in an unorthodox and horrifying way. So, it had come as quite a surprise when I'd suddenly found myself deputized as a Crayven Corporation subcontractor and been handed a security clearance and a folio of extremely-shadowy corporate documents detailing a near-total reconstruction of the Lieutenant's insides with all manner of prototype myomer and augmentations. I hadn't been prepared to deal with something quite so elaborate; my title of "Doctor" was an honorific that the soldiers of the AFFS had used during my time as an enlisted combat medic. I was good at patching people up while wearing power armor, but mad science realized as internal medicine pushed the boundaries of what I knew by a considerable margin.

Still, Bishop was now my charge, and I had an obligation to him to see his recovery through to a positive outcome. And it was with that mindset that I now sought him out. After passing through a series of compartments that were in a condition best described as "under renovation," I came upon a curving section of corridor that was lined with residential staterooms. Finding number 18, I took a deep breath and then knocked on the hatch. From the other side of the bulkhead, a groggy voice responded, "Come in."

Pushing the hatch's lever over, I stepped across the threshold, finding myself within the darkened confines of Lieutenant Weyland's quarters. The space was spartan and maintained with a military cleanliness. In the scant illumination in the room, provided solely by the work lights streaming in from the single porthole inset into the far wall, I could make out a large, hulking form laying prone before me on a bed made up with hospital corners.

"Good afternoon, Lieutenant. How're you holding up?" I asked, setting my magnetized medical kit down on the credenza. A pair of red eyes lit up in the darkness.

"I've had better days," Weyland replied, looking toward me. "But at least I'm only seeing two of you now."

"That's a good start," I chuckled. "How's your pain?"

"On a scale of one to ten, it's probably an eleven, but the doctors say that means I'm healing and my nerves are working," the Lieutenant groaned.

"Huh. Well, I respectfully disagree. You can heal without pain. It's called 'pain management.' How about some drugs for that?" I asked, withdrawing an auto-injector of high-test painkillers from my medical kit. "They'll also make you chill while we figure out what on your body works well and what we have to improve upon."

Even in the darkness, I could see Bishop raising an eyebrow.

"You take a pretty liberal approach for a doctor," the man replied. "Not that I'm complaining."

"Well, I'm not a doctor. I'm a grunt. I was a combat medic in the AFFS, Addicks Draconis March Militia, 7th Regiment. I've got a few less skill points in the area of book smarts, but I like to think I make up for it with my charming bedside manner and ability to patch a sucking chest wound on the fly," I smiled, walking over to Bishop's IV bag and examining his hydration levels. "Here. Have some of this stuff." I pushed a generous mix of painkillers into the drip, watching as relaxation overtook the Lieutenant a few moments later.

"Now, I'm going to set the precedent now that we can't do that forever. I'm not trying to get you hooked on anything. But in the short term, I think we can take an approach that both helps you manage your pain and gives you some beneficial therapy as you rehabilitate. I looked over those documents you gave me. You really got the full overhaul."

"You could call it that," Bishop replied. "Now look, Doc, I appreciate what you're trying to do, but my objective is to just get back to functionality as quick as I can. Let's take the fast route and just get me on my feet and functioning so that I can be ready to go. As long as we can do it in a way that doesn't make me a sideshow for the rest of the folks on this ship, that is."

"Well, that's generally the plan, but something that people frequently overlook is that augmentation can leave you a little fucked in the head if you don't acclimate properly. And in your case, your service record indicates that you've been subjected to a lot of polytrauma over the past year, which should normally be treated through integration and coordination of clinical care and other support services. But that didn't happen. And now your body's been hacked open and rebuilt as something it wasn't before," I explained. "That adds another layer of complexity to your recovery."

"If you're suggesting that I start seeing a therapist..." Weyland interjected.

"No, you have me. Well, me and that psychotic medical robot, but that's about it. And I'm just saying that in addition to the things you were dealing with before your voluntary upgrade, you're also going to have to figure out how major parts of your body work all over again. That can be difficult and demoralizing. But it doesn't have to be. We have options. We can take the traditional M.D.'s approach of having you do exercises like putting a ball in a cup, squeezing stress toys, and trying to do assisted things around the ship to slowly build you back up, or..." I explained, holding up the pack of TLEs and the heavy carrying case for their Recreational Hologram Environment, "...we can get a bit more creative and put you anywhere, in any setting or era you'd like, and get you rehabilitated all from the privacy of your own quarters, while taking a holistic healing approach that addresses both the physical and the mental trauma."

A look of quiet introspection crossed Bishop's face.

"I understand the soldier mindset, Lieutenant. I've been in your shoes. That's why I want to make this work for you in a way that you're going to be comfortable with. You tell me what you need, and we'll take it from there."

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"What'd you find?" I asked.

"It's a scavenger 'treasure' map,” Nathan said. “It's either a map to, like, free stuff.....or maybe hookers. I don't know. Should we follow it?"

“That could be interesting,” Gretchen said, “as long as it doesn’t turn out to be, um, that last thing you said.”

 

“Yeah, you might be on your own in that case,” I joked. “Where does it say we should go?”

 

“Right now it’s pointed straight ahead… probably. I think. The UI is kind of weird.”

 

“Well, that’s convenient.” I gazed down the trail ahead, which cut straight through the center of a steppe landscape dusted with fake snow, which, based on the ambient music, was probably meant to be Mongolian-inspired.

 

We passed a few yurt-shaped outbuildings, and a fake-weathered sign that said “Caribou Petting Zoo”. The horses didn’t bother trying to stop to graze, and I suspected that the dry grass to either side of the trail might actually be long-dead.

 

“Say, Nathan,” I said, “I’ve been noticing a pattern?”

 

There was a long pause. “Um, what pattern?”

 

“Maybe I’m just coming at this with the wrong expectations, since I haven’t worked with mercenaries before - but it seems like whenever Aegis’s people are involved, things that should be safe and straightforward just aren’t. Like a ‘shipping’ gig turns out to be a ‘take an occult artifact by force’ gig. Or spending shore leave stealing a pirate ship. So I was wondering - what’s your experience with them been like? And is there anything we should be doing to minimize the risks to our crew?”

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C.V. Hurry Up Bessie
Ozymandias Station - Work Dock 37
Vega System, Draconis Combine
May 30, 3029
____________________________________

We had been back aboard the Hurry Up Bessie for several hours now and in that time I had heard that Lieutenant Bishop Weyland had returned to the ship from his apparent surgery aboard the Obsidian Dawn. Unbeknownst to me at the time the Lieutenant apparently had an arrangement through Crayven Corporation to get some rather extensive augmentation surgery performed, assumedly to help him overcome grievous injuries sustained previously that were now beginning to take a toll on him. From my relatively brief time spent with the man I had a feeling there was more to it than that, although he hid his injuries well, like most veteran soldiers do, I never thought he was that wounded and this level of augmentation elevated him well beyond his abilities even in his prime. Irregardless of his reasons for electing to undergo this level of surgery I thought I might offer a few tips and helpful things I had learned through my own recovery process with my prosthetic limbs, while not nearly on the level of augmentation that Bishop would be dealing with I think I was the only other person, save William Kauffman, who had any personal experience with dealing with prosthetics and augmentations in general.

I made my way through corridors of the Mule-class dropship, a very familiar design to me from my childhood and with several months of time aboard I was well acquainted with this particular ship's quirks and layout. While I was still nowhere near as familiar as the ship's regular crew, I could quickly find my way to any section of the ship and was capable of using numerous different shortcuts through maintenance tunnels and access corridors if needed. As such I wasn't paying particular attention as I made my way towards Bishop's assigned quarters and was surprised to see a man I didn't recognize entering Bishop's room from a fair distance down the corridor. While I did not recognize the man himself I did notice the red cross symbol indicating medical supplies on some of his equipment and then recalled hearing that we also had a new medical officer onboard now, and this one apparently used to be a combat medic, something that could prove quite useful in the future.

I decided now wouldn't be the best time to visit Bishop if the Doc was just stopping in, and while I momentarily considered popping in anyways, if just to save Bishop from a boring routine of physical therapy, I figured the large man could probably handle himself, even in his currently weakened condition. I also hadn't actually laid eyes on the Crayven Corporation's liaison officer since his return and I was very curious to see the results of his augmentation surgery but I accepted that my curiosity would have to wait a little longer before it could be satiated. Instead I continued past Bishop's quarters and decided to head to Medical to perform a bit of preventative maintenance on my own prosthetics, choosing the medical bay because it was cleaner and brighter than anywhere in engineering and I had already set up a small station in the corner of the medical bay to allow general upkeep and maintenance to be completed on my prosthetics over the course of our journey. 

Passing Bishop's room I faintly heard a portion of the conversation taking place inside, Bishop's tired but alert voice crossed the closed threshold of his door, "You take a pretty liberal approach for a doctor, not that I'm complaining."

Followed by a voice who I presumed was the Doc, his voice trailing off as I continued walking, "Well, I'm not a doctor. I'm a grunt. I was a combat medic in the AFFS, Addicks Draconis March Militia, 7th Regiment..."

Hmm, an actual combat medic, with the AFFS no less. Not bad Maxwell, not bad at all, I thought as I continued towards the medical bay. I wasn't sure where or how Charles had come across and subsequently hired the new medical officer but an actual combat medic was bound to prove useful for Aegis Division, especially one from the AFFS and one of the most active militia's within House Davion's borders as well. I would have to make a point of meeting the man once he was finished with Bishop, and from the sounds of it the Lieutenant wasn't about to be put through the typical slow paced physical therapy that accompanied most prosthetic recovery programs, which was honestly a good thing. One of the tips I was going to share with Bishop was to essentially ignore the progress chart the doctor's would likely lay out for him, instead he should find creative ways to challenge himself to use his prosthetic, or in his case augments, in difficult and unorthodox ways. The more challenging the problem, and more creative the solution, the faster his recovery was likely to be. Of course hand-in-hand with that is the need to recognize and accept your own limits, at first being able to grab a coffee mug and hold it without crushing it or dropping it would be monumental in its own right but as time went one he'd need to find interesting ways to keep challenging himself in order to keep progressing his recovery quickly.

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Escape the wilderness, a few hours earlier...

“Say, Nathan,” Nikki said, “I’ve been noticing a pattern?”

There was a long pause. “Um, what pattern?”

“Maybe I’m just coming at this with the wrong expectations, since I haven’t worked with mercenaries before - but it seems like whenever Aegis’s people are involved, things that should be safe and straightforward just aren’t. Like a ‘shipping’ gig turns out to be a ‘take an occult artifact by force’ gig. Or spending shore leave stealing a pirate ship. So I was wondering - what’s your experience with them been like? And is there anything we should be doing to minimize the risks to our crew?”

I thought about it for a bit.

"Well, being with this group has been an insane journey.. Like, really insane. I don't know where to start. I guess I'll start at the beginning, and go from there, and let you draw your own conclusions. I - I don't know if I'm the best person to trust judgement calls to."

"That's a hell of an admission to make to your boss." Nikki replied as we bounced down through a scrub valley and into the remains of what looked like an old western town. A bunch of folksy signs greeted us, and there were more than a few station tourists milling around as we arrived. This area looked more poplar than others. Overhead, a monorail whisked by, and in the distance, I saw the towering wall of a resort complex, painted to look like the sky.

"So I first hooked up with them last year. I was the aide-de-camp to a Lyran Hauptmann. I can hardly remember his name anymore, if you can believe it. Hauptmann Albrecht. Not that it really matters. He had taken me as his personal guard and assistant after he saw that I got high marks on my practicals. And so I found myself at a classified rendezvous with William Kauffman from the Crayven Corporation. By that point, the Aegis people had already crossed paths with the Crayven Corporation and had done them some kind of favor where Charles had put Alyssa, the intel officer, aboard the Half Moon to help run interference against a competing merc outfit that had been trying to get the drop on Crayven's mission to go get an artifact from Gan Singh."

"Right, you told me most of this." said Nikki.

"The point is, what I saw on that mission was my first indication that this was a really maverick group of mercenaries. Alyssa is more conservative that most of them, but it was clear even from the things that she said to me that Charles wants out of the usual "I'm a mercenary and I shoot things" life. He's latching on to every extraordinary job he can find because wherever Crayven goes, weird shit follows, and it takes them down a path that's both wonderous, exciting, and dangerous. So when you ask me if there's any risk mitigation you can take, I don't know, because what they're chasing doesn't fit the mold of most jobs. Interstellar Expeditions is a new player on the scene doing what I would describe as cutthroat archaeology and that doesn't fit ordinary patterns of "go to the planet, blow up the thing, and secure the location." Which is cool, but it makes it unpredictable. Especially since I don't know how much of the strings are being pulled by Charles and how many are being pulled by William Kauffman. He's the one that keeps giving jobs to these people and I'm not clear how much influence he has over their decisions or how willing Charles is to be reckless. I think the best thing to do is to be frank with them about what you are and are not willing to do. You're sort of the overall host of their crew on this one. The risk is to them, sure, but it's also to you and the crew." I shook my head. "I don't know how much that helps."

"It sounds like it's multi-layered. Maybe I ought to just talk to Charles and tell him no more stunts like stealing pirate ships until we get to Oberon." said Nikki.

"That seems reasonable. It goes outside of the contract to do stuff like that." I nodded, feeling somewhat guilty that I had just effectively thrown Charles under the bus a little bit. It seemed like no matter what I did, I was always throwing someone under the bus. But Nikki was my boss.

"The other thing you should probably know is that I had an...encounter...on Nirasaki before I met you, and while it didn't turn out bad, it's something that Charles' crew....well, specifically, Charles and Alyssa...are trying to research without raising much suspicion. I don't think even that new doctor of theirs knows, yet. Maybe he does. I'm not sure." I began.

"You're not going to tell me that you have some kind of awful space chimpanzee virus, are you?" Nikki asked as we rolled up on an old-style saloon and gift shop labeled "Sleepy Pete's."

"Not exactly. I think I'm quasi-immortal, though." I said directly. Nikki looked taken aback but not as surprised as I thought she would be.

"Would you believe it if I told you that doesn't surprise me?" Nikki replied.

"Want the details?" I asked.

"Please..." she said.

As we parked our animals, I began to recount the story.....

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“I guess that explains how you recovered so quick after I shot you,” I said as we left the paddock and walked into “town”.

 

“You… what?” Gretchen said uneasily.

 

There was no reassuring way to answer that question. “During the boarding, I thought he was a pirate,” I said. “He’d somehow walked right up to Colleen, and he looked like he was reaching for a gun, so…”

 

“Yeah, it… happens,” Nathan added. “Though I guess I’d feel differently if I weren’t so durable.”

 

“It really worked out as well as it possibly could have,” I said. “It’s been great having you on the crew, and I’d much rather be haunted by awkward questions than one of those things.” I pointed at the chimney-smoke woman floating out of the haunted house sign.

 

“If you don’t mind my asking - did you see anything when it happened?” Gretchen asked Nathan.

 

“What do you mean?”

“Was there a light in the darkness, or the voice of God, or anything like that?”

 

Nathan looked thoughtful. “I didn’t see God or anything, but I did see William Kauffman.”

 

Gretchen looked shocked, and then pondering, but luckily, Sleepy Pete’s saloon was just ahead. “Here’s our stop,” I said quickly, hoping to distract Gretchen before she started talking religion.

 

***

 

The tokens we’d found were good for one and a half drinks at Sleepy Pete’s. I ordered us a couple beers, a lemonade and “fried chicken bits”, and paid for the difference. We got a table, and I got out my data pad to check in with Captain Maxwell while Gretchen and Nathan talked.

 

How’d your gig go? Please tell me my ship is alright.

 

> Piece of cake. The Valhalla has set sail for the promised land.

 

> You should invest in crash barriers for your cargo bay.

 

Edited by Nikki Harlow
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LATER ON..............

I was So sore, I had been in more FIghts on the Space Station at once on the last 6 days than I had been in at the same time in a while, first I had had the sumo Battle where I had almost got killed within an inch of my life but for the fact that Jingles had gave me a assist, then after that my OWN DAD had attacked me in ritual combat in the Quartermaster's Office and I thought he was trying to kill me until he explained it was for Insurance Claims evidence and he needed a good fraud, I could forgive that even though he had Racked me in the nads with his boots right before I had got threw through the window. I still did not know what had happened when I had went out the Window or even who had did it, in the middle of our fight I felt some HUGE gorilla hands grab me and Throw me out the window of the office and then there was all kinds of Gun fire and a ginormous fireball after that, I really Hoped that nobody had got seriously hurt. My Body was really sore and I needed to get my muscles Relaxed. My clothes were really gross and I had Wrecked my underwear in fear when I had got threw out the window so I needed to do some Laundry. I went down to the Laundry Room and dumped all my laundry in the Laundro machine, then I pulled off my clothes and put them in the laundro machine too, as I did that I saw some turds fall into the washer which made me gag. Then I looked down and saw I still had my Sumo Championship Belt on. I stared at it for a long time thinking about everything it could of meant............being famous...................lots of women.............a water bed made out of 1000s of C-Bills. I took off the Belt and looked at it closer, it was stained and smelled like butt probably because it had been wore for a long time by the Sumo Guy I had beat. It was made of super heavy metals and gems and had like a 50 LB leather belt. I Yeeted the while thing into the Washing Machine with my other Cloths, as long as the load was going I might as well save money. I put a bunch of change in the machine in it and started it, in like 5 minutes later the washer kicked on and started doing a romp and stomp all over the laundry room, I guess it was off balance or something. I grabbed some bricks and threw them into the washing machine to make it be heavier and not go walking so far, the washer made a bunch of groin grabbing noises and then the spinning thing inside it made a CRACK and then got really quiet. While I waited for my laundro job to be done, I sat on a Chair and started to think, all the Horrors of war and the things I had saw back on Kuuzu when the ubertroops had came....I still didn't have all my memories back yet....I couldn't stop thinking.......I wished I could juice to take the edge off but I had not brung enough..............

Then I saw it, a box of BORAX sitting on top of the dryer, a big box the size of a Cereal Box of Wheaties or Kurita Krunch, when I picked it up some blue and white powder came out and fell in my hand. I smelled my hand and it gave me this really far out rush of light and noise and I thought I saw my ancestors somewhere distant...all of the sudden the Quartermaster was standing in front of me spilling his tea on the floor and looking at me in Fear.

"Ehat... Uh... What are you looking at??" I demanded in a slurring tone, I did not know what had been in the Laundry detergent but it had messed me up and I wanted the Quartermaster to realize that I was in an Alpha role here. I straightened my wakisashi blade as I spoke, and hiked up my undershorts, in a manly way.

"QUIT WIF YER POSTURING!!!" the Quartermaster screamed, so loud that one of his teeth flew out. I watched in tranced as the tooth pinged around and then landed in a fizzing cup of dentures. I wondered verbally what the Quartermaster was using dentures for.

"THEN ANSWER MY QUESTION WHAT DID I DO????" I finally blew up loudly. I was tired of his obtusiveness and wanted to show authority. THEN the room started spinning and I fell off the washing machine with my eyes going crossed, I started seeing cartoon Animals and weird shapes in my eyes.....

"What the hell..."

There was Silence. Then the Quartermaster flatulated loudly,, it sounded like a shotgun Blast. Somewhere a dryer dinged, and turned off. Then...........in slow motion..........I.............blacked out.........

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Some time later...

"So, I know I kept you in a holding pattern about this issue, but I wanted to be absolutely sure before I broke the news to you," I began, looking at both Nathan and Charles. "They're nanobots. Star League-era nanobots. They're enormously efficient machines that appear to be designed with a singular purpose: reading a host's DNA and fixing biological defects, such as injury and the effects of aging."

Nathan nodded slowly. "I kind of figured you were going to say that. The NAIS experimented - unsuccessfully - with re-creating this kind of thing from recovered designs. The manufacturing infrastructure needed to produce robots at that small a scale simply doesn't exist anymore, and nobody knows how to build the tooling."

"Any guesses as to how it ended up on the Takashima?" Charles asked.

"I can only assume that it was part of the larger A.I. project," I replied, pulling up a schematic of one of the nanobots on a nearby monitor in the Hurry Up Bessie's market room. "The devices don't have any logging going back that far. But it makes sense to build a feature into a ship that's being driven by an A.I. that allows it to also render medical intervention."

"What are the health implications to Nathan?" Captain Maxwell asked, a look of concern crossing his face.

"None that I can ascertain at the moment," I responded, pulling up a health evaluation of Nathan on the monitor. "In fact, I'd say that he's probably healthier than the rest of us. As near as I can tell, the nanobots are super-efficient at keeping him in prime condition, healing injuries faster than his own body can and staving off the effects of disease and aging."

"In practical terms, does that actually make me immortal?" Nathan inquired, raising an eyebrow.

"Well, you can still be killed, if that's what you're asking. They seem to be able to regenerate at a fixed speed, so if an injury is severe enough, they might not be able to repair it before you succumb. But in terms of the pace of natural aging, it's hard to say. I do see inactivated nanobots floating around in the blood draws every now and then, which leads me to believe that the things have a service life. Once that limit has been reached, it appears that they shut down and are eventually purged by the body's natural processes. But what I can say is that while you've got the bots in your system, your aging processes seem to have effectively been halted. You'll probably outlive both of us," I explained.

"Speak for yourself," Charles quipped. "I plan to live forever."

"Alright, well," Nathan replied with a laugh, "where do we go from here?"

"I'd love to sell the tech to the highest bidder," Captain Maxwell responded. "Can you imagine the amount of wealth someone who could produce a solution like this might rake in?"

"No," Nathan interjected. "I don't want to end up being some corporation's guinea pig."

"Fair enough," Charles replied. "It's your body. We can't make you do anything you don't want to do. Maybe we could at least extract an active one, take some scans of it, and sell that unit to an interested buyer while leaving you out of it."

"Only if you can make sure my blood doesn't end up being part of that transaction," Nathan replied. "If they read my DNA, they'll figure out where the sample came from."

"And that information might be stored in the nanobot's memory," I added. "I haven't yet gotten into the brains of one of these things. I've been a bit busy over the past few days."

"Oh, that reminds me," Charles chuckled, producing the data unit that Malice had given him upon our parting of the ways, "can you see if there's a way to passively read the information in this thing? I want to know what, exactly, this 'payment' is."

"Hack the nanobots and the mysterious pirate cube; got it," I responded. "At least the next several weeks won't be boring."

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C.V. Hurry Up Bessie

Ozymandias Station - Work Dock 37
Vega System, Draconis Combine
May 30, 3029
___________________________________

“ I understand the soldier mindset, Lieutenant. I've been in your shoes. That's why I want to make this work for you in a way that you're going to be comfortable with. You tell me what you need, and we'll take it from there." Said Aldon. 

The Skinwalker laid in his rack considering the man’s words. He was combat medic in a badass unit, probably one of the best trained, equipped and lead. Bishop knew fist hand, he fought against them, and lost. There was an unspoken respect between grunts and medics. Medics...knew the sad yet beautiful symphony of the grunt. The knew their Misery, their pain and the madness of war on the battlefield. War was different for a ground pounder. They lived in muddy trenches, burned out parking garages, snow cover forests and deep sandy wadis. Death was a friend and foe to a grunt, he was always near. The  only angles on the battlefield was the Medic. They knew infantryman secrets, fears and joys.

Bishop caste a gaze on the man standing at his bedside and studied his thermal signature for a moment. He was a good man, but the Skinwalker wasn’t sure he was ready to meet the Monster the lurked deep inside his mind. A part of Bishop was actually scared now, the beast knew what he had become, it wouldn’t  be long till tried to use his augmented body to full fill its lust for battle. 

Just then he caught a familiar sent in the air, and the purposeful quiet walk on metal plating. It was Orlex, he had passed by. Bishop thought of him, and how he was similar to him. Maybe as the days passed on he would speak the veteran warrior about the things he had allowed to be done to him and maybe the things that went through his mind. 

“Ok, Doc.... we will try your way..... I just hope you are ready to see into the mind of Grendel. Theirs no turning back now, I hope you brought enough of that stuff for your mind too” quipped Bishop with a nervous smile. 

Mallory let out a heartfelt chuckle. 

“Well I don’t have a choice now! We got this Bishop, I’ll be with you every step of the way. Our Journey will be long and probably strange but we’ll get through it. The reality is... we don’t have a choice in the matter. I know your type, you need to be on the battlefield.. that is your home. But we need to make sure we get there safely, ok?” Said the medic. 

 

“Now... let’s get sitting up so I can see exactly what I’m working with. You’ll need to remove the body suit. This will be your first test”. 

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Oberon VI - Oberon Confederation
On final approach to Port Royal
October 3, 3029 - 2200 hours (local time)
____________________________________

"Chief medical officer's log: the third of October, 3029. Well, we're finally here. Five months aboard a freighter can seem like a hell of a long time, but when you're the new guy juggling a myriad of interesting things all at once, it's amazing how fast time can fly. Bishop Weyland's recovery has been steady and progressive, though not without challenges. As I've mentioned in previous logs, getting the man acclimated to a holographic environment to facilitate his physical therapy wasn't the easiest thing to do, but looking back on where we started and where we've ended up, it was worth the effort. With the assistance of a little bit of "Can-Do" at the outset to help him ease his nerves and move past the inherent silliness many of us feel at using "gamified" therapy regimens, he's taken a liking to the ancient Native American environments. Chunkee, hidatstaring the stick, hoop and darts, and snowsnake have all proven to be excellent for his motor skills. The medicine man within the program - elder Achak - has been a surprisingly helpful guide and capable medical assistant given its limitations as an A.I. In fact, the computer introduced the Lieutenant to meditation scenarios that I hadn't considered, and he's made it a near-daily ritual to spend his evenings being guided through vision quests. Weyland has expressed concern about not being able to continue the meditation once he's no longer receiving healing drugs, but it should be noted that indigenous healers typically do not ingest hallucinogenics to facilitate their abilities. I'll continue to research other shamanic techniques to see if I can find a solution.

"As of our arrival at Oberon, the Lieutenant is now capable of sparring with Captain Maxwell, and the two of them have been engaging in very aggressive no-holds-barred matches, with the Captain often requiring medical intervention at their conclusion. Oddly, Maxwell has consistently asked for discretion about his medical treatments and has further requested that the crew - particularly Alyssa Chase - not be informed that the bouts are taking place. I find all of it odd, but it's not my job to question my orders."

I paused for a moment, considering the words I'd just spoken.

"Computer - delete my last three sentences."

The computer chirped affirmatively.

"William Kauffman and the executives of the Cosby Myomer Research Firm have been quite persistent in requesting updates about Weyland's status. Doctor Reade, in particular, regularly asks for exacting details that frequently take hours of analysis to provide. When I'm not busy responding to their correspondence, I'm triaging another mystery - that of Nathan Schmidt's quasi-immortality. The nanites in his system continue to perplex me. They're magnificent machines - entirely autonomous, self-repairing, and powered by the ions in the human cellular system. Alyssa Chase, Nathan, and I have been working to get into the firmware of the units, but nothing that we have on board can read the ancient software. I have, on several occasions, suggested that we use the resources of the Crayven Corporation to try to make some progress, but Nathan repeatedly expresses concern that his genetic data might be able to be read from the units. And so we continue down our own path.

"Separately, Nathan was successful in breaking through the firmware of the Nighthawk suit stored in the cargo bay, and I've been providing advisement to him about how to re-tool the machine's operating system to tend after Bishop in a way that won't result in him becoming enslaved to it once again. Irian is truly an insidious organization - as is whoever made the most recent alterations to the power armor's configuration. The stuff that they had it shooting him full of was enough to make someone develop a lifelong chemical dependency, if not killing them outright. I've made it clear to Bishop that he shouldn't use the unit again until we've got the gremlins fully purged out of it. He's been okay with that so far, as he and Nathan have been spending their free time studying aerospace piloting and honing their abilities in VTOLs and LAMs in one of the simulators that Captain Maxwell brought along.

"I've also taken on the role of an amateur cybernetacist, ensuring that Lieutenant Jaeger's augmentations continue to play nice with his biological components - a fascinating exercise. And with Captain Maxwell's permission, I've further extended my medical services to Captain Harlow and her crew, providing regular doses of medications, check-ups, and triage as necessary. They're a generally healthy bunch, with nothing particularly remarkable to note here, though I didn't spend a lot of time monitoring hormone levels, dispensing ADHD medications, and finding 'kosher' medical solutions that adhered to certain religious doctrines while I was on the battlefield, so it's been a learning experience for me. Which brings me to my next update..."

I pivoted in my chair, staring at Steve Jenkins' medical chart.

"I'm growing increasingly concerned about Sergeant Jenkins. While the entire crew has accepted the fact that the man's behavior is wildly unpredictable in even the most routine of situations, over the past few weeks, he's grown even more so, if such a thing is possible. At random intervals, he'll let out blood-curdling screams and point at what he describes as malevolent clowns visible only to him. He sometimes will, mid-sentence, dissolve into strings of gibberish and seem to be speaking in tongues. He's taken to sleeping underneath his mattress. This morning, I saw him failing to drink a cup of water: instead of drinking from the bottom of the rim, he drank from the top, spilling half a liter of water down his shirt before he realized his mistake. I can only conclude that he's begun to go stir-crazy from our near-constant containment aboard this vessel, interrupted only by our ports-of-call between system jumps. Fortunately, our long journey has finally reached its destination."

The Hurry Up Bessie lurched as it entered Oberon VI's upper atmosphere.

"Upon reaching Oberon, we were contacted by an agent of Interstellar Expeditions who is waiting for us planetside. She's given us very specific instructions, borne out of apparent paranoia concerning piracy in the system. We're to land at Port Royal, after which, all of the BattleMechs and support vehicles we brought with us will be loaded on a train and taken off...somewhere. Those of us tasked with retrieving the artifact are to dress as civilians, check in to a hotel in the city, and then meet with the representative at some place called Neur0hack!, a transhumanist dive bar on the west side of the city. We're to stay put except after dark. Although I'm not part of the operation, Captain Maxwell has asked me to post up at the hotel in the event things take a turn. He's provided me with the data cube gifted by the pirate called "Malice" back at Ozymandias Station. Turns out, it's a distress beacon keyed to a very specific frequency. If the shit hits the fan, I'm to use it."

Glancing out my cabin window, in the dark of the night, I saw the glistening lights of a metropolis unfolding beneath us.

"Though the journey out here has been very interesting, I suspect that it's nothing compared to what I'm about to experience..."

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