From a creative idea – excerpts

I cam up with this idea about eight or nine years ago and it’s still building in my head. It’s been comic script, a movie script, a roleplaying game… Every time is inspired by it again, I want to try another medium!

The following are extracts I supplied my gaming group with when I was designing the game.

 

teaser 1

Operation: Wren Phoenix
Transcript of psychiatric interview with London Survivor three weeks after the event.

“The dreams are the same. I’m running, but the crowd just gets thicker and thicker. We boil out of the tube station and into Oxford Circus…”

Subject pauses, collecting himself.

“I still hear the old World War II sirens, even though people are screaming all around me. That’s why everyone was panicking. For many of us, the next war or the end of the world was just around the corner, so to hear those wailing sounds simply confirmed it. It reall didn’t take people long to lose their minds once they heard that.
“Anyway, as we came out into the street people began wailing; their immediate suspicions horribly realised. A plume of smoke rose into the sky from the direction of of Tottenham Court road, wide and thick and oily. It bubbled into the sky like spilt wine on a carpet, ruining the pristine sky.”

Subject pauses. Subject begins to sob and nurses offer condolences and help. Subject recovers after a moment.

“I think that’s what’s upsetting me the most; not the violence after that, nor the ordeal of escaping the city or the permanent quarantine that followed. No, what’s upsetting me most of all is that’s the last blue sky I, or indeed London, ever saw…”

End transcript.

Teaser 2

Operation: Wren Phoenix

Excerpt from forensic analysis of Article 16 [Article 16 was retrieved from a civilian who claimed that he took it from a living specimen – due to security reasons, any reference to it has been censored].

Biological analysis confirms that it is a natural, living specimen; a [Article 16]. However, when we examined it’s DNA structure, we found the specimen difficult to understand. The strand appears to contain more base pairs than normal DNA, rendering our current instrumentation ineffective at providing a comprehensive analysis at this time.

Following this, we subjected the [Article 16] to a full spectroscopic investigation. In these subsequent tests, we discovered that, unlike other carbon-based life forms which have 12 and 13 neutrons, this had 55. In effect, this is an impossible isotope; the atomic structure should be decaying at an alarming rate. In addition, this releases a concerning level of radiation; the escaping neutrons could potentially have harmful carcinogenic effects on any other living tissue it comes into contact with.

Another feature of this atomic decomposition is that the energy released could potentially be harnessed by this organism. It would explain the current claims that these creatures can [EXCERPT CENSORED BY ORDER OF MoD].
Teaser 3

Operation: Wren Phoenix

Transcript of the speech given by Andrew Robathan, minister for defence, after the evacuation and quarantine of London.

“We stand here having lost the heart of our fair country. Even as we speak, insurgents have claimed our capital, destroying what we have held dear for centuries. Never, in the history of our modern government, has the city of London been invaded or occupied, yet now we face dark and unimaginable times.

“The city has been quarantined. Officers from the the 3rd infantry division have been stationed around the city, erecting barricades and strategic defences to prevent any further incursion from enemy forces. Operatives have been informed that they are to seal off the city and prevent any further individuals from leaving the site. Rest assured, your safety in these times is our paramount concern.

“Other cities and major civilian and metropolitan areas appear to be free from attack. No other incidents have occurred outside of the city and we have no reason to believe that there will be any further attacks. We advise people to try and carry on with their daily lives, avoiding the city of London and it’s surrounding boroughs for the foreseeable future. If you are contacted by anyone who claims to be from or currently residing within the city, it is your civil duty to contact your local authority as soon as possible.

“Please be aware that we are now at war with the terrorists who have attacked our capital. We will stop at nothing to reclaim our city and remove the insurgents from the streets. Our military specialists are already hard at work, whilst our scientific community busies itself with the development of vaccines against the weapons used in the attack. We will be victorious in this endeavour.

“Though our tragedy is great, our resolve is even greater.”

 
SPECIAL RECON REGIMENT

TOP SECRET
BY ORDER OF THE MINISTRY OF DEFENCE

SHARING THE INFORMATION CONTAINED WITHIN THESE DOCUMENTS IS A TRAITOROUS ACT AND COULD BE PUNISHABLE BY DEATH
Operation: Wren Phoenix
Theatre: London, England

You have been selected for this operation based upon your previous record of service and your proficiency within your field. Due to your track record, you are ideally suited for a mission of utmost importance to be undertaken on behalf of the United Kingdom.

On February 13th, at 13:37 PM, a terrorist attack on the city resulted in the mass-evacuation of Greater London. During the evacuation, it became clear that a viral infection had contaminated much of the general public. The decision was made to end evacuation and change to isolation procedure. At 17:11, London was quarantined and a blockade erected around the outlying boroughs. As more of the general public attempted to leave, it was necessary to extend the boundaries and at the same time open fire on the infected public. By 22:49 the M25 circular had been turned into a barricade using the public vehicles and assembled resources. On the morning of February 14th at 03:32, London was declared lost and occupied by enemy forces.

Those evacuated were taken to centres in Hampshire, Surrey and Sussex, where they are being indefinitely detained until the nature of their infection can be determined. Air Traffic over London has been cancelled, and the third division infantry has been drafted to maintain the blockade of the city. Watch posts and cement walls were erected around the blockade, whilst the River is watched over by the Royal Naval forces, mostly stationed in Gravesend. Since the initial attack, there have been no further incidents.

Our government has been compromised; very few parliamentary representatives remain accounted for, including much of the defence cabinet. We have little to no real intelligence as to what occurred, nor do we have any real information as to the current state of the city itself. Our financial centres are in ruin; our county’s leadership is in tatters and our intelligence centres are compromised.

Mission Parameters

We need you to take part in a reconnaissance mission into the heart of London. You will be part of a 12 man team sent into the city to gather intelligence, retrieve sensitive information and rescue any important figures that may be encountered. You will be well-supplied during this mission, but, due to the possibility of contagion, you will be subject to the same quarantine that anyone else in the city is; at least until the infection has been ascertained. You will be required to procure additional supplies on site whilst establishing a drop zone for resupplies and the exchange of information.

Once the drop zone area has been established additional orders and objectives will be made apparent. You will be encouraged to organise your own survival and extended periods of time without immediate orders is to be expected, This mission is designated “independent operations”; you will have a degree of autonomy in your choice of actions and objectives.

Should you accept this mission, your family will be well reimbursed and your salary paid to you or your next of kin in triplicate for the next five years. Please reply with your application if you accept this request.

Current Intelligence

The City itself has been shrouded by a cloud of debris and gasses since the explosion itself. This smog has proven impenetrable by satellite observation or thermal imaging, leaving us with very little information about the site itself. Aerial photography and long range reconnaissance has proven similarly ineffective due to electronic interference. Our only images have been provided by low-flying aerial vehicles, giving us an overview of the city itself.

Sites of destruction include much of Holborn; the explosion has levelled much of the northern part of this district. Most of the City of Westminster appears to have suffered damage from small artillery fire. The majority of the city has fallen into disrepair; mass looting and vigilanteism is evident.

Mass grave sites have been detected throughout the city. It seems that much of the population present in the city during the initial attack has passed away, though accurate numbers are impossible. Several strange images have been recovered; curious flags have been seen flying outside of Westminster Hall and Buckingham Palace, whilst the docklands seem to be displaying constant electrical discharges. Curious thermal recordings have also been detected throughout Kensington.

Power and facilities have been cut; the city lacks power and fresh water. Food must be in very short supply, which may have lead to recent attempts by criminal insurgents to break the barricade in several areas, particularly in the southern boroughs. A Red Cross centre was seen erected near the Barbican Estate, yet recent photography suggests that this has been abandoned.

Please be aware that our information network is severely curtailed due to the initial assault and subsequent evacuation. The photos we have acquired are often distorted and difficult to interpret, whilst our usual imaging and surveillance technologies seem to be ineffective against the electro-magnetic disruption surrounding the city. You have just read the most accurate and up to date information available at this time.

Initial Objectives

Primary Objective:
Establish a secure base camp near the city of London, specifically in the Embankment area

Secondary Objective:
Establish a secure drop zone with aerial access

Tertiary Objective:
Await further instructions

Mission Overview:
Gather information and intelligence as to the status of London and the origin of the terrorist attack.

Equipment Parameters

Transport is supplied in the form of a Eurocopter Dauphin. Though confined to the city limits, this transport may be used to travel efficiently within it’s boundaries. Suggested insertion into the city is via the Southbank and Kensington in two fire-teams with air support.

Standard equipment is supplied in addition to specialist gear for specialist roles and additional surveillance equipment as befitting a Special Recon Regiment operative. Supplies will cover six days; on-site procurement will be necessary for additional food and water.

Squad Formation

Military Personnel include:

Lance Corporal – Squad Commander
This role requires the ability to remain cool under pressure. Applicants need to show aptitude for settling disputes without resorting to violence. The squad leader will need to maintain squad morale and discipline, whilst making decisions that benefit the mission. A squad leader should have no personal area of weakness, being equally proficient in all areas.

Operatives

Rifleman
A rifleman will be trained in a variety of battlefield roles, with proficiency in medium to long range assault weaponry. Riflemen must be equally adept at all battlefield roles and ready to use their initiative to overcome obstacles.

Marksman
The squad will have provision for one Marksman. Applicants should be specialised in long range weaponry, battlefield surveillance and control and enemy awareness. A marksman should show aptitude when working independently from his unit.

Heavy Support
The squad will have provision for one Heavy Support operative. Applicants should be specialised in automatic weapons, including light machine guns and medium to long range weaponry. A Support officer should also be proficient with anti-armour weaponry.

Urban Assault
The Squad will have provisions for two Urban Assault specialists. Applicants should be specialised with short to medium range weaponry. Urban Assault specialists should be proficient with close quarters combat, including melee if necessary.

Demolitions
The squad will have provision for one Demolitions expert. Applicants should have extensive knowledge of demolitions and explosives. A specialist should also be proficient in battlefield fortification.

Combat Medic
The squad will have provision for one battlefield medic. Applicants should be well trained in emergency surgery and triage under pressure. Applicants should also have strong battlefield experience.

Pilot
The Squad has provision for one Pilot, who will be responsible for the Eurocopter. The applicant should be a specialised pilot with lots of battlefield experience and extensive knowledge of additional vehicles.

Consultants – these individuals must be either ex-military or battlefield trained civilians.

Anthropological Consultant
The squad has need of one Anthropological Consultant. Applicants need to have extensive knowledge of other cultures, including knowledge of multiple languages and cultural religion and mythology. Battlefield experience is also advised.

Scientific Consultant
The squad has need of one Scientific Consultant. Applicants need to have extensive knowledge of biological and chemical science, preferable organic and viral disciplines. Battlefield is also advised.

Engineering Consultant
The squad has need of one Engineering Consultant. Applicants need to have extensive mechanical and structural knowledge, particularly of London based architecture. Battlefield knowledge is also advised.

Applicants will be selected on a first come, first served basis and chosen based upon individual ability. Please contact your brigade commander at the earliest available opportunity. Please provide your written application and preference of role upon application.

In Closing

Your country and your queen has need of you. The capital is occupied by an unknown enemy and our own resources are stretched thin. Your actions and participation in this campaign will lead to the safety and prosperity of the British Isles.

“Though our tragedy is great, our resolve is even greater.”

We await your response.

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Tales from the Rim – Chapter 2 first draft

Chapter 2

Though the sky was dotted with slim, feathery clouds, the winds were slight. Perfect flight weather. DaLynn hefted her cloak, threw it over her arm, and strode aboard the Indomitable, the gangplank bouncing with each step.

The Indomitable was a rare military vessel, built huge and well armoured. It’s wide hull and curved keel was studded in crystal arrays designed to catch the Resonance and assist with the basic lift. In the dawns early light, they sparkled with promise, catching the light and reflecting it in thousands of tiny rainbows. six huge turbines lined the vessel, three on each side, whirring with a steady drone to provide lift and propulsion. Finally, seven fins, Resonance Vanes, sprouted from the deck, each one as tall as a mast, but with feathered metallic spines that waved in a different breeze to that which moved the clouds above. They danced upon the currents of Resonance.

As she reached the deck, she smiled at how quickly the sailors had stowed the supplies and prepared the deck; all the goods too large to store below deck had been secured, including the spear-casters and bolters. A small group of deck-hands secured the final one, drawing a large canvas sheet over the brass and clockwork devices, carefully securing it with elastic cord. As they neatened it up, they moved to the Resonance Vanes, checking them with curious instruments that looked like tuning forks.

DaLynn found her own hand drifting the the tools hanging from her belt. A part of her wanted to check the Vanes herself; to measure their receptivity and the transfer of energy from each vane to the gravity arrays on the keel of the ship. Yet that was a simple task better suited for the sailors and it wouldn’t do to seem as though she didn’t trust their ability. Her responsibilities would come later in tuning the turbines and aligning the arrays. Still, she made her way over and stood, smiling at the efforts of the sailors and offering a few words of advice and confirmation. It was always a good idea to get to know a new crew as soon as possible.

As expected, the Vanes were fine. The sailors offered a few words of welcome, then set about their next task, some seeming a little awkward. One of them even gave her a look she’d suffered most of her own life; one that reminded her that she was a woman in a profession full of men.

After this, she checked her cabin next to the captains and made sure that all her equipment was present. It was a good sized quarters with glass windows that faced out the portsied of the ship. The view was breath-taking as she looked out across the Corynth cliff side docks and the crystal blue waters of the Crater. The interior was wooden, varnished and sometimes cushioned, with a feather bed.

As she checked her trunk, she felt the ship begin to lift and ducked back outside to see the sailors untying from the dock as a group of thirty marines marched aboard. At their head strode an Illuminated, a tall woman dressed in loose and flowing silks and damask. He shoulders were covered in laquered plates, whilst a similar skirt protected her legs. Curiously, she wore no armour on her chest. Like all Illuminated, her hair was long, tied in a fierce braid with numerous crystals and metal hoops tied within. A slim sword sat on her hips, it’s hilt wrapped in a red scarf and detailed with slender golden stitching. As the troops made it to the deck, she turned and addressed them, her commands lost in the roar of the engines as the ship took off. The marines saluted, then turned and made their way below deck, whilst the Illuminated strode towards the rear of the vessel where DaLynn now stood.

The Indomitable wheeled as it took off, gently rising into the brilliant blue sky. The spires of Corynth slipped past, each ending in a slim point, often decked with a flowing white pendant. As the ship rose into the Resonance, the engines slowed as the crystal arrays on the keel began to take on some of the lift. DaLynn watched as the steersman adjusted his wheel and began to ease the ship forward. The six turbines slowly tilted, with the ones at the rear doing so most of all; this began to push the ship forward, gently at first, then with more speed as the engines tipped further. The Vanes on deck began to dance, unfurling the metal almost unnaturally to catch the current. There was something curiously organic in the way they did so.

Watching with a careful eye, checking to make sure all the clockwork machinery was working at it’s optimum capacity, she did not notice the Illuminated who had reached her. DaLynn started when she heard the woman utter something, then blushed. “I’m sorry?” she blustered.

The Illuminated seemed to smile slightly, almost as if amused, “It’s no bother,” she purred, “I simply asked if you were the Engineer aboard ship?”

DaLynn squirmed uncomfortably inside, struggling to keep from giving away her discomfort at the question, “No,” she began, “at least, not the Engineer; an Engineer. The Indomitable is such a large ship that it requires three.” She paused, not sure whether or not to add the next part, but the Illuminated seemed expectant, “I’m simply the Third; here in case of emergencies.” In admitting it, DaLynn felt the usual sense of worthlessness creep over her, a feeling that had dogged her since her academy days.

“Still,” the Illuminated moved next to her, turning to regard the deck of the ship and watch the sailors going about their tasks, “For one so young to be the Third engineer on the flagship Indomitable; that’s very impressive, young lady. What’s your name? I might have heard of you?”

DaLynn’s momentary sense of pride at the compliment died. “DaLynn,” she began, “DaLynn Lowlands.”

The Illuminated hid her surprise well, with a tight smile that simply tugged at the corners of her lips. “Curiouser and curiouser. Once I am settled, you simply must tell me how you came to reach this station. It must be a very interesting tale.” The Illuminated smiled, though without as much genuine feeling as before, and strode away.

At least her reaction was polite.

The air was growing colder as they ascended. Tugging her cloak around her shoulders, DaLynn made her way to the steersman, looking for the captain and the other officers, fighting the feeling that she wasn’t good enough to be with them. As she strode towards a close knit of well dressed nobles, she pondered her own attire; a simple white blouse tied at the neck with a slim crimson scarf, with tweed trousers tucked into tall boots and surrounded by a short bustle skirt made of the same material. Around her chest she wore her Jho corset, a garment required by all Engineers. It was studded with crystals, designed to catch in the Resonance if she fell from the ship. The men wore theirs as a series of straps and harnesses, which was unseemly for a woman. Instead, they wore tight fitting corsets. Hanging from her waist was her tool belt, complete with an Engineers basic set, whilst a pair of brass goggles sat on her brow, nestled just in front of her black hair, tied into a practical bun.

The Officers wore a selection of silks, tweed and Arabash cotton, often detailed with their Lordling house or Institute affiliations. All she wore was the Engineer Institute badge on her breast and a Choir ribbon tied just below – the mark of a registered Airship Engineer. Though she was proud of her achievements, her low birth would always set her apart from these people.

A fellow Engineer – she guessed the First – noticed her as she approached. He was a barrel chested man wearing stained overalls and the Jho harness over the top. He had a Resonance Tuner in his hands, having clearly been at work before he joined the other officers. The man was old, probably in his forties or fifties, and sported a large bushy moustache and beard, his hair thinning on his head. The man smiled when he saw her and beckoned her close, raising a hand to her shoulder to guide her into the group. His easy demeanour and friendly gesture made him instantly likeable.

“You must be DaLynn,” he boomed, his voice almost a solid blow, “I should make my introductions.” He puffed himself up, smilin gin false bravado as he did so, “I am Tomas Verinal, First Engineer,” he indicated his own Institute badge, “and that old curmudgeon over there is Feddin Gamgin, our second.” the man he indicated was a wiry, sour looking man with slim spectacles and short cropped hair. “The dashing gentleman there is our navigator, Meander Nash,” the handsome man simply smiled and nodded, making himself effortlessly more attractive. DaLynn tried not to blush. “This is Gavin Jaenter, our First Mate,” the man was short, but well built, with wiry scars and a fierce eye, Tomas then swept his hand to include the most finely dressed officer, a tall man with swept back hair in the latest styles, his features strong and sure. “and this last gentleman is our captain, Dandarous Sevinter.”

A Monarch! DaLynn fought a sweeping lack of confidence and stammered her greeting, panicking momentarily about the correct way to do it. “Your Honesty,” she curtsied, “May the day bring you joy.” She had no idea that a member of one of the old noble houses would be aboard; she had thought the captain was an ex-naval marine from Easthold.

The captain smirked, showing pristine white teeth. “You can tell she’s new,” he said, his accent thick; each word perfectly pronounced, “I suppose I should enjoy it; I’m certain it won’t be long before she makes me the brunt of her jests like the rest of you.”

A friendly ripple of laughter made the rounds and DaLynn couldn’t help but grin despite herself, feeling some of her earlier worry vanish. Only the Second Engineer failed to laugh. He seemed fit to ruin the moment.

“Your Honesty,” he began, “She is lowborn. The girl is required to speak to you in such a way.”

The laughter slowed and her heart sank. The other officers looked at her differently, their opinion’s suddenly changing. Only the captain remained indifferent. “The Institute thinks she’s worthy,” he replied, “That’s good enough for me. Mr Gamgin, please check that the Vanes are operating at their maximum.”

An uncomfortable hush settled over the officers as Feddin strode towards the deck. As he past, he shot DaLynn a look that she was all too familiar with; he would remember this slight, despite her having done nothing, The others stood for a moment before Tomas slapped his meaty hand down on her shoulder once again.

“Come on, girl,” he rumbled, “Can’t stand around when there’s work to be done. If we finish soon, we can take a rest and you can tell me about the Institute. Does old Gnasher still teach Physics?”

At least she’d made a friend.
The voyage was a short one; they were travelling to a northern frontier town to retrieve beleaguered officers from a battlefield. They’d received the missive via Heliocode only a few hours before and had scrambled the crew for flight. The place was less than 100 leagues from the city, though it sat on the edge of the Resonance, and the journey would be less than two days by airship.

It was a matter of some gossip amongst the crew. Use of a military airship was heavily restricted to only the most urgent or necessary of situations. Men were not simply transported from one place to another; not when the Lordlings and Monarchs were responsible for their own territories and autonomous from the Republic in matters of war. Usually airships were only drafted in if the matter required haste or in the protection of a threatened Resonance Node. Or if an Illuminated was involved.

The woman’s name was Uwan Hysho. The captain said it was a name from before the Sundering, a name in the old tongue. He wasn’t sure what it meant, but he felt that it was made up of the words “stern” and “humour”. How those two worked together, he couldn’t guess. When she asked, DaLynn was told that the Illuminated abandoned their own names after they were inaugurated and adopted titles that better reflected their personalities. Her mere presence on board made heads turn and tongues loose; the men were clearly concerned by her being on board.

The dawning light was making DaLynn introspective. The day’s journey yesterday had been wonderfully uneventful; the ship had run without a hitch. The engines had been wonderfully well behaved, with only minor adjustments needed to correct and realign the turbines and crystals when they passed from Node Sphere to Node Sphere, recalibrating them to match the harmonics of each echo. Easy work. All it required was a knowledge of each node’s frequency and a brief moment with straightforward tools to correct the turbines, vanes and arrays. With three of them, the jobs were accomplished in very little time, allowing her almost a full day with very little to do. It was very different from the flights she had been on previously as the only Engineer aboard ship, where she seemed constantly busy monitoring and correcting the engines. It was clear that these were newer, well-maintained systems.

The northern bluffs of Corynth, with the Crater’s Ocean washing against their craggy walls, had quickly given way to the Corynth Range, a collection of treacherous mountains and ravines. These rock formations were young, barely three hundred years old, created when the Sundering blew a hole in the lands and left the Rim behind. As the mountain range thinned, the land became greener, dotted with rockfall and outcropping, then dense forest. This land, known as the Northern Frontier, was home to the Pioneers; minor Lordlings who were carving land from the Outlander tribes that had settled here. As they expanded outward, they erected Nodes so that the Resonance was echoed into these lands, making them a part of the Rim. As the day moved on, villages, farmsteads and the occasional market town, complete with walls and some stone buildings, appeared like milestones amongst the valleys and soft, green hillsides. Beaten paths and muddied roads bound the farmers fields and villages together, sometimes sporting travelling farmhands and the occasional cart or wagon.

The forests began to thin as the afternoon dwindled, making way for open steppes and bleached plains. Spring had blessed the grasslands with vibrant fields of colour, from rich red swathes of poppy to deep violet washes of bluebell. DaLynn spent many lingering moments regarding the displays, delicately squeezed between her intense work schedule. As night fell, she took up her evening watch, thankful that she could avoid a dinner with the other officers. Since the morning’s awkwardness, she had felt a growing discomfort from the other enlisted men and she could swear she felt them looking down their noses at her. Being of such a low birth, so low that she lacked a family name, made her almost worthless alongside the others. As a woman, this was made even worse; there was only so far she could advance and she could never own property or land. Her low birth negated any marriage prospects, even with her astounding qualifications. In fact, her youth often worked against her;many other engineers resented that she had earn’t her qualifications before many of them had even passed their entrance exams.

At least Tomas seemed to overlook it. The big bear of a man seemed friendly toward everyone, always equipped with a good word to lift spirits and brighten moods. Often he had beaten her to her posts, completing her analysis before her, then taking the opportunity to chat with her and ask her questions about her tasks. It made her feel like he was testing her knowledge and abilities, though to what reason, she wasn’t aware. A small part of her suspected that he didn’t trust her, but he seemed to genuine and too warm to be that kind of person.

With a soft sigh, she rubbed her eyes and chided herself for being paranoid. It was almost time for Feddin to relieve her so that she could get some sleep; she’d been on her feet since dawn the previous day and she needed rest. Yet, the sun rising over the distant northern peaks was breath-taking, casting golden rays of light into the skudding clouds, turning them a rich, brilliant crimson, promising rain later. In the sky, amongst the clouds, it seemed as if the world was a scarlet flare. The light spread out over the green canopy, lighting up the swathes of mist that billowed beneath the leaves and into the recesses of the valley. DaLynn allowed herself a brief moment to breathe and calm down, whilst enjoying the spectacle.

“Feddin is being troublesome,” came a woman’s voice, “He’s taking his time to stretch out your watch.” DaLynn turned to find Uwan Hysho approaching. The woman had removed her strange armour and wore a simple combination of a navy silk blouse and heavy cotton trousers; loose and wide legged like all Illuminated wore. Her hair was plaited in an immense braid that hung as low as the small of her back, ending in a sharp steel spike that curled from left to right as she walked. Her features were well defined, yet soft and without agenda. Her eyes were a brilliant icey blue.

“It doesn’t matter,” DaLynn replied, awkwardly, “I don’t mind.”

Uwan smiled, waiting until she replied, leaving an unnaturally long, pregnant pause. “You should. They will force you to be lowborn, if you let them.”

“I am lowborn.”

Another pause; another wry smile. “Indeed you are. Yet, aren’t you also an Engineer of the Institute? Aren’t you also remarkably young to have graduated? Aren’t you currently Third Engineer on the military flagship of Corynth’s aerial navy?” DaLynn stayed silent. Even when the words were complimentary, she knew a lesson from her betters when she heard one. “Well, perhaps it’s too late. Perhaps you have decided that you are, actually, lowborn. I once again wonder how you built up the motivation and ambition to put yourself through the Institute.” The smile returned, as if the woman was playing a game.

DaLynn considered her reply. How could she explain to the woman what her life had been like, living in the Clefts along with the other disenfranchised children? How could she explain that her father could have been one of a hundred men who her mother had been with, or the methods that her mother used to put food on the table? How could she explain that her motivation was to flee the life she had been born into. That every day when she woke in her small cabins and donned her Engineers uniform she thanked all the Virtues that she had been given this chance. Her motivation each and every day was to survive.

One didn’t last long when they made themselves too visible.

Luckily, she was saved from replying by the arrival of Feddin, who sauntered across the deck and pointedly greeted the Illuminated before ignoring DaLynn. “A pleasure,” he slurred, “I do regret not having time to speak with you further, but I must check to make sure that the ships systems haven’t fallen into disrepair in my absence.” DaLynn cringed at the unsubtle derision.

Uwan raised an eyebrow, her earlier grin long gone. She gave Feddin another of her long pauses before she replied. “I am thankful. I would hate to waste time listening to the prattle of one so bigotted, nor so ignorant. I can imagine my own intelligence would be damaged by exposure to your petty views.”

DaLynn gapped.

Uwan continued; “As for your treatment of your fellow officers, I have only this to say; should I hear of you being so grotesquely rude in future, I shall make it my personal quest to remove one of your appendages. I’ll be fair and make it one you rarely use. Your cock, for example?”

Feddin didn’t even speak. He choked several times, then bowed obsequiously whilst retreating to take care of some minor business. Uwan turned to DaLynn with her usual, sly smile. “There,” she began, “If you want to be treated with respect, you must reach out and take it. Otherwise they will walk all over you, noit only for being lowborn, but also for being a woman.” With that, she made her way to the prow of the ship.

DaLynn watched her with astonishment, half giddy with joy at seeing something so satisfying, yet half lamenting what had just occurred; Feddin would remember this insult and return it ten-fold, as he’d proven by turning up late after this morning’s debacle. Next time woudl be much worse. She would have to be very careful around him and not give him the chance to take his vengeance.

With weary, all too familiar thoughts, she stumbled to her cabin and collapsed, still fully dressed.

 

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Tales from the Rim – Chapter 1 first draft

Chapter one

Anth knew he was dying. The searing pain blossomed like an explosion from his gut, spreading out in waves throughout his entire being. Each movement, no matter how small, sent undulating waves of fresh agony rolling throughout his limbs. He had never experienced pain like this, nor did he ever care to do so again. Death was a distant comfort; a blessed release from the sanity eroding agony he now experienced, and he was beginning to treasure that escape and anticipate it. There was no way he would survive something so terrible.

Beyond the holocaust of pain, he could feel a rough wooden bench beneath him; he was curled upon it, his arm numb from being trapped beneath his bulk. He lay on his side because any other way was impossible; a spear had pierced his stomach and punched out through his back.

He could feel himself gibbering, the pain making him oblivious to the prayers and pleas that spilled from his blood flecked lips. through the haze, he could just about make out the world around him, though in scattered, stolen glimpses in betyween blacking out and diving into a world of fevered pain. Three faces swam into and out of view at regular intervals, dancing through his fractured thoughts. He imagined them important surgeons or battlefield nurses, yet he could not be sure. His vision was wracked and haunted visions often danced into and out of sight. His hearing, however, was clear and accurate.

“The lad is dead; it’s simply a matter of time,” came one voice, filled with irritation.

“I was told to bring him here and see what could be done.” This voice was more controlled, with hints of calm negotiation.

“I don’t intend to wast emy time with a doomed farmboy when I have Monarch sons to sew back together,” anger laced the first voice now. “Get him out of my hospital.”

“With respect, doctor, the Illumunated made the request himself.” A pause, loaded and effortlessly important.

“Fine. Saw the ends of that spear off so we can move around him.”

Each rasping drag of the saw was an eternity of agony, punctuated by a sharp lurch as the heavy wooden weight was removed. Yet, for all the suffering, the end result was better; giving him more movement and allowing him to shift the weight from his arm. For a short while, he regained his faculties, taking a better stock of his situation.

He was in a large canvas tent surrounded by wooden benches and pallets, upon which lay the writhing bodies of others who had been wounded. As he craned his neck, his wild eyes rolling in their sockets to see who else there was, he noticed all the others staring at him and realised that his wound was by far the worst there. With a confusing realisation, Anth also noticed that all the others were of noble stock, either Monarchs or Lordlings of the clans. He could see the dread on their faces as they watched him die.

His respite, the brief moment in which the weaight of the spear through his gut kept him pinned in perpetual agony, did not last long. Sudden, jerking movements of the spear brought him quickly back to the pain.

One nurse held his shoulders, mumbling reassuring words, whilst the other began to wash around his wound with water, focusing, oddly, on the wooden haft of the spear itself. A third eased him back onto his side and began fumbling with the other end that jutted from his lower back.

“This will kill him, I’m sure of it,” said one.

“The Illuminated said to do it. He was very clear on the matter.”

“I have men who might actually survive to consider; what is the life of this nobody?”

Anth’s growled something that he did not recognise; an oath that boiled up from within his soul. A distinct feeling of pointlessness swam over him, threatening to carry him away into the oblivion of death, yet a spark that had burned within rekindled at the surgeon’s words, flaring briefly, just as it had done for years, since his parents had died. A fierce refusal to live a pointless life tore throguh his frayed thoughts.

“The boy disagrees; he’s still got some fight left in him,” joked one of the nurses.

“Not after this,” came the sharp retort. “Hold him tight.”

Anth felt the spear haft slide through him, tugged by the surgeon who stood behind him. He felt the grain of the wood grate past the torn flesh of his stomach, felt it scrape against the bones of his spine; felt it tear through his guts. If the pain before had been agony, Anth lacked the ability or faculty to describe what pain that washed through him as the spear was removed. He realised he was screaming as his throat burned and his lungs were empty, yet he did not stop until the haft slipped free with a jerk that sent him rolling onto his back with a wet slap. Blood and bile gushed from his torso.

“Get me some catgut and needles. Fresh water and bandage. SInce the little bastard didn’t have the manners to die from that, I suppose I’ll have to sew him back together.”

Anth felt the last of his life drain away from the ragged hole in his centre, listening to the curses from a surgeon who didn’t care if he lived or died.
Childhood was a difficult memory. As his life flashed before his eyes, Anth was forced back into the horror of his youth, where his early life with a loving mother and father ended in plague and flames. His earliest vivid memory flooded into him, breaking free from a barrier he had made to keep it away. He was four, hand limp in his grandmothers grasp, watching flames eat at the wooden timbers of his home. As the heat washed over him in an intense wave, burning away the innocence of his childhood, it stoked a fire within his heart.

His mother had been a herbalist and his father a scribe for the mayor. Though both respected members of the village, their positions hadn’t stopped the plague from infecting them and killing them and their favoured roles did not stop the Lordling’s guardsmen from setting fire to their home to burn the sickness away.

For the next two years he lived with his grandmother, though his memory of the time was short. It was difficult; he had to work hard to maintain her small cabin and keep them warm and fed, but it kept him from thinking about his dead parents. Then, when the winter cold claimed his grandmother, he went to live with his distant aunt on their farmstead to the far north of the Corynth Reaches.

Though she was loving and caring, her husband was not. His regimen was strict and harsh, with hard work and ceaseless labour the order of the day. Anth knew that he was a burden; the treatment of his uncle and the pained expression on his aunt’s face whenever his uncle berated him made it very clear. At first, these looks and cutting words kept him awake at night, cursing the cruelties of the world and missing his parents, yet before long, these fruitless pleas became lost in the steadily growing fire that continued to burn within.

Initially, it was a simple dissatisfaction with his station in life. Following the death of his parents, he attributed it to his feelings of loss and unfairness, yet over time, as the feeling grew and changed with the years, he began to question it and act upon it. During his time with his aunt, it twisted into a confident conviction that he would achieve something of value; that his uncle would congratulate his efforts, or his aunt might actually side with him during one of the many arguments. As age and experiences burnt away the naivety of youth, he realised that his uncle would never change. The fire within changed again, becoming an ambitious urge to make something of himself; a stubborn refusal to be a farmer for the rest of his life and scratch out a life amongst the wilderness and generosity of the Lordling whose land he worked.

As his childhood fantasies gave way to adolescent contemplation, his relationship with his uncle worsened. Memories of savage arguments and the occasional beating punctuated this troubled time, leading to him regularly working the fields farther and farther from the house. Eventually, he began to stay in the fields, living in the small hay-lofts that dotted the fields or just beneath the stars if the weather was warm. By the time he was a teenager, he was visiting the farm itself only once a month, spending the rest of his time tending the cattle and harvesting the fields. On feastdays and durign the winter he would spend his time silently haunting the house, avoiding his uncle and snatching quick conversations with his aunt.

He had some fond memories. The fresh clothes and sewn repairs his aunt would surprise him with whenever he arrived at the farmstead kept his faith in family, whilst the tenderness his uncle showed his daughter, Anth’s cousin, forced him to realise that his treatment was not simply because his uncle was a cruel man. The springtime blooms and calves always brought the joy of a new year, whilst the rich, golden autumns and crips air of winter gave him a sense of awed respect for the natural world.

Yet that fire within burnt relentlessly. When his aunt began talking of marrying him into another farm, the fire brought bile into his throat. When his uncle gave him lectures on how to run his own farm, he resented the tutelage; he knew he was made for better things. Worse still, when the subject of his future came up in the house, the air would grow colder and an unmistakable discomfort would take hold; as he grew older and bigger, his needs grew more involved and he needed more food. He knew that his time on the farm was causing his aunt and uncle problems. This only made the feeling worse.

His late teens were even more difficult. Year passed, shedding the relentless and desperate need for recognition from his guardians and replacing it with a steady dissatisfaction with the fate he had been dealt.

It was a creeping, ever present feeling. Whenever he milked the cows, staring out at the stretching fields at the dawning sun, he would imagine following it over the fields and hills to see what was there. When riders crested the pass and thundered south towards the Rim, he would curse their luck at having such interesting lives. whenever he met folk who could travel and see distant lands, he would fall into a self-hating malaise, blaming himself and his meagre life.

Folk used to avoid him, lest they get caught in his mood and become ill. The Sadness crept in his shadow, threatening a bleakness that he couldn’t fathom, but when he felt that his life had become pointless, the raging fire would burn through him, swearing vengeance against the mundane and the normal. Deep within, Anth knew, absolutely knew, that his life would be more than mud and fields and shit and meaningless.
It was early spring and the Lordlings were preparing to expand into the northern Weald. Lordling Grimore had succeeded in acquiring a particularly rich mine from the Outlanders in the autumn before; his plan was to occupy the area in the coming spring and erect a Resonance Bell to allow airships from Corynth to begin hauling the resources back to the city. As a result, once the snows had thawed, riders and men from the Lordling’s forces had begun to march through the northern farmlands, crossing through the village almost every day in ever-growing bands and small marching units. Occasionally nobles mounted on glorious steeds would canter along the roads, passing Anth whilst he worked the fields, their pennants fluttering in the springtime breeze.

The winter had been particularly harsh and Anth had been forced to spend nine weeks in the house avoiding his uncle. As the cold had begun to give way to brighter days and greener fields, the atmosphere had become more and more tense. His aunt kept him in the house with promises of new clothes and equipment. Yet his uncle had become more and more surly, grumbling about the food lasting longer without an extra mouth to feed. It didn’t help that his aunt had given birth to another daughter earlier in the year. Anth knew he’d have to find his own life soon or face his uncles ultimatums.

Lordling Grimores vanguard stopped into the town of Havditch, a small market town south of his uncles farmhouse. They waited for Grimore himself, who was due to arrive within days. Anth spent the next four days torturing himself in the fields, questioning his purpose and pondering whether or not he should try to change his future in such a dramatic way. For three days he hardly slept, spending his time staring at the hills and forests to the north and pondering the biggest decision he would make in his life.

On the morning of his decision, he stepped into the farm house, startling his aunt and uncle who were used to him spending weeks in the field. His aunt shadowed a smile and carried on feeding the baby, whilst his uncle gave him a stern look. “What’s the matter?” he grumbled.

Even during this hazy, pained memory, Anth remembered the look on his uncles face when he told him his plan. He had expected indifference or possibly happiness; relief at being rid of him. When his uncle had blinked back soft tears and rounded on him in a fury, asking him if he wanted to throw his life away, it had taken him by surprise. Years of harsh treatment peeled back to reveal the care buried beneath an awkward forced fatherhood. His aunt had simply sobbed. For one, brief moment, he had considered changing his mind.

The fire inside did not let him. He walked to town that afternoon. A bored looking bannerman gave him his six coins and pointed him toward a quartermaster, clapping him on the shoulder and welcoming him to the Lordling’s army. He had smiled when they handed him the spear that would kill him.

Standard

Takes from the Rim – prologue first draft

The autumn air was thick with smoke and the smell of death.

Though the gentle slope of the valley was ringed with golden leafed trees, the usually verdant grass and gentle, crystal stream was ruined, covered in broken bodies and the debris of war. Smoke curled from the burning husks of chariots, blotting out the slim and weak sun, whilst man-shaped mounds dotted the ground like shattered dolls. The ravens feasted, their joyful calls a riot of sound that echoed throughout the valley.

Medb watched from the hillside, sat amongst a bed of soft heather. As the grey light waned, she watched groups of men walking the battlefield, delivering a swift mercy to the worst wounded and an undignified death to those helpless enemies who lay amongst them. A rare few they gathered, set on a stretcher and carried away to their surgeons. Medb imagined their healers as butchers; stocky men with cleavers and violent minds. With a grimace, she chided herself for her prejudice and calmed her feelings; she needed to see the truth behind the hatred and conflict.

The wind that had tugged fiercely at the pretty banners of the Rimlanders had died to a slow breeze that lazily moved at the clouds overhead. Beyond the carnage, the trees moved gently, swaying in time with the waves that the wind made in the longer grasses near the valleys peaks. A small flock of starling lifted from the branches of a copse of oak and swirled in the sky before wheeling south for warmer lands. Beyond the battle, the world was as it should be.

This troubled Medb. All her divinations had pointed to this being a place where the world would change, yet all she saw was simply another pointless conflict. Another fight between the warlike tribes of these lands and the godless soldiers of the Rim.

Breathing deeply to settle her thoughts, Medb calmed herself and let the land tell her what she needed to know.

Golden leaves fell from the autumnal branches. Winter was beginning to creep into the valley. The wind had slowed, like the lull before the storm. The battlefield was quiet. All of these things held meaning.

The fighting had been brutal, much like the wind that had howled through the valley. Marukai horsemen from the steppes had tried to circle the Rimlanders, raining arrows into their numbers, yet the sturdy shields of their massed infantry had turned most of them aside. As the battle had joined, the halberds of the Rim soldiers had hewn the lightly armoured tribesmen like wheat to the scythe, cutting down the men. Yet the tribesmen had five times the numbers of the Rimlanders. Eventually they had overwhelmed their lines, forcing them to fight in divided groups where their tight ranks meant nothing. It had seemed lost, until the white haired warrior had arrived, cutting down tribesmen with his slim, silver sword. The battle was over shortly afterward, with the Rimlanders taking the field and the tribesmen fleeing.

Again, nothing out of the ordinary. The Rim was pushing into the lands of the Tribes with ease, taking more and more land each season. Even the white haired warrior, clearly one of the Accursed, was not an uncommon event.

The smoke was curling into the sky now, mixing into the clouds. As they mixed, they took on the colour of snow clouds, almost threatening an early frost. For a brief moment, the wind picked up, whistling through the valley and whipping at the nearby trees. Below, on the battlefield, a fire guttered and died, whilst the crows clawed angrily at a small group of looters who disturbed their feasts. Though they complained, they moved off, hopping across the bodies with no respect or taking wing and moving to a fresh feast. One of the wandering men stopped by a small cluster of mangled bodies and began tugging at what looked like cloth. Though it was at a distance, Medb could see that he was trying to remove a mans cloak. By the stream, a pair of women washed their newfound treasures of blood.

Stilling her own frustration, Medb sought help from her guides. Not all of them; just the ones that gave her insight. She called on the inspiration of the sunset, those quiet times when the mind would wander; with a smile, she called upon the wisdom of the Grandmother to bless her with understanding beyond her youth. Finally, she even called upon the crow to give her the knowledge of things otherworldly, even if the crow would demand a prize.

The clouds were thinning; sunlight was creeping across the top of the valley in sweeping patches that danced amongst the undulating grasses. The cries of the wounded were all but silent and the looters had begun to slink away. The flocks of crows had grown.

Yet her insight had not. The portents spoke of nothing other than the usual dance of life. For a moment, she imagined that she was missing the signs; that they were too subtle, yet she was a Wych and her insight was unmatched. There was a message here, but it was not apparent. Or it hadn’t appeared yet.

Her journey here was a long one, stretching some 400 leagues from the borders of the Rigoi lands where she had first received the vision that this battlefield would be of great importance. This had been close to half a year ago and her decision had caused ripples of disgruntled agreement amongst the tribes. For two seasons, since the start of spring, she had travelled south west through the Weald, sometimes with caravans and sometimes alone. She had moved through forests, plains and steppes, stopping often at the villages and homesteads to help birth babes and settle disputes, as her position demanded. In her journey, she had eased the raging heart of a spirit of sickness and earn’t his pact; she had been given the pelt of the Grey Lion, an ancient fetish that could only be earnt by satisfying the spirit of the beast. It warmed her now while she sat and waited for a sign.

As she had travelled, her purpose had raced ahead of her in the whispers and gossip of merchants and nomads. After a season of travel, she had begun to hear about rumblings within the Marukai; her coming was agitating them and making them suspicious of a coming conflict. They began a series of raids against the nearby Rimlands outposts, bringing retaliatory strikes. As Medb drew closer, these raids escalated, causing her to worry that the battle would take place before she reached the valley. As she rode the rest of the way on a horse given to her by one of the steppes clans, she began to worry that her actions may have caused this conflict in the first place. Asthe battle joined and the me had begun to die, she began to feel responsible; maybe her decision to travel this far to explore a vision had caused this battle.

It was important that she find the omen. If she found. Lathing, then she might have caused the deaths of so many for no reason.

She felt the dry cackle of the crow echo in her head. On the battlefield, a small group of the creatures moved to the corpse of one of the Rimlanders large white horses, one that was buried beneath a group of men peppered by arrows and yoked to a destroyed chariot. As the crows gathered, congregating on the wooden beams and hopping over the rotting mento get to fresh meat, the pile lurched suddenly. As Medb watched, the pile shifted and corpses tumbled to the ground. She watched the horse struggle momentarily, pulling against the cords that held it and kicking violently at the crows that began to peck at its flanks. With a sharp crack that echoed throughout the valley, the yoke snapped, sending the corpses rolling away and a cloud of crows awkwardly into the skies. As the horse pushed free from the carnage and stood, shaking off its bridle, the sun burst from the skies and bathed the battlefield in a golden radiance. The horse reared, crying out in fury and fear, framed in the glow of the evening sunshine, before taking off at a gallop, heading toward the southern end of the valley, toward the Rimlander encampment.

It startled a group of looters as it raced past, sending them into the waters of the stream to avoid being trampled. Medb’s heart lifted as she watched it’s glorious escape; it’s beauty and poise a beacon of wonder in a scene of devastation. The steed sped along the stream and cleared a smouldering pile of woodwork with a leap, before splashing into the water. It swerved past the women cleaning their new cloth and charged a group of ravens, sending them hurtling into the sky.

The horse had almost reached the edge of the battlefield when a looters arrow took it in the flank and brought it down. It crumpled under a tangle of broken legs and lay screaming for a long moment until another looter took off its head with an axe. Their hideous laughter at the event drifted across the valley.

Medb grimaced, then sent her thanks to the crow. The startling event had told her enough. The time had finally come.

Standard

Tales of Infinity the Game – part 3

Of Mice and Men – with thanks to John Steinbeck.

As his arms and limbs became trapped, ‘Rique suppressed the momentary panic that accompanied the feeling of helplessness and waited for his tac-display to kick in. Around him, servos whirred, settled into place and connected with his armoured suit with small jolts and pulses. In the darkness of the machine, all he could do was wait. It seemed longer each time.

“‘Zilla 6, do you copy?” The audio echoed within the metallic cavity.

“Affirmative.”

“Mission parameters are being uploaded to your operation files. We advise you read them carefully as you head to the LZ.”

In the darkness, his mind played tricks on him. it didn’t matter if his eyes were open or closed; the pitch void was like a starless universe, full of unseen terrors.

“Do you copy, ‘Zilla 6?”

“Copy that. Control, why is my tac-display taking so long to kick in?” he covered the slight break in his voice by clearing his throat.

“It’s not yet been a minute since you plugged in, ‘Zilla 6; Clockmaker advises that all systems are fully functional. Are you okay?”

He wondered if the concern in the voice was for him, or his operational ability in the mission. For a moment, he considered how disappointing it would be to tell his brother that he’d been removed from the mission as a section 8. As the seconds stretched out, he hoped that the suit didn’t detect his sweat.

In the darkness, a blue-white light blinked three times, then blossomed into a series of displays with the statistics of his suit. ‘Rique smiled.

“I’m fine, Control. Just making sure my TAG’s being looked after.”

Taking a deep breath, he logged into the system’s tac-display, stretching his neck with a click as the screen splashed into life in front of him, circling his head to provide a fully rendered 3D display of the environment outside his suit in a monochrome blue; the standard display. Beside him, an engineer looked up from a tablet-reader and gave the thumbs up. ‘Rique returned it; seeing his hand raise alongside a huge, piston operated mechanical appendage that mirrored his own movements. As he began the control check, flexing both hands and all the fingers to check that the synch was complete, the engineer began ticking off the statistics on his screen.

“All systems optimal,” ‘Rique announced, before taking a step towards the dropship that sat waiting by the hangar bay. Despite the cutting edge technology, there was always a fraction of a second lag between his body beginning it’s motion and the TAG copying the movement. At first it was disconcerting, but before long, a good pilot knew what to expect and accepted it as second nature. Each step was slower and more deliberate than he would usually take, making sure that his footing was sturdy. The suit had built in stabilisers, but rushing the complex calculations that ran through the system with each step would still result in him falling on his face. Yet despite his slow movements, the sheer size of the machine made each stride cover far more ground than his usual gait; like walking on an escalator. He’d seen new pilots topple simply from walking in their suits; he’d even done it himself when he’d first piloted his Iguana TAG.

As he ducked into the dropship, careful to stoop, he nestled his TAG in amongst the specially built harness and signalled the pilot that he was secured. As he waited for the rest of the team to file in, he punched up his mission parameters and scanned through them, checking them a little more thoroughly than he usually would.

Serin Prime. The name had become something of a curse amongst the crew and enlisted. They’d been in constantly changing orbit of the planet for five weeks now, living on live-fire shifts of six hours on, six hours off since the first recon team encountered stiff resistance from Steel Phalanx troopers. It took seventeen minutes for the mission to change from observation to military theatre, with a small Corregidor force and a bunch of fresh-out-of-academy officers. Things had been rough since, with constant hit and run raids against the Aleph.

It got slightly better when the Bakunin module arrived, bringing with them much needed cyber-support and fresh medics. They began running counter-hacking programs against the Aleph systems, providing command with vital intel and a heads up as to when the Steel Phalanx forces were going to make a raid. He’d been planet-side twice now, once to support a retrieval and once to act as sentry and neither time had he encountered the enemy. But that was how a small Nomad force waged war; picking the targets and avoiding the fight until they had a clear advantage. It was fresh out of the Corregidor Survival Manual.

Then came this mission, high priority and hot as hell. He’d sat in the briefing room with a full team of Wildcats and a Hellcat drop-team as they explained the basics; a communication tower near enemy controlled forces had been transmitting data to an off-world orbital that no-one had known about. Command wanted it manually hacked and the whereabouts of the orbital found, then have the comm tower destroyed to prevent it falling into enemy hands. Straightforward, were it not for the fact that Aleph ground forces were already enroute to intercept. A Reverend Custodier was buying time, along with a compliment of remotes and Zeroes.

They’d all known what “buying time” meant; she was sacrificing herself to slow them down. Within ten minutes, the team had suited up. ‘Rique had donned his personal mobile suit and plugged into the Iguana.

Around him, the Wildcat team stomped aboard and took seats, high-fiving and rallying each other with friendly rough-housing. ‘Rique gave a small nod to the sergeant, his brother, which was quietly returned. It wasn’t common knowledge that they were related. Finally, the Hellcat hopped aboard, checking the ammo feed of his Augur-Class heavy machine gun. ‘Rique felt a moment of sympathy for the man; he’d been part of the first recon. He’d seen his friends get downed. That changed a soldier.

“Intercept team; good luck,” Control’s voice echoed in the dropship. The doors closed and the vessel was loaded for high-orbital drop.

 
“Listen up,” the voice echoed in the cabin, loud, cutting through the thoughtful reverie of troops readying themselves for a fight. It was ‘Rique’s brother. “Much as I trust Brass to have our best interests at heart, I don’t think they’ve given us the best possible operational tactics.” He punched up a display and transfered his data-feed to it so everyone could see. A map of the zone showed their potential deployment and the base; it was on a raised platform that overlooked an old set of alien ruins jutting out of a rock formation. “Brass wants us to use the TAG as a bastion; it’ll hold the building while we retrieve the data and pull out, while Phoenix,” he nodded to the Hellcat, “Well, he gives them something else to think about. I don’t think that’ll work.”

The Wildcat sergeant punched in a set of figures and markers blossomed into life, showing their projected entry and targets. ‘Rique and the Wildcats were on top of the tower; Phoenix was dropping in amongst the enemy. “Problem is, we’re facing Steel Phalanx and Intel says that Achilles may be with them. Having all of us in one place will be suicide.”

On the display, additional markers appeared showing the potential enemy troops. As they advanced, using the ample cover, it became clear that too many of them would reach the comm-building and swamp the Wildcats. Even if Achilles made it by himself, it would be a bloodbath. As much as they all wanted to believe that Command knew what it was doing, it was clear that the mission was not going to succeed. ‘Rique scowled.

“So here’s what we do,” new locations appeared on the screen, “We’ll hot-foot to the objective and take up position while Gabriella gets us the information. Once that’s done, we’ll lay demo-charges and leave at high speed,” the markers showed a simple tactical in-and-out. “Phoenix, you drop a little further to the east and suppress anything that takes to the walkway leading to the comms building,” the Hellcat nodded. “Zilla 6, you sweep out and away from the comm-tower, drawing the force apart.”

‘Rique blanched, grateful that the TAG hid his face. “What?” typically, his older brother was trying to protect him; keep him out of harms way. “I need to be where the fight is fiercest; you’ll need the heavy firepower against those myth-loving bastards.”

His brother looked up at him, face calm and controlled. “You’re right. We’ve seen Achilles in action. That macho son of a bitch will bee-line straight for you, aiming to take you out as the highest priority. If he’s trying to get you, he’s not trying to get us. You get as far away from us as possible; you’ll keep him busy and we can get our job done.”

Mjombi, the teams heavy weapon specialist, leaned across and patted her rocket launcher, “Even mpira moto would have trouble taking on Achilles and a bunch of Myridons at the same time. I can only carry so much ammo.” The other Wildcats grinned, showing a lot of teeth.

“Understood,” ‘Rique responded, accepting his brothers advice and, in turn, the orders of his lieutenant.

“Then let’s gear up. We drop in two minutes.”

 
The ground was muddy and unstable, slowing him down as he made for the cover of a nearby shipping container. He’d seen no sign of the enemy since they’d left the dropship, escorting the Wildcats to the steps below the comms-tower before sweeping west to lure out Achilles. As he slammed into the large container, feeling it rock gently as the TAG hit it, ‘Rique wondered if their intel had been incorrect. With luck, they could get in and out before the Steel Phalanx forces even showed up.

The Wildcats climbed the steps, moving with precision as a well-rehearsed team, slapping shoulders as they passed to let each other know that their fire-lanes were now covered. Within moments, the team was in the building, closing the door behind them. As it was, the comm-tower was an exceptionally defensive point; it was raised off the ground and overlooked the entire complex, only accessible via the stairs to the south and an open walkway to the north; with the doors closed and potentially covered from within, it was practically a bunker.

‘Rique eased Zilla 6 to the edge of the container and peered around to try and pin-point the enemy; he would lay down suppressing fire to keep them in place until Phoenix dropped into the theatre. As he did, he noticed a small three-wheeled vehicle running across the open ground towards him. It looked like a strange animal, with two front legs acting as stabilisers and a large rear leg used to propel it. It was coated in slick white ceramic-metal plate with flashing interface lights darting across it’s chassis. Pausing for a moment to work out what it was – as it had no visible armament – he realised far too late the danger he was in.

His blue-white tac-display pinged a cyber-alert before freezing and crashing. Working on instinct, he kicked in protective algorithms and threw up alternating firewalls, but watched in horror as his tac-display refused to respond. His TAG was being hacked.

The panic hit him like a wall of ice, smashing the breath from his lungs and flooding his blood with frozen dread. All the war-stories he’d ever heard about TAGs being immobilised and ripped apart suddenly flooded from his memory into his train of thought, smashing any rational logic under a wave of terror. Stories told in hushed whispers about campaigns where allies had died; stories accompanied with laughter at how an enemy machine had been rendered useless and blown up while they stood as statues. He began to wonder whether they would shoot him, blow him up or slice him apart. His breath came in ragged gasps while tears streamed from his eyes despite him not crying.

To him, it seemed like hours, but in reality it was merely seconds until his tac-display blossomed back into life, with all statistics showing nominal performance. ‘Rique actually laughed out loud and swung back behind the container.

“You okay, Zilla 6?” it was Ryan, the Wildcats Hacker. “I just intercepted a potential cyper-package that hit your net pretty hard?”

“Fuck…” it was all ‘Rique could manage between the stolen breaths.

The response carried the weight of understanding from a man who knew what he’d just gone through, “Yeah, man. Glad you’re okay.”

”Rique stayed behind the container, enjoying the moment of cover and regaining his senses. He’d always hated being confined, ever since his brother used to wrestle with him and trap him until he screamed Uncle. As he’d grown up on the Corregidor ships, he’d overcome his fear, knowing that a small tunnel or duct always had an entrance or exit. It always made him wonder how he’d qualified and graduated as such a decorated TAG pilot with such a powerful fear of claustrophobia, yet all the time he could move a giant robotic machine capable of ripping walls and doors apart and breaking free of his brothers choke-holds, he was fine.

A streak in the sky like a falling chunk of debris suddenly slowed, drop-chute thrusters firing at about 100 metres. As the object slowed it’s descent, it became clear that it was Phoenix, the team’s Hellcat, falling perfectly into place to the flank of the suspected forces. As he began to hit the ground, he opened fire near the walkway leading to the comms-tower, spewing tight, controlled bursts that ‘Rique recognised as suppressing fire. When the Hellcat touched down, he ran for cover, betraying his training and skill by smoothly combining the two, sliding behind a rocky outcropping long enough for his Augur HMG’s heat-sink to kick in.

‘Rique knew the drill; he wheeled out from behind the container, drawing a bead on where Phoenix was firing, and rained bursts into the staircase and walkway. White-hot sparks erupted along the steel railings, while his tracer fire marked a perfect figure of eight over the area he intended to keep under control. Nothing popped into his tac-display, despite his motion and thermal sensors detecting something. Regardless, he kept up the heavy fire until the over-heat alert for his weapon flashed into his display. With the timing and training expected from Corregidor, he ducked back into cover as Phoenix popped back up and continued his suppressing fire.

“We’ve retrieved the data,” came his brother’s voice, “Setting demo-charges now. Prepare for depart in two minutes.”

He nodded despite nobody looking. His blood was pulsing and his heart racing as his adrenaline started to kick in, shedding all the minor worries about his debts; how he needed to call his friends more often; how he needed to mend his bunk, and replacing them with the irresistible urge to survive; to vent his emotions; to exert his power over another human being. His fears dissolved; it was time to fight.

He wheeled out again, despite Phoenix still suppressing the stairs, and scanned for targets. The Hellcat’s own tracer fire was a rainbow, every tenth round a white-hot dart in a cloud of ever increasing dust as the bullets chewed rock and metal. Behind that, the habitation modules gleamed grey-steel in the dwindling twilight, shifting shadows betraying the forces within. After two missions of standing around waiting for something to happen, he would finally see some real action.

A shape loomed out of the dust beneath Phoenix’s fire, recoiling as one of the Hellcat’s rounds found their mark. ‘Rique almost cheered, but the figure simply jerked and stood straighter. Then it vaulted the stair rail, leaping to the nearby rocky ground and sprinting.

Sprinting straight toward’s ‘Rique’s position.

It was strange. The figure seemed to be an armoured man, but the image seemed blurred and refracted, like an image through a glass of water. As it came toward him, ‘Rique opened fire, his HMG spitting a steady stream of rounds towards what he thought was the target. Yet his perception of it must have been wrong, his rounds chewing the earth around the figure as it closed ground and advanced. Out of the corner of his tac-display, he saw Phoenix draw a bead on the target, his tracer fire following it as it covered the muddy terrain in quick, measured strides a glowing blade now visible in it’s hand.

‘Rique changed his tactics, dropping his aim to just in front of his target, along the path it was taking. As the muddy rock exploded under the withering fire, the blurred figure slowed, stopping momentarily as it almost ran into the hail of fire the Iguana was throwing at it.

The pause was exactly what was needed. With a juddering blast, the demo-charges in the comms-tower detonated, blowing holes in the side of the building. As soon as the debris rained outward, the Wildcats lined the ragged openings, drawing beads on the shimmering target and unloading the clips of their combi-rifles towards it. ‘Rique cheered as the obfuscated figure stopped, tried to return fire against the new targets, then disappeared behind a wall of fire as the Wildcats ignited their flame throwers. As the area became a hell-hole, he poured rounds into the chaos, confident that whatever was there was no longer alive.

“Amazing job,” came his brothers voice, “now all teams prepare for-”

The abrupt cut off shattered ‘Rique’s battle-lust. He blinked, scanning the area, and felt the pit of his stomach drop away as he noticed a pathway of thick smoke that lead from the enemy deployment to the comms-tower. While they had been busy raining fire on the original target, a secondary force had accessed the tower, using the distraction and smoke to move unseen.

The tell-tale lightning strikes and thumps of flash grenades from within the comms-tower confirmed it. The Wildcats assault specialist was “buying them time”. ‘Rique scanned the smoke, switching his tac-display from the standard monochromatic blue through the ultraviolet and infra-red spectrum, but the smoke was zero-vis; he couldn’t see anything. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Phoenix sprinting towards the comms-tower, boosting himself with controlled thrusts from his drop-chute.

Small arms fire echoed around the outpost, while a jet of flame spilled from the comms-tower. Gabriella, the teams engineer, stumbled from the door and staggered down the walkway, throwing herself clear of the building. There were several “whoofs” of light flame-throwers igniting and the shouts of men being burnt alive. As the smoke along the walkway cleared, silence fell upon the outpost, the assault finished as quickly as it had started. Phoenix reached Gabriella and checked she was okay, sitting her up and accessing her vitals. ‘Rique, his mind swimming so furiously that he couldn’t piece any real train of thought together, lurched his TAG towards the comms-tower, scanning it’s ruined walls and gutted interior for any sign of movement. He took the stairs leading to the doorway in two steps, ripping the door and most of the wall away with his TAGs piston-empowered arms. The mission was forgotten, a success, but costly in the undertaking. All that mattered now was the condition of his brother.

Within was a tangle of bodies, three Wildcats and the rest a group of Myrmidon soldiers, most of them still aflame where the teams flame-throwers had hit them. Thankfully, the TAG kept the stench of blood, burnt flesh and death from reaching him, but the sight of mangled bodies and fire creeping over blackened flesh still made his stomach turn. In a panicked voice, he called for his brother, expecting the worst.

The Wildcat sergeant, his brother, sat nursing a leg wound and checking over the prone and unmoving form of Mjombi, th eteams heavy specialist. He’d removed his helmet and looked grim; she had a ragged slice that ran from her shoulder to her hip and blood was pooling the ground. Beyond her, he could see their assault specialist, or at least he could see his torso; the rest had been sheared away. Deep within ‘Rique’s conscious, he wondered why he had no reaction to that; he guessed it was shock.

“Intercept 1 to control, do you copy?” his brother asked, raising the inside of his helmet to his mouth.

“This is Mission Control; please update your status, Intercept 1.”

“Mission is a success, control,” his brother paused, clearly finding the next sentence difficult. “Minimal casualties; I will need a cubevac for three.”

“Copy that, Intercept 1; good job.”

It was clear from ‘Rique’s brothers face that it hadn’t been a good job.

 
The return was quiet, with minimal chatter from the four of them left in the cockpit. Beside him, sat in a metallic box, ‘Rique’s brother held onto the three cubes of his friends, watching over them personally so that they could be re-implanted into newly grown bodies to replace his comrades. Again, ‘Rique reflected upon where his brain took him when thinking about this process, remembering a conversation with a hacker during a brief stay-over in a Bakunin run outpost.

“The new bodies cost hardly a thing,” the hacker had slurred over his third glass, “it’s the hours of the programmer who removes the cube and reintegrates the conscious that costs all that money!”

Gabriella had sobbed a little as the journey started. The Hellcat had moved off, clearly uncomfortable, but his brother had simply paced a hand on her shoulder and given her a “it happens” look. She’d stopped shortly after that. No one had spoken since.

A comms-panel pinged into life; the display informed them that it was mission control. The Wildcat sergeant left it for a long time before reaching over to acknowledge it.

“Intercept 1, this is Control. We’ve received a confirmed distress call from the Reverend Custodier who was sent to slow the Steel Phalanx forces. She has requested evac for her and her remaining team and you are the only group nearby.”

“No can do, control,” replied ‘Rique’s brother, “I’m down three of my team.”

“Roger that.”

‘Rique sighed, checking his display for the Iguana’s operational status. They were thirteen minutes from the next orbital window; thirteen minutes before a ship could even initiate drop to the planet and even longer to reach the Bakunin force.

“Control,” he said, his voice more confident than he felt, “My TAG is fully operational. I can cover the Custodier until you can get a retrieval team there.”

There was a brief pause as Control calculated the parameters. “Copy that, Zilla 6. Please drop at these coordinates and provide relief to the forces. ETA is nineteen minutes for a retrieval.”

“Affirmative, control.” He said, looking towards his brother.

The Wildcats sergeant smiled and nodded. It was all ‘Rique ever needed.

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Tales from Infinity the Game – part 2

Erica pawed at her medikit, checking the contents and trying desperately to remember everything she’d learnt in her week in the infirmary. Following a disastrous drop and the loss of one of her team, she had taken a crash course in first aid to better support her unit. For a moment, as the drop ship jumped and rattled to the LZ, she filled her mind with all the new info she’d learnt rather than the memory of the Thorakitae’s sword that had punched a hole in her shoulder. The nerves, however, she couldn’t stop.

Nav-screens began blinking with potential drop sites, each one displaying the current military status of individual combatants. As the field medic, it was her job to look out for wounded, but as a Hellcat she was also tasked with supporting her fellow troopers who were famed for dropping into the thick of things. For a moment, she scanned her team mates, suppressing the pang she felt when she didn’t see Hermanos among them.

Sergeant Raptor calibrated his hacking device while synching it with the battlefield analysis system, his face a cold mask as he sought the best possible outcome. Big Bird loaded shells into his shotgun, and rubbed absently at his face; the scar running across his cheek was puckered and flared; a fresh mark of battle earned in the Serin Recon failure. Lastly, Phoenix checked his ammunition and loaded a magazine into his heavy machine gun, gritting his teeth as they prepared to drop. Erica slowly exhaled and promised herself that she wouldn’t lose any friends this time.

The dropship jolted hard, spilling Big Bird into the footwell, as anti-aircraft fire began popping around them. Raptor stopped, focused intently on his view screen, and tapped something into his device, before turning to the others. As he spoke, his voice seemed to lack the confident tone it usually did.

“Below us is an isolation lab surrounded by support facilities. We’ve been tasked to find and bring in one Emanuel Hawkins, a supposed merchant trader who moonlights as a high level informant for a local cartel. We’re to bring him in and make it clear to him that he steers clear of the area. I want us to drop in, grab him and get out; no need for a firefight today if we can avoid it.”

“Aye sir,” chimed the Hellcats, locking and loading weapons and moving to position by the dropship doors. Erica gulped down her fears and tried not to pay attention to the tingling sensation in her shoulder.

The display screens chimed an alert. Raptor raised a hand to stop the team and listened to the update. Erica counted silently, working out how far past the drop zone they were moving. Part of her secretly hoped that they were no longer needed. As she felt the dropship lurch and change course for re-entry, her stomach sank.

“Shit,” Raptor began, “Ghulam troops just murdered the informant and are closing in on our sniper’s position. Yuan Yuan mercs have downed his spotter and are closing in. Our mission objectives have now changed.” Ice flowed through her veins as he looked at her. “Hawk, you take Big Bird and Phoenix to support the sniper and evac his spotter. I’m going to drop a comms-beacon to intercept their cyber-traffic. Ready for drop in sixteen seconds, team. Good luck.”

With grim determination, he moved away to secure a beacon to take with him. For a moment, Erica suppressed her fears for his safety and focused on the mission. Her first experience as a field medic would be in the heat of engagement; she had to be ready. Big Bird and Phoenix moved to the doors and activated their drop-chutes. Big Bird shot her a look and a knowing nod before settling his visor into place.

The door slid open, revealing a white expanse of snow blanketed land with dotted patches of muddy rock-scape. In the distance, the outpost quickly moved toward them, with flashes of small-arms fire lighting up the hab-pods and walkways like eerie firework displays. Big Bird counted down, then threw himself out, closely followed by Phoenix. Erica launched herself shortly after.

During that first brief moment of weightlessness, Erica adjusted her descent to try and land as squarely as possible. As the ground hurtled towards her, triangulation statistics began to appear in her support system, supplied by the EVO unit “Crucible”. Smiling, Erica followed the projected trajectory, heading for the rooftop of a large hab-pod, it’s fresh grey walls spattered with mud and blood. There were seconds before impact, but every single one counted; she made note of five men circling the building and another advancing across the roof to their sniper’s position; Though she couldn’t visibly see him, her HUD indicated his presence. Lastly, she saw the Alguacil hacker lying in a pool of blood near a stairwell, and connected to the girls vitals feed; there wasn’t much time.

Big Bird hit first, darting towards cover and taking a shot at the figure on the roof. As the blast shredded into the target, it shimmered and disappeared, whilst another figure, exactly the same as the previous stepped out from a stack of crates. Erica heard Phoenix shout “Holos!” and watched as the figure gunned Big Bird down, the shots taking him high across the chest and pitching him to the floor.

She landed with a jolt and rolled behind a roof-top hab as the rifle-man on the roof trained his shots on her. Bullets hit the metal with shrill squeals, sending sparks flying. On the ground, she saw the other men, Ghulam infantry by their markings, make for a nearby ladder to intercept them. Ignoring the covering fire from the rooftop rifleman, she aimed and fired upon the Ghulam, feeling her combi-rifle kick into her shoulder and spray bullets in a tight burst. In the heat of the moment, she couldn’t see if her shot found a target, but she did watch as Phoenix opened up with his heavy machine gun, downing three of the the Ghulam in a roaring stacatto of fire before the remaining two retreated to cover. Her heart pounded in her ears and she struggled to see if she could reach Big Bird without the rooftop rifle man getting a clear shot at her.

A sudden snapping shot rang out, hitting a stack of crates and sending them tumbling across the rooftop The rifleman recoiled, cursing as he did, as the shot hit nearby, narrowly missing him. Erica watched in surprise as their sniper, the Intruder, Wolf, uncurled from behind a ladder and levelled his MULTI-rifle for another shot at the rooftop assailant who was keeping her suppressed. The hidden rifleman dived for cover, returning fire upon the Intruder and meeting his mark; Wolf pinwheeled and hit the floor with a wound to his pelvis. For a moment, as the rifleman swung to shoot at her, she felt pinned with fear, returning again to her first drop to Serin Prime when the Aleph had attacked. As they’d come through the zero visibility smoke, forms shimmering with ODD technology, she’d felt powerless to stop them, knowing that their coming meant death. That same fear paralysed her now.

The bark of Phoenix’s HMG rang out, cutting through her terror. The rifleman juddered backward, toppling over the rooftop as her team-mates shots punched into him. As she caught her breath, Phoenix dashed past, making for a stairway. “Wake up, Hawk; you’ve got wounded!” he cried as he hurried past, raining more shots down over the edge of the rooftop into the Ghulam infantry below.

There were three wounded to take care of; the original hacker, the Intruder sniper and Big Bird. Without a second thought, she rushed to her fallen teammate. He curled in a ball on the ground, hands gripping the cracked and ruined armour around his left shoulder as blood soaked through. She scurried to her knees next to him and tapped into his vitals; though his adrenaline was at shock levels, his pulse was strong. As she began to unpack her medikit, he reached up and gripped her wrist. “I’m okay,” he croaked, “I can wait.”

She nodded, moving to take a peek over at the fallen Intruder. Though he was sat against a crate, blood pooling at his waist, he gave her the thumbs up sign. After checking his vitals on her HUD, she moved to the Alguacil Hacker. As Phoenix continued to rain fire down at the troops on the ground, she cleared the girls wound, drew out the bullet and sprayed homeostatic gel over the hole to prevent any further bleeding. Her movements were mechanical and slow, but sure, her mind precisely focused on saving another life. While she cleared as much shrapnel as possible and applied the foaming gel, she made a promise to Hermanos that she wouldn’t let anyone else die. After a minute or two, she was done; the girl needed evac, but she’d bought her time.

“They’ve got a deployable!” cried Phoenix, dashing towards the stairway. Erica snatched up her combi-rifle and made to follow him, checking the area for target priority. He’d managed to down the fourth Ghulam, leaving one who had scurried around the other side of the stairs leading to the ground floor. “He’s moving under the stair-well,” he cried, his voice broken as he took the stairs three at a time,”If he deploys, they’ll rain air-support on our location!” Erica watched as he leapt the final few stairs and opened fire around the base of the stair case, the bullets rending metal but not finding their target. He fired from the hip while desperately running in a wide arc to get a clear shot at the Ghulam taking cover beneath the stairs, but with no luck.

The situation began to quickly unravel around them. Erica watched in slow motion, reaching the top of the stairwell just in time to see Phoenix shooting at the target directly below her. As he ran across open ground, spraying fire, she could see the target underneath her training his rifle for another shot, taking his time while Phoenix sprayed and prayed. Bullets ricocheted from the metal bracings and fixtures that supported the stairs, providing excellent cover for the shooter. It was only a matter of time before the Ghulam took the shot and she lost another teammate. It was like the first recon replaying itself in her mind.

I made a promise, Hermanos.

Taking a ragged breath, she vaulted the stairwell, dropping down atop of the Ghulam and firing her drop-chute as she did. As instincts kicked in, she slipped her knife into her hand and prepped for CQC. The Ghulam recoiled, raising his rifle too late; she kicked it away and pushed him back into the metal lattice of the staircase. Behind him, the deployable slowly uncurled itself, lights beginning to flash to show a connection being made. The enemy slid his own knife from a boot-sheath and tried to pick himself up off the floor. Erica pressed her advantage, stepping close and tangling the Ghulam’s arms before flipping him over her shoulder and landing atop of him, blade first. As he scrabbled at the knife, she drew her side-arm and opened fire at the deployable, not bothering to count her shots. As rounds ripped into it, destroying it utterly, she breathed out.

Phoenix dispatched the Ghulam cooly and calmly, handing back her knife as she took in what had just happened. Over the comm-link, the other Corregidor forces in the area chimed in their mission parameters. They had lost the informant, but gained valuable knowledge on the Haqq forces and caused them a staggering blow. Sergeant Geraldez had secured the Isolation lab. Raptor’s voice cut through the chatter, confirming the success of his mission. It woke Erica from her momentary reverie.

“Hawk, advise on the wounded?” he asked.

“All under control,” she replied more cooly than she felt, “We need a med-evac for one and the infirmary prepped for three. I’ll keep them alive until then.”

I made you a promise, Hermanos, she thought with sudden, newfound confidence, and I intend to keep it.

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Tales of Infinity the Game – Part 1

*TAKEN FROM THE PERSONAL FILES OF SERGEANT JULIO GERADLEZ DURING THE EARLY STAGES OF THE SERIN CAMPAIGN*

Serin Prime was a poorly kept secret; an outpost on the other side of space from Paradiso exploring some old stone towers left behind by whatever extinct civilisation had managed to eke out a meagre existence on that thin temperate equator. Water-sellers had been siphoning off the glaciers for years, transporting it in those huge Hydro-regulators you see clogging up the stellar-ways. No one paid it any attention before, but I guess something happened to make it a little more interesting.

Anyway, Corregidor Brass sent us here in a fresh frigate, one with the new ferrous pole anti-gravetic system – you know; the ships with an ionised, revolving pole at the centre to generate artificial gravity? It’s a little harsher than the older systems, but you can take a shit without meds. That ship was literally fresh off the factory line; you could still smell the paintwork as we came on board and flipped for bunks. That’s when we knew something was important about this mission; you don’t get a new, reliable vessel unless something big’s going down.

Journey time was short; we didn’t even have chance to get to know the rest of the crew properly before we were getting briefed on our arrival and entry procedure. Mjombi had only been in a couple of fights, bless her. She was definitely disappointed. Personally, I found it worrying; anytime you rush somewhere, it’s bound to be because you want to arrive before others do. The other Wilds didn’t appreciate me doubling drill times and running dust-off training at first, but man do they thank me now.

I watched the approach from the prow cupola, staring through the empty dark of space at an unfamiliar star. The system’s sun was weak; it flared and guttered like a dying flame, but still threw out enough heat and radiation to blister the brand new paint job on the frigate. The planet drifted closer and closer, revolving a little faster than earth. It seemed covered in snow, white as a ping-pong ball except for a band of beautiful clear blue that stretched across the equator. Dotted throughout was landmass; the inhabitable areas of Serin Prime. Beautiful, but lonely.

Recon went snafu; we closed in on a larger research outpost and dropped in some Hells, but it went to shit after fifteen standard minutes. Nav hadn’t factored the planets revolution speed, so we settled into high orbit and watched the place turn; it was seventeen minutes until we could send a back up to the team, and by then Phalanx forces had swarmed them. I dropped in with my Wilds and a pair of Geckos and we prepped for trouble, but by the time we got there the fight was over. We recovered Ace, Alex and Erica, but they were in a messed up shape. They lost a man too; Hermanos. We jettisoned his effects and held a brief ceremony.

After that, briefings got serious. We sat in operation rooms rather than the mess to discuss our objectives. Came up with time scales, LZs, the lot. Drills became mandatory for all crew. Drops were timed and the frigate took to implementing geo-synch orbits. There were only about fifty of us then, all Corregidor born, trained and bred, but a small force against a concerted offensive. I don’t blame Brass for calling for back up.

It was six days later that the Righteous Indignation arrived, flashing into our local space using tight-beam technology banned throughout most of the Sphere. That was all we needed to work out that Bakunin had come to our aid. Luckily, they’d left the furries at home; what we got instead was a contingent of Nuns with guns, all walking arrogance and silent, judging stares. There were seven of them, calling themselves the Sisters Merciful. Each one had taken a call-sign based on the polemic seven virtues. I rolled my eyes at first, until I saw them training in our barracks. They had Kusanagi with them.

The Indignation coupled with our frigate and our ships became a flotilla. The sisters had brought a motley bunch including a Daktari and a Clockmaker, which were welcome additions. With a couple of Moderators and a few Zeros, we began to feel like an actual military. The Zeros immediately made themselves useful providing recon and intel that we simply hadn’t been able to gather with the Hellcats in rehab. The cyber-support provided by the Custodians within the Sisters Merciful was very well appreciated, especially with the Aleph presence. We actually began securing some of the hot-zones and achieving our mission objectives.

On that note, it’s important that I set some things straight. We were never told what we’d picked up whenever we went on retrieval. It was always tech-crates, sometimes marked with bio-hazard signs, some even rigged with Electric Pulse defence systems. I watched Price piss herself when the first one got her; she was in Med for two days after. On the odd occasion we were sent to do what we do best; search and destroy. The Aleph had dug in deep and we were often needed to blow open the lids. We were often teamed up with ‘Zilla, the force’s Iguana, while we went on missions; I think it’s because my brother wanted to take to the field with me. Regardless, you can read my field reports on the official channels, if you really need to.

It was after six standard weeks that we began to pick up signs of other forces present on Serin Prime. First it was our friends, the Haqq; a few notable run-ins with pretty girls toting shot-guns and pheremone enhanced defence fields quickly alerted us. Apparently, our presence wasn’t notified by the Haqq representatives, so we were regarded as a potential threat, yet because we seemed to act without official Nomad support made us a separate group. Whatever doesn’t break down our careful trade treaties, right? Regardless, we burned out a few Bourak nests and thre back beers discussing how best to deal with Hawwa without too much concern. It wasn’t until the ground forces started finding the husks of seed-pods that we started to get worried. Until then things had been straightforward for us; a normal Sphere military theatre. When signs of Combined Army interest began cropping up, us officers began having sleepless nights.

Worse yet, the Intruders found something. It was another poorly kept secret; it took me one hand of poker to find out that it had been named “Packet Strigoi”, a name used for old Earth vampires. It had been pulled out of the only dead body they’d found on the planet so far. I won’t lie; it was at this point that I filed to get my team transferred. There’s only so much weird shit I can take.

That’s when she turned up. Piloting a state of the art cruiser that docked with our frigate, the Interventor appeared. I remember the day she walked aboard, flanked on either side by Spektr agents. I’d been told what to expect, but to watch this cold, calm woman stroll aboard, while my personal HUD began pinging cyber-infiltration alert notifications was chilling. Within moments she had made her way to Commander Shepard, shook her hand and followed her into CIC, while simultaneously hacking all of our personal records. I’d later find out that we’d all just been hit by a carefully prepared logical algorythm designed to break into our files, but at the time, she seemed like a network goddess, capable of anything.

At that moment, I became very glad that she was on our side. That’s really when things got interesting.

*LOG ENDS HERE. LEVEL 7 CLEARANCE NEEDED FOR FURTHER FILES*

 

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