Skyborne is a work-in-progress science fiction dramedy about war, intrigue, love, and loyalty.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Database Entry: Languages

Dear Reader,

 The sentient population in the universe of Mercs, Feds, and Tribals numbers somewhere between four to twelve trillion. Yet despite the incredible inter-connectivity of the net and the high rate of trade and travel between factions, there are millions of regionally and culturally specific languages. The following is a quick reference list for the major languages I've mentioned so far. I shall update this post as necessary.

Language Family: General description of the languages.
Common language - A little history and characteristics. (Locales / Difficulty - Assuming a native English speaker.)
Common language - A little history and characteristics. (Locales / Difficulty - Assuming a native English speaker.)

Tautoan Languages: The following are the three principle dialects spoken in the Tautoan Empire. It's debated whether they're really dialects of each other given their significant differences. The closest analogy to compare these languages would be Arabic, Turkish, and Hebrew.

Kartoa - The more formal traditional language of the Empire. It's gradually dying out in common usage, though it's still spoken in the higher classes, in political speeches, in court rooms and official transcripts. It's the most common trade language, used in many regions across the universe where the Kartoan Empire once spread. It splits further into other dialects like Arkold Kartoa, and Kartoa basic. (Common across the universe. / Difficulty - Hard)

Mah'to - A close relation to Kartoa that is more widely spoken by the masses. A much less formal language. (Predominate in the Tautoan Empire. / Difficulty - Really Hard)

Darisian - A more distant relative to Kartoa, Darisian is rising in common usage and used as a trade language in several dozen systems. (Predominate in the Tautoan Empire. / Difficulty - Hard)

Coalition Languages:

Fed Standard - The enforced official language of the Federation. This nation considers the simply named 'Standard' to be the height of lingual evolution. It's widely considered by their citizens to be the core language of the universe. (Predominate in the Federation. / Difficulty - Very Easy)

Fed Common - A closely related parallel language to Standard. (Predominately in the Union of Worlds, common in the League. / Difficulty - Minor)

Aethereen - The second largest trade language in the universe next to Kartoa. (Predominate with the League of Nations, common across the galaxy. / Difficulty - Moderate.)

Clan Languages:

Gahlic - The most common language in the Clans. It's very specific - like Greek - with a huge vocabulary. (Predominate in the Free Clans and Aynland, common in the Allied Clans. / Difficulty - Moderate.)

Maddok - An ancient yet still surprisingly common language. There's a certain cultural art built around Maddok poetry. (Predominate with the High Rock Clans, uncommonly in the Allied Clans. / Difficulty - Hard)

Dahric - Maddok heavily influenced by Kartoa. A product of the Kartoan Empire's subjugation of certain clans. It's still commonly used as a trade language in some systems, though it has been banned in some sensitive circles since it's a reminder of the occupation. (Predominate with the Allied Clans, common in Aynland. / Difficulty - Very Hard)

Brython - A language spoken almost exclusively by certain clans from the Alliance. (Predominate in the Allied Clans. / Difficulty - Moderate)

Gahthereen - Not exactly a language, but the vernacular given to common code switching between Gahlic and Aethereen with Clans that border the League. (Predominately in the Free Clans, common with the Allied Clans. / Difficulty - Moderate.)

Taharan Languages:
Ha'jian Tribal - A tiny moon language with barely 30 million native speakers. (Exclusively in Tahara/ Difficulty - Extremely hard)

 As always I appreciate your time and would love to hear your critiques, suggestions, observations, and predictions. So feel free to comment or message me. And if you're enjoying Mercs, Feds, and Tribals, then don't forget to subscribe!

Your Servant,
The Chivalrous Rogue

Saturday, December 21, 2013

(4) Mercs: First Day on the Job

Sanduro system - Moonworld Nergovia - Skyborne Skylark: 3254 local time. [0454. 14/3/2003 Omega time]
Jeremy Brock, Specialist 11A honorably discharged from the Federation Army.



 Brock watched as dull clacks echoed throughout the cargo bay from the synthetic blades of the stun swords. Scout eagerly tore forward into Chin, delivering a rapid flurry of skilled - if not overly zealous - strikes before darting away from the much larger man’s massive swings. Chin was barely able to ward off Scout’s attacks without giving ground, let alone being able to counter effectively. Scout’s eyes were alit with the rush of competition and the mounting scent of victory, just as Chin’s were funneled into intense concentration. Chin was excellent at hand to hand combatives, but swords were unfamiliar territory. This was the sixth match, and the longest so far of them all, already past twenty seconds. Scout had knocked glancing strikes twice already off Chin’s forearms, yet ‘Weasel’ hadn’t declared a victor. In the previous five matches - four of which Scout won - Weasel only intervened when he judged a strike to be fatal. Both men were dripping with sweat and heaving with exertion, pacing every breath to their efforts and every attack to the other’s timing.

 After Scout had showed him his tiny bunk, Brock had taken just a few minutes to secure his rucksack, G3, fatigues top, and web gear in the personal chest welded into the floor below his bunk. Though he did keep the sidearm on his hip. Feel naked without something. He had then come out into the cargo bay to find the three gearing up for some sparring. ‘Weasel’ hadn’t acknowledged Brock’s existence yet, he seemed too intent on the match to notice the young alien that was invading his personal universe; at least, that was Brock’s impression. The man had pale grey hair and sun-crusted skin. He wore Disukan scatter-gravel combat fatigues and spoke Kartoa with an easy, fringer Tautoan accent through a chaw of dip. Overall the look of a man in his late sixties, yet still wiry and tough enough to be deadly. He exuded the attitude and presence of a senior NCO, a man who demanded everything from his men and gave them nothing less.

 The exclamation came from Chin as Scout weaved under a counter and lashed into Chin’s shoulder before leaping back again. “Pace yourself Scout,” Weasel drawled nonchalantly, “you don’t chop down a tree with one swing. And be aggressive Chin, you’re going to bleed out in a minute.”
Chin didn’t seem to hear, he just resumed his guard and stared straight ahead like a cobra facing a mongoose.
 Scout, however, surged into Chin, quadrupling his energy as he frothed for that final blow. And that final blow came, Chin feinted and swung his stun sword straight into Scout’s face. Even with the rubber-like trauma absorbing exterior, the impact still resounded a wet crunch that made Brock visibly wince. Scout dropped straight to the metal cargo bay floor like a rucksack soaked with sweat.

“Uády!” Weasel barked.

 Chin froze on reflex at the Gahlic command before stepping back, relaxing his stance and breathing easily.

Must be SOP for this outfit. Brock thought to himself.

 Weasel jumped to his feet and limped over to Scout’s still form. He knelt down over him and loudly bawled into his head, “Wake the fuck up princess!” Despite the volume, Brock noted how he took great - almost tender - care rolling Scout onto his back as he checked his vitals. Guess he isn’t worried about spinal damage then. 

 Scout wasn’t unconscious, just really punch drunk. A stream of blood ran from a nasty open welt across his face; Brock couldn’t be certain, but it looked like his nose was crookeder than before. He was breathing raggedly through his mouth.

 Weasel pulled a bottle from his cargo pocket and spat a black sluice into it as he turned half way to Chin. “You did good boy, kept cool and baited him toward the end there; even if he was kicking your ass the rest of the time. Now go tell MD he’s going to have a guest soon.”
“Roger Stárshiy.” Chin said breathlessly before turning around and striding briskly away, setting the stun blade down before he left.

 Weasel pulled out a unusually dainty white handkerchief, then a green flask from his back pocket. What else does he keep in there? He poured a capful onto the handkerchief then - after drinking a quick swig - started attentively dabbing at Scout’s cut. Scout groaned as the liquid frothed into his flesh.
“It’s in my eyes Stárshiy.”
“Shut the fuck up bitch and take your medicine.” Weasel lightly growled as he kept cleaning Scout’s cuts. “This would’ve been Chin’s ugly face I’d be patching up if you had kept your head clear. You could’ve just done NOTHING for another thirty seconds and won. But noooo. You acted like a bitch in heat when you smelled blood and had to promptly go get yourself fucked. How’d that work for you?”
“Not well Stárshiy.”
“No… No it didn’t. So are you going to do it again?”
“No Stárshiy.”
 Weasel grunted in response, “Pizdobol, you do it every fucking time. You’re as predictable as dirt and will always be fucked by an opponent who knows you.”

 Scout was coming out of the stupor and slowly sat up, taking careful sips out of Weasel’s flask. Brock slowly approached and tried to think of something to say, but the way Weasel looked up and the calculating glare he gave tied Brock’s tongue into knots. Brock hated when NCO’s from any army did that.

 Weasel finally spoke up,
“The fuck you looking at boy?”
“I’m… I’m a new crewman Stárshiy.” He wasn’t sure if that was his real title or not, but since the other crewmen called ‘Weasel’ that, Brock guessed he should too.
“I can see that; you don’t answer NCOs’ questions in your army?”
“We do.” Brock still wasn’t sure what to say.
“…AND? What the fuck are you looking at?”
“I’m looking at you Stárshiy.” This isn’t the army, it’s a freelance crew, I don’t have to put up with this shit anymore.
“Oooh looking at me boy? You know the Chief doesn’t take kindly to sexual advances between crew.”
“I… What?”
“We’re all professionals here, you’ll just have to control yourself, even with 89 kilos of sexy standing right by you.”
It took Brock’s nervous brain a moment to realize that the old NCO was joking; fine, two could play that game.
“Can’t make any promises Stárshiy.”

 The Stárshiy’s face never broke his stern glare, yet Brock detected an amused glimmer in his eyes. “Honesty, that’s what I like to hear, now stop undressing me with your eyes and help drag Scout over to those crates.”

“I can walk.” Scout said as he gingerly got to his feet, he started to hand back the blood stained handkerchief before Weasel firmly returned it to Scout’s face. “Direct pressure bitch, how else are you going to stop that geyser?”
“Happy thoughts?” Scout groaned.
 “Chin should’ve hit you harder, maybe knock that tongue in place; now get out of here.” Weasel gently shoved him into Brock, who steadied him. “Run on over to MD and get some stitches, your nose set, stasis for that little concussion, and shoot up some regen. I’m starting to wonder if Pimp could fuck you up like this.”
“Roger Stárshiy.” Scout quietly replied, it hurt Brock just to see how absolutely devastated Scout was, but apparently he wasn’t the only one.

“Scout,” Weasel called after them, “get that kicked-puppy look off your face, you’re the fourth best fighter and second best swordsman on this ship.”

 Scout’s grin returned.


“Repeat after me, shla Sasha po shosse i sosala sushku.”

 ‘MD’ spoke to Scout while he carefully drew a few milligrams of the bluish liquid regen from a vial. Scout lay slumped on a metallic exam table while Brock stood by.

 “Why? Tongue twisters are stupid.” Brock noticed the tongued lulled slur in Scout’s speech and slight disorientation. Yep, definite concussion.
“It gives you something to focus on, plus it’s hilarious.”
“As in watching a paraplegic climb stairs hilarious?” Brock asked,
“As in a double amputee trying to play soccer hilarious.” ‘MD’ clarified as he laid the vial and shot down on a surgical tray.

 Is there anyone on this crew that doesn’t have a darkly sarcastic sense of humor? 

 Scout sighed and repeated the Kartoan twister fuzzily. The superficial bleeding on his face had finally stopped at least.

 “Regen is topping eleven carats a milligram on the black net, that isn’t cheap.” MD observed as he removed a surgically sealed packet of sutures and needle driver from a drawer.
 “I have plenty saved up.”
 “Enough to keep Tashya happy?” Ok, at least one of the crew is married. 
 Scout’s face broke into a crooked grin that stubbornly pulled against the laceration at the name of his pregnant wife. “You think Chief will let me call her?”
 MD tapped the vial with a practiced flick as he turned to his patient, “I’ll talk to him, but both Nergovian cartels will be monitoring net traffic as we exit the system. Since as I understand, Chief’s grand plan is to backstab them.”

“Preemptively backstab them.” Chief interrupted as he strode into the room, casually twirling one of the stun blades in his left hand. How does he keep sneaking up like that? 
“Scout, Scout, Scout…” Chief shook his head as he examined Scout’s face. “Do you just hate safety or something?”
“Just helmets Chief.”
“Dumbass, you and Chin were just whacking the shit out of each other with these stun swords? That’s not how they work.”
“Last I checked, you hit people with swords.”
“They’re stun blades, they stun.”
“I feel stunned, how isn’t that the way they work?”
Chief depressed the pommel for a few seconds before the sword exploded into life, casting a blue tinge, emitting a low toned hum, and dripping small and strangely molten looking electric sparks.

“That’s why I got them,” Chief gave the sword a few practice swings, the movement leaving a faintly blue white trace in its wake and a fierce hiss in the air, “so you didn’t have to spend half an op’s pay on regen every time you sparred. These just leave a burn mark that’ll fade in a few days.”
Chief flicked the sword off before continuing.
“Chin might’ve improved your face, Tashya’s into giant scars and zombie porn right?”
“There’s no way that little cut’s going to leave a scar,” MD interjected, “I’ll hook him up on stasis and the brain damage will be reversed too.”
“Hallefuckinglujah, you got to save whatever little brains were there to begin with.”
Scout sighed and slowly leaned his head back onto the table, “This isn’t my day.”
“Cheer up now, Pimp just about pissed himself when I told him he had to spar with you till he scored.”
Chief placed the stun blade next to Scout on the exam table before rapidly turning away to stride out of the room again, “Brock, walk with me.”

 He followed Chief’s hulking figure out of the OR, keeping a brisk pace through the narrow hatches and walkways of the Skylark. Chief strode silently for a few seconds before he stated with his gruff voice, “So you’re a fast runner.”
He did read my PF scores. 
“So I’m a fast runner.”
“With a shitty upper body.”
All of them, damn.
“I always hated push ups.”
 “Wrong.” Chief seemed to talk out of the side of his mouth while staring straight ahead. “You started a love affair with push ups the moment you signed onto the Skylark, and they’re presses, Copy? None of those pussy Fed push ups.”
“Roger Chief.”
 “Feds that pump out 200 ‘push ups’ can’t do 100 good Tautoan presses, and maybe 20 of those motherfucking ‘fists’ that the clans do.”
“We called those marine press ups in the Fed Infantry.”
 Chief stopped in front of a closed hatch to key in a command on a wall display, when it failed to respond he muttered and pulled the manual release. “You’re not with the Feds anymore, my second in command loves push ups as much as you’re going to, you’ll be working out with him till he’s satisfied with your progress, copy?”
“Roger Chief.”
 The door slammed open with a jarring force. “This ship has several treadmills built into the floor in the cargo bay, I expect you to utilize them whenever you can. PF assessments are once every other month, and you will meet my standard, copy?”
 “Roger Chief.” Being a merc isn’t that different after all, I’ve heard this rapid fire briefing a few billion times before. 
 “One more thing,” Chief continued, “Jay and Clutch are poor runners, I want you to bring them up to your speed with the treadmills; can you do that?”
“Can’t run it for them, but they can pace off me if they want.”
“That’s all I want to hear, any questions?”

 Brock took a second to think, the envious bitching of all his comrades back at every in-unit reception and pre-deployment physicals was completely vindicated; in processing with a merc crew had no kilometer long lines, endless paperwork, bullshit exams, or exhausted and pissed off civilian secretaries. Still, a couple thoughts did come to mind.
“Go for it.”
“How do I get paid?”
 “Shit, I knew I was forgetting something important. Just stop by Pimp or Weasel later and give them the info for the account you want funded. Nothing big to remember, other than  no direct deposits. Pimp always trails pay through several ghost accounts first, security you know.”
“Feds or the Empire after y’all?”
“Neither, just a good habit to have; was that your second question?”
“Uh, anything I should know about Logan?”
 Chief didn’t skip a beat in answering, “Nope, just call him Logan and do what he says; if he wants you to know anything else he’ll tell you. You’ll meet him in a few minutes anyway, he’s finishing up a little op planetside.”

 The command room was somewhat anticlimactic, less than half the size of the galley he passed through earlier and twice as crowded with computers, holographic readouts, and other machinery. Clutch, Jay and Pimp were busy at the consoles, conferring with each other while pouring their attention over the monitors and displays that surrounded them. Just as Chief and Brock entered, Pimp called out without looking up,
“Chief, may I speak with you? I’ve two matters that require your attention.”
Chief let out an exasperated sigh, “What’s wrong?”
“I need another couple techies to run this system effectively.”
 Chief glared at Pimp, “I remember a certain techie who assured me he could get this ship operational by himself.”
“Operational sure, but not combat ready.”
“Can’t Clutch and Jay do their part to get the systems up?”
“At the expense of the engine room and navigations, yes. And they’re still not programmers.”
“Damn straight,” Jay spoke up with an irritant tone, “I’m a pilot, not a console jockey.”
 Chief rolled his eyes toward him, “You’re a fucking navigator, pilots maneuver and dodge with a joystick, you plot and navigate with a console and helm.”
 “Pimp’s right about that,” Clutch chimed in, “I feel nervous leaving the sublight engine on its lonesome on our first flight with it.” He cast a concerned glance toward the Chief before returning to his monitor.
 “I don’t suppose our new crewmember has any technical experience?” Brock was starting to figure Pimp had a thing against eye contact.
“I can usually figure out where the power key is.”
“Great.” Pimp observed monotonically.
“Ok, so you want me to hire another techie?”
“Please?” All three crewmen said at the same time.
“Fine, I’ll start shopping around, it’d be nice having all the systems operational anyway.” Chief turned to Brock, “The internal comm system’s still down, that’s why I had to go get you rather than just call you up; so before I forget, go run by Weasel later and he’ll set you up with a secure comm unit, copy?”
“Roger Chief.”
“One other thing Chief.” Pimp said, still with his eyes on the console.
“What now?”
“Logan’s messaged me that he’s in a little trouble.”

 THAT got Chief’s attention, and it turned the heads of Jay and Clutch, though Jay spoke up first, “I thought Scout was monitoring comm traf…”

 “What do you mean a little trouble?” Chief enunciated the last two words with dripping anger.
 “His words. And Scout is in the infirmary so I’m keeping a tab on comms from here.”
 “PIMP! Focus.” Chief grabbed Pimp’s chair and swiveled it about to face him. When did you get the message, what exactly did Logan say, why didn’t it come through my receiver, and why didn’t you tell me immediately?”
 Pimp looked Chief in the eye with the calm though irritated demeanor of an interrupted  multitasker, he took a deep breath and spoke in a placating tone, “Four minutes ago, “Hey Chief, their backup’s getting here sooner than expected. We might have a little trouble.” He didn’t say it was urgent, and you didn’t resign into the system when you got back.”

 Chief looked the epitome of fury as he glared at Pimp, “Listen to me fuckface.”

 Oh shit, he's actually angry now. 

 “Logan doesn’t do protocol, he has never, ever rated anything as urgent; he wouldn’t notify like this at all unless shit was totally fucked.”

 Chief swung Pimp’s chair back toward the console - probably with a little more force than necessary - and turned about to the rest of the crew, quickly and smoothly settling into the routine of his command. The others sensed it as well, Brock could feel the adrenaline rushing through his system.
 “Jay, get back up to the cockpit now, take the ship off autopilot and prep to execute an LAE.”
“Yes Chief.” He leapt toward the hatch.
 Clutch, get to the engine room and make sure that the Skylark is good for whatever Jay needs.”
Clutch tapped the console and snatched his card from a dataport while Chief was speaking, “Aye aye Chief.”
 “Pimp, loop my receiver into the comms and work on getting shields and the 20’s online. And NO, I don’t care about the other systems right now. Brock, go meet everyone else in the galley.”
"Roger Chief."

 Just as Chief was instructing Brock, Pimp signaled him that the connection was made; without a moment’s pause, Chief turned away again and keyed his receiver, “Fuchsia, Fuchsia, Fuchsia. If you’re hearing this, head to the cargo bay. Logan’s in trouble, and we’re getting him out.”

Friday, December 13, 2013

Database Entry: Coalition Factions Summary

Database Entry: Major Factions Summary - The Coalition Nations

 The following is part of a short primer for knowing the Coalition factions of the Mercs, Feds, and Tribals universe.

The layout...
Faction Name: Size% (The geographic size/population of this nation compared to the rest of the civilized world.)
Intro -
Power - The nation's collective military, economic, and technological strength. (1-10, 1 being pathetic, 10 is terrifying.)
Politics - The government type.
People - The number of languages and culture types within the nation.
Intro -

Coalition Nations - The following three nations have usually been allies in the last 150 years. Though there are a loose set of treaties between the three nations, the title 'Coalition Nation' is a colloquial term coined by their respective medias, not an official designation.

Union of Worlds: 6.2%
Power - 6
Politics - Representative Republic
People - Federation common is the official language, though another few compete for recognition.
 The Union is renown throughout the universe for its massive commercial-industrial complex. Nearly five percent of the general population is in the military, yet it isn't a militarized society. The government tends to be more restrictive of speech rights and beliefs, yet allows greater private freedom than the Federation. For example, alcohol is legal in the Union, but saying "Life is better with the Tautoans" can get you in trouble. (Minor debtor nation)

The Federation: 8.2%
Power - 5.9
Politics - Parliamentary Democracy in theory, Corporate Republic in practice.
People - Federation standard is the enforced official language.
 The Federation is a relatively young (230yrs) nation undergoing a gradual social revolution. It's transitioning from a rapidly expanding mercantilistic imperialism to a more static open market Republic. The government is very ordered and strict, keeping tight but efficient regulations on the people; though some laws vary from world to world. Social programs and public healthcare are organized very well. Corporations are extremely influential within the government, The people generally have a democratic mindset, voting is commonly considered a civic duty. However, cultural and political views do differ widely from world to world. The government tends to be more restrictive of private freedom and action, yet is more protective of speech rights than the Union. For example, alcohol has been outlawed decades ago as a dangerous substance, yet you can say anything you want anywhere. (Huge debtor nation)

League of Nations: 2%
Power - 5.5
Politics - Confederation of Independent Corporate Republics
People - Arkold Kartoa is the most common language, no official, eight major languages.
 The League is a very spread out collection of extremely wealthy worlds. They've established trading ports across the galaxy and keep tightly controlled colonies over valuable resources. (The creditor nation.)

 I shall go much more in depth about each of the above factions with 'Nation Profiles' devoted to each. Other factions that will eventually be covered with further 'database entries' are:
Allied Clans, High Rock Clans, Free Clans, Tautoan Empire, Republic of Cathay, Caliphate, Shaog Empire, Democratic Republic of Disuka, Independent Worlds, and Non-government-organizations.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Announcement: Concerning Announcements...

Dear Reader,

 Before we get too deep into this book, I had better explain some of the layout to simplify matters for you; basically, there are three different types of posts that I'll put on the blog:

Chapter Posting: I’ll do my best to post two chapters - with 3000-6000 words per chapter - in the first and last week of a month with announcements and database entries in between.

Announcement: General updates regarding the posting schedule, polls and the like. Unless I get splattered across a truck's grill on one of my morning runs, I will post an announcement if a chapter will be late or the schedule otherwise changes.


Database Entry: A post that helps paint the socio-political landscape in which Mercs, Feds, and Tribals takes place. These will include character bios, culture profiles, maps, and nation histories to serve as bonus reference material.

 I value your opinion and time as a reader, so please feel free to comment with your suggestions, preferences, observations and predictions.

 And if you're enjoying Mercs, Feds, and Tribals, then please subscribe!

Your Servant,
The Chivalrous Rogue

(Note: The 'Tribal' POV will start chapter after next.)

Creative Commons License
Mercs, Feds, and Tribals by TheChivalrousRogue is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at

Monday, December 9, 2013

(3) Feds: A Moon Called Tahara

Alpha system - Coreworld Terra - District 38.92.14. Student Residential: 3100 local time. [0800. 2/11/2002 Omega time]
Dr. Rachel Plasse, Doctor of clinical bacteriology, recently licensed by the Federation based Board of Natural Sciences.


 She took a cautious sip of the searingly warm drink and paused to savor the moment. Closing her eyes to breath in the rich scent of pure cocoa, bathing her tired yet youthful brow in the pleasantly climbing warmths of steam; the bitter sweet taste hung upon her tongue as she swallowed and opened those light blue eyes, reluctantly returning them to the screen before her.

 Her name was Rachel Plasse… Doctor Rachel Plasse. It had already been six months since her ‘coating’ (lab coat ceremony), yet the title still felt strange attached to her name. She had practiced that signature - Doctor Rachel Plasse - ever since she first decided she wanted it seven years ago in second school. Now that the omnisciently massive Board of Natural Sciences had justified those sleepless post-university years of endless tests and menial residencies, she still didn’t quite know how to process this new found freedom. After the initial joys and familial adulations had quieted down, what had shocked her was the huge gaps of time that was hers again; no classes, no examinations or boards to study for, no instructors breathing down her cricked neck… and no job.

 Thankfully a student’s life was cheap, and her frugal living and few scholarships had alleviated the massive financial burdens. Burdens wrought by the subsistence pay the ever stingy government funded university hospitals generously bestowed, and the huge tuition rates imposed by said hospitals. She honestly never would have survived debtless without her wealthy family to rescue her. For that matter she probably wouldn’t have persevered through the residencies had her older sister not commed her weekly to encourage and drive her on. Her ’s administrative connections with the hospital certainly didn’t hurt either, or her mother’s constant scrutiny of her grades. Even in the early-soul searching days when she switched her concentration from Human Medicine to the Bio-sciences they remained steadfast.

 Though she loved her family dearly, she still loathed to admit that she would not have made it without them. Though she had inceptive difficulty, she had made those near-perfect grades, she had passed a test after analyzing samples all night long for the fifteenth time. No, she might not have the genius of her older sisters or the stunning looks and suavity of her younger brother Caiden, but she could work. She could study for days and hammer through an impossible subject. She could spend hours researching and defining some strange rimworld bacterium and recite the mandated procedures for cleansing that bacterium and the medical risks involved. She was fifteen when she got accepted into the University, and was always the youngest in her class. Her head instructor, Dr. Simms even once told her in one of his rarely personable moments that she was one of his most promising students. The vast majority of her coworkers and fellow students had been older than her; in fact, now as a licensed bacteriologist at 24 almost all of her students were a decade older than her. So sure, she had a great family behind her and the shadow of her siblings to stand in, but in the end, she could risk a moment of mild megalomania.

 Rachel Plasse sat on her favorite couch in her small apartment room, a mug of steaming chocolate in one hand and her computer lying on her lap. The room was small by common middle class domestic standards, yet relatively spacious for a single student. The room was in a state of careful chaos, with datapads and paper books overflowing past the shelves and scattered across the room in organized knee high stacks. Considering the terabytes of information that even the cheapest of these pads contained, all told her room was a ridiculous database almost exclusively focused toward bacteria. Research for the thousands of essays and profiles she had written about individual bacterium, examinations of health concerns for different colonies and outbreak studies across the galaxies. A cornucopia of compiled knowledge to whoever could navigate the labyrinth of stacks cataloged roughly by subject, species, lethality, instructor, and intergalactic system. A cornucopia that only Rachel could comprehend, and would be thrown into upheaval - well, upheaval to her - if so much as one stack was bumped; thankfully no one ever visited to risk knocking about her system. Which was just as well, for between these stacks of knowledge were a bare few pieces of furniture, the bare minimum for a single student; the fluffy couch she currently rested on, a small bed that folded up into a couch, and a small folding coffee table with clean utensils and several small plates stacked neatly. That was all the silver and dinnerware Rachel owned, the old kitchen cabinets and spacious drawers normally intended for them instead simply held more datapads. Her small netcast receiver rested on a corner of the coffee table, on the rare occasions that she turned it on, it projected a large, crystal clear display of the dozens of newscasts available on the Federation net.

 Her exacting and taciturn mother always hated this “absolutely inexcusable fault,” but no matter how much disapproval she preached on the subject, in this Rachel always allowed herself some freedom. This was her room, she knew where everything was, and there were no actual ‘messes.’ She liked her careful chaos, and as long as she lived here alone it would remain this way.

 Thankfully her father - James Plasse - was a more sanguine parent. Though he had also kept her focused throughout her scholastic pursuits, the day she graduated he started playing the matchmaker. Planting suggestions and pushing various men in her direction. The thought was nice as the men were all incredibly intelligent, if usually poor conversationalists or not downright awkward. Rachel couldn’t have that, not at all. She’d be the last to claim possession of any consequential wit or quick humor like the heroines in her novels, yet she could certainly carry a conversation. And she didn’t want to spend that much time around an ineloquent brick. It was a pity that all of her peers who spoke fluently with brilliant minds to match were also around twenty years her senior.

 Yet none of that really mattered, even with so much extra time on her hands, she didn’t want another distraction to gobble it back up. Her life was hers at last, it was time to spend it on getting experience and putting the last decade to use.

 This was the same apartment Rachel had kept throughout most of her academic career. As a creature of particularly set habits, Rachel had done her best to keep as many constants as she could. The private room, the daily chocolate comfort, the personalized surroundings, and most importantly, her precious few novels tucked away under the bed/couch. Those books remained there unless things were truly dire, only when home sickness struck, or the collective stresses of competitive academia overwhelmed her would she reach for these old books.  and artistically printed hardbacks with colors faded from reading in sunlight; pages rendered brittle and crisp, both from the original excited thumbing through of the pages to the endless later more careful and familiar turnings.

 Her chestnut hair was uncharacteristically loose and tustled about her shoulders; it might be called ‘morning hair’ if that didn’t imply sleep the night before. Rachel - already rendered an insomniac through necessity - had spent the night reading research articles and reviewing one of her dozen-plus job applications. This one that caught and kept her eye so readily was a research position with the Federation Navy; not a formal contract, nor even a one time tour assignment. The basic form aositioned that she’d be signing onto a Federation ship for 8 months as a civilian resident doing humanitarian research, and hence she wouldn’t be restricted to military regulations or requirements, “Thank god.”

 Rachel considered herself a fairly apolitical person; her job was her life after all. Her parents, however, were anything but ‘apolitical.’ Her mother - Dr. Yutah Hareensy - was a hardlining member of the Imperialist party, with a very active and vocal family; her father James was (of course!) a diametrically liberal Corporatist. They disagreed on almost every major issue that came on the broadcasts and commentators; whether it was the ‘propaganda/Public relations scandal’ back in ‘34 or the more recent kitchen knife bans spreading from the core worlds. It got worse as her siblings got older and started declaring for one party or another. She remembered the actual tears James shed after her older sister first voted for the Conservative Centralist minister that increased military spending by another percentile of the Federation’s GDP. Or how angry Yutah had gotten when Caiden went with her father to go vote against criminal conscription for the military. Or both parents’ frustration with Rachel’s bureaucratic ambivalence; she hated the endless simmering debates and those silent disapproving looks they always gave her when she threw up her hands about an issue.

 Politics was a sore subject with the Plasse family, taking a civilian contracting job with the military would not endear her to James or Caiden.

 Yet these concerns were momentarily pushed from her mind as she came across the pay description. It wasn’t the amount that fascinated her, though the position paid very well. Her entrancement focused upon a single line:

 “Contested Zone Service Compensation: 500 credits per MUTA day that the employing vessel has been engaged.”

Contested Zone

 The omnipresent international threats like the Tautoan Empire, the Caliphate, Shaog, or the Disuka constantly loom near. The Feds hadn’t actually been at war with any of them for over forty years, but that didn’t mean that billions weren’t still deployed internationally fighting Insurrectionists, pirates, fringe worlds, star lords, war chieftains, dictators, or the mercenary clans… As Yutah said many times before, “The list of Federation enemies is long.” Federation trans-system commitments were massive; trade routes had to be protected, colonies had to be maintained, vital resources had to be occupied, and humanitarian law had to be enforced… Or so Yutah told her.

 But she didn’t want to think about that right now, that’s not what was drawing her to those two words.

Contested Zone… Combat

 She let that thought sink in for a minute. Allowing the odd sensation of excitement coupled with a prickle of fear to flow through her body. What better opportunity could she ask for to see what the real world was like? What could possibly make a better - albeit sharp - transition from the purely academic and hypothetical world to the physical and result focused?

 As she continued reading, another line of the contract caught her eye.

 “You will conduct your work on a Federation Naval Vessel during an active tour to a moon called ‘Tahara.’ Once you arrive you’ll be receiving assignments to save these underprivileged peoples from weaponized diseases and native bacteria.
Save millions of innocent lives, explore this fringe world, earn excellent pay, and serve your country.”


 She knew the name, she’d read about that moon before. An apparent shocking coincidence considering the millions of cultivated and populated worlds, moons, asteroids, and stations in the universe. Yet still apparent since aside from her thousands of research essays, she had simply ‘read about’ tens of thousands more. So only a minor coincidence.

 Besides, Species 37A42/ Strain 18 was nicknamed ‘Baby Ghorta’ by the scientist who defined it just a couple years ago (Dr. Samantha Voor.) ‘Ghorta’ was a some reference to some big movie scene where lots of people died. She didn’t know or cared; what made it stick in her memory particularly well was the parasite’s durability. It was waterborne and almost impossible to exterminate or purify. Basic coagulation and flocculation and the chemicals normally associated didn’t cleanse it. The native Taharan sedimentation method didn’t work. Any form of advanced filtration completely failed. Even distillation was useless. Dr. Voor eventually developed a complex disinfection method involving repeated exposures to intense UV radiation coupled with additional chlorine treatments. Apparently the nearly permanently overcast Taharan sky didn’t allow many bright skies.

 But in the end, the process was only effective with individual samples of water. And it proved too expensive for the impoverished native population. Which honestly wasn’t that big of a deal since the natives had lived with it for the last few centuries. Every native Taharan lived their entire life with the microparasite in them. It was found even in breast milk. The infant morality rate was unusually high even for a third world, nearly a fifteenth of all local children died soon post childbirth. She hadn’t read those studies, but the link had yet to be found between the infant morality rate and the parasite, though they had to be connected. The more conclusively proved damage done by the parasite was a slight increase in hyperthyroidism; barely .03% if she remembered correctly, which she usually did. Additionally, though the natives had adapted to drinking the water, foreigners would get terribly sick for anywhere between 24 hours to a month after the smallest cup. The adjustment was sometimes so bad for aliens, that one out of sixty would die. Though there her memory failed her as to exactly why or how. Even after a person was infested with the parasite, it was nearly impossible to remove it. She really hoped that the humanitarian work did not include finding some answer for it.

 The terse tone of a call notification from her computer suddenly shook Rachel from her thoughts. She gently laid her mug on the floor beside the couch before tapping a flashing green icon on the corner of her screen.
“Hey Rachel! Please tell me you went to bed last night after our midnight chat.”

 Rachel leaned back on her couch and stretched out her arms, smiling at the familiar and eager feminine voice.
“Sleep is for pre-grads and philosophy con’s Olivia.”
“And smartmouth Doctors! It’s been forever since your coating, you need to get back on a human schedule.”
“I am on a human schedule, haven’t done anything all night except drink Chocolate and read job proposals and articles.”
“Yeah! Where will you be going? Have you picked which one yet?”
“I think so…”
“…AND? Just tell me already! Is it the Handel contract?” (Handel International was one of the giant medical research corporations between the Feds, League, or the Union.)
“Well, I’ll be going offsystem.”
“Oh! Thayer corp then!” Olivia had nearly squealed with excitement; Rachel was very fond of her friend, though she could be a little grating at times like this.
“No… Not Thayer, though it will be on a ship.”
“Just TELL me!”

 Rachel wasn’t really certain how Olivia was going to take this; politics had never really come up in their midnight chats or lunch dates.
“It’s a humanitarian job with the navy.”

  There was a pause on the other end of the line, Rachel visibly cringed as she could hear Olivia’s slight intake of breath on the other line.
“…Ohhh. That sounds… Adventurous.”
She wasn’t offended, good. Yet she wasn’t pleased either. Rachel spoke plainly,
“You don’t like it.”

“No, no, no, it sounds like fun. And I’m sure you’ll be helping a lot of people. It’s just…”
“It’s just?”
“Isn’t that sort of thing really… dangerous?”
“Yep, really dangerous. This humanitarian mission is actually a cover mission to kill Prime Minister Azarov. My scanners are actually a kind of wrist gun, and the slides are bombs.”

“Rachel!” Olivia sounded shocked, “The FSI’s going to track this call now with those three words. And I was being serious.”
“So what? They’ll know I’m joking, and I appreciate it Olivia. I really do, but you shouldn’t worry about it. Humanitarian missions don’t get into any battles, that’s why they’re called humanitarian.”
“I’m sorry for being worried, I don’t mean to rain on your parade. And I am happy for you! This job really sounds wonderful if you get to help so many people like that. Where are you going?”
“This moon called Tahara.”

 Olivia gasped again, the excited exhilaration rushing back into her voice.
“What? Tahara!? as in the Ankor border system Tahara?
This genuinely surprised Rachel, Olivia was never really one for geography.
“Yes… You’ve vacationed there or something?”
“No! Silly! You haven’t heard about Take Down Ariseny?”
“No, is it big or something?”
“YES! It’s HUGE! Even the newscasts have mentioned it a few times. It’s ALL OVER the net! Just how have you not heard about it?”
“What can I say? I live under a scholastic rock.”

 “Anyway,” Olivia continued in that rushed voice she always spoke in when talking about something she was passionate it. “Tahara is in some sort of civil war, and Ariseny is a horrible, horrible war criminal. He has killed aid workers, civilians, tortured people, burns villages. And some of his soldiers are as young as ten! The movement was started by a few aid workers that came back from Tahara and wanted him brought to justice; they’ve been legislating parliament to send an intervention force and the proposal just passed like last month. Their site has over half a billion subscribers! And I’m guessing that you get to be a part of it all!”

 Tahara was just becoming more and more interesting. It always hurt to read and hear about the suffering of others, even in the vague, academic language of her journals on the net. Her first memory of violence had been catching glimpses of syndicated adult only newscasts, showing helmetcam footage from soldiers on the frontlines or enforcers fighting crime in the streets. Yet the sounds of violence and sight of blood were always carefully censored for the standard, politically correct upper middle class audiences. Rachel guessed that partly created her distaste for blood, which was the reason she switched away from human anatomy and medicine early on. She threw up after seeing her first cadaver, and from there it only got worse and worse. Even after switching, the many symptom photos and case studies showed the first pictures of real suffering that she’d ever seen. And they still made her a little queasy. She had a weak, upper middle class stomach.

  Still, as an intelligent professional woman, Rachel hated what she saw as a superficial facade of her popular culture. How could the Federation ignore the unbridled violence going on in the universe? Though she wasn’t an activist and had simply been too busy in the last several years to develop that belief, Rachel did sympathize when her father’s party wanted to enforce international humanitarian law. ‘Order Saving Chaos’ and similar slogans to some extent resounded with her.
Yet she still replied with a sardonic pitch in her voice.

 “Courtney Wilson’s fan site has over three billion subscribers.”
 “Oh come on! It’s a lot of people to support a parliament proposal. PM’s (Parliament members) were scrambling over themselves trying to appear at Ariseny rallies.”
 “It does sound like a good cause, and it’s great people went out and actually supported it. It’ll be nice to be doing something that actually matters.”
 “Heey now! Who didn’t even now about it?”
 “Again, scholastic rock.”

 The chime of Olivia’s chuckle echoed through the apartment, “Hey, gotta go now, get some sleep Rachel!”

 Rachel sat aside her computer and stood up from the couch, looking down at her disheveled appearance. Time to get presentable.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

(2) Mercs: Fresh Faces

Sanduro system - Moonworld Nergovia - Port city Oruna: 3100 local time. [0300. 14/3/2003 Omega time]
Jeremy Brock, Specialist 11A honorably discharged from the Federation Army.


 The “Skylark,” that was the name of his new home for the next several months, provided he wasn’t killed.

 Recently made ex-Specialist Jeremy Brock stood amid the crowded bustle of the port hangars in the lazy heat of a bright Nergovian day. The surrounding bustle consisted of the ridiculous variety an experienced trader would expect on a rimworld. Each of the several known intelligent species were in the crowd dressed in every imaginable attire according to the hundreds of varying regional, racial, cultural, occupational, and moral norms that were represented here. The crowd was united in one means, all were - whether overtly or subvertly - essentially armed. Even the smallest shops have a couple guards bearing body armor and AK’s or the rarer pulse rifles slung over their shoulders.

 They wandered against a backdrop of similarly diversely constructed buildings, though these had much more in common with each other than the crowd surrounding and imbuing them; many have a certain impromptu - though hardly flimsy - packed construction, though a few larger, independent compounds are surrounded by high concrete walls rimmed with unpleasant barriers. Barriers are a common sight lining the roofs, walls, and windowsills of nearly every structure; the more solidly funded have powerfully charged electric wires, the more sadistic and similarly affluent have electrified concertina wire. Cheaper barb wire is well used, though the most common of all are rows of shattered glass and sharpened scrap metal; glued, buried into, and likewise secured with blade ends facing outward. All prove painful obstacles, discouraging the average, less-desperate thieves that proliferate the haphazard streets.

 Nergovia was a trade moon, its wide orbit, not unreasonably hospitable atmosphere and its larger fortuitously strategic placement in the greater universe determined that it would become the focal point for the financial interests of many outlying worlds. It’s political neutrality secured by the gridlock of local power and the Federation’s over extension additionally assures its popularity as a base for the manifold clandestine services that the universe requires.

 Ex-Specialist Jeremy Brock stands tall, confidently watching the many faces that pass him. He wears surplus urban combat fatigues, a web belt loaded with fresh mags, but empty frag and utility pouches. He carried a heavy assault pack, a .50 caliber pistol on a hip holster, and a G3A3 with an expensive ACOG sight. He wore an old and battered Federation issued helmet with a tan digital camo pattern; his chin and head are both freshly shaved.

 Brock had justed concluded a four year contract with the Federal Army as a 04Delta, a field Translator. Well, first as an 01Alpha (infantryman) before he quickly switched MOS’s. The experience as a translator is why he entered the army, but translators didn’t get nearly as good combat training that the standard infantrymen did. His father - an ex-marine gunnery sergeant himself - urged him to get those skill sets first, it was essential if he wanted to become a Merc. His native tongue was the most common language of the Federation, though his interest in foreign languages started when he picked up his mother’s native language; she was a refugee from some inconsequential trade moon and had trouble speaking standard. After his parent’s messy divorce four years ago he did his best to sever all ties with her, including Hajiam Tribal. The somewhat vaguely named ‘Tautoan’ and the three major dialects thereof - Derisian, Kartoa and Mah’to were the focus of his studies anyway. They are descendents of the old Kartoa Empire and had become the trade language of most rim worlds. He’d also more recently started cursory study of Gahlic, one of the more common Clan languages, yet this was still a peripheral study. No matter how good the program, auto-translators were always limiting; the occasional misreading of a word or the more common overlooking of obvious cultural habits risked disastrous results. Hence the immense value of translators.

 That’s why he took the shortest possible term with the Fed’s; it was a means to this end, just a particularly sweat and grim filled residency program. The path that lead to this moment, him standing in front of the dock registry amid an alien crowd, basking in the heat of an alien sun. The taste of eager anticipation and fulfillment was physically knotting within his stomach; a familiar feeling when he first signed up with the Feds, when he left the Feds, the first time he got shot at, and when he got his advanced Derisian, Kartoa, and Mah’to qualifications.

 He was studying a large screen denoting the registries and docking of the dozens of space faring vessels that were moored in this city on business. Most were obviously merchant or transitory in nature, some bounty hunting operators and a few private contractors. He was certain that all could be considered smugglers in one way or another, pay any ship’s captain enough credits and he’d gladly take ‘sensitive cargo.’

 But he hadn’t contracted with just any ship, in just any wild cowboy crew, or under just any ex-officer; he’d contracted with Connor’s group. Known for many names both announced and given within many armies, political parties, insurgent cells, systems, and cities. They held quite a reputation on the black net; Brock would know, he’d monitored the records of over a hundred different crews since he first joined the Army of the Federation three years ago. Connor was a retired Master Chief Petty Officer from the Neur system, Brock didn’t know how long his crew had been together, but the word was that his ship the ‘Sparrow’ had been leaving serious wakes in their path. Big contracts with big names, formulating a dependable reputation for smuggling, bounty hunting, and the occasional assassination. And that was just the public record, or as public as the underground black net can get.

 It was a good operation, a great place to start his career; he didn’t actually expect to contract onto Connor’s crew, just getting his signal off the net was hard enough. He took days painstakingly writing it out in the excellent Kartoa his years of intense study could manage. That was a calculated guess, since most of Connor’s contracts would have to be in Kartoa. Even then he still wasn’t sure of himself sending that first message; just a twenty-one year old specialist fresh out of the uniform with a few mediocre deployments under his belt, an average service record, no schools, and no contracts to his name. His translating experience turned out to be his one saving grace. Connor responded promptly, not even asking for an interview or additional paperwork, and it was devoid of any standard formal business pleasantries common to most Kartoa cultures, - “Direct, professional, I’ll have to remember that” - though additionally the terse message bore two surprises.

 First, he responded in Fed standard; was he insinuating that his Kartoa was unacceptable? In his resume he simply listed his fluent languages, he didn’t specify which was his native, so was he letting Brock know that he knew Federal Standard was his first language?  And in turn implying that he had done a further background check of his own? The former had to be impossible, since Brock took great pride in his knowledge of Kartoa and those customs. The latter? Probably, in fact it’d be ridiculous for an experience merc leader to entrust a new crew member on his ship without a full investigation. “Ok, so Connor wants me to know that he’s done his research.”
Secondly - and honestly primarily - the message simply consisted of one question:

“How’s your Ha’jiam Tribal?”

 His mother’s native? That caught him off guard. He’d listed it as a fluency in his resume, and that wasn’t a fabrication… Necessarily… True, he hadn’t conversed in it for about a year, he’d in fact almost grew a disdain for it. Ha’jiam Tribal  was an extremely localized and confused mess of a dialect; an inbred bastard of a blend of ancient indigenous Verb-object-subject grammar structures utterly dominated by Federation vocabulary and Tautoan pronounciation. The formulaic fate of any indigenous language caught in the economic crosshairs of greater powers. Its localized nature, primitive home, and ridiculous difficulty meant there were very few speakers; well, aside from the thirty million something natives trapped in that hell hole by poverty, some local warlord, or simple force of habit. There must be very, very few speakers with military training and experience who were also looking to contract with a merc crew.

“Ah.” That explained Connor’s prompt and unlikely response, his crew must be taking a contract involved with that moon and needed a translator; an impressive stroke of luck, provided he hadn’t lost that much.

 He remembered laying to rest a panic attack by pulling up some Hajiam dialogue on the net from an Anthropological Linguistics database via his console and skimming over it; ensuring that he indeed hadn’t forgotten too much before he responded likewise in Fed Regular to Connor.

“It isn’t my specialty, I can negotiate in it without problem but I doubt I’d pass as a native.”

 Dishonesty now wouldn’t help him later on, but complete honesty wasn’t immediately desirable either. At any rate, Connor’s response is more detailed:

“Arrive at the attached coordinates in 5 days, 14 hours, and 33 minutes Omega time. Stand directly in front of the port call registry screen facing magnetic north. Travel light. You’ll enter the ship on a trial basis. I don't believe in making contracts complicated; eat the standard rations, follow orders, don’t be a bitch, and you’ll receive an eight percent cut from contracts and can borrow gear from the armory. You'll learn the other rules as they come up. I’ll take your arrival as acceptance. Look for the Skylark. Call me Chief.”

So, no mention of an entry bonus. But his luck had been running high enough to make that irrelevant. He had his first contract, an unusual one yes, but with a crew he’d be proud to put on his record.

 And so, here he stood. The lengthy attached coordinates were precise down to a ten square meter area. The space in front of the docking registry of this chaotic town on this nondescript trade moon.

 That’s when he heard it, a forceful baritone voice, from the first syllable obviously accustomed to command.

“You lost soldier?”

 Brock turned his head to see a man standing less than a meter away, behind him.

 How the fuck did he slip past me?

 A first glance drew distracted confusion, the man was tall and powerfully built. The six foot five figure wore a rough, apparently untanned furry buck-hide jacket over a simple tan shirt and dark green cargo pants made from some strong and thick textile; both rather uncomfortable options given the heat.

Ok, he’s packing.

 He sported a large rough beard and a rougher square face with a neutral expression upon it. His mass of completely unkempt red hair hanged matted down onto his shoulders; a dozen thick strands are strung about in braids. His left hand was at his side, the other tucked at his shoulder, holding the strap of an old tan colored synthetic satchel. The man’s whole form from head to toe was covered with a fine layer of dust, sweat, and grime. His massive size, demeanor, and the hide jacket gave him the general look, attitude, smell, and intimidation of an ill-tempered Kodiak bear.

 Brock had looked up Connor’s service record and had seen a few photos of him in his enlisted days. The young, clean cut, crisply uniformed, and professional seaman in those pictures did nothing to help him recognize the man before him.

 A moment’s confusion awkwardly reigned before recognition set in on Brock’s face; he quickly recovered and faced about to address him.

“Chief… Connor, I presume?”
“Just Chief, and yeah, follow me.”

 With that he turned around and quickly stalked into the crowd. Brock started walking briskly to keep up. They navigated through the crowds in silence into the hangar and past several of the docked ships. Brock thought about asking Connor - Ahem, Chief. - if the Skylark was a ploy and the Sparrow was moored nearby, at least something to start conversation; but instinct told him to leave the silence be. He could also be the cold professional.

“There’s our new home.”

 The Chief stopped in his tracks facing a sizeable space faring craft. It was shaped like a long rectangular box, with a wide cylindrical single engine protruding toward the rear of the vessel; twin engines mounted on short wings extended thirty meters out from the ship’s center. The whole was painted black with a boxlike but relatively smooth outward finish. The sheen metallic hull had very few glass ports.

 Brock knew very little about ships, or hyperdrives, or mechanics in general; so the sight of this large metallic creature yielded no insight into its capabilities or functions. Even when the Chief abruptly rattled off a list of specs and class numbers, it meant nothing to Brock.

 Brock suddenly noticed the ‘our,’ in the Chief’s statement; so something did happen to the Sparrow?”

 The sound of casually trotting bootprints across the metal surface of the ship emanated from the open bay doors and lowered metal gangplank toward the back of the ship. A hand reached down from inside the ship and grabbed support from a hydraulic cylinder as a figure wearing torn fatigue bottoms and a faded olive drab shirt quickly swung through; landing with a final loud clunk on the hangar deck.

 The man was young, maybe his early twenties at most, and bearing a permanent fixture of - Brock expected unshakable - genial cheer and unmistakable familial kinship. He called out in one of the rough clannic langugages; Brock wasn't fluent but he knew enough to extrapolate the general meaning.

“Chief! I’ve been calling you for three fucking days!” His tone bore less irritation and more pleased relief.
“Turned my comm off," Chief responded in the same language, "needed some personal time; you know, get in touch with my inner peace.” Chief tapped his chest sarcastically while the bare hint of a fond smile crosses his face. “Y’all good here?”
“No! You scared the shit out of me… Again! You don’t just vanish like that with a note in your shitty handwriting and not call in.”
“I’m the boss, yes I do.” He motions between the man and Brock while switching to Fed Standard, "Ex-Specialist Brock of the Federation Army, meet Ex-PFC Dren of the Allied Clans. Our communications and scans Operator."

 Dren, one of the larger High Rock Clans. Brock thought to himself as he returned Dren's warm smile.

 Dren approached with his right arm extended while switching to Fed as well, "Hey! You are the new translator! What languages do you speak?" Dren was fairly fluent in standard (though contractions were just beyond his grasp) and with a heavy sing songy accent. And his naturally rushed and excited speaking voice was slowed down to a careful jog, but Brock was too relieved that there was at least one friendly crew member to notice.

"Five and a half, Kartoa, Mah’to, Derisian, Fed, Ha'jian, and a little Gahlic." As he went in to shake Dren's hand, he paused in momentary cultural confusion as Dren's hand glided past his and grasped his wrist; he quickly reciprocated just as Dren laughed jovially at his mistake.

"I'm sorry! The core worlds, they shake hands right?" He released Brock's wrist and regrasped his hand, giving it a strong squeeze before letting go. Brock cursed himself in the back of his mind, he should've refreshed his memory of clannic cultural customs; those systems were extremely involved in the private contracting market, it was inevitable that he'd work with clansmen from those worlds.

 Brock reciprocated with a small nervous laugh, "No problem man, I'll have to brush up on Clan customs." Dren still hadn't gotten the standard core world greeting quite right; you didn't strongly overpower the other's grasp in most social circles; usually it was more acceptable to simply gently clasp the other. "Damn, need to look that up later." Brock made a mental note.

"You'll fit right in man, and you may call me 'Scout,' everybody else does."

 Chief flips the satchel off his back and tosses it over to 'Scout.' “Brought some new toys for y’all, since you've been such a patient little soldier, you get first pick.” Chief continues the conversation in Kartoa, to not leave Brock awkwardly out of it.

 He deftly catches it and follows closely behind Chief as they near the gangplank.
“Resorting to Bribery eh?" He spoke as he eagerly zipped open the satchel and peered within. He exclaimed in delight as he gingerly held the open satchel in one arm while drawing out a strangly curved machete; Brock noticed that the blade looked strangely dull, and an odd black fiberglass-looking strip ran about the edge.

"Stun blades! Thanks Chief! Can I spar with Pimp?"
Chief raised his eyebrows, “I thought you usually fought Chin, what did Pimp do to you?"
"The fucker's been switching all of the ship's systems on and off all week. it's been a fucking nightmare trying to monitor comm traffic when I have to replug all the frequencies every five fucking minutes. I really miss the Sparrow."
"Is something wrong with the systems?"
"Jay's had trouble getting the new shields online, everything else works fine, but Pimp insists that it ALL has to be overhauled for 'maximum efficiency." He mimicked a high pitched, nasally voice on the last two words.
"This ship's a lot more electronic heavy than the Sparrow. I've told you before, Pimp's a pain in the ass but he knows what he's doing. And yeah, Pimp could use some practice in combatives."
"Like, right now?"
Chief rolled his eyes as they walked up the gangplank. "No, after we're offworld; we're picking up Wolfe from that op in a half hour at RP Alpha."
"Good, I was starting to miss Woofie."
"You know if he hears you call him that again he'll fuck your nose with his machete."
"Aww, he's just a big fluffy teddy bear."
"Fluffy teddy bear puts a tungsten bullet dead center mass at 2000 meters, play nice."

"So uh, who are Chin, Pimp, Wolfe, and Jay?" Brock awkwardly interjected.
"You'll meet them all today," Scout answered, "Wolfe's our sniper, Jay's the navigator, Pimp is our computer systems programmer, and Chin's just a badass."

 "The fuck?" The chief declared as he surveyed the Skylark's cargo hold. The metallic room's large size was made to seem larger by the near emptiness; it was the full twenty meters wide, twenty meters high, and maybe fifty meters deep. A rickety looking metal grate walkway hangs suspended from the ceiling and creates a pseudo second story to the room; and access to the several thick and ridiculously narrow bulkhead doors that lead further into the ship. Several large chests and crates are nestled in the far back of the room, nestled around piles of duffels, cord, and other machinery. The sight that apparently drew Chief's profanity is a single man busy shoving a chest across the deck.

 "Tell me something Scout, did I not order everything loaded into the new ship and packed away by the time I got back?"
"Uhh, that you did Chief." Scout neutrally said, his smile vanishing.
"And what did I say I'd do if one cable was loose?"
"You said that you'd systematically sodomize us with serrated garden hoes."
"Then what's this shit I'm looking at?"
"That's... Uh... None of it's mine Chief," Scout gestures toward the gear as he draws an evil glare from the Chief. "I swear! I had the comm gear stowed away yesterday! Whatever's not screwed down there is Clutch's or Chin's."
"So, I've been gone three days, you're telling me it took you two to move your comm gear and personal shit?"
"Had to install everything too, and it's all online! At least when Pimp's not rebooting the system."

 Chief continues grumbling, "Be glad I'm in a good fucking mood." as he stalks across the hold toward the man pushing a chest toward the back wall.

"Clutch! Three days man! Three days!" Clutch pauses from moving the chest to wipe sweat from his brow and look at Chief.

"So, you're back. How was the bar and brothel vacation?" Clutch spoke with some strange rim world accent, Brock had no idea where it was from. Clutch himself was dressed in a billowy tan dyed cotton shirt, and light tan pants of the same hand weaved cotton textile. He stood just over six feet tall with a runner's slim build, his head was cleanly shaven, and the corner of a large tattoo just barely peeks from underneath his thin shirt.
"I was kind of busy," Chief sarcastically responded, "you know, the fucking op Logan and I were setting up? The reason I wanted y'all ready for action in case we needed backup? The hell even IS half of this shit?" Chief kicked a duffel at his feet.

 Chief turned to Brock, "This lazy fuck is Clutch, hydraulics and engine mechanic. The ship runs on fuel and his engine oil sweat."

 “Gallons of his engine oil sweat.” Clutch declares in third person while makes a final attack launching the chest to a triumphant thud against the wall of the cargo hold; a second glance from Brock confirms a suspicion that it’s official Federation military issue, or was. The Federation flag on the upper left corner of the chest’s face was scratched off with a small red Sparrow painted over it.

 “More like teaspoons.” Chief corrected over his shoulder as he continued walking across the hold, stepping over loose cables, around crates and kicking aside a couple more duffles.
“Hey Chin!” The Chief was yelling at a tall and powerful man dressed in forest camo army fatigues who had just entered the hold from a hallway leading to the mess hall. His arms were filled to the breaking point with a mass of duffels and jugs of powerful cleaning solutions. His chiseled features and prominent jaw denoting his apparent nickname glanced questioningly and exasperatedly toward the Chief.

“I want this shit cleaned up before we break atmo! We have to fit a fucking transport vehicle in here when we pickup Wolfe.” The Chief gestured toward the mass collusion of supplies across the bay as he leapt up the stairway three steps at a time; Scout and Brock close in tow.

“Kind of busy Chief!” Chin gasped as a couple jugs clattered from his arms to the ground.

 “Then grab a couple to help, I know CLUTCH isn’t doing anything at the moment.” Chief stopped his deliberate journey toward the cockpit to lean on the stairwell midsentence and enunciate Clutch’s name.
“Aye aye Chief.” Clutch sarcastically responds, breathing heavily on the mountainous chest before straightening up to go help Chin.
“Chin’s our resident SAW gunner by the way,” the Chief mentions over his shoulder to Brock, “lays a lot of hate downrange.”
“He looks the type.” Brock commented.

 A loud ascending roar suddenly rumbles throughout the ship, shaking the crossbeams, rattling the metal stairwell and imbuing Brock with its reverberations. The roar quickly pinnacles in a raucous jolt as the ship bucks off the ground; almost throwing the Chief and Brock over the railing, Scout tripping back down the stairwell with the satchel swinging into his face, sending Chin and his armload sprawling across the ground and slamming Clutch against the tool chest.

“The hell was that?! Why is grav control fucked!?” Chief shouted over the din.

 Clutch shouted upward as he deftly ran across the sliding duffels to seal the cargo bay door. “Oh yeah, Pimp mentioned that he took it offline to fix something; said it’d be back in a bit.”

"Motherfucker!" Scout yells as he clambers back up the stairwell with the duffel.

“A bit eh?” Chief continued swearing as he wrestled his way up the stairwell with Brock close in tow, who slung his G3 over his shoulder to hang on to it.
 The ship settled from caustic seizures into a general calmer shivering as it quickly started gaining altitude and steadied. The roar was dulled short as the massive metallic clanking signified the bay doors locking in place. Yet the rumble was still abnormally loud.

“I thought the shields on this new system muted outside noise well.” The Chief wondered aloud for a moment.

“Unless he took them down as well Chief.” Scout observed.

 The Chief clambers up a ladder and through an open hatch into a sort of loft while roaring, “Pimp! Where the fuck are you and what the fuck have you done to my goddamn ship?”

 A shorter man moved swiftly from the hallway, his eyes focused upon a datapad before him which his fingers were running deftly over. He seemed to ignore the quaking of the ship as he strode briskly to the bottom of the ladder and reached out to grab it, looking up to see the Chief in his path.
“Excuse me Chief, I need to get up there.”
 The Chief slid down the ladder with a massive metallic slam as his 275 pounds hit the walkway; he leaned to the side, allowing just enough room for ‘Pimp’ to climb up past him. As Pimp did so, the Chief grabbed his sinewy arm with his massive fist and and took a moment to stare down Pimp’s ambivalent face. “We just bought this beauty, it’s too late to get our money back, understand?”
“Yes Chief, would you please let me go? I'm running one last systems check before exfil."

 Chief hopped down and motioned for Brock and Scout to follow him back toward the hallway. “You see soldier, this is what happens to a good team when the leaders leave for five minutes.”
“So this 'Wolfe' is the second in command?” Brock specualted openly.

“Oh hell no.”
  Both Brock and Scout look up questioningly and almost runs into the Chief, he had stopped and was staring at the hallway before him. A whole row of wall panels were taken down leading straight down the corridor, exposing a mass of running wall circuits, wires, cords, and air ducts. The ship’s quaking were scattering the panels back and forth across the hallway. The massive clutter leads to an open maintenance shaft with a pair of combat boots sticking out of it. He strides toward them and violently grabs the boots with both hands.

“That better not be you Cook!”
“Wait!” A muffled voice emanates from the hatch, “Chief! NOoooo!”
There’s a loud metallic thump as Chief jerks the legs onto the deck, dragging a sweat soaked man and a few spilling tools after him; though most noticeably, in one clasping hand is a large, heavy looking metallic cylinder, and a primer in the other.

 Primer? Is that a... Fuck. Brock always hated being around high explosives.

The moment the Chief notices the primer’s proximity to the cylinder he stumbled backwards, “Fuck!” A rapidly forming bruise pulsed on the man’s brow, his expression was startled, and momentarily panicked. He dropped the explosive to the rattling deck before he rubbed his head and directed severe annoyance toward the Chief.

“You called oh fearless leader?”

Chief straightened up, quickly composed himself as his gaze darted between the cylinder, the primer, the wall, and finally resting cooly upon ‘Cook.’

“Cook, do I look drunk?”

‘Cook’ wiped his head again checking for blood, but finding only sweat before answering, “No Chief, I daresay you’re actually sober, we’re all so proud of you.” He snidely said before snatching up the dropped cylinder and carefully tucking his head back into the shaft; despite the roarous vibrations.

“Ok, so I actually am watching you stuff our preciously expensive new ship with high explosives?
“Just laying out some DFFC’s and a few EFP’s in the walls.”
“Not to mention I’d be a lot more comfortable if the high explosives stuffed in the wall were not snuggled right next to really expensive circuits.” Chief knocked on exterior circuits to illustrate.

“I’m so sorry if my saving our lives if we get boarded makes you uncomfortable. And the circuits are fine, container’s an inch thick, blast is going…” Cook makes the already spooked Chief jump again as he casually punches out a wall panel facing down the corridor they had come. “That way.”

“Can you at least be less messy about it? Did you really have to take down the whole wall?”
“I’m running a direct line from all of the charges straight to the cockpit, so ‘Jay’ can blow away any landing parties and we won’t have to worry about rogue signals setting these off.. Prematurely.”

 The Chief does a double take, “Hold on, what do you mean, ‘all’ of the charges? Just how much of my ship are you trying to destroy?”

“Relax, it’s perfectly safe as long as no one jerks my fucking feet while I’m trying to quietly set in the primer… Would you kindly hand me that hydrospanner?”

Chief glares at the smiling face and pointing hand peeking through the circuits for a moment before turning to Brock.

“The man makes the finest plastic I’ve seen outside a lab; though he’s a shitty chef and has no comprehension of value.”

“You can’t complain till you get me more than beans and paste to work with.”
 The Chief turns to Cook, partly addressing him now, “This is why we can’t have nice things, because you’re always taking them apart and blowing them up.”
“Well, that IS my job description.” Cook responded as Brock handed him the hydrospanner.
The Chief rolled his eyes and turned to continue toward the cockpit, “Just clean this shit up, sooner than later.”
“Roger Chief.”

 The trio stride down a long, winding, and tight hallway; doorways both open and closed that leads off to different rooms. The hallway finally culminates in a short stairway that leads to the cockpit. The Chief jumps through the bulkhead, there's a brief silence before he hears the Chief speak,

 "Y'all fucking planned this! Didn't you! Let's just think of every possible way to make Chief go fucking insane. Right?"

 The cockpit was tight, maybe five by seven meters and crowded with equipment. A huge mass of controls, electronic screens, nobs, dials, and overhead compartments that jutted rudely into headspace. A few bolted down chairs were placed close to the main control panel below a large window. Sitting on the chair is a man wearing light PT's. The intriguing aspect of the room is not the controls, or the navigator at the panel, but what is spaced on every surface of the room that isn't already covered by controls. Scout whistled long and slow, what must be hundreds of various pinups of hundreds of models in various states of undress surrounded the room. "So.... Jay, didn't tell me you were bringing out the collection..."

"Nah man, thought I'd make it a lovely surprise for you and our illustrious leader."

 Brock had to comment, "You know the cheapest datapads can easily hold terrabytes of info." Jay glanced from Chief toward Brock, "These are lucky mate, always flown better with them."

“The bloody hell!?” The Chief interjects, “Wolfe and I leave for one fucking day and everything has gone to shit, you’re playing house, Clutch is screwing around, Pimp is splattering us across the wall, and Cook’s rigging the whole ship to explode.”
“Cook’s doing whaa?” Jay interjects,
“If that happens, can we get the Sparrow back?” Scout queries.
“Both of you, shut up! Seriously Jay, what made you think you could get away with this? Do you think any client would take us seriously if he saw this? He'd think we're some floating fucking brothel! This cockpit has the same deal as on the Sparrow, you can keep your little mini-fridge and one - one! - of your little dirty pictures. Understood?"

 Jay's asenting nod corresponded with the hum and momentary mechanical grind of the shields and grav systems coming back online. The violent quaking of the ship ceased immediately, turning the thick metal flooring under their feet into hard earth; and giving the rising queasiness in Brock's stomach a moment to settle.

 Chief sighs as the new ship settles into its routine noises. "Jay, watch the skies and clean this shit up the moment we're on autopilot. Scout," he turns toward Brock and Scout, "show Brock his bunk to dump his gear then move to the cargo bay to help Clutch fix his shit."

"Roger Chief." Scout says as he turns and motions for Brock to follow.

 Met almost half the crew, Chief's not at all what I expected, and I’m not dead yet. So far, so good.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

(1) Mercs: "Just Business"

Sanduro system - Moonworld Nergovia - Outskirts: 3200 local time (almost midday). [0400. 14/3/2003 Omega time]
Phillip Raegas, foot officer of the Uewo Cartel.


 "Targets in sight."

 Endlessly intense summer heat does strange things to the eye; the molten air lazily swells upward and causes a slight refraction and curve of the light, distorting distant solid images into amorphous images taking unpredictable shapes.

The broad view of the surrounding rugged vista was a testament to this optical illusion; the sun beat down onto a range of stone, grit, sand, and drifting mists of light dust. The sparse vegetation in the outback is stale, starving for the rains that rarely fall here. Cautious breezes flow between the nooks and shaded crannies lying between the broad mesas and larger boulders; nature's only mercy on this harsh moonworld.

 In a kilometer wide valley shaded by a particularly wide ridgeline is a strange vehicle with a stranger collection of four men. They are dressed in a garbled collection of light cotton shirts and pants, a coarse leather jacket and a duster; all are wearing large boots of an indeterminate material. The largest man wears an uncomfortable and rudimentary flak jacket, the pockets of which are hastily stuffed with roughly hewn slabs of steel and tungsten. A fair - if somewhat impromptu - homebrewed work of body armor. All of which - boots, shirts, jackets, armor - show sign of their constant exposure to desert heat and billowing dust storms.

 The vehicle was a fair sized iron-wrought monstrosity, several meters across and a few in breadth. It had a small sealed compartment for the driver, with a very large and open cargo bed in the back. When turned on, it produced but a whir as it hovered a few feet off the ground and soared across the desert.

 Each man was laden with an assortment of gear, tools vital to life and occupation, especially in these turbulent times. The man in a leathern jacket bears a badly pitted and slightly rusted FN FAL rifle. After a gentle tug of the wind, the open jacket flaps open to reveal a web belt peeking from underneath, packed with fresh magazines. The owner's aggressive, and tanned face is encrusted with desert dust; making the thirty-two year old man seem fifty with a cursory glance.

The man cloaked within a wide duster had his weapon holstered at his right side; it is a powerful though rudimentary energy weapon, its bulbously circular chamber has a small ejector with a protruding charging handle from the left side. A simple magazine filled with small, luminescent green charges. The bulk of the large handgun aborbs the sun's glint with a black surface, though small pits of rusts scatter across the welded surface. The man bearing it appeared to be the leader, his authoritative stance and deciphering gaze watched the opposing edge of the valley with a fervent anticipation. His age is also hidden under the grime and natural confidence of leadership, though his fair sized and unkempt beard almost heightens this authority.

 The man with body armor bears a powerful 8 gauge lever action shotgun. A sling hangs from his shoulders supporting the weapon's considerable weight while his right arm rests loosely over the barrel. A belt also hangs across his body, filled with a brace of large, brown shotgun shells. Though he's physically the largest of them, his plain and unassuming face sports barely a stubble. His gaze shifts from boulder to boulder across the hilltops, almost mechanically scanning for strange movement.

 The final man's youth is obvious, his stature and complexion warrant him to barely be sixteen. His dress and weapon are the simplest of the four. He grasps a small pistol grip shotgun, the poor condition and quick repairs of which rivals all the others. He is the only one showing his fear; his searching gazes nervously fly from one clifftop to another, betraying a climbing sense of panic as to what approaches.

 Their bodies are as abused and scarred as the weapons they carry.

 The man in the duster lifted his hand to his ear, slightly cocking back a wire which protruded and vanished into the back of his duster's neck. "What was that?"

 The voice crackled over the radio to repeat, "Targets in sight." The tone relayed relaxed professionality in the baritoned yet still sing-song cadence of a Gahlic accent. Typical of the Doglos and other free clans.


"I count two trucks and a speeder, at least six visible occupants."

"Can you see the goods?" His accent was native to this world though the language was not; it was more brusquely spoken and rounded about vowels.

"No sir." 

"Drop the sirs Logan, we aren't the fucking federals." Mild annoyance crept into the man's controlled expression. His face drew taunt as he chewed over his lower lip, his personal habit preluding any major business deal.

"You're the boss Mister Raegas."  He wasn't sure if that was an affirmation or an explanation.... Whatever.

 The sound of two distant combustion engines echoed faintly across the mountains. Finally, they pulled over the ridge and came into full view. The pulled to a momentary stop as the occupants surveyed the valley before them; satisfied with their recon, they revved their engines and drove straight up to the four men and their hovercraft.

 The radio made a slight buzz and simmer, Logan was mumbling to himself and the small ear piece couldn't pick it up.

"Range of 482 meters..... Occasional minor crossbreeze...... Zip humidity..... Fair elevation difference....."  Though it would be impossible to pick up over the radio, a bystander might hear a few faint clicks as Logan re-adjusted the MOA on his scope; re-accounting for each successive factor on his well rehearsed mental checklist and compensating for each as his decades of experience dictated. Automatic scopes were of course common and available, but Logan had always preferred the controlled certainty of manual. No need to work in tandem with a scope's self adjustments, no need to adapt to a new scope's timing or computations. "I can do my own budahl solutions and put in my own indexes." Logan had said on other occasions.

 The arriving hovercraft was a smaller model intended purely for personnel transportation, it parked with both trucks flanking it. Two men rode in the back of one truck and one in the other, they were crouched atop what could now be seen to be some nondescript wooden crates covered with desert camo tarps. From which the three men smoothly dropped to the ground, weapons carefully in hand as they eyed the four men with careful - but not hostile - caution. The doors of the trucks and hovercraft opened, and four more men exited and examined their surroundings and scrutinized their business partners. All were carrying old and homemade AK74s, 101s, Rheik army M4 carbines, or hobbled blasters. Their dress and armaments are similar to the four, though with two exceptions. The first was obviously their leader, he wore an old bomber jacket and distinctive dark glasses; though he shared the same perpetual layer of dust as everyone else, he was washed and comparatively clean. At his side he wore a large .44 mag revolver. The other one was a rather stoutly little man with a cyborg monocle implant; he was well dressed with a white buttoned shirt and a portly vest covering his sweaty frame. He was the only man not obviously armed.

 Mr. Raegas stood facing his counterpart.
"Where's MacElroy? I cut the deal with him, not you, captain." Bitter sarcasm oozed from that last word.

The captain also stood his ground and stared firmly towards Raegas. "New policy, the head honcho doesn't show his face in foot deals; I'm sure you understand, being a busy man and all."

"I expect to see the man I deal with."

"Expect disappointment."

 There was a moment of silence between the two, before Raegas silently acquiesced and turned to the trucks while speaking over his shoulder.
"As per the agreement, I examine the goods before payment."

"I'm familiar with the terms, go ahead."

Raegas approached the trucks maintaining his air of absolute confidence; one of the gunmen slung his weapon over his shoulder before leaning into the truck and flipping the canvas completely off the crates. Raegas unlatches and opens the lid, gingerly reaching in and pulling out a small package. He massaged the clay-like texture of the thick package; taking a few minutes to smell, poke, prod, and taste it.

 "That's fucking enough; I'm 482 meters away and even I can see it's pure, immaculate, grade VIII. If you checked it anymore you'd be raping it."

Raegas's expression didn't change as Logan muttered over the radio. He merely cast a sly smile toward the patiently waiting captain while remarking. "Forgive me, but I like to be thorough."

"Oh really? Don't stop now, there's so much more plastic to molest!"

Raegas made a note to correct Logan's professionalism later, he returned the package to the crate and latched it shut; motioning for them to be loaded. Immediately two of his men and a few of the captain's began hauling the several crates from the trucks to Raegas's speeder.

"So, you've checked the goods, where's the payment?"

Raegas seemed to consider for a moment as the tension quickly built; this was the few seconds that could either conclude a successful business deal, or initiate a savage firefight. Though his face betrayed nothing un-inentional, he was relishing the thrill involved in such moments; seconds where his immediate response either saved or condemned him.

"Boss... You're scaring me."

"It's under your feet, just below the surface." Raegas gestured.

The Captain's face displays some confusion before he steps back and kneels down. Realizing the dirt in fact had been disturbed, he drew out his knife and began to carefully dig; after a few scoops of dirt had been turned aside, he drew out a small, nondescript bag from the hole. The captain made a small gesture and the portly man waddled forth, he tossed the bag and quickly set him to work.  He immediately began opening the bag as he walked toward the front of his hovercraft, gingerly pouring out a fistful of crystal white stones, many barely the size of gravel. His cyborg eye rotated and adjusted as he began holding up each stone to it.

"Oh shite."  Logan commented over the comm.
 Trying not to appear nervous or too quick to intervene, Raegas put on a show of annoyance as he said with an exasperated sigh, "Do you really think we managed to fake Keschem diamonds?"

 "One can never be too sure."

Raegas's mind raced in the next few seconds as he tried to think of something as the portly man went from examining one stone to the next.

"I have the shot lined up if you're ready Sir."

 All he had to do was scratch his head, and the captain he stared at now would lie dying at his feet while a dangerous firefight ensued. And that would be a sweet sight. Still, even with that merc Logan on overwatch it'd be a very close fight.... No, Raegas's quick wit had proven his salvation before... And occasional damnation come to think of it.

 The portly man picked up another stone to examine.

 Raegas broke the silence with controlled anger, "Ok, I filled my part of the deal and we both have the goods we came for, I'm leaving."
 He made a half hearted motion toward the hovercraft before a cold stare from the captain froze him solid.

 "Places to go?" The captain narrowed his eyes with suspicion.

 "The terms said nothing about a third party security risk, that jeweler will take hours; besides, we called you, remember? We've both completed the terms of the deal, so I'm leaving."

 Raegas turned around and started walking back to his vehicle; the captain stood in silence behind him.

 "10 meters to freedom, 6 meters to freedom...."

He was going to fucking kill Logan.

 "Sir!" The dreaded jeweler spoke up from the truck, one of the rocks clasped in his hand and a terrified expression on his face. That one word sped everything that followed into the space of a nanosecond.

 The captain glanced at the jeweler and immediately began backing up, hand drifting toward his revolver. "You ripping me off gobshite?"

 Raegas slowly turned around with a confused smile, "Wait, just hold on, I'm sure there's been a simple mistake." He had raised both arms in a peace making fashion, while almost absentmindedly brushing away his hair.


Everyone froze at the sharp crack in the distance for the minutest of moments, but before anyone could react, one of the captain's gunmen who was standing atop their hovercraft was struck in the kidney area; the force throws the man down from the truck onto the ground. The body goes limp, his breath was knocked from his lungs twice over; not that it would matter anyway.

 Everyone leapt for cover behind their vehicles, a few fired wildly to suppress the others. Raegas dove behind his hovercraft as the sharp crack of a passing bullet split over his head. He got up to a crouched position, his eyes meeting with the three other men. They'd escaped the initial wild gunfire and were now likewise huddled behind the precious cover of the cargo hover. Raegas looked down and realized he had reactively drawn his blaster, he turned about and leaned from his cover to pull off a quick shot.  The captain's men were also taking cover and carefully taking shots, Raegas popped his blaster forward and double tapped two pulses into the car door of a truck. The cones of green energy punched through the door, rocking the truck and shattering the windows. The two gunmen hiding behind held their AK's over and fired blindly toward him.

 "Not exactly riflemen material are they?"

 "Shut up and blow them away!"

 One of the gunmen was slammed into the truck, the AK-74 falling into the bed, a slug ripped through his chest. Raegas could see the man slumping under the truck, his hands vainly clasping at the air and ground around him; his mouth gasping for air as his pupils dilate.


 The second gunmen turned in surprise toward his eliminated companion, his eyes widening in surprise as his gaze darted around the mountainside. Just in time for another slug to slam through his sternum, slamming and slumping the body into the truck. After a couple desperate gasps, his head falls back against the car door; the shock of the blow stunning his heart into confused palpatations.

 "Three down, four standing."

 The four men start firing away over and around the hovercraft; bullets and energy pulses snapped through the air, pinged from the metal vehicles, and kicked up tufts of dust. The youth was particularly terrified, barely glancing at the enemy before blasting his shotgun around the corner of the hovercraft. Before a splash of metal ricochets drive him cowering back under cover. The man wearing body armor fired over the hovercraft, each powerful retort echoing throughout the mountains with that weapon's distinctly bestial roar. The man in the leathern jacket had his FN FAL couched against his shoulder, firing chattering bursts around the opposing corner of the hovercraft, with Raegas firing his blaster over the shoulder.

 The captain was kneeling behind his hovercraft, .44 in his hand. He quickly squeezed off two thundering shots that rung from the thick metal of Raegas's vehicle. Responding fire from the FAL and blaster forced him to duck back behind. As Raegas paused to change magazines, the other man was taking careful aim with his FAL before firing two shots. The resulting cry was unmistakably the captain's, and honestly more due to surprise and shock than pain. The high rise design of the transportation hovercraft had inadvertantly left his right shin exposed, an error that his compatriot quickly took advantage of.

 His ears were ringing painfully, with every additional audibility sounding strangely muffled. Yet even with this, he could still hear the weirdly tinny, wet slap coming from behind him. Quickly looking back, he saw the youth's body crumpled face first across the desert sand, part of his skull blown away and a shocked eye staring into oblivion. The other man bearing the 8 gauge was thumbing shells into the magazine tube while swearing loudly.

 The captain had crawled to the more protected center of his hovercraft, arm clutching his shattered and bleeding shin; the exposed and wrought nerves sending potent waves of pain through his body, deadened only by the surgence of epinephrine. When one of his men attempted to assist, he waved him away; instead dropping his revolver and drawing out a small tourniquet.

 "Why aren't they dead yet Logan?" Almost thirty seconds had elapsed since the first shot, the initial wild firing died down a bit, and both sides were taking more careful fire.

 "Don't have a good shot, only the one truck was facing me."

"I don't care, I want lead, downrange, NOW!"

 "Your call."   Raegas ran to the opposite corner of the vehicle, standing over the youth's corpse and crouching at the ready. The man firing the 8 gauge had been swearing incessantly, but was suddenly interrupted with a soft slap. Fearing the worst, Raegas checked to see the man had merely stumbled back, thrown off balance by the shot to his body armor. A round had slapped into the uppermost part of a kevlar chest plate, cracking his collarbone but not penetrating skin.

 Raegas leaned around the hovercraft with his blaster at the ready, he saw a glimpse of two feet below the truck, crouching behind the driver's compartment, the gunman must be reloading; Raegas tried to line up a shot but he just didn't have enough target. He lay his sights above the hood, waiting for the man to finish reloading and look up. Raegas's focus and aim was shocked when the back window of that truck was smashed through, so he reflexively leapt back behind cover. Realizing it must've been Logan's shot, he looks out again to see the bare outline of the gunman rolling about on the ground.

 "Messy, don't put that one in my resume."

 Lying prone on the ground, Raegas took aim again and fired one, then a second pulse into the wounded gunman. The outline jerked in reaction to the force from each shot and stilled, he was still alive but out of action.

 "Got yah motherfucker!"

 Raegas turned to the man with the 8 gauge, who had just made his triumphant announcement.

"Not quite; I think just a few pellets hit him, or he's wearing armor."

 The gunman lying behind the first truck - shot through the lung - starts to slowly crawl away; breathing in long, drawn out gasps as he coughs up white froth from his mouth. Crawling over the dead body also slumped against the truck. The other wounded gunman Raegas shot starts screaming, the pain from an off hand .308 slug and two blaster pulses beginning to encroach upon his confused and translucent conscience.  The jeweler had spent the majority of the gunfight crouched in terror behind the hovercraft; now he ran for one of the trucks and leapt into the driver's seat, ducking under the dashboard as he tried to start it.

 "You want the jeweler alive?"

 "What do you think?"

 A .308 slug tore through the truck door, was deflected slightly and thrown through the jeweler's left lung, slamming him against the wheel.

 "Five down, two still kicking. Reloading."

 The captain had barely managed to tie the quick tourniquet around his leg, tighten it ferociously, then inject himself with a small syrette of morphine. For the pain was beginning to culminate. He finally loaded a few .44 rounds into his revolver, and held it in one hand as he began crawling to cover one side of the hovercraft. A sidearm - especially a revolver - was far less firepower than he needed, there was no way he could gain fire superiority. The last gunman standing crouches with the captain behind the hovercraft, he pops up to fire a quick burst before returning to cover.

"Logan, cover me, I'm running for that car."
"Care to specify?"
"Back window smashed."
"Roger, got you covered."
 Raegas rushed headlong for the truck nearest him in an attempt to flank the hovercraft; as the captain leaned up to fire, several rounds pinged off the metallic finish and sent him collapsing back into the dirt. His eyes widened in an epiphanic horror as he realized the disturbingly divergent trajectory... They had a sniper.

 Raegas moved to crouch behind the truck bed, but suddenly stumbled over a prone and now screaming form. The wounded gunman was clutching at his M4, an arm weakened by blood loss and shock trying to drag it up to fire. Raegas cursed and stomped the barrel down into the dirt, but the gunman's fingers managed to curl around the trigger, and a long burst of fire emanated from the weapon as Raegas stomped it down and shot a pulse into the man's head. But the hand, filled with adrenaline, continued to grip that trigger and fired the full magazine.

 Shaken, Raegas knelt down and motioned for the man wearing body armor to make the same rush; he covered him with a burst of pulse fire while the FAL chattered a few quick rounds. The large man crouched close behind Raegas, the light of combat in his eyes.

"Boss! He's pulling a frag!"

 Immediately after those words, the small metal object fell right between Raegas and the other man. Before Raegas realized what happened, he had already leaped and was rolling over the truck's hood. The grenade went off almost half a second after it hit the ground. Most of the shrapnel dug into or ricocheted off the truck, but some still bit deeply into his leg; the force of the blast shoved him across the hood and roughly into the ground. He's momentarily blinded by disorientation, the only sensations that comes with absolute certainty are the multiple dull bites that pepper his leg and thigh. He realizes his hands are empty, his blaster went flying after the grenade went off. But he begins to quickly recover, shaking his head and finding the ground again, his heart skipping a beat and catching up again with a chortled gasp; his hands and legs clawing and clasping forward, trying to quickly rush back behind the truck. His right ear had been facing the blast, yet his ear piece still saved most of his hearing when the gel automatically filled and cushioned that ear. His unprotected left ear was completely filled with a painful ringing. Despite this, he could still only faintly hear the tinny shouting of Logan over the radio.

 "Boss! Boss! You still with us?" 

 He groped and dragged himself the several feet to the back of the car, to cover. He sat on the ground with his back against the grill, a hand brushing away blood from his face as he looked about to get his bearings.

 The gunman standing beside the captain stood up to fire upon the still exposed Raegas, but a shot from the FAL slammed into his neck and spinal cord, throwing a lifeless body to the sand. The man in a leathern jacket then cautiously moved from their hovercraft to the first truck; quickly shooting the one gunman crawling through the sand, and another who just wasn't quite dead. He stopped after taking cover and wildly waved in Raegas's direction as he screamed to be heard.

 "Boss! You alright!?"

"Peachy." Raegas had shaken off most of the disorientation from the blast; he stood up and took several steps around the truck, though he kept tripping over his knee. There wasn't much blood, and the entry wounds didn't look too deep or large, so he stumbled and continued on. Through the clearing haze he could discern his blaster lying on the ground. Falling to his knee again he snatched it up.

 The man with the 8 gauge was lying on his back and covered with shrapnel wounds; he was bleeding, blinded, and utterly incoherent. A ghastly moaning sound escaped his lips as he blindly groped for his weapon with mutilated hands. He could wait until the firefight was over. Raegas glances over to the man in the leathern jacket and signs for him to flank the captain.

 He couches his FAL and begins to approach toward one end of the hovercraft; whereupon, Raegas leans against the truck and calls out.

 "Hey captain! You still breathing?"

 "Come and die you fucking gobshite!"

"Getting desperate are we? Your men are dead captain! All are breathing their last! Just like Kona! Remember Kona?"

 "Quit bitching and come fight me like a man!"

 "Oh! Like you did at Kona captain?"

 A sudden simultaneous burst of gunfire erupted, the stacatto of the FAL, which almost muted the roar of the captain's .44 revolver.  "Ben! Did you get him?"

 He was met only by silence.

 "Logan, can you see him?"

 "No sir, but the captain's definitely alive; I assume you want the honors?"

 Raegas didn't reply, he just thumbed his blaster and limped slowly towards the captain's hovercraft. He raised his weapon while carefully turning the corner.

 Ben was lying down on his face, hands jerking slightly but otherwise quite still; an exit wound gaping through the back of the leather jacket. the captain was sprawled next to another body, his torso riddled with .308 slugs and his hand still trying to raise his revolver. He looked up, his eyes filled with some fear, pain, but principally?


 Raegas proffered a painful smile.

 "Shouldn't have brought the fucking jeweler."

 He fired a pulse straight into the captain's face.

 A strange, unexpected, and abrupt silence filled the air; a silence kept from being total only by moans from the wounded and the dull ringing in his ears. Raegas turned around to limp back toward his hovercraft - ears still ringing and blood pouring from his leg - to retrieve the squad medic kit. He thumbed his radio.

 "Logan, meet me down here, LeBron is out of it from the frag, so we need to take him back to the doc soon; Pack up and come on down, your work here is done."

  "Actually Mr. Raegas, not quite yet."

 Mr. Raegas stopped in puzzled annoyance.

 "What do you me....."

 A sharp crack from Logan's rifle and a .308 slug punched through Raegas's heart, spinning his body about and slamming it into the ground. The feeling was ethereal, a sort of morbid euphoric confusion as the stuttering and shocked heart began to starve the brain of oxygen; before it began convulsing as it vainly tried to cycle again, to cough up another absolutely indispensible beat. But it could merely pump blood through wrent arteries, run over destroyed flesh and flow into desert sand; with each convulsive attempt quaking the body with increasingly violent, increasingly desperate reverberations.

He tried to prop himself onto an arm, but his hands and feet were already getting a sharp prickly numbness; odd, he would've laughed if he could, he'd never think he could feel that numbness when he had a gaping hole in his chest.  Lacking the strength for anything else, he shifted his gaze and examined the sand and dirt that he lay upon, that his blood was slowly flowing into. He dragged his hand across the ground - using every last reservoir of will he had to do so - and weak hands gently scratched into the wet soil, taking a fistfull of dirt soaked with blood. His blood.



 Logan snapped the bipod on his rifle shut, packing it snugly away in a long field bag with a few empty magazines and other gear. He stands up and stretches out his hands, the first time he's really moved in over an hour. His right hand moves to his side, flipping out a small keypad connected to his earpiece via a thin yet durable rubber cord. He keys in a frequency with his thumb before slipping it back in its webbing pouch.

 “Hey Chief, interesting development in that little overwatch job; by the time you hear this message, I’ll have the transport loaded with the demo and diamonds moving to exfil point Alpha. I’d appreciate a prompt pickup. Their backup’s about sixty mikes out.”

 Slinging the field bag over his shoulder, he takes up an FN-FAL carbine and looks up at the chaotic remains of a fierce firefight, with eleven dead and dying corpses strewn about the bullet ridden vehicles. But there's no time for sight-seeing, many of those diamonds are real, and a full cargo of high grade explosives await him.

 "Nothing personal Mr. Raegas, just business."