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

Friday, May 2, 2014

(7) Feds - Soldiers of the Federation

Kurjani system - In Subspace route - Federation Frigate The Perdition: 0045 Ship Time [0045. 14/3/2003 Omega time]

Sergeant Jean LeBeau. Planetary Guard, 3rd Battalion, 47th Infantry regiment, Perrio Company. Serving as marine compliment to The Perdition.

 Nineteen year old Sergeant LeBeau glanced from his place as second-man in the team's five man stack to scan the massive virtual urban environment for AI hostiles. This map was a recreation of the notoriously dangerous New Dawser sub level slum districts of the Federation coreworld Equanum. The old construction sites for unfinished residential complexes left a massive gap between the rooftops and the vast inter-level ceiling over four hundred meters above them. The Sergeant was surrounded by third world squalor on a first world planet in the simulator; despite the total envelopment of his sight and hearing by the system, it was still slightly disorienting. He saw in exquisite detail the piles of trash and muck lying around, and he could hear a crumpled piece of wrapping paper being blown across the cracked asphalt. However, the stale smell of the Perdition's scrubbed air and synonymous texture of everything he touched was a constant reminder of where he was: Deck 3, Artificial Environment Training hall 5.

  The voice of his CO rang in the mike on his headset, "Forty minutes and thirty-two seconds... You're still taking too long boys. Speed, surprise, and violence of action. The longer you take is more prep time for the assholes, and you can't be forceful and slow. You can't surprise anyone without speed, and you can't rip any place apart slowly. Understand? Speed, speed, speed."

 Heard you the first ten billion times Sir. The Sergeant resisted saying. No point to a fucking AAR if you never have new critiques. 

 The computer generated hostiles they'd been facing the last week comprised mainly of pirates, fractional insurgencies, and biker gangs. Though the Lt. had slipped in a few Clan merc ambushes, a pod of insectoid Tek'klek'tet warriors, and a disastrous Laychelles assault mech. Even a UoW Special Operations team wearing FESSER exoskeletons that wiped out almost half the platoon.

 The cramped space shared with 35 officers, 308 sailors, 12 pilots and 38 flight mechanics on the Federation D-Class Frigate Perdition made any other training for the 56 soldiers outside of PT impractical. Hence, they spent most of their waking hours in the simulators. They had to wear tailor made 'SRCM' bodysuits that were filled along the lining with over five thousand motion sensors that captured the soldier's slightest movement accurately for the virtual world. The inside layer was made out of nanofibrous weavings that formed a semi-comfortable elastic when contracted, but inflexible casts when they constricted to simulate immobilizing injuries. The Artificial Injury Simulator program could send controlled electrical charges through the weavings to stimulate pain; nothing comparable to an actual serious injury, but just enough to instill a reminder of failure.

 The body-suits were designed to feel like standard issue ACU's and cost around two million Federation dollars each; this last surviving platoon of Perrio Company called them 'crab bags,' since the spotted sensors on the inside layer looked and itched like pubic lice.

 Each man stood on their own 'world portal,' a 5x5 square meter reactive 360 degree treadmill that matched their movements; it was cordoned by very light energy shielding that confined the soldier and represented physical barriers and interaction in the simulator, like walls, doors, and people. The soldier strapped a flip down VR holographic display to the rhino mount on his helmet just like NVG's. It projected the display straight into the soldier's cornea to create a full and accurate perspective of the world he was entering. 15 ship 'techies' manned the workstations at an end of each training hall, monitoring the equipment and simulation.

 In short, a platoon of soldiers could train with a host of different programs in any environment imaginable against every known enemy of the Federation, or the Union of Worlds, the League, or any other nation of the Coalition that united them.

 Full strength D-Class Frigates usually had a marine compliment of 200, however, there were only 60 'portals' available. The original design intended for a platoon and several invisible observers to be training at any given time. But the Perdition wasn't at full strength, their recent nightmarish tour had left only one platoon from the original four. They weren't even marines, Perrio was a planetary guard unit - dirt lovers -  requisitioned and cross trained in ZG combat, Low Altitude antigrav drops and frigate SOP's for this tour. Notorious manpower shortages in the branch coupled with high task demands across the Coalition's space in the universe made 'real marines' scarce.

 Sergeant LeBeau was young for his rank, he was part of the 34% of Federation enlisted that had initially volunteered to escape the extreme poverty of the 'coreworlds' sublevels and slum districts. A relative minority compared to the 52% that were sentenced or drafted into the profession. Or the other 14% seeking the minimum contract for citizenship. He joined at 18 as a private, but high casualty rates in the border conflicts and a faster promotion track for volunteers helped him jump into the NCO ranks. He had just made a field promotion to Sergeant after the disastrous 75% casualties of his unit's last tour.

 Sergeant LeBeau sipped water from his camel pack as he waited with Alpha team for the next scenario to start. They were in the midst of a grueling series of AET marathons with just two hours a day to sleep, and the occasional rushed latrine run. The whole platoon had been eating Combat Nutrient Bars while standing on the portals between missions while sailors refilled their camel packs for them a couple times a day to keep them hydrated. Lieutenant Clark wasn't allowing any stims, but LeBeau knew a dozen grunts that managed to sneak a few in between latrine runs.

 This was the sixth day, and it was painfully obvious. No one wasted precious rest time showering, so a thick layer of grime soaked each soldier's bodysuit; layers of salt stains from near constant sweat had started to show on the material. Clark didn't make them shave during this kind of training at least, he wasn't that kind of officer; so they all looked scruffy, a couple grunts with Gahlic ancestry had almost managed full beards already.

 The attrition was taking its toll on their mission effectiveness too: Average Accuracy (AvAc) ratings had steadily dropped by thirty percent since the highest point on the second day. And Mission Completion Times (MCT) had almost doubled. What's worse, as the eleven hours of sleep in the week left their impact, soldiers started making more stupid mistakes. One private from third squad threw a signal grenade instead of a flash when breaching a hostage scenario.Another started hallucinating and got into a violent argument with a tree; he was pulled for medical. Immediately afterward three other privates tried faking it, but their SL's figured them out and smoked them for it.
 Everyone was jumping at shadows and imaginary AI. Just that morning a delirious TL ordered his team to breach and clear an open broom closet. The men were angry, nearing dangerously close to their breaking point.

 Just keep moving. 

 PFC Leyard was the rear man, he nudged Private Caup in front of him before whispering over the team comms, "The angel's watching us this time."

 The invisible observers were nicknamed angels, after the divine invisible watchers of Hyotany theology. LeBeau had always found it unnerving how he might be graded at any moment by an invisible officer standing a few feet away.

 "Fuck you know that?" Caup drawled, he was barely half awake; Specialist Montcalm was even worse, he was leaning up against the wall, 'droning' between iterations. Sergeant LeBeau felt guilty shaking him awake, but the Master Sergeant would've smoked the whole team if they didn't keep the minimum three feet off the wall.

 "He bitched at Bravo team last iteration and Delta before them." Leyard theorized.
 "So? Bravo gagglefucked into that short room." Caup countered.
 "No dude, he's going clockwise around the teams."
 "Shut. the fuck. up." the pointman SPC Carter snapped back at them.
 "You got a problem up there bitch?" Leyard growled.
 "Stow it..." LeBeau tried to say, but Carter's heat was up.
 "FUCK you!" Carter spun around to face Leyard, but instead caught LeBeau's open palm to his throat that slammed him against the wall. LeBeau held him there for a moment, then eased slightly after Carter stopped struggling; he kept glaring as he spoke.

 "Shut it Alpha, just a few more scenarios till we bunk out." LeBeau commanded after he released Carter.

 Alpha team resumed their tense silence before SPC Carter muttered under his breath, "Fucking bullshit. Just a few more, just a few more; been just a few more all motherfucking week."

 The Sergeant barely swallowed back the urge to snap Cater's neck, "I said fucking SHUT it! You want quality time with the Master Sergeant?"

  They were all filthy, beyond exhausted, and still 'buzzed' from dozens of AIS shocks.

 Just adrenaline, blowing off steam, we'll all forget about it after a full night's sleep, always do. 

 "We have a problem LeBeau?" Lieutenant Clark's voice suddenly cut into their team's private comm.

 The LT, shit. 

 "Negative Sir, just getting a little excited."
 "........Uh huh."

 He could be standing right next to us; shit, shit, shit.

 "Dude, get off me." Caup shook Montcalm awake, he was still droning and had leaned back into him.
 "Yeah, sure." Montcalm listlessly muttered before promptly doing it again thirty seconds later.
 "I swear dude, you do it again I'm just going to let you fall." Caup wasn't mad, he never seemed to get angry; he was an easy going private if ever there was one.

 Can't remember the last time he lost it. 

 Sergeant LeBeau walked back and shook Montcalm awake, "Hey! Hey Monty! You going to be awake for this?" He tried to sound alert and encouraging, though he knew he must look like shit. That was the downside to having an advanced laser grid projection from the VR display to translate every soldier's facial expressions into the virtual reality; they were all either pissed off or half asleep... Except Caup of course.

 "Sure, yeah Sergeant."

 Fuck, he's out of it. Sergeant LeBeau keyed one of the workstations, "Worker three this is Sergeant LeBeau," the communication SOP was a bit redundant with listed user ID, but regs were regs.

 "What'cha need Sergeant?" The techie manning workstation three replied; he wasn't following comm procedure, with the techie's and sailors, regs were flexible unless officers or senior NCO's were present.
 Fuck it. 
 "Hey man, can you spark Montcalm? Me too while you're at it."
 "Sure, just a sec."

 Veteran soldiers in every army had a host of different methods for staying awake, their severity was directly proportional to desperation. Assuming stims weren't available in the field, drinking the little hot sauce packets in MRE's was the less painful option; the more desperate measure was dabbing it into an eye. The burning ensured firey alertness for at least thirty minutes.

 Thankfully, for long training sessions in the simulators, grunts could just utilize the AIS. A low voltage charge usually did the trick; the occasional 'buzz' kept grunts running.

 LeBeau braced himself. There were several safeguards to keep too much voltage from running through the AIS; still, about once a month some private would bite his tongue severely enough for a visit to the OR.

 Least this is a ligh... LeBeau jolted as the pain stimulator hit him, leaving a numb burning sensation in his forearm. Montcalm was startled and pissed for a moment, but he took it silently.

 "Thanks three."
 "No problem, stay toasty in there." The techie laughed.

 Fucking cunt. Black anger washed over LeBeau, he wanted to rip the techie's face off, choke him out, shoot him, kill him.

 Relax Sergeant, He told himself. It's just nerves, just nerves. Just need some fucking sleep.

  "Scenario execution in forty seconds." Staff Sergeant Hanoi called in. "Recal your team and watch your back, angel's pulling something new this time."
 "Roger that." LeBeau replied before he signaled Alpha team. "You heard the man, recal and brick up." They all quickly followed the recalibration sequence with their rifles and sensors to ensure an accurate sync with the AE. Then Alpha condensed as the soldiers stacked up tighter on the door, like a tensed spring ready to explode.

 Please don't be another fucking mech. 

 SSG Hanoi called back in, "Remember, do this right and we'll probably get to bunk out after."

  Least we're not the only ones wondering. 

 "Breach in thirty, scenario's live." Hanoi said.

 "Charge prepped?" LeBeau asked.
 "Roger." PFC Leyard confirmed, the deluge screamed in his laconic tone.

 Don't fuck up. For the love of the Grey Virgin don't fuck up. 

 "Stay motivated Alpha; take it out on the hostiles." LeBeau tried to sound positive, he tried to sound eager and motivated through the haze of fatigue and anger. It was easy to stay awake when you were moving, standing around waiting just made his body shut down.

  Sergeant LeBeau raised his fist to signal the breach, PFC Leyard peeled off the back and moved to the door. It was average size, but built out of reinforced steel that was inlaid deep into the concrete. Private Leyard flicked down the thermal lens monocular from its perch on his helmet to hang over his left eye and quickly scanned the door. Detecting nothing, he made a 'zero' sign to LeBeau,  whispered "Hallway," and quietly placed a small black charge in the door's center before moving to the opposing side of the frame.


 Alpha waited, a particularly strong gush of wind rushed through the city street from the large and packed skylanes several kilometers down the road.

 "Three, two, GO!"

Three much larger breaching charges resonated from the other sides of the large concrete block complex, but it was drowned out by the metallic screech of Alpha's metal door blasting inward. The pointman Jerry leapt through the smoking chasm before the flying metal struck a back wall.

 The lights were out, so the squad automatically flicked on their tac-lights. Despite their exhaustion, they still moved quickly and smoothly into a serpentine formation while doing a heel/toe shuffle down the hallway. As they reached parallel doors, LeBeau and Caup split to the right while Montcalm and Leyard took the left. Jerry kept his J66 straight ahead on the rest of the hallway.

 Two three-round bursts came from the left room, before they shouted.
 "Three up!"
 "Five up! Hostile down!"
 "Room clear!"

 "Two up!"
 "Four up!"
 "Room clear!"

 "Stack up!"

 Six seconds from breach.

 Both pairs rushed back out and stacked back into the serpentine, the moment Jerry saw both rifles on either side, he started moving down the hallway till it stopped at a T intersection. Jerry fell to the rear as Montcalm and LeBeau crossed rifles, glanced at each other, then spun their corners. LeBeau saw a flash of movement and tapped two bursts into it; the target dropped its rifle and sprawled across the ground, screaming. Hands clutched the air in a confused frenzy. Simulator's pretty accurate. After sweeping the rest of the hallway with his lights and eyes, LeBeau looked back at the wounded target. The dull red uniform and slanted eyes were familiar.

 It's a Sylan. Sylania was a rebelling world that they fought last deployment, LeBeau had spent most off ship nights huddled in a quaking air raid bunker as the Sylani air force raided his FOB. The Rusalkas ripped everything apart with AG missiles. Those memories were hard to shake when revived.

 Fucking traitors. He squeezed another burst into the target's head, splattering brain matter and skull fragments across the floor. Shut up

 "Four doors left!"
 "Two right. Move right. Leyard, Caup, take that door."

 The squad moved as one, condensing into a pseudo stack; LeBeau and Jerry moved past the door, taking far security while Montcalm followed the stack from the rear. As Leyard moved past the dead Sylan he aimed a kick at the broken head, blood splattered on his boots.

 "Fucking animals." He cursed under his breath.

 Most of the soldiers were patriotic members of the Imperialist party; they took Sylania's revolt personally, and the men were in a very, very bad mood.

 Leyard and Caup stacked on the door, it was locked. Leyard quickly panned the door with his thermal monocle and signed back one to Caup. Then he slapped on a tiny 'knock' breach charge over the door handle with his non-firing hand, and clicked the two second timer. The door flew inward after a violent pop, and the two soldiers charged in right after into simultaneous bursts of gunfire.

 LeBeau heard the high pitched screech of a Sylani submachine gun along with rapid bursts from their two J66's.

 Another scream, with Jerry cursing in the background.
 "One down! Four up!"
 "I'm fine! I'm fine! Amor ate it."

 "You good Jerry?" LeBeau asked over his shoulder.
 "Yeah Sarge, fine. Didn't even get buzzed, just knocked me down."
 "Then get the fuck out here!"

 Jerry and Caup ran out back into the stack; a full on firefight was going down out front in the courtyard. The roar of fifty J66's, long bursts from several 260 SAW's, and responding fire from the Sylani were muffled by the thick concrete walls, but it still ripped the air apart. There was a host of shouting and screaming in both languages, though LeBeau could distinctly hear Aethereen - the Sylani's language - in the rooms above them.

 Everyone was wide awake now.

 LeBeau continued securing the hallway with Alpha team, they came across two more AI and neutralized them both. They started popping flashbangs in suspect rooms, saving their frags for upstairs. Montcalm got hit too, but his armor took the rounds like Jerry.

 By then the gunfire had died down as the Sylani AI fell back into the upper story rooms. The building would shake with a grenade explosion, then a burst of gunfire. The platoon was clearing the building, one room at a time.

 LeBeau kept tabs on comms when they reached the stairwell, monitoring the rest of the platoon's movements. Who was that on the second story? Sounded like Frasier. Frasier was 1st squad leader, he remained with Bravo team in the main assault.

 "Hey Sergeant, is Bravo clearing the second story hallway facing the courtyard?"
 "Already cleared, we're holding med collection."
 "Ok, we're coming up the stairwell, roger?
 "Yeah, got you, come on."

 LeBeau took point with his team up the stairs, "Friendlies coming out!" he cautiously turned the corner to find Gravede and Matherson from Bravo pulling security on the approach; their rifles at the low ready.

 "Sup bitch." Jerry nodded at Gravede as they relaxed and walked up.
 "Not much asswhore." They bumped fists as he passed.

 Eight casualties were being arranged in one of the offside rooms, Sergeant First Class Frasier was standing by watching the medics go through the motions of treating the virtual injuries. He was a short and powerful man in his late twenties, with the dark brown complexion of a Pubani, but the thick 'underworld' accent common to recruits from the slum districts in Equanum. The dozen wounded weren't in severe pain - the safeguards ensured that - but the AIS still made them extremely uncomfortable; despite the shocks most of the wounded were ecstatic for the excuse to take a nap.

 "Where you need us Sergeant?" LeBeau asked him.
 "We're done, third's just mopping up the last AI; lot easier than I thought it would be."

 Probably ten minutes till they're done.

 "Mind if we break till then?"
 SFC Frasier looked over his shoulder before replying. Not like he could see if an angel was listening in.  "Sure, in that second room, and close the door."
 "Thanks Sergeant."

 LeBeau motioned for his team to follow him into the room, little naps of opportunity like these added a cumulative and precious forty minutes of sleep a day. Caup was grinning ear to ear, Leyard mockingly asked, "You're saying we get to lay down Sarge?"
 "Just sleep dude." Jerry interjected. Both were too happy to keep arguing after that.

 LeBeau collapsed on the luxurious concrete, he propped his head on the wall and pushed his helmet over his eyes, ignoring the building's tremor as another grenade detonated upstairs.

 He was seconds away from sleep when something bolted him awake. He felt a sickening pit in his stomach, he could taste the extreme panic rising in his chest as sweat poured from his face. He knew that sound, that dreadfully familiar and mechanical thrum thrum against the twin high pitched turbines. The massive echo resonated throughout the sublevels, making it sound like they were coming from everywhere at once.

 Rusalkas. You're going to die, you're powerless, you can't reach them, they're untouchable. 


 Sergeant LeBeau leapt to his feet, trying to shake off the unyielding pit of dread. It's just a fucking simulator, you are safe, they aren't really there, they aren't going to kill you. 

 He could see his fear in the others, they had heard it too, Rusalkas were flying in from the skylanes. "GET INSIDE! GET INSIDE!" Someone was shouting from the courtyard. SFC Hanoi was screaming over the comms for whoever was tasked with the 'Swatters' to sprint to the roof and get a lock on the incoming aircraft.

 They're not real.

 "The basement, now." LeBeau turned to rush out the door, he surprised himself by how calm he sounded. Alpha scrambled to their feet and followed him, about to break into a sprint.

 They're not real, they're not real, they're not real. 

  Sergeant Frasier ran out of the casualty room and yelled after him, "LeBeau! Grab some wounded on your way down!"

 Shame washed over him for a moment, I was going to leave them behind. 

 As he turned around he almost ran into Leyard, he was frozen, just staring at LeBeau with a deathly pallor to his face. "We have to get to the basement Sergeant." His voice was tense, quiet, different.

 "Fucking MOVE private! Grab the fucking wounded!" The rest of Alpha were already returning carrying casualties when Leyard finally started running with him to grab wounded. Sergeant LeBeau grabbed a brother from second squad who had a leg injury, he hooked his arm around his shoulder and hobbled along. Sergeant Frasier had a man over his shoulders like a rag doll. Matherson and Gravede were helping three men between them.

 The turbines were growing louder.

 You're going to fucking die. 

 It's just a simulator. You're safe. 

 You're going to fucking die. 

 The turbines suddenly grew to a high pitched roar that punctated around a slight hiss. Sheer panic seized LeBeau's mind,

 "INCOMING!" Jerry shrieked. Every man leapt straight for the floor when the complex was shattered around them. All he could see and taste was coarse dust and gritty floor, his ears completely muffled with a dull ringing as the sound dampeners kicked in. The roar of destruction and cries of terror were strangely far away, LeBeau was a transfixed spectator in another man's hell.


 He could see nothing, his audio was cut; LeBeau realized what happened and moved to pull off his helmet and the VR display. But he wasn't prepared for the screaming.

 It took several seconds for his eyes to adjust and his brain to process what was happening. He was standing in AET room 5. First squad was standing around him, those who had already readjusted to the room had rushed to help restrain him. Lieutenant Clark was watching them with an indecipherable expression on his face.

 Medics? Who's screaming? 
 Leyard was hysterical, flailing at the people that tried to hold him down, screaming about Rusalkas and cover. He was injected with a sedative as they carried him out, his cries quickly died to a doglike whimper down the hallway.

 Lieutenant Clark stood silently, his arms crossed looking from one man to the next before speaking, "No citizen in the whole of the coalition has any idea what we sacrifice for their easy lives."

 He paused before continuing, taking a few slow strides among them, "You've accomplished over two hundred scenarios in a week on ration bars and one night's worth of sleep. I hope you have some inkling of how fucking PROUD I am of each and every one of you."

 The Lt.'s bloodshot eyes betrayed his exhaustion, his haggard expression mirrored their shock at watching another soldier - another brother - succumb to the enduring cries of long dead friends. His jet black hair was streaked with grey, it and his ragged stubble were far beyond regulation. A pained paternal smile broke onto his face as he looked from one man to the next.

 "Breathe easy men, I'm going to take care of you; I'll get the docs to up your meds, no one should have to take this shit without help. The tour is over. Sylania is parsecs behind us. Now go bunk out, y'all are on 48 bedrest."

 "Hooah Sir." The squad around him chorused.

Sergeant LeBeau's eyes met with Frasier; he should be feeling relief, but his hands were still shaking, the sickening pit of dread in his chest wouldn't go away. His ears were still ringing with Leyard's screams.  Monroe's, Chang's.

 You're going to fucking die.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

(6) Mercs: The Mesa

Sanduro system - Moonworld Nergovia - Outskirts: 3330 local time [0530. 14/3/2003 Omega time]
Justin Raegas, Uewo Cartel Enforcer.

 Six vehicles roared across the rocky wastes, dodging the occasional larger boulders with reckless abandon. The two largest were souped up Union deuces with bullet proof compartment windshields and 'fringer armor,' thick steel sheets bolted onto the truck's sides. The four smaller vehicles were rusty Shaog made pickup trucks, three of them are armed with crew served weapons. The first two have .50 caliber Brownings and another a Mark 19 mounted over the back. Fifty-three Uewo cartel foot soldiers clutching various AK's, shotguns, M4's, and RPG's are packed into the deuces and hanging onto the trucks; they shielded their eyes with hands, scarves, and face masks from clouds of dust that billowed in the convoy's wake.

 The green tarp covering the bed of the deuce was flipped back, and a figure leapt up onto the railing, one hand gripped the metal frame while the other held a comm unit to his ear. The man was in his late thirties, his red - though grey speckled - hair and starkly sky blue eyes were cloaked by a thin cotton headscarf and black ballistic goggles. A Krinkov was slung over his shoulder, the banana magazines were roughly stuffed into a Rheik made web vest designed for M4's. The vest bulged from his large pot belly, though he still moved like he carried himself well. His name was Justin Raegas, and he commanded the most well organized Quick Reaction Force in the whole Uewo cartel. Though not the most well equipped; supply issues were always a major thorn in his side.Though the man was Nergovian born and raised, he always vehemently insisted on using military protocol and procedures from the galactic militaries. Despite the occasional local incompetence and the Cartel footmen's strange insistence on calling him, 'Mister Raegas' instead of 'Sir.'

 He lifted up the comm one more time and spoke into it, "Repeat! Phillip! Ben! Le Bron! Anyone! Respond!" After another span of silence he swore violently and handed the mike back down into the truck to Dobh; the huge man crouching in the bed of the deuce was a bouncer from a Uewo cantina, he wasn't too bright, but he could carry Justin's ancient and huge squad comm/scanner system.

 Justin waved over to the leading three vehicles, then made a cutting motion back and forth with his hands; the three leading pickups kept driving straight.

 "Come on, secure the target site, just like we drilled." Justin irritably thought to himself.

 He did it again - more forcefully this time - and they finally split off from the main convoy and sped up; they were going to circle around the compromised deal site to check for ambushes.

"Hate this." He'd been begging his younger brother Phillip Raegas for years to get a comm unit in each vehicle so he wouldn't have to gesture like a spastic dancer every time they needed to change formation or halt. The ancient one he used now was always strapped to Dobh's back. Phillip was a talented Uewo foot officer that handled supply acquisition and freelancer contracts, but he was unfailingly stingy with cartel funds. He had a knack for getting the 'most affordable' prices for everything, beer, whores, ammo... Everything. It took Justin forever to convince Phillip to buy a new Mark 19 for his Enforcers; and even when they got it, it turned out Phillip had just contracted a merc to covertly steal it from the Uewo's big rivals, the Sanhuro. The same Sanhuro's that he was cutting this demo deal with.

"Relax Justin," he could remember Phillip saying, "that's why I contracted it out, the Sanhuro will never discover it was me. You'll get your Mark and then I'll cut the demo deal."
"Why even steal it? Are there seriously no dealers that you can just buy one from?"
"They're all too expensive and in shitty condition, it's much cheaper to just pay a merc to steal one."

 So Justin was nervous about the deal before he learned that Phillip was ripping the Sanhuro off in the demo deal with fake diamonds.

"Well they aren't all fake, just a third of them."
"Why the fuck are you running this kind of risk with those dogs?"
Justin could see Phillip in yesterday's memory chewing his lower lip while keeping that cocky half smile; starting to speak before Justin interrupted,
"Wait, don't tell me, it's cheaper."

 Justin insisted that he'd form his squads into a Quick Reaction Force in case shit happened on the deal. Phillip further put his mind at ease by contracting a freelancer sniper to pull security on the site. If shit happened, that sniper might buy enough time for the QRF to get there. "That's a huge might." Normally it'd take a whole hour to go around the Tortuga ridge to reach the deal site, which was utterly useless; they couldn't standby closer out in the desert, if the Sanhuro scanned the area they'd understandably assume a trap. So Justin had worked with an offroad route over the ridge, cutting reponse time in half. Still, if shit happened, there was little chance they'd get there in time.

"And shit has happened."

 The valley was just ten minutes away, Justin slammed his fist onto the top of the truck a couple times before screaming down at the driver, "FASTER!"

"Stay alive brother."


Sanduro system - Moonworld Nergovia - Skyborne Skylark: 3400 local time [0600. 14/3/2003 Omega time]
Jeremy Brock, Skylark translator and mercenary.

"Is it on now?"

 Brock had laid out the Kartoa built TSC (tactical squad comm) system on one of the sturdy steel grey supply chests in the cargo bay.

 The technical confusion he now faced was particularly frustrating, he had been his Platoon's CTO for his whole last deployment; but those were Federation built systems, not Kartoa. The general layout was similar, the black boxlike transmitter had a small numerical keypad and display screen; an incredibly durable hair thin cord ran from the main transmitter to a small reactive speaker/mike headset and black tinted goggles with a built in HUD.

"A great system, if it'll just fucking sync." 

 Three other members of the Skylark were chatting nearby; "Chin, Cook, and Clutch." All three had changed into identical Aynland made red dust ACU's and FLC's; they all carried black AK's mounted with ACOG's and PEQ's. They were already wearing their TSC's, the large black goggles obscured their faces; Chin was a head taller than the other two, but Brock wouldn't be able to tell Cook and Clutch apart if it wasn't for their nametapes.

"Huzzah! Finally got the batteries in right did you?" Weasel rolled his eyes behind his black TSC goggles and spat a black glop into his little green bottle. He was wearing full combat gear with a Rheik M4 secured to his packed Disukan web vest. He swallowed his tobacco leaves before saying, "Key in the freq again."

Brock took a second to carefully recite the frequency aloud as he punched it into the trans. Weasel had dictated it to him just a few minutes ago. "I can at least get THAT right." 

"Hotel, Quail, seven, niner, six, six, two, niner, one, tree, two, eight, seven, zero, zero." After double checking with his notepad he logged the contact.

"Now request entry to the channel." Weasel instructed.

 Moving quickly now, Brock mashed a few buttons before seizing the headset and checking it, "Testing, testing, testing."

"Slow down private, still got to approve your TSC." The Federation version of the acronym sounded like a 'tsk tsk' sound. Weasel typed across his controls for a second before walking a dozen meters away and muttering something into the mike.

"I can't hear you Starshiy."
"I can hear your bitch ass voice over the comm, what's your volume set to?"
"Uh.... Manual low, I'll turn it up."
"No, switch it to auto; it won't muffle gunfire on manual."

Brock spent a couple minutes worrying over his notes and fumbling with the keypad. "Ok, I think that's right."
 "Try it now Starshiy."

 The Starshiy's deep, throaty voice came in crystal clear over Brock's headset, "Brock's mother sucks me off."
"Fucking NCO's."
 "...Uh, roger Starshiy, I can hear you."
 "Finally! Sync in to mass comm."

 After switching, Brock was surprised to meet with silence; he was expecting some sort of ongoing chatter between Chief and Logan out in the field. Like an ongoing SITREP or something. "Well, it has been a while; the Starshiy's been listening the whole time." Brock pushed away his mike and spoke, "Is there an active sitrep?"


"Starshiy, is there an active sitrep?"
"Yes, Chief's going to brief us after he's done up in the TOC."

 Brock attached the headset to the goggles and strapped the display to his web vest, then grabbed his ACH (helmet) and buckled it over. The fit was a bit snug with the TSC headset, but it would do for now.

 "Lucky or Blessed?" This was the same ACH that caught a rebel sniper's bullet on his first deployment with the Feds, his closest brush with death, his most vivid memory.

 Taste of stale dust, painfully dry skin, filthy ACU's. FOB's taking sporadic sniper and mortar fire all week. Sentry duty. Drawing a sketch of the setting twin suns, peeking over the wire.

 His fingers traced the rough kevlar and stiff old padding inside, the small and rough bullet hole had nearly cut through the front; it barely scratched his skin. The deployment was on some fringer planet whose name he couldn't remember, nor cared to.

 Heard the shot. Gunfire nearby all the time, didn't duck. Didn't duck. Didn't fucking duck. 

 He spent the rest of the day waiting on the medic to check his concussion before bedrest. He got drunk as hell on some local moonshine afterward. Alcohol was illegal in the Federation, but there weren't any customs enforcers in the war zone, and his CO didn't care. As long as you cleared with your SL first you could spend down time passed out on your bunk. His CO even gave him his two hours of satellite a week early, he called his Dad for five minutes before spending the rest it all that night sexting his immediate girlfriend. "Tania? Or was it Huia?" Something like that.

 Head snapped back. The world spinning. Drowning in a dream. Crawling across the ceiling. Black blue sky. Thompson and Little standing over me. Face sticky with blood. "Sketchpad, where's my sketchpad?" 

 Little especially thought that was hilarious, Little said that he was only worried about his sketchpad. The bullet shattered his rhino mount and scratched his NVG's. Everyone else in the platoon wanted to see his ACH, they passed it around like a holy relic. He was supposed to get a new one, but the supply sergeant let him keep it. Brock had never gone on patrol without it after that, it was blessed, or lucky, he didn't know which. He did have a religious spout after the incident, he actually went to a few Church of Reason services after he got back, but that got boring quick.

 Brock snapped to the present and looked from one man to the next on the Skylark crew; he suddenly realized that the left velcro where "Auld Army" should be was conspicuously blank on all of them. He glanced down at his own Federation issue ACU's and the stitched "Federal Army" tape. "I'm a mercenary now, no allegiance. Gotta cut that off soon."  


Sanduro system - Moonworld Nergovia - Outskirts: 3340 local time [0540. 14/3/2003 Omega time]
Justin Raegas, Uewo Cartel Enforcer.

 Justin could see the leading three trucks from his vantage point on top of the duece; one armed with a browning went left, heading for a ridge that overlooked the valley, the other two went right to fully circumvent the site. The main convoy roared straight for it, as planned; Justin ground his teeth for the few minutes it was taking to reach the top of the ridge and finally get in view.

 Justin Raegas turned back to the bed of the truck, twenty three faces looked back at him, displaying a conflicting mixture of apprehension, anticipation, and boredom. He found his leaders for Gecko and Lion squads - Yujan and Alharan - sitting at the back. Neither were professionally trained, but they were the most 'commanding' of his men, and they had experience as bounty hunters. Yuj was an impressive shot, while Al had a reputation for being absolutely unkillable.

"They're smarter than Dobh, still better double check they remember." Justin had to scream to be heard clearly over the engine.

"Three mikes! EPW first! 360 second! Casevac last!" He spoke Derisian, the common cartel language.
Yuj tapped his brow* in acknowledgement and leaned over to shout it again to Alharan, whose hearing was all but blown away, along with most of his left ear by a farmer's shotgun in a sting last year. Justin remembered how that only pissed Al off though. After that little firefight he took it out on the farmer's widow with the rest of Lion squad, Justin could still see Al's laughing, bloody face as they took turns with her.

 Justin turned to Dobh, "Anything on the scanner yet?"
"Well... Uh... Nothing moving Mister Raegas," Dobh replied in his deep voice,
"Fucking protocol dumbass."

Justin leaped back onto the railing and craned his neck to see the deal site just as the deuce cleared the ridge.

"Stay alive brother." 

There were two unfamiliar Sanhuro trucks idling in the open and a hovercraft; a few windows were smashed, and he could already see the pockmarks from bullets and energy pulses.

"That's Phillip's hovercraft."

 A knot quickly formed and then relaxed from the pit of Justin's stomach. "The Sanhuro's transport vehicle with the high grade, it's gone. Phillip wouldn't have left without the goods; that must be it."  

"Fuck! Focus! You have a job to do." 

Justin didn't see any movement, the dozen bodies were clustered around the different vehicles, most of them at least. He slipped back down into the bed of the deuce as it came to a screeching halt right outside the circle of vehicles. Two of the footmen leapt out first with Al and Yuj close in tow, the Lions and Geckos quickly filed out and scattered in loose groups of two and three. They quickly and carefully swept the bodies and area.

 Barely a minute passed before Justin shouldered his Krinkov and hopped off the deuce with Dobh close in tow; Yuj ran forward to report.
 "Mister Raegas, there are eleven dead, no movement, and we can't find the demo or the diamonds yet; or your brother."
 "They're all dead?"
 "Some were wounded, bullet through the brain, all of them. Someone finished them off. One of em's scalped too."

 "Scalped? Doesn't make sense, who the fuck scalps bodies? Did the Sanhuro contract some clan mercs?" 

 Freelancer mercenaries and private contractors from the Allied Clans had a particular cultural reputation for taking trophies from a battlefield.

 "Scalps are their thing, not ours." 

 Justin seemed distracted as he looked over and recognized the duster on the scalped body. His face was still hidden by those ballistic goggles. "You're a fucking dumbass Yuj, don't you know that duster?"
Yuj looked over, suddenly unsure of himself. The body lay crumpled facedown, the skin had been sliced off from the brow along the hairline to almost the nape of the neck; leaving the white skull still wet and red with blood to shine against the sunlight. The face was covered with sand, and a mangled exit wound from a small calibered hollowpoint between the eyes made recognizing him very difficult. But Justin knew who that was.

 The trucks had circled about the site a couple times and stopped, pulling security. The remaining two deuces and truck in the convoy had unloaded their troops, with Al and the other squad leaders directing a thorough search of the shot up vehicles and the bodies. A footmen ran up to check Phillip's body, but he paused when he saw Justin staring.

He spoke up carefully, "Can I search the body Mister Raegas?"
"Of course, what are you waiting for?" The footman was somewhere in his twenties, with curly brown hair and a badly pox scarred face. Justin knew that face, he was with Lion squad drinking and whoring in an Oruna cantina just last week. He was new.
"Can't remember his name." 
 The footman slung his AK, knelt down, and started carefully going through the body's pockets. He was acting like the body was rigged.

"He's going to take forever." 
"Hurry the fuck up, we don't have all day."
"Yes Mister Raegas."

 The footman rolled the body onto its back and started moving more quickly, ripping a blaster from its holster, a wallet from an inside pocket, a transmitter, a penknife, and various other items.

"No diamonds." 

 When he was done, the footman stood up and ran over to several other footmen who were searching Phillip's hovercraft. Justin found himself still standing over Phillip's body, he leaned over and picked up a bulbous blaster pistol from the sand. "He always loved that blaster." 

 Justin noticed one of the footmen looting a massive shotgun off a body. "That must be LeBron." Another glance confirmed, he was still wearing that weird body armor he always carried around. The body was slumped against a Sanhuro truck, he'd obviously crawled over to it and had rested his back against it. There was a splash of blood on the metal behind his head and a bullet hole between his eyes.
"He was wounded first, then executed. Small hollowpoint again. Same with all of them? That's what Yuj said."

 One of Gecko squad ran up to Yuj talking excitedly. He was wearing a face mask so Justin couldn't recognize who it was. After a moment, Yuj turned and ran up to Justin with the footman in tow,
"Mister Raegas, the Sanhuro truck with the demo, Pruner says we just missed it."

"Pruner, the outskirts tracker; the fucking fringer could barely speak Derisian through that annoying outskirts accent, but he knows the ground better than anyone else on Nergovia." 

Justin looked at Pruner, suddenly alarmed, "What do you mean just missed it? How long?"
"No mo' an fiftean minutes Mista Raegas. Dhey is goin' noth'east."


 Justin sprang into action, "Al! Yuj! Hue! Mount up NOW! The Sanhuro dogs took all the goods and ran like rats! MOUNT UP!"

 The squad leaders echoed his command and the entire force started scrambling for their vehicles.
"I've got to give the scanner to someone other than the dumbass Dobh, they would've been just in its range. If those dogs get away, I swear I'll kill him." 

  Justin Raegas leapt up onto the deuce's railing and thumped the roof twice when the last man from Gecko jumped in.


*'tapping the brow' is a cultural gesture specific to Nergovia that indicates, "I have heard," or "I understand you."]


Sanduro system - Moonworld Nergovia - Skyborne Skylark: 3350 local time [0550. 14/3/2003 Omega time]
Jeremy Brock, Skylark translator and mercenary.

 Chief stormed into the room, he had changed into the same uniform and gear as the others, a black AK slung over his shoulder. He was speaking rapidly over his mike with Pimp back at the TOC. He paused mid sentence when he saw Scout's TSC laying on the chest next to Brock.

 "Whose TSC is that?"
 "Scout's Chief." Brock answered.
 He finished his sentence to Pimp before pushing his mike back and addressing the group, "Clutch, get back to sublight, I want you in there if shit goes fubar. And bring Scout his TSC in the infirmary. I don't want that fucker feeling left out."
 "Aye aye Chief." Brock could hear the disappointment in Clutch's voice.
 "Chin, Brock, after this op Logan's going to smoke y'all."


 Chief pointed at Chin, "You for knocking out Scout. I hate starting a mission with a man down. And you," he gestured to Brock, "just because you're new."
 "Nah, I want to see what he's made of." A Gahlic voice interjected over the comm.

 "Logan!" Chief pushed his mike back down, "Where the fuck have you been?"

 "Been busy, the fuckers are catching up, Plan B."

 Chief silently and rapidly typed a series of buttons on his display and Brock's HUD in this ballistic goggles lit up with an interactive digital layout of a relatively small Taharan mesa. It looked similar to the virtual sand tables that his old Federation TSC's had.
 Chief continued, "Logan's being pursued by a platoon sized element from the Uewo cartel, between 30-55 thugs armed with small arms, ATM's, and crew-served weapons. From Pimp's last scan their convoy numbers two flatbeds and four smaller trucks. Jay's gunning sublight as hard as his lazy ass can, but by Pimp's estimates they're going to reach Logan a good thirty minutes ahead of us. More may be on their way."

 "Logan is carrying the diamonds, but he parked the truck at the top of the mesa just over the road. He's positioned just outside the potential blast radius here." On Brock's HUD a small green figure was illuminated against the upper side of the mesa, underneath one of the massive boulders overlooking the road. "He's going to slow down the Uewo with sniper fire to buy time for us. Jay's going to strafe the thugs and bring us around to land on the mesa here at Exfil One." A yellow marker appeared on the dark green mesa top in Brock's HUD.
 "Alpha team," Chief beckoned to the little group around him, "will dismount and provide suppressive fire from the ridgeline for Logan to withdraw. We'll grab the truck, mount up, and bug out."
 "If the Uewo have reached the mesa top, Jay will make a second strafe run and drop us off at Exfil Two, here. If shit goes fubar, we'll pull Bravo team from the ship; Clutch, MD, and Pimp, that's y'all, roger?"

 A chorus of affirmations echoed from the comm.

 "We are absolutely NOT engaging their main force. This is a hit and run. I want to be dusting off this AO sub fifteen minutes."

 "Yeah, did plan A involve not being outnumbered 10 to 1?" Scout asked over the comm.
 "Yeah, it was boring." Logan replied.

 "Shut the fuck up Scout; I gave you the TSC to listen, not clutter up the channel. And don't fucking encourage him Logan." Chief paused a moment for affect, "Any questions?"

 "How likely is it they'll reach the top?"
 "Unlikely," Logan answered, "only one good approach and I own it."

 "Any other questions?" Chief asked,

 "What if Logan's hit?" Weasel asked while stuffing another wad of leaves in his jaw.
 "Initial plan, except I pop smoke to cover Chin when he runs down to drag his ass up."

 "We're done here," Chief announced, "keep hydrating, do your PCC's, keep clean comms, and double check the plan; we'll reach the mesa in thirty two minutes."

 Chief spoke into the comm as he turned around and headed back to the TOC.
 "Hey Logan, I just bought you like five jars of that Disukan dark jelly, you're the only one that likes that shit, so get back here in one piece, ok?"

 "Don't worry Chief, I never let dark jelly go to waste."


Sanduro system - Moonworld Nergovia - Outskirts: 3340 local time [0700. 14/3/2003 Omega time]
Justin Raegas, Uewo Cartel Enforcer.

 One of the leading trucks fired two bursts from their fifty. He watched through the railing as the tracers slowly arched chaotically through the air toward a small mesa, but he wasn't really trying to hit them anyway; Justin Raegas told the other NCO's to ensure the first fifteen rounds in the fifty belts were tracers, with limited communication, it was a good way to mark target location.

"Found them!"

 He could see it now, the mesa had a single winding road that gradually switchbacked up to the top. A heavily loaded Sanhuro truck was parked prominently right at the crest.

 "There it is, the high grade." In case they couldn't find the diamonds, the Uewo would need to recapture those explosives. "We're strapped for money as it is." Justin had given strict orders that the high grade not be fired upon, it took a direct electrical charge to detonate it, but he wasn't planning on scattering it all over that mesa.

"They're making a stand, or waiting for backup; from up there they can pound us the whole way up that road. Can't see their shooters."

 On a sudden instinct, Justin dropped back off the railing back into the truck bed; it was extremely unlikely that the Sanhuro had a shooter good enough to slot him on a bouncing, moving deuce at this range, but better safe than sorry. Peering through the wooden slats, he could see one of his trucks with a fifty and Hue's truck loaded with troops peeling off to encircle the Mesa and pull security; to watch for Sanhuro backup.

"Good, protocol." 

 He had gone over the drills and protocol with Hue, the pseudo Weapons Squad Sergeant in his little QRF; Hue use to be a squad leader with the Allied Clan Army and had sound judgement. Justin trusted him thoroughly. Both Alharan and Yuj were two loose cannons that he had to keep on a tight leash.

 Justin knelt to his assault pack - which was secured through the deuce's railing - and drew out an orange pen flare. He flicked and set it alight, holding his arm just over the railing so the rest of the convoy could see it. "Orange flare, command vehicle leads assault, follow behind as applicable." After ten seconds he dropped it into the wave of dust outside.

"Fuck this. Just several secure comm units and we don't have to do all this bullshit. Why are they so fucking rare? How can we get bulletproof glass and sidings for the deuces and a fucking Mark on this Hierarch forsaken rock... But we can't get motherfucking radios!"  Why can't Phillip just..." 

 Justin stared at the shuddering floor for a few seconds before turning back to face the two squads in the truck. The footmen looked at him expectantly, "Someone up there is carrying a scalp! I want them alive!" They tapped their brows in recognition.

 The two leadings trucks pulled back to allow the deuces to go first. The Mark's whomp whomp whomp and resulting satisfying explosions on the clifftop of the mesa coupled with steady bursts of fire from the fifty. "Could they see targets?" Justin studied the mesa top as best he could between the railings, but there was no movement. He leaned over to the driver and slapped his shoulder, "Stop at the foot of the road, then head up slowly when I tell you! Got that? SLOWLY! And WATCH your RIGHT mirror! I'll signal for you to stop and go!"

 The driver thumped his chest in response.

 When the deuce's ancient brakes screeched to a halt, Justin turned around and beckoned for Yuj and Al to dismount with their men. His plan was to climb up the road with the squads following on foot, using the deuce and sharp switchbacks for cover, with the two trucks below laying suppressive fire on the top. If the Sanhuro laid a mine or were waiting halfway up with some AT, they weren't blowing away his best men with one blow. "Never again." 

 As the last man hopped off the deuce, Justin slapped the driver on the shoulder and hopped off himself. Al and Yuj were directing the footmen as they were moving slowly up the road and took cover on the side of the road beside the deuce. Several of the footmen tried to cautiously peek over with their rifles raised, but nothing responded. That's when he realized, the Mark's comforting whomp whomp had been silent for almost a minute. "Please be a jam." At the same moment, he heard Alharan yell, "Raegas! The Mark!" He leaned up against one of the tires and craned his neck to see.

 It was empty, the truck was empty.

 Confusion set in on Justin's mind, "Didn't hear any returning fire from the mesa. Hot granny? Did they get a hot granny and abandon the truck?" 

 A 'hot granny' is when an unexploded round jams in the feed and threatens to cook off. "He should still be able to clear it, why did they abandon it? Where the hell did they go?! Did it really jam? Fuck I need comms! We need it firing!"


"Al! Did you see what happened? Did they abandon it?"
"No Mister Raegas, they're down."
"They're down! Whoever was on the Mark was hit, and look! Front window's smashed."
"I didn't hear any fire. I didn't hear any fire. We should've bulletproofed the support trucks."

 Justin Raegas glanced up toward the mesa top,"Recall Hue? Pop a red flare, he'd lay down fresh support fire, Lion and Gecko bound straight to the top. No, no, have to keep perimeter security, their backup is coming. Don't have much time."

 "Got it!" 

 Justin waved to the driver to stop the deuce before turning to his squad leaders, the second deuce following close behind the footmen halted as well. "Yuj! Grab two guys who know how to operate the Mark and send them over there to get it back online! Al! Get your squad and the RPK's up to lay down some sustained fire on that ridge top! I want to know where they are!"

 "Mister Raegas," Yuj said, "it's a good sprint to the truck, those bastards up top are going to slot the only two guys left who know how to operate the Mark before they get there."
 "Not if we find them first."
 "I'm just saying," Yuj lowered his voice as he got closer, "if we send six, the bastards can't get them all."
 Justin considered that for a moment, "Fine, fine, just get it done."

 Yuj quickly pointed out six men, four from Lion and two from Gecko; their eyes grew wide in realization. He instructed them them to quickly chuck off their gear and rifles into the deuce so they could run faster. Al was taking the rest of Gecko and Lion on line, preparing to lay down suppressive fire.

 That's when he heard it.


 Four muffled shots from higher up on the mesa, they came in right after another burst of fire from the fifty down below. They were controlled, just under a second between them.

 And that's when the fifty went silent.


 Both Gecko and Lion crept on top of the switchback, getting on line with Al, the air seemed to split in two as 20 footmen from Lion and Gecko and 13 from Scorpion and the second deuce unleashed a torrent of firepower on the ridgeline.

 Yuj must have heard the snipers too, he slapped his six runners on the back, and pointed at the truck. He was screaming over the gunfire, running through his words, flooding the runners with quick advice, "You four! Run for the driver's seat! Gun the truck for the mesa the moment you get there! You two! Just jump in the back! Don't get on the gun till the truck is moving! If one of you drops the rest gotta keep going! Zig zag! Don't run in a straight line! And whatever happens keep moving! Understand? KEEP MOVING!"

 The six runners nodded, acting like their ears weren't ringing with the gunfire and they could hear every word. Four looked scared, the other two excited. The curly haired new guy was with them, he looked a lot younger without his AK or web belt.

 "That's what I like about Yuj, he knows what has to be done, and he cares for the men." 

 With one more glance back up the mesa, Yuj slapped them on the back and screamed, "GO!"

 They took off, flying down the rocky outcropping with impressive speed. "They have motivation."

 Yuj immediately turned and jumped on line with the rest of Gecko. He shouldered his G3 and started laying down suppressive fire. Popping bursts at likely enemy positions. A couple footmen were pointing and yelling where the Sanhuro snipers might be. Justin hoped they were right.

 The six runners were off the mesa now, a couple had fallen behind while the other four were keeping a good pace in the dirt; they dodged back and forth as they moved, yet were still sticking fairly close together.

 "Too close! They're too close together! Split up!" 

  Another started slowing down, falling behind the others. One was sprinting ahead, he was already halfway there.

 Then he tumbled into the sand, rolling head over heels from a sniper's bullet before lying still.


 The lead runner's death panicked the others; the one nearest the mesa turned and started running back, the remaining four finally split up and kept running.

 A second runner dropped to the ground, he rolled across the dust, kicking up a large rock that went spinning through the air. The remaining three didn't seem to notice, they just kept running. One was taking the zig zagging advice a bit too literally, he was falling far behind the other two.

 Justin wanted to shout at them, to speed them on! Several footmen who were reloading turned around and watched them run, they started shouting encouragement downward. Al screamed at them to watch the mesa and find the shooters.

 "Get there! Just get there!" 

 One of the lead runners reached the truck, he tried to leap into the bed, but was too exhausted and his jump fell short; he slammed himself against the steel plating and paused for a moment before he tried to scramble into the truck bed, but his leg jerked awkwardly to the side, and he fell to the ground, writhing. A round through his thigh.

 "Almost there, almost there." 

 The last runner did make the jump, he vaulted into the truck and vanished as he crouched below the armor. A cheer erupted from the footmen.

 "Shit, should've made for the driver's seat." 

 After an agonizing minute wondering if he actually did get hit, the runner sprang onto the Mark, swinging it to face the mesa; he was crouching as tightly as possible behind it.

 "No, no, no! You're a target! Just jump behind the wheel and drive it dumbass!" 

 He slammed back the charging handles and started firing, the whomp whomp returning. The footmen cheered again, even Al yelled defiance up toward the mesa top.

 Then the Mark just... Exploded. The force sent the man flying off the truck and across the dust, his eyes were blinded and his hands blown away.

 "I know that flash, before the explosion, a HAPR, they used a HAPR. The Mark's gone now." (High Explosive Penetrating Round)

 The three squads' fire had become sporadic, after a minute they still couldn't see an enemy.
 "Fuck this," Justin said aloud, "Yuj we have the numbers, we still have the firepower, let's fucking use them!" "Use them or get picked apart, it'll take forever to follow the deuce all the way up the switchbacks." "Al! Yuj! Assault straight up that slope! Walk Lion and Gecko up! Scorpion! Mount up on the deuce, drive around to the other side of the mesa, and climb up that way!"

 "You mean, flank them?" Scorpion's squad leader asked,

 "Yes! We're fucking flanking them! Now!"

 "GECKO! ON ME!" Yuj screamed over the gunfire before rushing up the mesa with his men close behind. "LION! Shift fire right! Shift fire right!" Al yelled to his squad, redirecting their sporadic shots away from Gecko. Scorpion squad filed off line and ran crouching one by one to the second deuce, quickly piling in.

 A couple of the wounded were overcoming the initial shock of getting hit, Justin could hear their distant screaming. The runner shot through the thigh by the truck was clutching his leg. "The new guy." He started crawling for the driver's compartment; a hand clawing upward for the door handle.

 "No! No! NO! Just stay down!" 

  The new guy dropped to the ground as a round ripped through his chest.

 "Ambush, this is an ambush. They lured us from the site to ambush us. And I fucking fell for it."


 Yuj directed his men to get on line 50 meters up the slope, before he turned around and beckoned for Lion to move up. A round exploded through his chest; he fell forward, rolling several meters down the slope until his body hit a bush. His G3 went flying as he went into shock. Gecko squad froze in uncertainty, scattered in a ragged line. They hugged the rocks and shrubs on the ground for cover as they fired their weapons blindly overhead.

 Someone from Lion took a glancing shot through the side, he limped to a rock while screaming, "I'm hit! Oh god I'm hit! I'm hit!" over and over again. The medic from Lion squad grabbed the footman and started quickly dragging him back to the roadside ditch before taking a shot to the chest that flipped him over onto his back. Another two footmen from Lion were turning around to go help them, but Al screamed at them, "Stay on line! On the fucking line!"

 "Fucking nightmare. How many snipers do they have?" 

 Justin scanned the ridgeline looking for movement, "THERE!" At the foot of a large boulder, in the shadow of an overhanging cranny, he saw the slight movement of a prone figure behind a large shrub.
  "I saw the fucker! I saw him!" One of the footmen from Lion must've seen it too, he gestured wildly toward that direction.
 "Three D's! Three D's!" Al shouted.
 "Three hundred meters! Bigass boulder at 370!* One contact!" A Lion squad RPK gunner shouted as he slid his weapon over and started firing bursts at the target. Other footmen started echoing the target's location up and down the line.

 "Dobh, stay close!" Justin raced up the rocky incline toward Gecko squad, rushing from boulder to boulder at a steep crouch, constantly watching the mesa top. With Yuj down, he needed to take control of that element. Dobh followed right behind him, keeping up easily; the huge man was surprisingly agile with that huge comm system on his back. "The dumbass is strong, I'll give him that." 

 "Nail that fucker!" Someone shouted as Pruner from Gecko popped off a 40mm grenade from the 203 attachment to his M4 before diving for cover again; it was barely twenty meters high of a direct hit, striking the top of the gigantic boulder. A bright flash instantaneously created a column of red brown dust, uprooting a small tree and shattering a stony chasm from the boulder that sent shrapnel in all directions. There was about a second delay after he saw the explosion before Justin's ears rang with the deep, resounding slam of detonation, and a few more before the shower of debris was cast over a thirty meter radius.

 A chorus of "Fuck yeah!" and "Cocksucker!" echoed down both squads. Justin was out of breath when he reached Gecko, his thick headscarf was sopping wet with sweat. Yet he still managed to loudly gather Gecko back on line. He plopped down on the ground before shouting back to Lion squad, "AL! Move up! Bound past Gecko!"

 He had to repeat the command and gesture toward the next switchback before Alharan waved his squad forward. Justin Raegas shouldered his Krinkov and studied the ridgeline, watching for anything that could betray a sniper's location. But everything was still. Gecko's fire quickly petered out to a few stray shots. Pruner fired off another grenade that was nearly a direct hit on the foot of the large boulder.

 "GECKO! Shift fire LEFT! Shift fire LEFT! Watch for targets!" Pruner and the other six in Gecko squad echoed his command back and forth as Lion squad passed their right and kept moving up the slope.

 Then a light caught Justin's eye, from the other side of the mesa, a single pulsing red flare from Hue's trucks arched high into the sky and turned sizzling toward the earth. He could barely make out bursts of gunfire coming from the other side of the mesa.

 "The Sanhuro, they're here." 

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Database Entry: Summary of Tahara

Intro: Tahara is an independent moon world just beyond the outer limits of Federation territory. It had a local population and an ancient culture that has been thrown into political turmoil after being caught in the power struggles of the Federation and the neighboring super power of the Tautoans for the last eighty years.

(native religions)
Yatao Purism - The red gas giant worshipers. A 'back to our roots' movement that has did away with most of the ceremony. 
Yatao Orthodox - Worship the red gas giant with more emphasis on ceremony and tradition. They're known for killing goats, pouring out the blood in the square, and then holding a feast with the body. 
Yateo Absolutists - The fire sun worshipers. They build gigantic pyres to burn offerings. They're big social events. Cats are considered bad luck, burning bags of them is a recreational tradition.

Ha'jian Tribal - The native tribal language that has heavily incorporated alien trade languages.
Kartoa - The main trade language of the Arkold system.

Political Factions: 
People's Advocates - The PA tends to be more popular with the rural tribes; they officially stand for a strong tribal elder oligarchy. They control most of the arable lands and hold a monopoly on shroom exports to the Tautoans. They wield serious influence over the natives with their tuber monopoly. (PA farmers only sell to PA buyers.) They tend to rely on hired native militias and hired freelancers.
Freedom Fighter's Front - The 'triple F' tends to be more popular in the cities and slums; they officially stand for a representative republic with some wealth redistribution taken from the alien corporations. Their revenue is dependent on the diamond fields and to a lesser extent the slave trade.  
Neutral - The neutral villages are rapidly disappearing as they're forced to choose sides. Only the larger cities and tribes that are heavily relied upon by both factions can remain neutral. (Such as tribe Shroa.)

Ethnography: 26 million people
Mainlanders: 80%
Intro - The mainland tribes are the majority by far, they've assimilated most of alien cultures and technology. Though the population is gradually becoming more industrial, it's still predominately agrarian. Some minor industry is springing up, though most of it is from alien corporate interests.
- Native Taharans are taller, slimmer, and have long flowing black hair.
- Unmarried women tie their hair into a single long pony tail, while married women tie scores of small braids.
- In terms of numbers, the mainland tribes are fairly evenly split between the PA and triple F.
- Yatao Orthodox tends to be the common religion. Though atheism and other alien beliefs and faiths are gradually gaining a following in the cities. (Maddok Code, atheism, etc...)

Mountain tribes: 10%

Intro - The ferociously independent mountain tribes live in a scattered plethora of villages and towns across the mountain ranges to Tahara's north pole. They are considered the most technologically backward of the cultures.
- Non K tribes believe the PA and triple F are two sides of the same coin. They just want to be left alone, and for now they are.
- One very large tribe named the Kubeck have enthusiastically embraced an alien Clan religion (Maddok code). In the last thirty years they've expanded and conquered a dozen neighboring mountain and mainlander tribes.
- The reasons for Kubeck's power are twofold; they were first united and driven by their new religion.
- However, the FFF's main source of revenue - the diamond mines - are in this territory. And the few mountain tribes that do support the triple F are employed holding and working in this territory.
- Short with lightly colored skin and cropped black hair. Customarily shaved in the front.
- Many of these tribes are devout followers of Yateo Absolutism. The Yateo pyre offerings are usually associated with the mountain tribes.
- The only culture that practices polygamy.
- They speak a localized dialect of Ha'jian tribal almost exclusively. Just their merchants and dealers can speak Kartoa or the more standardized Ha'jian.

Islanders: 3%
Intro -
- The Islanders are fairly evenly divided between PA, triple F, and neutral tribes. Each small island is declared for one or the other.
- The Islander people have assimilated much of alien culture. They wear alien clothing and are big consumers of foreign tech. Though anti-alien sentiment is still strong, they embrace many things foreign.
- Much of the population is migrating to the mainland to find work. There's a severe overpopulation problem compounded by overfishing and poor soil.
- Known for being the shortest of the Taharans with long black hair like the mainlanders.
- Many Islanders speak Kartoa and Fed standard fluently.

Delta tribes: 7%

Intro - The swamplanders live in the mangrove marshes of the southern delta region. They have entire villages built out of woven reeds that float on the waterline hidden by the thick vegetation and canopy. They're a minority group of pastoralists that trade for crops and processed goods from mainlanders.
Culture Facts...
- The Deltas are staunchly FFF. During the revolution, the FFF supplied them with arms.
- Though not particularly territorial, they're ferociously protective of the food sources in the marshes. They've killed outsiders for picking berries. (You can travel through, just don't touch the flora or fauna.)
- There are intense rivalries and feuds with neighboring mainland farmers that have tried draining the swamps.
- The traditional garb for 'deltas' (both men and women) are manatee skin breeches with hanging decorations of guinea feathers. Though alien clothing have become extremely popular.
- Tall and skinny, tend to have darker skin and grow short brown hair.
- There's an old snake worshipping religion that has largely died out. Most marshlanders are split between Yatao orthodox and Purism.
- They were some of the most brutal executors of the Purge. The Deltas in particular had been oppressed by the Wueshi for decades.
- The Deltas were almost entirely pastoral, relying upon schools of manatees for their livelihood. But a culture shift has occurred in the last several decades pushing delta tribes to engage much more in commerce.
- Some 'Deltas' who've traditionally lived in the swamps have gradually been building 'soil houses' like the mainlanders in areas where the swamps have been receding.

Common Taharan worldviews;
- Racist sentiment against aliens is very common. They're considered to be inherently untrustworthy and greedy. Though they still rely on them for commerce.
- Taharans tend to view aliens as synonymous.
- Elders are venerated greatly. There are usually a few 'patriarchs' and 'matriarchs' who traditionally direct the lives of the household. Whether they earn their place through age, respect, or wealth, and exactly how much influence they have varies by tribe and culture. Many mainlanders don't hold to this custom anymore.
- It's a very common trans culture tradition for a boy to receive some sort of weapon from his parents to herald his entry into manhood. The general age and weapon varies from tribe to tribe.

Old Empire (1200/1450) - This was the height of Taharan civilization, when the whole moonworld was united by a single theocratic empire that built huge stone temples. 

Ten kingdoms era (1450/1700) - The 'time of ten kingdoms' period of Taharan history is often very romanticized. The culture was at its height as the rival kingdoms competed for supremacy for a few hundred years.

Dynastic era (1700/1970) - Another period of general unity, where the kingdoms coalesced into a ruling tribe that became the Taharan aristocracy. Dynasties came and went, lasting around 80 years each.

The Schism wars (1780/1830) - A brutal series of religious wars fought over Yatao/Yateo ideological differences.

The Wueshi Dynasty - This dynasty of Taharans ruled for a good 90 years, making it half the age of the Federation. The Feds enjoyed good relations with the ruling class and kept exclusive trading status until...

(Current events!)

Revolution 1967 - A grassroots freedom movement funded by the Tautoans appealed to the monarchy for institutional reform; they were promptly jailed and executed. Resulting in protests that grew increasingly violent until an outright revolution started. 

Rebel Factions - Most of the hundreds of different rebelling tribes and groups eventually coalesced into two main factions, the People's Advocates and the Freedom Fighter's Front

The Purge 1990 - Racial tensions and animosity against the old ruling class Wueshi continued to build until exploding into a murderous frenzy overnight. Sub groups within both factions orchestrated the killings. The Wueshi were disadvantaged by being spread out and having lost most of their wealth from the revolution. 'The Purge' became the most brutal massacre in Taharan history; a few smaller tribes rumored to be harboring Wueshi were also exterminated. Their surviving men mutilated, mass rapes of the women, and the children sold into slavery.  Over the course of two months, the 389,000 Wueshi dropped to about 5000 when the killing was finally ordered to cease. Most Wueshi who were left had either fled the moon, lived in hiding, or were sold/kept as sex slaves by party officers.

International Opinion - The genocide was largely ignored by the Federation, whose collective consciousness was focused on the Guhani war. The Tautoan Empire's media was likewise ordered to suppress news of it since colonial commitments were already very demanding. All other nations and groups didn't have enough economic stake in the relatively minor conflict to show concern. 

Hulihani Agreement - Tensions are rising between the PA and triple F. Small skirmishes and bar fights have become very common. Major business interests on Tahara brought the major leaders of the two factions together to sign an important economic pact: a strict ceasefire agreement in the cities and certain wealthy tribes. Severe punishment is dealt to all militia who violate it. Additionally, both factions start allowing alien aid workers to come in and start conducting humanitarian efforts. 

The Raids - Neutral villages are quickly taking sides to avoid being raided. Regimental commanders find some pretext to label a village as an enemy. Then burn a village to the ground, sell the survivors to the triple F slavers and keep the prettiest for themselves. 

International Opinion - A movement in the Federation is growing quickly. It's bringing attention to the particular war crimes of a mercenary officer with the PA (Ariseny) who has raided some of these villages and was possibly a big player back in the purge. The movement has pushed a bill through parliament to send an intervention force to Tahara on a humanitarian mission. The goals quickly expanded from simply putting Ariseny on trial to bringing peace and democracy to the whole moonworld. 
 A segment of the Fed's intelligence community has been working behind the scenes to try and back the triple F to bring reestablish Federation economic and security interests on Tahara. They tried to subvert the bill in parliament, but public opinion pushed it through. Suffice to say, they aren't happy with the situation.
 The Tautoan Empire has also been working behind the scenes to secure their interests on Tahara.

As always, I value your time as a reader and would appreciate any comments, suggestions, observations, and predictions you have; so feel free to comment or message me!

Your Servant,
The Chivalrous Rogue

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Announcement: Title change and upcoming chapters...

Dear Readers,

 When I first started writing this novel,  Mercs, Feds, & Tribals was literally the first working title that popped into my head. Now I've settled upon Skyborne as a more fitting name. I'm going to go back throughout the blog and update the title.

My apologies for the inevitable minor confusion that this change will cause.

The new chapters are coming! The Chief and his crew will be engaging in a little firefight, you'll see more of Rachel, and shall meet the last important POV with the Federals.

Your Servant,
The Chivalrous Rogue

Monday, January 20, 2014

Announcement: Opening Details and Illustrations

Dear Readers,

 The blog migration is going to take a while. I'll continue posting chapters and whatnot here as usual until the new home of Mercs, Feds, & Tribals is ready. 

 In other news, I'm updating the chapter entries with more opening details and illustrations. Location, POV, time increments, and so forth. For example...

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

System name - Planetary body - Onworld location: local time (reference). [Omega time, a 24hr international clock and day/month/year dating system.]
Character, their nationality and position.

 Omega time is just to keep you from going insane. Local times on the multitudes of moonworlds, earths, stations and the like can vary anywhere from 2 hour days to 64. I'll occasionally include them just to give an idea of what the local solar cycle is like.

 Also, keep in mind that events aren't necessarily unfolding strictly chronologically. I sometimes show one character's view of an event and then 'rewind' for another POV's reaction to it. It's straightforward and you'll have Omega time for reference.

 As always I value your time as a reader and appreciate any and all suggestions, observations, critiques, and predictions, so please comment! And if you're enjoying Mercs, Feds, & Tribals then don't forget to subscribe!

Your Servant,
The Chivalrous Rogue

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Announcement: Concerning copyrights and chapters

Dear Reader, This is just a quick announcement concerning copyrights. I've written everything here, all chapters, database entries, and so forth. However, all images are just really cool and fitting pictures I pulled from the internet.

 Ok? Images not mine, text is mine, ;) unless I reference otherwise.

  If you want to quote a few hundred words somewhere, that's fine. If you want to repost something, I'd appreciate it if you asked first. :)

 As for upcoming chapters, January's second installment will return to Rachel's perspective, and February will start with a serious action sequence with the Skylark.

 As always I value your time as readers and appreciate any suggestions, observations, critiques, and predictions that y'all have.
Your Servant,
The Chivalrous Rogue

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Database Entry: Newscast - Federation Imperialists

Winning the War: Imperialist news commentary

[Author's note - Cedrick Ronan is a news commentator for the Imperialist party in the Federation. He's wrong about most of his facts, I could write a step by step rebuttal of his assessment of the clans; however, that's not my purpose here, Ronan's segment Winning the War is indicative of the general attitude of the Federation and particularly the Imperialist party toward the Clans and the Auld League in general.]

Cedrick Ronan! The voice of the Imperialist party comes to you with an exclusive inside look at the ever growing threat of intergalactic war with the Auld League.

 Good evening ladies and gentlemen, I am sorry to say that I must start this program with some very dire news:
 Yesterday, Parliament passed yet another spending cut to our nation's military, reducing the MoD's budget by over 50 billion credits. In the same session we can see that the 'Voices of Peace' held a five hundred thousand man protest outside Parliament pleading for 'reason' when it came to intergalactic wars. Rep Thinson assured the protesters that, "Parliament isn't going to commit to any new wars in this session, the next session, or the one after that. The Federation especially appreciates the good will that it shares will the other members of the Coalition, and our alien friends in the Auld League, the Democratic Republic of Disuka, the Shaoganate, and others."

 There’s something you absolutely have to understand about the clans in the Auld League. They are barbarians. They are savages. They cannot be reasoned with, and the only thing they’ve ever understood or ever will understand is power. I know these barbarians, and I’ve learned they are ridiculously violent, unbelievably violent. If you are a good educated citizen - which I know all of my dedicated viewers are - then you know about the horrific clan feuds. They go out and kill a rival family’s men, women, and children.

 But ladies and gentlemen, that barely scratches the surface of how evil these people are. I have a list here of some of their lesser known horrific practices. It’s a very disturbing list obviously, so I would advise viewer discretion; if you are sensitive to the suffering of others then please make sure your appropriate censorship setting is on.

 First, their Chieftains are total despots, they rule over their clan with an iron fist. They have total control over what their people do or say. They tell their people who they can marry, what job they’re going to take, everything they do is for ‘clan céan,’ that’s a Maddok word meaning ‘clan first.’ It refers to this absolute concept that the good of the clan always comes first. They can’t even think for themselves, just for the clan.

 Next, they are one of few peoples that actively practice something called ‘quality control eugenics,’ that means if you’re born with down syndrome, they kill you in the womb. Even the evil Tautoan empire doesn’t do that. And if they kill you in the womb, what’s to say their Chieftains who have total control over everything else in their life can’t kill them any other time? These despots probably kill whoever they want whenever they want if they can kill children in the womb.

 Again, to talk about just how much control these Chieftains have. According to their code, both parties have to be virgins when they're married. Do you understand that? They don't let the kids have their fun. Even after they become independent adults, they're still under the threat of punishment if they just get laid! My god, no wonder they're so violent considering just how sexually repressed they must be!

 And now the one you knew was coming, their blood sports. My god they love their blood sports. The clans compete against each other, putting contestants forward to fight to the death! Who knows how many millions could be dying from that?

 Their language is riddled with signs of their despicable violence. We have like seven different words for peace. In their language, they have fifteen different words for war, and over five hundred different words for sword. I did not believe my ears when I first heard that. Over five hundred. Ladies and gentlemen, that just reveals how obsessed with violence the clans are.

 This next one really gets to me, one of the biggest sports in the clans is dog fighting. The Society for Animal Life estimates that over thirty million dogs are killed in these fighting pits each year. And these savages love it.

 Ladies and gentlemen, this stirs two feelings in me. I am sickened that a barbarian society like this can exist in today’s universe. But I’m also relieved, relieved that you and I live in the greatest nation that ever was; a nation that firmly stands behind essential, humanitarian values to preserve life and bring wealth and peace to the universe. It is evil forces like the clans who stand for everything we hate. The clans are a threat to our way of life, they are a threat to life itself. I cannot fathom how the Eggies and Plebs (Egalitarians and Plebians) can possibly think we can reason with these barbarians. They are a race of psychopaths. That is foolish, that is irresponsible madness at the highest level. These sexually repressed savages love killing and hate us; why do they hate us? They hate us because they hate us. They only understand power. They only understand strength.

 For Pete’s sake, we must build our military back up to its former glory and support it in a crusade against these clans. Their coward leaders know that they can’t take us in an open honest battle, so they hide behind the mercenary’s neutrality and chip away at us a little by little; while the Eggies and Plebs are letting them! Our military is being gutted at home as they try to appease the forces of evil.

 You can’t appease them forever! It must come to a decisive war if we are to survive. Remember the Guhani disaster! We would’ve walked over that tiny insurrectionist mining colony if they hadn’t hired Clan Doglos to ambush our brave men and women. That is a prime example of Eggie weakness, that is national suicide.

 The Federation and the Coalition in general need to do three things if we’re to continue to thrive against the evil forces in this universe.
 First, we must rearm. We have to raise taxes and at least triple the size of our military, the nuclear arsenal, and bring back the dominator corps.
 Secondly, we must face down the clans; they hate us because they hate us. We will crush them on the battlefield. But only if we return our military to its former glory and return this nation to its Imperialist foundations.
 Thirdly, and I'll leave you with this: We as a people need to replace our trust in our leaders and our grand machine.

 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