It’s 01.30 when everyone wakes up and swings into action and clambers back into the confines of the AGC.
Max starts off by heading west for 20km and then heading back down into the valley. Skimming the river that runs through its centre just centimetres above the surface using only his LI goggles to see through the darkness, he brings the AGC up 3km short of the base. Silently Taeva climbs out of the back of the vehicle, immediately starting to close the remaining distance on foot.
Max turns the AGC around and then retraces his route back, going up out of the rift valley once again and passing the base from up high, continuing until he is 20km east of the base. Once again he descends and then returns to within 3km of the eastern side of the base. Here he deposits the remainder of the group before heading back up to the top of the rift again where he will be able to swoop down on the base quickly if necessary.
The Aslandables lead the way through the dense alien undergrowth towards the base, having no difficulty bounding ahead. Will is not finding it such easy going, however.
On the opposite side of the base, Taeva is now within 500m of the base. Here she slides of the bank and disappears into the dark, murky, fast-flowing waters and follows the flow down to the base. Obscured from the base by a line of cargo containers,she raises herself out of the water and checks the base out carefully. There seems to be little sign of activity at the base. All of the towers are manned – searchlights piercing the darkness of no-man’s land between the base and the fringe of the undergrowth. But none of the lights are facing inwards. Outside the perimeter, the Skraaling grav APC is on sentry duty. The only other sign of life in the compound are lights coming from the main hangar in the base.
Taeva spends a while checking that there are no sentries inside the base. She then follows the shadows around to the two towers that are either side of the gate and places charges at their bases.
Confident that she is not being seen, she then advances upon the barracks area and places mines at doors of four of the five blocks. She then returns the way she came and then advances the length of the base using the containers for cover. She gets to the tower on the far side of the base. Stian is watching events unfold with his drones as the rest of the group wait in the undergrowth waiting for a sign that it is their turn to move.
Taeva silently climbs the ladder to the watchtower, her knife ready to take out the first of the two guards. In a rare stroke of bad luck, however, the guard moves just as she prepares to plunge the knife into his back.
“ACHTUNG!” a cry goes up. “AUSLANDEREN!”
Taeva cuts the cry short by finishing the job she started. In the still night air though, it’s too late to stop the whole camp realizing that something is up. The radio waves start filling up with cries that the base is under attach.
“I guess that will do as the signal to get started,” Jie says, before quickly taking out the second guard in the tower with Black Betty.
The Aslandables surge forwards heading for the tower, their powerful legs eating up the distance. Grim realizes though that their speed is not going to save them from getting mown down by the GPMG in the south tower if he doesn’t do something about him.
He raises the first of his LAWs at the tower and pulls the trigger. Seconds later and there is nothing there apart from a smoldering heap of burnt timber.
Taeva adds to the mayhem by setting off her charges. The result is several large explosions coming from the far side of the base, but it’s hard to tell what level of impact they had from over here.
There are more pressing matters to contend with though as mercs are starting to pour out from the hangar building. Taeva takes advantage of the fact that they are all bunched up by launching a RAM HE grenade into their midst, which takes out most of the squad in a split-second.
The entire group has now crammed themselves into the first watchtower. Having seen what one HE grenade can do to a tightly-bunched group, they decide to evacuate the tower and head further into the base.
The only sign of activity currently is from the Skraaling which has descended into the centre of the base. A squad of mercs exits the vehicle, with two of the mercs heading for the second APC while the remainder head for cover. The first Skraaling takes off once it has deposited all of the passengers and is angling its minigun ready to spray the group with 7.76mm fire. Grim takes the second of his LAWs and blasts the AGC. Although the vehicle’s thick armor absorbs most of the damage, the shot manages to take out the minigun, leaving the vehicle impotent. The AGC returns to the ground where the driver and gunner join the rest of the mercs there. The second Skraaling takes off and starts to maneuver around the north side of the base, keeping low to benefit from cover.
In the centre of the base, the mercs and the group members exchange fire from their positions of cover. Other mercs are starting to come from the barracks now, but they are a fair distance away. One by one the party members take down the mercs. Warrior gets unlucky during the firefight however, taking a full blast of Riddare fire. Not benefiting from InterSol’d almost impenetrable armor, he gets well and truly peppered.
While the firefight continues to the south, Will manages to get to the closest of the ships. The door is unlocked and so he cycles through the airlock. Upon entering the ship, however, he realizes that the layout of it would make for a perfect ambush spot and so decides to wait for the arrival of Stian and his drones before investigating further.
On the northern side of the cargo containers, Jie finds herself in the wrong place at the wrong time as the second Skraaling comes around and gives her a blast with the minigun. As the bullets pierce her armor, Jie feels herself going faint.
“I hate this facking planet,” she moans as she falls to the ground.
Taeva soon manages to get some revenge on the Skraaling though as she takes out the offending minimgun with a RAM HEAP grenade. The Skraaling maneuvers to behind the generator and the two crew members join in with the firefight.
More mercs are coming from the barracks now. Wisely, however, the group members stay in cover and drop the mercs as they get within shooting distance.
Onboard the first of the ships, Stian has joined with Will. He maneuvers the first of his drones through the iris valve. He just manages to get a glimpse of two crew members hiding at either end of the corridor before the drone becomes another casualty as it is brought down with a burst of fire from a Vendel machine pistol.
Pissed now, Stian and Will rush the hallway and manage to take down the two crew members without casualty.
Outside the ship, the remaining group members are in a good position, in good cover and able to pick off the mercs as they approach. The advantage of their position is obviously not lost on the commander of the base as a voice comes out through a loud-hailer:
“This is Captain Drew Diot,” the voice says with resignation. “We wish to surrender. All troops hold their fire.”
The mercs do as they are ordered, ceasing their fire, although they head into cover.
It would appear that the crew of the second Patroller have decided not to follow orders, however, as everyone can hear the sound of the ship’s M-Drive starting to heat up.
There is a buzz of chatter on the InterSol/Aslandables commo channel as they decide what to do about the Patroller’s imminent take off. Although they can’t get a unanimous decision as to what to do about the Patroller, they are all in agreement that the first priority has to be to secure the surrendering mercs on the ground.
Well actually this is Will’s second priority – his first is to get Jie back on her feet again. Grim takes over Will’s place in the ship in order to get the engines running as quickly as possible. He comes across three more crew members in the Patroller, but all of them surrender to him without putting up a fight.
Taeva and Stian lead the Aslandables in rounding up all of the remaining mercs. Max brings the APC down into the centre of the base and joins in with the coralling of the mercs.
While this is happening, just as they all feared, the other Patroller takes off – at its maximum 3G. It does not look as if it plans to blast them all – it just looks as if it is getting away as quickly as possible. It’s impossible to tell exactly where it is heading for.
Captain Diot presents his weapons to Stian and Taeva and offers them a stiff salute. He tells them that he expects his troops to be treated in accordance with the Gemini Convention and wants permission to see to his injured.
Grim has the engines on the remaining Patroller turning over now. Jie is back on her feet and has joined Stian and Taeva with Captain Diot. Will has joined Grim on the Patroller and is heading for the bridge.
All realize that decision time is rapidly approaching if there is to be any chance of taking out the departing Patroller.
The party members continue to discuss the pros and cons of pursuing the fleeing Patroller or not.
Stian questions Captain Diot:
“Do you know how much fuel the other Patroller has in its tanks currently?”
“Maybe a quarter to a third full,” the Captain says with a shrug. “Just the fuel that was left after jumping into the system. The engineers still have not got the fuel purifiers working properly yet at the base. The ship crews were waiting for that before tanking up.”
Stian relays the information to the others.
“We need to check with Zos before we make a final decision,” Grim says. “Max, can you get Autumn to patch us through?”
Max uses the APCs superior commo to reach Autumn.
“What’s up, girl?” he asks once she answers.
“Nothing,” she replies. “I am bored silly here. I haven’t spoken to anyone since you left.”
“Good,” Max replies. “We was worried that Zos might be up to no good.”
“No,” Autumn says. “Not yet at least.”
“Can you patch me through to him?” Max asks. “We need a quick word.”
“OK,” Autumn agrees. “Hold on the line.”
Max holds for five minutes, anxious that every minute is takes to reach Zos is another minute wasted. Eventually Zos comes on the line and Max patches him through.
“So what happened?” Zos says a little anxiously.
Grim gives him a brief overview. Zos is none too happy when he hears that one of the Patrollers is escaping.
“You need to stop it. Now,” Zos barks.
“I can’t afford for word to get out that they have lost the base – not until I have a deal set up with the Imperium together with protection – and this is going to take months to arrange. It would be a total clusterfuck if this led to a major TTC/Sword Worlder retaliation.”
“Getting money from the sale of Patroller is a nice to have, not a need to have. And your salvage rights to the remaining Patroller are your problem – not mine – that was the agreement.”
“We think that they may be heading for the other base on the moon of the gas giant,” Grim continues. “They don’t have enough fuel to jump out immediately. Do you know where their base is located exactly?”
“Yes, yes,” Zos confirms. “On Reren, the largest moon of the gas giant, Bagimeh. I can get the exact coordinates sent to you. This is good. It means you have plenty of time to intercept them before they get there. Just make sure it doesn’t arrive.”
“Good luck,” Zos finishes. “I’m sure you can do it. Don’t let me down.”
With that, the line goes dead.
The party members all look at one another. It seems as if the decision has been made.
Will heads for the ship in order to start the pre-flight checks while the others ensure that Max and the Aslandables have the captives under control. It seems as if they have – all of the mercs are corralled in the hangar area, with the Aslandables keeping a watchful eye over them.
Seeing that the situation on the ground seems to be under control, the remainder of InterSol wish max good luck and head for the Patroller.
They find that they ship that they clamber into is a far cry from the pastel shades and sumptuous soft furnishings of Unguin’s Princess. The Patroller is built for functionality rather than luxury, the raw slabs of titanium making the interior seem more like a gigantic version of their marine-surplus AGC than their A2.
Grim returns to the engineering bay to see what he get out of the M-Drive. Jie straps herself into the co-pilot’s seat while Stian heads for the dorsal turret. Taeva starts to familiarize herself with the layout of the ship, knowing that she will be rushing from place to place on damage control once the combat starts.
Once everyone is onboard, Will brings the ship up to full power and the Patroller shoots into the night sky, the G-forces coming as a surprise to all after getting used to the Princess’s more modest acceleration. In a matter of minutes, the ship is well clear of the atmosphere and they can see Flexos fast-disappearing through the rear view screens.
Jie’s fingers work the sensors. It doesn’t take long for her to get a bead on the fast-departing Patroller, even though it has a good lead, being some 50,000km ahead of them.
Once she has a bead on the enemy ship, she leaves Will alone in the cockpit and heads down to the ventral turret, strapping herself in.
“Ready when you are, Stian,” Jie says as she brings the twin beam lasers to bear.
“Fire at will,” Stian says.
“Huh?” says Jie. “But Will’s on our side. And who’s going to pilot the ship if I shoot at him?”
Stian sighs. “OK, don’t fire at Will then, just fire when you’re ready.”
With that, Stian fires his first volley at the enemy Patroller. Will fires the first brace of missiles at the Patroller, while Jie also opens up. At this range, it’s hard to tell whether their lasers are having much effect.
The enemy Patroller immediately retaliates, launching a volley of missiles and raking the party’s ship with laser fire. Instantly alarm bells sound all over the ship and Will shouts out to Taeva where the hull was pierced.
These guys are obviously going to be no push over and have an advantage in that InterSol is heading straight towards their missiles which means that they are going to start impacting sooner.
“I have a bad feeling about this,” Will grizzles as he keeps the ship at maximum acceleration in order not to lose the ship.
After exchanging a few volleys with the enemy vessel, the others start to think that he might have a point as they seem to be taking more damage than they are dishing out. Taeva rushes from place to place trying to keep on top of the damage, but it’s coming in faster than she can keep up with and their ship has lost large chunks of its titanium armor now and the hull is starting to get badly beaten up. At least she and Grim are able to repair the hit to their M-Drive without losing any speed.
Things get worse when the enemy missiles start to get close. Leaving Stian to concentrate on shooting at the ship, Jie concentrates on taking out the missiles before they can impact, and manages to do a much better job of it than she did at hitting the ship.
The first of Will’s missiles are starting to find their targets now, however although a fair few of them get through the enemy ship’s defenses, the ship’s completely intact armor negates much in the way of damage.
Stian is starting to sweat in the dorsal turret now. He realizes that the fate of the ship and all his colleagues are in his hands alone now and realizes that he really needs to up his game.
And up his game he does as shot after shot finally starts finding its target. The enemy damage control is doing a pretty good job of patching up the damage as it occurs, but the punishment that Stian is now dishing out soon starts to swamp their resources as he starts to whittle down their armor with hits on their ventral turret, sensors and M-Drive.
The enemy are determined to go down fighting though and Jie has a nasty scare when her turret takes a direct hit which throws her back into the ship. By the time that Taeva has patched up the turret though, Jie – battered and bruised yet again – gets back to action, more determined than ever to get this combat over with as quickly as possible.
Stian’s on a roll now. After damaging one of the enemy turrets so that it is all but unusable, he manages to get a direct hit on the ship’s M-Drive, leaving it just drifting as the party’s ship starts to catch up. Without the need to keep accelerating, Will is able to try and dodge the incoming fire from the turrets.
It’s obvious that the enemy Patroller has now reached its tipping point. With much of its armor now stripped away, Stian’s beams are now cutting through the enemy Patroller like a knife through hot butter. Eventually he manages to get a direct hit on their sensors and, with the enemy turrets now unable to target properly, the lasers stop firing. Stian finishes off by easily destroying the remaining enemy missiles that were inflight.
Now that the enemy ship has been put out of action, Will continues to advance towards it. Grim has his work cut out in keeping the damaged M-Drive functioning properly while Taeva continues to run around reinforcing the patches on the hull. Jie rejoins Will in the cockpit while Stian remains in his turret in case the enemy vessel still has a trick up its sleeve.
After an hour, however, the party’s ship has managed to catch up with the enemy vessel. Grim rolls his eyes as he sees the devastation that Stian has reaped upon the ship – this mess is going to take a lot of fixing. As Will brings the ship in to dock with the stricken enemy vessel, the others grab their weapons and prepare for boarding.
Everyone gets into position and takes a deep breath as the airlock to the enemy vessel cycles, expecting to be met by a hail of Vendel machine pistol fire. After all, Swordies aren’t known for giving up easily. There is no welcoming party, however.
Cautiously they advance into the enemy ship which is in Zero-G. They see that the ship is even more of a mess than it appeared from the outside. Eventually they come across the crew, most of whom are very badly injured from the fight.
Dejected, each raises their hands in surrender as they realize that their situation is now hopeless.
Quickly, Taeva and Jie frisk all of the surrendering Swordies to ensure that none of them are carrying any concealed weapons. Upon finding each of them clean, the pair escorts each of them to the Patroller’s barracks in order to ensure that they don’t get up to any mischief. Most of the crew members are pretty beaten up and so Will takes care of them before getting on with more pressing matters. One by one, Taeva escorts the injured crew members to the office/med bay where Will patches each of them up. The Swordies remain taciturn throughout, but nod to Will with begrudging gratitude.
Once the Swordies have all been taken care of, Will heads to the bridge in order to see what is left of it.
While all this has been going on, Grim has been wandering around the ship escorted by Stian, shaking his head and sighing deeply as he sees the tremendous amount of work that it is going to take to make just one of the two vessels jump-worthy.
Once he has investigated the damage fully, all of the party members assemble on the bridge to discuss what needs to be done.
“So what’s the verdict?” Stian asks.
“Not good,” Grim sighs. “With a lot of work, a lot of extra titanium and a bit of luck, I think that I can cannibalize some of the parts from this ship to make the other one jump-capable. There’s no way that this ship is going to be spaceworthy again without a lot of spares – spares which I doubt are possible to get outside the Sword Worlds.”
He shakes his head again:
“Best that we can do with this one is to break it up for spares. Fortunately neither ship’s J-drives, power plants or computers got hit – that’s where most of the value in the ships are and it will probably be easier for Max to fence than a whole ship, so the mission isn’t a complete write-off – just harder work than it could have been.”
“It will take a while to get one ship operational. I can’t say exactly how long until I get started – longer than a week but shorter than two weeks is my best estimate.”
The others nod sagely, realizing that their options are limited.
“Did we manage to stop this ship before they got in contact with their base?” Stian asks.
“I didn’t pick up any transmissions,” Will says. “But I could have missed it what with everything else that was going on.”
“I’ll check the black box to make sure if you could give me a hand,” Jie offers.
Will nods and the pair of them hack into the black box, replaying all of the conversations that transpired from the time the Patroller set off from the base. The exercise takes over an hour but, by the end of it, they are reassured that the Patroller did not contact any other vessel or base since it launched. It looks like they were successful in taking it down before it was able to raise the alarm.
“I suppose that we better tell Zos the good news that we were able to stop the ship from raising any alarm,” says Taeva.
Jie nods and beams a message down to the Princess. It takes a while before a sleepy-sounding Autumn answers. After reassuring her that everyone is OK, Jie asks her to patch them through to Zos again.
Ten minutes later and Zos’s anxious voice comes onto the line. He is relieved that the party members were able to stop the escaping Patroller before it was able to sound the alarm. He seems unconcerned when he hears about how badly beaten up both ships were during the fight – it’s obvious that they aren’t going to get much in the way of favours from him – he made a deal with the party members and expects them to honour it. The only concession that he is prepared to make is in sending over some sheets of titanium to the TTC base which Grim will certainly need to patch up the gaping chasms in the hulls of both ships. He tells the party members to ensure that neither ship comes to Lomburing. They are to be confined to the TTC base, although Zos will arrange for extra supplies to be dropped in if needs be. With that, he leaves the conversation.
“So now we have the problem of how to get both ships back to the TTC base on Flexos when this one is completely dead,” Will says.
Grim flicks on his handcomp and runs some calculations:
“The M-Dive of the functioning ship should have enough power to maneuver both of them back,” he calculates. “It’s going to take a lot of luck and sweat in the engine room to nurse the M-Drive all of the way back and it will fly like a brick, but it should be possible – if the two ships are properly lashed together.”
“Who fancies a little EVA?” he asks looking at Stian, Jie and Taeva.
“OK,” the three of them agree, before heading out to the airlock.
It takes the best part of an hour before the three of them have managed to lash the two ships together with a couple of large cables, with Will assisting them in getting the mobile ship into the right position, while Grim toils in the engine room, trying to get enough power through to the drives to make the journey back to Flexos.
The journey back to Flexos is a tough and stressful one for everyone on board. Will wrestles with the controls as he tries to keep the flying brick on course back to the TTC-base, assisted by Jie whose crayons are forced to work overtime in order to compensate for the drift in the lumbering starship.
At the rear of the ship, Grim’s forehead is constantly beaded in sweat as he wrestles with the controls of the M-Drive. The whole journey back to Flexos is something akin to one constant game of Whac-A-Mole as no sooner as he manage to extinguish one red warning light on the control panel than yet another one comes on. Stian and Taeva both use their mechanic skills to assist Grim as best they can, with Grim barking out instructions to them, sending them off to patch up parts of the hull that are getting dangerously close to losing their integrity. Soon all of the spare plates in the spares room are used up and Taeva and Stian are forced to cut out internal walls in order to provide fresh panels of titanium to keep shoring up the hull.
The journey back seems to take forever but eventually they manage to pass through the atmosphere of Flexos with a jolt and, some twenty minutes later, Will uses the last of his energy to bring the two ships down on the tarmac. It’s not the smoothest landing that he has ever made, but everyone onboard is just glad to have made it down in one piece.
It is a little after noon by the time they open up the airlock and pile out. Max and the Aslan are waiting for them, relieved to see their comrades returning. All at the TTC base was as they left it – the Aslan having kept a good watch on the TTC/Swordie captives to that they didn’t get up to any mischief. Taeva and Jie escort the captives from the ship, locking them up in the main hanger with their companions.
With the adrenalin of the assault on the TTC base, the space combat and the tricky and arduous return back now having been completely exhausted, the party members realize that they have not slept for a day and a half now and so realize that they need to get some sleep. A watch rota is arranged and then those not on duty head for the barracks area in order to get some well-needed rest.
All sleep peacefully until a little after 22.00 when they are aroused from their slumber by the sound of thrusters firing. All leap from their beds, thinking that perhaps some of the Swordies have escaped from the hangar and are making a get away in the functioning Patroller. They are relieved to see, however, that this is not the case. Instead a beaten up, ancient A2,its hull showing that it has seen more than its fair share of action over the decades, is landing on the apron. The name on its tail announces it to be the Flexos Avenger.
The Aslandables see some of the party members looking at the arrival of the ship a little nervously, but tell them to relax. They know the crew.
Fortunately this is proven true when the airlock door opens and six burly Aslan make their way down the ramp. The crew look more like pirates than members of the Flexos Planetary Defense Force, laden down with weapons and several sporting eye-patches and innumerable scars. The Aslandables greet them warmly.
The crew informs the party members that they have brought in supplies that Grim requested. The cargo hold of the Far Trader is full of titanium sheets as well as a couple of weeks rations for everyone at the base. Everyone pitches in with unloading the ship, which takes less than an hour as the TTC base was fully-equipped with fork lift trucks and cranes for the purposes of easy unloading.
The Aslandables invite the crew to eat with them and spend a good couple of hours recounting stories of the heroic assault upon the base and all drink to the memory of the Aslandable who didn’t make it.
Eventually the captain of the Flexos Avenger tells his crew that they need to head back or else questions will be asked. They bid farewell to the Aslandables and InterSol and head off back into the night sky, taking the body of the deceased Aslan with them.