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I guess I'll start with my own personal trepidation's about the mission at hand. It's not a big mission, a couple quick survey's and a cold recovery. The only concerns I have relate towards my own inexperience in the field of command and in the field of interstellar operations. I'm a ground pounder, sure I've done meteoric descents, fought in the mud and rain and watched my friends die, but that was different, I wasn't the leader, it wasn't my decisions that were responsible for the deaths of those men. Now I'm in charge of a team of four specialists, four combat veterans who've never worked under the auspices of the RC before and none of which have any starship experience. Oh sure we got the crash course, that makes the ship turn right, that makes it turn left and never push that button unless it's a Wednesday, but really what do we know about flying and operating a starship. Then there's my own personal fear of failure in the role as mission commander. 'Gods' I prayed, 'don't let me fail' and guess what, they let me fail. Not a minor kind of failure I'm talking about the grandmother of all failures. If failure comes in a pure form this was about as pure as it could be. But enough of my own personal belly aching, I'm a marine and belly aching is just completely unacceptable. Things began well enough, we'd been together for several months so everyone had a certain amount of respect for one another. We all knew what we were capable of and where our limitations were. The first survey went well enough, well aside from the fact that we didn't find anything, it went just swimmingly. When we arrived in orbit above Nicosia we spent a couple days in orbit analyzing and gathering data on our target, the old starport, we hit it with everything we had in an attempt to find out as much about it as we could. In fact that went pretty well, we found our materials we were supposed to recover, we found six underground structures, large enough to be hangers as well as a maze of tunnels and underground shelters. We also found a detachment of men hiding in the forest immediately adjacent to the four primary LZ's. We decided it'd probably be best if we landed in the ocean a few hundred kilometers away, refueled, ran a quick search pattern of the ocean floor immediately down range of the Navel Base and eventually did a quick scoot in to pick up the part. The down range oceanic survey yielded immediate results as we picked up a debris trail the likes of which we'd never expected. Over ten miles wide where we found it the ocean floor was littered with the remains of civilization. Checking with the manual we decided to submerge the scout and follow the debris trail upstream to it's point of origin. Fifteen hours later we found Strephonopolis. During it's time it must have been incredible, even in 800 meters of water it was a sight to behold, a floating city 5 kilometers in diameter with piers and dock yards capable of supporting ships in the thousands of displacement ton range. We did a quick circuit of the city and determined that there were no ships still attached to the city so we began a slow tour through the cities towers and dockyards we could have spent day's down there just surveying the remains if we hadn't had a schedule to keep up with. Well that and the Signal GK Grumble picked up 12 hours after we found the city.
It was a weak signal, but we managed to narrow it down to an area of the city just below the original waterline and about 800 meters in. We searched around for an appropriate landing area when we found a large submarine docking port and adjacent airlock assembly. We decide that the risk was definitely worth the potential gains. We pulled in as tight as we could and put together a boarding party. Grumble stayed aboard to keep an eye on the Payne while Stinger and I put on our hostile environment suits and began to cross over. We hooked a small cable onto the upper airlock assembly on the Payne and crawled out into the darkness. I've done EVA before but this was different, terrifying and haunted. The twisted remains of the city lay only a few yards away by they may as well have been a parsec, we couldn't see them, just this looming presence in the darkness. Grumble brought us in real close and we jumped across the gap. Stinger hooked the other end of the cable to a bent metal hand rail just outside the air lock as Grumble backed off fifty yards to a safer position. Opening the airlock was as simple as could be, that TL15 stuff just doesn't rust, soon we found ourselves in the belly of the city trying to track down a radio signal so faint we could barely pick it up. Eventually we found what we were looking for. A, TL14 fusion generator, a small fuel cracking plant and a power cable run though a welded hole in a sealed bulkhead. It took us four hours to find the room and another one to cut our way through the door. In side we found eight low berths with eight sleeping passengers. It took us two more days to move the low berths back to a position where we could get them on top of the Thomas Payne and another few hours to move them to a position up in the central plaza of the city. The plan was simple, we'd surface, Stinger would pilot the air raft out of the ship we'd submerge again super pressurizing the hanger deck, we'd spin the Payne on end and lift the low berths up and into the ship. Once inside the Gravitic units would counteract the downward force of gravity and well you can figure it out yourself. I worked beautifully. We had to do a little rearranging of the cargo and I'm sure the satellites weren't happy about being shoved into a corner but who cared, we had eight remnants and a sunken city to boot. Forty-five minutes later we were back on the surface and the air raft was back where it belonged.
This was about the time that everything went to hell in a hand-basket. We decided to head cross country to the LZ and pick up our thing-a-me-jigger, I can never remember the name of that thing but the boys at planning thought it was real important. This was were the inexperience of our crew and in particular of me as a starship commander became evidently apparent. I decided that we'd probably be safer to go in high and slow rather than low and fast. It was my idea that the locals wouldn't notice us at and altitude of 6000 meters if we just drifted along using minimal power. It worked pretty well for twenty minutes till someone lit us up with a radar station. Suddenly I felt particularly exposed so we decided to dive down low and make a round about run for the LZ. The idea was simple enough we'd make the locals look over here when we were over there. Unfortunately some little bugger with a shoulder launched SAM had different ideas. We picked up the launch and returned fire with the turret in hopes of frying the missile as well as the launcher, unfortunately for us we turned the guy into the contents of a funeral urn and missed the missile. It ripped through the hull and shredded the power plant. Less than fifteen seconds after it had begun we were spiraling out of the sky our ship in flames. There was nothing to do but bail out and watch our ride home go down in flames. We all got out but eight lives were lost in that crash. Eight lives that went to sleep hoping to escape a nightmare and never got the opportunity to wake up.
It was after this that things got weird. All of my companions had no experience with hitting the silk, so our dispersal pattern was somewhat less than desirable. I followed the scout down in hopes of salvaging something, most of our gear had gone down with the scout. I figured I'd have to get in and out of there in a hurry, I knew that prior to the collapse Nicosia had been a Tech-F planet so I figured the locals would have access to some pre-collapse hardware and so it'd be only a matter of minutes before a G-Carrier showed up. I recovered a few packs of ammo and a couple useful pieces of kit before the locals showed up. Fortunately Skyman had followed me down with his grav-belt and led them on a pretty merry chase giving me the opportunity to escape with the gear I'd managed to salvage. Unfortunately during the chase Skyman and I were separated and it took me three more days to find him.
I knew from the air that there was a gravway and a river about 10 klicks east of my current position so I cut cross country hoping against all hopes that I'd be able to hook up with the rest of the team near a set of ruins we'd spotted a few day's before from orbit.
Grumble had apparently had a less successful decent from the ship and had somehow landed on the other side of the river some 8km away from the crash site. Fortunately for him he came down in a water filled rice paddy which probably stopped him from breaking his neck. After absconding with some clothes from a local village to disguise his body-sleave, lucky him wish I'd have found a village to change clothes in.
Anyway's, to make a long story short, to late, I finally met up with Singer and Skyman at the abandoned shell of Maladaar. It'd been a huge city once, but all that remained of it now was a jumble of burned out skyscrapers and a tangle of trees and bushes. We camped out at the city for a couple days searching the ruins, crawling through the sewers looking for anything significant. It was in Maladaar that Skyman and Stinger saw the first of the Kayla clones. We'd been engaged briefly by local government forces. They had a nice TL6+ wheeled armored scout and were equipped with a variety of TL6+ small arms and grenades. Unfortunately due to their numerical superiority and better equipment, we had nothing but pistols at the time, we were forced to beat a hasty retreat. Stinger and Skyman utilized Skyman's Gravbelt and flew across the river. I was crawling through the tunnels beneath the city at the time. Eventually the local's called in a recovery vehicle and pulled out their scout car.
The curious part of this came about after the locals had pulled out I came back above ground. It was raining heavily and concerned about the potential return of enemy forces I took up residence on the roof of a nearby lowrise so I could watch the entrances and exits of the city. At about 02:00 local time it was raining heavily I noticed a single figure cautiously advancing through the streets, upon closer examination the figure appeared to be both unarmed and naked except for a large chronometer style object around her right wrist. I ran downstairs hoping to get a better view of this woman. By the time I got downstairs she was at the edge of the riverside boardwalk, she took a quick look around before diving into the river. As she looked around I caught brief glimpse of her face, now bare in mind that it was dark, raining and I was using light intensification glasses at the time but I swear her face was mine. She disappeared into the river. Hours later on the other side of the river, Stinger and Skyman witnessed her climbing out of the river, they watched her closely with their PRIS glasses for a matter of twenty minutes and they both agree that her face and mine were identical. Stinger and Skyman witnessed, well not so much witnessed but could infer from the evidence at hand that she mugged a local peasant, removed his head and stole his clothes and cart before heading off north along a mud track.
Grumble found me at about this time. I had been rendered unconscious by a number of individuals with primitive weapons, I've still got a lump on my head. Grumble claims to have driven these individuals off thus saving my life. I'd like to put forth his name for a service medal for his conduct during this entire operation, he was brave and honorable. Acting with a distinction and compassion that were far above and beyond the call of duty. We moved our hide out to a more remote location in the city and decided to watch the roads carefully for enemy troop movements. It was my theory that we were here to do a mission and if we couldn't accomplish the one we'd been sent to do we'd gather some intelligence during our stay. Several day's later we ran into an number of Nicosian Data Priests. They were searching for what in their descriptions seemed to indicate a pre-collapse cache of weapons and technology of considerable value. The leader of the priests had a data key card with the insignia of the Duke of Terra emblazoned on it's face. We decided to join with the priests claiming to be refugees from the south. They would eventually lead us to a city named Sarpedon further to the north along the gravway. Along the way we encountered a number of soldiers traveling towards the ruined starport. These individuals were armed with the same TL6+ hardware as the others we had encountered but were also in possession of four "Crunch Gun's" still in their original crates with several hundred rounds of DS ammunition. The convoy included four low tech personal transports TL4 at best, carrying a company of soldiers and 4 of the same armored scout cars. These scout cars all appeared very new. After our initial landing we also encountered a "Pathie" TL3 armored car, we watched it chug up a hill look around then chug back off. All of these vehicles stunk horribly of hydrocarbon based fuels. The soldiers uniforms and appearance were unprofessional and undisciplined at best, several of the officers appeared to have a greater degree of confidence and competence. We also witnessed the conscription of numerous individuals.
We stopped at several small villages along the way and "Anti-Star Viking" prejudice was plainly evident. I would appear that Guild crews have been very active in the Nicosia system. Most of the locals were living in TL2 conditions at best and were incapable of repairing even the simplest of mechanical devices. Though their agricultural system were sufficient for subsistence means they appeared to be capable of very little else. The Data Priests were highly regarded and helped the locals fix broken objects for little more than food and a roof over their heads for the night. Even among the military the Data Priests were allowed fairly universal access.
Continuing along we finally reached the village of Sarpedon. It was a heavily fortified trading city built on the banks of the river. In the NE corner of the city was a high walled military fortress, we couldn't get a good look at the buildings in there so I won't speculate on the strength of the forces guarding the city. To the West of the fortress on the opposite side of the North-South gravway spur is a large hill atop this hill is the Data Priest's College an archives. It was here that the Data Priests were hoping to find information regarding the possible artifact cache at Maladaar.
Traveling through the city I was struck by the vibrance and activity. Everyone seemed to have a place to go to and the amount of local commerce was exciting. I was also struck the depth of the slums and the poverty of the average man. After a number of hours we determined that our Hiver advisor Elvis was being held captive in the fortress. Our plans to rescue Elvis went awry when an off worlder I presumed to be a RC intelligence operative turned out to be a Guild operative. He arranged for our extraction from the city and the rescue of Elvis. Unfortunately for us we realized our mistake upon boarding his sealed grav sled. A second grav vehicle strafed and bombed the city proclaiming themselves "Star Vikings" through a series of external speakers. I hate to think of the number of innocent people they killed just to vilify the RC.
We were transported to a hidden Guild base in the polar regions of Nicosia, the base was definitely pre-collapse and was well concealed in a snow field. We were incarcerated and interrogated at the Guild base for a number of weeks by a Guild Captain named ? . Eventually we were transferred to a Guild ship for incarceration at another Guild facility in Diaspora. After a number of jumps which I speculate took us to the Kipper system where the ship was captured by a well developed Vampire Fleet. When we were transferred from the Guild ship to one of the Vampire's we observed the following vessels in close proximity:
Because of the Jump limitations of the Subsidized Merchant I have to assume that it was merely traveling with this fleet rather than a true member of the group as the Merchant would have been unable to Jump out of the Quarry/Taumotu/Kipper/ Mitchell cluster. Because of the location of this Vampire fleet and their proximity to the Mitchell system I am forced to wonder if this could be the group partially responsible for the loss of the Reine Soleil and the Lady Elise. We never got close enough to the Subsidized Merchant to confirm it's identity. It is possible that this fleet has been acting to re-supply the Vampire's trapped in the Mitchell system.
After a number of conversations with crew members aboard the Archer and with Virus infected robots themselves it became apparent that the leader of this Vampire Fleet was the Mercenary Cruiser.
It quickly became apparent that the crew of Archer, the ship we had been transferred to, where from a variety of occupations including planetary peasant and captured starship crew members. A number of Guild crew members were also aboard as well as a group of rebels sealed in the starboard half of the vessel. Archer appeared to have once been a quite caring vessel concerned with both her own welfare as well as the well being of her crew. According to an ex-Guild crew man we found aboard, Able Hruthbar, Archer had been part of a Vampire fleet operating in Massila when they encountered a number of other Vampire's, a fight broke out and Archer was forced to destroy part of the ship in order to save herself. From information obtained through Archers ceaseless talk over the ship intercom I gathered the following. Archer has attempted to communicate with these other vessels using the starboard MFD array, the other vessels in turn attempted to re-infect Archer with their own viral code. Archer did the only thing she could to preserve herself. She destroyed every circuit infected with the new code, in the process lobotomizing herself.
In a way this was particularly useful for us because her own inability to properly comprehend what was occurring led to a moment of indecision which allowed us to deactivate the computer. We accomplished this by establishing a tenuous alliance with the Guild members, Hruthbar, Gizmo and an number of other Virus controlled robots, as well as the rebel faction. Our coup was not bloodless the entire Guild crew was killed in their assault of engineering. I was forced to use the elevators as offensive weapons to kill a number of "Children of the Ship" who were attempting to retake the bridge and Stinger was killed but the automated bridge defense system. Once we had control of the ship we had a bigger problem to deal with. What did we do with the robots that had sided with us during the take over, by their own admission they could not be trusted to keep our secret. So after a few moments negotiation we decided to deactivate the robots and leave them in place to be reactivated at a later date. I deemed this also to dangerous so after we had shut them down I grabbed their CPU's for study at an RC lab. I also grabbed every major chip I could find in Archer's main processing unit.
As a final favor for saving his life and granting him his freedom Hruthbar gave us the location of an important Guild forward base. Jump. Information gathered from the Guild base on Nicosia seems to indicate the planet Gagesha in Guild recruiting activities.
Through contacts aboard the ship and with the human underground on Promise we made our exit from the ship in broad daylight and under the guns of two sentient Intrepids. We quickly hooked up with the human resistance on Promise and were taken for a remote meeting with their leader #1. #1 seemed a likable enough fellow, intelligent and thoughtful, he was obviously bright enough to organize, equip and control an resistance on a planet which had been occupied by Virus for more that sixty-five years. His people, though poorly equipped had been waging a covert war against the machines for quite some time. If given proper equipment they could become a force to reckon with. Enclosed with my full report is all the data we collected in Star City as well as information provided to us by the human resistance.
While we were in #1's care we were introduced to a Vargr from the Covenant of Sufren. This was an exciting discovery that I'm sure will electrify the people of the Coalition. Also included in my report is information regarding the political climate, people and status of the Covenant of Sufren. I'm sure this data will be invaluable in providing assistance and receiving assistance from these people.
We uncovered a number of useful facts about the organization of Promise's government as well as gathering data on the exact location of all the major structures in Star City. The following pieces of information will prove to be particularly important.
On Promise we found the second of the Kayla clones. This woman, known only as "The Captain" was in charge of a large airborne pleasure yacht. She lacked any memory of a past and has apparently been planted on this world by a group of individuals as yet unknown. For reasons which are also unknown.
As the boundaries of the Reformation Coalition I have greeted my return to the Coalition with increasing trepidation and though the information I have returned with potentially out weighs the loss of a single S-Class Scout Courier. However, the loss of nearly 50% of my command and the deaths that I have been responsible for weigh heavily upon my soul. This weight combined with the potentiality that I may not be the person I have come to believe I am has only served to deepen my conviction that I am truly D'zvyadya'ayanishi, cursed for eternity as the handmaiden of death. Perhaps this thing, referred to by my team as nanotechnology, will be the key to my release. Or it will be my undoing.
I must find a way to return to Nicosia and search for the cache at Maladaar. My first double exists on that world somewhere and I will find her.