Overwhelming Forces, Immovable Objects
THE INDEPENDENCE SOLDIERS:
Serenity Valley, Hera
On April 30th, 2511, Special Operations and the 5th division pull out of Athens entirely, suffering significant losses punching through the orbiting Alliance forces. Already en route to their next station they learn they've been ordered to reinforce ground units on the border world of Hera, the most hotly contested rock in the system. Iddy immediately flies into a hysterical fit and requires sedation by the ship's medical staff. Once she regains her composure, though still clearly anxious, only Angelina's most earnest efforts dissuade Major Shang from finally removing her from active duty.
Upon arriving at Hera the 5th division makes a daring, but ultimately doomed, attempt to touchdown outside Serenity Valley in a fleet of lightly armored Dragonflies. Practically the entire division is lost in mid-air from Alliance anti-air defenses. Special Operations, however, under the wiser leadership of Major Shang, is dropped directly into the valley onboard five Independence blockade runners, all modified Fireflies. Shang's most recent recruits, a small three member team who made something of a name for themselves back on Athens, are privileged to ride first class...bouncing about among a few dozen unsecured crates of protein paste, medical supplies and immunization supplements. Though their transport, Go Long, is piloted by an apparently suicidal shing jing bing, they offer no complaints for the terrifying ride as they're one of only three ships to successfully navigate the deadly Alliance air defense canopy.
After helping unload the cargo and stowing it aboard the ship's supply skiff, the PC's receive their orders and catch a ride on a passing gun mule, hurrying ahead to report to their new unit. Arriving at a series of bombed out bunkers, they are horrified to find the unit they're to reinforce has apparently been nearly wiped out already. In fact, the dead clearly outnumber the living several times over and the entire valley seems to be one humongous mass grave spotted by a few scattered pockets of fierce fighting. The unit itself is little more than a ragged mishmash of several devastated brigades, folded together into one barely functional mass under a single commander. It even seems to lack any official designation.
Immediately they are snatched up by the unit's apparent commander, Sergeant Reynolds, and ordered to reinforce a bunker on the southern ridge. Dazed at the seeming hell they've been dropped in, the PC's nevertheless hustle to the south ridge to take their position. The good news they bring to the starving and deathly ill men there regarding the shipment they rode in on meets with palpable relief and a few weak cheers. When the supply skiff fails to materialize, however, the PC's find themselves regarded as pariahs. Once it's clear the supplies aren't coming at all, no one in the unit will so much as speak to them.
By the following day little has occurred and Iddy has taken it upon herself to reinforce the makeshift string of rusting iron abatises below with a variety of creative mines and remote detonated explosives. Ringo finds he's more or less relegated to guarding Rink while she does so, as she's noticed several of their new comrades eyeing him hungrily. Angelina proves a godsend to the men, however, using the last of her field medical gear treating them. She is heart broken when her supplies run out long before even a fraction of the infected wounds and fevers have been properly treated. By the end of the second day, though, the southern bunker complex has largely been cleared of infectious material (and infectious men) and it's defenses heavily reinforced.
After three days among the now somewhat hostile company, the PC's are summoned to the command bunker complex to meet with Sergeant Reynolds. There they are interviewed and questioned concerning their training and experience. Once satisfied, Sergeant Reynolds sits them down to inform them of a particular mission he has in mind that might make use of a trio of SpecOps. They are told of a secret tunnel he and his men dug weeks ago, leading from the southern complex to a cleverly concealed trapdoor in the field below (back when they still held that area). Reynolds and his men were painfully aware that this particular position would eventually be overrun by Alliance forces and had intended the tunnel to be used to harass the enemy rear should they, in fact, move in and seize the area. Now, however, it seems the Alliance troops below have built or parked something over the trapdoor. A recon down the tunnel several days ago reported that the door is definitely being held down by something heavy and simply can't be budged. The fact that the Alliance forces haven't used the tunnel themselves seems to indicate that they aren't aware of it, but clearing that trapdoor is something Reynolds would very much like done. Until now he didn't think it was possible. There's a whole camp of purple bellies set up around the chou wan thing.
What comes to mind now, though, is that they've noticed over the past month or so that the various armored vehicles and trucks the Alliance has in the area are all topped off regularly by a single fuel truck. Why the individual units don't keep fuel depoted in the area he has no idea, but the fact remains that they've spotted the same fuel truck visiting and tanking off at each Alliance encampment in the area for a month now. And it makes it's rounds every seven days, regular as clockwork. In fact, it's due tomorrow.
Even more interesting is that they've noticed the entire unit camped there was replaced a couple of days ago by an entirely new unit. Reynolds is aware that this particular group is more or less composed of what's left of the Alliance 23rd Brigade who just got knocked off the hill about a mile to the south by Rickshaw's Independents. And it's a safe bet they have not yet met the tanker crew. Further, the tanker truck just so happens to make a maintenance stop right there in that camp.
Corporal Alleyne fills them in on the very simple plan. Don some captured Alliance gear, sneak off down the hill past the Alliance ringed about below and waylay that truck. Quietly replace the crew and move on to the camp where that trapdoor is laying. Fuel up the Alliance vehicles like normal, but use the maintenance down time to find a way to clear that tunnel. And while you're at it, make use of that demolitions training and skunk those two dug-in artillery trucks down there. Gui, anything else they can do to soften up the area would be welcomed. The Sergeant has plans for that patch of ground.
Though the Corporal has clear concerns about sending Iddy on the mission, considering her odd behavior, the PC's manage to sooth her concerns and they are sent on their way. After departing the debriefing, the PC's hoof it back to the southern bunker, discussing their options along the way. Once there they change into the second hand Alliance combat gear waiting there for them. They are disappointed to find the assault rifles quite low on ammo and only three Alliance grenades could be scrounged up. Ringo, in particular, is stunned that he might have to leave his Grizzly behind. It takes some time for the other two to talk him into leaving it at the central bunker. Iddy, on the other hand, flat out refuses to part with Rink, claiming a dog riding around in a fuel truck shouldn't blow their cover. After much grumbling it is allowed and the PC's sneak down the maze of trenches around the bunker, approaching the edge of the compound.
The team is able to slip out of the trenches and crawl the hundred meters to the razor wire without (as far as they know) being spotted. They do have a rather intense moment when they discover the field beyond has been mined, thanks to Ringo's sharp eyes. Luckily the Alliance seems to have run out of heaters and peepeyes. Ringo finds the cheaper trip mines relatively easy to spot if you take your time looking and Iddy is able to disarm those that can't be avoided with little difficulty. Angelina has her hands full keeping Rink from accidentally discharging a mine, though.
After sneaking and crawling for nearly two hours the team is able to snip through the razor wire and avoid the scattered machine gun nests beyond, keeping to the rocks as much as possible. Finding themselves at last inside Alliance territory, roughly between the target camp and the one east of it, they search for a spot to lay low until the tanker rolls by tomorrow. They are able to eventually find a jumble of boulders where some clever soldier has dug a hidey hole. They sack out there for the night, concealing their presence as best they can.
The night passes relatively well, despite the cramped quarters, and the team greets the smoky sunrise with canteens and carbo packs. By mid-morning they move carefully forward and easily find the well-worn path through the rocks made by the hundreds of vehicles that have passed this way before. Iddy steps up to plant the "little thumper" she rigged during the night and the team moves out of sight. After a one hour wait they hear the rumble of the fuel tanker moving down the wide path, right on schedule.
As the tanker passes, Iddy triggers her thumper just under the front axle. After a loud thump, jarring the cab of the truck a good bit but doing no damage, the team watches as the truck slides to a halt. Once the two crewmen spend a moment on the radio they exit the truck to check the front end. The team then slides casually out of hiding, looking for all the world as if they've just come running to investigate the loud noise. Angelina distracts the two men with questions and the team soon have them under the gun. They then realize that, though they planned out taking the truck in detail, they hadn't discussed what to do with the crewmen.
Taking prisoners, considering their mission, is not an option, nor is simply shooting them as they are, technically, prisoners already. After a quick conference the team hustles the men out into the rocks to interrogate them. Within an hour, with Ringo's convincing threats with a knife, the crewmen have caved and given up the pass code as well as detailing their routine at the camp ahead. The team then strip them (replacing the elements of their own gear that seem especially worn or sport suspicious bullet holes) and hike them over to the hidey hole where they slept last night. Thankful that they stuffed their "hustle gear" in the bottom of their packs, they break out the plastic restraints and truss the two men up, forcing them into the hole. While Iddy drives a spike with a hunk of leftover demo junk taped to it deep into the lip of the hole, Angelina convinces them that the "explosive device" will detonate if they attempt to leave before they come back for them. The team then double times it back to the truck, Iddy sets her small charge on the front tire of the truck and the team makes for the camp ahead.
Arriving at the camp the team gives the appropriate pass code, finding to their relief that is seems to be good, and moves in to park before the three cargo trucks there. With casual looks around the main camp body they immediately determine the location of the trapdoor, using the landmarks Corporal Alleyne related to them. It would seem the camp has erected it's supply tent right on top of it. As they jump out to begin refueling the three trucks a couple of different Alliance soldiers wander over to greet them, but no one seems to take a peculiar interest. In short order they move on to the two artillery trucks on the far side of the camp, noting that no one seems to find it unusual for them to do so. There, however, the soldiers manning the cannons turn a keen eye to them as they move to top off the tanks. Clearly these guys take their jobs seriously and don't like anyone else handling their gear without supervision.
Angelina gives the gunners a flirtatious smile and begins asking a multitude of inane questions about the "big guns". She apparently finds big guns terribly fascinating, a point of view the three gunners, it seems, can completely relate to. Unfortunately she trips over her own two feet while flirting with the men, falling flat on her face. On the other hand this seems to go over well as the gunners nearly trip over their own rushing to help her. Turning it around she is able to easily captivate all three with the process of helping her to her feet. In short order the three gunners are practically fawning and completely unaware of the other two PC's.
While Ringo casually hauls the fuel line over and begins refilling the tanks, Iddy uses the distraction to spend some Plot Points and fasten several powerful explosives to the underside of both trucks unobserved. The PC's then board the tanker and quickly move off toward the gate. As they veer slightly toward the supply tent and pass it, Iddy triggers the small charge on the truck's front tire. Grinding to a halt the PC's exit the truck frowning, making out as if they've blown a tire, darn the luck. They begin hauling out their tools to change it, politely waving off offers to help by the infantrymen keen on impressing the two attractive female tankers. Taking advantage of the interest, Angelina and Iddy shuck their armor and make a real show out of changing the blown tire while Ringo attempts to slip around and into the supply tent.
Unfortunately Ringo finds the tent is occupied and has to deal with an irate and clearly overworked supply sergeant. Taking his chances, Ringo grabs the portly man by the hair and beats him unconscious when he attempts to hustle him back out of the tent. Moving quickly he hauls the three large crates off the top of the spot where the trapdoor should be, locates it and springs it open. The three Independents waiting there then haul the unconscious supply sergeant into the tunnel to bind and gag him. Coordinating with them Ringo sends word for the Independents on the far end to move down the tunnel to grab what they can from the supply tent (as well as hauling the supply sergeant back to the bunker complex). He then exits the tent to help his teammates with the tire.
Reporting his success to the two of them they quickly decide they need a diversion to ensure the Independents in the tunnel have time to clear out the supply tent as much as possible without interference. After spending a moment they decide to begin their maintenance right where they're parked in order to oversee the supply tent.
The team experiences a tense moment when an Alliance Major, irritated at all the distracted troopers stumbling about, stomps over to grill them as to why they have a damned fuel tanker taking up half of his camp. Ringo and Angelina manage to respond appropriately and mollify the Major somewhat, though they are given one half hour to have "that damned monster out of the way". Iddy gets a hard nudge from Angelina when she tries to respond to the officer, so remains quiet. Moving quickly the team replaces the tire, attaches the blown one to the carriage and begins a rapid maintenance routine on the tanker. Wracking their brains to come up with some sort of diversion that won't draw any more attention to themselves from the officers, the PC's finally settle on letting Iddy set fire to something.
While Ringo and Angelina continue with the maintenance check, Iddy convinces Rink to stay in the cab of the truck and catches a passing trooper to get directions to the latrine. Grabbing her pack she hustles out with the helpful trooper in the lead, checking out this end of the camp's layout along the way. The trooper clears the men from the latrine and politely waits at the door as she tends to her business, though likely wondering why she keeps calling him "booger". Inside she wastes no time in preparing her incendiaries with sticky strips and remote detonators. Placing the explosives in her pack she grabs her knife and cuts a small slit to peer into the tent sharing a wall with the latrine. Sure enough she finds two modified hover cars within the large tent beyond. Cutting a proper hole in the adjoining walls she slips through and attaches a bundle of incendiaries to the fuel tanks of each vehicle as well as dropping one behind the pile of crates nearby. She also spends a moment ripping off the glove compartments of both vehicles, gleefully coming away with a few credits. She then slips back into the latrine and accepts the trooper's offer to escort her back to her vehicle.
Back at the truck the PC's quickly wrap up their maintenance, board the tanker and move out toward the gate under the baleful eye of the Irritated Major. Passing through without difficulty the PC's head off to the east and the next camp the tanker is scheduled to visit. On the road, just out of sight of the Alliance camp, Iddy sets off all the charges she placed and takes pleasure in the idea of setting fire to the "booger nest" they've left behind. The PC's say a quick prayer that it will be enough to keep the purple bellies out of their supply tent for a little while longer.
After only minutes the PC's can clearly see a column of thick, black smoke rising up from the camp behind them. Reasoning that the purple bellies aren't going to need long to start putting two and two together they decide it's time to ditch the tanker and hoof it for the bunkers. After a moment of reconsideration, however, they instead change course and drive overland straight for the hill. On the outskirts they slow and wait anxiously to begin taking fire from their comrades above. Sure enough they soon come under a spattering of small arms fire and come to a halt. Very quickly, however, the friendly fire ceases. Several tense moments later they spy a brown flag fashioned from a pole and some unfortunate person's trousers being waved high up on the hill. Taking it as a sign to proceed, they do so...at a very non-threatening pace.
In short order they have the nearly full tanker of fuel parked right in the middle of the compound's motor pool. They exit the vehicle, not to cheers or congratulations, but to a beehive of frantic activity. They soon learn that the Sergeant has just led a major offensive against the forces in the fields below the hill, striking both overland and through the tunnel they just cleared an hour ago. Hopefully their diversion and the loss of both artillery pieces will give them the edge they desperately need. Following the direction of a nearby Corporal they sprint off to the southern ridge to pitch in.
THE EX-BLUE SUN AGENTS:
Blue Sun Research Vessel "Jiuxing", Persephone orbit
The PC's shake off their latest flashback, finding it surprisingly easy despite the rapid onset between it and the previous one. Allowing Michael Seven a moment to retrieve his Grizzly and again expressing their appreciation to Rink, the PC's decide to retrieve the medical staff. Moving back to the second section of the ship, where they left them, they find them gone. It's only moments before they realize the door to the escape pods is standing open and all the pods have apparently been ejected. Reasoning that far more pods have been deployed than needed for the medical staff to have evacuated, it's clear they didn't intend for the PC's to escape.
Snatching up the crowbars themselves they grumble as they hoof it back to the control room and the last fused airlock to begin working on the seal. After nearly a half hour of hard work they're very sweaty but nowhere near breaching it. Echo at last objects to running around, banging on airlocks, wearing nothing but a now torn and tattered paper hospital gown. The PC's gladly lay aside their tools and hike back to the personnel quarters to look for more appropriate clothing.
Before they can get there, however, the dreadful tingling sets in.
THE INDEPENDENCE SOLDIERS:
Serenity Valley, Hera
Arriving at the southern bunker complex the PC's find the men are already pouring back out of the tunnel and preparing to collapse it. They learn that an air skiff has apparently come out of nowhere and delivered a severe pounding on the Independent troops attempting to hold the camp they had just seized. Furthermore, Alliance reinforcements moved in to engage them much more quickly than they anticipated. It doesn't look as if they'll be able to link up with Rickshaw's Independent unit to the south and stabilize the line like they'd planned. Nevertheless, assuming they can keep the air skiff busy to the west and hold the line here at the southern bunker for a couple of hours, Sergeant Reynold's expects to pull back to the bunker complex. There they can draw the main force of the Alliance in after them and shatter them with an air strike from the 82nd. The PC's are ordered to toe the line and hold the bunker, keeping the Alliance units here engaged while the rest of the unit pulls back from the west flank.
Finally taking the opportunity to ditch the Alliance gear and retrieve their own, the PC's grab defensible positions along the trench line ahead of the bunker and prepare to repel.
Within minutes three double lines of Alliance infantry begin pouring across the field below, preceded by a short rain of mortar fire. After surviving the mortar strike without injury the PC's and the defenders in the bunker begin picking off targets as the horde advances. Before long the purple bellies reach the outermost trenches and begin gathering there, though taking heavy loses from the Independent sniping in the process. Presently they begin leap-frogging through the maze of trenches, under cover of suppression fire from the teams behind them, until they reach and beginning filling the front trench.
Leaving the others to defend the bunker itself, the PC's break out around the corner of the bunker and sprint for the west machine gun nest, hoping to fire on the invader's flank. Angelina is badly hit and Ringo is wounded from enemy fire on the short run, but they make it to cover, returning fire over the sandbag wall. After nearly a minute of mutual sniping from the growing crowd of Alliance soldiers in the front trench, Iddy taps the others and signals to hold fire, hoping they'll take the bait and move into the abitises. They quickly do and, once there's a respectable number crawling through, Iddy triggers the white phosphorus mines she planted there previously. The abitises explode in a bright wave, killing the purple bellies there and setting fire to a score of them in the trenches below.
The PC's take advantage of the chaos to relocate to the eastern machine gun nest, as it was breached with propelled grenades moments ago. With the sandbags burst and scattered, Ringo and Iddy drop prone atop the low mound of earth to cover the eastern flank of the bunker while Angelina mounts the heavy machine gun.
Again the Alliance soldiers begin moving into the bunker's shadow within the foremost trench, again taking heavy losses from the bunker fire, Ringo's Grizzly, Iddy's propelled grenades and Angelina's deadly heavy machine gun. The PC's then notice that the unit reinforcing the one assaulting them has been joined by two APC's sporting rocket packs. Both vehicles move into position below, clearly intending to open fire on the bunker. The PC's yell out a warning to the bunker to their left, while Iddy abandons her position to sprint up the hill toward the fuel tanker. Ringo and Angelina attempt to cover her but she is hit by enemy fire multiple times and finally knocked unconscious. As the rockets begin slamming into the bunker the men within attempt to flee but are caught in the blast as several penetrate the bunker walls.
Ringo and Angelina abandon the remains of the nest and sprint up the hill toward the command bunker complex and the fuel tanker there. Almost reaching the rock and sandbag walls surrounding the old motor pool, they are both hit and Angelina falls. Ringo vaults over the low wall, badly wounded and reaches the truck. As Alliance infantry pour around the burning remains of the bunker, he starts the tanker's engine and mills around facing south. Gunning the truck he aims for the sandbag wall, jumping free just as it hits. It careens over, flips and rolls down toward the bunker and the purple swarm below.
From his position at the broken sandbag wall, Ringo watches the truck plow through the enemy soldiers before rolling to rest against the remains of the western machine gun mound. He opens fire on the truck with a propelled grenade and ignites the fuel sloshing from the broken rear tank, setting the entire southern slope ablaze.
Under cover behind the wall of flame he crawls over the sandbag wall and limps to Angelina. After tossing her over the wall he goes for Iddy, doing the same for her. Angelina takes her Second Wind and regains consciousness, then takes her place next to Ringo at the wall. They wait for the flames to die down and the Alliance to come for them.
Nearly fifteen minutes later their eyes are drawn to the night sky as a dozen gargantuan Alliance gunship breach atmo and hang hissing above the valley. Their last conscious memory is seared with the glare of hundreds of air to ground missiles inundating the Independent fortifications and ground troops from one end of Serenity Valley to the other.
THE EX-BLUE SUN AGENTS:
Blue Sun Research Vessel "Jiuxing", Persephone orbit
The PC's take a moment to shake off the horror of their last flashback before sprinting for the personnel quarters. There they easily locate appropriate clothing among the evacuated medical staff's possessions, as well as several bits of gear that may prove useful. Sierra Three spends a little too much time digging through the staff's personal effects, pocketing anything of slightest value she can find, until Echo Five finally stops her. On the way back to the fused airlock the team stops to collect the heavy pistols and ballistic mesh from the two dead security guards, giving them to Sierra and Echo.
At the airlock the PC's decide to make the best of what time they have before the next flashback kicks in. After several minutes of digging at the airlock seal, taking shifts with the two crowbars, the PC's feel they are close to breaking through to the engineering section. They chat while they working, determining together that they have two primary goals. First, to deal with the threat of the blue gloves on board. Second, to find a way off this ship. According the layout they accessed in the control room, there should be one hen da docking bay neighboring the engineering section beyond this door. With any luck at all they can accomplish both goals at once.
The tingling precursor to the flashback sets in, however, and the PC's retreat to the command center before it hits.
THE YOUNG READERS:
The Academy Compound, Persephone
After a far too short Sunday off, the PC's are again thrust into an arduous six-day per week schedule. When Monday's academic studies end at 10:00 AM and they are hustled off to the gymnasium they realize their physical training quarter has officially begun. Though they had the impression that the exhausting four hour daily regimen of physical exercise they've undergone previously was demanding, they find their current training regimen comparatively nightmarish. After the standard four hours of cardiovascular exercise, weight training and martial arts drills they find themselves thrust into a further four hours of far more demanding trials. The track, field and workout rooms that they once admired quickly becomes an loathsome experience when they become intimately acquainted with its variable atmospheric pressure and temperature settings. Otherwise routine physical exercises becomes insanely difficult or even flatly impossible to perform under the seemingly randomized and dangerously extreme conditions they are forced to endure.
Several individual members of the class currently undergoing their physical training quarter soon fall to the wayside, disappearing from the camp without a trace, during the hellish three week program. Academic grades falter, then plummet, across the board. Corporal punishment makes its first appearance, replacing push-ups and "holding the wall" for even minor transgressions. By the end of the third week most of the class sport faint scars and glaring welts from the Morale Officer's cane. Few even bother trying to maintain their grade point average anymore.
None of the physical training class are even possessed of the will to resent their names being taken and replaced by alphanumeric designations.
Toward the end of the last week of February the PC's report to the track at 10:01 AM as usual, along with the rest of the class. Now somewhat reduced in number after over a dozen classmates "whipped out" (disappeared in the night), they take up formation along the track like Pavlovian dogs, awaiting the shock of another daily exercise regimen. To their surprise the first four hour workout ends with their trainers driving them en masse down the track and off onto the "Spring Trail". Clearly another twenty mile hike is order, though it is unusual for one to occur so late in the day.
The PC's begin their hike with the rest of class and soon find the previous workout has so drained them that the otherwise routine challenge of negotiating the natural inclines and man-made obstacle courses is far more difficult than ever before. As they jog panting along, barely breathed whispers echo down the formation that the quarter's final exams must have finally come. In due course, as they pass the twenty mile marker and continue on, it seems clear that this is so.
By the end of the thirty mile course the PC's, along with the rest of the class, collapse twitching at the end of the trail. Several of the class have fallen behind during the hike, including Echo Five. Unlike other such hikes, however, there was no Morale Officer to literally whip them back into formation and these stragglers now bring up the rear. Many miles away from the Academy compound, further than any of them have ever been before, they can only lay gasping in the snow as the result of their examination are announced.
Michael Seven: Passed.
Echo Five: Failed.
Sierra Three: Passed.
As they lay, grasping every moment of rest that they can, they are mildly surprised (lacking the energy to feel much more) when the trainers announce that they may return to the Academy compound in three days. Any trainee caught within sight of the Academy sentries before 1000 hours on that day will be shot. The trainers then simply turn, board their hover truck and leave back down the trail.
After resting a while longer the PC's finally move and beginning reorganizing their unit. After identifying those members with any respectable survival skills, they are sent out to gather supplies while the rest of the team (including the PC's, who have no wilderness skills worth noting) set up camp and secure defenses against predators.
As the five units naturally begin segregating away from each other and incidents of individual units competing for resources occur, the PC's intercede in an attempt to convince the other units to band together as a class. With overwhelming success they are able to convince the class as a whole to come together and organize as a single unit. By the midnight they've completed construction of basic defenses as well as shelters, secured a meager income of food from foraging and hunting and are relatively well prepared for their three day camp out.
Three days later, at 1011 hours, the physical training class stumbles through the rear gate of the Academy compound, sporting numerous infections and several cases of frostbite. There they promptly come under the Morale Officer's cane for reporting for duty ten minutes late. After the meaningless beatings have been administered, the class stands in a slightly swaying formation while results are announced.
Michael Seven: Failed.
Echo Five: Passed.
Sierra Three: Passed.
Before they have time to plumb the depths of their apathy the class is immediately split into teams again and escorted from the field. Presently the PC's find their team has been lead into a poorly lit room deep beneath the basement of the Academy gymnasium. There they are manacled to simple iron hoops in the floor to await their fate. One by one their teammates are taken away by masked staff members and dragged, still bound, through the featureless black door opposite the entrance.
After several tense minutes the regularly appearing trio of masked men come at last for the PC's, one by one. Beyond the plain black door they are tossed roughly into individual rooms where solid steel tables await them...adorned with hard leather cuffs and trays of unidentifiable instruments.
Throughout the three hour torture sessions only one question is asked.
What is your name?
As the merciless trainers complete their interrogations and all members of the class have been examined, they are escorted (in some cases, carried) to the infirmary ward. There their wounds and bruises are treated as the results are announced.
Michael Seven: Passed.
Echo Five: Passed.
Sierra Three: Passed.
Once released to their dorms the PC's, along with the rest of the graduating class, take the liberty of passing out on their racks, too tired even for nightmares.
THE EX-BLUE SUN AGENTS:
Blue Sun Research Vessel "Jiuxing", Persephone orbit
After a moment to recover from the ever increasingly traumatic flashbacks the PC's head for the airlock, hoping to break through before an even more horrifying bout of memory assails them. In short order they breach the seal and drive open the door with their crowbars. Beyond they find no readily apparent sign that the blue gloves are nearby.
Heading immediately for engineering, the PC's scour the area for indications of sabotage or damage. They find none and move on to the docking bay to look for the blue gloves, hoping they at least have a ship docked there. Immediately they find not only the ship they hoped for but the blue gloves themselves, who are across the bay engaged with some unidentified device. At the aggressive snarl from Rink, both men immediately stand and turn to face them. As Michael shoulders his Grizzly and prepares to fire the two merely glance at one another, making no attempt to dodge. Michael opens fire, spending some Plot Points, and drops both of them with a head shot.
At Echo's gasp Michael realizes his left side is beginning to tingle slightly and quickly fires off three more head shots on the two downed men, missing once but hitting both of them. With a spasm he collapses alongside his teammates.
THE YOUNG READERS:
The Academy Compound, Persephone
The following morning, the PC's team is directed to the eastern barracks. Within they find a simple hall of bunks like those they left back in their own dorm. Without explanation they are directed inside and left to their own devices. After more than an hour waiting at ease they realize that likely no one is coming to relay orders and slowly begin to fall out of formation. Taking a random bunk as their own, they seize the rare opportunity to rest. In time they begin to converse casually with one another for the first time in weeks. In moments other teams begin to join them, directed inside without explanation as they were, until the entire class have arrived, fallen out of formation of their own accord and now lounge randomly around the barracks.
For two days the class occupies the barracks with their meals brought to them in disposable containers by silent cafeteria staff. With no orders to follow and nothing readily apparent that is expected of them, the class spends their time resting, talking and speculating idly on their fate. Just as they begin to relax and fully enjoy the respite, the double doors of the barracks are flung open at 0600 of the third day and the class wakes to the motivational inspiration of the Morale Officer's cane. Apparently they've fallen out of formation without direction from an Academy trainer.
After being beaten out of the doors and into formation on the honor field, the class receives the official pass/fail announcements for the physical training quarter. The PC's note that none of those few listed as "failed" ever arrived at the barracks two days ago, nor or they to be seen now. Any relief the PC's may feel at being spared whatever fate has befallen their failing classmates is overshadowed with the commencement of the tactical training quarter.
Returning to their dorm the PC's have time only to secure their class material before double-timing to the study hall. Receiving demerits for being late, the class does their best to catch up on the lessons they've let slide during the last quarter. As 1000 hours passes and lessons continue the class breathes a stifled sigh of relief that academic studies seem to have reverted to eight hours a day again.
At 1400 the class is dismissed and hustles to the honor field as directed. There the class is divided into teams again and assigned instructors for the quarter. They are lead to the tactical studies building and finally given the opportunity to lay hands on the fascinating tactical simulators and interactive games they spied briefly during orientation. In short order the PC's are delighted to learn that the tactical training quarter seems to primarily consist of strategic simulations, historical studies and competitive games. Refreshed slightly from their recent respite, their team dives in with relish and soon finds the four hour course too short for their liking.
After three weeks the PC's begin watching for indications that the quarterly finals are approaching, but there is no discernible change in the study routine. However, a two-day Weiqi ("go") elimination tournament is announced at 1400 hours and the entire class are soon assigned their initial opponents. Convinced that the tournament is part of the final examinations, competition is fierce and tensions escalate quickly.
Michael Seven is eliminated almost immediately, losing both his first two matches. Echo Five makes it to the finals, defeating almost all of her opponents, but is expelled in her first match of the final rounds. Sierra Three loses her first match but takes her second. She is eliminated early with a crushing defeat in her third match.
Though an ultimate victor emerges, no honor is bestowed upon her and the initial examination results are announced without preamble.
Michael Seven: Failed
Echo Five: Passed
Sierra Three: Failed
The class is immediately ushered out of the games hall and into the tactical simulations room before they can process their anxiety. There they are assigned individual simulators and find themselves suddenly commanding computer generated naval groups in a simulated battle that's already well underway. As their classmates are eliminated by direct attacks on their virtual command ships, fellow cadets find themselves folding the surviving units into their own groups and slowly commanding more and more small units and battle groups. It is clear early on that the Alliance fleet they collectively command is vastly outnumbered by the virtual enemy and is slowly being decimated.
Michael Five leads his group into battle under the direction of his virtual superiors, managing to draw an enemy battle group away from a teammate's and even eliminating or crippling almost the entire group. However, he soon comes under fire from stealth craft armed with nuclear weapons his sensor officer failed to detect. He destroys the enemy that cripples his command ship but is destroyed soon after, unable to effectively defend himself.
Echo Five performs extraordinarily well, leading her group on several successful strikes and surviving until nearly the final half hour of the simulation, eventually commanding seven damaged battle groups. She even manages to eliminate most of the irrational behavior her virtual subordinates are displaying by effectively raising morale. Her heavily damaged command ship is finally destroyed in a collision with a crippled enemy ship near the end of the simulation.
Sierra Three performs well in the first half hour of the battle, following an aggressive strategy that manages to bring her subordinates somewhat into focus. The strain of battle soon wears on them, however, and she begins losing control of her group when she attempts to integrate rogue groups into her command. She soon finds herself isolated from the main Alliance fleet and is destroyed.
Dealing not only with the impossible tactical situation but with the irrational reactions of the demoralized virtual officers under their command, the cadets are all quickly overwhelmed and the battle is lost in less than two hours. The simulated Alliance fleet is utterly destroyed.
Again without preamble, the results are quickly tabulated and announced as the cadets attempt to recover from the shock.
Michael Seven: Passed
Echo Five: Passed
Sierra Three: Passed
Immediately after the announcement of the examination results, the class is hustled out of the tactical studies building and onto the field. There they are divided into seven man teams and the first combat ball match is announced. They are issued red and blue team jerseys and comms, but are not issued pads or protective gear. The PC's teams are both drawn for the first match.
Michael Seven and Echo Five have been assigned to blue team, Sierra Three to red team. With blue team taking possession of the ball for the first drive, Michael and Echo draw positions as receivers and take their places. Sierra draws a guard position and takes her place as well. As the whistle sounds Michael and Echo move out and attempt to evade their blockers. Both succeed and sprint push deep into the opponent's field. Sierra meanwhile engages the tackle homing in on her captain. She successfully grapples him, slowing him enough to allow her captain to engage the blue team captain. Michael and Echo are soon engaged by their pursuing blockers and forced to defend themselves, keeping their ears open for the signal of an incoming pass.
Sierra attempts to take down her opposing blue tackle. Though she fails to bring him down, she does manage to keep him engaged and is bruised a bit for her efforts. The red tackle successfully evades the blue blocker and slams into the blue captain, leaving the red captain free. He, however, fails to engage the blue captain who quickly breaks free of the tackle, signals Echo for a pass and throws the ball deep into the red field. Echo catches the pass and in moments she has evaded her blocker and scored a touchdown. The whistle sounds and the class all retake their positions for the second drive. The blue team again has the ball.
As the whistle sounds Michael and Echo again attempt to evade their blockers. Again they both succeed and sprint forward. Sierra rushes forward to engage the blue tackle, succeeding. The red tackle fails to evade the blue blocker, though, and is engaged. Rushing forward the red captain succeeds in engaging the blue captain, even managing the take possession of the ball.
Michael is engaged by his blocker and unable to break away. Echo manages to evade her blocker and is open. Sierra, meanwhile, is able to level a vicious attack on the blue tackle and beats him badly. The red captain evades the opposing captains attempt to engage and makes a break into the blue field. He scores a touchdown and red team takes possession of the ball.
In the third drive Michael is struck hard by the red blocker and badly injured. Echo evades her blocker again and pushes into the red field. Sierra fails to engage her tackle and he quickly engages her captain, dealing him a hard blow. Attempting to engage she succeeds but her captain is again struck and now badly bruised. Michael and his blocker are exchanging blows on the drive line while Echo is engaged by her blocker. By then the blue captain has managed to break free and easily snatches the ball from the injured red captain. She evades the tackle adjacent to her and pushes into the red field, scoring a touchdown without any opposition.
The whistle sounds and the game is called to a close. The PC's exit the field, limping a bit in Michael's case, to stand at ease watching the next match toe the line. Within the hour all the matches have played out and the class forms up at attention as the results of the exam are announced.
Michael Seven: Passed
Echo Five: Passed
Sierra Three: Passed
By now it is 2100 hours and the class is dismissed to their dorms. The PC's shuffle off to their racks, relieved to have dodged the bullet (perhaps literally) once again.
THE EX-BLUE SUN AGENTS:
Blue Sun Research Vessel "Jiuxing", Persephone orbit
The PC's come to their senses to find, to their surprise, that both the blue gloves are now standing over them. Though bleeding badly from bullet wounds to the face and skull they've managed to haphazardly bandage the wounds and now seem to be directing small blue rods at them where they lay. Despite the fact that Rink is busily gnawing and growling at one of the men's legs, he doesn't seem to notice. With a quick twitch from both men the PC's can see they've noticed they're now in possession of their faculties again and both men hastily trigger their rods. As the high pitched whine emanates from the devices, the PC's spring into action.
Michael forgoes his Grizzly, vaults to his feet and attempts to snatch the device from the blue glove closest to him. He is surprised at how easily the blue glove evades both attempts. Echo likewise vaults to her feet and attempts to disarm the same blue glove, failing in both attempts. The blue gloves both step back, continuing to level the devices at the PC's but seem otherwise unconcerned and calm. Sierra springs up, kicking at the rod in hand of the man Michael and Echo are engaged with, knocking it free and across the bay.
Immediately the PC's feel a strange sensation all over their bodies. To their horror they find their noses beginning to bleed and their vision blurs slightly. Michael makes a desperate grab at the remaining man's device and succeeds on a second attempt to snatch it away. He hurls it across the bay. Echo drops back to seize Michael's Grizzly and shoulder it as the two men quickly drop into a combat stance and attack.
Covering the two men Echo waits to see what occurs before opening fire. After Michael and Sierra fail to land decisive blows on either man, despite their unarmed combat skills, she opens fire with three shots point blank into the back of one of the men. He falls out of the fight and into range of Rink's vicious jaws. The second blue glove immediately turns to Echo and disarms her easily as well striking her on the neck and stunning her badly. Michael and Sierra are able to take advantage of his distraction to land hard blows and Sierra in particular cracks him soundly at the base of the throat, dropping him.
Though suddenly feeling very ill and weak, they immediately cast about for something to bind the two men while Echo collects the two devices to secure them. While the others continue their search she checks the two men, finding a number of interesting items including a portable cortex terminal and identcards. When the PC's at last manage to dig up some copper wire they hurry to bind the wrists and ankles of the two men before a surprise flashback catches them off guard. Having done this they quickly confer, then grab Rink and Michael's Grizzly before stumbling to the ship parked in the docking bay. Using the identcards to gain entry they proceed inside and secure the door. They've time for little more than a quick glance around before the faint tingle sets in.
Fearing the device the two blue gloves where working on when they entered the bay might be a bomb of some sort, they lunge for the small ship's bridge hoping to secure every second they can before the flashback strikes. They make it there, but only just barely...
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