THE INDEPENDENCE SOLDIERS:
Athens Militia Emergency Aid Camp #1, Geopolis, Athens
After spending a moderate period of downtime recuperating from two back-to-back incidents of fierce combat and their resulting injuries the team wraps up the month of February, receiving their first payday. After orienting the new convoy team to their duties, fine tuning some of the security arrangements surrounding the supply deliveries and conducting a significant round of inquiries and interviews the team isn't any closer to identifying the mysterious "Boss" orchestrating the attacks. Having redeemed themselves with their employers by recovering the Athens militia's rather large cash delivery, as well as successfully navigating Sara Dover's intense private interviews without further embarrassing Unified Reclamation, the team find themselves more or less on good terms with Unified again. Still, investigating the possibility of a corrupt Alliance official as the shadowy force manipulating the violent events of the past several months is sure to prove difficult for a trio of ex-Independence fighters. And three more deadly attacks have already occurred in the interim.
As early March rolls around the team find themselves in the camp commons comparing notes with Dover. Though it's clear that she's had greater success with her investigations (having much more free time to devote to the endeavor) it's also clear that she isn't sharing everything. They are able to confirm most of what they've gathered, however, in that there is some central figure within the Alliance military presence on Athens who's coordinating with bands of mercenaries to steal the cash deliveries donated by the various charitable aid organizations. Still, the team hasn't been able to lay hand to any hard evidence and the local Alliance military has effectively blocked their attempts to investigate the site of either shuttle crash site by taking over the investigation of both incidents.
In the course of their careful tête-à-tête with Dover, General Lumen's aide approaches the table and informs them that a recent news story has caused quite a stir at the local Alliance base. Three Alliance military officials have apparently arrived at the Camp to speak with Dover and the aide then offers to escort her to the meeting in the General's office. Before leaving with the journalist he informs the team that the officials in question wish to interview them as well, so they had best stay close to hand.
Several hours pass with Dover sequestered with General Lumens and the Alliance officials in his office. The team spends this time questioning those they feel may know something about what's going on but no one seems to be privy. Within the first hour the Unified representative, Florens, arrives to anxiously press home to the team the importance of complying fully and completely with the Alliance officials when questioned. Though it's never actually stated, it's clear that Florens would prefer that they downplay, or better yet completely omit, any reference to possible Alliance involvement in the recent convoy attacks and disappearances. He remains on hand, nervously, while the team waits for their turn in the Alliance spotlight.
In due course Dover emerges from Lumens' office, flanked by Camp security personnel, and is escorted from the building. Lumens appears in the hallway to personally summon Ringo to his office. There he is introduced to the two officers in the company of the Alliance official heading the interviews. He attempts to hide his surprise when the man is introduced as Marichev Roush...the brother of the Alliance officer they attempted to capture aboard the crashed shuttle on their first SpecOps mission. The man to whom the book Ringo now holds originally belonged. From the deadly gleam in the hard-bitten war veteran's eye, Ringo has the very distinct impression that the man knows exactly who he is.
Over the next six hours each of the team are interviewed individually, each surprised when introduced to Roush. The interviews are conducted in a professional manner under the watchful eye of the militia General, questioning the content of their investigations, their association with Dover and any possibility of Alliance military being linked to the convoy attacks. Nevertheless the obvious undercurrent of cold hostility toward them from Roush convinces them that the man clearly views them as personal enemies.
When all three team members are brought in together Roush stiffly thanks them for their cooperation and departs with the menacing promise that he'll be seeing them again. General Lumens, obviously troubled by the whole mess, thanks them as well for their cooperation and for downplaying references to any circumstantial evidence they may have gathered implicating Alliance involvement. Before dismissing them he informs them that the Athens government has been "encouraged" to remove Sara Dover from the Camp and block her from accessing Camp materials or personnel. They are further instructed not to communicate with her until further notice. Before departing the General also informs them that he has an assignment for them and asks that they return in one hour for a brief.
Leaving Lumens' office the team immediately heads for Angelina's room to hit the cortex and dig up what they can on Roush. Noting that he's been stationed at the local Alliance base for many months, well before all the trouble erupted with the aid project, they have cause to wonder at his involvement. Attempting to access whatever recent news report may have stirred up trouble with Dover meets with no initial success, though Angelina is able to find one in particular published by Dover's news agency which has been blocked from access by Athens cortex. Iddy spends a Plot Point to contact a family friend to send her a copy of any news reports surrounding Athens and within the hour the team soon identifies the story in question. In moments they've accessed a personal copy of the "special report" by Sara Dover implicating certain "unnamed" Alliance military officials in the recent attacks on aid convoys. Moreover the report goes on to detail several mysterious deaths and disappearances of Camp security officers, aid organization officials and even a federal law officer. Finally the team witness Dover presenting incontrovertible evidence that the missiles which downed the two Athens militia shuttles were in fact Alliance issued ordinance. In addition there are two censored interviews with informants who claim the entire incident was personally directed by an unnamed Alliance official in collusion with local bandits and hired mercenaries.
Before they can dig any further they are summoned to General Lumens' office for their briefing. There Lumens surprises the team by barring both their Unified rep, Florens, and their liaison, Wren, from the meeting. He then informs the team that from the reports they've submitted and from "other sources" he's come to the troubling conclusion that their suspicions that the local rebels may have been "framed" may well be true. Further he confirms that, from all indications, the trouble seems to be originating from the local Alliance base. While the rebel Independents in the area are certainly a nuisance, he strongly doubts they have the resources to orchestrate the wave of attacks they've suffered over the last few months. He also relates to the team that his contacts in the local Alliance military, who up to now have been very supportive and expressed deep concerns at the possibility that one of their own is involved, have slowly dried up over the last two months. Two of them have, in fact, met with somewhat suspicious deaths. Having had his own concerns met with skepticism by both the Athens government and his own superiors, Lumens has reached the point where he feels the time for less conventional means of resolving this crisis has long since come.
To that end the team is released from all duties surrounding the security concerns of the Camp and supply convoys and are to focus their efforts solely on identifying the source of the recent attacks and amassing any evidence they can. They are to report directly to him from here on and can expect the full support of his office, even to the extent that it may put him in some jeopardy with his superiors. They are authorized to use whatever means necessary to uncover the truth during the course of their investigations but are sternly reminded that the General's influence only goes so far. If the team oversteps their bounds to any outrageous degree he may feel obliged to cut them loose.
The General then instructs the team to make their plans and report back to him tomorrow. As they are dismissed the General calls Florens in, assuring the team that he's about to strangle the complete and total support out of Unified Reclamation for this special assignment.
Heading back to their quarters straight from the General's office the team hits the cortex yet again to track down the men whose names they collected when they were spotted tailing the first convoy on their second day on the job. The search yields results easily enough and the team now have the addresses of all three men. They aren't surprised to find they're all listed as housed in the same settlement in the same tenement building. Leaving their own housing units they track down Norman Wren and invite him to dinner in order to discuss recent events and how they may effect their future employment. After making arrangements to meet later that evening at a local cafe the team finally hits the public terminal to attempt to contact Sara Dover and arrange a meeting. In the end they are forced to leave a message on her terminal.
Lacking anything else to do at the moment the team catch a lift from one of the local militiamen out to the cafe and wait for their meeting with Wren. When he finally arrives they make with the small talk and discuss recent events with Norman over dinner. Wrapping things up the team nonchalantly walks him to the parking lot where Ringo, once out of eyesight of most of the cafe patrons, grabs him by the collar and slams him against his vehicle. He drops two Plot Points on his attempt to interrogate Norman and soon has him admitting how he recognized Marichev Roush's by description days before he showed up at the Camp. Norman Wren soon breaks down completely, admitting that he's been supplying inside information on the militia operations to Roush, who he assumes is the man behind the scenes. Wren claims that Roush's men are holding his wife captive in a secret prison somewhere in Geopolis that he and his mercenaries have been using to hold kidnapping victims and others they intend to torture or extort. Roush has personally threatened to have his wife killed unless he continues to supply intelligence.
Tossing him in the back of his vehicle where Iddy and Rink can keep a threatening eye on him the team heads back for the Aid Camp HQ to report to Lumens. Once the General has been contacted the team discreetly escorts Wren into his office where he spills the whole story to the General personally. After hearing the startling confession General Lumens immediately calls his personal aide and makes arrangements for Wren to be sequestered in the infirmary, locked and under guard, under a convenient quarantine for some illness or other. He informs the team that the flimsy cover story won't hold for long and they'll have to move quickly. After escorting Wren to the infirmary they are to move out immediately and locate that "secret prison" as soon as possible. In the General's opinion this may well be the key to cracking the whole mess wide open.
The team then forcibly escorts Wren to the infirmary, ignoring his pleas, and issues instructions to the sleepy-eyed security officers awaiting them there. Once assured Wren is secured they attempt to contact Dover again, hoping she can provide some info on this "secret prison". Again they are unable to contact her. A quick cortex run lists her as a guest at one of only two hotels currently operating in the city and the team commandeers another range truck to head out there. En route they spot a small four-door truck in a ditch on the opposite side of the road, still smoking from a punctured radiator. Stopping to investigate they can see the truck was hit with a respectable amount of small arms fire and the driver is dead, slumped over the steering wheel. In the back seat they find a variety of smashed photographic equipment and gear as well as Dover's wallet, containing her identification but empty of cash. Slamming the door shut in frustration the team reenters their vehicle and heads out for the housing complex where the three men they detained weeks ago are listed.
Arriving there at such a late hour the team has a little trouble rousing the tenement operator. But once they've done so they flash their security identification and manage to intimidate the operator into revealing the location of one of the men's apartments. After quickly casing the area Ringo sends Iddy and Rink around to the alley to cover any escape attempts while he and Angelina arm themselves and head for the apartment. Giving Iddy a couple of minutes to take position Ringo then loudly bangs on the door and demands entry. After a second attempt to rouse the apartment occupants Ringo and Angelina both hear the sound of a weapon being primed inside, something they've been listening for. Each make successful Get Out Of Harm's Way rolls and avoid the triple round of burst fire through the door. Iddy, meanwhile, is prepared for the man's attempted retreat through his apartment window and sends Rink to engage him as he scrambles through. Caught off guard by the demonic mutt he is gnawed badly as Iddy moves forward to cover him with her shotgun. When he attempts to take aim at Rink, busily gnawing his calf, Iddy drops a round of buckshot into his shoulder disarming him. As he drops unconscious Iddy calls Rink off and waits for the others, already rounding the corner of the alley.
Dragging the man into a slightly better lit section of the alley, Angelina treats the man's wounds successfully while the rest of team stand guard. When one of the men's associates pops out of the back door of the place, half dressed and sporting an assault rifle, Ringo avoids a hasty burst of fire in his direction and drops the man with three hits to the chest. Eventually Angelina announces she's stabilized the man and takes up her shotgun again. Iddy and Rink guard the unconscious mercenary while Angelina and Ringo carefully make their way back into the building to check out his apartment. While Ringo guards the door Angelina checks the place over, collecting a portable computer and variety of documents she suspects may provide intelligence. Outside again the team load their captive into the range truck and head back to HQ and the infirmary, where they intend to interrogate him.
Back at the camp infirmary the team pours over the items they took from the man's apartment but find little of interest. Taking their chances with the man's health they have Angelina rouse him and let Ringo loose on him. While Iddy and Angelina bully the infirmary staff out of the room, Ringo first interrogates and then resorts to mild torture to extract information from the man. Finally, after an hour long session, Ringo manages get the mercenary to identify Roush as his employer, detail their involvement in a string of kidnappings, murders and convoy assaults and, most important to them at the moment, the location of the warehouse the mercs have been using to hold prisoners.
By the time they emerge from the room it is well into the next morning. Nonetheless they find the militia General and several of his staff already on the scene. In short order they give a quick verbal report and officially turn over Wren and the mercenary to Camp security. General Lumens then immediately orders the team out to the warehouse to reconnoiter the place and await a strike team to link up with them on site. They are then to conduct a raid on the warehouse, capturing (preferably) or killing whoever they can and securing any intelligence and prisoners found on site. The team quickly load up into the range truck and head out.
Arriving at the warehouse at dawn the team recons the area and determines the best spot to set up surveillance and still maintain proximity for a quick strike would be the ruined tenement building across the field from the place. Checking the ruins they find a handful of poor squatters using the place for shelter. Angelina approaches the group and relays their intentions to use the bombed out building to surveil the warehouse, offering them cash to hunker down in the back of the building and stay put. The group of squatters readily agrees, collects their cash and gathers in the back out of harm's way. In the only remaining upstairs area the team gathers under cover to keep a watchful eye on the warehouse yard and report any movement back to HQ.
THE EX-BLUE SUN AGENTS:
Starbolt Class Personal Transport "Unity Prophet", bound for Athens
On board the Unity Prophet the ex-Blue Sun Agents Michael, Echo and Sierra toss fitfully in their sleep as the memories of their past lives flow over them, unhindered by consciousness. Meanwhile the long range sensors of the modified personal transport detect two Alliance patrol boats as they enter sensor range and vector to intercept. The alarm system Sierra set up to wake them in such an event fails to rouse them from their sleep, however, despite raising quite a racket. They sleep on, dreaming deeply as the Alliance steadily closes in. The automated communications program onboard responds to repeated hails from the two patrol boats that the ship operator is regretfully unavailable and politely asks to take a message.
THE YOUNG READERS:
Alliance frigate Excelsior, orbiting Athens
By the time the Excelsior has entered Athens orbit, the Operative from whom Team Bravo Six has since been taking orders has received orders of his own and arranges for immediate transportation back to the core for an emergency assignment. On departing he takes a moment to congratulate the team again for their successful handling of the incident aboard the Celestial Harper and expresses his confidence that they can handle the coming assignment. In closing he reminds them, in no uncertain terms, that they are the last line of defense between the ruthless forces that assail the Alliance and the innocent civilians thereof. "You must be prepare to do...and must not hesitate to do...whatever is necessary to protect the Alliance", he tells them. "Whatever. Is. Necessary." With the Team's resolve hardened and eager to bring the enemies of the beloved Alliance to justice, they grimly salute the Operative as he departs for his next mission.
With orders to continue on to the Athens surface and follow up leads on the suspected terrorist organization there, Team Bravo Six is shuttled down to Archopolis and largely left to their own devices. After taking rooms in a non-descript hotel in the city, the team hits the cortex to get a handle on current affairs on Athens. They find the local news net backlogged with reports detailing all manner of terrorist attacks, most successfully covered up or downplayed by the Federal law force handling them but a few making the planet-wide news and even a couple earning cortex coverage. The attacks themselves range from simple small arms attacks on groups of civilians to suicide bombings using frighteningly prodigious amounts of explosive. Locations seem to cover the entire surface of Athens, appearing randomly in her three major cities and dozens of towns across the planet. No discernable pattern can be found at all between the attacks other than a roughly week long period between each incident and the unusual nature of the attackers themselves. In every case those responsible for the attacks leave no indication of a connection to known terrorist groups and seem completely random individually as well, varying widely in age, race, political views and social status.
The team then decides to call up the most recent incident. Echo Five runs another deep search and confidently produces a recent incident, described locally as an "accidental fire" which claimed the lives of dozens of residents in a housing complex right there in Archopolis. The nature of the sanitized news report strongly indicates that someone on the local Federal law force was able to suppress the more disturbing aspects of the story, making it very likely to have been the most recent terrorist attack. After a quick stop at the local clothing store to secure the latest frontier styles and the associated student gear (backpack, "low tech" notebooks, etc.) the team gears up and heads out to the site. Lacking their own transportation they opt to take a public street car, hashing out their cover as local public school students conducting research for their end of semester civics reports.
Arriving at the blackened ruins of the housing complex outside the local warehouse district the team can see immediately that this was no accidental fire. With large sections of the cheap brick walls blasted out from the building it's obvious a powerful incendiary device was detonated on the first floor of the large building, most likely in the lobby. On the sidewalk outside the ruins, still cordoned off with wooden barricades, the team can see a pair of well-dressed journalist, looking quite out of place with their sky van parked nearby. The journalist and her assistant are conducting interviews with shoulder-mounted parrots of the people passing by.
Attempting to avoid the news team, the readers hits the sidewalk to case the area and look for a more covert approach to the site than simply walking through the front entryway. To their disappointment, the reporters spot them and immediately make a bee-line for them. In moments Michael Seven finds himself engaged and under the journalist's camera. She quickly introduces herself, "Hello! Sara Dover with the Athens Federal News Network! What is your take on the rumors that the incident here at 420 Melhouser Street was the result of terrorist Independents?"
Scrambling for a reply, Michael manages to be simultaneously "rim wordy", eager and opinionated, as he reasons any Athens student his age would likely be at the prospect of appearing on the Federal News. He smoothly responds, "Well I reckon I have my doubts that than any of them Independents here on Athens would have the gumption to pull off somethin' like this in the first place. But if there is any of them murderin' fei ren still around here I wouldn't put it past 'em to claim a hand in this fire. And I think it's just kuangzhe de for them to use the deaths of these here folk to spread terror. I sure hope whoever is starting these rumors gets what's coming to 'em!"
Apparently satisfied with his response, the journalist turns to face her assistant's own shoulder parrot to wrap up her interviews. "And so you can see, even the otherwise impressionable youth of Athens are immune to these vicious and unfounded rumors. While we here at the Athens Federal News are likewise affronted that the lunatic fringe feel compelled to resort to such dishonorable methods...one can only feel sorrow for that portion of our populace so divorced from civilized society that they are driven to lash out...even at those that seek the aid in their recovery from the ravages of the Independent rebellion. We extend our condolences to the families of those lost in this tragic accident and hope it inspires us all to band together and share our strength in these difficult times..."
"Be sure to log in tomorrow when the Eyes On Athens unit brings you highlights from last week's interviews with the Geopolis Volunteer Group! Hear how Marion Cardworth's award winning documentary inspired them to lend their own helping hand to those still suffering in the ruins of Geopolis! And be sure to stay locked in here for a sneak peek at Governor Wainsford's plans for restoring that once beautiful city to it's former glory! For now, this is Sara Dover wishing you all the best! Good day and God bless the Alliance!"
Turning off her own parrot, the journalist turns and chucks Michael on the shoulder. "Thanks, kid! I've been out here all morning and didn't think I'd ever get anything I could use! Say, who are you kids anyway? I bet I use you in another piece I'm working if you're interested in making a cred’ or two."
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