Munin

A New Dawn (Narrative Campaign and Batreps)

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This sounds like awesome fun, the way I would lov to play Infinity. I like how this campaign style is easy to organise and the narrative is written as it proceeds. Great to see also  that people are enjoying 20x20. I encourage you to write more scenarios in the 20x20 style that fit neatly into the narrative of your campaign. Besides that, I am happy to send you the yet unpublished document of the Lost Missions. These are 12 updated or yet unreleased 20x20 scenarios. 

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Very nicely written so far, I wish I could write as good as you in my stories.

Looking forward to more of this campaign!

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Hussein Al-Nazaraf had just joined the Haqqislamite Special Operations Directorate, a member of the same Halqa outfit as Dr. Chakwas (whom he greatly admired). Indeed, though he had seen combat before, this was his was his first official special-operations mission. No worries. Keep your head down, keep calm, stick to your training, and everything will be fine. Lying in a deep ditch, he scanned the heavily wooded tree-line ahead, always looking for something out of place. And then he saw it - a silhouette just a little too solid to be a bush and a little too irregular to be a stump. He didn't know who or what it was, but as yet the camouflaged hostile trooper was unaware of his presence. It needed to be reported immediately, and just as corporal Al-Nazaraf keyed his subvocal microphone, the enemy Katyusha Mul, blindly laying down fire on any likely spots of cover, managed to drop a multi-munition shell within a mere two meters of his position, killing him instantly.

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Dozer technician Karel Antonin never stood a chance. Dead by a Hassassin's blade before he realized what was happening, he didn't even have the opportunity to warn his nearby comrades. With the methodical precision borne of countless missions, the Hassassin approached the still-firing Katyusha Mul from the rear, careful to avoid the back-blast of its multiple launch rocket clusters. Almost surgically, he placed the blade of his weapon above what passed for the brute's mechanical brain. One short, sharp thrust and it fell silent.

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Had she stood atop the wooded, rocky outcrop she'd just climbed, Dr. Chakwas's view of the battlefield would have been decent. Fortunately, she was smart enough not to do so. She knew the twin gully running from southwest to northeast on her right side was a killing ground, and could hear constant fire from that direction, the enemy Uragan firing almost indiscriminately. Crawling forward on her belly, her elbow touched something hard and sharp - a fragment of the wreckage. Examining it more closely and recalling the morning's briefing, it appeared to be at least part of the primary communications array, one of the mission's critical objectives. Taking great care to stash the awkward piece of twisted metal in her dump-pouch, she again began crawling forward. Ultimately, she hoped to support sergeant Oskan, who was as yet undetected but pinned down in a forward position.

That was when Dr. Chakwas saw him, a stout Kazak man carrying an irregular tubular device over one shoulder. From countless enemy TOE briefings, she recognized it immediately - an Akrylat Kanone. Getting killed on this mission was one thing - everyone knew the risks, and all were volunteers. But the weapon (dubbed the "gloop gun" by most) was a short ticket to an ignominious immobilization followed by a disastrous capture. And he was making his way toward Sergeant Oskan's position - another few meters and he'd have an unobstructed line of fire to her. It was clear the man had to be eliminated, but carrying precious objective cargo herself put her in an untenable position. Doing the next best thing, she made a quick call to Lieutenant Hiromanoglu.

His response was terse; "Hang tight, asset inbound."

It was uncommon for Special Operations Directorate personnel to mingle with the reclusive members of the Hassassin brotherhood, with the occasional exception of those cocky Muyibs. But Chakwas suspected that some sort of special asset was in play from the very beginning of this operation, starting right from the "accidental" malfunction of the Ariadnan rocket. She prayed to Allah to guide the hand of whatever sword-sworn brother could extricate her and her team from this deepening mess.

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Stealthily moving toward the death-spitting Uragan remote, Hassassin Fiday Marwan Abu Simbel paused. There was a Kazak fireteam just beyond the remote, and their leader was smartly going about getting them organized for a push down the southernmost of the twin gullies. It was also unclear whether he'd be able to make an approach without being spotted. Steeling himself for what might very well be a suicide run, his secure communicator crackled: "Seven-zero-one, new priority target, approximate grid coordinates to follow!" Shortly, a red blip appeared on his internal helmet display. Turning to peer through the foliage, he saw the target - another enemy engineer. And the man's back was to him. Yes, definitely a priority target. With no time to reactivate his nano-cloak, the Hassassin would have to take his prey the old-fashioned way.

As the Hassassin crept closer, he visualized the last few steps of his approach, the angle with which he'd strike with his knife, the manner in which he'd soundlessly bear the enemy's limp body to the ground. So focused was Marwan Abu Simbel on his target that he was unaware he had traversed ever so slightly into the sensor field-of-view of the Uragan remote. Without hesitation, the targeting head and missile pods slewed 90 degrees in an instant, putting three heavy-caliber armor-piercing slugs through his back. Like a marionette with his strings cut, what was left of the Hassassin fell to the ground, his erstwhile target stunned at how close he'd come to death.

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"OK, this is it! Dmitri's hull-down up top and says he can see at least three more on the other side. Samsonov, you take point. This'll run by the numbers. Hit that gap fast, hit it hard, and get into good, covered positions on the other side." Lieutenant Baratnikov's plan was a simple one - rather than going over the top of the rise between the two gullies, they'd blitz through a narrow defile towards the northeast end that gave access between them. The well-trained men and women of his fireteam stacked up, and on his "GO!" command they moved virtually as one...

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... and this was the opportunity for which Amanar Endawa had been patiently waiting. Scouting far in advance of the main party, the Tuareg had examined the lay of the land and knew that this narrow gap was the safest place to cross from one defile to the other without crossing over and exposing oneself to fire. The fact that there was also visible rocket wreckage nearby made it too good a temptation for the enemy to pass up. With his carefully camouflaged Boarding Shotgun aimed perfectly down the defile, all he had to do was wait - and the Kazaks did not disappoint. As the five soldiers pushed through the gap, he unleashed an almost perfectly-timed volley, the heavy-duty shrapnel catching four of the five. Three went down immediately, including the paramedic. The point man shrugged off his injury and kept moving. But Endawa's worst shortcoming was that the HMG-toting Veteran Kazak was trailing the pack rather than leading it. His ruthless return fire riddled the depression in which Endawa was hiding with bullets, lethally wounding him before he could relocate to another hide.

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Neutralizing the immediate threat, Lieutenant Baratnikov pushed forward past his downed teammates. There was nothing he could do for them now. That was when he noticed Samsonov still pushing forward, eschewing cover to make up ground. "Samsonov you idiot! What the fu..." Then he saw it - only five yards to Samsonov's front lay the scorched but easily recognizable orange-and-black striping of the Kutuzov's primary flight data recorder. His man clearly had his eyes on the prize, and Baratnikov made a mental note to make sure that man got a gods-be-damned medal after all of this.

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Lieutenant Hiromanoglu was getting desperate. Things were not going according to plan. "Katie, I need that missile bot dropped yesterday!"

"One sec, sir." With muffled thump, she launched a shell out of her 40mm grenade launcher. Alas, the shot went wide. Worse, a sniper on the ridge was able to zero in on the source of her fire, his cold-shot taking her in the throat.

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Cut off from the goings on over at the right flank, Dr. Chakwas again keyed up her Nasmat remote. Looking for someone, anyone to revive, she was sorely disappointed. Most of the casualties to this point had been from that damnable missile fire, and there was precious little left to patch together. But that was when something else caught her eye - another piece of the rocket's communications relay. Willing the little mimetic remote out into the open, she directed it to make a mad dash across the ditch. From both in the gully itself and up on the rise, enemy soldiers took pot-shots at the drone. Ducking and weaving, the plucky little remote grabbed the mangled antenna and whatever electrical bits happened to be hanging off it and went to ground, hunkering against the rocky terrain.

Meanwhile, Sergeant Kedaszia Oskan also thought to make a play for another important-looking piece of wreckage, lying just atop the small rise behind which she was hiding. Steeling herself for the dash up and over, she yelled, "COVERING FI..." She never finished the word before a high-velocity Uragan solid munition pierced her brainpan.

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Heedless of any potential enemy fire, Corporal Grigoriy Samsonov rushed forward, laying his hands on the priceless flight data recorder. Behind him, he could hear Lieutenant Baratnikov yelling at him to pull back, get down, do something. Hmmmm, yes, maybe that was in order.

TO BE CONTINUED...

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With virtually no assets left to call upon, Lieutenant Hiromanoglu was forced to take matters into his own hands. Exposing himself to fire from three enemy troopers, he took careful aim at the Kazak who'd just recovered what was obviously the flight data recorder, unloading into the man with his rifle. Though he scored at least one hit, the man stayed on his feet, his body-armor saving him. For Hiromanoglu himself, a heavy machinegun round ricocheted off his shoulderplate - it was lucky the hit wasn't direct lest it would likely have removed his arm. After the fastest magazine change he could ever remember performing, Lieutenant Hiromanoglu fired again, only this time the Kazak man himself was the secondary target - and he was rewarded with all three rounds passing though the precious box, touching off a brief but intense electrical fire. That the man holding it also fell dead was merely a happy accident - the Naffatun Lieutenant was confident that the data on the box would be unrecoverable.

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Heavy casualties on both sides caused a pause in the fighting, a pause which the Haqqislamite forces used to their best advantage. Within moments the gathering darkness was almost complete, and as the Ariadnans fumbled in the dark, Lieutenant Hiromanoglu and Dr. Chakwas recovered what bodies they could, self-destructed the remnants of the Shihab remote, and recovered Amanar Endawa's Cube - though this last operation narrowly avoided sparking yet another firefight.

It was hours yet before sunrise when the tattered remnants of the Haqqislam team made it back to their carefully hidden Luzige transports, which carried them quickly to the evac zone and the waiting lift shuttle. Before sun-up local time, they were back aboard the pinnace "Inshallah" and being debriefed. While the casualty rate was considered excessively high, the mission was deemed a success.

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As Dr. Chakwas oversaw Amanar Endawa's Cube-reimplantation into a new Lhost body in the pinnace's startlingly well-equipped med-bay, the Tuareg's first words upon regaining consciousness were, "Dammit. That idiot Hiromanoglu got me killed again, didn't he?"

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Aleksei Zhukov carefully considered the poshly-dressed man addressing him. Reclining on a divan in one of the private entertaining suites of this planet-side caravansary, Pasha Faisal Farouk was every picture of a wealthy Haqqislamite trader. Loosely clad in silk damask, serving the finest fruits and olives, it was clear he meant to make an impression. Zhukov forced himself to focus on the man's softly-spoken words; "...by which I mean that these sorts of setbacks should not reflect poorly upon you or your space program. Allah knows, we've lost enough ships in our time. The pursuit of knowledge is rarely a straight path, Director. The fact that you strive at all means you are to be commended."

Farouk poured a cup of black Turkish coffee for Zhukov. The stuff was horrendous, worse even than that filth the Americans drank. But propriety must be observed. Still, the fact that the Pasha did it himself rather than bidding an attendant to pour spoke volumes - Aleksei knew enough to understand that this was intended as a sign of respect, and accepted it as such. Downing the evil draught and masking his distaste, Zhukov said, "Your graciousness is refreshing, your Excellency. The press coverage on Mayanet has been...less than understanding."

"Pfaugh, Pan-Oceanian propaganda," opined Farouk, shifting on his divan and waving a hand dismissively. "To them, it is not enough that they succeed; all others must fail. Have your scientists yet determined the cause?"

Zhukov was under strict orders to make no mention of the firefight between the Ariadnan security forces and the unknown assailants. Internally in the government, speculation ran rampant - Merovingians or upstart Caledonians looking to scavenge tech, Yu Jing saboteurs covering their tracks, or even mercenary opportunists trying to recover the Teseum cargo had all been posited as possibilities. But for political reasons none could be officially acknowledged. "Not yet, your Excellency, but initial signs point to a telemetry error."

"Unfortunate. Transition through the upper atmosphere is by far the most dangerous phase of a launch. So much can go wrong." Farouk took another sip of black coffee himself. "What will this mean for your export timetables?"

And there it was. The question was phrased neutrally and politely enough, but both men knew that the regular shipment of valuable Teseum off-world was the economic lifeline keeping the Ariadnan economic and technical sectors growing. Aside from ready manpower to fight the alien menace on Paradiso, it was Dawn's only real, tangible high-value export. "I'm afraid it will set us back at least 18 standard months."

To his credit, Pasha Farouk merely pursed his lips and nodded. "I know that I needn't remind you, Director, that even now the construction of a second major orbital trans-shipment caravansary is nearing completion. That facility represents a significant financial outlay on the part of the Sultanate, and to have it standing idle for 18 months puts us in a ... difficult position."

"I am aware, your Excellency."

At this point Pasha Faisal Farouk leaned forward conspiratorially, glancing to either side before speaking. "As it happens, I may have a solution to both our problems. Have you considered the construction of a space elevator? We already have the experienced construction crews working on the new caravansary present in-system, and re-tasking them and some amount of the as-yet-unused materials for another project would reduce the lead time tremendously. In just a few months, we could start lifting Teseum in increasing quantities, allowing you to dedicate the increased revenue to refining your heavy-lift program."

Zhukov was caught between a rock and a hard place. Without the ability to bring the planet's most valuable resource to market, the future of the Commercial Space Directorate was in dire jeopardy. And while he hated the idea of allowing a foreign conglomerate to capture further market share in what should be a business of Ariadnan national interest, he was under tremendous political pressure to make a deal that would keep the money flowing. And at least the traders of Haqqislam had always been straight with him.

"I must say I am intrigued by your offer, our Excellency."

Pasha Faisal Farouk reclined once again and smiled an affable smile. "I suspected you might." He beckoned to one of his attendants; "As time is so always of the essence in these matters, I've taken the liberty of having one of my assistants draw up a contract for your perusal..."

 

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Very well done. Thanks for taking the time to post it.Bonus points for Chakwas;)

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Heh, thanks. I painted my Ghulam Dr. mini with white hair, and the connection was obvious. Amongst my Mass Effect loving gaming buddies, the name just stuck:

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The battle described above was exceedingly close. Going into my last turn, I had very few orders left. That plucky little Nasmat made 3 successful ARM rolls to get to the nearest chunk of wreckage and pick it up, but at that point my opponent and I had the same number of wreckage tokens. I didn't have anybody quite close enough to grab another one (and my opponent's TR Uragan, which had been a death-dealing, speculative-fire-critting powerhouse all game had the approaches to the closest two pieces covered). Literally my only option was to try to down one of his dudes who had grabbed a piece. I had two orders to do it, and was exposing myself to AROs from the Kazak himself, a Scout on a nearby ridge, and the Veteran Kazak Lt with an AP HMG. My first order hit only once, and the Kazak failed his Dodge but of course made his ARM roll. I also took an ARO hit from the AP HMG, but miraculously managed to pass my own ARM roll (Allah be praised for cover). So it was literally the last roll of my last order that decided the game, hitting the Kazak twice and having him fail both ARM rolls, die horribly, and drop his wreckage marker.

We had a similarly close game this past week, where I was fighting the JSA guy in a "Secure Building" operation. His list had 4 ninjas, Saito Togan, and Shinobu Kitsune, all but one of which (a Ninja marksman covering my best approach to the building) were in the building in his first turn. Due to a clutch sacrifice move by my Hunzakut (who managed to lay both a mine in his first ARO (that ultimately killed Saito Togan as he attempted to capture one of my downed troopers for a secondary objective) and a Repeater (which allowed me to brutally murder his Ninja Hacker next time she activated), I thinned him down a little bit. But at the end of his first Active Turn he still had almost 120 points worth of TO-Camo troops in the objective building. Worse, careless deployment and a lucky hit had put me in Loss of Lieutenant in Turn 1. I literally spent the rest of the game playing catch-up, and finally had him down to just Kitsune in the building. But I again managed to run Dr. Chakwas into the building and (tag teaming with my Barid Killer Hacker such that someone was almost always getting a rear-shot), and shotgun him into unconsciousness with my next to last order. Hilariously, I was unable to accomplish secondary objectives at all because all his troops had higher PH values than mine (thus, I couldn't pick them up w/ CASEVAC) and the only one who could have (my Asawira) had killed himself with a botched Regeneration roll. Another super close, really back-and-forth game.

The first four games of the campaign have been played, and so far the match-ups have been Morats vs. Caledonians (Morat win), JSA vs. Kazakhs (Kazakh win), Haqqislam vs. Kazakhs (Haqq win), and JSA vs Haqqislam (Haqq win). The current track scores are:

  • Expand Teseum Production: -1 (friggin' Morats, always wreckin' stuff)
  • Maintain Hegemony: +1
  • Protect/Expand Shipping Market Share: +1
  • Illegally Exploit Resources: -1 (JSA gambled and got bitten by the Kazakh special rule here; they got caught red-handed helping Caledonian Separatists)
  • Keep Morat FOB Hidden: 0

That puts the current campaign scores at:

  • Caledonians: -2
  • Kazakhs: 0
  • Haqqislam: 0
  • Japanese: -2
  • Morats: 0

We have at least another fight scheduled tomorrow between the Caledonians and the Kazakhs, which will be the last game of the first campaign turn. I'll likely end up fighting the Morat in the first game of the second campaign turn as well (I suspect he'll make a play for my transport shipping, in which case I think we'll play a Zero-G, space-based boarding action game). It should be fun.

If folks are interested, I'll keep throwing campaign reports and batreps in this thread. I'll also try to remember to take pictures (or take ones that aren't crap, my pictures from my game against the Kazakhs were extremely poorly lit).

 

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Some of the the best fan fiction based on real games I have ever read. Bring it on!

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Would like to see the tracks and campaign points possibilities. Like, in PDF form or something. I would like to present using this system with my group if you didn't mind.

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Sure! I'll try to throw something together that explains it all more clearly.

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23 hours ago, Munin said:

Sure! I'll try to throw something together that explains it all more clearly.

Awesome. Could help rejuvenate some excitement back into my group.

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No worries. In the meantime, here are all of the special abilities for each faction. They are all tied to the use of Command Tokens, so using them comes at a cost. So far they've been pretty interesting.

Caledonians: Highland Home Field Advantage - Intimately familiar with the wild environs of their little corner of Dawn, The Caledonian player may spend a Command Token to automatically win the Initiative roll, allowing them the choice of either Deployment or Turn Order.

Kazakhs: This Is Our Fucking Planet, See? - Since the end of the Separatist Wars, the Kazakh faction has maintained tight control over Dawn. To that end, they may bring their ample political will and capital to bear against their enemies, usually with the backing of O-12. To represent this, the Kazakh player may spend one Command Token in order to make a loss consequential to his opponent. That is, if the opponent loses the mission, the opponent's primary goal track is immediately decreased by one. This expenditure must be made after the mission is chosen but before the mission begins.

Haqqislam: Hassassin Interference - the Brotherhood works tirelessly behind the scenes, gathering intelligence, sowing misinformation, and keeping the enemies of the Sultanate off balance. Fiday operatives eliminate key enemy personnel at perfect opportunities. To reflect this capability, the Haqqislam player may expend a Command Token to either 1) force the active player to randomly select a primary mission objective, or 2) pick the secondary mission objective. Expending two Command Tokens would allow both.

Japanese: Plausible Deniability - As a super-power, the Yu Jing Imperial State has resources at its disposal that are unmatched by any of its opposition. Still, appearances must be maintained in order to avoid O-12 entanglements. And should anything go wrong, retaining plausible deniability means that one can always fall back on blaming PanO. As such, the Japanese player may spend a Command Token to add 25 points (and associated 0.5 SWC) worth of Mercenary troopers to his list. Multiple Command Tokens spent in this manner are cumulative. These troops are considered part of the list in all other respects; all list requirements must be satisfied, and all open information shared as normal. This additional expenditure on Mercenary troopers may be made after the scenario has been selected (but obviously before it begins).

Morat: Orbital Strike - High above Dawn, operating on little more than emergency power and relocating regularly to avoid detection, the Morat insertion corvette lies in wait. Designed for exactly this kind of mission, the vessel's drives and weapons systems may be brought online with frightening rapidity. Torpedoes may be armed and launched in seconds, raining unpredictable destructive fury from above. By expending a Command Token during his Active Turn, the Morat player may make an attack at any point on the board with the following profile: BS 12, B 1, S 15, Circular Impact Template, AP + Exp, Anti-Materiel, Guided, Speculative Fire. If any Morat has Line-of-Fire to the target, the shot is made at normal BS and is unaffected by cover (though camouflage/visibility MODs still apply). If not, the shot counts as Speculative Fire. Additionally, if the target is in the Targeted state, only the +6 Guided modifier applies and the LOF penalty is ignored. This attack does not require the expenditure of an Order, only a Command Token.
 
This way, each army has something that is very characterful that they can do to influence their battles, but at the expense of the tactical flexibility that Command Tokens provide. So far, it's worked out very well.
cleardot.gif

Also, the last player turn of the first campaign turn finished up Friday night. It was Caledonians vs Kazakhs, with the primary objective being "Access Supplies" and the secondary being "Take Prisoners." Going into turn 3 it looked like a pretty clear Kazakh win, but the Caledonian player managed to rally and put the smack down on the Kazakh forces squatting 3 of the 4 objectives. It came down to a Kazakh scout needing to jump out a second-story window and sprint across open ground to claim an ammo crate, but William Wallace (at that point the only Caledonian model left with LOS to that particular objective box) put a cap in him from almost 30 inches away. The end result was a draw, again down to the wire.

That leaves the current track scores and campaign scores the same, going into the top of Campaign Turn 2:

  • Caledonians: -2
  • Kazakhs: 0
  • Haqqislam: 0
  • Japanese: -2
  • Morats: 0

It looks like the Morats (first player in the turn order) are going to be fighting the Kazakhs next, though I'm not sure which objective track he'll be targeting.

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I very much like your idea. And am going to steal it. If that's ok?

 

 Also very well written report, really enjoyed it and looking forward to the next one.

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Another narrative batrep, this time between the Kazakh forces and the JSA. This mission took place during the Kazakh player's first campaign turn, and he had chosen to advance his own primary goal track of securing Kazakh hegemony. Like Haqqislam, the JSA is trying to keep the Ariadnan factions balanced against each other (i.e. keep the track's value at 0), so he chose the JSA player as his opponent. Electing to do a 20x20 scenario, he chose mission #18 (Save the Scientists) as his primary objective. What follows an account of just how such a mission could play out in this complicated political environment. Enjoy!

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Naomi MacEnnis was a complicated woman. Born in a poor neighborhood in the heavily industrialized settlement of Skara Brae, she was proud of her Caledonian heritage. Too young to remember the Separatist Wars, she was old enough to remember Rediscovery - that bright, shining moment of infinite hope when the people of Dawn learned that after centuries of isolation, the path back to Humanity was once again open. That they were not forgotten. That they were no longer alone. As a young girl, she vividly remembered that one wondrous instant in time, when it seemed like all things were possible. She remembered her mother's tears; "Mama, why are you crying?"

And her mother had held her close and told her, "Tears of joy, lassie, because your life is going to be filled with wonders we can't yet even imagine."

And now she was old enough for that youthful, hopeful idealism to have turned to bitter rage as other planetary powers did not welcome the people of Dawn back into Humanity's arms, and instead began ruthlessly exploiting her world's natural resources for their own gain. Old enough to seethe at the casual arrogance their technological advantages afforded them. And so for as proud as she was of her family and her heritage and her peoples' struggles to carve a functional and thriving settlement out of this harsh wilderness, Naomi didn't view herself as a "'Brae Lass" or a "True Scot." She viewed herself as Ariadnan.

Among the folks with whom Naomi was spending most of her time of late, there was a word for that: Traitor.

Because for many in Caledonia, the wounds of the Separatist Wars were still deep, still festered. That they could continue to carry these almost tribalistic grudges which (when viewed in the context of how much had changed in the world since Rediscovery) now seemed so ancient and just irrelevant boggled Naomi's mind. She quickly learned that trying to show people reason, to talk them out of their lovingly-tended grudges was pointless. "Teaching a pig to sing," was the quaint phrase the Americans had for it - it frustrates you and annoys the pig. But somewhere along the line she'd met like-minded people who'd validated her worldview, who'd reinforced to her that her opinions had merit, who'd agreed that the bigger threat was external, not internal. And they'd convinced her that until Ariadnans as a people could get their shit together and establish themselves as a planetary power worthy of respect, the best thing she could do was to keep her idiot fire-brand friends from doing something stupid to further divide a people who so desperately needed unity right now.

Among the folks with whom Naomi was spending most of her time of late, there was a word for that too: Spy.

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Lieutenant Nakajima Hideki had served in the Domaru Butai Heavy Infantry for six years now. In that time, he'd been asked to do a lot of dangerous things, and while he'd never been directly ordered to do something he considered dishonorable, he had on occasion been forced to do things he found distasteful. Dealing with the man before him now most certainly qualified as the latter. A member of a loosely organized mercenary hacker outfit calling themselves the "WARDRIVERS," Kevin Bateman was annoying in ways that Lieutenant Nakajima had not previously considered possible. Skinny, hyper, and - to use an old Earth expression, "as white as Christmas," the man's physical incongruity was further exacerbated by the fact that his face was covered with elaborate, traditional Maori-style tattoos. The killing blow was the fact that he insisted on being addressed exclusively as "The Kevinator" - indeed, would pointedly not answer if addressed otherwise - and always referred to himself in the third-person.

But right now he was useful, because the Yu Jing StateEmpire (in the form of the Nakasendo keiretsu) was playing a dangerous game here on Dawn. Covertly arming and providing financial backing to Caledonian separatists in exchange for back-room deals over mineral exploitation rights had the strong potential to blow up in everyone's faces, and would reflect extremely poorly on the StateEmpire were it to be made public. And so men like "The Kevinator" were necessary, because for as backwards as these Ariadnans were technologically, it was a sure bet that the PanOceanian HexaHedron intelligence service would be only too happy to help them uncover any kind of electronic trail, bringing further scrutiny by O-12. The name of the game was plausible deniability. Even now the mercenary hacker was reconfiguring the comms systems of Nakajima's troopers to use encryption protocols originally developed by a criminal syndicate with ties to the Nomads.

But it was Lieutenant Nakajima's fervent hope that such steps would not be necessary. His detachment of special operations troopers was merely an insurance policy. If all went well, the keiretsu's equally deniable middle-man agent would meet with the separatists, conclude the terms of delivery of the arms deal, and they'd all exfiltrate with none the wiser.

And Nakajima Hideki - himself treated as a second-class citizen due purely to his Japanese heritage despite his decorated career of exemplary military service to the Yu Jing StateEmpire - would have been lying to himself were he not to admit a certain level of inner satisfaction at helping the Caledonians against their Cossack overlords.

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This was the moment towards which Pavel Shevchenko had been working diligently for months. With the help of their inside informant, they'd been keeping tabs on a Caledonian separatist cell that had grown increasingly radicalized since a woman named Siobhan MacDonald had taken the reins of leadership. The group was already suspected to be responsible for several acts of sabotage and terrorism, and the chatter Shevchenko was receiving through a variety of sources all agreed that they were aggressively and successfully recruiting, and that MacDonald was planning something big. Further, thanks to Naomi MacEnnis' courage and resourcefulness, they now knew that the group was receiving outside backing. An arms deal was to be concluded tonight, and their informant (who had finally worked her way into the cell's most trusted inner circle) would actually be present. In a safehouse in Skara Brae, he was meeting with her now, the importance of tonight's operation trumping the danger of breaking with the traditional fieldcraft of communicating only through dead-drops and cut-outs designed to protect them both. They'd been over the details twenty times so far, but twenty-one wouldn't hurt. "OK, walk me through it again."

"It's just the four of us: Me, Siobhan, McChord, and Epley. We're meeting at the Three-Legged Dog, and the seller will be there no later than eleven. If he's late or doesn't show, Siobhan says we walk. In separate directions."

"And if he does show?"

"We meet, shake hands, have a drink, and make small-talk. Somewhere along the way, he'll pass each of us a different address. Then we'll part ways. The four of us are to give him no less than a 30 minute head-start, then we'll depart one-by-one. One of those four addresses is the one where the arms are located. It is then that person's responsibility to arrange pick-up on their own and contact Siobhan for further instructions. I don't know about Siobhan or McChord, but I know Epley will call his brother, who drives a beer-truck."

Pavel had to grudgingly admit to the sophisticated level of tradecraft the plan incorporated. "And the arms themselves?"

MacEnnis pieced together what she knew as best she could from conversations she'd overheard, from things Siobhan had let slip. "Supposedly the good stuff. Certainly combi-rifles and high-explosives. And of course there was that cryptic comment about the stealth-tech."

It was this last part that had so concerned Shevchenko and his associates in the Ariadnan Intelligence Directorate. The people of Dawn already had a reputation throughout the Human Sphere as sneaky bastards, and their military made extensive and effective use of camouflage. But stealth technology was a rarity, and what Pavel and his superiors feared was that some foreign power was about to sell Optical Disruption Devices to known terrorists. 
"All right. We'll hang back as far as we can when establishing the tails. Following all three of the others will be hard, but we'll put someone on Epley's brother too just in case. It's too risky to grab the seller himself on his way out; I'm guessing he'll make a call once he's safely away and if that call doesn't get made, someone is waiting at the real drop-site to evacuate the arms and scrub the place."

And now for the sociological dance; it was important for Pavel to keep his source calm and to let her know that he had her back, even though they both knew at some deep, unspoken level that she was expendable. "We've already wired the place for sound and video. If anything - and I mean anything seems off, you give the signal and we'll send in the cavalry. All you have to do is hit the deck, stay down, and act indignant when you get arrested. Clear?"

Naomi MacEnnis nodded coolly. "Crystal."

TO BE CONTINUED...

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So far, so good. The agent was inside the establishment and had sent a tight-beam coded transmission that all was proceeding according to plan. 

Suddenly the mercenary hacker, whom only an instant earlier Lieutenant Nakajima would have sworn was asleep, suddenly perked up and spoke. "Hey, uh, Hide-chan." The fact that the wiry merc - who'd known the prickly Nakajima Hideki for less than 14 hours - referred to him in such a familiar and patronizing fashion was insulting on a level with almost lethal consequences. It was perhaps fortunate that the Lieutenant was already fully geared up and wearing his full-face helmet, lest his expression alone slay the tattooed hacker. Stilling his rage, the Domaru officer simply looked at the man and waited for him to speak.

"Are you guys running aud/vid surveillance without The Kevinator? Dude, not cool."

"No. You are supposed to be our surveillance. Or have you forgotten?"

The merc looked at him blankly, clearly waiting for something.

Fortunately his native language had a word to describe the level of frustration that interacting with this man provoked: Zasetsukan. Nakajima sighed. "No. The Kevinator is supposed to be our surveillance. Or has The Kevinator forgotten?"

"Well then that's weird, because The Kevinator is picking up aperiodic encrypted bursts coming from yonder dive bar, and while it'd take a few ticks to crack it, the packet size and timing is less consistent with secure cred transactions and more consistent with a pulsed surveillance feed."

They were blown. They needed to signal the agent - time to pull the plug. Without hesitation, Lieutenant Nakajima gave the order; "Abort."

Shrugging noncommittally, the hacker said, "You're the boss."

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To call the Three-Legged Dog a dive was perhaps charitable. The pub was dark, loud, dirty, crowded, and even at the best of times smelled faintly of vomit and stale beer. Or maybe beer and stale vomit. Pavel assured her that his team was listening, but given the level of ambient noise Naomi MacEnnis wondered how that was even possible. So far, the meet was going as planned; she and Susan McChord had already been passed their addresses by the seller, a non-descript man who'd introduced himself only as "Greg." Epley was being his usual self and had just knocked over his beer. In a chipper mood probably owing much to the fact that she was about to acquire advanced military hardware, Siobhan laughed, "Ach, Martin Epley, ye clumsy fat fook!" As those around it tried to keep the worst of the spill confined to the table, Naomi saw "Greg" stiffen and look towards the door.

She couldn't put her finger on it, but Naomi MacEnnis hadn't gotten this close to someone as dangerous as Siobhan MacDonald without having good instincts, and right now they were telling her without a doubt that something was very wrong. Chuckling and slapping the table, she said, "Jesus, fook, I need to piss. Let me out."

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They were blown. That was Naomi's trouble signal - time for Plan B. Without hesitation, Pavel Shevchenko gave the order; "Blow it."

The Dozer field engineer sitting next to him in the shipping container they'd appropriated as their "operations headquarters" keyed a button on his control console. Four canisters of debilitating riot gas covertly placed in the filthy drop-ceiling of the bar two days before - the Three-Legged Dog hadn't passed a health inspection in years, and Pavel's team was unconcerned with it being discovered prior to the meet - exploded, almost instantly filling the place with gas. In addition to being a powerful irritant, the gas was also a mild nerve agent, typically producing temporary paralysis within minutes of first exposure.

TO BE CONTINUED...
 

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Well that sure as fuck wasn't a part of the plan Pavel had shared with her. Like every other panicked patron in the crowded pub, Naomi fought through the choking cloud of riot gas towards the door. "Greg" was gone in a heartbeat, and she lost sight of Epley and Siobhan in the process, but stuck close to McChord. The two of them made it out into the street, where she saw a group of armed men in Kazak uniform rapidly advancing from the shipping-yard across the street from the pub. That's when her legs stopped working and things went black. 

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Oriented in such a way as minimize detection, Lieutenant Nakajima's team was caught off guard by the sudden crowd of people in the street. His troopers were all in hidden positions, none having a direct line of sight to the Cossack force that "The Kevinator" was even now telling him had just lit up its comm-net like Resurrection Day fireworks.

Now that direct action was called for, the Domaru officer would see whether the hacker would really earn his keep. The Ariadnans probably lacked offensive info-war capabilities, but it never paid to make assumptions. "The extra firewall protection for our heavy infantry - is it ready?"

"No worries, my man, The Kevinator's got you covered." 

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As soon as the intel officer had given the "go" command, Veteran Kazak Lieutenant Boris Baratnikov and his men came streaming out of the shipping container in which they'd been lying in wait. His squad's primary mission objective was to secure the separatist suspects from among the crowd of (rapidly dropping) civilians in the street. In order to do that, they first needed to establish a perimeter and keep any of the civilians from escaping the cordon. With the fluidity born of countless hours of practice, his fire-team of Kazak soldiers smoothly rolled forward, most of them clearing the shipping yard and taking up overwatch positions covering the street. He himself climbed atop a shipping container just inside the yard, taking a position that would allow him to lock down a nearby alley. Behind him, he could hear the clanking of an Uragan-equipped Traktor Mul lumbering forward, positioning itself to cover his team's right flank as they searched.

Dr. Andrei Chekov was the first to call out, "Got one!" Under the watchful eyes of his teammates, the Kazak medical officer ran into the open street, kneeling over an unconscious woman. Comparing her face to a quad of printed "mug shots" he'd helpfully taped to his arm when prepping for the mission, he confirmed her identity. "It's Susan McChord." He zip-tied her hands and - because the reflex was routine - he checked her vitals; and that's when he had his first shock of the evening. Her blood pressure was low and her pulse was extremely weak. "Ah, drek, she's crashing!" While the riot toxin the team had used was broadly considered safe, "broadly" was a relative term. Apparently Susan McChord was one of the lucky few who reacted badly. Unpacking his medical gear, he grabbed an emergency stim-injector and jammed it into her chest. He was rewarded with an instant increase in her blood pressure and pulse rate - an increase that just kept climbing, climbing, and climbing until the ventricles of her heart were pulsating violently and uncontrollably. "Matr, now she's in V-fib!" Try as he might, he could not stabilize the woman, and no cocktail of drugs he tried could keep her from flat-lining.

His second shock of the evening came when someone shot him in the face.

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Promoted to the rank of Socho (the highest rank of noncommissioned officer) just three days before this mission, Domaru Butai soldier Kametaka Hanzo took pride in being the "tip of the spear" for the response team. When Lieutenant Nakajima had ordered that intervention would be necessary to prevent the Cossacks from capturing either the agent or the separatists that the Nakasendo corporate intelligence team had spent so long cultivating, Hanzo was ready to go. As soon as he cleared the dumpster at the mouth of an alley leading to the main street, he saw a man in Cossack uniform kneeling over a zip-tied woman. The millisecond the front sight of his Spitfire settled over the kneeling Cossack, Socho Kametaka squeezed the trigger, letting off a long burst. The man never stood a chance, but his compatriots scattered, diving for cover.

He edged further forward, the muzzle of his weapon sweeping back and forth as he advanced. He knew from both his enclosed helmet's tactical display and his trust in their constant training that his Haramaki teammates were tightly behind him, watching any potential blindspots. Kametaka Hanzo moved further forward, hoping to get a line of fire on another of the men who'd taken cover behind a semi-truck parked in the street. Tac-net was warning him of an Uragan Remote nearby, and for as heavy as Hanzo's Domaru armor was, the Remote's high-velocity solid-core rocket-propelled munitions would punch through it easily.

Still focused on the men who just a moment before had been in the street, the Japanese sergeant saw movement ahead on his left - a man was leaning out from behind a shipping crate, levelling a tubular weapon at him. This couldn't be good. Hanzo again let loose with his Spitfire, hoping to at least keep the man's head down. But these Cossacks were possessed of a certain sort of cool bravery that Kametaka had to respect; the man didn't flinch in the slightest, and in fact may have spent an extra split-second to line up his shot before firing. Expecting an explosive missile that would immediately end his life, master sergeant Kametaka Hanzo was surprised to instead find himself covered in thick ropes of sticky goo. Upon exposure to air, the material quickly hardened to a tensile strength greater than that of high-carbon steel. In an instant, Hanzo knew he was trapped.

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Dozer technician Burton Kirby-Zelezny had about a half second of elation over his direct hit with the Akrylat-Kanone - a finicky and difficult-to-use  weapon at the best of times - when another heavy-armored trooper cleared the corner behind the first and fired a high-explosive missile at him. The munition was perfectly on-target, killing both Kirby-Zelezny and a member of Lieutenant Baratnikov's fireteam. A third fireteam member was severely wounded, dropping unconscious.

The Haramaki soldier continued his advance, the rest of the Socho Kametaka's fireteam fanning out behind him. Fearlessly moving to get the Uragan Mul in his sights, the Haramaki again let fly, this time with an anti-tank munition. The reaction-enhanced Remote simultaneously opened up with a hail of solid munitions which struck the heavily armored Japanese trooper. Wounded but undeterred, the Haramaki stood his ground, continuing to exchange fire with the Uragan. His bravery was rewarded when his second round struck the Remote just left-of-center, the armor-piercing anti-tank warhead burying deeply in the bot's innards before exploding, silencing the construct and clearing the way forward.

What followed could best be described as carefully choreographed murder. Though immobilized himself, Socho Kametaka Hanzo watched with pride as the rest of his fireteam of heavy infantry swept into the street, ruthlessly gunning down every Cossack soldier they could see and forcing the rest to cower behind what cover they could find.

Left with little else to contribute, the immobilized sergeant began focusing on the unconscious civilians in the street. Collapsing wherever they'd happened to be when the paralytic riot toxin took them, there were many faces he couldn't see. But on one such victim, he recognized a distinctive tattoo on her exposed outstretched arm. Calling up his dossier for confirmation, he relayed the position of Siobhan MacDonald to his team. They immediately reoriented and began advancing toward her.

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It took paramedic Pyotr Golotkin a moment to realize that the yelling he was hearing over the comm-net was his own. That it was a constant stream of obscenities and not cries of pain was reassuring. The carnage in the street was incredible - they were under constant fire from a well-coordinated team of heavy infantry. Golotkin himself had taken cover behind a semi, sparing him the fate that had befallen several of his countrymen. Peering under the vehicle in a vain attempt to maintain tactical awareness, he found himself looking directly at the paralyzed form of Naomi MacEnnis, one of the high-value targets his team was here to apprehend. Without a second thought, Golotkin dropped prone, low crawling underneath the vehicle until he could reach his target. Fortunately, MacEnnis had a perfectly normal reaction when injected with the synthetic adrenaline cocktail used to counteract the paralytic gas - she gasped loudly and jerked to full wakefulness. Golotkin supposed that he probably should have secured her first, but he wasn't terribly surprised when she joined him under the semi. The fact that she continued crawling past him to the other side and (once able) stood and starting making a bee-line towards the Kazak lines was a little startling.

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With his earbud filled with Lt. Baratnikov's orders to anyone listening to get some goddamn fire support going, Ariadna SCOUT trooper Dmitri Semyonov, broke the cover of his hidden position in a small copse of trees in a vacant lot next to the shipping yard. Moving low and fast, the man crossed the street. Seeming to be no more than a shadow, he snugged up against a low retaining wall around a nearby chemical storage facility and once again dropped prone. From his new position, he had a narrow line of sight past a few parked vehicles towards the carnage down the street. Activating the laser designator unit mounted atop his Ojotnik rifle, he laid a bead on one of the enemy heavy infantry troopers. Keying his comm system, he called in a standard fire-pattern. "Delta Delta Seven, target acquired."

The tac-net response was instantaneous; "Confirmed, Delta Delta Seven, commencing fire."

Rummaging in his pack, Semyonov retrieved an anti-personnel mine, shoved it out just past the corner of the retaining wall (where it would cover the approach he couldn't see from his prone position), and watched the fireworks begin. 

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Still held fast by the strands of now-rock-hard glue, Domaru Socho Kametaka Hanzo's pride at his team's decisive initial contact with the enemy turned to horror as indirect-fire, multiple-warhead missile rounds began falling among them, the first striking the already-wounded Momori Shinzo and killing him utterly. The other Haramaki began to scatter, but by the time the rolling barrage ended, only Yukio Mori was still on her feet (though she too was wounded). Closest to the crowd of downed civilians and breaking immediately for them after the first shells landed, it is entirely possible that all that saved Mori was that Cossacks' unwillingness to obliterate their own civilians. And at this very moment, she stood directly over her recovery target, Siobhan MacDonald. Perhaps this sudden debacle could be salvaged yet.

 

TO BE CONTINUED...

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Maybe it was a natural tolerance. Maybe it was the fact that he'd crashed out through a side window of the pub as soon as the gas-bombs went off. Maybe it was his excessive body mass. Or maybe it was the fact that being a three-pack-a-day smoker meant he simply didn't absorb as much of the toxin through his lungs as everyone else.

Whatever the reason, Martin Epley had managed to stagger not out into the street like the rest of the patrons - thank Christ, because it looked like utter chaos out there right now - but into the adjoining chemical storage facility. Knowing that staying at ground level was dangerous, Martin struggled up the grated stairs spiraling up the side of one of the tanks, wheezing with the effort. By the time he reached the top, he felt like his heart was going to burst. Whether that was the effect of the riot gas or the excitement or both, Martin wasn't sure. But this seemed like a good place to lie down for a moment...

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Tokusetsu Eisei Oyama Saiyo was pinned down. There was a heavily-armored Veteran Kazak with a perfect line-of-sight down the alley in which she and her other Eisei teammate were hiding. Fortunately, her slaved YaoZao Remote was lurking underneath an elevated fuel storage tank nearby. And through the YaoZao's sensors, she'd seen Epley make his escape. Most importantly, she'd recognized him as someone who needed to be exfiltrated with them.

Waiting for a momentary break in the action, the little drone zipped across a gap between storage tanks, depending on its speed, mimetic coating, and the narrow duration of exposure to enemy line-of-fire to protect it. Upon reaching its destination, it too began climbing the winding stair towards the top of the tank.

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"Tango Two, you're clear to engage." These were the words for which Aisha Kazar had been patiently waiting. Airdropped into position hours before by a "commercial" freight transport aircraft belonging to the one of the Nakasendo subsidiary companies, the Bashi Bazouk mercenary had remained hidden and maintained strict radio silence, patiently awaiting the order to either move or exfiltrate. Patience was not Aisha's strong suit, and now the spit-and-polish Domaru officer had finally given her the go-ahead to wreck some stuff.

Hell, yeah.

Activating her advanced holoprojector unit, Kazar suddenly took on the appearance of three more Domaru heavy infantry troopers. She then began stalking through the tank-farm, looking for targets. She loved the confusion that she could single-handledly wreak on an enemy, and something about taking maximum advantage of that confusion appealed to her basest killer instinct.

This was gonna be fun. 

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Paramedic Viktor Sakharov ran forward, hoping he could get to his downed teammates before it was too late. Deployed far back on the leftmost flank, he was fully expecting to be called in purely as routine medical back-up to treat civilians affected by the gas. Now he was sprinting for all he was worth. Crossing the street, he reached the relative safety of the retaining wall around the tank-farm. It took him a moment to realize the pile of detritus heaped against the base of the wall just to his right was in fact Dmitri Semyonov. The paramedic stilled his frazzled nerves; "Matr! You scared the crap out of me."

But Viktor had every reason to be scared, because at that moment three more enemy troopers in heavy armor rounded the largest of the storage tanks. All leveled their weapons at him simultaneously, but he hit the deck before they could open fire. "Gah! Where do these assholes keep coming from?"

While Viktor Sakharov was attempting to get small, Dmitri Semyonov was all business. Popping up over the wall, he leveled his Ojotnik rifle at one of the enemy troopers, firing as soon as the man's bulky form entered his sight picture. Surprisingly, the heavily armored trooper went down - and the other two flickered and disappeared. "There; problem solved," said Semyonov as he dropped prone again.

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Aisha Kazar lost consciousness within seconds of the heavy-caliber Ojotnik round passing cleanly through her chest. Her last thought before blacking out was that perhaps this was less fun than she'd expected after all.

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Originally part of a 5-member fireteam, Mori Yukio suddenly found herself wounded and alone. Socho Kametaka Hanzo was still nattering in her ear, the man's trapped state doing nothing to stop him from talking. And while the woman Yukio was ostensibly here to recover lay at her feet even now, the hyper-aggressive Haramaki warrior's baser instincts took over; her team members had been killed, but either vengeance or an honorable death (or perhaps both) was within her grasp! Keying her external helmet speakers to maximum volume and yelling a hearty "BANZAI!!!" Mori Yukio charged recklessly towards the enemy, combi-rifle in one hand, razor-sharp sword in the other.

As soon as she cleared the entrance to the shipping yard, still screaming bloody murder, Lieutenant Boris Baratnikov put an armor-piercing heavy-machinegun round through her spine. She collapsed to the ground like a rag doll and moved no more.

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Still barely clinging to consciousness, Martin Epley nearly shat himself when the stealthy little Remote grabbed him by the shoulder and injected something into his arm. He immediately felt like he'd just consumed a vat of coffee, and was suddenly hyper-alert. Then the little drone spoke and Martin was struck by the fact that its voice was so adorable, like that of a cute little kid. The actual words? Less cute: "Come with me if you want to live."

Martin processed the import of the message for about a half second before he responded; "Right, thanks for the pep-shot and all. But piss off. I ain't goin' nowhere."

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With both flanks now collapsed and most of his troops down, there was no point in continuing this madness any longer. Lieutenant Nakajima gave the command for immediate withdrawal. There was just one task left to handle, that of the agent presumably lying paralyzed in the street with the rest of the patrons of the bar. The man was now unrecoverable by Nakajima, so it was his duty to make sure the agent was unrecoverable by the Cossacks as well. He once again turned to the mercenary hacker, the man obviously wanting to already be making tracks away from here. "Send the kill code."

The tattooed merc shot him a disapproving look - "Cold-blooded, dude. Decidedly un-Halal." - but he complied with the order. The WARDRIVER's coded transmission would activate a tiny module attached to the Cube unit of the agent known to them only as "Greg," irretrievably scrambling the data and melting the storage media to slag for good measure.

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Heavy machine-gun slung over his shoulder, Lieutenant Boris Baratnikov approached the enemy trooper stuck by his Dozer's "gloop-gun." Reinforcements had arrived and secured the area and were dealing with rounding up and treating all of the civilians, but there was no further sign of opposition left standing - the rest presumably having exfiltrated the area individually or in small groups.

Now that he was closer, Baratnikov recognized the armor's design features, including its distinctive helmet: a Japanese Domaru. Knowing that the man inside was thinking all sorts of murderous thoughts but was completely unable to act upon them, Baratnikov sauntered up close, making sure to stay within the immobilized trooper's field of view. "Well, well, well, what have we here?"

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Yevgueniy Voronin, a Colonel in the Cossack Diplomatic Corps was enjoying every moment of the political theater playing out before him. Yu Jing StateEmpire ambassador Chu Yung-Wei was in an untenable position and knew it. Still, he had to dance the dance.

"This was clearly an unsanctioned act on the part of a rogue corporation. That their actions violate our own law - let alone our commercial treaties with the Ariadnan government - should make that abundantly clear."

But Ariadnan ambassador Mikhail Cherenkov didn't let up. "Perhaps. Yet we have one of the conspirators in custody, and while he will only reveal his name, rank, and identification number, we know from records obtained through query to O-12 that he is an active-duty soldier in the Japanese Army. How do you explain this, Ambassador?"

Chu Yung-Wei's casual racism was his only defense: "Who can guess the depths to which the Japanese will sink?"

"Still, the implication here is clear. We have compelling evidence that the Nakasendo group is directly meddling in affairs of Ariadnan national sovereignty. Need I remind you of the sanctions that O-12 levies for supporting known terrorists?"

At the mention of O-12, the wind seemed to leave the ambassador's sails. Though no O-12 representatives were present at this "private" diplomatic summit, the organization was the 800-kilo Antipode in the room. The Yu Jing ambassador sighed, "Surely legal actions can be avoided. It is in both our interests to avoid lengthy proceedings."

Cherenkov twisted the knife, "You mean lengthy and embarrassing proceedings, Ambassador. Proceedings you are highly unlikely to win."

Beaten but not out, the man shot back, "Time is always on the side of the Eternal Emperor, Ambassador Cherenkov."

And that was true. A superpower, the Yu Jing StateEmpire had the resources and connections to tie any sort of legal action up in bureaucratic red-tape for years if not decades. It was time to offer them an out that let the StateEmpire save face but still cost them something. "As you say. Perhaps there is a mututally beneficial solution here, Ambassador. I believe that a number of the companies comprising the Nakasendo group hold significant mineral exploitation rights on the outskirts of the Tartary region, yes? Rights which were grand-fathered in as a part of the treaties ending the Commercial Conflicts? Since the Nakasendo were responsible, perhaps it is they - and not the StateEmpire as a whole - who should be punished."

Like a drowning man clutching at the slimmest straw, ambassador Chu Yung-Wei brightened, as Yevgueniy Voronin had predicted he would during yesterday's closed-door planning session of the Diplomatic Corps. "A most astute and agreeable suggestion, Ambassador. Yes, I believe just such an arrangement could be concluded with ease..." 

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PICTURE TIME!

This was the board before deployment:

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The "Three-Legged Dog" is represented by the 2-story building in the center of the bottom edge. The other building to its left is only 1-story.

In this case, the JSA player won the roll for Initiative and elected deployment order, forcing the Kazakh player to deploy first. The Kazakhs elected to take first turn. The choice of deployment zone was important because this scenario uses 4 "civilian" models who start along the center-line and scatter up to 10". In this case, every single one of them scattered towards the bottom edge in the photo above. One of them ("Epley" in the story above) actually scattered on top of the big storage tank. As such, the JSA player naturally chose the side with both the taller building and the shorter distance to the objective.

The Kazakh player deployed extremely aggressively, parking a TR Uragan in the open right by the little orange forklift. It had direct LOF into the shorter building and there were two Civilian objectives (McChord and MacDonald) it was also covering. Near it but out of LOF was a Katyusha. His Kazak fireteam was stacked up behind the camo truck and he had a marksman deployed prone atop the rock formation with good LOF to the front of the "pub."

Knowing that his opponent would get first turn and had a lot of AP firepower, our JSA player (the least experienced of us, although he's learning really fast as you'll see in a forthcoming batrep) made the critical strategic error of deploying extremely conservatively. His 5-man Domaru+Haramaki link team was well out of sight behind the dumpster next to the shorter building. Indeed, none of his troops had LOF to any of the Kazakhs. This effectively gave the Kazakh force a free turn (to make a play for the objectives and set up some choice AROs of his own), as there wasn't a single ARO by the JSA. About a third of the way through the turn he realized his mistake; "Man, I totally messed up my deployment."

Of course during this turn the Kazakh player managed to get an actual Kazak Doktor in contact with one of the Civilians (all of whom are considered Unconscious at the start of the scenario) - and promptly roll a 17. The scenario states that all of the Civilians have Cubes, so he burned a command token for a re-roll - and got an 18. Yup, one dead Civilian. Fortunately, the scenario rules state you don't lose points if you kill them while trying to revive them. But still, he was close to two other Civilians and had pretty good board control positions. Looking at it, I thought that it was going to be pretty one sided.

Then the JSA player just UNLOADED with his Domaru + Haramaki team. A lucky FtF hit with an Akrylat-Kanone put the Domaru in IMM-2, but the rest of the Haramaki were death machines. By the end of his first active turn, he had killed or knocked unconscious nearly half of the Kazakh force. Suddenly, I thought it was going to be pretty one-sided the other way.

But keeping to his plan, the Kazakh player used his Ariadna SCOUT to put one of the Haramaki into the "Targeted" state and started hammering the heavy infantry with DA Katusha rounds. The best thing that happened to the JSA player here was that the Haramaki who'd been targeted died in the first volley, and the rest of it was Speculative fire. But still, it was carnage. By the end of it, there was only one Haramaki left standing, but she was in B2B with a Civilian, and now safe from further template fire:

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You can see poor Kametaka Hanzo immobilized back by the dumpster.

In the chaos, the Kazakh player also crawled a Paramedic under the semi and successfully revived a Civilian, then spent as many orders as he had left getting her back towards the safety of his deployment zone. Here we can see the brave Golotkin, still prone, and Naomi MacEnnis (the figure with the square base) beating feet to the rear!

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But what really turned the game was that the one Haramaki ended her Active Turn with her Fireteam link broken. That meant that even though she was standing right over a Civilian, she had reverted to being Extremely Impetuous, and ran to her death at the hands (or rather the AP HMG) of Lieutenant Baratnikov

In his second Active Turn, the JSA player tried to pull it out, but one of his flanks had basically collapsed. He brought on his Bashi Bazouk to try to reinforce his right flank, and made a play for the Civilian atop the tank, with a YaoZao, but we didn't realize that the tiny bot couldn't actually heal him (use of G:Synch is not allowed in the scenario). Still, the little bot actually had a sufficient PH to carry the Civilian in CASEVAC ("fat fook" that he was), but he was out of orders. Hence, Epley wasn't going anywhere.

With a lucky surprise shot against the (correct) Bashi Bazouk in the beginning of the Kazakhs' 3rd active turn, it was pretty much over, considering that the way to Siobhan MacDonald was completely open to the Kazakh player. The two amicably shook hands and called it a game.

In terms of the campaign, both players used their special abilities - the JSA player burning a Command Token to purchase a WARDRIVER and the Bashi Bazouk and the Kazakh player burning one to make the loss consequential for the JSA player (meaning his primary goal track of "Illegally Exploit Resources" dropped from 0 to -1). Combined with the Kazakh win (breaking up the separatist cell brought his "Secure Political Hegemony" goal track up from 0 to +1), this was a 2-campaign-point swing for the Kazakh player in a single game!

In case you're wondering about how Line and Veteran Kazaks are ending up in Fireteams, we're running a home-grown "Kazakh Sectorial" army list for the Kazakh p[layer. It's modeled heavily on the Caledonian and USAriadna lists. Our Morat player is some kind of magician with Adobe Illustrator, so as soon as he finishes that document, we'll post it for anyone who wants to give it a go.

He's also doing the layout of the full campaign rules we're using, and we sat down and did the initial copy-edits last night. I owe him a few more examples and some more clear verbiage on a couple of things, but hopefully that document will be ready soon as well.

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As promised earlier, we've finished up the work on our home-brew Kazakh Sectorial list. Please take a look and let us know if you find it suitably Rodina-flavored!

 

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More battlefield reporting from the Dawn Campaign. This is a report from the first fight between the JSA and Haqqislam, in which the JSA is attempting to advance their own "Illegally Exploit Resources" track. The JSA player chose the 20x20 mission "Center Control" as the primary objective, and "Take Prisoners" was the randomly determined secondary objective. This is the game I mentioned briefly in a previous post, where my opponent brought an entire list full of Ninjas, Raiden, and Shinobu Kitsune. His courtesy list consisted of just two drones.  :-/  It was an incredibly close-fought game, not only because he had the perfect troops for the mission, but also because he managed to put me in Loss of Lieutenant for my first turn. I spent the entire game playing catch-up and trying to dig TO Camo ninjas out of the objective building. Once again, it came down to the game being decided in nearly the last order.

Here's how it went down...

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Yamazaki Hiroshi looked about the small, darkened briefing room and couldn't help but smile; though there were no vacant seats, the room was officially empty - because according to personnel records, none of the people in this room existed. While it was common for nations to hide the names and identities of their covert operatives, virtually all of the people present here were from an organization whose very existence was denied throughout the Human Sphere: the Ninja. A few he recognized - he'd worked with hacker Iwata Midori before, as well as the unnaturally thin man with the incongruous name of Futohara ("fat belly") Shinzo. The others were unknown to him, and it was unusual to have so many of his order gathered in one place.

Even more unusual was the dark, sobering presence in the back of the room; a legend in these circles, Togan Saito sat mute and none had the temerity to disturb him. But when the equally legendary Kitsune Shinobu entered the room and began delivering the briefing, Hiroshi knew that this was no ordinary mission. It made him wonder what sort of strings the Nakasendo keiretsu could pull to assemble such a team, especially considering that at least he and Futohara had been pulled from active combat operations on Paradiso to come here.

A series of images, both overhead and street view filled the wall screen. "This is the Ariadnan Directorate of Resource Management office in the frontier city of Novo-Petropavlovsk. Held within it are the records, core samples, and raw topographical data from thousands of mineral surveys conducted in the western Tartary region, as well as records indicating the titular onwership of claims made as a result of those surveys. Due to the logistical difficulties involved in prospecting in this dangerous region, as well as the political difficulties in obtaining the legal permission to do so, it has been deemed a matter of great import to obtain this data through covert means."

At this point, hacker Iwata Midori interjected, "I take it then that our mission is to gain entry to this facility's data networks and pull the pertinent information?"

Kitsune Shinobu gave a wry smile. "If only it were that easy. Due to the technological inferiority of the Ariadnan people, as well as the fact that many of these surveys are more than a century old, the data are not stored digitally. They are contained on an archaic, miniaturized photo-optical format known as 'microfiche.'"

The lithe woman paused as all those present in the room consulted their Geists for a definition of the unfamiliar term. It was Iwata Midori who broke the silence, switching to English in order to emphasize her stunned and contemptuous disbelief. "Are you fucking kidding me?"

Unfazed by the sudden hub-bub in the small room, Kitsune Shinobu continued. "Our mission is to gain access to this facility, locate the pertinent information, and make optical scans of everything of value - prioritizing survey data first, followed by records of claim ownership and legal status. Intelligence estimates conclude that this will require unfettered access to the facility by a small team for roughly five hours." At this the Oniwaban officer's voice sharpened, becoming deadly serious. "Make no mistake - this is not a 'smash and grab' operation. Successful completion of this mission will require methodical search and coordination, and will expose the team over a temporal window far in excess of our usual operational parameters. Further, due to recent...political difficulties, detection by the Ariadnan authorities is absolutely unacceptable. It is imperative that everything is left as we found it and that our activities remain completely covert."

Everyone present knew exactly what Kitsune meant when she used the term 'political difficulties' in the typically Japanese understated way; the Nakasendo keiretsu had been caught red-handed meddling in matters of Ariadnan sovereignty, and while deals had been struck to keep the matter from becoming a complete debacle before the O-12 assembly, those agreements had come at a steep cost. Further, the Cossacks now subjected the operations of all Japanese mega-conglomerates to an increasingly watchful eye.

Yamazaki Hiroshi listened carefully as the Obiwaban officer laid out the operational details of the mission.

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Dr. Afifa Chakwas waited in the darkness, trying not to let the stench of the dumpster behind which she was hiding break her concentration; best to stay sharp for this one. Unspecified intelligence assets - which usually meant someone in the Hassassin Brotherhood lurking as a deep-cover mole - had alerted Haqqislam's Special Operations Directorate that the Japanese were up to mischief here on Dawn again. After their last unmitigated disaster they were being especially careful, and while it would have been easy to simply pass the intel along to the Ariadnans, the Sultan's foreign affairs advisors had made the compelling case that presenting the Cossacks with proof (preferably in the form of more captured Japanese operatives) would engender more political favor. And so once again Dr. Chakwas was huddled in the dark, waiting for something violent to happen.

The plan was simple - her Halqa squad was to set up advance positions around the building in which they knew the Japanese were interested. Backing them up was a cadre of chain-rifle-toting door-kickers, ready to wreck things at a moment's notice. Dr. Chakwas didn't always like working with the fanatical Ghazi - they were often dangerously impulsive - but even she had to admit that having them along for this mission would be useful, especially if they encountered the kind of heavy armor the Japanese had used in their last intervention operation.

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Having stealthily advanced to the building and gained easy access through the ground-floor windows, Yamazaki Hiroshi's team (to his pride led by Togan Saito himself) had only just set about orienting themselves for their search when the first report came in: enemy spotted. It was their local guide - a Highlander Cateran and member of a friendly separatist militia - who tipped them off. Though Hiroshi had been concerned at the idea of bringing a foreigner on such a delicate mission, the man had just proven himself. Ninja sniper Uehara Fumiko confirmed. Having just just worked her way into a position atop the elevated plinth and between the massive bronze legs of the "Proletariat Triumphant" statue in a nearby park, she reported. "Enemy in sight. I see at least four, including one heavy infantry. Looks like an Asawira." So, it seemed the forces of Haqqislam had been waiting for them.

Adapting smoothly to this change in the tactical picture, Lieutenant Kitsune Shinobu altered the operational scheme without hesitation. "New plan: Cloak-2, grab as much of the physical media as you can. All other units, go loud. Take prisoners if possible. If they haven't alerted the Cossacks yet and it's just the Muslims, we may yet be able to frame this as their intrusion. Prepare to execute on my mark. 3...2...1..."

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"All Rocket units: Sitrep." That would be Lieutenant Hafez al Fadel, the Asawira officer in command of their little posse. Professional to the point of being almost completely devoid of personality, the man none the less seemed competent. She much preferred working with the Naffatun Lt. Hiromanoglu (largely because he wasn't decked out in heavy armor and gene-rigged for regeneration, both of which led him to be much more realistic about what normal humans could achieve in combat), but he'd been recently injured in a training accident and was temporarily out of fighting trim. And someone higher up in the chain of command had decided that having this operation led by one of the Sultan's elite would look good politically. Dr. Chakwas once again peered down the trash-strewn alley in which she hid, waiting her turn before confirming, "Rocket-3, all clear."

Samara Tahrir, the member of the Halqa unit positioned furthest forward, lurking at the corner of the building itself was the last to report; "Rocket-4, all clear." She'd no more than uttered these words when a burst of combi-rifle fire from inside the building hit her in the back, dropping her to the pavement.

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With the order to engage the enemy being given and Saito-sama having downed the Haqqislamite woman on their flank, Futohara Shinzo and Yamazaki Hiroshi pushed through to the far side of the building, making ready to engage the enemy. Futohara arrived at the window just in time to see a woman in dark camouflage right outside the building arm an anti-personnel mine. Realizing that if he made the slightest move he'd trigger the device, Futohara was about to inform his teammates of the new threat when he heard Togan Saito say, "Cover me, I'm going to grab the one outside." Realizing that the veteran ninja's path would trigger the unseen explosive, he yelled, "Saito-sama, WAIT!" The deafening boom damned Futohara to the knowledge that his warning had come too late; Togan Saito's body, perforated simultaneously by half a hundred bits of jagged shrapnel, fell lifeless to the floor.

Fortunately, Saito was the only victim, his lateral movement drawing the directional blast almost perfectly between his other teammates.

Still outside and now informed of this new threat, Kitsune Shinobu acted quickly. Under the cover of a hastily-tossed smoke grenade, she closed the distance, hugging the wall of the building and vaulting atop a parked car. Orienting herself for a brief moment inside the blinding cloud of smoke, she leapt forward, her monofilament-edged sword whistling from its sheath as she flew. As her momentum carried her the three steps to her target, the sword took the kneeling woman just under the ribcage. The arc of the cut sliced upwards and to Kitsune's right, effortlessly passing through bone, lung, and heart before passing out the other side. As the woman in the camouflaged jacket fell backwards, the light already leaving her eyes, a chunky device dropped from her fingers, a red light pulsing on its side indicating that the electronics inside were active.

TO BE CONTINUED...

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Although she didn't know that her Hunzakut teammate had sacrificed her own life to deploy it, as soon as the repeater came online Barid hacker Eram Saless immediately began scanning the frequencies, her virtual talons locking onto the RF signals associated with an enemy hacking device. In an instant her own powerful hacking device - purpose-built for exactly this kind of attack - had broken several layers of encryption asunder and given her direct access to the biofeedback fail-safes in her opponent's neurally-linked device. Normally designed to protect a hacker during the rigors of direct-brain interface, when compromised the fail-safes could be made to have the opposite effect, in this case suddenly filling the enemy hacker's body with enough raw adrenaline to bring on immediate cardiac trauma. Mentally triggering the kill-code, Saless smiled. "Gotcha, bitch."

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Repositioning towards cover and dodging fire coming from outside the building, hacker Iwata Midori was momentarily distracted. Had she been paying less attention to incoming bullets and closer attention to her counter-intrusion feed she could perhaps have changed comm frequencies, swapped encryption on the fly, or just flushed her device's VM an reloaded from an uncorruptable external back-up. As it was, her first sign that something was wrong was a sudden, crushing pain in her chest. She knew instantly what had happened; by then it was too late.

Nominally aware of the loss of their hacker teammate, Yamazaki and Futohara had a more important consideration - their commanding officer had risked her life to prevent the Muslim infiltrator from salting the area with more mines, but it had exposed her. The two set about engaging any target they could see - and there were several - in order to cover their lieutenant's retreat to safety. Talked onto his target by Uehara Fumiko (still hidden in the park), Futohara Shinzo let off a long burst from his combi-rifle. His target was heavily armored. Futohara knew of the Asawira regiment, both by reputation and by having once served alongside one on a dangerous joint-operation mission on Paradiso; They were gene-altered fanatics who could take incredible punishment. They did not falter and they did not retreat, so the ninja knew he had scored a killing blow when he saw his target fall.

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Gazing through the scope on his rifle, Hugh MacHugh caught movement atop a nearby building. Dialing up the magnification, the Highlander sniper adjusted for both range and windage, settling his cross-hairs over the enemy's helmet as it crested the building's parapet. "Tha's right. Hold still, ya bastard." Its trigger squeezed ever so gently, the rifle bucked hard. Well accustomed to the recoil, MacHugh was able to re-settle the scope over his target in time to spot the fall his own shot. He was rewarded with the sight of the round striking his target in the helmeted forehead, a spray of blood painting the roof-top air-handler behind the man before he dropped.
 

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This was the second time in as many weeks that Dr. Chakwas had participated in an "ambush" engagement that had so rapidly gone pear-shaped. Somehow the Japanese had detected them, had gotten into the building without alerting any of the Halqa sentries. Now the area around the building had erupted into a wicked, close-range firefight. She knew from her squad's tactical feed that Lieutenant al Fadel's vitals had flat-lined. She'd seen Asawira come back from worse, and besides, she'd have to cross directly through a raging firefight to reach him. Still, his loss created momentary confusion in the team. Were they still on mission? Should they disengage? As if to emphasize the confusion, a heavy rocket came streaking out of the night, blessedly impacting safely beyond the HMG-toting Shihab Remote that was trying to get into position to hammer the building with automatic fire.

Not good. Not good at all.

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Yamazaki Hiroshi and Futohara Shinzo continued to engage the targets they could see from the windows, covering Kitsune Shinobu as she ducked back into the cover of smoke, vaulting the parked car and crashing through a window back into the safety relative of the building. Futohara Shinzo took aim at a woman who broke cover, letting rounds fly as she charged towards him. Underestimating the speed of her movement, his shots went wide.

Looking to support her teammate, ninja sniper Uehara Fumiko squeezed off a shot at the charging woman. The charging fanatic ducked at the last second, and all that Uehara Fumiko got for her troubles was a hail of hot HMG fire from a nearby remote. Several rounds struck her, her life's blood running down the statue's plinth as she bled out.

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As soon as he'd seen one of the camouflaged Japanese support troopers make his way up the grated stairway to the top of a petrol storage tank, Haider al Khaduri had begun quietly following him. Cueing his nanofiber skinsuit to take on a similar appearance, the Fiday slowly worked his way up until he could just see the man over the edge. Khaduri waited until his target was engaged before making his move, taking advantage of the man's distraction as he reloaded his heavy rocket launcher.

The Japanese trooper looked up just before Khaduri got to him, the quizzical look on his face betraaying his confusion at seeing his "teammate" out of position. That momentary hesitation was all Khaduri needed, swiftly drawing his long knife and striking out at the man. To his credit, the Raiden recovered from his confusion quickly, and Khaduri was not able to score a swift kill. Still, it was only a matter of time, and while he was ducking and swinging and stabbing at Khaduri, he wasn't lobbing rockets.

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Hugh MacHugh heard a commotion off to his left and saw two of the Japanese troopers fighting amongst themselves atop the petrol storage tank next to his. No, wait, that wasn't right - even as he watched, one of the troopers morphed into some sort of... MacHugh didn't know what. Whatever, not his problem, the Raiden could take care of himself. MacHugh again lowered his eye to the scope and began scanning for targets. He spotted more movement, again from atop the building where he'd just dropped a bogey. Settling his scope, he had just enough time to register the hole in the helmet, the blood coursing down the man's mask - how was this bastard even still alive? - before he saw the muzzle flash. "Bollocks" was Hugh MacHugh's last thought before the Djanbazan sniper returned the favor, neatly putting a bullet through the Highlander Cateran's forehead. Unlike the Haqqislamite warrior, MacHugh didn't have the advantage of regenerative nanites coursing through his body, and slumped quite dead.

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Futohara Shinzo knew this was his last chance - the woman was close enough that he could hear her ululating war-cry over the roar of his own combi-rifle. He'd already hit her at least once, but she didn't seem to care. As he fired again, she abruptly stopped her charge and leveled her bulky chain-rifle at him. His last thought before his body was riddled with red-hot shrapnel was that at least he'd taken her with him - but as he fell he saw her take another step forward. And another. Then everything went black.

Yamazaki Hiroshi and Kitsune Shinobu ducked and weaved as the Ghazi woman unloaded with her chain rifle time and time again. Miraculously, both weathered several volleys from the indiscriminate weapon before the woman finally succumbed to the wounds that Futohara had inflicted on her and fell dead in the street. It was just the two of them in the building now, and Kitsune directed Yamazaki to the corner window farthest to his left to secure their flank.

It was clear by this point that the operation was a total write-off. All that was left now was to hold out until the extraction team could reach them. To that end, Kitsune Shinobu commanded her second Raiden to break cover and engage the enemy - but as soon as the man stood and shouldered his rocket launcher, a Halqa soldier dropped him with a lucky long-range shot. Kisou! Could nothing break their way?

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After another frequency scan confirmed no further hackers nearby, Hassassin Barid Eram Saless took over command of the operation - with no more vulnerable brains to fry, her work was done and she could concentrate on leading her force to victory. Before he'd been gunned down by them, one of her team's Ghazis had reported that there were two Japanese Remotes closing on the building, no doubt looking to cover the Japanese escape. Hefting her rifle's undermount device, Saless pitched a miniaturized package over the building to its far side, hoping that it would land in more or less the right place. The launched repeater survived the landing, quickly coming on-line and expanding the Haqqislamite electronic warfare coverage.

Saless' fellow Barid teammate Ali Hassan al Rahman took immediate advantage, launching a series of programs designed to jam the enemy drone's telemetry and remote presence control signals. It wasn't a permanent solution, but until the Remote re-established contact, it would be a sitting duck.

As soon as she heard al Rahman's "Go, go, tke the shot!" over the tac-net, Dr. Afifa Chakwas leaned out around the dumpster. There, right in the open in the middle of the street was an enemy Remote, the uncanny twitching of one of its forelegs evidence that her hacker teammate's programs were wreaking havoc on the 'bot's systems. She lined up her rifle and squeezed off a burst, the shower of sparks erupting from the drone's carapace indicating tht her aim was true. Another came barreling around the corner of the building, and both Chakwas and another Halqa teammate riddled it with bullets.

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Yamazaki Hiroshi was operating purely off instinct when he raised his rifle and returned fire at a target atop the low building across the street. He registered the man's bloody helmet and mask, but after the man dropped he didn't get up again. Yamazaki counted himself lucky - these Muslim devils were hard to keep down.

Still, he couldn't get over the feeling that the noose was closing. Heavy machinegun rounds struck the exterior wall, forcing Hiroshi to duck for cover. When he caught the briefest glimpse of a white-haired woman dash across the street, he knew what was coming next.

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Dr. Chakwas kept low as she ran, making it across the street to the wall of the building before the ninja inside could fire upon her. She briefly checked to make sure that Samara Tahrir was still alive - the pulse was weak but steady, a good sign - before she steeled herself and crashed through the nearest window, firing with her undermount shotgun as soon as its muzzle was inside the building. Her first shot hit the ninja in the nearest corner, the knockback thankfully sending his own return fire wide. Scanning the large room, now riddled with bullets, she spotted an impossibly fit woman, who turned to face her. Even as Dr. Chakwas brought her weapon to bear and opened fire, the woman was ducking, rolling, weaving, ending up closer with every shot. A moment's reprieve came when Eram Saless - who had run across the street on the far side - leaned in a broken window and shot the woman in the back. The Oniwaban shrugged it off.

Screaming curses as she ran, Dr. Chakwas continued to unload with her shotgun, desperately trying to avoid catching Saless in her blast while simultaneously avoiding her teammate's line of fire. She couldn't be sure which of them fired the final blow, but eventually the Japanese woman dropped, her mono-edged sword falling at Afifa Chakwas' feet.

That was entirely too close for comfort.

Dr. Chakwas didn't know who the woman was, but she knew that the Oniwaban would make an excellent prisoner. Stooping to pick the woman up, Dr. Chakwas grunted - for as thin as she was, the Japanese woman was surprisingly heavy. Dr. Chakwas wondered what sort of bio-enhanced Lhost body this woman was packing. Struggling, the Halqa doctor could do little more than drag her quarry a meter at a time.

"Leave her, we've gotta go. Control says the Cossack authorities are inbound." This was from Eram Saless, now the team's acting Lieutenant. Sparing one last look back, Dr. Chakwas set about reviving Samara Tahrir before joining her teammates and heading for the extraction point.

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The sound of sirens in the distance was all the cue that Haider al Khaduri needed; swiftly disengaging from his enemy, he saluted the stalwart Raiden before dropping off the edge of the storage tank and disappearing into the night. Members of his team were already collecting their fallen comrades and making for the nearby Luzige amored transports. Best to be gone by the time the Ariadnan authorities got here. Picking a conveniently secluded spot in which to hide, al Khaduri once again activated his skinsuit. Within but a moment, his disguise as a civilian paramedic was complete. He'd blend in with the first responders and ensure that anything potentially incriminating to Haqqislam involvement was removed from the scene. His only regret was that he was not in a position to stop the Japanese extraction team from pulling their own casualties out before the Cossack police arrived.

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Broken glass crunched under Yevgueniy Voronin's boots as he surveyed the scene. Blood smears and spent shell casings littered the floor, but the Investigative Division had already warned him that these were going to be of little value in determining who was responsible for this mess - the smell of some sort of chemical agent hung in the air, which the experts told him was used to destroy any usable genetic material in the blood. And ammunition from a hundred different legal manufacturers was all too easy to obtain in the Human Sphere, so that was likely a dead end as well. The Cossack "diplomat" had his suspicions about what had happened here, but what he suspected and what he could prove were two very different things.

Someone had wanted something here, and someone else had stopped them. Colonel Voronin took little comfort in the idea that an unknown party had foiled the intrusion; he knew how quickly alliances shifted when "national interests" were involved. Taking in the carnage one last time, the Cossack diplomat shook his head and returned to his official vehicle, his mood as black as the night in which his people's enemies operated.

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Two batreps today (I was on an airplane and had time to write):

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Dear Mrs. Baratnikov,

It is my deepest regret to inform you that on the evening of August 34th, your son, 1st Lieutenant Boris Baratnikov was killed in the line of duty. While the details of the operation he was commanding remain classified at this time, there are a few pertinent pieces of information which I have been permitted to convey.

First and foremost, the mission he had undertaken was voluntary. Lieutenant Baratnikov was under no compulsion or obligation to place himself in harm's way on that particular evening. Quite the opposite, the local field commanders deemed the mission too dangerous to undertake given the situation on the ground, but Boris strenuously disagreed, volunteering to lead a small group of soldiers to accomplish the objective.

Second, this selfless sacrifice was made in order to protect both civilian lives as well as other members of the Line Regiment to which Lieutenant Baratnikov's Special Operations unit was attached.

And finally, while Boris paid with his life, the operation was ultimately successful thanks in no small part to his leadership, determination, selflessness, and tactical acumen. Had he not led his detachment as adeptly as he did, it is certain that a greater loss of life would have resulted.

While I realize this must come as little comfort to you upon learning of the loss of your son, please know that he gave his life doing something in which he believed very strongly. I had the good fortune to serve with Boris early in my career when we were both stationed in the same Line Regiment, and I can say that I have met very few men who exemplified the honor, integrity, and valor of the Ariadnan people as well as your son. The term "hero" is bandied about so often that it has cheapened the meaning of the word, but please take solace in the knowledge that Lieutenant Boris Baratnikov was a hero in the truest sense. We are all worse off for his passing.

My sincerest condolences,

Captain Igor Kevashin
1st (Special Operations) Kazak Veteran Regiment

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Captain Igor Kevashin sighed and rubbed his eyes. Looking over the letter one last time, he committed it to print on official letterhead. It would be whisked away by an orderly and sent via priority courier delivery, accompanied to the Baratnikov residence by a personnel officer and an Army chaplain. By this time tomorrow afternoon, poor Mrs. Baratnikov would have learned of her son's untimely and violent demise.

Igor wished he could have put operational details in the letter, but maybe it was for the best that he couldn't. How could he explain to Mrs. Baratnikov that her son, a hardened, two-tour veteran of bitter combat against the alien incursion on Paradiso had died right here at home fighting separatist trash in some God-forsaken Caledonian shit-hole?

While the statements made in the letter to Mrs. Baratnikov were true - that the mission was voluntary, that it prevented further loss of life, and that it was ultimately successful - Igor regretted the fact that the mission had been necessary at all. Though Kevashin had not been privy to the details of the Intelligence Directorate operation that had brought Lieutenant Boris Baratnikov here to Skara Brae originally, the Veteran Kazak lieutenant's Special Operations unit had been seconded to a Line Kazak regiment tasked with follow-on peace-keeping operations. That the Caledonians viewed those same peace-keepers as occupiers only exacerbated the tensions with the locals, and the Line regiment ran into problems almost immediately.

Part of the problem was the terrain; Caledonian militants in the area had mostly holed-up in an abandoned, ruined area on the outskirts of modern-day Skara Brae devastated during the Separatist Wars. Known colloquially as "The Warrens," this once-industrial area had been a rat's nest of holes and tunnels during the war, which is why it had been bombed to ruin back then. Now it was even worse. Sweeps of the area with Antipode teams had revealed several weapons caches and the entrances to a sophisticated tunnel network. Worse, the nature of the terrain made resupply difficult; most of the streets where choked with rubble and the shattered urban landscape was fertile ground for abmush. That left the primary method of resupply being via airdrop, and that's where things had first started to go wrong.

Due to inclement weather (though Intel couldn't rule out the disturbing possibility that the drop aircraft's nav-systems had been hacked), a routine resupply drop of ammunition and medical stocks to the Line regiment had drifted into an area of the Warrens that had not yet been secured - and from which Caledonian terrorist cells were known to be operating. This would have been bad enough, but the fact that nightfall was rapidly approaching made the situation untenable. Regimental Command was willing to write off the supplies, waiting until morning to retrieve them in force. Lieutenant Baratnikov had argued - correctly, as it turned out - that by then it would be too late, and the regiment's stocks of ammunition and medical supplies would be in the hands of the terrorists. But volunteering to lead his team into harm's way in one of the most dangerous combat environments known to man was exactly how Boris Baratnikov was used to operating.

While he hadn't been part of the mission, Captain Kevashin knew that the operation was composed of two teams, a sweep team - who had the difficult job of finding the supplies and establishing a perimeter - and a recovery team, whose job was to hoof out the crates once they'd been secured. Boris led the sweep team. Initially, it was said that they met little to no resistance, and had located and secured the supplies before sunset. But just as dusk was falling, Boris' team was attacked in force by well-armed militants.

Igor had read the intel reports of terrorists getting outside backing, and wondered if some of the weapons trained on his friend had come from off-world. Perhaps, but equally likely was that the weapons had "gone missing" from the armories of one of the local Caledonian Volunteer regiments, most of whom Igor felt lacked discipline. In any event, the engagement between Baratnikov's team and the terrorists was short, sharp, and bloody. Eyewitness accounts claimed that the Veteran Kazak lieutenant had been hit by HMG fire at least twice before finally being felled by a sniper.

More troubling were reports that William Wallace had been spotted among the militants. The Intelligence Directorate could not definitively confirm this - indeed, the only way to know for sure that Wallace was ever on the field was when he was killed, his throaty, dying cry of "FREEEEEEDOOOOOM!!!!" always a dead-giveaway. Kevashin wished to God that ALEPH had never Recreated that asshole, or that people would quit throwing his AI-enhanced Cube into a new Lhost body every time he got capped. None the less, if true it would cast a shadow over relations between the Caledonian people and the Ariadnan government; if a charismatic leader like William Wallace could galvanize the clans, Ariadna might be looking at a Second Separatist War - a prospect Kevashin found doubly disturbing every time he read situation reports from Paradiso.

At least Baratnikov's death had not been in vain. Though it cost most of them their lives, the sweep team managed to hold the perimeter until the arrival of the recovery team, at which point the Caledonian militants - themselves greatly reduced in number - withdrew empty-handed. With their supplies secured, the Line regiment was able to continue pacification operations in the Warrens.

But while the area had been deemed "secure" by High Command, Captain Igor Kevashin was left with the nagging doubt that things were not so simple. He wondered how many more of these letters he'd have to write.

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PICTURE TIME!

The preceding notification letter was the result of a battle between the Caledonians and the Kazakhs. It was the Caledonian player's turn, and he elected to drop the "Secure Kazakh Hegemony" track, as it had gone to +1 earlier in the campaign turn and was therefore costing him points (because he opposes it, and scores more points the more negative it goes). The Caledonian player had chosen the 20x20 mission "Access Supplies," with the randomized secondary objective being "Take Prisoners."

Kazakh player was hosting the game and decided to do something a little different, using a ruined landscape ("The Warrens" mentioned in the story above). We played all ruins as difficult terrain, Saturation Zones (unless you were right up against a window or a door), and Partial Cover (i.e. if you were in the ruin, it was assumed that you could find something to hide behind). This is the board from the Kazakh side:

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It's hard to see (because these are crappy cell-phone pics in poor lighting) but there's a camo marker on the top floor of the building just shy of the center-line on the right-hand side. That was an Ariadna Scout who would make a heroic, last-turn dash for one of the objectives - jumping out a 3rd-story window (and surviving the fall!), only to be gunned down by William Wallace just as he reached the crate.

And here from the Caledonian side:

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William Wallace is at bottom center, right next to the Caledonian Traktor Mul. This game saw three Uragans fielded (two by the Kazakhs and one by the Caledonians), so there was all sorts of rocketry going on.

The first turn was pretty much a long-range slug-fest, as both sides tried to blast each other out of elevated positions. But both players quickly came to the realization that while putting guys up high in ruins gave some good lines of fire to cover the center of the board, it also meant lots of expensive "Climb" or "Jump" orders getting them back down to ground level to actually claim the objectives. By the bottom of turn 2, some lanes of approach had opened up, and the Kazakhs made a strong play for the objectives (the grey and yellow barrels, which you can see best in the photo below). At one point they were in possession of two and threatening a third.

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Just when it looked like the Kazakhs had it in the bag, William Wallace went on a Rambo-esque tear. In the Caledonian player's last turn, Wallace killed I think four Kazakh troopers, completely blasting the Kazakh player off the objectives. That left the aforementioned Kazakh Scout to try to pull off something miraculous (again, with the game being decided on the very last order), but alas, Wallace gunned him down in ARO. For all of the carnage, the game ended up being a 0-0 draw, which was effectively a loss for the Caledonian player (as by the campaign rules, only a win would decrease Kazakh hegemony). This game saw lots of sneaking, crawling, cautious movement and TONS of HMG and Uragan rocket fire, especially in the first turn.

The battle after this one was the Morats attempting to increase their own primary "Remain Undetected" track by +1 and being opposed by the Kazakhs. That one had all sorts of hilarity, and I'm writing the story for it now. Expect it within the next week or so.

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It's time for another batrep from our Dawn campaign. This time, it's the Morat Aggression Force taking on the Kazakhs, with the Morat player attempting to increase his "Protect Covert Status" track from a 0 to a +1. The mission he chose was 20x20 mission #19, Seize Hardware. In this mission, there are two objective crates and two civilians. The civilians each have a password to one of the crates, and must be interrogated before the cough up the codes. I don't remember what the secondary objective for this mission was.

Additionally, given that all the human players stood to lose points if the Morats succeeded, the Kazakh player chose to use his campaign special ability to make a loss consequential for the Morat, meaning that if the Morats lost, their score would actually drop from 0 to -1. There was a lot riding on this battle, to be sure!

Here's how it went down...

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A gentle chirp indicated that it was time again. Had anyone been present on the bridge, they'd have heard it, but the sound went unackowledged by any living being. No matter, virtually all of the ship's functions - including navigation - were handled by a powerful expert system anyway. And in the case of the MAFNV Gaki's Embrace, this expert system was in fact a small shard of the Evolved Intelligence itself, so important was the overall mission deemed by the overmind that controlled the fearsome Combined Army of the Ur Hegemony.

The Gaki's Embrace was a bit of an incongruity; With its blocky, practical shape and obvious weapons, the corvette was every bit Morat in design, with all the subtlety of a brick to the face. Yet this ship incorporated numerous stealth technologies pioneered and perfected by the Shasvastii - active cloaking systems, enhanced EM shielding, sophisticated drive baffles to mask the engine signature, and a nano-adaptive outer skin that gave the ship chameleon-like powers - all designed to allow the vessel to avoid detection.

The reason was simple; the Gaki's Embrace was a small, lone ship operating far behind enemy lines. Here, in orbit around the planet the Humans called Dawn, there was no support. Indeed, there were several hostile military blockades that the ship would need to run in order to return to EI-controlled space. Detection would almost certainly result in destruction.

And so, it was time once again to reposition, to change the orbit occupied by the ship, to remain elusive while still allowing the Morat forces aboard to accomplish their primary mission objective of wrecking this planet's ability to produce and export Teseum. A rare  metal, Teseum enabled many of the high-tech weapons and armors that the EI-led Combined Army used to expand the hegemony of the Ur-Rationalist civilization. The EI had calculated that allowing the Humans to exploit the material for their own military usage would impose a delay of roughly 6.7 Ur-standard months before full assimilation of the Human systems was achieved. To an intelligence that measured time in femtoseconds, such a delay was deemed unaccaptable.

Without any intervention by the Morat soldiers and crew on board, the Gaki's Embrace began to slowly come about to a new heading, carefully relocating itself in order to remain hidden.

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Mt. Horeb Radio Observatory, Eastern Merovingia Frontier, 17:28 Ariadna Standard Time (02:28 Local)

"Ugh. I'm so fucking bored. Cataloging stars is the absolute worst." Sprawled in an uncomfortable office chair, his dirty bathrobe and brightly-colored boxer shorts hanging loosely about his lanky frame, astronomer Carl Davis sighed.

Responding absently from a nearby terminal, fellow scientist Jacques Guibet observed soberly, "Then perhaps a career in astronomy was a poor life choice, eh?"

"Seriously, fuck this. We've been banging away on this same cluster for what, like three weeks now? I know you dig proto-stars and all, but I'm losing my mind over here."

Guibet paused his work and looked up from his terminal, regarding his companion with an exasperated stare. "What would you suggest instead?"

The sudden possibility for a change of pace roused Davis from his chair. Shuffling his beslippered feet across the room, he stood before a large star-map posted on one wall of the cramped observatory office. Poking at the multitude of hand-written notes stuck to the map, he said, "I dunno. How about this one here? This sector had a higher-than-usual incidence of pulsars. Pulsars are cool. And who knows, we might finally collect enough data to nail down the mass versus periodicity relationship."

Now it was Guibet's turn to sigh. "Fine. Just don't blame me in another week when you're bored of pulsars."

"Right on! I'll set the scopes." The lanky American sauntered back to his terminal and punched in a new set of coordinates. In moments, the observatory's array of massive radio antennae encased in their white, spherical domes rotated smoothly, bringing a new area of sky into their powerful field of view.

Because all data was considered precious, the telescopes continued collecting as they swept from one region of sky to the other, the faint signals emitted from stars millions of years ago being automatically logged to storage media for later analysis. Unbeknownst to either astronomer, part of that sweep caught an unusual anomaly originating from much closer to home.

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The EI shard piloting the Gaki's Embrace was aware of the human radio observatory. Indeed, upon arrival to the system, the artificial mind had carefully catalogued all of the sensors throughout the system that it would need to avoid in order to remain hidden, and the observatory was just one of many. Further, the EI shard had taken the additional step of hacking into the observatory's survey schedule - the facility's "high-tech" computer system ironically exposing it to infowar intrusion - in order to avoid exactly this type of chance observation.

But there was no arguing with the reflective resonance in the radio frequency spectrum picked up by the Morat insertion corvette's own powerful passive sensors; the humans had observed the Gaki's Embrace while its drives were active, and from this could potentially derive useful information about how to detect the ship in the future. This constituted an unacceptable risk.

And while hacking the observatory to remove or alter the data was an option, the EI shard knew from examining system schematics of the facility that in addition to supporting basic science, the observatory was considered a "dual use" installation with a military presence. While the humans' "hardened" military information security was laughably easy to circumvent, this unfortunately also meant that the data were streamed via one-way diode-fiber to multiple isolated storage devices. Compared against the "original" observatory data, any alterations made surreptitiously would be spotted immediately - and arouse undue suspicion. Annoyingly, the locations and access protocols for these devices were not present in the schematics. This could mean only one thing.

Within nanoseconds, the EI shard had called up all of the pertinent topographical data, collated it with what it could discern about the active human military presence on-site, and created a tactical plan for a direct-action operation against the facility. By the time the new orbit of the Gaki's Embrace brought it back around this side of the planet again in one hundred and eighteen minutes, the Morat soldiers on-board would be briefed, geared up, and ready to drop on the site in the stealthy corvette's equally stealthy shuttles.

 

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Hangar Deck, MAFNV "Gaki's Embrace," 19:05 Ariadna Standard Time (14:21 Ship Time)

Lieutenant Rutak ducked as his opponent's combat knife whistled past his face. Already bleeding from several cuts and at least one stab-wound, the Rodok officer was hard-pressed. He countered with a thrust of his own, but knew instantly that he'd played into his opponent's trap - and sure enough, the heavily muscled Suryat sergeant-major brought his other forearm down in a blistering arc on Rutak's elbow. While the joint didn't break, the force of the blow was enough to knock Rutak's own knife from his hand, the weapon clattering across the hangar deck. To go after it now would be suicide.

Rutak had no intention of committing suicide. Indeed, he had every intention of killing the burly warrior he now faced. It was the way of Satorak; honor was at stake. And as one of the newest Morat units, the Rodok regiment had much to prove. Without the extensive, decorated combat history of the more established regiments like the Suryats, Yaogats, or the fearsome Sogarats, the members of the Rodok regiment had to fight like devils in order to earn even the smallest shred of respect in the Morat military hierarchy. That the Suryats had the gall to put up a non-com (albeit a senior one) to engage in Satorak against an officer was ample evidence of this.

And even though to all appearances he was getting beaten, the young Rodok officer felt that this fight was going well. His opponent was strong, yes. Skilled, without a doubt. Vicious, unquestionably. But the Suryat was a heavy infantryman at heart, and his muscle mass made him both slow and more easily winded. Already Rutak could discern a decrease in the speed with which his opponent's attacks were launched (though their ferocity was in no way diminished). But of even more import was the heavy infantryman's tendency to fail to look up, to discard verticality as a valid tactic, and that was the limitation that Rutak had sought to exploit from the very start.

Now unarmed and dodging several more cuts and thrusts of his opponent's knife, Rutak rolled to his side - "accidentally" backing himself up to one of the assault shuttles parked in the hangar bay. Penned in by the craft's blocky body and stubby starboard wing, Rutak's freedom of movement was drastically limited - and his opponent knew it. The big Suryat sergeant-major hesitated for a moment. For a heartbeat, Rutak felt the first glimmer of uncertainty; had his opponent guessed Rutak's ploy? Had he been overconfident of his ability to lure the Suryat in? Was he about to die and bring shame to his unit?

But no, his opponent's hesitation was merely a pause to enjoy the satisfaction of the kill. It was a satisfaction Rutak meant to deny him.

As soon as the big Suryat was committed to his attack, Rutak leapt backwards - and up. Though he was not decked out in his heavily-augmented, jump-assist armor, all of the Rodok soldiers trained hard at leaping, both for distance and for height. Rutak's jump brought him atop the external cowling of the starboard weapons pod, about chest high on the Suryat. But evading his opponent's attack was not the goal, it was merely the set-up; as soon as his feet touched the shuttle's armored exterior, he was bounding forward with all the strength his heavily-muscled legs could muster. Surging forward with his left knee, Rutak's trajectory brought the point of his attack home directly at his opponent's face, and the young Rodok officer felt the Suryat's bone crunch and teeth break. Letting the momentum of the impact bear them both to the ground, Rutak let his full weight fall on the Suryat's barrel-shaped chest, knocking the wind out of him. The momentary paralysis while the big warrior gasped for breath was all the opening that Rutak needed; with one swift stroke of his own clawed hand, he had torn open his opponent's neck.

Now, bathed in gore and standing over the fallen Suryat non-com's rapidly-cooling corpse, Rutak spread his arms wide, flexed his chest to its fullest extent, and let loose a triumphant roar that echoed off the hangar walls. Regarding the other Morat assembled to observe the ritual combat, he could look each one in the eye without flinching; he had proven himself worthy.

Not one to mince words, Major Tornak, the overall commander of this Morat expeditionary force, spoke; "It is settled. The Rodoks will spearhead this operation. We launch in 20 minutes."

TO BE CONTINUED...

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