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[[Galactic Standard Timecode 0344-14/50-8/10-145AF, Geosincronous orbit over GB-0068a, Edgaila Expanse]]
Had there been any eyes on GB-0068a, or anywhere in orbit, digital, optical, or otherwise, that were capable of tracking a United Terran Navy Loki class destroyer under silent running, they would have seen the sleek, triangular patch of void-blackness break away from the Federation task force formation and arc towards the far side of the moon. The small ship cut through space like a mino knifing through dark water. She pierced the atmosphere on the day side of the moon exactly two hours, thirty minutes after the evening terminator passed over the pirate stronghold. Decibel killers built into her flanks muffled the roar of her passing, and her retro impulse units slammed her to just below the sound barrier long before she reached an altitude where it would have been audible from the ground.
Ten kilometers from the target, the Gallipoli went into a sharp spiral dive. She wound down, down, and down before banking up sharply and deploying her slender landing legs. They reached their full extension just as their tips settled gingerly onto the soft loam in the exact center of a jungle clearing barely a meter larger than the ship was, just about two-point-four-nine kilometers from the pirate base.
Inside the bay airlock, Mimiala’Vol and the humans of OpsTeam9 had ridden out the atmospheric entry dive in strap-harnesses, the ship’s internal gravity field having been shut down to reduce her sensor profile. On the last leg of the approach, they had detached themselves from their restraints, and stood free in the center of the bay, facing the ramp, hanging onto anchor points and net straps to maintain balance as the ship maneuvered around them. Vol felt the Gallipoli give one final lurch as she touched down. The red light by the outer ramp flicked to green, and the ramp swept down smoothly, letting in the hot, moist jungle air of GB-0068a’s tropical zone.
There was no shouting, no barked orders to disembark. The humans simply flowed right out of the bay and into the jungle. Vol followed them on instinct, her powered sabatons thumping as she sprinted after her alien squadmates. About ten yards into the foliage, the squad stopped, held up by a hand sign from Whitmin, and knelt, scanning the trees and bushes with weapons raised.
“Blackbird, Eightball. All hands down and clear. Dustoff, dustoff,” Captain Whitmin’s voice crackled over the general communications net.
There was a thrum of impulse drivers, and Vol looked back just in time to see the midnight shadow of the Gallipoli lift into the air and disappear into the night sky. When she returned her gaze to the humans, activating her helmet’s built-in low-light assistant, the humans were moving again, disappearing into the jungle. Literally, they seemed to vanish, fade right into the foliage around them. Vol realized that their grey uniforms had shifted color somehow, changing hew to match the same mix greens and blacks as the background around them- The same colors that Paulski had painted her armor, it occurred to her.
“Stick ta me, Snake-Doc,” Spears’s voice came from a patch of green not a meter to Vol’s right. The human woman’s face, smeared green and half-hidden behind her own night-sight apparatus, peered out like a disembodied apparition. “Stay low, stay quiet. We don’t think they have patrols out this far, but that’s no excuse ta be sloppy now, is it?”
It quickly became apparent that however adept Vol was at fieldcraft (and she didn’t consider herself an amateur by any measure) the humans were...unnatural at it. They were like ghosts. It was all Vol could do to even see Spears as the Chief slithered and flowed through the undergrowth. She had completely lost track of the others. It wasn’t that they were perfectly invisible, but somehow, the green patterned mess of their clothes seemed to blend perfectly into the vegetation. It was a remarkable and rather disconcerting visual phenomenon.
And they were so quiet. Vol’s own sabatons made only muffled thumps on the mossy ground as she stepped carefully and slowly, but the humans didn’t even make a sound, even when they were right next to her. Even when she boosted her helmet’s audio pickups, she only got the sound of wind and the chirping of insects. That strange fluidity Vol had seen in the human crew of the Gallipoli display was amplified in these warriors, and it translated into a speed and grace that the darkalan officer struggled to keep pace with.
Someone caught her arm, and Vol started. Paulski’s hairy, mud smeared face appeared at her shoulder.
“Hold up, Doc,” he said in a nearly silent whisper, audible to Vol only through the comms net. “Squad, Roadkill. Hostile patrol two-oh-clock, eighty meters north-north-west.”
“Roadkill, Eightball. How many and where are they going?” Whitmin’s voice hissed over the net.
“Top, Roadkill. It sounds like 3 of them, Nshii, moving due west right across our line.”
“You can hear that?” Vol asked. “I can’t hear anything.”
“Quiet please,” Whitmin said. “Alright, we hold here until they cross our path, then angle north to give them a wide berth. Roadkill, shadow them and make sure they don’t change course.”
Paulski gave a “wilko”, which was apparently the human word for “yes” because he quickly ghosted off in the direction of the still unseen enemy. Vol waited in silence, to all of her senses, completely alone in the jungle night. She had a vague feeling of the humans around her, maybe ten to twenty meters in any given direction, but she couldn’t hear or smell or even see them.
Can they even see each other? Vol wondered, then, looking at her armor, newly repainted by the humans in their strange eye-tricking patterns, Can they see me? They have to. Otherwise, how could Paulski have found me? And their hearing…
It took several minutes before the all clear was given. The trip resumed with special care. Vol paid special attention to step only on soft ground, doing her best to stay, if not as quiet as the humans, than at least as quiet as she could be. The hike had been long, and she noticed her stamina reserves beginning to feel the taxation. How far had they come? A kilometer? A kilometer and a half? In this terrain, that was a long way to have come in so short a time, even with powered armor.
“Top, Box-Man. I have eyes on the compound. Watchtower at twelve-thirty. One man with a rifle up top.”
“Acknowledged, Box-Man. Rabbit, find your infil. Snake-Doc, move thirty meters to your two-oh-clock and wait for Box-Man. Roadkill, on me. Deploying the hummingbird.”
Vol’s “Moving, Top” joined the rest of the team’s acknowledgments. Despite Whitmin’s orders, she found Hao already waiting for her near the point where the jungle ended and the perimeter clearing of the compound started, a flat, open space around the compound’s wall. The wall itself was maybe three or four meters in height, constructed of prefab panels with improvised alterations. In the middle of the visible stretch of wall was the guard tower that Hao had mentioned. An adult dongada was perched atop it, idly gazing at the night sky, lights from inside the compound backlighting it’s blue chitinous hide and the outline of a weapon cradled idly in its arms.
“What is the plan?” Vol asked Hao off coms.
“Rabbit’s inside already,” he said, “found a place she could climb over. Top’s guiding her to the base of the tower with the hummingbird.”
“What is the hummingbird?”
“Compact aerial surveillance drone. It lets Top look down and tag hostiles so Rabbit can avoid them and move through the camp.”
“Like our Drake’s Eye units,” Vol observed.
“Something like that, but a lot smaller. He and Roadkill are set up in an overwatch position. Roadkill will take out that guard so we can move to the wall and find an egress. Probably that door at the base of the tower.” Hao pointed the door out to Vol, who nodded.
“White-Rabbit, Roadkill. I have your bad guy,” buzzed over the net, then a second later, “Roadkill, Rabbit, in position.”
“Rabbit, Roadkill. Five...four...three...two…”
Vol barely heard the meaty sound of an impact, but she was looking in the right direction and saw the dongada’s snouted head jerk violently and the puff of pale purple mist that burst out of it. The body swayed and toppled off the tower and behind the wall. Barely a moment later, the door at the base of the tower was knocked open and Spears emerged dragging the still twitching corpse behind her.
As Hao hustled Vol across the clearing to the base of the wall, Spears lay the dongada guard’s body face down in the runoff rut at the foot of the tower, taking a half second to strip his communicator link off of his coat and jack it into her own headset.
“Eightball, White-Rabbit. We have ingress and a patch into hostile comms. Moving in now.”
Spears nodded to Hao and Vol as they regrouped.
“You ready?” Spears aimed the question at Vol.
“If I am not, that we came an awfully long way for nothing,” Vol returned.
“Let’s hope not. Follow me, stay as low as you can, do not speak unless you’re getting shot at. Box-Man, on our six.”
Inside the pirate camp was a dump. Vol thought it would have been too cliche for the set of a holonet serial. Refuse and weeds littered every open space, the structures were cheap, abused prefabs covered in graffiti and mud. Diode lights cast harsh, but patchy islands of white in the darkness. The three infiltrators moved around those islands, guided by Captain Whitmin’s aerial surveillance and Spears’s preternatural senses. Vol could hear pirates around them, often as voices coming from inside prefab buildings, sometimes a few wandering pairs or trios. They chattered in GalCom about gossip, about the Federation coalition over their heads, how long the negotiations would take, whether the Feds would be brazen enough to damn the hostage and launch an assault, or about how their superiors were going to try to cheat them out of their cut of the ransom money. Absolutely none of them seemed worried about the possibility of intruders.
Whitmin guided the trio to the central building, an old- very old- colony hub, designed to be dropped from orbit as one piece. From what they could tell, it was the pirates’ headquarters. Their radio transmitter was at its top, and the hostage was in its impact-buried storm shelter. According to the building’s design template, there would be an exterior secondary entrance hatch leading directly to that shelter, and that was their planned entry point for the building. There was, however, a not unexpected complication.
“White-Rabbit, Eightball,” Whitmin said. “I have one Anoijan with a rifle guarding the back door. You should see him right under that lamp.”
In fact, Spears had already seen the hostile and stopped the infiltration party in a shadowed ally. The Chief reached up gingerly and keyed her communicator, but didn’t speak into it, just letting it buzz once over the network. The humans had told Vol about this. They called it “click code” or “squelch code.” It was a method of using voice communication without speaking. One click meant either an interrogative or an affirmative response, two meant a negative.
“White Rabbit, Roadkill, I see yer bad guy but I don’t have a clean shot. Round would go through him and ring that whole building like a fucking bell. You’d have to rush it loud after that.”
The line squelched twice.
“White Rabbit, Eightball. You got him, Chief?”
Without any further comment, Spears ducked back the way they had come. Vol began to follow, but Hao flashed her the universal “hold fast” sign. Vol cocked her head at him, but he just grinned back at her and mouthed “watch.” It was only then that Vol noticed Spears had entirely disappeared in that human way Vol was starting to get supremely annoyed by.
They waited for what felt like hours, but Vol’s chronometer insisted was no more than ten minutes, when Vol saw what Hao had been anticipating. The guard, meandering boredly around the general area of the door, fidgeting constantly with this or that, wandered a little closer to the edge of the cone of light cast by the overhead lamp post. That was when Vol saw something, a shadow form like a nighttime phantasm, detach from the darkness and ghost up behind the guard. There was a jerk, a hushed gurgle, and Spears had her arm wrapped around the anoijan’s head, and her other hand wrist deep in the folds of muscle around its thick neck.
The guard went limp as a rag doll and Spears heaved. The whole thing had taken less than a second, from the first movement to the guard’s feet disappearing into the night. Vol had never seen anything move, let alone kill, that fast. Spears darted around the light and rejoined then, wiping blood off a black knife on her shirt sleeve.
“Let’s move,” the Chief said simply.
Tekliena’Ker scratched idly at the crumbling sheet-plaster of the little basement room the pirates had stuffed him in and, far from the first time, wondered whether he would live to see starlight again. Contemplating one’s own death, he was discovering, was a rather banal affair. In fiction, characters always thought about deep, meaningful things. Loved ones, lifelong dreams, great destinies denied, that sort of thing. But Ker’s mind kept shifting to small things. The net-vid series he would miss the last episode of, the diagnostic he’d forgotten to run on the freighter’s interior lighting system, the breaks he’d never spend looking out at the stars.
Ker loved the stars. He loved sitting in the dark, looking out at the universe and seeing light from a billion years ago reaching down to him. They were why he’d taken his sabbatical on a ship’s crew. Everyone went offworld, but usually just to see the Capitol or one of the colonies- Get out into the world and live a little while you’re young! Shipping on an Anoijan freighter around the Expanse? It had the air of danger about it, a story he’d brag about, about flying through pirate infested skies, but he’d never really thought there would be any real danger. Pirate attacks were something that happened in stories, to other people.
Now his life rested on the patience of his captors and the willingness of the Federation to pay them. Father had the money. Father would pay it in a heartbeat. But the government had its principles to uphold. And when they threw him down here, cursing about a fleet in orbit...these pirates didn’t seem to be having their way with the situation.
All in all, reality had started to seem distinctly unreal.
Ker was pulled out of his depressed daydreaming. Was that a noise?
There was a long silence and then There it was again, louder, a kind of snap-pop sound like children’s new-year pyrotechnics. Had the guard gotten bored and started throwing rocks or something?
There was a thud on the door, then a scraping sound. Ker thought he saw something in the gap under the door, then the lock spun. Ker shrank back into the corner. Some part of his mind knew it wouldn’t do any good, that no matter what, he was at his captors’ mercy, but that part was suffocated by basic, animal instinct.
When the door opened, though, it wasn’t the Pirates. Instead, two small people- barely as tall as Ker was- in ugly green and brown uniforms zipped inside, moving like water. And then came a Darkalan Knight. Her armor was that same hideous mix of colors as the smaller beings, but its shape was unmistakable. She was a Darkalan Knight, and the most epic and heroic holo-casts could never have done her justice in Ker’s eyes.
She was across the room in two loping strides, and kneeling over him.
“Sir,” she said, her helmet’s voice caster giving her a harsh, authoritative bark. In Darkalan, he realized. Not GalCom “I need you to tell me your name.”
“I-im Ker!” Ker stammered. “I’m Tekliena’Ker. I’m Darkalan. I was on the ship- the ship when these…”
“Alright, Ker,” she interrupted. “I need you to answer a few more questions for me, can you do that?”
“Tell me what the name of your pet sokal is.”
“His name is Bara,” Ker said, confused.
“What color is he?”
“Blue,” Ker said, “He’s blue with white spots on his back.”
“Very good,” the Knight said. “Now, I need you to tell me if you are injured. Do you have any pain anywhere? Any deep aches or trouble moving?” While she asked this she was already examining him all over, checking his limbs and torso with firm hands.
“No,” said Ker, “I think they were scared to do more than bruise me.”
“Look here for me.” She shined a bright light into first one eye than the other, then turned to her companions who had immediately taken up positions by the door.
“It’s him.” GalCom this time. “Dehydrated and a little weak but no major injuries. We can move him.”
“Switch,” one of the companions called, and it and the Knight changed positions. The small being- Is that a...human?- pulled something off of his comically large pack and thrust it at Ker.
“Sir,” said the human, “I’m going to need you to put this on for me. It’s an armored vest. Your head goes through here...now this arm up...good. Hold still.”
The human cinched the thing down. It was heavy, and he wondered why he needed it if he had been rescued.
“Aren’t the Pirates...didn’t you beat them? Isn’t that why you’re here?”
“Not our mission,” said the human, pulling him over to behind the Knight. “Now, this is Snake-Doctor. She’s going to lead you out of here. She’s your best friend. You see this strap? You hang on to that. Use both hands and hang on.”
Ker grabbed the strap-like handle on the back of the Knight’s armor.
“Good job, kid,” said the human.
The other human spoke for the first time, apparently to a communications line.
“Eight-Ball, White-Rabbit. We have the Package, exfil in progress.”
The infiltration team hustled out of the prefab with unseemly haste, like thieves fleeing the scene of a robbery.
Well, that is what we are, after a fashion, Vol thought.
The Tekliena boy clung to her armor-harness, stumbling along behind her. Dispite the white-knuckle grip he had on her, she still kept an arm on his shoulder, just so they didn’t lose contact. The last thing Vol needed was to have lost the hostage ducking through the prefab camp minutes away from safety after all the effort it took getting here.
It was less than 30 meters from the perimeter wall that things went wrong. And, in Vol’s experience, when things went wrong in the field, they went all the way wrong, and they did it quickly.
The first thing that happened was Whitmin’s voice over the comms net saying “Where the hell did he come from?” Then she saw the line of harsh yellow light from an opening doorway cut across Spears’s back as she passed. Then confused Nshi clicking. Then Vol’s railgun shot was cutting the Nshi in half.
The deafening crack of the shot had barely passed before the humans changed gears.
“We’re made!” Spears snapped. “Snake-Doc, take the package and book it for the gate. Move!”
“Looks like everyone’s awake now,” Whitmin commed. “Weapons free. Cover Snake-Doc. Roadkill, entry tower-”
“I see ‘im, Top,” Paulski cut in.
For her part, Vol grabbed the Tekliena boy and started running. Powered armor was less a suit of clothing than it was a wearable armored vehicle. Once it got moving, the list of things that could stop it was very brief. Vol ran right through a plasboard fence like it was tissue, and was in the main thoroughfare of the camp, dragging the boy behind her. The humans were flitting around like insects, firing, throwing grenades into doors and down allies. The pirates seemed to have realized that they were under attack and were starting to spray laser and mag-slug shots seemingly at random.
“Please!” the boy panted, barely keeping his feet under him as Vol hauled him in her wake, “s-Sir knight! I can’t keep up!”
“Just hang on,” Vol said. “We move or we die.”
She slowed just enough to get a firm grip of her own on his shirt. A glebni in rusted flak-plate and holding something lethal looking in its tentacles flew at them from a prefab roof. Even as Vol made to push herself between it and the boy, it’s cephalopoid head exploded. The shot had taken it in midair.
“Close one” Paulski commed. “Keep moving, Snake-Doc. You’re almost to the gate.”
In fact, she was at the gate. She shoulder-barged through it and pushed Tekliena ahead of her. They stumbled across the moat-clearing with the humans hot on their heels. They hit the jungle treeline like splashing headfirst into dirty water. They kept going, chased by the sound of angry shouts and wild weaponsfire.
“South!” Spears ordered. “South to the pick-up point. Top, how fucked are we?”
“You pissed them all the way off, Rabbit.” Whitmin’s voice was panting and undercut with the heavy rustling of fast movement. “They’re scrambling in every direction. I don’t think they all know what hit them or which way it went. Me and Roadkill are moving to the extraction point, Eeh-Tee-Ay ten minutes.”
“Acknowledged, Top,” Spears said mid-movement as she turned and loosed a burst at something behind them. Whatever it was screamed and died. They kept running.
“Is that a technical?” Hao said.
“Top,” Spears said, “You got eyes on that big-
“EEEEEEAAAAAAAIIII!!” Tekliena stumbled, fell, and screamed.
Vol skidded to a halt, her sabatons gouging deep furrows in the jungle loam as her momentum carried her several more meters. Turning, she had just enough time to see the boy sprawled out on the moss, one leg wedged in a crevice under a treeroot, bent at an unnatural angle. Hao was at his side in an instant. She took a step toward them.
Then, something about the mass and speed of a dreadnought at full drive slammed into her armor’s chestplate and the world went inside out.
Ker was half blinded by the lightning shooting up his leg. It was impossible. Nothing could hurt that much. All he knew was that he’d been running, he had put his foot down, had an instant to realize something was very wrong, then he was on the ground and someone that sounded a lot like him was screaming like they’d been murdered.
The knight stopped. He saw her turn. Then she exploded. Something hit her, and she was thrown into the air and landed on her back meters away.
“Rabbit! Kill that goddamned technical right the fuck now!” The human, the short one that had given him the order to hang on to the knight, was leaning over him and yelling at his companion in jargon.
“Shape charge out!” The other one howled. There was a wooshing sound, a clang, and another explosion set Ker’s ears ringing.
“Top, Box-Man. Snake-Doc is down. Snake-Doc is down. Bad guys had a heavy rail-driver on a vehicle. Package is wounded.”
There was a pause.
“She’s alive,” the other voice, the female, said. “Armor’s trashed, but she’s alive.”
“Checking,” said the male. “Kid. Hey, buddy, look at me.”
The short human smacked him on the face gently, getting his attention.
“Kid, your leg is broken. I need you to tell me if anything else hurts, can you do that?”
“I-I can’t move!” Ker babbled. Leg broken. If he couldn’t run… “Please! I can’t move! Don’t leave me. I don’t want-I don’t want to die!”
“Listen to me,” the human said sternly, firing at something over Ker’s prone form, “You are not going to die. Hear me?”
The female ran up, skidding to a crouch behind the tree.
“Snake-Doc’s awake, but she’s not mobile. That armor’s clusterfucked. What’s the kid’s story, Box-Man?”
“He’s whole, but he’s not walking.”
“Go. Get to the exfil. I’ll cover you.”
“Wait,” Ker said, “D-Don’t leave me!”
“Oh, you’re coming with me, kid. Come here.”
The human, Box-Man, grabbed a fistful of Ker’s shirt, another of the inside of his thigh, and heaved with a strength that belied his small, thin frame. The human tossed him over his shoulder, heaved to his feat, and in a flurry they were moving.
They were moving very fast.
Vol popped her armor’s seals. She sat up out of it and got to work undoing the leg fastenings as quickly as she could. The suit had saved her life from the rail-canon slug, but barely, and it had lost its own functionality in the process. She saw Spears firing into the jungle in the direction of something that looked like it used to be a vehicle before someone set it on fire, and Hao, with the Tekliena boy over his shoulders, running past her towards the extraction point.
It suddenly struck Vol that for all the quickness that the humans moved with, she had never actually seen them run. Hao was running now, at a flat out sprint. He might as well have been a guided missile for how quickly he disappeared.
“Snake-Doc,” Spears said, almost cordially. “Get up here and help me with these arseholes!”
Vol yanked her comms-set out of her helmet and wrangled it over her head. She felt exposed and vulnerable outside of the armor, but she followed the humans’ example and tried her best to make speed be her protection. She slammed up behind the tree whose roots Spears was using for cover.
“Take this,” the human said, thrusting her carbine at Vol. “Single shots, point and squeeze.”
Vol took the black contraption of metal and polymer. The grip disappeared in her hand, but she managed to get a claw into the enclosed trigger. Hostiles were trampling through the jungle. Several of them had taken positions around the burning hulk of the ground-effect vehicle that had blasted her. If they had been confused about where their assailants had headed before, they were getting coordinated now.
Vol sighted down the spine of the human weapon and squeezed the trigger. It bucked violently in her hand and the shot spanged off of a rock. She tried again, more meaning to give the enemy an incentive to keep from coming closer than out of an expectation of killing anything. Spears drew a much smaller weapon for herself from somewhere on her body-rig and started popping off shots two handed.
“Rabbit, Eightball. Mind your left.”
Whitmin and Paulski were suddenly with them, arriving from the left side. Paulsky leveled his long, scoped rifle and let loose a shot that rippled the air through Vol’s crest from three meters away. Whitmin had his hand over his left ear as he slithered between Vol and Spears.
“Gallipoli’s just landed,” he said.
“Did they make it?” Vol demanded.
“Safe and sound,” Whitmin replied. “You and Rabbit fall back.”
“No!” Vol said, shocked and afronted that they expected her to run.
“What the Doc said, Top,” Spears said, loosing a string of shots into an anoijan that mustered the bravery to poke his head out from behind a tree. “All or nothing.”
Whitmin took the insubordination in stride. “Alright. Half a kilometer to the ship. Pop smoke here and on that wreck. Snake-Doc, When we start moving, we run. Don’t worry about the rest of us, do not stop. Run straight to the ship. Everyone copy?”
“Wilko, Top,” said Paulski, pulling a cylindrical grenade from his webbing harness.
“Copy,” said Spears, doing likewise.
“Five, Four, Three, Two…” Paulski, Spears, and Whitmin clicked off the grenades and let their timers wind down in their hands as Whitmin counted. “Huck em!”
The grenades landed in a line, one right in front of their own position, one at the wreck where the enemy had massed, and one in the laser and bullet chewed undergrowth between them. Even as they hit, they detonated in a ripple of *PaPaPapSSSSSSS* and burst into thick clouds of acrid chemical smoke that washed out that whole half of Vol’s horizon in the color of used dishwater.
The humans did their vanishing act, and Vol was right behind them. Her feet pounded the jungle floor. Half a kilometer. Half a kilometer through thick jungle at full sprint with wild, blind lasers buzzing through every leaf and vine between her and that ship. She caught glimpses of the others, dark shapes flitting through the trees like blackened lightning. They moved around the jungle’s tendrily fingers. Vol just went through them. Branches, vines, and bushes snapped and tore on her under-armor bodysuit. Her bulk carved her own tunnel right through them all.
A human appeared at her side.
“Almost there,” Whitmin said. “The ship’s got eyes on-”
A laser scorched past Vol’s leg and bored into Whitmin’s hip. The human didn’t scream when he fell. He seemed to seize up, clamping the pain behind a locked jaw full of gritted teeth. He looked more angry than injured. He stumbled, momentum carrying him into a headlong dive.
He never hit the ground.
Vol’s hand shot out and she had a fistful of his webbing before she even consciously made the decision to do it. Barely stumbling in her headlong rush, she heaved and the human’s light, small frame was in the crook of her arm, then up over her shoulder like a sack. She heard the pop of his weapon, shooting at something behind them. She didn’t look back to check what it was.
“Thirty meters!” he shouted at her.
“I don’t see it!” she shouted back.
He was right. Vol broke through into a clearing and suddenly the ramp of the Gallipoli was right in front of her, yawned open like the maw of a great, gulping fish. She ran right up it, and no sooner had she made it three steps than the ship lurched under her, impulse drivers pulverizing the ground below and tossing the little corvette into the air. Vol stumbled, trying to control her topple so that she didn’t land on Whitmin. The ramp clanged closed and suddenly the world was small and dark and quiet.
“Medic!” someone yelled, the voice that would have been drowned in the din a moment ago was a ringing echo now.
The room got very busy, but Vol didn’t pay attention. She rolled onto her back and just panted for a while. Someone leaned over her and she batted them away with exhausted hands.
“I’m...fine…” she managed. “Whitmin...Whitmin’s hit…”
“The Captain’s going to be alright,” the someone said. It was a human in white scrubs. He was shining a bright light down into Vol’s eyes which she found very annoying, but couldn’t find the energy to do much about. “We’re taking care of him now. He’s going to be alright.”
“He...came back...” she croaked. “Back...for me”
“He’s alright,” the human in the white scrubs insisted. “Now hold still.”
“They made it,” the human said. “They all made it.”
Vol closed her eyes and let her head rest on the cold metal deck.
Mission accomplished, she thought.
Debreifings, in Vol’s considered opinion, should fall under the Federation sanction on torture. First, the humans had debriefed her, both separately and with the rest of the team. Whitmin’s wound, while severe, proved to be well within the Gallipoli’s ability to treat. The laser had burned through his hip, boring a hole in a rather complicated bone structure, but while it had come close to hitting a rather important organ (though nobody could explain to Vol what a “kidney” was or what it did) the damage was repairable, given time and surgery. Humans had a remarkable ability to heal, and what they couldn’t heal, they had no qualms about replacing, as Sergeant Spears’s leg would readily attest.
When the humans were done with her, She and the Tekleina were shuttled to the Righteous Path with excessive courtesy. Their arrival was heralded with full fanfare. The Ship’s Commander saluted her as she escorted the boy out of the shuttle and along a corridor of knights with presented arms. There was an applauding crowd of crew ratings and a victory speech and talk of commendations.
Then the debriefings again. Heavier and more pointed this time. The questions focused less on the pirates, and more on the humans. What exactly were their tactics? What were their weapons’ capabilities? What did the Hummingbird look like and how did it work? What was the effective range of Paulski’s rifle? She wasn’t ignorant of the interests of her people’s security, and she was a patriot. But she found that she didn’t have most of the answers they wanted, and she didn’t mind.
The taskforce had launched a full scale assault as soon as the Gallipoli had lifted off. The majority of the pirates had surrendered the moment they realized their leverage had been lost. More than three hundred prisoners had been taken, most of them scattered outside the compound walls in every direction of the compass, all wildly pursuing the “army” that had attacked them. Ship’s Commander Dakverna’Gel did take the time to inform Vol that the assault force had found her armor. The armory-technicians had deemed it salvageable and had begun refurbishing it. Later that day, Vol stopped by the armory to make a request.
It is not unheard of for a Darkalan Knight to change their heraldic colors, but it is considered momentous. The Mimialas still wear the blue and white on their armor to this day, with a stripe down the arm of ugly, mottled greens and browns.
Judge my campaign lore: Any red-flags that don't fit into established lore?
For context, my goal with each of these was to set them outside of established maps, and to be open-ended enough for players to bring in any faction they want and be able to write their own lore. The aspects in question are if the fundamentals fit or not. Thanks in advance.
Feedback in general, good or bad, is also welcome to improve these.
Aqshy: Adrift on Sulfurous Seas
Fleets from cities and warcamps across the Realm of Fire explore the vast Sulfurous Seas, ever in search of safe places to colonize, settlements to conquer, or escorting merchant vessels along trade routes new and old. Caught in a cataclysmic storm, they are scattered on the shores of the volcanic Sootplume Archipelago. Forces will have to be reunited and locals recruited to survive this harsh environment long enough to make it back to sea.
Chamon: Nest of the World-Spinner
Beyond the Spiral Crux, Obreantine the World-Spinner binds together the floating islands and subrealms of the Realm of Metal, creating new land masses from the old before moving elsewhere to start again. Obreantine is a spider-like godbeast who spins web of metal which, once solidified, can resist forces greater than any manufactured material. She also consumes the smaller islands in the process, often releasing the Chamonite at their cores and leaving it in her wake. What other treasures will she release working on her next creation?
Ghur: The Valley of Rebirth
The living environment of the Realm of Beasts frequently reshapes the landscape. Nowhere is this more prevalent than the Valley of Rebirth, which closes like a great maw for years at a time, swallowing settlements and resources back into the earth. The nomadic tribes of Ghur have learned to watch the region for signs when it will open again. Now the mountains split, forcing long buried ruins and rich veins of natural resources to the surface. Champions lead their tribes in a race to conquer as much of the Valley and seize as much of its wealth as possible before the cycle begins anew.
Ghyran: A Hidden Vale
As the Necroquake shook the Realm of Life, wards protecting the subrealms known as Hidden Vales were shattered, their pristine ecosystems laid bare to any who could find an entrance. Scouts who found their way into Thalliest Vale discovered the telltale signs that a Stormvault was nearby. However, a much deeper search will need to be undertaken to find its doorway and discover what secrets the vault holds.
Hysh + Ulgu: The Dyadic Plexus
Within the Realms of Light and Shadow lay parallel but inverse regions: one a broad plateau, the other a deep crater. Throughout these regions are a network of relatively small, naturally occurring realmgates that travel in a singular direction to the other. So inextricably linked are these two areas that some parts are only accessible via a realmgate from the opposite Realm. To claim dominion over the plateau requires conquering the crater, and vice versa. Mastery of the Dyadic Plexus will provide the most secure stronghold in all the realms, where only the truly enlightened and cunning may tread.
Shyish: Dragon’s Bone Sanctum
In his conquest of the many afterlifes in the Realm of Death, Nagash struck down and subsumed many other so-called gods of Death. One such afterlife was ruled by a godbeast known as the Amethyst Dragon. Slain by Zefet-nebtar, its corpse crashed into the realm, coiling to create a barrier around the innermost spirit-cities. The great drake’s flesh rapidly decayed, its bones instantly fossilized when exposed to the blowing Gravesands. The civilization which worshipped the Amethyst Dragon has long since fallen to ruins, and the souls that remain in those protected spirit-cities have descended into madness with no living beings to remember them. When the Necroquake reverberated through Shyish, many of the great drake’s realmstone-infused bones began to crack, weakening the barrier and releasing the mad souls. Now those wandering spirits have been tracked back to their immense deposit of realmstone, with many nearby nations seeing a need to lay them down to their final rest.