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Nautilus Expedition

Chapter 30 - Aurigan Dreams (BattleTech CYOA)

Lair of the Nighthawks[]

“They all appear to be some kind of armored suit or exoskeleton,” reports the soldier who made the initial find, “No clue what they could be. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

“I’ll take a look,” I say, perking up at the news, “I did exoskeletons for my engineering course at college. I should have a good idea of what they are and what they can do even if I don’t recognize them.”

Could they be Nighthawks? That would be a very lucky find and they are the first thing that pops to mind when you hear ‘SLDF armoured exoskeleton’. That said, I don’t want to get my hopes up too much. Nighthawks were rare and the Terran Hegemony was very careful to limit who got them.

However, this Outpost Castle was researching M-2 Drones of the SDS and had a garrison from Royal Command. There was definitely something important going on at Castle Nautilus and given everything else, I wouldn’t be surprised if there were some Nighthawks Power Armor lying about. Especially given that there are two battalions of Royal ‘Mechs and another couple of battalions of Royal tanks.

As I step into the room in question, I let out a gasp in awe of what lay before me. Four rows of seven exoskeletons each were lined up in the room, two on either side as they faced each other. There were some other things, but the fully armored suits dominated the view. They had to be exoskeletons, not just oversized suits of armor even if they didn’t look like any exoskeleton I had seen before. They did look like that image of the Nighthawk on that I could still vaguely remember.

“Good Lord,” I mutter as I take in the view, Lord Espinosa and the rest of our party following behind us.

“You recognize these?” inquires Lord Espinosa and I gulp as I stare at these beautiful machines, very likely the pinnacle of existing exoskeleton technology.

Well, if you don’t count Elemental suits that is. But those are far away in the Pentagon Worlds while the Nighthawk is still the best in the Inner Sphere right now. ComStar’s Tornado is inferior to the Nighthawk while true Battle Armour has yet to spread beyond the Clans.

“I think I do,” I say as I look one of the exoskeletons up and down, “I can’t be certain, but I do believe that these are Nighthawks, the only known combat exoskeleton. The Terran Hegemony kept it on a tight leash, letting only the Blackhearts and their intelligence agency make use of them. And by tight leash, they killed any attempts to copy them by other member-states of the Star League and left calling cards to make it clear it was them and they would discourage any attempts to copy the Nighthawk.”

“I haven’t heard of them before, but your description certainly makes them sound useful,” says Lord Espinosa as he begins to inspect one in more detail.
“I want to call them the greatest prize here, but that would be lying,” I say, “And not just because we found a whole load of Royal hardware. If we can reverse engineer them or figure out a way to make more, then yes they would be, but otherwise no, they are not. They are nifty, but without the ability to get our hands on more, they are of limited value.”

“Not a too dissimilar situation to the one we have with all of the Royal equipment that we found,” says Lord Espinosa, “The LosTech will be valuable, but without the ability to replace it, it will be lost sooner or later.”

“That is true,” I agree as I try to think of a way to keep these Nighthawks for myself, “Do we classify them as support equipment or infantry equipment? Exoskeletons fall under the former, but the Nighthawks are basically the highest end infantry kit.”

No need to mention that in the future, they would be considered part of a separate classification known as Battle Armor. Nobody knows about that and no need to muddle the water. Not when the ignorance of everyone else is my best chance to claim all of the Nighthawks.

To be honest, the Nighthawks aren’t all that valuable on their own. Okay they are, but for me, the real prize is being able to look at the design and get my hands on them. Between being professionally trained on exoskeleton design and my hints into the potential future possibilities, I feel pretty confident in being able to figure out the myomer setup and replicate it.

I’m not Jackson Watt and I have no practical knowledge working with Battle Armor, but I do remember that in canon it took looking at the myomer layout used by Elemental suits allowed the NAIS to figure out how to make effective Battle Armor.

Then again, both ComStar and the NAIS had access to some Nighthawks before the Clan Invasion and that apparently wasn’t enough to figure out the secrets to Battle Armor. Even if they are partially on their way there given that the first Inner Sphere Battle Armor came out too early to be copied from the Clans.

Crap, I guess I shouldn’t get my hopes up then. Still, the Nighthawks will be valuable and regardless of whether they get classified as support or infantry, they will be a greater prize than anything else in that category.

Of course, I’ll need to find people to use them. I know for a fact that piloting an exoskeleton is something that requires proper training to do, like piloting a ‘Mech or ASF or driving a vehicle. That will be in addition to their military training? Maybe I could give some of my existing infantry training in piloting exoskeletons. That sounds easier than training some operators for the Nighthawks from scratch.

“You want to start going over them right now,” says Belinda quietly into my ear, “That or taking them apart to see how they work.”

“Yeah, I do,” I agree as I wave a hand at the closest one, “These are Nighthawks, the height of exoskeleton technology and I know exoskeletons. I even designed one as the final part of my engineering course at college. Of course, I want to have a go at figuring out how they work.”

“They made you design an exoskeleton as part of your engineering course?” asks Belinda in some surprise.

“No, I just wanted to go head and shoulders above the rest of my class,” I clarify, “It was only limited to the design, mind you. I didn’t have the personal funds back then to afford the cost of constructing the design and the college wasn’t willing to cover me.”

“You know, you have plenty of money now,” says Belinda, “I don’t know how much your exoskeleton would cost to put together, but I bet you could do it now.”

“I probably could,” I say, “It would be expensive, but only around fifty or sixty thousand C-Bills. God, that sounds so weird to say out loud. That used to be beyond my reach, but, well, it isn’t pocket change, but I can afford to spend that on a personal project these days.”

“So why don’t you do that once we are back to Coromodir?” suggests Belinda.

“Time,” I answer with a shrug, “I don’t have enough spare time to spend it on a project like that. I could get someone else to do it and I certainly have enough to pay them for it, but it wouldn’t be the same as doing it myself.”

“I understand,” says Belinda, “Hopefully your schedule will become less busy and you’ll have time to work on a passion project.”

“Not likely,” I say, frowning, “The Sentinels keep getting bigger and more responsibilities keep getting put on my plate.”

“Elizabeth, you’ll need to make time for yourself,” warns Belinda, “Otherwise you’ll burn out. Trust me, I’ve seen it happen a few times back when I was still starting out in the Magistracy. If you don’t relax and let up a little, you’ll work yourself to death.”

“I know, I know,” I reply, “You’re not the only one to tell me that, but I’m just so busy.”

“So long as you know,” says Belinda, “I’ll leave you be. We’ve still on the clock and we do have a top secret SLDF base to finish exploring.”

Dividing and Disputing the Treasure[]

The majority of our remaining finds prove to be less exciting. We find a good many SLDF equipment kits for the MechWarriors and tankers of the garrison, including cooling suits and neurohelmets. And by cooling suits and neurohelmets, I mean the real deals used by the SLDF, constructed with Star League technology. Not the bulky and inefficient cooling suits in the Reach or equally bulky and inefficient neurohelmets used by everyone these days.

The neurohelmets used these days, including my own, cover the entire head and while they aren’t as immobilizing as I read about in that other life, they are a pain to move about in and weigh down on the head.

The SLDF neurohelmets that we find are nothing like that. I don’t get the chance to try one out, but just looking at them, they are a sleek thing that is half the size of a modern neurohelmet. They look like they’ll rest upon your head instead of weighing down on it. They certainly feel that way when I pick one up and while I doubt they will weigh half as much as their modern counterpart, it definitely felt that way.

The cooling suits look just as superior. In this day and age of LosTech, everyone has to make do with the cooling vest. While not meaningfully worse at dealing with heat, the cooling vest has to make several sacrifices to provide nearly the same level of protection against heat buildup. Well, more like two as a cooling vest is twice as heavy as a SLDF cooling suit and unlike with the cooling suit, the cooling vest concentrates the weight, making it less comfortable to wear than the cooling suit which spreads its weight across the entire body.

They also appear to be as revealing as cooling vests in their own way. While cooling vests are immodest because most people only wear the bare minimum with them, the cooling suits that we find are immodest because they are a form-fitting bodysuit. They may have cooling lines for the coolant to pump through, but the cooling suit has numerous tiny ones instead of a few big and bulky ones like a cooling vest. With the cooling lines are small enough that it doesn’t stop the cooling suit from looking skin-tight and showing off any curves in the right places.

Like my own. I would never wear something as revealing as the cooling suit in a public place if I could help it. Maybe if I had something more concealing on top of it, but on its own? Never if I have a choice.

I mean, I will wear one because they are an upgrade to my current attire and will certainly be more comfortable to wear in the cockpit, but I’ll be self-conscious about it. At least until I get used to wearing one.

Unfortunately, there are only a hundred or so sets of SLDF neurohelments and cooling suits so I’ll only be getting forty at most. That isn’t enough for everyone so I’ll need to be picking and choosing who in the Rimward Sentinels will get access to them.

The superior equipment is a force multiplier so the most experienced MechWarriors will definitely be getting some. I’ll be giving some to the more senior officers such as myself and the company commanders. I should also have at least a couple leftover for Kamea and Vanessa and after that? I’ll see how many remain before assigning them out.

Other finds include several thousand tons of assorted components from general spare parts to LosTech such as double heat sinks and gauss rifles. Castle Nautilus’ stockpiles seem to revolve around keeping its garrison in fighting shape. We had endo-steel parts for the ‘Mechs that needed them while we found plenty of ferro-fibrous armor patches, which is good because a lot of the ‘Mechs we found used it and we can’t make any ferro-fibrous armour of our own.

We found a handful of Guardian ECM suites, but the remaining LosTech was either double heat sinks, weapons or ammo for said weapons. We had plenty of medium pulse lasers, gauss rifles, and Streak SRMs along with some large pulse lasers, extended range large lasers and extended range particle projector cannons and LB 10-X autocannons. Some TAG for the Padillas along with a few spare AMS and Arrow IV Launchers whilst there was a small stockpile of small pulse lasers for the Von Luckners.

A very hefty haul all in all, especially once you add in the non-LosTech components such as regular heat sinks, jump jets and all of the weaponry that is still in production today.

The last major physical find is the drones used by the automated defenses, unmanned combat vehicles weighing either sixty tons or eighty tons. There are almost three hundred of the things in total, split evenly between the sixty tonners and the eighty tonners.

As interesting as they are, nobody in our group has the expertise to understand them with myself coming the closest. They all have fusion engines with wheels and standard armor, but their payloads are mixed. A regiment’s worth of each size are armed with conventional weaponry like medium lasers or particle projector cannons, but a battalion of each weight are equipped with LosTech weaponry.

The advanced sixty tonners have upgraded their pair of medium lasers to medium pulse lasers whilst the medium autocannon has been replaced by a ten-shot LRM launcher. Only the six-shot SRM launcher remains untouched. Meanwhile the advanced eighty tonner has improved its LRM launcher from ten shots to fifteen and both PPCs have been replaced by a large pulse laser. That leaves it a little undergunned compared to the lower tech model and I am certain there has to be more to the drone.

Unfortunately, I am unable to discern its secrets without taking it apart and even then, I’m not sure I could be certain.

“We should strip them for useful parts,” says Lord Espinosa, “If we cannot use them ourselves, then we can then get some value out of them that way.”

“I disagree,” I reply quickly, “If they are still functional, we should leave them for base defense. To supplement whatever defenders we station here.”

“Your reasoning?” inquires Lord Espinosa as he shifts his attention from the drones to me.

“The drones are linked to automated defenses so if we can gain control of those, we can gain control over the drones,” I answer, “Given that the remote and inhabitable location of Castle Nautilus will make it difficult to station troops here, having some drone defenders would be useful. Especially since we basically have a couple of armored regiments here while the ACM isn’t that big.”

“And the LosTech?” asks Lord Espinosa.

“There isn’t much of it on these drones,” I reply with a shrug, “A large pulse laser on some of the eighty tonners, a couple of medium pulse lasers on a few of the sixty tonners. If that is what you are worried about, we can pull those off and replace them with their regular versions. There are plenty of spares for each here and it would just be a matter of freeing up the manpower here.”

“Your proposal is acceptable,” says Lord Espinosa after a moment, “You do have a very valid point about finding the manpower to hold Castle Nautilus and these drones would go a long way to strengthening the defenses. Provided we find a way to control them.”

“The automated defense system is still intact and I have faith in Lord Karosas’ ability to seize control of it.” I say.

“I certainly hope he does,” says Lord Espinosa, “Speaking of defenses, we should discuss how we are doing to hold Castle Nautilus. An intact Outpost Castle in Aurigan territory is a very big prize and it would be very undesirable for someone to swoop in and make themselves at home whilst we are on our way back to Coromodir.”

“That would be extremely unpleasant.” I agree with a grimace as I think of some pirates or Taurians moving in once we leave, “You want to know if I am willing to leave some of my Sentinels behind?”

“That would be ideal,” admits Lord Espinosa, “I understand that it isn’t part of your contract, but I hope that you understand the importance of this situation.”

To be the patriot or the mercenary? Welp, I know what choice I am going to make. Especially since I am the legal owner of the land and I would rather not deal with squatters if I can help it.

“I can leave Alpha Battalion behind for a bit,” I say, “This place is more than capable of accommodating a combined arms battalion though they may need to rely upon supplies from external sources. Swap out a couple of MechWarriors and their rides from Amazon Company to keep Alpha Battalion at full strength whilst letting Kamea and I return to Coromodir. I’ll leave Vance in command here. It is doable, but this will just be a temporary solution so you and Lord Arano can come up with a more permanent one.”

“It might be troublesome to get some ACM forces assigned out here, but the Founding Council wouldn’t be foolish enough to pass up an Outpost Castle.” replies Lord Espinosa, “And if we are unable to get them to come to an agreement in a timely manner, I’ll just send some of my House Guard and then ask forgiveness, not permission.”

Author's Chapter Notes[]

Word from the Author
So the Castle Nautilus arc is taking longer than I expected. Next chapter will be when they finally leave Artru with the goodies after speaking with Lord Karosas and finding out what was in Castle Nautilus’ computers.

After that? Some character stuff and background big picture stuff will be covered once Elizabeth gets back to Coromodir before the sixth arc ends and we move onto the seventh.

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