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The Other War (Cover)

Chapter 1 - The Other War[]

03/20/3060 | Rhea Reformer Station, Talbot, Tanis System

Claude Goulet looked at the saturnine gas giant Talbot through the vidscreen carefully mounted on the inside of the fuselage. The planet's sickly atmosphere churned in an eternal struggle to regulate its heat. A victim of entropy like all things in the universe.

Dancing above Talbot's largest moon Rhea was their destination, a ramshackle space station mining rich volatiles erupting from it's icy volcanoes. A fleet of shuttle-craft mined Talbot itself diving into its atmosphere to collect atmosphere before bringing it here to be separated into components. All of it was very over his head but as a Marine he had a greater understanding of tech than a normal Clan Warrior.

He felt Technician 4th Class Juliet who sat back to back on the bench within dimly lit passenger compartment. Her quiet voice piped in over the faint ethereal music playing in his headphones, Star Commander, do we have to go aboard that station? It looks like it is held together with foil.

Well Juliet, since you are checking your suit and seals every five minutes. I think you will be fine even if it falls apart. Unless of course you damaged the gaskets from overuse.

She breathed deep of the sweaty passenger compartment. Not thinking about damaging the seals by incessantly checking them, Can that happen!? In rare cases. Your suit is not exactly top of the line Technician.

How can you be so calm, Star Commander? We are about to go aboard an enemy station. I have boarded stations where I knew I would be fired upon. We are on a trade mission so there should be little reason for concern. Evan and I are here if things get hot. Aff, Evan?

The Point Commander yelled from his seat closer to the exit hatch, Aff! Juliet, calm down or you are going to be watching this ship instead of me. Quiaff?

Claude could feel or rather not feel the young technician finally stop fidgeting. That sort of behavior was unprofessional even for a novice. He held his own helmet, carbon black with red accents and an empty space once belonging to a unit emblem. Thinking over how he came to end up on this endeavor.

Things had been mostly normal for him and the others two months ago but that changed on Shadow when they made the decision that would affect the balance of power within their Clan. Most of the passengers were Technicians just out of apprenticeship, half conned into coming along. Evan was a junior Patrolman that had never been off-world before but had trained in space ops under him over the past two months. The only people that knew their true objective were Claude and the pilots.

A man's voice from the flight deck broke into his personal reflection. Star Commander Goulet. Is your team ready?

He opened an intercom channel with his fellow Star Commanders on the flight deck. Having all three Commanders of their 'task force' on the same vessel was terribly risky. However, Nina Tanaga and Joseph Kline were the only shuttle pilots in their small rogue group. They left behind the Merchant, the XO of their Type 96 Elephant with orders to return to Foster with the crew if anything went wrong.

Star Commander Goulet called out to the other seven passengers who all responded in the positive, their replies echoed in the enclosed space. Aff, away team is ready.

Good we dock in ten. Act natural everyone.

Claude closed the channel, Evan, is that Avenger stashed?

Aff Star Commander, It is hidden in Engineering. I will mark it after security checks the ship.

The wedge shaped ST-46C fired its reaction control thrusters in a carefully orchestrated ballet orienting itself toward the expansive shuttle bay of the orbiting station. A spheroid C-1 and cylindrical S-7C orbit-to-orbit shuttle were grouped tightly on the approach toward the large shared bay. Light markers mounted next to the bay doors provided visual information to the incoming pilots, pitch, velocity, attitude. A radio beacon gave them a positive beep when they were on target and screeched if they deviated.

Star Commander N. Tanaga watched as SC J. Kline carefully kept their grouping. She was used to piloting much larger dropships than the fighter jock so she was just there to support him on final approach. He was used to the responsive controls of his Sabutai aided by a neurohelmet and FIC rather than manual operation. Despite that he mostly managed to keep their distance from an ancient S-7C with an even more sluggish drive and poorly maintained RCS. They drifted within twenty meters at one point evoking the Ice Miner shouting something in Tani at them via the radio before Nina silenced him. “So much for their legendary professionalism, Nina.

Sabutai Heavy OmniFighter (In flight - IWM - Painted by Dave Fanjoy 2009)

Sabutai Heavy OmniFighter

These are among the best spacers in Clanspace, Joseph. They live it. Space is everything to them in a way few could understand. This will not be a wasted trip. Our Kindraa are depending on us.

They would probably shoot us if they knew what we were about to do. Should we return and have failed there will be Reavings.

A greater incentive to come back with our prizes or die trying. The Fire Mandrills cannot endure more Reavings. When we return we can potentially change the whole clan for the better with Khan Carrol. This might be our only chance to get away with it.

I agree” With that the bay doors closed and all three shuttles watched and waited for the pressure to return. He keyed the microphone built into his Rook suit's helmet. “Attention all crew. We are now aboard the Station. Keep to the script with the Dark Caste and we will be fine.

Once pressure returned the large airlock leading into the station opened broad, large enough to pass a light vehicle through. A trio of suited Harvesters walked out, each had 'Security' stenciled on their breastplates and helmets in both Tani and Standard. Their leader, identified by his bright red helmet waved a light torch at the familiar ships the crew disembarked and security inspected them and allowed their crews to connect gas transfer or slurry lines before heading into the station.

Finally they addressed the newcomer, Mas-71, open your hatches and submit to inspection.

The KR-61's side hatch and rear cargo ramp opened whisper-quiet on their well maintained servos. Three security people waited down the ramp. The smell of hydrazine and noise of air exchangers filled the bay. I'm Security Chief Cobie. Who's the Commander here?

SC Nina Tanaga stepped forward, the Harvester looked her over admiring her new Rook piloting suit. The dark green and red suit was far nicer than anything he had seen in this system before. In fact it was still rare even among the Snow Ravens yet both she and SC Kline had one.

You have an invitation from Newgrange but that will only get you as far as this bay now.” The Security Chief eyed them over, “You need something more to go through that door.

Nina couldn't hide her irritation, Excuse me, Chief Cobie, but we were told by our Newgrange contact that all we needed to come aboard this station is an invitation. Since when did those conditions change? We spent less than two weeks in transit.

She looked toward Claude then back at Cobie, Seems rather fast to change such a long standing tradition.

Cobie and his associates looked at the large Marine and smaller Patrolman in their Combat Space Suits, I can turn you back right now, stranger.

SC Joseph Kline piped in, the Kline Kindraa often served as intermediaries between feuding factions so this was a natural extension, Chief, let me show you what we have brought for your station.

Joseph walked up the ramp followed closely by the Chief who left his guards to watch the rest of the crew. The cargo bay was neat and brightly lit far more so than the passenger compartment just on the other side of an airlock and stacked with large metal boxes marked by alphanumeric codes. He opened one of them with a release of fog, within it were packages of red meat marked with the Merchant emblem of Clan Smoke Jaguar on a bed of dry ice. Where did you get this?

We took it from a Jaguar station defended only by a Point of Elementals. All that was left of the garrison on Londerholm.

There's two more lockers of meat, this whole cargo hold is filled with the pillaged Jaguar luxuries. All of it can belong to this Station if you let us through.

The Security Chief's eyes were wide with greed and envy, a diet of processed semi-solids could be replaced for a short time with real meat rather than the bland flavorless textured plant protein. His Station could have trade goods for years with sixteen tons of isorla from a dying Clan. Black market goods completely safe from tracking by Watch authorities.

Chief Colbie pulled out his seal and stamped all of them with the station's emblem, “Consider yourselves my personal guests. I do have to impose a small task for your crew however, especially the big guy. I will certainly make it worth your while. A recommendation to the Superintendent will go a long way to aiding whatever you came here to do.”

I suppose this must be something dire if you need outside assistance from strangers.

Colbie looked uncomfortable and mildly ashamed, Yes, Concerning Jaguars actually. A shuttle load arrived two weeks ago with an invitation from Newgrange just as you did. However, they smuggled weapons past my security. They refuse to leave and give us no reason to do so besides their weapon violation and piercing queries in the Canteen. Otherwise they have been well behaved and paid for services rendered.

Do you think you might be able to deal with them? My people are afraid to do so.

I think we can handle it. However, I am going to ask you something rather uncomfortable. Follow me.

SC Kline and Chief Colbie returned after a few minutes with a long reflective silver weapon bag that Kline placed into Evan's hands. The young man was wide-eyed and confused because he knew what was inside. What are you doing?” “The Chief says its fine. We might need it to deal with a problem of theirs.

What kind of problem needs this? Kline said nothing but exchanged a look with the young Patrolman. “If the Chief is okay with it I guess I am too.

Ten minutes later Point Commander Faye Freelander sat in the Canteen of Rhea Station watching the main door surrounded by her fellow Jaguars. Her gray jumpsuit was open exposing the black tank top with the Smoke Jaguar insignia printed on it and holstered pistol underneath. She could not understand why for all the cold empty quiet space outside this station was so unbearably hot, crowded, and noisy.

A dusky skinned and well built man floated in and drew her attention. She knew almost everyone on the station that had passed through during the past two weeks of their nearly three month long mission to look for Khan Lincoln Osis' supposed subversion. She couldn't tell whether he was armed but expected that he wasn't no one was armed on this station except her people. Their firearms were her team's sole advantage over the safety obsessed spacers.

They were not subtle in urging her team on, but without more intel her team wouldn't be able to make it on the Tanite worlds. These worlds where were they thought they could find more data about Dark Caste subversion of Smoke Jaguar before issuing a report to her Khan. For now they were unwelcome guests but not enemies.

The strange man was followed by two other strangers, one a clean cut young man with a silver bag and the other a blonde apparently right out of sibko. The couple took some food packages out of the table and placed them in the heater while the larger man floated over to her table and grabbed onto one of the handholds. Hail strangers, what brings you here?

We are here on business.
What a coincidence. I am also on business. What business brings Smoke Jaguar Warriors to this station?
Confidential business, I cannot speak further of it.
So be it. Are you aware that Huntress is under siege by the Second Star League as we speak.

The Swords were in an uproar at hearing that their capital was being attacked by spheroid surats. You lie! Prove it!

The man reached into his pocket and pulled out his comm-pad, a short video played showing bright white COMSTAR Warship with Mt Szabo and Lootera below. That can't be! The Khan wouldn't have allowed it. The Council wouldn't have allowed it! We have to go back!

Everyone pack up now, send an HPG to confirm these rumors and catch a ride on a Cobra Jumpship toward the Cluster.”

As she was un-clipping herself the man reached forward and pulled her pistol out of her holster. The young man at the other table had an automatic shotgun leveled on the rest. Neg, Claude Goulet challenges Faye Freelander for possession of her command.

The Jaguar tensed before throwing all her weight and might into a fearsome jumping palm strike, Un-augmented here now!

The Mandrill Elemental lifted his chin and bit down preventing a nose break instead his teeth and jaw audibly cracked. He lost the pistol and began flipping before catching a strap with his right foot. Claude reached out grabbing the smaller Jaguar Warrior's jumpsuit with his right arm. Before he could hit her with the left she grappled it locking her legs around his free leg and began striking his kidneys and liver while protecting herself from rear elbow strikes. Claude exhaled with each strike tensing his muscles to protect vitals.

Reaching down to break her hold resulted in elbows to the back of his head. Claude was surprised that Faye was trained in dirty unarmed fighting in free-fall he normally had an advantage in this arena over grounders. He reached up toward the handholds on the ceiling suspending himself like a brachiating monkey reaching toward branches. His legs wrapped around her waist and pulling her off the floor before putting a huge hand around her throat. Off the floor she was defenseless against his superior upper body strength. He stopped when she passed out before causing permanent harm. The blonde immediately began to resuscitate her.

Faye woke up on the Canteen's table with a period of intermittent coughing and deep breaths. The blonde teenager was there, with her pistol pointed. The young man still had his shotgun on the rest of her unit who were being disarmed by Station Security. Welcome to Clan Fire Mandrill, Faye. I am MedTech Sera, your savior. Claude did a number on you. You're lucky he did not kill you.

Her voice came through weak after her choke out, You do not know what you have done freeborn, surat. IlKhan Osis will hear about this.

That seems unlikely. Figure your Swords were sent out on your own and not expected to return. Lincoln probably even forgot about you already. Not that your Clan will be around for much longer. Think of yourself as a trendsetter.

She lifted herself tentatively, We have an important mission.

Sera kept a neutral expression though looked interested at Faye's chest, So do we, though I don't know all the details. Suppose we are equal now.

You still have my gun pointed toward me.

So I do. I'd really like that holster of yours, Point Commander. This..doesn't fit in any of my pockets. Come on get up.” Sera turned her around taking the jumpsuit down and stripped the holster rig from the former Point Commander. “Bondcords will come soon. So don't you worry about accessories.

Star Commanders Kline and Tanaga stood in front of Station Superintendent Hogan a wiry spacer of about fifty though lack of gravity made aging different between spacers and grounders. He was strapped in before a viewscreen that showed the present view of Rhea from the station. You have done me a great favor by getting rid of those intrusive Jaguars. What does Clan Fire Mandrill need from my people?

Nina Tanaga's brown eyes glittered in the reflection of the lights,This task is not sanctioned by the Clan. Its more of a personal mission of incredibly risk.

How would you and your people like to be an ally of the next Khan?

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