Campaign of the Month: January 2011

Honour Among Thieves

Nine Tenths of the Law Session Six

Violence Ensues!

It was a short hop from Osiris to Branson’s Mark, a detour that took them out of the Core and into the region of space known as Georgia. Strategic territory for both sides during the Unification War, the planets of Georgia were no stranger to the horrors of war: the Battle for Serenity Valley took place on Hera, and Shadow, the seat of Independent resistance, had been bombed back into a pre-terraformed state by the Alliance.

That spherical, cratered and scarred monument to the folly of war hung imposingly in the distance as Shenmue approached the first of its moons, Branson’s Mark. In contrast to the dead husk it orbited, Branson’s Mark was bright and colourful, its azure oceans wrapped with brilliant white clouds.

That was on a good day. On a bad day, none of the blue showed through, and instead the moon was blanketed by thick layers of chaotic cloud cover, giving it the appearance of an ice-planet confection one might purchase in a skyplex food court.

There were few breaks in the cloud cover, and it soon became apparent to everyone on the bridge that those breaks were actually the eyes of a number of swirling hurricanes blowing across the moon’s surface.

As Branson’s Mark grew ever larger, framed by Shenmue’s viewports, Tulsa cleared his throat and spoke up. “This moon’s pretty much abandoned,” the Doc said. “Most folk cleared out after the war, since Shadow was declared off-limits and trade dried up.”

Worth regarded the cyclonic vortices that dotted the snow-white surface of the moon. “I can see why,” he muttered. “Looks like it’s typhoon season.”

The Doc thought for a moment. “Actually, there’s a conspiracy theory floating around that when the Alliance bombed the hell out of Shadow, some nasty side effects were felt on this moon as well; something to do with a disruption of the magnetic field. Stirred up the planet’s atmosphere and caused pretty spectacular storms.”

“Huh,” YJ said absently as he angled the ship for entry into Branson’s Mark’s turbulent atmosphere. He swiveled his chair to face Jonah. “Where are we headed, exactly?”

Jonah recalled that the method of locating the Resort was unusually convoluted for a gang of know-nothing thugs. There was a passive beacon located at the hideout that would reflect light up and transmit telemetry to approaching vessels, but only if a narrow-band transmission was accurately aimed at it. He would have to ride shotgun with YJ and use the communication array’s manual controls to keep it on target.

“Well then, we’re going to be in the soup in about ten minutes,” YJ said as he opened the comm channel. “Everyone had better lock in.”

The Doc folded down a jump seat at the rear of the bridge and strapped in, mesmerized by the swirling atmospheric activity of the approaching moon.

Worth trudged down to the engine room, hoping that the ship would hold together under the strain of flying through bad weather.

Jonah sent out a narrowband pulse to get a read from the Resort’s beacon. He spun through the frequencies, hoping for a ping in response. After a few minutes of searching, he received what he thought was a weak signal from the passive beacon and began sending the telemetry over to YJ’s navigational display. “Head for the dot,” he instructed the pilot as he took the opportunity to light a cigarette before it got too bumpy to hold a lighter steady.

“Great, we’ve got a dead pixel on the screen,” YJ said sarcastically as he squinted at the nav display. The target was a tiny dot in the midst of angry red radar images of the storm systems covering the surface of the moon. “Just our luck,” YJ grumbled. “We’re going to have to fly through these storm systems to get to it.”

Shenmue began to shudder as she slipped into the roiling clouds. YJ concentrated on his instrument panel as Shenmue’s viewports were rendered useless by the thick white haze blanketing the atmosphere. The deckplates began to rattle and there was the sound of crashing crockery coming from the galley. Worth winced.

YJ kept a steady hand at the controls as he rode Shenmue like an ornery bull, with one eye on the altimeter readings and the other on the radar that showed the Resort’s location.

Jonah had to pay close attention to Shenmue’s approach vector as he zeroed in on the beacon. Aligning and re-aligning the ship’s communications antenna took all his skill.

He was in the process of aiming the communications antennae for what seemed like the hundredth time, when suddenly Shenmue dropped like a stone, bouncing through a patch of really rough air.

Jonah blinked in surprise as his display lost all input.

There was a sudden metallic screech and the sound of metal on metal, and an object scraped across the viewports and flew upwards, bouncing once against the hull near the common area before spinning off into oblivion. YJ cursed as he fought to maintain control through the pocket of turbulence.

“Did the gorram communications antenna just fall off our ship?” Worth shouted.

YJ keyed the comm open and exhaled loudly in lieu of an eloquent response. According to his terrain-sensing radar his altitude was still good, but he now had no idea where he was headed.

“Well, I guess not needed here,” Jonah said, and reclined his seat, putting his feet up on the console.

YJ pursed his lips and pushed the steering yoke forward, sending Shenmue into a sudden dive. Jonah made a sudden and difficult acquaintance with the deckhead above him and landed flat on his back, a broken cigarette in his mouth.

YJ opened a comm channel again and chuckled as Jonah spit a stream of choice Chinese curse words at the pilot.

“What are you guys doing to the ship?” Worth asked, panting. He had run for the bridge after hearing the wrenching sound of the communications antenna coming loose.

“There was a thing,” YJ said. “Ripped right off, probably disabled the sensors. I’m going to keep flying until we can find a place to set her down.”

“You know we’re going to have to sell one of you guys to buy a new one.” Worth said. “Or I could sell those naughty pictures of Wild Sky I have.”

Jonah snickered from his prone position.

Worth regarded the dead communications console. “I need some duct tape, a coat hanger, and some cigarettes,” Worth said. “I’m pretty sure I can reroute the ship’s pulse beacon, and use it as a pinpoint transmitter. Anyone down there reading the incoming signal is going to get our greeting card, though.”

“Get ‘er done,” YJ said as he gripped the controls.

Worth stepped on Jonah and he moved towards the forward avionics bay. He slid down the ladder and kicked off the nearest maintenance panel, quickly worming his way into Shenmue’s nose.

Sparks flew from the communications panel as Worth clipped the pulse beacon into the remaining section of antenna and boosted its signal strength. “Give that a try, Jonah!” the mechanic’s muffled voice drifted out of the maintenance hatch.

YJ noticed a flicker on the radar screen. It was a fleeting image of an approaching vessel. “We may be in the middle of a dogfight here, fellas.”

“No guns on a transport ship, eh?” Jonah muttered.

Just as quickly as it appeared, it vanished. “Maybe it was just a ghost signal,” YJ said hopefully.

Jonah hauled himself back onto his chair and began sifting through communications frequencies. The jury-rigged antenna was not as precise as the original, and he had to squelch a considerable amount of background static before he managed to reestablish a lock on the beacon.

“We’re in business,” he said.

The transport ship was battered by terrific winds, rain and hail as it plowed through the stormy skies for several more minutes. Just as YJ was beginning to worry about the strain on Shenmue’s outboard engine pods, the ship broke into a pocket of less turbulent air. A break in the cloud cover revealed that they had reached the eye of this particular storm. YJ was momentarily blinded as sunlight replaced the dull darkness of the storm clouds. Then they were free and clear, flying through calm skies.

They were treated to an ominous sight. A hundred kilometers or so ahead of them was a dark, swirling wall of cloud thousands of feet high, so immense that they could make out the very curvature of the inner edge of the storm’s eye. Below them, the ocean heaved and crashed as if the water was unsure in which direction to flow.

The signal grew stronger. “We’re close,” Jonah said hopefully. “Head northwest.”

After a few more minutes of easy flying, a landmass began to slowly emerge from the eye wall ahead of them.

“I don’t know about you guys, but I think that’s where we’re supposed to go,” Worth said, pointing.

Jonah smiled. The landmass corresponded to the location of the signal.

It was a small artificial island with high, sloping concrete seawalls that gave it the profile of an oceangoing craft from Earth-That-Was from certain angles, or a partially submerged Alliance cruiser. There were a few outbuildings of varying heights, including a pair of stately-looking hotel towers. At one point in time it must have been an oceanside playground for the rich and famous. However, that time had long passed by; even from Shenmue’s altitude, the damage to the island was obvious.

YJ brought Shenmue in for a visual pass. The terrain was for the most part unfriendly to Shenmue’s landing gear, save for a cleared section at the south end of the island that looked like it was designed as a landing area. It was the only place clear enough of debris to bring a ship of Shenmue’s size in for a safe landing.

It was clear to the crew that this island took a beating on a regular basis. The word that came to mind was scoured. The fine finish had been taken off of every exterior surface. There were swimming pools clogged with debris. Broken glass gleamed everywhere, bits scattered like diamonds across the concrete walkways. Debris and detritus were heaped in irregular patterns across the grounds, as if someone had picked up a thousand deck chairs and dropped them from a great height. It was a mess. The spaces between what remained of the buildings on the island were filled with piles of wet junk and rubble.

Jonah nodded to himself as the reality of the Resort lined up with the mental image fed to him by his former gang members – a broken down hideout with pretensions.

There were no immediate signs of life on the island, not even a lone seagull riding the breeze. Nor was there any sign of Haruna, the Sundeen Seven’s ship. The docking area was bare and vacant.

“No reason why we can’t still ransack the place,” Jonah said as he eyed the sturdiest of the concrete structures dotting the surface of the island.

“We need to get that communications array fixed,” YJ said.

“We have to land to fix it, right?” Jonah asked. “Might as well set her down.”

YJ brought Shenmue for a slightly harder landing than expected – the heaving ocean waves were playing tricks with the pilot’s spatial orientation. Jonah and Worth stood their ground, but the surprised yell from parts further aft indicated that the Doc wasn’t as lucky.

The crew prepared to disembark. Jonah strapped on his plate vest and holster and checked the load on his combat shotgun as he slung his infiltration kit over his shoulder. He added a few fragmentation grenades for good measure and an extra drum magazine for the shotgun. YJ grabbed his flechette pistol and shrugged into his plate vest. The Doc hefted his medical bag, slipping a small handgun inside along with a handful of poppers. Worth smirked as he climbed out of his quarters to join his crewmates. He was armed with Wham and Bam in their low-slung holsters, with Katrina held at the ready. His ballistic mesh vest strained to cover his broad chest, with grenades hanging from the webbing.

They exited the cargo bay door. It was hot and humid; the air was heavy with moisture and the sense of impending disaster. From their vantage point, they could see lightning streaking through the grey cloud wall that seemed to tower up to the upper edges of Branson’s Mark’s atmosphere. The seawall at the island’s edge was eroding, and tangled lengths of rusted rebar poked out dangerously like the quills of a giant porcupine.

“Maybe I should give you guys a tetanus shot,” the Doc said, as he observed their surroundings.

“That ain’t a bad idea,” Jonah said. The Doc brandished a jet injector, and the three men frowned, rubbing their shoulders involuntarily.

“Ow! If you get shot, we’re not coming back for you,” YJ said as the Doc gave him his injection.

A stairway cut into the concrete led up from the landing pad to the island proper. A secondary seawall cum blast shield separated the main resort from the landing area. Spray from the ocean waves crashing against the seawall cast rainbows in the humid air. Water flowed from the upper levels through cracks in the concrete, pooling on the landing pad before running off into the frothing sea below.

Jonah regarded the approaching eye wall. “Best be out of here before the hurricane hits.” He surveyed the damage. “Hits again, I mean.”

Worth edged closer to the rim of the landing pad and took a peek over the side. The waters here were shallow, but choppy. The shattered remains of a few docks for seagoing pleasure craft poked from the waters, and a staircase leading to them had been sheared off about half a dozen steps down. A faded “NO DIVING” sign hung drunkenly from a wind-whipped, rusted pole nearby. He licked his lips nervously.

The crew mounted the stairway. “I’ll go first and stick to the rubble, skulk around a bit,” Jonah said.

Jonah peeked out from behind the concrete barrier and surveyed his surroundings.

The Resort

The island was barely a kilometer in diameter, but densely packed with structures of various sizes, leading up to a large hotel complex at the highest point of the terrain. The tallest building was the most intact and towered several stories over its nearest neighbours, the complex forming a courtyard of sorts at the centre of the main boulevard. The buildings’ facades were stripped bare; not a fleck of paint or outer finish remained. The raw surfaces of the buildings were deeply water-stained, with rusty splotches here and there from steel reinforcement rods that looked like bloodstains leaching down their faces. The ground was a mixture of sculpted stamped concrete and interlocking block pathways between dead spaces that would have once held landscaped greenery, but were now scooped out and half-filled with stagnant water. Large swimming pools separated by boardwalks were now pits of decaying debris. Supply crates, broken bits of furniture, and shattered masonry were heaped in uneven piles. Windows devoid of glass stared blankly like the eyes of the dead. Some buildings were reduced to mere skeletons, their outer walls blown out and away, and their insides spilled out into the wide boulevard below. Some of the floors had pancaked into tall sandwiches of masonry and steel beams.

Jonah slid around the corner and moved to the first bit of cover he could find. Against the opposite side of the wall was a vehicle, its front fender crumpled up against the concrete surface. At first glance Jonah took it to be painted silver, but upon closer inspection he noted that it was in fact merely the unpainted steel of the car body. Its balloon tires looked brand new, but otherwise it was a clunker. Its driver side door was open. Jonah put his hand on the hood to test the heat. It was cool.

Jonah thought for a moment. “Didn’t the hot dog vendor back on Persephone claim he saw a silver dune buggy take Wild Sky away? We’ve got a sheet metal-bodied dune buggy here, you might think it was silver if you didn’t get that good a look at it,” he said over his shoulder. He checked the interior; the keys were still in the ignition. The hydrogen fuel gauge read EMPTY. “Empty fuel tank. They left it on.”

“Someone had to bail in a hurry,” YJ said. “And they didn’t get back to it. So whoever was in it probably died, yeah?”

“No bloodstains,” Jonah said, checking the seat and driver’s side floor.

“Well, not in it,” YJ replied.

“Or the storm caught them by surprise,” Worth said. “And they needed to get inside quick. If you were caught out in this storm, you’d be dead.”

“Blown out to sea,” Jonah added. He backed out of the buggy’s interior and straightened up, scanning the terrain ahead. Then he ducked down and headed for a sloping slab of concrete that rested against a mangled statue that lay on its back, its battered face staring impassively at the sky. Once behind it, he aimed his shotgun over the slab and nodded to Worth, who was waiting at the edge of the barrier.

“I’m just going to throw this out there,” YJ hissed. “If this is somebody’s hideout, they might have put mines down or something. So you might want to follow the exact trail that someone cuts through. Follow each other. If we spread out, at least we know if you set one off, it’s safe to go there. What are the odds they’d put two down?”

Worth nodded and set out to join Jonah, gravel crunching wetly beneath his boots. He passed a reinforced doorway that had somehow remained in place when the building it provided entry to had been completely torn away, right down to its foundation. He reached Jonah and covered him with Katrina as Jonah vaulted over the concrete and headed for the shadow cast by a low-lying storefront next to its flattened neighbour.

YJ waited for the two gunmen to get further ahead, and then slowly crept out from behind the wall, picking each step with the determined paranoia of a man expecting to set off a land mine. “I’ll go up the middle.”

Jonah, Worth, and YJ begin to move forward

“I thought you said to follow one another?” Worth said. “Something about mines and double mines blowing up.”

YJ sighed. “Jonah, I’ll defer to your experience in this.”

Jonah grinned. “Absolutely.” He thought back to every action movie he’d ever seen. “So you’ll form Blue Squad and go up the east side, and I’ll go on the west side.” He added some hand signals he hoped meant something.

Worth rolled his eyes. “That’s what I wanted to do before Landmine Boy started shouting orders.”

Jonah nodded. “Worth, you’re with me.”

YJ frowned as he looked back at the Doc, who was peeking out from behind the barrier. “How about Doc goes with Worth and I go with you?”

“Okay, we’ll each pick two captains,” Jonah said sarcastically. “And put all our guns in the middle…”

“I don’t want to be picked last, it hurts my self-esteem,” The Doc piped up.

Jonah sighed. “Fine, YJ, you’re with me. Try not to make too much noise on your way over.”

“Hey Doc, get up here and I’ll put you in my pocket. We’ll get moving.” Worth growled.

YJ hopped up and made his way to Jonah’s position. Jonah didn’t wait; he quickly rounded the corner of the low-lying building and peered through the wide front windows, which were miraculously intact. “Safety glass,” he muttered. He sidled ahead and tried the front door, which was locked.

Jonah tries the gift shop's front door.

Worth crossed behind YJ and headed for the shattered remains of a utility shed that stood a stone’s throw from a larger structure that bordered the main courtyard.

YJ scanned the debris-choked terrain as he watched Jonah try the front door. He could discern a well-worn footpath through the middle of the wide expanse, snaking around larger pieces of wreckage and heading towards the hotel courtyard at the far end of the island.

“Hey Jonah, there’s a path here that looks pretty intentional,” he whispered.

“And inconvenient,” Jonah replied to YJ.

“Kind of validates your mine theory,” Worth said.

Jonah considered retracing his own steps, then shook his head. “I don’t buy that theory, I’m going to keep going.”

“Well I’m going to the path,” YJ said. He went back the way he came.

Worth shook his head and looked out from behind the thick utility wall and picked his next position. He hopped over a pair of cinder blocks and flattened himself against the wall of the next building.

YJ stood in the centre of the boulevard, his eyes on the path. He started forward.

Time began to slow down.

Jonah was moving in front of the store window when he caught a reflection in the glass of movement further ahead.

As Worth scanned for the next best place to hole up, he also saw a flicker of movement out of the corner of his eye.

An instant later there was the sound of shattering glass and weapons fire from the hotel.

Bullets began to chew glass and brick around YJ as he was caught out in the open. He did what any self-preserving man would do, and threw himself behind the nearest cover, hoping for the best. He dove for a pair of storage crates a couple of meters away. He slammed against the rough ground and felt a lightning bolt of pain across his left hand. He winced and looked at his hand. A fine straight line, like a paper cut amplified by a factor of ten, ran across his palm. He watched as the line turned a dark red, and began to ooze blood. He was suddenly grateful for the tetanus shot.

Jonah froze as a second concealed gunman opened up on him, bullets whining off the boardwalk. Instinctively he triggered his shotgun, blew out the storefront window and pitched himself through the cascading hail of safety glass as the bricks beside the window frame started to explode. A round smacked home against his plate vest, driving a pointed finger of pain between his shoulder blades.

Safely behind cover, Worth took the safety off Katrina.

“Where are the shots coming from?” YJ shouted into his multiband as bullets thudded against the rotting wooden crates.

“A window on the fourth floor!” Worth said back.

“Then cover me!” YJ said as he prepared to leap out towards better cover. “Lay down some suppressing fire!”

Jonah picked himself off the soggy carpet and squinted as he looked through the gloomy interior of the building for an exit. In a previous life, it must have been some kind of gift shop – he could see display cases, racks of sodden t-shirts and other bric-a-brac. The shop’s suspended ceiling had partially caved in, hanging down almost all the way to the floor in one corner of the room, giving the place a cave-like atmosphere. Water ran down from above and a bit of light filtered in from what was likely a gaping hole in the roof, and growths of mildew covered the walls. Despite himself, Jonah took a moment to browse through a rack of souvenir keychains, spinning it around until he found one that he liked. He snatched and pocketed the tchotchke.

From behind cover, YJ saw Jonah shoplifting and shook his head in disbelief.

Worth stepped out to spray the fourth-floor window and felt a hammer blow to his sternum. He looked down in shock as a wave of heat blasted his face. There was a white-hot fleck of fire embedded in his ballistic mesh, throwing off smoke. He could smell himself cooking. Gritting his teeth, he tried to aim Katrina up to return fire, but a blazing afterimage danced about in his field of vision. “Gorram it!” he shouted in frustration, and headed back to the safety of the utility shed, just as Doc was about to follow Worth to his abandoned position. Worth tackled him as he rushed back behind the wall.

“What happened to you?” The Doc shouted.

“I got shot,” Worth said.

“Yeah, you got shot,” The Doc pointed at Worth’s chest. “You’re on fire!”

“I ain’t got time to burn,” Worth grumbled.

“Do you have time to stop, drop and roll?” The Doc countered.

YJ heard a whooshing sound as an object embedded itself against the crates he was crouched behind. An ominous beeping sound began to pulse at an ever-increasing tempo. He got to his feet and headed for the hole in the nearby window that Jonah had made. A long chatter of automatic weapons fire greeted him as bullets danced all around, nipping at his heels.

YJ dodged and jumped for the empty window frame as the crates behind him exploded in a blossom of flame and splinters. As he rolled through the window, he felt something whizz through the air just above his head, to noisily impale the cash register on the countertop ahead of him. YJ looked up. It was a sword, the handle wagging back and forth. The blade was smeared with fresh blood, and YJ thought about the cut on his hand.

YJ righted himself and pulled the sword out from its resting place. If he had to guess, he would call it a katana. It was well balanced, devoid of ornamentation, and had the look of danger about it. He looked about for something to wrap around it so he could carry it safely. He chose a rotten t-shirt hanging off a nearby clothes tree.

From the rear of the store, another gunshot rang out as Jonah took care of the lock on the back door.

The Doc told Worth to hold still as he pulled an extractor out from his doctor’s bag. He pushed it into the wound on Worth’s chest and swiftly pulled the fiery nugget out, dropping it into a nearby puddle, where it hissed smoke and continued to burn under water. The Doc looked at Worth’s scorched chest. “Yeah, you’re going to want some salve on that.”

“Do it then,” Worth said through clenched teeth.

“Sorry, I’m used to doing this in more sterile conditions,” the Doc said as he smeared some gel onto the wound. He succeeded in staining Worth’s blackened mesh vest even further.

“Just give me something for the pain,” Worth said.

“That I know how to do,” the Doc smiled as he grabbed a shot of endorphin analog.

The two men flinched as they heard a pair of somethings smack against the wall, beeping like competing alarm clocks. There were the dull thuds of two explosions that sent green slime and dirt spraying out from the cracks between the bricks, covering the two men with muck.

“Strong wall,” Worth said, spitting out some mud.

As YJ finished wrapping the sword in a t-shirt sheath, a second grenade hit the edge of the gift shop’s windowsill. He ducked behind the sales counter as an explosion took care of the rest of the safety glass and sent a shower of water and debris through the store.

Jonah kicked open the ruined back door. The alley behind the gift shop was clogged with debris of all kind – furniture, ceiling tiles, bicycles – wedged against the upper edges of the seawall beyond. Here and there green tufts of moss clung tenaciously to the concrete and stone debris. He followed the rear wall of the gift shop and turned the corner into the breezeway between the store and the adjacent, taller building. Wire frames arced overhead where once a brightly coloured awning would have been stretched. Piles of bricks and plaster had partially filled the corridor, and Jonah noted that the building’s walls had been torn away, giving him a clear view through the skeletal framework of the taller of the two main hotel buildings. He searched for a target.

Worth collected himself and bolted from the utility shed, trying to make it around the back of the building he had been hiding behind a few moments ago as opposed to its front face. To his complete non-surprise, he attracted fire as he ran. He felt a burning ember flick past him, scorching the back of his neck as he made it behind cover. “Well, we’ve got them right where we want them!” he shouted sarcastically.

“Yeah, I’m sure they’re ready to surrender!” Jonah shot back. He took a step forward and heard a sound like compressed air being vented. Something struck the upper wall of the gift shop to his right and ricocheted into the alley. A glowing object, about the size of a battery, pinwheeled through the air to land at his feet, beeping insistently.

Without thinking, Jonah scooped it up and pitched it through the open window frame on his left, where it disappeared into the dank interior of the shattered building. There was a flash as the grenade exploded followed by a volcanic eruption of stagnant mud, fungus and rotten wood chips.

Jonah didn’t have time to savour his victory as clods of dirt splattered down all around him. A second grenade struck the same approximate spot on the gift shop’s wall as the first, but this time embedded itself in the crumbling brink instead of bouncing off. Jonah turned to run as the tiny grenade exploded, flinching as fragments of shrapnel pinged against his plate vest.

YJ exited the gift shop and hugged the wall instead of following Jonah, running to the corner of the next building.

Worth heard the multiple grenade explosions from across the boulevard and decided to keep to the shadows, heading down the alleyway behind the buildings that led to the hotel complex at the far end of the island.

“Doc, you stay put,” he hissed to the Doc on his multiband.

“I don’t have a problem with that,” The Doc replied.

Jonah was on the hunt, looking through the latticework of the ruined building for a target. He could see movement behind the middle window of the fourth floor, and aimed for the centre of the darkened rectangle. Before he could loose a shot, his target vanished. Jonah bit off a curse.

The firing from the main hotel building ceased, and a silence descended on the courtyard, broken only by the wind. Then, the crew heard the unmistakable sound of an approaching starship from the south. The vessel cast an insectoid shadow over the rubble-strewn boulevard as it drifted above the island, coming to a hover over the rooftop of the tallest hotel building. The ship sported two articulated thruster arms that moved independently of one another, and further back along its superstructure jutted two fixed stabilizing vanes – wings by another name. Its low-slung cockpit pod peeked out of the underside of the ship’s hull, flanked on either side by what could be weapons modules.

From their concealed positions, Worth and Jonah both swore as they recognized the ship – a Mantis class evac vessel belonging to the Chi’ang Shih mercenary organization. The last time they had laid eyes on this ship, it was lifting off from Hagan’s pirate base on Greenleaf.

The Mantis turned lazily in the air as it dipped its nose towards the surface of the courtyard, its overmuscled, articulated arms unfolding to their full length as if readying itself to unleash death from above.

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