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LANCER: BATTLEGROUP - To Kill the Worthy King

Tun Kai Poh

Adventurer
Prelude

This is Lancer: Battlegroup!

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Against the stark black of deep space, the long silhouettes of capital ships drift in tightening gyres, training their guns and missile tubes on enemies hundreds of thousands of kilometers away. Inside their hushed command decks, officers listen to the whisper of the fleet legion as it relays trajectories, firing solutions, and impact probabilities. Dimly lit screens detail the progress of their own ships of the line: smaller pips describe the arcs of escort ships and wings of fighters, far distant, engaged in their own battle near the gyre's heart.

The stoic forward report, the panicked cry for help, the grim wink of a ship's light-pip blinking off the screen - none of that matters in this moment. With held breath, the officers wait for the order to fire, knowing that if they hit their target, they will kill it; but if they miss, they will surely die. This is combat between fleets in Lancer, a duel where one blow is enough to win a war...

So I've been running some Lancer: Battlegroup games recently, for two players, via PbP. We used the playtest version 1.96 rules (the full game isn't out yet).

Funded as part of the Role Kickstarter campaign last year, Lancer: Battlegroup is a roleplaying expansion and tactical fleet combat module for the Lancer TTRPG. Where Lancer focuses on individual mech pilots, Battlegroup is about commanding mighty battleships and carriers in deadly space combat. It's a game that creates stories of massive fleet engagements, about not just leadership, but also the collective efforts and discipline of thousands of crew united in battle. Where each attack wing of daring pilots is backed by the efforts of an army of flight technicians, where a single horrific hit from a spinal linear accelerator coherent beam cannon can wipe out hundreds of your loyal crew in an instant.

Update 2: Creator Spotlight: Massif Press & Lancer: Battlegroup! · Role: A New Kind of Platform For The RPG Community

Lancer Art preview from Utopie Selective: https://www.artstation.com/artwork/28lJ5x

Next: Character Creation!
 
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Tun Kai Poh

Adventurer
Character Creation: Captain Caspian Var, Union Naval Corps
Like in Lancer, the player character is defined by stats that affect narrative play, as well as stats for combat. You don't roll for these, and the first set of stats is assigned completely independent of the second; as such, there's no way for a player to min-max a character by minimizing their narrative stats to maximize their combat stats.

Caspian Var grew up on the factory world of Marshall as a member of the Creative elite of the planet. Inducted into the UNC at a young age as an honorable occupation for a highborn child, Var quickly proved his skills as an officer cadet and later as a line officer during the battles of Hierarch's Veld and Orpheus IX where he demonstrated calm under fire when his ship, the UNS-LS Lake Champlain, was struck by a Karrakin Nearlight Kill-Pack.

Now newly promoted to command of the UNS-BB Richard Wagner at the head of Battlegroup Splinter, Captain Caspian Var desires nothing more than to enforce the Union's goals on a Galaxy filled with squabbling corporations and petty tyrants that stand in the way. After all, without peace and order, there can be no progress or freedom.

Caspian's player is aiming to get Reputation: Scion for Caspian, which will give access to a number of the Reputation's advances, powerful special narrative abilities.

Traits:

  • Cool
  • Professional
  • Arrogant
These Traits provide positive (Cool, Professional) and negative (Arrogant) modifiers to the character's rolls. Using up a positive Trait means you cannot use it again until you use a negative trait to recharge your positive ones.

Unlike in Lancer, an individual character doesn't really have any stats that improve the combat performance of the fleet - although that will change after a couple of missions' worth of experience. Instead, they have equipment - a Battlegroup, to be precise.

So now it's time to spend 20 points on Caspian's battlegroup, which must consist of 2-6 Capital Ships.

Battlegroup Splinter

Flagship: UNS-BB Richard Wagner (14)
26 HP, 13 Defense, 1d6+2 Interdiction

Hull - FKS Calendula Class Battlecruiser (7)
Superheavy Weapon - Spinal Petajoule Kinetic (2)
Superheavy Weapon - Spinal Petajoule Kinetic (2)
Primary Weapon - Dorsal Razorback Missiles (0)
System - "Sandstorm" Vanguard (3)
System - Veteran Crews (0)

Calendula.png


For the flagship, the player has chosen what he calls "A bit of a meme build but its an experiment in throwing really dense objects really fast really far." This is a battleship with two slots for Superheavy weapons (other battleships only have one!) and the ability to Overcharge Superheavy weapons that use the Charge tag, pouring more energy into them than is normally advisable - at a cost of damaging the ship. For anyone who wants to power up enormous cannons over multiple rounds before unleashing them, this is what you take. In this case, Caspian's ship has two Spinal Petajoule Kinetics, which are basically giant railguns capable of punching through one or two ships with a single shot, effective anywhere between Range 5 (the maximum range) and Range 2 (Collapsing Range, one step up from Short Range).

The Primary weapon is a basic 4x10 missile array capable of doing a solid amount of damage, but taking multiple rounds to reach their targets - again, this is another example of how some of Battlegroup's weapons are an exercise in patience. If you launch missiles at, say, Range 3, the missiles will arrive at the Range 0 (enemy fleet) about 2 or 3 rounds later. Like in the X-Wing miniatures game, this is an example of a 0-cost upgrade. It's a baseline weapon you get to fill your slot with, if you can't afford a more powerful one.

Finally, the battleship has two Systems, representing other equipment that can modify the performance of the vessel. Veteran Crews provide a one-time re-roll on a missed attack, which can be recharged under a certain condition. "Sandstorm" Vanguard is a cluster of asteroids, shepherded with thruster systems, that can shield the battlegroup from incoming damage (by providing Overshield, the Lancer equivalent of Temporary Hit Points). Once per battle, the ship can take a Maneuver to slingshot a cluster of asteroids at an enemy Capital Ship for 10 damage, plus additional Area damage to the entire hostile battlegroup, plus a lingering debris effect that can hit more enemy ships that attempt certain types of movement (a complicated thing I'll explain later on). This is a powerful and unique upgrade - you can only have one in your battlegroup.

UNS-LS Björn Járnsiđa (6)
14 HP, 12 Defense

Hull - HA Turenne Class Frigate (4)
Auxiliary Weapon - Harbinger Confidence Lasers (1)
Auxiliary Weapon - Harbinger Confidence Lasers (1)
System - Predict/Overlay Shield Projector (0)

In the Lancer: Battlegroup setting, a Frigate is not a small ship - subline ships such as Cruisers, Destroyers and Corvettes are all smaller than this class. Frigates are merely the smallest Capital Ship class - they're still considered ships of the line, with powerful nearlight drives and capital-grade weapons, and they would be capable of being assigned for independent missions. Their classification harkens back to Napoleonic-era warships, where frigates were powerful enough to overcome anything smaller than a ship of the line, but fast and flexible enough to be used for scouting and other independent duties.

Caspian has chosen this Turenne to maximise the long-range sniping potential of Battlegroup Splinter. The twin banks of Harbinger Confidence Lasers are targeting lasers for long-cycle Charge guns like the Spinal Petajoule Kinetic, albeit powerful enough to blast small ships out of the sky. They contribute damage at long or extreme ranges for each round that the battlegroup's Charge weapons are powering up.

The Predict/Overlay Shield Projector is a one-use shield that can power up to stop a single shot from an enemy Superheavy weapon, and is more effective at Extreme range (Range 5) than at any other. Again, an upgrade that goes well with the Calendula's optimal fighting range.

Lastly, the Turenne has a special Trait, Active Defense, which gives the battlegroup +2 Interdiction against Payloads and Area damage whenever the frigate is assigned to Defensive Screen. This is a special tactic only available to frigates, providing cover for other ships and taking hits instead of the ship they are defending 50% of the time.

And that's the first player's battlegroup - at least, the starting version of it. Ships can get modified and given special Legacies as they go through a campaign. But this is certainly a game where the power level is much higher than normal. One battlegroup has the power to shape the destiny of entire planets...

Next time on Character Creation: The frontline slugger joins the fleet.
 
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Tun Kai Poh

Adventurer
Character Creation: Captain Tabitha Saint-Germaine, Union Naval Corps

In the Lancer universe, Cosmopolitans are those people who spend almost all of their lives on starships travelling at nearlight speeds through space. To non-Cosmopolitans, these people appear to never age over many centuries. This is because for long journeys, they spend a good deal of time in stasis. In addition, because of the relativistic speeds they travel at, time literally passes more slowly for them than it does for the vast majority of humanity dwelling on planets and in space habitats. This next character is one such individual.

Spaceborn and bred, Tabitha Saint-Germaine is the daughter of military officers serving aboard the Union's ships throughout the tumultuous years following the fall of the Second Committee and the rise of the Third. As such she has a certain perspective of humanity that is both idealistic and pragmatic.

Showing a strong aptitude for command and the life of a cosmopolitan spacer, Tabitha was specially selected for induction in the Union Naval Corps and has thrived there since, seeing service through the ranks aboard corvettes, destroyers, cruisers, frigates and now, her own command of the UNS-BB Nikolai Bukharin.

With the weight of her heritage and the expectations of her command on her shoulders, Captain Tabitha Saint-Germaine seeks her destiny among the stars that have been the unchanging constant amidst the tempestuous sea of change that is human existence.

Traits:
  • Commanding
  • Brilliant
  • Idealistic
Tabitha will be taking advances along the Beacon Reputation track.

Battlegroup Eland (20 points)

Flagship: UNS-BB Nikolai Bukharin (11)
31 HP, 12 Defense, 1d6+2 Interdiction

Hull - GMS Thoreau Class Battleship (7)
Superheavy Weapon - 3x3 Block Short-Spool Cannons (2)
Primary Weapon - Heavy Kinetic Batteries (1)
Primary Weapon - Gemini Laser Array (1)
Auxiliary Weapon - Flyswatter Missiles (0)
Auxiliary Weapon - Flyswatter Missiles (0)
System - Bulwark Redundancies (0)

The Bukharin is the frontline tank of the fleet, and it can deal out consistently damaging barrages as it closes the distance with the enemy.

The Thoreau class battleship exists as a reminder of a more warlike time in Union's history. The imperialistic Second Committee was overthrown five centuries ago, its policies overturned and replaced with a more benign hegemony, but this powerful symbol of SecComm's reign, updated with more modern technology, is simply too useful to retire. The Thoreau can fire an additional Auxiliary Weapon while advancing towards the enemy, and once per battle, it can use the Unleash Hell! Maneuver to fire twice as many weapons as usual.

Tabitha has ordered the Bukharin armed with a powerful nine-barrel superheavy cannon block, long-ranged kinetic batteries, a dual-purpose offensive/defensive laser array, and a double loadout of auxiliary missiles for shooting down small attack craft or mechs. In addition, the ship has been upgraded with Bulwark Redundancies, giving it 3 extra HP.

UNS-CV Shamokin Rising (9)
16 HP, 12 Defense

Hull - IPS-N Masauwu Class Heavy Carrier-Frame (6) with built-in discount for Wings/Escorts (-3)
Wing - Fighter Wing (1), 5 HP
Wing - Fighter Wing (1), 5 HP
Escort - Destroyer Escort (2), 8 HP
Escort - Destroyer Escort (2), 8 HP

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Named for the 1877 Pennsylvania uprising in which railroad workers and miners protested starvation wages by major companies amid massacres by National Guard troops, the Shamokin Rising is a bulky carrier capable of deploying a mix of subline ships, fighters, bombers or mechs.

Tabitha's subordinate, Captain Elliot Meade, commands not only this carrier but also two squadrons of Peregrine fighter wings and the Custodio-class destroyer escorts Unicorn and Undine.

Battlegroups in the game are typically limited to only two actions per round, usually a Maneuver (which can fire some weapons) and a Tactic (used to give orders to one or two Wings, or one Escort). The Shamokin Rising has the Wolfpack Tactics Trait, which lets the battlegroup give an extra command to an Escort or Wing when it issues a command to an Escort, once per round. As a Carrier, it also gives a 3 point discount for buying Wings and Escorts, guaranteeing that you can get some useful units included on board.

While the Fighter Wings provide increased Interdiction for the battlegroup and can eliminate enemy Wings at close range, the Destroyers are very flexible medium-range Escorts capable of dealing additional Auxiliary Weapon damage during firing Maneuvers, and can be commanded to deal direct damage (no attack roll needed) against Capital Ships and Escorts. Each Destroyer Escort also has a once-per-battle Encirclement Tactic, which provides emergency movement for the battlegroup.

And that's about it for character creation. Next, we enter the growing conflict in the Dawnline Shore, in the year 5019u.
 
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Tun Kai Poh

Adventurer
The Dawnline Shore

Attention, GROUPCOM. You're being sent out to *Lighthouse* Station to enforce a no-fly corridor for all non-Union military ships. Baronic Unified Command is believed to have a number of fully automated Cogent Mind flagships operating beyond *Lighthouse* - boarding tactics are likely to be less effective against them. Also, you can expect to see greywash weapons and seeker mines in their loadout. Enforce the no-fly corridor and keep those aggressor fleets away from the station. Detailed briefing is in your NHP's inbox.

The year is 5019u, and the Dawnline Shore is ablaze. For hundreds of years, two powerful rival states, Harrison Armory and the Karrakin Trade Baronies, have been engaged in a race for influence in the developing worlds of this resource-rich region. Union's Administrative Department currently provides infrastructure and administrative aid to local worlds while trying to use soft power to counterbalance the rapacious Armory and Baronies (which are technically both Union member states, but in practice act on their own expansionist interests).

Now, a proxy war between local governments in the Dawnline Shore has drawn in their superpower sponsors. The Armory's 1st Expeditionary Fleet engaged the Federal Karrakin Armada over New Creighton just days ago. In response, Union has shut the local blink gate, but cargo vessels and other shipping continue to pour in through the 2-year Long Rim route in realspace. Union mobilizes peacekeeping battlegroups to tamp down the flames of war, but the bloodshed has already begun.
 

Tun Kai Poh

Adventurer
Massacre

Five days out from the neutral haven of Lighthouse Station, a Union Navy fleet (Battlegroups Eland and Splinter) investigates a fresh debris cloud. Automated distress beacons summoned the warships from their no-fly corridor duty, and they have emerged from nearlight to find a scene of silent carnage.

"Captain Var," reports the Wagner's NHP exec, "I have verified this ship as FKS Shirline, an unarmed transport bound for DS11 Gloria. It appears to have suffered catastrophic hits from long-spool weaponry. The Shamokin Rising is sending out search vessels, but the prospect of survivors appears slim."

"Noted, Bernd. Bring the crew up to Condition II and begin a sensor sweep of the area. Gunnery, warm up the guns." Var brings himself to attention, as is his habit on alert. "Helm, reduce speed to one third and bring us into overwatch for Captain St.Germaine. Comms, let her know what we are doing."

He turns his attention to the tactical display at the center of the bridge as the bridge crew rattle off their affirmatives, his eyes scanning it intently for any possible contacts. Then he pauses and taps his chin, thoughtfully.

"Bernd, Sensors - I want an analysis of the debris field and the local area. Report on any energy traces and weapons signatures."

"The Wagner will be holding short of the debris field, Captain. They will take overwatch while we comb for survivors."

Captain Tabitha Saint-Germaine nods silently at the voice of the Bukharin's NHP, Vera. Before her on her screen, she can see the Shamokin Rising's two fighter wings slowly sweeping the wreckage with the Unicorn and Undine standing close guard. Around the bridge, she can sense the tension in her crew.

"Vera, do pull of the logs to see if there's any additional information on the Shirline. Cargo and crew manifests, reported routes and schedules. I want to know where she came from, if she's where she's supposed to be and what she was supposed to be carrying. Have the search teams keep an eye out for any of the ship's data recorders. Beam what information we can get over to the Wagner as well."

The Wagner's crew falls into a familiar cadence of work as the ship takes up overwatch. Once a fleet has dropped out of nearlight, it will take days for the nearlight drives to spool up again. The fleet will remain ready for action while the S&R teams are doing their work.

Within a couple of hours, the first lifepod has been recovered, its battle-shocked survivors glad for fresh air, warmth and aid.

"It was a superdreadnought," they say. The PCV-DN Meritorious Rex. A kilometres-long Armory warship that intercepted the Shirline, hammered it with kinetic guns until it surrendered and drifted, waiting helplessly. The Armory ship waited hours for its massive spinal cannon to charge up before firing an executioner's shot, tearing the transport in two. 600 lives snuffed out, in a blatant war crime.

"The Shirline was a colony transport originally from Karrakin space, bringing civilian engineers and agronomists from Lighthouse to Gloria," reports Vera. "Registered under the House of Remembrance, commanded by Lord Captain Lucius Montaigne, a minor noble with a long record of loyal service. Cargo consisted of construction equipment, Schedule 3 printers and agricultural seed material. Our team is searching through recovered data banks for anything untoward, but so far, there's nothing suspicious."

"No attempt to board or recover anything? Just, blasting them apart for no apparent reason? That seems... oddly bloodthirsty." Tabitha, thinks out loud as she paces the bridge. "Inform fleet about this and then pull what you can on the Meritorious Rex - her background, her captain and more importantly, where she's stationed and what she's been up to. Meanwhile, continue the search. I want this debris field picked over with a fine tooth comb."

"Our orders are to enforce the corridor, Tabitha." Caspian's clipped voice comes in over the holonet. "I understand your need to get to the bottom of this but that is not our primary objective. I suggest we withdraw back to our stations once S&R procedures are complete, our drives spooled and primary weapons discharged as necessary."

"That won't be for at least a few more hours, Caspian. In the meantime, I want to know more about what happened here and if Fleet has any additional instructions given the circumstances. This sort of thing is cold, even for you." Caspian smirks at that.

"You wound me, Tabitha. Blood thirst and efficiency are two very different things. Which is why I suggest that we complete this operation as per standard procedure and then return to our stations rather than go haring off after a rogue dreadnought to soothe your sense of justice."

"Let's wait to see what fleet says, shall we?", Tabitha closes the comms with a curt nod. "Make sure the survivors are properly looked after," she says to Vera. "Why would a dreadnought come all the way out here just to blow up a civilian transport with no apparent military importance?"
 
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Tun Kai Poh

Adventurer
Inbound. Uptime.

Within the 1st Dawnline Response Fleet, Battlegroups Eland and Splinter are grouped under the 2nd Crisis Response Group under the veteran Vice Admiral Reality Gentle. Gentle, counter to her name, is furious at the vicious nature of the attack. Her response comes within minutes.

"Who does this son of a bitch think he is, committing war crimes within light days of our corridor? Captains, complete your sweep for survivors and then pull back to the corridor once you're under nearlight speed again. Mark the debris for DOJ/HR inspection - we'll send some hounds to sniff around as soon as we're able. F--- me, I've got to put up a flag on this Rex. There will be nowhere in the DLS for her captain to hide!"

The battlegroups don't get much respite before the next piece of business announces itself. "We have two Karrakin capital ships inbound," reports Bernd. "They appear to have come in from Baronic territory around DS11 Gloria, headed for Lighthouse through the no-fly corridor. But they've diverted, presumably to investigate the distress call here."

And shortly after, the inbound ships drop out of nearlight, just hours short of extreme weapons range, and begin maneuvers.

"Confirmed Cogent Mind vessels, not responding to our hails," says Vera to Tabitha. "We've given them ample warning. They don't seem to care that we're carrying a dozen Karrakin survivors of the massacre. High confidence of moving to engagement. We should be in scope range within a day - and unfortunately not all of our drives will be spooled up before then. Unfortunately for them, that is. So much for these vaunted solid-state intelligences." The NHP emotes a smirk on their holographic face. Is that...arrogance? Smug superiority? GRANDMOTHER SPIDER NHPs are known for reliability and stability, but Vera has grown to become a rather confident digital demon in their time serving the fleet.

As per the rulebook:
Battlegroup is all about the engagement. Pre-battle positioning, acceleration and deceleration, chasing down enemy fleets, navigation from one’s deployment zone to the battle line — all of that is assumed to have already happened by the time the first dice are rolled. Battlegroup is about the moments where the unpredictability gap is about to close — and the climax when it does.

The player battlegroups are going into an engagement with an equal number of enemy Battlegroups, each consisting of a Cogent Mind vessel with attached escorts. The players deliberate on which of their ships carries the Karrakin survivors, then choose their Uptime Actions.

Survivors will be placed aboard the USN-BB Richard Wagner.

Uptime is what cosmonauts call non-stasis time, when crews have been cycled up into subjective time, to engage in training, maintenance and pre-theater operations. Each player may choose an Uptime Action in an attempt to gain certain strategic or tactical benefits before going into battle.

Tabitha's player chooses Set Nominal Posture, which affects the starting deployment of the ships under command. Battlegroup Eland will begin engagement from Long Range (range 4).

For Battlegroup Splinter, the Uptime Action is Consult Gunnery and Engineering, in an effort to gain tactical benefits related to weapons and attacks. Caspian rolls 3 on a d20, which is a failure. This means his battlegroup only gets a minor effect: +1 Accuracy dice to one single-target attack roll this engagement.

After an hour, as the shuttle carrying the survivors of the Shirline dock with the Wagner, Chief Gunnery Officer Samantha Bryant grimaces at her screen, then looks up at Captain Var.

"Engineering says that they cannot boost the charge to either of the weapons any further at this point. I've run the calculations and tried to fine-tune the charge rails but all I can give you is a little finer range control on our starboard SPK."

"Unfortunate", Caspian shrugs with a twinge of irritation, "Carry on then."

He turns back to the holoscreen as the energy signatures of the oncoming Karrakin battlegroups come into greater and greater focus.

"All hands prepare to engage."

utopie-selective-cic5-final2.jpg


Lancer: Battlegroup art preview from Utopie Selective: https://www.artstation.com/artwork/nYOBrK

Next: Two fleets stand before you.
 
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Tun Kai Poh

Adventurer
Two Fleets

As the engagement begins, all ship NHPs network together through the Omninet to form the fleet legion, a superintelligent composite subjectivity capable of managing the information and systems of the entire fleet.

The fleet legion, Aegis, lays out all known data on the two opposing fleets for all captains to see.

The two fleets:

2nd Crisis Response Group (Union Navy)

Battlegroup Eland (Range 4)
Interdiction 1d6+2
UNS-BB Nikolai Bukharin (31 HP)
UNS-CV Shamokin Rising (16 HP)
  • 2x Fighter Wing (5 HP, 5 HP)
  • Destroyer Unicorn (8 HP)
  • Destroyer Undine (8 HP)

Battlegroup Splinter (Range 5)
Interdiction: 1d6+2
UNS-BB Richard Wagner (26 HP)
UNS-LS Björn Járnsiđa (14 HP)

Cogent Mind Fleet (Karrakin Trade Baronies)

Battlegroup Denver (Gyre Center)
Interdiction: 1d6
Cornicen (25 HP)
  • 2x Battlethread (10 HP, 10 HP)
  • Endless Cosmonaut (6 HP)

Battlegroup Elvis (Gyre Center)
Interdiction: 2d6
Hivequeen (30 HP)
  • Diluvia (18 HP)
  • 2x Starfield Furies (10 HP, 10 HP)
  • 4x Fighter Wing (5 HP, 5 HP, 5 HP, 5 HP)
  • 2x Bomber Wing (6 HP, 6 HP)

The Union fleet is facing solid-state Cogent Mind warships, which means they are immune to critical hits and harder to attack in the Boarding Step. All automated. All machine.

The Cornicen is armed with greywash nanomunitions that inflict ongoing damage, as well as Achiral Abolition, a powerful Legionspace weapon. Battlethreads provide off-board tactical processing power to their flagship, which means better maneuvering, target locks and range band manipulation abilities. The Endless Cosmonaut is a strange enemy mech Ace with paracausal time loop powers that allow it to come back after it dies!

The other NPC battlegroup is led by a massive Hivequeen, a drone control ship with a lot of abilities involving target locks, such as missiles and boarding drones. It's accompanied by Diluvia, a vast swarm of drones that sacrifice themselves for offensive and defensive effects (including ongoing damage), and two Starfield Furies, escort carriers filled with short-ranged fighters and bombers.

Each Starfield Fury hosts 2 Fighter Wings and 1 Bomber Wing, so if it is taken out, its Wings immediately drop out of the fight. Each NPC Escort, plus the Ace, can transfer to another Flagship if their own is destroyed, although one Escort of the destroying player's choice is also destroyed in the process.

From the rulebook:
The Cornicen is a solid-state flagship with no organic personnel, managed by a Cogent Mind, a new series of dramatically more powerful comp/cons produced by the Janus Combine, a scientific foundation devoted to the development of parasubjective strategic solutions. The Janus Combine is based on the House of Water’s homeworld, Umara, and is one of Water’s many private/public development ventures devoted towards the expansion of parallel-track “mind” systems.

The Janus Combine developed Cornicens as vehicles for their Cogent Mind warprocessors. Distinct from Deimosian NHPs, Cogents are more conventional — though still incredibly powerful — machine minds, akin to an end-state evolution of the comp/con, coupled with some of the more unique interpretations of legacy machine minds. Their freeform processing without fear of cascade provides a window, then, into what humanity could have become.
"The Cornicen is perhaps the more dangerous of the two flagships," advises the fleet legion, as holographic diagrams of the battleship appear in the middle of the CIC. "Its No-Repro Munitions can deliver disruptive greywash payloads to targets within scope range. Its Legionspace primary weapon, Achiral Abolition, will severely degrade fleetmind connections and fleet efficiency, and can be effective anywhere from long to collapsing ranges, but reloading time is quite long."

The Janus Combine’s Battlethread Solid-State Escorts are “appendage” vessels, meant to pair with their Cornicen Flagship PSS to create a holistic strategic ecosystem — a group of ships that function as a single inorganic mind. Though they can be paired with a wide variety of capital ship types, the Janus Combine is sparing with their distribution, and so they remain an uncommon sight in most fleets for now.
"These support ships were designed to maximise maneuvering and targeting capabilities for their flagship - they're solid-state ships much like their Cornicen brethren, and while theoretically unarmed, they can be ejected as last-ditch superheavy missile payloads once they are too heavily damaged to function."

The tiny speck flitting ahead of the Cornicen should not be of sufficient concern for the fleet legion to mention - and yet! The single mounted chassis emits an alarming amount of exotic radiation - including particles that should not exist under natural physical laws. The target profile matches several others that have been destroyed in engagements over the past decade, and its uncanny ability to return from seeming destruction has earned it the codename Endless Cosmonaut.

"This particular attack craft bears monitoring, as it may have paracausal defense, jamming and interdiction functionality beyond conventional mech design," the fleet legion explains. "In fact, we'd wager that it carries a significant amount of Horusian tech on board."

Another component of the Janus Combine’s Cogent Mind naval combat paradigm, the Hivequeen functions as a command and control platform for numerous maniples of combat drones. A distributed intelligence network allows the central ship to coordinate these appendages across several fronts at once with unerring precision.

"This heavier ship presents a more difficult target due to its strong defenses. It employs drone missiles, breaching pods packed into solid-state payload munitions, and long-loiter sapper drones that can serve as area-denial minefields. It is possible to avoid many of these weapons, but doing so will greatly limit our effective operational maneuvering space."

"Noted, with thanks, Aegis." Tabitha studies the data readouts scrolling in front of her as she steadies herself against the growing momentum of the Bukharin. "Can you advise which of these targets will pose the greatest threat to our command and control capabilities? Anything that might disrupt the smooth unfolding of our fleet actions. I wish to eliminate that threat as a matter of greatest priority."

"Either the Cornicen or the Diluvia," replies Aegis. "The drone swarm is able to lash out with various wave attacks at long range, including greywash capability, which can synergize with the Cornicen's nanomunitions. However, the Diluvia is vulnerable only to area effect attacks, something we lack. So, I would recommend focusing on the Cornicen. Its Legionspace disruption could potentially disconnect a capital ship from the fleet legion entirely, rendering it temporarily inoperable."

Aegis brings up file footage of the Karrakin escort carriers. The imagery shows two escort carriers, launching wave after wave of automated Passacaglia fighters. Hidden among those: the grim shapes of refurbished Kilauea nuclear bombers, dangerous relics from centuries past.

"We believe these to be serious threats only at collapsing and close ranges. The fighters can potentially increase interdiction capability, while the bombers are nuclear delivery platforms."

"Very well then." Tabitha looks up at the flickering images of her fellow Battlegroup Captains. "Priority will be the Cornicen and the two Battlethreads. We will deal with the Hivequeen and its escorts later."

"The Wagner will only be ready to fire in another few hours. Do you believe you will be able to hold out that long in the face of the Hivequeen?" Caspian asks with a raised eyebrow. "I can provide some long-distance support for you but the Wagner is not built for a knife fight."

"We will have to make it work," Tabitha responds. She turns to her fellow battlegroup captains; Elliot Meade of the Shamokin Rising, Ki Su-Lynn of the Undine and Jacinda Evans of the Unicorn, "All of you, follow me. This will be rough."

Even as she completes her brief, the first scarlet beams blaze past the Bukharin from the Björn Járnsiđa scouring the hull of one of the Battlethreads, leaving gibbets of molten metal and vaporized plastics in its wake as Caspian's voice coolly reports over the holoscreen.

"Battlegroup Splinter, engaging."

Next: Entering the Gyre of Battle
 

Tun Kai Poh

Adventurer
The Gyre

In Lancer: Battlegroup, we do not track the position of units on a grid or hex map. The distances between ships is usually immense - in the tens of thousands of kilometers, or even hundreds of thousands. The time it takes to fight is great as well: it can take hours or even days for missile volleys to travel these distances, or for superheavy spinal guns to finish charging.

Because of this, distance and time are abstracted in this game: Distance is measured on the gyre and time is measured in rounds.

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The gyre is a representation of the battle space, without using exact measurements of distance. As the fleets maneuver in 3d space, angling for the best engagement vectors, attempting to bring their weapons into optimal range, the actual effective ranges between player battlegroups is measured by the range bands marked on the gyre.

It's best if you think about the enemy fleet being at Range 0, the center of the gyre. Player battlegroups move (using Maneuvers or Tactics) from one range band to another, and they can try to approach the enemy separately, each employing their own tricks and abilities. The abstracted enemy position at the gyre center never changes; instead, when enemy flagships move in the fiction, they are represented in the game by forced movement abilities that shift player battlegroups to different range bands. And players have ways to counter forced movement, too. This makes tracking positions much easier, especially for the GM, who is juggling multiple NPC battlegroups!

Weapon systems will each have ranges (like 5-3, or 4-1 or 2-0) indicating which range bands they can be used in. Powerful long-spool spinal guns like the Spinal Petajoule Kinetic are best fired at longer distances, like sniper rifles. Rapid-firing mass accelerators and shotgun-like conical kinetic projectors are only effective at shorter ranges.

As for smaller craft, like corvettes, destroyers, fighters and mechs, these have an effective range (usually 3-0 or 2-0) in which they operate. Their movement is not individually tracked, but they are assumed to be in constant motion between their carrier and enemy targets. During each round, waves of these attack craft are rearming at their carriers, launching, making their hours-long journeys to their targets, disgorging their deadly ordnance, then turning back to their carriers once more.

And yes, this flips the modern carrier warfare paradigm! In Battlegroup, powerful capital ship weapons can reach across a hundred thousand kilometers long before fighters and bombers are even in range. So carriers are now shorter-ranged compared with battleships. Carriers can swarm enemies up close with strike craft, but the battleship, with its superheavy weaponry, is truly the titanic queen of the gyre.

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Art-in-progress preview by Utopie Selective.

Now that we understand a bit better, next, we're going to move into Round 1 proper, as the first shots are fired...
 
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Tun Kai Poh

Adventurer
This Will Be Rough, Part 1

Each round of battle starts with a Logistics step. Reloading systems recharge. Supermassive Charge weapons count down to the round in which they will fire. Payloads count down their flight counters, representing their flight towards targets. Players can activate some offensive and defensive Systems during this step.

Battlegroup Splinter:
1) Richard Wagner removes one token from each Spinal Petajoule Kinetic.
2) 2 x Harbinger Lead Lasers - fire on removal of charging tokens, deal 4 damage to one of the Battlethreads

Also during the Logistics step, the Hivequeen uses its Sapper Drones system to choose either range band 4 or 5 to be seeded with drones - it chooses range band 5. Until the next Logistics step, any hostile battlegroup that ends its turn in that range band will take 1d6+1 Area damage, and will make Single Target attacks at +1 Difficulty until the end of their next turn.

Long-loiter sapper drones are often seeded in volleys across predicted approach vectors, operating on minimal power until targets come into range. Once activated they quickly home in and affix themselves to ships, injecting viral attack code directly into compromised systems, which results in cascading malfunctions until purged by damage control teams.

This is a Reloading 2 System, so the Hivequeen won't be able to use it again until Round 3.

Next comes the Impact Step, which is when Payload and Charge attacks that have finished counting down will hit their targets. Nothing is happening here, at least for this round.

After that, each battlegroup gets to take their turn during the Action Step, carrying out the Maneuvers and Tactics that are the bread-and-butter of space combat. Players typically only get one Maneuver and one Tactic (or just two Tactics if they want), while NPC battlegroups get more for their Escorts, which somewhat balances out the fact that PCs have generally better Defense and more powerful weapons.

Battlegroups take alternating turns during the Action Step; first the players choose one of their battlegroups to go, then an NPC battlegroup goes, and so on until everyone has gone.

We start with Battlegroup Eland.
1) Maneuver: All Ahead Full!
Close to range 3
Fire Primary Heavy Kinetic Batteries (roll:17) for 5 damage to damaged Battlethread.
Barrage Doctrine: Fire two Auxiliaries as part of the All Ahead Full! Maneuver. Both Destroyers fire for 2 damage each, which destroys this Battlethread.

Also, the player adds 1 volley counter to the 3x3 Block Short-Spool Cannons.

2a) Tactic: Destroyer Command. A destroyer fires a Snapflight Torpedo against the surviving Battlethread.

Thanks to the Shamokin Rising's
Wolfpack Tactics Trait, the player issues a free command to the other destroyer attached to the carrier.

2b) Destroyer Command: Snapflight Torpedo against the surviving Battlethread.

The exhaust plumes of Battlegroup Eland brighten as they accelerate the Union fleet towards the hostile fleets, leaving the Richard Wagner and her escorting Frigate further and further behind. Aboard the Shamokin Rising, fighter crews prepare for launch as her command crew hastily run through the complex astronavigational calculations for her subline Destroyers to bring them into their designated positions in formation.

On the bridge of the Bukharin, her crew runs through final systems checks as the range ticks down. The tension shows on the faces of the young ensigns as they power up weapons and make adjustments to the various sensor and power systems as the digital range clock counts down. As it ticks down to 32:50, Officer of the Deck calls out "Mark, engines cut, beginning turn to port."

The massive ship physically flexes as hundreds of thousands of tons of steel and composites begins to swing around, fighting its own inertia to carve a gentle turn to port. Behind it, the Unicorn and the Undine follow the turn, but swing wider, continuing to close with the enemy battlegroup in gentle arcs between their targets and the Bukharin.

"Weapons unmasked, engaging scopes." Gunnery Officer Petrov looks up at her captain. "Firing on your command." Tabitha nods at her.

"Fire."

The Union battle line erupts in a massive storm of silent flame as the massive guns of the Bukharin's secondary turrets fire followed in turn by the lesser weapons on the Unicorn and Undine. Spears of light streak towards the damaged Battlethread with deadly intent.

The results are shattering. The Bukharin's guns hammer the smaller ship, punching clean through it, venting clouds of fragments and gasses from its broken hull, shattered machines and destroyed syetems. Then the smaller shells of the two destroyers arrive, smashing what's left into unrecognizable debris.

The two destroyers continue their deadly arc. On each of them, multiple bays pop up from their flush hulls and, as their crew complete their final calculations, they spew a storm of glowing plasma tendrils, accelerating faster than any capital class munition can towards the second Battlethread.

The Cornicen has just enough time to register that battle calculations are not being completed. The second Battlethread receives the signal to initiate final launch sequence just as the torpedoes from the Undine and Unicorn turn it into a rapidly expanding mass of superheated gas.

The Cornicen, now stripped of its escorts, begins accelerating to close the distance with Battlegroup Eland. Its primary batteries flash, launching volley after volley of nanomunition shells at the Nikolai Bukharin. But without the processing power of the Battlethreads to maximize targeting confidence, the shells lead the battleship too far by a hundred kilometres.

A single fiery speck has closed the no-man's-land between the two battleships: The Endless Cosmonaut. <TABITHA, WE MEET AGAIN,> an eerie voice says over open comms. <ALTHOUGH FROM YOUR REFERENCE POINT, IT IS OUR FIRST DANCE.>

A beam of exotic particles washes across the Nikolai Bukharin's armour belt, rearranging molecules subtly. The damage is almost imperceptible, but already the enemy mech is recalculating, recalibrating to improve beam performance for future attack runs.

The Cosmonaut retreats swiftly, using microburst drives to return to the Cornicen's shadow.

Next: Grocery List
 

Tun Kai Poh

Adventurer
Groceries

Battlegroup Denver's Action Step: The Cornicen's No-Repro Munitions maneuver misses, but also pulls Battlegroup Eland to Range 2. Meanwhile, the Endless Cosmonaut attacks the Bukharin - its attacks build up to do more and more damage over time.

Battlegroup Splinter is next. The Wagner locks onto one of the small carriers and launches Dorsal Razorback Missiles at it.

In contrast to the tense activity on the Bukharin, the bridge of the Richard Wagner is eerily quiet. Her crew barely acknowledges the silent radiation bursts that mushroom on her sensor displays. The Officer of the Deck reads out the unfolding battle with all the enthusiasm of a man checking his grocery list. Gunner Officer Bryant is staring at her screen, her face highlighted by its soft blue glow as she checks the various status updates unfolding before her.

Caspian Var continues to stand at ease before the holographic battlemap silently watching the range tick down. He snorts in disdain as the cloud of sapper drones drift by. Whatever their trajectory, the Wagner has already passed their calculated point of impact.

The timer flashes and Gunnery Officer Bryant calls out; "Status report, target is locked on. Razorbacks are armed..." All along the Wagner's aft superstructure, launch cells suddenly vent with a mechanical thrum. A short whine follows as their plasma boosters light off, "...and mark. Weapons launched. Cells 1 through 8 clearing the rails."

Dozens of tendrils of light arc from the Richard Wagner as its launch cells whirr shut. On the bridge there, all remains quiet, with only the sound of the ship's on-board printers preparing a second volley and the beep of a new timer beneath the range clock to be heard. Chief van Ghent breaks the silence.

"60 minutes to impact."

In the final Action Step, Battlegroup Elvis unleashes its full strength at Tabitha's battlegroup. Boarding pods. Drone missiles. Swarms of dissassembler greywash nanites. And its automated fighters shooting down their Union counterparts.

As the Nikolai Bukharin drives toward the heart of the enemy fleet, the tiny dots of the diluvian drone cloud around the Hivequeen become visible on optical scopes. Gunnery Officer Petrov exhales, hard. "That's a big cloud, all right. And it's accelerating towards us."

Aegis flags a hail of incoming fire from the Hivequeen - high-velocity kinetic projectiles, as well as slower K-Drone packs. Already, the Peregrine fighters of the Shamokin Rising are vectoring to interdict the K-Drone missiles.

Captain Meade's voice cuts in through the ALLCOMM chatter. "Shamokin Rising Actual to all wings, you have fast movers incoming. Prepare to engage!"

The Peregrines peel and swirl to defend against the attacking Passacaglia fighters. From the holographic views on the bridges, it's a silent dance of death. But each little bloom of light and radiation represents a brave pilot flashing out of existence.

Long minutes pass before the opposing fighter wings disengage. The Peregrines have taken 40% casualties.

Aegis reports multiple localized systems failures along the fore ventral hull of the Nikolai Bukharin. "We have deployed security and damage control teams to root out the saboteur drones."

Round 1 is over.

Next: Christmas Tree
 
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Tun Kai Poh

Adventurer
This Will Be Rough, Part 2

Round 2 begins. The Richard Wagner's weapons continue to charge while the Björn Járnsiđa's 'hot' targeting lasers damage the Cornicen. Ongoing greywash damage erodes the hull of the Nikolai Bukharin. And the K-Drones reach the Bukharin.

Gunnery Officer Bryant watches her screen intently, carefully adjusting the calculations to account for the movements of her quarry as the Wagner begins to decelerate into firing position. She casts a glance at her captain, standing stoically before the battle display.

Caspian says nothing, continuing to watch the deadly dance of the Bukharin and her escorts silently.

There is a silent flash on Bryant's terminal, indicating the Wagner's guns are now at 65% nominal charge. She turns back to her station and continues to her power up procedures as the confidence lasers on the Björn once again flash, carving a wavering tattoo of vaporized armor plate on the hull of the Cornicen.

The range clock on the incoming warheads ticks down. As the munitions pass into the battlegroup's perimeter, the surviving Peregrines swoop in, their weapons blazing. One by one, the little markers wink out, but more leak through. At point blank range the Bukharin's CIWS systems swing into action sending a storm of flechettes, each deploying hardened nanofibre filaments as they are flung towards the incoming weapons trying to create a wall of micron-sized scythes against the incoming.

But the CIWS on the Bukharin's starboard hull fire off intermittently as the aggressive nanite swarm begins melting into their vital innards. The range ticks down. Fifty feet. Forty. Warrant Officer Gbeho calmly hits the alert button and throughout the ship the the alert siren blares, commanding everyone to brace. Captain Saint Germaine leans forward and grasps the edge of the Holodisplay tightly.

"Brace for impact."

Ike Gbeho barely finishes that sentence before the first of the projectiles slam into the Bukharin's exposed flank, blasting into her massive belt and sending fragments spalling off into the void. More detonations. Many many more. The Bukharin quakes and heaves as multiple explosions ripple across its starboard quarter.

"Hull breach, Printers in Sector 52A and 52C are offline. Damage control is sealing it off." Ike's fingers dance across his console as he leans over to look at the screen of his fellow defensive systems officer. "We have more drones filling the breached area. Venting."

The ship shudders as atmosphere blasts out through the damaged compartments, snuffing out fires and blowing dozens of Saboteur Drones out with it. As the venting dies down, the Bukharin's own nanomachines kick in and a dull grey film begins to form across the breach, sealing it off.

Ike looks up at his captain. "No casualties, but we can't take another hit like that in the same spot."

Tabitha nods. "Affirmative. Helm, roll us 180 and give them our undamaged side to shoot at."

State of the fleets after the Impact Step of Round 2:

2nd Crisis Response Group (Union Navy)

Battlegroup Eland (Range 2)
Interdiction 1d6+2
UNS-BB Nikolai Bukharin (16 HP), 1 volley counter on 3x3 Block Short-Spool Cannons, 2 greywash counters, boarded by Infestation, Locked On
UNS-CV Shamokin Rising (16 HP)
  • 2x Fighter Wing (1 HP, 5 HP)
  • Destroyer Unicorn (8 HP)
  • Destroyer Undine (8 HP)

Battlegroup Splinter (Range 4)
Interdiction: 1d6+2
UNS-BB Richard Wagner (26 HP), 1 charge counter remaining on each Spinal Petajoule Kinetic
UNS-LS Björn Járnsiđa (14 HP)

Cogent Mind Fleet (Karrakin Trade Baronies)

Battlegroup Denver, Gyre Center
Cornicen (25 HP)
  • Endless Cosmonaut (6 HP)

Battlegroup Elvis, Gyre Center
Hivequeen (30 HP), 1 reloading counter on Sapper Drones
  • Diluvia (15 HP)
  • 2x Starfield Furies (10 HP, 10 HP), inbound Razorback Missiles with 2 flight counters
    • 4x Fighter Wing (3 HP, 3 HP, 5 HP, 5 HP)
    • 2x Bomber Wing (6 HP, 6 HP)

Aegis speaks to Tabitha in a low voice. "Captain, I recommend opening the distance against the enemy fleet. We are within range of the nuclear bombers - and the Hivequeen's K-Drones are capable of rapid repeating salvos at this range. It is not a good position to be in."

20210929_170717.jpg

Kilauea bombers on Hercynia illustrated by Peyton Gee

"I intend that, Aegis. But it won't be us who will be moving." She straightens back up, "Captain Meade, Captain Evans! I want that Hivequeen pushed back. Captain Ki, support!" Tabitha Saint-Germaine turns to her bridge crew and points furiously at the Cornicen "All stations - Fire on that ship!"

Battlegroup Eland:
1) Maneuver: Unleash Hell!
Fire 3x3 Short Spool Cannons (Roll: 19) (Hit, Damage: 12)
Fire Heavy Kinetic Batteries (Roll: 4) (Miss, Reliable Damage: 2)
Fire Gemini Laser Array (Roll: 15) (Hit, Damage: 4)
Three Auxiliaries fire:
DD Undine (Damage 2)
DD Unicorn (Damage 2)
Flyswatter Missiles 2 damage to each of the damaged fighter wings

On command, the Nikolai Bukharin lights up like an apocalyptic Christmas Tree with attached disco ball as a mazurka of lasers and solid-state armor piercing shells slam into the Cornicen shattering armor and crushing hull beams. Then her mighty antimatter cannons speak, hurtling their titanic charges at the crippled Karrakin ship. The first technicolor pulse flies wide, followed by a second. But the third brackets the dying Cornicen and the Bukharin's two remaining turrets fire in concert, their massive energy blasts tearing their target apart in spectacular bursts of radiation.

The screens on the Union holodisplays register the death of the Cornicen as a series of silent energy pulses that gradually fade away to black.

2a) Tactic: Destroyer Command - Snapflight Torpedo, targeting the Starfield Fury with intact wings. Damage 6
2b) Wolfpack Tactics: Destroyer Command - Encirclement. Battlegroup Eland withdraws to range 3

On board the Shamokin Rising, Captain Meade and his crew are frantically coordinating the assault of the Destroyers on the Hivequeen. Urgent communications flash between the three ships as final calculations are made and the Unicorn and Undine increase speed to flank, rounding on the Hivequeen.

The timing is impeccable as both the Undine and Unicorn circle the enemy Battlegroup. Undine dashes in and once more, her Snapflight torpedoes trace their deadly trajectory towards one of the Starfields. The Unicorn follows in turn, firing her weapons, circling, driving the Hivequeen and her escorts away from Battlegroup Eland and her battered wings. They are soon beyond fighter range.

For the crew of the Nikolai Bukharin, there is no celebration. Warrant Officer Ike Ghebo and his team are still playing a game of whack-a-mole with the Sabotage Drones from the Hivequeen. It is a game they are still losing as sections of the ship go offline and internal defenses get overwhelmed by the hostile infestation. Little by little, the crew is forced back, sealing bulkheads as they go. The fight is still very much on.

Next: Spinal Petajoule Kinetics
 
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Tun Kai Poh

Adventurer
Petajoules

The Endless Cosmonaut, having survived the destruction of its Flagship, joins the Hivequeen's battlegroup.

Battlegroup Elvis:
1) Hivequeen uses Tactic: Infestation to Lock On to Shamokin Rising, launch boarding pods at Shamokin Rising.
2) Hivequeen uses Maneuver: K-Drone Kill Pack to launch an Area-Target Payload at Battlegroup Eland. Flight time is 2 (range 3, minus 1). Starfield Furies use Angels of Death trait: 1/round when this Escort’s Flagship uses a Maneuver, repair 3 HP to one of this Escort’s Wings. You can only use this ability as long as neither ship in this Escort group is destroyed. One Fighter Wing is repaired to full HP.
3) Diluvia uses Tactic: Lashing Storm to deal 1d6 damage to a hostile Escort within range 4-0 - target Destroyer Undine, rolled 2 damage.
4) Starfield Furies use Tactic: Wing Commander - Interceptor Screen.
This Escort’s battlegroup gains +1 Interdiction until the end of its next turn for each Fighter Wing remaining in this Escort group. That's +4 total.

The Undine quivers under several minor impacts as the diluvian swarm reaches out like a starbound amoeba, dozens of its constituent drones sacrificed in an attempt to scour the destroyer's armour.

Despite taking torpedo hits from the Undine, the starfield carrier continues its methodical business of recovering fighters, rearming and refueling them, and launching fresh wings. Soon, the Passacaglia squadrons are flocking to reinforce the Hivequeen's interceptor screen.

The Shamokin Rising begins to come under fire from the Hivequeen's batteries. Breaching pods strike the carrier-frame amidships, disgorging their drone cargoes.

And a new configuration of K-Drone missiles flashes towards Battlegroup Eland, carrying powerful cluster nukes aimed at bombarding not just the battleship, but its escorts as well.

5) Endless Cosmonaut uses IMPERATIVE: ATTACK, which increases damage to 2 and deals its damage to the Nikolai Bukharin.

"We're picking up that transmission again," reports Aegis. "The one from the Cornicen's solo mech fighter. It's clearly still in the fight."

<TABITHA 7777777^%&?::I SEE YOU>

The exotic particle beam whips across the battleship's bow, frying sensitive electronics and impairing internal life support systems. It's stronger now, better attuned to the ship's weaknesses...

Battlegroup Splinter:
1) Maneuver: Retrograde Burn! (+2 Defense, +1d6 Interdiction)
2) Tactic: Lock Firing Solution (Hivequeen)

"Hostile Battlegroup is being pushed back, Captain. They're taking the opportunity to recover and bolster their defenses." Chief van Ghent looks over at Captain Var. "Battlegroup Eland has taken serious damage but they're holding for now."

Caspian Var nods imperceptibly. "Very well then. Helm, burn retrograde. Sensors lock up that Hivequeen." He looks over at the holographic projection of Captain Lutjens of the Björn Járnsíða. "Captain Saint-Germaine has crippled them. We will end them."

"Weapons are at 75%. Beginning targeting procedures." calls Gunnery Officer Bryant.

Boarding Step:
Breaching pod attempts Infestation against Nikolai Bukharin, roll of 16, success. Nikolai Bukharin takes 3 damage and is Locked On at the start of next Action Turn.
Breaching pod attempts Infestation against Shamokin Rising, roll of 6, failed.

All across Battlegroup Eland, crews struggle and strive in red-lit combat compartments, all under varying levels of acceleration. In cramped destroyer decks. Aboard Peregrine fighters landing hot for combat refueling and rearming. And on the bridges of the battleship and carrier.

Many of the crew members have private, unofficial timers set up on their consoles. Counting how long it takes for spinal petajoule kinetics to charge.

If an entire fleet could hold its breath as one, it would. Waiting for the shots that could end this battle...

Round 3, Logistics Step.

There're tremors coursing through the Richard Wagner now as the last timer ticks down the last few minutes to full power. Gunnery Officer Bryant and her team are making last minute adjustments. The tension shows on their faces as the numbers tick down. Thirty minutes. Twenty.

Ten.

Aboard the Björn Járnsíða, the systems on her twin Harbinger turrets swing to bear, their focal heads making final calculations as they zero in on their quarry.

Eight.

Capacitors hum with power as their beam's intensity amps up geometrically pumping petajoules of directed radiation in a pair of coruscating beams that rake across the tattered hull of the crippled Starfield Fury.

Five.

Composites wilt and steel sags as the focused energy beams paint the ship, seeping through rents punched into its armor by the Undine's torpedoes, fracturing hull frames and crumpling sensitive electronics.

Three.

Then it happens - the lasers searing touch grazes the robotic mothership's fuel stores. For a moment, reinforced internals struggle to keep the heat from its deadly cargo. Then they too begin to wilt. Volatile gasses spew forth, expanding rapidly and uncontrollably, blowing out bulkheads and venting out through weakend skin.

Two.

Jets of flame burst from multiple holes in the baby carrier's hull, consuming it rapidly. What little remains of the ship is shattered moments later as its ready-use stores cook off.

One.

Captain Caspian Var watches the destruction of the Starfield Fury with grim satisfaction, her attached combat wings spiralling aimlessly as central control is lost. He folds his hands behind his back and looks down at Gunnery Officer Bryant.

"You may fire when ready."

20210925_123418.jpg

Art by Utopie Selective

Impact Step:
Battlegroup Splinter:
SPK 1 - Fire at the Hivequeen (Roll: 3 + (6/5/4 take highest) = 9). 15 damage to Hivequeen. 5 Damage to Starfield Fury
SPK 2 - Fire at the Hivequeen (Roll: 8 + (5/3/2 take highest) = 13). 15 damage to Hivequeen. 5 Damage to Starfield Fury

Total Damage: 30HP to Hivequeen, 10 damage to Starfield Fury.

Time seems to stand still for a split second as the Richard Wagner's twin SPKs discharge with enough power to light up all the cities on Cradle for a day within a split second. The colossal shockwave causes the quarter of a million ton ship to physically recoil in its free fall trajectory. The vast energy surge instantly ionizes the solar wind around the ship and its hyperdense projectiles creating a shimmering multicolored halo around them as they streak just below light speed towards their target.

The titanic slugs careen through the enemy formation, passing bare kilometers either side of the surviving Starfield Fury. Even at that range the shockwave from their passage slams into the smaller ship with all the force of a battleship at full pelt. The carrier visibly crumples in on itself as its hull is stressed beyond capacity, shattering hull plates and spewing its contents into the void. Then they hit the Hivequeen.

The gigantic capital ship shatters like an egg as the slugs strike home, her hull first buckling on impact, then exploding in a storm of exotic alloy fragments and heavy composite shards barely recognizable as having come from a ship. The expanding cloud of hypersonic debris then acts like a giant fragmentation bomb tearing through the Diluvia swarm and the Starfields' surviving strike craft, ripping them to shreds.

Caspian Var turns to Gunnery Officer Bryant and nods.

"A successful shot." he says with a thin smile.

Nothing, it would seem, could emerge intact from the detonation of the Hivequeen. Nothing, except the Endless Cosmonaut. The skeletal frame of the mech fighter is backlit against the incandescent cloud that once was an automated Karrakin warship.

<TABITHA, IT WILL BE AN HONOUR. UNTIL OUR NEXT WALTZ.>

The mech explodes.

Across the Union fleet, sensors reach out to confirm the kills. No enemy vessels remain, except for a few dozen orphaned Passacaglias left behind after their carrier was destroyed by the Björn Járnsiđa. Enemy warheads in flight, bereft of guidance, are detonated safely.

The fleetmind begins to disentangle. The fleet legion unfuses, individual NHPs returning to their shipside duties.

The familiar voice of Vera can be heard on the Nikolai Bukharin's bridge. "Captain, I'm afraid I cannot track the mech's tachyon signature. It's escaped."

"What do you mean, escaped?" asks Petrov.

"The Captain has a time-travelling stalker now," explains Vera. "Not the most ideal of situations."

Tabitha Saint-Germaine acknowledges the Cosmonaut with a slightly raised eyebrow at Vera as she turns to speak to her fellow Captains. "The Bukharin has taken a lot of damage. We'll need to put in for repairs before we return to station. Captain Meade... conduct S&R to see if any of our pilots made it out of their ships. Everyone else, let's prep for jump." She looks around at the crew and her Captains.

"Well done everyone."

Spinning, stars streaking madly around him. Lieutenant Vau taps his helmet again, but it's no good - comms are still dead. Warning light blinking at the edge of his view, telling him that the O2 is running out.

He's pretty sure at least half his flight made it through that last attack pass. Those damned Karrakin fighters hit hard, but the Union wing gave as good as they got. He wishes he at least knew if the others made it.

A light among the spinning stars, getting brighter. Every rotation, the source shines closer. He waits long minutes before a grapple claw gently catches him and stops his rotation. The S&R shuttle pulls him into its airlock, and the air hisses all around him.

Vau yanks off his helmet, gasping, then groaning. He hears voices ask him if he was hurt.

"I'm okay," he says weakly. Then he grins. "We won?"

Vau is one of 13 pilots recovered after the battle. A small consolation for an engagement that had hit the Peregrines particularly hard.

Half a day later, the Union fleet is underway at nearlight speed.

The nearest port of call would be Lighthouse Station, run by Interplanetary Shipping-Northstar, the premier shipbuilding corprostate. Lighthouse is ostensibly neutral during the Dawnline Shore conflict, but IPS-N sells ships, mechs and arms to a number of local factions, and has leased some private security vessels to clients within the Karrakin Baronies. So it's complicated. But at least the Union ships can dock and resupply here.

The routines on board the members of Battlegroup Splinter remain largely unchanged. The entire Battlegroup is unscathed and the mood is mostly of quiet satisfaction of having done their jobs. Beyond that, the only difference is an increased tempo of battle drills and wargames - something the crew is well aware that their ever watchful Captain is fond of. Even at the best of times, Caspian Var can be something of a martinet.

For Battlegroup Eland, things are different. Personal messages from Captain Saint-Germaine and the other senior officers to the survivors of the Shamokin's fighter wings, damage inspections, constant reviews of combat footage and the endless cascade of information and intelligence requests as the Battlegroup's officers analyze their findings in minute detail as best they can - Captain Ki of the Undine is nursing a pretty spectacular shiner on her forehead from the Diluvian attack on her ship.

Next: At Lighthouse Station
 
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Tun Kai Poh

Adventurer
Lighthouse

Lighthouse Station is a spindle-shaped hive of economic activity, nearly thirty kilometers long. Even in wartime, cargo vessels can be seen on approach, hanging in holding patterns at a distance, or docking and undocking all along the axis of the station. The surface of the station is sometimes broken up by vast hangar spaces, void docks that provide the extensive repair, maintenance and overhauling services that IPS-N is known for.

As the Union battlegroups enter their final approach to Lighthouse Station, both flagships are invited for a conference call with the local Union liaison, Kelvin Baird. The stocky young man appears distracted by goings-on behind him in the station concourse. "Ah...Captain Var, Captain Saint-Germaine? Good to see you back safe and sound. We've got a lot of fuss around the station ever since the war picked up pace. We have a DOJ/HR investigative team due to arrive within 12 hours, and they have requested to meet with you for debriefing on the Shirline incident. There's also a large House of Stone merchant contingent parked here waiting for private security ships to arrive to escort them to DS11 Mesa, or Gloria, as they call it. Noisy lot, they're coming several times a day, making demands of Union's office here. And to top it off, my sources tell me that some tramp freighters from the Long Rim encountered this Meritorious Rex ship a few months before the war - I haven't had the manpower or the time to track them down, but they might yield intelligence on this ship..."

"Thank you Lieutenant Baird. I will assign some of my officers to track down these freighters while we wait for the investigative team - and get our ships patched up." Captan Saint-Germaine makes a couple of notes. "And while we're at it, what exactly are these merchants demanding of you?"

"We are responsible for maintaining the no-fly corridor, but I was not given the impression that we were supposed to be at the beck and call of these travelling salesmen," Captain Var notes sardonically. "Has something changed with the security situation that they find it necessary to trouble you, Lieutenant?"

"Well, they're demanding either an escort or reparations from Union. Originally, they had hired several Trunk Security frigates to protect their convoy, but the war started and Union closed the local blink gate before the hired security force could transit through. And after the Shirline incident, the merchant captains are understandably unwilling to travel without protection.

"Officially, we aren't obliged to do anything. If the House of Stone convoy remains here, they'll keep on racking up docking fees with IPS-N, and that will be a problem for the House and the corp to sort out..."

20210925_123109.jpg

The Karrakin House of Stone. Art by Tom Parkinson-Morgan.

"Alright Lieutenant, thank you," She turns to Captain Evans of the Unicorn - Jacinda, could you take a look into this for me? The Unicorn is still undamaged so..." Caspian Var cuts in, "Splinter is fully operational, Tabitha. I'll take CSO Richards and a detachment of his security team with me and we'll track down this information for you." Tabitha Saint-Germaine nods.

"Alright then. Good luck."

Next: At the Sign of the Leaky Gunship
 
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Tun Kai Poh

Adventurer
Gunship

An hour later, Caspian and his detachment stand below the neon sign of the Leaky Gunship, a semi-reputable drinking-hole for long-haul freight crews, mercenaries and other travellers from the Long Rim. Captain Cal Cortez of the Spinnerbait, one of two ships that reported hostile encounters with the Rex before the war, is said to spend much of his time here.

The bar is full of space crew in transit. Many eyes look towards the Union Navy uniforms with annoyance or anger.

"Some people blame us for closing the blink gate and jamming up traffic to the Shore," says Richards to Caspian. "Even though we didn't start the fire."

"People will look to blame any immediate authority for their woes, regardless of the truth to it." Caspian sniffs haughtily. He motions one of the bar staff over.

"We are looking for one Captain Cal Cortez of the Spinnerbait. I am told that he frequents this place and I would like to have a word with him."

The server points towards one of the larger enclosed environment cubicles at the rear of the bar. "He's been on Bliss Mountain all morning, drinking highballs and watching birds, I guess? You can send him a text chat on the door screen. Also, are you by any chance the big Cosmopolitan client who's supposed to pay his station tab? He's in debt to almost everybody..."

One of CSO Richards' men punches a laconic text message into the door screen requesting a brief interview with Captain Cortez as Caspian arcs an eyebrow at the server "And exactly who is this client you speak of? How long have they been here and how have they been able to finagle so much support from the locals as to be in debt to all of them?"

"I don't know about the client," replies the server, "but Captain Cortez is one of those younger noble sons from the Baronies, from the House of Symmetry I think. He's been running his long-haul courier service for almost a decade in the Long Rim, racking up debts, then getting big paydays every year or two. And there's a rumour his mommy back in the Baronies will bail him out if he gets too deep in debt, like she did back in '12..."

The environmental pod hisses open, and fresh pine-scented mountain air wafts out. Backlit by a holographic backdrop of the idyllic alpine resort, the gangly figure of Cal Cortez staggers into the doorway, gin-and-tonic in hand. "Aha, the heroic Union Navy has come to our rescue! Surely these stout-hearted lads will put an end to the terror of Captain Wilder and his superdreadnought! I tell you, the scoundrel accosted my crew, boarded my ship illegally and threatened my life, back on Garland Station in the Rim. And this was six months before the war began..." He gesticulates toward some unseen villain. "Accusing me of being a spy for Baronic Unified Command! As if I had the qualifications to engage in any kind of skullduggery...alas, my heart is far too honourable..."

Meanwhile, a situation at the cargo loading dock of the Nikolai Bukharin is occupying Tabitha's attention. Ike Gbeho is in the middle of arguing with an IPS-N security inspector when the captain arrives.

Gbeho turns to report to Tabitha. "Sir, I'm sorry, but the inspector here says we can't load these supplies and parts, because it violates station neutrality."

"That's right," says the short but fiesty corporate cop, glaring at Tabitha over old-style wire-frame spectacles. "Pardon me, Captain. Inspector Frieda Loving. I'm charged with making sure all parties involved in the war - including Union - do not acquire new armaments outside of allowed channels during this conflict. At least, not while they're at this neutral station."

This is odd. As far as Tabitha knows, the battlegroup is only taking on fuel, printer feed stock and specialized machine parts, none of which count as arms.

"My apologies, Inspector Loving, but would you care to elaborate? As far as I am aware there are no arms being loaded on board our ships. Perhaps you could provide us with the relevant manifests and documentation regarding the stated violations?" Tabitha extends a questioning hand towards the Inspector and stares unflinchingly into the shorter woman's eyes.

"Ike, can you and Vera run a check on our own manifests and make sure nothing is being loaded on outside standard neutrality protocol?"

"These parts were signed off by Vera," says Ike. "We made the order the last time we were in port." He frowns at his hand terminal, scrolling through the list.

"I'll save you the trouble," says Inspector Loving. She leads Tabitha to a surprisingly slim case tucked between larger containers. "This is a custom-ordered IPS-N PIPECLEANER Combat Superiority Subaltern with onboard partition capacity. Under your laws, it is classified as a Class I weapon."

Vera's holographic avatar appears on the nearest wall display. "Pardon me, Inspector. This is a misunderstanding. This is merely the humanoid travel chassis that I have requested for off-ship activities, which I am certain the captain will approve."

Frieda Loving stares daggers at Vera. "This is a Warfighter combat subaltern."

"Ah, but - this is my mobility device."

"It's an origami murder robot!"

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Pipecleaner subaltern art by @LymphOwned on Twitter

Next: The Rex's Captain
 
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Tun Kai Poh

Adventurer
Son of Glass

Caspian arcs an eyebrow at the loquacious Baronial. "So you are familiar with Captain of the Meritorious Rex?", he asks as he deftly puts his foot in the entrance of the pod.

"May we come in? Or would you like to come out? We would like to learn more about your encounter with the Rex and its Captain - did he indicate what he was looking for and why he suspected you of being a spy?"

"Please, please come out to my mountain," says Cal, with a grand sweep of his arm.

Inside the pod entryway is a wooden observation deck, bathed in yellow sunlight and awash in clean mountain air. Scattered white clouds drift overhead in a cerulean sky. On three sides, the green slopes fall away precipitously. Somewhere, Caspian can hear an alpenhorn being blown. A fine simulation, indeed.

There are comfortable deck chairs on the platform. Cal Cortez invites Caspian and his companions to sit.

"Now, that Harman Wilder...quite a tale." Cal strokes a chin and holds up his glass to peer through it, as if looking into the past. "I heard this from some Rittermeer spacers, over a half dozen drinks. Harman was born the child of serfs on an industrial colony under the House of Glass. I'm told it was a miserable life, full of deprivation and tears. Such is the case with the lowest tier of society there. At some point in his youth, his family were able to smuggle themselves off-world, and many months later entered Purview space in the cargo hold of a tramp freighter. Something must have gone very wrong, for only the mother and one other child besides Harman survived the voyage. Nobody knows. The Armory took them in as refugees and settled them on Rittermeer, I think it was. And young Harman was eager to serve in the military - 'service guarantees citizenship' as they say in the Purview."

Cal taps a few commands into the interface console on the railing of the observation deck. The sun is blotted out by the five kilometre-long bulk of the Meritorious Rex, floating improbably overhead. "And after decades of service in the Purview...here he is, Strike Captain Harman Wilder, patriotic citizen, in command of their mightiest superdreadnought. They say he wields his authority like a brutal cudgel. And he has a hot, fierce grudge against all things from the Karrakin Baronies. No wonder the Armory chose him to prosecute the war here in the Shore, where the great Houses have staked their fortunes and their future prosperity."

Next: Caught in the middle
 

Tun Kai Poh

Adventurer
Fracas

Tabitha looks from Loving to Vera and back with some amusement. "Again, I apologize for the complication, Inspector Loving. You may place a hold on the subaltern while we complete the loading of all other compliant materials. You may accompany my security officer to oversee the process if you wish to ensure nothing else is out of order."

"And my apologies to you, Vera - I'm afraid you're going to have to make do with a less lethal mode of transportation while we are at this station. We will have your custom mobility device delivered via the appropriate military channels. The inspector is right in pointing out that this station is a neutral party and all applicable laws are to be conformed to."

Ike rolls his eyes with an infuriated grunt.

"I'll do a double-check on all the items on the manifest, Captain."

Inspector Loving holds up a hand as she listens to her cochlear radio. "Captain, please tell your crew to stand by. We have a developing situation - violence between Karrakin and Purview crews in the docks. There is a breakway group headed through the link now..."

The nearest crew members lay down supply containers and take cover, while a trio of marines clank forward to protect Tabitha.

"There are fifteen individuals that have pushed past the dock officers," reports Vera. "It looks like twelve in pursuit of three." After a pause: "The murder robot could come in handy, sir."

And from the far end of the dock, where the linkway connects the station to the Nikolai Bukharin, the fracas boils into the wide cargo area.

Three purple-jacketed spacers stumble and fall. One woman is bleeding from the face. The lead spacer gets to his feet, runs towards Tabitha's group even as marines level their shotguns at him.

"Help! They're trying to kill us!"

Behind him, gold-jacketed spacers from the House of Stone, prybars and heavy tools in hand. The tallest one shouts to the Union marines: "Pardon the intrusion. We'll just collect our prisoners and be on our way."

The Karrakin spacers start hauling the fallen Purview crew to their feet, roughly. The injured woman cries out: "We're a satellite repair crew! Civilians! We've got no part in this war! Please!"

Tabitha stiffens and her expression grows cold. "Would any of you care to elaborate exactly what is going on here?" She glares at the pursuing spacers as she motions to Ike to bar their retreat.

Next: Suspicions
 

Tun Kai Poh

Adventurer
True Believer

"None of that quite explains why he deliberately murdered unarmed civilians on a disabled ship." Caspian looks up from his notes, "Unless you're implying that such behavior is par of the course for this individual. Do continue. I would like to learn more about your own encounter with this individual. Have you heard of other such tales of his behavior in this sector among your erstwhile colleagues?"

"The man is what we call a true believer. He has seen his life transformed, from hereditary serf to free citizen, by the values of the Armory's Purview of Worlds. Meritocracy, ambition, the free pursuit of wealth. He is an instrument for his superiors to inflict terror upon shipping in the Dawnline Shore. Ostensibly, his oversized and over-armed warship is there to stop espionage - searching freighters like mine for 'spies, saboteurs and terrorists,' or materiel in support of same. And, if I may wager, a search-and-seizure incident escalates into an 'unfortunate exchange of shots,' as he will no doubt claim, the result will be just what you see here. Every non-military Karrakin vessel in the region, paralyzed in port, waiting for escort convoys. The flow of supplies to Baronic-friendly worlds shudders to a halt. And if Strike Captain Wilder were to be made to answer for his actions, he would simply take the fall for his superiors, a deniable asset. Although I warrant he has no plans to be captured quietly."

Cal Cortez flicks a holographic icon over to Caspian's data surface. "On a related note. The heavy gas freighter Chartreuse Star," he says by way of explanation. "Registered in Rittermeer, of all places. A month after Captain Wilder's thugs boarded my ship, the Rex attempted to ram the Chartreuse Star just outside of Lambent Station, in the Rim. A harsh exchange of words followed, and Wilder sent Armory marines to search the Chartreuse Star. Apparently the situation took two days to resolve. Even Purview ships weren't immune to harassment. The Chartreuse Star is parked here at Lighthouse Station, so if you want to know more, you could pay her a visit and interview her captain, Ernestine Loong."

Caspian arcs an eyebrow, "Even Purview ships? That seems...excessive even for someone like that", He steeples his fingers as he ponders this piece of information. A few more taps on his pad sends another set of notes back to Bernd and the Wagner requesting a review of all available logs of merchant harassment in the sector. What is the Armory playing at?

"I see. Thank you for that information, Captain Cortez. We will investigate this issue thoroughly. I assume you filed the logs of your incident with the relevant authorities? I will have my crew review them, including your flightpath and manifest. Simply as a matter of procedure, you understand. Do you have anything else to tell me about this unfortunate circumstance?"

In the background, Richards is already arranging to travel to the Chartreuse Star.

Next: Other suspicions
 

Tun Kai Poh

Adventurer
Warring States

Ike and a select team spread out to cut off the Karrakin spacers. Vera silently beams a visual update showing dots moving in on the stationside area to take control of the violent situations in progress: hardsuited IPS-N security teams, and mid-sized Nelson and Vlad mechanized chassis. Even if the gold-jacketed crews were to flee, Loving's allies are already closing the net.

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Vlad art by Tom Parkinson-Morgan

The tall spacer nods towards Tabitha. "We had some...security breaches. These Armory space rats were caught sneaking around a printing hangar where we were manufacturing parts for our ship. Spying on us."

"We have legit business!" objects one of the captives, only to be silenced with a fist to the temple.

"We are being targeted by the Armory!" roars the lead Karrakin spacer. "They're murdering us out there, you saw it yourself, captain!"

"I understand your frustration at the situation, sir, but responding in kind is not going to help settle matters." Tabitha responds curtly, "What ship are you from?" she asks as she turns her steely gaze at the wounded Purview spacers, "And you, what business did you have?"

"Prester John III, under Captain Warham of the House of Stone." replies the tall spacer. "You may have heard of him, he's part of the Order of Khayradin." The implication in his voice is that the captain has influence in the Baronies.

When Tabitha addresses the Purview spacers, the one closest to her says: "We were printing engine parts, same as them. Our ship doesn't have a Schedule 3 printer, so we booked a slot at the printer hangar."

"Someone in the printer shop made a mistake," says Loving to Tabitha in a low voice. "Shouldn't have booked crews from warring states to print in the same hangar..."

"You can check with Captain Ernestine Loong," says the Purview spacer. "Our repair skiff is part of the Chartreuse Star's support complement."

"Very well," Tabitha nods slowly at the two groups. "As far as I'm concerned this is neutral ground and everyone is entitled to the same privileges as any other. We'll run the checks to make sure nothing is amiss, but there won't be any prisoners taken by anyone today," she looks meaningfully at the Karrakin spacers. "You lot can stay here a bit until we've done our checks," she says at the Purview spacers, "And if you want to leave anyone here as well," she says, turning back at the Karrakins, "That's fine if it makes you feel better but I strongly suggest you all get on with what you originally came here to do,"

"And you can deal with the hangar foul up, Ms. Loving," Tabitha says quietly with a sardonic smile.

Next: A Reputation and an Accolade
 



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