LANCER: BATTLEGROUP - To Kill the Worthy King

Spirit of Cooperation

Bannon keeps a cold face on as Tabitha speaks. She just barely glances at Captain Petrie and Commandant Almarik. "That is acceptable. And the Hannibal as well, of course."

The representative from the Arminius, Maxim, clears his throat. "We may get the Arminius' hangars operational quite soon. Will my pilots be allowed to run combat air patrols?"

Major Mahayhay exchanges an angry look with Caspian. Both the Mirrorsmokes and the Richard Wagner suffered significant losses at the hands of the Arminius' fighter-bombers. Mahayhay shakes her head.

Tabitha takes a moment to think, "I will draw the line at an armed CAP. If you wish to continue to conduct exercises close in I will allow that but I think three ships plus our own two battlegroups will be sufficient for defensive operations until you're clear of the conflict zone. The Arminius' wings and escorts will remain disarmed and active for S&R and picket duty only,"

Commandant Maxim bristles at Tabitha's reply. "That's not -"

Bannon cuts him off. "Agreed. In the spirit of this truce, our patrols will be unarmed. We all understand -" and she shoots a glance at Maxim, "that this is the best way to move ahead given the circumstances."

The rest of the talks go relatively smoothly. Zoltan Pesh takes notes and prepares a formal memorandum of understanding for both sides to sign. The Armory captains have little more to say, and at present, it's time for everyone to depart.

Bannon approaches Tabitha in her hardsuit, looking not a little awkward. "May we speak, just you and I?"

Lowell Petrie looks alarmed and suspicious at this, but being outranked and surrounded by his peers, says nothing at this.

In a hidden compartment under the floor, Vera takes control of a folded PIPECLEANER combat subaltern, lying in wait. She won't let Tabitha face anyone alone.

Tabitha cocks her head in surprise, "Of course," she says, and waves the others out of the room. Caspian looks doubtfully at the two of them and shares a look with Captain Meade and Major Mahayhay. He keeps his peace though and leaves with a stiff about-face and click of his heels to signify his displeasure.

Tabitha ignores the troubled looks from her other fleet captains as they file out of the mess and stands to face Bannon. "What do you have in mind?"

Next: Tangled timelines

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Catrina Bannon relaxes her pose just slightly once she's out of sight of the others. Her voice doesn't turn warmer, but she seems perhaps slower and more pensive. "I'm not your friend, Tabitha Saint-Germaine, but...we are kin, of sort. Cosmopolitan kin, almost by blood."

She looks into Tabitha's eyes. "Did your mother ever mention a man by the name of Riley Leylance? My great-grandfather, a naval officer. He served with her on a fast frigate, during those many troubled years, after ThirdComm rose to power. The story is that he greatly admired his bold, beautiful comrade, wanted to marry her - but his family had other plans. They recalled him from the Navy and all migrated to Ras Shamra, to follow that nascent dream of John Creighton Harrison, to build something stronger and better from the ruins of SecComm. And my great-grandfather served that dream, until he finally settled down and retired planetside on Rittermeer, two hundred years ago."

Bannon gazes off into the undefined distance, her voice growing soft. "If the Fates had changed one thread of our history, we would be blood." She turns to Tabitha again. "You might have been my Cosmopolitan grand-aunt. But it turned out differently, and here we are, awash in the blood of our dead crews. The irony hurts. It hurts me more than the hundreds I lost on my ship."

"She did mention him in passing," Tabitha says. She looks away for a moment and sighs, "On little things do destinies turn and all of us are joined if only by our shared humanity," a pause. "My apologies if that sounds too sentimental. The irony of it is, as you say, painful and I fear there are more bitter encounters in the years ahead," another pause. Another sigh.

"I understand you are friends with Strike Captain Wilder."

Bannon nods. "He and I were close, yes, before we shipped out on our respective commands. I'm sure you're eager to know what was going through his mind during the Shirline incident. You, the DOJ officer you have on board, the Karrakins, and countless others across the Shore. Was it his own actions, orders from above? Was he provoked?"

She waits a beat. "Sadly, I have no juicy gossip for you. In my heart, I know he has his principles, and his own reasons. Perhaps you'll have a chance to ask him yourself. If you do, take good care of your ships and crew." Her lips curve into a little smile.

Next: Spitting


Out in the corridor, the officers of the 2nd Expeditionary Fleet stand by, warily eyeing the 2nd CRG's own captains. Maxim takes an aggressive step towards Ki Su-Lynn, cocking his head to one side as he recognises her uniform. "Subline captain, is it? You command a destroyer? How funny."

Caspian can feel the waves of aggression rolling off the Armory commandant, like heat.

Ki doesn't back off, but instead sidesteps. Maxim circles one way as she wheels back the other way, eyes locked on his.

He spits his words like fire. "I could have sworn it was a destroyer that came in under our carrier's guns and slaughtered two hundred of our spacers and hangar crew. And that's why Strike Captain Gopalakrishnan, the finest officer I know, is now in terminal stasis. They say it's a coin-flip, you know. Whether he'll recover at all." He holds one armoured hand up at her, miming a coin-toss. "A flip of the coin! It should have been you, Red bitch!"

Ki grins, her eyes flashing dangerously, "Should've, would've, could've, Purvie," she gives an arrogant little shimmy and her grin broadens. "I mean, you came into this fight expecting us to just roll over and die because you're some big-shot capship driver? And you're angry that things turned out badly for you?" she laughs, "It could've been any one of us. That's the price of duty, èr bǎi wŭ - sometimes the little bitch bites back," she hisses through bared teeth.

"It is the price of duty," Caspian interjects coldly, stepping smartly between the two officers as they are about to lunge at each other, "Which includes maintaining decorum on the deck, Captain," he glares down his nose at Ki who grins defiantly back. "I know Line Captain Saint-Germaine is somewhat more liberal with you but I expect my officers to maintain discipline at all times. And I have seniority here -" his frigid gaze turns on the commandant, "- and the same holds true to you, Commandant. Or does the Purview view it as acceptable conduct to antagonize foreign officers during a diplomatic conference?"

Caspian has to roll to keep them from launching at each other, but unfortunately his trait Cold comes into play here, giving a -1d6 to the roll. He rolls 1d20 and gets 17, then a 1d6 and gets 6 for the Difficulty. With a total of 11, he succeeds.

"Ahh." Commandant Maxim glares at Caspian, his fury held in check - and redirected into a long, long gaze at the captain of the hated Wagner. He raps metal knuckles against his chunky armoured hip.

His peer Almarik hurries to his side, taking his arm gently. "Come on, Maxim." He relents, backing off.

Captain Meade and the others, likewise, beckon Ki to pull back before she shoots her mouth off any worse than she already has.

Next: Dealing with the straggler

The Straggler, Part 3

Bannon looks down, then back up, in a self-conscious manner. "Tabitha, you should speak with your friend Lowell Petrie. His borderline treasonous behaviour is going to get him killed by his own crew. If he has a problem with prosecuting this war, he'd better seek asylum with Union. Tell him this is his only chance."

She opens the door, calls out to Captain Petrie. "Your old friend wants to have a word." Then she looks back meaningfully at Tabitha. "Be persuasive. I would rather he defect, than the more barbaric alternative. Good luck, my kin."

Then Tabitha and Lowell are alone in the room. Lowell looks awkward as a a schoolboy in his hardsuit. He rubs his head. "Tabitha. You look good. I'm so glad the fighting wasn't worse."

He looks back at the door where Bannon exited. "What was that about?"

The Straggler, Part 4

Tabitha sighs. "That was a little heart to heart. It is a challenging time for all of us trying to look out for each other, trying to balance what we see as our duty to our people and our flag," she pauses a moment, then continues softly, "She warned me that if you have an issue persecuting this conflict, then it is better that you seek asylum with us. I gather this is the one chance she's giving you to do so before things escalate beyond... what she is willing to intervene in."

"This war has escalated beyond what we as individuals can do to prevent it, Lowell. Bannon seems conflicted about the resolution of this engagement but she's also strictly loyal to the Purview cause. She said that your behavior would get you killed by your own crew and she'd prefer your defection to other less savory resolutions. She's not going to step in to protect you, Lowell, you know that."

Another sigh. Tabitha closes her eyes, "I'm... we are all incredibly indebted of what you did Lowell. I have the authority to grant asylum if you seek it but in the end that's really on you. Maybe the Karrakins will strike at us and you'll have a chance to prove yourself but that will only be a temporary reprieve. You know that there will be an investigation into what to your leadership will be viewed as a serious defeat and no one is going to stick with you when that happens. They seem to prefer people like Wilder."

"If there are any of your officers and crew who would seek asylum as well, I will extend this to them, while there is still a chance."

Roll: 19+3 (Diplomatic) : 22

Lowell's face drops as he listens to Tabitha. He glances again at the door, putting a hand on his chin. "I must be getting slow, not to see the signs. I really didn't think Bannon knew. But you're right, if it's come to this point, I can't stay with the fleet."

His distress becomes more apparent. He checks his suit's dataslate, and quickly sends off a signal. "I...I think some of my officers may be in danger. If I, they're offline. What's happened?"

His comms only returns silence.


The Straggler, Part 5

"Stay here, Lowell," Tabitha says quietly, laying a gentle but firm hand on him. She taps her comms.

"Vera, get me a private line with Bannon. Let her know that Captain Petrie has requested and been granted asylum with Union and I have extended this offer to those of his men who are similarly inclined if she is agreeable. Unfortunately, it also seems that he no longer has contact with his ship. I'd like to inquire if this is on her authority or if things have gotten out of hand on the James I."

Strike Captain Bannon returns to the doorway, her face grim. She sighs at the look on Lowell's face. "What did you think was going to happen? You couldn't do your job."

"Why can't I talk to my people?"

"They're not your people anymore. Several of your senior officers came to me. They were of the mind that you should be jailed or shot."

"Wh-what?" Lowell sputters, unable to compose himself.

"They're in charge now, and the last thing they need is you messing things up for them. They have to clean up the ship without you."

"They'll purge the junior officers!" Lowell is red with outrage.

Bannon looks over to Tabitha, shaking her head, then turns back to Lowell. "This wasn't entirely my idea. Believe it or not, you still have friends among the captains, and you have...well, their pity. It's not like we've been trusting you with our secrets for the past year, you know. This is the best way."

Next: Cry for help

The Straggler, Part 6

The Armory officers are standing by in the corridor, mostly keeping to themselves while they wait for Bannon. As for Major Mahayhay and the Eland captains, they stand some distance away, watching warily.

Caspian hears a distant cry. It's coming from the enlisted mess down the way.

"Papa! Somebody help him! Medic!"

Was that...Lieutenant Park? The psycho marine?

Caspian pulls out his comms pad and urgently sends a shipwide ping for emergency medical assistance in the enlisted mess as he strides hurriedly towards the call, taking a split second to shoot a warning glare at Captain Ki as he breezes past her.

Tabitha nods quietly, "Understood, Strike Captain,"

She turns to Lowell Petrie and squeezes his shoulder firmly, "Come, Lowell. I can understand how you feel but we are all, ultimately, in the Navy. You've done all you could to avert unnecessary bloodshed and - I can admit it here - you did. Even if your own crew don't know it. But there's only so much that one man can do to stop the tides of war. Maybe you will get another opportunity to answer that higher calling in future but for now, its time to take a break. You've stuck your neck out enough to avoid war and Strike Captain Bannon is sticking her own neck out for you to let you seek asylum with us." she nods appreciatively towards Bannon. She turns back to Lowell earnestly.

"As soldiers, as human beings, we spend our entire existence preparing for something we hope will never come and, when it does, it is on each of our own consciences where we choose to draw the line between our duty as soldiers to our governments and to each other as human beings. And in the end that is what we have to live with because in war, there are never any good outcomes."

Try to pacify Lowell, Roll: 17 (-1 for idealistic)

Lowell sinks perceptibly into his hardsuit. He can't bring himself to speak for some time.

Bannon leaves wordlessly.

For Lowell, there will be time for interviews and debriefings. Captain Tiburce Rodin of the DOJ/HR will want to pick his brain, too. But now, he can rest.

Vera flashes Tabitha a notification: medical emergency reported in the enlisted mess. Ship's Doctor Panarin en route. One medical subaltern already on scene.

Captain Var is also on scene.

"Papa!" Lieutenant Park kneels over the fallen figure of Colonel Milch. The man's face is red, his eyes shut. His chest moves shallowly, rapidly.

As Caspian approaches, the armoured marine straightens, looking around desperately. "He just, just collapsed. He said he had a splitting headache..." Her voice is cracked, shaky.

The same medical subaltern that treated Tabitha is here now. Park shuffles out of the way and the machine gets to work, laying the colonel in a safe position, checking his vitals. Instruments unfold from the subaltern's forearms.

It speaks with Vera's voice. "Administering cranial nanoinjection."

Park gasps as the subaltern stabs a needle into the base of Milch's skull. In moments, it withdraws the needle.

Seconds tick by. Onlookers appear at the entrance of the mess - mostly Union, but also the small Armory commandant, Almarik. Park looks daggers at the enemy officer, but stays close to the fallen colonel.

"It was a stroke," reports Vera to all present, but also to Tabitha. "Nanites have located the affected site and are dissolving the clot."

Major Mahayhay walks quietly to Caspian and Park. She speaks with disarming calmness. "The doctor will be here in a minute, with some more subalterns. They'll take him to sickbay. Come on, Lieutenant. Let's all move back and let them work. Colonel's in good hands."

Park sobs. "Papa," she says.

Next: Weakness

Held Together With Duct Tape

Tabitha looks sadly at Lowell. She pops open a comms channel to try and round up as many of the officers and men he'd interacted with in a past long behind them. There are precious few - such is the life of a cosmopolitan - but at least there are a number who are within his temporal bubble. To be cut adrift from his ship and his crew that he'd sacrificed so much for... she sighs again. Socialization for asylum-seekers isn't something she's had to deal with but now she has a stack of professional papers delivered to her datapad for review. She stays with him wordlessly until her crew can escort him gently away.

In the enlisted mess, Caspian straightens and silently fills in the details to Tabitha, highlighting his concerns regarding the reliability of their available ships: with the crew issues on the James I now apparent and the incapacitation of Colonel Milch, the little fleet is more exposed than ever even assuming any disaffected officers and men on the James I don't decide to take advantage of this weakness in the Union line. He purses his lips in frustration as he turns stiffly to face the onlookers.

"Right everyone, the situation is under control. Return to your posts and clear the corridors for any further corpsmen."

Mahayhay stays with Caspian as some of the other Mirrorsmoke marines lead Park away. The major watches her go, while speaking to Caspian in a low tone. "That one's always been a troublemaker, but she's followed Colonel Milch for years. He recruited her out of an orphanage on OB902. They have a long history. We'll have to watch her closely."

Lani Mahayhay crosses her arms and shivers ever so slightly. "If the Colonel hangs on, it'll be at least some consolation. We've been hit hard. Ninety-nine pilots dead, along with thirty-six marines and thirty deck crew. And I understand your ships took a fair share of losses, a hundred-plus, was it?"

Her words remind Caspian of something - the mercenary NHP, Cunningham, has sent out a request to the Union officers to hold a joint funeral service aboard the Shamokin Rising, since its hangar bays have enough room to accomodate a fair number of representatives from each ship.

In the CIC of the Hannibal, Captain Karina Ashanti paces fretfully. Strike Captain Bannon's last instructions were to send a contingent of security personnel to the James I, to assist in operations there. After that, nothing.

"Something bad is going down there," she mutters to herself. "Stoic!" she calls to her ship's NHP, "Any updates from the James I?"

"None, sir. I'll let you know the moment I hear anything."

Ashanti brushes down her uniform - another nervous gesture. "Has the Strike Captain pushed off yet?"

"Negative. Her transport is awaiting takeoff from the Bukharin. Should I call her?"

"Hell, no, don't disturb her right now."

A flicker on the CIC display gets Ashanti's attention. "Is that a problem, that ship?"

"Negative," replies Stoic. "It's just the Björn Järnsida, getting underway. They have completed engine repairs and are moving to form up with the Union fleet."

"Are they -"

"No, they're not combat-ready. Held together with duct tape, as the saying goes. Not a threat."

"Good. Tell the sublines to keep well clear, let her through and don't give them any trouble."

Next: Potential police action

Police Work

Checking his datapad, Caspian notes that the request has been approved for the service and arrangements are being made for the ceremony as soon as the perimeter is secured. Notably Captains Ki and Evans will be absent with only their second in commands attending - Line Captain Saint-Germaine has assigned the two Destroyers to establish a picket line around the formation along with one of the Shamokin's fighter wings. The other will be fully armed but available as part of the ceremony.

Caspian nods silently to Major Mahayhay, "Yes. It is fortunate the losses weren't heavier," he shrugs. "I am concerned about the news from the Purview fleet. Line-Captain Saint Germaine seems willing to let them sort out their... crew issues and she seems to trust this Strike Captain Bannon to handle the situation with the necessary... tact. I have my doubts. If we have to intervene on board the James I..." he trails off and shakes his head angrily.

"How much training do your people have in policework? And with the Colonel incapacitated, am I correct in assuming that you will be in charge? How ready are your people in case things escalate? I don't like that that little Purview carrier driver saw everything."

"Police action on the James I? More like storming the ship, if you ask me. Our marines have plenty of experience in police actions, and their morale is still high. But if we get involved on that ship, the fleets will start shooting. And then nobody wins."

Mahayhay turns to go, then stops and says over her shoulder: "And yes, for your information, I am in command for the time being. For how much longer, I don't know. The Board isn't eager to keep a carrier without mechs in the area of ops. Sooner or later, we'll be withdrawn."

Caspian nods and turns away, his hands clasped behind him, muttering about the lack of preparedness, the vexation plain on his face. He tells himself that it is simply a reflection of his own impotence, stranded on the Bukharin without his own ship. It does not make him feel any better as he stalks angrily back towards where he'd left the opposing officers.

He almost wishes Captain Ki has stirred something else up so he'd have the satisfaction of punching her to relieve the frustration.

By the time Caspian has returned to the corridor, he's almost missed it all. Strike Captain Bannon and her contingent - conspicuously missing Captain Petrie - are on the move, their armoured boots tramping on deckplates as they head back towards their lander.

"They're eager to make themselves scarce," says Captain Meade of the Shamokin Rising. "The James I has gone dark, and it looks like something has gone wrong on board. And the Purvies aren't talking about it."

Bernd also flashes Caspian a notification that Captain Lutjens has finally rejoined the fleet, and is asking Caspian and his command crew to join him for drinks.

Lots of drinks.

After all, they've all been through Hell.

Next: Sounds of silence

Sounds of Silence

As the Purview delegation departs the Bukharin's shuttle hangar, the deck crews breathe a sigh of relief. The two fleets have formalized their uneasy truce, although the surprise defection of Captain Petrie has certainly thrown a spanner into the works.

Even now, the James I appears to have gone completely silent. No shuttle traffic, no maintenance spacewalks, not even routine ALLCOMMS beacon signals going out.

"We're keeping a close watch on the James I," Vera tells Tabitha. "Destroyers are on standby in case their 'internal affairs' become a bigger problem. Strike Captain Bannon seems to think it will all be settled soon, but she's been wrong about any number of things in the past two days."

Meanwhile, as Tabitha can see on the holographic displays, shipping traffic remains tightly constrained to relatively safe lanes, flowing between Lighthouse Station and various worlds on either side of the vast Pallisade Gap. So far, the commercial ships have only light escorts, with no armed ship heavier than a corvette.

"There is one Karrakin carrier group inbound to Lighthouse from DS8 Upper Laurent, ostensibly to provide security for the House of Stone ships stranded on Lighthouse. But it's still almost a month away. We and our Armory counterparts will be underway by then," says Vera. "Do you want to have a friendly word with the Karrakins to make sure they behave?"

"I don't think that would be necessary," Tabitha says, rubbing her temple. "Not unless they make moves towards us. Just an official news bulletin through diplomatic channels will suffice for now to make it clear that we will be covering the Purview fleet until they're clear and keep a close eye on potential inbounds. If the vultures start circling then we give them a talking to."

"Understood, Line Commander," Vera says, with just a bit more emphasis on Tabitha's new rank. "As for other matters, the ship's counselor is speaking with Captain Petrie. Captain Meade is preparing the Shamokin Rising for tomorrow's services. Captains Ki and Evans are returning to the Undine and the Unicorn. They'll be back on patrol shortly, and will be keeping an eye on the Purview fleet. I will manage things on the Bukharin with the junior officers."

After a brief pause, Vera adds: "It's been far too eventful lately. But all spacers must take rest where they can find it. So. Your schedule is clear for the next watch. Go on, sir. Do something relaxing. I insist."

Tabitha isn't quite sure whether the battle was worse than the aftermath. She sinks tiredly into the plush faux-leather couch of her quarters and closes her eyes briefly, stretching to work the weariness out of her limbs. The cleanup is still ongoing and tensions remain high throughout the fleet with more than one worried eye being cast towards the James I. She sighs. Its quiet moments like this which makes her wonder if she should have pressed Bannon to transfer any conscientious objectors over as asylum-seekers. Lowell is still broken up about what happened but she pushes the thought aside. Bannon will already have a lot of explaining to do once she gets out of the Dawnline Shore and Tabitha isn't inclined to put her opposite number in a tighter spot than necessary, especially if Lowell's worries about his crew prove unjustified.

In effect she's trading the lives of any potential dissidents on the James I in exchange for maintaining Union's diplomatic position in the conflict. She's not sure she's comfortable with that.

She settles in, half asleep, thumbing through the latest dispatches and headlines coming through the Shore as, around her, the Bukharin settles into an uneasy routine of watches. The Battlegroup has taken little damage which has lead to some somewhat mean-spirited ribbing between her crews and the survivors of Splinter regarding which Battlegroup had eaten the most shots in the conflict so far. Apparently there's a betting pool being put up to see which flagship will be the first to catch a spinal gun much to the unanimous disapproval of CSOs Richards and Gbeho.

Line Captain Tabitha Saint-Germaine nods off in her seat to the sonorous thrum of the Bukharin's generators, an alarm set to wake her up in time for the funeral ceremonies.

In the Björn's Marine Gunnery Range, Caspian lowers his pistol and reloads another magazine - his twelfth so far. Last one, he tells himself as he takes aim at the target almost 200 meters away. After this, he's scheduled to speak to some of the survivors of the Wagner. The Captain of the Richard Wagner steadies himself, pushing all thoughts of the battle from his mind as he carefully sends shots downrange.

It will be some days before a preliminary simulation of the battle will be available for him to work with. Until that time, he just needs to keep himself occupied to prevent another altercation with the ever defiant Captain Ki. He's already filed a complaint about her in triplicate but given her performance during the battle, he's also fairly sure that she'll get away with a slap on the wrist.

Another steadying breath. Another set of shots downrange.

Lutjens is still nursing a large bump on his head from a loose datapad during his emergency nearlight ejection. Its still a marvel that no one was killed during that. At least none of the crew of the Björn or the survivors of the Wagner she'd picked up. The last of the bodies of the Ching Shih's Sherman pilots were repatriated just an hour ago along with the survivors.

It'll be a while before they can get to work putting his ship back together but he's already got the preliminary plans prepared for her triumphant rebirth. At the thought of that, a smile finally cracks across the cold face of the Union officer as he plants his final shot through the bullseye of the target.

It'll be good to get back in the saddle.

Next: Service for the fallen
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Bootprints, Part 1

The long, mournful tones of the assembly call sound out through the vast hangar of the Shamokin Rising.

Hundreds of crew representatives from across the combined Union-Mirrorsmoke fleet are gathered here, standing ready, solemn. For some junior crew, this was their first service for the fallen. Before the service, there was some whispering among them, curiosity and a bit of a jittery mood. But their seniors quickly hushed them up. As for the mercenaries, who had seen their share of death, even the unruly Mirrorsmoke marines knew to keep quiet.

The assembly horn plays.

In predetermined spaces across the hangar deck, alongside the rows of standing crew, the holographic lights light up. The bootprints of hundreds of their dead, here for one last assembly. The living blink back tears, or sob loudly, as is permitted by naval tradition.

Assembly plays out in full, as it has across Union space for thousands of years. Then comes the peals of the ship's bell.

CSO Gbeho reads the roll of the fallen: Union and Mirrorsmoke alike, not separated, but instead algorithmically mixed together in death. His deep voice echoes across the decks of every ship in the fleet, from the mighty Bukharin to the tiny Undine. Crew on watch, crew at rest: They all stop what they're doing and bear witness to the lives of those who have been lost.

Each battlegroup commander now will speak in honour of the fallen. First Captain Caspian Var, then Major Mahayhay on behalf of the Mirrorsmokes, then Line Commander Saint-Germaine.

Caspian stands solemnly in full dress as he addresses the assembly, "We are gathered here today to remember the fallen who gave their lives in the line of duty. Fortune takes whom she pleases without care or reason, but that is what we do. Ours is the lot of placing ourselves at her mercy and though we may nudge the dice, she has the final say.

"But pride and honor kindle what fickle fortune would put out. We are gathered here not just to remember the fallen but to receive the mantle of their noble sacrifice, of their determination in the face of the Titania and their triumph on board the Hannibal.

"Though they have fallen, their memory - their legacy - lives on with those of us who stand here. Their comrades in arms and especially those who proudly bear the names of their units. Mirrorsmokes, Fool's Gold, heirs to a legacy of victory against the odds and never backing down from a fight.

"So remember, and bear that legacy with honor and pride."

Bootprints, Part 2

Major Lani Mahayhay steps up to the podium, clad in the Mirrorsmoke Mercenary Company's full dress greens. It's the only time any of the Union spacers have ever seen her dressed this formally, and while she wears it with just a little discomfort, she keeps her chin up.

"When our carrier shipped out from Lighthouse Station, we were two thousand, three hundred and sixteen strong. No others I have been prouder to serve with than those two thousand, three hundred and sixteen souls. I watched them at work and at play, on the decks and on the float. I saw them off on their flights, their boarding pods. And now I bid farewell to two hundred and eighty-five heroes of our company. They died that others may live, that the dream of a better life may belong to the people of the Shore. These are their faces and voices."

A projection lights up the blank hangar wall behind her, thirty meters high. A montage taken from personal recordings of the Mirrorsmoke mercenaries. Marines, roughhousing and joking in their quarters, as playing cards float past in microgravity. Pilots in the mess, clinking mugs and trading loose salutes. Deck crew, posing for group pictures at the starboard duty hangar that took a heavy hit during the battle. Flight leaders from Guiscard and Isabeau Wings, singing poorly as they celebrate a birthday together with flaming cupcakes on a skewer. Most notably, there's a clip of Colonel Milch, rolling up his sleeves, joining in alongside a maintenance crew as they clean up a fluid spill in a crawlspace.

Milch remains in serious condition, and still hasn't regained consciousness. His inclusion in the video montage may indeed be a contingency.

As the video clips fade out, Mahayhay seems to take a few beats to find her voice again, blinking away tears.

"Today is a day for all of us, living and dead. The dead, to be set to rest. The living, to grieve and find a way, forward together. Our departed will be set in Union's roll of the fallen, remembered side-by-side with Union Navy spacers in the history of this conflict."

There is another long pause. She salutes the fallen, as do all the MSMC spacers. "That is all I have to say," she adds, softly, and steps down.

Bootprints, Part 3

Tabitha dips her head in silence as she steps up after Mahayhay.

"There isn't much I can say after the eloquence of Captain Var and Major Mahayhay. There isn't much I can say that will make any of this any easier. We have all lost friends and comrades and that only the varying passage of time will heal many of the wounds we have taken.

"I wish I could say that I remember each man and woman who is no longer with us and that I could remember every voice that is now stilled and every light that has been dimmed. But that is beyond me and it is beyond any one of us. We can only do our part, hold on to the memories that we share and together keep that echo alive of those friends whose names now sit silently on the rolls of the fallen.

"And all I can do is promise to do my best to ensure that their sacrifice would not be in vain, that the great cause of humanity that they strove for shall come through the gathering storm stronger than before, so that even as we grieve and remember, we can look to the stars and remember each light - brief, yet eternal - lit the way for something better for others."

Tabitha bows her head for a moment, "It has been an honor to have fought by your side and I give my heartfelt thanks to each and every one of you - the living and the dead - for all that you have done and all that you have given to bring peace and justice to the people of the Dawnline Shore."

She again bows her head in silent respect for a moment before quietly leaving the podium.

Next: Dented drifter

Drifting, Part 1

The ceremony aboard the Shamokin Rising comes to a solemn end. Dismissed, the attending crew drift away, in ones, twos or more, to drink away their grief on their own time. Shifts change, sleep cycles go by.

A full day passes, and the lights come on aboard the James I. Strike Captain Bannon has taken over command of the dreadnought, and there are no signs of whatever disturbances raged across its decks a day ago.

And a day later, aboard the Purview fleet, another ceremony is held. The Armory losses were far greater, almost disproportionately so, mostly due to the bloody-handed work of Battlegroup Splinter. And everyone knows it.

It is during this time, when the Armory crews are preoccupied with their own funeral services, that Lieutenant Vau's patrol comes across a drifting cargo module within the debris field. Dented, marked with Purview symbols and purple lines.

There are no heat sources aboard, although a bit of pressure within suggests some faint traces of atmosphere. Vau chooses discretion, calling in a Union S&R boat but leaving the Armory fleet out of it...

The situation pulls Tabitha and her officers away from their routine duties, and they assemble quickly at the ventral access hangar, where Gbeho and his team are going over the remains found in the cargo module.

"Line Commander," says Gbeho, "we've brought in a stray cargo box from the James I...there are three bodies inside. It looks like they suffocated. They had virtually no provisions, no electronics except for a civilian emergency beacon...which was broken."

Captain Tiburce Rodin has inserted himself into every opportunity to analyse the situation on the Armory fleet, and this is no exception. The tall dark man bends down to take a look at the device. "The beacon may have been damaged in a struggle of some sort. They have torn uniforms, defensive scratches and cuts. And if I were to guess...if they were in a mutiny, they'd have to get rid of any Colonial Legionate devices that could be used to track them. They may have been hoping to drift clear and signal our patrols to pick them up...but their beacon failed and they couldn't survive long after that."

The dead crew are all quite young. Junior engineering personnel. Tabitha remembers that during debriefing, Lowell mentioned that his chief engineer, Lieutenant Conroy, was one of his main allies in the effort to delay the James I's arrival. Many of the engineering crew were quite loyal to Conroy.

Drifting, Part 2

"Noted, Captain," Tabitha says quietly. "Do we have any options in dealing with this matter? I had hoped that Bannon would have been able to sort things out without further bloodshed but she was not agreeable to allow her rebellious crews the opportunity to seek asylum and I don't see any good way to deal with this."

She thinks for a moment, "I'll have Meade tighten the patrols around the Armory fleet - closer sweeps through the debris field especially along trajectories that may indicate an ejection from the James I. Its unlikely we'll find anyone alive now but there's always a chance."

"Meanwhile, have the service crews prep a burial service for these poor souls. See if we can ID them. If not, I'll send a note to Bannon requesting identification. I'd rather not involve Lowell in this at this point."

Drifting, Part 3

"That seems like the best move," says Vera to Tabitha. "Although we should do a thorough investigation to see if we can extract any intel from this scene."

Gbeho gingerly fishes out a small personal data recorder from the pocket of a young deck officer. Her face is ashen and cold. Her glassy eyes are frozen open, staring at the ceiling. Gbeho clicks a control, and an audio recording plays.

"My name is Camelia Stanton of the PCV-DN James I. If you get this, and you're a friend, please, please let my family know what happened here... The Lord Director's war strategy is a waste of blood and treasure, when the Armory has economic and diplomatic tools that it can apply to reach our goals for the Dawnline Shore. Our captain and chief engineer believed in a better way, and in keeping with the Direct Debate Manifesto of the NNDS, we took action to keep the ship from entering the fight against Union."

Vera displays an intel summary for all officers present: The New Nanyang Debate Society was a highly successful student organization known for fierce intellectual discourse and promotion of free thought across various Purview educational institutions, including Purview Interstellar College. Many young naval, legal and diplomatic personnel have had at least some experience with NNDS, and many splinter debate groups have sprung up following its recent forced dissolution by academic authorities. The UIB classifies it as a major source of dissident thought within the Purview.

Stanton's voice grows faint, as oxygen gets thinner.

"We helped to avert... a bigger and bloodier defeat for the fleet. And for that we are being rounded up, arrested... we refused to go quietly. Our escape module was undetected, but our beacon malfunctioned. We...we regret nothing. To all the other alumni of the NNDS, stay strong, and stand for your ideals. We can make...a difference..."

The rest of the recording is silence.

Drifting, Part 4

Tabitha sighs, "Very well then. Arrange for a full investigation and report. Then prepare an appropriate burial service for them as appropriate for their origins. Full honors and record the ceremony to be distributed to kin and colleagues as per their last wishes. I have three more letters to write." She turns and walks heavily out of the hangar.

It is only a few days later that Vera finds her alone looking morosely out the observation gallery. "I find myself going over the incidents with the James I over and over," she mutters gloomily to her NHP second. "This isn't something I trained for and I keep wondering if I could have handled it better. If there had been some way to help those on board that ship. If I had ordered closer inspections earlier."

"I wonder a lot if Caspian could do a better job of this - if perhaps I had pushed Bannon harder..." She puts her hands in her pockets and kicks idly at the steel floor, "I guess the best I can do is try to honor their sacrifice by trying to avert a war but that won't stop the killing. Not for a while."

A moment of silence, "Sorry to load this on you but I had to get it off my chest rather than try to drown out the anxiety with paperwork."

"Tabitha, there is no point in second-guessing. The situation is far too complex even for the most advanced minds to calculate the risks of further intervention. The Purview fleet still outnumber us and there are many angry crews over there who would see us dead. I value your compassion and care for those people not under your command, but I think you did your best considering the circumstances."

Vera audibly sighs, and then adds: "And put all thought of Caspian handling such negotiations out of your head. He's a killer, and taking life is what he's truly good at."

Next: What the killer was doing
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Rebuild, Part 1

"I suppose you're right," Tabitha says, straightening herself up, "There's nothing I can do to change the past. Only the future," She adjusts her cap, "Thanks for listening and for your candid words, Vera. I really appreciate all you do for us."

"I should get back to work now. Hopefully Caspian can get his ship back as well before he and Ki rub each other raw."

Bernd chimes a pre-meeting reminder for Caspian in his quarters, although it's hardly necessary. How could he possibly miss this?

The holographic display comes on, and a blinking icon indicates a live Omninet connection to the inbound Union Navy Auxiliary battlegroup.

Chief Kharchana Avksentieva appears before Caspian, a sturdy pillar of a veteran engineer with lines on her rugged face. "Captain Var. Thank you for taking this meeting. I know we're still a few days away, but I've received the full damage assessment of the Richard Wagner from your NHP and I'd like to go over the salvage and repair plan with you.

She sips from a mug of dark coffee and smirks. "It will be a bit of a tricky job to rig her for nearlight flight. You certainly put her through her paces."

"That we did," Caspian cannot resist a smug smile, remembering the carnage wrought on the Purview fleet, "And she will be put through many more paces if things keep going as they are," He leans in "So. What is the plan?"

Rebuild, Part 2

Avksentieva raises her eyebrows. "The Vice-Admiral gave me two jobs. First, we're going to get her driveworthy. The Chinua Achebe has the biggest mobile dock of any Navy Auxiliary ship, so we're well-prepared to do the repairs. Then, we'll be in stasis for a few months on the long ride back to Beachhead Station. That's where we'll rebuild her bow and re-arm her with some new spinal guns that haven't been overclocked to Hell and back. I and my team will be transferring off the Chinua Achebe on special assignment for the duration of the rebuild."

She sends Caspian a comprehensive list of stores and parts made available for the Wagner's rebuild at Beachhead. "The Vice-Admiral is sparing no expense. Whatever systems and components you need. And your officers will have their pick of newly-arrived replacements to fill out the crew. So, do you want to weaponize some more asteroids or did you have something else in mind?"

Caspian shakes his head, "Not asteroids. Not anymore - spectacular in their results but questionable in their utility," he starts working his datapad. "My officers and I have run some numbers and I believe that the rebuild will give us the opportunity to outfit the Wagner with the new Aurora stealth shrouding in place of the Sandstorm. We might even be able to squeeze a little more power from the reactors to allow us to strip out the old Razorbacks and replace them with the necessary narrowband omnitransmitter arrays and legionspace nodes to provide us with a little more direct fleet support,"

He runs through the list of equipment parts checking off the extensive list of replacements needed.

Caspian's flagship, the Richard Wagner, is being salvaged and will earn the Phoenix Legacy.

Richard Wagner: - Legacy: Phoenix
This ship gains 2 points that can be only spent on weapons or upgrades. When destroyed, this ship is always salvageable regardless of how much damage it took, though the crew may not fare as well.

Caspian's player: "Removing the Sandstorm from the Wagner and replacing it with a Aurora Stealth Shroud. A little better for keeping her alive instead of the kind of death ride of the battlecruisers that Sandstorm is. With the +2 points from the Phoenix legacy, replace the useless Razorbacks with a Legionspace Schism to provide long-range ECM support for Battlegroup Eland."

Meanwhile, Tabitha is awarded the Gallantry Cross, a medal given for "honorable conduct befitting the finest traditions of naval service."

Tabitha Saint-Germaine: - Gallantry Cross
When a player with this commendation rolls 9 or less when performing an uptime action (excluding PLOT A COURSE), they may perform a second, different uptime action. They must still accept the consequences of the first roll.

Next: Changing of stations

2nd Crisis Response Group, Updated

Battlegroup Splinter (22 points)

Flagship: UNS-BB Richard Wagner (16)
26 HP, 13 Defense, 1d6+2 Interdiction
Phoenix, Meritorious Service Bar

Hull - FKS Calendula Class Battlecruiser (7)
Superheavy Weapon - Spinal Petajoule Kinetic (2)
Superheavy Weapon - Spinal Petajoule Kinetic (2)
Primary Weapon - Legionspace Schism (2)
System - Aurora Stealth Shrouding (3)
System - Veteran Crews (0)

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)

Battlegroup Eland (20 points)

Flagship: UNS-BB Nikolai Bukharin (11)
31 HP, 5 Overshield, 12 Defense, 1d6+2 Interdiction
Gallantry Cross, Indomitable

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)

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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