LANCER: BATTLEGROUP - To Kill the Worthy King

Station Change, Part 1

"Very good, sir," says Chief Avksentieva. "Your request for parts has been pre-cleared on Beachhead Station. I'll prepare a salvage plan for my team, and we'll see you in a few short days."

Indeed, it is a few short days later when the vast bulk of the UNS-BB Chinua Achebe, an Eiland-Class Command Carrier, drops out of nearlight together with its trio of frigate escorts. Commander Mizuki of the Achebe sends his greetings to Tabitha and, as a formality, requests permission to enter formation with the fleet.

"Glad to see backup arrive," quips Captain Meade to the other captains on the fleet channel. "Although I'll wager they're just as happy that we saved them from having to fight the Purvies themselves."

Avksentieva's repair crews waste no time, flocking in repair skiffs around the hulk of the Wagner, cutting and welding and making the ship ready to be brought alongside the Achebe's repair dock.

Not long after, Strike Captain Bannon signals the Bukharin to indicate the 2nd Expeditionary Fleet's readiness to depart. "Line Commander Saint-Germaine, the Arminius has completed drive testing and our fleet is about to get underway. We're about an hour behind schedule, but we'll finally be out of your hands."

Bannon lifts her head just a bit, her eyes hooded as she gazes at Tabitha, gauging her. "Till next we meet, yes?"
 

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Station Change, Part 2

"Perhaps," Tabitha responds with a small salute and slight nod of acknowledgement, "And hopefully under better circumstances."

Around her the bridge crew of the Bukharin watch silently and expressionless as the Purview fleet readies to leave. There have been rumors, Tabitha knows, but most of it has been subsumed by news from outside, of the growing conflict around them. Most of the talk has been about the work being done on the Wagner.

As soon as she's ready, it will be the Union Fleet's turn to sail into danger.

"Pity we couldn't put more holes in her," Captain Ki mutters at the sensor trace of the departing Arminius, "She'll be back in full fighting trim soon enough."

The subline and flight commanders are all gathered on one of the Shamokin's comms networks just chattering idly with each other as the various fleets sort themselves out. The talk has been mostly about the latest news out of Lighthouse Station and the intensifying conflict.

"They won't be showing their faces around the Shore anytime soon," Lieutenant Vau chimes in, "They've a ways to go to refit and replace their losses."

"Pretty sure they have enough support vessels around the Shore to get at most of those ships into shape if they wanted to," Evans grumbles. "How much the bet that we'll run into at least one of them again when we go after the Rex? I heard their Strike Captain is a personal friend."

"Well then we'll just have to punch her ticket again," Ki yawns.

"The Mercs took a pounding from them though," Vau says, "Next time we'll be the ones in the firing line."

"Keep on thinking those happy thoughts, Lieutenant," Evans comments sourly.


Next: Beachhead
 

Station Change, Part 3

"And we've got the training and teambuilding exercises for our replacements scheduled in another 72 hours," Chief van Ghent reports, flipping through the last few sections of his deck. "The appropriate systems training modules are still being uploaded and it will be at least a day before we can begin running training sims for our new loadout," he continues, casting a sidelong glance at the pale, haggard face of CGO Bryant. She's only been conscious for the last five days and her arm is still immobilized but their Captain is chomping at the bit and not known for his latitude.

Caspian nods expressionlessly, checking off an extensive list of procedures. With the refitting of the Wagner in full swing, he's been slowly working his crew back up to readiness in preparation for the day they finally return to their ship. A ping on his datapad indicates the Purview fleet's imminent departure. A grunt of annoyance. The 2nd Expeditionary Fleet is already filed away in his mind. His entire focus is on preparing for the next battle to come.

True to her word, Avksentieva's teams work quickly, and in just three days, the hulk of the Wagner is made nearlight-capable once more.

"I wouldn't recommend putting anything living on board while she flies, but the COMP/CON I've installed will keep her on course and in formation with the rest of the fleet," the engineer explains. "We can set out as soon as your fleet is ready."

The journey to Beachhead Station takes about a month, giving Caspian's scattered crew plenty of time to train and prepare on board the Bukharin and the Shamokin Rising. Normally, such a journey would be spent in stasis, but for a crew that has just gone through a traumatic battle, it makes sense to give them time to process and recover.

Nine months pass in realtime. During that time, the situation in the Dawnline Shore continues to develop. Dramatically.

Next: Controlled burn
 

Station Change, Part 4

As 5019U turns to 5020U, a hand-picked strike force of Union warships explodes out of nearlight within the defensive sphere of DS1 Harrison's World, the Armory's industrial center in the Shore. The UNS-BB Blyde River Canyon slashes through the Armory's Planetwatch battlegroups, unleashing hell upon the massive, largely automated factory complex known as the Maquinera, where 50% of the Armory's chassis production facilities are located. The kinetic bombardment reduces the Maquinera into a pock-marked glass landscape, glowing brightly in the night. Thousands die on the ground, including civilians living at the edge of the complex. For this daring strike, the Navy pays a heavy price. The Blyde River Canyon and much of its fleet are destroyed in the battle. Only a handful of Union ships escape.

When the 2nd Crisis Group arrives at the Blink-1 gate station, the Dawnline Shore is boiling with war. Battlegroup Thunder hails Tabitha's flagship and welcomes them to Beachhead Station. At this moment, another Union battlegroup is already transiting through the blink gate. A Murie-Class battleship, an Amazon-Class carrier, and a pair of frigates. Fresh blades to the churn.

Battlegroups Eland and Splinter are given docking berths along one of the stack of toroid sections of the massive Blink-1 facility, well out of the way of the arriving reinforcements.

"Eventful times, sir," reports Bernd to Caspian as he forwards summaries of the recent action at Harrison's World. "I'll let you catch up and I'll inform you once the Wagner's refit has begun."
 

Station Change, Part 5

Caspian nods in acknowledgement and turns to the pile of summaries, reviewing after-action reports and news articles. Tabitha won't like this, he thinks, taking a sip of his coffee, the commander of Battlegroup Eland has always been an idealist and seems to take the Union's official peacekeeping mission to heart. Caspian himself is under no such illusions of what would need to be done to secure the Shore. He reviews each report closely, studying them for insights on the Purview's tactics. The various news pieces he tosses aside - he has little use for uninformed civilian opinions.

A chime goes off. CGO Bryant's face pops up - she looks a lot better than before; the past few months have done wonders for her recovery - as she goes over the latest set of drills. His crew will be ready he sees. The majority of them have already put the trauma of the Wagner's destruction behind them and the few more seriously affected are well on the road to recovery.

His hand dances along the datapad. Perhaps he should see if he can acquire combat sim data on the attack on Harrison's World. For now he turns his eyes to the latest fleet announcements on Unions actions, losing himself again in the swirl of data flowing in.

On the bridge of the Bukharin, Tabitha St. Germaine is quietly reviewing the same set of information regarding Union's deployments and intentions with concern. The escalation was unexpected and unwelcome to her mind. She makes a note to arrange a meeting with Vice Admiral Gentle to discuss these developments. For now, she puts down the datapad and leaves the almost empty bridge. The crew of the Bukharin have mostly gone on-station to for some "shore" time along with most of the members of Battlegroup Eland.

She hopes that Ki isn't getting up to anything.

She pauses a moment and pings Caspian. Her fellow Captain's stern face flickers to life. "Yes, Line Commander? Is there anything you need?" Tabitha shakes her head slightly, "No, Captain Var. I just wish to remind you to ensure you and your crew take this opportunity to get some shore time. You've been working them hard, Caspian. They deserve some leave."

"Sweat saves blood, Line Commander," Caspian responds curtly, "But I accede. No point burning them out before battle. I will ensure that everyone gets properly rotated out."

"That includes you, Caspian," Tabitha says gently but firmly, "You've been working yourself up to a fever pitch waiting for the Wagner to come online to the point you haven't actually gotten much rest. You're coming with me." Caspian sighs.

"And I assume that's an order? Fine. If it makes you feel better we can head over to Beachhead Station once I've dismissed the crew."

Next: House of Glass
 

Through a Glass Darkly, Part 1

Half an hour later, the doors of the transit car open at the Magnolia Gardens platform, one of the main population hubs on Toroid 1 of the station. Caspian, Tabitha and scores of other disembarking military personnel join the flow of foot traffic along the wide concourse, which is flanked by flower beds and small trees: magnolias, myrtle, dogwood.

Even in wartime, the street is busy with traders, would-be colonists, off-duty cosmonauts and local residents. Caspian and Tabitha can see a cluster of travellers in colourful Karrakin garb just up ahead, all stopped to listen to the latest news of refugees fleeing fighting on New Madrassa.

"Sir, it may interest you to know that Captain Ki is entering an informal contest at Hellenic Stadium tonight," chirps Vera over personal comms. "Some fighter pilots from Battlegroup Griffon heard about her silver medal in zero-G polo, and have challenged her and her crew to a match. It's become a point of honour, and it seems many crew from across the fleet will be coming to watch."

Tabitha and Caspian both sigh audibly at the news, "This is going to escalate isn't it?" Caspain remarks sardonically.

"Probably. I'm just going to let Elliot handle it. She's technically his problem before she becomes my problem." Tabitha says as she stops by a street vendor and gets herself some meat skewers. She isn't fussy about the kind of meat - anything beyond the regular synthmeat available on the Bukharin. She passes one over to Caspian who accepts it politely. They walk in silence for a bit, heading towards a designer coffee bar. Caspian hasn't had a good coffee in... well, he's not sure but it has been a while. He finds he's rather looking forward to a good mug.
 

Through a Glass Darkly, Part 2

The GM calls for a perception roll on a d20. The roll: 10. Success.

It seemed like a coincidence that the same shifty old woman was going their way from the transit platform, but after two junctions and a short flight of stairs, it becomes clear that the woman is following them.

Then, at the next open square, where lodging-house balconies look down on open-air cafes, the woman falls back, and a workman appears in her place. Caspian's pretty sure he saw the workman at Magnolia Gardens when they first arrived on the transit platform.

They're being tailed, by a team of at least two.
 

Through a Glass Darkly, Part 3

"Friends of yours?" he chuckles nonchalantly as he informs Tabitha of their tail. She responds with a smile that doesn't quite reach her eyes. "Not that I'm aware of."

The two of them keep walking, chatting as normally as possible while discussing their options beneath their breath. Caspian pauses a moment to ping his datapad inviting CSO Richards to meet them outside the coffee bar - while also picking a route with a lot of sharp corners to walk.

Then they set off. A few turns here and there and then one sharp turn and a pause as they wait to see if either of their tails wanders within arm's reach.

Caspian's going to try to see if he can fake the tail out and grab one for interrogation. The player adds Caspian's Cool trait to see how well the officers can fool the tails into thinking they don't suspect a thing. Roll: 11+5.

The jumpsuit-clad workman doubles his pace to keep up with his targets as they wind through the narrow lanes of the shopping district.

As he steps around the corner, he sees Tabitha up ahead in the next plaza. He rushes forward for a better look, but the other officer is nowhere in sight -

And then Caspian seizes him from behind, grabbing both arms.

"Ah!" The man struggles just a bit before going still. "C-captain, I...I can explain...my employer, she wanted to meet with you...she's an important noble in the House of Glass..."
 

Through a Glass Darkly, Part 4

"Outside of standard diplomatic channels?" Caspian arcs an eyebrow. "Let me warn you - Line Commander St. Germaine doesn't appreciate backroom deals even when she's being polite about it." He carefully releases the man, "And she has been very firm about Union's neutrality in the conflict."

The Captain of the Richard Wagner eyes the man coldly, "So who is your employer and why is she sending her people to trail us?" His communicator beeps softly as Richards meets up with Tabitha just a short distance away.

"My employer is Lady Mabika of the House of Glass. She wanted to locate you and the Line Commander so she could deliver a private message, without going through the Federal Karrakin government. It pertains directly to your recent actions in battle."

There's a low buzzing of a vibrating comms unit in his shirt. "That's her. She will be on the way."
 

Through a Glass Darkly, Part 5

Caspian continues to eye the man coldly, "I assume she has a place in mind?"

"Who?" Tabitha interjects, as she and CSO Richards show up with a pair of the Wagner's security detail in tow - Lieutenant Asad glares at the "workman" with a gimlet eye but says nothing.

"Lady Mabika, House of Glass apparently," Caspian replies, and fills Tabitha in on what he's been told. She looks doubtfully at the man and at Caspian. "A private message regarding our actions against the Purview? And she's here to speak with us personally?"

"Apparently,"

Tabitha cocks her head, "Well we don't want to be impolite and almost certainly don't want to be huddling about in an alleyway. Unless the good Lady has a different idea, let's find a private room over at the Alem Bunna so Caspian can get his coffee fix while we're at it."

"I guess we're on duty again," Lieutenant Asad mutters beneath his breath.

The Alem Bunna is one of the more popular coffee bars on the station, and the main lounge is already bustling by the time the Union officers arrive, their captive in tow. Various travellers and locals are too engrossed in conversation to notice the newcomers.

A subaltern host pulls aside the heavy curtain to the private room. "This way, please." As the officers take their seats, holographic menus pop up, offering an enticing range of drinks.

But it doesn't take long before a finely dressed noblewoman arrives, accompanied by two bodyguards dressed in ceremonial Karrakin armour, as well as a handmaid.

"Line Commander, Captain. I am Melusine Mabika of the House of Glass. Forgive the subterfuge - I simply wished to meet you away from diplomatic and military decorum." She curtsies and seats herself, while her entourage remains standing at her side.

"I come bearing a message from my grandfather, Lord Elevated Grundin, who serves on the board of the Janus Combine." At this, Richards exchanges a glance with his captain. The Janus Combine - manufacturer of the Cogent Mind warships!

Mabika continues. "Lord Grundin wishes to convey his deepest apologies to you for the mistaken attack by the Cogent Mind ships outside Lighthouse Station. He feels personally responsible for the deaths of your crew, as it was he who oversaw the programming of the Minds in question..."


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The House of Glass by Tom Parkinson-Morgan
 
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Time And Time And Time Again

"It was unfortunate, but conflict has always been a series of tragedies. Our duty is simply to try to mitigate the worst of them," Tabitha nods, "We appreciate the sentiment, regardless. What were your ships doing in the area anyway? And what sort of protocols were they operating under to engage so aggressively? WHY were they engaging so aggressively?"

Caspian sips his coffee in silence, his cold blue eyes watching Mabika intently.

"This is a complicated matter," Mabika replies. She chooses her next words slowly and deliberately. "What I am about to tell you is intended for your confidence only, and cannot leave this room. The ships were deployed from DS11 Gloria to rendezvous with the Shirline at Lighthouse Station, to serve as as an escort. However, while en route, they experienced...anticausal phenomena. From what transmissions we received before their destruction, they had somehow become caught in a closed timelike curve associated with a Free Company mech carried on board, a HORUS LICH frame with limited temporal distortion abilities. We are still trying to discover at which point the mech joined the fleet, and how it came to have orders from Baronic Unified Command originating from the year 5021. Lord Grundin can only surmise that whatever happened, effect preceded cause."

Tabitha remembers, with sudden clarity, the bizarre transmission from the Eternal Cosmonaut just before it self-destructed: <TABITHA, IT WILL BE AN HONOUR. UNTIL OUR NEXT WALTZ.>

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HORUS Lich by Tom Parkinson-Morgan

As the noblewoman continues to converse with Tabitha and Caspian, re-iterating the need to keep this information confidential, Caspian senses Mabika's motives and priorities. She could be bought if she believed she could gain an edge for her beloved Baronies...even if it went outside of the normal chain of command.
 

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