Chapter 24: Phaon

 

Date: 6 Novanus S.D. 5100 of the Fifth Empire. Time: 07.10

Raymont started off the debate. "We need to send someone into town. I'm thinking it should be Joe and Thorn can go along as company and cover. We need something to cover up the markings on this tank, I know it looks bad driving around in an unmarked tank, but all the worse if it has D.K. markings all over it. Joe needs disks and we all have supplies we could use, decent food would be a good start. The rest of us can sort through what we've brought out of the ship and figure out what this tank is capable of. Besides, we may not have come away with billions, but if we play our cards right, we should make a healthy profit on the expedition and have something interesting to do while we avoid the authorities for a bit. I'd almost say it's worth sharing with Onzlo's pick up man, if he's willing to pick us up AFTER the explosion, should it happen. Any other ideas?"
Leon still peering at the instruments added "I think we should move the tank because if either of those two fighters spotted us then they may have called in ground troops to investigate and I don't want to be here if and when they turn up. If you two go into town like you suggested, we can move the tank, cover it up and have a good look at the goodies you lot found, and send one of us to find you two to show you where we've moved the tank to." Leon then looked up from the instruments at the others to gage their reaction to the suggestions Raymont and he had made.
Solo snorted at the others and disappeared out the side hatch. A couple of minutes later he came back in with a smile on his face and one of the nastiest, biggest, foulest smelling homemade cigars anyone had ever seen. It was quickly apparent to everyone that he had done the best he could with the one arm he still had left. That is dedication. At the looks of amusement (and perhaps chagrin) of the other party members, he explained, "Wild Sassafras leaves. The next best thing to the real thing! Now I can think. If I understand the situation correctly, we are under-gunned, under-skilled and running around in a tank that shouldn't exist. Bug, how 'bout running a scan on this tank and see if it is made of the same material as the Divinity's skin. If it is then, I agree with Leon, there. If we move it then they sure as hell wont find it.
Then we can send whomever into town. I would like to volunteer for that because as much as I love Sassafras stogies, they are not truly Yuban cigars. If not, then I can stay behind and get in Bug's way when it comes time to make this thing go somewhere. I only know how to drive cars and fly ships. Driving one of these things is NOT what I have been training for. Besides, I don't really think I can help a whole lot in modifying the tank. I only have one arm. I still have both feet. There may even be some single man craft in the hold of this thing."
Having heard them out, Joe said; "Yes, I think we may have to move into town and get supplies. I do not, however, " he continued, eyeing Solo skeptically, "think that you should go. You might cause some unwanted attention. And besides, you might shoot someone again," Joe frowned, " I think we should try to maintain a low profile for as long as possible, so I and whoever goes with me should try to look like happy hikers rather than mercenaries. So, " he finished, smiling at Thorn, "would you care to accompany me? I know this fabulous restaurant ..." Joe prepared to receive a blow, an amused expression on his face.
Solo, carefully considering breaking his only good hand to deliver the much anticipated blow, although probably not from the anticipated direction, decided not to do it because he then would have had no way to roll or light another stogy. Instead he simply retorted, "I only shoot people who need it or who get in the way while I'm shooting people who need it." Then with a great visible effort, he slightly bowed to Joe and asked, "Fine ... if you want to go then would you .. ahem ... please ... be so kind as to return with some real cigars? A couple of dozen would be nice. Yuban Yastros are my favorite." Solo then looked at Joe with a look that clearly stated that Joe should not laugh.
Joe didn't laugh. He just shrugged and said, "Well, sure, but I don't know how many we can afford. Supplies do have to take priority, I am sure you agree. How much is a Yuban cigar anyway?"
Solo looked shocked at Joe's lack of understanding, "Cigars ARE considered supplies. And we have plenty of goodies in the bags you all filled. Give the clerk a pretty bauble and he will give you a whole damned case of the fuckers even if they do cost 1 credit each. That's about as expensive as I have seen them."
A concerned look on his face, Joe answered; "I REALLY don't think that it is very wise to start tossing those things around. At least not yet. We should keep the DK stash for ourselves until we can find a reliable fence." He paused a second then added, "Yes ... a contradiction in terms, I know ..." and continued, "But you might be right, William, we may actually have to classify Yuban cigars as fuel ..." he grinned evilly.
Raymont spoke up, "I'd tend to agree. We should probably avoid spending too much offworld currency, but we have a bit of hard currency from various places among the swag if we need them. I think Joe and Thorn ought to play the part of prospectors or some kind of environmental scientists rather than tourists, especially since they need to get in and out BEFORE the explosion, since I would highly recommend that we all be inside this," Patting the tank, "When and if there's a world shattering explosion nearby. Of course, it's entirely up to you. All I'm sure you need to get is a bucket of dark paint and a bunch of food. in the meantime, we'll get the tank under cover and go through the swag."
Raymont pulled a few bills out of his pocket and handed them to Joe.
Solo looked around at everybody and exclaimed, "Where the hell did you all get the money? If I remember correctly we spent it all on supplies for this little adventure. Am I wrong? Raymont ... you been holding out on us?"
With that, Solo took a very large drag of his Sassafras stogy. He then took another ... and another ... and another ... until finally the entire inside of the tank reeked with the odorous taint of burning Sassafras.

Date: 6 Novanus S.D. 5100 of the Fifth Empire. Time: 08.09

After Joe and Thorn had left, the others set about to the chores that they'd specified for themselves - or in the case of Solo - to Bug. Bug set about, under Solo's supervision, to scan the hull of the tank, confirming that it was a steel alloy - sturdy, but unremarkable. Also under Solo's close scrutiny and helpful insistence, Bug determined that there was no encapsulated vehicle within the confines of the tank.
Leon, showing remarkable knowledge due to his military background, guided the tank with ease into another hiding spot. He then dismounted and, with Tessa's help, began to camouflage the tank.
"You can drive this thing!" Solo accused Leon. "Why didn't you say so?"
"You never asked me," Leon smiled. "Actually," he confessed, "I thought I should man the gun. You and Bug were - passable."
Leon leapt down off of the floating vehicle, landing lightly on his feet. Over one shoulder, he slung a rifle.
"I'm going to go and keep an eye out for any trouble. If you need me, I'll be around." With that, he trudged off into the wet cold woodlands.
It started to rain.
"Ugh! Hate wetness! Tired of it!" Bug screeched, heading back inside.
Solo went to lite one of his homemade "cigars" and noted that it had fallen apart. Growling, he went inside and tried for better luck with another, ignoring Tessa's complaints.

Date: 6 Novanus S.D. 5100 of the Fifth Empire. Time: 11.53

Raymont noted the time on his chronometer. Except for Leon, everyone was inside the tank. The passing of the destruct's time went without any indication of a huge or terrible explosion.
"So, what do you think?" Tessa asked. "Did it happen?"
Raymont shrugged. "It's hard to say. If there was ground vibration, we wouldn't have felt it suspended in this tank. I don't know. I guess time will tell."
Raymont went back to looking at his chronometer, but nothing happened. The rain continued outside.

Date: 6 Novanus S.D. 5100 of the Fifth Empire. Time: 18.40

Joe and Thorn looked watched the clerk as he tied up the box he'd put their purchases into. So far, they'd been lucky, finding paint, food, ammunition and data discs. The town, called Brollo, had but one small general store, but it seemed to have a variety of goods and was well stocked.
Thorn observed her wrist chrono. "I guess it didn't happen," she said to Joe. "Either that, or we're too far away to feel or see it."
"What's that?" the curious clerk asked her. "See what?"
"Ahh, the river," she said.
The clerk gave her a curious look and finished ringing up their purchases. Curiously, the paint had cost them the most. Joe forked out 59.40 pounds, after having gotten his change back.
Another man walked into the store and greeted the clerk, who greeted him back.
"Rangers' are calling Doog Lundsoy on his com gadget. They want to know if he or any of us seen anything strange here around of late."
"Oh, why's that?" the clerk asked the man.
The man merely shrugged. "Dunno. They said to keep `em posted. Specially if we see some funny lookin vehicles."
"Like?" the clerk pressed him.
"Didn't say," the man shrugged.
The clerk looked at Joe and Thorn. "Hey! How about you two?" he asked. To the man he said, "These two been exploring the wilderness these past few weeks. If there was anything to be seen, they'd a seen it." Turning back to Joe, "How about it?"
Joe coughed. "No, ah, nothing really. Just the normal wild animals, though I did bump into a prospector but he was on foot. No - no unusual vehicles."
Joe went to take the box, which the man handed him.
"Say, heavy box. What's inside?"
"Paint," it was the clerk and not Joe who answered.
"Paint? What do two prospector's need with paint?" the man asked the clerk.
"I dunno," the clerk shrugged. "I asked them that but they just said it was for something else." The man was about to ask Joe something, but the clerk butted in. "Don't ask. I asked them that too."
Joe decided to change the subject. "One last thing. Do you know where I can buy some cigars?"
The clerk and the man looked at each other. "What's a cigar" the clerk asked.
"You know what this means," Thorn said to Joe.
Joe nodded. "We're dead."

Date: 7 Novanus S.D. 5100 of the Fifth Empire. Time: 13.32

It had started raining again when Leon found Joe and Thorn and led them to the tank's new hiding place.
"Any cigars?" he asked Joe.
Joe shook his head. Leon handed him the rifle. "Here, when you tell Solo, you might need this."
Actually Solo took it well as it turned out; either that or they couldn't tell if he was actually crying in the rain. Finally, dejected and wet, Solo reappeared, dripping over everyone. He was mumbling what they took to be gibberish, but what were in fact the seventy-three brand names of cigars he'd encountered in his lifetime, reciting the roster like a D.K. litany.
Meanwhile, Bug and Tessa had unpacked the supposed artifacts they'd found for everyone to see. All the objects were packed in a stiff foamy resinous material that turned gelatinous when they touched it. It formed a sticky slime that soon coated their clothes and hands as well as the inside of the tank. It was Bug who discovered that sound waves, such as that produced by a modified struptor, effectively cleaned the substance off of themselves and the artifacts. It resin turned to dry powder from the struptor and soon it was choking all of them as they jostled around the tank, kicking it up into the air.
The supposed artifacts were made of a bluish material that felt more like hard plaststeel than anything else. However, the material proved to be incredibly dense and non-reactive when scanned, revealing little of its makeup. The objects were alien in appearance also, suggesting that they'd been created by an alien race.
One device looked nothing more like a shallow plate that had been bent in it's middle, with it's edged turned outwards like wings. There was nothing to suggest it was a machine of any sort. Bug proposed that it was a work of art.
The other objects, when revealed, appeared just as perplexing and just as useless. One was a sort of rectangle, with one end flattened out and pinched at the sides. It seemed incredibly light, weighing almost nothing and fit easily into the palm of a human hand. The other was a hard ball of about 34 centimeters in diameter. It was not entirely round and was pocked with dimples that seemed, however, very uniform, giving no hint of any purpose.
Solo, without his cigars, was dejected. "Great! What do you think they're worth?"
"Outside of a museum or art gallery?" Raymont pondered. "I'd say either priceless or worthless. But how to tell?"
All others looked and touched the objects, however, none could make anything out of them.


x.p. award: Joe - 500, Leon - 350, Raymont - 130, Solo - 330

Date: 7 Novanus S.D. 5100 of the Fifth Empire. Time: 03.47

"Up late?" Leon asked Joe. "Couldn't you sleep?"
Joe shook his head to affirm the obvious. Curiously, he looked over at Leon. It just occured to him that he never saw Leon sleep much - if ever even. He seemed one of those rare individuals who seemed to get by without much rest. Perhaps he was a result of some branch of Eugenics - perhaps.
Leon had just come from outside. Despite the cold wet weather, he had been staring at the sky for hours.
"What did you see?" Joe asked him.
Leon thought for a moment. He turned to see if anyone else was awake. No one seemed to be.
"I'm not sure. There were some quick brief flashes."
"Lightning?"
Leon paused at Joe's logical summation, but then shook his head. "No, it was during a break in the storm. I think it was above the clouds. I thought I saw a brief glimpse of tracer fire."
"Combat," Solo butted in. "It's obvious. There's a fight going on somewhere," he pointed up towards the ceiling of the cramped tank - but it was obvious he meant the sky.
"I thought you were sleeping," Joe said.
"Naw - Can't sleep good. My arm aches, er" Solo looked at the stump that was all that was left of his right arm. "That is, well, you know."
"I'd have to agree with Solo," Raymont added. He too it seemed couldn't sleep. "It's obviously combat. Probably the locals have found the Margrave and his troops. If I remember stories of the Bishop's troops, subtlety wasn't one of their strong points."
"It wasn't," Joe agreed, remembering stories that his father and uncle had told him about the occupation. It had been a hard time and something about knowing that Galatian troops were now on his native soil made him feel guilty, as if he had betrayed his people somehow by not stopping it. He shrugged these feelings away.
"Anyway," Raymont continued. "No doubt the Viscount's troops are making the Margrave and company feel right welcome. Can't say I'm sorry."
Solo shook his head. "Just think of all that beautiful hardware going to waste - when we could have sold it and made so much beautiful money. It's enough to make a grown man cry."
"Who cut the cheese?" Thorn groaned.
Everyone started fanning the air, trying vainly to get the smell away from them - ridiculous though it was in such cramped quarters. Everyone then looked at Solo.
He grinned back. "Beans."
"Sorry to wake you," he said to Thorn.
"And so you should be," Thorn curtly replied. "And it was such a wonderful dream too. And he certainly didn't have your face," she accused Solo.
"Who?" Solo asked.
"Oh, just some guy I met while I was sleeping."
Everyone grew silent.
Tessa got up and looked around. No one, it seemed, was sleeping that night. "Is that all you all think about?"
Solo answered for all of them. "Well, yea - after money of course. Hey, it's been a while," he said, smiling at Thorn and Tessa.
"And it's going to be a while longer," came back Tessa's smart reply. She wasn't smiling back.
Joe interrupted. "Anyone think of checking the radio?"
"Good Idea, Joe," Leon said. "Bug, why don't you check and see if there's any unusual traffic."
Bog stared forward, glassy eyed, as if hearing nothing.
"Bug?" Leon nodded to Tessa who jostled the diminutive alien slightly.
A sharp series of clicking noises erupted from Bug, who then pivoted its head, looking at them all. "What? What's going on?"
"Don't tell me you were sleeping?" Thorn said.
"Near enough," Bug told her. "Actually, I don't sleep. I just go into a dormant phase. Rather rude of you to bring me out of it, I might add."
"Bug," Leon asked, "Could you check the radio for us? - See if there's any unusual traffic going on."
Bug crawled over Thorn to get to the tank's main console. Enroute, he clicked away, perhaps berating them all in his native language. Bug turned on the set and set it on speakers so they could all hear while he tuned into various settings. A loud voice came blaring out to them.
"NOT A DRILL. ALL CIVILIANS ARE ADVISED TO HEAD IMMEDIATELY FOR THEIR NEAREST SHELTER. THE SENESCHAL OF ROMENIA HAS DELCARED A STATE OF EMERGENCY. REPEAT, A STATE OF EMERGENCY HAS BEEN DECLARED IN THE PROVINCE OF ROMENIA. ALL MILITIA PERSONNEL REPORT TO THEIR CADRES. THIS IS NOT A DRILL. ALL CIVILIANS ARE ADVISED"
Bug switched channels. All he got was dead silence or a series of unintelligible whining, or beeps. Joe explained this to them all.
"In a disaster or military emergency, the government enforces a total blackout of communication channels. Only government and sometimes certain news organizations are allowed access."
Cold air and dim predawn light preceded the next announcement. Raymont had climbed up and opened the top hatch. "Hey, anyone check out the lightshow outside?"
Everyone climbed out onto the top of the tank. The storm had passed and only a few broken patches of black clouds obscured the starry sky. Tracer fire was obvious in the upper atmosphere, followed here and there by explosions. Solo chewed at his homemade "cigar" like the archaic horse champing at its bit.
"I wonder who's winning," Thorn said.
The Doppler effect of a racing engined whined and then roared past them somewhere not so high above. Others followed and they could see distinct brief glimpses of afterburners along with more fire. Explosions rocked the sky, like fiery blossoms that spit red seeds plummeting to the ground below.
"The fight's getting lower," Leon said. "Perhaps we'd better"
There was another roar. A fighter craft of some sort raced over them. Another followed in pursuit. Pulsed blasts from an ion cannon tore the first fighter into glowing bits. But even as the victorious fighter started to climb back towards space, another fighter appeared, firing at it. Their was a quick sharp dual that resulted in the second fighter downing this opponent as well, even as the third craft shot off a missile.
"Are you sure you want to be up there?" Thorn asked Solo, shooting him a wry grin.
"Wonder who they're fighting?" Tessa asked.
Joe looked over at her. "Who do you think?" he asked, exchanging glances with Raymont.
The victorious fighter was weaving an erratic course. At first, they thought he might be damaged but then saw the dim glow of the missile fired from the third fighter. It was still active and homing in on the fighter.
It impacted and the fighter flew into glowing bits, several of which fell toward Phaon, trailing black plumes of smoke that could be made out even at night, by the way they obscured the stars. Nearby explosions were heard as the debris continued to fall nearby.
Solo was the one who pointed out that one piece of debris was falling slower than the rest. As the horizon started to glow with a new morning, they could all make it out, following Solo's one outstretched arm.
"What is it?" Tessa asked him.
Solo spit out what was left of his "stogy." "The pilot ejected. He might not be alive or he might be."
"I wonder which side he was on?" Leon pondered aloud.
"Who cares," Solo said. "He'll just turn on a homing beacon and when the fight above is over, one side or the other will come to collect him."
Leon paused at this. "You mean they'll sweep this area looking for him?"
"Yeah, maybe, if his beacon's not too accurate. Why?" Then Solo answered himself, looking down on the now seemingly huge tank they were standing on. "Funny, it looks so big now. I guess it's going to be kind of hard to hide."
Leon looked around them. He had parked the tank in a grove of trees that would masque it from a casual glance, but perhaps not if it were being searched - or scanned for.
"Can we move it?" Tessa asked.
"It's getting kind of light," Joe said, looking toward's dawn. "It might make us more visible."
All of them silently pondered whether or not to chance moving the tank to leave the area, or remain where they were, hoping that the cover they had chosen would be enough when someone came to retrieve the pilot.
Bug had checked if the pilot was indeed broadcasting a distress beacon. He or she was and from the the signal's strength, the pilot wasn't too far off.

Date: 7 Novanus S.D. 5100 of the Fifth Empire. Time: 05.11

The sun was just starting to come up as Solo exited the main hatch and all around the area Solo could see the night dew burning off the surrounding foilage in small steam risers. There was a small breeze coming up and with it came a small taint of burning metal. That smell, for some reason, raised the hair on the back of his neck and he didn't understand why. He looked up, placed his nose to the wind and not sure whether to believe his senses or his instincts, took off in the direction of the downed fighter pilot and the smell.
It was decided that in the next couple of days things were going to get hairy. They needed either some allies or to get rid of any enemy presence in the area. An extraction team was surely on the way and he had to get there and deactivate the homing beacon soon. He had taken one of the pistols from the group as it was also decided he couldn't accurately shoot a rifle without a chair to prop it on. Joe was kind enough to point that out. Leon and Raymont would be following him in exactly five minutes and flanking him. The hope was Solo could get to the pilot and occupy him long enough for the other two to get into position and either cover him ... or avenge him ... if the situation turned ugly.
Besides, in Solo's mind, he was the most expendable part of their little team right now. He couldn't do anything physical right now with his arm missing. Thorn had insisted that was a male macho failing of his but had given in at the last minute. Raymont had pointed out that Solo was a pilot. Who better to talk to a pilot than a pilot?
Solo adjusted the pack on his back and nearly fell over. He didn't really want to carry it but had conceded the pilot might be hurt and would need some medical attention, hence the pack. Now it was throwing his wounded balance even farther off. It was amazing how much one depended on all his body parts just for balance. Add to that he had to use his only good arm to verify his position with the scanner, he felt like a cripple as he jogged through the forest trying to avoid low hanging branches and tall shrubs. But he figured he should be lucky. Those drones were a lot tougher than he had thought. That Armored Exoskeleton was worth every deci-cred His Grace paid for it and Solo felt a dark sense of ironic humor at that thought. If His Grace had only known the armor of one of his elite troops would be used to save the life of a heretic he would have an aneurysm.
Solo slowed his pace as he approached the spot where he thought the pilot should be. The smell of scorched metal and the beacon's signal strength were very strong here. Solo reached into his pocket for one of his home-made cigars and placed it between his teeth with a grimace. Damn, what he wouldn't give for a real stogy. Then, as if a light came on in his head, he smiled: maybe this pilot smokes cigars, too!
With every sense sending data to his brain, Solo walked into the clearing ...

Solo was the first to voice his willingness to investigate the distress beacon, ostensibly to turn it off as being the easier way to avoid any unnecessary attentions. First Joe and then Leon both volunteered to go along. Bill decided that he was glad for the company, especially given his limited usefulness in anything approaching a dangerous situation. They sauntered off, Leon on point, Joe in the middle reading his multiscanner and Solo bringing up the rear.
The short hike through the brushy scrubland proved uneventful. Tree Rats chattered at them from the branches above and each of them grasped their belongings, remembering how the nasty thieving habit of the little animals had deprived them of equipment before. Had he felt more capable of success, Solo might have tried to shoot a few for revenge if nothing else, since their noisome protest had spoiled any chance at surprise they might have had.
Burned grass and deep blackened pits where debris from the downed fighter appeared sporadically, letting them know they were getting close. Joe guided them with his multiscanner, using it to home in on the steadily pulsing beacon.
They found it in short order - an escape canopy, in actuality the pilot module for the fighter - self contained as in this case, capable of a short controlled descent to ground. It was open and they could see boot prints in the dirt. Obviously, whoever had been in it was capable of leaving, but had not stayed with the canopy. There were no markings on the canopy, though a registration number could be clearly seen painted on it's metallic side, which was readable though scratched. Still, it wasn't enough to give them any idea of which side the pilot had fought for.
Joe mumbled something about switching his multiscanner into displaying lifeforms. Obviously, Joe's skill with a scanner fell far short of expertise. The fact that Solo had even less talent with the things didn't prevent him from asking in a rather testy way, "Any luck with that thing?" Solo was tired of waiting and was impatient to do something.
Joe just nodded and continued to fiddle with the controls. As it turned out, he needn't have bothered for a voice soon announced where the pilot was - right behind them.
"Gents, I'd be very obliged to all of you if none of you would make any sudden movements - especially with those fancy rifles you're carrying. I would hate to have to shoot someone I didn't have a cause to - at least not without bein introduced all civil and like."
Solo turned around SLOWLY and asked, "Do I look like I could even shoot with this thing?" as he looked at his stump. While he did this, he looked for any form of insignia on the pilot.

Date: 7 Novanus S.D. 5100 of the Fifth Empire. Time: 05.37

The first thing that Solo noticed was that the pilot was short, being only about 160 centimeters tall. He seemed to be an inbetween age, neither young nor old. The pilot's thin blond hair receded and was touched here and there by just noticible strands of grey, but this was balanced overall by the man's youthful features, which were just dusted by a growth of fine reddish fuzz. Judging from the way he moved, Solo wondered if his arm might not be broken - in which case, the awkward way in which the pilot carried his pistol might indicate that he might not be such a good shot with his other arm. Still, as Solo watched the pilot's pistol track each of them, with even the slightest movement, he decided he had no wish to put this rather precarious theory to the test.
The pilot wore a patch on one shoulder with a picture of an arrow, an archaic missile weapon, upon it. On the other shoulder was another patch, that of a green letter J over a black starfield. On the man's chest was another crest, whose dominant feature was some sort of a sleeping ornamental bird. Solo, whose own skill at heraldry was sadly deficient, had to admit he didn't know what any of these symbols meant, though he guessed they were unit insignias of some sort.
The pilot didn't respond initially to Solo's response. He seemed to be watching them all. Finally, he asked them, "Alright - I'll bite. Just who the hell are you? And what are you doing all the way out here?"

Date: 7 Novanus S.D. 5100 of the Fifth Empire. Time: 05.38

Solo, not wanting to check out the business end of the weapon, turned his head to Joe with raised eyebrows. Afterall, he was the mouth of the party. Maybe it might save them this time.
Solo, seeing the frightened look in Joe's eyes ... which happened to be glued to the pistol in the pilot's hand ... decided he had better do something. He turned his head back to the downed pilot, smiled, SLOWLY took the stogy out of his mouth, spit the little leaf parts off his lip and told the pilot, "If you have a decent stogy, I will tell you anything you want know. And fix your arm. I have a first aid on my back."

The pilot looked at all of them quixotically. "Well I don't know what a stogy is, but I think that you should consider tellin me answers ta mah questions - anything that I want to know, if you know what I mean." The pilot raised his pistol. "And I think I'd feel more comfortable if you gents would drop those mighty nice - military lookin - rifles o'yours an that other equipment and jes take a step back."
Solo, disappointed that this ... pilot (and he used the term loosely) ... didn't know what the hell a stogy was, decided to change tactics.
Joe, Leon and Solo exchanged glances. Leon sighed and dropped his rifle. Joe followed suit, dropping both his rifle and multiscanner onto the ground. Solo, realizing that he had little choice had dropped his pistol also and was about to take a step back when the pilot called out to him.
"Hold on there, sir. The pilot waved his pistol and Joe and Leon both stepped a little father back until the pilot was satisfied. Coming up to Solo, the pilot looked him over. There was a nasty predatory look about the man, Solo thought. It was the look of a man who had killed before and who wasn't squeamish about perhaps having to do it again. Solo didn't doubt it one bit.
The pilot, wincing slightly, raised his fist and tapped on Solo's bulky chest. There was a soft dull sound as the pilot's fist tapped the exoskeleton under Solo's tunic.
"You mind takin that robe of yours off for a bit?"
Solo was about to object, but the pilot pointed the pistol at Solo's face. "Now, I didn't say for you to talk - just yet. I'll want that, but not now. You just take that robe off and you'll get to live the next few seconds - otherwise.
Grunting, Solo removed the robe, revealing the armour underneath. The pilot whistled appreciatively, his gaze being captured mostly by the embossed gauntleted fist on the left shoulder plates and arm of the suit.

Date: 7 Novanus S.D. 5100 of the Fifth Empire. Time: 05.39

Solo allowed a half-grin to cross his face. He looked into the eyes of the pilot and asked, "Do you like what you see?" Solo still didn't know if this was a good guy or bad. He was looking for any reaction from the pilot to his question that might indicate something. However, every fiber of his being was ready to defend itself. He figured if this guy was going to shoot, Solo was not going to be in the same spot as where the beam might be headed. He only hoped that training in Kudo-Shami was enough for the task.

Date: 7 Novanus S.D. 5100 of the Fifth Empire. Time: 03.47

"Up late?" Leon asked Joe. "Couldn't you sleep?"
Joe shook his head to affirm the obvious. Curiously, he looked over at Leon. It just occured to him that he never saw Leon sleep much - if ever even. He seemed one of those rare individuals who seemed to get by without much rest. Perhaps he was a result of some branch of Eugenics - perhaps.
Leon had just come from outside. Despite the cold wet weather, he had been staring at the sky for hours.
"What did you see?" Joe asked him.
Leon thought for a moment. He turned to see if anyone else was awake. No one seemed to be.
"I'm not sure. There were some quick brief flashes."
"Lightning?"
Leon paused at Joe's logical summation, but then shook his head. "No, it was during a break in the storm. I think it was above the clouds. I thought I saw a brief glimpse of tracer fire."
"Combat," Solo butted in. "It's obvious. There's a fight going on somewhere," he pointed up towards the ceiling of the cramped tank - but it was obvious he meant the sky.
"I thought you were sleeping," Joe said.
"Naw - Can't sleep good. My arm aches, er" Solo looked at the stump that was all that was left of his right arm. "That is, well, you know."
"I'd have to agree with Solo," Raymont added. He too it seemed couldn't sleep. "It's obviously combat. Probably the locals have found the Margrave and his troops. If I remember stories of the Bishop's troops, subtlety wasn't one of their strong points."
"It wasn't," Joe agreed, remembering stories that his father and uncle had told him about the occupation. It had been a hard time and something about knowing that Galatian troops were now on his native soil made him feel guilty, as if he had betrayed his people somehow by not stopping it. He shrugged these feelings away.
"Anyway," Raymont continued. "No doubt the Viscount's troops are making the Margrave and company feel right welcome. Can't say I'm sorry."
Solo shook his head. "Just think of all that beautiful hardware going to waste - when we could have sold it and made so much beautiful money. It's enough to make a grown man cry."
"Who cut the cheese?" Thorn groaned.
Everyone started fanning the air, trying vainly to get the smell away from them - ridiculous though it was in such cramped quarters. Everyone then looked at Solo.
He grinned back. "Beans."
"Sorry to wake you," he said to Thorn.
"And so you should be," Thorn curtly replied. "And it was such a wonderful dream too. And he certainly didn't have your face," she accused Solo.
"Who?" Solo asked.
"Oh, just some guy I met while I was sleeping."
Everyone grew silent.
Tessa got up and looked around. No one, it seemed, was sleeping that night. "Is that all you all think about?"
Solo answered for all of them. "Well, yea - after money of course. Hey, it's been a while," he said, smiling at Thorn and Tessa.
"And it's going to be a while longer," came back Tessa's smart reply. She wasn't smiling back.
Joe interrupted. "Anyone think of checking the radio?"
"Good Idea, Joe," Leon said. "Bug, why don't you check and see if there's any unusual traffic."
Bog stared forward, glassy eyed, as if hearing nothing.
"Bug?" Leon nodded to Tessa who jostled the diminutive alien slightly.
A sharp series of clicking noises erupted from Bug, who then pivoted its head, looking at them all. "What? What's going on?"
"Don't tell me you were sleeping?" Thorn said.
"Near enough," Bug told her. "Actually, I don't sleep. I just go into a dormant phase. Rather rude of you to bring me out of it, I might add."
"Bug," Leon asked, "Could you check the radio for us? - See if there's any unusual traffic going on."
Bug crawled over Thorn to get to the tank's main console. Enroute, he clicked away, perhaps berating them all in his native language. Bug turned on the set and set it on speakers so they could all hear while he tuned into various settings. A loud voice came blaring out to them.
"NOT A DRILL. ALL CIVILIANS ARE ADVISED TO HEAD IMMEDIATELY FOR THEIR NEAREST SHELTER. THE SENESCHAL OF ROMENIA HAS DELCARED A STATE OF EMERGENCY. REPEAT, A STATE OF EMERGENCY HAS BEEN DECLARED IN THE PROVINCE OF ROMENIA. ALL MILITIA PERSONNEL REPORT TO THEIR CADRES. THIS IS NOT A DRILL. ALL CIVILIANS ARE ADVISED"
Bug switched channels. All he got was dead silence or a series of unintelligible whining, or beeps. Joe explained this to them all.
"In a disaster or military emergency, the government enforces a total blackout of communication channels. Only government and sometimes certain news organizations are allowed access."
Cold air and dim predawn light preceded the next announcement. Raymont had climbed up and opened the top hatch. "Hey, anyone check out the lightshow outside?"
Everyone climbed out onto the top of the tank. The storm had passed and only a few broken patches of black clouds obscured the starry sky. Tracer fire was obvious in the upper atmosphere, followed here and there by explosions. Solo chewed at his homemade "cigar" like the archaic horse champing at its bit.
"I wonder who's winning," Thorn said.

Joe looked guilty. He couldn't help thinking about his own family. Right now, he realized he should be with his father, uncles and cousins, serving in the militia.

The Doppler effect of a racing engined whined and then roared past them somewhere not so high above. Others followed and they could see distinct brief glimpses of afterburners along with more fire. Explosions rocked the sky, like fiery blossoms that spit red seeds plummeting to the ground below.
"The fight's getting lower," Leon said. "Perhaps we'd better"
There was another roar. A fighter craft of some sort raced over them. Another followed in pursuit. Pulsed blasts from an ion cannon tore the first fighter into glowing bits. But even as the victorious fighter started to climb back towards space, another fighter appeared, firing at it. Their was a quick sharp dual that resulted in the second fighter downing this opponent as well, even as the third craft shot off a missile.
"Are you sure you want to be up there?" Thorn asked Solo, shooting him a wry grin.
"Wonder who they're fighting?" Tessa asked.
Joe looked over at her. "Who do you think?" he asked, exchanging glances with Raymont.
The victorious fighter was weaving an erratic course. At first, they thought he might be damaged but then saw the dim glow of the missile fired from the third fighter. It was still active and homing in on the fighter.
It impacted and the fighter flew into glowing bits, several of which fell toward Phaon, trailing black plumes of smoke that could be made out even at night, by the way they obscured the stars. Nearby explosions were heard as the debris continued to fall nearby.
Solo was the one who pointed out that one piece of debris was falling slower than the rest. As the horizon started to glow with a new morning, they could all make it out, following Solo's one outstretched arm.
"What is it?" Tessa asked him.
Solo spit out what was left of his "stogy." "The pilot ejected. He might not be alive or he might be."
"I wonder which side he was on?" Leon pondered aloud.
"Who cares," Solo said. "He'll just turn on a homing beacon and when the fight above is over, one side or the other will come to collect him."
Leon paused at this. "You mean they'll sweep this area looking for him?"
"Yeah, maybe, if his beacon's not too accurate. Why?" Then Solo answered himself, looking down on the now seemingly huge tank they were standing on. "Funny, it looks so big now. I guess it's going to be kind of hard to hide."
Leon looked around them. He had parked the tank in a grove of trees that would masque it from a casual glance, but perhaps not if it were being searched - or scanned for.
"Can we move it?" Tessa asked.
"It's getting kind of light," Joe said, looking toward's dawn. "It might make us more visible."
All of them silently pondered whether or not to chance moving the tank to leave the area, or remain where they were, hoping that the cover they had chosen would be enough when someone came to retrieve the pilot.
Bug had checked if the pilot was indeed broadcasting a distress beacon. He or she was and from the the signal's strength, the pilot wasn't too far off.

Date: 7 Novanus S.D. 5100 of the Fifth Empire. Time: 05.11

Solo had voiced some willingness to investigate the distress beacon, ostensibly to turn it off as being the easier way to avoid any unnecessary attentions. Not trusting Solo to show anything even like discretion - whether toward the downed pilot or in keeping himself out of trouble, Joe and Leon both volunteered to go along.
The short hike through the brushy scrubland proved uneventful. Tree Rats chattered at them from the branches above and each of them grasped their belongings, remembering how the nasty thieving habit of the little animals had deprived them of equipment before - while at the same time cursing their noise making which spoiled for them any chance of surprise.
Burned grass and deep blackened pits where debris from the downed fighter appeared sporadically, letting them know they were getting close. At all times, Joe watched his multiscanner, using it to home in on the steadily pulsing beacon.
They found it in short order - an escape canopy, in actuality the pilot module for the fighter - self contained as in this case, capable of a short controlled descent to ground. It was open and they could see boot prints in the dirt. Obviously, whoever was in it had been capable of leaving, but had not stayed with the canopy. There were no markings on the canopy, though a registration number could be clearly seen painted on it's metallic side, which was readable though scratched. Still, it wasn't enough to give them any idea of which side the pilot had fought for.
Joe instantly had the bright idea of switching his multiscanner into displaying lifeforms. A broad spectrum of information swept across the instruments screen. Had he been better, he might have been able to tell it to screen out everything but humanoids. But he wasn't entirely untrained in its use and with gentle patience, using themselves as local fixes, he was able to adjust his machine.
"Any luck with that thing?" Solo asked, impatient to do something.
Joe just nodded. Joe was reading one humanoid not far off, where the direction of the tank lay. The others were probably inside. Refocusing the scanner so that it would sweep the area, Joe discovered the pilot just as he announced himself.
"Gents, I'd be very obliged to all of you if none of you would make any sudden movements - especially with those fancy rifles you're carrying. I would hate to have to shoot someone I didn't have a cause to - at least not without bein introduced all civil and like."

Date: 7 Novanus S.D. 5100 of the Fifth Empire. Time: 05.37

Joe turned around slowly, noticing that Solo and Leon did likewise. The pilot was short, being only about 160 centimeters tall. He seemed to be an inbetween age, neither young nor old, his thin blond hair receding, touched here and there by just noticible strands of grey. This would have made him seem older but this was balanced overall by the man's youthful features, which were just dusted by a growth of fine reddish fuzz. The pilot moved with obvious discomfort and Joe decided that he had probably been injured in his ejection from his fighter craft.
The pilot wore a number of different insignia upon his jumpsuit. Joe recognized only two - the green "J" of the Jade-London military and that of Viscount Darby's personal crest - a sleeping peacock.
Solo asked, "Do I look like I could even shoot with this thing?" indicating his missing arm.
The pilot didn't respond initially to Solo's response. He seemed to be watching them all as if puzzled by their appearance. And he didn't seem to be accepting them at face value - that being just normal Phaon citizens. Trying not to glance down at the rifle he was carrying, Joe realized that not many "average" citizens would be carrying around assault rifles.
Finally, the pilot asked them, "Alright - I'll bite. Just who the hell are you? And what are you doing all the way out here?"

Date: 7 Novanus S.D. 5100 of the Fifth Empire. Time: 05.38

Solo, not wanting to check out the business end of the weapon, turned his head to Joe with raised eyebrows. Afterall, he was the mouth of the party. Maybe it might save them this time.
Solo, seeing the frightened look in Joe's eyes ... which happened to be glued to the pistol in the pilot's hand ... decided he had better do something. He turned his head back to the downed pilot, smiled, SLOWLY took the stogy out of his mouth, spit the little leaf parts off his lip and told the pilot, "If you have a decent stogy, I will tell you anything you want know. And fix your arm. I have a first aid on my back."

The pilot looked at all of them quixotically. "Well I don't know what a stogy is, but I think that you should consider tellin me answers ta mah questions - anything that I want to know, if you know what I mean." The pilot raised his pistol. "And I think I'd feel more comfortable if you gents would drop those mighty nice - military lookin - rifles o'yours an that other equipment and jes take a step back."
Joe, Leon and Solo exchanged glances. Leon sighed and dropped his rifle. Joe followed suit, dropping both his rifle and multiscanner onto the ground. Solo, realizing that he had little choice had dropped his pistol also and was about to take a step back when the pilot called out to him.
"Hold on there, sir. The pilot waved his pistol and Joe and Leon both stepped a little father back until the pilot was satisfied. Coming up to Solo, the pilot looked him over. There was a nasty predatory look about the man, Joe thought. It was the look of a man who had killed before and who wasn't squeamish about perhaps having to do it again. Joe didn't doubt it one bit.
The pilot, wincing slightly, raised his fist and tapped on Solo's bulky chest. There was a soft dull sound as the pilot's fist tapped the exoskeleton under Solo's tunic.
"You mind takin that robe of yours off for a bit?"
Solo was about to object, but the pilot pointed the pistol at Solo's face. "Now, I didn't say for you to talk - just yet. I'll want that, but not now. You just take that robe off and you'll get to live the next few seconds - otherwise.
Grunting, Solo removed the robe, revealing the armour underneath. The pilot whistled appreciatively, his gaze being captured mostly by the embossed gauntleted fist on the left shoulder plates and arm of the suit - the emblem of the Black Bishop.


Hi, back in business again? I like it :-)

Unfortunately, I will be going home for summer now, I will probably be gone
for a little more than a month. Perhaps I will be on the net now and then,
I don't know.

Did you by any chance send anything with guidelines on how to send in turns
etc.? I didn't receive any, and from your previous messages, I got the feeling
that Changes were coming. Of course, my mail server has been kind of sick
lately, so that may be way.
In particular, how will player-player communication work in the future?


Anyway, here is my move;


Joe is going to suggest that they move over to the downed fighter pilot and
attempt to switch off his tracer, figure out who he is, the scale of the
conflict, etc. Joe will not approach the pilot until the beacon is switched
off, to back up his story (below).

Failing that, he will propose they move out of here on foot. Should be a lot
more inconspicuous than that bloody big tank, and a lot less nerve-wracking
than just sitting around waiting for a sensor to pick us up.

Should they somehow get captured by the goodguys, Joe will give them a story
pretty much like this;

I came in contact with a bunch of guys (the other PCs) who seemed to have
information about a large vessel of some sort out on the wilderness. This
arose my curiosity, and I decided to attempt to mount an expedition to figure
out what it was. After all, it might present a threat. Luckily, it already
seemed like the other guys were going that way, and I maneuvered to be
allowed to come along.
I chose not to notify authorities at this point because it might as well be
nothing, and I would seem like a fool. On the other hand, it might be
_something_, and if it were, being a loyal militia member, I would alert the
proper authorities.
It did turn out to be a large Galatian ship with umpteen marines and tons
of military hardware onboard. We didn't figure out what their plans were,
but we managed to get the hell out (barely) and send off a distress message.
We didn't identify ourselves in this message for fear of the Galatians
finding us and terminating us - we were still quite close to the ship.
(If asked, Joe will give details about the inside of the ship, etc., at least
to the point were he starts giving away his bluff.)
Not being fit for war, we decided to flee the area and connect with defense
forces at another place, another time.

If asked about the pilot that fell down and why the distress beacon was
turned off, he will explain that they feared the pilot might be Galatian. The
other PCs don't know diddly squat about military insigna, he will explain, and
they chose to take no chances.


As you will notice, this is only partly a lie. Joe _is_ rather loyal, and
though his initial intention was more of a treasure-hunt than a scout mission,
the story does match his sentiments.


I'm sorry, I don't have time for more than this, my ride home leaves in half
an hour :-)

Date: 7 Novanus S.D. 5100 of the Fifth Empire. Time: 03.47

"Up late?" Leon asked Joe. "Couldn't you sleep?"
Joe shook his head to affirm the obvious. Curiously, he looked over at Leon. It just occured to him that he never saw Leon sleep much - if ever even. He seemed one of those rare individuals who seemed to get by without much rest. Perhaps he was a result of some branch of Eugenics - perhaps.
Leon had just come from outside. Despite the cold wet weather, he had been staring at the sky for hours.
"What did you see?" Joe asked him.
Leon thought for a moment. He turned to see if anyone else was awake. No one seemed to be.
"I'm not sure. There were some quick brief flashes."
"Lightning?"
Leon paused at Joe's logical summation, but then shook his head. "No, it was during a break in the storm. I think it was above the clouds. I thought I saw a brief glimpse of tracer fire."
"Combat," Solo butted in. "It's obvious. There's a fight going on somewhere," he pointed up towards the ceiling of the cramped tank - but it was obvious he meant the sky.
"I thought you were sleeping," Joe said.
"Naw - Can't sleep good. My arm aches, er" Solo looked at the stump that was all that was left of his right arm. "That is, well, you know."
"I'd have to agree with Solo," Raymont added. He too it seemed couldn't sleep. "It's obviously combat. Probably the locals have found the Margrave and his troops. If I remember stories of the Bishop's troops, subtlety wasn't one of their strong points."
"It wasn't," Joe agreed, remembering stories that his father and uncle had told him about the occupation. It had been a hard time and something about knowing that Galatian troops were now on his native soil made him feel guilty, as if he had betrayed his people somehow by not stopping it. He shrugged these feelings away.
"Anyway," Raymont continued. "No doubt the Viscount's troops are making the Margrave and company feel right welcome. Can't say I'm sorry."
Solo shook his head. "Just think of all that beautiful hardware going to waste - when we could have sold it and made so much beautiful money. It's enough to make a grown man cry."
"Who cut the cheese?" Thorn groaned.
Everyone started fanning the air, trying vainly to get the smell away from them - ridiculous though it was in such cramped quarters. Everyone then looked at Solo.
He grinned back. "Beans."
"Sorry to wake you," he said to Thorn.
"And so you should be," Thorn curtly replied. "And it was such a wonderful dream too. And he certainly didn't have your face," she accused Solo.
"Who?" Solo asked.
"Oh, just some guy I met while I was sleeping."
Everyone grew silent.
Tessa got up and looked around. No one, it seemed, was sleeping that night. "Is that all you all think about?"
Solo answered for all of them. "Well, yea - after money of course. Hey, it's been a while," he said, smiling at Thorn and Tessa.
"And it's going to be a while longer," came back Tessa's smart reply. She wasn't smiling back.
Joe interrupted. "Anyone think of checking the radio?"
"Good Idea, Joe," Leon said. "Bug, why don't you check and see if there's any unusual traffic."
Bog stared forward, glassy eyed, as if hearing nothing.
"Bug?" Leon nodded to Tessa who jostled the diminutive alien slightly.
A sharp series of clicking noises erupted from Bug, who then pivoted its head, looking at them all. "What? What's going on?"
"Don't tell me you were sleeping?" Thorn said.
"Near enough," Bug told her. "Actually, I don't sleep. I just go into a dormant phase. Rather rude of you to bring me out of it, I might add."
"Bug," Leon asked, "Could you check the radio for us? - See if there's any unusual traffic going on."
Bug crawled over Thorn to get to the tank's main console. Enroute, he clicked away, perhaps berating them all in his native language. Bug turned on the set and set it on speakers so they could all hear while he tuned into various settings. A loud voice came blaring out to them.
"NOT A DRILL. ALL CIVILIANS ARE ADVISED TO HEAD IMMEDIATELY FOR THEIR NEAREST SHELTER. THE SENESCHAL OF ROMENIA HAS DELCARED A STATE OF EMERGENCY. REPEAT, A STATE OF EMERGENCY HAS BEEN DECLARED IN THE PROVINCE OF ROMENIA. ALL MILITIA PERSONNEL REPORT TO THEIR CADRES. THIS IS NOT A DRILL. ALL CIVILIANS ARE ADVISED"
Bug switched channels. All he got was dead silence or a series of unintelligible whining, or beeps. Joe explained this to them all.
"In a disaster or military emergency, the government enforces a total blackout of communication channels. Only government and sometimes certain news organizations are allowed access."
Cold air and dim predawn light preceded the next announcement. Raymont had climbed up and opened the top hatch. "Hey, anyone check out the lightshow outside?"
Everyone climbed out onto the top of the tank. The storm had passed and only a few broken patches of black clouds obscured the starry sky. Tracer fire was obvious in the upper atmosphere, followed here and there by explosions. Solo chewed at his homemade "cigar" like the archaic horse champing at its bit.
"I wonder who's winning," Thorn said.

Joe looked guilty. He couldn't help thinking about his own family. Right now, he realized he should be with his father, uncles and cousins, serving in the militia.

The Doppler effect of a racing engined whined and then roared past them somewhere not so high above. Others followed and they could see distinct brief glimpses of afterburners along with more fire. Explosions rocked the sky, like fiery blossoms that spit red seeds plummeting to the ground below.
"The fight's getting lower," Leon said. "Perhaps we'd better"
There was another roar. A fighter craft of some sort raced over them. Another followed in pursuit. Pulsed blasts from an ion cannon tore the first fighter into glowing bits. But even as the victorious fighter started to climb back towards space, another fighter appeared, firing at it. Their was a quick sharp dual that resulted in the second fighter downing this opponent as well, even as the third craft shot off a missile.
"Are you sure you want to be up there?" Thorn asked Solo, shooting him a wry grin.
"Wonder who they're fighting?" Tessa asked.
Joe looked over at her. "Who do you think?" he asked, exchanging glances with Raymont.
The victorious fighter was weaving an erratic course. At first, they thought he might be damaged but then saw the dim glow of the missile fired from the third fighter. It was still active and homing in on the fighter.
It impacted and the fighter flew into glowing bits, several of which fell toward Phaon, trailing black plumes of smoke that could be made out even at night, by the way they obscured the stars. Nearby explosions were heard as the debris continued to fall nearby.
Solo was the one who pointed out that one piece of debris was falling slower than the rest. As the horizon started to glow with a new morning, they could all make it out, following Solo's one outstretched arm.
"What is it?" Tessa asked him.
Solo spit out what was left of his "stogy." "The pilot ejected. He might not be alive or he might be."
"I wonder which side he was on?" Leon pondered aloud.
"Who cares," Solo said. "He'll just turn on a homing beacon and when the fight above is over, one side or the other will come to collect him."
Leon paused at this. "You mean they'll sweep this area looking for him?"
"Yeah, maybe, if his beacon's not too accurate. Why?" Then Solo answered himself, looking down on the now seemingly huge tank they were standing on. "Funny, it looks so big now. I guess it's going to be kind of hard to hide."
Leon looked around them. He had parked the tank in a grove of trees that would masque it from a casual glance, but perhaps not if it were being searched - or scanned for.
"Can we move it?" Tessa asked.
"It's getting kind of light," Joe said, looking toward's dawn. "It might make us more visible."
All of them silently pondered whether or not to chance moving the tank to leave the area, or remain where they were, hoping that the cover they had chosen would be enough when someone came to retrieve the pilot.
Bug had checked if the pilot was indeed broadcasting a distress beacon. He or she was and from the the signal's strength, the pilot wasn't too far off.

Date: 7 Novanus S.D. 5100 of the Fifth Empire. Time: 05.34

Solo had announced his intention to go and find the source of the beacon, saying that turning it off would be the best way to keep from being discovered. Joe and then Leon volunteered to accompany the one-armed Solo, which was a good thing as no one had yet established whether the pilot was friendly or not. Of course, perhaps that distinction was a mute one anyway. Neither Leon, Joe or Solo had said what they would do if the pilot didn't prove amenable to having her or his beacon turned off. However, the fact that they all carried rifles said that their intentions were serious.
Some time later, the distant chattering of a colony of Tree Rats startled those who waited.
"There goes someone," Raymont casually noticed.
"Probably Solo stumbling around. So much for surprise," Thorn added dryly.
Tessa said nothing, continuing to chew a dry cake that had been brought from town.

Date: 7 Novanus S.D. 5100 of the Fifth Empire. Time: 05.37

Raymont stood up and poked his head out of hiding for a moment with his weapon firmly gripped in his hands. He scanned the surrounding area for motion, then popped back in to report to the others.
"Anything?" Tessa asked him.
Raymont shook his head. Nothing but quiet. It was hard waiting, he decided.
"Keep alert, just in case...," Thorn said while grabbing her rifle.
Raymont ignored her. She always had the annoying habit of stating the obvious.

[Given that some time will pass...]

After a nerve dulling tense wait, Raymont flipped on the passive sensors
of the tank, slowly increasing from their minimum sensitivity.
"I hope we haven't lost our pilot, that would most definately cause
problems."

[If possible, I'll tune the scanners for what I can remember of Leon's
sensor signature (or from the memory in my scanner if there is such a
thing.]

Date: 7 Novanus S.D. 5100 of the Fifth Empire. Time: 03.47

"Up late?" Leon asked Joe. "Couldn't you sleep?"
Joe shook his head to affirm the obvious. Curiously, he looked over at Leon. It just occured to him that he never saw Leon sleep much - if ever even. He seemed one of those rare individuals who seemed to get by without much rest. Perhaps he was a result of some branch of Eugenics - perhaps.
Leon had just come from outside. Despite the cold wet weather, he had been staring at the sky for hours.
"What did you see?" Joe asked him.
Leon thought for a moment. He turned to see if anyone else was awake. No one seemed to be.
"I'm not sure. There were some quick brief flashes."
"Lightning?"
Leon paused at Joe's logical summation, but then shook his head. "No, it was during a break in the storm. I think it was above the clouds. I thought I saw a brief glimpse of tracer fire."
"Combat," Solo butted in. "It's obvious. There's a fight going on somewhere," he pointed up towards the ceiling of the cramped tank - but it was obvious he meant the sky.
"I thought you were sleeping," Joe said.
"Naw - Can't sleep good. My arm aches, er" Solo looked at the stump that was all that was left of his right arm. "That is, well, you know."
"I'd have to agree with Solo," Raymont added. He too it seemed couldn't sleep. "It's obviously combat. Probably the locals have found the Margrave and his troops. If I remember stories of the Bishop's troops, subtlety wasn't one of their strong points."
"It wasn't," Joe agreed, remembering stories that his father and uncle had told him about the occupation. It had been a hard time and something about knowing that Galatian troops were now on his native soil made him feel guilty, as if he had betrayed his people somehow by not stopping it. He shrugged these feelings away.
"Anyway," Raymont continued. "No doubt the Viscount's troops are making the Margrave and company feel right welcome. Can't say I'm sorry."
Solo shook his head. "Just think of all that beautiful hardware going to waste - when we could have sold it and made so much beautiful money. It's enough to make a grown man cry."
"Who cut the cheese?" Thorn groaned.
Everyone started fanning the air, trying vainly to get the smell away from them - ridiculous though it was in such cramped quarters. Everyone then looked at Solo.
He grinned back. "Beans."
"Sorry to wake you," he said to Thorn.
"And so you should be," Thorn curtly replied. "And it was such a wonderful dream too. And he certainly didn't have your face," she accused Solo.
"Who?" Solo asked.
"Oh, just some guy I met while I was sleeping."
Everyone grew silent.
Tessa got up and looked around. No one, it seemed, was sleeping that night. "Is that all you all think about?"
Solo answered for all of them. "Well, yea - after money of course. Hey, it's been a while," he said, smiling at Thorn and Tessa.
"And it's going to be a while longer," came back Tessa's smart reply. She wasn't smiling back.
Joe interrupted. "Anyone think of checking the radio?"
"Good Idea, Joe," Leon said. "Bug, why don't you check and see if there's any unusual traffic."
Bog stared forward, glassy eyed, as if hearing nothing.
"Bug?" Leon nodded to Tessa who jostled the diminutive alien slightly.
A sharp series of clicking noises erupted from Bug, who then pivoted its head, looking at them all. "What? What's going on?"
"Don't tell me you were sleeping?" Thorn said.
"Near enough," Bug told her. "Actually, I don't sleep. I just go into a dormant phase. Rather rude of you to bring me out of it, I might add."
"Bug," Leon asked, "Could you check the radio for us? - See if there's any unusual traffic going on."
Bug crawled over Thorn to get to the tank's main console. Enroute, he clicked away, perhaps berating them all in his native language. Bug turned on the set and set it on speakers so they could all hear while he tuned into various settings. A loud voice came blaring out to them.
"NOT A DRILL. ALL CIVILIANS ARE ADVISED TO HEAD IMMEDIATELY FOR THEIR NEAREST SHELTER. THE SENESCHAL OF ROMENIA HAS DELCARED A STATE OF EMERGENCY. REPEAT, A STATE OF EMERGENCY HAS BEEN DECLARED IN THE PROVINCE OF ROMENIA. ALL MILITIA PERSONNEL REPORT TO THEIR CADRES. THIS IS NOT A DRILL. ALL CIVILIANS ARE ADVISED"
Bug switched channels. All he got was dead silence or a series of unintelligible whining, or beeps. Joe explained this to them all.
"In a disaster or military emergency, the government enforces a total blackout of communication channels. Only government and sometimes certain news organizations are allowed access."
Cold air and dim predawn light preceded the next announcement. Raymont had climbed up and opened the top hatch. "Hey, anyone check out the lightshow outside?"
Everyone climbed out onto the top of the tank. The storm had passed and only a few broken patches of black clouds obscured the starry sky. Tracer fire was obvious in the upper atmosphere, followed here and there by explosions. Solo chewed at his homemade "cigar" like the archaic horse champing at its bit.
"I wonder who's winning," Thorn said.

Joe looked guilty. He couldn't help thinking about his own family. Right now, he realized he should be with his father, uncles and cousins, serving in the militia.

The Doppler effect of a racing engined whined and then roared past them somewhere not so high above. Others followed and they could see distinct brief glimpses of afterburners along with more fire. Explosions rocked the sky, like fiery blossoms that spit red seeds plummeting to the ground below.
"The fight's getting lower," Leon said. "Perhaps we'd better"
There was another roar. A fighter craft of some sort raced over them. Another followed in pursuit. Pulsed blasts from an ion cannon tore the first fighter into glowing bits. But even as the victorious fighter started to climb back towards space, another fighter appeared, firing at it. Their was a quick sharp dual that resulted in the second fighter downing this opponent as well, even as the third craft shot off a missile.
"Are you sure you want to be up there?" Thorn asked Solo, shooting him a wry grin.
"Wonder who they're fighting?" Tessa asked.
Joe looked over at her. "Who do you think?" he asked, exchanging glances with Raymont.
The victorious fighter was weaving an erratic course. At first, they thought he might be damaged but then saw the dim glow of the missile fired from the third fighter. It was still active and homing in on the fighter.
It impacted and the fighter flew into glowing bits, several of which fell toward Phaon, trailing black plumes of smoke that could be made out even at night, by the way they obscured the stars. Nearby explosions were heard as the debris continued to fall nearby.
Solo was the one who pointed out that one piece of debris was falling slower than the rest. As the horizon started to glow with a new morning, they could all make it out, following Solo's one outstretched arm.
"What is it?" Tessa asked him.
Solo spit out what was left of his "stogy." "The pilot ejected. He might not be alive or he might be."
"I wonder which side he was on?" Leon pondered aloud.
"Who cares," Solo said. "He'll just turn on a homing beacon and when the fight above is over, one side or the other will come to collect him."
Leon paused at this. "You mean they'll sweep this area looking for him?"
"Yeah, maybe, if his beacon's not too accurate. Why?" Then Solo answered himself, looking down on the now seemingly huge tank they were standing on. "Funny, it looks so big now. I guess it's going to be kind of hard to hide."
Leon looked around them. He had parked the tank in a grove of trees that would masque it from a casual glance, but perhaps not if it were being searched - or scanned for.
"Can we move it?" Tessa asked.
"It's getting kind of light," Joe said, looking toward's dawn. "It might make us more visible."
All of them silently pondered whether or not to chance moving the tank to leave the area, or remain where they were, hoping that the cover they had chosen would be enough when someone came to retrieve the pilot.
Bug had checked if the pilot was indeed broadcasting a distress beacon. He or she was and from the the signal's strength, the pilot wasn't too far off.

Date: 7 Novanus S.D. 5100 of the Fifth Empire. Time: 05.34

Solo had announced his intention to go and find the source of the beacon, saying that turning it off would be the best way to keep from being discovered. Joe and then Leon volunteered to accompany the one-armed Solo, which was a good thing as no one had yet established whether the pilot was friendly or not. Of course, perhaps that distinction was a mute one anyway. Neither Leon, Joe or Solo had said what they would do if the pilot didn't prove amenable to having her or his beacon turned off. However, the fact that they all carried rifles said that their intentions were serious.
Some time later, the distant chattering of a colony of Tree Rats startled those who waited.
"There goes someone," Raymont casually noticed.
"Probably Solo stumbling around. So much for surprise," Thorn added dryly.
Tessa said nothing, continuing to chew a dry cake that had been brought from town.

Date: 7 Novanus S.D. 5100 of the Fifth Empire. Time: 05.37

Raymont stood up and went outside. When he came back, Tessa asked him, "Anything?"
Raymont shook his head.
"Keep alert, just in case...," Thorn reminded them.
Tessa fiddled with a lock of her hair. She was worried that Jessine might try to come "out" now. Tessa hated that - sharing her body with another "person", someone she didn't know but whose every action affected Tessa intimately. Tessa half speculated the cost of psycho-surgery to have Jessine "removed" and half wondered if Jessine hadn't thought the very same thing.

Date: 7 Novanus S.D. 5100 of the Fifth Empire. Time: 03.47

"Up late?" Leon asked Joe. "Couldn't you sleep?"
Joe shook his head to affirm the obvious. Curiously, he looked over at Leon. It just occured to him that he never saw Leon sleep much - if ever even. He seemed one of those rare individuals who seemed to get by without much rest. Perhaps he was a result of some branch of Eugenics - perhaps.
Leon had just come from outside. Despite the cold wet weather, he had been staring at the sky for hours.
"What did you see?" Joe asked him.
Leon thought for a moment. He turned to see if anyone else was awake. No one seemed to be.
"I'm not sure. There were some quick brief flashes."
"Lightning?"
Leon paused at Joe's logical summation, but then shook his head. "No, it was during a break in the storm. I think it was above the clouds. I thought I saw a brief glimpse of tracer fire."
"Combat," Solo butted in. "It's obvious. There's a fight going on somewhere," he pointed up towards the ceiling of the cramped tank - but it was obvious he meant the sky.
"I thought you were sleeping," Joe said.
"Naw - Can't sleep good. My arm aches, er" Solo looked at the stump that was all that was left of his right arm. "That is, well, you know."
"I'd have to agree with Solo," Raymont added. He too it seemed couldn't sleep. "It's obviously combat. Probably the locals have found the Margrave and his troops. If I remember stories of the Bishop's troops, subtlety wasn't one of their strong points."
"It wasn't," Joe agreed, remembering stories that his father and uncle had told him about the occupation. It had been a hard time and something about knowing that Galatian troops were now on his native soil made him feel guilty, as if he had betrayed his people somehow by not stopping it. He shrugged these feelings away.
"Anyway," Raymont continued. "No doubt the Viscount's troops are making the Margrave and company feel right welcome. Can't say I'm sorry."
Solo shook his head. "Just think of all that beautiful hardware going to waste - when we could have sold it and made so much beautiful money. It's enough to make a grown man cry."
"Who cut the cheese?" Thorn groaned.
Everyone started fanning the air, trying vainly to get the smell away from them - ridiculous though it was in such cramped quarters. Everyone then looked at Solo.
He grinned back. "Beans."
"Sorry to wake you," he said to Thorn.
"And so you should be," Thorn curtly replied. "And it was such a wonderful dream too. And he certainly didn't have your face," she accused Solo.
"Who?" Solo asked.
"Oh, just some guy I met while I was sleeping."
Everyone grew silent.
Tessa got up and looked around. No one, it seemed, was sleeping that night. "Is that all you all think about?"
Solo answered for all of them. "Well, yea - after money of course. Hey, it's been a while," he said, smiling at Thorn and Tessa.
"And it's going to be a while longer," came back Tessa's smart reply. She wasn't smiling back.
Joe interrupted. "Anyone think of checking the radio?"
"Good Idea, Joe," Leon said. "Bug, why don't you check and see if there's any unusual traffic."
Bog stared forward, glassy eyed, as if hearing nothing.
"Bug?" Leon nodded to Tessa who jostled the diminutive alien slightly.
A sharp series of clicking noises erupted from Bug, who then pivoted its head, looking at them all. "What? What's going on?"
"Don't tell me you were sleeping?" Thorn said.
"Near enough," Bug told her. "Actually, I don't sleep. I just go into a dormant phase. Rather rude of you to bring me out of it, I might add."
"Bug," Leon asked, "Could you check the radio for us? - See if there's any unusual traffic going on."
Bug crawled over Thorn to get to the tank's main console. Enroute, he clicked away, perhaps berating them all in his native language. Bug turned on the set and set it on speakers so they could all hear while he tuned into various settings. A loud voice came blaring out to them.
"NOT A DRILL. ALL CIVILIANS ARE ADVISED TO HEAD IMMEDIATELY FOR THEIR NEAREST SHELTER. THE SENESCHAL OF ROMENIA HAS DELCARED A STATE OF EMERGENCY. REPEAT, A STATE OF EMERGENCY HAS BEEN DECLARED IN THE PROVINCE OF ROMENIA. ALL MILITIA PERSONNEL REPORT TO THEIR CADRES. THIS IS NOT A DRILL. ALL CIVILIANS ARE ADVISED"
Bug switched channels. All he got was dead silence or a series of unintelligible whining, or beeps. Joe explained this to them all.
"In a disaster or military emergency, the government enforces a total blackout of communication channels. Only government and sometimes certain news organizations are allowed access."
Cold air and dim predawn light preceded the next announcement. Raymont had climbed up and opened the top hatch. "Hey, anyone check out the lightshow outside?"
Everyone climbed out onto the top of the tank. The storm had passed and only a few broken patches of black clouds obscured the starry sky. Tracer fire was obvious in the upper atmosphere, followed here and there by explosions. Solo chewed at his homemade "cigar" like the archaic horse champing at its bit.
"I wonder who's winning," Thorn said.

Joe looked guilty. He couldn't help thinking about his own family. Right now, he realized he should be with his father, uncles and cousins, serving in the militia.

The Doppler effect of a racing engined whined and then roared past them somewhere not so high above. Others followed and they could see distinct brief glimpses of afterburners along with more fire. Explosions rocked the sky, like fiery blossoms that spit red seeds plummeting to the ground below.
"The fight's getting lower," Leon said. "Perhaps we'd better"
There was another roar. A fighter craft of some sort raced over them. Another followed in pursuit. Pulsed blasts from an ion cannon tore the first fighter into glowing bits. But even as the victorious fighter started to climb back towards space, another fighter appeared, firing at it. Their was a quick sharp dual that resulted in the second fighter downing this opponent as well, even as the third craft shot off a missile.
"Are you sure you want to be up there?" Thorn asked Solo, shooting him a wry grin.
"Wonder who they're fighting?" Tessa asked.
Joe looked over at her. "Who do you think?" he asked, exchanging glances with Raymont.
The victorious fighter was weaving an erratic course. At first, they thought he might be damaged but then saw the dim glow of the missile fired from the third fighter. It was still active and homing in on the fighter.
It impacted and the fighter flew into glowing bits, several of which fell toward Phaon, trailing black plumes of smoke that could be made out even at night, by the way they obscured the stars. Nearby explosions were heard as the debris continued to fall nearby.
Solo was the one who pointed out that one piece of debris was falling slower than the rest. As the horizon started to glow with a new morning, they could all make it out, following Solo's one outstretched arm.
"What is it?" Tessa asked him.
Solo spit out what was left of his "stogy." "The pilot ejected. He might not be alive or he might be."
"I wonder which side he was on?" Leon pondered aloud.
"Who cares," Solo said. "He'll just turn on a homing beacon and when the fight above is over, one side or the other will come to collect him."
Leon paused at this. "You mean they'll sweep this area looking for him?"
"Yeah, maybe, if his beacon's not too accurate. Why?" Then Solo answered himself, looking down on the now seemingly huge tank they were standing on. "Funny, it looks so big now. I guess it's going to be kind of hard to hide."
Leon looked around them. He had parked the tank in a grove of trees that would masque it from a casual glance, but perhaps not if it were being searched - or scanned for.
"Can we move it?" Tessa asked.
"It's getting kind of light," Joe said, looking toward's dawn. "It might make us more visible."
All of them silently pondered whether or not to chance moving the tank to leave the area, or remain where they were, hoping that the cover they had chosen would be enough when someone came to retrieve the pilot.
Bug had checked if the pilot was indeed broadcasting a distress beacon. He or she was and from the the signal's strength, the pilot wasn't too far off.

Date: 7 Novanus S.D. 5100 of the Fifth Empire. Time: 05.34

Solo had announced his intention to go and find the source of the beacon, saying that turning it off would be the best way to keep from being discovered. Joe and then Leon volunteered to accompany the one-armed Solo, which was a good thing as no one had yet established whether the pilot was friendly or not. Of course, perhaps that distinction was a mute one anyway. Neither Leon, Joe or Solo had said what they would do if the pilot didn't prove amenable to having her or his beacon turned off. However, the fact that they all carried rifles said that their intentions were serious.
Some time later, the distant chattering of a colony of Tree Rats startled those who waited.
"There goes someone," Raymont casually noticed.
"Probably Solo stumbling around. So much for surprise," Thorn added dryly.
Tessa said nothing, continuing to chew a dry cake that had been brought from town.

Date: 7 Novanus S.D. 5100 of the Fifth Empire. Time: 05.37

Raymont left a few minutes to take another look. As he climbed back down.
"Anything?" Tessa asked him.
Raymont shook his head.
Thorn grabbed her rifle, just in case.
"Keep alert, just in case...," she said to the others.

>Raymont left a few minutes to take another look. As he climbed back down.
>"Anything?" Tessa asked him.
>Raymont shook his head.
>Thorn grabbed her rifle, just in case.
>"Keep alert, just in case...," she said to the others.
Moving around, Thorn seems a bit on the edge. Seeing no further cause for
alarm she settles down and waits.

[Still holding the blaster and having the power sword ready. I should
probably send you an updated character sheet (??) but I'm not able to access
my own computer at the moment...]

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