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11 days later, November 20th, 2264. 02:15 Alpha Rho System – Primary Asteroid Belt

The CNS Fargo transitioned into real space in the innermost asteroid belt of the Alpha Rho system. Her sub-light engines fired up almost immediately and sent her hurtling toward her target. A couple of pirate ships were detected and initially dispatched to intercept the Fargo.

The captains of those pirate ships soon broke off the interception and fled into the dark void of the system, presumably when their scanners correctly read back what ships they were intercepting. Confederate frigates were armed and itching for a fight and were more than a match for all but the rarest pirate ship.

Communications were intercepted by the bridge crew of the Fargo that indicated the pirates were heading out to get reinforcements. The clock was now ticking for John and the marines, though they didn’t know how long it’d be for the pirates to scrounge up enough ships to be a threat to the Fargo. Then John’s thoughts snapped back to the mission as his breaching craft engaged its thrusters. The base was now in visual range, three breaching craft were launched from the shuttle bay. They hung tight to the Fargo’s hull and under the EM shielding to protect them until the last moments.

The pirate base, which appeared to have a pair of Confederate and Alliance ships grafted onto and into one another was wedged into a large asteroid. It was very likely that more ships were welded together to increase the living space inside. The asteroid itself was likely dug into to increase living space as well.

The amalgamation of living space was growing larger in the viewscreen. John calculated the time until the boarding ships would leave the safety of their mothership. In under five minutes, they’d be breaching the hulls. Curiously there was a distinct lack of anti-ship weaponry strewn about the hull of the base.

“Five minutes and counting,” John said to his platoon, “Create a beachhead and guard it near the breaching shuttles. You’ll only advance far enough into the base to acquire intel. Once secure, move to build new airlocks, pirate scum they may be but I’m not going to leave a big ass hole in the hull for them to fix.”

In a private channel to John, the sergeants began voicing their concerns once again. Concerns that he had heard, and unilaterally overruled or ignored over the last couple of weeks. But the sergeants were determined and had hoped to convince John of the risks he was assuming. They were worried about his solo attack plan, and nothing John had said had made them calm down.

The simple truth of the matter is that the fight for John was already compromised because he had to fight to capture Lisa. Add in reinforcements and the fight quickly shifts entirely in Lisa’s favor. The sergeants, though accepting of the dangers, still thought they could be of some assistance to lessen the dangers to him.

“Lieutenant, I must once again recommend that marines go into the base,” Erica said, “We have no idea if the pirates will comply.”

“A plasma blast to the chest usually makes most more compliant,” John said sarcastically, “They don’t tend to hold the line when one of them falls down dead.”

“Sir, we’re aware of the risks of this mission,” Derek said, “We can handle this.”

“I’m not sure that applies to the whole platoon,” a hint of annoyance was heard in John’s voice, “Even after the session where I thoroughly obliterated every squad, they still weren’t convinced they couldn’t take care of a little girl. I was an exception to the rule it seems.”

“Technically my squads made out fine,” Darryl said, “But I’ll concede that.”

“Besides, I suspect the pirates aren’t going to do much fighting against us. If they engage us then we take out those that did so. But if they don’t engage us, we’re not going to go hostile against them.”

“These fucks self-preservation isn’t wired normally,” Erica said, “I don’t like being reactionary in hostile territory.”

John laughed in a moment of brevity, “Like ours is? The mission will continue as is. If I am to capture her, then I can only do this alone and without interference. Fighting her and protecting my platoon is a losing strategy for everyone involved. If I fail, then then you are to withdraw and have the Fargo bombard the base into oblivion. Either way, we win.”

“You lose in that scenario, sir,” Erica said.

“Yet the Confederacy does not. Follow my orders and we’ll be fine.”

The sergeants collectively knew they were not going to be successful in dissuading their head-strong lieutenant. The Marines were all watching the countdown clock and the external view. The base was growing larger and larger in their windows.

“Two minutes,” barked John.

Plasma bursts could be seen from the blast guns. Hull-mounted weapons mounts were targeted by the CNS Fargo. The blasts found their target and rent large divots in the old hull of the pirate base. The breachers were free from any close-in-combat weapon systems, though any missile launchers would’ve been spared the initial onslaught.

“Scans show a group of people in the ship structure and deeper within the asteroid itself,” Jerad spoke, “There are access corridors near where the breaching ships are targeted to enter the vessels.”

John nodded, “Marines, guard those access points but do not enter them.”

The countdown timer continued to tick down. The lights inside the breacher suddenly dimmed followed by the flashing of red warning lights. The pods were almost at their location. That presumption was felt by the sudden firing of retrorockets. The marines inside the pod lurched a bit in their harnesses.

Moments later the forces placed upon them receded. John overrode the restraint, stood up, and walked to the diminutive door. The Broadsword power armor would just fit through it, John chuckled to himself and made a note to suggest making larger breaching pods. He reached forward and firmly gripped the bulkhead. Clanging could be heard inside the capsule when it banged against the hull of the pirate base. Cutting lasers suddenly engaged and could be heard as the pod cut its way through the hull. Eventually, the cutting stopped, and more random mechanical noises were heard before the lights switched to green.

Once the temporary seal was in place, John opened the door and jumped into the room. The twin plasma blast gun on his wrist was fully charged and ready to annihilate an enemy. Except there was none to be found.

“Room one entry made, securing it now,” John said to open coms before switching it to his squad, “Erica, guard the engineers while they erect a more permanent airlock. When that work is done leaving one squad behind to guard them until the drop ships come to pick them up.”

John was about to go when Jerad spoke up through their platoon communication channel, “Sir, we’ve got eyes on a Mercantilist Stealth corvette. She’s not powered up.”

“Take it out,” John answered calmly as he turned and began jogging toward the exit on the far side of the room.

“Room secure, whole lot of nothing here,” Darryl said, “Engineers have started to erect the airlock.”

Derek then added, “Same here. All safe and sound here.”

“I’m heading into the station, need to find an active terminal to kickstart this plan,” John said as he opened the door on the far side of the room.

Jerad’s excitement couldn’t be hidden, “Stealth corvette has been hit with several rail rounds. We do not believe she is void worthy any longer.”

“Oorah,” John said as he jogged down the dark corridor.

He was surprised that his bulky power armor fit down the narrow corridors. Thankfully he found an active terminal. He turned slowly to face it and connected his suit with the terminal.

“Eve, download a schematic and if possible, turn the lights on,” John commanded his VI.

Eve, ever the efficient cohort of his, provided the maps and controls to the lighting in mere moments. John memorized the labyrinth-like layout of the base before looking into the communications. Once he found that he began trying to contact what amounted to the leadership on this base.

A scruffy-looking man appeared on the screen, “What the fuck are you fucks doing out here?”

“I hear you are harboring a Mercantilist agent named Lisa Benning.”

The man scoffed, “Not by choice. The boss agreed to some asinine terms with them. You know how it is with money.”

John grinned, “I do. Am I correct to presume you are his second in command?”

The man nodded.

“Who commands more loyalty, you or him?”

“He’s the boss, but he rules more by fear than loyalty.”

“Then perhaps we can make a deal of sorts.”

The man laughed, “You’ve got a gun pointed at my head. I’m not sure that’s going to be much of a deal.”

“Fair point, but I’ll offer anyways as I believe I can be a generous fellow,” John smiled inside his helmet, “My Marines and I are not here for you, your men, or your families. If you don’t engage us, then we won’t engage you. The damage to the hull is being repaired as we speak.”

“You want the bitch then?” the man nodded as he thought to himself, “I’ll make sure the guys loyal to me are otherwise occupied from rendering assistance.”

“Where is she?”

“Dunno and I’m not being obtuse with you. She docked yesterday and has been holed up with the boss and his goons since then. I really don’t want to know what they are scheming, can’t be good for us.”

“Especially since she burned the last group of pirates that she had working for her.”

“Exactly,” the man shook his head, “We were taken for fools, but the pay was too good to be true. Still is good enough for some it appears.”

“Where is the most likely place she’d be?” John asked.

“Probably an old engineering or the meeting room of the Alliance vessel. Maybe the docking bays?”

John sighed loudly, “Keep searching, contact me when you do if you do track her down.”

“And just how do I do that?”

“Open a channel, my VI will do the rest,” John said as he ended the call and began walking down the corridor, “Eve, do you have access to this base’s internal communication systems?”

Eve responded affirmatively.

“Excellent, patch me through,” John said before waiting to see confirmation of that appear in his HUD, “Lisa Benning, your ship is destroyed, time for me to get you as I did to that little bitch of a brother of yours.”

 

02:55 Pirate Base – Lower Level

Lukas and David looked and felt bored as hell securing the main room that they were in. The engineers had begun their work to install a permanent port where their breaching vessels burned through the hull of the pirate base. Erica was having minimal luck keeping her marines focused.

“Sarge, request permission to explore the next room for a terminal for us to access,” David was all but whining in his request.

“Fine, just I don’t want to hear anymore bitching,” Erica spat out, “You are not to go beyond that room. Vanessa, you’re in charge. Paul, you go with them too.”

Vanessa and Paul quickly saluted and fell in behind Lukas.

“Thank you, ma’am,” David smiled in his helmet.

Lukas, the only member of that squad in the larger Broadsword armor, led the way to the bulkhead at the far side of the room. Vanessa and David were following immediately behind him. Paul, the new guy assigned to their squad was covering the rear.

The door opened and the squad filed through single file. They would see the odd pirate run away from them in intersecting corridors, but none attacked or looked aggressive. If anything, the pirates looked positively terrified of their presence there. Whoever the pirates were, they wanted no part of the nonsense that was going on in the base.

“This feels weird,” Paul said.

“I thought pirates were…” Vanessa said, “More aggressive?”

“Would you want to fight against us?” David asked.

“Larger room ahead, looks like a terminal we can access,” Lukas said pointing to the room he was looking at despite no one being able to see what it was he was pointing at.

“Speed up big guy, we’re waiting on you,” Vanessa said.

“I feel like a fucking sardine,” Lukas said sarcastically as the door opened, “Old ass corridors weren’t meant for these new suits.”

Paul laughed, “Didn’t seem to faze the Lieutenant.”

“I’m not sure anything does,” Vanessa said.

“I bet his wife terrifies him,” David said jokingly.

They walked into a dark room but were taken aback but the sudden activation of the lists. Despite that brief shock, the squad was thankful for having much more space to move around in. Lukas radioed back to Erica about where they were and what they were doing. Vanessa, the squad’s technical specialist, walked over to the terminal and connected her suit to it. Petabytes of data were being transferred back to the ship through the connection.

Most of the data would end up being garbage from an intelligence standpoint but understanding the pirate movements and actions would be helpful. Of course, those movements really only mattered if this faction was crossing into Confederate territory. If they were trading or attacking the other nations, then it was unlikely that the Confederacy would raise a fist against them.

“Hey guys,” David said, “Let’s back up the boss man.”

Paul shook his head, “He was very, very clear on that matter.”

“I get what you’re saying, but I don’t need that ass-chewing. Even if I think he’s embellishing the issue,” Vanessa said, “Besides we all got our asses kicked multiple times by him. What kind of backup are we in that situation?”

“I agree. Let’s track her down,” Lukas said, “What was her name? Lisa Venting?”

“Benning, I think,” Paul said, “Not that I’m keen on helping, I’m sure we could take her ourselves. Don’t suppose that terminal has her location?”

“I’m only searching this to send it to the Lieutenant,” Vanessa shook her head at her squad.

“I’m not saying don’t do that, but we should back him up,” David said, “He’ll need our help if she’s as powerful as he says.”

“Agree. How can he fight someone as overpowering as he makes her be,” Lukas immediately added

“Did you guys seriously not listen to how he killed her brother, who was stronger than her?” Vanessa asked as she continued her scan, “Most recent record is a video of her moving a case of some sort on a skimmer four hours ago.”

“From her ship?” Paul asked.

“Yup,” Vanessa answered affirmatively before holding her hand up to the rest.

They were then interrupted by the base-wide taunt from their Lieutenant.

“Hah! That’s one way to get her attention!” Lukas exclaimed.

“Lieutenant Lief,” Vanessa said, “Transmitting video I’ve uncovered her of moving something on a skimmer onto the pirate base.”

John waited a moment to watch the video before responding, “Good work, that’s a Mercantilist reliquary. We have confirmation of her having a suit of power armor. Begin sifting through the security cameras to find out where she went. Hold your position.”

“Their systems are unreliable at best, but I’ll continue working on that,” Vanessa said as she looked back at her squad, “Are you assholes really not going to help?”

Lukas and David were already inching their way to another door. Paul looked at them and spread his arms out. He didn’t understand their desire to help.

“We’re gonna go find another terminal,” David said unconvincingly.

“Yes, that’s what we’re going to do,” Lukas said as he sped up his pace and walked through the open door.

“What the fuck guys?” Paul said.

Vanessa shook her head, “Follow them, try and keep them out of trouble.”

“You sure you are alright here?” Paul’s voice lacked any confidence in the choice of action.

“No, I’m not sure about any of this. But what if they go off and get killed?”

Paul shook his head, “I’ll go, but I’m not sure they are going to listen to me.”

“Remind them that you’re in charge,” Vanessa said, “I’ll be fine here. I’ll head back to the rest after I get a remote link setup.”

Paul slapped Vanessa’s shoulder before he ran off to track down his wayward squad mates. Thankfully the pair that had left the room wasn’t in any rush and were blind to the layout of the ship. Despite that, they ventured deeper into the belly of the beast, and closer to their mortal peril.

 

03:05 Pirate Base – Garden Atrium

John was getting impatient as Eve was working on overriding the security controls for the door in front blocking his way. The doors sprang open suddenly, both surprising and annoying John, but as he stepped in those emotions melted away and drifted into wonder. The pirates here had constructed a wonderful atrium full of trees, grass, and flowers, and had even several plots for vegetables.

“We don’t want no trouble!” shouted one of a pair of utterly terrified pirates crawling on the ground away from the hulking monstrosity that John was.

John turned and took a step forward toward them. He outstretched his hand, and a holographic image began rotating in his palm. With his other hand, he pointed at the image.

“Have you seen this woman?” John asked the pirates.

The one that spoke immediately shook his head. The young girl’s reaction seemed to suggest, at first glance at least, that she may have seen her. She pushed herself up to her knees and leaned forward to look at the image more closely.

“She was talking to the boss at the docks. Then she ordered a few of the younger guys around and they helped her move this big black box inside. They used that hallway down there.”

The other pirate continued to crawl away from John slowly, “There’s an engineering facility down that hallway and to the right.”

John nodded and turned away from them. The young girl looked at the power armor in a bit of stunned awe. The young man remained terrified of what could have been. He presumed, quite correctly, that whoever was inside that armor was lethal.

For his part, remained impressed with the green space. Though he sped through the atrium and quickly turned the corner to head to this engineering room. The path was displayed on his HUD. He was disappointed with the new views; the corridor of this old Confederate warship was drab and depressing.

“Eve, any cameras in the room we’re heading to?”

“Negative, but there are no life signs detected in the room at this time.”

“I don’t suppose we can scan for where she is located?”

Eve paused for a moment but then replied, “That is a negative. The internal scanners of this base are quite old and don’t have the same scan resolution that the modern ships have.”

“Anyone, to increase that resolution?” John asked inquisitively.

“Replace the existing ones with modern scanners.”

John shook his head, “Since when did you learn sarcasm?”

Eve didn’t respond. While the question was asked in jest, John was actually curious. He hadn’t added any humor subroutines into the VI. That was another one of those items added to future John’s to-do list.

John continued walking down the maze of corridors until he stepped into an old engineering room. The ship’s core was absent, along with the power couples and other conduits which resulted in a fairly large and open space. This space was taken up by several workbenches with a wide assortment of items in various stages of deconstruction or construction.

In the middle of the room stood a device not that dissimilar to the reliquaries the Confederacy used to store and equip power armor. Unlike their devices, this one appeared to just store the armor, it didn’t actually equip it onto a user.

John walked over to it and pushed the right door farther open. The Tetris-like storage system of the Mercantilist reliquary was plain to see. What he didn’t see was any power plant or armor plates. It didn’t take a genius to understand those implications.

“Eve, can you estimate what her power armor would look like based on what you can see here,” John was pointing at several plates that were bent in peculiar directions and shapes.

“One moment, please open the other door for a full scan,” Eve responded.

John did as he was requested. Moments later an image appeared in his HUD. On the plus side, the armor appeared to be very dainty compared to the normal Confederate power armor. Lisa would be dwarfed compared to John’s much larger and more heavily armed and armored suit.

“Well, she’s gonna run circles around me,” John grinned, “Maybe, at least I’ll be able to test my upgrades…”

John turned and began heading out of the room, but just as he got to the bulkhead John registered a slight electronic buzz in this platoon-wide communication channel. As he looked in his HUD it was clear that it was being jammed. Swear words were being cursed at no one in particular as he hooked himself into the terminal next to the door.

He saw Vanessa was still connected to the pirate’s systems along with additional individuals from the platoon. John immediately opened up a hardwired voice channel. Vanessa was the first to respond.

“Sir, I think our coms just went out.”

John nodded, “Use this channel and communicate with the others. Once done fall back to the beachhead. Things are going to get dicey from here on out.”

“Yeah, um, about that, sir. There’s no easy way to put this, but Lukas and Dave were really insistent on backing you up. I ordered Paul to go with them and keep them out of trouble.”

The awkward silence was all that could be heard for at least a minute before John responded.

“You have got to be fucking kidding me.”

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