. . . . .
Moab Daily News Extra! Unidentified attack on RACT Enhance foiled near Blanding! Survivors of a Rogue space cruiser have landed on the planet. Rex-Avis and her party are reported safe. Security forces are working to apprehend the attackers, but they are still at large and presumed extremely dangerous. No descriptions are forthcoming, but residents are encouraged to report suspicious activity to their local constabularies.
Sir Stanley glanced from the vid to Colorado. "Best I could do on short notice. We're going to have to feed altered versions of this out through several different channels to throw off the Imperials."
"It's a bit rough," Colorado replied, "but I think it will serve. We just have to catch them before this turns into an intersector incident. I'm not quite sure yet how we go about convincing them of a more harmless story to carry back with them, but I very much hope we can find a . . . more subtle solution to this. Brute force isn't terribly diplomatic and I suspect the tall fellow would be missed by someone somewhere in that rabbit warren of a priesthood in Terran space."
Agent Sophie looked over at the situation map. "First thing's first, though. We have to catch them."
"Agreed," Colorado replied with only the faintest tone of weariness.
. . . . .
Blanding is a quiet and rather remote planet, even by the standards of the Tartarus Rim. Like a great many sparsely populated colonies, the terraforming is fairly minimal, and the world is more than a touch arid. But the climate is mild enough and the axis sufficiently eccentric that it has a broad "temperate" belt with four distinct seasons. Just then, in the middle of the southwest quadrant where they landed, it was winter, and the valleys had a nice, crisp coating of snow.
The situation unfolded with the Inquisitor and his allies escaping the rapidly venting wreck of the Imperial APA Furribundus in one of her shuttles. They crash landed the thing in a shallow valley and made their way out of the steaming dropship to see the streak of two other drops in the middle distance. Just before they left Guimar beamed off a distress call to a 32nd Marines fast scout he identified at the edge of the system. One of the drops was doubtless theirs; Marine scouts regularly traveled with a squad to a platoon aboard. The other was surely his pursuers. The boys in blue would doubtless prove invaluable, if he could link up with them first. Imperial records indicated a modest Marine base on Moab, currently playing host to the 103rd Crimson Dragons. That could prove doubly useful if he could get off Blanding in something jump capable. Sieghimmel's plan had been sound enough, but for the inconvenience of a civilian shuttle chucking a few torpedoes into it. Of course, that level of preparation suggested a whole other problem. A problem for a new day.
Arthur Rex-Avis watched the glittering lifeboat float away from the destruction he had wrought. He looked up at his mother and gestured towards a map screen. "I've noted their course. They could possibly maneuver a bit, but a shuttle that size won't have enough fuel aboard to break Blanding's gravity once she's down, so she'll be staying. I'll follow and put you down as close as I can."
"Thank you Arthur!" chirped his mother, looking quite proud. She'd contributed to the plan, but the bulk of it had been his idea. False flag operations hadn't been at all common since the Terrans had extended the reach of their authority back to virtually every corner of human space some millennia back, but times were changing. The emperor had grown ancient and frail, and his advisors were unbelievably corrupt in the decadence of the Imperial core. They had seized most of the mechanisms of official government; the real world analogues of the ancient lictors symbolic imperium. But lately they seemed mostly interested in extracting taxes and spending the Imperial military in penny packets on countless tiny border enforcements, so maybe she was witnessing the liminal state at the margins of a great change; the fin de siecle that came once in a hundred generations or more. Maybe she could nudge the future in a new direction. Or maybe the change was a wave that she could only hope to ride lest it cast her helpless and broken on some foreign shore. Only time would tell.
But now she had to place their careful plans into contact with the forces that would seek to destroy them; the enemy.
. . . . .
Somewhere beyond the fourth wall:
Late last week my friend Jay Bobson and I took the opportunity to test a new game. Since this is the continuation of the Iowa Project the good Governor General of Sector Six started for us some months back it's only fitting that we ran this using Void Pirates, which game he has lately endorsed, and which he himself used for the encounters he ran.
Jay, being a kindly and game fellow, did me the service of playing the Imperial forces, and thus allowing me to play my own characters and their allies. Hopefully we can work in some of his own characters on one side or another in a later game. (I'm not sure he and I see eye to eye about who should be the "good guy" . . . or gal . . . in this scenario. Which is ever so delicious. Makes for a wonderful ambiguity.)
The scenario required Jay to deploy his forces on the edge of the table with the shuttle and then make for the alternate edge of his choice. The board was approximately square with a large ridge on his "northern" side, a broad mesa dominating the center, and valleys providing exits on the three remaining sides, mostly near the "southern" edge. Since I'd set up the table and crafted the scenario I gave Dame Fortuna the choice of my deployment edge, and she picked me the south. (Really, any choice but the "eastern" edge would probably have been adequate.) Bobson's forces consisted of the Inquisitor, a psionically active individual with a penchant for brain crushing, and two rather tall gentlemen in very very heavy armor, but thankfully without any practical means of projecting force at a distance. My own forces consisted of fully a dozen individuals, all armed with zapping and popping goodness of one sort or another, but largely bereft of the deflective items that might help keep the snow from turning too red in your immediate vicinity. I rather thought this would be an issue. It was not.
The problem I faced was perhaps more complicated than I realized. The high ground nicely screened the east and west board edges from one another, thus I felt obliged to divide my forces to cover both. I had two relatively skilled snipers who should, by rights, have helped with this. I put one in each party, and likewise put a brawler and an assortment of more typical troopers in each group. The route to the west table edge was somewhat more direct for Mr. Bobson, so I put somewhat the stronger of my two forces on that side. As it happened, that's the way Jay chose to break. His only goal was getting away with the warp imploder in his possession. Below you can see the battlefield after our forces had closed for about a turn. (Which put us in contact, by the way. The shooting started fast.)
I figured I was in pretty good shape, as there was quite a bit of ground that Jay had to cover, and I'd gotten myself on the high ground on one flank, and between him and the exit on the other. So I felt I should have had plenty of time to pour some long range love down upon his knights, roughly Agincourt style. Below you can see one of my snipers, Musetta, standing just by the low rise behind which she had earlier hunkered down to do her work. And after that you can see the very nice clear view she had of her targets. A road provided a fairly open lane of fire through the woods. It wasn't quite a perfect spot, but it was pretty good.
And she had a good bit of support, too. Not only were the other members of the team covering the left flank supporting her, but the squad on the right were able to add their fire as well, until the Imperials moved behind the shadow of the high ground. Trouble was that absolutely nothing would injure those darned knights. And nothing slowed them down. Bullets and laser blasts just bounced off. (Strom troopers only wish their armor worked that well.) The poor hapless psy-cannon went down fairly quickly, but nothing could convince the walking tanks to drop the warp imploder and decamp without it. Inquisitor Guimar gamely returned fire for a moment, but pretty quickly he realized his best course was to run for love and the Emperor for the pass. And thus no one much tested my lack of protective clothing. When the Imperials got behind cover I redeployed my forces on the right, and sent them charging up the hill in the hopes that they might come to the aid of their compatriots, but there wasn't enough time.
At about the same time it became clear our fire was ineffective and the Imperial forces were about to slip away. Sophie led a brave charge down the hill directly at the enemy in an attempt to slow them down, but it was too late. Guimar and the two knights slipped away into the snow, leaving only the lone specialist behind, unconscious at the bottom of the ridge.
. . . . .
To briefly digress, the game system itself was pretty good. Game play was really quite fast, once you got used to it. I always like a system that limits die types, and I have a soft spot for fistfulls of d6. (It might be an Axis and Allies thing from adolescence.) If I had any criticisms, I would wish for some charts to aid the inexperienced player and maybe a better character creation walkthrough. But in general, it's pretty solid. The system strikes a nice balance. If you enjoy Pulp Alley you'd probably like this as well. It's not quite as cinematic, and the scenarios aren't as numerous or interesting, but it's a bit more flexible in terms of characters and force creation, and it probably lends itself very slightly better to a sci-fi environment. (I'm torn. Each has advantages and disadvantages.) I expect for my own games I'll probably pick the best elements from each, but even straight up, I expect the casual gamer looking for a good adventure will enjoy it. If you want a hard boiled wargame that details the impact of every event on morale or unit cohesion, move along. This is a little bit more of a role-playing game that happens to use toys. It is certainly not a combat simulation. But if what you want is a classic Buck Rogers style adventure in a box, where you can play the hero, this might be for you. Hawk is doubtless around the turn of the next page, and there are several ways for you to either work it out with him or fight him until one of you subdues the other. But there's most always a way to make sure someone is back for the next episode, even if they do end up knocked down pretty squarely in this one.
And slowly, the view through the wall into the dollhouse wavers. And magically, we are transported back into the setting, not only seeing Rex-Avis, but hearing her voice in our head, almost as though it were our own, but altered somehow . . .
. . . . .
Sophie, Colorado, and the rest of the cross-sector cooperative force retreated quickly when it became obvious the inquisitor had managed to get a transmission off to the Marine scouting force. They just didn't have enough personnel on hand to tackle that, even with support from Arthur in the shuttle. So Colorado wrote up a missive to beam off to Moab one jump away, and a second as a report to the more distant Proserpine. There weren't too many ships on Blanding right now, and it would take them a while to procure one, unless their fast scout came back quickly. They wouldn't fall into the same trap twice, but there were still some high cards in her hand, and quite a lot more that had already been played by both sides. It might not be necessary to bluff until the Imperials folded just yet. It was just a couple of cards, but they were nice big ones with big bold As printed on them rather unambiguously. Just so long as her opponents hadn't drawn the other two. For now they would sit in orbit and await the commander's reply and keep a close eye on the forces planetside.
. . . . .
As always, thank you for reading along.
Continued in Episode 7: Whistle Stop.