This continues a story begun in Project Iowa, Ep. 1 and Moab Daily News: Rex-Avis to Sector Six. The episode immediately previous was Ep. 8: The Dragon's Lair.
No sooner had Guimar disembarked from the shuttle than he realized that the situation was somewhat out of hand. Again. Instead of a clean rendezvous with the 103rd Crimson Dragons at the . . . what kind of temple was that? Surely it was no temple. Looked more like a brothel! Rim cults indeed! . . .
. . . . .
"Bring their artillery under fire!" Guimar barked. "We'll move out with the hostage. Cover us as best you can and maybe the they'll hold their fire long enough for us to get the warp imploder to the Crimson Dragons rather than kill one of their own!"
Captain Geoffrey and his meager squad brought the artillery under fire, but under strength as they were it was almost completely ineffective. Still, the enemy artillery didn't return fire, so maybe they could at least suppress the worst of the enemy forces for a while.
Barely had the shooting begun than some kind of aerial vehicle streaked to the heavens from behind the enemy lines on a tremendous pillar of smoke and fire.
"Well, that beats all." Geoffrey thought. "It'll be air strikes next. Please, by Holy Terra, let de Bayamon have triple A. Or something to turn that back."
The artillery remained silent, but the elves shot their bolts at the distant enemy. The invisible stars whizzed and zipped past Geoffrey's men, raising dust where they struck.
Guimar moved out unmolested with his treasured machinery and the involuntary guest he hoped would shield him. Unfortunately, he made little speed across the sands, encumbered as he was. His guardians sank into the shifting surface in their heavy armor and the hostage never moved quite as he felt she should.
In the meanwhile, Geoffrey's men continued to raise dust around the enemy artillery, aided now by fire from the Crimson Dragons.
But the Colores forces finally managed a reply. An angry cloud of gas and dust boiled up behind Guimar, where he had been stumbling through the sand bare moments earlier.
His luck wouldn't hold. Geoffrey's troops couldn't maintain the volume of fired they'd used to distract the artillery as more and more shots zinged around them. The Colores cannon woofed again. A second shell dropped bare inches behind Guimar. The sand smelled almost sweet, blowing past his cheeks, but it carried an odd bitter taste that Guimar barely registered before he passed out, frozen standing in place by his own armor.
Meanwhile Arthur Zanzibar Rex-Avis dispensed the same agent from the rockets of an Elven Shrike fighter they'd so kindly loaned him for the occasion. Thus Geoffrey and his men found themselves in the same predicament, though some remained conscious thanks to their helmets. And several fell forward, unable to keep their balance as their suits shorted out.
With the formalities completed and the quarry stunned Captain de Bayamon and the soldiers of the 103rd ceased firing. The elves and Colores agents did likewise. And they all marched forward and surrounded the stunned imperials. Few but the oldest had witnessed their brother Marines in such an open act of rebellion, and none of those still conscious. There was little they could do, incapacitated as they were by their own equipment. They acquiesced without further violence.
. . . . .
As the day wore to a close the Rex-Avis clan gathered at the sapceport one final time to see the ambassadors from Colores off.
"You're sure you're comfortable taking the Inquisitor and his . . . psychic sidekick back to Colores?" asked Colorado.
"Absolutely. After suitable readjustment we can probably let him go on his own. I'm thinking we'll let him escape with a phony warp imploder, a false impression of what it's really for, and perhaps the idea that it doesn't work; that it's a dark ages dead end." Sophie glanced at the shuttle as the spaceport crew loaded the genuine imploder aboard. "We'll let him come to in a similar desert, give him the impression that the battle moved beyond him and a hand picked crew of special agents to shuttle him and his 'data' back to holy mother Terra from 'Moab.' There are deserts in the kingdom too. And many look so much alike. No reason to really inform him of how much time has passed or precisely where he is. And once he's in space aboard a jump ship he'll believe he's anywhere we tell him he is. Apart from navigators who really knows anyway?"
"That might almost work. We'll still have to figure something out with the 32 Marines squad," Colorado replied. "But we can question them about what they actually saw and what Guimar told them first. Knowing the Inquisition it probably wasn't much. They classify everything almost as if by instinct. They've never understood how the free flow of information can lead to innovation and discovery and how that could possibly help them. Our fortune that, I suppose."
"Sure. And maybe you can keep it to a low grade diplomatic incident and hand them off in some kind of exchange," Sophie said. "As long as they really didn't see anything. Or Guimar didn't talk in his sleep. But you know your business, I suppose."
"Oh look, there's Zanziboy!" squealed Onyxia, always more pleased to see her older brother than she ever wanted him to know. His Shrike coasted to a stop just by the control tower. He stepped out gingerly, sat down in his tank chair, and rolled quickly to join the happy circle by the Trans-Rim shuttle.
"Well, that all went alarmingly well," he said.
"Indeed," Sir Stanley intoned.
"I guess this is it," Kitty said. "The shuttle should be about ready, and everything loaded aboard. Safe journeys."
"Thank you," responded Applebeck. "We will miss you terribly, but it will be good to be home."
With that the squad of Colores soldiers, the diplomats, agent Sophie boarded the shuttle. It taxied out to the launch cat, the ground crew made the necessary connections, the mag-block shot it forward along the long, sloping track, the shuttle lit its engines, cleared the end of the track, and soared heavenward. In seconds it was gone from view, barely even leaving a vapor trail in the dry air. And with it, the final chapter in the Project Iowa saga reached its conclusion.
. . . . .
Appendix: For the interested I will say that I ran the rather one sided final battle as a solo game using my old favorite Stargrunt II rules. These are the skirmish rules from the same folks that brought us Full Thrust.
Lately I've been playing fluffier games. Stargrunt II . . . is not that. It's more of a classic combat simulation, albeit a quick one. Individual models have few, if any stats of their own. Almost everything is determined at the squad (or fireteam) level. But even the roughly four by four space I used for the game didn't feel too crowded with a few dozen models spread out between eight (mostly understrength) squads. I played through four turns and I'd guess it took less than ten minutes a turn. (I spent far far far more time composing pictures and putting little cotton puffs around the table than actually rolling dice.) It's a fast game, but it never feels simplistic. If what you want is on the larger and grittier side of skirmish SGII is really the way to go. It's not a place for heroics or Hollywood style, but hopefully good storytelling can help. One of these days I'd like to find someone who loves it as much as I, since I think it'd make for a fantastic campaign. But a word of warning: there is no native points system and in the interest of speed the game uses counters. I kept track of things quite adequately by simply placing the counters on data cards instead of on the table. And if points are what you want, there are systems out there.
Once again, this game proved that small arms really are remarkably ineffective alone and at range in the game, no matter how skilled the troops. (And possibly also in combat. I can't speak to that, but SGII is quite well reviewed by those who would know.) So it's not too surprising that no one at all inflicted any casualties before the final artillery and airstrikes sealed the deal. In a more conventional fight Guimar and his guards would probably have gotten pinned down crossing the open terrain. (They'd attempted to run but made an absolutely bollocks roll. Twice, managing to cross a total of ten inches in two turns, which is less than they would have covered using conventional movement. On the other hand . . . tanks on soft sand with a hostage and heavy equipment in tow. Actually makes sense.) Once pinned, there they would have died, armor or no. So it's rather a mercy that the hammer Sophie, Colorado, and company brought down on them was of the soft rubber sort. Crossing open terrain is quite literally hell in SGII. Movement is closely linked to morale and command. Experienced troops tend to retain morale better. Experienced commanders can reorganize their troops and move in more difficult situations, but there's always a limit. Troops take hits a lot more in the open. Getting hit really does a number on morale. When you lose morale you cannot move towards the stuff that's causing you to lose morale until you regain morale. And so you get shot more because you're still in the open. And it's more or less impossible to regain morale when you're still getting shot. Which . . . means you get pinned down if you're lucky enough not to just break and run. Open terrain. Don't do it without a lot of help from a friend to keep Jimbo with the spam cannon from shooting too much. Better yet, just don't do it. It's not your friend.
Had the Crimson Dragons remained loyal it's quite possible they could have saved Guimar's bacon in spite of the artillery, and maybe even in spite of the airstrike. There would have been enough command and communications on the imperial side of the equation to call in some off-board help. (And the Crimson Dragons presumably even had some.) Maybe they could have kept the Colores and Eldar heads down. (Even behind cover where you're not getting hit, if you're taking too much fire you really can't move. Or shoot. Or radio company artillery for a little relief.) So . . . it's possible there was a way to get Guimar out of town. Though it's also probable that without the Dragons on board the allies would have concentrated firepower on the final objective. So he still might not have gotten home to Mama Terra. Let me say it again: Open terrain is not your friend. Fences are a right pain when your rear is hanging out to the enemy.
Anyway, it was an enjoyable game. But then . . . I really wasn't looking for Guimar to make a successful exit. Honestly, why did the kids on Terra send one schmo to do the work of an army? It doesn't work well when the other side knows you're there . . . and has an army. (Or a Marine Corps. Or a guard force, or most likely a Sheriff's department or metro police force. Might have worked against my Boy Scout troop before half the Gozer boys went through Ranger training. [The US Army sort, that is.] But that's about it.)
So the outcome was . . . predictable. But thank you for reading along just the same. Hopefully the telling made it worth the while.