Friday, March 19, 2010


Autumn 1, TN1920:

Nicosa Renault watched the display for the fourth time. The head camera from the Hunter buzzed with static, but the entire fight was caught on this gear's ONNet, and this gear's ONNet alone. Desperate for any clues, she pressed play.

The team included Kain, his partner Sam, the small-time duelist Konnor, and a previously unknown girl who turned up as DaCosta Isobel. What were they doing in the Crescent Moon Canyon in Temple Heights? Why were they at the Cave of the Stone Skull, where an archaeological dig in TN1901 turned up a small chamber, with a Stonehead-style skull only slightly larger than a human skull, sitting on an altar? And why did the mercenary group known as The Collectors, previously The Iron Renegades, show up?

Nicosa figured Isobel had something to do with all this, so she had pulled up the files on Carter Salvage Freelance and found a trail of dead bodies after a little-known failed expedition into the Barrington Basin in TN1919. There were murders in Prince Gable, in Khayr-ad Din (so what?), a few urgent communiques telling everyone to lay low... Nicosa frowned. She watched the display.

The mercs clearly didn't know what hit them--at first. The Hunter showed up with its squadmates and the camera panned over a couple of trucks parked outside the Cave, sentries dead--Kain and Sam's handiwork, no doubt. Then the fireworks began as a Spitting Cobra, Blitz Iguana, Sidewinder and a Hunter--Kain, Sam, Konnor and Isobel--hit the gears hard. There were glitches in the feed, possibly due to Kain's use of electronic countermeasures. Then the Hunter was crippled. It toppled, but the ONNet camera still offered a good vantage point of the entire fight.

More gears showed up--now the Collectors outnumbered Kain and Co. by over 2 to 1. Konnor's Sidewinder did not survive the opening volley, and Isobel ditched her Hunter to get into the Cave. Sam and Kain gave a good account of themselves, but in the end their gears were badly mauled. Nicosa winced--she watched Kain limp into the Cave entrance as he leaned onto Sam.

What? Sympathetic feelings for one of your operatives? Perish the thought, Nico.

A half-dozen mercs went into the cave on foot. There were a few tense minutes, less tense now that Nicosa had already watched the video a few times. She slowed down the playback speed, and watched in slow motion as three mercs scrambled out of the cave mouth, followed by a massive explosion, the men flying like in some cheesy Southern Republic action trideo. She slowed the playback down even further, searching for clues.

Nothing. The Hunter's ONNet shut off. Static. Nicosa sighed and eased back in the buggy's seat. She nodded to the driver, and stepped out onto the fertile soil of the Canyon of the Crescent Moon, at the entrance to the Cave of the Stone Skull. Countless Stoneheads glared down at her accusingly, though she knew that most were actually gazing at the entrance to the Cave. The thought was not comforting.

Nicosa had given up field work some time ago, but Kain was one of a handful of individuals on the planet who knew she was alive. She breathed in the fresh air, and smiled tightly. She entered the Cave. The Temple Heights marshals had done a quick investigation at the behest of the council that maintains the archaeological sites, and took out a few bodies. Nicosa had already seen them at the morgue. None were Sam, Kain or Isobel. The Cave was more or less intact. The demo charges had scarred the walls, but somehow left the altar and much of the chamber untouched. She frowned. There was a Stonehead skull on the altar, glaring at her. She knew it was a fake. Temple Heights had been occupied by the CEF during the War, and the Earthers had plundered all the colonial-era artifacts they could, including the miniature Stonehead that the archaeologists had found looking at them impatiently after at least a thousand cycles of waiting. But this Stonehead looked like it had survived the blast, though a chunk of its ear was missing.

Her instincts took over and she approached it slowly. Seconds later she had hefted it up in her hands and flipped over. On the bottom was a serial number. Nicosa suppressed a chuckle, but only barely. It was the perfect cover. She typed the number into her forearm-mounted datapad and ran the encryption algorithm. This accessed a private message. She leaned back against the cold stone altar and watched Kain’s grim, bandaged face appear on her display. He only said two sentences:

“Operation Targeter still ongoing. Please advise for further orders.”

Nicosa flicked the display off. She should have known.

Vengeance is a force of nature.


Hermes 72 - Heavy Gear RPG - Most artwork Copyright 2002 Dream Pod 9, Inc.