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Craig's Serenity Campaign Narrative: Crisis of Faith

Serenity Role Playing

This is the treatment of the first three 'episodes' (more like seasons, or at the very least, full length feature films) of narrative generated in my Play By Email (pbem) campaign from a little over a year ago.

It's a long read (had to break it into two articles to make it fit), but if you like the Firefly/Serenity Universe, or you're just curious, feel free to dive right in.

Please feel free to make comments, suggestions, or recommendations in the attached Discussions thread.

Crisis of Faith Part I

On January 19, 2519, a group of Alliance Fleet personnel were brought together for a new top-secret project called Codeword: Archangel. The men reported aboard IAV Ming Trahn, the flagship of the Border Fleet, stationed just off Persephone, under the direct command of Admiral Ling Brett Meyer, and the project direction of Dr. Ed Sung Vincent.

Codeword: Archangel revolved around the design and testing of a new mobile weapons platform meant to fulfill the mission gap between light attack craft and the larger Patrol class ship. These stingships, as they were called, were minimally crewed (4-6 men), but heavily armed, and had never been seen before. The center of their design, however, was the hyper-secret Aegis Stealth System, using brand new technology to cloak the ship completely from all electronic sensor arrays.

Goramynn Interstellar Munitions and Connelly-White Aerospace Division, the two major Coreward companies involved in the development of the craft, had halted all other research and design, wagering all their future success on the performance of this one ship.

The men who had been brought together as the test crew for this project were strange in many respects. The captain of the new ship, PJ MacNamara, was a war hero from the Unification War, hailed by many as the tactical genius behind the victory at Serenity Valley. The second in command and official mission pilot, Andel Hightower, was a newly-minted low-level officer, fiercely loyal to the Alliance but untested in his abilities. Flight Engineer Sal Toscano was a strange, rare fellow. A ‘little person’ who all the same was renowned for his successes with the ‘gentler sex’, he was also a rehabilitated Independent who had served as ground crew for the small Independent Space Corps, having taken advantage of the offered amnesty at the end of the war.

Rounding off the crew were the two gunnery specialists, Jack McAllister, a young man from the Rim, and Gaeth McCoy, an old salt whose service jacket looked far too clean and empty for any NCO of his age and experience. Both men were good with guns, but neither had a record that would seem to recommend them for advanced or special service.

These men came together on the IAV Ming Trahn and immediately began an intensive training regimen that included much simulator work and then live sessions with the ship itself. Slowly the crew came together, both on and off duty, although tensions remained high between Hightower and McCoy, the hard core Alliance loyalists, and Toscano, the former browncoat. McAllister, with his close ties to the Rim, was sometimes a target as well, although tensions there were not as serious.

Captain McNamara kept himself aloof throughout the training process, seeming to eschew his role as war hero while trying his best to maintain discipline and peaceful coexistence amongst his crew.

While the crew continued their training the situation on the Rim continued to degrade. The initial shock at the Miranda Transmission had only begun to be processed by the people on the Rim before the government denials and truth squads descended upon them with the Truth According to Parliament. Unrest and civil disorder began to spread throughout the Rim and into the Border Planets. Soon, the flames of disobedience and chaos engulfed the outer planets, threatening to completely render meaningless all of the effort, blood, and treasure expended in the Unification War.

A movement coalesced around a small group of men and women who rose up as leaders of the generally anti-Alliance populace. This “Freedom Coalition” attempted to stave off the worst of the effects of the chaos while demanding that the Alliance assist their efforts or get out of the way. Tax freezes, aid packages, and the suspension of loan repayments were first and foremost amongst the demands of the coalition, and the banking conglomerates of the Inner Planets were loath to capitulate. In addition, these men and women demanded the truth behind the Miranda Transmission be revealed once and for all.

The Parliament of Allied Planets then took the drastic measure of announcing that they would meet with the duly elected representatives of the Outer Planets on a ‘neutral’ Border Planet, Newhall. The Outer Planets unanimously voted for the members of the Freedom Coalition to represent them, and these men and women, the leaders of the opposition movement, all converged on the tropical ocean resort world, where the Parliament had secured accommodations for the purposes of the summit. From all over the Rim and the Border Planets, civilian ships began to descend upon Newhall.

Meanwhile, aboard the Ming Trahn, training continued for the crew of the newly-christened ArchAngel. The crew continued to meld . . . a bit. Gaeth’s accent, and its authenticity, became a topic of constant speculation and conversation. Sal’s exploits with various women in and out of the command structure, including Dr. Vincent’s assistant, Leona, caused tension with some, and admiration from others. Jack’s gambling, the vice that had landed him on the crew in the first place, continued to add an ebb and flow to his financial security in off-hours. And the captain’s family position and wealth smoothed the way whenever R&R threatened to break the bank.

Lieutenant Hightower’s spit and polish approach to discipline did not endear him to the crew, while McNamara attempted to meld them into a coherent fighting force. Hightower’s doubts concerning Sal’s loyalty, and the seriousness of the gunnery crew, continued to develop. McNamara did not react well to these suspicions, however, which led to further mild tensions in the command staff.

During simulator training the computers tasked with regulating and maintaining the training regimen and score statistics were obviously being tampered with, which caused more confusion and ratcheted the tension amongst the crew even higher. Speculation was rampant, but the hacker responsible was never discovered.

Toscano took to spending his evenings alone, away from the other crewmen, which made the division between core-worlders and rim-worlders more pronounced. Meanwhile, both Gaeth and the captain showed an alarming tendency towards occasional bouts of fits or fugue states.

Having completed simulator work, the crew of the ArchAngel were temporarily assigned to work with Wildcat Squadron, a group of three Quadrider ASREV’s (Alliance Short Range Enforcement Vessel): The Maturiat, the Orotu, and the Chuilkortu. This ill-starred temporary formation was codenamed Black Squadron for the duration of the training.

Their first training mission to the border asteroid belt was altered because of sudden changes in civilian shipping, most likely due to the growing unrest in the Rim. Their ship was sent far off above the ecliptic, rather than out into the Border, carrying non-lethal training armament instead of its normal load-out. However, lacking the admiral’s faith in the safety of the area, Jack and the captain conspired to hide two small cannon aboard that could be switched out with the exercise weapons should the ship require offensive firepower. The discovery of this by Hightower furthered the rift between the pilot and the rest of the crew, as he objected strenuously to this breach in etiquette and orders.

In route to the first exercise the squadron was struck by a micro-meteorite storm which crippled Maturiat. Toscano and McAllister were sent EV to assist, and were able to repair the ship and save the crew from certain death in the Black. It was only through the quick actions of Toscano that the Maturiat and her crew were saved. And of course, the little engineer had laid the groundwork for yet another romantic conquest as well; this time with the Maturiat’s engineer.

As the squadron continued on its way towards a Cortex beacon so Captain Barton of the Maturiat could report the incident, McCoy and Toscano both spent an inordinate amount of time on the cortex, culminating in a mysterious meeting of the two in McCoy’s cabin. No one else on the ship knew what it was they talked about, but the situation between the two seemed to calm down a little afterwards.

Upon arriving in the training area, the squadron went through its paces, and the Aegis system seemed to work perfectly, with the sensor suites of the Quadriders being completely incapable of detecting the larger ship, even at close range, when the system was engaged. Due to their lack of fuel reserves, the Quadriders were sent back to the Ming Trahn early, as McNamara continued putting his crew and their new ship through its paces for a bit more testing time.

Just as they were about to head back they received a distress call from a Mars Class Heavy Bulk Hauler named Prometheus, registered to a very prominent conglomerate in the Core. Upon arriving at the massive, and apparently abandoned, ship, they were attacked by a mysterious and incomprehensibly heavily armed Firefly-Class transport. Without weapons of their own the crew was hard pressed, but with the gunnery skills of McAllister and the surprise cortex manipulations of McCoy, the crew was able to use the two EMP missiles that the Admiral had allowed them to scare away the transport.

The crew then attempted to board the Prometheus to investigate further, but found that the ship was not, in fact, completely abandoned. Someone on the bridge dressed in a distinctive skinsuit, detonated the ship’s engines. Only through Hightower’s excellent piloting skills were they able to escape, and in the process, the ArchAngel was heavily damaged.

Upon returning to the Ming Trahn, the crew was praised by Admiral Meyer, who also passed along the praise of an absent Dr. Vincent. The admiral announced that the men would have a couple days R&R while their ship was repaired, and there was much excitement, as they received invitations from the crew of the Maturiat for a thank you celebration and formal Dining-In.

Tensions on the massive cruiser were still high, however, as thousands of ships from the Rim and the Border were flooding towards the little resort moon of Newhall, and the rhetoric being exercised by the so-called delegates was getting more and more inflammatory. Charges of cover-up and incompetence were giving way to charges of conspiracy and mass murder. As the Miranda footage gained more wide-spread exposure, the Rim seemed to get closer and closer to the boiling point.

Threats were flying fast and furiously. Anti-Alliance propagandists were using the event as a media circus with which to hit their political foes with every charge in the heated lexicon of vitriolic hyperbole. Pro-Alliance pundits were using the event to stoke the flames of anti-Independent sentiment that had simmered on some of the hardest hit Border planets since the Unification War. “See,” they said, “clearly the Rim cannot govern itself, as they cannot even differentiate between a clear work of visual fiction and a scientific journal entry!”

There had been several minor incidents of violence on Newhall already, with members of both sides of the debate being roughed up by their opponents across the aisle. Around the resort hosting the summit things had gotten so out of hand, with protests and counter protests keeping the entire local police force on the clock for days on end, that the Turquoise Dream, a ‘verse-famous floating resort located in the middle of one of Newhall’s vast oceans, had offered to take the delegates in and host the summit there instead. The weary and frightened delegates had readily agreed, and the violence had settled down a little bit as the focus of the mob had moved out of their immediate sight.

However, more powerful, shadowy groups had made threats of a more pressing nature, and even more accusations of dark and sinister corporate plots had been made by the summit members themselves. A demand for protection had gone out, and Fleet HQ was taking it seriously enough that several squadrons of ASREVs were in the area flying patrols, with two smaller destroyers in orbit to make sure nothing untoward occurred. It rankled many of the Alliance officers, to have to spend time and effort to protect those who, it seemed, were willing to tear down everything the Alliance stood for in the advancement of their own petty political goals back home.

There was a lot of talk from the officers aboard the Ming Trahn that this was what made a democracy the best form of government: that the Alliance had to protect everyone within its borders, even benighted radicals like the men and women meeting on Newhall. The entire Border Fleet was on alert in case anyone of either political persuasion tried anything. There had been chatter reported from many of the Rim and Border planets that more was needed than merely a summit.

Most of the men, however, were angry, and that, coupled with the un-focused fear of whatever had happened to the Rimward Fleet out beyond Beylix, added to the tinge of concern and frustration that hung in the air of the massive cruiser.

The men of the ArchAngel, knowing their leave was conditional, made the most of their down time. There was some surprise when Jack announced that he had wrangled his way aboard a supply shuttle down to Persephone and therefore would not be able to attend the dining in with the crew of the Maturiat. The shuttle left at noon that first day and Jack was gone for most of the next as well.

Sal and Gaeth spent a great deal of their down time alone in their respective quarters, but did emerge for the dining in and other social functions. Gaeth’s luck was a little better without Jack there, and he won back 10cr at Deadwood Hold’em. Sal managed to hold his own in the games, however. The two men, almost working together for once, seemed quite gifted at coaxing other servicemen into games that sent them on their way a little lighter in the wallet.

The officers had more pressing duties to attend to, and at one point a mysterious shuttle arrived from Persephone carrying a passenger coming to meet captain MacNamara. No one saw the person, and the captain spent most of the afternoon of his first day of leave ensconced with them in some private meeting. He seemed much more chipper and alive when they all met for the dining in, however.

Hightower spent most of his time in his quarters pouring over manuals and journals concerning the Newhall situation, figuring that’s where they were going to be headed. He did take a few hours each day to run through exercise katas with his dueling sword, however, and crewmembers that caught glimpses of him in action were very impressed.

Except for Jack, all of the members of the crew made the dining in with captain Barton and his crew in a private room in a very expensive and swank restaurant at the top of one of the cruiser’s forward towers called Valhalla. The night was a booming success. Sal seemed to be spending an inordinate amount of time with the engineer, Val, an auburn-haired beauty that seemed far less-interested in his company than many other women the crew had seen Sal with. She didn’t send him away, however, and there seemed to be a strange dynamic surrounding them. When she was around, he didn’t tend to look at any other women.

Barton proved to have a bit of a hero-worship complex where captain MacNamara was concerned, and the tall, dark-skinned island gunner, Melody Ochoa, seemed to find Gaeth’s jokes and stories hilarious. She drank like a fish and roared like a lion, and wouldn’t let him move away for more than a few minutes before she was demanding another story. Gaeth didn’t seem to mind.

Hightower and the other, younger gunner, Nick Hammond, both proved to be aficionados of the dueling blade, and talked all night long about swords, forging steel, the code duello and its many variations on the planets and moons of the verse.

There was much poker, loud laughter, and heavy drinking. Barton wasn’t from big money like MacNamara’s family, but he had to have stashed some away somewhere, because he treated all night long and wouldn’t hear of anyone pitching in anything to help. All night long the liquor flowed, the food piled up, and both crews just had a grand time. As things were wrapping up MacNamara took Barton aside to let him know how glad he was to have the young captain in his squadron, and that as long as Maturiat was flying ArchAngel’s wing, the crew of the new gunship could feel secure in anything they were called on to do.

The two days passed too quickly for the members of ArchAngel’s crew. The tension they had noticed upon coming home to the Ming Trahn seemed to float into the background of their awareness as they themselves relaxed from their duties, but it was still there. As the second day wound down they all began to look towards what mission the admiral would be giving them. Not much of use got accomplished that second day as each man kept pretty much to himself, occasionally went down to check out the ship, and waited.

A formal Dining Out was announced by the admiral, and all members of the crew were required to attend. Because of their close bonding, the crews of the ArchAngel and the Maturiat were placed at the same table, where they continued to mingle and get closer.

In particular, Sal and Val deepened a relationship that, for Sal, seemed dangerously emotional in nature.

The crews of the other two Quadriders, seated at another table, kept to themselves for the most part. McNamara and Captain Barton of the Maturiat tried not to take their coolness personally, but it was unfortunate, given their current assignment as a squadron.

The next day Black Squadron received orders to report to a Commander Stevenson, CO of Newhall Station, as part of the security force patrolling the skies over the Turquoise Dream. The two days transit time passed uneventfully, although the communication logs showed that several of the crewmembers of the ArchAngel were contacting people on the ground on Newhall for reasons they did not reveal to each other.

In addition to these contacts, Orotu was in almost constant communication with someone on the surface as they approached, under triple encryption unbreakable by anyone aboard the ArchAngel.

As the squadron began to make its flag-waving pass over the resort, Orotu and Chuilkortu veered out of formation, ignoring McNamara’s orders to return. In the final pass towards the resort a large ship launched from the man-made island, rising on a pillar of fire and smoke, despite the fact that no such launch was scheduled, according to the records the ArchAngel hastily accessed.

Suddenly, one of the ArchAngel’s squadron mates, either Orotu or Chuilkortu, launched three large missiles from right beneath the experimental ship. Maturiat almost immediately exploded, the victim of their own squadron mates’ treasonous fire.

Caught up in the fear and confusion of the moment, the crew of the ArchAngel almost forgot the missiles screaming towards the Newhall Summit until they detonated in nuclear fire, obliterating the entire island and killing all of the most important leaders of the Rim and Border Planets, an entire diplomatic team from the Parliament, and all of the domestic staff and crew.

Sal tried to engage the Aegis system in an attempt to defend against the sudden storm of fire from the Orotu and Chuilkortu, but the machine immediately began to transmit a homing beacon instead, and the incoming fire became more and more accurate.

Archangel took two direct missile hits, destroying McCoy’s turret and knocking Sal senseless in engineering. The Two attacking Quadriders began to transmit requests for assistance in the clear, declaring that McNamara had been the one to launch the nukes.

In the ensuing dogfight the ArchAngel was severally damaged. McNamara ordered his crew not to use missiles, so that they could prove that they hadn’t launched on the island. However, after taking severe damage, he himself launched the ordnance that downed one of the attacking ships, the other then taken out by McAllister with excellent gunnery skills.

Unfortunately, the ArchAngel was going down, and Hightower needed to find somewhere to land quickly, or they would be joining their squadron-mates in the drink.

While Gaeth helped Sal with his limited first aid skills, Jack stopped the Aegis system the best way he knew how: with an assault rifle. The crew conducted a barely-controlled landing on a small tropical island in the middle of no-where, knowing they were being hunted by the entire Alliance Fleet for a most heinous crime they did not commit.

Once the ship was on the ground the crew tried to regroup and establish their bearings. They were all concerned to discover that they had each learned, at least partially, that a man named Chung had arrived on the island with an interplanetary ship. This had been the only such ship at the resort. This Chung had apparently been a mover and shaker from the Rim World of Lilac, and seemed to be making great progress at the Summit.

They had no way of knowing if they had been the victims of a rogue splinter faction of the Fleet, or if this was a grand conspiracy that had brought about their downfall.

All they knew was that they were now trapped on a deserted tropical island with a ship that required massive repairs to be spaceworthy. They began the slow process of assessing the damage and affecting basic repairs. Sal had broken his arm in the crash, and the captain had suffered a minor concussion. All of them were covered in scrapes, bruises, and minor burns.

The Aegis was beyond repair, and Gaeth’s turret was almost as bad. The engines were nearly unsalvageable from the missile hit to engineering, and most of the sensor suite was fried.

As the crew began the repairs, Gaeth rerouted infolink and power lines from the still-working cortex stations in the common room to the command deck and engineering. While he worked he decoded the two burst transmissions from the Orotu just before and after the missile attack.

“Lucifer falling” and “Lucifer fallen.” Apparently, someone in the conspiracy to kill all those people had a biblical sense of humor.

The men took a break from the repairs to discuss their situation and share theories. Gaeth was of the opinion that they were the victims of a deeper conspiracy within the Alliance that reached very high up indeed.

The men figured that Dr. Vincent might be involved, or his assistant Leona Parks. All of the pieces that added up to this could only have been assembled by someone with access at least that high up.

The crew moved their supplies up to a cave on the side of a nearby hill. Gaeth noticed that Captain McNamara was nearly abdicating his responsibilities as commanding officer The captain seemed to allow the older man to take charge of almost every major decision. Trying to avoid later charges of insubordination, he attempted to get the captain to take a more active role, but the captain seemed to be fading in and out of awareness, as if the shock of their new situation was getting the better of him.

Jack’s anger was a match for the captain’s vague floating, and Hightower, too, seemed to barely be comprehending their change in fortunes. Only Sal, under the influence of a heavy dose of sedatives from Gaeth, seemed completely calm.

Although it seemed to make little sense in their current circumstances, the men fell to arguing over a new name for their ship. Sal requested Rabbit, because they were running, while Jack wanted Redemption or Fallen Angel, to remind them of the betrayal that had landed them in their current predicament. No final decision was made, and the men’s thoughts moved on to more immediate concerns.

The men agreed that they needed to prove their innocence, but without knowing how high the conspiracy went, they knew that would be difficult or almost impossible.

In the face of these insurmountable problems, the men looked to the immediate needs of survival. A survey of all the considerable damage to their ship was performed, and a watch roster was laid out. A small mountain in the center of the island made a perfect watch post. The rest of their supplies were run up to the cave, and a basic encampment was established.

Hightower was of the oft-spoken opinion that they should be turning themselves in, but the rest of the crew did not believe they would get a fair shake from an Alliance who may well have sacrificed them for its own political stability. Hightower’s theory that they owed allegiance to a ‘true’ Alliance versus a shadowy one that would gain strength and power should the crew of the ArchAngel not fight back did not gain any traction with the crew, many of whom had quickly lost faith with their government in the face of the horror they had seen.

The ship’s logs and data records had been doctored before they had ever left the Ming Trahn, showing that they had fired three missiles. Three of their on-ship silos showed every sign of having their missiles fired, as well. It appeared, as the crew went over their damaged ship that the conspiracy that had resulted in their predicament had been thorough indeed, and the crew fell to bickering more and more in the face of their seemingly hopeless situation.

Sal’s summary of the damage was bleak, and did nothing to make the crew feel better about their situation. Even with days of repair work ahead of them, the ship would only have enough life left to get back to the Ming Trahn or about two thirds of the way out to the Rim before she fell apart around their ears.

Jack found a bright spot in the small cargo hold of the ship: the small 2 pounder cannons that they had smuggled aboard for their first training mission had never been removed, allowing the crew to set up two fairly impressive gun emplacements, one on the hill and one in front of their cave sanctuary, in case they were attacked. Most of the crew approved, but Hightower was greatly troubled by the thought that they might find themselves firing on fellow Alliance personnel again.

While attempting to fix the comm. systems and cortex stations on the ship that afternoon Sal came across many news stories that had been waved all over the ‘Verse immediately after the incident with the Turquoise Dream. The stories all told the same version the captain of the Orotu had brayed over the open comm., and included images of all of them, and less than flattering versions of their past that made their casting as terrorists in this little shadow play seem far more plausible. The story went on to say that the ArchAngel had been destroyed by vessels of the Interplanetary Alliance Fleet.

Also included in the stories were images from the now destroyed summit. Among these were several images of the elusive Chung and his assistant . . . . revealed by Sal’s careful observation to be Leona Parks, the assistant to Dr. Vincent, head of Project ArchAngel . . . who they then discovered had been none other than Chung himself.

Assuming that the Fleet would not be searching for them if they were believed to have died, the crew tried to rest easy that night in their cave hideaway.

The next day Gaeth set up a quick and dirty sensor net covering the back half of the island, along with a small cortex terminal that was hacked into the cortex net with a nice little piece of work that impressed even Sal.

It was Jack who had made the final connections about who stood to gain the most from the events of the day. With the death of almost every major player in the anti-Alliance movements on the Rim and the Border, the Miranda Incident was for the first time off the Current Events pages of most net feeds. Also, with their leaders dead, the burgeoning new independence movement was stalled and formless.

In one moment, the entire political reality of the Alliance had shifted in favor of the Parliament and the Core worlds.

And the price for this brave step forward was merely the lives of every person on the Turquoise Dream, the entirety of Black Squadron, and the men of the ArchAngel.

Over the second day on the island, aside from Gaeth McCoy’s work on the cortex and sensor systems, the officers assisted Sal Toscano in his repair work while Jack McAllister, with the advice from the rest of the crew, moved the heavy 2 pounder cannon down from the mountain top and into a blind he constructed half way between the cave and the ship, with full view through the carefully-cut jungle, of the clearing with the ArchAngel in it.

That night the men continued debating on how to deal with their situation. Hightower was more and more detached, declaring that he would always put his men first, but the men didn’t completely believe he could set his loyalties aside so quickly.

Suddenly Jack’s face erupted in a great smile. He had been thinking of his uncle lately, and a name has suddenly popped into his mind. Max Mosley had been a friend of Jack’s uncle, Connor, who had died in the nuclear holocaust of the Newhall Summit. Max Mosley had been a friend of his uncles from way before the Uni. War, and he’d always been the go to guy when Connor was in trouble. With Jack’s help, Gaeth sent a wave on the cobbled together console in the cave, and they hoped for the best, as no one else had come up with any other options but trying to limp to Beylix, either to affect further repairs on the sly or to sell the ship and buy something less recognizable.

Hightower was against contacting anyone they didn’t know directly, and in the middle of what could have been a very bad standoff between the gunner and the lieutenant, Gaeth’s sensor suite detected a low altitude combat drop on the far side of the island. Ten individual contacts were recorded hitting the beach opposite their location.

The Alliance had arrived.

The ten man team split into two four man teams, coming around either flank of the mountain, and a two man advanced team that was moving straight up the other side, heading right for Gaeth’s sensor array. McAllister and Hightower were sent up to ambush the two men at the mountain top, and then the entire team was going to move out and take out one of the flanking forces. Sal was the least excited, as he knew he wasn’t much use in a gunfight, even less use in a fist fight, and even less-less use in a fist fight with a broken arm.

On the mountain top Hightower was almost taken out by a concussion grenade, while Jack hammered his target off the mountaintop with precision shots from his assault rifle. Hightower tried to take his target on with his ancestral katana, but was outmatched when the commando drew a pistol. McAllister, seeing this from checking on his own target, changed his aim, shouted “DOWN!”, and jackhammered the second commando off his feet. Hightower then quickly finished him off with the sword.

Hightower attempted to send a coded message to the crewmen in the cave, but because they had not agreed to any sort of code beforehand, he only convinced the captain and the others that either he or Jack were hurt, and were moving towards the beach.

The men in the cave were confused and concerned.

Finally, McNamara tired of the code and let the men know in the clear that one of their bogies had begun to move again. While the lieutenant and McAllister had been fighting over the code, the man Jack claimed to have killed had crawled away from his position at the foot of the mountain. Hightower grabbed the dead commando’s helmet with its integral IR gear and began to scan the night beneath them, swearing at Jack the whole time for being wrong about his target.

He had just made out a strange shape in the shadows of the forest below when the figure fired a sniper round that took him in the head. The helmet and the gear were ruined, and the lieutenant was knocked unconscious. Jack ran for the lieutenant, finding that he was ok, he dragged the still form away from the cliff edge, grabbed the dead commando’s gear, including another massive sniper rifle, and began to hump it all down the trail towards the cave.

In the cave the men heard the massive report of the sniper round and knew something had gone horribly wrong. Gaeth wanted nothing more than for the captain to take the lead, but the man seemed to have completely lost touch with reality, as he sank down into the back of the cave, shaking slightly as if in a palsy. Gaeth shook his head and moved out to look for Jack and the LT, telling Sal to watch over the captain.

A little while later, scaring Sal half to death, the captain roared awake, jumping up as if from some horrid dream. He muttered something about the cannon sighted on the ship, and walked out of the cave, leaving Sal alone to watch the sensors and hope for the best.

Half way up the mountain Gaeth met Jack carrying the LT down. The LT was barely conscious, so the two gunners took the massive .50 caliber sniper rifle back up, sending the officer back down to reconnect with the captain and Sal. There was some form of DNA lock on the rifle, but Gaeth was fairly certain he could get around that with a couple quick cuts from his field knife.

Using the rifle, its high tech scope, and a hastily removed thumb, Gaeth took out the wounded commando that had shot the LT, then they set about drawing a bead on the other teams of commandos.

One four man team continued to move around the mountain and towards the ArchAngel, while the other team had split up, moving around towards the top of the mountain, probably to investigate what had happened to their teammates.

At the cave the captain returned, having covered their second cannon with some camouflage. He was surprised to find Hightower back, and even more surprised to hear Hightower complaining about discipline and chains of command, still bleary-eyed from the massive bruise in the middle of his forehead. Sal tried to hint at the Captain’s fugue state to the LT, but the man wasn’t listening. Meanwhile, the captain spent a great deal of time trying to load the cannon with rocks and hardware in an attempt to approximate grape shot should the cave be attacked.

Sal and the LT just looked on, bewildered.

Sal tried to get the captain to see reason. If the commando team made it to the ArchAngel and destroyed the ship, they could leave the island without ever confronting the crew, who would eventually starve to death, or eek out a miserable existence isolated and alone, for all the Alliance knew or cared. But the captain would hear none of it, and continued to work on the cannon.

Sal and the LT continued to try to talk the captain down. The commanding officer eventually began to ask the LT some questions about what they had found on the mountain, and putting together those pieces with what he knew about Alliance Commando tactics, figured out that it had been a God-team on the mountain, meant to go ahead, set up a communication and sniper post with massive .50 caliber recoilless rifles, and support the rest of the team.

The news that this team had probably been neutralized by his crew seemed to galvanize the captain, and they moved out towards the ship to defend her, while sending Sal up the mountain, where Jack and Gaeth had turned off their comm. gear in the misguided belief that the commandos were tracking them.

Jack, using the fancy new scope, took out a third commando, but was being stalked along the mountaintop when little Sal came screaming up over the hill, having seen the commando from behind. Sal opened up with his pistol, screaming all the way, and spooked the soldiers from cover, allowing Jack and Gaeth to take them down with assault rifles, but not before Sal was blinded by a dropped flashbang grenade.

Once Sal had recovered, the men decided that he should go back down to the sensor suite in the cave now that Jack and Gaeth had their comms back on, while the two gunners stayed up on the mountain with the massive rifles, ready to support the officers through the jungle against the last four commandos.

The end game was approaching.



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