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Craig's Serenity Campaign Narrative: Crisis of Faith Part II


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The full treatment (23 pages as a Word doc.) was too long for the Dakka Articles feature to handle, so here's the second half.

When last we saw the intrepid crew of the ArchAngel, they were stranded on an island on the resort planet of Newhall, the victims of a massive plot to decimate opponents of the Alliance within the Rim and Border Planets, as well as distract all citizens of the Alliance from the Miranda Transmission that had been waved all over the cortex only months before.

Jack and Gaeth, the two gunners, were on the mountain top, as captain McNamara and lieutenant Hightower were making their way through the jungle towards the last members of the commando band sent to eliminate them. Sal, the engineer 'little person', was cowering in the cave hq, monitoring communications and sensor readings, as a massive storm approached over the tortured surface of the world ocean.

Title Of this Story

Jack stayed on the mountain for at least ten minutes, scanning the jungle unsuccessfully for targets. He and Gaeth had been left behind to use the massive recoilless rifle to support the rest of the crew as they faced down the surviving commandos in the junble below. Soon, though, his anger and thirst for vengeance got the better of him and he abandoned his position with Gaeth and began to run down the path to the jungle and his next chance for revenge.

Gaeth and Sal, one atop the mountain and one in the cave below, both shook their heads and covered their eyes. Only Jack.

The commandos took to the beach, circling around the approaching officers as if knowing just where they were, and making a move on the ship. Just as Hightower and McNamara were moving to intercept, the commandos broadcast in the clear. It was a man Hightower knew, calling him by name. The man said that all the Alliance knew the culprits had been McNamara and Toscano. If Hightower turned those two men in, the gunners and the lieutenant would be free to return to their lives and their careers.

The ploy didn’t work with the lieutenant, who just grew angrier, as did Jack, with the offer of returning to his family, the only surviving member of which had been killed with the destruction of the Summit. The gunner began to run even faster down the mountain, and the lieutenant signaled for the captain to fall back to the ship while he would try to distract the commandos, get close, and do as much damage as he could.

Hesitantly, the captain agreed with the lieutenant’s plan, and eased his way back into the jungle, hoping he had read the junior officer correctly.

Hightower came up with a ruse that would allow him to get closer, but again, their lack of coordinating code words meant that Sal and Jack were convinced he’d changed sides, as was Gaeth until he found the captain with his miraculous scope, alive and moving quickly through the jungle alone. He then knew what the lieutenant was about to attempt, and whispered a prayer for him. However, again with no code, he tried to let Sal and Jack know it was a ruse, and only managed to confuse them both even worse.

Sal, thinking he had figured something out, at least, broadcast that the Orotu had fired the lethal shots, declared his innocence over the open comm., and then pretended to shoot himself. He then moved off into the jungle and down towards his ship, where he was bound and determined to be in on the final battle.

Jack, Sal, and the captain met up on the way to the ArchAngel, where the captain filled them in on Hightower’s intentions, and they moved towards their ship to defend her from the commandos that survived Hightower’s brave defense.

On the beach Hightower tried to talk his old friend into letting him come closer, but the commando officer refused to give the pilot the upper hand. Hightower managed to get his friend to take his helmet off, and when he thought he had a good shot, he fired on a man he’d known for years, tears streaming down his face. He missed, and the return fire from the four commandos hammered him back into the jungle. With his last strength he drew his sword, waiting for the commandos to come check on him. Through a combination of luck, skill, and determination, he killed the first commando to approach with a single blow of the sword.

He did not survive the ensuing firestorm.

The final battle with the three remaining commandos occurred just short of the ArchAngel. Gaeth took one out with the massive rifle on approach, the captain caught one with his pistols just behind the plane, and Sal, Gaeth, and Jack, working together with the massive 2 pounder cannon and a lot of luck, took down the last commando, just as a massive tropical storm erupted overhead.

In the final fire fight Jack was wounded by shrapnel in the legs, while the captain, trying to dodge a gun blast from the last commando, had fallen down a hidden ditch and hurt himself as well.

Everything calmed down almost at once, as Gaeth transmitted from the mountaintop that they were clear. They were all collecting themselves, planning on going out to look for Hightower, when McCoy’s voice screeched out over the comms one last time, nearly incomprehensibly babbling about eagles and hopelessness.

Sal looked sidewise as the captain as he heard the nonsensical words, and shrugged with a lopsided grin.

Later they discovered that four of the commandos were unconscious from their wounds, but alive. These four were left in the cave with enough food to last a week, all other equipment was gathered together quickly. Under cover of the vicious storm Sal did a yeoman’s job of affecting enough quick repairs that under the cover of darkness and storm the ArchAngel could shift to another island for the rest of her repairs.

The journey to their new island home was a tense nightmare, waiting as any moment they could be discovered by Fleet ships in orbit, overflights by the swarms of ASRVEVs in the area, or for their own ship to fall apart. A heavily encrypted message had been waiting in the wave queue of the ship’s cortex when they reached her after the firefight with no time to unlock its secrets, and that, too, weighed heavily upon the men as thy crouched at their stations, fearing the worst.

The crew finished their repairs in relative peace, Hightower was buried with all the pomp the captain could conjure under the circumstances, and the lieutenant’s katana was kept by the captain with the binding oath that he would one day return it to the young officer’s family, to tell them how truly heroic their son had been.

Once the repairs had been completed, the men turned to the mysterious transmission. It took Gaeth and Sal hours of tense work to unlock the message. The two men still did not get along very well, but were doing their best to work together in this time of need. The message, once unlocked, represented the first ray of hope they’d had since the Orotu had fired on the Turquoise Dream.

It was a cryptic message from Jack’s family friend Max Mosley. It referred to a possible safe-haven, where the ArchAngel might be welcomed at least long enough to explain their side of the story.

The catch: This safe haven was a massive space station run by anti-Alliance partisans who had never surrendered at the end of the Uni-War. Before the war ever began a small group of wealthy industrialists, sympathetic to the plight of the Rim and Border Planets, had come together and built two huge space stations in secret, knowing that violence was imminent and that the push against the Alliance would need forward staging and re-supply bases. These stations were mobile, and followed a circuitous, secret path in the Black between the Rim and the Border. These paths followed a complex algorithm that was the only way ships could find them. This algorithm was, obviously, jealously guarded.

During the war one of the stations was discovered and destroyed. However, the second was not. Nicknamed The Rover, this huge complex remained a secret, and thus was not included in any of the disarmament agreements required at the surrender of the Independents. It continued to serve as a hub of activity for people not exactly in favor in the Alliance; both gray and black market operations flourishing there.

The message included a brief description of the ruling system of the station. An Administrator was in charge of the overall operations, but there was a board of directors of 50 men and women who truly dictated how things were done. This Committee of Captains were the Independent officers or their descendents who had known about the station, and were the only people who were allowed to sponsor new people into that small group of captains who knew about it. Each algorithm included a code that was slightly different, with a tag identifying which Committee member it belonged to. Should anyone ever give away the key, it could be easily traced as to who the culprit was. The station, the message stated, could defend itself readily enough, and whoever leaked the information would be charged with the financial burden of the defense, as well as the prodigious fuel expenditure spent on altering the station to a new course and disseminating that new course to all the board members.

The crew was horrified by some of the conditions imposed upon them for the approach to the Rover, but they felt that there was very little choice. Under the cover of another massive storm, and with Gaeth riding electronic shotgun and the captain’s not inconsiderable piloting skills, the ArchAngel was able to escape the cordon of Fleet ships around Newhall and streak away towards the point in the Black where Sal said the algorithm indicated the Rover would be.

The journey was sad and sobering. Sal spent most of his time keeping the ship in one piece. Jack, now processing the loss of his uncle, was morose and kept to himself, as did the Captain. Gaeth maintained anonymous cortex connections through waypoints, and kept the rest of the crew up to date on current news.

The news was not good. The guilt of the ArchAngel was all but given. Gun camera footage, probably from the Chuilkortu, seemed to show irrevocable proof of their missile launch. McNamara was already known as the Butcher of Newhall, and their faces were plastered all over the cortex and broadsheets from Sinon to Lilac.

The news further reported on thousands of volunteer workers moving out into the Rim and Border worlds with millions of Alliance credits, offering to help offset the loss of their leaders and stabilize the local conditions.

This just served to make the crew more upset.

Gaeth spent most of his time creating IDs for the crew and the ship that would pass at least basic inspection. Again he managed to surprise the crew with his innate ability with a cortex console.

Sal, in his off time, was working on a personal project he would not discuss. It looked like a short one foot wand of some type, about an inch in diameter, full of very small components that looked very technical and esoteric. Jack, too, had a personal project, his much easier to identify. A gun of such massive proportions it looked like you could use it to hunt capital ships if so inclined.

The captain continued to brood, and the ship limped onwards.

When the Rover finally came into view the crew congregated on the command deck to share first impressions. It was huge, almost the size of the Ming Trahn, and painted a dull matte black, sprayed with faint colors that blended further into the Black behind.

The station was built around a central spire easily as tall as the aft towers of the Ming Trahn. Three spool sections ringed it, two major sections lower down featured a total of eight docking ports sized to accommodate full bore long haul freight carriers. The third ring section was of a more solid design and was located near the top of the spire. Observation pods seemed to hang out over the upper edge, eight in all.

Above and below the three rings stretched huge sensor masts, quite clearly military grade equipment that would link the station to the cortex no matter how far they found themselves from a beacon. There were no weapons in evidence, but there were many ports with closed and seemingly armored hatches that could obviously hold weapons of capital ship size and ferocity.

The crew were sent into Docking Bay Echo, which was configured for multiple smaller craft, and brought, un-armed, into the presence of The Administrator, a Mr. Garwood, under armed, roughly-equipped guards. The lighting in the station was tinged faintly reddish, which Sal informed the men had been standard on Independent warships. It was much hotter than the men were used to as well, as if the life support was not running at optimal levels.

The crew was brought up the central spine along stairways, and ran into several transients whom the guards threatened with something called the Temperance Shuttle, which left in 10 days. The crew tried several times to engage the guards about the Temperance Shuttle, but the guards would not speak to their charges from behind their blank blast shield masks.

Eventually the crew came out of the service ways onto a clean but worn hallway with institutional brown walls and the occasional missing lighting panel overhead. They were brought to Administrator Garwood’s office through a small working conference room full of busy people, including the Administrator’s assistant, Francine.

The Administrator apparently knew them despite their faked ID, and in fact had prepared for the meeting by putting out three extra chairs in his office for a total of five. Clearly, he had been expecting the entire crew.

The meeting was far from pleasant for most of the men. Garwood made it clear that he did not approve of McNamara, and that should his real identity become known, most people on the station would not either. Sal tried to ingratiate himself with the Administrator, having remembered him from the war, but Garwood was an old Independent dog that didn’t learn new tricks very well, and didn’t take kindly to a former browncoat who had taken to wearing the Alliance uniform.

The captain attempted to face down Garwood, but was brought up short as he was reminded that he and the entire crew had left the Alliance far behind. On the Rover they were strangers, and this far out from the Core, strangers were looked upon with only suspicion and contempt. McCoy, despite an attempt to secure a position as a Sick Berth Attendant, was also told thanks but no thanks, until such time as he had proven himself to the Committee.

In fact, Garwood made it clear that none of them would be welcome aboard the Rover without Jack, who’s uncle’s friend had made the call to get them pulled out of the Black in the first place. Jack, who Garwood called Johnny, was offered a berth at the Rover or a trip home on the first available ship. He declined, however, and opted to stay with his crew, despite the burden of suspicion that now weighed them all down.

In fact, the crew soon learned that it was only because Jack was on the crew that they had been saved at all. Apparently the Committee kept close tabs on any personnel from the Rim or Border planets serving with the Alliance, and so had known the basics of Jack’s career all along. When the official story about Newhall had come out, they began to dig, and found a small amount of circumstantial data that seemed to call the story into question, and it was on this very fragile thread that the crew had been allowed onto the Rover.

The Administrator demanded full access to the ArchAngel by his scientific staff, for which there would be no charge for the use of a secluded bay for the ship and the fee for oxygen on the station. That situation would remain solid only for as long as the technical staff found the ArchAngel interesting, then they would be cast back out into the Black if they had not proven themselves first.

For all other needs, the Administrator told the crew they’d have to go down to the Esplanade, the central mall-like ring of the station, where almost anything could be found . . . for a price.

The crew was offered various assignments working for the Committee, but decided to hold off for a bit and see what presented itself. They were allowed to affect whatever repairs they could in the time they had, and had to decide, quickly, if they were going to do that or sell the ship and try to procure a new one.

One thing was for sure: they wouldn’t be able to change the ArchAngel enough for her to pass visual inspection with what they had on hand.

Going back down to the ship the crew once again overheard someone mention the Temperance Shuttle, and with a little digging discovered that it was a charity shuttle that the Committee ran once a standard month for those who couldn’t handle it on the Rover. Begging was not allowed, and if someone ran out of money, they were allowed to stay in a dirty little transient berth and fed subsistence-level quantities of protein packs and water till the next shuttle left, and then they were dropped off at the nearest planet. It was not a sought after assignment, and the crew of the shuttle rotated regularly.

As the crew talked about their meeting with the Administrator, they started to put some puzzle pieces together, and they did not look good. Clearly Dr. Vincent was an Operative of the Parliament, and the ArchAngel was a high-level plot to silence descent and regain control over the Rim and Border Planets. The Aegis system, Sal was convinced, NEVER worked, and was actually programmed to interact with the sensor suites of Black Squadron only in order to give the appearance of stealth technology.

So all in all, they were on a strange space station with little money, no way to escape, and very little in the way of trade goods. Hunted by a dreaded Operative who KNEW they weren’t dead, and dead AND disgraced to the rest of the ‘Verse.

Captain McNamara seemed close to losing it again on the trip back, muttering about the futility of planning and how much of a bum deal he had received from the ‘Verse. It left the other men to continue silent speculation as to what allowed the captain to let Hightower throw himself alone at four trained commandos back on the island.

The rest of the crew, Sal and Jack in particular, continued to plan, trying to come up with a way to maybe make some credits selling the extra weapons from the ArchAngel.

Gaeth and Jack turned from the trip back to the ship to head for the Esplanade to check out the local color.

Sal and the captain returned to the ship with the security detail, where they found a crew of technicians waiting to start going over the ArchAngel. The captain, now going by the name of Ned Stark, introduced himself to the crew with some trepidation, worried that his beard might not hide his identity, but apparently, it was sufficient. Sal recognized one of them, Damien, from before the war. There was a tense moment, but the techies seemed willing to allow that Sal had had little choice after the war. Sal, now going by the name ‘Hal’, was welcomed by Damien and the other technical crewmembers, which at least gave the little man some hope that the Administrator’s bleak predictions might not be entirely correct.

Back on the esplanade, Jack, now called Johnny Shotgun, and Gaeth, now called Aodhan, were looking for possible arms dealers with which to earn some credits with the extra weapons. The directory got the better of them several times, as names of businesses sent them running round and round the circular level looking for smokes for Gaeth, now Aodhan, and drink for Jack, now Johnny. The names of several shops on the directory proved confusing, including a shop called Pipe Cleaners, that was actually an alcohol supply store. Eventually they figured out that the Esplanade was separated into sections delineated by letters on the ceiling and their Greek equivalents spelled out on the walls. This made a certain amount of sense except in rare occasions where, for instance, the letters on the ceiling were C’s, and the words said Gamma.

Still, though, there did not seem to be much organization of the layout for the shops. They saw the Panoramic Café, which seemed to be a very posh eatery. They passed a pub called Mickey’s, a bar called Cards and Bones in a slightly wider area called the Central Court, and a very small, unprepossessing gun shop called Side Iron.

Having decided to check out Mickey’s, they walked back to the Central Court and found an electronic jobs posting board. The board was full of all kinds of promising looking jobs, but almost all of them were labeled MHOS, which Gaeth, or Aodhan didn’t recognize, but Johnny had seen before. It meant Must Have Own Ship, and left the crew of the defunct ArchAngel high and dry for the time being. When Aodhan altered the search parameters to remove all MHOS tagged jobs, the list was much smaller, mainly for insured and bonded security professionals, specialists of one type or another (Aodhan found several Sick Berth Attendant postings for a place called Shiny Medical), or unskilled spacers on long haul bulk transports for very little pay or prospects. Feeling somewhat dejected, the men decided to go into Mickey’s for a drink.

As they entered the tavern they could tell they were going to be feeling right at home. The atmosphere was thick with swirling smoke and low, heavy music that did not make talking to your compatriots difficult at all, but made it almost impossible to hear what was being said by the other patrons around you.

The place was predominantly green, white, and orange, and there were objects evocative of New Galway and other Irish enclaves all over the walls. These objects ranged from pictures and holos to actual weapons, flags, and even a couple ancient-looking swords. They were all apparently nailed to the wall where all the patrons could appreciate them.

Aodhan was feeling better about his chances for finding something to deal with his tobacco addiction judging from the smoke in the pub, until he realized that it was artificially created by small machines in the back, and none of the patrons were actually smoking!

Back in the hangar bay Sal and the captain watched the tech crew move over the ship from the command deck. One member of the crew in particular was bothering Sal, but he couldn’t say why. Eventually he went down to talk with the man, whose name proved to be Del Muskovy. The techie seemed to get more and more nervous as Sal casually pumped him for information, trying to get the captain’s attention on the sensor net, but McNamara, now Stark, was too wrapped up in his own misery to pay too close attention. Sal was on his own.

Continually being pressed, Muskovy suddenly bolted past the little engineer and tried to run out of the hangar bay, surprising the rest of his crew as well as Sal. Sal tried to round house the taller man as he ran past but barely missed, and spent precious seconds recovering before he could run after him, screaming all the way.

McNamara, now Stark, tried to help by announcing a coolant leak and demanding a lockdown, but in the mass confusion of all the personnel trying to flee the bay, Muskovy was able to duck out and into the crowded outer hall. The captain and Sal were forced to leave their pistols behind in the chase.

As they moved out after Muskovy, Damien accompanied them, horrified that one of his men could be acting this way. Apparently, Muskovy had been scribbling in a paper notebook, despite all of the more modern, high tech gear the rest of the team had been sporting, and that had alerted the little Italian. Damien said that, knowing who the crew of the ArchAngel was, the traitor could sell that information to any number of people on the station, including a group he called the Data Ninjas, ‘View’, or Blackthorne Securities.

Moving through the station with Damien they learned that the discrepancies in the ceiling and wall labels on the Esplanade, where they’d tracked Muskovy to so far, were due to the Administration trying to change the designations of sections from their military alpha, bravo, Charlie designations to a more modern Greek alternative, with opposition from most of the old hands.

They also learned that the only time The Rover went into total lockdown was when two or more of the Committee members went missing or died under mysterious circumstances at the same time. Apparently it had happened only twice in the history of the station, and wouldn’t be done now to save their identities if they couldn’t stop Muskovy on their own.

They continued to scan potential spots where the fled traitor might sell his information, including the posh offices of Coreward Securities and the Shadow Temple, where Damien said the Data Ninjas recorded everything, and sold it to the highest bidder. The captain and engineer opted to stay away from that section.

They returned to the Central Court, first going into Cards and Bones, then Downloads: A Cortex Café looking for Muskovy, but didn’t have any luck. And time, they knew, was running out.

In Mickey’s Johnny and Aodhan had settled down in a group that was apparently listening to an older gentleman harangue the crowd about a new tax that was being imposed on inter-planetary shipping to offset the cost of Peace Enclaves that the Parliament was setting up all over the Rim and Border Planets, ostensibly to help with the tragedies of the last several months.

New rules and regulations were being imposed upon the long haul, large bulk cargo ships that seemed to involve limiting the number of ships that could travel together, as well as rises in fees and tariffs should the ships be traveling through Core space in particular. The entire passel of laws and regulations, the man contended, was meant specifically to further limit the influence of the Rim- and Border- based long haul owner-captains and their guilds and unions.

While Johnny and Aodhan watched, Aodhan noticed that the people listening, and agreeing, with the man’s speech were mostly upper-class spacers, honest men and women who might have stake in the shipping lanes. Further scanning the crowd he was shocked to see a woman, slightly overweight and dressed in solid black Core business attire, who seemed to be watching the man intently, listening to his every word. The shock occurred when he realized the woman was missing her right eye and ear; they had been replaced with artificial recording equipment, and the woman seemed to be completely enthralled, almost as if she were more recording device than person.

Aohdan also noticed two men sitting further back in the crowd, bundled up as if they were cold despite the relative heat of the space station. The men looked right at Aodhan, and he had a creepy feeling, as he realized they seemed completely devoid of emotion.

Aodhan panicked, but tried to hide it. The men in the bar desperately scared him for some reason, but he couldn’t figure out a way to get away quickly. He began to breathe heavily, and soon was panting, holding desperately to his table, his eyes glassy and far away. Johnny tried to snap him out of his fit, and after a moment, he returned, but his face was sheathed in sweat, and there was a desperate gleam in his eye.

Aodhan sat up straighter and scanned around the bar, his eyes coming to rest on a nervous looking man in technician’s cover-alls, drinking by himself. The older gunner moved towards him, bringing Johnny in his wake, and they soon learned that the man’s name was Del Muskovy, and that he had something to sell.

Aodhan, with a combination of drink and guile, got the story out of the tech, and the two gunners were trying to figure out how to proceed, when a large scarred man came out of the crowd, claiming to be Muskovy’s friend and wanting to get him back to his quarters, as he was clearly the worse for wear, from Aodhan plying him with drink. Aodhan and Johnny were suspicious, but moved to help, thinking that outside in the crowd they might have more freedom of movement, compared to the close confines of the pub.

As the strange foursome moved towards the door, Sal and the captain, having just come in looking for Muskovy, noticed him being helped out by their crewmates and the strange scarred man, and decided to hang back and follow, to see where things were leading.

Aodhan and the scarred man were escorting Muskovy out of the pub with Johnny leading the way when the three of them fell down in a heap. Aodhan, having tripped them all, made a move to steal a notebook being clutched tightly by the drunk Muskovy, but the scarred man, who had by now introduced himself as Graygen, noticed, and demanded, as they stood outside the nearest lift doors, that the old gunner give it to him. He claimed that he was working with a partner who had taped the entire event, and that if they didn’t give him the book, their faces would be waved out over the entire ‘Verse.

Things began to turn ugly, as Johnny and Graygen were facing each other, looking for a fight, when Sal and the captain waded out of the crowd, backing up their friends. Graygen then made as if to retreat, but did not leave before and entire security detail finally arrived, summoned by Damien.

However, finding Graygen involved, as well as Muskovy seemingly unconscious, the guard captain decided that the entire lot of them needed to be brought back up to the Administrator’s office immediately.

With guards carrying the limp form of the tech, the whole lot of them went into the lift and began the long ride up the spire.


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