A few high clouds streaked the sky like strips of canvas where the paint didn't cover. It was a blue sort of day that sank into the bones as the sky stretched and rippled in the eddies of a quantum anomaly pressing against the borders of the Bois Bleu containment zone.
Boris stood on the prow of a fast boat that sliced the waters of Lorena's harbor. The evacuation module from the EXXO Genetic Algorithms facility had been empty. There was no sign of Mary Problems or their underwater firefight save for the hewn chassis of the Vostok and scattered remains of the puppet remote. Without sign of capture or escape, they had no choice but to pursue their next lead in the ALEPH stronghold of Lorena.
At the outset of operations, Steranko and his supporters in the Black Hand had pushed for an expansion of influence within the wealthy enclaves of Midgard and Bois Bleu on behalf of Tunguska's databankers. As the strategic situation evolved, High Command and it's allies had decided to shift attention towards other priorities. The Op itself would be sanctioned, but there would be only a skeleton team available to Boris' command.
As he finished up the encrypted quantronic briefing with Interventor Grósz he walked to the hold where the rest of the team waited.
"We're inserting in twenty minutes. I'll have tactical command from the Commercial Mission. We'll be infiltrating a sensitive data node for The Enemy. Expect immediate resistance responding with extreme prejudice. We need to secure and hold for as long as possible to deploy our payload. I know this is a light team, but we have back up from Vipera Pursuit Force. Expect that OpFor will have a similar rapid response protocol. We also have a secret weapon that we'll deploy once security forces are out of position. Interventor Grósz has point and you'll be taking command from her."
His team acknowledged the briefing with silent nods and continued to outfitting with gear and checking their equipment. Boris returned to the prow of the boat. Flecks of sea spray peppered his long coat as they crested waves. The team's Heckler joined him, offering a cigarette from a pack of Antarahs.
"I heard you used to be part of our unit, sir."
Boris shrugged noncommittally as he took the cigarette and lit it.
"Any advice for a fellow operator about to cross into the front lines?"
Boris took a thoughtful puff, held the burning air in his lungs before letting it stream out of his nose and mouth like a ghost escaping a body. He ashed the Antarah into the sea before putting it to his lips again.
"Keep your head down and wait for your moment," he said finally before taking another drag. "Don't expose yourself before you're ready. There's a subtlety to destruction that, if you're patient, is more spectacular than any explosion."
The sun started to fade behind the horizon into a blot of red at the end of the sky, leaching purple darkness that blacked out the clouds, the water, and the figures on the prow. They smoked silently until the fast boat arrived at harbor. Then one by one Grósz and her team entered that darkness too.
So this is my second time playing Superiority against Jon and I'm trying to redeem myself a bit from the last game. My previous showing featured a Wolfgang led team with Perseus, a Stempler, and a Hollowman against Jon that was oppressed by Pandora and wrecked by Achilles. I had needlessly risked my Lt out of position for a failed console and subsequently lost the Interventor to Achilles, and then everything kind of snowballed against me for a 1-8 loss. This is my chance to slightly tweak my approach and try to do better, both in keeping my cool and results on the table.
That said, the mission allows for a paradrop Kriza and I'm definitely doing it. To the point where I'm willing to take the compromise of expensive Kriza to preserve my SWC for a reinforcements game. I also expect a pocket Achilles because he can also airdrop and absolutely bully with that spitfire and three wounds.
The list is built around a Securitate-Grenzer-Interventor Core which is supposed to lock down one half of the board and keep the Interventor in place. It's filled out by puppets because of course, a vertigo because it's Steel, and a Heckler KHD to protect the Interventor. I'm also trying to figure out how Zellenkriegers work so I got a Pulzar in there too for corner guarding and violence. With the change to tachimotos, the reinforcements group has also changed for a Jelena led core with a Rounder Red Fury, a Stempler filler/cheapo specialist, and a Marspider to gizmo any surviving remote and be a credible CC threat. I also have the Spektr MMR because Spektrs are cheaper now and I don't need a five man core or have anything else I want to spend SWC on, and a midfield ODD pocket shooter feels like a good idea for Superiority. My assumption is that the Grenzer will die at some point and I'll either break the first core team or reform as a haris with the free new core.
Jon's list is also making some similar compromises to field big Achilles from the sky. He's traded a whole enomatarchos to meme-drop Achilles and is using his chaff to support the very expensive Thorakitai commlink. His plan, so far as I can understand it, is to push and hold with the Machaon-Acmon-Pandora-Myrmidon Spitfire enomatarchos for more zones and rampage with Achilles. Even though he isn't playing the Samekh this time, Pandora's a credible hacking threat against a list which is basically all hacakble. For reinforcements, the Dawons will sweep in at the end to clear me off the table in CC and while adding burst to the Riksha, while the Apsara can clear hacking threat and push buttons. It's actually a little light on threats, if I can break the enomatarchos and neutralize Achilles, I have a shot at holding the board.
We choose this bonkers destroyed space station map because it looks pretty cool. We have to spend a little time talking through whether you can stand on wires (yes) or shoot through corridors with windows on each side (no) but are able to sort out a compromise pretty quickly. What I miss at this stage is the best way to actually parachute in from the side--there are only three or four viable spots and even after evaluating, I miss the best one. That said, I have a sense of where I want to go and how I want to defend, but my main deployment plan is to go second to maximize my potential for zone scoring.
I won the lieutenant role and turn this time rather than try and play the head game of deployment. Jon picks side and has me show my cards first. So I end up deploying first and going second.
I think deployment is ok. I'm a little conservative with my Grenzer link in a corner, but it has narrow LOF to two consoles without risking enfilading fire. My commlink takes corner guard while the Interventor and paramedic duck. I initially put the Warcor in the forward position but switch it out for the Stempler so I can cover the console and zone with hacking, which I think was well intentioned but probably a mistake. There ended up being no hacking bubble on the other side of the board which will advantage a later Achilles rampage. I put the Puppet Master (my reserve drop and key ops) in the other corner with a mine and Zellenkrieger as corner guards and drop the Vertigo prone with the Warcor covering the other flank. The puppets are shifted in the middle to the zone with the AP MMR up front to guard the corner not covered by the Zellenkrieger and the FO version prone to go run on a button. Given that I have no moving specialists on the Grenzer half of the board and this console is blocked essentially blocked from a straight run, this is a mistake, I think. But I'm in a bit of a jam in that if I don't cover the Puppet Master enough, it can be alpha'd and then the bots are paper weights. Still, there's a line of open consoles that are begging for 6-4 movement and a WIP 14 2W specialist. Lastly, I have my Heckler KHD in an advanced position to menace the console, a misread of LoF as I wanted the movement to cover the console in an order or two but wasn't intending to give up the discover so easily.
Opposite Jon counter deploys my puppets and Zellenkrieger with his enomatarchos (Macaon as key ops) which makes sense as there's a fairly sheltered run on two consoles from that side. On the opposite flank, he has his Lamedhs and the Thorakites keeping their heads down from the Grenzer but offering some hacking net defense to keep me from pushing too deep without triggering Pandora. Both Netrods make their PH rolls and we're off to the races.
Sahak thought about what their Black Hand handler had told him. Keep your head down. Wait for your moment. Subtlety. He moved ahead of the team, already beyond the advanced sensors watching movement on the bridge and wondered how anyone keeping their head down could ever make an impression on High Command. Did Sarmiento keep his head down? Persakis? Steranko? Or did they shake things up and shatter the status quo for the freedom of the last remaining humans that we're AI bootlickers?
As Sahak took position just overlooking the ALEPH console and released the safety on FGA SG-9 combi rifle and sighted down range, he knew exactly what his moment was going to be, and waited for the moment some fragment of ALEPH code in a meat suit crossed into his ghost ring.
I pay the command token tax to strip two orders and Jon uses O-12 prestige to buy one back. We remember our supply boxes and key ops at this point--Machaon gets his tac aware and the Puppet Master gets mine, and the boxes go where they're going to be ignored all game.
Jon then pushes forward with his tacawares on Acmon and Mac to grab the first console with Pandora and then pushes with the Myrmidon Spitfire to get LoF on my Heckler. I decide to forego my ARO. The link doesn't have a composition bonus and it's a net -3 on the Myrmidon's WIP so just about a coin flip but Jon passes with like a 5 or something. Next order I opt to dodge on B1 11 instead of dropping the cybermine, which might have been better, and get pasted.
The rest of the turn is moving Pandora up to grab the second console and put down pitchers (only one lands) before positioning the team. Jon's maybe a few inches (literally) from giving the airdrop Kriza exactly the LoF it wants. I think he knows it so he keeps Acmon back to fend off the incoming and passes turn.
Machaon waved Alpha Team forward. The wind off the Aegir whipped up, tousling his hair in the salted darkness. It felt cool and fresh on his new skin. The Aspect had had many new Lhosts, but each new body was a transition, a mixture of anger over loss and anticipation for the opportunity to revenge himself.
"Contact," came the subvocalization of the Myrmidon on point. There was a barking of several shots fired in quick succession. "Target down."
"Do you think they're the same team from earlier?" Pandora wondered aloud as she uploaded a new security protocol to the substation's server console.
Machaon had wondered the same. The thought made him giddy. Made his xiphon want to sing with their blood.
"It could be. If so, we should be prepared for unexpected lanes of fire. Acmon, you guard the rear. I will watch over Pandora so that work may continue without interruption."
The stoic dactyl nodded as he covered the rearguard.
"Are we merely guards now, Machaon?" Pandora was laconic with her contempt. This too made Machaon's sword want to sing, though she was a comrade. After Massive Filter and Lush Valley, there were few who did not regard her with deep mistrust. Who knew when the Iatromantis might again be the lone survivor of some terrible misadventure?
"Worry not, fair Pandora," Machaon was as cool as the night breeze, "We shall seize the momentum when the enemy least expects it. And they shall be scoured from this land like rot from a wound."
I decide to forego the Zellenkrieger's impetuous as it drew 8-4 move on MetaChem and even moving prone it's going faster than most troopers. I drop smoke, scuttle back, drop a little more smoke while crawling, stand up, and come around the corner to threaten the enomatarchos. Referring back to time, this is where I make a critical error, running around to drop a Pulzar on an exposed Lt Machaon instead of looking to dodge and pull off a berserk. As expected, the Zellenkrieger drops the template but doesn't seal the trade--Machaon passes his save.
I show a little patience and decide to move the Transductor up to at least hold a zone. Then I try to push with the Puppetbot to kill the repeater, taking the first Oblivion but not landing a hit on B4. I am successful on the second try (only one hit, of course) but get bricked.
This leaves one regular order left for me on the table. I believe WiseKensai has called Infinity a game of position at a point in time (sorry if I've misattributed this!), which I take to mean as you want to be in the right place at the right time. Sensible. This is not the story of the game. I decide to drop the Kriza in to hopefully disrupt the enomatarchos and outpoint them in the zone. This is folly. It has no orders to really do anything but drop into suppressive fire (the plan) and if I had been paying even half attention I would have known that Mac and Acmon outpoint even the heavies of Kriza. But I'm not paying half attention. So I walk on and tank a shot from Acmon. I then go into suppressive and Acmon flubs both Panzerfausts before I pass turn. With no zones and no consoles scored to Jon's two consoles and three zones, it's now 0-4 Steel.
Grósz checked and rechecked her tactical uplink. As she cycled through the team status, it looked like only the Heckler was down, wounded. Losing the advanced operator was tough, but an acceptable loss, especially if she could pull the ALEPH fireteam further out of position.
"Cage fighter, you're up," she messaged over comms. Grósz had no idea the amount of silk enhancements and Nitrocaine these Stadion rejects lived on, but the way it moved was a sort of terrorizing grace. Yet despite the lightning speed of the aristo, an ALEPH repeater dropped a viral payload into its comlong. There was a quantronic hunter in the AO.
"'Krieger, you've got some malware. Recommend a reset," she was steady as her geist pulled up some innoculation routines.
"Not worried about them going through my browser history," was the sarcastic reply.
"Hold position in any event. You're getting too close to that fireteam."
"Not worried about their bullets either. This one's for Denma."
There was a warcry followed by the clap of return fire before Grósz's heads up display flipped another team member from green status to red status. She cursed under her breath. She switched channels.
"Command, I'm going to need that special asset."
"Are you sure?" Boris asked, checking his tactical analyses. They were dismal. "We're showing a low probability of impact."
"I need something to stop that team from moving forward. We're soft on the flank and the Geppetto is exposed."
It was Boris's turn to switch channels. A second fast boat was closing in on Lorena. It was flagged Freedom International and it's manifest was for medical and food aid. But at his quantronic command the transponder flicked off and he ghosted into an encrypted Arachne datasphere buried in the ship's small hold.
"Are you ready Kletka?"
The Kriza Boracs seemed to rouse at the mention of his name. He'd was supine in a container purporting to carry durians, arms across his chest like he was laying in a coffin.
"Of course, Commander. Sergei Kletka is always ready."
"Good, we're prepping for a marine deployment. There's a mechanical release next to your right hand. I need you to pull it and then head to bow of the ship. There's a bottom release there that will allow you to drop into the water directly under the boat. From there, follow the indicators on your HUD to the LZ. The modified jets on your armor should allow you to move through water like an EVA through space."
"Very good, Commander. I look forward to it. One question, though. Have we met before?"
Boris pursed his lips.
"High Command looks forward to your continued exemplary martial conduct. Good luck, Kletka."
"Thank you commander. One more question, is Achilles there?"
Boris checked the tactical analysis. A small team of Aspects, backed up by tactical remotes with little more than laser interferences and hacking repeaters, with one Thorakites no doubt charged to maintain the link with Ank Program. The numbers were worse than the ones he'd verified for Grósz.
"Not yet, Kletka."
"Good," the Kriza said with a smile as he pulled the release on the durian container. "Tell him I'm coming and I look forward to breaking him in the name of the mighty Nomad Nation."
The best thing I can say about the Kriza gambit is that it wastes some orders. Jon tries to bait me with Pandora using carbonite but at BTS 6 my thought is that it will always take at least two orders to kill the Kriza so why give up suppression which is the most powerful deterrent against that death? It takes something like three orders to actually land carbonite, at which point Acmon jumps in with the D-Charge. The Kriza successfully resets and eats two wounds to unconscious.
With the Kriza cleared, there is now room for Achilles to drop in the same spot. Fueled by the remaining orders, Achilles makes his march towards the puppet master first, where he eats a mine and takes a wound but not before obliterating him off the table. Then he moves up on the Vertigo who can't missile good at short range and also goes kaput. Then it's the Warcor's turn and she also goes down in an order.
At this point, my right flank is cleared of troops, so Achilles is running out of targets. He's able to move up and get a line on the transductor who goes unconscious before passing turn.
"Good news, Interventor Grósz. The viral inoculation you crafted has worked perfectl--" The rest of Kletka's transmission was cut off in a clamor of screens and automated warnings about Semtex.
"Kletka, do you copy?"
"Grósz," Boris cut in, "High priority warning. There's something incoming fast through the water, and it's not one of ours. Get your team back into defensive positions."
Along the shores of the wine dark Aegir sea, a leviathan moved with glaring pink eyes and a blood lust wrought into the snarl of its face. Despite the whirring servos of its heavy armor, it's booted feet touched the ground without so much of a clomp, nor did the xiphon raised to its brow cut the air with more than a whisper.
"Heavy with wine, dog faced and with the heart of deer, never the courage to face your enemy in battle but preying through feint and ambuscade. With the heart of thieves--quaver!--for wroth is upon thee."
"Noble Achilles," Machaon called to his brother, still dripping wet with sea water and seething at the indignity of being withheld from battle. "What a welcome return. May you set their ships to burning in the fierceness of your anger."
"Brother Machaon, stay your honeyed words. For we Myrmidons trade in deeds and death, and I have come to bestow both upon these lotus eaters that they may yet find glory upon the edge of my blade."
The foremost of the Homeridae stalked forward, his comrades awestruck by his vainglory.
"Trust me little though you do," Pandora said after awhile, "I will never understand how you can follow such a maelstrom and think yourselves wise."
So, there was a moment in the ALEPH round where I was like, ok, dead Heckler plus dead Zellenkrieger gets me a third of the way there, if the Kriza and one other thing go down, I basically have reinforcements this turn which I desperately need to shift momentum. Then Achilles helpfully killed another four things and I went from just over the threshold to worrying that even with reinforcements I wouldn't have enough models or momentum to do anything but concede.
It's at this knife's edge where I basically decide to drop everyone on Achilles. My initial goals in this second deployment are to put the Marspider in CC range and to put the Stempler in hacking range and to make sure that the Rounder and Spektr can get shots out of Achille's LoF. All successfully done. Since my Securitate core is in place, I opt for a haris excluding the Marspider instead of a core so I can run two fire teams and I switch the commlink trooper over.
With positioning in place, I now proceed to really mess up the sequencing and orders to get this done. I spend the lieutenant order on the Interventor to carbonite Achilles. Already, you've probably seen at least two mistakes here. First, is why keep the fireteam core if I'm switching the commlink over? Second, why use the Lt order when I have an NCO and it breaks the fireteam? Well, I forget (always forget) that Rounders are NCO. But as soon as I broke the fireteam I realized a host of mistakes. If that Marspider had been in the link I would have had four group one orders to carbonite Achilles and could have piled in extra link members for free to up the CC burst on him. Or, I could just drop three continuous damage templates on him and let Jon's dice do what they do. As it is, I kinda opt in to the least advantageous and most expensive way to do damage and it more or less seals the game for me.
But as it plays out, the Marspider goes in and doesn't crit, but DA CCW forces Achilles to roll four saves of which he makes 3. I think about carboniting again (which I might as well have) but decide to have the Marspider fight again and eat explosive CCW. It does not survive. I then move the Vipera team forward and the Rounder puts five shots into Achilles and finally deletes him. From there, the team moves up and the Stempler secures a console while the team moves up to contest Jon's left zone and breaks off into suppressive fire. I'm so off kilter that I'm not minding LoF and Jelena gives up a free ARO to the Thorakitai but he misses. I do spend an order on the Spektr to move it into a place where it's vulnerable but not menacing Jon's link team. I don't know what the plan is there (and that's the problem).
With the rest of my group one orders, which I had no plan for, I move the Grenzer up so he can try to overwatch my reinforcement pieces. He's a little mispositioned--Jelena needed the help more than the Stempler backed up by the Rounder, but at this point the hole is so deep that digging a little further won't make a significant difference. Despite my sloppy play, I do control two zones of my own, so I deny Jon points and score one of my own, making it 1-4 Steel.
DI Jelena Kovač streamed the satellite footage through her comlog linked contacts. The Securitate that had signaled for the emergency drop didn't sound scared, exactly, their training would never allow for that. But there was an unspoken urgency in his voice that let her know that the mission was on a knife's edge. Achilles himself was in the area of operations. If that bothered the rest of the team, they didn't show it. The Spektr's full body thermoptic camo obscured any expression and a Stempler Zond lacked emotional complexity. Blanxart, the Tunguskan Rounder seemed indifferent to both the revelation and the G-Force pressing the team against the side of the capsule during ballistic reentry. The Redsky cyborg looked positively excited, the claws of its extra set of arms snapping just before shudder of the drop pod as it plummeted through the lower atmosphere.
Retrojets fired just before touchdown at the precise hair's breadth moment between rough landing and splattered corpses. Blasting charges blew out the doors. The smoke and dust from impact didn't interrupt the firefight, rather the roaring tempest of Achilles was facing them down with a frightening gleam in his eyes. Then he was struck with a sudden rigor as viral code from Interventor Grósz, who proved to be less incompetent than Kovač suspected. With ALEPH's poster boy reduced to statuary, the Marspider leapt upon him in a flurry of limbs, jabbing into scores and pocks of the Pelides's armor, ripping from it chunks of neomaterial plates and ichor stained cabling.
Yet the Aspect was merely hobbled, not humbled. It's pink eyes glitched as the control circuits of its power armor reset. As the Marspider's arms reared back for another pummeling, Achilles swung with the xiphos, connecting just under the ribs. The blade, laced with high powered contact activated explosives, seemed to shatter the Redsky cyborg into more pieces than even the most advanced cybernetic human could contain. Roaring through the spray of viscera and misted blood, the King of the Myrmidons raised a blade at Jelena and unleashed a guttural scream that managed to be both challenge and grievance at once.
With the practiced burst of a firing range, Blanxard's red fury connected twice with the apex of ALEPH's post human monstrosities. Once in the leg to bring it down. Once again in the head to make sure it stayed that way. Achilles could never truly die, not unless ALEPH deleted its code, but this husk of it would never rise again.
"The house always wins," Blanxard muttered as she took point on the team.
"Kovač," Grósz called over comms, "I've uploaded a viral payload to the Stempler. We need you to download it on to as many consoles as possible."
Kovač signaled the Stempler forward. It clomped over to the console and deployed a connector from a forward hatch, injecting the viral code through physical transmission.
"That's one down, Interventor," Jelena called into her comlog, moving the team up to the next access point. Overhead, a crack of thunder split the sky. Kovač softly cursed. The Program Ank team was imminent. As DI Jelena Kovač looked up, she could see the heat flare coming off the bottom of their drop pod as it raced towards the AO.
"We have incoming, team," she shouted, "Move up into position, Formation Tango. Weapons free and fire at will. Fill the LZ with lead. We're going to send these ALEPH bastards to bullet hell before we give up one God damned inch."
Time for Jon to drop his reinforcements, counterdeploying mine. He drops three Dawon and a Riksha and Apsara, held a little back in Jelena's line of fire, and forms a enomatarchos with it (or I guess four man core since ALEPH reinforcements aren't subject to Homerid fluff). The remaining Dawon is in Jelena's back arc. It walks and proceeds to eat her. Rather than contest the roll I drop a chain colt and Jon tanks the save. I have a hacking ARO and the Interventor flubs it. The unlinked Dawon then tries to move on the Grenzer who puts it down while the Interventor scores with its hack. The Dawon does hit the Grenzer with its chain rifles and the Grenzer goes unconscious. Jon opts for unconscious over dogged, probably because my rounder can suppress based on his arc and Acmon could, if he wanted, spend all G1 orders to bring it back up.
With those two pieces removed, Jon decides to take on the Stempler with his Riksha and deletes the bot. The Riksha then tries to fight the Rounder and dies in the attempt.
Without a hacking ARO, he can march the Dawon in. The first ends up eating a wound and going into Dogged while marching into CC with my Rounder. With the last linked order, he has the Apsara go grab the console. I take the bait on the free CC ARO but against the wrong Dawon--should have gone for the full health one, but it doesn't matter as I roll a 20 and flub it any way.
With his mostly full group one order pool, Jon tries to take out the Spektr with Acmon. I decide to let ODD be in my favor for once and drop a mine. Acmon misses so Machaon moves up to drop eclipse and play the slice and dice game. This triggers the mine which does a wound to Acmon and Mac misses both grenades somehow. So Acmon takes the lead and shoots again. I drop another mine but this time Acmon hits twice with one being a crit. I tank only two of the three saves and the Spektr goes unconscious.
With his positioning secure to maximize available points and my orders depleted to challenge that dominance, Jon passes turn.
The deafening clatter of gunfire greeted Urvashi's team touched as they down at the comms center. The mission success projections from Utgard remained positive, but the immediate battlefield analyses for her remotes were less optimistic. As the Apsara stepped out of the drop pod she boosted the processing power to her tactical subroutines. Battle was no different than any other simulated optimization exercise, except that it was written in the opponents blood.
With three Dawon combat remotes and a Riksha tacbot, Urvashi began to pick apart the tangled mess of overlapping fire lanes that pinned down the Thorakites that had summoned them. A single Dawon, deployed judiciously, might sacrifice it's metal frame to create an opening for the rest of the team.
Urvashi sent one of the metal tigers at the point woman of the enemy squad. It leapt into the air with calculated predation, aiming its sharpened limbs at the weakest vital points. Without breaking a beat, the woman unloaded a cone of red hot metal shrapnel on the Dawon, which glanced off it ineffectively as it plunged into her torso. So too did the transmission of a viral signal ping off it's boosted firewalls. Urvashi would have to be cautious. One of the Nomad's quantronic criminals was pulling the strings of this terrorist action.
With the first gun silenced, the Apsara directed the lone tacbot towards the enemy back line. Streaming the feed from it's visual sensors, she watched it come upon a waiting sniper who sighted the Dawon down scope. Within a fraction of a second she gave it the order to unleash its own chainrifles before the feed cut out with a concussive blast of high caliber ammunition breaking the sound barrier. This time the viral information spike had evolved beyond the countermeasures of the Dawon. Even if the sniper had not cracked its frame, it was lost to a snare of malicious code.
The Apsara spun up another command subroutine and a second for malware analysis, overclocking her processor. To the simple perception of humans, it would seem as of time slowed. In reality, Urvashi's mind was now moving faster than the mere neurons reminding these human derelicts to keep their fingers on the trigger.
Her first order of operations was to cut off the Nomad hacking threat at the source. Her tactical analysis determined that an onboard repeater on their primitive Zond was the most likely quantronic threat vector. The Riksha tacbot moved into position and with a whirring of its rotating ammo feed it cut the Nomad remote down in a hail of fire.
The Apsara pushed the tactical advantage, hoping to group fire on the last remaining spray and pray defense of the rogue humans. Where the metal tiger had been lucky to shrug off incoming fire, the graceful Riksha was not. Controlled bursts of fire tore it apart beyond the capable hands of even Acmon.
Urvashi spun up a new simulation and analyzed her less optimized solutions, loosening parameters of materiel loss. The remaining Dawons, stalking in unison, would provide a screen for her own movement to inoculate the final vulnerable console in the local datasphere.
Advancing with her own superhuman grace, Urvashi did not mourn or regret the loss of the Dawon who took the first cluster of shots into it's hydraulic reserves. Nor did she cringe as it was beaten down by the barrel of Nomad rifle. As she uploaded the intrusion countermeasures to secure the local Mayanode, her only reflection was that no matter how high a price these scurrilous dissidents demanded, ALEPH was always willing to pay to secure the best future for humanity. No bloodprice would stand in the way of their apotheosis.
At this point, I think I have mathematically lost, but we check points and I am just barely not in retreat. So I spend my command tokens to shift the commlink and rounder into group one and see what I can make happen.
First order of business is to have the Securitate Paramedic definitively kill the Grenzer. She walks up, scores with the medikit, and the Grenzer's limp body can't handle the spike of adrenaline and expires. With him definitively dead, I have to move the Paramedic up to capture the zone. That leaves one order and a lieutenant order to hustle my Interventor into the zone with the Rounder and see if I can at least deny points. Jon points out that I will eat a Trinity if I come as close as I do but with BTS 9, I am arrogant. I walk into the zone, eat the Trinity, and flub the save. With Jon controlling more zones and a dominant key ops and three consoles, we end the game with a 1-8 victory to Steel!
A bead of sweat rolled down Interventor Grósz's temple. The roster in her tactical dsiplay was more red than green, more black than red. The Spektr was the last to go down, giving his life to lay a booby trap to delay the Myrmidon team from sweeping the remains of Grósz's squad from the field. The Vipera team had spread itself thin to hold as much of a beach head as possible, but after the rampage of the Apect known as Achilles, Grósz couldn't support their advance. The sharpshooting Grenzer wasn't even in position when Kovač went down and was only able to cover the Rounder's flank at the cost of his own life.
Things were falling apart.
The encrypted instructions from their Black Hand handler were clear. Upload a memetic worm to the Lorena Mayanet. Even though the Operations and Assault subsections were likely to respond with extreme force, the nature of the virus was tailored to write its code into the very attack programs sent to delete it, propagating by using ALEPH's very own defenses against it. When these security geists and intrusion countermeasures synced with the local ALPEH node, it would bury the worm's viral progeny deeper into the AI's information architecture, creeping ever closer to the encrypted security reports.
Eventually, the extra data appended to all these programs would be discovered, but it was unlikely that a custom antivirus would be deployed before the worm revealed the location of the missing tactical hacker Mary Problems. Even a fragment of the worm on one server would be enough to uncover vital intelligence for the safety and rescue of a key Black Hand asset.
More consoles would improve the odds and uncover other vital information for the NMF, perhaps even some of the detailed surveillance reports used as blackmail against the wealthy residents of Sainte Michelle de Bois Bleu. The kind of intel that would allow Tunguskan databankers to convert the sympathies of local residents to a more secure, anonymous datacrypt.
But all that had slipped away. Besides the marginal success of Kovač's attack zond, most of the team was dead or incapacitated. The remaining Securitate were at their capacity and there was no hope of consolidating the team's gains, only of denying The Enemy's advance long enough for the next generation of the worm to replicate itself.
That meant Grósz had to take the initiative. Kovač had been successful in depleting most of the Program Ank response team. What Grósz had been able to cobble together from their tactical feeds had shown an ALEPH aspect had entered the field. Nothing quite so terrifying as an Asura, but even a lesser model couldn't be dismissed out of hand. Grósz boosted the firewalls on her Bodysoft HT-41 hacking implant and moved out from cover, crossing the no man's land of scattered Nomad bodies and remote chasses.
Grósz ran. She ran past the paramedic prepping her cube recovery tools. She ran past the body of the Grenzer, contorted and burned where he fell, his body's stem cells having rejected the emergency Silk infusion that would have mended his wounds. She ran past the shattered Transductor which crumpled under the onslaught of Achilles. She ran past the fragments of what she had been told was a Bakunin Redsky Marspider, the monstrous creation of survivalist necessity and Black Lab ingenuity. Grósz ran until she felt her nose begin to bleed. And then all was darkness.
Laia Blanxart synced her comlog with the encrypted channel protocols of the wounded Interventor. "Command, this Blanxart, Vipera Pursuit Force. Requesting immediate extraction."
"Copied, Blanxart," Boris replied a weight lifting from his chest. "What's the sitrep?"
"Interventor Grósz and DI Kovač are in CasEvac. Paramedic Janika Toivonen and Commlink Vangel Trajkovski are with me, otherwise you're better off sending a Jaeger in. Sorry for that."
Boris put a fist to his forehead as he let her words sink in. Worse casualties than the EXXO lab escape and much less to show for the loss.
"What about the payload, Blanxart?"
"One deployment confirmed."
A relief. A long shot. A chance to fight another day.
"Copied, Vipera three. We have a submersible inbound. You five get to the docks and we'll have you underway in less than ten minutes," Boris paused for a moment, wondering what he could say to make up for the loss. "Good work out there today."
"If that's what you want to call it, sir. We're en route to the extraction point. Anything you can do to keep them off us..."
"Understood," Boris replied. Already his geist was editing footage and leaking clips to underground Mayaclusters under the context of an ALEPH attack on a Nomad relief convoy. Kletka's fast boat would soon be added to the carnage, self-destructed at a point where the medical and food supplies would be sure to wash up on the shore outside Lorena. Outrage was already fomenting on Arachne, sure to spill out to the rest of the sphere. "We'll keep them busy on the PR front. Try not to get tied up with any Toth investigators."
"Must be nice to make lemonade out of our lemons, sir."
If only words could kill.
Woof. The only positive thing I think I can say is at least I did 30 VP remaining better than last time. My first and worst mistake was to play tired. But there's a clock on Shattergrounds and I wanted to get at least two phase one games in and a game at Lorena reciprocates Jon playing on Montalbán. If only the write up could have kept pace.
For what it's worth, I did actually walk in with a plan, just not a very detailed or good one. Take second turn and try to outpoint zones by having the last laugh. Kriza is there to do backfield damage. Puppets can hold without much risk. And besides getting an early console, my reinforcements can get additional if need be.
Where it fell apart was during deployment. Locking my left flank specialists in a defensive link team meant no one was there to capitalize on the Grenzer's LoF. It would have been really easy for me score two points right there and try to outpoint in the zone. Putting the Heckler as far forward as I did was not especially valuable and risked a key piece for no meaningful gain. From there, things got worse. Dropping the cybermine when the Heckler was challenged instead of dodging would have forced Achilles to take the long run against my backfield, or at least given up a dodge with potential AROs. My Zellenkrieger should have dodged for a berserk LoF instead of creep up for a meaningless pulzar. The Puppetmaster could have put out another mine to again put that risk on Achilles since the first already pulled off a wound. Most importantly, Kriza could have dropped on the other side to at least point in a zone to deny two to Jon. The list goes on.
That said, I do think I stayed in the game a little longer. And instead of just throwing every trooper at unbreakable AROs as I did last time, I tried to find paths forward. They were not the most efficient paths. But they weren't giving up either.
For Jon's end, I think he played his advantage really well. The list was maybe a little vulnerable. If I had pulled off one or two of those crazy rolls from our last game on his enomatarchos, there was not much redundancy to that threat. But that said, I took a vulnerable list to fit in a meme Kriza so it would have been against the spirit of the mission to do anything but paradrop Achilles. Jon's pretty down on the profile for cost but all told, I think it returned its value. Maybe that's not true over the course of a three or five game event or ITS season, but this game he really felt like Akilles.