“Command, we have the asset but there are hostiles inbound. Requesting immediate extraction,” Lieutenant Avagyan screamed into her comlog.
“Negative, Ruzan. Airspace around Blériot is hot now. We’re gonna have to smuggle you out under diplomatic cover,” Boris’ voice was calm though he felt anything but. Mary’s rescue had been too close for comfort and now an Operations Subsection team was breathing down their neck.
“With all due respect, Command, how the hell are we gonna pull that off?”
“There’s a Tohaa shuttle docked. Medical aid. I’m gonna forge some documents for the team. Just get your comlogs to the consoles and sync them. That should clear you for departure. Once you’re onboard, you’re clear.” Boris pulled up his hacking dial and cracked the Blériot airport security system. Lorena was so compromised at this point that it was trivial to slip in through someone else’s backdoor to forge an admin authentication and then travel credentials for the entire black ops team using QCC issued diplomatic visas. It was also the easy part. Getting out alive would take every trick in the book.
“Avagyan, your team is cleared for that Tohaa shuttle as soon as you validate credentials.”
“Thanks Command,” the relief in her voice was palpable. “We’re almost in position.”
“Don’t thank me yet Ruzan. That interdiction team is led by an Asura. Black Hand has it flagged as a triple-A tier hacking threat.”
“Bullets kill them all the same, sir.”
“I applaud your attitude Lieutenant Avagyan,” Boris was sincere, but doubtful. “Just remember that extracting the asset is the main priority.”
They would have Mary home soon. One way or another.
Last day for Shattergrounds and we finally have an in person game. I had initially wanted to get another game of Unmasking but Jon was less than interested in airdropping a Marut for .5 SWC and suggested Lorena's Last Launch. Given the overall points situation at Montalbán it felt like the fluffier way to end this campaign arc was with Last Launch extracting Mary as opposed to another Kletka clone drop, though I'm sad I won't get to make a Kriza HMG parachutist work. So we make an audible at the table and deploy for Last Launch.
I made this list this morning. Not much thought went into it. The main plan is to get Mary at the edge of the exclusion, have the Zellenkrieger drop smoke, grab an ID, cybermask and boogie over to extraction. If I pull this off turn one, I'm playing with the house's money after that. I don't like playing GML with one hacker and after Mary is gone I will have zero hackers so I downgrade an HMG for a WIP 14 BTS 0 hacker with sixth sense on a big team. Decent AROs but way less durable than an Interventor. Though again, with any luck I can write a happy ending for Mary and then everyone else can suck lemons. Lastly, with the extra LT order I decide to take my only NCO option because why not?
Jon's beaten me pretty handily with Steel like four out of our last five, so he decides to go with OSS (either out of pity or boredom). I didn't get a chance to really absorb his list and there's no time to verify it, so here are the main hits: Proxies with an engineer, infiltrating hacker, and FO; Asura HD+ LT with extra orders, and a Dakini team sporting a sniper and HMG. For a change, he's the one dropping the MBH who rolls up another MSR.
Otherwise it's paint day at the FLGS, we got a table in the back, and I'm sporting new dice I expect to let me down. We roll for LT and I win and opt for first turn to preserve my narrative intent. Jon makes me deploy first.
No big brained moves here. I pay the command token tax to hold back a second reserve and hold back Mary and the Puppetmaster. I drop the Vertigo prone on a roof, put the Salyut (proxied Vostok) in full cover, put the Warcor prone on a roof, and then drop the big link with the Grenzer MSR watching the lane Mary will go down. On the other side, a Hollow Man link of Stempler, Pitcher, and Spitfire on the opposite flank. The Zellenkrieger, who will roll Regen and then Reroll for +3 PH which is not really what I wanted but OK. Mary will go down where the Zellenkrieger can cover her and the Puppetsmaster will go on a roof while the FO and Marksman Rifle will cover the middle.
Jon drops his link on a roof and just about everything prone. Netrods fail their infiltration but whatever. He's holding back his Proxies who are going to context the middle, with the FO going into full cover opposite my big link and the hacker Proxy going up against the objective room.
Well, I more or less telegraphed what the plan is here in the previous sections. I take the impetuous on the Zellenkrieger, drop smoke, Mary runs up and takes two orders to boop the button. Now with an ID in hand, she cybermasks (which is technically illegal on reflection. But the Asura will do the same later so it evens out), walks into the box and beams up to the starship Enterprise. Mission Accomplished everyone! And... now there's the rest of my turn.
It takes longer than expected to compute what I should do. I move the Hollow Man spitfire out to take on the Lamedh and get flashed for my trouble. I then put out a couple pitchers to threaten the objective room, shift out so the Hollow Man spitfire can shoot anyone coming in while the Stempler holds the approach to the other console and the pitcher Hollow Man super jumps prone on a roof. The Salyut puts Marksmanship on the Stempler just for kicks (why not a Puppet? Great question). I then use the NCO Grenzer to shift out the MSR for a better ARO line on the Dakini team and shift my Securitate to be more protected.
Impetuous takes the Motorized Bounty Hunter up to between deployment and the exclusion zone. With that done, Jon's first order of business is to throw marksmanship on the Dakini and to have a sniper fight. It's 17s to 16s (should have been 17, but I forgot and more importantly it didn't matter as far as I recall). The Grenzer dies. Does not pass go. Does not collect $200. Just eats a lot of double action splatter.
With that threat cleared, the MBH moves up and snipes the Stempler unconscious. That allows the Danavas to peak out and put their own repeaters down to cover that end of the objective room. Then the Proxy Mk. 5 works their way forward to claim an ID tag, which of course requires a second roll from Jon because that console hates us. The Proxy then moves forward to take on the Puppet MMR and pulls a wound off of it. A second volley forces it into cover.
Then, using his LT orders, Jon moves up the Asura who also pulls a wound off the Puppet FO before getting flashed and forced to take cover. The Puppet tries to pile on with a shot but misses. With everyone in cover, Jon passes turn back.
Despite the weeks of captivity, Mary found herself energized by being back in the field. The clap of gunfire. The elegance of viral code slashing through quantronic defenses. The rush of knowing that each inch held on a battlefield brought the nation that much closer to a goal--the motherships defended, comrades rescued, wrongs avenged upon the enemy.
She wished to linger in this moment, having been taken from it prematurely. It brought her low to think of the comrades who had fallen, not just at her side, but in the pursuit of her freedom. They could not be repaid. But they could be honored.
"Alright Problems, we have smoke down. Command has made it clear that they want you on that ship. Make it count," Avagyan's voice was clear. She didn't think her team should be there for the sake of one operator. Yet now that it was the job, the Securitate would ensure it was done.
"I have my ident in hand. Diplomacy doesn't suit me," Mary replied.
"We all have a part to play, Problems. Pleasure working with you."
"Likewise, Avagyan." Mary began running towards the launch platform. A shuttle of the Tohaa Errant fleet was waiting there. It would take nothing more than a swipe of her comlog to leave this all behind--the loss of friends, the weeks in captivity, the battle that others still had to fight on her behalf.
She paused, but only for a moment. She was not happy to go. But she could not deny their sacrifice by staying behind.
Our friend Zellenkrieger runs up and throws some smoke to block off the Dakini line of sight. This allows me to sink all the orders in the puppets to sneak around and down the Proxy FO.
Then the Hollow Man spitfire leaves the useless duo link to face down the Asura with the weight of dice on my side. This pulls a wound off the Asura but not enough to down here and she fails guts into cover.
Again, without much of a plan, all I can do is reposition, throw a little more smoke, and drop the Puppet MMR and Hollow Man spitfire into suppression, pass turn, and hope for the best.
As it turns out, the best more or less happens, but it takes a minute to get there. Jon moves the Proxy hacker up who drops a target on the Hollow Man but finds himself threatened by the Securitate hacker via the repeater. But the damage is done to the Hollow Man who now has to dance out of a missile drop. I fail the first reset and tank all three saves. The next shot sees me clear the reset but take a wound. With suppression broken now, the Asura is cleared to take the shot and win through the weight of fire.
Without a hacking trip to lean on to dislodge the Puppet, Jon decides to lean on his Dakini to get things done. B3 14s DA DAM 15 vs B3 2s AP/Shock DAM 13. Roll one, we both crit. Roll two, only I crit and down the Dakini.
This forces Jon to spend orders on the proxy to stand the Dakini up. This time the Puppet misses and the engineering roll is. The next order deletes the Puppet right off the table, but at this point the damage is done. The Asura's has some LT orders to run up and grab and ID, cybermask, and get into full cover.
Elsewhere the MBH makes her reckless charge into the Hollow Man pitcher fends her off. Jon then decides to leverage her MSR to snipe the Zellenkrieger off the board, allowing a free shot from the Hollow Man that downs her and earns me my second kill in the game. This will definitely complicate my moves for the rest of the game. Besides that, there's not too much development in the rest of the table, but for the Probot making things a little closer to the elevator.
I spend my last two command tokens shifting the remaining Hollow Man and Salyut into group one. This leaves just the Vertigo in group 2 and it stands up to fight the world. Then I spend the Warcor's irregular to stand up and also fight the world. This leaves me 8 orders to do something.
Leveraging the NCO of the Grenzer Lt, I got him over to the console to grab his ID, and thought about fighting the proxy with the Paramedic. But the Paramedic and a WIP 14 specialist and that seems like a waste, so as I move the Grenzer back to the extraction zone I go aggressive with my now useless LT and try to get the Paramedic over for another ID. This plan is less than great as the Securitate isn't equipped to fight an ODD model in cover. She somehow survives the first -9 modifier, but as she swings around to get the proxy out of cover, she beefs it.
With my final orders, I put the Securitate Paramedic into suppression and put the Hollow Man multirifle on ground level, taking a few shots at the Lamedh and getting blinded again. Doesn't sound great on paper, but it's actually quite a difficult gap for the Asura shoot.
Jon has a lot of orders but not a lot in position. He taps the Dakini HMG to fight my Securitate and Vertigo in overlapping fire. With three into the Paramedic, she goes down. But the two into the Vertigo don't land and the return missile is good, putting the Dakinin unconscious level 2.
With the Asura in cybermask, Jon decides to make the run. The Vertigo delays while the Hollow Man discovers and succeeds. With the Asura left in the wind, Jon has no choice but to run her forward and eats a missile, deleting her. We talk through a couple of options with the Danavas in cybermask but in the end there really arent enough order in place to contest the 57 pts I've extracted. With more points extracted and more specialists extracted and tied on specialist kills to Jon's dominated extraction room, it's a 7-2 Tunguska victory!
Grenzer Sergeant Bresci and Mary Problems met Boris aboard the Tohaa Shuttle. Despite multiple requests from Concilium Authorities, the Nomad nation's allies in the Quantum Containment Coalition had held fast against extradition demands. The two assets could now return to their rightful home, to be exonerated in the Arachne press, lionized in propaganda, and redeployed in all the dirty wars that kept the balance of power in the Human Sphere.
As the transition ceremony was completed and the Nomad soldiers formally returned to Nomad space, Boris took a moment to draw Mary aside.
"Were you well treated?"
"It could have been worse."
"And, was your mission successful?"
They both spared a moment for sidelong glances. Of course, to the public it would seem that an errant operator was abducted by a foreign force, and that several efforts to release her bore fruit despite the chagrin of the rival powers whose noses were bloodied along the way. This would be an episode easily forgotten in the political jockeying of the Sphere. But sometimes, there are games within games, wheels within wheels, and a prize dearly lost can turn out to be a Trojan Horse. Let ALEPH claim the Homeridae, but they are the late comers. It was the hackers who first resurrected that tactic, and they have leveraged it well even as time moved on from binary based code cracking.
"It was a success. There is an Aspect within that prison who is compromised. And can be corrupted. Just a little code left behind that our OSS friends will never discover."
"Very good problems," Boris said slowly as he lifted an unlit cigarette to his lips. "Very, very good."
Sorry for the quick write up. Nothing much to say here but that it's better to be lucky than good. Want to thank my opponents, Jim and Jon, and the community for all the great write ups. Can't wait till this comes around next year!